Vicariance

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vicariance
vɪˈkɛːrɪəns,vʌɪ-/
Noun
BIOLOGY
the geographical separation of a population, typically by a physical barrier such as a mountain range or river, resulting in a pair of closely related species.

I have some trouble controlling my body temperature. It's something most people born in my year experience: feeling the seasons particularly harshly. In the winter, we freeze. In the summer, we boil. Or bask, depending on how close you live to the equator and your precise genodate.

This planet we're on doesn't have seasons. That's my theory. It's just a desert, all the way around. On the first day we'd set up a camp of sorts, with scraps of material Cal had retrieved and brittle driftwood we'd found nestled around the base of rocks. The valley we were in wasn't a sandy kind of desert. It was the rocky kind, with cracked, blasted red dust as far as you could see, all the way to the mountains, way off. The sky was a permanent bleached blue, like the sun had burned off its most vivid colouring.

I didn't know where we were.

The reason we were here, the man responsible, came and went as he pleased. He claimed it was too dangerous to take us with him, especially Marv, who was slipping in and out of consciousness. Although I'd staunched his wound back in the Aviary, the journey here had triggered some kind of fever and he'd been out of it for days now. Cal cautioned that putting him through the same kind of stress again could kill him.

So we remained in the desert, huddled beneath our ragged tarpaulin, shifting it in a circle around a giant rocky outcrop every four hours so as to remain in the shade. Cal brought supplies but this wasn't something we could keep up for much longer. Each time he disappeared, I was acutely aware that we were stuck here if he didn't come back. Maybe I've got trust issues, but that wasn't really a situation I was comfortable with.

One thing being stuck in an alien desert with a mostly comatose guy does is give you a lot of space to think. I'd indulged in a lot of brain wrangling. It was simplest to do a little mental checklist. Dad: accidental (stupid) death. Security guard in the Spire: hopefully incapacitated, possibly dead. Personal criminal status: accessory to robbery at best, terrorist at worst. Actually, murderer at worst. Do you have to murder to qualify as a terrorist? I'd need to check the definitions. Oh, and let's not forget - Mother: disappointed.

You get those decisions in life where you realise too late after you've taken the action that it was a real bad move. There's that squirly sensation in your stomach and the desperate desire to turn back the clock and do something different, all the while knowing for certain that there's nothing you can do. I was getting a lot of that. In fact, every thought found its way down that line until it seemed that there were no right decisions left in my life. That moment, back when I'd discovered Cal in the shed. Pretty much any other path would have been better than this.

Not that I want to get too navel-gazey. But it's hard not to get a bit morbid when there's a half-dead friend with one arm blown right off lying on the lifeless ground of an unfamiliar wilderness. Too dramatic? This is the kind of situation for which there's no such thing as exaggeration.

A sucking-popping sound always accompanies Cal's arrival and departure. The air puckers before me, then there's a momentary tear and then he's standing there, like he was there the whole time, blue embers and energy ripples drifting away on the wind. In contrast to us, he's never looked more alive. In this form he has no body hair whatsoever - so he informs me - and his eyes glow a constant cobalt, obscuring his pupils and making it impossible to know where he's looking.

"I think I'm starting to figure it out," he said excitedly. "I still don't understand how these places are linked. And there seem to only be a few worlds that are actually habitable. But I seem to be tuning in on where's safe to jump. Can't quite put my finger on it. It's like how you can walk down a bumpy track without consciously noting every bump and hole. Your brain figures out a safe path automatically."

"I'm fine," I said. "We're both fine. Been a lovely day here. Sun shining."

He walked up close and crouched down in front of me, balancing on his toes. "A couple of times, at the start, I ended up somewhere completely black. There was nothing there. Not even air. Another time it was the same, but I was surrounded by stars. Like I was in outer space. I think I was in outer space. If I'd stayed I'd have died."

"Superb. Do you have medicine, food and water? Let's get to the point here."

As he unpacked his bag he told me about his experiments with his new ability. He'd made brief visits back to Locque, which is where he'd sourced the medicine. Given his genoshift capacity he could remain largely undetected, and disappearing into a crowd had never been a problem on Locque. The police had tried to bring in all kinds of ID systems over the years but it was hard to get around the fact that everyone born within a twenty-four hour period, all around the world, looked identical. Cal could impersonate a whole bunch of different genotypes and, crucially, the authorities didn't know all of them.

"I think I've figured out what the mock Aviary was for," he said. That was the first place he'd ever jumped, back when he first disappeared. He'd found himself in a wooden and metal replica of the Aviary. No furniture to speak of, just loose representations of desk locations and fixed walls. "It's so they can jump in and out of the Aviary. Our world and theirs is locked spatially."

"Genuinely no idea what you're saying," I sighed.

"Doesn't matter. I'll have to show you at some point, that'll make it easier to understand."

"Good. We can't stay here forever. We need to get him back." I nodded at Marv, who lay under a blanket with his eyes closed.

"They'll be looking for him back home, you know," Cal said.

"I know."

Cal sat down hard, crossing his legs. A plume of red dust was kicked up by his movement. "You blame me for this," he stated. I didn't reply. "You know who I blame? Them. Those sons of bitches working in the Aviary. Whatever's going on - and I'm a long way from understanding it - they're in on it. You saw that machine. That living machine. I wouldn't have this power if I hadn't touched it."

"If they have the machine, it seems like they must have your ability as well."

"Maybe. There's one way to find out. We attack the Aviary again. This time we don't get surprised. This time we get answers."

You know that moment when the needle skips and starts playing the same bit of the record over and over? That was my life right now.


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