Antaea ran her hands across the ribs, following the curve up into the hazy depths, to the milky glow of the galaxy. The hull rib was warm, faintly vibrating, brassy. Scaffolding ran the length. Vesicles along each segment held compressed atmospheres, in case of puncture. Tentacles coiled around struts and ribs. Walls pulsed a deep red, until they bled into blackness, stars.
How could the infinite be confined?
Yet here it was. The cosmos inside a glorified balloon, top half of a zeppelin, retro-stylee. Antaea gazed in admiration at the vista, lips pursed, bemused. Her straight blond tresses fell down below her sequined footstraps, beneath the catwalk, disappearing. Her line was the envy of any crank-snorting Manhattan wanna-be vodka ad model. Stressed dragon skin belt with pelt and saberteeth framed a perfectly flat belly, a twinkling Illyrium diamond in the belly button. Moons had been powered on less Illyrium than that.
“Very clever, Mr. Oriander. What’s the trick?”
“No trick. The real deal,” replied the dashing Bowiesque figure, in cape, silver skintights and platform boots.
“Please.” (Batting her eyelashes.) “I may look like a supermodel but I’m not THAT dumb.”
“Like I said, ” repeated Oriander. “No cheap trick. What you see is what you get.”
“So, …” Antaea probed, “if we’re INSIDE the universe, and the universe itself is inside a giant balloon–then, what universe is the balloon inside?” It was her best shot at impersonating a topological theorist.
“You may not like the answer if I tell you.” Oriander’s fake English accent was even more ostentatious, as he angled for the kill.
“Oh, try me, I’ve traded time-space theories with the best of ’em.” Antaea drew air pistols and fired them into the void.
“Are you SURE you can handle it?”
“It’s inside itself.”
“It’s inside itself. Sort of. Are you familiar with the Klein bottle?”
“Like I said — sort of.”
“So, if I were to swim down to the Milky Way Galaxy, and find my way to Earth, and then this ship, and climb up into the gondola, and open the hatch in the ceiling to where we are now–“
“You’d find yourself exactly where you are now. Except not. It would be a different When. And a different You.”
“But then there’d be TWO of me! That would be, like – a sideways time loop!” Antaea gleamed, proud of the unexpected formulation. But then, knotting her brow, whether in faux confusion or not: “BUT, … that means … I could get a crush on myself, make out, break up with myself, and steal my own drugs, without even trying! Or a mirror!”
“Em … well..” coughed Oriander politely, “a delightful scenario, to be sure. But not exactly.” Antaea was a little flushed, distracted by the hotness quotient of her imagined scenario.
“Back to the Klein Bottle.”
“I could say that inside turns into outside– and it certainly looks that way from some angles.”
Antaea had another aha! “The Moebius Strip!”
“Right – except – the Moebius Strip is still a metaphor from 2D-3D. The problem is one of knowledge. It would take a more-than-infinite amount of knowledge to know for sure the underlying topology of our continuum. Topologies can be hidden, camouflaged, as lower dimensional topologies. From certain angles. Look at sailors. If you didn’t sail far enough, you were sure the Earth was flat. Well, except for the edges, where everything just fell off.”
“People were so self-satisfied when they discovered the Earth could be mapped as a globe. And 99.5% of the time, it worked. Except for the anomalies. Those could be ignored, or suppressed. At least, if you didn’t undo your gravity-well conditioning. And each view was true, to a degree, only partial. Of course, there were always other clues. But you had to look pretty hard for those.”
“But, that still doesn’t explain how a world can be inside itself and outside itself at the same time.” She shivered at the thought.
“Exactly – that would be what’s called a –“
“So, Mr. O – Can I call you that? You seem to be suggesting that when space turns inside out, there’s a … time … slippage!” At that, Antaea pirouetted, and almost fell over the railing into the Abyss, saved only by Oriander grabbing her belt. She adjusted her straps with all due modesty.
“More or less, yes. Mostly. With a fair dose of indeterminacy.”
A look of melancholy drifted across Antaea’s deific visage. Her belly diamond flickered like a pulsar, her hair blended into the skeins of birthing nebulae.
“So does that, like, mean that the me that’s talking now isn’t the same one that came in here?”
“I’m … not sure. How would you know?”
“What do you mean, How would I know? I know who I am!”
“How DO you know you are yourself, at any random moment? The same self that was there just a blink of the eye ago – can you prove it to yourself?
“Well… I …”
“Exactly. You can’t. Not for sure. It depends on how much you were paying attention. And how much of your self you’re actually aware of.”
“So you could be slipping across time all the time.”
“And I might not even know it.”
“You pick up quick. I see a bright future for you as a tempo-topologist.”
“You mean a topo-tempologist!” Antaea put his fingers firmly back on the railing, re-asserting control of the narrative.
“Well, enough speculative philosophy! Let’s go back down.”
Oriander strode across the catwalk, beckoning Antaea to follow, leaving a melodramatic trail of glitter that spun down and out into the depths, spawning plasma filaments and interstellar hydrogen clouds. At the Hatch, they grasped the rim of the rotating globe, and swung themselves in and
down and around.
The Hatch, now overhead, shut, was a flat circle of battered wood, incised with a Mystick Glyphe, almost buried under fingerprints, paint and grease.
They were late for dinner.
The glitter had disappeared from Oriander’s cape, and Antaea’s glass belly button piercing barely glinted. Oriander’s neo-glam look was, well… neo-glam would be generous; and Antaea’s neo-tribal post-apocalyptic clubgirl chic was, well… let’s say the look was waiting for its next revival. But that’s OK, it was only dinner. Right now the smell was all that counted. Looks could wait.
EileaKaos rang the bell.
“Time for dinner, you freaks! Eat it or beat it!”
Oriander checked the interface on his navigational pendant. The City should be coming into view soon. It was a surprise he’d been planning for some time now. Looking out the porthole into the dusk, Venus emerging near a crescent moon, far below was the outline of Pyramid Lake.
“Ay que mover es esqueleto!” Have to Move the Skeleton.
It was an old Cuban saying, handed down from Oriander’s Santeria side of the clan. Definitely the ticket. A spot of shore leave for the weary crew.
The City, the City of Blackened Stone.
2bee cont’d …
… as downloaded by Cynnamon Twyst sometime in the 2012-ish Interval… probably sitting in the Novel Cafe scribing with pen&ink into a red bound volume, … with a tip of the hat to ToyLit aka James Mathers, Samuel R. Delany & the Whoverse…