The rattle-bang, the scraping noise, funneled by low-frequency thumping, has been creeping toward my ship for days. The beacon—that’s what the few now-evacuated resident scientists call it—a small inaccessible volume of the larger inner space the outer people named the sphere.
It’s not one of those metaphysical things you can’t enter, or can and never return. It’s not a doorway to another realm, dimension, or heaven—take your pick on how wrong you want to be. Researchers have done a fair job of determining what the thing is not, giving the best description, though imperfect, as layer after layer of thickening reality, each possessing compatible qualities, fuzzy-blending with its neighbors. The further in you investigate, the more mathematics seems to devolve—or so I’ve been told.
Those who study such anomalies suppose there is a zero-sum singularity at the center. If it even has a center. This warped geometry is a made thing, but by whom, no one knows. Although there’s speculation it’s a twisted, natural hernia in the fabric of blah, blah, blah. But no, this thing was constructed, formed by capable, intelligent hands, or other dexterous, perhaps dangerous, appendages, to reside as a quasi-focal point of this inverted place.
To investigate the massless, skewed apeirogon, you first need to get within another slightly more accessible, weirdness. If you could see inside the zone, the planet would appear as a world with all surface areas looking inward toward their direct opposite on the other side. Like I said, weird. You can’t really look in from the outside, but we can detect it from there. To view it, you must be inside the sphere-field. From that perspective, it seems much like any other barely habitable rocky planet, circling an ordinary M-class star in an organized universe—just not ours. The only lifeforms here are moss, lichen, and a few species of insects.
Because the beacon has been changing of late, the Congress of Worlds sent me—a sacrificial goat—to confront or greet who knows what. My ship and its contents are considered more valuable than I am, but still expendable. I hope whatever is causing the reverberations is merely rolling over in its sleep, not readying for a . . . well I’m not sure what. My mind oscillates between the benign to the horrifyingly gruesome.
So here I sit, waiting, chauffer and baby sitter on a desolate desert plain populated by swarms of gnats who see me as the best dinner they’ll ever have in their brief life spans. My only entertainment is watching rivulets of sand flowing like slow water down the wind-formed slopes after each land-shaking deep throb from the unknown. The thousands of sensors I’ve planted, for hundreds of miles outward, measure every slight change in every energy spectrum. According to the readings, I’m in the exact center of the disturbance, though, paradoxically, there is no discernible direction pointing back to a source.
How do you describe a color that has no relationship to any other you’ve ever seen? How do you explain being painlessly, gloriously turned inside out, or hearing the fizz of your brain synapse activity?
After the monster ceased its restless, roiling turbulence and noise, after it released me, I launched my ship from that non-place. The experts grilled me, prodded me, measured every iota of the who that is me and my ship, finding no changes. They never expected or intended me to return and therefore felt in no danger of having to make the enormous payout.
“No,” I told them, “I don’t know why or how the beacon disappeared, or why the sphere later evaporated, taking the planet with it.”
Finally released, I went my way with legal possession of the starship I’d taken to the inner folds. In my pockets, I had enough credits to keep me satisfied for two lifetimes. After that, I’d need to find a job. They didn’t know it, but I brought someone back with me. Her name is Torch.