The starship crash-landed somewhere in the dark and early hours of morning. The thunderclap sound of it striking the East Bay woke Tamuel up, heart racing and confused. He glanced out his window, but didn’t see anything. He stumbled out into the common room to see if he could see anything different from the balcony. “What was that?” One of his siblings also was apparently out and looking around for the cause of the sound. “There’s no storm.”
It took Michael “Meek” Prouder half an hour to magtube from Claremont to the Coachella Valley desert, near the Nestlé Reservoir entertainment pier. In this oasis of hot dogs, pinwheel fireworks, and whirlygigs, he could lounge and marinate himself, soak up rays as he listened to the music radiating from the dam wall, and sink under the rhythmic roar of artificial waves crashing against the artificial shore. He could walk out into the desert away from the city lights.
Liyana had seen elephants form into protective circles when calves were threatened, but this was different. These days, animal behavior was all but impossible to predict, of course—prey turning to predator; trees turning to stone in moonlight—but this didn’t feel random. There was intent in the way the elephants moved. The seven of them—she counted three juvenile males, two juvenile females, and two adult females—plodded into a loose formation.
The suns were setting over Ariel’s cliffs, a great blaze of crimson and gold, when the first pounding came at Anna’s door. The stories from old Earth talked about the glories of their sunsets, but they were nothing, nothing, to the drama of Ariel’s twin suns. And yet, it wasn’t the sunsets that brought people to Ariel, that had brought her and her husband, all those years ago. Bam-bam-bam! No polite neighbor knock, but desperation in the hammer of fist against metal.
I’d never been on a quieter school bus. Kids were whispering to each other, looking scared as hell as the bus clipped stray branches from the endless forest pressing in on both sides of us. “This isn’t even a two-way road,” I murmured to Flora, the girl sitting beside me. She was chubby and had braces. “I know. Where is this school? My parents said this would be the greatest thing ever for my college applications, but I don’t know about this.”
New Orleans stank to the heavens. This was either the water, which did not have the decency to confine itself to the river but instead puddled along every street; or the streets themselves, which seemed to have been cobbled with bricks of fired excrement. Or it may have come from the people who jostled and trotted along the narrow avenues, working and lounging and cursing and shouting and sweating, emitting a massed reek of unwashed resentment and perhaps a bit of hangover.
Qubits resolve and superimpose; information entangles and de-couples; consciousness re-emerges. I don’t know for how long I’ve been asleep. There’s so little energy left in the island-ship’s reservoir that I’ve been conserving as much as possible. A faint glow in the abyss, perhaps several thousand kelvins. It’s why I’ve been awakened. I change course and head straight for perhaps the last star in the universe.
She sees the universe unfold: color light cold music voice heat passion infinity. It uncurls in waves and song fractals that make up the subatomic fabric of space-time. Melodies of energy sweep her up and spin her into a thousand voices. Colors not yet named and not yet seen paint her mind with joy. The entire universe wraps around her, welcomes her, calls her home.
It is exam week, and Donny is 14 years 10 months 15 days 10 hours 16 minutes old. He is bored and hungry and his scalp itches and he hates school more than he’s ever hated anything before in his life. He hates exams in particular, and he hates his math exam most of all. 54 minutes and 20 seconds are left before he can leave, before he can take the damned dunce cap off and be himself again.
Pillai expected Kali border security to be much tighter than it was. All he got was a body search that was routinely thorough, and a few old-fashioned tests and checks. It reminded him of a visit he had made as a very young rightwing Hindu activist to an Indian nuclear weapon testing facility back in 1998, after the Pokhran atomic tests. His briefings had been correct in this respect: Kali did not seem to have much use for twenty-first-century Safe Care.