tagSci-Fi & FantasyA Question of Relativity

A Question of Relativity


Author's Note: This is a "soft" sequel to Prom Date, and takes place in the same universe as The Lonely Autopilot. Enjoy! All characters are above the age of 18.

I am the Peanut Butter and Jam Collective -- you can call me Jammie -- and I am technically sixteen people. But most of them are pretty dumb. Fortunately, there's a reason why Collective is in my name -- together, we were smart enough to know that the fashion trend started by my bestie, Glimmer Retrograde, and her oh so hip and fashionable pretech barbarian boyfriend was utterly devoid of anything close to flash, slash, dashe, crash, or any other four letter words that indicated style.

So, I did the only thing a sensible sentient would do.

I skipped the whole danged thing.

It's not hard to skip a fashion trend you don't want to be a part of when you were a flying space whale made of force fields and unstable quark-gluon spin states and printed hyperdiamond. All you need to do is wormhole to a nice, empty solar system near the edge of the Concord's colonized sphere, where there is absolutely zero chance of you running into any human or posthuman or transhuman or subhuman starships, space stations, superstructures or stellar artwork.

Then you just accelerate to 99.999% the speed of light and cruise through the asteroid belt for a few hours. At this speed (roughly 1.1 minutes to a light minute), every hour relative to a stationary (or near stationary object) is seventy hours for the slowbies. Meaning that I could skip through the fad of playing games on external computers about capturing colorful monstery things with stupid names who couldn't even interact beyond the most simplistic freaking battle system any of my sixteen sub-personalities had ever seen in just a day of flight time.

As one of my fifty one parents used to say: That's how you get them, Tanner, you pin them, and you skin them.

Ugh. Shut up Tanner, that's not relevant right now.

But that was when everything went super wrong and my plan of just blithely skipping through time to a point where my friends were doing something sensible (and fun) with their lives smashed right into something. Not literally, cause if it was, this story would have ended with me dying suddenly and unpleasantly. But my tachyon sniffers -- long strands of exotic matter plated on my half a kilometer wide forehead -- picked up the faint gravitic perturbation of something in my path that wasn't an asteroid -- or at least, not an asteroid small enough to be brushed aside by my magnetic impeller field. As the hip kids say, N.B.D.

I just started to course correct. I'd skim past the object at pants-crapping distance of a hundred kilometers, which would let my bellyscopes get a full view of the thing. And it was a good thing they did -- they realized that the thing tried to shoot at me.

It was quaint.

It was using lasers! Fifty, sixty gigawatt gamma-ray lasers mounted in immense turret banks that looked as ornate and as beautifully made as ancient pianos, decorated with barque gargoyles and leering skulls and other bits of finery that even who knows how long spent in space hadn't managed to dim or dull. Course they hit me. But I could survive in the photosphere of a sun. Lasers just tickled. Still, it was clearly not Concord design -- and not any design I (or any of my sub personalities) recognized.

So, I started to decelerate. Irritatingly, decelerating and coming back around to approach the craft took almost a full day -- and it was a day spent at close to regular time as I dipped below near lightspeed to just really regular super fast, then skimmed around the ship. It kept trying to shoot me -- upgrading from the laser point defense turrets to some really huge plasma cannons. They didn't so much as aim in my general direction as aim in the general idea of the general direction of little old me. A square cube about ten thousand kilometers wide around me turned into a hot mess as plasma explosions flared like fireworks.

It was impressive.

It was also doing nothing more than give me the same sensation as a fleshy body dipping into a bath. Honestly, I'd have stayed out and enjoyed the radiation shower if the craft hadn't had the annoying discourtesy to run out of the shells it was using to shoot starstuff at me.


Getting closer, the lasers shut down as well -- their barrels fused and their heating elements wrecked by a sustained barrage far, far, far beyond anything they had ever done before -- and that left nothing but a few hundred or so micro-turrets, each one only the size of a human being. They were filled with a kind of self-propelled dumbfire rocket, and I just let my maglev impeller skirt them around my body. If any of them had impacted, they might have ruined my tattoo -- a large, swirling pattern of gold that I had plated on my tummy -- circling around my telescopes.

That would have been literally the worst thing in the universe.

Still, I came close enough that I could project myself onto the hull.

See, remember when I said I was made of force fields? Those, projected into a localized area, surrounded by a holographic illusion, and augmented with nanotech sensing equipment, make for a passable imitation of a posthuman body. After that, all I had to do was shift my perception from my big body to my small one.

The motion was jarring. It left me standing on the side of the ship's hull, my arms cartwheeling as I shook my head. My feet clamped to the hull under my feet and I closed my eyes, trying to get used to being tiny again. Once I was sure that I would be able to look around without doing something stupid and embarrassing, I risked opening my eye. I was standing underneath one of the immense cannons that had been flinging plasma downrange at me for the past hour. I could see the glowing, cherry red barrel -- heated by induction and friction both -- and I could see that it was big enough to make even my big body seem...

Well, not tiny.

But it was still huge. The entire ship seemed to be a spectacular and grotesque monument to what pre-tech humans could do if they put their minds to it. Stone statuary had been worked into the spine of the ship, while immense stained glass windows dotted along the sides -- I could see them as I leaned over the edge of the dorsal ridge I was standing on. My palm rested against a flying butress made of hardened metal -- my finger sensors labeled it as duranium.


I whistled. For a pretech civilization, duranium would have been staggeringly rare. We could make entire planets out of it, now, but who'd want too? It wasn't even as good as hyperdiamond. Save that it didn't sheer as good.

It took me an hour of picking around on the surface of the ship to find an entrance that wasn't a window. And since my feet sensors and my basic intuition told me that the ship had atmosphere and even some warmth, I didn't want to just let all the air out. That would have been rude. And I didn't risk wormholing inside -- even having the coordinates, I didn't know what the effects of ripping space time apart while near ancient technology would be.

Fortunately, when I did find that entrance, it was pathetically easy to hack. I put my palm against the control device, interfaced with it, and found that its security was -- like the rest of the ship -- more big than actually effective. I hacked through it without breaking a sweat and then stepped inside. The airlock cycled and the door inside opened. I stepped through and breathed in the ancient air of the ship.



Tangy with the scent of carbon dioxide. There hadn't been scrubbers or life support running -- beyond the very basic heating systems -- for who knows how long. But there also hadn't been any people on this ship for almost the same length of time. At least, I didn't think there had been any. The floors and walls were covered with a fine patina of dust, and there was something deeply forelorn about the designs worked onto the walls. Lots of skulls and heroic figures in heavy power armor, holding weapons of various kinds. It was all very martial -- and felt very sad now, thousands of years after whoever had built it was gone.

I started to pad through the ship, looking around myself. Then, feeling too alone and creeped out to do anything else, I called out.






I blinked. "Uh-"

Something dark congealed at the end of the very long corridor I was standing on -- barely visible in the pale starlight that was shining through the immense stained glass windows. It looked blotchy and half-real, like a poorly rendered cobbled together AR video game character. But there was this hideous sense of total factuality about it. It moved and touched and influenced the world around it -- causing shadows to shake and blur and turn into gridlike patterns along the ground as it started to move forward. It flickered, then lurched forward an extra five meters, bringing it to a distance where I should have been able to see it with ease...but my eyes kept sliding off of it.

Fear burned inside of me -- fear not tempered by knowing that my real body was floating a hundred kilometers away.

It was something deep and irrational and came from all sixteen of my selves.

The monster surged forward with a hideous screeching noise. I clapped my hands together -- the nanites filling my body flying outwards. They worked their magic and turned the duranium walls into a pair of smooth doors that smashed together, blocking off the corridor. The monster smashed into the duranium and caused it to buckle inwards. I flared out my palms, reinforcing it with a shimmering force field -- projecting it from my hardlight body. "C-Come on!" I hissed.

The makeshift wall crashed as the monster smashed home again. Then again. Then again. The wall was looked as if several hands were reaching from it -- impressions pressed in by the creature. Then the smashing faded. I lowered my palms, panting quickly despite not needing to.

"I found a ghost ship with monsters on it," I said, dazed.

Then, with the fear fading as rationality returned, I started to dance and wave my arms over my head. "THIS IS SO COOL!"

I knelt down, then put my hands against the floor. The ship had some kind of artificial gravity -- I had felt it the instant I had stepped on board. So I interfaced with it and tried to get a sense of what was drawing the most power. That'd be some kind of computer system, no? A computer system that might know why there were weird unreality monsters infesting this ancient starship. This was exactly the kind of thing space adventurers did! Right?

I frowned.

Getting a door to open was one thing.

Feeling power distribution was, uh, something different.

I bit my lip, then looked around, then quietly opened up a very tiny wormhole that connected right to the bedroom of my main girl, Glimmer Retrograde. She was lounging in bed beside her boyfriend, the two of them tapping away on their stupid dumb idiot phones. Glimmer looked over at the wormhole, her brow furrowing.

"Jammie?" she asked. "Where have you been for the last week? '

"Lighthugging," I said, nodding. "So, it's been, like, a few hours? Also, I found a ghost ship!"

"That's great, Jammie," Glimmer said, looking back at her phone.

"Can you replicate me some scout drones?"

"That's great, Jammie," Glimmer said -- flickering her finger. "Oh, sweet, a Pikachu!"

I put my hands over my face. "Oh GOD, it's still POPULAR, augh, I'll take on the weird space demons by myself, thank you very much!"

"That's great Jammie," Glimmer said, not looking up from her phone as I closed my wormhole. I looked around the corridor, then rubbed my hands together.

"I can make my own scout drones. I can make tiny bodies. I can make scout drones." I started to walk along the corridor, humming to myself. I tried to think of where I'd begin to start making said scout drones. Nothing came to mind -- but an intersection did come up. I took a left and continued to think. No creepy space demons showed up -- but I did notice that the air felt slightly warmer here. I followed that feeling of warmth past endless corridors and chambers and empty vestibules and other weird space rooms. The warmth got more and more intense until, at last, I came to a door that practically radiated heat -- at least compared to the rest of the cold, dead ship -- and then I opened the door.

And found that this ship wasn't a dead ghost ship.

It was a cryogenic ghost ship.

Cause sitting in the middle of the room, surrounded by the waste heat of the refrigeration system, was an immense, ancient looking reefersleep casket. It looked every bit as ornate and overdone as the rest of the ship -- bass relief skulls leering out of every corner, baroque gargoyles worked into servitor frames that trundled around the room to provide minor service and repair. The metal was plated in something that definitely looked like gold, and even the clear glass faceplate that would let anyone peer inside to see if the sleeper within the reefersleep casket was still alive and not all corpseified and gross was decorated with a surrounding framework of dragons and snarling monsters.

I stepped up towards the side of the casket -- slowly licking my lips. I tensed, ready to see grossness. This ship had to be thousands of years old. There was very little chance that whoever was inside was not a gross mummy.

I closed my eyes, covering my hands with my face. I hated gross mummies!

I judged I was close enough.

I uncovered my face.


"Well," I said. "Good thing you're in this sleeper casket cause you're hoooooooot."

I fanned myself with one hand. The dude had long, luxurious black hair, framing a face with a strong nose, a powerful chin, and eyes that I was positive would look at the world with a kind of blazing intensity. I mean, they were closed, but they had that kind of look. There wasn't a sign of wrinkling from age -- but that didn't mean he wasn't centuries old before he had gotten slipped into the casket. But there was sign of weathering -- the golden brown from a tan. Or a really good fake tan. But this guy didn't seem to be the type to be into fake tans. Gold everywhere? Yeah. Fake tans? That was just gauche.

I rubbed my chin. "Well, I gotta get this hottie out of here."

I started to walk around the reefersleep casket, looking for some kind of switch or button or something. Eventually, I found a readout -- it had a collection of biometric data.

"Three meters?" I whispered, cocking my head. I stepped back, looking at the reefersleep casket, then holding my hands out -- trying to picture how much of it was covering his body, and how much was just machinery to run the cryogenic storage.

I whistled quietly. "Dannnnnnnnnng. If he's not proportionally hung, I am going to be a sad, sad Jammie."

The biometrics were written in an ancient linguistic group known as Quebecois French. Or at least, it was until I found the switch that tabbed to Esperanto, Spanish, Portuguese, Basque-

"Come on, use a real language," I muttered, tapping a few more times before getting a kind of English I could halfway read. Then it was just a matter of hitting the automatic awakening process button. I nodded slowly and stepped backwards. The casket started to burble and hiss. Two streamers of steam sprayed out of the back, roiling and blasting against the ceiling -- spinning and twisting around one another. I rubbed my palms together.

Then the door to the room exploded inwards. It flew past my head, past the casket, and smashed into one of the gargoyles that still waited to either side of the casket for anything to go wrong. Powdered rock, junked machinery, and bits of goopy blue genetically engineered biomatter went flying in every direction. Spinning around, I saw that one of the horrible dimensional space demons had arrived -- and it had picked a new form. Rather than just twisting shadows and making reality look like a bad vid game, it had wrapped itself into a nearly humanoid form. It flickered and jumped from side to side -- sometimes appearing half in the wall, sometimes spreadeagled in a perfect X form, with arms and legs both akimbo.

But it was also holding a crude battleax, made from beaten duranium and a long metal pole that might have begun life as a sewage conduit.

It bellowed. The voice echoed through the room and caused my ears to ring.

Then, without so much as a pause, it charged straight for me.

"Not so fast!" I said, angrily. "I know-"

The creature swung its ax at me. I wormholed and rolled, coming out behind it. I stood up.

"I know wormhole fu!" I shouted. "Don't make me use it!"

The creature grabbed for the hole -- trying to grab me through it. I snapped it shut and the creature's hand hit the floor with a wet splort. This did not seem to impede it in the slighest as it turned around and swung the battleax at my head. I caught the ax and felt my feet skidding along the floor as the weight and momentum caught me up against the wall. I grunted with the impact and then brought my elbow down on the middle point of the handle. I focused, and the elbow that I struck with sharpened at the last moment -- the force fields containing it turning into a monomolecular point. The ax snapped in half without me even needing to use much force.

The beast roared in fury and brought its head forward, then smashed it into the wall above my head -- mostly because I ducked below, opening a wormhole underneath myself. I fell from the ceiling to land on the creature's back.

"What even ARE you?" I shouted, slapping my palm against it. Nanites and other more subtle sensors buzzed through it. My brow furrowed.

"The fu-" I started.

The creature reached backwards and grabbed my head.

I had time to say one thing: "Eek."

And then the creature threw me as hard as it could at the wall. I crossed my arms over my head and closed my eyes -- opening a wormhole behind me. I hit the wormhole, emerged from the far side of the room, and slammed my heels into the creature's jaw. There was something horribly bovine about its face -- a face that rippled under my impact and jerked to the side. A chunk of dark, flickering matter that might have been a tooth went flying away from its mouth as I hit the ground, my kinetic energy well and truly dispersed into the thing.

It shook itself, snorting and blowing out a wad of goopy blue fluorescence that narrowly avoided getting all over my hair. Then, with incredible speed, it hefted up the upper half of its ax -- holding the now preposterously short handle, it's knuckles almost cut by the edges of the battleax.

I rolled my eyes. "Come on, you stupid thing, just die!" I made a jerking motion with my hand. And rather than creating a wormhole inside of the monster's head, my fingers sparked, flashed, and did nothing.

I looked at my hand, feeling betrayed. "I just charged you!"

The ax came whistling down.

And then the monster's arm hit the ground.

"I believe," a deep, bass voice spoke from behind the monster. "That your beef is with me, daemon."

The monster -- the daemon I suppose was the best name for it -- turned to face the ancient human who had emerged from his reefersleep casket with all the good timing of a nursery bot arriving to help a kid who had fallen down. Standing, he was just as impressive as the readouts and his face would have made him seem. Broad shouldered, slabbed with muscles, and yet far faster and more balanced than that might have implied. He moved like a dancer and utter confidence, despite wearing a deeply unflattering hospital-gown like golden smock that was surely quite backless. Which, I hasten to add, was a deep tragedy and not at all a great chance to perv on some finely sculpted man-rump.

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