Chapter 5

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Theodora Taylor stared up at the sun, at the blemish-like dark spots adorning its golden surface. Thin wisps of glowing plasma sloughed off the burning disk, surrounding it in a halo of white.

Then she turned the sun off.

In its place, a dull, blurry inkblot of tinged white spread across the low hanging clouds. It cast its pale light across the imposing cityscape. The skyscrapers loomed over her. They stretched high into the drab firmament, parting the clouds as some vast fleet of warships might part the ocean. Some lost their crowns in the thick vapor, fading into the distance, as if they stretched to infinity.

Theodora bowed her head down and started walking with the sluggish current of humanity that surged through the wide streets. Occasionally, a solitary bicycle weaved its way awkwardly through the flood of people. Through the dense throng of humans and the thick stand of skyscrapers, Theodora could see the grey ocean, punctured by thin needles of rusting metal. It heaved and sloshed against the tall dikes that protected the city, perhaps hoping one day to bring them down.

The city of New York bustled as it had always bustled, the millions upon millions of people marching through their routines as they always had. The daily heartbeat of the city had been thumping for at least eight hundred years. Of course, the original city was but crumbling relic under the ever-rising waters. The last remains were the skeletons of the old buildings, some still rising valiantly above the ocean.

Theodora didn't like the appearance of the dreary city, and decided to change it. The people became fish swimming in a slow, Amazonian river, the towers became nonsensically tall trees, taller than the small puffy clouds that punctuated the turquoise of the sky. The sun shined in full tropical glory, dappling Theodora's red canoe with pristine light. At some point, she stopped walking and began rowing.

The fish swam in the slow current, glinting orange and red and yellow, shimmering under the intense sunlight. Lazy crocodiles paddled below the calm, clear water, their backs covered with thin streamers of foliage, followed by entourages of tiny fish. The riverbed, far below but still clearly visible, was carpeted in the same algae, giving it the appearance of some rustic pasture. The trees dipped their thick, dark roots into the broad river. A plethora of rainbow birds twisted and weaved between the great mangroves. Their wings fluttered and caught in the bright sunlight flashing and twinkling, a galaxy of multicolored stars, wheeling through the sky.

Annoyingly, a notification appeared suddenly in the air near Theodora's head, its flashing blue and red and contrasting with the soft tones of her world. It told her that she was nearing her destination and the autopilot was going to shut off soon. She took a longing glance at perfection, then closed the program. The drab skies and glacial crowds returned. The trees morphed back into tall, ominous towers. Theodora found herself standing in front of an especially massive one, with the company name written in a blocky font across the sheer, vertical surface.

Theodora worked for the Exonavis Corporation, the most powerful space manufacturing companies in the solar system. It mostly specialized in asteroid mining, but had heavy involvement in military and corporate contracting, building ships for other organizations. Recent events had cemented its position above any of its competitors. The enormous building seemed to testify the opulence of the company.

Theodora walked through the long bank of doors, and entered the main lobby of EXN New York. The chamber was designed on the same premise as most EXN ships, with white, sterile ceiling and walls. The tall, dark windows gave the aura of some ancient cathedral and flying buttresses splaying out from the walls only strengthened the likeness. In the center of the chamber, a three-dimensional image floated, a holographic representation of the company's most recent triumph. It looked like a dumbbell, with two huge lobes on either side of a thin rod. One side was red, the other blue.

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