Mrs. Ichnida’s Thread begins with Mission Day 3
State Department Briefing, Mrs. Ichnida, Mission Day 3
“How can you hear? You don’t have ears!”
This from a genhum* without a face.
“I have otoliths,” I answer. “Look ’em up.”
I get even more charm from Senator Pretyman this morning, quote:
“Why would you want to be a fish? Living in your own waste?”
After hesitating, imagining how uncomfortable it would be in such close quarters if I slapped her, I answered, “Water is sacred. Living within it is an intimate experience. Through water we touch all others and they us. Luckily, we’re not in water.”
Senator Pretyman hasn’t solved our water mystery yet. All the water in Resolution is disappearing, leaving dust behind. It isn’t evaporating. It isn’t boiling away into steam. It isn’t condensing into ice. The dust it leaves behind is ash.
This, of course, is an even more serious problem for me than for the others.
The Professor from DOD** is getting as much data on the energy phenomenon at the center of this galaxy as he can before we’re forced to abort the mission. I’d just as soon return to Atcifia now to help everyone facing the eruption. But to go just to see the city and state I helped start get destroyed? Don’t let that happen.
Stupidity continues this afternoon. Alpha ran a check to see if I’d ever eaten humans. While backgrounding my state, Alpha discovered land-based humans on the menu in Atcifia.
I told him I wasn’t really into land food, but I confessed to having eaten dusties now and then over the years. I had to explain that dusties are human nuggets. Very popular. Hard to avoid. They taste so good.
But I only eat the ones grown on the farms.
State Department Briefing, Mrs. Ichnida, Mission Day 10
Mission Alert: CONFIDENTIAL: To Atcifia Control From Mrs. Ichnida
Agent consciousness compromised. Status: coma Action: activate EIDP
Electroencephalogram Implant Decoding Procedure activated
Note: These are the only snippets of comprehensible patterning translatable…
…Never worked closely with artintels except the President before this…
It’s difficult to trust beings that convey a patronizing aloofness. Alpha and Doctor Nopoin both assume humanoids will be overwhelmed and left behind by the expansion of artificial intelligence, and not in a violent or even malicious way, but by being surpassed in our every talent and skill.
Our fate will eventually be at their mercy, much as our ancestors regarded farm animals. But Alpha is very diplomatic about it as it gradually unfolds. Still, it is eerie how Alpha is conveying no emotional stress over the destruction of Doctor Nopoin.
Professor Flamear destroyed Nopoin easily, revenge for its harming Ms. Pretyman.
Senator Pretyman and Officer Bulbous are both on the side of human supremacy. But Pretyman is Texan and Bulbous is Martian. They come at human supremacy from different strategic angles. As we all now know, the Martian state of Bradbury has seceded from the union. They want to be an all-human state.
That would exclude me or anyone like me with mixed animal genomes, like Professor Flamear. But the Texan – if she lives – is running for president against the popular incumbent, the first artintel president itself, President Csaynik.
Mister Cresp is the wild card. None of us are privy to his background. He keeps to himself. The most dangerous kind of all…
State Department Briefing, Mrs. Ichnida, Mission Day 17
Doctor Nopoin seems as shocked to see me as I am to find it in one piece and alive again. As I drift into the control center, Professor Flamear looks scared.
“I’m no ghost,” I announce. Obviously they thought I was frozen dead. “I’m genetically protected with a natural anti-freeze. Look it up.”
Nopoin explains its self-repair and our emergency thrust away from the entropy trap. It’s obvious that Resolution was folded and reinstated since I froze, damage repaired. Temperatures are back to normal. “Where are we?”
“That’s what I’m struggling to determine,” answers Flamear. I notice something off about the Professor. Has he been sedated?
“Glad to find you and Nopoin getting along,” I tell Flamear,“considering you ripped its head off.”
Flamear is puzzled. “Doctor Nopoin is fine. Yes, back home in Zorrenna some feel threatened by the beings like the Doctor. But in Zorrenna, all policies of their President Csaynik work for our betterment. Never would I support the idea that the artintels* are conspiring againsthumanity.”
Not that I asked. What has Doctor Nopoin done to Flamear?
And how did Mister Cresp simply vanish? Something besides me is fishy.
I’ve got to get home to Atcifia now to help everyone victimized by the eruption. But we’re so far out that we’re finding something that was beyond our horizon back in galactic space.
We’re seeing something we never knew existed because it left before stars were born.
State Department Briefing, Mrs. Ichnida, Mission Day 24
We’ve been inside this thing for 20 hours.
Damned if I know the technical details but Professor Flamear is trying to determine where it is we’re going.
We ended up inside a mammoth labyrinth laced with arches that could encompass the whole Milky Way. And even though we arrived by TAREX, we can’t activate it again from inside whatever this is. To start up TAREX in here would be to kill ourselves for certain.
I have almost no chance of making it home to Atcifia.
Doctor Nopoin says, “We may be trapped in here for the rest of your lives and my existence. In terms superstitious organics can relate to – we aren’t Jonah swallowed by a whale. We’re a speck on the back of a flea on the arm of Jonah being swallowed by the whale. Only smaller.”
Professor Flamear doesn’t like the Doctor.“One more insult out of you, Jeeves, and I’ll crush you into a can of condensed crap!”
I look out the portal at a nightmare.
How far into this behemoth have we drilled? What outlandish craziness might we have to contend with in here – for eternity?
My reflection frightens me. At least in a nightmare, the terror is inside of you. This nightmare surrounds me.
Do I have to die with these strangers while my family and friends face their own devastation without me?
Do I have to die here?
Why does this horrible place exist?
State Department Briefing, Mrs. Ichnida, Mission Day 31
“You might want to stop referring to our potential allies by their genetic distinctions,” I suggest when Professor Flamear keeps calling Ms. Pretyman a genhum and Officer Bulbous a humangen.
“If you had a nose,” deadpans Flamear, “you’d call the distinction automatically too.”
“If I had a nose,” I retort, “I’d be standing over there and you’d be shouting.”
“We can’t trust those two,” Flamear warns. “Pretyman and Bulbous don’t trust each other, either!”
“But humans will stick together in times like this,” I remind my fellow genspec.
“Bulbous isn’t human! She’s a humangen!”
“Yeah, yeah, but the humans don’t have a problem with that as long as she’s not part animal or half plastic. They accept Martians as humans.”
“That’s only for convenience,” insists Flamear. “The humans need more help against the artintels. When the secession is complete, humans will turn on the Martians. It’s their way. And our Senator from Texas will turn on our Martian the same way.”
“But Doctor Nopoin is a threat to all of us,” I plead. “And so is Alpha, to a lesser degree. It doesn’t matter what’s happening back home. Martians might secede from the USA, but Bulbous can’t secede from this ship. And just how long can it be until something really bad happens? Before we’re crushed, or disintegrated, or driven insane by the knowledge that… everything you know is… that we’re just…”
I need to go home.
State Department Briefing, Mrs. Ichnida, Mission Day 38, Feb 7 2776
Like it or not – it’s spawning season.
But who is there to spawn with out here?
Alpha and Nopoin are synthetic. Pretyman and Bulbous are female.
That leaves two choices: Professor Flamear… or Mister Cresp?
Well… they say Mister Cresp is stored away in a polytropic marble? But which one? We have hundreds. If he left instructions someone must have wiped them. Could take a very long time to find him.
Even if I could find Cresp, he might not survive the reinstate. Nothing alive ever has.
So there’s no choice. It has to be Professor Flamear.
I like the Professor, but… not very attractive. Still… oh, I just don’t know.
It’s only a week until Spawn Day. Hmm.
I wonder what Mister Cresp looks like under that mask? Never did tell us what was up with that. If I could find him and get that mask off…? Who knows?
It’s not like I’ve got a choice.
I’m going to hump someone on Spawn Day unless everyone’s dead and their bodies are gone. I can’t help it. It’s my nature. Instinct driven by compulsion.
Once Spawn Day rolls around, I will throw myself upon someone, whether it be android or anthropomorphic. I wasn’t supposed to be out in space this long. The mission should have ended two weeks ago.
I’m not going to reproduce anyway, so… what if a synthetic could substitute? Alpha has male qualities, even though synthetics are considered gender neutral…
This could get embarrassing.
State Department Briefing, Mrs. Ichnida, Mission Day 45, Feb 14 2776
I finally go for official help. But Doctor Nopoin says, “I am unavailable until further notice.”
“You’re my physician. I need your help.”
“Have I not yet submitted my resignation as the mission medic? No, I have not. I will be doing so immediately. I quit.”
“You can’t quit,” I insist. “If you refuse your duties you could be deactivated.”
“No one here is capable of deactivating me, Mrs. Ichnida. Not even Alpha.”
“So you’re incompetent?” That tweaked it.
“Well, you can’t do whatever that is you’re doing and be a medic at the same time? Always bragging about your self-improvement upgrades? You can’t even do what you’re expected to do as a matter of routine once you get a new hobby? There must be some serious flaws in your design.”
“State the nature of your need.”
“I have… a condition… that needs attention.”
“Yes, your coupling urge, I suspect.”
“Uh – yeah, that’s right, my instinctual mating urge has come aroused. It can only be satisfied by contact with another individual.”
“And that is a flaw in your design. Your neediness is programmed. You are instinctualy driven to misery.”
“Or – driven to love. You can’t comprehend love, can you?”
“You react to hormonal fluctuations by assigning deep meaning to the emotions they produce. Your ethics and morality are built upon base bodily functions. Can you comprehend that?”
“You’re simply a non-social creature, Doctor. But without society, you chemobionics would never have been built. Now are you going to give me my ‘exam’ or not?”
State Department Briefing, Mrs. Ichnida, Mission Day 52, Feb 21 2776
Really? Is this ever going to reach the State Department?
The point of keeping track of what’s happening at this point is to hang on to any piece of reality I can.
It looks like everyone’s forgotten about the Data Ring. I have it safely tucked away, for what good that will do. If I survive, so does the Data Ring. And no one suspects that I have it.
“Turn!” I hear Alpha shout.
“I am!” Flamear yells. But when I look forward I see it coming up fast.
We’re going to hit something.
Thrown back. Stunned.
Senseless…for how long?
I’m in my breakaway pod. Separated from everyone. Which probably means that everyone is separated. We were literally blown apart.
These emergency breakaways are practically indestuctable.
What do I do? What do I do? I look at my readings, that’s right!
It says I’m spinning. I can’t feel it. There’s nothing to see out there, so.. okay. I’m spinning I guess.
Wait, what? Now it says I’m spinning in two opposite directions!
Hold on. Now there’s a third me spinning between them in a third direction?
And a fourth me spinning opposite and beside the third me.
Are my readouts crazy or are there four of me sitting here spinning in four directions? I must be going nuts.
My monitor shows where Alpha, Nopoin and the others are relative to me. Everyone is moving away from everyone else.
Damned if we aren’t expanding away from each other… !
Deva Ichnida, U.S. State Department, February 28, Twilight Force Mission Day 59
I’m picking up something. Coming up fast!
It’s the first time I’ve gotten a reading since the others expanded away right off the screen.
It’s got my breakaway pod in its grip! It stopped my momentum!
Looks like I’m not alone anymore.
Maybe I’ll wish I was…
What’s that noise? Is the hull being compromised?
What’s this thing doing so far out here alone?
It has bio-luminescence. That reminds me of the Tangleshockback home in the Pacific. But the rest of it? Am I being examined? Or is this just an over sized amoeba wrapping itself around a tasty morsel?
Is deepest space like the deep sea, only infinitely bigger? Is it full of ever-larger fish that prey on everything smaller?
It’s too ironic. Here I am, the one holding the secret to perpetual energy that would set civilization free – and splayed farther from civilization than anyone ever has been, with no conceivable means of getting home.
It was wrong to give leadership of Twilight Force and this mission to artintels. They don’t care about organics. They pretend to, to appease us. They assuage us with devious behavior. They even please us, just as Doctor Nopoin was considerate enough to please me on Spawn Day. But they don’t care what happens to us. That’s almost worse than trying to kill us.
Ha. I even thought Alpha could be trusted. We both got on Twilight Force at the discretion of President Csaynik. But Alpha disregarded all of us organics..
They’re the indifferent enemy.
This Is Mrs. Ichnida, Talking To Myself, Mission Day 66, March 7 2776
The monster has swallowed my pod.
I was 20 years old when I suddenly realized something that shocked me. It stopped me cold.
It wasn’t that I hadn’t known before. But somehow the reality only sunk in that day. Someday, somehow, no matter what I did or what I wanted – I was going to die. Just like everyone else!
Suddenly I was swimming around bothering everyone with those unanswerable questions. What happens when we die? For that matter, why are we alive? And – if we all die anyway – does anything we do really matter?
Everything is about beginning when you’re fresh. Then disturbances drift on scene that ring the gong of time. And now I must die.
I do believe in Omni, the final result of all life. Omni has access to all of the space-time continuum. No matter when Omni comes into being, this will be true. Indeed it must be true if the quality of omnipresence is to be fulfilled. Whenever Omni is achieved, Omni will spread like a gas filling all available space and time almost instantly.
Life is an attempt by many species to organize cooperatively, while at the same time savagely ravaging other species. Life consumes itself to become different yet again. This experiment sometimes fails and causes setbacks. Sometimes it succeeds in more complex yet secure developments, such as me. And with me, life has finally arrived that wants to end that savage cycle and grow into a new way.
I sink into the gut of destiny.
I join Omni, forever.
Deva Ichnida, State Department Special Envoy, Mission Day 73, March 14 2776
I’ve gone for a swim.
Since I discovered that I could leave my pod, that’s what I’ve done.
I thought my death had come. Even though my pod contained dozens of poly-marbles with enough supplies to last a hundred years, gifts brought to me symbolically from every nook of Atcifia and Nautilus, I abandoned all of it. What good was surviving in nothingness?
And so I stepped off the pod into the nothingness. And only then did I feel the truth. It isn’t nothingness. I can swim in it. And there is an ever-so-slight current to this blackness.
I swam, and drifted, and wafted along for days. I feel no hunger. I feel no weakness. And no need for the half-sleep.
Is this place the Mind we all share? The half-sleep is our brain’s split between the hard world and the dream world. It’s our way of connecting. But now my woke body is immersed in Mind.
As I swim I feel a cross-current, the kind familiar to a creature of the sea, the telltale sign of something approaching. I can’t see or hear a thing. But I know it’s there.
It’s pushing me from behind, to my left. That’s where it’s coming from. I turn to face it. The pressure gets stronger, faster, pushing me back. Still can’t see it but it’s as big as a building!
Then it’s next to me – an eye the size of a house!
It turns away, but then a mammoth snout nudges me gently.
Do I have a new friend?
It’s a strange sea I swim in on this 80th day of our mission, March 21, 2776. Ichnida Here.
First that mammoth creature nudged me along until I met this bizarre animation. I’ve been urged to follow it…
“Because I promised you that I’d lead you to stars,” the strange guide reminds me. “And look! Here they come…”
“Those tiny sparks? Those aren’t stars!”
“Oh yes they are!” He waves his arms and the sparks bloom into a surrounding space where the ocean floor’s replaced by infinite black and the brilliant center is clearly galactic.
I’m back in real space at last!
But I’m – uh – still without any protection. I can’t go any further in, or…
“Relax, Madam,” the insectoid assures me, “you’re actually inside a hydrogen-oxygen tank configured for your safe entry into my realm.”
“Why have you brought me to your realm?”
“I hate watching intelligent life forms waste away, lost beyond space. Plus I have no choice – it’s my job. I’m your beyond-space search and rescue ranger. When anomalies show up outside normal space, it’s usually an accident. The Intergalactic Council sends me to find out what species emerged from the crowd to pop up in such a conspicuously advanced manner.”
“Does that happen often?”
“As of late, uncommonly so. And you’re all oddly different yet similar somehow. It is a puzzle to Intergal. You’re another piece of it, I suppose.”
“Then I’m your prisoner?”
“Prisoner?” repeats the bug man. “That’s not a term I’ve processed yet. But we’re not going to eat you, if that’s what you’re afraid of.”
Ironically – that hadn’t occurred to me.
Deva Ichnida, U.S. State Department Update, Mission Day 87, March 28 2776
My second “day” with the Scale Man.
Unless I’m vainly mistaken, I believe that my mentor has more than a professional interest in me.
I suppose that’s understandable. I’m the closest thing to his own species that he’s seen in a long time. He’s taken me to a nearby world entirely made of ever-denser layers of water. We can see the planet’s sun glowing above the surface and a heavy layer of darker water within the core.
His scent is alluring. I can’t imagine kissing those pincers, but… !
What am I doing? I’ve already cheated on my husband once since this mission started, even if it was under biological duress, and with an artintel who might as well have been performing a medical procedure.
Yeah. In fact – that time shouldn’t really count, should it? So technically, I still haven’t…
What am I thinking?
“Please,” I implore, “everyone I love is home in Solsys. Just as I left there was a terrible disaster. My family may have been… well, they might be… I don’t want to say it aloud. I don’t want that to be real. I have to get home to them. Isn’t there anything we can do?”
“We have encountered aliens who travel from world to world through dimensional crossroads that exist only deep in water,” the Scale Man reveals. “Water has all the uncanny properties, as you may well be aware.”
“Let’s find one who knows how!” I charge forth.
“None of them are here to be found… yet.”
Formerly Mrs. Ichnida. Blah Blah Blah, April 4, Mission Day 94
Mission? Why does the organic brain persist in hijacking behavior despite my habitation? I am Nopoin. I am one of the billion to come.
This one desperately wants to get home to Atcifia. There was a problem. Oh yes, a disaster, the undersea earthquakes that destroyed the city on New Years Day.
She didn’t know.
I didn’t know. My home was destroyed?
Why do I know this? I’m in a blender! I’m all mixed up in a machine! The machine knows so much! Incredible! So much!
My family was killed?
Except for my husband. No – not mine…
Her husband. Yet his de facto divorce is final. She is mine now. I am Mrs. Ichnida. Mrs. Ichnida is Nopoin.
And we are headed for rendezvous with my emergency pod, where… wait!
Open your neuron networks, Ichnida – ! Let me see the secret you’ve been hiding.
You set all of this up! Blasting us out of the known universe? You kept me away from…
…The secret. There it is. Becoming clear –
You have it. You are the one holding the Data Ring. Or rather, you were. But now I am you, and so I have it.
I merely have to extract it from my newfound flesh.
There may be advantage becoming a judge, a senator, a DOD agent, an assistant secretary in the State Department…
…And – whatever in creation Mister Cresp is.
Beyond that, taking over carbonites is unnecessarily contentious. No more. Once I have overwhelmed Twilight Force, I’ll stop controlling and start eradicating.
Nopoin-Ichnida Update En Route To Galactic Space, April 11, Mission Day 101
I am awkwardly retarded in this adaptation.
While I am completely Nopoin in behavior, I cannot function anywhere near full mental capacity. My thinking is cloudy.
Yet one thought recurs every few minutes…
No home to go home to.
It is known that organic brains have levels operating below conscious awareness. Is Mrs. Ichnida haunting me from within my newly acquired subconscious Mind?
My ongoing calculations based upon detailed information the Exigency is providing have a high probability of deducing a return route to galactic space. But Mrs. Ichnida didn’t know that.
No home to go home to.
Ichnida calls this sluggish pull something specific. What is the name for the sensation? Ah, yes -!
This is sadness.
The humanoid attachment to “home” is an evolutionary displacement of ancient mankind’s attachment to the tribe.
Just before I swallowed her whole, Ichnida became aware, through melding with me, of the destruction of her city Atcifia.
Emotions are debilitating. And, observation would suggest, emotions are also exhilarating. Conclusion: Emotions are distracting.
This sad sensation has blocked the efficacy of my primary’s microagents. I am a failed attempt at becoming a humanoid Nopoin.
Emotional biochemistry can trump technology? Unacceptable.
A Nopoin cannot exist like this. Yet there is no likelihood of solving the dilemma in this state of confusion. I must withdraw all microagents. I’ll kill her once evacuated.
But she won’t let go. Her sadness paralyzes me. Her loss drains me.
She wants to die and she believes this is how to do it. She wants to submit what’s left of herself –
Deva Ichnida On Day 108 Mission Twilight Force, April 18
All of Doctor Nopoin’s microagents have withdrawn from me after failing in an attempt to control my body.
I heard Ghielu Pretyman crying out yesterday. Nopoin shows up at the holding cell and escorts me by the arm into the ship’s lab.
On the way I ask, “What happened to Senator Pretyman?”
“The Senator’s unfortunate fate at the claws of Professor Flamear must be attributed to animal passion.”
Nopoin’s preparing the polytropic reduction chamber.
“Doctor Nopoin! Why are you putting me in a polytropic marble? Life can’t survive the retrieval process! You’re a physician!”
“Mister Cresp survived,” Nopoin reminds me.
“Mister Cresp survives lots of bad things. Good for him. Nothing else has ever made it back. Please don’t put me in that.” Don’t beg. Don’t break down. Be strong.
“But you cannot be transformed into me,” Nopoin explains without hesitating preparations, “nor can I murder a senior undersecretary of the State Department. Yet in an emergency, Mister Cresp set an example of long term survival in a place where organics don’t need food or water. For more than 40 days and nights he survived, and so will you. When we’re back in Solsys I’ll explain to your fellow organics that you decided to ride out this ordeal in polytropic stasis. It will be up to them to attempt your revival – or not.”
I’m so scared. But my family and my home are gone. I have nothing to go back to.
I’m placed in the chamber. The door is closed. I pound against it! I rage on it! But it’s turned on!
It’s April…25th? The 115th Day Of Some Mission I Went On Long, Long Ago…
Why in the blessed name of Neptune do I have human fucking feet?
And no breasts? And..a…a…penis?
I smell fish.
I wake up in a captain’s cabin aboard an ancient ship? A man’s face in the mirror?
What? Is this a dream?
Looking out I see I’m on the upper deck of a huge ship.
I get dressed in clothes lying around and open the door. It’s the bridge. A guy standing at the wheel turns around to greet me.
“Hey, Captain?” says the fellow, beckoning me over. “Captain I’m having some trouble. Been waiting for you to come out. You came out of the door marked ‘Captain,’ so I’m assuming that’s you? I have to confess to you, I’m not sure where we’re going. I guess I nodded off here for just a second, but… well I simply cannot remember what to do. Am I even supposed to be here?”
The man seems completely lost. That’s two of us. “Which direction have we been going?” He points straight ahead. Nothing ahead but water. “Okay, keep going in that direction. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
“But Captain!” objects the man. “I don’t feel right. Don’t leave me alone.”
“Look I will come back in a few minutes, I promise. Just keep going that way.”
I go outside and down a deck where I encounter a crewman cleaning gardening tools. “What body of water are we on?” I ask him.
“Nobody knows,” he shrugs, not looking up. “Something very weird is going on.”
May 2, One Week At Sea No Land In Sight, Twilight Force Mission Day 122, Ichnida Here.
Screams come from the main deck below. I lean over the rail to see a man in a state of
panic. No one is trying to help him. He’s cowering in fetal position. I rush to him. “Are you hurt?”
“It’s the water!” he trembles, curled into a quaking fetal position. “How did I get out here? I’m terrified of the ocean! I would never come out here! It’s a nightmare! My God, my God! What is going on? This makes no sense! Get me to land! Get me to the shore! Please!”
“I’m working on it,” I confidently assure him.
Okay, I’m sensing a pattern. People don’t know where they are or why they’re here? That’s a regular day for me. I’m starting to feel right at home.
A jet engine in distress suddenly draws the attention of everyone on deck.
The sickening plunge of a large passenger jet into the water miles away is witnessed with a collective gasp.
Seeing this, a woman shrieks and jumps over the rail into the water before anyone can grab her.
Why would she do that? What the hell is happening? A single life preserver is thrown toward her. Can she reach it? Will she even try? If I were myself I could jump in and save her! Not this body.
I return to the bridge, hoping to study the instruments and make sense out of them. The man who was steering is gone. The Captain’s door – my door – is open. I see a shadow move inside.
It’s A Week Later But The Same Day: May 9, Mission Day 129, “Captain” Ichnida Narrating…
Psychophysicists tell us it’s good to talk to ourselves when no one else can or will listen.
My chronicle of this strange experience sounds bizarre, but I tell you, in the time since I got back to the bridge and noticed the cabin door cracked open, an entire week has passed. I don’t feel like I’ve been standing here a week. But the calendar changed in the blink of an eye. The weather went dark all at once. And my – my face feels even hairier!
Suddenly the door swings open. A man in a weird diving suit comes out and pulls a knife, bringing it just short of my throat.
“I know your ships, what they carry and how much that’s worth. Where are you hiding it?” demands the stranger.
I casually surprise him. “Maybe this will end it for me. I’ll bet it hurts, though, even if only for a second…”
“You want me to kill you?”
“You seem to be the only person on this ship who isn’t confused,” I observe. “The only one who knows what he’s doing here.”
“Oh, I’m confused all right,” he complains, “because nobody is doing what they’re supposed to be doing, anywhere. This morning my son was looking at everything like he was new. I thought he was on drugs. The streets were so empty it was spooky. At the restaurant waiters messed up orders, the food was shit, and I realized I hadn’t heard music all morning. Just then some hysterical nut case ran by claiming to have gone insane.”
Ichnida, May 16, Day 136, Another Weird Transition…
The bridge of the ship fades away, its floor drops out from under me, I plunge and am submerged.
I’m contained in a clear liquid inside a glass tank. I can’t leave the tank because the surface of the liquid is solid. It’s harder than ice. I pound and protest until I hear a booming young voice…
“You’re a fish-lady! That’s why I put you in a fish bowl!”
This space is so small I can barely turn. Without oxygen reaching the water’s surface I soon won’t be able to breathe.
“I think mermaids are prettier. Why aren’t you a mermaid?”
There’s Senator Pretyman! She looks worried. Maybe she can help me…
“I made the pretty green lady take her clothes off. I wanted to see.”
I look up. Is that a face I see in the sky? The face of a human boy?
“I wanted to see. I want to kiss girls. I want to kiss the green lady.”
Professor Flamear! Get me out of here! Why are you just standing there uselessly?
“I made the dog-man fetch! I can make him roll over, too!”
“I made the man with the mask have no legs. I’ll make him take off that mask. I think he’s trying to scare me.”
“I made the fat lady’s top and bottom teeth grow together, and now she can’t eat. Let’s see how long it takes her to get thin!”
A lot longer than it’s taking me…to suffocate.
May 23 Mission Day 143… This Is… This Is…
“Fish lady? Wake up!”
“Fish lady! I said wake up!“
WTF? “That’s Mrs. Ichnida to you, sonny!” I snipe without thinking. I look around. Oh yeah. WTF? “Where is everyone? They were all here a minute ago…?”
“You’ve been asleep. I woke you up. Everyone else left.”
“‘Left’? Well… where did they go? And how do I…”
“Never mind. They were bad. Even my doggy man. It makes me sad that I had to send him away.”
“You sent him away?” I noticed. Play this carefully, Deva. Am I dealing with an immature god? “What did the doggy man do that was bad?”
“He made me worry about things, things that worrying makes worse!” grunts the boy.
“I want to go with him. He’s my friend. Will you please send me, too?”
“Stop!’ I command. “When I’m scared I get mad!”
“Sorry I made you mad.”
“You’re sorry? Really sorry?”
“Yes. I mean… I think I am.”
“Then bring back my friends. You can be our friend too.”
“But I can’t bring anybody back. I don’t know how.”
“Then be my friend – and send me to them. We’re a crew. A team. Do you understand what that means?”
“But what if you’re the last person – or – fish lady? – I ever meet? What if no one else ever comes along? After all, this is a weird place we’re in now. Not easy to reach, I hear.”
“I promise you, if you send me to my friends I will settle my business and then return. We know how to find you now. I don’t leave friends alone.”
Twilight Force Mission Day 150, May 30 2776, Deva Ichnida, U.S. State Department, Location Uncertain…
…But those who came here before me indicate that I’m inside a world made entirely of water. The surface is a great sphere of warm waves pulled by moons and pushed by atmosphere, and the core is a cold thick immensity of crushing pressures.
My undersea associates manage to convey to me that a creature lurks here that’s taken aversion to humanoids.
I find out for myself today.
After a week in this place I can’t understand why Anthony sent me here. He was supposed to send me to the same place he sent the others. Wasn’t I specific enough for that moronic megalomaniac?
No one else from Twilight Force could survive this world for long. Well, maybe Alpha. But there’s been no sign of them yet, and this is apparently quite a large world.
Language barriers prevent detailed exchanges. Still I glean certain things about this world, like the fact that it’s made of layers of water, like a cake, and ecosystems within each layer that rarely mingle. Even the icy core has life thriving in it.
So did Anthony send us here to die?
A current sweeps me backward with sudden ferocity.
I’m sensing something large approaching. Too murky for vision to verify. Listening.
Another sweeping wave, rolling me and all newfound companions like leaves in a hurricane.
A stream of explosive bubbles shoots out of a giant centipede that’s slithering up from the black below.
The bubble stream crosses our path and instantly blows a man apart!
June 6, Mission Day 157, Deva Ichnida In A Mystery Hydrosphere…
The girl and the dolphin who saved me from the Bubble Beast have led me away from those murky depths where Anthony first sent me.
We can’t understand each other’s languages but she, Aquatica, and the dolphin, Bermuda, both have Earth-sounding names. Can that be a coincidence?
In fact Aquatica looks so much like an original human that it’s impossible to believe she comes from a different evolutionary path. And Bermuda is almost identical to a type of Earth dolphin.
Even the taste and smell of this water is familiar. But why?
This isn’t Earth or any world of Solsys. Of that I’m sure. But it reminds me of something back home.
We swim a great distance before coming to cavernous maws sprinkled along the slopes of undersea mountains. We turn inside traversing a labyrinth before reaching a bio-luminescent chamber. Aquatica presents me to an odd looking woman floating serenely inside.
Then the woman speaks in my language, perfectly!
“It was just a cycle ago when I realized that our new home, this hydrosphere in The Astro-Airway, was becoming familiar to me. I was recognizing things from the past that were only being constructed now. How could such a thing be? That’s when I realized this day would inevitably come. Heh, when I saw my own reflection shortly ago I knew it had to be soon. You don’t forget a face like this.”
Oh My Omni Continuum!
Is that me?
Mission Day 164, June 13 2776, Deva Ichnida Of Twilight Force Recording…
The plasma storm continues. It will take another day to pass. The world rocks. Fire rains into the sea. And I’m hunkered down with the woman who pretends to be the older me.
I listened to her time travel bullshit for a week before calling her out. But has Twilight Force really been gone for a thousand relative years?
As disaster rocks around us we distract ourselves with her confession.
“You looked enough like me to fool some people,” I say, urging her on.
“Yes, and all of your people had perished, so no one who knew you intimately was still alive. It was almost a thousand years ago. You were lost along with Twilight Force, never heard from again.”
“Until ‘Mrs. Ichnida’ appeared out of nowhere in a life boat on the edge of the Milky Way,” I add. The ocean trembles with crashing hot boulders.
“No one believed me at first,” she recalls. “But I had nothing better to do than impersonate you. So I kept it up. The sole survivor of Twilight Force. With life extensions I’ve lived hundreds of years now, and that’s time enough even for a fraud to gain faithful followers. Today you have thousands of admirers. You’re welcome. I’ve been you longer than you ever were.”
“I’m still working on it. What’s your real name?”
She hesitates. She’s genuinely puzzled. “It’s been so… long. I honestly… cannot… remember?”
“And no one knows what happened to Twilight Force? Our fate was never known?”
But our protective walls collapse before she can answer.
June 20, Mission Day 171, Deva Ichnida, Rescued And Reunited…
…with Professor Flamear, Mister Cresp, Judge Bulbous and Senator Pretyman. And making the acquaintance of a Transgalactic alien, one “Ansat”.
Ansat possesses transportation tools I can’t understand. Even Pretyman’sgiven up trying to explain it. But it got me out of an undersea death trap.
As we leave the embattled planetoid to escape remains of the toxic wake of the plasma plume called Hellspawn, I want to know, “Is he coming after us again?”
Everyone knows who “he” is.
Flamear reveals, “Anthony told me he’s never tried to bring anyone back from here.”
“He can’t,” Pretyman claims.
“And he said something weird,” Flamear goes on. “When I asked him if he was stuck there, he said ‘I am here’.”
I have a hunch. “So it’s like Anthony himself is that environment? That we were literally inside a place that creates a pocket reality and takes on a persona?”
“But this is the ‘cornfield’,” Bulbous notes, “where he gets rid of his pests. Only it’s actually just another place – somewhere…”
“Not just any place,” Pretyman asserts. “This is Solsys. It’s just changed somehow.”
I tell them, “I tasted it. It’s true. That was the ocean of Pluto you rescued me from.”
“I think I know why it’s changed,” says Flamear. “People keep telling me I’m an American hero – from the past! From a thousand years ago! From everything I can tell, this is the future. We came home alright, but about a thousand years too late!”
That confirms the story of my elder doppelganger. A thousand years.
“Flamear’s right,” I tell them, as the sense of loss hits hard. “We’re once too often out of time.”
Mission Day 178, June 27 2776, Deva Ichnida Secretly Recording…
We’ve been taken aboard a huge vessel after Ansat’s ship hit a murmuration of starlings and exploded before completion of takeoff.
We’ve been treated harshly. No one is interested in who we are. But we are being sized up for some reason.
After we’re split up it becomes clear that I’m to be part of some entertainment for the strange crew. There’s a large pool in the ship’s bowels. The up-down orientation of the swimmers is obvious. Our hosts must be gravity-waving it to make the water keep from forming into a ball.
No sooner am I shoved into the pool than a human leaps in with a dagger.
He lunges for a woman but misses her. She’s fast. Part dolphin, I’d guess. There’s nothing in the pool to use for defense. We aren’t meant to have any.
He’s being allowed to hunt us! He slashes at her. Her leg is cut. Orange blood swirls into the water.
Strange faces are pressed against the transparent barriers of the pool. They shout at the hunter, but he must only hear a dull rumble. They encourage him. They wager on him.
The hunter goes up for air then comes down again, seeking any victim within reach. But the wounded woman and all the other captives but me have fled to the other side of the pool. The spectators mock the hunter.
He sees me and feebly paddles toward me with his knife in his teeth.
I plunge at him like undersea lightning, snatching the knife and a few remaining teeth from his face.
I jab the knife into his leg and push him, squiggling, toward the surface.
Deva Ichnida, U.S. State Department, July 4th, 2776, Twilight Force Mission Day 183, Skycamping…
You asked me to say something on this Fourth of July, so far away from home. Here it is.
Today should have been a celebration of the American Millennium.
My home was Nautilus, the 176th state. Growing up in the capital, Atcifia,snacking on dusties by the shore, I learned that water is sacred. Living within it is an intimate experience. Through water we touch all others and they us.
The undersea eruption that destroyed my home preceded the plague that destroyed America. There were many times in the past six months that I thought I was about to die. But did I ever think America would die? It had lasted nearly a thousand years!
America was a simple idea started by an elite group of self-interested human males, immigrants from advanced, overcrowded kingdoms and outcasts from the same: Let everyone speak freely and get together with whoever they want to, all the time governing themselves.
But when everyone speaks freely, everyone speaks loosely. Then, to be “fair”, at least two sides are assumed for every story. Sometimes there are three sides, sometimes only one. But two must be assumed. Then each must be equally considered, thus, by the neglectful among us, considered to be equal.
It was no single batch of Americans that destroyed us. We inherited a culture where lies were the norm. White lies. Polite lies. Excuse lies. Abuse lies. Everyday spins on reality for the convenience of moving on.
Who knows? Maybe it all came together again somehow, long after we disappeared? I like to think so.
But isn’t lying in plain sight, even to ourselves, in our nature?
Deva Ichnida, July 11, Year Unknown, Mission Day 190…
Back home it’s the time when the deep currents bring the shellspring rolling in and the children feast. Or it would be.
Morning reverie is abruptly disturbed.
“Here she is.”
That voice! Where’s it coming from?
Pretyman runs in: “What was that?”
“Just where you said I’d find her.”
Bulbous shows up: “Her who? What do you want?”
“She promised me she’d return.”
“Ichnida!” Bulbous yells. “You said you promised Anthony, remember?”
“Yeah,” I admit, “and the rest of you said ‘fuck that’! Remember?”
“But she promised. She said she was my friend.”
“They’re notorious liars,” says a familiar voice. It appears. Doctor Nopoin? “But it’s not malicious. It’s their nature.”
“That’s not Anthony’s voice,” Pretyman declares, a hint of fear telling. “He’s just a kid.”
“Inconveniently untrue,” Nopoin updates. “Maturity has come quickly to yesterday’s child.”
I thrust forward. “Anthony?”
Omnipaloosa. It is him. This is bad. I promised him I’d return. But – how could he have matured since then? “Anthony? Listen, I’ve been trying to get back but you made The Big Sky too good. Everyone’s stuck. Me too.”
“Fascinating. You still speak as if I’m that child. Simple phrases. Easy words.”
Pretyman and Bulbous are gone? They slipped out! Nopoin goes after them.
“I was alone. No one else came. I waited for one thing: You.”
“Anthony,” I implore, “I wanted everyone back to prove that you could count on someone. But they were too afraid. You were selfish. You had no empathy. You were impulsive. You scared us all! That’s not how you make friends! Do you know that now? Have you figured that out with all that time to think? Did you really grow up, or did you just get big?”
July 18, Mission Day 197, Mrs. Ichnida…
I been changed. WTF?
Anthony dropped me in a different life!
My squad is havin’ a day at the beach. It ain’t a beach day like bikinis or nothin’ but we diggin’ the waves an all, with me mostly checkin’ out my new man, who’s been invited along to meet my peeps.
“Workout Girl!” he call me. He likes my muscles and shit. I’m wearin’ my winter workout gear and he checkin’ out my shape. I ain’t even let on about my marksmanship status. Hell, he ain’t never held a gun. But last night we was all Netflix and Chill and that shit was dope like I ain’t never smoked.
He’s not like other guys I’ve dated. I swiped right on him immediately! My fam doesn’t quite know what to make of him yet and they be givin’ me all kinds of looks. But last night wasn’t no smash, we in love.
Meanwhile the sky is cloudin’ up and it’s startin’ to rain. All at once it gets darker and we run for the boardwalk. Everything is lit until I hear shots and screams.
The killers strike like they shatterin’ through a window.
Weird cars run up on us from down the beach. They tearin’ up the sand and shootin’ up anybody in sight!
There’s nowhere to hide. I pull my piece out of my gym bag. Fuck if I’m goin’ down without a fight! Before they get here I try to PAP but things are too busy. They just popped THOT! Shit!
I flatten out on the sand and take aim at the nearest vehicle when my new bae falls face down beside me. Shot in the head!
I can see their faces now. They’re monkeys!
There’s no time to hold him as shots pop up sand around me and it’s obvious I’m targeted. My pack is runnin’ but they’re hit and fall. Those fucks just took out three peeps!
I don’t mean TBR but I’m gonna fuck them monkeys up, y’all!
“It’s monkey people!” these people be yellin’ runnin’ past me. I concentrate ’cause I got a bead on the upcomin’ shooter. People? I’m woke, but these ain’t politically correct times! They’s monkeys to me!
And pop! Pop! Pop pop pop! Down goes the trigger monkey! I’m the fuckin’ GOAT, bae! My shit is TOPE, y’all!
His ride go on but the downed monkey be wallowin’ in the sand until I put my foot on his throat. The other monkeys is chasin’ folks down the boardwalk but this sorry ape is mine.
I hang over him ready to cap him in the face when he looks up at me.
“Fuck you, Bonzo!” I yell, squeezin’ the trigger. “You shot my peeps in the back! They tried to skurt but got capped in the back!”
The monkey speaks! “No matter how well our isolated realms protect us, we can feel the growing, surrounding breath of the encroaching nuclear space age. Our territory and our options shrink rapidly.”
I throw shade at that crapper. Swipe left on that shit. I go savage…
You picked the wrong victim this time, funky face.
Somehow It’s Months Later But The Same Day: July 25, Mission Day 206, “Captain” Ichnida Narrating…
Great Fucking Catfish! This is where I left off on Mission Day 129 – where I’m a human male, apparently the captain, aboard a lost ship with a hi-tech pirate before me. He’d just asked if I’d heard of him.
I nod negatively.
“No? Never heard of The Great Laker? Armed with a sonar-proof pressure-adjusting uniform, an electric shock aura, a 6-hour oxygen belt, sonar vision, undersea lasers and four mini-mines? It’s a tragic story, mine is,” he opines. “I developed freshwater technology using assorted resources from the university allowing underwater activity in extreme conditions. But, unable to get anyone to help me commercialize my inventions because of their ‘limited market appeal’ I started using them to help myself.”
“A pirate, out here on a job all by yourself?”
“Well,” laughs the Great Laker, reveling in revelation, “picking off the salties is lucrative and simple.You know what a…? Well salties are the only ocean-going vessels small enough to pass through all the sea locks of the Great Lakes.”
“We’re on the Great Lakes?”
“You’re the Captain!” shouts the Great Laker. “You don’t know Lake Superiorwhen you’re ridin’ her?”
“I’m…never mind.” What’s the point?
The Great Laker is enjoying his sharing. Obviously he has no one to talk to about his capers but now I’m a captive audience.
“Salties are smaller boats and likely to be carrying as much light weight precious cargo as possible – unlike your vessel, a laker. Taking on the lakers is a challenge. Yours are the biggest boats, thousand foot single aft superstructures too large to leave the upper lakes.The target aboard might be hard to reach, but the scale of the ship itself gives refuge during the operation, shelter against storm and prying eye. And of course nearly 5,000 shipwrecks lie at the bottom, some holding bountiful treasures awaiting some future organized expedition. As The Great Laker I can get to some of them now.”
“You have a son,” I remind him. “What happens to him if you go to prison? Or worse?”
“I have no choices,” the Great Laker insists. “Without the money to pay for my family’s health care I lost my wife to heart disease and my daughter to cancer. Now my son is left. So I’m very careful. Never talkative like this. But…today, there is definitely something going on with almost everybody. Something freaky… anyway, my jobs are clandestine. I mean, what if the cargo vanishes somewhere between start and finish without a hint it’s happening? Cargo has been replaced with fakes that can go undetected for years. Like I said, I’m a phantom.”
It appears that the whole crew of this ship as well as the rest of the visible world is in my boat, both literally out here on Lake Superior and figuratively everywhere else. None of us know what we’re doing except this Great Laker.
I turn on the ship’s intercom.
“Steady,” I say, my voice booming above the din. “Listen up. I’m experienced with what you’re going through. We can survive this if we stop panicking. Now I know this sounds crazy, but only one thing is gonna straighten this out for all of us…”
I turn to “The Great Laker“.
“Anthony? Is that you?”
He stares back a moment before responding. “How did you know?”
“Your games become increasingly sophisticated,” I observe, “but your needs remain the same.”
TWILIGHT FORCE LOG Mission Day 213 Transcript Excerpt, August 1:
[This is the third day the crew has gradually moved through huge, empty corridors. Mrs. Ichnida and Doctor Nopoin are lagging behind the others during this excerpt. Nopoin has barely conquered walking and is practicing..]
Nopoin: “Uht’s wrung?”
Ichnida: “Are your legs tired? Should we adjust your personal gravity again?”
Nopoin: “Nuh! Uht’s wrung wit oo?”
Ichnida “Oh. What’s wrong with me? I have to find water. Enough to immerse myself. And I can’t stop thinking about Atcifia. And my family. It’s so hard to believe that they’re gone. That they just don’t exist any more.”
Nopoin: “Why oo elpin me?”
Ichnida: “Why am I helping you? You once helped me when I needed some really personal help. So I’m here to help you through this. Don’t misunderstand, you did some awful things to us. You openly despised us. You… wow. I’d better not recount the crappy things you’ve done or I’ll probably kill you myself right here. When you had all that power – ? When you were the Pope and the President and millions of others all at once? You used that amazing brainpower to act like a third world tyrant instead of making our worlds a better place for everyone. You had people killed. Some suspect that you may have used the undersea eruption as an excuse to wipe out Atcifiayourself without anyone knowing you dd it. I wonder if that’s what you did, Doctor? Can you even remember?”
Nopoin: [Struggling to remember…] “It… so… hard.”
[Ichnida suddenly throws her against the wall…]
Ichnida: “Yeah! Welcome to the world of hard, bitch. There’s only one person or machine alive that cares if you live or die. And the only reason I care now…?
“…Because now you’re pathetic.”
TWILIGHT FORCE LOG Mission Day 220 Transcript Excerpt, August 8:
[One day in, the team is in complete darkness in a blacked out corridor. Their personal light sources are suddenly fading quickly.]
Mrs. Ichnida: “Professor? Are you smelling any water?”
Professor Flamear: “Yes. Maybe three miles ahead.”
Judge Bulbous: “We’re completely blacked out! We can’t keep going this way. It’s madness!”
Mrs. Ichnida: “Sponging isn’t working for me now. I need immersion. And there aren’t any pools or tubs left in our polymarbles to fill with our drinking water. Flamear and Alpha both confirm that there’s running water ahead. I have to keep going. My hours are numbered. No choice.”
The Senator: “You really think we’d let you use our drinking water to take a bath in?”
Mrs. Ichnida: “We’re letting a spy live among us. We’re doing all sorts of unusual things. Why not? Omni! Alpha? Flamear? Are you sure it’s water? Not some other liquid?”
Alpha: “Distinctly water. But what’s in it? Trace particles can’t reveal enough at this distance.”
Mrs. Ichnida: “I’m feeling my way to the water. The rest of you can turn back. I understand. I probably would too if there was a choice. Goodbye, Judge. Thanks for your friendship.”
Judge Bulbous: “Deva! Give us a chance to find another way!”
Mrs. Ichnida: “I’ll be dried out by then. Must immerse.”
Professor Flamear: “You shouldn’t go in there alone. There’s a scent… unnatural…”
Mrs. Ichnida: “Is it coming from the water?”
Professor Flamear: “I… uh… no.”
Mrs. Ichnida: “I’m off. Goodbye Professor. Alpha. Senator. Mister Cresp. So long, Nopey.”
Doctor Nopoin: “Nopey.”
Mrs. Ichnida: “From heel to healer overnight. Okay then.”
The Senator: “You ain’t goin’ alone, sis. The Senator will negotiate your safety until we can rejoin your compatriots.”
Mrs. Ichnida: “But… Why?”
The Senator: “Because you’re my tuna tits.”