Tuesday, March 22, 2016

What is Real?

                 Below is a letter I submitted to Scientific American. It was not printed.

                After reading the article “What is Real?” from the August 2013 Scientific American, I have decided that an important question regarding the nature of reality is “What is a Boundary?” The article posits that particles and fields aren’t accurate representations of reality, so if they are not, then something else is. The article further proposes that relations between things or simply properties, such as mass and charge, are the constituents of reality.
                I would like to say that, fundamentally, a proton is little different from a star. A proton has a definite and indefinite boundary, much like our Sun. Consider the similarities: a proton and a star have radii (which implies a circular or spherical shape, as well as a boundary), they are affected by forces, they can be observed and they are both deadly and friendly to life. But there is an inconsistency, and that inconsistency is related to boundary in the form of the radii, which paradoxically help to define the boundary. This is interesting: the very fact that boundaries can be measured does nothing to define them. As an example, the influence of the Sun extends far beyond its surface (a boundary), so what is the true boundary of the Sun? Is it the surface or the magnetosphere? The solar wind or the gravitational pull? How can a boundary for the Sun be defined in such a way that agreement will be unanimous?
                When I think of the term boundary, I am referring to a definite end of an object in question, but not necessarily the start of a new object. For example, nothing new starts (that I know of) at any conceivable boundary of the Sun. There is a gap between the Sun and Mercury, a gap between Mercury and Venus, and so on. But…Mercury is contained within the influence of the Sun despite the fact there is an observable gap, which further implies there is no gap between the Sun and Mercury. So we have a situation where Mercury is both beyond and not beyond the Sun, since the true boundary of the Sun is not formally defined.
                If something as big and as easy to see as the Sun does not have a formally defined boundary, then how can the poor little proton ever hope to have one? A proton exudes a positive charge, which implies its boundary extends beyond its equivalent of a surface, much like that of a star. Also, a proton has an interior (which, again, implies a boundary). Is perhaps the interior of the proton, the quarks and gluons, the actual “event” that defines a proton and everything else just consequences? As an example, one could formally define a star as just the portion that undergoes the “event” of thermonuclear fusion and everything else a consequence. This leads to a reality made of events and consequences, which is simple, very simple. But this simplicity leads to infinite regression, since each “event” is really just a consequence. The big bang itself may not have been an “event”, for example, but a consequence of some earlier event, which itself may have been a consequence of an even earlier event, and so on.

                Bryan Singleton

Monday, March 21, 2016

Internet Love

     I wrote a short poem in 2011 about online dating....

The cold keyboard lures the hand
Our eyes revel in a digital land
Night and day, day and night
We scope each other with our limited sight

But does this cause a fright?
To see each other by the monitor's light?
Are we all sick?
We live in a way that is robotic

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Smell

Who knows what I was thinking....wrote this at least 15 years ago.


I found it in my basement and it did not smell good.

"I be the smell."

"My, you are a smelly one."

"Don't talk like dat to me, boy. I funna whip yo ass wit my maulikewls."

"How about if I open a window? You will shortly dissipate, and die. Better yet, I could build a fire and smother you."

"Aye, ye could. But I could drop ye dead before ye gots time to cover ye nose."

"If you kill me, you will cease to exist. No one will smell you, therefore, you must let me live."

"Don't be a playin' games with me head, mo fo. I goin suffocate yo ass slowly and persist a wee bit longer in this here yooneeverse."

I pinched my nose and stared daggers at the little bastard. The smell slowly crept into a corner and hid there, defeated. I spanked its ass hard and it knew it.

What a relief.


by Bryan Singleton (written in 1996)

     "Ha, ha! I dun got a mo foing bastard shot on you sucker! Whuch you goan do bout dat?", bellowed Mohimba. Jurgensjacker didn't offer Mohimba the satisfaction of a reply to his aggravating taunt. A damned bastard shot, thought Jurgensjacker. He gets one godfursaken bastard shot and he's King Almighty Of All The God-Blasted Ping Pong Players. Humph, I goan show dat fool what I got hiding up my mo foing sleeve. Das right Mohimba-whutevar-da-hell-you-are. I goan show yoar stupid ass some right smart shit. Mohimba taunted again. "Come on fuul! You shoulda already had dat sumbitch picked up by now and dun served dat sumbitch!" Saying nothing, Jurgensjacker served a Mighty Fine Shot To The Left Corner. Mohimba grunted and returned the ball ever so lightly, causing Jurgensjacker to extend his arm across the Grand Canyon to return it. Mohimba promptly slammed the ball down on Jurgensjacker's side as it seemingly floated to him. "Das right, toilet water! I dun showed you how to play dis game!", roared Mohimba as Jurgensjacker was plotting against him already.
     Last summer, Jurgensjacker was walking to and fro in the Glades of Glandibula. He was seeking out the old man with the potions. He recalled the words of Old Granpappy: "Now when yewz goz walking down in dem Glades, young pipboy, yewz best be a watchin out for dem ga dam Skullclampers! Dem dings doan never let go when they be a bitin' on yoar little head! So here'z what yew gots ta do: Yew wrap yo ga dam head wit a towel that dun been soaked in ol cow piss. Dem Skullclampers are right smart re-pulsed by dat der smell." So here he is now, in the Glades of Glandibula, with a cow piss soaked towel wrapped around his head, seeking the old man. He never saw a Skullclamper on his way to the old man's abode, but he cast a weary eye past every tree. When he got there, the old man wasn't no man at all. He was a pile of bones. But no matter, he found what he was looking for.
     "Now for Mohimba to get what he's got a coming to his ol crusty ass." Jurgensjacker served the ball too hard and it sailed
past Mohimba's head. "What in all hell of Fat Man Jackson's Underwear is you a trying to do, you dum sumbitch? You damn there
near put a hole in my head, you fool!"
   "Don't worry bout dat der ball dat went past yo shit for a head on yo neck, I gots anoder ball in my pocket." Jurgensjacker reached in his pocket and pulled out The Cursed Ping-Pong Ball From Hell. He served the cursed ball and Mohimba put some wicked spin on it, but Jurgensjacker knew it would never reach his side. The ball stopped over the net and spun faster and faster until it let out a piercing noise that was painful. Smoke was coming out of the ball and it stank of rotting flesh. The ball shrank and enlarged, creating a hypnotic pulsing motion that seized the attention of Mohimba. Too bad Mohimba didn't know that a small amount of spin is all it takes for the ball to unleash a portion of Hell on whomever did so. Too late. Too bad. So sad.
   Jurgensjacker was enraptured with a deep, throaty laughter that impressed The Cursed Ping-Pong Ball From Hell. Mohimba was gazing into nothingness, yet a little bit of Hell was gazing at him. Once the cursed ball was satisfied that Mohimba was hypnotized, it cracked open and ushered forth a globlet of putrid, feckless, throbbing flesh. The flesh started creeping toward Mohimba. When it reached the end of the table, it fell with a squishing noise that could make tough men lose their dinner. The flesh reached Mohimba's foot and started consuming it. The searing pain snapped Mohimba out of hypnosis and his screams shattered the air. It consumed his foot quickly; effiency was the business of this globlet of flesh. Mohimba fell to the ground and grasped the stump that used to yield a foot, as if that would somehow stop the pain. The piece of flesh was now shaped like Mohimba's foot. It leapt into the air and kicked Mohimba in the face, knocking him flat on his back. Mohimba tried to get up, but the flesh had him pinned down. The flesh jumped in the air and slammed down on Mohimba's ribs, cracking several of them. On the next blow, it lodged itself in one of Mohimba's lungs and ate the lung. Through labored breathing, Mohimba let out a scream of terror and pain that would make a demon happy. The flesh dug deeper in Mohimba's body and ate the soft internal organs one at a time.
    Satisfied that Mohimba was dead, Jurgensjacker left and began to seek out a new ping-pong partner.

Wrap Around

by Bryan Singleton


                I feel content about the choice I have made. My new body is comfortable and I have earned a Ph.D. in xenobiology in my abundant spare time. This is not to imply that I am a xenobiologist. No, not by any means. It will simply make my life easier in the immediate future. Several decades previously, I lived on the Earth. I was born in the country of Benthicos, which is on the floor of the Pacific Ocean. Although my people, the Benthicans, live on the ocean floor, we still consider ourselves to live on the surface of the planet.  I have never visited dry land and briefly saw it for the first time as I left for Upsilon Andromedae, which is a binary star system with four gas giants, many moons and myriad dwarf planets that is 44 light years from Earth. Upsilon Andromedae A is the primary star and Upsilon Andromedae B is a red dwarf that orbits at more than 750 AU from the planets and their satellites.
                One of my hobbies is to study the past. Five hundred years ago, individuals had automated vehicles that could negotiate water, land and air. Water vehicles typically floated on the surface of the water and the benthic regions were difficult to explore, due to the lack of femtotechnology. The land vehicles required that much of the land be destroyed and paved over with a hard surface that reduced albedo and increased surface runoff, which exacerbated droughts. Land vehicles also had the extreme disadvantage of being forced along those environmentally unhealthy predetermined paths. I, and all of my friends, was completely shocked by the air vehicles, though. I will never forget when I first learned that people manually controlled them. It is interesting to think in blocks of 500 years when comparing methods of travel. 1000 years ago, people were primarily peripatetic and occasionally used animals for making long trips. Even people with high status and power did not have access to automatic vehicles, but relied upon their own efforts or that of animals. Today, even individuals with a low income can easily afford interplanetary and interstellar spacecraft. Lifespan is especially interesting to contemplate. 1000 years ago, most people were lucky to live to age 40. 500 years ago, it was common for people to live to 100. Today, no one experiences true death and the loss of a body is a minor inconvenience. During my 44 light year trip I have learned much of my planet’s history.
                I’m currently on my first 1000 year vacation and my first stop is a moon of the third planet in the Upsilon Andromedae system, which is called Cnidaria. I’ve chosen an artificial body with radial symmetry, like that of a jellyfish, but with one major difference: the eye wraps around. It fully encircles the top portion of my body, like a latitudinal cloud band on Saturn, and the image formed in my mind is uncomfortable. There are two reasons why I chose this body. Firstly, it is a reasonably close simulacrum of the possibly intelligent life on Cnidaria. Secondly, I can accelerate at high multiples of g, which reduces the time needed to reach 99.99% the speed of light and likewise reduces the time needed for deceleration. Therefore, I can reap the benefits due to time dilation and see more of the galaxy with my 1000 years, since the time is measured subjectively by my employer, rather than objectively.
                There are many unanswered questions about the Cnidarians. How and why did they evolve 360° vision? Do they have any concept of forward, backward, left, or right? When choosing a direction in which to move, does the same part of their body always point in the direction of movement? Since they have radially symmetric bodies, which part do they use to identify one another? While I am simulating the body of a Cnidarian, my directional bias plays a major factor in my understanding of orientation. I am always conscious of whether I am facing forward, even when I can see behind me at all times. An organism never having been exposed to forward only vision would not have a directional bias. It is frustrating that I may never be able to fully appreciate 360° vision due to not having been born that way.  
                Since there are millions of planets and moons with life, it is easy for ordinary people to make discoveries or contributions. Some of my vacation time will be spent making contributions to science and although I have a doctorate in xenobiology, I am still just a Benthican. No one labels themselves with job titles these days because we live for millions of years. I could decide to join in the recreation of the Incan Empire or study the core of Pluto, if I wanted. But I do have an employer and my job is simply to analyze the languages of arsenic based life, which is kind of frustrating, due to the safety precautions.
                Why did I choose Cnidaria? It is largely neglected; most people flock to star systems which contain aliens that are morphologically similar to humans and have nonviolent cultures. The Cnidarians are also the only life ever discovered with 360° vision and I believe there’s a good reason for it. I can’t imagine the frustration the original designers of the probe dealt with, since they had to wait more than 90 years to see if it worked or not. Nowadays, probes are automatically sent to every star system and data are being transmitted to Earth continuously from millions of different sources.
                Although I’ve made many interplanetary jaunts in the solar system, this is my first interstellar one. It seems to me rather traitorous to know I’ll be spending so much time under the light of different stars, since I have never felt sunlight on my home planet. Normally, initial probes to foreign planets install SPS, to aide any intrepid explorers. Cnidaria, however, was neglected. During my first five days in orbit I have been custom inserting GPS satellites, arovacams (automatic roving cameras) and steadily monitoring the electromagnetic spectrum for any transmissions. Cnidaria, unfortunately, is technologically silent.
                The Cnidarians themselves seem to have a language, although it may just be my imagination. The arovacams have detected voltage spikes in the water that differ in intensity and duration when multiple Cnidarians are present. It’s possible that they have organs of electroreception, like those in sharks, and organs of electric discharge, like those in electric eels. It will be difficult, and possibly impossible, for me to know if they are merely animals or sentient organisms discussing the weather (I hope they talk about more than the weather). There are protocols that must be followed when trying to understand the biology of newly discovered aliens. Firstly, I have to determine whether they are intelligent or not, and, if so, learn their language. By learning their language, I at least have a chance of understanding their culture and gaining the ability to ask permission to install femtoprobes in some of their living. Femtoprobes make up an invasive anatomical map-making system, made up of quintillions of individual probes 8 billion times smaller than red blood cells, which allows them to negotiate the body undetected (not alerting any known immune system or causing damage to DNA). In comparison, a hydrogen atom is only about 130,000 times smaller than a red blood cell. The femtoprobes are small enough to hide inside the nucleons (protons and neutrons) of an organism’s atoms, identify them, track their movement, and reconstruct the organism, atom by atom in a computer simulation. This is possible because the nucleons of atoms are 99% empty space. Many ethicists are against this practice, because the simulation is perfect. Just like scientists of the past were trained to kill lab rats, scientists of today are trained to “kill” artificial intelligence in computer simulations. In the event that the aliens show no signs of intelligence or culture, then it is legal to install femtoprobes without permission.
                I am thrilled by the possibility that the Cnidarians might have a language. Very reasonably, I have guessed they will not have any words that correspond to “left” or “right”, because of their radial symmetry. Certain human languages, like Korean, lack convenient words, such as personal pronouns. Since Koreans don’t have corresponding words for “him” or “her”, they just say “that person”. The Cnidarians might lack certain words for anatomy, such as “posterior”, “anterior”, “ventral” and “dorsal”, and make up for it by saying “that spot” or “that part”. However, if they have a language, then it could take years, or decades, to get permission to map their bodies. My simulated body only approximates their exteriors; their interiors are unknown.


                The entire surface of Cnidaria is covered with an unruly blanket of water, made so by its parent planet and companion planets which seek to torment it with undulations in the fabric of space, more commonly known as gravitational waves. Just as Earth’s Moon makes one rotation in the same amount of time as one orbit, Cnidaria does the same lockstep dance with Dystyx. Thus, like Earth’s Moon, the same side of Cnidaria is always facing Dystyx. Since Cnidaria makes one rotation in the time needed to make one orbit around Dystyx, each “day” is very long; approximately 60 days. If Dystyx had any inhabitants, their months would therefore be 60 days long. Cnidaria does not have seasons separated by hemispheres which are caused by axial tilt, like back on Earth. Rather, the orbit of Dystyx is very eccentric and during perihelion it is more than 1 AU closer to its star than during aphelion. This is truly astonishing. Earth has a nearly circular orbit which has only a 3.3% difference in distance between perihelion (closest to star) and aphelion (farthest from star). Dystyx, however, has a 52% difference! But there is more. All of the planets in my home system, with the exception of the dwarf planets, are well behaved and lie on an imaginary plane, called the ecliptic. However, in the Upsilon Andromedae system, the planet’s orbits are greatly tilted with respect to one another. It’s unfortunate the Cnidarians live underwater; they would have certainly invented some interesting religions and mythologies if they could see how crazily the objects in their skies skitter about, assuming they are intelligent, of course.
                Dystyx was discovered approximately 500 years ago (in 1999) and was originally named Upsilon Andromedae d, to distinguish it from the other planets in the system. Dystyx has roughly 10 times the mass of Jupiter, with multiple red spots that stare angrily into the depths of space. The Upsilon Andromedae system is a flip-flop solar system, since the gas giants are more proximal to the star than the rocky planets, which is the reverse of my home solar system.
                The fact that Cnidaria has no dry land does not make me feel uncomfortable, because I was raised on the floor of the Pacific Ocean. It’s a good thing there is no dry land, what with the skyscraping waves that worry the clouds. The ocean trenches are much deeper than those on Earth and pressures would easily implode an ancient military submarine. Several of the trenches reach depths of 60 kilometers and form valleys that would make a land dweller fear to visit vicariously. Surprisingly, Cnidaria does not lack mountains. If the water were removed, some of the mountains would impress even the most jaded mountain climber, with heights approaching 50 kilometers (roughly 5 times the height of Mt. Everest).


                This is a fragment of a science fiction story in which I have not yet worked out all of the details. I have taken some liberties, such as making Cnidaria complete one orbit in 60 days and even assuming that such a moon exists. I also invented the name “Dystyx” for the gas giant. However, the Upsilon Andromedae system is real and it does have 4 gas giants and a companion star that orbits at 750 AU. I love it when science fiction authors include glossaries, so I have done the same.


AU = astronomical unit. Equal to the average distance between the Earth and the Sun; about 93,000,000 miles. Used frequently in astronomy.
Benthic = deepest part of a body of water, including the seafloor.
Cnidaria = a phylum of the animal kingdom that includes jellyfish. Also the name of a moon.
Dystyx = a gas giant with 10 times the mass of Jupiter. Cnidaria is one of its moons.
femto- = unit of measurement one million times smaller than a nanometer. Used frequently in physics.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

A Good Product

by Bryan Singleton

                Max Eisenberg was seated comfortably in his favorite chair. Dust motes maintained a vigilant dance under the photonic blanket above his head, while brown recluse spiders morbidly stalked one another behind the bookshelves that lined the walls of his apartment. A beautiful dracaena marginata dutifully scrubbed the foul indoor air of its invisible toxins. A piece of paper lay on the small wooden desk in his living room with the word specticle inscribed on it. Something to check out later, Max was thinking while consumed in a sea of words.
                Such are how the days go for Max. Besides his unrewarding job as a pizza delivery man, his time is spent cramped in an artificial habitat (indoors) where he appears decidedly sessile, as if his chair were an oceanic rock and he were a clinging mussel. For avid readers, a good dictionary is an indispensable tool to be kept nearby at all times, much as a rap star keeps a gold chain nearby. Max is a bibliophile and while not logorrheic, he is nonetheless a logophile. His activities necessitate a proximal dictionary, in order to facilitate encounters with unfamiliar words.
                It was 2:30 p.m. and Max rose from his chair, muttering profanities. To be yanked out of peaceful reading and reverie into the real world of a job is insulting. Insulting to existence, to pander to the whims of corpulent consumers of cheese that value taste so much they are content having cannonballs for bellies. Thus, Max is disturbed about the nature of his work, knowing intimately that his job decreases healthiness and contributes to rising health care costs. And when soda or cheese sticks are part of the delivery his silent curses drive fear into the oxygen atoms as they desperately try to escape his irate inhalations. Max is like many strange men in that he thinks all people should desire to improve their grossly inadequate biological bodies.
                2:30 p.m. is also time to eat lunch, brush his teeth and change into work clothes. Ah, how he loves wearing a uniform. It’s proof of being a slave, whether it’s pizza delivery or flying an airplane. Like most people, Max isn’t sure how to escape slavery, which is the condition of having to work for, and follow orders from, another human, regardless of pay or benefits. The debilitating rawness of forced routine coarsely erodes one’s vitality, but for Max, the routine itself is not noticed. Nor is his mundane job. A bibliophile is never bored.
                Dan Smothers, the manager on duty, was grinning as Max walked into Widdershin’s Pizzeria. The familiar, yet tantalizing, aroma of pizza ingredients wafted through the air.
                “Hello, Gemini”, shouted Smothers, much to the irritation of Max. Max had never been able to understand the throngs’ fascination with astrology.
                Max said hello to his under educated boss and clocked in. While waiting for orders to arrive, he busied himself by gluing coupon fliers to the lids of pizza boxes. After having happily glued roughly 50 coupons, an odd misprint caught his eye.
                Thumbing through more coupons, Max satisfied himself that they all contained the peculiar word, much like specticle, which he had found in a book about the war in Iraq before coming to work. The phone rang and moments later, Smothers voice broke his mysterious cogitation. “Four large, two pepperoni, two sausage and onion, all extra cheese.”
                With four hot pizzas in hand, Max walked through the patronless seating area, wishing most earnestly for the economy to improve. People just order pizzas these days because they don’t want to spend any extra money on gas. A large fly casually walked along the vertical scape of glass in the front of the store, unable to make sense of the lack of auxiliary information that usually accompanies vision. Max studied the fly and wondered if it felt trapped. He grimly realized that the fly is in a better situation, as its barrier is merely physical. Max can physically leave the store and still be trapped. By low income, neurotic disorders, ineffable shyness and enigmatic ennui.
                After eight splendid hours of listening to inanities from his boss, gluing coupons to pizza boxes and driving around the neighborhood, Max doesn’t handle the mental and physical fatigue as do most denizens of the civilized world. Rather than drinking acumen reducing fluids, such as vodka or beer, he goes to the gym and improves himself. The gym would probably be a healthier place if it weren’t for all the attractive women, which only exude temporizations when approached by a thinking person. Max has a frustrated love life.
                With great futility he attempted to control the microsaccades as he exited the gym, a path that forced him to walk past many sexually provocative women, due to their choice of “spray paint” attire. He understands clearly why fashion in the past contrived to conceal the shape of women under amorphous skirts and frilly blouses.
                He arrived home near midnight and added echust to the piece of paper on his desk. Echust obviously referred to sales tax and from the context in the Iraqi war novel, he inferred that specticle referred to an officer in the military, probably one of high rank. Neither word could be found in his American Heritage Dictionary, published in 1992, nor did they turn up in google searches. Several hours later he woke up with a powerful sore spot on his forehead, brushed his teeth, and resumed sleeping in his lonely bedroom.
                Trisha Porter sat placidly behind the counter in the library, eyeing all men with pavid glances and smiling exuberantly at small children. Knitting quilts for her grandchildren and watching them play occupied her thoughts, although any tike to traipse by made her think of them. Considering the flux of small children in a library, Trisha had a dream job.
                A little girl stepped up to the counter. In a minuscule, squeaky voice she asked, “Do you have Jigglebang’s Rumpslicks?” The latest craze in childhood reading.
                Trisha brightened like the glare off a car’s rear window. “Why yes we do, little sweetheart.” Before Trisha could admire her adorability any further, the little critter darted to the children’s area, apparently already aware of which books it contained. She wanted to talk to the grandmotherly woman behind the counter.
                Max Eisenberg walked into Fridley’s Fjord Public Library on a Saturday at 10:00 a.m. The smell of thousands of books imbued his dull life with a sense of hope. Children capitulated to high energy noise making in lieu of visiting popular intangible worlds. Adults, the progenitors of the silent weasels, sat reading magazines. A precocious youth sat at a table studying some arcane subject, oblivious to the tangible world in his autodidactic angst. Max looked to his left and saw Mrs. Porter staring something vicious into him.
                “What a paranoid beldam. Old crone probably thinks I’m here to maliciously disorganize the books.”
                He stepped up to the counter and gingerly handed her the Iraq war book, maintaining a stolid expression. “How are you today?”, he asked in an attempt at friendliness. A cold breeze could have departed from his lips, as she did not reply.
                Mrs. Porter put the book on a cart, which she pushed into the recesses behind the counter. Several pieces of paper were pushed off a shelf by her turbulent maneuvers and sliced through the air at varying angles before silently coming to rest on the aloof carpet. When she disappeared from view, he numbly headed for the reference section.
                Eastern Orthodoxy...Echinoderms...Eclipse, Occultation, and Transit... Max found no entry for echust in the 2007 Encyclopedia Britannica. He tried specticle next, with equally encouraging results: Spanish Literature...Speech...Sponges. He found an old dictionary. His idea had been that perhaps they were older, replaced words, having not yet been googlized. Leaving it as a mystery for another day, Max started to leave the small room and something caught his eye. A very thick book with a wordless spine supinely rested on top of a shelf. He had to stand on his toes to reach it and the other man in the room eyed him with leveled curiosity.
                Max nearly gasped when he read the title:
                My word! What is going on? Two more bizarre words, together, no less!
                The strange dictionary had a fair amount of heft, several kilograms at least. Heavier books tend to increase the anticipation of reading, for there are potentially more unknown wonders. Max was delighted and mystified. And dispirited. Reference books must stay in the reference section, as many people depend on it for important research. He opened the book randomly to the ‘C’ section and started perusing the entries. Nothing made any sense! It was completely full of gibberish nonsense words, akin to echust and specticle. Here’s what he initially saw:
                Cobargu, Faldox
                 “I must have this book!
                Max confidently carried the strange dictionary to the counter and waited patiently for Mrs. Porter. It would be a few minutes wait, as a small group of children were being entertained by her grotesque facial contortions and offensive noises. When she finally walked to him, he nonchalantly slid the book across the counter and feigned an interest in some abstract point in the distance, in order to achieve an air of casualness to offset her paranoid accusations.
                She lividly inspected the book and blurted, “This is a dictionary. You know the policy for reference material.” Much like a soldier ant guarding the anthill, with its parochial programming, she resolutely adhered to policy. “And you must have removed the spine label. Why did you do that?”
                “I didn’t.” Her jowls perceptibly quivered at the fringes of his sight as he started into her hateful eyes. “I guess I’ll bring it back to the reference room.”
                “You are not going to do that. Since you removed the spine label, I have to print a new one. It may be several weeks. Or months.”
                “Just let me look at it for a second. I need to check a few things.”
                “No.” She put the strange dictionary on a cart behind her and attended to a woman, ignoring Max.
                He left the library, cursing his stupidity. He should’ve read through more of the book before confronting that stony woman. On the way home, he listened to Keiichi Okabe’s rendition of Walking on the Land of Flames from the Mushihimesama Arrange Album.
                At 3:30 p.m. he arrived at work. Dan Smothers was talking about his car. “I dropped a dime in the lighter socket and the stereo stopped working. What a piece of shit.” Noticing Max, he said, “Hey Gemini, you’re smart. Wanna fix my stereo?”
                “You have to make friends with the right electrons.” Max knew that would irritate Smothers considerably.
                “Fuck you, Gemini.”
                Ignoring his ignobility, Max clocked in and gathered up the two pizzas under the heating element. Passing again through the patronless restaurant he noticed a fly and wondered if it was the same one from yesterday. Hard to say. They looked pretty similar.
                The Swinechurdlers ordered 12 pizzas again. Several of their blueberry shaped children trundled down the walk to help carry the carbohydrate feast as Max pulled into the driveway. Waiting expectantly, like vultures on the fringes of a lion kill. He felt sorry for the kids and anger for the parents - but he had to be nice to them. Disgusting or not, these are some of the people that allow him to pay his bills.
                Mr. Swinechurdler heaved and huffed and puffed as his gigantic girth greeted him at the front door. The wheezing never abated as he laboriously handed over $100 in an assortment of small bills. Max thanked him for the tip and walked back to his car, stopping to inspect a beautiful black jumping spider with white stripes on his windshield.
                During the day’s pizza deliveries his mind was conjuring ways to read Churzon’s Salikystic Dictionary. Asking Mrs. Porter was out of the question. The head librarian, Ms. Gillian Raw, was even more intractable. She would not listen to his concerns or pleas either. Nor could he wait. Nor did he trust Mrs. Porter to ever put the book back. He had never seen another librarian on duty and for all he knew, the beldams could in fact be living behind the counter somewhere. Thus, sneaking behind the counter during business hours did not seem worthwhile, simply because he did not know the location of the book. Sneaking would only work if it could be done in a time span of mere moments and not minutes. As for breaking in, his tactical skills included rock throwing, which is not a very elegant solution. Plus, it attracts the police with celerity.
                Two weeks had passed and he had drawn the library on graph paper, noting all access points save those on the roof, which he could not see. While he could claim to be an amateur vexillologist in order to gain access to the roof, that seemed like too tall a tale for anyone to swallow with satisfaction. He wasn’t sure why he had drawn the library on graph paper, but it was to scale and skulking around the place at night to take measurements made him feel like a spy.
                The next day he checked the reference section to see if the strange dictionary had been reshelved, but it had not. He had already surreptitiously inspected the interior of the library for hiding places, to attempt to stay after hours, and that yielded nothing. But there were two places he had not yet checked - the restrooms. The men’s restroom had a janitorial supply closet and a hatch in the ceiling above one of the urinals. The hatch could offer a way behind the counter, a way to slip back there unnoticed. The only problem was how to reach it, since there was nothing to stand on. Using a ladder would solve the problem, but as usual, the solution would cause more problems. He left the restroom and sat on the steps in front of the library, carefully watching the autotrophic plant life feed on photons as a bumblebee most earnestly tried to fly in an alarmingly erratic fashion. He got an idea.
                He still had a few hours before having to report to work, so he walked 2 miles to the nearest car rental center, Jalopy in a Jiffy. The man behind the counter, named Bud, wore blue coveralls with a large wrench sticking out of a hip pocket. Bud had a great selection of old pick-up trucks, replete with rusted beds and punctured floorboards. Max picked one with an extra long bed and drove it to Johnny Lumbar’s Lumber, which was a general hardware store, but specialized in lumber. Mr. Lumbar had a fine selection of ladders and Max picked out the finest.
                Bud had given Max a further idea he had not considered while pondering on the steps. Bud looked like a maintenance man, with those coveralls. So Max drove to Sartorial Inelegance and bought some work boots, a ball cap and blue coveralls, a fairly standard outfit for a maintenance man or janitor. Parking the rental truck in an unnumbered spot in his apartment complex, he carried the ladder inside, then went back to retrieve the clothing.
                After work, he drove to the library and parked by the dumpster. His previous data gathering had proved fruitful, since he had a found a spot where the ladder could be stashed. There was a wooded area behind the dumpster. He concealed the ladder underneath a swath of overgrowth, greatly disturbed the arthropod population, and gave his immune system something to do, what with all the scrapes and cuts the brushwood so kindly proffered. With the ladder successfully stashed and his skin smarting, he drove to an adjacent lot and parked the truck. He then began the 3 mile walk home.
                The next morning, he donned the ersatz maintenance uniform, and drove to the corporate complex located next to the library. He parked near the rental truck. It was 6:30 a.m. The library opened at 7 a.m.
                Max sat in his car, waiting for Ms. Raw to arrive. An old Buick Electra, a veritable boat on the road, pulled into the empty lot in front of the library. Gillian Raw stepped out of the car and unlocked the front doors to the library, entering without a single askew glance. The door closed behind her and sunlight meticulously reflected off the glass. He figured she would be unlocking doors, turning on lights and making rounds throughout the building. So he had made plans to enter at 8:00 a.m.
                An hour passed and he stepped out of his vehicle and headed towards the concealed ladder behind the dumpster. Several people, wearing suits, were arriving at Pecuniary, Inc. for their wild day of sitting at tables and desks. But they did not look in his direction; their minds were occupied with keeping up with Mr. Jones himself. Max braved the brush a second time, irritating more scores of arthropods, pulled the ladder out, and started walking towards the front steps. His footsteps made light grinding noises as they ground the small rocks into the pavement, transferring energy as sound waves, which crashed into the library walls. The walls did not care. A few people were entering the library as he walked up the steps and one lady even held the door for him, assuming he was a maintenance man.
                The men’s restroom was empty. Max quickly leaned the ladder against the wall and climbed up to the hatch, which was simply a piece of drywall resting over the hole in the ceiling. He pushed the drywall up and scooted it to one side. A surge of dust particles randomly scattered through the air, covering his hair and shoulders. Since only breathing out is impossible, many of them entered his lungs. And he hacked.
                “Must move quickly!”
                Ignoring the obnoxious dust particles invading his lungs, Max climbed into the crawlspace, turned around and started to pull up the ladder, careful to not make any scraping noises. When the ladder was secure, he put the drywall back in place.
                “Done! What a relief!”
                The library closed at 9 p.m. and he had prepared a backpack with food, water, a flashlight, and a Scientific American magazine. He planned to urinate and defecate freely, with abundance if necessary. He considered trying to hit the urinal from the hole, finding it rather humorous to imagine how someone would react if they walked in to see a stream of piss 8 feet long.
                After just 2 hours, he began to experience rather uncomfortable discomfort, wishing most pointlessly that he had thought of bringing a pillow. After 5 hours, he passed out on the dust laden floor, unaware of the microscopic creatures that were enjoying his body. He awoke 3 hours later, with a menacing 6 hours left until closing time.
                Six hours later, having finished the entire magazine, he started to pay very close attention to any sounds, particularly those of doors being locked. He heard sharp metallic clicking noises at 9:15 p.m. and waited another 45 minutes, primarily due to anxiety. As noiselessly as possible, he exited the restroom and headed for the counter. The library was dark and silent, amplifying his patters on the carpet and producing a variety of intangible threats. His flashlight produced a photonic cloud that made even darker, densely impenetrable, shadows.
                A variety of metal carts, bookcases of varying heights, strewn papers and pencil holders comprised the habitat behind the counter. And it was deep, perhaps 30 feet. Max started the task of looking for the strange dictionary, heading confidently towards the very back, where he presumed Mrs. Porter would have left it. It didn’t take long to find, considering it was the only book in the library bereft of a spine label. It was then that he noticed the faint line of light at the base of the door, labeled “OFFICE”. The door opened.
                Mrs. Porter stepped out and Max froze. Coming to his senses, he shined the flashlight at her eyes, in an attempt to conceal his identity. But no one has faster reflexes than an expanding shell of photons. She had already recognized him when she opened the door.
                Her face became delightfully crimson, as if her purpose in existence was to finally catch someone stealing books. “I’m calling the police. And don’t you dare try to run out of here.”
                Max bolted for the entrance and frantically pushed at the glass and metal doors until he flipped the deadbolt switch to the right. He ran for the back of the library and cut through the small wooded area, coming out in the rear of the corporate complex. Nothing in particular was running through his mind, except taking the most evasive possible route to the rented truck. When he got in the cab, he saw the familiar flashing lights coming up the street. The patrol car pulled up to the steps as closely as possible and two officers got out; one went into the library and the other began to circle the complex. He started the truck and pulled out of the lot when the officer left his field of view.
                The police would find the ladder and evidence indicating he had spent some time above the ceiling. He also dropped the flashlight. He couldn’t imagine what they would think, but imagining was very low on the list of mental priorities. They would find his car in the adjacent lot, they already knew his identity and time flows the same for everyone.
                Max drove to a popular steakhouse, The Gruesome Grill, and parked in the rear of the lot. A lot of hooting and yelling could be heard. There was no doubt a ruckus of raucous rib eating in that place. Coming back to a different type of reality, he pulled Churzon’s Salikystic Dictionary out of his backpack. His suspicions had been growing, so he opened it to the ‘S’ section and looked for specticle.
                spec•ti•cle  (spĕkʹtĭ-kəl) n.  1. A general in a military. 2. Any sentient life-form in a position to kill without restraint or possible punishment. 3. A dangerous animal. [Old Ghavish spektkyl, to cause suffering.] 
                Max leaned his head back against the seat, staring at nothing, wondering desperately about what he had found. Somehow, some odd words had made it into the vox populi, as indicated by the inclusion of specticle in the best-selling Iraqi war novel. Remembering the coupon flier, he looked up echust.
                ec•hust (ĕkʹhŭst) n.  1. A tax imposed by a government on its citizens. 2. The excess hydrogen atoms given to home planets from asteroid dwellers. 3. Assistance. [Middle Sjask ecchjsdt, assistance.]
                A large bellow of laughter, mixed with chortles and obnoxious hoots, disturbed his contemplation. Four men with distended stomachs wearing stained T-shirts piled into the car next to him. Max entertained the notion that an analysis of their stomach contents could serve as the dissertation for a gastroenterologist. While the bustling activity provided great cover from the prying police, it had the disadvantage of stymieing cognition. Carrying the strange dictionary, Max walked behind the restaurant into a complex of warehouses. He had driven 20 miles from the library; thus sitting under a light on metal steps provided no discomfort other than the hardness of the metal.
                After nearly an hour and one sore rump later, he determined that it was not the work of a creative writer. While someone clinically insane could make up 300,000 new words, he doubted such a person would be able to get it professionally printed and bound. A group of people could have made it, but for what purpose? Curiously, the front of the dictionary provided an address for the publisher. It was unlike any address he had seen before:

                Churzon’s Nask
                122 Gryd Suhjart
                Yholpulga, MO 63033

                Max checked Google Earth on his cell phone and 63033 was on the other side of Missouri, about 4 hours away from his hometown of Lawson. While it could find no match for ‘Yholpulga’, the zip code and state were something, at least. He had $400 in cash, which was plenty enough to make it to 63033. Again checking Google Earth, he determined the most efficient route to Highway 70, which connected directly to 63033.
                The trip across Missouri provided no adrenaline rushing moments, for, after all, the police weren’t going to scour the country for him. Not for hiding in a library and stealing a book. But the back of his head felt eyes staring at him, in the usual way that backs of heads feel things. According to Google Earth, the zip code 63033 was Florissant. Except, when he arrived, a sign stating “Welcome to Yholpulga” greeted him.
                He pulled into one of the ubiquitous Quiktrips and asked whereabouts Florissant could be found.
                “Don’t know what yer talkin’ ‘bout, bud.” The man, coincidentally, named Bud, had a large stomach, with eyes glazed over from carbohydrate laden snack foods. Bud was a shining example of the benefits of a Quiktrip diet.
                “So this has always been Yholpulga?” Max asked as Bud scratched his stomach.
                “As far back as I can reckon.”
                “And just how far back can you reckon?”
                “Mister, you is crazy.”
                Max ignored the jibe and pressed further. “Do you know where grid sue-jart is?”
                “Surely I do. Except ya say it like gride suh-jart.
                Max was listening very attentively now.
                “Ya pull a left outta here and head up thataways until ya hit Flyd Suhjart. Make uh right and go ‘bout 2 miles. You’ll hit it as surely as my turds hit toilet water.”
                “What a disgusting fucking redneck.
                Max walked out and got back in the truck, noticing the gas prices were not in dollars. The stated prices were in Arabic numerals, but the dollar symbol was replaced by a paraboloid with a ray, presumably intended to be light, shooting from the center. It looked similar to a cereal bowl with a knife, viewed edge-on, sticking straight out.
                Max felt uncomfortable as he drove up Flyd Suhjart. The prospect of being found by the police had been replaced by more urgent concerns. Whatever he was going to find at 122 Gryd Suhjart would likely outclass the inconsistent words and strange symbol.
                Churzon’s Nask was an opulent office building hovering approximately 6 inches off the ground. He parked and noticed nothing else peculiar. All the cars in the lot looked normal, the trees were not inverted, the squirrels were not talking, and the pavement was not flowing. One must be ready for anything when they see a floating building.
                He opened the strange dictionary to nask and read the entry...
                nask (năsk) n.  1. The headquarters of a company or corporation. 2. A decision. [Old Ghavish naysk, clarity]
                Well, that did clear things up. Max boldly stepped up thin air into the lobby of the building. And shortly discovered he couldn’t move.
                Two men in dark clothing were talking. Max supinely rested on a cot, unrestrained, but nonetheless immobile. One of them looked at Max and he felt his jaw muscles become functional.
                “Where am I?”
                The man walked to the cot and stared down into Max’s eyes. They revealed nothing.
                “You’re at the Leptonic Laundry Facility,” he stated with unequivocal precision.
                “But I thought...this was the headquarters...”
                “You were sent here when our system detected you.”
                “What happened with the words? Why were they changing?”
                “The problem, Max, is that you were not changing.”
                “Is this a parallel universe?”
                “No, those are fanciful constructs in the science fiction stories you like to read.”
                “Am I in a computer, like The Matrix?”
                The man conferred with the other for a moment.
                “No. You are real. The universe itself is artificial.”
                Max was nonplused. He finally asked, “Are you Churzon?”
                “Churzon is not a man. It is the name of the company I work for.”
                “What does Churzon do?”
                “We make artificial universes.”
                “There is a market for them. Some people want a private universe.”
                Max asked, “What’s going to happen to me?”
                The man walked away and left the room. The other faced Max, with a grin.
                “We take pride in making good products and we can’t have any defects.”