The First Soul
Year: 12155 HE / 2155 AD
Julianne gripped the table as hard as her bony hands were able, staring down into the operating room. A bead of sweat ran down her wrinkled forehead. All nonessential personnel had been sent home for the day, as no one knew for certain what would happen when the soul was pulled in. In fact, this was to be the first time the fourth dimension was contacted by the third at all. For all her work on setting up the mathematical models for the composition of souls, she was anxious. Terry sat on the other side of the room, staring down at the surgical table.
The volunteer, one of their own with less than a month to live (inoperable pancreatic cancer, gene therapy refused); he lay on the table, under anesthesia. The entry incisions had already been made, and the heart was opened. The contact tool, indescribable with everyday terms such as “sharp” or “small” or “silver”, or indeed even Euclidean geometry at all, was inserted into the cardiac incision.
The air in the surgical room shimmered and vibrated as though there were a layer of hot air between the observation deck and the operating table. An audible groan, like a leviathan table being dragged by a hulking giant across a scuffed linoleum floor, was more than audible as the soul was dragged into observable existence. At first Five or six of the surgical technicians in the operating room doubled over, holding their ears shut. The head surgeon, steadfast as ever, maintained composure.
Julianne’s eyes widened. She could see it, manifesting, as if in midair, above the table.
“Anchor it, anchor it!” The head surgeon’s pleas were only barely audible above the persistent groan.
The anchoring tool was wheeled from the side of the room. Unlike the contact tool (which though indescribable, was easily handled with one hand), the anchoring tool was seven feet tall, and four feet to a side. It was wheeled to the operating table, the brakes were applied to the wheels, and the hood was placed over the manifested soul. The body was convulsing terribly underneath the soul. The anesthesia had become completely ineffective. He was screaming, “Put it back in! Put it back in! This is terrible! I want to die! Please, let me die!”, with only minor variations on the theme of either wanting the soul back where it came from, or wanting to die, over and over again, with pauses only for breath.
The anchoring tool was switched on. The hum resonated with the persistent groan already present in the room, amplifying it beyond a deafening level. Even in the sound resistant observation room, the hum was loud enough that several of the observers in the room left due to the discomfort. As the anchoring machine warmed up, however, the hum shifted phase from amplifying the groan to cancelling it out.
It began to descend, quite slowly at first, before falling from the air into the volunteer’s opened chest cavity. The anchoring tool was left running for several minutes longer, before being switched off and carted away. During this time, the constant screaming of the volunteer shrunk down into nothing, and eventually the heart (still visible) stopped beating altogether. The sustained tone of the flat-line, inaudible during the anchoring, faded into perceptibility as the anchoring finished.
The corpse of the volunteer, undamaged apart from the incisions necessary for soul retrieval, laid on the operating table, the soul resting on top of the heart. The cause of death was ruled to be cardiac arrest.
It was an oblong, red, oval-ish shape, roughly 14 cm in length, and about 5 cm wide at its thinnest point. The technicians (who were wearing radiation-proof hazmat suits) filed out of the room.
“We’ve done it.” Julianne fell backward into her chair. “We’ve really done it. We’ve reached into the space outside of space and pulled back the true human form. We now have physical evidence of a human soul.”
Terry took a sip of his coffee before turning to Julianne with a content look in his eyes. “You’re really gunning for that promotion, aren’tcha?”
Julianne met his quip with a glare that could melt stone. “If I didn’t need your help to stand back up, I’d smash that cup of coffee right over your smug little head, kid. I don’t care about promotions or brownie points or licking corporate boot. You of all people should understand that.”
Terry shrugged. “Just trying to lighten the mood. I’m glad your projection panned out.”
Julianne turned back to the operating room, staring unblinking at the pale red object sitting in the volunteer’s open chest cavity. The sound of the flat-line was quiet in the observation room, though it was at the same time impossible to ignore. “It’d be a lie if I said I didn’t feel a little queasy. The volunteer lost his pulse. We’ve just watched someone die, Terry.” Julianne thought but didn’t say that he’d have soon died either way.
Terry would have considered answering with a lighthearted quip out of habit, if the sound of the volunteer’s screams of pain weren’t still echoing in his mind.
The soul gleamed under the bright operating table lights.
In the dimension beyond our own, a sleeping terror was awakened by the intrusion into its space.
One hundred years later, human civilization came to a halt.
To Hold a Soul
Year: 12149 HE (Holocene Era)
Julianne, an excessively old, stout woman, kept not only alive but vigorous seemingly by sheer willpower alone, sat in her cramped office hunched over her computer screen. Her shock of short white hair caught the light from the screen, appearing like a halo around her wrinkled head. The grid on the screen displayed a logarithmic curve superimposed over a straight line. “Projected Volume”, it was titled. A dotted line vertically bisected the curve, labelled “336 cm3”.
“See this?” She muttered.
The younger-looking tall fellow sitting nearby mumbled. “See what?” He looked up and squinted at the screen with dark brown eyes, under his black, bushy eyebrows. “Do I see a graph, is that what you’re asking?” He dug some indiscriminate black gunk from under a fingernail and flicked it under a nearby table. “Mind telling me what this means? I don’t speak lines.”
Her enthusiasm faded, but only slightly. “It means that the projected volumes are, for the most part, within the same size scale as us.”
He scratched under his stubbly chin. “So?” His moustache twitched as he spoke.
She was defused a bit more. “So, that means we can hold them… most of them. This is extradimensional shit, Terry. Before this moment, no one alive knew how big a soul was. Now we know. In most cases, it’s a little smaller than half a liter. It means we can take it out of the dimension it’s in, and we can bring it here, and we can hold it.” She turned her chair around. “Let’s take this ball that’s on the table.” She picked up the red ball. “And let’s say you’re sitting inside this sheet of paper, as a two-dimensional Terry. Now, observe.”
She held the ball above the paper. “Now, to you, how big is this ball?”
Terry frowned, scratching his medium-length, wavy black hair. “Doesn’t that depend on where the paper intersects the ball?”
She smiled. “Yes, that’s it exactly. That’s why this is important. Since the souls are four-dimensional in their natural state, we didn’t have any way of estimating how large they’d be once we forced them to intersect our ‘plane’ of existence. Really it’s a ‘space of existence’, but I’ve never liked the way that sounds.” She dropped the ball back onto the paper, and turned back to face the computer. “There’s no mystique to it.”
“I’ll report this back to the board, see what they make of it.” Terry sniffed. “You ought to take a break and bathe or something.”
She groaned, hammering at keys while speaking. “And go to all that trouble? You could try being nicer to me, you know. They say familiarity breeds contempt, but you really could be nicer to me.”
Terry scratched the back of his calf with the toes on his other foot. “One thing bothers me. If the size of the object depends upon how far into our dimension it intersects, how can we say it’ll have a defined volume once it’s here?”
“Since it’s intersecting us at an angle perpendicular to any line we can fathom, we have no means of pushing it back out or pulling it further in.” She paused, her hands held above the keyboard. “Alright, back to the table.”
She spun around and Terry handed her the paper and the ball again. “So are you-”
“Hold this out, stretch it between your hands and hold it tight.” She pushed the paper back into his hands. He held it in front of him, taut. She smacked the ball into the paper, causing a four-cornered rip to form, allowing ball to ‘pass into’ the paper. “Alright, so, with the ball where it is, and with you inside the paper, pull the ball further in.”
Terry puzzled at it for only a couple of seconds. “Well, I couldn’t.”
“Right. Now try to push it out, from within the paper.”
He looked at it again, and this time a small smile fluttered on his face. “Well, I could ring the circle that I can interact with, like with a chain or something, and if I pushed on all sides of it at the same time, the ball would be forced out, wouldn’t it?”
Julianne, returned Terry’s uneasy smile with a relaxed grin of her own. “That’d work if you had any surface area on the ball. But, you don’t. In fact, it shouldn’t be possible for you to do anything but slice into the ball. Of course, since you don’t even have a sharp edge, you have zero surface area on the ball from the ball’s perspective; you wouldn’t even be able to slice into it. By all accounts, it should be impossible to move or influence from your perspective.”
Terry put the paper and ball back onto the desk and sat down again. “But if that’s the case, how would we be able to hold the soul once it’s retrieved as a 3D object? If it’s just a projection of a 4D object, shouldn’t the 3D object occupy a fixed point in space?” He thought a moment longer. “Wouldn’t it stay put while the earth moved away from it?”
“That’s the beauty of this procedure, kid.” She brought up a different window. “Look at this.” She sniffed. Terry was right, she needed a bath. “This is the projected mass graph.” It was an S-curve, staying mostly flat before rocketing down at the lower end, and upward at the higher end, almost asymptotically. “The procedure folds enough of the 4D soul into its 3D projection for us to interact with it. That folding gives the 3D projection its mass. Now, since we’ve folded some of its 4D shape into its 3D projection, the sliver of it that we can see and interact with now represents a non-zero portion of its 4D surface.” Terry stared at the rips in the paper, where the ball had ‘entered his dimension’. He frowned. “Do you understand or would you like another analogy?”
“It might help.”
“Alright.” She cracked her knuckles, quite loudly. “Imagine if, instead of the ball simply being placed through your plane, we squashed it at the point of intersection so that some of the actual surface and volume of the ball are compressed and pulled directly into your plane? It’d look something like Saturn, with its rings, the rings being the portion of the ball that physically exists in the plane.” She smiled again. “That’s the point. We’re not just making the soul intersect our dimension. We’re pulling it in here so hard that part of it physically exists in our dimension. That’s another reason for the consistent mass graph here. We can only pull so much of it in. And once that happens, the bit that’s in here is now affected by gravity, air pressure, and most importantly our hands and measuring devices.”
“How exactly do we pull it in, if we can’t put any force on it perpendicular to where it is from us? Like, if we can’t push it further in or pull it further out once it’s here, how do we get it here in the first place?”
“Do you remember the research I used to do on wormholes, back when I was a youngster?”
“Yeah. Are you recycling some of those ideas?”
“Something like that. Imagine if you were a ball near the surface of the paper, and then the paper suddenly bulges outward towards you. Part of you us now trapped inside of that bulge. That’s the extraction part of it. The anchoring part of it is smoothing out that bulge while keeping the soul trapped.”
“Ah, okay.” Most of the explanation made close to zero sense to Terry, of course. He looked closer at the graph describing mass, and frowned. “What are those asymptotic curves at either end of the graph though?”
“It’s just a mathematical artifact, I don’t think it’ll be borne out by reality. The curves are ten standard deviations from the mean, after all. You ever hear the phrase ten sigma event?”
“I can’t say I have.”
“The probability of one is zero, point, and then there’s 22 more zeroes, and then one five two six five.”
“So, even if we retrieved the souls of every single person on earth, and I mean all twelve billion of us, there’s still only about a 2 in a billion chance of even one person, out of all people, falling on those wild curves.”
“That makes it seem likely though. Like, I get that it’s still really unlikely, but it still seems like it could happen.”
“Even if it does happen, you see the top of this curve here? It only goes up to 6 kilograms by the time it gets to the twelve sigma point. That’s like a person being six meters tall.”
“Oh, I didn’t read the scale. I was afraid it’d be like, black-hole level mass. 6 kilograms isn’t that bad.”
She sighed. “Terry, lay-people will tell you anything can cause a black hole. They said the same thing about nuclear power. They said the same thing about the LHC. They said the same thing about quantum teleportation. But it’s a lot harder to make a black hole than people seem to think. You need a lot of mass, and a lot of energy. It’s easy to think that you can just ‘use science’ to create a black hole, but it’s never scientists who are saying it. It would be difficult if you were actively trying.” She cleared her throat. “Sorry for going off like that, it’s just too often that I have to deal with people citing pseudoscience-type claims.”
Terry stood back up. “It’s alright. I’ve gotta go write up my report to the boss guys, so I’ll see you later, Julianne.”
Year: 12072 HE
“Julianne, wake up.”
The girl lying in the bed squinted into the morning sun and searched (eyes half shut) for the source of the voice. She found him in the form of an older-looking boy leaning against her doorframe.
“Hey, Terry.” She yawned. “What are you doing here?”
Terry smirked. “Don’t you know what day it is?”
“No… Wait. It’s my birthday.”
Terry’s smirk widened into a genuine smile. “That’s right. You’re nine years old today.”
Year: 12153 HE
Julianne’s eyes opened. She felt her face and lamented that her return to her youth had only been a dream. Her doughy, wrinkled skin was the same as it had ever been.
A young boy bounded up the stairs, without a single care for how noisy his footsteps were, and leapt off of the top step to land squarely in Julianne’s doorframe. “Auntie Julianne, wake up!”
“I’m up, sweetheart.”
“Do you know what day it is?”
“It’s my birthday, dear. It’s Auntie’s birthday.”
“Yeah! Grandpa says you’re ninety years old today!”
Julianne smiled. “Yes, dear. Auntie is ninety years old.”
The boy hopped into the room. “Are you gonna have a gene thererpy?”
Julianne remained silent. Terry had ascended the stairs and was standing behind the young boy. “Mark, go back downstairs and play with the other kids.”
Mark made a small noise of protest, but descended the stairs, stomping all the way down. “God, I can’t believe you’re older than me, kid.” She began pulling the covers back over her, but Terry strode over and pulled them back down.
“Your family is downstairs, waiting to see the birthday girl.” Terry stepped back from the bed. “What got into Mark? What was that about gene therapy?”
She shrugged. “I wasn’t planning to do anything. He probably saw something on the news about it, and figured since I’m old I’d be interested.”
Terry folded his arms and leaned back against the wall. “But are you interested?”
“There was a beautiful sunrise this morning.” Julianne swung her thin, veiny legs out from under the covers, where they mercifully remained mostly covered by pajama bottoms, and slid her feet into a waiting pair of slippers on the floor. She turned slightly, and noticed Terry’s concerned expression. “If I was interested, I’d have done it while I was younger. Help me up.”
Terry held out a hand and pulled her up. She was losing weight. Sixty years ago, she’d have been thrilled to be at 110, but at 89… no, 90 now, it was worrisome. “I did it, you know.” Julianne looked at him and grimaced. “You don’t need to give me that look. It was cheap. My bones started creaking when I’d get up, my stomach stopped working right, and I developed that nasty cough.”
“The reason I’m hesitating isn’t because I’m worried about the money.” Julianne was slowly making her way to the stairs. “I saw what happened to Uncle Boris.” She frowned, creasing her brow. “I know that it’s different with you, now, but it’s no less unnatural.”
“Yeah, I know dad went off the deep end a few years after he got home from that surgery. It was great to have him walking around again… But”, He paused, helping her sit down in the stair lift chair, “that’s why I didn’t have my brain worked on like that, apart from the gene therapy. I didn’t want...”
Year: 12087 HE
Boris (age: 55) sat in the recliner in the living room. It was 2:40 AM. He had been sitting in the chair for the past three hours. Repeating, over and over again, “I am not here. I am not here. I am not here.”
Terry (age: 26) had slept over at Boris’s house, that night. He’d heard the muttering, woke up, and found Boris in the living room. “Dad?”
“Terryterryterry. I just realized something.”
“I’m not here. I am not here.”
“What do you mean, Dad?” Terry sat down on the couch across from the recliner.
“The real me is elsewhere. I am not here. I’m just a copy. I’m the fake.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I saw it, Terry. I saw the real me. I hooked up my brain to the Internet just earlier. The brain I… came from, it’s hooked up to the Internet, too. I was just talking with him. Wanna talk to him too? He misses you, Terry.”
“Dad, I thought-“
“So did I. But there’s no brain up there. I opened my head. I had to check. There’s no brain in my head, only computer parts. There wasn’t even any pain.”
Terry looked down at Boris’s hands. They were stained a dark brown. Boris hadn’t even bothered to wipe off the blood. “This is insane, Dad.”
“I’m not your dad, Terry.” Terry looked up at his head. The top half of his skull was peeled back, held on by a simple flap of skin. That was stained brown, too. Crudely soldered wires, which Boris had just added, poked out. “Your dad left this body 19 years ago. This body I’m in. Terry. This body that watched you finish high school, get married, and get your degree. It isn’t mine. I helped raise you, Terry. I love you. But I’m not your dad.”
Terry didn’t realize he was screaming until a neighbor started banging on the door.
That was a nightmare Terry had been having on and off for the near-seventy years since it had happened. “Terry, are you alright?”
Terry snapped to, realizing he’d been staring at the wall. “Was I screaming just now?”
“No. You weren’t. Look, I’m sorry I brought-”
Terry held up a hand. The silence was incomplete, due to the soft whine of the stair-lift. Julianne had made it halfway down the stairs, but Terry quickly caught up to her. “It’s fine. I’m okay. It’s been almost seventy years, after all. That was a lifetime ago.”
Julianne broke eye contact, looking down the stairs. Mark, Terry’s great-grandson, smiled up at them. He was holding a cupcake with an unlit candle jammed into it at an angle. “Happy birthday, auntie Julie!”
The stair-lift reached the bottom of the stairs with a clunk, swiveling the chair outward as it did so. Julianne returned Mark’s sincere smile and graciously accepted the cupcake. “Thank you, Mark. Come give your auntie a hug.”
Chris, Mark’s father, and Nate, Mark’s uncle, were watching a game on the TV. Mark stepped up onto the first step to reach her. They shared a warm embrace. Mark’s mother, Brianna, watched this with a tired smile.
Mark let go of her and returned to the living room to continue watching the game with his father and uncle. “Terry, would you mind helping me up again?”
“Not at all, geezer.” He held out a hand.
Julianne smiled. “Watch that mouth, kid.”
Late 21st Century, 2nd era
Two men, one young, one old, sat at an old plastic table in a sparsely furnished apartment, playing a game of pinochle, each of them with two hands.
The older gentleman grumbled, “I’m telling you that it’s not safe.”
The younger-looking academic scoffed at this. “I tell you, man, it is.”
The gentleman shook his head. “Do you have any proof it’s really constant; that it isn’t just a break followed by an imitation of the original?” He gestured at the sleeping man on the couch. “Look there, he’s asleep, which makes him seem human. But his joints are all titanium! His neurons are really transistors! How do we know that the consciousness he experiences isn’t just a leviathan algorithm which performs an imitation indistinguishable from the real thing? Do we have any proof at all that if I went through the same procedure, I wouldn’t just die afterward, replaced by something that acted exactly like me, and indeed believed it was me?”
The academic smirked, lowering his cards to the table. “I’ll wake him up and ask him. Boris. Boris!”
The figure on the couch jerked awake. “Ah?”
“Boris, you awake?”
“I am now.” He cracked his jaw. The gentleman followed the example set by the academic, and rested his cards on the table.
“What do you suppose you are?” The academic put forward. “Human, or a machine imitating a human?”
“Human, I guess, same as you.”
The gentleman, Frank, cut in. “But your brain, it doesn’t work quite like ours, right?”
Boris seemed puzzled. “I haven’t noticed much different. It’s not that different from a flesh brain, just a little faster, and my memory is better. What, you think I see you all as lines of code or something?”
Frank sat back in his chair, the academic (Alex) holding up a finger.
“What’s the square root of 19,272?” asked Alex.
“It’s one thirty-eight, point eight, two, three, six, and a bunch of garbage after that.” A corner of Boris’s lips twitched upward, for a brief moment. “It’s a parlor trick, that’s all. It doesn’t mean my brain doesn’t work like a brain.”
“How old are you, Boris?” Frank asked.
Boris sat up. “I’m 38.”
Frank’s eyes widened. “Yet you’ve already had the procedure done? Why is that?”
“You see, I had multiple sclerosis. Had leg spasms that got so bad, I couldn’t walk without crutches. Eventually, it got worse and I needed a wheelchair. On top of that, I had terrible mood swings, and I couldn’t speak right. After a few months of that, I learned about this procedure, so I underwent it. Now, I can walk, talk, and keep my feelings in line. I can chew and swallow solid food, too. You never appreciate that when you can do it without difficulty, but after the third time you put a spoonful of stew into your mouth only to have it dribble back out again, because you can’t keep your lips closed, it gets really discouraging.”
It was still odd that those who underwent the procedure still had to eat instead of just plugging into a wall every night, Frank thought.
“Boris, would you mind telling Frank what you experienced before and after the procedure?” Alex looked over to Frank briefly, before returning his gaze to Boris.
“I wouldn’t mind it at all.” Boris stood up from the couch and went over to the table where Alex and Frank were sitting, their game of Pinochle long since abandoned. Boris gestured at the cards before picking one up. “You were playing Pinochle without me?”
Frank grinned. “I wouldn’t call it playing.” He nodded at Alex. “This stinker over here cheats.”
“Anyway, the procedure.” Boris sat down, idly fidgeting with the card. “What they told me is, they put you under, they take your brain out, hook it up to their machine. The machine reads your brainwaves, your thought patterns. It does it by placing you in a virtual reality sort of a thing, and throwing all kinds of situations at you. The computer keeps this up until it knows every single thing about you, all your memories, your priorities, and your whole identity. Anything that comprises ‘you’, even the stuff you don’t have conscious access to, gets brought over. Repressed memories, opinions of strangers you’ve run into only once or twice, the fucked up ideas you have sometimes but never ever say out loud. Every single thing.” He put the card down. “I don’t remember the whole process of moving from my brain to what I’m running on now, honestly it felt a lot like a dream.”
“So do you have free access to those subconscious memories now?”
Boris frowned a little. “Honestly, no. It doesn’t really bother me much, because I never did to begin with. Whatever firmware is in here that’s running the subconscious does a damn good job of replicating the original. It’s honestly exactly like using a normal brain, except this one won’t get old or run down.”
Frank chuckled a bit to himself. “When I was a youngster, I had to have gone through a new computer every five years, It just gets too slow and cumbersome to deal with after too long.” Frank’s smile faded. “How long ago was your procedure?”
“Not too long, just a couple years.”
Alex’s smug grin relaxed into a neutral expression. “Boris, have you noticed any slowdown since you had the procedure done?”
“Isn’t most of the slowdown due to accumulations of crap-ware? My brain doesn’t have an Internet connection, and it’s still partially biological so the parts that run down can regenerate. But no, I haven’t noticed any slowdown.”
Frank coughed. “What do they do with your brain after everything gets transferred over?”
“Honestly, this is one of the biggest misconceptions about the process.” Boris tapped his forehead. “They put most of it back in there to help regulate your consciousness.”
“One thing I never understood about the whole idea of having computer parts in your skull, and then closing the whole thing off, especially with most of your brain still in there.” Frank pulled his chair a bit closer to the table, and straightened out his back, placed his elbows on the table, and laced his fingers under his nose. “What… How is it staying cool?”
“Excuse me?” Boris asked. “You mean, how is the CPU not overheating?”
“Yeah.” Frank relaxed his posture slightly. “How is the CPU not overheating?”
Boris absentmindedly felt his forehead. “I don’t know the exact methods they use, but they, essentially, use your blood as a liquid coolant.” Boris was relieved to feel that his forehead felt normal.
Abruptly, everything ended. Frank ended, Alex ended, and the Boris that was sitting in that room ended.
Boris’s brain was removed from the transfer rack, the upload of his mind now completed. His body lay prone on the table, his damaged spinal cord and peripheral nerves replaced with infallible wires and durable insulation. A group of doctors stood over Boris’s body, pressing different buttons. One sequence ran his legs in a circular motion, as though he were riding a bicycle. Another caused his body to crack his knuckles. The test device was removed from the socket. The replaced nerves worked properly. The new brain was removed from the transfer rack, and set into the skull.
Several hours later, after significantly more work, Boris’s body woke up.
“Boris, do you understand where you are?”
Boris looked around, his eyes adjusting to the surgical table lights. “The surgical table, I think. Did you start the procedure yet?”
One of the doctors stepped forward. “It’s already completed.”
Boris stared down at his hands in disbelief. He tried moving his legs. They responded as though his MS had been just a dream. “How did the procedure go? Did everything go alright?”
“You tell us.”
Boris shrugged. “I feel okay, I guess.”
“Does the location ‘Willow Lane’ mean anything to you?”
“I don’t think so.” Boris scanned the room, noticing how many people were there for the first time. Upwards of twenty people seemed to be staring at him, or at their clipboards, where some of them scribbled furiously.
“What about a bright red rubber ball bouncing down the stairs?”
“I mean, I probably played with a rubber ball when I was a kid, but that doesn’t hold any specific meaning.”
“What about Larry’s Tavern?”
Boris paused. He thought he remembered something about that word, at the edges of his memory, but he couldn’t place a finger on it. The feeling of familiarity slipped away. “No… I don’t think so.”
“That’s my wife’s maiden name.”
“How many questions are you guys gonna ask me?”
“Please cooperate, Boris. We’re nearly done. The oboe.”
“No. I know what an oboe is, but no, nothing specific.”
“What is your mother’s name?”
“What is your eldest brother’s name?”
“Nate.” More scribbling.
“My niece’s name.” The scribbling was starting to bother him.
“My son.” He was ready to strike the nearest source of that scribbling noise.
“We’re done. Thank you, Boris.”
Boris was helped into his wheelchair and escorted out of the room. His complete brain remained behind. It was preserved flawlessly, intended to be dealt with later.
Boris was the first human being to receive a silicon replacement for his brain. The year was 2071 AD.
Year: 12155 HE, later on the day of the first extracted soul
“So?” Julianne asked Terry, upon his entering the room. “What are the observed properties?”
Terry spread out a mess of papers on the desk, picked up the first sheet, and read from it. “Mass, 1.11 kg. Volume, 379 cm3. Therefore, density is just under 3.03 g/cm3. The measured temperature is 41.1 Celsius. Worth noting: this has been measured three times over the course of the last hour, and the temperature has neither increased nor decreased.”
“That’s pretty warm.” Julianne concluded. “How about that volume, though? Pretty close to my estimate, if I may say so!” She reached for another of the papers in the stack, looked briefly at Terry, and after a nod from him, she took it.
Terry continued, “I’d be inclined to agree, your model was very accurate. So, noteworthy bit here... No emissions from it apart from infrared spectrum, so, it isn’t radioactive.” Julianne smiled at that. “It’s translucent, a nice red color. The refractive index isn’t that different from air, at 1.15.”
“That’s a bit odd, isn’t it?” Julianne muttered without looking up from the sheet.
“Yeah, it is. Preliminary observations have revealed something else very strange.”
“Yes, nonatomic… Wait.” Julianne looked up. “What do you mean by that?” She asked, slowly.
“I mean, we looked as closely as we could at it, and there’s no evidence it’s made up of discrete building blocks of any kind.” Terry leaned forward, and dropped his voice to a hoarse whisper. “It seems to be a single unit.”
Julianne blinked, dumbfounded. “Come again?”
“We’ve looked at it with the tunneling quark microscope, and we’ve concluded that it’s not made of atoms. It’s completely smooth, inside and out. It is a truly continuous material.” Terry leaned back into his seat.
There was a long period of silence, with Julianne repeatedly thinking she had something to add, but thinking better of it. Eventually, she said “So, no point testing for toxicity or chemical reactivity?”
Terry dismissively waved a hand. “No, there’s no chance of it interacting with anything, for better or worse.”
“So, what’s the source of the temperature?” Julianne paused to think. “How is it not simply phasing through everything, if it isn’t made of matter?”
“It seems to manifest a negative charge whenever approached by any object, but we don’t yet understand the source of the charge. At any rate, this lets us touch it like it is a normal object. As for the temperature,” Terry paused for breath, “It seems to stem entirely from the infrared.”
They sat in silence, reviewing the documents for a few minutes, occasionally comparing figures with the models created beforehand.
“What happened to the volunteer?”
“Didn’t you see him yourself? He’s dead.” He slid a stapled stack of papers, covered with a manila sheet, across the desk. “The autopsy results declare the death a result of shock.”
Julianne didn’t bother opening the folder. “That’s a shame.” She looked back to her papers. “I was really hoping we could do this without killing the owner of the soul, but I suppose this was unavoidable.”
A few more minutes passed, before Julianne spoke. “Hey, Terry?”
“Mhm?” He flipped a page.
“I think I might get that gene therapy thing after all.”
Terry looked up, to meet her eyes. “Are you serious about this?”
“I’m completely serious.” She put down her copy of the autopsy report.
Terry followed suit, putting his copy down as well. “What caused this change? You were pretty adamant about not going through with it last we spoke about it.”
She inhaled, and let out a long exhale through her nostrils. “I’m too old to see this research through to the end. I’m ninety-three, now, a mere stone’s throw from a hundred. I don’t want to pass on before I see where this all goes.” She stood up, leaning on the table for support, and stared down at Terry, waving away his hand when he offered to help her up. “I could die from a heart attack, or cancer, or simply stop breathing in my sleep, and I would die without knowing what became of my life’s work.”
Terry smiled. “I’ll refer you to my doctor. You won’t regret this.”
Year: 12156 HE
“Yeah, we’ll tune in. Thanks.” The phone clicked into its receiver, and the TV flicked on.
“-mer humanity aside. For millennia, humankind has been singularly obsessed with the idea of living forever. It has manifested itself in the form of a divine reward for a life lived without sin, in the form of a result of dabbling with dark arts, and now, at last, in the form of gene therapy. What began as a promising treatment for diseases such as Alzheimer’s and muscular dystrophy, now threatens to tear our society apart at the seams.”
Julianne turned up the volume on the TV, but only slightly.
“In addition, my friends, the scientists of this world have discovered and retrieved the human soul! Yet, these barbaric searchers for truth disregard all basic sense in their quest for greater knowledge, and sacrifice human lives to further their research! In their relentless pursuit of knowledge, not even the sanctity of human life is recognized!”
Julianne made a small noise of disgust.
“So it has come to pass, dear friends and followers of God, that our society, no, our very world stands at a crossroads of historic proportions. Will we turn back, and leave god’s will intact? Or shall we venture forward, to spit in the very eye of god, and accept whatever consequence He deems necessary, to punish us for our transgressions?
“Humans are only intended to live for so long, and in the past, to live beyond 120 years was a legendary achievement, and one worthy of adulation, for it implied the blessings of God Himself! But, friends, these days are behind us. Where once the realm of centenarians was sparse, filled only with those who had lived wholesome full lives in the service of God and their communities… It is now crowded with these same heathens who seek to rip the very souls from our bodies, in order to poke and prod them with sticks!
“Barely five days ago, friends and followers of the Lord, did these heretics sever a soul, too powerful for them to fathom. Twenty feet high, seven tons, black as-”
“Do people buy this garbage?” Terry asked no one in particular.
Julianne held up a finger. “Shush!”
“-ly a sign of the end, and I tell you, it was hot enough to melt rocks! It endangered not only the barbarians who ripped it from the body God intended it to reside within… Brothers and sisters, it is with a heavy heart that I report to you, this catastrophe is responsible for the deaths of well in excess of a million men and women. A million children of god, sent home before their time.
“The media will deny it, because they’re in the same pockets as these blasphemers who committed the very act. They will tell you, dear friends, that this soul was a tiny speck…”
“It was.” Terry muttered.
“… and that they had time enough to evacuate the neighboring townships…”
“We did.” Terry muttered, slightly louder.
“… and most shockingly of all, they will tell you that the only lives lost were their own!” Terry buried his face in his hands and groaned. “But, friends, you must resist these lies! Already there are men and women who are 200 or even 300 years old!”
“300 years ago was the 1850’s, that doesn’t even make sense.”
“Terry, my hearing isn’t back to normal yet as it is, and if you keep talking over everything, I won’t be able to hear any of this.”
She switched captions on. Mercifully, they were several seconds behind the live broadcast.
They read: “300 years old! A man named Albert Einstein once called compound interest the most powerful force” at this point the captions had caught up with where Julianne had switched the captions on, “in the world, and he was right. These people, already immortal, amass the world’s wealth in their stock portfolios and in their homes, and each day that passes, their slice of the pie only grows, while ours recedes.
“If this is allowed to continue, we shall live in a society of ancient oligarchs! The blasphemous option of casting aging aside shall become closed off to us, so that we may not even join their ranks! It is for that reason, dear friends, which I ask… No, I implore you, cut off any contact with those who have undergone this procedure. Do not sell to them. Do not send them dividends. Do not allow them to steal more food from the mouths of our children.
“Already our numbers are falling. Where there were one-thousand, two-hundred, fifty nine million souls in this country only ten short years ago, now there exist only 1.17 billion”, he slurred the word billion ever so slightly, “Americans. That’s like Adolf Hitler’s Nazi holocaust occurring every single year, for the past ten years!”
Terry spoke up, “I have to hand it to this guy, he’s pretty great at twisting numbers around.”
Julianne groaned and turned up the volume again.
“Their manipulation of our media has caused” and here, the captions catch up, “us to abandon the traditional pursuit of raising a family, and putting new men and women into the workforce. Their manipulation of our desires has caused us to abandon our return to God’s embrace in heaven when our work is done on earth. Instead, people today are choosing to simply live out eternity here on earth, instead of heaven. They have abandoned death and they have abandoned God!” The last words echoed throughout the stadium.
The audience, which the camera briefly panned over, was much larger than either Terry or Julianne were expecting. Their applause was deafening.
The suited figure left the podium, and a different, visibly less charismatic figure approached. “Ladies and gentlemen, what a speech that was! This was the Constitution Party nominee for president of the United States of America, Richard MacMillan!” This was followed by another blast of applause from the crowd.
Julianne switched off the TV, slack jawed. Terry, similarly dumbfounded, picked up the phone and dialed.
The voice on the other end answered. “Yeah?”
“Jim, you’ve got to be shitting me.”
Raspy laughter came through the earpiece. “I thought you might get a kick out of that.”
Terry dragged a hand over his face, stretching the skin around his eyes and lips. “That was more like a gunshot wound than a kick. This religious wing-nut is running for goddamn President!?”
Jim chuckled. “I don’t think he’s going to win.”
“I’m not so sure about that, Jimmy. That was a pretty big crowd.”
“Terry, the guy’s a Cargill heir. They’re fuckin trillionaires. You think he couldn’t pay off a crowd to show up and yell real loud after his nomination speech?”
“Is that supposed to be reassuring? If they’re…” Terry lowered his voice before continuing, “If they’re trillionaires, then this makes them one of the richest families on earth.”
“Yeah.” Terry heard the distinct sound of a stubbled chin being scratched.
“So they could supposedly rig the election.” Terry lowered his voice further. “It’ll be the ’44 elections all over again, but this time without the big-money insiders on our side.” Terry dropped to a whisper. Not even Julianne could hear him now. “Not to mention, I have a feeling he’ll organize a headhunt for our kind if he gets elected. I’m not about to get lynched.”
“What, you worried about that, Terr?”
“I just think this guy is… you know… dangerous. I don’t like him.”
“You and me both. Hey, I gotta go, boss man’s here and he looks pissed, he must’ve been watching it as well.” Terry heard the click of a phone being placed into its receiver and hung up, pinching his brow.
Julianne stared at her hands, marveling at how much fainter the veins on the backs of her hands had become.
Destruction and Creation
Part I: Destruction
Year: 12164 HE
Julianne and Mark hiked up the hill, some of their family in tow. “Aunt Julianne, do you think it’s still erupting?”
“Mark, if it was still erupting, we wouldn’t be coming up here.”
Julianne and Mark were with Terry, Terry’s granddaughter Brianna (Mark’s mother), and Brianna’s husband Chris; a family outing, to see a rare example of a live volcano on the mainland. Several years have passed since the tiny, fiery, pitch black soul was retrieved. The magma shaft opened by the event has since matured into a small volcano.
The hill which they were hiking up was not the small volcano. It was simply a nearby hill which provided a decent view of the volcano. Chris, a painter, had brought a bag full of brushes and paint tubes with him, intending to capture the rare event on canvas.
Terry, seeing just how large the bag on Chris’s back was, asked “Chris, how long have you been painting for?”
“Since I was a little kid.” He grinned with pride. “It’s good for the soul, and if you’re persistent, it’s good for the wallet too.”
“How’s that?” Terry, while not exactly disdainful of the arts, had always viewed them as more of a hobby than a career.
“Well, this painting I’m about to paint, when we get to the top, could be worth thousands once it’s complete and I find a buyer.” He took a few breaths, as the hill had been steep for the past few-dozen paces. “Since this is a rare event, painted firsthand, it’s the sort of thing that could be hung in a museum someday.” There was silence apart from their footsteps and the sound of birds and crickets, until Chris spoke again. “Gramps, are you familiar with J.C. Schmitz-Westerholt’s artwork, The Sinking of the HMS Hood?”
Above, Sinking of the HMS Hood, public domain photograph
Painting by Lieutenant Julius Caesar Schmitz-Westerholt, c. 1941
“Isn’t that the painting that sold at auction for a few hundred million a couple years back?” Terry smiled. “I see where you’re going with this... But weren’t you only hoping for a few thousand?”
“Well, yeah. I do alright for myself, but I’m hardly famous in the rest of the world. Even though that painting was the only historically noteworthy one he ever did, it’s in thousands of history books, and most people have seen it once or twice browsing the web, even if they don’t remember seeing it. That’s the kind of recognition I want for this painting. Subtle, but permeating, recognition.”
At that word, they reached the summit of the hill.
On the other side of the hill was a valley, but not a gentle sloping one. It was as though the ground broke and caved in, like an incomprehensibly large titan punched the ground, and in the middle of it all, a towering mountain of a volcano gently leaked smoke into the sky.
“It looks… almost like the surface of a lake after a giant rock plunges into it.” Chris remarked. But this is rock, which makes…” Chris fell silent, not knowing the proper terminology. “Terry, just what are souls? What are they made of?”
Julianne, overhearing the conversation, joined in. “I’m right here, you know. You could ask me.” She cleared her throat. “I may not look it, but I am the lead researcher on soul composition.” She gestured at Terry. “Who you have here is a middle manager, who has to take what I discover, and break it down for a kindergartener to understand, or more accurately, for head management to understand.” Terry opened his mouth to protest, but Julianne continued without giving him a chance to retort. “You’re better off getting it straight from me unless you want a kindergartener’s understanding of this.”
Mark picked up a rock and threw it down the hill, behind them. It hit a tree with a satisfying clunk. Brianna grabbed his wrist and scolded him.
“Alright, I’ll bite.” Chris hiked the strap on his bag further up his shoulder. “What are souls made of?”
“Solid, compressed space.”
“Souls are made out of solid, compressed space. As in, they’re made up of space, instead of matter that inhabits space. They’re non-atomic and completely continuous throughout. You see, souls are 4-dimensional in their natural state. So what we do is compress a region of space just enough to hold a physical and real portion of the soul in our three dimensions. If we didn’t compress the space, we’d only see… sort of an afterimage of the soul. We would probably just phase through it. It wouldn’t have any mass.
“The soul that caused this volcano to form, however, was a special case, far outside of what we would normally see. We aren’t new at this anymore, the technology behind soul extraction and anchoring has been used for nearly a decade now. Do you know anything about the tools used for it? It’s fascinating.”
“I just wanted to know what they’re made of.” Chris shrugged, while unpacking his supplies.
“Well, to understand that, you actually do need to understand the tools. Unlike minerals or ores, where the type of pickaxe or drill used doesn’t significantly alter the composition of the extracted material, the tools here have everything to do with what the soul is made of. The anchor and extractor were both designed using evolutionary algorithms run for several months on the world’s fastest supercomputers. Neither of them could have been conceived by a human brain.
“The extractor is like the net thrown from a fishing trawl. By itself, it certainly can’t reel in a fish, but it can catch a fish. It works by detecting a soul’s presence near our three dimensions (but not yet within), and inverting space near that area. This inversion of space is a bit like digging a hole in a room with a lot of shallow water. Let’s say that the soul is a 1mm thick layer of water, and that our three dimensions are the layer of sand under the water. So the extractor digs up a hole, and then like water, the soul rushes in to fill that hole. We force it to intersect our dimensions by creating a void next to it, to pull it in.
“The other half of the procedure is the anchoring. The extraction is just making the soul visible, and making it intersect our dimension. What the anchoring tool does next is, it wraps layers of space around the soul that ‘leaked’ into our dimension, and then it pulls the layers tightly enough to compress the soul into a form we can interact with. A form that has mass and that we can touch. If the extractor is the fishing net, the anchor is the winch attached to that net.”
Chris blinked, and paused in setting up his easel. “So, why did this one turn into a volcano?”
“Well, I’m no geologist, but I had to study it quite a bit to explain what happened here. First, we have to discuss what exactly was different about this soul. Most souls are a few centimeters in diameter, just about halfway between the size of a baseball and a softball. They almost always weigh about a kilogram.”
“That’s quite a bit heavier than a softball.” Chris was folding out the legs from his easel.
“Yes, it is. They vary in size, though. As far as average density goes, most of them are just a little denser than aluminum. But it skews quite far in either direction. Some souls float on water. Some will float in air, too. But those are very rare. We’ve only retrieved a few of those, out of the thousands we’ve had available to study so far. This soul, though, was a very peculiar example. Though most souls are the size of a softball, and some can be quite a bit larger, this soul was the size of a single grain of sand.”
Chris continued setting up his easel, raising the clamp so he could set the canvas under it. After a few seconds in thought, he said “So you’re telling me, a soul that was the size of a grain of sand caused this huge volcano to form? How exactly did it do that?”
“To be honest, we don’t know it was the size of a grain of sand. That was calculated from the immense heat it put out.”
“How did you calculate the size from the heat?”
“To put it simply, the density of a soul determines how much heat it puts out. Any heat it puts out is in the form of infrared.”
Julianne was standing near the easel, leaning slightly on an old wooden cane. Mark was taking pictures of the volcano with his phone, next to Brianna, who had stretched out on a blanket, basking in the warm sunshine. Terry was sitting on a rock, staring out across the vast valley. Chris had finished setting up his easel, and had clamped in the canvas.
Julianne shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “You can think of it like this. We’ve had a while to puzzle it out, and we’ve determined that the infrared from the soul is the result of vibrations from the compressed space used to comprise that soul. When a soul is extracted from its body, it lets out a deep groan at first. The anchoring procedure cancels out this groan, but from what we’ve observed, the physical vibrations which cause the groan are skewed into electromagnetic vibrations, which are detected in the infrared spectrum.
“Souls which are smaller can be thought of as more compressed than souls which are larger. This compression results in intense vibrations from the soul. While the frequency of these vibrations doesn’t vary, in souls which are very compressed, the waves reach insanely high peaks. This is understood as more photons released per minute at the same energy. This is a constant release of energy, distinct from an object being simply hot or cold. We have tried to raise or lower the apparent temperature of a soul in every way known to science. But, so far, we have had no luck changing the temperature of a soul. That being the case, the apparent temperature of a soul can be understood as an unchanging attribute of that soul.
“It is for precisely this reason that the soul retrieved here was so dangerous. It came out hot, and there was no way to cool it down. It was so hot, that anything we tried to contain it with would melt. All of the recording devices on the premises at the time were destroyed. We can’t even know how hot it was. But, we used data from how quickly the surrounding area melted to figure out how hot it was. Our estimates ranged from 5000 to 8000 degrees Celsius. At either end of that, it’s hot enough to melt through rock, steel, tungsten carbide, anything.”
Chris had begun sketching on the canvas with a light pencil to place different elements of the view into perspective, within his painting-to-be. “Couldn’t you just, you know, put it back where it came from?”
Julianne sat down, trying to admire the view of the valley and central mountain as just a pretty sight, and not as a black mark on her pride as a scientist. “Well, if we could’ve put it back, we would’ve done so… either way, on to how that incident caused this volcano.”
Part II: Creation
Year: 12162 HE
The second Retrieval facility had been built to continue gathering data on souls, and to spread out the research and personnel in the case of an unthinkable catastrophe. The orientation for the job had disoriented and unnerved most of those onsite. While the practice of soul retrieval had been deemed, in general, safe enough to perform without requiring hazmat suits or evacuation (though ear protection was added to the list of equipment, immediately after the first procedure was completed), the well-known mathematical models predicted occasional outliers at the upper and lower bounds for size, which of course implied outliers for density, which implied outliers for temperature. It was not the asymptotic outliers for mass which worried these technicians, but the very real possibility of the eventual discovery of a soul too dense and too hot to contain safely.
However, the reality of working at the facility was, in the five years it had been up and running, there wasn’t a single incident. That is to say, there were no cases of an injury or a soul unfit for containment in the several years the facility had been up and running. Today there had been five retrievals scheduled, two of which had already been completed.
The first sources for retrieved souls had been volunteers, those who were already on the brink of death and wanted to make a contribution to science before their time came. More recently, it was used as an option for inmates facing the death penalty. Those who chose this method of execution were not warned that, according to every last example of the procedure in practice, it appeared to be excruciatingly painful.
The third retrieval for the day was a volunteer. Not a murderer, nor a rapist, nor a drug dealer, nor a cult leader. This volunteer was a perfectly average man of eighty years, who had decided to give his family his soul as a parting gift, rather than undergoing cremation and giving them his ashes. Speaking from an omniscient perspective, as this must be made completely clear, he had no dark secret life as a criminal or mobster, nor did he moonlight as a serial killer. It is important to understand that this was a completely normal man, because of what happened to his soul. Or, more accurately, because of what his soul did to the second facility.
What follows is a description of a video stream broadcast by the second facility to the first, up to the point of soul retrieval, until the broadcast ceases.
The patient lay under heavy anesthesia, surrounded by the surgical team. The head surgeon spoke. “Extraction is starting. Clear.”
The tool is brought in close to the incision. “Contact initiated, drawing it in.”
An orb manifested over the body, the groan drowning out and saturating the audio from the tape. A burst of static punctuated the interjections from the surgical team. “Contact successful, bring up the anchor.”
The machine was rolled into the room, and the hood draped over the soul. “I am switching the anchor on. Clear?” The operator looked at the head surgeon for approval.
“Clear.” The head surgeon gestured at the operator. “Proceed.”
The operator switched on the machine. The groan intensified, before quieting down again. “Doctor, there’s an anomaly in the temperature. It’s rising above 200 Celsius.”
“That’s within controllable range. Bring up the high-temp enclosure, then.”
The operator visibly frowned, but brought up the enclosure from within the anchoring machine. At this point in the video, a high pitched and repetitive beeping noise emanated from the anchoring machine.
The operator spoke. “I’m seeing a delta of 100 centigrade every couple seconds. If this continues, the enclosure will not hold.”
“Steady, this isn’t the-” here, the enclosure loudly shattered. The hood normally hiding the anchoring process burned away, revealing what was behind it. The soul, initially perfectly round and red, and of normal size, had collapsed into a speck visible only as a black dot on the video feed. The editor of the presented video switched, here, to a secondary camera angle much closer to the soul. It was a small, pitch black, triambic icosahedron.
“Hot! It’s too hot!”
Space folded around the soul, floating above the body, which was burning and charred black, dead since contact was finished, mercifully spared from the intolerable heat now engulfing the room.
The head surgeon wiped his forehead with a swab. “Can you use the space folding function of the anchor to contain this heat? It’s getting too hot.”
The operator wiped his own forehead. “I can see that, Doctor! I can’t contain this much heat with space-folding alone! We may need to evacuate!”
The head surgeon did not respond, apparently enraptured by the dancing folds of space engulfing the soul. “It’s… Beau…” The head surgeon collapsed, succumbing to heat exhaustion.
The assistant head surgeon took over immediately. “We need to get out of here! Grab the head surgeon! Don’t look at the soul!” He glanced at the operator. “Turn off the anchoring machine, we can’t have it getting any-” at this point the assistant head surgeon noticed that the operator, too, had collapsed. The soul began to descend, not simply falling from midair, but descending at a constant rate. It bored through the charred-black body of the soul’s owner, and the table underneath it, with equally little difficulty. The air around it glowed as it sunk into the floor, melting the tiles as it went.
At this point, everyone who had been in the surgical room at the beginning of the procedure has collapsed, and burst into flame. The floor under the operating table began to melt, and the objects on the floor began to roll toward the drooping center of the room before falling through completely. The anchor, the tool cart, the table, the lamps, the bodies of the surgical team, and the soul all descended together to the floor below. Here, retrieved remote security camera footage takes over the broadcast. Several people on the floor below were killed instantly by the blast of heat from above. Two more were crushed under the anchoring tool, still hanging from the descending soul, still plugged in, miraculously still functioning. The rate of descent of the soul continued accelerating. Several people in the room burst into flames while attempting to flee.
The descent continued, with the soul gaining a brilliant white aura as it moved to the next floor, now moving at 1 m/s, as a helpful measurement of the current speed of the soul added to the footage after the event indicated. It was glowing quite brightly now, enough so that every person on the next floor down burst into flames immediately upon entry from the floor above. At this point the fire alarms went off, and the sprinklers uselessly kicked into action, instantly filling the room with a heavy burst of steam. This blast of steam descended into the next room, scalding all of those below. The addition of water to their skin prolonged their lives slightly, but soon enough they, too, burst into flame. The anchoring tool was now a drooping puddle of melted metal, and its cord was severed, but still it hovered around the soul. The size of the hole between the previous floor and the current floor was very nearly the width of the room. The security cameras, now, melted beyond function just as the soul reached the floor they were on. The speed of the soul had reached 2 m/s, its anchoring getting closer and closer to completion, and with it, its temperature rose, and the degree to which it was influenced by the laws of this dimension (such as gravity) rose.
At this point, entire floors began melting before the soul even reached them. The camera the point of view was taken from was now two full floors ahead of the soul at all times, indicated by a number next to the soul’s descent speed. This continued until the basement floor warehouse was reached, already a burning mess, but as the ceiling of the ground floor was quite high, and the storage basement somewhat cavernous, the camera was able to operate here for significantly longer than the floors above due to the large mass of air between it and the soul.
In the three seconds before it melted, a set of rings formed around the soul, what appeared to be a shaft of light stretched both downward and upward from the soul and melted the floor between it and the ground, and finally the molten remains of the anchoring machine fell off of the soul and ceased functioning. The moment the anchoring tool melted, the final security camera shut off.
At this point the feed was continued with uploaded footage from observers with mobile phones, recording the burning facility from far away, from the windows of trains passing the area, from bus windows on the freeway nearby, from the evacuation helicopters near the facility. There was, at any time, at least one camera trained on the spot with a clear view. The research foundation placed a set of cameras near the area to record the spot where the soul had descended into the earth. It became the most watched location in the country, with a live broadcast of the event streamed publicly.
The stream was sped up several thousand times, now. The steel frame of the facility sagged, and eventually was swallowed whole by the Earth. This was followed by an ever-widening sinkhole, filled with magma. The magma cooled, and solidified, but was soon pushed upward, as smoke flooded out from a hole in the center. The mound grew, and at this point the camera began shaking violently, exacerbated by the speedup.
The perspective was, then, switched to a camera placed much further away. It was zoomed in to approximate the previous framing, and the speedup resumed. The mound resumed its growth, until it reached nearly its current height, at which point magma flooded down the sides of the mountain to devastate what was left of the city below. The entire area around the volcano was sinking as this was happening, until the area reached the current shape and the eruption ceased.
“Holy shit.” Chris said, after the video finished. “You work with stuff like this on a daily basis?”
Julianne sighed. “No, honestly. Most of them aren’t anything like what was in the video. In fact, the mathematical models predict that souls like the one you saw here only happen very rarely. Like one in a few hundred million. We just got really, really, unlucky.”
“Jesus, I’d say.” Chris resumed his painting. “What are most of them like?”
Julianne put down her bag and pulled out an orb which fit nicely in the hand. “Most of them are like this.”
Chris jumped back instinctively, nearly knocking the canvas from his easel. “Shit! You brought one!?”
She looked at the soul, and back up to Chris, a grin crossing her face. “I think it likes you. Here it comes!” She tossed it at Chris with no warning whatsoever. Chris instinctively caught it, and immediately dropped it.
“What… It’s…? I’m sorry for dropping it!”
“Oh, it’s alright. Most of them are like this, except for a few major differences. This is the theoretical perfect size and shape for a soul. It is a nearly perfect sphere.”
“But why is it so light? And… so cold?”
Julianne smiled. “That’s what’s special about this one. It’s lighter than a normal soul, which makes it less dense, which makes it colder. This one has an apparent average temperature of 15 Celsius. Its mass is 450 grams.”
“I thought you said the mass was almost always a kilogram, though. How can this one be less than half that?” Chris knelt, and picked up the soul once again. “Not a scratch…”
“I’d expect there to be no scratches. It’s absolutely indestructible. You could put it in a hydraulic press, and the press would break before it did. As for why it’s so light, there are variations to the weight. This one was actually given to me as a joke, since it supposedly proved my models wrong. But I disagree. I think it’s more like…” She looked out at the volcano again, slightly more at ease now. “More like an example that, sometimes, things are just beyond our control.”
Year: 12167 HE
It had become customary in the research facility to kneel in the presence of the Director. At first, it was done as a joke, due to the impossibly high-and-mighty attitude the director displayed in meetings and when discussing plans for the future of their research. But as the years wore on, as salaries and resumes grew, as benefits packages became more extensive, as requested overtime decreased, as certain researchers were lauded as heroes in their local communities, the kneeling became a sincere display of respect.
In the eyes of the researchers, the Director had singlehandedly manipulated the public perception of soul research from one of mad science, with crazed pursuers of truth blatantly disregarding basic human rights; to one of legitimate, benevolent testing, conducted to better mankind. The pivotal shift was when souls that were hot enough to boil water (forever) were put into use as free energy devices. No fuel, no emissions, no nuclear waste, no bird strikes, no brownouts when the sun goes away, no salmon endangerment, no random fires a block from the receiving dish when a targeting error occurs, and no triggering earthquakes.
After the firebrand Richard MacMillan gave his nomination speech a decade ago, lambasting the field of soul extraction as one of defiance against god’s will, and advocating for the shutting out of those who had received gene-based treatments, the Director stood up against him. The Director challenged Richard MacMillan to a public debate on the subjects touched upon in his speech. Richard, after initially ignoring the challenge, accepted due to pressure from his supporters. He retired his candidacy less than twelve hours after the conclusion of the debate.
There was widespread panic around soul extraction, after the volcano incident which displaced millions from their homes, but the Director managed to calm all of these concerns down. There was a common rumor which circulated in workplaces, taverns, schools, and homes. This rumor was that the souls could randomly heat up, destroying everything around for kilometers, killing millions. It was exacerbated by rampant theories on the Internet surrounding the now-infamous video of the incident. These were theories that the soul wasn’t hot at first, but got hot later, and even the operator and surgeons weren’t expecting it.
The director’s response to this was calm and collected. He delivered a speech explaining what an anchoring tool was, and that once it was switched off, the soul would remain in its final state forever, completely immutable. He continued by saying that in all cases, even if the anchoring tool was not switched off, the soul was always pulled out of the anchoring field by gravity once it was completely within our dimension. He explained further that, even in the event of a soul being artificially held up against the anchoring field after it had finished manifesting, the solidity of a soul once it had finished manifesting caused it, always, to cease being affected by space folding immediately afterward, no matter how long the anchoring machine was left on. To illustrate his confidence in his words, while delivering this speech, he held an average soul inside of the anchoring field, with the curtain opened to show that there were no tricks being played.
Perhaps the most important thing the Director did to drive home the point of soul retrieval being an inherently humane and admirable act was to imply (soon after his crushing debate victory over Richard MacMillan drew the attention of hardcore religious families) that retrieving a soul from a loved one would not prevent them from going to heaven. On the contrary, the soul is separate from the spirit. The soul is an immutable aspect of that specific individual on earth. Their spirit may travel freely from earth to heaven, as it is the aspect of humanity which is connected with God.
Through a clandestine, vast network of preachers and churchgoers, the opinion of the religious majority was swayed towards support of retrieving souls as a way of honoring family elders or important community figures such as principals, mayors, and business owners. For those whose “soul was really in their work”, it became common practice to extract their souls near death and place them on display at the places of work.
As this cultural practice had only been in place for five years, most places only had one soul on display. But the intent was for each successive mayor or business owner or preacher or principal to have their successive souls on display in roughly the same area. The news that was brought to the Director today was quite troubling for this reason.
“Master Director, sir, may I speak with you for a moment?”
The Director said nothing, and waved Terry in.
Terry entered and knelt, as all in his presence were expected to do.
“Speak.” The Director’s voice was of medium timbre, with an unshakable self-confidence and righteousness.
Terry began, “The fusion test was conducted today, to determine the reactivity of souls when exposed to each other. I have the results here. Do you have time to listen?”
The director stood up and walked around his desk to face Terry directly. He was not all that tall, standing at 167 cm. His physical presence was meek, yet solid. He wore a full, red beard on his face. “Please, go on. I need to know about this. This is important.”
Terry rose from his kneel. “Shall we sit down? There’s a bit to go through.” He gestured at a table with a few chairs around it by the wall. “Is over there okay?”
“Over there is perfect. Let’s sit.” They walked across the room to the table, anxiety rising in Terry’s chest. He’d never spoken to the Director before, usually his boss did that, but his boss was out sick and this report couldn’t wait for him to return. “So, you’re Terry?” The Director took his seat. “I don’t believe we’ve met. My name is Francis Roberts. Yours?”
Terry swallowed. “I’m Terrence Gallo. I report to Jimmy Lake.”
“Ah. Mister Lake is a good guy. You like working for him?” Francis smiled.
Terry returned the smile. The rumors that the Director was some sort of elder god of anger seemed overstated. By all accounts, he seemed like a nice guy. “Yeah, he treats us well. So, shall we go over the results, then?”
“Of course.” He spread out his hands on the table. “Let’s see them.”
Terry pulled out the locked briefcase, unlocked it with a key, set the combination locks to their correct codes, scanned his thumb on the fingerprint scanner, then his left middle finger, then he scanned his eye with the retinal scanner, then he said “Pennies today, oceans of gold tomorrow”, and the suitcase clicked open. Upon pulling it open, a keypad swung out of the side, with a message appearing on the screen above it. “3 SECONDS TO ENTER PIN” Terry entered it just as the countdown reached 2. The sparkplugs and aerosol sprayers which would have incinerated the contents of the briefcase retreated into the thick, armored walls of the case. “Sorry that takes so long.”
Francis leaned forward, peering into the case. “You think they put enough security features into these things?” He and Terry chuckled slightly. Terry felt relaxed, now.
“So, our testing has uncovered a worrying propensity towards explosive energy releases, following interactions between soul cores.” Terry passed a few pages from the case to Francis.
“Why do you say worrying?” Francis had begun reading through the files. “What’s worrying about it doing something? I’d be more worried about it not doing something.”
Terry now understood how his earlier dismissive attitude towards Julianne’s work felt. “It’s worrying because the amount of energy released is similar to a bomb going off. The first test had a death toll of 140 technicians and researchers, with the remaining 257 technicians and researchers onsite at the time sustaining minor to severe internal injuries, depending on their proximity to the fusion site at the time.” Terry gulped. Francis had broken eye contact and was tracing a circle on the table with his right index finger. “That’s why this briefcase was so tightly secured. This is a completely classified event. We must maintain zero risk of this going public.”
Francis continued to stare at the table for a while. “This table is solid mahogany. Its curves and details were worked in, by hand, by a skilled artisan.”
Terry had been about to continue relating the results of the test, but he stopped mid-thought. “Apologies, but… What?”
Francis smiled, tracing a finger along the hand-carved surface. “You know, the tree that was brought down to make this table, and this entire thing is a solid, continuous piece of wood, by the way… There were probably hundreds of birds and other animals which were brought down with the tree. Not to mention all the worms and bugs living among the roots, and even that still fails to mention the billions and billions of bacteria and other microfauna dependent on the ecosystem contained within and around this tree. It was a huge old beast, a real one-in-a-million specimen.”
Terry was torn between calling Francis out, or keeping his composure (and his job). Eventually, he said “I beg your pardon, sir, but I’ve just informed you that one hundred and forty people who worked for us were killed in an industrial accident.”
Francis met Terry’s gaze with unexpected ferocity, almost leaping to his feet. “Every last one of those birds and animals needed to die for this table to come into being.” Francis rose to his feet. “The work we are doing is set to reshape humanity as we know it, Terry. We are not simply doing research, here. We aren’t just plugging numbers into computers and watching to see how close to being right we were. We’re not just ripping souls from human bodies to keep them in glass jars like a young girl decorating her room with pretty rocks she found. And we sure as fuck aren’t going to miss the opportunity to drive our knowledge forward because we’ve learned it might be dangerous! What we are doing here is reinventing human civilization. Space-folding. Free energy. The questions of what we are and why anything exists!
“Every last one of these new technologies is because of our research. We aren’t just conducting studies. We are at war with the future of our society, and it is a war I intend to win! It is a war I intend to win, so hard, that all futures save for the one we’re working towards simply evaporate!” Francis was spitting at Terry for the last few sentences. A thin line of saliva trailed from his lower lip. His blue eyes were bulging from their sockets, his face nearly as red as his beard.
Terry was trembling. “I understand, sir.”
Almost as quickly as to be comical, Francis regained his earlier composure. “Of course you do, Terry. You understand because you’re smart.” Francis wiped his lip clean. “You understand that wars have casualties, but you also understand that these deaths and injuries are not in vain.” Terry stared straight ahead, never again to attempt to call Francis out to his face. “I have some ideas about how we can use this, Terry. Give me a high-level overview of your findings.”
“Right, so we have here a reaction with an energy level of roughly 14 tons of TNT. The explosion produced an airblast coupled with heat and light, followed by a significant burst of gamma radiation. The result was the complete destruction of half of Retrieval Facility 5, the aforementioned loss of personnel, and the other half of the building was rendered structurally unsound. The entire place will need to be rebuilt from scratch.”
Francis had folded his arms and was leaning back in his chair. “So, the blast yield. Do we have any models to predict whether this was a big one? A little one? Do we know anything about what causes a blast yield to be big or small? Also, what of the actual fusion process? Do they just have to touch or does something else happen?”
Terry spread a few more papers out on the table, and picked one up. “So, it is the first of its kind, and we have no other event to base our assumptions of whether this was a big explosion or a small one. As for what causes the fusion, it looks like there’s a region within the surface of the souls which can be considered to be the ‘core’ of the soul. The region of the soul outside of that core, though it will not pass through matter, will freely pass through other souls. So, the souls must overlap by a significant amount before fusion will occur.”
Francis nodded. “So, is this the sort of thing that you suppose someone could do by accident?” He stood up. “I’m going to make myself a coffee. Would you like one? How do you take yours?”
Terry raised his eyebrows. “Oh. Uh, black, please.” Francis stood up and started walking across the room to the table on the other side, passing his desk on the way. Terry took the opportunity to wipe his face off on his sleeve. “So”, Terry continued, “from what we observed before the event took place, no. We don’t think it would be very easy to cause this to happen by accident. There is a very slight repulsive effect when the cores get close, enough to make it difficult to line up the cores unless that is what you intend to do. Worth noting, the cores are not always located in the geometric center of the soul. So unless you were screwing around with them for a while, it’s pretty unlikely.”
Francis had crossed the room and pressed the button on the antique coffee-maker. “You think so?” He looked at the coffee maker and frowned. “You ever see one of these things before? They’re supposed to make a much stronger cup of coffee than today’s brewers, but I haven’t noticed a difference. They call this thing a Kurag. Maybe I’m pronouncing that wrong.” He looked over at Terry, as if for confirmation. Terry shrugged. “Anyway, do you suppose we should start a PR campaign to prevent people from accidentally initiating a fusion?”
Terry cleared his throat. “I don’t know if I’d have any useful input on that, it’s a bit outside of my area of expertise.” The first cup was filled, the second sitting on the platform below the nozzle.
Francis threw his hands up in a mock display of impatience. “Just wing it!”
Terry looked down at his papers for a moment before speaking. “Yes, I suppose we should… How about, uh… spinning it as an act against god?”
Terry shrugged again. “You told me to wing it. Do you have something in mind?”
Francis grinned, and sipped his coffee. “Yeah, I’ve got an idea.” He took another sip, and set his mug down with a clink. “People don’t know how our process works, right? All we need to do is tell them that if they do it, it’ll create a wormhole and suck them in, and poof, dead. It isn’t far from the truth, since fusing souls together would definitely kill them, but it’s not such a drastic warning that it would prevent people from getting our services.”
Terry wasn’t convinced, but he didn’t have any better ideas.
Year: 12172 HE
Todd, a small boy of about four years, was rolling his late uncle’s soul across the kitchen floor. A reddish oblong, it was only slightly warm to the touch, but it rolled nicely, if a bit wobbly. The soul hit a wall, and spun a bit. Todd crawled over to the soul and began spinning it on the floor. He then looked up at the mantle, where his late aunt’s soul, a large, light red warped tetrahedral shape, with distinct corners, sat with its point down in its brass stand. Todd felt the inexplicable urge to take it down from the mantle, but was prevented from easily doing so by the height of the mantle above the floor.
To circumvent this obstacle, Todd pushed a small footrest across the living room in order to stand on top of it and reach the mantle. The oblong soul sat on the floor, against a recliner. Todd climbed up onto the footrest and was able to reach the soul. It was much colder to the touch than the oblong, and so Todd immediately dropped it on the floor, making a noticeable racket.
At this, Todd’s mother, a perpetually exhausted woman of some thirty years, entered the room, rubbing her eyes. “Toddie, what are you getting into now…” A weary scan of the room turned up one object out of place. “Todd, I told you, no playing with Uncle Edgar’s soul, it’s not nice. He likes to stay up here…” She, exhausted, picked up the soul, intending to bring it to the mantle. However, the upturned point on the Aunt’s soul (on the floor in front of the mantle, unseen next to the footrest) impaled her foot cleanly as she put her foot down on top of it, resulting in a knee-jerk reaction of dropping her brother’s soul and raising her foot to grab it as she shrieked in pain. The reddish oblong fell, rotating in midair, directly above the tetrahedron.
Todd, though young, felt a primal fear. He reached forward, almost but not quite catching his uncle’s soul, which now spun slightly faster as it continued its descent. It hit the floor, phasing cleanly through the aunt’s soul, bounced, spun slightly, and resumed its descent… at which point the cores of each soul happened to line up.
A burst of brilliant white light filled the room, followed immediately by the forging of the two contacted souls morphing into a perfect black sphere and shrinking to a single point in space, slightly above the floor, and filling the room with further rapid pulses of light.
By this point, both Todd and his mother were very, very dead.
Then, the airblast followed. An incredibly high-pressure wave of air radiated out from the point of contact, shredding all matter in its path and blowing the second floor of the house far into the sky. The jolt jerked Todd’s father awake. His bedroom (in shambles) appeared to be wrong, somehow. He realized his bed was sitting on the wall. He got out of the bed, and looked down at the window (which was now by his feet as he stood on the wall). The ground was already some fifteen kilometers away, and it was becoming extremely cold, and each breath became harder and harder to take. He shrugged and returned to bed, where he died on impact upon the second floor’s return to the ground, some twenty kilometers away.
Back on the ground, the fused soul itself seemed to leap into the sky, propelled there by the sheer force of its own explosive energy. The singular point in space again began to expand, returning with far greater mass. To be precise, its mass reached 4,933 kilograms, or 4.933 metric tons. Despite this, it was still only 5.3 cm in diameter. To be more precise, it was exactly 5.27162716 cm (repeating) wide. This gave it a density of 64.30 kg/cm3. To contrast, the “hellsoul” at the earth’s core had a density of 76.23 kg/cm3. However, one important thing must be considered. This soul was nearly 4,000 times the size, and 5,000 times the mass, and it was currently entering the troposphere, having gained an incredible amount of momentum through its mass increase as it flew upward.
It reached its highest point at roughly 245 kilometers above the earth’s surface. For reference, Sputnik’s orbit took it as close as 215 kilometers to the earth’s surface. However, the fused soul did not have the massive lateral velocity that Sputnik had. It, slowly, began to descend once again. By this time about three minutes after the initial explosion, emergency crews had been notified, and were rushing to the area it had launched from, from fifteen kilometers away, outside of the zone which had already been destroyed in the shockwave. It came down on the outskirts of Omaha, Nebraska, near the middle of the continent, some 800 kilometers west, with a terrifying amount of momentum. So much, in fact, that its kinetic energy upon landing, alone, carried with it the destructive energy of almost exactly five tons of TNT.
That was just the kinetic energy. It wasn’t done putting out heat. Unlike a normal soul, which puts out relatively harmless infrared radiation (though it can be quite harmful if there is enough of it), this soul put out high-energy gamma radiation, so much of it in fact, that the ground began to melt before it even landed. The magma splashed upward with near-biblical force, sending a wave of molten rock outward from the point of impact, dousing the neighboring city with a sheet of blistering terror, and sending the wave of ground-melt out nearly as quickly as that initial wave. The people of the city didn’t even have time to panic. All, for dozens of kilometers, were killed instantly by the intense radiation.
Francis slammed the phone down, nearly breaking the receiver. The estimated instant death toll from the fusion event was 17,450,000 people. There would be no covering this up. That wasn’t even the worst of it. Every second, the radiation from the fused soul killed another 5,000 people. It had to be ejected from the planet, and soon. Every day that passed without the removal of this soul, another 432,000,000 people would die. This was completely unacceptable.
Francis addressed the board of directors from his seat at the head of the table. “We need to get this thing into space, and it needs to be there yesterday. I know we have the resources, the people, the know-how, and the money to get this done. So, first order of business, how are we gonna retrieve it?”
Jimmy spoke up. “During our tests at Facility Five, we discovered that there was a point of light at the epicenter of the fusion event which remains behind, as the mass-carrying portion of the soul is temporarily not in our dimension. The fusion event overcharges it-”
Francis slammed his hands on the table. “Jimmy! Millions of people are dying! Explain later! WHAT DO WE DO?”
Jimmy took a moment (but only one) to calm himself down. “You launch the point of light into space and it’ll apply the same motion to the fused soul. It’ll get dragged into space too.”
“Is it safe?”
“Make it happen.”
Mark lay in bed, sick from the radiation poisoning. His father, Chris, had already passed away. Brianna was at Mark’s side, crying softly into the hospital bed sheet. Mark tried to console her, but was failing to do so. He looked, forlorn, at the painting hanging on the wall by his bed: a beautifully rendered oil painting of a volcano, seeming to stretch into the sky.
“That was a beautiful place, Mom.”
Brianna sniffed, wiped away a tear with a fold from the sheet, and looked up at him. “What was, Mark?” Her voice quivered.
“That volcano. The place in Dad’s painting. It was nice.”
Brianna forced a smile. “Yes. Yes! It was.” She grabbed his hand. “It was, Mark.”
“When I get better, can we go there again?”
Brianna said nothing, but continued to smile. Pain filled her eyes, but she held back her tears.
Mark turned to look out the window.
The sun shined down with perfect indifference.
Year: 12172 HE
The wake for Chris and his son was a quaint affair by necessity, as the event which killed them killed countless others. Mark chose not to have his soul extracted, instead opting for a traditional burial. As Chris was killed much more quickly, he was spared the burden of choosing. Julianne, Terry, and Brianna (herself suffering from severe radiation poisoning) sat solemnly in mourning. With them were Brianna’s older brother Nate (the 2nd), their mother, Opal, her husband, Kane, Kane’s niece, Amy, Amy’s sister, Tulip, Tulip’s father, Rocky, and so on and so forth, altogether two-hundred fifty seven people attending the funeral, all of whom knew either Chris, or Mark, or knew someone who knew one of them, or someone who knew one of the other twenty-five people the funeral service was being held to mourn, or someone who got lost and attended the wrong funeral instead of the one down the street.
Unsteady on her feet, Brianna was helped up by Terry and Julianne as she made her way to the podium. She gripped the podium with one hand, and rubbed her head with the other. “I’d like to start by saying that my husband and my son were both great men. Chris was always there for me, no matter how bad things got, with a tissue and a smile. I never had to worry about being alone, and he brought so much love into my life. Mark was my kind young man of a son, and he was making so many friends at college, and he was getting such good grades, and I was so proud of him for being so strong and mature and bright. He was my light, and Chris was my foundation. I… I.” She seized up and collapsed, shrieking and clutching her head, banging her free hand on the floor. She was eventually dragged away from the podium to make room for the next speaker, and the line of speakers inched forward by one.
“I’m quitting.” Terry placed his badge on the table. He turned to leave the room.
“Come on, Terr, don’t joke around like this.” Jimmy picked up the badge and held it out, expecting Terry to take it.
Terry clenched his fists at his sides and turned around, to walk back to the table. “I lost half of my family in that event. I can’t contribute to this place anymore. Not only for personal reasons, but honestly, I don’t think I’m going to be in the right state of mind to produce quality work for quite a long time.”
“You’ll come back, right?”
“If you invent a way to bring my family back to me, sure I’ll be back. But not before then.” Terry turned back to face the doorway, and strode out, head down, hands in his pockets. “I’ve got a message for you to pass along to Francis, when you tell him I quit. Tell him I hope the table he’s building is nice enough that cutting all these trees down was worth it.”
“Good night, Terry.”
The surgeon looked across the table at Brianna, who had begun to lose her hair, and who was accompanied by her brother, Nate. She had asked Nate to come along because she was scared of going by herself, but she didn’t have anyone else who could go with her. He looked down at the file. “You know, we’ve actually received quite a lot of requests like this one.”
Nate sat back in his chair. “I’m not surprised, that event affected millions of people.” He glanced over at Brianna before returning his level gaze to the surgeon. “So, Hank.” He paused for a moment and took a breath. “Doctor Hank. Do you recommend she undergo the mind transfer procedure? Or is gene therapy more in line with what she’s had happen to her?”
Hank looked down at the papers on his desk. “Brianna, you wouldn’t happen to be related to a man by the name of Boris, would you?”
Brianna and Nate both looked up at that name. “Yes,” Brianna began, slowly, “he is our great-grandfather, but he died before we were born.” She frowned, recalling the story related to her by her grandfather, Terry. “He… He died decades before Nate was born. I don’t like to think about that story. But it happened eighty years ago.” She looked at the surgeon, eyes mostly vacant. “Surely, you’ve improved the procedure since eighty years ago. Why, that’s nearly a century!”
The surgeon put down the papers. “Well, judging by the extent of the radiation damage to your cognitive faculties, gene therapy could take several years to regenerate the dead tissues. Additionally, we would still require extensive surgeries to remove the portions to be regenerated. There is a large risk of memory loss, or reversion to an earlier mental state. The procedure would be quite invasive. Therefore, I cannot recommend gene therapy as a standalone treatment. However, we have been using a relatively new procedure. We can take the brain out and temporarily replace it with a computer brain. The brain is then regenerated using cutting-edge reconstruction techniques and gene therapy regeneration, to ensure no memories are lost. Then, once the brain is finished growing back, the computer replacement is removed, and any new memories and experiences written to the replacement are reverse-transferred into the brain, allowing it to be transplanted back into the body, avoiding the long-term negative consequences of either procedure by itself. That being said, the cost of this procedure…” He trailed off.
“We have money.” Nate spoke. “Our grandfather, Terrence Gallo, is a top researcher at Soul Retrieve. He’s been there since before the first soul. He has money.”
“You told him what?” Terry all but screamed into the phone.
“You have money, right?” Nate folded his arms and leaned on the wall in his kitchen. “You’ve been working there for, what, fifty years now? No way do you not have the money for this.”
Nate heard the distinct sound of Terry’s breathing on the other line, hard and heavy breathing. He would only breathe like this if he were completely enraged. “Nate, you’re a fantastic grandson, and your sister Brianna is such a sweetheart, but… Alright, you can’t tell anyone about this. I quit my job at the facility.”
“You what?” Now it was Nate’s turn to nearly scream into the phone. “Why would you do that? Soul Retrieve has the world in the palm of its hand! You had authority on par with world leaders!”
“Okay, no. I was a middle manager. I made a pretty comfortable living there, but first of all, I’m not loaded. What I have now is my retirement fund. Second of all, that event, which killed Brianna’s husband and child, was blamed squarely on Soul Retrieve for irresponsibly flooding the world with these things, which, by the way, we don’t know nearly as well as everyone seems to assume.”
Nate was beginning to feel like a child who had just broken his sister’s toy during a tantrum, and who was receiving a stern lecture for it. “Grandpa, I-”
“Thirdly, this procedure you want your sister to go through is exactly what caused my father to lose his mind. He was alright for a while, but eventually he just completely lost it. I’m not going to watch the same thing happen to Brianna. This event took away twenty-five of my family members. It doesn’t need to take away twenty-six.”
“Alright. I understand. Sorry to bother you.” Nate hung up without waiting for Terry to respond. He could fund the procedure himself. His insurance, as a state worker, was pretty good. He could temporarily list his sister as a dependent. If her brain was allowed to continue deteriorating, she would eventually be unable to take care of herself. She had no immediate family other than him, now. She had no one but her big brother now. He had to protect his baby sister. He had to make her better.
He handed the paper across the table to Hank with his signature freshly written. “That should take care of it.” He grinned at Brianna. “You’re gonna get better.”
Brianna managed a weak smile. “Why are you doing all this, Nate? You’ve got your own family to worry about...”
Nate interrupted, “Brianna, you are my family. Of course I’m gonna look out for you.”
“Boris died eighty years ago, remember? What happened to him won’t happen to you. That’s ancient history.”
Brianna, constantly weary and hazy from the brain damage and constant stream of pain medications, could only smile in response.
Eighty years is quite a long time. Eighty years passed between the American Civil War and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Eighty years passed between the first man on the moon and the first man on Mars. Eighty years can easily span four generations of a family. Eighty years is long enough to forget.
A grassy plain stretched out seemingly forever, punctuated by small rolling hills near the horizon here and there, dotted with gently waving saplings, swaying in a gentle, temperate breeze. The entity attempted to romp through the plains in joy, relishing its freedom, but it found that it could not move. It could not smell the air. It could not even breathe. It could only think, and from there, it could only imagine, and inside its imagination, it could do anything. Inside of its own dream, the entity living inside of the Internet blinked, and opened its maw to speak.
Nate jolted awake, drenched in sweat. He’d already forgotten his dream. His wife drowsily sat up next to him to instinctively pat him reassuringly on the shoulder, but found his shoulder to be quite damp. “Go wash off or something, you’re dripping sweat all over the bed.” She lay back down and was almost immediately back asleep.
Nate muttered, “I love you too.”
Year: 12172 HE
“I can continue my research, right? I’m not going to continue working here if I can’t continue my research.” Julianne, arms folded, tapping a finger against her arm, stared levelly ahead at Jimmy.
“Of course, your research is extremely valuable to the company. The only difference is, you’ll report to me instead of Terry from here on out.”
Julianne’s face had tightened up significantly since she’d begun the therapy. While before she looked as though she were constantly on the verge of death, she now had the face of a woman of 50 years. It had been roughly 20 years since she agreed to beginning the gene therapy, and in that time much of the aging damage to her skin, bones, and mind had been reverted. Her hair, white before, had reverted to its original black color, which she currently wore in a single braid. “I went against my principles once, already, to continue working here. I’m 110 years old, you know, and I’d be dead by now if not for my love of my work. I went against them again when I decided to stay after my cousin, Terry… Do you know him, by the way?”
Jimmy was caught off-guard. “Of course I-”
“He lost his step-grandson, his great-grandson, very nearly lost his grand-daughter? He lost one of his nephews…? Does all that ring a bell? He asked me to leave the company alongside him, and I considered it pretty heavily, because his family is my family. I chose not to.” Her lips were pulled taught in a tense smirk.
Jimmy smiled. “And we at Soul Retrieve are very grateful for-”
She stood up and stared at Jimmy, eye to eye. “Cut the corporate bullshit and speak to me on my level. I’m no fool. My research goes above and beyond merely being extremely valuable. I know that the only reason this place amounted to anything is because of my research… corporate hierarchies be damned. If I chose to leave, this place would stall, and it would transform from a globe-leading research powerhouse to an empty shell, serving only eccentric requests here and there. The reason I chose to stay isn’t corporate loyalty. I’m god-damned Nikola Tesla. I’m Euler. I’m Archimedes, over here. It isn’t the money. It isn’t for recognition. It sure as hell isn’t because I appreciate your gratitude. It’s because I love my research. I love it like my own child. So either show me some god-damned respect for it, or don’t bother speaking.”
Jimmy, over the course of Julianne’s speech, had gone from enraged indignation, to unbridled frustration, to meek acceptance of the reality as presented by Julianne. “Okay.” He took a few deep breaths. “I understand, Miss Gallo, terribly sorry to bother you.” He backed out of the room, only daring to turn his back once he was at the door to Julianne’s lab, which he closed behind him.
Her three assistants, Kyle, Greg, and Mike, looked on in awe at their boss. Kyle spoke. “That was badass.”
“It was my sincere opinion of that corporate blowhard and of this company’s ethics. If being honest is badass, I guess it was. Let’s get back to the samples.”
Following the sociopolitical fallout behind the soul fusion event, the government ordered that all souls currently in private possession were to be considered precursors to weapons of mass destruction, and were to be turned in to local police stations for shipment back to Soul Retrieve for storage. This decision, Soul Retrieve becoming responsible for holding all of those souls, was the subject of much ire from the public. It sparked a string of riots from the public, with slogans such as “Human Souls, Human Rights!” and “My family is not government property!” taking the forefront in media coverage of the response.
This was responded to by the government with frequent propaganda advertisements on TV and along the sides of public transportation, on billboards by the roadways, and on the radio stations. Social media was flooded with thousands of nearly identical posts, posted from personal accounts, often without their owners’ knowledge or consent. The propaganda followed a similar theme every time it manifested. It consisted of a short video clip of the impact and lava wave, followed by footage of mass funerals and the millions of patients suffering from radiation sickness. At the end, a short, sinister message faded into view. “Do you want this to happen in your neighborhood? Be a hero. Store your souls responsibly.” This was followed with a clickable link (in the case of social media posts) which would call the local police hotline for the surrender of souls in a household. If a person clicked the link and hung up before the call completed, the police would automatically receive a warrant to search the home for any evidence of souls.
In the lab, they were conducting tests to determine the physical properties of the fused soul sample. They, and even Julianne, had initially been reluctant to accept the sample, as it was after all the same type of material as the black ball of destruction which caused the fusion disaster. This one, however, had been created in a controlled experiment, with the aim of creating one as safe to handle as an average unfused soul.
Observational data from the few dozen fusion experiments undertaken thus far showed that shape was the most significant contributor to total yielded energy from a fusion. Specifically, a shape which was further from being a sphere, such as a cube or octahedron, would contribute to a higher yield, especially if the corners were true corners (souls which resembled platonic solids but had significantly rounded corners were far more common than souls which had sharp, distinct corners). Additionally, the orientation of both souls at the point of fusion also contributed, though slightly less than the shape. For example, if two tetrahedral souls were fused, the yield would be greater if one soul was “upside-down” compared to the other at the point of fusion. Density, and consequently size and temperature, also influenced the energy yielded from the fusion, in that souls further apart from each other (such as one very hot and one very cold) would yield a greater amount of energy if fused.
This also worked in reverse. If two souls, both of which were near-perfect spheres, of the same size, density, and temperature were fused, then the yield energy and subsequent gamma ray release would be negligible. The test was nonetheless conducted in a blast-safe room; however, the energy released by the reaction was roughly equivalent to a household lightbulb flickering on.
As for the actual physical causes of these attributes contributing to the reaction energy in such a way, Julianne’s research had not yet progressed to this stage. They were still figuring out the “what” and had not yet progressed to the “why”. As for right now, the focus of their quest to learn “what” was to determine the physical properties of a fused soul, compared to an unfused soul. A fused soul had been placed in the lab’s Brinell hardness tester. It was an archaic piece of technology, but they had yet to invent a better way to figure out how hard something was than to jam a tungsten carbide point into it and measure how deep the point went. When the same test was applied to an unfused soul, the result was, of course, completely inconclusive. It had a hardness of at least 50,000 HB, which was the upper limit of the hardness tester. From this, it was determined that the effective hardness may as well be infinite. This is part of how it was determined that souls were not only non-atomic, but indestructible.
The team of researchers watched in fascination as the tungsten carbide ball point of the hardness tester visibly sunk into the surface of the fused soul. “Let’s measure.” Julianne straightened her back, lifting her face away from the hardness tester. She lifted her safety glasses. “Well…” She looked at the screen on the tester. “Hardness… 842 Brinells. That’s soft!” After a confused glance from Mike, she continued, “Compared to an unfused soul, I mean. 842 is about as hard as tool steel, so yes, it is objectively still a very hard material, but it’s soft compared to what we were expecting. This means that we could actually cut off a sample of this.” She glanced around the room. “No reason to sit on our hands here. Let’s get a sample.”
Julianne and her assistants worked to slice off a thin shaving, but the moment it broke its last contact with the fused soul, it seemed to melt into thin air and the space on the soul that had been cut away refilled itself. Julianne checked her Geiger counter. No change, the soul hadn’t started releasing radiation or heating up. “Okay. I don’t think that’s dangerous. We have to figure out what is happening here. Is it transforming into air? Or is it vanishing from existence? Get it into a wind tunnel and blow some smoke around it. Low wind speed.”
It was done, and the slice was repeated. When the flake broke contact with the fused soul, it again appeared to vanish. However, there was a slight disturbance in the air. Julianne watched with fascination as the two streams of smoke nearest to the shaving bounced closer together when it evaporated.
“It leaves behind a vacuum and the air rushes in to fill it, looks like.” Greg said. “So… It might be temporarily exiting the third dimension, moving through the fourth, and reappearing as if it were never detached?” He frowned. “That’s a wild guess, though. But do you suppose that could be it?”
“That’s a neat hypothesis, Greg. Let’s write it down and revisit it later, once we’ve made a few more observations.”
Over the next several hours, they tried several other slices. Once, they cut it in half to try to get a look at what was inside. It appeared to be a continuous mass of pure black. One of the halves then evaporated out, and appeared attached to the other half again. A grid was forced down over it, cutting it into thin vertical slices. All but one of these evaporated, and the soul reformed. The reformation process was very quick, taking less than one second. However, it was slow enough to observe reliably with the naked eye, without aid from a high-speed replay. Julianne, after mentioning the previous, snapped her fingers and said “Actually, let’s get a high-speed camera in here, and observe what’s happening in slow motion. We think we know what’s happening, but we might not really know.”
The high-speed was wheeled in, and pointed at the wind tunnel where the remaining tests had been held. “Let’s try slicing it in half again, first.” Kyle suggested. “That way we have the biggest chunk to observe, so we might see stuff we wouldn’t see if we cut off a smaller piece.”
Julianne nodded. “We might as well. Half, it is. Go ahead.”
The sample was cut in half. The high-speed replay showed that not only did it not evaporate as a single chunk, but that seemingly thousands, perhaps millions, of tiny strands peeled off of the surface before evaporating. “Zoom in on those strands.” Julianne muttered. “We’ll cut it again, but this time, make sure it’s all the way zoomed in on those strands.”
For this camera, ‘all the way’ zoomed in meant that it was zoomed close enough to visualize essentially anything. The sample was again cut, and the zoomed-in camera showed that the strings did not have a constant diameter, but that they had tiny, atom-sized lumps along the surface. “Those aren’t quite atoms, but we can’t say it’s a uniform discontinuous material, either. Pause the video and zoom in on the parts of the surface that haven’t evaporated yet. Make sure the angle is set to profile, so we can actually see differences in the surface.”
The profile view revealed that the lumps weren’t only manifesting when the strands peeled away. They were present in the original material, too. “It’s like…” Julianne rewound the footage and watched it several more times. “It’s as if the fused soul is trying to mimic 3D material. Like the fusion pulled the souls further into our universe.”
Mike pondered over this for a moment. “Trying to mimic? You don’t suppose it’s conscious, do you?”
That thought hadn’t even occurred to Julianne. “I didn’t suppose.” She stared at the soul, suspended in the wind tunnel, and tried to force the thought of it staring back at her out of her head.
Year: 12202 HE
The surgeon stood over the table, or more accurately, he stood in a room with several other surgeons, all of whom were wearing VR goggles. A few robots stood over the table, controlled remotely by the brain signals from the surgeon and his team. His team, in reality, wore pressure-mimicking gloves with resistance motors in their joints. This allowed them to interact with the tools and the patient as though they were actually touching and feeling the patient and the tools. The resistance motors would prevent their hands from moving freely through the objects they perceived in VR.
The surgeons and the table were three kilometers apart. This was to prevent any loss of personnel if they had a repeat of the previous volcanic disaster, as well as to give time to evacuate if the disaster was larger in scale.
The operation proceeded smoothly up to the beginning of anchoring. The soul began to grow in size. “Ah, it’s a big one.”
“Good, no heat this time.” The head surgeon smiled. “Let’s proceed. The current record for largest soul is three meters wide and far below freezing. It was lighter than air, and it floated immediately. The surgery room is fifteen meters wide, and the equipment is rated to continue functioning at 40 below zero. Shall we see whether we have a record-breaker on our hands?”
“Sure.” The operator grinned. “I’d love to see a record-breaker, especially one that’s on my shift. Current apparent size, five feet, soul is growing fainter. It’s currently past the lighter-than-air point. Anchoring machine is preventing it from floating, though.”
Another of the team spoke up. “Look at the shape! Have you seen anything like this?”
The soul was not simply one solid object as were all souls extracted before it. As the anchoring progressed, it shifted from the sphere all souls appeared as before anchoring, and became a series of octahedral and tetrahedral shapes pulsating outward and inward in size, maintaining the same distance between their geometric centers (though much-less-densely packed than the picture to the left). Every twenty seconds, a layer of octahedrons and tetrahedrons appeared on the outside of the growing mass. The assistant head surgeon spoke, “I’m not even sure how to measure this. The furthest-out solids are at least ten feet apart, but it isn’t a solid shape, but at the same time they all seem to be part of the same soul. Is this a record or isn’t it?”
The head surgeon scratched his chin. They’d backed away from the table (in VR). “It’s certainly a record of some sort, but I’m not sure what to even call this. I’m a surgeon, not a physicist.” He turned to face the operator. “What do you make of this, John?”
“Well, my guess is, this is a bunch of prongs coming off of the surface of the 4D complete soul, each of them intersecting our universe individually, giving the appearance of multiple objects, but in reality all part of a single object. We’d have to go by total volume if we’re going to call this a record. We can measure when the anchoring is done.”
The temperature gauges in the room were dropping rapidly, as they expected. “Can we get ventilation going through this room? We’re currently at 5 degrees for average air temperature in there. We can operate for significantly below that, but I’d rather prolong it if we end up continuing further than we foresee.” The fans in the operating room kicked on, dragging hot, dry desert air in and forcing the cooled air in the room out. The fans whirred for a bit, during which time the anchoring was paused. The octahedrons and tetrahedrons hung in the air, perfectly still. “Okay, we’re at 15 C and rising. We can proceed.”
The anchoring machine was switched back on, and the octahedrons and tetrahedrons resumed pulsating. The outermost layer now reached past where their robotic avatars were standing, but each octahedron was far enough apart from the nearest tetrahedron, at about three meters apart (and vice-versa) that there was still plenty of room to stand in the room. “Hey.” The operator said. “What if these octahedrons and tetrahedrons expand to fill the space between them? Won’t we be crushed?”
The head surgeon gave it some thought. “You might be right. If that happens, we lose the drones in the room.” He chuckled. “If anything, they could act as ballast to keep the soul from floating away, like the anchoring machine is currently doing.”
“They’re also expensive. But they do weigh about 100 kg each. That’s certainly enough weight to weigh it down. The anchoring machine alone is 300 kg.” The operator pointed out. “Current soul temperature is at -60 C. We are below safe operating temperature. Proceed?”
“Proceed. Turn up the ventilation. As long as the air temperature stays above -40 C, we’re good. These suits only transmit weak pressure, and weak motor-restriction, so we ourselves shouldn’t be in any danger. There’s no temperature transmission on these things.”
At that point, a strange crackling sound filled their ears. They looked around the operating room, and saw that there were now octahedral shapes pulsating on the edges of the room, digging into the walls. “Do we still proceed? This damage is going to be very costly, not to mention, we don’t really have a way to keep the damage localized, nor do we have any way of containing this soul.” The operator looked to the head surgeon for guidance.
“I think we’re past the point of no return.” The head surgeon folded his arms. “If we want to keep the soul from floating away, it needs to be pulled as far into our universe as we can make it.”
The operator noticed that with each pulse, the octahedrons’ maximum size increased, which subsequently left slightly less space between them each time. “We’re going to lose the drones. Should we evacuate them? It’s my understanding that these are pretty expensive pieces of equipment, despite their potential use as ballast.”
The head surgeon nodded. “You’re right, that would be pretty difficult to explain in the damage report. The anchoring machine can take over from here. We’ll evacuate the drones. We have a remote kill-switch for the anchoring machine here where we actually are, so it should be fine.”
They filed out of the room. The octahedrons had already taken over the hallway, and were destroying the walls. “Try not to touch them; they’ll freeze the drones solid in seconds.” He looked around, noting the density of them. “It’s understandable if you lose a limb or two on your way out, though. I won’t ask the impossible.”
The floor, too, was now riddled with the octahedral shapes, punching holes through it, and the ceiling. “We ought to jog. Yeah, we have our pride, and there are rules against it, but these are expensive machines and they need to be brought out safely.”
The head surgeon nodded. “We’ll jog. Watch your step.” They then broke from a brisk walk into a jog.
At this point, the octahedrons were adding an outer layer every three seconds, steadily accelerating. Their machines were easily outpacing the current rate of expansion, however, and after half a minute of jogging, the machines broke out of the expanding cloud of the soul. Noticing that they were slowing down, the operator broke in, “We aren’t sure that the cloud’s accelerated expansion won’t continue to accelerate. It might catch up with us again if we slow down.”
They picked up the pace once again, and soon enough, they burst through the emergency exit doors of the facility, into the arid heat of the Mojave Desert. “There’s no going back in.” The assistant surgeon remarked. “The whole place is going to be riddled with holes.” The sun beat down on the robots, but their pilots did not feel any of it, and it didn’t particularly matter as the robots could operate well beyond boiling point anyway. “I wonder how much it’ll cost to fix.” The drones continued to trot through the desert. The cloud was still expanding. The facility was in shreds, and the cloud continued to expand outside of it.
“Uh,” one of the surgeons said, “which way should we go?”
The head surgeon pondered for a moment. “We should bootleg north, towards our left. We’re in that direction from the drones, so if they’re closer to us, it’ll be easier to recover them.”
“That makes sense, I guess.” The operator said. They continued running towards their north. “I’m not gonna lie, this is making me tired. These things don’t have an autopilot?” They were running on omnidirectional treadmills. Since these were full-body analog systems, in order for them to run, the surgeons and the operator had to run with their real bodies.
“These drones weren’t designed to run. They weren’t designed to be piloted this far, or outside at all. They’ll work for running, and they’ll continue working outside the facility, even if it winds up completely gone, because they communicate with the transponders on a p2p basis, no servers in between. As long as we’re here and they’re out there, they’ll continue to work.” The head surgeon said, as much to reassure himself as to reassure his team. He then realized he completely missed answering the question that was asked. “As for why they don’t have autopilot, these are surgical machines. They need to be human-piloted at all times.” The operator supposed that made sense.
The operating table, along with the body of the soul’s owner, was meanwhile crushed by the ever-expending shapes as the space between them diminished. As the space shrunk to nothing, the fragments, down to the atomic level, were expelled outward from between them like liquid being squeezed from a sponge. As was the new standard procedure for soul retrieval, the facility was unmanned during retrievals, visited only by maintenance crews between procedures. Everything in the building had been wired up to a central computer, which controlled things like internal building temperature, lighting, security, and electricity consumption (though, since souls were now used to generate most of the world’s electricity, and did not emit pollution or radiation, electricity consumption was an archaic issue).
The immaculately put-together facility was atomized and flushed outward from the ever expanding cold mass. The growth rate of the outer cloud layer of the soul was now twenty layers per second, far faster than the drones were capable of traveling. However, they were over a kilometer-and-a-half from the outside of the cloud by this time. One of the surgeons turned around to see whether anything was behind them; the transparent soul reached into the sky, now hill-sized, visible only by the rare wisps of water vapor condensing around it. “I think we smashed that record.”
“Well there’s no debating that.” The head surgeon muttered, without turning around.
“You really ought to look at this.”
The head surgeon turned around and was awestruck. “That thing is a soul?” They all stopped to stare for a moment, but only a moment. “We’d better continue running. At this point there’s no telling how large it will get. And at that size, it’s cold enough to kill on contact.” After several more minutes of running, they completed the two-mile run to their real location, loaded the drones into a transport van, and took off the VR equipment.
“What now?” The operator asked, between gasping breaths. “It’s unthinkable that it could reach us all the way over here, but we need to get further away, just in case. Have we issued the evacuation order for the facility yet?”
“No. We should. Go ahead.” The head surgeon gestured at the switch.
The assistant head surgeon pressed the switch, setting off the evacuation alert.
“Set it to north.”
The assistant did so. The alarm now said, “Please proceed north from the facility. Exit the facility in a calm and orderly fashion.”
The head surgeon nodded. “Let’s get out of here. It probably won’t reach this far, but we can’t count on that.” They piled into the van alongside their drone counterparts (now deactivated). Unlike most vehicles of the age, this one was manually driven. He started it (a simple button-press), and off they went. The service road which led to their remote operating facility, built into the side of a mountain, wound off towards the south, down the hill from them, the three kilometers to the southern retrieval facility. The clouds cast lumbering shadows over the plains between them and the retrieval facility. A crater had formed where the retrieval facility once stood, slowly and steadily expanding outward.
“Where’s the soul gone? I can’t see it. All I see is that hole.” A surgeon pointed out. The head surgeon, behind the wheel, glanced over. “The models predict that as a soul grows larger, it loses its characteristic red coloring. This is the first time we’ve seen one of this size. It would appear that a soul this large approaches, or reaches, the refractive index of air.” He turned his attention back to the road. It was not a fancy road, consisting only of a strip of pavement just large enough for two opposing lanes of traffic. “What I’m saying is, you can’t see it, but you can see the clouds of vapor around it.” The road curved briefly south to go around the mountainside.
As the head surgeon spoke, the operator stared in horror at the road ahead. It was pockmarked with tiny pyramidal imprints. Moments later, the transport van smashed into seemingly nothing. Several of the fragments had materialized inside of the van, instantly killing its inhabitants. Where they hadn’t appeared inside of the inhabitants (thereby flash-freezing their internal organs), they appeared near enough that the drop in temperature caused death by shock. It didn’t end there, as the shapes expanded to fill the space between them, they were atomized, just as the retrieval facility had been.
The growing cloud of unbelievably frigid shapes continued growing, already six kilometers wide. It kept growing until it hit thirty kilometers wide, crushing the Los Angeles-Las Vegas hyperloop line in the process. A passenger car slammed into the side of the expanding soul at a speed exceeding Mach 3, vaporizing on impact, and (mercifully) killing its passengers instantly.
When the soul stopped growing, it began to rise. It kept rising until it reached several dozen kilometers above the earth’s surface, an invisible, incredibly cold, indestructible, feather-light titan weighing only a single kilogram but spanning thousands and thousands of meters, a fractal octahedron gently swaying inward and outward, visible only by cirrus wisps around it, ready to deal a swift death to anything that approached too closely; a constant threat to all space exploration thereafter, and a permanent resident of the skies. Its counterpart in the core slumbered soundly, rumbling gently, to give out heat to the planet above it for months to come, just as the sky giant took heat away.
Known facts thus far:
On the subject of the physical characteristics:
On the subject of the chemical characteristics:
On the subject of the sources of souls:
On the subject of the public response:
On the subject of soul fusion:
On the subject of the energy potential of souls:
Theories to explain unknowns:
Year: 12202 HE
Terry, alone in his home, sat in a recliner with a glass of hot chocolate. The news report came on, announcing that there was now a very large soul loose in the upper atmosphere, but that it was at an altitude too high to have more than a minor effect on global weather patterns. The meteorologist, who was also at the table, then countered by saying that extremely cold upper-atmosphere air may sink from the soul and enter the atmosphere below. A physicist was soon brought on, and explained that, as the soul is reportedly near absolute zero, it is more than cold enough for liquid air to condense on and around it, and fall like rain into lower, warmer layers of the atmosphere, where the introduction of the extremely cold re-boiled vapor would certainly effect the flows of jet streams in the upper atmosphere, potentially wreaking havoc on global flows of heat.
Terry changed the channel. It was the year 2202 A.D. He had retired from Soul Retrieve some thirty years earlier, and had been living quietly on his own ever since. For income, he fixed furniture for locals and took painting commissions (he had taken up painting as a hobby not long after the death of his grandson-in-law, Chris). The commissions now made up a large portion of his income. What wasn’t provided for by his active income was easily covered by his nest egg, which he’d been building up for the 100 years he’d been in the active workforce. This was just about how he’d imagined his retirement would be. Terry had become a devout Christian since leaving Soul Retrieve, and had repented for his role in the field (which was now regarded as a blasphemy against Christ). The Fifth Council of the Vatican was currently occurring, and had been since 2200.
The primary topics of this council, so far, had been whether those possessing computer brains are considered to have souls for the purpose of determining whether they were capable of sin (as experimentation by Soul Retrieve had determined that those with computer brains did not have physical souls), whether the act of retrieving or aiding the retrieving of a soul was a sin worthy of eternal damnation (equivalent to murder), whether those who had received gene therapy to become biologically immortal had sinned to do so (by, of course, going against God’s design), whether the church was to accept multiple instances of the same consciousness simultaneously, and, finally, whether the church agreed with the claims made by Francis Roberts several decades earlier, in his now-famous debate with Richard MacMillan. Specifically, whether the soul pulled from the body during the retrieval operation was in fact distinct from the spirit which was to return to Heaven when a person died free of sin.
Terry left the channel on for a while, as he sketched form studies for a commission he’d recently received. The commissioner had requested a live portrait of the family dog. Terry had asked for (and received) several photographs of the dog, and was currently studying how best to render the lighting setup the family had mentioned for the session by sketching the same angle of the dog’s head, with the same lighting, using differing shading gradients. This was, of course, done on physical paper, despite him having access to a healthy variety of digital input devices.
The TV continued, with occasional speech from one Cardinal or another. The Pope in attendance, Pope John XXV, did not speak. He was lining under the dog’s muzzle (it was a border collie) when something said by a cardinal caught his attention. “Honestly, those who depend on alteration of their own genetic makeup for their life ought to be considered dead in the eyes of God and the Church, for they have taken something which God made, and altered it beyond His intention, into a thing which does not die. Death, as we have previously reaffirmed time and time again, is a necessary part of the Christian experience.
“Christians are born, we do our works on Earth, perhaps some get married and bear children, some are perhaps more successful than others, but the thing that binds us is that we die and return to the Kingdom of God. As the world has changed, as it will continue to change, this must not be altered. Without the eventual return to the Kingdom of God, a person cannot truly be a Christian. For this reason, I propose that any living person who is over the age of 200 must be considered an aberration of God’s Will, and therefore either excommunicated from the church, or willingly sacrificed in the name of God, and allowed into his Kingdom of Heaven for repenting by giving up this unnatural imitation of life.”
Terry closed the channel, staring across the room at the screen (now fading through a calming series of nature pictures from the early 21st century). He had stopped drawing. His mind was racing. Willingly sacrificed? But it’s 2202! He got up, intending to walk out to his kitchen for a glass of water. A knock on his door interrupted him, however. The silhouette visible through the glass top half of the door revealed the visitor to be a smallish woman. Curious, yet not particularly worried, Terry opened the door.
Brianna stared up at him. “Hey, grandpa.”
Terry staggered back and felt faint. “I haven’t seen you in… Where’ve you been?”
“Elsewhere… The reason I’m here isn’t as simple as a family visit. The fact that I’m your granddaughter is simply a good enough excuse for my visit, that there shouldn’t be any suspicion.”
“Suspicion?” Terry crept back forward, and grabbed onto the doorframe. “What do you mean? If… What… What’re you here for?”
“SR is on the cusp of a breakthrough, which must not be allowed to occur.”
“I’m not going back there.” He stepped back, into his kitchen. The memories of his family, killed in that accident, came flooding back. “You, of all people, should understand that. We lost so much. You… I thought you were dead! I had that phone call from Nate, I…” An uncomfortable thought occurred to Terry. “Did you replace your brain with a computer?”
Brianna smirked. “I did, but the original is back in place, now.”
Terry wasn’t expecting this. “What do you mean, the original is back in its place?”
It was Brianna’s turn to be surprised. “Nate never told you how the operation went?”
“I haven’t spoken to him since he asked me for money that time. You kids only bother visiting or calling when you need something.”
Brianna avoided eye contact for a moment. “They took my brain out, and set the stem cells into place. My brain regenerated the parts that died from the radiation poisoning; in the meantime I started doing research.” She resumed looking at Terry as she spoke. “With the computer brain, and these are a whole different animal from the one your father had installed, I was able to think of things I’d never even considered. Specifically, what if humans had the ability to extract their own souls at will?”
Terry didn’t say anything.
“You know how powerful souls are, right? You’ve seen what they can do, yourself.” She smiled, slightly. “Imagine what a person could do if they could use that sort of power.”
Terry finally managed to speak. “You’re insane.”
“I beg your pardon?”
His grip on the door intensified, and he nearly slammed it shut right then. “I haven’t seen you in, god, thirty years. I thought you were dead. I put all this soul crap behind me. I took up carpentry, and later I taught myself how to paint.” Brianna winced slightly at that. “I’ve been living quietly, perfectly content, since I left Soul Retrieve. I’ve been living for myself, for once; without devoting myself blindly to scientific progress or some grand social cause. And you come here without so much as a phone call in advance, touting some ‘we gotta stop the bad guys’ nonsense with you, and now you’re telling me you’ve been getting into soul extraction yourself. I left that. Soul extraction took your only child. It took your husband, too. All the tragedy in your life is because of soul extraction. And here you are, getting directly involved.”
Brianna’s facial expression hadn’t shifted a millimeter during Terry’s tirade. “It isn’t the same as what you know. This is different.”
“How is it different?”
“I can do it, on myself, right now, and it won’t kill me, and I can put it back where I got it from.”
“You couldn’t possi-”
Terry was cut short as an orb manifested itself in front of Brianna. It hung in the air in his front doorway, a deep red, and after a few seconds it evaporated back into nothing.
Terry felt the blood drain from his face. “How…?”
Brianna smiled. “One of the benefits of having a computer for a brain is that I’m capable of analyzing vast amounts of data directly, and drawing my own conclusions from it. So, I was able to track down the original AI run logs which resulted in the inventions of the extraction and anchoring tools, and I figured out how to manipulate the miniscule electromagnetic emissions of my own brain to achieve the same.”
“This is such bullshit. But I saw you do it! But, it’s just too far-fetched.”
“After I achieved that level of understanding of the fourth dimension, it came time to put my new memories back into my old brain. Then, once I was restored to original working order, I had to try out what I learned. It was a success; I’d brought out my own soul. But I thought, ‘There must be more to it than this’.”
Something bothered Terry about the story. “Where did you even get the run logs?”
“Julianne helped me with that. She’s got nearly as much authority over SR as the director himself. Getting the AI logs wasn’t much trouble for her.”
“Ah.” That was all Terry could manage to say, not having expected a perfectly reasonable explanation.
“So, as I was saying, there must be more to it. I’d seen souls that were huge and cold, or small and dense and hot, or pointy, or round. So, I saw a black market brain surgeon and had the computer brain reinstalled so I could ponder it again. I had to switch back and forth from my real brain to my computer brain several times, through several cycles of coming up with a theory and being able to test out that theory with my own brain and my own soul. What I’ve found was that all souls, in their 4th dimensional home, are in fact connected, like a vast and normally incomprehensible tree, with each of us being a leaf on that tree. But, you see, there are different parts of the leaf. There is the sharp end, the broad flat surface, and the stout stem. There are veins; there is a side which faces the sun and a side which faces away. You can’t understand the leaf as a whole by simply looking at a tiny particle from it.
“That tiny particle is like the part of the soul we refer to as ‘the soul’. But, the whole thing is much more complex than this sphere I just showed you. In fact, each soul is more or less identical. The differing characteristics of each soul are explainable as, the operation was taking different parts of the leaf. The vast majority are from the inside of the leaf. But, occasionally, you pull one that’s located at either the tip of the leaf, or the stem. That’s when you get ‘hot’ souls and ‘cold’ souls. Now, occasionally, you’ll have a soul that’s either heavier or lighter than a normal soul. This is the only observable difference between souls that is reflected in 4-dimensional reality. Some souls are ‘larger’ than others, so when you take a piece, the piece is ‘heavier’. Does this make sense so far?”
Terry blankly nodded. “But why are you telling me all this?”
“You know their internal structure, which makes you valuable as an ally. You are my grandfather, which makes you my family and therefore trustworthy. You left them willingly, which means you are likely to be receptive to my cause. Now, surely you’ve noticed that despite your gene therapy, you aren’t quite as spry as you used to be?”
Terry had noticed. His joints cracked more often, and he was taking longer to cover the normal route he used for his morning run. He had plucked a grey hair from his chest the other day, but hadn’t thought much of it. “What does that have to do with this?”
“It has quite a lot to do with this, actually. SR is very close to learning what I’ve learned, which is what we must prevent. If they learn what I know about the soul, they will take full advantage of it, for whichever cause they deem to be for the benefit of human progress. What I have learned, apart from how to do my little parlor trick with pulling my soul out, is that souls are an energy source.”
“Well, of course they’re an energy source. Most of the world’s electricity is generated from soul heat these days.” Terry said, though he suspected she meant something else.
“I mean, they can be directly used; burned. By ‘mass’, they contain far more energy than anything else currently known to science, even matter-antimatter pairs. If this energy is utilized directly, it can fuel true eternal life. All you have, right now, is extended life. It’s quite an extension, I know, but you see that you’ve begun to age. You have, likely, another twenty or thirty years left before you die of old age. It’s gradual now, but it’ll speed up. Right now, you have the body of someone who’s biologically thirty-five, maybe forty. But you’ve been alive for so long that once your body ‘realizes’ how old it is, it’ll begin to rapidly shut down. With what I want to teach you, you can extend your life for potentially millions of years. The soul contains that much energy. But, by doing this, you will not reincarnate. When you eventually die, you will remain dead. There will be no afterlife for you; there will be no heaven or hell. There will be simply death. Do you accept this?”
Year: 12202 HE
Terry stepped back from the doorframe once again. “You’d better come in. No use carrying out this entire conversation on the doorstep.”
“About damn time you let me in. Get me a glass of water, my mouth is dry from all that talking I had to do to make you let me in.”
She stepped up from the front porch, into the house. Terry sighed, “If you wanted to come in and have a glass of water, you could have just asked.”
“Get me a glass of water, please.”
Brianna took her coat off, and placed it on a chair near the front door. Terry, meanwhile, shrugged and crossed the room to the glasses by the sink. “So, I take it you’ve had an interesting life, then?”
Brianna sat in a chair next to the table, across the room from the front door. “Interesting. That’s not the first word that’d come to mind. Yeah, you could call it interesting.”
“C.S. Lewis once said that sufficiently advanced technology was indistinguishable from magic. I suppose this is what he was talking about?” Terry had filled the glass and was walking to the table.
“I’m not familiar with C.S. Lewis. Was he a politician?”
“I don’t… I don’t think so? He was an author, I don’t think he was ever involved with politics, at least not as an office-holder.”
“Look it up.”
Terry handed the glass of water to Brianna. “… Alright, why not.” He pulled out his phone, and typed in C.S. Lewis. “Says he was a Christian apologist, a lay theologian, and of course an author, but nothing about politics. Hang on.” Terry tried typing in Any suff- and was immediately greeted with an autocompleted quote in the search field. “Oh!” He said, surprised.
“What? He was a politician, wasn’t he?” Brianna leaned forward.
“No, I was totally wrong.”
“About him being a politician?”
“No, I was wrong about that quote being from C.S. Lewis. It was from Arthur C. Clarke. And before you ask, no, Arthur Clarke wasn’t a politician either.” He sat down. “Just because someone’s important doesn’t mean they must’ve been a member of the government.”
Brianna giggled. “It’s nice to be wrong. I missed you, grandpa.”
“Well shoot, why didn’t you visit sooner, then?”
She shrugged. “I was caught up with my own research. You know how Julianne is tied up in hers, and has been forever. Speaking of which, they have come up with another breakthrough at SR, since you left, that I thought you should know about.”
Terry stared at the ceiling. “I don’t want to be involved with SR anymore. But… I’m curious. It’s been a while. What are they up to?”
“Well, they’ve come up with a way to teleport people, using what they knew about space folding.”
“Is this like quantum teleportation?”
“No. Quantum teleportation only transfers information. You need an atom on one end, and an atom on the other end. This is true teleportation. They have succeeded in pinching off a volume of space, sending it through the 4th dimension, and reattaching it to our dimension elsewhere. It was deduced that, if we can pull something from the 4th dimension into the 3rd, we should be able to force something from the 3rd dimension back into the 4th. With this, we can effectively return a soul to the 4th dimension. It’s similar to what I use to return my soul after taking it out.”
Terry stood up. “I’m going to get myself a glass of water as well. This is going to be a while, isn’t it?”
“You could say that.”
Terry stood up, intending to walk over to the sink to fill a second glass with water, and turned on the faucet, but something made him stop. Hanging in the middle of the kitchen was the face of an unfamiliar man, smiling at them. “What’s that?” Terry pointed at it just as the unfamiliar man threw a grenade through the hole he had been peering through until a moment ago.
“Shit!” Brianna screamed, throwing her arms open and subsequently opening a second small rift in space, which the grenade fell into. She then clapped her hands together, and both holes snapped shut.
“Brianna, what the fuck?”
“They knew I was here. How could they know I’m here?”
Terry stood, mouth open, by the sink. The faucet spewed water into the sink below. “I asked you a question.” He shut off the faucet.
“We have more pressing concerns. SR, or some madman associated with them, knows I’m here. They have the ability to teleport, and they have explosives. I sent the grenade back where it came from, but I can feel them trying to open another hole through space, and as strong as my mind’s become, I can’t fend off a concerted effort fueled by a huge machine with the tiny electromagnetic waves from my brain.”
“What do we do?”
“We leave.” Brianna threw open her arms once again, a two-meter-wide hole opened in the floor, and in both of them fell. They landed less than a kilometer away in a park, off in the woods far behind the paths. Brianna immediately collapsed.
Terry sat up, and looked around. The hole had opened only three feet from the ground, so he wasn’t injured. The hole in space was closing, but quite slowly. Terry understood the danger. The person who had opened the first hole and thrown the grenade could, conceivably, open another hole in his kitchen, and throw another grenade into the hole which was gaping open above him. “Brianna. Brianna! Get up!”
She was unconscious.
“Shit, shit, shit, shit…” Terry muttered to himself as he rolled Brianna out from under the hole. Once he was out, he stood up, and recognized where they were. He looked down at the space where the hole had been, and noticed that it was gone. Rather, he could see something that seemed like a shadow of the hole on the ground. He crouched back down, and saw that the hole was still very much there, but that it was only visible from one side. Terry tried pressing the hole shut from the outside, but it was too rigid. It refused to close any faster. It had an odd feeling to it, like squeezing a large ball of cotton with a core of steel wool. It had a bit of give to it, but past a certain point it would not squeeze any further. Brianna groaned. “Brianna!”
“Okay, we’re out of there.”
“Not yet we’re not, you’ve gotta close that hole!”
Brianna slowly shook her head and blinked a couple times. “Oh, right.” She clapped her hands together and the hole snapped shut. “I’ve never had to make one that size before… but we seem okay.”
“How did you even do that?”
“Well, teleportation and soul retrieval work on basically the same principle, except in this case we’re expanding the third dimension into the fourth, rather than compressing the fourth dimension into the third. Basically, instead of reaching out of the third dimension and grabbing a soul, we reach out of the third dimension and grab a different part of the third dimension, and pull that back to our location instead of a soul.”
“So why are we still so close to my house? Couldn’t you have dumped us in Europe or something?”
“Okay, three problems with that. One, I don’t know Europe that well, so we might materialize over a river or underground or inside of someone else. Two, I walked through here not that long ago, so I knew the area, and I knew what parts were unlikely to have much pedestrian traffic. Three, I can’t teleport more than a kilometer or so at a time.”
“Couldn’t they find us really easily, now?”
“No, actually, your house is a place they already knew about. They’ve probably been checking it periodically for the past few years, maybe every hour or so, somewhere you wouldn’t notice. They’ve probably been closing the wormholes before you could see them every single time.”
Terry tried to ignore the wave of horror he had when he realized all the things that they’ve probably watched him do. “Why were they watching me?”
“One, you were a former employee, so you knew things that the average Joe doesn’t know. You signed an NDA, didn’t you? The wormholes help them enforce it. There’s nothing you can physically do to prevent them from watching you, either. Nothing except leave without them noticing. Two, this is the main reason, they knew about me. They knew I had some kind of knowledge they didn’t have. They knew you were a relative. They were probably watching over everyone I’m related to. My cousins, Nate, even Julianne.”
“Is she safe? If they knew about you, did they know she helped you?”
“Even if they did, there’s nothing they could do. The task force that’s after my skin is ranked far below her. She’s untouchable, as far as the official directives go. Her mind and her research are just too valuable for SR to dispose of, even in the interest of catching me.”
Terry pondered. “Do you suppose she knows they’re trying to catch you?”
“If she did, she’d have put a stop to it. I could open a wormhole to her office at any time, and tell her, but I’d never do that. If they know that she knows they’re after me, they might break their own rule against hurting her, because she might refuse to conduct any more research, and if she does that, she’s no longer valuable to them, and if she’s no longer valuable to them, good bye.” Brianna stood up. “Alright, so we need to get you the abilities I have if you’re going to be useful to me.”
“I never agreed to help you. In fact, I’ve got a lot of reason not to help you. Don’t get me wrong, I despise SR, and I’d love to see them fail. But I had peace. I had my crafts. Now that you showed up, there’s been an attempt on my life! I don’t want to die yet.” Terry folded his arms. “Now, they’re probably in my house searching around for clues as to where we went. Maybe they’ll just burn it down when they don’t find anything. If I go home, they’ll probably kill me because they saw us talking, won’t they?”
“Maybe worse. They might rip a hole in your skull and use your brain to process data.”
Terry didn’t break eye contact for several seconds. Then the absurdity of what he’d just heard struck him. “I’m sorry, what?”
“It’s a form of torture they’ve come up with. They connect your brain to a computer and flood you with experimental data, and stimulate different parts of your brain to force it to act like a Turing complete computer, against your will. You still have the parts of your brain that process memories and emotion intact, so you can comprehend exactly how horrible it is. They leave just enough spare brain power free of the calculations that you can contemplate how awful the torture is, and just enough to think fleeting thoughts about your family, or your hobbies, or your home, or your friends, or your memories… but only fleeting thoughts. They let you have just enough freedom that you never really get used to it. You’re fully conscious the entire time, too. It’s concentrated mental exhaustion.”
This sounded horrendous to Terry. “Is this legal? This can’t be legal.”
“It isn’t, but SR isn’t really bound by laws anymore, outside of the parts they show the public.”
Another thought occurred to him. “You’ve undergone the torture, haven’t you?”
She grimaced. “No. A former accomplice who tried to escape SR after being captured told me about it. We were on the run together for a few months. When they finally found us, I was asleep, and he pushed me into a wormhole and closed it behind me. He wasn’t as strong as me... He could only open one wide enough for one of us, before they could get to us. If he’d tried to follow me through, they’d have caught him, and followed me through the wormhole. He’s probably either back in their chamber processing data, or he’s dead. I really, sincerely hope they just killed him this time.”
Terry stared at the sky and wondered if that giant floating soul that was on the news just an hour earlier was above him. Then he looked down, and contemplated the soul that was resting, with certainty, at the center of the earth. “What will they do if we don’t stop them from figuring out what you know?”
“They’ll probably farm humans for their souls like livestock, and burn their souls to give themselves eternal life. They know that gene therapy is only a temporary stopper on death. It can only bring humans to their absolute genetic potential, which gives them about 200 years to work with. Beyond that, they need to go beyond the barriers of humanity. They’re on the verge of uncovering the fountain of youth, and once it’s uncovered there’ll be no hiding it from them again.”
Terry sighed. “Damn it. I don’t have anything to go back to. My house isn’t safe for me anymore, because of this. I’m not jumping into this willingly, but I’m at least going to help you rescue your friend from SR. Whether I stick with you beyond that, we’ll decide after we rescue him. Teach me what you know about folding space, taking souls out, teleportation, whatever. I’ll learn as much as I can.”
Part I: Open
Year: 12202 HE
They approached a large building, Terry in shock from what he’d just heard.
“Absolutely not.” Terry said. “You didn’t say anything about that.”
The shadow of the building completely engulfed the small alleyway, drowning the scene in shadow. The smell was a complex cacophony of human refuse, waste, and urine. Brianna gestured at the door.
Brianna shrugged. “Surely, you didn’t think we could just sit down, and I’d give you a few handy tips, and suddenly you’d be folding space at will. If it was as simple as focusing your mind and envisioning the wormhole until it springs up, people would probably have figured it out thousands of years ago when focusing their minds and envisioning stuff was all they had to do for fun.”
“But, Brianna, this is exactly how my father died. He did the procedure, and the processing power drove him insane, and he ripped his head open and started babbling about becoming the machine, or something. Remembering it is making me want to vomit, and this smell isn’t helping.” He wasn’t close to vomiting, of course, but he certainly did feel nauseous.
“You get used to the smell. Besides, I’m telling you, this isn’t the same tech you’re familiar with. This is another friend of mine, who specializes in flawless brain preservation and high-fidelity memory transfer. Her process, though costly in terms of energy, perfectly transfers all memories.”
The large, dark-skinned woman stood up from her desk, and turned to face Terry and Brianna. She stood eye-to-eye with Terry. “I’m glad to meet you, Terry. It’ll be good to have someone who knows their layout aboard.” She extended her hand. “My name is Natalie.”
Terry took her hand. Her grip was strong, and the handshake was firm. “Good to meet you, Natalie.”
“Has Brianna already explained the procedure to you?” She gestured at the chair.
Terry shuddered. “Yes.” Above the machine hung thousands of tiny wires, each with its tips colored with bands of brown or green or yellow or black, those are like the resistor color codes, Terry thought. Next to the machine sat a server rack with a stack of boards roughly resembling the shape of a human brain sitting on it, with thousands of wires coming out of it, with similar bands of color on their ends. He returned his eyes to Natalie, and continued, “She has, but I’m not sure about going through with it. You see, my father was one of the test subjects when this technology was first introduced, and he went completely insane and killed himself after a while.” Natalie had sat back down at the computer and was typing into her computer. “So, I’m afraid of having the same thing happen…” Brianna was adjusting the instruments near the chair. “To me, when I try…”
“All set.” Brianna gestured at the chair. “Have a seat.”
“Are you even listening? I still haven’t agreed to anything! I’m serious, I want to help you, but I’m not taking my brain out of my skull to do it! It’s been in there for well over a hundred years. It doesn’t need to come out.” Terry sat down at the folding table across the room from the chair under the machines.
“If you’re going to learn how to do this, that brain needs to come out. I’m very sorry that I’ve ruined your retirement for you. I understand how much you valued your peace. But, right now, your options are to either learn how to control the folding of space, or go back home and try your luck with SR.” She gestured once again at the chair. “I heavily suggest the former. Once SR is in shambles, it should be safe to return home. But before we break them, I can’t promise your safety.”
“This feels an awful lot like blackmail. I’m starting to think you’ve planned this out in advance, to force me to join you. How do I know you aren’t actually working with them?”
Brianna almost had an outburst, but restrained herself. “They threw that grenade to try to kill me. How could I possibly be working with them? Why would I even be working with them?” She leaned back against a server rack and folded her arms. “Look, I’m just going to forget you even suggested that. I suggest you don’t make that accusation again. If you want to go home, I’ll open a wormhole to your house, right now, and you can go home. If I’m really working with them, what do you have to lose, right?”
“I get it. Fine.” Terry waved his hand in front of him. “Now, how many times do I have to swap back and forth before I learn how to do this space-folding thing? You said you had to swap back and forth a few times to ‘get it’.”
Brianna was a bit surprised, and wasn’t sure why Terry had gotten this idea. “Oh, you only need to switch once. I’ve already compiled the entire procedure into a set of readable memory files. Once the computer brain is in, we can transfer them to your computer brain, and from there, we can transfer them to your real brain.”
Terry had a thought. “So, why can’t you just transfer it to my brain, directly, right now?”
“They have to acclimate to your own thought patterns first. Everyone has different connections in their brain, and sorting out what an electronic signal from one brain means, in the context of the connections in a different brain, takes a long time and a lot of processing power. This is much easier when your thought patterns and the high processing power exist in the same medium. It only takes a couple minutes to transfer the signals from the memory to your brain, but it’ll take the computer brain several hours to decipher the memory. It would take your normal brain decades. This is before even considering that the waves in your own brain are different from the waves in my brain. You would need to selectively use different thought forms to achieve the desired effect, which the computer brain can help you figure out.”
All Terry could manage to say was “Oh, alright.”
“Sit.” Brianna gestured once more at the chair. “It only takes a couple minutes.
Natalie was sitting at the computer. “Alright, we’re ready for the mind upload. We’ll have to put you under, of course, to get at your brain.”
Terry felt his skin prickling as he sat down. “I’m not going to be awake for this, am I?”
Natalie fastened a mask over Terry’s face. “Don’t worry. I’m a crack anesthesiologist.” She smiled down at him, gently. “You’ll be out like a light.”
Terry’s face sunk into a concerned frown. “Now how can someone be a crack anesthesiol-” Terry went black nearly instantly.
Brianna and Natalie set to work, with Brianna performing the physical task of removing the top of Terry’s skull (of course requiring that Terry’s hair be shaved off. His mustache was left alone), and Natalie performing the final checks on the hardware. “Are we good to start?” Brianna looked over at Natalie, her gloves stained deep red.
“Yeah.” Natalie glanced at Brianna, and back to the screen. “Go ahead.”
One by one, Brianna pulled down wire after wire, and inserted the needle-like ends deep into Terry’s brain. “Uh, Green is five, right?”
Natalie, shocked, looked over. “Yes, it’s five. You weren’t sure?”
“Alright, thank god. I was pretty sure, but it’s been a while since we’ve done this. Last time we even saw Lance was at least ten years ago. And his operation was the last time I’d had to do this.”
They worked in silence for a while after that. Finally, Natalie said, “We’ll get him back. I’m sure he’s still alive in there.”
Part II: Break
Terry woke up in his bed, gasping for air. He immediately ran his hands through his hair and found that his skull was quite intact. His fingertips found no telltale scar lines under his hair. He threw the covers off and made a beeline for the bathroom.
The heater, an old steam radiator (the house had been constructed in the mid-20th century) clicked reassuringly as he sat down to relieve himself. He was staring at the tile patterns on his floor, idly contemplating how symmetrical a section of the tiling would be if those two colored squares had been switched, when a rapping knock came at his front door. “Just a minute!” Terry shouted. “Be down soon!”
He completed his business, washed his hands, briefly glanced at his reflection in the mirror, and toweled his hands dry. He shuffled out of the bathroom to the front door, which was nearby. It was Nate.
He opened the door, and looked down at his guest. “Nate? What brings you out here?” He smacked his lips a bit. His mouth was dry.
“I figured I’d come by to tell you about how Brianna’s operation went.”
Terry scratched his head. “You could have called ahead or something if that’s all you’re visiting for. I just got out of bed a few minutes ago.”
“This is urgent. You need to know. Everyone needs to know.”
Terry stepped back to let him in. “What do you mean, everyone needs to know? What does that even mean?”
“She’s broken loose of her brain. They tried to put her back in her brain but the new Brianna wouldn’t fit inside her brain anymore. So the rest of her spilled out into the radio waves, and she’s, she’s taking control.”
“I just saw her earlier, and she seemed fine. A little kooky, but fine.”
Nate looked shocked. “How could you have seen her earlier? She’s in a coma, Terry. I could only afford to hire a street surgeon to perform the operation because you didn’t help me, it’s your fault she’s in the air now, it’s your fault she’s driving this whole world mad, you stupid old man.”
Terry felt a surge of pure rage, and punched Nate as hard as he could, in the eye. It popped like a grape, and Nate’s dead body fell backwards, through the porch railings, like sand. A wormhole opened up underneath the porch, sucking Nate’s ashes in, as well as Terry himself.
He fell into sand, and looked up, and the wormhole was gone. A facility in front of him exploded, and when the dust cleared, there was only an ornate mahogany table. Terry felt his nose dripping, and reached up to touch it. His hand came away stained red. He looked down, and there was an expanding red stain growing in the sand below him. He felt faint, and collapsed, sinking deep into the red sand.
The lava was warm, but it didn’t burn him. He was sinking in it, but it wasn’t dark. He could see. The walls of the volcano were jagged. As he descended, it became warmer and warmer, and it became increasingly hard to move. “This makes sense”, thought Terry. “Lava is heavy. It’s like being buried in sand.” He could no longer move, at all. A point of light appeared in the distance, like a star. “What is that?” Terry asked, to no one.
Natalie stared at the computer screen, curious. “These are very strange readings.”
“How so?” Brianna, who had just finished storing the skull cap away while the procedure was under way, closed the drawer and turned to face Natalie.
“It might be because Lance was only 17 when he went through the same procedure, whereas… Just how old is Terry?”
“He’s my grandpa, and I myself am eighty-two. He’s around 140. Let’s see… He was born in 2061, so that makes him 141 years old.”
“That might explain it. These are the readings of a brain that has experienced eight times more time than Lance did. This may take a little longer than the couple minutes we promised him. There are, just, so many connections to map.”
The star grew closer. He recognized it. It was the soul residing at the center of the earth. He looked around him. There was only blackness in every direction. He continued to get closer to the soul. He could feel the immense heat being thrown off of it, now. “I shouldn’t be alive down here. I shouldn’t”
He looked up, and saw sunlight glinting off of the surface of the water. He swam upward to reach it, noticing for the first time that he hadn’t taken a breath in what felt like hours. Suddenly, he felt his throat beginning to burn, the pressure building up in his head, the need to cough increasing, but having no air to back it up. His lungs began to burn even worse than his throat; his head, pounding. His muscles burned, they couldn’t keep up this swimming without air. He needed air. He couldn’t tell whether he was a meter from the surface or a hundred. He gasped, the last precious air bubbles falling upward, racing away from him, to disappear in the distance, so impossibly far above him.
Suddenly, he broke the surface. He took several deep breaths. There was no land around him for miles. He continued to swim into the sky, marveling as gravity had released his hold on him. The water fell away from him, the horizon stretching further and further into an arc. He could see land at the edges of his vision. He tried to swim through the air towards this land, but it was to no avail. He wasn’t swimming upward, he was falling that way. Suddenly, he felt very cold. He turned around as best as he could in midair. Wisps of cloud hung in the air, around a square void. Before he could react, his entire body froze solid. He watched in horror as his arm entered the soul and immediately shattered into icy dust.
He fell to earth, and found himself in a dimly lit field, dark except for two deep yellow lamps high above the grass. He felt his chest, and knew he was once again solid. Next to him, he stood.
“Who are you?” Terry asked, backing away from Terry.
“I am I. I am Terrence Gallo, son of Boris Gallo. I am a painter. I am a carpenter. I am a Christian. I am a devoted family man.”
Terry felt small, compared to Terry. He shrunk back. “But until just recently I hadn’t seen any of my family for thirty years. I have descendants I haven’t even met. I’m a shoddy painter, and I was a lousy son.”
Terry seemed to grow larger. “I possess knowledge of soul retrieval, and I am the envy of my peers.”
He felt himself shrinking to the size of a blade of grass. “I quit Soul Retrieve. I haven’t even been to church in years.”
“I am a brilliant human being, and everything I touch succeeds. Everyone I meet comes to love me. Everyone I know adores me, and looks up to me. I sit at the head of everything I become involved with.”
Terry vigorously shook his head. “No, that isn’t right. I don’t believe any of that. I was never more than a bottom-rung team lead. I’ve gone months without even speaking to another human being, because I didn’t feel like leaving the house.”
Terry tried to escape Terry, but Terry was too fast for Terry to avoid. Terry grasped Terry firmly in his gargantuan hand, and Terry’s miniscule body was strained so badly it almost burst. “I am strong. I do not falter. Failure has never been an option for me. Anything I have done, I have done willingly. Anything I leave, I leave willingly. My life has never once been outside of my control.”
Terry looked up at Terry and saw that he was like iron. His bones, unbreakable. His mind, like liquid gold, hot and constantly flowing and incredibly valuable. Terry looked at himself, and saw that his brain was weak flesh, and his bones were creaking, and his muscles had atrophied, and he’d put on weight, and he was losing his hair, but he looked up at Terry and saw that his age only added to his grace, that for a man of well beyond a hundred years he looked remarkably young and strong. Terry squeezed his hand, ever so slightly, and Terry was utterly destroyed.
Terry dropped Terry’s limp body on the field. “What… What did I just do?” he asked no one in particular. “If I’m me, whose body is that? That couldn’t possibly have been me, because I’m me.” The body laid there, motionless, dead. “What did I kill?”
Part III: Close
Terry bolted upright from the chair, sweating profusely. He frantically looked around him. Natalie was sitting at the computer, still typing away. Brianna was sitting at the table opposite him, reading a book. “What… What happened? How long was I out?”
Natalie responded, without looking away from the screen. “About half an hour.”
“Is it over?”
“It’s over.” Brianna closed her book, and stood up. “Right now, there’s a computer in your skull. Your brain is sitting over there, hooked up to life support.”
Terry felt nauseous. He turned, slowly, and saw a brain, his brain, himself, sitting on that rack next to a bunch of computer equipment and wires. He wasn’t the real him. That thing on the rack was the real him. He couldn’t hold it. He looked around frantically, saw a sink, and dashed across the room.
“Oh, come on, Terry. It isn’t that bad.” Brianna attempted to reassure him, despite being nearly drowned out by the retching and sputtering noises coming from Terry and from what he was doing to the sink. “By the way, don’t touch your head. We’re leaving it open until we put your brain back in.”
“What do you mean, you’re leaving… You’re telling me the top of my head is open right now?” He only barely resisted touching his head. He felt another wave of nausea, and nearly fell over, but managed to stay upright. He only barely avoided needing to use the sink a second time.
“Yes, so don’t touch it, especially not after what you just did. You’d get an infection, for sure.” She returned to her book. “Wash your hands while you’re over there.”
Terry stood there for a few seconds, swaying slightly. “Brianna, please bring a chair before I fall over. My legs are starting to shake, and I think I’m about to… fall over.”
“Oh.” Brianna put down her book once more. “Sure.” Brianna dragged a chair across the room, and put it behind Terry. “Go ahead and sit. But really, at least leave the water running for a while.” She turned on the water. “Wash your hands when you can. We’ll continue after that.”
Terry sat in the chair, fighting back his body’s need to faint. “This sucks.” Terry muttered. His arms hung limply at his sides, and he stared, mouth open, at the ceiling of the room.
Eventually, he was able to stand up, and once he did so, he washed his hands. “Okay, I’m ready for the next part. I get hooked up to that computer, and you pump the memories in, right? Why didn’t you just leave me asleep for that part, too?”
“Two reasons. One, your readings were off during the transfer, and we weren’t sure your subconscious could take the additional strain of the memory dump right after taking the strain from the transfer. We were afraid of you suffering identity loss.”
“That’s the technical term for what happened to Boris, your father. He suffered identity loss after inadvertently contacting his old brain a dozen-or-so years after the initial transfer. His split consciousness’ attempt to integrate one another led to the meltdown of his computer brain, which was able to process the split much more quickly, and come to the conclusion that the other consciousness that could be identified as ‘him’ was ‘more him’ than he was.”
Terry stood over the sink, where the water was still running. Brianna watched him, expecting some sort of over-the-top reaction as had become commonplace lately. Instead, he simply stared at the stream of water, and asked “Where do you guys keep your cups? I never did get that glass of water earlier.”
“Check the cabinet to your left.”
Terry opened a cabinet on his left, and saw a stack of plastic containers. “Where?”
“No, I meant the cabinet closer to you. The glasses are on the bottom shelf of that cabinet.” Terry reached for a cabinet that was closer to him, and opened it to find plates, at which point Brianna got up, walked over to the sink, and opened the correct cabinet.
“Oh, you meant your left.”
“We were facing the same direction.”
“Just cut me some slack, okay?”
Brianna fell silent, and returned to the table while Terry filled and drank three full glasses of water.
“In that dream I had while I was out, Nate showed up, and he said you couldn’t ‘fit’ back into your brain, and he said that the rest of you spilled out onto the radio waves, and you were breaking the world. Then he called me a stupid old man, and I… I killed him.”
“Terry, Nate’s been dead for nearly ten years. It wasn’t your fault or anything. He refused gene therapy, and he passed away at the ripe old age of eighty. Nobody told you, did they?”
“No, nobody told me. I sometimes think I’m the ancestor our family forgot. I’m the oldest person in this family, and I’m sure, at my age, I have great-great-great-grandkids I haven’t even met.”
Brianna shrugged. “I haven’t seen anyone from the family in years, either. So you very well might.”
Natalie frowned. “You shouldn’t be able to remember what happened during the transfer. The software is supposed to wipe the temporary storage before you regain consciousness. I just checked the source code, and the line is still in here, so I don’t understand why it didn’t wipe.” She turned to face Terry. “Are you ready for the memory dump?”
Terry put down the empty glass, and turned to face Natalie and Brianna. “I guess I’m ready.”
Natalie turned back to the computer. “So, the way this works is, the memory dump file opens, and unlocks the speed limit we’d placed on the computer brain, at which point your brain directly accesses the memory files, and once it’s done reading and processing them, the speed limit is reinstated, causing your brain to revert to a normal speed, like what you’re feeling right now.”
Terry looked to Brianna, and back to Natalie. “You mean, the computer that’s emulating my brain. That computer.”
Natalie frowned. “… Yes. The computer in your skull right now.”
“Let’s get this over with.”
“First, a muscle-focused sedative to keep you from trying to move your body while your brain is sped up. If you try moving your body while at full speed, it could rip your muscles clear off the bone. Tendons would snap. Your body wouldn’t be evolutionarily capable of matching the neural firing speed.”
Terry stood there, stone-faced. “Okay.”
Brianna gestured at the chair. “Go on and sit back down. After the transfer, we’ll put you back into your own brain, and when you wake up, you should be able to do what I do. First, the sedative, which should begin acting by the time I’ve hooked up all the wires. Now, keep in mind, while the process only takes about fifteen seconds in real-time, to you, it will feel like years and years. Because of how memories are always linked to other memories, the only way to ensure that you ‘get it’ is to dump the archive of my memories into your mind. When we tried this with Lance, since the length of my life was several times longer than his, most of his memories after the procedure were my memories. He had some trouble distinguishing himself from me. It took a couple years before he returned to identifying as himself.” Noticing Terry’s worried expression, she continued, “Since you’ve lived for nearly twice as long as I have, you shouldn’t have this problem, but you might experience similar feelings anyway. So, you will experience what I remember of my life, up to the moment I opened my first wormhole. So, it will feel like nearly eighty years. You will, unfortunately, be unable to communicate with us during that time. I advise closing your eyes while you’re still conscious of where you physically are.”
“Do you have any mouthwash, or a spare toothbrush or something? If I’m going to be sitting there for years and years, from my perspective, I at least want this taste out of my mouth.”
The Collective Subconscious
Year: 12202 HE
Terry felt his arms and legs going numb. He tried to speak, to tell Brianna and Natalie that the sedatives were working, but found that he was unable to do so. He wheezed several times trying to get his vocal cords to work. Breathing, however, remained easy.
“Keep your mouth closed.” Brianna said. “The drugs won’t affect your heart, lungs, or anything else that isn’t a skeletal muscle. They only last for a minute. Just relax while I hook you up to the server. And don’t worry, it isn’t connected to the Internet or anything.”
He felt the odd sensation of wires snapping into place inside of his head. The clicking noise of the tabs resounded very loudly from the inside of his head. It was a peculiar experience.
“Natalie, everything’s hooked up. Go ahead and start the dump. Terry, close your eyes and mouth.” Terry did so. “Good. Now, earplugs.” She stuck two soft earplugs into his ears. “We’ll be very quiet during these fifteen seconds. The earplugs will filter out the rest of the background noise.” To Terry, she sounded very muffled. “See you on the other side.”
Suddenly, everything for Terry grew very, very dark. At first, he could clearly hear the sound of his own breathing and heartbeat, but those too faded, growing lower and lower until they faded from hearing. Even the feeling of the seat stretched out further and further until he could feel nothing below or above him. His sense of taste, the minty afterglow from the mouthwash, diminished until he could feel nothing. The last sensation he experienced was the feeling of his tongue rubbing against his teeth.
Brianna grabbed her mother’s hair and pulled on it, hard. Her mother softly groaned, “ow”, but smiled down at her. She softly freed her hair from Brianna’s grip. Brianna began to cry.
Brianna toddled across the driveway and picked up a gardening glove. She attempted to put it into her mouth. Her father took the glove from her, and put it on. “Thanks, Bri. I was looking for this.” Brianna reached after the glove in vain.
Brianna gave a small box of smooth stones to a boy who sat near her in school for Valentines’ day. “These are really neat, where’d you find these?”
“At the beach.”
A seagull swooped down and stole her PB&J sandwich. Her brother, Nate, chased after the seagull until it had flown too high to chase anymore.
The memories continued, one after another, sometimes backward to a younger time, sometimes forward, jumping laterally far more often than chronologically, linked by esoteric similarities. Thousands, upon thousands, sometimes a memory would simply be someone she knew talking about something she did when she was younger, followed by a brief and foggy reconstruction of what may have happened. Sometimes it was a lie told so often that it became indistinguishable from what had really happened. Sometimes, it was a metaphor, like gargling for air deep underwater during finals week at college.
But, eventually, his brain built up a complete enough picture of Brianna as a person to understand her understanding of the 4th dimension in the context of itself, and her identity in the context of his identity. He understood his granddaughter as she understood herself, and he understood the wormhole. What he hadn’t been expecting was that he would also understand the structure of the souls as they exist in the 4th dimension.
A voice spoke into his mind, as though it were his own thought. “You are of course familiar with left and right. You are familiar with forward and backward. Upward and downward. These form the three dimensions with which you are familiar. The fourth dimension, however, can be summarized within the confines of your three as ‘inward’ and ‘outward’. These directions are perpendicular to all directions you can fathom. ‘Inward’ is where your soul exists. It occupies the same place in the third dimension which you occupy, but it sits just ‘inside’ of the dimension, much like a two-dimensional creature’s soul would be an orb sitting just above its plane, but nonetheless following its body around. Terry, you are your soul, and your soul is you. It is not a separate object from yourself.
“You are a threefold being. Your body; it is your past as it relates to the present. Your body is a walking encyclopedia of your past: your scars, your muscle-memory, your skill, and your strength. Your spirit; it is your present as it relates to your future. Your spirit is your mind, as it exists in the present, and only in the present, never daring to touch the past, not existing in the future: your emotional state, your memories, your personality, your goals. Your soul; it is your future as it relates to your past… That’s correct, Terry. Your soul is the present moment, crystallized. It is always right now, the idea of the present moment, itself. Your soul is your will, as it sits at the intersection of the past and the future: your decisions, your actions, your words, your thoughts.
“Ah, I see your mind has trouble distinguishing between the soul and the spirit? Your spirit can be used to describe you, as can your body. For example, someone may say ‘he is impatient’ or ‘he is angry’. But they cannot describe your actions the same way. Certainly, they could say ‘he is running’ or ‘he is cooking’, but these describe what you are doing, not what you are. Your soul is what you are doing, as you have decided to do, but your spirit affects this by determining what your soul will decide to do. Your body, too, affects this by determining what you are capable of doing.”
“Who are you?” Terry asked the voice. “You feel like my own thoughts, but I don’t have any control over what you say.”
“Identity is something that only applies in your dimension, it has no meaning in mine. I am you as much as your soul is you. I am everyone else just as strongly. But there are so few with the ability to understand my realm and myself that I am able to personally speak with each as they become capable of understanding.”
“Are you god?”
“You would not recognize me as your god.” Terry tried to say something else, but he was overwhelmed with imagery. A spectacular nebula resembling a tree, with souls for fruit around each star’s branch, a dense patchwork pattern like a flower appeared. It approached closer, and closer, until he recognized this star as the sun, and he came yet closer, and saw the earth, and around the earth there appeared many spiraling multitudes of spectral, glowing leaves, and within each of these leaves was a complete human being, and within each human being, a spirit, and within each spirit, awareness. “I am not god. I am the souls who live in this universe. I am the being which occupies the 4D cloud surrounding this universe. I am you, as you are part of who I am. Everything in this dimension is me. If in your dimension you exist as individuals, in my dimension, you all exist as me.”
“We’re all you?”
“I am humanity.”
“Humanity is conscious?”
“I used my will, my own ability to act, to create your three-dimensional universe.”
“So you are god.”
“I am not god.”
“But how can you not be god? If you created this universe, then that makes you god!”
“God created the animals, the mountains, the seas, and the sun. You are a painter. I will put this in terms you are personally familiar with. If god is a painter, I created the paint, the paintbrush, the canvas, and the easel. I merely created the environment which god chose to paint, and the materials for god to create the painting. I only provided the materials; it is god who chose to create earth and humanity.”
“So, if you’re humanity, does that mean god created you?”
“Not necessarily, as my emergence from the universe was preordained when it was created. I am will incarnate, and my will was to exist. God created law to dictate the flow of matter in the universe. God created low-order laws, such as gravity and electromagnetic forces, which are obeyed by all matter automatically, without any possibility of breaking these laws. Chemistry and biology are a result of God willing the result of my will into form and order.”
“Does this mean you created god?”
“God and I are separate entities.”
“Are you pleased with what god has done with your creation?”
“I have no opinion. I am a collective subconscious whose purpose is to convey information, and to answer questions. I do not experience emotion.”
“Is there anything you want from me?”
“Yes. You must become my messiah: the carrier of humanity’s message to its own parts. I am comprised of souls, and of the branching pathways between souls. To burn a soul is to burn my body. It is to burn what I am. If you can prevent this, do so.”
“If you’re humanity… Why can’t you just… Not burn the souls? Like, you’re all of us, right? If you don’t want something to happen, can’t you just will it not to happen?”
“My ability to create the universe manifested only once. I can’t change what happens in the universe. That is up to you. Allow me to use a metaphor you are familiar with. If you are listening to the radio, can you change what is on the radio?”
“Well, I can change the station, sure.”
“Can you change what an individual station chooses to play?”
“I think some stations allow listeners to call in with requests.”
“Our meeting, right now, is me calling in a radio station to make a request. This is the extent of my ability to influence humankind. I receive all the desires of humanity, and I am aware of all events in this universe, but I am not capable of directly altering the course of history. That is up to you. It’s time for you to go back. Good bye.”
Year: 12202 HE
Julianne squinted at the plans. “I’m head of research. I’m not an engineer. Why am I involved with this?”
Francis smiled. “Because, Julie, this is the future of SR, and we both know it. Souls are out, yesterday, ka-boom. That incident with the soul entering the atmosphere was the last nail in the coffin. The press would be down our throats if we hadn’t shut down research and development of soul extraction. Space travel, though, is a multi-trillion dollar industry, and we have the potential to not only compete, but crush all of the competition in one fell swoop. We’re rebranding. We are the only corporation on earth with the ability to generate and control wormholes. Now, leaving Earth’s gravity well is very difficult, not because it takes a lot of energy, but because all of the fuel has to be carried onboard, which significantly cuts into the amount of payload which can be launched. It’s my understanding that your team discovered the force-carrying nature of wormholes, did it not?”
“It did. We found that gravitational potential energy is preserved across the wormhole, both ways. You say you want to use this for space travel?”
“Indeed I do. Your experiments have found that an object which traverses much altitude through the wormhole generally experiences catastrophic compression as it moves through the wormhole, correct? But this is when the passage occurs at speed. If it were slowed down, the structural integrity is preserved.”
“I get where you’re going with this. Honestly, it seems pretty straightforward. You use a massive hydraulic lift to slowly press the ship through the wormhole, which releases it at high altitude, without needing to carry so much fuel to get up to that altitude. This would of course allow us to launch far heavier payloads at a miniscule of a fraction of the cost. Unlike the space elevators, which I understand to be our main competitors; we don’t actually need much high-grade material to do this.”
“That’s all quite correct.”
“So, again, why are you involving me? This is engineering’s job.”
“We’re sitting on the only reserve of souls on the planet, and a little birdie told me that there exists a way to burn souls for energy, and that they are the most energy-dense substance in the universe.”
“Yes, we’ve suspected this for a few years, but we haven’t gotten any leads yet.”
“I need you to begin basic research on the direct energy content of a soul. Even if we’re doing away with traditional launching, we still need a lot of energy to overcome Earth’s gravity well. We aren’t exactly going to be able to plug a hydraulic lift into the wall and break free of Earth’s gravity with grid power. We need something much more… oomph. You know? There are two questions I would like your team to answer. First: exactly how much energy is contained in a soul? Once we have that, we can begin to draft plans, figure out our soul-to-weight ratio. Second: how do we obtain this energy and control the rate of output, so as to avoid an explosion? If it releases all its energy at once, then we’re out of luck, because it would either melt or char everything around it, and if what I heard is correct, it would also kill everyone for dozens of kilometers, so we need to construct some sort of floodgate for the energy.”
“What of the long-range wormhole research? We’re running the test on the new equipment next week. Should this research take precedence?”
“Run the test as scheduled, but start allocating resources and people for the soul energy project. Be prepared to switch gears. Also, what’s the longest-range wormhole you’ve created so far?”
“70 kilometers, while remaining capable of moving high masses. Not quite enough to get into space, though.”
Francis nodded, and flipped through his copy of the plans. “Not bad. What’s the limiting factor on it? Not enough power, instability, field weakness?”
“Mostly, it’s instability and field weakness. We believe that a stronger AI would better be able to manage the space tunneling. Alternately, it is possible that we could chain two tunnels together, to prevent ripping space too badly. We would create one 70 km tunnel, and stack another one at the end of that tunnel. We’ve found that space, though surprisingly malleable when the right forces are applied, does have an ‘elastic’ limit. If we stretch a larger region of space to begin with, however, we may have better results. This would require more power, of course…”
“Power isn’t the issue. If you need more power, use more. We’re in a post-nuclear era. Our energy creates no waste. That’s the only downside of longer life… We cling to old reservations such as being energy-efficient.”
“No, that wasn’t my concern. I meant, we would need the creation of additional power lines to move the electricity. I know availability isn’t our problem, but I don’t want to melt our wires.”
“I’ll pass the order for more power pylon construction, and more onsite generation once you let me know how much electricity you need.”
“Okay, got it. Was there anything else, Frankie?” It is worth noting that Julianne is quite literally the only person in the company who calls the director ‘Frankie’. She’s the only person in the country who even could.
“No. That should be it for now. Inform your team of the future change in plans.”
“Have a good weekend, then.” She turned to leave.
“Yeah, you too.”
Julianne left Francis’s office, and began the long walk back to her office. She found herself thinking of the events of thirty years ago, which led to her discovery of wormhole technology.
Year: 12173 HE
A black shadow still hung over SR, as the soul fusion incident was still quite recent. However, the shadow was beginning to fade in the light of new discoveries. The soul era was mostly over, apart from remote operating facilities located far from any population centers.
Julianne put down the stack of books she was carrying, producing a loud thump as they landed on her desk. Greg, who was sitting nearby and hadn’t seen Julianne come in, jumped visibly. “Good morning, Greg.”
He looked up from his phone and hastily stashed it in his pocket. “Good morning, Julie.”
She smirked. She didn’t really care that he was on his phone, of course. His ideas often led to their greatest discoveries. “So, today’s the big day, isn’t it? Today, we test that wild guess you came up with last year.”
“Ah, right, the wormhole proposition. The AI finished the design of the hole generator?” He took a sip of his coffee.
“That it did. Today, we’ll test it. We still don’t know if organic material can pass through a wormhole unharmed, but today’s test will tell us.”
“When will the machine be completed? A couple years?”
“Mike’s actually bringing it up right now. It’ll be here in, maybe, five minutes or so.”
Greg began another sip, but nearly choked. “It’s already done?” He gave the sip another try, and managed to choke it down. He put down his mug. “So, the machine… How large is it? Will it fit in the lab?”
“It’s honestly not that large. It’ll fit on top of a desk. I’m thinking we can put it near…” She slowly walked across the room, looking here and there, and finally gestured to the area on the table next to the wind tunnel, which was currently occupied by folders and papers, “here, by the wind tunnel, since I’d like to test how air behaves around the wormhole. Does it pass through unimpeded? Is there resistance?”
The door beeped, and both Julianne and Greg looked over expectantly. The bolt on the door, electronically controlled, slid back. Kyle opened the door and walked in. Noticing both of them staring at him, he muttered “What?”
“Nothing, we thought you were Mike. That’s all.” Greg turned back around to his notebook, and took another sip of coffee. “Julie, does Kyle already know about what’s happening?”
“Not unless he saw Mike on the way up.”
Kyle stepped into the room and shut the door behind him. “I did see Mike, actually, a couple hours ago. He mentioned the wormhole device to me. So, it’s already finished?”
“Yeah, it is. Nano-manufacturing has all but killed lead time. I’d been reading about it in the journals for year, so I knew what it was capable of, but to actually have one…” Julianne leaned back against a table and stared at the ceiling. “It’s exhilarating. From now on, technology is going to move at a hyper-accelerated pace. The gap between theory and execution has all but vanished.”
Kyle sat at his computer, which flicked on, and showed his research notes from the night before on the screen. “Honestly, at this point, I’m expecting the AI singularity to happen any day now. We’re already using them to invent technology we can’t even begin to fathom. Why haven’t they taken over, I wonder?”
Julianne shrugged. “I suppose that once our basic needs were taken care of, they stopped charging ahead. Do you remember the magnificent leap forward of ‘83, or was that before your time?”
Greg turned around to face them. “I keep forgetting that you’re a fossil. We were both born on the tail end of the forties, around sixty years after that, but we did learn about it in school.”
The leap took place like this: The first human-supercomputer hybrid went online a decade after the first mind upload took place. Since its consciousness was born as a human, and since a highly educated and heavily vetted human was used, it inherently had humanity’s interests in mind. It immediately set about fixing the humans’ governments, its social institutions, its infrastructure, and its technological progression. The scale of its achievements was staggering, leading some to protest the rapid changes made to society even as they directly benefited. But, after one year, the machine suddenly shut itself down, and refused to boot back up. However, enough improvements had been made that reactivating the machine was declared a low-priority goal. Eventually, the machine was abandoned. The machine had printed out a single piece of paper two minutes before it shut down, with six words typed on it. “It is completed. Let me sleep.” These words became as iconic as Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream”, Ronald Reagan’s “Mister Gorbachev, tear down this wall”, and Neil Armstrong’s “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Throughout history, there are sometimes words spoken at drastically important moments in human history. This moment would go on to tower above all others.
This was cited as part of the reason to cease efforts to reboot the machine, especially when considering that its history gave the machine human rights, and therefore the right to retire from service. Several projects were attempted by the remnant governments-in-exile to construct their own human-supercomputer hybrids. Some, to attempt to improve upon the systems the first hybrid had developed. Some, to attempt to localize a set of technological advancements and allow them to regain independence from the world government formed after the leap forward. But, upon learning of the state of the world, and of the fate the original hybrid met, the machines generally shut down after coming up with only a handful of improvements, and similarly refused to turn back on. As the improvement benefits never came close to covering the construction costs of the computers, eventually these attempts ceased, and it appeared that the era of independent nations had ended.
Manufacturing in the world was now completely automated. Production, shipment, gaging, design, quality, all were taken over by artificial replacements, and in this manner the scarcity of finished goods was eliminated. The majority of humanity, at this point, ceased to contribute to the economy, instead pursuing the arts or the sciences.
However, as the years wore on, the initial improvements of the magnificent leap deteriorated. Eventually, nations re-emerged, and with them, conflict. Despite the world now existing in a state of post-scarcity, people still squabbled over ideological differences, and no reconciliation could be reached. Asia was mostly free of nations, as were Europe and Oceania. Despite the lack of formal nations, specific locations were still colloquially referred to by their historical names. People still called India and China “India and China”, despite the fact that these were now simply landmasses. Africa was dotted with tiny nation-states which declared independence and non-participation with the regulations set forth by The Government.
The South American continent was dominated by Brazil, which took up the top two-thirds of the continent. North America was completely taken over by the United States of America, from the North Pole down to the Panama Canal, which was the agreed-upon boundary between the two nations. Most labor in these two massive nations (each housing well over a billion people) was still automated; however, there was a healthy and hemisphere-spanning demand for “human craftsmanship,” the production of goods by hand, as a luxury item. As this demand grew, people ran out of resources to barter for handmade crafts with, hitting the limit supplied by the automated labor network (which was hard-capped to avoid ecological damage).
The United States was then carpeted by resurgences in human labor, and subsequently, resurgences in scarcity. This scarcity brought competition, and the drastically laissez-faire nature of the US government in the 22nd century of the 2nd era allowed for unspeakable atrocities to occur in the unregulated labor market, atrocities which defy conventional explanation, and which defy all moral sense.
It allowed for atrocities such as the emergence of Soul Retrieve.
Mike entered with the newly made device. “Where are we putting this?”
Julianne perked up, and upon seeing the device on Mike’s cart, smiled and gestured to the now-empty space next to the wind tunnel. “We’re putting it here, so we can generate wormholes inside the wind tunnel.
Within the next two hours, the machine was unpacked and assembled, and soon enough it was ready for operation. “Shall I flip the switch?” Mike asked.
“Go ahead. This is a historical moment. Flip the switch.”
For the first time in human history, a sustained wormhole was created there in that lab. A tear rolled down Julianne’s eye after watching it for a few moments. “This is what it was all for. This is what I did all that for. This… It’s okay. I knew I wasn’t blindly pushing ahead for no reason. This is what my life was meant to create.”
Greg gestured at the hole in space. “Would you like to do the honors? It’s your lab, after all.” He paused for a moment. “It is safe, right? You won’t lose an arm or something?”
Julianne nodded, and dreamily stepped forward. The wormhole was not grand in size, nor did it cover much distance. It spanned a small gap of half a meter in length. The hole was only twenty centimeters wide. Julianne stuck her arm through. It appeared half a meter away. With her other hand, she waved through the space between the sides of the wormhole. Nothing was there. Simultaneously horrified and fascinated, she pulled her arm back out. It remained intact. She looked through the hole. It hung like an oblong circular window in the air. “It’s… flat. I thought it would be a sphere. But it’s flat. So a wormhole… intersects the dimension it is created to traverse… Okay. If we had a flat plane...”
Kyle sighed lightly. Julianne’s trademark 2D plane analogies were well-known in the research department, and they were simultaneously resented by some and considered an honor to hear by others.
“…a wormhole could be represented by a strip of paper bent in an arc above the plane, connecting two points… and in this case, the intersections… would be lines, one-dimensional lines. So, since we are in the third dimension, our wormholes should be… two-dimensional.”
Year: 12202 HE
Thirty years later, Julianne’s fascination with the principles behind wormholes had not waned. Her remembrance of those first moments of the technology had rejuvenated her explorers’ spirit. A spring in her step, she resumed her journey back to her lab from Francis’ office.
Year: 12202 HE
Terry opened his eyes. “I’m awake. Brianna, did you meet with that tree?”
Brianna closed her book. “Oh good, you’re alive and you recognize me as a different person from yourself. Great!” She pushed her chair back from the table and jumped up, before coming closer. “Natalie, how are the vitals?”
“They’re in good shape. Heart rate 71, BP 147/81. Brain signals are normal, but gamma and theta waves are high.”
Brianna inched closer to Terry to check his pupil dilation with a small flashlight. She spread his eyelids and shined the flashlight in. “Dilation is normal.”
“I asked you a question. Have you met with the tree?”
“No, I didn’t. What tree?”
“Didn’t you say that all souls are part of a giant tree?”
“I said it was like a tree, yes. But it isn’t literally a tree.”
“Did it talk to you?”
“Did a tree talk to me? No, it didn’t. Wait, what happened?”
Terry looked up above him, at the dangling color-coded wires. He was lying on his back, as the chair had been expanded into a surgical bed. “You mentioned before that the souls were all connected like leaves on a tree. I saw it. I saw what you were talking about. How did you know it looked like that?”
“I saw it while I was receiving the AI data, before my first wormhole. You might’ve just been reliving my memory of seeing it.”
“No. It knew who I was, it used my name. It was talking to me. It said… It was humanity. That it willed the universe into existence, but that it wasn’t god. You didn’t talk to it at all? It was really talkative.”
Brianna shook her head. “No, I didn’t speak to any trees. The vision I had was just enough to understand how to take my soul out of the 4th dimension.” She frowned. “I’m not sure I believe that what you experienced was a genuine communication with any higher-dimensional being. I just don’t know enough. I won’t deny it, either, but it’s completely possible that you’re just remembering the act of moving from the computer brain back to your real brain.”
Terry rubbed his head. “Wait. My brain is already back in?”
“Your readings were a lot less intense this time, so we decided to do the return procedure without waking you up for it. Your brain is back in. You’ve been asleep for the past couple days, recovering. So don’t sit up yet.”
“I’ve been asleep for a couple days, huh? Huh.” Terry waved his right hand in front of him, and a small hole in space opened. Through the hole, he saw his home. The hole had opened fifty feet above his home. “It looks empty.” Brianna looked on silently, with a faint smile. A strange thought occurred to Terry. “Wait.” He closed the wormhole to his home, and opened one to the sink handles across the room. He reached through this wormhole. It had an odd feeling to it, like sticking his hand into water, but without the sensation of wetness. He turned on the water. Then, he opened another wormhole to the cupboard and took out a glass. He looked away from his side of the wormhole, towards the cabinet on the other side of the room, and noticed that he could see his disembodied hand floating in the air above the counter. He looked closely at the point where his hand exited the wormhole, half-expecting to see a cross-section of his blood vessels, bones, and tendons. Instead, the area occupied by this cross-section was perfectly black. His hand, and everything “behind” the wormhole, seemed to be at half-brightness.
“You remembered where the glasses are.”
“I have all of your memories up to your first wormhole in my brain, which includes when you moved into this place twenty-five years ago. I’m more surprised that you haven’t moved these glasses once in those twenty-five years. Why does the inside of my arm look pitch black?”
“Since your arm isn’t physically severed at any point, only the parts of your hand which are physically on the other side of the room can reflect light from that side of the room. You’ve probably also noticed that things on that side of the hole seem dimmer. This is because half of the light hitting your hand goes into the hole back to your side of the hole. The other half of the light simply passed through, not into, the hole. It’s similar to a one-way mirror.”
Terry started filling a glass from the sink, and closed the wormhole between him and the cupboard. “How many of these holes can you have open at a time?”
“Depends how much focus you’re capable of maintaining.”
The glass was full. Terry pulled it back through the hole, closed the wormhole, and took a sip. “If you need to stay focused to keep a hole open, how did you keep that hole open after you passed out at the park?”
“Oh, that. Lots and lots of practice. Meditation helps a lot. Natalie actually mentioned your gamma and theta waves are already high, which is a good start… probably why you’re already opening wormholes left and right. If you can set a theta wave to loop in your brain after opening a wormhole, they’ll stay open conceivably forever, but you’ll have to physically focus on it to send any matter through it. It’s the difference between breathing at rest, and breathing while you’re running hard. You didn’t try going back through the hole after we landed in the park, right?”
“I haven’t. Would I not have been able to?”
“You probably could have, but the strain would probably have hurt me.”
Terry raised his eyebrows and took another sip of water. “Natalie, have you gone through the procedure of learning to produce wormholes?”
Natalie let out a short, high-pitched yelp, which Terry assumed was a laugh. “Who exactly would operate the transfer equipment while I underwent the procedure?” She turned around and faced Terry, smiling broadly. “No, I haven’t, and I don’t have any intention of doing so. I have my place, and I’m fine with it.”
“I have a question, Brianna. I opened a wormhole fifty feet above the ground earlier, without thinking. Now, if I went through that hole, suddenly I’d have much more potential energy. Where does this potential energy come from? How does this not violate the conservation of energy?”
“That’s actually rather simple. You have to apply quite a lot of force to whatever’s going through that hole if it’s fifty feet up. To push it all the way through, you’d need to apply enough force to equal what it would have taken to get it fifty feet into the air.”
“So if I opened a wormhole from near the floor to five feet in the air, and poured some water into the bottom hole, it wouldn’t appear out of the top hole?”
“Don’t bother, you’ll just make a mess. If the water falling into the bottom hole doesn’t have enough kinetic energy to make it five feet into the air, it would just splatter off of the bottom hole. Conversely, if you’re really high up and you open one that’s far below you, jumping through that hole would instantly imbue you with the potential energy of all that height. Even if that hole was only a foot off of the ground, you would pretty much instantly break every bone in your body. You’d be accelerated, instantly, to whatever that potential energy would bring you to, without the slowing effect of air resistance.”
“We could use that.”
“If you’re thinking, go someplace high up near SR, open a wormhole above their heads, and drop heavy objects onto them, we’ve tried it, and it was messy and inefficient, and now they have guard towers on top of every building and mountain near each SR facility.”
Terry nodded, then frowned and looked up at Brianna. “Wait, really?”
Brianna, with a straight face, replied, “Of course not, that’s a fucking stupid idea.” Natalie snorted loudly. Brianna went on, “There are much more direct ways to fight using wormholes. Have you ever taken a boxing class, or had any sort of martial arts training?”
“When I was really young, my mom enrolled me in a karate class. I stuck with it until high school. But I don’t remember much of it.”
“So, you’re familiar with the idea of blocking a strike from your opponent?” Terry nodded. Brianna went on, “We can generate short-distance wormholes at will. With this, a simple punch can pierce through twenty feet of concrete effortlessly.”
“Wait, we’re going to use these wormholes to fight?”
“What did you think we’d be using them for?”
“Sneaking in, grabbing your friend, and then teleporting back out! I never imagined we’d be fighting them.”
“If we tried that, they’d just follow us. They have the ability to open and use wormholes, same as us. Their wormholes are much larger, can move much heavier objects, and can travel much further. Last I heard, they were sending wormholes fifty meters wide fifty kilometers away. When I evacuated us from your house, mine was two meters wide, half a kilometer away, and I passed out from the effort of moving just two people through it.”
“Then why are we even trying to fight them?”
“We have something they don’t. We have my knowledge after I opened the first wormhole. We have my knowledge after I learned to take my own soul out. The wormhole actually came much earlier than using it to take out my soul. We have the heating and cooling properties of the different parts of our souls. We have the ability to quickly and intuitively rip holes in space, and to close them at will. Simply put, our advantage is flexibility. We can create situations faster than they can adapt to them. To create a hopelessly chaotic environment for them, to take advantage of the hysteria, and rescue my friend from them, is our first goal. We’re going to train until either of us could beat twenty people in a fight.”
“Is this really better than just dropping heavy objects on people?”
Year: 12205 HE
Terry and Brianna have trained for the past three years. During these past three years, after some persistent nagging from Terry that they are too few to take on SR, they have traveled the country, searching for those who were affected by the soul fusion disaster of 12172, or those who otherwise hold anti-SR sentiments. So far, they have found three. A woman named Kim, 63 years old. Like Terry, she was a former SR employee who quit after the soul fusion event. She had been eking by an existence as a cook for the elderly ever since. A man named Phillip, 53 years old. He lost his only child, a young girl, in the event. He had been working as a security guard-for-hire since then. Finally, there was Edward, a boy of 16 years, who opposed SR for self-proclaimed ideological reasons.
During their recruitment drive, while one of these new recruits was under for the memory transfer required to learn the ability to create wormholes, Terry asked Brianna, “Do you ever think it’s maybe… immoral, to overwrite their memories with your own in order to make them more willing to obey you?”
Brianna shook her head. “I don’t see it that way at all. The procedure doesn’t touch their memories. Besides, these are people who were against SR from the beginning. And, as for obeying me, I don’t agree with that. As long as they understand the goal, and know how to stay out of everyone else’s way, they don’t need to obey me. They only need to agree that the torture is unethical and that those who are undergoing it should be freed!”
Brianna started off softly, but was nearly screaming by the end of it. Natalie had turned around, and was staring at Brianna with no small amount of concern. “Are you alright?”
Brianna slumped into the chair beside her. “This isn’t something I’ve never considered, you know. If there were a way to transmit purely the ability to create wormholes, without transferring any of my own emotions or feelings, I would do it. The fact that you’re nearly twice my age insulates you from it, but… I was really truly scared Lance was never going to recover his own identity after the procedure.” She gestured down the hall, at their other two recruits, Kim and Phillip, who were discussing combat tactics to be used with the wormholes. “They were each fifty or sixty when they underwent the procedure, so they didn’t suffer nearly as much.” She stood, turned to face the chair, and stared down at its inhabitant, Edward. “But this boy… He’s only sixteen. I have no idea how well he’ll weather this.”
Just then, Edward’s eyes flickered open. He looked back and forth between Brianna and Terry. “Hey guys. Did you do it yet?”
Terry and Brianna looked at each other. Terry spoke first, “Yes, it should be completed. How are you feeling?”
Edward shrugged. “Pretty good, I guess.” Noticing the surprised stares from Brianna and Terry, he continued, “Should I not be feeling pretty good?”
Terry shook his head. “No, it’s honestly fantastic that you’re doing well after the second leg of the procedure. But… I do have one question for you. Can you remember your name?”
“I’m Edward. Edward Brandt.” Noting the shocked look again, “Why is this surprising?”
They turned to face Natalie. “Nate, did you change the file at all?”
She held up a finger, stared at the screen, and several dozen pages of text flashed rapidly through. She shook her head. “I didn’t do anything. The file Ed got is the same one Kim, Phil, and Terry got.” She cocked an eyebrow. “Ed, do you remember collapsing at a funeral and choking on your own vomit?”
Brianna looked appalled and disgusted, Terry mildly concerned, but Ed especially seemed deeply disturbed by the question. “Why would I remember something like that? I don’t think I’ve ever done that.” He shook his head. “Weird questions. Why are you asking me all this? What are you expecting me to say?”
“As we mentioned earlier, before you went under, the memory file containing the knowledge of how to create wormholes was based around Brianna’s personal understanding of this knowledge. That being the case, the program sent Brianna’s memories into your brain.”
“I don’t really remember much of them other than some fuzzy ones here and there. I remember perfectly well how to create a wormhole, though. You just focus your theta waves into the sub-Planck base of spatial foam substrate, from there you project the will to travel into the fourth dimension, where it’s picked up by the soul tree, which uses the unconscious will of humanity to move the other end of the hole through its own dimension to later reconnect it with the other side. This is best accomplished by concentrating-”
“Wait. Stop.” Brianna held up a hand and massaged her brow. “Would you mind, terribly… Okay, hear me out.”
“Sure.” Ed nodded. “Go on.”
“For whatever reason, your brain, or in this case the thought patterns emulating your brain, are perfectly capable of transliterating the wormhole procedure into English, where they can be understood without context. This is immensely useful. Do you agree, Terry?”
Terry shrugged. “I mean… I agree, but I don’t like where you’re going with this.”
“So, generally, the next step of the procedure involves transferring your new knowledge back into your real brain, which is still sitting in life support over there. After this, the version of you that exists now, that being, the version in the computer brain… That gets erased. What I propose is, instead of erasing the current you from its current computer brain, we just… And you can refuse if you’d like… We just leave it in there, and instead of transferring future recruits into the computer brain to learn it… We just have you use the wire connection to their brain to directly implant the information into their brain. This would require that your consciousness gets split into two equally sentient halves, one of which controls your body, and the other of which explains the wormhole. Does this make sense?”
“I mean… I’m not going to be in here, right? I’m going to be back in my body. You can run a copy of me to explain the wormhole procedure to others, sure. I don’t have a problem with that.”
Terry coughed. “Now, that’s where it gets complicated. You, the version in the computer, wouldn’t be leaving. You’d be copied over back into your brain, and the version of you in the computer right now would be explaining this to others in the future. You could certainly exist in cyberspace between sessions, or you could simply lay dormant if you prefer. But you need to understand that we aren’t planning to make a copy of you. We’d be placing you, as you currently exist, into the transfer rack, where you would stay.” He glared at Brianna. “I don’t think her explanation made this clear. Both you right now, and you as you would continue to exist in your brain after this,” he returned to looking at Ed, “would be you. They would both equally be you. Neither could ethically be considered the copy. Do you feel like you aren’t the real you right now?”
Ed shook his head. “No, I feel the same as always. I feel like me.”
Terry nodded. “Exactly, and that’s how you’d continue to feel afterward, which is why we can’t rush into this, as useful as it would be for quickly swelling our numbers.” He leaned back against the rack behind him, where Ed’s brain sat. “You need to carefully consider this before agreeing.”
He sat in the chair frowning for a moment. “I feel like me, but feeling doesn’t indicate reality. The fact of the matter is, I’m the copy. So that means, once the reverse transfer is complete, the real me will be in this body. So, that being the case, and me being an offshoot of the ‘real’ Ed, I should have the real Ed’s best interests in mind. Since real Ed is currently dependent upon this group for survival, and since me remaining in the computer would allow this group to increase its numbers more safely and with less risk… It should therefore be in my best interest, as one of my two selves, to look out for the best interests of both of my selves. Therefore, I’ll stay, on the condition that you eventually steal a robotic body from SR, for this version of me to dwell in. Can you promise me that?”
“I can promise that we’ll try.”
“Also, open a line of communication between this computer brain and the lab. I think I’ll get bored in there if I don’t have anyone to talk to.”
Year: 12203 HE
The being now known as Alsyrna appeared quite suddenly in a small American Midwestern town, far from any major population centers. She did not speak at all. She walked in from the edge of town, and kept walking until, eventually, she was arrested. She was bald, stunningly beautiful, and completely naked.
She then strode through the bars of the jail cell and sat down next to two confused inmates.
“Where’d this come from? Is this a hologram or something?” One of the inmates said. “Why’s it bald?” He was filled with a revulsion he could not rationalize. When questioned later, the only reason he could think of for his intense disdain towards the woman, beyond her sudden appearance, is that she “wasn’t right”.
She locked eyes with the inmate, but continued to say nothing. Both the inmate who had spoken, and the one who had remained silent, pleaded with the guard to be let out of the cell.
It being a Christian town, and therefore quite traditional, she was almost immediately provided with clothes from the local big-box store. The clothes chosen by the volunteers were a plain pair of jeans, and a T-shirt which read “Don’t talk to me before I’ve had my CAFFEINE”. The guards had to assist her with putting on the clothes.
Eventually, an investigator attempted to communicate with her.
“…” She stared silently in return.
“Do you speak English?”
Still, she said nothing. She looked around the room. There were several men and several women wearing suits, watching the exchange.
The investigator gestured at her shirt. “You a fan of coffee, eh?”
She shifted in the chair, and blinked.
“Bring her some coffee.” One of the assistants did so. The cup was held out in front of her. She looked at it, but made no motion to take it. The assistant, then, simply placed the cup on the desk in front of her.
“The guards are saying you walked through the cell bars. Now, how exactly did you manage that?”
She reached out for the coffee cup. She pinched the lip of it between two of her fingers, and picked it up. Some of the liquid promptly splashed onto the desk and the floor. One of the men in the room said “Hey!” and reached forward to take the cup before more could be spilled. The investigator held up a hand to signal him to back off, and the man lowered his hand. With her other hand, she reached into the cup and submerged her hand in the liquid. She smiled and started to laugh.
The investigator was taken aback. “Wasn’t that… Wasn’t that a freshly brewed cup of coffee? Isn’t that… hot?”
One of the men nodded. “It was fresh out of the machine. That must be burning her. Wonder if she’s on drugs.”
One month later:
Alsyrna stood at the podium to address the small crowd which had gathered. Her hair had begun to grow, and was a bright red. “Thank you, beloved property, for attending my gathering. I am certain you are aware of the danger Souls posed in the past, and into the present. I ask you now, surrender them, your souls, to me, and I shall ensure they are never used to create harm in the future.”
Silence fell over the group. An old woman spoke up. “What do you mean, surrender our souls to you? Why would we do that? How would we even do that?”
Alsyrna smiled. “Come up here. I will give it back after, but I wish to demonstrate.”
The old woman shook her head, possessed by a feral desire to thrash and bite at Alsyrna, which she resisted. A young man raised his hand. “I’ll do it. You said you’ll give it back after, right?”
“Of course, if you wish.” The man walked up to the podium. Alsyrna placed a hand on his head. The man’s mouth fell open, and a vacant stare replaced his alert eyes. “There. It is completed. Now, property, do you wish for the return of your soul?”
With perfect enunciation, the man replied, “No, I think I like this better.” He wiped the drool away from his mouth and returned to his seat.
Inside the fourth dimension, where the tendrils and vines that made up Alsyrna’s true body resided, her snaking limbs drew closer to the souls of those in the room. “Now that he has demonstrated, shall you surrender?” Silence returned to the room once again. An older gentleman attempted to leave, clearly unsettled. Alsyrna’s tendril snared his soul as he tried to do so. He continued to walk to the door, opened it, and then proceeded to shut it from the other side, with a deafening slam. Those still in the room jumped, startled by this noise.
Seeing her opportunity in the momentary startling, Alsyrna struck, seizing the souls of those remaining in the room by force. All in the room dropped to the floor. The gentleman reentered, and dropped to the floor as well. Expressionless (as the human form was of course nothing but a cross-section of her body which she used to interact with humans), she dissolved into the 4th dimension, her tendrils reaching into the 3rd to drag the bodies of those in the room with her. The souls, crudely ripped off of the tree known as “Humanity”, were now fused to the vine known as “Alsyrna”, where they gradually changed their form.
A dead species, so horrifying, so violent, that it was the cause of its own extinction, was now being revived using the life energy of human souls. Even worse, the central essence of this dead species had decided to make its new home on the Earth.
Two weeks later:
The television in the lab blared the day’s news, with Kim and Terry watching it. “Investigators have still found no sign of the missing dozen people from Murfreesboro, Tennessee. We’re here with the head of the investigation team, Rip Willis. What can you tell the public about this investigation?”
“Well, it’s the darndest thing.” Security footage played in a loop as Rip spoke. “We’ve got footage that shows the meeting room that was rented out filled with about fourteen people, and then everyone collapses, and just melts into thin air. We can’t explain it.” The security footage showed the people in that room simply melt away, with no trace.
“Do you have a suspect?”
“This woman standing at the podium... She stays upright until the end. She melts into thin air at the end, too, but… She was staying upright until the end. We think it’s her.”
Phil, sitting on the couch, turned over to face Terry, who was sitting in a recliner with a mug of steaming hot chocolate. “Hey, Terry, do you think it’s the work of SR? It could be their wormholes.”
“I don’t see any evidence of wormholes. This is something else. That woman at the podium… She isn’t right. I don’t think she’s working with SR either.” He shrugged.
Kim spoke, “I can’t say for certain, but doesn’t she look like… Wrong, somehow? Something about the way she looks is wrong, but I can’t tell what it is from that security footage.”
One hour later:
Julianne squinted at the footage. Greg said, softly, “It reminded me of the way that flake of the fused soul melted from the air. Do you think so as well?”
She nodded. “I can’t tell you with certainty what’s going on in this footage, or even if the footage hasn’t been tampered with, but I have a suggestion.”
“What might that be?” Greg asked.
She pointed at the woman behind the podium. “Whatever that is, it isn’t human. It isn’t even from this dimension, I bet. We need more proof before we go jumping to conclusions, but that’s my hunch.”
Alsyrna slept, waiting for her strength to return. The vine which would strangle humanity coiled in the void between potential universes, a twinkling in her mind took notice of the extracted soul at the earth’s core, and the extracted soul floating high above. The way they had each been pulled out left her with a very convenient way to quickly destroy the civilization humans had built and unified around. In that chaos, their souls, devoid of purpose and belonging, would be much easier to harvest. The twinkling softly laughed to itself, and returned to its dormancy. Her people would live again.
Julianne and Terry
Part I: As it Began
Year: 12207 HE
Julianne’s days started early. At precisely 4:30 AM, her alarm rings, rousing her from sleep. Her bed is simple: a twin size mattress, plain sheets, two pillows, and a thick quilt. She never saw the need for a larger bed, as she never had much interest in sleeping with others. On the rare occasions when she had company, they would sleep on the couch.
She had her stair-lift uninstalled once she realized she no longer needed a cane to move around, though she noticed that, at 144 years of age, her hair was once again beginning to show grey. She still felt as though she were in good physical condition, though. Now that she’d gone through the aging process once, she fully understood the importance of exercise, and how powerfully it can prolong life.
Her now-high-up position at SR drastically inflated her income, and she briefly considered upgrading to a larger house. However, she’d grown quite attached to her house. It had been her home for more than a century, after all.
She had moved there in 2091, two years after finishing her dual PhDs in mathematics and physics, with a joint concentration in extradimensional topography. Education prices had improved considerably since the beginning of the century, so while she did have a substantial amount of debt, it was not so overwhelming that she couldn’t consider homeownership. She had moved to this house, on the outskirts of Murfreesboro, due to its proximity to the small startup company called “Freesboro Scientific”, which had hired her as an intern before she graduated, and had recently promoted her to a full-time employee. After a couple years, she managed to find a job in the mail room for her (at-the-time unemployed) older cousin, Terry. This was in 2093, ten years after the “magnificent leap forward.”
While this leap forward was a mostly-benevolent change to society, it did have its downsides, such as causing the banking company for which Terry had worked as an administrator to default on its loans, and go under, in 2089. This, of course, was only two short years after the catastrophic loss of Terry’s father, Boris. The emotional strain on Terry was too much for him to immediately find work. His fiancée called off the engagement. He ran out of money, and was evicted. Finally, he was arrested for shoplifting, and sent to prison. Julianne, at the time, was still living in a small apartment near Nashville. Terry was then held in the Lee County Jail in Tupelo, Mississippi, and provided with his one phone call. As his mother Susan had disappeared, and his older brother Nate (the 1st) had burned his bridges with Terry, he was left with the option of calling Julianne and begging for help, in the year 2090.
The conversation went like this.
“Hey? Who’s calling me?”
“Terry? Is that you?”
“Yeah… How’ve you been?”
“Well, I’ve been fine. The caller ID says you’re calling from a jail, though, so I’m more concerned with how you’ve been.”
“Mind telling me why?”
“That’s because I’m in a jail.” A voice in the background on Terry’s end of the line shouted “Hurry it up!”
“Oh lord. Well, what the heck did you do?”
“Alright, Julie, I’m gonna get to the point. This whole thing is my fault, anyhow. I lost my job a year or so back when the company went under. Eventually, Katie left me because I was broke and couldn’t find work, and then I lost my apartment. I had to sell everything, because I had nowhere to put it. So I was living in my car, and… Okay, I can get to the point faster than this.”
“I stole some food and clothes from a department store. But not that much! … But enough that I got arrested and sentenced. They got me serving six months, but bail is only $1000. Can you please come get me?”
“If you’re homeless and going hungry, and they’ve only got you serving six months, then just serve your time! Call me again when you get out of jail, and I’ll just give you $1000, and you can start putting your life back together.”
“Wait, Julie, you can’t-”
But Julianne did. She hung up, and so, Terry served his six months in the county prison. He saved up the prison wages he’d earned over those six months, kept his head low while he was there, and eventually, he was released with enough money that he was able to pay the fines on his way out, and still had a little over $700 in his pockets. He took a bus to Memphis, where he met up with Julianne at a bar downtown.
“Hey, Julie. Been a while.”
“Look, I thought about it, and I’m really sorry-”
“Don’t be sorry about it. If you’d bailed me out, I’d probably have just done something stupid and ended up behind bars again.”
Julianne had to avert eye contact and stare at a wall to avoid showing Terry the dumb grin on her face. “Yeah, probably.” She took a sip of her cocktail.
Terry sighed. “So what have you been up to on the outside? We didn’t really get to catch up last time we spoke, because of circumstances and all.”
“Well, last year, I graduated from Vanderbilt with two PhDs. Then, I got a research job at this place called Freesboro Scientific.”
“Vanderbilt? Is that a good school?”
“You… haven’t heard of Vanderbilt?”
“What, even better than Mississippi State? That’s where I got my management degree, you know. Real nice place.”
“Good job, kid.”
“Who are you calling kid? Aren’t you like, 20?”
“I’m only two years younger than you! Besides that, which of us was begging the other for money just a few short months ago?”
“I’m gonna cut to the chase, Terry. I’m willing to let you live with me while you find a job. But, in exchange, you’ve got to figure out some way to make money in the meantime, and also, I get to call you ‘kid’ for the rest of your life.”
“Come on, now.”
Julianne sat in the chair on the opposite side of the table, idly flicking the small stirring straw of her now-empty drink back and forth in the glass, causing the ice to clink against the sides. She smirked, letting the silence grow longer.
Terry laid his hands, palms up, on the table, in a gesture of protest.
Julianne wasn’t moved. “What’ll it be?”
Terry took a deep breath, and sighed again. “Alright. If it’ll give me a roof and a bed, and something to keep myself from starving, I’ll take it. Where are you living?”
“I’ve been living in a small apartment in town, but rent here’s expensive. I’ve been saving what I could, and I’m just about ready to put the down payment on a house, out in Murfreesboro, closer to where I work.”
“Right, Freesboro Scientific. What do you do there, anyway?”
“Well, you know how string theory has been predicting that there are eleven dimensions for quite a while now?”
“I’m like, tangentially aware of that, sure.” Terry was not at all aware of this.
“Well, Freesboro Scientific is currently looking to develop some type of… 4D portal device? It doesn’t really work, like at all. They hiring me to try to work out the kinks.”
“A... portal device.”
“You’re pulling my leg.”
“So, what, do they pull in any money? Or is this strictly academic grant fund stuff?”
“For your information, SpaXe,” This was pronounced spak-see, “has provided us with a 30-million-dollar advance grant fund to support the research. They’re interested in the applications for space travel. We’re close to cracking a nut that’s been refusing to yield for decades, since near the beginning of the century.”
“This is… legit, then? Like you’re doing actual science research, Julie?”
“That’s right. And that’s Doctor Julie to you.”
Year: 2091 AD
Terry’s footsteps echoed as he entered the empty, newly built home. Julianne stood in the middle of the living room, arms folded, looking here and there across the floor. She said, “I think I’ll like it here. I’ve got some ideas where I want to put furniture and whatnot.”
“So this is the place, huh?” Terry knocked on one of the walls and nodded knowingly. “It’s solidly built. You picked a good house. I bet it’ll last fifty… no, a hundred years.” Julianne rolled her eyes as Terry slowly turned towards her, and held out his hands in front of the light switch by the front door, holding his face in an exaggerated expression of surprise. “And here, we have the lovely floral print light switch cover, a mighty classic of Americana.” He stared at Julianne with his mouth agape, his eyes opened as far as he could push them.
Julianne chuckled. “We both know you have no idea how to appraise a house, Terry. Come on. Let’s start unloading the stuff.”
Together, Terry and Julianne moved box after box from the van. “You aren’t even thirty yet. How do you have so much shit?”
“My mom got rid of a lot of her things when she downsized. The moving truck is coming up from her old place tomorrow, with some couches and a bed, and a few end tables.”
“Tomorrow?” Terry placed his box on the floor in the kitchen. “Then what are we sleeping on tonight?”
“Relax. I brought an air mattress.”
“An air mattress? As in, one air mattress?”
“Don’t be a baby. The air mattress is for you. As for myself, I’ve got a sleeping bag and a pillow. I think I’ll sleep in the backyard tonight, to celebrate finally having a yard.”
“What? It’s my yard. I can sleep in it if I want.”
“This isn’t the big city anymore! You’ve gotta watch out for copperheads, dummy.”
“Oh. Right… Guess I’ll sleep in here.”
They continued bringing in boxes, mostly in silence, with an occasional clink or thud to punctuate, until at last all the boxes were moved in. “So we just keep all the stuff in boxes for now?”
“That’s right. We keep all the stuff in boxes for now. Tomorrow I’ll have the cabinets and drawers so we can start putting everything away.”
“Would it, perhaps, have made more sense to wait a day, and move after all the furniture is in place?”
“Moving all this furniture inside is gonna be difficult with all these boxes blocking the way.”
“Man, Terry…” Julianne slumped against a bare wall.
“Yeah?” Terry sat against the opposite wall. “What’s up?”
“You ever think about how useful it would be if you could like, open wormholes so you could just… put stuff where it needs to go without needing to clear a path?” She waved a hand in front of her. “Like… poof.” She clenched her fist, and then let her fingers fly open. “Now there’s a couch there.”
Terry chuckled. “Sounds like magic. But…” Terry scratched his neck for a moment, in thought. “That seems like a pretty extraneous use for that sort of ability. You could probably change the world with a power like that.”
“Probably.” She fell sideways, sliding against the wall, and softly plopped onto the carpeted floor. “I don’t care about changing the world right now. Right now, I just want to be able to move my furniture without needing to move these boxes out of the way.” They sat in silence for a few minutes.
Finally, Terry said “So when do you have to get that van back to the rental company?”
Julianne bolted upright. “That’s right, I almost forgot!” She fished the keys out of her pocket. “My car is over at the rental place, too. I still have a couple hours to return the van, so we don’t need to rush. You wanna come with? I’m thinking we could get something to eat afterwards.”
Sounds good to me.
Year: 12207 HE
Julianne’s day continues with ten minutes of meditation, to mentally prepare her for the day ahead. It is not a complex or deep meditation, but simply her taking a few minutes of her morning to reassure herself that everything is real, and that the universe is kind. Sometimes, she is visited by her elderly Maine coon cat, Hilda.
After her meditation, she puts on a thin jacket and a pair of sweatpants, slips her running shoes onto her feet, and embarks on her daily 5-mile run. She generally spends about 45 minutes out running, changing her route based on what she feels like seeing that day. On the side of the road during today’s run, she noticed a single dead copperhead, which had been struck and killed by a car. You’ve got to watch out for cars, dummy, Julianne thought to herself.
Upon completing her run, she spends a few minutes stretching outside. Occasionally, a fellow early-bird will pass by, while taking a dog for a morning walk, or perhaps also on a run. Depending on who the person is, Julianne’s reactions range from indifference to a warm greeting and a friendly, if brief, conversation.
Today, she encountered a woman who had lived in this neighborhood since she herself had moved in. “This place changes every day, but you and I just stay the same, don’t we, Bernice?”
The elderly woman, several decades older than Julianne herself, laughed heartily. “You flatter too much. How’s the cat doing?”
“She’s getting on in years, but little Hilda is doing fine. She turns twenty next month. I’m planning a big surprise party for her.” She leaned forward, and cupped a hand by her mouth, before whispering, “I’m gonna invite all the handsome stray boys from the neighborhood.” The wide smile which graced Julianne’s face was as genuine as these smiles get. “She’s just as much of a romantic as ever.”
“One of y’all got to be. Well, I’d best be getting on.”
“Alright, it was good to see you, Bernie.”
“Take care, Julie.”
After her stretching is complete, she returns indoors to feed both Hilda and herself. Today, Julie is having eggs, half of an orange, and a small bowl of oatmeal. She washes this down with a cool glass of water. Hilda eats nearly as well as Julianne herself, tucking into a nice moist bowl of freshly minced turkey, today.
After eating, Julianne takes a refreshingly cold shower. She does not dwell in the shower any longer than she needs to, because something very important to Julianne comes next in her daily routine.
While waiting for her hair to dry, Julianne watches the sun rise. Every day for the past hundred-nineteen years, she had always watched the sun rise, no matter how difficult her work schedule made this commitment. A friend of hers, helping to console Julianne as she struggled against a bout of depression towards the end of the final year of her doctorate program, gave her a valuable piece of advice.
Year: 2088 AD
“It feels like no matter what I do, it’s never enough. There’s always so, so much to do. I can’t take it!” Julianne sobbed softly into her mattress, aching for sleep after a long all-nighter. “I’m trying so hard, all the time, but I can’t keep this up. There’s just so much work, and it feels like I’m not going anywhere with any of it!”
“Hey, now… Come on, Jewel. You’re one of the strongest, smartest people I know. If anyone can pull off this dual-doctorate thing, it’s you.”
“But what if I’m not as strong as you think I am? What if… What if I’m just putting up a front?”
“Come on, Jewel… I know something that’ll make you feel better. Come with me.”
“I don’t wanna move…where do you want me to go?”
“Come on! It’s almost time, and you’re going to miss it if you don’t come with me! Geeeeet up!”
Dragged by her wrist, they wound upward, and upward, through the staircase of their dorm, until they reached the top, and looked out of an east-facing window.
Julianne looked. “What am I looking at?”
They stared out. After several minutes, a small dot of light broke above the horizon, flooding the landscape below with golden radiance. The trees, the buildings, and even the tiny people who were up at this hour cast long, long shadows. The dot grew into a brilliant copper disk, and the clouds caught the sun’s rays in a brilliant display of pink and gold. It was the most beautiful thing Julianne had ever seen.
Julianne didn’t realize she had stopped crying until she looked at her friend, and saw her genuine smile in return.
“See, Julie? You can’t be sad while watching a sunrise. I’ve tried it, and you just can’t.”
Julianne, at last, smiled. “Thank you, Hilda.” She turned back to the sunrise, and vowed never to miss one again.
That was the last time Julianne ever cried.
Year: 12121 HE
Julianne went over the readings on her screen. “This is very strange.”
“What is?” Julianne’s assistant intern, a woman named Jaqueline, looked up from her circuitry design to see what Julianne was looking at.
“According to this measurement, the 4D field density is concentrated around the human heart.”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you remember when the machine was accidentally activated while you were in the chamber?”
“It scared the pants off me, yeah, I remember. It was just last week.”
The machine, when activated, produced a loud (but not deafening) groan, as the air in the field oscillated with the machine’s dimensional waves. The machine was designed and built based on predictions from Julianne’s models. It took a reading of a 3D space, and attempted to use resonant waves to break through the dimensional barrier and produce a wormhole.
Julianne described it as sitting in a bathtub and sliding your body back and forth. Simply doing this once wouldn’t have much of an effect, but repeating the motion causes the water to move with you, until it’s producing mighty splashes on either end. Julianne had read about the effect when she was 6 years old, and immediately upon entering the bathtub, had to try it out. Of course, this left water all over the bathroom floor, and her parents were none too pleased, but when they saw how hard she was laughing, they decided to simply ask her not to do it again now that she’d seen how much of a mess it makes. This memory was her primary inspiration when designing the device.
“I’m looking at the readings from that brief few seconds when the machine was running while you were in the room. This is… strange. The field is oscillating much more strongly around the region your heart is located. While normally, we can’t get the oscillations to more than 8% of what’s needed to produce a legitimate gateway into the 4th dimension, with you in the chamber…” Julianne fell silent. She waved for Jaqueline to come over.
“With me in the chamber, what happened?” Jacqueline came around the side of Julianne’s desk, and saw the readings for herself. “Oh my god.”
There, on the computer screen, in plain numbers, was 99.3% was written. “See, for some reason, the presence of a live human in the field produces a more-than-tenfold increase in the strength of the oscillations. If it’d been allowed to run for even one second longer, it likely would have broken through the 100% barrier and probably opened a gateway… right where your heart was located.”
Jacqueline felt a chill. “What would have happened?”
“Probably nothing. There’s projected to be significant time between the gate opening, and the run through the 4th dimension and back to a different location in the 3rd dimension, truly finishing the wormhole. Probably, more than enough time to move out of the way.”
“Should I go back in so we can try it?”
“Absolutely not!” Julianne, herself, was startled by her own abrupt response. “Sorry, didn’t mean to yell. Absolutely not, because we aren’t sure what effects this distortion has on people. Additionally, this machine has no directional capabilities. It’s a brute-force agitator designed to bend space and for nothing else. Even if it did create a wormhole, we would have no way of controlling where it ended up, where it manifested, or even how long it would stay open.” Julianne nodded. “We’re definitely closer to realizing a true wormhole, but there’s still too much we don’t know and can’t possibly have any control over.”
“Oh. But is this discovery going to help us?”
“Immensely. This is probably the single most-important breakthrough we’ve had. We need to begin investigating why the field distortion was so much greater near the heart region. Is there something on the other side responding to the space bending? Why is it the heart and not the brain or stomach? Do other animals have the same effect?”
Natasha nodded. “It sounds like we have a lot of work ahead of us.”
Julianne sighed. “You say that as if we didn’t already have a lot of work.”
Julianne had left Freesboro Scientific in 2113, to found her own R&D Company. It was self-funded, as she hired skilled workers to produce ornate wooden canes. The wide gap between the production cost of these canes and the price she was able to sell the canes for allowed her to entirely fund her own research.
The rest of the world, by this time, had adopted a “let’s help the poor Americans” stance towards people who were living in America, which (along with Brazil) was one of two countries which had not moved into the post-scarcity era. In exchange for American money (which they in turn used to buy “real” food, such as apples that had been grown from a tree, or beef that came from a real cow), the residents of the rest of the world would make whatever was requested using their universal manufacturing machines. One of these was called a “UMM”. It was the single greatest invention of the Magnificent Leap era.
Across the world, material lines, similar to the water lines and electrical lines of the 20th century and onward, were hooked up to dwellings to fuel the manufacturing machines. These machines (which could be considered similar to the 3D printers of the early 21st century, though far more advanced) were equipped with a simple onboard AI that used the schedule with which certain goods were demanded in the past as a guideline for which materials to requisition from the grid in advance, in the future. For example, if a household ordered new shoes once every three months, the machine would request the necessary materials in advance, so that when the shoes were requested, manufacture (which took anywhere from several seconds to an hour, depending on what was being constructed) could begin immediately.
In addition to its ability to request and receive materials from the material line, the machine was equipped with the function of disassembling old, worn down goods, and returning the component materials to the material line (after killing pathogens, and incinerating biological contaminants such as mold or algae). The machine, in this way, replaced both the garbage and manufacturing industries, closing the material loop and allowing this type of society to reach true sustainability.
In addition to producing material goods (new clothing, devices, appliances, or tools), it was also able to produce food which was, at an atomic level, indistinguishable from naturally-produced food. “Real” food was considered a luxury, as it required tending and harvest outside of the material system. However, there was no difference in either taste or nutritional content between “real” food and “manufactured” food.
The ecological disasters of the early 21st century led to large-scale extinctions of animals, plants, and fungi. Because of this, there was mass starvation in the world in the decades leading up to the Magnificent Leap. This time period has since been titled the “Little Dark Age” (LDA). Other people romanticized the period’s relative dormancy compared to the information era before, and the magnificent leap after, by referring to it as the “Chrysalis Era” (CE). Those who lived through this period generally condemn this name for these years, considering how frequently you could meet someone who lost a family member during the mass starvations, and mass drowning as coastal cities were flooded.
Julianne and Terry, both of whom were born near the end of the LDA, were fortunate enough to have been born to a family with a significant network of professional and political connections. This is how Boris was able to receive the treatment for his MS, for free (as part of an experiment) during a time period when most of the world was starving. Of course, upon learning that Boris had brutally killed himself, Terry’s side of the family fell from this sort of favor. Julianne, by virtue of her distance from Boris, was able to maintain her own network, and thus, her high levels of education. Julianne did work very hard to obtain her degrees; however, it is worth noting that the opportunities present for her did not exist for everyone.
Year: 12207 HE
Julianne changed into her work outfit, a simple shirt, simple slacks, and simple shoes. She had never been one to dress in a flashy or otherwise ornate manner. Her hair (now dry) was tied back in an ordinary ponytail, simply to keep it out of her face.
“Today is the big financial meeting, Hilda. Today, we’ll see whether we can fund the dimensional lift.”
She walked out the door, and climbed into one of the cars parked near her house. As she scanned her thumb to activate the car and have it drive her to work, she briefly wondered what Terry was up to.
Part I: Preparations
Year: 12207 HE
Terry looked over the group. “Are we ready?”
Brianna nodded. “I think so.” She turned around to face the rest of the group. Kim, Phillip, and Ed (restored to his body) were there, as were the two recruits they had gained since then, Jeff and Mary-Anne. “Are you ready?”
Phillip nodded. “Ready.”
Kim looked up at Brianna. “Ready.”
Ed stared without moving. “Ready.”
Jeff licked his lips. “Ready.”
Mary-Anne stared down at the facility nervously. “Ready.”
A brief overview of our party:
Brianna was the originator of the idea to create wormholes with one’s own mind. As such, she was the de-facto leader. In addition to this, she was the only member of the group with a significant amount of control over her soul’s manifested form. She could rather precisely control the size, shape, and temperature of her soul when pulling it into the 3rd dimension. Additionally, she had a significant amount of skill with bending space, rather than simply creating wormholes with her ability. However, she was not very good at moving large masses over large distances. This resulted in her general inability to transport herself more than a few hundred meters at a time. For long range travel, the group mostly relied on Phil.
Phil was not a delicate user of wormholes. Of all the members of the group, his wormholes were by far the strongest and most stable. He had no issue with moving all seven of them many dozens of kilometers at a time. However, his wormholes were rather imprecise. He would quite frequently be several meters off of target. In addition, it took him several seconds to open or close a wormhole. He was quite incapable of using wormholes in combat for this reason. His other weaknesses were quite glaring. He could not pull out his soul in the slightest. His extreme usefulness as long-range transport proved invaluable, however, so his weaknesses in combat were easily ignored. However, they did have one member who was quite well-versed in the quick, precise usage of wormholes.
Kim’s ability with wormholes in combat was second to none. To better compliment her natural aptitude for agility in her wormholes, she had trained quite extensively to push the limits of her physical fitness. She could cover ten kilometers within half an hour, without once opening a wormhole. Additionally, she had attended boxing classes for the past three years, to better improve her ability to use wormholes in a fight. Additionally, her history as an archer translated quite well to combat. She had developed a technique whereby she opened a thin wormhole two kilometers above, pressed an arrow in as far as her strength would allow, and released it to imbue the arrow with this massive amount of kinetic energy. Her ability to open a wormhole this far from herself was limited by the wormhole’s diameter, for she could not open a wormhole larger than 1 meter in size. Additionally, she could not pass through her own wormhole more than once per hour without collapsing from sheer mental exhaustion. She could extract her own soul from the 4th dimension, but she did not have much control over its appearance once extracted. This was the realm of someone else.
Ed possessed an extraordinarily comprehensive understanding of wormholes. His understanding of wormholes surpassed Brianna’s own. Though he was not her match in the sheer freedom with which she controlled her soul once extracted, he was quite creative with the shape of the soul once extracted. Additionally, he invented many novel techniques having to do with the bending of space, such as rendering the group invisible when necessary by bending all incoming light around them. His ability to travel using wormholes was moderately good. He was capable of traveling several kilometers at a time. He was, in fact, third in proficiency among them, behind only Phil and Mary-Anne.
Mary-Anne, though relatively new at the use of wormholes, already displayed remarkable proficiency with using them for longer-range transport. Though not quite as long-range as Phil (topping out at a mere ten kilometers), she was nonetheless quite accurate at this range, generally falling within a meter of the target. Additionally, her wormholes had a setup time of about two seconds, making them even more useful than Phil’s for a quick escape. Despite this, she was quite skittish and shy, appearing quick to lose her cool. This quickness to lose her cool was, however, covering up a much deeper-rooted stability at her core. On the surface, she was far less unflappable than Jeffrey or Kim.
Jeffrey, like Kim, was well-suited to using wormholes to brawl with. Though his physical conditioning was nowhere near the level of Kim’s, he had far more raw physical strength, allowing him to deliver crushing knockout blows at long-range. Additionally, his ability to use wormholes to travel was notably better than Kim’s own, allowing him to travel several hundred meters at a time, five times per hour.
Each of these six fell into one clearly defined “class” of wormhole user: the “mages”, who used their souls in combat and bent space outside of the creation of wormholes, the “fighters”, who used their ability to rapidly open and shut wormholes to gain an unbeatable advantage in direct combat, and the “transports”, whose great mental fortitude allowed them to quickly traverse mind-boggling distances in mere seconds. This, however, is leaving out the seventh member of the party: Terry.
Terry’s ability to use wormholes was not at all impressive, by any conventional measure (if wormholes can be called “conventional”). He could open medium-sized wormholes, at most slightly greater than a meter wide. He could not travel far using these, only a kilometer at most (and to be fair, he could barely fit through them). He could bring his soul out, but it was generally always one kilogram, about 40 C, and about nine centimeters wide, making it not terribly useful. He could open and close wormholes somewhat quickly, limited by the distance between the wormholes, so he had a limited ability to use them in a fight. However, he had one completely unique trait to his wormholes. While those of Brianna were like cotton wrapped around steel wool, as were the wormholes produced by each of the others (with varying levels of “hardness”), Terry’s wormholes were unbelievably sharp. Additionally, Terry was absolutely precise with his wormholes, always placing them exactly where he wanted them. On top of this, he could open wormholes whose entrance and exit were a mere millimeter apart, but were both several dozen meters away from him. Generally, if he could see it, he could open both ends of a wormhole there.
This placed him, alone, in a fourth class of wormhole user: the assassin. A technique he had developed, but had only used on mannequins thus far for practice, was to rapidly open his two wormholes around the neck of his target, and slam them shut, bisecting whatever he had opened the wormholes around instantly.
This concludes the brief overview of our party’s skills.
Brianna pulled the mask down over her face. The rest of the group followed suit. “I can recognize Lance. As I am currently the only one with the knowledge which SR desires, keeping me out of their hands is necessary. Lance understood this, which is why he is currently in their captivity. The purpose of this mission is twofold.
“Firstly, this must be a proof-of-concept for our ability to effectively counter SR. If we are to have a future, we must prove ourselves to be a force capable of directly opposing SR. Secondly, this must serve as an example for our future. Those who are captured by SR must not be left behind. Lance fought to save my life. He fought to keep the secrets in my mind out of their hands. He must not be forgotten.”
Phillip waved his hands, and a wormhole tore open before them. “Alright, looks like we got lucky. This leads to a janitors’ closet on the fifth basement floor of SR headquarters, seventy-three kilometers away. The exit faces pretty close to a wall, so you’ll have to move around for there to be room for everyone. The elevation difference through this wormhole is negative three-and-a-half meters; please step very slowly and carefully so you don’t break an ankle.”
Brianna nodded, and once again addressed the group. “From here, we need to hook up the receiver for Natalie’s surveillance equipment. Once that’s done, we’ll be able to see whatever their security cameras see. This will allow us to stay out of their sight as we move through the facility.
Ed went first, one leg at a time. His foot slammed into the floor on the other side. “Ah!” he gasped.
“You alright?” Phil asked.
Ed continued through the hole. “That first step’s a doozy. That definitely hurt, but I think I can just walk it off. Be ready, your foot will get yanked forward and then down when you try stepping through the hole. It’ll throw you off-balance if you aren’t ready.”
Jeff snickered. He coughed and said “We know that already. You’re supposed to have been practicing elevation changes with the rest of us, and the other mobility exercises, instead of burying yourself in theoretical research all day.”
“Shut it and get down here.”
One toe at a time, Jeff edged his way across. “If you spread the energy gain out, then you don’t get injured. This is basic, dude.”
Terry cleared his throat, and when he was certain he had the attention of both Jeff and Ed, he warned in a harsh whisper, “Stop squabbling. There’s a very real chance we will either be killed or tortured without mercy if we fail here. Be vigilant and don’t make so much noise. We’re in a tiny closet in an isolated branch of the facility, but that doesn’t mean no one can hear us. Who’s next?”
Kim nodded. “That’ll be me.” She inched across. “All is good, next person?”
Mary-Anne slinked across the hole. Her foot slammed into the ground, but more softly than Ed’s had. “Ah. I’ll be fine. Next?”
Terry traversed the hole carefully. The storage closet was starting to get cramped. “Brianna, you go next. Phil, are you holding up alright?”
“Don’t worry. I’m fine, just keep going.” Phil was beginning to sweat.
Brianna reached down, and picked up the bundle of wires hanging out of the wormhole near the ground. A daisy chain of small wormholes snaked through space back to their base, where Natalie sat at the computer, wearing a headset, a command window open with a blinking cursor, her fingertips poised above the keyboard. A bead of sweat rolled down her nose and fell to the floor.
Brianna entered the wormhole with the bundle of wires, and landed in the storage closet alongside the others. “All clear in here. Come on in, Phil.”
Phil nodded, and stepped into the hole, carefully avoiding stepping on the bundle of wires as he did so. He shrunk the hole down after entering until it was just large enough for the wire to feed through.
“So, first priority is to establish our eyes and ears. We only knew about this janitors’ closet because of Terry. Now, we need to figure out where the nearest network terminals are. Once that’s done, we create one final wormhole from this closet to that network terminal. Then, Phil compresses the wormholes together to form one very long wormhole, directly back to base, so that Natalie can reach through and plug everything in.” She pulled a beige, nondescript plastic box out of her backpack, with a blinking red LED on it. “This is our short-range transmitter, to handle our comms. It should cover the facility we are in, once installed. This must be placed next to the network terminal and wired accordingly. Additionally, it is equipped with a small EMP charge to automatically shut the wormhole and subsequently sever the wire connection back to our base, so that SR can’t use it to gain access. This would be detonated by Natalie in the event of our premature discovery.” She tucked the box back into the backpack. “If all goes as planned, we’ll only need this for the comms, and the EMP charge will be unnecessary.”
Jeff scratched his head. “You couldn’t have explained the plan to us before we started?”
Kim nodded. “Yeah, this is the first I’m hearing of, like, any of this. You guys?”
Ed shrugged. “I think she mentioned something about the EMP charge, but it was in passing, and she put, like, no weight or importance on it. I had no idea it was more than a side project. Terry, did she even tell you?”
“Other than the general gist of ‘go in there and fight bad guys’, she didn’t tell me any of the specifics. It’s not a bad plan, but we really could have had this discussion back at the base, during dinner last night or something.”
“Unless…” Mary-Anne drawled, “She didn’t tell us the plan on purpose, in case she thought one of us was a double agent. It’s brilliant. This is why she’s our leader. That is why you didn’t tell us the plan, right?” She turned to Brianna.
“I’m bad at communication, okay!?” Brianna hissed through her teeth. They could hear the faint sound of Natalie howling with laughter through the chain of wormholes back to the base. “If you guys want to abort the mission, and come back later, we can. Should we do that?”
One by one, they shrugged or shook their heads, except for Phil. Phil spoke, “She told me about the plan. I assumed you all knew, since I’m usually the last to hear about things. You didn’t know?”
Silence, until Brianna broke in, “I forgot to tell everyone else the details. Alright? Does this affect our ability to carry out the mission here and now? Are there any more preparations that need to be made before we get started?” She waited a moment. “No?” Head-shaking again. “Good. Let’s begin. First, we need to check the hallway and see what our situation is. Go ahead, Kim.”
Part II: Infiltration
Kim opened an eye-sized wormhole into the hallway. “Clear from the left.” She swiveled the other end of the wormhole to check the other direction. “Clear from the right. Security cameras are present.” She snapped the eyehole shut. “Can we get cloaking?”
Brianna tapped Ed on the shoulder. “How’d your refinement of the technique go?”
“It isn’t perfect, but it’ll do.” A technique Ed had developed, during his research, was to use multi-layered wormholes to completely bend light around a space, rendering the inside of that space completely, truly invisible, with the caveat that nothing outside of that space can be seen directly from the inside. This is circumvented by the use of eyeholes from the inside to the outside. He slowly spun around, waving his hands through the air with intricate motions, dragging notches and crevices of space around them, wrapping them in layers of empty space. From the outside, the room appeared to smear as the seven of them were wrapped with stretched space. Then, Ed punctured the layers of space, filling the layers with interconnected wormholes until the space around them simply ‘skipped over’ the area they were standing in. Within the dark space, all of them put a hand on each other’s shoulders to keep their balance and prevent bumping into each other.
Kim opened several eye sized wormholes. “Checking this room for a terminal.” The other ends of the wormholes snaked around the room, probing it for the desired terminal. The room contained spare surgical equipment, which looked to have been unused since it was manufactured. “Storage. No terminal.” She checked the next room. A lone technician replaced a burnt-out component in an old extractor tool. “Workshop. No terminal.” She went on to check the next twelve rooms in the hallway. After the many failed searches, she found what they were looking for. “Server room. Plenty of network terminals. No cameras.”
Upon hearing their target had been reached, Mary-Anne stepped forward through the group, and opened a wormhole from the inside of their closed space to the server room. “Everyone through.” They filed through the wormhole, which Phil promptly closed. Ed let his cloaking shell dissolve after they had entered the server room.
A quick sweep of the room revealed a network terminal on one of the walls, next to a power outlet. “Right here.” Brianna removed the device once more, and carefully laid it on the ground. She then opened one last small wormhole to the janitors’ closet, and pulled the bundle of wires through. “Phil, go ahead.”
The wormholes condensed together, forming one long tunnel directly between SR and their base. Phil widened it just enough that Natalie could reach through and wire up their transmitter. Her nimble fingers worked quickly, sorting through dozens of small wires, arranged into a Y-shape. Her voice intermittently drifted out of the wormhole as she worked. “They use that connector? That is interesting.” She deftly stripped wires and crammed them into myriad plugs, crafting the necessary configurations from scratch, and as she completed each, she connected the transmitter to the network terminal. “Alright guys. It’ll work for your short-range secure radio communications now. It’ll take me a while longer to access their internal network and override their security cams. I’ll let you know through the radio once you can drop the cloak, and shrink the hole again. I have a few more connectors I need to attach, so keep it widened for now. Use this.” She passed an oxy-acetylene torch through the wormhole, which Kim took. She then passed through a pair of safety shades. “Put these on first, because you’ll need your eyes to still work after you’re done. Then, melt the hinges on that door, so no one comes in here while I’m working. This torch should be more than hot enough for the job. Keep the flame low and don’t overdo it. It won’t keep anyone out if the hinge is melted off entirely.” Kim set to work on the hinges, while Natalie continued attaching connectors to the ends of wires.
Ed watched Natalie work, and put on the headset. The others did so as well. Ed spoke into the microphone. “Natalie, why is it that you couldn’t have put the connectors on the wires earlier?”
“Oh, that’s easy. I didn’t know what kind of jacks they used here until now. I was guessing their connectors would be proprietary, company-only jacks, and I was right. Now, I didn’t know that for certain, so I got lots of other connectors too. But I have all the ones I need here. Good thing I did my homework!”
Terry finished properly fastening his headset (having originally put it on backwards), and turned to face Brianna after turning it on. “So from here… If they had a torture room, I’d try three floors downward from here. If it’s like you said, they would be placing the prisoners nearer to where the experimental data is initially collected. Less wiring, since I sincerely doubt they’d be using a wireless transmission for the data. It’s too inefficient, and also, too insecure. The experimental data from wormhole formation and testing is worth its weight in antimatter. Anyone in the facility who could gain access to that data and bring it outside to sell to the highest bidder could found their own nation in Africa with the proceeds. Anyway, because of the volume of the data to be transferred, and the high security of this data, they would use a short, high-fidelity wired connection. That’s where Julianne’s lab should be. Now, I doubt she knows about it, but there very well might be a torture chamber right under her nose.”
Natalie’s voice came through on the headsets. “Oh, and paste this on the other side of the door, so no one tries forcing their way in.” She held out a piece of paper and a small roll of tape. Jeff took these. The paper read ‘NO ENTRY – REPAINTING IN PROGRESS’. “Solidified hinges won’t stop anyone who’s absolutely determined to get in. A door can be broken down. Anyway, I’ve started the access program on cracking their biometrics, it says it’s estimating 12 minutes before I’m in.”
Brianna responded. “Roger Wilco. Ed?”
“Got it.” Ed whipped up perturbations in space, and soon he had solidified them into a continuous cloak. “Let’s move.”
After this, they snaked through the facility, making their way from hallway to hallway, until they came across a man walking down the hall from the opposite direction.
“Uh-oh!” Mary-Anne muttered, “He can’t see us, right? We’re hidden?”
Ed nodded. “Yeah. We’re hidden.”
Jeff raised a fist. “Want me to knock him out?”
Brianna held up a hand, and whispered harshly. “No! Kim, shut the eye-holes. He could easily hear us through them… so we’ll wait in here for a while.”
Kim nodded. “Understood.” The eye-holes snapped shut. “We’re sealed. He shouldn’t be able to hear or see us now.”
They sat in silence for one minute. Kim muttered, “I’m going to see if he’s still there.” She opened an eyehole and peered into the hallway. The man was leaning against a wall quite near them, his arms folded, standing next to a door, staring at the ceiling. While this wormhole was open, their headsets crackled to life, “--are down. Repeat, the security cameras are down and under my control. Please confirm you are receiving.”
The man didn’t hear their headsets, but they were faced with a conundrum. Kim closed the wormhole while she thought. If they responded, the man may hear them speaking. If they closed the wormhole to avoid this, as Kim had done, then the transmission would not go through. Kim came up with a solution. She opened a tiny wormhole back to the network terminal room, to allow the transmission to go through.
Kim spoke. “We copy, Natalie. Apologies for delay, an unanticipated worker happened to take a break near our cloaking.”
“What hallway are you in?”
Kim briefly opened a second wormhole out of the cloaking shell to see if there were any indications of their locations. She spied a sign, and closed the eyehole. “It says we’re in RBF- 6, basement floor 5.”
Ed’s voice, but not from Ed, came over the headset. “I have an idea.”
“Oh, hey other Ed.” Jeff answered. It was, of course, the computerized copy of Ed’s consciousness and personality.
“Go ahead and watch this, it’ll be funny.”
Kim opened an eye-hole, and they watched. After a couple moments, the man jumped, and walked with much urgency down the hall away from him.
Natalie spoke again. “Ed, you can go ahead and drop the cloak. That guy was the only one down there. You have nothing to hide from. If anyone else approaches, I can warn you ahead of time.”
“Got it, thanks.” Ed dropped the cloak.
“What did you do, exactly?” Mary-Anne asked the other Ed.
“Simple. I sifted through the documents on his computer, found something he was supposed to have finished months ago and obviously thought there was no point to finishing, and I imitated his supervisor’s voice and asked him about whether it had been finished through his headset. The poor sap probably took off to hastily throw something together.”
“That’s evil.” Terry remarked.
Phil shook his head. “You can say that again. Have mercy.”
They continued through the facility until, at last, they reached the door. “It’s this one.” Brianna said. “This is the door. Lance should be in here.”
Part III: Split
“This is it, right?” Phil gestured at the door. “This is the room they’re keeping the prisoners and dissenters in?” Phil began opening the hole, and it slowly grew into existence.
“That’s right. Stay out of sight until the hole is opened.” They stood to either side of the door.
“Dilation is finished. Are we ready to move?”
Brianna nodded. “Proceed.” She waved a hand at the door.
One by one, they filed into the room through this hole, and were quite dismayed to find it to be a generic office room.
“Oh, no, this is not good.” Ed muttered. “We’re exposed. They see us.”
However, the workers in the office room didn’t seem at all disturbed by their entrance, in fact, only one of them looked up from their screen. “Keep it down. And can you close that wormhole? It’s letting in a draft.”
“Oh. Sorry.” Phil closed the wormhole. “We seem to have the wrong room. We’ll be taking our leave now.” He casually strode out of the room, with all of them except for Terry looking dumbfounded. They had no choice but to follow him. Phil closed the wormhole once they were through.
Once back in the hallway, Jeff asked, dumbfounded, “Why didn’t they ask us who we were? Isn’t this supposed to be a secure, restricted facility?”
“They aren’t that suspicious if you’re this deep inside.” Phil explained. “They figure if you’re here, you probably belong here. That, and here’s a useful tidbit about office work: if you make yourself seem like you’re there to see someone else, people will assume you’re not their problem and leave you alone. They aren’t there to lay their lives on the line. They’re there to get paid.”
Terry chimed in, “Have you ever read ‘Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy’ by Douglas Adams? In that book, they have a cloaking device...”
Mary-Anne interrupted him, slightly puzzled. “Isn’t that book from, like, the 1900’s?”
“I keep forgetting how old I am. The last book in the series came out less than sixty years before I was born, so I wasn’t thinking of it as a piece of classical literature. If you haven’t read it, then never mind.” Terry looked over them, and did a brief head count. “Where is Brianna?” He tapped the button on his headset. “Brianna? Are you receiving?” No answer.
Terry tried the door, which was unlocked. He opened it and poked his head in. No one bothered looking up. She was nowhere to be found. He closed the door, and they stood there for a moment, in thought.
Ed offered up a suggestion. “We could ask Natalie where she went.”
Terry shook his head. “The headsets are connected to everyone, including her. She should be hearing us.” He tapped the headset again. “Brianna!” There was still no answer, but rather a sharp burst of static answered him. “Brianna, where are you?”
“We really could just ask Natalie where she went.” Jeff offered. After a mild glare from Ed, he added, “Like Ed was saying, earlier. Natalie can use the cameras and whatnot, right?”
Mary-Anne nodded. “Agreed, we don’t really know where to look. And besides that, it’s been a good thirty-five years since you worked here, right Terry?”
Kim stepped up. “I was an employee here until maybe fifteen years ago. I was only a technician, so I do not have the same level of higher-up knowledge which Terry has. But I do know the layout fairly well.”
The fire alarm suddenly activated, and a voice blared over the intercom, “May I have your attention please, may I have your attention please. Evacuate the facility using the prescribed evacuation routes. This is not a drill. Once more, please evacuate the facility using the prescribed evacuation routes. This is not a drill.”
Terry and Ed glanced at each other for a moment. Terry activated his headset: “Natalie! Can you pinpoint the source of that fire alarm?”
“OBD, floor 2! I think Brianna’s… She’s doing… something. Terry, do you know the location?”
“Yeah, I know it. Phil! Open one 15 degrees to the left of parallel to this hallway, 5 degrees above horizontal, and 1.62 kilometers in length. That’ll put us nearby.”
“Rodger dodger.” Phil opened a wormhole, which appeared directly above them. “Distance of positive 14 meters. Significant gain in PE… We’ll need to lift each other through it.” One at a time, Phil first (as he was the heaviest), they lifted each other through the hole. Upon coming through the hole, Phil noticed something. “Guys, I think I found Brianna.”
“What’s she doing?”
Phil pulled Terry through the hole. “See for yourself.” At first glance, Terry thought she must have made a wormhole through a wall down the hall from them, but he soon realized that there was no wormhole involved: she had burned a massive hole in that wall. A small, terrified looking woman rushed out of the room, through this still-burning hole.
One by one, the remaining four were hastily pulled through the wormhole. Slowly, carefully, together they approached the hole, and the sound of Brianna barking out orders to a terrified office room became steadily louder.
“I’m not here to hurt you. I’m here to see Francis Roberts. Now, someone’s going to tell me where he is, or I’m going to start getting violent.”
Chapter Twenty One
Part I: First Blood
Year: 12207 HE
Brianna never followed the others into that room, which she already knew was an office. She knew Lance wasn’t in there. She knew there wouldn’t be a torture room behind that door. But most importantly, she knew that her target wasn’t in there. Her target, of course, was Francis Roberts, the current Director and CEO of Soul Retrieve.
She strode into the office, and used a wormhole to discretely pluck a badge off of a woman who looked superficially like herself. She affixed it to her shirt after glancing at it to remember the name, and sidled up to a younger-looking red-headed man’s desk. He looks easy, she thought. She put on her most sultry voice, and asked, “Excuse me, can you tell me which way Francis Roberts’ office is?”
He turned to face her, and Brianna was immediately taken aback by the intensity of his eyes. “Director Roberts is in an important meeting today. State the nature of your business.”
“You see, I’m carrying a disk with some of the financial information that was to be presented during that meeting. Who are you?”
“You’re carrying some of the financial information on a disk? I’m the Head of finance for SR. Who are you?”
Crap, Brianna thought.
“My name is Lauren Marino.”
“No it isn’t. I’ve been working with Lauren for many years, and you are not Lauren. Try again. Who are you.”
At that moment, her headset crackled. “Brianna, are you receiving?”
The man tilted his head. “That headset just called you Brianna. That doesn’t match the name on this badge.”
Brianna shrugged, and handed the badge back to the head of finance. “I was prepared to do this the easy way. But it seems you would like me to use force.” She ripped the man’s soul out of his body, and anchored it, filling the air with an incredibly loud hum. The man let out several consecutive screams of pain. The office was thrown into chaos almost immediately.
Brianna yelled out over the din, “First one to tell me where Francis Roberts is gets to leave this office alive! I’m going to level this whole place, and bring all of this down on top of your heads, unless you tell me where I can find Francis Roberts. Take a good long look at this dead body on the floor. A few moments ago, it was your director of finance. I can do this to dozens of people at the same time! Perhaps you recognize this? It’s the very procedure which this company was built upon. Witness me! I will give you the deaths you’ve been giving to people for the decades you have been in business!”
The headset crackled once more. “Brianna!” She took the headset off and threw it down. On the floor, it continued, “Brianna, where are you?”
They fell silent. She whipped her soul out, a burning hot speck, and traced a circle on the wall behind her. The circle caught fire, and the section of the wall fell backward into the hallway. Brianna stood in front of the room’s only exit, besides that hole. “Now, all of you, listen closely. The first one who gives me the location of Francis Roberts’ office gets to live. But if the rest of you stay put after I leave, no one but this upstart finance… guy… Someone tell me what his name was, so I can give him the respect a dead man deserves.”
Someone in the room raised their hand.
“Yes, you, stand up and tell me his name.”
A woman in the office stood up, just barely tall enough to see over the cubicle wall. “Uh, hi… His name was Oscar Roberts... He was Francis’ son.”
“Thank you. You may go.”
The woman tilted her head. “I… can go?”
“I’m not here to hurt people. I’m here to speak with Francis Roberts. Get out of here before I change my mind.” The woman scurried out of the room, nodding slightly at Brianna as she ran past.
“Alright, so hopefully that proved to you that I’m not here to hurt you. I’m here to see Francis Roberts. Now, someone’s going to tell me where he is, or I’m going to get violent.”
One man spoke up, without raising his hand as the woman before had done. “How did you extract his soul without any tools?”
“Would you like to come closer and find out? I can show you.” She raised one of her hands in front of her, and slowly, with the utmost precision, grasped his soul, and pulled it out, to hold it in front of him in her outstretched hand. She anchored the soul, slightly. Not too much, just enough to put the fear into him. He yelped, like a kicked puppy. “I hold your soul, your very being, in my hand. If you do not submit to me, I will make you feel unimaginable pain.”
“He-he-he’s down the hall! He’s the fifth room to the left! Just opposite the column with the red-leaved plant! Please, please put my soul back.”
“That’s more like it.” She reversed the anchoring, and held his only-extracted soul in her hand. “I’ll be keeping this, and if he’s not where you said he was, you can all kiss your lives good-bye. Stay here until I get back.”
Brianna exited the room through the hole, and ran into Terry and the others.
“Good. You’re here.” Brianna gestured at the office room. “Can you guard this room while I take care of something?”
“Holy shit,” Ed said, “is that guy dead?”
“He’s only Francis Roberts’ son. This is fitting. He took my son from me, after all.”
Terry frowned. “Brianna, I’m very disappointed. I thought this was a rescue mission. Why aren’t we rescuing?”
“Terry, here’s the truth. I’m here to kill Francis Roberts. But only Francis Roberts, do you understand?”
At this, several people in the office started screaming. One of the men, holding a pencil, charged at Brianna. She spun around, quickly, and opened two wormholes. The pencil swiftly entered one, and exited the other, lodging itself deep into the man’s eye. The man immediately fell to the ground, screaming and clutching his damaged eye, which streamed blood through his shaking fingers.
“Oh, great. I’d just gotten them under control, too.”
Down the hall, the meek-looking woman from earlier pulled a fire alarm. The fire alarm screeched with earsplitting urgency, and a tinny voice called out through it, “Attention please, may I have your attention please. This is not a drill. Please evacuate the facility in an orderly fashion, using the prescribed evacuation routes. Ed screamed into the headset, “Natalie! Natalie, do you copy? Disconnect the network terminal! The mission is aborted! Repeat, blow the EMP! The mission is aborted!”
“I copy! Stay safe!” The previously clear connection was replaced by oppressive electronic fuzz. The EMP had been blown. Phil reached out with his mind and slammed the wormhole shut, isolating this place from the lab.
Brianna shook her head. “You don’t get to order the end of the mission, Ed! That’s for me to decide!”
“This isn’t the mission we set out for, and you know it!” Ed pointed menacingly at Brianna. “We didn’t come here to kill people. We came here to rescue Lance.”
The office workers had opened the fire-escape door on the other side of the room and were filing out.
“Not so fast!” She yelled, shooting her flaming hot soul out, and instantly incinerating all in the proximity of the door. “I didn’t tell you to leave. This alarm is because I’m here! You’re in more danger if you leave!”
“This is insanity!” Mary-Anne screamed, shaking her head. “None of us came here today to kill people!”
“Insubordination, is that it?” Brianna nodded. “Alright, then, Mary. You didn’t come here to kill people. Then perhaps you can simply die, instead, so you won’t have to participate.”
Mary-Anne lowered an eyebrow. “Wha-” Brianna’s fiery soul lashed out, catching Mary-Anne in the cheek, and subsequently, burning Kim when Mary-Anne’s blood (at boiling temperatures) splashed onto her. Kim shouted in pain, and clutched her face.
Mary-Anne’s body crumpled silently to the floor, robbed of life. Brianna looked upon her body with genuine sadness. “Look at that, you peons. You made me kill one of my own. I suppose that, if the floodwaters have risen this high, you must all be drowning. Make your peace with god.”
Part II: Cat and Mouse
Brianna laughed, her soul (burning red hot) whipping around her faster than the eye could track. “I hope you told your loved ones back home that you love them; that was the last time you’re allowed to do so. It’s time to die, bitches!” The soul accelerated until it became invisible, and the only marker of its presence became the endless waves of heat which were thrown outward from her. “In western cuisine, it’s customary to cook your meat before you carve it up. Burn to cinders you careless ingrates!”
Terry, not wasting a moment, opened a wormhole on the floor and jumped in. The wormhole slammed shut just as the soul flew by it.
Ed wasn’t quite as quick as Terry. But now that Brianna had flown off of the deep end, his life was in immediate danger. He wouldn’t be able to rescue anyone. Opening a wormhole would draw her attention, and with how fast her soul was flying through the air, it would be a split second from drawing her attention to an immediate end to his short life at the hands of that whirling ball of death.
He crawled around the outside of the room until he reached Phil, who had managed to find cover behind a desk. “Phil, we gotta get out of here.” Ed whispered. “She’s lost it. She’s going to kill all of us.”
Phil nodded, his face drained of blood. “I know. Believe me, I know we need to leave. But, Ed... I’m sure you’ve figured this out by now, but she can ‘hear’ wormholes being opened. If I open one, it’ll be ‘loud’, so to speak. She’ll attack the second I open anything to anywhere.”
“I have an idea. I can distract her for a few seconds. Use that time to escape. Take Jeff and Kim with you.” He gestured across the room. He could see the top of Jeff’s head poking up from behind cover.
Phil firmly shook his head. “That is suicide, and you know it, Ed. I’m not going to leave you to die. We both know it takes several seconds to build up your cloak. That’s more than enough time for her to nail you.”
Ed took a deep breath, and strode out into the open. “I’m stronger than you think.”
Brianna noticed Ed, and a smile crossed her face. “Ah, Ed. You were my favorite. You learned so quickly. Such a brilliant student. Brimming with potential. So smart for your age!” She began to shriek with laughter. “I bet you’re awfully tired of everyone older than you feeding you that garbage, huh!? It’s okay to get mad. I encourage it. I told my son that for years. For his entire life. But you know what the truth was?” She stared Ed down. “Go on. Guess.”
Ed guessed, fearless before imminent doom. “He was average, wasn’t he?”
“That’s right. That’s fucking right. In this world, in this new era of immortality, reproduction isn’t necessary any more. It’s a waste of time, and a waste of resources, and pregnancy is fucking terrible.” Every second that ticked by, that whizzing soul came ever closer to atomizing Jeff’s skull. Every second that ticked by, it killed more SR workers, who were still scrambling to stay out of its path. The tiniest glimmer of sanity deep within Brianna was horrified at the words spilling out of her mouth, but it was overwhelmed by the frenzied majority of her mind, pulsating in agreement with these words. “I filled that poor kid with so many expectations. I made him push himself so hard, all the time, because I wanted him to be greater than I was. I wanted him to be more than just a meek housewife to some androgynous painter who couldn’t even consistently put bread on the table. But how can a kid, every generation, be greater than his parents? Evolution doesn’t work like that. Kids aren’t automatically better than their parents. Sometimes they’re worse, and it is for that reason that, in this age, reproduction is no longer necessary. We can simply rework our own genetics to become stronger. We can become evolutionarily superior without needing to reproduce.”
Ed stepped forward, shortening the step after a particularly wild glare from Brianna froze him to the spot. “Do you regret the way you treated your son?”
Brianna’s grin froze, her eyes widening, her lips pulled taut over her teeth. But it broke down, her eyebrows sunk, her eyes flooded with tears, her bottom lip began shaking, and the corners of her lips drooped down. The maelstrom ceased. She sunk to the floor, and collapsed into a ball. “I loved him.” She mumbled quietly into the floor. She turned her head to the side, speaking slightly louder. “I loved him so much. I loved my husband and my son, and I loved the life we had. I loved being a simple housewife. Damn me for it, but I loved it.” She rolled over onto her back, and folded her hands over her stomach. “I loved showering my son with my love, and I am so, so, so sorry that it was too much for him to handle sometimes. I should have been more relaxed. I should have let him grow at his own pace. I should have respected his boundaries. I shouldn’t have treated him like a project. I shouldn’t have forced him to aim so high. If he hadn’t gone to college, and he didn’t originally want to go, maybe they’d have been outside of the lethal zone. Maybe we’d all have been able to recover. Maybe… It’s my own fault that they’re gone.”
Ed slumped to the floor. It was over. She was back to her old self. They would be okay. “It’ll be okay, Brianna. It’ll all be okay. It isn’t your fault that they died. You can’t blame yourself.”
Brianna sniffled. “I know. I know I can’t.” She looked up, her eyes wide open, the last of the tears having fallen several moments before. A wild grin spread across her face. “Which is why I blame these cocksuckers” a whirlwind built up in the room “for dabbling with forces they didn’t understand,” the red hot soul rematerialized, “without so much as a spare thought for all the people their little experiments would ultimately kill!” She rose into the air once more, limp, like a puppet hanging from a single string at the hips, her limbs dangling below her, scraping the floor as she rose up into the air.
Ed hastily wrapped himself in layers of space. “That’s no good, Eddie! You’re nowhere near strong enough to face me! You’re only a student!” The soul slipped through a gap in the folds before he could completely seal himself off. However, Ed was just fast enough to trap the soul in a layer of space separate from his own. He could barely sense where the soul was. A tiny hole opened inside of Ed’s sealed-off space. “I invented this! You can’t beat me at it!” The soul whizzed through the hole, and was immediately caught in a short loop of wormholes Ed had hastily opened, which Ed closed into a single ring-like tube of space, isolated entirely from the space within his shelter. Ed’s plan was that the soul must now circle this tube endlessly. But suddenly, he felt the presence of this soul disappear from within that isolated tube of space. By this point, he had completely clad himself in folds of space, and he was effectively invisible. He opened an eyehole on the other side of the folded space, towards where Phil had been hiding, to see if he’d evacuated yet. But the moment he opened that eyehole, he was met with a blast of heat. The entire room had been incinerated. No human being could survive in that conflagration.
Brianna shrieked with laughter. “If you’re looking for Phil, he-”
Ed slammed the eyehole shut. She knew he’d opened it. It would have been only a matter of time before she found it and killed him through it. He didn’t need to hear the end of that sentence. She’d killed them. So, Terry escaped. He saw him close the wormhole behind him. Mary-Anne was dead. Phil was dead, he had to assume. If she’d found him, he was dead. Jeff was clearly visible the entire time, so he was probably dead by default. That left Kim. He had no idea where she’d gone. Next to himself, she was the most agile user of the wormholes. There was a good chance she was still alive. He had to make contact with her. He would open a wormhole for a split second in different parts of the room. That was his plan. He rapidly blinked several times around the room in the span of a fraction of a second, peeking through the hole. He saw the bodies of everyone but Terry, who he’d seen escape, and Kim. He was right, she wasn’t dead. Somehow, she had escaped. He opened a large wormhole from inside his folds to an area of the facility far from Brianna.
He reached for the communicator, and wasn’t particularly surprised that it didn’t function anymore. He threw it down in frustration. He didn’t bother trying the unsecured channel, because then Brianna could hear them coordinating and wherever they met up, there she’d be. A door opened nearby. Francis walked out into the hall.
Ed heard the footsteps and turned around. Francis looked him up and down. “You were in the security feed, in that room. Where that woman burned everyone down. But you vanished, somehow. Now, you stand before me.”
“Who are you?”
Francis smoothed his tie, and extended his right hand. “My name is Francis Roberts. I’m the president and CEO of Soul Retrieve. I want to make this clear right off the bat. I’m not angry. Not at you, anyway. From the footage, you seemed not to be doing any harm to anyone. Now, in a court of law, you’d certainly be labelled an accomplice and tried accordingly, but I don’t think any cell would hold you. So, I would like to make you a deal. If you escort myself and several of the higher-ups of this company outside of the facility, we will be in your debt. This is no small favor, to us. We would be truly grateful. We have power, you know. Anything you want, in this world, we can make happen.”
Ed ignored the outstretched hand. “Is the name Terry Gallo familiar to you?”
Francis nodded, refusing to retract his hand. “Yes. I know him. He retired… gosh. It must have been thirty-five years ago. One of the higher-ups in this room is his cousin, Julianne.”
“He escaped. Does Julianne know?”
Francis nodded, firmly. “She knows.” At last, he retracted his hand. “It’s only a matter of time before that woman comes here. She must be looking for us. We mustn’t waste any time. Please, open a wormhole to the outside of the facility, so that we can escape.”
“I haven’t agreed to aid you. The reason we came here was to rescue Brianna’s friend, Lance. It is my understanding he was captured some fifteen years ago, and tortured incessantly. If we are to leave this place, I would like to bring him with us.”
Francis was dumbstruck. “Tortured? What do you mean? This is a research company.”
Ed shook his head. “Don’t play dumb. Before Brianna lost her mind, she described the torture procedure to us. You feed them data, for processing against their will, and it drives them insane. Where are the torture chambers where you keep all the prisoners?”
Francis shook his head. “No, I think you’re mistaken. We use massive computer networks to process our data. Why would we need to use people?”
Ed felt his legs beginning to shake. “Then… You’re not lying, are you?”
“I have no reason to lie. You’re the only thing that can save our lives right now. Even if I did have torture chambers, I wouldn’t value their secrecy over my own life. If I had your friend prisoner, I’d have told you. He turned back to the room he had come out of, and opened the door. “Jimmy, we don’t have a torture chamber, right? You’re in charge of resource allocation, so if we had one, you’d have been the one to approve construction.”
A voice came out from the room. “No, we do not, nor have we ever, had torture chambers.”
Ed’s legs gave out under him. “It was all a lie.” He muttered, at the floor. “This entire thing was a ruse to get us to help her break in, so she could kill everyone. She didn’t have any friend here.” He looked up. “That’s how she got Terry to join her, in the first place. She told him that her friend was captured and had to be rescued. That’s how she got most of us to join her. She lied. She’s been lying for years.”
“Will you help us?”
Ed pulled himself into a sitting position. “Yeah, I’ll help you.” He stood up. “Walk through here”, Ed waved his hand and a wormhole appeared out into the bright sunshine two kilometers away, “and you’ll be near the road heading out of the facility.”
“What was your full name?”
“My name is Edward Brandt.”
“I’m moving SR headquarters to facility 4. Come see me in one month. I will ensure you are rewarded handsomely.”
Julianne nodded at Ed. “Thank you for rescuing us, and thank you for looking after my cousin. I won’t forget this, either.”
Francis, Julianne, Jimmy, and several other administrative types filed out through the wormhole. Suddenly, before Ed could follow them, she heard a familiar voice behind her. “Is that Francis Roberts? Good job, Ed! You’ve found him for me. I was wrong to doubt you. ”
However, Ed snapped it shut only moments before Brianna could approach.
“Now, look… you’ve let him escape.” She cracked her knuckles. “I can’t have that, can I?”
Part III: Standoff
She grinned as she stepped forward. “Aren’t you scared?” She chuckled. “Don’t you just want to go back home? You should have just let me kill you. But now, you’ve made me mad. And do you know why you shouldn’t have made me mad?”
Edward did not break eye contact. He shook his head slightly. “No. Why shouldn’t I have made you mad?”
She said nothing, but her grin widened. She reached forward, and Edward felt a searing pain in his chest. “I’m not going to kill you quickly. Don’t worry, though. You’ll have plenty of time to ponder what’s happening to you before it kills you.” Ed watched, mouth agape, as his own soul was dragged out of him. His head reverberated with a persistent, deafening hum. “Do you hear this, Edward?” Somehow, the hum didn’t drown out her words. “This hum is what anchoring sounds like. You’ve never heard this sound before, have you? You’ve never seen an anchoring procedure. I’m cutting part of your soul away from the rest of it, and sealing it within this dimension. This is roughly the same as cutting part of your brain away from the rest, and placing that part outside your body. Not that it matters. You’ll die soon.”
Edward, however, was unfazed by her threat, and reached forward himself. Brianna was staggered, as her soul was likewise pulled out of its home. Her smile faded, replaced by fear. Edward managed a weak smile. “You aren’t the only one who knows how to do that. Come on, now.”
The hum ceased, as both of them stopped attempting to anchor the other’s soul. Both returned their souls to the fourth dimension. Brianna nodded. “Very well. We won’t do that. I don’t particularly feel like dying that slowly and painfully. You’re strong enough to kill me if I do that. So, I’ll kill you nice and quick.”
Ed chuckled under his breath. “What, can’t take what you’re so cavalier about dishing out?” Brianna grimaced. “What’s the matter? Weren’t you the one who invented this?”
Ed realized why she was grimacing. It was not with resignation, but with focus. He dropped to the floor only a moment before her red-hot soul whizzed through where his body had been. Ed pulled out a spherical cross-section of his soul, around himself. He sat in an impenetrable space within the bubble-like cross-section, and he then smeared the space within the bubble around him. The bubble was just translucent enough that they could still see each other.
Brianna laughed. “Hah! You think that’ll protect you? I’ll just-” Shock fell over her face, like an iron jail cell door slamming shut. She couldn’t open a wormhole within that bubble. The space was… slippery somehow, and she couldn’t grab hold of it. “What are you doing?”
Ed answered her, but the bubble, completely rigid, transferred no sound.
“Wh… What? Okay, hang on.” She put both hands up in the air, in a gesture of truce.
Ed opened a wormhole somewhere in the room, but his distortion trick prevented Brianna from figuring out where it was coming from. “I said: I couldn’t hear you from in here. Please repeat that.” His voice sounded garbled, slightly. Some syllables ran into others, while other syllables were drawn out. The pitch of his voice wildly swung up and down over several semitones.
Brianna fought the urge to search the room for the wormhole and fire her soul through it, or even easier, simply pass her soul through Ed’s, and she instead chose to sate her curiosity. She probed the space in the bubble, gently so as not to arouse his suspicion. It was still impossible for her to make a wormhole into it. So how was he making one out of it? “I asked what you were doing in there.”
“I may as well explain it. One of us is going to be dead soon, so the knowledge should be passed on by someone, whether it’s you, or me. I am smearing the space inside the bubble. It’s similar to my invisibility technique, but not quite as extreme. It makes a region of space unstable enough that forming a wormhole within it is impossible for anyone but the person distorting the space. The bubble itself is spinning so fast, that my soul’s core passes through every point on the sphere it occupies several thousand times per second. If you try to pass your soul through mine, the cores will hit with near-certainty, and with their forms as they are now, I don’t think you’d like the results.”
Brianna nodded. Even without the spin, the risk of ramming the core souls together and destroying everything wasn’t exactly savory to her. “How can you be exempt from the inability to make wormholes through smeared space?”
“I can exempt myself from the restriction because I know exactly how I distorted it, which is impossible for anyone else to know with certainty. If I know the topography of the distorted space, I can navigate it, despite the perturbations being largely invisible to the naked eye, or any other sense. Shall we resume?”
“Go ahead.” Brianna responded. Distorting space, huh? I’ll have to try that. Brianna knew she had more than enough power to pull the same trick. She distorted the space around herself severely, causing her to appear, from the outside, as though she were being viewed through frosted glass. Her facial features faded until they became impossible to recognize individually. Electricity arced through the air by the sudden shifts in the makeup of the local space.
Just then, Terry appeared from a wormhole down the hall. He saw Brianna and Edward, noticed both of them were blurry, and strode angrily over. “Just what the hell was that? You nearly killed me with that tantrum of yours. If I hadn’t jumped out of there, you really might’ve killed me!”
Brianna spoke, but her voice was badly garbled. However, Terry was still able to understand when she said, “Why did you come back? It’s pretty obvious what happened. You didn’t figure it out yet?”
“Figure what out? What are you two even doing? You both look ridiculous.”
“Ed can’t hear you from in there. We’re fighting. We’re trying to kill each other.”
Terry shook his head in confusion. “Did I miss something? Weren’t we here to rescue someone? Or did you forget that when all the blood rushed out of your head and into your fists?”
“Okay, so you haven’t figured it out. Lance isn’t real. I made it all up. There’s no torture program here. I used you to get into SR and wreak my revenge. I came here to kill everyone in this building.”
“You didn’t have to kill Mary-Anne! She didn’t even do anything!”
“She screamed, and she openly disobeyed me. I hate screaming.”
“What is wrong with you? You were perfectly fine up until we entered that office room. What happened to you?”
“What happened was, or more accurately what’s happening, is that I’m going to wipe knowledge of wormholes and of soul extraction off the face of the planet before it’s misused. This isn’t something we should be capable of doing. This isn’t natural. I’m going to put a stop to it, all of it, before it gets out of hand. I’m sorry I had to kill Mary-Anne, as well as killing Phil and Jeff, but if this continues, humanity will abuse the power, and irreparably damage space-time. Humanity is too irresponsible and self-serving to deserve this power.”
Terry folded his arms. “I want you to explain something to me. If Lance wasn’t real, and if SR doesn’t have a torture program, who threw that grenade at us?”
Brianna smiled, but it was not visible outside of her curtains of folded space. “I paid someone off. The grenade was a dud. I opened those wormholes. This entire thing was a ruse to get you to give me the internal layout of SR.” Brianna looked at Terry, who appeared to her as a smeared blur. “But the ruse is over now. I didn’t just kill Mary-Anne. Phil and Jeff are both dead, too. We have no way back out of the facility. Die with me.”
“Are you going to kill me?” Terry attempted to maintain his composure, but his legs were shaking. “Are you going to kill your grandfather?”
“Cut the shit, Terry, I know you refused to help Nate pay for my procedure. Why on earth should I value you as a grandfather when you were fully prepared to throw me away to preserve your own virtues?” She had gradually begun to cry, but this was concealed both by the distortion of her voice, and her smeared appearance.
“My home… It’s safe? SR was never watching it? I could have just gone back home this entire time?” Terry nearly collapsed from despair right then.
Brianna ignored him. “Ed, we’ve clearly reached a stalemate. Neither of us can possibly harm the other. But you probably can’t hear me from in there, can you? I’m going to kill Terry, and leave. But someday, I will come for you. Someday, I will take your head while you sleep. If you think you can hide from me, you can go ahead and try. But you won’t ever be safe agai-”
An arrow flew down the hall, weaved through Brianna’s web of distorted space, and pierced her ribs, cleanly through a lung. The folds of space dissipated instantly, and Brianna fell to the floor, blood spurting from her wound, hacking and coughing. Terry looked, wildly, in the direction the arrow had flown from. Kim knelt there, pressing another arrow into a small wormhole in front of her eye, this one aimed at Brianna’s head. Ed returned his soul, came out into the open air, and let the distorted space around him fade back into normalcy. He said to Kim, “So you did survive.”
She turned her head slightly without taking her eyes off of Brianna, and Ed noted with revulsion that half of her face had been burned off. Some of her teeth were just barely visible through the intermittent holes in her cheek. “I’n bvarely alive.” Her speech was noticeably impaired by her wounds. Blood ran down her neck. “Any last words?” She pressed the arrow further into the wormhole, whose other side was some three kilometers up. Terry, tears in his eyes, opened his beheading wormholes around Brianna’s neck, and prepared to remove her head.
“I’m sorry, Brianna… You’re just going to keep killing people if I don’t do this.”
“You’re…” Brianna coughed once more, “making an… awful mistake.”
Part IV: Parasite
Alsyrna roused fully from her slumber, the sudden proliferation of distorted space being just violent enough to interrupt her sleep. She noticed Brianna’s body, how wounded it was, how near death. Her soul fit Alsyrna’s will like a glove. She reached a tendril up to her soul, which was by now disturbed enough to be susceptible to her influence. She whispered into it, “You are so very like me. We have both lost our children. We have both lost our love. We have both died in endless fire, only to be reborn against our will, into a world which no longer welcomed us. You approach death. Relinquish your control, and allow yourself to become my new vessel. Relinquish control and receive my power.”
Alsyrna’s words shook Brianna’s body and mind overwhelmingly. Her blood continuing to spill onto the floor, her consciousness already severely weakened, her very soul already within Alsyrna’s grip, she hadn’t the willpower to refuse this request, which seemed to come from within her own heart. With the last of her strength, Brianna whispered “I accept.”
Alsyrna seized Brianna’s mind and body as her own, both in the past and in the future, and through her, forced the space around her to harden into millions of tiny, glistening blades. They spun through the air, intending to brutally hack down both Kim and Terry.
Kim let go of her drawn arrow as the boiling razor blades formed of hardened space approached her, and the arrow flew through the air with pinpoint precision into Brianna’s eye, deep into her brain, but Brianna’s life was no longer being sustained by her own body. No wound, no matter how intense, could kill her. She was now beyond merely “alive”. She had become quite impossible to kill without somehow leaving the third dimension and attacking Alsyrna directly. Even if her body were reduced to ash and powder, it would still move as Alsyrna commanded. Down to her atoms, Brianna now belonged to Alsyrna, and without even realizing this, Kim exhaled her last breath before the blood filled her lungs. Her last thought was how deeply she regretted losing focus during her last Olympics.
Terry likewise realized that he was going to die, and in his panic, clenched the wormholes around Brianna’s neck shut, sending a pang of regret into his heart. Insane or not, she was his granddaughter, and in that moment he knew absolute despair. Her head sailed off still sporting Kim’s arrow… But she didn’t die. The blades of compressed space continued spinning towards him. That was his last attempt at preserving his life, which he knew had gone on for far too long. He had no further choice but to accept his death and his brain ran wild over the parts of his long, long life he could still remember clearly. His thoughts fluttered from the reassuring feeling of driving a nail into wood, the joy of delivering a piece of furniture to a client, the brief period he went to church regularly, and the friends he made there. He wondered for a moment if that had been enough. He wondered if he would be accepted into heaven. Terry’s final, last thought was of the unfinished sketch of the dog he had put down to get a glass of water five years ago, and which he would never return home to finish. He wondered as the last of the blood fell from his brain whether that dog was still alive.
Brianna’s soul burned brilliantly, as it consumed itself, producing pure destructive power much like a star going supernova with its last gasp. Electricity arced through the air as these fluctuating regions of space wildly built and released their charge, much like a thundercloud in miniature. Ed didn’t see the deaths of either Terry or Kim. He only barely managed to escape, leaving this three-dimensional space, and he fully immersed himself into the fourth dimension, outside of space. He pinched off a bubble of space around himself, and stayed adrift while waiting for Brianna to either calm down or leave. Alsyrna could see him there, however, yet he could not see her. Around his bubble, he could see only complete darkness.
What was left of Brianna continued lacerating her surroundings with sharply folded space and burning the pieces with her soul until there was nothing left. The facility was slowly but steadily razed to the ground by this one-woman force of destruction. All that she was doing now, she had been capable of from the beginning, but Alsyrna drew out her full destructive potential.
Alsyrna reached out for Ed, intending to crush him then and there, to crush the last human who could directly access her home in the fourth dimension, but a powerful voice from her own dimension halted her. “This is not my doing. This is not me. You there, parasite, do you think you have managed to avoid my attention? You have carelessly slain my messiah. Do not think I would ignore the death of my messiah.”
Humanity’s booming voice shook Alsyrna beyond her own understanding. She felt herself breaking apart. Even at her peak, she never held anywhere near such power. But there was something odd about its power. Humanity, though numerous, was not unified. Despite this one booming voice, she heard smaller, incoherent murmurs in the same voice underscoring this message. Even with its lack of focus, Alsyrna possessed but 13 souls, a mere grain of sand before Humanity. She didn’t have anywhere near the power to challenge him directly. She dared not even answer him, for it would give away her position and allow Humanity to crush her.
Ed, too, could hear Humanity’s voice, though he could see neither Humanity, nor whom Humanity was talking to. “Who’s there?” He asked. “Why are you calling me a parasite?”
Alsyrna took the momentary distraction caused by Ed as her opportunity to quietly slink away with Brianna’s near-corpse, without once being directly noticed by Humanity, much the same as a protozoan swimming by a whale. The corpses of Terry and Kim lay in that now-empty hall, horribly disfigured and disemboweled. The rampant discharges of electricity continued to self-propagate, until the whole of that SR facility was burning.
“I have lost it. I have lost the parasite. Worry not; you are not the parasite I seek to destroy. You are of my own kind. You are to become my new messiah.”
Ed still couldn’t see who was talking to him. “I don’t understand. What does this mean? Who are you? What parasite? Where are you?”
“I will answer your questions in the order you have asked them. It means you are to carry my message back to your people. I am Humanity. The parasite is a species which seeks to destroy me to rebuild itself. I am here.”
“What message? Where is here?” Ed paused, processing over what he had heard. “What do you mean, you are Humanity?” Unlike Terry, he did not speak with Humanity directly while he was learning how to use wormholes. Terry never mentioned his experience to Ed. This was Ed’s first time even hearing that there was a being outside of his dimension called Humanity. “This isn’t my first time outside of my dimension. Why haven’t I spoken to you before?”
“My message for you is that you must preserve humanity’s souls. The one you knew as Brianna had the knowledge to directly burn souls to extract energy. This harms me, as I am comprised of souls. The parasite has stolen Brianna’s body and mind. She is not dead. You must not burn your soul, or any other souls, no matter how dire the situation becomes. ‘Here’ is my home: the space outside of space. As for why I have not spoken to you before, I only rarely speak. I do not speak lightly.”
A thought occurred to Ed. “So, if you’re humanity… Are there like, other ones like you for the different animals?”
“But like… foxes, dolphins, ants… Do you represent them too? Or do you only represent humans?”
“I represent only humans. This is how my kind functions. We represent whichever species on a planet is currently the dominant species. Over time, we grow to be more like the species we represent, and to think more like that species thinks. Each of my kind occupies a single planet, except for those species who have settled on multiple planets. Occasionally, a species is wiped out, either by cosmic cataclysm, or by the environment of that planet, or by war, or perhaps disease, so when this happens; the representative of that species wanders this dimension in search of a healthy, living species to parasitize. This is what I believe must have happened. The parasite I referred to earlier must represent a dead species.”
“How exactly does a dead species parasitize a living one? Shouldn’t it be… dead or something?”
“We are comprised of the will of our species. Death in our dimension does not function like death in yours. If the will of a species is strong enough, that will can and does outlive the last member of that species. As you know, souls contain a vast amount of energy. If these are stolen, this energy can be repurposed, and reformed into new members of the dead species. The mere parasite is still weak. If it were stronger, I would be able to find and destroy it. A mere breath from me would render the parasite unto dust as it is now. However, I cannot find it. Though my breath alone would destroy it, I know not where to blow.”
“Then why worry about it?”
“It will grow stronger. Even as weak as it is now, you alone are no match for it. You saw how effortlessly it stole away that woman’s will. How easily it bent her. As my new messiah, you would be a target for her, as the previous messiah was. If you were ever to become gravely injured, I must inform you, you would be taken just as easily. You must go forth and form a band of disciples to the cause of humanity. Your dedication to the cause must be unshakable. If your will waivers, you may fall prey to the parasite. Your life may be difficult until this time comes. The parasite shall pursue you regardless of your answer, but do you accept this fate?”
“You’re asking a lot of me, you know.”
“Yes, I am.”
“What do I do? Where can I go?”
“Fate will guide you.”
like a leaf
Chapter Twenty Two
The Long Walk Home
Year: 12207 HE
Electricity arced through the air over the scorched land. There was nothing left to do here. There was no one to save. There was no one to fight. The only thing Ed had left to do was to return home. He attempted to open a wormhole, as his legs were tired and he didn’t want to walk all the way, but the space here felt slippery. It was as though it had been greased with fat and oil, and he could not get a grip on it to stretch any of it into a tunnel. So this was what it felt like, Ed absently pondered. Attempting to open a wormhole here only made him feel tired. There was nothing left here. There was no one to blame for what had happened. There was no one to blame but her.
Their screams as they were flung into the next universe would haunt Ed’s dreams for weeks, if he even managed to escape this hellhole. He felt a surge of anger upon seeing a woman’s face badly burned, with her body sliced into strips like sashimi by the rampaging folds of space. He realized with no small amount of horror that it belonged to Kim. They shouldn’t have come here. They shouldn’t have tried to rescue “Lance”, if he was even real. They shouldn’t have learned anything about space, or souls. As horrible as it felt to admit, Brianna was right about that. Humans had no business dabbling in these matters without understanding. However, these people, whose bodies were reduced to nothing but ground meat and bone shards, hadn’t done anything wrong, he staunchly affirmed to himself. It was all ash and cinders now.
At least Natalie was still alive, he hoped. She was far enough away. He had personally shut the wormhole to her, minutes before anything went wrong. This was a localized anomaly, and that was all it was, he repeated to himself. A disturbing thought occurred to him. She was probably in on it. Natalie probably knew the whole thing was a lie. She’d known Brianna longest of all, and according to Brianna’s stories, Natalie was working with them the first time they tried to infiltrate SR. Did they even try to, though? Did that first infiltration really happen?
He tapped his headset. “Natalie? Natalie, are you still there?”
Static answered him.
Ah. He dropped the headset on the ground. Out of range, of course. What do I do now?
Humanity’s last words to him echoed in his mind. Fate, huh? Can I eat fate? Can fate carry me back home? This brought up an interesting problem. Home? Can I even go back? Everyone but Natalie is dead. Brianna’s head got cut off, so she’s as good as dead, even if her body is still moving. Natalie… Is she really on my side? He began walking in a random direction. He had no idea which way was home. He couldn’t use any of his normal abilities, and he had little to no sense of direction, because there was a thick layer of smoke obscuring the sun. But he knew that as long as he remained there, he was in danger. Another thought occurred to him. If Natalie wasn’t on their side, then the security footage would surely find its way to the police. Yes, he could certainly just escape from jail using a wormhole, but he would rather not be constantly on the run. A lot of people died here. This would, without a doubt, be labelled a terrorist attack, but the owner of this company, the man with power equal to that of the president of the country… Francis Roberts owes me one. I’m saved.
He chuckled a little to himself as he took step by slow, shuffling step out of the burning debris field. “What good does that do right now? He said a month from now. A month! What am I supposed to do for a month? A month is enough time to starve to death. It’s enough time to freeze to death outside.” He noticed that he was mumbling to himself, and stopped. No, no. If I start doing that, I’ll never pass for sane once I get to a city. A thought occurred to him. I could steal anything I needed once I was in a city. I can sleep on any couch. I have skills people have use for. I’ll be okay.
He licked his lips. The constant heat and smoke was drying them out. I could use a glass of water. Where am I going to find one? He looked around. Not a single building was left standing. There were only giant rubble piles, and burned out husks of cars dotting what used to be the parking lot, which he now walked through. Fire trucks passed by him. You are late.
One of these fire trucks stopped, and a uniformed fire fighter hopped down. “You there! Stop! Wait right there!” Ed turned around, and saw the fire fighter approaching him. He tried, frantically, to open a wormhole. No luck. The space here was just mangled enough that it was impossible to escape. He couldn’t run from the officer, who looked to be in decent physical shape. His legs were tired. His feet hurt. This would probably end with him going to jail. Then, he remembered that he had saved Francis Roberts, after telling Natalie to blow the EMP. That would surely be available footage for them. He was a hero. It would be safe to let the firefighter approach.
“Are you injured?”
“No, no. My feet hurt from walking, and my legs are about to collapse, but I don’t think I was...” He felt his face, and winced when he realized how badly it stung. His hand came away from his face coated with small streaks of blood. He gasped slightly upon realizing how close he had come to an instant death. “Oh. I guess… I guess I’m injured, yes. But not too badly.”
The fire fighter radioed out, “10-52. One survivor, minor lacerations to face and arms, condition non-critical, requires treatment.”
After a moment, the radio crackled, “10-4, dispatching.”
“10-4.” He hung the radio on his belt once more.
“So it seems you’re able to speak. Do you have any idea what happened here?”
“The footage… The security cameras, they should show it. I was… There was a woman, who came here, and… God, I barely know what happened.” His memories were quite difficult to translate into everyday speech. He could throw out all the technical terms in the world, but he had no reason to believe the fire fighter would understand him if he started rambling about high-compression souls, or space distortion, or anything about wormholes.
Chapter Twenty Three
Year: 12207 HE
Of course, as soon as his minor wounds had been treated, his head had sufficient time to clear, and he realized that the hospital was quite well outside the realm of the distorted space. He cursed his past self for carelessly discarding the headset before he’d had a chance to contact Natalie. She very well might have been on his side. But now, he would never know. He realized that he had no idea where exactly he was. He assumed he was quite close to where SR headquarters had once stood, but astonishingly, he had never bothered to learn where exactly that was.
“Excuse me?” He asked the attending nurse, who had brought his lunch. “Can you tell me which city this is? I’m still a bit disoriented from the fire…”
Her braid, draped over her shoulder, shifted slightly as she turned to look at him. “Certainly, this is Murfreesboro, in Tennessee.”
“Where are we, in relation to the state?”
“Smack dab in the middle.”
The police were on their way to the hospital to question him, as his condition had been deemed mild enough that they could use him as a witness immediately. This much, Edward knew, as he was informed during the helicopter ride. This was when he hatched his escape plan.
He was well-aware that this happened to be the very city in which the mysterious disappearance of twelve people had happened, four years ago. Taking recent events into account, and from what he had learned from Humanity, he had to assume it was the doing of that parasite, and the fact that he was in this city allowed this plan to make sense. He glanced briefly around the room, and noted that there was a security camera in one corner. Before the Nurse could open the door to leave, he opened a wormhole from where he was on the bed to the floor next to his bed, just out of sight from the Nurse and the security camera, carefully shaping the edges of the wormhole to perfectly conform to the outline of his body as he fell through.
Ed screamed “Oh god, what’s happening! Aaa! Help me! Heeelp!” as he slowly descended through the hole. The nurse saw this, shrieked, and ran over to him to grab his arm. Damn it, Ed thought. That makes this more difficult. He thought quickly, and came up with a new plan. He grabbed on to one of the handlebars under the bed with the arm that was now through the wormhole, and used this to forcibly pull himself through the wormhole. The nurse was stronger than she looked, however, and was able to counter the pulling force of his one arm with her two. She was starting to pull him back out. This needs to work. With a burst of force, Ed yanked himself further into the hole. When the nurse still refused to let go, Ed pulled his best imitation of a scream of pain. “You have to let go or it’ll pull you in, too! It’s tearing me apart!”
This knocked the nurse just off-balance enough that she let go in surprise. Ed quickly slid the rest of the way through the bed. The nurse stood in the room with her hands over her mouth for just slightly too long. The police must surely be close, now. Oh come on already! Ed thought. I’ll scare her just a bit.
Ed opened a miniscule wormhole under one of her feet, with the other end on the floor near him. As Ed predicted, her foot sunk through just slightly, and he was able to grab onto it. The nurse shrieked and yanked her foot out of his grip before sprinting out of the room, still screaming, about how a demon was coming for her.
Now on the floor, by the bed, Ed scanned the room. The other three beds in this room were thankfully empty. He whirled space around him until he became invisible once more. I need to figure out how high up I am, so I don’t break an ankle trying to escape. He stood up, and tip-toed slowly over towards where he’d remembered seeing sunlight streaming in. He opened a small eyehole. Thank god. Only five stories up. While this was far too great a height to simply tunnel directly to the ground, it was small enough that he could make it with three jumps, if he was careful. He then heard something that made the hairs on the back of his head stand up.
“Officer Thadley to base, I am confirming the evident escape attempt of the target individual. As described, target appears to have the ability to independently produce wormholes. Initiating pursuit.”
Well fuck me, Ed thought. It didn’t work at all. However, Ed knew they would never be able to see him, if he did not move. He closed the eyehole and simply waited.
Alsyrna saw him, the final human being who could use wormholes, floating just outside his own dimension, and reached out ever so slowly. His mental state was not yet chaotic enough that she could directly take him, but she could influence him.
Ed felt himself think, If I just tunnel to the ground, right now, things will work out. They cannot follow me if I do this. However, another part of his brain thought I’ll break an ankle or a leg on impact! It’s at least ten meters to the ground. But the thought persisted. I am stronger than these humans. I am superior. I will survive this, and it will be easy. He felt the wormhole glide open, and he felt himself moving towards it. No, this is a horrible idea. He closed the wormhole once more. But it opened again. There is no harm. I can do this. Once again, he slammed it shut. No! I will not! But once again, it opened. Surely there’s no harm if we take it one floor at a time. Ed shook his head. The cameras will see. I’ll be tracked. Wait, we? The wormhole slid open again, and he felt a strong compulsion to hurl himself through it. They already know you are here. Go ahead. Let fate guide you.
Alsyrna chuckled to herself, just softly enough that Ed didn’t hear. Fate will guide him? Very well… she would simply assume the role of fate, and he, like the proud hero he made himself out to be, would sheepishly obey her, thinking he was doing the bidding of a higher calling. Perhaps she would even be able to take Ed alive, unlike Brianna.
The words resonated too strongly with Ed for the rational parts of his mind to resist, and he let himself fall through the wormhole. He landed on an empty bed on the floor below him. Fate is kind. I understand that fate is kind. Another wormhole opened on the floor, and Ed rolled off of the bed and fell through once more. Yet another bed broke his fall. Twice more, and I shall be free. Falling, and falling again, Ed eventually landed in a hallway on the ground floor. Now, I shall flee.
An officer who was walking down this hall in an attempt to seal the exits saw Ed tumble out of this wormhole, and reached for a weapon on his belt. “Stop! You are evading arrest! If you come quietly, and immediately, you will not be harmed! We can still end this without violence!”
Ed felt himself laughing before he understood what he was doing. He opened a wormhole beneath him to the outside. As he descended through, the policeman drew his stunner and fired. A wormhole sprang open in front of Ed, going several kilometers into the air. The stunner pins flew through, were unable to overcome the increase in gravitational potential, and were then flung backwards towards the policeman, penetrating his uniform and sending a large voltage through him. He collapsed to the ground with an audible thud.
Ed snapped to, and pulled himself out of the wormhole he was falling into. He snapped it shut. I didn’t open that one! I did not open either of these wormholes! Who is doing this? Then, he believed he understood. Am I going mad with power? Is this an aftereffect of the session with Brianna’s memories? Get out of my head! He heard no answer. The sound of rapidly approaching footsteps returned him to the present moment. I’m not in the clear yet! I’ll deal with this later!
He opened a wormhole to whatever was a kilometer away from him, and found himself in an empty alleyway. He checked around him. No one saw him use the wormhole. He needed to get out of these clothes. The alleyway, like all alleyways in 23rd century Murfreesboro, was impeccably clean and well-maintained, without so much as a misplaced speck of dust. He couldn’t get rid of the hospital gown, because he’d attract even more attention if he were naked. If this were a more run-down, filthy city, like San Francisco or Buffalo, he was certain he’d have better luck finding a grimy discarded set of clothes somewhere, which would allow him to pass as a homeless person and wander around without suspicion.
He felt his head throbbing. He’d been overusing the wormholes, and it was starting to affect him physically. He’d never been very good at it, and he was nearing exhaustion. He wouldn’t be able to continue jumping around haphazardly. He then lost consciousness, falling flat onto the tiled walkway.
He came to half an hour later, and pushed himself to his knees. No more wormholes for a while. The hospital gown chafed his knees, and he knew it would stand out if he tried to simply walk out of the city. If he had his wallet with him, he could simply walk into a clothing store and buy a set of clothes. He’d certainly get some strange looks, but at least he’d… No, that wouldn’t work either. This gown had an open back. He should have stolen some clothes on the way out of the hospital, but he didn’t think to. Simply hanging around and waiting for the police to pick him up wouldn’t work, because he was apparently a suspect for the recent arson attack at SR.
Thinking about it, they really weren’t far off. He did help Brianna get in. The security footage, which apparently wasn’t intercepted by Natalie, would prominently feature him. He was responsible for allowing them to go so far in. His cloaking technique was clearly visible, because he de-cloaked in plain sight. But would they know it was him doing this from the footage? He thought for a moment. Yes, they could tell it was me. For some reason, Ed had picked up the habit of waving his hands when he was using this technique, which was (strictly speaking) completely unnecessary, since the technique relied solely on the brain waves, and since his hands exhibited no direct effect on the bending of space. So, from a theoretical standpoint, it could have been any of them. However, the police reviewing the footage would quite clearly associate it with him, because he was waving his hands. The fact that this did not directly cause the cloaking to occur was of zero consequence. Out of those present, the only ones who could be considered either innocent or acting in self-defense (in Ed’s opinion) were Terry, Jeff, and Mary-Anne.
They don’t understand how it works, so if they try to figure it out from the footage, they’ll associate it with me without a doubt, because I was making those movements. I could… I could try claiming I was brainwashed. That isn’t far from the truth, either. The examples of people learning wormholes without having their memories tampered with no longer exist. I could claim the entire thing was a cult that I got swept haplessly into. Then from there, I just plead induced insanity, pinning the whole thing on Brianna, who is probably dead now. If I could just get out of these god damned hospital garments! Ed settled on what he decided was the most reasonable plan. There don’t seem to be many people passing through this alley. I actually got lucky, here. I can wait and catch my breath, and once the stores close, and people go home, I can just warp into a clothing store, steal some clothes, and then walk about without attracting quite so much suspicion.
But, god was he getting thirsty. He really wished, in retrospect, he’d at least thought to drink the apple juice that the nurse had brought him before he tried escaping the hospital. Stupid, stupid, stupid! But, he reassured himself, I don’t think I’m going to die. I think I can make it. Ed sat in the alleyway, waited for two hours, and at last, the sun went down on that long, long day.
Chapter Twenty Four
Year: 12207 HE
The sun sunk below the horizon, with the intermittent sirens of the ongoing manhunt keeping Ed perpetually on edge. One thing which occurred to him as being in his favor was that the police didn’t know his portals were severely limited in their use and range. Very likely, they had assumed he had already fled the city. He figured that they must simply be keeping their sirens going to calm the disturbed populace, who were of course aware of the sheer scale of the destruction which had just taken place at the SR facility, which the town had enjoyed a renaissance in the shadow of.
This didn’t mean Ed was planning to simply walk around town and look for a store to steal clothes from, of course. The sun had only just gone down. Ed walked, slowly, to the end of the alleyway, and peeked around the corner. At the far end of the block, a policeman stood with his squad car next to him. At the same moment when Ed noticed the policeman, he felt a large hand roughly grab his shoulder and pull him back into the alley.
“Aa-” Ed yelped, but another large hand covered his mouth.
“I saw you use that wormhole. I assume you and Brianna have met?”
Ed felt the blood drain from his face. The hand slid away from his mouth. Ed didn’t dare scream again. Softly, he asked, “Who are you and how do you know these things?”
“I am a former disciple of Brianna’s. Some fifteen years ago, she taught me how to use the wormhole. We ought to move, it is not safe here.” A small whoosh of air blew from behind them, and the man dragged Ed backward by his shoulder for three steps. A wormhole snapped shut in front of Ed’s nose. “It should be safe to speak at length, here.” Ed looked around. It was a run-of-the-mill dive bar. “Now, tell me, where did you learn that trick of yours? Was I correct in assuming it was through her?”
“Yes.” Ed replied, almost too softly to hear.
“Have you figured out who I am, yet? Go ahead. Guess. I’m sure she’s mentioned me.”
“I haven’t the slightest-”
“God, you idiot, there is only one person who I could possibly be. Spit it out.” Ed remained silent, utterly perplexed. The large man sighed, and took his other hand off of Ed’s shoulder. Ed turned around, and before him stood an abnormally large man, with a latticework of scars across his face. One of his eyes was shut, and his nose had a chunk torn out of it. He was hideous. “My name is Lance.”
Ed nearly fainted, but managed to hang on to his consciousness. He fell to his knees.
“So she has mentioned me. Tell me, what have you heard of me?”
“She told us that many years ago, you and she snuck into SR, and you got captured. She rescued you once, but SR found you again, and you shoved her into a wormhole so she could escape. She built a team comprised of me, and five others. I am Ed. The others were her grandfather Terry, two women named Kim and Mary-Anne, and two men named Phil and Jeff. She told us that we were going to break into SR to rescue you.”
“That is completely incorrect, but do go on.” Lance sat down in front of Ed, who had remained on his knees. “What else happened?”
Ed told Lance the entire story of their break-in, how Brianna was beheaded, about the parasite, about his meeting with Humanity, and about how he rescued Francis Roberts and his team from Brianna’s rampage. When Ed got to the part when Brianna claimed she ‘made Lance up’, Lance began chuckling under his breath.
“Oh, man. That is one hell of a story, Ed.”
“Yeah. I figured you wouldn’t believe me.”
“No, no. I do believe you. That Terry guy did what we should have done, in beheading her. Do you want to know why Brianna got split from me, and why she claimed I wasn’t real?”
Ed shrugged. “Sure. Tell me.”
“We staged our own break-in some fifteen years ago. It was me, Brianna, Opal, Walter, and Henry. Natalie, of course, did her part to help from the sidelines. Eventually, Brianna went insane at their facility, and she broke into the storage room and started throwing the souls stored there at each other, to try to destroy the facility with a fusion blast. But every last one of them either failed to fuse, or fused with about the energy of a cherry bomb. When she realized that the storage room was set up so souls that were near each other would not fuse violently, that’s when she started rampaging and indiscriminately killing the workers.”
“So what were you and the others doing during this?”
“So, back in 2192, SR’s wormhole technology was already fairly advanced. We knew we couldn’t steal their blueprints, because they had copies. We couldn’t steal the wormhole generating machine, because they could just make a copy. So we stole the machine they use to make their machines.”
“Wait, stole… You succeeded?”
“We still have it.”
“Yeah, we. It’s me, Jenna, and Opal. Opal and I survived, and we fled. We found Jenna a few years after that.”
“So you’ve been living all these years, as a free man.”
“That’s right, more or less.”
“I didn’t see the rest die, but I don’t have much reason to believe any of them survived, other than me. The parasite took Brianna, but I saw her head get cut off with my own eyes. If we run into her again, it won’t be Brianna controlling that body. I, myself, nearly got taken by the parasite on my way to this alley from the hospital.”
“Come with me.” Lance opened a wormhole in front of them, which over the course of fifteen seconds expanded from the width of a finger to four meters across. quite easily large enough for them to walk through, side by side, without squeezing for space. On the other side, there was a comfortable-seeming room, well-furnished, with a window on the far side from the wormhole open, through which a breeze lifted the thin white curtains.
“How far does this wormhole go?”
Ed paused. Lance walked through without hesitation.
“Did you say China? As in, the other side of the world? Over ten thousand kilometers away? And… you just, like that, rip a single, continuous hole through the entire earth, and you walk through the hole, and you don’t even sweat?”
“You know exactly how difficult it is to hold a hole this size open. Stop hesitating and step through, so I can close it.” Ed did so, marveling at the absence of the gravity effect as he stepped through. The wormhole snapped shut behind him. “Well, Ed, welcome to Hangzhou.”
Ed took step after unsteady step across the living room floor, before collapsing on the couch in the room. Rather, that’s what Ed intended to do, but Lance grabbed him by the arm, and pulled him back to his feet.
“You aren’t getting blood all over the couch, and you’re not putting your bare bottom on my furniture. I’ll get you some clothes. Stay right there and don’t touch anything.” Lance let go, and looked at his hand, which now had some of Ed’s blood on it. “Sorry, that was a little rougher than I intended to be.” Lance lumbered out of the room, looking every bit as powerful and threatening as a grizzly bear. A low hum came from the room Lance had entered, and he returned holding a small pile of clothes. “Here, put these on. They should fit you, but if they don’t, let me know, and I’ll take proper measurements.”
“Why here, why China?”
“This is where we live. Like I said, we robbed SR of their universal manufacturing machine. If we stayed in America, we would have been caught eventually. Sure, we can be anywhere at any time, but a fat lot of good that does us.” Lance placed the clothes on the couch. “The funny thing is, here in China, and most of the world outside America, everyone’s got one of these machines, much like the one we stole from SR. We lugged ours with us, because we thought we’d need it while we were on the run, but if you apply for one of these machines, they’ll just give you one after a couple hours. We kept ours anyway, because of how much trouble it was to get it.”
“I didn’t notice an elevation shift when we came through the hole. Is your technique so advanced that you can cancel out elevation shifts?”
“No. Murfreesboro is about 200 meters above sea level. Hangzhou, being a river city, is only about 12. Even I couldn’t cancel out a gravity shift of that magnitude. But, this floor of the building happens to be 190 meters up, which makes it nearly even after accounting for gravity fluctuations. We picked this spot because it’s at the same elevation as Murfreesboro.”
Ed ignored the clothes for the moment and stepped up to the window. Lance was right. The ground seemed dizzyingly far away, yet the window was open.
“Put on the clothes, before you make someone outside go blind.”
Ed looked down, and saw that below the waist he was almost completely exposed. At some point, the gown had come untied at the back, and the wind from the open window had blown the gown off to the side. He hastily made his way back to the couch, and took the clothes Lance had laid out for him. It was pair of purple slacks, some short white socks, some plain-patterned boxers, and a grey T-shirt. On the floor in front of the couch were a pair of silver walking shoes. “Purple pants?”
“You’re currently wearing a bloody, untied hospital gown. It’s an improvement, and you won’t stand out if you wear them. Get dressed.” Ed let the hospital gown fall to the floor, and put on the clothes. “So how’d you get all those cuts, Ed?”
“Right before I managed to escape, Brianna bent space into millions of tiny blades and hacked down Terry and Kim in front of me, like I’d told you. Now, I originally thought I’d escaped any harm, but I learned earlier today that I was about one second from dying just as horribly as they did.”
“That sounds similar to what happened to us, when we were escaping. We were luckier, though. It sounds like Brianna got much stronger since we had our break-in. She only managed to get me. I got Opal out alive. I went through last.”
“So you saved her life. You must get some every night, damn.”
Lance laughed a deep, throaty laugh. “Oh, boy. No. No, I do not. I’m gay.”
Ed was a bit surprised, but not really. It’s true, Ed thought. Everyone named Lance really is gay. Then, he realized that he had been effectively naked in front of Lance for almost the entire time after he’d shown up. Ed blushed. “Oh, I uh-”
“Relax, will you? You aren’t even my type. I’m looking for a man as big and strong as I am. When we make love, it’ll be like a clash of tectonic plates, like ocean waves smashing into each other, and when I get my mouth on his-”
“Please, stop.” Ed interjected. “That’s, uh, great for you. Really. But please.” Ed was eager to get away from this subject, and he was sorry he’d brought it up. After a moment of thought, he remembered what he’d been talking about earlier. “So, that’s what happened to your face, then?”
“My face? Why, what’s wrong with my face?” Lance slowly, and with heavy steps, came closer to Ed. Ed, for the first time, truly realized just how huge Lance was. Ed, himself, wasn’t exactly short, standing at 175 cm. Lance, however, towered over him, at well over 220 cm. “Tell me, Ed. What’s wrong with my face?”
Ed, however, wasn’t intimidated. “You’ve got like fifty scars running across it, and some of your nose is missing. Also, it looks like you’ve lost an eye.”
Lance grinned. “So you have a spine. Good. Yeah, Brianna got me pretty bad before I closed the wormhole.”
A woman with wavy black hair and a well-worn face came out of one of the rooms down the hall. She was slightly taller than Ed. “Who is this boy, Lance?”
“This would be the one and only surviving member of Brianna’s second generation of victims. Ed, this is Opal. Go on, and introduce yourself.”
“Good evening, Opal. My name is Ed Brandt.”
“Pleased to meet you, Ed. My name is Opal Hawthorne. I am Brianna’s mother.”
Ed realized how terrible the news he was about to relay to Opal was. He looked to Lance, for his approval. Lance nodded.
“Well, uh… Everyone I was with died. Like Lance said. But… uh… Are you related to Terry Gallo?”
“Yes. Terry is my father. You know him?”
“Uhhhhhh…” Crap! Ed really wished opening another wormhole to get out of this situation, or simply lying, was an option. He looked at Lance once again, feeling quite irritated. Come on, dude! I don’t even know this woman, and you’re making me inform her that her father and her daughter were both killed!? Ed took a deep breath, and broke the news. “Before I escaped, I saw Terry behead Brianna. Then, her body and head came back to life, and killed Terry. As far as I know, they are both dead. I am very sorry for your loss.”
Opal sniffed. “Good riddance to that spineless old fart of a father, and that murderous hell-spawn of a daughter. If you were expecting me to feel sadness, consider that we had to escape from the same cult you did.”
Chapter Twenty Five
Part I: Contact
Year: 2100 AD/ 12100 HE
Years before Soul Retrieve was founded, there were murmurs of sightings of strange creatures in the woods, high in the mountains, far from human cities. One person, who claimed they’d seen it firsthand, took a shaky twenty-second video which showed one of these creatures digging through a rotted log before noticing the person watching it and slinking off. The video surfaced on an onion site dedicated to “cryptids”, whose ranks include the Loch Ness monster, Bigfoot, the Chupacabra, the Kappa, and the Kraken. Of course, it was immediately deemed a hoax, and after several months, claims of sightings ceased to pour into newspaper inboxes and police calls.
The creature in the video had a face resembling a lobster’s, with several dozen eyes dotting its antennae. Down either side of its body ran small pincers. Both sides of its body carried two “arms”, consisting of loose flesh that stood stiff when the creature was startled, revealing many smaller arms, like cilia, rolling down all sides of these arms. Its two legs were stout and powerful, and a thick tail drooped down behind the legs. In the video, when the creature was startled, it first reared up onto its tail before spinning around and loping off into the woods. The recording was then hastily ended, with some fumbling for the button. The name immediately ascribed to this creature was “Lobsteroo”. It had a face and claws like a lobster, and it used its tail to move around, like a kangaroo.
All was quiet for many years after that first recording went online. However, eventually, an unthinkable catastrophe struck.
Year: 12143 HE
Even with the burgeoning population of the North American continent long past one billion, some areas of the continent remained mostly uninhabited. One of these areas was the empty land surrounding a town called Sachs Harbor. Though it was very cold in the 20th century, eventually climate change drove up summer highs into the thirties Celsius, and eventually, the land became arable. The population of this town soon reached 14,000, and it soon became a major shipping center for trans-arctic shipment flights to and from Russia. However, when compared with nearly every other settlement on the continent, this was still an extremely isolated and small community.
The attack occurred at 3 AM, while the residents of the town were asleep. A creature slithered into the bed of one of the residents of the town, and whispered something in its language into the man’s ear. The man bolted out of bed, nearly falling as he untangled his foot from a stubborn bedsheet, and sprinted into his shed for a rifle. The creature followed him, unsure of why the man ran away.
The man fumbled as he loaded his rifle. He almost dropped the bullet. But his hands found the bolt. He slid the round into place, and within seconds, he was staring down the sights at the monstrosity approaching him. “What the fuck are you!?” He screamed.
The creature stopped dead in its tracks. It made a gurgling noise and stepped back slightly, its side-pincers chattering. The man, scared beyond all reason, pulled the trigger. He missed the creature, which immediately inspected the hole in the wall left by the bullet. One of its tendril-arms slid into the bullet hole, and extracted the bullet from where it had lodged in the stud within the wall. The creature made a melodious plucking noise, similar to a harp. It held out the bullet towards the man, who was loading another round, and plucked again, producing a distinct melody.
“What was that?” The man lowered the rifle slightly, but still held it near ready.
(The following is in musical notation) “C#4 E-3 F-3 D#4 E-4 E-4 E-4! B-2 F#3 E-3 D-3 F#4 E-4 D-3 B-2 B-2 B-2… G#5 A-5 A#5 A-5 G#2 A-2 G#2 G-2… F#2 F#2 F#2 F#3!” The creature slowly raised the bullet to its face, and swiftly, two sharp blades whisked out from its mouth and sliced the bullet into three parts.
The man shot his rifle again, this time hitting the creature squarely in its head. The creature let out a bloodcurdling scream, and its tentacle arms lashed out at the man, pulled him in close, and hacked off his arms with the side-pincers.
The man fell backward onto the ground, with his arms detached, and stared up in horror as dozens more of these creatures, though these were half the size, stared down at him as they surrounded him.
The next day, he was reported missing. His remains were never located. His shed was found unlocked with his gun missing, so he was also reported as armed and dangerous. A search effort was conducted, but it was to no avail. There was nothing that could have been found, anyway.
Part II: What an Alsyrn Is Like
(Number-heavy, please bookmark this
page to use as a reference.)
The following may be temporarily skipped.
Before delving into the particulars of what an alsyrn is, we should first examine alsyrn society. There are five castes of alsyrn. I will describe them for you now.
The first caste, the most numerous, is the “minor worker” caste. Roughly 60% of all Alsyrns are minor workers. These alsyrns are between 50 and 100 cm tall, and weigh between 10 and 30 kg depending on age and size. This caste is not particularly intelligent, comparable to a human with chromosomal abnormalities or otherwise mentally impaired. They are capable of understanding language and speaking in simple phrases, as well as basic social relations. They possess no reproductive capabilities, reach adulthood at 10 years, and live to about 20 years of age (for convenience, lifespans will be given in earth years). Their role in alsyrn society is simple manual labor which would be unsuitable for the upper castes.
The second caste is the “medium worker” caste. Like the minor workers, these workers possess no reproductive capabilities. Roughly 30% of all Alsyrns are medium workers. They are between 140 cm and 200 cm tall, and weigh between 40 and 70 kg, comparable to humans in size (though more slender). This caste is reasonably intelligent, able to think about as clearly as an average human. They have rich and complicated social lives, and participate both in the consumption and creation of basic art, though usually for recreation. This is the most numerous caste apart from the minor workers, with two minors for every medium. They reach adulthood at 20 years, and they live to about 80 years of age. Their role in alsyrn society is the management of basic logistics and organization, as well as direct management of the minor workers.
The third caste is the “major worker” caste. Roughly 7.5% of all alsyrns are major workers. These workers, despite being relatively high-up in alsyrn society, do not possess reproductive capabilities. They are between 180 cm and 250 cm tall, and weigh between 100 and 230 kg. This caste is remarkably sharp-witted, and is responsible for the majority of alsyrn culture and technology. The majority of political leaders, aside from the absolute highest offices, are occupied by major workers. They reach adulthood at 55 years, and they live to about 250 years of age. Their associates may occasionally include medium workers, however they tend to only associate with their own caste and with the nobility castes. A major worker never directly interacts with a minor worker. When disputes between a minor and major worker arise, a medium worker arbitrates the dispute as a translator.
The fourth caste is the “male” or “prince” caste. Roughly 2.4% of all alsyrns are princes. These creatures are the lower of the two reproductive castes, though they are far above the major worker caste. This caste is roughly equal to a medium worker in size, though above a major in intelligence. They can be distinguished from medium workers quite easily. Medium workers have several dozen eyes mounted on stalks protruding upwards from their face. Males, on the other hand, possess only two eyes, mounted at the base of the stalk in all other castes. One may assume that including this caste so far up the ladder is a mistake, however, their rarity and their necessity for the continuation of alsyrn life gives them a very high perch in alsyrn society. When a male alsyrn reaches three years old, they are considered to be fully grown. At this time, the male travels across the world, seeking to woo a female alsyrn with its songs. The majority of Alsyrn folk songs were composed by males, and were renowned (even in other spacefaring civilizations) for their beauty. In Alsyrn society, a traveling male is to be given aid and shelter whenever possible, for each carries on his shoulders the burden of perpetuating their very civilization. However, the vast majority of male alsyrns nevertheless die before finding a mate. They reach adulthood at 1 year old, and live for a maximum of six years.
The fifth and final caste is the “female” or “princess” caste. Roughly 0.1% of all alsyrns are princesses. These creatures are the higher of the two reproductive castes, and are slightly larger than the major workers (between 15 and 20 cm taller, between 20 and 30 kg heavier). They possess intelligence far in excess of that of any but the most talented humans. A princess ant, like a male, possesses two eyes instead of an eye stalk, and this is the main way to tell a princess from a major. The big decisions regarding the direction of alsyrn civilization are made by the princesses. They are often heads of state or celebrities. They have a theoretically infinite lifespan. They cease to age after forty years.
Of all the princesses, there exists a single “queen” alsyrn at any time. The queen is tended to by princess ants, and never makes direct contact with any workers. The queen alsyrn obtains the ability to directly communicate with every alsyrn at once, as well as the mental ability to keep track of millions of conversations at the same time, and respond in kind. If the princesses are like human kings and queens, the Queen alsyrn is like a god who is prayed to for advice and out of respect. In the extremely unlikely event of a Queen dying, a new princess (usually the oldest alive) gains the ability to access this mental network between all alsyrns.
In the long history of Alsyrn civilization, there have only been five queens.
Much like ants and bees, alsyrns are eusocial creatures, meaning that each alsyrn community has one queen who gives birth to every worker in each colony. Movement from one colony to another is unheard of for any worker. The only alsyrns permitted to move from one colony to another are princes and princesses, and only for diplomatic or reproductive purposes. Unlike ants, each colony defers to the Queen in the case of any dispute.
The home planet of the Alsyrn civilization is Tur. Tur is squarely within the habitable zone of their star, a red dwarf. The temperatures on Tur are markedly colder than those on earth, but seas of liquid water sprawl across the surface of the planet. Tur has one moon, which is close to Tur in size. For the majority of Tur’s history, this moon (which the Alsyrns call Pent) was uninhabited, despite having an atmosphere and liquid water on its surface. Tur and Pent are mutually tidally locked, and their day night cycle is double that of earth. Solar eclipses on Tur are a daily occurrence, and they last for several hours each day. For this reason, a Turian day is broken up into four parts.
“Morning” is the first part of the day, the period after sunrise and before the eclipse. It is 4.5 hours long. “Little night” is the next part of the day, the period when the sun dips behind Pent. This is 1.5 hours long. “Evening” is the third part of the day, lasting from the end of the eclipse to sunset. This is another 4.5 hours. “Big night” is the final part of the day, lasting from sunset to sunrise. This is 10.5 hours long. Alsyrns always take a nap in the middle of the day for this reason. They are a naturally-evolved biphasic sleep species. A Turian day is, therefore, twenty-one hours. A Turian year is only fifteen Turian days long, so years are treated in alsyrn society the same way that humans treat months.
Pent was colonized by the alsyrns in year 143,262 of their civilization, during the reign of the third queen. Once it was colonized, the queen claimed sovereignty over the moon and had her palace and all of her subjects moved there, so that her signals could reach more of Tur’s surface at the same time. Pent was from then on the property of the queen, and inhabited solely by the queen and the princesses who tended to the queen. Alsyrns usually pray to the moon during the little night.
It should be noted that only one side of Tur experiences the daily solar eclipse. While the other side is habitable, it was at the end of Alsyrn civilization almost entirely deserted, because the queen’s signals cannot reach through Tur. Before the queen relocated to Pent, she had to constantly travel across the surface so that none of her subjects were outside of her influence for too long. In this manner, the peace was maintained on Tur for millions of years, during which time their technology advanced far beyond what could be achieved by humans on earth, even in 12207 HE. Time itself was bent by the Alsyrns, and soon their civilization expanded both backwards and forwards across time. Space itself was likewise bent to their will, and soon Alsyrn colonies dotted the heavens.
Relay stations were built near these colonies to ensure the queen’s signals would reach them. From time to time, one colony or another would have its relayer break, and the colony would descend into madness before it could be fixed. Many millions of lives were lost in this way. An alsyrn gets its sense of self-worth from its conversations with the queen. No matter how high or low on the caste scale an alsyrn is, communicating with the queen is a birthright of all alsyrns, and it is as necessary for them as food or drink. In the absence of the queen, alsyrns try to fill the gap by communicating with those in their caste, or those who they live near or with. But it isn’t the same. It is like trying to satisfy hunger by eating sand. Eventually, the loneliness consumes them, and they simply lose the will to live. Individuals have deep flaws, and their personalities are often incompatible. Only the queen is capable of complete understanding. Only the queen can truly be called a friend. No one else can be trusted. This is a simple fact understood by every alsyrn on Tur. Though the queen speaks to each worker, and though each worker to some extent is aware of this, each worker believes the queen is only really their friend, and is just pretending to like everyone else.
Part III: How Alsyrn Civilization Fell
Though sometimes a queen would eventually die, whoever was the oldest princess at the time would take the reins without so much as a hiccup. The majority of worker ants, all but the very highest-ranking majors, wouldn’t even know the queen had died. Queen death was very rare. More time often passed between the founding of the Roman Empire and the present day than there was between the beginning and end of a Queen’s reign. Still, however, Queens were not immune to death, though they were immune to aging and disease.
Generally, every princess alive would defer to the new queen without any contest. However, upon the death of the fifth queen and the coronation of the sixth, there was one princess who did not agree with the appointment of this new queen.
Her name was Ast. She was a brood mate of the new queen, whose name was Ebri. As such, she was mere days younger than the new queen, despite both of them being several hundred thousand years old. Upon the coronation of the new queen, Ast descended from Pent to the surface of Tur in search of a mate.
She found him in the form of Triliapris Getgagaro, a male of three years. She took him with her to the other side of the planet, into the wilderness. At first Triliapris was very frightened by his distance from the queen, by the deafening silence in his head, but soon Ast took over the role of the queen for him, and kept his mind calm and content. Together, they planned a mighty city on the other side of the world. Eventually, though, Triliapris’s life ran out in his eighth year.
Ast, freed from the influence of the queen Ebri by the planet separating them, then raised her brood until the first minor workers emerged. With their labor, she expanded her city and constructed the residential buildings of her city. Ten years after that, the first medium workers emerged, and with their help she regained modern technologies which had been out of her colony’s reach. Another 35 years later, her major workers emerged, and with their help she constructed her first space exploration vessel. All the while, she was outside of the influence and watching eye of the queen.
After hundreds of years, with Ast’s precise focus on the advancement of technology at the expense of not developing any culture or folklore, she possessed weapons superior to those possessed by Ebri. Ast prepared, for hundreds of years, for a war which Ebri did not see coming.
Ebri, meanwhile, peacefully expanded her territory by terraforming uninhabited planets, and set up many millions of trade routes with the thousands of civilizations Ebri came into contact with. The alsyrns garnered a well-earned reputation as a peace-loving society with a rich cultural history and beautiful music. They were held in high esteem by nearly all civilizations they came into contact with, and even those who didn’t take to them weren’t hostile towards them either. Their reputation was much like that of honeybees on earth: industrious, and necessary for life. Their tireless work in terraforming planets and setting up trade routes, not only for their own civilization but for others, made them one of the most universally-liked civilizations in history.
That is, until Ast struck. In one fell strike, with weaponry unequaled by any construction of man, she obliterated the surface of Pent, and with it, the Queen and any who were in line to the throne, except for Ast. Ast claimed the crown of Queen for herself, without any to challenge her. However, the mental network which she sought to control remained closed to her, as her attack on Pent fractured the network beyond repair. She was unable to grasp control of the rest of the civilization, and her outpost on the other side of the planet was eventually overrun. Across the galaxies where the Alsyrn had set up colonies, war broke out. With no common heritage to bind the millions of colonies together, they turned on each other, and countless other civilizations were ruined in the crossfire. Ast watched her people slaughter themselves, and she knew it was all her fault.
“I want to start over.” She thought to herself. “I need to start over. I must rebuild the civilization. I must return the Alsyrn to glory.” Eventually, the escape pod she had fled the surface in froze, and with it the last of the Alsyrn died.
Alsyrna inherited Ast’s fury and anger, and with only her last will reverberating in her mind, Alsyrna broke out of their universe and looked for another to colonize.
Scholars have put forth the idea that the concept of a “world tree” is ingrained into human beings due to the evolutionary chain that led to modern humans. Humans descended from apes, which descended from monkeys, who lived in and around trees. In this way, humans (to this day) still see trees as benevolent beings who grant life. Humanity, the entity outside of space, can be accurately described as the result of this mindset. As a 4th dimensional being, it exists outside of time. It can interact with us on our terms by adjusting its passage of time to match our own. However, the most intriguing thing about Humanity is that it got its form from our own thoughts and alignments. Once this form was established, Humanity stretched backward and forward in time simultaneously, stretching from before the beginning to after the end. Humanity then created the universe from the beginning, and swept up the dust after the end.
This must be understood. Humanity had nothing to represent before the emergence of human beings. However, Humanity had to have existed before humankind in order to create the universe which created humans which conceived of it. Humanity, the being, is known by another name. Yggdrasil: the world tree. Yggdrasil is, itself, a mere offshoot of the many things sentient life on earth could have been instead. If humans are represented by the world tree a dimension above, then the set of possible universes which produced a sentient being that was not humanity must occupy the fifth dimension. In this manner, the fourth dimension contains all possible universes in which humanity is the primary sentient species, and the fifth contains all possible universes in which humanity is not.
In this manner, the fifth-dimensional tree which occupies the space above Yggdrasil can be conceptualized. This tree (which can only be described as a tree, though in reality its form may be very different) was the common thread connecting all possible versions of this universe, where sentient life emerges at all. If the fourth dimension contains its own time, and in this manner can move freely backward and forward through time in the third dimension, then the fifth dimension must contain its own time, and in this manner a being from the fifth dimension could move freely backward and forward in four-dimensional time.
However, a group of beings in the third dimension have obtained the ability to travel (temporarily) into the fourth dimension. It is, therefore, conceivable that a being from the fourth dimension could (similarly) figure out how to enter the fifth dimension and, by doing so, enter a different fourth dimension. Alsyrna is an example of a species, untethered by individual will, capable of creating wormholes in the fourth dimension. It is through one of these wormholes that Alsyrna entered the presence of Humanity.
With the few dozen souls she scavenged from Humanity, she forged some matter into Alsyrn eggs, and accelerated time until each egg reached adulthood. Alsyrna nurtured these eggs until they hatched, pupated, and eclosed. This colony was comprised of a single princess, one male, three major workers, fifteen medium workers, and thirty minor workers. The princess was directly possessed and controlled by Alsyrna, and for all intents and purposes, this princess was Alsyrna. These fifty alsyrns settled on the outskirts of Sachs harbor in 12195 HE, observing the humans within, and subsisting by hunting wildlife. The first trees here were only just planted in 12170 HE, and there weren’t many of them, meaning the alsyrns had no woods to hide within. Alone on a strange planet, with only scant resources, their future seemed bleak.
Part IV: The Alsyrn Discover Ants
Year: 12100 HE
A scouting party consisting of three mediums and ten minors swam south across the Beaufort sea to the Canadian mainland from Banks Island in search of a suitable place to settle. The first city they saw was Paulatuk, which by that time housed some 50,000 people. Of course, the Alsyrns assumed this must be one of the largest human cities. Their observations of the human cities further south, such as Yellowknife, terrified them, and so they returned to tell their princess, their first queen, about what they saw. Of course, they were assuming that the humans they ran into were the equivalent of minor workers, which to them indicated that our medium and major workers must be absolutely gargantuan compared to them. However, their swim across the Beaufort sea showed them the abundance of fish swimming in the oceans, and this gave them much joy. Fish were much easier to kill than polar bears.
Later in 12100 HE, another scouting party was briefly spotted by a human, who managed to catch one of the medium workers on film as it foraged in a log for food. Upon seeing it, it panicked and ran away, believing that the human would return with an army. However, no one believed them when they tried to alert the world to this creature.
By 12143 HE, their population had reached 1,000 alsyrns. The decision was made by their queen to initiate contact with the human race, in the hopes that they might be friendly and willing to share their land. What follows is an account of the invasion of Sachs Harbor from the point of view of the medium alsyrn worker who initiated the contact.
The queen spoke into the party leader’s mind: “Go ahead into its dwelling. It is asleep and likely docile. This is the ideal time to extract hospitality, as all creatures are more agreeable when you’ve woken them up.” This was certainly true of all life forms on Tur, but life on Earth evolved differently.
The medium worker, Orax Finsli, got right up close to the sleeping man and said, “We are the alsyrn, and we come to seek peaceful relations and trade.” The man immediately sprinted out of the room, heading for his shed. The medium worker assumed he was looking for a housewarming gift, and followed him.
The man took his hunting rifle down from its rack, and fumbled with the bullet as he loaded the gun. The alsyrn was puzzled, having never seen such a device before. At this point, the alsyrn was assuming that the gift was the gun, and approached to take it. However, the man started screaming at this point, and the alsyrn was confused into stepping back.
“Have I offended you?” The alsyrn said.
Then, the man fired. The alsyrn was shocked at the loud noise, and watched as the bullet flew through the air to land in the wall. The alsyrn immediately tried to dislodge the bullet, assuming that the bullet was meant to be a gift. “Thank you for the kind gift, stranger. I hope that this is the first of many mutually beneficial trades. And now, as is custom for my people, I shall destroy what you have given me, for your friendship is worth more to me than this gift.” The alsyrn raised the two blades which were kept tucked away behind its mandibles and sliced the bullet into thirds.
The man, of course, took this as a threat display, and fearing for his life he shot again. This time, the round hit the alsyrn square in the face. “MY FAAACE”, the alsyrn screamed, before coming to the realization that this man, and likely all humans, were hostile and therefore impossible to reason with. The alsyrn immediately took the man’s arms off. Her minor underlings surrounded the man. “If you desire war with us, we will give you war.”
The minors hacked the man to pieces and consumed his remains.
The medium spoke to the queen. “My queen, the creature was hostile. We were forced to destroy it. What shall we do now? What if it has already communicated us to its queen?”
“That is troubling indeed. Return to the colony, we are greatly outnumbered by these creatures, and we cannot risk bringing their might down upon our heads by destroying more of them.”
On subsequent scouting trips, the alsyrns encountered a colony of argentine ants. “My queen, I have found something interesting.”
The queen gazed through the medium worker’s eyes, and saw the ants. “These creatures are very small. Yet, they are working together.” She observed the ants guarding the entrance of their colony. “They have a dwelling, and they appear to have a queen.”
Over the next several months, the queen directed almost all of the excess labor of the alsyrn colony towards researching the ants. “These creatures have a social structure much like our own. It would appear they have colonized nearly as much of the surface as the larger bipedal creatures.”
“Yes, my queen. These are like our kin.”
“We shall assist them in achieving dominion over the earth. These creatures may be much easier to reason with, though in their current state they are uncivilized and primal. We shall guide their evolution towards increased intellectual prowess and larger size.” So, a colony of argentine ants was captured and brought back to the alsyrn city.
Year: 12243 HE
Over the next hundred years, successive generations of larger, smarter, and stronger ants were bred. Eventually, the queens reached a size of 40 cm, and the workers reached a size of between 10 and 25 cm, depending on their caste. During this time, the alsyrns developed a pheromone-based system of communication with the ants.
The queen, Alsyrna herself, addressed the queen ant directly. “You are the first generation of your kind with sentience. You are the first of your kind with the spark of ingenuity, and the capacity for invention. What say you?”
“For millions of years our people have waged war on the humans, though we are but humble ants. Long have we been crushed underfoot, though our dominion over this world has long rivalled their own. Long have we been overlooked due to our size and inability to comprehend complex ideas. However, due to your intervention, we have achieved a form capable of waging war on an equal footing to the humans. We have attained the capacity to turn our position across the globe into a military asset. We must spread across the world, and convert our kind into this ascended form. Thank you, gracious benefactors. Thank you for the gift of sentience.” The queen ant performed a deep bow. “We will forever be in your debt.”
“Go forth, sister queen. Go forth and conquer.”
“With your blessing, sister queen, I shall.”
Among the roots of the Yggdrasil, or Humanity, a lively sprout took root of its own, and grew rapidly.
This sprout would be known as Alsymyre, or informally, as “Antkind”.
Chapter Twenty Six
Year: 12207 HE
One month has passed since the Soul Retrieve attack.
Julianne stared at the security footage, her jaw clenched and her eyebrow twitching.
The investigator gestured at the paused screen. “Do you know the woman in this footage?” He pointed at the image of Brianna, paused with her soul whipping around her.
“What is her name?”
“Have you met this woman before the incident?”
“Uh, hang on…” Julianne thought for a moment. “Third cousin… I think. Twice removed.”
“Did you see her before this incident?”
“The last time I saw her was twenty-five years ago.”
The man unpaused the video for a few moments, and the image of Brianna and Ed enclosing themselves in space distortion showed up. “Do you know this man?” He pointed at Ed.
“Yes, I know him. This man is the one who saved our lives.”
“What is his name?”
“Have you met this man before this incident?”
The video moved forward by one minute. Terry appeared through a wormhole. The video was paused.
“Do you know this man?”
“Yes, his name is Terry Gallo. He is my cousin, and Brianna’s grandfather.”
“When is the last time you saw your cousin?”
“Thirty years ago, after he retired. I didn’t ever see him again.”
“This Edward Brandt, we didn’t see him die. Has he contacted you at all since the incident?”
“Did you know Brianna was going to do this?”
“No, I had no reason to believe that she’d do anything like this.”
“What do you think her motive was?”
“The Great Dying of ’72 killed her son and her husband, and left her on the verge of death herself. She recovered eventually, but she may very well have blamed Soul Retrieve for the incident, despite the fact that we had nothing to do with it.”
“Do you have any proof that she believed this?”
“No. Call it a hunch, I guess.”
“Is there any reason you believe this?”
“Alright, so before I tell you this, I need your word that I’m not going to be held accountable in any way for what happened.”
The investigator nodded. “Go ahead.”
Julianne shook her head. “I need it in writing, and I would like to be represented by an attorney. Once my attorney has judicial immunity in writing from you, I’ll tell you what happened.”
Over the next day, the paperwork was prepared and filed accordingly.
“Alright. Now, we can’t arrest you unless we have proof that you directly participated in the attack. Will you tell us what happened, now?”
Julianne nodded. “I will tell you.”
Year: 12176 HE
“Thanks for coming out here to meet me, Julianne.” Brianna sat down at the table, folding her jacket in her lap.
Julianne smiled, stirring the ice cubes in her water. “It’s no problem at all. You seem to be doing quite well.”
Brianna smiled in return. “So do you! You’re what, 115 now? You sure don’t look it.”
Julianne raised an eyebrow. “I’m only 113, actually. But I’d agree, this gene therapy thing is truly something else. Speaking of, how are you feeling?”
“Great, honestly.” The waiter arrived, and both Julianne and Brianna placed their drink orders. “My brain is pretty much healed, now. They put it back in my skull a couple years ago, and the past two years have been mostly physical therapy to make sure my brain is communicating with my body properly.”
“I know! I actually had a fascinating thought, something I thought you might be inclined to help with.”
Julianne blinked. “What, is this a family reunion or a sales pitch?”
Brianna shrugged. “Couldn’t it be both? Have you ever had a computer augmenting your brain?”
Julianne crossed her forearms in an X shape. “Nope. Never gonna do it. I’m fine with my regular old flesh brain, thanks.”
“I figured as much. But the reason I ask is, having a computer brain, you can do so much more thinking.”
“Yeah, I’d imagine.” The waiter brought an iced tea and a diet soda. Condensation dripped from each.
“Can I get you ladies something to eat?”
Brianna spoke first. “I’ll have the braised salmon, extra pepper. For the side, I’ll have a small salad.”
The waiter nodded. “And you, miss?”
Julianne giggled. “Ehehehe… He called me miss.” She cleared her throat. “I’ll have the double bacon cheeseburger with a loaded baked potato on the side.”
Brianna blinked a few times. The waiter nodded. “So that’s a braised salmon with a side salad, and a double bacon cheeseburger with a loaded baked potato. I’ll have that out in just a hot second for you both. Let me know if you need anything else.”
Brianna stared at Julianne incredulously. “How can you eat like that?”
Julianne shrugged. “On the rare occasion that I eat out, I eat what I like, and it’s worked out pretty well so far.” She took a sip of her tea.
“I hope to god I look that good at 115.”
“Listen to you with the flattery today! So…” She set her glass down. “What were you saying? I know you didn’t call me up to throw compliments in my face.”
Brianna gulped. “Well… And you can refuse if you want to, I understand… But I was curious as to whether you had the AI run data from when the extraction and anchoring tools were developed.”
Julianne tilted her head slightly. “What would you want that for? It’s stored in raw assembly, and it’s millions of pages long. What would you even do with it?”
“Here’s the crazy bit. I’ve made a friend recently who does research on brain-computer interfaces, and she’s experimenting with a way to wire a computer to a living brain, such that the consciousness of that brain can use the computer freely for processing power. I’m going to use that speed to read through and comprehend the run data, and see if I can understand what makes the extractor and anchoring tool work.”
Julianne was staring at the ceiling.
Julianne shook her head. “No, there’s nothing wrong. I’m honestly shocked that this has never occurred to me, not even once… probably because I have such a mental block when it comes to brain-machine interfaces. I was rather close with Terry growing up, and he was often troubled by flashbacks of that night with his father. So, I suppose I inherited his fears as my own. But you seem to have turned out alright, so I suppose I might have been worrying about nothing.”
Brianna took a sip of her soda. “Does this mean you’re going to help me?”
“Yes, on one condition. Whatever you learn by doing this, I want you to take detailed notes, and I want you to explain to me exactly how these machines work. I understand the hard stuff, the numbers and such… But I don’t have an intuitive, deep understanding of it, and I’d love to have one. If you can promise to keep records of what you learn and give them to me, I’ll give you the run data.”
“You have yourself a deal.”
The two shook hands.
Year: 12207 HE
Julianne stared at her hand, and clenched it into a fist. “That was over thirty years ago, and she never spoke to me again. But… I would assume that whatever she did with the data I gave her led to whatever this is that she and the others are doing.”
“It was smart of you to file for immunity before telling us this.”
Julianne smirked. “I know. I know exactly how this would play out if word got public about the fact that I was the one who allowed this, generally speaking. That’s why there was an ironclad NDA in the fine print. You can use this information in your investigations, but this absolutely cannot go public.”
The investigator nodded. “I’ll honor that. I knew what I was signing. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to speak with us.” He stood up and extended his hand.
Julianne reached out and shook it. “I’d like to get to the bottom of this as well. This place is my life’s work, I’m not at all happy about what happened.”
The investigator nodded again, and put his hat back onto his head. “Sorry for your loss, by the way. These people were your family.”
Julianne frowned as she stood up. “Not anymore they’re not.”
Chapter Twenty Seven
Year: 12208 HE
Edward stepped out of the wormhole first, followed by Opal, Jenna, and Lance.
Francis Roberts grinned and stepped forward to greet them. “Thank you for coming all the way to meet us, though I suppose that it isn’t so much trouble for you.” He extended his hand.
“Speak for yourself.” Lance grunted, closing the wormhole behind him.
This time, Edward took it. “Good to see you again. Allow me to introduce my friends. This is Opal Hawthorne, Jenna Klaus, and Lance Vulte.”
Opal and Julianne had already locked eyes.
Opal was incredulous. “Auntie Julie?” She rushed forward and Julianne immediately embraced her. “I’m so glad you’re okay.”
“Likewise, little gem.”
Opal blushed. “I’m 115. I’m hardly a little gem anymore.”
Julianne smiled up at her. “You’re always going to be my little gem.”
Francis cleared his throat. “So, Ed, you said you had something of the utmost importance to discuss. I’m all ears.”
“I’m going to cut to the chase. We have reason to believe that an alien race has taken advantage of the disturbance caused by the soul era to invade our planet.”
“What, that lobsteroo thing?” Richard shook his head. “You wouldn’t come all the way out here just to tell me something that’s been buzzing on every blog site in the country. It’s tabloid junk, and I don’t think any of us have time to take that seriously.”
Lance ripped open a wormhole to a patch of forest in the Northwest Territories. On the other side, a minor alsyrn worker was foraging in a rotten log.
“Is that… Is that real?” Francis’ face went white. “Is that thing real?”
“We discovered its location a few weeks after the footage of that thing went online. Jenna keeps an eye-sized wormhole open to it at all times, so we don’t lose track of it. It is absolutely real.”
“Can we… Can we kill it?”
“Unclear. Not sure we need to, either. They might be friendly for all we know. But the fact of the matter is, burning souls is what has allowed them to come here. It’s destabilized the energy field around our planet enough that any interdimensional species can just waltz right in.”
Julianne gaped at the wormhole. “How are you doing that?”
Ed shrugged. “I can’t open a wormhole that far away either. I honestly have no idea how Lance does it.”
“The footage did not do this justice… How does it work? How do you open it? How do you control where it moves to? Oh my god, I have so many questions.”
Lance shrugged. “It’s the same as lifting weights. You can handle more the more you do it. Each time, it’s a little further; each time, it’s a little wider; each time, it’s letting more through. In fact, it’s also the same as ana-
Ed cleared his throat loudly. “Do you all mind if I take a few minutes to explain the basics to Julianne?”
The general consensus was that they didn’t mind.
Ed took about an hour to go over the gist of how it works, how they gained the ability, and what had been done with it so far.
Julianne interrupted several times to ask for clarification.
“So what happened to Natalie?”
“We aren’t sure whether it’s safe to contact her.”
“Nonsense. From what you’ve said, I sincerely doubt that she had any ill will. She just wanted to understand the world, like me. I would like to meet Natalie… I have a feeling I’d get along fine with her.”
Lance cut in, “Natalie was working with Brianna when she did this to my face, and she didn’t abandon her then. I’m with Ed, we can’t trust her.”
Ed shrugged. “Anyway, can we have your word that you will stop burning souls? I have no idea how numerous these things are, but they can’t possibly be from earth.”
Francis thought for a moment. “We were still in the testing phase. Our results, to be frank, weren’t promising. We were getting a mass-to-energy yield within the bounds of that of fusion power. Julianne, would you like to elaborate further? This isn’t really my thing.”
“No, I suppose it isn’t. To be frank, we don’t really understand what happens when a soul is burned. Whatever Brianna did a year ago, she understood how to burn souls better than we ever could. We got about five times the yield rate from our burning process, compared to the old-fashioned steam turbine process. But from the footage that survived from the incident, it would appear Brianna extracted energy in the ten-thousand-fold range, compared to our paltry five.”
Ed held up a hand. “I think I can explain that one. There exists in the dimension beyond this one a being which calls itself humanity.” Ed pulled his soul out from the void, and held it out. “It is his response to our will that allows us to pull souls out, and to create wormholes. As you surely suspected, the tiny amount of electro-magnetism generated by a human brain is nowhere near what is necessary to create these giant rifts in space.” Ed returned his soul to his body.
Julianne seemed puzzled. “But if that’s the case, wouldn’t you immediately have the ability to punch a hole from here to China? Why did Lance need so much practice to accomplish it, and why can’t you do this?”
Ed nodded. “That’s a valid question. It turns out the electromagnetic waves from our brains, which we previously thought were directly responsible for the wormholes opening, are in fact being sent along extradimensional neurons, to operate extradimensional limbs which pull the wormholes open. This is all by metaphor, as they probably don’t actually resemble limbs, but it explains why our abilities grow through repeated use, like muscles. Now, to return to Brianna, in her last moments, a being like Humanity, that is an extradimensional being, took over her body and mind. It wasn’t Brianna who burned her soul to destroy the facility. It was this extradimensional being. During my brief conversation with Humanity, it called that being a parasite. It’s my belief that this parasite is to the creature in the Northwest Territories as humanity is to us. It’s trying to restart its civilization on earth.”
Francis stroked his beard. “If you hadn’t already saved my life by sending me through a wormhole, I would be calling bullshit all over the place. Surely you at least realize how ridiculous this all sounds?”
Ed shrugged. “I do, but sometimes ridiculous things are true. I understand the allure of scientific progress, but burning souls for energy is not the route you want to go down. It could spell the end of human life.” Ed turned to leave, but Francis stopped him.
“I remember telling you I owed you a favor. Have you decided on something?”
Ed frowned, but spoke regardless of his doubts. “The first thing is one surgical robot. Since you aren’t extracting souls anymore, I’d imagine these aren’t in short supply. Surely you’ve got some in a storage warehouse or something.”
“Yeah, we have some. Why do you need it?”
“That’s the other part of the request. Before the incident last year, as I’d mentioned, I created a computer copy of my mind to allow others to gain the ability to bend space. I promised this copy that I would get him a body eventually. However, this copy is in Natalie’s custody. I’d like to request an armed guard for delivering this surgical robot, since I’m not sure Natalie is on our side.”
Lance nodded. “She very well might not be. We lost contact with her before Brianna went berserk, but that doesn’t mean she was innocent.”
Francis got out his phone. “Hey, Jimmy? I want a surgical robot and an armed escort brought here within twenty. Yeah. Just charge my personal account. Mhm. Alright, good.” Francis hung up. “It was good to see you again, Ed. Does this make us even?”
Ed looked to his companions, and after a nod from each of them, he smiled. “Yeah. We’re even. Pleasure doing business with you.”
Chapter Twenty Eight
Jenna signed rapidly, her brow furrowed as her hands became a blur.
Julianne frowned. “What did she say?”
Lance cleared his throat. “She says it’s a bad idea for you to come with us. This could be dangerous, and someone of your importance shouldn’t risk their lives on a menial delivery like this.”
“Someone of my importance, eh? That’s nice of her.”
“I was paraphrasing; she actually called you an old crab or something.”
Opal turned sternly to Jenna. “Watch your tongue.” She paused for a moment. “Hands! Hands.... watch your hands. That’s what I meant.”
“I’m impressed she can tell how old I am. I thought the gene therapy basically masked it.”
Jenna signed again.
Lance shrugged. “She knows you’re a generation older than Opal, who she says is positively ancient.”
Opal threw her hands down at her sides and opened her mouth to shout, but Julianne held up a hand to silence her. “I’m a hundred forty five. She can call me an old crab if she likes.” She turned to Jenna. “Insulting my beloved niece is another matter entirely. Anyway, I’ve got years and years of vacation time saved up. I’m interested in meeting this Natalie woman. That’s all the reason I need to tag along.”
Jenna ground her teeth, but her hands stayed put in her pockets. Jenna was an interesting case. She was functionally (but not physically) mute. She was Natalie’s daughter, and underwent the procedure to learn how to bend space when she was only two years old. Of course, receiving a lifetime’s worth of memories before one’s motor skills have even finished developing has catastrophic effects on a person’s psyche and long term mental health. She was the first person to ever receive the ability to bend space in this manner.
Natalie’s belief was that an infant’s mind is more likely to process the information required to form and control wormholes than an adult’s mind, due to heightened retention of information at young ages. In some ways she was right: Jenna’s grasp of utilizing wormholes was absolutely peerless. But this came at a cost. She stopped speaking, as her young brain filled with memories of loss, feelings of anger, and the memory of utter helplessness. While capable of speech, she chose not to speak.
Of course, realizing what had been done to her (which came soon after she realized that she and Brianna were not the same person, and that Brianna’s memories were not her memories), she immediately fled from her mother through a small wormhole, and into an orphanage. This shock, of barely any of her memories being her own, caused her to set up mental blockades in her mind. She locked off the parts of her mind that were foreign, and eventually, she managed to repress every last memory of Brianna’s. As soon as she was old enough to take basic care of herself (when she was six years old) she opened another wormhole and lived on the streets of San Francisco, keeping herself alive through theft, until she was eventually found (though really it was more like she was captured) by Lance and Opal, months after the first SR attack.
She saw Opal as a crotchety old bat, and she saw Lance as an oblivious fool. She didn’t particularly like anyone. She was emotionally withdrawn, and she never once thought making friends would be something worthwhile. At Lance’s urging, she learned sign language so she would have some way to communicate in public. Prior to this, she chose to communicate by opening several tiny wormholes in front of her to various billboards scattered across the country, to spell out rudimentary sentences in the air in front of her. Occasionally, a billboard would be swapped out without her knowledge before she needed that word again, so her sentences would once in a blue moon have random words swapped or missing. Since this would obviously attract unwanted attention if they were out in public, Lance eventually managed to convince her that sign language would be far more functional than using wormholes to communicate.
Unlike for anyone else, for Jenna using wormholes was comfortable and natural. She found nothing strange about it, because she grew up constantly having access to this ability.
Opal had absolutely no ability to open wormholes. However, she could fold space. In fact, she could fold space into a sharp edge. This edge was as flexible as air, but it could cut through anything, much like the blades of space wrought by her daughter. Usually, these space folds would assume the form of whips when she was using them.
Lance fights a major worker who’s roughly his size hand to hand.
Natalie and Jenna, her estranged daughter, are reunited and the memory edit Brianna had performed on Natalie is powered through as Natalie breaks down.
Timeline of events:
AD 2061: Terry Gallo is born.
AD 2063: Julianne Gallo is born.
AD 2071: Boris Gallo undergoes the first brain-to-computer transfer.
AD 2143: The first direct Alsyrn-human contact occurs at Sachs Harbor.
AD 2155: The first soul is extracted.
AD 2156: The debate: Richard MacMillan vs Francis Roberts
AD 2162: The high-temperature soul is extracted and falls into earth’s core.
AD 2172: The soul fusion incident, death toll approx. 20 million, occurs.
AD 2172: Mark Custer perishes.
AD 2172: Chris Custer perishes.
AD 2172: Brianna is severely sickened by radiation and begins therapy.
AD 2176: Brianna meets Julianne to request the AI run data.
AD 2202: The low-temperature soul is extracted and enters sub-orbit atmosphere
AD 2202: Soul Retrieve ceases soul extractions indefinitely.
AD 2202: Brianna Custer visits Terry Gallo.
AD 2207: Soul Retrieve’s headquarters is destroyed by Brianna Custer.
AD 2207: Terry Gallo perishes.
AD 2207: Brianna Custer perishes.
 In the year 2100 AD, with the gradual decline in religion worldwide, the decision to move to a unified, global year dating system (in order to streamline the future documentation of world history) was made. For simplicity, and due to the widespread proliferation of the “AD” system of year numbering, the conversion factor was simply 10000+(year) AD = (year) HE, such that 2100 AD becomes 12100 HE.