late February 2018
It had started with holding hands, then paying attention to the landscape, then a little practice with the mind-clarity-sharing thing, then showing each other about the plant cells and answered questions.
Brrda was as curious as they were about what their brains were up to, and whe let it all go on. It was definitely better than yesterday’s drivel.
But now. Whe hadn’t seen this. They’d gathered firewood and stacked the fire. Whe’d set a few snares. Whe told them to sink in and wait, expecting the usual cub disruptions.
They had been immobile and silent, eyes in soft focus near the snares, for two hours. The curling ends of their hair had begun to weave again. Their minds combined and locked into the landscape. Reading them, whe read soil chemistry, microbes, nutrient flows, root growth, water cycles, insects, burrows, and paths. Their identities as whe knew them were absent. Whe had a strange sense of shaping, felt an overbearing curiosity, and three rabbits stepped into three snares.
The Twins blinked and whooped, back to normal and chattering.
“We were practicing the brain thing-”
“But it was-”
“Greater than the sum of its parts.” They nodded mutual agreement.
“I started seeing the plant cell thing.”
“And I got to letting answers reveal themselves.”
Simultaneously, they said, “Then we were the landscape.”
“We got the rabbits curious.” Leor ended.
“They walked in.” La’ii finished.
Brrda considered. Wher mane fluffed at the base of wher neck. “Time to head to Annie Gracious.”
“No barbeque?” Leor almost pouted.
“Time now.” Incisors flashed. Whe made a beeline to the snares, thanked the rabbits, slung their carcasses over wher shoulder, and set the fastest pace the Twins could maintain.
She sat staring at a mass of tiny bright spiders swarming over a filmy panel of fabric. Her bare feet rested on a dirt floor. Her grey braid hung to her thick waist.
“Maya?” she asked. “Sappho? Was that you?”
She was alone in the room, but she nodded and answered nonetheless.
“I didn’t think so. My, my, my Hernandez.”
The spiders paused as she reframed the pattern in her mind precisely, then went back to work.
Earth Launch +5
Merina patted the little boy. “Don’t you get cheeky with Gareth, young man. There are still mouths to feed.”
It was a little village of mushroom houses with tidy gardens in pretty fences. Water trickled here and there; clusters of flowers bloomed. Smoke trickled from neat chimneys. Chickens scurried into their yards as the trio approached.
La’ii saw a solid woman leaning in her door frame. Piercing sky blue eyes made her feel a little ashamed. La’ii lifted her chin.
Annie Gracious straightened, swung her braid back over her shoulder, and grinned. She rushed to Brrda, hugged wher tight absolutely heedless of those fangs, and gave wher a decadent scratch along a small set of silky black lines in the brindle between wher shoulders.
“Welcome,” said she. “And you must be La’ii and Leor. Welcome, welcome. Come inside.” She bustled them in. “This will quench your thirst.” She passed mugs of cool water.
Brrda took whers toward the stove and held up the rabbits. “Shall whe do the honors? You three have a lot to talk about.”
Annie Gracious nodded. “Sit, sit!” she commanded, and drew the Twins to a glossy wooden table. “Questions?”
Leor’s wry grin appeared.
La’ii said, “It started with the Apocalypse.”
“And it got weirder from there,” he finished.
Brrda’s laughter snarled. “Whe can vouch for that. They called these rabbits.”
Brrda’s claw slid with deft accuracy between the hide and flesh, peeling them apart. “Oh?”
“They made them curious to death. The problem, of course, is how you did it.”
La’ii felt that twinge of shame again.
“Problem?” Leor asked.
“On the one hand, you altered reality to get the rabbits in the snares. On the other hand, after a day out of civilization together, you’re already altering reality. On the other hand, you have no idea what you’re doing, what you’re up against, or the consequences of your actions. On the other hand, this is exactly what humanity needs right now.” Her sturdy fingers tapped the table in rhythm as she enumerated.
“Confused!” piped La’ii.
“Parse!” added Leor.
“The Apocalypse is real. The binary suns will conjoin unusually close to the planet, creating extremely uncomfortable living conditions, especially on the surface. It will be survivable to people who follow the Looney path. Civilized people or Coasties who try to ride it out at home will cook, Maya knows. With me so far?”
Leor clapped. “Well, mission complete.”
“Ha,” replied La’ii. “You know we’re in way deeper than that.”
He shrugged. “Call it a milestone, then.”
“Point is, this problem repeats at intervals. You know Maya’s time sense is non-linear?”
“You mean the planet?” Loonies had some strange ideas. “How can the planet have time sense?” La’ii wondered.
Annie Gracious peered at her like she had a hole in her head. “Planet Maya is intelligent, self-aware, capable of effective action, and in direct communication with me and the other Annies. Maya’s memories are in astronomical time scale and, to a great extent, include portions of time we’ll experience as ‘future’.”
Leor’s eyebrows popped up. “Seriously? Then how does this all turn out?”
La’ii was calculating the boundaries between reality, metaphor, religious fervor. They seemed messy.
Brrda skewered the rabbits.
“I have no idea how it turns out. What I do know is that Maya created the Readings and Expansion to intensify time shifting genetics in the civilized population. You two are the result.”
La’ii never heard the word “Expansion” calmly, and being the result of generations of eugenics really didn’t suit.
Leor cringed as her thoughts glowered scarlet.
Annie Gracious continued. “Your lifelines are mixed in with the fate of the entire human race.”
La’ii’s arms crossed in a way her mother would recognize. Leor and Annie Gracious felt her mind bunker down. “What if I don’t want to?”
Those sturdy hands spread on the ancient table. They left a halo of sweat. “Maya started the time experiments when Gareth was young. He is the only traveler who came back and the only traveler who shifted without the equipment. Maya theorized it was his entanglement with Captain Maya and not the technology that triggered the initial shift. Once set in motion, the shifting continued until Maya’s death and Gareth’s last desperate, dusty jump.”
La’ii’s jaw squared. “What if I don’t want to?”
“I’m assuming there were other unexpected psychic events besides making those rabbits curious?” She leaned forward, and her braid thumped on the table.
Leor squelched a totally childish urge to distract the argument by playing with it.
Annie Gracious gave him a quick glance and dropped the braid behind her back.
Brrda muttered, “Kitten” over basting the rabbits.
Rigid and testy, La’ii spoke. “We were suddenly psychic with each other, we saw a little of the image Brrda projected, we could hear wher when whe thought words at us, we could share mental resources, he started reading cell interactions, I started getting answers from nowhere, we combined our brains and melted into the ecosystem, and then we did the rabbit thing.” She gave no quarter. “What if I don’t want to?”
Annie Gracious reached for her hands.
La’ii didn’t budge.
“La’ii, you two have to rescue Dr. Hernandez and Gareth from Earth. You have to bring them here. Your timelines are deeply entangled. Maya says you could simply vanish at any moment. She hopes, if you stay together and that mind-combining works, that you’ll be able to steer – to control your shifts and bring the others. Maya knows poor Gareth just bounced around for decades.”
Now she was snarling. “What if I don’t want to?”
Leor realized, as his ideas of his future self vacillated between a mathematical astrophysical scholar and a time shifter tripping in an astrophysical plane, that Fate and La’ii’s stubborn streak might battle it out for eons.
Her eyes darted to him. “Daniel glitching right. Stubborn.” Flinty eyes went back to Annie Gracious.
Brrda basted and hummed.
“You were born for this. Maya willing, it happens naturally. I’m just trying to prepare you.”
“Prepare me for getting thrown into timespace with a guy I barely know away from my home and family with zero warning to collect dead men from a diseased, abandoned planet?”
Leor spoke gently. “Your mind must be part of the process. My mind must. We won’t go if we don’t want to. We don’t even know if we can.” He reached for her hand, which she cracked from the edifice of her folded arms just enough for him to hold a few fingers. “If you don’t want to, you don’t have to.”
La’ii could feel the press of Fate at least as well as the next person, but it was exactly the wrong thing to say because she relaxed, his mind reached for hers, and they disappeared.