Hold-Time Violations


Ellie is on her way to visit her comatose mother when her sister sends her to repair physics. Each universe has skunkworks that generate the universe within it, making this multiverse a set of matryoshka dolls. The skunkworks that generate this universe have become faulty, and the physical constants suddenly…aren’t. In order to fix the skunkworks, to make physics self-consistent again, and to make the world work as it’s supposed to, Ellie will have to remember everything her mother has taught her.


“Attention passengers: the next Red Line train to Alewife is now approaching” echoes off the walls. Not only has the next Red Line train to Alewife arrived but its passengers have already flooded the station, a torrent rushing up the escalators, through the turnstiles, then down the concourse to spill out the doors to Cambridge. The flood coming as the PA system squawks catches Ellie off-guard. It’s rush hour. When a train arrives on one side of the platform, the one on the other side leaves seconds later. She sprints, a veritable salmon racing against the current of bodies. Her pack sloshes between her shoulder blades, a sloppy fin batting the waves of people that surround her.

No one has tried to kill her yet today. Occasionally, skunkworks isolationists try. Also, her sister, Chris, arranges something pretty much every day to keep her sharp. Maybe the mistimed announcement is part of the attempt. She’ll be caught in the rip current of bodies, a wave will overwhelm her, and the knives of a shark hiding in the swell will tear her to pieces. Compared to the attempt with the Mylar balloons, jar of Marmite, and the US men’s Greco-Roman wrestling team, an ill-timed flood at Alewife Station is downright practical and likely.

None of that happens, though. The crowd flows around her as she plunges down the stairs toward the platform.

The car doors shut just as she reaches them. While the PA system blasts, “Attention passengers: the next Red Line train to Alewife is now arriving,” the train clatters away. The train supposedly now arriving sits already emptied on the opposite side of the platform. It beeps as its doors slide shut.

Some guy wearing shorts that stretch across his thighs, no shirt, and more self-possession than Ellie thought possible hovers in front of one of the doors. Someone else sits on a bench, staring at her e-reader. A thin woman reaches for Ellie like someone drowning reaching for a buoy. Her luggage crashes to the floor. She asks in rapid Mandarin whether Ellie knows how to get to the Best Western. Her oboe-like voice skips through her words.

Ellie blinks. She doesn’t really speak Mandarin, at least not to anyone she doesn’t know. The Best Western is just a short walk away. With luggage, though, the woman will want a taxi but there’s almost always one dropping someone off right outside the station. All the woman needs to do is go up the escalator and cross the concourse. The response Ellie stitches together doesn’t draw laughs. In fact, the woman thanks her. Ellie decides she is not today’s assassin.

The woman doesn’t turn to the escalator. Instead, she freezes for a moment then glares at Ellie.

“If you’d quit your job after Mom’s diagnosis like I’d asked, you could move to D.C.,” the woman says in fluent English, her voice now husky. “You wouldn’t have to worry about missing the Amtrak.”

The woman looks nothing like Chris, but she now sounds exactly like her. A childhood in Taipei clashed with an adolescence in Buffalo to give Chris an accent that is incongruously Brooklyn.

People randomly start sounding like her sister all the time. Some people text. Her sister waylays convenient strangers. The frequency never makes it less disconcerting.

“Do we have to have this discussion right now?” Ellie furrows her brow. “If I don’t get to South Station in time, the next Amtrak is tonight. I’ll be there before the afternoon.”

The woman only comes up to Ellie’s neck. She glares down at Ellie anyway.

“Too late.” The woman folds her arms across her chest. “If I have to stay at home to watch over Mom, you have to go to the skunkworks and repair the physics of this universe.”

“What’s the hurry?”

“Everyone’s wrong about why International Prototype Kilogram is losing mass relative to its official copies. We’d see divergences between copies even if the kilogram were defined by something more fundamental than a cylinder of platinum alloy. The notion of the kilogram, itself—”

“Has become unstable.” Ellie frowned. “Fundamental physical constants are changing—”

“Yes. Now the good news—”

“There’s good news?”

“—is we’ve found some hold-time violations in the skunkworks. Probably caused by some leaking valves. They must be why the kilogram’s unstable. Fix them and I promise I won’t judge you when you don’t get here until tomorrow afternoon. First time for everything, sis.”

By “first time,” Ellie isn’t sure if Chris is talking about being sent to repair the skunkworks or not judging her for being late. Probably the former. Nothing in the matryoshka doll that is the set of universes can prevent Chris from judging her. Ellie would ask, but Chris has already gone.

The woman turns around as though she hasn’t said a thing. She goes to the escalator, trundling her luggage behind her.

At least someone gets to go where she wants to. Ellie doesn’t because Mom lies comatose on a bed in Chris’s den. Mom needs constant attention from Chris the way dolphins need tax advice. However, taking care of your parents is a filial obligation and no one is more Chinese than someone who no longer lives in the motherland. Even though Chris wants Ellie in the same house as Mom, she doesn’t actually let Ellie do anything for Mom. Chris would rather do it herself.

Ellie visits every weekend anyway. She only needs one reason: Once in a while, Mom shifts in bed. She yawns. Her eyes open a crack and, for a moment, she stares right at Ellie. She’s about to wake from her long nap, or so it seems for that moment. Then her eyes close again and she slumps back into bed. She probably never moved in the first place. Still, this seems like much more than random firing of neurons in a brain about to die. Ellie, even though she knows better, can’t help thinking that the next time might be the time.

The train beeps. Its doors slide open. Passengers stream onto the train. Ellie shakes her head clear then joins them.

The skunkworks that generates a universe lives within the surrounding universe. There are an infinite number of skunkworks and universes. Everyone else is headed toward Davis Square. Ellie, on the other hand, is headed to the universe that surrounds this one.


The air in the skunkworks feels spackled onto her skin. It burns into her lungs like hot fudge, slow and slick, its aftertaste at once sickly sweet, bitter, and sour. It takes effort to force back out.

The skunkworks looks like the masterpiece of some mad plumber who failed perspectives class in art school. The labyrinth of pipes that surrounds her make her dizzy at first. Broad swathes of transparent mesh stretch between pipes and she bobbles until she gets her bearings.

Fat pipes pass overhead. They form a de facto canopy hiding the skunkworks, which stretches for miles above her. In actuality, it stretches for miles in all directions. Fixes have piled on top of so-called improvements have piled on top of emergency repairs forever. Rust covers the gates and reservoirs at the intersection of pipes. Most pipes block each other’s way and have to zigzag around each other. No pipes unscarred from dead welds of stubs where pipes used to join together.

Data pulses through the pipes in all directions. The pipes ripple, but stabilize in time for clacking of valves and the burbling of reservoirs. Probably because she already knows which ones they are, the pipes that violate the hold-time requirement look out-of-sync even to the naked eye. Pipes are supposed to be stable a little before reservoir valves clack until a little after. The pipes that violate the hold-time requirement start to ripple again too soon, corrupting the reservoirs they feed.

Someone stands on a mesh below her. Daniel. He’s a verifier, not an isolationist. None of the latter have found her yet. Ellie lets go of the breath she didn’t realize she was holding.

Those who know about the skunkworks fall into four factions. Isolationists believe whatever universe a skunkworks generates is correct, even as it inevitably decays. Any change introduces error rather than removes it. Architects design the configuration of gates and pipes that generate the next universe in. Builders, like Ellie and Chris, install those gates and pipes, translating the architects’ designs into reality. Verifiers, like Daniel, check whether architects have designed the right thing and whether they have designed the thing right. They understand the skunkworks better than anyone. One of them is almost always the first to show up when the skunkworks has gone wrong.

Even looking down from above, no one can mistake Daniel. His long legs are too short for his torso and his shoulders are too wide. He manages to be both lithe and stocky at the same time, as though he were the runt of a family of impossibly elegant giants. A black T-shirt is draped over his left shoulder.

The pipes beyond his gaze blur as though a giant thumb has smeared a broad swath of petroleum jelly on the air. He holds his hand out. The blurred air twists and swirls into a ball on his palm. It coalesces into an egg tart. Its bright yellow custard sits inside a pale, blond serrated crust. The perfume of eggs and sugar hangs in the thick air.

He studies the egg tart from all angles. His neck cranes and his hand twists. Crumbs fall when he picks up the tart to look at the crust’s bottom. He brings it to his nose to sniff. The custard jiggles slightly when he shakes the tart. He frowns.

Ellie bounces from mesh to mesh, swinging around pipes and ducking under reservoirs. She lands next to Daniel. This mesh, already taut from his weight, barely registers her.

“Cousin, your first time solo.” Daniel’s voice is never the thunder she expects from an elegant giant. He speaks with the rustle of leaves and the rush of water as it smoothes rock. “Congrats.”

“Chris mentioned hold-time violations, probably valves gone faulty. Should be an easy fix. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have sent me instead of coming herself.” Ellie’s arms wave in slow-motion semaphore as she steadies herself. “Your egg tart shows a mismatch between how the skunkworks that was built functions and how the skunkworks that was designed functions, right?”

“Yeah, no point calling in an architect. The design itself is fine. The problem is in the implementation. It’s all yours. Don’t need to remind you that we have to be out of here before the isolationists find us, right?”

She sets down her backpack then walks around Daniel to a knot of intertwined pipes. Reservoir valves clack and the pipes they feed ripple too soon. Data races through those pipes, corrupting the reservoir they feed in turn. All of the valves, however, are fine. Their actuators swing smoothly. Their seals fit perfectly against the pipes and reservoirs. Nothing leaks.

The skunkworks pre-date humanity and no human had ever made any changes to this section. Any actual mismatch in construction should have been found eons ago. Still, she checks, hoping that’s what the problem is. The alternatives are all far worse.

A plane of air folds into an origami Black Forest cuckoo clock. The transparent, crystalline structure floats before her eyes. Its pendulum swings back and forth and the skunkworks fills with the sting of an off-stage chorus whenever the pendulum stops at the peak of its arc. Light diffracts through leaves that line its sides. Color sprays across the pipes and Daniel. The egg tart is still in his outstretched hand and he looks far sillier than Ellie would have thought possible given his “I am deadly if you come within five paces” body.

The clock unfolds into a crinkled plane. Its creases delimit facets that refract pipes behind them into something Syncretic Cubist. She grabs the newly retrieved blueprint. Its hard edges dig into her palm. She warps it, at first, into a dome then into a sphere that seals her in.

Daniel splinters into “Man with an Egg Tart,” a Braque that Braque never painted. He’s all shards of black, gray, and brown flecked with grains of yellow. This piece of the skunkworks, however, resolves into something that no longer looks like an obscene display of Syncretic Cubism.

The multiple perspectives merge into one. Pipes straighten and meet at right angles. She spins along three axes inside the sphere. Her hands and feet work their way up, down, and around the hard, cold sphere for support. Dense knots explode, laying bare their pipes and gates. The labyrinth is now a regular matrix. Pulses of data bulge from one pipe to another as they sweep in waves from one side of the matrix to the other.

The waves propagate faster than she expects. Just in front of her, waves crash into each other. That’s bad. If the actual arrangement of pipes, gates, and reservoirs didn’t match what they meant to build, though, it wouldn’t look like a matrix through the sphere.

The skunkworks match the blueprint in construction. They don’t match the blueprint in function, though.

“Fuck me.” She slams a foot against the sphere. It shatters with a chord from the off-stage chorus. “The valves are fine. The skunkworks is fine.”

She falls face up onto the mesh and thinks horrible things about Chris. Her backpack bounces above her then lands on her stomach.

Daniel looms over her, his hands behind his back. He smells like soy and ginger. An amused expression sits on his face.

“Egg tart?” He crouches, then places the pastry on the backpack.

“I don’t need to study the equivalence report.” She pushes herself up by her elbows. “I trust your analysis.”

“I meant to eat. It’s a functional mismatch but still edible.” He nudges the backpack toward her head. “You haven’t had dinner yet, right? You’ll feel better with something in your stomach. Personally, I think that’s just a story my boyfriend tells me, but maybe eating really does clear the mind.”

She sits up. The backpack and egg tart slide to her lap. “Don’t you want your mind cleared?”

“Nyah. I don’t believe in emotions.” A grin lights his face. “I had a protein shake and a banana before I showed up.”

“I already know what’s wrong.” She takes a bite of the egg tart. It tastes sweet, sour, and . . . gamey. “Turkey and cranberries?”

“Hey, I said the report was a mismatch. I do what I can.” Daniel rolls his eyes. “So what’s wrong, cuz?”

“This universe.” She finishes the egg tart. It’s not bad if you know what’s coming. “It’s like someone secretly added lots of helium to the air and now we all squeak. The skunkworks wasn’t designed for pipes this slick. The properties of this universe can’t have changed much. Most of the skunkworks still works right but a few paths are now too fast.”

“Which is why we’re seeing functional failures even though what was built matches what was designed then functionally verified.” Daniel nods. “What next?”

“Check whether the skunkworks one universe out is working properly so I know where to make the fix.”

“It’s fine.” He sets a plate made of compressed, deep-fried rice from behind him onto her backpack. Pieces of pan-fried fish coated in brown glaze sit on the plate. That’s why he smelled of soy and ginger. “I popped out to check while you were assessing equivalence here.”

“So they changed the laws of their universe? Seriously?” This goes against everything Mom has taught her. “If you already knew that, why bother asking me what’s wrong?”

“I didn’t. Speculative generation.” He smiles. “You were busy and there was no reason not to check before you asked. Sooner we get out of here, the less likely we’ll have to deal with any isolationists. I saved us some time. “

Ellie breaks off a shard from the plate to test the fish. The glazed fish’s crispy skin cracks against the deep-fried rice. She sniffs at this equivalence report. Then again, the egg tart smelled normal too.

“Is this going to taste icky sweet like 八寶飯 or something?”

Now Daniel just looks annoyed. His brow furrows and his hands rest on his hips. “No, it’s going to taste like a deconstructed garlic fried rice paired with a soy and ginger glazed tilapia. The skunkworks one universe out is fine. Eat.”

She lances a piece of fish and tries it. The tilapia is mild. Its triumph is that it doesn’t sit like cotton in her mouth. The glaze is lovely. Garlic, shallots, and a little brown sugar round out the soy and ginger.

Daniel simply shakes his head when she offers to share. She hasn’t had dinner yet, and she doesn’t have time, so it all disappears quickly. The glaze never cloys even when it coats her mouth. The plate made of rice clears the glaze away in any case.

“Show off.” Ellie smiles before letting sparks flit from finger to finger on her left hand.

The air becomes gauze that scatters the pipes, valves, reservoirs, even Daniel into mathematical points that then recombine. The machinery that generates the universe shimmers. Unlike Daniel, Ellie doesn’t generate food. Instead, when the gauze coalesces, it becomes cool, metallic, and malleable, not coincidentally the stuff that thickens into pieces of the skunkworks.

Her right hand extrudes a gate out of the gauze. In time with the clacking of valves, her left hand strikes the pipe in front of her twice. Sparks fly. The pipe splits. Clean, parallel scars separate a ring from the pipe on either side. She installs the gate in place of the ring, her left hand sparking again to fuse the gate into place.

One by one, she inserts extra gates to slow the paths that have become too fast. Click. Insert. Clack. Insert. She can only repair the skunkworks in the moment when the pipes are settled. The skunkworks never halts. The one that lives in the innermost universe generates the outermost universe, whatever “innermost” and “outermost” mean when the universes are arranged in a loop. Stopping one skunkworks stops all of them. How you start them back up again is something she hopes she never has to figure out.

She dismisses the gauze and the skunkworks sharpen. The pipes grow and shrink in sync with the clacking of valves. Data no longer skids through paths causing pipes to expand or contract when they should be still.

“Ok, Daniel, show me where to go. We need to flush out speculative state before it’s committed and we’re stuck with the results of a faulty skunkworks.”

Of course, they’re already stuck. Some mistakes of a faulty skunkworks have already been committed, but there’s no point to letting those errors compound. The universe should be generated correctly from as early as possible.

Daniel shifts his T-shirt across his back and ties it around his neck. It might look like a cape except it’s way too short. He appraises her, his face pensive.

“Anyone else might just declare it close enough and leave before isolationists find them. You really are Aunt Vera’s child, aren’t you . . .”

Ellie rolls her eyes. Mom’s reputation precedes her. “Considering how long you lived with us, you might as well be, too.”

Daniel looks annoyed again. “No, I mean her attitude about the skunkworks and the generated universe . . . Never mind. You have to see it yourself. Come on. Follow me.”

He leaps to a thick pipe way overhead. From there, he swings to a swath of mesh, bounces, and off he goes.

“Hold up, you big lunk. You have at least half a foot of wing span on me.” Ellie sighs too loudly then follows him.


Whether or not it’s actually hotter, the skunkworks’ interior is definitely more humid. Rust covers every pipe. Sometimes, it flakes off as the pipes grow and shrink. The farther in Ellie and Daniel go, the faster the skunkworks expand and contract until it’s as though the skunkworks is breathing. The transparent mesh that spans pipes goes taut and slack. A faint hiss precedes the near-unison clack of reservoir valves.

Daniel points out which valves she needs to wedge open and for how long. That will cause the skunkworks to flush out its speculative state and then regenerate the universe anew from what has already been committed. By now, that’s not error-free. She’s already missed the train to South Station, but nothing left to do about that. He looks up for a moment, nods, then leaps for a pipe above him.

“Now that you’ve actually made changes to the skunkworks, you know the isolationists will really be after you.” Daniel swings around the pipe in a one-arm giant. “Guess I should have said something earlier.”

Isolationists don’t deal well with anyone trying to repair the skunkworks. Usually, they’ve shown up by now.

“Have I ever told you that when I was kid, Chris used to attack me in my sleep to see whether I’d wake up in time?” Ellie climbs onto a pipe and stops, for a moment, to get her bearings. “She didn’t use real knives back then, of course.”

“I’ve always been the black sheep.” Daniel releases the pipe, flips through the air in a layout position, then bounces off the mesh towards another pipe. “I’ll verify anything that’s well-specified and backward-compatible. Not just bug fixes.”

“The isolationists must really hate you.” She projects where Daniel is about to land and jumps after him. “It’s the pointlessly dangerous life, then. Isn’t it better in the long run if we just implement the correct physics correctly?”

“Hey, I have my standards. Change the laws of physics, no. Discover new laws or a more general formulation of what we already know, why not?” This time, it’s Daniel who stops. He’s rock steady as the pipe he landed on swells and contracts. “Look, there will always be architects with clever ideas of how to generate the universe more efficiently so that it can be more detailed or more expansive. There will always be builders who enable them, if nothing else, because they have cool ideas themselves for new valves or better ways to connect pipes. Someone has to make sure they don’t destroy the universe—all of the universes, actually—in the process. So that, on occasion, someone can tell them ‘no’ and they’ll listen. Of course, even then, there’s still the occasional unauthorized change.”

Ellie finally catches up to Daniel. Her lungs burn. Daniel’s probably do too. His breath is calm, but metronomically steady.

“That’s a nice speech, but I’m my mom’s child remember? How much convincing can I possibly need to remove something that generates incorrect physics?”

Daniel glares. His expression screams “That’s fucking flippant.” Daniel, though, doesn’t scream. He’s so soft-spoken, Ellie isn’t sure he can. In any case, the angrier he gets, the quieter he becomes.

“Cuz, I’ve known you since before you could walk.” To her relief, his voice isn’t too much softer than his normal quiet. “Just wanted to be sure you stood where I thought before I showed you this.”

His gaze shifts to the skunkworks. He points overhead. That tangle of pipes looks like any other in the skunkworks. It expands and contracts, however, to a beat slightly skewed from the surrounding pipes. Rather than clack, its reservoir valves hiss when they shut. Otherwise, the skew would be obvious to anyone listening. The miniature skunkworks within the skunkworks is tied directly into the pipes that commit state, that choose from the speculative generation and render it permanent as the basis for further speculative generation.

“What does it do?”

“You need to see for yourself before I tell you.” Daniel faces his palms toward her. “Won’t make sense otherwise.”
The plane of air above her doesn’t fold into anything. Blueprints don’t exist for the mechanism Daniel pointed out. Not even logs of who built what. Ellie frowns. Blueprints always exist. Otherwise, what did the architect work on? What did the verifier simulate? What did the builder work off of?

She jumps, catching the mechanism’s lowest pipes, then flips herself inside. Shadows fall across shadows. The chiaroscuro drains everything of depth. She contorts from pipe to pipe, tracing out paths to build a blueprint in her head.

Cool, smooth pipes breathe in her grasp. Rust doesn’t sand her palms. The air feels thick but doesn’t smell metallic. Nothing here can be more a year or two old, but pipes twist and jag around each other. Builders have inserted subtle fix after subtle fix after subtle fix.

Those who designed, built, then kept tinkering with this tracked Mom’s treatment history. A set of pipes tweak electron orbitals, changing the shapes of chemical compounds, specifically those pumped into Mom. To make them more effective against Mom’s tumors, Ellie guesses.

Unfortunately, a skunkworks generates an entire universe. Physical laws don’t apply to only three specific chemical compounds. This mechanism changes the universe she lives in so much more than they intended. It’s like making mashed potatoes when all you have is dynamite. They wanted mashed potatoes so much they blew the potatoes up.

The newest bits try to pull a similar electron orbital trick, but on the chemicals inside Mom’s brain. Ellie crawls through those paths three times before she can convince herself she’s right. This is why, every once in a while, Mom seems to wake up. Days seem to pass before she can breathe again.

The mechanism will heal Mom eventually. Well, it needs some more tinkering first and she has some ideas. It may also, bizarrely, cause a species of migratory bird to go extinct and any of a number of other things that are also not supposed to happen. She has no idea how to avoid any of that. This mechanism wasn’t designed to be subtle. It was designed to save Mom’s life.

She doesn’t have the time to work out everything else it will also do. The isolationists will find her and Daniel soon.

“This causes a lot of collateral damage.” Ellie hangs by the mechanism’s lowest pipes, then drops onto the pipe Daniel’s standing on. “No wonder you want me to get rid of it.”

“My feelings about it are complicated.” His voice blends into the hiss and Ellie strains to separate it out. “Aunt Vera took me in when no one else would.”

“Of course.” She fixes her gaze hard at Daniel. “Then why even show me this?”

The thud of bodies—undoubtedly isolationists—hitting mesh, the creak of pipes buckling and unbuckling surrounds them. Daniel spins around, his gaze pinpointing isolationists swinging through the skunkworks.

“Well, it’s about time they showed up.” His voice has reverted to merely quiet. “Look, everyone loves Aunt Vera. Constructing this pretty much violates everything anyone who can access the skunkworks stands for, but countless architects, verifiers, and builders all worked on it and no one has removed it. Chris sent you, in part, because she doesn’t want to face the choice. And who can blame her? So, here you are. I’ll buy you time to do whatever you decide to do. And whatever you decide, we won’t speak of this again.”

“Do you need any help with them?”

“You’re joking, right?” Daniel puffs himself up. His chest expands, his back spreads and, scarily, he actually looks even bigger than normal. “I can drown them in boiling oil whenever I want. Cuz, you have arc welders for hands. I’m not worried about you, just buying you enough time for you to do your thing before more of them show up.”

“You really get off on this whole service and protection thing, don’t you?”

“Hey, don’t judge me.” He actually looks a little wounded. “At least I’m taking care of the skunkworks, even if it’s for the wrong reason. Plant you now, dig you later, cuz.”

Daniel bounds away. The smile on his face is scarier than any weapon.

All Ellie can think of is Mom lying in bed. Mom’s head lurches up, staring at Ellie in a simulacrum of life that one day may be the real thing. Hope flares through Ellie, leaving her both empty and wishing it would flare again.

Mom needs her own universe in order to heal without trashing the one Ellie lives in. Of course, a new universe is the result of too many people over too much time to create a skunkworks that takes up too much space. That’s why they kludged this mechanism instead. It will work eventually, even if it also causes birds to migrate at the wrong times to the wrong places. Even if it has other countless side-effects that will take lifetimes to map out.

It’s built to be dismantled. The pipes that commit state are the only bits of the skunkworks it is connected to. It can be removed at any time. She can wait. She can let this universe too haphazard to understand, much less document, be the new normal until Mom is cured. The tides will be wrong and the foundations of physics may crack, but Mom will live.

Valves clack and pipes shrink and swell in time. From end to end, they jog and twist around each other at wild angles. Data travels through pipes that are too long and too hard to trace. No builder would route them this way except to work around pipes already there, all the other possibilities being even longer or harder to trace. Or functionally wrong.

Once, when Mom was still overseeing Ellie’s work, Ellie had found a truly elegant fix. Just a few short pipes connected at right angles installed in an easily accessible place. Piece of cake. They’d be done in no time. She rushed to show Mom, who slowly shook her head then pointed out the one case in billions where data would not reach the reservoir before its valve closed.

Instead, as isolationists bore down on them, Mom and Ellie threaded pipes through the existing tangle. The fix was time-consuming and ugly. Isolationists nearly caught them. But the fix was also provably correct.

Ellie looks at the valves she needs to hold open to flush out speculative state and the mechanism she might dismantle. She knows what she has to do.


“Attention passengers: the next Red Line train to Alewife is now arriving” echoes off the walls. Ellie sprints and meets the oncoming torrent at the ticket gate. Even though the announcements are properly timed, she’s going to miss the train again. This will be the last time she makes the trip to see Mom and she wishes it weren’t.


“Hold-Time Violations” copyright © 2015 by John Chu

Art copyright © 2015 by Tommy Arnold


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