The date of March 23rd, 2034 happened twice. Not that anyone noticed. It was an unremarkable day that bore no resemblance to the drama of Genesis. There was no preceding Breaking, nor were there any fissures to Hell, and nobody was consumed by an enormous black void.
On March 23rd, people went to sleep and then woke up the next morning on March 23rd. They didn’t even realize it. Calendars and watches progressed as though a day had elapsed. It was the fabric of Time itself that had experienced a minor hiccup. Subsequently, calendars and watches would be quietly wrong by one day for the future.
The date of March 23rd, 2034 would not go into mortal history books.
Even the Librarians missed it until the Traveler nudged them, at which point they wrote it down, pretending as though they had already done so and it was very annoying that the Traveler was bothering them.
When Onoskelis—the current Head Librarian—wrote it down, she wrote it down like this.
March 23rd, 2034: The Second Genesis of the New Gods.
Really, it should have read like Genesis Part Two, because the shift wasn’t that big. It was a thread tugged just a little bit out of place.
The gap it left behind was so small that nobody should have noticed.
The Second March 23rd, 2034
Summer Gresham saw the second line appear, and she immediately unwrapped a third test to pee on that one too. There was very little urine left in her bladder at this point, but she was a lupine shifter, and she was capable of summoning dribbles for marking her territory at all times so there was no reason she couldn’t dribble on one more pregnancy test.
These dribbles barely stained the end of the stick. It would have to be enough. She set it on the bathroom counter and then finally pulled up her underwear, wiggled her butt into slacks, and flushed the toilet.
“Are you okay?”
That was her mother’s voice on the other side of the door.
“Fine! You can go back to your meeting with Deirdre!” Summer called back.
She thought she’d done a pretty good job sounding normal, but Rylie still said, “Oh my God open this door right now.”
The woman on the other side was the same age as Summer by a weird stroke of fate, but Rylie Gresham was the Alpha with all of the accompanying power, and that meant that she still looked about thirty while Summer looked like she was approaching forty—which she was.
Forty wasn’t very old. It was a little bit older than most mundane women had children, but…not too old.
She suddenly felt very old.
In fact, for an instant, Summer felt like she was over a hundred years old. She glanced at herself in the mirror and saw a woman whose skin had bagged into wrinkles with dark spots on her face and patchy curls that exposed her scalp, and she felt ancient.
Tears leaped to her eyes.
Oh. Oh no.
It was like something terrible had just happened, and she’d just lost someone so important. Like she was raging against circumstance with the last of the fire in a fading body and…
No. It was gone.
The instant where Summer felt old passed quickly.
The lingering feeling of melancholy did not.
“Oh. My. God.” Rylie hadn’t noticed Summer’s weird moment. She had pushed into the Academy’s bathroom to stare at the three sticks on the sink. “Oh my God! Nash?”
Summer couldn’t help but laugh and roll her eyes, tired as she suddenly felt. “Yes, Nash.” There had never been anyone else for Summer. She had a lot of things in common with her mother, but Rylie’s penchant for bearing children by men she wasn’t mated to was not among them.
I’m going to have Nash’s baby.
It finally started to sink in.
“Oh my gods,” Summer said, and it was in almost the exact same tone as the way that Rylie had said it, with the same cadence, though she added an extra heaping serving of disbelief. “I thought we couldn’t. I mean—shifter, angel—”
They had been trying for years and had adopted half of the orphans in the pack in the meantime. In fact, they’d just adopted an infant a few weeks earlier—little Bree Adamson, who had a terrible case of colic and slept about two minutes a night and was cute as a gods-damned button. Bree’s preference for not-sleeping was the reason that Summer had taken so long to realize she was fatigued and gaining weight and that it wasn’t normal.
And Summer loved her. She loved Bree just as much as she loved Michael, and Flora, and Donna, and…
And now there was going to be another one.
Rylie’s eyes were brimming with tears. “I’m going to be a grandma again.”
“Really Mom?” Summer said. “You’re already grandma to like a thousand—oof.”
“I love you,” Rylie said, squeezing Summer so tightly that it hurt, but in kind of a good way. “I love you so much.”
Summer clung to her feeling that weird sadness again. The melancholy hadn’t gone away.
But there was a new feeling too.
This all felt impossible somehow, like it never should have happened. And yet the dribbles on the third stick had already produced a second line. There was no denying it. Summer Gresham was pregnant.
“I can’t wait to tell Nash,” she said.
Elsewhere and elsewhen.
The Traveler stepped into the Infinite and was met on the other side by a frowning, annoyed face. “Just because you can come over here doesn’t mean you should,” said the gaean god, also known as Time, and also known as Elise Kavanagh.
“I’m the Traveler,” it said simply. Traveling was what it did, unconstrained by most rules of time and dimension. “I wanted to check in on her.”
“I don’t owe you that. I don’t owe you anything.”
“I didn’t say you did.”
“Fuck it, fine,” Elise said.
She started walking, and the Traveler followed.
Elise didn’t slow down to make sure the Traveler could keep up, even though the fabric of the Infinite was infinitely complex, and there were an infinite number of places to get lost within its hundred-thousand-billion folds. Elise beelined directly for the newest addition to the Infinite.
“That’s pretty cool,” the Traveler said when they stepped through to the next plane.
It was a place very much like the rest of the Infinite. There were no smells to describe. No sights, no sounds, no textures. It wasn’t a sensory place. It was a concept that surely made sense to entities like the gods, who existed on several dimensions that even the Traveler did not.
Were the Traveler to attempt to summon an image of the place, it would have thought that it was a sunny field where the sky was a little bit too close and the blackberry bushes grew very thick.
“James says we should call it Heaven,” Elise said, “but I told him to shove it up his fucking ass.”
“Then what will you call it?” asked the Traveler.
“My vote’s for Valhalla,” she said. “But I guess since I named our kid, James is fighting me to the end on this one.”
The Traveler considered this. “What is the end?”
“It hasn’t come yet,” she said. “I’ll let you know when it does.”
“You should call it Afterlife,” the Traveler said.
“Fuck you. You don’t get an opinion,” Elise said.
Just as there was no world to describe in Afterlife—which the Traveler did have an opinion about—there was really no describing the residents of Afterlife. It was a quiet place filled with quiet people. A waiting room, for the most part. Souls drifting through long swaying grass and standing underneath shady trees and soaking their feet in a crystalline river that didn’t really exist.
The gods had made several changes in the Second Genesis, and this had been the biggest of them.
No more did people die and pass on immediately to be recycled into new souls.
Instead, they waited.
“How long will you keep them here before letting Death have them?” the Traveler asked, following Elise down a narrow path that smelled of honey and nothing at all.
“Depends on the person,” she said.
“Will you let Death recycle them normally when they leave here?”
“Maybe.” The terseness of Elise’s response was answer enough. She hadn’t decided what to do with everyone, because she hadn’t made Afterlife for everyone.
At the moment, in the sunniest part of this corner of the Infinite, one particular soul was waiting around.
She was a brighter spirit than the rest. Small, but fiery. This was a pure spirit, an innocent one without words. She was tangled with an entity who shined with as much force as Elise.
Victoria and James were enjoying the day in the Infinite.
“What’s it doing here?” James asked, and the Traveler got the impression of the ethereal god pulling Victoria into his arms protectively.
“I just wanted to see her,” the Traveler said.
And as it saw Victoria, the daughter to the gods saw the Traveler too.
They connected on the same level that they had connected in the cemetery that one day in the future, which would never happen now that Elise had rebooted the universe. Again.
Both of them remembered that connection.
The Traveler and Victoria shared consciousness. They traveled through each other’s minds, and through the threads of life that they’d left behind in time.
Just as the Traveler could ascribe arbitrary qualities to Afterlife, there were arbitrary qualities that would have suited Victoria’s reaction to its presence, too. For instance, the Traveler was certain it felt pleasure coming from the daughter of the gods. It thought it may have even heard her giggling.
“You won’t take her,” Elise said. “I won’t let you.”
“I don’t think I could if I wanted to,” the Traveler said. “As I told you, I only want to see.”
“You’re not the only one who’s been curious about her,” James said. “We are keeping things quiet. Private. You understand.”
“I’ll find you if you tell anyone,” Elise said.
And the Traveler said, “Of course.” It wouldn’t be necessary. The world would not fail to notice the thread that had been tugged out of place known as Victoria Faulkner, no matter how hard Elise and James attempted to hide her. Eventually, things would unravel.
For now, there was a bright, pure spirit in the Afterlife, hanging out with all these other mortal souls, and also two gods.
In truth, it was the gods that the Traveler had wanted to see, because it had suspicions.
Suspicions which had now been verified.
Despite the fact that gods were omniscient and omnipresent, they were still constrained in some ways. The more places they existed simultaneously, the thinner they were stretched. And right now Elise and James were stretched thin. Much of their attention was still not on godhood or Afterlife.
“I won’t help again,” the Traveler said, and it meant that statement to be as ominous as it sounded.
“We won’t need it again,” Elise said.
She pushed the Traveler back to the mortal worlds.
That was that. The end of the visit.
The Traveler tried not to wonder if it had made the right decision to help in the first place. Regrets were useless, even for someone who perceived time as an additional dimension.
But it couldn’t help but think on it in the years to come and speculate on what would have happened if Victoria Faulkner had remained dead.
Somewhere—March 24th, 2034
“Excellent, Elise. You’re doing wonderfully. Just keep breathing.”
“You fucking keep breathing,” she said.
And then the next contraction struck her, and she knew that this was it. This was the last one. This was the time.
Elise bore down, back arching, toes digging into the wooden floor of her kitchen, fingers gripping the edge of the counter. The contraction squeezed her from crown to abdominal muscles to thighs to ankles.
And the baby emerged from her vagina in a final gush of blood and placental fluid.
This time, the infant did not hit the floor. She tumbled into a waiting pair of hands, and was immediately drawn gently, carefully against a bare chest, because James had removed his shirt when Elise’s water had broken on him in bed overnight.
“Well,” James said.
Elise leaned back against the corner of the cabinets, panting. She gazed with bleary eyes up at her husband, who was gazing at their baby.
Their living offspring.
“A girl,” he said. “It’s a girl.”
Elise was too exhausted to point out how unnecessary that declaration was.
“She’s not crying,” James said.
“Clear her mouth out, stupid,” Elise said.
“Right. Yes, of course.” His pinky finger inserted gently into his daughter’s mouth, and he scooped out some gunk. Then he grabbed the nasal aspirator and cleaned her throat. And then the baby began screaming in a gasping, halting wail, which was a miserable goat sort of sound that Elise thought she’d missed. It turned out she didn’t miss that sound. It was still awful.
James sat on the slick floor beside Elise, as if he were as drained by the birth as much as she was. The umbilical cord was still between Elise’s legs. She wasn’t done yet, and wouldn’t be done until the placenta came out. So for the moment, while James held the baby and Elise’s uterus held the remaining organ, the three of them were connected. Bound together.
Two godly avatars and a mortal soul reincarnated.
Hidden somewhere on Earth again.
“Rosalind is still a perfectly good name,” James said.
“Fuck off,” Elise said. “Give me Victoria.”
She took the baby from him, and the newborn’s cries subsided to miserable little grunts, which didn’t cease when Elise jabbed her nipple into the baby’s mouth.
Victoria obediently ate.
Elise let her head fall onto James’s shoulder.
“I should have made you carry her this time,” Elise grumbled.
“You didn’t mean it.”
“You didn’t want me to anyway,” James said.
He was probably right about that. He had to be right occasionally.
They sat in silence for a few minutes while the breastfeeding induced more contractions, and once the placenta was produced, Elise felt ready to take a very long nap. Which she could do this time, because there was no assassin. Nobody had managed to find them.
Not yet, anyway.
“You’re beautiful,” James said, kissing Elise.
“You’re a liar,” she said against his mouth. But she liked the lie. She would never have words to describe her gratitude for the mere fact that James was present this time, and she suspected he felt the same, so words weren’t really necessary anyway.
James grabbed Elise’s knife to cut the umbilical cord. “How long do you think this’ll last?”
“Too long,” she said. “Not long enough.”
“Do you think there will be consequences?”
“Yes,” Elise said. “Obviously.”
James sawed at the tissue. Then placenta was disconnected from baby, and Victoria was on her own in the world, human and alive and independent.
The baby’s eyes were open as she ate. She gazed blankly at the ceiling, seeing nothing and everything.
A single thread tugged out of place.
A few small changes.
Summer and Nash made a new life that shared their blood, and that was another thread tugged out of place.
Their child was a happy one, laughing and running and playing with the wolves. Every motion tugged another thread. Every decision tugged yet another.
Elsewhere, Victoria grew when her fragile little body should have died, and that tugged things around a little bit too.
Eventually the shifting started to ripple into bigger changes.
And somewhere very far away, much further than anyone had ever ventured in spaces that nobody but Librarians even knew existed, someone noticed the fabric had gotten the smallest tear. That someone began to wake up.
Victoria Faulkner looked through the tear.
And the eye of a stranger more enormous than the world looked back.