Gears of the Spheres

“Copernicus, Kepler, and Newton all lived one right after the other. Then there was a pause. There were plenty of smart people, probably, but not a need. Where Newton left off was pretty good for a while. Anyway, then there was Einstein, and that was a big jump that was good enough for a few hundred years more—the longest pause yet, which is saying something because the technology was just starting to get recognizably modern during that time. Finally it was Ruiz and Shimizu, independently, who made the last big leap. The last big one so far, that is; I’m not saying there’s not more to figure out. But that’s why it’s called a RuSh drive, after Ruiz and Shimizu.”

Aya just stared at the funny man with his bald head and bushy mustache and strange tools. She didn’t know a black whole from a white dwarf, but she was scrappy and hungry and somehow managed to land herself an unofficial apprenticeship under a journeyman lightsmith aboard an unremarkable FTL freighter called the Kuda Kerja.

The man, called Fortin, stared back and sipped steaming coffee from a scratched and dented stainless steel mug. He dabbed his mustache with the back of his wrist and said, “Forget it. Easier to just show you the darn thing.”

Aya leaned over, looking behind him. “I thought that was the RuSh drive.”

He smiled like a five-year-old with a lolly. “It is. But that’s only the way it looks in three dimensions. If you want to understand it, you’ll need to see the rest. Now the important thing is not to panic, okay? Don’t try to move or look around; just stay still. Observe. Get it?”

She had no idea what he was talking about, but she nodded anyway.

He traded his mug for an equally abused device she didn’t recognize. “Stay calm,” he said.

And then the whole universe exploded.

Then the explosions exploded. Every point in space blew up into infinitely tessellating polyhedrons that somehow didn’t overlap or intersect. She saw in every direction at once, and whichever way she focused her attention there was an infinite tunnel with an infinite number of branches. She tried to cover her eyes, but instead she saw around and through and within her own hands, the bones and the capillaries and the musculature, every cell from every angle. She gasped, and her fractal lungs wrapped around the entire universe like the synchronous wings of a trillion moths.

And then it was all gone. She was looking at the darkness of her palms over her eyes.

“I told you not to move.”

She lowered her hands. Fortin was picking up his spilled coffee mug from the deck. The whole world suddenly felt flat.

He smiled again. “You see now? The RuSh drive is a hyperspace machine. That’s where it sits, where it runs, and where you have to go to fix it. Those are the gears of the spheres. You’ll get used to it.”

Aya didn’t say a word. Everything felt unreal. Dreamlike.

“Want to do it again?” Fortin asked.

Again, Aya nodded.

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