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Lafcadio Caron hated the physical universe. As a Platonic idealist, he deeply resented any claims that the crass world of matter might have on immortality. So he devised a theory according to which any bit of matter eventually decays into light, and a second theory according to which light eventually gets tired and trickles into the folds of spacetime; and a third theory according to which space and time will die of disuse once all the mass and energy are gone. "Here today, gone in 1040 years," he would say, twisting his features in desperate, irrelevant laughter. The man had problems.
But, yes, he was a genius. He spent much of his time slouched in a leather armchair in the University of Rome's physics library. Graduate students and foreign research fellows would cluster around him as he lolled there, long skinny legs stretched out. The legs were like grasshopper legs; and like a grasshopper, Lafcadio would rub his legs together as he talked, chirping and buzzing about Ultimate Reality.
His constant companion was a roly-poly Hungarian woman named Zsuzsi Szabo ... an exotic name which translates prosaically to Susan Taylor. She had short blond hair, high Tartar cheekbones, huge pillowlike breasts, and a washerwoman's arms. The State had originally sent Zsuzsi to Rome to learn the latest developments in nuclear-reactor design. But instead she had attended Lafcadio's lectures, fallen in love and defected ... heedless of her Budapest family's fate.
Zsuzsi was a wizard at experimental design, and Lafcadio took her into his full confidence. They made a striking team: Fat Lady and Thin Man, Sancho Panza and Don Quixote,Earth and Fire. The graduate students speculated avidly about the pair's sex-life. It was, indeed, intense.
"You are my wild exotic particle," Lafcadio might say, mounting her. "Let me split you into quarks, my darling."
"Cling close, svheet one," she would respond, ardently reversing position. "I am absorber for your titanic energies."
Biologically, the union was barren. But Lafcadio impregnated Zsuzsi with the design for a beautiful second-generation proton-decay experiment. It was this experiment that led to the Mont Blanc laboratory's capture of a speck of degenerate hypermatter. Hearing the news, the proud couple named the particle Babsi (Hungarian for "little bean"), and hurried to see it.
Aosta, Italy, February 8
Wet snow is falling. The sky is gray and it looks like there will never be a sun again. From some random crag we watch the slow crawl of lights up the valley ... cars and trucks laboring through spaghetti-turns to the Mont Blanc tunnel. There in the distance is the tunnel's mouth, a small upside-down U, sad and surprised.
Moving closer, we see the concrete customs shed and tollbooths. Closer. A Fiat stops, the driver shows a pass. The car is colorless with dirt, the driver white with cold. Lafcadio.
Zsuzsi, for her part, is pink with breakfast, loud with pleasure. "Zo, finally vhe have a little Babsi!"
"This would seem to be the case. If Signor Hu is to be believed." Lafcadio holds up a cautious bony finger.
They pull into the tunnel. 10 Km, reads a sign overhead, indicating the distance to the French end of the tunnel. The Mont Blanc tunnel is filled with an eternal roar, a Hephaestean clangor. Huge trucks labor past, shaking Lafcadio's tiny car. The light is yellow and smeary. Everything is covered with wet grit. The air itself seems to grow thick. 9 Km.
Zsuzsi glances up at the car's ceiling. "I hate it in here. All zat mountain over us. Kilometers and kilometers."
Lafcadio laughs his strangled laugh. "All slowly decaying, Zsuzsi. Slowly returning to the One." 8 Km.
"I vhish vhe vhere already zere," frets Zsuzsi. "I don't trust zat Chimmy Hu to keep za Babsi stable. He doesn't really understand your zeory."
Lafcadio snorts briefly. "Doesn't believe, is more like it. No one but you, dear Zsuzsi, has really believed in my vacuumless vacuum, my cube of Absolute Nothingness. But only in such an incubator can our little Babsi live." 7 Km.
"How much did Hu zay she vheighs?"
"Variable. Up to a full three grams," crows Lafcadio. "Can you believe that? Apparently she comes from a cascade of the most energetic proton-decays yet observed. And your mono-field caught her, Zsuzsi, swept her into the vacuumless vacuum. We'll celebrate with a trip to Venice, you and I." 6 Km.
"Svheet dollink! But zlow down. Vhe're here."
They turn off into a sort of underground parking garage. It's a hard turn to make, and the canvas-shrouded truck behind Lafcadio's Fiat comes dangerously close to ramming them.
They're out of the car as soon as it stops, hurrying across the cold, damp garage to a door in the far wall. Lafcadio has a key. White light streams out, making a brief bright trapezoid on the garage's rough concrete floor.
Inside it's bright and warm. An old guard waves them on. They trot down the hall. At the end is a large room with a lot of machinery. A smiling Chinese man in tan corduroys and dark blue sweater greets them.
"Lafcadio," he calls happily, "Zsuzsi! It is still stable!"
"Zats vhonderful, Jimmy." Zsuzsi tosses her overcoat onto a chair. "Let me zee." She wears a tight red sweater, wide skirt and high boots. Pushing Jimmy Hu to one side, she leans possessively over her machine. Lafcadio crowds up behind her, watching over her shoulder.
The machine looks something like an arcade game, with a dead-black video screen set high in a console. Pipes and cables writhe out of it like tropical lianas, brightly colored root-vines feeding on the satellite machines: vacuum pump, ion drive, gas chromatograph, differential analyzer, macro-processor, monopole accelerator, quantum fluxer, quark scanner, relativity condenser, gravitomagnet, strong/weak force junction, supercooled bloog tank, hyperonic veeble-tweeter, two-tier furglesnatcher, black boxes, boxes, boxes, boxes. Lights blink, needles wag, speakers hum here deep under the mountain, far from the Eye of God.
Behind it all is something that looks like a huge Beuys sculpture, a four-meter stack of iron plates interleaved with gray felt pads. Tubes and wires snake out of the felt, feeding the machines.
"Babsi," croons Zsuzsi, staring into the screen. Looking in with her, we see a pulsing point of light ... neither far nor close, just there.
"It is werbling on a four-millisecond cycle," whispers Jimmy Hu. "Shall we cut in the resonance drive?"
"Don't ask me," chuckles Lafcadio. "All I know is that I'm right. A particle is the hypersection of a four-space construct."
Zsuzsi grunts wetly and lets her hands drop down to a row of knobs. Close shot of her fingers diddling the dials. Her nails are short and bitten, lacquered pink.
Laboring whine of machinery being pushed to its breaking point.
"You see," exclaims Lafcadio. "It is still growing! There is no practical upper limit to the size of a particle."
Wunh-wunh-wunh-wunh-wunh-wunh-wunh: an alarm-hooter. Zsuzsi and Lafcadio are staring in at the golfball-size Babsi particle, but Jimmy Hu is worried now. He backs away from them, glancing up at the alarm horn, then back at the console.
"Don't try to manipulate it," he warns. "Not at this energy density!"
"Nonsense!" cries Lafcadio. "Listen to me, Zsuzsi! We must knot Babsi into our space for metastability. Use Hinton double-rotation."
Her sensitive, stubby fingers dance across the dials. The object behind, or in front of, the screen begins to spin. Another flick of the dials. Babsi flattens a little and dimples in at the poles. The sound of the hooter is faint and musical, synched to Babsi's growing buzz. Jimmy Hu's voice is shouting something, but the sound warps into gabble.
"Z-axis," hisses Lafcadio. "Donut."
Zsuzsi is playing the console like this year's high-scorer. Babsi's polar dimples dig in and meet. The mottled matter flows in one pole and out the other. It's a torus now, a spinning vortex ring.
But then ... as we stare at the Babsi the ... spinning stops and ... goes over to the room.
Babsi, Lafcadio and Zsuzsi: the three are motionless, while all around them the blurred room races. Engine, impresario and operator: poised at the center of a merry-go-round gone mad.
"Tie the knot," urges Lafcadio. He is gaunt, gray and wild-eyed. "Use XZ surgery and a W-axis hyperflip."
You have the feeling the Babsi particle wants to escape, for the flowy little torus jerks back from Zsuzsi's touch of ruby laser light. She throws a switch and a glowing blue net of field-mesh holds Babsi fast. The surgical red ray cuts in.
The alarm's sound is a dull, repeated scream: aenh-aenh-aenh-aenh-aenh. Look at Zsuzsi's fingers, slick with sweat.
Now the Babsi folds in on itself, and two circles link. The shifting outline of a Klein bottle is there, a meaty bag whose neck stretches out and punches in to eat its own bottom: a tortured hairless bird with its head stuck in its navel and out its ass. The world-snake. Klein-bottle Babsi-bean slides in and through itself, tracing impossible curves. Slowly it settles down, smoothing out and shrinking a bit.
The room has stopped spinning. Zsuzsi throws a relay, and the machines idle down.
Lafcadio laughs and hugs her. "Ready to take our baby to Venice?" As Zsuzsi watches, he draws out a tiny gold key and twists it in a little lock next to the console screen. There is a hiss of air and the screen swings down like an oven door. Lafcadio reaches in.
The space in there is funny. As Lafcadio thrusts his arm in the front, we see his hand angle in from the side. Undismayed, he seizes the little bean and takes it out.
Close shot of Lafcadio's palm. Resting on it is a spherelet. It glows slightly. There are lightly shaded lines on it, as on a peeled orange-pip.
"Babsi," croons Zsuzsi, motherly bosom aheave. "Edes kicsikem." Sweet little one. She prods it with a trembling finger. It shrinks away, avoiding her touch.
When the little sphere shrinks, the surrounding space distorts.... It's like suddenly seeing Lafcadio's palm through a wrong-way lens. But then the Babsi bounces back, bigger than before. It tries again to shrink away, and again bounces back. The space-knot is holding.
"Come zee, Jimmy," calls Zsuzsi. "Vhe have really trapped a hyperobject."
Jimmy Hu edges back in the room, loosely laughing, shaking his head....
A huge ball of tissue is flowing over Zsuzsi ... eating her! Suddenly only one hand is still showing. Blood drips off the fingers as they clench, unclench, go lax. Bones crunch.
Lafcadio has been flung back against a bank of machines. His face is rigid with horror. Tubes and cables snap, gas is whistling out in foggy plumes, sparks are jagging, and now a sheet of flame sweeps across the room.
Lafcadio falls to his knees, gone all to pieces, moaning, eyes rolling, tongue lolling. The blood-flecked superparticle edges towards him. Jimmy Hu grabs Lafcadio's foot and pulls him away. The giant Babsi bulges forward, hesitates, then SLAMS down to point-size as fast as it can. The floor beneath it bulges up with space-pressure ... but the hyperblob can't get free.
Lafcadio's clawed fingers rake the floor as Jimmy drags him out of the room. The door slams. The little bean lies on the concrete, angrily buzzing in a puddle of blood.