Derek started the truck, it’s electric engines powered up with a gentle whine, as the headlamps came on, illuminating the courtyard fence. He hated starting early, it was something about the eerily large eyes of the Little Blue Men, glistening in the dark, black as tar, but reflective nonetheless, almost too large for their child-sized skulls…
The Boss was ‘the Boss,’ for a reason, whatever the old man said, had to be done. It was Derek’s turn to get out of bed and do the early shift, he daren’t give the fat, old, bastard any excuse to replace him with a robot.
He reversed the truck out of its bay from its charging point and turned into the yard. It’s huge tyres crunched over the uneven gravel as Derek swung it into position whilst the preloaded trailer rolled silently on its electric engines towards his cab. A moment or two later both truck and trailer were bonded together with a heavy shudder that jolted Derek into slightly more wakefulness than before. The lights were all green on his panel, everything was as it should be.
He was the only man in the depot this morning, back in the good old days, of diesel trucks and full English breakfasts this place would have been alive with people and activity. Derek missed all of that, the others had lost their jobs, replaced by automated systems and robotic hive minds that saved the old man money, but cost him his humanity.
Derek turned the wheel and gently tapped the accelerator, indifferent to the uneven puddles of icy water that swung into view in the harsh glare of the headlamps as black, depressions of cold, unfeeling space, just the like the eyes of the Little Blue Men.
He had another two hundred miles ahead of him but that didn’t bother him as much as the thought of driving past their creepy little eyes, the Sun would be up soon, ‘thank God,’ thought Derek as the little blue men looked spooky at night. They had a slight glow to their metallic skin which made them stand out against the darkness, whereas in the cold, harsh light of a winter day they looked almost harmless and not at all sinister, just metallic blue.
A little blue man had never harmed anyone, yet everyone kept away. The truck ran on effortlessly down the wide road of the industrial estate rounding a corner causing Derek to wince as he saw his first one. First was an understatement, they had been knocking around since before he was born, going right the way back to that UFO crash in Roswell. ‘Typical of the Yanks to dump their problems on the rest of the world, or more accurately fail to contain them,’ thought Derek as the truck bumped and trundled along the uneven tar of the wide and copious lane.
Initially there had been some talk of a cover-up, but in the end not even the Americans could contain the little blue men. He wished to God that they had though, that was one conspiracy that he would willingly have gone along with…
Some people, women mostly it seemed had sympathy for the little blue men and pressured the government to make field shelters for them even though they didn’t seem to be bothered by the elements, completely immune to extremes of heat or cold. Likewise, the wind and the rain seemed to blow right through them like they weren’t even there.
The field shelters went up but the little blue men didn’t use them, didn’t move from their post, had no interest in the ongoing construction that was presumably for their benefit, so predictably enough the construction stopped and now all new lampposts were built with a little two inch plinth alongside them to keep the feet of the little blue men away from the pavement.
They seemed to like that, standing there all day long like living statues, unmoving yet watching everything from their mount alongside every lamppost that had ever been built. Other do-gooders had tried to shelter them in little sentry boxes so that they looked like miniature Buckingham Palace guards, but they had moved outside of the box, basking in the natural light of our Sun, that wasn’t their Sun but stealing a portion of ‘our light,’ nonetheless and the corresponding nighttime glow of the street lamp which led some to believe that they were solar powered.
Did this make the little blue men machines, cold and sophisticated alien technology preprogrammed with a purpose beyond our understanding? Nobody knew, nobody had ever found a dead one, although it was accepted that they do die, but only when separated from their post. If a lamppost came down for whatever reason such as during a natural disaster like a cataclysmic earthquake the little blue man associated with it quietly disappeared, wandering off into the wilderness to never be seen again. No doctors, biologists or even mechanics had been lucky enough to autopsy a little blue man. There was never any remains to be found making their insides a complete mystery yet it was a given consensus that they knew all about us. As a result, no-one removed a lamppost, to do so was tantamount to murder, people had tried to transplant one little blue man from one lamppost to another but none had succeeded, it seemed that they bonded for life with whatever lump of inanimate matter had been fashioned by industry to provide us with light. Now it was a matter of exacting and meticulous planning rules and regulations, that street lamps couldn’t just be placed anywhere such as a hundred yards apart like in the good old days before Derek’s birth. To erect a street lamp was to bring a new life into the world, a life that would remain immortal for as long as electricity ran through the lamp. This led to great consternation on mankind’s future amongst the leading academics and politicians of the day, if mankind perished then so would the little blue men, we had the future burden of not just one intelligent species on our collective shoulders but two.
Derek was a proper xenophobe, he hated them in the same way that other people hated spiders or snakes, they didn’t look natural and unlike other people he couldn’t block them out in the same way that he could with telephone cables and electricity pylons that scarcely made a dent on his enjoyment of the countryside whenever he looked out of his kitchen window or took his daughter Rachel shopping in town.
Rachel had asked what they were when she was very young, Derek has told her that ‘he didn’t know,’ and ‘not to ask such stupid questions.’ The little blue men really wound him up. He was always on the brink of exploding in rage when someone mentioned them, so consequently, none of his friends or family did. He’d often been called a racist or better yet a ‘Homo-Supremacist,’ but it seemed to him perfectly rational to be wary of an alien species from God knows where that just show up, populating every lamppost within the Roswell military base and then spreading out into the streets, creating identical copies of themselves wherever there was a streetlamp to stand alongside, eventually populating the entire world in the most bizarre act of colonisation that the solar system had ever been witness to.
The richest neighbourhoods are almost completely dark, no street lamps, no little blue men, but in gated communities who needed street lamps anyway? Weren’t they supposed to deter crime, not that any of the little blue men, reported what they saw to the police. They just remained in place standing there, quietly watching everything in the same way that a wolf must surely watch a flock of sheep. They just hadn’t picked their moment yet, but by God, it was coming.
Most people had forgotten about them, it being seventy years or so since the Roswell crash, they had become part and parcel of daily life, a variety of nut jobs had through the decades created a smorgasbord of religions and cults all dedicated to the little blue men, but they all fizzled out in the end. They didn’t respond to worship it seemed, but this didn’t stop the fundamentalist Christians and Muslims from calling them ‘Demons’ or ‘Jinn,’ respectively, pointing out that there must be something inherently magical about them as nobody had successful hurt a little blue man, the would-be assailants just changed their mind whenever they got close enough. The combined militaries of the entire earth couldn’t harm a single little blue man.
Not one had ever been covered in a sack, kidnapped, executed, ransomed or made it into a jihadi video, not one little blue man had ever had the indignity of being dressed up by drunken revellers on new year’s eve, not one had ever suffered the embarrassment of having a traffic cone put over their head at a jaunty angle all of which had happened to the statues of great leaders, heroes and sportsmen with depressing regularity. It was undeniably true though, that where there were little blue men, violent offences fell to zero, the electrified world basked in peace and prosperity like never before which led to military cuts and improvements in health and welfare spending. It was notable that amongst the great houses of power such as parliaments and government buildings street lamps were placed everywhere in the hope that civil servants and benevolent tyrants might benefit from the protective influence of the little blue men.
There was just no rhyme or reason to their existence and this bothered Derek, he pushed his angry and resentful thoughts away for a moment as the truck exited the slip road onto the motorway but could not help notice them standing like miniature soldiers on permanent sentry duty alongside every lamppost from here to eternity.
The truck trundled on, it’s huge tyres gripping the tarmac, the result of an electro-mechanical symphony of precision engineering and state of the art electronics designed to counter deadly force and protect the owner’s investment.
The truck watched Derek and Derek watched the truck, it was the truck’s job to make sure that Derek didn’t do anything stupid and it was Derek’s job to take legal responsibility if the truck did. Derek first realised this when reading his newspaper at fifty miles per hour as the truck sped on in cruise mode that the machine didn’t need him, it’s autopilot could see the road better than he could and had an up to date map of the British Isles in its memory. It knew every road, corner, twist and turn better than any human being ever could. It couldn’t get lost and could instantly reroute for delays and unexpected holdups as a result of the constant traffic reports that were once put out over the radio for the benefit of human beings but were now sent as computer code for the welfare of trucks, buses and cars everywhere.
Derek could override the truck though, which was his principal duty just in case one of the manufacturer’s software engineers got it wrong. If he failed to do that he’d be liable, which made him feel worthless knowing that he was in effect the fall guy for a huge truck manufacturer, his boss and the job stealing, soul-sucking bundle of electronics that he currently sat within the cab of and was legally responsible for. In a few years time, they’d all be driverless, not that Derek was doing any driving. Still he could look at the scenery as the brightening day slowly revealed it in ever lighter shades of winter, but the little blue men spoilt the view as every fifteen seconds or so he’d pass another one and another and another, each one made him slightly more angry than before, ratcheting up the pressure by subtle degrees until he was ready to blow.
Derek looked into eyes of one of the little blue men as the truck motored on and felt that they were peering into his very soul. Those huge orbs as black as eternity conveyed no emotion whatsoever. If they could play poker then the little blue men would win every single time. It seemed as if they had all of the cards, the realisation of which pushed Derek’s anger to boiling point.
In a single moment, without thinking, Derek grabbed the truck’s huge steering wheel and yanked it harshly to the left, sending the truck on a collision course through the crash barrier towards the nearest lighting mast and it’s associated little blue man.
For the briefest fraction of a second, there was a metallic clang and the sickening crunch of metal on bone followed by a bright flash of light and a dizzying sensation that forced Derek to blackout. He came around slowly, awakened by a sound that felt like air rushing out of his ears before registering that he suspended in a vast void, black as pitch filled with tiny points of light winking in and out of existence.
Derek mistook them for stars, thinking that somehow or other he had survived the crash and had lay broken and undiscovered into the next night but on closer examination, he suddenly knew that there was no ground beneath him and no sky above. The familiar vista of Earth and Moon had gone. In a sudden epiphany Derek understood that the flashes of light were the ephemeral births, lives and deaths of entire universes, each one flaring into existence to form an expanding bubble of spacetime that sometimes contracted back to nothingness only to re-expand again and again and again whilst others just kept on expanding on and on before tearing themselves apart in a sudden and violent ‘pop,’ like an over pressurised balloon.
Derek existed within the spaces between universes, worlds, dimensions or otherwise, it was a formless and ever-changing place of pure mind. He looked down at his hands only to see them materialise before him along with the rest of his body and his shabby work clothes, that had begrudgingly been provided by the old man.
Suddenly his reality once again changed and he found that the spaces between universes were filled with a substance a lot like a frothing ocean of point particles that didn’t really exist except as anything other than potential universes that came into being in pairs before winking out of existence again as trillions of years flew by within them.
Derek’s mental fog suddenly cleared and feverish panic set in as he wondered whether he was dead or not. Was this it? Did some terrible doom await him? To his relief he felt a small slender hand hold him by the shoulder, it felt like the hand of a child but it was the shiny palm of a little blue man who was abruptly standing alongside him in the surging ocean of potential realities. Derek could do nothing else but look into his huge black, round eyes.
A feeling like rushing wind moved through Derek bringing with it a tremendous sensation of love, eternal, compassionate, everlasting love emanating from the tiny face of the little blue man. Without words being spoken Derek suddenly knew everything that there was to know about them.
He saw the crashed spaceship, a typical 1950’s flying saucer, the dead bodies of the alien crew, a single injured survivor running from the crash scene pursued by soldiers like a fox being chased by hounds. Derek watched as the scene unfolded, this hapless and confused creature making it as far as a lamppost at the edge of town, stopping to rest against it as in the distance a trooper raised his rifle and fired, hitting the creature in the head. It stood motionless next to the street lamp and then mere moments later another one appeared at the next post and the next and the next copying itself forever in an action that was pointless, repetitive and most importantly – mindless, making it obvious that even for aliens bullets and brains don’t mix that well.
Next, he saw the wreckage of the truck, and his weak and tattered body covered in blood and bits of glass, half hanging out of the shattered windscreen, the broken lighting mast now a permanent part of the once mighty vehicle’s front grill. Smoke erupted from the wreckage as battery cell after battery cell caught fire causing the others to overheat and explode, alongside it all lay the mangled body of a little blue man. Derek noted that the traffic was starting to slow down and back up behind him. There was no sign of any emergency services, but a man had stopped his car and was yelling excitedly into his mobile phone. Derek had finally had a noteworthy effect on someone else’s life. He knew then that mind and matter were not the same, that life was simply a fusion of the two, that without mind there could be no sensation of matter and without matter, mind had nothing to sense. Neither one or the other had an existence of its own.
A pattern formed in Derek’s mind, of an infinite number of Derek’s in an infinite number of universes hopping, skipping and jumping from one universe to the next with each passing moment of time. Every such reality was occupied but they all swapped, that the present moment was simply one of potential. He saw a die being rolled and in an infinite number of universes he saw every possible roll, all that he had to do was pick the one that he wanted, likewise, he saw another Derek in another realm holding a revolver to his head after spinning the barrel that contained a single bullet. He pulled the trigger and kept on pulling for all eternity without ever once suffering the inconvenience of dying, whilst in a never-ending number of universes he died every time. It’s not that those other universes came into being with each roll of the dice or pull of the trigger, or each decision made such as whether to turn left or right, to leave the house or stay in, it’s simply that those universes existed already and the soul simply stepped right in to reap the consequences of its desires. Derek saw himself as a guard in Hitler’s Germany watching idly as other men herded his doppelganger into the gas chamber, it seems that what the soul wants isn’t always what the conscious mind wants, the two can often conflict, but when both subconscious and cognizant mind unite miracles happen.
Derek saw yet another one of his duplicates in ancient Palestine giving the sermon on the mount only to be later crucified, another far-flung and Asian Derek preached Dharma under a tree to five followers and talked of enlightenment.
His thoughts turned to the little blue men and he understood. They were not only mortal but had made it into all sorts of jihadi videos, street brawls and parties suffering every type of indignity and degradation that was possible for one sentient being to do to another in an untold number of universes, but there was also an unfathomable sum of universes in which the opposite was true and Derek was lucky enough to be living in one of them, that every possibility must exist in boundless combinations of repeating material forms. The foaming space between each universe was inexhaustible because it was nothing, each material realm was finite as was all of the matter contained therein, in an everlasting space with an eternal number of possible worlds all things must be conceivable and it was all dependent on the initial flash of each realm’s coming into being.
He knew what he had to do and in a sharp flash, he found himself driving the truck along the motorway, passing mast after mast after mast with no little blue men. They’d all gone and it quietly dawned on him that a great act of kindness has been bestowed upon him. The little blue men hated violence, were truly benevolent and were quietly carving out an empire of peace in an infinite variety of worlds were violent choices simply didn’t make it into the next moment, their perpetrators were wrenched out of reality and sent elsewhere to another place better suited to their temperament and replaced with those souls from other realms who were much more peaceably aligned, and it all happened in the twinkling of an eye. The little blue men existed in the spaces between realities and thanks to the knowledge they’d imparted to him so did Derek, at least at a mental level.
He momentarily thought of the future as the truck motored onwards into the brightening day, it’s engine revving with a satisfied growl as it drifted out of lane towards the hard shoulder. That’s when the realisation hit him that it was a diesel engine that roared and throbbed under his right foot and that it was completely devoid of any electrical gizmos that might ruin his life by replacing him.
Derek was delighted to correct the drift as the miracle dawned upon him and he decided that he would turn around at the next junction a few miles down the road to drive by the spot again just to be sure that there really wasn’t a little blue man lying in a mangled wreck of an electric truck or still standing idly next to the lighting mast that he had tried to end his life with. His mind feverishly worked his way through all sorts of possible and semi-possible scenarios in which he had somehow or other taken the wrong truck this morning. He was both relieved and amazed to see no signs of any accidents or crashes on the opposite side of the carriageway, before looping the lorry around once more at the previous junction and rejoining the motorway, now driving past the actual spot only to see that all was well, no accidents, no semi-autonomous lorry alight and twisted on the side of the road, no little blue men.
Derek and little blue men were separated by millimetres and lightyears all at the same time, he thought of the accident and it’s sickening reality and in his mind’s eye, the little alien looked happy, smiling almost and then unexpectedly raised his hand and waved to him.
Derek mentally waved back, and decided that he was going to tell the old man, or at least this world’s version of the old man that he no longer wanted his job, because he had something better to do, in his mind’s eye he saw the endless potential sweep of differing realities that he could simply step in and out of on his way to a much grander destination, because both his conscious and subconscious faculties were now acting as one.