The Sock Drawer Anomaly
Dec's room has gotten so messy it's broken the universe!
“Declan Maxwell Jones!”
Dec looked up in alarm.
“I’m coming to inspect that room of yours, right now,” his mother’s voice continued from downstairs, “and if it’s not completely spotless, then I’m going to sell a non-essential bit of you for medical experiments.”
Dec swallowed, dropped his book, and looked around in despair. What he saw wasn’t good. In fact it was so far from good that even bad might be generous. A room in a house that had been in an earthquake and then a landslide and which had then been looted and then stampeded through by a herd of rabid wildebeests might be messier. A bit. But it would be close.
Where had the time gone? His mother had given him an hour to tidy his room and he’d intended to spend the time cleaning, he really had. It was just that the first thing he’d picked up had been his old battered copy of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, which he was re-reading for about the zillionth time, and that little part of his brain which for some reason he hadn’t learned to ignore yet, had whispered seductively to him, “Go on – a couple of pages won’t hurt. You’ve got plenty of time.”
And he’d had plenty of time, only that had been about fifty-nine and a half minutes ago, and now he didn’t. He now had something like ten seconds – ten seconds into which he had to cram an hour’s worth of cleaning. He leapt off his bed and began shoveling piles of dirty laundry under it.
“And if I find anything stuffed under your bed, I’ll make it an essential bit,” called his mother, displaying one of those astonishing but seriously annoying flashes of mind-reading she seemed to be capable of at the most inappropriate times.
Dec started reefing clothes back out again, wondered briefly why he seemed to have more than he’d started with, and then remembered with a sinking feeling that last week’s laundry was still under there as well. His shoulders slumped in defeat. With his under-the-bed fallback off limits and about five seconds left, things were looking pretty grim.
His mother knocked. “OK Dec, open up. Let’s see what that floor of yours looks like. It’s been so long, I’ve forgotten.”
“Coming, Mum,” he replied, getting dejectedly to his feet. He took a step towards the door, but as his mother hadn’t been kidding about his floor going missing, he inadvertently stepped onto his skateboard, or at least onto his biology textbook, which was sitting on top of his skateboard, which had also gone M.I.A., just shortly after the floor had.
The skateboard went sailing across the room and cannoned into Dec’s waste-paper basket, a basket into which he had, via a combination of determination, spatial orientation, brute force and extreme laziness, managed to cram approximately six times its intended capacity of rubbish. In sudden clear proof that Newton’s third law of thermodynamics can sometimes be delayed, but never broken, a fountain of paper, chocolate wrappers and other bits of junk cascaded out of the basket with an equal but opposite force to that which Dec had crammed them in with.
Dec, meanwhile, went flying back in the opposite direction to the skateboard. He crashed into his desk, sending books, magazines and other assorted paraphernalia flying. He bounced off the desk, struggling to regain his balance as a pair of jeans, two shirts and a dog leash wrapped around his legs, and clutched desperately at his bookcase. Big mistake. The bookcase was big and solid and looked immovable, but was so overstuffed with books that it was dangerously top-heavy.
It swayed ominously and then slowly, ponderously, began to fall. Desperately, Dec tried to lunge out of the way, but the knee-high tide of junk lapping around his legs tripped him. He tumbled to the floor and could only look up in horror as the bookcase’s massive bulk accelerated towards him. He closed his eyes and braced for the impact.
For a second nothing happened. Then for another second, nothing kept on happening. Several more nothing-filled seconds crept by. The small part of Dec’s brain which wasn’t consumed with terror began to wonder what was going on. He wondered if he should open his eyes. On the one hand nothing was happening while they were closed, and compared to the something that had been about to happen, nothing seemed like a good option. On the other hand, vision was quite a useful attribute and he was probably going to have to open his eyes again sometime.
“You alright, kid?”
Who’d said that? Slowly, cautiously, he opened one eye. No pain, no being squished. He opened the other. Still no squishing. For some reason his bookshelf seemed to have stopped just short of turning him into a Dec pancake and was now hanging suspended just above him. Weird. And some strange voice was asking if he was alright. Weirder.
A face appeared in the gap between the bookcase and the floor to his left, the face of a young man with blonde hair. He held out his hand. “Need some help?”
For want of any better options, Dec took the proffered hand and extricated himself from under the almost horizontal bookcase. He started to say something, but the stranger was concentrating on some sort of device strapped to his wrist, and held up his other hand to stop him. He was tall and slim, and dressed in dark grey overalls with the letters ‘DCP’ embroidered on the sleeves and breast pocket.
“Um,” said Dec. The situation was so surreal he wasn’t quite sure how to approach it. Who was this guy and what was he doing in his room? Apart from somehow saving him from deadly falling bookcases?
“Er, look, sorry to interrupt, but who are –”
Without warning the stranger leapt at him and sent him crashing to the floor. The top drawer of Dec’s bedside table flew open and something small and pale came bursting out. It streaked across the room, right through the spot where Dec had been standing moments before, smacked into the wall, bounced off and came hurtling back again. The blonde stranger leapt to his feet, pulled something that looked like a half-sized baseball bat out of a holster hanging from his belt, and smashed the flying object back across the room and into the cupboard, which as usual, Dec had left open. The stranger lunged over to the door, slammed it shut and then wedged Dec’s desk chair against it. The door began to rattle and shake, but the chair held firm. The stranger turned to Dec, who was sitting speechless amongst the junk on the floor.
“Sorry about that, kid. Now, what were you saying?” He put his bat back in its holster and sat down on a pile of dirty laundry.
“Oh yeah, that’s right, you were asking who I am. Link’s the name, Link Delphson. I’m an equilibrian from the Department of Continuum Preservation.”
“Um,” said Dec. “I’m Dec.” Deciding that sounded a bit lame, he added, “I’m a kid.” Sadly, once he’d said it, he realised that sounded even lamer. “What’s an equilibrian?”
“You don’t know? Yowsers, I must have come back a long way.” He consulted the device on his wrist again. “OK right, 21st century, that explains it. Dec, an equilibrian is someone whose job is to maintain the integrity of the space-time continuum.”
Dec processed that. “The space-time continuum,” he said.
“You maintain it?”
Dec processed some more. “Um, maybe I should let my mother in. The integrity of the space-time continuum sounds a bit like a grown-up’s thing to me.”
Link shook his head. “Dec, no-one can come in here until we sort out the breach.”
“The breach?” queried Dec, not liking the sound of that very much.
“That’s why I’m here,” replied Link. “You’ve got a level two breach in your drawer over there, and the Department has sent me to sort it out.”
“A breach? In my sock drawer?” Dec shook his head. “Look, I’m sorry, but I’ve got no idea what you’re talking about, and I was kind of already in big trouble even before you arrived, and I really should let Mum in, ’cause she must be wondering what’s going on, and thanks for helping me with the bookcase and all that, even though I’m not quite sure how you did, but um, thanks anyway and I really have to be going now.” He started edging towards the door.
Link sighed. “Look Dec, I’m sorry, but you can’t leave, and your mum can’t come in. Not yet, anyway. This room is sealed, and will be until the breach is secure. I’ve thrown a field of slow-time over the area so as far as your mum is concerned, virtually no time has passed since I arrived anyway, and the same goes for everyone and everything else in the area. Apart from us, that is. How do you think you got out from under that bookcase? It hasn’t stopped falling, it’s just doing it about a million times more slowly now than it was before I activated the field. I normally wouldn’t exempt any locals when I’m cleaning up a breach, because the less witnesses the better, but in your case it was either that or seeing you end up as a stain on the carpet.”
“Slow-time,” said Dec, nodding and edging faster towards the door. “OK, now I understand perfectly.” Clearly Link had some reality issues to work through, and Dec decided he’d prefer to leave him to it.
Link smiled. “You think I’m nuts, don’t you? OK, how do you explain that?” he asked, pointing. Dec looked where he’d indicated. It took him a moment to comprehend what he was seeing, but when he did, his jaw dropped, his eyes bulged and his stomach did somersaults. His brain was so busy directing these various acrobatics that it forgot about his legs, which folded under him and deposited him gently back on the floor.
What he was looking at was his wastepaper basket. His skateboard had sent it flying, he remembered that. The thing was, it didn’t seem to have stopped yet. Flying, that is. It hung suspended in mid-air, with an airborne spray of rubbish still spread around it. “How are you doing that?”
“I told you,” said Link. “Slow-time. It’s not floating, it’s just falling very, very slowly. Time has slowed down for everything in this area, everything except you and me. Understand?”
Link sighed again. “Look, it’s really very simple.” He frowned. “Actually it’s really horribly complex, but I’ll give you the super-simple summarised version. OK?”
Dec nodded. What else could he do?
“Dec, I’m from the future, a long way into the future. And in the future the human race has done some stuff which caused weaknesses to develop in the space-time continuum of our universe. Now, when one of those weaknesses coincides with a highly chaotic area, a breach can develop. A doorway, if you like.”
“A doorway to where?” asked Dec.
“Anywhere,” replied Link. “Another place, another time, another universe, anywhere. Breaches are incredibly dangerous and need to be resealed ASAP. That’s where the Department of Continuum Preservation comes in. We monitor the continuum, and whenever a breach is detected an equilibrian like me is sent in to reseal it and clean up the mess. And we have some handy high-tech future stuff like slow-time fields to help us.”
“Um, you said that these breaches form in chaotic areas.” Dec looked around. “So, you mean…”
Link grinned and nodded.
Dec swallowed. “My room got so messy, it broke the universe?”
“OK, so how do we fix it?”
“Already being done,” replied Link, looking at the device on his wrist. “The DCP is channeling a bi-directional gravitational barrier through my QDA here, which will seal it up.”
“QDA?” asked Dec.
“Quantum digital assistant,” said Link, and then seeing the look on Dec’s face, “Don’t ask. Anyway, the breach is being held just fractionally open until we send our visitor in the cupboard over there back through, and then it can be shut.”
Dec had completely forgotten about the mysterious flying object, which was still rattling the cupboard door furiously.
“What is it, anyway?”
“Hard to be sure, but I think it’s a fairy.”
“A fairy?” exclaimed Dec.
“Yeah, but not the kind you’re thinking of. Fairies are genetic mutations gone wrong, from the distant future. They’ve somehow gotten loose in the continuum of whenever and wherever they’re from and pop into our universe occasionally. They’re small, fast, mean and very tough. In any case, it doesn’t belong here. It needs to be sent back where it came from.”
“Well, being extra-dimensional, it’s not affected by the slow-time field, so we’re going to do it old-school,” Link replied, pulling his club out of its holster. He moved over to the cupboard. “OK, watch yourself,” he warned, pulling the chair out of the way and reefing open the door.
The fairy streaked out and Link swung, but it swerved and he only caught it a glancing blow. It spun crazily towards Dec and landed with a crash beside him. Dec looked down at it in wonder. The tiny figure was about ten centimetres long and dressed in a pale, loose fitting outfit. On its back was a pair of gossamer wings, which twitched as the fairy shook its head and got unsteadily back to its feet.
“It is a fairy,” breathed Dec. The next thing he knew he was pinned against the wall, with a tiny bearded face just millimetres from his own.
“Who you callin’ a fairy?” the creature growled, drawing back one of its fists.
“Err, sorry,” Dec stammered, astonished by its strength.
“You will be,” the fairy replied in its remarkably deep voice. “For future reference, we prefer ‘genetically modified, winged humanoids of short stature,’ OK?” It grinned evilly. “Not that you have much of a future.”
The tiny fist swung towards him, and Dec braced for the impact but before he could find out what it was like to get beaten up by a fairy, Link smacked it with his club again. The blow sent it in a spiraling arc across the room and into the open drawer it had originally burst from. Link slammed it shut, and after a few seconds of frenzied rattling, there was silence.
He glanced at his QDA. “OK, all sealed.” He walked over to Dec, who had collapsed in a heap on the floor and helped him to his feet.
“Dec, I’ve got to go, so I’ll make this quick. Don’t tell anybody about all this, nobody would believe you, and even if they did it would just cause trouble, trust me. I really shouldn’t do this, but I’ll leave the slow-time field on for another hour, so you can clean up before your mum comes in.” He pressed some buttons on his QDA. “Oh, and one more thing. The breach has been sealed but the weakness in the continuum is still there – if things get chaotic enough it could open again.” He grinned. “So keep your room tidy, OK?”
There was a flash of blue light, and he was gone. Dec blinked and stood motionless for a few seconds. Then he started tidying, like he’d never tidied before.
Header illustration created by Jade Maitre, using resources created by OpenClipart-Vectors, Pencilparker, Freeillustrated and Yuri_B at Pixabay
1. Why do you think Dec’s Mum often asks him to clean his room? (Hint: it’s not because he’ll break the universe!)
2. This story shows how the things we do can sometimes affect others. How else do you think Dec’s messy room might affect people other than Dec?