Falling from the Moon
A "Please Save My Earth" fanfic
By Natalie Baan
--Patterns of light flicker on the large screen, grid lines flashing into being to encompass part of a roughly outlined topographical map.
:: scan selected geoform section
:: Working...scan complete.
:: render cross-section
A square of the grid expands, tilts, redraws itself as a three-quarter view of a small, rumpled mountainscape. Highlighted lines tracemark the various strata.
:: Render complete.
Enju frowns at the screen and picks up the light stylus.
:: enable pen-mode
:: Pen-mode - OK
Deep in concentration, Enju touches the beam of light delicately to the screen here and there, moving lines with careful precision. The contours of the slopes shift; layers reorganize themselves.
"Heya, Enju. What're you doing?" Shusulan leans in through the door, on her way to her own research station.
"Specimen search. The computer sometimes misidentifies those displaced strata, though, so first I like to go through manually, to undo some of the local orogeny."
"Uh-huh. Undo the orogeny. Sounds like something for the morning after."
It's an old joke between them. "Just mountain-moving, Shu."
"Your point? And stop chewing your hair, Enju--it's disgusting."
"Mmph." Enju spits out the ends of her hair and brushes it away from her face, embarrassed. Sahje, but she's never been able to break that habit. <At least it's only Shusulan. I'd just die if-->
/flicker in the dream/
:: isolate tagged strata
Layers of earth and stone peel away on the diagram of light--Enju watches millions of years go by in the foldings and unfoldings of rock.
:: Isolation complete.
:: query sample probability
Enju agrees with one of the computer's likely specimen sites, and scan information begins writing and rewriting itself across her screen.
At her touch, a shadowy image is focused on, redrawn more clearly, enhanced. A pattern of fronds takes shape, becoming the image of a plant anciently dead.
Shusulan, wandering by, puts her head in again. "Mokulen would like that. What is it?"
"It's an extinct giant fern from about 350 million Earth years ago."
"It's much better than those lizardy things. You're not digging any of those up today, I hope."
Enju smiles. "No, they're from a much later period. There's not much animal life at this strata--mostly fish. Though I could probably find you a nice trilobite."
"No, thank you!"
Enju appends the scan data to the image map, and sends it to file. "Such an incredible variety of species coming and going over so many millennia--I'd love to know how the Earth-people feel about their world's paleontological history."
"You mean Hiragi hasn't cracked those educational broadcasts yet?" As Enju shakes her head, Shusulan lets out her breath in a huff.
"Oh, Shu, I don't really mind. It's early in the project, and I know the sociopolitical and technological data has higher priority right now--"
"And Hiragi just lives and breathes by his priority queue, doesn't he? That man is completely impossible."
"We could put a trilobite on his pillow."
Enju covers her mouth with her hand, hiding a smile. "I'm sure we could get Shukaido to synthesize one."
Finally the computer finishes preparing the diorama and notifies Enju. She studies its projection of the ancient forest critically. Too many of the towering ferns and scale trees are repeated identical images, drawn from the computer's limited files--it isn't clever enough to derive variants from the data without more input from her. She lifts up the stylus again and begins adding slight irregularities.
As she gazes at the delicate, feathery branchings, a whim occurs to her. She calls up another file, scanned from a remnant 300 million years younger, and inserts it into the diorama.
:: Reduce to proper scale?
Enju declines, the better to see the new addition, and smiles when the computer places a butterfly with a two-foot wingspan among the ferns.
:: animate image - reference file /MKLN/UW788-58-IF
The computer requests animation points, which Enju provides, and then labors silently. Enju crosses her fingers.
:: Animation complete. Go?
And the butterfly flickers into life on the screen, fluttering up from its resting place in a gasp of fragile wings. Enju catches her own breath and leans forward, watching this ancient creature dance in an even more ancient forest--and both caught out of time, out of place, shimmering in the computer-generated traceries of
She touches her fingertip to the glass--
:: ERROR - System capacity exceeded.
:: Project priority insufficient to continue.
:: Abort program.
"Ohh...." Enju buries her face in her hands as the screen wipes itself, taking with it the last hour's work. From across the hall, she hears a furious shriek. Shusulan's anger and disbelief explode inside her, right through her mental walls, and she jumps, heart racing.
"/What!/ What do you mean, insufficient priority? What do you mean, /abort?/ I've been working on that goddamn sort all morning!" Shusulan bursts into the hallway, her mind in a high fire.
"It got you, too? Weren't you working in background mode?"
"It takes too damn long, waiting for little bits of system to clear up! Do you have any idea how many cultural variants I'm dealing with? Hundreds! /Thousands!/" Shusulan narrows her eyes. "He's running synthesis again. Isn't he! He's pulled all the extra capacity to run one of his damn theoretical projections. I'm gonna kill him! Hiragi!" And Shusulan stomps down the corridor, her voice and the receding clatter of her boot heels reverberating in the air. "/HIRAGIIII!/"
Enju lets out a quiet breath, and counts her heartbeats until the adrenaline surge from Shusulan's temper fit subsides. Then, cautiously, she keys a query about system usage.
Mokulen's own data sort is purring conservatively in background mode. Aside from the station's integral processes, only one other system function appears on the screen.
From where she stands, just outside the central computer core, Enju can hear Hiragi. His usual tone of measured reasonableness is beginning to sound frayed. She clutches the data slate bearing her tentative system status report and stays back behind the doorframe. She doesn't need to hear or see Shion to sense his presence; his personality is a low thunder hanging in the air. Sahches, but something more than Sahches: she can feel him easily through her barriers.
"I appreciate your efforts to bring the computer equipment up to spec, Shion," Hiragi is saying. "But it was unnecessary to take over the entire system with this...diagnostic run. You've interfered with the work of everyone on this station, and I don't know how much data is being lost in the interim. It's not a casual matter."
"Hn." There is the sound of an energized tool whining against metal.
"Shion. You're not working in a vacuum. This is an interdisciplinary team mission: we share data, we collaborate on areas of research, and we coordinate with each other. If there's a problem you should let us know at our next group meeting, so we can discuss what actions might be necessary."
"Necessary." Shion's voice is deep, rough velvet. Enju can feel her pulse flutter in her throat like faint wings as he laughs. "Are you waiting for another project report to get corrupted? Or a database more important than 'Eastern Archipelago Entertainment Media' to purge itself? Or maybe you'd like to sit on the problem until some of the hydroponics go out."
"You're exaggerating the threat--"
"I'm sick of these glitches! I'm going to go through the system, line by line if I have to, and nail this thing before it gets into the integrals."
"The work that's been lost--"
"It's called a 'save function.' Did you forget to use it again?"
"I'm not the only one to have been inconvenienced by this, Shion. Don't try to distract me by getting confrontational."
"Confrontational." There is a /thunk,/ as of something dropped or thrown down. "You're the one giving orders from on high when you'd be hard pressed to tell a computer emergency from unplugged viewscreen." That voice rises to a rumbling snarl. "I have work that I'm supposed to be doing--that I'd far rather be doing--instead of trying to nursemaid a soul-forsaken, archaic scrap heap through functions it's just barely capable of doing. I'm a Class-One technical engineer and hard-science research expert, /not/ a damned maintenance subordinate, and if I see a problem I'll rely on my own judgment."
"Watch your tone." There is silence except for Shion's breathing. Enju can feel the thunder grow, mental storm rising; dark winds vortex tightly around him. "Nevertheless. I am officially the leader of this crew, fully qualified and accorded for the position--which you are not, despite your other credentials. I have a responsibility to manage a sustained and orderly flow of information and to maintain equilibrium among the personnel in this base. Your actions have been disruptive since we arrived, Shion. I won't permit it to go on.
"From now on, you follow procedure. If a technical situation doesn't pose an immediate threat, you call a meeting or wait to bring it up at the next scheduled conference. If it's a serious problem, but not life-endangering, you take the time to key a warning to every workstation, and let people close up before you take over the system. And if you're unhappy with my leadership, Shion, you do have the option of transfer. No? Well, I mention it only to remind you.
"Adapt, or leave." A few footsteps, then a pause. "If you like, I'll send someone down to assist you. The sooner this is sorted out, the sooner everyone can get back to what they'd rather be doing."
Hiragi passes Enju in the hall, his forehead creased with tension. "Hiragi. Shusulan is looking for you. In the library, I think." Hiragi gives her a pained look and walks off before she can offer her slate--headed upstation, toward the tower, and away from Shusulan. He didn't ask if she would help Shion, but she creeps up to the doorway anyway and looks in.
Holy ones, angels of Sahjareem, he's beautiful.
Mokulen can /have/ him.
His head is down; dark hair spills across his face like a slant of rain. He picks up an access panel removed from one of the system blocks, turns it slowly in his hands--then flings it--against the wall--
--she gasps. Shion whirls, turns on her, the thunder rising to a roar in her mind. "/What?/"
"E- excuse me! I'm sorry!"
"/What do you want!/"--
* * * * *
Issei opened his eyes and took a sudden deep breath. It was his own room around him, dim gold with the last light of summer evening. He hadn't meant to fall asleep. Slowly he pushed himself up to a sitting position on his bed, leaned back against the wall.
<Shion tried to kill Shukaido. And Tamura-san.>
<Shion wants to destroy the moon base.>
<Shion has been lying to us the whole time.>
He hugged his knees against the tightness in his chest. <But what do I do about it?>
<I could let the others know, but there's no telling what he might do then. If he felt threatened, he could turn on any of us. An eight-year-old kid with Shion's fury and his power.... He almost did kill Shukaido, and Shukaido is nearly as strong as he is. Gyokulan--Jinpachi--is the only other ESPer, and he doesn't have control of his powers.>
<If he finds out about Shion, and Mokulen-->
<*a cool slickness--darkness--the flicker of stars*>
Issei stared at his school books, thinking about the set of math problems he hadn't done. He was hopelessly lost in that subject, he'd missed something while he was out sick and had never caught up....
<I haven't really been sick--have I?>
<What's happening to me? I keep losing track of what I'm thinking.>
Broken out in sudden trembling, he began to fumble at threads of memory. <Where does this go? And this?> For a moment, he was afraid he was going crazy: half his thoughts seemed to end in nothingness, and as he tried to follow one, something inside him slipped and he lost another piece of time. Shaking, he found his way back to himself, but he was certain of one thing.
<I did this. To myself.>
He didn't know how he knew. There was just a familiarity, like recognizing a snatch of music, or a friend passing at the edge of sight. Somehow he had put this barrier inside his own mind, closed off some avenue of thought. Discovering that it was intentional, not accident or madness, was a relief. But still....
<I can't be this way now, forgetting things. There's too much at stake.>
<I have to undo it.>
He fell back with the thought into his mind.
*There is the sound of rain, relentless drumming growing more slow. The storm is stopping. There is a glisten of water down a hydrangea leaf; the flowers offer their flat blueness to the moon.*
*There is a moment of stillness ahead.*
*In that stillness, all the long stretch of a life is waiting.*
*And within the stillness, a dark mirror.*
*From the fringe of rain ending, from just outside that stillness, Issei looks inward, afraid. But he understands. The rain and the flower and the moon are all part of the secret. If he gets behind the mirror, he will know what they mean. He will understand why they were a doorway to this place.*
*He reaches out, and touches the stillness.*
*The answer is here.*
*A butterfly spreads its wings in an alien landscape. Time moves, a tree branch caught swaying in the wind. Pieces of time shift around him: a flicker of leaves, changing light on a screen, layers of earth and stone that hold memories of another world. Remembrances pile upon each other, strata of the person he was, a terrain as slow to change as the heart and mind.*
*There is so much to remember. He feels his way forward slowly, until memory stops.*
*Standing in front of the mirror, Issei looks at his reflection in its surface. The silhouette of his form is like the shadow of a ghost. The eye turns away; the thought turns away; the memory is a ghost too.*
*Knowing what he knows now, remembering who he is, he raises a hand.*
*Shards of glass splinter into /pain/--*
He was huddled on the floor, his arms wrapped around himself, not knowing how he'd gotten there from the bed. His throat ached; he realized he must have screamed. His little sister had stuck her curly blonde head in the room and was giving him one of her intense, wide-eyed stares. "What's wrong with you?" she demanded.
"Get out!" Half-uncoiling, Issei grabbed the nearest thing, a paperback, and threw it at her. The book rebounded from the edge of the doorframe, and she vanished, shrieking.
"What the hell is going on up there?" His father's heavy stride was on the stairs, was approaching down the hallway, and Issei shifted his position to clutch at his arm. He lowered his head, the tears already too close--worse luck, a weekend and his father home from work....
Issei was searching his limited field of view for inspiration. "Banged...the ch- chair," he whispered. Anything but the truth.
There was a deadly pause.
"All this fuss--because you ran into a chair?" The tone of voice left no doubt what he thought. Issei put his head down still further, letting his bangs curtain between them. "/Ch./"
Mercifully, he was going away, pulling the door to behind him, with nothing else said. But then Issei's mother spoke up in a question, somewhere just far enough away to muffle the words in his hearing, and his father answered, those words perfectly clear and scornful.
"Bastard." Issei whispered. The room blurred around him.
"/Bastards!/" He hurled himself onto the bed, sobbing, and the grief raged out of him in a rain of tears.
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