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๐—๐—ผ๐˜‚๐—ฟ๐—ป๐—ฒ๐˜†๐˜€ ๐—•๐—ฒ๐˜†๐—ผ๐—ป๐—ฑ ๐—ก๐—š๐—– ๐Ÿฏ๐Ÿฏ๐Ÿณ๐Ÿฌ

๐˜ฃ๐˜บ ๐˜ž๐˜ช๐˜ญ๐˜ญ๐˜ช๐˜ข๐˜ฎ ๐˜’๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜ค๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ

I was out in my garden, tending to my rosedogs, when I heard the news on the radio that the universe had stopped expanding. I was going back to work!

At about that time, mathematicians had discovered some new numbers. One of them was right beside zero, so they called it โ€œ00โ€, like on a roulette wheel. There was a new one between 3 and 4, not pi or a fraction or anything like that but a brand-new whole number. It was thought it had something to do with Roman numerals; we had I, II, and III, but then jumped to IV, so they called it IIII, pronounced โ€œAy yi yi yi!โ€ Five other numbers were discovered between 26 and 27 but they were more happy-go-lucky and playful so that discovery didnโ€™t cause as much of a problem as the new one between 3 and 4, which confused Nobel Prize-winning physicists and schoolchildren alike. The new numerical system was also a problem for journalists who were supposed to write articles of a certain length but werenโ€™t sure how to count the words. But the new math turned out to be a boon for interstellar travellers, and Tina and I made it to the end of the universe in less than a week.

The nearest edge of the universe, by the way, is just off to the left of Earth, that is, head towards NGC 3370, and keep going until you bump into something.

We bumped into the end of the universe. I took out my hammer and chisel and started hammering and chiselling away, looking for something, anything. โ€œTina, go over there and see if you can find a door or stairs.โ€ I continued to chip away, and flakes of the end of the universe fell off and went into orbit around my feet.

Tina called out, โ€œIโ€™ve found a window!โ€

The window had obviously not been cleaned for quite some time so we breathed on it and cleaned it with our sleeves. We looked through. There were two people looking back at us.

โ€œItโ€™s a mirror!โ€ cried Tina. โ€œWho would put a mirror here?โ€

โ€œSomeone who wants us to look our best,โ€ I replied, and straightened my hair. I needed a haircut.

But it wasnโ€™t a mirror. The actions of the two others didnโ€™t correspond with ours, although they looked a lot like us.

I smashed the glass with my hammer, and the shards of glass fell off and went into orbit around my feet along with the universe shavings.

The two people were still there. โ€œHello!โ€ I said.

The one who looked something like me replied something like โ€œOlรฉ!โ€ so I repeated โ€œOlรฉ!โ€, to which he responded, โ€œHello!โ€

I immediately understood what was happening, so I said, โ€œIt would appear that the transitive properties of a multiverse have transcended the meaning of cross-human communication.โ€

To which the other-me said, โ€œHuh?โ€, which I understood even given the language barrier.

Tina and I squeezed through the window, and made gestures indicating the other side of their universe. They understood completely, and we got into their spacecraft and jetted away from the window. We left breadcrumbs in our wake in case we needed to find our way back without our new friends.

Their universe was a haphazard chaotic mess, full of comets and asteroids and meteors and planets and satellites bumping into each other, causing massive explosions. Stars generated and dissolved in moments, galaxies collided and flew apart. It was not a peaceful place.

In their universe, a number had not been discovered between 3 and 4; in fact, the number 3 had been disproven and they didnโ€™t have any numbers higher than 14, so we reached the other end of their universe in fewer than thirteen of their minutes.

We looked through the window we found at the other end of their universe and there were four people looking back at us. Through a further series of gesticulations, and with an understanding of the prevailing mathematical theories, we reached the other end of that universe the day before yesterday.

That universe was chock-a-block with strands of organic material crisscrossing everywhere, capturing lifeforms in its sticky tentacles and shovelling it towards a parrot-like beak, where it was all chewed up and regurgitated in the form of what appeared to be giant clumps of kitty litter.

We looked through the window at the end of that universe and there were eight people looking back at us, upside down.

We broke the window, and all of the air in the previous three universes (or possibly two or one, depending on which universe youโ€™re from) seeped into the new universe, and the new people plunged, or, more accurately, de-plunged since they were already upside down. As the quantity of air seeping through had a volume of only .00000002 cubic centimetres, they de-plunged very slowly and we were able to follow them to their home planet.

After a nice meal of astaragus and eggplanet in a nebulemon sauce, Tina and I started to relax but for no apparent reason fights broke out all over the place. Tina and I hid under the table to consider our next plan.

We decided to split up in order to get to the bottom of things. Tina would stay with the group and I would attempt to return to Earth. It was a tearful separation as I had some grit stuck in my eye.

I crossed that universe, following the breadcrumbs, went through the window, crossed that universe, went through that window, lost track of where I was, and re-traced my flight. On my sixth attempt, or possibly fifth or seventh, depending on how you count, I made it back to my universe. I wondered what was at the other end of my universe, so I bypassed NGC 3370 and Earth, and continued my journey, arriving at the other end in hardly any time at all, time being relative as we all know. I found a window that had been boarded over with a sign attached to it: โ€œClosed For Repairsโ€. I went back to Earth.

I had expected about a million years to have passed since my departure, but the addition of โ€œ00โ€ and, especially, โ€œAi yi yi yiโ€ to the numerical system meant that I was home on the same day I had left. My supervisor and I watched Tina and me lift off, had a brief discussion about the debris still orbiting my feet (which had now grown to include a Solamander, picked up on my last fly-by of NGC 3370), and talked about next steps or, more precisely, next flights. My supervisor left all final decisions to me, which seemed about right for the decision-making capabilities of Earth supervisors.

I immediately departed for the end of the universe in a personal cruiser and reached it in time to see Tina and the previous-me going through the window. I squeezed my starship through the window and followed them at an inconspicuous distance through the next three (or four, or two, or more likely, 8.657) universes, and then re-joined them for second helpings of the excellent meal.

Things were still in a state of disorder; the dinner guests were still fighting between courses, and I certainly didnโ€™t approve of the table manners of the other meโ€™s. I located Tina and the first me hiding under a table. I knew it was the correct Tina because of the identifiable mole on her shoulder, a happy little furry fellow named Bruce. I also knew that the presence of me and the other-me in the same space could cause a singularity, so I put the Solamander on the otherโ€™s head. The Solamander devoured him, belched, and went for a nap.

Tina and I were aghast at the state of the universes so we made our plan. While the others continued to fight and indulge themselves in large quantities of Sata Lite Beer (which, incidentally, is a terrific galaxative), we sneaked off in my one-seater space cruiser which was very snug and pleasurable if you know what I mean.

We zoomed in the opposite direction away from Earth, to the other end of that universe, went through the window, continued through that universe, and so on, through the decay and pandemonium, until we reached a boarded-up window that had a sign on it, loosely translated as: โ€œClosed For Repairsโ€. We glued a piece of rope to the board, attached the other end of the rope to our keel, and journeyed back through the universes to home, scooping up breadcrumbs along the way so we couldnโ€™t be followed.

Tina and I sat in my garden and pulled on the rope. The furthest universe began to be drawn toward us; we were going to crush the mayhem that was the other universes. It took some time (between 3 and 4 hours) but it was working; reconnaissance craft determined that the other universes were collapsing. Soon, only our own universe would remain; tranquility would overcome the chaos.

We heard a bump. My rosedogs pulled up their roots and headed for the hills in confusion. Tina and I commandeered a spacecraft and headed for the end of our universe, picking up another Solamander as we went past NGC 3370, just in case.

It didnโ€™t take as long for us to reach the end of the universe as it had taken the first time, the new mathematics notwithstanding; something else was happening.

We had pulled too hard on the rope. Our universe was now contracting.

Tina, the Solamander, and I pushed against the end of the universe (using our legs, not our backs) but it was futile. I looked at them and said, โ€œOopsโ€. โœฆ


Billโ€™s stories, plays, and comedy sketches have been published, produced, and/or broadcast in Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Czechia, England, Guernsey, Holland, India, Ireland, Nigeria, Singapore, South Africa, the U.S., And Wales. His comic novel, Farewell And Goodbye, My Maltese Sleep, was published in October, 2023 by Close To The Bone Publishing and is available on Amazon.

Speculative fiction & POETRY ZINE
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