say there’s never enough time, but they’re almost always
lying. It’s all about priorities. The gutter doesn’t
get fixed not because there isn’t enough time, but because
there’s I Love Lucy to watch. Gutters are work.
Lucy is fun. So there’s no time for gutters.
Something like this
went through my head as a 60-foot Ghurrlach thrashed its tentacles
across the train tracks a few miles ahead of the train I happened
to be riding, the Ak-Sar-Ben Zephyr overnight to Chicago. “If
only,” I thought, “I’d had time to work on that growth serum.” But
the lab was work, and there had been a Lucy marathon.
I grabbed my hat and
leapt from my seat as the dining car erupted in panic around
me. The train’s brakes screeched and only a quick grab for a
door frame saved me as the other travelers tumbled about. I instinctively
reached for the trusty atomizer in my coat pocket, but stayed
my hand. Ray guns wouldn’t stop that monster. Something larger
was called for. I started working out the math in my head.
I moved swiftly from
car to car toward the front of the train and the sleeper car
where Joan napped with our…larger luggage. Porters struggled
to keep screaming flailing people in their seats, and in the
chaos I had no trouble slipping past them. The Ghurrlach, an
impatient beast on even a good day, heaved its gargantuan gelatinous
bulk atop the tracks. Moonlight and its own green glowing eyes
illuminated a sharp, gaping beak set in a wet scaly body. It
grew larger and larger as the train squealed inexorably toward
the monster, framed in passing windows like some grotesque slideshow.
Joan looked up sleepily
from her berth as I slowed to scoop a small, round device from
my luggage. “You’re doing math, George,” she said. I must have
been muttering aloud again. “When are you coming to bed?”
“Just a moment, dear!” I
called, already stepping through to the next car. In moments
the train would crash into the Ghurrlach at an alarming speed.
I didn’t need math to describe what would happen then.
I burst into the engine
and found the conductor hanging half out the window. He froze
for a second, then was gone. The engineer remained, leaning against
the brakes with his eyes squeezed shut. I shook him.
“I’ll need your help!” I
shouted. “On the roof!” I held out my device, a metal sphere
featuring several lights and buttons and a switch. I triggered
the switch, and one of the red lights began to blink. The man
nodded hesitantly and pried stiff fingers from the brake lever.
He followed me up the ladder, and together we crouched on the
roof of the shuddering train. Beyond the column of smoke rising
from the engine, the Ghurrlach raged. I handed the sphere to
the engineer and produced the atomizer from my coat.
“You see,” I explained,
not sure if the engineer could even hear my words over the cacophony
of wind, failing brakes, and roaring gigantic monster, “the Ghurrlach
is, as you may have guessed, not of our world.” I pried open
a panel on the side of the atomizer and made a simple modification
to the circuitry. “It is a denizen of the macroverse. Brought
here, no doubt, against its will, it straddles the tenuous borders
between quantum states.” I held out my hand, and the quivering
engineer gave back the metal sphere. I affixed it to the end
of the atomizer’s barrel. “Contained within this sphere,” I continued, “is
a pocket universe. It appears tiny, but is in fact a miniaturized
macroverse—hold me steady, please—a macroverse which contains
but one object, a number, if a number can be said to be an object.
Ten raised to the power of, well, quite a lot. I call this my
googolplex device. The G-Bomb for short.”
The Ghurrlach was
quite close now. A fetid stench, something like a cross between
egg salad left out on a hot summer day and ammonia, overpowered
the smell of the train’s burning brakes and smoking coal. I had
to stop myself from counting the scales bulging and twisting
at the edges of its beak. I squeezed the atomizer’s trigger,
and the G-Bomb launched. The darkness within the beak quickly
swallowed up the tiny silver sphere. A small flash, and the monster
vanished. The train clattered roughly over the indentions in
the tracks and ground to a halt just past the point where it
would have become Ghurrlach food.
The engineer looked
up at me with wide eyes.
“See,” I tucked the
atomizer back in my coat. “A googolplex can’t even be written
out in our universe. We don’t have enough atoms. The Ghurrlach’s
universe, however, has ample space. The nature of physics being
what it is, the googolplex shifted itself and the Ghurrlach back
into the macroverse. I won’t bore you with the details.”
The engineer appeared
to be at a loss for words. I patted his shoulder and returned
to the train.
Still in our berth,
Joan yawned and peeked out from behind her blanket. “Professor
I nodded and eased
into the lower bunk. “Always with the Ghurrlach. He must still
be sore about that business in New York.”
“Mmm.” She tucked
the blanked under her chin and closed her eyes. “Are you going
to fix the gutters when we get home?” she asked, drowsiness slurring
Zephyr huffed and lurched, resuming its journey through
the night. “Won’t have time, I’m afraid. Got to fix the atomizer.
And work on my growth serum.”