Beth had a problem. The world was ending around her. Strangely, she’d been expecting that so her worries were focused elsewhere. Not on the world that was drifting away into mist, but on the new one she could feel being born in the setting sun.
“Should the sky being doing that?” Lagressa asked pointing to the spiral kaleidoscope the clouds had been pulled into.
“Not on Earth it shouldn’t,” Beth said, admiring the beauty of the scene while finding it disturbing at the same time.
They’d chased de Rais ship westward for two days, never gaining on his position but not losing sight of him either. The crew, world weary as they might have been, were not happy with the sudden voyage into the ocean deeps. No one thought the Earth was flat, or harbored delusions that sea monsters lay in wait to devour them, but there were hundreds of practical concerns a long ocean bound voyage required. Concerns which there hadn’t been time to address during the firefight that marked their departure from land.
“We’re leaving the Earth,” Beth’s father said. He was observing the stars with a handheld telescope. “Or at least this Earth.”
“Should we be holding onto something?” Starshine asked. “The last time we crossed into a different psychoplane my ship almost flew to pieces.”
“This should be less dramatic,” Beth’s father said. “We’re moving somewhere these ships would be acceptable. Another history text I think? It’s hard to tell until we get there.”
Beth couldn’t even be sure of that much. The mist made her skin prickle like a million lightning imps were holding a dance party on her nerves.
“They’re trying to get to a world where de Rais can pick up a body double aren’t they?” Beth asked. “Why now though? And why here?”
“We’re beyond the normal fishing waters,” her father said. “How does the Unread feel to you here?”
“Weird. It’s like it’s not tethered to anything,” Beth said.
“That’s how I perceive it too,” her father said. “With nothing from the text’s central narrative to tie into, there’s nothing to hold back what happens here.”
“Is that why this mist is riddled with enchantments?” Lagressa asked.
“It feels like psi-waves to me,” Starshine said.
“It’s both,” Beth’s father said. “Early on I thought the spaces between the worlds were the errors the world had cast off. I called it ‘the Erased’.”
“Like the parts of the story that the author intentionally left out?” Beth asked.
“Right,” her father said. “I thought it was a miasma of elements that were dangerous because they didn’t fit and could bog you down into nothingness.”
“But you learned it wasn’t at some point?” Beth asked.
“To be fair, it was your mother who discovered it.”
“Mom? What was she doing here?” Beth asked.
“I was trying to show off to her,” her father said. “You have to understand, your mother caught the eye of a lot of people, and I was late to the party. Literally. So I thought I needed to show her something none of the rest of them could.”
“So you took her with you into a text book?” Beth guessed.
“I offered to help her study for an American History final, which we did do. Just in person for the events in question, rather than from the notes,” her father said.
“Oh my god! Was this the ‘once in a lifetime first date’ you always talk about? I thought you took her to Disneyland?” Beth said.
“Technically, I did,” her father said. “One of the texts we traveled into was about the history of Walt Disney and the founding of his theme parks.”
“How is that American History? I thought history was all wars and presidents and stuff,” Beth asked.
Her father frowned at her.
“Do you think I would be so fascinated by history if all it consisted of was what you get in your high school textbooks? History is everything that’s ever happened and everyone who’s ever lived. It’s not just dates and places. It’s alive. The things we thought we knew when I was an undergrad have changed dramatically in just the space of your life, and we’re discovering new things all the time about who we were and why we’ve become who we are.”
“But Disney?” Beth asked, wishing her classwork included anyone even vaguely that interesting.
“Absolutely. There’s so much, good and bad, that can be traced back to him. The 20th century was a busy time, but his work was relevant on a global basis for the better part of it.”
“Will we be seeing this ‘Disney’ on the other side of these mists?” Lagressa asked.
“That’s what Beth’s mother discovered,” her father said. “It’s possible. The space between the worlds isn’t filled with the discards, or the unwanted. It’s filled with untamed possibility.”
Connections arced across Beth’s mind, ideas forming as she inhaled the mist, and vanishing faster than her consciousness could keep track of them.
“What did Mom do, exactly, that proved that?” she asked.
“We were in a bit of trouble with a cohort of Roman infantry on the borderland of their territory in eastern Europe. I told her we needed to avoid falling out of the world, but we were separated and when I saw her next, she was riding at the head of Genghis Khan’s Horde.”
“Didn’t Genghis Khan live about a thousand years after Rome fell?” Beth asked.
“Not quite that much, but yes, the two forces should never have met, but at the world’s edge, it worked,” her father said.
“But Mom’s not like us, she can’t travel in the Unread. Can she?”
“Not on her own, but at the borders between worlds? Like I said, endless possibilities.”
“That sounds like a potent weapon in the hands of someone with the proper strength to use it,” Lagressa said.
“It’s not an issue of strength,” Beth’s father said. “The downside of endless possibilities is that many of them will not be particularly good ones. More often than not, trying to influence the Unread in the space where there’s no narrative to begin with, results in a fairly nasty backlash. It’s the kind of thing we’d only want to try in truly dire circumstances.”
There was a deep thrum that pulsed through the mist and left Beth dizzying in the wake of its passing. Nothing physical had moved. Nothing visible had changed around her on the boat, but something was terribly different nonetheless.
She reached out to the Unread, listening as intently as she could. No matter how much she strained though, she couldn’t hear anything. The dreamy sense of the narrative that she’d been following faded away along with the mist that enveloped them.
Beth looked around the ship and everything looked fine. It looked solid. It looked real.
They weren’t in a story any more.