Futures | Published:

Through the shaving mirror

Nature volume 407, page 455 (28 September 2000) | Download Citation


…or, A tight night at the Surrealist Sporting Club.

Image: JACEY

“Has anyone noticed,” Monsignor Corneliusspoke urgently, hoping to divert Sir Perkin Float, on his third bottle ofclaret, from developing that familiar litany about discovering Chaos Mathyears before Mandelbrot, thus being cheated of his place in history and hisvideo royalties, “how cats can turn off time? With a suitable lens,of course.”

Engelbrecht, the dwarf metaphysical boxer, grew alert. Professional curiosity.A founder of the Surrealist Sporting Club, he refused to fight anything lighterthan a cathedral clock. Against advice he'd challenged Big Ben to a ‘noquarter’ fin-de-millennium celebratory bout. Serious Soho backers. Chinesecalendar promoters. That the parliamentary clock had accepted was surprising,that it lost was suspicious. Strong rumbles in the sporting fancy. Someonehad slipped the monster timepiece a heavy envelope to lie down. London wasnow on Chinese time, with all serious punters refusing mah-jong bets involvingpoliticians.

“It reminds me,” said the time-battered pug, “of thatnight in New York I almost lost to the Union Square Clock Tower. My careerwould have been over if it hadn't been for some fancy photon-work.”

Tactfully the Corinthian Jesuit drew us into Engelbrecht's confidence.“Your mother discovered that time isn't a dimension of space, but afield whose properties are affected by the nature of space existing withinit?”

“Space a quality of time?” Sir Perkin snorted into his wine.Glinting rubies fell to the linen. But Cornelius's clever sourcing meant outrightdisagreement would be dangerous.

Clearing the cloth, Engelbrecht used a carpenter's pencil and the condensedmathematical logic developed at his famous Marrakesh asram to illuminate us.“Time alters when it interacts with space. In common with all observablenature, the Universe, or multiverse, grows organically and is best imaginedas a vast tree, or perhaps even a forest with common roots.”

“And the soil for this tree?” Float's reckless scepticism terrifiedus. Expensive watches would only be the first victims of our dwarf's distemper.

The tiny slugger observed philosophically that this was the level of logiche must commonly suffer. “An analogy,” he growled. “There'sa theory that the multiverse is created by the common will, but as to itsorigins…?” He cracked his knuckles. “I think thereforeI thump.”

Float's timid attention returned to the claret. The merest whisper of BigBangs had him reaching for his jug.

Engelbrecht scowled reminiscently. “We're familiar with the disappearingneutron, we've recently learned how light can travel faster than light. Conventionalmethod produces Heath Robinson physics turned into formulae by crazed Euclidians.At some point, as Columbus told the Pope, we have to let go of the premisethat the world is flat.”

“Can we see these alternative worlds?” ‘Prof.’Aspinall had been kicking the gong around and wasn't ready for further shocks.

Cornelius embellished smoothly. “I understand it's a question ofscale and mass. Put simply, millions of subtly different versions of our realityare separated by size. Each version, though scarcely different in terms ofthe multiversal compass, is as invisible to us as if we were only seeing asingle magnified pixel out of a complex computer image. We never see the whole.It is either too small or too large. We coexist in the same space throughscale. Each alternative world has greater or lesser density and is invisibleto the others.”

“Proliferating to infinity. Whales, fairies,” Engelbrecht paused,“dwarves.”

“Space curves,” mumbled ‘Prof.’ into his spoon.“Don't it ?”

“Organically and often, as a branch curves.” Cornelius smiled.“Like ourselves, space consists of spheres, but isn't itself spherical.Nature would be contradicted if it were. Certain entities somehow adjust theirmass and move ‘intrabranally’. For instance, few creatures areas expert at varying their size as cats. Thus their mysterious ‘disappearances’.Happily the phenomenon hasn't occurred with dogs.”

“Bigfoot, however…” ‘Prof.’ began.

“Cats,” said Cornelius hastily, “see space invisibleto us, coming and going through the multiverse pretty much at will.”

“Bunkum,” hiccuped Float. “We were supposed to hear aboutthat New York match our dwarf won by a whisker. In funny circumstances.”

Engelbrecht swelled. “A classy clock fighting for a consortium ofIstanbul high rollers backing the Julian calendar. Twice my form and landingsome tricky byzantine jabs. By Round 60 I'd borrowed all available time. I'mon my back looking like someone just unwrapped the Mummy.

“I've already squared the ref, of course. While shaving I've alsodreamed up some insurance. Fortunately I have a prism hidden in one glove,a photon in the other. Resting on the count with my hands invisible I pullHarness's old baffled quantum trick. On nine. Works like a charm. Time hesitates.My seconds Coleman and Benford produce the mirror, rescaling mass and sizeto shrink the heavy bastard enough so I can stagger up and deliver the dynamite.Gravity completes the job. Down he goes. Dead weight. Space–time readjusts.It's all over. The Yankee Boomer's stretched full size on the canvas, hisgobsmacked hands chasing themselves round his face. Cheering punters. GMTkeeps the title!”

“Convincing,” admitted Aspinall. “Except no way wouldColeman and Benford help snatch a fix.”

Engelbrecht winked. “Prof., you can't name a physicist in the multiversewho isn't in my pocket. Now, padre, your cats?”

“Oh, another time I think,” said Cornelius, contentedly fillinghis pipe.

Float was at last profoundly asleep.

Author information


  1. Maurice Richardson's Exploits of Engelbrecht is republished by Savoy. Michael Moorcock's Multiverse is publishedby DC Comics.

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