“I said Gravity Spiral Farm was perfect.” Roddie, on the other hand, was too literal minded. A born geek. No people skills. Unfortunately born with an athlete’s body and a movie star’s good looks. The utter incomprehension in his eyes, as yet another woman screeched about him not calling her, was painful.
“That’s what you title a report. A farm needs something a bit different. And anyway, I’m not sure we ought to call attention to us, that way. What if these things turn out to be dangerous, eh?”
The rhetorical question went right over Roddie’s head. “The likelihood of this very weak phenomenon . . .”
“Arg! I know better than to say something like that!” Cindy rolled her eyes.
“. . . becoming strong enough to affect anything of importance to most people . . .”
“It’s already messing with their satellite reception.”
“. . . is vanishingly small.”
Cindy sighed. “Relax. I do not think the world is going to get sucked though a wormhole into an alien universe. But naming the place Rancho Leone, after the Professor is a better idea.”
Simon sighed. “I suspect this phenomenon will go away again, and then we’ll sell the land. So we don’t really need a name for it.”
His office was upstairs in the old house, with a window looking out toward the river in the distance. Amazing, how far the river had spread, three years ago, now, when it had topped the levees.
He, a post doc and two doctoral candidates, had claimed the four bedrooms as offices.
Downstairs, his wife had pulled in workmen and stripped the ruined wallboard and insulation, rerun all the wiring and replaced all the outlets and switches. The electricity was back on. Next, the plumbing.
Rod and Cindy had been hired almost out of pity. Rod was dirt poor, and needed the job to minimize the loans he was starting to accumulate. Cindy was likewise short of funds, but grimly determined to borrow nothing. Last summer she’d moved to Florida and spent the vacation as a topless waitress. Simon had hopes of avoiding a repeat.
And she could cook over a campfire. Everything from breakfast to bread. Steaks, chicken, seafood. His wife had said something about the girl being wasted on mere physics, and turned the job over to her. And paid her for it.
Simon sighed. He really needed to steer the girl toward, oh, Geology maybe. Or some of the Bio-scis. Chemistry, perhaps. He made himself promise to get around to it before the kids registered for classes. Whenever that was. Or had it happened already? Well, she could change.
“In any case, we need to set up an over-night watch. The pattern of the waves is changing fast. If the damned equipment crashes again, I want someone awake to reboot it fast.”
Rod nodded. “The strength is jumping with every cycle, too. Ray has been building more detectors, I think we should consider an inner circle.”
Simon nodded. Ray Desmond was good with his hands, and had enough money to buy the precision parts they needed. Family money. He’d left campus in his Camaro on a Tuesday, and arrived here with a dodge pickup and a travel trailer, both obviously new, on Friday. “Mom didn’t think I’d sleep well enough in a tent,” he’d blushed as he explained.
Simon had picked up a used trailer on eBay, for himself and Mary. Rod and Cindy, and the other two had started in tents, then moved into the gutted downstairs. It might lack running water and a working bathroom, but it had screens to keep out the mosquitos and once the power was restored, a window air conditioner.
“You want to take the first watch, Rod? Get me up at, like, one in the morning.”
“Right. I’ll talk to Jason, see when he wants to turn it over to me.” Rod turned and clattered down the stairs.
Cindy shook her head and followed. “Gravity Spiral Farm, good grief.”
Simon grinned, took a reflexive look at the monitor with the eight lines from the detectors they had out now. The gravity was starting to climb slightly. He guessed it would peak around dawn tomorrow, and decided he really ought to get up early.
Cindy couldn’t find Rod, not altogether a bad thing, but he ought to have been here, in what had once been a dining room, where all the computers controlling the detectors had been arrayed.
She ran an experienced eye over it all. Everything working just fine. Rod was most likely taking a bathroom break. Bathroom, so to speak. The professor had rented a porta-potty. The guys usually just trotted into the young beginnings of a forest taking over the farm, and well, didn’t she just wish she could, the way that porta-potty smelled!
She stepped out on to the roughly mowed “lawn.” They’d hired a man with a “brush hog” on his tractor to mow right around the house and down to where the local gravity spiral seemed to be focusing. The night was completely dark, no lights anywhere. The stars were beautiful out here away from the lights of civilization. She’d never realized the milky way was a naked-eye-visible phenomenon, until her first night here. I ought to switch to astronomy. Astrophysics, maybe. I don’t grok quantum, and dark matter is absurd. I should talk to one of those professors. The Physics profs are all such softies, they don’t want to break the news to me, as if I can’t feel my brain hitting a brick wall.
But I love the stars.
She lowered her gaze, and blinked at the glowing fog down the hill. What the. . .? She reached for the big flashlight, but it was gone. She hustled back to her cot and found her little LED light. Headed down the hill.
No moon tonight, what is making the fog glow? Rod playing games with the flashlight? The nerd would probably think it was fun.
She muffled her own light, then turned it off altogether as she heard voices. Singing. There were forms in the fog, dancing to the beat of drums. Why didn’t I hear the drums, before? They were all in costumes, animal heads and fur, hooved gloves on their hands, and clever shoes. She blushed at the sight of the male dancer’s genitals, well, not his, it was obviously a part of his bull costume. The women were dressed as goats and sheep, their horns sweeping back and around, where the man’s curved up as on a Viking’s helmet.
Cindy shook herself. Some pagan festival, she should leave them alone, give them some privacy. She turned and blinked in surprise at the deer. Not a costumed person, but a beautiful little doe. It seemed so tame, she reached out to pet it.
Her hand seemed to jerk her forward. She twisted around, arms reaching down the doe’s front legs, and thick slimy feeling as she slid into the deer’s body. Muscles screamed in pain as if stretching for the first time in months, years. A deep ache below that, from her bones. She jerked back, trying to get away. Reared and tottered, looking at her arms, at where they terminated in odd little multiple hooves.
Excellent, another woman. I had feared I would not be able to join in tonight. Welcome sister! Let us dance!
The voice in her head took over the strange deer-like body and they danced out of her shoes, and pants, struggled a bit with the t-shirt and sports bra. Then they danced into the firelight. Cindy’s mind caught at strange ideas. Two humans merged with a single deer and the human thoughts and motivations prevailed. Three universes merging, more to come, more dances. More knowledge shared, and even physical abilities, even after they split away again.
She jerked back to awareness of the physical world when the voice brushed her body up against the minotaur, the King of the Dance, two men and one bull. She tried to take control, but the other woman was experienced used to being in control. She teased the bull, and danced back and away and around, teasing and promising and . . .
The fire went out, Cindy staggered back and sat. Stiff grass stems stabbed her bare buttocks, and she leapt to her feet. Bare feet. Not as tender as her butt, but still over sensitive.
“Oww, oww, oww, damn, what the . . . “
“Rod? Is that you?” Where are my clothes? Cindy looked up, through a thin haze she could see the stars, that way was east, toward the house, her clothes ought to be somewhere that direction. She minced blindly that direction.
“Yeah, it’s me. Somebody drugged me, I just had the weirdest hallucinations. I was . . . “
“No!” She stopped him sharply. “That was no hallucination and we are not going to talk until we write out reports.”
“Oh. Not influence each other? Smart. Umm, look, if you have a flashlight, don’t shine it this way, I, uh, seem to have lost my clothes.”
Cindy’s toes hit something soft. She grabbed, felt like a T-shirt. She puled it on, swept her foot around and found her jeans, undies still inside. Her shoes were a couple of steps further on, then she kicked the flashlight. She flicked it on, pointed resolutely at the ground. She spotted socks, and bra.
Keeping the light pointed down, she spotted Rod’s clothing, and looked the other way, while he limped and cursed his way across to put them on.
In the house, Cindy checked that all the computers were running, recording.
“The gravity meters all pegged.”
“The data’s recorded, we’ll just have to change the scale on the displays.” Cindy grabbed her laptop and started typing.
“Ooolala! That’s some method of keeping an eye on the instruments you two have!” Jason padded in to lean over the monitors and frowned.
“Huh, little you know.”
“Well, your socks and bra are on the floor, and your t-shirt is inside out. It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to know you’ll both get fired if Doc Leone catches you fooling around when you ought to be working.”
“I spotted an odd light, down toward the instruments, and went and took a look.” Cindy could feel her cheeks warming.
“Someone was fooling with the instruments? Damn it hell, all we’d need is some idiot scavenging for scrap metal . . .”
“No. It was much weirder than that.” Cindy looked around. Rod-the-amazing-single-tasker was still typing. “I doubt you’ll believe it. I’m not even sure I want to admit to it.” Three universes merging, more to come, more dancing.
She cleared her throat. “Dr. Wilkinson, you’re an expert on the multiple universe theory. We hear about splitting, but, what if universes collide? Merge? Would we get gravity swirls? Are parallel worlds, weakly interacting through gravity, that ‘Dark Matter’ we can’t detect?”
The man sat back and eyed her. She hadn’t used title and last name at him for a long time. He was a post doc researcher, living on grants and hoping for a faculty position. She’d always thought it a thin ambition for a man with his brains. Not that it’s any of my business.
He picked up a pencil and drew hash marks on a pad, then turned to the computers. “Lets change the display parameters, and see the data before we start theorizing.”
He doubled the vertical scale and ran through the night’s recordings. He was expanding the scale again when he sent her off to wake the professor.
Great, my students romping around on drugs while the physical phenomenon of the century, of the millennia . . . his thoughts broke off as Mary hustled in the door.
“There’s been an earthquake in Southern California, lots of damage. Are any of you from there? Oh, good, because it sounds really, really bad.”
Simon winced. “It had to happen some time, but the building codes should keep the death toll down.”
Jason snorted. “And all the Californians are appalled by our hurricane tracking charts. He scooted over to a monitor and switched to a news feed. “It must be just about dawn there, now.” They all fell silent at the pictures.
A news man was trying to speak calmly, but the horror leaked into his voice, as he lifted it over the sounds of the helicopter. “That’s the ??? building and it fell along and across ???boulevard. There’s not much smoke, I think they’ve got all the city fires out. . .”
“Crap, and all I have to worry about is dancing around in hooves.” Cindy shivered and stepped back to her laptop. “I’m going to try for a frequency analysis. If there were two spirals, moving in and out of phase with each other, maybe that would explain this spike.”
“. . . pattern is consistent with three overlapping spirals, both winding down, but this one has a period, right now of just over fifty-eight hours, the second one is at sixty-six. So I predict a crest at eleven hundred, and a second crest at nineteen hundred tonight. Then it’ll start again. Probably Thursday at about eight hundred and sixteen hundred. I’ll refine those depending on if the rate of change has changed.”
Simon sat back and eyed Cindy. “That’s an excellent analysis. And you can be sure that we’ll all be lined up and hoping to see your dancing animals.”
Michael sniffed. “If the children weren’t taking something, it has to be a hallucinatory effect of the gravity anomaly.”
Rod had been working his calculator. “What with the slower spiral slowing faster than the slow spiral, they should be back in sync in about three weeks.”
Jason, Jason Wilkinson, smart lad, post doc researcher, had had an idea, several years ago. It had involved parallel universes, weakly interacting in the gravity dimension. Nothing had ever come of it, as, at that time, gravity studies had been painfully expensive and very long term. If he could collect enough data, set up a serious test of his hypothesis . . . Jason was obviously thinking the same thing. He had been deep in numbers since that sudden spike two days ago, when the faster spiral had caught up to the slower.
Simon caught his eye and nodded.
Jason grinned. “All right then, we’ve got an hour to get the four new gravity meters in place. and working.”
They scrambled, running the wires, careful to not cross the traces of the other wires, buried a few inches underground to prevent damage or disarrangement. Jason slaved his computer to the network to deal with the additional work, and Rob and Cindy tried to figure out where they’d been when the hallucinations struck. There was a slight break in the barely sloping field, a spot that could be imagined to be flatter than the rest.
“Right there is where they had the bonfire.” Cindy shrugged. “Yeah. I know, no ashes.”
The spot was off center of their other eight sensors, but Simon decided to stay in a circle around the spot. After a lot of backchat with Jason, they had them all calibrated and Cindy’s predicted time was getting close.
“Damn it all, stray cows. They’ll mess up the wires.” Ray walked toward the three big creatures. When flapping arms didn’t spook them, he tried throwing dirt clods, waving his hat . . . one of the beasts lowered his head and charged. Not cows. Bulls.
“ Stay away from them, Ray, that’s how it started with me.” Rod’s attention was focused on the big animals. They looked rough and wild, reddish with a faint darker striping, horns in gleaning deadly arcs. The big bull closest, pawed the ground and snorted aggressively. Then they all threw up their heads and looked north, turned and ran, in the lumbering inexorable pace that admitted to no barriers. Ray scrambled to safety, and they all looked north.
Wolves, a pack of them, ears perked and tongues lolling as they trailed the cattle. Their eyes tracked Ray as he backed into their group. They swung away from the track of the cattle to circle the humans. The professor watched the lead wolf, a huge beast that must weigh in at a couple of hundred pounds. He picked up a stick, detritus of the rough mowing, and pitifully inadequate.
The other did likewise, but as Cindy stooped, a smaller wolf rushed in, leaped, jaws reaching for the girl’s neck. Cindy screamed and the wolf yelped. A strange twisting mass that was neither girl nor wolf rolled on the ground. The pack closed in. Simon stabbed at the wolf’s open mouth with his stick, was knocked flat, a horrible sucking pull and agony of muscles and bones.
The wolf recognized what was happening, howled in triumph. The madness comes! Take a man and think!
Two crashing blasts. The wolf fought free of the crowd, a late arriving man with a weapon. Stalker took him down from behind, merging. The two wolves left out whined.
There will be more. This is just the first.
Then Simon pitched forward on his nose, yelling in pain as wolf-mind and wolf form were ripped from him.
Just uphill, Jason scrambled to his feet and snatched the shotgun off the ground. Everyone else tumbled over, struggled to their feet . . . most of them were still more or less dressed.
His feet were killing him. Of course. A wolf runs on his toes, his foot bones bound together to form the lower leg, and the hock joint, the “backwards knee” was really the ankle joint. It hadn’t worked well in his field boots. His hands ached, and he suspected they were going to bruise like Cindy’s had.
She stood up, and slipped her feet back into her unlaced tennies, and looked around. “Anyone want to make any smart ass comments now?”