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Saturday, September 29, 2018

Fervor: Retourner (Part XIII)

Despite the best efforts of the doctors, Carol Gelen, Leona’s mother, succumbed to death shortly after being admitted to the hospital. Over the course of the next two weeks, the 2025 pathogen spread all over the world. Patients experienced the usual symptoms of a cold,  including a fever, but with some markèd differences. Normally, a pandemic like this would indeed result in deaths. Everyone is affected differently, but the very young, the very old, or those particularly susceptible to to the symptoms, would not all be able to handle it. Yet, everyone in the world seemed to be affected the same way, regardless of their immune system. It was almost like it had been programmed to protect its hosts until it died off, but if Jesi had done that, why would she have not bragged about it. And if she had been capable of it in the first place, why did she not just do something in the future, where it came from, and leave the 2025 populace out of it? One interesting component of this—which separates it from all other cold-like diseases—is that no pregnant woman was able to give birth while infected. It is believed no child was conceived during this period either, but data that would support this hypothesis was hard to come by, so the idea was relegated to anecdotal evidence. All in all, presumably from having been so close to patient zero at the earliest stages of outbreak, Carol was the only death known to have occurred as a direct result of the disease. Doctors couldn’t quite explain why, though they suspected someone like me existed, so I was able to get away with murder.
As soon as I had the chance, I pulled the version of Leona that I knew aside, and confessed my sins. She nodded, and waited patiently for me to finish, then she hugged me, and said that it wasn’t my fault. She didn’t blame Jesi either, apparently because she knew exactly who Arcadia and Nerakali were, and that they really were responsible. “I suffered for my parents’ death a long time ago, from my perspective,” she told me. “I’ve mourned them, and I know it can’t be changed. I’ve already seen enough of the timeline be altered, and I do not think it wise to try again. What happened, happened. Do not apologize for your role. If it had not been you, it would have been someone else. The Prestons can’t be reasoned with.” Not long after that, Garen Ashlock, a.k.a. The Action, sought Leona out at the Bran safehouse. She and Slipstream were sent on some secret mission in the future, and only the latter returned. Slipstream promised that Leona was not only safe, but exactly where she belonged. Afterwards, she left the group as well, and returned to her life as leader of the tracer gang. She and Leona never recovered all of their memories, specifically the ones in the early days of this Jesimula debacle, but for the most part, they were both back to their old ways. A few days after this, Hogarth and Hilde received brand new identities from The Forger, and chose to use them to abruptly leave Kansas City, and start new lives. Now it’s just me, Mirelle, and little Brooke. We moved out of the safehouse, so someone in need could use it, and came back to my house.
We’re nearing the end of the month, and I’ve nothing to do. It occurs to me recently that I’ve missed a great deal of my schooling, with no intention to return. When I was living in the future, I did as everyone else at that point in history, which was generally not working. Work in this time is a necessity, but not so in a post-scarcity world. People still have responsibilities, but really only if they want to. If, for instance, you want to help build a space station, then you go through an evaluation to make sure you’re qualified. There aren’t any formal education institutions there, though, so if you want to learn something, you go do it yourself. People spend their days enriching their lives by enjoying time with their families, having fun with hobbies, or learning new things. While I didn’t think I would be there long enough to commit to some society improvement project, I did partake in this education. In only a year’s time, because of the efficiency of this tailor-made program, I basically have the equivalent of a high school diploma. Going back to crappy 21st century school just seems like a waste of time. My fathers, if they ever come back, or are even alive, will surely understand. Afterall, I’m an adult now, right?
There’s a knock at the door. I jump up to grab it, thinking Mireille is busy entertaining Brooke, but she’s already taken care of it. Hilde is standing on the porch with a man, and no Hogarth. “Can we come in?”
“You can,” Mireille says, “but can he?”
“He has good references,” Hilde assures her. “He’s here to help.”
“Help with what?”
Hilde’s eyes dart up to me, standing mid-staircase. “Help with Paige.”
Mireille looks back up at me as well. “Come in, then.”
I walk downstairs, and follow them into the living room. “What’s going on?”
“Paige, this is Merton Casey,” Hilde announces. “He can put you right.”
“What exactly does that mean?” I question, suspicious of both of them.
“He can reverse your aging. Hogarth and I have been...networking. We finally found someone who can make you the age you’re meant to be.”
“What if I don’t want that?” I ask.
Hilde nods patiently. “We thought you might feel that way, so we brainstormed ways to convince you that this is for the best.”
“And what did you come up with?”
“Nothing,” Hilde says. “You know the advantages and disadvantages of being a twenty-something with the mind of a young teenager. I honestly can’t tell you which you should choose; I can tell you what I would choose.”
“You would go back,” I nod understandingly.
“No,” she says solemnly. “I’m the product of rape. My mother and I spent so long running from my birth father that I don’t know where I was born. I don’t even know if my mother remembers, wherever she is now. Children are vulnerable, as my mother could have told you when she was eleven.” She waits. “I would have jumped at the chance to grow up, so I could protect myself like she couldn’t, and I wouldn’t have regretted it. But you’re not me, or my mother, and your fathers aren’t my father. They deserve to raise you.” She finally exhales.
“Thank you for telling me that. I’m always here for you.” I take a moment. “Okay, I’ll do it. But don’t make me fourteen. I’ve lived a whole year since then. I’m fifteen now.”
Hilde looks to Merton for guidance, who shuts his eyes and nods slightly. “Now, from what I gather, this is going to be different than when Jesi did it. He’s going to have to get...” she trails off.
Merton looks away in shame.
“He’s not deaf,” Hilde starts over. He doesn’t talk, because women often need his services, and it’s not...great for him to have to do that. He actually doesn’t like doing it at all, and each time has scarred him a little more.”
Now I’m getting scared. “What does he have to do?”
“Jesimula’s power works by altering the passage time within an alternate temporal dimension. She basically made time move faster for you while you were in the bubble, without worrying about things like food, water, and sleep, which you would need to age in the real world.”
“Mister Casey, on the other hand, has to...physically alter your age. He has to touch you,, everywhere.”
Merton plants his face in his palms, and mumbles something.
“What was that?”
Too young,” Mireille says. “That’s what he said, too young.”
“You agreed to this, Merton,” Hilde reminds him.
Merton rubs his closed fist on his chest.
“I don’t want you to be sorry,” Hilde says to him. “I want you to ignore your instincts to stay away from a minor, and just pretend that you’re a doctor.”
Merton stands up, and shakes his head. He rubs his chest again, and starts to back away. A woman suddenly appears, and places her hand on his shoulder. “It’s okay, Merton. I’m going to make an exception for you. No one will ask you to do this ever again, not while you’re in Sanctuary. Would you like that?”
He tears up and nods graciously.
“Okay, I’ll be there soon for orientation.” The woman somehow makes Merton disappear.
“Dammit,” Hilde whispers, not mad at Merton for not being able to do it, or at this woman for stopping him, but still mad. “Now we have to go find Jesi.”
“No need for that,” the woman says, literally rolling up her sleeves. “I can do it for you. Besides, it was about time I meet my baby sister.”
Hilde and I look in the general direction of Brooke, who is apparently napping in the other room.
“No, not her,” the woman says. “Paige. My name is Meliora Rutherford Delaney-Reaver. Horace Reaver was my father.”
Was?” I echo nervously. “Is he dead?”
“Oh, heavens no,” Meliora swears. “He’ll be back with Serkan soon. I used the past tense, because he was my father in a completely different timeline. He doesn’t remember me at all. I still consider us sisters, though. I hope one day, you can as well.”
“You used two other last names,” I say. “Are you also related to Leona Delaney, and the infamous Lincoln Rutherford?”
“Yes to the first; a different version of Leona was my mother. The second was my foster father in that timeline. He actually contacted me when he realized what Miss Unger and her girlfriend were doing.”
“How would he know?”
“He knows everything.”
I can barely speak. “Leona and my dad were...together?”
“You kinda had to be there,” Meliora says. “I can explain when you’re younger. Are you ready?”
I lean back against the chair. “Do it.”
Meliora does have to touch me a lot to reverse my aging. She presses on my breasts to make them slimmer, on my head to make me smaller, and on my limbs to make them shorter. She rubs her fingers down my face to youngify it, and taps on my throat to change my voice. It only takes a moment, but once it’s done, I feel like a new person. “You’ll need rest,” she instructs me as her watch is beeping. “We got this done just in time. “You don’t need to tell them about me until you catch each other up on more important things.”
“Tell who?” I ask.
There’s a flash of light from the empty original laundry room, which we don’t use, because it’s in a weird location. Three men fall out of this light, and crash onto the floor. It’s Ace, Serkan, and some guy wearing a mask. Mireille helps Ace up while I’m taking care of Serkan. Meliora is gone.
“Dad, dad, you’re back!” I exclaim. I only realize now that we never decided what I would call which of my fathers. We always just know who I’m referring to based on context.
“Paige, I’ve missed you,” Serkan says, embracing me.
“What have you been doing this whole time?” I ask him.
“It’s not even been a month for him,” Ace explains. “We’ll get into that later. Your dad needs to rest and recover. K-Boy, can you run to the pharmacy for us? You know what to get.”
The masked man stands up for himself, and nods deliberately, like a Power Ranger. Then he runs off at superhuman speed.

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