Sunday, May 15, 2005


      The Universe is a difficult idea to get used to, especially when you suddenly find yourself floating in the middle of it. Douglas gazed at the stars and nebulas and things. Impossible. The harder he tried to understand that space goes on forever, the harder it was to understand. So he let his mind relax and began to look between the stars. His thoughts stretched outward. He sensed matter, space, energy. Soon it felt as though all the stars were singing to him - with him. And maybe he wasn't so different after all.
      Which is probably why, when he heard a voice in his head and turned to find a mouse in a bubble, the first question on Douglas's mind was rather philosophical.
      "Why me?"
      The mouse made a face which seemed to indicate he had come a very long way in a very big hurry, and that's exactly the kind of question he wasn't getting paid to answer.
      "You are Douglas, son of Arthur?" replied the mouse finally.
      "My father's name was Arthur, but I never knew him."
      "Nonetheless, he was Earth's greatest adventurer."
      "My dad?"
      "Indeed. Arthur Dent hitchhiked all over the galaxy."
      "Hitch-hike? How do you do that?"
      "Nevermind. The point is you've got adventures of your own."
      "I don't know..." replied Douglas, but was thinking something different.
      "Remember that I'm communicating directly with your thoughts," interrupted Josef, "Right now, you are trying to convince yourself that this isn't real."
      Douglas laughed for a moment, without knowing why.
      "What are they telling you about your dreams?"
      "They still don't believe me. They think there's something wrong with me."
      "That's just like humans - always jumping to conclusions," said the lab mouse.
      "It's very hard to believe in something with everybody giving you weird looks," said Douglas.
      "Maybe you should find people who won't give you weird looks for what you believe," replied Josef, "Anyway, you shouldn't have to believe me, your mother knows."
      "My mother?" asked Douglas.
      "Indeed. Arthur and Fenchurch exploring the galaxy..." thought Josef dramatically. His mind played a jarble of illustrated memories Douglas couldn't recognize. "In fact, there is one story you might like to -"
      "Fenchurch. Your mother. Must you repeat everything in the form of a question?"
      "But my mother's name is Amelia."
      "Matter, anti-matter. What's the difference?" grumbled Josef, "Do you want to hear the story?"
      "All right," answered Douglas, but he was finally convinced. Her name was Amelia and none of this was real. If Josef knew of his certainty, the mouse kept quiet.
      "Your parents journeyed to the tranquil planet Rom, to attend the funeral of President Loid. It was to be their last adventure, because your mother had been feeling quite ill, and they decided to head back to Earth. But there was something neither of them knew..." He paused. "Douglas, you're not paying attention."
      "I was!"
      "You were looking at the stars."
      "How do you know what I'm looking at?"
      "Since I can read your thoughts, I also know what you're looking at, your intended body movements, and facial expressions."
      "Yeah?" replied Douglas, "Can you read this facial expression?"
      "Oh, very nice, Douglas. Very mature, indeed." He let out an airless little mouse sigh. "Maybe I should skip ahead."
      "Please do."
      "Your parents were returning from an adventure on Rom. What neither of them knew was that your mother was pregnant with you. And your father would never find out, because just then a terrible, stupid catastrophe occurred. From his perspective, your mother vanished. From her perspective, she suddenly appeared on a different spaceship, with a different ticket, sitting next to a three-headed, Picoid crystal bird poacher. Needless to say, all five involved were a bit disconcerted."
      "Why did that happen?" Douglas asked. Even if it weren't true, it was becoming a good story.
      "Your mother was pulled into a parallel universe," Josef answered gravely, "And don't look at me like that. It happens."
      Douglas tried not to look at him like that, but didn't feel very successful.
      "And it was this event," Josef continued, "which seems to have given you pandimensional properties - similar to those we mice have always possessed."
      "So it's like a super-power."
      "Well, mice can pass through different dimensions like passing through a hole in the wall."
      "And me?"
      "You can float around an empty sector of space in your sleep."
      "That's not worth very much," he frowned.
      "And yet," replied Josef, "it is worth more than almost any other thing your species has ever done."
      "Be nice!"
      "Be worth it."
      Douglas wanted to argue, but found he didn't know how.
      "I should have left minutes ago," hurried the white mouse, "I have to meet you on Earth. Do you understand these dreams now?"
      "Not really," smiled Douglas, amused at the idea of holding up his own dream character, "I have a few more questions."
      "Very well. Quickly, please."
      "First of all, where is here? It's nowhere near Earth."
      "How do you know that?" asked Josef, very much surprised.
      "I can't see Orion."
      "Orion?" replied Josef, "Oh, yes. The connect-the-dots hunter you humans see in the stars. Not very life-like, don't you think? The dolphins, on the other hand, think it's a butterfly."
      He thought about it. He thought about it some more. He turned his thoughts sideways.
      "Oh!" cried Douglas, quite impressed with his imagination, "That's much smarter."
      "Of course it is - dolphins have the time to really look. Humans are much too busy asking things like Where am I?, Why am I here?, Am I missing recess?"
      "Yes. Where am I, by the way?"
      Josef scrunched up his nose and bristled his whiskers.
      "This is the sector in which your mother disappeared. It's a different universe, so there are different constellations. And you know I've never visited you in school. Not enough time. So your recesses are perfectly..."
      "Question two," interrupted Douglas, "If I'm actually on Earth in another universe, how can you communicate with my thoughts?"
      "With the help of a fish," answered Josef simply.
      Douglas wished he hadn't been clever enough to ask.
      "Wait, let me guess: a superintelligent dolphin? Josef, one of us is definitely crazy."
      "A dolphin is not a fish," corrected Josef.
      "Oh, that's good," sighed Douglas, "At least we know you're the crazy one."
      "A dolphin is a mammal, just like you. And the fish I'm using is called a Babel fish. It is a marvelous creature you stick in your ear and -"
      "Your ear. You stick it in your ear," insisted Josef, "And it translates languages for you. Might as well have a good laugh about it..."
      "Sounds groovy."
      "Oh. Well, um, it would normally only translate the things you meant to say, but this one was engineered to feed on all thoughts. We weren't quite sure it would work, actually."
      "Question three," began Douglas, "Why me?"
      Josef sighed again. And in the pause, Douglas noticed a faint beep-beep-beep that hadn't been beeping before.
      "Who knows?" responded Josef, "Deep Thought chose you."
      "Deep Thought?" Douglas asked, and noticed that the beeps were growing louder.
      "A very old, very wise supercomputer."
      "You do what a computer tells you?"
      "Sometimes. I mean..." Josef hesitated, and the sound got even louder, "only when we feel like it, of course."
      "How fast is it?"
      "What? It's... very fast, I suppose."
      "Well, how does it work?" He had to concentrate very hard now to hear Josef's thoughts over the beeping.
      "Oh, I haven't the foggiest -"
      "Then who built it?"
      "We mice... It was such a long time ago, you see." If Josef thought anything else, it was lost to the noise.
      "Last question!" yelled Douglas excitedly, "What is that horrible beeping sound? An approaching enemy vessel?"
      "Sort of," replied Josef, "That's your alarm clock."
      Douglas woke up.