Negative Wonderland by Christina Engela and Alex S. Johnson
Alyssa Lydelle was amusing herself with vintage stereopticon images of a very distant ancestor when the ship’s gravity failed.
The lure of space travel was wearing thin, although she was proud to be the youngest Commander in the Interstellar League, and manned her binnacle adeptly. How often had she shrugged off meteor storms, event horizons, alien attacks and the buffoonery of her crew as just another aspect of the job, a choice among evils? She told herself to get a grip, relax and wait till the backup generator had her on her feet again.
Peering through the spaceport, she gulped. The instruments had run amok, and she knew why: this wasn’t just a black hole, it was a very Titan of imploding stars, and the control panel was already rippling. Unusual animals of various shapes and sizes slammed against the glass and the ship rocked; Alyssa still floated, and all seemed, if not lost, on the far side of found.
If only she could shoot the ship back in time to a more peaceful age, an age in which young girls might drowse with their cats by a stream and watch white rabbits with large pocket watches dash towards an important, yet quizzical, appointment deep underground. As she mused in this way, the gravity kicked on and she slammed to the floor, various tools following, a rain of wrenches and wire-snippers and Victorian artifacts until she sat inside a circle of metal detritus.
Alyssa had just begun to contemplate the astrophysics of rabbit holes, and whether waist-coat pockets were actually puckers in space-time, when she felt herself floating again, and cursed the outdated artificial gravity drive foisted on her by a cut-rate vendor. Oddly enough, she wasn’t floating towards anything, or even about the cabin, yet she felt and saw her body begin to stretch like taffy, her face mashed up against the spaceport. The bright black metallic spaceboots telescoped into her stomach, and like an inchworm she was propelled by stuttering increments through the glass and into the maw of the black hole.
A deadly fear gripped her as she twirled through and downwards a sucking funnel of some kind. Alyssa hoped she was just dreaming, and would soon wake up in the cryobay just in time for tea, but she suspected that what was happening was actually happening, and would continue in this vein indefinitely.
“Hello Alyssa” said the cat in the sudden, peaceful new silence – the sort of sudden silence that falls after a thunderclap. It was an unusual breed of cat, if there could be such a thing, thought Alyssa, since cats were cats generally and pretty much all the same. All other things being equal, this cat was unusual because of its weird smile–which seemed separate from the rest of it–but perhaps even more because of its uncanny ability to articulate vowels. It had said ‘hello’. In an English accent. While smiling.
The where-to’s and why-fors of where she was and how she’d arrived completely eluding her for the moment, her social conditioning told her it would be bad manners to not respond. Especially to a cat with a smile who had said “hello,” and in a place with purple trees and orange grass of which she had no recollection of how she had got there.
“Hello.” She replied. “Mr. Cat?”
“Don’t mind if I do. Extra cream, please,” said the cat.
“I’m so sorry,” said Alyssa–and she really was terribly sorry, besides being confused and out of sorts from the abrupt transition to this odd world. “But I’m afraid I don’t understand, not one little bit. Just now I was wishing…”
“You were wishing for some tea,” said the cat amiably, curling up at her feet. “Please sit down. You’re making me uncomfortable, with the standing and the bizarre accent.” Suddenly a full tea service popped up beside her, much like a mushroom the morning after rain. Alyssa, anxious not to offend any alien inhabitants (a previous misstep on her part had nearly set off an intergalactic war), kneeled in the orange grass and poured the steaming hot tea into a tiny china cup and offered it to the cat. “You know, I own a cat much like…” and she paused.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Oh dear,” said Alyssa. Despite her best efforts, the cat looked terribly offended. “You must forgive me, dear cat, kind cat…for you see, I’m so very new to your world, and I’m bound to make mistakes.” Embarrassed, Alyssa lowered her head and scooted her own, human-sized cup below her chin. Her hands trembled so hard that she spilled half the tea down the collar of her spacesuit. She suppressed a cry as the liquid cooked her skin, but let it out as a horrified scream when she looked up and saw the cat adorned with the robes of a Justice, holding a gavel high above its head.
“Trafficking in feline slaves is not just a ‘mistake,’ as you so naively put it,” said the cat, green eyes blazing, its teeth sharp as razors. “You have confessed your crime, and must take the punishment.” The gavel came down.
Hoots, hollers and alarming joy for the “fresh meat”greeted Alyssa as rough paws seized her from behind, a black sack reeking of Schrodinger’s Catnip placed on her head, whereupon she was dragged through a portal that was the mirror-opposite of the one through which she’d entered.
“Oh dear oh dear oh dear,” said Alyssa to herself. “A reverse-negative black hole. I’ve heard these are very bad and impossible to escape from.” The hood was yanked off, and she found herself staring through the bars of a grim, squalid cell, so small she had to squeeze her limbs together to avoid contamination from the toxic-looking bacteria that stained the walls.
“Not impossible, just unlikely,” said the cat, who was reduced now to a streamlined and awful grin hovering on the periphery of her vision. “Unless, of course, you choose the Ultimate Option.”
“W-what exactly is the Ultimate Option?” stammered Alyssa.
The cat drifted directly in front of her face. “Come a little closer, and I can bite your head off,” it said.
“But…even if I agreed, there’s no way I can fit my head through the bars.”
In response, the cat rummaged through its coat pockets and found a chunk of biscuit. “Ordinarily, you’d be right,” it said. “But if you take a bite of this, you’ll find the maneuver quite easy.”
Alyssa closed her eyes and opened her mouth. Protest and struggle were futile. Plus, the biscuit’s extraordinary taste distracted her from the pain as the cat’s jaws slammed down.
On a summer morning, the cat drowsing beside Alice near the stream awoke from a pleasant dream. When it smiled, it felt its grin begin to pull away from its head; but only a little bit.