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Saturday, February 2, 2019

Furor: The Required Skills For It (Part IV)

Before Ace could leave with Slipstream, he needed to regroup with his family, and obtain Serkan’s knowledge and memories of what was going to happen in the next coming weeks. Once he had that, Serkan and Paige went back to their lives for the time being, while Ace went on a background mission about their new enemy. Slipstream wasn’t able to keep the files from The Archivist, but she was able to remember quite a bit about him. Rothko Ladhiffe was born on the second of February, 1984. He was born after the cutoff date, but he showed such promise as a young child that they let him into kindergarten early. He would go on to skip fifth grade, and be one to two years younger than most of his peers.
In the summer of 2000, just before the beginning of the school year, the incoming senior class got together for a lock-in at the high school. It was an unauthorized event, but a decades-long tradition that adults allowed to continue, as long as no one got hurt. Rothko was living on the edge of a breaking point. For the last ten years, the city of Springfield, Kansas was gradually disappearing. Entire blocks would spontaneously disappear, leaving all survivors completely oblivious to its former existence. Rothko’s family was suddenly living on the edge of town, where they were once somewhere in the middle of it. Rothko, however, happened to have strayed beyond the borders on the night of that block’s disappearance. Several of his friends in the senior class had done the same. Together, they worked to get back home, and after awhile, they succeeded. Rothko, however, would not return for another twenty-one years.
He became stranded on a rogue planet that would come to be called Durus, with a boy named Escher, and a girl named Savitri. They had fallen into their own portals on two separate occasions before, and were the only survivors until much later, when the last of the now-small town of Springfield was swallowed up. No one—not even the Archivist himself—seems to know what happened to Savitri, and there were some plot holes when it came to Escher’s fate, but Rothko was eventually saved. He was sent back to Earth via a machine of Hogarth Pudeyonavic’s design. It would be another few years before she was able to rebuild that machine, and return to Earth herself, where she fought Jesimula Utkin by Paige’s side.
It was a culture shock for Rothko, who was now basically alone on a second world he knew nothing about. Smartphones, cars that could drive themselves, and the corporate automation tax were just too much for him to bear. Beaver Haven Penitentiary keeps criminal records in a location far removed from the Archivist, who was responsible for everything but. Slipstream was unable to garner information about what Rothko did that led him to a prison cell, but it wasn’t likely something good. The prison was specially designed to handle people with time powers. These weren’t the worst of the worst, or the ones with the potential to do most damage. They were just the ones who risked exposing the underworld to the Earth at large. This can be as simple as teleporting a loudmouth human—with a lot of followers on social media, and a permanent body cam—out of a deadly fire, to predicting global events that are destined to come true on national television. An individual who spent the majority of their life in a hellworld, fighting literal monsters, probably wasn’t capable of making considerate and careful decisions. Rothko Ladhiffe was placed in custody at some point in 2022, and managed to escape just last week. He was the only one in this reality to ever do so. It was unclear what he was so upset about when it came to the City Frenzy, but it was becoming clear that whatever was going to cause the commotion Serkan recalled from the near-future, he had something to do with it.
“What’s his power then?” Ace asked.
“He can manipulate local reality,” Slipstream answered unelaboratively. They were headed towards The Forger’s den. They weren’t going there to see him, but a man named The Courier, who operated in the same building, and was the only person they knew who traveled regularly to the prison. They needed answers, and that was the best place to get them.
“What exactly does local mean?”
“Well, he has to be able to see something in order to change it. He can’t just create a world where all trees are blue, or buildings hang from the clouds.”
“That’s a nice little limitation. I can’t imagine dealing with someone who could do those things.”
“Oh, that person exists too. She’s one of the other Springfield Nine.”
“Is she evil?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why is Kolby not coming with us to this place?”
“He’s doing this thing with his alternate self. I was asked to not ask too many questions about it.”
“Oh, okay.”
A man opened the door when they knocked on it. “Do you have a thousand dollars?” he immediately asked of them.
“What? We’re just here to speak with the Courier.”
“The last guy who came in without an appointment gave me a thousand dollars.”
“We don’t have that kind of money,” Slipstream said.
“Yeah, we do,” Ace said. He took a credit card out of his wallet. “The Forger has an ATM, doesn’t he?”
“You can give me the cash on your way out,” the freelance security guard said. He stepped to the side, and presented the dark rounded hallway to them. “Forger on the left, Courier on the right,” he called to them. “Don’t forget the money!”
They opened the door on the right to find another man sorting mail into slots, while a woman was sitting in the corner, in one of those giant covered chairs that hip startups have in their exposed-brick headquarters, which allow employees to take naps.
Ace tried to get into the Courier’s periphery. “Excuse me?”
“Speak softly,” he responded. Only then could they see that he had severe burns on part of his face. “She’s sleeping.”
“I didn’t know there were two of you,” Slipstream noted.
“Susan and I work in different departments. She’s The Switcher.”
“What does she switch?”
The Courier snuck past the sleeping pod, and into another room. It was full of stuff. They saw jenga blocks, and dark cloak hanging on a hook with a knife, and a penny sitting on a table that looked like it was there very much on purpose. “When you’re dealing with time travelers, you can’t exactly call each other on cell phones.” He picked up a device from the table. “Though, this is a Doctor Hammer pager.”
“Don’t touch that,” Susan mumbled from the other room.
“Sorry, love,” he said back. “Anyway, some choosers have special ways of contacting each other, usually with something that is symbolically relevant to their specialty. Sometimes you have to dig deep to find the connection. He was about to lift the penny, but thought better of it. For instance, there’s a woman with the ability to project her consciousness across space. If you want her to come, you find an ordinary penny, and recite be the penny to it. If you watched a certain science fiction adaptation on a certain science fiction network, you’ll know why that makes sense, but not if you didn’t.”
Slipstream nodded. “I watched it.”
“Susan is sleeping because she has one of the strongest powers ever. She can see the river of time itself, and she uses it to manage communications for all of us. If you’re trying to reach across time, she’s the one who decides precisely when your contact gets your message. Sometimes she maintains an order, and sometimes she lets people meet back up with each other in the wrong order. We are no one to question her reasoning.”
“Would she be able to contact someone at Beaver Haven for us?” Ace asked him. “Or could you?”
“It’s a prison,” the Courier said, “which means they’re not generally allowed packages. I can propel regular mail through time without actually traveling to it, so I’ve never had a reason to go there myself. You’ll have to wait until Susan wakes up. If she has a contact there, and wants to help, she will.”
“I’m up,” Susan said, somehow both reluctantly and ardently.
“We’re sorry to wake you,” Slipstream said to her as she was coming into the room.
“It’s okay,” Susan said. “As Ennis was saying, it’s exhausting work, so I need to sleep about fourteen hours a day.”
“We absolutely must build that extension,” Ennis lamented, “so you have an entire sleeping room to yourself.”
“We would need an extra dimension for that,” Susan said, “because the other tenants in this building aren’t scheduled to leave for another nine years and four months.”
Ace thought about their predicament. “You help us get to Beaver Haven, and I’ll get those tenants out ahead of schedule.”
“You don’t understand. The timeline says—”
“No, I get it, but the future can be changed, right? If anyone can do that, it’s me.”
Slipstream backed him up with her facial expression.
“That would be lovely. Let’s assume you’re bound to succeed in that endeavor, why do you want to get to the prison in the first place?”
“We would like to interview someone there who knew a man named Rothko Ladhiffe.”
The name seemed to make both Susan and Ennis really uncomfortable.”
“He and the rest of the Springfield Nine are out of pretty much everyone’s jurisdiction,” Ennis explained. “The fact that Beaver Haven arrested him in the first place speaks volumes about their desperation to stop him, and his escape is probably their greatest shame.”
“So, what are you saying?” Slipstream pressed.
“They’re not going to want to talk to you,” Susan said. “They’re going to pretend it never happened. If word gets out that their facility is not inescapable, they’ll start having a lot more people on their hands who want to test the limits of time traveler exposure.”
“We can reason with them,” Ace said confidently. “Because we can get him back.”
Susan sighed deeply. “Well, you were instrumental in bringing in Keanu ‘Ōpūnui, and she was vital to bringing in Jesimula Utkin, so I guess you are indeed our best shot.”
“Wait, if they’re also Springfield Nine, how did the prison justify locking them up too?” Ace asked. “I didn’t realized they had gone there.”
“No, me neither,” Slipstream said.
Susan smirked. “You’re loopholes. Choosing ones are not allowed to go after outliers, like the Nine.” She faced Slipstream. “But you’re human.” She faced Ace. “And you’re a salmon, your husband is a chosen one, and your daughter is spawn. We also aren’t allowed to go after any of you, but it’s totally fine if you go after each other.”
“You’re saying that we’re the only ones who can do this?” Ace gathered.
“Essentially. I mean, you’re not the only ones, but you’re some of the few living in this time period who have the required skills for it.”
“And they’re not going to get in trouble for involving me?” Slipstream questioned. “They exposed time travel to a human.”
“No, Jesimula exposed time travel to a human. Paige and the others just garnered your help with stopping her. They’re perfectly innocent, and even if they weren’t, Beaver Haven doesn’t arrest everyone who gives up their secret. It has to put us all at risk, and you’re not a liability because you’re a badass mercenary who knows how to keep a secret.”
“So, you’ll help us?” Ace wanted to confirm.
Susan smiled again as she was walking over to a corner. Ennis helped her move some boxes out of the way, revealing a barred window without the actual window. She lifted a metal mug from the sill, and started swiping it back and forth along the bars, making a huge racket. “Guards!” she shouted.
A security guard stepped in from a door on the other side of the room. “Yes, Madam Glines?”
Susan gestured towards Ace and Slipstream. “These two will be asking some questions at your institution. Give them anything they desire. Anything,” she reiterated.
“Yes, sir,” he said with the utmost respect for her.

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