I think it is time now, my son, that you knew some more about your father. He was a good man and far cleverer than his critics would nowadays have us believe. Had you not fallen out with him, I am sure you would have come to the same conclusions as me. But that is another matter. He was named Kriek after his own father, your grandfather, who died in the wars against Histra before you were born.

As you now know, your father invented the automatic washing machine when he was still quite a young man, though you will also remember that he never made any money out of it. The sad truth is that he was never good at business and he neglected to take out the patent on his invention quickly enough. The company he worked for was owned, and still is in fact, by Baar-An and he quickly seized the chance and registered your father’s invention in his own name, growing very rich on the profits, thank you very much!

Your father got no thanks or recognition and continued to work for Baar-An for the same low wages while watching him getting richer and richer on the fruits of his labours. In fact, not only did his employer never acknowledge your father’s contribution to his fortune, he actually treated him very badly, so much so that his health eventually began to suffer.

But this was only the beginning. Now, although he had no head for business, your father was nonetheless an extremely clever and resourceful man and he kept on working on his invention in his own time, in his workshop at home, trying to improve on it so that one day he might be able to make his own fortune.

To begin with the improvements he made were not especially ground-breaking, although he did develop the front-loading machine with a glass door which made it much easier to load and unload. And the fact that you could also see clearly what was happening to your washing inside was, I thought, a brilliant idea. But, at the end of the day, it was still an automatic washing machine and he ran the risk of being accused of copying and exploiting the invention that his employer now claimed for himself.

The real break-through came sometime later, although by then your father’s health was beginning to fail him. He was trying to develop a faster, quieter and more intelligent machine with a spin cycle so fast that it would get the washing much drier than conventional washing machines. In order to achieve this it had to be made robust enough to withstand the extreme forces involved, while keeping it light enough and small enough not to become cumbersome and unsightly. His work was progressing well when one day, while he was testing his new machine at high speeds, he noticed something extremely odd.

Apparently, when the advanced spin cycle reached a certain speed, certain items began inexplicably to appear in the wash, as if from nowhere. This was perplexing, as you can imagine, and at first he doubted himself. It took him a while to work out the precise speed at which this occurred, and the exact amount of time required, but sure enough, once he worked it out and repeated his tests, the results were consistent; certain items – to be exact, socks – began magically to appear in our machine as if from nowhere… nothing else, just socks, lots of them, and always odd socks, socks that were certainly never put there by us and so many, in fact, that we began to wonder what on Areth we were meant to do with them all.

Your father and I puzzled over these problems for ages, I can tell you. We talked and we talked until our throats were dry and our heads ached, but we got no further. It just didn’t make any sense at all.

‘But things don’t just appear out of nowhere, he would say to me in his frustration. And anyway… why only socks? Why not… tee shirts… or underpants?’ And, for that matter, why were they never in pairs? Why did we only ever receive single socks? At least pairs of socks might have been useful!

We thought we would go mad trying to work out what was happening but then, one evening, your father had an idea. He immediately went back to his workshop to do some more tests, and he worked right through the night. Then, when he reappeared in the morning, he was smiling.

‘I have found it,’ he said. ‘I know what’s happening. I just don’t know why yet.’

It so happens that, alongside his experiments on the advanced spin cycle, he had also been working on improvements to the rinse and filtration systems in the hope that he could separate out annoying tissue debris from the rest of the wash. Imagine that; no more irritating fragments of old tissue caught up in your clean clothes! Well, it seems that these socks only ever appeared at those times when he put tissues in with the washing to test out this new system. And, sure enough, every time he put tissues in with the wash, the tissues would completely disappear and, in their place, socks would appear. Tissues would go in, they would disappear completely, and then back came socks. And when he started to leave the tissues out of the wash altogether, guess what? No socks!!

You were still quite young then and I can tell you now that we racked our brains trying to make sense of it all but we got nowhere. We were well and truly stuck until finally your father decided to confide in someone else about his work and the strange results that he was getting. He had an old school-friend who worked at the university, someone who would listen to what he had to say. And listen he did. He was sceptical at first, understandably I suppose, but once he saw the machine at work he immediately took the problem to his head of department at the university, Hor-Kin, and, to our amazement, he became extremely excited. The three of them immediately entered into detailed discussions and at last it seemed that we might be getting somewhere.

Before long they found the funding to develop a research project to try to find out what exactly was going on. The formula seemed straightforward enough: S (speed) + T (time) + T1 (tissues) produced ≥ 1S1 (socks) and it was put rigorously to the test until, when no other explanation could be found, the team were forced to conclude the unthinkable; taking as given the fact that matter can neither be created nor destroyed, they were forced to accept that these could not be spontaneous appearances and disappearances because such thing ought never to happen. So they had to be either transmutations of matter or, more likely, exchanges of matter. And, if so, these phenomena had to be occurring somehow across space-time. It was the only explanation. Without realising it, your father had finally made an important breakthrough into the mysteries of space-time itself, with the added possibility that first contact may actually have been made with intelligent life from some other planet or parallel universe.

Immediately your father was given a full-time position at the university heading up a research team of his own and with the aim of tackling the mystery and developing his invention further. As improbable as it sounded, it was now almost undeniable that the improved version of the automatic washing machine that he had invented was serving as a portal, providing access to some kind of mysterious ‘wormhole’ in space-time. Physicists had long since concluded that space was actually curved, raising at least the theoretical possibility that, if some way could be found of travelling directly across this curve, through some kind of wormhole perhaps, then vast distances might be covered in hardly any time at all. It might even be possible to travel through time. But up to that point wormholes had remained just that; no more than a theoretical possibility with no practical means of ever discovering one, let alone accessing one and putting its practical uses for space travel to the test. It was your father, your father, who broke this impasse and he soon became famous as the one who finally turned this theoretical possibility into practical reality. This caused a huge amount of excitement, as you can imagine. So far, then, so good!

But while astrophysicists are extremely clever people – some might say a breed unto themselves – the public mind can be very fickle and the media barons are not best known for their intelligence or their open-mindedness. So when stories began to circulate about the invention of a portal to a wormhole, through which actual physical items could come and go through space-time, the press had a field day, making up wild stories and claiming – without any justification whatsoever – that contact really had been made with other intelligent life forms.

That was just the start of it; when the actual details of your father’s work began to leak out it triggered a veritable bonanza for half-wits and loonies everywhere. Already the stories of contact with extra-terrestrials from some as-yet unknown region of the universe had whetted their insatiable appetites, but when it became known that the portal that provided the actual access to this wormhole was nothing more exotic than an automatic washing machine, the public went absolutely wild, even conducting their own ludicrous experiments. Stories began to circulate about people putting their pet hamstras, and even their poor cats, into their washing machines, only for them to perish horribly during the process.

In order to allay the hysteria therefore, your father’s team had to assure the public that, so far, only paper tissues and odd socks had succeeded in travelling through the wormhole – if wormhole it was – and that inter-galactic space travel involving actual living beings was still a long way from possible.

Well, this backfired horribly. So palpable was the public disappointment that the media began to lampoon your father mercilessly, coming to all kinds of silly conclusions and suppositions of their own about just who these supposed extra-terrestrials might be.

Soon, wild conspiracy theories began to emerge claiming that this was all an elaborate plot to cover up the fact that top-secret deals had been made with aliens from another galaxy. And then crazy stories sprung up around some ongoing inter-galactic trade involving paper tissues and single socks, triggering preposterous tales of a race of supposedly one-legged extra-terrestrials who were forced, they deduced, to hop about from place to place like one-legged kangararas and who – as if that wasn’t preposterous enough – appeared to suffer from constant colds and flu in the bargain!

Well, you can imagine… soon your father’s reputation, as well as that of the university, began to suffer and, before long, funding for the project began to dry up. Your father’s health got much worse until eventually he became unable to work. Then, to add insult to injury, after the project was dropped, his one-time employer, Baar-An, took over the development of the front-loading washing machine for himself and registered the patent in his own name. Your father died soon afterwards, a broken man.

And so, with the help of Baar-An and your father’s advanced automatic washing machine, the continuing exchange of old tissues for odd socks has continued unabated, causing huge amusement for some, not to mention a certain amount of frustration, while the public’s interest in wormholes and inter-galactic travel has waned almost to a whimper.

Yet even now, apparently, there are people who just cannot resist writing inane messages on their tissues before putting them into the machine. And of course, there are those of us as well who really don’t mind wearing odd socks and who are therefore quite contented with the outcome.

Mind you, I do still wonder where they come from – all those odd socks – and who they really belong to. I mean, do they really only have one leg? That seems very odd to me!

Anyway, whoever they are, they are either very generous or very careless… and why on Areth would they want all our old tissues? That makes no sense to me at all!

by Vic Blake

About the Author

Vic Blake is a writer mostly of non-fiction but more recently he has turned his hand to writing fiction, both short stories and poetry. This story is part of his recent collection of short stories, ‘So Anyway…’. He describes his work as being a sustained, if mostly gentle assault upon the Comfort Zone. Vic has recently written a collection of poetry named ‘Murmurations’, which focuses on themes such as childhood, and ‘lessons learned’.

Find out more about the author at www.vicblakewriter.co.uk

You can find his book of short stories “So… anyway” on Amazon in print and eBook.