Saturday, July 28, 2018

Fervor: Clinica Titanica (Part IV)

Famous female explorer, Ida Reyer, shaken from having thought she was gonna lose her precious Compass of Disturbance—which I had a feeling was more powerful than we could imagine—left the apartment, looking for an exit portal to somewhere quiet where she could make sure it was okay. Hogarth offered to take a look at it for her, convinced that what happened to her before was not going to happen again, but Ida was not so confident. She wasn’t really a part of this, and she felt she needed to get away from all of us as soon as possible. That’s understandable. Meanwhile, Hogarth was busy with her own situation anyway. She needed to have a good long conversation with Hilde, away from everyone else. I could hear them raise their voices every once in awhile from the other room, but it never seemed to get too heated. From what I gathered, Hogarth had just spent some time in the future, and in fact multiple points in time. Whatever the compass had done to her, it continued to have an impact on her relationship with the timestream, forcing her to jump around aimlessly. Since this involved Hilde, and people Hilde knew, Hogarth couldn’t say too much about what was going to happen to them, which must have been frustrating.
I asked Leona how she felt about all this, since she too could be seen on the other side of the portal that FarFuture!Hogarth opened. Leona just shrugged, revealing that it wasn’t the first time she’d encountered something like that. “Avoid alternate versions of herself,” she said. “Rule number four.” I also learned from her that she had created a whole list of time traveling etiquette, which were apparently in use amongst people like her throughout time and space. She typed up a copy of the list for me so I could keep it for reference. We spent our time last night looking through the Book of Hogarth. I’m no scientist, so I was having trouble understanding it, but she is, so she should have at least had some semblance of what it all meant. She admitted to being lost with it, though.  We worked on it for hours, looking for any clue as to how to decipher it, but anything she could interpret as meaningful was also somehow over her head. There was some pretty high level multidimensional math going on in there, whatever that was. As Slipstream was ordering me to go to bed, since I’m still a little baby, Leona appeared to be experiencing some revelation about the book that I was not given the opportunity to hear until the morning.
“Time,” Leona says simply over breakfast.
“Yes, it’s weirder than we thought,” Slipstream responds. “What about it?”
“That’s exactly right,” Leona continues. “Time isn’t linear. Make a mistake? Go back and fix it. Want to see what your great grandparents looked like when they were children? Easy. Need more time? Well,  that can be done too. But there’s one thing about time that can’t be manipulated, despite the fact that time and thought seem to enjoy a particularly close relationship.”
“What’s that?” Hogarth asks as the one person there who could truly follow Leona’s logic.
“Learning,” Leona says. “Learning still takes time. You have to practice, and reinforce, and you have to be patient.” She holds up the book. “This thing doesn’t just give you secrets. You have to earn the right to understand them, and that takes real time. It changes. Not before your eyes, but I’ve looked at a page, flipped to the next one, and then flipped back, to find it different. I still don’t understand it, but it’s changed. It’s adapting to my level as a reader, and scholar.”
“So only smart people have any hope of figuring that thing out completely?” Hilde supposes. “I guess I’m out.”
“No, it doesn’t take intelligence. It takes time. Yes, Hogarth and I may need less time, but that goes for anything.”
“How much time do you need to identify what we’re meant to do with the book in the first place?”
“That’s impossible to say,” Leona tells her while preparing to take a drink from her juice, “as I’m sure you surmised before I even answered that question.”
“All right,” Slipstream says. “I’m still not sure what we’re here to accomplish at all, so I guess take the time you need. My main job is to take care of Paige until her fathers come back.”
“No, it’s not,” I argue calmly. “Mireille was my babysitter. You just stumbled upon this.”
“No, that woman said I was placed here to be on the team, or whatever. And...”
“And what?”
“And she wasn’t the only one. Someone I trust implicitly encouraged me to help with this,” Slipstream says vaguely.
“What exactly did they tell you?”
Slipstream looks between me and the book. “He said to turn to the next page in the book of my life. I didn’t emphasize those words; he did. It was a clue.”
“That could mean anything,” Hogarth points out.
“It means this,” Slipstream begins. “We’ve all been asked here to stop some virus. We were asked to do this by the future version of the woman who is apparently responsible for it, in this weird 12 Monkeys sort of situation. I don’t know what this book can do for us, but I know I have to help. Not all of you know who I am, of what I’ve done. But I hesitated when I was asked to help rid this city of gun violence. I didn’t see the vision right away, and I actually charged for my services. I regret every roadblock I put up that stunted the effort, because I think Kansas City is better for having achieved what it did. My experiences over the last several years have taught me that when something needs to be done, you have to assume that no one else is going to do it. We’ve been putting one thing off throughout this whole thing, and I think that’s a mistake.”
“What have we been putting off?” I ask.
“We need to find out who the present day Jesimoo—uhh, help me out here.”
“Jesimula Utkin,” Hogarth says.
“Right, her. We need to do recon on her. Who is she? Where is she now? Is she already in the process of releasing this virus? Has she already released it?”
By the time she finishes her sentence, I’ve already pulled out my phone and run a simple Google search. “Jesimula Utkin,” I start. “Founder of CEO of J.U. Mithra Labs. It’s a small pharmaceutical research outfit, based in Independence, Missouri.”
“Oh, God,” Hilde says. “Not Independence.”
“What’s wrong with Independence?” I ask, not having grown up around here.
“Don’t worry about it,” Slipstream says, shaking her head.
“Well, either way it’s about a half hour away,” I say, having mapped it.
“Okay.” Slipstream stands up. “I’m leaving in thirty minutes. Anyone can come help...except for Paige.”
“Ha,” I scoff. “Your friend told you to turn the page. I’m the Paige Turner. He never said anything about leaving me behind.”
“You’re a child.”
“I’m sixty-six years old.”
“Paige,” Slipstream scolds me.
“Fine, I’m fourteen, but—”
“She’s coming,” Leona said, inexplicably my advocate. “I’ve been doing this a long time. If someone as powerful as Jesimula Utkin wants her to be involved, she’ll be involved. Things get worse when you resist. If you leave her here, she’ll end up somewhere we don’t want. So keep her close.”
Slipstream continues to doubt, but is on her way to changing. “It’s just recon,” I remind her.
“I guess you wouldn’t be the first VIP I’ve been charged to protect. Twenty-nine minutes.”
We pull into town an hour later with no plan. We park in a grocery store lot next to J.U. Mithra Labs, and sit there. When I ask what we’re waiting for, Slipstream reminds me that we’re just doing recon. I think we should go in and check it out, but Leona is hard at work, studying the history of the company. While they do conduct clinical trials, they don’t just take anyone off the street. You have to apply online, and that’s only after first being approached by one of their representatives, usually at a career fair. It’s all very secretive. If one of us walks in there, they will not be doing so with very good reason, and will immediately come off as suspicious. I get antsy after hours of waiting, though, so if no one is going to actually do anything, then I guess I have to. That’s what Slipstream just taught us with her big speech in which she came this close to acknowledging the title the newspaper gave her: Champion of Kansas City.
I’m sitting in the middle seat, so I can’t just slip out, but I can lie about having to go to the bathroom in the store again. I try to sneak out the back exit as soon as I get in there, but then I start thinking about how people like me in movies always use the bathroom excuse, yet rarely do those same people ever actually have to pee. They spend the rest of the film running around in their adventure, but never do they have to stop for real. It’s an innocuous thought that should have been fleeting, but it manages to make me have to pee, so I turn around and take care of that first.
Hilde is waiting for me when I finally do make it to through the door. “I saw what you were going to do,” she says with a smirk. “I realized I had to go soon after you left, so I wasn’t stalking you, or anything.”
I look around. “Why didn’t you call the others?”
She looks around too. “Why would I do that? Five people walk into a clinic and ask for directions, and the receptionist finds it strange that half of them didn’t just stay in the car, so they get arrested. Two people walk in asking for directions, and it seems normal.”
“You’re helping me?”
“I’m the next youngest one here. I know what it’s like. Let’s go, before they close.”
We cautiously cross the void between the store, and the laboratory. I think about rolling on the ground like a secret agent, but it’s not necessary, and I know I’ll regret it later.
We walk into the building just as the receptionist is leaving. “Uh, can I help you?” he asks us in a fake chipper voice.
“We were just looking for the interstate.”
“I can tell you how to get there. We should go, though.”
A voice comes on the intercom, “this is your final warning. All nonessential personnel, please exit the building.
“We really do need to leave,” the receptionist says. “They’ll be locking the doors.”
Departure imminent,” the voice says.
The receptionist suddenly stiffens up, and his eyes glaze over. “I must go,” he says in an even more robotic voice. He does an about-face turn, and leaves, as do a couple other people who appear to be in their own trances. We hear the doors click locked behind them.”
Departure in thirty seconds,” the voice announces.
“What does that mean?” I ask Hilde, but of course she doesn’t know.
“Get me in this building!” Slipstream shouts at Leona and Hogarth from outside. They either saw us come in here, or started getting worried. The two geniuses have opened up the security console, and are trying to unlock the doors. Sparks fly out of it, and knock them back.
Initiating memory field,” the voice announces. Light radiates from the walls of the building itself, and spreads out. As it covers my three friends, they act drunk and confused, and stagger towards the parking lot.
Prepare for departure,” the voice says finally. The space outside the building warps as my friends instinctively stumble back away from it. But then they start walking towards it again, quickly going right back to where they were. Then they suddenly leave, walking backwards. The few workers who just left come back in, also rapidly walking backwards, but they’re not really inside. They’re just briefly occupying the same space as we are. We’re not going back in time so much as time is reversing, and it’s doing so faster and faster. We watch traffic moving backwards, days being unlived, and buildings being unbuilt. Weeks become months, become years, become decades, become centuries. The city disappears, and we’re left in the middle of nowhere.
Reintegration imminent,” the voice informs us.
We stop, at some point in the past, before the area was settled.
“Titan,” I whisper, because soon after I was transported from my original time period of 1971 to 2023, I started immersing myself in as much time travel fiction as I could find.

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