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by William Wilde
Even on a Wednesday afternoon, the giant triangle arch entrance to Future Zone Park was crowded with visitors, though not as jammed as it would be on a weekend. It was a sunny day in mid-July, school was out, and throngs of yelling kids were rushing into the park trailed by red faced parents.
Trey Thompson and his friends Pauley and Jess made their way through the sea of bodies. Tagging close behind them was Trey's wife, Kelly, carrying their two-year old daughter, Amanda.
A running kid stepped on Trey's foot. He winced in annoyance. "This whole trip up here better be worth it," he grumbled to Pauley.
Pauley gaped at him. "Are you kidding, man? A coaster ride that takes you into the fourth dimension? We can't miss out on that one."
"Yeah, well let's just see if it really delivers."
The sun was already hot on Trey's short brown hair and lanky body. He wore khaki shorts, a striped t-shirt, and running shoes like just about everybody else in the colorful crowd. Pauley next to him was shorter and huskier, wearing a red and black Trailblazers jersey. On the other side of Trey, blonde Jess was in a mottled camouflage shirt, like always.
Behind them, Kelly said, "Trey, you're going too fast for us. Amanda wants you to carry her awhile."
Trey didn't turn around and he didn't slow down. "Not now." He kept moving ahead, looking for directions to the ride.
Future Zone Park was a big new attraction built next to the I-5 Freeway twenty miles south of Seattle. Trey's group had made the three-hour drive up from Portland in his well worn Jeep.
The park was designed around a futuristic theme. Many of the rides were virtual reality simulations of future adventures in space or on other planets.
They walked past a big line waiting to get on the Mars Explorer ride. Trey wasn't interested in that. He had come to the park for only one thing: to ride the new coaster that everyone was talking about.
Riding coasters was his one big obsession. Along with Pauley and Jess, he had ridden the biggest and baddest ones all over the country. The Beast in Cincinnati, the world's longest wooden coaster. The 6.5 g-force Texas Tornado in Houston. The 310-foot-high, 92-miles-per-hour Millennium Force in Ohio. New rides were coming on line all the time with the latest advances in coaster engineering. Faster acceleration, longer freefall gravity drops, greater centrifugal force in the inversion loops, and higher projectile velocity on the straight sections. As soon as Trey heard about a hot new ride opening up, he couldn't wait to add it to his ride list that documented the date and place of every coaster he had ever been on.
Before he got married, the coaster tours with his buddies were a regular ritual. But lately his wife had been complaining more and more about the trips. Kelly said Trey was spending too much time on the rides and they couldn't afford it on their budget. She showed him a magazine article about people with Type "T" personalities who were compulsive risk takers. She worried that his coaster riding had turned into a thrill seeking addiction that he couldn't kick.
Trey didn't care if it was an addiction. The rides were what he did for recreation. The adrenalin rush he got was his only escape from a boring life: A series of part-time, dead-end jobs, trying to make the rent payments on their dinky house, always having to take care of Amanda.
Trey could only take so much of that for so long, then he had to get away, even if it was only for a few minutes, from all the petty problems dragging him down. Riding coasters was the only fun he had to look forward to anymore and nobody was going to make him stop doing it. The coasters were his life. He had to ride.
THE NEXT DIMENSION
The Roller Coaster of Tomorrow!
They saw the big holographic sign flashing on the midway. They headed that way until they came to the end of the ticket line for the ride. The line was a city block long, which wasn't too bad. They had maybe an hour wait. Trey had waited in lines for as long as three hours to ride some coasters.
They bought three tickets and got in line to ride. From where they stood, they couldn't see the ride itself yet because a shiny geodesic dome building was in the way.
As they shuffled slowly forward with the line, Amanda kept reaching out from Kelly's arms and grabbing at Trey. The toddler had the same curly red hair and blue eyes as her mother.
The grabbing bothered Trey. "Why don't you put her down for awhile?"
Kelly shook her head. "Then she'll just start trying to walk away all the time."
Trey shrugged. Kelly had insisted on tagging along on this trip even though she was scared of the coasters and never rode them herself. Trey vaguely knew he should be paying more attention to her, but all he could think about was taking the ride.
Trey moved away a little to stand with Pauley and Jess. The line snaked forward again past the corner of the dome and suddenly Trey got his first look at the ride.
"That's what we came up here for," Pauley stared. "Nice color scheme."
The metallic blue spine of the track and white nylon ribbon of the car rails towered many stories above the ground, supported by a silver webbing of steel girders. At the station platform, the next chain of blue striped cars was just loading up.
Trey ran his eyes along the track circuit. The ride made the usual steep ascent up the first lift hill, took a gravity drop to build velocity, moved through a series of climbs and dives, did two vertical loops, shot around a boomerang turn and climbed again on the far side.
From the top of the next rise, the track headed into a horizontal section that rolled over on itself like a length of twisted ribbon. At the last twist, the track suddenly vanished into something that hung there in mid-air.
Trey squinted upward at the place, trying to see what it was.
In appearance, it was bizarre. It looked like a thin, elliptical patch of space had simply been peeled sideways to open onto something else beyond. The metal spine of the track twisted through the tear and back out of it.
Trey frowned, still not sure what he was seeing up there. The sideways rift was hard to look at. The edges of the space seemed to bend inward, then turn into warped slices of something that Trey couldn't make into any stable form. It was like looking at a stack of distorted cake layers. Trey couldn't get his eyes to focus on the space. Whatever part he looked at seemed to alter immediately.
Staring at the torn space started to give him a headache just above his eyes. He dropped his head, unable to look up there anymore.
Around him, he saw the others blinking and rubbing their eyes. He wasn't the only one who couldn't stand to look at that place for long.
"That is awesome!" Pauley announced. "So that's what 4-D space looks like." He was the techie in the group and he knew more about the science theory behind the ride than any of them.
Jess scratched his blonde hair. "You really think that's a rift into the fourth dimension up there? I thought time was supposed to be the fourth dimension."
"No, man, we're talking about a fourth spatial dimension beyond the 3-D space of length, width, and height that we normally see. Think of a 3-D cube and then add another dimension at right angles to it. In geometric terms, that's called a hypercube. That's 4-D space. Our 3-D universe may be enclosed inside a 4-D universe, only we aren't aware of it."
Kelly was listening to them. "But if that place is a part of the fourth dimension, what's it doing up there on a coaster ride?"
Pauley shook his head. "A spacial anomaly that we never knew about before must exist there. The park owners claim they were only trying to build a state-of-the-art super-coaster when they found that thing by accident. Something about that exact twisted track juncture with the anomaly peeled open an interface between 3-D and 4-D space. After the park operators figured out what they might have there, they took advantage of it and renamed the ride The Next Dimension. It's been a gold mine ever since."
Trey frowned. "So why can't we look into the 4-D space?"
"Maybe because a 4-D space can't really exist in 3-D space and our 3-D human sight couldn't visualize 4-D objects anyway. Probably all we can see are weird edges of whatever 4-D stuff is there and we can't even look at that for very long."
They all stood there trying to make sense of what they had just heard.
Pauley shrugged. "On the other hand, no physicists have ever been allowed to study that thing. It could all be just a cleverly designed illusion and the ride operators are only messing with our heads."
Trey stared at him. "There's only one way to find out, isn't there?"
The line kept edging up closer to the loading station. Trey watched the next chain of cars fill up. A line attendant in a green park uniform was standing next to Trey. Trey turned to talk to him. "When the cars go into that thing, how long are they usually gone?"
The attendant eyed him. "Maybe a second or two. Same time as they would take to run on a normal track. It's like the cars are on the same track, only the track is running somewhere else for a while."
"But the cars always come back every time?"
The attendant winked. "So far they have."
The cars were fully loaded and the riders locked into the protective restraints. The coaster slid slowly away from the dock, hesitated briefly, then was suddenly shot up the giant lift hill at high speed.
"Look at that acceleration!" Pauley grinned. "They use a linear induction motor with electro-magnets to launch the coaster. It gets up to eighty miles an hour in just a few seconds."
The coaster reached the top of the hill, hung for a moment, then hurtled downward though the dips and rises, whirled through the loops, and shot into the boomerang turn. On the far side of the track, the coaster climbed again. At the top of the hill, the cars dropped into the twisted section, spun along the track and vanished suddenly into the torn space.
A moment later, the coaster emerged again, dipped downhill and moved through a set of friction moguls to slow its speed until it slid to a stop back at the station.
Trey was disappointed by what he saw. "That's it? The coaster was hardly in there for more than second or two. What's the big deal?"
They watched as the last riders came out of the exit gate. All of them were wobbly and unsteady on their feet. Trey was surprised at the expressions on their faces. They were disoriented and blinking in confusion. Some of them looked just plain stunned, like they didn't know where they were. A few had to stop and heave into paper airsick bags that the attendants had given them.
Jess stared. "They don't look so good."
Trey laughed nervously. "Are you kidding me? What a bunch of wimps." But privately, he was starting to worry. Maybe there was something about this ride that made it different from any other.
Kelly clutched his arm. "What's wrong with those people who just came off the ride? Trey, I don't like this. I don't want you to go on this one."
He shook her off. "Don't be ridiculous. I've never chickened out on a coaster yet. I'm riding."
Fifteen minutes later, it was finally their turn. Kelly waited outside the station railing as Trey and his friends climbed onto the loading platform. Trey and Pauley sat together in one car with Jess in the car in front of them.
The attendant gave Trey a sick bag, but he tossed it onto the floor. The thick rubber restraint yoke was lowered over his shoulders and locked in place. The cars were all loaded. The attendants stepped away.
The coaster slid quietly away from the dock on the nylon rails, moved a ways down the track and stopped. They were ready to go.
The sudden acceleration as they shot up the lift hill was a shock. The G-force pressed Trey back in his seat. It was the fastest ride start he had ever experienced. They reached the hill top and plummeted downward through the dips and the loops and into the turn.
The coaster raced higher again. Trey could see the twisted section of track coming up ahead, and beyond it, the torn space loomed. The cars reached the first twist and they hung upside down and upright again as the coaster shot along the track.
They spun around the last twist, then crossed through a bright barrier and suddenly the whole space around them changed.
Trey was immediately disoriented.
Everything he could see around him was altered in bizarre fashion. His body was still in the coaster seat where he had been before. But now everything seemed to have an extra dimension extended from its normal shape. The extensions were warped, blurry projections that constantly changed shape because Trey's eyes were able to see only slices of these dimension extensions at a time. It was like he was seeing layers of brilliant, warped edges projected from whatever object he was looking at.
The effect was both dazzling and sickening.
Trey felt the first wave of nausea roll up from his stomach to the back of his throat. His eyes struggled to focus, but found no fixed shape to lock onto. His brain worked to comprehend what was happening around him.
He could feel the car was still traveling along the same track, but his eyes told him they were moving at right angles taking them upward and laterally at the same time, which should have been impossible.
Trey heard the noise of the coaster itself and the cries of the other riders, but the sound came from far behind them, then changed to echo in front of them from a place the cars hadn't even arrived at yet.
Trying to find something solid to fix on, Trey reached out toward Jess in front of him to grab his shoulder. But he couldn't make his hand find the place where the warped, layered form of Jess appeared to be before it shifted away again.
The coaster was only supposed to be in the 4-D space for a couple of seconds, but the moment seemed to last interminably. The longer it went on, the more confused Trey's senses became.
He suddenly began to panic.
His mind told him that his body was still riding in the coaster car. He hadn't changed, he was still in one piece. Yet his eyes could see the blurry, distorted extensions that came from his own body. The projections might not be fully real, maybe they were only edges of what his fourth dimension potential shape would look like. But Trey couldn't help but worry that if another dimension plane could be added to his body, what would happen to his internal organs, his heart? What about his brain, his whole consciousness, could it survive?
Trey had never been afraid on a ride before, but he was really scared on this one. The sensation that he could no longer be sure of the true form of anything was terrifying.
He could feel his heart pounding wildly in his chest, feel his lungs labor for air. He opened his mouth and tried to scream, but the shrill, watery sound came from some place above him and in front of him at the same time.
The projection edges from his body warped away from where he was in the car. Then the coaster itself twisted so that he was sitting sideways to the car, yet he was still in the car, still moving with it. What was worse, his head was turned at a right angle so that he was next to part of himself, as if sections of his body existed in different planes. At the same time, the projections seemed to contain slices of everything that was inside of his own anatomy.
Trey's mind reeled in horror. This 4-D space was all wrong. It was turning him inside-out. He didn't belong there. He had to get away from that place. He had to get out!
An instant later, the coaster shot through another bright barrier and they were back in the normal world again. The cars dipped downward, bumped over the moguls and slowed abruptly to slide to a stop back at the station.
Trey sat frozen where he was, trying to collect his senses. The restraint yoke was lifted off him. Attendants were helping people out of the cars. Trey stood up and felt dizzy. For a moment, he thought he was going to black out. He had to grab the coaster shell to support himself.
When he stepped onto the station platform, it seemed to be rolling under his feet. Trey blinked hard, trying to focus on what was real and solid around him again. He tried to see where the exit gate should be, but he couldn't find it.
Whatever he looked at was blurred and distorted. The platform under him and the hazy blue sky were tilted toward each other at unnatural angles. He was off the ride now and everything should have been back to normal, but it was still all wrong.
Other people around Trey were stumbling off somewhere and he staggered along behind them. At the edge of the platform, he finally reached the exit gate and he saw the crowded sea of faces hanging there like pale fruit. But when he tried to focus on their features, he couldn't recognize anyone there.
Trey felt rising panic. Kelly and Amanda should have been waiting there for him, but he couldn't find them. Where were they? This wasn't right. These weren't the right people in that crowd. The ride had let him off in some other place where he didn't belong. This wasn't his world.
Someone had a tight hold of his arm. "Trey, are you okay? You look sick."
His vision cleared up suddenly and he saw Kelly looking anxiously at him.
He finally knew where he was again.
"I'm alright, no problem," he said, steadying himself on his feet.
Jess and Pauley were back next to him. Jess swallowed. "You think it was real, what we saw in that place?"
Pauley frowned. "It could have all been just a state-of-the-art hologram to fool us. But I think it was real, man."
Trey didn't know what to think about the whole deal. He was still leaning on Kelly. His daughter Amanda grabbed at him again from Kelly's arms. To Trey's own surprise, this time he reached out and took her.
He had the vague feeling that being in the fourth dimension had made him different, taken pieces of him apart and rearranged them somehow. But he couldn't figure out exactly what was changed.
The feeling lasted only a moment until he realized the whole idea was ridiculous. The ride might have messed him up some, but it didn't make him into someone different. How could any ride do that?
Trey laughed out loud. "So what are we all standing around for? Let's see if they've got any other decent rides in this park."
Kelly stared at him. "Are you sure you feel up to it?"
"Why wouldn't I? I was born ready to ride." Trey felt the confidence come back into his voice. After all, he had his image to maintain. He was still "Trey, the Coaster Dude," wasn't he? He couldn't let one fluke bad ride get to him and ruin the record he had built up.
Trey started walking on slightly rubbery legs, with Kelly taking his arm and Trey still carrying the delighted Amanda. The farther away from the ride they got, the better Trey began to feel.
He saw the line for the Mars Explorer ride snaking out in front of them.
He said, "Hey, Amanda, you want to go to Mars?"
Story © 2003 by William Wilde BillWil@pacifier.com
Illustration © 2003 by Patrick Stacy email@example.com
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