04. Ta’arboujan | The Mark of Orion

December 11, 2020 Sujay Sarma

Sharada had teleported me into a room, not to different from the space I had first appeared into at Vajiler. It was empty. But, I had learnt at Vajiler that it could be easily customized. After Sharada had left me there, I set about setting it up exactly how I wanted it. Things could be…

Sharada had teleported me into a room, not to different from the space I had first appeared into at Vajiler. It was empty. But, I had learnt at Vajiler that it could be easily customized.

After Sharada had left me there, I set about setting it up exactly how I wanted it. Things could be changed later, so I started with what I was familiar with — my room back on Earth. My bed, my study table, my wardrobe, my clothes. For some reason, unlike Vajiler, the systems here would not allow me to bring my Earth clothes over. I had to default to its preferences and they looked like something worn on sci-fi TV shows and movies by alien cultures. Long flowing robes in singular pastel colors. I supposed it was so as not to appear insulting or threatening to other creatures that were here on Ta’arboujan.

In what I surmised to have been a couple of hours, I was finished and then bored. So I decided to wander out. There was no real door. The room’s space was not a solid fixed entity like how we know physical structures to be here on Earth. It was something called “Fluid Space”. It could be as big or as small as you wanted it to be. There were no concept of doors and windows — even if there were windows, I wondered what they would look out into, since Ta’arboujan existed outside of human concepts of Space and Time. Seriously, what would be outside?

“Exit” I thought and started to walk. A doorway appeared and opened automatically and I headed out. An endless corridor stretched out in three directions. As soon as I exited, my room popped out of existence. It would come back when ever and where ever I wanted it. I selected the corridor directly ahead of me and started to walk.

I counted out twenty two steps and stopped. Turning to my left, I touched the wall. A screen appeared with a lot of symbols and visuals. I touched it. Instantly, the contents translated into English. It had drawn all of its information about the language directly from my brain and reprogrammed itself, at the very instant that I touched it. I scrolled through the information to find out where the cafeteria was. I touched the icon to let the system take me there, turned around and started to walk. Though I passed a lot of intersections and other things, they were all automatically blurred out — the system only kept the route I needed in focus. And unlike on Vajiler, this place had other creatures inhabiting it and I passed quite a number of them of various varieties. Some of them looked at me, others were in too much of a hurry to even notice.

The wall directly ahead blinked twice and a doorway opened. The cafeteria. It was huge. Literally the size of a small city. I walked slowly to the food counters. I was not hungry, I was merely looking around. As I walked through the buffet tables, food appeared and disappeared before me. As before, the system was picking up things from my brain, creating them, placing them before me and instantly destroying them either when I rejected the item in my mind or when I moved away from it. Finally, I settled on a mug of hot coffee and picked it up from the counter. Turning, I looked around, spotted a bench with human beings (yes, other human beings!). I walked over and introduced myself.








I nodded and sat down. In front of Sneha. They were talking about the classes they had been to earlier and swapping notes and discussing other ‘student’ things. At the moment, I could contribute nothing.

“Do you want to take a walk?” Sneha asked.

“Sure, this is boring for today.” I laughed.

She left her food tray on the table. She had been eating Chole Bhature. The instant she stood up, it vanished. I left my cup there too and joined her. We walked through a different area of the wall and appeared in a large courtyard. There seemed to be no wall directly opposite us. And the sight that greeted me made me shrink back into the doorway.

Sneha laughed. “Yeah, I wanted to run back home.”

I let her take my hand and lead me into the courtyard. I was astonished at how we were not affected by its gravity. Was it simply an illusion?

“Is that real?” I stammered.

“Of course.” Sneha said bravely. “The entire university is built around its edges.”

“WHAT!” I cried. “How is that even possible? Would it be not ripped to shreds? How…”

Every single thing I knew about blackholes was telling me this should be impossible, but yet, there it was. A gigantic blackhole and the entire structures of the university was built around its edge. Directly outside the university structure, lay it’s event horizon. Now and then particle and energy jets indicated where something had been ripped to shreds and consumed by the giant.

“You will learn about it the first thing in your orientation tomorrow.”

“I would think so.” I gasped, watching the monster in action.

“Come, let’s sit over there.” She led me to a quaint marble bench under a little mango tree and sat down. “Come.”

I could not look away from the blackhole. I walked over slowly and sat down. “Do you get used to it?”

“I have been here for what you would say ‘years’ and I don’t even notice it anymore.” She laughed.

She talked about home. She was from India, from a place called Bhiwadi in Rajasthan. I had never heard of the place. She had come here in the year 1863. I told her my date had been 1993. A full hundred and thirty years had passed since she had come over.

“It’s alright.” She shrugged. “I don’t plan on going back.”

“Why?” I asked.

“It was not easy for girls to study even in schools in my time. Let alone finding out and doing all the things I am doing here. Why would I ever go ‘back’ there?”

“So you don’t plan on ever returning to Earth?” I asked.

“Sometimes, I do feel homesick. I have missed like my parents or some of my friends. I go back discretely and check on them. But Time works in a really weird way.” She wiped a tear. “You are here, from a hundred and thirty years from my future. What sense does it make for me to return to 1863 to look at someone?”

I sat in shock.

“You don’t look a day older than sixteen.”

“I was when I left.” She smiled weakly, accepting my humor to cheer her up and slapping my shoulder playfully. “Am I your type?”

“I don’t know,” I laughed, “Let’s find out.”

We sat there for a long time, talking about Earth.

“Ah! There are the two lovebirds!” Vijesh cried walking over. He had the other three from the table with him. “We have been wondering what happened to you two.”

Sneha stood up and straightened her dress. “You should join our room cluster.” She offered.

Satish laughed at my confusion. “Don’t worry, we will show you. It just ensures that all our rooms stay together. Like next door from each other.”

“Ah.” I said.

Divya led us out of the courtyard. Very strangely, we walked into a cross road with six rooms with their doors open. Instantly I spotted mine.

Satish pointed out which one was whose. “And I suppose you want to stay together?” He grinned at Sneha.

Obviously, the others had paired up. I wondered why the other couples did not simply live the same room. Sneha looked at the floor shyly.

“Good night.”

Everyone disappeared into their rooms. Sneha stood outside her door, still looking at the floor in front of her.

“Are you okay?”

She shook her head and said sadly, “Until now, I was the youngest of the lot. All those guys — ” she nodded to the other rooms, “are way older than I.”

“And now I am younger and that bothers you?”

“Not that…” She stretched it out into silence.

“Then?” I asked, walking closer and holding her by her shoulders.

Sneha looked up. “All this time, Time did not bother me. And now that you are here, actually from my future, it is… weird.”

Drawing close to her lips, I suggested. “There were other creatures from your futures too.”

“They were not of Earth.” She said, closing her eyes.

I kissed her.

“How did that feel?” She asked, pulling away and wiping our combined saliva from around her mouth. “Kissing a hundred and thirty year old girl !”

I laughed as she disappeared into her room and the wall closed up behind her. Controlling an urge to enter her rooms too, I sighed and turned back into mine.

In the morning, Sneha walked with me to show me the Orientation Hall.

“Look closely at the name.” She whispered, before continuing onward.

I stared at what appeared to be a name plaque. It was the name of a very famous scientist from Earth. He had been nondescript and unknown. Suddenly he had set about foundational laws for Physics that later turned out to be very important for all the advances in multiple fields.

“He was here too?” I wondered as I walked in.

There were about ten other creatures in there. For now, everyone sat a little away from each other. No one wanted to become someone’s food, I guessed. Grinning back at a couple of them that looked my way, I took a seat

“Welcome” began the instructor walking in. It looked a lot like Kaye. But I could not be sure. Besides, this one spoke?

“You can all hear me in your native languages because of the technology that is embedded in everything here.”

Ah! The Instructor was not speaking perfect English from Earth after all.

Taking us through the basics, Loiprojal, our instructor talked about the history of the place, the technology that makes things work, basic dos and donts of living here. When Loi was done, another instructor, from a different world floated in.

Boop looked like a giant fish. A fish without any fins, actually. Boop was from a water-world, she said. She taught basic technology and how to use them. A third instructor, she was the Lead Student Counsellor, talked about the type of courses the University offered and how to enroll in them and things like that. She also talked about employment opportunities for visiting students and how you could, in fact, stay on and teach other students. All knowledge and teaching them was welcome.

We broke for lunch and when we reconvened, the walls of the hall disappeared and we were seated in space. Involuntarily, I inhaled a large volume of air into my lungs and held it in. Looking around I noticed my co-students in varying stages of panic. A public address voice turned on and assured everyone that we were perfectly safe and no one was going to die.

We were taken on a grand tour of Ta’arboujan. The name belonged to the ancient blackhole. It was a monster of a size for which Earth will never ever have a classification. The University was the work of a species that had evolved so early in Time that they knew everything about everything. When they began to go extinct, they decided to do something about it and set up this University. Because of the placement at the event horizon of such a massive blackhole, it existed in a twist in Space and Time, and would continue to exist in true permanence. Since it existed outside of normal Time, it could serve students and research scholars from everywhere in Time, at the same Time. Simultaneously, it had students from the early universe and from so far ahead that they reported only a few brown stars were still alive!

About the author:

Sujay Sarma is an IT industry veteran, about 43 years of age. He has spent 25 years in the IT industry and has done it all, and seen it all. Now, his passion is writing [blogs, stories, novels] and music. He has his own YouTube channel called "Sujay Sarma's Musical Adventures" where he posts his covers and originals, and a Podcast named "Interesting People Interesting Stories".