Her fingers stinging, Salda felt the chill and vastness of the late spring runoff as she sat upon a large stone in the middle of the river. High above her in the mountains, that same frigid water was a torrent muscling rock and soil relentlessly to carve deep channels. Channels that converged, then split, re-converged and re-split.
Where she sat upon the stone, the May sun showering her brightly, the river was wide and shallow. Almost placid.
She’d picked her way among the tumbled stones and stolid boulders to dip her hands in the water, collect the weight and momentum of winter’s melted malice…and scoff.
I survived you. You had me in your conceited, icy grip. Squeezed me within an inch of death. But you couldn’t finish me, you haughty bitch.
She reached out and swatted the river. The spray sparkled in the sunlight, falling away without an answer. You thought you could do me, just like you did Aphyr. Two sides of the same coin, you thought. Mother fucking nature.
Salda stood up and turned upriver. A hundred miles east, Aphyr was frozen in a lake. A white out had consumed them as they’d tried to make their escape from the Edge.
The Edge. That’s what Aphyr had called the collider facility, housing an almost infinitely fine fission blade, at which puny humans could hurl even punier Bose-Einstein condensates to split elemental particles.
Liberation is what their team leader, Roj, called the process. Bifurcate to liberate, he’d preached. Splitting open the multiverse. Co-creating a new cosmos. Roj had all the pretty phrases. Problem was, he'd believed them.
Within a few months of working at the isolated Edge, Aphyr had grown skeptical of Roj and their work to slice mother nature ever finer in the hope of eventually carving their way to the infinite bounty of branestring energy.
Day in and day out in the middle of a mountain in the middle of winter, Salda and Aphyr had labored with the rest of the team, until Aphyr had convinced her that their work was a form of seppuku. Ritual suicide. There was no free lunch. No free energy. There would be a price—a blood price—and it would be their humanity.
The morning that they detected and confirmed the first wave of branestring energy from the Edge, Roj became ecstatic, praising the heavens and humankind’s ingenuity. He told them this day would be a new beginning, a split from the past, an opening of a new future. A new way forward. The path less traveled.
That night, in the monstrous white out that would cover their tracks, Salda and Aphyr fled. But not before they bifurcated Roj.
It was insanity fighting insanity. And mother nature took sides. Aphyr fell through the lake ice. Salda wandered for a month in the frozen drainage of the sawtoothed peaks, becoming as bitter as the cold trying to kill her. Finally she struck upon the main branch of the river. It brought her here. Sunshine. Warmth. Liberation.
The sky bifurcated.
Salda shielded her eyes from the blinding light as a second sun rose from the east. The instantaneous heat puckered her skin and she plunged into the river seeking its cold relief.
The roar as the Edge birthed a branestring sun deafened her hearing, but not her thoughts. She knew this was payback. Her temporary escape had only one small reward: a final moment of recognition.
Yeah, you’re a haughty bitch, Salda mused half submerged behind the boulder. But, I guess, you don’t become a planet and spawn life if you’re completely dumb. You played us well. Got us to supply you with infinite energy. Worked your way up the cosmic food chain.
Salda might have mock saluted the quantum sun if her flash burnt arms would have obeyed her. Liberation. Bifurcation. I guess we’re parting ways.
The thunder of the detonation was soon replaced with the grinding growl of water. A wall of water, splitting, channeling, co-opting paths of least resistance, spreading exponentially wider to fill the basin where Salda stood her ground. And where Aphyr, poor Aphyr, would soon join her as they flowed to the sea.
The infinite and surprising sea where we began.