As his finger lifted off the button with a satisfying, deep click, the pulsating soundwave dissipated and the whole room’s weight dropped, feeling as though it had only been connected to the earth by magnets that were now detached, leaving it to hover in space, tilting slightly forward and to the right. Just like that, he was disconnected from his universe, never to return.
He scrambled over to his desk again, flipping a switch there which started a whole array of computers, control units, monitors and oscilloscopes, pedals and levers, indicator lights, and various, custom-made mechanical contraptions to hum to life. The power generators were beginning to buckle under the strain, but they would cease to be drawn on once the room could tap into the infinite power stream pulsating at the end of the void it currently floated through. For the void was just a socket point, and as he passed through it he entered the flowing stream of energy that connected all disparate dimensions and realities. That power stream came into view as the walls seemed to dematerialize into nothing, the dim lighting of the room replaced by scorches of bright orange, a strange canopy of millions of glowing fibers flowing by. He glanced over at the monitor that was tracking his life support, ensuring it handled the power surge properly. All oxygen, gravity, and even time itself were being artificially generated, creating this room-sized pocket of reality around him. As they made the jump over to the other signal he would have to be especially careful that none of these life support systems transitioned out of his little bubble before he did.
He pulled a dusty, old keyboard to him and punched in the shortcut for a preprogrammed command. With a jolt he watched as yellow beacons began emitting from a dish placed on the front of the desk. They were small orbs of tuned energy that bristled in unique, electric patterns. It wasn’t appropriate to say that they moved through the stream of energy so much as transmitted their own patterns through it at high speed, leaving lingering traces behind like the wake of a boat in the sea. The first two were way off course, though, as he hadn’t accounted for the inherent resistance in the pulsating streams of energy, but he quickly took note to compensate for it and the next orbs rushed out ahead of him as intended.
These beacons were tuned so that they would occasionally send reverse pulsations rippling back to him, set to a frequency that his own pocket reality was synchronized with. This had the dual benefit of effectively tethering him to their course as well as giving him data on what sorts of obstacles there were ahead, hopefully in time to adjust as needed. He checked his beacon counter, he had fired seven out, that seemed sufficient. He turned to the row of old television screens on the side wall and turned the first seven on, dialing each one to a separate signature of the beacon transmissions that would soon come.
Much as he would like to do something more proactive, there was nothing but to wait for the next few seconds until the first waves of data arrived. His mind drifted to the different theories that had been posited as to whether navigation such as he now attempted was even possible. Though the problems of inter-dimensional-signal-tracking, quantum-trajectory-alignment, and pure-energy-tunnel-transference had each been solved in their own ways, there yet remained the simple theoretical argument that it should be impossible for a lower-dimensional element to be able to force its way into a higher-dimensional projection. It seemed that this would suggest that the lower-dimension somehow had power over the higher one, which defied the logical hierarchy and presented a paradox.
Suddenly he was snapped from his reverie by the sight of a writhing, yellow mist approaching from ahead. It was the first pulse-back from the beacons. As it collided with his reality capsule it created a tugging force which slightly corrected his alignment and one of television screens fizzled to life with a strange cell-like pattern of multiple colors splayed across it like a psychedelic voronoi graph. Each cell was trembling and shifting, taking and giving space to its neighbors in chaotic ways. He continued to watch as one beacon pulse-back after another reached him, each activating a different television screen. Now, what did all these images mean? He had never been able to rehearse for this part, the patterns and nuances of the power stream had been impossible to observe from without, so it had always been understood that the hopeful journeyman would have to make sense of the data and adjust in the very moment it was occurring.
He grabbed a number of large chrome handles that spun heavy dials set into the wall. Each one would rotate him along a different plane. As he slowly turned them he watched to see how the actions affected the patterns on the screens. Right now his working theory was just to get each image as stabilized as possible, make them consistent in how the cells were expanding and retracting. Afterwards he might experiment on if the signals would clearer if he tried to adjust so that the cells were steady and large, or steady and small, or steady and blue, or…
With an almighty roar he felt his whole reality capsule pivot wildly and multiple warning klaxons started shrieking as the cells on the television screens spasmed convulsively. There was a visible plane of light beginning to intersect through the middle of the room. On the near side of it everything remained as it was, but on the other side every piece of equipment began flickering in and out of existence, leaving a temporary dark vacuum before being replaced with the returning object. With each successive flicker the duration of them became both longer and more frequent, soon they would be severed from him entirely and the craft would shatter apart. The man stood up from where he had been thrown to the ground and cast his eyes and mind around to determine what had happened. He realized in horror that he had never severed his ties to the original beacons that had fired first and gone so far astray. Their first pulse-backs had just arrived and jerked the craft off its proper course. Scolding himself for being such a fool he leapt back to the table and slammed his fingers on the keyboard, setting the capsule instruments to drop the errant beacon signatures before they could do more damage.
That done, he still needed to counteract the chaotic spin he was in now, which would require putting out some opposing thrusts. He sat back at the table and inserted his hands into a strange device in the center. There was a metal sheet, forming a sleeve over a bundle of ordered wires, which were connected to highly sensitive force gauges on their bottom ends. Pressing his fingers between the cords he could effect the most delicate of gestures, resulting in the minute directional thrusts which would provide the needed counterspin. His eyes locked on the television screens as he began to pull one cord and then another, racing to find which combinations steadied the spasming pictures. Well, at least that was one theory he had had confirmed: rapid changes in the beacon signals were not a good thing. To make the process more difficult, sometimes when a cord pulled it wouldn’t register, no doubt due to part of the wiring that ran from the force gauge flickering out of his reality at the time, but if he continued to pluck away eventually it would catch.
“All right, all right,” he muttered to himself. “Cords 4 and 7…steady screen 3…but make 2 worse, though not to as great a degree as 3 was improved.” It was like working a rubik’s cube, where some concessions were made to effect a greater gain elsewhere, and soon he had all but two of the screens returned to their proper rhythm. Those two, however, seemed to shift so dramatically from one extreme to another that it was impossible for him to tell if his alterations were being helpful or not. Getting desperate he was trying random combinations of cords now, when he started to pick up on an unusual pattern. Whenever he made an input that was wrong, the half of the room that was partially reality-severed would flicker more intensely, yet if he held the wrong course for a few moments more then it would flicker less. He realized it must be that the two halves of the room were out of phase. The partially severed half was reacting first to the wrong velocity, resulting in the increased flickering, which lessened as the rest of the room then followed it into that wrong direction. This was a blessing in disguise. It allowed him a few moments delay where he could consider a change, perceive its effect, and if needed retreat from it before the full effects would be brought to bear. He had clairvoyance and could do no wrong. Ignoring the television screens for the time being he instead focused on observing the room as a whole, only fully committing to the cord pulls that brought the flickering half more and more in tandem with the correct alignment. As he did so, the cell patterns on the two troublesome beacon monitors resolved themselves and he found himself back in proper sequence.
Breathing a sigh of relief he allowed his mind to briefly flicker back to the theoretical arguments against the possibility of success in such a jump as this. The fact was, he did not actually disagree with the disparagers. He believed in a hierarchy of dimensional realities as well, and so he did not believe it was possible for him, as a lower being, to force his way into a higher sphere. However he felt that fact came with an all-important corollary that was too often ignored: that it was possible for a higher being to draw a lower one up into its realm if it chose to do so. And what better candidate would there be for ascension than he, who was so willingly reaching out for the catch?
He was again interrupted from his thoughts by a fascinating new development. There had started to appear cores of different colors in the center of several of the cells displayed on the screens. Again, he wasn’t sure whether that represented a good or a bad thing, but was going to hope it meant he was nearing his quarry and he thought it worth trying to amplify the effect if he could. He stepped back to the chrome dials on the wall, experimenting with different thruster combinations. At first none of them seemed to be having any effect, so he spun them up higher, producing an audible strain and the cell cores started to grow larger. Oddly enough, though, straining the thrusters in the opposite direction did not shrink the cores back down again. In fact it didn’t matter which direction he strained the thrusters in, the cores would each time grow to possess half of their containing cell and then pause.
“What is it?” he asked aloud, and as he did so the cores grew a little bit more. He had a sudden epiphany. Perhaps it had had nothing to do with the thrusters? Just the audible strain they produced? “HEY!” he shouted and the cores filled the entirety of their cells and another, different-colored core appeared again at their centers. At the same time a deep thrum pulsed through his little reality capsule and somewhere, far off in the power stream ahead, another echoing thrum sounded in perfect harmony.
The hairs on his arm stood on end and he inhaled deeply, preparing for a long, protracted tone. “Aaahhhhhhh…” he hummed out, watching as the images on the screens responded to his voice, one different color growing from the center of the cell to consume another, and then repeating that process, and at each completion of the cycle another thrum, simultaneously through his ship and again at an unseen point that seemed to be growing closer and closer. Then, in an occurrence that shocked him more than anything else previous, his voice emanating from his mouth began to shimmer with a visible dust, which quickly started to expand and become a floating, gray volume undulating and pulsating rhythmically. Traces of it even reached down his throat and to his lungs like pleasantly warm liquid metal before he thought to stop shouting. His eyes flashed, realizing that he may have just arrived at the Great Infinite, so close now that its very matter was pervading into his own. It was time to find the nearest void socket and exit the power stream.
His fingers trembled as he punched in the commands. It wasn’t a difficult sequence, but he found himself struggling to recall it. Taking a couple deep, calming breaths he brought his mind back to the present moment and finished entering the proper functions. All around him the orange power stream was disappearing, and so to was the room and all its instruments; each component and surface appearing to warp, bleed out its color, and then silently slip into the black nothingness. He stepped over to the exhaust vents from which all his life support systems emanated, not wanting to be cut off from them until the last possible moment. He watched as the dark vacuum continued etching along the walls like the thin slivery fingers of frost across a pane of glass. It encircled and descended on him, all colors and shapes seeming to melt into one and then he saw nothing, not just because there was nothing to see, but because his eyes were no more. He heard nothing. He tasted nothing. He felt nothing. There was one vague sensation, like slowly falling or quickly ascending, it was difficult to tell which. He was still consciousness, but that too would dissipate, either to emerge in some new, higher form that likely had no knowledge of this prior mold…or merely to just be lost forever.
The thing about his theory of another higher being watching him and pulling him safely through…well it really was just a theory. There was no scientific measurement to guarantee to him that any benevolent receiver was waiting on the other end of this void. But honestly the uncertainty was part of what gave him hope. He felt it was designed to be this way, ascension simply shouldn’t be possible except for by some blind leap of faith. And so he was leaping.
Silently, slowly, he counted into the dark. 1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6… 7… 8… 9… 10… 11… 12… 13… 14… 15… 16… 17…
As I said on Monday, this provides the conclusion to this two-part short story. Obviously I could have gone a bit further to answer the obvious questions, such as does he make it or disappear into nothingness forever? If he does emerge somewhere, what is it like there? But trying to answer these would not have been true to the themes of the story. On the first hand, he himself doesn’t know if he will make it through to the Great Infinite, and I want the reader, like our main character, to be accepting of that uncertainty. Also, suppose he did make it through successfully. How could I describe a higher dimensional existence in a way that would seem honest and accurate? I could describe its shape and colors, things we are familiar with, but how could I speak to the things that exceed our human senses? It would literally be like trying to capture all of the Mona Lisa on a multi-colored single line of paint. And so I felt it was best to end it with the last moments in which he still has anything to do with our comprehensible reality, and then leave what follows unknowable.
One other thing I want to call out in the story, is that while obviously there are abilities and rules in this world that are made up, I did try to be consistent in how they worked and operated. I think every good story ought to respect and be true to its own systems and themes. Next week we’ll be talking more about that subject: establishing and sticking to rules in your story’s world, and will then illustrate that with the first half of another two-part short story. Have a good weekend and I’ll see you then.