A Mix-Up of Many Emotions
September 17, 2038
Thirty people were setting up tables for the reception when Amav heard gasps and found herself stepping back on a man's toes.
"Oh! Joe! It's you!"
Joe Commer blinked. "Wow! Amav!"
"You're really here! You made it! God, are we happy to see you!"
An older woman with russet hair was clasping Joe.
"You must be Ranna!" Dar's astrology certainly hadn't mentioned how lovely Ranna Kikken was. "I'm Amav Commer--Jack's wife. We were all just waiting for you! This is all so strange--even though we knew it would happen!"
Joe was still shaking his head. "Wow, can't believe we really made it!"
"Me either!" Ranna laughed, extending a hand which Amav took in both of hers. It was a firm grip back from someone who'd just gone through a sickening, miles-long drop of a passenger shell snapping off an accelerating spaceship. Amav had never done a Heuristic Time Transition herself, but from what she'd heard it seemed to wipe out whatever previous mood you were in, fully resetting you for your next moment of timespace. Many people said they entered the new time in a state of extreme calm.
Of course that theory was shot when Amav saw the man in the white tux with his long white hair grappling with Alycia Klave in her transparent light blue wedding dress.
"Oh my God!" Urside Charmouth groaned. "The damn rocket was just about to blow!"
"You're here! I knew you'd be here!" Alycia cried.
"Oh my God! Alycia! You waited for me!"
"Of course! Of course!"
Amav supposed everyone expected this slurping and fondling, but there was a nervous tittering from four hundred guests as Alycia pulled Urside into a utility closet, babbling: "We need to talk! Oh, Urside, we need to talk!" She slammed the door behind them.
The noises that followed suggested that very little talking was taking place in this closet. The guests took it all in bemused silence.
"I thought the human groom wasn't supposed to even see the bride before the ceremony, much less ..." joked Dar, Emperor of the Martians, in a baby blue tuxedo with his pink fin protruding from a slit in the back.
"Well ... she hasn't seen him since February '36," Amav offered.
Joe laughed, squeezing Ranna. "Hey, we're next!"
"Joe! Damn, it is you!" Jack Commer said, tall and tanned, striding up in his navy blue Supreme Commander uniform.
"Jack! God, it's good to see you!"
"Two years, Joe! Two and a half damn years!"
Joe shrugged. "Course, it's been about fifteen minutes for me, more or less." He turned. "Sperry! Dude! Hey, man, did you get Gooney elected mayor?"
Amav was taken aback at the sight of Phil Sperry in civilian clothes. She hadn't seen him in ages. "Oh, that's right," said the gaunt, graying Phil Sperry, taking Joe's hand. "You HTT'd out before the election. Yeah, we got him in. It was a damn landslide. Greeney's right over there. Up for reelection next year. We're already working on it."
Amav saw Jack's cheek tighten in disapproval. Well, there hadn't been much he could do about it once Phil had resigned from the USSF. And of course there was no controlling Greeney.
"Churchill's here too," Joe said, pointing. "All four of us made it."
Amav saw USSF officer Will Connors pulling a big Russian Blue cat off one of the buffet tables. There were so many Martians in the room that their combined telepathic outradiance was merging into a roar of static, but she still picked up a cat protest, not terribly angry, followed by the sensation of something fishy thoroughly savored.
"I'm going to pretend I didn't see that," Amav said. "I only spent six months planning this wedding, and I wasn't about to allow cats on the tables."
"So this is your doing. And you got the whole Command Suite," Joe said, indicating the vast space on the 130th floor decked out in balloons and bunting, all bathed in pink-yellow evening Martian light.
"Yeah, Jack let me clear away all the cubicles." Floor to ceiling windows showed the slender spires of Marsport and the desert stretching beyond, with dark wispy clouds on the horizon. "Except for the outer hall, that is. That's got to stay out of sight."
At Joe and Ranna's puzzled looks, Amav went on: "It's one of those time travel things. There's another HTT event tied to this wedding besides the four of you guys. The Alycia of February '36 time traveled to this event--actually, she's due in a few minutes, I guess, but she goes to the outer hall where the wedding photos are on display. Which still need to be taken, by the way. So Alycia grabs the display, goes back to 2036, then she shows it to Urside, but when he HTT's back to 2020, the thing follows him. So it proves to everybody that he will show up with you guys today for his wedding."
"Huh," Joe said.
"Anyway, we've told everyone to stay away from the outer hall and to port their photos of the wedding and the reception over to the Comm we have on a table out there. We don't want anyone seeing 2036 Alycia in the hall. She's apparently out there for just a minute. I had to threaten to strangle our Alycia for wanting to keep an eye peeled for her past self. Dar says that would be a disaster."
"He also says the display will eventually get pulled back to today," Phil put in, "and we're not even supposed to see it wink back into existence or whatever it does. Something about conservation of time. I don't have the slightest idea what he's talking about. I've just about given up trying to follow all this Time Transition crap. Thank God it ends in 2075."
"Well, everything's okay now. We've got everyone here who's supposed to be here," Amav said, indicating Ranna, Joe, Urside, and Churchill, all safely back from November '33. Amav hoped Ranna was up for all this time travel madness. Dar's astrology had her all explained, didn't it? Did Ranna have the slightest clue she was about to be appointed Chronology Coordinator on Dar's Time Committee?
Amav had been determined not only to celebrate her friend Alycia's wedding with Urside but also to welcome home her brother-in-law Joe. The USSF Command Floor was the perfect space for the event. She'd assumed Alycia would be lined up at the end of the chairs on the far side of the hall, waiting to be given away by none other than Jack Commer himself, then Urside would materialize in a flash of light and they'd walk down the aisle together. Instead the four newcomers had just wandered in from the ozone while Amav's workers were still setting up for the reception to follow the ceremony.
"Joe! Forgot to tell you!" Jack was saying. "We're going ahead with the III Project. We got the funding to build a pair of 'em. Typhoon III and Typhoon IV! I'm holding the III for you, just as soon as we reactivate your commission and promote you to captain. And you'll direct the whole damn project."
"Really? Really?" Joe babbled. "Damn, Jack, how's the war going anyway?"
Jack frowned. "Nothing as big as DamnStar. Dar's still saying that's the worst we'll get, but a couple months ago we had some bad skirmishes near Drultar. Nothing we couldn't handle once we got Gooney in there, but we need you, Joe."
"And Ranna Kikken. We need Ranna," Dar said, coming up to extend a long pink claw to her. "There are so many HTT messes we still need to undo. The one in 2049 is still completely impenetrable to us, and may well remain so."
Ranna blinked at the mangled, high-pitched singsong English coming in above a hundred layers of telepathic radiance surging with images, mathematical equations, feelings, and philosophy. Amav could sense her confusion at picking up the thoughts of dozens of Martian wedding guests--that is, if her first sight of five-foot pink fish creatures with giant fins wasn't the main problem.
But she knew Ranna was probably staggering more because Dar, in his enthusiasm, had just downloaded the entire vexing problem of chronicling and understanding the interrelationships between 8,178 Heuristic Time Transitions, about a fifth performed as acts of warfare by the Alpha Centaurians, the rest being the reckless experimentations of human thrill seekers who'd used HTT like a recreational drug over the past few decades. Dar went on to radiate that the Time Transitions, confined between 2013 and 2075, had nevertheless caused endless timeline screw-ups that apparently Dar, Ranna, the cat Churchill, and a few others were destined to repair as best they could, with the understanding that there would always be some ragged edges--edges taking the form of human suffering and tragedy.
"Well ... glad to be of service then," Ranna said gingerly.
"Of course, one theory is that '49 can, by definition, never be investigated," put in Star General Gooney, striding over with his cocksure walk so foreign to most Martians. He bowed to Ranna, and went on in scarcely intelligible English: "That was--or will be--the node that allowed the Centaurians to flow 2049 technology backwards and surprise us at DamnStar in '36."
"Star General Gooney," Amav said quickly. "Also Mayor of Marsport. Greeney, this is Ranna Kikken."
Ranna took his claw. "How do you do? But you--"
"He doesn't radiate," Amav explained, seeing that Ranna had already soaked up several terabytes of data concerning Martian one-way telepathy from the numerous Martians in this room.
"He's developed some sort of Amplified Thought routine that can turn it off," Phil said. "Nobody knows how he maintains it. Dar and some others can do temporary shields, but they don't last very long. Greeney here can turn it off and on at will."
Star General Gooney produced his most charming Martian smile and said: "It's always very comforting to shield myself. I can see how much psychic energy you humans save by retaining what we call your darkened house."
Ranna frowned, then finally nodded. "I can see it might be exhausting to just hang all your thoughts out there, but never receive ours."
Gooney shrugged. Once again Amav marveled at how he'd appropriated that human gesture and used it so eloquently. Meanwhile she picked up Churchill as he weaved in and out of Ranna's legs: NOT AN INSOLUBLE PROBLEM, the Russian Blue radiated. DAR HAD THE BASIC SHIELDING DOWN LONG AGO. THE SUBROUTINE CLOSED/DISSEMINATION WORKS IF COMBINED WITH--
"No, that was just a temporary fix," Gooney said. "Closed/Dissemination only works if Survival Mode is greater than--"
FORGET IT! WE CAN AMPLIFY SURVIVAL MODE TO INCLUDE THE ENTIRE TAO IF NEED BE!
"Still won't work. Individuation Mode would cancel Tao and then where would you be? No, I don't think I'll be letting out the code any time soon. I even keep it locked up when I do radiate."
I WILL GET IT FROM YOU! Churchill laughed, trotting away.
"Nice to meet you, too!" Gooney called after him.
Amav caught Jack's narrowed eyes. She knew Jack hated Gooney going dark. What might Star General Greeney Gooney be plotting?
"By the way, sorry I didn't introduce myself properly," Phil said to Ranna. "I'm Phil Sperry. I worked with Joe on both Typhoons, then retired to become Gooney's campaign manager."
"Nice to meet you, Phil. But--I just remembered--is my sister here? Jackie?"
"Should be. I know she's on the invitation list. We'll circulate you around, don't worry."
"What about Huey?" Joe said.
"Well, he's going exclusively by Polot now. It's weird--he still looks human, but he's getting more and more--Jujl--every day, if that makes any sense. He had to decline, though. He wants to keep away from Jackie, mostly for her sake, I guess. They got divorced a couple years ago as you can imagine. But also, he's working on the HTT stuff twenty hours a day now, so he's pretty exhausted most of the time."
"Jackie! There you are!" Ranna said, moving off.