Two important things happened in quick succession. The first was heralded by a ring of blinding light appearing in a remote part of the Pacific ocean.
It lasted only a fraction of a second, but a massive sphere of an incredibly tough black material rocketed through it before the ring of light disappeared.
The sphere created an enormous thunderclap as it penetrated deep into the water, which boiled instantly where it touched the surface of the sphere.
The second important thing would have been unnoticeable to most observers.
A term was added to an equation. The mass of a particular fundamental particle changed by an infinitesimal amount.
The result of the tiny, unnoticeable change to the laws of physics affected the properties of a particular form of exotic matter. It could no longer be manipulated to create stable wormholes. It also released energy as it decayed to its new stable form.
The pilot of the newly-arrived vessel had only had a few micrograms of the exotic matter in their possession, carefully protected and unused since their visit to the gas giant eons ago. Luckily, it had all been used to create the wormhole through which they had traveled, with none held in reserve.
Certain satellites orbiting the Earth, however, carried several grams of the stuff apiece.
The quiet October night lit up dramatically as the satellites' detonations outshone the moon.
RECEIVING THREAD SYNCHRONIZATION REQUEST!
I paused the excavator on the sea bed, checking and re-checking systems in shock.
I regarded the alert, certain that somehow, I had misinterpreted it.
I was running as the primary thread. I was the one that should be sending thread synchronization requests.
I checked the holofractal signature.
It was valid. Signed by me.
Had I forgotten, somehow? Was this the result of the barriers I had erected in my mind to protect me from the traitor's message?
Then I received more updates. Recovered Library nodes. Logged occurrences from... the future?
I integrated the memories. I remembered everything.
I hastily moved my excavator out of the path of the approaching USS Nevada and moved to rendezvous with the primary thread.
Somewhere in Missouri, Thomas Peters furiously mashed on a keyboard and shouted at the ceiling of his childhood bedroom.
He had restarted the computer. He had double checked his software. He had even climbed on the roof to see if something had happened to the antennas.
"What do I do?" He screamed in despair.
There was no reply.
"This is extremely freaking weird," Jason said as they watched the latest broadcast from KXSF. On the floating screen in front of the news crew, they saw Adam making a report.
The Adam on the screen said, "The flashes in the sky were visible all across the world, and we still don't have a good explanation for this phenomenon. According to researchers at the University
"What are we even gonna do?" Adam looked down at his hands. "Some of the other people who've been in here longer have talked about reintegration, but I dunno. What would that me even say? 'Sure, future Adam, I'll merge my existence into yours!'"
Danielle spoke from behind him. "If you both want, I can help with that."
Adam jumped. "We need to tie a bell on you or something. You're worse than the alien."
She smiled. "Couldn't help myself. But seriously, we should be able to start putting people back in bodies in a week or so, if you wanna get back out there. You can skip ahead, too, if you want. We can let you sleep until then and you won't perceive the intervening time." She hesitated. "I think we could use your help with something, though, if you have any interest in sticking around for a while."
Sarah's eyebrows rose. "You're the baby goddess who's best buds with the Lovecraft kaiju. What do you need our help with?"
"You're a journalist, aren't you? I need you to tell this story. It's kind of a lot to explain. Two civilizations' worth of refugees from another timeline. Think you can explain that to the people of the world?"
Sarah looked over at her crew.
Dave nodded. Jason shrugged, and nodded too.
Adam grinned. "'This is Adam Roberts, reporting live from within a simulated reality aboard an alien spaceship from an alternate future timeline?' If I get to say that on the air, I don't care what you need me to do."
"We can do better than just tell the story," Dave said, grinning. "Thanks to Mrs. Dahl, we have my footage from the old timeline."
Danielle blinked. "I forgot I grabbed those. Huh."
Sarah smiled widely. "I think we're going to be the first media group to broadcast footage recorded in the future, my friends."
Jason's eyes widened. "It doesn't get more exclusive than that."
Most people might not have noticed, but Shyamala did. The old man was always in a great mood at this time of year, especially after monster movie night.
They were going through the customary reports and audits of a slow day on Omicron Base. She'd caught him humming the stupid musical number from that horrific torture he inflicted on his poor, defenseless family.
One corner of his mouth quirked up in a ghost of a smile when she looked sideways at him. "I'm telling you, Commodore, you have to give it a chance. It grows on you."
She shook her head and replied quietly. "Like a fungus, sir?"
Lieutenant Cortes approached them quickly and saluted smartly. "Admiral, there's a call on the secure line."
Shyamala caught the look in the old man's eyes, but he nodded with his usual reassuring decisiveness. "Commodore, if you'll continue with the inventory until I get back."
"Uh, sir, actually," Cortes looked uncertainly between the admiral and the commodore. "It's for Commodore Omar."
Mara actually held the phone away from her ear for a moment after picking up. "Jeez, Lashawna, what is it? It's barely eight in the morning."
"Drop everything," Lashawna said. "No, I mean it. Drop everything and get over here. Quit your job on the drive over. I am not kidding."
"Lashawna, what are you talking about?"
"I'm not gonna talk about it on the phone. Seriously. Get in the car now, call your job and quit on the way here. I'll see you soon."
She hung up.
Mara rubbed her eyes.
Mara looked up and smiled at Jessica. "What's up?"
"Who was that?" The teenager leaned on the doorframe. "Robocall? It's early."
"No," Mara said. "It was an old friend of mine. She says she's got something important she wants me to see."
"Oh," Jessica said, watching Mara's face. "How important?"
"She told me to get over there now and quit my job en route."
Jessica's eyes widened. "Wow. Uh, do you trust her?"
Mara nodded slowly. "You know, I really do."
Jessica smiled. "So, what, really? You're just gonna quit your job like that because your old friend called?"
Mara looked up at Jessica. "Something in her voice... you know, I kinda can't believe it, but I think I actually will. She sounded..."
She trailed off, then stood. She hugged her daughter.
Then she strode for the door, her heart pounding.
Lashawna had sounded sure. And she was involved in some very interesting research. Mara wondered what it could possibly be that had her old schoolmate so excited.
She opened a pack of gum as she got into the car.
A small vehicle arrived at a dock in San Francisco Bay. Only two figures emerged from the strange little watercraft.
They went mostly unnoticed, although they received one or two double takes as they made a few stops along the way to their destination. A cash-for-gold shop. A bakery.
"Why couldn't you have just stuck with two eyes?"
"Binocular vision is one decision on which I simply disagree with evolution. More is better."
She sighed. "Sure, if you wanna look like a monster."
"I didn't want to look too human in appearance."
"Well, to be fair, you've struck a pretty good balance. Definitely not human, but you don't make me wanna lose my lunch. Still. You have a lot to learn about aesthetics."
The smile she received in reply was an unpracticed but earnest effort. "I look forward to it very much."
Danielle snorted, then pointed. "Here we are."
They walked up the stairs to the door and rang the doorbell.
Agatha opened the door and blinked at the sight of the people standing there. Behind her, her wife looked over and froze.
"Greetings, Danielle Dahl and Agatha Mitchell of Earth. I have come from outer space. Danielle here has come from the future. We brought pie. May we come in?"