Strands, Chapter 1

“You’d never make it past the psych evals, Jasha.”

The cat stretched, then reached out a paw to nudge Jasha’s half-empty cup of noodles a few millimeters closer to the edge of the counter. The clank-clink-clank of claws against ceramic drew Jasha’s attention from the console. He sat up straight, huffed, and narrowed his eyes at the cat which was now an indolent loaf next to the readout panel.

“Don’t need to. No system is 100% secure.”

“You aren’t an integrator,” the cat replied. “You don’t have the clearance.”

“Do you enjoy stomping all over everyone’s plans, or just mine?”

“I enjoy,” the cat began, but then paused to yawn and roll over onto one side. “…living. If I’d known you were going to be suicidally stupid, I’d never have agreed to be your pard.”

It resumed batting at Jasha’s cup of noodles and he leaned across the bunk to retrieve his food before it could hit the floor.

“Keep it up, and I’ll turn off your voice modulator.”

“Do as you will—stars know I can’t convince you to be reasonable.”

“That’s not fair, Noire. I listen. I’m reasonable. But this is a chance—”

“To -die- Jasha. A chance to die. It isn’t really ‘time’ travel. You can’t go back to a place that doesn’t exist. It’s all happening at once, you see. The best you can hope for is to slide into another universe right next door, where all the physics work out and you don’t dissolve in a fit of a paradox.”

The cat leapt from the counter, stalked through the winding path of containment crates filled with wires, filaments and augmentation tools, and then sat at Jasha’s feet.

“Your sort made it here just fine,” Jasha replied as he reached down to scritch the top of the cat's head with his free hand.

The cat which Noire partially inhabited leaned a few millimeters outside of comfortable scritching distance, then looked up into Jasha’s dark brown eyes with its vivid green ones. Jasha sighed, leaned out further, and was rewarded by the cat deigning to stay put instead of dodging again.

To call the cat “black” did not do it justice. It was a sable-on-midnight with shimmery interfacing rosettes across its body and on each forepaw. The rosettes gleamed even in the dim light of the semi-private bunkhouse that Jasha had been assigned to for this cycle, and occasionally they pulsed or rippled with ultraviolet in time with the voice modulator when Noire spoke.

“My kind evolved, Jasha. We’ve been through this before. It’s only a part of me here, tethered to you and this little beast. The rest is…”

“Unknowable. Yeah. But even with that, if you’re out there hanging out in what? Ten dimensions? You could probably get me in touch with an integrator. We could crack that system.”

Jasha sat back and stirred the noodles in his cup with disinterest. They were cold and power usage was strictly monitored so warming them back up wasn’t an option.

Noire sighed. Three more quarters, and they’d have enough for a berth back to Gaia prime. Back to green grass and blue skies. Birdsong. Maybe even convince Jasha to give up contracting and bond fully.

“You’re going to try no matter what I say, or do.”

“Damned right.”

“Why? You can’t change the past.”

“I know.”

“Then -why-?”

“Because... I have to try, if there's a chance. I have to see it again, even if it's not the exact same one.”

The cat leapt onto the bed and sat, tail curled around its forepaws. A long, unblinking stare followed.

"...fine. I'll see what I can do."

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