Author’s Note: About the Dream
The first five chapters of this book were drempt.
The Imbalance, The Reject's Perspective, The Anomaly, Conscious Energy, and Reset are all apart of the dream that urged me to write this story. Though I drempt in the first person, as if I were each character, I am writing this story in the third person to make it easier to follow. Similarly, The Rejects Perspective was drempt in the middle of The Imbalance, but for ease of understanding, I have separated them into their own chapters.
Everything after Reset was a conscious searching for the rest of the story, written as it came to me, and described to the best of my abilities. Please consider reading The Glossary before you jump into Time Swim; though it's not necessary if you'd like to reference as you read, the words are organized in order of appearance.
Feedback of any sort is welcomed and encouraged in the comment section or via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
GLOSSARY OF TERMS
In order of appearance, aka, it will be edited as I go,
a terms guide to a better understanding of Time Swim:
Time-Jockey (TJs): an individual bred to "swim" through time to maintain the balance in their quadrant of infinity. A Time-Jockey is bread to most closely resemble the most technologically advanced species in their quadrant, not all of whom are human, and not all humans evolved to our idea of humans in certain quadrants of infinity. TJs can manifest their physical bodies in any space and time within their quadrant with the majority of their infinite consciousness present to experience it with their body, but only do so when an unbalance has been detected. Mostly, TJs wake (defined below) through their assigned time-streams and observe.
The Collective (TC): "TC" is used in the same manner we use "HQ" and it means "home/head quarters" as much as the actual "elder" council of a conscious collective of sentient species that run the TJs and their specialized counterparts (described later). The Collective are not well described in this book, but they are the authority as much as a the U.S. President is the Commander and Chief of the entire U.S. Military. I'd love to offer a number of how many conscious minds make up The Collective, but the truth is... infinity.
Time-Stream/s: (may seem self-explanatory, but allow me to explain my understanding after this Time Swim dream, how it works in this book) Imagine time like a drop of water. Seems really small because it's all of time from the outside, it's all one drop. Past, Present, Future, coulda, woulda, shoulda, did, and didn't on a scale that cannot be properly comprehended by the early twenty-first century human minds. So, just think of it as a drop of water, and imagine if you looked at it more closely, you would see the surface of the drop kind of looks like an ocean, a planet that is nothing but water. Closer still, and you notice beneath the surface, is another layer, a slightly different ocean, the layers seem so thin you see even more below, all in the same area of gazing, but in fact, they are all within the same space of time (our water-drop). So, how do you wade through the oceans to get to the streams? Individual, but shared conscious experience; not to exclude subconscious in the conscious, by the way. It is through an individual's observation of moving through space, that time becomes relative and tangible. In a similar manner, every choice an individual makes is a movement through that space, which creates a stream of time relative to the experience. So, now we can see that each layer of these oceans are actually specific spaces with time streaming relative to the inhabitants experiences. So time-stream simply refers to a collective experience observed through a specific flow of time. A current within the layers of ocean that make up the water-drop of all-time aka infinity (within Time Swim reality). "This" reality we're living in 2016 is one time-stream. There is a stream where Hitler won and began a global dictatorship. Too, you can find a time-stream where the Native Americans fended off the white-settlers, dominate North America, and established the United Nations of America instead of the United States. There is a stream where Planet of the Apes isn't fiction. Another stream boasts the Titanic's 104th year of luxury cruising (in 2016). Jurassic Park actually happened in another time-stream. If a tree falls in the middle of the Forrest, and no one is around to see or hear it, did it happen? ... to the other trees it did. It's in a time-stream!
Waking (to wake): the active state of consciously being in a specific space and time but not physically being present. In some cases, waking may involve synchronizing with another consciousness who will in turn, be able to "see" the likeness of the physical body in command by the consciousness "taking a peek" in a form of what could be described as hallucinogenic telepathy, astral-projected telepathy, or even a ghostly apparition. A consciousness waking, cannot physically effect the observed space.
Inhabitants (Inhabs): a word that means both the sliver of consciousness, and the physical body manifested of a single individuals conscious experience native to a time-stream. This word, to TJs, mostly means anyone or anything that isn't a Time-Jockey or a part of the Collective, but it's more specific to those in a specific time-stream. For example, I'm an Inhabitant of our time-stream as much as you are. Blue, the trained raptor from Jurassic World, would be an inhabitant of that time-stream. If I have been in another time-stream, I'm not consciously aware of it, and this phenomenon is what makes me a native inhabitant to this time-stream. I'm an Inhab!
ICIM and NICIM: Infinite Conscious Imbalanced Memories: some Inhabitants retain a strange mixed-memory sensation when an imbalance occurs. The feel as if they remember things happening in a different way than they did, while also remembering the way it did happen. TJs called it ICIM, which sounds like "ik-m" when said aloud. The Inhabs don't have language for the phenomenon. However, Inhabs suffer from ICIM because in another time-stream, one they were consciously experiencing at the time of the split, it did happen differently; because their infinite consciousness experienced both versions independently as independent time-stream Inhabitants. Inhabs call the natural occurrence of "memories" of other time-streams Déjà vu, and it happens when two streams and two versions of the same Inhab are synchronized in the same task in the same space and time; TJs call it NICIM; Natural Infinite Conscious Imbalanced Memories. Inhabs effected are said to have ICIM episodes, or NICIM episodes to TC and the TJs.
Time Swim (also Time Swimming): the act of physically manifesting a conscious body in a specific space and living through it's relative time-stream. In most cases, this is reserved for correcting an imbalance when someone changes an event and creates a cascade of new streams that disrupt the overall harmony of infinity. In most cases, the offender is also in a Time Swim. If I tried to explain how Time Swim works, I might confuse you, but just know the conscious mind is like a time-traveling control room, and the body is the ship. Not all Time-Swimmers are TJs but all TJs are Time-Swimmers.
Sixes (also applies to Fives, and Sevens): Some time-streams have humans who evolved with six fingers or seven fingers instead of five. Sixes are TJs with six fingers, Fives have five, and Sevens have... seven fingers! Yes, this also applies to their toes. While there are even humans with tentacle fingers within infinity, they do not make an appearance in this book. It should be noted, however, sometimes a natural abnormality occurs and an Inhab of a Fives or Sevens stream is born with six fingers and as such, Sixes tend to have some cross-over in monitoring or assisting in Fives or Sevens streams as needed without being too conspicuous.
Gesture of Silence ("giving gos" "gave gos"): The "gesture of silence" is basically the same thing as "talk to the hand" and meant to be made when a TJ needs less input to concentrate on the task at hand, but it's often just used to shut someone up.
Sinute/s: a TJ's minute; since time is relative, the sinute is the calculation of time relative to a specific time-stream and a TJ's conscious anchor to TC-time. The aim is to synchronize amounts of time relative to both The Collective and a specific time-stream, accounting for the distortion of time. It keeps the TJs and TC on the same relative time clock despite their different experiences of it. In this book, the sinute is about 19 seconds ahead of current-time (18.8 seconds technically). So, think of current-time in minutes like G3, and TC-time in sinutes like G4. Minutes are dial-up, sinutes are broadband. Minutes are ponies, sinutes are a thoroughbreds. The point is, in a time-stream or in The Collective, time is happening when it's happening but a Time Jocky is processing both relative times so it seems like having an extra 19 seconds (in a 60 second minute) of current-time to make decisions and take action. A sinute is still 60 seconds of current time, but the TJ has relatively 78.8 seconds within those 60 seconds to process information and take action. It's not "actually" having more time, it only seems like it. They call that distortion the "sinute effect" and it's like Deja Vu of the future.
AllWhen (allwhen): basically, a word to describe all-time; infinity on the level of conscious experience; as in, all things and every when. AllWhen would be equivalent to my earlier water-droplet representation of time. It was coined by a rejected TJ but eventually adopted by TC.
DOTing (Detached Omni-Positional Teleportation): coined by a rejected TJ, this is a unique form of Time Swim that involves full immersion in a time-stream, like an Inhab, but with the added benefit of what amounts to teleportation by self-orienting detachment from the stream and re-entry by way of base particles like buoys of navigation. DOTing, as mastered by a rejected TJ, also allows for physical waking, where the waking individual has just enough presence to shift space and time to affect a singular object in a time-stream without altering the time-stream itself. If Space-Time were a wave, physical waking would be like surfing. The TJ isn't actually changing the wave, but can shift sections of the wave with the movement of their surfboard, displacing water from one part of the wave to another. Or like a submarine surfacing. Or like a whale jumping free of the water and making a big splash. Yes, something changes in the moment, but the overall body of the time-stream does not, and likewise doesn't create an alternate stream.
Stream-Time (S-T): same thing as current time, our time, seconds and minutes and hours and days in years and decades and so on. Stream-Time. Also known as S-T. Mostly a Rejected TJ term.
Between-Time (B-T): referring to the quasi time that exists in between space and time. Since time exists in the experience, but space is basically matter, the layer that metaphorically exists between them is the space a person DOTing enters when they exit a stream, and travels through to the place they re-enter the same stream, or enter a different stream. The sensation of time there varies on many things, most notably in this book, whether or not the stream they leave is the stream they enter (relatively short jump), or a different stream (relatively longer jump)... and how far in the time-stream from exit to entry. i.e. a same-second-DOT would be a shorter jump to any stream, than going forward or backward in time. Discovered and name by a rejected TJ.
Karman Line: basically the line between a space craft and an airplane in reference to Earth's atmosphere; if you want the more technical definition, look it up!
EEA (said lazily as E-ah): Exit and Entry Angel, as it pertains to DOTing; specifically the forward orientation of the DOTing body as aligns with how the Jockey wants to exit space-time so as to avoid say... facing a wall when you mean to escape through a door in the wall.
180 Twist: a maneuver in air or space craft in which the pilot circles back on their former path by going up or down in a circle, and barrel rolling to correct their upward and forward facing orientation mid-circle which helps to maintain speed. It's kind of like the same maneuver a swimmer's body does when they reach the end of the pool and turn around to rocket off toward the other side without slowing down too much. Where a swimmer kicks off the side, a pilot uses their own velocity for momentum, or uses additional thrusters.
Cloaked: If you're a Sci-fi veteran, you know this means invisible, but if you're new, just know it's a play of light, not actual absence of something, so it looks like it isn't there.
Terra Gravity: The specific gravity on the ground of a cosmic object, most noteably in this book, Earth Gravity.
RiV (Reject in Violation): TC/TJ term said as "rihv" rhymes with bib. It basically get's used like a noun, but it means a specific person branded as a Rejected TJ has been caught Time Swimming and is in violation of their Reject status and TC Time Swim laws. Any TJ who catches a RiV is supposed to either call for a pick-up team, or escort the RiV back to TC for trial and likely incarceration.
(Please comment on this post if I missed a term you'd like in this glossary!)
“What happened? This rig isn’t supposed to fall for another millennia!” Time Jockey* Maji El'yot, TJ-504Z3, was running against a hoard of people, shouldering her way through them in their screaming panic. The walls were humming with broken currents of electricity, popping conduits and frying fuses that made the lights flicker on and off for unknown amounts of time, if they came back on at all. The people were avoiding the walls as if they might jump out and bite them. She kept getting elbowed into the wall on the left (her right) of the hoard as she jogged through the thin space between metal and flesh. Maji also looked like she was talking to herself, but most of the moving bodies were too busy to notice.
“The Collective* is working on it, just get to the pod Maji!” This came from TJ-708D2, better known as Sara Rifaleaux, who couldn't be seen except by Maji on account of Sara not actually being present in this time-stream*, merely waking* through. She was like a conscious apparition synchronisticially harmonizing with TJ Maji's conscious reality.
To Maji El'yot, Sara also appeared to be waking through other streams, and looked not unlike a ghostly human spider with uncountable limbs moving about in different tasks. Each... overlay... of Sara's visual presence was a little less defined and more transparent the further from this stream that sliver of Sara’s consciousness was. It was not unlike seeing the wake behind a boat, Maji could see how Sara-boat moved, but nothing beyond those movements to show her what was in the other Time-Streams. It was trippy, but she was used to it, and snapped back at her non-physically present friend. “I’m going! I know you see I’m going!”
"The pod," according to TC, was not on the evacuation schematics, it was an emergency pod that was built for testing, before the Inhabitants* decided to move the pods to another location during construction. Technically, Maji was not on the station’s manifest since she didn't exist in this time-stream until she became present in it; she would not be able to get scanned into a standard evacuation pod, and that's why she had to run against the current of people to the other side of the station. “Doesn’t this change the mission?” She was asking Sara as she rounded a corner and almost collided with a girl-child.
Maji's heart sank; none of them were supposed to die like this, but not all of them would make it to the pods, this child included. Maji could sense the ripples as they were happening. The future was like a dream behind her eyes in almost nineteen full second intervals that weren't very pretty. For a moment, that seemed longer than it was, the Time Jockey wondered if the little girl was experiencing Infinite Conscious Imbalanced Memories (ICIM*, said like "ik-m").
The idea of this little girl, who was looking at Maji for recuse, remembering more positive events not happening for her, while here and now she’s forced to die afraid, wasn’t just heart-breaking it was soul-crushing. How does a TJ justify saving one among the thousands in this moment of the stream, never mind the off-shoots that flow from it? She didn’t. Maji’s job wasn’t to save any of one them, but to correct the imbalance to save all of them, and their variations. She kept moving and didn’t look back, feeling for the "old soul" sensation the little girl's other selves would feel themselves becoming with the unknown weight of experiencing death so young.
“The Collective is working on it.” That was all Sara finally said, she had waited for Maji to pass the child before pointing the way to the pod to change the subject just as quickly. TC didn’t like to admit ignorance about anything so, they neglected to provide the requested information by providing repeat information instead. “Into this storage room, behind the shelves with the cleaners on it, there’s a door to the test-pod bay. Readings show it still has atmosphere but we don’t know for how long.”
Dismissing the girl-child from her mind, TJ El'yot went inside the storage closet and identified the shelving. It took the her a moment to find the best way to move the whole shelf out of her way. At five-foot eight, she wasn’t exactly small, especially when one took into account the very voluptuous form adding padding to her toned body, hidden beneath her flight suit tucked into calf-high gravity boots that gave her two more inches. Maji El'yot was stronger than she looked.
She looked like any other pilot on board, except to every other pilot on board. Her hair wasn’t quite regulation, being an uncustomary and very vibrant ginger-red, nevermind they didn’t actually have a ship with a pilot’s chair that would accommodate her womanly hips. While Maji was every bit as human as they were, she was also more evolved than the Inhabs were, and that didn’t change when she was in a Time Swim*. The differences were subtle, and easily dismissed.
Her eyes slightly bigger than theirs, her amber irises taking up more of the white because her pupils had a broader spectrum of dilation and contraction, and unlike some of the other Jockey’s, Maji El'yot had been bread for the five-finger time-streams. Surprising to most five-fingered humans, not all the time-streams of humanity evolved with only five fingers, many of them had six naturally, or seven, and other TJs were bred to manage those streams, though cross-overs weren't unheard of in a pinch. Sometimes, Maji envied the Sixes*, as she found their hands to be very elegant and even, but her measly five fingers managed the shelving rather easily, wrenching it aside once she figured out which bolts were more warn out.
The door behind it was air locked, and had a wheel lock that probably hadn’t been opened since it was shut over a hundred years ago. “I’m not going to catch a break am I?” Maji protested, not giving Sara time to chastise her or insist she "get to the pod", holding up one hand, palm toward the woman in the gesture of silence*, she looked about for something to use for leverage.
While this storage closet didn’t seem to have any pry bars lying about, its cleaning tools were at least made of metal, and not wood. She tested the mop, the broom, and the vacuum before she discovered the poor machine that did the difficult vacuuming also had the strongest piece of metal connected to it. A segmented arm with very sturdy locking mechanisms that apparently allowed it to change and hold its shape around difficult objects to reach around, and it was exactly what she needed.
It was silly to feel for a machine like she felt for the girl-child, she knew, but being connected to slivers of infinity all the time, Maji couldn’t help but to acknowledge the same stuff was in the machine, that was in her. Its configuration allowed it to function for its purpose as much as hers. Even so, she apologetically fished out a handheld welding torch to burn off the piping in its straight locked position. Knowing from experience and with the scars to prove it, she remembered this time to protect her palms from the heat with a towel, and she tried not to consider the cleanliness of it in the process.
After only forty-three point two seconds of blissful quiet (ignoring the groaning metallic death-whines of the exploding station in descent) Sara chimed in, not any help, “You’re going to hit Earth’s atmosphere in less than three sinutes*, you do not want to be on that station when-“
Dryly, Maji cut Sara off even as she finished cutting her leverage off the vacuum cleaner: “I know, I know; burning ball of collapsing, ripping, shredded, exploding d e a t h.” Dropping her torch on the ground to let it cool, intending on kicking it through the hatch to save time, Maji took a moment to brush her stray hairs back against her seven level braid that was every bit a French braid, except in seven segments of her waist length hair, the end of which was wound up and pinned over her suit collar. It was not as neat as when she’d first done it.
Maji was hot, and the nape of her neck was damp beneath her braided bun, but she resisted the urge to also touch it. The door was more important and the bar was cool enough to put her hands on. Sara had gone quiet again, Maji knew the other woman had long ago tired of wondering how she could be so casual about her own death.
Struggling to get the wheel to budge, she'd stopped thinking about it and really wished Sara would manifest physically to help her, instead of waking like an impatient supervisor. Sara didn’t have actual authority over Maji, but she was there for support so, her council was always taken into consideration… when it had merit.
“Put your back into it!” Sara was enthusiastically encouraging.
Maji ignored her, counting down the current seconds while she watched her own future unfold in those nearly 19 full seconds, ahead of when it did happen. The TJ wasn’t always watching in TC-time while experiencing current-time, but when she did, it was like having a full on vividly realistic dream with all the sensations of it actually happening, while the present time is also actually happening, full of sensations. TJs called it Sinute Effect*.
Maji imagined it wasn't unlike feeling these Inhab's Déjà vu, except instead of feeling like she’s done this thing she’s doing now, she feels like she’s already done the thing she’s going to do while she’s doing what she’s doing now. Shaking off the sinute effect, Maji re-doubled her efforts as she’d sensed she would, and the stupid wheel finally budged with a great scream of scraping metal.
“Shiit, did anyone hear that?” Maji asked, not stopping the squeaky turning of the wheel as fast as she could make it move, trusting Sara to wake into the hall and make sure no one was suddenly interested in the supply closet. TJ El'yot couldn’t afford to be stopped and questioned. By her count, she had 70 seconds to get in the room and into the pod, and she could only glimpse about 19 seconds ahead so, she wasn’t yet sure if she was going to make it!
To add stress and complications, Maji felt they'd entered a newly-created break from the original time-stream, a whole new time-stream that would have to be cataloged and calculated for its ripple effect in other streams. If Maji were looking at it now, she imagined she’d be seeing a delta of new streams reaching out through the ocean of time, all of them affected by this break. The Imbalance she was here to correct, but every imbalance was different, and so was the method of fixing it and the plan to stop the the Imbalance before it happened; which went right out the proverbial window when a bomb blew away a third of the station and sent it careening toward the Earth's atmosphere.
Maji was back to making it up as she went; the TJ way.
“You're clear. 69 seconds to impact, get your arse in there, Maji!” Sara confirmed and attempted to get the Time Jockey moving faster through her current time.
Maji didn’t chastise Sara, it was helpful just knowing she wasn’t navigating this time-stream alone. Time Swimming was all she ever knew, existing in various streams on the whim of a baby consciousness before she was old enough to start training and honed her ability to choose when and where to be, and also how long she stayed. TJ El’yot couldn’t fathom being an Inhab, like those running for the pods on the other side of the ship. Only being aware of this time-stream, and only as its happening, how frightening! How could they decide anything with confidence?
The door wretched open and the stale air inside whooshed out into the store room with enough force to flap the fabric of her flight suit, even as she tried to push through it so as not to waste a moments time. She hadn’t noticed her skin had broken out in a light sheen of sweat until the icy air caressed it like a death-promise if she didn’t hump-it.
As soon as the air was thin enough to move through with any speed, she ran toward the very obvious airlock separating the pod’s launch tube from the rest of the... well, starkly empty room. They’d stripped it of everything! “Where are the bloody controls?!” The question was growled as she stooped in her run to snag her cooled torch, pocketing it even as she flickered her mind to the future for answers.
Maji felt panicked as she reached the unmarked door frame, but then saw the next nineteen seconds and slammed her fingers into the pattern she’d witnessed. As a veteran Time Jockey, El’oyt didn’t need to know the code or where to tap it against apparently flush and similarly unmarked data pad within the frame, because she knew she already knew it in the same way she knew everything; she was conscious of its existence and simply believed the knowledge was available to her, and it was. These Inhabs would have called it a kind of grandfather paradox, and again, she was unjustifiably proud of them for having language to describe parts of infinite experience.
While Maji had never stopped long enough to contemplate just how far her beliefs could take her, except in the moments she needed to do her job, it was the engine that made her Time Swim possible. With the airlock opened, she stepped inside, counting down in her mind as she closed the hatch behind her. It seemed like it took forever to get the wheel to stop it’s turning in a full lock. Maji thought it would be stupid to screw things up because she forgot to pressurize the launch tube by sealing the door.
Then, she was sprinting to the next hatch, the one into the pod that also needed to be wheeled open and then closed so, that’s what TJ El’yot did, without even thinking about it.
As she spun the time-sealed (thankfully) greasy wheel with ease to open it, Maji realized who ever designed the damned thing, like the pilot’s chairs, did not consider a woman as shapely as her! Outraged, she kept eyeing the circular door and wriggling her hips in her flight-suit, nervous they weren’t going to fit anymore than her bosom, and forcing her mind to see that it did in sinute effect. The hatch opened, she was still counting; Thirty-two…
"Get in the pod, Maji!" Sara's tone suggested she didn't know why there was a moments pause.
Get in the pod, Maji! The TJ shouted at herself mentally at the same time as Sara, feeling her split-second hesitation in realizing she wasn’t going to get strapped in, and she was about to be in pain. On an impulse riding the future seconds she was suddenly experiencing in sinute effect again, Maji’s hands gripped the ladder bar on the top of the hatch hole as it was oriented with her standing. Without another hesitation, she jumped up like an acrobat to curl her legs up and then swing her legs in, boots first. Thirty-one…
Her toes were pointed as well as she could in the sturdy tech-boots, to keep her body aligned with the relative ceiling-climbing ladder that would keep her oriented, for the seats inside the pod at the bottom of the ladder. Three seats. Thirty seconds…
It wasn’t encouraging. With a hard pull of the hatch and a jerk of the wheel, Maji sealed the pod door a micro second before she was plastered to it roughly in the sudden ejection of the pod; twenty-eight…
Less than 30 seconds before the station hit the atmosphere of Earth, and would break apart in more massive explosions, Maji’s pod was rocketing through the atmosphere in a shaky ride of a hurtling elevator-sized bullet. To say that it was difficult to get off the wheel, praying she didn’t turn in such a way as to loosen the seal while her belly was folded over it and her face plastered to the curve of the pod’s proper ceiling, would be an understatement. Twenty-six…
That pain, she began to sense, wasn’t going to compare to the pain she’d feel when the station hit atmosphere just behind them. At a presently increasing relative rate, since its mass was larger and being pulled more strongly by gravity to exceed the ejection of the pod’s velocity to its current speed, it would overcome the pod in more than one time-stream, but not this one. Twenty-two…
The sinute effect was used to see her possible futures, and none of her options got her to one of the seats before the fireworks hit so she had to choose the one with the least injuries. Some bruises and abrasions all over her body, but nothing broken; seemed like a win to TJ El’yot. Again she was reminded of the Inhabs who didn’t have the benefit of invoking the sinute effect and simply had to make decisions blindly. Eighteen …
Not looking forward to her immediate future, Maji didn’t drag her proverbial feet to prevent it, she already knew it happened and chose to experience her best version of it as she held the wheel in a steady lock with one hand, and reaching with the other to calibrate her grav-boots. The ship was brushing against the outermost atmosphere. She could feel as much as hear the thunder that roared through the particles suddenly displaced by it with fiction-heavy force. It wasn’t that time was moving any faster as she counted down; Ten…
Rather, there was simply less time between impact as each moment that past and the rate of fall increased, speeding through that moment. Her only aim was to get to the ladder for the initial impact, after that, all hell was going to break loose. Her boots immediate displacement of the pull of gravity on her body, making her feel heavy but mobile, was a relief. Maji could breathe again, and held the door locked as she turned her body to the ladder and climbed on. Three… Two… One…
Inside the pod, she didn’t see any of it, but the explosions of the disintegrating station rocked the pod into a hard tumble that immediately turned the Time-Jocky into a human laundry load inside the pod after flinging her off the ladder. Sara was helpless to help, watching in her wake as Maji got banged around by the pod’s rough rotation while it hurtled like a walk-in-closet sized missile toward Earth.
Unaffected by the physical reality Maji was experiencing, Sara was watching from one of the seats without actually being strapped into it. The Time Swimmer struggled to hold on to something long enough to spin with the pod. The jolting force was sickening. It was disorienting. All she could do was reach, trying not to think about how many times she passed through Sara as her hands grasped and slipped on the seats in an effort to grab a strap.
Maji could have calculated how long it took her, but she didn’t want to, she was just delighted when she felt the near socket-popping jerk of her solid grip on a seat strap that gut-punched her as she plastered along the head-rest. If she hadn’t had one too many rides like this one, Maji would have lost her dinner right then. Instead, she squirmed and maneuvered her wide hips into the narrow seat and pulled the shoulder straps over her shoulders to combine them across her center. At their widest, they almost didn't fit over her breasts.
As she began to feel the ease of pain and the comfort of a constant pressure in being in the right position, she joined the lower straps between her thighs into the locking mechanism with trembling fingers. Maji was still acclimating to the g-forces of their fall, and spin. It wasn't like any one fall is exactly like any other!
In those first moments following the impact of the station’s atmospheric entry, the pod was bumped and jostled so heavily she couldn’t tell if the spin in their fall had gotten faster or slower, or in what direction they were falling. “Help me out here, Sara... I don’t see any controls, how exactly do I secure a safe landing?”
Maji should have known it was out of her hands. One of the most difficult things to come to terms with for a TJ, sometimes, you just have to experience it; whatever “it” is. Physically manifested as she was, Maji could die as surely as she was bleeding and bruised from being knocked around.
It was only another eight seconds of major turbulence, but it felt like an eternity of silence from Sara while she contemplated the best language to communicate how fucked Maji was. Get in the pod, she said…Maji thought bitterly. Sure, she could simply pop out of existence here, and re-pop into existence safely on the ground, but the nuances of an existing time-stream can only be truly understood and appreciated when experiencing them. If she simply Swam to another point and space in this time-stream, she’d miss every little nuance of the flow in between. It would be like missing the audio for a portion of a new Hollywood film, she might know what was happening in that time, but she’d miss everything the experience could tell her with her senses. Maji had to ride it out, whatever her fate.
Sara finally found the words but still hesitated to explain, “The Pod’s design was meant to be target-launched from the station, but since the station was in freefall, your trajectory was simply the path the tube was pointed in. Unfortunately, the blast has-“
The Time Jocky knew her waking friend was stalling, “Spit it out, already!”
The other woman sighed in irritation and tiredness. “At your current descent, the 'chute will deploy in… seven sinutes, and you’ll land on top of a parking garage in a city the Inhabs call Cin-ci’nnati. The Collective is working on your new mission, but until the details are confirmed, you are to remain in-swim to provide recon.” Sara, nor Maji knew that zone would be enveloped in an electro-magnetic field that would disrupt the parachute's deployment, and Maji would die. Infinity is a lot to keep track of.
“TJ-504Z3 confirmed.” Maji’s standard reply with her designation was an absent thought said aloud like a reflex. While she knew waking didn’t provide the same level of insight as a Time Swim, she also wasn’t looking forward to swimming blind and without a clear objective. Find the cause of the imbalance, she reminded herself, it was almost always a person making a conscious decision to create a new stream of reality shared by others.
Getting used to the tumble and falling sensation, Maji felt the shift of the pod in an unknown turbulence, and had no idea it was another Time-Swimmer altering her trajectory and saving her life. To her, it was just a rough bump of air and she was none the wiser as to why, by whom, or where she was now headed. If Sara had noticed, she was distracted by the way Maji attempted to use the strange turbulence to coax her from a wake to a Time Swim with her. “C’mon, it’s a rush! It’s as close as we’ll ever get to the thrill of an Inhab's life!” Maji exclaimed in over-acted joy.
Instead, she found herself clutching and tugging at her harness as if she suddenly felt the dooming impact that she narrowly escaped while Sara shook her head with a Wiley grin. Sara didn't do field work, not that she couldn't, but she wouldn't. Sara preferred to be a medium of information, Maji preferred to be in the action! TC worked with the TJs strengths.
TJ El'yot was forced by Sara’s silence, and her blurring ghostly image projecting each of her waking consciousnesses like visual versions of herself overlapping the same gesture of dismissal, to reserve herself to the fact Sara was willing to aid but not join her. Maji was still hot in her flight suit, and the form-fitting grey cotton boxers with matching ribbed wife-beater she wore under it; a bra had always made her feel caged and unable to breath so she’d simply neglected to ever wear one.
With nothing but time, Maji’s thighs swayed in her suit, as her toes wiggled in her socks snugly kissing her naturally brown skin in the grip of her grav boots. She had gadgets (aside from the hand welder) and weapons in her pockets but in truth, she could time-swim naked if she wanted to, it was just more convenient to be clothed for the time, and prepared for what she was getting into.
Maji could see Sara making expressions and blurring in movements she wasn't actually making in this time-stream, despite not actively communicating. It was calming. Maji wasn't alone. This fall wasn't the only thing happening. In another off-shoot of the imbalance, she was already dead when the pod malfunctioned and exploded, only for what was left of it to be obliterated by the falling Station bits. Yes, seeing the multi-wake of Sara’s consciousness observing at least a dozen other streams, reminded TJ El’yot that experience and time were infinitely more complex than the singular experience she was swimming in.
The red-head took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and wiggled her hips to snuggle her overflowing bottom into the vibration of the pod's friction through the air. Sara was busy so, Maji decided to be busy too. It wasn’t like she could do anything; she was just along for the ride at this point, praying a heavier piece of the station didn’t catch her in a future she hadn’t seen yet. Those extra 19 perceived seconds she gained in sinuate effect would be the only thing between her demise and finding, and believing in, the version of herself that narrowly escapes.
There were TJs who got stuck in impossible streams, dying in a place and time they weren’t born in, but it was rare, and she’d never known one. TJs had TC, and as Sara had said, they were working on it.
A further part of Maji’s thighs allowed her to feel the vibrations through her excited lady petals in a partial bloom of arousal and position. She leaned into it with a slight grind of her hips, and a cheeky grin on her lips, as she got to work distracting herself too. She'd never met anyone who'd never pleasured themselves, but she did know most TJs had heard or were spreading half-truth rumors about how willing she is to enjoy a moment. The way her briefs quickly became squishy, and her body pulsed with a warm wave of tingling heat that made her feel tighter and more open at the same time, probably wouldn't help her modest-cause at all. Still, Maji was enjoying the moment.
She was enjoying it so much, she’d almost forgot that she was hurtling to the ground in a pod no bigger than a shed. She DID forget that Sarah, the other woman waking through this time-stream, was still able to see her as clearly as Maji had been seeing Sara when her own honey-ambered eyes were open. The Time Jockey was fisting her straps over her breasts so they rubbed mercilessly against her hardened nipples, vibrating with the shaking of the pod like it was designed for her pleasure and not her safety. She was too indulgent and she knew it, but what else could she do? The pod didn’t even have windows!
Sara dryly piped into Maji’s self-pleasure and said "you're disgusting..." but when TJ El’yot’s eyes blinked open, Sara was grinning too.
Maji laughed aloud and shrugged sheepishly in her hot blush, immediately stopping her ride of the humming pod she was descending not so gracefully in, waiting for a tug (with thoughts of riding it) of the parachute opening since she'd lost count, but she was pretty sure they were approaching seven sinutes by now.
Sara shook her head at Maji, but Maji just wished for the fall to be over, and she really wished someone had put a damn window in the pod design. She had no idea if it was dry or wet outside, just that she was spinning in the pod’s rapid descent through the clouds. With only nineteen seconds of immediate future to contemplate before she experiences it, Maji would have to wait until they were closer to land to know for sure if the weather would be worth getting a bikini out. Solar days were something to get adjusted to; the segments of time seemed so much larger when stretched out in a line that way.
TJ El'yot would be lying if she didn't admit she'd broken regulations to sun bathe, on more than one occasions.
Hollywood was largely noted for excluding the times when there's not explosive popping or sparks going off in the cabin, and there really isn't anything to distract an occupant from how boring, and yet scary, falling is; especially from such a high distance you had to go through upper atmosphere first. It was endless waiting for the unknown to happen, and again, Maji wondered if that was what it was like for the Inhabs all the time…
"What were you even doing?" Sarah asked to break the silent and shake-still tension.
"Huh?" Maji asked, having already forgotten about it, then remembering by the look Sara gave her as she laughed again, TJ El’yot tugged on her harness before she could manage a worthy verbal answer. The straps would catch, as soon as the parachute deployed, it'd be a rollercoaster into a float to land-laid-heaven. Well, War would follow if the Collective was to be believed, but Maji wanted to think of the heaven in having the ground under her feet first. How long had it been?
To Sara, she finally explained in the only way she could; frankly. "If the parachute doesn't deploy, or gets tangled in the tumble of this pod when it does, I was kind of thinking it'd be nice to get off once more and maybe even ride the high into oblivious flaming death. You know?"
Sara laughed so hard she slipped out of the time-stream and Maji momentarily felt a panic at being completely alone and not having the other woman’s blurring motions to remind her this wasn't the only thing happening. It was like her heart stopped but raced forward at the same time, and despite the rocky descent, Maji felt suddenly motionless.
Sara came back a moment later, almost choking on her laughter, giving gos to Maji, as she apparently explained why she laughed in every waking and present stream she was in.
The red-head blushed so hotly she would have sworn her skin was as bright as her hair, hoping Sara wasn't around any TJs she knew. Even more than before, she wished there was a window in the pod, but it had apparently never made it anywhere near this particular time-stream. Invoking the sinute effect at this point was more stressing than waiting.
Just as Maji was thinking to ask Sara if TC had any news on her new mission, or for that matter, how the chute was supposed to know when to deploy, they were both startled by the jerk of the parachute top blowing, and an unseen force pushing the bottom down so they weren't tumbling anymore. That answered one question.
Maji barely had a moment to tug-test her harness once more, just to be sure, and take a breath she let out slowly before they were jerked so hard by the parachute deploying next, Sara blipped out again. Maji wasn't as scared this time, she felt the drop below her, and then the hard pull of salvation before the float of laziness to the ground which she knew now to be basking in sunlight of what the inhabs called a perfect afternoon. Even if the pod hit something solid, like a car on the top of the parking garage, Maji thought she should be okay.
Of course, She didn't know if Sarah would be back by then, or that she'd almost been as dead as she joked about being. There'd have been nothing to cushion Maji's fall upon an apparently unsuspecting concrete structure. That the 'chute opened at all meant she wasn't over the parking garage, but without looking through the sinute effect, Maji didn't know. Too happy the chute deployed, Maji wasn't obeying protocals, she was enjoying the afterglow of a death near-miss.
So instead, Maji felt a whumph of impact upon a distinctly giving liquid she took to be water. She was relieved and over-joyed, not giving one hoot about the wobble of the bounding ripples of the impact washing back beneath the pod as it floated upright. It was obviously not a parking garage, but she'd take it! The same hatch she’d climbed down into the pod, she now had to climb out of, and Sara was nowhere to be seen yet. Probably, Maji mused, because I now have more questions; like, why am I not on top of a parking garage?
Maji didn't wait for her; she'd find the TJ when she was ready to wake again. TJ El’yot unbuckled her harness, one button and all four straps slunk over her body and away, into the seat back she was still plastered against. If only it'd been that easy to put it on! She took a moment to glance into her future, to know as she was freeing herself from her strapping’s, that the pod was not immediately in danger of being squished by a piece of station-debris.
Her heart was racing because she didn't know what life was like out-there. Except a war that had seriously been changed by the destruction and fall of the Station she’d almost died in. Maji was not the only Time-Swimmer here obviously, but where she expected just one other, she would soon learn there were many others. Like a swarm to something catastrophic she couldn’t begin to fathom while the sinute effect only showed sunshine and silence with a 30% chance of overcast caused by flaming, smoking, falling former Orbital Station pieces.
Maji didn't know who was here, but she knew this time-stream was altering course, like a sudden shift in the currents of time that made every other time-stream shift slightly in accommodation to the change that unbalanced an already balanced symphony of infinity. It had to happen, because infinity demanded it, and therefore it was only natural that the notion of one to change their history should cause others to change time-streams simply because they can; and others still, like her, with the desire to maintain and restore the very confusing but very natural balance.
Whatever was on the other side of that hatch, TJ Maji El’yot had to face it, with or without Sara. Maji pushed herself from the form-fitting seat that absorbed most of her body's impact, and wiggled around her flight suit as soon as she was standing, to return the air-flow where the weight of the stuff in her pockets didn't keep molesting her.
Maji had opted out of cinched waist or a belt for the express purpose of NOT emphasizing her already overflowing natural sensuality. She was here to stop war, to finish a war and correct the time-streams current! She was not here to seduce unsuspecting men to her bed. Not that it hadn't happened, Maji reminded herself, in other time-swims; though she also had to consider who had been the seduced, and who the seducer…
TJ El’yot was grinning stupidly as she climbed the ladder to the hatch, without looking ahead in time, she hooked a knee around a rung to keep herself balanced while she unscrewed the airlock and nudged the hydraulic to take it up and open. She was not fully prepared for the blinding light that reached in to steam her skin and bake her through the hole it poured down in.
Maji felt like even her breath came dryly from her throat, as if the air in her lungs had become dehydrated even before she exhaled it out. The TJ was startled a moment later, when she drew her gasping breath of the warish air, tainted with a rusty metal flavor that was probably blood, but found it cooled in the shadow of a person peering in. It was not Sara.
The Reject’s Perspective
Yondakar, “Yon” to his one friend, was a rejected Time-Jockey, physically branded on the back of both hands with the future's version of an R, and cast aside to never slip again through time again. As if TC could stop him. More importantly, the forty-seven year old man wasn’t the typical bred TJ, designed and trained to observe and protect the balance in his quadrant of infinity. No, aside from his disregard for rules, Yon was born an Inhab of the original stream, AE2020-XXI42801 according to TC. He'd lived on the very station he now witnessed being completely destroyed in its fall to Earth within the new split stream.
After all these years, the split stream actually happened. Unfathomably, Yon was left with the realization it didn't happen the way he remembered it. He remembered infinite versions of himself dying an infinite number of ways in the split, but the way it split had never changed, it had always happened the same way, in slight variations, but the same way. Yon now watched the compartmental explosions on the space-side of the Station, sending the other side careening the atmosphere. More explosions! He felt as if his whole life had been ripped out from under him, folded into a paper plane and tossed into a rubbish bin. Where was Henri (his one friend and fellow reject) when he needed him? How was he supposed to make sense of this? Yon went back in his memory to see what was different:
He was walking down one of the corridors that connected two segments of the donuts shaped Station, it had windows and he'd stopped to stare out the window because he thought he saw something, squinting at objects he thought were approaching. He hadn't heard any announcements for new arrivals or special guests, nor anything mentioned about maintenance. As a lost-kid, he had no family, and he didn't like to be kept locked up so, he always escaped and he always wandered. He'd never seen anything like the objects that were definitely approaching.
Even as he had that thought, the seven year old was startled to find the lights went out down the hall behind him, racing toward him and rushing past him in a sudden blanket of darkness that was accompanied by the loss of gravity. He was floating! They never let the kids in areas without gravity, something about "bone density," but he'd been thrilled and forgot all about the objects and the darkness.
In the moment of his elation, he realized the "Real" him was still standing in a lit hall, with gravity, staring out the window. The parallel feelings were suddenly unnerving. He searched through the view out of the window and saw nothing but stars on one side and a perfectly sized Earth on the other. He had no idea what was happening. It was like being in two places at once!
"Real" Yon ran, while the other Yon was still giggling in the darkness, floating around like he was flying, making engine noises with his mouth as if he were a plane or ship. "Real" Yon ran into one of the teachers for a higher level than he'd reached yet, but he recognized her, tried to explain that he was experiencing two versions of himself right in those very moments! She did not believe him, not even when "Real" Yon was physically rocked by the sensation of the other Yon being thrown suddenly against the window mid-flight, scrambling to get his legs under him and look through the window to see why they were suddenly moving toward Earth.
Ships. The objects were spaceships with funny looking teeth on them, growling at the station so close- wait... he realized they were pushing the station into Earths Atmosphere deliberately! He looked out the opposite window to confirm, Earth was getting bigger, filling more of the window. "Real" Yon started screaming. He was convinced they were going to be under attack any minute! The teacher thought he went mad, and she'd had him committed to the mental ward.
Yon reminded himself he'd just been a kid, hadn't even known time wasn't a line reaching toward his eighth birthday just one month from now, circa 2020; but something much bigger, more incomprehensible, something he didn't even have a name for until his early twenties when he'd figured to call it the allwhen*, and only because he'd been trying to explain it to the other Reject he'd been trying to teach to do his version of a Time Swim. Back then, he'd called it Detached Omni-Positional Teleportation, but these days he just called it DOTing*.
It wasn't the same thing as a Time Swim, because he only retained that same sliver of consciousness that was "Real" Yon. So, he didn't so much manifest somewhere as he navigated the particles in any given space and time to jump from here to there. In stream-time*, it was often the same second of relative time -maybe just in another time-stream or another time forward or backward. In between-time* it was... well, it varies and it's complicated. Back then, "Real" Yon hadn't even known what he was experiencing wasn't actually happening, and now, he realized it never did!
What was he supposed to do with that? Considering the station was still going to hit the atmosphere, and there was still a (dead) seven year old version of himself on it, crushed in the stampede toward the pods. He knew because he saw it, not like his ICIM episodes (as he learned they were called by TC), but with his own eyes as he was both trying to get to another part of the Station to escape on his ship, and to avoid his other self.
Now, of course, he wished he'd risked the unknown and snatched his alternate seven year old self when he went by. Seeing his child-self crushed to death by a running mob of desperate people was the absolute worst thing he'd ever seen, and he'd seen a lot of bad shit in forty years of infinite versions of himself that didn't exist. Knowing those other versions of himself he'd grown up experiencing didn't actually exist, didn't help him come to terms with the fact that one did, and he'd died senselessly. Carelessly. Right in front of "Real" Yon's eyes. He could have done something.
Yon knew the other him's didn't exist because he'd went looking for them. He'd eventually DOT'd every stream he could sense, before going mad, and he'd never found them. He could wake through the possible-streams, return to any of them in an observing state, but he only "lived" each of them once, for as long as that version of him lived. Right now, there was a version of him already in Cincinnati, already hunting for Gunter, but he was doubting that was actually happening any more than the rest of his ICIM episodes. What was the point in giving him the experiences of possible streams that didn't exist? For that matter, if the split didn't happen the way he remembered, was Gunter still to blame?
Sitting in the cockpit of his ship, Jenuva (Yen-oo-vah), in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), Yon didn't know what to do next. He felt his body get twitchy in his stillness, reacting like muscle memories to this never-ending ICIM episodes of alter Yon's, still unfolding while he sat indecisive.As far as he knew, he was the only Inhab who lived with ICIM as a permanent state of conscious being.
At least he wasn't the only Yon who didn't know what to do; the other forty-seven year old Yon was choosing between a small bottle of vodka and a big bottle of vodka, and hadn't even thought of where he'd find a peaceful place to drink it in one of the non-existent versions of the war-torn split-stream circa 2080. He shook his head and sighed, wondering if he should DOT back to his poor excuse for a home in his original stream circa 2080, or head down to Cincinnati to see if Gunter was really there setting off an EMP to blackout the world in this split-stream of 2020... Forty years of searching for this stream, and now that he's in it, how could he go back?
Yon flipped a red switch to an off position to wake up his ship, and wanted to blame TC for rejecting him, not teaching him properly or giving him backup, but apparently they’d had a TJ on board the Station with the same, failed, mission to stop the devastating split. She certainly hadn’t been there for him! Yon thought the stunning, mocha-skinned red-headed woman was a goner now, as in dead; she’d been going away from the escape pods. If she wasn’t going to Time Swim, why didn’t she go for the escape pods?
As he was having the thought in his moment of reverie, he jerked upright in his pilot’s seat and nearly bonked his head on an instrument panel. At five-eleven (though he often said six foot), he wasn’t a giant, but he hadn’t been thinking about excited-movement-clearance when he built this baby to fight the ships that apparently didn't exist. Yon made a mental note for the second bird which wasn’t finished yet, much to Henri’s disappointment.
Re-checking his screen, Yon confirmed had one Time-Swimmer and a waking passenger in a pod, which… came out of the ass-end of the station about to shit on the Earth’s atmosphere. It was a solid green blip and a transparent blue blip inside a solid white blip on his one-of-a-kind radar.
He had no idea there was a pod on that side of the station, watched to see if any more were launched, and though he knew not all of the pods launched from the Station would make it through the atmosphere, or landing, he was suddenly very fixed on this one pod.
Yon might have written off the whole station to their fates when he’d boarded Jenuva to fight of a squadron of ships that weren’t there…but knowing the likelihood of the TJ in that pod being the red-head made his little head think it could make decisions for him. At the very least, it did make him start to take action for the possibility he would go after her. He was still alive after-all, he had to do something, and the idea of going back to AE2020-XXI42801 felt like surrender to the Inhabs taunts of his mental instability. I see the non-existent streams for a reason! ... Even if I don't know what that is yet.
Yon’s abnormal six fingered hands, for an Inhab of a five-fingered time-stream, danced along specific buttons and switches to get Jenuva ready to leave Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and descent to ten thousand feet above the Karman Line*.
The idea that space is empty is an illusion he along ago learned, and the word atmosphere didn’t actually cover the fact that space, even around the “atmosphere lacking” moon, had a particles in it. Yon had a sense of those particles, in their specific space in time, and his years of experience using them (no thanks to TC) had lead him to build his ship not just to be a space worthy ship, or an air worthy bird, but a time worthy swimmer of the allwhen. A true AST vehicle. Never mind her weapons... he'd thought he'd be fighting a small armada.
Jenuva wasn’t powered by any energy-cell or fuel he had to stop to get, it was in the very nature of the universe, and the mechanics he'd invented to harness it. He was grateful with the bounty it provided him. Theoretically, he’d mused more than once, the ship would still be powered and waiting for a worthy pilot long after he died; him-him, the "Real" Yon. It was a marvelous thought, but he had to focus on the now. The pod. The future of this new time-stream. The time-stream he left behind in search of the imbalance. At least HE knew he wasn’t crazy.
If each particle in space were a dot on a Battleship game grid of his chosen time-stream, Yon had a sense of them like an omni-directional net that extended out from him nearly infinitely, and if he wished it, into and beyond this quadrant of infinity. The ship was a mechanical extension of him and his ability to move across the board, into and within any stream he wished to DOT in.
He was preparing to employ that method to jump-time by imputing his target point at ten thousand feet above the Karman Line. He intended to exit the time-stream reality there and to re-enter at the relative same time, wherever he wanted to be. Before he could input his re-entry, Yon had to decide where he needed to be. Cincinnati, or the Pod to question the red-head…? Well, where is the red-head going?
The pod he had on radar wasn’t just in a descent, or knocked into a spiral from the impact of the station with the atmosphere he noted as Jenuva began her own descent, but by his calculations, was going to fall into Gunter’s possible EM-Bubble. Not just that, she was headed for the garage he intended to land on. His ship was shielded, he did not know if the pod he hadn't known existed was. That complicated his decision, and made it simpler.
If he continued down to stop Gunter’s blackout (if it's actually happening, Yon reminded himself), he would risk not doing it in time to save the red-head. He couldn’t save his other self on the space station; Yon asked himself, why do you care about a TJ he’d never actually met? He heard himself answer just as quickly; You’re a sucker for red-heads, Yon and she might have answers. He knew it was his little head talking and countered more logically, if today has taught you anything, Yon, you can know the possible future and still know jack shit.
The reject put in a course for the pod. If Gunter set off, and Yon couldn’t stop the EM-pulse that would start the global blackout, he could at least knock the pod to a safer landing trajectory before it reached her. If he did it right, they’d never even know he was there, a yacht sized particle on the wind -and he could still go after Gunter.
Multi-tasking with a purpose now, Yon didn’t really have to think about what he was doing to do it, and he caught himself looking at his reflection against the forward view-port. His once inky black hair was completely grey, and it didn’t stop its silvery invasion there either, he noted a little self-deprecatingly. He hadn’t looked at himself in a long time he realized; too busy chasing the time-stream that hadn’t even existed yet, trying to catch a man he’d only seen in waking and ICIM episodes.
His full lips were framed by his slightly darker grey beard, and just the sight of it made him pause and scratch under his chin. Both his hair and his beard were long enough to make him come to terms with the fact he hadn’t been taking care of himself. He couldn’t even see his ears, or his neck! How had he not noticed the mop on his head? Why hadn't Henri said something?
Yon consoled himself with the fact the red-head hadn’t noticed him on the ship as she shouldered past him, and she wouldn’t even see him when he DOT’d on by so, he had nothing to worry about. He wasn’t doing this for his little head, he reminded himself, he was doing it because it was the right thing to do.
Easing Jenuva down toward his target exit point, Yon rode the soft humming vibration and mused that at least he could remember he’d showered before the catastrophe today. So, he wasn’t stinking up his cockpit with anything more than fresh adrenaline, failure, determination, and a healthy fear that this was a war he was ill equipped to fight.
“That-a-girl,” Yon coo’d Jenuva. She looked like a patch-scrap fighter jet in the shape of a dart with a heavy ass, the size of a small luxury boat, but Jenuva was more capable than she looked; like her builder.
“Nice and steady…” he cautioned himself, more than the bird, flipping two green switches on his left hand control panel. He felt like he was floating down, but he also knew he was moving incredibly fast on a scale most people will never comprehend.
In Inhab space-time perspective, or stream-time, this stream contained whole galaxies that looked like distant stars from the alternate-station he was born on. He could feel the placement of the earth around the hurtling star they called the Sun, and its pull from the force of the galactic spiral, which got its force from the infinite expansion of the Universe. Don't forget black holes and dark-matter! It’s a lot to take in, let alone live with! Yon giving himself a pep-talk before DOTing from one point to another, without missing his mark while everything is moving at such cosmic speeds, should be excused by any reasonably sane person.
In his chosen maneuver, he wasn’t just DOTing, but in an effect, physically waking through the DOT, as if his ship were a surf board pushing against space and time to distort the very nature of its natural wave. With his experienced precision doing it in person, the TJ reject Yondakar with-no-family-name could move a specific object without being physically present to “touch” it. As if he were a Poltergeist.
In this case, it was simply a matter of moving enough but not too much space-time matter to “bump” the pod to a better trajectory and not obliterate the both of them. Matter can’t occupy the same space, not just because of physical properties, but because energy that makes matter possible can’t be destroyed, it only changes. Yon didn’t want to become an implosion. “You can do this Yon.”
The older man had preformed a physical wake while DOTing in Jenuva only once before, and it was a narrow success. There was a small chance he would get his path wrong, or the pods path wrong, but Yon didn't want a repeat of knowing he could have done something but didn't. It was simple. He was risking it and doing his damnedest not to be wrong. His fight with Gunter would have to wait a few seconds.
“E-ah* looks good, reaching optimal speed…” Yon was talking to himself again as he went through a short checklist, watching the descent of the pod, knowing it had to reach it’s optimal point in space and time at the same time he DOT’d or he’d miss it when he re-entered the stream in his physical waking maneuver. Or crash right through it, some part of himself was quick to remind. “Wish us luck, Red.” Yon concluded absently to the red-head he hadn’t officially met, before checking his straps, fitting on his helmet, strapping the oxygen mask over his face, and taking in a calming breath he could exhale while he made the jump. It just made it feel more natural.
Jenuva didn’t have any foot pedals, or a joy stick, she had a specialized gel platform on the end of both arm-rests where he placed his hands to feed the impulses of his mind through his body and into his ship. All the switches he’d flipped, pressed, or turned helped to calibrate the subtleties of his intent in terms the machine could understand.
So, when he reached his Exit point, the ship already knew what he was going to do, and merely had to process his commands in the order he commanded them, allowing Yon to handle the variations as he went. Exiting's the easy part, gave him a rush of adrenaline in the distortion of time as he went from ten thousand feet above the Karma Line, to the between place he’d be spat out from, three feet off the tumbling pod’s frame in the same second of stream-time; after he bumped it:
To Yon in B-T, it felt like five full minutes of struggling with the natural current of space-time to ease against it with just enough intent and physical presence for it to naturally give in to the experience he was experiencing. It was the best rush he’d ever felt, like being in the middle of imagination becoming reality in the very moments that reality gives in to imagination. He had no other way to describe it, but he felt invigorated in the process. The pressure of surfing against space-and time was like riding turbulence, but it had less to do with anything pushing against the ship, and more to do with the fact it didn’t belong there to begin with. Yon had mad respect for the between place.
As he pushed the space-mater of the stream in the strange stretch of time that was longer for him than it really was, Yon felt how the movement created a tangible wave of air-matter that knocked into the pod. He verified it altered the pods course exactly as he’d planned. Triumph! Of course, he had to remind himself that was only half his battle today, there was still Cincinnati and the possible black-out. Gunter.
Saving time by doing the work in the between space, Yon activated the auto-correct for his course to Cincinnati, from where he’d make next DOT exit after his full re-entry. It was, of course, a 180 twist*.
After what he’d accomplished in the wake of his own failure to stop the stream split in the first place, Yon felt not just empowered to push on, but thrilled for the challenge. The reject didn’t know what was ahead of him, but he knew Gunter had to be stopped even if it wasn't in this stream, with or without the help of the red-headed TJ backed by TC.
Flipping a few more switches, pressing a couple more buttons, he had the engines ready when he re-entered the present and imbalanced offshoot of AE2020-XXI42801. Not stopping to consider what TC would code this stream, he maneuvered his dart-shaped bird into a somersault dive as he re-entered. He had to turn a knob and flip another switch before he eased her into a barrel roll as she made the curve, putting himself upright and at the optimal speed when he hit his target exit point in the next moment.
Pilot and bird DOT’d right through time to end up approaching the parking garage, the red-head was now safely away from, with enough distance to slow before he found a spot to park on the roof next to the catwalk to the building next door. He would remotely move the plane while he wasn’t in it, to avoid someone else getting their hands on his tech, but before he could will himself to do anything more than verify Jenuva was cloaked* and find said parking, he found himself verifying again the red-head’s safe landing trajectory.
It still wasn’t enough. Yon visually confirmed the pod was still falling a safe distance from station debris.
Only then did his mind return to Gunter. Knowing that Gunter was the man behind the stream-split in the streams that didn't exit, didn’t help Yon know how to stop him. Gunter was either not here at all and Yon had it all wrong, or somehow one step-ahead of him. The reject had spent his life knowing every nuance of the streams that didn’t exist yet, and now existed differently. That it hadn’t happened how he remembered it had him off his game, and once more, chasing the rabbit that was Gunter without knowing what he was getting into.
In his ICIM episodes, Cincinnati was the common epicenter for the global blackout, and it was as good a place to start as any, especially since he had a Time Swimmer on radar right where he remembered them, one building over and seven floors up. Yon didn’t know it was Gunter, but the chances were high since Henri had stayed behind. The idea of going into an entirely new stream had been too much for the other rejected TJ.
Yon’s little head wanted to be done in the few minutes it would take the red-head to land, but he wasn’t sure that would (or should) actually make his itinerary. He’s still just one man, and this wasn’t likely to go down the way he remembered it even if there was a Time-Swimmer here. The rejected TJ reserved himself to figure out how to fight the small army (larger than he remembered) of Inhabs it seemed the Time-Swimmer had with them, but only while Yon was gearing up to leave Jenuva.
He had to unclip his mask, take off and lock-in his helmet (which he only really wore just encase there was a haul breech mid-flight through the between-place), and unstrapped himself from the pilot’s chair that doubled as every other command console for his one-man show. Unlike the TJs, Yon hadn’t entirely mastered the art of not dragging his feet, and remained there a moment longer than he intended just out of sheer dread. With a shake of his head, he palmed the arm-rests and eased out and around the chair at the same time.
It was only three strides down a grated path that led down two short steps and he was in his Ready Room. It was more a hallway with supplies on both sides and a monitor in the middle of the port wall for plans and schematics. He was memorizing his route into the building (not that he didn't already know it), and considering the movements of the Inhabs plus the blip he was assuming was Gunter. While his mind processed the map, his hands were strapping on his guns, knives, and back-up devices. Still, Yon smirked to himself, realizing he was also still thinking of the red-headed TJ.
Sensing he couldn't stall any longer, not if the EMP was going to go off, Yon grunted at himself and strapped what looked like a watch to his wrist; it was really Jenuva's remote. "You've done this infinite times..." He tried to remind himself, but it didn't make him any less nervous to step off his ship and into a world that could very well turn into a series of civil wars, globally, and without power. Desperate people do desperate things, Yon reminded himself, not remembering where he'd heard or read it.
While he had a cool ramp for cargo in the back, he took the less showy exit off the side, just beyond his ready room in the tiny space for a hall to the cargo bay. He hadn't included a bunk, or a toilet in order to accommodate the weapons, computers and cargo bay. Palm to the starboard door, it opened down to offer him steps to the ground, but the air was so dry he thought dust came out of his lungs. It hit him like a mac truck and he realized he'd gotten so used to the other Yon's, he'd tuned out their sensations like white-noise that occasionally made him tick or tremble. This was real, and against his will, he was thrown into a flashback of an alternate seven year old Yon:
He couldn't believe he'd made it! People were walking over the dead bodies who hadn't had anything to strap into but climbed in the pod anyway. They were fighting to get out, no one had stopped to check on the man across from him, limp in his belts, hit repeatedly by the tumbling people; probably dead. A lot of people were dead. Yon had felt himself die, crushed to death by running people on his way to the pods. He felt sick, but he wasn't dead, just strapped in still. He fumbled his small fingers on the button, using his whole arms to push hard enough, and it popped free, but it wasn't comforting. There was still a sea of dead people between him and the hatch emptying of live people.
Yon was a lost-kid, no one looked back at him. He didn't want to walk on the dead people, the thought made him loose his lunch on them, and that made him feel guilty enough! Stepping on the empty seats, he rounded the pod toward the hatch, ready to jump out of the increasing heat. Hell must be on his heels. He didn't want Hell to get him, but someone outside screamed and he couldn't stop himself from jumping back against the pod wall. He heard more screaming, words he didn't know, maybe adult words; what was a holy fucking shit?
Ouch, owie, oooowwee! He was burning! Ow! Ow! His skin was burning but there was no fire! Why were they screaming? Where was the darkness? Hell had him but there was no darkness! Yon looked out the hatch and only saw that not all the screaming was people, some of it was the station he'd just left behind, and the fire was in it as much as on it. There was a moment of silence, the wreckage hit the pod and he was flung back in awe of it's might with a sickening crack, he lost his bowls and all feeling; then darkness.
Yon blinked, and realized he was on his hands and knees at the foot of Jenuva's steps. He'd fallen. The concrete was wet beneath him, and was surprised that he was crying, that what he'd felt wasn't a flashback of a former ICIM episode, it was a brand new ICIM episode. A new stream shooting off this split stream the moment his other self died in the stampede, and another alternate Yon lived on to die just after making it to the ground.
He was sending his ship home for safe keeping, walking toward the catwalk to the building before he even realized he'd gotten up. There would be more seven year old Yon's dying, and eight year old Yon's dying, and so on if he didn't stop it. The Imbalance was happening, and Yon wasn't the only kid dying.
TJ-504Z3 had no control of her banged-up body when she saw a masculine form in black silhouette blocking the sun, and she let go of the rungs keeping her where she was. It was her hooked knee, and the attached thigh that immediately tensed with a hard clench of her abs and a margin of pain from bruised ribs, which caught her fall a moment before she would have slipped or cracked her knee cap.
It was a narrow escape of her butt bouncing on the rungs below, and Maji took advantage of her adrenaline to move her other leg down the side-rail like she half-meant to drop down. Really, the red-head just needed to get that foot under her so she could re-orient herself despite everything hurting to some degree or another.
TJ El’yot had been in more time-streams than most Inhabs could imagine even existed, and she was only four swims short of setting a new record. In all that experience, she wasn’t just startled that a person had gotten to the pod in the time after her last sinute effect and before she could free herself of the pod, but also that it was a man.
Instinctively, she expected that to mean he was there to kill her.
At the same time, the less rational part of herself, the purely primal female part, simply reacted to being aroused a moment ago, and now looking up at a masculine shadow that hadn’t yet emptied a projectile or pulse weapon into her. Her instinct didn’t want to let go of the possibility the man meant harm, but her body seemed to contradict the notion in a flush of heat that had nothing to do with the hostile air deceiving the beautiful afternoon sky.
Catching a rung in her hands, her other foot seemed to find some solid ground under her, taking some of the pressure off her hooked knee. Maji only had a sense of how ridiculous she must look because of the rumbling masculine chuckle that descended in the shadow as he watched her get her barring back.
There was no hiding the way her heavy breasts swayed unbound beneath her clothing, even as she stilled herself and corrected her backward fall to a sit-up worthy vertical orientation; nor the way her hips shimmied as she worked her knee from around the rung she’d been braced on to open the hatch, and that made the Time Jokey acutely aware of it.
The man peering in had a view, and there was nothing Maji could do about it but be grateful it made him chuckle and not shoot. If he was going to laugh at her, he was less likely to kill her. Endorphins. It’s simply a science thing. Thin, as far as hope for a good natured human in the 21st century of any time-stream in her quadrant, but enough to hold on to.
With all the light shining around him, Maji’s eyes took a moment longer than she liked to adjust to the high contrast in order to decipher his expression. An Inhab wouldn’t have been able to see through the blinding light to separate man from shadow, but her eyes were well equipped. It was her libido that wasn’t prepared for what she saw.
Sure, most of his head and face seemed obscured by a dark beard and moppy hair that had gone tones of silver, but the crystal clear blue of his eyes and the fullness of his hidden lips (albeit bruised with dried blood) were unmistakably calling to her.
Handsome Devil came to mind, but she didn’t say it, and tried to keep it off her battered face with little success by the way those lips of his peeled into a pleased grin. The expression drew her amber, opal-flecked gaze to what looked like scars across his cheeks. Closer inspection revealed they were impressions, probably skin impressions from a tightly fitting oxygen mask. A pilot. A pilot with a bloody left brow and a busted lower lip…
While she tried to look beyond the thrill of his broad shoulders tucked in a thin flight suit, looking for insignia to determine if he was from the Station or not, she realized the bastard was letting her ogle him while he watched and said not a word. His suit looked more authentic than hers did, but there was still something off about it. Try as she might to figure that out, Maji was distracted by how his suit did have the cinched waist that pulled it taught over his chest, and how it made the distinct narrowing of his waist pronounced before his lower half disappeared from her vision.
His patient silence made him all the more alluring.
She felt her thighs tingle in a desire to kiss the flesh around his waist and-what? Stop it Maji! Her gaze darted up to his grinning face, and was surprised to see he’d reached an arm down in the moment it took her to chastise herself. He offered one bare hand slightly scarred from battles done and forgotten, but is voice kept her eyes looking beyond it to the curve of his lips as he moistened them to form smooth words of taunt and rational logic.
"There's plenty more eye candy, ange, but we should get you out and somewhere less... in the open, no?" He wasn’t shaking at the pecs in his laughter anymore, but his tone still carried the sound he was suppressing.
Hearing the man call her “Angel” in a slightly weird but quite "American" accent that battled between Southern and Cajun, didn’t immediately flatter her. Instead, felt the hot blush of embarrassment that plastered itself along the tops of her breasts and climbed into view along her throat and cheeks in a rosey tint to her naturally dark skin as she realized she was just staring, and hadn’t actually taken his offered hand yet.
He called her out on drinking in the man-candy and she still couldn't stop herself.
Maji hadn’t just lose track of her mission in her mind, she lost all common sense in her startled, largely female motivated reaction to him. The idea of touching him without introducing herself first was almost alien to her mind, but she found herself letting go of the warm rung and reaching her right hand for his. It was a moment before she saw his hand tilt and reveal the glaring “reject” brand on the backside.
The TJ didn’t have time to snap her hand away from his before he reached further in and closed his scarred palm around her bare hand. The Reject jolted her arm with the force of his grip and pull, suddenly hauling her out of the pod without ceremony. Rushing thrill of being not a small woman and being pulled up and out like she was only a soft pillow aside, Maji was reeling with the mental symphony going off in her mind about his Reject Status.
He's slightly off because he's time-swimming!
Worse, he's a Reject so, he shouldn’t be in Time Swim at all!
Before she could stop herself from going there, her mind iced her veins with fear that spread lightening fast under the notion he might be the source of the Imbalance. A couple seconds, the time it took him to pull her up and out of the pod, and she was thinking he’d murdered thousands.
Rage has nothing on a sensual woman with neglected needs though, and she felt it whoosh right out of her like a puff of smoke the second she realized it wasn’t the sun warming her body, but his pressed against her. If felt as if he had every intent of both making sure Maji didn't send them both into the water, but also of making her feel the body she'd been so mindlessly admiring from her precarious position, and how quickly she'd excited him in return.
Like a clumsy Space-Dame, she didn’t seem to have real Terra Gravity* under control, and her legs felt uncooperative, leaving her leaning into the Reject for support, which made it impossible not to feel the engorgement trapped between them.
TJ El’yot was staring at his chest, his abs taking breaths against her body, making her feel his hard musculature beneath the soft fabric of his decidedly warn suit in contrast to her crisp, new flight-suit. Maji’s body wanted his so bad she leaned into him more, but she told herself it was because her legs felt unsure of the ground (escape pod) under her. She wasn't breathing, but she couldn't help being aware of everything, including the fact the Reject was still observing her processing the situation.
Most of the TJ’s focus was on how comfortable he felt against her body, how welcomed and how solid. She knew he was in a Time-Swim now, though from what other-stream she had no idea. Nor of his purpose. Time-Jocky Maji El’yot simply didn't feel threatened by him, which made being attracted to him so easy, especially as he embraced her lean with a grind of his erection into her fluttering lower abs, stirring a shallow gasp from her lips before she held it in the shiver that followed. Arching her body beneath the movement of his free hand up her back, that shiver left a tingle at the nape of her neck and in the core of her body.
It was as if they were long lost lovers in an intimate embrace of feeling one another still alive, if only for a moment.
Time-Swimming, or especially waking, could be very lonely. The mission is life, infinite balance is most of what gets thought about, but sometimes, like this moment, it slips away in the seconds of present human contact.
To further Maji’s unexpected embarrassment, which threatened her delicious desire to sink into the comfort of his safety-hug, she belatedly realized her legs felt weird because her boots were calibrated for the G’s she was pulling in the tumbling pod. Her boots were not registering the change upon the pod floating… in a retention pond?
The Reject was hot against Maji’s body, his heart was racing but his breathing was a steady assault on her senses that wouldn't let her follow the thought with; where am I?
The red-head was rippling inside, her boxers wetting without her control, slickening between her thighs as she couldn't help but feel how his engorged shaft pulsed against her like it was communicating in morse code. I. Want. You. The TJ couldn't seem to pry herself away from him, or him from her, so she had to look up at him again because she wasn't used to being yanked into wanting to fuck someone so quickly.
Being as still as she could for a moment, adjusting to the fact she was reeling like a ...lady-dog in heat, and couldn't even make herself look him straight in his eyes without first lingering wantonly on those lips, Maji was almost certain he wanted to lower his hand to grab a full palming grip of her ass. She wanted to let him.
The Red-Head cursed herself, and he seemed to know it by the time his bright blue eyes met Maji’s, and she saw in his, a tiger-eye shine. It only excited her more, she felt her hips ride up to slide her dancing abs against his trapped manhood while her fingertips bit into his body as if she might float away on her high otherwise.
He broke the silence first.
"Your wake-buddy abandoned ship, I see. Don't worry, petit ange, I know where we can go." He was suddenly saying, and startling Maji because he was still holding her tightly against him where his words thundered through her body, even as they soothed her ears, in their rumble-gruff low tone that wasn't really a whisper.
He was the first person TJ El’yot ever met that could tell when someone was waking with a Time-Swimmer who was present. She was beside herself trying to think how he knew that, and if he'd known it was Sara specifically. If he knew who she was! He hadn't called Maji by name yet, only angel, and little angel, but he didn't let the Time Jockey think for long.
His expression twitched into a slide-show of emotional masks somehow partially overlapping one another, like he couldn’t decide on one, or felt them all at the same time. His body trembled a moment, complete with finger twitches that were pronounced against her hand and back. Maji only had enough time for her mind to switch gears into a sense of genuine concern as she thought; did he just have a seizure?
Whether it was her expression, or the way their bodies were aligned, his hand at her back as hers was at his shoulder, and the others held in communion to a union of dance they didn’t intend, he laughed.
The TJ jolted under her skin and gasped, startled by the sensation of his body bubbling against hers in his amusement, in waves of pleased euphoria she surfed subconsciously. Just as soon, her eyes danced between his for answers and she choked on her gasp.
Without warning, Maji El’yot shoved the Reject so hard he let go, flailed for a moment above the water before… he disappeared.
Maji was panting, not because it’d been hard to push a laughing man off an escape pod rolling in the water, but because she realized she already missed the feel of him against her body and didn’t really know why she’d done that. That he hadn’t hit the water was secondary, knowing he was a branded Reject in a Time-Swim, it was almost expected.
Assuming he jumped out of the Time Stream rather than hit the water, she made a mental note to reign in her impulses and bent over at the waist to readjust her grav-boots before she’d make the swim to the highways the pond sat beside. Leaned over as she was, her peripheral was all askew, but she was almost certain she saw the Reject-Pilot sitting on the empty road she was going to make for when done with her boots. Turning her head while her fingers worked on memory, her brows danced in confusion and curiosity that made her face hurt, alarmed he hadn’t abandoned this time-stream, and once again warning herself he might be her suspect.
It's easy to think of him as a potential suspect when he isn't pressed against you, isn't it Maji?
TJ El'yot didn’t know his motives or how he knew she’d had a Waking TJ with her before landing; even if he isn’t the suspect, as a Reject in Time Swim, you know he is in violation and it’s your responsibility to bring him in.
No sooner did she make up her mind on that, and finish re-calibrating her boots, he was gone. Only, he wasn’t gone, he just… jumped in the Time Swim. The nuances of the experience didn’t seem to bother him, as he went from one place to the next in the same second; from standing on the road to once more standing in front of her.
Maji wasn’t happy to see him this time, but she had to remind her body of that when he smiled at her like she’d done something cute. Adjusting to the slight rock of his weight added to the pod once again still wasn’t enough to distract her from the rush of seeing him smile at her like that, even if it also pissed her off.
“Soft on the outside, hard on the inside, I like that, ange. A full flavor experience you linger on after the first rush.” He dared to waggle his brows at her, making the blood crack in the fine hairs.
The way he said it though, sounded like dark chocolate, and she was late in remembering to speak at all; “You can call me TJ El’yot, or TJ El’yot, you cannot keep calling me ange anything, and I am not… whatever you just said; I'm the one who’s going to haul you into TC for violat-“
“You mean because of this?” His tone was no longer full of amusement, and he held up both hands, palms toward his chest to show Maji his brands. Old brands.
Six Fingers on each hand, how did I miss that?
“Yes...” Maji replied, meaning to sound like he’d asked a stupid question, but she heard it come out like a statement that’s also in question. She quickly went on to explain, “You are a Rejected TJ, and that mea-“
“Nothing to me but some texturing.” He finished for her, despite or because he knew she wasn’t going to say anything like that. “The only reason it means anything to TC is because they can’t track me. What are you? 500 model I’m guessing? Generati-“
"Don't.” Maji was suspicious of his knowing so much about her, her Waking friend, or her breeding, and didn’t want to know if he could guess she was a Zesna Generation, a Z-Gen. Was it that obvious? If he's a Reject so long his brands ashed out, how does he know so much about TJs?
The Reject intrupted Maji's thoughts but did not persue his previous line of questioning, and instead said, “It means nothing, what they branded us. I’m here. You’re here. I’m guess’n we’re here for the same reason.”
He sounded so reasonable, and reminded her of the ultimate Mission, why she was here, so Maji blurted; “The Imbalance.”
“Is that what you call it? Someone ripped a slice in space-time and shoved a whole new stream into the pipes that’ll create infinitely more streams in the pipes and you call it ‘The Imbalace’?!”
“Well! ... What do you call it?” Maji asked a little defensively, not ruling him out as the suspect just because she was hot for him and he said ‘someone.’ However, she was less sure she was going to pause her mission to turn him in as a RiV*.
“Mass Murder? Catastrophic Failure in the zenith degree? I don’t have a name for it," he shrugged, "but I do have an idea who caused it.” He said that last part rather confidently, and just like that, put his hand on Maji's wrist and they were somewhere else.
This is no Time Swim! What the... there is no elsewhere, nowhere, there's nothing here... wait, energy, definitely energy, but... nothing. How can I feel nothing and... his hand, I can feel his pulse. I can hear my heart, time has to exist here, right? Is there air? I need to breathe. He's not breathing either...
Maji saw her imagined version of what the time-steams looked like all together, a droplet of segmented water with only a thought-thinness between the segments, where she simply went from one time-stream to another, no between. Maji hadn't ever jumped from one place in the time of a stream, to another place in the same time of the same stream. At least, not in a Swim, only when Waking, it was more efficient, but she wasn't actually present. This... Maji was totally present for this...
Maji was still trying to wrap her mind around what he did, if she was dead, or... when they were standing on the road The Reject had earlier stood on. She had a Time Swimmer's notion they hadn’t missed a wink of the experience; well, except the getting wet part. Gasping for air and tingling with overflowing energy that kept her trembling, disoriented, troubled, and suddenly unsure of her perception of reality, Maji didn't notice he still had her wrist. Then, she did.
TJ El’yot snapped her hand out of his grip, ignoring the way his grin melted into an uncomfortable expression, and looked back to where she’d been on the pod, and how it swayed only with the water, and not any lift-off force. He’d … what did he do to us?
"You ... can't just... do... ... THAT. to someone!" The Time Jockey gasped in outrage, more so because she didn't have words for what had just happened to her, how he'd gotten her from the pod to the road without Time-Swimming.
Time Swimming is like teleporting; it is actually here to there, no in-between. De-manifest the conscious body, manifest it elsewhere-when. Maji felt the similar rush of Time Swimming, but couldn’t unknow what it was like to pass in the space or place between here and there. It was surreal, and disorienting, like she couldn’t be sure she was here, or that anything was real, because she’d felt what it was like to feel Nothing, and how Nothing wanted so very badly to expel her everything.
Just the notion of that… what-or-whereever it had been… being between here and there every time she swims through steams sent a shiver through the TJ’s body.
Those unusually big eyes of hers leveled on the Reject, and were once more uncertain whether to classify him as a friendly or the enemy. For the moment, it was more important to understand what just happened, than to make him confess the name of who he believed to be behind the Imbalance, and how he knew about them.
Even as she watched his lips part, and his chest expand into the flight-suit he wore that looked as aged as he was, she gave him GOS and shook her head to silence him. It was an effort, but she squeezed her voice out in slow, calm, carefully enunciated words while staring up at him from barely an arm’s length in distance. “What did you just do to us? To me?”
Maji didn’t like the way he expression changed. He had a light in his bright eyes that deceived the silver of his hair and worry-lines weathering his face. Somehow, she knew he wasn’t about to actually answer her question, the left corner of his lips drew into his beard in a partially hidden crooked smile that immediately made the TJ deliciously uncomfortable in her flight suit. Her nipples seemed to be reaching for him like a silent signal for him to close the gap, and it was made more apparent to the hyper-sensitive Time Jocky with every breath that raped them against the inside of her tank top, against the flight suit sans bra-buffer.
Doesn't matter, Maji...
Shifting her weight in her boots with a futile attempt to wiggle her toes so he wouldn’t see the nervous movement, the red-head had no intention of breaking the silence and repeating her question. Her eyes dared him to see what happens when he avoided them. I don’t have time for this, don’t toy with me!
“I’d love to answer your question, ang- …ahem… T.J. El’yot, but we need to get o-“ He cut himself off with a flick of his eyes over Maji’s head, a moment before his own whipped around with a flutter of grey hair around his shoulders that preceded the turn of his body that followed.
She didn’t have to be a combat unit to know he was tense as a rattler ready to strike, and TJ El’yot looked passed him to the direction of his chin’s incline to peer up at the overpass they stood beside.
Maji didn’t really notice until then, just how in the open they were. There was nothing but highways, sure. The grass though, looked like it had been dead long before she got here and it made her wonder if it was a side-effect of the Imbalance, or if the grass in stream AE2020-XXI42801 was also dead. It was easy to image three similar retention ponds slightly out of view between the different on ramps and off ramps at this particular junction of crossing highways with all their signs shot full of holes or fallen like seasons dead leaves, but it was strikingly nowhere near any parking Garage and devoid of any automobiles. Maji wasn’t even sure if she was still in Cincinnati, or somewhere further in any direction.
All of it taken in within the split second it took her eyes to travel off of the Reject and up to the overpass, and all of it became suddenly dangerous when another dark silhouette of masculine proportions leaned against the guard rail above, looking down at them.
Relative silence seemed to stretch, with only her racing heart and the lapping waters in the pond beating against the pod still floating like a fucking beacon to any lookerby Inhab, marking the passage of time. That the Reject seemed to think the man above was Hostile; Maji couldn’t seem to help being predisposed to believe it was true even while her rational mind argued she didn’t even know the Reject’s name, and if the man above wanted to kill them, he could have done it already.
Her less- rational mind took over her mouth and Maji surprised herself by shouting, “Is it a good view from up there?”
The Reject looked over his shoulder at her with such an expression, some part of her burst into laughter, well hidden inside for she didn’t take her eyes off the man above.
There was something very striking about his eyes, bright as the Reject’s, but a brilliant shade of green- and he was smiling. His hair was jet black and strangely cut in a mohawk she sensed braided long down his back- strange because his long, angular face looked as weathered as the Reject’s, but so white it was a wonder he wasn’t burning red under the sun while she watched.
Unlike the two of them on the road below, the man above was dressed in a well ironed dress shirt of a royal purple, overlapped by a black vest buttoned up the front with shiny black buttons glinting at her even in the indirect light. He did not wear a tie and she had no idea if he was armed because she couldn’t see more than his torso. There was something cruel about him, and Maji didn’t like the way he was looking at her.
The man with inky hair was still looking at her, but clearly spoke to the man slightly in front of her, “I’ve never known you to Pisces Up, who’s the skirt?”
The Reject surprised her by answering almost before the other man got the word “skirt” out, shouting up at him in an angry tone that shot straight through Maji’s bones to boil her blood for no reason at all- except the Reject was just that red-hot-fucking-mad: “What do you want, Gunter? Why did you bail when you saw me? Is it because we were face to face this time? YOU did this! Do you know how man-“
Maji’s hand on his arm stopped the Reject from taking another step toward the man he called Gunter, who was so far above them the raging man was almost looking straight up at him now, but her hand also halted the drawing of his weapon.
The Reject was armed with a pistol on his hip, and she hadn’t noticed because he made her all fuddle-brained in female wantonness, but the reach of his fingers and the tension in his body and voice bespoke of violence. Maji didn’t know why, but she stopped him. The look he gave her was full of both relief and rage, neither of which she knew what to do with, and didn’t have to think on long because Gunter was chuckling. Bastard.
“I was h o p i n g they’d kill you for me, Yondakar.” Exaggerated, calm, sincere, and coldly spoken with a strange affection from the man above, who went on after a pointed sigh. “I k n e w they wouldn’t, and expected you would follow me; b u t… you didn’t, you came here, and now I see why.”
Now it was the Reject, Yondakar, who stopped Maji from pulling her pistol free of one of her pockets. It only seemed to make the other man laugh, and that made her want to shoot him more. But if he WAS responsible for the Imbalance, he had to answer for what he did, and he had to tell them how he did it so she could fix it. Dead men don’t talk; at least, not to Maji. “Did you split the stream?” She asked to the man above, seeking his confession since he’d been so honest about wanting the Reject dead. Add that to the list of questions she had for the Pilot.
“Mmm. I d i d. Do tell, Princess, what are you going to do about it?” He taunted.
“When I’m reading you the rights you no longer have, you’ll know all about it.” Maji returned with full sincerity and a chilling determination that made Yondakar look at her for a moment like he’d not seen her before. Maji pressed on. “Why did you do it?”
“Have you ever been hiking on a trail in the woods?” Gunter countered, like it was relevant to the woman’s question.
“What?” Maji and Yondakar said together, in the same confused tone. Glancing at one another, it was Maji who looked away first, and back to Gunter leaning over the guard rail of the overpass to peer down on them. He seemed so gangly up there, like a well dressed praying mantis. Maji growled, “Yes, I’ve been hiking, what doe-“
“Have you ever come to a s p o t on the trail,” Gunter interrupted, as if reflecting on just such a moment, “and … without explanation or question, you just ... deviate from the path and go right into the u n k n o w n?” He looked away from his memory and down at the two of them, it didn't seem like he expected an answer from their confused expressions when he grinned to himself and concluded in his next breath. “When you can h i k e through the trails of t i m e, in their infinite variations, w h a t is the next logical step but to step off the trails and make your own?”
Gunter looked over his shoulder, and then down at them with a pearly white grin before he gave them the smallest of vague warnings. “This is my c u e to get back to work.” Then, he turned away and disappeared from view.
Maji and Yondakar were still looking up at the guardrail in confusion when three men approached it and looked over the edge.
She didn’t have to be familiar with the particulars of their guns to realize they were shifting them over the rail with obvious intent to start shooting at her and the Reject. Unlike the two of them, the three men with guns were wearing vests, and Maji was betting they weren’t the silk kind Gunter was wearing. Yondakar must have noticed it too, because when she looked down, he’d grabbed her by the shoulders and blinked them into that strange place of nothingness.
Her shiver seemed to bring his arms around her, hugging her against his chest as they… she didn’t know if it was floating or being pushed, because they were in air of sorts that had intangible substance, something like being shocked by an exposed live wire as the current pushes into your body; except they were now inside the current of energy and that sensation was all over, her mind totally disoriented.
Outside a stream, outside time, but my heart still beats, I am whole and aware, but nowhere. Is this what it's like to be dead? Is this the veil itself? Reje- I mean... Yondakar...can you hear my thoughts here?
There was no answer.
There was no up or down, no north, south, east or west, no right or left.. no TC... no Sinnet Effect...it's... nothing… everywhere. Everywhere, except where they were. He was the only anchor to her experience of it, the only thing that told her she was as real as her racing heart beat; as real as the need to breathe she was denying when her senses told her they were out of the nothingness of the between place and somewhere else in the split time stream.
The trip seemed to take longer that time.
She was still buzzing, leaning into him and letting him hold her if only because it didn’t seem to bother him the way it did her. Maji was panting again, this time against his chest, catching up on the breaths she hadn’t taken for fear there was no air there, and each breath was full of masculine scents she didn’t realized she enjoyed. Gunter was her self-confessed suspect, she could give in to her enjoyment just a little bit, right?
Yondakar seemed to notice the difference when she paused her panting long enough to force her lungs into a deep breath with her diaphragm, her body softly giving in to the feel of his warming back up to the possibility Maji would let him in. She breathed him in on purpose, and his hands tightened around her body, pushing her into his and forcing her hands to slide up along his suit. Maji circled his shoulders so she could feel the full brunt of his upper abs and chest against the aching want of her breasts.
As outraged as she should be he did that… thing… again, she was too grateful not to be shot full of holes, and too indulgent not to ignore it for a moment to soak up the experience while she had the excuse. Her trembling discharge of excess energy was a convenient crutch.
When his body trembled against hers, she first though it a reactive response to feeling her shivering, but then his fingers twitched, one slid to her hip and jolted against her without actually letting go.
She looked up at his bearded face, his expressions were dancing again, but this time the red-head looked past it to his eyes-which were far away for only a moment. Maji took it as a good sign, that his eyes weren’t rolling or dancing in his head.
With a blink, his body stilled and his eyes focused on her like nothing happened, and once more, the TJ was thinking seizure. “Are you okay?” While she wasn’t surprised she asked, she was surprised her right hand climbed his neck and stroked his bearded jaw like she knew him.
Almost immediately, she stopped and attempted to withdrawal from him completely, but she halted that decision just as quickly. He didn’t immediately answer her, and it was clear that at first, he didn’t know why she was asking.
When he realized why, he didn’t seem to want to say, and that puzzled the woman who wasn’t sure if she was still holding on to him because she wanted to, or because she was afraid he was sick or something. Her heart was racing, her body full of neediness, excess energy from whatever he'd done to get them here, and overdosed on the adrenaline of facing imminent threat and the source of the Imbalance before she'd figured out how it happened.
“I believe, you call them ICIM or NICIM Episodes.” He finally answered in a near whisper.
“Why do they make you… twitch like that?” Maji asked, seriously wanting to know because she’d never seen that happen before. It was a mental connection, not a physical one. Consciousness on the level of energy shared and synchronized, but his whole body moved like a multi-personality tuning fork.
“Risidual overflow? I don’t know.” He shrugged under her touch.
Maji wasn’t going to accept that as an answer, but she became acutely aware of not being alone with him anymore. A flicker of her eyes to his left showed Sara looking up at the Reject like she’d never seen a man before.
“Housa Zitchs!” Sara blurted before she blipped out of the wake.
It was obvious Yondakar heard her because he let go of Maji and pulled his pistol with a dead-aim where Sara would have been if she wasn’t already gone.
That’s when Maji realized they were inside a gas-n-go, she had no idea where, that had been out of business so long the entire inside was already gutted and pristine with a layer of dust thick enough there’d be prints where they re-entered the stream. There was some semblance of a counter where the register might once have been, and gaping holes in the walls on one side, leading deeper into the building where the freezers once were.
It was a quiet place no one had ventured into for a long time, but Maji had no idea why they were here except that the men who would have shot them, weren’t.
Sara came back, this time between Maji and Yondakar, waking in this single stream it seemed, which made TJ El’yot uncomfortable.
Yondakar sensed her, turned around, but didn’t shoot if only because he seemed to know she wasn’t physically there and he’d be shooting Maji instead.
Sara and Yondakar looked at one another, and Maji heard the other woman say “Holy Shit! Yep, it’s him alright; Maji’s with that Anomaly guy!” Then, she was gone again, and Maji was left looking at the Reject while he looked at her just as confused.
“Anomaly guy?” The TJ questioned as she reached forward to palm the top of his pistol and ease it down just to be safe.
“I have no idea.” He replied, genuinely seeming to not have a clue what Sara was talking about, or how she knew him. Before he could ask Maji though, the other woman came back.
Sara had only one echo, presumably her self at TC talking to TC about what was happening in the split-steam. When her echo was talking, Sara could talk, but she didn’t for a long moment. When she seemed confident she knew what she was going to say, both Maji and the man were looking expectantly at her.
Sara addressed the man first. “You ARE Reject Yondakar, no family name, from stream AE2020-XXI42801 right?”
“Reject isn’t a Title or Rank you know…” He replied bitterly.
“I’ll take that as a yes.” Sara rolled her eyes and went quiet for a moment while she looked left with her echo, nodded, and then looked at Maji. “TC is still gathering data, they’re working on a solution and hesitate to say Yondakar is the only one-“
“Just spit it out, Sara!” Maji demanded, impatient.
With a huff, Sara blurted, “RiV aside, Yondakar saw this Imbalance before it happened, in time-streams that don’t actually exist. Variations of this one, to be precise. TC wants you to work with him, and if he helps you catch the culprit, he will be pardoned for his violation.”
“I’m standing right here.” Yondakar said dryly.
“How can anyone see streams that don’t exist?” Maji questioned, confused.
“Why is the Sky Blue?” The Reject countered.
“What?” Sara and Maji asked at the same time.
“We know the answer to that question now, but before we knew the answer, we had to discover the question, did we not? I don’t know why I see what I see, or why it makes me twitch, but I know who the culprit is and I intend on catching him with or without TC’s permission or assistance.” While there was no immediate place to go, Yondakar turned for one of the exits to dismiss the idea of talking to a waking TJ from the very cultish society that rejected him and left him in the cold.
He only got two steps before he turned back around and pointed an accusatory finger at the waking woman. “You tell TC they’d be better off spending their energy on a well orchestrated orgy than coming after me. TC laws mean nothing to me;” and he spat on the ground before the waking woman’s feet, almost as quickly disgusted with himself for doing that in front of two respectable women doing their jobs when he was really just mad at TC.
“... He said the suspect’s name is Gunter, and we already ran into him, he admitted he caused the Imbalance, had the usual reason why so, I’m going with Yon to catch him. Tell TC I’m still on mission; TJ-504Z3 confirmed.” Maji spoke to Sara without commenting one word on how she felt about his rage toward the very people that helped her survive her breeding and make a difference in countless lives with her Time Swimming.
Relieved to see Sara nod and leave their stream in similar silence, TJ El'yot's eyes turned to the man still standing there. The man she’d just say she was going to partner with.
Before Maji could say another word, Yon interrupted her with a somewhat unfriendly look and almost snarled growling words of rage-filled mocking opinion. “You’re such a petit ange, no? ‘TJ504Z3 confirmed;’ like a will-less ange disant oui à l'ordre de Dieu;” no sooner did he get the last disgusted word out, he also find his lips smashed into his teeth and knocking his head side-ways under the precise fist of the red-headed woman.
“It’s TJ El’yot, remember that; and my orders come from The Collective, not God so, don’t mistake my loyalty for blind faith, or my obedience for lack of will. I’m no angel, and I’m not leaving until I fix the Imbalance so you better button it up and get your head in gear or-” Maji was on a roll, right up until he took a step toward her and she watched his hand drop off of his jaw and reach for her. “Don’t.”
“We can’t stay here,” he argued.
Maji blushed, her mind having assumed he meant to kiss her, and now realized he was going to do that thing again. In either case, the answer was the same; she didn’t want him touching her. Heart racing and body warmed to the idea against her consent, Maji shook her head at him, “You’re right, but we’re not doing that… whatever you do... again.”
“I call it DOTing; Detached Omni-positional Teleportation. TC never taught me to Time Swim like you do, so I taught myself… and one other.” Yon admitted, looking sheepish again, which seemed odd on his otherwise quick-to-anger rugged and aged features.
“That’s not Teleporting.” Maji said, sounding full of hubris so, she cleared her throat and went on, “what I mean is… Teleporting is more like what Time-Jocky’s do, what you do is… well, it’s like… jumping into a black hole and popping out where ever matter exists that you want to be associated with. I can’t even fathom how you got in there or figured out to get back ou- nevermind.
"We're not DOTing again, you're going to start talking about what it is you see or experience in your episodes and everything you know about Gunter.“