The Hard Way

Leo was learning a lot about hyperspace travel today, as he’d thought he might, but he’d hoped for a more passive kind of education. He tried not to vomit, but his teeth were floating something fierce. He made eye contact with a scowling guard and looked back at his feet, careful not to look at the other passengers—and especially not at the weigh station.

The passengers shuffled along like a traffic jam, one angry inch at a time. No one liked being in limbo. It was disconcerting. It turns out jaunting through hyperspace is a rather delicate art. Who knew? Leo had learned that the universe was like a giant scale. It cared for only one thing: perfect balance. You can’t just jump from one place to another; that would cause an imbalance. Instead, when you want to go from Point A to Point B, an equal mass had to simultaneously go from Point B to Point A. The Hyperspace Authority accomplished this through strict timetables and a supply of carefully measured ballast. If the loads at Point A and Point B don’t match, the heavier load drops into limbo—a temporary bubble universe that exists outside of time. No one leaves limbo until the loads are balanced.

This all would have been good information to have before Leo stole a ticket from a sleeping passenger who’d already been weighed. He just wanted a way off this dirtball, out of the crappy life he’d inherited. Boy, he was out now. When they arrived in limbo the Authority guards forced everyone to line up on one side of the jump chamber, and now they were making everyone pass through the weigh station one at a time, checking their mass against their tickets. Whoever didn’t match would be shown the exit, left to float in an infinite void, waiting for the bubble universe to collapse. Technically, the bubble only existed for Planck second (which was apparently very short), but from the inside it could appear to last infinitely. It wasn’t known for sure; no one wanted to wait around to find out. Outside of limbo, the excess load would be converted to pure white light and residual heat, and that would be that.

The balance must be kept.

The line continued its slow shuffle forward. Leo was near the front now. Yes, he’d learned a lot today, and he’d learned it the hard way.

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