Identity Theft, Chapter 23

Title: Identity Theft
Author: Ardath Rekha
Chapter: 23/?
Fandom: TCOR AU
Rating: T
Warnings: Adult themes, controversial subject matter, harsh language
Category: Gen
Pairing: None
Summary: It might take a miracle for Kyra and Jack to survive Tangiers Prime’s killer King Tide, or maybe just the craziest idea Jack has ever had in her life.
Disclaimer: The characters and events of Pitch Black, The Chronicles of Riddick, and The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury are not mine, but belong to Universal Studios. I just wish I were in charge of their fates. No money is being made off of this. I’m writing strictly for love of the story.
Feedback: Absolutely, the more the better! Shred me, whip me, beat me, make me feel grammatical! I post “rough,” so I can always use the help. 😉

23.
The Ocean of Elsewhere

Audrey MacNamera had never been afraid of the water.

Back on Deckard’s World, terraformed to be a rustic back-country utopia by its planners, rivers and lakes had abounded. When people went on vacations, swimming was one of the central activities. As a toddler, Audrey had learned how to move through the water like a little fish while she was still trying to master walking on land.

But she had never found herself in the middle of an ocean before. No body of water, ocean or otherwise, had ever come to claim her like this.

“Come on,” Jack told Kyra, slogging her way through the thigh-high water toward the apartment unit’s outer door, “let’s see if we can get to the roof.”

“Our cards—!” Kyra protested.

“All part of U1. They’re safe. As long as we make it through this, they’ll be waiting for us right where we left them.”

Kyra splashed after her. “What about our gear?”

They had both left their bags sitting on the floor when they had hit the sack.

“Probably already too late for most of the clothes and the electronics,” Jack said, pulling the door open and marveling at how it and the water ignored each other’s existence. “The rest’ll be here when we get back. It can’t pass through the walls any more than we can.”

“But—”

“We figured we’d have to ditch it all if nobody in the ground crew was carrying bags, right? It’s all replaceable. You’re not, and neither am I.” Jack found the stairwell, again finding herself surprised as the water put up no resistance against the door’s opening.

Theirs was the top floor, but Jack had noticed that the stairs continued past their doorway, indicating roof access.

“Please be unlocked, please be unlocked, please be unlocked…”

No such luck. Jack stared at the elaborate locks on the door, the overkill emphasizing that past tenants had used the roof for purposes that the landlords had taken issue with. Even if she had a really good set of lockpicks, she probably couldn’t have gotten through the door.

“Fuck,” Kyra muttered. “All this way and now we drown?”

Jack shook her head. “We can go out a window. It’s late enough that nobody’ll notice us floating, especially if we stay close to the building wall.”

“Jack, look.” Kyra pointed at the steps below them. “No footprints. What the hell?”

Kyra was right. Under normal circumstances, their wet footprints should have been on every step.

“The water’s in one universe, and the stairs are in another. The only place they meet is in us.” Jack shook her head, really glad that she’d earned her A+ from Mr. Reilly. She didn’t think she’d have managed to wrap her head around what was happening otherwise.

“And our clothes, damn it. Hey, if we buy clothes here in New Marrakesh, they’ll stay dry, right?” Kyra started down the stairs as she talked.

“They should. I mean, the water’ll pass right through them, so we’ll still get wet, but…” Jack stopped talking for a second, shaking her head as she followed Kyra back down. “Damn. It’s just too weird to think about for long.”

The water had continued rising, now soaking the crotch of Jack’s pants when she reached their floor again.

Kyra saw her grimace. “Hey, at least it’s warm, right?”

“Yeah, and at least neither of us are on our fuckin’ periods.” She was a little amazed by that; in the past, her period had a habit of showing up at the worst possible moment.

If it starts tonight, I’ll know why.

“Shit!” Kyra gasped. “You don’t think there actually are sharks in these waters, do you?”

“I seriously hope not.” Jack opened the door to their unit again, careful about where she placed her feet. A lot of loose junk was still lying in wait in the main room, hidden by water that couldn’t actually touch any of it. “You saw that little crustacean by the ramp, though, right? Something lives in this ocean. Probably a lot of somethings.”

Another wave rolled through the apartment, raising the water to hip level. Re-entering the bedroom, Jack moved for the nearer of the two windows, which faced south. Its view was less impressive than the west window, but more useful right then. It faced a stand of cedars that were taller than the building, cutting down on the chances that two floating girls would be seen by a midnight stroller. She shoved the screen up and leaned out.

“The moon’s almost over us,” she told Kyra, who was leaning out beside her. “The tide should peak when it is, and then it’ll start to go down. We have less than an hour until it peaks.”

“Why’s it so goddamn big?” Kyra asked.

Jack was wondering the same thing herself. Nearly directly overhead, definitely full, and with a diameter five times as big as any satellite she’d seen on Deckard’s World or Helion, the moon shone balefully down on them, almost too bright to look at. To the southeast, Jack could see two other, smaller moons, both gibbous, halfway between the huge moon and the horizon.

“Oh my God,” Jack said, realization hitting her. She pointed at the other moons. “See those? Those are Tangiers Prime’s normal moons. I mean, the two on our universe’s star charts. There’s no mention of a third moon, especially one this size. No wonder the tide’s so high.”

“Wait, so this moon only exists in the other universe?” Kyra squinted up at it. “We’re the only ones who can see it?”

“I think we need some other way of referring to that, just in case people hear us.”

“What, the moon?”

“The other universe. We keep talking like that and somebody’s bound to notice.” Jack was nerving herself up to climb out of the window. Part of her, on some level, could sense how it was empty space below her, rather than a dozen or so fathoms of water, the same way that she’d felt the empty air below her on the other side of the threshold when she’d been on board the flyer. It was a vertiginous sensation. She wondered if Kyra was feeling it too; the older girl hadn’t climbed out the window yet, either, and she was something of a daredevil.

“So like, when we say ‘here’ we mean U1?” Yeah, Kyra was stalling too. “And when we’re talking about the other universe, we say we’re talking about somewhere else?”

“Elsewhere. Yeah. We’re talking about Elsewhere.”

“Elsewhere. I like the sound of that.” Kyra was exploring the brickwork of the building’s outer wall with her fingers, testing for handholds. Stalling. “The reality of it? Not so much.”

“At least we’re not on fire—whoa!” Jack gasped as two military copters flew low over their building, headed west at top speed.

“The hell?” Kyra gasped. “Where are they going in such a hurry?”

“The hospital.” Jack suddenly felt terribly cold despite the balmy water temperature. She ducked under the window—realizing, as she did so, that the water had risen to the point where she had to immerse herself completely—and then swam toward the west window. There was no point in walking anymore; swimming was faster. She shoved the window screen upward and pulled herself partway through the opening. Her head broke the surface of the water just as a third copter roared by.

The first two copters were closing on the hospital tower. As she watched, they turned on searchlights, illuminating the tower’s roof. Only four floors of the tower were still visible; the water had almost completely engulfed the floor below them, just as it had more than halfway engulfed the apartment floor.

Were there people on the roof?

The Scarlet Matador had been a significantly larger ship than the Hunter-Gratzner, Jack recalled. Fry had mentioned that there had been forty passengers and a crew of five on board that ship. The Matador had carried five times as many passengers, plus a crew of nine. How many tower floors had they had to open to accommodate more than two hundred patients? More than the top four?

How many of those two hundred patients were trapped on the roof now, watching the waters rise and praying that they began to recede before there was no building left?

She found herself imagining what it must have been like for them, waking to the tide’s arrival, calling for help from people who couldn’t feel or even see the rising waters. Had they even been warned about the kind of threat they might be facing? Had the hospital staff?

The moon was almost directly overhead. Jack hoped her limited understanding of how tides worked was correct—despite its abundant rivers and lakes, most of the bodies of water on Deckard’s World had been too small to have active tides—and that soon, very soon, the water would begin to drop back down.

Kyra had joined her at the west window, also watching the long-distance drama at the hospital. “We’re coming up on a moment of truth here.”

“You mean, in or out?” Jack, halfway out the window but still loathe to climb out completely, glanced back through its glass and into the bedroom. “I think there’s a real chance that this thing is going to start going down before it reaches our ceiling.”

“Is that a chance we should take?” Kyra looked dubious.

“Shit. I don’t know. I do know that as soon as it’s safe to, I’m getting the best lockpick set I can find so we can sleep up on the damned roof.”

Kyra looked like she was suppressing laughter. “You pick pockets and locks?”

Maybe it wasn’t the time for such things to be amusing. Or maybe, in a moment like that, humor was the only thing left to hold onto. Jack closed her eyes and snickered. “You got me, Merc, I’m a born criminal…”

In that moment, it no longer seemed like such a terrible thing.

“Jack?” Kyra asked a short time later. The laughter had subsided and both of them were somberly watching the rooftop evacuation underway at the hospital.

“Yeah?”

“How are we going to deal with this? I mean, high tides happen, like, twice a day, right?”

It was a sobering thought. Twice a day, every day, the tide was going to roll in and bury all of the places they needed access to under fathoms of water. Even trying to get off-world would be tricky, very nearly impossible, unless they could manage to board a ship during low tide and have it launch before the waves could return. There had been a few-hours-long window when New Marrakesh was dry in both ’verses, but…

Could they actually manage to chart out the tidal patterns of a three-moon world with enough accuracy to avoid getting drowned?

Or, Jack thought with sick dread, were their deaths preordained now, the way most of the Hunter-Gratzner’s passengers’ deaths had been from the moment it hit atmo for the last time?

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “I’m sorry, Kyra. I didn’t mean to get you into this mess.”

“Hey now. You got me out of a mess, remember?” The lost look had fled the older girl’s face, and her mouth quirked with humor. “Fuck New Dartmouth. I never want to see that shithole again. I’d rather get eaten by a shark from another dimension. Least that’ll give me some fun stories to tell in Heaven, right?”

Something about that caught Jack’s attention. Eaten by a shark from another dimension…

What would that meal be like for such a creature? How much of its meal would actually be substantial? What would be left behind on the other side? Gruesome as the thought was, suddenly Jack found herself wondering about the conflicting laws of physics their bodies were dealing with at that very moment.

They were floating in water, buoyed up by it, because it existed in one universe even as open air existed in another. The water could flow unimpeded through walls that simply didn’t exist for it, but they couldn’t do the same. For them, the walls and the water were both real, and somehow both sets of universes’ rules simultaneously affected them.

If I finished climbing out of the window and let go, I would float, not fall… And yet a part of her could feel the gravity of U1’s New Marrakesh trying to contradict that. She wondered, suddenly, if she would float, or if she would find herself not falling but sinking down to what was simultaneously street and seafloor… and drowning.

Shuddering with the thought, she pulled herself through the window and back into the mostly-flooded bedroom. She needed to test this, find out, but not somewhere where the result of her experiment could kill her.

Kyra surfaced next to her a moment later. “What are you doing?”

“I need to test something,” she said, treading water. That didn’t feel any more difficult than it ever had. “Before we do something that could get us killed. I need to figure out how this all works.”

“How what all works?”

“Being in two universes at once.” Jack kicked up, arcing her body so that she could float on her back.

The water held her up.

“Oh,” Kyra said. “Oh. Fuck, I didn’t even think of that. I kept feeling like I was gonna plummet straight down but I couldn’t figure out why.”

“Looks like we’re probably safe from that, at least.” Jack let herself drift for a moment. If the stakes weren’t so damned high, she thought, what they were doing right then could have been fun.

She mentally slapped herself. Their fellow passengers from the Scarlet Matador could be dying, right that moment, and she was thinking about fun?

She made herself focus on her task again. The resistance of the water was holding her up in both worlds, even though the lack of resistance in the other world should have pulled her down. And the obstruction of the walls and doors, floors and ceilings, limited her movement in virtually every direction even though none of them existed in the world of water—in Elsewhere. Higher densities, in either ’verse, trumped lower densities and shaped the way she could interact with either world, or both of them at once. She could fly through the air of U1 by swimming through Elsewhere’s water… but she couldn’t pass through U1’s walls as she swam.

But… what if I could?

“It can’t pass through the walls any more than we can,” she’d said to Kyra, secure in the knowledge that even if the tide caught up their meager possessions and whirled them around the apartment, it couldn’t pull them out into the open water if all of the doors and windows were shut. Too much of them belonged to both ’verses.

But earlier that day, she’d held one of the recalcitrant universe-straddling cash cards in her hand, trying to will it to just exist in the universe where its strip and its chip needed to be read…

…and it had worked.

Was there a way for them to do that with themselves? Orient themselves to just one universe? Slip through walls as if they weren’t there, or, alternately… stand on the ground, with a sea engulfing them on every side… and breathe air and not even feel damp?

Could she will herself back into the dry version of their unit, the one that existed in U1 alone?

Could she choose to be bound by just one world’s physics?

Fuck. I have to try. If it somehow works, we won’t have to worry about when high tide is likely to be.

Jack swam over to the corner of the room with the grubby bed.

If I can make myself fall through the air instead of floating on water… I want to fall on something soft.

Floating above the mattress, Jack closed her eyes, concentrating on the way her body had felt as she was going to sleep a few hours earlier. Dry air on dry skin, dry clothes against her skin as well, the cool, comfortable sensation of having taken off that damned blonde wig… dry. Surrounded by air. Held down by gravity that air wasn’t strong enough to resist.

I am not in water, she thought. I am surrounded by air. I am not in a world where the ocean can touch me like this. No water is touching me. No water is touching me.

Nothing happened, except another wave rolled through and lifted her body a tiny bit higher.

The water is not part of me. No water is touching me. I am not where the water is. The water is not where I am, the water is Elsewhere—

She landed on the mattress with a hard thump.

Her clothes, she realized, were still soaked. But the water—

It was all around her, and yet it wasn’t. Surrounding her, she could see something. Something blue-green, bright where moonbeams struck it, shading deeper and deeper the further away it was. A wild shimmer above her showed her exactly where the ocean’s surface was, still roughly two feet below the ceiling. She could still see the water from Elsewhere, but—

She took a short, shallow breath, nervous that she would find herself suddenly choking on brine, but air filled her lungs.

I did it. I did it, she thought with giddy joy. How the fuck did I do it?

Kyra floated above her, suspended in the aquamarine air, arms and legs in motion as she turned around and around, looking for—

Looking for me, Jack thought with a grin. She got up from the mattress and walked over to Kyra, reaching up and tugging her hand.

Kyra immediately began thrashing, and Jack had to duck a wild kick.

Damn, she’s probably thinking “shark!”

Jack climbed back onto the mattress and stood up on it. The top of her head was almost touching the ceiling. She would be visible to Kyra now.

“Kyra! I figured it out!”

“Jack, something grabbed me—”

“Sorry! Sorry, that was me. Come over here! I figured out how to make it so we can breathe U1’s air even when we’re underwater.”

“You what?”

“Get over here and I’ll show you. I’ll explain everything, I swear!”

“You can’t be serious!”

Kyra, she realized, was beginning to panic. With so little space left between the water’s surface and the apartment’s ceiling, that was inevitable. How could she prove it—?

Oh!

“Smack your hand down on the water, Kyra!”

“What?”

“Do it!”

“Fine! Fucking fine, Jack! What the fuck is going on with this bullshit—” Kyra smacked her arm down on the water, making it splash around her.

“Now! Watch me!” Jack lifted her arm above the surface of the water, holding it out, and then slapping it down. Her arm passed through the water as if either it, or the water, was a hologram.

“What… the… fuck?”

“Get over here and I’ll show you how!”

“Why there?”

“Because the bed’s over here! When the water stops holding you up, you’ll want to land on something soft!”

“You think that damned thing is soft!?” But Kyra was swimming over. Jack took her hands and guided her until they were both above the mattress, Jack standing on it, Kyra treading water.

“Float on your back,” Jack told her.

Kyra gave her a dubious look but obeyed.

“Close your eyes.”

“This is some seriously freaky bugfuck shit, Jack.”

“I know. Close your eyes.”

Kyra released a deep, gusty sigh of frustration and shut her eyes, grimacing.

“I want you to think about how it felt when you were dry, earlier tonight. No water on you, just air against your skin and your dry clothes. Dry hair. Warm. Imagine feeling like that now, okay?”

“Okay…”

“And now you need to tell yourself this. Think these words to yourself as I say them, okay?”

“Okay…”

“I am not in the water. I’m surrounded by air. No water is touching me. I’m not where the water is. The water isn’t where I am. I’m here and the water is Elsewhere.” Jack took a breath and began to repeat the mantra.

For the first time in her life, she truly understood why repetition was so important.

Kyra joined her on the third repetition. “I am not in the water, I’m surrounded by air… no water is touching me… I’m not where the water is… the water isn’t where I am. I’m here and the water is—holy fuck!”

With another loud thump, Kyra landed on the mattress. She gasped, staring wildly around her, and for a moment Jack thought she was going to scream. Then she burst into peals of laughter.

Jack sat down next to her, feeling immeasurable relief. There had been a moment of terrible fear that, although she had figured out how to survive beneath another universe’s waters, Kyra wouldn’t be able to. That, once again, she would come through unscathed and lose someone she loved.

And when the hell, Jack thought with astonishment, had that happened?

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Bie

*bounces!* NZWs!!! Ya’ve already heard most of what I had to say but I had to tell ya here too!

This was a great chapter and I loved it annnnnnnd SHARKS!!

And a little crab guy cameo, too! 😀

Ardath Rekha • Works in Progress