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2011

Voidlight 2

ETA: Part of the "Post a Story for Haiti" fundraiser. Please donate to reputable charities.
WORD COUNT: 6098
TITLE: Voidlight 2

Susannah dreamed. In her dream she was standing in a high rise building, looking out a window that framed a gorgeous seaside cityscape. The view was beautiful and tragic because Susannah knew it was the last time she would see it.

Elsewhere in the world, there had been an accident. It had been made worse by a miscommunication and a prejudiced passage of judgment. Those had been compounded by hasty and secretive actions by war-mongering politicos.

That was yesterday and the day before. Today, Susannah was doing the best she could do with the knowledge she had. In seven days, when the world ended… She hoped to be farther from her home than anyone had ever been, and she hoped she wouldn’t be going there alone.

In her dream, Susannah could see the horizon; the sea, the cape, the skyscrapers and the noon-hazy sky. She saw them, but they weren’t what she was looking at. Laid atop that view, her reflection loomed up close on the highly tinted glass. She was staring into her own eyes with an intensity that suggested she knew she wasn’t the only person looking back.

She knew she wasn’t alone in her mind, and she had prepared for the occasion. Susannah held up a dry erase board for her reflection to see. There was a flash of…nothing…in those eyes, and she knew that the message had been delivered. It read, “My Earth ends in seven days. I can save a cruise ship full of children if you will save me. We sail east from Cape Cod after the first meltdowns begin tomorrow. Please don’t leave us adrift in an irradiated world.”


Susannah came awake all at once. It was dark in her quarters and she was alone, though she could still feel the life and terrible knowledge of the other Susannah lingering in her mind like a shadow that had passed but left its chill behind. She didn’t turn any lights on to dress; she didn’t need to because she only ever wore identical pairs of black slacks and long-sleeved charcoal tops that had come to be known among the other members of her crew as her ‘Captain’s Uniform’. She was still sliding her belt through its loops when she left her quarters and the laces of her black leather shoes slapped the corridor floor as she made her way to the Control Core.

“Boss on the bridge!” shouted Hallam as soon as Susannah appeared.

“Thank you.” She squatted beside his array of computers and screens to tie her shoes. “I thought it was Asha’s shift.” Her eyes never strayed to what her hands were doing, but rather, she was scanning Hallam’s monitors for data that supported her dream from just moments ago. So far, there was nothing.

Hallam said, “Her son got sick at daycare, so she had to leave early, but she’s going to make it up to me by taking a long shift when I need a short one someday.” His lips curled slightly in a way that said he was already making plans for a future short shift.

“Damn, we’re gonna be a little shorthanded tonight, then.” Susannah was now leaning around Hallam and tapping touch-pads to focus more of his system’s considerable attentions on the flow of numbers that represented reality as it existed on the alternate Earth she had visited in her dream.

He watched what she was doing with great interest, but not a bit of surprise. This wasn’t the first time his Captain had learned of impending doom on another world before his amazing machines could extrapolate it. When he recognized the number that designated that world, however, he became instantly concerned. “That’s 20509. I thought we weren’t going there anymore on account of there being a really nasty Paradox.”

“We’re not going there,” Susannah said, causing her lead causality statistician some relief. Then she zoomed in on a new string of analysis that appeared in on one of his screens and jabbed it with her finger just as it turned ‘emergency’ red. “We’re doing something much worse.”

As Hallam’s computer finally registered the events that Susannah had ‘pre-cogged’ were coming to that other Earth, alarms all over the Control Core began to scream. The statistician shook his head in resignation and dismay, but activated the call buttons that would bring the entire staff of pandimensional heroes rushing to the Core within minutes.

Susannah said, “I want Senzo here, right now, please, and I want him on the relativity machine with Jennie.” Senzo and Jennie were hands down the two deftest among the crew at maneuvering large objects across the Void; they almost never ripped even small holes in the fabric of reality.

“Is this maneuver going to be against policy?” Hallam was very serious about policy. His Captain gave him a long, stony look that reminded him of exactly what person was most accountable for the actions of the Core’s hero crew, and Hallam winced noticeably at seeing the Voidlight flash in Susannah’s eyes. “I was only asking. No need to take it personally.”

Olena appeared in the Control Core just as Susannah turned and stalked away toward the pit. The psychic didn’t stop to ask Hallam what was happening or wait for their leader to beckon her toward the pit; she was a very good psychic, after all. She hurried, though, and, at the same time Susannah did, reached the railing that framed the sunken amphitheater that was home to the black hole-in-captivity that allowed them to do their hero work. She said, “You know I have to try to discourage from this course of action.”

“Yes, I do.” Susannah wasn’t looking at her, yet. Her eyes were flashing darker and brighter than Olena had ever seen them before.

“And I know I’m not going to change your mind about anything.” The psychic had been enjoying a dull shift until the seconds before the alarms had started screaming when her ESP had begun filling her mind with visions of the near future, but adrenaline and worry weren’t emotions very conducive to especially clever extra-sensory perceptions.

“Yes, you do,” Susannah said.

Olena huffed and leaned heavily on the railing beside her Captain. Then she hung her head and muttered into her chest, “She’s a murderer. You know she is, and you’re going to set her loose on a planet full of children.”

She still didn’t look at her third in command, but Susannah’s voice had a sharper edge to it, now. “She was an assassin, not a murderer; there’s a difference. She never killed an innocent, and she’s about to save a few thousand children from certain death. I think that counts for something.”

“Of course you do, she’s your Paradox.” Olena regretted it as soon as she said it, but the sentiment would have made itself felt even if she hadn’t.

Susannah kept her flashing eyes on the Void. “And because she’s a Paradox, our instruments can’t track her and you can’t see into her mind. But I can, and I’m telling you without bias that she is not a threat to us or those kids. She’s being a hero, Olena.” At last, she faced her long time friend and colleague. Her face wore a muddle of emotions, not the least of which was grief. “How could we rescue the children and leave their savior behind?”

Olena groaned and cringed preemptively for the hurt she was sure she was about to inflict. “More to the point, how could we be certain we’ve left their ‘savior’ behind when we can’t even detect the Paradox?”

“Exactly.” Susannah didn’t seem at all hurt. If anything, the psychic’s small cruelty seemed to have put the Captain entirely too at ease. “And that’s what I want you to tell Senzo when he gets here and asks for a briefing.”

“You…I can’t believe you tricked me.” The psychic was incredulous, and it showed. “How—?”

Susannah smirked only slightly, but that was plenty enough to tie Olena’s guts in a knot. “If you knew the answer to that question, then you’d be the Captain and I’d be free to pursue a more relaxing career.”

Olena scowled. “You’d be miserable doing anything else.”

“And now that we’re finally in agreement, I want you to go make sure Senzo does what he’s supposed to when the time comes. I’ll see to the rest of the crew.”

She didn’t wait for Olena to accept her orders; she didn’t even wait for her psychic friend to ask exactly how Susannah expected her to make Senzo comply with any second-hand commands. Instead, the Captain swung herself over the rail and dropped lightly into the pit to direct her crew as they arrived on the scene. Olena balled her hands into frustrated fists for a moment and growled profanely in Ukrainian before finally turning away from the Void and stomping away to brief Senzo as soon as he entered the Control Core.

Nobody actually saluted when Susannah entered the pit, but everyone did stiffen slightly with deference to her presence. She pretended she didn’t notice, but at times like these, when alarms and sirens signaled another heroic passage through the Void, she was glad for their professional attentiveness. “Patrick, prep the relativity machine for Senzo and Jennie, and when Chen gets here, I want you both supporting them on the monitors, and giving them any back-up they may need.”

Content to provide support inside the Core while others leapt through the Void, Patrick nodded and headed for the door, asking as he went, “We moving something big across Void-lines, or just moving something through time and space?”

“All of the above.” Susannah’s answer froze the crew for a few brittle-feeling seconds, but when she didn’t elaborate, Patrick simply raised his eyebrows and left to do his duty while the others lingered to receive their orders. “Shoreh, you and your team get Bay One loaded with all the settlement supplies we’ve got on hand – it has to be ready for Jennie to synch-drop it on the Cradle world with Senzo’s load.”

Shoreh looked dubious as she consulted the Core’s inventory on a console. “We’ve got supplies for 1500 settlers, Captain…”

“That’s not going to be enough, but the Cradle has some agriculture now, and after the fallout we can restock our synthesizers with an equal weight in atoms from their origin-Earth and make some more.”

“Not enough! How many settlers are we talking about here?” With her long dark braid and shining brown eyes, Shoreh was always easy to look at, but she somehow managed to seem even lovelier when she was feeling a bit dramatic.

Susannah’s expression was unreadable as she said, “I don’t know. How many kids do you think can fit on a cruise ship?” She didn’t like to encourage drama, but it could be very effective in dealing with the prettiest member of her crew.

Shoreh’s hands tried to strangle each other with her anxiety. “Could be thousands. I mean… I’m on it.” She practically sprinted for the door that led to the Core’s cargo Bays.

Alan said nothing, but fixed all his weighty attention on Susannah like a lead blanket; he was the strong silent type to a tee. Because of that, she didn’t hold out on him, either, but delivered bluntly to him the words she’d so far withheld from the other on-duty crew members. “We’re evacuating children from Earth number 20509. Their entire planet is about to become a nuclear wasteland, and my Paradox is saving as many as she can.”

“The assassin, right?”

“Yes.”

“She’ll try to smuggle herself out with them, of course.”

“No. We’re going to drop her on the Cradle world with the children, unchallenged.”

Now there was conflict marring Alan’s otherwise stoic expression. “Excuse me? I thought that was prohibited—no, not prohibited; forbidden. We’re not supposed to rescue villains, and we are specifically barred from knowingly transporting Paradoxes out of their own universes. You wrote those policies, Susannah.”

Susannah nodded her acceptance of that fact, though obviously not the consequences of it. “Which is why I’m only sharing this particular detail with you, Olena, and Senzo. And also why I’m insisting that you and your team stay behind on this mission.”

He scowled. “You can’t be serious. For all we know, the Paradox orchestrated this whole catastrophe just so she could get to you.” He held up his hand to stop his Captain from interrupting; Alan was one of very few people who could get away with that with Susannah. “Even if you could convince me that that isn’t what’s happening, you know Magda and José’ll never agree. We are your protection, your muscle. You can’t just tell us to sit back and do nothing while you take crazy risks.” Alan leaned in close to her and held her gaze without flinching in spite of the Voidlight flashing there like twin anti-suns. He said, “We are all heroes here, every bit as much as you and Senzo are, but this whole crew is nothing without you. We save worlds, Susannah, but all it would take to stop that forever is you getting killed. You jeopardize the lives of countless billions when you put yourself in danger.” He stepped back and crossed his militarily muscled arms so he could look down on her from a more venerable-seeming vantage. “So what am I supposed to say to Magda and José that’ll convince us all to stay behind while you go alone to welcome your homicidal Paradox to the Cradle, where all the settlers are or were innocent children rescued from the brink of their own worlds’ oblivions?”

Almost flippantly, Susannah ticked her reasons off on the fingers of one hand. “I know her mind; if you come with me, my Paradox will feel threatened and kill us all and terrify the children she’ll have just saved. Whereas, if I go alone, she’ll know she can trust me because I’ll have honored all the good she’ll have just done by trusting her first, and then I can explain to her how things work on the Cradle. And if I should happen to die, I suggest you find another Susannah somewhere and replace me with her; it shouldn’t be too hard, since there seems to be one just like me on every single Earth in the Multiverse,”

Alan was incredulous; blinking and staring at her like he’d never seen her before. She wasn’t done with him yet, though. She leaned close now, as he had done before, and she said, “My orders are for your team to stay in the Core during this mission. You can protect me by making sure I get jerked out of there by my tether at the first sign of danger, alright?”

Alan nodded, obviously still rattled. “Yes, Captain.”

With briefing the crew complete, Susannah prepared herself for her next perilous leap across the Void. The first thing she did was tap Senzo’s code on the communicator she wore on her forearm. He answered immediately, and the crossness in his voice came across perfectly. Susannah didn’t give him the chance to make any demands or ask any questions, she simply raised her voice enough that she knew that anyone around him would be able to hear her and said, “Hey, shut up for a second and remember that I’m the Captain. Senzo, Olena’s just delivering my orders, so stop arguing with her and get yourself wired into the relativity machine, NOW. Olena, let the relativity team deal with Senzo’s rig; I need your fancy brain in the pit.” And then she closed the communication without waiting to hear any of his objections.

Next she buckled herself into her jump harness and clipped in place the special tether that would deliver her rapidly back to her own world when her mission was complete. When Olena arrived, looking smug after leaving Senzo scowling impotently outside the relativity room, Susannah had her double check the harness and tether as per the hero crew’s buddy system. However, when Olena reached for her own harness, her Captain stopped her. “I need you to watch over me from here.”

The psychic was alarmed. “You know I can’t detect the Paradox. How am I—?” she began, but Susannah cut her question off.

“Monitor the minds of the children around us for their reactions to us. I’ll leap to the end of the dock and maybe take a walk along it to the beach with her. We’ll have our little chat and then you guys can bring me home. If anything bad happens, the kids’ll panic, and you’ll know right away. Then all you have to do is give them the word,” with a nod of her head, Susannah indicated Alan and the rest of his newly arrived team where they stood somberly around her tether retractor, ready to hit the big red button should the spool fail to respond automatically and instantly to her signal.

“I don’t like this, but…” As a particularly adept psychic she had developed remarkable coping abilities to deal with the intricate and often tragic things she foresaw and to process and filter the ambient thoughts of those around her, but right now, Olena looked like she could be strangled to death by her own complex emotions.

Susannah gave her a rare soft look and an understanding nod. “Thank you for trusting me.” That was all there was to say; anything more would have been redundant and awkward and a failure to acknowledge Olena’s strength and professionalism, as well as that of the entire crew. They were damn good at their jobs and regardless of how things might at first appear; there simply was no doubt inside any of them that Susannah would act responsibly.

“Is everything ready? Relativity? Supplies?” With nothing more fretful than a sigh, Olena had taken charge of things in the Core so Susannah could focus on the mission facing her on the other side of the Void.

When Shoreh’s team had completed their ordered transfer of inventory from storage to the vacuum in Bay One and Senzo and Jennie were wired into their computers in the relativity machine it was finally time for the mission clock to begin counting down. Even after it reached zero and began ticking back ‘negative’ seconds, Susannah remained in the pit, waiting to leap through the Void until the Relativity Team was finished with their vital work; but there was a problem.

“What do you mean ‘there’s an entire fleet at those coordinates’?” Olena was talking to Senzo on the comm., and everyone on the crew was eavesdropping with keen interest.

He snapped, “There are four ships at the targeted time and space on that world, not just one. How are we handling this situation?”

Hallam entered the conversation with input from the big statistics computers on the bridge. “Our instruments are showing over ten thousand human lives aboard those ships, and more than ninety-five percent under age twenty. There’s no sign of the Paradox, of course, but one of the ships is of military design; it and two of the passenger vessels have sustained some damage.”

Susannah remained silent while Olena sent her consciousness across the Void to read the circumstances surrounding the ‘fleet’ of ships in the near future of that other world. In minutes she had some answers. “The warship is friendly; the soldiers aboard are defending the children, not attacking them. It’s sinking, but they refuse to abandon ship because they expect more attacks.”

“We’ve double-checked, and they’re alone in the water.” There was a pause while Hallam and his partner-in-stats, Owen, ran a few more searches on their machines. “Our readings show that governments all around that world have recalled their armies, but…the holocaust has begun. They have less than an hour before the first of its effects reach them.”

“Can we move that much in one go?” Jennie wondered aloud, trying to wrap her head around the huge numbers on her displays. “We could move the ships one, maybe even two at a time, but more mass than that and we might tear the local reality wide enough to swallow the Cradle world whole.”

Still, Susannah said nothing. She knew they didn’t need her micromanaging them to solve this problem. As if to confirm her assessment of the crew, Senzo said, “I’ve got it. If we fix the openings in their relative times, but don’t also anchor them in space, we’ll only need to put one in each of the realities, and they’ll only need to be as big as the largest of the four ships.” He didn’t wait for anyone to ask how; he simply set to work making it happen.

Jennie preempted him, even though he was technically her superior. “I can see what you want to do, but let me deal with holding the openings together and in motion while you make sure the objects pass across the Void intact and without collision.”

“Okay, you’re better with variable relativity than I am. But keep the Cradle world open long enough for me to pop the settler supplies through after the ships, okay? I don’t want to have to do two of these maneuvers in one day.” Senzo could be prideful and stubborn, but not to the point of putting lives on the line; he changed his focus from the openings to the ships without resistance.

Susannah smiled to herself and waited until a nod from Olena confirmed the news on the comm., that the ships and supplies were safely relocated on their new world. After lending no more reassurance than a tense smirk, the Captain threw herself into the captive black hole at the center of the pit and landed on the end of a dock on that other world and waited to welcome its new settlers.

There was only one dock on the entire Cradle world, and it extended well out into water deep enough to berth even the largest of the four ships that had just appeared out of nowhere off the coast of the only settlement on the entire planet. There was some trouble, however, as the military vessel that had defended them during their exodus was still sinking, even in these new waters. Susannah was glad to see from where she stood that the soldiers aboard it were finally launching lifeboats and abandoning their lost ship. She was especially glad as their evacuation meant that she could order the ship, along with all its weapons, removed from this innocent world to be recycled by the Control Core’s synthesizers into additional supply kits for these new settlers.

From the dock, Susannah signaled each of the three cumbersome cruise ships toward their landings and once they were moored, she summoned their captains to speak with her immediately. When all three men were present – all wary of her and looking quite shaken by their experiences, but holding up rather well given that while they were leaders among men, none of them were military commanders and had never seen battle before their most recent voyage – Susannah welcomed them and told them it was safe to unload the anxious and wondering passengers that were crowded onto the decks. “There is a settlement nearby where you will all find shelter. Please have your crews guide the children up the road from the dock; the settlement is in the valley just beyond that ridge.”

The captains were understandably full of questions, but they were so relieved to learn that were not stranded alone with thousands of hungry, frightened children to care for on their own that they set their curiosity aside and went back to their ships to deliver the good news and to give directions to their crews.

Susannah stayed on the dock while the three overloaded cruise ships unloaded all their passengers. The adult crews of the ships did their best to keep the children in order, but there was so much excitement to be back on land and so much distress about what lay both behind them and ahead for them that it was barely coordinated, laughing, crying chaos all along the road from the dock toward the hills.

It wasn’t until the soldiers arrived on the beach in their lifeboats from the, now sunken, warship that Susannah met her Paradox for the second time. They had her in handcuffs and her face was stained indigo with the bruises of a prisoner taken in ferocious battle, but there was no question that the assassin was Susannah’s exact likeness.

The soldiers, shocked to find themselves suddenly confronted by what seemed to be their prisoner’s identical twin, aimed their weapons in unison at Captain Susannah, but she had already stopped several yards up the beach and was speaking a string of brief, specific coded commands into her communicator by the time the fighters recognized her face.

Just as the soldiers’ commander stepped forward to question Susannah, she cut him off by speaking first. “Welcome to the Cradle world. The most important rule here is this: No weapons.” At that signal, there came a brilliant-dark flash of Voidlight in her eyes and a sudden vertiginous wrenching in the air around them all. When their wits returned to them and the urge to vomit passed, the soldiers discovered that they had been stripped of all their fire power and that there was not so much as a pocket knife between them. “You are all welcome to live on this world only as long as you remain peaceable. If any of you breaks that peace you will be removed from this place without warning and your atoms will be recycled into more useful materials for the good of all who live here,” Susannah said. “Do I make myself absolutely clear?”

The commander glanced briefly back at his soldiers, but they were all naturally waiting wide-eyed to follow his lead. Finally, he sighed and surrendered, though it greatly offended his training to do so. “Fine. We don’t wanna fight, anyway; we’re just glad to be alive after all that, right? But what’re we supposed to do with her?” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder at the Paradoxical Susannah sitting restrained but calm still in the bow a beached lifeboat. “We were ordered to arrest her after she commandeered those three ships, and the next thing I knew she’d boarded my boat and started firing on friendlies!” Judging by his expression, he was quite disturbed by how much she and Susannah were obviously alike, but he wasn’t going to make a big deal of it if Captain Susannah wasn’t.

Captain Susannah could understand his internal struggle – she had witnessed it in others like him so many times – but she was there as a hero on a mission and didn’t have a lot of time to connect with him as a commander. With all room for argument carefully edited out of her tone, she said, “Release her and thank her for saving your lives. If she hadn’t done what she did, your crew would have been called back to port like all the others, and you’d have been irradiated right along with the rest of your world.”

The commander flinched. Some cleverly strategic part of him had anticipated this, but its acceptance had a price in pride. He scowled but barked to his soldiers, “Do it now, and do it nicely.”

Paradoxical Susannah held her cuffs steady while they were unlocked and she accepted the hand she was offered out of the lifeboat’s prow. Then she came to stand before the leader of her captors. Her jaw clenched and released several times while she considered all the ways she could kill him with her bare hands before he could even react. A shiver passed down the length of her spine and a vein pulsed in her neck, but finally she shrugged and said, “You’re welcome.” It looked like she was done with him then, but suddenly her hands were around his throat and he was standing on his toes in the sand and clinging to her arms to keep the pressure off his windpipe. His soldiers started forward, automatically reaching for their vanished weapons, but they hesitated as one as they recalled how many of their fellows she had killed back on their ship. “From now on you had better take care of yourselves because I will never save any of you ever again.” It was a complicated sentiment, but the way she said it, it sounded like one more thing they should all be grateful for.

The commander stammered repeatedly, “Thank you! Thank you!” as clearly as he could while being strangled and the assassin dropped him at last. He kneeled in the sand and retched while his ship’s medic came to hover over him.

Captain Susannah remained where she was through it all, half surprised that her safety tether hadn’t already yanked her back to the Core. But then she was face to face with her battered mirror image and she had some important business to take care of before her mission ended. She gestured back toward the dock and asked of her Paradox, “Walk with me?”

The Paradox nodded and together they left the soldiers behind to figure out how to function as civilians again. “I…” the Paradox sighed and began again. “Thank you for saving me. I’m sure it’s caused you some trouble.” She sighed again and paused a moment to straighten her broken nose; it began bleeding again, but she didn’t seem to mind very much.

The Captain gave one of her own sleeves a hard yank and it tore away at the shoulder. She offered the dark cloth to her double to staunch the blood and received more of her rare gratitude. “You’re welcome, but no, the trouble for this mission hasn’t started yet. It’s complicated, but I had you all brought backwards in time almost a week in the same maneuver that brought you here. The saving can’t be undone, even if what we saved you from hasn’t technically happened yet in normal time. This way, if the Core’s Oversight decides to officially object to the mission, then their actions will be punitive rather than preventative.”

“Better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission?”

“Sometimes. The important thing is that no matter how pissed off they get at me, they would never agree to send you and the others back to your world.”

Paradoxical Susannah nodded. She had faced more than her share of similarly convoluted situations, though she’d always been a killer rather than a rescuer. That thought reminded her of another; an urgent one. “You don’t have to ask. I will never kill again, I swear.”

“I don’t doubt you, but it’s good to hear it.” They were back at the dock by then and pacing slowly along its length to where the Captain’s mission must end. Before then, she had some vital information to share. “When I’m gone, you and the soldiers should take the road to the settlement. You should know, though, that you’re not the only Susannah here on the Cradle world. The kids all call her Mother, and that’s pretty much what she’s become for everyone here. She was brought here with the very first refugees, though we didn’t realize right away that there was a Paradox among them. There was some bad trouble after that, I’m sure you can imagine.”

“Is she like us?”

The Captain knew exactly what the assassin meant. “Yes, she has the Voidlight, too. As near as I can tell, all of us Susannahs do. And there are a lot of us.”

Paradoxical Susannah dabbed at her bloody nose for a moment of sniffly contemplation. Then she asked the inevitable. “How many?”

Susannah pinched the bridge of her nose absently; from stress and not in sympathy for her double’s aching one. “There’s no way to do an exact count, but… There seems to be one for every Earth, except for those who’ve died with their planet, and except for the Cradle world. Before Mother and the first wave of refugees, the Cradle didn’t have any people at all, let alone a Susannah.” She shrugged. “And now there are two of us here.”

The emptiness in the assassin’s eyes flashed brilliantly. “I see.”

“Before I go, there’s something I want to give you.” The Captain slipped the high tech comm. unit off her forearm and handed it to her Paradox. “This is the most sophisticated piece of equipment on this world; it’s not just a communicator, it’s also a small computer with some basic medical diagnostic ability. I’d like you to share it with Mother.”

Paradoxical Susannah looked the Captain squarely in the eyes. “It has a tracking device.” It wasn’t a question.

“Of course. That’s why all the heroes on my crew wear one just like it. And that’s why I want you to have it.” Susannah didn’t flinch under her doppelganger’s hard look. She’d met herself far too often for that.

The Paradox looked away first. “I’m no hero.”

“I know it’s not just a matter of things balancing out, but as of today, I’m sure you’ve saved more lives than you’ve taken.” For the first time, she touched the other Susannah, and a flicker-stream of Voidlight passed between them like a static shock. It was just a friendly squeeze of the hand, but because of their special nature it was also deeply personal and strangely loving. “Maybe you’re not a hero yet. But you could become one.” After a few seconds more, Susannah let go and stepped backwards to the edge of the dock. “Remember to share it with Mother, okay?”

“I suspect she will feel as I do about it. There may be an infinite number of…parallel Susannahs, but we are no two alike. You are unique, Hero Captain Susannah.”

Susannah felt her heart break a little at those words, though she didn’t immediately understand why and didn’t have time to wonder about it. Still, the Voidlight in her eyes revealed nothing, and she was able to smile a little at her Paradox in farewell. “Do me a favor, would you? Push that little red button.”

“It sends you home?”

She nodded.

“Will I see you again?”

She nodded again. “Though probably not for a while. We’re usually able to save people without evacuating them from their Earths. But we’ll have our dreams…”

“You know, until I met you that first time, I thought I was fantasizing all of this.”

The Captain smiled one last time. “See? Things like that are what make me think that the only significant difference between us is that I’m the one living the dream.”

“And it is thoughts like that which make me wonder if we’re not only living someone else’s dream.” The Paradox surrendered to a small, crooked smile of her own. “But between the two ideas, I hope yours is closer to the truth. Good luck.”

“Thanks. And give Mother a hug for me. If she doesn’t give you one first, that is.”

The Paradoxical Susannah gave a wave goodbye and then thumbed the little red button on the communicator. Captain Susannah was yanked backwards across the Void in less than a tenth of a second, and as she usually did after a tether-snapper like that, spent her first half hour back at the Control Core on her hands and knees in the pit, dry heaving.

(Voidlight 1 is HERE)

Comments

Sandy, I don't think you should put this in your Multiplex anthology. I think you should submit it to pro magazines for publication.

It's a fascinating story and stands well on its own even without its "prequel". What really struck me is how skillfully you explained what was going on without "explaining" it; you let events happen, and the dialogue flowed very naturally and at the same time gave the reader all the information needed to understand. Seriously, this is as creative and well written as many stories I've seen professionally published, and I think the level of comprehension despite the lack of exposition is key.

The only criticism I'd make is on the final two paragraphs; they read like a different story, and the consequences of Susannah's actions don't need to be spelled out again (you described what she expected would happen already). The story could easily end with her return to her ship (although possibly not with the retching).
I would have commented sooner but I was very tired and mite stressted when I read this for the first time. I wanted to chance to re-read it and say something worthwhile.

One of the things I have noticed in reading your GC submissions is that you have a distince 'voice', which is something I really like. Particuarly as this voice comes through with the story telling, but doesn't prevent your characters having their own unique and interesting personalities.

Again, I liked the interaction between everyone in this. Again, you've managed to take a situation that is beyond the ordinary and make it feel uttlerly real and plausible. It's a good story well told and as metafrantic has already said I think it stands up very well on it's own, even if you haven't read the original GC entry.
Thank you! It's good to know that the things I meant to bring across actually made it. :)
I agree with Metafrantic; this has 'publishable' written all over it.

I was very intrigued by the world and the unique 'science' that you built up around it. The whole thing kept me glued to the screen, wanting to know what happened next. Susannah was believable and real; I liked her a lot.

Just to be clear, I really enjoyed this, think it's fantastic and think it has a ton of potential.

Here, however, are a couple of things I saw:

1.) The use of the term "hero" actually detracted from the believability of it. It seemed to stick out every time I read it, to the point where I actually became annoyed by it. I think that by making them more "scientists" and having this just be their job, it would be easier to suspend disbelief and make the world seem that much more real. I think that would make it more sci-fi, but it would definitely still be superhero-like with their abilities. You'd just have to explain how people in this universe have those abilities and why they do what they do...

2.) I LOVE the interplay of a group of people who like and respect each other, working together toward a common goal. You'll notice in a lot of my GC stories, this is a common thing. I think you're definitely moving toward that here, but it will require a little more development. I think there might have been too many supporting characters to develop them fully in such a short piece. You'll have the opportunity to do so if (when?) you expand it, of course, but for a shorter piece, you may want to focus on one or two (Olena and Senzo are my favorites) and let the others fade out a little more.

3.) Is Susannah a lesbian or bisexual? I got that impression because of her seeming not to notice Senzo's charms and her seeming attraction to Shoreh. If that was your purpose then cool, but if not, it might be interesting to note that that was my impression.

4.) I am dying for more info on the Paradoxes. How did they come into being? What are they? What are the particular dangers around Paradoxes?

5.) I got a little confused toward the end. It took me a few readings to understand exactly what had taken place, and it seemed at times that Susannah was acting a little out of character from the beginning and the first story. It could have just been me, but I was confused.

Again, I love this story and this world. I would buy this book!
Thank you. I'll do my best to respond to your comments individually, but I would first like to say that you hit on nearly everything I plan to work on before I submit it to publishers. Excellent critique!

1) Absolutely in agreement there. It was one thing I didn't feel moved comfortably from the first story through this one.

2) You may very well be right about the cast having grown too fast in too short a space as this one story. In fact, the new characters were barely implied at all in the first story and then in this story I wanted to do more with them, but they each ended up mostly representing their 'teams' and their functions rather than their own selves, and I wasn't 100% pleased. On the other hand, the story wasn't really about them, and I didn't want to spend too much time dwelling. I'll use them in later installments as they are fully developed in my mind, but I may just show them in passing in this one. Only the edits will tell! :)

3) Susannah, like the real woman she parallels, is bisexual. And that doesn't come into play until some future installment. Nor does her history with Senzo. ;) You'll have to wait and see.

4) Those questions come up in future (and as yet unwritten) installments of Voidlight. The first two questions are surrounded by many theories and no real answers, but the last... That is premise enough for several short stories, and perhaps an entire novel in Captain Susannah's Multiverse.

5) If you can give me more specifics about what seemed out of character or confusing that would be great. If there's something that seems 'off' to you, then it might to others, and I'd like to at least give it consideration before I finish my editing.

I'll be posting a second draft of this in a little while to get more feedback on the changes I make. I'm so glad I have the GD community and the rest of my flist supporting me in this way. I feel I've improved greatly in just the year GC has lived. Thanks again!