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Paulie Coiner

Thiago Loriggio is a science fiction and fantasy writer living in Florianopolis, Brazil, where he was also born. He writes about unreasonable situations, anxious people, and awesome magic and/or tech stuff. This is his first published work in English.

Alternate realities are a funny thing, but not for the reasons people might think. Most of us, discussing metaphysics at bar tables, conjecture they are probably infinitely different, full of their logic and such. There might be one where the Sun is cold and the Moon is hot, one where the Earth is square, water is lava, that sort of thing. Even though nothing is saying these realities can exist, nothing says they can't, so often a journalist exaggerates some physicist's words and the topic comes back to the tables, filled with pseudoscience and beer.
The truth is not like that at all: most alternate realities are only slightly different from ours. One detail, one speck of dust, which a close onlooker might not even see. A minor historical event, some subtle physiological change... Something that makes good jokes, but doesn't fundamentally change the universe. But that isn't what makes alternate realities funny either.
The really funny thing about alternate realities is that you can end up in one without realizing it.
"I'm sorry, I don't usually do this, but... You thrilled me."
Paul stopped and looked at the old man sitting by the bus stop. He was talking to him; they were alone in the street.
"I'm sorry?"
"You're an artist," continued the old man, tears of joy running through his cheeks. "So much skill, so casual... Just like that, in the street! I'm a fan of the sport, but I don't recognize you."
Paul stared at the elder, not knowing what was up. He had been walking down the street, tossing a coin up and down. Half shocked, half processing the situation, he tossed the coin once more.
The coin spun, rising above Paul's head, then fell, and he grabbed it, not minding the act.
"Another one!" The old man clapped, seeming about to faint from excitement. "Six in a row, with no crash or fumble! In the Challenger's League finals, Fujimito only did five!"
"Sir, are you ok?" asked Paul, consternated. The elder didn't seem drunk, or senile. He looked at Paul with veneration. "I don't understand, I'm not doing anything special."
"And he's humble!" exclaimed the old man, smiling. "Your technique... I've never seen anything like it!"
The elder took his phone out, searching videos of what looked like, in a glance, competitive coin tossing. A huge stadium, thousands of spectators... and, in the center of it all, a guy tossing a coin as if it were the hardest thing in the world.
"Holy shit, Paul, we'll be rich!"
Carl hugged him fiercely, laughing. Paul let the coin fall for the first time; he'd been tossing it for a considerable amount of time, grabbing it with the naturality of someone doing something completely ordinary.
"I don't understand," said Paul. "Are you messing with me? What sport is this? I'm tossing a coin. Anyone can do this."
"I don't know which world you were living in, Paul, but this is the sport of the moment! The prize pool for this year's Challenger's League was six million! I've never seen someone as good as you. If this was high jump, it'd be as if you flew."
"But... I..."
"I'll register you for regionals."
In his first week competing, Paul broke six world records. Registered in a hurry, he won regionals, then nationals, the Coin Bowl, and went to the Olympics. He won gold after tossing the coin sixteen times without dropping it. Silver only tossed seven.
The sports world had never seen anyone like Paul. He was bigger than Phelps. More impressive than Bolt. More genius than Federer. He broke his personal record once per day for months, holding his skill only because his agent convinced him it'd be more exciting this way. History Channel did a show about him, trying to define if he had super-human skills. They concluded he did.
Paul went to more newscasts, talk shows, and documentaries than he could count. Talked in various countries about the value of sports. He won prizes, honors, and was received by presidents, first ministers, and even the Queen. Talked at the UN, asking for peace, for the end of intolerance. Dined with billionaires, persuading them to use their fortunes for the good.
He was uncomfortable at first, of course. He gained millions. Had legions of fans. Dated models, actresses, model-actresses... but he knew something was wrong. Tossing coins wasn't a big deal; he had vague memories of people doing the same. With time, though, the memories became blurred. No one could do the same as he did. He was so often called the God of Sports he started to believe it.
He deserved it, all of it. What he did was incredible. He was unique.
"Dear passengers, I'm sorry to inform you that the plane is having major problems. We would kindly ask for everyone to jump out in an organized fashion. Thank you, and sorry for the inconvenience."
Paul froze in his first-class seat.
"What is it?" asked Carl.
"What the hell? They're asking us to jump out of the plane?"
"We're flying over water."
"But we're above the clouds!"
"So what?" Carl shrugged. "The rescue teams are quick, last week the same thing happened and no one got hurt."
The other passengers started getting up, complaining about the lost luggage, thinking of the restitution... but only slightly irritated, as if jumping out of a plane 30.000 feet up was a mild inconvenience.
"No one got hurt? Carl, are you insane? Can you jump out of a plane at cruising altitude and survive?"
"Oh, come on," said Carl, laughing. "You can toss the coin a thousand times and can't do that?"
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, April 26th, 2022

Author Comments

I always found it funny that society rewards somewhat arbitrary skills, especially in sports. Swimming really fast or jumping really high sure is impressive, but not to a shark or a bird... or an alien of some sort. I kept thinking about going to a place where a skill we take for granted is super rare--and the other way around.

- Thiago Loriggio
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