Ananda's Journal, Entry 35
August 13th, 2260 – Dusk
This trip’s renewal of the Rite of Hazards was the kind of joyous reunion that everyone thinks of but which so rarely happens. Afterwards, Samantha and I got down to details about the tattoo to span my newest natural scars. Hadn’t planned to work that out today but I suspect she was looking for a pretext to keep an eye on me for a while. I was glad enough of the company. Mikhail joined us a bit later and cleaned up the rough sketch for us. He claims not to be an artist, but any way you look at it he’s a fine draftsman.
I brought up the matter of the Site apparently being linked to pocket universes as offhandedly as I could. It wasn’t very.
“…So food and water aren’t a constraint any more,” I said. The atmosphere at our table had cooled several degrees while I spoke.
Mikhail sat back and looked thoughtful, face screened by a lock of pale blue hair and the ripple of heat rising from his coffee mug. Samantha tilted her head and raised an eyebrow at me in that skeptical-doctor kind of way. “Why do you think it wasn’t just… that place messing with you?” There was a moment’s hesitation before she declined to name the Site.
“The sky and horizon could be,” I allowed, “But the soil and vegetation samples we brought back are real enough.” My eyes flicked to Mikhail and he nodded confirmation.
Her response was a grudging “Ay.”
Another patron at the far side of the patio moved their table with a shriek of metal on ceramicrete. All of us winced.
Samantha cast a sour look over her shoulder at the source of the noise. I held the bridge of my nose between thumb and fingers to try and cut off the start of a headache. Mikhail straightened his shoulders with a deliberate air; a sharp contrast to the white-knuckled grip on his mug.
Turning back to us, Samantha continued. “That, I can’t argue with.” She shook her head, sending a wave of motion through her mane of crinkled hair. “But I wish I could.”
“How is this more disturbing than the crab-clawed corpse that appeared out of thin air?” She hadn’t liked that one, either, but my good mood had evaporated. “Or the skeleton crawling around inside the walls?”
“Don’t.” She turned the sour expression on me this time, sharper than she would show an outsider. “Look, just… don’t.”
Mikhail shifted his right hand to catch my attention and asked, with a faint smile, “Are you so sure all of this,” a flick of his fingers indicated the world at large, “isn’t another little univercska?”
The tension in the air shattered like glass as I collapsed into helpless laughter, overcome by the absurdity of it and how it fit against the information I was planning to keep to myself.
Samantha groaned and hid her face in her hands. “God, Mikhail. You and your sci-fi.”
“The ‘brain in a jar’ hypothesis,” I gasped when I could almost breathe again, “is not disprovable.” When I looked up Samantha was watching me too intently. Mikhail’s expression was unreadable, but the two of them shared one of those perfectly-timed glances while I took a drink of tea and pretended not to notice.
I gave my friends a wry smile and added before the silence could draw out, “Given the observed properties of the Site, there might not be a meaningful distinction between any of those.”
Samantha was back to looking skeptical now, with a trace of amusement enhanced by the lines tattooed near her eyes. “‘Is reality real?’ isn’t enough like a koan for you?”
“Kf, no,” I replied. “Who cares? If you’re in a simulation but can’t see past the fourth wall, there’s no reason not to immerse yourself in it.” I grinned, allowing a more playful note of challenge into my voice. “Joy is still real joy and suffering is real suffering, regardless of their causes.”
She grinned back at me, showing her implanted fangs as a friendly rejoinder, but didn’t pick up the debate. “Weren’t we planning some of that?”
“Maybe, maybe. Takes more than a little ink to make me suffer.”
“We’ll see. There’s such a thin layer of tissue over a clavicle -” She broke off, turning to Mikhail. “And why are you smirking like that?”
“You put on your lab coat, but didn’t even bring it with you.”
“Did I, now?”
“You did.” He mimed a stone skipping across water, “Right into lecture mode.”
A pause while she thought. “Tch. I suppose I did.”
“So,” I broke in, “You were going to tell me what’s so bad about having a source of emergency supplies.”
“Oh. That.” Samantha pulled a face at me. “Just that you’re planning to trust Site-instantiated material enough to eat it.”
“Only in the worst case. If we did get stuck inside, we’d need water first.” I picked up my mug for emphasis. “It’s no worse to gather from the pocket universe, and might be better than what condenses out of the air in the Site proper.”
“How about you make sure you come back before you run out?”
I smiled. “How about you don’t decide I’m dead without evidence?”
Samantha chuckled at that. “Deal.”