Across The Universe

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


Chapter 6 (v.1) - 6

Submitted: May 20, 2018

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Submitted: May 20, 2018



A week or so passed, and Max could see better than ever.  Looking him over for something that had previously been missed, Ortega gave Max the all clear, sending him down the hallway to wait for the rest of the supras to show up at the light-box.


As Karin passed by, Max raised his hand in greeting from his spot on the floor.  For the most part, things were cordial on the station, if boring, but there were the occasional mishap or incident.  As well, if a person bothered to pay attention at times when both groups were gathered, they'd notice an unconscious divide, humans on one side of the room and supras on the other, a few outliers mixed in both.  Certain people noticed and they made a point of mixing the groups, purposely splitting people up so they had no choice but to interact with each other.


Something was changing with the supras, though, and Max couldn't state what it was, having been left out on some of the stress tests, but it seemed that the others were getting closer than was normal.  For an example, it wasn't uncommon to see two supras going the opposite way from each to casually stretch out a hand and trail it across the other's body.  Nothing would be said, and they'd go on.  Also it was normal to see them sitting on the floor near the light-box, pressed tightly, shoulder-to-shoulder, even though there was enough room to sit together without touching.


Things were changing; even Goethe seemed to be easily flustered and often was distracted.


"You're early," Daisy said, walking up the hall, hands in the pockets of her coveralls.


"I had nothing better to do, and I'm excited to see if I can actually burst into flames this time," he told her, and she smiled.


"Well, at least you haven't lost you sense of humour," she said, thumbing the keypad, unlocking the door, something that seemed suspiciously new.  "Since we're here, I think we'll do a test to see if you can handle where the rest are at.  Are you up for it?  If not, we could just do session where you're alone.  Not so bad, just bring a book."


Tired of being alone most of the time, Max decided to continue being stupid.  "Sure, let's see what I can take," he said, following her into the room.



Walking on the edge of the sunken seating area, Daisy went over to the control panel and hit a button for the door to close.  She looked at where he stood in front of the window.  "I'm thinking no more than thirty seconds, and if you're feeling even mild irritation, you tell me, yes?"  She asked, frowning slightly.  "Thirty seconds, each level."


He nodded, taking a deep breath as he clasped his hands behind him.


"In front," Daisy told him, "for more exposure."  Looking at his feet, Max let his arms fall loose at his sides, the hair on the back of his neck rising as he heard the knob click.  The window flickered, barely changing opacity, looking deceptively innocent.  "Max?"  Daisy prompted at the thirty second mark, he shook his head, and there was another click, the window a little clearer.


After the tenth click, Daisy asked him if he was lying.  "Bravado helps no one, least of all yourself," she gently chastised.  Turning to face her, Max rubbed at his eyes.  They itched near constantly, a reason for Ortega declining him his clean bill of health.


"I swear, it's like you're not even opening it," he claimed, and it was true.  He was half-tempted to go of and see if she wasn't just clicking her nails against the grip, but he wanted to prove he was trustful and not a jerk, something that was surprisingly hard to do when there was barely ten square feet to a person.


"I'm halfway through the scale," Daisy told him, her tone strange, and he looked at her, seeing her one brow was arched and that was all that had changed in her placid expression.  After that, she kept going until she was near the end of the scale, that was when it started to hurt.  It felt like nettles had been thrown on him, and she quickly reduced it several levels.


"How far did it go?"  Max asked, rubbing his hands up and down his arms to get rid of the feeling.


"To nineteen out of twenty-two," Daisy told him, shaking her head.  "If I had known it would be so easy to adapt, I would have jumped in the deep end of the pool first off."


"I thought you did?"  Max said, with a smile and she shrugged, nodding.


"I suppose I did," she agreed.  "But I think this is a fluke.  If you'll indulge me, you come and sit with everyone else.  Get used to Solas, if nothing else."


"It doesn't take much to make you happy, does it?"  He asked, taking the steps and joining her by the controls.  Experimentally, he went to eighteen and saw there was no difference but the warmth of the star's rays on his skin.  He squinted in the light and glanced at her.


"I don't need much," she stated carelessly.  "Why should I make big demands?"


He leaned against the wall.  "Because you're our Eve," he said, and meant it in a teasing way, but Daisy seemed suddenly aggravated, shaking her head, her arms crossed tightly over her bust.


"Don't call me that.  Please," she quickly added, frowning as she continued to shake her head.  "It feels like blasphemy and I don't care for the pressure it gives."


Feeling like an idiot, Max recalled Ortega's confession of questionable ethics, and wondered if Daisy had been called that by Adam.  Either way, she probably didn't appreciate the call-back to a horrible time in her life.  "I meant that you're just the first of us," he tried to amend.


"And you don't think that there's pressure from that?"  She asked, her tone kind to avoid him misinterpreting her meaning.  "Some think I'm a leader.  I'm not, and people who try to follow me will find I have nowhere to go."


"You're the one who encouraged the divide," Max pointed out, unable to help himself.  "Who else are they supposed to follow?"


She furrowed her brow.  "I encouraged?  How?"


"Well, I think it was the first day I was here that you suggest I stopped thinking about myself as human, I can't help but think that might have something to do with it, if you said it to the others," he told her, and she inhaled sharply.


"That was not to separate, that was so you could acknowledge your differences!  There are blessings and flaws to both," she explained, brushing her hair out of her face.  "I thought it would be good to accept that once we hit ground, the supras will be doing the majority of work, and you have to remember the reason why.  It will be easy to hate them when it feels like your back is breaking, and it will be too easy to forget that if the sun touches them without their protection, they will die an agonizing death."


"Golly, who could hate them for that?"  Max muttered, and she slapped his arm.


"You signed up for this," she reminded him.  "They are part of our community, and we help our friends, right?"


Max looked towards the window, at Solas Lux, watching the lines that divided it from the rest of the universe.  "It's hard to see some of them as our 'friends'," he remarked, thinking of how Niemand's taunts were no longer so subtle as they had been a week ago, as if they had simply been unable to grasp the fact that he disliked them.


"No, but what benefits the collective also benefits our friends as well as ourselves," Daisy said, her fingers curling around his forearm, gently readjusting a few times until she was holding on to him tightly.  There seemed to be no reason for the contact, but there she was, gripping him as if she was expecting for him to be suddenly floating around the room.  He gently pulled his arm towards him, and she blinked at him as if she was recovering from a daze, her hold on him falling to nothing.


He was just about to ask her why she had done that when the intercom buzzed, announcing that the others had finally arrived.  Daisy opened the door, and about sixteen people streamed in, not even giving them looks as if to ask why they had been locked in there alone.  At least a bit of suspicion would have done his ego some good, but no one cared.  They seated themselves around the room, and when they were still, all eyes turned to Daisy, who shut and locked the door.  After a moment, the window became more transparent with each click of the dial until it was only slightly shaded.  Glancing at the controls, Max saw that it was slightly above the halfway point.


People brought out books, snacks or small games.  Margaret had brought cards and was playing solitaire by herself.  It was surprisingly quiet in there, the only sound was muted conversation as the limited need for communication in certain games.  Daisy sat on the floor, her legs bent, just silently reveling in the warmth of the sun.  And it was warm in there, compared to the relative coolness of the rest of the station.  There are different types of warmth; the warmth of an electric heat, and then the natural one of the sun are great examples, and with Solas Lux's light coming through to them, it felt like it had been years since Max felt truly warm.  He stretched towards it without moving, his previous exposure completely forgotten.


The hour went by in a blur, some left, some stayed, Max stayed, unable to pry himself away, ignoring how hot the room had become.  When he was the last remaining one, Daisy came back and all but dragged him out of the room.  "There's such a thing as too much sun," she said with a laugh.


"Well, things are different," Max replied, "how are we to know how long of exposure is unhealthy?"


"Why is it you're either a smartass or too quiet?  There's no in between," she pretended to complain.  "There are things to do, why don't you do them rather than soaking up rays?"


Max turned and walked backwards in front of her.  "There's nothing for me to do," he reminded her.  "I'm not a technician and I'm not a scientist or even a pilot.  There's not even make work projects to keep me occupied."


Daisy stopped as she crossed her arms and sighed.  "Nothing for you to do?  Then come with me, I'll find you something to do," she told him, taking him by the elbow.


"Actually, that wasn't me asking for work," Max protested, dragging his feet.  "It was me stating that it really didn't matter if I left the light-box."


"Even so," Daisy said dismissively.  "It would be good for us all to learn how to care for the plants.  They will be our number one concern once the buildings are up, after all, we'll depend on them more than anything else.  Without them, we're dead."


"That reminds me," Max said as the doors to the life science office opened.  "What about the water?  We've been presuming that it's drinkable, do we even have any proof?"


"No," she said so carelessly that he looked at her in shock.  She smiled at his face.  "The probe sensed that the water has the same basic amount of salt in it as saline,  which means it's possible to drink it, even though there's slightly more salt in it than freshwater, and there was no sign of anything that might poison us."


"So it's drinkable?"  He asked to confirm that she was just screwing with him.


Daisy shrugged.  "Just because it couldn't sense whether it would kill us or not, doesn't mean that it won't, it just means that it couldn't sense known risks," she corrected.  "There's a lot out here that we don't know about, and probably a lot more that can kill us."


Nodding, Max leaned against the desk.  "Great," he told her, and she pulled the palm-sized projector out of a drawer and aimed it at the wall.  With a few taps on the laser keyboard, there were grow charts displayed on the wall behind him.  Max turned, reading the names of the plants.  "What's kudzu?"  He asked, glancing at her.


"Very tasty, can be eaten raw, but it tastes better cooked, in my opinion, with lots of salt."


"How fast is fast?"  Max asked, looking at the vines that she pulled up on the projector.


"About a foot a day once it's established," Daisy said.  "That's why it was picked, because it's edible and great at conquering the terrain.  Also, we screwed with it so that it grows bigger than the original with more plentiful leaves lso it has more vitamins."


"What if it gets out of control?"  Max asked, thinking that was what was going to happen.


Daisy grinned at him.  "Well, to be truthful, it won't be that big of a problem," she said.  "The more plants we have going, the bigger they are, the more they'll changed the atmosphere so that the air is breathable."  She pulled up a few pictures.  "We have a lot of plants, but certain ones are considered high priority.  The ones that grow the fastest, kudzu, bamboo, kelp, potatoes, tomatoes... hardy plants, ones that do well in nitrogen-rich environments, that don't mind various soil types."


"We can eat bamboo?"  Max asked, surprised.  He had always heard that it was a relative of grass, and he heard that it was extremely fibrous.


"When they're shoots," Daisy nodded.  "But mostly it's for the terraforming.  They can be useful in other ways.  For an example, I hear it's a wonderful building material."


"And the other plants have been tampered with too," Max said, nodding with her.


"Why not?  We're playing god with everything else," she shrugged.  "Everything, with the exception of the bamboo, is now a high-yield plant.  Plants that would only give, say, a few tomatoes, will now grow as tall as a man and give a few dozen.  They will grow bigger and faster than their ancestors."  She pointed to the pods of seeds, left in a stasis similar to the embryos to assist in the planting.  Half the work was already done, they just needed to get them in the ground.


"It seems that they won't really need that much work," Max said, brushing imaginary dust from his hands as he pushed away from the desk.  "They'll take care of themselves, and-"  Daisy cut him off with a hand on his chest, gently pushing him back.


"They may eventually go wild, I hope they do," she murmured, tipping her head back.  "But the ground will need to be tilled, the plants will have to be planted, watered and protected.  It will take a long time and then we can only hope that they take root.  A few hundred hectares are going to need planting, and while we have machines, many hands will help the whole thing go faster."


Max rolled his eyes and groaned.  "I once helped my grandfather with his garden," he said, and Daisy made a sound for him to continue.  "I hated it."


"Just think, once it's over, you'll be living in a world of plenty," she assured him, and he wasn't convinced.


"That's presuming that the world doesn't kill everything, including us," he added, and she smiled and nodded.


"Now you're getting it," she said, turning off the projector.  "I can give you a plan outline, or if you rather you could just wait until the day comes."


"I'd rather not do it at all," he told her, and she insisted that he'd get bored very quickly, but it was something he was willing to risk.  He watched as she moved around the room, opening drawers to examine the suspended embryos, to see that none of them had been disturbed in anyway.


"I thought that we'd be reduced to a vegetarian diet," he told her, gesturing to the embryo drawers.  "What's the point of bringing these guys?"


"Many things," she said.  "None of them are for eating, it will be too difficult to farm them while trying to provide for ourselves, so, yes, we're all vegetarians now."  She held up her hand to the open drawer.  "Some of these animals are necessary for testing, then there are others who are useful for other things.  Like, dogs for protection, or warning. We will literally have to keep them on a tight leash though, so they don't destroy the local ecosystem like they did on Earth.  The probe sent images of some sort of animal down there, but never a clear shot.  It could be harmless, but a dog might help seeing as how their hearing and sense of smell are vastly different than ours."  She took a deep breath.  "Then there are donkeys to help out if the machines for planting ever fail, or transport breaks down.  After that, there are cats."


"Cats," Max repeated.  "In case of what?  Mice?"


"Or the Terrian equivalent," she shrugged.  "Cats are useful.  Don't underestimate them.  Besides, humans tend to be healthier and happier with cats around.  They'll be strictly working animals."


Coming closer, Max looked through the drawer, gently moving the pods around to read the taxonomy on them, always sure to put them back in their original pocket, locking them into place.  Occasionally, he couldn't figure out or guess the name of the animal, and he'd ask Daisy, who would always patiently say, offering an explanation as to why they had been thought necessary to bring along.


"Truth be told, I'd rather work with the animals, than garden," he told her.  He had always been good with animals, and they were definitely more interesting than plants in his opinion.


"It will be awhile before- if they are ever taken out of stasis," Daisy told him.  "We have to establish the rest of it first, then we can worry about these luxuries."  She looked at his hopeful expression, and she sighed.  "At first, it will only be Charlie and Karin working on them; they will be put in artificial wombs and monitored constantly.  There is no room there for amateurs."


Max bounced on his toes.  "But after that, they need people to care for them," he pointed out.  "There's no mother dogs, and someone needs to train them."


Daisy half-smiled at him.  "Later, why don't you ask one of them?"  She suggested.  "I suppose they wouldn't mind a volunteer."


Max found himself smiling back.  "Do you mind if I ask you a question?"  He said, and she gestured for him to go on.  "I know it's none of my business, but, is there something between you and Goethe?"


She studied him a moment, her expression telling him that he was right, that it was none of his business.  "No, why?  Are you interested?  I'm not looking for romance or something too easy," she told him.


"It's just, you two seem so close," he said quickly, stepping back at her rebuff.


"He's my friend, I'm close with all my friends," she answered, turning away as she pushed the drawer closed.


Max was about to point out that there were different levels of closeness, when he remembered the touching in the light-box, of the other supras reaching out almost unconsciously to each other.  "I've noticed that the other supras... uh, well, they seem-"  Max swallowed, trying to describe what he wanted to say.  "You all touch each other a lot."  He saw her expression and quickly amended that.  "Not in a sexual- at least, I don't think it's sexual-" he watched her brow arch in an unimpressed manner.  "Like in the light-box, you were holding my arm, remember?  I've noticed a lot of us doing stuff like that."


Daisy thought for a moment.  "I hadn't even really realized that that happened," she told him, and he asked if she remembered holding his arm.  "Sort of, I just- it's more of you pulling away that I recall."  She twisted her bottom lip between her thumb and index, thinking about it.  "I don't think I've ever seen anything like that."


Musing on that, Max gestured for her follow him, and, without thinking, Daisy took his hand.  They looked at their hands for a moment, and Daisy cleared her throat, slipping her fingers out of his.  "Come on," Max said, leading the way to the rec room.  It was mostly empty, but there were a few supras clustered around the room.  A guy named Nymadawa went past Lee and a female supra that Max couldn't presently remember the name of, and without looking up from his monitor, Nymadawa trailed his hand across the backs of their necks, both reacting mildly to the interaction, leaning back and gently pressing into the momentary caress.  Max elbowed Daisy to make sure she caught the interaction before pointing out Margaret, who was sitting extremely close to Liesbeth, their fingers intertwined in the moments when their one hand was inactive from switching between pages.


Gently tugging on her coveralls, Max lead Daisy to other rooms to witness the close behaviour between the supras.  "See what I mean?"  He asked, and she nodded, looking back at the last group of them, that were practically sitting on each other.


"It's strange I didn't notice it before," she said, taking a deep breath before considering him.  "And this isn't something you're experiencing as well?"


Max shrugged.  "Not yet," he answered.  "But we all seemed to make the same changes eventually, so it's just a matter of time, isn't it?"


She looked at her feet, as if weighing the answer.  "Perhaps," she allowed, cocking her head.  "And you're still experiencing heightened senses?"


"Yes, and I'm trying to get passed that," Max told her, glancing at his own shoes, deciding to tell her what else was on his mind.  "It's also... um, it's also my feet."


"What about them?"  Daisy asked, checking out his shoes.


"The skin's moving back," he explained, but she didn't know what he meant, so he lead her back to the life science office and took off his shoes and socks, and she knelt down to inspect them.  He couldn't help but move back a little, feeling self-conscious about the peculiar view of his seemingly too long feet.


They weren't any bigger, he would have noticed needing larger shoes, but the skin and muscles between his toes had receded to below the final joints, making it look like he had fingers there instead of toes.  While it was hard to not feel uncomfortable having someone scrutinize his feet, he couldn't help but wonder if this was the way she felt about her hands and eyes.  He had noticed before that some people purposely avoided looking her face to keep from seeing the rapid double blink.


"This hasn't happened to me," she said finally standing up, still focused on his feet.  "But, again this means nothing.  Have you asked the others?"


Max hesitated.  "I don't want to be the odd one out," he told her.  "I don't want to ask and have them guess that there's something wrong with me."


Daisy dropped her hands on his shoulders.  "There's nothing wrong with you," she stated firmly.  "It's bound to happen that we would all evolve differently.  But I'll admit that I'm amazed that you walk normally.  Does it hurt?"




"I meant your feet in general, but yes, does walking hurt too?"


Max shook his head.  "It doesn't hurt at all," he told her, swallowing.  "It's like I'm wearing tight socks, but that's the only real sensational difference.  When I walk, I have to remember to keep my toes together to keep from spreading, though."  Daisy gestured for him to show her, and he self-consciously walked to one end of the room and back.


"Now walk normally," she suggested, and he told her that he did.  "I mean, don't force your toes together, relax and walk."


Taking a deep breath, Max raised one foot then the other, letting them rest on the floor naturally, then took several steps.  It was peculiar.  It was the first time he had walked without shoes or socks to hide the deformity, and his toes spread wide with each step, like a hand pressed to a flat surface to stabilize.


"Interesting," was all that Daisy said on the manner.  "Do you think you could run?"


"Like this, without shoes?"  He asked, unsure.


"Yes," Daisy said, kicking off one of her own shoes.  She had long toes, but well within the normal range.  "See my second toe?  It's longer than the others, like yours.  That's to assist with running, especially in sand or loose soil.  It digs in."  She smiled at him.  "An ostrich has the same quirk."


"Yeah, well, I have feet like a chimp," he said dismally.


She pulled him close and whispered in his ear, "A secret?  Chimps don't have a longer toe.  They were not meant to run, you were."


Max leaned back and sighed.  "I know you're trying to make me feel better, but look at them, or don't, I'd really rather you didn't," he said.  "What if I'm the only one?"


"You'll live with it like I do," she said, and he looked at her blankly.  She opened her coveralls and lifted her T-shirt, showing her hidden gills.


"That's different," he told her.


Daisy nodded.  "Yes, I can't possibly feel alienated knowing that I'm alone and possibly vastly different from the rest," she said pointedly, her eyes momentarily widening.  She steepled her fingers.  "Like I said, we might all be different, and our changes might not always be on the outside or even physical."


Max swallowed again as he pictured Adam throwing himself against the walls of his cell.


"You worry about your feet, but what if the rest are too?  They're own, obviously, not yours," she said, and he smiled as he thought about them just silently freaking out about his feet.  "Or what if it's something, like, say, Nunia growing extra nipples?  I would suppose that isn't something she would want to broadcast, would you?"


"Do you-"


"It was an example, but it's not like I'd show you if I did," Daisy said, narrowing her eyes at him, before laughing.  "For all our differences, we will just have to accept them.  It will be hard, but we will learn."


Niemand popped into Max's head.  "You hope," he corrected, and Daisy looked at him tiredly.


"We will," she repeated.  "We're the ones that will have to live with it, so we'll be the ones more than the rest that will have to accept them."

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