You could be forgiven if you didn't know the history, for thinking that this place was somehow stuck in a previous century. A whole lot of weirdness washed under the bridge, leaving the surface appearances intact. This old town has about the same population it once had, and although there's no longer such a thing as the "United States Navy," the former shipyard, which for an age was used to break up the remains of the previous age's "nuclear deterrent" is now home to a fab. Okay, sure, the fab doesn't employ anyone. Products are made and sold and shipped with not a human involved. Metal de-orbits into the Pacific water-landing zone (best not to ask where in the asteroid belt it's coming from), and is brought in across the Juan de Fuca seawall. The seawall — It's the main reason the entire region isn't under 70 feet of ocean.

Jobs? Work is where you make it. Basic income and fair housing and free medical and as much school as you can stomach — These days folks are free to find the work which makes them happiest. It was that way even before the changes — Even before things went weird on us. Some people say it’s a paradise. Others not so much. Can’t make everyone happy.

Yep, you'd be forgiven for thinking that all that weirdness missed this place completely. The entire region looks like some throwback to the old normal.

 

That’s why they send the decants here. Folks who had money, saw the changes coming, didn’t like what they saw, decided to sit it out in hibernation, secure, they thought, that they’d still have their riches when they were revived later.

Indeed, they do have their wealth for all the good it does them. The AIs are good sports about it, but money, what are you going to spend it on?  The accumulation of wealth is a bygone thing and many decants find themselves adrift in the post-changes world.

So in addition to looking like a scene straight out of the past, a significant portion of the population consists of refugees *from* said past. Like refugees everywhere across space-time, they’ve got a steep learning curve fitting into their new lives.



That’s my client, Roger. Old money. Decanted from hibernation four years ago. Discovering that the difference between idle rich, and idle poor is none-at-all these days. Roger’s coping quite well. He has a hobby collecting vintage transportation. He travels, gathers up old rusting hunks of metal almost no modern person recognizes anymore and then farms out the work restoring them to dozens of small-time restorers. That’s where I come in. Roger had an “automobile” from the mid-twentieth century. Squat, rear-engine job. Built in pre-Eurozone Germany. One of some fifteen million such built. Work is where you make it, so when the job came available, I took it. It’s more archeology than mechanics with a machine that old anyway.



The engine at least was mostly whole and intact. Took only a little work to get it to a near-functional state. Sadly, the petroleum distillate it runs on is no longer manufactured, and besides, we’d class it as a noise-abatement hazard, make no mention of the pollution. So that portion’s sitting in my garage under a custom glass case, to be delivered with the rest of the vehicle. Roger, bless him, still wants a drivable Volkswagen, and with this old hulk, we got lucky. The Germans were among the first to apply unit-body construction. This makes electric conversion simple. Beyond that, I have a laundry-list of parts, one-off orders for the fab. Strictly low priority, obviously, but Roger and I have all the time in the world. Every so often one of the parts gets approved for fabrication and work moves forward. The fab makes me a part. I install it. Fab sends me a bill, I forward that, and my labor costs to Roger. I get paid once in a blue moon.


As a result, I’m doing ever so slightly better than average, and still have plenty of “free” time.



Right.



So let me tell you what I do with this time I have on my hands. 

It’s Wednesday, the Fab says it won’t deliver my part for a week. So out comes the transport pod. Sleek, low-slung, solar-powered, two wheels and a carbon fiber fairing. Descendant of a machine called a “bicycle.” I’ve seen pictures of bicycles. They look dangerous. Only real thing that and a transport pod have in common is that a single operator sits between two wheels. Nonetheless, tradition dictates that operators of two-wheeled vehicles wear helmets. Just tradition, mind you. Operation is otherwise simple. Just get in and tell the pod your destination.



I’m headed out to old Jacob MacCullen’s place. When I say “old,” I mean it. Jake is truly ancient of days, even given modern geriatric medicine. He doesn’t mind showing it, either. Lets his hair go white -- doesn’t keep his skin or muscle tone. These are deliberate choices, otherwise you’d have no idea of his age unless you spend time talking to him. He runs a farm, ranch, and guest house not far from town. When I’ve got nothing else to do, or three days a week whichever is more frequent, I go out to the farm.  I pull weeds. I drive a tractor. I plant vegetables.



I could go into detail about the history of the farm. Your eyes would glaze over. Suffice to say that Jake doesn’t own it. It belongs to one “Mrs. Wallace” but Jake’s landlady disincorporated several years ago. It’s officially still the “Wallace Farm.” If you’re a decant and don’t understand disincorporation, please don’t wait for me to explain. Mrs. Wallace isn’t coming back, nor is she dead, but she still owns the property and has the final say what’s done with it. She’s happy enough with Jake farming it and running the guest house.



I hear she occasionally grumbles about Jake’s hanger. I’ll get to that later.

At any rate, the farm has been a farm since long before the changes. In some distant past, a previous owner took the land organic, and it’s stayed that way since. I understand that the farm has been both larger, and smaller over the years, but the boundary zones have been respected. The land is as pristine as it can be. Seventy-five acres of rolling, untainted, Kapowsin series soil. Glacial till. Prime farmland. More than that, you really don’t want to know.



Yes, it’s only 75 acres. As farms go, that’s tiny. Thank goodness for Stennig zones. Jacob MacCullen leases that 75 acres into the nearest 1000 of Artur Stennig’s shadow universes. Never heard of Stennig or his shadow universes? Aren’t *you* a fresh decant! I can barely explain it myself, so don’t think you’re getting the whole story.  It turns out that the many-worlds hypotheses in quantum mechanics was more-or-less correct (Okay, a real physicist would lay into me pretty hard for that statement. It’s vastly over-simplified). The upshot is that the whole 75 acres is mirrored across 1000 realities, and Jake and his staff farm the lot of it. 75000 acres is fairly impressive, even if it is the same small farm 1000 times over. Jake’s staff of five (or six, given the vagaries of alternate universes), or 5000 or 6000… Plus a rotating series of guests, some of whom volunteer to work the farm for a room and meals for a few days… Total staff is at any one moment, about ten… or ten-thousand… It gets complicated.


Now you must understand that I, Mike Holmes, don’t exist in all the 1000 Stennig zones. This is good because it means I can travel between the zones where I won’t encounter myself. Conversely, the versions of me in zones where I do exist can also travel to those zones as long as I or any other version of me isn’t there.  I’m a “60%.” It means I exist in 600 of the thousand Stennig zones leased by Jake. I get to play go-between for Jake and the 400 versions of the farm accessible to me… As do the other 600 Mike Holmeses… It gets complicated. I don’t actually get to travel inter-dimensionally that much. Now Sandra… She’s a 3%. She exists in only 30 of the 1000 Stenning zones. Practically all she does is travel. Sandra… Sandra died in our reality some 200 years ago. There are only 30 of her left. I’ve met most of them.



Jake himself… Jake is a 0.01%. There isn’t another Jacob MacCullen in the nearest 10,000 Stennig zones.  Ten-thousand zones out, and you’re talking worlds where the dinosaurs never went extinct. Universes where the Earth never formed… The AIs class Jake as “critically endangered.”  There’s an active Jacob MacCullen preservation program. So while the rest of us may hope to live for three or four hundred years, there being only one Jake MacCullen, the AIs want to keep him around. Because he’s one of the rare people who can go anywhere in Stennig-space.


I told you. Normalcy is just on the surface.