Zhang Heng looked and stared at the irregularly shaped cube hovering and slowly spinning in midair. It had at least twenty sides that blended and twisted into one another in bizarre patterns his eye couldn't follow. Zhang Heng's first reaction was to look around his small apartment. The next thing he did was walk up to the cube and poke it cautiously.
The cube remained unresponsive.
Zhang Heng then took the cube in his hand and traced the patterns on the cube, twisting it with both hands. He heard mechanical clicks and clangs from inside the cube.
It didn't make a metallic or plasticky sound; it was some kind of special, in-between sound that Zhang Heng had never heard before.
The sound that was coming from the cube wasn't crisp and clear, nor was it thick and bass-like, yet the sound that he heard struck something within his soul nonetheless.
"Just what the hell is this thing?"
Zhang Heng was baffled. The irregularly-shaped cube had no markings, labels, or shading. The entire construct was a uniform, metallic silver color, and had countless cracks crisscrossing the facets, dividing the cube into all manner of irregular chunks.
Despite the shapes being irregular, there was something odd about their distribution. There was definitely some pattern to it, something natural and soothing about the pieces of the strange cube. There was an inexplicable harmony between the pieces, no single piece wrong or out of place.
But none of that unexplained harmony was as weird as the fact that it was actually able to hover in midair.
The first thing Zhang Heng did when he saw the strange cube was look around at his surroundings. He was still in his rented apartment, with just a bed, a study table, and a fabric wardrobe crammed into a dozen square meters. There wasn't enough space for someone to set up a prank on him.
As such, Zhang Heng ruled out the possibility of someone playing tricks on him.
But then again, he wondered just how the cube was able to appear out of nowhere, and if that didn't count as a prank in the first place.
Zhang Heng became even more troubled, yet his hands kept moving all the same. He kept probing around as he twisted the cube again and again, until he heard a slight click from inside the cube.
He narrowed his gaze right away.
He realized that the cube actually revealed a special pattern as he twisted it around without a clue, and that pattern gave way to a hole, about the width of a finger, on the otherwise seemingly airtight cube.
There's a flaw in the cube's design!
His eyebrows twitched. It wasn't that he had never played with a Rubik's cube before, but this thing, with its twenty-plus irregular faces, was a far cry from a regular Rubik's cube.
That cube he held in his hand was hundreds, even thousands of times more complex than the usual three-dimensional cubes commonly seen. Conventional logic dictated that such irregular shapes could never be used to form such a three-dimensional puzzle, as the first requirement for such a puzzle was uniformity. No one would have been able to solve a puzzle that had no inherent uniformity in it after all.
That was something that no designer could pull off.
As such, it only took him several twists to reveal a loophole.
Hold on, this isn't a loophole…
His eyes narrowed to a slit and he suddenly found that the edges of the hole were very neat and precise, making him think that, instead of being a flaw, the hole was intended to appear when he twisted the cube just right.
If that wasn't enough, then there was also the fact that the inside of the hole was pitch-black, so much so that, Zheng Heng couldn't see the inside of the cube, even when he held it up to the light. That was what made the discovery so stunning.
He instinctively put the hole up to his eye, peering into it with his right while shutting his left.
"Just what the hell is this thing…" he asked again, puzzled. He saw some vast something in the darkness in the hole.
He was stunned. He knew for sure that this was the first time seeing this cube or the thing inside it, yet whatever it was, it gave him a sense of familiarity that he couldn't quite place—a huge, seemingly endless bubble, but it wasn't just one bubble; it was countless bubbles cobbled together, forming a vast, endless world.
He couldn't describe what he saw any other way. Each bubble was infinitely huge, but he quickly wondered just how was it possible for something infinitely huge to cross and stack with another bubble that was also infinitely huge.
Conventional logic dictated that it made no sense.
More importantly, those bubbles felt very, very familiar. It felt instinctively familiar, like something common to the human race.
The bubbles. They're universes. Every single one of them.
That thought came to his mind all at once. A flash of light burst in the nerves of his right at the very next instant, and it felt like the Big Bang itself.
At the same time, an indescribable pain came with that flash of light, shooting all the way to the depths of his mind through his optical nerves. It felt like a comet plummeting into the ocean, and that flash washed over every corner of his brain.
Zhang Heng was only able to shout in pain for a brief moment before passing out.
Cold, sterile electronic beeps hung in the air, which reeked of Formalin.
Zhang Heng remembered everything in the very second he opened his eyes, coming to realize the situation he found himself in within 0.1 seconds.
He was lying on a bed of some ward in some hospital. A monitor, an electrocardiogram, a defibrillator, and some other hardware were placed beside his bed. The electronic beeps came from the electrocardiogram.
The north of the room had double glass doors made of frosted glass placed against the wall. He was able to make out the letters 'ICU' stuck on the other side of that glass door.
It was apparent that he was currently in some intensive care unit ward in some hospital.
He felt that something was off.
He blinked and an uncomfortable feeling that he was unable to process welled up in his mind. He clenched his fist subconsciously. He had no idea how long had he been sleeping and his arms felt weak. But still, he had enough strength left for pulling out the needle on his arm.
He threw the needle with his blood in it at the side of the bed and rushed to sit upright. He tore out the other needles placed at his temple. It was only then that he felt stunned.
His vision was off, somehow. It took him only a few seconds after sitting up to realize what was wrong, and that was…
His right eye had gone blind.
He absentmindedly reached out and touched his right eye for a bit.
His eyeball was unharmed. It didn't even feel sore when he poked the eyeball with his finger. But, even though the image of the room captured by his lenses was able to travel through the vitreous body to be sent up to the retina, his visual signal was completely cut off after finally making it through the calcarine fissure.
There seemed to be something wrong somewhere in his brain.
At that moment, the electrocardiogram lost contact with the patient it was plugged to, causing a deafening alarm to go off in the monitor when the heartbeat registered as zero. Two doctors and several nurses barged into the room while he was still mulling over his situation in a daze.
Zhang Heng walked out of the hospital door a day later, under the cold gaze of the many doctors in the hospital. There was no one else outside the door to receive him.
As a senior year student studying biology, it was the time where he was undergoing an internship out of school. As such, he was working in a pharmaceutical company in the city instead of staying in school.
It was his landlord who heard his scream on the day he passed out and rushed him to the hospital. He might have died, otherwise.
He bought some fruit at some roadside stall and made his way back slowly to his apartment—a three-story private building constructed in an urban village, a place knew as an area that refused to budge in the face of urban development. As such, the surroundings felt rather run-down.
But then again, as someone who was technically fresh out of college, he just made do with his accommodations. He was only earning a salary of 3000 yuan from the pharmaceutical company he was working in. With living expenses and rent taken out of the equation, he had little left over to spend. That emergency hospital visit cost him every penny of his savings, as well.
After thanking his landlord, he felt compelled to promise to move out at the end of the month as his landlord kept frowning. No one wanted to live under a roof with someone who had some unknown disease, that could kill them at any moment after all.
The only reason why the landlord was willing to send him to the hospital was probably that they were simply afraid of getting into trouble after Zhang Heng end up dead at their place.
That was how contemporary society was.
He slumped on his bed lethargically after getting back to his room, before recalling something and picking up the phone on his table. He found over a dozen missed calls on his phone.
Three of them came from his superior in the company, while the rest came from his family.
He only realized when he looked at those missed calls from his family, that he had really been within an inch of his life just over a day ago. But then again, he hardly felt anything about it despite the fact that it was him who nearly died.
He wondered if he had just lost perception and feeling for things after being ground down by a life so mundane that he might have as well been dead.
He shook his head and threw those ridiculous thoughts out the window. He quickly called his family back.
"Hello, dad… yeah, I'm really fine. I just lost my phone for the past few days, and I just got myself a new sim card today. Sure… relax, no need to send me money. What I earn this month is enough… alright, I'll give you a call if there's anything…"
He sighed and finally managed to escape being interrogated by his family. He then made a call to his superior.
"Hello, sir, a few days ago, I… oh, alright, alright. I understand."
Zhang Heng's face fell. As a lowly intern, not showing up at work for three days and being completely out of reach could only lead to him being fired.
Seems like I gotta look for a job again.
He looked even more glum after that. But, then again, none of those blows could compare to losing the use of his right eye. It was lucky that, so long as he kept quiet, it was something that no one—neither his folks nor outsiders—would ever notice.
He remembered something at that moment and sat up. He searched around his room, looking into every corner, including under his table and his bed. Nonetheless, the room was only about 20 square meters. He could have literally turned his room upside down and he still wouldn't be able to find what he was looking for.
That cube that had appeared out of nowhere then seemed to have disappeared just as easily.
He dared to confirm that the peculiar cube was anything but ordinary. While his medical record listed his condition to be permanent loss of vision in his right eye caused by hemorrhaging in the brain, he nonetheless knew it to be otherwise.
He knew without a doubt that the cube had a lot to do with his current condition.
But, he found to his dismay, that the cube responsible was nowhere to be found.
The first possibility that came to mind was that the landlord took the cube, and the next thing he thought of doing was to call the police.
That cube was anything but ordinary. It could levitate and do harm to the human body. Anyone would know at a glance that it was anything but a child's toy. As such, he was sure that the landlord definitely wouldn't give it back to him easily, which meant that he had no choice but to call the police.
But he gave up the thought in the very next second, as he found the attempt to be pointless. So, what am I gonna tell the cops? That I lost some toy that defied gravity?
Just when he was still mulling over his loss, he once again heard mechanical clicks and clangs, appearing from out of nowhere.
His expression froze completely.