The Shape of Inside-Out

The universe is weird. As someone once said: The universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.*

We think of the universe as being made of matter and vacuum but actually it’s more than that. There are also time, death, taxes and the spaces between everything. Those spaces are called the interstices and they are the empty bits between the particles that make up matter. You might think the interstices are rather small, microscopic even, but it turns out they don’t have a size in any sense we’d understand.

That’s quite handy, for placed in interstitial space is a world. The world is called Hollow because, um, well, it’s hollow.

Hollow is an artificial world created by mysterious beings called the Progenitors (or Progs).

Only the Progs know why they built Hollow but it’s a little difficult to ask them that question because they aren’t around any longer. At least not in Hollow. That, of course, doesn’t discourage people from coming up with theories and the consensus is that Hollow is hollow in order to protect those inside it from what’s outside. After that things fall apart because no-one can agree what’s outside, least of all the small group of people who believe Hollow doesn’t have an outside.

Over the centuries the theories of what lies outside Hollow have boiled down to two main contenders:

  • a simple vacuum
  • hostile, mind bending space with far too many dimensions.

The few who don’t think Hollow has an outside believe it is actually a bubble of normal space inserted into interstitial space. They argue that in this context the words inside and outside are meaningless. Almost everyone else points out that bubbles are wobbly, soapy things prone to bursting whereas Hollow is quite solid. At this point the arguments often descend into fisticuffs as each faction attempts to emphasise their point in a more robust manner.

In order to have enough mass to generate the gravity that keeps everything from falling off the surface, Hollow’s crust must be unfeasibly thick. This can only mean Hollow doesn’t really exist.

– Mortink Mushkan

At first the Progs lived in Hollow themselves but they moved elsewhere at some point. Most scholars put that point at about five hundred years ago.

Why did the Progs go to all the bother of building Hollow? Surely if they’d wanted to leave their home world it would have been easier to go to a regular planet in regular space?

Maybe it was the challenge or maybe they wanted somewhere so remote no one would ever find it.

If the latter is true it didn’t work out too well.

People from all over the universe began unexpectedly appearing in Hollow. It is likely the Progs became alarmed when this started to happen. They evidently hadn’t realised their artificial world would distort every travel portal in the universe, causing all of them to point to Hollow instead of where they were supposed to.

Previously, a person entering a portal in one place would exit through a matched portal in another place. The matched portals were often in different regions of the same planet or sometimes on different planets.

After Hollow was constructed all portals pointed there instead. Entering a portal became a one-way trip to Hollow. There was no return.

It appears that when the Progs realised this was happening they decided their huge new hollow world would benefit from more immigrants than were trickling through portals. They set about transporting large numbers of people from all over the universe to Hollow. Different species of people found themselves living alongside one another in Hollow. Things might have got quite nasty if the Progs hadn’t been there to keep the peace.

After a few years the Progs changed their minds. Perhaps they grew tired of the administrative work. After all, by and large, the people they brought to Hollow and the people who unexpectedly arrived through portals must have been rather annoyed about being somewhere they didn’t want to be.

Annoyed people are notoriously difficult to govern.

The Progs suddenly stopped bringing people to Hollow, turned their back on their creation and abandoned their inside-out world.

No one knows where they went. Or how they left.

* It was either J.B.S. Haldane or Arthur Stanley Eddington who uttered these words but, like much else in history, no-one is entirely sure.