Brigit’s Flame JFF entry –
“The New Doom”
Speculative Future Fiction
WC: 4,579 (not including author’s note)
Rated M for Mature but only for a little thing that might be in the second half anyway.
This is part one of two (or four). The additional parts will be submitted this month.
Lost in thoughts of doubt and anxiety, Dallas dashed across the wetly glistening lane on autopilot. A strong gust of wind, intensified by the 9:15 direct train pushing off overhead, slung grit into her eyes and flapped her open jacket like an insistent child. Head down, Dallas swiftly tapped up the fifteen steel-grate steps to her townhouse entrance. She took a startled step back at the landing when she saw a figure rise from the bench behind her collection of potted herbs. The world tipped slightly sideways and took on a faint fuchsia glow. “There is no safety on Terra,” a dry, rasping voice said from somewhere behind her.
A hand clamped firmly over her fist on the railing and another made an attempt to snag the cuff of her coat. It caught on the second pass and Dallas’s balance began to shift forward. The luminous fog ebbed from her mind, only to be replaced by an apricot fuzz obscuring her vision. Dallas’s rescuer pulled her in close as they both stumbled deeper into the safety of the landing. That rust-colored veil of hair tickled her nose momentarily as it was swept back to reveal two sunlit hazel eyes and an opalescent brow furrowed in concern.
“Inna?” Dallas asked, confused.
“Are you alright?” Inna asked at the same time, then blew out a breath. “I thought you were going over Dale. I’m sorry if I startled you.” She reached out a hand and pulled Dallas to her feet.
“What are you doing here, Inna?” Dallas asked, manners neglected in the wake of the glimpsed vision. She caught her tone as it was leaving her mouth, shook her head with a sigh, and adjusted her backpack. “I didn’t mean it sound like that.” She flapped a hand at Inna. “I’m tired.”
Dallas opened her arms and hugged her younger cousin warmly. “Come inside out of the wind and tell me what brings you by.”
“That was much better,” her cousin teased, “I almost believed you meant it. Let me grab my stuff.”
While Dallas passed her hand over the lock plate on her door, Inna tiptoed between rosemary and mint to snag her worn leather bag and a travelling cloak from the bench. Dallas held the door open with a smirk to let Inna pass into the long hallway.
“You and that cloak. I’m surprised that you haven’t ended up in the Wards. Do gnomes follow you through the lilacs when you visit the Underside?”
“Oh how I wish there were gnomes down there.” Inna sighed wistfully. “I’d even settle for lilacs.”
They made their way up the gradual slope of a corridor lined with a strip of digitex wallpaper set at Dallas’s eye level. She walked swiftly past unseeing, but Inna slowed down to take in the collection of family caps. Occasionally standing on her toes to study a detail. In addition to the usual family poses of grinning sisters, parental hugs and antics, ancient photos had been scanned in showing off some of their shared family tree several generations back. Aunt Cilla had created this archive and was constantly adding to it.
A familiar image of three young women slid into view. Inna smiled, she remembered the evening well. It was ten years ago, taken outside the Grand Theatre at up on Sky Level. An impressively aesthetic building any time of day – curving up as it did from the plaza like a glass onion, bejeweled with glowing, colored light panels and mirrors – it had painted itself that evening in a most spectacular sunset.
Dallas and Inna (with Dallas’ sister Cassie) posed in front of the building at the perfect point to catch the whole building behind them unobscured. Dallas looked uncommonly elegant in a faded mocha gown that modestly followed her tall, slender frame from heavily freckled shoulders to freshly lacquered toes. Ten years or recent troubles had darkened the shadows beneath Dallas’ coffee-colored eyes – glowing ‘french press’ in this past moment because of the way the light was reflected in them.
She had let Inna do her hair that night. The usual auburn, gypsy curls had been tamed into smooth starlet grace of sweeping waves with the smallest glint of crystal tucked in just above the left ear. Cassie – blond, athletic, busty was typically the sister to draw notice, and she did look lovely that night – with her chiffon tresses swept up like a meringue, the rest of her lightly frosted in a cornflower silk gown that glowed in complement to iced azure eyes and golden skin.
If there had been a voting poll of most beautiful, Inna would have picked Dallas without a second thought. Seven years her senior and far more approachable for all her foibles and insecurities, Dallas had been Inna’s favorite cousin for their whole childhood. Cassie had always been too focused on herself to let anyone else into her sphere. Childless and twice divorced by thirty-seven, Cassie resented Inna, openly, for being a mother and criticized her often for her various life choices.
As she studied the picture, Inna realized she was making a face at Cassie though the cousin in the image was blind to her presence. Inna glanced over the image of herself, frozen in that moment at the age of 22. Though she typically didn’t stand taller than Dallas’ shoulder, she had worn excessively heels that night to Dallas’ flat sandals giving her an illusion of height without the benefit of her cousin’s long, graceful neck.
Her hair color at the time was always from a crayon set, she’d chosen pomegranate that night and ironed it flat, though the ends were made to curl and flip so the overall look was not lank and lifeless. Her dress was a deep indigo (a habit she still felt herself slip into this far into adulthood – being named Indigo made one feel as those one should support the color often, like a team affiliation) with an overlay of shimmering silver flecks randomly spread or clustered over the bodice and skirt. Midway between bust and softly pointed chin was a necklace of Iolite beads and dichroic glass that seemed to bring the true night sky into her ensemble, or show it breaking free from a crack in her bosom. Her hips were wide, bust overfull, her shoulders forever curved into chubby arms no matter her weight or exercise regime. Beside her cousins Inna felt dumpy, like the Brownie in the line-up with an Elf and a Fairy. But she did have the fairest skin of them all, and pretty awesome hair (today notwithstanding).
Her eye was drawn away from that night to a cap of her own father, watching Uncle Wayne lean over an old table game with a stick. As long as she looked at it, the image stream would hold that picture still as the others moved around it in the slideshow. Realizing Dallas had already reached her front door prompted Inna to pick up the pace, the image of her father followed her steadily to the interior door. The brothers were very young in the picture, but this image showed her father’s mischievous smile – unchanged by time. The camera had caught him about to say something. Inna longed to know what had happened next. The cap faded into the end of the line as a vid of a fluffy beige dog put her paws up and begged the lens for attention.
The scrabbling toenails of that self-same dog could be heard making their way across the flat as the door softly wooshed open.
“Hello Belle,” Dallas sang as the dog reached her front paws up to knee height and moaned a little. Inna marvelled at Belle’s balance. Her sweeping tail was wagging so hard it moved her butt back and forth while her top half stayed still and focused on her human. It looked like doggy pilates. Dallas scooped the little furball into her arms and crooned ‘hello’ at her a couple of times. Belle met the greeting with her own grumbling whines. Then she tucked her head into Dallas’ neck and licked her earlobe repeatedly.
“I wish I could find a guy to do that to me,” Inna sighed as she hung her cloak over the back of a stool.
Dallas gave her a sideways look. “I didn’t think finding them was your problem. You know you’re not allowed that far into the house without greeting Belle.”
Inna waved away her mock indignation at the jab and addressed the second remark. “You’ve been gone for ten days, I was just waiting for you to get your hellos in.”
Dallas set the little dog carefully on the floor. Belle dutifully scrambled over to their guest to say hi, Inna rewarded her with a sound ear rub and a treat she had secreted from a nearby jar. Belle danced in a circle before gently taking the cookie from Inna’s fingers.
“Such a genteel lady that one,” Inna called to Dallas who was sorting the contents of her backpack between the laundry and the trash.
“My hospitality runs out in seven minutes when I head off for a shower,” Dallas called back. “If there is a point to your visit, you might want to get to it.”
“Aaawww, do I need a point? Maybe I just missed you.”
“If it was just that you missed me you would have messaged and planned a dinner. Stalking is something you do when you need something and can’t wait for a return message.”
“I wouldn’t call it stalking. Maybe just some light lurking,” Inna pouted.
“Six minutes,” Dallas replied.
“Okay. There is a point,” Inna conceded, “but we really need to have a conversation about why you think I only visit when I want something. Do I want things that frequently?”
Dallas shook her head and pushed the door to the laundry cupboard closed with her shoulder. “No. You aren’t one of the grabby ones who always look for what we can do for them, but you also don’t stop by often without an invitation.”
Inna exhaled. “Thank you. You actually had me worried.” Inna raised a hand to cut Dallas off. “I know, five minutes. Anyway, I’m here for you not me.”
Dallas sniffed a soy milk container and made a face. Then she sniffed it again and checked the date. Inna held her hand out for the container bossily. “I need you to take a little trip with me,” Inna informed Dallas as she poured the turned milk into into the disposal.
“How is that for me?” Dallas’ voice was muffled from her position half in the cooler. She emerged with a triumphant grin and an unopened box of soy milk. “I don’t want to go anywhere. I have five days dirtside before a thirty day round trip to Mars’ Bridge. I want to spend it in my pajamas, in my house, with Belle and some classic vids. I might be persuaded to go to my parents for a meal or my sister’s for drinks or to your place to hang with Jakey – if you’re asking. But if I have to pack more than my ID and coms, Indigo Harmony Fleming, then I’m saying no. Four minutes.” Dallas tackled a bowl of cereal while glaring kindly at Inna.
“Well, Dallas Fanny Fleming, I honestly don’t think this situation calls for the full name treatment, but I can empathize with your plight. I just spent fourteen days on level one of EuRus CCSM. I feel like the gunge of a thousand strangers has settled in my crevices. That place is so overcrowded. Have you ever been standing, waiting for a train or lift, and not been 100% sure the sweat speeding down your spine towards your panties is your own?”
“Is that what happened to your hair?” Dallas quipped.
“Don’t start on my hair, Dale, or I might have to whip out your graduation cap from astropilot school. Freckles.”
“I’m docking you thirty seconds for rehashing,” Dallas said around a mouthful of cereal.
“Yeah, well I’m taking back sixty for…chewing with your mouth open. You have soy milk on your chin.” Inna feigned disgust.
Dallas let a little dribble out of the side of her mouth. “Now it won’t get lonely.”
Inna stared at her older cousin straight-faced and whispered, “In all my years…My father would be mortified. He always believed you were so classy. His ashes are turning in a little tempest right now.” Inna illustrated with a finger twirl.
“I’m pretty sure your time is up,” Dallas declared as she clinked her bowl and spoon into the sanitizer and wiped a freshly wet hand over her chin. “And I doubt Uncle Connor thought I was classy. I used to be a shuttle mechanic. I was always covered in grease and fluids.”
“Fluids are your pearls, Dallas darling.”
“I see a door in your future and a hot bath in mine,” Dallas replied with a shooing motion.
“No. Wait. Seriously, I need you to take a trip with me. It’ll take like six hours. Tops.”
“Have you heard anything I said?”
“This is important Dallas. All kidding aside, let me explain.”
Dallas sat on a barstool, while motioning to Inna to take the other. Belle was at Dallas’ ankle asking for attention so Inna picked up the little dog and put her in Dallas’ arms, then wriggled onto the other stool.
“It’s because of the story you told me, about the dreams you keep having,” Inna explained.
Dallas leaned forward, an intense look hardened her face.
“I hope you haven’t told anyone. That’s very private.”
“I know. And I haven’t,” Inna assured her. “I came across this old vid when I was in EuRus. It was a student filmmaker’s collection called ‘The New Doom Generation’. Just a handful of fifteen minute vignettes. Each start with a kind of prophecy about the end of the world and then the interviewer explores the life and perspective of the particular prophet.”
“And one of these prophets was talking about my dream somehow?” Dallas asked.
Inna nodded. “They were sort of chronological. I think the film was made about ten years ago, but the incident had to happen at least twenty years ago. It was more towards the middle of the film.”
“Is that relevant?” Dallas asked.
Inna shrugged. “The girl was eight or nine when she had the vision. She started warning people the moment she woke up. Which didn’t go over well because she was on a star bus heading back from Mars at the time. She was charged with inciting hysteria and held for psych eval.”
“Was it after the jump to Mars Bridge?” Dallas breathed.
“It was,” Inna nodded.
“The girl – her name is Sylvia B,” Inna continued, “was heading to Earth after losing her parents to a mine collapse. She was said to have been distraught to leave Mars. The medic onboard put it down to the psychological trauma of being orphaned so young. Also it was her first experience with space travel and cryostasis.”
“Wait. She was cubed when she had the dream? People don’t have random dreams in cryostasis. The guided meditation prevents that.”
Inna nodded again and raised a finger. “But, her com system failed in transit so her mind was free to roam.” She waggled her fingers loftily from her temples.
“Did it really fail or was that just an excuse made after the fact?” Dallas asked shrewdly.
“I do not have an answer for you on that. Official documentation of the incident was not exhaustive. She was a little orphan girl who had a bad dream during a scary time.” Inna shrugged. “It wouldn’t even matter to you or me if it weren’t for the dreams you’ve had.”
Dallas leaned back and took a deep breath. Inna watched her face as she processed the story. Belle rubbed her face on Dallas’ arm.
Another deep breath. “Okay. I agree that the story intrigues me, but I’m not sure that validation is the answer. If anything, knowing someone else had the same experience after an E jump in the Mars Lanes deepens my concern that it might be Jump Mania.”
“Oh! They did a standard job placement test on her years later. She tested Jump Safe.”
“Inna so did I, obviously, but that doesn’t change what keeps happening.”
“I know,” Inna replied insistently, “but my thoughts on the whole thing aren’t ‘Maybe you’re going crazy.’ They’re ‘What if you’re right?’”
Dallas looked at her cousin intently. She scanned her face for even the slightest twitch that this was a joke. Then she closed her eyes. Inna was a dreamer. She’d never been the grounded one in the family. It was why Dallas had told her about the dreams and no one else. Inna was the one person who would listen without judgement and just take it in stride. Dallas guessed that some part of her had even considered that Inna might believe the message of the dreams. Maybe she even wanted her to.
Dallas opened her eyes again and exhaled. Then she flexed her wrist to check her cuff. It was 9:30. Cassie would be at work already; so would Mom. But Mom worked from home so getting her to come by for Belle was no real problem.
“Why do we have to travel anywhere? If it’s a vid you got all of this from, can’t I just watch it for myself?” Dallas asked.
“The interview was heavily edited. I felt like I didn’t get the full story. So I tracked down Sylvia B and scheduled an appointment to meet with her today. I’m sorry about the lack of notice. I was so excited to find her I didn’t think about how inconvenient this would be on the day you got back.”
“Where does she live?” Dallas asked.
“In the terminal housing down at the Taz.”
Dallas shuddered. “I hate the Taz.”
“Many people do,” Inna stated.
“Why terminal? Is she sick?”
“Ongoing mental health issues was all the chart said. Based on the interview I saw, she really believes the world is going to end. Might make it tough to hold down a job or build any kind of life for yourself. Actually, the fact that her case started on a corporate transport and that the doctor attributed the condition, in part, to a bad comm set might have saved her. If she was deemed non-contributing otherwise she’d have been pushed to the Zerospace and left to fend for herself with the nasties and drop outs.”
“Can you imagine what Zerospace must be like on the Taz? Even the successful on the upper levels are already nasties and drop outs – grifters and thugs. The bottom level of the bottom-feeders would be the lowest of all.”
“Actually that’s not fair,” Inna held up a finger in a gesture Dallas knew signaled a lecture was about to begin.
“When the Taz was built, it was funded by the Extropian Union for Transhumanists. They were hugely successful for the first decade after the skydeck mass was accepted into the WTO and given corp collective status. Then naturalist entertainers – like that Saran lady who worships the moon – started preaching against enhancement tech to a level that even the non-bio/non-surgical products coming out of the Taz were eschewed. The entire CCSM of the Taz lost its income stream in less than a year. In order to survive and support their population, the reigning corps of the Taz adopted a ‘family culture’ and built a black market to put all others to shame. They even created a new international currency that can’t be tracked by the banks and only has value within their network. Yes, the second generation can be accused of giving in to their baser instincts with regard to capitalism. But they did not start out as criminals, they just created a means to survive.”
“Eschewed?” Dallas asked, eyebrow cocked.
“Eschewed,” Inna nodded and rolled some dog hair off her pants leg.
“Oh! I remember,” Dallas blurted into the lengthening awkward silence. The exclamation was accompanied by an abrupt flail of the arm that caused Inna to flinch, “you dated that guy from the Taz for a while. He had that thing –” Dallas gestured holding a clawed fist, facing out over her right eye. She followed the gesture with an ‘ew’ face and laughed. “And those weird silver lines in his face like he was an old micro chip.”
“Ulysses was his name,” Inna filled in a bit defensively.
“What? By birth? He made that up right; got it out of some arcane carnival register? He had to be about seven feet tall….” Dallas struggled to remember more specifics.
“I loved him, Dallas. Leave it alone.”
“Well, if you loved him what happened? I only met him a few times, but he certainly seemed moon-eyed over you.”
Inna rolled her eyes and Dallas picked up on her unintentional pun. She covered her mouth and tried not to smile. “That was accidental. I promise,” Dallas apologized, lightly touching her cousin’s arm. “Tell me what went wrong?”
“He had this telepathic implant in his head – most Transcendants do. For them it’s a mark of their commitment to maximize man’s evolution, but it’s also like having a secret language that outsiders can’t speak – can’t even hear. Ulysses felt that I needed to take the implant in order to ‘deepen our intimacy and open the door from affair onto something more substantial’. That was troublesome enough, given my history with men, but I realized that after that step in our relationship the next or the one after that would involve Jake. I couldn’t force my son to join that world for my sake and I’m certainly not leaving him behind.”
Dallas nodded thoughtfully, regretting her taunts. Inna fell in love often, but fell out of love just as easily. She never knew what kind of aftermath that caused with Inna’s psyche because it was the only thing her cousin never talked about.
“Why is Sylvia B in the Taz at all?” Dallas asked.
“Her parents worked for one of the corps in the collective, they were scientists on a mining operation for indium. Because she was a child at the time of their death, she inherited their debt to the collective and in turn became the property of the collective until she was able to work off their contracts.”
“That’s a shame,” Dallas murmured sympathetically. Then she nodded. “Okay. Give me half an hour to clean up and make arrangements for Belle and I’ll meet you at the transport station. They opened a new capsule hotel over there, you might want to take advantage of a private bath while you wait.” She plucked at the fuzzy end of Inna’s usually gorgeous hair. “Maybe do something about this.”
Inna smiled. “I’ll meet you at the station for the 10:15 shuttle. Don’t be late.”
By 10:10 the cousins were logged on the flight. Because Dallas was a pilot, the pair were able to travel with special privileges like luxury seating and a personal greeting from the shuttle pilot. A distinction neither wanted for this trip.
“I’m going to need your help coming up with a reason for this trip. My boss will see it recorded and want to know why I went to the Taz,” Dallas whispered.
“I’ve already got that covered,” Inna mumbled around a straw full of Bloody Mary. “I have three stories tags sitting in my inbox. My editor requested a piece on the commuter experience that contrasts the shuttle jaunts with with other forms of travel between the skydeck masses. You are a master shuttle machinist turned astropilot, therefore you are acting as my shuttle consultant.”
“How glamorous,” Dallas remarked and pulled a second white russian pouch from the mini bar in front of her. “What are the other stories you’re working on?”
“A bare bones investigation on inflammatory documentary filmmakers and the veracity of their stated claims.”
“Brilliant. Excellent timing.” Dallas nodded.
“And a private commission from Dreamworks for an up-to-date pastiche of the Taz for a new MPVid project where one of the ‘families’ from the Taz is confronted with some sort or moral dilemma that pits them between the collective and the survival of humanity.”
“The contents of your inbox are like a convenient box of chocolates,” Dallas grinned.
“It’s why I won’t take the full contract and give up freelancing. I can’t live a life where all I write about is constrained by the home collective,” Inna said.
“SPS isn’t too bad,” Dallas states. “I’m very content to live on the Kauri. At least my employer is not one of the completely soulless collectives like those Bank of Earth guys. I can’t live a life without some fresh air and animals. I forget, where did they land on the animal debate in the Taz?”
“They make good food and we are comforted to watch them swim,” Inna answered.
“That’s right, they’re into fish and water features. I guess that’s not so bad.” Dallas yawned impressively and shook her head with a smile. “Sorry. Do you mind if I take a quick nap?”
“Go on,” Inna encouraged. “I’ll read.”
Inna thumbed through documents stored on her tab, she pressed the title to one and settled back as the text came into focus on her reading glasses.
Jump Mania: The Pressures of FTL Travel
Jump Mania is a condition which can potentially affect one in five persons. Mild symptoms can include: vertigo, nausea, migraine cluster headaches, hallucinations, and long term fatigue. Mild cases of Jump Mania are rare. It is more common for the condition to result in a full and lasting mental break or death.
A test for predisposition to the condition was developed more than a decade after commercial use of faster than light space travel became common. Using genetic extrapolation, it can be determined with an accuracy of 99.9993% whether a person will suffer Jump Mania or is Jump Safe. There is a chromosome which turns up in the junk DNA on a Jump Safe. This chromosome’s function seems to be the production of protein chains which block adrenal responses to intense stimuli, instead providing the lingering euphoric boost of endorphin like hormones and expanding the vessel pathways in the brain to increase flow.
Prior to the identification of the J chromosome, as it is known, more than 18,000 people were lost to or diagnosed with Jump Mania. This condition nearly killed FTL travel soon after it began. Currently, any Individual classified as Jump Safe is fast-tracked into positions where inter-planetary travel is required. They are highly sought after by the collectives as employees and as genetic donors to the Human Resilience Program.
The most notable case of Jump Mania occurred in 2814 when revered astrophysicist, Dr. Nettie Boodrae, traveled to Mars for the first time. Onboard flight recorders transmitted the gruesome tale back to Earth before the ship was obliterated by an asteroid. Immediately following the jump to the Mars Lanes Dr. Boodrae released herself from the seat restraints and proceeded to kill each member of the crew and a scientific party of eight. One man had his eyes gouged out with his own ident tags. Dr. Boodrae died with the ship.
In 2008 I started writing an epic, post-apocalyptic/new beginnings sort of novel that morphed into my NaNoWriMo project that year and then grew beyond it into a 150k word monstrosity that seemed to have no end. Periodically I pick up a thread and try to work out the kinks. Due to recent inspiration, I’ve been thinking about that universe again and some of the characters I grew so fond of. This piece I have submitted to you is 100% new and pre-dates the apocalypse by a few years. I’ve found it helps me tame the final story to purge myself of individual backstories. Unfortunately this particular purge has taken on a life of its own. I’ve written 5,800 words and not quite made it to my destination. So I found a point in the middle that made a good place to stop and filled in a little technical info for the reader to understand why I chose this angle for this prompt. I hope you enjoy it. Stay tuned next week for more.