Saturday, April 8, 2017

Voyage to Saga: Base Reality (Part XII)

“People keep saying that, what exactly does that mean?” Vearden asked. All these little nicknames that people who could manipulate time give to themselves. They seemed so...self-serving. Who does that? “Do you run a school district, or something?”
“No, nothing so reputable,” the Superintendent responded. “Superintendent, not as in a leader; superintendent, as in I fix things. I don’t run these universes, I just make sure they run themselves.” He held his hand up pseudo-defensively. “But please, you may call me Gaius. It’s not my real name, I just like it.”
“Very well. And this is.....base reality? What exactly does that mean?”
It didn’t seem like Gaius had a good answer for that one. He paused for a second. “I don’t wanna say anything that’s going to make you feel unimportant, but let’s just say that your universe sprouted from mine, and relies on mine’s continued existence in order to exist itself.”
No good response. “O...kay.”
“Now. Ya’ll ready for this?”
“That sounds like a reference,” Vearden said.
Gaius smiled again. Then he lifted a normal black pen and clicked it once. Suddenly, Vearden knew what he was talking about. That was a lyric from a pop song. Why was he not able to remember that upon first hearing it? He shook it off as Gaius was continuing on with his introduction. “Tell me—and remember that I know the truth, because I know literally everything about you—have you ever heard of a deus ex machina?”
“Yeah,” Vearden answered honestly. “It’s when there’s no logical reason for something to happen in a story, but the writer just decided it would.”
“That’s right. It’s not a good thing. Critics frown upon it. I am no different, but I have recently found myself using them. Now, what I’ve done here is an interesting case. I didn’t actually require a deus ex machina, but what I did require was a series bridges. I needed connections between the universes in my domain, and fortunately, you’re genetically predisposed to that sort of thing. I needed you to establish your presence in these realities so that I could more easily enter them whenever I need to. And in order for this to work, you needed to have a profound effect on the narrative, rather than just sitting back and watching.”
“Can’t The Shepherd do that? She’s the one who brought me here.”
“Well, she can only get me halfway. Yes, she can open windows to other universes, but she can’t establish herself in them. She can barely cross the threshold. That’s why you never actually saw her in one of them with you.”
“But she—”
He cut Vearden off, “went into that last reality? Yes, now she’ll be able to go to any universe that you have created bridges for, as will your wife and the scientist, or anyone else, really. You see what I’m going for here? Vearden, you’re a doorwalker. For a period of time, you were the doorwalker. You just created the Gretchen and Danuta team. They’re going to be very important to me down the line.”
“I see. Almost.”
“Close enough.”
“So can you give Saga back to me now?”
“I could, but I still need your help with a few things.”
“What might that be?”
He opened his arms to present his surrounds. They weren’t all that appealing. His apartment wasn’t too small, but it was dirty and old; not the best place to live. “I’m not lovin’ where I am in my life. I don’t expect a mansion, or anything, but I could do with a few upgrades. You can help me with that. I’m even more powerless than the Shepherd. I can’t usually personally experience anything but linear time. You’re my loophole.”
“What do you need me to do?”
“Just go back in time and make a few changes.”
“Then I get Saga?”
“That’s right, Vearden, you get Saga. Jesus.”
“No, I don’t need him. I just need her.”
“What do I do?”
“First, don’t be afraid. We need to form a bond.” Gaius stepped closer and pressed his lips against Vearden’s, while holding him in a tight embrace. After a few seconds, he released and stepped away.
“What are you, a crossroads demon?”
“It’s either that, or you drill into my skull and touch my brain with your finger.”
“Is that true?”
He shrugged ambiguously. “Maybe.” He nodded towards the closet door Vearden had just come out of. “Open the door, and my mind will navigate to the proper point in space and time.”
Vearden did as he was asked. The doorway turned into a portal to reveal a child’s playground on the other side of a chain link fence. A young girl, and a young boy, were wandering around near the portal, which the girl ignored. It was unclear if the boy could see into the room, but he could definitely sense their presence. He started examining the edges of the portal, trying to understand it.
Gaius watched the boy intently. “I become my own inspiration.” He then redirected his attention to Vearden. “Close it.”
Immediately after Vearden shut the door, it transformed into a different door. In fact, they were standing in a totally different room, which looked like it was in a different apartment. It was much nicer. They had just altered history. “Is that it?” he asked.
Gaius thought for a moment. “Not quite. Open it again.”
Now they were looking at a teenager standing in the hallway of a school. The teen could definitely see them. He eyed them both carefully. Gaius leaned forward and said, “leave her alone.”
“Who?” the teen asked.
“You know.”
Vearden closed the door again. It didn’t change. “That was you, right? I mean, he looked exactly like you. He didn’t seem that surprised to be seeing an older version of himself.”
“I would never be surprised by something like that. Rule Number Zero, act like ya been there. Again.”
Vearden opened the door. The same teen was there once more, but he looked a few years older. He was standing on what appeared to be a farm, gently petting a cow. Young Gaius, or whatever his name was, waved at them from the other side of the portal. Older Gaius gave further instructions. “You need to find a clever way of getting out of this. This is all well and good, but something is about to happen, and you need to be back home when it does. When it happens, you’ll know, and it is where you go next that you’ll truly find yourself.”
“How am I supposed to—” young Gaius asked.
“Make it seem like their idea. Make yourself...look...not well. Use the only skill you and I have.”
Young Gaius nodded understandingly. “I have a few ideas.”
Vearden closed the door, and it transformed dramatically this time. They were standing in a prison cell.
“Ssshhhit!” Gaius cried. “That idiot. Again.”
Vearden didn’t want to be in here any more than Gaius did, so he gladly took the handle. It didn’t budge.
“Oh my God. Of course. Why wouldn’t it be locked, I’m a criminal!” Gaius started scratching at a tattoo on his shoulder that hadn’t been there before. “Okay, I think this can work if we time it right.” He started banging on the door and screaming to the guards. “Hey, boss! Help! Help!”
“Open eleven!” the nearest guard commanded.
Gaius had his own command. “Now!”
Vearden pulled at the pocket door just as the buzzer rang out, releasing it from the locks. They were once again standing before the farm, but it was now nighttime, and the younger Gaius was searching for something.
“Oh, hey, a goat got loose. Would you be able to find him?”
“Dude,” the older Gaius said to his younger self. “Not that idea. You take it way too far. Just keep it simple.”
Young Gaius peers into the prison cell. “Yikes, okay, got it.”
Vearden closed the door, and they were now standing in a house.
“Hmm,” Gaius said to himself. “All right, I know what to do.” He prepared himself mentally, then nodded. “Go.”
The Gaius on the other side was probably negligibly younger than the older one. It was like they were just looking into a mirror, because it was the exact same house, with no change in furniture. “What now?” a frustrated younger Gaius asked, almost rhetorically. “What did I do wrong this time?”
“Don’t argue with them. I know it sucks, and I won’t lie, the television service in the new place is probably going to be the worst you’ve experienced in recent times. You have to tough it out, though. Your relationship with your parents is more important, and it’s a better house, so just agree to it.”
“Fine!” the younger Gaius reached in through the portal with an attitude and slammed the door shut himself.
“I didn’t he could do that.”
“He’s operating on a lot of energy right now.”
Vearden finally looked around. They were standing in yet another place. This was indeed superior to the previous one. It had two floors.
Gaius took a deep breath and muttered, “car.” He then spoke to Vearden, “you can take my old car, but you’re gonna have to get me a new one. Well...a new old one.”
“Is this the last job?”
“Second to last one. I promise. With this one, you won’t be seeing a younger version of me. I’ve never met the person who lives there. I just want her car.”

Vearden hesitated.
“I’m going to buy it, not steal it. Calm down and open the portal.”
He obliged, revealing a dining room table covered in documents. Gaius reached in a took a set of car keys. “Close it up real quick.”
“You said you weren’t going to steal it.”
“I’m not, I’m just hiding her keys so she agrees to sell it to me. Oh, don’t give me that look. She’s not allowed to drive anymore anyway.”
“How would hiding her keys make all that happen?”
“You stick to what you know, and I’ll stick to manipulating reality to create my own future? Kthx, byeee.”
“Who is this woman?”
“None of your business. Close the door, and then open it again. Or do you not want to get Saga back?”
Knowing he had no choice, Vearden closed the door for a second, then reopened it. They were now in a bedroom that had the same architecture as the dining room. Gaius reached through and dropped the keys into a purse.”
“That’s it?” Vearden asked as he closed the door for yet another time. “I’m free?”
Gaius picked up a piece of paper and started scribbling something on it. He then handed it to Vearden. “Go to this listing and request to take a look at the car they’re selling. Then buy it, no matter the condition. The car will take you to Saga.”
“Can’t you just—?”
“Vearden, I need the car to be at a certain place at a certain time so it can be used for something important. If it makes you feel any better, if you don’t do this, Mateo dies.”
Vearden nearly gulped at this.
“Buy the car, drive to Saga, and leave the car exactly where it is when she appears. Understand?”
“Here, take my old phone so you can call the sellers.”
“No,” Vearden said. He was remembering what the insane doctor who had given him a lobotomy once said. There was a moment when he was different, like he had changed into someone else, and it was then when he warned Vearden to accept only the car and Saga from the Superintendent. “I don’t want the phone.”
Gaius studied his face for a good long while. He then put the phone in his pocket, coming back with the pen from before. “I’ll make the change.” He clicked the pen. “Now go forth.”
Vearden completed his final tasks, ultimately buying a piece of crap old Toyota Camry from a lovely couple. As he was driving it down the road, the scene changed, and he found himself in the middle of a jungle. Gaius, the Superintendent hadn’t lied. There she was, waiting for him with that beautiful crooked smile. He jumped out of the car and tackled her into a bear hug.
She laughed.
“Oh, Saga, how I’ve missed you. It’s been years for me. The Pentagon thing probably only felt like yesterday to you.”
“Actually, no,” Saga said in her sweet and comforting voice. “I feel a deep sense of emptiness. I don’t remember being anywhere, but I know I wasn’t here, and I know I’ve missed a lot.”
He hugged her again. “Then let’s go find a way back home, and get you caught up.”

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