The city, and all its people, had become blank white, defined only by shadows from an unknown light source.
My family was frozen with the rest of the city. The only
things that moved in the space were me, Jo, and the bike messenger, who
was picking himself up off the ground.
"What the hell was that about?" He said. "I'm supposed
to keep the beat of time itself! If I stop, everything stops! Did you
ever think that your little chase would have consequences?"
"That was the idea," I said. "Stop time. Buy all the
time so I can think of something to stop the alien invasion. Get your
advice. If you're supposed to keep the time, that means you're some kind
of master of time and space, right? Maybe you understand what's
happening with the cracks in reality and why we're bing invaded. I mean,
if the invaders are completely alien, it's not like they know their
presence is unwanted, but -- "
"Who told you it was an invasion?"
"Well, Coyot -- wait, what did he say? 'There's things
coming that I can't handle, I can't appeal to love because they have no
hearts, nor to understanding because they have no ears', that kind of
thing. He never SAID it was an invasion...I guess I told myself that. I
let him lead me into that line of thought. Again. Again. I went to all
this trouble only to be tricked by Coyote again. ARRRRRRRGH!"
"Not that the situation is a total loss," said Jo. "You
kept the people from panicking in a time of crisis, and you brought us
here." She put on her bottle-cap glasses and looked to the blank white
sky. "That gives us all the time we need to have a look at the
situation. And you know, now that I can see the full extent of these so-called invaders, they don't seem quite so scary. Here, Jo. Take a
look." She handed the glasses to me, and I put them on.
I looked up at the sky. It wasn't blank white now, but
more like one of those black-and-white pattern images where you're
supposed to stare at it for a while until your eyes line up just right,
and then the message pops out at you. I stared at it for a while. Suddenly
the words became clear: NEW YORK SIGHTS AND ATTRACTIONS.
"Oh, good glory," I said. "It's a brochure. We're being invaded by tourists from beyond the universe!"
"You think so?" Said Jo. "Just tourists? I didn't see a
brochure. I saw a family with posessions on their backs, holding papers.
We're being invaded by refugees from beyond the universe too. Except...if
it really was beyond the universe, they wouldn't actually know about our
city, or understand it, because they would exist outside of space and
time. But they have brochures and fear and belongings. They must exist
within some kind of space and time...not necessarily ours. Maybe not
running in the same direction as ours. Master -- excuse me, MISTER Mazigh told me about
alternate-reality theory. He told me that you were never, ever supposed
to travel to alternate universes."
"So what do you call Down New York?"
"A branch on our own tree. Same
substance, easy travel. This is different. This is like...an insect
flying from one tree to another. Only it's between universes and the
insect is completely incomprehensible to the tree and the analogy breaks
down. It's more like...invasive species that wind up changing the landscape. See, if we were to go to a different universe, our physics would
be different than the place we went to. We could survive, but only by warping the reality of that
universe. It would be like ripples in a pond that never stopped.
Everything would be shaken up. I think that's what's happening here.
There are people from another universe trying to come here, whether out
of fear or for fun, but it's having bad effects."
"Fine," I said, "Fine. That doesn't answer the question of how we can stop them."
"Well," said Jo, "Maybe you can meet them to discuss the matter."
"Right," I said. "Shaman time again." I blew the Shofar. "Yo up there!" I said to the sky. "Any one of you wants to come down here and talk about what's going on, we would be much obliged!"
For a few seconds, or whatever passed for time around
here, nothing happened. Then a mass of visual static, like the snow on
an old analog TV, appeared in front of us. I donned the bottle-cap
The mass of static, through this view, was vaguely humanoid. "Hello," I said, "you're new here. Do you...understand English?"
The figure responded with the kind of static hiss you hear from the space between radio channels.
"Hang on," said the bike messenger. "Let me translate." He hissed at the figure. It hissed back.
"He wants to know why," said the bike messenger. "Why the clubs and the
axes. Why the fear and the anger. They never meant harm in the
beginning. Not at first. They just wanted a safe place."
"We didn't understand," i said. "Your presence in our
universe was...something we couldn't survive. That's what we thought, at
least. Maybe all the times we were fighting you, we never thought about
wether we could abide your presence. You were just...scary to us.
Something we couldn't understand. You appeared out of cracks in reality,
and we thought that spelled doom. Especially this time, because this
time you came to our minds with weapons. That was mean."
"So were you," said the bike messenger. "All those
times. We were desperate this time. Needed to be sure of actually making
it into your universe this time. Ours is...no longer hospitable.
Please, let us in. We are dwindling and dying. This is our last hope."
"And have you warp our reality? I don't...look, if you're
going to come into our universe, you can't just barge in like you kept
trying to do. We have an order and a sytem, see, and if you come in
blundering about then you might upset a lot of things that you would have had the chance to enjoy if you were more careful. Especially since
we've probably angered enough of your people to make them want to harm
us...If you all come in unarmed and under pledge of peace, we can work
something out. Alright? Plenty of space in New York, after all. No
sense keeping refugees scrabbling at the door while the hordes of
monsters approach. Are you willing to lay down your arms to enter our
city? We're talking New York City. We love immigrants. You just have to
present yourselves that way, instead of as invaders. What do you say?"
"Deal," said the bike messenger. "That's all we ever
wanted. So let's get time started again and we'll just get rid of the
black ribbons and come in peacefully."
"Hang on," said Jo. "It's not that simple. We have
rules, you know. Passport control and visas and all that. We've got to
have some way of vetting these people, after they attacked us. We need a
new Ellis Island. Some place to keep them, while they get cleared. A
focus that we can control. Some kind of gate. After all, we can't have these people be illegal aliens."
"Well," I said, "Mr. Mazigh will be less busy now that you're leaving his care, correct?"
"And he's probably feeling bad about doing something so awful that he lost you."
"And as I recall, you said something about the New York City Public Library being critically understaffed right now."
"What are you getting at?"