This is the story of a man named Nate who finds himself living in a psychiatric health care facility. He does not remember how he got there, but as he starts to remember things from his past life, he realizes that the universe has changed dramatically since he was young. A story of childhood nostalgia, sometimes comically illuminating the differing perceptions adults and children have of the world, The Spider, The Witch, And The Spaceship is also a journey through the memories of a man for clues as to the real reason he is where he is. Filled with tension between opposing claims of the ultimate reality, this is a novel that will keep the reader guessing until the end.
Free At Last
The ship travels slowly and the trip to Pookatel takes three weeks. The boys disembark with the rest of the passengers. Making their way through the crowds, they stop for a moment near a window to see the landscape near the spaceport. Pookatel is a low-gravity, airless world of smooth, rainbow-marbled rocks. It is home to several dozen Human colonies of airtight, domed structures connected by covered, pressurized streets. Sharp shadows fall across the rocky scene due to there being no air to bend the light and soften their edges. The dim blue of the nearby Ohllalleaho nebula is just faintly visible in the starry sky, the edge of the nebula starting just beyond the point that Pookatel’s sun’s solar wind would tear it apart.
While the others look outside, Fred looks around and notices some Human police officers watching them and talking to each other. When the boys start to move, the police follow. “Hey, those police are following us,” Fred says.
“Which police?” Nathaniel asks.
“Them,” Fred points out. Nathaniel and the officers lock eyes and the police start to run towards them.
“Run!” Haticat yells.
The boys run but are soon cornered by the police on two sides. Without wasting a second, they jump over the balcony to the floor below and slip through the crowds. They look around for a way to sneak out unseen. “We should hide in air ducts. All buildings like this have them,” Fred suggests.
“That’s a good idea,” Haticat says.
“I read it in that book from the library – How To Escape,” Fred says.
“Where are the air duct openings?” Nathaniel asks, looking all around as he runs.
“I think that’s one,” Doctor Bill says, “But it’s too small.” Looking around, the boys realize that all the openings are far too small for even Doctor Bill to fit into.
The police continue to chase them as they weave around columns and kiosks. As fast as they can, they find the main exit and run outside into the clear-domed parking lots and gardens. The lots, driveways, and walkways all seem to be coated in rubber. Before long, a wheeled vehicle pulls up next to them and cuts them off. Three more vehicles surround them. Out of them get Zleesnits, Nops, and more Human police officers. “Your fun is over. It’s time to go home for punishment now,” one of the Humans says.
“We’ve been waiting for you,” one of the Zleesnits says.
Nathaniel bares his teeth and claws as the officers approach. Fred, Haticat, and Doctor Bill back up until all are standing against Nathaniel. “Now!” one of the Humans yells. The officers throw a net over the boys and rapidly move in to close it. The boys thrash around, knocking the officers over, causing them to lose their grip on the net before they are able to tie closed the top. Haticat escapes, but is quickly caught by a Zleesnit. Fred and Doctor Bill fight to keep the top opened, but are slowly forced back into the net. Meanwhile, while the officers are distracted with them, Nathaniel bites at the net on the other side. Giving up on using his teeth, he takes his dromaeosaur foot claws to the material, hacking open a tear large enough for him to squeeze out of.
Jumping over the officers’ heads, Nathaniel lands on one of the vehicles. The entire group of humans chases Nathaniel around the four vehicles as he slashes the tires with his foot claws before running away. Haticat, Fred, and Doctor Bill struggle free from the Zleesnits and Nops. Doctor Bill runs between an officer’s telescoping legs and under a vehicle. Fred fakes left and then runs to the right. Haticat fakes right and then runs to the left. They all run after Nathaniel. The Gruezhlings are much slower than he is, but still ever-so slightly faster than the adults.
The officers give up chasing when the boys run through traffic into one of the covered highways. Narrowly missing being flattened by several motorized vehicles, the boys stop on the median to rest a bit. “The police must have somehow figured out which ship we were on,” Haticat says.
“They must have good detectives,” Fred says.
“We don’t have time to explore Pookatel. We have to buy a spaceship right away,” Nathaniel decides. “Where can we find a sales lot?”
“There’s a map over there,” Doctor Bill says, pointing at an engraved metal plate at the base of the clear metal tube covering the highway. Carefully slipping through gaps in the traffic, the boys make their way to the sidewalk near the engraving.
They scrutinize the map quickly. “There’s a sales lot on the other side of the spaceport,” Nathaniel says, “We’ll take this way, here.”
“I hope the police don’t take that road too soon,” Fred says.
“Let’s hurry,” Haticat says.
The rubberized sidewalk feels good, reducing the stresses on Nathaniel’s feet, and allowing him to travel more efficiently in the low gravity. He and the gruezhlings bounce along happily, momentarily forgetting their troubles. Arriving within the hour, the boys don their spacesuits to take a tour of the outdoor lot. “This is our fastest ship,” the salesboy says, “It costs fifty thousand, one hundred twenty-three money-dollars.”
“That’s too much,” Nathaniel says, “What is your fastest ship for under one hundred nineteen-point-four-three money-dollars?”
“Follow me,” the salesboy beckons. Walking to the other side of the lot, he shows them a small, grey, disk-shaped ship very similar to the one they found on the beach weeks ago. “This model can travel more than two thousand times the speed of light. It costs sixty-nine-point-zero-one money-dollars.”
“Is it fully fueled?” Nathaniel asks.
“Yes. This ship uses antigravity engines powered by sunlight so you never have to buy fuel. A full hour of charging should get you ten light-years at full acceleration. Of course, to decelerate again will also take energy, so plan ahead,” the salesboy answers.
“An object in motion tends to stay in motion,” Doctor Bill says.
“That’s my favorite science principle,” the salesboy comments, beaming.
“How is it that one hour yields enough energy to accelerate it that much? How much does it weigh?” Nathaniel asks, calculating quickly in his mind.
“That’s the beauty of the AG drive. It lowers the effective mass of the ship and its contents to nearly zero,” the salesboy explains.
“Antigravity drives are also very easy to fine-control, making these ships very agile,” Doctor Bill informs Nathaniel.
“I want to check the interior,” Nathaniel says.
The salesboy opens the door. All five boys climb in the airlock and wait for it to cycle. “It’s very cozy,” he says.
They enter the central chamber. It is almost exactly like the junk ship from the beach inside, except more advanced. Fred checks the engine readings. Haticat takes the copilot seat and reviews the system parameters. Nathaniel looks everything over. “I’ll take it right now,” he finally decides.
Nathaniel hands the salesboy the money, and the salesboy hands him two door-keys, one of which he gives to Haticat. “I just have to put my code into the computer to unlock the controls,” the salesboy says, typing away. “There, now you can set your own passcode. Have a fun time.” He exits the ship.
After removing their spacesuits and getting more comfortable on the large plush seats, the boys make some final checks and figure out just how to operate the antigravity drive. Doctor Bill finds the external sensor array. He sits down and checks the external view to make sure the cameras are pointed straight. Then he sees some people approaching on the screen. A group of police officers drag the salesboy with them by the arm. “We have to go! The police are here!” Doctor Bill alerts.
Haticat and Nathaniel run over to look at the screens and then jump back into their seats. “Everyone buckle up!” Nathaniel commands.
“Fred, I need power!” Haticat says.
“Ready! Releasing energy valves now,” Fred replies.
“Activating antigravity field. Effective mass dropping. Lift off in…Now!” Nathaniel says, pulling down on a lever, not waiting for the mass to drop all the way. The boys are pinned to their seats with the acceleration as they approach escape velocity.
Suddenly, the ship is jerked to the side and starts to vibrate. “We just missed another ship,” Haticat reports.
“The antigravity wake set up a resonance pattern between our two engines. It’s passing now,” Doctor Bill reports, reading his instrument panel intensely.
“It’s too bad we didn’t have time to secure takeoff clearance from the spaceport. Have we cleared the space traffic, yet?” Nathaniel asks.
“Yes, but…” Doctor Bill answers.
“But what?” Nathaniel prods.
“We’re being followed by three high-speed cruisers,” Doctor Bill reports.
“Ugh!” Fred interjects.
“Do you know if they can match our overlight speed?” Nathaniel asks.
“Probably,” Doctor Bill answers tentatively.
“I’m sure they can,” Haticat states.
“Does this ship have external weapons?” Nathaniel asks.
“I have a better idea,” Doctor Bill proclaims.
“What?” Nathaniel asks.
“Pookatel has a unique magnetic relationship with its sun. The two of them are linked at the poles by bands of ionic turbulence. If we flew inside, their sensors should lose track of us,” Doctor Bill proposes.
“Oh yeah, I remember that,” Haticat comments.
“If I understand correctly, that also means we’ll be flying blind,” Nathaniel says.
“It will only take me a second to plot a course through. We just have to hope we don’t hit a meteor,” Haticat says.
“How long until the ships intercept us?” Nathaniel asks.
“Forty-five seconds,” Doctor Bill answers.
“Can we make it to the channel in that time?” Nathaniel asks.
Haticat uses his station’s calculator. “I can do it in thirty-five seconds. Any faster and we may suffer damage upon entry,” he says.
“Do it!” Nathaniel orders.
Haticat quickly plots a course and follows it. Seconds later, they enter the ion channel. Every screen flashes white. The ship vibrates uncomfortably. It makes Nathaniel’s feathers itch. “There’s more electrical interference than I expected. I have to isolate some of our non-critical circuits to prevent damage,” Doctor Bill reports.
“Okay,” Nathaniel agrees. Strange things begin to happen. Nathaniel sees moving spots of color appear and disappear around him inside the ship. “What are those?”
“What are what?” Fred asks, his voice suddenly deepening as he grows three times taller and horns come out of his eyes. Nathaniel blinks and Fred returns to normal.
“Something strange is going on; I just saw you with horns,” Nathaniel says.
“Horns?” Fred says.
“I’m having weird hallucinations,” Nathaniel reports.
“Uh oh, I expected the shielding to hold up better than this. The ionic channel vibrates at the same frequency of dromaeosaur brain waves. It may cause hallucinations, delusions, and memory loss,” Doctor Bill explains. “I didn’t think the effects would penetrate the hull.”
“That explains it,” Nathaniel says. He tries to relax as he continues to hear and see strange things. He suddenly finds himself deep in conversation with a green vortex, but cannot remember what was said. He permanently forgets much of his early life, such as what he did on planet Hoosh, and more recently most of the fun he had on the cruise ship, remembering only that which is recorded in this book (except for the story of the hydrant bots).
“I did not!” Haticat yells at him.
“Huh? What’s going on?” Nathaniel asks.
“What’s your name?” Haticat asks.
“Nathaniel,” Nathaniel answers.
“Good,” a pulsating yellow vortex responds, quickly reverting back to Haticat.
“We need to exit now,” Nathaniel says, “I’m forgetting things.”
“We don’t know which direction to go; the sensors don’t work in here. Any direction we go might cause us to be lost in here forever,” Doctor Bill explains. “Haticat’s pre-plotted course will take us out soon.”
Nathaniel grits his teeth and tries to ignore the loud music he hears. Spots swarm around him. Two tense minutes later, the ship exits the channel. Nathaniel and the Gruezhlings take a few seconds to recover. “Are we out?” Nathaniel asks.
“Yes, we’re really out this time,” Doctor Bill answers.
“This time?” Nathaniel queries.
“You don’t remember? You recently hallucinated that we had already left the ion channel. It took a while to convince you otherwise,” Doctor Bill says.
“Really? I don’t remember,” Nathaniel says. He takes a few more seconds to recover. All hallucinations seem to have stopped. “Put navigation online. I want to know where we are,” Nathaniel orders.
“Yes, Captain,” Doctor Bill responds. Nathaniel likes the sound of that. He is finally a captain.
“Navigation online. We are ready to leave the system,” Haticat reports.
“Are we being followed?” Nathaniel asks.
“There are no ships on short-range scanners. It is highly unlikely we have been detected yet,” Doctor Bill says.
“Plot a course for interstellar space and engage overlight engines – maximum speed,” Nathaniel orders.
“Yes, Captain,” Haticat responds. The ship smoothly and silently breaches the light barrier and the boys are free.
“I just had a thought. The ion channel could cause hallucinations, delusions, and memory loss. Maybe I was in it so long the effects became permanent. That would explain my condition. So I really am still a dromaeosaur, hallucinating that I’m human,” Nate says.
“You’re not a dromaeosaur,” Alisha says, smiling.
Ignoring her, Nate says, “Hold it, if my current condition is explainable as an aftereffect of ionic energy, my story of entering an ion channel must be true. So if I’m crazy to think history is changing, my story of a different history must be true, but if history really is changing due to an unbound temporal loop, my story must be false. I’m so confused.”
“I think that my explaining your condition to you the other day has caused you to invent the fantasy of the ion channel, as well as the fantasy of being a physics professor,” Alisha says, “Still, that was very exciting. You should write your memoirs down. I think people will like to read them.”
“Really?” Nate says.
“Yes,” Alisha says.
“You’re probably right,” Nate says, He yawns. He looks around at the office, his current condition in stark contrast with the freedom of interstellar travel. He suddenly remembers that his stories are nothing but fiction and becomes depressed. “You know, I think I will take that break after all; I’m not feeling well.”
“Should I get the nurse?” Alisha asks.
“I just need to rest,” Nate insists.
“Okay,” Alisha responds. She escorts Nate back to his room. The hallway is most definitely longer than it was before. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” she says, leaving. Nate sits on his bed and does not respond.
Not knowing what else to do, Nate buries himself in his equations again, trying to hold on to some small hope. He gets nowhere. One of the nurses visits him. “We’re having outdoor exercise time now if you’re coming today,” she informs him.
Nate sighs. “Yeah, all right,” he says.
Nate goes downstairs and follows the group outside. He sees Derek vigorously running in circles around everybody. One of the other men starts crying. Another man repeatedly stiffens and shakes. Another babbles incoherently and constantly, hardly stopping to breathe. “Mister O’Reilly, you know not to run so close to everybody,” a nurse scolds Derek.
“Ahh,” Derek utters dismissively, but obeys. Finally, he runs over to Nate and stops. “Hey, Nate,” he says, breathing heavily.
“Hey,” Nate responds.
“It’s a great day, isn’t it?” Derek says.
“I guess so,” Nate responds.
“I guess so! Guess so! Ha!” Derek laughs hard. What could possibly be so funny? “Have you had any luck with your science experiments?”
“Um, not really,” Nate answers.
“Oh thanks, I do to,” Derek says.
“Huh?” Nate grunts. Are they having the same conversation? Had history changed again?
“Well, remember what I said about the farm,” Derek says, running away.
Nate thinks. How strange! He strolls aimlessly around the grounds, looking down at the browning grass and scattered, brown leaves. A random squirrel runs by with an acorn and he follows it. “Stay where I can see you!” a nurse calls after him, “Walking too far is against the rules!”
Nate turns around and returns to the group. Looking up, he takes in the view of the psychiatric care facility. It is an old, ivy-coated structure of ivory-colored stone. It has six towers and reminds Nate a bit of a Turkish palace or Russian kremlin.
It looks exactly like The Mama-And-Daddy! How had he not noticed before? Suddenly, everything makes sense. He had never left! Even when dormant, the residual energy from the overlight engines are changing history, causing Nate to slowly shift from timeline to parallel timeline. His equations are right after all! He discounted the overlight engine theory when he realized that their effects could only work at very short distances. He hadn’t expected to be this close to the source of the fifth-dimensional shift.
It is definitely The Mama-And-Daddy. The facility’s internal layout seemed before to be shifting, Nate remembering some hallways shorter and some hallways longer. The inside of The Mama-And-Daddy always used to change like that! The facility gave him a tracer. The Mama-And-Daddy gave him a tracer. He had tried to run away from the facility before. He had tried to run away from The Mama-And-Daddy before. The facility personnel had lots of rules to follow. The Mama-And-Daddy had lots of rules to follow. He is sure they are the same. His history as a professor building a paradimensional engine must merely be the history of the current timeline. It wasn’t how things had truly started.
What must have happened was that The Mama-And-Daddy’s unique overlight engine design caused it to shift into parallel universes while “pulling in” replacements for itself from still other timelines. To an outside observer, it would appear that it changed form. Once he had escaped The Mama-And-Daddy, it must have continued to change for years or even centuries until eventually becoming the facility. Nate could never observe these changes directly without returning to its presence, but such changes would have sent causal ripples across history, eventually making his universe unrecognizable, rapidly changing Nate’s history all at once to one in which he still lives in his parent. In essence, it would “pull through” the surrounding universe with it in the same way Nate pulled with him his memories into new bodies in new situations and living conditions. Everyone that had ever been near The Mama-And-Daddy, including The Mama-And-Daddy itself must be experiencing the same phenomenon – but only able to see their personal perspectives, each individual would think themselves alone.
Those onboard would tend to be “dragged with” The Mama-And-Daddy and therefore perceive a lower rate of change, but due to the ship’s non-zero size, not all parts of it would change at the same rate. The rate of perceived change would be larger nearer the engines. Nate realizes at once that some parts of the facility’s layout always seemed less stable than others. The showers were where the most changes seemed to occur. Nate has a good idea where the engines must be and he has a good idea how to permanently defuse them or possibly even to reverse their effects. He cannot do it during daylight when others will catch him. He must wait until night.
But why does a psychiatric health facility have overlight engines? Perhaps the original owner of the building in this timeline had an unusual hobby. It was pointless to speculate; it did not change the fact that Nate must find and disable them.
Breaking Nate’s focus, one of the other patients asks, “Are you my friend?” He looks very worried.
“Um,” Nate starts. Unsure what else to say, he says, “Yes?”
Suddenly looking very happy and relieved, the man says, “Oh, I like you,” and walks away smiling.