Friday, June 19, 2015

Far across the sky

For anyone who hasn't already checked out my serialized story, Elsewhere, I thought I'd post an excerpt to see if it can catch anyone's interest. The scene is from one of the later chapters, but contains a brief recap of the general situation and how it all started.

Elsewhere spun off from a certain event in Chaser, which has been submitted for final proofreading, and features several characters who appeared in that novel.

***

"You've not said much at all." Zuri turned to smile at the medieval kid.

He stared at the table, hunched over with his arms crossed over his chest as if trying to withdraw into his own body, and finally shrugged. "I--I don't...don't know what to say."

"Still adjusting to everything that's happened?" Seth tried to keep his smile in place. He was still having trouble getting used to all this, himself. Especially his and Marissa's separation from Boiler. Having to get through each day without knowing whether she's okay or not, and whether we'll ever see her again....

He pushed those thoughts out of his mind for the thousandth time since that first rift had cut off an entire section of the Io station and zapped it to who knew where.

The kid twitched his shoulders again.

Zuri smiled and touched his shoulder. "Perhaps start with your name?"

"I'm...Graham." His eyes flicked toward her hand, but returned immediately to the table.

"Nice to meet you. I'm Seth, and this is Marissa."

"Hello." Marissa smiled.

"H...hello." Graham took a quick glance around before going back to staring at the table. "I still don't understand what's happening. It's like a nightmare I can't wake up from."

"Well, we're not completely sure, either." Luana sipped her drink and then drummed her fingers on the side of the tumbler. "It's hard to explain, but we've all been pulled from various times and places, and ended up here."

"Sorcery?"

"I don't think so," Roger said. "Probably some sort of natural phenomenon."

"Or," Kamala said, "if someone's causing it to happen, it's a kind of technology beyond anything we've ever seen."

"Which isn't exactly reassuring," Otto said with a chuckle.

"Well," Shakira said, "if it's natural, there's probably nothing we can do to stop it. But if it's something someone is doing intentionally--"

"The device--or whatever they're using--should have an off switch."

"Exactly."

Otto grinned. "Hope we can find out what's going on before another planet blows up and takes us with it."

"Keep on finding those rays of sunshine." She nudged his shoulder.

Graham glanced from one of them to another, and finally hunched farther over the table. "I didn't understand any of that."

"Well, let's take it slowly," Kamala said, and he locked his suddenly wide eyes on her. "Do you know where we are?"

"A while ago someone said we were in the sky." He trembled and shook his head. "How can we be in the sky?"

A large screen on the far wall came to life and Astra's voice spoke from a nearby comm panel. "If you'll focus your attention on the viewscreen, I will attempt to explain."

Graham's eyes opened even wider as he stared at the monitor. An image of a meadow surrounded by trees appeared and Astra continued narrating as the angle changed.

"This is a simulation of Earth's surface. The image will move as if we are rising into the air."

The ground descended slowly and the angle changed to a downward view of the meadow and the treetops surrounding it. The virtual camera continued rising until the curvature of the planet became noticeable. It ascended through the clouds until the whole planet filled the screen, and then the planet began to dwindle.

"This point is above the atmosphere," Astra said.

"Above the air," Seth clarified for Graham. "We call it space. Since there's no air in space, we can't breathe in it. We have to stay inside ships like this one."

The camera continued pulling back until the moon appeared, increased the speed of the zoom-out, and passed Mars.

"That was..." Graham shook his head again. "Was that the moon?"

"Yep." Seth smiled. "And the next one was Mars."

Zuri stared at the video with her head cocked and a smile growing gradually larger. Several others, including the ones who looked like they'd stepped out of the Old West, also stared at it with varying degrees of shock and wonder as the camera passed through the asteroid belt.

"The number and proximity of the asteroids is exaggerated," Astra intoned. "They are far enough apart that they cannot be seen from one another without telescopes. In various media, they are often shown much closer together than they really are."

The pull-back continued past Jupiter.

"That's where a lot of us came from," Seth said, pointing at the gas giant. "We were living on a space station orbiting one of its moons. The station's crew were building a jumpgate and a ship like this one. Well, not nearly as advanced as this one. More like an 'ancestor' to this ship."

"We'll probably have to explain what jumpgates are," Marissa said.

"Oh, right. I didn't think." Seth chuckled and tossed a lopsided grin at her.

"I can cover that later," Astra said. "First things first."

The zoom-out continued past Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, then increased its speed and passed through several nebulae and past other stars until, finally, the Milky Way filled the screen.

"The simulation's speed misrepresents the distances between stars. Do you understand what a mile is?"

Graham nodded twitchily. One of the cowboys muttered, "Yep."

"One light-year equals approximately six trillion miles. The Milky Way galaxy is one hundred thousand light-years across."

"That's..." The cowboy aimed a blank stare at the screen. "Uh, that's a lot."

"Sure is," another drawled.

"So..." Graham pointed at the image of the galaxy. "We're somewhere in that?"

"That is one possibility." The pull-back resumed and the Milky way receded, and then more galaxies appeared. "There are more galaxies in the universe. What you're seeing now is called the Local Group." The zoom-out continued. "And the Local Group is part of what was once called the Virgo Supercluster."

Graham, the cowboys, and several others stared slack-jawed at the images as the zoom-out continued.

"What you're seeing now is called the Laniakea Supercluster. It contains the groups once known as the Virgo, Hydra-Centaurus, and Pavo-Indus Superclusters."

The virtual camera kept zooming out until Seth couldn't count the number of galaxies, and continued even past that point.

"It's possible that we've been transported to another galaxy," Astra continued. "We do not know even approximately where we are in the universe."

Zuri glanced at Graham and rubbed his back slowly. "And how big is the...universe?"

"The observable universe is nearly thirteen-point-seven billion light-years across."

"And we could be anywhere in it? Even on the far side?"

"Correct. I need more information before I can begin to work out our exact location."

Graham slumped forward and moaned softly. Zuri patted his shoulders and glanced over at Seth and the others.

"You said we all came here from different times?"

Kamala nodded. "For those of us on the Io station, the year was 2070."

Graham lifted his head abruptly to stare at her, as did the cowboys.

"And for me and Otto," Shakira said, "it was 2047."

"Early in 2047," Otto added. "First week of February." He glanced at the cowboys and raised an eyebrow.

"1871."

Graham let out another soft moan. "992."

Whoa. Seth looked slowly around the room and found one of the aliens who'd been on the sleeper ship just before it exploded. "And for you?"

"As measured by the human calendar," she said in a lilting tone, "4718."

And now I'm feeling light-headed. Seth shook his head and took a deep breath. "Say, Astra, do your media files contain any historical information? Something that can bring everyone up to speed on things like space travel?"

"Yes. I will select appropriate vids and display them on the screen."

"Thanks. Seems like a productive way to pass the time until we reach our next destination." He wondered for a moment if giving people from the past detailed information on the future was a good idea. Then he shrugged it off. It probably didn't matter by this point.

And if they couldn't find their way back home, it would never matter.


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