300 Word Writing Challenge #42 -- VICTORY TO CAT'S CRADLE!

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Luiglin

by day Stuart Orford by night Dark Lord's scribe
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First Contact at Summer Camp

Browm ran diagnostics on the optical system for the umpteenth time, yet the view remained glitched after the rough splash down. He set the suit to reboot, taking the time to review his next step.

The planet looked promising for ascension to the Galactic Concilium; advanced society, interlinked communications network and orbital capabilities. Yes, they had weapons of annihilation, in Browm’s mind, not a hindrance. The techs had promised him the suit would blend in and that the linguistic algorithms covered key languages. First though, to introduce himself to the inhabitants he’d identified on the descent.

The suit buzzed back to life but the optics remained frazzled. He’d have to work with it.

Reaching dry land, he picked his way between the tall vegetation to the gathering.

The sudden appearance of two inhabitants took him unawares. They stood entwined, leaning against a vegetation, faces pressed together. Browm held back an expletive, they were smooth skinned, not scaled like his suit. Someone had messed up.

He extended a limb, suit digits spread in the universal sign of salutation and spoke, “Greetings, I come in peace.”

A nightmarish rasping growl came from the suit speakers.

The two inhabitants separated, the one letting loose a high pitched yell, and even through the optical issue he recognised the fright.

He reached out, attempting to show his peaceful intentions but caught the sharp protuberances of the suit digits on the neck of the other inhabitant. The head came off the body, spurting internal fluids everywhere.

Browm grabbed hold of the yelling inhabitant, shouting in their face, “I’m sure we can heal that.”

Suit servos whirred, exerting more pressure than requested and the body exploded.

He flicked bits of inhabitant off his suit and growled in annoyance.

“Greetings, I come in peace,” said the suit speakers.
 

Dan Jones

Der Vater absurder Geschichten
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Hebridean Overture

The man sits on the Monach beach, welcoming the bracing Mendelssohn worming its way into his ear. His eyes are half-closed by the well-fed Sun settling itself upon the Atlantic horizon, an ochre gourmand pining for bed.

The man’s skiff bobs puppyishly on the surf, awaiting play, but he’s in no rush. He considers it ironic that an uninhabited island like this has more buildings than trees, yet is colonized by seabirds. Now the chapel vergers are bickering sanderlings, and the lighthouse keepers are sniper-eyed oystercatchers.

The man comes here each Autumn, just as the tourists trickle away from the mainland, Down South to their concrete burgs and commutations. Of course, all of them will be fat and happy on whisky, haggis, and the rugged, confrontational beauty of the ‘Gorms. But he knows they’ll carry home a whiff of disappointment; they never saw her.

Fools!

A lone grey heron knowingly goosesteps towards him, and casts its eye out to sea. With a familiar suddenness austere tranquility descends. The sanderlings postpone their squabbling, and the wind drops to a breath. Ripples, aptly Spielberg-like, appear a quarter mile from the shore, against the wash. Then, magically, a vast, leathery coathook slips out of the water. The eldritch, serpentine Venus is silhouetted by a fractal of rainbows as the dying Sun ogles the cascading surf dripping from her. She uncoils her neck, and finally lets out her ancient, thunderous song.

He stands, his heartrate elevated, his smile tearful, and he hollers and whoops in untrammelled joy. Even his skiff bounces in the surf in delight, before She dips back into the water, and the ripples dissolve.

He stands alone once more, staring at the sea, and finally exhales.

Go on, girl, he whispers. Swim on home.
 

Elckerlyc

"Philosophy will clip an angel's wings."
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Like Father, the Son

“You won’t be alone,” Father had said, moments before he died. But Son, stricken by this sudden departure, hardly heard.
Four doleful days passed before Son stirred himself. He unhinged the recently placed door of the shed and tied his father’s body onto it, as long ago Father himself had done after Mother passed away. Gripping the rope’s end he then dragged the door through the woods until, near sunset, the trees gave way to a sandy beach. There he wrestled the impromptu raft through the surf and gave it a shove.
Shape, sea and sky soon dissolved in the gathering gloom, turning into a long night on an uncomfortable beach.

Early next morning Son woke to cries for help. He rose and saw someone struggling in the surf, clutching at an empty raft. Mindlessly he dashed into the sea, thinking it was Father. But it was a stranger, a young woman, he saved from drowning that day. She came with him to his home, solitary on the island. Love gently followed.
When their son was born he named him Son, like himself, because he knew no other name. They shared joyful years, raising Sonny, working the vegetable garden or shelter in the shadow on sweltering days, playing games. Unexpectedly, distressingly, Mother died. Watched by a dumbstruck Sonny, Father tied her body onto the shed’s door and brought her back to the sea, for that was where she had come from.
Life continued; chores remained, but gayness had left. As Son grew older and stronger, Father tended to the lighter tasks such as, finally, fixing the shed’s door.
On his last day, when a sudden pain mercilessly squeezed his chest, a memory surfaced. Of words he now understood to be true.
“Oh, Son,” he cried, ”you won’t be alone!”
 

mosaix

Shropshire, U.K.
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Lucky Break?

It had once been an island.

It took a little imagination but Hendrix could see a slightly downward sloping bank with the opposite, rising, bank some distance away. Water once flowed here, maybe waist high, before it filled with sediment and wind-blown sand.

The geologist in him had hinted that this would be as good a place as any despite his colleague’s doubts - hence him bending the rules and coming this far from base on his own. Still, he could fall back on the radio in the event of trouble.

Stepping down the slope gave him a strange, excited feeling. In another time ice-cold water would have been lapping over his boots, gradually getting deeper with each step.

It was early morning and he had to get started if he was going to get any meaningful work done. He unpacked his shovel and started digging.

There was nearly half a metre of sediment before he hit bedrock. Clearing a reasonable area was awkward work and took some time. He stood back and selected two or three places that looked promising. The rock was hard and taking samples difficult but he took several that looked promising.

It was as he was packing the samples that one slipped from his gloved hand and fell, splitting naturally along a fault and revealing to him two surfaces that hadn’t seen the light of day for millions of years. Hendrix froze. Fossil or natural feature? Fame or derision? Would this spot become ‘Hendrix's Gully’ or ‘Hendrix’s Folly’?

His hands trembled as he finished packing and then headed back to base. It would be dark soon and getting colder. Mars was inhospitable at the best of times but night was no time to be caught out in the open.
 

M. Robert Gibson

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The Law and Order Alliance of Extraordinary Super-Duper Heroes versus Ora Magnappetitus, Galactoshark

Professor Xylem strode onto the stage and raised his arms. Gradually the room fell silent.

"I've called this meeting of the Alliance because grave news has reached us from our outpost orbiting Neptune. Ora Magnappetitus, the Muncher of Planets, has entered our solar system. Already Pluto has been gnawed and three of its moons nibbled. We need ideas on how to stop his progress before he reaches the inhabited zone."

Arachnoman stood up. "I could cast a super-duper-immense web around Magnappetitus and slingshot him into the sun."

Rhinoboy laughed. "Your puny body couldn't slingshot a pebble into a puddle. No, leave the power work for those of us that have super-duper-strength. I will smash this Magnappetitus into smithereens with one mighty blow."

"And just how are you going to confront Magnappetitus in the cold, airless, emptiness of space?" asked Astrogirl. "You're not, that's how, No. This is a job for me and my sidekick, Nanoman. We can blast him with my astroship's super-duper-lasers."

"Excuse me," pouted Nanoman, "I'm not anyone's sidekick. I thought we agreed we work as a dynamic duo for outer-space missions."

"We did, but it's my astroship and I'm captain, so if anyone travels with me, they're my sidekick."

"What rot!" exclaimed Lord Aqualis, "When we went to the sunken city of Subaqueanus in my super-duper-underwater zeppelin, were you my sidekick?"

"That was different. We weren't on a mission. But if..."

"Hey," shouted Arachnoman, "what about my plan?"

"Oh shut up, silk-bum!" cried the others in unison.

Chaos ensued.

"Smash him!"

"Blast him!"

"Sling him!"

Professor Xylem shook his head and muttered, "This always happens. Bickering, pettiness, name-calling. I really should just disband the Alliance and go back to teaching woodwork."

Meanwhile, Magnappetitus drew ever closer...
 

sule

"What I do is me: for that I came."
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The Magic Mirror

The mirror that hung in the tower's topmost room was gaudy and proud, filled with dark magic.

The sorceress admired her reflection; blood-red lips, creamy skin. Her fingers caressed the mirror's gilded edge, and it gleamed sickly silver. Black tendrils flowed from it, across the stone floor and through the narrow windows: conjuring pestilence, inciting famine, provoking war.

Outside, a spy perched and watched. When the sorceress left, her magic exhausted, he moved within the tower room and approached the mirror. He had come to destroy it, to end its curse. The mirror loomed; his reflection stretched across its shadowed surface: a crouched figure ready to attack. The mirror spat back at him a spark that became flames, then an inferno that consumed spy, tower, sorceress, and mirror.

The mirror, twisted and cracked, lay sunken in the wreckage of tumbled stone. It reflected only darkness barred by thin shafts of light.

The kingdom continued in adversity wrought from its magic. Desperate soldiers, ransacking the ruined tower, found the mirror. They wrapped it in cloth and brought it to their king as he watched his granddaughter play in the castle's last green patch of garden. The king feared the mirror's power but couldn't decide his course; the child had none of his fear. While the king wavered, she pulled rough fabric from the mirror's face.

Her reflection was pinched and pixie-sized; the mirror's warped dimensions softened the garden into an oval that encircled her. Its magic pulsed like a heartbeat, quickening deadened flora to burst with color, then moved beyond: weaving healing among the sick and peace among the troubled, restoring life to the once-cursed land.

The king marveled that such magic should come from sorrow's source; yet what is a mirror but a thing that reflects?
 

Abernovo

Transcontinental intergalactic tea drinker
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Paradise Renewed


Ralchthek finished laying the eggs in the sheltered nest. He was glad to have them out of his pouch. Another few days and they would be hatched.

"Was this one of their homes?" he asked.

His egg provider, Glidzhtris, hissed an affirmative. "That's what the archaeologists say."

"It's beautiful."

Glidzh clicked. "It didn't used to be. No plants, just metal and false stone. That's how they lived."

Ralchthek breathed one last time on the eggs."Why?"

Another click. "Who knows. They died. We live here now."

#​

"Yes, the evidence shows this world has grown cooler." The matriarch stood before them. "Our own records go back more than a thousand years, and show the average temperature has dropped a just over a degree in that time. It is unlikely we'll ever return to the Great Warmth, but the present climate appears to be holding steady."

Ralchthek looked out, across to the nest nook. He'd been there that morning, and one of the eggs had wobbled. They were almost ready. What if it did get cooler? Would they have to move?

The matriarch came over. "They'll be fine."

He looked up, and she rasped her amusement.

"It's your first clutch. It's understandable."

"But -"

"But you worry? That is what it is to be a parent. I provided five clutches. Three of them have produced clutches since." She scratched his forearm scales affectionately with one of her claws. "We inherited this world, but we weren't the first. You know that."

Ralchthek nodded. They'd prospered in the Big Warmth. Other species had died out. He lived in one of the forests which had taken over a habitat created by the Doomed.

He nuzzled the matriarch. His first clutch. If they lived, he'd teach them the Balance.
 

The Judge

Truth. Order. Moderation.
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nearly the New Forest
The Maker of Rings
He’d lost himself in memories as he trudged through the wood, so when the child appeared it was Ilona he saw — her golden hair, blue-grey eyes, pale skin. Then the illusion faded, only her dimpled smile still remaining on the peasant girl’s swarthy face.
“Are you an outlander?” she asked.
“I am.”
“Outlanders are the best storytellers, Granny says. I’m Lauma. Come, tell us all a story.”
She seized his hand. He let himself be taken to her village.
*

He must have known stories once, must have told them to Ilona, but they were long forgotten. Yet a story was expected, and the whole village gathered to hear him.
So he told the tale of Alberic, at whose hands gold and gems were wrought into rings of beauty. But sometimes, for those he thought deserving, he gave plain bands of base metal engraved with mystic sigils. Wearers of these were blessed, he told them secretly, for the rings were magic, and would bring good fortune — long life, perhaps, or happiness or wealth.
But the king learned of these rings and demanded many for himself, so he might have long life and happiness and wealth, and all else that he desired, and to ensure obedience he took as hostage Alberic’s child, a girl of ten. But the only power the rings possessed was the power of suggestion. Fearing the king’s wrath when they brought him nothing, Alberic coated the rings in poison, to kill him covertly.
“And did Alberic rescue his daughter,” asked Lauma, “and did they live together happily ever after?”
No. For she was made to wear a ring by the ever cautious, ever suspicious king.
“Yes,” he said, and watched the dimpled smile appear on Lauma’s face.
And in his heart Alberic wept again for Ilona.
 
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Perpetual Man

Tim James
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The Dangers of Cold Calling

The Reality Lock baffled the empire’s scientists, stumping them, until some smartarse muttered that if it was a lock, perhaps they needed a lock specialist.

He probably meant a locksmith: instead, they got Rodney Knocker, imprisoned for being the best lock breaker in the empire.

Under armed escort he was led toward the Lock, protesting all the way.

“Look, I was set up, I’m not what you think I am. Wouldn’t know a lock from a key, that’s me and I…” his weasel eyes fell on the conundrum itself, “..oh my!”

It was a fractal dissidence, a series of circles rising 12 feet from the dry surface of the world. One circle set inside another revealing an incredible panorama, if not for the fact that each ring was out of sync with the others.

Knocker ran his fingers through thinning hair, “That’s no lock! That’s a frickin’ puzzle!”

But wasn’t that what a lock was? A puzzle?

He reached out, feeling static as the tips of his fingers brushed the view.

Debate would suggest it was the way his brain worked. He understood locks on some instinctive level. The Reality Lock was the ultimate challenge, even though he was unable to put it into words, his mind did what came naturally, reality unlocked.

Each circle rotated, the view becoming whole. With a pop the perfect landscape rushed outwards, imposing itself in verdant perfection, all the flora and fauna that a race might need.

In a word: ‘Paradise.’

“Well, bugger me backwards and call me Felicity!” Knocker exclaimed.

Unfortunately, the criminal was closest to the lock; it was his mind humanity was judged upon.

It was found wanting.

The gateway snapped closed once more.

Knocker was incinerated by Uriel’s fiery blade: man was banished from Eden once more.
 

therapist

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A person’s a person no matter how small


The Callahan Obligation states: “Facing an extinction level threat, any action that secures the continuation of mankind, must be taken”.

So legally speaking, I did nothing wrong.

The threat we faced was a giant alien ship. And humans being human, quickly deemed it hostile, and shot down its probe.

It was from their probe that we discovered the golden equation. It proved an infinite sequence of habitable planets, with determinable locations based on some Fibonacci spiral math.

The plan was to plant a seed of mankind on one of these planets. And my crew was picked to fulfill the Obligation.

We left immediately, heading away from the invader’s planet, towards the next planet down the sequence.

We arrived at a majestic blue dwarf planet. 1/16th Earth’s size. We sent a probe to assess, and then things got weird…

Apart from the size, it was an exact replica of Earth. Same continents, same cities, inhabited by mini-humans. They even had a 20m tall Eiffel Tower. Like I said; weird.

Well, the little guys downed our probe. (Should’ve seen that one coming). And I now had a decision. Being like us, they had the weaponry—and certainly the aggression—to destroy us. But if they really were human, didn’t that make the Callahan Obligation redundant?

But the call was mine.

And I pulled the trigger.

The magno-wave neutralized all mini-humanoids. We secured and settled the planet. Mission complete.

Well, back on Earth, the giant aliens were doing the same. They fired their magno-wave, securing and settling our home planet. Completing their own mission.

Now, its impossible to say how many Callahan Obligations were fulfilled that day. The golden equation suggests an infinite sequence of earth-like planets. I can only hope there was some version of me that didn’t pull that trigger.
 

elle telle

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Through a black market fold

“That rotting shark,” cursed Quara. “He sold me a corrupt sigil.”

She glared at the disc of glass and circuits she held, then looked up to the distorted tunnel of sky collapsing on a distant island. In the epicenter: Quara in her skiff, frozen on the too-still waters of the folding she’d made with her black market sigil. Panic rose in her throat.

Quara breathed in ripples as she’d been trained - four seconds inhaling, four seconds held. But watching the tunnel walls elongate, the island retreating into the distance, fear stayed sour in her mouth.

There was no chance now of reaching the island, of surprising Fi, her sister, at her birthing ceremony. Fi’s voice echoed in Quara’s mind: “I know you can’t afford to charter a folding, and there isn’t time for a standard sail, you’ll be here in my heart...”

Fi was right, she couldn’t afford a proper folding, but everyone knew those prices were piracy, and her crewmates swore by black market sigils, said they were so simple even a swabbie could cast them.

Yet here she was with the walls of her folding coming closer every second. Quara tried to remember every yarn she’d heard spun of corrupt sigils, and the daring sailors who’d escaped an unending fold… Did they rewire the sigil? Drown it? Sail fearlessly through the encroaching sky-walls? Desperately, Quara threw the sigil to the floorboards and shattered the glass under her boot.

A sharp swell emanated from the skiff. As it broke against the tunnel walls, the heavens collapsed to the sea. All went black.

Quara awoke to the gentle rocking of the ocean, the domed sky embracing a horizon of water in all directions. Grinning, Quara stood to rig the sail; she was lost, and she was home.
 

Bren G

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Same Old Story



Staring anxiously out the large glass window, the little island was the last thing Zhara saw before the needle sank into her flesh.

“It’ll be over soon,” Doctor Jones said. His robotic frame lumbered past her before pushing a button on a brightly lit panel. “Transmogrifier initiated.”

Her head jerked against the chair’s headrest as the transmogrifier whirred to life, her legs and arms bucking against their restraints. Worst, was her blood, boiling like molten lava, impelled by a frantic heart that clung to this material life that she so longed to leave.

The little island, green and lush swirled in her vision, it warped and spun like a hellbent merry-go-round before her vision failed.

She awoke some time later. Bewildered, she rose from a gurney, and looked through the window again. The island lay still across the placid waters. So too was her old body, still bound, but now lifeless in the chair.

“Welcome.” It was Jones.

She looked down at her new mechanical body. She was free! Free from hunger, carnal desires, injury or aging. A new utopia would finally arise now that she, the last of the biological humans, had transitioned over.

Elated, she said, “We’ve done it Jones! Such a journey it was to develop the means to transmit our consciousness into these perfect machines. But here we are. Humanity can now exist forever in harmony!”

“Yes… but I must level with you. There was insufficient lithium remaining to fuel your power module for more than a month. We’re looking for alternatives but it’s been painfully slow.”

“Oh?” Zahra remarked in utter surprise. “You too?”

“No… I’ve… about twelve years.”

Zahra’s mind flew into rage. It was then she noticed the laser cutter on the surgeon’s table and waited for the opportunity to use it.
 

Jo Zebedee

Aliens vs Belfast.
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FROM THE DEEPEST DARK

Row, row, row your boat


We thought we’d swim down and under, like Shelley Williams in the Poseidon adventure. We sent Tim first. No olympic swimmer, but confident and strong. He hit two minutes holding his breath. More than enough, we thought. For all I know, it was. I twist from thoughts of his body floating face down, white and boneless, and imagine him welcoming me down, when I finally make it.

Gently down the stream

Nothing for it, we reckoned, but a boat. One with oars. Silent, so that we could … what? Slip under the watchers, I guess. Not that we knew there were watchers - just that it felt like it. Cold, old watchers.

They took Jez that night, down into the water. I tell myself she’s with Tim but it’s no comfort.

I think it might be them watching.

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily.

Todd noticed the world was closing with a rush. The portal was like a dog, he said. If it thinks you’re scared, it will attack. \

He stood and bellowed something primeval. It made the hairs on the back of my neck stand out. He dive-bombed the water. His yell lasted longer than I could make out his thin body.

Life is but a dream.

I can’t tell if I’m awake or asleep. I find I’m hugging myself, cooing. It’s dark. Time is thin. I touch the water, and it’s cool, flowing, benign. I put my face into it, look down, hope to see my friends but it’s not good. It’s dark and there’s no choice, not any more. I slip into the water, and fall


into the portal


grasping hands


Tim asking me what took me so long.


I hope I’m not dreaming: I don’t believe I am.
 

Daysman

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east of the crooked house, south of weddell wynd
Telltails

She did her best thinking in bed…

Rocked by the backwash from nearby wave machines, listening out for culinary sounds from the kitchen, her focus flew through the skylight to find the flat outlines of houseboat mega clusters, kilometres above, adrift as she was on the shimmering waters that wrapped the habitat's interior.

When her father began chopping vegetables, she padded out. He'd been on maintenance duty since sunrise thirty-three, but he always found time for breakfast.

He handed her a platter. "Well?"

She shrugged and chewed and her augmented mind reached out to the stars and settled beside DC-0987, the tumbling core of a long period comet. She tasked the autonomous probe to crawl inside its heart. Yesterday, it spoke of tritium. Today, it dowsed a mesh of fibrous silica woven throughout.

"Telltales," she announced, "fingerprints of an ancient superstructure, like the others."

Her father grinned. "So, that's twelve colony ships?"

"But the Council refutes interstellar origin theories. They'll say it's tritium mining by our ancestors, they'll ignore the antiproton damage entirely… and they'll run rings of doubt around any simulation suggesting we found an ancient pi-meson drive."

Leaving the platter behind, she marched out to sit at the edge of the tethered raft, legs dangling, toes chilled by passing wave crests.

When the sun fell beneath the surf, she followed it into the shallow sea.

Fully submerged, feet skimming the ice-covered transparency below, she stared down into the sun's bloated disk, squinting in its ruddy light, assaulted by retinal flashes from hard radiation.

"Seeing is believing," her mother would say.

In one swift motion, she kicked off and pulled herself from the water, gasping from the cold.

She entered the kitchen, still dripping. "We don't simulate… we build."

Her father asked, "Build what exactly?"

"A starship…"
 
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Ursa major

Bearly Believable
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Imagineering
“It’s a nice picture.” The teacher’s tone suggested there was a ‘but’ on its way.
“Thanks,” I said quickly, “but there’s more to it than meets the eye.”
“What meets my eye is that a lot’s gone into the final image, but very little of it was done by you.”
This was not the time to disagree. “I put a lot of thinking into it, and a lot of preparation before I even started creating it.”
“That may be,” she said, “but the days when you could get by with not much more than a concept are long gone. Don’t you want to graduate?”
“Yes,” I said, looking down at the ground, my shoulders slumped perhaps a tad too much.
“And it doesn’t help that it’s based on a photograph,” she said.
“Based on a photograph…? It isn’t.”
“However much processing you’ve done – and don’t expect brownie points for the extra effort in that department – it’s clearly based on a captured image.”
“That’s not what I meant.” Smiling, I reach into my pocket, I activate the alien device.
The studio disappeared – the whole art school and the world on which it stood disappeared – to be replaced by total darkness.
“What…? Where…?”
“My work isn’t based on a photograph,” I said, ignoring her questions. “My work is what the image captured. We’re headed there now.”
“Headed?”
“I couldn’t make it at school or at home. The physics wouldn’t work.”
The tableau I’d created emerged from the darkness. “The trees are fake. The water and clouds are real enough. What’s clever is how I’ve created intersecting and interacting gravitational fields to make a four-dimensional er… something… thing. Okay, I’m not sure what to call it.”
“I’d call it a Distinction,” she said, “but only if you take us back home. Now.”
 
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