We are folded, a story by Tim Yao
The universe rushes by me in vast steps. Eryl asked me to make myself small so I can ride in his pocket. Some surprise! Bored, I extend a thought tendril.
“Becksy,” Eryl chides, gently snapping it away. “You promised not to peek.”
I pretend not to listen. The vistas, which I see through the one opening he has left me, intrigue me: the hot turmoil of blue stars, the busy efficiency of mitochondria, the colorful emptiness of three-dimensional space. An eye, huge beyond imagining, surprises me.
Suddenly the pocket vanishes around me. Eryl squeezes me into an unfamiliar shape. Beings of a similar shape are all about us, but they walk past us and through us. We are still out of phase from their perceptions.
“What they appear to be, Becksy. Simple creatures.”
I open my mind to them. Something deliciously complex and yet naive swirls out at me. Before Eryl can stop me, I let my taste tendril shoot forward to lick it.
Too late I see how thin these beings are, existing in five dimensions but only aware of three in their consciousness. My taste tendril has completely overwhelmed this small one. It shudders and stops. A larger unit beside it draws near, concerned and then emits a wailing sound.
“You have to be more careful, Becksy,” Eryl draws me into their immediate past, though I can still see the blue and white striations of grief in the large unit’s near future.
I let the purple-greens of rue wash over my faces. “Sorry. It was just so tasty.”
Eryl pats my head. “Don’t worry. There are many of these creatures. You just need to moderate your hunger.”
I frown. “Where have you brought us? Why haven’t I heard of these beings?”
“We’re in protected space.”
At my gasp, he reassures me, “Don’t worry. We won’t get caught if we’re careful. Let me demonstrate.”
He extends his tendrils, intertwining my own. His touch is skilled, deftly surrounding the large being’s mind. Ever so carefully, our receptors open to its thoughts.
Her thoughts. She is a mother. Her name is Diane Rafferty. There are intense feelings of joy, love and protectiveness that her child engenders. The small unit in the baby carriage beside her is her daughter Caitlyn, only three months old. Even though Diane is reading a book as she sits on this park bench, she glances over at her child often. Caitlyn amuses herself with a rattle.
Diane’s emotions are incredibly rich. I start to open up my receptors as I had done with Caitlyn, but Eryl’s touch keeps my receptors at their current level, preserving Diane’s life and the local timestream. The tastiness of Diane makes my tendrils tremble.
Slowly Eryl withdraws his own tendrils, gently forcing my own back within myself.
“I want more, Eryl,” I say.
“All in good time, Becksy. We have to be careful. Let me show you how it’s done.” He raises us up out of the three dimensional space to where we can see the pulsing, pink lines that form a squirming, tangled network of interconnecting worms across the land. Our recent proximity to Diane and Caitlyn allows us to pick out their lines.
A hot rush of shame and sadness washes over me to see Caitlyn’s bright potential abruptly ended, her all-too-brief three month life terminated by my clumsiness.
“The important thing is to do this neatly, Becksy. We’re not monsters. The only point of true consciousness for these beings is what they call their present moment. The rest is available for us to ingest.” He lets his taste tendril gently reach out to Diane’s distant past, inviting my thought tendril to witness what he is doing.
Diane stood there in the sandbox. Allen boldly reached out and took her hands in his own. Diane’s cheeks grew hot. Allen leaned forward and touched his lips to hers. Someone gasped. It was Mary, she had seen Diane’s first kiss.
The incident took all of ten seconds. I see where the cross section of Diane’s worm form was diminished by Eryl’s consumption. Racing my thought tendril back up her timestream, I feel the impact. A key memory of hers has vanished, but she chalks it up to the normal diminishing of memory as she ages. It was, after all, only human to forget things.
I smile. “Let me try one.”
I reach out to the first moment when Diane had first held Caitlyn, her tiny body wet and warm and wriggly as the doctor laid the baby upon her chest.
“You are so beautiful,” Diane said, the bonds of motherhood being forged to be stronger than steel.
Though this moment I savor is briefer in time than what Eryl had enjoyed, it significantly erodes Diane’s worm form, tearing at her white hot grief in her present.
Eryl pulls me away, glancing in twelve different directions at once, his agitation and fear showing flashes of bright white and yellow. He shakes me. “I swear, Becksy, you don’t have a single bone of common sense in your body.”
“This is interdicted space. You have trespassed and caused harm,” a Voice intones around us, though we could not sense from whence it came. An inexorable force reaches out, takes hold.
We are both unceremoniously dumped back into three space and my higher order self vanishes, severed by a shock not unlike that of a lobster being thrown into a pot of boiling water, one of Diane’s memories I now know had caused her great dismay.
Diane weeps as she holds Caitlyn’s still body in her arms.
Eryl and I stand near her.
“Help me!” Diane shrieks. “My daughter’s stopped breathing.”
Eryl kneels down in front of Diane. “I’m sorry. There is nothing we can do.”
I stand there, wishing I had my tendrils to drink her grief, but I myself am limited, become human. I embrace them, feeling my heart pounding in my chest.
Copyright © 2016 by Tim Yao
Hummingbird origami image is by Brett Jordan, licensed under the Attribution 2.0 CC Generic
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