Santa Cruz, California

Xochi through Timepull

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Xochi

Maya: 300

 

     Xochi twirled her fork in pale syrup. “One night on the trail, one night with Annie Gracious. She might be back by tomorrow noon.”

       Alice rolled her eyes. “Afternoon. Earliest.” Exasperation bubbles floated up and popped with wet smacks.

     “That audio coding is getting better.”

     An angry face rose and exploded. It sounded distant. “Well, mom, your coding is doing a really plausible job of hiding those wrinkles.” Alice speared a small block of waffle cells and chewed noisily.

     Xochi’s fork clattered. “Ok, that was rude.”

     Smug faces made an animated crown. “So was pointing out how much my audio used to glitch.”

     “Maya, Alice! It was a compliment!”

     “Not when you’re comparing me to La’ii the Hacker, it isn’t.” All the smug faces looked pointedly at Xochi at once. The edges of Alice’s blouse and scarf began to flutter upwards, as if she were surrounded by rising warm air.

     Xochi’s imp whispered “blood pressure” and ducked back into her earring. Xochi inhaled and exhaled slowly. Twice. Xochi’s projection cooled her skin tone and re-modulated her voice. “Practice coding and earn the extra equipment.”

     “…or use La’ii’s.”

     “She’ll be back tomorrow, Alice. I’m not giving you her stuff.”

     The blouse and scarf swirled now. “I’d just be borrowing it.”

     “…until you spend all night installing and coding and all day whining it’s too difficult to downgrade.” Even through the voice modulation, her syllables were clipped.

     “Just until she gets back. I can do uninstall codes.” Little puppy-eyed faces waggled around Xochi’s waffle plate and whimpered.

     “Practice coding and earn the extra equipment.”

     Little snarls swirled. “It’s just sitting there.”

     Xochi stopped reasoning. “Practice and earn.”

     More puppies. “Just to see what I want to earn for myself later.”

     “Practice and earn.” Xochi’s arms folded in a way La’ii would recognize.

     Weeping alligators death rolled with mouthfuls of Alice’s hair. She stomped a foot. “You always let her have everything!”

     Xochi started to pick up the dishes. “Practice and earn.” She turned her back on her daughter.

     Little banshees screamed in a glowering cloud. “I hope she never comes back!”

     Dishes slammed into the washer. “She’s coming back!” Xochi hollered, veins pulsing so heavily in her temples that her projection wavered.

Splash

Infinity: Nulltime

 

     Waking up in infinity wasn’t exactly waking up. Certainly, their bodies were entwined back on Earth in a pit sleeping. Leor felt that if he focused on waking up, he probably could. But he certainly wasn’t asleep, either. There was that crystalline, precise fitting of minds that happened in their sleep. That was when their hair started to braid itself into mandalas again. Dreaming became lucid dreaming, became shared lucid dreaming, became greater than the sum of their parts, became this oceanic totality.

     This time, they weren’t pulled anywhere. They could drift and look.

     Each bubble had an Earth. Each Earth had Leor and La’ii practicing. Leor wondered where into the future these lives went. La’ii’s mind began to answer and their tiny selves in the bubbles flickered forward in time.

     There were children.

     La’ii’s mind bounced off, sending them both careening toward a reality cluster in which they looked truly elvish. La’ii turned toward it and dove in. Bubbles scattered and splashed around them. The membranes of each reality were resilient, more so than the one around Gareth. They felt buffeted. They began to turn and kick, diving and slicing through the foam with gleeful abandon.

Tides

Earth: Launch +5

 

     Juan’s hand froze in space handing the old iron skillet to Fredo. Marino’s broad, tough hands paused on the kindling mid-break. The doctor’s gracile hands folded on her lap. They all stared at Gareth.

     Gareth’s lavender eyes rolled toward the darkening indigo sky. ”Timepull,” he whispered.

 

A Visit

Faerth: 14,829-14,975

 

     They were separate and physical again. Their minds remained interlocked. Every detail of cellular and molecular activity in the immediate vicinity thrummed through Leor, while the threads of melody in La’ii’s mind traced truths back and forth through time. Stars and sun breathed night and day. Seasons pulsed rhythmically around them as they listened quite literally to the music of the spheres.

     They stood like statues in the sacred grove. Younger elves changed their clothing for them at the spring equinoxes. After five years, they began to show rootlets and tendrils. After a hundred, their massive roots twined into the soil, their faces only suggestions within their bark. It took a hundred and forty six before La’ii and Leor began to think it was time to get back.

Shuffle

Earth: Launch +5

 

     The barrette in the doctor’s black and silver hair had fallen askew. It was a battered turquoise piece she had worn daily through the bunker, the launch, and the lean times.

     Gareth’s blue eyes twinkled. “May I?”

     Her eyes returned the smile.

     Gareth’s finger traced the loose strands, catching them deftly in steady fingers. He popped open the clasp, slid in the strays, and snapped the clasp closed again.

     Juana and Fredericka smiled from the hearth. They were sweet together, after all they’d been through.

Stack

Infinity: Nulltime

 

     “Ok, being elves was cool.” La’ii’s mind trilled with glee.

     Leor’s mind played a note of caution. “I’m not sure which Earth we came from.”

     A path paved with confidence stretched away from La’ii. “I can find it.” She tugged his consciousness with her.

     There had been some shifting while they were elves. Parts of the paths between realities had rotated, had attenuated. It meant popping through realities to get back instead of sliding between them.

     Leor rode along, fleeting truths and fleeting bodies flicked on and off his consciousness. The areas between physical reality and infinity moved over him like dappled sunlight. His ears grew rounder. His body grew shorter, denser, and softer.

     Disorienting, but La’ii seemed to know just where she was going.

‘Steading

Earth: Launch +5

 

     “That’s not just timepull,” mused Gareth. The vicious scar down his face occluded one blue eye.

     The doctor tugged the ends of her bound hair to tighten her malachite barrette. “I have an odd feeling that scar hasn’t always included your eye, even though I remember the scar from the moment I met you.”

     “I just wanted to clasp your hair for you.” Gareth studied her, as if from an unfamiliar angle.

     Juanita giggled. “As if you two would. I mean if five years of means, motive, and opportunity hasn’t done the trick.”

     A skinny girl flashed past, swiping a leftover burnt tortilla on the way. Juanita managed to cuff her, landing a negligible thump on the head. “Freak!,” Juanita called after the knobby elbows disappearing onto the brush.

     Gareth’s fingertips rubbed his sternum. It was much more than timepull. “What is that?,” he asked the air. His left ankle began to ache.

 

*****

 

     …which it had always done, ever since he broke it rolling that log in the swamp with Daniel. His eye caught the doctor’s lapiz barrette perched tight in her hair. That thing hadn’t budged in in the whole time he’d known her.  She stacked the hearth for morning, leaving the living coals banked under ash at the back. Her hands remained immaculate.

 

*****

 

     “Leor?” La’ii’s voice quavered. “This pit house isn’t exactly right. I mean the chamber pot is different and the blanket is different.” She rubbed her eyes.

     He tried the boulder at the entrance. “Looks like we’re still in quarantine.”

     “I wonder how long we were gone,” she asked, yawning.

     Footsteps approached. A woman’s voice filtered down through the roof. “First coherence check. Are you two ok in there?”

     They looked at each other and shrugged. “Yes!” they piped together.

     “Who is that?” asked Leor. “I’m not sure we’ve met.”

     They could both feel the immediate cloud across her thoughts. They should know her. They just met two hours ago.

     La’ii sidled up to her mind. Aghast, she whispered, “It’s Doctor Hernandez.”

     Leor pointed up helplessly while his jaw worked.

     Parts of La’ii’s face tried to make light of it. Parts tugged down on her mouth. “Try again in the morning?” she suggested.  

     He grunted.

     She touched the tips of his fingers, gentle as spring leaves uncoiling in a breeze, and led him to their rest.

Timepull

Earth: Launch +5

 

     It wasn’t her bed. It wasn’t her room, her house, her family, her planet, her time, or her life. Yet La’ii slept blissfully entwined in Leor’s arms. The mandalas weaving themselves around their heads included elvish runes for fate, volatility, and unintended consequences. La’ii’s fingers traced Leor’s skin: the curve of his belly near his hip, the grooves between his ribs, the sweep under his pecs to his sternum.

     He woke up. He listened to her mind. There was a reverberating awareness of his skin through her fingers, his scent comforting her deep into feelings of unquestionable belonging, and a burgeoning thrum of sexual delight. A hundred and fifty years as a tree had been a lot of waiting while their leaves stirred softly in the breeze, barely touching, keenly aware of every squirrel, every elf, every bark mite, every nightingale’s vivid life cycles around them. His body roared for hers.

     He unveiled his mind. He didn’t offer an image or a plea. He didn’t unleash his emotions within her consciousness. He simply existed sincerely beside her, enjoying the resonance between the physical thrill of her touch and her sleeping contentment tracing his body.

     She murmured and snuggled up to rest her head on his chest.

     He could simultaneously feel his heartbeat press her cheek and hear it through her ears. Maya, the woman could sleep through anything.

     Gingerly, he stroked her jawline with a fingertip. That jaw, if she woke, might clench, might bite back desire, might turn away from him. It had been a hundred and fifty years, but it was still only their second night together. Even back home with constant pressure to Expand, two days was fast.

     Her brow clouded, and he deftly turned his mind toward her jaw, the miniscule moisture between her cheek and his chest, his heartbeat in her ears.

     She relaxed. Her fingers traveled up his neck to his jaw. Her mind crossed into consciousness. With the slightest pressure on his chin, she turned his face toward her. She stretched her neck and kissed him.

     May I? He suffused it with his love for light on her dappled leaves, with the drip of spring rain on her bark, with more than a century of yearning, with her intoxicating scent, and the wailing of every cell in his body to enfold her.

     “Let me touch you,” she moaned.

     “Unequivocal yes.”

     “Here. Quotidian, 3D, in the flesh, no coding, no timesurfing, no borrowed reality. Now.”

     They clasped each other, rolling in the blankets on the dirt floor. Minds enmeshed, each knew the other’s needs: where to put a hand, how hard to bite, how tantalizing was the taste of sweat, when to shift weight to relieve pressure, what pressures racked and gloriously rattled the bones.

     The entwined mandala writhed in seeming agony, the tiny runic stroke that differentiated “death” from “rebirth” fluctuating as their bodies rocked.

     Their joy lifted their consciousness together as the physical distinction between their bodies simply dissolved. Microbes in the soil around them increased activity. They could feel infinitesimal dust mites feasting on the skin cells on the blankets, those minute satisfactions adding to their own. They floated quite naturally into nulltime, pulsing like electrons around a shared nucleus.

     In physical transcendence, La’ii opened her eyes to infinity. In shared motion, they swam like plankton in foaming masses of realities, each with an Earth, with a La’ii and Leor in ecstasy, with-

     She froze.

     Leor froze.

     -with La’ii, Expanded, burdened with child, aching and exhausted.

     She pushed him away. Their bodies parted. Their minds parted. Their safety in infinite nulltime collapsed and La’ii hurtled helpless and alone into an unknown reality.

Oracle, Arizona

Practice, Rip Curl

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Practice

Maya: 300

 

     It was going to be messy. Whe had to think of Gracious as “she”. That’s what she preferred, and that’s what was accurate. To wherfolk, gender identification was deeply intimate conversation. To wherfolk, people were literally zoo animals: physically truncated, primitive, insensitive, incapable of complex reasoning. It was going to be messy.

     “Whe’re lucky I know whe don’t believe that about me.”

     Her braid swung as she hiked beside wher. Her skin flushed deeper. Whe looked closer. It wasn’t only the exercise. Fine hairs between her cheekbones and jawline had changed angles. Probably strong negative emotions. “Whe’m sorry,” whe growled. “Whe forgot you could hear now.”

     I’m an Annie. I talk to Maya. It took effort not to hear wher when wher shields were up. Now? She shrugged.

     Whe sent an image of the three enclosures and a double helix.

     Yup. Zoos. Separated breeding populations. She sent an image of the rest of the planet, richly and densely populated with wherfolk and several other sentient species above ground, below ground, under water, and in the air. She added emphasis to the no-go zone around the human enclosures. She colored it with a sense of understanding it was probably for the best.

     Brrda’s moustache twitched. “Has Maya told you the purpose of the breeding program?”

     “No.” Gracious shook her head, and the braid rocked between her shoulder blades.

     An image of a golden brindle wherfolk’s mane rocking in obvious ecstasy escaped Brrda’s mind. Wher velvety lines stood up on wher neck. Traces of orange flashed in the lines on wher cheeks.

     Gracious blushed. “Do whe know the purpose of the breeding programs?”

     “No.” Whe smoothed the orange lines down.

     She sent a close-up image of the sable neck lines colored with her urge to trace them slowly with her nails. The sable on Brrda’s body delineated from wher nape, past wher slung weapons, and down to the backs of wher thighs. I thought that’s what the sable lines meant. She could feel Brrda’s purr thrumming in her chest. I’m going to ignore that until wher thinking about wherfolk’s opinions of me clears up. What whe’ll face leaves no quarter for doubt.

     You said “whe’ll”. The purring intensified.

     She felt it travel, deliciously, through her breasts and below her belly. That is hardly fair. She plucked the tie from the end of her braid. Her waving mane sprang loose, falling to her waist, clouding around her shoulders, spilling over her pack, trailing across her features. “Now that you can’t concentrate either, how much do we tell Xochi?”

     Brrda blinked. Who? Who?

     La’ii’s mother appeared in the air before wher. Above her, the binary suns glared. Around her enclosure, Custodians poured food paste and minerals into the systems. Gracious herself, as Loonie Annie Gracious, pontificated Expansions and mystic truths. La’ii was in a design on Gracious’ new robe, but nowhere else.

     “Ah, Xochi.” The purring took on a more gentle, pondering tone. “What do you suggest?”

     Gracious, if she’d been constructed for it, would have purred.

Rip Curl

Earth: Launch + 5

 

     Pinch sounded almost apologetic. “These are your quarantine quarters.”

     It was a pit. Peeking lower into the entrance, La’ii saw it was a pit house at least. There was a hearth, some stumps to sit on, a rough ceramic jug of water, and an area walled off with a hanging blanket. She reached out a hand. The hearth was warm.

     Leor also saw how well designed it was. Lined with timber, a central pole held up a dry brushy roof. It would be very, very easy to collapse the whole thing and burn them both to ashes inside.

     La’ii followed his eyes along the rafters and saw the log set as leverage between the central pole and the roof. It was both sturdy and rigged to collapse.

     Together they gaped up at his dark silhouette.

     The older man shrugged. “That’s why they call me pinché. Quarantine is three days. We’ll bring food, water, and fuel regularly. If you can both answer simple questions coherently, we’ll roll open the entrance long enough for you to bring out the empties and the chamber pot. If you’re incoherent, if it looks like you’re climbing the beam, if you work to escape, if I don’t like the smell in there, I incinerate you both.” His face wrenched in sympathy for an instant. “We believe you and you are honored guests.”

     Gareth laid his weight into the boulder by the entrance. “Practice if you can.” Pinch added his weight, and the rock rolled into place.

     “Well, Daniel.” La’ii’s fists jammed into her hips as she looked at the back side of the boulder.

     “Hey, it’s cozy in here!” Leor called from behind the blanket. He turned and faced her, sheepish. “So cozy there’s only one bed.”

     She managed to fold herself, her arms, and her legs up on a stump all at once. Her nostrils flared above an imperious chin. “I’m not Expanding. Not on a blue sky disease infested alien planet Sappho only knows how distant in how many dimensions from home without a Reading while locked in a dirt pit waiting to see if they incinerate me before I accidentally die flitting through time. Sappho crashing spider smashing no.”

     Her thoughts were so turbulent they were turbid. All he could read was a swirling mass of refusal. He knelt on the dirt floor in front of her. “Shall I split up the bedding and sleep out here?” A glimmer of waking up next to him yesterday in Brrda’s cave flashed through her mind. Her chin dropped and her hair slipped down off her shoulders into her lap. He reached his hand near hers without touching. “May I?” Her fingers stretched just enough to make contact. He waited, feeling her mind settle, feeling her enjoy the texture of his fingertips, feeling her mask her enjoyment, feeling her organize her thoughts behind the whirlpool of refusal. He waited. He kept his own mind very, very quiet very, very carefully.

     She whispered. “I want to be near you. I don’t want to Expand.”

     “Deal,” he said. “Let’s get some sleep.”

     They ducked behind the curtain, circled a bit, and fell asleep curled together like kittens.

Need to Know, Digs

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Need to Know

Planet Maya: 300

 

     Brrda knew whe had a hidden agenda. Several, in fact. But the Twin’s folks needed to hear it from a human, and a human needed protection between enclosures. Whe sucked a tender fiber of rabbit meat from behind a fang and nibbled. Whe kept wher mind veiled. Anybody who could talk to Maya could probably read wher like krav tracks.

     Gracious’ braid swung behind her as she scrubbed the bowls and stewpot. Leftovers had gone with the young families. One less meal prep was a blessing for inexperienced parents. Her armpits prickled, just a little. Was Brrda watching her? Closely? She shrugged the idea off. They weren’t even the same species. To Brrda, she was only half there.

     “Gracious?”

     See? That was a problem. The growly thrumming way her name sounded in wher voice made it impossible to keep her thinking properly dressed. She kept her back turned and tried to sound casual. “Ya?”

     “Whe have to visit civilization and talk to the Twins’ parents. Whe can’t just let their cubs disappear without a trace.” Whe tugged at a few tight small curls on wher neck under wher goatee. Whe noticed wher own nervous habit.

     Gracious turned. That was going to be a tough conversation. Most civilized people didn’t know custodians existed. They certainly didn’t know Maya was sentient and running a breeding program in a quarantined zoo. “Are whe going to pretend whe’re a projection?”

     Wher nails ticked on the glossy table in jazzy triples. “If whe have to. Whe’d prefer a real human. Someone they already trust.” The drumming stopped. “Whe’d prefer you.”

     Looney Annie Gracious, matriarch, weaver, and speaker to Maya blushed head to toe. So much for ignoring it.

     Brrda’s nostrils flared.

     Neither could keep veils up after that. It was obvious as air. Whey agreed entirely about many very consequential, very personal, very public, and very impossible things.

     “I’ll pack my travel kit,” she said. Gracious saw those velvety black lines between wher shoulders stand up. May I? She asked. The standing lines traveled up wher neck and down wher back.

     That was a yes.

     Gracious traced the lines, gently as training spiders.

     Brrda purred.

     “Jumping Maya Hernandez Gareth and Daniel,” she murmured.  

     Whe huff-chuckled. “Do you know how hard it is to freak out a pride of wherfolk?” Wher mane fluffed. “Whe might just succeed.”

Digs

Earth: Launch + 5

 

     The food was good again, and that cheered La’ii up. It also kept her mouth full long enough for her to think. It wasn’t Leor’s fault, or Gareth’s or Dr. Hernandez’s. So far away from everyone, every place, every time she ever knew it was probably better to cooperate.

     Leor sat next to her wolfing loaded tortillas and boggling his mind about how impossible it would be to program a kitchen table to print it.

     They sat in a rock ring, the boy hustling food and water to them from the rock and fire kitchen. Merina and Duan hung back, delivering food to people she hadn’t seen yet. Gareth and Dr. Hernandez, lean and grizzled, waited patiently.

     The boy handed her another serving.

     “What’s your name?” she asked.

     “Freddo.” He turned and scooted away.

     “Are they afraid of us?” piped Leor.

     Gareth shrugged. “Afraid? No. Cautious, yes.”

     Dr. Hernandez rubbed the back of his hand with two fingers. “Strangers usually mean attack or disease. They’re quarantining and prepping for defense.”

     “Most don’t really believe I’m from the future,” added Gareth.”It’s just a story to them. They haven’t seen me jump.”

     Leor got didactic. “Dr. Hernandez’s future. Our past.” He hummed as he chewed.

     The doctor smiled. “Call me Pinch. I haven’t been a Pee Aych Dee for twenty years.”

     “Pee Aych Dee?” The Twins spoke simultaneously.

     The elder man turned up his empty palms. “An obsolete educational status marker. What matters now is these people are safe, sheltered, and fed.”

     “How many of you are there?” La’ii wondered.

     The men got vague, fast.

     Gareth volunteered, “Your clothes are high quality spider silk. Better than we could do in my time, but definitely from Planet Maya. I believe you. But these people’s lives are at stake and as far as we know, there aren’t many survivor groups on Earth.”

     Dr. Her… Pinch finished for him. “We treat you like any non-threatening, apparently healthy strangers. We hide everything and keep our distance until we can be sure.”

     “Fair enough.” Leor wiped his face with his hand and wiped his hand on his pant leg. “What if we were threatening or sick?”

     Pinch’s eyes drilled. “You’d be dead already.”

     La’ii’s eyes flickered to Gareth’s. His look confirmed the truth. “How long do you think you can keep them all alive?”

     Gareth’s voice lowered. “Not long enough to rebuild.”

     “The fungus flares up in any crowded environment. Humanity may be limited to small bands from now on. If any of us are immune. If immunity is genetic. If genetic immunity is a dominant trait. If small bands can mate and produce fertile offspring carrying dominant genetic immunity faster than recessive traits gang up in the dwindling genetic resources of the population.”

     She might call him Pinch, but he was definitely still Dr. Hernandez. “Looney Annie Gracious…”

     Leor interrupted in a parenthetical tone of voice. “Something like a priestess. Seems to have access to Sappho’s computer information or Planet Maya as an intelligent entity.”

     “Probably both,” said La’ii. “Annie Gracious sent us to bring you back to Planet Maya. We’re not sure why. We went to ask about the Looney plans to protect their people from the Apocalypse.”

     “…Hoping, if they had a plan, civilized people could be saved as well,” elaborated Leor.

     “…But as soon as she told us she wanted us to gather you two…”

     “…We disappeared…”

     “…And landed here.” La’ii finished.

     Gareth nodded. “I had a bit of a theory that when variables settled into a configuration that made what had to happen for the timeline to function possible, I jumped. Never had control of it, though. Never had a chance to experiment at all.”

     Pinch leaned forward. “This was your first jump?”

     They nodded.

     “Do you have the slightest idea how to get back?”

     Negative head shakes with cascading sunset highlights.

     “Do you have the slightest idea how to take us with you?”

     Negative again.

     Everybody folded their fingers and dropped their faces.

     Gareth broke the silence. “You’re going to have to practice.”