by Mary E. Lowd
Originally published in Spaceports and Spidersilk, June 2011
The nebula was empty. Cold. Proto-star matter, so many dust motes, drifted, dully refracting the light of nearby constellations. The dust motes didn’t even swirl. There was nothing to disturb them into motion, except for the nebula beast herself. In earlier times, during her youth, she frolicked — expanding space here; squeezing tight there; watching the space debris splash about. She chased the dust motes between her many dimensions, but now she was too sad to make her own fun.
The beast let out a somnolent sigh and stretched her stiffening body, tired from inactivity.
Even then, the dust motes didn’t move: she was stretching only in the fourth and seventh dimensions. When she settled back into her lonesome repose, the fourth dimension snapped directly back into place, but the seventh dimension jostled the third which got briefly tangled with the second. Then the dust motes moved, shifting out of space that had grown smaller and rushing into the newly empty space.
The beast watched the motes hopefully, but when she realized it was only herself who unsettled them, she sighed again.
* * *
Unconsciousness came to the nebula beast, in all her mega-dimensionality. Time being the hardest dimension for her, she let it drift away, settling comfortably into her many spatial dimensions.
Sleep took her so fully that she was piqued with irritation when a radio wave roused her from her drowse. It tickled her persistently in the sixth dimension.
“Is anyone out there?” the radio wave asked. The beast froze herself, like unto holding her breath, focusing entirely on the radio waves.
“We’re running out of fuel,” the broadcast continued. Now the beast could sense the source in the distance, flying toward her. A tiny object! Metal, shiny, reflecting the light of every star like nothing in the nebula could. It was so beautiful, the beast fell instantly in love.
“We don’t have enough fuel to go around the nebula, and I don’t have enough air to sit here and wait…” The beast didn’t understand the language in the radio waves; she only knew their feeling against her, as she twisted around the sixth dimension to feel them better. “I’m going to fly into the nebula…” The broadcaster broke off with a choked gasp. “Oh, god, I don’t want to. I’ve heard of what happens to ships that…”
The dimensional beast’s excitement was mounting as the exquisite, delicate little craft approached her, all satisfyingly lumpy in the first three dimensions. A friend! A tiny friend to cherish.
“Look, if you’re out there, if you can hear this, answer me!”
The ship plummeted closer to the nebula, almost within reach.
“Well, that settles it.” The beast began shuffling herself among the eighth through tenth dimensions, readying herself to greet her new friend. The dust motes roiled in chaos. “Here’s to the other side.” And the broadcast ended, but the craft was now in reach.
* * *
The beast embraced the ship, hugging it to her in all the dimensions she could. Then, expanding the first three dimensions around it, she sought to see if it would grow. Bigger, she could look at it, but the tiny craft seemed to lose its cohesion… Quickly, she smooshed those dimensions back, but it didn’t return quite to its original form.
The beast withdrew herself and watched the ship. It didn’t move any more. It didn’t set off little blasters, adjusting course. And it didn’t tickle her with radio waves. Perhaps it was only startled? With a little time, it would return to activity…
But, no. The tiny friend, gleaming in the dull nebula light, did not spring back to life.
The beast sighed, slowly admitting the unrequited nature of her love. She re-approached the ship and scuttled it to the center of the nebula, where it joined her collection. All her unrequited loves… Such fascinating objects, alive in three, six dimensions — until they approached her. And then no more.