“Wait! I have cookies!" Dugan yelped in fear. Yes, a stupid thing to say, but Dugan was desperate. He was miles from home, deep in the woods, and pinned to the ground by a massive bear. The smell of dead moldering leaves flooded over him like an omen.
The bear blew out an explosive snort that sounded weirdly like a laugh. It paused, head cocked, a paw the size of dinner plate on Dugan's chest. "What? Stale Oreos?"
"No!” Dugan said once he got over the shock that the bear actually talked. “Rocky road! Fresh! I just made them last night."
"You made them?" The bear’s tone was doubtful but nevertheless it took his paw off Dugan's chest. "They're probably not very good."
Dugan ignored the insult to his baking. It was probably an echo of his grandpa’s belief that men didn’t cook. His grandpa always complained that Dugan’s cooking wasn’t as good as his dead wife’s and then ate the food anyhow. Dugan frantically dug through his ancient ammo pack. He’d abandoned his equally ancient squirrel gun while trying to outrun the bear.
A small mental voice (and possibly the only sane part of his mind) pointed out that bears didn't talk, so this conversation was probably entirely his imagination. The voice was withholding judgment on the actual bear; it seemed too tangible to be imaginary. Said bear kept sticking its nose into the search, panting hot breath over Dugan's hands, and being terribly real.
"I've got them in a can.” Dugan pulled the old Danish butter cookie tin out of his ammo bag. “The lid is really tight. You probably couldn't get it open."
"Please." The bear held up its paw to show off four-inch claws. The bear could easily tear through just about anything. Dugan, for example.
"Right." Dugan pried off the lid. The scent of cocoa blasted upwards.
"Ohh." The bear stuck his snout into the tin. "Mhese mare mgood."
"Thank you." Dugan set the container gingerly on the ground. He edged away from the bear. His muzzleloader lay the dead leaves fifty feet back. He’d have to abandon it for now. "Okay, so, I'll be going."
Setting the Stage
When I was in high school way back in the mid-1980s I had developed this theory of the universe. I had read all the Heinlein, Clarke, and Asimov I could get my hands on. I’d finished Contact and other nonfiction works by Carl Sagan. I’d read just about everything that Stan Lee had put his fingers into. Lucas and Spielberg couldn’t put out anything without my having stood in line to see. There were no reruns of Star Trek, Space 1999, Battlestar Galactica, the Six Million Dollar Man, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and a myriad of other fun shows that I hadn’t seen two zillion times. And at the time I was getting up every morning before school at five-thirty so I could tune in my thirteen-inch color picture tube television set to the brand new local Fox channel that I had to use three coat hangers and some aluminum foil on in order to pick up the signal for Robotech. There was a common thread in all of these shows, and that was some method for faster than light space travel, energy shields, directed energy weapons, powered armor (Starship Troopers, Robotech, and Iron Man), transporters, and amazing technologies yet to be considered possible by mainstream scientists. Back then even the idea of planets around other star systems was still in question. This was back before we’d actually proven there were planets orbiting about pretty much every star there is in the universe.
In fact, I had recently won the Alabama State Science Paper Competition and there was some old guy scientist as the keynote speaker there talking about how we’d never see these nonsense fantasies of science fiction in his lifetime. There was no reason for aliens to exist, he had claimed. And to act like he knew something we didn’t he claimed that even Einstein’s Special Relativity shows us that we can never go faster than the speed of light. Which by the way isn’t what it says—but I digress, and I didn’t fully understand that back then, anyway. He went on and on talking about the things that a serious scientist or engineer should be thinking about. I didn’t understand where this guy was coming from at all. I mean, I certainly couldn’t imagine any aged scientist who’d spent his life studying the amazing universe coming to the conclusion that it was mundane and not like the books, movies, and television programs told us it would be. Where was the imagination? I didn’t understand how anyone so educated could be so dumb. I just didn’t understand how this guy was a “learned” man.
What I did understand, though, was that Einstein had other theories, such as general relativity, that allowed certain loopholes. So, I asked this keynote gray-bearded, so-called authority about wormholes, and he acted like I was speaking in tongues. I said to myself then that this old guy was wrong and that he might not see it in his lifetime but we’d see it in mine!