Quick note: The prologue and chapter 1 are both kind of short, so I'm doing them both today. Also, I can't figure out how to get the indentations of the first line of every paragraph - which show up both in "compose" and in "preview" - to register in the final post as more than a single space. What the Hell?
Prologue: End of the World
The terminal sat in perfect darkness. No light had fallen upon it in years. No user had touched it in centuries.
Silently, the door slid open, and at last a narrow shaft of light fell across it. A lone figure cautiously approached, and lights illuminated the small room. The door closed without a sound.
Bewildered, the solitary woman reached her hand out to touch the smooth surface of the terminal. She was intrigued more than startled when it activated, entranced more than frightened as the strange characters appeared before her eyes. She chuckled to think of herself in her tattered rags, little more than a cavewoman to all appearances, operating a piece of machinery with a level of sophistication she had never seen before.
Unsure of what to do, how to do it, or even how to set about answering those questions, she started touching things. The colorful, ornate symbols danced smoothly before her in the air as she ever so lightly brushed them about with her fingertips. As she worked with them, she began to guess at their meanings. They seemed so suggestive, so intuitive, almost as if they were written to be understood by anyone who stared at them for long enough.
As she played around, she found herself growing more and more familiar with certain strings of characters. She could almost feel the rate of growth of her understanding quicken, as she was soon able to interpret fragments of the strange writing almost at a glance. She marvelled at this, but quickly filed it away as a curiosity for a later date. For now, she had work to do.
Wracking her brain for the relevant dates and times, she started searching for something resembling a log, a record, anything of the kind. Finding it, she scoured its contents - and then paused. Was that what she thought it was? The same fragment appeared at the end of each date, offset from the rest. If those were the constants she believed them to be, then - oh! And she could configure other parts, as well! This could end up working out better than she had imagined. And if the plan she began to formulate actually went smoothly, why, she could find herself in a very good position, indeed!
Reining in her excitement with caution, she decided that the most productive action for her to take would be to go back to the beginning and work from there. After all, it would be easy enough to get back to her current spot, should the need arise. She cross-referenced a few variables before inputting them, made a quick mental note of her last several days' travel so she could find her way back, and then focused her attention on correctly interpreting the symbols associated with the final command sequence. Not only could this fix everything, this would revolutionize our understanding of the physical universe, and she would be right at the center of it! Performing two last checks on her input out of habit, she pressed what she had determined to be the "go" button.
Her stomach lurched and she grew light-headed.
Everything started going backwards.