Thursday 19 July 2007

The Extra Cars - Part Six

The Extra Cars is a story told in six episodes, posted serially by me, your resident sleuth of the bizarre, Cheeseburger Brown. Chapters: 1|2|3|4|5|6

Please note: I will be stepping out on holiday for the next two weeks, returning with a brand new story on Monday, August 6th. Don't be concerned if I don't respond to your messages in a timely fashion or am slow to moderate new comments during this time, as my access to the Internet will be sporadic. Thank you for your patience.

And now, our story concludes:


It's Sunday morning. Church is out.

The congregation filters out the front doors to Clergy Street, shaking hands and chatting on a yellowed lawn dotted with patches of green surrounding the embedded sprinkler heads. The day's heat is cut by a cool breeze, chasing fat islands of cumulus across an azure sky.

Old Mrs. Kim attempts to straighten her eldest son's tie but he bats her hand away gently. "Mom, stop it," groans Sun. "The service is over -- I can go back to looking normal now."

"You need a wife to keep you tidy," she says seriously.

Sun rolls his eyes.

Pastor Hwang pumps Phat-so Kim's hand warmly and claps him on the shoulder as he croons, "Your father tells me you're in university now. That's most impressive, young man."

"Thank you, sir."

Pastor Hwang nods. "You've got a bright future ahead of you, Phat-so, I'm sure of it. Not to mention it's a cunning way to avoid the draft, eh? Ha ha ha."

Phat-so chuckles politely and then steps away to stand with his brother. "Is he serious?" asks Sun anxiously. "There's not going to be a draft, is there?"

"Nah," says Phat-so. "He was just joking around."

People pile into their cars and head off to brunch, clearing the way for Phat-so and Sun to spot the orange micro-schoolbus parked across the road. Mr. Mississauga and Becca lean against the scratched off lettering along the side, arms crossed. Becca raises her brow in lazy greeting.

Phat-so and Sun glance both ways and then scamper across the road. "Detective!" calls Phat-so.

"Becca!" says Sun. More quietly he adds, "I didn't think we'd see you again."

Becca looks at her shoes as she fishes something out of her front pocket with two fingers. "I got you something," she says, presenting Sun with a pair of greenish dice on a clip. "They're supposed to hang from your mirror."

"You got me something?" Sun echoes faintly, blinking. He accepts the dice and turns them over in his palm carefully as if they are precious gems.

"They're just stupid...I just thought it'd be funny," says Becca, avoiding his eyes. "They glow in the dark, right."

"Cool!" says Sun enthusiastically.

She looks at him and allows herself to smile. Mr. Mississauga clears his throat. "Mr. Kim, I need to make use of your maps. Would it be possible to drop by your family home to pick them up?"

"My stuff's in my parents' car, actually," says Phat-so. "I'll run and get everything. Be right back!"

Sun smirks. "He won't leave home without his research. He's obsessed, Mr. Miss."

Mr. Mississauga says nothing.

Phat-so returns a moment later with his knapsack on his back. "What're we doing?" he asks, panting.

"Surveying," says Mr. Mississauga, heading up the handicapped access ramp, his shoes clanging on the ribbed metal. "Let's go."

"What about Mom and Dad?" asks Sun.

"They're going to brunch. I told them we had a ride. Don't worry about it, Sunny."

The drive isn't long. Mr. Mississauga rounds the schoolbus around the corner to Johnson Street and pulls into the parking lot of St. Mary's Cathedral on the hill. "Where are we going, detective?" asks Phat-so.

"Up the steeple," replies Mr. Mississauga. He slings a heavy satchel over his shoulder and then folds open the door.

"Are Presbyterians even allowed in a cathedral?" asks Sun.

Becca snorts. "Just tell them you're thinking of converting."

"We have permission," says Mr. Mississauga. "Let's go."

They meet Father Mulroney in the narthex. He greets Mr. Mississauga happily and shakes his lifeless gloved hand without hesitation. Mr. Mississauga introduces his cohort as students. "Now, I must remind you," says Father Mulroney, "our next mass begins in less than an hour."

"We will be brief," says Mr. Mississauga. "Thank you for your co-operation in this matter, Father."

"We're always happy to help law enforcement," smiles Father Mulroney. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some errands to run. Is there anything else you'll be needing, detective?"

"No," says Mr. Mississauga.

Father Mulroney leaves, his footfalls echoing in the cavernous, ornate space. Sun frowns. "I can't believe you lied to a priest, Mr. Miss."

"I don't lie."

"So why does he think you're a cop?"

"Assumptions can be compelling."

"But that's a kind of lie," persists Sun. "It's a...error of omission," he finishes, glancing at Phat-so for confirmation. Phat-so nods.

Mr. Mississauga levels him with a stare, his flecked brown eyes steady. "Yes," he agrees at last. "I make no false statements, but when the situation warrants I am indeed willing to exploit an assumption."

Sun shrugs. "I'm just saying it's messed up to lie to a man of the cloth. Um, don't you think?"

Mr. Mississauga casts a glance across the glorious vault over their heads, the coloured shafts of light shining through the stained glass windows, the rows of candles burning to remember prayers. He offers a small, tight smile. "Never ask a question you're unwilling to have answered."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"You and I see the cloth differently," says Mr. Mississauga. "In the interest of politeness I suggest we omit any further truths for the time being -- there's work to do."

Sun swallows. He nods. He looks differently at the detective now, suddenly seeing him as far lonelier and more punished than he had previously guessed. He imagines he can see Mr. Mississauga's face twitch, ever so slightly, as he pushes away unwanted recollections.

Mr. Mississauga opens his satchel and begins drawing objects from it, beginning with a set of navigator's tools and an accordioned legal folder brimming with papers...

Phat-so takes his cue and unzips his knapsack. He hauls out his map binder.

Sun frowns as Mr. Mississauga sets up his tools and papers on a pew. He spreads out a sheaf of graph paper dense with numbers and notes, then carefully arranges a protractor, a compass, a bi-rola rule, a slide rule, and a parallel plotting rule. Lastly he takes from the satchel a small wooden abacus.

He looks up expectantly. Phat-so ceremoniously places the map binder on the pew, then steps back again.

Mr. Mississauga flips through the binder and then flips through his own sheaf, finding correspondence between the maps and then scrawling in his Hello Kitty notebook. He lays a grid-marked transparency over one of Phat-so's photocopied maps and then his lips twitch as he counts the squares, up one axis and along the other. "What are you doing?" asks Becca quietly.

"Calculating," says Mr. Mississauga without looking up.

"Calculating what?"

"The geometric centre of the disturbance. My own data are too sparse, but combined with Phat-so's records a clearer picture emerges."

Phat-so leans in closer as the detective works, looking up only to shove beads along the rails of the abacus or switch tools. His methods are idiosyncratic in the extreme, in some ways primitive and in others profound. "Your mathematics," Phat-so says, "they're self-taught."

"Yes," confirms Mr. Mississauga. "School was a hard place to learn for me."

"How come?" asks Sun.

Mr. Mississauga flicks his gaze up. "Because of the cloth," he says flatly, then returns to his calculations. After another moment he looks up again, directly at Phat-so. "You'll help me in the bell tower. Carry the satchel."

"Um, okay."

Mr. Mississauga faces Becca and Sun. "Allow no one to touch or see my papers," he orders, then begins limping purposefully away toward a flight of stairs accessible through the vestibule. Phat-so shrugs at the others, snatches up the satchel and jogs after the detective.

Ten minutes later they're standing among the heavy bells. They sway slightly in the breeze, whispering eerily when the wind gutters across the metal lips just right. They seem faintly alive. Phat-so gives them wide berth. "So why are we up here?" he asks.

"This is the highest point in Kingston," says Mr. Mississauga. He takes the satchel from Phat-so and removes a telescoping tripod, which he deftly extends and snaps into a locked position. He checks it with a small level, which he then tosses back into the satchel. Then he takes out the last items in the bottom of the bag: two leather tubes. From the first he extracts an antique brass-ringed telescope, and from the second he extracts a tightly rolled map.

He affixes the telescope to the tripod. He unrolls the map and passes it to Phat-so. "Read me the numbers down the right hand column."

Phat-so does so while the detective adjusts the rotation and inclination of the telescope. It points east. He consults his notebook and nudges the telescope a few degrees. "That's it," he declares.

"That's what?"

"That's where it will happen next."

"Where what will happen next?"

"The next disturbance."

Phat-so breaks out in gooseflesh. "How do you know?" he asks.

"I told you," replies Mr. Mississauga. "I've seen this before. See for yourself. Look at the map."

Phat-so looks down again. It's a map of central Canada. A precise red line has been drawn over the country in an incomplete, Fibonacci-like swirl. The last point on the line is a few kilometers south-west of Kingston, in the middle of Lake Ontario. Mr. Mississauga's shadow falls over the map, then he leans in and draws a new red dot in the middle of the city. He labels it EXTRA CARS with a bracketing of dates beneath.

Phat-so scans up the line, reading the labels beside the other dots as the line swoops up across Ontario and crosses into northern Manitoba. A point near Hudson's Bay has been tagged NOCTURNAL DISPLACEMENT. The line continues into the Arctic territories, the events widely spaced: HOT SNOW, STRANGE MIGRATION, FRACTURED POLARITY, ICE LABYRINTH.


Phat-so feels very weird. His hands tremble. The dates beneath each phenomenon march in steady progression back through time, with events near Kingston marked with recent years and events near the pole going back into the late nineteen-seventies. "I don't...I don't understand," he stammers. "What is all this stuff?"

"The case," says Mr. Mississauga.

"But it goes across decades, across hundreds of kilometers..."

"Yes," agrees Mr. Mississauga. "It's a big case. I've been following it since I was young."

"How do you know it's all related?"

Mr. Mississauga taps the map. "Look at the period between events, and the geographic distribution, including elevation. The link should be obvious to you, Mr. Kim: it's an interference pattern."

"But what's being interfered with?"


Phat-so looks up sharply. "What?"

"Mr. Kim," says Mr. Mississauga heavily, his eyes fixed on Phat-so's, "something will happen in the world, and it will happen soon. Its effects propagate backward through time, the ripples further apart and weaker the deeper into the past we look. I have spent my life charting the points where the ripples manifest -- the crests, if you will -- tracing everything forward to the point in time and the point in space where it all begins."

Phat-so's mouth is dry. "And where is that?"

Mr. Mississauga gestures to the telescope. "East. Somewhere in Quebec. If I can plot one more point I may be able to fix the location precisely."


"Event Zero will take place in fourteen months, according to my best estimates."

"Event Zero..." echoes Phat-so softly, his eyes wide. He holds the detective's eyes. "What could it be?"

Mr. Mississauga presses his lips together in a hapless expression. "I don't know," he admits. "I'm worried. If it's powerful enough to manifest in the past, working against the grain of time, one is forced to wonder what it may do to the future when it's riding with the current."

Phat-so shivers. "Jesus," he says. "But what is it?"

"I'm not a scientist," says Mr. Mississauga as he wanders to the edge of the belfry, resting his hands on the sill and gazing out over the city. "What I have observed, however, is that each manifestation is characterized by unlikelihood. I believe that a dimension of our universe that normally operates at a sub-microscopic scale has been -- or rather, will be -- somehow inflated. I believe that in order to make room for this inflated dimension, the familiar macroscopic dimensions have been forced to squeeze aside. Something foreign is compressing them, and causing interference between them where their bounds intersect, leading to a warping of probability."

Phat-so doesn't know what to say. He looks down at the map again. "Why the curved trajectory? Why does it move?"

"When you factor in the spin of the planet, the twirl of the Solar System, the rotation of the Milky Way, the rush of the Local Group, the pull of the Virgo Supercluster, the expansion of the intergalactic voids -- it becomes reasonable to guess that Event Zero is in fact stationary, with respect to everything."

"With respect to everything? You mean like absolute position in relation to the Higgs Field?"

"I am not a scientist," repeats Mr. Mississauga. "But I believe that Event Zero will be very brief -- on the order of Planck Time -- and in that brief instant it will drag a tear through our world as the universe moves beneath it."

"How can you say you're not a scientist in the same breath that you talk about Planck Time?"

Mr. Mississauga shrugs. "I go to the library. I have no doctorate." He offers another one of his small, tight smiles. "I pay attention," he says seriously.

When Phat-so and Mr. Mississauga reach the bottom of the staircase they find Becca and Sun in a tight embrace, their hands roving over each other's bodies as they loudly, wetly kiss. Mr. Mississauga clears his throat and the two whirl apart, faces flushing. Sun stutters, "We were just, uh..."

"Desecrating a house of worship?" prompts Mr. Mississauga, brow raised.

Sun slumps. "Um, pretty much. Yeah."

"Fucking A," agrees Becca with a wide grin.

Sun straightens his tie. "We just got carried away."

"Yes, of course," agrees Mr. Mississauga breezily. "Just be sure you don't add insult to injury by letting a priest make assumptions."

"I guess I'm kind of a hypocrite."


Phat-so is quiet during the ride home. Sun notices, but he can't tear himself away from Becca as she rummages through a box beneath their bench on the bus and pulls out curious old books to flip through. "Do you read Latin?" she asks. Sun shakes his head. She's turning over in her hands a tattered, leather-bound edition titled IESVS ET AVTOMATON in faded gold-leaf lettering along the worn spine. She puts it back in the box and pulls out a yellowed paperback with a cigar-shaped rocketship on the cover.

"What's with all the pulps?" she calls up to Mr. Mississauga. "You a big science-fiction fan, Mr. Miss?"

"No," he replies, eyes on the road. "That's research."

Becca squints at the cover. "This is some obscure shit. I've never even heard of the author, and I've read all of my brothers' pulps."

Sun looks at the name and shrugs. "Hey Phat-so," he calls. "Have you ever heard of Chester Burton Brown?"

Phat-so shakes his head. Becca tosses the pulp back into the box. "I bet it's a pseudonym for somebody famous before they got famous. Like how Stephen King used to be Richard Bachman."

Mr. Mississauga says nothing.

The micro-schoolbus squeaks to a halt outside of Becca's house. The youths stand and collect their kipple, then shuffle down the aisle toward the door. Mr. Mississauga pulls the lever that opens it. "So..." says Phat-so quietly. "What's next, detective?"


Phat-so blinks. "What do you mean?"

Mr. Mississauga regards him levelly. "I have all that I need, Mr. Kim. I must proceed toward the next crest, and report to my employer."

"But -- but --" stammers Phat-so, "you can't just leave. We haven't figured it out yet! I mean, there's so much we don't know. Can the people in the cars interact with us? Do they have any idea they're even driving? Is there any direct connection between the driving versions of themselves and the versions at home? What makes them disappear?"

"I'm sorry, Mr. Kim," says Mr. Mississauga expressionlessly. "I have fulfilled my mandate. I must move on."

"But it's still a mystery!" gushes Phat-so, who looks like he's about to cry.

Sun puts his arm around his brother. "Come on, Phat," he says, leading him to the handicapped access ramp.

"Mr. Kim," calls the detective. Phat-so spins. Mr. Mississauga says, "A friend of mine once told me I don't say thank you enough. So I'd like to say thank you. Thank you, Mr. Kim. Your assistance has been invaluable."

Becca snorts. "You have friends?"

"Briefly," says Mr. Mississauga. "Only briefly."

The door folds closed. Phat-so, Sun and Becca stand on the curb. The schoolbus chortles loudly, emits a cloud of brown fume, then rumbles off down the road, shrinking, quieting, and finally gone.

Phat-so drops his knapsack and sits down on Becca's parent's lawn. Becca stands over him, hands on her hips. "What're you so glum about?"

"Now we'll never know," says Phat-so, rubbing at his eyes.

"How do you figure?" she challenges. "Fuck him. Seriously, fuck that guy. We don't need that flipper freak. We started this thing and we can finish it -- ourselves."

Phat-so looks up.

Becca grins. "We're the fucking Ghostbusters, Phat. Aren't we?" She offers out her hand. "Aren't we?"

Phat-so stands up and puts his hand on hers. "Yeah," he says, starting to smile. "Yeah, we are, Bec."

Sun slaps his hand down on top of theirs and nods. "Right. Totally."

A plan goes into motion. It takes almost a week to sort out the details, and to enlist the help of the many friends they will need to see it through. They are dedicated, and everything else in their lives ceases to matter much. Every evening Sun and Phat-so cruise the town in the iridescent purple Civic, culling the traffic for the ideal target. There are fewer and fewer extra cars on the road as each day passes, bringing them nearer to the end bracket date Mr. Mississauga had jotted on his master map.

"Where are they tonight?" asks Sun, banging the wheel in frustration.

"It's fading," says Phat-so. "We have to make our move soon, before it's over."

Come morning they meet Becca at Tim Horton's, reviewing each stage of preparation over hot coffee and blueberry fritters. "I got the radios," she reports, "but they broadcast openly over the citizen band, so we should probably use code names."

"Okay," says Sun. "I want to be Red Five."

"No, you're Stantz. Phat-so's Spengler."

Phat-so frowns. "Aren't those characters from Ghostbusters?"

Sun nods. "What about Venkman? Who gets to be Venkman?"

"I'm Venkman," says Becca.

"But that's Bill Murray's character," says Phat-so. "Shouldn't you be Sigourney Weaver or something?"

"Oh yeah," she agrees thoughtfully. "I could be Ripley."

"Wrong movie," says Sun.

"Yeah, but Ripley kicks ass."

Much of the preparation takes place in the North Block -- at the terminus of King Street East at Place d'Armes, a dead end road lined by trees before the bay. Phat-so and Sun chalk the pavement, and mark the spots where the cameras should stand. Phat-so takes measurements to create a site plan, illustrated by Polaroid photographs. They clamber up the iron fire-escapes of the surrounding buildings to choose the ideal vantage, sweeping over the cityscape with binoculars.

"This would be a lot easier if we could use Papa Rock," says Sun, wiping the sweat from his forehead. "Did he say when he'd be passing through again?"

Phat-so shakes his head. "No," he says. "Don't worry, Sunny. This is going to work. Trust me."

"You're starting to sound like him."

"Him who?"

"Mr. Miss."

Phat-so smiles.

It's Saturday night. The sky is overcast and drizzling. The bars are full of sailors, their races belayed by rain. At the waterfront their lashed masts and furled sails rock in the wind, fixtures clanging. A single, sad, plump security guard watches morosely over the boat yard, hugging a umbrella that says NORTH SAILS on it in big blue letters. He listens to erotic short stories on his Walkman, adjusting his pants to hide his intermittent erection.

He glances up to track a blue Ford Explorer as it cruises along King Street West, spray flying from its wheels. As it crosses Yonge Street a new pair of headlights illuminate from the parkette on the corner. A second car noses off the path and onto King, sliding in behind the SUV. It's a rusted burgundy Camry.

Becca toggles her radio. "Target acquired, I repeat: target acquired. Ripley in pursuit, westbound on K. Come back; over."

There's a burst of squelch. "Copy that, Ripley," says Phat-so. "Name your marks as you pass them. Over."


Becca looks over at the map spread out on the passenger seat, checking against the spread of possible routes the Explorer is known to take. She guns the engine to make it through the lights at Union. She feels for the radio toggle and hits it. "West past U; over," she mutters. "Turning north on Mac; over," she reports a moment later, cranking the wheel around.

From a driveway on MacDonald Street another car awakes, headlights flashing as it bumps over the curb and pulls in directly ahead of the Explorer. It's a dented silver Saab. Becca's radio squelches again. "This is Clortho. I'm slotted in. Over."

"Ripley sees you, Clortho," says Becca. "Lead him on the turn, east on B. Over."

"Ten-four, Ripley."

"You're supposed to say over; over."

"Oh, sorry. Over."

The Saab turns east on Baiden Street. The Explorer, however, turns west. Becca jams down the toggle. "Damn it. Spengler, the train's broken. He went west instead of east. Clortho's stray. Over."

"Copy that, Ripley," replies Phat-so. "We're lining up another car now; over."

Becca fumbles the radio aside as she lights a cigarette. "Turning north on P; over," she reports shortly, mumbling around the smoke. She wipes her sweaty palms on her jeans, then hits the wipers as the Camry piles through a series of potholes that kick up wide blooms of spray.

At Calderwood Drive a new car slips in ahead of the Explorer. It's a black Volkswagen Golf with a square of sparkling lights marching around the license plate. "Gozer locked in. Repeat: I'm locked in. Over."

"I see you, Gozer. Stay steady. Over."

The train turns east on Johnson Street. They pass a speed trap. The cop isn't watching: he's stirring his coffee. As they pull up to a sedate stop at the big intersection at Sir John A. yet another vehicle joins the squadron, pulling out from the side of the southbound on-ramp and snuggling up to the Explorer's right flank. It's a grey Nissan Sentra.

"Billy Brandt in position, over."

"Who the hell is Billy Brandt? I thought you were assigned Peck; over."

"Peck sucks. Brandt was an anti-Nazi resistance fighter. Over."

"You can't just arbitrarily change your code name; over."

"Don't be such a hard ass. Copy that? Over."

"Eat me."

Phat-so interjects with an authoritative beep. "Cut the chatter," he snaps. "Mission data only, over."

The convoy continues along Johnson Street across town. They splash through the puddles, steering sharp to keep the squadron tight. The Explorer makes no move to escape, and offers no sign that the driver is even aware of the moving bounds being erected around him.

At Barrie Street they're joined by Sun's Civic, boxing in the Explorer on the left flank. "I'm in position," reports Sun. "Over."

"Acknowledged, Red Five. Keep tight; over."

This is when things start to get weird.

Though the sound of the Explorer's engine remains constant, its speed begins to vary. At one moment it threatens to rear-end the Jetta, and then a blink later is drifting backward and forcing Becca to gear down aggressively. Sun gasps as the Explorer flashes suddenly closer to him, their side mirrors within millimeters of scraping. "He's going all erratic!" Sun shouts into his radio.

"We've nailed his position; that's the momentum responding by fluctuating," says Phat-so. "Over."

"Jesus Crap! He's all over the damn road!"

"You have to say over; over."

"Shut up!"

The street bends south. Five sets of wheels screech as they take the corner, rear tires skittering dangerously. Patrons smoking outside the bars turn to stare. The convoy rushes up to King Street just as the light turns green, and barrel through the intersection with an array of overlapping squeals.

The speed of the pack steadily rises as they jockey to keep their box closed, the Explorer's motion becoming increasingly wild and strange.

They blast past another police cruiser. A split second later its headlights and red bubble lights come to life, and the engine sings as the driver floors the pedal. The siren wails, echoing off the faces of the street-crowding downtown buildings.

"We've picked up Smokey; over!" cries Sun.

"You're almost there, Red Five -- stay on target!" Phat-so cries back.

The convoy slams around the bend on King Street, funneling into the final run toward the dead end, the police cruiser rocketing in pursuit. The passing buildings are a blur. "Ripley to squadron, Ripley to squadron: form up! This is it, over!"

As rehearsed, the four cars come together to pin the Explorer into the tiniest possible gap, closing the space around it until they virtually move as one great vehicle.

"Almost there..." coaches Phat-so, peering through his binoculars. "Just a few more seconds..."

The Explorer becomes a blur that's hard to look at. Phat-so told them to expect it, but this anticipation doesn't make the impossible sight any easier to process. Becca blinks, because it makes her eyeballs feel as if they're jittering. Sun shakes his head, feeling as if his brain has gone numb. "We're getting position fluctuation, over!" reports Sun, his voice cracking. "Jesus Crap it's crazy!"

The racing Explorer flits like a butterfly, seemingly smearing itself in a rabid frenzy between every possible position within the tightening box. As it blinks over to beside Becca's Camry Sun's side mirror snaps off and shatters, bouncing on the road behind them. "Red Five, Red Five!" calls Becca; "are you okay? Over!"

"I got hit -- but it didn't hit me," says Sun, shaking. "It's messed!"

The Explorer suddenly surges forward and plows into the back of the Jetta, briefly lifting its back end off the road. "Shit, shit, shit!" screams Billy Brandt. The Jetta slams back down, tires barking and smoking, and scoots ahead again, pulling away from the front of the Explorer which remains inexplicably undamaged. "Shit!"

"Spengler! Where the fuck are we now?" shouts Becca.

From his rooftop vantage Phat-so presses the binoculars into his face until it hurts, counting the faded and running chalk marks on King Street. "Twenty meters, Ripley!" he says into the radio breathlessly as he tracks the clot of headlights roaring toward him. "Fifteen...twelve...ten meters!"

They cross Place d'Armes and enter the final block to the dead end. Their combined headlights illuminate the twin rows of people standing along either side of the road, elbow to elbow, each of them holding a camera, camcorder, or laser range finder. Phat-so screams, "Observation array: GO!" and two dozen fingers press their contacts, the alley suddenly strobing with flash photography and the dancing coloured pin-pricks of laser light.

At the end of the alley stand a row of youths holding mirrors, their surfaces glaring with swelling headlights.

The Explorer goes crazy.

It's everywhere at once. Sun sees its wet blue hull pulse into view ahead of him and beside him at the same time, then a blink later it's behind him, and then he can smell its engine as if it's right under his nose. Even inside the cabin he's somehow splashed by rainwater, and he shrieks.

"I can't hold it!" cries Gozer in his Golf, struggling to throw the wheel around in response to the dizzying dance of the blurred SUV. The Golf skids out of control, swerving wantonly across the road on its way to the ditch, narrowing missing two tall poplars but clipping Becca's Camry across the front.

"Fuck!" bellows Becca.

The observers along the sides of the road scatter, leaping for cover. The Camry spins like a top on the slick pavement, the Explorer a blue smear twisted between the members of the convoy like a ribbon. Sun is forced to pull aside, rumbling over the grass. He jams on his emergency brake and the Civic stops, mud splattering across the windshield.

The Explorer's horn blasts mournfully, the sound Dopplered into an unrecognizable, alien pitch.

It connects with Becca's Camry.

There is a tremendous noise, like an explosion. The air is filled by hunks of twisted metal, shards of plastic, cubes of safety glass drawn out in long, diffuse plumes. The ground shakes. Ears ring.

Phat-so finds himself flying down the slick fire escape, the heavy binoculars bouncing against his chest painfully. He leaps over the last railing and stumbles to the pavement, then sprints across it, his shoes crunching over debris still rolling or sliding with inertia.

Sun bursts out of his Civic. He screams, "Becca!"

The police cruiser screeches to a halt at the mouth of the alley.

Phat-so reaches the impact site, jumping over a chunk of warped fender. The Camry is a ruin, its smoking engine exposed and rent apart, hot liquids gurgling down onto the parts-littered asphalt. It takes him a moment to identify the cabin, twisted and flattened and surrounded by shattered glass. He rushes up to it and tears off his T-shirt, folding it over his hand as he grabs the edge of the splintered, sagging windshield and attempts to prise it clear.

Sun runs up beside him and joins in the effort, utterly careless about the way the ragged edges cut into his hands.

The brothers stop their furious efforts as the mangled door beside them creaks, then drops away to reveal a sneakered foot. Sun's breath catches in his throat.

The foot wiggles.

A muffled voice calls out, "Would somebody give me a fucking hand here, please?"

The boys rush over, four hands reaching in to extract her. Becca worms her way between the bent steering wheel and the collapsed seat, wincing as her leg scrapes against an exposed blade of ripped metal. Sun helps her to stand, supporting her with an arm around her torso.

She has a gash on her forehead that bleeds freely. Phat-so presses his shirt against it, applying pressure with his shaking hands. "Oh my God," gasps Sun. "Oh my God, Becca -- I love you!"

Becca blinks. "You do?"

"Are you okay?" asks Phat-so.

She nods, her eyes locked on Sun. "Yeah, I'm good," she says, then pats her jeans until she finds her cigarettes and lighter. She pops one out and ignites it, then draws deeply. "Though I hate taking the fucking bus," she adds as an afterthought.

"I'll drive you anywhere you want to go," promises Sun. "Like, forever."

Constable Wainwright runs up beside them. "What's your condition?" she asks quickly, then scans Becca's abrasions up and down with a practiced flick of the eyes. She leans into her shoulder and presses the radio contact attached to her epaulette. "I need EMS at King West and Place d'Armes, EMS to King West and Place d'Armes for a two vehicle collision..."

"I'm fine, I'm fine," assures Becca.

The constable looks up, then furrows her brow. "Where's the other vehicle? There was a blue truck -- I saw it."

Phat-so, Sun and Becca look around. Most of their friends have scattered. The dead-end lane is empty except for Billy Brandt and Gozer stepping out of their cars with dazed expressions. There is a slurry of broken automotive debris coating the road in a wide field of ejecta centred on the smashed Camry.

Intermingled with the pieces of burgundy Camry are pieces of blue Explorer, but not nearly enough to account for an entire SUV. It's as if the Explorer has disintegrated, dissolved by the impact.

Phat-so leans down and scoops up a license plate. "Here's the plate," he says, turning it over in his hands. He passes it to Constable Wainwright as her portly partner jogs up beside her.

"What's going on?" he asks.

"Something...strange," says Constable Wainwright, taking off her cap and scratching her head as she stares at the license plate.

Another vehicle stops at the mouth of the alley. Red lights flash as its door folds open, Mr. Mississauga rushing out through it even before the humming handicapped access ramp has descended into place. "Detective!" cries Phat-so.

Propelled by a mix of intense and conflicting emotions, Phat-so runs up to the limping native and wraps his arms around him in a tight hug. Mr. Mississauga tolerates this with dignity, then smooths down his overcoat as he's released. "Is everyone alright?" asks the detective.

Phat-so nods. "Yeah, somehow. I can't believe you came back!"

"Yes," confirms Mr. Mississauga.

"Yes indeed," adds the constable, frowning deeply. "I knew this had your stink all over it, Sky." She tosses the license plate to Benny. "Run this. Get me the owner on the horn, if you can."

Benny hurries back to the cruiser.

Constable Wainwright narrows her eyes and looks to Becca. "This will go a whole lot easier if you just tell me truth: what was that stunt all about? Is it street-racing?"

"No," says Becca slowly, licking her lips. "I think that guy was like drunk or something. He was all over the road. We were just trying to like, you know, force him to pull over so we could call you. I mean, call the cops, right."

"You just happened to force him into an alley filled by people with cameras?"

Phat-so coughs. "That's an unrelated science experiment. Um, I'm studying to be an engineer at Queens. I'm interested in traffic. This is really all my fault, constable. My name is Phat-so Kim and I take full responsibility."

"No," interjects Mr. Mississauga sharply. "I take full responsibility, constable. I shouldn't have let the experiment run unattended. These kids were just helping me out. As long as they're not hurt I suggest you send them on their way."

"You suggest that, do you?" Constable Wainwright challenges, arching one sharply-defined red eyebrow.

"Respectfully," adds Mr. Mississauga.

"Well," she whistles, "that's a first."

They are interrupted from staring angrily at one another when Benny huffs and puffs back into their midst. "This is nuts, Wainwright," he says, shaking his head. "I got the owner on the line. He says his Ford Explorer just exploded."


"He says it was just sitting there in his driveway, and he heard a loud bang so he ran outside. He says the vehicle's been torn to shreds -- there are parts all over his lawn. Apparently a flying hubcap broke his neighbour's window. Six minutes ago, over eight kilometers from here."

The constable runs her hand down her face. "We're sure it's the same vehicle?"

"Same make, same model, same colour, same plates."

Phat-so, Sun and Becca exchange a look. "Total entanglement," whispers Phat-so, eyes wide. "We forced both of them to merge."

Benny goes back to the cruiser to get more information. Constable Wainwright tucks her red hair up under her cap and straightens it down over her forehead. A siren keens in the distance as the ambulance she called for Becca approaches. "I don't like this one bit," she pronounces wearily.

Mr. Mississauga holds her eye. "Let these kids alone, constable. It's not their fault what's happened here tonight."

"I saw reckless driving. I can't ignore that."

"Take me in if you need to," offers Mr. Mississauga. "You know I'll co-operate."

Suddenly Benny yells from the cruiser, "He's dead!"

Constable Wainwright's head turns quickly. "What? Who's dead?"

"The owner!" Benny yells back. "He was on the line with Henderson, then he just stops talking and Henderson hears the phone hit the floor. Now his wife's on -- she's hysterical, screaming for an ambulance. She says her husband keeled right over. Says he's not breathing, and his eyes look like marbles."

Phat-so's mouth goes dry. "Total entanglement..." he croaks.

"Jesus Crap," says Sun solemnly. "That's our fault."

Becca screws up her face and wipes at her eyes. "Fuck."

Constable Wainwright looks back and forth between them, then turns with a forlorn grimace to Mr. Mississauga. He volunteers, "Einstein called the phenomenon 'spooky action at a distance' and he --"

She holds up her hand. "Stop," she says. "Just stop. I don't even want to hear it. Not this time." She rotates slowly, meeting the eyes of Gozer and Billy Brandt. "You kids get out of here. Get out of here now. Just take your cars and leave."

Benny looks puzzled. "But we need to take their statements --"

"No," she snaps. "I'm not going through this again. I'm not getting involved in this unexplainable shit. I'm not getting laughed off the force, and have to start all over again. Not this time."

"But --"

"Stow it, Benny, or I swear to God I'll tell the captain about your other job."

Benny closes his mouth quickly.

The ambulance pulls up beside the schoolbus. Constable Wainwright faces the detective, her expression dark. "And you," she hisses, "I don't ever want to see you in my town again, you understand me, Mississauga? I don't want your madness and I don't want your death. You're not welcome here. Get the hell out of my sight. Now."

Mr. Mississauga gives a single, simple nod. "I understand," he says.

The Golf and the Sentra nose out past the ambulance, careful to signal before pulling out onto Place d'Armes. Phat-so and Sun stay with Becca as she shows the cut on her forehead to the paramedics. Constable Wainwright stands imperiously at the centre of all, hands on her hips, tracking Mr. Mississauga as he stumps up the handicapped access ramp and folds closed the door. The four-ways cease to flash, and the engine grumbles.

Phat-so and Sun wave morosely. Mr. Mississauga gives them a small, tight smile and then reverses into the street, the bus beeping. He drives away.

It's over.

The rain comes in sheets. The puddles dance.


Anonymous said...

Nice. Very nice. They turned the streets into a particle accelerator (more or less).
I still want to know what event zero is though.

Anonymous said...

Ghostbusters, Star Wars, and Chester Burton Brown... wow. Major grins all around here.

So now what? The extra cars are finished? What about the event in the future? I assume that happens when Phat is working with Zoran... was Teddy right about Name after all?

And what about the driver of the Explorer? If they really merged, wouldn't there be a dead guy out there somewhere? Or at least pieces of him? And why would he appear uninjured (by, say, a car crash) and then just suddenly keel over?

As usual, your writing raises unending questions... of course it's also just about the most addictive literary stuff out there.

Word ver: tinhq. Old-timey sheriff's office?

Anonymous said...

Also, is it possible that Mr. Miss is Long?

Have a great vacation, Chester!

evilpckls said...

sheik: there was a bit about the owner of the explorer keeling over...

Orick of Toronto said...

Chester Burton Brown, haha...

is it me or is that "spooky action at a distance" thing another coincidence with slashdot. I got to take a break from reading all these sites.

Great ending with the death of the driver. I didn't even think of that consequence. I guess neither did phat-so.

btw, if you account of earth revolving around sun and rotation of solar system and milky way and all that, there is no way event-zero will cause echoes of events around earth. Unless earth is the centre of universe that is. :)

Anonymous said...

Have a fun VACA

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Mandrill,

Oh, you'll find out about Event Zero alright. Don't you worry.

Dear Sheik,

I reason that since they managed to collapse the two versions of the car into one, they also managed to collapse both versions of the driver into one, as well.

Dear Evil Pickles,

While it's true that he might more accurately have come apart in a messier way, I felt it would add unnecessary gore. So, as you say, he just "keels."

Dear Orick,

Pure coincidence: Slashdot is stalking me this week.

As for the path drawn by Event Zero: the path doesn't actually go "around the Earth." It travels from above the surface to a point within the mantle (recall that in Stubborn Town the locus was centred in an underground mine).

Also, I like to link particle generators to arrays of orientation-dependent rotating nulls in 3D space, to make the particles spray out in organic ways. This exercise has taught me that it can be very, very difficult to predict the trajectory of the stream once you factor in all of those motions, some being cumulative, some being subtractive.

Dear Anonymous,

I will, I will. We're taking the sprogs camping in the wild green Canadian wilderness.

Dear all,

Please note that I have used my improved typesetting ninjitsu to reformat Simon of Space in an effort to reduce the production costs. As a consequence, the book is now available in a revised edition at a lower price point.

I've asked Ephemera Bound to commit to a release date for the second edition, but they've been slow in getting back to me so this is what I've done as a stop-gap for the time being.

Same for Hot Buttered Something: COLLECTED STORIES VOLUME I: now reformatted and slightly cheaper.

Also, COLLECTED STORIES VOLUME II will be available in time for the Christmas shopping season, so add it to your lists if you think you know someone who might appreciate it as a gift.

Cheeseburger Brown

Cheeseburger Brown said...


Sorry: correct link for Simon of Space

Cheeseburger Brown

SaintPeter said...

The bit with the movie names and quotes had me roaring. The rest was a delightful climax.

Genius. Pure Genius.

My hat is off to you, sir.

Simon said...

Chester Burton Brown? That's fucking hilarious!

But you're wrong about the bridge to nowhere. It's really in north-eastern Alberta, about ten minutes north of the Syncrude oilsands mine. It crosses the Clearwater River and then the road just... stops. Well, it becomes a winter road to the NWT from January to March.

Now Mr. Miss has a copy of Jesus and the Robot? So does this 'event' start when Tim and Jeremiah fix their thingie with the help of 200 or so men? And I'm dying to know about all the rest of the events on Mr. Miss's map. Doubt we'll get to them all...

I love you just a little more for that Death Star attack run chatter. You hit a gold mine and shared the wealth there. My sons were wondering what the hell Daddy was laughing at so hard.

Thanks, Chester. Enjoy the outdoors and the time unplugged.

gl. said...

boy, do i want to hear more about "CHRONOPORTIVE TELEPHONY". nice to see "IESVS ET AVTOMATON" in passing, too.

i was sad when mr. miss left, so i had a similar reaction to phat-so when he returned. i guess i'll have a similar reaction when -you- return. have a good vacation!

Teddy said...

I'd say he was charting the birth of the Math, but that happens in Paris. Perhaps the birth of an Executive? More likely, though, it's something important to do with The Long.

Chester Burton Brown...sneaky sneaky, hilarious. I must agree, one of (if not the) best climaxes I've read yet, I could feel myself moving faster as they cornered the Explorer in. So, now that Phat-So's actually entangled related particles and forced their interaction, I wonder if he could repeat the experiment without deadly results, in a laboratory setting?

How did Mr. Miss get ahold of the original copy of Jesus and the Robot? Is this before or after Tennyson Smith had the book? If after, I'll wager plenty that he's gone by the name of Chester Burton Brown before.

And CBB, not that I ever doubted you, but yes. I did enjoy this. FAR too much.

So whatever happens to that Volmash fellow?


Anonymous said...

I guess I didn't articulate that very well. I was confused as to why (a) the driver wasn't in pieces and didn't seem to have a mark on him -- which was more or less answered by CBB -- and (b) why it took him so long to die if indeed he was merged with his car-driving self when the whole thing went kaboom.

Other than that, there are so many reasons to love this story that I can't count them all.

By the way, I did a search on Billy Brandt, and all I found was a porn star. Were they a formidable force in WWII Germany?

See you (hopefully more rested) in a couple of weeks...

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Simon,

As I mentioned to Brian in IM yesterday, I think it'll be good fun for you all to see how some of these seemingly disparate elements will come together. Conversely, not all that seems related is as directly connected as it may seem on first analysis.

So, what've we got mixing in the pot? Jeremiah and Tim, flung through time; Mr. Mississauga wearing Zhang limbs making his slow way toward McGill University; Dr. Zoran discovering the Secret Math, and applying it to the minds of nascent robots, alluding to a programme for developing sophisticated bodies; a super-powerful emergent entity at the end of the Universe poking holes through time; the Sun infected by a malfunctioning bomb based on the Secret Math; a mysterious Shah and his son laying decades-long groundwork to enact some kind of grand plan; a long-lived cave man in pursuit of a British spy who holds a book so secret and so important it is fought over by long and short alike; a pair of long-lived perverse twins with influence over godlets and kings alike...

Despite what may seem like an endless chain of enigmas, there is a coherent thread between them.

Dear Sheik,

Search for "Willy Brandt" to get the gold.

As for the death delay, to be candid it was simply necessary for timing. However, if you don't mind stretching a bit, we could imagine it's a result of a disparity between the split versions in which one has traveled a shorter route and one a longer one, thus engendering an apparent time gap between "simultaneous" events. (Someone's trying to demonstrate this experimentally now -- see the Slashdot stories Orick referenced).

Cheeseburger Brown

Teddy said...

Darn, I had a comment, but it must have gotten lost...

Anyhoo, I was going to wager that the event is the creation of the Math, but that happens in Paris, and presumably earlier. My next conjecture is that it's something very important to do with the Long. Also, where does Lallo's longination fall on that spiral?

And whatever happened to that Volmash fellow?


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the catch-up, CBB!

Again, let me say what a fantastic climax that was. I'm glad all of Red Five's buddies made it this time, despite comments about coming in too fast, there being too many of them, and not being able to hold it... which would normally mean certain death. Now if Papa Rock had burst over the horizon at the critical moment with Alishaer in the gun turret... that would have been something!

One more niggling detail that's been scratching at the back of my mind: if Lallo is really the oldest of the Long -- and we have no reason to believe otherwise -- then why has his appearance not changed at all (aside from wear and tear), whereas Zeus, the Monster Twins, and several others are showing signs of age?

Really, go have a vacation. This can wait.

Mark said...

This was great fun, and of course "too intellectual." I think it's hilarious that someone in the publishing world told you that about your work. They should be embarrassed.

I was laughing out loud at the walkie-talkie conversations, too. Can I say "walkie-talkie" as an adult?

The entry length and my slow reading put me way behind on these (not to mention the time I'm spending writing up my New Mexico Rocky Mountains trip journal).

Have a great trip yourself, CBB.

James Andrix said...

Wow. I did not expect that ending.

Event zero sounds like an early mistake in the math.
I'm embarrassed that I just today realized the connection between Zoran and the erotic chess pieces in Stubborn Town.

Hmm, maybe it's studying the anomaly that lets Zoran figure out the math that causes the anomaly.

If people want a Mr. Miss level of weirdness in a slightly different flavor, I recommend John Dies at the End or the sequel, John Dies at the End 2.

Sith Snoopy said...

Death by Schrodinger's cat.


When the truck blew up, it didn't occur to me that the driver would, too. Ick. :P

Event zero... hmmm. Wonder if it has anything to do with what what's-his-name and uhm... the Executive... uhm... damned pregger memory. :P You know, the guy that ended up going back in time and meeting Jesus?

And who is this Chester Burton Brown, Cheeseburger? ;) Do we now know the name you will be publishing under, or a prior name you published under? ;)

Hope you are having a wonderful holiday, Dude.

Thanks for the wonderful story!!!

Sith Snoopy said...

Duh! I forgot to comment on the "Almost there", etc., homages to that lovely scene near the end of Star Wars!!!

Yes, I was grinning from ear to ear over that. :)

Anonymous said...

Ditto on JDATE (not to be confused with the Jewish dating site of that name); it's a great read, though a bit more consistently bizarre and significantly more gory.

Snoopy, do you mean Tim and Jeremiah? Or were you referring to Simon, who apparently goes back in time to that period as well?

I've given up on guessing what Event Zero is, because I know we're going to get it sooner or later, and there are more possibilities than there speculations about the end of the third Matrix movie (and that wasn't even worth all the hype).

Onward and upward...

Teddy said...

I read JDATE. It was freakish and horrifying and odd and I couldn't bring myself to stop laughing it was so FUNNY! Haven't made it to the sequel. isn't it called "John Really Dies This Time"?


oh, and, you know, cause it's me...

Stuff's gonna happen! Math! Executive births and nightmare cannons! boogabooga!

Anonymous said...

Cheeseburger Brown you are:
Too. Dang. Cool.

Great story, I hope we will get to read more about Agent Smith soon. I want to know how Mr. Miss got a copy Jesus and the Robot. Jesus and the Robot is not the book Lallo is hunting correct? If so Mr. Miss may have a separate copy of Jesus and the Robot.

cyberDrake said...

Wow. Just wow. I must say the whole interconnected series of stories is quite the wild ride. Please keep it up, I am anxious to see how it all works out.

oh- enjoy your vacation too!