A black prosthetic hand

How Gabby Won the Neo-Iditarod and Cured my Cyborg Blues

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“Is that new?” Gabby had spied my shiny fist atop the mop handle. 

As a self-made man, I am in constant need of repair. So, I responded to her that, yes, the hand was brand new. Still warm from the printer. I offered to let her check it out after I finished my chores.

We were alone in the cantina, her passing time between shifts, and me getting ready for the dinner rush, wiping down tables, putting chairs in order, refilling the food dispensers. At times like these, Gabby and I talked of things like the weather, or rather the lack of it in space, and how much we missed the sound of distant thunder. Or we shared a companionable silence as I puttered about.

Ready for my break now, I put the mop away and made two thandais. Her favorite. Then I sat down across from her.

I held out my new right hand so Gabby could admire it. I flexed and un-flexed my fist to show her the range of motion and the dexterity of the fingers. You could barely hear the servos. This was much better than my last design. 

“May I?” Gabby always asked before touching me. Some people don’t, thinking I’m a machine. I told her it was okay, so she leaned in to get a better look. “Are these the tactile sensors?” The microscopic lattice created a shimmering rainbow where it caught the light.

“Higher density this time. I’ll have a more nuanced sense of touch.” 

“Let’s test them.” With a sly little grin, she slid a gentle caress across my palm. “What’s causing the tremble?” 

“Feedback. I’ll fix it later.” That was me. As usual, hiding behind the gear. 

Early on, right after we met on Ganymede, it had seemed there might be something developing between the two of us, but that fizzled for reasons only Gabby knew. We’d settled into a comfortable friendship. 

Gabby sipped her drink, lost in thought, giving me some side-eye I couldn’t quite interpret. I mentally shrugged. She was a navigator, and navigators tend to be odd. Of course they do. They live half their lives between worlds, hooked up to a quantum-AI. And Gabby was a navigator’s navigator, winner of the neo-Iditarod, a month-long race that threads its way through the moons of Jupiter. The prizes are huge, and winners of the race can demand prime contracts with the shipping guilds. 

At least, that’s what Gabby could have done. She could have chosen to fly on one of the settlement ships bound for the Outer Oort, or one of the generation ships bound for Tau Ceti. Instead, she’d chosen to join our crew on the pokey, always-a-dull-moment, supply ship the Steadfast. Why? She never told me. 

Gabby seemed to be feeling philosophical that day, and when she got into those moods you could see how she earned her nickname. So that’s the day I finally found the courage to ask her about the neo-Id, and why she hadn’t cashed in. 

“That’s a very long story.” She didn’t look at me as she said it.

I told her I wanted to hear it. All of it. 

We had another hour before the shift change, and things were quiet in the cantina, so we agreed to have an early dinner. I made us both a plate of linguini bagdassarian, freshened our thandais, and we settled in.

“The story starts with my grandfather winning the old Iditarod, back on Earth.” Gabby twirled some linguini on her fork, choosing her words carefully. She appeared unsure of what to say at first. Then, making up her mind, she reached into the pocket of her uniform and pulled out a minitablet to share a photo of a gray-haired old man, very thin, and with those startling grey eyes like Gabby’s. 

“Your grandfather?” She nodded.

She reminded me that the old Iditarod was a dogsled race back on Earth, across a thousand miles of wilderness, and it could take up to two weeks. The year her grandfather won it nearly killed him. The Russian tundra fires were year-round by that point, and the smoke was carried by the polar vortex, dropping soot and ash throughout the Arctic. That caused the snow to melt early. There’d been a warm spell, too, so the track was slow and sluggish. The racers and the dogs were exhausted. 

After ten days of sleep deprivation many racers began to hallucinate. Howling voices in the wind. Faces in the trees. That sort of thing. A part of the trail passed through a ghost town from the Gold Rush days. There were abandoned shop fronts, houses, and stables. Her grandfather came upon it at night, alone under a full moon. But now the place was alive, full of people, as if the town hadn’t died at all. Lights in the windows, piano music coming from the doors of a tavern. A movie marquee. Cars and paved roads. Above him the sky was clear of smoke and the stars of the Milky Way were dazzling. He wanted so much to go into the tavern, to get a meal, to spend just a few hours resting, and maybe put his weary head down to sleep. 

So, he stepped into the tavern and asked for food and shelter. He made friends and stayed. He made a life, married, and had a family. He grew old and died in that other world.

“He abandoned your family?”

“One version of him did. Another version chose to come home.” She continued: “He is my hero. Because he saw what might have been. Not only that other family, but another possible world where the seas never rose, and the Earth was healthy.”

“You’re not making sense, Gabby. How could he be two people?”

“None of us are only two people, or even a thousand.”

I must have looked puzzled. “Are you gonna to tell me this is a time stack thing?” 

“For you the time stack’s a story. For me it’s a fact of life.” 

It had been a long time since my university days, and my courses had only briefly touched on time stack theory. It was too esoteric and specialized for most engineering students. Seeing my confusion, Gabby used her fork to pick out a dozen or so strands of linguini, and she arranged them into two pairs of linear bundles, six each, on the tabletop. “Sorry for the mess.” 

“No worries. I’ll clean it up later.” 

She explained how each strand of linguini was meant to represent a complete history of everything that happened in a world. Big Bang, atoms and molecules. Galaxies form, along with stars and planets. People are born, live out their lives. Empires rise and fall. And so forth. 

“An entire world history, in each single strand. Okay?” She wanted to make sure I was keeping up with her. I allowed that I’d grant it was okay, though it was a lot for a single strand of pasta to carry it all. She smiled. So far so good. 

She then said that most people’s interior experience feels like they live within one single strand of linguini, one world history. But we’re really part of a family of histories that form a coherent bundle. It’s a quantum thing, apparently. The quantum-AIs allow navigators to see the other nearby strands and using the tech they can travel from one strand to another. They just nudge things along, finding a way step-by-step toward a goal that lies somewhere within the nearby bundle of world histories. 

Okay. I vaguely remembered hearing something like this back in school. I signaled that I was with her so far. 

Now, she said, this is where you have to remember that the time stack contains all possible world histories. That means there are many other families of histories. Those were like that second bundle of linguini strands she’d laid out to her right, far from the first bundle on her left. Those other strands also form a coherent family, but they differ from the first set of strands in more significant ways. Maybe there are entire empires that never rose or fell. Or the first humans to walk out of Africa died of a plague before they got very far. 

The two bundles of world histories are so far apart, they are mutually incoherent. And that implies they can only interact in exceptional circumstances. Such as times when a navigator feels extreme emotions like fear, panic, or grief.

During the Iditarod, her grandfather thought he would die in the wilderness. In his panic he sensed the existence of that other far-off bundle of world histories, and some versions of him passed over to it. She now took two strands of linguini and used them to form a bridge connecting the two larger bundles on the table. This bridge changed things on both sides. New versions of her grandfather were spawned over there. 

“Every time we make a choice,” she said, “the world splits, and splits again.” 

Again, a quantum thing, so I just went with it. Each choice of her grandfather’s created a new history, like the branchings of a pasta tree. Many versions of her grandfather stayed over in the other bundle. 

“But the grandfather I knew is the one who chose to return to my family, to the path that led to me.” She picked up a strand of linguini from the right bundle and used it to form a bridge back to the left bundle. She said: “I didn’t exist in those other worlds.” 

I was having trouble taking this in, so I asked: “What happened when he came back?” 

“Well, tasty as these two linguini bundles might be separately, when they’re this far apart it’s like they have different seasonings. Suppose our world is spicy and tomato-based, but the other’s a sweet coconut curry, so to speak.” 

They are mutually incoherent across the gap, she said. The flavors clash when you try to combine them. When her grandfather returned, the worlds flickered for a moment between the lights of the town and the dark of the wilderness.

“So, he was hallucinating.”

I now noticed the bags under her eyes. She looked weary. Thin and old beyond her years. With a sigh, she ran her fingers through her buzz-cut hair, starting to go salt-and-pepper at the temples. Eventually, Gabby came round to explaining herself. 

“You’re not listening. That was the first anomaly.”

I must have spilled my drink a bit. I hope I didn’t spit. Given the cheap prosthetics I have, I am sometimes unable to sense when that happens. But all my life we’d been taught the anomalies are caused by unknown forces, an unraveling of reality that we can’t predict or stop. And here Gabby was saying they were the quantum equivalent of flavor mixing gone bad.

“Something more than talent and training is needed to work with quantum-AIs. A sixth sense that can pierce the veil.” 

She looked at me closely when she said that. I’d almost laughed in embarrassment at this sudden intimacy. So, to break the tension I said: “What do you mean piercing the veil, Gabby? You’re not going squishy on me, are you?” 

Being a spacer of the outmigration, you can get a bit hardened to the old soul speak the Earthers once found natural. The Great Anomaly put an end to that for many of us. I mean an end to any sense that the universe could make sense. Now that the GA’s broken out and put us on the run, making sense of a dissolving world is something we all struggle to do, and fail. 

But I’d gone off track, lost in my own thoughts while Gabby watched me closely. I felt she knew what I was thinking, or at least that she had a sense of it. She relaxed a bit then, knowing I wasn’t going to laugh at her, though I almost had. 

She said: “I’m not going squishy, Aidan. What I mean is there’s more than meets the eye. More than this.” She rapped her knuckles on the table. “Or this.” And with that she gently touched my face on the left side, the first time she’d ever done that. “Something more. There has to be.”

I got up to make another round of the thandais, and the two of us became lost in our own thoughts for a bit. The shift change wouldn’t be for another half hour, and Gabby had a real talent for deflection. But I also knew she’d get back to the main thread eventually. We had time.

I’d never told Gabby any of the details of my accident. What good would that do? One day ten years before, my life had changed forever, and I hadn’t felt fully human ever since. It had happened on Ganymede during a vacuum breach. I’d gotten caught between a bulkhead and a crash door. The med bots saved me after I sucked vacuum for five minutes, but to do it they had to carve me up, gouge me out, and replace parts and organs that had been damaged beyond repair. The patches they’d installed left me unable to ambulate, unable to speak, unable to do much of anything. I had no choice but to use a local modder shop to add those functionalities. It was the only shop I could afford, and I’m still working off the debt. 

Just then, a sweet little kid named Katti tottered into the cantina with a squirming kitten in her arms, fiercely concentrating on navigating around the tables and chairs in her way. She’d been in earlier that day, too, so I knew Katti was heading for the milk dispenser. Too short to use it herself, I went over to help, shuffling to the chrome counter. All the kids on board knew me. As part of our crew agreement, we all help out in the day-care center and school.

“Hey, Kat. What’s your friend’s name?” My voice synthesizer sounded harsh to me. Although it didn’t seem to bother the kids, it was on a long list of things I wanted to upgrade. 

Katti looked up and answered with great earnestness: “Her name’s Fidget.” We all agreed this was a great name for a kitten. Pouring out a small saucer of milk, I placed it on the floor and Fidget began to lap it up with a loud purr. Katti gave me a smile like a supernova. The kitten finished up, smacking its lips. Then Katti said ‘thank you’ and headed back to her daycare just down the passageway. I rinsed the saucer and put it in the recycler. All the while, I could feel Gabby watching me. Keeping her thoughts to herself.

Finally, as I got us settled again with our drinks, I moved to clear away our plates, but Gabby signaled that I should leave the linguini on the table just yet. She might need it for the next story. The complexity of world histories required much pasta. 

After she’d touched me, I’d felt my remaining cheek redden. Seated now, returning a look at Gabby, I was deeply aware that we were alone, and I could still feel the ghost warmth of her hand on my face. So, ever courageous in matters of intimacy, I changed the subject: “What’s this piercing the veil stuff got to do with the neo-Iditarod?”

She now continued.

When she was young, back on Earth, Gabby spent a lot of time on the water with her father. He first taught her to navigate using the stars and other natural markers because he believed it was important to develop her intuition first. Navigation had to become part of her body memory, so she could develop a sense of location and direction. Later, they practiced reading charts by hand using a compass, parallels, and a stopwatch, following buoys and signal markers. By that point in her training, they still didn’t use modern tech, the satellite navigation systems, the implants and genetic upgrades. That would come later. The training took many years, and it recapitulated the historical development of navigation, rather than leaping to its modern conclusion, building a variety of skills Gabby could fall back on if the quantum tech ever failed her. 

One day, near sunset, they’d gone out to practice her night skills in a small family cabin cruiser. The anomalies were getting worse then, and the weather was wild. Strange and almost feral. While out in open water, a squall came in from the west, a real nasty one with a wall of towering gray-green thunderheads veined by sheet lightning. 

Her father wanted to get back to sheltered water before the storm hit, so they just got down to it. He had the wheel, while Gabby took the sightings on deck. Then she would climb into the cabin below where they’d laid out the charts. All the while the skies to west the darkened, the winds picked up, the waves started to whitecap, and the seas grew more and more dangerous.

And then the storm was upon them, and it was far worse than they’d feared.  

It’s true what they say, that the wind can howl. It pulls the sea up with it, shearing off the tops of waves, throwing sheets of stinging salt in your face so you can no longer see. They got hit broadside by a monster of a wave, and the feel of the boat rolling was something she’d never forget, that fear, wondering if the boat would ever right itself. She fell going down the gangway and split  her head open on a countertop. When she came back on deck her father was horrified to see the blood on her. 

Then the world flickered and all around them they could see a flotilla of ships high as mountains rising from the water, gliding past in silence. And then it flickered, and it was dark again. 

She said that in his fear her father had pulled them both far away from our local bundle of histories, much farther than he’d intended. Toward that other bundle of worlds her grandfather had found.  

I’m slow, but the import of something she’d been saying only struck me just now: “Your grandfather and father weren’t hooked up to a quantum-AI. How can that be?” 

“I’ll share a little secret.” Gabby leaned forward. Placing her head down, taking my now-tactile right hand in hers, she guided the tip of my index finger to the back of her neck. “What do you feel?” 

Warm skin, taut muscle underneath, and the outline of her spine, mostly. “Jesus, Gabby. You’re just skin and bones.” I had expected to find a universal interface at the base of her neck. The ones that come with the little false skin flap for cosmetic purposes. With those interfaces you can feel the hard round edge of the socket beneath the skin. With Gabby, though, I could feel the false skin flap, but there was no socket. The skin flap was all for show. 

“What the fuck, Gabby? How do you talk to the AI?” 

“The implants and gene mods allow me to talk to the AI anywhere, anytime.” She gently placed my hand back down on the table and let go. “Does that scare you?” 

“What? The idea that you can walk between worlds like I can walk across the room?” I thought about that for a moment before answering. But I only took a moment. “Yeah. That unsettles me. But you want to know what really scares me?” She shrugged her shoulders. “I’m terrified of growing old and dying alone on the toilet. You know, one of those spinning false-g things. God it would be embarrassing to have to get pried out of that.” 

She had a brilliant smile.

Just then I could make out a harsh buzzing noise in the passageway, like one of those honeybees we keep in the hydroponics bay. A moment later a minidrone no bigger than the palm of my hand flew into the cantina at head height. The hovering wobbled, the control was unsteady. Then the onboard camera found us and the drone headed our way. Gabby arched her eyebrows as if to say: ‘What’s up with that?’ 

But I knew what was going on. I recognized the minidrone as one we used to train students. I worked with most of those kids. So, I rose and moved toward the food printers, just me acting as if nothing strange was happening, shuffling across the floor, dragging my recalcitrant left leg. Then, when I was abreast of the drone, I turned and made like I was a big cyborg bear and roared: “Rowr!” 

A torrent of childish giggles erupted out in the passageway and the drone dropped to the floor. I picked it up gingerly, careful not to crush the propellers with my new hand. 

“C’mere you scamps!” 

Two children came into the cantina, acting all sheepish. It was the Oluomo twins, like I’d guessed. Eyes bright, and smiling, they began fighting over who should have the controller. I handed the minidrone over and sent them on their way, back to the hydroponics bay where they had more space to practice their flying skills. 

As I sat back down, I could feel Gabby watching me again. It almost seemed like she was going to cry. Her eyes welled up, but then she relaxed, sitting back in her chair, taking a close look at me with those beautiful grey eyes. “You are the kindest man I’ve ever met, you silly goose.” 

I’d only ever used that term of endearment with my mum, back on old Earth, in the days of sunshine and warmth. Back when I was all in one piece. 

So there it was again, that sense that something might have passed between us, something more meaningful than just two crew mates having a drink and a meal. Gabby’s softening unnerved me because it felt like a kind of grace, her seeing me as a whole person. I didn’t know how to respond to her, and I’m sure I must have blushed again. 

So, I quipped: “The kindest half-man,” and regretted the snark as soon as I said it. 

An old Earth saying holds that if you want to become invisible, don’t think of yourself for a year. What happens if you do that for ten? Everyone around us was dealing with more than their share of grief and loss, and I didn’t begrudge them their little moments of happiness. So on ship I’m invisible, serving up drinks and stocking the food printers, shuffling around, making sure I had the new kid designs for the tofu burgers. Bussing tables, wiping down chairs, mopping floors, telling dad jokes to the children of others. Lame and uninteresting, lacking in all romance, salt of the earth, stalwart and steadfast. A cyborg servant. 

Even back in the day, before the accident, I hadn’t been much to look at. Soft, a bit thick around the middle, pouchy eyes and sallow cheeks, and that receding hairline I kept trying to hide with creative combovers. Just one more aging member of the human diaspora, outward bound, fleeing the growing dissolution of reality at our backs. 

But enough about me. Like I say, I’m used to being overlooked, and I’ve come to believe it’s proper for the universe to focus attention elsewhere. So, when Gabby the navigator took time to talk to me, well, I was a bit out of my depth. After a long awkward moment of silence, me now trying to soften my half-man snark, I finally said: “You just never met the right man, Gabby.” 

And then, noting the time, and fearing people would soon start to gather for meals at the end of shift, I pressed her to finish the story: “So what happened on the neo-Id?”

She seemed a bit startled by my non sequitur, though she shouldn’t have been, given it’s where we started. She took a deep sigh and shook herself a bit, as if gathering courage. It felt to me as if she were finally unburdening herself. 

Gabby began by relating how the neo-Id is even more grueling than the old Iditarod, because it takes a full month of ship time. The rules are simple: you fly a single-person shuttle using the onboard AI, no refueling or restocking. And you have to pass within a hundred kilometers of ten moons in the Jupiter system. That requires a lot of high-g maneuvers between encounters, to line up the slingshots. You compete for speed and minimal use of fuel. 

By the rules, a navigator cannot sleep through encounters and maneuvers. They must be awake with their hand on the stick, controlling the burns, otherwise what’s the point of the race? Competitors use all sorts of tricks to stay awake when needed, then dose themselves with tranquilizers to sleep in between. To get the highest possible g’s, they need to be immersed in a crash tank, pumped up with juice, and it’s not unusual for some of the racers to stroke out when they push it that hard.  

She looked down now and began massaging her left forearm with the fingers of her right. She seemed reluctant to continue. 

“Gabby.” She looked up at me: “You don’t need to talk about it if you really don’t want to.” 

“I’ve wanted to tell you for a long time. It’s just hard to find the words.” 

“Take your time.”

She said the climax was two weeks into the race. She’d made six encounters on a sweet trajectory, and she could see her threads for the final four. She’d never seen that far ahead in the time stack before. It was like when you become fluent in reading music: you can look at the notes on the page and you just hear the music in your head. She felt that much in the zone. In synch with the AI, all systems go for the approach to Ganymede, she leaned into the slingshot, dipping far down into the gravity well. 

She was a bit groggy, swimming up out of her last sleep cycle, when she hit something. It couldn’t have been large, or she wouldn’t be here now. But it knocked the starboard thrusters out of alignment, breached a fuel line, and set her spinning so hard she nearly blacked out. Every second or two Ganymede swung by in her viewport, jaws grinding, her head flopping back and forth. There she was, out of control, and all she could think about was that to win the neo-Id she had to keep her hand on the control stick. 

“How stupid was that?” She now wondered. 

The spin wouldn’t stabilize, and the fuel was running low, and she started to panic. Then the flicker started, and she could make out the lights of cities down below. Cities with mile-high spires and orbital tethers. 

That was not the Ganymede I knew. The Ganymede I know was launch pads, shipyards, mining operations, and living quarters for workers. Brothels and bars. Nothing grandiose. Pretty grim, in fact. A terrible place to raise a family. But in that other bundle of timelines, Gabby said her comms lit up with chatter, and the nav scopes showed the nearby space full of ships. 

“I was exhausted, and I wanted to rest a bit. So, I gave into it and stayed for a time. A long time.” 

“Why did you come back?” 

Here she took a long beat, choosing her words carefully: “Because I’m the one who has to heal the anomalies.” 

That sounded awfully grandiose for Gabby, shy and retiring as she was, and I began to worry for her sanity. Spacers sometimes suffer psychotic breaks, and it was an occupational hazard for navigators. But she was so calm and lucid. I needed a moment to absorb what she’d just said. 

So, I tried to lighten up a bit: “You’re telling me that there’s a family of histories in the time stack, over there with the sweet curry seasoning, where Ganymede has holy-shit, no-kidding, full-on cities?” 

“In those sweet curry timelines, Aidan, Ganymede is full of life. It’s a beautiful world.”

“Why can’t we all just go there like you did?”

She shook her head and explained that navigators like her have unwisely opened doors between versions of history that were previously far apart. And opening those doors was causing leakage between whole families of world lines, like floodwaters breaking through a levee. 

Mixing spicy red sauce with sweet yellow curry. That would be crime against humanity for sure. I then clicked on another way of thinking about it that was more natural to me: “It’s like when you have two radio channels too close together in frequency, they bleed into one another.” She nodded this worked for her, too. I was unreasonably proud of myself for the contribution to the conversation. 

I said: “So, we have to pull them apart to restore their separate coherence. We can’t take a short cut to get over to the nice Ganymede. We have to build it ourselves.” 

“That’s the hard truth,” she said. “And so far, I haven’t found a way forward that lasts long enough.” 

“Long enough for what?” 

She then looked again at the linguini spread before us, the two separate bundles of world histories, and the thin strands that represented navigators like herself and her forebears passing between them. “Each time a navigator comes back, they risk damaging timelines.” She found the point where one of the returning strands, from right to left, intersected the original bundle, then took her finger and pinched one of the strands off, so it no longer continued beyond the insertion point. “You risk erasing parts of the timeline, creating a Great Anomaly.” She seemed upset by what she’d just said, even more than I might have expected given all the trauma she’d described. “I can only avoid it if certain hard choices are made.” 

“Gabby, what are you telling me?”

A wistful look passed over her, and I thought she might lose herself once more in her own thoughts. Or now that I’d heard her telling of it, I thought perhaps she’d go on walkabout between worlds. But she pulled herself together, sat up, took a breath, and began to try and explain the Heap. I can only relate a simplified version of it, which is at the heart of how navigators see the world. The Heap is a collection of all possible instants, in a kind of pile of snapshots, where each snapshot contains the world entire at that instant. Within it, there are references to other instants, and so histories are made by threading instants together using those internal referents, by creating those strands of linguini from something far less ordered. Cause and effect emerge as a kind of most likely ‘story’ for why this snapshot followed that one, a search for coherence amidst chaos and disorder. 

The distinction, she said, between past, present, and future is a stubborn illusion the navigators unlearn as part of their training. Even though they only dimly see those other snapshots in the Heap, they do at least sense their presence, and can use them to create threads connecting them, even reaching back to what us normals would consider the past, or forward to the future to knit the history together. Some snapshots in the Heap contain our familiar world, while others are wildly different. The disordered part of the Heap is dominant, the ordered islands are rare and fleeting, hard to find once you’ve lost your way in the wider chaos. At least, that’s what I took from Gabby’s telling of it.

She now reached forward and took my hands in hers. I was surprised they turned out to be so soft and warm. Gabby has that outer toughness that seems cold to most people, but I knew there was a warmth in her others couldn’t see. She seemed bereft now. She looked closely into my eyes for a moment, and then closed her own. With an effort she seemed to be pulling something toward us from a great distance. She’d said that extreme emotions could allow a navigator to range more widely, to reach further in the time stack and to bring others along, like her father had done with her that night of the storm. She shuddered a bit with the effort. Her grip tightened. 

And then, at first faintly, and barely at the edge of my perception, a flickering began and, though we were still in the cantina, still aboard the Steadfast and me still a cyborg, it was different, that other world. Not a world fully healed, I could tell, but a closer-in pocket of brightness in a dark world. Still within the spicy sauce family of histories, not the sweet yellow curries. 

Onboard that other Steadfast, the shift had just ended, so the cantina was beginning to fill up again. I could see people coming down the long passageways in our direction, some alone, some in pairs, threes and fours, some with children at their side. Gabby and I were no longer alone at the table, instead there was another man and woman who I sensed were family, the four of us, sharing time together, talking of our day, planning our lives together.

Instinctively, ever dutiful, I moved to stand and tend to the food and drink printers, to make sure everything was fully stocked. But then I felt someone at my side I hadn’t noticed before. A young girl, beautiful in my eyes, looking up and smiling with those startling grey eyes. Full of cheeky intensity. She said: “You are such a silly goose, daddy,” just before a kind of efflorescence began to bubble up from everything in the scene. 

And then I knew what Gabby had been trying to tell me without saying it out loud. I could see that in this other timeline Gabby was radiant, and beautiful, too, like our family’s child. She was holding my hands across this same table, looking into my eyes, showing me what might have been. Then the flicker ended and we were back in the silent cantina on our Steadfast, Gabby crying, her cheeks once again sunken, her body tired and full of that familiar weariness. 

“I’m sorry, Aidan. But the Great Anomaly swallowed them all. The path we’re on now is the only one I’ve found where the story continues a bit further, and I’m still searching for a way forward, to keep it going.” 

And with that, she got up and left me, returning to her post, walking against the incoming stream of men and women, people just ending their shifts in this timeline. They had a few children among them, coming for an hour of food and fellowship, while Gabby was going to take up her lonely burden once more of trying to heal the world. I sensed somehow, that at the next port-of-call Gabby would change crews, looking for a way to head back toward the center of the maelstrom. Watching her move away, into the distance, I felt a fading echo of warmth where the child had held me in that other life. With that feeling came the knowledge that I still had within me the capacity for love. 

And in this family of timelines, for that gift, I knew I would follow Gabby the navigator wherever she might go. 

Image: A black prosthetic hand, iStock (by Getty Images) iStock-1278639909.jpg. Used with permission.

Copyright © Eugene R. Tracy. All rights reserved. If you enjoyed this piece, please share it, while respecting the Terms of Use.

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