six impossible things, no breakfast…

Louie one-ways

Louie hadn’t thought it was possible. In his wildest speculative moments he had never conceived of a time when he could be bored with basketball, yet somewhere around the 9,700th point he could no longer see one.

It wasn’t because he was winning, after all winning was the only reason to play as far as Louie was concerned. It wasn’t that the ship’s avatar was an easy opponent – Louie was convinced it had been trying as hard as it could – up until the late 8,000s it had been a hard, close game. But as Louie’s guile and determination – and apparent inexhaustible supply of energy – drove him on, he’d just lost interest. He’d still won of course. And he’d hardly cheated at all.

‘It let you win,’ said the wizard.

‘I name this ship. . .’ said Louie, rubbing it in.

‘You can call it what you want. As soon as we get to anything remotely resembling a habitable planet it’s all yours.’ He sat down down in an exaggerated huff, folded his arms and gasped as he looked down.

‘What? You sat on a tack?’

The wizard was speechless, transfixed.

‘Hey, Zippo!’ said Louie to the ship’s avatar who was happily practising baskets, ‘I think he’s broken.’

‘Nopedie dokedie,’ said the eyeball. ‘He’s gone into do-not-disturb mode. He must have reproduced the sleeve configuration he was trying for.’

‘Sleeve configuration?’ said Louie, realising as he said it that he had no interest in hearing an answer. He stole the ball off the avatar and threw it into the wizard’s lap. Zero response.

‘I think he’s pissed at you,’ said the ship.

‘Yeah?’ said Louie, retrieving the ball and bouncing it off the wizard’s head a couple of times. ‘How can you tell?’

‘Because he’s just switched from DND to hibernation mode and given me instructions not to wake him until we arrive at the mass.’

‘Suits me. Miserable fucker.’ He bounced the ball off the wizard’s head a couple more times. ‘Sweet dreams!’ he yelled. ‘So how’s it going with that mass then, any more info?’

‘I sent out some investigative emtirelays while we were playing but something very odd is going on.’

‘We’re hurtling through remote space in a transparent facsimile of a pert breast, there’s a catatonic wizard sitting in a throne and I, a holographic projection of a guy who was born on a spinning lump of rock lightyears away from here, is having a conversation with a cartoon eyeball and you’re telling me something odd is going on? You have been watching too much TV.’

The eyeball looked at Louie and blinked slowly. Several times.

‘OK, OK! Jeez!’ Louie knew when he’d been suckered. ‘Tell me what the fuck is odder than this,’ he said sweeping his arms around the basketball court.

‘Our sensors were right. There is a mass there. It’s considerable and it should make a big difference to our journey times if we can acquire it.’

‘If?’

‘It’s not there.’

‘Re-fuckin’-wind. There is a mass there and it’s not there? Maybe it’s you that’s broken.’

‘All mass creates disturbance in space-time. That’s how our sensors can detect it. It’s there inasmuch as it’s creating the exact same signature as a mass would create if it was there. Only it’s not there because, well, it’s just not there.’

‘If there’s anything I can do to help you through your problem you will let me know won’t you?’

‘The emtis can find no evidence of any physical matter. There is nothing to probe. No molecules, no heat, in fact nothing in the electromagnetic spectrum at all, nothing apart from the gravitational signature of a large mass – which, by the way, we are currently accelerating towards because our gravity drive can sense it. I’d call that odd, wouldn’t you?’

‘You got any theories?’

‘Something extra-dimensional I guess.’

‘You guess? I thought you had all of human scientific knowledge at your disposal and you’re guessing?’

‘Sometimes you gotta.’

‘Great,’ said Louie looking around for something to kick and remembering he didn’t have any legs. ‘Is there any point in us even going there then?’

‘We don’t really have much of a choice. It’s the only mass for a couple of billion clicks and if I can’t figure out a way to acquire it before we get there we might as well use the gravity well to slingshot off into a new trajectory. We’ll get a big delta-V hike out of that.’

‘How long before we get there?’

‘Looks like about sixty Earth years. You want another game?’

‘Nah, wake me when we’re there huh?’

‘Sure thing!’

Louie parked his decommissioned military grade videk by the edge of the court and tuned off his projection. Shit, he thought, I bet that fucker sneaks in some practice while I’m asleep.

---

He woke and checked his internal clock. 1.8916×109 seconds in sleep mode – nearly 60 years. The ship’s avatar was bouncing around the floor like a hyperactive kid in an inflatable castle. Jeez, he thought, Coney Island huh? I loved that day we went to. . .  ‘Hey! What the fuck is going on?’. The bubble had gone. The wizard had gone. The basketball court had gone.

‘Oh you have got to see this!’ said the ship’s avatar, careening off a mock-brick wall of what looked to Louie a lot like his old Manhattan loft. It even had floor-to-ceiling windows with sunlight streaming in. And could he hear the sound of angry traffic far below?

‘Where the fuck are we?’

‘We’re still in the Cosmic Tit. I’ve been doing some remodelling while you were asleep. Do you like it?’

‘Yeah, it’s dupe. It looks like home. Is that what you woke me for?’

‘Nopely dopely, it’s this!’ A holographic projection of a sparse starscape filled the room. ‘Watch!’

Louie watched. Nothing happened. A few miserable stars looked cold and isolated in the in-betweens of the spiral arms of the Milky Way. He waited, searching the blackness for some reason he was searching. Then he saw it. A flash, a circle of something, no, a sphere of something, something that was real and then wasn’t.

‘You see it? That was slowed down one hundred billion times. That’s the limit of my resolution at this distance. You see it?’

‘Yeah, I think so. A ball of something I think. Is that the mass we’ve been heading towards?’

‘Yes! That was recorded just under fifty cykes ago. The reason I woke you is because it just did it again! I thought the first time might have been an anomaly so I waited for proof.’

‘It flashes into reality once every fifty cykes? For a tiny fraction of a second?’

‘Yes! Is that exiting or what?’

‘I’m going for what. Where’s laughing boy?’

‘I put him in a storeroom downstairs. I like twentieth century architecture – it’s fun!’

‘You kept the court right?’

‘Yup, got a swimming pool too now as well – no water mind.’

Louie shook his head. ‘You any nearer figuring out what it is then?’

‘Just a few more clues. One very interesting thing is that the object is perfectly spherical to an order of magnitude of precision that means it couldn’t possibly be a naturally occurring phenomena.’

‘It’s an artefact? How big is it?’ Louie was starting to feel nervous, and it had been a long time since he’d felt nervous.

‘Second interesting thing. Exactly nine hundred kilometres in diameter. And I mean exactly.’

Louie had a strange feeling.

‘Third interesting thing,’ said the ship, drawing graphs around a projected globe in the middle of the room, ‘is that as far as can be ascertained at this distance, it has an approximate density of half a rocky planet. Too heavy to be just gas, too light to be a planetoid or moon. Unless it was hollow of course.’

‘Tell me something,’ said Louie with a growing sense of foreboding. ‘Can you figure out if this region of space was ever occupied by the solar system?’

‘Well, I guess that’s possible. The centre of this galaxy is vectoring parallel to a line that would mean the western spiral would have passed through here hundred of years ago. Let me check.’

‘Where’s the wizard? I think we’ll have to wake him up for this.’

‘Two floors down, past the orangery and turn right at the shark tank. There’s a small arched door set into a wall. I’ll send down a grav-form for his chair if he wants.’

‘Wake him up and I’ll ask him. You do the astro-maths, but I think I know what you’re going to say.’

---

The wizard, the ship’s avatar and Louie convened on what the avatar had lovingly called the flight deck. Three status-imbued black padded chairs were set in a shallow curve facing a wide, panoramic screen. The ceiling and walls were covered in arrays of slowly pulsing rectangular lights. The screen was showing an animated reconstruction of the galaxy’s nearest arm traveling through a static three-dimensional grid.

‘How did you know?’ said the ship’s avatar looking quizzical, which is not a simple feat when you only have one eye. ‘Not only did the solar system pass through there, but the Earth was precisely occupying that location sometime in mid-2069.’

‘What do you mean?’ said the wizard.

‘August 5th’ said Louie glumly.

‘Ah!’ said the ship and went quiet.

The wizard was getting agitated. ‘What is it? What do you know?’

‘How long before we get there?’ asked Louie.

‘We’re decelerating hard now. Twenty hours or so, give or take. Are you sure you want to do this?’ said the ship.

‘Do what?’ whimpered the wizard.

‘Any idea what each flash represents?’ asked Louie.

‘Something to do with atoms of space-time. Can’t say until I can get hard data and we’ll have to be stationary relative to it for that.’

‘Will someone tell me what the Dice it is?’ wailed the wizard.

Louie studied him with an attitude of dismissive superiority that takes years of practise to perfect. ‘California,’ he said and turned back to the screen.

---

[[more]]

This is the first part of a story that appears in Slabscape: Dammit. If you want to know how it turns out, you have to buy the book (or, if things are really tight for you right now, ask a friend who did buy it or maybe search the internet to see if anyone’s published a spoiler). See? That’s called marketing. Don’t you just hate it? Teasers are considered a legitimate part of entertainment publishing. Trailers for movies, ‘read inside’ for excerpts of books, what to expect in next week’s episode on T.V., 30-second samples of songs – it’s how it works. We know it’s irritating but the simple truth is if we don’t sell enough books then there won’t be any more written and if you want more of the Slabscape series to be written, it’s up to you to help spread the word. There are some buttons here to help you do this. You will be making a small, but significant, contribution in return.

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About the author

If S. Spencer Baker wasn’t delusional, people would think he was an idiot.