Saturday, November 5, 2016

Clean Sweep: Formerly Known as The Artist (Part II)

Click here for the previous installment...

In the beginning, a lot of people worked in The Gallery. It was one of the first places created once time travel was discovered long ago. Actually, the dimension where the Gallery is held already existed, but its interface was difficult to interpret. Only certain people were intelligent enough to grasp its complexities. And so Baudin, a.k.a. The Constructor, was contracted to design for them a new interface. He chose to help others understand time through art. Each painting represented a single view of a single moment in time. Now, you might think that the Gallery is used to engineer outcomes, which is something it could technically be used for, but its only purpose was to clean up the timeline, and rid it of inconsistencies.
Time travel within the temporal gallery itself is not possible. Though people inside are capable of perceiving reality manipulations, they are not allowed to modify these manipulations further. They are tied to what’s known as the Master Timeline. This is the reality that takes precedence over all others once time travel events have been fully exhausted. Now, this does not mean that the gallery workers understand perfectly how it’s all going to turn out. It’s just that every time a time traveler goes back to alter reality for the upteenth time, the gallery workers only remember that particular alteration. And they only remember this one because, from their perspective, that’s the only one that ever took place. Human perceive time in much the same way, except that they don’t have memory of the alteration, only of the result.
Over the years, gallery workers grew tired of their responsibility. They did not age, and would not die, but they also did not know love, or adventure. They could see people in the timestream making interesting choices, but they could make none of their own. They were slaves to their condition. So they left, but because of the nature of the gallery dimension, they were unable to return. They were free to live out their lives as they pleased, but this caused the gallery to experience diminishing returns, for no new person would be able to enter either.
Recently, relatively speaking, only two people remained in the Gallery, and found themselves struggling to maintain it. The funny thing about time travelers is that they are generally drawn to modifications during a certain period. As exciting as it might be to ride a dinosaur, it offers little satisfaction in the long-run. Despite the fact that most choosing ones can go to whenever they want, they tend to stay within a range of a couple hundred years of their birth, forwards and backwards. Furthermore, the closer one gets to the year 2100 of the Gregorian calendar, the more choosers there are. It is not quite clear why the 20th, 21st, 22nd, and 23rd centuries hold such a concentrated number of time travelers, but most simply accept that this is just the way it is.
The two Gallery holdouts spent some time trying to run the place as best they could, but in the end, they were forced to admit that they were just not good enough by themselves. As time was moving ever closer to a higher concentration of alterations, they grew desperately in need of some help. And so they got creative with how they went about exacting this help. Zeferino Preston was one of their new hires. Though all of them showed signs of rebelliousness, The Curator could see that Zeferino was the most dangerous, because he would sow seeds of doubt in the others.
Zeferino was never happy with being so powerless to change or reverse what the choosing ones were doing, or what the powers that be were forcing the salmon to do. Unlike the original workers who neglected their responsibilities to live out their lives in peace, Zeferino sought power. He wanted to be able to shape the timeline as he saw fit, and he was able to convince Nerakali and Arcadia to share in his dream. He began to generate entirely original temporal paintings, Nerakali began to rearrange people’s memories to her liking, and Arcadia began to establish a disastrous imbalance in reality. Together, these three were causing so much damage that the original two workers were forced to take drastic measures.
“Where’s Arcadia?”
“She’s gone,” the Curator, Erlendr said.
Zeferino repeated himself more deliberately, “where. Is. Aradia?”
The Curator chose to be brave and honest. “I sent her away. I sent her to Earth.”
“But you can get her back.”
“Decidedly no.”
“No, there’s a way. There’s a way to get her back. You have to do it.”
“I am afraid that it’s not possible. If we could do it, we would have brought back our original crew, and you wouldn’t even exist to have this conversation.”
“This is not a conversation!” Zeferino yelled. “This is a travesty! This is mutiny!”
Erlendr remained calm. “It is not mutiny. I own this place. You’re the one trying to take over.”
“Oh, don’t you speak to me in that jazz voice. Get angry! Get passionate! I sure as hell am!”
“I will not become you, Zeferino.”
Now Zeferino was seething. Banish his sister, fine, but insult him personally, and we have a problem. “How does Fury feel about this?”
“He understands. He knows that it’s best.”
“Well, of course he does. Once you’ve cleansed this place of all of us, he can just make more. He can replace us whenever he wants, with whatever he wants.”
“I am not removing you. I want you to stay.”
“What about Nerakali?”
“She will remain here as well. As long as you toe the line, you both have a home in the Gallery.”
“So Arcadia’s banishment had nothing to do with her. You just wanted to punish us. To punish me.”
“I wanted to teach you a lesson.”
“Oh, it’s been taught.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I’m saying that I understand now. I know what I have to do.”
“What are you talking about, Zef? What is it that you have to do?”
“You’ll see.” Zeferino started to walk away. At one time, the Gallery had a set of workers for security, but they were gone now, and no one could stop him.
“Zef,” Erlendr pleaded. “Zef,” he repeated. “Zef!” he finally yelled.
Zeferino turned around. “That’s my boy. Hold onto that anger. You’re gonna need it.”
Realizing Erlendr was assuming that Zeferino would need time to plan something for the future, he had no choice but to act immediately. He carefully stepped into The Artist’s room carrying temporal painting of a pond at magic hour, and shoved him inside of it.
From the other side of the Gallery, Erlendr could feel that something was wrong. He ran down the hallway and rushed in. “What have you done?”
“Now you’re stuck with me. You banished Arcadia, so I banished Fury. I believe the humans call this eye for an eye.”
“Oh my God, don’t you get it? You’ve doomed the timeline. Now it doesn’t matter whether you stay or go. This place is useless without Fury.”
“Fury does nothing. Well, he did nothing. Now he can go screw himself, for all I care.”
“You still don’t get it. There’s a reason we call him the Artist, instead of The Sculptor. He kept this place running just by being here. His temporal energy powered the gallery paintings themselves. We are hopeless without him. All your dreams of universal domination have been shattered. And you were the cause of your own demise. Congratulations. In only a few days, the paintings will die, and I won’t be able to banish you if I wanted. You were right, I’m stuck with you.”
Zeferino was heartbroken. He didn’t care about the timestream, but he did still long for control over it. Without the power to alter reality, his life had no meaning. Not while in the Gallery, anyway. He would have to leave, like all the others before him. “These paintings aren’t dead yet?”
“They’re running on fumes, but soon the energy reserves from Fury’s power will be totally expended. The paintings will continue to show us the timestream, but we won’t be able to do anything with them. What you see is what you get. You saw to that.”
“Then if there’s no power in the Gallery, Nerakali and I will have to find power in the timestream.”
“You can’t draw energy from the timestream. Believe me, we’ve tried.”
“I ain’t staying here. This place sucks anyway,” Zeferino lied. “I never liked it.”
Erlendr laughed. “Do whatever you want, Zeferino. It doesn’t matter anymore. Go down to the timestream, for all I care. At least you can’t do any worse than you’ve already from done up here.”
Zeferino walked away and muttered under his breath, “are you sure about that?” Click here for the next installment...

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