Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Alexandria Ex Machina

Genre: Science Fiction

Part 1 or Part 5

Ohno’s fingers danced across the base-twelve keyboard in time with a trilling Guebrou piano solo. A visual representation of the time ship’s shield surrounded him, forming garnet curtains at the edge of a stage – one where he was the featured act. The humidol’s microscopic droplets enhanced the experience – Ohno smelled a melange of cologne from an imagined audience, a grand piano’s varnished wood, and hot stage lights.

Instability in the shield showed visually as a jagged tear in the curtain, which Ohno caught immediately. He prodded it as he fixed it, exposing weaknesses, and coloring his corrections with whatever color caught his fancy that shift. Once the shield was repaired he left an update for the others without losing focus on the rest of the ship’s protective armor.

Ohno did not realize he perfectly parroted his chosen soundtrack as he worked. He did know he was always thirsty after his shift, for some unknown reason. His Composer coworkers also noticed this effect of his time on duty, and had initiated a new routine early in the trip.

Their crafty response conditioned a more indulgent level of processing within Ohno’s brain: looking forward to the drink his friends would leave him each shift. Each was unique, and it was one of the trips’ few surprises. Ohno idly wondered if he’d grown dependent on being surprised. Then he recalled the previous day’s mango balsamic fizz, and smiled.

Part 2 or Part 4

The ingredients for Ohno’s treat that shift were guava paste, a non-alcoholic simulation of gin, and the peel of a fruit from the depths of the Amazon. As per usual, the concoction went through several tasty iterations before Dru and Treya perfected it.

“I don’t really care if the explorers come back with anything.” Dru said. Treya looked up with concern. “Sorry. Sometimes I just have to say these things out loud.”

“Yeah, I get it,” Treya said. “We need to purge thoughts that would hinder performance.”

“Oh, sure, that too,” Dru said with a little surprise. “Right now I’m testing if echoes of what we say remain in the ship until Ohno exits his pod. He always seems to know what we’re thinking.”

“Huh,” Treya said. “I like this experiment.”

Part 3

Dru did not need to fill his work pod with sensory virtualizations for motivation. They simply thought of their self as an old-fashioned bronco buster in the Wild West, taming the ship as it rode the curvature of an artificial gravity well. Every adjustment to the shield was a gentle correction of an out-of-control beast. They whispered to it, praising and chiding it in turn. That wild animal would never be tamed, though, and Dru was comfortable with that job security.

In the end, Dru was just on this trip for the ride. Oh, sure; between shifts they engaged with each co-worker, schooling them on the virtues of chaos. But as their shift approached, so did distraction, as they anticipated their next ride.

Part 4 or Part 2

“If you actually change my mind about something it may affect my ability to Compose. Are you comfortable with that?” Ohno made his layup on the virtual basketball court, winning the game.

Dru snorted. “Of course I know that. I just want your promise you’ll tell me when you weave one of my theories into your repairs during your shift.” They set up the sim for a jog in Central Park to cool down, pretending the muscle contractions instigated by the suit felt like a real workout.

“Ha!” Ohno’s laugh came out as a yelp. “If that happens I’ll let the world know!” Then, a minute later, “Do you think Treya blames more of the shield glitches she finds on you or on me?”

“Me for sure,” Dru said. “ Because I’m still not convinced we’re going to an alternative timeline, and Treya will be thrilled when she gets the data that proves I’m wrong.”

Ohno laughed, then realized Dru had stopped jogging. “What?”

Dru shook their head. “I see the math and it computes, but…I have this feeling.”

Shaking his head, Ohno grabbed Dru’s shirt and got them moving again. “I love it when Mathematical Composers talk about gut feelings!”

Part 5 or Part 1

Two steps ahead was where Treya preferred to be. Catching a shield rupture before it happened was her goal each shift. Surrounding Treya was a crazy quilt of virtual tags against a neutral background, visualizing each past failure. Reds and oranges denoted varying levels of delay; blues and greens showed when her prescience of the effects of time travel had paid off.

During her shift Treya recited the cause of each red marker in the surrounding quilt, a mantra to prime her perception for future slip-ups. At the same time she listened to the works of Beethoven to reduce anxiety. Yet another part of her mind recited the stats of the explorers in suspended animation within the ship’s torus.

She was the only one of the three Composers who knew they were humanity’s last hope.

The obvious signs of societal decline had been evident but ignored for years. Those who lived the data knew the extent of the situation, however.

Then came the discovery of time travel. After months of debate over future versus past, the infamous ‘missing’ Library from the second century, B.C.E. had been the only destination seriously discussed.

As the doughnut-shaped ship spun around a point miles above Alexandria, Egypt, the Composer’s shield protected it from flying apart. Soon Treya’s mental litany would include the procedures to stop the spin within nanoseconds of their destination time. Then the explorers would explore, while the invaluable Composers remained behind.

Treya didn’t mind missing out on living history. Her goal was not just the team’s acquisition of knowledge that might save humanity; her goal was to get them back home.

Copyright 2022 by Melani Weber