WORD COUNT: 2461
“Boss on the bridge!” No matter how many times Susannah had ordered him to give it up, Hallam still insisted on that piece of shouted protocol whenever she entered the Control Core of their facility. He had been there since the days of the ‘Old Boss’, and there were some things even the leader of a crew of pandimensional heroes could not change.
Susannah didn’t stand on protocol; as one of the founding members of their hero group, she knew it wasn’t what saved the day in the end. “Any news on 10791?”
Hallam shook his head. “Analysis hasn’t even changed a point since oh-one-hundred.” He was a fine pandimesional statistician and an asset to the crew, but he lived by his numbers. Susannah knew she’d get nothing further from him on the matter.
“Thank you, Hallam.” Susannah left him to his pan-cosmic variables and the multi- and various likelihoods they extrapolated and sought a member of their team with at least a shred of intuition.
Olena turned at her approach, already smiling and spreading arms wide to embrace her leader. “Good morning, Suze. I would have made you a cup of tea, but I knew you’d only turn it down.” Even on the most barren world, no matter the time of day or night, Olena always had hot tea ready. For a schismed moment, Susannah considered acting out of her breakfast-less mode to just once get the better of her favorite psychic, but she knew that if she did, Olena would have already poured two cups. “You’re too clever by half this morning, oh Captain of mine.”
Not bothering to chastise Olena for reading her mind without permission, she said, “I don’t have to be psychic to know you only call me Captain to get my goat.” Susannah hugged her third in command before letting go and leaning backwards against the rail that framed ‘the pit’. She didn’t like to spend a lot of time watching the Void anymore. “How’re things coming along in 10791?”
“It’s always interesting on the Greenhouse Globe. They’ve started a new war since Tuesday, in another of the tiny, oily countries.” The psychic preferred to name the alternate Earths they visited rather than using their numerical designations. Nobody else liked to get so attached to the more volatile versions of their own world…
Susannah, who was all about saving the day and not generally given to too much sentimentality, nevertheless allowed the pet name to slide and narrowed the scope of her request. “What about the inventor?”
Olena sighed. There were some aspects of her role on the team that she found tiresome, and repeatedly watching the same tragic futures that their hero crew existed specifically to avert on the alternate Earths was one of them. There was always hope that they might correct themselves, and sometimes they did; not nearly often enough for Olena’s taste, however. “He still gets hit by that bus. I really hate the irony that the one guy on that entire planet with the best idea for reversing the effects of global warming dies by public transport.”
“Nobody likes it. That’s why we’re going in.” Though her back was turned to it, Susannah’s eyes flashed full of Voidlight for a moment. She was attuned to it like nobody else, as far as they knew. Nobody still living, at any rate.
“Senzo isn’t here yet,” Olena answered before her leader could ask. “And no, he hasn’t had an emergency, no matter what he tells you.” The psychic clearly disapproved of her lusty superior’s morning…work ethic, and it showed in her scowl.
Susannah preferred to ignore her second in command’s widely sown wild oats as long as he arrived in time for their missions and didn’t let any of his sexual entanglements interfere with his work. Senzo’s ability to switch modes instantly and completely from playboy to pandimensional hero was startling to those who didn’t know him, but his dedication to the job was far stronger than his limbic impulses, and that was why Susannah had named him her successor. Still, he could be a bit of an embarrassment to the crew, socially speaking.
The crew included fifteen men and women in total, counting Hallam and his two statistically inclined counterparts. Typically, they operated in three eight hour shifts, but everyone was ‘on shift’ whenever there was bound to be a mission. Susannah found moments to talk with each of them before the mission clock started counting down; she knew that the success of any foray out into the multiverse was governed at least in part by the morale of her crew, and she did her bit to ensure that everyone was prepared for their part of it and was feeling confident in their fellows.
Senzo arrived within seconds of the clock’s first warning siren – just over fifteen minutes before they had to cross the Void and save another world. Susannah got to him before Olena could, in spite of the psychic’s advanced notice of his approach. Susannah knew her first mate better than Olena ever would.
“You’re cutting it kind of close, don’t you think?” She met him at the lock and matched his strong pace toward the Control Core. After working together for so many years, they didn’t even need eye contact to read each other.
“Maybe, but I don’t have anything to defend to you or Olena.” Senzo hadn’t showered and he still smelled all musky and rank. He hadn’t even tucked in his shirt.
Susannah ignored the obvious traces of his wilder side in favor of staying focused on what mattered. “No, you don’t. But as second in command, you’re responsible for things here before our missions begin, and lately you’ve been leaving those things to me and Olena.” She halted his forward march by stopping in her own tracks. When he sighed and turned to face her at last, she said, “You have a right to a life outside the Core, Senzo, but you have to be fair to the rest of us. I shouldn’t have to remind you of that so often.”
He was as solid emotionally as he was physically as he bore her sternness. “I’m not sorry,” he finally said. “But you’re right, and I’ll be here earlier from now on.”
It was the best Susannah would have hoped for, if she’d been the sort of person to hope much at all. “Good. The others are down in the pit, ready to go.”
“Has anything changed since Hallam called us in?”
“Not even a fluctuation.”
“Sees the same thing. It all seems pretty consistent; the poor guy has an epiphany on a global scale and absent-mindedly walks in front of a bus.”
Senzo studied her out of the corner of his eye before remarking, “It sounds too easy to me, too.”
Susannah sighed. “It should be a quick-and-dirty mission, but we might as well be prepared.”
“I’ll check harnesses and communicators.” Senzo strode off into the gathered crew like the heroic leader he was and began making sure that no one would be left behind in the event of a Paradox Emergency Evacuation.
Olena appeared at Susannah’s elbow in his absence. “You know, there’s no reason to suspect a Paradox.”
“And you know that’s why I suspect one.”
“It’s not just that.”
“Olena…” Susannah massaged the bridge of her nose. “Now is not the best time to bring up the mystically interconnected nature of the multiverse. Let’s just save the day and get home safely, okay?”
The psychic scowled but dogged her Captain no further. Instead, she helped Susannah into a harness that matched her own and they connected each other by strong clips to the leads that would yank them back through the Void to their own Earth in the event of an evacuation.
By the time everyone on the crew was tethered and ready to go, the mission clock was counting down the last long seconds before they would leap across the Void, prevent one man’s very ironic and untimely demise, and leap back.
At last, Susannah faced the nothing that haunted her eyes and gave her life its surprising purpose. To call the Void a captive singularity would be literally accurate, though such a simple definition was grossly, and appropriately, empty of real meaning. It was easier to think of it as a hole through which a number of canny and determined scientists were about to reach out and touch a different universe than their own. It was easier to think of it as ‘the pit’ than it was to peer into it and deal with the truth; that nothing was the truth and that existence was the rare anomaly.
The mission clock flashed ‘ZERO’ and, except for the three statisticians who stayed behind to look after their numbers, the only known crew of pandimensional heroes in the multiverse leapt into a black hole like they had nothing to fear. There were no battle cries, no weapons, and no backward glances. They were on a mission to save the day, and never mind that they were technically invading aliens from an alternate universe while they were at it.
Susannah was the first one into and through the Void, as always, and so she was the first to spot their quarry. The inventor wasn’t an inventor yet, but everything in Hallam’s analysis and Olena’s prescience indicated that he’d just had exactly the sort of brilliant idea in which this Greenhouse Globe was tragically deficient. If the stars in his eyes were any clue, Hallam and Olena were free to feel justified in their value to the hero crew. Unfortunately, those same stars had blinded the man who had just conceived of his planet’s salvation, and he was about to accidentally end it all before it even began by stepping off that curb a few seconds too soon.
For a cosmic change of pace, the heroes were where they were needed, when they were needed. They raced toward the man from the slightly scattered places they’d arrived on this world, shouting warnings and shoving their way past pedestrians and dodging bicycle traffic. Susannah was nearer to the inventor than any of the others at first, but she was barred from forward progress by being on the wrong side of the street full of traffic with the right-of-way. It was because of her happenstance perspective that she spotted the Paradox first.
Alternatively, and possibly with more accuracy, it could be said that the Paradox spotted Susannah first. The woman standing slightly behind and to the left of the inventor had a diaper bag slung over one shoulder and an infant sleeping on the other. Before any of the heroes were within reach of the unlucky visionary they’d come to save, the burdened woman grabbed him firmly by the back of his shirt and hauled him bodily backward from the brink of doom. She didn’t say a word; she didn’t even look at the man she had just rescued. She only had eyes for Susannah, and her eyes were as full of Voidlight as the hero Captain’s. In fact, apart from differences in hairstyle and clothing, the woman who had actually saved the day was Susannah’s perfect double.
Heroes everywhere halted their mad dashes in mid-step. As a body, their glances flicked from their leader to the parallel Susannah and back. Ultimately, though, it was Senzo who made the call. “PARADOX!” he shouted into his communicator, initiating the rapid retraction of their tethers that were designed to rescue them from interdimensional catastrophe by hurtling them backwards through the Void to their own Earth.
Though it was nearly instantaneous, the evacuation didn’t happen so quickly that the Susannahs didn’t have time to connect, metaphysically speaking. Their eyes flashed identically, and the Voidlight forged a conduit between them that not even the lines between their alternate realities could sever. From that fraction of a moment onward, the two of them could never again be completely separate people.
Back at the Control Core, Senzo was snapping a lot of orders in Susannah’s place and Olena was hovering over her nervously and babbling apologetically. As soon as the universe she belonged in stopped vibrating in and out of her perceptions, Susannah said, “It’s not your fault. You know we can’t detect our own across the Void…” She retained consciousness by force of will, but she couldn’t control her stomach quite as easily.
Olena didn’t seem to mind at all. She used her own shirt to mop the vomit off her Captain’s lips and chin. “You can, though. You always know, and we always doubt—”
“Thank you, Olena.” Whenever Susannah said that, it was time to shut up about something, and the effects were immediate. “Thank you. Now I’d really like to get off this cold floor and into my bed, if you wouldn’t mind.”
The psychic obliged her, easily hoisting her petite leader to her feet and bearing the majority of her weight without much difficulty. “You’re the only person I’ve ever known who gets Voidsick on the way back from other worlds.”
She didn’t say it, but Susannah thought, “When you’ve survived as many Paradoxes as I have, you’ll know what it’s like to be torn away from yourself over and over again, too.” Of course, as far as she knew, she was the only person on their Earth who also existed on nearly every parallel Earth. It wasn’t lucky for her, though it certainly did make for some interesting missions.
After Olena was finished fussing over her, Senzo stopped by her quarters for an abbreviated debriefing. “Was it just me, or did she look like she was expecting us?” He was right to the point because he knew Susannah preferred it that way after a bad leap back through the Void.
“She was there for the same reason we were, and yeah, she knew we were coming.” She massaged the bridge of her nose and grinned gruesomely to suppress he urge to vomit again.
He frowned. “I wish we knew whether it was the Voidlight causing the Paradoxes, or the other way around. Then maybe we could figure out something to do about it.”
“It is what it is, Senzo, just let it be.” That was a dismissal if ever there was one, and Susannah’s second in command accepted it without argument. Even if he’d been interested in pressing the issue, lingering in her quarters would have been pointless; she was asleep before he was halfway to the door, anyway.
Susannah dreamed. In her dream, she walked along a crowded city sidewalk in an overheated world. She had a diaper bag slung over one shoulder and an infant asleep on the other…
(Voidlight 2 is HERE)