“Mommy, can we read this book tonight?”

“Hmmm…where did you find that, Seth?”

“With Daddy’s stuff. Look at all the beautiful colors.”

After a brief perusal of the children’s book, Doctor Amy Waterton was horrified.


“Uh oh, Daddy’s in trouble…again,” Seth muttered under his breath.

“Yes, my love, what is it that I may do for you?” said Thomas Waterton as he swept his way into the living room, hoping he would be mistaken for Cary Grant.

Three-year-old Seth Waterton began the long march to the stairs and up to his room. No book tonight, he thought to himself. He knew better than to make a scene about such things.

“What the f…” the five-foot-three medical doctor with the bright blue eyes caught herself. “Seth, Mommy and Daddy need to talk.”

Seth gave a forlorn wave of recognition as he trudged up the stairs in his Thomas the Tank Engine jammies.

“Oh…yes, the book. The book, ohhh yes. Well, you see…”

“You have got to stop bringing your work home. He does not need to know about this.” Amy’s eyes flashed with an anger and intensity that clearly gave the message that this probably was not going to be swept away through a hug, some flattery, and a couple of jokes.

Thomas Waterton abandoned the charming beta male approach and attempted to appeal to his wife’s logic. “This is something that he should know about. He’s in a position that may just allow him to make everything right. Between my proximity to the project and your brains…”

“Don’t flatter me.”

“I didn’t marry you just because you’re beautiful.”

“I said no flattery, this is about…”

“I’m all about the facts.” The five-foot-six particle physicist approached her and gently turned her towards the mirror by the front door that everyone checked before they went out. She looked at her curves and the slowly waning athletic physique of her marginally taller husband.

“We are a perfect couple and Seth is proof of that. And he may be the one to actually have the capacity to fix things. He should know about this,” said Thomas.

“…I just hate to see his childhood end. Everything is going wrong and we can’t even see the problem or feel it, or even be affected by it. I sometimes think the whole thing is just a hoax. Do you even have an idea as to what the message even means?”

“Well, we’ve figured out quite a bit since we got the first six words.” Amy rolled her eyes and harrumphed. “Amy, it’s real and we can see it.”

“You and all of your oddball cohorts at JPL. Did one of them write that monstrosity of a book?”


“Did you write it?”

“No!” Thomas said quickly “The name on the book is a nom-de-plume. It was written by…”

“I don’t want to know. If one of your callous, super-genius, asshole workmates turns up missing, I don’t want to be on the shortlist of suspects.” Amy sighed. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe he should know.” Realizing she was allowing something to happen that she didn’t want to happen, she punctuated the end of the conversation with her trademark glower and sharp but quiet voice to make it known she still called the shots. “But I won’t read the book to him. If you want him to know about this, you do it. This is one thing I won’t be responsible for.”

“Thank you,” said Thomas, trying really hard not to sound victorious.

Thomas made the trek up the stairs and stopped outside Seth’s room to listen to his son playing with his trains. Sir Topham Hat and the Narrator were giving Harold the Helicopter and Bertie the Bus a good tongue lashing for hatching a plot against Thomas the Tank Engine in retaliation for all the screen time he gets. His dad chuckled as he stood outside the door. He entered the room with the formerly contraband book in his hands.

“Hey sport, I get to read a book to you tonight.”

Seth was taken aback. He didn’t want to see his dad take any more crap than he already had so he would try to accept the change of routine.

“Does Mom know?”

“Your Mom and I don’t have any secrets. Of course she knows.”

“Then how come you say ‘don’t tell your mom’ sometimes.”

“…come on, let’s read a book.”

Seth wasn’t completely sold yet. Having comfy, curvy Mom in his bed just seemed better somehow, but Seth was an open-minded child; he’d give it a try.

“This is a very important book that someone at my work wrote, but ya know what the best thing about it is?”

“The colors!!!” said Seth enthusiastically.

“Could be!” said his Dad with matching enthusiasm. “The colors are actually very important, but I think the best and scariest thing is, it’s all true. Very surprising, but all true.”

“Awesome,” said Seth. “Let’s start.”

After Seth and his Dad were all snuggled in, the reading began.

“My name is Dugfluty. I’m not alive anymore. This was my home. It’s not here anymore. It disappeared.”

The picture on the page was a fantastic image of spires and spaceships and colors that moved and twinkled in a most unusual way. The artist had been able to mix, match, and contrast colors in a way that Seth and his Dad had never seen. It was beautiful and eerie. These were combinations you don’t often see on Earth.

“We lived in what you would consider to be darkness. The page you see looks like our Universe of Darkness. Because you can’t see us, it’s understandable that you would think we live in Darkness and that we are Darkness, but in fact we live in an amazing world of light.”

“Dad,” Seth asked, “is Dugfluty dark like Oprah and Terry Cruz?”

“No, buddy.”

“I like Terry Cruz and Oprah!”

“Me too, can we read?”


“Light for you is just a tiny sliver of all light. You can only see just a small portion of what we once saw. The people of Darkness and I could see the entire spectrum of light. Whenever we wanted, we could adjust our eyes to see any part of the spectrum. Everywhere we went we could see texture, shimmering waves, and sometimes, we could look right through things, almost like Superman.”

The page turned and revealed a picture of Dugfluty. He bore the unfortunate resemblance to every alien that had shown up on every alien documentary.

“Oh my gosh!” said Seth. “He really is an alien.”

The ridiculously large head and gigantic eyes sat atop a spindly torso with arms and legs that could have been made from a garden hose.

“Our worlds were different than the world you know. Energy and matter behaved very differently in our worlds than it does in yours. The planets and places where we lived do not interact with the planets and places where you live. We simply pass through your world unseen and unaffected, just as you pass through ours. One of the very interesting things about living in the Dark is that we can see you, but you cannot see us. This page shows my family and I as we go right through a very hot sun.”

The page showed Dugfluty and his family emerging from a sun wearing parkas and snow skis looking like they are ready for a day on the slopes. Thomas felt the weight of his incredulous son’s stare.

“Seth, you’re right. This is an…exaggeration to make the point that things in Dugfluty’s world just go right through the stuff we know without being affected by it. Did you know that there are things that are passing through the Earth right now? There are things coming right through your room that we can’t even see and can barely measure, even with all of the really cool machines we’ve got.”

Seth looked a little panicked.

Awww crap, Thomas thought to himself. Maybe Amy was right and I shouldn’t be reading this to him.

“What things?”

“Neutrinos, for example. There could be all kinds of things that we don’t know about because we can’t measure or see them.”

“What do neucheerios do?”

“Neutrinos, buddy. As far as we can tell, practically nothing.”

“Then why did God make…neuterinos?”

“Gettin’ closer. Neutrinos. They may have a purpose we don’t know about. If we meet God someday, maybe we can ask him. Do you want to keep reading?”

“Yeah, I want to find out about Dugfluty and his family.”

“Humans were smart enough to understand that there is more to the Universe than you can see. If the Universe was only what humans could see, the Universe would fly apart; there wouldn’t be enough gravity to hold everything together. Humans figured out that the gravity of the Darkness holds the Universe together. But the Darkness is not simply the glue that kept the stars from spinning out into the cold and lonely space: the Darkness was our home. We had a civilization that was billions of years old and stretched from one end of the Universe to the other, and now it is gone.

“We had families. Moms and dads would work hard to teach their children about our worlds. In the earlier days of our civilization, children learned about building things. They learned how to build space ships, computers, trains, and fantastic beautiful cities that everyone enjoyed. In the early days, there was a joy and feeling of accomplishment as different sorts of people worked hard to build important things. Then one day, the strangest thing happened.

“A woman known as Kara discovered something very important. Some of my people were invited to her home to see what this very important thing was. They watched as Kara closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and disappeared. She reappeared in the next room.”

“Dad, is this really true?” asked Seth.

“The Darkness was a very different place and I guess there are lots of things that are very different than they are here. As far as all the very smart people I work with know, yes, it’s all true.”

“Except for that ‘zaggeration.”

“Yes, except for the one exaggeration. ‘Now, Kara took much time and effort to explain everything to us. She explained what she felt and what she thought and then began to teach it to those in her home. Some of the people there learned very quickly and they began to disappear and reappear in different places. Not all of my people could learn how to do this, but this was a very long time ago. Within a few generations, all of the people who lived in the Darkness could travel without a vehicle.”

“Can humans do that, Dad?”

“I don’t know, son. We certainly can’t do it now.” Dad continued the story.

“This very important thing turned out to be many important things. The ability to transport our body made it easy to transport our minds. Soon we could send thoughts and receive thoughts from anyone. We could reach out to any mind in the Universe, and in the blink of an eye, we shared what we knew. Soon after this, everyone in the Dark immediately knew what anyone else was thinking and it wasn’t long before we were all thinking the same things. All of the new information that was generated was instantly shared with everyone so that everyone had an equal understanding of our existence. But because we all thought the same things, there was no other point of view.  Because there was no other point of view, there were no arguments. But because there was no other point of view, there was no humor or jokes or songs that we could surprise each other with. Since we had never had these things, we didn’t understand what we were missing.

“Life in the Darkness was in many ways perfect. We needed no food because the Dark Energy nourished our bodies. Because we needed no food, we never fought over for food or anything else. This meant there was never any violence and no wars. Now that everyone thought the same things, everyone understood everyone else. Hate and selfishness had become literally unthinkable.  To hate your neighbor was the same as hating yourself.

“We understood that perfection meant there was a danger of stagnation. All of us sought to make our existence as perfect as possible so we continued to work and study so that we had a better understanding of ourselves and the Universe we were creating for ourselves. In a small way, we were very happy.”

“Dad, is Dugfluty wearing pants?”

“I don’t know, sport.”

“If he’s not wearing pants, how do they make babies?”

“…we’re still figuring that one out.”


“Then one day recently, another important thing happened: we saw some radio signals. They were organized signals, so it was obvious that they were made by someone, not something. After a time, we could decode the patterns in the signals and this allowed us to see images in the radio waves. We saw a being from a different species making a speech. He was very animated and he was challenging his fellow Germans to be the best they could be. It took quite some time for all of us to figure out how to speak and read this new language, but once we figured it out, we were surprised. We had never seen anyone angry and passionate before.

“When the war that followed this man’s speech erupted, we were very sad and very concerned. We did not know what to make of humans. Sometime after this, there was an extraordinary increase in the number of signals. Since we had no concept of music or a joke or a tragedy, these signals were very confusing to us. It never would have occurred to us to entertain one another. It never would have occurred to us to kill or love or humiliate another being. The radio waves which streamed into our world were revolutionary to us and understanding them became an obsession. Everyone who lived in the Darkness worked hard to understand what we were watching.”

“Who was the man who started the war, Daddy?”

“Adolf Hitler.”

“Can you teach me about Adol Fitler?”

“Tomorrow?” suggested Seth’s dad.


“There were so many images and some of them made no sense at all and some of them referred to things we did not know about yet. Everyone looked through the images and tried to organize them so we could understand humans. What were the languages they were speaking, who were these individuals, and why were they doing these things? Little by little, we began to understand the images and we began to understand their purpose.

“It was a very important day when we understood that Ernie Kovacs was some kind of potentate and that his wife, Edie Adams, was making fun of Marilyn Monroe, an even greater potentate, by singing a song about Davy Crockett, apparently a deceased potentate, who had at some earlier time killed a bar when he was only three. It was another great moment to find out that a ‘bar’ was actually a bear which was a large hairy creature who liked to break into cars and eat pick-a-nick baskets. Eventually we realized that this was done for entertainment, but the hard work involved in sifting through the mountains of images left little room for the enjoyment of the joke. There was a sense of satisfaction, but no enjoyment; not yet.”

“Who is Ernie Kovacs?” asked Seth.

“Ummm…well I uhhhhh dunno.”

“He’s got a funny mustache. Funnier than the other man.”

“Yes, I would imagine that Ernie Kovacs was much funnier than Adolf Hitler. We’ll have to look up Ernie Kovacs.”

“Good, I like funny.”

“Now that we had some understanding of the images, we began to enjoy the images. The first time we had ever laughed was when we saw two women stuffing chocolates down their uniform. The conveyor belt that was transporting the chocolates was moving too quickly and the chocolates had to be hidden from their superior. We had seen the images before, but watching with the understanding we had gained from Ernie Kovacs allowed us to laugh for the first time in a billion years. Even your incomplete understanding of time and space did not diminish our enjoyment of the search for dilithium crystals or battling Cylons.

“Understanding the new images changed us. We are a very, very old species. In your society, ideas are generated by very smart humans, then passed down to institutes of high learning, to lower learning, to parents, then to wharf rats, then the clergy, and then to the political class.

“What’s wharf rats and the politi…what’s that?”

“Something I just added to the story.”

“Mommy never adds anything to the stories.”

“Okay, I won’t do that anymore.”


“It takes a long time for an idea to filter out to humans and your society has the opportunity to adjust to new ideas. For these new concepts of love, hate, laughter, and hope to flood through an entire species in a few seconds that hasn’t known them for a billion years changed us dramatically.”

“Seth, can you imagine billions and billions of people who don’t know what a song or a joke or even love and hate is?”

“No, Daddy, I can’t.”

“Neither can I.”

“We took a look at ourselves and what we had done and we began to wonder if we had done enough. When we thought about what we had done for ourselves and thought about what we could have done for others, we understood that we were being selfish. We saw that humans understood that it was important not to interfere with other species. We saw that those who created these images were concerned that the greed and selfishness that defines humans could poison the worlds that humans may contact someday. Not interfering in the affairs of another species is a very wise decision considering your history.

“Non-interference was not the theme which captured the immature imagination of those who lived on the Dark. The stories of the glorious interventionists who go about the Universe righting the wrongs of the evil and the shortsighted were the things that excited us and led us into a brief time of imagining new things. For the first time in a long time, we began to use our imaginations to see how we could best help the Universe.”

“Look at all of the things that they thought of, Seth,” said Thomas as he surveyed the page. “I don’t even know what these machines are supposed to do.”

“What about the one that says ‘police?’” asked Seth

“Oh my…it’s a police box.” Thomas hadn’t noticed the police box. That he was reading a child’s book about a species that was billions of years old that had an affinity for old sitcoms and Doctor Who just made his head spin a little more.

“What’s a police box? I know about police helicopters and cars, but I’ve never heard of a police box,” asked Seth.

“Do you know about Doctor Who?”




“No, Who.”

With a wit and wisdom that Lou Costello could only dream of, Seth ended the confusion quickly by glaring at his Dad and squinching up his face in his best “what’s wrong with you” expression.

“Sorry, Seth. Doctor Who is a TV show.”

“And he flies around in a box?”




Seth decided that Doctor Who was stupid.

“The plan to spread our reach to not only this Universe but into other universes was well underway. None of us were nervous or concerned about the path ahead. There was no one who questioned what we were about to do and how we were to do it. There were many choices to be made and we did not have the advantage that humans have: different points of view. Our singlemindedness had never been considered a strength or a weakness; we simply had no other way to see things. The recent breakthroughs in our understanding of diversity were not well established enough for us to make meaningful changes in the way we did things. We were not very good at telling the difference between a good idea and a bad idea because we had only done things for ourselves; we had never involved anyone else in our lives before.

“The millions of stories that humans told of the enormous sacrifices that fictional, legendary, and real humans made for the betterment of people they did not even know left us all with a feeling of inadequacy. We had only done things for ourselves. We were now ready to give up our role as Sedentary Masters of the Universe and begin to help others.

“It was decided that the best way to help was to travel to a time and place when the events that would unfold into catastrophe were in their early stages. We would be able to intervene and create a situation where events would not blossom into a disaster. We would be able to shape opinions and actions until a calm and happy resolution could take place. Humans created much entertainment that showed this would never work, but we in the Dark had so many advantages that humans did not, we knew we would be the peacemaker that humans never had.

“We worked on many projects simultaneously. One of the projects we worked on was exploring other Universes. We developed two approaches. The first approach involved traveling to other Universes the way we traveled through our own, through thought. As that approach appeared to be more and more unlikely, we went another way. We decided to see if it was possible to travel to other universes through the development of technology and then calculated the amount of energy needed to travel to an adjacent universe. It turned out to be a lot of energy.

“We then did something we had not done in many millions of years: we built something. We built a power plant the size of one of our very large cities. The power plant was able to produce energy beams powerful and complex enough to create a tunnel into another universe.

“No one was surprised when the power plant worked perfectly. No one was surprised when the energy beams created a tunnel to another universe. No one was surprised when the energy from the adjacent universe began to come into our Universe. The energy invading our Universe began as a trickle, then a stream, and soon, it became a flood.

“We were surprised as the energy interacted with the monitoring devices near the newly created tunnel. The machines we had built to measure the tunnel were simply dismantled at an atomic level by the new energy and then the atoms of the devices disappeared into the tunnel. The energy quickly engulfed the nearby planet that had been the base for this adventure. For the first time in a billion years, we experienced fear: the entire planet had been dismantled. There were no explosions, no flash of light: just the disintegration of a planet and a billion citizens of the Dark.

“All of us in the Dark tried as hard as we could to think of a way to contain this destruction. We saw the energy spill out into your 20 percent of the Universe, but it did not seem to affect the matter in your part of the Universe at all. Just as you were totally unaware of our existence, you were untouched by this catastrophe.

“Since the site of the energy flow was limited to just a single point, we were sure we would have time to find an answer to this unforeseen catastrophe. We were wrong. New portals began to pop up in every section of the Dark Universe and did exactly what the first portal did: quietly and completely dismantle all we had known and then pull the atomic residue back into the host universe.

“I am on a remote planet in the Dark part of the Universe and I am very afraid. I know the devastation will be here soon and I will be gone. Everything you have ever known and will ever know will be greatly affected by our disappearance, and the entire Universe needs you to help.

“You are the species that I understand best and can communicate with the most easily. I will send you all of the information we have on building a time machine and I hope that it will work in your Universe of Light. We hope that you can make one and come back to an earlier time and warn of us of the devastation we have caused. I will also send you everything I can about our species so that you will know that we were here and that you have never been alone.

“To use your own phrase, “this is a hail Mary pass.” Please learn what I have passed on to you and do not destroy yourselves before you can save everything. The end.”

“Dad…is this really true?” asked a very subdued Seth.

“Do you remember the day when all of the computers went crazy.”

“…a little.”

“That was Dugfluty sending out his message to us. Every computer on the planet downloaded his message. The first six words were “This is a Hail Mary pass,” like in a football game. I guess Dugfluty liked football, too. Right now, every computer on the Earth is being used to help scientists understand Dugfluty’s message.”

“…Dad?” asked Seth solemnly. “Did we destroy the Universe?”

“Tom Baker and Ernie Kovacs and Lucille Ball never set out to destroy the Universe, but ideas are powerful things. I don’t think Karl Marx thought his ideas would lead to the death of millions and millions of people. I don’t think the men who wrote the founding documents for America thought we would last as long as we have. Ideas are like anything else: they are tools, and how we choose to use them says a lot about who we are.”

“Why did we read this book?”

“Well, one, because you asked, and two, because your mom said we could.”

“Why did you bring it home?”

“It’s going to take a long time to fix this problem and you just might be able to help. We’ll need all the smart, brave people we can find,” Thomas said quietly.

“I’m scared, Dad.”

“Seth, we will be fine here in our little corner of the Universe. It’s just the rest of the Universe that’s a mess.”

Seth said nothing. Thomas ruffled his son’s hair and tucked him in.

“G’night Seth. Dream about time machines.”

Two hours later, Amy Waterton was awakened by a muffled scream. She raced into her son’s room and found her son shaking and perspiring. She went to her son, held him tight, and didn’t say a thing. After a couple of minutes, Seth Waterton stopped sobbing and raised his head from his mom’s shoulder, looked her straight in the eye, and said, “It’ll be okay, Mommy. I’ll fix this.”

She believed her son.