Luis Vargas awoke. Forty days from Earth. Elapsed time since launch was always first in his mind when consciousness returned. He wasn’t impatient; he was just methodical.
He got up and began day forty-one. Faye Wong was already in the kitchen, eating breakfast.
“We’re there,” she said. “We’ve reached our destination.”
“Before I came in here.”
“Congratulations to us.”
“Do you feel any lonelier?”
“Just the same, this is it. We have arrived at the loneliest place in the universe, as officially designated. Not a single atom, not a single proton, not to mention any galactic superclusters, within a billion light years of us. We’re in the supervoid to end all supervoids. No intergalactic gas. Even the dark matter here is as thin as soup after ten years of famine. Just us and the cosmological constant and the uniform dark energy attendant to it.”
“Speaking of soup, this glop tastes pretty good,” Luis said.
“Traveling at the speed of light in the conventional three-D matrix , it would have taken us several billion years to get here, which is to say, more than half the age of the universe.”
“Hooray for us, and for all those non-orthogonal extra dimensions we used. I can’t get over how we never feel anything different, traveling this way.”
“We’re human,” Faye said. “We experience the universe in three dimensions, period. That’s it. Who knows what’s going on for you in your fourth and fifth dimensions. You probably don’t have your pants on.”
“Now I’m blushing.”
“Finish your breakfast,” Faye said. “It’s time to go do what we’re here for.”
After brushing their teeth and rinsing with a little mouthwash, they met in the lab. They took their places at the console, but before they could activate the equipment, they were interrupted.
“Hello,” a voice said.
“What was that?” Luis said.
“Who was that?” Faye said.
“Did we hear that?” Luis said.
“I think it was inside our heads,” Faye said.
“Welcome to my home,” the voice said. “Yes, telepathy is a simple electromagnetic process.”
Luis and Faye exchanged glances. They turned away from the console. Luis stood up.
“Who are you?” he said.
“Since I’m alone here and since I’ve always been alone, I don’t have a name. I’m just the being who lives here.”
“Where?” Faye said. “In this ship?”
“No. Outside the ship.”
“Holy cow,” Luis said. “Like a dark-energy plasma consciousness? How big are you?”
“About the size of a galaxy.”
“How old are you?” Faye said.
“Just a little younger than the universe.”
“So… what do you do out here?” Luis said. “How do you live? I mean, do you just… well… think all day? Not that you have day and night, of course.”
“Thinking is good. I have been thinking for a very long time.”
“But you’re out here all alone,” Faye said. “Would you like some, you know, news from the human race? Should we tell you about life where we come from? Something like that?”
They heard a chuckle in their heads.
“I suppose that if an ant could talk, it could tell you things you don’t know about life in an anthill,” the voice said. “But such is not the case here. Everything you know, I know. In fact, I know everything about everything.”
“Like God,” Faye said.
“I know everything about God, about all the gods. I know everything all the gods know. I also know everything that an ant knows.”
“Is it OK that we’re here?” Faye said. “We’re not interrupting anything?”
“That’s a human question. But yes, it’s OK that you’re here.”
“You know, we’re here to perform an experiment,” Faye said.
“Yes,” the voice said. “An experiment based on the premise that the fabric of the universe is thinnest out here and that, in the context of the number of dimensions you happen to know about, you can tear the fabric here and look out through the hole you make.”
“So how about that premise?” Luis dropped back into his seat.
“The premise is false. If I were human, it would make me laugh. The universe contains an infinite number of non-orthogonal dimensions, not just the two hundred and fifty-six you know about. And not just any infinite number. One of the larger infinities. There is no fabric to the universe. It’s solid, all the way through. There are no holes to someplace else, so you won’t be tearing a new one with your little experiment.”
“Rats,” Luis said. “I guess we can try anyway – we have to follow orders – and then we can go back and report what you said.”
“You could do that,” said the voice.
“Say,” said Faye, “since you know everything about everything, can we ask you some questions?”
“Why not – and that’s rhetorical.”
Faye turned to Luis.
“If this is true and actually happening,” she said, “it’s our big chance to bring back all sorts of incredible information to Earth, even if our experiment is a complete failure. Put on your thinking cap, Luis.”
“It’s our chance to get rich for life,” Luis said. “Let’s ask about some totally new invention, like the transistor and the laser were. Sir, what about that? A new invention?”
“I can do that. There are many, many processes and products and practices that you know nothing of. Of course, there are no words in your language for any of them yet.”
“Well, could you just describe one? A good one?”
“How about anti-gravity?” the voice said.
“”Whoa,” Luis said, “now we’re getting somewhere! How do we make an anti-gravity machine?”
“It’s a little like superconductivity,” the voice said. “You need to fabricate materials that do not occur naturally in your environment. You know, there are spots where it’s all anti-gravity and folks would kill for a gravity machine… Anyway, for anti-gravity, you begin with a gabro-calcite-xenon matrix…”
“Hold on,” Luis said. “Let me key that in, whatever it is. Will the brains back home understand ‘gabraw-calcium-whatever’ when I say it to them?”
“I am couching everything in terms that your scientists will understand.”
“Hang on, Luis,” said Faye. “Anti-gravity is fine, but let’s do aging first. Living forever. You know?”
“What’s the difference?” Luis turned to his console and activated it, poising his fingers over the keyboard. “We won’t be able to afford the treatments for anti-aging, whatever they are. At least with anti-gravity, we might be able to buy a car that uses it.”
“We’ll make our personal anti-aging treatments part of the deal, before we turn over the information.”
“They’re going to take all the information right off the system here,” Luis said, “now that I think of it. And we signed away all rights to any scientific discoveries. We aren’t going to get anything out of this.”
“We’ll be heroes,” Faye said. “Maybe anti-aging is easy and everybody will get to live forever.”
“You think I might ask some questions about sex?” he said.
“Get your mind out of the gutter, please,” Faye said.
“Which do you want, anti-aging or anti-gravity?” the voice said. “Or sex?”
“Which is easier?” Luis said.
“Anti-gravity and its effect on sex,” he heard.
“Anti-aging,” Faye heard.
It took a while to get that sorted out.
“Please tell us both the same thing,” Faye said.
“OK,” she heard.
“No,” Luis heard.
That ate up some more time.
“Let’s just get something from this guy,” Luis said to Faye. “Anything.”
Faye wasn’t paying attention to him.
“What’s your stand on pranks and practical jokes and lying and misinformation?” Faye said to the voice, skeptical.
“I’m in favor of all of them.”
“Luis,” Faye said. “We can’t trust this, this thing. For all we know, it’s our own minds pulling some kind of trick on us. Let’s just get on with our experiment and ignore it.”
“Hey! I was just teasing a little,” said the voice. “Don’t give up on me. I really do know everything. Now that I think of it, I guess an ant wouldn’t like it if you teased it, either.”
Faye shook her head at Luis. They took up their respective positions in the lab and began to initiate their tearing-a-hole-in-the-universal-fabric experiment.
“You’re wasting your time,” said the voice, in a grumpy tone.
They ignored it and ran their tests. Checking the results, they both whooped.
“My Lord, we did it,” said Faye. “We opened a hole in the multi-dimensional fabric of the universe and we’ve got readings from the other side. The universe isn’t solid all the way through after all.”
“Break out the champagne,” Luis said.
They sat, sipping from paper cups in celebration. Admiring their data and the representations it included of an extra-universal landscape.
“All right,” said the voice, in a placatory tone. “I got that one wrong. I didn’t take into account that time is infinitely dimensional too, with an infinity that is infinitely larger than the multidimensional infinity. You popped through at an imaginary time when the universal fabric was, or will be, thinner, say, than that strange toilet paper you’ve been using.”
“That paper is biodegradable. Recycles right back into the system,” Luis said. “We probably had some of it for breakfast this morning.”
“Please leave us alone,” Faye said to the voice. “You aren’t welcome.”
“Hey, I live here. Have a heart. I’ve been alone for three billion years. Nobody visits, nobody calls.”
“Why haven’t you traveled or drifted into a galaxy or two? They’re all teeming with life. Talk about your ants.”
“I’m basically quite shy,” the voice said. “Besides, how often do you go sit on an anthill?”
“Please stop with the ants,” Faye said. “We’re human and we’re not lonely. Well, I do have my bad nights, but we think, therefore we are.”
“What does that mean?” the voice said.
“See?” Luis said. “See? You’re a total fraud.”
“No, I just don’t know what I don’t know. But so far, I still know everything except for what she just said.”
“Oh, brother,” Luis said. “Listen. We’ve got what we came for and now we’re leaving.”
“Wait. The anti-gravity thing and the anti-aging thing? They’re real. Don’t turn your back on them. And I’ve got a thousand more. Permanently sharp knives. How to make a zircon…”
“What do you think?” Luis said to Faye.
“He can follow us home,” Faye said, “but I don’t know if they’ll let us keep him.”