When you set your mind to it, you can find anything.
This is particularly true of the internet, where you can find anything you can think of. If you're not careful.
But today I'm in search of simple answers.
I'm not very good with noise. Anything repetitive drives me to distraction: a dripping tap, a bouncing ball, a badger with hiccups. One noise in particular has been bugging me lately, and I'd finally like to work out what it is. More to the point, I want it stopped.
So I've come to see the smartest guy I know.
So, can you hear it right now? asks my best friend and confidant, Dr. Max Tunguska. It's early on a Sunday morning, and we're sitting at the kitchen table. The pleasure of a hearty breakfast is behind us. Just outside the window in the bright morning sun, the young badgers Hoth and Sollust are chopping logs with an unwieldy axe. Half of me is trying not to watch, while the other is wondering where the first-aid kit is. In the distance, there's the buzz of a half dozen lawnmowers.
Yes. I don't mention that it's more of a sensation than a sound. Besides, there's a lot of background noise today. I should get a better listen to it in a moment, though; Dr. Tunguska has been busy, and apparently he now has the tools to get the job done.
Max reaches over to the first device from the table – a simple white cone - and switches it on. A blue light blinks on it, slowly at first, and then more rapidly. As it speeds up, the sounds in the room retreat and vanish; I'd not honestly registered the humming of the fridge, the low drone of the fluorescent bulb, or the dripping tap. But now they're gone, I'm acutely aware of their absence.
That's a nice effect. Some kind of noise cancellation? My friend nods as he adjusts the next doohicky – a bronze sphere covered in springs - with a screwdriver.
Yep. Kind of like you get on headphones. Short range, which is why the noise from outside is making it through. I realise he's right. I can't see or hear Hoth and Sollust at the moment, but I'm still aware of the neighbours' lawnmowers. I lean back in my chair, looking round the window.
Are those two still chopping wood?
On cue, the youngsters reappear with a shiny, red chainsaw that dwarfs the pair of them; it's the one we trim the hedges with, but we've also earmarked it for the Aardvark Apocalypse. *
[* Anything this cute has to be up to something.]
The badgers try to fire the chainsaw up, with Hoth holding it and Sollust straining at the starter cable; those black-and-white lads are strong for their size. On the third pull it catches, and the hungry roar fills the kitchen.
Can you still hear it? shouts the doctor through the mechanical racket. I can't even hear him properly, and it seems crazy that I can still hear the noise that's dogging me, but I can. Somewhere in my gut; a slow, repeating vibration.
I nod and bellow in the affirmative. Max responds by flicking the switch on the second device. A huge, soapy-green bubble briefly appears around us, and abruptly all sound ceases. Everything. No manic badgers, no grass trimming, not even the traffic from the main road.
The silence is remarkable, unnatural. I've never not heard anything like it.
But I notice that it's punctuated by a single, faint noise. It's the source of my annoyance, and for the first time, I can hear it properly; an ethereal, high-pitched squeaking.
Max pats the sphere gently, proudly. This thing reflects all the remaining soundwaves, so we don’t hear them. He cocks his head. Dammit, now I can hear it! he looks about, trying to get a bearing. It’s like a rusty wheel on a supermarket trolley. I can't put my finger on it either. It seems to be everywhere.
How is it defying your devices? I whisper, as if we might frighten it off by speaking too loud. Instinctively, I know the answer.
Well, it's not coming from this set of immediate dimensions, confirms the arch-genius in an equally-hushed tone, so it's a good job I brought this with me. He indicates the final device on the table.
I can't describe it adequately, but if I say it's a like an four-sided, gunmetal man-trap with a spinning core of molten custard, you’d be most of the way there.
I'm afraid to ask, I mutter with little certainty.
Well, it's quite simple, really. He waves a hand vaguely around the room. We're going to collapse the immediate four dimensions.
And, saying no more, he reaches for the switch.
Waitaminute! He pauses as I scrabble around for a suitable objection. What will happen to, well, everything?
Max chuckles and shakes his head. Fear not, old son. We're going to fold them up neatly. Including Time, so it'll all be nice and tidy. And then, we'll see what's left. He sees I still look uncertain, and nods towards the window. Don’t worry, those lads outside, and everyone else, will be fine. Most likely.
Silently, the indicated window shatters. Thousands of tiny jagged fragments burst into the room, and then fall to the floor; it's like watching TV with the sound off. A roughly-cut log lands on the carpet and rolls gently to a stop. Ten second later, two apprehensive badger faces and a spinning chainsaw blade rise up slowly and scan the room. I give them a deflated look; that's two broken windows in as many months.
If they don’t kill us all with that chainsaw first, of course.
The pair bolt off up the garden as Max fires the third device up.
The triangular edges of the man-trap start to fold upwards. and the world goes with them. It's a peculiar effect; In my vision, the picture skews, contracts and rises. Perspective ceases to exist, and I see furniture, glass, wallpaper and sky all corrugate and collapse. Above the core of the device, four brilliant lines rise and converge until there is a single, dazzling vertical line of white reality atop a metal pyramid.
The world is gone. We're in limbo. There's a faint smell of custard.
I have neither the science nor the words to describe our location.
But next to us, hanging freely - in what would be mid-air (if there were any dimensions - is a spinning mechanical bearing, two metal rings separated by an orbit of tiny metal balls. It's perhaps the size of a bagel; my stomach rumbles.
As the bearing completes each revolution, it emits a slow, grinding squeak.
And without all of our dimensions in the way, it's rather loud.
Good grief, what is it?
Max shrugs. I've no idea. Something fundamental, I guess. A forgotten component? The heart of the universe? Maybe it's just a metaphor. He reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a small blue-and-yellow spray-can of mechanical lubricant with a grin.
So. Shall we fix it?
Five minutes later, we're enjoying a cup of tea in my front room. There's noise everywhere, but not that one. Underneath the hubbub of the world there is glorious silence. I chuckle as I sip my Darjeeling.
When you set your mind to it, you can find anything.
But sometimes, even when the answers are simple, you have to dig deep.
And carry some WD40.
This blog entry is protected by copyright © Indigo Roth, 2012