Saturday, August 25, 2018

Fervor: Out of Action (Part VIII)

While Slipstream, Hogarth, and Leona showed no signs that they could remember anything about their lives beyond their childhoods, they were also receptive to mine and Hilde’s help. If we couldn’t find a way to make these people trust us, I don’t know how we could have helped. We went back to the Bran safehouse, and took care of them as best we could. At first, we thought a good night’s rest would be enough to get them out of this, but they woke up just as lost as before. Then we thought we might be able to jog their memories with a few context clues, but there was only so much we could do. Slipstream was easy. We knew where she lived, where she hung out, and who her friends were. None of it helped, of course, but the tracer gang insisted she stay with them just the same. Hogarth was the next easiest, but was still without hope. Hilde tried to remind her of the time they spent together, but since their hometown no longer existed, we couldn’t show her familiar objects. Not that it mattered, because this wasn’t working anyway. There was nothing we could try for Leona, since none of us really knew her. Baby Brooke seemed to think they hadn’t known each other for that long, so theirs wasn’t a strong connection.
On the third day, nearly out of ideas, Hilde and I decided to try something crazy. One thing I’ve gathered from this time traveler underground is that if you don’t know who might understand you, there was a word you can use. Salmon are a special class of temporal manipulators who have no control over their—well, you couldn’t really call what they have powers; it’s more like nonlinear time happens to them. I don’t really quite understand why it is they’re called salmon, but it’s a really good buzzword. Normal people will just think you’re talking about fish, but a time traveler will easily figure out that you’re trying to communicate with them secretly. Unfortunately, since there weren’t any possible travelers around, all we could do was put out a local advertisement, and hope that someone relevant happened to see it. It took days for it to work.
While Mireille was babysitting one regular child, and three two grown-up children, Hilde and I hung out all day at Mendoza Park. We’re sitting on the edge of the fountain on the fourth day since the memory loss when a young woman in sunglasses sits right next to us. We think she’s here for us, but there’s no way to tell. She takes out her phone. “Hi, mom. Yes, I can go to the store after work.” She turns to face us, and slides her glasses down the bridge of her nose. “I’ll pick up some of that good salmon from the bulk store.”
“Oh, thank God,” Hilde says. “We’ve been waiting for you for two days.”
“One and a half,” I clarify.
“Well, we knew something was strange when someone noticed you put out an ad just to ask whether the fish in Cleaver Fountain were salmon,” the woman says. “I’m Agent Cabral. And you?”
“Paige Turner. Hilde Unger. Who’s we?”
“I run an international coalition of intelligence agencies,” Agent Cabral says. Does she not have to keep that a secret?
“Let me guess, the government found out about people with time powers—”
“Hardly,” Agent Cabral interrupts. “We have a few choosers and salmon field agents, but we don’t revolve around them. What can we help you with?”
“Someone erased our friends’ memories,” Hilde explains. “She might have gotten some drug from the future, we don’t know. I just want my girlfriend back.”
“Are you sure it isn’t due to quantum blending?” the agent asks.
“What is that?”
“Was it a drug, or did the person manipulate reality to make them forget? There’s a big difference in how we solve this.”
“But you can solve it?” I ask.
“If it’s a drug, I know someone. If it’s because reality’s been jacked up, probably not. My organization does not have the same resources it once did. We’re probably on our way to shutting down.”
“Let’s assume it was some drug, and go from there,” I suggest.
“Okay. Follow me.” She stands up, and leads us to a more secluded part of the park, covered by trees. She takes out her phone again, and makes a real call this time. “Ashlock? Three to beam up.”
I feel something tugging on my chest, and pulling me backwards. I’m suddenly standing in what looks like the living room of a house that someone has remodeled for small business use. I’m having trouble reclaiming my balance, and a man is pointing a weapon at us.
“Stand down, Kolby,” another man says. “I obviously invited them here.”
“We don’t know who these two are,” Kolby states.
“These two children?” the other guy asks. “I think we’re safe. I trust Ecrin’s judgment.”
“Your name is Kolby?” I ask.
“Yeah.”
“Kolby Morse?” I add.
He lowers his weapon. “You’ve heard of me?”
“I met your partner in J.U. Mithra Labs,” I tell him.
Kolby clears his throat. “Please don’t talk about him. It’s not safe.”
“Of course.” I turn to the other guy, and give him my hand. “You must be Ashlock. I was to understand you could help with our friends’ memory problems?”
“Uh...not me,” Ashlock says. He looks over at Ecrin Cabral. “The doctor is on a mission in 2022 Maine right now. She’ll probably be back in an hour. In the meantime, Kolby made sandwiches.”
As hard of a man as he seems to be, Kolby makes a complete 180, and starts to smile proudly. “And avocado toast.”
“So what is it you have goin’ on here?” I ask with tofu sandwich in my mouth.
“We help people,” Ashlock answers.
“Help people with what?”
“It’s a complicated system, but basically I send our field agent to the body of someone in the past to help them, and people around them.”
“You could even say you...put right what once went wrong?” Hilde prodded.
“Yes,” Ashlock says with a grin. “A friend of mine came up with the idea, and he says that show inspired him.”
“Do you only send one person into people’s bodies?” Hilde asks.
“I can only send Quivira. She’s the one with the power to possess others. If I want to send someone else, they have to go back as themselves. We do it this way so we don’t have to convince the humans to trust us when we try to make things better.”
“And the doctor?”
“She can go back as herself,” Ashlock explains, “because she carries credibility. She’s a psychiatrist, and a physician, which we find to be vital to the success of our operation. You’ll meet her, but probably not Qui—.” He suddenly stops and stares into space. His eyes dart back and forth, and his lips move a little, like a child learning to read.
“What’s he doing?” Hilde asks.
“He’s talking with someone in the past,” Kolby replies. “It’s kind of creepy, but you get used to it.”
“He’s both Ziggy, and Al,” I note.
Kolby keeps smiling, and goes back to his lunch.
Ashlock comes out of the trance. “Hammer will be here soon. She says I should action the three patients here, so she can examine them at the same time.”
She wants you to do what with them?” Hilde asks, thinking she should be offended.
“That’s just what I call my power. It’s what I did when I summoned you to me. I pull you out of one time and place, and land you somewhere else. In this case, it’s time travel without the time. They call me The Action.”
“Who calls you that?” Kolby asks, obviously already knowing the answer.
“I prefer Ashlock,” I remark.
Ashlock isn’t pleased, but Kolby is. “Most people do,” he says.
After we finish eating, Ashlock sends us to our unit in the Ponce de Leon, where we retrieve Hogarth and Leona. Hilde then goes to the tracer gang headquarters alone. It takes her so long to presumably convince Slipstream’s friends that we’ve found a way to help her that a Doctor Mallory Hammer comes back from the past before they return.
“Pleased to meet you,” Dr. Hammer says.
“Do you need to rest?” Kolby asks protectively.
“I’m fine. They do have beds in 2022. Anyway, are these my patients?”
“These two are,” I say. “The third is on her way.”
“Okay, we’ll start without her. Privately.” She leads them to the examination room, which was probably once just a bedroom, while I wait here. Before she leaves, she asks Ashlock to check on her primary patient, so he goes down to the basement. While I’m not told specifically to stay out, it’s clear that the basement is a no-go zone.
Ecrin has to go upstairs to make a call, so now I’m just alone with the security guard. “Was he doing okay?” he asks of me.
“Who?”
“Elder. My partner.”
“I thought we couldn’t talk about him.”
“Not around others, but you can tell me what you know.”
“His name was Elder?”
“Yeah. Elder Caverness. I’m guess this means you didn’t spend much time with him?”
“Few minutes,” I lament. “He doesn’t seem the happiest where he is, working for the woman we’re trying to stop right now. He’s doing okay, though...convinced he’s exactly where he needs to be.”
Kolby nods. “That sounds like him.”
“I think he misses you. Do you ever see each other?” I ask.
“Radio silence, by design. Please don’t mention him to anyone else. His mission is too important.”
“Of course.” I zip my mouth closed, locked it up, and break the key in half with my bare hands.
Ashlock comes back upstairs, having actioned Hilde and Slipstream here. He escorts the latter to the backroom, then comes back to wait with us at the table.
A half hour later, Dr. Hammer comes out alone. “I’m sending samples to the time lab. I can’t expedite the testing, because there may be a temporal component to the drug itself, which could be distorted if it’s not measured in linear time. I’m fairly certain I know what it is, though. It resembles something I encountered a few hundred years from now. I think it came from another planet. The person who did this is serious business. Once I help your friends with a broad spectrum counteragent, you should all stay away from her.
“They can’t do that,” Kolby says, having completely warmed up to them.
I look at him, then back to Dr. Hammer. “The mission is too important.”
“Well, I can insulate you from the effects of the memory loss, but the formula also requires realtime, so it wouldn’t be ready for about a week.”
“That’s okay,” Hilde says. “We don’t think it’s her main weapon, or a weapon at all. We think our friends were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“Thank you for everything,” I say graciously. “All of you.”
“We’ll get your people fixed up, and on their way,” Ashlock says, standing up. “Ecrin will take you back home the long way ‘round, so you know where we are. Come for avocado toast whenever you want.”
“Thanks again,” I say. Then I add, “The Action.”
He smiles.

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