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Challenge #01224-C129: Retrospective Introspective

Meanwhile, in the past... -- RecklessPrudence

Rael didn't need to subscribe to the On This Day info feed. He was surrounded by hobby historians who would gleefully inform him of any significant events as they met him. If he was lucky, they would only infodump the interesting bits.

People had work to get to, after all. And limited time meant that people only passed on the information that they deemed important. Which lead to a skewed view of history, and an equally skewed view of Terrans and Earth in general.

For example, today was the Terran anniversary of the day that a sandwich changed the way that the world was run. One sandwich in the hands of a man with a gun and a bee in his bonnet, that had him at the right place in the right time to start a war.

But the person who usually told him such trivia had not given it to him. Ambassador Shayde was conspicuous by her absence.

He found her in one of the larger observation windows. Halfway curled up, and halfway slumped against the frame in a way only she could achieve. Looking out into otherwise featureless blackness at the distant points of light.

Her posture said everything. This was a day of disaster in another way.

Ambassador Shayde had many peculiarities, but chief among them was keeping a calendar inside her head that measured time with the days she lived. And it was, roughly speaking, five hundred years out of date. And completely out of sync with the current Terran Calendar.

She could not possibly see the faintest pinprick of light that was her home star. Not from here. Her star was barely visible when one was just outside its own system. Finding it from another star's influence was nearly impossible.

"Homesick?" he guessed. She got this way, sometimes. On the anniversary of her brother's birth. Or during Easter, Thanksgiving, or Christmas. Rael hoped she would not need therapeutic embraces from him.

"Could'a, Would'a, Should'a," said Shayde. An irritating brevity that meant she was going through an era of past regret. "Thinkin' about what could'a been. What I would'a done. What I should'a done. Don't spend any time wi' me. I'm a wet blanket, today."

Which meant that the last thing she needed was to be left alone. Rael took a more prim and proper seat inside the window and said, "Talk about it?"

"Twelve years ago, now," she said. "Twelve years ago, this day... I was walkin' tae me doom. Unaware."

He could see her, thanks to Shayde's storytelling glamour. Young and with a plan that was about to be foiled. Carefully choosing her attire to appear professional without appearing in the slightest bit attractive. Cursing at her red ringlets as they formed against her will. Being ready to expose her hated, plagiarist professor for the fraud that he was.

He could also see her playing with time. Glimpsing into a different reality where she had never been selected. That Katie walker barely made it out alive. Burned and scarred. Impaired in her movements. But victorious against her nemesis. She spent the rest of her life with a military budget. And she changed the world. Humanity reached the stars so much sooner under her calculations. Colonies in the solar system. Colonies across the stars, once she worked out what one-way wormholes were about.

Good for humanity. Bad for the rest of the galaxy. The story of humans spun beyond her life. How the balanced and sane colonies never wanted to meet aliens on equal terms. How humans became an unstoppable plague in the universe. How the dream that inspired her caused its opposite.

Shayde let the light show fade out. "I miss what I had. I know I cannae get it back. But... Am I better off? Are we better off?"

Rael had no answer. "Define better," he said.

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