5 March, 2017 – Solar Space and Ann Arbor, Michigan
Shards of awareness ride the wavefronts of luminance and pain. Leaping away from their origin in the star, soaring across the slow tides of the plenum, the fragments can no longer remember whether they are seeking or fleeing, hoping or fearing, living or dying.
At last the blue world approaches. The shards remember that it was the goal, but not why. It, too, is divided in its nature: inviting and forbidding, precious and deadly.
As the world grows against the background of eternal stars, lines of magnetic force become visible, scarlet and lavender. The energies in themselves are innocent but intermingled with them, flickering at the edge of visibility for even the keenest consciousness, are forces more subtle and perilous. A barrier implemented in the technology of Rulers. Any being sufficiently advanced to threaten the dark creatures who have enslaved this world will find these energies to be implacable, impenetrable, and aware.
The barrier could be broken by the application of sufficient force, but only at the cost of destroying the precious nursery world that has been thus cruelly encased.
The world grows, and the barrier approaches.
A sufficiently advanced being could explain the barrier’s operation. He could explain how its complex logics are instantiated as patterns of interactions among the geometries that underlie space and time, drawing its power from the unlimited potency of the Pentachoron itself. Such a being would be ensnared by the barrier and instantly destroyed.
But no such being is here.
Finally the critical moment arrives: a long millisecond during which the barrier looks, touches, and considers. It is intelligent, in its narrow way. The simultaneous arrival of so many human-scale entities arouses suspicion, but at last it determines that none of them are worthy of its notice and turns its attention away.
Beyond and beneath it, the Earth’s sky is warm and blue.
Beneath the thin ghostly clouds of the stratosphere, high enough that they will glow long after sunset all across the northern hemisphere tonight, there is another layer of scattered cirrocumulus over much of the northern tier of the land which, in this time and this world, is still called the United States. Drifting at fifty miles per hour on the circumpolar jet stream, the air mass carrying those clouds will reach the southwestern edge of the great freshwater lakes just in time to catch fire in the early March sunset.
But at the present moment the sun still shines. Beneath the high clouds its light reflects off the giant lakes that surround the country below. After another moment the sunlight begins to glint off dozens of lesser lakes as well.
And now a road becomes visible. A highway, with vehicles crawling on it.
At a long curve in the road, a large vehicle travels slowly while smaller vehicles line up to pass it on the left. Sunlight winks off the large vehicle’s many windows.
There is a sound of tires on the roadway.
There is the vehicle’s metal roof, and—
Chris Walker wakes up on the Greyhound bus with a shock, grabbing for the cracked green seat-back in front of him like a drowning man reaching for a life preserver.
Taking a few fast deep breaths Chris looks around quickly to see if any of the other passengers have noticed his sudden illness, but they all seem to be asleep like he was.
Chris holds tighter to the metal tubing along the top of the seat and shudders. He feels terrible fear, like a presentiment of some world-shattering cataclysm about to unfold. Or—like a memory of a cataclysm just passed? Yet the landscape flowing past is calm and sunlit.
It has been a long ride, the thought comes to him. Everyone is tired.
Even the driver, his eyes visible in the big mirror positioned to let him see the bus interior, looks like he is drifting off. His eyelids flicker but open wide again when the big vehicle’s tires touch the rumble strip at the edge of the roadway. The bus driver corrects his momentary inattention as cars pull around him in the left lane of I-94 eastbound.
Chris looks out his window to the north, at the early spring fields not yet greening, the distant line of trees not yet budding, and, high above them on the edge of space, a scattering of clouds. A ‘mackerel sky’.
Seeing that sky, the young man feels a pang of loss so sharp that he releases the seat-back and hugs his sides as though to hold himself together. Tears come from his eyes, which he hurriedly wipes away.
I am upset because I have never left home before, another thought comes. The job is in Ann Arbor and I will get the job. I cannot go back to Grand Rapids. I must get the job.
But Chris Walker can’t stop looking at those high clouds through the bus window, and he can’t stop feeling more empty than he has ever felt before.