Gamora fell out of the time machine onto her butt. Again. She was never going to figure out how to handle that thing gracefully.
She stood, rubbing her backside, and took in the view from the Oasis Landing traveler’s center.
“Maybe it’s sunrise,” she thought to herself, squinting at the orange haze. “Or sunset? The air can’t be that bad.” But the truth was she knew better. Her photosynthetic skin was already absorbing the polluted air, and it tasted terrible.
She walked down out of the traveler’s center to the grubby street. It was dotted with empty buildings and huge mounds of twisted metal. She watched a local sim walk up to a mound and drop some old clothes onto what looked like a protruding chrome bedframe, then walk away looking satisfied at a job well done.
Unable to help herself, she bent down to examine what the Oasis Landing sims were throwing away.
The answer shouldn’t have been surprising. Everything. Disposable food cartons. Broken digital viewscreens. Old plumbing.
While she was digging, cautiously, in the detritus, a plumbot ran up and threw an arm onto the pile — presumably she’d just had it replaced. Watching a being of metal littering bits of herself just seemed impossibly ironic. Gamora stifled an appalled giggle.
Appalled giggle? Was that even a real thing? Apparently so.
She wandered back to the travelers’ center at dusk. It was unchanged from what Gamora remembered from previous visits, which now made it an island of cleanliness and repair in a sea of yuck.
Emit Relevart was standing just inside the door, waiting for her.
Gamora looked at him nervously. “I can’t possibly be responsible for this,” she said.
“You’re certain?” Emit asked.
He went on to recite what sounded like a history text. “After a mysterious asteroid destroyed the home of the Sample-Baerwyn family of Avalon, the couple divorced over disagreement stemming from the cause of the explosion. Husband Ash Sample-Baerwyn went on to found the Smashed Earth Society, a community of sims who believed that the destruction of the planet by asteroid strike was inevitable. The Smashed Earth Society was the beginning of generations of destructive behavior toward our planet.”
“Still think this has nothing to do with you?”
The more Gamora heard, the more she felt herself shrinking into herself. “You’re going to blame me for generations of bad decisions made by other sims?” she shouted defensively. “Sims don’t need my help to ruin their lives!”
“I invite you to find me something else from Oasis Landing that contaminated the past since your last visit,” Emit said.
“Watch me,” Gamora retorted.
She stormed into an empty bedroom, then stood staring at the dream pod for a long time, trying to sort her thoughts. This mess of a future couldn’t possibly be her fault, could it? All she’d wanted to do was make Manisha’s life hell. She hadn’t intended to make everyone’s life hell.
She lay down in the pod, her thoughts racing far too fast for sleep. But dream pods have one job, and they’re very good at it. Sleep came to her much faster than she expected.
Much later, someone else walked into her bedroom.
In the morning, such as it was in the haze, she drifted into the common room to listen to the other time tourists gossiping over breakfast. She didn’t eat human food, but the thought of photosynthesizing in the polluted soil made her queasy.
“Have you been to the hot springs yet?” she heard one traveler ask her companion. “I hear they’re the best part of Oasis Landing.”
“This is my third trip,” the other said loftily. “The hot springs no longer hold much magic for me.”
“So everything isn’t bad here,” Gamora thought to herself. Maybe this “new” future was really a benefit in disguise.
It was bad.
The water was a nice temperature, but Gamora had to be skeptical of the “natural” claim as she swam between one trash heap and the other. The water had an oily feeling. She didn’t want to think about what her skin might be absorbing.
Things got worse when she climbed out of the water, only to stumble into a glowing hole in the ground only a few feet away.
That wasn’t a radioactive rift in the space time continuum…. right?
“Human sims are disgusting pigs,” she murmured to herself as she scrambled back to the surface. If she thought the oily water was bad, the residue of the rift was horrifying. She danced around, trying to brush the unknown glowing dust off her skin. She felt queasy.
She returned to the traveler’s center on the antigrav monorail, which mostly worked. It only sent them into free-fall once during the trip, and it recovered just fine.
She slept, but her dreams were troubled, and she had late-night company once again.
The next day, the polluted haze had receded somewhat. She climbed on her overboard and went to explore the dry ocean bed that bordered Oasis Landing.
That, at least, seemed much the same. She collected some lovely rogue nanites.
On the edge of the dusty sea was a decaying boardwalk that stood as if it still overlooked the water. Gamora drifted in that direction and was surprised to find that it was actually in use as a hangout. Perhaps there was nothing more aesthetic in this dystopian vision of Oasis Landing.
Two of the locals caught her eye immediately. She knew immediately who they must be.
“Hello!” she said. “I’m Gamora Sample. I’m pretty sure we’re related.”
“You’re one of those time travelers, aren’t you?” the woman exclaimed, abandoning her chess game. “I’m Marcella Sample, and I’m sure you’re right! When are you from! I want to hear all about what my ancestors were doing.”
Gamora made her story interesting. She might have embellished just a little bit. It hardly mattered, since none of her cousins were likely to go time-traveling.
As they spoke, Marcella’s companion wandered over to examine some flowers. It was nice to know that flowers could grow in this polluted climate. Gamora wondered who took care of them and how many extra chemicals it took to keep them healthy.
There was something about him that kept catching her eye. “Your brother’s quite the florist,” she said to Marcella.
“J.C.?” Marcella said, laughing. “He’s not my brother. He’s my husband. He’s not partial to flowers. He’s just like that about everything aesthetic. He tried to be a professional art critic, but he we never able to make it pay.”
Husband? Ooof. J.C. was clearly a descendant of Edmund, and Marcella just had to be carrying the genes of Edmund’s girlfriend Jean. So either the Sample family tree looped, which she had to admit was possible, or things weren’t looking good for Edmund.
Gamora drifted over to speak to him, and his face lit up as she approached.
“Do you see the contrast of the flowers to the landscape behind them? Such use of color!”
Since the flowers were the only color she could see on any of the landscape for miles around that wasn’t a dirty yellow-gray, Gamora hadn’t to admit that the flowers were striking.
“It looks great,” she agreed. “And it makes you smile, which is even better.”
She just said what?
There was just something about this guy…
“That was a lousy line,” she amended lamely. “Not sure what got into me.”
JC grinned. “It was kind of adorable,” he said.
They stood there, staring at each other for a while.
Gamora felt uncomfortable with his gaze on her, something she’d never felt before.
“I’m Gamora…” she began. “Uh, just Gamora. I’m just a time traveler passing through.”
“Really?” JC exclaimed with that smile that lit up the smog. “Are you staying at the time visitor’s center? I’ve always wanted look around inside. It’s much nicer than any other place in Oasis Landing. The Time Tourist Board really takes care of that place and makes sure it has all the best our time has to offer.”
Gamora thought of the grime that covered every surface in this horrible version of Oasis Landing. Once you got used to the advanced tech, the visitor’s center wasn’t that impressive, but she could believe it was the best this timeline had to offer.
“I’d be glad to give you a tour,” she said, aware that her voice sounded entirely too hopeful.
“You’d do that for someone you just met?” JC said. “You’re such a good person. Thank you!”
They took the rickety grav-rail back to the center. Gamora escorted JC through the entrance, past a time traveler hanging out in their underwear, as they were prone to do. JC didn’t react as if it were strange at all.
“Here you are,” she said. “Does the place live up to your expectations?”
“It’s gorgeous!” JC said, though Gamora could see it was anything but.
“I’m glad it makes you happy,” Gamora said. She started to step closer, but of course a journalism-bot showed up at that moment to take their picture. The center was lousy with those things.
“Will you go away?” Gamora demanded.
“My entire programming is to record visitors to the time center,” the bot said without remorse. “What else do you propose I photograph?”
“Someone has to be doing something anywhere else,” Gamora snarled.
“Hey!” JC called from the lounge. “There’s free food!”
“Join me for a meal?” he asked.
Gamora grimaced. “I don’t eat,” she said. “It’s not personal. I’m a plant.”
“Oh, I thought there was something leafy about you. I don’t mean to offend.”
“No,” she said. “It’s fine. You eat and I’ll chat. I’m used to it.”
“The food tastes amazing,” JC said. “You can never get anything this fine from the replicator at home.”
“I’m sure it’s the best that science can buy,” Gamora said.
JC stood up to drop his plate in the recycler, and they stood there staring into each other’s eyes once more. Gamora felt a longing she couldn’t describe.
In the fresher air of the time center, Gamora’s nose caught the unpleasant odor of his skin. It hadn’t been detectable outside because everything outside smelled unpleasant. The entire planet stank.
“I’ll let you in on a secret,” she said.
JC’s eye widened. “What’s that?” he asked.
“There’s a hottub in the basement that’s almost never used,” she said. “It’s the best place to get clean and have fun.”
JC stepped back, looking perplexed. “I didn’t bring a swimsuit or anything,” he said.
“I don’t have one either,” Gamora said. Desire made her voice breathy. “We wouldn’t need one. Just you and me, in our skin down there alone. Nobody would see us. I, uh, am sure you look great under that jacket.”
JC’s face fell. “Oh, I’m so sorry Ms Gamora,” he said. “I didn’t mean to give you the wrong impression. I have a wife and kids at home.”
“I can keep a secret,” Gamora insisted. “I can’t believe I’m the only one who feels this connection.”
JC sighed. “Ms Gamora, you are the most beautiful, desirable creature I have ever met,” he said. “If we’d met before, I would have gone to the ends of the earth for just one frolic with you. I was stupid to come here now, knowing how you make me feel.”
Gamora felt anger and incomprehension rise, burning, in her throat. She glared at him. “Then why not do something about it? I’m not asking you to leave your wife. This might be the only time we see each other. You know we’d be great.”
JC looked at her sadly, almost with pity. “Of course we would. I’ll always be sorry I missed it. But Marcella trusts me, and her trust is worth everything to me. Is there nobody in your life whose trust you value?”
Gamora looked away. “No,” she said. She wasn’t even sure what it felt like to be trusted.
“I’m sorry,” JC said. “I better go.”
“Yeah,” Gamora said, feeling hollow. “I’m sorry.”
He gave her one last, said, longing look and left.
Gamora stood there in silence after he left, trying to collect her thoughts. What had just happened to her? Who was this guy to challenge the standards she lived by? What did it matter about his wife anyway if she was never going to know? It all sounded like a load of preachy crap.
So why did she feel dirty? It wasn’t the pollution.
She went downstairs alone and sat in the hot tub for a while, her skin drinking in the cleanest water source she could find in this place. That made her feel a little better.
Then, close to midnight, she went looking for a dream pod.
She found Emit Relevart’s pod. It’s not like she didn’t know she’d been sharing her dream pod for the entire trip. Turnabout was fair play.
Now she just needed the pod to do its job.
She looked out again at the orange haze burning under the city lights.
“I can fix this,” she said.
Then she slept.
I fully intended Evil Gamora to take a quasi-incestuous spin with her first cousin a bajillion-times removed. She went to all the work of talking him up and inviting him back with her without his family. Then, even with her high charisma and a good conversation level, he rejected her not once but three times.
So her story is off in a different direction.