Sunday, October 7, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: September 23, 2200

For centuries, civilized humans struggled for their rights and livelihoods. Life was a long and violent land rush that only ever ended in death. You took as much as you could, and hoped the heads you stepped on didn’t rise back up and retaliate. The sooners were the rich, and stragglers the poor. But as time wore on, people started realizing that there was no real point to this. Having a lot of money, and a lot of things, were unfulfilling exercises. As the old guard died off, their descendants began looking at life differently. They found that having everything they wanted was not more enjoyable just because there were those without. They still slept well at night in their comfortable beds knowing that others were doing the same; better even. Priorities shifted from the individual to the common good. It started to feel more rewarding the less poverty there was as a whole. Perhaps it was the promise, or threat, of an alien encounter, that only drew nearer as the years went by. Perhaps children are generally just better people than their parents. Whatever the cause, the reality was clear: money was a waste of resources.
Crime plummeted exponentially once society realized that the majority of them were perpetrated by those who felt slighted, underappreciated, and wanting. Early signs of this peeked through the global consciousness in the 21st century when superior paid services were chosen over inferior or illegally free ones. There was little place for illegal online downloads, for instance, when great content was affordable and easy to access. But it would take decades to truly see the potential of a world where labor and capital were not valued more than the benefits they provided. Still, crime was not entirely extinguished, for need was not the only reason. There was just no way to safely satiate the hunger of those who just want to hurt others. Virtual reality simulations alleviated some of this, but without a real sense of risk, they could only take it so far. Terrorists, rapists, serial killers, and the like, still felt the need to explore their impulses, and no amount of placating would be able to stop them.
Étude Einarsson was born with a destiny, to save the lives of strangers. Her predecessors had extremely strenuous careers, but hers was relatively easy. The world just wasn’t all that dangerous anymore. Deadly accidents were almost exclusively the stuff of legends and histories. The real danger came from operating in outer space, which was outside of The Savior’s purview. Even that was becoming safer anyway. And so the biggest problem positively contributing members of society faced was human nature. The Last Savior’s Last Save was seen firsthand by a couple hundred people, though nearly all invisible. A special choosing one named Sanela Matic had the ability to travel through time as witness to historical events, but was unable to interact with it. As The Screener, she could present an event to others, like a four-dimensional film. Normally she did this on an individual basis, but this was an important moment in time traveler history, and the powers that be wanted it to be shared. She and her audience were not the only ones there, though. Loa recorded the entire thing in her own brain, which was a secondary skill she had been working on for years. She would now have it for her lifetime, and anyone capable of contacting her would be able to request a viewing.
At the very last fraction of a second, Étude was teleported between the would-be killer, and his intended victim. He was reportedly not a well man, who became obsessed with murder mysteries as a child. He had apparently grown up studying these crimes, ultimately deciding to make a plan to see if he could get away with it, even in this day and age. At the end of the 22nd century, it was hard to do anything without people knowing about it. They accepted the lack of privacy since it was replaced by a deep sense of apathy. Just about anything one does could be discovered by others, but few worried about it, because—unlike the olden days of ubiquitous social media—few cared enough to do so. With the population of the solar system quickly approaching the first hundred billion, there just weren’t that many public figures. If you wanted to be famous, you had to agree to a level of transparency formally considered absurd. Even without fame, the hopeful murderer was easily caught by authorities, shortly after failing to hit his target. The bullet harmlessly struck Étude’s distribution vest, and that was that.
When Leona returned to the timeline, she heard Étude had been given a real identity, and was presently testing her way into medical school in one of the midrange circles. There weren’t many human medical professionals anymore. While other fields had plenty of room for people who just wanted to expand their knowledge, humans were too dangerous and inefficient at medicine. It was typically illegal to practice medicine without a certain threshold of operational upgrades. Even then, most patients preferred fully automated treatment, so not even many transhumanists had much work. The less advanced regions of the planet, and less developed offworld colonies, were the only ones willing to stoop to that level. Étude was supposedly sick of being limited in her movements to the one world, so it was believed her intentions were to travel to one of the exoplanets, where she could theoretically have plenty of opportunities to demonstrate her skills.
Brooke and Ecrin had been recruited into an elite task force, or something, overseen by the aptly named Overseer. They were jet setting around the solar system, investigating crimes, and rescuing people during classified missions. There were rumors that they were leading a team of people who helped destroy Ulinthra, as well as the timeline she had created when taking over the world. If true, revolutionary Holly Blue would surely be part of the team as well. Paige left without saying where or when she was going. Vitalie was finally starting to grow up, having been fully removed from Leona’s pattern. It was unclear as of now what kind of lifestyle she was planning to lead, and whether she would ultimately choose to die like a normal person.
The two remaining were presently sitting in their apartment, finishing up breakfast, when someone knocked on the door. Leona opened it up to find someone she recognized. “Kivi Bristol. How nice to see you.”
“You know me?” Kivi asked.
“Of course not,” Leona lied without skipping a beat. “Come in, though.” Kivi was an interesting person, whose temporal circumstances no one seemed to understand. There were multiple versions of her, born under completely different conditions, at different time periods, who were each generally unaware of her counterparts. She always had the same name, always looked the same, and was always about the same age. There was no telling how long she would last, and once she disappeared, it was sometimes a while before anyone remembered she had been there, and realized she was gone.
“Thank you, I’ve been walking for a while. Yours was the first place in this circle that opened when I knocked.”
Leona nodded. “Yes, people are having fun in their virtual environments, even here. Where are you from?”
“Center circle.” She tilted her head, not in pride for her answer, but willingly prepared for what she assumed would be the inevitable ignorant questions. The outer circle was the most advanced of all, though still less so than most pockets of civilization on Earth. Each further circle was more backwards than the last, until reaching the center. Some people there lived like ancient pioneers, with no electricity, or even the simplest of comforts, while others stayed in shelters they fashioned out of the materials in their environment. They weren’t, strictly speaking, isolationists, but they did reject technology. They warmly welcomed visitors, but not if they came with too many distractions. It was also a no-fly zone. Drawing on memories of Amish and Mennonite Rumspringa, residents of the center circle are encouraged to go out and see how people lived in the other circles. Unlike Rumspringa, this happens at different ages—sometimes as late as the last legs of life—and sometimes involves multiple trips. Conversion to the lifestyle was also a lot more prevalent, so their numbers balanced out, and remained pretty consistent.
“So, what can we help you with?”
“I was hoping you had some water.”
“Sure, I’ll get it,” Vitalie offered.
Kivi continued, looking directly at Leona, “and I was hoping you had some clue as to why I recognize your face from a recurring dream I’ve had.” She graciously took the water, and started gulping it down, but maintained eye contact.
Leona shrugged. “Eh, time, right?”
Leona sighed, not knowing how to get into it. How do you tell someone they’re not as unique as they may have thought? “Vitalie, you’re the only one who can explain this. Why don’t you sure her what you got?”
“Really?” Vitalie wanted to confirm. “Do we just do this for everyone we meet?”
“I already know her,” Leona explained. “She’s not just some random center circler. Please.”
Vitalie created a projection of herself on the other side of the room. It smiled at waved, then quickly segued into a not impressed expression. People in the future tended to be fairly receptive to the truth about time travel. A lot of science fiction tropes ended up becoming real, so there was a little less wonder in the world. This did not always work, though. Kivi looked between the two Vitalies in shock. She seemed confident this wasn’t just a hologram, possibly because she had likely never seen one of those either, and it caused her to faint.
She didn’t wake up when she fell to the floor, but something did fall out of her pocket. Vitalie picked it up, and opened it. “What is this?”
“It’s the Compass of Disturbance,” Leona replied as she was dragging Kivi to the couch.
“That sounds morbid.”
Temporal disturbance,” Leona added. “It finds and stabilizes tears in the spacetime continuum. It’s a tool.”
“Why does this girl have it?”
“I do not know.”
“Should I splash water on her face?”
“Should I even answer that?”
“Well, we do need answers.”
“She’s not dead. We’ll get them. Help me clean the table while we wait.”
Kivi woke up a few minutes later, and drank more of her water, but couldn’t say anything at first.
“Are you feeling okay?” Leona asked.
Kivi nodded “Yeah, I was just...surprised. I’ve never seen anything like that before. We don’t even have television.”
“Where did you get this?” Vitalie asked her, not wasting any time.
“My friend gave it to me,” Kivi answered. “She said to walk towards the outer circles, and not stop until I started seeing double. I didn’t know she meant it so...literally.”
“Who’s your friend?” Leona asked.
“A million bucks says you’ve already heard of the person she’s talking about,” Vitalie bet.
“She didn’t say anything about you two,” Kivi said. “She just gave this to me as a gift, and told me to keep moving. I needed to go on my walkabout anyway, so I didn’t question it.”
“What’s her name?”
“Shuhana. Shuhana Shenare.”
“Never heard of her,” Leona admitted. “You owe me a million dollars,” she said to Vitalie.
“I would seriously doubt it,” Kivi said, finishing the glass. “She’s just a humble shepherd.”
“Wait, is she a shepherd, or The Shepherd?”
“Hmm,” Kivi began. “Ya know, she does seem to act like she’s the only one in the universe.”
“Scratch that, Vitalie,” Leona said, eyes fixed on Kivi. “I owe you.”

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