Finders Keepers – Prologue

The Northern Sphere of Eternity – CBM Training Center

Milky Way’s Public Unveiling: T-Minus 37 Days (Eternity Standard Time)


The last thing Donald and Danielle ever wanted was to wreck their marriage, lose their jobs, get banished from Eternity and jeopardize the Milky Way galaxy. So much for hoping. They thought they had time to slink out of trouble, but thanks to that bonehead Milo and his spectacular fuck up, The Minder of the Universe opened a can of whoopass on the entire engineering department.

Each work crew was assigned a single jar of cosmic building material, or CBM—the core ingredient for construction throughout the Universe. In essence, it was the Universe’s DNA. If not properly diluted, a single drop had enough juice to wipe out several star systems.

Lawrence, the CBM warehouse manager, stood behind the podium. He was pissier than normal. “The first time a portion of the Universe dissolved, I thought long and hard about your very uncertain status in Eternity.” Images appeared on a screen behind him—shattered moons, comet sputum and asteroids turned to dust. “I’m still thinking …”

Danielle grabbed her husband’s thigh. She dug in.

The second time a jar of cosmic building material accidentally spilled into the Universe, the Big Dipper almost shriveled up and died. The constellation originally consisted of more than eight thousand stars. Its current image came up on screen. “Now look at it.”

Lawrence took a moment before continuing. His disgust was palpable. “The third time a jar of CBM was improperly discharged—and for your sake, the last—it sent the Hennoid galaxy into permanent flux.” Milo, the engineer on duty, got drunk at the work site, and as a shout-out to his homies, spilled his entire CBM jar into the cooling galaxy below.

The overload induced a blast of white light. There were streaks of screaming fluorescent color. There was the sensation of being sucked through a tornado. And then there was lava. Lots and lots of lava.

Within minutes, there was another blast of white light. There were streaks of screaming fluorescent color. There was the sensation of being sucked through a tornado. And then there were flamingos. Lots and lots of flamingos. And then another flash occurred, resulting in cold, lifeless rock. Dead moons. And so it went. The affected planets remained in flux, jumping from one state of matter to another.

The engineering crew spent three eons trying to repair that section of the Universe, until finally they just had to wipe it clean. Permanent nothing. It became known as Milo’s Smear.

Lawrence cleared his throat. He raised his voice. “The Minder of the Universe has made a decision,” he said, almost smiling. “Trust me. You won’t like it.”

Though sitting among a hundred thousand engineers, Danielle knew the warning was all about her. Her heart raced.

The Milky Way, the glorious new galaxy with only one sun, was to be the prototype for millions more in the Universe. And the creatures that would become the dominant species on Earth—for a time, at least—were supposedly modeled after the very beings populating Eternity.

The Milky Way’s public unveiling was more than a month away, but three days earlier, during Earth’s plumbing phase, Donald and Danielle took an unscheduled, unauthorized break that wound up changing their lives—and the debuting galaxy—forever.

Rather than carefully inspecting installation of a drainage ditch, which became the Sea of Japan, they got naked on a platform overlooking the partially finished planet—still bright orange and smelling of scallion cream cheese—and engaged in some gettin’ it on.

The newlyweds hadn’t noticed that the glass CBM jar assigned to them was missing until Donald zipped his trousers and realized that one of them must have knocked it from the ledge.

After some initial panicking, they calmed down, rummaged through the bookshelf in their office and consulted page 40404 of the bound manual. They were not concerned that the Milky Way—or even just Earth—would be wiped out, as safety measures were in place. Gaffes such as losing a CBM jar were indeed uncommon, but they did happen.

The sealed jar, however, had plummeted into a cooling, frozen mass, one that became a 70 trillion-pound jutting glacier that tore up most of what is now Northern Asia. The jar had not been accounted for since the first Ice Age, and several hundred million years before Earth settled into its present form—somewhere in the early 21st century, although it was tough to be exact. The measurement of time on Earth was far different from that in Eternity; they did not run by the same clock.

Time in Eternity could speed up or slow down. It could leap ahead or jump back. It could travel in loops. It could bend (but not break). It could twist, flatten, knot and gyrate, as well as oscillate, pendulate, undulate and rotate. It could also whirl, purl, revolve, slant, spin, expand and retract, and—when it really got going—whiz, shimmy, shake, buckle, tangle, tremble, tread, roll, flip (although not flop) and even completely reconfigure. And it could all happen simultaneously or in any combination.

Tuesday breakfast in Eternity could unfold during 2 million B.C. on Earth, and lunch just a few Eternity hours later could coincide with 3223 A.D. Or vice versa.

But Donald and Danielle were not in charge of aligning time. Like all Eternitarians, they were at the mercy of a power far greater than themselves, and who—at least for now—had slowed their perception of time to synchronize with the pace on Earth.

They were also new to the job, and a blunder of this magnitude—losing their CBM jar—was not likely to go over well. Not to mention the recent memo passed along to all employees working on the single-sun galaxy project. It said that people—or humans, as they were being called—had been given an existence extension.

An existence extension meant that The Minder of the Universe, or The Big MOU, was intrigued by humans, and did not want anything to interfere with their evolution. Humans were to make their own way in the Universe, if they could make it at all.

The Big MOU—who seemed to have a reasonable sense of humor about a nickname that rhymed with cow, how, ow, wow and pow (pronounced The Big Mow)—was like that. You never knew what he would take an interest in next, or why. You just had to roll with it.

Any violation,” the document read, “will result in immediate redistribution.”

Redistribution. They shuddered to think about it. Being reduced to your base elements, scattered throughout Eternity and then soaked into the cosmic fabric, reappearing somewhere, some time—a part of everything, and yet the whole of nothing. Complete identity disintegration.

With the jar gone and no obvious solution for its retrieval, Danielle started to lose it. And when Lawrence called the department meeting, she knew they were fucked. “We’re done! We’re fuckin’ done! The Big MOU’s gonna make me a slug or some shit. Maybe a worm. They all slimy and live in the dirt. I can’t be no slug. This shit’s your fault!”

Donald ran his hand over his bald, white scalp. His graying blond hair along the sides and back was cropped. “How’s it my fault?”

“How’s it your fault? How’s it your fault? You’re the one with the, ‘Ooh, Baby, you so beautiful. Ooh, Baby, I love you so much. You divine among the cosmic beauty n’ shit.’         You know I get all gushy when you say that kinda …” Danielle craned her neck and pulled Donald’s lips to her chocolate skin. “Oh, come here and give mama the nibblin’.” Danielle pulled it together, but her fear was ever present. Lawrence made sure of that.

“Now that The Minder of the Universe is approving new star systems again, he wants them safe and sound,” Lawrence said. “So … for those of you working on the Urba, Fulmer, Lagronian, Yooshodo or Milky Way galaxies, there will be regular warehouse audits, which you will pass. Or you will be gone. And when I say gone, I mean gone gone. Redistribution gone.”

Redistribution. Just like Milo.

Lawrence came out from behind the podium. The screen went blank. “Any questions?”

With Earth about to lock into its final form, humans couldn’t be far behind. Which could only mean one thing. Trouble.

So while Danielle indeed had a whopper of a question, there was no friggin’ way she was asking it. Instead, she turned to her husband, who had been infuriatingly calm since their jar went overboard. “I don’t care what you say, muthafucka. We are sooooooo fucked.”

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