TORCH Cover

Torch

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 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 never return from. Everyone has a theory—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 consistent qualities, fuzzy-blending with its neighbors. The further you investigate, the more the mathematics devolve—or so I’ve been told. Those who study such anomalies propose a zero-sum singularity is at the center. If it even has a center. This warped geometry is a made thing, but there’s no clue by whom. Although there’s also speculation it’s a twisted, natural hernia in the fabric of blah, blah, blah. But no, this thing was constructed by capable, intelligent hands or other dexterous, perhaps dangerous, appendages to reside as a quasi-focal point of this inverted place.

​To investigate the skewed apeirogon, you 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 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 and lichen.

​Because the beacon has been changing, 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, a babysitter on a desolate plain populated by swarms of gnats who see me as the best dinner they’ll ever have in their brief lifetime. 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. For hundreds of miles outward, the thousands of sensors I’ve planted measure every change in energy spectrums. 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 activity?

After the monster ceased its 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. I have enough credits to keep me satisfied for two lifetimes in my pockets. After that, I’d need to find a job. They don’t know it, but I brought someone back with me. Her name is Torch.