Saturday, March 11, 2017

Voyage to Saga: Character Assassin (Part VIII)

The Shepherd was sitting in a chaise in the corner of the suite when Vearden woke up a few days after his last challenge. “What are you reading?” he asked.
“This little story called Seeing is Becoming.”
“Is it any good?”
“Not as good as the sequel...which isn’t as good as the third one.”
He nodded politely, but she surely knew that he was just making small talk so that he could get into something more serious. “What was that?”
“That was a dark reality. You saw the beginnings of the end of the world on that plane earlier, but you didn’t really see an apocalypse scenario. You didn’t see what people become when they lose everything they have, including their sense of truth.”
“Is God real?”
She squinted and tilted her head. “God and reality are tricky things. You’ve seen first hand that other realities exist. Other universes, that is. Each of these potentially follows a different set of physical laws...but they can’t be too different, can they? I mean, laws are laws not just because that’s how it happens to be, but also because they follow a certain level of logic. Gravity pulls things together. No universe exists without it. Well,” she amended, “not habitable ones. What I mean is that it wouldn’t make sense if gravity pushed things apart, because then nothing would be there at all. So that’s a constant. It may be stronger or weaker from one universe to another, but it’s always there. What other constants may there be? Well, when molecules speed up, heat is released, and when they slow down, that’s what we perceive as cold. There’s no way there’s a universe where the opposite is true. Check off another constant. What about life? Well, you’ve met aliens. Hell, you were dealing with humans in the universe where you donated blood, but they too were aliens, because they weren’t from Earth. Is life any more different across universes than it is within them? Not really. Those constants I was telling you about can have different properties, and that can alter evolution, but in the end, life is life.
“So when you ask me whether God is real, you might as well ask if ghosts are...or if there’s a universe out there where little boys and girls ride a train to a school that teaches them how to do magic. Or if there’s a galaxy far, far away where people—mostly men—have space magic, and fight each other for no fucking reason. Yes, these things are real. Of course they’re real. But some things are less real than others, because they’re formed uniquely by a different variable. Some of these variables are strong, while others not so much. Some God variables make magic, but others make time travel.”
“God variable?” Vearden was more confused than ever.
“Yes,” the Shepherd confirmed. “That’s the best equivalent I have for your linguistic comprehension. God as the rule-maker.”
“Are you a God?”
She smiled. “No.” She closed her book and set it on the ottoman. “But I am a variable.”
“So, what now?”
“You just saw first hand how strange other universes can be, and I’m glad we had this conversation, because it actually fits quite nicely with where you’re going now. The world you are about to enter is not unlike the one you lived in before you found out that you were a salmon. There is one person in it, though, who is...different.”
“How so?”
“He perceives fictional realities as real. He superimposes his corrupted perceptions onto his environment.”
“But you’ve said that fictional realities are real.”
“They are...and they aren’t. He’s managed to pierce that veil, so to speak, and it’s driving him insane. He’s hurting people because of it.”
“And you want me to stop him?”
“I want you to do whatever you can do when you get there.” She climbed onto his bed and gently pressed his shoulders back down. “For now, I just want you to count down from ten.”
“Just do it.”
“Okay. Ten.” He was starting to feel sleepy. “Nine.” He could barely keep his eyelids open. “Eight. Saga, Saga...”
Vearden felt like he was dreaming, but he knew that this was all as real as anything he had experienced in the last however much time had passed. At first he couldn’t move. He was just sitting and staring forward, drool dripping out of his mouth. He could hear two people talking—no, arguing—somewhere to his left.
“No, you have to let me go so I can help this man.”
“You were supposed to help people, but you were selfish. You only thought of yourself. You can’t make up for it now.”
“Please, he needs medical attention.”
“He’s had it. And you are about to experience the same thing. You deserve worse. I hear the procedure is quite peaceful.”
“I don’t think that’s true, and I don’t deserve it. I did nothing wrong.”
“You hurt people. I’ve seen it.”
“That was a TV show! That’s not really me!”
“You think I don’t know that! I know that! But...but, you—this has to be done. I’m sorry it has to be you, but you’re the closest thing I have to the real thing. Ian is real...and I have to get rid of him for you, so you’re just Jason. You can be a doctor again.”
“I’m not a doctor, I’m an actor!”
“Yes, but you are quantum entangled with your character. Look, I know you can’t see it, but I can, and you have to trust me. You’re the only one I can actually help. The others were evil, but you’re both evil and good. I can make you whole again.”
“You’re gonna tear out my brain, how is that gonna make me—” They stopped talking.
Only then did Vearden realize that he was standing up. In fact, he had been slowly trying to regain control of his body the entire time.
“Let me out of here so I can help him, ‘cause I know you’re not gonna do it,” said the one who was clearly the good guy in this situation.
“I’ve already helped him. I told you this. I will not say it again.”
Vearden was able to finally turn his head and assess the scene. Things were a tad bit blurry, but one of them was strapped to a medical table of some kind, while the other was wearing a labcoat. Vearden couldn’t speak.
The fake doctor smiled at Vearden as he approached. “The procedure went better than even I could have hoped. You were an excellent practice run. For an invader, you’ve actually helped our reality immensely. If only you knew.”
“Sir, sir!” the hostage yelled. “If you can run, just go. Get out of here before he hurts you again. Don’t try to help me.”
Vearden tried to speak again, but more drool fell out. The fake doctor pulled a towel from his pocket and wiped Vearden’s face. “There, there. Why don’t you sit back down? You obviously have an innate urge to see what’s going on around you, so I will let you watch me work.” He helped Vearden back down, then turned the wheelchair towards the hostage.
“No! Just run!” the hostage pleaded again.
“Quiet, Ian!” the fake doctor ordered.
“I’ve told you as well. My name is Steven Pasquale. I played a character named Ian Price, but none of that is real. And even if you’re right, and he’s real in some other reality, how does that have anything to do with me?”
“You two...well, three, have been infused with each other.”
“Wh—” Vearden struggled to say. “Wha—who?”
“You can speak,” the fake doctor said with excitement. “A little. Well, if you wanna know, I’ll tell you.” He walked back to the hostage, who was apparently named Steven Pasquale, and gestured towards him. “This man portrayed a character on a television series called Do No Harm. But this wasn’t just any character. It was about a man with a split personality. He was actually two people. One was evil, and the other good. Now people think that none of that is real, but it is. They all exist in a different universe, and for some reason, our universes have collided. Some of the evil people from those other universes have possessed the bodies of their doppelgängers; the actors who played them. I call them the avatars.”
“That’s insane!” Steven argued.
“Of course you would say that,” the fake doctor argued back. He looked towards Vearden once more. “You see, my friend, this is not your universe. You belong somewhere else.” He looked back down to Steven. “And so does he.” He reached behind him and grabbed a long tool that looked like an ice pick from the little surgical table.
Vearden tried to scream no, but nothing came out. Or very little, he couldn’t really tell the difference at this point. The fake doctor had really messed up his head. Was this permanent? Seems cruel, even for the Shepherd.
The fake doctor wasted no more time, and started slowly aiming the long tool at Steven’s left eye. Steven protested and yelled for help as loud as he could, but no one came. The room didn’t look particularly sanitary, so it was probably in an abandoned building on the edge of town. Vearden certainly couldn’t help. He felt like he would have trouble keeping his tongue from the back of his throat if he were lying down.
He watched as the fake doctor reached over, presumably trying to find another tool. Suddenly, he turned the sharp tool around, and jammed it straight into his own eye. Blood spurted out and onto Steven’s face.
“Oh my God!” Steven screamed, but his cry was no match for the fake doctor’s howls of agony.
“I did not think it would hurt that much!” the fake doctor yelled. “Dear God, I think I pushed it too far in. Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah! I need to leave! Get me out of here, I’m done! Oh wait, no, that’s right. He pawed at Steven’s wrist restraint with his one free hand, while the other kept pressure on his eye. After some struggle with the restraint, he was able to pull it loose enough so that Steven could free himself even more. “Please get him out of here,” the fake doctor asked Steven, pointing to Vearden.
“One more thing,” he approached Vearden a little, but didn’t seem to want to be too close. “Vearden. A word of warning, do not accept anything from The Superintendent, except for Saga, and the car. Remember that. Saga and the car. Those are the only things you want. Anything else is straight out of a say no to drugs ad, you hear m—?” The fake doctor jumped a little, interrupting his own sentence. “What the hell is going  on, what just happened to me?”
Steven still hadn’t gotten himself quite out of the restraints.
“How did you get out of that?” the fake doctor demanded to know.
“Shit,” Steven muttered. He grabbed a hammer from the surgical table and bashed it over the fake doctor’s temple.  “Ah, damn, I didn’t like that.” He went back to undoing his second wrist restraint before moving on to his legs. He then hopped off the table, and took hold of Vearden’s wheelchair. “Let’s get out of here, buddy.”

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