Saturday, February 24, 2018

Void: Defiance (Part VIII)

The New Crusades, as they were so unoriginally called, were a set of small attacks destined to culminate in a war between those with time powers, and those without. What began as animosity between Durus natives, and Earthans, soon warped into something completely different. Angry about the petty squabbling of the derisory humans, the paramounts—which was what choosing ones were called now on this planet—decided to take charge. Armed with so much more power than humans could do anything about, they started moving people around their proverbial chessboard. They took over the government, and started instituting their own rules. Humans from either world were treated as second class citizens. This had the completely foreseen effect of galvanizing the humans into forming a mutual union. Not only had the paramounts known this would happen, but were counting on it. They figured that the only way the Durune natives, and the Earthan refugees, would ever get along, would be if they had some kind of enemy to battle together.
Unfortunately, certain paramounts in their ranks started liking their power, and were on a path of taking things too far past the point of no return. Drawing upon the lessons left behind by the ancient source mages, they thought they could achieve peace, and also maintain their power. They had it all lined out. They had control of the child who could create new Watersheds, and wanted to use this resource as leverage over others, so everyone would depend on them. One of them was a verter, who could control the aging process of individuals, which would allow them to stay young forever, further cementing their undefeatable tyranny. What they didn’t have, however, was Andromeda. She was the only builder anyone had ever heard of on Durus. If they wanted to build a kingdom without using slaves or indentured servants, they would either need her on their side, or be able to force her to do their bidding. It was unclear whether they were going to succeed in this, though, because all of this had happened in an alternate reality.
A paramount who was not interested in a Durus under oligarchical rule, went back in time, and contacted Earth. The Overseer, which was the woman Saga and Vearden had worked under during Operation Second Wind, sent a salmon battalion to Durus to change the outcome. If the world needed a mutual enemy to unite the two sides, they would have it. The natives hated them for being part of yet another invasion. The refugees hated them for refusing to return them to Earth. There were a few hostile actions against the battalion, which had established a temporary military state in order to achieve their goals, but the soldiers never retaliated with violence, and not a single person was harmed beyond superficial wounds. One of the paramounts reported to have become hungry for power in the other timeline was showing signs of repeating alternate history, so Andromeda and Saga were asked to postpone their one year anniversary getaway to speak with him.
Enobarbus ‘Barbwire’ Agnelli had the power to invoke the spirits of dead people, whom only he could see. Theoretically, this could be used to provide closure for the spirit’s loved ones. Instead, he just used the knowledge he gained from these conversations against his opponents, real or imagined. “What are you two doing here?” He didn’t necessarily hate them, he treated everyone with about the same amount of scorn.
“We just wanna talk.”
“You’re working for the battalion, aren’t you?”
“In the spirit of honesty,” Saga began, “I will admit to having a prior relationship with a sergeant in the battalion. We are here with information regarding your future, which we procured from the battalion, but we are not working for them.” That was neither true, nor untrue. She was asked to help, but she had no obligation to do so, nor to report back to Adolphe.
“What happens in my future?” Barbwire asked.
“You tell us?” Andromeda suggested.
“That’s not my power,” he said.
“Well, what do you want your future to be?” Saga asked.
He took a second to think about this, like he was just interviewing for a job. “I want to be able to use my powers how I want. I don’t want to have to hide them, or use them for noble causes. I don’t want to be ridiculed, or categorized, or controlled.” He spoke only to Andromeda now. “You and I are powerful people. We’re better than the humans—”
“She’s one of us,” Andromeda suggested.
“Well, not really,” he contended.
It was true, for as many times as Saga could open a door to another time and place of her choosing, there was an equal number of times when she couldn’t, or opened a door against her wishes. It was interesting that he seemed to recognize this in her. Most assumed that her powers were just rather screwy while on Durus, but he appeared to know that she was not actually a paramount.
He continued, “If we’re better, don’t we have an obligation to help them?”
“I would sure think so,” Andromeda agreed. “But...isn’t that everyone’s responsibility. If you have the power to help someone, you should. Everyone should, temporal powers or no.”
“Okay, so...this is what I can do.”
“You can do what?” Saga pressed.
“I’m not talking to you,” he spat.
Andromeda stuck her finger in his face. “Hey! You won’t talk to my wife that way.”
He took a breath, and pretended to calm down. “I’m sorry. This is just something only you can understand. You’re paramount...full paramount, and you’re from Durus. We’ve spent a lot of time complaining about how things are now, but not much time actually trying to change it. People thought the republic was such a great idea, but look where that got us. Women were inferior, and couldn’t even go outside without a man’s permission.”
“That’s over now.” Andromeda shook her head.
“Maybe. Maybe you’ve cleaned out the whole government, but it’s still based on this socialistic pipe dream that, as long as everybody has a job to do, nothing will go wrong.”
“You don’t really know what you’re talking about,” Saga told him.
He was about to attack her again, but restrained himself, because it was counterproductive to his objective. “My point is that we’ve all forgotten what things were like before. Way before. When we first came here, Smith ruled over everybody. Through fear. Then he disappeared, and the source mages came to power. That was our renaissance. Yes, Miss Einarsson, we have books here too, I know what the renaissance is. The source mages used their powers to create an order, and the world flourished. We had day, and we had night. We had houses, in towns, with grass, and other life. We had food, and security. We had people protecting us against the monsters. Everyone thinks that, now that the literal monsters are all gone, we have nothing further to worry about. Well, I’m here to tell you that humans are fully capable of being the monsters. I’m scared, Andy—”
“Andromeda,” she corrected.
“Andromeda,” he said apologetically, “I’m scared. I don’t want to go back to the first republic, or to the Smithtatorship, or Earthan control. And everything I’m seeing here is leading me to believe that one of those three things is on its way. Which one would you rather have? If it’s up to me, I pick door number four. I pick us.”
“The beauty of a republic, Mr. Barbwire, is that no one rules. The people decide. The people vote. You want to take that away from them.”
“The people are stupid,” he said.
“You sound like Drumpf.”
“He made some good points,” Barbwire said with a shrug, unashamed of his opinion.
“What makes you qualified?” Saga questioned. “Sure, you have time powers, but so do a lot of people. That doesn’t automatically mean you know how to run a planet. That would be ridiculous. Powers aren’t given to people because of who they are. They’re not given at all, you’re born with them, which means for every smart chooser, there’s a dumb one. I’m looking at one right now.”
“Be nice,” Andromeda warned.
Barbwire wasn’t pleased about having to explain himself to an unworthy salmon, but he worked past it. “Are you sure about that? Do you know for a fact who gets powers, and why? Have you studied it?”
Thinking he would have no way of knowing whether she had or not, she leaned forward and lied, “I have, yes.”
He looked at the space above Saga’s head, and then scoffed playfully. “No, you haven’t. You’re just a slave.”
Saga looked behind her, but saw no one.
“You fell into this life, completely unprepared,” he recited. “You did the best you could, but if these powers that be,” he spoke with airquotes, “wanted you to do something, you had to do it. Sure, you gained real power at some point, and even when you lost it, you kept an echo of it. But you’re still. Just. A. Slave.”
He was presumably referring to the time she absorbed The Cleaner’s power, and ultimately used it against him, which left her with residual powers that allowed her to transcend her station marginally. But how would he know that about her? Saga decided to test him. “That’s true, and that led to my downfall. I was literally taken out of time, like I never existed. But then my friend, Vearden brought me back, and we continued our job together. I remember this one time,” she said, faking nostalgia, “when the powers that be asked us to help a budding agricultural society learn how to irrigate their crops. We weren’t supposed to use any modern inventions, but I snuck some hose from the future, just to get them starte—”
“That never happened,” he yelled, still focused on something behind Saga. “You just made that up.”
“I knew it,” Saga said, standing up, and looking around aimlessly. “Vearden, are you there?”
Barbwire knew he’d been caught. “He can hear you, but he can’t help you.” He was using his power to speak with a past version of Vearden, which Saga should have expected, or at least caught onto earlier.
“He shouldn’t be helping you either. He would never betray me.”
“Fear not. He has to answer all of my psychic questions. That’s how my power works.”
She could imagine Vearden standing right next to her, invisible and silent, but desperately trying to communicate with her, and stop this madness.
“Enobarbus,” Andromeda scolded, “stop this right now!”
“Yeah, sure, whatever.”
“Wait,” Saga stopped him, much to his delight. “Is there any way for me to speak with him.
“Like I said, he can hear you.”
“But I can’t hear him.”
“I’m powerful, not a god,” Barbwire forced himself to acknowledge.
Saga walked over towards the door.
“What are you doing?” Barbwire asked.
She reached for the doorknob. “You shouldn’t have brought him here. If ever this door was gonna work, it would be right now.” She opened the door, revealing a gigantic hall, which did not exist in realspace. She stuck her head in a little. “Vearden! Oh, Vearden!”
“Hello?” came the voice of a woman from inside. A woman Saga didn’t recognize appeared from the other side of the hall.
“I’m looking for Vearden?” Saga requested.
“How did you open that door?” the woman asked as she drew closer.
“What the hell is this?” Barbwire demanded to know.
“This,” Saga said to him with a smile. “Is The Crossover. This reality’s Vearden lives here.” She presented her hand to the woman. “I’m afraid, we’ve not yet met.”
“In my universe, we hug when we first meet people,” she replied, arms wide.
Saga accepted the hug.
“My name is Mindy Novak. Vearden is indisposed at the moment. He is...nearing the end of his tenure here, so he’s preparing for his exit interview.”
“Oh,” Saga said sadly. “Are you replacing him?”
“A new primary operator has not been chosen yet.”
“I was hoping he me with this...problem,” she said to Mindy, referring to Barbwire, who was scared shitless.
Mindy took a look at him. “You’re Saga Einarsson? Vearden’s old friend?”
“I am.”
She took a device out of her pocket that resembled a tricorder, and pointed it at Barbwire, who was too stunned to move. “He’s not that relevant to this universe, I can take him off your hands.”
“Could you really?” Saga was surprised. She was really just hoping this Vearden could stop Barbwire from exploiting Ghost!Vearden.
“Some people can’t change, and just need to be removed from the equation. This may sound like murder is the only option, but all you really need is a different equation. I have a nice new home for him in mind.” She took him away, and it was over.

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