Saturday, December 14, 2019

Source Variant: Heaven Protects (Part XIII)

           Now things are really confusing. It was already tough for the Veardens and the Sagas to keep track of which Vearden, and which Saga they were interacting with. Who remembers what, and what have they been through? But now it’s all four of them, all together. They stand here awkwardly for a moment, in the Gondilak monitoring facility, before Vearen!Two breaks the ice. “So, you two figured out this was happening, right?”
“We had some idea,” Vearden!Three replies with a short nod, and a long blink.
“You’ve been dealing with the Gondilak?” Saga!Two guesses.
“Indeed,” Saga!Three confirms. “I assume you were in charge of the Orothsew.”
“That’s right.”
“So, are we gonna be okay?” Vearden!Two asks. “Are they gonna start fighting each other?”
“They haven’t been fighting,” Zektene explains from the computer.
Saxon is with her. He immediately jumped at the chance to look at a new system. “The Orothsew crossed the ocean decades ago. They came in peace, and they’ve remained as such this whole time. The drones report no history of violence.”
“Wow,” Vearden!Three says. “So we did it. Mission accomplished.”
“That doesn’t mean there aren’t any other threats,” Saga!Three explains. “Zek, what’s the last the drones saw of Cain.”
Zektene fiddles with the inputs. “He disappeared nearly ten years after we did. I think it took him that long to find it.”
“Find what?” Saga!Two asks.
“Don’t worry about it,” Vearden!Two assures her. “If he’s gone, that’s a good thing. This world should be safe now.”
“That’s not true,” Vearden!Three begins. “We still have to worry about the Worlonians.”
“The Ochivari,” Saxon says.
“The whatnow?” Vearden!Three asks.
“They’re not called Worlonians,” Saxon explains. “Ochivari is the name of their species.”
“Really?” Vearden!Three asks. “That’s weird.”
“Is it?” Saga!Two questions. “Humans don’t come from planet Huma, or something.”
“Well, that’s true,” Vearden!Three has to admit.
“Who are these people?” Saga!Three prompts.
“Bad aliens,” Vearden!Three answers. “Real bad aliens. Probably worse than the Maramon.”
“Maybe about equal,” Saxon claims. “The Ochivari want to destroy all life in the multiverse, so that no one else gets to go to heaven.”
“Then they must be worse than the Maramon,” Vearden!Two says. “The white monsters aren’t super great, but they don’t want to kill everyone. Their motivations are diverse, and their agendas nuanced.”
“He’s right,” Saga!Two supports. “I’ve seen what happens when a Maramon is removed from its natural environment, and taught right from wrong. They can be reasoned with.”
“Yes,” Saga!Three adds. “This world is proof of what they can do when they choose to be good.”
“Huh?” Vearden!Three asks. “What do the Maramon have to do with this planet?”
“They’re the Gondilak,” Vearden!Two says to him. “Or rather, the Gondilak are Maramon...their descendants.”
“Oh my God,” Saxon exclaims. “They’re the source variant, aren’t they!”
“That’s what Ramses called it,” Saga!Three acknowledges.
Now everything is starting to make sense. Both the humans and the Maramon chose to settle on this planet, but at different points in history. Now they’ve come together, and things seem to be going fine. Saxon and Zektene continue to catch up on the data, skimming climate patterns, and contact history. The other four mostly catch up with each other, even though this is the first time any of them has been in a situation like this. It doesn’t seem weird, though. Now that the shock of meeting alternate versions of themselves has passed, it’s actually kind of nice. Sure, their respective alts had different experiences, but there’s a shorthand between them that they would never be able to find with anyone else. Both Veardens know they can trust each other with their secrets, while both Sagas feel the same.
They listen to the updates that the other two in their newly formed group relay to them, but most of it isn’t very interesting. Current events have been pretty uneventful. This is around the same time Saga!Two and Vearden!Two were on Orolak in the second timeline, and things are extremely different. It’s satisfying to see the fruits of their labor, and to know that everything they’ve been doing for the last millennium hasn’t been a huge waste of time. The last thing they do before sharing a meal is show each other their funny McIver hats. Everyone is jealous of Vearden!Three’s beard beanie, which Vearden!Two recalls seeing once when he was browsing the internet in the other timeline.
“So, what do we think the mission is?” Saxon asks as Saga!Two is passing him the mashed potatoes. “I mean, why were you four finally reunited, and why now?”
“Well, this isn’t really a reunion,” Vearden!Two explains. “I’ve never met Vearden!Three here.”
“Neither have I,” Saga!Three says. “I hadn’t met anybody until all this, actually.”
“You know what I mean,” Saxon says. “You’ve spent centuries apart; separated on two continents by an ocean. According to our collective experiences, we haven’t gone anywhere without a purpose. But the Orothsew and Gondilak seem fine without us.”
“Maybe the missions are over,” Vearden!Three suggests. “Maybe that’s the point. We’ve done our jobs; preparing for the two races coming together.”
Saga!Three, Vearden!Two, and Zektene aren’t obligated to say anything at this point, and no one else responds either, but it feels like they’re somehow more silent than everybody else who isn’t talking. It’s like they’re avoiding the conversation actively, rather than passively.
“Okay, what is it?” Saxon asks, concerned.
“We went off mission,” Saga!Three finally replies.
“We weren’t supposed to help the Gondilak,” Vearden!Two continues the explanation. “We were supposed to kill them”
“Once we failed to do that,” Zektene contributes, “we were at least supposed to slow them down, so your people could wipe them out.”
“Oh my God,” is all Vearden!Three can say.
“That’s terrible,” Saga!Two adds.
“Well, it didn’t go that way,” Saxon reminds them. “What you did worked, and the Orothsew and Gondilak will never know how grateful they should be for you.”
“For us,” Saga!Two clarifies. “This whole thing required all six of us, and it required not listening to The Delegator, apparently to varying degrees.”
Vearden!Three smiles widely. “We should all feel proud. We stopped a frickin’ world war. Who else can say that?”
“I heard the salmon battalion stopped World War III,” Vearden!Two reveals.
“That’s an urban legend,” Saga!Two refutes. “They won wars, but they didn’t stop any.”
“Speaking of war,” Vearden!Two says, “tell us more about these Ochivari.”
“We don’t know much about them,” Saxon begins. “It’s mostly about three little Latin words. Loci non grata. Just the fact that Earth has banned all travel to Worlon space is enough to frighten me. I mean, there are worlds we don’t get along with very well, but we do try to interact with them on some level. LNG means no ambassadors, no mediators, no negotiations. If your ship has gone derelict within three light years of Worlon, you’re just straight up expected to let yourself die; it’s that bad.”
“They’re a Class XI threat,” Vearden!Three says, “which Saxon here evidently didn’t even know existed.”
“Really?” Zektene is interested. “Tell me about the classes.”
Saxon wipes his mouth to prepare for the lecture. “It’s a pretty straightforward ranking system for threats to life. A Class I threat would be to an individual; like a murderer, or something. Class II would be for a group of people...a mass murderer. Class three is city, then region, then continent, then the whole planet. Class VII threatens the whole solar system, while Class VIII the stellar neighborhood. As far as I know, nothing has been designated threat level IX for the whole galaxy, or X for the universe. And as we’ve said, Class XI is an entirely new thing, for something that could be dangerous for the multiverse.”
“Bulkverse,” Zektene corrects. “It’s called the bulkverse.”
“Oh, okay, so it is real?” Vearden!Three asks.
“Yes,” Saga!Two says to him somewhat quieter,  “the Maramon are from another universe. I explained this to you.”
“Well, yeah, but I didn’t know there are more than that.”
“She’s from a place called the Composite Universe,” Vearden!Two says, pointing to Zektene.
“Yes,” Zektene says. “It is for this reason that I must ask you a question. Would these Ochivari, perhaps...possibly resemble dragonflies?”
“Um...” Saxon is uncomfortable. “They do, yes.”
“Yeah, they came to my world once,” Zektene discloses. “They didn’t ask for anything. They just started killing people.”
“What did you do?”
“We used our superpowers, and destroyed them right back,” Zektene says as if it were obvious.
“We might need those powers here,” Saga!Two says to her. “We’re not sure when the Ochivari are coming, only that they are. The Orothsew and Gondilak might not be prepared for it when that happens.”
“Well, how has Earth prepared to protect themselves?” Vearden!Two asks her.
“A number of things,” Saxon answers instead. “I don’t have all the details, but it’s all about SCR&M. Safety, Compartmentalization, Redundancy, and Modularization. The first line of defense is recon and early warning, of course, but for anything incoming, they’re also protected by a gargantuan shield that encompasses the whole system. There are trillions of planetesimals, and other celestial bodies in spherical orbit in something called the Oort cloud, only fractions of a light year from the center. Almost every single one of them is equipped with defensive and/or offensive measures. If something were to get past that, they’ll have to deal with the armada of reserve warships, a satellite fleet, and an array of surface weapons. For the people, it’s estimated that Earth could be one hundred percent evacuated in five hours. Other planets have fewer people, and less atmosphere, so they could escape even faster.”
No one says anything for a moment or two. They’ve also stopped eating.
“All right,” Vearden!Two says, dropping his napkin on his plate. “Let’s do that.”
“Do what?” Saxon asks. “Build a defensive contingency around this solar system?”
“Well, I don’t know that it has to be the solar system, does it?” Vearden!Two believes. “We just need to protect the planet. It’s the only place that’s inhabited, ain’t it?”
“Theoretically,” Saxon admits.
Vearden!Three stands up. “We already have artificial satellites in orbit, right? I know the humans put at least one up there. I assume the Maramon did as well.”
“This is the mission,” Zektene decides. “This is what we’re here to do.”
“Hold on,” Saxon argues. “We are not qualified to try anything like this.”
You are,” Saga!Two claims. “You helped build the quantum seeder network, and you told us about those gigantic telescopes just outside the Milky Way. We can’t pick up a hammer and some nails, and expect to get anything done, but we can come up with ideas, and you and Zektene can program the AIs to do the actual construction.”
“This sounds impossible,” Saga!Three can’t help but feel.
“I would rather try than not,” says Saga!Two. “If you’re anything like me, you feel the same.”
“Don’t you just wanna get back to your daughter?” Saga!Three asks her.
Saga!Two stands up. “I wanna protect her. Maybe this is how we do it, because we have to protect the human race, and everything that comes from it...even if it’s against something else that comes from it.”
Saxon shakes his head. “This is a tall order.”
“Then let’s find a ladder,” Vearden!Two and Vearden!Three say simultaneously.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Microstory 1255: Lita Prieto

Angelita Prieto always felt like the world was magical, but she was still surprised that there seemed to be some literal truth to the matter. She first met Mario Matic in 1998 when he suddenly showed up, and warned her not to go out in the ocean. She heeded his warning, even though she had no reason to believe this random stranger’s claims that something bad was going to happen. It wasn’t like a Final Destination movie; no one died that day, so there was no proof that his caution was at all warranted. She felt like she could trust him, however, and she had to surrender to her intuition. He continued to appear throughout her life, giving her little snippets of advice, and making sure she stayed on track. Sometimes she could see the results of his interventions, like when he literally caught her after she tripped climbing up the stairs of a mountain, but other times she just had to have faith that what he was telling her was going to help. Between 2014, and most of 2017, he was nowhere to be found, until one day she saw him again. The funny thing was that he actually looked a little bit younger, a truth she realized when she made an inside joke to him, and he had no idea what she was talking about. In fact, he didn’t recognize Lita at all. This must have been in his past, before he started going through time, and helping her out. The interesting way that they met for the first time was enough to motivate them to stay in touch. She later learned that he was indeed a time traveler, but that he had no control over when and where he went. He had been given time off before to rest and recuperate, but never had he been allotted two straight years of vacation. This was long enough for them to get to know each other properly, and start a real life together. Like a gift, Mario’s time jumps began to be a little more structured. He still had no control over them, but the powers that be maintained a balance for him. If he spent two days at work in some other point in spacetime, for instance, two days will have passed for her in 2019. Lita was always waiting for him when he came home, just like anyone would for a globetrotting love interest. It didn’t take her long to get used to her new life. Lots of people didn’t see their spouses every single day. That didn’t mean they would grow apart, or she would start to resent that they weren’t in control of his schedule. They made it work. They would even call themselves happy. Unfortunately, their domestic bliss didn’t last forever. A vengeful time traveler took them from their lives, and marooned them on an island on a planet millions of light years from Earth. From there, things only got worse. Their daughter was taken from them to protect her, and it was a long time before either of them saw her again. The family reunion did not go as well as they had hoped either, and Angelita doubted that she would ever be happy again.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Microstory 1254: Apothem Sarkisyan

All of the Sarkisyan children were named after mathematical terms, but Apothem Sarkisyan’s older sister, Dodeka was the only relative that he ever knew. His father was killed by a time traveling vigilante, leaving the two of them parentless. The rest of the children were being cared for elsewhere. Concerned for their wellbeing, a powerful choosing one named Meliora kept the siblings from foster care, and relocated them to a planet millions of light years away, where she had begun to populate protected hotel for those who had been negatively impacted by time travel. Dodeka would come to work of the hotel, and unwittingly start a movement that would translate into an entirely new society, but Apothem had no such aspirations. Technically, at the time of his arrival, working was not a requirement. Of course, he was a child at that point anyway, but as he grew up, he didn’t really see the need for having a job. He did, however, seek adventure, and if there was one thing the warded planet didn’t provide, it was a life of excitement. He was in his early twenties, and living a relatively sedentary lifestyle, when a special machine arrived. It was called The Crossover, because it was capable of traversing the space between separate universes. The operator at the time was seeking guidance from Meliora on an unrelated matter, but since the Sarkisyans were close to her, Apothem was around. The crew agreed to give him a tour, and he was so fascinated by the machine that he expressed a desire to travel on it with them. Seeing no reason not to, everyone agreed to let him leave, but it was not without conditions. The Crossover regularly experienced personnel turnover, none of whom were only passengers. Everyone had something to do, even if it was only to complete missions on other worlds. Apothem could only come if he contributed in his own way. The only thing that he was qualified for, however, was working in the hotel section, so that was where he went. He didn’t really have any experience in the industry, but he often watched his sister work, so he had some idea of what to do. This was how he became Kingdom Hotel’s bellhop, eventually adopting the moniker of Bell. This wasn’t part of some master plan, and they weren’t codependent, or anything. He and his sister found their respective callings under wildly different conditions, and in the grand scheme of things, they had wildly different responsibilities. He would go down in history as the longest running crew member of The Crossover of all. Operators and pilots come and go, but he just stayed with it. Sometimes the job was really stressful, but most of the time, he just hung out, and visited strange new worlds. This was the life, and he would never give it up.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Microstory 1253: Raphael Neville

Though he was born and raised on Earth, Raphael Neville spent a healthy chunk of his life on Durus. He was an unwilling participant in the 2161 Deathspring, which saw to it that thousands of refugees were helplessly pulled up to a passing rogue planet. This occurred in the middle of his wedding with one Wayne Crawford, so he didn’t care, because as long as he was with the love of his life, it didn’t matter where they lived. Things were difficult for the refugees in the beginning, though. The native Durune, which were all relatively recent descendants of Earthans themselves, developed a nationalist-like attitude towards the newcomers. This was only exacerbated by the bigotry that plagued the government at the time. Though society was improving, and wising up to the logic behind equality, it would be a long time before the world truly functioned properly. Still, this was where Wayne and Raphael made their life together. There was no way back, so they had to make the best of it, and find joy where they could. Though institutionalized misogyny had been abolished, there were still a lot of men who believed that women could not be trusted, and even some who outright believed they were inferior. They were objects to be owned by a man, and treated however that man wished. One of these men decided that he wasn’t going to accept how the world had changed, and mostly as an act of defiance, he raped a neighbor of his. Not only did he not try to keep her quiet about what happened, but he proudly boasted of his conquest, to anyone who would listen. Of course, he was arrested for his crime, and was never given the opportunity to hurt anyone again, but this is not his story.

The young woman belonged to a religion that didn’t believe in abortion. She didn’t have to raise the baby herself, but she wasn’t allowed to not give birth. She did not feel pressured to follow these rules; they were part of her convictions as well. But she also could not take care of the child. It was the product of rape, and she didnt feel like she could handle that constant reminder. And so Raphael and Wayne adopted the little baby girl, naming her Vitalie Crawville. Before too long, some other people came to Durus in a ship, which provided a chance for a select few to be ferried to Earth, whether they had been part of the Deathspring, or otherwise. Wayne was ecstatic. He would finally be back where he felt he belonged, and might once more get to see everyone else he loved. Raphael did not feel the same way. He was against leaving. He and his husband were both from Earth, but their daughter was from Durus. Did she not have the right to know her own home? They fought about it for months until he felt like it was no longer worth it, and just gave in. After they were all three chosen as passengers, they boarded The Elizabeth Warren, and began the years-long journey to the homeworld. Little Vitalie grew up on Durus, and then on that ship, where they learned she possessed a special time power, and then she grew up some more on Earth. She had made friends with the crew, because of her gift, so her life took her on many adventures with her new friends; away from her fathers. Raphael began to resent his husband for having forced them into this, believing that they would have had more time with their daughter if they had just stayed put. The fighting started again, and eventually threatened their marriage. Only through hard work, and professional help, did they get through it. Raphael was able to accept that his new life was here, and that Vitalie was now old enough to live her own life wherever she wanted. That was really all he ever wanted for her.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Microstory 1252: Duke Andrews

Duke Andrews was born in Grand Junction, Colorado, but he always had a draw towards the Kansas City area that he could never explain. He visited there at least once a year since he was eight years old, which his parents were happy to do for him, because they were happy to do pretty much anything. They didn’t coddle or dote on him, but they did believe it was important for their child to exert his independence, vocalize his desires, and try new things. They wanted him to see the world, so Kansas City was just one of the many places he went. His great aunt, Bubbles (real name) was a retired middle school, so she traveled with them as his tutor. She didn’t know everything he wanted to learn about, but they always managed to find a really good library for him to study what he wanted. It was through these studies that he eventually landed in the field of natural science. He excelled in biology and physics, but he liked all science, and learning in general. He moved to Kansas City as an adult, and lived their permanently to pursue his work. The career he ended up with happened because of a series of events in his life, but it wasn’t like it was all part of some plan, or a dream. He didn’t want to be a scientist when he was a kid. He didn’t really have any thoughts on the matter at all. His parents taught him to live in the present, and not think too much about the future. He was always just what he was at any moment. That wasn’t to say he didn’t have ambition; he just didn’t let himself be disappointed when things didn’t go quite his way, and he liked to practice being grateful for what he was able to accomplish, or gain. It was a big surprise to everyone when he helped found what later became a multi-billion dollar corporation. It wasn’t something his parents would have wanted for him, but again, they were supportive of their son’s choices. He didn’t do it for the money, and he didn’t do it to change the world. It all just made sense, based on everything else he had done up to that point. He lived, he nurtured his company, he met a few time travelers, and he died. This was what Duke Andrews did, but it wasn’t who he was. Duke Andrews was a learner. His instinct to understand the world around him was what truly drove him forward, right up until the very end.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Microstory 1251: Asuk Ortega

In the sixth century, by the new calendar, humans were a rare species. They were very important, and well respected by the rest of the vonearthans, however. Revered might be an even better word to describe it. Long ago, their ancestors figured out how to make themselves immortal. With advancements in biomedical science, technological enhancements, and other related fields, death was cured. Not everyone wanted to take the cure, though. There were indeed those who opposed it on moral or religious grounds, but they eventually died out, because of course, they wanted to. Each generation believed in the cause they were born into less and less, until there was almost no one left. Only one faction of purely biological humans remained, and despite the fact that other human subspecies were in various stages of biological development on other planets, these on and around Earth were the most protected. You see, the descendants of humanity realized that their species could not truly procreate. Sure, they could build other lifeforms in their likeness, but they weren’t really their children. They could be as different from their creators as the acorn is to the whale. So they no longer had bloodlines, or even an inorganic analog to them. They had creators, and their creations, which could one day become creators. Collectively, this saddened them, and they determined that they didn’t want to let go of their roots entirely. They didn’t want real humans to become extinct, as was forewarned by many futurists of yesteryear. To combat this prospect, all they did was set aside small pockets of human populations. They were free to do as they wished, but the point was to keep human life, well...alive. But this led to a dilemma. What if these biological humans, who would one day die, decided they wanted to live forever, just like everyone else? Well, they were free to do that as well. The nonbiologicals didn’t want to pose any restrictions on the younglings, as they would sometimes call them affectionately. They asked the people who desired to be upgraded to hold off on doing so until they could propagate the species themselves, but they did not require it. If extinction was inevitable, then that would just have to be the way it was. Fortunately, it would seem not so impossible. Enough humans remained on Earth, and some neighboring worlds, to maintain healthy numbers. Some did decide to eventually become technologically immortal, but others chose to live full lives, and then die.

Asuk Ortega and his family were regular humans. His parents never wanted to be enhanced, but Asuk wasn’t certain. Living forever sounded pretty enticing. To ensure he understood what choice he had to make, his parents enrolled him in a special school. It taught him the extreme of both sides; how to live like a survivalist with almost no resources, and also how to exist as a conscious piece of machinery. It was during the first half of his lessons that he encountered Paige Turner. She was a time traveler from centuries in the past. Though he hadn’t heard of real time travel before, he wasn’t too astonished by it. He grew up with easy access to anything he might have wanted, or anywhere in the galaxy he might have wanted to go. He was just grateful to finally have a friend. The life of a human that far in the timeline was lonely. The people around him didn’t shy away from upgrades completely. They still connected themselves to virtual constructs, and someone doing anything in the real world was harder to find every day. About the only way to lead an interesting life was to travel around, either throughout the solar system, or to the stars. All of the museums and historical locations were gone, unless they were natural wonders. Being a nomad was just how it had to be if one wanted to avoid boredom. But then Asuk got an idea. All his life, he knew he had to make a choice between two paths. He could become immortal, or remain human. Yet here was this other option. Time travel was the ultimate nomadic journey, and he wouldn’t be able to see everything he wanted to if he went with either of the other two choices. Time travelers weren’t allowed too many technological upgrades, but humans didn’t live very long. He had to become an immortal through some other means. And that was when his story began.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 23, 2261

A couple months ago, Hogarth and Hilde decided to use the Nexus replica to visit the planet of Dardius, and prepare for the living memorial services. They were met with suspicion and reluctance, as no one there knew who they were. They had no choice but to return to Glisnia, and retrieve the only two people on the planet who could help the situation. It didn’t matter that Vitalie no longer possessed her memories, or that she technically had never set foot on the distant world. She was a respected friend of the planet’s owners, as was Étude. This left Pribadium alone with her thoughts, and according to Pribadium, that was usually when she invented things. While Holly Blue was a choosing one with the ability to intuitively build technology that exploited loopholes in spacetime, Pribadium was smart enough to come up with such things on her own. Hogarth and Hokusai had proven themselves capable of doing it on their own as well, through science and hard work, but there was one ingredient they were never able to do without. They required a special part called the cylicone. It was present in all temporal objects, in some capacity. No one truly understood how it worked, but as long as it was integrated properly, it always did. More importantly, whatever the object was, it wouldn’t work without the cylicone. Until now.
Pribadium built a teleportation machine. These weren’t too terribly uncommon, of course. The people of Durus used them in their everyday lives, and Kolby Morse carried a gun that could banish his targets to Beaver Haven Rehabilitation Center. But again, they all required the cylicone, and were all based on people with abilities. What Pribadium accomplished was astonishing not only because she had come up with the idea, and executed it to completion, within a matter of weeks, but also because it was done through science alone. It didn’t attach itself to natural tears in the spacetime continuum. It didn’t adapt a chooser’s ability to teleport. It was a genuine invention, which they came to learn could have terrible consequences.
“What’s the big deal?” Mateo asked.
“Okay,” Étude began. “You’ve heard of the internet.”
“No,” Mateo joked in deadpan.
Étude ignored the snark. “There are bad corners of the internet, where bad people do bad things. They may be hard to get to, but they’re all part of the same network. Everyone uses the same network; same cables, and signals, and whatnot. If you want a separate one, then you’re kind of limited to a single building’s closed intranet. What Pribadium did was build a separate network. A new one. It’s small; it’s like an intranet now, but it could potentially be scaled up, and that could change everything. I honestly can’t tell you what that means.”
“Well, what does it change?” Cassidy questioned. “Isn’t the end result the same?”
Leona shook her head. “It could even the playing field,” she said cryptically.
“Why can only some people travel through nonlinear time?” Leona posed.
“I don’t know, why?” Mateo asked right back.
“I don’t know,” Leona echoed. “We call the people who can’t do it humans, or regular humans. They get sick, and they may even die. It could be a genetic thing; it could even be environmental, but the powers that be appear to have limitations of their own. They can’t just call anyone they want to duty. If they could, they would probably stick to people they know will do their bidding, and won’t question orders.”
No one responds.
“Look at it this way,” Leona continued. “Let’s imagine that time travelers didn’t exist. No choosers, no powers, no salmon, no chosen ones, no spawn. You can’t be born with powers, and you can’t be put on a pattern. Before you found out about all this, that was the world you thought you were living in. That was normal. But what was also normal was scientific advancement. No one here is old enough to remember a time before cell phones existed, but some of us were close. They didn’t exist, and then they did, and then they got better, and now we’re so far beyond the form factor that holding a little rectangle in your hand seems laughable to people living in the 23rd century.”
“What’s your point?” Pribadium asked. She had been impressively quiet while she tried to figure out whether everyone was upset with her for what she had created.
Now Leona focused her attention directly on her. “You invented time travel, Pribadium. You had been exposed to some of the concepts, but not a lot, and none of it had anything to do with teleportation. I mean, you just figured this out. Regular humans can now do what we do. No apparent side effects, no downsides. That’s, quite frankly, dangerous. It’s bad enough that some people can do the things they can, but if we just let that get out into the world—nay, the galaxy—then what does the timeline look like?”
“I didn’t invent time travel,” Pribadium defended. “You can’t go backwards, and change history. You can just jump to the other side of the world, at the farthest.”
Leona smiled. “The people who invented the cell phone couldn’t use it to access their emails, if they even had email accounts by then. This is a step, and we can’t be sure it’s a good one.”
“Are you telling me to destroy this?” Pribadium asked.
“Why did you build it?”
She shrugged. “I was just trying to get to the Nexus easier and faster. I didn’t give it much thought. I wasn’t trying to change the galaxy,” she said with airquotes.
“You can’t put the genie back in the bottle,” Étude cautioned.
“Why do people say that?” Cassidy asked. “Yes, you can. It happened, like, every episode of the show that was dedicated to a man and his genie slave girl.”
“It’s just an expression,” Étude clarified. “The lesson holds. You’ve done something that can’t be undone.”
“Hmm,” Vitalie began, “well, that’s not true, is it?”
Étude scoffed. “We’re not going back in time to prevent the invention of time travel. If we’re gonna base all our decisions on movies and TV, then when has that plan ever worked?”
“We just have to keep quiet about it,” Mateo suggested. “Hardly anyone else lives here, and the nearest colony is miles and miles away, on the other side of a mountain range. We’re not telling anyone about the Nexus either, right?”
For some reason, that made everything really awkward.
“It’s not like we don’t trust each other with this information, right?” He pressed.
Still awkward.
“I’m so stupid, I’ll forget about this in a week. I know I can trust Leona. Cassidy can trust her mother, and vice versa. Étude trusts Vitalie. Hogarth and Hilde trusts each other. Leona can trust both Hogar—”
“Me,” Pribadium interrupted his rant. “They’re worried about what I’ll do next. If I don’t tell anyone about this, I could still do it again, or something like it. I’m the flight risk.”
“We don’t think that,” Leona said with a shake of her head.
“It’s okay,” Pribadium lied. “I don’t belong in this group. I fell into this, and I understand that.”
“We all fell into this,” Cassidy tried to comfort her. “I spent most of my life oblivious, until someone sent me to the future. Hogarth exploded herself accidentally. Vitalie jumped through a hatch, after being rediscovered in another universe without her memories. My mom is really the only one here who was born into this life.”
“It’s true,” Étude agreed. “No one thinks you don’t belong here. We’re just worried. Holly Blue regrets a lot of the things she invented.”
“Lord knows I do too,” Hogarth chimed in.
Hilde finally decided to speak. “Has anyone considered the possibility that this is a good thing? Maybe we humans deserve this? Maybe this technology can put an end to the powers that be’s...power.” She tilted her head at the odd grammar, but moved on. “Maybe the choosing ones won’t feel so special anymore, and thusly, not so violent and annoying.”
Even though Mateo was salmon, he had always been bothered by the us versus them mentality. Even calling people without powers or patterns humans seemed so, well...racist. He never let go of his original identity. He always preferred to treat everything he had gone through, and had yet to go through, as the conditions of his life, rather than the nature of his self. All of this was what he did, not who he was at his core. It was less about being a time traveler, and more about being a person who traveled through time. So he felt for Hilde’s position, and couldn’t say that he disagreed with her on this issue. Maybe everyone else was blowing it out of proportion, and things would only become bad if the people in this room remained so nervous about it.
“Let’s set this aside, and focus on Mateo’s funeral,” Vitalie mediated, knowing that if the conversation were to continue, things could get pretty heated; worse than they were on the ultimately detoured way to Dardius last year.
“Oh, yeah, we’re not doing that today,” Étude explained. “You really need to pay attention when we go off and do things, and talk to people.”
“I’m just gonna forget it anyway,” Vitalie argued. Well yeah, in a half century.
“The Dardieti government is dealing with some internal matters right now that make holding a global memorial service too complicated. They intend to hold off on the news. As sad as it is, the event could unite the peoples, but only if they handle with care.”
“How long do they wanna wait?” Leona asked.
“For you?” Étude asked rhetorically. “Three days. Estimate.”
“Whatever,” Leona said. Mateo thought she was taking this too lightly, and was probably underestimating how traumatic the experience would be for her, even though he was as of yet, still alive. He couldn’t say that to her, though. This was her journey, and he would support her during any emotional crisis that did or didn’t come her way.
“Well, that’s good,” Pribadium said. “I have some other ideas I’m working on, and to prevent anyone from freaking out about them, I need Hogarth to help me with them.”
“What are they?” Hogarth asked, concerned but curious.
For whatever reason, Pribadium looked over at Cassidy. “I was thinking we could do something to help her.” Help her how?

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Source Variant: World Class (Part XII)

Before they could proceed, Saga!Three needed to know who this Cain individual was. Vearden!Two and Zektene took turns recounting how the two of them met, and how Cain was involved. He was genetically engineered by the white monster progenitors of the Gondilak. He and the hybrids were then sent to each of a very specific group of humans with time powers called Newtonian Expats, all of which were from this universe, but were accidentally sent to separate ones. Most of the hybrids rejected their mandate, and became friends with the Expats, but Cain stayed true. Or at least, if his agenda changed, it wasn’t to become a better person. They all ended up meeting up with each other at the same location. Vearden!Two was swept away with two of them, while they encountered Zektene later on her home world. Cain continued to operate against them, until he was supposed to have been killed. Though, when time travel is involved, things like that get complicated. They get even more complicated when you take into account other universes, so the Cain they saw on the monitors could be from anywhere in his personal timeline. There’s no telling what he’s been through.
After class, Zektene got back on the computer, and narrowed her search parameters. They wanted to find all instances of Cain throughout this continent’s history, and they also wanted to know exactly where he was right now. There wasn’t much to find. Since he was waving at one of the drones in the first picture, he clearly knew that it wasn’t just some bug flying around. It would be no surprise to find out he figured out how to avoid further cameras. There were a couple blurry shots here and there, but for the most part, they were unable to determine a pattern to his movements, reason for his being there, motivation for his actions, or plans for the future. In order to find that information out, they needed to speak with him first. They sought out his last known location, and Zektene tried to teleport them there instantly, but it didn’t work. The lighting was different that it should have been, which suggested they had missed time. There was also no sign of Cain, nor any way to determine how long he had been gone. So they went back to the main facility, and checked the computers. Two hundred years. They were back on their regular pattern, and Cain’s trail would have gone cold by now.
Zektene gets back on the computer once again.
“Any sign of him?” Saga!Three asks.
Zektene hesitates to answer. “No. No sign of anybody.”
Vearden!Two approaches to look over her shoulder. “Wait, what do you mean by nobody?”
“The drones haven’t been doing their jobs,” Zektene begins to explain. “They haven’t been monitoring the population for seventy years.”
“The system crashed?”
“No, the system is fine. I have weather and atmospheric data. It still knows what year it is, and the bots have been maintaining the facility. It’s just that the drones have their charging stations the whole time. And I think some of the footage has been erased.”
“Somebody disabled them,” Saga!Three presumes.
“Not someone,” Vearden!Two contradicts.
“Cain,” he and Zektene say at the same time.
“Emergency McIver hats!” Saga!Three announces.
They reach into their bags, and retrieve their respective illusion-creating headgear. “Maramon form,” Zektene suggests.
“It’s too late,” comes a voice from the hallway entrance behind them. “I didn’t see who you are, but I know you’re not Maramon.”
“Stay in character,” Vearden!Two warns his friends out loud.
“That’s okay,” Cain says. “I wouldn’t recognize you anyway, whoever the hell you are.” That’s comforting, that he at least doesn’t suspect who’s been living in this place.
“How did you get in here?” Saga!Three demands to know.
“Here’s a hint,” Cain begins, “it took me a century. Those drones did not want to be caught. I could have whipped up a trap, but that would have required technology, which I didn’t have access, because these people haven’t even discovered electricity yet. So I observed. For decades, I watched them flying around. There were a few false positives, of course. It’s embarrassing how many times I came to realize I was just studying real insects. But over time, I learned more and more about their patterns, and that eventually led me here. Then it took me some time to break in, but once I did, I had the run of the place. Unfortunately, I’ve not found what I came here looking for, so I placed myself in stasis to avoid the monotony of waiting, and programmed the pod to awaken me when something interesting happened. That brings us up to today.”
“You’re pretty forthcoming with your answers,” Saga!Three notes. “What’s your plan here. What were you looking for.”
“A very special object,” Cain answers. “I spent about as much time looking for it on Kolob first, and that’s what led me here. I don’t know where else it could be. It was stolen from Ansutah shortly before the Bridge Collapse.”
“How did you get back to this universe?” Vearden!Two asks. “You’re supposed to be in Flipverse with Lucius Deschamps.”
Cain is slightly surprised by this. “I know you’re not Maramon, so how do you know what my assignment was?”
Saga!Three fakes a chuckle. “Well, we didn’t just randomly find ourselves on this planet. We know what’s going on, and we know about how Lucius and Abel shoved you into an airlock on The Stage. How did you survive that?”
“I shouldn’t have,” Cain says. “I got lucky. The outer bulkverse is to the multiverse what outerspace is to the planets. A human would be able to survive for about thirty seconds, but they’ll lose consciousness after fifteen, so unless someone else shows up to help, those extra fifteen seconds don’t matter much. Maramon were created to last closer to eight minutes. I reckon I was out there for five when a random universe came within spitting distance, and scooped me up. It’s a one in a billion chance, so I wouldn’t recommend you try going for a naked walk in the outer bulkverse, but it can happen.”
“Then how did you get back?” Vearden!Two presses.
Cain smirks. “I started a theatre company.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“Oh, I thought you three knew things,” Cain teases. “Joseph and his technicolor dreamcoat. He’s the only one who can use it to travel the bulkverse, but if you want to contact him, you have to put on a play where you act out his life. It requires over a dozen cast members, so it’s not the easiest thing ever, but it’s almost impossible to reach The Crossover, or something, so it’s your best bet.”
“I’ve seen that musical,” Saga!Three says. “I’ve never seen a magical traveler randomly appearing on stage.”
“It’s more complicated than that,” Cain says with a shrug, “but that’s not important. What matters now is the Newtonian Glove.”
“What’s that now?” Saga!Three asks.
“Kinda yellowish-brown, five fingers.” Cain describes vaguely.
“It can suppress powers,” Zektene adds. “Yes, I’ve seen it before.”
Cain is surprised again. “You have? Where is it?”
“No idea,” she says. “I didn’t see it here. I saw it...somewhere else, a very long time ago. I don’t know where it would be now, but I’m pretty sure it’s not here.”
“Yeah, we’ve been all over this building for the last several centuries,” Vearden!Two agrees. “We would have seen something like that. I assume whoever hid it put it inside some kind of protective case, instead of just stuffing it into the back of a sock drawer.”
He doesn’t remember Cain being so cordial and understanding, but that’s where the time travel thing comes into play. “Yeah, it doesn’t look too fancy, so you would remember finding some random glove kept in a case without a mate.”
Saga!Three actually did see that once, and something told her it would be too important to just leave lying around. “Sidebar.”
The other two exchange a look with her. That’s a codeword they came up with that means they need to go into the next room together, and then teleport to a secret location. “Excuse us,” Zektene says to Cain.
He doesn’t seem perturbed as they’re leaving.
“What is it?” Vearden!Two asks after Zektene transports them to the woods.
“I saw the glove,” she divulged, “and I hid it away.”
“Why? I mean, good. But why?”
“It seemed like the right thing to do at the time. It wasn’t alone. There were other objects in there. This little gyroscope thing, what I believe is a teleporter gun, a stone. I don’t know what they were, but I was worried about letting them fall into the wrong hands.”
“Yeah, that was probably the right call,” Zektene admits. “Unfortunately, we have to give him the glove.”
“Why?” Saga!Three questions.
“We already have,” she replies. “Vearden and I are here right now because Cain showed up with that glove, which prevented Lucius from teleporting Vearden to a hospital. I took his place, and that’s when we ended up on this planet. If Cain doesn’t find that glove, nothing plays out as it’s meant to, including everything we’ve done here. That reality might be preferable to this one, but I don’t know for sure. Do you?”
Vearden!Two didn’t know what she was talking about, since he had been too hurt to understand what was going on, but he trusted her. If Cain was destined to take the glove, they had to let it happen, but that didn’t mean they had to make it easy for him. He sighs. “Okay, we’ll let him have the glove, but he obviously can’t have all those other things. Saga!Three, you’ll retrieve it, and hide it again. Then we’ll give him a hint about where it is.”
“We can’t just hand it over?” Saga!Three asks, confused. “You people say he needs it, then let’s just be done with it.”
He shakes his head. “We can’t do that. He’s expecting backlash. He’ll be suspicious if we just literally hand it to him. We’ll give him a general idea of where it is, and then we’ll jump two hundred years in the future, and wipe our hands clean.”
Saga!Three looks to Zektene, who doesn’t disagree with him, and doesn’t appear to have a better plan in mind. “All right. You’re the boss,” she jokes.
“I’ll be the one to hide it,” Zektene offers. “I can take it far from the facility, which is what we want, right? It’s best if you two don’t know where. Compartmentalization.”
“Yeah,” that’s smart,” Vearden!Two admits. He puts his hand in the middle of their little circle. “Everybody, hands in.”
No one else mirrors him.
“Okay, go team!” Vearden!Two chants anyway.
They execute the plan flawlessly, and then jump forwards in time. But this time, only a hundred years. And it is here that they meet their doppelgängers.