Just before the End

by Leo David Orionis

This novel is dedicated to all the scientists and teachers.

Table of Contents

1. The Strangest Visitor
2. Spooky Action at a Distance
3. Theoretical Progress
4. Nailing Jelly to a Tree
5. A Fly the Size of a Grapefruit
6. Long Time Gone
7. "Your Other Grandfather"

To Be Continued in:
8. Getting Ready To Go
9. "Shoot Straight and Don't Hesitate!"
10. More Strange Visitors
11. Bedtime Stories
12. Witchland, Elfland, Demonland, and the Land of Song

Chapter 1
The Strangest Visitor

The planet Lulungolioma,
Eastern Arm, First Galaxy, First Universe,
35 Dor, Year 9453 (Common History)

Aziriamadi Sesiriannu said to her father, "Papalo, what's a 'strange visitor'?"

They were in the garden, by the big fountain-wall. Water spurted up in little jets a couple of inches high all along the flat top of the fountain, then flowed down its rough black surface, pouring over and around the smooth grey oval stones set into its face. At the bottom was a trough as wide as the wall and a couple of feet deep front to back, where the almost-deer sometimes came to drink when they thought no one was around. Right now Aziri's father was sitting on the lip of the fountain wall, looking at things in an array of holographic screens projected around him by his intrinsic systems, while the breeze through the near-plums played with his feather-light dark hair.

"What's that, Ziri-Ziri?" he said absent-mindedly, frowning at something in one of the screens. Aziri's own systems showed her the size and shape and locations of his screens, as a courtesy and to keep her from walking through them, but only he could see what was on them, unless he decided to show them to someone.

Aziri didn't like being called Ziri-Ziri any more. She was too old for childish nicknames now, and worse yet, it meant her Da wasn't really listening to her. She'd been lying on her back with her head on her hands, reading from a screen floating over her and enjoying the massage of the grassmuss. The green mat covering the ground was actually millions of individual pseudo-plantoids working together to move obstructing objects out of their light. Aziri was too heavy for them to move, but light enough that they tried anyway. When one patch got discouraged and gave up, she moved over and let another bunch rub her back.

Now, though, she sat up and shook her head in exasperation. Her dark blonde hair, shoulder-length, swirled around her head.

"Tanillavasathaii," she said distinctly. "What does it mean?"

Sesirianna Liluileonu paused the displays with a thought and looked at his only child. How fast they grow, he thought, like every other human parent that ever lived. Aziri had only been four years old when her mother died, and he tended to think of her as being that age still. (Not four trips of this planet around this star-sun, of course—what would be the use of that?—but four years of the 622-day calendar that people used wherever they lived throughout the universe.)

But Aziri was nine now, almost an adult, and she'd asked him a question. "It means a lot of things," he said. "Where did you read it?"

"When the rebel leader came to the negotiations," Aziri read from her screen, "he feared no treachery, because he was accompanied by three powerful tanillavasathaii: a Kull, a Jaxamite, and an Argonian."

"An army!" Siri said, impressed. "This is what a Kull looked like," he said, and a screen appeared in front of Aziri, with a human-like creature on it. "And this is a Jaxamite," another screen, "and an Argonian." A third screen appeared. On another, "And here's a picture of the scene you were reading about."

Aziri looked at the picture of the middle-aged human and the three creatures at his back. "I didn't see this picture," she said. "Where did you find it?"

"It didn't exist until just now," her father said. "I told my systems to research that event. There was no picture, so I told them to make one, based on all that's known. Call it an historical reconstruction, or an artist's conception."

"That's wonderful, Da," Aziri said, and saved a copy. "But what are these things? And why do you call the three of them an army?"

"They're near-men, like the near-hawks on Golgirisasei, or almost-men, like the almost-lions on Jemozimoziro, where we lived before that. Do you remember them? You were pretty young then."

"So they're like men, but not related?" said Aziri. "Can they think? Can they talk?"

"They could do anything a man can do," said her father, "and some of them could do more. The Kull could seize control of other beings' minds, and make them obey. The Jaxamites were super-strong, super-fast, and they could fly under their own power. Argonians had inhuman senses—they could see at great distances, and through solid objects, they could hear things very faint or very far off, and they were very, very hard to kill."

"So why haven't I ever met one?" Aziri said, skeptically.

"Mostly they're gone," Siri said. "The three kinds that went to that meeting got too involved in the affairs of people, and the Crystal Empire wiped them out. Their planets don't exist any more."

"That's awful!" Aziri said.

"Yes; but they would have died anyway. Non-human races are like individual people used to be; they have a racial childhood, when they barely know how to chip stones to make a sharp edge; an adolescence, when they learn science and master their world; and maturity, when they go out to the stars. But then old age, when their cities lie empty on a dozen worlds, and they huddle in reduced numbers on their home planet; and then death, when no human sees them any more."

"But why? Do they have a plague?"

"It's just the way it is," her father said. "Only humans avoid it; and we pay a price. Our civilizations tear themselves apart, and we fall back to savagery. Then we rise again, and find a whole new set of 'strange visitors' out in space; the old ones are gone. That's why you read about the First Galactic Empire, and the Second Empire, the Hegemony, the Consulate, and so forth. Each sprang forth from a different world, a colony of the cycle before, whose raw materials and natural resources hadn't been used up."

"So why haven't I met any of the new kinds of 'strange visitors'?" Aziri persisted.

"There aren't any," Siri said quietly. "In the First, Second, and Third Galaxies, and in their satellite galaxies, there are only humans. We've spread to worlds like this, and once we're here, no new kinds of people evolve. Do you know that word, evolve?"

"Of course, Da; I'm not a child!" she said with the indignation of the very young. "But… you mean, if we weren't here, the near-deer might change into near-people, or the grassmuss might start making tools?"

"In a million years or so, perhaps," her father said, and fell silent.

"You're sad again!" Aziri said. "Why do grownups do that?"

"What, Ziri?"

"Da! You, and the ladies down the river, the star captains who bring you chips, the people in the restaurant when we go out to eat—you all do it! Why do you look that way?"

Sesirianna Liluileonu looked at his beautiful child, his only child, and thought again how quickly she had grown. It seemed only yesterday she'd cooed in her mother's arms. "Do you remember your mother, Aziri-iolanileike?" he asked; Do you remember your mother, Aziri my one and only, my dearest one?

Aziri sat very still, her hands in her lap now, her feet folded under her. "Hardly at all," she said softly. "She died?"

"She killed herself," Siri said, checking once again to make sure the records were still blocked, that showed how she had done so. In his opinion as a father, Aziri didn't need to know that a person could order her intrinsic systems to tear her apart, almost one cell at a time; or see pictures of what was left when they'd done so.

"And do you remember why we left Golgirisasei?" he went on.

"Your work was done, you said," she replied, with the big eyes of a child fearing things under the bed.

"I dropped my work, and we ran," he said. "The system was attacked by—well, call them pirates. People who think nothing matters anymore, so they might as well do anything they feel like. Fortunately, we were in orbit around the other star of that binary, so we could get out before they caught us."

"Papalo?" she said, trembling. "What does this have to do with my question?"

"Come here, Azirileikelilungomina," he said, and held out his hands. She crawled into his lap, and he folded his arms around her. She was almost too big for his lap now, but they didn't care.

"At Jemozimoziro, we weren't attacked; the community just fell apart. A couple of people killed themselves, their husbands and wives and children followed as the grief hit them hardest, others got to brooding and decided the same—there just weren't enough people left to keep things going, and the world was full of ghosts."

"But why?" she cried.

"Aziri, do you know what I do?"

"You're a cosmologist," she said. "You study the birth and evolution of the universe."

"Almost," Siri said. "I study the birth, evolution, and death of the universe."

"The universe was born," he said, "stars came to be, and planets; some planets developed life, and became worlds; some creatures became people, and went out to the stars."

"But species die; and worlds die; and the stars themselves grow old and burn out. And we, who are immortal, see it happen again and again and again."

"There are other stars, papalo!" Aziri said.

"Yes; but not forever. Eventually the last star will gutter out, and there will be no light anywhere."

"Then we'll make our own!" she said.

"We can do that," he told her, "if we're not too old, and tired, and burdened with grief—but where will we put it?"

"Because the universe itself grows old; its expansion slows to a stop; presently it begins to contract. In a few billion years, space turns white with the light of all the stars coming back towards us. Long before they come together, nothing in the universe will be able to live. And this is the universe, iolanikiki; there's nothing else."

"Billions of years," she said, "that's—"

"A thousand times a thousand years is a million years," he said, "and a thousand times a million years is a billion years. The universe will last thousands of millions of years yet."

"But," she said, brow clearing, "in that case—"

"The end isn't here," he said, "but we know enough to see it coming. Some can ignore it. Some decide it means they can do whatever they want. And some, when they hear someone has died, or look on the ruins of a dead world or the bones of a dead race, decide to end it all."

"Is that how you felt, when mimamu died?" Aziri asked.

"Pretty much," he said. "But I still had you. I wanted to see you grow up too much to follow her," he said, and kissed her on the forehead.

Aziri said nothing; her eyes were dark with a picture of Death reaching for the universe. She imagined Death as a black thing with skeleton hands, now faceless, now with a skull; it grasped the universe, an oblate spheroid with galaxies in it, and grinned at her with dead teeth. Mine, its posture said.

The rebellion that rose within her and began to set into resolution had no words yet, but if it had, they would have been: The hell you say!

Chapter 2
Spooky Action at a Distance

Adorannulaleso, Lamenisosithu Globular Cluster,
First Galaxy, First Universe,
12 Ansor, Year 9455 (Common History)

The year that Aziriamadi Sesiriannu turned eleven was the 2000th anniversary of the discovery that the earth went around the sun (Mishinalulungomina went around Satoliomashu), rather than the other way around. That had been the start of the scientific revolution in this cycle of human civilization.

Civilization was not aging well. The suicide rate continued to climb, and pirates and thrill-killers were everywhere, in space and planetside, murdering their ones or their thousands, according to their tastes and means. Apocalyptic religions offered the stupid and the desperate the usual promises of salvation after death, while fascist local governments promised security in life.

But human civilization was widespread and diverse, and there were still entities that resisted the rising wave of chaos, without resorting to superstition or ideology. One such was the Lamenisosithu, who occupied most of the globular cluster of the same name, outside the First Galaxy proper. Their culture was formal without being static, contained within the globular cluster but unlimited in art, in science, or in imagination. Nor was the globular cluster all that limiting; its volume, and the number of star systems in it, far exceeded many earlier empires in the galactic disk.

The cluster was well defended by an active and dedicated military force, and its medical services treated the bodies and minds of all its citizens. So piracy, crime, and suicide were strongly checked.

When her father said it was time for her to attend a university, Aziri was stunned. "Da! 'Happy tenth birthday, now get out of my hair'?"

"Now, Ziri, you know I don't mean it that way," Sesiri said.

"Don't you love me any more?" she cried.

"Ever so much," Sesiri said, pulling her into his arms. "Shu, shu… But you need to get out in the world, and meet other people your own age, and learn to deal with strangers who don't love you. There's more to the universe than you and me."

One key to Lamenisosithu's stability was excluding criminals, the suicide-prone, the immature, and others who wouldn't fit into a formal, mannered civilization. When Aziri applied to Adorannulaleso University, on the Lamenisosithu world of the same name, she had to take and pass a series of tests before she could be accepted.

These weren't tests of knowledge, for her intrinsics could be relied upon to furnish any fact known to mankind, on demand. Rather, they tested her ability to draw conclusions from fact, to reject faulty reasoning and false logic, to distinguish between what she wanted and what the universe permitted, and her grasp of the trend and scope of history. In other words, they tested her maturity, and whether she were ready to benefit from an advanced education.

Not everyone passed those tests. Most who applied to the university did, but some just didn't believe, deep down, that other people were real and fully equal to themselves. Some thought that the ordinary rules of human behavior didn't apply to themselves. Some had their minds crippled by rank belief, religious or political, which they'd have to unlearn before they could usefully learn anything else. Some believed they had some special virtue which would prevent them from making the same mistakes that had been made billions of times before in mankind's millions of years of history. Some had no imagination; they understood facts, but couldn't reason from them.

Aziri, however, passed the entrance exams readily, was awarded the basic degree that certified a complete lower education, and began taking classes in person like something out of ancient history and living apart from her father, instead of taking lessons on her intrinsics and living with her Da. But everyone said it was good for her to make new friends, live in a bustling community that had strangers and lots of different things going on at once, and even to be away from her father for a while. So she endured, and the classes really were interesting.

But no more interesting than they would have been at a distance, she insisted to herself. The human element of personal attendance seemed mostly to consist of watching boys flirt with girls, and finding out how poorly some people used their intrinsics. Today's physics class was no exception. Professor Subiliumabu's question, "Who can tell me what 'spooky action at a distance' means?" drew blank stares from half the class. It wasn't until they saw the screens blossoming in front of their classmates that they began their own searches.

"Sir?" said a student downhill and in front of Aziri. They were meeting today in a natural amphitheater formed by a wide hill covered with grass. The professor paced up and down in front of the hill as he talked, as was his habit, and the students sprawled on the hillside. The twin yellow starsuns of the planet shone together high overhead, and the physics building loomed behind them. For classes like this its facilities were little needed, since the instructor could project a screen as large as he liked with his intrinsics, or pipe the data directly to theirs.

"Student Manimamunia," he said now.

"Sir, it's the title of a tso play from the Nascian Crystallization," the boy said. He was a strain of man Aziri hadn't seen before coming to the university, with medium-grey skin, almost no hair, and squarish ears.

"No, it's a popular song from then," said his friend Asilomarrula from beside him. He was the other extreme physical type Aziri had met at the university, very short where Manima was very tall, his skin almost pure white with only a tinge of yellow, with oversized hands and feet.

"The song probably comes from the play," Manimamunia said, waving a hand in dismissal.

"No, no, see, the song is a few years older," said Asilomarrula excitedly. Frowning, the professor opened his mouth to address the two students.

"It's a term for quantum entanglement from the Fourth Renaissance," Aziri said.

"Exactly," said the instructor, the frown disappearing from his face. "Thank you, student Aziriamadi. Gentlemen," he said to the two boys, much less sharply than he'd meant to before Aziri spoke, "Kindly remember this is a physics class."

"Entanglement," he continued, "is a phenomenon of classical quantum physics. Let us take a photon and split it in two. Now we have two identical photons. If we measure the polarization of one photon, then we know the polarization of both."

"Now quantum theory tells us that before we measured the polarization, it had no definite value. It wasn't just that we didn't know what it was; it truly wasn't any definite value. This is interaction, at the quantum level, between the observer and the thing observed."

"So. Let's split another photon in two, and let them travel in a pair of evacuated force-field tubes until they're, oh, a light-hour apart. In each location someone measures their polarization, and they are the same."

"Now the photons are so far apart that it would take one of them an hour to reach the other—that's what a light-hour is, the distance light travels in an hour. For one observer to tell the other what his measurement said, using an electromagnetic communications device such as a message laser, would also take an hour. Yet, when one photon is measured, its polarization acquires a definite value; and so does the other, at the same instant."

"But how?" said a dark-haired girl. "That doesn't make sense!"

"We'll talk about subspace tomorrow, student Sumashibiri," said the teacher. "In the meantime, how many times has quantum entanglement been discovered?" he asked the class as a whole.

Hands went up. "When you say 'discovered', do you include the times when aliens instructed humans in science, or only the times that humans figured it out on their own?" Manima asked.

"And do you mean every time it was theorized, or only the times it was confirmed experimentally?" said his friend Asilo.

Aziri nodded to herself. That was much better. Now they were thinking about physics, not just querying their systems and tossing out whatever they got back.

Aziri thought about subspace. Normal space was wrapped around subspace, which was wrapped around another subspace, layers within layers, infinitely deep. As an astrophysicist's daughter, Aziri knew that entangled quanta shared identity in Subspace Aleph. They were literally the same particle, in that subspace, until their identity was broken by an event that affected one quantum but not the other, such as absorption.

By punching a message deep into subspace, people had faster-than-light communication. A subspace message could be received anywhere in the universe, so messages were routinely encrypted to make them private.

Starships achieved apparent velocities faster than light by descending into the first three subspaces. Each was smaller than the one around it, which gave a greater apparent velocity, but also increased the risk of destruction to the vessel. No starship ever made could descend past Subspace Three and return; or at least, none ever had.

If there were subspaces, might there not be superspaces as well? Travel through them would be slower than travel in normal space. But might a sufficiently high superspace contain other universes in it, that weren't in the contraction phase of their cycle? Might an ark full of humans rise from normal space to a superspace, and then descend into a different normal space? Aziri's fingers flew, crafting a query.

"Excuse me," said a voice. Aziri looked up.

"Thanks for rescuing us," Manima said. "I thought Professor Subili was really going to rip into us for getting off track."

"You're welcome," Aziri said. She looked around. Everyone was standing up and preparing to leave. She bookmarked her work and put it away.

"Listen," said the tall, bald, blue-grey-skinned student, "a bunch of us are having dinner tonight at the Club. Would you join us?"

"All right," said Aziri. "Why not?"

"Stinking Chiri," said the blond male in the doorway of the Club. "Get out of my way! In fact, get lost! I don't want you smelling up the place."

The evening had been going well until that point, Aziri thought as Asilo flushed. Manima, Asilo, and an engineering student named Unemonusothi Lalumunasalu had stopped by her dorm in a car. Two other female students she knew slightly, Sumashiburi Babilolasiriu and Aichibishula Bafomoshushibu, were also in the car. Aichi and Unemo were as blonde as Sumashi was dark.

Once she sat down, Manima took the car almost straight up. Aziri hadn't even gotten her seat belt on yet; she held onto the seat for dear life. Sumashi shrieked, and Aichi said, "Take it easy, Manima! Some of us want to live long enough to graduate!"

His driving wasn't the only time that Manima tackled things headlong. As Asilo opened his mouth, Manima shoved past his friend. "Don't even waste breath on the bigot," he said, and smashed both fists into the blond boy's stomach. As his victim doubled over, Manima grabbed him by the collar and belt, and flung him off his feet. The boy slammed into a parked car head first. He bounced off and sprawled in a heap, out cold.

"I could've handled him without beating on him," Asilo said mildly.

"That would just have encouraged him," Manima said, leaning on the pad to keep the Club door open. "Ladies?" he said to Aziri, Sumashi, and Aichi. "After you."

"Roughneck," Sumashi sniffed as she entered. Manima winked at her.

"At least think of the owner of that car," Unemo laughed. "He won't be happy about that dent!"

"Manima's Boshi," Aichi told Aziri in the ladies' room.

"Boshi?" Aziri said. She put her hands in the washing slot. The entrance sealed around her wrists, and hot soapy water surged back and forth around her hands as she rubbed them together. After a few minutes, the soapy water was replaced by clean warm water. She continued to rub her hands as the soap was rinsed off. Then the water was flushed away by warm, dry air. As soon as her hands were dry, the mechanism let go of her wrists, and she pulled her hands out.

Meanwhile, Aichi had kept talking. "Boshi are wanderers, from some high-gravity, stony world here in the Cluster. The last time civilization fell, they lost interstellar technology, and were marooned in their own star-sun system for a few thousand years. When they were rediscovered, they were all like Manima: tall, bald, and grey, with those funny boxy ears."

"And strong," Sumashi said. "I saw him pick up a stone bench once, when some townies decided to make fun of the way he looked. They took one look at him holding it, and scattered before he could throw it at them!"

"So he's bad-tempered?" Aziri asked.

"More like quick-tempered," Aichi said. "He blows up fast when he runs into bigots or fools, but he calms down just as fast. I dated him for a while, and I can tell you he's very excitable, and not just to anger."

"The Boshi image," Sumashi giggled. "The tall, dashing lover, the cunning thief, the daring fighter! They all feel like they have to live up to the image, or else they're betraying their people."

"They fought each other constantly, during the Long Night," Aichi said. "Raiding back and forth between castles on the home planet, and between habitats in orbit around the planet, and in their asteroid belts."

"So watch out he doesn't swoop you up and carry you away," Sumashi grinned. "That's a Boshi's idea of romance."

"Me?" Aziri said.

"He definitely has his eye on you," Sumashi said. "He arranged this whole evening at the last minute, just so he could spend some time with you."

"Then we'd better not keep him waiting," Aziri said. "Ready to go, ladies?"

"Sorry about the scene at the door," Asilo said.

"You're not the one who needs to apologize," Aziri answered.

"No, but he's in the hospital," Asilo said.

The peace enforcers had come, taken statements from everyone, and ordered Manima to come to court at a time and date set on the spot through their intrinsics. The delay was deliberate; making the parties to a fight wait for a hearing, and worry about its outcome, reduced them to a humble stance in court. Even if Manima were exonerated, it didn't send the message that beating on people was acceptable, as an immediate dismissal of charges by the peace officers on the spot would tend to do.

"Does this happen to you often?" Aziri asked.

"Too often," Asilo said. "I mean, look at me!" He waved his hands, twice normal size for someone his height. They stuck out of the everyday shirt that was Mizhinaii standard dress as if they'd been meant for a much larger man, when in fact we was a head shorter than Aziri. His feet were just as large, and his skin almost white, with a tinge of yellow.

"It's not so bad in the Galaxy proper," he said. "Chijurulla, my home world, is in the old Consulate, due south of the Cluster. There are lots of us around there. But there aren't many of us here, and it brings out the worst in some people."

"Not unless they're fools or bigots," Aziri said. "Why do your people look the way they do? Is it Founder's Effect?"

"Yes, exactly!" Asilo said, surprised. "Too few people on our hot sandy world when the Consulate fell, too small a gene pool to prevent genetic drift. So we stand out, and get called 'Chiri' by lowlifes looking for someone different to throw rocks at."

" 'Chiri' instead of…?"

"Chijuri," Asilo said. "We call ourselves the Chijuri." And he pressed his hands together, and bowed to her.

Adorannulaleso University,
15 Ansor, Year 9455

"This is an interesting idea, Student Aziriamadi. May I ask why you brought it to me?" Professor Subiliumabu asked.

"My adviser suggested it," Aziri said. "His interests are the evolution of galaxies, especially how large galaxies like our own feed off intergalactic hydrogen and cannibalize their satellites. He felt that my 'superspace' idea was more cosmology than any other branch of astrophysics, and set up the appointment."

"Quite right," the professor said.

Professor Subili was a scientist with a long career of teaching and research, highly regarded by his students, his fellow instructors, and his colleagues in the field of cosmology. The university valued him too, as witness the large office he had, with a real wooden floor, and several large windows through which the morning sunlight poured in a golden flood. His desk was a work of art: a flat writing surface 8 feet by 4 feet of shimmering dark red wood with light red highlights, with rounded edges and corners. This was supported at a comfortable height for writing by a pedestal on either side, in the form of almost invisible flat panels. They looked like glass, but were actually a strong, hard plastic. The chairs that he and Aziri sat in matched the desk, but although the seats and backs appeared identical to the desk top, they were soft, and molded themselves to fit whomever sat in them.

There were no drawers in the desk, no computer on top of it, and no file cabinets along the wall. A civilization whose members had intrinsic data systems didn't need them.

"I see," said the professor, consulting his own intrinsics, "that some idea like this has been suggested only a few thousand times."

"A few thousand?" Aziri yelped.

The professor had turned sideways to her so that his screens didn't float between them, an automatic courtesy. Now he turned his head and looked over the desk at her.

"Only a few thousand," he said. "Out of 9455 years of history, over many human civilizations, tens of thousands of worlds, millions of scientists. That makes it a rare idea."

"Still…" Aziri said, discouraged.

"Furthermore," Professor Subili continued, "most of these are science fiction, or philosophy. When we select only the times it's been suggested as a scientific hypothesis, the number shrinks to just under two hundred."

"Ah," Aziri said.

"But above and beyond all that," he finished, "the idea isn't part of our current science, which says this is the only universe. What does that suggest to you?"

"Either it's been disproved," Aziri said, "or no one's succeeded in turning the idea into testable science."

"Exactly right," the professor said. "One or the other." He cocked his head at her. "Is your father Sesirianna Liluileonu?" he asked.

"That's my Da," she said. "Do you know him?"

"I've never had that pleasure," Professor Subili said. "But I've read his papers"— they were called papers, and they were published in journals, though they hadn't been printed on paper in hundreds of years—"and he's a brillant man."

"Thank you," Aziri said. "I'll tell him you said so."

The professor waved that aside with one hand. "Are you committed to this idea of yours?" he asked. "Are you willing to examine the existing literature and discover where all your predecessors went wrong? To learn the math and the physics you'll need to turn this idea into a scientific hypothesis? To design the tests of the theory, knowing it may fail them, and reward years of skull sweat with total failure?"

"Yes!" said Aziri. "Yes. But I don't know where to begin. Can you help me select the classes I need, sir?"

"If you will stay with this work, I will help you learn how to do it," he assured her. "I'll add you to my students, and I'll be your adviser from now on."

"Thank you, sir!"

"Not at all. If you're truly your father's daughter, it will be very interesting to see what you do. What you can do."

"I appreciate it," Aziri said.

"You're welcome. To begin with, I'll want you to extract all instances of this or a similar idea from the literature, and give me your preliminary ideas why each one was dismissed or discarded. I'll expect that in ten days."

"Ten days, sir?" she said, staring.

"Certainly. Preliminary, I said. I doubt you have enough knowledge of the history of science to delve deeply into a lot of ideas on the fringes of past scientific revolutions, which will not exactly match our own formulations. And at least some of these will have been killed for religious, ideological, or political reasons. But do what you can. Ten days."

"Yes, sir," she said faintly.

"Meanwhile I'll do the same, in rather more depth. Also, I'll draw up a class schedule to give you the mathematical and scientific tools you'll need to pursue this course of study."

"Thank you, sir," Aziri said again.

"You're welcome, Student Aziriamadi. I'll see you again in ten days."

After Aziri left, Professor Subiliumabu leaned back in his chair and smiled. Even in Adorannulaleso University, most students were there just to take the classes, get their advanced degree, and go on to good jobs in "the real world." And that was fine.

But every once in a while, along came a real student. One who wasn't content to drink from the well of humanity's deep past, then wander on to apply it for a living. The true students drank the well dry, and said, "Is that all?" The true students didn't just take from the well, but added to it, be it a drop or a cup or a bucket.

The professor scanned through the presentation that Aziri had brought to him, all of it written since his lecture three days before. It was raw, yet not so raw as he would've expected from a first-year student—her father's influence, no doubt—and some of the ideas were very interesting. Thought-provoking, even.

This student might dig a whole new well!

Chapter 3
Theoretical Progress

Adorannulaleso, Lamenisosithu Globular Cluster,
First Galaxy, First Universe,
16 Ansor, Year 9455 (Common History)

"Hello, Aziri. May I walk you to class?" Manima said, falling into step beside her.

"We're both going to the same class. You may walk with me," Aziri said.

"Brrrr!" said Manima. "What have I done? Was it the fight at the Club the other day?"

"I didn't like it much, no," said Aziri.

"But he was a bigot!" Manima protested.

"That doesn't mean you had to give him a beating," Aziri said. "If all six of us had told him to shut up and get out of our way, he would have moved."

"Doubt it," said Manima. "He wouldn't have listened to me or Asilo, and he probably looks down on women, too. His type usually does."

"Then we could have called the Club security, or even the peace officers," Aziri said. "That's what they're for."

"But I suppose you're too much of a bandit to do that," she added.

"But of course," Manima said smugly.

"That wasn't a compliment," Aziri said. "My Da just moved his work into deep space to get away from all the bandits in the sector where he is. He got tired of them coming around and demanding he pay them 'protection' so he could get on with his work."

25 Ansor, Year 9455

"Thank you, Student Aziriamadi," Professor Subiliumabu said, receiving the transfer of Aziri's report from her intrinsics to his. "Here is the course schedule I've prepared for you—what's the matter?"

"Oh—nothing, really," Aziri said, accepting the data from his systems. "I was suddenly remembering… just the other day five star-sun systems in the old Second Empire collapsed because someone fed destructive data into their economic systems. They say the death toll is in the millions, and it probably wasn't even done for profit, just pure malice."

"Evil people have always written weapons programs," the professor said. "Sometimes for profit, sometimes to destroy an enemy, sometimes just for the sake of evil. Even in ancient times, when data systems were external units separate from the body, data criminals began introducing malicious code as soon as the system nets were established."

"I know," Aziri said. "But knowing it in the abstract isn't the same as hearing about a current example. It shook me up."

Her adviser looked at her for a moment over his wide desk. "When I was a student," he said, "one of my instructors was murdered. Another student introduced a military program into his systems, inside some coursework he turned in for grading."

"How did he die?" Aziri said, appalled.

"Gruesomely," Subiliumabu said. "The boy who did the actual killing was a relative of a high-ranking officer dismissed by the local President for graft and corruption. This officer tried to strike back illegally with military programs to which he had access, but the President's systems were too well protected. So he used his student relative to kill the instructor, instead. The instructor was a distant relative of the President, you see."

"Before coming here, I almost never exchanged data with anyone but my father and the systems of the ship or observatory we lived in," Aziri said slowly.

"Welcome to the bigger world," the professor said. "These days, your system can come under attack at any time. On the other hand—when you enrolled, did you receive a systems upgrade?"

"An upgrade? No… Data about the university, courses, housing, the planet, and so forth, but an upgrade? No," Aziri said.

"Then your systems were already as good as, or better, than the University requires," said her adviser. "You may be sure that most of your fellow students had to accept an upgrade before they could attend classes. You have your father to thank that you did not."

"I will indeed thank him!" Aziri said fervently.

"Good. Now, if you'll look at your course schedule, you'll see that you're already registered for next term…"

3 Vor, Year 9456

"Manima thinks you're avoiding him," Asilo said, as he and Aziri were walking to Tensor Calculus.

"I'm not avoiding him, I just have no time for him," Aziri said. "Tell him to chase someone who has more interest, and less work to do!"

"You dropped all the courses you had together, last term," Asilo said, "and this term you're not in any of his classes, either."

"Wow, it's all about him, isn't it?" Aziri said. "I dropped my classes last term because I switched from a general Astrophysics major to a Special Cosmology major. And unless he's pursuing the same major, he's not likely to see me in any other courses he takes, either. It has nothing to do with him, one way or another."

"I'll tell him," Asilo said, dubiously. "I can't promise he'll believe it, though. He takes things pretty personally."

"He'll get over it," Aziri said. "Come to think of it, why are you in all my Math classes?"

"I like math," Asilo grinned. "And I'm majoring in System Design."

"System designers need tensor calculus?" Aziri said skeptically.

"So I'm told. Anyway, I like math!" Asilo repeated.

15 Vor, Year 9456

"So in conclusion…?" Professor Subiliumabu said.

"In conclusion, most of this was just pointless speculation, with no attempt to gather data to support a mathematical theory of superspace. Some of the most consistent 'theories' of a superspace were composed by science-fiction writers, wanting a solid background for their space operas."

Subiliumabu nodded. "But surely, in all of scientific history, it's been pursued before?"

"Less than a dozen times," Aziri said. "All the interest's been in subspace, because it speeds up travel and gives us instant communications. Some who have wanted to work on superspace couldn't find funding for it, and gave up. Some had their work, and sometimes their lives, stopped for political reasons. Then the whole subject was tainted by association, and no one dared to touch it."

"And three times—three!—someone actually made a serious stab at characterizing superspace mathematically, based on what they knew of space and subspace. In all three cases, the formulation failed when contradictions arose in developing the math."

"Can any of that math be salvaged?" the professor asked. "Or can something be synthesized from all three foundations?"

"I don't know," Aziri said. "They're three different systems of mathematical notation—one from the Hegemony, one from the Eucharion, one from way back in the Kakhshi Republic before the First Empire. The systems can translate them, but how well? And how much of the underlying vision is really compatible?"

"So the whole study was a waste of time?"

"I'm tempted to say yes, but I know you'll say that examining the prior literature is never a waste of time," Aziri smiled.

Professor Subiliumabu smiled back. "You're learning," he said.

40 Lavor, Year 9456

"Aziri! Aziriamadi! Aziiiiiriii!"

Aziri's eyes popped open. It was dark, and she'd been sound asleep. Her systems said it was halfway between midnight and dawn. Who was caterwauling outside her dorm at this unholy hour?

She got out of bed, went to the window, and took a look, first making sure it was still set to transmit images only from outside to inside. She groaned at what she saw.

Asilo, the engineering student Unemonusothi, and a third male whom she didn't know, were trying to make Manimamunia be quiet and come away with them. But he was drunk, and having none of it. As she watched, he yanked free of all three of them with his Boshi strength. He turned back to face her dorm, and reached up with pleading hands, as if he could see her watching him.

"Aziri! Come out and talk to me! Aziiirii!"

Aziri flushed red with embarassment and humiliation. Meanwhile Asilo put a hand on his friend's arm, and said something Aziri couldn't hear. Manima spun around and punched Asilo in the gut. The short Chijuri folded up and fell down.

"Oh, you pirate!" Aziri hissed.

"Aziri! I love you, Aziri!" Manima called.

"Peace and safety?" Aziri said on her communications systems. "My name is Aziriamadi Sesiriannu, and there is a disturbance outside my dormitory."

41 Lavor, Year 9456

"I hope you're proud of yourself," Sumashi said the next day. Aziri had been eating lunch on a commons lawn, with screens all around her head. There was one for each of the failed attempts at a superspace theory, with red notes of hers throughout, and one with a few thoughts and scraps of math of her own. Sumashi sat down on one side of her, and Aichi on the other.

"Do I have some reason not to be proud of myself?" Aziri asked.

"Calling the peace officers on poor Manima that way!" Aichi said.

"Leading him on with all those dates, and then dumping him for no reason!" Sumashi said.

"What? Wait!" Aziri said. She saved her work and shut down her screen with a thought, making the other girls jump—most people couldn't have done it that quickly.

"I'm not going to be whipsawed between you," she said firmly. "Sit together so I can talk to both of you at once."

"Who do you think you are?" Aichi said; but she moved next to Sumashi.

"Who do I have to be?" Aziri said. "And why shouldn't I call the peace enforcers, when Manimamunia was making a horrible noise at a ridiculous hour? Did you know he hit Asilo?"

"Well, that was bad, but…" Sumashi began.

"You didn't have to call the proctors!" Aichi interrupted. "He just wanted to talk about why you dumped him!"

"You're getting all this from him, aren't you?" Aziri said. "Listen, I've been on a 'date' with Manima exactly once—when that fellow at the Club called Asilo a Chiri, and Manima threw him into the side of a car!"

"Oh, bullshit," Aichi said. "Why, that was months ago!"

"Yes, it was months ago," Aziri said. "And it's the only social contact we've had."

"Oh, come on!" Sumashi protested. "What about the dinners at Imperial House, or the weekends at Lolizozuri beach, or the—"

"Whoa! Whoa!" said Aziri. "Dinners? Weekends? Who told you these fantasies? It wasn't Asilo, was it?"

"No, it was Manima telling us, and Asilo, and Unemo—but everyone knows about it!" Sumashi said.

" 'Everyone' had better compare notes, and see whether even one person has seen these imaginary dates," Aziri said, getting up. "Someone's been telling a lot of lies."

"And why should we believe that Manima's lying, and not you?" challenged Aichi, not getting up.

Aziri shook her head. "Believe what you want—but leave me out of all the drama," she said.

12 Zor, Year 9456

"So why do you suppose current science dismisses the notion of one or more superspaces 'above' our own?" Professor Subiliumabu asked.

"I've found nothing in the literature that brings up the idea to dismiss it," Aziri said. "It's more as if there's some sort of unspoken agreement not to talk about it. Everyone knows that subspace is infinitely deep, but everyone seems to assume that our space is the outermost layer, for no particular reason."

"Is there any reason to suppose superspace?" Subiliumabu countered.

"Yes, I think so," Aziri said.

"First, there's the egocentricity of supposing otherwise. If subspace is infinitely deep, why should our space be the outermost layer? To suppose it's the top layer, just because we live in it, is egotism, not science. So-called 'normal' space isn't different in kind from subspace, only in degree. Instead of normal space, Subspace One, Subspace Two, etc., we could say Space Zero, Space One, Space Two; and then why not Space Minus One 'above' Space Zero, Space Minus Two 'above' that, and so forth? Does it really make sense to say that a finite universe has infinite depth? But if infinity ran both ways…?"

"Plausible enough," Subiliumabu said, "but only words."

"True," said Aziri. "I need more physics, and more math. Fortunately I'm signed up for more… Have I thanked you yet for making sure I get all these courses as quickly as possible? Not having to fight through registration, and worry about getting into classes, is a great relief."

Subiliumabu shrugged. "You're welcome. It's a small enough thing to do… the classes you're taking don't have great thundering hordes of students clamoring for them. Few students, even in this university, want or need 'Mathematical Space of Pressors and Tractors' for their degrees."

"As my friend Asilo would say, you'd be surprised," Aziri smiled. "But that's another cause for thanks, that none of my classes have been cancelled for lack of students."

"They won't be," her adviser promised. "If need be, I'll teach them myself, or call in a favor from a colleague."

"For what is the purpose of a university," he said, "if not to give the real students the knowledge they need to do what really matters?"

"Well…" Aziri said, gratefully. Her eyes flicked to the screen with her notes for this session. "Oh yes, mass," she said.

"What about mass?" Subiliumabu said.

"Thousands of years of science," Aziri said, "and still no one has really explained why certain particles have mass, and not others; or why they have the exact mass that they do. If you plug in the right mass to the right particles, you get a model universe like our own, but you have to plug them in; they don't arise by themselves from the theory. Supposedly mass is the result of interactions between normal particles and a 'special' kind of particle, but no one's ever been able to find one, or create one in high-energy experiments."

"So what do you suggest instead?"

"Suppose mass in normal space arises from interactions of our particles with superspace?" Aziri said. As we go further and further into subspace, the particles of our space progressively give up their identity, until at Subspace Aleph they're all one. Suppose the reverse is true? If the particles of our universe 'break up' as we ascend through superspace, the way that they 'break up', and the way the 'pieces' interact, could explain the mass question, without any mythical special particles in our universe."

"And the properties that the special particle is supposed to have, gives us parameters for the superspace behavior," Subiliumabu said. "Instead of special particles, you have the same effects caused by normal particles in superspace."

Aziri blinked. "Isn't that what I just said?"

"Perhaps," he answered. "What I'm saying is that all the work on the special particle wasn't wasted. Though it has no literal existence, the effects it would have had are the same effects your superspace interactions must have."

"Oh, I see," Aziri said, making a note. "So a successful superspace theory will explain mass, using the same properties as the special particle, while also explaining why no special particle has ever been found."

"Exactly," said Subiliumabu.

"Then there's the missing dark matter question," Aziri said, going on to her next note. "Half the 'dark matter' is explained as curvature caused by particle bonding in subspace, but the other half is still unexplained. Yet without it, the universe doesn't have the mass to halt its expansion, and contract to the Big Crunch."

"You think superspace accounts for the rest?"

" 'Think' is too strong a word at this point," Aziri said. "But if the universe is not only infinitely 'deep' in subspace, but infinitely 'high' in superspace, and subspace accounts for half the dark matter, doesn't it seem possible that superspace accounts for the rest?"

"So how do you envision superspace?" Subiliumabu asked her. "Would it have star-suns? Planets around them? People on those planets?"

"No," said Aziri. "Only normal space has those things. In subspace particles begin to lose their identity, so that matter like our own doesn't exist, and nuclear interactions are very different. Similarly, in superspace our particles 'break up' into separate particles, never forming matter as we know it, and that matter not forming stars or planets."

"But," she said fiercely, "it might have other universes in it, like our own. And if a ship from our universe could ascend into superspace, and survive there, it might be possible to go to another universe!"

1 Dor, Year 9456

On Aziri's 12th birthday, her friends had a party for her. They dragged her from her room, ignoring her protests that she had work to do, and took her to the Crown Room at Imperial House, the biggest and most expensive restaurant and hotel, respectively, in Adorannulesotho, the capital of Adorannulaleso.

Aziri had matured to what an inhabitant of a future virtual Earth would judge to be 20 years old. The fair hair she'd had as a young child, that had been halfway between blonde and redhead, had darkened to a deep reddish brown. Sumashi and Aichi, who'd forgiven her for "making them look foolish", took her into the ladies' room and whipped her hair into an elaborate arrangement in the current style. They also ruthlessly applied makeup. When they were done, Aziri barely recognized herself. But she liked her new self very much, and hugged her kidnappers.

For the formal dinner that began the evening, all of her favorite instructors were present at a table at the head of the room: Professor Subiliumabu of course, but also virtually the entire faculty of the astronomy, physics, and math departments, plus the Registrar of the University, and the President of the College of Physical Sciences.

After these worthies had dined, wished Aziri a happy birthday, and left, the students relaxed and began to party in earnest. Aziri didn't know the latest dances, but there was no shortage of males offering to teach them to her.

"Here's to Aziri!" Unemo said, lifting his glass high, with his other arm about Subashi. "Even if I don't understand what she's saying, half the time."

"You just need more math courses," Asilo said, raising his glass as well. "I understand her just fine."

"I can't take any more math courses," Unemo said. "You and Aziri are hogging them all!"

Aziri had never had any alcoholic drinks before. She laughed so hard the drink came out her nose. "There's a math shortage," she gasped. "Oh, poor, poor Unemo!" She and Aichi put their arms around each other, and laughed until they almost cried.

It was very late when Aziri walked up to her dorm—or rather, very early. The cold, clear air stabbed right through the haze of the drinks she'd had, waking her up even as it brought a promise of her first hangover. Adorannulaleso's big, close moon had set hours ago, but the rest of the Cluster filled half the sky, a sphere that stretched to the zenith in the north, and met the horizon far to the east and west. Most of the other visible stars were also part of the Cluster, but farther out than Adorannulaleso. (The disk of the First Galaxy was visible only from the other hemisphere, where it hung almost directly overhead as a whirlpool of cold flame.)

Aziri had always felt safe on campus. But now Manimamunia stepped out of the darkness so that the light at her dorm's front door fell on him, and a shock ran down her spine. She hadn't seen him since the night he'd been calling up to her window. Nor had he been at the party; the judge at his hearing had ordered him to stay away from her.

"Hello, Ziri-Ziri," Manimamunia said. "How's my girl?" The tall, bald Boshi looked the same as he always had, but his words were a little slurred.

"What are you doing here, Manimamunia?" Aziri said.

"Aww, she's worried about me getting in trouble," Manimamunia said affectionately. "That's sweet, Ziri-Ziri. But I had to see you tonight. It's not every day my girl has a birthday."

"I'm not your girl, Manimamunia. I'm my own girl. And you'd better get out of here."

"Not my girl?" Manimamunia chuckled. "That's cute. After all those dates we've had? After all those times you've been in my bed, and cried, and screamed, and told me you loved me? Don't you shake your head at me!" he said, his voice suddenly hard and ugly.

She could be in real trouble, Aziri realized. Suddenly she wished she'd let Asilo and Unemo and the others drop her at her door, instead of a few blocks back, so she could walk a bit. If she called the peace enforcers, Manimamunia would know it. What might he do before they got here?

"Listen to me," she said. "You're not well, Manimamunia. Those dates never happened. And I've never been in anyone's bed but my own. By myself."

"Aw, come on," Manimamunia said. He walked right up to her before she could turn and run. "There's no one here but you and me. You don't have to tell their lies, Ziri-Ziri." He looked down at her and smiled.

Aziri glared. "Quit calling me Ziri-Ziri! You've no right! Go away and leave me alone, you crazy!"

Manimamunia grabbed her shoulders. "Just one little kiss, and I'll go away. Come on, Aziri, one little…" She struggled to get free of him, but he was too strong for her, and his height gave him extra leverage, too. "Come on, one little…" He seized her hands and put them behind her back, pulling her up against him despite her struggles. "One little…"

"No!" Aziri shouted, and jerked her leg up as high as she could. She didn't get him square in the balls—he was too tall for that—but high enough on the inner thigh to hurt quite a bit. He clutched at himself. She shoved him away, turned, and ran.

She'd only gotten a few steps when he grabbed the back of her blouse and yanked her back. Aziri shrieked. Manimamunia's strength ripped the blouse down the back, with enough force left over to make her topple backwards and hit her head on the walk.

"Much better," Manimamunia said, dropping down with his knees on either side of her waist. He leaned forward and pinned her wrists with his hands. Then he stabbed his head down and gave her a wet, slobbery kiss on the mouth. Aziri said "Ugh!" with a grimace, and sent an alarm to the peace enforcers.

Manimamunia sat up as though she'd stabbed him. "You bitch!" he said, and hit her as hard as he could on the side of her head. Bright stars exploded behind her eyes, and her body went limp.

"Gotta get outta here," Manimamunia muttered, knowing that everyone nearby would come running, including anyone awake in the dorm—with the peace enforcers right behind. Aziri thought the ordeal was almost done; but instead of running away and leaving her there, the tall Boshi picked her up and put her over one shoulder.

It was one insult too many on top of the head blows; for a moment Aziri's stomach heaved, and she thought she'd throw up. Preoccupied with her queasy stomach and her whirling head, she didn't see Asilo run up and hit Manimamunia with a stunner.

The Boshi shrieked and spasmed, throwing Aziri off his shoulder and down his back before falling down on limp knees to lie twitching on the dorm lawn. Asilo tried to catch Aziri, but she was taller than he was, and dead weight besides. He crawled out from under her, pulled her torn blouse up and her skirt down, and put his folded jacket under her head.

She was weeping from the assault; he sat on the grass and held her hand. When the dorm doors flew open and people came running out, he would have let go; but she clung desperately. So they stayed that way, while the peace enforcers came, and stilled the crowd; while they questioned them about what happened; and took Manimamunia away.

"Don't go," Aziri said.

"No, I won't," Asilo answered.

37 Ullor, Year 9456

The graduation ceremony was ancient, dating back to before the Mizhinaii had rediscovered aircraft, let alone space travel. Each College was meeting in its own arena, scattered across the wide campuses of the University: Music, Depiction, Textile Arts, Dance, Athletics, Physical Science, Biological Science, Data Science, Mathematics, and others.

The faculty of the College of Physical Sciences sat in ranks on the polished wooden stage at the focus of the amphitheater, each man or woman with knees together and legs folded under, hands on knees, back straight, expression grave or stern or merry. The robes they wore were black, with wide flowing sleeves in the color of their department: a deep blue for Astronomy, red for Chemistry, blue-white for Physics, rich brown for Geology, yellow for Meteorology, and so on. Special degrees, honors, and tenure were represented by ribbons and badges on their blouses, shining embroidery or bright metal against the pure black.

Those about to graduate filled the rest of the amphitheater as it flowed out and up the hillside in regular terraces. Sitting like the faculty, and facing them, in plain white robes with black bundles in front of their knees, almost a thousand students waited in silence.

No one else was present. This occasion was for the members of the College, represented by the faculty, and the young men and women about to become members. Later there would be parties; later the sounds and images recorded by each one's intrinsics would be shared with mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends. But now they listened to the welcome from the Vice-President of the College, and the President's congratulations—for four times their number had started the journey with them. Some had failed, some had quit, some simply weren't done yet. A few had died.

The speeches over, the Registrar of the College picked up a scroll and unrolled it. The scroll was ceremonial, and blank. Consulting the holographic screen hidden by the scroll, she called a name. The graduate with the lowest scores, and the least achievement, stood with his bundle in his hands, and bowed to the faculty. Then he unrolled his black robe, with steel-grey sleeves for Manufacturing, put it over his white robe, bowed again, and sat down. One by one, from lowest to highest, they donned their new garments, while fewer and fewer white-robed figures abided. Next to last was Asilomarrula Hakamitoshiru, whose sleeves were orange for Mechanics, and whose degree was System Design. Last and highest was Aziriamadi Sesirannu, with the deep blue sleeves of Astronomy, whose degree was Cosmology. The silver badge of a Special degree, of a curriculum designed around a thesis proposed by the student, shone on her breast; and the enameled hawk's head of highest honors, Liriodomatoliluli Adonamisaturu, literally "hawk wings over high mountains."

"I have a graduation gift for you," Professor Subiliumabu said. He held up his hand with ring finger and little finger folded down and thumb over them, but index and ring finger held up together: the sign of a data transfer ready to send.

"Thank you," Aziri said. Ignoring the party swirling around them, she popped up a screen and accepted the data onto it. Some Conjectures on a Higher Plane, she read, by Giliogolmasha Subiliumabu. Was he publishing her work? That wasn't like him… Then she realized there were no titles or degrees attached to the name; saw the timestamp on the data, forty years before the present (23 Mizhinaii years); and realized what she was reading. Her head snapped up.

"This is a student paper!" she said.

"One of several that made up my degree," her adviser said. "I was an ordinary Astronomy major, not a Special like you."

"But if you'd already—This wasn't in the literature—Did I waste all that work?!!" Aziri cried.

"Not at all, not at all," Professor Subiliumabu said. "When you have time to read it, you'll find my ideas weren't nearly as detailed or consistent as yours, and there's no mathematical framework there, as you've begun to formulate. You've already gone far beyond my poor fumbling student efforts, and I have every confidence you'll go farther yet."

"Thank you," Aziri said. "Thank you for everything. I don't know how I could have done it without you."

"You would have found a way. When historians of science write about your work, if they're kind they'll note that while I was unable to reap this harvest myself, yet I helped you to break the ground and plant the first seeds."

"Oh, much more than that!" Aziri said.

"Thank you," Subiliumabu said. "If I may… I hope you will write from time to time, and let me know how the work is going?"

"I will," she said.

"Good," said Subiliumabu. "So few write, once they've graduated. It's always hard to let go of a promising student." And he bowed to her, and she bowed back; and he straightened up, and walked away.

"There goes a very lonely man," Asilo said, walking up to Aziri. "And why are you reading a screen at a party, young lady?"

Aziri closed the screen with Professor Subiliumabu's student paper with a snap—it was already saved in her systems, of course. "Asilo!" she said, and gave him a hug. "Congratulations! I didn't know you were number Two in our class!"

"In the Physical Sciences, anyway," Asilo said, hugging her back. "I wouldn't want to take more credit than I have coming. Have you seen some of the Athletics majors? Freaks of nature, some of them, with more muscle than the human body is designed to support! If I claimed my Two counts more than their Two, they could take me apart without breaking a sweat."

Aziri smiled, then frowned, her arms still around his neck. "Why do you say Professor Subiliumabu is lonely?" she said. "I always assumed he had family and friends like everyone else. In fact, I know he arranged to have a colleague in the Math department teach one course just for me, that would have been cancelled otherwise. Remember Heuristic Matrixes? You and I were the only students in the course."

"I remember," Asilo said, gently untangling her arms. "I'm not saying he doesn't have colleagues here in the University. But I know he doesn't have any family or friends back home, because they're all dead."

"Dead?" Aziri said.

"The Professor comes from Basiliamaterili," Asilo said. "It was a world here in the Cluster, farther away from the center than most, and on the side of the Cluster nearest the plane of the Galaxy. When he was young, before you or I were born, a fleet of pirates took over that star-sun system. After they destroyed the system defenses and the boosters for extra-system communications, they dropped kinetic strikes on all but a handful of the richest cities. Then they landed in the ones they spared, and did whatever they liked, for as long as the food and drink and women and loot lasted."

"Oh, how horrible," Aziri whispered, hating the uselessness of the words.

"Then when they left," Asilo said, "they destroyed the cities that remained. The only Basiliamaterilaii left these days are the ones who were off-planet, like Professor Subiliumabu."

"But didn't anyone do anything?" Aziri said.

"Quite a lot, from what I can tell," Asilo said. "That kind of thing wasn't as common back then as it is now, and it was the first time the Cluster had been hit really hard. They set up the defenses we have now, and increased the military forces a lot, and have kept them up and ready to fight at a moment's notice. If communications ceases from any world, or anything suspicious is heard, they respond instantly, and in force. That's why no other worlds have died in the years since—here in the Cluster, anyway."

"Poor Professor Subiliumabu," Aziri said, looking in the direction her adviser had gone. "How did you learn about this, Asilo? I swear he never gave me a clue."

"I didn't learn it from him," Asilo said. "Unlike you, I had a lot of general courses. I read about this in a recent-history class, and the instructor mentioned that the professor was from that world."

"So he thinks he has no friends or family, just his professional colleagues and the occasional student who remembers him fondly," Aziri said. "I wish I had known."

"Thinks he has no friends or family?" Asilo asked.

"I have two fathers," Aziri said. "I wish I knew a way to tell him that."

Chapter 4
Nailing Jelly to a Tree

Solilumavaniu Station,
Lamenisosithu Globular Cluster,
First Galaxy, First Universe,
12 Vor, Year 9457 (Common History)

Aziri spent Unsor, the first month of the new year, on board the passenger starship Lirioliliukeiketirianna, "Bird of the Heart," as it made its way from Adorannulaleso, on the western edge of Lamenisosithu Cluster, to Solilumavaniu, in the Cluster's galactic south. Solilumavaniu Station was the jumping-off point for the First Galaxy proper, by way of the scattered systems between the Cluster and the plane of the galactic disk.

While Aziri was riding in luxury from one rich, safe system to another in the Cluster, with many stops and never going deeper than Subspace Two, her father had a harder journey, and a longer one. Turning over the deep-space observatory he'd been using to a colleague, he rode the regular supply ship back to the nearest settled star-sun system. There he paid bribes, as illegal as they should have been unnecessary, to persuade the captain of a merchant ship to take him to another, longer-settled system with regular express service to galactic north. Though he started a month before Aziri's graduation, and rode in Subspace Three much of the time, Sesirianna also had much farther to go. He got to Solilumavaniu only the day before his daughter did. The bureaucratic obstacles he overcame, the bribes he had to pay to make the journey, and the outright thieves and pirates he had to work around, would have filled a book. But Sesiri was too used to the signs of collapse to give them any more attention than he had to, and too focused on collecting his daughter.

He watched, on one of his screens, a feed from the station's systems, showing Bird of the Heart warping in. The great globe of the starship approached the huge globe of the station in a dance as old as space travel. Pressors from the station stopped the last drift of the ship; then tractors drew it into one of the station's ports. Half-buried in the station and locked in place, Bird of the Heart became just another bump on Solilumavaniu's side, one of a hundred. The passengers walked from ship to station in ordinary clothes, through ordinary corridors.

When Aziri walked into the lounge where Sesiri was waiting, she took his breath away. She'd left, four and a half years ago (two Mizhinaii years), a girl. She returned a woman. Except that her hair was a dark auburn, rather than blonde with red-gold highlights, she looked a lot like Mirililalulioma, her dead mother, when Sesiri first met her. But Aziri was as tall as he was, Sesiri noted, as he stood up; Mirili had been a little shorter.

Her face shone with gladness when her eyes found him. "Daddy!" she said, and put her arms around him. He just held her for a minute, breathing in the sweet scent of her. Somewhere deep, a knot of fear two years old, that she wouldn't come back to him, unclenched and went away.

He looked down where her bags hovered behind her, like dogs waiting for attention. "Two bags, Ziri?" he asked.

"Backups," she said, as if the one word were a long speech. He nodded in understanding. Mizhinaii tended to travel light, being used to carrying vast libraries in their intrinsic systems, and expecting material goods to be readily available everywhere. But a scientist had great quantities of working notes, specialist sources, huge amounts of raw data, indexes, summaries, and cross-references—and wanted it all backed up on separate, external data storage, just in case. One of Aziri's bags held clothes and keepsakes, including the precious graduation robe. The other was a data store, proof against electricity, magnetism, electromagnetic pulse, lasers, and quite ridiculous amounts of heat, as well as tearing, crushing, and grinding forces that would reduce most armored fighting vehicles to scrap.

"Well," she said, stepping back a little. "Where now, Da? Do we need to hurry and catch a ship?"

Sesiri shook his head. "I need to stay put a few days and let my system recover," he said. "I've been doing a lot of travel in Subspace Three. I thought we might eat, if you're hungry?"

"I could eat," Aziri said, studying him. He did look worn out, she thought; as if he'd been ill for a while, and not taking care of himself.

"This is nice," Aziri said, looking around the restaurant. She'd become rather accustomed to spectacular astronomical scenery in the last month: the bejeweled space of the Cluster's interior, packed with star-suns; a dozen rich, blue-and-white living worlds; the stations in which Bird of the Heart docked on its journey, two of them anchored only by the local star-sun in systems without planets; and here, as they approached Sulilumavaniu Station in normal space, the vast disk of Ikesetaniboshushamili, the First Galaxy, spread across the sky in a glowing whirlpool.

The restaurant that Sesiri had chosen didn't try to compete with the view outside the station. It was all cool grey walls of smooth stone, with parabolic arches between sections of the whole. The walls curved in to form a domed ceiling in each section, and no two sections were the same size. A thick, colorful rug covered most of the floor of each section; other rugs, mostly rectangular, were hung on the walls here and there.

"I'm glad you like it," Sesiri said. "It's Chijuri."

"Really?" Aziri said. "Did you pick it just for me?" She'd seen that the woman who seated them was Chijuri, dressed in some kind of robe instead of ordinary Mizhinaii pants and shirt, but hadn't thought anything of it.

"I don't follow," Sesiri said. "I like Chijuri food, and I thought you might, too. What do you mean, just for you?"

So Aziri told him about Asilo, who'd been her best male friend at the University, and how he'd placed Second to her First; about Sumashi and Aichi and Unemo and other friends; briefly about Manimamunia, making little of his stalking and happy that the arrival of the food let her drop the subject.

The food was strange, but good, featuring plants and animals found on Chijurulla and other worlds of the Chijuri system. It was not only hot from cooking but hot from peppers and other spices, so Aziri was glad of the milk that came with the meal. Despite the pain, she ate well. Sesiri, she saw, ate the food with no discomfort and no need of milk.

The talk passed to Sesiri's work mapping the rate of deceleration of the universal expansion, and from there back to Aziri's work. She had spoken of it generally, in the letters they had exchanged; now she showed him the thing itself, in the rough; still incomplete and marked with notes and question marks. It was nevertheless a major achievement, even at that stage, and Sesiri didn't hesitate to tell her so.

They finished eating, and walked to the cashier, screens floating around their heads and Aziri's bags following at her heels. She bowed to the lady as Asilo had shown her, hands together in front, palm to palm. The cashier broke out in a delighted smile and said something in Chijuri.

"I'm sorry, I don't understand," Aziri said.

"I said, 'Thank you, and please come again'," the cashier said.

"Thank you," Aziri said. "It was delicious."

Sesiri and Aziri took the tube back to his hotel. Adorannulaleso University had been a large city in its own right, with all its Colleges, each packed with students, instructors, and staff. But Solilumavaniu Station had a much greater permanent population, not even counting transients like Aziri and her father. The most desirable real estate was the shell, or layer, halfway between the starship ports at the surface and the power plants in the core, equidistant from the hazards of each. The station offices were all there, and the best residences and hotels. Sesiri showed Aziri her room, right next to his; and then, though neither wanted to stop just yet, he had to excuse himself to get some sleep.

13 Vor, Year 9457

Aziri woke with a sense of gleeful anticipation, not sure where she was or why she was so happy. Then she remembered: she was on Solilumavaniu Station, and back with her father! She wanted to do cartwheels, or whoop with joy. She settled for bounding out of bed, stuffing it and her night clothes into the recycler, picking out new clothes, and taking a shower while they were being fabricated. The shower tube scanned her for the height of her face, then filled with hot, soapy water to just below that. Jets stirred the water vigorously, and Aziri scrubbed herself with the scrubber which had popped out of the wall when she'd closed the tube door. Taking a breath, she ducked under the water and washed her hair and head.

Eyes closed against soap, she hit the rinse button. The soapy water was sucked away, while clean hot water rained from the top of the tube. Aziri got the soap out of her hair and off her body, then hit dry. The vents along the sides of the tube, which had served soapy water and then drained rinse water away, now blew hot dry air. Aziri stepped out of the tube when she was dry, chucked the scrubber into the recycler, put on her new clothes, and sent a message to her father, saying she was ready for breakfast.

About time, lazybones, came the immediate reply. Meet you in the hall. Aziri opened her door with a laugh, kissed her father good morning, and went to breakfast in the hotel restaurant on his arm.

Afterwards they walked about, still talking away, until they came to one of the many green spaces scattered through every residential shell of the station. Then they sat on one of the benches and talked some more. Natural-looking sunlight filtered through the leaves of the trees. A mile-long babbling brook flowed through the park, issuing from a pile of rocks and ending in a pool full of fat carp.

"So, Da, what shall we do with our lives?" Aziri asked around noon. She was lying on her back in the warm grass, hands on her belly and her feet propped on a convenient flattish rock.

Sesiri, sitting on a bench nearby, looked at his daughter and smiled. "For myself, just this. My work," he said, waving at the screens clustered around his head, "decent working conditions," waving at the park, "my darling daughter." He indicated her with a hand, and she mimed a curtsey without getting up.

"But you've changed the picture, Ziri."

Aziri took her feet off the rock, planted them on the grass, and sat up. "How so, Da?"

"This work of yours," he said, linking his screens to her systems so that she could see that they were filled with her equations.

"It changes everything, Aziri. I think you're on the track of something real. Obviously you're not there yet, but this is solid work. I think we should pursue it—if you don't mind me helping where I can, that is."

"I hoped you would," Aziri said. "But what about your own work?"

Sesiri dismissed it with a wave. "All I've been doing is adding some decimal places to constants already known, making observations and reducing some error bars here and there. Anyone can do that. But this superspace notion of yours is new and unique. I may not be able to add much," he said, shaking his head in wonder and admiration, "but I want in."

"Of course," Aziri said. "But I don't see how that changes your picture. Whether it's deceleration rates or superspace, you can still work the same way you've always done. Work in an observatory for a while, then take your data somewhere comfortable and play with it, corresponding with colleagues and exchanging papers… only now we'd both be working adults."

But Sesiri was shaking his head. "It can't be that way any more, Ziri."

"First of all," he continued, "when you get this far enough to test, we'll need a crew. We'll need data-systems designers to turn your math into circuits, and systems designers to turn the circuits into test rigs. We'll need mechanical engineers, propulsion engineers, detection-systems engineers… we'll need our own deep-space station, and people to run it: building engineers, cooks, clerks, and administrators."

"But why, Da?" Aziri said. "I pictured you and me working in an existing station here in the Cluster, maybe with one or two regular helpers. Why so big a project? For that matter, can we afford a project that big?"

"We can afford it, all right," Sesiri said. "I'm the last of my father's family, and you're the last of your mother's. Money isn't an issue. For that matter, we can get a lot of things just for the asking, just because no one else wants them. Between the suicides, the dropoff in people entering scientific careers, and the danger of bandit attacks, a lot of people with suitable facilities will let us have them for nothing, just to see them put to good use."

"It's that bad?" Aziri asked.

"It's worse," Sesiri said. "There's a real feeling of 'party hearty, because tomorrow we die' everywhere I've been. And what we hear from the Second Galaxy, when we hear anything, sounds worse—a lot of repressive police states are controlling their citizens from cradle to grave to meet the crisis. From the Third Galaxy I've heard nothing at all for a long, long time—years."

"I had no idea," Aziri said, shaking her head. "At university we'd hear things, but it didn't seem that bad."

"It never does," Sesiri said. "Other than tombs, where people put things away on purpose, and dead worlds that don't get looted, do you know where archaeologists get the most information about previous cycles of civilization?"

"Other than those?" Aziri asked. "No, where?"

"Caches," Sesiri told her. "Someone who doesn't know how bad it is, or thinks the trouble is local and temporary, buries something he plans to come back and get—books, jewelry, heirlooms—and then never returns. Every human civilization has left things like that for the next one to find, just because no one ever believes how bad it is."

"All right, but Lamenisosithu is safe," Aziri said. "Why not stay here and work?"

"Lamenisosithu is bucking the trend," Sesiri agreed. "Which makes it a big fat target hanging in the galactic halo. Whoever cracks the Cluster will win unimaginable loot. Sooner or later someone will crack it, too—the population of the galaxy proper is too much greater than the Cluster's. When they do, anyone fleeing will be going through the halo systems to the galactic disk, and scavengers will be waiting to pick them off."

"But can't anything be done?" Aziri cried.

"For a while," Sesiri said. "But no one can hold back the tide forever. Some of the noblest stories in history are people who succeeded for a while; or built something new after the tide rolled back, using barbarian armies for hammer and anvil. But that isn't my story; I'm a scientist. Is it yours?"

"I don't think so," Aziri said, tempted and uncertain. "No," she said, more firmly. "No use to save the old or build the new, not when the universe is still ending and people are still despairing over it. I want to break the cycle. If we can go to a young universe whenever we want, the Big Crunch holds no threat over us."

"Then we'll need our own place, preferably in a backwater that everyone knows isn't worth looting," Sesiri said. "Somewhere in the galactic plane, too, not only to be inconspicuous, but to keep our lines of retreat open."

"Like Chijurulla?" Aziri suggested.

"No," said Sesiri. "Chijurulla's not a backwater, and the Chijuri aren't poor. And a lot of racists focus on them because of their superficial physical differences, and their non-Mizhinaii culture. In its own way, Chijurulla's almost as much a target as Lamenisosithu Cluster."

"Where then?" Aziri said.

"I have some ideas," Sesiri said. "While you're working on superspace, I'll search the data nets for a suitable location."

1 Pavor, Year 9457

Over the rest of that long Mizhinaii year, Aziri made great progress on her superspace theory. Concepts flowed from the fountain of her light heart, and her nimble mind crafted the mathematics to frame them. If she faltered in the latter task, her father was there with an experienced eye to see through the thickets of expressions, and a master craftman's sure touch to smooth the edges of her work. Professor Subiliumabu had been careful to ask questions rather than suggest answers, to ensure that all the ideas came from her mind, and all the work was her own. But now that the work was well and truly begun, Sesiri didn't hesitate to guide his daughter when he could. The theory would never be anyone's but hers, and only she could tell the final shape of it. But Sesiri knew tricks of math, and fields of physics, which he could use to smooth the way.

The theory now described a possibly-infinite series of layers of space-time, any one of which could contain discrete universes, like pearls in the flesh of an oyster. For their own, three-dimensional universe, black holes were the analogues of the embedded universes of higher spaces, while individual particles filled that role in subspace. Only Subspace Aleph, the infinitely deep realm where all matter and energy were identical, wouldn't have analogues in it.

But the math could be self-consistent and still not describe reality. All the time that Aziri was working on her theory, her father was reaching out through the network of academic and professional contacts from his long career, seeking a place to test the theory, means to get there, people to work with them once they arrived. For the location, he settled on Tuhajakaruna, a world that had been dead since the First Empire.

Tuhajakaruna was convenient to the Zudanamusili Rift, an area between two arms of the Galaxy where there were no star-suns. Being able to omit any stellar masses from their equations (except Tuhajakaruna's own star-sun) more than compensated for the dismal prospect: Yellow sand and grey rock, red stone and black basalt plains, broken cities lining salt basins that had once been seas and oceans. It was also obscure, and obviously not worth visiting. If they were attacked, against all reason, they could flee in any direction through the galactic disk.

They traveled light to Tuhajakaruna, and dressed shabbily. Aziri, told by her father that her long auburn hair was too attractive, hesitated only a moment before handing him shears. "Make sure you cut it badly," she said, and watched in mirrored screens while he hacked her glorious mane down close to her skull.

Their journey was neither short nor easy. They stuck to well-traveled routes through flourishing parts of the galaxy, as much as they could, yet they were robbed twice, once in a spaceport, and once in a hotel. A pack of pirates attacked their convoy another time, and picked off three ships, though their own escaped.

But they arrived at last, and settled into Tuhajakaruna Station, cleaning it up and setting up their project with the help of those who were there. Some never showed up, disappearing on the way, their fates conjecture only; others replaced them, and the work went forward.

Aziri was soon working closely with Moshamoshubili Edasamatakomiku, a gawky fields specialist with an unruly mop of loose black curls. Aziri wore her own hair clipped close for comfort, and to keep it out of her way when an experiment in subspatial fields meant that the gravity of their orbital station had to be turned off, or the experiment itself caused local gravity to fluctuate wildly.

Moshamo wasn't handsome in a conventional sense; his eyes tended to bulge when he stared, and his face was as mobile as a monkey's, which he somewhat resembled. But the mind behind the monkey face was as sharp as her own, and in a few months, almost in spite of herself, Aziri fell in love for the first time in her life.

It was the first time for Moshamo, as well. Like many geniuses, he wasn't a very social person. He was accustomed to uncomprehending awe of his mind, and swift to deal verbal punishment to anyone who hinted that there was more to life than his interests. Aziri was the first person he ever acknowledged as an intellectual equal, and she gave as good as she got. Theirs was a stormy affair, with loud, scalding arguments and top-of-the-lung shouting matches at one extreme, violent sex all over his rooms (or hers) at the other.

Despite the throes of love, or perhaps even spurred on by their passion, Aziri and Moshamo designed a set of fields which should propel a vehicle not into subspace, but into superspace, and thus test the empirical fit between the universe and the math which Aziri and Sesiri had crafted. Then it was up to Asilo to design systems to generate those fields. For Asilo had joined the project right from the start, to Aziri's delight, welcoming him with a warm hug.

Tuhajakaruna, Zudanamusili Rift,
8 Lavor, Year 9458 (Common History)

A few months after Aziri and Moshamo became a pair, the first test vehicle was ready for launching. The project leads—Aziri, Sesiri, Moshamo, and Asilo—assembled in the control room, a big round room with instruments and experimental equipment on tables, one for each lead, and a chair or two for each table. The outside wall, twelve feet high and thirty wide, was composed of an alloy whose toughness made titanium steel look like tissue paper, yet was perfectly transparent, with no reflections or optical distortions. Tuhajakaruna lay barren and waste below them, its ravages clear through an atmosphere free of moisture for making clouds.

Aziri wasn't looking at the planet, however. Her eyes were checking the screens floating around her head, each with its freight of schematics, checklists, mathematical equations, and whatever else she demanded from her intrinsic systems. Managing the constant information flow was the key skill of her civilization, and she was good at it.

Presently the hold crew released the test vehicle, a utility sphere of convenient size to hold their circuitry, with a standard power supply. Aziri and the rest checked the exterior for anything out of place, while waiting for it to drift far enough away that the station would certainly be clear of the field it would generate. When it had done so, Aziri's finger stabbed home on the execute button. Without fuss or special effects, the sphere vanished.

After a moment Moshamo said, "Did I miss something? Wasn't it supposed to come right back?"

"Yes, it was," Sesiri said, careful not to sound impatient. He wasn't sure how he felt about the younger man and his daughter becoming lovers, so he watched his words around them. He turned on the subspace communicator in front of him. It was silent except for the background crackle of the quantum foam of the universe.

"No signal?" said Aziri. "Is the set working?"

"Seems to be," her father said. He switched channels. Classical music of the Third Florescence welled up; he turned the volume down.

"No return. No signal. Did it expand to destruction?" Asilo wondered. The short engineer with the oversized hands and feet was looking out the screens, though he knew it was vanishingly unlikely that the test vehicle should have returned to the universe close enough to be seen with the naked eye.

"It shouldn't have," Moshamo said, frowning. "The same displacement in the other direction would have barely put it into Subspace 1, with no compression worth mentioning. If that's too far in the other direction…"

"Then superspace won't be any use to us," Aziri said.

"We can ping it," Sesiri said. "Or we can try, anyway."

"Right!" said Asilo. He moved to the other man's side. With delicate touches of his long, slender fingers, he tuned the subspace communicator back to the test ship's channel, flipped a switch, and issued a command to his intrinsics. A signal went leaping into superspace.

"Nothing," said Sesiri. "Nothing at all."

They built and activated three more rigs, with the same results. Then Sesirianna put his foot down. "Enough," said the senior cosmologist. "Something fundamental is wrong here."

"Are you questioning my math?!" Aziri flared at her father.

"My math too," he reminded her. "Look, I don't know whether it's the math, or the circuit design, or what. But four identical rigs have disappeared completely. We can keep wasting time, or we can figure out what's wrong."

"You're right, Da—dammit!"

"Look on the bright side," Asilo said. "All four failed the same way. At least it's not bad manufacture or random equipment failure. It's something consistent."

"That's good, I guess," Moshamo said, running his fingers through his wild hair. Despite his words, the look he gave the other man wasn't grateful.

9 Lavor, Year 9458

So they went right back to square one. Aziri and Moshamo went through all the math, with Moshamo taking the part of the skeptic and forcing her to defend every line. Sesiri and Asilo did the same. Asilo wasn't the physicist that the other three were, but that was all to the good; when he asked a question, it was a real question, not a stance of skepticism.

"What's this term here?" he asked Aziri's father.

"Time," Sesiri said.

"Time? What kind of time? What does it mean?"

"Nothing at all," the older man answered. "It's just a bookkeeping term. To describe the vehicle's ascent into superspace, we have to separate the space-like terms from the time-like terms, which means we temporarily have this expression for space, which we can transform into superspace terms, and this expression for time. When the vehicle returns, we reverse the process, and the time term goes away again."

"But while it's in the equations, what does it mean?"

"Nothing," Sesiri said, a bit impatiently. "Space/time is indivisable; if we consider all the spatial terms together, we have to have a time term. All it 'means' is that time still exists and still passes for the vehicle."

"All right," Asilo said. "Now, this next page…"

Other teams looked at the hardware, examining the circuits and testing that they did what they were supposed to do, challenging assumptions in hardware design. Every change they made and tried had one of two results: either the device hung there and did nothing, or it vanished and didn't return.

Just to drive everyone completely nuts, one vehicle did come back right away. It was only minutely different from all the others, and examination of its parts, right down to the atomic level, found no evidence that it had gone anywhere, or was different in any significant way. Nevertheless they build two more just like it—and they vanished, and didn't come back.

Almost everyone got very drunk that night.

They reassembled the device that had returned, and activated it again. It didn't return. Everyone got drunk this time, and several people quit the project. "Nailing jelly to a tree," Moshamo said, slurring his words. "That's the word for what we're doing: nailing jelly to a tree." There was no reply; Aziri was face-down on the commons table, snoring gently.

Asilo stayed away from the binge in the common area and ate in his quarters, mechanically shoving food into his mouth while he thought about third- and fourth-order magnetic effects, how they were arranged in a standard power supply, and how rearranging the components could reshape the fields without changing the power output. It probably led nowhere, but it was an example of how two devices could test identically but differ in a way not tested for. Now if he could find an example with a difference that mattered! The device that came back —once!—had the same components, laid out in the same way, as all the ones that didn't.

Screen multiplied around him, calculating field vectors and load matrices, generating diagrams and isomorphic 4-D charts, creating and storing data at his command.

Sesiri sat in a favorite chair, comfortable enough to sleep in if necessary, and went over the math again. He didn't expect to find any sudden answers or reach any magical insights, and he didn't. But there had to be something wrong!

Presently he gave up trying to find anything new in the math, and just scrolled through it. How beautiful it was, and how elegant. Some of it was his, the work of an experienced craftsman lending his skill to the fine touches and the tricky bits. But most of it was Aziri's. What a mind his darling had! Just look at those formulations, and marvel at the way those integrals fell into line. So novel, so clear, so compelling in its logic. Even if they had to get an outsider to figure out why the hardware wasn't working, no one could ever take from Aziri the towering achievement of the math.

Walking down the streets between the edifices of theory, looking up at their graceful curves and soaring spires, he was jolted by an alarm from his intrinsics. His wife was dying!

Already he knew he would be too late. But he ran, swam, flew to her location, one moment a horse galloping through deep river-carved canyons, the next a spawning fish leaping up flood-swollen streams, the next a photon struggling up from a sun's interior to reach the photosphere where it could flash away at the fastest speed the universe allowed. He didn't care what form he took, only that he was racing against time, and losing.

And there she was, lying on her back on the floor, head thrown back, one arm on her stomach and the other flung wide, legs bent, melting around the edges as her systems obeyed her and took her apart, tissue by tissue, cell by cell.

He knelt and picked her up and held her against him. He was in no danger, because his DNA was different from hers, so the intrinsics could tell his cells from hers; but in fact he never even thought about that. She was cold already, and slimy from fluids spilled from ruptured cells. He held her close and wept.

"No, no, no," he cried, "Oh don't leave me, Mirili, I love you, I can't go on without you, don't leave me, Aziri, don't leave me, love."

She sighed, and stirred in his arms, and suddenly she was whole again, and warm again. She opened her eyes, and looked at him, and he kissed her.

Later, when he woke up, Sesiri would be ashamed and disturbed that the woman he made love to was sometimes Aziri, and sometimes her mother, switching back and forth as they took off their clothes and had sex on the floor. But the sleeping mind has no waking inhibitions: while he dreamt, the dream was sweet.

Chapter 5
A Fly the Size of a Grapefruit

Tuhajakaruna, Zudanamusili Rift,
First Galaxy, First Universe,
35 Lavor, Year 9458 (Common History)

The current human civilization, the Mizhinaii, sprang from a world called Mishinalulungomina, on the other side of the First Galaxy from Vwyrdda, the original world. Mishinalulungomina's insect life had a large number of flies, many with big gauzy wings. When the industrial age yielded to the information age this time around, the first computers occupied whole buildings, with corridors that people could use to replace components. This happened daily, because parts had a short life, especially vacuum tubes. One day, however, the computer crashed not because a tube blew, but because a fly got in the building and landed on a circuit board. The charred corpse was taped into the engineer's log, and the word "fly" entered the language for anything wrong with a computer.

The team knew there was a "fly" somewhere, either in the math, the system design, the circuit design, or the actual hardware. But intensive review found nothing productive, so they concluded, reluctantly, that they needed fresh eyes to look at the problem.

A call for help over the net brought no response at first; most people being too apathetic for research, or too involved in "real life" for academic pursuits, or busy with projects of their own in a very few cases. But a few weeks later, they got a surprise: Giliogolmasha Subiliumabu was on sabbatical from Adorannulaleso University, and offered to join them.

With the travel time, it was 15 Kanor before he arrived. Aziri almost expected him to address her as "Student Aziriamadi," but Professor Subiliumabu gave his former students the bow of his upper body used between equals, one hand folded inside the other and both held over the heart. "Aziriamadi Sesiriannu, greetings," he said. "Asilomarrula Hakamitoshiru, I greet you."

Aziri and Asilo returned the bow, smiling. "Giliogolmasha Subiliumabu, greetings and welcome," Aziri said, wishing it were consistent with his dignity to hug him. "This is my father, Sesirianna Liluileonu."

Aziri's father bowed. "Greetings and welcome, Professor."

"Not at all," said the visitor, returning the bow. "I look forward to seeing how the theory has developed. Your daughter was one of my best students. "

"Most of the credit for that goes to her," Sesiri said, smiling with paternal pride. "The rest I must share with her mother, who was also brilliant and beautiful."

Flushing with embarassment and pleasure, Aziri hastened to interrupt them. "And this is Moshamoshubili Edasamatakomiku, chief systems analyst."

"Professor," said Moshamo, folding his arms and nodding slightly. After an awkward moment, Sesiri and Asilo offered to show the professor his quarters.

"What in the galaxy was that all about?" Aziri demanded, after they'd gone.

"I don't like the way the old goat was drooling at you!" said Moshamo. "And I didn't appreciate your fawning all over him, either."

"Have you lost your mind?" Aziri asked, too amazed to be angry. "He's old enough to be my father. In fact, he's very nearly old enough to be my father's father!"

Moshamo opened his mouth to say he didn't entirely like the way Aziri's father looked at her, either, but a sudden rush of brains to the head made him shut his mouth again in self preservation.

Aziri didn't notice. "As for me fawning over him—he was a favorite teacher of mine, and he's a brilliant man. Maybe with his help we can lick this puzzle."

"Not if I can help it," Moshamo snarled.

"Ohh… I get it," Aziri said. "You're afraid he'll take the credit for our theory, or at least a big part of it. That's what you're really jealous of."

It wasn't all he was jealous of—but it was close enough to make him really mad. "Well, duh!" he said, and stomped away, his monkey face set in a nerd's scowl, and his untidy hair all over the place.

"Here are your rooms, sir," Asilo said, holding the doors open for Sesiri and their visitor to enter. The professor directed his luggage, a couple of small bags with favorite clothing and some personal keepsakes, into a corner. They had floated along behind him, following his intrinsics; now they settled to the floor and waited for his next command.

"My word!" he said, after seeing the full suite at his disposal: living room, study, kitchen, full bath, and bedroom, all spacious and high-ceilinged. "I wasn't expecting all this."

Sesirianna shrugged. "Why stint?" he said, and poked at the screen in front of him. "There—you're a full user now, with complete access to all public and project data."

"Wonderful," Gilio said. "I'm eager to see your work. I hope I can contribute something."

"Aziri or I would be glad to go over it with you," Sesiri said.

"You're very kind. But let me examine it without any preconceived notions, at least the first time. My eyes will be the fresher for it."

"Very well… I'm sorry Moshamo was rude to you."

Gilio waved it aside. "I understand. Recall please, I've been a university teacher for a long time. He's very young, and so brilliant that he's probably never failed at anything before, at least not anything in his chosen field. Having me come to help feels like failure to him, an insult, even a challenge."

"Yes; still he could behave decently. Asilo did," Sesiri said.

"Me?" said Asilo. "If the professor can figure out what's wrong, and someone can turn the solution into a circuit, I'll build the hardware, that's all. I'm just a mechanic!"

"Right!" said Sesiri, laughing. "And the Hama Insurgency was just a bar fight! Come on, 'mechanic'; let's leave the man to his work."

Giliogolmasha Subiliumabu smiled as the younger man pushed the even younger one out the door. Then he closed it, sat down in a chair, brought up a screen, and began studying.

29 Kanor, Year 9458

"Adhenalaiarualisotho!" Moshamo shouted: Shit! Turning away from the table, he smashed his fist into the wall. Then he sucked in a breath and curled over the injured fist, holding it in his other hand, and trying not to make a sound.

Aziri, torn between his hurt and what Professor Subiliumabu had to say, looked back and forth between her lover and her old teacher. The others in the conference room—Sesiri, Asilo, and the professor himself, ignored Moshamo's display.

"A fly, Professor?" Sesiri said.

"Please, call me Gilio," Giliogolmasha Subiliumabu said. "Yes, I believe I've found a fly in your calculations—exactly the sort of thing you could look at forever, without realizing what you were seeing. It reminds me of a lesson-cartoon that used to be popular at the University," he said, and projected it for them: A circuit board sits on a table. Perched in the center is an enormous fly, with a body the size of a grapefruit. Two men in lab coats are staring at the rig. One says to the other: "Wait a minute—I think I see the problem!"

Everyone smiled. Aziri leaned forward. "So. Where's the fly?" she asked.

"Here," said Gilio, projecting a page. A line turned red. "In this line we have a term for space-time, and in the next line, the space-time term has been replaced by separate space and time terms."

"Yes?" said Sesiri. "I still don't see…"

"The trouble is," said Gilio, "that the space term has been transformed into a superspace frame of reference, but the time term hasn't."

"Why would it need to be?" said Moshamo, sucking his knuckles. "We're only moving the vehicle in space, not in time."

"Yes?" said Gilio. "But even just in principle, if you break a space-time term into space and time terms, any transformation done on one should be reflected by the other." He wrote:

Z → S • T → S-1 • T-1

"Even if T-1 happens to have the same quantity as T, it should still be written as T-1 to remind us that it isn't T. Space-time is one; a transformation of space that doesn't alter time is a single special case out of infinite possibilities."

"But T and Tn are the same for subspace travel," Moshamo said. "Why should they be different for superspace?"

"In fact, given that they're the same for subspace, how can they be different for superspace?" Aziri added.

"But they aren't the same for subspace," Gilio replied. He wrote:

Z0 > Z1 > Z2 > Z3 > … > Z

"You've seen this before. Z0, normal space-time, contains Z1 (Subspace One), which contains Z2 (Subspace Two), down to Z, Subspace Aleph. But turn it around and break it into space and time terms:"

S < … < S3 < S2 < S1 < S0
T < … < T3 < T2 < T1 < T0

"You already knew that a given distance was less in each lower subspace; that's why we use subspace to travel astronomical distances. And any distance is zero at infinity, in Subspace Aleph; that's what gives us instantaneous communication."

"But notice that time works the same way. If two stars are a hundred light-years apart in normal space, and a vehicle makes the trip in Subspace Three, not only is the distance shorter, but so is the time that the trip takes. Both space and time are compressed. They have to be, because space-time is a unity."

"I see!" said Sesiri. "So for superspace:"

Z0 < Z-1 < Z-2 < Z-3 < …

"which gives:"

S0 < S-1 < S-2 < S-3 <…
T0 < T-1 < T-2 < T-3 <…

"So any event will take longer in S-1, Superspace One, than in normal space. Set a timer to return the vehicle to normal space in five minutes, and it will go off in five minutes of Superspace One time, which is more than five minutes of normal time."

"Even a spring-timer," said Asilo. "Use a simple spring to push the button right back up—it still takes a moment for the spring to expand and shove the button up and break the circuit. But that time will be longer in normal space."

"So the real question is," said Moshamo, "how much longer does it take?" He tapped the immaterial display floating in the air. "T-1 > T0: how much greater?"

"Quite a bit, it seems," Aziri said. She was looking at the experiment list. "All of the return timers were set for a couple of minutes or less, and it's been months since we launched the first one."

"But… one of them did come back! How does this fit into your theory, sir?" Asilo asked.

"I don't know," said Gilio. "You're certain it was the same as all the others?"

"First rig was launched 8 Lavor… 104 days ago," Aziri muttered. "Timer was set for one minute. Assuming it comes back tomorrow at the same time it was launched, that's a ratio of 105 days to 1 minute. 100 minutes in an hour, 10 hours in a day, times 105 days is 105,000 to 1!"

"So if the first one returns tomorrow after 'one minute', its circuit was on for 1/1050th of a second. Less, the longer it takes."

"1/1050th of a second!" Asilo said. "That's not a timer setting— those timers are only good to the nearest second! That's a component burning out when it's turned on!"

"I thought we were using timers accurate to a millisecond," Aziri said.

"We will be, when we get to precision testing," Asilo said. "But not on the first rigs."

"All right… and the 1/1050th of a second is only if it comes back tomorrow. We won't know the actual ratio until one of them returns," Aziri reminded herself.

"But it worked again when we reassembled it—and it didn't come back that time," Sesiri said. "Better check with the technical crew, and see who replaced a component and forgot to log it, or thought it couldn't possibly matter."

"Couldn't matter? ARRRGGGHH!" said Moshamo, clutching at his unmanageable curly hair.

No one admitted replacing a component and not logging it, and they might even have been telling the truth; people had quit the project, after all. But Moshamo devised a way to damage a power supply so that it burned out in the specified time frame when activated. When a power supply damaged that way was placed in a rig and activated, it came back in a minute or two, the power supply now dead but the rig unharmed. This could be reproduced and repeated. The day it was duplicated the tenth time, they had a party. A drunken Moshamo embraced Gilio, calling him "a great guy", and then Aziri and Moshamo left the commons for a private party of their own.

16 Dor, Year 9458

Once they could recover empty test rigs successfully, testing moved to live subjects. This was a little tricky, because the empty rigs didn't return to normal space near the station. This had been anticipated; no matter how short a time they were in superspace, they were bound to drift a little bit, and there was no way to calibrate the drift yet. So when a test rig came back from superspace, they recovered its data by subspace comm, then sent the destruct signal to dispose of the hardware, wherever it happened to be. This removed its signal from the universal noise and eliminated any danger to navigation at the same time.

But given that almost no rigs were physically recovered, and given that they were destroyed by remote control, no one was voluntering any favorite pets as test subjects. Worms, insects, and fish tested whether living things could survive superspace. They went for a minute each and came back unharmed, according to the sensors on board with them.

It was a very simple test. Only an air-tight compartment was needed. The rigs weren't gone long enough for the air to run out or the vehicles to freeze, so no environmental control was needed—just sensors, comm to report the sensor readings, and the destruct charge to clean up after the experiment.

22 Bor, Year 9458

Several dozen rigs had been sent into superspace and had returned now, a full dozen with live animals still breathing and moving afterwards. With some confidence, the project designed a test for human beings.

It took two months to assemble the ship Superspace and prepare it for its initial flight. At core it was just another test rig, with the same superspace circuits powered by the same power source rigged to fail. But the hull was large enough for a crew of two. Though the initial test would be only a minute, Superspace had air tanks, food and water, and a separate power supply for environmental support, so that longer tests could be made later. Sesiri and Moshamo won the random draw, and the honor of being the first humans to venture into superspace.

Aziri, Asilo, and Gilio manned the control stations as the appointed time drew near. Superspace unhooked from the station's environmental support, and waited until the umbilical hoses were drawn back into the station. Below, the desert world gleamed in the light of its ancient sun.

"Coming up on mark," Aziri said, watching her father and her lover in her screens. They looked away from their own screens and smiled at her.

"Mark!" said Sesiri. His finger stabbed at the activation button, and Superspace vanished.

It didn't come back.

Chapter 6
Long Time Gone

Outside the First Universe,
22 Bor, Year 9458 (Common History)

Sesiri took his finger from the button and grinned at Moshamo. "Welcome to superspace," he said.

Moshamo looked at the screens. "It looks like normal space," he said, "except that the planet and the station have vanished."

"Look again," Sesiri said. "Those bright dots? They aren't stars—they're universes."

"That's right, isn't it?" Moshamo said. "Wait—why is the background dark?"

"OK, now you've lost me," Sesiri said. He checked to make sure the automatic information gathering devices were working. The timer on the power switch said 1.51.

"Panipalamassuri's Paradox," said Moshamo, "says that the space between stars shouldn't be black. Every second of arc must have a star in it at some distance, therefore the whole sky should be bright. The usual explanation is that the universe is expanding, therefore remote stars have their light red-shifted below what our eyes can see; hence the dark night sky."

"Perhaps Superspace One is also expanding," Sesiri said absently, watching the instruments and the timer. "Perhaps it's infinite, and the light from really distant universes hasn't had time to spread widely. Perhaps most universes don't shed light. Or maybe the universes we see are all there are. Mark."

"Or maybe there's some superspace equivalent of dust, that blocks or absorbs light from distant universes," Moshamo said. "What do you mean, 'Mark'? Oh," he said, as the timer hit 3.00 and they returned to the normal universe.

"Adhenalairualisotho!" Sesiri said: Shit!

The station lay before them, and the planet below. The planet was the same dead, waterless corpse it had been a few minutes ago.

But the station had changed. The core was lit, but all the outlying wings were dark. Around it floated a dozen structures, half-finished. Nothing moved. The overall impression was an orbital ghost town, long abandoned.

Sesiri and Moshamo gaped at the scene, exchanged a glance, and leapt for the communicator.

There was no reply.

Tuhajakaruna, Zudanamusili Rift,
First Galaxy, First Universe,
30 Ansor, Year 9458 (Common History)

A month went by, and Superspace didn't return. Aziri, robbed of her lover and her father in one ill stroke, all but died. She spent most of the time in her private quarters, emerging only for food, and that usually when no one was likely to be around.

Had she kept any communications open except an intercom channel slaved to Superspace's frequency, she'd have learned that half the project members resigned. In the event, she had no idea that Asilo went back to basics, confirming that the original test rigs still worked as before. Then he began building copies of Superspace.

"I don't understand it," he told Gilio. "An exact duplicate of Superspace, except with no one in it, doesn't return. Damage the second power supply like the first one, or leave it out, and the vehicle comes right back—even though the second power supply isn't hooked up to the superspace circuits!"

"What's worse, if you put a large animal the size of a man—we used a pseudopony—the rig again doesn't return, even without the second power supply."

"It can't be the mass of the animal," Gilio said. "A copy of Superspace is already thousands of times as massive as the original rigs, yet you say it comes right back when both power supplies are damaged." He pondered a moment.

"Why don't you start with a small animal, a worm, and see whether the rig returns right away? Try a whole series, noting the mass and species of each, body temperature, and so on."

5 Halor, Year 9458

Aziri climbed out of bed and threw on a robe. "Just a minute!" she croaked. The banging on her door continued, but she was too depressed and too sleepy to get annoyed. She touched the door plate and it whirred open.

"What is it?" she asked dully.

Gilio had come alone precisely because he didn't expect to find Aziri presentable, but what he saw—and smelled—shocked him. Apparently she hadn't washed herself, recycled her clothes or her bed, or let the automatic cleaners into her room, almost since Superspace went missing. Nor had she bothered to return any dirty dishes to the commons. The smell and the mess would've been even worse, except that the gauntness of her face, and the way the robe hung on her, showed she hadn't been eating nearly enough.

"Child, when's the last time you washed your hair?" he asked. "Didn't it used to be auburn?"

Aziri winced, and touched the mat on her head. "Looks like something crawled up there and died, does it?" she croaked. "Doesn't matter."

"Yes, it does," Gilio said. "Asilo needs your help, and the project needs leadership. You're going to have to pull yourself back together now."

"You take care of it," she said, and reached for the door plate.

"I've done it as long as I could already," Gilio said, blocking the door with his body. "The new school year is starting, and I have to get back to the University."

"So now you're leaving me too!" she cried.

"I'll be back at the end of the term," he said. "I promise. But you have to keep the project going, or there won't be anything for me to come back to."

"Why bother?" she said after a minute. "What's the use?"

"Your father would be ashamed of you," Gilio said.

"How dare you!"

"Don't you think he felt this way when your mother killed herself? You see now how hard it was, yet he carried on to take care of you. How will he feel when he comes back and learns he's lost you, too?"

"He's coming back?" she whispered. The eyes stared from the gaunt face.

"Eventually," Gilio said.

"When? Tell me when!"

"No," he said. "Clean yourself up and come to the Commons. Asilo and I will tell you what we're learned."

"Tell me now!"

"No," Gilio repeated, wrinkling his nose. "I'm getting out of this… odor. Make yourself presentable, and I'll see you in the Commons."

And then he did the hardest thing he'd ever done: he turned his back on her, and walked away. She was his favorite student, of all the ones he'd taught over the years. But sometimes what a student needs from a teacher isn't easy for the teacher to give.

"Got to get another mirror—this one's broken," Aziri had muttered when she saw herself, and tried to pretend she didn't look like a wreck. Even after tossing her bed and her clothes into the recycler, and washing herself several times, she couldn't say she felt or looked like her old self.

The staring faces in the Commons told her she looked even worse than she'd thought. Asilo pulled out a chair for her to sit down without saying anything, but she'd never seen his eyes so round.

"Good," said Gilio, and pushed a tray at her with a bowl on it, and a spoon. She was going to refuse, but the smell of the hot soup hit her nose, and she fell to ravenously.

"We've learned that the ratio between superspace time and normal time is variable," Gilio said, after she'd gone through half the contents of the bowl. "It depends on the total energy inside the vehicle, whether it's hooked up to the superspace circuit or not."

"Not mass?" Aziri said with a mouthful of soup.

"Not in ordinary quantities," Gilio said, while Asilo watched her eat. "Maybe if we put a field around a planet, it would be enough to matter. But so far, any size rig, empty or full of weights, if the power supply is rigged to fail, it comes back."

"But any kind of energy counts," Asilo put in. "I sent out rigs with cold-blooded animals—worms, fish, frogs, lizards—and the rig might as well have been empty; back it came."

"Yet put in a hot-water bottle," Gilio said, "and there's a noticeable delay compared to the same rig when empty. Put in a smarter cold-blooded animal, such as a predatory fish or an octopus, and again there's a delay. Put in a warm-blooded small mammal, such as a mouse, and the rig takes hours to return. Use a dog and it's gone for days. Use a cat, or a horse, and it's just gone. None of those have come back yet."

"So the body heat and the neural impulses of the brain both count," Aziri said.

"I have a chart," Asilo said, displaying it in a screen above the table top. Aziri looked at it, the spoon forgotten in her hand.

"That's an exponential curve, isn't it?" she said, closing her eyes.

"With so few points of data…" Gilio began.

"Don't try to soften it," Aziri said. She put the spoon in the empty bowl and pushed it away. "A mouse takes hours to return, a dog takes days—how long will the delay be for an undamaged power supply, and two full-grown human geniuses? Years? Decades? Centuries?" She put her head down on her arms and began to weep.

Asilo continued to send out rigs with various subjects, trying to accumulate data points. It wasn't easy. Elapsed time could be measured very precisely, but quantifying the amount of heat in the body of an animal, and its total neural activity, was very difficult. They combined thermal imaging with mass to get the total heat content of a body; similarly magnetoresonance imagery and brain mass gave a value for total electrical output. Sending out intelligent but cold-blooded animals, and warm-blooded but stupid ones, allowed them to refine their formulae, and begin to predict how long it would take a rig to return to normal space.

Rigs with functioning power supplies and large, warm-blooded, intelligent beings inside lay well outside the reach of their charts, of course.

2 Vor, Year 9459

"I feel so useless," Aziri said when Gilio returned after the school term. "Asilo's busy nailing down the delay curve with data points, and I can't even figure out how the delay fits in the math. And I'm supposed to be the smart one!"

"Don't underestimate Asilo's intelligence, just because he calls himself a mechanic," Gilio said. "And don't undervalue your own contribution in keeping the project going. Someone needs to keep people interested and working away, and get them what they need for the work."

"As for the math," he went on, "it's early days yet. Remember, this is a whole new kind of cosmology. Just be glad your math doesn't actually rule out a delay, or you'd have to start over."

"Is it OK with you if I keep trying to make the energy/delay ratio part of the existing math, Professor?" she asked fiercely.

"If you must," he said, regally granting permission. He was pleased to see that she could laugh again.

8 Lavor and later, Year 9462

Six years after the first test rigs were launched (four years by the calendar Aziri's people used), they began dropping back into normal space. For a month it was almost a routine, to hear the alarm indicating one had returned, make sure its data had been recorded, then push the button that sent the destruct signal. There was no thought of recovering them. They were popping up (popping down?) all over the universe, and only instantaneous communication through Subspace Aleph let their signals come in, and the destruct signals go out, in the timeframe of human lifespans. If the signals had been limited to light speed, some of them wouldn't have reached the First Galaxy before the universe collapsed.

This added a whole new dimension to Aziri's worry about Sesiri and Moshamo. All the test rigs that came back before Superspace was launched had come back reasonably near Tuhajakaruna. The empty ones had returned within a few light-years, requiring only a short trip through Subspace One to bring them back for examination. The ones with live warm-blooded animals had been scattered more widely, but not so far that they couldn't have been brought back through Subspace Three, if anyone had wanted to spend that much time and take that much trouble.

But it seemed that rigs which hadn't had their power supplies set to fail could return to normal space anywhere in the universe. There was every chance that Sesiri and Moshamo could drop back in so far away that it would take hundreds of years of Subspace Three travel to reach her. But humans couldn't endure that long in Subspace Three, without time to rest and recover. They could talk with her as soon as they got back, but it might be a long, long time before they could touch!

Asilo and Aziri didn't discuss it. Each was hoping the other hadn't drawn the obvious conclusion from the new data, though they knew how vain that hope was. Also, Asilo didn't want Aziri to think he blamed her for her theory not predicting the variable time-delay or the universal scattered of fully functioning power supplies. Aziri, meanwhile, didn't want Asilo to think that she blamed him for not going on Superspace instead of Moshamo or Sesiri.

Had they talked, Asilo would have learned that Aziri blamed herself for her theory being incomplete, but had no blame for him. Had they talked, Aziri would have learned that Asilo blamed himself for not insisting on being on Superspace instead of Sesiri, or Moshamo, or both. If they had talked, she might have told him what a comfort he was to her, and how much she would have missed him if it had been him who was missing.

But they did not talk.

The project was down to a skeleton crew now. Asilo and his little band of mechanics had a smooth curve for total system energy all the way up to a value that delayed return for a couple of years. The new data points extended the curve in a regular way and allowed him to predict when they could expect Superspace to return.

"Ten years," he said. "Five more, I mean."

"Azuazuazuazua," Aziri said; a meaningless noise of weariness which could be translated as "Gawwwwd almighty!"

"I'm going to be an old bat by the time they get back," she went on, "and Moshamo won't have aged a minute."

"Oh, stop," Asilo said. "You know you're gorgeous."

"Yeah?" she said, looking at him out of the corners of her eyes.

13 Nor, Year 9464

"Ai ai ai ai ai," Aziri sobbed, curled up in Asilo's lap, her face buried in his chest. He held her and tried to think of something to say. It was ten years after Superspace departed (six Mizhinaii years). A student at Adorannulaleso University grew suicidal thinking about the futility of education, when the Universe was coming to an end. He brought a neutron bomb to class and set it off, killing everyone on campus and frying all systems, though the grounds and physical structures were left intact. Aziri and Asilo had just learned of Gilio's death.

"Why didn't I tell him that I loved him?" Aziri wailed. "Now I've lost two fathers!"

"He knew, voisat," Asilo said. "Believe me, he knew."

"Oh, I hope so!" Aziri said.

"At least it was quick," Asilo said. "He was dead before he knew he was dying."

"Ai-iiii!" said Aziri, and cried harder than ever.

Superspace didn't come back that year, either. Measurements always have a limit on how precise they can be, especially when they're half guesses to begin with; an infinite number of exponential curves can equally well fit a set of data points way down towards the origin of the curve. Every month that went by increased the exponent of the curve needed to intersect the past data and the present date.

14 Sor, Year 9467

Fifteen years after Superspace disappeared (nine Mizhinaii years), Aziri and Asilo lay in bed. There was no one in the station except the two of them and their baby son, asleep in the next room. When either of them thought of an experiment worth trying, they'd send out word and some of the old crew, or new students, would come and help out with the labor of assembling the rig. After the launch they soon left again. In between, Asilo would clamber about the half-finished rigs sharing the station's orbit, while Aziri tinkered with the math. Most of the station stayed powered-down and dark.

"You were talking in your sleep," Aziri said. She was lying on her right side with her right elbow bent and her head propped on her right hand. With her left, she smoothed Asilo's hair off his forehead as he lay on his back next to her. "Bad dream?"

"I'm sorry," Asilo said. "I didn't mean to doze off." He reached up and brought her hand down to rest in his, on his chest. Asilo was two heads shorter than Aziri, but his hands and feet were half again as large as hers. His short straight brown hair contrasted with her long auburn hair, and his skin color made him look like an albino with a slight case of jaundice.

"Not going to tell me, then?" Aziri persisted.

"Just a stupid, ugly dream," Asilo said. "We were still in University, and you were breaking up with Manima, and he was reacting violently. But this time he had buddies of his own kind with him, and the lot of them beat us both up, then I had to watch while he raped and strangled you."

She winced, but lay back down and put her head on his shoulder. "A dream of loss," she said. "But I'm not going anywhere, I promise."

"Do you miss him?" Asilo said.

"Moshamo?" Aziri said; she'd known Asilo for a long time now, and followed the leap of his mind. He nodded.

"It's been such a long time, and so much has happened, that I'm not sure I really remember him," she said. "I remember things about him. I remember we were happy together, mostly. I also remember his sulks, and stupid things like hitting the wall when he got mad… But I don't remember what he smelled like, or felt like, and I'm not sure I'd recognize his voice if he appeared this instant. Isn't that awful?"

"It was a long time ago," Asilo murmured, half asleep again. "I wonder how much longer it will be yet?"

18 Ullor, Year 9470

Twenty years after Superspace vanished (twelve years by the Mizhinaii calendar), Aziri was alone on the station. Automatic systems stood on alert while Asilo took their son back to his native world to meet his father's relatives.

Aziri wasn't used to sleeping alone. She'd never lived completely alone before, without her father, or her college dorm mates, or colleagues from the project around her. Small wonder, then, that her sleep was restless, and full of dreams.

She wandered through a maze of rooms and corridors, opening doors and peering inside. Sometimes they were university halls, and it was empty classrooms she found; sometimes it was empty cabins on starships that she and her father had taken from one system to another. Dorm rooms changed into houses changed into hospitals changed into labs—but all the rooms were empty.

Finally she gave up trying to do a systematic search of halls that kept switching around on her, and decided to leave. She yanked open a door to the outside, and there was the man she'd been looking for.

She threw herself upon his chest, and his strong arms tightened around her. She looked up, her eyes leaking tears of joy, and her upraised lips met his coming down. She covered his face with kisses; stopped a moment, and laughed out loud in relief; pressed the full length of her body against his, and kissed him some more.

Later, when she remembered the dream, she would edit it even as she recalled it (as people do), so that the place she searched was one definite and particular place. For the conscious mind insists on orderly events, and the awakened dreamer will revise his dreams, unless he trains himself (or is trained) to accept them in their original, chaotic form.

And in the same way, her waking mind would identify her dream lover as Asilo, or Moshamo, or Manima, or even some boy who'd been in some class of hers, or some former colleague from the project, or even a composite of some of the above.

But the sleeping mind is honest, and knows things that the waking mind doesn't allow itself to know. And the sleeping mind is unafraid of social taboos, and won't accept their chains. Aziri's lover, in the dream, was no boy she'd known, but the man she'd known the longest, and loved the best.

Superspace's arrival in local space triggered no alarms, because it was transmiting the same signal as the station itself, and all the half-completed rigs around it. Once Superspace was parked in one of the empty bays of the station, Sesiri and Moshamo went directly to the main section. Doors opened for them, and lights turned on before them, because they were still in the project's systems. Yet, seized by an unspoken fear of how long they'd been gone, and what might have happened in their absence, neither queried the station's systems with their intrinsics.

They'd expected to return at once by normal-space time, but the dark sections, missing population, and floating hulks had already told them that hadn't been the case. Twenty years' wear and tear, in the form of minute dents in the walls and stubborn scuffs on the floors, urged them on to Aziri's quarters.

Once there, they were almost afraid to ring the bell, for fear no one would answer. Finally Sesiri reached out and pressed the pad. After a minute, just as he was reaching out again, the door whisked open and a woman his own age stood there, wearing a robe over sleeping clothes.

Moshamo, mouth agape, stared at what looked like an older relative of his lover; her aunt, perhaps. Sesiri was equally taken aback, seeing his deceased wife. "M—M—" He cleared his throat. "Mirili?" he said.

Aziri flung her arms around his neck. "Papa-pa-papa-pa-papalo!" she cried. "Oh, Daddy!" And then she began crying all over his neck and shoulder, while he held her and patted her back.

Chapter 7
"Your Other Grandfather"

First Galaxy, First Universe,
18 Ullor, Year 9470 (Common History)

Aziri took half a step back, still holding on to her father's shoulders. "Oh, I've missed you so much!" she said. "It's such a relief that you're back, I can't say." She wiped her running eyes with one hand. When Sesiri pulled a handkerchief from his pocket, she laughed at the familiar gesture and wiped her face.

Meanwhile Moshamo was gaping in wonder. It was slowly sinking in that this woman, old enough to be his mother, was Aziri, his Aziri. From his point of view they'd been gone only a couple of minutes, yet the station was all but abandoned, and his lover had turned into someone Sesiri's age.

She turned to him. "Oh, look at you!" she said. "Just the way I remembered you!" She put her arms around him. "Welcome back, Moshamo."

Moshamo hugged her back, his mind whirling. "What happened to you, Ziri?" he blurted.

"Age, my dear, mere age," Aziri said, stepping back and smiling. She kept one of his hands in hers, and reached out to her father with the other. "I've so much to tell you! Come on in, and sit for a moment while I get dressed."

She led them into her quarters, and saw them seated in chairs. She leaned over her father when he'd sat, kissed his forehead, and got another hug. Then, with a rueful look at Moshamo, and a little shake of her head, she went into the bedroom to change.

As soon as the door had closed behind her, Moshamo jumped back up. "This is terrible!" he said. "Terrible! Did you see how awful she looked?"

Sesiri fought back irritation. "She looked fine to me," he said. "Obviously we've been gone for a while."

Moshamo began to pace. "Yes," he muttered, clutching at his curly black hair. "I hardly dare to look… Ack!" he said as his intrinsics gave him the date.

"Twelve years," Sesiri confirmed, sitting at ease. "I wonder what went wrong? Maybe we're lucky we got back at all!"

Moshamo stopped pacing and stared at him. "How can you sit there so calmly!" he cried.

Sesiri shrugged. "It's over, isn't it? And we did make it. If I know my girl, she and Gilio figured it all out while we were gone. Ah," he said as the bedroom door opened and Aziri returned. She'd washed her face, thrown a brush at her hair, and put on day clothes. Moshamo had to admit she looked okay, despite her age.

"So, my dears," she said. "Why didn't you call us as soon as you were back in normal space? All those weeks and months coming back to Tuhajakaruna, and you couldn't let us know you were on the way?"

"What?" said Moshamo. "We just got back."

Aziri shook her head. "Yes," she said, "you just got back to Tuhajakaruna. But when you first returned to normal space, and figured out where you were, and knew how long the trip home would take in Subspace Three, why didn't you call?"

"But—" Moshamo said.

Sesiri interrupted. "Aziri, we returned to normal space here. In the same spot we left. Right alongside this station. Right before we woke you up."

"But that's impossible!" Aziri said. "The odds against that are inconceivably huge. All the Superspace clones we've sent out over the years, all the original rigs—not one of them did that. Their return sites were scattered all over the universe!"

"Ahokahejeiu," Moshamo breathed. He looked at Sesiri. They might not have seen another person the rest of their lives!

"It sounds like you've made a lot of progress," Sesiri said. "So why is the place deserted? Where are Asilo and Gilio, if no one else?"

"Gilio's dead," Aziri said.

"Dead?!" exclaimed Moshamo.

"A student killed himself at the University with a bomb, and took the whole campus with him."

"And Asilo?" Sesiri asked.

"Asilo took his son home to Chijurulla for a visit. Sesannu's never been there before, though he's talked with his grandfather and cousins many times over the Aleph phone."

"Asilo has a son?" Moshamo laughed. "Who's the mother?"

Aziri just looked at him, not sure how best to answer.

"Aziri?" Moshamo said. "I said, who's the mother?" Her silence was strange, unless… but surely…

"My son's full name," Aziri told him, "is Sesannusesiri Asilomarrulu." She looked away from the pain and shock on his face. "We call him Sesannu," she said softly.

She couldn't have hit him harder with a fist. He stood shaking with humiliation, rage, and loss, his cheeks flushed red in his white face, his full lips trembling in his gaping monkey face. "You—!" he said. "I—!" Then he turned around, and stumbled towards the door. Throwing a sympathetic glance to his daughter, Sesiri followed.

Aziri sighed, and put her face in her hands. Even allowing for the fact that she'd been woken up from deep sleep, she felt very tired.

She had time to wake up fully, and to wash and groom herself as on a normal day, before Sesiri returned. "How is he?" she asked him at the door.

"Very confused," Sesiri said as he entered. "In his head he knows how long he's been gone—how long we've been gone, I should say—but it doesn't feel real. In his heart he just lost the Aziri he loves, whatever his brain says."

"Oh, I know!" Aziri said. "All those years I cried, and all those times I imagined the two of you returning. And this is almost the worst case, with me just old enough to be recognizably his Aziri, yet old enough he doesn't want me, yet not so old he can say so, or avoid feeling like a cad."

"You're mistaken," Sesiri said. "He wants you very much, I think."

"Oh no," Aziri replied. "Not me—the girl I was twelve years ago! He has no use for me, or anyone my age."

"Well, he is pretty young," Sesiri said. "I walked him to his rooms, and listened to all the stuff he was saying, and didn't argue with any of it, however wild it was. When he wound down a bit, I told him sleep was what he needed after a shock like that. So I left him sleeping, and came back here."

"Poor Moshamo!" Aziri said. "And poor you! Thank you, Daddy. Do you think he'll stay with the project?"

"I doubt whether he knows himself," Sesiri said, sitting down on a couch. "We'll just have to wait and see, Aziri."

"Oh, Daddy," she said, "why is everything so hard?" She sat down beside him. Sesiri put an arm around her, and she rested her head on his shoulder with a sigh for all the long lonely years.

"Tell me," he said, and she told him everything that had happened since Superspace vanished. She'd just reached the beginnings of Asilo's slow, tentative courtship when her systems said she had a phone call.

"Asilo's calling," she said, and opened a big, wide screen, keying it to his systems as well as hers so that both of them could see what was in it and both of them could use it. Asilo appeared in it, in the robes of his people. On the surface of the planet they would have been white to reflect the heat of the relentless sun, and just heavy enough to protect his skin from ultra-violet light and wind-blown sand. In the limestone caves of a Chijuri city they were heavier, to keep the damp chill at bay, and brightly colored—dark olive green with lacy vine patterns composed of countless embroidered diamond shapes in yellow, red, orange, and blue.

The room around him had a round stone floor, softened and warmed by a thick colorful Chijuri rug, and was parabolic in cross-section, with walls that curved inward, and a concave ceiling. The doorway behind him was also parabolic, with wooden double doors.

"Hello, darling," Asilo began, smiling; then he registered who was with her, and his jaw dropped. "Sesiri! Welcome back! We were afraid we'd never see you again."

"Thank you. I understand I'm to congratulate you as well," Sesiri said, squeezing Aziri with the arm around her shoulders.

"Thanks," Asilo answered. "I'd've asked your permission, but…" He raised his eyebrows at Aziri: Where's Moshamo?

"The only permission you needed was mine," Aziri said out loud. She also shook her head: Never mind, tell you later.

"And we both know better than to argue with her," Sesiri said, noting the husband/wife nonverbal conversation. He felt sadness for the years he'd missed, even as the three of them laughed at his remark.

"Just a minute, I hear Sesannu," Asilo said, and left the room. The screen stayed behind, rather than going with him; either someone in the next room was picky about his privacy, or that room was messy, or— He'd left one leaf of the door open behind him. Through it, Aziri and Sesiri could hear:

"Sesannu, come meet your grandfather."

"What? Grandfather's right here."

"No, no, your other grandfather."


Asilo came back into the room, ushering a boy before him. The boy was three Mizhinai years old, in robes like his father's, with Chijuri yellow-white skin. But his hands and feet were normally proportioned, the hands plainly visible and the feet encased in small cloth boots. His hair was the same soft, fine yellow that Aziri's had been at that age.

"Say hello," said Asilo, as Sesannu stood staring at the strange man sitting with his mother.

"Hello, sir," said the boy. "Are you really my grandfather?"

"Hello, Sesannu," Sesiri said. "I'm your mother's father, Sesirianna Liluileoni. That makes me your other grandfather. Everybody gets two, you see."

Sesannu thought about that. "But if my father's father is my grandfather, wouldn't my mother's father be my grandmother?"

Asilo gave a shout of laughter, and Aziri giggled. Sesiri grinned, and said, "Logical but false. Your grandmothers are the mother of your father and the mother of your mother. Your grandfathers' wives, do you see?"

"But grandfather doesn't have a wife. Grandfather Lomibo, I mean," Sesannu said. "She died. He's very old, you know."

"I'm sorry, Sesannu. My wife is dead, too. But they both were your grandmothers, just the same."

"I like you," Sesannu decided. "Did you know I'm named for you? Sesannu-sesiri. My other grandfather is Lomibosihekanna."

"I like you, too," Sesiri said.

One moment Moshamo was asleep in sweat-soaked bedclothes, chasing after the younger Aziri he'd left only hours before, with monsters that looked like Sesiri and Asilo and the older Aziri taunting him and shoving him back. The next moment he was awake, staring about wildly. For a second he felt relief as he realized his nightmares weren't real. Then he remembered that they were, in a sense, and his relief turned to rage.

It was one way to deal with hurt and shock. It had never been his way, before, but he embraced it now.

"BITCH!" he shouted, springing to his feet. "Bitch, bitch, BITCH! Dirty, stinking, Chiri-loving BITCH!" He grabbed a palm-sized crystal globe, a souvenir of a brief trip that he and Aziri had made to another system, and threw it against the wall. It shattered splendidly, throwing tiny shards all over the room.

A rounded sun-greened blob of glass had been a window in a Tuhajakarunai city a million years before, until it flowed out of its frame under the pressure of gravity and time. It shattered too. A piece of sandstone from an ancient sea bed, with a fossil the size of his thumb, fared no better. Then he turned over the bed, knocked over the desk, and broke both of his chairs by beating them against the floor, all the while screaming obscenities at the top of his lungs.

When his throat and arms hurt too much to go on, he felt a little better. He licked his knuckles, bloody from hitting the walls, and brooded. Is that it? he asked himself. Is that all you've got? Gonna quit now? Gonna walk away?

Hell no!

He sat on a patch of floor that was free of large pieces of things, and leaned his back against the wall. Screens blossomed before him.

Damned if they get off that easy, he thought.

Aziri sat in the commons, a cup of blackbrew steaming on the table in front of her, screens floating around her. One screen showed the time-delay curve, newly extended to include the datum of Superspace's return, and the equation that best fit all the data points their experiments had produced. Another screen showed a page of the current version of the equations of superspace, the combined work of Aziri, Sesiri, and Gilio. Another showed a list of people who'd received the message she'd sent out earlier. If they said they couldn't come they were listed in red; if they hadn't replied yet they were in grey; if they were coming, they were in black, with the date and time of their expected arrival. The list changed constantly. Still another screen contained a message she was composing.

As she lifted the cup and sipped from it, still looking at the screens, the door on her left opened. Moshamo entered, and stopped dead on seeing her right in front of him. He looked around. No one else was there.

"Good morning," Aziri said. "We should have cooks in a day or so, but for now it's programmed meals from the synthesizers, I'm afraid."

"Oh… that's fine, I'm not fussy," Moshamo said. "Uh… Is Sesiri around?"

"Still sleeping, I think," said Aziri. Sesiri had been up late talking to his new grandson, but she didn't burden Moshamo with that. She took another sip from her cup, and frowned at the message she was writing.

"Since when do you drink blackbrew, Aziri?" Moshamo asked.

She stared at him, then looked at the cup in her hand. "Why… it must be five, maybe six years now? Gilio drank it when we were doing all-night calculating or coding sessions, and I picked it up from him. And it reminded me of Daddy, too."

"I don't like blackbrew," he reminded her.

"Then don't drink any, my dear," Aziri said, taking another sip. She hit send, and the message went on its way. Another one she'd queued for reply popped up in its turn.

Fuming, Moshamo turned away and marched to the synthesizers to get his breakfast. He sat down several tables away from Aziri and her steaming cup of blackbrew. Immersed in mail, she didn't notice.

"I want to stay with the project," Moshamo told Sesiri later that morning.

"Excellent!" Sesiri said. His breakfast plate sat before him, mostly empty. He took a sip of blackbrew and put the cup aside.

"After all, I was on the project before I got involved with Aziri," Moshamo said.

"True," Sesiri answered. "And you're every bit as welcome, and as needed, as you ever were. If you left, I don't know where we'd find someone who could do all that you've been doing."

"Thanks," Moshamo said. "I appreciate that."

Within five days of Superspace's return, the station was bustling again, though the crew wasn't up to full strength yet. About a fourth of them were still on the way from the places where they lived or studied. They picked quarters for themselves as they arrived, while the engineers restored life-support in the disused sections, the gardeners broke out new air plant, and the cooks relegated the food synthesizers, at meal times anyway, to mere sources of ingredients. Supplies were ordered and received, and sightseeing trips to picturesque dead Tuhajakaruna were arranged.

Few of the current crew knew Sesiri or Moshamo: most were the sons or daughters or students of the project members they'd known, or complete strangers with no ties to those who'd manned the station when Superspace left. But they all knew Aziri and Asilo, and followed their lead in respecting the pair who'd been lost for so long. Some went further than that. Moshamo and Sesiri fascinated some of what they thought of as the new crew. Certain crew members tended to hang around one or the other of them on their off time, and both of them received sexual offers from crew members their own ages. Asilo couldn't tell whether Sesiri maintained a friendship with the one woman who spent the most time in his company, or whether the two of them were closer than that. But he did see Moshamo come to breakfast in the Commons with girls his own age, more than once, holding ands and talking as much as they ate.

Aziri, Asilo, Sesiri, and Moshamo met to plan where the project would go from here.

"I've been thinking what we'll need to colonize another universe," Aziri said. She brought up a screen coded to all their systems, so they could all read it. "I figure we'll need several thousand colonists for genetic diversity, but we need to run that past a geneticist to make sure it's enough. Then we'll need enough raw material for the synthesizers to furnish food, water, and air for all of them. How much depends on the length of the trip, which I confess I haven't been able to fix. Sesiri, have you any notions on that?"

"Whoa, whoa, you're getting way ahead of yourself, Ziri!" Moshamo said.

"What do you mean?" she said.

"I mean you're talking as if we have a ship that can take us to another universe, and all we have to do is pick the crew and round up provisions!"

"More or less," she agreed. Asilo and Sesiri opened their mouths to speak, exchanged a glance, and let Moshamo carry the ball.

"Thanks, guys," he said ironically. "Look, Ziri: in subspace travel we drop into subspace, go from A to B, then come back to normal space. Because time and space are compressed in subspace, we have an effective velocity greater than light, and because subspace is contained in normal space, we exit subspace and find ourselves in the corresponding place in normal space. So far, so good, right?"

"I know all this," Aziri said, with tightly-contolled understatement.

"But now we're talking about superspace," Moshamo continued. "When we rise out of normal space, we're not in our universe any more. We're in the greater universe that contains ours. Time and space are expanded there, which means a second there is way longer than a second here. And for some reason, energy contained in the system makes the relative rate greater still. Did you figure out why that is, while we were gone?"

"Why?" said Aziri. "No… we didn't think about why, we were trying to get a handle on how long. Why do you ask why?"

"Because it makes no sense!" Moshamo said. "If superspace is to normal space as normal space is to subspace, why isn't the relationship fixed? The energy contained in a subspace ship doesn't affect the time- and space-compression ratio. If it did, we'd be flying all over the universe in Subspace One, at any virtual speed we wanted to."

"Ahokahejeiu," Sesiri breathed, while Aziri stared at Moshamo in shock.

"And what's this business of superspace rigs returning to normal space in positions scattered all over the universe?" Moshamo continued. "Subspace ships returns at a predictable point; why don't superspace ships? If we'd any notion we might get lost for good, Sesiri and I would never have set foot on Superspace!"

"But the circuits work," Asilo said. "They're designed from the superspace math, and they work!" Aziri flashed him a grateful look, even while her assumptions that superspace and subspace were alike crumbled in her mind.

"The math is beautiful, and the circuits work," Moshamo agreed. "But we need to take a good hard look at what the math means, and what the circuits are doing. Until we do, we're groping blindly in the dark; and the next pitfall we find may break our necks."

"But all the math is based on describing layers of superspace above us, analogous to the layers of subspace below us," Aziri said. "That's what it describes!"

"I understand that's what you were looking for," Moshamo said. "All I'm saying is, it may not be what you found. There's a big discrepancy here. And the history of science is full of examples where someone discovered one thing while looking for another."

"How'd you happen to see what we've all been overlooking?" Asilo asked, as Aziri shook her head in confusion.

"Coming back was a shock," Moshamo answered. "Seeing how much time had gone by, how much had changed… It made me step back and look at everything all over again."

"Looking at the images that Superspace recorded," Asilo said, "makes me feel like an ancient sky gazer before the invention of astronomy. What are those lights? What makes them glow? How big are they? How far away are they? Is it possible to go there, and if so, how?"

"Not to mention," Sesiri said, "why is the 'sky' black? Moshamo pointed that out, almost at once."

"We can speculate," Moshamo said, "that some universes emit light. Obviously these aren't cyclical universes like our own, for the steady emission of light means a constant loss of energy, which means they'll dwindle away to nothing unless they have some way of replacing what they're throwing away."

"It's a whole new kind of cosmology," Sesiri said. "The birth, evolution, and death, not of a universe, but of many universes; classifying them into kinds; finding ways to detect ones that don't emit light; determining what 'time' and 'space' mean outside of a universe, how many dimensions there are of each, and finding ways to measure them. Many, many lifetimes of work!"

"Many lifetimes indeed," Asilo said. "The couple of minutes of data that we have cost twelve years to get. Do we send robots into—ultra-space? hyper-space?—for a few seconds at a time, then wait months for their return? Or—"

"Call it superspace," Aziri interrupted. "I don't know why the time ratio is variable, but I want solid evidence that 'superspace' is wrong before I give up the concept and the term."

"All right," Asilo said peaceably. "Still, do we send robots a superspace minute at a time, or do we mount scientific expeditions who know they're leaving contemporary times and returning decades later for every hour of observations?"

"We can't do that," Sesiri said. "We can't sustain that kind of effort. The universe has billions of years ahead of it still, but our civilization doesn't. Too many people are idling from day to day and won't turn their hands to anything productive, too many grow suicidal, or predatory, or insane. Half the cosmologists I knew when we left in Superspace, just to name one field, are dead; and they haven't been replaced by an equal number of newcomers."

"It's the same with engineers, mathematicians, you name it," Asilo said. "It gets harder and harder to find crew whenever we need to restaff."

"So forget your new cosmology," Aziri said. "We can leave our notes, and the next civilization can tackle the problem. We haven't the time or the people or the resources to learn all about superspace, learn how to identify a likely universe, and learn how to get there."

"So you're just giving up?" Moshamo said. "I never would have believed it of you!"

"I'm not saying we should give up," Aziri said. "Only that we can't do this properly, carefully and methodically. If this were a hundred years ago, we could call upon dozens of the best minds around, plan our course, lay out a schedule, and do this thing right. Instead we have to go with what we have now."

"So what do we have, Aziri?" Moshamo asked.

"First let's make it clear what we don't have," she said. "We don't have any knowledge of any universe but our own, and no way to get any. That's a long-term project we've no hope of getting done. We don't have any way of traveling from our universe to another, even one way. We don't even have any way of returning to the same spot we left, when we go out of the universe and return, except by blind luck."

"Sha sha sha," Moshamo said. "Good thing you're not giving up."

"We still have two things going for us," Aziri plowed on. "We know that when we leave superspace, we come back to this universe, not some other. Every single rig we sent out came back to this universe. Something like gravity kept them from wandering off to some other universe."

"Yes, we have that," Asilo said. "What else?"

"We have a time difference," Aziri said, "where a second in superspace is much greater than a second in normal space. And we can control this—by adding energy to the system, we can make a second in superspace the same as days, months, years in normal space. In theory, there's no upper limit to that relationship."

"In theory," Sesiri said. "But how would you test that?"

"Wait a minute," Asilo protested. "What are you suggesting? What can you do with just those two things?"

"We can build a ship," Aziri said. "The bigger the better. Fill it full of anyone who wants to come, with the DNA patterns of every human being we can get, the DNA of every living thing in the data banks, all the knowledge of humankind… and then flip the switch. Wait while the universe crunches, wait while it's born again, wait while it evolves to the conditions we like—and then colonize it."

"You mean, get lost in time on purpose?" Moshamo said, staring.

"That's right," Aziri said. "We always planned to colonize another universe that wasn't so near its crunch. But we've no way to identify one, and no way to get there."

"True," said Asilo. "All we've done is pop out of normal space and back in. We haven't begun to see what happens when we fire up any kind of drive in superspace."

"One thing I'd expect," said Sesiri, "is that it would add to the time ratio aboard ship. Any kind of drive is an expenditure of energy."

"So we don't know how to travel in superspace," Aziri said. "But we can travel in supertime, one way. So instead of colonizing another universe, we colonize the next cycle of this one!"

"Ahokahejeiu!" Sesiri said.

"That's… an idea that will take a while to get used to," Asilo said.

To be continued!

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