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Saturday, September 22, 2018

Fervor: The Trinity is a Paradox (Part XII)

A kind woman is helping me up from the hot pavement of a rooftop parking lot. As I’m trying to recover from the lightshow, I see Jesi running down into the garage, still wearing her hazmat suit, and freaking out a couple walking back to their car. “Should I call the police?” the woman asks me.
“They couldn’t do anything,” I say. “She’s too powerful.” I remember what’s just happened, and scramble away from the woman. “Oh no, get away from me, I’m sick!” I look around, as if it would be possible to see the pathogen spreading through the air, or more ridiculously, that if possible, I could do anything about it.
“Hey, it’s okay,” she says to me calmly. “We’ll get to a hospital and figure this out. What exactly is it that you think you have?”
“They called it anthrolysis.”
They, who?”
I can’t answer that question, because I’m determined to keep time travel a better secret, and she picks up on this.
“Everything is going to be all right. I’m Carol Gelen. What’s your name?”
“Paige. Paige Turner.”
This somehow seems to catch her off guard. She reaches into her back pocket, and opens a sheet of paper. “I received this in the mail. Not an email, but the old fogey kind. I thought it was strange that a new bookstore would open after nearly all others have closed in recent years. I couldn’t pass up the offer for one free softcover book to the first fifty people who show up to its grand opening, though.” She hands me the flyer. “I figured it was a prank, because I can’t find a store by that name anywhere. I came back up here to leave.”
KC Page Turner Book Emporium,” I read. “Jesi, you bitch,” I mutter.
“This wasn’t me.” Jesimula Utkin has appeared next to me. She sounds sincere. “I’m Alt!Jesi, from the other reality. I’ve just learned what this is. The Prestons have it out for this woman’s children.”
“I don’t have children,” Carol corrects her. “I only have a daughter.”
“In this timeline, yes.”
The fear in Carol’s eyes. She pulls her phone out of her pocket, and almost drops it, trembling like a newborn fawn. “Hey Thistle, call Leona.”
“No,” I say out loud, absorbing some of Carol’s fear into my own eyes as she’s confirming that her daughter is still alive. “Please tell me that’s a more common name than I knew.”
Jesi frowned at me. “Technically it’s a different Leona than you know. The one at the Ponce is far older.”
“I saw you teleport,” Carol says to Jesi after hanging up. “I thought I was seeing things when Miss Turner here did it, but obviously not. What is going to happen to my little girl?”
“She will be fine,” Jesi assures her. “Well, maybe that’s not the best word to use, but she will survive, and she’ll become a hero. She meets a boyfriend and a girlfriend, and has two wonderful children. You actually met your grandchildren, as did your late husband, you just didn’t know it.” That was shockingly generous of Jesi to say, and it seems to be helping Carol feel better.
“But I’m still going to die?” Carol asks.
“It’s like it’s already happened,” Jesi confirms
“No,” I say. “We can stop this. Send me back.”
Jesi frowns at me again as she’s taking out her phone. “Okay Thistle, call Ophir.” She waits a second. “Fifi. Emergency evac to KU Med in realtime. One patient. The human.”
“She doesn’t need a hospital; she needs a reset,” I argue.
A man appears, picks Carol up like they’re newlyweds, and disappears again.
“Arcadia and Nerakali are not going to let this go. Mrs. Gelen died in the other timeline, and I don’t deign to understand why she has to die in this one, but I do not question them.”
“How is that possible? You don’t back down.”
“From them, I do. Anything more would be suicide. I’m sorry, Paige, but the only thing  we can do for Patient One right now is keep her comfortable until she dies.”
“At least take her to Doctor Hammer,” I suggest. “She might stand a chance at fixing this.”
“That is precisely why I didn’t involve Hammer. I’m trying to tell you, it’s hopeless. Her fate has been decided.”
Now I’m getting angry. “Yeah, decided by you! You can blame others all you want, but this was your doing, and you will have to live with yourself.”
“Not if I erase my own memories. I can do the same for you.”
“No,” I say, seething. “I wanna remember how much I hate you.”
“I think you’ll one day forgive me. Afterall, I’m the reason you just saved the world. Yes, someone died, but omelettes and eggs, right?”
I’m getting angrier. “People! Are not! Omelettes! Carol was a human bei—is. She is a human being!”
“In this analogy, Carol would be the egg, and humanity would be the—”
“Argh!” I scream. I invoke my memories of watching football with my dad. He doesn’t actually like sports all that much, but gambling on games with the power to vaguely recall the future is how he makes his money. I pull my arms in, and lower my head, so I can barrel right into her, like a...uhh...linebacker? Jesi’s nearly over the edge when a pair of hands tugs me at the waist. She’s still about to fall to her death when a second pair of hands saves her just in time. But it’s the same pair, and both belong to me. Two other versions of me just stopped me from making the biggest mistake of my life.
Second!Paige regards Third!Paige with surprise. “In the other timeline,” Third!Paige explains, “you pull First!Paige off of Jesimula, but it’s too late. Jesi ends up tipping over.”
I can’t speak.
“One thing you’ll learn, First,” Third!Paige says to me, “is that sometimes you can change the past, and sometimes you’re just completing a predestined loop.”
I still can’t speak. Part of me is in shock from encountering two other versions of myself, and the rest is still vengeful against Jesimula Utkin.
“The question now,” Second!Paige begins, “is what do we do with the three of us?”
“Easy,” Jesi says. “You have to do a physical blend.”
I finally feel up to joining the bizarre conversation.“What is that?”
Choosers tend to not like there being alternate versions of themselves running around,” Third!Paige starts, “so they join together, and form a new person.”
“This new person has the combined memories of the originals, which is why I’m not so sure we should do it,” Second!Paige adds. “Both of us remember killing Jesi, and I don’t want you to have to go through that. Besides, blending brains is bad enough, but quantum merging two bodies is said by some to be more painful than childbirth. I’ve never heard of it being done by three people.”
“Irrelevant,” Jesi says. “It’s immoral to remain apart. Jupiter Rosa is the only exception.”
“You’re one to talk,” Second!Paige says to her.
“The other Jesi and I will be quantum merging soon, I promise you that,” Jesi claims.
Third!Paige faced Jesi more straight on. “You should go before a fourth version of us has to come back in time, and save your life again.”
“I have business on the plaza,” Jesi responds, looking at her watch. “Fair warning, I’m only sliding a few minutes into the future. Be here, or be somewhere else.” She forms a temporal bubble, and disappears.
Second!Paige looks at her watch. “We should get going anyway. The rest of the team is going to be worried about her.”
“We can’t show ourselves to them,” Third!Paige reminds her.
“I know,” Second!Paige agrees. “Which means we don’t have long to settle our affairs, and say our goodbyes.”
Both of the other Paiges take sunglasses out of their respective pockets, and place them on their faces, completely in sync, like they practiced it ahead of time. Second!Paige puts on a funny hat. I guess we don’t want to draw attention to ourselves, which three triplets at somewhat different ages would do. We climb the stairs in silence. Once we’re back down on the street, I look back up to the roof, and see Jesimula Utkin creepily staring at us. I watch her for a moment, then turn away, and follow myself down the block. The disguises seem to be working, because nobody gives us a second look as we stroll the plaza.
“Why do we have to say goodbye again?” I ask of them.
“Jesi’s right in that we shouldn’t be seen together,” Third!Paige explains, “or interact with each other in the long run. If we’re each to survive independently, then we should do so, well...independently.”
This was sound logic, and I couldn’t figure out how I felt about. These two are me, and I could learn so much from them. They almost feel like my sisters, and I don’t to part from them. But yes, it would be uncomfortable and confusing for our fathers, and I don’t want them dealing with that. It’s already bad enough that I’m now one of their peers.
Second!Paige sighs deeply. “Our biggest hurdle is which of us gets to go back, and which has to go somewhere else?”
“How would you even get there?” Third!Paige asks her.
“I would...” Second!Paige tries to sound like she knows what she’s talking about, “make contact.”
“With whom?”
“You know many choosers?”
“Someone could take me there.”
“Someone, like Ophir Adimari?” Third!Paige questions.
“Yeah, maybe,” Second!Paige argues.
“I have something better,” Third!Paige says. She removes what look like two phones from her back pockets. I assume they’re not really phones, though. “I found Ophir after Jesi died by my hand for the second time, and asked him to take me back there. I had spent years not wanting to try to change history again, thinking it would  only end in disaster, knowing that only Asuk could help me through it. Our fathers were great, but I felt such shame every time I looked at them, I couldn’t bear it. Going back to the future helped immensely, but at a terrible price. Ophir, Jesi, Keanu, and all their friends are horrible people, who don’t do anything for free. Ophir wanted too much from me, so I came back to fix it all, but not before I made these.” She hands one device to Second!Paige, and the other to me.
“What are they?” I ask.
“Photos. Hundreds of millions of them,” Third!Paige answers. “There’s one photo for very day of eight thousand years, in a couple hundred strategic locations around the world. It can take you all the way to about five-thousand B.C.E.”
I examine the device itself, without even turning it on. “They all fit on this one thing?”
“That baby holds eight petabytes, and I’ve used almost all of it. For reference, a petabyte is a million gigs.”
“How did you find pictures before the camera was invented?” Second!Paige asked.
Third!Paige smirks. “I used a time traveling camera, that someone else invented. It doesn’t matter, the point is that those are yours. First!Paige, you’ll stay here, and continue your life. Jesi isn’t likely to be done with you, and her friends have their own nefarious projects going on. Keep a lookout. Second!Paige, you can be the one to go see Asuk, and his family. As you know, this is a different timeline, so they won’t have any clue who you are.”
“Where will you go?” Second!Paige asks graciously.
Third!Paige’s smirk grows larger. “Hey Glasses, telescope mode.” The lenses of her sunglasses turn a deeper black. She looks up, and looks around at the sky, until she settles on one point. “How about Tau Ceti?” Then she disappears.
“Did she just go to a different planet?” I ask. “How is that possible? She wasn’t looking at a photo.”
Now Second!Paige smirks as she’s flipping through her camera roll. “You don’t need a photo. You just need to see where you’re going.” She disappears too.

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