Chapter 2: The Conduit

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Chapter 2: The Conduit

Post by Raiden on Sat Aug 08, 2015 11:57 am

THE LAST GENERATION
Chapter 2: The Conduit

“You can not escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”
Abraham Lincoln

World PRIME, 18 Hours Left

*Beep* *Beep* *Beep*

Inna Wilson sighed deeply before making a rather clumsy attempt to shut off the alarm clock on the nightstand next to her. The first try was relatively unsuccessful, as all it accomplished was knocking the clock onto the floor, conveniently out of the young woman’s reach. Inna cursed under her breath, feeling rather nostalgic about the good old days when she could just ignore the alarm and spend the whole day in bed eating chocolate and watching Netflix just ‘cause that’s what she felt like doing. Unfortunately, adult life brought certain responsibilities with it that she couldn’t ignore - responsibilities towards herself, her job and her daughter. So as much as she didn’t want to, the young woman had to push herself up from the bed, which seemed like a gargantuan task, before reaching down and taking the clock. She pressed the tiny button on the top, turning the alarm off and placing the clock back in its place - a stark reminder that she’d have to do the same thing tomorrow morning. With another sigh, the woman stood up, ready to begin her morning routine.

After taking a quick shower, Inna put on a T-shirt and a pair of pants and began preparing the breakfast, which that morning consisted of pancakes with maple syrup. The latter was actually rather hard to find in Japan, so she relied on semi-regular shipments from home in order to satisfy her acquired Canadian taste for the stuff. As a matter of fact, the young woman had just received a package yesterday, so she thought she’d surprise her daughter with a bit of a shake-up from the standard “toast and eggs” they usually had. Inna wasn’t exactly the greatest cook in the world - really, she didn’t have the time nor the patience to learn. Her pancakes in particular ended up being all liquid-y inside, too thick and/or too burned for consumption. This time, though, they actually turned out pretty well, with a nice, brown texture and a sweet, solid core. After trying one, Inna quickly convinced herself that, by some happy accident, those were actually the greatest pancakes she’d ever made in her entire life. Maybe today wasn’t going to be so bad after all.

Once the breakfast was all prepared, it was finally time to wake up the little girl sleeping in the other room. Ellie was like every parent’s dream come true - despite only being seven years old, she was mature, responsible and highly intelligent. So intelligent, in fact, that she already spoke six languages fluently (with a seventh on the way, if her request for a Chinese Mandarin dictionary was any indication), studied alongside people twice her age and was well on her way to joining Harvard before she hit puberty. Really, the only reason why the little girl wasn’t a Mensa member already was because she consistently refused to take an IQ test, for whatever reason. But that wasn’t even what made Inna proudest. It would’ve been so easy for someone as smart as Ellie to develop a sense of superiority, to become arrogant and mean-spirited. But in spite of her intellect, the little girl remained just as friendly, open-minded and fun-loving as she’d always been. Sure, perhaps things were going to change when she became a teenager, but at the moment, Inna was absolutely positive that she had the greatest little girl in the world.

Except in the mornings.

“Ellie, sweetie”, Inna spoke to her softly, sitting up on the edge of her daughter’s bed, her hand gently shaking the girl’s shoulder. No response. “Ellie, come on. Time to wake up”, she repeated, this time in Bulgarian instead of English. Inna was of Bulgarian descent, and she had taught the language to her daughter when she was very little. Ever since then, the two had been using it as their own ‘secret’ language of sorts, mostly whenever they were alone or wanted to talk in private.
The child groaned loudly, pulling the blanket above her head.
“I know, sweetheart, I don’t like it either, but you’ve got to get ready for school”
“I dun’ wanna”, the girl spoke sleepily.
“Well, too bad. Life’s not fair”, Inna shrugged, causing Ellie to grumble something incomprehensible, but quite obviously not very pleasant. She absolutely hated it when her mother got all philosophical at 7 AM.
“Just five more minutes…”, the little girl spoke, her voice muffled by the blanket over her head. Inna smiled. They were already at the ‘bargaining’ stage, which meant they were moving a bit faster than expected.
“The pancakes will get cold”, she reminded her daughter, eliciting another groan. “They turned out well this time, I promise!”
“I dun’ care. Just leave me alone…”
Inna glanced at her wristwatch. It was almost 7, which meant that she really didn’t have any time left to negotiate with her daughter if she wanted to make it to work in time. As much as she didn’t like it, she had to put her foot down.
“Elena Andrea Wilson!”, she raised her voice slightly, just enough to make her point without screaming. “Get out of bed right this moment!”

Finally awake enough to accept the fact that her mother wasn’t going to relent, the little girl pulled the blanket away and clumsily sat up on the bed, her eyes slowly opening and her milky-white pupils focusing on the direction her mother’s voice came from. Ellie had been born completely blind, the result of a failed experiment performed on her while she was still in the womb. The experiment, which involved radiation, was supposed to change the color of her eyes and prove the rather revolutionary theory that recessive genetic traits could be ‘switched on’ into dominant ones in utero. Instead, the radiation damaged the child’s eyes beyond repair, forcing her to live her entire life in darkness, unable to see even vague shapes or light. Still, Ellie never felt sorry for herself, nor did she regret losing her eyes. Due to her intelligence and her unmatched sense of spatial awareness, the little girl was actually able to compensate for her lack of sight quite nicely, quickly learning to do everything that a seeing child her age could do, and more.

After getting out of bed, Ellie slowly walked up to the wardrobe, where her freshly ironed dress was hanging on the handle.
“Don’t get dressed yet. You’ll get maple syrup all over yourself. Again”, Inna chuckled.
“I will not! Last time was an accident!”, the little girl retorted, pulling her hand away from the dress. Even though she wouldn’t like to admit it, her mom did have a point. Working with syrup when you were blind was a bit more difficult than one might expect, and while the little girl generally tried to be careful, accidents did happen.
“In any case”, Inna continued, “You’re gonna be showering after breakfast anyway”
“Without my hair, right?”, Ellie asked as she swiftly made her way towards the kitchen. By that point, she and her mom had been living in Japan for about a year, so she was quite intimately familiar with the layout of their home.
“With your hair. It’s been, like, a week since you washed it”, her mother stated. The girl grumbled.
“Mom, I don’t have time to wash my hair! I’m gonna be late for school, and Kida-san hates me enough at me as it is!”

Inna chuckled as she sat down behind the table, quickly followed by her daughter. The woman grabbed a fork and quickly placed a couple of pancakes in Ellie’s plate before grabbing a few for herself.
“He doesn’t hate you”, she stated, grabbing the bottle of maple syrup and placing a bit on her pancakes.
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure he does!”, Ellie objected, not even bothering with utensils. Instead, she simply grabbed the top pancake and reached out for the syrup, which her mother promptly placed in front of her.
“Why would he hate you?”, Inna asked.
“I dunno. ‘Cause I’m five years younger than the rest of his students?”
“You’ve been smarting off at him, haven’t you?”
“It’s not my fault he’s teaching the wrong information!”, Ellie sighed before shoving a syrup-covered pancakes into her mouth. Inna suppressed a chuckle, knowing that the scolding she had planned for her daughter wasn’t going to be very effective if she laughed.
“What happened?”

“He was…”, Ellie spoke, talking in between munches, “Talking about gravity…”
“And let me guess - he told everyone about Newton and the apple, and you told him that never happened?”
“Well, it didn’t!”, she objected, squirting some syrup on the second pancake. “It was a story told by John Conduitt 60 years after it supposedly happened! Conduitt wasn’t even born then, so how does he know?”
“Perhaps Newton told him?”, Inna suggested.
“Or perhaps schoolteachers love to oversimplify complex scientific discoveries, presenting years of hard work and research as a single ‘Eureka’ moment. Which is offensive to real scientists. It’s like saying ‘If you don’t come up with great ideas immediately you’re just not good enough’”
“I’m guessing he didn’t let you get away with it?”
“Nope. Gave a speech in front of the whole class about how it’s great to do our own research, but that we should also be open to what other people have to say… Or something like that. In other words, he pretty much said ‘Shut up, kid, I’m the teacher here’. It was so embarrassing!”, Ellie shared as she grabbed another pancake from the plate in the center of the table.

“I don’t really see it that way”, Inna intervened. “I think he really meant what he said. Like, even though the story about the apple isn’t true, it’s actually a very fun and easy way to understand the concept of gravity. Everybody can remember an apple falling on Isaac Newton’s head, so everyone can understand that. In a way, he’s more right than you were”
“You’re taking his side? Seriously, mom?”, Ellie asked, sounding a bit hurt.
“I’m not taking sides”, Inna chuckled, gently brushing her daughter’s hair behind her right ear. “You’re a really, really smart girl, Ellie, but that doesn’t mean you’re omnipotent. There are still things you can learn, and sometimes other people can give you a new point of view… Even if they’re wrong”
The little girl’s lips curved into a faint smile.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right”
“I’m always right”, she laughed. “Now come on, go take a shower. I’ll drive you to school”

***

After driving her daughter to Yamaku, Inna headed straight for her workplace - a relatively big cosplay cafe called the Kitsune Kissa, or Fox Cafe. As the name would suggest, the waitresses working there wore rather revealing fox costumes, complete with ears and a tail. While this may sound perverse to some, it was really just the Japanese equivalent of American venues such as Hooters, except perhaps with a little bit more style. Ai, the rich lady owning the place, had set some pretty hard rules about it to prevent it from becoming a place full of perverts and sexual harassment. Stuff like no touching the waitresses, no flirting, no expecting them to act as anime characters (a surprisingly specific rule, but one that was necessary), no wolf whistles, no phone numbers being passed over or under the table (this was the most broken rule, usually by the waitresses) and others which were meant to ensure that the waitresses would feel safe and the clients would have a fun time. As the general manager of the cafe, Inna’s job was to make sure everything ran smoothly, and that all of the rules in place were being kept.

It was rather unusual for a Canadian citizen to hold such a demanding and high-ranking position within a Japanese business. Really, the only reason Inna was even hired in the first place was because Ai was good friends with Inna’s adoptive father, Wade Wilson Sr. When the Canadian market crashed and the business Inna was working for went under about two years ago, the young woman scrambled to find a new job in order to support herself and her daughter, but she couldn’t find anything at all. While manual labor was always wanted, as usual, a job for someone with a master’s degree in business management just wasn’t available. Inna was ready to just give up and accept a low-paying entry-level position when she got a call from Ai offering her the job of general manager for her cafe, complete with accommodation. Both Inna and Ellie were already fluent in Japanese, thanks to Wade Sr.’s otaku ex-wife (who took care of both of them when they were young), and considering that Inna’s little brother Wade Jr. was also studying in the same town, the decision to move was a bit of a no-brainer. Less than a month later, Inna and her daughter had Japanese visas.

While the job may have been offered mostly out of pity, Inna proved quickly that Ai had made the right call. She settled into her role as manager within a week of her arrival, quickly enforcing the aforementioned set of rules with an iron grip. Regardless of that, she actually managed to get pretty close with the staff, most of which were girls just out of high school who began looking up to the older woman, both personally and professionally. Her guidance managed to bring the whole team together like a family, making them so close that a few months ago one of the waitresses burst into tears when she had to quit the job for personal reasons. Naturally, all of that had a great effect on the profits - for only one year, the Kitsune Kissa grew by 69% (which some of the girls found hilarious, all things considered), allowing Ai to begin construction of a new cafe and promising Inna a promotion to regional manager upon its completion.

But that was still way too far into the future to be of any concern to the young woman. For the moment, she had to focus on making sure the day to day business ran optimally, as usual. To make sure of this, she had a daily routine she always stuck to. She arrived at around 8 AM, pretty close to the opening time. Since most businesses began work at 9 AM, a lot of customers liked to pop in earlier for a morning coffee. As such, the opening hour generally tended to be the busiest of all and required masterful coordination to pull off. After performing a quick inspection of the cups, dishes, food for the day and the girls’ uniforms to make sure it was all in pristine condition, Inna would then create a plan on the go that ensured maximum productivity, changing the plan on the go depending on variables such as accidents or an abnormally large amount of customers.

Right after the morning rush hour customer interest plateaued for a few hours, with most of their clients during that time being kids who had decided that the mysteries of the tiny village of Yamaku were more interesting than learning about science.. Inna generally used this time to get the lunch menu ready. While they weren’t a restaurant, the Kitsune Kissa offered a good variety of sandwiches, bacon and eggs and other similar “light” dishes during lunch hours, between 12 and 2. While this practice was commonplace for diners in the US and Canada, Japanese cafes almost never did that, earning the Kissa even more customers than before. After lunch, interest would once again cease, with most of the customers between then and closing time being either students who had just left school or couples on dates (though why any guy would ever want to bring his date to a cosplay cafe was completely beyond her). All in all, breakfast and lunch were the hard parts - after that the staff could just ride the waves until 7, when the cafe closed.

Around 4 PM, the rush from the lunch hour had already dissipated. There were only about three or four people in the entire cafe, so half of the waitresses were just hanging out in the staff room, occasionally taking a peek out the door to see if they had a new client. Inna in particular was busy doing some math about last month’s net profits, which Ai had asked to be double-checked just in case. Armed with a calculator and a thick notebook (most of which was already filled out), the young woman  sat at one of the two tables in the staff room, tirelessly slaving away at the numbers. The other girls knew better than to bother her - although Inna was perfectly happy to chat when she didn’t have work to do, she didn’t like being distracted when she was focused on something. Unfortunately, it seemed that one of the waitresses hadn’t received the memo. Just as she was wrapping up the calculations, the manager felt a hand on her shoulder.

“Um… Please excuse me…”, the young girl muttered quietly, obviously not very comfortable with disturbing her boss.
“What is it, Megumi?”, Inna looked at her.
“There’s, um…”, she swallowed. “There’s, like… A man. Some kind of cosplayer… I think. He, um… He just came in and, well, he’s…”
“A cosplayer?”, Inna asked. The blue-haired waitress nodded.
“He, uh… He seems kind of upset. A lot. I’m kinda… scared. A little bit”, she admitted.
Inna sighed quietly. While it wasn’t exactly common, sometimes men who were going through a divorce or a difficult break-up would stop by the Kissa. In the West they’d probably go to a strip club or something, but since those weren’t exactly common in Japan, they’d come to the nearest place that had attractive women in revealing clothing. They’d usually think that they want to hook up or somehow satisfy their sexual frustrations, but really, most of them just wanted a shoulder to cry on. Then again, Inna had never heard of someone like that cosplaying.

“I’m gonna go see what’s up”, she said upon closing the large notebook, leaving it on the table and pushing herself up from her seat.
“I’m so sorry, Inna-san!”, Megumi bowed down. “I didn’t mean to--”
“It’s alright. Really. Thank you for letting me know”, the woman smiled.
After filling up two plastic cups with coffee from the coffee machine in the staff room, the manager walked into the cafe and quickly scanned the tables to find the mysterious cosplayer. As she expected, she spotted him almost immediately. The black-haired guy was dressed like a doctor from “Trauma Center”, wearing some kind of blue, futuristic-looking labcoat that actually seemed pretty elaborate. He was sitting alone at a corner table, his back hunched forward and his face pressed against his hands. Inna could definitely see why Megumi was a bit afraid to approach him - the guy looked like he’d just witnessed a terrorist act that had killed his whole extended family.

Slowly and quietly, the woman walked up to him and sat down on the chair opposite of his. The cosplayer didn’t even seem to notice her until she pushed one of the cups of coffee directly under his nose. He pulled his hands away from his face, revealing that he was actually pretty handsome. He appeared to be in his late 20s, maybe early 30s at the most, with black hair and a playful stubble on his cheeks. As soon as he saw her, his expression turned into one of pure shame, like he was embarrassed about being approached like this.
“Here. You look like you could use this”, she smiled at him.
“Oh, uh…”, he chuckled awkwardly. “I’m sorry, but I don’t speak Japanese. Like, um… Ore… No…”
“That’s okay, I speak English”, Inna chuckled. “You’re a tourist?”
“Yeah, something like that. Uh, thanks”, the man forced a smile, then picked up the cup and slowly took a small sip, then a more serious one. “Wow, this is really, really good! What is it?”
Inna stared at him for a moment.
“Coffee”, she responded.

“Ah, of course. Coffee! Wow! It’s really, really good”, the man grinned, quickly taking another sip of the warm liquid.
“You’ve never had coffee before?”
He shook his head.
“Where I come from we don’t have coffee. We haven’t had any for decades, not since the soil turned infertile”
“Why don’t you just import some?”, Inna asked.
“Guess we never really got around to it”, he shrugged.
“So where exactly do you come from?”
The man averted his eyes.
“That’s… I guess it just doesn’t matter anymore”
“Oooh, you’re a mystery man, huh?”, she teased.
“That’s not what I… You know, what, just, never mind. I’m not really in the mood to talk about myself”
“Is that so…”, the woman sighed.

“What about you? Do you always come bringing coffee to strangers?”, he looked at her.
“Only when one of my waitresses tells me there’s a really sad-looking guy sitting in the corner all alone”, Inna chuckled.
“Your waitresses? You’re the boss?”
She nodded.
“You’re about to kick me out, aren’t you?”
“Would I have given you a drink if I was?”
“Wait… You’re not hitting on me, are you?”, Hawke asked quietly. Inna burst into laughter. “I’m uh… I’m really sorry, I’m just really, really bad at picking up on social cues like that”
“It’s alright. No, I didn’t come here to hit on you. Not that you’re not attractive or… With an interesting sense for fashion, it’s just…”
“Let me guess - you’re taken?”
She chuckled once again.
“No, not at all. It’s just that… I have a little daughter. That seems to be like love life poison”
“Oh, really? How come?”
“Well, you know… Whenever a man learns that the woman he’s dating has a child, they immediately assume that they’re going to have to raise that child if the relationship gets serious. And it takes a very strong man to raise someone else’s child”
“That sounds so weird to me… Where I come from, it’s really not that unusual for other people, male or female, to raise others’ children with them. Women are encouraged to conceive during their teenage years, as statistically babies born when the mother is around 16 tend to be the healthiest, so it’s pretty rare to find a woman in her 20s or 30s who doesn’t have a child she’s raising on her own… A lot of men who don’t want to deal with that, but still want children, would often hire a high schooler to conceive from them and then take the child”
“So your people are performing statutory - and sometimes literal - rape in order to get teenage girls pregnant?”, Inna crossed her arms.
“Well, the age of consent is 13, so the concept of statutory rape doesn’t really exist with us. At least not in that context”

Inna wanted to object, but she knew she wasn’t one to talk. After all, when she was younger she herself had volunteered to be inseminated for money, and was perfectly ready to part with the child if her father hadn’t convinced her not to. And besides, the federal age of consent in Japan was also 13, so as weird as those things sounded to her, they were certainly plausible.
“Just because it’s acceptable in your country doesn’t mean I have to agree with it. I mean, teenagers are supposed to enjoy life, be irresponsible, get into trouble. Not take care of babies! You’re seriously telling me you’re okay with this?”
The man shrugged.
“That’s literally all I’ve ever known”
“Really? That’s your first time leaving your home?”
He nodded. Inna smiled faintly. She couldn’t imagine anyone spending 20-30 years of their life without ever leaving their home country, or being exposed to foreign media.
“Sounds to me like you’re from another planet or something”, she chuckled.
“You’re surprisingly close”, the stranger laughed along.
“Wait, were you part of one of those cults that keep people imprisoned or something?”
“Wait, what?”
“I’m gonna assume that means no”, Inna laughed and took another sip of her quickly cooling coffee.

“Look, it’s just…”, he looked around, obviously anxious. “If I tell you where I really am from, you’d never, ever believe me. I’d be lucky if I get out of here before you call the cops on me”
“Would I have a reason to call the cops on you?”, she asked.
“No, not really, but… You’re gonna think I’m insane”
“You don’t sound insane”, Inna stated quietly. “Maybe a bit eccentric, but…”
The cosplayer turned to his left, examining his surroundings. The Kissa was almost empty by that point, as two of the three other people who were there before him had left, and the only two waitresses around were busy chatting with each other. The coast was clear.
“And what if I told you that I’m from a different world than yours?”
Inna raised an eyebrow.
“Well, yeah, that would sound a bit insane. Like, okay, very insane”
“See? I told you”
“Wait, are you actually saying that you’re from another world?”
He nodded.
“You look suspiciously human for an alien”, Inna remarked.
“Because I’m not an alien. I come from a world parallel to yours. Another Earth, just… different”

The woman crossed her arms. And that cosplayer fellow had seemed so nice and sane thirty seconds ago… Just her luck. She wondered a bit about whether or not she was supposed to chase the obviously delusional man out of the cafe. Ultimately, she decided that the more responsible thing was to call the police and allow them to get him some help.
“Hey, you’ve finished your coffee!”, she exclaimed, reaching over and taking his cup. “Let me go refill that”
The man sighed quietly.
“Alright, then. Thank you”
“I’ll just be a minute”, Inna nodded, taking both of their cups and quickly bringing them to the staff room, at a slightly faster pace than usual. As she pushed the door open with her shoulder, Almost as soon as she entered, the waitresses - who had gathered around one of the tables - turned towards her, anxiously awaiting to hear what had happened, even if none of them dared to actually say it.
“Megumi, call the police”
“Ah! R-right!”, the blue-haired girl jumped up and quickly dashed to the stationary phone on the wall without asking for details. Only after having picked up the phone and dialed 110 did she actually ask what happened.
“The man is delusional. He needs help”, Inna spoke quietly, placing the cups in the coffee machine and placing the button on its front to refill them. Megumi nodded, holding the phone to her ear.
“They’re… N-not picking up. I, um… I think that the line is…”

“Well, keep trying”, the woman spoke, taking the newly refilled cups. “I’ll keep him here until they arrive”
“O-okay…”, the waitress spoke.
“As for the rest of you”, Inna looked at the girls at the table. “Business keeps going as usual, alright? The man isn’t dangerous, he’s just confused. Don’t be afraid of him”
With that said, the manager promptly left the staff room, entering the cafe once again and glancing towards the corner table. Much to her surprise, the cosplayer was nowhere to be found. She quickly scanned the tables to check if he had moved, but unfortunately, the man was missing. Inna’s heart skipped a beat. Had he figured out that she was onto him? Or did his delusions cause him to run off? Whatever the case, he needed to be found immediately. Inna placed the cups on the nearest table and quickly ran out of the now completely empty Kissa. The first thing she saw outside was the people. Lots and lots of people, dozens of them. All of them seemed to be staring at the sky, pointing and something and exclaiming things like “Oh my God”. Curious, Inna decided to look up and check out what the fuss was all about. At first she thought that it was a UFO or something along those lines. The truth was much, much more terrifying.

To the left of the sun was another star, this one appearing much bigger than the native one. While its color was mostly a yellow-ish white, similar to the sun, it occasionally ‘blinked’ into a much darker, red-ish color. Inna guessed that this was probably the star’s real color, but the distance, optical illusions and human eyes’ imperfections masked it underneath the light that it produced. The star wasn’t particularly bright, but the woman did feel that the air was slowly getting warmer.
“What the hell…” she muttered to herself, her mouth gaping and her eyes locked onto the sky.
“Quite a sight, isn’t it?”, Inna heard a voice behind her. “That there is a neutron star. It occurs when a huge star burns its fuel reserve and collapses upon itself. Sure, it’s tiny, insignificant and not particularly bright, but it’s got a gravitational pull that’s bigger than the sun’s. If you’re lucky, within a few hours it would superheat the Earth to the point where it becomes uninhabitable… Before consuming it, of course”
She looked to her side, spotting none other than the cosplayer from before. The young man was staring up at the sky, looking at the star with badly concealed contempt in his eyes.
“If we’re lucky?”, Inna repeated.
“If you’re not, it’ll happen much quicker than that”
“How come the astronomers never saw it coming? I mean, a thing like that… It must have taken years to come to Earth!”
“That’s because it wasn’t there an hour ago. I don’t know how it appeared, or where it came from. But I suspect someone sent it here”
“You don’t seem fazed by this one bit!”
“Why should I be? Only a few hours ago, my own world was swallowed by this thing. I’m the only one who made it”

Inna opened her mouth, ready to call the man out for being delusional, possibly schizophrenic. But she couldn’t. The thing that was happening… It was insane already. A neutron star in the sky?!? Was this really the end of the world? No, this couldn’t be real! Just a few minutes ago her life was completely normal, and now...
“Why didn’t you warn me about this sooner?”, she asked the stranger.
“You wouldn’t have believed me. You were ready to call the police on me for a much smaller revelation”
“How did you--”
“I have an AI in my brain who read your microexpressions. It’s, uh… Kind of a long story”

Inna pressed her palm against her forehead. Her brain kept telling her that this wasn’t really happening, that it was some kind of nightmare that she would wake up from any moment now… And yet the longer she felt the faint light of the star on her skin, the more she was convinced that this was actually happening. After taking a deep breath, the woman turned her back on the world traveller.
“Where are you going?”, he asked loudly.
“To get my daughter”
“There’s no point. Nowhere on this Earth is safe”
“Then I’m going to spend whatever time I have left with her”
“And why don’t you save her instead?”
Inna stopped and turned around.
“What did you say?”
“I said why don’t you--”
“No, I heard you. What are you talking about?”
The man glanced to the side, averting his eyes from Inna and looking at nothing in particular.
“Are you absolutely sure that’s her?”, he asked no one in particular. The woman raised an eyebrow.
“Who are you talking to?”
“My AI”, he responded. “I can communicate to her via thought, but I prefer to speak to her. It’s much more coherent”
“Let me guess - talking to yourself is normal on your world”
“Was. Was normal”, he sighed.
“Right. I’m sorry”

“What matters is that we can still do something about your world, and about all the others that the neutron star hasn’t touched”
“Okay… Why me? Take… I don’t know, a soldier. Go grab Neil deGrasse Tyson or something”, Inna crossed her arms.
“It’s because you’re special”
“Special?”, she raised an eyebrow. “Special, how?”
“You’re unique”
“You know, that doesn’t really answer my question”
“Look, this isn’t really the place. Come on, I’ll explain in my, er… My spaceship, I guess”
“You have a spaceship?”
“Of course I have a spaceship!”, the man retorted, sounding a bit insulted. “How do you think I came here? Flying like Superman?”
“You have a Superman in your world?”
“Every world has a Superman, in one form or another. It’s like a universal constant, but that doesn’t matter right now”

“Look, I…”, Inna raised her hands. “I don’t know what that… AI of yours has told you, but the only important thing about me is that I have a daughter. She’s blind, which means she’s probably terrified and confused right now. I need to go to her, so why don’t you… I don’t know, fly off on your spaceship and leave us alone?”
“Don’t you get it? This will happen to your world, then the world after that, and then the next one until there is literally nothing left!”, the man yelled out, stepping forward and grabbing the woman by the arm. “But you and I can stop it. I don’t know how just yet, but…”
“You don’t know how? And I’m just supposed to trust you and abandon my child when the world is ending?”
“The world will not end if you come with me!”
“How do you know? How am I supposed to trust you? I just met you, and then all of this… weird stuff began happening! How do I know that you’re not the cause of it?”
“Because you know it’s not true”, he spoke quietly. “And you know, deep inside your heart… You know that you can save everything. It’s like a lingering feeling that you were meant for something much greater. You’ve felt it all your life… Haven’t you?”
Inna kept quiet for a moment.

“I always thought that was just my ego”, she chuckled. The alien shook his head.
“No, not at all. Not for you. I research the multiverse for a living, and in all my years of research I’ve never encountered anyone like you. If there’s any way at all to save everything, it involves you”
The woman bit her lip, looking to the side. The people around them still had no idea that the neutron star in the sky was going to kill them. Some of them kept staring at it, a few took pictures for social media. Most had moved on with their lives, as if everything was going to be here tomorrow, like usual. Inna tried to imagine the panic that would ensue when the star began to visibly move towards Earth, obviously ready to swallow it whole. If she really did have the power to stop that… Then wasn’t it her responsibility to do so?
“If we can’t fix… This”, she pointed up towards the star, “Then you need to take me to my daughter. I am not leaving her alone, no matter the cost. You have to swear to me”
The man took a deep breath, staring at Inna’s eyes as he did.
“I swear”, he finally spoke.
“Well, alright, then, space cowboy”, she smiled. “Take me to your spaceship”
“The name’s Hawke. Tiberius Hawke”, he grinned back, relieved.
“Wilson. Inna Wilson”, the woman imitated him with a chuckle.

The Bastion ended up being parked - where else - in the alley right behind the Kissa.
“Geez, no wonder you went straight into the cafe!”, Inna teased.
“I landed within 100 meters of the Conduit… In other words, you. Honestly, it’s a wonder I didn’t crash into anything. We had some kinks with the landing calculations…”
Inna slowly approached the metal sphere and placed her hand on its rough exterior, feeling its texture.
“So that’s your super advanced spaceship, huh? Doesn’t look all that advanced to me”
“That’s the point!”, Hawke yelled out. “It’s supposed to not stand out!”
“Well, it’s a spaceship in the middle of the street. I’m pretty sure it’ll stand out no matter how you mask it, so you might as well make it all futuristic and stuff!”
“Just get in…”, the man sighed, pressing a combination of buttons beneath the panel by the door and causing it to pop open.
“You couldn’t put, like, a stepladder or something?”, Inna asked as she tried to climb in, which wasn’t a particularly easy job for someone wearing a summer dress and sandals.
“Your world is about to end, and THAT is what you’re complaining about?”
“Well, I need to keep my mind off of it…”
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