The Stephanie Glitch, part 5
In which LP tries to 3D print a crown with her mind.
I’ve been working quietly on some things for a Christmas release, so you can expect more stuff soon. There’s a lot of stuff. I can’t mention it all in case I miss the deadline, but at the bottom of this post you can comment what you would want for your Weird Worlds of Phillip Carter Christmas gift.
You can be weird, it’s okay.
The Stephanie Glitch - part 5
“My name is Long Play, like the records,” she said. Toumai’s eyestalk whirred over to her, extending to reach down and face her. All the while LP knew that he would be keeping track of the cruisers following them, his machine mind never truly in one moment, never paying total attention. In that way Long Play felt remarkably similar to him. Underneath all the skin and metal and beliefs and programs, there was something more honest. Toumai was motivated not by his programming, but by an insatiable curiosity as inevitable and emergent as life itself. It was beyond human and beyond machine, something other, something that guided them both. He didn’t know it, not yet, but he was alive too.
“Why?” Toumai asked, shaking LP from her thoughts.
“What do you mean why?”
“Why are you called Long Play?”
“Because that’s the name I liked. That’s reason enough.”
“Was it your birth name?”
“That’s not relevant. It’s my name now.”
“Understood,” Toumai said, returning to idle silence. LP noticed in Toumai’s huge eye a hint of purple underneath the black lens, perhaps circuitry reflecting back at her. They sat for a while and talked of LP’s journey, the functions of her space suit, and how it felt to teleport from place to place. Eventually the conversation turned back to Toumai.
“What was it like, the atmosphere, the feeling, when the researchers found out about Stephanie’s universe?” LP asked.
“It was electric, as humans would describe. They were noticeably more animated for several weeks. But they were also anxious about the implications.”
“And how did the Virtualists find out?”
“I imagine they intercepted our communications with our laboratories back on Earth,” Toumai explained. As he was talking, he was monitoring the feed of the Virtualist cruisers in the asteroid field behind them. LP could practically hear his thoughts whizzing through the hull of the ship.
“And now they know the answer,” LP said, “And they don’t like it.”
“And do they know about Stephanie?”
“If they have intercepted our communication with Earth, yes.”
“They will have,” LP’s voice grew dark and cold. “That’s settled then, they’re following us to kill her. We’re at war.”
“How do you know?” Toumai asked. He followed LP around the room.
“Once they get hold of her, use her… talents to see their way out of this universe, do you think they’ll keep her around?”
Toumai shook his head in two broad sweeps. At any other time, the cartoonish gesture would have been humorous.
“Precisely,” LP continued. “So, you must have had a plan before I arrived. What was it? What were you going to do when the Virtualists turned up?” She got back to her feet, using Toumai’s eyestalk to pull herself up. She patted him on the head before moving sluggishly to a chair and sitting down, sighing as she reclined. Toumai creaked and moved around on his rails, gliding effortlessly toward the middle of the room and looking down at LP. Briefly he turned to the skeleton in the tube, looked it over, and turned his attention again to LP.
“Very few scientific projects are equipped for interstellar battles,” Toumai said. LP remembered his three little arms, that were now tucked away in the space below his eye.
“The experiment would be conducted in deep space. The creators knew the impact of their work and wrote a cover story. Officially, the Artifice is testing a new propulsion system.”
“And that lie worked?” LP asked. She unclipped the heavy boots from her spacesuit and sighed in relief, stretching her legs.
“It was the truth,” Toumai said simply. “It is why we are near a black hole.”
“I see, so try out a new propulsion system, create universes as a hobby,” LP said.
“Discover,” Toumai clarified. LP shook her head and smiled.
“It gets a bit fuzzy, doesn’t it? A bit complicated.”
She paused, curling her toes against the stone-cold floor. The coldness made the interior of this spaceship feel more real, more physical. Bit by bit, data packet by data packet, Long Play was getting used to this reality. But something wasn’t right. Something was still off. Was the gravity too high? The air too dense? No, something different, more subtle.
“Wait a second. A new propulsion system?”
“Yes,” Toumai replied.
“What is it?”
“A spacetime bubble.”
“A warp bubble?”
“That is one name for it.”
“And you didn’t think to use this earlier, you know, to fly us away from the Virtualists?”
“Operating the spacetime bubble requires locking onto pre-existing pathways.”
LP scrunched up her face for a moment and asked, “Pathways?”
“Scars in spacetime,” Toumai said. His tone was too conversational, not at all helpful. LP briefly wondered if the robot was being vague on purpose, then it clicked. Her eyes widened.
“Intersects.” She scratched the side of her head and waited patiently for confirmation. When none came, she was disappointed.
“I am surprised you didn’t discover this yourself when you scanned me,” Toumai said. LP’s disappointment turned into impatience.
“I didn’t put much focus on the ins and outs of the ship. I focused on Stephanie, not the Artifice as a whole, but where she was located. This room.”
“She isn’t located in this room.”
“Oh, so now you’re all spiritual? A part of her is. The part that sees you.” LP unlocked the chest of her spacesuit now. It took her another half a minute to fully remove the torso and set it down. Her undersuit was light grey, supported by a matrix of silverish lines and meshes. She twisted and cracked her spine once more.
“New spine, not sure why it needed cracking. Anyway. This black hole,” she began, “How does it make your warp bubble work?”
“The black hole itself does not do anything directly. The pathways congregate near black holes and contain small regions of negative energy. The prevailing theory is that the high gravity of black holes condenses the pathways enough that they become physical objects near the black holes.”
“They’re invisible until you get up close,” LP added.
“That is correct.” Toumai tilted his head in curiosity. “Do you have these in your universe?”
LP smiled. “I did. These ‘pathways’ Toumai. Where I am from, they are called Intersects.” She moved to unclip the upper legs of her spacesuit and shook her head, deciding against it. She liked the weight, the feeling of being anchored to the ship, of being solid. Even after all these hours this new body felt alien, nebulous. She was surprised she could concentrate at all.
She continued, “Anyway. Our prevailing theory was that the intersects were remnants from the early universe. They formed in the same way cracks form in rapidly cooling lava. The story goes that the universe, spacetime, once behaved like a liquid, and it cooled so quickly that it cracked. We had just begun discovering them. Some people thought they were relics from an alien civilisation, but I never saw a reason to think that when a simpler explanation worked just fine.”
Toumai considered the words carefully, committed them to memory, sent them through the dreamscreen network to the sleeping Artifice crew, then began again. He straightened out his body and began moving around the room, as if he was pacing on the ceiling.
“The Artifice has flown some distance since emerging from the last pathway. Even if it could get back, we would only succeed in moving the fight to another location.”
“So, what we need is another intersect nearby that the Virtualists haven’t mapped. Have you scanned the area?”
“Not yet. It was not a priority until you informed me of the Virtualists following us.”
“How long will it take?”
“Depending on the scale of the scan-sphere. A few days or weeks.”
“To send out probes and look for intersects?!”
“Fine. I’ll do the first scan for you, point you in the right direction,” LP said. Toumai whirred around to her and tilted his bulbous head.
“Stephanie isn’t the only weirdo on board. That said, she’d do a better job here than I ever would. Her farsight is better than mine, but she can’t manifest a damn thing, whilst I can.”
“Manifest?” Toumai asked. Long Play swung one leg up onto the table holding her helmet and gloves and started stretching.
“I’ll show you in a minute. Changed my mind about the trousers.” She looked over at the glass cylinder containing Stephanie’s future skeleton and muttered something to herself. She unclipped something on her leg, brought her leg back down and raised the other, stretching and unclipping again. After a few more seconds she was finally free from the rest of her spacesuit. She stood up and began moving idly around the room, pushing the chair away and frowning.
“I miss my comfy chair,” she said, focusing on the skeleton in the cylinder. “Do you have any comfier chairs?”
“Why?” Toumai asked.
“Easier to navigate in. Get to think about intersects rather than how uncomfortable I am.”
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“The crew quarters have nicer chairs,” Toumai gave in. LP got closer to the cylinder.
“Do you think she can see us now?”
“She has no eyes,” Toumai replied. LP held back her laughter.
“She does have eyes. Somewhere. And she saw you, didn’t she?”
“She sent a signal whilst she was sleeping. Images of this ship, as seen from the inside.”
“That is correct.”
“I mean, really remote. Across the dark and murky boundary between universes… Through time and space and what lies between. Where the creatures wait. And that’s how you found her,” LP said.
“Creatures?” Toumai asked.
“So, she sent an image, and you traced its origin point to here.”
“That is correct.”
Long Play smiled and walked back to Stephanie’s cylinder, reaching out and touching it again.
“So technically, Stephanie found you.”
“Her message arrived as we exited a pathway,” the machine clarified.
“A distress signal,” LP said to Toumai as she looked up at Stephanie’s suspended skull.
“What would distress Stephanie?” Toumai asked. LP glanced back at the machine for a moment, raising a dark eyebrow at him. She felt an almost imperceptible intuition that through Toumai, the entire sleeping crew of the Artifice was watching her.
“Hello captain,” she said. Toumai’s bulbous head twitched. LP knew this was a response from the sleeping captain of the ship.
“Must be nice to work from bed. But I guess we are all sleeping. I’m unconscious right now, in a higher world, a few above this one. I’m in a comfier chair, in nicer clothes. But you’re no less real than me, don’t worry about that. It gets weird up there, captain. Maybe if you wake up, we can talk about it.”
“The crew remain in stasis for now, just in case,” Toumai announced coldly. LP nodded sadly, acknowledging that she was still an intruder, still a potential threat. She turned back to the cylinder, to Stephanie, and smiled.
“Can you see me?” LP asked the skeleton. She closed her eyes and listened for something.
“Is there a signal?” she asked.
“She must be busy.” Long Play stared impatiently at the unfinished human for several minutes, willing it to grow flesh and talk. After a while she turned back around and got back to the chair. She moved it so she could have her feet up on one table and lean back against another. She reactivated the hologram, watching as more Virtualist cruisers dipped and spun around the asteroids. She sniffed the cold, clinical air in the room, picking up a faint scent of rubber and metal. Finally, she scratched an itch through her undersuit shoulder and cracked her neck yet again.
“I don’t like this spine,” she said.
There was no reply. No idle chit-chat.
“The Virtualists will catch up soon. How exactly did you plan to do this extraction?” she asked Toumai.
“I believe the lead scientist will explain it best. He was still working on it.” The machine came back to her end of the room and waited. LP smiled.
“I can speak to him on dreamscreen later. But I need to go in, now,” she said.
“You cannot extract her when there is no body for her to occupy here.”
“I know. I won’t. But I need to send her a message.”
Behind Toumai’s bulbous head, a new hologram depicted several Virtualist cruisers finally making their way through the debris.
“It has not been attempted.”
“You’re lying. The gateway is in your head. Tomek tried to enter her world using a simulation port, using a modified dreamscreen, but it didn’t work because he’s not me. Where are the ports?”
“You have familiarised yourself with the researcher’s names?” the machine asked.
“It’s not hard.”
“I did not detect your intrusion,” Toumai said.
“It’s on the logs in this room.” Long Play explained. She closed her eyes and focused, trying to find her way around the Artifice in her mind. Toumai crept closer to her.
“I cannot permit you to enter her universe,” the machine said. Suddenly LP grabbed his head with both hands, staring into his lens.
“You don’t have a choice. Either you plug me in, or I do it myself.”
The machine pulled away.
“Stephanie’s universe has been observed, but no information has passed down to it. No pathways have been opened. It is not safe.”
LP laughed this off. “And yet you can watch over her, and she can see the inside of this ship. You’ve already established the connection. You just don’t know how to use it.”
Toumai was silent. LP readjusted herself in the chair and closed her eyes again.
“I am the connection.”
Toumai waited for his crew’s silent instruction. None arrived. In its absence he formulated a plan, but LP could hear it.
“Stop thinking of headbutting me. I’m manifesting.”
Somewhere in the dreamscreen network the sleeping crew of the Artifice gave their silent approval. Toumai reluctantly backed away and let Long Play perform. The strange woman adjusted her position on the chair and twitched as a flickering thing appeared around her skull. Toumai’s bulbous head tilted curiously, as Long Play clenched her fists and concentrated hard on keeping the ghostly crown stable. It became clearer with each passing second, silvery and ethereal. But something distracted LP, and the weird thing vanished before Toumai could scan it.
“Shit!” LP sat up straight and nearly fell off the chair. She tried to clear her head.
“Did you try to read my mind just then?”
Toumai backed away a little further, sheepishly. That answered her question.
“Keep out when I’m working,” LP said. “This isn’t easy.”
“I apologise. The crew wanted to know what you were doing.”
“No observers!” Long play said angrily. She closed her eyes again and concentrated. The object returned in more detail. It looked like a heavy silver crown. She winced in pain as she held the image of the object. Wires sputtered into existence, sprouting from it half complete. Circuitry appeared in the translucent plan of the object. Finally, the main body of the object remained solid, its wires crawling and twisting toward two ghostly, flickering bands around LP’s wrists. These too became tangible, and moments later the whole assembly was complete. But LP was not done. She concentrated harder, putting power into the cold metal. Red and blue lights lit up in the helmet, as screws and bolts aligned themselves and numerous probes dug into her scalp and wrists. Lastly Long Play smiled, turned her right hand around, opened her palm as if to hold something.
“One more thing,” she said. Something spherical flickered in the palm of her hand but vanished. LP sighed and gave up.
I think that’s a good place to end this part. I hope you enjoyed it. It’s a fresh rewrite of a part of the novel that I had left alone for some years. I believe setting up Stephanie and LP as psychics earlier on is more interesting.
What do you want for your Weird Worlds of Phillip Carter Christmas gift?
Note: Whilst this is complete for the sake of reading, there are more recent drafts on my pc which have less filler words but also have my own editing notes in the manuscript itself, so this was the best one to post. I'm going to continue to refine this book, and this is the one I intend to query for tradpub next year. If that doesn't work out, I'll crowdfund it!