Deeper is darker. Or is it, really? Kind of hard to tell sometimes, ya know? Maybe you need a lantern?
[My Man’s Gone Now \\ Gershwin \\ Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong]
88/66.3 — Walpurgis Nacht III
And wherever they were…it was still dark — and no matter where they looked. With no way to see, Callahan wondered what in this place was an illusion, or was truth the illusion?
But they were inside some “place” now and no longer adrift in deep space, and as his eyesight grew used to the dim light he could just make out the contours of a long steel-gray corridor ahead, and within a few moments he began to see shapes moving their way. Impossibly thin shapes he soon realized, but living beings nonetheless. As one of them approached he was startled by the apparent height of the creature, until he recognized Jim walking their way — or was it Jim’s identical twin — only the creatures with him did not appear to be his family. No, they were all as tall as Jim, and they all appeared equally curious.
‘We are sorry for the abrupt nature of your coming,’ Jim thought to Callahan, ‘but there was little time to indulge in formalities.’
“Okay,” Callahan said aloud to Jim.
“Okay…what?” Didi asked, clearly confused by Callahan appearing to talk to himself — and she was still clearly cold as could be, at least — if her breasts were any kind of indication…
‘She cannot hear my thoughts,’ Jim explained. ‘These were not directed at her.’
“Alright,” Harry said.
“Alright, what? Who are you talking to, Harry?” Didi added.
“We’ll need something for this woman to wear,” Harry said to Jim.
“You know what? I’m just going to shut up and let you have at it for a while,” Didi sighed.
“Probably a good idea. Jim? Could you say something to her?”
Jim turned to Didi and she suddenly felt as if she was the one under the magnifying glass, and now she felt very small indeed. Not only that, but this creature was positively Spielbergian in appearance — a spindly creature that seemed to have evolved in deep space, a creature bred to endure millennia in transit between stars and now, as he focused his attention on her she didn’t know what to expect.
Then she heard from somewhere deep inside the unknown recesses of her mind ‘Take me to your leader,’ and she had to laugh.
“I see. You’re a comedian, right?”
‘I couldn’t help myself. Oh yes, I need you to come with me now,’ Jim thought.
“Okay, but you need to know something first.”
“I don’t kiss on the first date.”
That seemed to stump Jim, but he only nodded and then turned to face his companions — who one by one came forward to look her over.
‘May I touch you?’ one of them asked, and for some reason Didi knew this one was female, or whatever passed for female around this place.
“Knock yourself out,” Didi grinned. “All of you. Go for it.”
‘We have never seen a human female in your condition,’ one of them said.
“That’s alright,” Didi sighed. “I’ve never seen an alien — so that makes us even.”
Callahan stood back as the mob surrounded Didi, who began pulling gently on her arms then flexing her fingers and wrists and elbows, marveling at the anatomical complexity that they, apparently, did not share. Another examined her spine, then her shoulder blades, while another bent low and probed her knees and ankles — then her toes.
‘The gross morphology is not all that different from the male,’ one of them said. ‘How do you account for that?’ this one asked Jim.
‘Sexual differentiation takes place hormonally, before either androgenesis or gynogenesis takes place,’ Jim said. ‘So both the male and the female contribute hereditary characteristics,’ he added.
‘Do you mean,’ another cried, ‘that sexual differentiation is a simple matter of chance?’
‘Then how do they control population growth?’
‘War and disease, primarily,’ Jim sighed.
They all turned to face Didi and Callahan, and both could sense the others’ feelings of astonishment and pity.
‘How do you mate?’ one of them asked next — out of the blue.
“What do you mean?” Callahan growled.
‘I mean, how do you physically join?’ this one asked.
“Privately, and that means without an audience, Butthead,” Callahan snarled.
‘I see. She is with child now, and we wanted to understand how this happened.’
“What do you mean, I’m with child?” Didi cried.
‘You mated,’ this one said patiently, ‘therefore you are with child. Is this not correct?’
“Not always,” Didi said, now clearly relieved.
‘But we have seen fertilization occur. Are you saying this may not lead to pregnancy?’
“What do you mean by you saw fertilization occur?”
‘We have observed a fertilized egg in your womb? Does this not mean you are with child?’
“I don’t know,” Didi replied, confused again.
‘We must keep both of you here until the child is born,’ Jim told Harry.
“I beg your fucking pardon?” Harry barked.
And that really seemed to confuse Jim. ‘You ask me for pardon? What does this mean, please?’
“It means we ain’t staying here, period. You need to send us back, and I mean now.”
‘We need your offspring.’
‘Your feces is tough?’ one said.
‘May we collect a sample, please?’ another asked.
“No. You need to send us back. Now.”
Jim stepped close again: ‘I will send you back, but not now. A year from now, by your method of time keeping.’
“Harry,” Didi whispered, “I don’t think we’re in much of a position to argue.”
‘When you return,’ Jim added, ‘no time will appear to have passed, and neither of you will have aged.’
Callahan seemed to think about that one for a moment, then he asked: “And just what the Hell are we supposed to do here — for a year? And oh, by the way, where is here, exactly?”
‘You will find we are interested in you, and so it is possible you will find us more than sympathetic students,’ one of the others said.
Didi turned to the group and shrugged: “Any chance I might get something to wear? Ya know, sometime in the next year or so?”
‘Apologies,’ Jim stated. ‘Come with me.’
They started to walk down the dimly lit passageway, but then Jim paused before he walked over to a wall and held a hand up to a sensor — and then a hundred meter long section of the passage turned translucent. Callahan could hardly grasp what had happened — because now it appeared as if their entire group was suspended in deep space. Yet…Callahan could feel the same floor underfoot, and he could still breathe, so…where were they?
“Jim? I hate to ask, but just what is this place?” he asked.
‘Your scientists call this a Dyson Sphere.’
“Is this your home?” Didi asked.
‘Home? Ah, no, this is not our home world,’ Jim said. He pointed at a spot and a tiny illuminated square appeared in the ether— almost as if it was hovering in space — then he turned to Didi. ‘Your home world is here,’ he said — but all either Harry or Didi could see was a faint smudge inside the illuminated square.
“That’s earth?” Harry sighed, his voice full of wonder.
‘What you see here is what you call your Milky Way, the galaxy where your home is currently found.’
Callahan swallowed hard and briefly, gently shook his head.
And then Jim turned and “walked” across the chasm until he came to a place he seemed to recognize, then he pointed again and another identical red square appeared — this one hovering in an area beyond a huge, densely packed cluster of stars and galaxies. ‘This region,’ Jim thought, first pointing to the clustered formation of galaxies, ‘is the approximate center of our current universe. This region, this one inside the illuminated square, is where our home galaxy is currently located.’
“I don’t see anything?” Didi sighed.
‘This region is beyond the resolving power of the current instrument.’
“How far away is it?” she asked.
‘From your earth it is approximately twenty billion light years.’
“But the universe isn’t that old,” Didi mumbled, “so how is that even possible?”
‘Your world is twelve point three nine billion light years from the center of this universe, but my world is another seven billion light years distant, only on the far side of the center of the universe relative to your home.’
“So…are you telling me you’re twenty billion years old?” she scoffed.
‘Me? No. I am seven of your years old.’
“Okay,” Didi whispered, “I give up.”
“Say Didi, did you know your headlights are showing…” Harry whispered.
“In case you’ve forgotten, Harry, I am completely naked. And I’m still cold as shit.”
“I haven’t forgotten,” he said — looking away, though now trying to ignore a certain stiffness coming on.
Jim grinned then turned away and took off down the passageway, and Didi followed — gratefully — while Callahan turned and looked around the translucent passageway once again. The first thing he noted was the little illuminated red squares — and he watched as those disappeared first — then the dull gray color returned to the surfaces and once again it looked like he was inside a long metal corridor of some sort. Completely baffled, he just shook his head and turned to follow Jim and Didi. He didn’t understand all that stuff about light years and time, but he did understand what a year felt like.
And right now a year felt like an awful lot of time to spend wandering around in the dark.
© 2016-22 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…image: John William Waterhouse, Diogenes, open source.