Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Burning of Effigy: Chapter Three

I take one last look at all the places I’ve lived recently. The upgrades that Ezqava willed into existence are still there, clustered in one area. There’s the tent, the cabin, the cottage, the mobile home, the tiny home, the small home, the farmhouse, and the really nice house. Her mind had already started construction on a tower, on top of which would be a penthouse, where we would live. The three of us were about to transport decades, possibly centuries to the future, and I don’t know if this will still be standing when we get back. It’s not like I spent a whole hell of a lot of time here, but I still feel close to them. Hell, she even built a treehouse, probably birthed by a stray thought she had one day about the possibility of raising children—and I’m just now realizing it must be the same treehouse Hokusai Gimura sought refuge in sometime in the future. Of course.
Effigy appears next to me as I’m reflecting. “I keep forgetting how slow and inefficient humans are.”
“And I need to remember how impatient and irritating your species can be,” I reply.
“We are the Maramon,” Effigy says. “She’s not told you much about us, has she?”
“No. She’s just learned to speak.”
“Faster than I did it. In the original timeline, I had to do it alone.”
“How is that possible, without any humans?”
“I get glimpses of Earth.”
“I see.”
“Are you ready to go?”
“Yes. Where’s Ezqava?”
“Right in here,” Effigy says, pointing to her own chest.
“The hell you talkin’ ‘bout?”
“We merged.”
She exudes a hippy disposition. “We are one.”
“So she’s dead?”
“No, man, aren’t you listening? We’re now just one person. I absorbed her memories, and she mine, and now we’re just one person.”
“Why would you do that?”
“It was the right thing to do. You shouldn’t have two versions of yourself running around the same time period, it’s irresponsible.”
“Don’t you get it? She is dead. She had an identity that was independent of you, and you stole that from her.”
“It was consensual, asshole. My body, my choice.”
“Oh, don’t you throw that it my face, there’s no comparison.”
“Well it’s done. I am no longer just Effigy. I am Ezqava Eodurus, a.k.a. Effigy.”
“I can’t trust you, though. She wanted to help people, to make things better. Now she’s been you.”
“Ah, but you’re forgetting that it goes both ways. I hold properties of her. I’m now a far nicer person, because of her.”
“I want to believe that,” I say.
“Do you?”
This was getting me nowhere, so I just have to let it go. I don’t bother asking her if it can be reversed, because even if it can, she won’t do it. I have to remember that I only knew Ezqava for a short while, so we weren’t incredibly close. I have to focus on the mission, which is to close this portal, any way I can. I suppose the main trouble is that I was counting on Ezqava to back me up so that Effigy doesn’t betray us. Now I’m just alone. Effigy, or whatever it is I’m supposed to call her now, places her hand on my shoulder, and we transport away.
We’re in some little house. A woman is hovering over a crib, letting a baby squeeze her finger.
“Can she not see us?” I ask Effigy.
“No, it’s just like when that Screener woman was tossing you around time,” she replies.
“I can feel you there,” the woman with the baby says. She takes her hand from the baby, who is okay with that. She starts sort of miming in the space between us, like she’s worried about touching an electrified invisible box. “You’re somewhere around here. Sanela? Is that you?”
“We should be going,” I say. “The portal won’t fix itself, I don’t imagine.”
“I just need to recharge first,” Effigy says vaguely.
“What do you mean?”
“The portal’s not here. In fact, it would be closed by now. We’ve jumped further in the future than I wanted.”
“Why did you do that?”
“I can’t control it,” Effigy explains. “My power is sort of trial and error, which is why I try not to do it too much. You’ve seen that, otherwise Ezqava would have just created a condo or mansion as soon as she got to this world.”
“So we’re invading this woman’s privacy on accident.”
“Exactly,” Effigy says. “But it’s okay, Saga deals with this stuff all the time. She’s fine.”
“You can go now,” Saga says, going back to playing with the baby. “I’m not going to kill myself, if that’s what you’re worried about. Étude means too much to me.” She smiles at the child, but in a sad way.
“What happened?” I ask Effigy.
“Before you get upset, I didn’t do anything. Her heartache is her own. It’s...a pretty bad situation. Fortunately, I’m ready to make another jump.” She takes my shoulder, and we leave.
I find myself once again in the presence of Smith, the one who was pursuing Hogarth and her friends. Though that was sometime in the future, and I know this, because Smith still has his face intact.
A henchman I don’t know if I’ve seen before approaches Smith. “Sir, the kids are crying in harmony. We believe there to be a time anomaly somewhere around here.”
“Not monsters, though?” Smith questioned.
“No, it’s in a major key.”
“Interesting. Is Hogarth’s machine operational yet?”
“No, sir, our spies indicate that they are still months away, at best.”
“Perhaps she has returned to us earlier than predicted. This is good for us. Get me a glitchhound. We’ll search the area.”
“It’s already on the way.”
“Excellent,” Smith says so villainously that it isn’t even ironic. It’s like he read a listicle of every good antagonist, and is trying to emulate their worst common qualities with absolute sincerity.
An approximation of a dog tears into view, sniffing all around. It’s deformed and ethereal. It warps and shudders and gleams and melts, and sometimes looks more like a cat. It’s like a computer program with more bugs than good code.
“Don’t. Move,” Effigy orders out of the corner of her mouth.
“I can see why the call it a glitchhound,” I say out of the corner of mine.
“That’s not why they call it that,” Effigy says, displaying real levels of fear, which is something I didn’t think she could feel. Maybe she really has become more like the Ezqava I knew. “It seeks glitches.”
“Bran, we’re the glitches.”
“Oh. Oh. Are you recharged yet?”
“Then we should go.”
“If we move, it will sense us faster. Right now, our temporal anomaly is localized to one place, which can be a problem for them, but they’re also common. Tears in the spacetime continuum open and close all the time, most of them aren’t created by people. If we move, though, it’ll show that the glitch isn’t natural.”
“What will it do if it finds us?”
“It will lick my face and try to get me to play with it.”
“Yeah, but seriously,” I request.
“No, really,” she explains. “Glitchhounds were once just regular hounds. On my world, we called them tekachorl, which roughly translates to cheerful wolf. When they crossed the portal barrier, they became this.”
“You brought animals too?”
“I opened the portal. I didn’t decide who came through. Had it not been for...” she trails off.
“What?” I press.
“They weren’t meant to come corrupted like this. I never wanted any of this.”
“We don’t have time to talk about it. How do we get the glitchhound to leave us alone?”
“We can run a retroprep.”
“Which is...?”
“Which is when a future version of yourself comes back in time and saves you, so that you can live on, and one day go back in time and save yourself.”
“That sounds complicated.”
Suddenly the man who once escorted Sanela to meet me in Vearden’s safehouse appears through his own glitch in the continuum. He’s completely prepared for this, leaning down and patting his knees. “Come here,” he says in a sing-songy voice. “Come here, boy. That’s a good boy.”
The excited glitchhound gets in herding position, and strafes side to side, trying to confuse his playmate. Then he breaks free of his captor’s leash, and runs towards—Juan is his name, I remember now. Once the corrupted animal tackles Juan, they both fall back through the temporal anomaly and disappear.
“Was that you?” I ask. “Do you send him back sometime later?”
“I don’t even know who that is,” Effigy answers. “I can’t imagine I do that, but it’s possible, I can’t rule it out.”
“Who the hell was that!” Smith shouts to his frightened subjects.
“Looks like we’re safe,” Effigy says to me. “I’m charged up now, so we can go.”
“Go where? To the next mistake?”
“You have a better idea? How accurate is your time traveling?”
“Sanela spoke of this. You have to find a grasp of the timeline. You have to understand time first, or it will always dictate when and where you are.”
“That’s...actually not bad, Kally. You’re smarter than you look.”
“Just, try it. Do it differently than you normally do.”
Before we can leave, I feel something on my hip. I look down to see a small child reaching his little hand into my pocket. He pulls out the HG Goggles, and starts dancing around with them. I try to steal them back, but my hand just passes right through him.
“How did he do that?” I cry.
“Wadya have there, young Madoc?” Smith asks, graciously taking the goggles for himself. It’s the first sign of kindness I’ve seen from the man; now I at least know he has it in him.
“I could probably get those back for you,” Effigy offers.
“No,” I say with a smile, watching Smith look them over. “He gets what’s coming to him,” I tell her, remembering the future when a past version of me shines the Rothko Torch in his eyes, and literally burns the goggles into his face. “We can go now.”
We leave.

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