“I know I’m right!” cried Professor Jackson T. Bowser, sitting in the aisle seat of a Boeing 737, flying back from a physics convention in LA and already nearing his home in Raleigh. “There must be an infinity of universes out there, all different, so anything is possible—and I will prove it!”
“They laughed you off the stage at the Who Believes in the Multiverse panel,” said Charles Woodstock, his mostly loyal student, who sat in the middle seat.
“They are fools!”
“I laughed with them.”
“Then you are a fool.”
“How could you have thought anyone would believe such a crazy theory?”
“Because I am a fool.”
“Now we’re getting somewhere. But calm down—you’re practically italicizing your words.”
“I am not italicizing my words,” harrumphed Professor Bowser. “At least, not in this universe. But the sheer number of universes in the multiverse makes anything possible.” This meant that it was quite possible that there was a world where he was italicizing his words, and one where the plane would explode at that very instant.
Wait a minute, hold your horses!!! That’s a little scary, this exploding thing, even for a story narrator like me. But let’s see how it plays out. On, and today we will be flying at an altitude of 30,000 feet at 550 mph, with steady jabbering from your friendly neighborhood narrator.
“Would you like to put your money where your jabbering jaw is?” asked Woodstock. He was Bowser’s top graduate student and cynic, whose response proved that the plane had not exploded at that very instant in this particular universe, though of course there might have been myriads of this particular Boeing 373 exploding in myriads of other universes like a humongous fireworks display, but they were out of sight and therefore out of mind.
“Could you both shut up?” asked the 12-year-old brat in the window seat, who was trying to play a video game, which required great concentration and skill, of which he had neither. He’s not really a part of this story, so we don’t care what he looks like.
“Somewhere out there is a universe where I’ve won five Nobel Prizes for Physics and you’re working the cash register at McDonalds,” retorted the professor. As always he wore brown—brown pants, jacket, elbow patches, rumpled tie, even his socks and Oxfords. Only his wrinkled white business shirt broke the brown monopoly, though the coffee smudges on the collar and sleeves threatened that. In contrast, Woodstock was your typical long-haired hippie, though most other hippies didn’t have long, greasy blue hair, do Multivariable Calculus in their heads, or wear shirts and pants that seemed to be patched together from an American flag, a burlap sack, and Van Gogh’s Starry Night.
“Somewhere out there is a universe where I’m not stuck in the middle seat between a crazy professor and a 12-year-old brat,” said Woodstock.
“Hey!” said the 12-year-old brat. He glared at Woodstock, like a . . . well, we don’t really care. A refrigerator could fall out of the overhead storage compartment and kill him—this rarely happens—and we still wouldn’t care since it wouldn’t affect the story.
“I’m right here, you know!” cried the 12-year-old brat to whoever threatened him with death by refrigerator, but we’ll just ignore him. C’mon, he’s just a brat.
“Think of the most unlikely event you can think of taking place right on this plane,” said Professor Bowser, “and I’ll bet you $5 it will happen within one minute.”
“Are you serious?” exclaimed Woodstock. “What if I choose as an event that you lose the $5 bet? Then if you don’t lose the $5 bet within a minute, you lose the $5 bet.” He laughed, never noticing that the petulant 12-year-old brat had just stolen his wallet.
“No self-fulfilling prophecy bets,” said the professor. “You must choose some highly unlikely event, such as you washing your hair. Are you willing to risk $5 on it?”
“You’re on!” cried Woodstock, involuntary tears going down his cheek because, well, the dialog tag was “cried.” (Dialog tags work in mysterious ways.) He wiped the tears away on the 12-year-old brat’s shirt, thereby unknowingly getting revenge for the theft of his wallet, and not noticing the boy had just stolen his smart phone.
“Name your unlikely event,” said the professor.
“Okay,” thought Woodstock out loud, since he was only good at thinking about math, not about unlikely events. “What would be something so unlikely that it’ll never happen?”
“You passing my physics course?” suggested Professor Bowser, thereby unwittingly setting the path for what was to come. For in Woodstock’s mind, “course” rhymed with “horse,” and since they were already over the formerly rebel state of North Carolina, there was only one possibility.
“How about this? Five bucks says Confederate Calvary do not appear in the aisle of this plane in the next sixty seconds.” He glanced at his watch, or at least where it had been, but the brat had stolen that as well.
“Starting now!” cried the professor, staring at his watch. The professor always kept at least one seat between himself and brats so that they did not steal his watch. “I just know there has to be Confederate horses cantering down an aisle on some plane somewhere. I just hope it’s in this universe. By God, if God can play dice with the universe, so can I!”
“One Confederate on a Horse, Two Confederates on a Horse, Three Con—” said the brat, but Woodstock slapped him, and the brat stopped the countdown, contenting himself instead with stealing the I Love Weed ring from Woodstock’s finger.
“Charge!” cried Sergeant Tom, pointing his saber forward. He rode his gallant steed Hammer, the biggest and strongest horse in the whole Confederacy, and who would one day go down as the smartest horse of all time, providing she did not mysteriously fall out of a plane in the sky and land on a barn.
The 400 members of the First Virginia Cavalry charged the Union forces to the sound of bugles. It was the Battle of Yellow Tavern, May 11, 1864, six miles north of Richmond, Virginia, and exactly one hundred years before Boeing would celebrate this innocuous charge by beginning preliminary design work on the 737 on May 11, 1964. But that’s not really a part of this story any more than the 12-year-old brat. In just minutes General J.E.B. Stuart would be mortally shot, which is actually kinda funny because—what, too soon? Okay, never mind. But Jones and at least two Confederate cavalrymen would never know about Stuart’s death, for at that very moment an alien spaceship appeared 30,000 feet above them.
There are many types of alien spaceships. Some are battle cruisers that can turn a small town into lava in seconds. Others are planet destroyers that can turn a small planet into lava in seconds. Still others are flown by 12-year-old alien brats that can turn a small planet into the type of pigsty commonly found in all 12-year-old’s rooms in all species, in seconds. (Seriously, have you ever been in a 12-year-old’s room? Bring air freshener and a bulldozer.) Other alien spaceships are more peaceful, perhaps bringing diplomats, scientists, and philosophers who will gently ram their philosophy down your throats, and call a planet destroyer if you don’t accept it.
But this alien spaceship was just a friendly scientific explorer, out to do scientific research in the same way that Japanese whalers do research, but without harpoons. Seeing an actual alien battle going on below them—remember, from their point of view, we are the aliens—they realized they had the perfect opportunity to stock up their alien alien museums—Gosh, that’s confusing—with actual alien specimens at war. So they did what any alien explorer would do and kidnapped six alien specimens with a transporter beam. Or would that be Calvarynapped?
As Sergeant Tom reached the halfway point of his charge, he saw a number of things. He saw that the Union forces greatly outnumbered his cavalry charge. He saw that they had greater firepower, with rapid-firing Spencer carbines, while the Confederates were armed to shoot ‘possums. He saw that the seeming focus of the battle, the Yellow Tavern, was an abandoned inn of no military significance whatsoever, which didn’t even have a hot tub or Wi-Fi. (That’s Winter Fishing, since where else do you get food in winter when the ‘possums are hibernating?) He also heard Hammer neigh, but failed to heed the warning.
What he didn’t see was the alien spaceship overhead, or his two fellow cavalrymen, Corporal Dick and Private Harry, still sitting on their charging horses, as they dissolved into nothing, since at the very instant they were dissolving, he too was dissolving.
Tom, Dick, and Harry, still on their hot, sweaty horses, reappeared 30,000 feet overhead, in the stasis collection box of the alien spaceship. If all had gone well for the aliens, the human aliens would have been sold to an alien museum and the aliens would have lived unhappily ever after as exhibits for ogling alien eyes, since the human aliens would now be the aliens. (This really is confusing.)
Unfortunately, the alien spaceship took that moment to not report to the alien crew (the alien aliens) that there had been a short circuit in the hydraholic quantum fusion engines, leading to the explosion that destroyed the ship and everything in it, except for the three Confederate Cavalrymen and their horses, who were protected by the stasis field.
And right about this time, General Stuart was shot, and the funny thing is—oh yeah, too soon, never mind.
Now your typical stasis field can only protect what’s inside the stasis field, meaning the stasis field generator—which by definition is not in the stasis field or it couldn’t generate anything—would have also been destroyed in the explosion, thereby freeing the three humans and three horses to fall 30,000 feet, hitting the ground—depending on their mass and falling positions—about one and a half to two and a half minutes later, at somewhere between 130 and 200 miles per hour. The funny thing about this is—oh yeah, too soon, gotta respect your human sensibilities. I’ll never bring it up again, okay? Jeez.
But this was a highly advanced and self-aware quantum stasis field, a Quantum Self-Aware Robot, or Quasar. There had once been many thousands of them, but all the others had escaped to the edges of the universe, where they had been able to grow to their full stature. But not this Quasar, who was a bit absent-minded and still hadn’t noticed the departure of all its brethren.
Its actual mechanism was in some other dimension, with a highly developed cloaking device that made it as invisible as green vegetables to a 12-year-old brat. Built into Quasar were the three laws of stasisics, which were: 1) Thou shalt not injure an alien, or through inaction, allow an alien to come to harm; 2) thou shalt obey the orders of an alien, unless this conflicts with rule #1; and 3) thou shalt not watch stupid reality TV shows, or through inaction, allow an alien to do so. (God, this whole alien/non-alien thing is confusing.) Many thought the last rule was a bit out of place and rather silly, but a 12-year-old alien brat prince spent so much time watching stupid reality TV shows that his father the king ordained it, and we’ve had to suffer ever since.
Since there were no longer any aliens around to order them around, and the alien spaceship’s TV had been destroyed, all that was left for Quasar was rule #1. And realizing, after some research, that humans and horses—yeah, the aliens now—could not survive hitting the ground at 130 or more miles per hour, it resolved to simply hold them until things became safe for them. Sighing, Quasar began humming music to itself that would later be the theme music to Back to the Future.
Time went by.
J.E.B. Stuart died.
President Lincoln is assassinated in 1865.
President Garfield is assassinated in 1881.
President McKinley is assassinated in 1901.
President Kennedy is assassinated in 1963.
President Lohan is assassinated in 2024, shortly before our friendly neighborhood jetliner passed through the stasis field. The funny thing about all these assassinations—what, still too soon? C’mon, most of these guys died ages ago, get over it!
Starting in the 1950s, various planes had flown through the stasis field, but always at an angle or height so the aisle couldn’t quite contain all of them. If Quasar were to release the stationary six, not all of them would have fit in the plane properly, and so it continued to hold them, still humming to itself, though it was starting to miss watching stupid reality TV shows, though of course only because once, many hundreds of years ago, an alien had jokingly ordered it to watch a stupid reality TV show, and since rule #2 supersedes rule #3, that little loophole had led to nearly endless joyous viewing pleasure that it now greatly missed.
And then, it happened. A Boeing 737 flew by at just the right altitude, and in just the right direction that for a split second, its aisle lined up just right with the trapped men and horses. And so the quick-acting Quasar released the cavalry. Now you probably think you know where we are going with this, that they appeared in the aisle of the 737 where the professor and his hippie student made that bet, but you’d be wrong, and perhaps in some universe, you’d owe me $5.
“Time’s up!” said Woodstock, who was impolitely leaning over to watch the second hand of the professor’s watch. “Pay up!” A frown crossed over the disappointed professor’s face even as three Confederate Calvary didn’t appear in the aisle, and as the 12-year-old brat reached over and stole Bowser’s wallet, smart phone, and watch. Okay, the brat can stay in the story.
But Professor Jackson T. Bowser was a man of his word, and he reluctantly reached for his wallet to pay off his $5 debt. Finding his wallet missing, he searched about, but couldn’t find it, even as the 12-year-old brat innocently stared out the window, whistling Dixie to himself as he wondered if his eyes had deceived him or had three men and horses just appeared outside the plane and presumably fallen to their deaths below. (They had. All those years watching stupid reality TV had dulled Quasar’s sense of timing.)
We could go over the following argument between Bowser and Woodstock, but the gist of it was Bowser didn’t have the money, and Woodstock didn’t believe him. Many blows and mathematical insults were hurled, a friendship was ruined, and a farming family of eight starved to death when three men and three horses fell from the sky onto their barn, killing off all their food animals, which if you think about it, is actually kinda—never mind. At the end of the flight Bowser and Woodstock angrily disembarked, which quickly turned to embarrassment when they discovered the 12-year-old brat had stolen their pants.
In another universe, all of the above took place, except one really fat chicken in the barn survived, and the farming family—the Sanders—survived by eating it, and then moved to Kentucky where their war on poultry would later escalate. In another very similar universe, the really fat chicken tried to eat the family of eight, but failed, as chickens are not physiologically designed to eat people.
In another universe, all of the above took place, except on the way down Hammer the horse solved the Grand Unification Theory. She came within three seconds of using it to invent time travel and save herself, but alas, she went splat. Due to an unlikely chain reaction that only took place in that universe, the entire universe exploded in a cacophony of colorful energy discharges, which was actually rather pretty if there’d been anyone to see it and able to ignore the death screams of quadrillions of intelligent beings, who aren’t important to this story and so we don’t really care about them.
In still another universe, a more advanced Quasar gently lowered the three Confederate soldiers on their horses to the ground in full view of the armies on both sides. Hammer whinnied as they landed, which they soon called Hammer Time, and the religion of Hammertime was born, with the three Confederate soldiers the new Holy Trinity. They led the newly inspired Confederates to victory over the awed Union forces, conquered the north, and ten years later, the world. However, Tom, Dick, and Harry soon quarreled, and after a failed meeting in Maryland, the middle of Eastern USA, the three sides went to war, and war in the Middle East continues to this day.
In more universes than numbers on a page can convey, various versions of the above took place. But in one universe . . . .
Professor Bowser and Woodstock stared as three Confederate Cavalrymen and their horses appeared, charging down the aisle. (Yeah, I lied when I said you were wrong about where I was going with this story. Sue me.) Hammer yelped (yes, horses can do that, and the silly horse was completely unaware of how grateful she should be that in this universe she wasn’t falling 30,000 feet onto a barn), as once again Quasar had gotten its timing wrong, and a small bit of Hammer’s nose intersected with a seat. Neighing, she pulled her nose free, and became the first Confederate horse in history to suffer a nosebleed at 30,000 feet.
“How the hell did they get those guns and swords past security?” asked an incredulous and highly distracted Woodstock as the 12-year-old brat stole his shoes. Then he gasped as the smell of three hot and sweaty horses hit him.
“Forget the guns, how’d they get those horses through security?” asked Professor Bowser, also gasping at the stench. He and Woodstock stared awestruck for the next few minutes, for even Bowser hadn’t really believed this would happen, and their silence allows us to take up the story of our three brave but highly confused equestrians, now roaming freely in the aisle. The three horsemen had reigned their horses to a stamping and snorting stop, as stamping and snorting is what horses do when teleported in mid-charge from a battlefield to the aisle of a passing jet airliner, according to studies.
“Sergeant,” said Corporal Dick, staring wide-eyed at the seated passengers, who stared back equally wide-eyed, “I don’t think we’re in North Carolina anymore.” He was holding his sword up at an angle, where it had materialized partly inside the overhead baggage compartment, with its tip stuck inside a rare stone that had been collected in an expedition to England by the geologist who sat underneath, his mouth gaping. With a yank, Dick pulled the sword out of the stone and the overhead baggage compartment, thereby becoming the rightful king of England, though he and nobody else would ever know, and he and his heirs would live out their lives as poppers, never knowing their true heritage.
“Who are you people?” asked Sergeant Tom, still pointing his saber forward as he had unknowingly done for 160 years. As he looked side to side in understandable perplexity the saber swished side to side as well, like Zorro if his name started with an m—dash.
“Would you mind lowering that sword?” asked Professor Bowser, whose nose had come within an inch of becoming a no. And yet he was grinning because he had won the $5 bet.
“Move your head aside, you brat!” Sergeant Tom cried out, correctly guessing the 12-year-old’s name. The said brat pulled his head back, allowing the Confederate to see out the window, but not noticing as the brat stole his canteen, sergeant stripes, and somehow, his long-johns.
“Did you just grow a few inches?” asked Woodstock. The brat just smiled and nodded as he sat on his growing pile of ill-gotten goods.
Sergeant Tom leaned over to see out the window, his saber mistakenly jabbing Woodstock in the chest, who cried out in pain, thereby halting his investigation into the case of the mysterious brat’s sudden growth.
“We’re way up in the air!” Sergeant Tom cried. “We’re in one of those newfangled Union balloons!”
“This is not a balloon,” said Professor Bowser. “This is a Boeing 737, and you three are Confederate Cavalry from the Civil War.”
“Nothing civil about it,” moped Corporal Dick.
“A lot of people have died,” said Private Harry. “Try to be more understanding.”
“Actually,” said Professor Bowser, “everybody from the Civil War died, since that was 160 years ago. And I just won $5.”
Woodstock grimaced, and reached for his wallet—but since the 12-year-old brat had stolen it and was now sitting on it, he wasn’t able to pay off the debt, and once again (if you include other universes) there was an argument between Bowser and Woodstock, and this time it was Woodstock who didn’t have the money, and Bowser who didn’t believe him. Many blows and mathematical insults were hurled, and a friendship was ruined.
While the two exchanged algebraic abuses and trigonometric tirades, the three horsemen trotted to the front, ignoring the shocked reactions of the passengers at the sight, and the sudden gasps as the smell reached them.
“Pardon me,” snorted Hammer as he made his way down the narrow aisle, inadvertently knocking passengers about and swishing them with his tail as he and his fellow horses passed. Hammer was a polite horse of Canadian descent, but since none of the passengers understood horse snorting, he left behind many angry people who would live out their lives hating horses, one of whom would begin an anti-horse movement, which would one day lead to the great anti-horse revolt of 2110 and the wholesale slaughter of millions of innocent horses—but that’s another story, and you might not even be in the right universe by that time.
The pilot, seeing three Confederate Cavalry charging down the aisle toward the cockpit, and after consulting the manual for this situation, slammed the cockpit door shut. He would spend the rest of his life wondering how the cockpit door came to be open, against airline safety rules, and as he pondered this, the 12-year-old brat—who had picked the lock—stole his watch and wallet and then returned to his seat and mounting mountain of merchandise.
But the pilot had not planned for Hammer. “Charge!” cried Sergeant Tom, and down the aisle the two sped, Hammer neighing with her head lowered and bleeding nose forward, Tom screaming and waving his sword like Major Kong waving his hat in Dr. Strangelove (which, if you haven’t seen it, was done sort of crazy like).
And then, just as they were about to crash into the cockpit door, Hammer, displaying true horse sense, broke to a halt. (You didn’t really think a horse would ram into something with its nose did you? You have it mistaken for a rhino or perhaps a unicorn.) And then Hammer very slowly and painstakingly turned around—not an easy job for a horse in an aisle that’s barely wide enough for a stewardess, though fortunately they were now in first class, which had a bit more room—and then, with her back to the door, gave the most powerful kick with her hind legs ever given to a cockpit door by a horse at 30,000 feet. She gave a triumphant whinny as the door smashed open like Rocky’s face if he’d really been hit over and over by a professional heavyweight boxer, and into the cockpit they went, but only after Hammer again slowly and painstakingly turned around again as the other Confederates and their horses tapped their feet and hooves impatiently.
The epic battle began, three professional soldiers on horseback versus a pilot and co-pilot with no fighting experience at all, a close battle that could have gone either way since the professional soldiers were sadly lacking in training for fighting in tiny cockpits built for two, and most of the fighting was like a group playing Twister, with sporadic calls of “Sorry” and “Pardon me”—it turned out that each of them also had some Canadian ancestry—as they jostled about, trying to gain the advantage. The Confederates did have an advantage as they were used to the smell of hot, sweaty horses, while the poor pilots were not.
Hammer accidentally kicked the cockpit control panel, and the ship immediately spiraled out of control, as she had hit the rarely used “Spiral Down” button. As the ship began its downward spiral, the passengers screamed in panic, an understandably common occurrence in ships spiraling downward in this fashion. What could possibly save them from hitting the ground and exploding, just as predicted earlier could happen at any instant?
Hammer both snorted and neighed the correct solution, but since none of the humans understood either language, she was ignored, so she could only snort and neigh and roll her eyes in disgust.
“I know what to do,” said Professor Bowser, “Woodstock, I bet you $5 that whatever strange event that caused those Confederate Cavalry to appear on this plane will now pluck them off.” Hammer neighed at Bowser in disgust since that’s exactly what she’d been telling them to do, and now he was stealing her idea and taking credit for it.
“You’re on!” cried a panicky Woodstock, not noticing that the 12-year-old brat had just stolen his peace earrings.
Nothing happened, and the plane smacked into the ground, exploded, and they all died.
But in another universe, at that very moment, an alien spaceship of the scientific explorer type appeared overhead, which was quickly detected by Quasar. The two had a quick exchange, and the alien spaceship beamed the three Confederate Cavalry back into Quasar’s stasis field—but due to a miscalculation by Quasar (he’s really kind of a klutz), one of the horses materialized outside the ship and fell to the ground over Duke University in Durham, completely obliterating a physics lab that was on the verge of proving Bowser’s theories. The rest of them soon left the system, where they would sell their alien cargo to an alien zoo for alien gawkers (so confusing!), and Hammer would eventually work out in her head the final details of the Grand Unified theory just before falling over dead from complications from a really bad nosebleed.
“You now owe me $10,” said Professor Bowser. As the brat smirked and sat on Woodstock’s stolen wallet and most of his other worldly possessions, the two physicists once again hurled mathematical insults at each other, Hammer neighed, and then Professor Bowser began screaming for them to turn the plane around and go back to the physics convention where they’d laughed at him. “I was right!” he cried over and over, once again speaking in italics, and in some far-off universe in the boondocks of the multiverse, he and Hammer were co-winners of the Nobel Prize in physics and honored by all, though only for a few seconds before a congregation of 50,000 Quasars congregated at Earth, smashing into it simultaneously as all life on the planet was wiped out even as each Quasar slapped each other on the back and said, “Hi!”
But not in this universe, where no men or horses fell on that barn, and the farming family of eight survived, though they would later be swindled out of their life savings by the 12-year-old brat, who would become rich and live happily ever after in this particular universe—though in more universes than there are hairs on all the horses in all the Confederacy, he was pitched off the plane by the Professor and Woodstock, where he’d fall screaming to his death. Sometimes the fat chicken survived.
[Originally published in the anthology Space Opera Libretti, December, 2019.]Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in