The Cosmic Torus.

28 Jun

Eager for business and employment on the economically stagnant planet of Chalaza, Nuen Gerce grew excited when an audiophone call from a stranger requested a conference about the chartering of his space carrier.

For four generations, the Gerce family had owned and operated fractal vessels. An entire fleet of ships had once made up its rich estate. But over many years of trade depression, the wealth had dwindled away until only a single old freight schooner named the Goelette remained.

Nuen, a young bachelor, captained and piloted the last of the spacers in his inherited estate.

He realized the bitter truth of his failure in interplanetary commerce.

Several hours of impatient waiting fell to Nuen before the possible customer presented himself at the last of the Gerce family schooners.

Tall, thin, and extremely pale-skinned, Nuen led the rotund little visitor into a conference chamber. When the two of them were settled across a calcium desk from each other, the stranger introduced himself.

“My name is Cae Datug, and I am interested in leasing your spacer for a pleasure tour to the Pelaec Nebula. Specifically, to one of the planetoids with vacation resorts.”

Nuen studied the round face of the other with sharp, intent purple eyes.

“You do not have a specific destination yet, I take it?”

“That is correct,” replied Datug with a nod. “Such a decision will be made at the other end of my space voyage.”

“So, the purpose of the passengers will be enjoyment and recreation. Can you tell me how many persons will make up the group as I can make the preparations for food and bedding?”

Cae suddenly made a frown. “That will not at all be necessary, because the travelers will bring their own provisions along with them.”

“Very well,” returned Nuen, blinking with surprise. “When does the group plan to depart? At present, nothing is booked for my Goelette in advance. I cannot guarantee that situation will continue in the future, though.”

The other gave a date only weeks ahead. He then rose and shook hands with the owner-pilot before making a speedy departure.

Three men and three women sat at a long table in the basement of a Chalaza City tenement building. They came to life when their leader, Cae Datug, entered and took the central chair. He addressed the group with news important to them.

“I believe that I have found a schooner adequate to our needs. It will be up to you now to prepare our people for the journey of escape. This must begin at once and be quickly accomplished. The opportunity may not return for us in the future. Any questions?”

Several co-conspirators voiced worries and doubts about so immediate a departure from the planet of Chalaza.

Skillfully, Cae succeeded in alleviating their fears. His argument ended with an emotional appeal for rescue from their present situation.

“We cannot continue to live with the danger of arrest and punishment. The government’s inquisition and repression grows worse by the day. Only a voyage to faraway space can save our fellow believers.”

A question came from a small, sulky male at the left end of the table.

“Can the owner of the vessel be trusted not to betray us?” he said in a hollowed voice. “The authorities would pay generously for information about any scheme like this to leave Chalaza.”

Cae focused his whitish eyes on the ratlike face of the questioner.

“I intended to be careful and watch Nuen Gerce at all times. We must all do that, without alarming our transporter in any way. But as far as I can see, the man is one we can believe in and trust. Does that alleviate your concern, Coquin?”

The latter fell silent, asking the leader nothing more.

Cae adjourned the meeting shortly after this exchange.

Coquin Stue, no longer in drab worker’s clothes, but wearing a business suit, entered a busy office building in downtown Chalaza City and took the levator to the top fifteenth floor. Here the short figure in formal sericum silk went into a suite of rooms with no identifying signs to them. A receiving secretary recognized him and gave a nod for him to advance into an unmarked office. Behind the cajeput desk sat a man with an enormous head who pointed to a chair here the visitor was to sit.

“Do you have something important to report?” grumbled Tuao Fave, a high officer of the heretic-hunting Inquest, the government’s weapon against the unorthodox.

Why had this informer-infiltrator come to him in broad daylight? Did he bring something of value to the invisible, clandestine investigative-punitive service?

“I attended a special meeting where Cae Datug announced that he had made arrangements for the escape of the foremost Torans from the planet. The owner of a schooner contracted to take them to an unspecified destination across the rid of our galaxy. The departure is scheduled for two weeks from today.

“My higher judgment told me that I must bring this to you at once.”

“Yes,” said Fave, “that was quite wise on your part. Immediate action, without delay of any sort, is now called for. I will at once report this news up the ladder, to the superior ranks of the Inquest.” His face reddened.

“What am I to do, sir?” inquired Coquin.

“Act as if you are preparing for this voyage,” commanded the undercover inquisitor. “This situation promises us an opportunity to squash the Torus heresy once and for all.”

The informer, realizing it was time to go, rose to his feet and walked out.

His mind ablaze with curiosity, Nuen Gerce was hesitant to ask direct questions about the passengers he was to take into his ship. Yet at each meeting with Cae Datug to arrange the many details, he learned a bit more about the people involved and their ultimate purpose. Slowly and gradually, his guesses were confirmed. He was about to transport fugitives of cosmological conscience, hose whose beliefs and thinking were out of step with strict Ovular doctrine.

Nuen himself had never evinced any great personal interest in the prevailing system that characterized the universe as modeled on the egg. He took as traditional wisdom the tenet that this galaxy, the Agnesi arm, was the true nucellus, the central vitellus from which all else developed. Some location had to be the core of creation. Every egg has a yolk. It was easy to accept the ordinary claim of the trainer that the galaxy holding Chalaza was the originating one.

One day before the scheduled departure, Cae himself revealed what had become obvious to the proprietor. This occurred on the navigational bridge of the schooner as the pilot-owner pointed out and explained the main transportational mechanisms of the giant vessel.

“I do not intend to keep what I have surmised on my own a secret from those in my care, who depend on how well I can steer and control my ship.”

The two men stood facing each other an uneasy silence, till Cae began to speak in a softened tone.

“There is much that should have been revealed to you, Nuen, about the character of those your vessel will be carrying. All of us are members of an unpopular, disrespected sect. Each of us has suffered discrimination and insult. Worse threatens us, due to the campaign of the Inquest against us as a group and as individuals.

“All of us, the Torans, are marked for suffering and eventual extinction.

“We are a group whose cosmology is not based on the model of an egg. No, for us the universe is completely different. We believe it has the shape of the torus.”

“The torus?” asked Nuen in confused uncertainty.

Cae suddenly grinned. “Dare we contend that the cosmos is a doughnut, a tire in its spatial pattern? A torus results from the revolution of a conic section about an axis in the same plane.

“Wherever one’s location, travel will eventually bring you back to the same place on the torus. There is no single center in this model of the universe, as the Ovulists claim for their picture of creation.

“Our cosmology contradicts all the principles of the dominant, ruling system here on Chalaza. That is why our members have decided that they must emigrate elsewhere, legally or illegally. The Inquest will not leave us at peace to believe and teach our own doctrines. And there is nothing as important to an elevated, enlightened life as possessing the correct, true cosmology.” He stared with questioning white eyes at Gerce. “Do you plan upon revealing what we are up to?” the Toran asked in desperation.

“Of course not,” shot back Nuen with evident feeling. “What do you think I am? My conscience will never permit me to cooperate with persecutors. Live and let live, that is my guiding philosophy. No one should ever suffer over matters of cosmology.

“In fact, I am open to learning the ideas of any and all sects. Can you give me some simple, introductory explanation of your Toran conceptual system? I would deeply enjoy exploring what I can learn about your picture of the cosmos we are in.”

“Yes,” said Cae with a warm smile. “I can provide that to you at once, today.”

Coquin Stue returned to the office of Tuao Fave for final instructions from the high functionary of the Inquest. The latter revealed his plan to destroy the Torans as soon as the agent sat down across from him and listened.

“We have consulted together and thought hard on how to deal with Cae Datug and his dangerous sect of heretics. There are too many of them to find and arrest. The processing would be difficult and laborious. Another method of dealing with them is needed.

“They dream of escaping from Chalaza, but there is no guarantee that they or their descendants will not some day attempt to return here.

“We mulled over many alternatives, but finally I came up with a plan that will rid us of all the leading, important Torans on this planet.

“The schooner they take to escape will be destroyed as it crosses exospace.”

The two men looked at each other. Coquin waited to hear the details of the scheme that was to be applied.

“You are the one assigned the task of placing a fold-interrupter on the outer shell of the propulsion system, between the hyperfractal suspensor and the microfolding plicator. I have ready for you a diagram of the area where the breaking instrument is to be put. It is small and can be carried aboard as part of your permitted luggage.

Of course, there will be opportunity for you to leave the vessel before it takes off. The interrupter is timed to go into operation only after forty minutes of initial flight movement.”

“Will it work?” asked the confused and reluctant Coquin.

“I am certain that it will,” said Fave with an evil smile. “And you will be forever a hero in the memory of the Inquest.”

“Your cosmology makes a lot of sense to me,” said Nuen Gerce, standing next to Cae on the bridge of the Goelette. “I have never speculated on my own about the nature of our universe, not until now. But comparing the Ovular and Turan perspectives and interpretations, I confess that my preference is for your system of thought. So, you can term me your newest convert.”

Cae beamed with inner joy. “That is good to hear, my friend. But there is a lot for you yet to read and study about how we see the cosmos.”

“I shall have time to do so on this voyage we are about to embark on.” The pilot-owner glanced at his finger horologe. “It will soon be time to start up the engine mechanisms. Why not come along with me and watch how it is done?”

“How long will it take to reach the launching stage?” inquired Cae.

“Most ships take a half-hour to one hour, but this one possesses very advanced resonancers and microfolders. Our preparation only lasts about ten minutes.”

The pair left the bridge, taking the stairwell leading to the rear of the vessel.

Coquin carried the bag containing the small interrupter along the narrow walkway, hunting for an appropriate location for the device that would direct the folding of space-time.

With thoughtful care he placed his load on the floor of the platform encircling the propulsive fold-engine, opened the zipper, and took hold of the interrupter by its long edges. From both ends these protruded sharp, needlelike sensors made of exotic alloys.

The Inquest agent was lifting the apparatus to a waist-high position when the unexpected occurred.

Two men rounded the corner of the walkway and entered into his sight.

Coquin recognized Cae Datug as the pair halted.

“What are you doing there?” demanded the Toran leader. As if with a flash of enlightenment, the mind of the latter was able to put all the parts together.

He hurled himself with all his might at the member of his sect who held a device of destruction in his two hands.

The startled Coquin acted by reflex, pushing forward the interrupter, so far as to pierce his assailant in the chest.

A ringing yell arose from the throat of the wounded one.

As Cae fell to the floor, Nuen rushed up and struck Coquin in the mouth, then the side of the head. Each blow was powerful enough to take away wind from the target, leaving him defenseless.

The device fell from the hands of the saboteur as he dropped to the floor.

One body was taken to the imprisonment brig, the other to the ship’s dispensary.

Nuen stayed next to the bed of Cae until he came to consciousness. The seriously injured one looking into the eyes of the man in charge of the schooner whispered a question with perfect clarity and sobriety.

“Are we moving through the folds of space?”

“Yes,” answered Nuen. “There was no damage done to our propulsion system.”

“And the traitor who would have destroyed us?”

“He is now held in a secure cell from which there is no possible escape.”

Cae fell silent a few seconds, then spoke in an extremely solemn tone.

“I do not believe that I will survive what he did to me. Promise to take my body to whatever new home the Torans decide to reside in. And I ask you to look out for their safety and welfare, my friend.”

“Do not worry, I am now one of you. Enlightenment has come to my mind.”

The dying one stretched out his arm from the bed.

Nuen took and held it till Cae expired within a few minutes.

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