Fiction by Bruce Damer
A Short Story: Randy and the Space Ball
Randy had a theory about baseball. Well, it was more about the base than the ball, but it was a theory that he was determined to test.
It happened almost by accident that he found himself in uniform and sweltering in the dugout at the Stellars home stadium during the season opener when
Charlie P “ Peak ” was hit square in the you-know-where. It didn’t help that it came straight from the National League’s fastest pitcher and the Peak went down tripled over on the mound and had to be carried off. At least Randy thought of it as tripled over as the Peak seemed to fold into himself and come out the other side with the pain.
The Stellars were now down two batters and now had to dip into the pool of back-ups, who Randy was told compared to pro ball veterans like “pond scum to God” (in the language of the trade). Randy wished he was floating inaccessible on some pond somewhere when Coach started toward the dugout. Randy came this close before and had never been picked but still his heart went into hyperdrive. Randy breathed a sigh of relief when he remembered that Cy Oreglio, the regular replacement hitter, was sitting right next to him. Of course Coach would take Cy.
Relaxing again, Randy thought back to the strange story of how he got here. Bouncing back and forth between pursuing studies in astrophysics and a career in pro ball, Randy finally careened out of
Rutgers in his second year in proto-cosmology and to the practice greens of the pro ball Stellars. Randy had been a star in his mid teens but caught the science bug the day he read about the launch of the Gravity B probe, which later found that yes indeed, the Earth’s rotation actually created “stretch marks” in the fabric of space. He was admitted to Rutgers on probably the only joint baseball/astrophysics scholarship ever awarded.
Pop! Randy blinked out of his reverie and felt the iron crip of Coach’s hand on his shoulder. Looking left he noted the empty space normally occupied by Cy and looked up straight into Coach’s drooping jowels. “Food poisoning, damned Oreglio packed his own damned lunch meat and it sits around in this heat, goddammit, April in New England is starting to feel like goddammed Africa!”, Coach Said, “so Mister computer-who-wears-tennis-shoes, don’t hit the ball into some goddammed black hole!”.
It was me this time, I was up and there was no way out. So much training and now so little time. And before I knew it there was the plate below me, the pitcher out ahead of me and my bony skeleton in some unnatural position. Luckily the bat was very light, one of those pro kind that after a hefty contact with the ball you can hear the ring of sound waves traveling back and forth in its hollow interior. In fact, these sound waves are a big part of my theory. It turns out that the early universe, right after the big bang, was pulsating with sound. The very structure of our universe today is shaped by this original sound. Orbiting observatories see pockets and filaments of galaxies and other stuff vibrated into place by the “big boom box” that followed the big bang.
A researcher I happened across on one of my rare biology courses has found that all living embryos, in their first stages of growth (when they all look like Martian rover air bags) are also pulsating with sound waves. These waves seem to impart information and tell one cell to become a head while another becomes a heart.
Whoosh! A pucker of air on my face yanked me from yet another reverie as I realized I had almost been beaned by the first ball. The pitcher questioned, the crowd roared, and Coach bellowed but I kept my composure. They didn’t call me the “Space Cadet Rookie” for nothing but this time they will see what I just might have up my sleeve.
My theory, which is mine, is that there is more than one way to get that ball to go where you want and its not all just about the batting. Now I just have to space out enough to open my mind (should not be a problem). Right there on the mound, I closed my eyes shut, hoping Coach or nobody noticed. Now, I could open my mind and start to pull it in.
You know our brains are pretty amazing creations. When I was a kid I read a book called “Mysteries of the Brain and Mind” and was dumbstruck to learn that my brain, or anyone’s for that matter, has more pathways through its net of neural connections than there are particles in the universe.
When I was fourteen a profound thought came to me: that if the brain has the universe beat in sheer numbers, maybe the brain is also a machine capable of containing the entire universe, or at least the information about the entire universe. I was getting into video games at the time so I thought of it in the following terms: maybe the universe evolved our brain so that it could render a visualization of itself (the universe that is). Of course the universe would also have to render a visualization of the brain as it is also in the universe and… well isn’t that what the extra dimensions are for?
When I was sixteen I skipped my high school prom (what a relief!) and took the bus to a lecture by Dr. John Wheeler, one of the great minds of physics of the past Century. I was dumb-strucked again hearing Dr. Wheeler’s theory that the universe may have in fact evolved observers to then provide definition and shape to the universe through their observations, in a kind of infinite loop of self reflection. So as we resolve the universe in our telescopes and in the minds of cosmologists, mystics, poets or anyone else who ponders these questions, the universe becomes more resolved and new structure emerges.
Now it is four years and thousands of thought experiments later and I am sensing the tell tale sign of my closed eyes sinking ever deeper into their sockets. On the way in I wonder “can I do it?” but easily sweep away that little trace of doubt. A veil pulls back and I sense a star field all around me. I am rendering. I sit in the bliss of it for only an instant before I notice something coming toward me within my inner space. It is bright white. It is fast. It bears a strange set of symbols just becoming legible. Could this be the God/universe talking to me? If so it has just uttered the word “Spalding”.
Next, a giant cylinder, tapered at the end closest to my little point of consciousness, pulled around ahead of me into the galactic night heading for the spinning moon. I braced my mind as the cylinder crashed amidships into the moon. Down the central axis of the cylinder I could sense a ringing as supersized waveforms washed back and forth building up great cresting pulses like a surfer’s wet dream. As I strained to get closer to these waves my consciousness reformed as a fuzzy spark dancing down the face of one of their curved faces. The universe was now below and ahead of me, pressed into the two dimensional slope like sea creatures in Lucite. My mind anticipated a great ride and… whoosh! I was headed down the shimmering slope pushing faster, faster when, spinning out from the wave on my right in a whorl of starry pellets, shot the Spalding moon.
My mind created a cup about that moon, giving it a nudge driven by a powerful feeling, a feeling called hope. “May you make it all the way to the corners of the universe” I wished for it. The moon was gone. A little voice then crept into my mind “where am I” it asked, and I then looked up in time to see the tube wall of the wave crash inwards. I was ejected.
A great sound filled my consciousness, well, actually my ears (wait, I have ears? Floppy ones at that!). I recalled that I had eyes too and opened one, then the other. The roaring of the crowd in the stands around me was only slightly less overwhelming than the repeated thumping on my back. “You hit a homer, right into the corner of the stands, so get going you space dummy!” Coach launched me, or at least my body running on automatic, on a jaunt around the field and a careening re-entry into the dugout. “Seriously space weenie, I think I’ll put you up again, this can’t be your only homer, what is the probability of that?”
Two games later and well into a good season for us (two for two) we were in the
Sun Devil State and Coach let me know I would be up in the third inning. His suspicious looks had mellowed to hopeful glances as our team had fallen behind. “Damned hot here too but at least these desert rats know how to air condition a stadium” Coach laughed as his finger found me and directed my lanky body toward the mound.
Whack! Way past the outfielders. Pop! Up, way up, high enough to give everyone time to trot around looking for where it might finally find the Earth. “You space warpie Randy” Coach actually used my name “that was no fluke!”. An inning later, a good healthy increment on the scoreboard and I found myself on the outfield. From way out here at the edge of the baseball galaxy the players look like action figures. I saw a good strong strike, thought “why not” and closed my eyes. The star field rendered in time to bring me a clear view of the white moon traveling as though in a slipstream, then changing to a tunneling action directly toward me. Then, a puckered brown meteor-sized spacecraft zoomed rapidly past me up to intercept the moon in a giant maw of an unknown force field. It reminded me of the “planet eater” machine in a distant TV episode of 1960s Star Trek, long before I was born.
Almost as soon as the moon capture was in hand the brown craft was loosening its tractor beam grip and like the deft action of a pro yo yo junkie, projected its catch back through space. The space that opened up to receive the moon was a vortex tube growing ever shorter to bring forward another brown planet eater for an almost instantaneous receipt.
“Boy, how’d you get that pitch to the third base so fast, nobody ever saw that goddammed ball in the air” questioned Coach leaning over me in the locker room. “Well, you are definitely up for the next season, we did so freakin’ well this time we may well end up in the World Series”.
That winter I almost forgot about my experiences on the mound and in “that other place”. It’s funny how life creeps back in and makes even the extraordinary ordinary again. My imagination was fired up again only when spring training started up.
I can tell you, I had really enjoyed the time off! I even squeezed in one full term of courses at
Rutgers and thought that I might be able to transfer to MIT after my ball career ended. On the news as our team boarded the flight to our opener in Miami was a report on this year’s expected heat wave which had already gripped the North East again. It seemed also that the open water at the North Polar Ocean was now a full time thing and blue rivers had been seen pouring off the Greenland ice cap. Miami seemed normal enough although I wondered how it would look with boats plying between those cool art deco buildings at the beachfront. I had made up my mind, this time, this season, I was going to try something different.
During game one I kept one eye half open to witness my bat send the ball clear out into the stands. Strangely enough the scene in my other closed eye showed a sprinkling of moving lights as the ball fell inward to a group of fans who leapt up for the prize. The next ball I also hit into the stands generated another shower of lights. Then I realized it. The fans were, for an instant, building a quick and dirty mental model of the universe, to generate an inner knowing about that ball coming toward them and what their chances were of making the catch. Those same fans were in fact connected by the ball into a group rendering of the universe, and we were all showing up “on the radar”. And now I knew that I was ready to start the experiment!
Game two found us in another stadium somewhere but with the same stands packed with unwitting experimentalists. By now when I took the bat it was to chants of “Ran-dee, Ran-dee, Spac-ee, Spac-ee”. Coach had spilled the beans on the nightly news “that kid is an astrophysicist or something…” and I was now forever branded. Well, I figured it wouldn’t get me in too much trouble when I got to MIT.
One eye fully open, looking outward and one fully closed, looking inward, I popped a fly ball clean and straight up out of the stadium (good thing we were not in an air conditioned state). The sportscasters in their booths also went silent after a bellowed “whoa...” My internal universe filled with a fountain of brilliant ice crystals, some of them growing beyond mere points to resemble spiky hands, perhaps the shape of minds reaching upwards? Even the consciousness of Coach, who I sensed back by the dugout, seemed to travel upward with the ball.
The whole park was now in silence and in that moment I sensed of ring of light pulsing outward in my inner universe. I suddenly understood that these were the minds of hundreds of millions of fans around the globe tracking that same little ball. The chopper cameraman caught the ball on video at the top of its parabola and the stadium screen showed it heading back toward the outfield. My inner universe camera showed a brilliant spike as two outfielders triangulated on the ball and started to move toward its eventual landing spot. Suddenly my double vision merged together and a hundred million minds lit up the catcher’s position like a spotlight, I was seeing both realities together. The two outfielders danced back and forth now more confused by the intensifying mix of those fans hoping for a catch versus those hoping for a miss. The impossible catch was. Coach bellowed “they missed it boy and it has bounced back up, why in bejesus has nobody run the bases, get moving!”
The pennant was now within reach but the bottom was about to fall out. We had powered our way up through the Eastern Division. We were in the heat of the semi finals and now it was all about Randee Spacee or Randee Bunt Me to Heaven. True to form I just kept popping them, a little higher each time until a newspaper sports commentator with a career to make wrote that “Randee must be on some sort of serious rocket fuel or perhaps, steroids!” He even claimed to quote a former professor of mine that my batting was “beyond the realm of physics, at least in this league”.
The hammer fell at the NBL and I was pulled from the pennant race to face a coordinated battery of drug testing and psychological profiling. The media wager stakes took a ratchet to the next notch as the whole baseball world seemed to take sides, betting my innocent and naďve nature against the presumed eventual corrupting influences of big business ball. Cameras clicked and popped (or rather, beeped in this less romantic digital age) as I was shepherded from one black car to a dark lab to another black car and anonymous hotel rooms. Charges were lobbed back and forth from Coach, owners, and their black-suited lawyers as our team floundered in the second game. The only words I dared utter during this time were “keep an open mind, everyone”.
After searching every blood corpuscle, smear and sample, interviewing everyone from me to my ex-Rutgers roommates and my fat black cat back in
Baltimore, they pronounced me clean and sprung me, in time for game III. For one green, dreamy kid, this was all pretty rattling and I had to ask Coach to sit me out the first inning. Well there I was, back on the mound, in the line of fire again. I have to tell you I couldn’t bring myself to close even one eyelid. “That ball will be traveling at close to 90 Mph, right? No way I am getting in between it and where it wants to go”. This was terrible, I was just so afraid I just wanted to crawl home and hide behind the couch. I was enveloped by whipped up, white hot, fandom and just couldn’t connect the dots any more “none of this ever happened, if it had been a dreamland before now its just a nightmare”. I swung out twice and the crowd went wild. “They think I am playing with them” I thought. Well this is the end, if I strike out now, my team will never recover, never get to the finals and I will thereafter always be known as Randy the Space Ball Strikeout and it will matter when and if I get to MIT.
That’s it, my mind was now made up. I am going to go the way of Charlie “the Peak” and sacrifice myself to the will of the ball. I closed my eyes and pointed a shaky thin little finger to my brow “put ‘er right here pitcher”. Leaning into the blow that would come I felt a familiar sensation suddenly come on. Like a flicked switch my eyes were tunneling in but this time I was holding on “no! I don’t want it, take me back!”. No matter, I was pulled headlong into a vortex. This place was different, no comforting showers of light, just total blackness. I was rendering nothingness with a single object (certain doom) and a single action (certain doom approaching certainly).
“Time to reboot”, I thought, opening my eyes to catch one more view of the stadium, the grass and life before my doom, but to my shock, there was no world out there, just the same black emptiness. Eyes open, eyes shut, no cheering (or jeering) crowds, no Coach, no plate, no bat. But there was still a ball. The ball was blacker than black but perceptibly moving toward me and one might also say, moving through the empty void that I had become.
“Have I really done this, have I really wiped the entire universe clean and replaced it with this singularity of despair? Have I killed them all, and everything else to boot?” I was moving from a state of panic to one where I angrily asked the universe, God or indeed anyone present “if there is nothing left, then why am I still here, just to suffer?”. Being who I am, just then I had a funny thought “well, at least you won’t need one last living being to turn out the lights”. This made me smile, despite me not being sure I still had a face or a body. Then, like the earliest light of a coming dawn, came slight increasing of the background brightness of everything.
Wheeler’s words of years before returned “the universe evolved observers to then provide definition and shape to the universe through their observations”. Well, I thought, I hope the theory of multiple universes is true because I had certainly trashed this copy. More light than ever began to wash in, coming in waves. What was that, the word that brought back the light more than any other, hope. Without hope there is no future and not much of a present. Perhaps Wheeler’s detached term “observation” wasn’t enough to birth and sustain a universe. It is hope, hope that drove the fans to make that fantastic fly ball catch in the stands, hope that pushed my pop ball ever skyward, and hope that brought me back from my own private abyss.
And there it was again, eyes open or shut, the Spalding moon, suspended just before my brow, hovering there with a slight rotation. I realized that as I had reached an understanding of the nature of the universe… that it is built on a framework of hope. To my delight, I had also been given a (probably temporary) mastery over its other dimensions, space and time. I could reach out and pull the fabric of space surrounding the ball, and it sounded like plastic wrapping while feeling like the goo toys little kids buy to dump on carpets. Space pulled back and I felt my body torque around the ball’s position in space. Rippling across everything was a slow rhythm of fan’s voices with an overtone of the Coach. I could reach out my finger and shape Coaches voice like candy taffy.
Then I had a thought, it’s the last inning, and this is the last pitch and I haven’t hit a ball the entire game. Well, I thought again, there are more ways to make a ball move than just with a bat. I realized that this ball before me is actually a moon of the Earth, only in a very temporary orbit. And like the Gravity B probe found, there should be little stretch marks before and after the ball where the two bodies’ gravitational fields interact. Those stretch marks can be magnified by almost any amount by taking from one field or the other. Like NASA’s celestial billiards using fly-bys of Venus to get spacecraft out to Jupiter and beyond, you can rob one planet of a little rotation and pick up speed for your onward trip. My ball was about to get the trip of its dreams.
Planting my feet solidly on home plate, feeling the solidity of the Earth below, I hoped beyond hope for a little gravity assist for my pop-fly. The Earth complied and I perceived a rubber band traveling through me to anchor on the trailing stretch mark of the Spalding moon. The band thickened and gathered up more space. I watched as the sky pealed back, the stadium and mountains and oceans puckered into a blip as more space piled up in front of the ball. The face of an entire galaxy pulled up in front of me and then another and another. I realized then that this would go on forever, or until the fabric of space of the universe was neatly tucked into what would resemble a crumpled ball of paper and that I had to let go. All that space began to unravel and Randy watched as the ball, like a bug stuck on fly-paper was carried away, to somewhere…
“Boy, did you see that” Coach screamed “that ball went clear up to heaven and you hardly budged your bat there and that crack of thunder, well, I didn’t know we had a storm in the forecast but the timing was perfect”. What crack of thunder? I was so overwhelmed at the return of normal space-time that I sat right down the plate as my teammates took their bases. “Coach” I said lookup up to drooping jowls “does this mean we go on to the pennant”. “Hell, yes, kid, where there’s a hope there’s a way”.
At a distant place so far that the light of stars hardly reached it, moved a civilization so old that it could recall its birth in the days of the first galaxies after the big bang. Perhaps these were the first beings to embark on a journey to search for life, perhaps they were the last for they had found none. Their life hope was waning as they were coming to the ultimate conclusion that the universe was a cruelly lonely place.
After eons and finally… crack! A tiny white globe rent the fabric of space between galaxies and came toward the moving civilization ship. A great gravito-magnetic catcher was deployed and its unseen fingers closed on the object slowing and then bringing it to the center of the civilization. This object, its composition, and how it had got to them were proof beyond a doubt that the fifteen billion year search was over. Life was no fluke.
Back on tiny Earth a small change had taken place. The pending first contact between the oldest and the youngest of sentient civilizations was of no interest to anyone there. This baseball season and the next and the next were to be blessed by one thing. The departure of the only baseball to have ever left the solar system had given its special gift, jiggling and slowing the Earth’s rotation just enough so that those terrible heat waves… well they were a thing of the past, and that ice age… postponed! In the distant but not too far off day when the great civilization ship finally reached Earth, one thing would be familiar to them that would tell them they had arrived at the right place…
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