Kega fell through a hole. He didn’t mean to, but most people don’t. He had fallen through at a very early age, before his memory had formed. The hole he fell through was smaller than an atom. In fact—it was the empty space inside an atom that constituted the dimensions of the hole he fell through. The chances of falling through it were 0.00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001%. Kega was stolen from Earth by no one in particular and put onto a place called Interlaid. Kega, who was made of matter, like all decent people on Earth—was now made of Doesn’t Matter, like all decent people on Interlaid. He was now a student at a university, still in his youth. He worked as a part-time dishwasher. His actual job, however, was that of a professional interloper, but he had no idea of this yet. As of this moment, he was only learning of things from the beginning.
“In the beginning, as it were—”
Dr. X. Poskey was a physicist giving a lecture on the principle elements of all things living and otherwise.
“In the beginning, as it were, there was a huge explosion from the form of a singularity of infinite density. The Big Bang cooled, expanded, and formed everything there is to perceive today. Once they expanded, all particles were created with properties and charges.”
As Dr. Poskey went on about particles, Kega sat listening intently in the hall. He was four feet and six inches tall, with bright red hair.
“However, some types of particles had similar properties to other particles despite having opposite charges. These are known as forms of matter and antimatter. When they collide, they annihilate each other and produce energy carried from their charges. 13.8 billion years ago, this was the source of our creation. The energy that came out of those particle collisions formed our universe by means of creating impressions on non-particles, what we call the Asym field, or the empty spaces between subatomic particles. These impressions are what scientists call Doesn’t Matter, and these are the building blocks of Interlaid.
“We are all corporeal forms of energy and its impressions on the lack thereof.”
Kega was walking home after his part-time job as a dishwasher. He worked at the Globule, which was a large spherical emporium. He was dish-washing for a small bar and grill inside the Globule called Small Fry. Kega was being severely underpaid. The currency of Interlaid, much like that of the United States, was Bucks. Kega was making about six a day. On the way home, Kega saw Dr. Poskey and an old man discussing something over a checkerboard. The old man was sliding a finger along a line in between two squares on the board. Without lifting his finger, he would do it again in another direction and between two other spaces, and again, and so on. The two men were playing a game called Shah Blot—the Interlaid version of chess. They played in Siamese Creek Park, which wasn’t near a single body of water. Kega didn’t have a lot on his mind.
And then he saw her. And him. Him and her were two bodies laying in the middle of a haystack field. They were mostly ribcages. His eyes were blank and scrying, gazing in circles around the red sun. Her neck was strained and bruised. Pinpricks ran across their chests. They were only wearing loose overalls, with something like a tablecloth draped over and behind their heads. This tablecloth conjoined them, made them a single unit. They were being punished, and were made to search through the hay, not for a needle, but for a thread. The thread was to give them causality. By finding the thread of causality, one would be able to trace steps, advance on a track, follow a line, or a rainbow, and find happiness at the other end. The people working the fields searched for them endlessly.
Kega, looking at the flashing pinpricks on their bare chests, had no idea what to make of this. Neither did any of the other passers-by swimming along the sidewalk sea. Putting one foot in front of the other, Kega felt out of place with his surroundings. He felt like a foreign boy in Interlaid, even though he lived there his whole life.
By the time Kega got home, it was too late for him to realize he was out of food. The stores were all closed at this point, and it was illegal to go out into a neighbor’s silo after curfew. Everyone on Interlaid lived in silos, which were tall cylindrical homes that had more vertical space than they had horizontal. They typically had one room above another in a stack. A village in Interlaid could resemble a table belonging to a madman on Earth, who placed on each square inch of his table an upright-standing bullet. The interior of a silo could resemble a coil spring that a madman—perhaps that same madman from Earth—covered each level of the spring with a piece of duct tape to prevent the spring’s elasticity. Kega’s silo was reddish and had a pointier top than most. It had three rooms in the following order from the top: a bathroom for washing and preparing Kega, a kitchen for washing and preparing Kega’s food, and a life room, whose purpose can be described as “misc.” Kega spent the rest of his night balancing his mattress on the steps near the kitchen and the life room to let the heat from the kitchen drive away the night’s cold. The mattress itself would not fit in the kitchen. The broken springs sticking out of the mattress would occasionally dig into Kega’s back. In addition to food, Kega had neglected to buy duct tape.
Kega was a foreign entity in a land of neglect. He certainly felt that way teeter-tottering on his wide kitchen steps, with curly sticks of metal that felt like sharp tweezers scratching at his back. He was a three-legged dog, so to speak, at a four-legged race.
The next day, Kega got involved with something. It was a warm afternoon and he was studying in his school’s halls. The halls were a greenish gray and smelled like chalk. There was a hunched grey-haired man drawing mollusks into a notebook in the corner six feet from Kega. Kega sneezed.
A pair of women approached Kega from the side opposite the hunched man.
“Hey, are you busy?” the tall one asked. She had short blonde hair and a green skirt. Her friend was shorter and had long black hair in a bun and a suede jacket. They were both wearing shoes.
“Have you heard of what’s happening on Bark Street?” said the shorter woman. Kega shook his head.
“Well, there’s a lab there behind a staircase through the alley near Vincentio’s. There’s something they’re working on down a long hallway on the thirteenth floor that everybody’s talking about.”
“We’ve been wondering,” continued the taller one, “since it’s been after-hours and all, and since most people have left the building, if we could get some other students around to have a look at it with us. We’ll tell you more about it on the way if you’re interested.
“Oh, and I’m Lyse, by the way.” she said, averting her eyes.
“I’m Sympatico. My parents had a field day with that one.” the shorter one with the black hair and suede jacket said with a smile.
Kega didn’t say much, considering the two seemed to do most of the talking for him.
The three headed out to Bark Street to investigate the hullabaloo. The hullabaloo was indeed a machine. It was a silver range of grayscale colors and stretched from floor to ceiling. It looked like a number of machine designs similar to those on Earth: it had a shape like a large furnace and had on its front what looked like a microwave door with buttons and switches around it. The insides looked like that of those of a large industrial three-dimensional printer, and it had huge tubes coming out of its top that were a cross between a water pipe system and a pipe organ.
The purpose of the machine, was in fact, illegal. It was designed to create something out of nothing. “Good lord,” said Lyse, “It’s even larger than I thought it would be.”
“Well, it makes sense, considering how larger-than-life everything around it is. Design, purpose, implementation.” said Sympatico affirmatively.
“Spoken like a true Cosigner.”
A Cosigner on Interlaid was not a person who acts as a human failsafe in a timed transferal of currency. A Cosigner was someone who worked on the secondary stage of a technological advancement after a Signer worked on the first. So, when Lyse said “Spoken like a true Cosigner,” she was attempting to flatter her friend, who was still in training.
First, a Signer thinks of a problem somebody might experience in life, then a solution for it, and writes down a general scheme for how it might work. A Cosigner works to use an allotted budget to create a working blueprint and model. Working tangentially to them is somebody hired to supervise the process and make sure that the budget doesn’t go overboard, that little of the original idea is lost in the final product, and that the two parties don’t destroy each other in the process. If it wasn’t already obvious, technological advancements on Interlaid were created through a trigonometric model. And a Soh Cah Toa to you too.
The next morning, Kega awoke in prison. He had lost all of the possessions that were on him, including his boots. He was taken to a questioning room which had two chairs, a desk, a desk-lamp, a window that was a mirror on one side, and a police officer in the corner.
“You are being detained,” said a man in a black suit and solid color tie, “under the charge of aid of illegal construction of a malcrock. Your hearing will be within three months. Please tell me what it is you were doing around one, and what you know about its creationary process.”
Kega awoke the next day in a cell. The mattress he lay on sprung up as he got off, and the force of its motion jolted him palms-out into a wall. As he looked back on it, he observed that it wasn’t even a mattress at all, but rather a big foamy pad of plastic-like material placed over rows of compressed and dangling springs. Lowering his head further beneath the pad, he saw that the springs were attached to the pad with a rubber liquid, with a consistency like decade-old peanut butter. There is a saying on Interlaid about self-entrapment:
Those who find themselves without activity or use,
And outside of their silos, intrenchant and loose,
Will find themselves
In barred recluse.
Self entrapment was a fate feared by many where Kega was from. The idea behind the fear was that a person can go their entire life without ever doing a damn thing. And in their furious lack of accomplishments, activities, and penchants, a person might belie themselves of who they are and what they can do, and become involved in something uncharacteristic of their nature. It was common theory in criminal psychology in Interlaid, therefore, that most crimes were committed by people who wanted to do something with somebody, and couldn’t otherwise because they hadn’t much experience with either. So, it did not come to much of a shock to Kega, when the inmate two cells down from him would not stop yelling out in the halls from morning to night until lights-out: “Can I be a person in the world of people and things?!”
There is a similar saying back on Earth, where Kega was from, about self-entrapment: “Those who can’t, teach.”
Kega woke up. It was the third day he’d been in his cell. He had trouble remembering the last few days, as if the information was being blocked by a sudden onset of fatigue and dizziness. The cell smelled like a combination of old raspberries, lemongrass, and sewage. Kega then remembered the source of his ill feeling and the room’s pungency while looking at it: it was the red-spotted fungi growing out between the bars of the cell’s bleak, grey radiator. Looking at it closer, the red spots weren’t actually circular, they were teardrop-shaped. They looked like rose petals over the fungi’s lily-white flesh. Kega sneezed.
A guard in a blue jacket covered in yellow buttons approached Kega’s cell, and escorted him out. The two came to a mess hall surrounded by hundreds of men in blue-and-white striped clothes. They looked like overgrown fools in a pajama convention. Kega’s own blue-and-white striped figure joined the rest, and breakfast was served. The breakfast consisted of half-boiled eggs floating in a bowl of thick water, with a slice of bread sunk at the bottom. Kega sat himself at at one of the floorboard-colored table. His fellow inmates looked like giants compared to him, towering over him at both sides and across. Before long, an alarm whistled, and the guards started running around.
“Another code brown!?” said an officer.
“Yeah, in the 6th floor bathroom.” replied his stern coworker.
The officers momentarily left the scene. Kega grabbed his metal spoon and stuck it in his halfboiled egg whites. The bowl immediately slammed into the floor, landed face-down, with the half-boiled egg yolk bleeding out from underneath. The inmate to Kega’s right had slapped it clean off the table, and the inmate to his left grabbed his arms and placed them in a lock behind his back. They stood up, standing Kega up with them. The inmate who slapped the bowl off the table faced Kega. His face was copper-colored.
“Listen,” he said. “I don’t know what you’re thinking, but that isn’t how it’s gonna go for you. I don’t think you understand what it is we do out here. We were sent out here to die. Do you understand that?” His face, contorted and angry, got real close to Kega’s.
And then the beatings happened.
Kega resumed consciousness submerged in water. He pulled his head out of a toilet, took a big breath of air. He tried to get up and slipped, falling on his back. He realized then, that there were other stalls next to his, and that one of them was giving off an absolutely terrible smell. Two rubber soles appeared by Kega’s head, and five of the ten toes sticking out of them gently prodded his bright red head. The stall door swung open, and the stranger helped Kega up. He wore white with blue stripes, and his face was dark. They shook hands.
“My name is Alfredo Nuevarro Arroyo. My head is full of nonsense.”
And so began the friendship between young Kega and old Al. Al had a severe case of dysentery, which often caused his fecal matter to smell especially foul, and Kega began to volunteer assessment for those situations. The two would meet in bathrooms, and Kega, wearing a protective mask, would clean and scrub toilets with Waft-o, and Alfredo would talk to him about topics of all sorts. The smell made Kega’s eyes water, even through his mask, but Al’s words made his ears prick:
“I hear Jimson’s found something in the hay. Says it was a stroke of luck. I say—listen, whatever it is you find out there, that’s yours to keep. Let it fill your cup, and send you on your merry way. That’s how they get you. Once you become so at-home with it, have you showing it around out there, casting pearls for swine, that’s when you’re done. Your reason for leaving becomes your reason for living, then you can’t leave.”
Kega, like all the other prisoners, was made to work in hayfields in sundrenched blistering heat. He wore loose overalls and a large tablecloth that covered his head and the head of his partner. His partner was assigned to him, a young man named Tobert. Tobert hated Kega, hated the fact that the reason he was assigned to someone so young was because he was so short. Tobert was four years older than Kega, but had a growth impediment. On top of that, he was shot in the legs once by a factory machine that was making beads for necklaces. The bead sprung out of the jammed machine while Tobert was attempting to fix it, and hit him in the right inner thigh and ricocheted off into his crotch. As a result, Tobert had only one testicle and a stance which held his legs wide as a bull. Despite his setbacks, Tobert had a couple inches over Kega’s head, so his side of the head-cloth would drape over Kega’s, blocking Kega’s eyes. They were like two clumsy stooges, towel-wrapped in head-carpets, growing delirious in the unforgiving red light.
“Watch it!” Tobert would say, as Kega would step on his intrusive foot. “Why you little—!” he would cry when sticks of hay poked his chest because Kega tried brushing the combining fabric and hay off his eyes. “What in God’s name are we even looking for out here!? Why a thread? Why not something more useful, like some mouthwash? Or a pair of scissors, so I can cut you the hell away from me!”
Kega wondered this too. For what reason, did people search haystacks for something as trivial as a thread? What sense of purpose could that ultimately give people?
Pretty soon it was recreation time. Kega and Al found a room to themselves in a Supply and Materials closet, away from the other inmates that were crowded around a television. The two sat around a table—and on it, was what looks to you and I a chessboard. It was Al who taught to Kega: the rules and play of Shah Blot.
“This is a game,” he said, “which tells a story.” He handed Kega a board piece that was gray paper attached to a plastic stand, and took out another piece of darker grey paper on a stand for himself. He pointed at the very middle of the first row of the board, where the line between d1 and e1 would be. “This is where you begin.” Then he placed his piece on the opposite side of the board, at the line between where d8 and e8 would be. “This is me.”
Unlike Earthly chessboards, however, the squares themselves are not played on, so the squares are not labeled algebraically, rather, the lines between the squares are. The lines would be labeled then, like lines on a grid, with A-I horizontally and 0-9 vertically. Instead of the space a1, for instance, you would have on its left the line A0-A1, on its right B0-B1, above it A1-B1, and below it A0-B0, and so on.
“We are two traveling fools,” continued Al, “at any given place, at any given time. We are surrounded by equal parts black and equal parts white. Light and dark. Matter and antimatter. We ride among the lines laid out between. Each line of motion tells an event in our story of trajectory. Move where you will. Let us ride.”
Kega grabbed hold of his piece. He pushed it across E0-E1.
“Ah. The straight’n’narrow. Let’s see.” said Al. “You have awakened physically, but dormantly nothing. You swim your way across the river Eurthuf , to find the banks of Evermore filled with emptiness. There is no sand, only ash. There are no people, only empty huts containing the smell of sulfur. You wander in a sea of distilled silence, the light emanating from your pale skin. You set camp in a cave, and chew whale fat you packed from home.”
Alfredo grabbed his piece. “My turn.” He moves E8-D8, pushing the piece gently with the tip of his forefinger. “Aha. I drop from my tower estranged, and make my way to begin the journey to the Isle of Death. I take with me a lamp and lighter, for I have no light of my own. I float across the sea in an ancient cannon that has fallen off an ark hundreds of years ago. It takes six months to wash ashore, and I emerge from my cannon covered in dust. My foot sinks through the soil. I erect two walking sticks from a flag on the cannon, and use them to hold my weight. I need not any food. Your turn.”
Kega gripped his piece. Beginning to enjoy himself, he moved it E1-F1. Al smiled. “You explore the ruins of Evermore and find yourself in front of a waterfall. You jump down it for lack of activity, and resurface in a gulf. A flamingo-man dressed in scales approaches you. He notices your own body emitting a light not unlike his scales, and considers you among his own. He explains to you the components of every living being, and considers you worthy of them. He hands you a manuscript of law and allows you into his village. You dance with flamingo-women and eat with flamingo-men and sleep your rest in a nest.”
Al moved D8-C7. “I take my sinking sticks and plow them across the soil, until I reach a towering tree. I jump from the Isle of Death off what remainder of the sticks are left and latch to the bark. I climb my way up trees and stumps. An owl with a face of skull and crossbones asks me: ‘What business have you, wanderer, on the Canvas Tree?’ I tell him, ‘I must climb, Owl-ofthe-Canvas-Tree. I must climb, always climb, or I shall sink!’ He hoots and disappears into the tree’s alcoves. Along the top of the tree, I am at heights again. And I hang.”
Kega blinked. Then he moved F1-G1. “Your flamingo-brethren have decidedly turned on you for enjoying yourself too much with their daughters. You flee the village, with a flamingogal in each hand. They claim of a grove you can escape to, if you can navigate the tunnels beneath the serpent. You run from fish-scale warriors into a dark underground. After hours of searching you come across a door. Opening it, you find a grove belonging to a magician, who can create from nothing. He creates for you and your women—a bed and some nesting.”
Al moved his piece C7-B7. “I find myself unable to proceed, hanging from the Canvas tree. As the blood rushes down my head, a hermit crab walks slowly over across my branch. He tells me his name is Bertha. He explains to me how he’d like to get rid of his shell. ‘It has been a burden to me, and caused me much social strife among the crab high elites,’ he says, ‘I saw you hanging there from below the sand. I figured you might be interested, so I have come to offer you sale of my home.’ I tell him, ‘Bertha, I have no money, nor any belongings of which I can part.’ And he tells me, ‘What if I were to hire you. There are bats that have swarmed their way into my shell’s attic. What if I were to hire you as an exterminator, to take care of my problem. I shall come back here, and return to my shell as a summer home. The view is quite nice up here, anyway.’ So we say goodbye and I crawl into Bertha’s shell, ready to take on my next job.”
Kega moved his piece G1-G2. “You awake from your slumber to find everybody gone. The grove is overgrown by vile botany, and you find yourself incarcerated by gregarious fishermen. You struggle in their net until you swing around and around, until eventually you snap the branch from the tree you hung off. You begin to jump around in your net along the ground, blindfolded and roped up, looking for the magician, only to fall right into a boiling cauldron of soup. You die in the waters, but you manage to meet your goddess. Sorry, it’s almost lights-out, so I had to end there.”
The door swung. “So that’s where you were!” said an enraged guard. “What do you think you’re doing? And you!” he said pointing at Kega, “You’re coming with me.” A guard behind him took and lead Kega out. The enraged guard points his attention back to Alfredo, “Just who do you think you are?”
“My name is Alfredo Nuevarro Arroyo. My mind is full of nonsense.”
Kega found himself in a special cell. He was given a lot more room, but most of the room was occupied by hay, which he was expected to make into rolls as punishment. Judging from the lack of stench, he had finally gotten away from the fungi that was tearing through his mind in his own cell. Additionally, unlike Kega’s cell, this room had a window, which gave him an idea. He made sure nobody was present to see him, and began to get to work. First, he checked outside the window, and realized how close the rear iron prison gates were to this room. Second, he checked under the mattresses, and found exactly what he needed: springs and a really sticky peanut butter-like substance. Working very methodically, he joined sticks of hay along their length, wide enough to fit his small grasp, and as long as he can muster, he glued them end to end with his mattress-butter, fastening for himself a rope. The glue-butter solidified hard, and he wrapped the rope in the elastic springs from the mattress. He attached one end of the hay-and-spring rope to the window via glue and threw the other end to the lip of the gate. He climbed his way across, and figured the glue holding the rope would melt by morning, once the sun shone through.
He ran his way all across Interlaid, in search of what he remembered the policeman called it—a malcrock. He slept in alleyways and ate hay, which he had stuffed his pockets with before leaving. Eventually, he came across an underground mobster who called himself Tito. Tito promised Kega access to a developing something-out-of-nothing machine if Kega promised to teach them how to work it, which Kega claimed he knew, and also claimed he would. Tito hated the term “malcrock”, because it was something the police had come up with to give something he believed was so beautiful a bad name.
“Why would they make illegal such an ideal invention, such a marvel of technology?” he said. “Think of all the problems we could solve; of all the lives we could save! But they won’t, because people in authority cannot preside without limitations. And without limitations, everything we know would be destroyed. Sometimes I wonder if maybe that’s a good thing.” Tito loved Kega. He called him his “favorite striped boy,” on account of the prison garb Kega continued to wear. The two eventually made their way into an underground alleyway, down a tunnel, two flights of stairs, a hidden elevator, and through a dark corridor. And there stood Kega’s magician.
He knew immediately what it is he had to do. He typed in the following combination: E8- D8 D8-C7 C7-B7. And the machine began working.
Thousands upon thousands of threads began to produce themselves out from the machine. They wouldn’t stop. They were velvet colored, soft, and thin. They came in various sizes and they were warm, so warm. They covered the floor, and then began to cover it again. Kega believed there’d be enough to blanket all of Interlaid, keep it warm all winter.
And then he got shot. Yes, and as it turned out, Tito was an officer.
Kega awoke again. He was very surprised to have done so. He was covered in white space, was no longer alive.
And then he met the One. The Creator appeared not as a man, or a woman. It appeared as a loom. A tiny loom with a wilting leaf passing through it. The leaf was attached to a flower, which was attached to a turtle with five human bare-knuckle hands. It spoke:
“It appears there has been an accident. You are made of materials not for this world. What is within you cannot dissipate among the rest. Why are you here?” Kega replied:
“I am here as a result of a series of accidents. They have inspired in me a series of questions I would like to hear the answers to. The first of which is what reason, if any, are people and things for? And, why exactly, do the things that happen, happen the way they do?”
“Everything,” it replied, “is here because of a series of accidents. There is no reason, other than the fact that it is. Everything that happens is a force of motion in trajectory. I simply create collisions where there would be none otherwise. When electrons bond, when atoms fly at each other, and quarks combine, or when waves crash, when tectonic plates lock, and when species are destroyed and created; when people are made, or when people meet, and groups and nations formed, and more people are made, wars are fought; when ideas are spread, and thoughts happen, and decisions are made, or emotions felt, and when history is remembered; variables occur, events happen, and numbers add, and every chemical and ionic and positive and negative and personal reaction. And so on. I make it happen.
“After all, isn’t something better than nothing?”
Kega reawoke again. There was nothing left in the room, there was no machine, no threads, no people, and no guns. His wounds were somehow healed, as if he’d never been fired at in the first place.
And so, Kega realized his thread of causality, his purpose. He made readjustments to his life, finished his degree, got a slightly bigger silo, and made hundreds of friends over public radio. He became a radio priest, to tell others about what it means to be alive, and what kind of grand scheme everybody was a part of.
“And with that, ladies and gentleman, this has been a wonderful evening, and a friendly reminder to all of you listeners out there, that we are all members of one force of trajectory, tied by threads of ourselves and others. So, go out there, and meet the rest of all the events, people, ideas, and Doesn’t Matter you can. Something is, after all, better than nothing.”