Prose Header

Karat Cake

by Terry L. Mirll

Table of Contents
or part 1...

Karat Cake: synopsis

Frank Williamson is a man on the run. In possession of data stolen from the ultra-powerful Ouroboros Corporation, he must travel cross-country to meet his prospective buyer, Nutrisynth, which has offered him a fortune for successful delivery of the data. However, the stolen data is far more valuable than even he realizes.

Frank traverses a sere and barren landscape destroyed by mysterious Interdimensional Free Fall events, or IFFs. On his way, he must evade capture by the ruthless Dr. Richard Lohman, Security Director for Ouroboros. Frank’s prospects begin to improve after he picks up an odd hitchhiker, a four-thumbed, three-eyed, blue-skinned alien called Dippy.

part 17


Just after sunset, the group — minus Lohman, of course — was seated in the corner booth of a diner just outside the megalopolis. At Dippy’s urging, they all ordered pie.

Since they had decided that Lohman should live, Solly programmed the Grunt to fly him back to New York, where he could have his broken bones reset. Still, Solly was unable to resist programming the Grunt to punch Lohman in the face once every hour until they reached the city.

Stevens explained chrysopoeia to everyone and how the process for Shmeat could be modified to produce gold in mass quantities, although he got a bit technical from time to time. Solly was the only member of the group who really understood. Frank, for the most part, just sat quietly and nodded his head in feigned understanding. Hildy and Dippy said nothing.

“Now, if all this seems too good to be true,” Stevens said, “it’s because, well, it is. There’s an environmental impact we failed to predict. Have a look at this.”

He reached into his pocket and placed a small projector on the table. An image fizzed into view.

“What’s this?” Frank asked.

“It’s a mock-up of the chrysopoeic transmuter, bereft of any equipment ancillary to Shmeat production. Normally, at this point a deuterium beam would activate to engender accelerated cell division of the Shmeat base. We found that once we removed that aspect of the process, the deuterium beam was still required to have the necessary effect on the lead ingots lining the beryllium case. What we hadn’t realized was that the deuterium beam would also generate an Alcubierre field.”

There was a lull. Even Solly remained uncertain as to the significance of this last statement.

“I’m sorry,” Hildy said. “A what?”

Stevens nervously wrung his hands. “Who could have predicted it? It wasn’t supposed to be possible, pure speculation at best.”

“Yes, but what is it?” Hildy insisted.

“A holdover from research into superluminal space travel. The idea was to allow a spacecraft to contract space in front of it while expanding space behind it, resulting in effective faster-than-light travel. But it required the existence of exotic matter, which no one has ever been able to find. Scientists gave up on it over a century ago.”

“Look,” Frank said, “can you put the history lesson aside, please, and get to the point?”

“The point, Mr. Flemel, is that you can’t sell that data to Nutrisynth. I need you to destroy it, and right now.”

WHAT? And why would I do that?”

“Because the machine does more than create Shmeat or gold. It’s also responsible for the IFFs.”

There was a stunned silence, broken only by the sound of Dippy scraping the last bits of pie from his plate.

“IFFs,” Frank repeated. “How is that possible?”

“One of the effects of the field, I’m afraid,” Stevens said. “The mockup predicted the emission of tachyons in huge quantities, which could only occur in the presence of a warp bubble. However, because of the space curvature created by the Alcubierre field, the edges of the flat-space volume within it would create unbelievably huge tidal forces. These would have no effect within our realm of spacetime but would precipitate massive gravitational attractions along parallel realms. The results would be—”

“Okay, I get it, I get it,” Frank said. “The field attracts IFFs. Sucks them in from one reality into ours. So, the IFFs, all those people dying, cities wiped out, most of North America rendered a wasteland — all that happened because you people were trying to feed the world.”

“I’m very sorry, Mr. Flemel,” Stevens said, “It wasn’t deliberate.”

“But it makes no sense,” Frank protested. “The first IFF struck New York well before you people began any of this research.”

“Another effect of the field, I’m afraid. One feature of temporal dynamics is that effect can precede cause. The field opens up a manifestation of spacetime that is distinctly different from ours. The laws of physics in the alternate realm are at odds with ours. That’s why the IFFs fall so slowly but wreak the same havoc as an earthbound object moving at high velocity.”

“Oh,” Frank said. “So, what’s our next move?”

“The data needs to be destroyed,” said Stevens. “For my part, I’ve purged every file that Ouroboros had on Shmeat tech. The only evidence left is in the mockup before you, and now that I’ve shown it to you...” He reached forward, tapping the projector at one corner. A puff of smoke erupted, and then the projector quickly melted into an acrylic puddle.

All eyes turned to Frank. Partly dejected, mostly annoyed, he reached into his tunic and withdrew the data module. He held it a moment before handing it over to Dippy. “Dippy, would you mind?”

The Tellurean wobbled his head, albeit somberly, and took the module from him. He centered it in his hand, wrapping both thumbs around it, and crushed it into powder.

Hildy placed a hand tenderly on Frank’s arm. “Nick, I’m sorry,” she said. “Truly.”

“Hey, had to be done, right?” he said. “People would die otherwise. Small price to pay. Too bad I didn’t find out until after I sacrificed my job. Or you sacrificed yours, for that matter.”

“Mr. Flemel,” Stevens said, “I know this isn’t much of a consolation—”

“Williamson,” Frank said. “The name’s Frank Williamson. Call me Frank.”

“As you wish,” Stevens said. “As I was saying, Frank, I know this isn’t much, but it should help you get by for a few months.”

There was a satchel beside him. He opened it, removing two heavy plates of gold, which he set before Frank. For the second time that day, Frank found himself speechless.

Shifting in his seat, Stevens turned to Solly. “Mr. Goldstein,” he said, “I believe I’m in need of your services. May I speak to you a moment, in private?”

Bubele, if you have more of that stuff, I can give you my undivided attention.”

“Excellent,” he said. “I’m afraid I’ve done something rather... reprehensible, and I need to stay clear of the authorities at Centcom. Perhaps you could program a new profile for me.”

“I’ll need new equipment.”

“I’ll pay for it.”

Solly smiled and exited the diner with Stevens. Hildy took a bite of pie. It was cherry, far more to her liking than that odd apple and jalapeño concoction in D14. “Mm,” she said. She ate quietly, giving Frank time to sort out his next step.

Resting his elbows on the table, Frank considered his situation, coming to what he realized was the only logical conclusion. “You know what?” he said. “I’m an asshole.”

“Hm?” Hildy mumbled, tucking an impressive forkful of pie into her mouth.

“I thought this was going to be so easy,” he said. “I’d steal the files, whiz on over to D17, sell my stuff to Nutrisynth, and live the life of Riley until I turned into a little old reprobate. Instead, I butchered myself, nearly got myself killed a dozen times over, nearly got you killed, nearly got Dippy...”

He fell silent, eyeing the Tellurean curiously. “You know, Dip,” he said, “all this time, I never asked where you were going. I just grabbed you and headed west.”

“The direction was of no consequence,” Dippy replied. “Goodness me, all that mattered was the journey, friend Frank.”

“I hope you realize that makes no sense,” Frank said. “I saw your data card. You’re here on work visa.”

“And I have done my work.”

“Which was what?”

“Why, you, Frank.”

“Dippy, what are...” Frank froze. As he stared into Dippy’s serene face, he perceived a change. There was no difference in the Tellurean’s expression. The eyes, the blue forehead, that goofy smile — none of that was any different from before, and yet Frank discerned an indescribable quality he hadn’t sensed previously. It was as if he were staring at Dippy’s identical — though more immense — twin.

“Dippy, I don’t—” Frank began.

“Your sacrifice is admirable. To forgo the self for the sake of others is among the highest of deeds.”


“Forever shall you cast off Nick Flemel. The old man is dead, and the new man has emerged. Blessed be Franklin, Son of William.”

Thoroughly addled, Frank stared into the Tellurean’s eyes. After an uncomfortable silence, a light dawned upon his mind’s eye, and he realized who he was talking to. “But that’s not possible! What about all that talk about being unworthy for saving my life?”

“The Tellurean you call Dippy is but a finite being. He is allowed his crisis of faith. Did he not once tell you that in a purpose-filled universe, everything has a purpose? Does this not imply that doubt has its purpose as well?”

“And this whole time you’ve been Razh—?”

“I share with you a mystery: I am the Tellurean, but not the Lord Razhdha-ka. I am Razhdha-ka, and none of me is the Tellurean. I am you as well, and not you. I dwell in every creature, and in none.

“But when the Universal Law is in decline and the purpose of life is forgotten, I manifest myself in a finite form — to protect the good, to destroy evil, and to re-establish the Law. I take my leave of you now, though that part of the divine essence I have shared with you shall stay with you so that your life may be enriched and your days enhanced. In this way, you can truly say that I am with you always.”

Frank tried to protest, but before he could speak, Dippy was gone.

He stared into the empty seat, unable to trust his eyes. “Hildy!” he said. “Did you see that?”

Hildy finished her pie. “See what, dear?”

“Dippy! One moment he was sitting right beside us. Then he was gone.”

“Who — or what — is a Dippy?”

“Who...? What do you mean? The Tellurean!”

She pushed the plate aside. “What Tellurean?”

“I was just talking to him! Just now!”

“Frank, darling, I’m still waiting for you to explain why you call yourself an asshole. Shall I stop wondering?”

“Oh,” he said. “Well. I, uh, I just meant that in trying to steal a fortune, I’ve lost everything. My name, my job. Cost you your job, too.”

“Yes. But, Frank, if you had succeeded, people would have continued to die. And if you hadn’t stopped me from stealing the files, their blood would have been on my hands, too. For all my faults, I’m no killer. Besides, you may still come out a winner in all this.”

“How, for crying out loud?”

“For starters, take me back. I know I don’t deserve it, but if you’ll just give me another chance, I’ll devote myself to earning your trust.”

“You know, there’s not a man or woman on the planet who’s screwed up and failed to make the same promise.”

“I know. But as a gesture of good will, let me give you some financial advice.”

“Which is?”

“Now that the files on Ouroboros Shmeat production have been destroyed, IFFs will become a thing of the past, right?”

“I suppose.”

“Think about how the IFFs affected everyday living. Vast areas of land abandoned. The destruction of traditional agriculture and animal husbandry. Artificial foodstuffs. And most of the North American population driven underground or crammed tightly together in the megalopolis.”


“So what’s going to happen once people realize that the IFFs have stopped falling?”

“I guess that means they’ll spread out.”

“And right now, you know that, and they don’t.”

Frank stared at the gold plates as he considered the matter. She was right: a few worthless hectares of land now would become immensely valuable once people understood the danger was past. In the meantime, all he would have to do was provide some good or service they wanted.

He thought it over. What is it that I would want?

“Hildy,” he said, “do you know anything about running an egg farm?”

Copyright © 2015 by Terry L. Mirll

Proceed to Challenge 663...

Home Page