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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Paradox (999-word short-fiction)

By Jen Finelli

When I stepped off the metal ramp onto the landing pad, the heat didn't “beat down” on me so much as “suffocate my whole body in a sweaty embrace.” Home. For the first time in...three years? Shyte. Felt longer.
In the distance, past the parking lot fence, pinkish-green vines grew up the fort's translucent wall: the jungle was hugging us all. When I sighed, hot, wet air rushed into my throat like a super tongue-y kiss.
My home planet's clingy welcome felt weird. And not just because I'd served time in the cold, dry underground of Beryllia's crystal mines. There's moss on the landing pad. When Jei and I took off from this pad years ago it was squeaky clean. Uptight butt-face wouldn't have it otherwise.
I opened and closed my fist, and chunks of deep green and rooty brown blasted into the air as the moss flew off the pad. I lifted my hand, gently, like an orchestra conductor, and the moss floated through the air to land in a puddle by the fence.
Grow there,” I said. “Not here.”
It obeyed.
The Admiral and I didn't talk these days. At the peak of our game, Jei and I got our orders from him directly. Now--
Eh, I was sentimentalizing. He probs didn't have time. And you know, I'd been underground. Hard to get phone service in prison.
So here I was, wrapping this warm brown coat around me, even though it was like, a gajillion hot nasty fro-frizzing degrees outside and the cooling system inside didn't work great. But my coat, like these fuzzy, tattered, maroon pants, screamed, “Hey, you sent me to Beryllia, remember that shyte, asshole?” And since that wasn't something I'd say to the Admiral aloud anymore, I wore the outfit like a red banner of war. Complete with headband ripped from an actual banner of war. Super Beryllian.
I knocked on the “concrete” polymerwall--the entrance to the Admiral's office--and it softened with my DNA to let me pass. Even mid-wall I was thinking up a billion mannerisms, a trillion possible things to say: I discarded “flipping him the bird,” “screaming,” and “punching that sucker in the face.” After years of bearing my best bud's memory like an iron jacket, I'd play it cool with his dad. His dad who still thought I'd...done that...to Jei...
I choked, and now I was through the wall without an opening line, and here stood the short old man with his feathery-looking hair and straight nose and wrinkly version of my battle-buddy's eyes peering out of a whiter, greyer version of my battle-buddy's face. His uniform was as crisp and neat as his son's used to be.
And now he was wrapping me in a big, fierce hug, with something like a heave, or a withheld sob, and dammit old man, you're making me cry.
So the Admiral had a mission for the prodigal daughter. Who would've figured? Some idiot drug-ring got in over their heads with weaponry they didn't know how to use, and now they'd set off an “anomaly field” just south of Retrack City. Being an anomaly myself, well. I grabbed the first air-rider I saw and raced through the jungle to the suburbs.
I raced because the Admiral said quantum entanglement. That gets a lay-person like me imagining all kinds of metaphysical cow-shyte about double souls and ghosts and maybe seeing the essence of dead battle buddies again...I clutched my heart...
Cool it,” Jei would've said: I was always one to get my hopes up. You know, because I had this invisible friend, I could shoot electricity out of my fingers, Jei could levitate shyte, and in that kind of weird universe, anything could happen, right?
But the anomaly wasn't an “anything.” I only saw it because the chronometer on my wristband slowed. Somehow I caught that before tumbling head-first into doom--maybe my invisible friend stopped me.
But I dismounted outside the field, stuck my hand forward, and--yeah, my clock straight up stalled in there. Took like minutes for one second to pass on my wrist--and a few feet away, while I marked time, a building materialized.
Or didn't. It was there and not there, a mess of particles and waves. It...flickered? Blurred? Like the center of the anomaly was moving at a thousand miles an hour: actually it'd slowed down so much the atoms just stopped, and now I could see matter as it was.
Everyone inside was trapped in an eternal second.
I sucked in my breath. Matter also stops when all energy's gone: heat death. Thermonuclear collapse. The big-heads back home thought since I could generate insane energy, I could move these atoms. But standing here, on the edge of time itself? I doubted. All their energy was still here! Only time was missing. I can't create time!
Is every isolated moment a heat death?
I waded forward. Shyte, these people weren't even conscious of being trapped. Are we not conscious, not sentient, without the passage of time to unite one thought with another into soul? Is time life?
Come on, Lem,” Jei would've laughed.
But Jei didn't materialize in this anomaly, no matter how I willed or prayed. I was, I am, the Universe's lone Paradox Warrior, the fireball now freezing in time as I slowed towards the center, dead and alive.
Like Jei--
Jei was there and not there.
In my powers.
In my past.
In my memory.
In those eternal moments we'd both walked away from into the place we call now. It takes many points on a graph to make a line; many moments of death to make eternal life. Then and here, I contaminated the present with the past I hadn't dared to put into words: Jei died.
And with a flick of Jei's levitation powers, I reached through the building and shut off the weapon.
Somewhere, inside there, the silence broke as a boy cried out.

The End

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