The Pulse: B.C.
Dinner Guests from Baulis Prime
While others found it comforting, Berry found it disturbing to discover he was of alien extraction. Some of his fellow Baulians remembered the discovery — which always occurred at the age of 13 — as if they had learned they had a bit of Hungarian ancestry, way back when. Berry imagined them at dinner parties, telling other guests, “Oh well, some of us are of Jewish extraction, and some of us are Gypsies. ‘Foreign extraction’ has an exotic sound to it, you can’t deny. Maybe we’re all wanderers, deep down inside. It’s just that our people happen to be from another planet.”
They’re such phonies! Berry thought to himself. Some of us! Deep down inside! He imagined them talking as if they had just dropped in from next door. Our people! He imagined them sipping their martinis in unison with their neighbours: “Oh, you’re from another planet. Neptune, you say? How nice! We’re immigrants too.”
The fact that his people were from another planet would have turned the clear martinis of the other guests pink. But Baulians weren’t allowed to talk about who they really were.
Explaining that they were from another planet, however, wouldn’t have been the hardest part. His people were also from another universe. Compared to Baulis, Neptune was like an eyelash away. Or a floater.
When Berry thought of another universe, he didn’t think of some fantasy universe in which one dimension was superimposed on another. In such a scenario, travelling from Baulis to Earth would be like reversing an energy current. One moment you’re drifting sexless and at ease in an orange essence bath with your tentacles pulsing — then TZZZ — the next moment you’re trying to keep your balance on a planet with crushing gravity.
He couldn’t even imagine something as ridiculous as one space-time continuum superimposed on another. He clamped his slippery tongue between the two rows of his calcified grinders when he heard people talking like that.
He even heard one mystic, who went by the name of Plotinus Maximus, explain that our nervous systems were constantly being split off into new dimensions. In these alternate dimensions our ‘alternate selves’ lived out other versions of our original selves. Maximus professed to understand the physics that made such an absurdity possible, although he had no proof whatsoever.
Maximus argued by way of analogy — a fallacious method to which humans were particularly vulnerable — using theoretical models based on mathematics. The models were brilliant, yet they couldn’t be applied willy-nilly to the real world. This problem reminded Berry of Zeno’s Paradox, in which it was impossible mathematically to go from point A to point B because the space between A and B could be divided up infinitely. The principle behind this mathematical conundrum was the basis of infinite fractals, and therefore was sacred to the Baulians. Yet this principle couldn’t then be applied with complete disregard for the practical laws of physics. No sane being (even on Earth) argued that it was in practice impossible to go from point A to point B. Things went from A to B all the time. It was an axiom of Baulian scientific theory that abstract mathematics cannot be applied to situations if this creates a practical — that is, a demonstrable — contradiction to known physical realities.
Yet Plotinus Maximus went on talking about mathematical expressions of infinity and connecting them — in a manner Berry couldn’t fathom — to energy fields so subtle that they disappeared from this space-time continuum and popped into another.
There was only one Baulian philosopher — Rablanar the Fractal Mystic — who took the theories of Plotinus Maximus seriously. Rablanar argued that Maximus’ notion of the superimposition of universes might not be correct (at least it was unsupported by any proof), yet the paradigm of infinite fractals suggested that the result may be the same: beings might be able to project things (or even their selves) into fractals so deep that they may as well be coming from another universe. Yet Rablanar’s theories had been disproven a thousand times over by The Plenary Council of Master Masters & Fractal mystics, which published its proceedings at least five years ago. Recent Plenary Sessions were devoted to far more practical matters, such as the ethical problem of allowing subjugated species freedom of speech while denying them political and economic freedom.
According to Berry, Plotinus Maximus had no idea what he was talking about. Everything he imagined to be dipping in and out of this space-time continuum was in fact bouncing around in the quantum corners and fractals of the same continuum. If humans had a clue what to do with their particle accelerators they would see that the soil out of which they came was not some strange mystical realm. Berry could write a dozen books about the corners they couldn’t look around and the fractals they couldn’t see. Space was all around them, yet some of their brightest minds still didn’t grasp the basic concept. Alternate dimensions! As if the universe wasn’t big enough — or small enough — for them!
Berry wasn’t allowed to do it, but he felt like telling his cocktail friends that his people weren’t people at all. They certainly weren’t from some mystery universe that popped into theirs. Nor were they from around the corner, as his fellow Baulians liked to pretend among themselves, implying a geographical intimacy that was inaccurate, at best.
Neptune had nothing to do with it. The Virgo Supercluster, of which the Milky Way was but a small part, was where he’d start in explaining where he came from.
Where Berry came from was beyond the Virgo Supercluster, inside of which Earth and Neptune were tiny and (if not for their sun) invisible specks. His dinner guests may have been able to understand this spatial situation, especially if they had a rudimentary understanding of astronomy. Yet the most difficult part was that Berry was from a place billions of times further from Earth than the Hercules Supercluster, which was, for most humans, unthinkably far from their own Virgo Supercluster.
If Earth was a peppercorn on top of the Empire State Building, then Baulis was a baby octopus floating at the centre of the Boötes Galactic Void, 701 million light-years from Earth. But that analogy still made one imagine that the distances involved could be understood by the mind. In fact, the distances were so great that only a clear understanding of math — pure theoretical math with its long string of zeros cubed, and then re-cubed — could lend to the mind a faint semblance of understanding.
Baulians referred to their universe as The Orange Hoop, which was one of the three universes they’d detected so far. Earth was located in The Violet Hoop, at the centre of which was a massive star wall they called The Thin White Disc.
Berry was pretty sure that in the next decade or two humans were likely to discover the Star Wall, which was located (from Earth’s perspective) in the general direction of Scorpius and the Norma Cluster. Humans couldn’t detect it because it was directly behind the densest part of their galaxy, which from their perspective lay near the tail of the constellation of Scorpius.
The Star Wall was 180 megaparsecs wide and contained 1.2 trillion stars. It was so large and bright that it was the first tiny pinprick of light the Baulians saw beyond their own universe.
For several hundred years the Baulians worshipped the Disc as if it were God. They gave it the grandiose title, The Prime Mover that Set the Universes in Motion, which made sense to them since it was the densest grouping of galaxies they had ever seen. Yet when the Baulians saw another universe next to the Violet Hoop, they revised their theology. It appeared that their Orange Hoop was in a gravitational relation with The Violet Hoop and with a third universe, which they called the The Green Buzz. They also noticed that at rare intervals all three universes pulsed in synchrony and emitted a burst of purple energy, the origin of which the Baulians had yet to discover. The Thin White Disc became a mere stepping stone to the deeper mystery of the Purple Truth.
The Disc was downgraded to demi-god status — bright but not nearly as central as they had once imagined. Baulian historians did their best to hide their earlier enthusiasm for what many started calling, sarcastically, the Big White Thing. They deleted references to the God of Suns from their data banks, and they hid poems to its divine radiance in footnotes buried deep in coded appendices. They also corrected the theological paradox in which the Disc controlled the Disc-Thrower — as well as the mystical paradox in which the Disc and the Disc-Thrower were One.
The Disc became just another mythical shape, another figure like the ones on the floor of the Otranto Cathedral in Southern Italy. Once a magical entity in a faraway land, the Disc was now a quixotic oddity amid fabulous myths and sky monsters. Once the God of Infinite Suns, it was now an antiquated image that pilgrims walked across to find Something Else.