— Sally Linsay
Sally Linsay (born in 1997) was from a family of natural steppers. Daughter of Willis Linsay, the inventor of the Stepper, she was able to Step since she was four and had the ability to find soft places.
Leaving Datum Earth
Lobsang and Joshua
During Lobsang and Joshua's journey in 2030, she caught their attention by building a campfire in a world located in the High Meggers populated with small bipedal dinosaurs smart enough to build fish traps. The Mark Twain crew was surprised to find a lonely woman there when it should take years, even for a Natural Stepper, to go this far across the Long Earth. After a brief introduction, she disappeared when a cloud of wasp-like venomous creatures was getting closer, not before warning Joshua to run away as well.
A stop at Happy Landings
A few Earths later, Sally contacted the passing Mark Twain via a radio transmitter and boarded the ship. She then took the crew to Happy Landings in order to give them a better understanding of the Long Earth by showing this community of humans living among trolls for several hundreds of years. There, she mentioned the trolls' migration along the East and told them she needed their help to find the cause and in exchange, revealed to them the existence of the soft places.
First Person Singular
Back to the Datum
After Lobsang decided to join First Person Singular, Joshua and she decided to go back to the Datum to bring back the Mark Twain via the soft places. On their way, they stopped at Happy Landings once again and the colony named Reboot.
Sally arrives at Hell-Knows-Where
At the beginning of 2040, Sally was not happy. The incident at the Gap with Mary the troll and the Plumbline slaughter were just a sample of the many incidents between humans and trolls that plagued the Long Earth.
In March 2040, those incidents brought her to Hell-Knows-Where, on Earth West 1,397,426, at Joshua's home, now a father and married with Helen the girl they met at Reboot on their way back from their journey in 2030, to discuss the issue with him. Unfortunately for Sally, she showed up just in time for little Dan's schoolplay titled "The Revenge of Moby Dick", written by a young man named Michael.
After the play, where Sally had a good time, she finally stated her purpose: to have Joshua use his fame and in front of the Congress and help create a troll protection order. Joshua said he would think about it and they all went to bed. In the early morning, Sally woke up before the Valientés and left, leaving only a note behind.
Sally met up with the Valientés, accompanied by Bill Chambers and Thomas Kyangu, at Valhalla, the biggest city of the High Meggers, ready to catch a twain to the Datum. When Sally learned that the Valientés were planning to stay at Valhalla for several weeks to look for a school for Dan, she expressed her frustration, saying it wasn't part of the deal, and stepped away.
The Gold Dust
They stayed three more weeks in Valhalla to get Dan used to the place and then finally boarded the Gold Dust, linking Valhalla to Datum Earth, with Sally and Bill. As the ship crossed the Mine Belt to pick up some ores, they encountered the Pennsylvania, a twain that got wrecked because of a dust storm some eighty thousand steps West of the Datum. Quickly, the crew of the Gold Dust and the other twains of the fleet organized themselves to form a rescue party. After some efforts, they asked for volunteers from the passengers, to Helen's chagrin.
Joshua and Sally volunteered and around three hours later, Joshua found himself trapped inside the Pennsylvania's envelope. He got rescued by Bosun Higgs and Sally and got extracted of the wreck with a cable wrapped around his ankle. The incident made the news and ended on the outernet. Sally stepped away, grinning, as everyone's attention was on Joshua.
The USS Benjamin Franklin
The USS Benjamin Franklin was called at the Mine Belt, a few days after the wreck of the Pennsylvania, because some idiot had shot a troll not far from this world's footprint of Houston, Texas. When the crew arrived, they found Sally sitting by herself in a rough campsite. She offered them coffee and explained that some biologists tried to force trolls to do cross-breeding experiments but when they resisted, the scientists shot them down, leaving an orphaned cub.
Sally arrived and secured the scientists but let one go, the one that called for the Navy. Upon discussing with Maggie Kauffman, who didn't approve of Sally's vigilante actions, the Captain of the ship, she suggested that she should get trolls aboard her ship and even proposed to get her a troll-call from the manufacturer.
Maggie said she would think about it and after discussing it with her crew, asked Mac, the ship's chief surgeon, to find her troll experts.
Back to the Datum
Sally got back to the Gold Dust before it reached the Datum. As the passengers disembarked, they were led to an immigration hall where their luggage was searched and they had to go through a full whole-body scanner.
As everyone finally passed all the security checkpoints, they stood on the outer hall waiting for a cab when a man approached them. When he got close enough, he reached in his bag and took out a metallic blade. Sally grasped Dan and stepped away with him as Joshua, who put himself between the man and his family, was stabbed above the right breast. He passed away as Helen knocked out their aggressor.
After the aggression, our travellers all grouped up at Monica Jansson's place on Madison West 5 while Helen was placed under custody for assault. Monica, being a retired cop, could fill them in on the man who attacked them, Philip Mott. Now with leukaemia, that she got because in 2030 she insisted to go back and forth to the Datum to help after the Madison bombing, she looked older and tired and has her mantelpiece stacked with medecine bottles.
Joshua started doubting that it was a good idea to come back to the Datum at all but was pressed on by Sally to keep up with their plans. Thanks to Monica's connections, she managed to arrange a meeting with Senator Jim Starling.
As Joshua and Monica started to talk about Madison, Monica's condition and the past, Sally went away, leaving the two old friends together.
The new Thelma and Louise
When Helen was freed, she was put on house arrest at Monica's. Sally, who disappeared somewhere before Joshua's meeting with Senator Starling, came back to Monica's but Joshua was away visiting the Home and Helen was somewhere talking to lawyers and cops.
Monica and Sally having the place to themselves, Monica started to tell Sally how she tried several times to recruit Joshua, aged fourteen at that time, seven months after Step Day over a cup of coffee. Then when she asked Sally what were her plans next, when this one replied she was heading to the Gap to help the trolls, Monica expressed that she would have liked to go with her.
Sally, having heard a lot from Joshua about how Monica is the kind of person that make things right, invited her to come despite her illness. Monica, reticent at first since she's not supposed to be too far from a hospital, agreed anyway.
It took them a week to travel across two million Earths using the soft places and they stopped a dozen of steps of the Gap, at the footprint of the GapSpace facility, near the Irish sea coast on a late May day. Sally started to realized how difficult for Monica to travel through the soft places but she never complained. The two partners in crime spent the night by a campfire discussing about the Gap and wait until dawn to resume their journey.
They reached the GapSpace facility and were greeted by an explosion. Monica, who was in the world next door when the Madison bombing occured, was quick to react and pushed Sally to the ground, layed on top of her and covered herself with the hood of her jacket. The explosion turned out to be just an incident with a liquid oxygen storage tank.
When entering the facility, they quickly realized that there was no security at all and that the all setup looked amateurish. A man in his fifties wearing a blue jumpsuit, who introduced himself as Frank Wood, greeted them and asked them what they were doing there. Monica flashed her badge and claimed to be a police officer. Frank deduced that they were there for the trolls and told them to go see Gareth Eames in the administration block. Sally, sensing that Frank had an eye for Monica, tasked her to distract him while she was sniffing around despite the fact that Monica was a lesbian.
The trolls are gone
While Sally was gone, Frank, a real space enthusiast, gave Monica a tour of the facility were trolls could be seen working. He showed her some of the projects they were currently working on, like a space shuttle adapted with twain technology, and told her about his life before Step Day and how he got recruited by Gareth Eames when he was just a bus driver on Cape Canaveral. Their talk got interrupted when a man came to seek Monica with a message from Sally: "the trolls are gone."
When Monica joined Sally in the administration block, she learned that the trolls had reached a tipping point about humans and were withdrawing from all the Earths with human colonies on it. Sally brought her to a place with the words "space jail" where Mary the troll from the video and her cub Ham were held prisoners. Our two heroines used Monica's skills at picking locks to help the trolls break out.
Unexpected encounter at the Rectangles
While Mary and Ham were looking for water, food and shade in this arid world, Sally went hunting. Lost in her thoughts about the reptilian civilization that used to live on this Earth, she sensed too late that she was being hunted. When she spun around, she came face-to-muzzle with a wolf-like creature that could stand on its hind legs, speak English, knew her name, was wearing a kind of utility belt with a ray gun and was expecting their arrival.
Sally, Monica and the trolls were brought to the Earth the beagles, the wolf-like creatures, come from which is only a couple of dozen steps West of the Rectangles. This world, Sally could sense, was full of trolls. Their captors didn't visit them for a week because they were waiting for the ruler of the place to come back so our little group, whose Steppers were confiscated, made themselves comfortable and waited.
A week after the Rectangles, the beagle, who introduced himself as Snowy, came to visit them with a kobold, Finn McCool, already known to Sally, to get them and bring them to his Den, the beagles' equivalent of cities, the Eye of the Hunter since his leader, the Granddaughter named Petra, returned.
A cart drawn by big birds and ridden by Li-Li, who is the equivalent to a doctor, came to pick them up. On the way, Li-li told them they were lucky that Snowy found them since some beagle hunters only bring back heads or ears. When the beagles were distracted by some rabbits, Sally had a chance to inspect the ray gun that Snowy was wearing at his belt and realized that it wasn't functional.
The Eye of the Hunter
Finally, they were brought to the Eye of the Hunter. As they got closer to the city, they started to smell the beagles more and more. Sally wondered if it was their way or adorning themselves, with scents. The city itself was a cluster of wooden buildings not more than a storey high surrounded by a moat. In the streets of the city, they saw beagles walking upright, living their everyday lives, herding cattle, leading group of trolls while puppies are playing on all fours.
The cart came to a stop in front of the Granddaughter's palace, a building bigger than most but not but drab to human eyes since there were no paint, no wallpaper or any decorations humans would expect from that kind of place. Li-li went inside to request an audience and came back to tell them they would be received immediately.
Petra, was waiting for them sitting in a patch of grass in the middle of a large chamber, surrounded by her counselor Brian, a pair of guards armed with stone-tipped spears and ray guns and a real dog, an Alsatian, from Datum Earth.
Monica quickly spotted that Petra was wearing a gold ring set with sapphires around her neck, just like the one Joshua found at the Rectangles ten years ago and were sitting above her mantelpiece right now. Under Finn's instructions, the two women had to show submission to Petra, which consist of lying down on your back on the ground with your arms and legs in the air.
After this quick humiliating gesture, Petra interrogated them and asked the reason about their presence there, Sally told her they were there to bring Mary and Ham to safety with the other trolls. The beagle princess then expressed her hate for humans because of how they transformed their Earth's wolves into submissive and dumb companions.
Why prompted why she should keep them alive, Sally replied, to Monica and Finn's astonishement, that she could get them more ray guns. Monica, who used to be a cop, quickly made the connection between the sapphire ring, the Rectangles and the ray guns. After some consideration, Petra left the chamber with her dog on her heels and left our heroines alive to fight another day.
Monica, Sally and Finn were brought to a suite at one end of the palace, the place was comprised of a communal area with a central hearth and small rooms that could be close with a leather flaps. After each of them settled down in a room, Monica and Sally met up in the communal area to talk about the next steps.
The beagles, it turned out, were not the kind to keep their prisoners in jails since the wolf inside them would relish to hunt the people who'd try to escape, even stepwise. Sally argued that their work there were far from over and they needed to try to establish a better relationship between the humans and the beagles and also try to convince the trolls to come back.
For that, she first needed to get her hands on Joshua's ring and leave Monica alone, to show that they were not running away. Monica agreed to cover for Sally even if she felt anxious about being left alone there.
Their talk got interrupted by Brian, Petra's counselor, who invited them to dine with him. Brian, to whom humans, kobolds and elves are the same, had made prepared food that kobolds selected before since the beagles like more raw food. He admitted of being unusual for a beagle and that he cherished novelty, other points of view. Our trio discussed about the beagle and humans societies, religions and histories over dinner. Monica, feeling sick at the view of Brian sucking blood from rabbits embryos, excused herself and went to rest in her room.
Joshua and Bill
Three weeks after their meeting with Petra, Sally had the time to retrieve Joshua's ring that he brought along with him aboard the Shillellagh while looking for the trolls for Lobsang and come back to the beagles homeworld.
Knowing that Joshua were boung to notice the disappearance of the ring sooner or later, she spun it to her advantage and told the beagles about the arrival of an emissary of great power. Sally got Monica settled at the Rectangles to wait for Joshua and brief him on the situation before bringing them to the beagles's Earth.
It took a while but Joshua finally noticed the ring's disappearance and understood that he had to go to the Rectangles. When he arrived with Bill at the Rectangles, they saw Monica dressed in green-olive coveralls standing on silvery emergency blankets and waving at them.
She quickly briefed them about the beagles, the deal that Sally made with them and about how she also foresaw the possible arrival of Joshua. The three of them stepped to the beagles homeworld and were welcomed by a dozen of beagles. It turned out that Sally made the beagles believe that Joshua was some kind of emissary from the humans' ruler.
After a brief introduction, Snowy ordered two beagles to grab Joshua, who didn't have time to react, and pin him to the ground. Joshua lost consciousness as Li-Li was stapling him in the back.
Sally, who promised Petra new ray guns had been stalling while waiting for Joshua to show up. She thought that when he would show up they would manage to get away with the trolls without having to hand over the weapons. Unfortunately, she didn't plan that Joshua would get stapled.
In the end, Joshua would be allowed to talk to the trolls only when Sally would return with the weapons and would serve as a hostage to make sure Sally and Monica wouldn't run away.
Back to the Rectangles
Monica, Sally and Finn made for the Rectangles while Joshua and Bill would stay on Earth West 1,617,524. Sally told Monica to get aboard the Shillellagh and run away but she refused since she thought that Joshua was there partly because of her since she knew him since he was a boy.
Sally produced Joshua's ring out of nowhere and asked Finn to show them the way. The kobold took the ring in his hand, spun it and the ring, still spinning, rose into the air and flew to the base of the big temple-like building were it buried itself.
After a short wait, a whole section of the valley floor sank out of sight to reveal a ladder cut into a stone wall. Finn warned them that they only had eight minutes before the tomb would seal itself shut again.
Monica, being already sick since the Madison bombing, volunteered to go fetch the weapons in the radiactive building. She clamb down the ladder, took her flashlight out and entered a low corridor, too low for her to stand upright, and went in a random direction to finally end up in a room filled with racks and racks of ray guns.
The temple sealed again, Monica was sitting on the dirt, shivering despite the heat, next to a heap of weapons she could bring back. It was at that moment that Finn told Monica and Sally to head back to the beagles and say goodbye to Joshua.
Joshua's in trouble
To Monica and Sally's surprise, Petra had planned to give Joshua a honorable death when the deal was over. They all rushed to save Joshua and managed to delay Snowy, who was hunting Joshua, with the help of Finn's walkman.
In the end, Petra only wanting a trophy, Snowy and Li-Li took off Joshua's left hand and said they would bring it back to their leader saying that his head was too bitten off to be a good trophy.
By September 2040, the trolls were slowly coming back across the Long Earth. At this occasion, Lobsang and Agnes decided to held a garden party at the transEarth facility that serves as a reservation for trolls on Madison West 11.
The garden party was held on September 8th, Sally was hanging around a group of trolls, with Mary and Ham among them, who were singing by the lake, with Jacques Montecute and Roberta Golding, both from Happy Landings and just back from the now famous East Twenty Million mission with the Chinese.
Sally immediately asked the reason of Frank's presence and he told her he was there to thank them for how they handled the situation at the GapSpace facility and how it helped him and his colleagues to get back their moral bearings.
After a few minutes, an airship materialized on top of Lobsang and he left his ambulant body, leaving it lifeless. Soon cellphones started to ring and people were stepping out of existence one by one.
It was the first day of the Yellowstone eruption and Sally and Joshua didn't wait to go to the Datum to help as much as they could.
Evacuating the Datum
Meet me at the Gap
Around fall 2044, while Sally was dropping a hunter, who killed a female troll about to give birth, in front of the sheriff's office in Four Waters City, she received a message of her father asking to meet up with him at the Gap.
Father and daughter
This is how, in January 2045, father and daughter are reunited at the GapSpace facility after several years. They are shown around by Al Raup who brings them to an auditorium to witness the first live transmission of images from the surface of the Mars of the Gap.
There, her father told her they were going to Gap Mars because it is a Long Mars, meaning that you can step on it. Not wanting to spend months stuck with Al Raup, she asked if Frank Wood was still around. An offer which he accepted.
A couple of weeks after her arrival at the GapSpace facility, Willis, Sally and Frank are in a stepper shuttle piloted by Al on their way to the Brick Moon, where they stayed twelve hours before boarding the Galileo to reach Gap Mars.
Their trip aboard the Galileo lasted several weeks. The ship has three separate levels that each one of the crew could use as his personnal space. Willis and Sally, trying to stay as far away as possible from each other, both secluded themselves in their respective space and it was that way most of the trip to Mars except on one occasion when Sally joined Frank to observe the stars.
On March 15th, they finally landed on Mars. When Frank was busy planting the American flag and making a video claiming the Martian soil for the USA, a man in a spacesuit appeared from nowhere, just in front of him, singing the Russian national anthem and proving at the same time that stepping on Mars is possible.
The man in the spacesuit, Viktor Ivanov, helped them unload their cargo and unpack the spare parts for Woden and Thor. While Willis and Frank were assembling the gliders, Viktor invited Sally to visit his base, named Marsograd by Willis. Together they rode in Viktor's truck, dubbed Marsokhod by Willis, to the spatial base and there she was introduced to Sergei Djanibekov and Alexei Krilov, two other Russian scientists.
Alexei explained how they were sent to the Gap Mars to study the local life forms and how humans could live on this world but unfortunately, after the Yellowstone eruption, Datum Russia was abandonned due to the new extreme weather conditions. It is said that Moscow is under ice and polar bears wander around the Red Square now.
After spending the night there, Sally went back to Willis and Frank.
The gliders, fully built sat next to each other on the Martian soil. After browsing around them, Sally found out that they were full of empty Stepper boxes, ready to be built. When asking her father what they were for, being as secretive as usual, he simply replied they were "trading goods" without adding further details.
The three of them were invited to spend the night at Marsograd, where they watched a movie before being brought back to the gliders at dawn.
Frank, being the cautious type, insisted on taking the first step on the ground. Seating in Woden with Sally in the back seat, he stepped with the help of his Stepper box.
The MEM and the tire tracks left by the Marsokhod blinked out of existence to a lifeless Mars.
There, on Gap Mars East 1, they discovered that the Earth of this world was not the one with the GapSpace facility. Meaning that the Long Mars chain doesn't run parallel to the Long Earth and that their only way back was through the Gap Mars.
Stepping across the Long Mars
After a while they finally took off, making sure that they were at least two persons on the ground when the first glider took off.
Then both gliders where in the air and they started to step at a speed of sixty worlds a minute with a succession of dead Marses underneath.
Sally, still in the back seat, and thanks to her special ability, felt the presence of soft places on Mars.
Sand-whales and sand-crustaceans
A couple of hours later, more than forty thousand worlds from Gap Mars, they found themselves once again on a world with life.
Below the gliders, they witnessed sand-whales moving through the Martian dust like through a fluid.
First traces of sapience
More and more lifeless Marses until the twelfth day, around half a million steps East of the Gap Mars, when they found a city where the buildings were taller than anything built on Earth. The city presented traces of destruction and looked more like a vast cemetery.
They stepped away after Willis went down to take some samples.
Another dead civilization
On the fourteenth day, around fifty thousand worlds after the million step milestone, they found other remains of a civlization, this one technologically more advanced than the previous one.
Frank and Willis went down to take some samples. Frank tried to probe Willis about what he was looking for but he remained vague as usual.
This secrecy started to get on Frank's nerves and he confronted Willis about it.
They were interrupted by a radio message from Sally and left before getting affected by the radiations caused by debris left there.
More than forty days into their expedition, around one point five million steps East, they found a Mars with sapience. Below their gliders, a herd fire-breathing land-dragons was running away from sand-whalers riding sand-yachts, armed with spears and bows.
The sand-whalers soon spotted the gliders and raised their fists at them but lacked the technology to do them any harm. North, of the scene, Willis soon spotted five huge black monoliths with inscriptions on them.
They tried to reach the monoliths to record the inscriptions but they were protected by some sort of invisible field that gave them a headache everytime they got closer.
After a while, they noticed that the sand-whalers were not affected by the monoliths and were just riding past them on their sand-yachts without even slowing.
Willis, pretending to take one of the glider in the air for safety, established contact with the sand-whalers. He showed them how to build and use the Stepper boxes and gave them some survival bubbles to be able to breathe in the nearby worlds. The leader took some pleasure at stepping around one particular individual, dubbed the crustacean prince by Frank, to humiliate him.
In exchange for all this, Willis asked them to take a handheld cam as close as the monoliths as possible to get a recording.
Having what they wanted, and after a thunder was heard in the distance, they stepped away after Willis explained to them that the thunder they heard was actually the sound of the true predator of the land-dragons.
More dead Marses and more Jokers
As they left behind the world of the sand-whalers, they encountered more dead Marses and the occasionnal Joker like a flooded Mars where the northern hemisphere was drowned by an ocean and what looked like cities floated on huge rafts with crustaceans fishermen who came ashore on land-yachts to hunt whales or a glacial Mars where Sally swore she saw a herd of reindeer.
Eleven weeks since they landed on Mars, they finally found what Willis was looking for, around three millions steps East of Gap Mars. What Willis was looking for all along was a space elevator, a beanstalk, a cheap way to reach a planet's orbit without having to use rockets.
Willis predicted the existence of such things, arguing that any advanced civilization living on a Joker Mars will try to reach space before their world became too dry and inhabitable.
Upon getting closer to the root of the space elevator, they noticed the absence of maintenance facilities or housing, deducing that the beanstalk was probably several million years old.
To reach the base of the cable, the root station, they had to go down a twenty miles deep cylindric hole but Sally managed to convince her father to wait until the next morning.
Down the beanstalk
It was decided that Willis and Sally would fly Thor down the shaft while Frank would stay on the surface as backup with Woden.
They rested, had dinner, slept and waited for dawn, in order to use the whole day to go down and have the time to inspect the root station before the sunset.
At about twelve miles deep, they started to see vegetation on the walls. Some kind of cacti like on Gap Mars.
The ground there was coated with life, purple-green bacterial slime, things like sprawled trees.
Sally even encountered a crustacean in the hole, like the lifeforms they met several worlds ago, but this kind, having been living in the dark for a long time, had no eye stalks.
Willis, on the other hand, found a crashed spacecraft and a crested skull, three times the size of a human head and arrow-shaped.
Their observations were interrupted when a piece of Woden landed on the floor.
Attack of the crustacean prince
When Willis and Sally reached the surface, they found Woden smashed to pieces.
Luckily, Frank was unharmed and was standing by their camp. He told them how the crustacean prince, the sand-whaler that got humiliated in front of his peers around one million point five steps West from this Mars, appeared out of nowhere and attacked Woden.
Willis, still at the command of Thor, took it in the air to preserve it and to draw the prince's attention while Sally and Frank were packing whatever they could salvage.
The prince shot a rocket-worm at Willis, a living fire-breathing organism that uses that fire as a fuel and act like a living missile, and touched Thor.
Willis landed quickly at the camp and Frank and Sally started to load the supplies they could gather when the prince came at them.
Willis then went back in the air while a rocket-worm was fired at Frank and Sally, missing them, but not from far.
Frank and Sally decided to split and run in opposite directions to give a better chance at survival to at least one of them while the prince was back at the campsite, trashing it.
Willis, after a moment's hesitation, decided to go down to pick up Sally.
From the glider, they saw the crustacean prince head toward Frank who was standing his ground.
They stepped away just after the prince, who jumped from his sand-yacht, drove his spear into Frank's faceplate.
Back to Earth
Inside the glider, Willis showed the Beanstalk cable sample they took saying that Frank's death was not in vain and how thanks to him, they will change the destiny of the world.
Thor having sustained too much damage because of the rocket-worm, Willis told her that they would have to ditch the glider and get back to the Gap Mars through the soft places.
Sally, recalling then Willis' hesitation during the attack of the crustacean prince, realized that her father contacted her after all those years only because of her ability to sense the soft places.
Disappointed at her father, she kept to herself all the way home.
On the Gap Mars, they were welcomed once again by the Russians.
Once on Earth, she sought Frank's family to notify them of his passing and went to visit Monica Jansson's grave in Madison West 5 to tell her.
This is when she received a message from Joshua.
Saving the Next
Around the end of August 2045, when the US government decided to send the USS Neil A. Armstrong II and the USS Eugene A. Cernan to Happy Landings, a presumed incubator for Next, Roberta Golding, one of the Next, asked Nelson Azikiwe for help.
Nelson then contacted Joshua who, in turn, contacted Sally, back from her jaunt to Gap Mars. Together, they helped the Next inmates of the Pearl Harbor facility to escape to Happy Landings through the soft places.
They were soon followed by the Navy twains who took position above the township.
The death of Lobsang
— Sally Linsay
Fall of 2045, on this early evening, Sally was waiting outside the Home on [Madison West 5] with Joshua. As usual, Sally was dressed as if she'd be bailing as soon as she could and the time those nuns were taking to answer the door didn't help. Joshua told her to play nice since everyone wanted to see her and thank her for what she did for the Next. She interrupted him and reminded him that she hated the Low Earths and how they were overcrowded while calling the nuns 'penguins' in the process. She told him that as soon as she'd be done with this, she'd leave and get blind drunk. Sister John who had opened the door quietly told that Sally'd need something stronger than what they had in store. She smiled and invited them in.
Sister John, who grew up in the Home with Joshua, talked about the old times with him while they were all heading to the parlour. As they reached the parlour's doorway, they were greeted by Sister Agnes who were waiting for them. Joshua gave her a hug then Agnes turned to Sally to shake her hand, saying she's heard a lot about her. Agnes studied Sally intently for a while then turned away to ask Joshua about his family. Inside the parlour, Sally was introduced to Nelson Azikiwe, a former clergyman in his fifties and a friend of Lobsang, who was sitting next to him. Also here was Shi-mi who came immediately to greet Joshua.
Joshua and Sally sat down as Sister John and a younger companion served more tea and cake. Agnes said to the assembly that it was her idea to take this opportunity, now that the crisis with the Next was over, to gather Lobsang's friends in one place. At this, Sally couldn't help but ask if Lobsang considered them friends since she had in mind that everyone was a pawn in a big cosmic game of chess to him. Nelson remarked that they were all here nonetheless. Agnes continued firmly to call them friends of Lobsang and asked what else was there but friends and family? Lobsang used that occasion to talk about Willis Linsay's plans to build beanstalks on the Long Earth with the help of what he recovered from the Long Mars and add that he was right to build again since mankind might have to compete with the Next in the future. At this, Nelson jumped in the conversation and asked if Lobsang knew about the Next's whereabouts and if there was more than what he said publicly. The android replied that he only knew that they went to someplace called the Grange and couldn't even speculate on its exact location.
Sally laughed at the irony of this, Lobsang the omniscient entity reduced as a mere messenger by children. The android agreed that it was a difficult time for him and pursued that he viewed the people present in the room as his family. The Yellowstone disaster felt like a lobotomy for him, his memories seemed to be incomplete and he had the odd sensation that he recalled his previous incarnations. He told them that after the Next, without his dream of becoming truly omniscient, he was nothing. Agnes appeared to be alarmed at this and asked what he meant by that. Lobsang started to talk and froze in mid-sentence.
Agnes and Joshua rushed to his side and try to reanimate him. Only his head moved and he said his goodbyes to Joshua and Agnes before dying. After this, Sally laughed, stood up and stepped away.
An unreal funeral
The funeral was held on December 2045 in Madison West 5. The fact that four of Lobsang’s ambulant units, dressed in their orange robes and sandals, stood guard next to the grave didn't help with the sense of unreality. Presiding over the assembly, Father Gavin, from the local parish, and Padmasambhava, a friend of Lobsang from his previous life, were jointly readings sacred texts.
Among the people present was Agnes, Commander Kauffman, Cho-je, Selena Jones, who has been crying all morning, Joshua and Sally, standing side by side. Sally was the only one who knew that the old man standing next to Agnes, known as George Abrahams to some, was none than Lobsang himself. She has been approached by Lobsang a short while after his supposed death to help him and Agnes find a suitable world to raise a child they were planning to adopt. She agreed despite not knowing how long the adoption process would take.
Joshua's birthday stunt
— Sally Linsay
In May 2052, Joshua wanted to make something special for his fiftieth's birthday and his idea was to travel across a hundred thousand worlds in a single day. For his jaunt, he asked for the help of his family and friends. His son, now calling himself by his middle name Rod, traveled with him from Earth West 101,754 to Earth West 3,000 flying in a stepping aircraft Rod brought. When they arrived a Earth West 3,000's footprint of the Madisonian lakes, they found Sally waiting for them next to a campfire.
Rod exchanged a few words with Sally before taking off with the plane. The two old companions watched the aircraft step away out of existence then Sally let Joshua eat a quick lunch while she pulled her pack on her back and kicked out the fire.
Joshua remarked that she hadn't changed and was still not a big fan of wasting time. She replied that she didn't need to change and that he needed the exercise after sitting on his fat bottom all night in the plane. She reminded him that he wanted to reach the Low Earths before the evening, which meant three thousand worlds in about six hours, so they had to keep up the pace. She asked if he wanted to take a shortcut by using a soft place but he told her that, unless they had to, he'd prefer not to. She then reminded him that it was his birthday and that he didn't need to have to do anything. He admitted that he had an appointment with Nelson Azikiwe and that he didn't want to miss it. While discussing on how she thought Nelson was a boring person, she looked at him and sensed that something was off. After being asked about it, Joshua confessed that he was having one of his headaches and that it was why he cut short his last sabbatical. Sally asked if he knew what was wrong this time but he confirmed that, like the last times, he didn't know anything. Checking if the headache was disabling, she asked if they were going to do this jaunt. Without replying, Joshua threw away the rest of his lunch and took his pack and together they stepped.
As they were traveling, Sally told him to not worry about Rod and that it was natural for a child to challenge the way his parents used to do things even more since he was part of the generations born after Step Day. And futhermore, the Long Earth tended to impose a natural selection anyway. At this comment, Joshua raised the issue of Sally's growing reputation for vigilantism. She concluded by saying that she didn't need him to tell her how to behave and ended the discussion by changing the subject. Joshua, knowing it was useless to argue, followed her.
She finally brought him to Earth West 30 where Nelson Azikiwe was waiting for Joshua. On this world's footprint of the Madisonian isthmus, a luxury sport lodge was erected. It was too much for Sally who stepped away after a brief goodbye to Joshua and Nelson.
Late summer 2054, Earth West 1,217,756, above this world's footprint of Maine, Sally was standing aboard a twain hovering over the town of New Springfield with Lobsang (in his George Abrahams ambulant unit), Agnes and Ben, the newly adopted child of George and Agnes. As the twain was dropping his anchor and getting closer to the ground, they could see the neighbors coming to greet them from the windows of the gondola. Sally reassured Agnes that they were good people or she wouldn't have advised the Abrahamses to choose this world. When the ship touched down, Lobsang came to the cabin to tell them that it would prepare coffee before the neighbors arrived.
When they got out, Lobsang and Sally worked on detaching the gondola from the envelope and making sure the envelope would not fly into the sky as soon as the gondola was unloaded while Agnes, Ben and Shi-mi checked their new home. The plan was that Sally would fly the remaining envelope back to the Low Earths.
Her work done and seeing the neighbors starting to gather around George and the gondola, Sally went to look for Agnes. She found her not far from the ship, on top of the hill next to a dry stone wall built by the previous settlers, lost in her own thoughts. Sally told her that George had already the coffee on the stove and advised that if they let the children brush the horses they brought with them, they would be their friends for life. She added that making a good first impression on the locals never hurt and asked if Agnes was alright. The reincarnated nun confessed that the theory was fine and fun but to be actually standing there on this new and strange Earth was overwhelming for her since she thought herself as a city girl. Sally told her that there were worst places that this one and that the worlds around here were safe and that was why she chose them for the Abrahams.
Suddenly a strong wind came from the west, sharper than usual. Sally turned, frowning and holding her hat, feeling that something was amiss. The women didn't have too much time to think about it since Ben came to them, pulling them back to reality. Agnes thinking it was time to go meet the neighbors and have lunch, led them to the twain.
The search for Lobsang
Spring 2058, Sally was squatting with a rifle on her lap on a bluff overlooking a farmhouse in this stepwise Kansas on Earth West 389,413. The farmhouse was built by a couple that was now dead thanks to the five men who were now occupying it. Sally found this place thanks to the absence of trolls in it; her experience of the Long Earth taught her that an absence of trolls in a world was a strong indicator that humans were messing around. When she reached the place, the husband was already dead but the wife, pregnant at the time, was still alive. Sally tried to rescue her but failed since the raiders killed the woman to get rid of her. Having smashed their Stepper boxes, all she had to do was to wait for them to come out or starve to death.
She has been posted on this world for a while, watching the farmhouse, waiting, until one day she heard someone approaching, whistling a familiar tune: a song called 'Harpoon of Love' that she first heard a long time ago. As the sound grew closer, Joshua appeared, hands in the air, walking slowly to her position. As soon as she recognized him, she resumed her task at hand and turned her eyes towards the farmhouse. He told her that it took him months to find her, and, noticing the hearth filled with ashes and the heap of animal bones, he realized that she has been there for a long time. Always straight to the point, Sally asked him what he was doing here and what he did he want. Her old friend told her that he was here for Lobsang, more precisely, to enlist her help in finding the old ambulant unit they left with First Person Singular around thirty years ago.
Changing the subject, she asked how he found her and Joshua revealed that there were rumours spreading of what she was doing on this world and asked more details about the situation. After she briefed him, Joshua asked if she was hoping for hunger to drive them out but, to his worry, she replied that she wanted them to starve to death. Joshua, afraid of the path that his old companion has been following those past years, asked if she'd kill them. Reassuringly, she told him that she would do no such thing even if she admitted to have killed in the past before. She followed by saying that she was afraid that if she went in that direction, she wouldn't be able to stop. Then after a short talk about how she found this place, Joshua proposed to help. He could get a Navy twain and the militaries would take care of the rest. Seeing that Sally wasn't responding, Joshua made himself at home, saying she had time to think about it and that he was not going anywhere since he was tired anyway.
Understanding that her old friend wasn't about to leave her alone, Sally asked Joshua if Nelson Azikiwe has found his father. Surprised at first, Joshua quickly realized that of course she'd know about such thing. She didn't hide that she knew that he went all cry-baby to Nelson on his fiftieth birthday after she left them alone. Joshua defensively asked if there was something wrong about wanting to know who his father was and kept on saying that it took Nelson years to find him but he finally succeeded and that he also found things about Sally's family. At this, the lone vigilante finally shifted her attention to Joshua.
Joshua told her about his meeting with Nelson in Datum London earlier during this spring of 2058 and how he found out that an organization of Steppers called the Knights of Discorporea was founded at the end of the nineteenth century decided to breed their descendants together in order to increase the apparition of the Stepping ability in the general population.
In 1895, Oswald Hackett, mastermind behind the Knights of Discorporea, Luis Valienté and Fraser Burdon decided to reach out to known families with Steppers and poll their resources together to create a Fund who was tasked to propose large sums of money if two members of Stepping families had a child together. Several decades later, the plan worked since there was an explosion of natural steppers in the population.
Sally admitted that she knew some of this since her father married into a family of Steppers but never suspected that there was a purposeful breeding of people like them. Joshua told her that her mother was a descendant of the Hackett Clan and that his own father was from the Burdon family even if he never stepped. Together, they compared notes about the Fund but realized that the nuns at the Home would have kept them from Joshua even if they managed to track him down and that Sally stepped away from the Datum a year after Step Day and never went back long enough to be tracked down by them. Switching back to Joshua's father, she asked if Nelson finally found him. Joshua told her that Nelson found his name in the Fund's records, that he was living in a retirement home in New York West 5 now and that he was just a seventeen years old kid when Joshua was conceived.
He quickly recounted his encounter with his father and how he learned that his father received Maria's name and address from representants of the Fund and a promise to a large sum of money if they were to have kids together. This, obviously, resulting in Joshua's birth. When he finished to tell his story, he proposed to eat, sleep and call the cops in the morning before setting out to search for the old Lobsang. Cradling at her rigle, Sally agreed.
Earth West 174,827,918
Sally and Joshua travelled through the soft places to Earth West 174,827,918, which was, according to the catalogue compiled by the USS Neil A. Armstrong II ten years ago, the place of origin of the species known as traversers. As soon as they set foot on land, Sally settled to dig a hole into the ground to make sure they were on an island and not on the carapace of a traverser while Joshua surveyed the surroundings.
After making sure they were on solid ground, Sally explained to Joshua why she chose that place. During her explanation, an island appeared on the horizon and startled Joshua who was wondering how it could have missed it. Sally reassured him that it was there before and asked if Joshua knew what he was looking at. Grinning, he told her that the creature was similar to the one called Second Person Singular that Lobsang and Nelson encountered before. Turning to Sally, Joshua asked again why they came here and she replied that it was the only world where Lobsang could be since they have last seen him disappearing with First Person Singular. Now all they had to do was to set up their radio and wait.
They stayed five days on the beach until the creature returned. As it opened its flaps, releasing all the small animals that lived on it, an ambulant unit, missing one arm, came out and wasn't surprised to find Sally and Joshua.
As they sat together by their fire camp with Lobsang, Sally and Joshua noticed others changes on this ambulant unit's body. Lobsang's genitalia was gone, for starters, replaced by a simple metallic plug. His skin had patches where the tone was lighter than the rest of the body. Lobsang admitted that his body was not meant to last long without workshop maintenance and that he sacrificed his arm and other organs for spare parts. With the elephant in the room now addressed, Lobsang aimed the conversation on the reason of Sally and Joshua's presence here. Joshua told him that Lobsang - the one who built himself from the backups back in 2030 - asked them to and produced a memory pod from his pocket, saying that it contained all the briefing material required. Lobsang trusting his own judgement said that he would follow them no matter what was on the memory pod but asked for a few hours to say goodbye to the life he had here.
With some regret, he told them that he has learned a lot with the traversers but still had a lot to learn. He even hinted that someone intervened in the traversers' evolution to give them this particular purpose that made them sample creatures from other worlds. Sally, wanting to let boys alone, went for a walk. Lobsang tried to smile at her but only produced a distorded face. Joshua called him on that and Lobsang replied that he'll work on it since he didn't want to scare anyone. Joshua confirmed that it was a good idea and told Lobsang that he had a son. Taking the news rather calmly, Lobsang realized that his newest iteration had been quite busy since he left with First Person Singular.
After Lobsang finished his preparations, the trio left for New Springfield where the situation has gotten a lot worse in the meantime.
Aboard the USS Brian Cowley
— Sally Linsay
In January 2059, Nathan Boss, Captain of the USS Brian Cowley, decided to organize a trip to this world's footprint of New York State. Boss and his crew were on Earth West 1,217,756 after Lobsang called them in to investigate on the species named the 'silver beetles' by the locals. The beetles were building huge metallic structures, discovered by Lobsang and Joshua a few months before, spanning the whole Earth at different lattitudes of the globe. The day on this world was now reduced to twelve hours thanks to the beetles who were accelerating the rotation of this Earth and were leading this world to its dismantlement.
Among the passengers chosen for the expedition were Sally, Joshua, Agnes, Lobsang/George, the Lobsang that spend decades living with the traversers, Oliver and Marina Irwin, representing the residents of New Springfield, and Marvin Lovelace and Stella Welch, representing the Next. The small group was brought aboard the ship and led to one of the observation galleries by Margarita Jha, the ship's science officer. There, waiting for them was Ken Bowring, the head of the scientific party brought to study the beetles.
From the windows of the gallery, as the ship was gaining altitude, the Irwins could see that everything was either dying or burning. And on a world filled with trees like this one, there was plenty of combustible. Bowring explained to the Irwins and the others the changes that appeared on this world. Marina, visibly irritated, asked if they knew the beetles' intention and if they'll stand by and watch as their world was dying. Bowring admitted that they tried to do something in New York but that they'd see it when they'll get there, in approximately twelve hours. Commander Jha used this occasion to announce that there would be a cocktail party held in the Captain's cabin. Sally, clearly not into that kind of social gathering, left the crowd looking for a gym.
While Sally was minding her own business, the ship reached the footprint of New York and the militaries told them that they tried to destroy the viaduct that the beetles built here with a nuclear weapon but it was rebuilt in less than forty-eight hours. Realizing that the beetles couldn't be stopped, the Next stepped in to offer the unique solution they came up with to stop the beetles to spread across the Long Earth : seal this world from the inside, sacrificing in the process the life of whoever would attempt the operation. And for that, they would need the help of Sally Linsay and a young Next named Stan Berg.
Stan Berg was a Next and was one of the most powerful of his kind. Sally had to travel all the way to Miami West 4 to get him. Stan was invited by the Next to join them at the Grange back in 2057 but was disappointed by what he saw and decided to go back to Earth West 4 to preach and share his wisdom with the general population. As the crowd listening to his sermons and the number of his followers grew in size, the local authorities started to see him as a nuisance and started to keep tabs on him. On the day Sally arrived to get him, Stan was preaching like usual. Avoiding a direct approach, she went to talk to Rocky Lewis, Stan's best friend, who was standing at the back of the group with Roberta Golding, Melinda Bennett and Martha Berg, Stan's mother. Sally told Rocky that she needed him to convince Stan to go all the way to Earth West 1,217,756 where Stan had a duty to perform and that she'll explain everything to him.
Roberta, Rocky and Sally went to the Long Earth Trading Company HQ where Mr Russo lent them a conference room so they could talk privately. Roberta used that occasion to thank Sally for what she did for the Next back in 2045. Then she proceeded to explain Rocky how Stan became a growing concern for the LETC and the government. Rocky blurted out that all of them just wanted to get rid of him and use his friend for their means and that whatever was happening on Earth West 1,217,756 was just an excuse. At this point Sally decided to come clean with him and told him about the situation with the beetles and how all of manking needed Stan.
Starting to understand the situation better, Rocky asked why did it have to be Stan. Sally replied that Stan was the most advanced stepper there was and that only him could do the sealing. She also informed him that he would not survive the process but promise him that Stan won't be alone for this and that she'll stay with him until the end.
When they headed back to the construction site, it was evening and Stan was still sitting at the same spot, still preaching. Rocky walked through the crowd toward Stan as Roberta, Sally and Martha stayed at the back of the crowd. Rocky said something to Stan and pointed to Martha. Stan took his jacket, excused himself to his followers and walked towards the three woman with Rocky's arm around his shoulders.
— Sally Linsay
When they arrived to Earth West 1,217,756, the day was now less than eight hours. Everyone could feel that the end was coming. The militaries named the operation to seal the world the Cauterizing. The New Springfielders long gone to find another place to live, only a handful of people were present that day.
Stan was saying his goodbyes to Rocky and his mother, his father didn't even bother to come, while Lobsang/George, who was also staying behind to provide some support to Stan and represent the locals until the end, said goodbye to Agnes and Joshua. Joshua and Agnes were in the middle of a discussion when Sally came to them. Agnes, wanting to leave some room for Joshua and Sally, walked away looking for Georges. After a short talk about how they first met all those years ago, Joshua and Sally said goodbye to each other.
When the Cowley and its passengers where gone, only Stan, Sally and Lobsang were left. The trio decided to do what they came to do on top of the hill and climbed their way up despite the strong winds that were hitting them. Once arrived at the top, they stood in a ring, holding hands. Lobsang said a line from Macbeth and Sally, grinning, said another. Stan surprised both of his companions when he said the rest and told them that they had some good schools in Miami West 4. Now, to the job at end. With the help and guidance of Lobsang and Sally, Stan finally managed to separate this world from the rest of the Long Earths. But the effort came with a price, Stan fell down into the grass and began to twitch. Lobsang rushed to his side to attend him. As he was checking on the boy, Sally tried to step and realized that she couldn't. It was a weird feeling for her since she was a natural stepper but also a relief since it meant that they succeeded.
Back to Stan and Lobsang she couldn't help but wonder what would the Next do with such power if Stan was not an exception but Lobsang cut her there, saying that it was no longer their concern and saked her to go fetch a med kit.
To the end
Stan recovered quickly from his fit. The last three inhabitants on Earth West 1,217,756 spent a short four hour night sitting in a lean-to, a gift from the Cowley's crew, where they ate a soup made by Agnes, wrapped in survival blankets. A small science station allowed Lobsang to learn that the day was now reduced to six hours. The three of them looked at satellite images of the planet on a tablet and couldn't help but marvel at the scale of the changes visibles. All around the globe, huge cracks filled with lava were visible where the tectonic plates meet. Sally suggested they ate something other than soup before the end.
As Sally was giving away sandwiches, Lobsang informed the two of them that he still had one option left. Pointing to the sky, he told them that he could upload himself into one of the satellites left by the Cowley but that it meant abandoning them to their fate. Sally and Stan agreed at once, telling him that he should be able to observe the end of this planet as long as possible. And with this matter agreed on, they ate.
The night after, Sally managed to get some sleep even if it was a short one. She was awaken by her own coughing caused by smoke in the air. As soon as she woke up, the land lurched and fell through several feet. Feeling that the end was soon, they all dressed up and got ready for whatever was about to come. Sally, feeling that it was Stan's show, let him pick the place where they would make their last stand. Wanting to get a good view, Stan choose the hilltop once again. By the time they reached the hilltop, the tremors became more violent and more frequent. They also realized that the forests surrounding the hilltop were burning and that the fire was spreading in all directions. Before everything fell apart, Sally urged Lobsang to transfer himself into one of the satellites. He complied and wished her good luck before his ambulant unit became lifeless.
Only left with Stan, she held his hands until the ground at their feet fell apart and disappeared. Falling down, she lost her grip on Stan's hand and fell towards the lava. While being mid-air she thought about her life and everything she's done and realized that she didn't plan to die in her bed anyway. And like that, she was gone.