Legacy Chapter 4

Updated on July 11, 2018
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Evelyn has published 3 novels, Justice Lost, Rescue, and Spark into Flame, and 2 scifi/fantasy short stories in magazines.

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Chapter 4

Gray static, with little dancing sparks inside of it, appeared on the holocom.

“You ok, Peri?” I said.

“Yes, sir.”

“Now, look around. Can you sense anything unusual?”

His viewscreen flickered. I tapped the holocom and the static steadied.

“I cannot sense anything unusual, not even with the enhancements you gave me.”

“Maybe you’ll have to step sideways, then. As long as you don’t lose your orientation you’ll be okay.”

“Yes, sir.”

My heart thudded hard in my chest as the screen flickered again and the vague iridescent worms began to move slightly faster. It was likely that Mom had drifted sideways, because unless something had stopped her on her way through the Portal, there was no reason for her to hesitate. It only took one long step to get to the other side. The question was, why had she drifted sideways? Had she fainted for some reason? Had an anomaly inside grayspace hit her at the exact moment she went through? Going through Portals was usually safe as long as you didn’t linger more than a minute. No one did that. Not since the early days of the Portals, when people had thought there might be more ways to other worlds further inside grayspace. But these people had gone mad. It was called “grayspace sickness”. There had not been a case in a thousand years.

So why had it happened to Mom two months ago? What could have stopped her from taking one step from Ice to Mag City? Ms had brought her out unconscious. Had she fainted and that had kept her inside, or had that happened after something had hurt her?

Dad thought that the Conglomerate might have had something to do with it, but there was no evidence for that. He blamed Con, though, because that was where Mom had been coming back from when it happened. He’d only refrained from going to war in order to preserve the peace that Mom had been negotiating for. But there was no way that we knew of that Con could even get through the no-man’s-land, much less tamper with something inside the Portal, when not even we knew what exactly Portals were made of, and could do nothing to affect their size or consistency.

The holoscreen was just more vague static. I was in a strange gray world, looking into an even stranger gray world. The only anchor was the faint shimmer of the Portal far ahead, and the gleam of the sunlight on the metal of the Ms.

“Do you sense anything?” I asked. My voice was small amid the vast nothingness.

“Not yet. Grayspace is normal.”

“Normal for grayspace, you mean?”

“No anomalies. Just a formless void filled with random energy.”

“Could some of that energy have hurt her?”

“It could have. There are sometimes stronger bursts of it. That could have caused her unconsciousness.”

“But why would she have gone mad inside it? She was only in there about five minutes, they said.”

“That is enough time for grayspace sickness.”

“I went through the case studies. It never got this bad if someone was in for such a short amount of time. Most of them recovered and lived almost normal lives. It was the ones who stayed in an hour or so that had…symptoms more like Mom’s.”

“It is strange.”

“She couldn’t even have gone very far sideways in that amount of time. When the Ms carried her out, she was not sideways. There’s more danger sideways, so it would make more sense she did go there, but she would have had to move back near the Portal again. She couldn’t have drifted sideways and then drifted back—it doesn’t work like that. It pulls you on and on….” I shivered. A picture flashed in my mind of Mom, floating onward, into the mist…. It was still like that. She was floating away from me, and I didn’t know how to get her back….

“There is another possibility.”

“What?”

“There is no evidence that this happened, but there is a theory that time in grayspace is not the same, especially away from the Portal openings. It’s almost impossible to measure internal time here. But some of the victims of grayspace sickness raved about days, weeks of nothingness—when they were only in a short time. It could have been that it just felt like that, and their testimonies are unreliable. The other theory is that there are pockets of rogue time…sections where time floats around like bubbles, and some places where time has no meaning at all.”

“The primordial time theory.”

“Yes. The theory that grayspace is where time is formed. Anyway, it makes sense that time would be different between worlds, and that it would be unstable, because Portals are not natural. They’re wounds in the fabric of the multiverse.”

Some thought we shouldn’t be using the Portals at all. That was outweighed by the fact that we could not forfeit everything we’d built on other worlds. Normally, travel between worlds was safe…But Mom’s madness had made me afraid of Portals. I wouldn’t have thought twice about going through them before.

“So….can you detect any time anomalies?”

“Not yet. As you can see, there is no distortion in my voice, and data’s transmitting clearly, so it seems that our times are in sync. I will go a little further. If a time anomaly caught her, it may have floated further in again. But there might still be evidence of it, or one like it.”

“Be careful. I don’t want you to get caught in there.”

“Don’t worry. If I catch one, you might not be able to contact me. But that doesn’t mean I have been caught permanently. It could be a good thing—it would mean that I am collecting valuable data.”

“Okay.” I leaned my elbows on my thighs, cradling the holodisk in both hands. Static flurried across the screen. The hissing sound grew louder, and little sparks snapped and spat. Little iridescent worms wriggled through the gray, writhing with more insistence.

Then, in the gray mist, a larger worm appeared, a vague shape, like a bacteria under a microscope.

“What’s that?”

“Dn s thng.” Static swallowed his distorted voice.

“What?”

“Dn—detec—Oh. I s— Ti--!”

“What, Peri? I didn’t catch that.”

“Ti—me. It’s—t—“ His voice slowed, then crackled out of existence.

“Peri!”

Nothing. Just gray static. Part of the screen eaten by black worms.

A loud crack!

Then, the holoview snapped out completely.

I tapped the holocom. It was dead. I tapped it harder, but it was just a hunk of metal.

I flipped it over and opened it, brought up its schematics, and zeroed in on the problem. Peri had been sending back quads of data. It had overloaded the system. I deleted some nonessential programs and then I was able to reboot the holocom. Bright sigils of data appeared, floating in space…but they were fragmented, distorted, much of it incomprehensible code.

The information had stopped downloading as soon as the holocom had blinked out, so I’d lost some of the data, and I’d have to contact him to find out what had happened and what was going on.

I touched the holocom link symbol. It sputtered; nothing happened.

Had I lost him? Maybe I’d have to go in after him….. Or find another M to send in. Problem was, especially if he was incapacitated, he’d probably keep drifting. The longer I waited, the more likely I’d lose him. Even Ms disintegrated in grayspace. I’d lose Peri, but more importantly, I’d lose any data he was carrying. Even if I was able to get his computer brain back intact, the information might be unsalvageable.

Then, the link glowed and blinked rapidly. I pressed it again.

“Peri, are you there?”

Nothing at first. Then, “Sir—I—s-ry—“ His voice was still distorted and slow, and static crackled between his words.

“What happened?”

“Th—n—k fou—nd s—th. Ev—nce –ti—me….”

“Peri, I can’t hear you. Your data link is wacky. I’m just getting garbled code as feed… Why don’t you come back. We should decipher it, see if we have anything useful.”

“Ohh—k-aayy.” The word came back slow but readable. “-th your permi--, --stay -n more minute. I -ing s-m readings th—“ His voice cut out again.

“One minute, that’s it,” I said, hoping he could hear me. “Then get out of there. I don’t want you drifting or getting caught in a time bubble.”

It sounded like he had been saying something about time. Maybe we’d found the reason Mom had gone mad. When we examined the data, we might find the first step to a cure!

I sat, waiting, the screen blinking, nothing added to the data stream. Perhaps time was standing still here, too… A gust of wind destroyed that theory. It blew ash into my face and I coughed, blinded for a moment. I blinked my eyes to get the ash out, and tears streamed down my cheeks. I wiped them away, trying not to think of what might be contained in that ash. Millions of people had died on this vast plot of land….Even though the war on Mag City had ended two hundred and fifty years ago, I still didn’t like the idea of inhaling remnants of dead bodies.

I checked the time. It had been over a minute.

“Peri, are you there?”

Just the vague hiss of static.

“Are you there?” I repeated.

Nothing.

Maybe he was taking longer because he’d found something….I hoped. If he was lost, I didn’t know what I would do. I could go in after him, but if I got lost, there would be no one to find a cure for Mom.

I crouched behind the mound of dirt to shelter myself from the wind. I’d deleted all the hologames on the disk…but I didn’t want to flip to a different screen anyway, in case something happened. Since I had nothing to do, not even anything to look at, my mind wandered. Against the backdrop of gray ash, Mom’s face appeared, lit by a warm smile, her violet eyes dancing, her hair golden in the sunlight. Then she turned away, faded into shadow—and—

Mom thrashed against the bonds that held her to the bed. Her eyes were wild, panicked. Dad crept toward her, his hands spread out as if coaxing a wild animal.

“No, please! Please, don’t. Don’t hurt me!”

“Sky,” said Dad, in a broken voice. “I’m not going to hurt you.” He stepped closer, and touched her arm. “See? I would never, ever hurt you.”

Her eyes widened. I thought she might remember him. But then—she screamed. Yanked against the bonds, trying to get away from my father.

He turned away and walked past me.

“Wait—” I said. “What’s she so afraid of? Did you—?”

His eyes flashed. Sparks crackled over his clenched fists. I stepped back—though, it was true, he had never physically hurt me.

Then he seemed to shrink from the great, powerful man I’d always known, to a shadow of himself. “I would never hurt her. I—”He shook his head. “I did once. A long time ago. It was….a bad time between us. It should never have happened… but it was just a snap of anger born from pain….and she forgave me. No, this is something deeper. She thinks I am her father. How she could ever see him in me—” He shook his head. “Perhaps that one time was enough. And….”He looked off into the distance, and then, his stride less sure than it usually was, he walked away without another word.

Mom lay there, her brow beaded with sweat. Her golden-brown skin had a grayish tint, and her half-closed eyes were glassy. I crept up to her, and she did not stir until I reached the side of her bed. Then she looked at me. Her eyes widened, fear flashing across them.

“It’s okay, Mom. It’s me.” I slid my hand into hers, though her hand was stiff and cold.

“Who are you?”

“Jet. Your son.”

Her brow furrowed. There was not a trace of recognition in her eyes. “I don’t have a son.”

I slid my hand away from hers and ran from the room. I eventually came back. She sometimes recognized me, but more often she didn’t. It tore my heart apart each time I saw her, but I could not stay away. I didn’t know how the others could leave her, no matter how hard it was to see her. She was Mom. No matter how much she had changed. But maybe she was more a part of me, somehow, than she was of the others…. I had always felt a special kinship with her, like I had with my grandfather.

Now, I had lost both of them. And the only person who I had that same sort of closeness to—Violet—had all but vanished from my life.

I hadn’t lost Mom. Not yet. As long as she was still alive, there was still hope.

I tapped the holoscreen again. “Peri?”

Again, no answer.

Perhaps I had lost him. It was beginning to look that way….

Maybe he just needed some help. I couldn’t just leave him.

I slid the holocom into my pocket. Then, I leaped into the air and flew toward the Portal. Soon I reached the contingent of Ms. I slowed down so they wouldn’t sense my movement. They didn’t look up; the holoflage must have been working, blocking their sensors.

The Portal flickered like the faint edges of an aurora. I hesitated, then flew inside.

Static prickled my skin. Ahead shimmered the other end of the Portal; I could see the vague shadows of Ice buildings against the snow. Surrounding me—above, below, and sideways—was the shapeless, endless gray, little sparkles snapping randomly through it.

I held my breath; you could breathe the air you brought in with you, but it would soon dissipate, and I needed all the time I could get.

I looked around for Peri. I couldn’t see him anywhere.

“Mmmmehhhhthhh…..” came a low, drawn out sound from above me.

Peri. He hung in the electric mist, his head shrunken, his torso stretched out, his limbs twisted at odd angles. His holoskin clung to him in patches; only his face was intact, while most of his body gleamed silver.

“It’s okay, Peri, I’ll get you.”

“Nnnnnnnn….” His mouth stretched out, his eyes widened, almost popping from his skull. He turned his head to one side, then, slowly, to the other.

“You don’t want me to come? Is it dangerous?”

“Yyyy….”

It was probably a time distortion. I didn’t want to get caught in it too.

“Don’t worry. I’ll get one of the Ms. Now that you’ve got the data, it doesn’t matter if they find you.”

I was about to step out when the Ice side of the Portal shimmered, and a huge figure stepped into grayspace.

© 2018 Evelyn

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