Potato Pancake Universe
Thom brought them to the Fried Green Tomato, a Southern food café.
“Nice place,” said Thurston. “Do they have potato pancakes?”
Thom waved to the heavyset guy behind the counter, who held up his fingers in a double “Peace” sign. “I don’t know, but I can ask.”
Instead of turning right into the main dining room, Thom took them through a door at the back of the cafeteria-style service and ordering room and into a small conference-style room. Pictures of celebrities who had eaten at the restaurant lined the walls. Thurston nodded to Debtra, who took a deep breath and closed her eyes. She spread her arms, palms facing outward, and turned in a slow circle.
“No energy signatures consistent with listening devices, aether or otherwise.”
“Good.” Thurston sat with a thud in one of the metal chairs. “Although I don’t think you need to worry about the aether ones. They wouldn’t work so well in the quantum stream. I think it’s time to feed our Manifestations again.” He raised his eyebrows at Thom. “About those potato pancakes?”
Before Thom could reply, a knock came at the door, and he opened it to see the guy from the front room.
“Heya, Hank, come on in.”
Hank nodded to the three of them. “What can I get y’all?”
They gave their orders, and Thom was relieved when Hank didn’t blink at Thurston’s potato pancake request. He’d escorted specialists, whom he figured worked for the C.I.A., before, but there was something strange about these two. They made chit-chat until Hank returned with the food. Then the professor hit Thom with a very strange question.
“Tell me, young man, what kind of conceptualization do you have of the universe?”
Thom blinked, and he remembered the dreams that had come back to him when looking into Debtra’s eyes. He shrugged.
“It’s big?” he asked.
Debtra coughed, but Thom thought she may have laughed at him.
“Look, I got the same classes everyone else did. I painted balls and strung them up in a mock solar system in fourth grade. I know that it’s bigger than any human mind can imagine.”
“Even more so.” Thurston grabbed a napkin and took a pen from his pocket. “Have you heard of the theory of hidden dimensions?”
Thom raised his eyebrows. That sounded a little like his dreams.
“You live, and we’re visiting here in the Third, which has two main time-streams that reflect each other.” Homily drew a curve with three stick figures standing on it. “Then there’s the Fourth, which is beyond it, and where my University resides. Earthly theory holds that the Fourth is time, but really it is beyond time, but we can hold it and make it flow forwards at certain points.” He drew a line above the curve. “That way my students can’t manipulate it and make it go backwards at final exam time. But we also have a perspective over the linear flow of time in the Third, like looking down at a circular river. From the Fourth, we can plunge in at any point.”
Thom felt like his head was going to start pounding with a migraine at any second. “Where are you from?” he whispered.
“We’re from the Fourth,” Debtra said. She laid a hand on his, and the tension in his neck subsided. “Professor Homily and I are old souls, meaning we’ve been here several times.”
He looked at her smooth skin and noted that the skin around her eyes only had a few slight wrinkles. “But you look so young!”
“That’s because we came here with our Manifestations from the Fourth,” said Thurston. “They take energy to maintain, otherwise we’d blur and fade, so we have to feed them on a normal human eating schedule plus one midnight meal.”
“Oh, I thought you just had a strange way of saying you’re hungry.” Thom looked at the diagram. “What’s beyond the Fourth?”
Thurston smiled. “Infinitely more layers and dimensions. The Fifth is where the Minders live.”
“You’d talked about them.”
“They observe the course of time and development, not just here, but in every dimension.” Thurston tapped the end of his pen on the table. “They’re very hard to explain. Humans would think of them as angels, and your Bible speaks of their guidance – some would say interference –at key points in history.”
“And you survived a confrontation with one!” Debtra looked at Thurston with wide-eyed admiration, and Thom felt an unfamiliar sensation in his stomach – the uncoiling of biting jealousy?
“Barely, my dear. I’ve not been the same man since, and I have no recollection of about fifty years after that time.”
“So what is monumenting?” Thom asked.
“A cruel, cruel thing,” Debtra murmured.
Thurston nodded. “I’ll assume you’ve had basic physics and know that, even in the most dense substances, there are spaces between atoms and molecules. As beings are essentially pure energy, monumenting takes the spirit, stretches it until there are holes between that energy, and fits it into a metallic substance that then is made into a monument.”
“That sounds painful.”
“The worst part is that monuments take millennia to decompose, and the spirit decomposes with it,” Debtra said.
“Right.” Thurston looked at his student. “There’s something about the process that joins spirit to substance so thoroughly that they become the same. And it’s impossible to escape, so the criminal sits there in the inclement weather with birds pooping on him or her for literal ages.”
“Until this morning,” said Thom.
Right, until this morning.” Thurston looked at him. “That’s why they called us in. I was there for the talks that developed the practice, and I opposed it, but I also understood it better than all save one.”
“Sorvan,” said Debtra.
Thurston nodded. “And I suspect that his infernal device, the Splitter, has been turned to undoing its work.”
“But that’s good, right?”
“Not precisely,” Thurston said. “Because whatever was released this morning is no longer what he or she was. It will be an entirely new creature, and utterly unpredictable.” Thurston looked at his watch. “Do you think those autopsy results are ready yet?”
Author’s Note: I promise that I haven’t run out of chocolate pictures, but I couldn’t resist this lovely picture of a breakfast for dinner course from a beer dinner since our heroes are in a diner setting, and Thurston is about to indulge — again — his love for pancakes.