There is a theory that the universe is, in fact, not one universe, but many – a multiverse, if you will. The multiverse consists of an infinite number of universes, each differing only the slightest from the one before it and the one after it. There are said to be an infinite number of any one individual, reproduced over and over again from one universe to the next. These individuals are the same as each other but for a minor detail or two: a choice made by an individual one day, a different shade of a certain colour for another’s fancy dress, a preference for one type of weather over another.
Of course, none of this can be proven as we inhabit only one of the multiverses, and we can only see and explore the one in which we live. Things that cannot be proven either do not exist, or must be taken as a point of faith, and faith is difficult: if something can be proven, there is no argument about its reality. If something cannot be proven, then only the believers will accept it as actually existing.
Fortunately, the multiverse has no need of either proof nor faith. It exists, and it knows that it exists. The Great Intelligence at the center of the multiverse sits, like a spider in the center of Her web, reaching out with Its many levels of energy to feel what is happening in each of Its infinite realities. Sometimes a correction is needed; sometimes there is too much of one type of energy in a given universe and not enough of another. When the Great Intelligence feels such a pull on one of its universes, It sends Its thoughts down the infinite cascade of threads to the one that is unbalanced, sliding at beyond the speed of light to ever so gently tweak the energy of that one thread. It pushes or It pulls as needed, adjusting, correcting and balancing what needs to be balanced. The Great Intelligence does all of this with virtually no effort on Its part. It knows that the easiest way to solve most issues of balance is with a slight pulse of the strongest energy the multiverse has to offer.
Vera Bennett sat at the longest of the tables in the staff break room at Wentworth Correctional Facility. She had leaned her head on her left hand and her right hand was absently tapping the pen she was holding on the metal clasp of the clipboard to her right. In front of her was a laptop, a page open that had been rewritten twice already. The relatively new Governor, Joan Ferguson, had asked her to read, summarize and put down in simple sentences a good chunk of the rule book for CO’s. The Governor had said that too many CO’s didn’t seem to understand exactly what they could and could not do on the job. She had wanted a few important sections summed up and made easy to grasp, as she had put it, “so that even Mr. Fletcher could understand them.”
Vera hadn’t questioned the Governor’s orders, not in the brief couple of months that Ferguson had been in charge. She’d had no reason to. Joan Ferguson was simply the best Governor she had ever seen. Vera had been upset about being passed over for the governorship yet once again, but she had had to admit that if anyone other than Joan Ferguson had been given the job, it would have been hard to take. But this Governor was strong, efficient and infinitely capable. Her first day on the job she had stopped the major pipeline of the illegal drug supply that entered the prison. She had not even been introduced to the women when she had ushered Vera and a group of other CO’s into the laundry room, used her foot to push over the laundry cart containing the latest shipment of contraband and had reached into a seam on the bottom of the cart to pull out the foil bundle containing the illicit material with a latex-gloved hand. The first words that any prisoner had heard from the new Governor were simply, “Slot her.” No more had needed to be said. Joan Ferguson had commanded everyone in the room with her actions and those two simple words.
Vera couldn’t think of a better start to anyone’s stretch at Wentworth than she had seen that first day that Ferguson was on the job. Vera had known what was supposed to be coming, but even she was impressed at how quickly the whole thing had been wrapped up. The Governor was tall, intimidating, and not someone to cross, and she had made sure that everyone knew it before most had even seen her face or heard her voice. Vera had been as afraid of her as the inmates when Ferguson had first arrived, but her speech about being there to “correct” the behaviour of the woman had at least made it clear what the Governor expected. Vera always felt better when she knew exactly what was expected of her, which was why the current assignment was so frustrating.
The laptop had been stalled at the same page for some time, the Word program showing the page she had been working on as being a third filled, and no more. The other rules that she had summarized had been perfectly acceptable to the Governor, but not this part: “Subsection 14B/34: Employee relationships of a sexual/romantic nature: expectations, reporting, acceptable and unacceptable behaviours.” Most of the rules even here were fairly easy to simplify, so why was this part so unacceptable? What was she missing? Why did Ferguson need it rewritten a third time when everything else had been given a nod and brief smile?
Vera sighed. The last thing she wanted to do was let down this Governor who had been more than generous with her. Ferguson had even offered to mentor Vera, an offer that surprised and pleased Vera to no end. That someone with Ferguson’s skill, reputation and impeccable career had seen potential in her, Vera Bennet, the perennial Deputy Governor, was extremely gratifying. That moment had been one of the few highlights of her long-stalled career. The Governor had been true to her word and was indeed teaching Vera the finer points of the job: pointing out how to get the necessary results the best way, showing her how to handle difficult prisoners and CO’s alike, giving her advice on the daily minutiae of the job.
In fact, Governor Ferguson had gone above and beyond for Vera, even trusting her with potentially indiscreet thoughts on the night that she had been invited to have drinks with the Governor. It had been a great evening for Vera, an almost intimate one in a way, as both women had shared their thoughts and feelings about their work in a way that Vera simply never had before, not with anyone, not even with Fletch. Oh God…Fletch. Vera remembered that she had told Ferguson about her relationship with Matt Fletcher, down to describing what she had referred to as “the worst night of her life” and even saying that the brief romance had ended because Fletch had caught her reading his diary. He had written about his affair with Meg Jackson in that diary, and Vera was pretty sure she had said something about it to the Governor. She was only “pretty sure” because at some point the whole evening had become a blur. The two women had talked long into the night after that, but Vera couldn’t remember what they had talked about. The vodka and sodas that Ferguson had poured that night had been far too strong for Vera. The tiny woman had no way to handle that much vodka, while Joan Ferguson had not seemed to hardly be affected. Indeed, the Governor had even driven Vera home that night. At least that’s one thing that Vera was pretty sure about. She wasn’t taking any bets on anything else from that night.
It had been very kind of … Joan (after all, sharing secrets had lead to the sort of intimacy that ended up with Vera calling the Governor by her first name that night) to have driven her home. Joan had expressed concern about how much the smaller women had had to drink, and how affected Vera was by it. In fact, Joan had seemed very concerned about her the next morning at work. Vera had taken a cab to Wentworth that day, and when she had arrived, she had been immediately instructed to see the Governor in her office. Vera had taken aspirin in the morning, had had plenty of water to drink and had even managed coffee before work, but was still unable to hide her discomfort. She had only had a couple of hangovers in her life, and this one had been a doozy.
She had knocked on the Governor’s closed office door and immediately regretted it. It had hurt, both her head and her knuckles. She had wished she could have just sort of, well, ‘rubbed’ the door instead, but she would never have entered that office without permission, so she had to be sure she was heard.
Joan’s cheerful “come in” had seemed loud from the outside of the office. Once in, Joan’s voice, which Vera usually found either commanding, reassuring or even lovely to listen to, had seemed far too loud. Vera winced at the sound of being asked to close the door and sit down.
Lowering her voice to a more survivable level, Joan had softly said, “I want to apologize for last night.”
Vera couldn’t have been caught more by surprise if Joan had told her that she was to process a flamingo for a two year sentence.
“There’s no need, Governor,” she said, wincing yet again as the sound of her own voice reverberated around her skull as if her brain had shrunk overnight. Maybe it had – wasn’t that one of the reasons a person’s head hurt the next day? It seemed like a good working theory at the time.
“Yes, there is,” Joan said, looking at Vera with her head tilted slightly to the side in sympathy.
“No, really, Governor, I don’t see how you could think that,” and here Vera stopped short as Joan had raised her hand to silence the smaller woman.
“Please, Vera, this isn’t easy for me. I’m not used…” Joan paused, surprising Vera yet again, as this was the first time that Joan had ever sounded anything but self-assured and completely confident. “I’m not used to having to say this sort of thing, but I do owe you an apology. I wanted you to…loosen up, last night, not become completely inebriated.”
“I wasn’t,” Vera started, then stopped short as she saw Joan’s expression clearly show disbelief. Yeah, she wouldn’t have been be able to pull that one off… She had paused briefly, then changed her argument, “I didn’t do anything I didn’t want to do. I made the decision to have the drinks I had. I could have said no, but didn’t, so you don’t have to apologize for anything.”
Joan stared off in the direction of the office window for a moment, then looked back at Vera, carefully choosing what she was going to say next. “There is a point at which one owes another person the courtesy of being able to say no. I’m sorry, Vera, that you weren’t given that courtesy. You may have felt somewhat obligated to have more alcohol than you were used to, or indeed, than you could handle. I did not realize that you were unable to process as much as I had poured for you.”
That had been embarrassing. Vera had felt embarrassed when she had walked into the Governor’s office because it was obvious that Joan hadn’t suffered at all from the previous night’s imbibing, but this was worse. It was a bit humiliating to have her superior officer feel obliged to apologize for not knowing her Deputy’s limits. Then she had realized that there were potentially many more reasons for being embarrassed…
“Oh God, Joan, I hope I didn’t do, or say anything…uh…” Vera’s horror at all the awful moments of humiliation in her life paled in comparison to thinking that she could have done something or said something even slightly inappropriate to Joan. She had wanted to sink down in the chair and disappear from the Governor’s office in a puff of smoke rather than hear that she had somehow let the other woman down. Disappointing Joan would have been the worst thing she could have possibly done in her life as far as she was concerned.
Joan had given a very short chuckle, shaken her head ever so slightly, and smiled, “No, nothing like that.”
Vera had almost not heard her, so distressed was she at the idea of letting Joan down. Her outward breath had been audible to both of them before Joan continued.
“It’s just that I really do feel bad about it all. I had wanted, as I said, was for you to loosen up and be comfortable with me, but not to the point of…” and here Joan actually hesitated again.
“Blotto,” Vera said, not thinking before she let the word out.
Joan had looked surprised, then smiled slightly again, “Alright, ‘blotto.’ I should have realized that you had had enough much earlier on. I really was not aware that your tolerance was so low, even for someone your size. It wasn’t fair of me to continue pouring drinks after that fourth one.”
Vera had had no clue how many drinks they’d had the night before, but the throb in her head seemed to think that ‘four’ was an underestimate.
“That’s okay, Governor.”
“No, it isn’t. I have a responsibility to you, to all my CO’s, and I let you down. I also need to thank you for …” Joan stopped, clearly unsure as to how to phrase the next part of her sentence.
Vera had wanted to step in, to reassure her Governor that all was going to be alright, “I promise I will never, ever say anything to anyone about what we talked about last night,” she said with utmost sincerity.
“What? Oh, I know that you won’t say anything I said in private to anyone else. I’m not worried about that. You should know that I will not share anything said last night with anyone else, either,” Joan waved her hand, indicating that she was almost dismissive of the very idea. “No, Vera… I want to thank you for not…uh…now how do I put this?”
Vera had leaned forward, wanting to hear what the Governor had to say, but also afraid of what Joan was referring to. She had wanted to say that Joan could say anything to her, that she didn’t need to thank her, that there was still no need for an apology, that no one could have been kinder or better to her than Joan. She wanted to, but couldn’t speak for fear of interrupting her Governor again and stopping her in mid-thought.
Joan found her words and continued, “To thank you for … for not vomiting in my car."
Vera had not had any idea what to say as a response for that sort of thank you. She merely blinked, then had said, “Um…you’re…welcome?”
“Yes, well, I know it was quite an effort for you to…hold yourself together. I appreciate it,” Joan stated. “That’s all.”
“Yes, Governor,” Vera said, standing up to leave.
“Oh, and one more thing,” Joan continued, as though having an afterthought, “I also promise that such an incident will never happen again. I will never serve you alcohol to the point of being so compromised. I will never put you into such a position without your clear permission again. I can understand that it could be difficult to refuse one’s superior officer if one is unsure about what is expected.”
“I appreciate that, Governor,” Vera had responded. It was an odd promise, really, she’d thought. After all, she trusted Joan implicitly. She had trusted her the previous night, too, when accepting the extra drinks.
It had been some time since that night, and their conversation the morning after. Vera had wondered why she had not had another invitation to join the Governor socially again. Maybe Joan had felt that Vera was too dull to spend that sort of time with. Certainly, Joan had friends and family outside of work. She never talked about them, but then, the Governor was a very private person. The Governor was many things, Vera thought. She was very cool, together and never seemed to doubt herself about anything. Well, anything other than how to thank someone for not vomiting…
Vera poked at the keyboard, getting her screen to light up once more. She could have typed the rules on the computer, but she had gone through school taking notes by hand, and really preferred to work with pen and paper alongside of the laptop. She reread her notes. Again.
“Subsection 14B/34: Employee relationships of a sexual/romantic nature: expectations, reporting, acceptable and unacceptable behaviours. Point the first: while relationships of a sexual/romantic (and not necessarily sexual) nature are permitted to employees of Correctional Facilities (Victoria State), there are limits as to how these relationships (see earlier) may arise and proceed.”
Vera yawned. She’d been through this before. She’d made it understandable, even to Mathew Fletcher, what he could or could not do with his – and here she corrected herself and politely went with - “time.” He could have sex with any other CO he wanted, even the Governor if he so chose. That last thought made Vera smile to herself. (As if the Governor would ever consider Fletch as a romantic possibility. No doubt the very thought would make Joan wretch. The thought of being with Fletch still kind of made Vera feel sick to her stomach, if she were being honest with herself.) He could have sex with anyone but a prisoner, without having to report it to a superior officer. He should report a relationship if there was any chance he could be compromised at work in any way, but that was it. Everyone, even Fletch, could understand what she’d written the first couple of times. Vera pushed down the frustration that she felt rising in her mind while trying to deal with this problem again.
She continued reading through the list but couldn’t find anything that she had missed, nor could she have thought of another way to reword what she had already said twice. She wasn’t even letting the legal wording sink in any more. She just couldn’t. She thought that maybe she should get up, stretch, walk around or even have something to eat.
Vera folded the laptop’s screen down after making sure she had saved her work. Again. She was about to stand up when her eyes brushed over a short fragment of the legal terms she had written out by hand.
“Superior officers are not to approach juniors for the purposes of: 1) discussion of the junior officer’s relationships with other officers unless disruption of the workplace is proven (with evidence) to be present. 2) procuring sexual favours (of any sort) 3) initiation, continuation or expansion of relationships with junior officers…”
Vera blinked. She had skimmed the notes previously because the unimportant points had been buried under the more necessary and obvious rules everywhere else. The fine points were never the parts that employees had to know in detail ahead of any infraction. In fact, nothing had to be said because the Governor and Deputy Governor were the only people concerned with that little part at the end.
Vera couldn’t stop herself from smiling. Even as Linda Miles walked into the break room and made some sort of caustic remark about what the women had done in the shower room again, Vera continued to smile. She walked straight past Linda, ignoring her completely. If truth be told, she didn’t really see Linda at that point at all. She just kept going until she reached the Governor’s office, knocked, and let herself in at Joan’s professional “come in.”
“Yes, Vera, what can I do for you?” Joan said, not even looking up from the form she was signing until she realized that Vera wasn’t starting in on her usual questions or information.
It wasn’t until they made eye contact that Vera spoke, “Governor, I have something to ask you,” she began, her smile broadening even more.
The Great Intelligence touched Its unbalanced thread again, and felt the tiny universe at the end of that line rebalance itself until all was in harmony once more. The state of balance didn’t mean that everything in that particular universe was suddenly happy all at once, nor did it mean that even those directly affected would suddenly feel their worlds tipping back into place. In fact, none in that one universe would notice anything at all after the Great Intelligence had touched it. That was the way it should be: unnoticeable, nothing changed, memories rewritten to see the new reality as the way things were meant to be, the way things always had been. Only the Great Intelligence knew the truth, and that was that a long string of horrific tragedies had been avoided by adding just a little touch of the strongest energy there is to one small time line. After all, every universe can always use a touch more love.