The Burning of Effigy

Chapter One
For the last few weeks, I’ve been taking care of the alien that crashed on this world. She never speaks, but when I speak to her, she seems quite receptive to it, and I’ve been assuming she’s trying to encourage me to speak more. When I first pick her up, there’s nothing around, except for a few dead trees I can see in the distance. We’re obviously still not on Earth, so I realize that this is the best I’m gonna get. I tear them apart and set up a lean-to shelter, though I’m not sure it’s necessary. As terribly barren as this place is, there also doesn’t seem to be any weather. Still, as soon as you get too comfortable with something, it’s taken away from you, so just always be prepared. The shelter isn’t necessary for long either way, though. When the alien first wakes up, a tent suddenly appears several yards away. A couple days later, she’s a lot more lucid, and a log cabin appears to replace the tent. Over time, as her strength increases, we upgrade our lodgings. She has some power over this place, and I think perhaps maybe, she’ll eventually be able to get us out of it.
One day I’m reading her a book to her, that she apparently uncontrollably summoned, called God’s End of Paradise. One of the lines reads, “My name is Xanthia,” she said. “This is my son, Blaine.”
As if in response to this, the alien suddenly says, “my name is Ezqava.”
“What? You speak English?”
“I do now,” she says. She holds her hand out. “Ezqava Eodurus”
I timidly shake her hand. “As I’ve said, Kallias Bran. Did you learn just by listening to me?”
“Yes,” she replies. “It took me much longer that I thought it would.”
“You never tried to teach me your language.”
“I’m sure humans would not be able to produce all the sounds we use.”
That’s fair. “Now that we can communicate with each other, I can finally ask you.”
“Where did I come from?”
“No, can we leave this place?”
“I’ve tried many times. Everytime I grab your arm, you’ve interpreted it as mere affection, but I’m really just trying to teleport us to your world. I seem to have a lot of power here, but I cannot do that.”
“Would you not want to return to your own world?” I ask her.
“No one would want to go there.”
“Why not? Tell me about it.”
She sighs. “You live in a magnificent universe. There’s no telling how big it is, or even if it’s not infinite. My universe was not like this.”
“You’re from a different universe?” I ask, intrigued.
“I am, and for a time, it was fine. We lived in peace, and advanced at a decent rate. We built giant structures, and studied health, and learned from our mistakes. But then we wanted to travel to the stars. There must be something else out there, we would say. There must be someone we can meet, and learn from. And we must find other places to live, for we are running out of room. But this was impossible.”
“You encountered an evil alien race?” I guess.
“If only,” she says. “We could have fought against that, but not against the truth. The truth was...difficult to reconcile. We designed a ship powerful enough to travel beyond the confines of our solar system, hoping to reach interstellar space, like the ships in those books you read me. What we found...was that they did not exist.”
“What?”
“The stars weren’t real. They were...illusions...or maybe reflections of other universes. We don’t really know, but the ship crashed into the wall of the universe itself. We tried to retrieve our friends, but they were gone. Their remains were still floating in space, but they did not answer us. Kallias, they were dead. From what I can tell from your stories, your people experience death all the time. We had never heard of it.”
“You’re immortal?”
“We did not have a word for mortality, so no. We were just...alive. You’re born, you live, and then you live, and then you keep on living. This was how it was thousands of years. We had to built megastructures and get creative with our produce, just to provide for everyone, but we did it. The first time anyone died was when they reached the end of the cosmos. And it was then that we knew there was nowhere else to go. We were stuck.”
“What did you do?”
“For decades, we lived in war and strife. As it turns out, there are many other ways to die, if you work hard enough. The world was no longer safe. Enemies and the elderly were regularly sent off in other ships to the universe wall, for that was still the only thing no one could survive. We had to maintain the population at its number, if not lower it, or we would all be in danger. Some brilliant scientists, however, never gave up on finding new worlds. They realized that if there was an impenetrable wall just outside our solar system, then there must be something on the other side of it. If not in those stars, then maybe in other dimensions, or somewhere. They built a giant machine that they called—as translated to your language—The Crossover, for it was meant to cross us over to other universes. As you can see by my being here with you now, it worked, but it wasn’t all great. The bulkverse is dangerous. We found on the other side only more war.”
“In our universe?” I ask, ashamed.
“No, not here,” she clarifies, to my relief. “There are an infinite number of possibilities. But we did not realize this at the time. All we saw was pain and hate. We did not evolve these traits ourselves, for until we discovered our world to be finite, it was paradise. We didn’t know what true war was until we met the Ochivari.”
“Who are the Ochivari?”
“They are unimportant, for again, this was just one universe. We went to many others, searching for a home, so that our internal conflict could finally end. I do think we found it, but then I was jettisoned to wherever it is we are now, so I do not know what came of my people.”
I nod and walk into the kitchen for a glass of water. We’re now living in a house far nicer than anything I’ve ever been in. It’s only missing two things: basic entertainment, like television and radio, and a way to leave. “Are you thirsty?” I ask.
“Yes, thank you. Probably not more than you, though. This is a lot to swallow, I’m sure.”
I walk back over with her glass. “I’ve seen a lot in my life. Nothing can surprise me anymore. But now that I know where you’re from, I’m questioning why I’m here.”
“Whatever do you mean?”
“Well, I came here accidentally as well. I was traveling with someone who could show me the past, but we weren’t meant to interact with it. Sure, those rules were broken a time or two, but it’s different here. I am physically in this dimension, just as you are. This leads me to believe that someone wants me here.”
“You wanna know who and why?”
“Yeah, that would be nice. I’d love to help you, Ezqava, but I have no clue how. You’re the one with the powers. What good am I to you?”
She shook her head and smiled. “You weren’t brought here to get me out. You were just brought here to take care of me, which is what you’ve done.”
“You know this?” I ask, not sure how.
“It’s become clear to me that my powers always act to my benefit, whether I’m consciously aware of what I need or not. I didn’t create or summon this building by choice. It came to me simply because I wanted it. Likewise, you came to me, because I needed you. I needed someone, that is; why the gods of circumstance chose you is not a question I can answer. Which means that’s not really the question we should be asking.”
“Then what is?” I ask her.
“The question...is what are we gonna do now?”
I shake my head, at a loss.
She continues, “and also. Who is that behind you?”

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.
“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.”

Chapter Three
Coming soon...

Chapter Four
Coming soon...

Chapter Five
Coming soon...

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