You know what I hate about New Babbage? How you can walk up to the library, open the front door with complete confidence that a big room with books is on the other side of it, and then suddenly find yourself tumbling through a pan-dimensional vortex and landing — very hard — in some nowhere/neverwhen that you had absolutely no intention of visiting that day. Don’t you hate that?
Recovering from my brief, highly disagreeable trip, I rose from the cold, stone floor and tried to get a grasp on my situation. I was in a very dark, very large room. The only light was coming from five identical floor lamps, each one topped by a dimly glowing orb. The thought flashed through my brain that this might all be an elaborate marketing ploy to sell me furniture. Then the lamps started speaking.
“My word,” said the one closest to me, the lamp glow pulsing brighter with each syllable. “Snared a good one, didn’t we?”
“Indeed,” said the second lamp.
“A proper scofflaw,” said number 3.
“Kick his ass,” said number 4.
“Really, Trongalthet,” said the fifth lamp. “So impatient!”
“No names, Number 5,” Number 1 admonished.
“Just one question,” I said, “should I be frightened or should I be annoyed?”
“You should be quiet and listen!” snarled a surly Number 3 through its lamp-like communication device. “Lay it on him, Number 1.”
I thought I heard whoever (or whatever) was speaking through the first lamp device clear its throat before very distinctly stating, “We don’t like you.”
It seemed a rather pedestrian pronouncement. “You ripped a hole in reality to tell me that? What exactly did I do?” I asked.
“You?” said Number 1. “If only it were just you. A sizable chunk of the population of that tedious little city you frequent has had a part in earning our contempt. So many others like you, bending space to teleport yourself whenever it suits you… not to mention the other humans’ reckless use of subaetheric portals and displacement engines.”
The other lamps agreed. “So thoughtlessly casual!”
“Enough talk, kick his ass!”
“We are trying to send a finely crafted message, Number 4!”
“‘Message’? Look,” I said, “whether a bunch of tacky floor lamps like it or not, I possess the gift of teleportation and I’m going to use it… when I can get it to work. You can’t go around telling other people what they can and can’t do. And who are you to be whining to me about this anyway?”
“If it leaves you any the wiser,” said Number 1, its lamp pulsing in what seemed like an angry manner, “we are the lead examiners for the Conspicuous Transgressions Subcommittee operating under the auspices of the Transcendental Surveillance Authority in conjunction with the Department of Causality and Continuum Integrity as sanctioned by our fellow members of the Congress of Cosmic Egress.”
“Oh,” I said, “well, now I know. Not with those blue box makers, are you?”
“Bah!” said Number 1. “Don’t even mention those…”
“We could totally kick their asses!”
“Someone beat us to it, I hear.”
“We find their insularity… problematic,” said Number 1. “The CCE represents many other space- and time-faring races. But not you lot. We don’t like you.”
“What’s so wrong with us?” I asked, only slightly offended.
“We don’t know, and that’s the problem! Most of your race hasn’t even moved beyond bulky, primitive, inefficient steam engines and yet creatures like you go blithely gallivanting through the 12 dimensions as if it were nothing!! Even worse than the cultural dissonance, your ham-fisted tinkering with advanced, non-terrestrial technologies is interfering with the operation of our Hygunzhal corridor. We’ve even received reports that you people have been unwittingly accessing our corridor!
“It’s a hyperspatial construct that allows us to access different points in space and time,” said Number 1 anticipating my question. “I’d show you the mathematical equations we use to calibrate the corridor, but I’m quite sure your squishy human brain would explode and leave a mess.”
“Now you’re just being a swine,” I said wondering for a moment if it were possible that I had indeed been talking to some kind of super-evolved alien pig-creature for the last few minutes in which case my words might have been considered a compliment. “I’m suitably enlightened and insulted. Can I go now?”
“There is a wrongness about your world,” said Number 1, “and until we determine the exact nature of it, the entire human race is at the top of our ‘crap list’! There’s a message we want you to deliver…”
“YOU’RE BECOMING TIRESOME, TRONGALTHET!! Now… you listen, human: Make sure the residents in that filthy little town of yours know that our agents are on the ground. They are well hidden, well-equipped and we will… be… watching!”
“Oooooooooo,” I said, “aren’t you the scary one!” He (It?) was quite scary, but I saw no profit in letting the congress member know that.
Without warning, the floor beneath me opened up and I was again falling through space. Moments later, I was on the ground with a faceful of library carpet. I looked up to see Buckminster Solo sitting in a chair with the very metallurgical science journal I had originally come to the library to read.
“I would ask you where you just dropped in from,” he said, “but I’m still not talking to you.”
“Is this about the moon thing?” I asked.
“You attacked me with a hammer. I was seeing double for a week.”
“Ye gods! Everybody’s whining today!” I said while snatching a pencil and a scrap of paper from a distracted and obviously unmotivated library patron. “I have to go out of town for a few days, but I need you to get a note to the mayor.”
“I’ll think about it… perhaps,” Bucky said, burying his nose deeper into his reading material.
“Mr. Solo,” I said as I plucked the journal out of his hands, “do you know how many hammers there are in this town?”