Herein is the account of the evening the crew of the Forever Trying invited the Grand Faerie Lord of Vast Space and Its Great Mysteries into our home. I, Felix, Chronicler of the ship, endeavor to capture a true and accurate record of transpired events on this precipitous evening in the event that we must return, once again, to this Point in Time.
It should be noted here, at the beginning of the record, that the decision to invite such an esteemed and unknowable entity was not made lightly nor without a great deal of heated debate among the crew. [Addition: Upon reflection, Pilot Uma and Navigator Wilson conducted most of the debate and, ultimately, made the decision. The events that followed could have perhaps been avoided had they sought wider counsel.] However, it was agreed by all that the potential results were worth the risk. The crew was eager to become Unstuck.
[Revision: It should also be noted that at present the crew has been Stuck in the Tidepools of the Known Universe for four months. All of Navigator Wilson’s attempts to return us to our own Time Stream have failed.]
The Forever Trying’s mess hall had been hastily transformed into a semblance of elegance. The ferns that grew in the walls and ceiling had been given an extra ration of water to enhance the vibrancy of their greens. Lights had been scattered among the fronds like stars within a galaxy. The table was set with Nina’s beloved family plastic and silicone dishes, and Pilot Uma and Navigator Wilson sat around it with tense postures, awaiting the Grand Faerie Lord. At the center of the table, an overspilling vase of blooming jasmines was displayed, pricey but deemed an important detail. Faeries were rumored to love temporary beauty, nearly as much as they loved bargains.
[Addition: I neglected to include the scent of Nima’s cake into the scene, the smells of cinnamon and toasted coconut intermingling with the perfume of the jasmines. She used the last of the sugar and coconut cream to create a lovely cake. We did not know if Faeries of Time enjoyed cake, but for Nina, it was either bake or go mad. Therefore, who was I to dissuade her?]
The Grand Faerie Lord was late—by almost an hour—but arrived spectacularly. They did not enter through the hatch where Nina waited. They gave no warning of their approach. They simply appeared in the third seat at the table with a sharp thunk, their outfit of many-layered, many-colored and patterned cloth strips breathing and flowing around them as they settled into the chair. Immediately, all objects in the room bent towards them: fronds, clothes, people, drawn forward like into a gravity well, even the light.
There was an intake of held breath, and for a long minute the only sound was the steady sic-sic-sic sound of my Chronicler’s Watch, formerly my great-grandmother’s Navigator’s Watch, which read 22:22 AU Standard Time.
Upon first impression, the Grand Faerie Lord’s face was serene, though this was observed with a fleeting glimpse, for their visage was beautiful and unsetting to behold. It was difficult to meet the gaze of their many, many eyes.
[Addition: Even upon careful reflection, it continues to be difficult to describe a Grand Faerie or what it was like to be in their presence. Their silver skin shone like starlight and their hair was dark and deep as the void of space. There was the faint but unmistakable smell of flowing Time, sweet as liquor and fleeting. Events become tangled; my memory grows confused as some moments rush forward while others stay stock still.
As an example, when the Grand Faerie arrived, they turned some of their eyes to my Chronicler’s Watch, clicked their tongue against their sharp teeth in disapproval, and there was a soft pop, a slight pressure drop, a blur as if a camera unfocused, only to refocus a moment later in a sharper, clearer frame.
“Ah, we’re only a few moments late,” they said.
Perplexed, I consulted my Watch. It read 21:12 AU. I nearly dropped it in surprise. The Grand Faerie had shifted Time so effortlessly, so inconsequentially, that the only evidence of what had occurred was that the jasmine in the vase was slightly wilted.]
[Revision: It is only now, upon review, that I recognize this small clue.]
“You need my help,” the Grand Faerie Lord said, addressing Pilot Uma and Navigator Wilson. Their voice was like a waterfall, layers upon layers of waves washing over garden stones.
For another long moment, Pilot Uma and Navigator Wilson were silent.
“Yes,” replied Pilot Uma, with some hesitation. Her usually perfect posture was bent towards the Grand Faerie Lord as she stared at their silver hands instead of their many, many eyes. “We seem to have become Stuck in the Tidepools, unable to cross the Currents of Time. We would like to return to our last Fixed Point in Time.”
“That should not be too difficult, even for a human Navigator.”
“I have an excellent record of traveling through the Streams of Known Time and Space,” countered Navigator Wilson, sharply. [Revision: Defensively?] “But our Chronicler’s records for our last Fixed Point were not complete, and I’m not able to build a strong enough Bridge to withstand the Currents, in this part of the Universe.”
[Addition: In my effort to review this account and incorporate details that would traditionally be considered distracting and poor form in a Chronicler’s records, I would be remiss to exclude my shame in this moment, which was surely visible in my expression. Being descended from a long lineage of Navigators and yet never succeeding to Navigate myself was particularly painful, but to fail as a Chronicler as well? My humiliation was all encompassing.]
“Do not blame your Chronicler’s shortcomings for your failings,” the Faerie Lord said.
Navigator Wilson’s voice was sharp as he replied: “I have led this ship through the rapids of the Taliyon Galaxy, through the undertows of deep space, through—” His recounting was cut short, however, as the Grand Faerie Lord clicked their tongue again and the odor of flowing Time was pungent and cloyingly sweet for a moment. There was another shift, and then Navigator Wilson was saying: “—and if that’s insufficient proof... oh.”
The Grand Faerie Lord reached forward, and the lights, ferns, and people drawn to their gravity moved with them. They picked some of the fallen jasmine petals from the table, a faint smile upon their lips.
Again, a moment of stunned silence. It is well known that humans can only travel against the current of Time, into our own Past. Public records only rumored that Faeries could travel upon the Current freely. Here was the proof.
[Addition: “Can they teach us how to do that?” I remember Nina whispering over our private comm. “I would give anything to skip over Wilson’s monologues.”]
“Apologies, Grand One,” Pilot Uma mumbled. “My crewmate forgets himself. We would like to bargain for your help.” Above all, we did not wish to offend the Grand Faerie Lord and be cast into the Unknown Universe, a place with no logic, no Fixed Points.
The Grand Faerie Lord nodded once and stood. “Show me what happens when you fail to leave the Tidepools,” they said.
Pilot Uma led the way to the ship’s command nexus and the Grand Faerie Lord followed, walking as if floating, so light and insignificant their footfalls. Navigator Wilson, Nina, and I followed in their wake.
We had neglected to beautify our command nexus as we had our mess hall, and Pilot Uma’s gaze darted to, then quickly away from the half-drunk mugs of tea Navigator Wilson left about and the yellowing ferns in the walls. [Revision: Perhaps this unorderly array endeared the Faerie to us, for they nodded in approval at the untidiness.] Before we had become Stuck in the Tidepools of the Known Universe, the Forever Trying had been a respectable vessel, catering to human curiosity and human need both.
[Addition: I will confess, with the previous statement, I obscured our responsibilities. Under my great-grandmother’s, my grandfather’s, my mother’s command, the Forever Trying was a key exploration vessel pioneering new techniques in Navigation and expanding public records. However, now the Forever Trying is as Nina describes it: “An errand runner for wealthy patrons.”]
Navigator Wilson centered himself in the control nexus while Pilot Uma ensconced herself in the cocoon of flight controls at his feet. With practiced fingers, Navigator Wilson drew up my record of our last morning on Systima 14 on the main console, our most recent Fixed Point in Time before we became Stuck in the Tidepools. From his pocket on his left side, he withdrew his Navigation Coin.
“I require complete silence, please,” he said and closed his eyes. [Addition: Only in review do I recognize the strangeness of this request. Nina and I were mute, and the Grand Faerie Lord’s many, many eyes were watching us each with a disquieting intensity. Yet Navigator Wilson’s posture was tense and beads of sweat dotted his brow and his neck. An odd reaction for our confident Navigator.]
[Revision: Our overconfident Navigator. I understand now that what I was witnessing was fear.]
The Forever Trying’s viewscreen awoke, surrounding the command nexus in an uninterrupted view of the Known Universe and the Tidepools. Before us was the sphere of the makeshift spaceport of the Tidepools, adrift in space, dozens of ships moored around it. I could just make out miniscule figures walking, working, despairing on the twisting paths of the spaceport, among the moss and the plants. [Addition: Perhaps what I was attempting not to observe was the dark, starless edges of the viewscreen, the teetering edge where the Tidepools balance between the Known Universe and the Unknown.]
“I can imagine Systima 14,” Navigator Wilson said as he began to flip the Coin. Heads, heads, tails, heads. In his nimble hands, the clink and whirl of the coin was steady as a beating heart.
A moment later, we saw what our Navigator envisioned. The viewscreen began to waver, shift. A portrait of the blue-green planet of Systima 14 solidified before us, and Navigator Wilson began the laborious process of weaving a shallow Bridge to our last Fixed Point across the Currents of Time.
The art of traveling in the Known Universe through Time, rather than Space, is a difficult one, and the Bridge Navigator Wilson was building to Systima 14, our last port of call, was a thin transparent structure, impossibly delicate against the growing shimmer of the Currents. However, as the Bridge grew longer, the image on the viewscreen became sharper, more focused. Instead of the planet, we saw ourselves at Systima’s spaceport, orbiting the planet. We saw Pilot Uma and Navigator Wilson pacing the docks, debating our next route, while Nina went through the provisions rosters again. I sat in the middle of the moment, recording it all so we might Navigate back to this Point in Time if needed.
[Revision: There was always a small part of myself that questioned Navigator Wilson’s ability. My mother, for example, would simply touch her Navigator’s Watch, and eagerly it would unfold to reveal many faces and Times, humming and spinning with all the possibilities. From those possibilities, she would focus on a single route and never waver. For her, the art of Navigator came easily. Her Bridges were always sturdy, no matter how strong the Currents became or how similar other Time Streams were.
But who was I to judge? I, the failed Navigator, who struggled to adhere to the strict and stringent methods of Navigating through Time. Who, when asked to imagine a Fixed Point from a record, could do little more than offer a wavering, incomplete image on the viewscreen.]
The Forever Trying’s engines growled to life as Pilot Uma eased the ship into the Currents and onto Navigator Wilson’s delicate Bridge. The Navigation Coin in his hands began to change with the Currents, to show other possibilities: heads, the Judge, tails, The Boat on the Sea, tails, the Cliffs, tails again.
“Hurry,” he said, voice strained, and Pilot Uma did.
It is difficult to record the act of traveling through the Currents of Time, but I shall endeavor to ensure that this account is as complete as possible.
Navigator Wilson’s Coin danced in his hands as he carefully wove the Bridge for the Forever Trying to follow, only extending it when the Coin showed heads or tails, bracing against the strongest waves of Time that crashed against the ship, rattling it, and threatening to sweep away Navigator Wilson’s image of the Fixed Point.
It held, and so did the Bridge.
But the Currents were growing stronger. The image of our crew in Systima 14’s spaceport began to blur and fade as other Time Streams that were similar, almost parallel to our own, lapped against us. It became harder to focus, to see the thin, translucent Bridge against the possibilities, to ignore the colors and sounds seeping in from other Time Streams. Pilot Uma was silent and focused as she traversed Navigator Wilson’s frail path. The engine strained, the hull shook and moaned, and Time smelled sickly, burnt, and rancid as we were all tossed against the bulkheads and rails.
[Revision: No, that is not quite accurate. The Grand Faerie Lord did not move. Their feet remained transfixed and balanced even as the ship shuddered. Their eyes did not stray from the shallow Bridge.]
Then there was the sharp smell of the ocean, the sound of a child laughing, the sight of an empty stage, and suddenly the image of our Fixed Point began to waver. Navigator Wilson swore and Pilot Uma’s breath hitched as they struggled to maintain course and focus. Yet the doubt was already seeded and, like our dozens of attempts before, the image of our last morning on Systima 14 shuddered and winked out. And the Bridge snapped.
The tumultuous noise of the Forever Trying being swept back to the Tidepools was not one my crewmates and I had grown accustomed to. The same for the noise of the ship’s automatic dock sequences as it, once again, redocked at the Tidepools’ spaceport. Our shock and sadness and frustration had not lessened with all our failed attempts. [Addition: I shudder to think what my great-grandmother would have said if she knew of the abuse our family’s ship suffered in these failed attempts at freedom. I was thinking of her in that moment, with a Faerie of Time so near.]
“See,” Navigator Wilson said when the ship was finally moored, sweat trickling down his face.
“Will you help us?” said Pilot Uma, pulling herself from her cocoon of controls. She too was breathing hard. “We’re willing to bargain our services, our knowledge, our resources, anything that might be of value to you, Grand One.”
The Grand Faerie Lord folded their silver hands in front of their stomach. “No.”
There was a long moment of shocked, stunned silence.
“You’re refusing to make a deal?” thundered Navigator Wilson. “Aren’t deals your currency, your lifeblood?”
“Yes. However, you are bargaining for the wrong things,” the Grand Faerie Lord said. “Come find me when you’re ready.”
[Addition: “What the hell do you think they meant by that?” Nina asked me, later. “Faeries are weird.” I did not disagree.]
[Revision: I was too nauseated and shaken to observe who the Grand Faerie Lord had their eyes turned to at that moment. Of course, now I know the answer.]
Without warning or farewells, there was a shift and a resounding thunk. Then our guest was gone, leaving the same way they had arrived. Leaving us still Stuck.
Herein I, Felix, the Chronicler, endeavor to capture a true and accurate account of what followed, though at times it proved difficult to record events due to the brisk pace of the Grand Faerie Lord of Vast Space as they moved through the Tidepools of the Known Universe.
[Addition: It is rather disheartening how often in this particular record I cannot supply a meaningful picture of what I saw or what transpired in order to provide Fixed Points in Time for later Navigational efforts, if desired. I imagine Pilot Uma and Navigator Wilson frowning in disapproval at my imprecise record. However, the events that follow become strange and looping and do not lend themselves to trustworthy anchorages.]
[Revision: Unless I am mistaken? But that would contradict nearly everything I have been taught about Chronicling and Navigation. This new hypothesis would hold more weight however if we were not still Stuck.]
The decision to leave the Forever Trying and search for the Grand Faerie Lord was made a moment after our guest left us agape on the bridge.
“At least they didn’t cast us into the Unknown Universe,” Nina said.
[Addition: Navigator Wilson disagreed, taking the Faerie’s rejection hardest of us all.]
“Void and dust, we’re not going to stay Stuck here,” Pilot Uma said through gritted teeth. “Chronicler Felix, with me.”
“Where are you going?” Nina called after us, for Pilot Uma was already storming to the hatch, and I on her heels.
“To find that Faerie!” cried Pilot Uma as she stepped out of the ship and into the makeshift spaceport of the Tidepools.
[Addition: In my haste to capture what transpired, I neglected to provide a description of the Tidepools’ spaceport. Perhaps that is the reason we have been unable to leave this stranded place. If this be the remedy needed, then know that the spaceport is not large by any comparison, but it is large enough that one can barely see the curve in the plexiglass walls of the sphere. Large enough to support its own nuclear core salvaged from some poor marooned war bridger and provide enough docking ports for the dozens of ships similarly trapped in the Tidepools. Large enough to host its own meager agora and leafy paths snaking through the sphere that one could spend hours traversing. Thus, it is possible to survive in the Tidepools for decades, and indeed, some sailors have, but it is not an existence any spacefaring crew chooses for themselves.
Being so near the Unknown Universe, the Tidepools are often riddled with thin places where the Known Universe dissolved into the Unknown—the supposed realm of Faeries and a place very few humans have ever returned from. To wander the spaceport was to always be watching for blurred edges.]
Once we were clear of the ship, Pilot Uma turned to me and said: “Now, show me where you first found that Faerie.” [Revision: It was odd that she was convinced that the Grand Faerie Lord would be in the same location as before. To my knowledge, she had not researched old records of Faeries of Time like Nina and I had done, or even given much weight to their existence until a few days ago.]
I led Pilot Uma on the circuitous route through the spaceport that I had taken the morning Nina and I came upon the Grand Faerie Lord. [Addition: There were more direct routes. However, from reading my great grandmother’s records, I theorized that our search for the Faerie was based not so much on the location, but on the path one followed.] [Revision: I was correct.] The agriculture and biodiversity paths in this humble spaceport are several kilometers long, overcrowded walkways beset by vines, moss, and earthy smelling air.
We came upon the Grand Faerie Lord sitting among the ivy and the ferns in the heart of the spaceport. About them, the leaves of the plants strained towards them, unfurling, yellowing, and dying only to, a moment later, reverse the process and become green again. Only to have the sequence repeat once more.
[Addition: It was odd, too, that the Grand Faerie Lord would indeed be in the same location as before. Why?] [Revision: I see the edges of what I am supposed to discover here, but the complete picture eludes me.]
“Ah, you came,” they said to Pilot Uma. [Revision: But were some of their eyes looking at me as well?]
“I wanted to apologize for my Navigator’s arrogance,” she said. “And to appeal for another bargain for our freedom.”
Something akin to a smile but more dangerous curved the Faerie lips. “I know,” they said. “We’re going to have this conversation a few times. It does not go the way you think.”
Pilot Uma stared straight into the Faerie’s many, many eyes. “Don’t be so certain, Grand One,” she said.
The Faerie’s perilous smile grew. “A bargain then. If we reach the core reactor before our conversation is over, I will guide you and your ship out of Tidepools. But you must ask the important questions and provide the correct answers. If not, we will return to where we started, and here your ship will stay.”
She nodded and turned to me. “Chronicler Felix, record everything exactly.”
Thus began a strange exchange:
“We truly do need your assistance,” said Pilot Uma.
“It’s not my assistance you need,” the Grand Faerie Lord replied. They began striding up the winding path leading up to the core reactor. Pilot Uma hurried to keep pace, brushing against the greenery lining each side of the path, while I hurried at their heels, record console in hand.
“Of course we do,” she said.
The Grand Faerie Lord grimaced, and Time smelled sweet as it flowed backwards, and we found ourselves standing at the head of the path again.
“Try again,” they said.
Pilot Uma stiffened, then paused for a moment before saying: “We’re Stuck.”
“That you are,” they said, and began to head up the path.
“Navigator Wilson is talented, but not the strongest Navigator,” she admitted.
[Addition: I admit shock here. Never once had I heard Pilot Uma utter a word of dissonance against the Navigator. To me, they had always appeared a united, intimidating front.]
“He is one of the weakest Navigators, in fact,” replied the Grand Faerie Lord.
Pilot Uma said nothing.
“Have you reviewed the history of the Forever Trying?” said the Grand Faerie Lord.
“I know the history of my own ship.”
Without warning, we were standing at the entrance of the path again. “It’s not your ship,” they said quietly.
[Addition: The ship, by inheritance, was mine. Originally built, sanctioned, and named by my great-grandmother. I had not considered the Forever Trying my own for many years because what good is a ship without a Pilot? Without a Navigator? With only a Chronicler at its helm?]
“But I am its Pilot,” she replied, through her teeth. The Grand Faerie Lord inclined their head, neither agreeing nor disagreeing, offering no clues. They set off down the path again.
[Revision: It is only upon going through this record once again that I wonder at how the Grand Faerie Lord knew of the Forever Trying’s history.]
With some alarm I noticed that with each return to the path’s head, our surroundings seemed to lose their color, their edges blurring, like the stars did when the Known Universe and Unknown Universe bled together around the Tidepools. Like a true trained Pilot, Uma focused solely on her task and heeded no distractions, but I saw. The Unknown was seeping in, diluting and drowning the path, a little more every time the Grand Faerie Lord walked upon it. Pilot Uma was running out of chances to persuade the Grand Faerie Lord. I was about to warn her when she said:
“We don’t have many materials left to bargain with, but we have much potential to offer in exchange for your help,” she said, hurrying, once again, after the Grand Faerie Lord.
“Potential. That you do have,” they mused, as they lengthened their already long stride.
“I was the best Pilot in my class,” she said, emboldened.
“Second best.” She and I tensed for the jump back in time to the head of the path, but the Faerie continued walking. [Addition: We were halfway up the path this time. It would be negligent to exclude the flicker of hope I had here.]
“Perhaps with you at the helm as our Navigator—” she said.
We were back at the start of the path.
“My Navigation methods would drive you mad,” said the Grand Faerie Lord of Vast Space and Its Great Mysteries with a wry smile. “Alas, poor Felix is struggling to keep even this conversation orderly in his record.”
I checked my console, reading quickly what I had written of this exchange and realized I had missed one reset that barely lasted three strides up the path, so quickly was Time flowing back and then back again.
[Revision: Perhaps this record is haphazard, but it does not feel... wrong. As traveling back through Time does not erase the memory of previous iterations, adding to and altering this record does not seem to be muddling my original text, only reframing it. Strange.]
“Perhaps we need a new Chronicler then,” Pilot Uma muttered.
“Do not blame your Chronicler for this.” The Grand Faerie Lord turned all of its eyes onto her, and Pilot Uma shrank back.
“How else can you explain our situation?” she asked.
“Many ways,” the Grand Faerie Lord replied. “There are many failure points and many missed opportunities.”
Pilot and Faerie stared at each other in mutual silent contempt.
“You were right. This conversion doesn’t go the way I expected. It’s fruitless. Regardless, I’d like to pay you for your time,” said Pilot Uma, stiffly. “I will not be indebted to a Faerie Lord.”
“No additional compensation is needed,” said the Grand Faerie Lord. “I’ve already taken my fee.” They outstretched their palm, and in it lay Navigator Wilson’s Navigation Coin.
Pilot Uma gasped, her expression one of fear and shock. She lunged forward for the Coin. The Grand Faerie Lord, however, stepped back into the ferns and ivy, blurring into each other, into the ever growing Unknown and was gone.
[Revision: What good is a ship if it has no compass to travel by?]
Herein is the account of when I, Felix the Chronicler, traveled into the terrible Unknown, for it was my shortcomings that caused the Forever Trying and her crew to become Stuck. If my record of Systima 14 had been clearer or more detailed, then perhaps it would not have failed at serving as a Fixed Point.
I told no one of my plans.
[Addition: Nina, perhaps sensing my actions, handed me the cake she had made, neatly wrapped. “Don’t know, but I think you’ll need this,” she said.]
I returned to the path in the spaceport gardens where I had first found the Grand Faerie Lord, where they later had walked with Pilot Uma for that futile conversation. I stopped before the spot where they had disappeared into the ferns and ivy. The area rippled, greens and yellows and edges of the leaves bled into each other, and the air was colder here. [Revision: Perhaps more important was my sense of dread, the nothingness, the unreason I felt seeping through from the Unknown. It was only my sense of obligation that kept me trying and trying again. I had read my great grandmother’s secondhand account of the Unknown. Scant comfort, yes, but better than none at all.]
I stepped through to the Unknown Universe, to the place of Chaos and no Fixed Points, knowing that I might not be able to cross back.
Still, I attempted to record it all dutifully.
First, there was the sensation of unimaginable cold, then infinity, threatening to swallow me whole, then emptiness stealing all the air from my lungs. There was only a moment for one panicked thought: I will not survive this. [Addition: Time was absent, there was no smell. Only a void remained.]
Then I was standing in a rubbish heap. Or rather a market with layers of stalls and stands all superimposed on each other like layers of film held against a light, making my surroundings difficult to focus on or understand. Time here smelled of burnt sugar and decay. [Addition: It smelled like summer in my grandfather’s garden and its winter hoarfrost simultaneously. This was nearly incomprehensible, but so were most things in the Unknown Universe, as I discovered.]
There were a thousand different voices calling out a million different wares, all washing over me like a strange choir, one moment in harmony, the next in discord.
I wandered through this Unknown market, attempting to discern the layers of clashing smells, sounds, and colors, hoping to espy the Grand Faerie Lord among the Chaos. It was a fool’s hope. I endeavored to ask sellers for aid in their stalls, but as I approached they either faded into the layers or transformed into horrifying configurations of eyes and limbs. Or replied in twenty overlapping languages, none of which I could comprehend.
It was more than a human mind could contend with. I was drowning in this shifting landscape, the madness of the Unknown, with no solid ground to set my feet.
I understood then, intimately, why so many humans did not return from this place.
A silver hand clasped onto my shoulder. The contact startled me, but it was also a relief, an anchor in the Chaos.
“Ah, just on time,” the Grand Faerie Lord said. “Follow me.”
The Chaos seemed to part for the Grand Faerie Lord, like a still lake does for a sure boat, as they led me to a tent with folds upon folds of colorful cloths, like their garb, like the Unknown market itself. Inside, it was mercifully calm and stable.
[Revision: At first it was. Then it was not. Heaven and stars, why am I here again?]
“Sit,” they said. “And gather your thoughts.” There was a low table in the center with two cups and a steaming pot. There were orbs of light strewn through the tent, each cycling with intensity and brightness, making me feel like I was floating upon sunlight dappled water. [Addition: Yet also making it difficult to focus on any details. For even within the tent, nothing remained the same for long. The fabrics of the tent, faded, blurred and sharpened again with different colors and patterns. As did the rugs on the floor and the tea cups before me.]
“I propose a bargain. I provide the tea and you the cake,” they said.
I had forgotten about Nina’s cake. I loosened its wrapping and presented it to the Faerie Lord. “We’ve had this conversation before, haven’t we?” I asked.
“He speaks!” exclaimed the Faerie Lord.
[Addition: I had not noticed until now that I haven’t spoken in this entire record thus far. Traditionally, as a Chronicler, my opinions and emotions should not be part of my records; only my observations and my place within the scene as it unfolds. However, I am breaking that rule on the Grand Faerie Lord’s advice and adding my own voice to this record, in the hopes that it will provide our passage to the freedom the Faerie alluded to.]
[Revision: I shudder at the state of chaos in this record, with the additions and revisions layered upon each other. But I will persist, on the Grand Faerie Lord’s recommendation. We will not be trapped in the Tidepools, with Pilot Uma and Navigator Wilson’s bitterness. Nina deserves better and so do I. So I will keep searching among these words for a key to our freedom.]
Thus, I had tea and cake with the Grand Faerie Lord of Vast Space and Its Great Mysteries.
As soon as I sat down at the low table and held the cup in my hands, layered images of myself and the Faerie appeared. Copy upon copy upon copy stretched out on either side of the table, like two mirrors caught in each other’s reflection.
Only upon closer inspection did I realize that the copies were not entirely identical. Some versions of myself appeared more tired and disheveled, already launching into a passionate conversation with the Grand Faerie Lord; some were eagerly listening. Some, farthest away, barely matched my appearance at all.
However, I focused my full attention on the Grand Faerie Lord before me. This Time, this possibility, was all that mattered in this moment.
“Thank you for seeing me again,” I said. For I was grateful.
“You were brave to come here,” they replied. “Many humans lose their way, if they work up the nerve.”
“Chronicling is nothing but the art of focusing on the details that are important,” I said.
“Unlike Navigation,” they replied. Some of their many eyes shifted to the right, and I instinctively followed their gaze.
“I was taught otherwise,” I replied, recalling all the lessons I endured on the utmost need to hone in on the essentials of a Point of Time and disregard the rest.
The version of myself closest to us was sitting across from a Grand Faerie Lord, talking and pointing with much excitement. A little more than half of Nina’s cake sat on the table between them. It was so tempting to listen in on their conversation, to learn what had happened or might still happen. With effort, I forced my attention back to the Grand Faerie Lord who sat before me.
“Does that mean you recorded everything objectively?” they asked with an amused smile as they cut into the cake.
“Of course,” I said.
“Perhaps you shouldn’t have.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Only that if you went back through your record and added more insights, more perspectives. More emotions,” they said, with a glint of mischief in most of their eyes. “You’ll be surprised how much more... tangible the record becomes.”
[Addition: “I did as you said,” I told the Grand Faerie Lord later, when I returned to the Unknown Universe for a second time. “I added additions to the record, but Navigator Wilson was still not able to leave the Tidepools.” In fact, the Bridge he wove barely lasted a minute before the Currents swept it away.
“Navigator Wilson is unimaginative,” The Grand Faerie Lord said as they cut a new slice from the cake. “But you’ve known that for a while now. Perhaps you need to revise some of your previous statements.”]
[Revision: “I followed your instructions,” I said when I sat down for a third time before the Grand Faerie Lord. “But we’re still Stuck.”
“You are,” they agreed, and cut the last of the cake.]
“More perspectives and emotions? That contradicts everything I was taught about Chronicling and Navigation,” I said.
“And has that training ever succeeded for you?” they asked, leaning forward. The tea cups and cake skittered toward them. The tent surrounding us contracted and became the color of a nebula against the darkest of Space.
“No,” I whispered, setting my Chronicler’s Watch on the table before us. It never once showed me other possibilities or acted as a compass, like it had for my mother, my grandfather, and my great-grandmother. In my hands it remained a Chronicler’s Watch.
“Humans,” the Grand Faerie Lord said with a scoff. “Believing that objects determine their abilities.” From a fold in their many-layered, many-colored garment, they withdrew the Navigation Coin and flicked it up into the air. It arced upward and hovered there, spinning. Then there were a dozen Coins flickering in a semi-circle above the Faerie’s head, like fractured sunlight in a mirror. All the Coins were rotating, showing other sides from other Times and possibilities. None displayed heads or tails.
[Addition: “I tried yet again,” I said. “With the Watch and the record with additions. I believe I saw a shadow of other possibilities, but nothing strong enough to escape the Tidepools.” I felt my embarrassment become visible in my ears, my cheeks as I took a bite of Nina’s cake. There was less than half left. “My great-grandmother would be ashamed of me.”
“I wouldn’t be certain,” replied the Grand Faerie Lord.
“How do you know that?” I inquired, taken aback.
“I’ve read your records,” they replied.]
[Revision: “I’ve tried and tried,” I said. “With the additions, with the revisions. It’s not enough.” I placed a too-large piece of cake in my mouth, the last of it. The tent was expanding one moment, then closing in around me. The other possibilities of myself on either side of me were dizzyingly cacophonous. I recognized the one to my right as my earlier self, hopeful, eager, with an untouched cake before him. “The Watch showed a few possibilities, but not nearly enough. My Fixed Point was not strong enough.”
“Perhaps it’s not the record or the Watch that needs to change,” the Grand Faerie Lord said quietly. They put the last slice of their cake in their mouth, and I swallowed my frustration, my fearfulness, my tears. I had nothing left to bargain with in the Unknown Universe. This would be our last conversation.]
“I confess,” I said. “I’ve never been able to master seeing a Fixed Point and ignoring the possibilities of other Time Streams. The image I try to create from the records always shifts in my mind.”
“It is a rather rigid way of traveling through Time,” they replied, considering their tea cup and taking a sip.
“Pilot Uma and Navigator Wilson swear by it,” I said. “As well as generations of Pilots and Navigators. My own lineage in particular.”
“Doesn’t mean it’s the only method,” said the Grand Faerie Lord. Some of their eyes watched the iteration of us to the right. I was disheveled, tired-looking, and desperate. Only the crumbs of Nina’s cake were between them now.
[Addition: “You move through time so effortlessly, yet each loop feels distinct,” I said. “Why?”
“If I returned everything perfectly,” they replied, “how would you know that things could change?”]
“I have a question for you,” announced the Grand Faerie Lord. “How did you find me that morning, on the Tidepool paths?”
“My great-grandmother’s records,” I said. “She was one of the first Navigators to skim along the edge of the Known and Unknown Universe. One of the first to make contact with the Faeries of Time. She even traveled with one for a while.”
“So I’ve heard,” they said with a smile. “But you didn’t answer my question.”
“We are Stuck. I’m desperate for other possibilities.”
[Addition: “If this works,” I said, “my Pilot and Navigator are going to be quite upset.”
“Why should you care?” they replied. “It’s your ship and your record.”]
[Revision: “Please, for the love of Time, tell me what I’m doing wrong? What am I missing?”
“I cannot teach you how to see the possibilities. I can only point,” they replied, and the tent contracted even further, crushing us up against the silky fibers of the colored cloths and the other iterations of us sitting beside us.
“Then we are truly trapped here,” I said.
The Grand Faerie Lord of Vast Space and Its Great Mysteries said nothing. They stared at our other possibilities crammed among us, and none of their eyes would meet mine.]
“We’ve finished our slice of cake,” the Grand Faerie Lord said sadly. “I’ll return you to the Known Universe You have the answers, Felix. You simply need to find them.”
Before I could reply or inquire further, I was standing before the closed hatch of the Forever Trying.
[Addition: “I’ll return you to the Known Universe,” said the Grand Faerie Lord, smiling. “You have all the clues you need in your record. You simply need to assemble them.” Before I could interject, I was standing before the open hatch of the Forever Trying.]
[Revision: “I’ll return you to the Known Universe,” said the Grand Faerie Lord, with a great sigh. “You are on your own now.”
Before I could protest, I was standing before the open hatch of the Forever Trying, with Nina in the entry, hope, worry, concern intermingling in her expression.
The empty cake wrapper was in my hands, but I did not have the key to becoming Unstuck.]
I, Felix the Chronicler of the Forever Trying, have striven to keep this record as true and accurate as possible. However, as I sit in my quarters, I recognize that unusual times call for unusual solutions. So I will be reviewing it, making untraditional additions in an attempt to find a solution that will free us from the Tidepools and create a stronger Fixed Point. If not for Navigator Wilson, then perhaps for myself.
[Addition: I have gone over this record again and then again. Adding details I neglected to mention, items that were not immediately visible or objective. Details that traditionally would detract from the solidity of the Point in Time. The Fixed Point of the beginning of this record has become sharper for me, however, contradictory to all my schooling and Navigation philosophy. My Chronicler’s Watch, by contrast, remains stagnant. Steadfastly showing only the Time of this possibility.]
[Revision: I recognize now that the chronicle told in the unaltered record is a shadow of the entire thing. Is this what the Grand Faerie Lord was trying to tell me? Regardless, my Chronicler’s Watch has more faces now, measuring Time in different Streams, though my attempts to create a Bridge to anywhere of note have all failed. I have a Fixed Point and the Watch’s possibilities, but it is not enough. My attempts at weaving a Bridge were weaker than the weakest of Navigator Wilson’s.
I have tried to keep my creeping dread out of this record, but alas, I have failed. I have failed to find us a way out of the Tidepools, I have failed to become a Navigator, I have failed the Forever Trying and her crew.
We are well and truly Stuck.]
[Final Revision: It was in a moment of deep despair this evening as Nina and I drank the last of her homebrewed mead that I looked at my Chronicler’s Watch and called up my record. However, I did not attempt to sift through all the possibilities, insights, perspectives, emotions, and history that had brought me to that Point in Time, as I traditionally did when I Chronicled, as I was taught to do. Instead I let the image I saw in the record be the tangled, jumbled mess of chaos it was in my head.
At that moment, the Chronicler’s Watch in my hands showed one face and Time, then another, then dozens and dozens more. I pictured clearly the evening when we invited the Grand Faerie Lord of Vast Space and Its Great Mysteries onto our ship to entreat them for our help. With the complexities of the pain, frustration, small triumphs and crushing failures all at my disposal, it was simple to build a Bridge.
I did not even require a Pilot to return us to this Fixed Point in Time. I simply beckoned Nina, who sat beside me, stunned, and together we traversed the Bridge.
Thus we were in the mess hall again, awaiting our guest; Pilot Uma and Navigator Wilson looking stiff and tense and then confused as they realized this was not our first iteration of this Point in Time. The Grand Faerie Lord appeared in the third seat at the table, with a sharp thunk, their outfit of many-layered, many-colored and patterned cloth strips breathing and flowing around them as they settled into the chair. My Navigator’s Watch read 22:22 AU Standard Time, and the jasmine in the vase were in full bloom.
“You need my help,” the Grand Faerie Lord said, addressing me.
“No, I don’t believe I do anymore. This is what you meant, yes?” I asked. “With the clues, the talk of other possibilities.”
They smiled. “It was one of many solutions.”
Navigator Wilson began to interrupt, but both the Grand Faerie Lord and I silenced him with a glare.
“Thank you,” I said. “I owe you a debt now.”
The Grand Faerie Lord shook their head. “I was the Faerie in your great-grandmother’s record. We traveled far and wide together,” they replied. “This is my half of the bargain for her friendship.”
I will not omit my shock and surprise from the record, though in the looping madness of Time, it made perfect sense.
“Wouldn’t it have been simpler to transport us out of the Tidepools?” I asked.
“Naturally,” they said. “But this is more beneficial. And more amusing.”
“Would you like to come with us to Systima 14?”
It was easy to silence Navigator Wilson when he saw how my Chronicler’s Watch, now my Navigator’s Watch, hummed and spun with all the possibilities. Pilot Uma flushed but said nothing as I led the way to the ship’s bridge.
And so I discovered myself the middle of the command nexus of the Forever Trying with Pilot Uma cocooned in her engine controls at my feet, the Grand Faerie Lord at one side, Nina on the other, Navigator Wilson seeming both annoyed and relieved as he took a seat in a passenger chair.
Embracing the complexities and discrediting nothing, I held my Navigator’s Watch in one hand and drew up my record with the other, and like a Navigator worthy of the Forever Trying, I built a sturdy Bridge across the Currents of Time.]