It was twenty-eight o’clock on the longest day of the year so far and still the sun had not set. The Professor tapped his watch sadly and turned to look at me.
“There is nothing for it, I’m afraid. Someone is just going to have to come up with a new value for Pi. Otherwise none of our clocks and watches will ever work properly again. I’m not the right man for the job, heaven knows, but maybe someone else is.”
This was all very well, but not what I had come here to find out. I shrugged and affected my best look of weary resignation. The Professor leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially,
“The datastream has become corrupted.”
I waited for him to finish.
“Take this egg, for instance. Each egg displays an internal memory of collective consciousness and an interrelated symmetry of form. When a freshly-laid egg is foisted upon us it not only exhibits a holistic form that we recognise as an egg, with yolk at its centre and shell on the outside, it also contains encoded within it, in universal genetic library data format, all the information necessary to produce a damn near infinite stream of the little blighters.”
He paused for emphasis. I sat there and twiddled my thumbs.
“What happens now is anybody’s guess. But eggs will never be the same again.”
To prove his point he threw the egg against the wall. It bounced once, then slithered to the floor, flexing itself gently. After a moment or two of eggy hyperventillation a crack formed, widening into a long red orifice out of which slithered a small brown furry thing with many legs. It rolled over on the carpet wiping green gook off itself with its legs and sniffing the air blindly.
The Professor strode over and dispatched it to Kingdom Come with one stomp of his size ten desert boots.
“I’m not too sure what that thing was, but sure as eggs ain’t eggs it wasn’t anything that we would recognise as a chicken. Assuming that it could replicate, and that it might find a similar mate with compatible genetic coding we can be fairly sure that whatever offspring their coupling might produce wouldn’t look much like an egg. Also assuming that its own genetic blueprint was capable of issuing instructions on how to actually copulate and not just sit there masturbating furiously behind the sideboard. Oh, I’ve seen them do it, believe me. Makes a frantic mess on the carpet. I have lost several cleaning ladies over it.”
He removed his glasses and started to polish them. “Do you know what the worst thing is?”
I shook my head.
“If you try to make scrambled eggs with them it comes out completely the wrong colour and tastes absolutely ghastly. I keep trying but I think I shall just have to give up soon.”
He was sweating heavily now and stopped to wipe his brow. I turned and looked at the breakfast table and for the first time began to comprehend the strange logic behind the pattens of broken crockery and glass surrounding the large and heavy butcher’s knife embedded at the centre. I was forced to conclude that the Professor, genius though he might once have been, had fallen into the same trap as the rest of humanity, confusing general distortions in the very fabric of reality with his own natural, if newly enhanced, internal hallucinatory state. The difference being that scrambled eggs in the latter category are ultimately still very much like scrambled eggs, whatever colour they appear to be and no matter how many tiny arms or legs they happen to be waving at you.
I looked up and saw the Professor wriggling around on all fours licking the table legs. If there was any solution to this problem I was beginning to doubt whether he might be of any use whatsoever in helping to find it out. I left him rolling on his back amongst the broken eggshells and went into his study.
The room was small and very brown. Brown books with brown spines filled the brown shelves that lined the nicotine-stained wallpaper that covered the walls. Even the dust had a brownish tinge to it. I picked a regulation brown notebook from the shelf at random, sat down at the antique oak desk and began to read.
The volume was entitled:
ZUGSWANG, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Trust the Subtle Shifts in Perception that Plague Us All
and it began:
“It was around five thirty on a Thursday afternoon in early August when I first became aware that something was wrong. There could be no doubt. Someone, somewhere, had set off the Reality Device.”
My heart leapt. Here, finally, was concrete, first-hand evidence from someone intimately involved in The Project. Keep it together now. The clues are in here. I just have to stay focussed long enough, find the truth and retain the basic information. I read on.
“The clues were all there. Enhanced colour perception. Loss of depth perception. Heart palpitations. Sudden momentary loss of breath. All the symptoms of fatigue and disorientation that we had observed in every one of our test subjects, only now it was happening to us. All of humanity was affected, simultaneously and permanently. There could be no going back from this. That was why we had signed the Noncommittal Treaty with those of our closest neighbours and allies who had helped us develop this project. The technology must have been leaked to our enemies, either the plans or a prototype, though the man from the Ministry had informed me in all sincerity that all such things had been destroyed. What then? Perhaps…”
The words began to swim before my eyes.
“…we should take a nice swim in the lake, said Heidi…”
No no no no no! Not now, just when I was getting close to finding out what had happened to humanity all those months ago. But it was too late. The notebook had already transformed into a cheap and gaudy paperback. I leaned back in my swivel chair and stared out across the sunlit terrace. It was chilly but there were people frolicking in bathing suits down by the sea shore. A waitress approached and placed a glass of what appeared to be iced tea on the trestle table in front of me. Wasn’t so bad. Looked like Brighton. Now what was I doing? Reading something important, I was sure of that.
“Naomi wandered over leading her Shetland pony. Boris says we should meet him down by the cove later, she whispered huskily. In the meantime let’s go looking for buried pirate treasure out on the moors!”
I took a sip of iced tea and read on…
This story was originally written in 1999 and appeared in a slightly different form around that time on the MutantFiction Yahoo group. It was first published here in January 2010. The beginning was revised in October 2014, again based on older material.