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[Fiction] Roads to Madness


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Roads to Madness

Part I: I'm Not Quite What I Thought I Was, But Then Again, I May Be More

She is acutely aware that this Chrysalis was not the same as her first, and indeed, was so immediately upon entering it.

The first Chrysalis occurred precisely as she imagined it would: a slow slide into unconsciousness, much like a baseline being given a shot of anesthetic, complete with the sudden urge to fight the slide and remain cognizant of her surroundings at all cost. It was a fight she lost after several minutes, fourteen of them and forty-seven accompanying seconds to be precise, enough for Apep to move her into confines of the girl's underground home. She hadn't wanted to Chrysalize there - but she hadn't the presence of mind to argue with her daughter and, to be truthful, it was probably the best possible location at the time. Had she known that Apep herself would begin her own Chrysalis a few scant weeks later, she might have selected a different guardian for herself. But she was a different nova before that first transformation, significantly more reluctant to use her temporal faculties to see possibilities and divergences, especially where they concerned her. Her body was yet untouched by aberration and although the foundations of her philosophy had long since solidified within her, she had yet to become the Ashnod that the public knew.

The one the Catalysts feared she would become.

Before that first Chrysalis, Raoul had invited Apep and her to his home. After a long and extravagant meal, he took them to his study and candidly explained that the movement had concerns about the Catalysts that would not be easily assuaged. Quite simply, the other faction heads no longer trusted the Catalysts' commitment to the movement, and while no formal meeting had been held on the matter, the few communications he'd been privy to were quite clear that in Apep and Ashnod's absence there wasn't a member of the Catalysts the de facto Pantheon felt comfortable conducting business with. The Primacy and the Casablancas generally communicated through her, and The Harvesters and Nova Vigilance through her daughter.

The Catalysts, up until that point, had no official leader: it had been an unspoken agreement that none of them actually held that position. It had been that way before they were part of the Teragen and had remained that way after they declared their allegiances. This had been troublesome at times, but many within group, especially Pandora, had felt that remaining leaderless gave them their strength. She had been content to allow things to remain that way: it was after all her goals that drove the Catalysts regardless of what Pandora claimed to the contrary. It wasn't that the Catalysts were her pawns or even her followers, only that she was the one with the most vocal agenda and her voice tended to be heard in the silence of the others.

It was also her agenda that had driven the wedge between Apep and Ashnod, and the rest of the Catalysts. Now, with Raoul essentially telling them that in the eyes of the Teragen, the two of them were the acknowledged leaders of the Catalysts, the group was ready to shatter. When she consumed a cup of baseline blood in front of the entire group the next week, daring someone to challenge her notion that this was not cannibalism, it was Father Tom who confronted her.

In many ways, she regretted that it was Thomas that had challenged her. His philosophy, that yes, novas were a new and superior species to baseline humanity but that they were put upon the earth by a higher power to care for the lesser species on the planet, ergo the baselines, was a very unpopular one in the heavily-supremacist Teragen. She didn't agree with him, but she was happy that he had believed in something, had a mission and that was something the other Catalysts were often lacking. It was a belief that, if nurtured properly, might have balanced the more violent members of the movement or at least held them in check. She had feared that he hadn't the conviction of those beliefs yet, and in one cup of warm, coppery baseline blood, she destroyed whatever faith he possessed in the Teragen. It crossed a line that he wasn't prepared to venture over, and it drove him away from the Catalysts. The ensuing argument made it clear that the majority of the Catalysts were going to side with him in the future.

This all occurred as her study of Chrysalis was reaching its finishing point. She couldn't delay it forever, and decided that her absence would be a defining point for the Catalysts. It would leave Apep in control, but with her daughter's lack of real interest in the remaining group, the Catalysts would decide what path it would take and they would know whether or not it was time to sever ties with them.

Back then, of course, she wasn't the nova she became post-Chrysalis and rarely used her temporal faculties to see the possibilities, preferring to live in the moment without the burden or foresight.

It wasn't that Apep had no desire to lead; rather, she had no desire to lead them. The younger, colder nova had long since given up on the Catalysts and considered them hopeless. Her attention was far more focused on The Harvesters, her own daughter Mafdet, and her growing understanding of the Monster path. When the time came for her to chrysalize, Apep had no problems about abandoning the Catalysts to whatever destiny they so chose. Placing Mafdet in the care of Bounty, she went into Chrysalis, leaving the protection of both Ashnod and herself to Leviathan.

Unknown to her at the time, Raoul sent Allegra Ramsey, known within the Teragen as Machina, to monitor the Catalysts and act as their liaison until Ashnod or Apep re-emerged. Machina did not get along well with Pandora, and her attempts to explain Teras to Pandora and Daedalus went very poorly. Pandora, for her part, did not resent Machina's presence so much as what that presence represented. That insult was a wound to Pandora's pride that would never heal and she left the Catalysts with Daedalus soon after. Days later, without Pandora's teleporting ability or Daedalus' intellect, the remaining Catalysts were left vulnerable to an attack that only Machina survived, and then only because she surrendered to The Directive forces that were sent to intervene.

But during that time, while the Catalysts were undone and she was in Chrysalis, she spent the time dreaming, unaware of the events that would propel her into prominence. Apep had later confessed she didn't like being around her mother's Chrysalis, as its surface reflected back events of the watcher's life in blood-red tinted, non-linear flashes, and many of the events that Apep witnessed while protecting her mother she had no recollection of.

Inside the Chrysalis, much the same was happening to her, and she felt like she was in a constant struggle to decipher the meaning behind the images being shown to her. Unlike her daughter, she wasn't shown pieces of her own amnesiac period: this frustrated her for five weeks, six days, fifteen hours, and eighteen seconds until she came to conclusion that she wasn't seeing them because they weren't important to whom she would become once she emerged from the cocoon. But in the dreamlike state, even with her own formidable nova intellect, such a conclusion and the deductive process leading up to it was questionable at best, and she couldn't be certain if she was assigning meaning where none existed and ignoring it where it did.

She spent her time in the cocoon walking through the events as one walks through the events within a dream: scenes and locations changing without warning or discernable reason, being seventeen at Grandmother's house in Anchorage in one moment and then fourteen and training for the Olympics the next, with a thin cable of consciousness between the two events making them seem both linear and devastatingly important. And yet, throughout them all, her identity of being a nova intruded into the memories of her baseline life to the degree that at no point in the dream state did she ever question whether or not she was an erupted being.

With that realization, which came in the seventh week, she began to dream about what her life would have truly been like had she always been erupted. While not entirely lucid dreaming as she did not control the events as they occurred, she did construct the scenarios in which she found herself - the decisions she might have made differently had the initial might of her quantum expression been available to her at age six instead of twenty. Within three days, she began experiencing that life as though it had always been thus starting from age sixteen years, two months, eight days, twenty-two hours and eleven minutes; with minutes outside of the cocoon passing at the same rate as they did within it. Thus, that possible, alternate life continued uninterrupted until her Chrysalis ended.

Such a life proved intoxicating and contradictory. Free of the years of baseline expectation and desire, her alternative self was not as limited in terms of potential power, and yet, sacrificed none of the understanding or the enlightenment that her true self had labored years to acquire. All of the unfettered might of her quantum potential tempered with the experience of one who studied metaphysics and ascension for the majority of her adult life, placed with a teenage nova body with a young outlook of the future. Learning to expand her quantum expression within that body and mind proved a frighteningly easy task.

Waking from that possible life was a jarring, and yet welcome experience. The raw power that her alternative, younger-erupted self possessed had come out of the Chrysalis with her, as did her newly found understanding of how Time, Space, Matter, and now Life co-existed and functioned. Trying to place in context her true life against her possible one took weeks of contemplation, during which time Apep remained in Chrysalis and she kept mostly to herself. No longer was she reluctant to use her temporal abilities to view the possible: indeed, having that knowledge at her fingertips was a blessing. This would come into further appreciation when she would meet Elizabeth, who existed within the possible rather than outside of it, but that relationship was still in the future and not even a glimmer within her now aberrated eyes.

Her body had not survived the Chrysalis unchanged. Her anima, the blood-red energy, seemed no longer content to appear only when she called upon her temporal and spatial abilities. It burst forth from within her and spilled out from her eye sockets in an unending stream of glowing, tiny spheres. For reasons she never bothered to contemplate, this didn't impair her vision and she didn't seem to be capable of perceiving the energy directly with her own eyes, though she could see it via other sources, such as reflection or spatial perception. It also scarred her flesh in a jagged bolt of light that stretched along the front, right side her body from her hairline down to her toes. At a glance, it appeared as though it split her body like as though an eggshell, but her features remained symmetrical, and her flesh smooth to the touch without crevice or indention, so that possibility seemed unlikely except perhaps in a symbolic sense. Interestingly, her flaming red hair had also changed to midnight black, save a single lock that sprung forth where the energy bolt met her hairline. This alteration seemed to serve no discernable purpose and may not have even originated from the Chrysalis itself, yet it remained and stubbornly refused any attempts to recolor it that were not quantum in origin, and even those methods proved to be temporary ones. Nor was it remnant of her possible, younger self, whom had shared her red hair and green eyes, and displayed none of the current aberrations that she acquired within the cocoon. It did reflect some of the disguises she had adopted since joining the Teragen, and perhaps it was a subconscious choice to make the alteration permanent.

Initially, she attempted to reclaim the mind-frame that she possessed while living the alternative life inside the cocoon. Even with her nigh-perfect memory, this proved an impossible task. Whether or not access to such perception was only possible through Chrysalis, or if she had not yet advanced in her understanding to be able to recall it at will, she didn't know. Regardless, it was lost to her, and she turned instead to the increased potential of her quantum expression.

In the following weeks, she discovered that her raw power had increased to the point where once she could only view the possible, she could now shatter the division between the possible and the present. She had, long before she was a member of the Teragen, come to believe in Borges' idea of a garden of forking paths, but never imagined she could actually walk the forks. Now capable of doing so at will, she came to understand a focal shortcoming of most sentient minds, including her own.

It is in the nature of sentient beings to view what has occurred as the "way it had to occur," and that while it is fanciful to dwell on the possible, such possibilities were not meant to occur or they instead would have. They even acknowledge the idea that possible universes exist where those variations might continue on, but think of them as variations, or divergences, from the "true" timeline of which they currently exist within. However, it is equally true that within those other variations, what the sentient mind considers the "true" line is nothing more than a possible, untaken fork, for the "true" line the residents of that variation consider to be the authentic one.

Admitting that one's own existence is but a possibility amongst millions of others, and that all the variations contained within the garden of forking paths are no less valid or "true" than your own calls into question the entire nature of one's life, particularly as it pertains to one's sense of self and the regrets one has carried with them. If in the known path, one wounds a lover and loses them forever but in a variation, successfully repairs the relationship and enjoys lifelong happiness; does this make them the weak one? It could have happened differently, and did happen differently in countless other possibilities, why in this timeline did it occur the way it did? For those that believe in a higher power, this understanding could be catastrophic - belief that things happen because they were intended to happen that way crumbles under the undeniable proof that they did not have to happen that way at all.

A world where Germany won World War II didn't happen incorrectly. This wasn't "wrong" in any intrinsic sense; it simply was the way that fork existed. A world where the Egyptians rose to greater power, conquering the Romans and forging the future world wasn't an aberration of the way things were meant to be, and it was no less legitimate than the world where nuclear war occurred in 1981 and ravaged the planet. Or the variations where Project Utopia remained uncorrupted, and those where the voices of enlightenment ended up being the commanding ones within the Teragen.

That the world of one's life is but one amongst many possibilities, neither more nor less valid than any of infinite others, is a truth most sentient minds will not permit themselves, and she saw this time and time again when speaking to the few novas like her in her travels amongst the possibilities. Most (but certainly not all) viewed the possibilities she, and they, visited as little more than a throw-away world where actions taken by them carried little or no consequence, since it didn't affect the "true" timeline. The death of hundreds within one possibility carried neither prize nor penalty within one's home timeline, and thus was of little to no importance to those travelers. Her dealings with other possibility travelers became limited as a result, and she came to be extremely untrusting of most of them.


To the delight of Leviathan, Apep would emerge mere weeks later, her body more reptilian and her abilities more lethal than ever. Whatever happened inside her daughter's Chrysalis was never revealed to Ashnod, and in turn, neither did she share the experience of her younger, possible-self with Apep. Their monster and portent paths had created a quiet schism between them philosophically. Yet, paradoxically, the mere experience of both having come out of their cocoons had brought them closer together in unspoken, but nonetheless understood, ways.

Like that first one, this Chrysalis came while she found herself at a crossroads. She'd become quite weary of a relentless public campaign that garnered very little appreciable progress, and had begun to draw resentment from some within the movement itself. Without a faction, many were clamoring for her removal from the Pantheon. Her ideas on co-existence, despite her championing of the superiority of the nova species as a biological creature, were not popular with many of the radical members.

Elizabeth, for better or for worse, had changed her. Her commitment to the One Race and its future had not wavered; however, reality had been repeatedly reinforcing her growing concern that the Teragen might not be the best vehicle to pursue that goal. Power does not deliver enlightenment, often deters it entirely, and soon it became apparent that novas such as Elizabeth and herself were to be the exception and not the rule. Even Teras, and the arduous task of going through Chrysalis, wasn't sufficient to awaken most nova minds to the possibilities. Most baseline minds craved power and eruption, quantum, and Chrysalis were just means to acquire more of it.

How does one eliminate the baseline from the erupted persona? This seemed to be the classic dilemma of the nova condition, especially those Teras-minded. She had the benefit of nearly eight years of erupted life before N-Day, and the majority of that period of her life was spent trying to understand her purpose and her place in a world where the word nova still meant a long-defunct automobile or an astronomical phenomena. Her quantum expression was considerable even then; her temporal faculties fully awake and terrifying to her in their scope, and this distanced her from everyone else. By the time the known nova population had reached double digits, she had already cut all her familial ties and developed the understanding of herself as feasibly immortal, and inhuman, creature.

But even then, surely her experiences, while unique, were not the only paths that lead to the place she currently found herself. Why hadn't more followed her to this point? Why were so many content to remain caterpillars and refuse to become butterflies? Her arguments on the intrinsic differences between nova and baseline felt hollow to her in the face of both those who chose to ignore them, and those who accepted them yet still desired nothing more than power. The camaraderie and sorority she felt amongst the movement was sliding away. She saw the same desperation in The Mathematician, seeing where the movement was heading and yet utterly unable to divert it away. Only Mal possessed that kind of influence, and not even Scripture carried sufficient weight to get him to act.

In the time after her first Chrysalis she took but a single pupil, Fracture, whom she knew would one day surpass her as an expert in spatial abilities. The elation at being a teacher, and a mentor, passed too quickly and was not to be replaced by another. The marvel and monster paths continued to blossom, and the portent path crawled behind them as the self-styled gods and monsters of the movement recruited followers and students. And many of them were, again, acquiring power simply for power's sake, becoming figureheads of worship and terror, learning the wrong lessons and having neither critics to deter them nor the ear to listen when they spoke.

Her pride and temper, both of which she believed she had mastered, had begun surfacing again during this period. This caused her to withdraw even further, retreating even from the world of the OpNet where she had long been vocal. Elizabeth had already ceased to be bothered by any of this, but it continued to fester in her thoughts and refused to recede. She felt a devastating sense of obligation to ensure the survival of the One Race, and their liberation, and had always held this as her highest goal. She felt an equal sense of guilt for even considering abandoning it. Did this make her a Bodhisattva, forgoing nirvana to aid the others still seeking the light, or just a prideful Goddess who refused to accept that she could not lift up her species when it was clear they had no desire for such elevation? Such questions have no answers. The old adage that if even one listens and learns then the fight was worth it began to hold less and less comfort to her.

Clearly then, this struggle had made her miserable and its importance had become unclear. The movement would tear itself apart, eventually, and whatever remained of it would likely be radically different from its current incarnation. The war would happen, eventually, and whatever became of the survivors would likely not be the future she had previously worked towards.

The time of her second Chrysalis was rapidly approaching, and when she emerged from it the state of the Teragen would be unknown. She began speaking with those closest to her on the Pantheon about her concerns. Some of them agreed; some of them dismissed her as being overly cautious. A few of these conversations led her to make arrangements which she found personally distasteful but ultimately necessary.

And yet, one must ask, why did she not simply use her temporal abilities to discern the most likely outcome of all of this, and proceed from there? Why not travel the possibilities and examine the timelines where this conflict had played out earlier than it did in her own, and study the repercussions? Or, could it be that is exactly what she did, perhaps so subconsciously that even she was unaware of it? Had she seen the probable, and found it so horrifying that her mind blocked out the visions and her subconscious subtly steered her in the necessary directions?

She set things in motion after seeing the state of things at a meeting Fracture invited her to. Departing angrily, she vanished from the Terat radar entirely, telling not even Fracture where she was going. She did not return home, did not pick up anything, and sent no communications. Only Apep and Elizabeth had knowledge of her whereabouts, and both of them had been below the radar for sometime as well. She would be hidden, and safe, for the duration of this Chrysalis.

Unlike the slow slide into unconsciousness, she felt this time as though she was going blind. Her vision became unfocused; the shades and tints of color bleaching into a delicate grey along their borders and then pooling together. The grey became red, her red, during which she had no sense of time. For one who has known innately the passing of microseconds for decades, this was quite alarming, and was likely brought on by the means which she triggered the onset of this transformation.

The red vision of nothingness continued, and for how long she did not know. When the red receded, giving way to the grey and finally to color again, she found herself in her college dorm. She had spent her freshman year in this room, and every detail remained exactly as her memory recalled it for the day she first stepped foot inside it. She carried the same bags as that day, and wore the same clothes. Stopping in front of the mirror, she paused, finding neither her reflection, nor that of her possible self of the prior Chrysalis, but a blend of each of them. Her hair was red again, and she was younger in age, but her eyes and body bore the energy of her true self.

The lessons were to be different this time, it seemed.

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Roads to Madness

Part II: Maybe I Can Leave Here Now, and Transcend the Boundaries

She dreams. While she dreams, she remembers.

She is six years old, nearly seven, in tumbling class. It is her birthday in three days. Her parents have gifted her with lessons from famous instructor. Six is a tender age; no one is a world-class athlete at that age, not even her. All she has are the seeds of that greatness, but those seeds can still be seen by all. Still, she is the most talented of the girls, possessing an uncanny coordination and dexterity for her age, and her instructor lavishes her with praise and attention. Her instructor knows that she will go on to compete at the highest level if properly encouraged and trained; he has seen her caliber before and has watched them blossom into Olympic-level competitors. That is why her parents have sent her to him, after all; her last instructor recognized the same potential, even at such a young age, and recommended that they provide her a professional instructor who could make certain her potential was not wasted. The career of a female gymnast is brutal and brief, and one must start as early as possible if she has any hope of competing on the world's most prestigious stages.

This is the day of her awakening, three days before her seventh birthday, the day the Olympic dreams of her parents disintegrate.

Her father has dropped her and her mother off, and she is walking into the workout area. Her mother sent her ahead, and stayed behind to speak with the receptionist about something. She is early, and the building is very quiet. The tile hallway leading to the workout area is well-lit, but Sprite is a clear liquid, and she isn't looking at the floor but into the workout room beyond. One of the assistants spilled a can of it, and being alone at the time, raced off to get a towel to soak up the liquid. She does not see it. Her foot catches just enough of the puddle to lose its purchase on the tile, and her leg flies out in front of her. The rest of her body follows that momentum and for a fleeting moment she is airborne. Panic jolts through her, like an electrical current, and the world slows down. She is falling, but slowly. Reflexes that she does not understand that she now possesses react quicker than her thoughts, and twist her body around so that she her hands and feet come down first. They press against the tile, and she is no longer falling. The slowness vanishes, and the momentum returns and she collapses under the force of it. It is not enough to harm her.

In another world, another possibility, the Sprite was not there, and she walked into the workout room without incident. She would become a great gymnast, her glory stolen from her in one freak injury that destroyed any hope of Olympic gold, but for whatever reason did not awaken her. It would take a horrifying incident on the side of an Interstate to do that, some thirteen years later. But that world is just a possibility, something that might have happened should things have fallen into place differently.

It is not reality.

Reality is that the assistant returned with a towel to see her writhing on the ground in crippling pain. She was holding her head and sobbing, and seeing the slip marks, the assistant panics. The young woman is familiar with injury: she sees neither blood nor broken limbs, and it is an obvious assumption that the little girl must have slipped and hit her head. The woman fetches the instructor and her mother, and they examine her carefully. She does not appear to be injured, but she continues to hold her head and is inconsolable.

When they ask if she fell, she says yes. When they ask her if she hit her head, she tells them no. When they ask if she is hurt, she says she doesn’t know. When they ask her what's wrong, she says her head hurts.

The pain does not lessen, and soon she is taken to the emergency room. The doctors x-ray her head and neck and find nothing broken or out of place. She is sent home with pain killers, and her parents are told to take her to her normal doctor if the pain doesn't subside.

Eventually, she calms down. The headache has not gone away, but nonetheless she is calm enough to ease the immediate fears of her parents. She is as cognizant of her surroundings and herself as a six-year old with a high fever might be, though she is not feverish. She does not sleep that night. Her head is hurting far too much for that, and the pain killers the hospital provided are not doing anything.

The next morning, the tiles in the hallway of the gymnastics facility have degraded to the point where merely stepping upon causes them to crumble away to dust. The fabric of the bed and blankets in the emergency room where she rested has decayed, becoming useless and they are discarded. These two situations are considered odd by those who witnessed them; however neither location reports this to the other, or to the girl's parents, and as such is not immediately connected. This is, after all, 1977, and quantum expression is still twenty-two years from the public consciousness.

The headaches continue, and she remains bedridden. Her doctor is baffled; she has all the symptoms of a migraine but no medical reason he can discern for having one. Two days pass and it is now her birthday, making her seven. The pain is lessening, yes, but refuses to vanish. Consulting with his peers, the doctor suggests a new technology that is barely five years old: a CAT scan. Her parents are concerned enough to okay the procedure, even though it means a bit of travel to a facility that has obtained such a device. She remains bedridden for the next two days.

The girl's voracious appetite during this time is overlooked in the growing concern over her headaches.

One day before she is schedule to have the CAT scan, five days since the incident, the headache vanishes. Her parents and doctor decide to delay having her undergo the CAT scan unless the headache resurfaces. She isn't feeling any pain, and seems as normal as ever.

She hasn't yet told her parents that all of the clocks in the house are wrong, some of them by as much as two minutes and twenty-eight seconds. One popular theory on the perception of time states that one perceives time in relation to one's overall experience: an eight year old views one year as one-eighth of their entire life, making it seem like a very long span of time; where as an eighty-one year old views one year as one eighty-first of their entire life, an insignificantly short span.

She is seven years, two days, five hours, twenty-six minutes and fourteen seconds old, and she is aware of the passing of every second. She knows, to the second, how long it is before Sesame Street is on. She knows, to the second, how long it is until Christmas. She knows that she isn't really seven years, two days, five hours, twenty-six minutes and fifteen seconds old; she is seven years, nine months, three days, eight hours, thirty-seven minutes, and two seconds. She has no concept of conception, of the exact moment that an egg was fertilized and the process that would result in her was set in motion; she only knows that it has been seven years, two days, five hours, twenty-six minutes and eighteen seconds since the time her mother and father say that she was "born," but that she is intrinsically older than what she has been told.

Now that the headache has finally passed, her parents become concerned about the amount of food she consumes. It far exceeds what someone of that age should be eating. They begin to fear that she has somehow injected a tapeworm egg, and now there is a mature parasite within her. That could also explain the headache, were she somehow ill from having such a creature inside her. Just like before, the doctor can find nothing wrong with her. She is checked back into the hospital to be observed and tested. Aside from her abnormal appetite, the physicians find nothing wrong with her. In fact, she is in perfect health for a girl her age. Her metabolism operates at an extraordinarily accelerated rate, but no adverse effects are apparent. She is released, again.

She has not told them that she understands how old everything around her is. The building. Her parents. The doctors. Their instruments. She knows how long ago it was that the metal was a superheated liquid within the earth, and how long it has been since it was forged into its current shape. Their clothes. She knows how old the fibers are, and how long it has been since they were woven into the long white jackets. She does not have detailed knowledge of geology and metalsmithing, or horticulture and weaving; she only knows how old something is, and how long it has held its current shape.

She does not know how or why she knows, only that she does. She knows that her parents are wrong about the ages of things but she doesn't know why they are wrong. Rather, she doesn't know why they don't seem to know the things she knows. One day, at dinner, she asks how old her fork is. Her father replies that it is about eight years old. He does not know what she is asking; even at this point their vocabularies on such concepts are beginning to differ. He thinks of the fork as being eight years old, the approximate span of time which has passed since he and his wife purchased the silverware just before they were married. She thinks of it in terms of how old the metal is, or how long the metal has been in its current state.

He provides her neither of these, and his answer is in fact puzzling to her in just how wrong it is. She comes to the conclusion that they simply don't know and can't be considered a reliable source of answers for such things. She never asks them about the age of anything again.

Her parents have begun to notice that ever since the headache, their little girl is different. They do not know why she is different, only that she does not talk as much. She responds to them, but she is answering them and not starting conversations. She is not asking them questions as she once did. She is not asking why the sky is blue, how can butterflies fly, or where do stars come from. She is not finger-painting pictures and showing them her work for approval. In fact, she speaks very little unless prompted to. When she does speak, her responses are often startlingly insightful and mature for a seven-year old, and frequently becoming more so as time passes.

She has developed, for seven-year old, disconcerting habits, such as constantly adjusting the clocks in the house so they all tell exactly the same time. Her parents fear that her odd behavior and silence is a sign that she has become mentally impaired, or damaged by the slip. They debate having the CAT scan performed again. Instead, they decide to have her intelligence tested.

They have no way of knowing the sheer amount of sensory information that her awakened mind is pulling in, much of it gathered from senses they do not possess. They cannot know that her awakened mind processes this information faster and more elegantly than 99.99% of the current population of the planet. She is learning at what in thirty years would be considered a normal rate for a mega-intelligent nova, but what is considered a terrifying rate to the psychologists of 1977.

And they tell her parents so. Their daughter is gifted. The word is stressed, and stressed again, and stressed until her parents are the ones with headaches. She should be put into accelerated learning programs and gifted-learning classes. She should be encouraged to learn. This is not the first time they have been told this. Not so long ago, mere weeks in fact, they were told that her daughter could be a champion gymnast. They were told to encourage her to pursue it.

She has told no one that she has become aware of space in the same way she aware of time. When she closes her eyes and concentrates, she can look into other places as though she was standing there. This is a source of great amusement for her. She will go out to the store with her father, and will ask him what he thinks mother is doing. The things he thinks mother is doing is more often than not as incorrect as the age he thinks the fork is.

She doesn't have to guess what mother is doing. She knows. She can watch her.

Her parents have long talks about how to best support their "gifted" child. Part of them feels a tremendous responsibility; the phrase "next Einstein" was used more than once in the talks with the psychologists. Such a woman could change the very course of history if everything fell into place for her. Gymnastics, on the other hand, is such a brief and limiting career. If she wished, she could feasibly do both in her lifetime, but her parents cannot afford both the tuition for a gifted learning facility and professional gymnastic coaching. And still, they are both of sufficient intelligence to know how geniuses frequently have social difficulties, and in some ways are very fragile people. They do not wish to pressure her into anything she does not want to do.

They present her both options, and she decides to leave gymnastics behind. Elementary school had become boring, and she had discerned that her teacher knew even less than her parents did. The woman did not like it when she corrected her in class, but she could not let the woman say things that were so untrue. The guidance counselor had recently come to the same conclusion as the psychologists she had been sent to, and everyone in general seemed to be relieved that she would not be returning after Christmas break.

That Christmas eve, she remains awake at night, determined to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus as he came into their home. She does not even have to leave her bed since she can simply close her eyes and see into other places. Her heart breaks when she discovers that her parents wait until they think she is asleep, then place the gifts themselves. She does not know what is more confusing: the elaborate subterfuge involved, or what good they believed it would do to continue it.

Her parents are surprised to find she is so withdrawn Christmas morning, and that she becomes even more so when opening gifts that Santa has left for her. They are caught off-guard when she thanks them for her presents, and tells them that she knows Santa did not come last night. They were not expecting to have this conversation so soon with their baby girl. They ask her how she discovered the truth. She tells them that she can tell that the handwriting on the “From Santa” tags are the same as her parents’. It is not a lie; she can tell. She does not tell them that she knew to look for the similarities because she watched them sign the tags from her bedroom.

She does not remain down for long. For reasons her parents are unable to discern, their daughter is unfathomably excited about New Year's Eve. She is unable to properly articulate exactly why this excites her; even with her ever-blossoming vocabulary she cannot phrase it in words that describe it properly. Even excited does not accurately relate her enthusiasm, as her true feelings contain more intrigue and curiosity about why it is celebrated than she has anticipation for the event itself. She finds the purchasing of new calendars particularly fascinating, and asks why they are not made to last more than a year. Her parents' response, which has to do with needing new space to write appointments on, and little to do with the actual measuring of time, confuses her. They tell her that people do not use calendars to measure the passing of days, weeks, months, and years, but to help remember what they need to do in coming days. She asks if people do not need a calendar to measure time, do they always remember exact date and merely forget what they were supposed to do. They tell her that no, people often need help remember the date as well. With this answer, the confusion on her face grows, and she wanders off silently.

This confusion is magnified when they allow her to watch the New York ceremony on TV, which is on several hours earlier than letting her watch the one in their time zone. She has never been exposed to the idea that different regions observe time differently, and the concept of time zones frustrates her. No amount of explanation can change her (very loud) opinion that time is a constant and "doesn't care where the sun is shining!" However, she is unable to answer them when they ask her what is the "true time," because her mega-intelligent mind has just grasped that her perception of time, how she bases hours and minutes, seems to be tied into the erroneous time zone concept that her parents and seemingly everyone else use. Her internal clock seems to be set with the time zone she lives in, and the devastating realization that had she awakened elsewhere that clock might be fixed to a different zone, paralyzes her and completely demands the entirety of her attention.

She wanders back to her room, unable to think about anything else but this crucial question of how her own perception of time differs from that of everyone else's. She discovers that she can "reset" her internal clock to match the time zones, and that her understanding of an object's age adjusts accordingly, but underlying that remains the knowledge that that her understanding of time is independent of the calendar her parents described. She has no vocabulary to put this into words for her parents, and no education in quantum physics to even attempt doing so. She does not bring it up again, except to say that after careful thought she understands how time zones work.

Her parents cannot realize that a nagging, but unvoiced, question in the back of her mind has been answered. It is not just her parents, but people in general, that are ignorant of time. She is different from everyone else. All that they know is that the changes in their daughter are becoming stressful to deal with, and they begin to worry that they are incapable of providing her the environment she needs to flourish.

Having been told that she would meet other children like her, she is excited when school resumes. Her elation is short-lived; while the children in her classes are more intelligent than those of her previous school they are most definitely not like her. She also makes the incorrect assumption that her new teachers would be more like her, and they too are not. Still, the subject matter is more engaging and the assignments challenging, and she settles into a comfortable routine.

Her teachers are uncertain how to gauge her courses. To say that she is accelerated is a significant understatement, mirrored only by her considerable retention and comprehension of the material. They continue to throw tougher concepts and assignments at her and she continues to have no difficulty in absorbing it. As the weeks pass, they do their best not to overwhelm her and find that she rarely is. Still, she is easily unique amongst the gifted children, and some of them begin making inquiries to colleagues at other schools for advice.

In her 2nd month at school, she notices that she is dimly aware of how time affects objects. She begins focusing on this, and spending most of her free time observing the aging process of different objects she has collected. The pull of time forward is strong, but she can feel the path of time backward as well, the path the object traveled to get to this exact point where she holds it in her hand. The sense of this is different for each object she holds, be it a fork, a walnut, a pencil, or a sock. A common element exists, though, in that it feels like a rubber band in her head that is capable of being stretched in either direction. She decides to trying pulling on that rubber band when holding the fork, and the fork snaps backwards to meet the rubber band's new location.

Discoloration fades. Wear vanishes. Tines sharpen. And the fork sits within her fingers, a full ten years younger than it was before she held it.

She takes the walnut in her hand and pulls the rubber band the other direction. The shell crumbles. The nut withers. They both become little more than crumbs. And the crumbs become nothing but fine dust. She attempts to pull the rubber band back to it's starting place, and learns a valuable lesson about pushing time too far upon an object when the dust fails to return to its original shape, becoming instead a twisted, incomplete half-thing.

Up until the fork and the walnut, she has kept the truth of her unique qualities to herself. This latest experience is beyond everything else, and she decides cannot be kept quiet and she asks her science teachers if it is possible to advance or reverse the affects of time upon something. She is told that Einstein theorized that time could move differently as an object nears the speed of light. This isn't the answer she was seeking, so she instead asks if an object can be made younger or older, such as a fork. She is told that proper care can slow down the deterioration of the metal, and the opposite can accelerate it. They tell her that adverse conditions, and certain radiations, can speed this process up. She almost asks if it is possible for a person to create these conditions or radiations, and then thinks better of it.

Most of the instructors think little of this beyond the curiosity of a talented student. One, however, files it away as something that might be important later.

Much like time zones, the Daylight Savings transition at the end of March is something she does not take well. She argues heatedly with her teachers about it, far more than she did with her parents. They are patient with her, but not infinitely so, and it results in an intense conversation with the school counselor about how the school isn't responsible for Daylight Savings and she should not be taking her frustration out on them. She is warned that her attitude towards the staff is completely inappropriate and will not be tolerated in the future. After a moment where she says nothing, she acknowledges that her anger was misdirected and promises to apologize, which she does immediately upon being dismissed from the counselor's office.

An impromptu meeting is held as a result of her outburst. Their student is discussed in detail, from her abnormal intellect, to her alarming tendency to treat instructors as inferiors, to her utter obsession with time. They decide it would be beneficial to teach her time as it applies to physics, as well as the philosophies outside of physics. It would be both something to keep her interest, and at the same time, humble her to show her that there is more to time than she considers fact.

Their plans works better than they could have hoped. With her science lessons focused on mathematics and physics, she attends class enthusiastically and shows determined interest to learn everything they show her. Her outbursts vanish, and she becomes deferential to her science instructors again. In other classes, her behavior levels as well, and the staff congratulate themselves on their efforts.

By May, she has learned to extend her control of time to how objects move within it, and even stop them completely. Requiring something that is always in motion, she spends her free time over three days letting water trickle from the faucet in the bathroom. Progress is gradual. It is easier for her to slow the droplets down than to speed them up; she gathers moving forward is always harder where time is concerned. Stopping something completely, taking it outside of the flow of time, proves even harder. The following week, she finally concentrates hard enough and the drop hangs in mid air, perfectly still. The exertion required is more than she's ever committed to any previous temporal manipulation, and she alarms the lunch cooks by eating twice more than her normally abnormal quantity of food.

She finds the science of time, much of it theoretical, to be a necessary evil. It entertains her to learn things which do not seem to apply to her, or at least, if not that, things she seems to be able perform without using science consciously. Her mega-intelligent mind is divided between believing the necessity of learning the science, and the increasing feeling that she doesn't really need to learn it at all.

Near the end of the term, she becomes brave enough to try out her abilities on living subjects. She reduces a stray cat to a mere kitten, and then back again. She then increases its flow through time, and watches it dash off into the woods behind the school at breakneck speed. This experiment bolsters her confidence, but also lowers her hesitance to use her abilities. She speeds time upon herself, allowing her to win a race in Physical Education easily. When a classmate ridicules her for the size of her lunch, she reduces him just enough in age that his body will not fit within his pants. They fall, along with his underwear (something she had not anticipated or intended) around his ankles, tripping him as he carries a lunch tray. Immediately, her surprise causes him to age instead, enough that the seams rip, before she is able to return him to his proper age. He breaks his arm in the fall, and the injury is blamed on his apparently defective clothing.

The incident leaves her conflicted. She did not intend him harm, only humiliation, yet it happened and for that she feels guilt and regret. At the same time, she understands that she is the only one who could have done something like that, and is beginning to question just how much she has in common with these other children, and even the adults, at the school. She understands only her restraint prevents her from doing whatever she wishes to whomever she wishes, and that the power the school has over her is limited completely by her restraint.

By summer break, her parents barely recognize their daughter as the child they knew for six years before the slip at the gymnastics facility. Her cheerful, curious demeanor now shares its space with an articulate, educated personality that speaks of university level physics as though she is above it, when it deigns to speak to them it all. At times, the girl they knew seems to push her way back to the surface, and she will laugh and smile as she once did. But, she is often quiet, reserved, and her eyes betray a distance when she is thinking that keeps them awake at night.

They are more confused now then ever, and have even less idea how to best care for their daughter than before the term started.

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