Saturday, January 28, 2017

Voyage to Saga: Rule of Eleven (Part II)

The face of Saga was waiting for Vearden once he walked through the portal. He was about to hug her, but was immediately wary of the whole thing. She looked like Saga, but she didn’t look like her. She didn’t hold herself, or look back at him in the same way the real Saga would. No, this had to be an imposter.
The imposter turned her chin slightly, sensing his doubt. “Wow,” she said. “That has to be a record. No one has ever figured out that I’m not really their loved one, let alone right away. You’re good. You might actually get through this.”
“Take off that face,” Vearden ordered.
“We do this—” she tried to say.
“Because you think it’s a form I’ll be more comfortable with. Yeah, that’s all well and good, but here’s the thing, I don’t really have time for that, and it isn’t. I do not appreciate seeing my friend played by anyone other than her. Original cast or bust. Take off her face so we can have a real conversation.”
“Very well.” She shook her body, letting bits of Saga form drip off, revealing just another person he didn’t recognize.
“What is your name?”
“They just call me The Shepherd,” she replied.
“Where are you taking me?”
“To your destiny.” When she saw he wasn’t impressed, she dropped the act entirely. “Okay, work with me here. I kinda have a bit. I don’t get a lot of visitors, so I spend my time rehearsing. It’s really important to me.”
Vearden pointed to himself. “Look at my face.” He turned his pockets out. “Look at my pockets. Frisk me, if you will. I assure you that I do not have any fucks to give.”
“Can’t argue with that logic, can I?” she said sarcastically.
“What do I have to do to get Saga back?”
She paced around a bit for dramatic effect. “Has anyone ever told you the reason the powers that be do what they do?”
“I thought I told you I don’t have time.”
“It’s relevant, I promise.” When he restrained himself, and stopped arguing, she continued with her speech. “Most salmon think that they’re doing great things; that they’re saving the world—and that’s true, to an extent. But the motives of their controllers are not so noble. Just watch any movie, and who wins in the end? Sometimes it’s the antagonist, when that writer has decided to be particularly pessimistic about how things are. Maybe he’s trying to hold a mirror up to society, or some other fartsy bullshit. But for the most part, the hero needs to win. He may die in the end, and it won’t work out the way he planned, and he definitely loses a lot along the way, but in the end, his efforts will not have been in vain.
“So when the powers that be jerk you around time and space, they are trying to get you to do things, but only because that’s the kind of movies they like to watch. Why did they let The Cleanser keep torturing Mateo Matic and his family? Why didn’t they just reach down, grab that dark knight, and knock him off the board? Well...because that isn’t very interesting. The only way the good guys win is if they come this close to not.”
“They’re just watching us on a TV screen.”
“Nothing so...pedestrian, but yes.”
“Makes a level of sense. What does this have to do with Saga?”
“I am not a power that be,” the Shepherd said. “I do, however, identify with them.” She made her face all creepy. “I like to watch.”
“Meaning that whatever you make me do to get Saga back won’t have any real connection to my goals. You’ll just come up with dangerous situations to throw me in so you can have a good time.”
“Why not? You do that too. Weren’t you just watching LOST? Those people’s lives were terrible.”
“Those people aren’t real.”
“You sure about that? How do you know that you’re real? How do you know that some dude isn’t just writing your story while naked in his home office, eating unsalted nuts and listening to, oh I dunno...maybe Civil Twilight?”
He sighed. “Is he?”
She shook her head. “Not anymore, the album just ended, so he’s listening to VAST.”
“This is a fun conversation; we should do this more often.”
“Yeah, well, when I’m done with you, you’re gonna wish all we did was talk.”
“That may be. I can’t see the future, unfortunately, so for now...let’s just get on with it.”
“Fine. What you experience next will be the first of eleven trials.”
“Did I stutter...literally? Sometimes I do that, human is not my first language.”
“You said there would be eleven trials. There are only ever three trials. It’s the Rule of Three.”
“These may or may not be based on the eleven Labors of Hercules.”
“There were twelve labors.”
“There were? Then I guess I’m an all-powerful being with the ability to return people from complete non-existence, and no limit to the number of trials she can come up with!”
“Okay, okay. I’m sorry.”
“Plus, there are kind of eleven dimensions.”
“Oh, I think I’ve heard that.”
“I doesn’t matter how many dimensions there are, it’s not like I’m going to be sending you down the manifold. What I am going to be doing, however, is sending you to other universes. If you’re lucky, and you get through all of them, you’ll find yourself in what’s known as base reality. It is there that you will be given what you need to retrieve Saga.”
“I know you appreciate watching people struggle through these things, but can’t you just skip it this once? She doesn’t deserve this. How about I take her place? Yeah, how about that? A one-to-one. Let’s do it.”
“I don’t make the rules. I’m implementing them in my own fun way, but they’re not mine. I can’t personally give her back to you. Only The Superintendent can.”
“Okay, let me talk to him.”
She was exhausted from having to explain herself. “He’s in base reality, which takes time and a hell of a lot of work. This is how it’s happening, I don’t know why you’re questioning it. You told The Delegator that you wouldn’t.”
“That’s true,” Vearden said. He did say that. “I did say that.”
“It’s okay. I can tell that this is stressful for you, and you’re a lot different than other people I’ve shepherded. I want you to know that I’ll be there with you, every step of the way. You may not see me, and I may not help, but I’ll be close by.”
“I don’t know if that’s a good thing, or bad.”
“It could go either way, depending on what happens,” the Shepherd said honestly.
“So what is my first...trial?”
“This was it,” she answered as she was nodding to herself, like she had just decided on that in the moment. “There’s one universe I was planning on sending you to, but it’s having some, uh...developmental issues, that I don’t really want to deal with.”
“And you’re good people, so we’ll just say that having to talk with yet another cryptic and frustrating choosing one is a hard enough trial on its own.”
“I appreciate that.”
“I’m not as bad as you might think either.”
“I am starting to see that,” Vearden admitted. He waited the appropriate amount of time, maybe a little longer. “Then what’s the next one?”
“Ah, this one will be familiar. You see, these universes bleed together, but they’re not seen for what they are. They’re interpreted as fiction, if you can believe it. This particular universe has been depicted in film, television, and other media quite a bit in our universe.”
“Let me try to understand this, are we talking about alternate realities?”
“Oh, no. That’s a different thing. Alternate realities, and alternate timelines, refer to some kind of point of divergence. They take place in the same universe, but with conflicting events. In our universe, they can run concurrently, but usually don’t.”
“Wait, back up. What’s the difference between a reality and a timeline?”
“The latter addresses historical differences, while the former is really just about the perceived differences in the so-called present condition.”
“Okay, now I’m up to speed...kinda. Go on.”
“Parallel worlds exist simultaneously with ours, like bubbles in an undrained sink, and sprouted from a different start condition. That is, the universe was created from some other big bang, or maybe not even a big bang at all. I won’t be sending you to that second kind, though; they’re weird. And they’re harder to get to.”
“This is all very confusing. I feel like I’m understanding it, but also that I’m going to be completely lost when I wake up tomorrow.”
“It’s funny you say that, because you will be lost.”
“What does that mean?”
“No, you won’t be lost tomorrow, that’s later.”
“What does that mean?”
“Never mind. You better get some sleep. Your trial starts tomorrow.”

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