Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Burning of Effigy: Chapter Three

I take one last look at all the places I’ve lived recently. The upgrades that Ezqava willed into existence are still there, clustered in one area. There’s the tent, the cabin, the cottage, the mobile home, the tiny home, the small home, the farmhouse, and the really nice house. Her mind had already started construction on a tower, on top of which would be a penthouse, where we would live. The three of us were about to transport decades, possibly centuries to the future, and I don’t know if this will still be standing when we get back. It’s not like I spent a whole hell of a lot of time here, but I still feel close to them. Hell, she even built a treehouse, probably birthed by a stray thought she had one day about the possibility of raising children—and I’m just now realizing it must be the same treehouse Hokusai Gimura sought refuge in sometime in the future. Of course.
Effigy appears next to me as I’m reflecting. “I keep forgetting how slow and inefficient humans are.”
“And I need to remember how impatient and irritating your species can be,” I reply.
“We are the Maramon,” Effigy says. “She’s not told you much about us, has she?”
“No. She’s just learned to speak.”
“Faster than I did it. In the original timeline, I had to do it alone.”
“How is that possible, without any humans?”
“I get glimpses of Earth.”
“I see.”
“Are you ready to go?”
“Yes. Where’s Ezqava?”
“Right in here,” Effigy says, pointing to her own chest.
“The hell you talkin’ ‘bout?”
“We merged.”
“What!?”
She exudes a hippy disposition. “We are now...as one.”
“So she’s dead?”
“No, man, aren’t you listening? We’re now just one person. I absorbed her memories, and she mine, and now we’re just one person.”
“Why would you do that?”
“It was the right thing to do. You shouldn’t have two versions of yourself running around the same time period, it’s irresponsible.”
“Don’t you get it? She is dead. She had an identity that was independent of you, and you stole that from her.”
“It was consensual, asshole. My body, my choice.”
“Oh, don’t you throw that it my face, there’s no comparison.”
“Well it’s done. I am no longer just Effigy. I am Ezqava Eodurus, a.k.a. Effigy.”
“I can’t trust you, though. She wanted to help people, to make things better. Now she’s been corrupted...by you.”
“Ah, but you’re forgetting that it goes both ways. I hold properties of her. I’m now a far nicer person, because of her.”
“I want to believe that,” I say.
“Do you?”
This was getting me nowhere, so I just have to let it go. I don’t bother asking her if it can be reversed, because even if it can, she won’t do it. I have to remember that I only knew Ezqava for a short while, so we weren’t incredibly close. I have to focus on the mission, which is to close this portal, any way I can. I suppose the main trouble is that I was counting on Ezqava to back me up so that Effigy doesn’t betray us. Now I’m just alone. Effigy, or whatever it is I’m supposed to call her now, places her hand on my shoulder, and we transport away.
We’re in some little house. A woman is hovering over a crib, letting a baby squeeze her finger.
“Can she not see us?” I ask Effigy.
“No, it’s just like when that Screener woman was tossing you around time,” she replies.
“I can feel you there,” the woman with the baby says. She takes her hand from the baby, who is okay with that. She starts sort of miming in the space between us, like she’s worried about touching an electrified invisible box. “You’re somewhere around here. Sanela? Is that you?”
“We should be going,” I say. “The portal won’t fix itself, I don’t imagine.”
“I just need to recharge first,” Effigy says vaguely.
“What do you mean?”
“The portal’s not here. In fact, it would be closed by now. We’ve jumped further in the future than I wanted.”
“Why did you do that?”
“I can’t control it,” Effigy explains. “My power is sort of trial and error, which is why I try not to do it too much. You’ve seen that, otherwise Ezqava would have just created a condo or mansion as soon as she got to this world.”
“So we’re invading this woman’s privacy on accident.”
“Exactly,” Effigy says. “But it’s okay, Saga deals with this stuff all the time. She’s fine.”
“You can go now,” Saga says, going back to playing with the baby. “I’m not going to kill myself, if that’s what you’re worried about. Étude means too much to me.” She smiles at the child, but in a sad way.
“What happened?” I ask Effigy.
“Before you get upset, I didn’t do anything. Her heartache is her own. It’s...a pretty bad situation. Fortunately, I’m ready to make another jump.” She takes my shoulder, and we leave.
I find myself once again in the presence of Smith, the one who was pursuing Hogarth and her friends. Though that was sometime in the future, and I know this, because Smith still has his face intact.
A henchman I don’t know if I’ve seen before approaches Smith. “Sir, the kids are crying in harmony. We believe there to be a time anomaly somewhere around here.”
“Not monsters, though?” Smith questioned.
“No, it’s in a major key.”
“Interesting. Is Hogarth’s machine operational yet?”
“No, sir, our spies indicate that they are still months away, at best.”
“Perhaps she has returned to us earlier than predicted. This is good for us. Get me a glitchhound. We’ll search the area.”
“It’s already on the way.”
“Excellent,” Smith says so villainously that it isn’t even ironic. It’s like he read a listicle of every good antagonist, and is trying to emulate their worst common qualities with absolute sincerity.
An approximation of a dog tears into view, sniffing all around. It’s deformed and ethereal. It warps and shudders and gleams and melts, and sometimes looks more like a cat. It’s like a computer program with more bugs than good code.
“Don’t. Move,” Effigy orders out of the corner of her mouth.
“I can see why the call it a glitchhound,” I say out of the corner of mine.
“That’s not why they call it that,” Effigy says, displaying real levels of fear, which is something I didn’t think she could feel. Maybe she really has become more like the Ezqava I knew. “It seeks glitches.”
“Oh.”
“Bran, we’re the glitches.”
“Oh. Oh. Are you recharged yet?”
“No.”
“Then we should go.”
“If we move, it will sense us faster. Right now, our temporal anomaly is localized to one place, which can be a problem for them, but they’re also common. Tears in the spacetime continuum open and close all the time, most of them aren’t created by people. If we move, though, it’ll show that the glitch isn’t natural.”
“What will it do if it finds us?”
“It will lick my face and try to get me to play with it.”
“Yeah, but seriously,” I request.
“No, really,” she explains. “Glitchhounds were once just regular hounds. On my world, we called them tekachorl, which roughly translates to cheerful wolf. When they crossed the portal barrier, they became this.”
“You brought animals too?”
“I opened the portal. I didn’t decide who came through. Had it not been for...” she trails off.
“What?” I press.
“They weren’t meant to come corrupted like this. I never wanted any of this.”
“We don’t have time to talk about it. How do we get the glitchhound to leave us alone?”
“We can run a retroprep.”
“Which is...?”
“Which is when a future version of yourself comes back in time and saves you, so that you can live on, and one day go back in time and save yourself.”
“That sounds complicated.”
Suddenly the man who once escorted Sanela to meet me in Vearden’s safehouse appears through his own glitch in the continuum. He’s completely prepared for this, leaning down and patting his knees. “Come here,” he says in a sing-songy voice. “Come here, boy. That’s a good boy.”
The excited glitchhound gets in herding position, and strafes side to side, trying to confuse his playmate. Then he breaks free of his captor’s leash, and runs towards—Juan is his name, I remember now. Once the corrupted animal tackles Juan, they both fall back through the temporal anomaly and disappear.
“Was that you?” I ask. “Do you send him back sometime later?”
“I don’t even know who that is,” Effigy answers. “I can’t imagine I do that, but it’s possible, I can’t rule it out.”
“Who the hell was that!” Smith shouts to his frightened subjects.
“Looks like we’re safe,” Effigy says to me. “I’m charged up now, so we can go.”
“Go where? To the next mistake?”
“You have a better idea? How accurate is your time traveling?”
“Sanela spoke of this. You have to find a grasp of the timeline. You have to understand time first, or it will always dictate when and where you are.”
“That’s...actually not bad, Kally. You’re smarter than you look.”
“Just, try it. Do it differently than you normally do.”
Before we can leave, I feel something on my hip. I look down to see a small child reaching his little hand into my pocket. He pulls out the HG Goggles, and starts dancing around with them. I try to steal them back, but my hand just passes right through him.
“How did he do that?” I cry.
“Wadya have there, young Madoc?” Smith asks, graciously taking the goggles for himself. It’s the first sign of kindness I’ve seen from the man; now I at least know he has it in him.
“I could probably get those back for you,” Effigy offers.
“No,” I say with a smile, watching Smith look them over. “He gets what’s coming to him,” I tell her, remembering the future when a past version of me shines the Rothko Torch in his eyes, and literally burns the goggles into his face. “We can go now.”
We leave.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Microstory 735: Credos, Convention Eight: Cohesion

There once was an island in the ocean, remotely distant from other land. On it lived a peoples of fishing and adventuring. For generations, they had traveled all over the world, but they wanted to find a place to call home, so that no matter how far away they ventured, they could all be from one location. To mark their home, they decided to build monuments to their ancestors. Unfortunately, their island, which was otherwise paradise, did not have the stones necessary to make this a reality. A neighboring island did have the rocks, but they were too large to carry on their boats. A small tribe lived on this island, and they were happy to help in any way they could. The wisest of them was the matriarch of the tribe. She came to the stone pits, where the adventurers were arguing over what to do, and spoke to them. “No single boat can transport even but one of these stones to your island. But many of your boats can.” “But how can we do this?” the adventurers asked. “If we try to carry it across many boats, they will just drift apart, and the stones will fall.” You must find a way to make the boats as one. You must find a way to keep them from drifting.” Of course, now we know that they could have made a single, very large boat to transport the stones. But back then, the only boats they understood how to build were lightweight narrow vessels. So they came up with a plan, using the tools they had at their disposal. They tied the boats together, to form a sort of grid platform.

The platform boat seemed great, but then the adventurers still had a problem. They realized that they would also need to to get the stones to the water in the first place. They could roll them on logs once they reached the plains. On the beach, they could then use sleds, but the trouble was getting them through the forest. The matriarch of the neighboring tribe spoke again. “You must work together to do this. You must look inward, and at each other, and find some commonality.” They looked inward, and at each other, but they saw nothing that could help. Then a little girl tribe member noticed something, and so she spoke to the group as well. “We walk on two legs, and use our arms for balance. One foot forward, then it holds, and the second foot comes forward after that. Then the first foot again, then the second.” They marveled at her wisdom, and found a way to reapply this to their problem. They tied robes to the top of each stone, and lifted it up so that it was vertical. They broke apart into teams, pulling and releasing in unison, so that the stone was essentially walking through the forest. And so the stones were carried through the forest, over the plains, down the beach, and onto the water. They were taken across the strait, and onto their own island, where the process could continue. The task took many months, and many months after that to carve and erect the stones. There stood their greatest leaders in history, guarded by a barrier. In the middle was a monument dedicated to their tribal friends to the West. It was the least they could do to repay for the help.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Microstory 734: Credos, Convention Seven: Constructiveness, Chapter Two

After completing his basic studies in school, the student who had come so far, decided that he was not happy with the way his education had been handled. His parents had found for him a decent tutor, who helped him figure out how to drive his own learning, but not all students had this opportunity. First they would have to spend time struggling before realizing there was a problem to be solved. Then conceive a solution. Then the family would have to have the money that justified hiring someone extra. Then they would have to find the right person for the job, and even with that, they would still be operating in a broken system. He was not satisfied with the conditions of his world, for he knew that education was the most important factor in determining a culture’s place in the universe. He entered the workforce with no intention of staying in any one position for very long. In fact, he would later devise a self-imposed rule that prevented him from holding any given position for longer than one standard year. For most jobs, he would only be there for three months. For many others, only one. He was trying to gather as much experience in a variety of fields and industries as possible, as well as be able to see the world from different points of view. He worked on farms, factories, fairgrounds, and firehouses. Once he thought he had seen enough general work, he went back to school to study education, so that he could one day become an educator himself, which he ultimately did. He moved up the ranks, not too quickly, but steadily. Finally he found himself in charge of education policy for the whole planet, which was where he could finally realize his dream. He started making changes to the way students were taught. He lobbied for money in the global budget, harder than any other department of government. He shrunk the schools, and the class sizes. He tailored classes to the needs of individuals, rather than some abstract belief in a one size fits all program. No longer would the students be rated according to some percentage of accuracy. Any failure to understand a given concept would be met with reinforcement of the material, rather than a dismissal of it as not being significant enough to forestall their advancement. Students were placed in groups according to aptitude and achievement, as opposed to mere age, and they moved around to accumulate new skills, each at their own pace. Teachers became facilitators, helping foster the respective goals of each person under their care, instead of forcing them to conform to some unifying principle. This world became the archetype for a prosperous and productive populace, and other worlds began adopting similar ideals. The student-turned-education reformer died centuries ago, but his doctrines live on all across the galaxy.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Microstory 733: Credos, Convention Seven: Constructiveness, Chapter One

Long ago, there was young man, who was trying very hard in school, but struggled oh so much. The school system he was in was hurting for money, and did not have the resources to cater to every student’s needs. They didn’t even have the energy, or the compensation, to care about any of the children, and were always quite apathetic towards them. They would mark his assignments as wrong, but would never explain to him why. Once each assignment was finished, they would move right on to the next lesson, as if he had learned everything he needed to know to comprehend the next concepts. Knowing that this was not working, the student’s parents conscripted help from a tutor. The tutor was very nice to him, telling him that he actually was a good student, and just needed to work a little harder. Whenever he came close to getting an answer right, she would reward him with snacks. But still his grades faltered, for still he was learning nothing. He was just too far behind to do any of the assignments. Seeing that this method was ineffective, the student’s parents hired a new tutor. This one was much like the teachers, but since they were meeting under were one-on-one conditions, he was able to focus more on his needs. But he was also insulting and mean. Instead of rewarding success, he would punish failure. The student learned some of the material, but only enough to answer some questions right. He still didn’t understand it, which meant he could not reapply any knowledge to unrelated situations. The parents tried a third and final tutor. She was far better than the first two, and also his teachers. She did not reward him for his successes, nor punish him for his failures. She taught him to think for himself, and explained to him why this information was important, and how he might use it when he was older. She would mark his assignments thoroughly, telling him not only that he was wrong, but trying to figure out his thought process, and using this to set him back on the right track. Her criticisms were helpful, for they encouraged the student’s growth and development, ultimately forming problem-solving skills and coping mechanisms that allowed him to study on his own. Equipped with these techniques, he quickly became one of the school’s best students.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Microstory 732: Credos, Convention Six: Communication, Chapter Two

Once the war was over in the remote village, the villagers resettled their lands. And once the spacefaring migrants had begun building their own, far more advanced, settlements, a group of them went out to explore. They were looking for valuable resources they could use to thrive on their new world, but what they found, was the village. Being wary but friendly, the migrants attempted to communicate with the natives, but were met only with fear. The villagers were not completely cut off from the rest of their planet. They knew other villages existed, as there was once a significant trading economy amongst them. Upon finding ways of sustaining themselves without branching out, however, they adopted a culture of isolation. They were not afraid simply by encountering others, but what these invaders represented. They wore unusual garments, spoke a strange tongue, and carried magical rocks that produced light and frightening noises. They did not know the truth behind these things, and most of them did not want to know. They just wanted to be left alone. The migrants attempted to show the villagers that these were merely metric equipment that they were using to survey the land, but the natives resisted the lessons. They could not comprehend, for their upbringing did not support such creations. Remember, these were the ones who were physically unable to see the shuttles flying down from the sky, because their brains could not process the information. Still, the migrants continued to work with the villagers, leaving with them a sort of ambassador who would hopefully slowly learn to communicate. Fortunately, there was a young woman villager with a stronger sense of curiosity, and she was chosen as their ambassador. The two quickly became friends, even though they could not at first understand each other. They eventually came up with a system, though, that allowed them to convey messages to each other using gestures. Yet they would still speak their own languages, and over time, they began to learn each other’s words. After months of this, each was fluent in each other’s language. Empowered with this, they each went back to their own people, and retaught the new language to anyone who wished to learn. They were hopeful that the village and the migrants could live together in peace, but after more months of communication, everyone had to accept that the villagers were not comfortable living so close to all this strange technology. And so the migrants moved far away, leaving the village alone, which is exactly what they wanted.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Microstory 731: Credos, Convention Six: Communication, Chapter One

The sixth canister showed the wandering child a small village in the middle of nowhere. This world had developed independent of all others, and in fact, they did not know people could come from the stars. They were technologically unadvanced, though there people had lived there for centuries. Technology is only invented to solve some problem, and since they lived in relative harmony as they were, it did not strike them as necessary to improve upon their lives. They hunted in the nearby woods, they fished in the nearby stream, and their resources were never exhausted. One day, an exploration ship came upon their lonely planet, finding it to be beautiful and welcoming. They did notice several sparse populations on its surface, but chose to ignore them. They sold the coordinates to a group of travelers seeking to put down roots, and these travelers came to the new world hopeful and excited. Their landing shuttles were large, and made of materials the villages had never seen before, and so they still could not. Though the vessels were ferrying passengers from the sky, the villages literally could not see them. This would disrupt their worldview so much, that their brains could not process the information properly, leading them to be quite nearly blind to what was happening all around them.

The villagers could feel vibrations, hear rushing wind, and feel a warmth, but still, they could not actually see anything. They believed the gods to be trying to send them some kind of message, but could not interpret its meaning, so they argued. Some believed the gods to be angry with them. Out of those, some thought a human sacrifice must be made to appease them, while many believed gods to be nonviolent, and required sacrifices of food and comfort. Still, others thought the gods were simply trying to reach out to them. Not only were the gods not angry, but they were pleased with how the village had prospered, and were inviting them to a grand introduction. These contradictory theories caused much strife in the village, ultimately leading to days of infighting. Having finished transporting the migrants from their orbiting ship, the shuttles stopped landing on the surface, leading the villagers to believe that this was a second message. They had failed in understanding the divine words, and would be met with much hardship for their insolence. Though they were ashamed of their failure, the internal conflict continued, for every faction blamed every other, rather than themselves. The population dwindled as the weeks passed. They holed themselves up in separate caves, and other strongholds, though. Not wanting to diminish their numbers too greatly, eventually the fighting ceased, only because the battles no longer felt safe. Their instinct to preserve their species held firm, despite their hatred. This gave them time to open negotiations between the warring factions; to find some common ground, and quickly remember that they were once one peoples, with mutual goals. And so they came back together. The short war was over.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: August 11, 2157

Lincoln and Darko were still standing in about the same places they were the previous year when Mateo returned to the timestream.
“What is it?” Mateo asked. “What’s happened?”
“Someone showed up, looking to retrieve The Superintendent’s special pen,” Lincoln said. “She said she was from another universe, but I don’t think she traveled in the Crossover.”
Mateo looked down at his hand. “Oh, crap, I still have it.”
“It doesn’t matter. She’s a time traveler. She’ll be back in a morning, and it won’t have been but a few seconds for her. She suggests you get some sleep.”
“We’re all going to sleep,” Darko reminded Lincoln, who was still feeling guilty about what he’d done, by placing his hand on his shoulder.
“Are we in big trouble?” Mateo asked.
“Tonight we don’t worry about that,” Darko said. “Tonight we eat, we drink, we be merry. We sleep. She’s not gonna show up ‘til we’re awake, so don’t set an alarm.”
“Are you sure about that?”
“She was clear. She said that sleep is very important.”
“Who is she?”
Darko shook his head, “she never gave a name.”

“Sandy.” The woman shook each of their hands the next morning. “Real name is Sandra Clausen, but I go by Sandy. Please, no jokes about beach sand.”
Last night, they spent an hour eating fourthmeal, and drinking water, and then they each went to bed. They were not in the mood to be merry, and were all still pretty serious.
“Wow. Tough crowd,” she said, trying to adjust her demeanor accordingly.
“What’s going to happen to me?” Lincoln asked.
“What’s going to happen to us,” Mateo corrected. “We’re a package deal.”
“I don’t know.” She looked at her watch. “In a few minutes, he’ll be asleep, and I’ll be able to channel his very thoughts. I’m just the vessel. I am going to need that pen back, though.”
Mateo took it out of his pocket and started handing it to her, but then pulled back. “Would it be wise for us to maintain leverage?”
“Mateo,” Darko urged, “just give it back.”
“It’s obviously important. I don’t think we should just throw it away. I don’t think we can afford to.”
She looked at him like she wasn’t impressed. Suddenly a man appeared behind Mateo and swiftly snatched the pen from his hand. He gave it to Sandy. “Thank you, Mister Casales. You were right, I couldn’t do this one alone.”
“What is it you do?” Mateo asked, knowing he had lost the pen gambit, and that it was time to move on.
“I am a creator of worlds.”
“You’re from Gaius’ universe,” Lincoln guessed.
“Yes,” she said. “But my bloodline is from a dif—” She realized the thief was still at her flank. “You do not need to protect me, Elías.”
“I’m not so sure that’s true,” Elías said.
She nodded and scanned the treeline. “I’m sure Valerio is somewhere in a perch, watching everything here. This is a private conversation.”
“Very well,” Elías said, leaving.
“You’ll have to forgive my associate,” Sandy said. “He spent quite a bit of time in prison, so open spaces make him nervous.”
Mateo was just worried about this second associate, perched somewhere in a tree.
“Oo, he’s ready. Mister Lohner cannot travel to other worlds, not even through the Crossover, so he has sent me in his stead. But once I open the channel, it will be him all the way. Speak to him as if he were really here. Please do not be alarmed, and do not condemn him for this. I do this sort of thing all the time, and I do not a consider it a violation—thank you, Sandy,” she said in a lower tone, like they were just conversing in a business conference call. “I’m glad we could schedule this so everyone could be here.”
“Gaius,” Mateo said, almost accusatorily. This wasn’t the first time he he had spoken with someone via someone else’s voice, so it wasn’t all that strange.
“Mateo,” he said back. “Congratulations on your win. You bested your enemy once more. Unfortunately, this one will not become a friend later on. It’s sad, really, I could have used her for more stories.”
“Sorry to disappoint you.”
“No, it’s quite all right. It had to end this way. This is what we in the business call narrative symmetry. I think.”
“I thought it was irony,” Darko said.
“That too,” Gaius agreed. “As a reward, you will tomorrow see all of your friends returned to you.”
“No more expiations?” Mateo hoped.
“One more expiation. You never got to do one for President Puppy here.” He gestured towards Lincoln.
“That will not be necessary,” Mateo said. “Just keep him here with everyone else.”
“That I cannot do.”
“Can’t...or wont?”
“Won’t.”
“Your damn story.”
“Hey, I got three more installments before this wraps up, I gotta do something with them.”
“Well, what am I gonna have to do to get him back? Are the others going to be able to help?”
“I don’t see why not, but I do not know what the challenge will be.”
“Let me know when you figure it out.”
Gaius nodded with Sandy’s head.
“Is that all?” Darko asked passive-aggressively.
“No, that was just the reward. You still need a punishment.”
“Punishment for what?”
He held up his pen. “Do you know why this thing has power?”
“Magic,” Mateo assumed.
He smiled. Then he broke the pen into pieces, and let them fall to the ground. “It had power...because I gave it power. I wasn’t lying when I said you people had free will. President Puppy, you chose to erase Arcadia from the timeline.” He held up his hands pseudo-defensively. “I am beholden to your whims. You wanted her gone, you had in your possession something you believed would send her away...and so it did.”
“The pen is nothing?” Lincoln asked.
“The pen is me. I am the God. I erased her for you, because you thought you were erasing her.”
“Then what’s the problem?” Darko questioned. “If the pen was meaningless, and it was you the whole time, why would Lincoln need to be punished?”
Gaius made Sandy’s face all serious. “Because I wrote myself into the story, and I brought three of my characters into my world. Then one of them stole from me, which made me look like a fucking idiot!” He paused for effect. “I’m punishing you, because I can. Because I want to. Next year is going to be wildly different. I had plans for you, Matty-boy. You were gonna sacrifice yourself. Arcadia was going to give you a choice after you had all the expiations finished. She was gonna make you lose one person from the island. She was gonna come up with some bullshit loophole for this. She would think she was so clever, making sure she stipulated that you couldn’t choose her. What she didn’t count on, was you choosing yourself.”
“That sounds like him,” Darko said. “What went wrong?”
“What went wrong is that Arcadia’s gone, dumbass. I haven’t figured out how intelligent you are, Donnie, that’s why you’re all over the place.”
“What are you doing instead of that?” Mateo asked, trying to come back from the tangent.
The self-proclaimed God put a smile Sandy’s face. “I’m just gonna do it myself. No choice. No free will. Not this time. I’m going to erase you from reality, just like your friends. The difference is, there will no expiations to get you back. And no one will remember you. Not even Leona, not even Vearden. After tomorrow, you’ll be gone.”
“You can’t do this!” Lincoln cried.
“Pretty sure I one-hundred-percent can,” he said, this close to letting out a maniacal laugh. “Just be grateful I’m giving you tomorrow.” He took another pen from his pocket. “I could take you anytime I wanted.”
“You don’t have to do that,” Darko said, stepping in, worried about there being some struggle.
“Is there anything we can do?” Lincoln pleaded.
“Literally no. How does it feel to be normal? I told you I was gonna take away your power, and I did. You won’t remember him either. I recommend you take solace in that. In one year’s time, you won’t be angry anymore. And you, Mateo...you’ll feel nothing.”
“What happens to Leona?” Mateo asked.
“She’ll be fine,” Gaius answered. “I mean, she won’t be fine, but she’ll survive.”
“Can you not break her out of our pattern? Once I’m gone, can you not give her that? For me? One favor.”
“I’m not gonna lie to you. I’m not doing that. She stays as she is.”
“Worth a shot.”
“Indeed.”
“If you can’t do that, maybe you can do something else,” Mateo tried again.
“What’s that?”
“Give them back today,” Mateo requested. “Return the missing now, instead of waiting until tomorrow.”
He thought this over. “That I believe I can do.”
“Thank you,” Mateo said solemnly, humbly, defeated.
“Say goodbye,” Gaius instructed.
“Goodbye.”
Sandy’s body started swirling, like it was slowly becoming liquid, then it faded away, and she was gone.
“We have to do something,” Lincoln said. “I’ve lost my powers, it’s true, but I still remember a lot. There’s something called the Incorruptible Astrolabe. It can fix problems with reality. Last I heard, The Forger had it. Now, he hid it somewhere safe, but I think we can—”
“Linc,” Mateo interrupted. “Lincoln. It’s over. Whether I consider him to be a god or not, he has power. We can’t stop this. I’m just going to enjoy my last two days.”
Darko started tearing up.
“I’ve been alive for thousands of years, my friends. I will be okay. Just watch over Leona and Serif for me.”
“We can do that,” Darko promised.
Mateo smiled warmly as Baudin’s buildings started coming back into focus. “Today is the day we celebrate. Tomorrow...is also for celebration. The day after that, is up to you.”
As the buildings and the people began fading into view, Darko and Lincoln faded away. Reality was rewriting itself, putting everything back to the way it was. A lot of people appeared that he didn’t know, showing that this was once more the hub of the time traveler underground. Mateo started walking around, occasionally noticing people he recognized, moving about as if nothing had happened. Téa was just opening her shop for the day. Aura and Samsonite were helping assemble a mannequin. Horace and Lita were playing a game of catch in front of the Hall of Records. Paige was taking photographs of people. When asked about it, she said she was responsible for contributing to the salmon and chooser files that The Archivist keeps. James Van Der Beek was one of them. Darko and Marcy were enjoying the day on their front porch, while their daughter, Dar’cy was presently visiting friends in Sutvindr, with Lincoln.
There were a few people that weren’t there, though. All of Marcy’s family had been returned to them, except for Nestor, but were living somewhere on Earth. Saga was on a freelance mission in 1947 Bangladesh, and Mario was already gone for the day, saving people’s lives throughout history. Xearea, now almost seventy years old, had resumed her duties as Savior, teleporting all over Earth. Her job was much easier now, as people were far more capable of protecting themselves from freak accidents. Though Baudin had moved his offices to Tribulation Island, having the apparent memory that this was several years ago, he was at a work site at the moment. No one seemed to know where Gilbert was, and no one seemed to know who Kivi was. She had been erased from the timeline once again, which was sort of her modus operandi.
“Mateo,” came Leona’s voice from behind. “There you are. We’ve been looking all over for you.” She jogged up to him, Serif in tow.
“Hello, love,” Mateo said.
“Something feels wrong,” Leona said. “This all looks familiar, but I’m also experiencing fragments of memory from the island looking nothing like this.”
“Come, let’s have brunch,” Mateo said. “I’ll explain what I can.”

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Burning of Effigy: Chapter Two

Before even looking, I jump out of my seat and reach for my sidearm at my hip, which isn’t there, because I left it in Kansas City. I don’t recognize the woman that’s standing at the back entrance, but she’s smiling in a familiar way. “Effigy?” I guess.
“That’s right,” she replies. “No need to stay in fight or flight mode, Bran. I’m not going to hurt you.”
“Why should I believe you?” I ask. Realizing I need to protect Ezqava from this threat, I move between the two of them.
“Well, I certainly wouldn’t ever hurt her,” she tells me.
“What do you want?”
“To thank you,” Effigy says. “An alien literally lands at you feet, and you nurse her back to health without hesitation. That’s very big of you, and if we were living in a stable time loop, I would be personally grateful to you.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” I remain tense and alert. I’ve not actually seen her do anyone harm, but I obviously can’t trust her. She’s powerful and has admitted to having ill intentions for the future.
“You haven’t figured it out. How long have you been doin’ this Kally?” Effigy asks rhetorically. “She’s me. You’ve been helping me.”
I entertain the possibility that this is true, and suddenly jump away from Ezqava as well. Then I worry there’s a third one elsewhere in the house, and start jerking my head around like a paranoid chicken.
“Fear not,” Effigy says. “I do not sense this version of me turning out like I did. She has you. You’ve changed my history.”
“Then why are you still here?” I pose. “If meeting me created a non-evil version of you, why does evil you still exist?”
She doesn’t act like this is a problem. “Eh, I survived your meddling with the timeline. I suspect somebody sent you back here to fix the future. They’ll have to do better than that.”
I’m still wary of Ezqava, who has been characteristically quiet this whole time. I want to know what she thinks about all this, whether this will make things worse for her—if there’s no stopping the devil inside her—or if she’s still the injured, vulnerable, yet strong, and independent alien woman I met weeks ago. Either way, I have to keep a cool head. “Look at her.”
“What?” Effigy asks, not sure where I’m going with this.
“Look at this other version of yourself.”
“I am,” she says, still lost.
“No, really look at her,” I argue. “What’s the difference between you and her?”
“I just told you,” Effigy replies. “It’s you.”
“Okay,” I say, allowing that to be a fair proposition. “How do I make her better?”
“Well, you’ve been nice to her.”
“But you never had that.”
She’s losing her patience. “No, I didn’t. What’s this about?”
“Bear with me,” I assure her. I start walking around, and talking with my hands, like I’m presenting the introduction for an electronics corporation’s hottest new device. “So you’ve accepted the fact that Ezqava is better than you?”
“Well, I guess you have to stipulate what you mean by better.”
“People want to be around her,” I pose.
Effigy breathes in deep, not happy with admitting the truth. “Yeah. That.”
“Would you...want people to do the same for you? Do you want people to like you? Would you say this life Ezqava is on the brink of having is...preferable to the one you’ve lived so far?”
“I understand what you mean now,” Effigy says. “You’re suggesting that because I see a version of myself who people would call a good person, then I should strive to be more like her?”
“Your words, not mine.” By letting her come to the conclusion of my argument herself, she has no choice but to consider its validity. If she thought of it before I explained it, maybe it’s actually right. If I say too much, though, it may feel like a trick. I can’t have that.
“See? This is my problem,” she begins.
“You just have one?” I ask playfully.
She cracks a smile, but moves on, “people keep trying to fix me. They constantly appeal to my better angels. Pun intended.”
I don’t get the joke. I’m sure it’s a reference to something I don’t know about.
“And I’m not saying I don’t have a good side of me, I would never. I just find it bizarre that everyone I encounter seems to try to use this tactic on me. I expect so much pushback...anger...violence. All I get is love. It’s...”
“Reminiscent of home?” Ezqava finally says. “Of how home once was, that is. When all we knew was love?”
“You see, that’s the thing,” Effigy responds. “I am thinking of home. We left people behind. They’re trapped in hell, and I’m not talking about the crew members who were thrown into a universe where they’re looked upon as demons. I’m talkin’ about our home world. The problem has not been solved. Shuhana—” Just saying the name of this Shuhana person almost makes her throw a fit. “That bitch travels the bulkverse with the Crossover, but not once—not once!—has she gone back! She could save everybody! Why doesn’t she?” She gets up in my face. “You wanna know why I’m bad? You wanna know why I’m pissed off? It’s because I’m trying to save our people, and everyone is livid about that!”
“They may be under the impression that, if you bring your people here, they may not be quite as pleasant as you are,” I offer.
“That’s exactly right,” Ezqava says. “She opens a portal, the first to come through will be the warriors; the ones that have lost all hope, and any sense of decency. Whether she wants that or not, they’ll push their way to the front.”
Effigy is shaking her head. “It’s not that simple.”
“You know this to be true, and you don’t care.”
“It doesn’t matter.” Effigy starts talking with her hands too. “Our universe is the size of a solar system. They come here, we’ll have all the space we ever needed. This world is cut off, lightyears away from the nearest civilization. I’ll get them all here, and once they see that everything is gonna be okay, only then will I let them leave.”
Ezqava stands up and gently places her hand on her other self’s cheek. “You and I. We are not leaders.”
“Well neither is—”
“Neither is Shuhana,” Ezqava finishes Effigy’s complaint. “This isn’t about her. We’ll deal with her later. This is about you, and your misguided plans.” She composes herself. “This man has told me the things you’ve done. It sounds like you destroyed a whole town.”
Effigy’s anger seethes. “Everyone blames me for that. Correlation does not equal causality. We were thrown to this world, because it is the universe’s cesspool. Springfield and I are two separate victims of the same thing. This world took the city from its place. I had nothing to do with that.>
“Effigy,” I begin.
“What?”
“I’m sorry for what you’ve been through. Just so you know, I never blamed you for Springfield. When I was investigating it, I never considered the possibility that an individual did it on purpose. I’m sorry that others have.”
“Now you’re being nice to me, like you are to her.”
“Is it working?” I ask.
“A little,” Effigy confesses. She’s calm down by now, and is able to speak with Ezqava with respect. “Eqoz, I need your help. Maybe my plans weren’t all the way thought out, but I did have good intentions. I...I got a portal open. But it’s, umm...”
“What is it?” Ezqava asks. “You can tell me.”
“It’s incomplete? Our people keep crossing over, but they aren’t right. The humans call them monsters, but they’re just temporal anomalies. They’re just fragments of memory and attitude, with no cohesion, no identity. I guess they are monsters. Whatever it was that brought Springfield here, I ended up doing the same thing.”
“Then close the portal,” I suggest.
“I can’t. I’m not powerful enough.” She directs her attention to Ezqava. “But maybe together we are.”
Ezqava thinks this over. “Okay, I’ll help you, but only to close the portal; not to fix it, and let them all through.”
Effigy wasn’t particularly pleased by this, but does give in to it. “I can deal with that. I just want to end their suffering.”