Elegiac made the right prediction. Shams realised as soon as their spaceship slipped from flying over blue ocean to sandy mountain range. It was earth in an earlier formation. The whole sphere of the planet appeared blue, until Laurasia rose into view, north to the giant continent that in their world had long ago broken up to form the landmasses of Antarctica and Australia, Africa and India, South America. Shams waited, and sure enough Joe and Eric exclaimed at the same moment.
"Elegiac, how did you know!"
"It cannot fit chaos theory -"
Shams stared as the planet loomed closer. Soon they would land. It was one of those puzzles where collecting pieces and putting them in place only served to extend it, lighting an unfinished edge. It felt like turning another corner in an endless maze.
So what would Elegiac make of that?
Faster Than Light Travel was a technology that had developed exponentially. It had started with a quark, and then accelerated to include electrons and neutrons, and then whole atoms, and then objects, and now spaceships, and the humans on them. It had transformed earth, diverting resources from arms development and war to space exploration and potential colonisation. But then another discovery had slain the wave of conquest at a stroke. As if a sword had fallen from high, to dice up certainties and replace them with darkness, the darkness of space. Or confusion, as Shams often thought of the universe as manifesting. Dark matter, dark energy and gravity itself a manifestation of the eternal confusion of consciousness. As if the universe were nothing but strings of stars; diamonds and rocks beaded in confusion. She tuned out Eric and Joe's discussion of what it could mean, the fact that this earth displayed an earlier alignment of continental plates. Yes, it was strange.
The spaceship slowed to a sky-crawl. They would land shortly on Thetis, the name the inhabitants of this earth called their home. Nat, the spaceship's quantum geneticist and mission leader, came in from the observation deck, her white Greeting Clothes pristine, her crinkly red hair tied back and a faint lipstick on, ready to meet the inhabitants of Thetis as the representative of Earth.
"Now flying over their Tethys Ocean," she said.
Shams could feel Joe and Eric's stillness. Again the fact registered, to bounce off the sleek black wall of their incomprehension.
"Let me guess," said Joe. "This fits into the pattern of -"
"Semi-coherent chaos," finished Eric. The two men, utterly unlike in appearance and with nearly fifteen years between them, gesticulated in unison, Joe lifting his hands ostentatiously, Eric shrugging in scepticism.
After months in space, all four of the crew had begun to borrow from each other's cues, each other's gestures. Shams wryly smiled.
"Well," said Nat, "it does. We know there's no reason why the universe shouldn't repeat patterns, and no reason why our solar system shouldn't be one of them. That doesn't prove there's a great designer or some mad professor or programmer behind it all. Elegiac would have calculated the probability by now if there was."
"Elegiac is inconclusive about it, and that's not the same," said Joe. The picture of his three children glinted in the sunlight now filtering through the spaceship portholes. The photograph was glossy, an anachronism pinned to a panel above his console. Two young boys and one teenage girl, sharing amongst them variations of their father's even jaw and frank eyes.
"Prepare for landing," said
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