Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Mystery of Springfield, Kansas: Chapter Two

“Your daughter was in Springfield?” I ask.
“Yes,” Hokusai answers.
“You’re sure of this?”
“Yes, I know she was there. What happened?”
“ remember her?”
“Of course I do. How could I forget my own child?”
“That’s what normally happens.”
“What are you talking about?”
So I tell her everything I know. I draw a crude map of the original Springfield city, and start covering up and redrawing the borders to illustrate how it shrunk over the years. I talk about the people that we’ve lost; the children, and their families’ memories. I speak of the Cave of Requirement, as I sometimes call it; the cylicones that can turn ordinary objects into time devices; the house that disappears; the other dimension; and people we’ve lost. I tell her that her daughter is gone, along with everyone else.
“How do you know?” she asks after listening to my story with impressive patience.
“How do I know what?”
“How do you know that we can’t get them back?”
“Well...” I say, not knowing how to answer that.
“All you know is that they disappeared, not where they went, or if they went anywhere. You think they’ve been destroyed, because people’s memories have been wiped, but that’s not necessarily true. No one has ever heard of parts of a city being ripped out of time, so that’s not something the average individual is capable of fathoming. If they can’t fathom it, maybe it can’t be real for them. We don’t know much about how the human brain works, but we know that memories and thoughts aren’t just files in a computer. We remember things through categories and associations. If there’s ever any missing information, the brain will fill in the gaps. Kallias, it will literally make things up to protect us from inconsistencies. This helps us make sense of the world, but it also causes conflict. Since each of us has our own brain, this phenomenon itself occurs inconsistently, which means that two people will never remember the same event the same way, giving rise to disagreements, and sometimes even violence.”
“I follow you, but I don’t understand what you’re saying.”
“You made a logical conclusion that the city has been destroyed because people’s memories of it have been destroyed. But memories can’t be destroyed, only the connections between neurons, so your reasoning is already flawed. You didn’t see any fire, or bolts of lightning, you just saw buildings and other landmarks blink out of existence. What if that’s not really what happened? What if the city just...went somewhere else?”
“Where would it go?”
“Maybe that other dimension you were talking about. Or maybe some other dimension. Maybe it’s just invisible, and the only other thing that’s changed is our memories and perceptions. Maybe my daughter is standing in front of me right now, trying desperately to get me to hear her voice.”
“And do you?”
“Do I...hear her voice?” She waits for a moment, then turns away to examine the forest. “No.” She turns back and continues, “but now that I’ve brainstormed the possibility that she is, her voice is all I hear.”
“How old is she?” I ask.
“She’s nineteen. I know what you’re thinking, and yes, I had her very young. Very young. It was...not my choice.”
“To have her, or to...?” I don’t want to finish my question.
“The second one,” she says solemnly.
“I’m sorry to hear that. That’s terrible.”
“It was. But if what you say, and what I think, are right, then Hilde may be safe afterall. If Springfield really is somewhere else, then her father will never be able to find her.”
“If what you say is right, then we absolutely must. We have to figure out exactly what happened to Springfield.”
“So you believe me?”
“That it’s possible the city is just waiting for us somewhere else? I was a detective. It’s not my job to believe things; just to investigate.”
We decide to head to the invisible house, because if any part of the town is going to remain behind while everything else is swept away, it’s going to be that bloody house. I was correct in my assumption. It takes some searching, since all navigational landmarks—like street signs and other houses—have been erased. It looks exactly as it always has, though; like a perfectly normal house. We walk inside, up the steps, and into the special room. The door to the dimensional elevator is still there, but the elevator itself has been replaced by a regular closet, as it does from time to time.
“What did she say it was?” Hokusai asks.
“A map,” I reply with a shrug. When she was just a little girl, my friend’s daughter witnessed the disappearance of Rothko Ladhiffe. Afterwards, she came up to this room, and drew on the door. I tried asking about it when I found her still working on it, but we were sidelined by the news of Rothko. I completely forgot about it as I moved on, trying to get people to leave their homes, so I never got a chance to ask again.
“I mean, it looks like nothing,” Hokusai says. “I don’t just mean that it’s a child’s drawing, but some of these lines don’t even connect. It looks entirely random.”
“There must be some pattern to it,” I say.
“Must there?”
“I dunno, but she was a genius. If anyone could crack this case, it would be her. People with her level of intelligence don’t just learn that at school. She was born with it; with that special something. I guess I’ve just gotten into the habit of thinking everything I encounter is meaningful.”
She squints a bit and keeps staring at the door. “Like what? What else have you encountered?”
“The Escher Knob, and the Rothko Torch, notably.” I pull them both out of my bag. “This can open any door, and this...uh, is a flashlight. I know it has powers, because it’s one of those cylicones I was telling you about, but I don’t know what it does.”
“Give it here,” she asks. She shines it around the room, and on her hand, before pointing it at the door. The lines that Hogarth had drawn begin moving around. They join together, they change size, and they slip away from the door to become three-dimensional. The shapes, now floating in the air, start multiplying and clumping together. It takes about a thirty seconds before we can see that they’re forming into a book. After it’s finished being created, the book threatens to fall to the floor, but Hokusai catches it just before it does.
“What is it?” I ask of her as she’s flipping through the pages.
“The answers,” she replies.
“Answers to what?”
“Everything I wanted to know about my daughter.” She closes the books and tenses up.”
“Hokusai. What’s goin’ on? What exactly is in that book?”
She starts backing away towards the door.
“Hokusai, where are you going?”
“This is for me.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s my book.”
“I’m not trying to steal it from you, but now I’m wondering why you’re so paranoid about it. Has it gotten ahold of you somehow?”
“It was written for me. Only I’m allowed to see it.” She passes over the threshold and looks back so she doesn’t fall down the stairs.
“And...did the book tell you that?”
“It did, actually, yes. I can find her,” she claims. “This will tell me how to do it. It won’t be easy, but it breaks the whole thing down for me.”
“Just tell me where she is. Can you at least give me this much? You’re not the only one who cared about people there. I’ve been dealing with this for over twenty-five years. I deserve answers more than anyone.”
“You’ll have to find them somewhere else. I’m sorry, Detective Bran, I can’t help you.”
“The woman I helped raise, like a niece, drew that map! I should see it too. I think it’s done something to you. You’re not thinking straight.”
“You’re wrong. Everything will become clear because of this. It lays it all out. I need it.”
“Hokusai, don’t do this,” I plead.
“I’m sorry.” She spins around and jumps onto the staircase, skipping the first few steps.
She’s practically down to the the first level before I get onto the steps myself. I race down, and try to follow her to the other side of the house. She flips the Rothko Torch on again, shining it on the back wall where they forgot to build a door. It begins to shimmer and sparkle in a more pronounced way than it usually does. Hokusai doesn’t stop as she’s bolting towards it, and I fear she’s about to hurt herself, but she doesn’t. She jumps right through the wall as if it were not even there. I try following her, but can’t. The glimmer has died down, returning the wall to its solid self.
“That’s my flashlight!” I scream to her, not knowing where she is, or if she can hear me. “Maybe that’s your book, but I found that flashlight, and I want it back!”
The flashlight passes back through the wall and starts rolling on the floor. I reach for it and try to turn it back on, but it won’t. I twist off the bottom, noticing how much lighter it is than it used to be. “The batteries? Really?” I yell. “Goddammit, now I have to go find more!”
By the time I drive all the way out to the next, and now only, town nearby, she has at least an hour head start on me. No matter, my only choice is to pursue. I switch the magic flashlight on once more, point it at the wall, and walk through like some kind of boy wizard in a train station.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Microstory 680: Clean of Heart

While staying on Earth, we encountered a ritual that some of the natives practiced known as baptism. Though some of our traditions are based on those of the Earthans, we know that their religion, called Chistianity is incorrect, because it conflicts with ours. This convention, however, spurred a bit of a disagreement amongst Lightseers. We know that the Light can have a powerful transformational effect on individuals, which—with its use of water instead—baptisms are designed to create. The water washes over their bodies and removes sin from their souls. The reluctance for most Lightseers to do anything remotely like this has to do with the concept of choice. Though Lightseers tend to raise their children as Lightseers, we respect the idea that everyone has the right to choose their path. We encourage our patrons to seek understanding by their own accord. If any Lightseer is only this way because they know nothing else, their beliefs could not possibly be real. Baptism on Earth is generally performed not long after birth, which means the child is completely incapable of fathoming what is being forced upon them. Most of us find this to be abhorrent, but there are those who accept it, and replicate it. The deep irony in this is that with the freedom the galaxy provides comes without the right to tell people how to raise their kids. In fact, the Sacred Savior seems to have some level of respect for these people, and foretold that the Lightseed baptism analog, gelen would be performed on a mainstream infant. It involves a special form of light therapy. Knowing the Book of Light to be absolute truth, the Highlightseers consented to this order. They went out and found a couple who had recently given birth. They completed the ceremony on the couple’s son, Baldovin. The passage in the Book of Light for the taikon predicted that this would the beginning of something important to come many years in the future, theoretically long after the taikon have been completed. We shall have to wait and see.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Microstory 679: Fruit of Dedication

Every year, a new group of faithful followers committing themselves to a life of service to the Light are acknowledged and inducted into the Lucidares. The Lucidares area in a special class of Lightseers, just above the common man, but still below the Highlightseers. They do not have any say in the policy of our faith, but they are leaders in their community. They are lifelines to their friends and family, providing ad hoc comfort and guidance in times of desperation. Anyone can apply to be a Lucidare, but not everyone will make it. Those that do are honored at special events around the galaxy. Certain venues would be capable of housing them all at once, but we choose not to do this. The Light is meant to shine over everything, which means concentrating it would be defeating its purpose. Plus, if all of our leadership is in one place, then all of our leadership is in the same amount of danger from some hypothetical threat. This year, the Dedication Ceremonies were meant to be held a few months from now, but the Highlightseers decided to move up the occasion in order to coincide with the Fruit of Dedication taikon prediction. As it turned out, the event with off without any problems, and nothing particularly special that happened. Food was eaten, there was dancing and laughter, and the Lucidares were sent on their Initiation Missions. Not all taikon will ultimately alter the fate of the galaxy, or the faith. Some are rather normal, and even capable of being recreated. But that’s okay. Life is a series of events full of more than defining moments.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Microstory 678: Conflux Swarm

Not long after arriving in this galaxy, scientists began spreading out and studying the new worlds. They were looking for which ones would be ready to support human life, and which ones would be dangerous. They were also just scientifically curious, as some people have a stronger thirst for knowledge than others. One planet in particular, later named Perihodos, presented them with an interesting case study. They discovered that it was covered with insects. Most of these insects were extremely large from having evolved on a world with a higher concentration of oxygen than ones where humans evolved. It’s not terribly uncommon; with trillions of stars that have been studied so far, it’s only natural that a percentage of them will have the right chemical composition. These insects, in fact, weren’t the only ones of their kind. They are what is known as periodic, in that they live most of their lives underground, only surfacing every once in awhile to propagate the species. There are many completely separate species of these creatures, each with their own period, and developmental processes. Some go into hibernation before emerging, others are active in their tunnels, and others do some mixture of both. Each species, and even subspecies, is on its own periodical cycle, which means that though each one will come up infrequently, there is always at least one species present at any one time. While some have doubted that the taikon have truly been happening, others were relieved that they started when they did. This is a special year for Perihodos, for it is what is known as the Conflux Swarm. As stated, each subspecies of each species operates on its own period, but this year is the mathematical consequence of all of them; the ultimate swarm. Each major species’ period has led it to rise from the ground at the same time as all the others. The world will be teeming with this life. They will fight for space, trying to signal potential mates through the cacophony of others attempting the same. They said that anyone caught on the planet would be killed by being bludgeoned by the flying varieties, from being choked out of resources, or by being rendered deaf by their songs. The taikon could only have happened now, or in another 1092 years. Though confluxa happen more often than that, only now is the time that brings nearly all of them together. It will be no more exciting than this. And it occurred just in time, because one of these insects is a delicacy that can only be seen every 364 years. It pairs well with the fruit of dedication.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Microstory 677: Punishment for Thieves?

Theft is not illegal throughout most of Fostea. All planets and system civilizations are free to make their own rules, and devise their own punishments for “crimes” but they don’t necessarily have to, which is why we tend to not use that word at all. Instead, we have the term aggression. When you carry out an act of aggression against someone, they will generally be completely within their rights to respond accordingly. Even murder is legal in most states, but the punishment is more often than not death, and is usually executed by the victim’s family. That’s why people don’t just go around killing anyone who done them wrong. When Sotiren Zahir was structuring the galaxy, he questioned this, though. All prior civilizations had some centralized adjudicative system in place, and that seemed to work out for them, for the most part. He was, in particular, concerned with theft. His family had experienced a long history of theft. For many generations, this was how they made their money; by taking from others, and selling their possessions. He was ashamed of his family’s past, spoke little of it in his memoirs, and didn’t mention it in the Book of Light. Still, logic prevailed, and all aggressions were deemed lawful to the galaxy. In the taikon, however, he left the window open for this to be altered, should his contemporary’s descendants feel differently. Eido Tamsin’s replacement, Sanctius Viktorov was chosen to manage an interstellar vote while the last several taikon were taking place. About half the galaxy decided that they would like theft to be punishable unilaterally, while the other half liked things the way that they were. So a compromise was made that hopefully serves both sides equally. Theft, like all other aggressions, remains legal. The difference now is that if any victim wishes to relinquish their personal justice in favor of a new committee designed to punish aggressors, they may do so, for a nominal fee. Technically businesses such as this one already exist, however, in this case, compensation will be set at a fixed price. The committee will operate outside the general market, and will be required to accept every case that comes to them, regardless of its worth. This is a new thing we’re trying here, and we’ll have to see if it works. The Sacred Savior has left for us another window of opportunity to repeal this decision later, if need be.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Microstory 676: Replace Eido Giacomo

There’s a lot of ambiguity and misinformation regarding Eido Giacomo. He is said to have committed the first murder in Fostea upon its original settlement. Though we can’t know this to be true without going back in time and taking a closer look, this is accepted in the historical records. Giacomo went on to a great many things after this, none of which included killing anyone else. His vow of nonviolence is as far as our certainty goes, for the rest of his life is filled with mystery and doubt. Many actions were attributed to him that he probably had nothing to do with. He was often conflated with Eido Seamus, and even Sacred Savior, Sotiren Zahir’s foster brother, Hamish. His true history is not important, only his teachings. We do know that Giacomo contributed greatly to the writings in the Book of Light. It is even believed that Sotiren dictated much, if not all, of the text to Giacomo, who copied the thoughts in shorthand, and then transcribed them in his own words. Yes, it is believed by many, and not irreligiously, that Eido Giacomo was the true writer of the book that our people hold dearest. This is a problem for some, but not most, as the words themselves hold value regardless of who wrote them down, or even who thought of them. Perhaps the Savior recruited Giacomo for this purpose, knowing that it was the best outlet for Giacomo’s feelings. Whether this is true or not, he is now longed passed, and must be replaced by someone new. The presumption was that whoever managed to remake the Club of Death would automatically be accepted as the replacement for Giacomo, but this is not how the taikon operate. Though these events are interwoven in a cohesive story, each one capable of affecting all others, that doesn’t mean everything fits perfectly and understandably. The Light works on a level that mere humans could not hope to fathom. Truth comes in many forms...from all directions. It was decided that the new eido would be determined in a more formal way. While other eidos were replaced by some trick of circumstance, this was not so of Andrea. Ileana Ulaire was chosen from a long list of candidates whose traits best matched her predecessor’s personality and achievements. These candidates have been closely monitored for much of their lives, and are cycled out of the system upon reaching a certain age to make room for more. They are essentially a backup plan in case no other possibility appears organically. This has been going on for centuries since we could not know when the taikon would come to pass. Giacomo’s successor was decided this same way. After a time of paring the candidates down to a shorter list, the Highlightseers eventually found that a little girl named Yladene Carey would fit the role perfectly. Though extremely young, she shows the greatest amount of potential. The Highlightseers did not so much choose her as she was chosen by the Light, which does not see age.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Circa 1921

It was blistering cold once Arcadia apported them through time, to a new date, theoretically in the past. The group huddled together and looked around, seeing only snow, clouds, and the hint of civilization a ways away. They were all bundled in several layers, with the men wearing tall fluffy hats, and the women hoods and scarves. They couldn’t remember changing into their new clothes, which made them uncomfortable, but they all agreed to just let it go. Surely they changed themselves, and only later had their memories erased.
They started trudging through the snow, towards the part of some building they could see in the distance. It would get larger and smaller as trees blocked their view. Only once they were nearly inside it could they tell that it was some kind of village. The houses were built of logs, often with stone foundations. They were crude and deteriorating, but it was unclear what year this one. None of them knew what kind of time period to assume when looking at this kind of architecture. It was possible for these structures to exist in Mateo’s original time in the early 21st century. They didn’t even know what part of the world they were in.
People milled about in either misery or depression, or both. As destitute as they were living from the perspective of privileged people from what was likely the future, this didn’t seem like a normal day. There was an air of unusual calamity that the residents weren’t used to going through. They tried asking a few people what was happening, but they just ignored them and moved on, not wanting to stir up trouble.
“Perhaps they don’t speak English,” Serif proposed.
“We just have to try harder,” Lincoln said. “We have to figure out what we’re meant to be doing here; who it is we’re being asked to save.”
They kept walking slowly, careful to not make any sudden movements. This didn’t seem like all that small of a village, but it also looked like it was larger than its current population. People must have been moving away in recent times. At least that was what Mateo presumed, but what did he know? They saw a few signs on the buildings, and they were all in English, so that didn’t explain why no one was responding to them. No, it was because everybody probably knew everybody, and they were very obviously strangers. Finally, an elderly woman didn’t wait to be asked any questions. She offered to help them spontaneously.
“We have traveled a long way by foot,” Darko said to her. “We were hoping for a place to rest, and a warm meal, though we cannot pay.”
“But we could work for it,” Leona said. “We do not wish to take what we do not deserve.”
“The synagogue will have food,” the old woman replied. “You can help with the children there.”
“What is wrong with the children?” Serif asked.
She turned to lead them to the synagogue. “They’re dying.”
The group looked at each other in horror. Arcadia had not prepared them for the sight of dead children.
They entered the synagogue to find several children lying in cots, each with similar symptoms. They were sweaty and shaky. Some were coughing, others were vomiting, and others were doing both. It was an even more frightful to see than they thought it would be. Most were toddler age, with the youngest probably having been born in the last couple months, and the oldest being around eight.
“What disease it this?” Lincoln asked.
The old woman was gone. A younger woman was nearby, though. “Double pneumonia,” she said. “It can be treated, but we do not have the medicine for it. Not here. We have sent word, but I fear help may not come in time. Unless, that is, you are who we have been expecting.”
“No,” Leona said with a determined look on her face. “But we can help just the same.”
She reached into her bag and took out what she referred to as her second aid kit. It had all the basic of a first aid kit, plus a few things that didn’t generally come with it. Not everyone was educated enough to carry needles and antibiotics, but Leona was, so she always wanted to be prepared. Her kit had seen a boost in inventory after she recovered from having to cut off both of her legs during the Legolas tribulation. “Pneumonia is easy to treat where we come from,” she whispered to the group while inspecting her supplies. “Unfortunately, these children may be too far gone. I can quell all of their symptoms, but I can only cure one, maybe two.” She took out one of those plastic pill organizers and opened up every slot. Then she started dropping medicines into the slots to create individualized cocktails. She stopped in the middle of it and started thinking. “Serif, go find a mortar and pestle. Lincoln, ask someone for everything required to make tea. Darko, start helping keep the children comfortable. Give them water—boil more if you have to—ask them if they want more pillows, or more blankets, or whathaveyou.”
They all sped off to complete their tasks, leaving Mateo wondering what he could do to help.
“You have the worst job of all,” she said to him.
“Like I said, I can only cure one for certain. The rest will have to pull through on their own, which they may not be able to do. It will be your responsibility to find out who it is we’re here to save.”
“Are we sure there is only one? Maybe we’re here for everybody.”
“Mateo, have you ever heard of a group of dozen and a half historical figures who all grew up in the same tiny village?”
“Well, no...but—”
“Your father was The Kingmaker, right? He saved famous people. There’s only one famous person here, and you have to figure which one of these children that is.”
“But we need to—”
“I’d like to save them all too, but Arcadia didn’t put us here to do that. If you want your father back, you have to do what’s being asked of you. Learn all of their names, and report them to the group. Hopefully, between the five of us, someone will recognize the right name.”
He hesitated.
“Go,” she ordered. “The faster I administer the medicine, the greater the chances we have that it works.”
Mateo did as he was told, and started asking the children’s parents’ their names. They weren’t particularly expressive, but they saw no harm in telling them this information. They could see that the newcomers were here to help, even if they didn’t understand how. Based on the names he was being given, everybody here was Russian, or something. He asked a couple of their birthdays as a sneaky way of finding out that it was probably around the year 1921. Why they were able to understand each other, Mateo didn’t know. They certainly didn’t know any Russian, and the villagers likely didn’t all speak English at the time. Arcadia must have put in place some kind of universal translator for them that also made signs legible, and made it so that no one realized people’s mouths as they spoke weren’t matching up with the translation listeners were magically hearing. None of the names sounded familiar until he reached the last one. A two-, maybe three-year-old was lying in his little cot. He was experiencing the same things as all the others, but wasn’t in near as much distress. He was a strong child, with an iron will who couldn’t be broken by phlegm or vomit. His name was Isaac Asimov.
Mateo had never read any of Asimov’s stories, but Leona absolutely adored him. As saddened as this ordeal was making her, she would be happy to learn that she would be the one to save his young life.
He went back to the group, and found them putting together the tea medicine the children would be given. When he told them the name, Leona stopped for a second, but then got back to work. “No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is...but the world as it will be,” she quoted. “I believe he would be pleased that a group of time travelers gave him the life I know he lives following today.”
“Would you like to meet him?” Mateo asked.
“And say what? Goo goo, ga ga?”
“He can speak now,” Mateo responded with laughter.
“Never meet your heroes,” Leona said.
“You met Juan Ponce de León,” Darko pointed out before heading out with two cups of tea for the first two kids to be treated.
“Wait,” Leona said, noticing something peeking out of her bag. “What is this?” She pulled out a manilla envelope. Little somethings slid back and forth as she turned it around. She opened it up and took out a note from Arcadia.
You can either save only the one, or all of them. You choose, the note read.
“What’s the catch?” Leona asked out loud.
“There’s writing on the back,” Lincoln noticed.
Leona flipped it over and read it out loud. “The catch is there is no catch. Save ‘em all, Leona Matic.” She reached into the envelope and retrieved a small brown pill, which she held up in front of the light. After some thought, she dropped it into one of the cups that Darko was holding. She then reached in again and took out a second pill for the second cup. “Go on,” she instructed him.
“Are we sure this isn’t a trick?” Serif asked. “She might just be messing with us.”
“I can’t help them,” Leona said. “Maybe this little pill can.”
They gave each of the children their tea with the brown pill, except of Isaac Asimov. He received a regimen of antibiotics. As the day went on, the children started dying off, and it was looking like they would all be gone by the end of the week. Apparently Arcadia really was messing with them. Out of seventeen afflicted children, only Isaac Asimov survived.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Mystery of Springfield, Kansas: Chapter One

Over the years, little by little, the city of Springfield, Kansas disappears. I find a mathematician who doesn’t quite understand what’s going on, and doesn’t believe me when I tell her the truth, but she still helps. I give her what data, and what anecdotal evidence of the phenomenon, that I have. She uses it to the best of her ability, developing a map of sorts, of the future, which allows me to predict when and where the disappearances will occur. Sometimes she’s a little off by her calculations, but seeing as I’m the only one who recognizes it as a problem, that’s to be expected.
I use her predictions to the best of my own ability, evacuating people any way possible. I send bomb threats, and I set fires to houses, and I report gas leaks. A few times I actually cause real gas leaks, and other hazardous conditions. I get caught a few times, but the benefit in being in this corrupted reality that only I can see is that, once that part of town blinks into oblivion, I can no longer be in trouble for anything. All of my crimes have been quite literally erased. My fellow police officers don’t even remember arresting me. For all they know, I’m the weird detective who keeps getting himself locked in the station holding cells for no reason at all.
I keep track of a few people that I save, just to see what comes of their lives. My worry was that they would disappear regardless of where they were; that they were somehow permanently linked to their homes. Fortunately, I’m wrong about this. Anyone who is not within the blast radius of the disappearance has no memory that it existed, including the people who once lived there. Time rewrites itself to compensate for their loss, and they just go back to some new home where they believe they’ve always lived. As the city shrinks, I end up evacuating the same people more than once, and eventually, they leave Springfield altogether, under the impression that they never lived there at all. I keep doing this over and over again, and it’s exhausting. I quickly surrender to the fact that I can’t save Springfield, only some of the people in it. And really, that’s the important thing anyway.
As time ticks by, the teenagers who disappeared at the same time as Rothko Ladhiffe return. They can’t tell me where they’ve been, though. It’s not that they don’t remember, but instead refuse to divulge their secret. I assume they swore an oath to each other, and imagine some terrible scenario that they can’t bring themselves to admit to anyone. I try to push them for answers, but they all come back with special time powers, and I’m no match for them. If they don’t want to talk, I can’t make them. I can’t make them stay with me in the same second of time, let alone the same room. I continue to wait for RL, but he never comes back with them. Though I was technically meant to be looking for all of them, he was my true case, for he was the only one of their group with people who were looking for him. Though, I suppose that no longer matters, because his entire family disappeared a few years ago, before I could act to save them. Now there’s no one in the world who can tell Rothko’s story, except for me.
I do manage to get Tyler Bradley out of town just by convincing him his daughter is better off with him living nearer his ex-wife. Unfortunately, Hogarth returned recently of her own accord. All grown up and fully educated now, she developed an obsession rivaling mine. She becomes determined to figure out where RL went off to. She’s certain that the monsters of her childhood were real, and that she witnessed them attacking RL the night he disappeared. Though I know that she saw something she couldn’t explain, I never discussed it with her, not wanting to encourage her investigation. Maybe I should have, though, because she was still in the town when it took its final breath. In a glorious flash of light, the last remaining blocks of one-horse town Springfield, Kansas vanish, leaving me alone in the middle of nowhere. I watch it from the border, a tear falling from my eye as the welcome sign melts into nothing shortly thereafter. All that remain that prove Springfield ever existed are my badge, my standard-issue gun, and myself. The rest is just gravel road and trees.
When I was first looking for RL, I met a woman who could control time with her inventions. She called herself The Weaver, and she claimed that she would see me again in sixteen years. Her words end up being less of a prediction, and more of a courtesy call. Just as the last splinter of the post that was holding up Springfield’s welcome sign fades away, the Weaver appears in front of me. She’s wearing the same clothes as before, and I suspect less than a second has passed for her. She frowns at me like I’m a puppy dog who hasn’t been fed since this morning. “I’ve come with a friend,” she says to me. When she steps away, I see another woman standing behind her.
“Melantha?” Melantha Shaw was a third-generation LEO who moved to Topeka many years ago. I heard she made detective, but we never really kept in touch. She was the one who pointed me in the direction of a cartographer who started giving me some answers about the Springfield problem.
“Meliora, actually,” she says. “When I assume a new identity, I always change my name. For some reason, though, I can’t help but be derivative.”
“What are you talking about?” I ask.
The Weaver clears her throat. “I have somewhere I need to be. A zoo monkey in 2043 has inadvertently discovered a natural time rift, so I need to retrofit his cage with a few modifications before he accidentally travels to 2013.”
“What are you talking about?” I ask again, but this time to The Weaver.
“Never mind. I’ll let you two catch up.” She pushes the button on her timevest again, and disappears.
Melantha, or whatever her name is, shakes my hand. “My name is Meliora Rutherford Delaney-Reaver. I have been watching you, and I must say, I am mightily impressed. The foresight and the ingenuity you had to protect all those Springfielders. Most people wouldn’t have bothered doing anything, let alone managing to do all that. It’s given me an idea that you might be interested in.”
“Do I need to repeat myself?”
“No, Kallias, I heard you. I can tell you who I am, and what I’m talking about, but I really want to bounce some ideas off of you. I have this idea for something called The Haven...or The Refuge...or maybe The Asylum? No, that one sounds bad.”
The Sanctuary?” I suggest, hoping a fourth synonym will get her to help me with my problem, and let go of whatever it is she’s working on.
“Oh my God,” she says. “That’s perfect.” She wraps me in a hug so tight that I think maybe my eyeballs pop out of their sockets for a moment. “You’re a genius, your born for this, I need you to help me build it.”
“Build what? A sanctuary for what?”
“Humans. Humans whose lives have been imperiled by time manipulation. Like your town. All those innocent humans who didn’t ask for this. The Sanctuary could have saved them.”
“Aren’t you a time traveler?”
“I am, yes,” she says with smile.
“So go back in time and save the ones I couldn’t before they’re taken.”
“Oh, I can’t do that. It would be too dangerous.”
“More dangerous than being torn out of time?” I scream.
“Have you ever heard of a time loop?”
“Like Groundhog Day?”
“No, Groundhog Day is an example of a Groundhog Day loop. I’m talking about a stable time loop where I already changed the past. What if I go back to save people, only to discover that the only reason they disappear is because I took them?”
“I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Springfield disappears all on its own.”
“Did it, though? What if I end up creating the problem that causes the town to disappear, by stirring up some timey-wimey—”
“Stop it right there,” I interrupt. “You don’t get to explain how time works by spouting a bunch of meaningless babble that goes nowhere. I’ve watched every series of that show so far, and honestly, since I’ve actually seen the real thing...I’m not super impressed. I don’t need to know how time works, I just need to know how you’re gonna help my city.”
“Your city is gone. Time of death September 23, 2016. I can’t save them, but I can save others, and you can help me.”
“I’m not done here.”
She looks at her wrist. “Well, how long are you gonna be?”
“Why don’t you and the Weaver come back in another sixteen years?”
“Because I’ll be stuck in The Maze at that point,” she says, as if I’m already supposed to know what that means, or being serious.
“I don’t know what to tell ya, Melly,” I say.
“Please don’t call me that.”
“Your little plan, whatever it’s about, isn’t really my concern right now. Right now, I have to look for survivors.”
“There aren’t any survivors, Bran. Everything is gone. We’re in the middle of nowhere.”
“Did you use your time powers to scan the area, or do you just presume that?”
She seemed mildly offended. “If you want to waste your time, then by all means. I have plenty of it myself, but I’m still gonna go. Lemme know when you’re ready for a job.”
“Sure, I’ll give you a call.”
She disappears.
I get back into my car and drive back over the town border. A part of me thinks I might disappear as soon as I cross over, but a part of that part doesn’t care. I can’t just walk away and pretend like this didn’t happen. If there’s even a sliver of a chance that someone didn’t get swallowed up by what happened to Springfield, I have to find it. There are far fewer roads than there used to be, since in this reality, not as many needed to be laid. I do my best to get to the center of town, or rather it used to be, so I can start a methodical search. As I’m about to pull over and take a look around, I nearly run into a woman who’s already begun doing that. She seems just as surprised to see me. I get out and ask if she’s okay.
“I’m fine,” she answers.
“I’m Kallias Bran. What are you doing out here?”
“Didn’t you see that?” she asks. “It disappeared. Everything just disappeared.”
So I’m not alone. “What’s your name.”
“Hokusai. Hokusai Gimura. I’m looking for my daughter.”