My Cosmic Slot Machine
I bought it on a whim from a store called “Antiques and Oddities”. It was on a shelf next to a pair of ‘X Ray Specs’, an Egyptian statue, and a huge shark tooth. Of course I didn’t believe what the man told me, I don’t even think he believed it. But the thing looked interesting enough that I bought it anyway. Who couldn’t use a $2 paperweight, even if it couldn’t “show you a random part of the universe”?
I got it home and put it on my desk. It looked like an aquarium. It was cubic, about one foot across, with glass on all six sides. On one of the sides, the one that pointed up at the moment, was a large red button. I glanced through the six-page instruction booklet that came with it. After a few warnings about keeping it out of water and things like that, the booklet explained what it did.
“Press the button. The cubic foot of space inside the container will be exchanged with a cubic foot of space randomly selected from somewhere in the universe. To ensure…”
I pressed the button. Nothing happened. What a shock. Two dollars well spent. I pressed the button again, and again, and again. Nothing happened. Piece of junk. I pressed it again. In an instant the clear glass cube was filled with a neon green liquid, opaque and milky. Excitement flowed through me, then shock and disbelief, then excitement again. Where did this liquid come from? Did this cube actually do something? Why hadn’t it worked before?
I pressed the button again, and in an instant the liquid was gone, leaving absolutely no residue. The cube was empty. It occurred to me: the universe is mostly empty space.
I pressed the button again, and again, and again. This went on for an hour; the cube was empty the entire time. Then suddenly, as I pressed the button, it filled with a purple gas. Unfortunately the pressing had become so automatic that before I could stop myself I had pressed the button again and the gas was gone. But I had no more doubts that it really worked. I kept on pressing the button, more slowly now.
It stayed empty for an hour.
It stayed empty for another hour.
Then suddenly the cube was filled with a piece of stone, severed cleanly at the edges of the cube. The stone had triangles etched into it. I took a picture with my phone and kept pressing the button.
It stayed empty for another few hours.
I pressed the button again and again and again. I felt a thrill that was entirely new to me. From my bedroom in Canada, I was in touch with the entire universe. I didn’t feel the hours passing by. Day became night and became day again. In all that time I saw three things: a brown rock, soil with specs of light in it, and an orange gas.
I was addicted to my cosmic slot machine. I also had to admit that I was addicted to the power I felt. Not only did each press bring some piece of the universe to me, it relocated whatever had been in my cube to a random place in the universe. With each press I was rearranging reality.
3:03 AM. I pressed the button. Something appeared in the cube, something that I vaguely recognized. I jumped up startled. The cube was filled with what looked like a grey jelly. That grey jelly had an eye. Looking at it closer, it looked like half of a giant salamander head. It was oozing something purple. My cube had taken half of something’s head, and replaced it with empty space. I was horrified, both out of disgust at the half-head and the thought that I had just killed something. Maybe something millions, billions, trillions of light years away, but something.
I threw up. I couldn’t stop looking at the half-head’s eye; it stared back at me. I wanted it gone. Without giving myself time to think too much, I pressed the button again and the cube was empty. I was relieved, and the guilt slowly subsided.
I went to the kitchen and got a long overdue meal. I flipped through a magazine and watched a bit of TV, but nothing excited me. I went back to work for the rest of the week, but I couldn’t concentrate. All I could think about was the thrill of pressing that button. Never knowing what sliver of the universe was about to appear in front of me. Even when the cube remained empty, knowing that the empty space had come from somewhere far away and unreachable was excitement enough.
Before long I was back in my bedroom looking at the cube. I wanted to press the button. I needed to press the button. What were the chances that I would get something living again? Essentially zero I convinced myself. Slowly, cautiously, I pressed it. It stayed empty, but the rush that I had been missing came back to me.
Just one more time. What’s the harm? I pressed it–empty. Once more? I pressed it again–empty. Again and again and again. Before long I was back at it, and an hour had passed. I can’t describe the high, but I never wanted it to stop.
Days passed, weeks passed, months passed. In that time I saw gasses of every colour, liquids both opaque and transparent, pieces of glittering rock. I saw only two more signs of life. One was what looked like part of a building, made of blue and white stone. The other was a branch with iridescent leaves. I no longer worried that I might kill something–I didn’t worry about anything. I had become all-seeing, the universe was mine to behold.
The end came suddenly and only lasted for a fraction of a second. I don’t know if it was day or night; I don’t know how long it had been since I’d bought the cube. I had been pressing the button for hours without seeing anything except empty space. Of course I kept going.
I pressed the button. The cube stayed empty. I pressed the button. The cube stayed empty. I pressed the button. My entire field of view changed in an instant. From behind glass I saw my headless body slowly keel over to the side. Then I saw nothing.