Saturday, September 15, 2018

Fervor: Fever (Part XI)

Asuk fell in love with me pretty much as soon as we met, though he would never admit to it. When I tried to explain that I felt nothing for him beyond friendship, I realized that I didn’t understand it myself. I had actually never felt anything like that about anyone, and always figured that I just hadn’t yet met the right person. Before you get any ideas about me, I’m no sociopath. I experience empathy for others, and I care what happens to them, but I have no interest in romantic or sexual relationships. This was unheard of in the 1970s, and my life in the 2020s was so consumed by time travel, that no one had the chance to explain it to me before. Asuk understood completely, though, because in his day, all sexuality stigmas have been almost entirely erased. He said that I was asexual, and provided me with some resources to help me figure myself out.
After we made s’mores that first night, I agreed to stay with him that night, because he was afraid of being alone in the dark. He said that his camping lot was located in a region of Earth purposely left uncontrolled by weather satellites, but admitted the satellites contributed so much to the global climate, that it was still not all that unnatural. While the weather wasn’t as perfect as it was for most of the surface, it was a decent night on its own. I woke up the next morning, and waited for a sign. I allowed myself to wait until noon o’clock central for anything that would point me in the direction that Jesi wanted me to go, but nothing happened. And so I said my goodbyes, then I pulled up my phone, where I kept several photographs I took of April, 2025 Missouri, so I could return in a case such as this one. Unfortunately, I was unable to go anywhere. I could feel a slight burn in my eyes as I stared at one of the photographs of Cleaver Fountain, but I couldn’t actually travel there. I swiped through all of my dozens of saved photos for one that would work, including the scans I made of the pictures from my childhood camera. I only ignored the ones that would have taken me back to 1971. Anywhere is better than there. Nothing worked, but I kept trying...for about a week. Then I gave up, and surrendered myself to the time period. From then on, I only attempted to travel back in time about once a week, just in case whatever was preventing me from traveling wore off.
I stayed with Asuk and his family, who were living on Earth for that month. They were nomads, though, like so many others, and whenever they moved somewhere else, I would go with them. I spent some time on Mars and Venus, both of which had, through miracles of science, become just as habitable as Earth. We went back to what I now know is something called a dyson bubble. Basically giant stations were suspended between the sun and Jupiter, allowing more solar energy than ever before to be harvested and used to power the worlds. We also lived in habitat domes on two moons of Jupiter, which by the way, was now a freaking sun. Somehow, they turned Jupiter into a star, and no matter how many times my new friends tried to teach me how it was done, I couldn’t understand it. I don’t even understand why they did it, other than for the possibility of some of the larger of these moons to have their own atmospheres. Asuk’s family was planning to move to a different star system—and leave me behind, because I didn’t feel comfortable traveling that far from home—when disaster struck.
A mysterious pathogen spread throughout the entire system, infecting every biological species of some particular level of complexity that went over my head. It possessed an alarmingly long incubation period, which meant it transmitted out of control from person to person before anyone realized what was happening. The system was placed in quarantine, but experts believed these measures to have been far too late. Lightspeed ships were virtually unreachable while traveling at relativistic speeds, so the damage was done. Every organic human within a thousand lightyears would be infected, with little hope for a cure. Of course that meant it would take a thousand years to run its course, but all entities not created, or fitted, with artificial parts, would be dead by then. The oldest purely biological person living today was a hundred and thirty-two years old. The pathogen itself did not cause death, nor symptoms that could not easily be remedied. What it did was prevent someone infected from procreating. If the people working the problem were unable to solve it, normal humans would be wiped out. This is what Jesi wants to bring back to my time, and I have to do anything in my power to stop it, even if it means staying here for the rest of my life; even if it means dying today.
“Maybe we should go,” Asuk says. “Maybe you should come with us.”
“Where?” I ask him. “To Teagarden?”
“Why not? It’ll only take twelve years.”
“We’re still in quarantine.”
He brushes this off. “Eh, in a couple years, they’re gonna discover patients on Proxima, and the quarantine won’t mean a damn thing. They’ll let us go, because it won’t matter anymore. Besides, I know a friend who can get us a darkburster.”
“Like from the twenty-second century? Didn’t they figure out how to detect those? Isn’t darkbursting impossible now?”
“Intentional obsolescence. They could detect darkbursters, but they don’t scan for them, because they don’t think anyone would be crazy enough to use them.”
“Because people who used them died half the time.”
“I’ll take those odds.”
“I won’t,” I say. “I’m not getting in a darkburster, and I’m not going to Teagarden. I’m perfectly fine here.”
“On Rhea?” Rhea is a large Saturnial moon that was considered too small for terraforming. It was instead gutted, and turned into the largest single-processor computational apparatus in the known galaxy. While the dyson bubbles are ultimately larger, they’re each composed of disparate parts, so they don’t count. Few people actually live on Rhea, but it’s a cool tourist attraction. We’re currently staying in what I can’t help but call a space motel.
“No, just here in general. I like moving around with you guys, but if I never go back to my time period, I’ll still want to be near Earth. It will always be my home. I won’t go past the Oort cloud.”
Asuk yawns. “Well, I suppose I have a couple years to change your mind, unless you would reconsid—”
“I’m not stepping foot in a darkburster.” Darkbursters are ancient ships capable of interplanetary travel without being picked up on sensors. But they resulted in too many deaths, and are fundamentally pointless these days. If you want to go somewhere, for the most part, you can. You really just have to ask.
“Preach, sister!” comes a voice from behind me. I turn around to see someone standing there with a hazmat suit on. There’s a glare on the face part, so I can’t see who it is until she moves slightly.
“Jesi.”
“This is a special suit,” Jesi says. “It doesn’t just protect me from germs, but also from this time. It’s basically shields me against everything, but it comes at a price. I can’t use my power while it’s on. I created a latent time bubble to get me here, but now I’m stuck.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad. The world is probably better off with you in one place.”
“Not so fast,” Jesi says. “I can’t take us back, but you can, and you will.” She holds up an injection gun. “I give you this, and your powers return. Then you take us both back home. Easy peasy..little queasy.”
“I’m not doing that.”
“Why not? Don’t tell me you’re in love with this kid?” Jesi gestures towards Asuk.
“No,” Asuk laughed a bit too hard.
“I’m not taking this pathogen back to 2025. Why do you wanna destroy the human race? Lemme guess, so choosers can start fresh, and bring about a new dawn?”
Jesi shakes her head at pathetic little me. “The pathogen is rampant in this time. We still don’t know where it comes from, but we know how it spread. Paige, it came from multiple places at once. It was this onslaught of slow and unavoidable death. It probably originated on another planet.”
“Sounds tasty,” I spit.
“You’re not getting it. There’s a reason I’m in this suit, and it’s not so I don’t get infected. I mean it is, but not because I’m selfish.”
“You’re not?”
“I’m not! That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you! I’m trying to save the world!”
“By destroying it, I get it.”
“No, you don’t.” She takes a deep breath. “I’m going to tell you a story. About a man.”
“What man?”
“His name...was Mateo Matic.”
“Never heard of ‘im.”
“I’m not surprised, he was erased from the timeline. Not even his wife remembers him.”
“Who’s his wife?” Asuk asks. He always loves a good story.
“Her name’s Leona.”
“Whaaaat?” I question overdramatically.
“It’s true, but that’s not the point. The point is that he once accidentally came to the year 3118. He picked up the pathogen, and then he took it back to 2025.”
“So he’s here right now?” Asuk asks.
“I just told you, he was ripped out of time.”
“Right.”
“You seriously like this guy?” she asks me.
“Get to the point!” I shout.
“This all happened in a different timeline. The reason you’re here, Paige, is to replicate what happened to him.”
“Yeah, I understand. You want me to destroy the world.”
“Christ, Paige, will you get off that? No. You’re one person, and you’ve been living here for the last several months. The disease has mutated since it first came about. It’s begun to focus on conserving energy, rather than spreading. When you go back to 2025, no one is going to become sterile. They might get a little fever, but they’ll get over it, and will be stronger for it. They’ll continue to evolve over the millenium, and by the time they get here, the pathogen will do them no harm. All of this will be erased. This guy here, if he’s even ever born, will not even know you existed.”
“That might be what you think will happen, but I have it on good authority that your plan does not work,” I counter.
“Oh, you mean the other version of me?” she asks. “Yeah, we spoke. Bringing you here was her idea. This is what fixes it. This is what fixes everything. Paige Turner Reaver-Demir, you are about to become mother of a multitude.”
“I don’t want that. I don’t believe this will work. I don’t trust you. Or her.”
“That’s fine,” Jesi says, confidently casual. “You’ll see, though, and you’ll be glad. Asuk will too, though he won’t know it.”
“Aha!” Asuk cries with glee. “You do know my name.”
“That’s what you took from this?” Jesi asks rhetorically.
I stare at Jesi, biting my bottom lip. I can tell that she knows what I’m going to do, but I still have to try. I spin around, and bolt for the exit, but something hits me in the back. Goddamn, I wish people would stop doing that. Next time it’s gonna be a knife. Next time, someone is going to literally stab me in the back. But for now, I fall to the floor. I’m not knocked unconscious, or anything, but the pain is enough to keep me down so Jesi can catch up to me, and force the power suppressor antidote upon me.
“I just won’t jump!” I scream as I’m flipping over. “I just won’t!”
She giggles. I know you don’t have that much control. She takes a fist-sized device out of a bag that I somehow know to be an icosidodecahedron. She drops her hand, and lets it hover a meter over the floor. Light explodes from its faces, releasing a sea of nearly a hundred projections, strewn all about the walls. Each one is a photo of a different part of Kansas City, and each one is strobing like the dance floor at a discotheque, overwhelming my senses. My eyes start to burn, so I look away, but they continue to burn. I try to close my eyelids, but somehow that hurts my head even more. I’m looking at a picture of Plaza rooftops when my power overcomes my will, and I jump hopelessly back to the past.

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