This is the rest of the story. Click here for the beginning
Progress continued. Many predicted that it wouldn’t, that humanity would simply give up and shrivel when faced with such overwhelming powers, but it didn’t happen. The Others’ powers were so strange, so manifestly not of this universe, that normal research continued. When the Others weren’t around all the laws of science acted just as they always had. It was only when the Others interfered that everything went out the window.
Research was more difficult than it had been before. Every result, every finding, had to be scrutinised and repeated endlessly to see if it was a real phenomena or whether one of the Others was quietly interfering. Loki was particularly prone to messing with the physicists experiments.
So progress continued. Some hoped that it would lead to ways to challenge the Others, but most focused their attention elsewhere. Expansion beyond Earth became a major area of research. Within fifty years of the Others arrival we had settlements on the moon and Mars. Within a hundred years we had settlements dotted throughout the solar system. It was something to be proud of. Some even hoped it would free us from the influence of the Others, but those hopes were soon dashed. The Others followed wherever we went, and at times they interfered, with disastrous consequences.
The Bethany Station disaster was the worst. Over fifty-thousand people died that day. We didn’t let it stop us though. Bad as it was, we were starting to notice that the number of interactions with the Others remained roughly the same even though spreading through the solar system had allowed us to significantly increase the total human population. That meant the odds of anyone in particular falling foul of the Others was dropping. Looking ahead, some thought that if we could colonise other solar systems then the influence of the Others would continue to wane. Others worried that the Others might simply escalate. Could they make a star go nova? It certainly seemed possible. We’d seen no signs that their powers were limited in any way.
I encountered one of the Others when I was young, just fourteen years old. The Other who styled himself as Odin appeared while we were at school. He was looking for new handmaidens, Valkyries he called them, to serve him. He took five girls from my class. I remember the face of every one of them that day, their reactions from numb shock to sobbing denial. Then they, and he, were gone. The teachers sent us home for the rest of the week. After that none of the adults ever mentioned the girls again.
I was unlucky, in some ways, because most humans got through life without encountering any of the Others directly. In another way I was extremely lucky. Odin was only looking for handmaidens that day, not for warriors. When choosing warriors he never distinguished between male and female. For handmaidens he stuck to girls. No one knew why. He was one of the Others. No further explanation was needed.
So that was my encounter with the Others. I expected it to be the last, and it was… until my daughter was born.
* * *
My daughter’s name was Rose. She was beautiful, as all babies are to their parents. Though no parent wants to admit it, she was exceedingly normal. Her birth had no dramas, she was healthy and hearty and she grew without complications for the next two months, at which point we held the traditional welcoming ceremony.
Everything was going well. My family and my wife’s were there, our friends too. It was a wonderful day. The ceremony was in our garden, and it was a beautifully warm spring day. The sun was beating down. Everyone was happy.
And then it happened. A mighty crack of thunder rang out and the sun was suddenly blotted out by storm clouds which had appeared from nowhere. A bitter wind blew up, then, in a flash of lightning, she appeared. Carabosse.
We knew who she was immediately. This Other had taken the role of the evil fairy from the story Sleeping Beauty, a character who has had many names down the years. For her own reasons, or perhaps just on a whim, the Other had taken the name Carabosse rather than one of the better known names.
The tale of Sleeping Beauty is well known, of course. The wicked fairy curses the young baby to die on her fifteenth birthday. Then one of the good fairies counters the spell, reducing it so the young baby will fall asleep on her fifteenth birthday, and… well, the rest of the story is unimportant. This Other had taken the role of Carabosse, none had taken the role of the good fairy. That meant the original curse was unchanged. Whenever Carabosse appeared the baby was handed a death sentence, one to be carried out on their fifteenth birthday.
When she appeared I grabbed Rose, held her tight, but I couldn’t run away, no matter how much I wanted to. My feet were glued to the spot. Carabosse didn’t want any theatrics spoiling her moment. This was all about her, and she played right up to the part.
“Such a pretty baby,” she cackled. “And she will grow into a pretty young woman, but she will grow no further, for on her fifteenth birthday I will appear to her and at that moment she will fall down stone dead. This I promise. To this I commit myself.”
She moved forward, then placed a single finger on Rose’s forehead.
“So she is marked. So will I find her.”
She stepped back, then disappeared in another crackle of lightning. Moments later the clouds disappeared and the sun returned, but none of us noticed. The dark mood couldn’t be shaken so easily, the knowledge that poor Rose’s life had been marked. The party didn’t last much longer. I remember holding my wife that night, holding her as her body shook with agonised sobs, and I remember feeling numb inside. Helpless. Useless.
* * *
My wife died three months later. Not from a broken heart, not because of anything Carabosse had done, but in a car crash.
Crashes should be a thing of the past. They should have been eliminated a couple of hundred years ago by advancing technology, but one of the Others had decided the carnage that human drivers can cause was far too much fun to end.
Whenever technology looked likely to eliminate that fun, the systems involved went haywire, becoming even more dangerous than the humans they were designed to replace. I forget which Other it was, though Loki seems a likely culprit. Whichever it was, I hold all the Others responsible for my wife’s death.
It was a stupid accident that killed my wife. A lorry going too fast, a patch of ice on the road and our car being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The authorities have assured me death would have been instant. That helps a little, I suppose, but only a little.
I wasn’t in the car at the time, or I’d be dead too, but Rose was. She came out of the smash without a single scratch. In a strange way that was a gift from Carabosse. Those Carabosse marked for death on their fifteenth birthday never died from anything else. No matter how certain that death was, something would happen to save them.
So there I was, left raising Rose single handedly. The Others had taken my wife, albeit indirectly, with their ban on driving aids, and they planned to take my daughter. I had to find a way to save her. I had to. The answer came from my work.
I worked as part of the Faster Than Light (FTL) research team. Not as a scientist, I’m not that clever, but as an engineer. By the time Rose was born we’d managed a few unmanned flights that confirmed it was possible to go beyond the speed of light. Don’t ask me how. I told you, I was an engineer, not a scientist. I helped build the devices and kept them running, but I very quickly got lost when the physics behind it was discussed.
The next fourteen years flew by. Rose grew into a wonderful young woman, though a headstrong one, and the FTL project went from strength to strength. When Rose was twelve the first manned flight made it beyond the limits of our solar system. Just after her fourteenth birthday we were ready for the big test — a flight to Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our sun at a mere four and a quarter light years away. The ship was called the Longissima, long journey in Latin.
Even with our FTL drive it wasn’t going to be a fast trip. Getting there would take a year and a half, but that was still an incredible improvement on the thousands of years that any other method would take. The ship was large enough to carry twenty crew, plus enough supplies to last at least ten years. The mission designers wanted to make sure we had enough to survive any unexpected delays.
Yes — we. I was one of those on the mission. Rose wasn’t, of course, she was too young. So that meant I would be away when her fifteenth birthday came around. I would be away when Carabosse returned. I would be away when Rose’s life ended.
Did that make me a coward? A bad father? No, of course not! Rose wasn’t part of the crew, but the other nineteen had all been part of the project for ten years or more. All of them knew Rose well. All of them knew what she faced. All of them agreed with my plan. When the Longissima set out for Proxima Centauri we had a stowaway. Rose!
That was my plan, to get Rose as far from Earth as was possible. Would it be enough to save her? None of us had a clue, but if it failed at least Rose would get to be part of something amazing, something incredible, before she died. She would be forever remembered, whatever happened. That was as much as I could do. I just hoped it was enough.
* * *
The flight was both incredibly exciting and amazingly humdrum. With the FTL drive engaged we had no way to study the universe around us. We might as well have been sitting stationary within a formless bubble for all that we could see. I guess Einstein would have had something to say about that, something about frames of reference, but the net effect was that we had twenty one people in a roomy but not extravagant sealed space.
The mission had been planned with that in mind. We had all manner of entertainment loaded aboard the ship’s computers, and a series of exercises to keep our technical skills sharp, but at times the days dragged past slowly.
For some that was an annoyance. For Rose and I it was a blessing. She knew about the curse. It would have been hard to keep it from her, and I never felt I had the right. She knew what her fate would most likely be, and she dealt with it as well as anyone her age could. Most of the time she just ignored it, focusing on what lay in her near future, but as the date of her fifteenth birthday drew closer, ignoring it became harder. We spent a lot of time just talking. Talking about her mother, talking about her childhood, talking about what she would do when we returned from the trip, though those conversations were always edged with sadness. Neither of us really believed Carabosse would be so easily thrown off the scent. After all, Magic Trumps Science. Every time.
And then it was Rose’s birthday. It really felt that sudden, as if something which had always been comfortably far away was suddenly right in front of us. The day had come. The day when we found out whether the Longissima had travelled far enough to save Rose.
The crew and I went all out to make it a special day. There was a cake, presents, embarrassing stories from when Rose was younger, music and dancing. Everyone threw themselves into the celebrations, including Rose. Especially Rose. She knew this might be the last day of her life and she seemed determined to enjoy every moment of it.
Throughout the day part of me was waiting for something to happen, for Carabosse to appear, but it didn’t happen. Lunch passed by without incident. The afternoon’s dancing and singing went without a hitch. Tea came and went. Slowly, almost painfully, hope started to build within me. Had we done it? Were we far enough from the Earth, travelling fast enough and in a strange enough way, that Carabosse couldn’t find us?
After tea we started watching a movie, one of Roses’ favourites. I remember glancing at the time. It was eight at night. Just four more hours to go till Rose’s birthday was over. Just four more hours and she’d be… well, would she be safe? No one really knew. Maybe Carabosse would always be hunting Rose, but that was a worry for another day.
We were ten minutes into the movie when a deafening crack of thunder and a blast of lightning announced Carabosse’s arrival. The lightning should have fried the ship, should have destroyed every major system it had, but none were touched. Magic. Of course.
It felt like my heart had stopped. Pain gripped my chest, but I couldn’t move. I had no idea whether that was down to magic or simple horror. Either way, I watched helplessly as Carabosse moved over to stand opposite Rose.
“You humans,” she said. “When will you learn? It doesn’t matter where amongst the planets you fly to, we can always find you. Especially those we’ve put our mark upon. Now, my dear, it’s time to fulfil the prophecy.”
She reached out, placing a single finger on Rose’s forehead, then waiting expectantly. I knew what was coming, of course. I’d done the research into Carabosses’s previous victims. They all died painfully, screaming. I’d tried to make certain Rose never learnt about that part of her future. Why spoil what life she had with something none of us could avoid?
It always started quickly, mere moments after physical contact was made, but to me it felt like long seconds dragged by. The moment stretched on and on, and I waited in torment for the pain to begin. Still the moment dragged out. I started to wonder if it would ever end, or if I would be trapped in the single awful moment for the rest of eternity.
Then she frowned. Not Rose. Carabosse. She frowned, then she shook her head. Next she removed her hand then placed the finger back on Rose’s forehead. Still nothing happened. Carabosse pulled back, eyes blazing.
“What is this? What trickery?” she demanded. “How can this be? Today is the child’s fifteenth birthday. I know that. I have tracked that. How can she resist my power? How have you done this?”
Suddenly I was freed from whatever force or spell had held me in place. I rushed forward, wrapping my arms around Rose.
“I don’t know,” I yelled. “And I don’t care. She’s my daughter. You have no right to harm her.”
“Wait! Of course!” shouted Sanders, one of the theoretical physicists we’d brought along. “The time dilation!”
“What?” I asked.
“Time dilation. You know the twins paradox? How time passes ever more slowly for you the faster you go, so if one twin stays on earth and another travels fast enough then the traveller will be younger than his twin when he returns to earth?”
I just nodded.
“Well we’ve seen something similar when using the FTL drive, but in the opposite direction. Time passes more quickly for whoever is travelling faster than light. Not massively so, but it adds up.”
“Why haven’t we noticed that?”
“The ship is set to stay in sync with earth. All the systems, clocks and watches on the ship are adjusted slightly each day to keep us in line.”
“So how far out of alignment are we?”
Sanders stared upwards as he ran some calculations in his head. Then he grinned.
“Twenty-two hours. That means it isn’t Rose’s birthday anymore. That was yesterday. Well, it finished at about ten pm last night our time.”
“No! What rubbish is this?” asked Carabosse. “I won’t be tricked. This child is mine. It’s her birthday today. I’m going to take her now.”
Carabosse stepped in closer to Rose again. The air around them crackled with power, the Other’s face was contorted in concentration, but still nothing happened to Rose. Now Carabosse started to panic. There’s no other word for it. The air continued to crackle with power, but now it was arcing around the Other.
“No!” she screamed. “No! The child’s birthday is today. I kept my part of the bargain! This is a trick. Take her! Take her! You can’t take me! I kept my part of the bargain! No… no… noooooooo!”
We watched as the form Carabosse had always taken began to shimmer and distort. It both stretched and shrunk, seeming to head off into far more than the normal three dimensions, and twisted into very different shapes. Then, with a final eye bending twist, whatever she was disappeared. The lightning went with it, and moments later everything was back to normal. Carabosse was gone, and Rose was still alive. More than that, Rose was fifteen years and a day old. She’d survived! Though not in the way we’d planned.
* * *
We spent a lot of time discussing that evening. The theoretical physicists were able to understand what had happened to Carabosse far better than I, though they had trouble putting it into language I could understand.
Well, they understood some of what we saw, understood it in terms of higher dimensions, but when I asked whether it might imply the Others were using some form of physics they still shook their heads. Whatever the Others did it overrode every form of physics we knew, it broke every law we had. Even if it was a science, and they doubted that, it was so different from anything we had that the title of magic still applied.
Regardless, we had learnt some amazingly important things. Firstly, there seemed to be rules to the magic of the Others. Carabosse had made a deal with… with something, a deal related to the curse she’d placed on Rose. When she was unable to complete the deal, that power had turned upon her.
We speculated on the nature of the deal for many weeks. Had it been in return for something, had the planned sacrifice of Rose been a stepping stone to Carabosse gaining something? Or had she simply enjoyed playing the part and needed that deal, that power, to live out the fairy tale? We never settled on an answer. We simply didn’t know enough.
We’d learnt something else that was even more powerful. Carabosse had shown little understanding of the science involved in our trip. She hadn’t realised we were more than halfway to the nearest star, or the implications on time of our method of travel. Thinking about the rest of the Others we realised they seldom showed any interest in our technology. Normally that was fine, because their magic trumped science, but for the first time we had gained an advantage.
Using it wouldn’t be easy. The Others each had their own personalities, their own ways of harming people, but now humanity knew they had a weakness. Now humanity knew that Magic didn’t always trump Science. Now humanity could drive forwards, seeking out new knowledge both for the hell of it and because it might finally free us of the Others. Most importantly, humanity now knew that sometimes, very rarely, Science Trumps Magic.