Kathryn’s head was pounding. Well, Jevah’s head was pounding, but since Kathryn was driving right now, it might as well be her head. Don’t think about that too much. You’ll go crazy.
“Jevah? Are you okay? I heard something…”
Kathryn whirled Jevah’s body around. A woman was standing there, pretty, wearing something that looked like silk. Kathryn had never been attracted to women, but felt a surge of attraction upon seeing her. A function of biology, or Jevah attempting to assert himself? Not important. “I’m fine,” the words came out in Jevah’s voice, which was much higher than he had presented it to her earlier. “Stubbed my toe.”
“Okay…” the woman – suddenly a name, Asera, flashed into Kathryn’s mind. “I just – what is that!?” The concern was gone, anger flaring up. Kathryn followed her finger to a cable, the one she had pulled off of Jevah’s temples. “What were you doing?”
“Uh.” Jevah’s knowledge was still assimilating, and Kathryn realized she had absolutely no idea what a neural interface could do besides tap into a simulated universe and that Jevah was terrified of Asera finding out he had been doing so. “Calibration.”
Asera crossed her arms, her jaw clenching. “Calibration. Do you think I’m an idiot, Jevah! You were back in the virtual brothels. You know how I feel about that!”
A great shame welled up in Jevah’s mind, but Kathryn officially had run out of patience with this crap. I have a world to save, I don’t have time to care about your marital issues, lady. “Yeah, I know. I just…I can’t do this. I need time to think.”
“Oh, you need time to think!?” Kathryn recognized the tone. It was the same she had taken herself with her ex-husband when she’d found out about the co-ed in his physics lecture. “How about what I think, Jevah!? Does that even matter!?”
“No, it-” Kathryn wanted to get out, but Jevah’s emotions kept welling up – shame, embarrassment, anger – and she couldn’t force Jevah’s lips to be callous enough to send her off in a huff.
“No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t at all. That’s it. I’m taking everything offline – including Core 23, before you get arrested for-”
Panic welled up in Kathryn, and it wasn’t just hers. Jevah was panicking at the thought as well. Kathryn moved, shoving Asera firmly.
The world went woozy as soon as she did. Jevah trying to get control of his own mind. Distantly she was aware of Asera running, the silk somehow transforming into actual clothes by some magic of technology as she escaped the house where, as far as she could tell, her husband had gone insane.
Kathryn wrestled back control of the mind. The world stabilized.
Okay, she’s going to call the police. Which means…I can’t be here when I get back. She looked around the room, which was feeling increasingly familiar. Spotted Core 23. It was about a foot long and shaped like a football.
Pack. There it was. A pack under the desk for transporting cores. She pulled it out and delicately removed Core 23 from its moorings.
For a moment, what she was doing struck her. She was, quite literally, holding the entirety of creation in her hands. Every atom, every star, every planet, every plant and animal and person – everything. It should be heavier. It was a ridiculous thing to be worried about now, but there it was.
With greater care than even Jevah had ever shown, she placed the Core in the pack. It would keep power to it for about twelve hours, Jevah knew so Kathryn knew. After that, the Core’s internally battery gave them another hour. After that…everyone died.
But a plan was forming in Jevah’s mind, and Kathryn was furiously stealing it. If it worked…if it worked, they’d have power to it in ten hours. And in thirty, they’d have started the process that would save Earth.
So, with the entire world on her back, Kathryn headed out to the nearest spaceport.
It was hard not to stare as Kathryn stepped out the front door. The most prominent feature was the sky – nearly a quarter of the sky was filled by a gas giant, banded with greens and blues. The reflected light from the giant, she realized from Jevah’s stolen knowledge thoughts that this was what passed for night here, although it was bright.
The street was mostly empty, and the few vehicles – vaguely like cars – that raced along it had no drivers. Just passengers laying back, taking naps, or otherwise relaxing. Signs glowed and moved and looked, speaking to people as they walked by. In the distance, buildings floated above the ground on passways of what looked like solid lights.
It was all so incredibly alien, but also familiar, Jevah’s memories creating a dissonant Deja vu that Kathryn had to ignore. Clock was ticking.
She headed off towards the spaceport, following a route that Jevah knew well. Muscle memory carried her, and she tried her best to let her mind wander to make that as strong as possible.
It was drawn to the contents of that pack. The entire planet Earth, in simulation. Because there had never been an Earth, never been an America, or a Milky Way. There had never been a Kathryn.
Except there was now.
A low, droning buzz was approaching. A car pulled up, emblazoned with a logo like a shield. Kathryn turned and ducked into an alley, pressing herself against the wall.
Her breathing was heavy. But they couldn’t see her, surely she doesn’t know about the thermals imagers wait, what? Wooziness again. She almost fell to Jevah’s knees, and whatever he’d had for dinner spilled out of his/her/their mouth and splattered across the pavement. You can hear me? No time to think, had to act. She could hear footsteps approaching, and took off running.
Hello? Can you hear me? Am I still here?