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THE THIRTEENTH DIMENSION

Short story By: Philip Roberts
Science fiction



A SF story that explores the concept of multiple universes, each with four dimensions; and a race between govt agents and a scientist through alternative universes.


Submitted:Aug 25, 2011    Reads: 8    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   


"He's frozen! Oh my God, he's frozen!" came a cry in the large warehouse.

Staring in wonder at the tall, moustached lieutenant, who stood as rigid as a statue in the middle of the refitted aircraft hanger, the six technicians slowly started toward him, their hands outstretched before them like Boris Karloff in an old Frankenstein movie. Of course they had all heard of freezing-out: the phenomenon had been reported off and on since the earliest days of America's ionic-drive experiments, toward the end of World War One. But this was a new installation, its personnel only recently recruited from more mundane laboratory work, so until now they had never actually encountered a freeze-out.


Nevertheless, they had been briefed on the phenomenon and knew that the only "cure" was a quick laying-on-of-hands, to effect a rapid transfer of vitality from their own bodies to energise the frozen subject and bring him back to life. So, trying their best to avoid the look of abject terror in the eyes of the lieutenant, the six technicians moved forward, hands held out like Boris Karloff.

They moved quickly, they had been warned the laying-on-of-hands had to be effected as soon as possible, or else the victim could become "set": permanently frozen, like a living, breathing statue. What they had not been warned was that another possible side-effect of the freeze-out was a "burn-out":

Two of the technicians already had the palms of their hands placed flat against the lieutenant's chest, when without warning he burst into flames.

One young woman was lucky: screaming from shock and agony, she managed to release the lieutenant then ran shrieking around the workroom, her hands flaming like gasoline torches. Burnt to charcoal up to a few centimetres above the wrists, she would lose both hands. But at least she would survive the burn-out.

The other technician and the lieutenant were not so lucky: The two men were engulfed in a mountain of yellow-white flames. Small sprays of white-hot fat jetted from the bodies of the two men (one screaming aloud from agony, the other frozen, screaming with his eyes only) as their body fats sizzled like barbecued meat, even while they lived, as the flames burnt with almost supernatural intensity.

In only seconds they had been reduced to a large mound of charcoal, which continued to collapse in on itself, rapidly losing all resemblance to anything that had ever been alive. Until finally it dissolved into a pile of fine, grey-white ash.

* * *

Professor Abner Gilquist was on his way home from the supermarket, when he was picked up by the men-in-black (MIBs). For the last six months he had been aware he was being watched. The MIBs made no real effort at concealment. For hours, or even days they sat out front of his house in their limousine, dressed in black suits without insignia of any kind. Whenever Abner left the house they would follow along behind -- either on foot, or in the long, black Cadillac Eldorado that seemed to be their home-away-from-home. On at least two occasions they had broken into the small laboratory at the back of his house while he was out.

Although the MIBs had done no damage during their break-ins and had never accosted him in the street, Abner was normally alert to their every movement, aware of exactly how many were following him, and roughly how far behind him they were. But that morning his mind had wandered to thoughts of Mabel. Both missing her and for the umpteenth time feeling guilty that he sometimes felt relief at her death.

For thirty-five years Abner had been involved in private experiments in the lab attached to the back of his house. But for most of that time his experiments had hardly advanced at all. He had been too distracted by his wife, Mabel, who had been unable to understand her husband's need to tinker around outside.

Each night straight after super, Abner would hurry outside to his experiments, then a few minutes later Mabel would be standing in the doorway of the lab, pleading with him to come inside to keep her company while she watched television. "I get so lonely in that big house all by myself!" she would complain. And every night Abner would struggle along with his experiments for another fifteen minutes or so, before giving in to Mabel's pleas, thinking as he followed her back into the house, "Oh well, there's always tomorrow night for my work!"

For twenty-five years he allowed himself to be cajoled back into the house, always thinking he would start working seriously on his experiments the next evening. But his work hardly progressed at all until Mabel's death ten years ago -- two years before his retirement from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratories.

Instead of grief, Abner's only emotion at Mabel's death had been an overwhelming sense of relief that at last he could get on with his experiments in peace. For nearly eighteen months after her death, Abner had hardly missed Mabel at all. Then suddenly her death had hit him with a crunch.

For the last eight and a half years Abner's experiments had advanced in leaps and bounds, but so had his sense of guilt. Guilt that he was only working at the cost of Mabel's life. Although she had never understood his work, Mabel had always been a good wife, and a loyal companion to Abner. She had deserved better than for him to have been glad to see her into her grave.

So for the last eight odd years, although his experiments had come close to completion, there had been no real satisfaction in it for Abner. Only guilt.

He had spent the morning missing Mabel and feeling guilty and so had become careless. At first when he had noticed the MIBs watching him, Abner had always been careful to carry the handset with him at all times. (Disguised as a cigarette lighter, the handset would draw no more than a passing glance if held in the open hand.) That morning, however, although he had the handset in a pocket of his cardigan, with his mind on Mabel, and his arms full of groceries, he had been too slow to react when the MIBs stepped up behind him, flashed their ID cards under his nose and quickly cuffed his hands behind his back -- locking them out of reach of the handset and allowing his groceries to crash to the pavement, spilling cans of baked beans and smashing cartons of eggs across the concrete.

"CIA!" identified one of the MIBS, manhandling Abner toward the Eldorado, which had raced across the road toward them.

As Abner was herded into the black limo, he felt a pin-prick in his left arm.

"Hypodermic!" he had time to think, before failing into oblivion.

* * *

When Abner awakened, it could have been hours, or even days later for all he knew. The air smelt stale in the Cadillac and the three MIBs all gave off strong body odour, which (along with the sour taste in

his mouth and hunger pangs in his belly) convinced Abner that days would be closer to the truth.

The limo was cruising down the George Washington Parkway, through the heavily wooded countryside alongside the Potomac River, at Langley Virginia, when Abner awakened. But they soon turned off onto a side road and stopped at the first of two sets of chain-link fences, where, after flashing their IDs at the security guards, the MIBs and their captive were waved through.

After passing through the second set of gates, the Cadillac drove up to a massive, eight-storey, white concrete building, which looked like an oversized fortress. Abner let out a low whistle of grudging appreciation and one of the MIBS grinned with pride. He said, "That's nothing, wait till you see inside. Most of it's underground. Some deep enough to withstanding a direct hit from a nuclear missile."

Taken inside the "fortress", Abner was led into a metal-walled elevator which plummeted so fast it made his ears ring. He had no idea how far underground they had travelled but when they finally stepped out into the wide corridor he had an eerie claustrophobic feeling as though he had been buried beneath a great mountain of earth and had no doubt that the CIA agent had not been exaggerating.

Abner was led to a small room where he was allowed to shower and change into clothing brought from his own house. Then he was fed a simple, but filling meal, before being taken down a seemingly endless maze of corridors, to his ultimate destination: a large office whose walls were covered in large-scale global maps, as well as two crossed stars-and-stripes behind a large, glass-topped desk at which sat General Wallace T. Pendercoste: a tall, thickset, fiercely blond man in his early sixties, with more than a passing resemblance to George C. Scott.

"Why have I been brought here?" demanded Abner Gilquist. He accepted Pendercoste's invitation to be seated.

"We want to ask you to stop!" explained the general. Then, when Abner blustered, pretending not to know what he was talking about, "Your invisibility experiments, Professor Gilquist."

Holding up his hands to silence Abner's protests, Pendercoste added, "There's no point denying it, we've been inside your lab and seen your apparatus. (One hand in his coat pocket, clasping the handset, Abner was thankful that after the MIBs' first break-in he had taken the time to build an elaborate looking, but phoney invisibility booth. Obviously this had taken in the MIBS, so they hadn't suspected he had already moved onto a cigarette lighter-sized handset. Thus they hadn't seen the need to confiscate the "lighter" when they had searched him after drugging him.)

"So we've had no choice but to bring you here to request that you give up your experiments voluntarily."

"But why?" demanded Abner. He thought of how hard he had struggled over the last thirty-five years -- first with Mabel's constant need for companionship, then later with his own grief and guilt over her unmourned death. "If I give up now," he thought, "not only would the last thirty-five years' research have been in vain, but so would your death, dear Mabel."

"Let's just say it's a matter of national security," said the general. "Your experiments could have alarming repercussions not just for America, but for the entire free whole.

"My God, this guy is crazy!" thought Abner, feeling genuine fear for the first time since his abduction. "Dr. Strangelove lives!"

Seeing the look of scepticism on the professor's face, Pendercoste decided to lay his cards on the table. "You're not the first person to seriously experiment with the concept of invisibility," he said. "Since shortly after the First World War the United States Government has been devoting a sizeable chunk of each year's budget to such experiments. Without anything to show for it until the early 1940s. As with your experiments, our aim has been to achieve invisibility by temporarily journeying into what we have christened the invisible dimensions. If you've ever read bad science fiction -- and what serious scientist doesn't read his fair share of sci-fi? -- you'll have detected the major error in virtually all alternative world stories. The writers insist on talking about 'an alternative dimension', as though we were living in only one dimension and therefore an alternative universe would be in the next dimension. But, of course, we actually live in four dimensions: Firstly length, secondly width, thirdly height, and fourthly time-space. So, if there is an alternative universe, it would be in the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth dimensions."

Pendercoste stopped for a moment to attempt to gauge the old man's thoughts from the look on Abner Gilquist's face. Finally, deciding the professor would make a good poker player, the general continued, "Our idea was that we could disappear into these alternative dimensions, travel through the alternative universe, then reappear in this world in a different place. Our first success -- for the want of a better name -- was the USS Eldridge. A battleship which we managed to make disappear, along with her entire crew, in 1943. Unfortunately we weren't able to keep control of the experiment and the ship developed the alarming habit of fading-out into the invisible dimensions at will. Even worse was to follow. People sent across to the alternative universe would get stuck there, unable to return. Or would freeze solid like living statues when they returned. We soon discovered that a freeze-out was caused by a hormone deficiency suffered during the pass-over, and could be cured, if treated quickly enough, by what we call a laying-on-of-hands. Sort of like faith-healing, you might say. It involves an exchange of vital energy from the helpers to the frozen person...But laying-on-of-hands is fraught with danger too, as we soon discovered."

He paused for a moment, sighed heavily, then continued, "After World War Two the navy and the army continued with their invisibility experiments, which were taken over by the Central Intelligence Agency after its inception in 1947...Then, because of the great danger involved, and the fear that any results could fall into the hands of the Soviet Union (or more recently the PLO, IRA, Iran, Iraq, or Libya), we adopted a strict policy of actively discouraging private researches into invisibility."

"And if I refuse to be actively discouraged?" asked Abner. He tried to sound a lot braver than he actually felt.

"That would be most unfortunate," replied Pendercoste. "Despite what you may have heard, the CIA has never had a policy of murdering our own citizens. However, we have been known to imprison people for life, if we feel it is in the national interest to do so."

"The constitution doesn't give you the authority to do that!" insisted Abner.

"Well...strictly speaking, no, it doesn't...But no one's ever escaped to complain about it." Sitting up straight in his chair, the general pressed a small button beneath his desk. As three special agents walked into the room behind Abner, Pendercoste asked, "Well, what is your answer?"

Hearing the sound of footsteps behind him, Abner realised his entire future and freedom depended upon how he reacted to the question.

Seeing the professor reach into his coat pocket, and thinking he was reaching for a gun (although he had been searched earlier), the three agents quickly reached for their own weapons. However, Abner was faster on the draw, pulling out his handset as he turned to face the three men.

"It's only a cigarette lighter," said one agent, visibly relaxing.

Upon the edge of the handset were three tiny plastic buttons -- one yellow, one blue, one red. As Abner pointed the handset at the agents and simultaneously pressed the blue and yellow buttons, a second agent said, "Cigarette lighter like He...!" His voice was cut off in mid word as he and his two companions vanished into thin air.

"My God a handset!" said Pendercoste, as the professor ran out into the corridor. "My God, that's years beyond anything we've got!"

Although only fifteen in 1945, Wallace T. Pendercoste had been a private under the command of General Patton in the last days of World War Two. Heavily influenced by "Old Blood-and-Guts's" policy of getting the job done no matter who he had to kill in the process, Wallace Pendercoste had quickly adopted the same strategy when fighting as a major in Korea, then as a colonel (through to general) in Vietnam. Like Patton, Pendercoste prided himself on having the iron-will necessary to get the job done in any contingency. So, as Abner fled his office, the general reached for his telephone to put out an alert. "I want that old man stopped at all costs! he insisted. "Bring him back to my office...Dead or alive!"

"Dead or alive, sir?" asked the young agent on the other end of the phone. He had never heard the expression before, outside of cowboy movies and the occasional cops-and-robbers series on television.

"You heard me!" shouted Pendercoste. He wasn't used to having his orders questioned.

* * *

Abner had only gone a few hundred metres when he met two security guards.

"Can we see your security pass, please sir?" asked one of the guards. He stepped forward to block the old man's path.

"May God forgive me!" thought Abner. As he held up his handset he hoped he wasn't sending the guard to his death as he pressed the blue and yellow buttons.

"What the...?" said the second security guard as his companion vanished before his eyes. He reached for his holster, but had no chance of drawing his revolver before Abner sent him into the invisible dimensions.

"I just hope they're both okay!" thought Abner as he continued through the winding maze of corridors.

Over the next fifteen minutes he turned a dozen corners and made as many guards vanish, without getting any nearer to escaping from the underground complex.

"There are probably no exits down here anyway!" he realised. He wondered how many yards (or miles!) he was underground.

He was still debating his best course of action, when he found himself once more confronted by two guards. "Come with us sir!" said one of the guards. He levelled his rifle at Abner, having now been warned the professor was dangerous.

Abner started to point the handset at the guards, then thought, "No! No more! Let me take the risk this time!" This time he pressed only the yellow button.

"My God, he's gone!" said one of the security guards, as Abner vanished.

* * *

After ringing in the alert, General Pendercoste was confident Abner would soon be caught. "He can use that device to send guards into the invisible dimensions till doomsday," thought the general, "but he'll never negotiate his way through the labyrinth of corridors to find his way back to the surface without an experienced guide! Sooner or later he'll slip up...Then the bastard is mine!"

Twenty minutes later though the general's confidence was shattered when a distraught security guard phoned in to inform him that Abner Gilquist had vanished before his eyes. "I swear it!" assured the guard. Like most of the twenty thousand personnel in the Langley complex he was unaware of the Agency's invisibility experiments. "I know it sounds crazy, but I swear he just vanished before our eyes. He...."

"Yes, yes, thank you," said Pendercoste, hurriedly hanging up. Looking up at the small group of agency officers who were now seated before his desk, he quickly filled them in on the gist of the conversation.

"Then he's slipped into the invisible dimensions," said a young blonde -- the only woman in the group of nine.

"In which case we have to send a squad in after him," pointed out Pendercoste.

"But isn't that dangerous?" protested the blonde, peering at the general through the violet-tinted lenses of her glasses. "We have no way of preventing burn-outs, or freeze-outs, or fade-outs, or...."

"To Hell with the danger!" exclaimed Pendercoste, giving her a sharp look which suggested that he longed for the "good old days", when the only women employed by the Agency were all in the typing pool.

* * *

The first time Abner had visited the alternative dimensions, he had panicked at the feel of the heavy atmosphere which felt as though you were breathing honey, and had quickly returned to our Earth. But over the last fifteen months he had travelled back and forth between the two universes many times and now knew not to panic. Despite its alarming viscosity, the atmosphere was breathable, and although difficult to walk through, you could propel yourself along by either using yours arms like oars to row your way along, or simply by swimming.

Not yet used to swimming through "air", Abner chose to row his way along, although it didn't take long before his arms began to tire from the exertion.

As for the environment in the alternative universe, it seemed to be an exact replica of our Earth, as far as the forests, rivers, and land masses were concerned, but without the buildings, or any sign of major animal life. (Although there had to be at least worms and insects to aerate the soil to support the lush grasses and abundant trees.) Like a failed Earth -- an alternative possibility of what the Earth could have become. "In this universe Earth might be a failure," thought Abner, "Whereas failed planets in our universe, such as mars (with an atmosphere too weak to support life), or Venus (with an average day-time temperature of 900 Degrees Celsius in summer, and raining sulphuric acid twenty-four hours a day), might well be thriving, heavily populated planets in this universe!"

As he swam through the thick atmosphere, narrowly avoiding collisions with the coniferous trees that packed the forest in the alternative universe's Langley Virginia, it didn't take long before Abner found his first companions from back home. One of the security agents, rigid as stone, could easily have been mistaken for a lifelike statue standing beside a pine tree. If not for his companion: quite obviously mad, the second agent was twisting and turning like a drowning man, futilely trying to fight the cloying, viscous atmosphere, his mouth opening and shutting in silent screams -- his voice unable to carry through the honey-like atmosphere.

Unable to bear the sight of the man's distress, thinking, "I did this! For the sake of my own freedom, I reduced this poor wretch to this!" Abner aimed the handset at them both, pressed the blue and yellow buttons together quickly twice, to send the two men back to the underground complex.

Despite the guilt he felt over the condition of the two men, Abner knew he had no time to linger. He could not return to Earth until he had travelled far enough through the alternative universe so he would return outside the labyrinth-like complex, and preferably far away from Langley. Also he realised it wouldn't be much longer before General Pendercoste sent a team after him. So, trying his best to forget the sight of the two security guards, Abner pressed on, or rather, swam on.

From time to time he found others who had been sent over: frozen or unfrozen, sane or insane, one incinerated to ashes (the ashes suspended in the honey-like atmosphere, forming an eerie grey silhouette of the man they had once been), and sent them all back to the CIA complex.

On his second encounter one of the agents fired at Abner, however, the gun failed to operate in the heavy atmosphere and Abner sent the guard back also.

* * *

"Well we all seem to be ready now," said General Wallace T. Pendercoste, as though he intended to go with them, looking over the security squad.

Although normally they would have been armed to the teeth, carrying a rucksack full of weapons, for this mission the team were lightly kitted up. They knew from past experience that most conventional weapons were useless in the invisible dimensions and would only mean extra weight to carry. Instead they were made up like frogmen, without air tanks, but with wet suits, flippers, and carrying spear guns -- which, would operate in the honey-thick atmosphere -- as well as ropes and handcuffs to bind the old man, in the event that Abner could be brought back alive.

Pendercoste was giving his final instructions to the task force, when he was called away to the telephone. "Yes, yes, what is it?" snapped the general, not appreciating the interruption.

"They're starting to come back," said the excited voice on the other end of the line. "The agents that Professor Gilquist sent over there. They're returning."

"Are they...?" began Pendercoste. But he was cut off in mid sentence by the young agent, "Four of them are frozen, seven unfrozen, one reduced to ashes."

After a moment's pause, he asked, "Should we start laying-on-hands?"

"No, no, don't do anything till I get there!" ordered the general. Smiling at the task force, he waved for them to start into the glass-and-chrome cabinet which would send them into the alternative universe.

"But if we don't unfreeze them immediately, they might be stuck that way for good!" protested the young man.

Pendercoste waited until the last of the task force had been sent through the cabinet before saying, "That's a risk I'm prepared to take!"

"But why did he even bother sending them all back?" asked the security agent ten minutes later when the general got there. "The ones that were unfrozen were a danger to him over there, but why send the others back?"

"Psychological warfare!" said the general. The security guard stared at him, thinking that Pendercoste had spent too long in the jungles of Korea and Vietnam.

* * *

Despite his half hour head start, it didn't take long before the security squad began to catch up with Abner. They were all much younger and fitter than the grey-haired professor, and were dressed and had been trained for swimming through the honey-like atmosphere in the alternative world. So, unlike Abner who slowly "waded" his way along, clumsily side-stepping the densely packed conifers, the task force sailed along like dolphins, lithely bobbing and weaving their way through the pine forest. Also, unlike Abner who was still slightly awe-struck by the alternative universe, the special agents chasing him were all battle-hardened men, who soon put their unease behind them and acclimatised to the unusual situation they found themselves in -- despite the occasional past loss of one or two of their members through freeze-outs, or burn-outs. (On this mission two of the original eight men had frozen, however, the dimensional chamber used by the CIA had one major refinement over Abner's handset: It automatically retrieved anyone who froze in the alternative universe. So they had not remained behind to unsettle the rest of the squad.)

After a short time Abner became aware of his pursuers. Looking back he could just make out six tiny black dots bobbing along in the distance. Six dots which obviously manoeuvred their way through the treacly atmosphere more efficiently than he was able to, until they had become large black dots, then distant frogmen.

Desperately trying to outrun them, realising he still hadn't travelled far enough to be away from Langley if he returned to Earth, Abner pressed on.

It was only as the security squad caught up enough to fire the first of their spears at him, that Abner was forced to concede he could never outpace them. Particularly since he could hardly see through the pine forest. Whereas the security agents wore diving goggles to protect their eyes, Abner was almost blinded by the honey-like atmosphere, which was heavily infested with prickly pine needles. Unlike on Earth where the needles would have fallen to the ground to form a thick carpet on the forest floor, in the alternative world the pine needles hovered in the thick atmosphere, providing the unwary traveller with another obstacle to surmount.

"I guess I've only got two choices left," thought Abner, looking down at his handset, "Let them capture me...Or use the red button!"

Usually Abner only used the yellow and/or blue buttons on the handset: the yellow button alone to send himself back and forth between Earth and the invisible dimensions; the yellow and blue together to send whoever or whatever he pointed the handset at into or back from the alternative universe.

Abner tried to use the yellow and blue buttons to send the security force back to Earth. But they were too adept at bobbing and weaving behind the conifer trees, easily sneaking closer to the old man, who could barely see them, blinded as he was by the needle-infested atmosphere. He managed to send one agent back, but the other five spread out to encircle him, still using the trees for cover as they slowly closed in.

As they got within a few metres of him, the task force decided it was time to stop playing and held up their spear guns menacingly to indicate that they were prepared to use them if he did not give up. "I guess I've got no choice now!" thought Abner.

"But will it work?" he wondered. The last button was coloured red as a warning. To indicate danger, since it was still untested and either might not work at all, or might malfunction with disastrous consequences. The red button was intended as a last ditch escape route: to take him past the invisible dimensions to the next universe: dimensions nine through twelve.

"Oh well!" he thought, as the frogmen crept nearer, "I guess this is as good a time as any to test it." He paused for an instant and thought, "Mabel, if you're still there, in Heaven or wherever, I might be joining you very soon!"

Then he pushed the red button and vanished.

* * *

At first Abner was pleased to find he had escaped from the task force, but soon he realised something was wrong. Everything looked strange, grotesquely out of proportion, like an acid-dream from a 1960s psychedelic movie...The trees, rocks, and grassy rises all ran together, as though he had somehow stepped into a universe of Pablo Piccasso's making. Also there was a tremendous pressure on his chest, like a great weight crushing him down. "My heart!" he thought. "The strain of dimensional shifting must have been too much for a man my age!" But after his initial panic, he realised he was not having a heart attack. "Then what can be making me feel as though I'm being crush beneath a tremendous weight?"

It was only as he tried to look up that Abner found the solution. "There is no up!" he thought in amazement. Only length and width! The handset has malfunctioned after all. It sent me forward, but only to the next two dimensions!" Whereas in three or four dimensions we are a solid object, in two dimensions we are reduced to a plane, with length and width, but no height; in a single dimension we are reduced to a straight line, like the edge of a ruler. Somehow the handset had sent the professor to only the ninth and tenth dimensions, reducing him to a flat sheet.

"I've got to get back, even if they catch me!" though Abner, alarmed at his predicament. He didn't know if being reduced to two dimensions would do any permanent damage to his internal organs. "But can I get back?" he wondered. He groped round for the red button on the handset, but without the luxury of height, he was unable to feel the button and had no way of even knowing if his finger was pressing down.

* * *

Until he suddenly appeared back in the previous world. Not quite among the frogmen, since in the few seconds he had been gone they had started to drift away a little, uncertain whether the old man had returned to Earth -- in which case they assumed he would be quickly captured --, or whether he had gone somewhere else.

"He's back!" one of the squad tried to shout. He waved his arms as best he could to alert the others, who immediately started toward the professor.

"Here we go again!" thought Abner pressing the red button and vanishing again.

* * *

This time he emerged into the correct four dimensions. Only to find himself blinded and almost fried alive by a tremendous ball of white light, which seemed to envelope the entire universe in the alternative galaxy he had landed in.

"Could it be God?" he wondered. Although not overly religious, Abner believed in God and had read numerous accounts of "after death" experiences, by people who had died on operating tables, then had been brought back to life minutes later. They all told the same story: of passing through a long white tunnel to emerge before a blinding white light, which spoke to them, revealing itself to be God! "Could this be it?" wondered Abner. "Have I passed through into the afterlife and found myself before God!"

But then as the heat became overpowering, threatening to melt him, Abner realised he had either emerged on the edge of either a sun, or a white hole. (The theoretical opposite of a black hole: whereas a black hole sucks in all light and energy leaving only darkness, a white hole repels light and energy, giving off heat a thousand times greater than any sun.)

Whatever the truth might be, Abner realised that if he stayed where he was for even a few more seconds he would be fried to a crisp. After an instant's hesitation, he decided. Abner knew it would be murder, would mean the deaths of the task force chasing him. "But they were prepared to murder me!" he thought, recalling the way they had menaced him with their spear guns. So, saying a silent prayer for forgiveness, he held the handset up toward the fiery ball of blinding whiteness and simultaneously pressed the blue and red buttons, sending the sun, or white hole, back into the invisible dimensions.

And immediately the unbearable heat and light were replaced by unbearable cold and darkness. A coldness so great it almost froze Abner solid. A darkness so great he couldn't see the handset in his hand when he held it up before his face.

Faced with the threat of an icy death as the temperature rapidly fell to Antarctic levels, Abner knew he had only seconds to act, before his fingers became too frost-bitten to press the buttons on the handset. Going back meant certain death, burnt to a crisp in the invisible dimensions, so he had no choice but to go forward again, although it meant risking the unknown again. "But what choice do I have?" he thought, pushing the red button again.

* * *

As soon as Abner felt the tremendous pressure crushing him again, he realised the handset had malfunctioned again. Quickly trying to look up, he confirmed that he was in a heightless universe. Stuck in two dimensions again! he thought. Until he noticed he could only look forward. He was unable to look either left or right. "I've been reduced to a straight line, like the edge of a ruler!" thought Abner. He knew he had been sent to a single dimension this time. "Lucky thirteenth dimension!" he thought wryly. He decided to return to the previous universe, then chance trying to pass through the invisible dimensions to return to Earth.

But after a moment, futilely trying to press the red button on the handset (unable to even feel the handset itself now, let alone know if he was actually pressing the red button) without result, Abner realised he had doomed himself to spend the rest of his existence trapped in the thirteenth dimension.

"Mabel, oh Mabel, why didn't I listen to you?" he thought. "All the time we were married I resented you keeping me from my lab. But if you'd only lived another ten years, you might have kept me from my experiments long enough for me to have died in peaceful old age. Instead of having to spend who knows how many years, or even centuries as a straight line in the thirteenth dimension!"

In a single dimension he not only had no height or width, but was also outside the time-space dimension. So in theory Abner could live forever -- stuck in the form of a straight line.

THE END

© Copyright 2011

Philip Roberts, Melbourne, Australia





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