Adrift: Earth BkSy 01: Inna & Dallas Sc 03. Keep Away

Brigit’s Flame December of Minis entry two-
“Keep Away”
Speculative Future Fiction
WC: 4,480
Rated M for Mature

This is part three of at three. (I hope)
Part one is here: “The New Doom”
Part two is here: “What Dreams

The shuttle station at the Kauri had been a clean, quiet, modern, well-ordered space with enough trade present to warrant having a station, but not more than was manageable. The station where the cousins disembarked in the Taz was an overwhelming convergence of chaos.

When Dallas pushed her way from the shuttle gate into the flow of commuters, she found her senses bombarded from every direction. The walls were towering video screens writhing in costume and color. Looking at them made her uncomfortable and seemed ill-advised in the tidal surge of bodies flushing the station. She looked down to cut off a sense of vertigo, surprised to see that some floor panels lit as she stepped on them. After a quick assessment, Dallas realized that for some people the floor actually seemed to be leading them step-by-step on the fringes of the crowd.

When she remarked on this to Inna – having to bellow in her cousin’s ear to be heard over the cacophony of music and announcements streaming from the walls – Inna nodded and made an exaggerated face that Dallas could not decipher. She saw Inna twitch her Cuff on and tap some prompts, then she thumbed a blinking circle on her wrist until the floor tile in front of them synced to the same color.

Inna made a thumbs-up sign and gestured for Dallas to follow. The sheer volume of the crowd was unsettling. Dallas felt as though her senses were being crippled. Like walking into bright sun from a dark room to stand near a jet engine as it whined. She wrapped her fist around Inna’s hood and held on. Dallas had experienced many things in her life that a person might fear, but the press of bodies, the deafening sound, the bright flashing vid screens in an otherwise dim room – even the pandemonium of odors in this place – caused a gripping anxiety in her chest and stomach that made her want to run.

The people exiting the gates were an eclectic mix. Some were normal like her and Inna, others were variations on human commingled with machine – which was odd but not disturbing. Then there were a few she caught glimpses of through the crowd who looked like they’d been spawned in the labs of insane scientists.

The oddest creature she spotted had a tentacled mouth over a man’s face, and stubby, green, crab claws instead of hands. He had a shell on his back, also resembling a crab’s, but his bare chest was sinewy and overtly masculine paired with his marine features. From the pelvis down, he was swathed in a billowing skirt that swept the ground. His gate was so awkward, Dallas wondered if he had legs or some sort of slug’s body instead. Mortified, she realized he was staring back at her. When their eyes met, he reached a claw down to a slit in his skirt and shifted it open as though in answer to her question. She glimpsed something that seemed like a tentacle. Then her brain made a few sketches of human anatomy and she blushed deeply, hoping it was strictly a tentacle in function. Dallas kept her eyes fixed on the back of Inna’s head after that.

 

The transition from chaos to calm was as abrupt and complete as a door slamming shut. Dallas’ ears briefly continued to ring in the silence. Her eardrums ached as though a bomb had gone off nearby. Working her jaw back and forth to relieve the tension in her face, she took in the space around them. They were standing in a bubble and they were not alone.

Even if she had not brought him up earlier, Dallas would have recognized Ulysses instantly. He resembled a mountain – tall, broad shoulders, meaty hands, biceps of a greater diameter than her hips, and an enormous head that was completely in proportion with the rest of him. He had done something different to his skin. There were more of the silver lines criss-crossing and outlining his bare flesh, and the once burnt caramel color of his skin had been mottled in an organic pattern that looked like rock. Ulysses still had the strange eye socket that had stood out to her when she first met him. Attached from brow to cheek by a heavy metal ring, the protrusion it housed looked like an ancient spyglass fashioned from a dark, non-reflective metal.

Inna hugged the man mountain fondly. He twisted the ocular attachment up, revealing painfully raw, puckered skin beneath. Then he folded nearly in half to kiss Inna tenderly on both cheeks. Dallas stepped closer, unbalanced for a moment by the illusion created by the clear floor of the bubble and the visible floor 50 meters below. She extended a hand to Ulysses in greeting and smiled as genuinely as she could.

Ulysses grinned, enveloping her hand in his. “I am never thought to meet you here, Dallas. Welcome to my home.”
“I’m surprised to be here, Ulysses. Thank you for meeting us. It makes me feel less like I’ve fallen into a dream just seeing a…familiar face. Would it be rude for me to comment on the change to your skin since the last time I saw you?”
Ulysses huffed, smiling, and crossed his hands in front of his belt buckle – rocking forward a little on his toes. “Well that would depend on the comment.”
“You look like one of those mythic mountains that threw boulders at each other,” Dallas said lightly.
“I didn’t know you enjoyed reading myths. I thought you were more interested in factual history,” Ulysses challenged, recalling to Dallas an old conversation from a previous meeting.
Dallas waved a hand at her cousin. “Inna gets to pick the vids sometimes. Although, I think I watched that one with Jake. It was a book?”
Inna nodded, she looked unsettled maybe even nervous.
Ulysses waved a hand dismissively. “Yes, but so long ago that the myth has been recycled and repurposed many times over. My skin is painted for urban warfare, it will wear off in a month.”
“Oh,” Dallas remarked sheepishly, then realized what he said. “The Taz is at war?”
“Battle Games,” Inna supplied, “Ulysses is a blocker for his team. He’s what they refer to as a tank.”
“I know what a tank is,” Dallas chided. “Dad and I watch the battle games on The Kauri all the time. You must be the best tank in the world,” she added in open admiration.
The man puffed up his already monumental chest and smiled cockily. “It has yet to be proven, but my fans believe I will be. I’ve been chosen to play for The Taz in the Earth Battle Games.”
“I can’t wait to see it!” Dallas exclaimed with a little clap.
“It’s barbary,” Inna sighed and shook her head.
“It’s lucrative for the Collective,” Ulysses stated.
“It’s tradition,” Dallas interjected.
“Can we get down to business?” Inna asked irritably.

Ulysses caressed her arm gently. “I have gained clearance passes for you to visit the terminal complex. I will do all of the visual recording for you and submit it to the Admin. They will review and forward the approved file to you. The interview with Sylvia B can last no longer than one hour – per Terminal Council. The good news is, they’ve agreed to let you speak with her directly and without the full council present. I’ve been accepted as her temporary moderator in this, so if I tell you that your question violates the treaty, her rights, or council policy you must immediately quit that line of inquiry.”
Inna nodded.

“As for the other job, I have clearance to take you out to the tourist approved areas and we will dine in one of the most prestigious restaurants on The Taz, courtesy of the Collective.”
“Tour first and then the interview?” Inna clarified. Ulysses nodded and gestured toward the exit.
Dallas looked around, impressed. As they were talking, the bubble had transported them to another sector of the Taz without any sense of motion or inertia.

 

The new deck was calm and far less populated. Dallas could see collected water on the horizon and the occasional person holding a stick over a serene pool.
“Are they fishing?” She asked with wonder.
Ulysses nodded and gestured to a kiosk where they seemed to offer the sticks to rent. “If you’d like we can try our hand at it after lunch.”

Terminal housing was typically bleak in the corporate world and the industrial nature of the Taz did not add anything to improve upon that theme. Though it was the first native sector Inna had glimpsed on this Skydeck Mass that wasn’t teched out and blaring. The android population of the terminal complex outnumbered the human and transhuman inhabitants two-to-one.

The structure itself had no esthetic. It was a squatty, thirty story compound hunkered down in a two km square void between buildings that stretched one hundred stories to brush the underside of the next deck level.  The only hint at style were the lines of blackened porthole windows rimmed in metal that made Inna think of hollow, industrial spiders – lined up and anchored to the concrete against a windstorm.

The reception area was an odd mix of sterile grunge, with smoky walls of unpolished metal occasionally interrupted by ashen concrete panels that sported battleship doors, dingy vista projections for light therapy, or even dingier vid plates advertising biomedical improvements and drugs to ask your doctor about.

The service androids who accompanied patients in wheeled conveyances and hover-chairs looked as though they’d been put directly into service after a long slide down a waste chute. They all had a slightly oily sheen (and smell) and more dents than smooth curves. At least three the group passed in the receiving area only had one optic sensor.

The android manning the front desk was a rolling office chair from the waist down and had a roughly shaped metal plate riveted to one side of its face. Inna thought he looked like he was ready for an unorthodox costume ball.
“State your name, patient’s name, and authorization code,” the android instructed somberly.
Inna adjusted her mental pronouns to ‘she’. There was a distinctly feminine tone to the receptionist’s words with the lilt of the Taz’ native patois behind the rote sentence.
Wheels referred them to a consultation room on an upper floor once they had each thumbed a set of consent, privacy, and non-disclosure forms via their Cuffs.
The elevator was a sketchy metal box on pulleys. No fancy, inertia-absorbing bubbles in this sector. The lights in the elevator dimmed before it left the reception area with a jolt that had all three passengers reaching for the walls.
Each level they passed seemed to be marked by a flickering of the bulbs overhead. Inna smirked, entertaining thoughts of hauntings and the death-bleached shades of deranged mental patients. If Jake had been there, she would have pulled a packet of salt from her bag and sprinkled it around them in a circle. Dallas and Ulysses wouldn’t get the joke.

“I wish the lights would stop doing that,” Dallas grumbled to the ceiling.

“It is unsettling,” Ulysses agreed, grasping for the wall again as the elevator switched to a lateral line.

The motion of the elevator abruptly jerked to a stop and the doors opened onto a small sitting room decorated in a palette of grey and sweat. In the center of the room there were two, beat up, grey, foam couches facing off over a metal table. Other than a small door across from the trio’s entrance and three small porthole windows to the right, there was nothing on the walls but ancient stains and the harsh reflection of an overhead light.

A man appeared in hologram and introduced himself Dr. Tagealli, Sylvia B’s health manager.  He reiterated much of what had been said already regarding the interview protocol, then added a new instruction.

“To keep Sylvia in a calm and cooperative state you will need to leave at least one meter between you and her for your full visit. Do not try to touch the patient even to shake hands. You will not get her to wear a microphone. Do not pass her any pieces of paper or trinkets. Sylvia has a compulsion against germs and disease; violating the patient’s personal space causes excess anxiety and stress.”

“Thank you, Doctor Tagealli. We will respect the extended personal space,” Inna said.

The trio were required to thumb acknowledgment of these instructions, then the doctor winked out and the group took up waiting positions around the room; giving the inner door a wide berth.

Inna ended up at one of the portholes, staring into a dense fog, contemplating Ulysses and the feeling of being near him again. It was a melancholy thing. She was pleased to see him and to interact, but she also knew that he had moved on with someone else and his wedding was mere months away. Inna wanted him to be happy, but she wished selfishly that he would never happier than when he was with her. She also wished she’d put more effort into finding a solution to keep them together.

Inna glanced over at Ulysses. He was sitting on one of the couches with Dallas opposite, talking easily about a recent Battle Game and showing off his impressive scars. Dallas seemed surprisingly at ease with him. Inna knew the sports angle was they key, but she also realized that Dallas had softened considerably in some of the ways she had once been elitist. Fear of a diagnosis of Jump Mania had a humbling effect on her cousin, but it had also made her more open-minded. Inna was not sure why one had led to the other, but she felt closer to her cousin than ever before and was happier for it.

A bell chimed in the room and a strip of lights above the inner door blinked twice. Inna crossed the room to stand near Dallas. She felt a tingle of excitement. Interviewing someone she had researched so deeply was always a thrill for her.

An android entered the room and explained that he would mark the boundary for Sylvia’s comfort zone. Essentially, he would stand between them and none of their party should attempt to pass him. No actual threats were levied, but Inna imagined approaching Sylvia and disappearing in a puff of skin cells under the android’s deathray gaze or being tazed to the floor as he pointed and bellowed, “Violation!”

She really needed to work some new genres into her vid queue.

Sylvia slipped into the room, leaning against the wall like she was balancing on a window ledge. She removed her shoe and wedged it into the door so it could not close all the way, then she leaned near the opening as though ready to flee. From this position, Sylvia studied them and acknowledged their introductions with subtle nods. The gamine girl did not seem able to stand still. Restlessly she shifted from foot to foot; dreaded, mouse-brown hair swinging in a nervous rhythm to slap a silent beat against her pallid cheeks.

Since Sylvia had chosen to stand against the wall behind the couch, Inna began the interview kneeling backwards on the grey foam and resting her tab screen on the back of the couch to maintain a reference to the questions she’d prepared.

Inna gave Sylvia what she felt was a kind and reassuring smile.
“Thank you for meeting with us today, may I call you Sylvia?” Inna asked.
“I’ ya call me somet’en else I won’ know ta answer,” she replied tartly from behind her hair. Sylvia’s voice still had the high pitch of a child and her hard patois reflected the down two accent of the forgotten. (On the two lowest decks of all CCSMs education was optional. Most children in this class began working as soon as their motor skills would allow.)

Inna smiled at the joke and pushed forward.
“I recently watch a documentary where you talked about a vision of the end of the world. I’m very interested in your dream. Can I ask you some questions about it?”
“I’ not a dream. Not da firs’ time. Dat one way a future put in mah heaD,” Sylvia tapped her temple for emphasis.

“I would like to hear about it. See if there are details –”
“Why ya wan’ know? I ‘ready know an don wan’ know iT. Wish I couldT no know it, lai you. I re-mem-ber you. I saw you die. Ya wan’ know daT?”
Inna opened her mouth, but Sylvia’s blunt declaration had surprised her right off her train of thought.
Sylvia spoke again, gesturing strongly as though flinging something from her chest.
“I’ a liar. I’ a crazy. I’uh too la-aZy ta work so I’d make it uP. I’ a scared orphan lookin’ for a-tten-tioN. D’ese are da tings people say when I tell deM. N’ai listens, be-causse n’ai wan’ ta know, no really. Dey show me a t’rrible ting, a horror’ting. But n’ai say to me, after, why dey show iT. Kan I’uh stop iT? Kan you stop iT? I don wan’ a life fulla people dyin’ be-hine mah close eyes? Do you?”
“No, I would not want that,” Inna shook her head and glanced at Dallas.
“I saw you die,” Sylvia whispered harshly and gestured like she was throwing her eyes to the floor.
“That is a hard thing to hear,” Inna conceded. “Do you mean me specifically, all three of us specifically, or the human race in general?”
“I way talkin ta you,” Sylvia pointed, “bu’h I saw her too.” She crooked a thumb in Dallas’ direction. Then she leaned a bit to see around them and looked intently at Ulysses. “I don know you. I nay see you bu’hfore. Who are you?”
“I’m Ulysses, I am here as your moderator today.”
“What’s dat do?” she asked.
“I am tasked with keeping the interviewers from making you uncomfortable, angry, or frustrated. I am also here to make a pure record of the interview so no one can change your words or misquote you.”

While talking, Ulysses had moved from his perch on the arm of the second couch to stand beside Inna. Sylvia cringed and keened at him in terror to stay away. She retreated part of the way through the inner door. The android, alerted by the stress of her outburst moved to close the gap between himself and the space directly in front of Sylvia.
“Please do not move around the room. Choose a seat or place to stand and remain there,” the android instructed.
“I will,” Ulysses answered, palms out.
It took a few minutes for Sylvia to rejoin them. She eyed Ulysses warily for a while. The restless shifting had returned, but she was hiding behind her hair less than before.
“Sylvia,” Dallas began, “can you tell us in detail, what you saw in the vision?”
Sylvia sighed, “I tell you nay, you be happier.”
“I know,” Dallas urged, “I take that responsibility on myself, but maybe together we can find a hint or clue about how to stop it.”
“Doctor in da light say is’s ‘delusional prophet complex’,” Sylvia enunciated the diagnosis with disdain. “Say if I were da real prophet I’uh see more den ever’bai dyin’.”
“I’m no expert on prophets,” Dallas said with a reassuring smile, “but I do enjoy a good mystery vid. Let’s see if we can suspend the disbelief and unravel it together.”
Sylvia shrugged, “Where ya wan me ta start? Do ya wan me to tell ya how you die?” This time Sylvia wasn’t challenging or trying to shock them. Inna felt that she was genuinely asking if they wanted to hear that detail or remain ignorant.
“Let’s just start from the beginning and work through it,” Dallas suggested.
“I don know da names of all da places, but I’uh can describe dem to you,” Sylvia offered.
Dallas cocked her head. “What places?”
“Da vision start on Mars, den it go to somerway I’ nay been. Den dey show me udder places, den yours, den  couple more. Den here for my own death.”
This time Dallas was thrown off the train. Inna filled the gap after a pause.
“Is there something all of these places have in common, Sylvia?” Inna asked.
“Ever’bai dies,” Sylvia offered with a shrug. “and da rabbit people, a’huh”
“Okay.” Inna nodded and tapped a line item from her list. “Tell me about the rabbit people. Do you know who they are?”
“No.”
Inna waited a beat to see if Sylvia would add anything to her statement, then plunged ahead.
“Why do you call them rabbit people?”
“Because dey people wit’ long rabbit ears, fur, whisker, paws…” Sylvia drifted off, lost in thought.
“So they are people in costumes designed to look like rabbits?” Inna asked.
“No. Dey people all da way t’rough.”
Inna felt confused and was considering how to nail this detail down when Dallas chimed in. “Just to be clear, Sylvia. You are saying the rabbit people are not wearing costumes, they always have fur and long ears, even when they are naked?”
Sylvia giggled in a manic, breathy way. “I’uh never see one a dem nakeD! Dey wear dose funny pant wit’ part of a shirt on top anda straps dat hold it all together. But when dey naked dey would stay have fur, like animals. Dey no animals dough. Dey talk and dance and make plans ta kill people instay of jess bitin’ dem.”
Dallas considered her own vision. There is no such thing as rabbit people so she had always believed them to be people in costume. How could Sylvia be so sure? Had it been settled in the memory of the naive child willing to believe in fairy stories and never challenged in adulthood? Then she remembered Crabby Beefcake from the station.
“Ulysses,” Dallas began, turning to the man, “is there tech on The Taz to give people animal parts as well as mech enhancements?”
“Sure.” He nodded. “Our specialists have worked out biogenetic transmogrification that includes zoology.”
“Any all-over rabbit trends?” Dallas asked.
“Not that I’m aware of.” He shook his head.
Sylvia stood still, “Maybay rabbit people nay here t’day, but dey may be on da right day?”
“Maybe.” Dallas nodded thoughtfully.
Inna tried to dive back in. “Sylvia, you said the beginning of the vision is on Mars and then it travels to other places. Do you know any dates, times, or details that might be a clue to time like weather, seasons…”
“It sunset way you die and I t’ink it soon because you almost look like da people you will be dat day. Dallas’ hair is longer and you’uh hay a scar under your lip here,” Sylvia ran her finger under the right quarter of her bottom lip.
Dallas felt her skin prickle at that detail; another correlation to her own vision.
Sylvia continued. “Da vision happen at da same time. Each place ha’ da same ting happen at-da same time, but I can’nay see ever’ting at once, so I see each piece in each place. I see da people who miss da gatherings – da ones who are still alive after da dance – find da bodies where dey drop. Den dey take da sickness awa’i with dem and die too, slower. Den people who stay’d awa’i get sick and die. Den dey come here ta kill mE, but I don’ get da pretty paper dat show sunlight where dere is’nay lighT. Dey don’ dance wit’ me and I’uh know who dey are so I scream-an-scream, but dey kill me anywai.” Sylvia had stepped away from the wall and was clinging to her android’s back while he held her under each knee.
“So childlike,” Inna thought.
“Dey give me da blood demselves. When I first saw me die, I was eight so I didn’ay know it wAs me. Not to maybe five year ago dat I notice I was becomin’ dat last person who died. Now I know’d why she de only one who wa’ afraid of the rabbit people. And n’ai ever sees dem leave. It like ever’bai is come ta see dem. Dey dance and take da children to dance wit’ an den dey shine dem up. Da rabbit people tell da children to go back to dey family – to hug dem, tell dem love tings, den ta kiss d‘em. De kids do it, but dey get bloodsick all over da firs’ person who lean in for da kiss. Den da sickness is out for ever’bai ta catch. But while ever’bai tiss screamin’ an dyin’ da rabbit people disappear. N’ai ever see dem leaVe.”
With Sylvia speaking faster, Inna tried to process the chain of events and additional details that the girl was throwing out.
“What is the final moment of the vision? Do you actually experience your own death in the vision or just see your contamination?” Inna asked.
Sylvia thought about this. “My eyes close,” she states, preoccupied with remembering. “I feel da pain in my stomach like a t’ick snake it’s twistin’ in dere. Den da porthole open and da pink cloud say, ‘There is no safe place on Terra.’ It start rainin’ in my room, den ever’ting is black.”
“The voice comes from the pink cloud?” Dallas asked in wonder, forgetting to pretend that she did not know a part of this vision for herself.
“Yes,” Sylvia answered with a yawn. “I use tink dey were talkin’a me, but now I tink I hear dem tell someone else.”
“Like they are answering a question,” Inna offered. “If it’s like you just said it, ‘There is no safe place on Terra.’ then the emphasis on ‘is’ would make it seem like someone asked, ‘Where do we go?’ or ‘Where can we hide?’ and this was their reply.”
Dallas nodded and pointed at Sylvia with a smile. “So maybe the answer has been there all along. In order to survive we need to get off the planet!”
Inna looked at Dallas, barely containing her excitement. “She said it happens simultaneously on Mars. So we can’t go to Mars, where else is there?”
“I guess we start with space itself and see where discovery leads us?” Dallas answered. Then stopped breathing. Sylvia was standing right in front of her with an intense expression and both hands hovering above Dallas’. Together they looked down as Sylvia exerted willpower over her fear and grasped Dallas’ wrists with both hands.
“Ta-ay me wit you,” a shaking Sylvia breathed with her eyes closed. Then she opened them and stared directly into the other woman’s eyes. “Don leaVe me ‘ere ta die.”
“We won’t,” whispered Dallas. “We won’t.”

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Adrift: Earth BkSy 01: Inna & Dallas Sc 02. What Dreams

Brigit’s Flame December of Minis entry one-
“What Dreams”
Speculative Future Fiction
WC: 1,486
Rated M for Mature – for gore and horror

This is part two of at least three.
Part one is here: “The New Doom”

It wasn’t long after Dallas closed her eyes that it started.

The dream is always the same at the beginning. Dallas – sitting in a crowded, open-air plaza, at a familiar outdoor cafe surrounded by her family. She kisses the top of Jake’s head – his soft, tawny swirls brushing her cheek as he turns to show Inna the new toy Dallas has just given him. Her father makes a joke and their joined laughter carries above the mild din of other patrons.

A woman at the next table slips a treat from her own plate to Belle who accepts it daintily. Dallas meets the stranger’s eyes as she looks up from petting the little dog. The woman blushes and smiles shyly. Dallas notices her hand stroke a small white stone affixed to a cord around her neck. It is the memorial stone for treasured family, likely a dog given the context. Dallas mirrors the gesture sliding a finger across her own stone, thinking of her dear uncle instead of one of the four-legged ghosts of her childhood.

Across the table her mother, Cilla, notices the motion and shows she understands the touch of sadness that crosses Dallas’ eyes by raising her wine glass in a silent toast to a good man.

Then Jake pulls at her sleeve and redirects her attention to the sky. Clusters of well-formed cumulus clouds – bellies heavy with the juice of a tangerine sunset – drift by. He points to the clouds because seeing the underside from a Skydeck is rare. Given the altitude of the manufactured continent, clouds were typically seen from above or shared space with the Kauri inhabitants as fog.

Inna points to a really fat cloud, candied in fuchsia despite the golden light. It grows as they watch, expanding swiftly from the center; a rolling thunderhead crackling with white-violet lightning.

Dallas always recognizes the dream for what it is when that unnatural cloud unfurls. Her stomach clenches knowing what will happen next.

Like a flash mob of old, costumed people stream into the plaza making ordered rows. The assembled audience stands and pushes in for a better view. This is the event they have all been waiting for.

Dallas stands with her family. Inna is in front with Jake, hands on his shoulders and lips near his ear to be heard over the music filling the plaza. The dreaming Dallas groans. “Pull him back!” she fights to scream, but she is not in control of the Dallas at the scene.

The performers are made up like cats; though their ears are long like wild hares and they are wearing overalls. The fabric of their costumes rustles softly as they file in from the four arches and take position. Odors like wet hay and afterbirth follow the players into the plaza center, pushing the usual scents of spiced food and incense out into the street.

Dallas looks away from the assembly to see if anyone else notices the strong, suffocating stink. This time, in this version of the dream, she looks to the southwest. Initially, she checks the storm’s progress, notes it seems to have stalled kilometers from the Skydeck.

Beneath the cloud, at deck level, a man stands looking out over the distant ocean. He turns as though he senses her attention. Dallas recognizes his face. He is a fellow SPS astropilot, of Russian or Pan-Slavic descent. She remembers that his accent is thick and rich like a savory stew and that his eyes are crystalline green jewels in a face that never smiled. Dallas does not remember ever being told his name.

His head is covered by a skull cap, but she can see tight, auburn curls tufting out around the sides of his windburned face. The man is looking at Dallas as intently as she is in return, then he drops his eyes to his Cuff and extends his right arm to the side – palm out. Dallas understands at once that he is showing her his Cuff screen. Though he is standing more than 50 meters away, she can read the Cuff and his expression easily. His face shows fear and the device reads, “Contact.” followed by a num-char string.

Dallas barely registers that he is giving her a way to contact him before he gestures with his Cuff hand in her direction. Their eyes meet. No pick-up artist flirtation there. No “Call Me” motion with a double-tap to the ear. Instead, he points over her shoulder and mouths “look” as a tear slides down his cheek.

Dreaming Dallas doesn’t want to look. Not again. She does not want to watch this happen ever again. But the other Dallas dutifully turns.

The performers select the children from the front of the crowd. They weaving dancing lines around the plaza holding the hands of beaming children in their soft paws. The lines halt their dance to face each other in two concentric circles – performers on the inside and children on the outside. From their front bib pockets the performers produce a small square of something shiny. Like furry magicians, they hold the objects by a single corner and shake them. Fine, sparkling motes tinkle from the objects and float over the upturned faces of enraptured children. The action is repeated for each corner, and with each shake the object grows until what began as a dense, three centimeter square becomes a gauzy cloth that covers the hand.

The faces of the children glitter with a fine iridescence. The rabbit-y people lean forward as though sharing a secret with the child in front of them. They rub a tiny spot clean on the end of each child’s nose while whispering instructions. Then they reach into their bibs and theatrically pull out a handful of glitter confetti. This too is blown in the faces of the juvenile crowd.

The children stretch their arms like bird wings and spiral back to their waiting families in the crowd – still part of the performance. Smiling parents receive their children with open arms and exclaim cheerfully over their shining faces. Inna runs a finger down Jake’s cheek and smudges some of the shimmering dust across her own cheeks.

Dallas watches Jake’s face. He is grinning. Then he is holding his stomach in pain.

Across the plaza the children are holding their stomachs. They do not double over with the pain, they stretch to meet the faces of concerned parents who lean in to ask what is wrong. Blood sprays from the mouths and noses of the still twinkling faces. Torrents of blood spew simultaneously into the faces of those closest to the children in distress. As the horrible wave explodes from them, each child drops. They are dead before their knees remember to bend.

Dallas is screaming. Jake is lying on his side, the skin of his face translucent where it is not bloody. Then Inna is spewing blood in the same manner. This into Cilla’s face as the aunt wails, but refuses to let go of her dying niece. Dallas’ father grabs his daughters roughly by the arms and pushes them toward the street, “Run!” he bellows even as Cilla clings to Cassie and a river of blood is sent into her eyes and mouth.

Dallas sees that some of the blood has splashed onto her father’s nose and cheek. Words like ‘contagion’ and ‘infected’ flood her brain as she realizes that Cassie is falling to the floor and her father is next. He is holding an inert Belle in his arms and screaming to Dallas to run. But where? The plaza is full of the dead and dying. If she left, she might spread the outbreak to another sector.

Dallas saw her father wince in pain. She ran to him and threw her arms around his chest, bracing herself against the cascade of blood. He sinks lifeless to the cobbles and she kneels beside him to await her fate. The performers are gone. She did not notice them leave. A glance to the southwest and she notes that the other pilot is gone. Not dead, but not present.

All that’s left is the storm. That strange fuchsia cloud rumbles overhead; the rain falling in heavy drops from a starless, aubergine sky. Dallas is awake before her own stomach cramps.

Awake and dreading the next time she needs to sleep.

After scrubbing the tears from her face, she activates her Cuff and enters the contact info for the pilot in the dream. He is not the first she’s seen there, but he is the first who behaved lucidly and spoke to her directly. In the two years since the first vision, Dallas had recognized a dozen pilots in the plaza. It was the only detail that changed from dream to dream. With this new knowledge of Sylvia B’s vision, Dallas was wondering if they were dreamers too.

Adrift: Earth BkSy 01: Inna & Dallas Sc 01. The New Doom

fountainstill1

 

 

 

 

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.

Author’s note:
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.