To the Great Infinite: Part One

crt television with connected rca cables
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Dimension jumping was not to be approached lightly. Quite frankly, it probably was not to be approached at all. Yet he had gotten over worrying about that long ago.

He flipped through the notebook on his cheap, folding-table, and examined the scrawled notes and patterns inside. The gray, concrete and plaster room was dimly lit by the glow of a computer screen displaying an erratic wavelength before him and the flickering glow of a fluorescent light overhead. The two provide an eery and artificial ambience, one that was accentuated by the dull white noise, occasionally crescendoing in a pop, emanating from the speakers on either side of him.

These turbulences in light, picture, and sound were not random. Their rises and falls were each tied to a different sensor, each monitoring a different facet of a single, elusive signal he had been chasing for years. These three had been his first instruments of measurement, afterwards he had had to come up with increasingly creative output devices. Of course he could have created an entire wall of screens, each showing a different plane of the signal, but he wouldn’t have been able to take them all in simultaneously. In the end, all of this data had to be processed simultaneously by his own human inputs, his various senses and stimuli. Processing multiple visual displays at the same time was far more difficult than one visual, one aural, and ambient, and so on.

Perhaps the most notable of all his contraptions was the one that took up the entire back half of the room. Here a number of old radios and televisions sat on wire-metal racks, each appearing as though they had been exploded in a way that, though carelessly dismissive of their panels and compartments, left each piece of circuitry and wiring intact and stretched out to various cluster points where they would snake into the back of complex logic units that ended in large filament lightbulbs. The locations of these bulbs had clearly not been left to random chance, as each had three or four strong, steel cables running out to the nearest walled surface, anchoring them in suspended space. The exact machinations of how it worked and what purpose it fulfilled were a mystery to all but he, yet one could see the evidence of conscious intent in how illumination would grace one bulb before leaving it for a neighbor, traveling complex routes among the cable and copper, and occasionally either ceasing entirely or else splitting off like an explosion of light to several neighbors all at once. Looking at them one couldn’t help but imagine the network of neurons in a brain, and the intangible thoughts chasing each other around incessantly therein.

But this curious invention was of little importance to the man now. He suddenly halted flipping through the notebook and smoothed down the well-worn page, apparently having discovered the entry he was looking for. The paper was covered in seemingly random scribbles, lines and curves trailing to and away from one another with reckless abandon. Taken piece-by-piece, though, there was again some conscious intent to it. The first thing of note was a series of deep, dark arcs, each wending their own path through the sheet of paper though never intersecting. Next, in thin, multicolored ink, there were wavelengths drawn between each pair of neighboring curves. Each wavelength had a repeating basis, but then would modulate and distort based off of whether the neighboring curves were bending towards or away from one another at that particular moment. And finally, at the rare points where the curves were, for an infinitesimally small moment, perfectly parallel to their neighbor a single, thick, red stroke smeared the connection like an almighty exclamation point.

He spread his fingers like spiders on the page, tracing along multiple arcs at once, occasionally snapping up to verify some value on one of his signal monitors. Then his neck snapped so quickly it made a crack, and he looked down the rows and columns of a table taped to the wall, coming to an entry labeled Temp Control. There was a corresponding tab in his notebook and he flicked over to it as he pushed against the ground with his feet, rolling his chair back to the wall where a single control unit with two rows of chrome switches stood. Glancing down at his notebook he flipped three of the switches from the on to the off position, and another six he switched the other direction. Almost immediately the temperature in the room plummeted, so quickly that he could feel his heartbeat flutter from the shock of it and the stack of power generators in the corner whined from the strain. He shook his head, apparently not pleased with the result, though not because of the discomfort it provided. This was just another one of the monitors on that elusive signal he was tracking, and the lowering mercury thermometer nailed to the wall next to his head was suggesting he had somehow veered far off course.

On top of the control unit there was a series of dials, each marked with a different order of ten: 1000, 10, -0.1, and -0.001. He slowly turned the 1000 disc, keeping a constant eye on the mercury in the thermometer as it slowly began to rise. The original temperature markings on the thermometer had been pasted over with a new set of metrics, and he continued turning the dial until he reached the marking of 17m. Another query at his notebook and he left the 10 dial as it was, instead beginning to spin the -0.1 dial, resulting in the slightest bubble forming at the bottom of the mercury and slowly rising within it. When the bubble had reached the point 11m he finally transitioned to the -0.001 disc. As his fingers glided across its close ridges the thermometer began to quake violently and the bubble inside started to shrink in girth and elongate vertically, becoming taller and taller until its upper and lower bounds extended between 14m and 8m.

He had been about to turn the dial still further when his fingers froze and his nostrils flared with a feverishly excited inhale. Almost imperceptible, but continually increasing in volume, a strange, high pitched hum was reverberating between the walls. The harmonics seemed to be the combined effect of every device’s quivering vibrations, the little ripples and waves of their noise coordinating perfectly to cause cascading amplification until they formed one whole ethereal sound. The dimensions of the room had been specifically designed to be conducive to this phenomena, and now the man had to be careful where he stood so as not to disrupt this effect. He remained motionless, waiting as the high-pitched hum gradually became still louder and louder, and is it did so it became deeper, crackling, and more protracted. It even started to carry a physical weight, the various instruments and electronics in the room shuddering as the waves passed over them one way, then bounced off the wall, and disturbed them again as they went back the other direction. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience, each time the compression of the wave passed over the man he felt a dramatic shift in pressure and even lost his breath for a moment. That really didn’t matter to him, though, for at last he was convinced that the harmonics of the space were finally appropriate.

It meant he had entered a parallel line to the elusive signal he had been chasing, or at least as close to parallel as he was ever likely to achieve. Now, with the press of a button he could begin the long-awaited next phase, the leap from this signal he called life over to the other signal that he called the Great Infinite. If he committed to the jump, no one in this universe would ever know the outcome, for it was, by definition, unknowable. And among those potential outcomes, the majority were different forms of ultimate destruction, almost comical in their exaggerated totality. He might be off in a single measurement, in which case he would not actually be in harmony with the target signal, and would result in him jettisoning into a literal void where he would instantaneously blink out of all existence. Even if his measurements were right, he could impact on the target signal at a slightly too steep or too shallow angle and either be crushed into a paste less than an electron thick or deflected off at a strange degree, spinning at such speeds that he and his craft would melt into a single alloy and then dissipate as pure energy. He might successfully enter the signal, but at too high a velocity and the massive forces would pull his very atoms apart and stretch him from one end of the universe to another. His nervous system, unable to break, would strain across entire worlds, limply attempting to send signals that would never reach their destinations for all the filters of matter and noise that they would pass through; all consciousness and perception therefore ceasing to register forever. And again, even if he could be entirely successful, and enter safely, then the variables would still be innumerable. He might emerge as that sphere’s analog to pond scum. He might be a mineral or a gas. He might even be an intangible thought in a being’s mind, subject to arbitrary change or dismissal.

Yet any of these later outcomes he would consider a complete success, for there was one truth that mattered above all others. This unknowable sphere he was harmonizing with, this target signal he was considering, it was of a higher dimension, order, and existence than the one he now belonged to. That was why it was unknowable and incomprehensible, and it was why he called it the Great Infinite. No system or sensor he might devise in this lower realm could truly perceive aught of that higher place, they only measured the shadows of the ripple effects of it. But what he did know was that it was greater, and infinitely more so. It was simply a mathematical certainty. All the wealth of the universe his heart now beat in could not hold the same richness as flowed in the blood of that higher world’s most pathetic lifeform. Truly, in this sphere man was less than the dust of the earth in that sphere.

“To the etcetera” he declared, deftly flipping open the protective, plastic case and pushing the button.

***

As stated in my post on Monday, my goal was to create a piece where the setting and backdrop was as much a character in the story as my man. In some ways I tried to do this literally by suggesting the room possesses its own beating heart and thinking brain, but more generally it was my intention to form it have a consistent style, as that is perhaps what best suggests character to the reader. In addition, I wanted that style to not be wholly explained. Many of the concepts in this piece involve things we are familiar with: dimensions and wavelengths, buttons and switches; but I don’t bother laying out exactly how this all was made, how it works, and what else is going on outside of these walls. In short it was my desire to introduce some ideas to stimulate the reader’s imagination, but then leave things open for extended exploration past the ends of the pages.

Exactly how much an author can, or should, leave elements of the world unexplained or confusing is something that I’ll be exploring in my next post. I will try to examine the fine line between hinting at a rich horizon versus just aggravating the reader with vague nonsense. Afterwards, we’ll continue with part two of To the Great Infinite. See you next week.

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