Only Slightly

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Only Slightly graphic by Amy the Ant


In the early twenty-fifth century, Earth stood divided. On one side, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australasia were united in peace under the banner of h2g2. On the other, North and South America stubbornly clung to long-obsolete values and lifestyles. This situation had persisted for three hundred years, with no contact between the two sides, until h2g2 began to be rocked by serious and inexplicable earthquakes.

When scientists and wizards failed to find an explanation for the earthquakes, a team of some of the most talented people in h2g2 was assembled to travel to America and seek the explanation in the only place on Earth which had not yet been examined. The trail they followed led them eventually to the moon, where they discovered that an American deep-space weapon was causing the earthquakes, drawing power from the gravitational forces between the Earth and Luna to attack an extraterrestrial spacecraft which was approaching Earth on an unknown mission.

The team from h2g2 destroyed the weapon and freed the native Lunans - descendants of the original colonists - from American enslavement, but returned to Earth to find that the magical barriers separating America and h2g2 had finally failed. America invaded through Alaska into northern Russia, and advanced almost unopposed until wizards from all across the world rallied to stop the invasion. The American forces were thrown back all the way to Washington D.C, at which time a young American named Bill George Hillary Lewis Lewinsky, who had aided the h2g2 team on their original mission, appeared from nowhere and took control of the American government to end the war and begin establishing peaceful relations across the globe.

With the war over, attention turned to the approaching extraterrestrial spacecraft - attention which only intensified when a second craft was discovered approaching from the opposite direction. Both were due to arrive on Earth at about the same time, and the mission of neither was known. As it turned out both held a surprise, for they were crewed by humans, the descendents of a group of Americans who had secretly constructed and used an interstellar sleeper ship about two hundred years before, to escape the divided Earth and the misery they foresaw as the only possible outcome of the situation. However, after they settled on their destination worlds, they began to divide as well, eventually forming two factions who became engaged in a war of mutual extinction over the use of genetic engineering to adapt themselves to new, previously inhospitible, planets.

With the aid of President Lewinsky's magic and the noted geologist The Geraldine, the truth about the origin of their war was discovered, and the first efforts to make peace among all humans throughout the galaxy truly began.

Forty years later, the world has changed once again.

Part One

Bouncing along in the light gravity of Luna, Bidet almost felt like he was flying. Not that he couldn't fly if he wanted to, but without the feel of the spells which would enable him to do so this felt strangely more exhilarating.

'Just imagine living in gravity like this all the time!' he said enthusiastically, taking another long, high and seriously unstable leap down the corridor. 'It's going to be fantastic!'

'Mars has quite a bit more gravity than Luna,' The Geraldine said. 'It won't be quite the same as this.'

'True, but it's got to be better than Earth, right?'

'Have you ever been to Einstein?'

'That's one of the planets out near Polaris, isn't it? No, I've never been out of the solar system.'

'Well, compared to Einstein, Earth is pretty much weightless. I believe four G's is considered normal there; I had to wear an exoskeleton so I could walk around and breathe properly.'

Bidet landed from another wild step, swayed a bit and regarded The Geraldine curiously.

'I wasn't aware that you actually needed to breathe,' he said.

'I don't,' The Geraldine admitted, which was true as far as it went. A diving accident in her youth had triggered her latent magical talent and burned most of it up altering her anatomy in some quite spectacular ways. Instead of gaining the ability to breathe underwater, as most of the handful of people who suffered such accidents and survived through the same means did, she had rid herself of the need to breathe at all. 'But I do have to inhale in order to talk.' She'd also gained the ability to feel and manipulate water molecules, and the ability to transport herself almost instantly between any two points linked by liquid water, as well as becoming resistant to extremes of temperature and pressure. The wizards had said that had the accident not triggered and destroyed her magical talent, she would probably have manifested as a fairly powerful witch a few years later.

The Geraldine didn't regret that though, what she'd got had been eminently suitable for her chosen career in oceanography, geology and seismology. In recent years, though, she had regretted that she hadn't gone far enough on low-pressure tolerance to be able to survive in a vacuum for more than a couple of minutes.

'That will be useful on Mars, I expect,' Bidet said, and he was right - Mars didn't have much of an atmosphere, but it was fine for The Geraldine, and the temperature would barely make her teeth chatter, even at night.

'Oh yes,' she replied. 'But so will your talents, and if we don't get a move on we'll never get there anyway. You did still want to go, didn't you?'

'Of course,' Bidet said, and started almost bouncing down the corridor again. The Geraldine shook her head at his back and followed at a more sedate pace. At sixty-nine, she wasn't particularly keen on emulating the younger man, so much like his father in many ways. Except of course that Bath was a cranky seventy-four-year-old, and his son was twenty-four and bursting with as much energy as the average toddler.

Which was probably why his parents hadn't objected too hard when he'd joined the project to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars. Sure, humans had spread well beyond their own solar system, but Mars was an ancient mystery, a place humans had always longed to go to. And now, after a couple of exploratory missions, they were about to go there to stay.

The Geraldine smiled to herself. Sixty-nine years old she might have been (and she was), but life definitely hadn't run out of things for her to do yet. Mars didn't have any oceans, but to be entirely honest she was starting to get a bit sick of them. It would be a change to live on a superarid planet for a few years. After that... well, she could go anywhere she wanted after that. Her smile grew. It might be nice to retire to a house on one of Saturn's moons.

So Bath had a son, improbably named Bidet, who is going to colonise Mars with The Geraldine and a group of other people who we haven't met. Nothing bad has happened yet. Don't you dare think for a moment that things will stay this tranquil, straightforward and downright dull. Come back for the second installment of Only Slightly, the ground-breaking (literally, you'll see what I mean) sequel to Future Prefect.

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