Saturday, May 11, 2019

Proxima Doma: Rebidden (Part VIII)

Fourteen years later, there was no sign of Past!Étude or Past!Vitalie. They both traveled back to Earth using one of the colony ships, which an engineer retrofitted to move at present-day speed standards. If all had gone according to plan, they would have returned in 2228, or maybe 2229, if they ran into trouble while looking for the Cosmic Sextant. The fact that they were still not back, and hadn’t sent them some kind of message, suggested something tragic had befallen them instead. They were never likely to see them again. This was proving to be an even more dire problem than they thought. At the moment, Tertius was gravely ill, and was unable to maintain his memory blocking powers, and recover at the same time. The more he tried, the worse it made him, until it just wasn’t feasible to keep going. His continuous hold over the Oblivios inside their dome finally let go, and they were able to not only see the tower in which they lived, but remember it later. They were shocked by it, some considering it to be the tower of God. Étude did what she could to treat him, but they were still on a world with limited resources, and there was only so much she could do.
Since the Oblivios had no memory of technology, they had no idea what the tower really was. No manmade structure had ever been so much as dreamed of by them. There weren’t even that many mountains within the confines of the dome, and none of them was even this tall. Only one woman seemed unafraid of it. Étude and Vitalie watched on the view screens as this old woman, holding some kind of box, bravely approached the hidden entrance, punched in an access code she shouldn’t have known, and rode the elevator all the way up to the top, where they were.
The doors opened, and she walked into the room. “Is Tertius dead?” she asked.
“You know him?” Vitalie asked her.
She closed her eyes. “Is he dead?” she repeated impatiently.
“He’s sick, but still alive.”
“Good. I can save him.”
“Who are you?”
She placed her box on the table, and removed a key from her neck. “I’m a very old friend.” Her weak hands were shaking as she attempted to unlock the box.
“Here, I’ll help,” Vitalie offered.
“We don’t know what that is,” Étude warned.
“She’s not a terrorist, Étude.”
“Thank you, my dear,” the old woman said graciously.
Once Vitalie opened the box, vapor hissed from the cracks, and revealed it to be some kind of cryogenic case. Inside were eleven water bottles, kept preserved for who knows how long?
“Is that what I think it is?”
The old woman smiled and nodded. “Immortality water. It took me years to gather it all together, and a lot of money to preserve it like this.”
“Did you get it for him?”
She nodded again. “I wasn’t able to hold onto the Cosmic Sextant, and now it’s lost to...well, the cosmos. So I decided to find us the next best thing.”
They were confused.
“What’s your name?” Étude asked.
“What’s your name?” the woman volleyed.
“Étude Einarsson.”
“How funny. That’s mine too.”
Vitalie gasped. “You’re the other one. The other Étude.”
Old!Étude laughed and pointed at Young!Étude. “She’s the other one.”
“You look like you’ve been gone longer than we’ve been waiting. What happened to you?” Étude asked, not sure how to feel about this situation.
“A great deal,” Old!Étude said, trying to pull a chair up for herself.
Vitalie helped her. “I’ll give this water to Tertius. I can still hear you from the other room.”
Old!Étude began to tell her story. “Everything went fine on Earth. We got there when we were supposed to, The Concierge let us into The Constant, and she gladly handed over the Cosmic Sextant. Then we got back in our ship, and headed on our way. Something went wrong, though, proving how foolish it is to go on an interstellar journey without a pilot, or at least a mechanic. Our only hope was to activate the Sextant itself, and take it all the way to Dardius. We were there for...a little bit, not as long as I look now, but we started a life. We found who we were looking for. It wasn’t an animal. His name was Newt. Newt Clemens. I fell in love with him, and he did us a favor. He transferred my powers to the other Vitalie. She is, as far as I know, presently still on Dardius, doing her thing for those people. She doesn’t even need my help anymore.” She paused to rest her eyes for a moment. “Anyway, Newt and I had a child, but that child was not safe there. It’s funny, Newt was rescued from his timeline, because that was the safest place for him, but it wasn’t safe for our child...not anymore.
“He sent the two of us away. We snuck into the Nexus replica, and traveled back to Earth. But not just any Earth...he sent us to the past, because no one would be looking for us there. It was there that we lived in peace for eighteen years, which was when I finally found the last of the immortality water. I was pretty old by then. It was millenia after Tertius was first born, and decades before he would arrive in the future. The early 21st century was just a pointless time period for me if I wanted to get this stuff to him. If I was going to survive, I would have to let myself die first. I spent the rest of my money on cryonic preservation, scheduled to be released at the right time to get back here to Proxima Doma. Well, not all my money. I spent a little on euthanasia. If I had let the disease that was killing me run its course, people in the future might not have been able to revive me, or just might not have bothered. I left my daughter; abandoned her, all to protect these people here.” She gestured towards the outside.
“I’m so sorry you had to go through that,” Young!Étude apologized. “Forgive me, but, why wait all this time to approach us?”
Old!Étude giggled. “Because, dummy, you erased my memories. Like I said, I was already old by then. I was...having trouble with my mind, and wasn’t able to identify myself in time. I’ve been living here in blissful ignorance, thinking I was born to a world with a blue sky, like everyone else. I only got my memories back when Tertius got sick.”
“What was your daughter’s name?” Vitalie was standing at the doorway, having finished spoon feeding Tertius the immortality water. “Is,” she corrected herself.
Old!Étude smiled once more, but this time was different. She was remembering all the love she felt for her child. “Cassidy. Cassidy Long. That’s my last name too; I had to change it, obviously.”
“So she’s...” Young!Étude started to say.
“She could be alive, or dead. She was young to reach the longevity escape velocity, but I don’t know if she chose it. I didn’t have time to look her up before the Oblivio colony ships left Earth. The company I paid to freeze me didn’t wake me as early as I wanted them to.
“Why didn’t you seek someone to send you to the future instead?” Tertius was out of bed, and standing behind Vitalie.
She stepped to the side, and helped him to the table. She had given him the water, but it evidently still needed a minute to take effect.
“I purposefully avoided all temporal manipulators. I didn’t want anyone knowing who I was, or who she was. You have to understand, protecting her was my—”
Tertius interrupted her, “I was just curious. I would have made the same choices.” He paused. “Thank you for doing this for me. I’ll never be able to pay you back.”
Old!Étude leaned back in her chair, in apparent deep thought. “I’m dying again.”
“Oh.” Vitalie jumped. “I didn’t give him all the water. We could give you some too,” she suggested.
Old!Étude shook her head. “I don’t wanna live forever. I’m tired, and I’m ready. I just want one thing before I go.” She fell asleep again. “I wanna know what happened to my girl. If you could access the network.”
“Of course,” Tertius said. He looked up at the ceiling. “Hey, Thistle.”
Yes, Mister Valerius?” the artificial intelligence assistant replied.
“Please run a historical search; parameters Cassidy Long, from...”
“Lawrence, Kansas,” Old!Étude filled in. “Social security number six-six-six-zero-zero-one-two-three-four.”
Seconds later, the AI responded, “Cassidy Long, born Lawrence, Kansas May 11, 1997. Last seen in the Champagne Room of Wonderberries Club on May 11, 2019.
“She disappeared on her birthday.” Vitalie noted.
“That was a fake birthday, Vitalie,” Young!Étude reminded her. “Wonderberries. Is that where she worked?”
“Not when I died,” Old!Étude answered. “I know that place, it serves alcohol, so she wouldn’t have been old enough. She was at a different strip club before, I can’t recall the name.”
“Miss Long...” Tertius tried to say, but trailed off.
“I know. There are only two options in our world when it comes to people disappearing. She was either killed, or...” Old!Étude trailed off too.
“Or she was sent to somewhere else in time and space,” Young!Étude finished for her.
“Did she have powers?” Vitalie asked.
“I don’t know,” Old!Étude replied. “I never even told her where we come from. As far as she knew, I was born in 1940-something, and looked younger than I was because I ate right and exercised.”
“I’m sorry,” Vitalie said reverently. “She may come back, though. She may walk through that door in ten seconds, and no time will have passed for her.”
The four of them looked at the door in hope. Ten seconds passed, and no one came through it.
“Or in another ten seconds,” Vitalie added.
“I appreciate the sentiment,” Old!Étude thanked her. “I’m going to choose to believe she’s a chooser, like her father. I’m going to choose to believe she jumped through time on purpose, and wherever she is..whenever she is, she’s happy, and safe. I’m not even going to think about the possibility that she was dancing for a sketchy client who—nope, I’m not gonna think about it.” She kept nodding her head, focusing on the good times, and trusting that her daughter was alive and well, or died old and content a long time ago. Perhaps she just ran away from her old life, like her mother before, and started a new one somewhere else. “One more thing.”
“Yes?” Young!Étude asked with a frown. Her alternate self was not looking good.
“The lid, of the case I came here with.” She tried to reach for it, but could barely keep her arms in the air.
Vitalie hopped over, and got to the case first. “I’ll find it. What am I looking for?”
“A vial,” Old!Étude said.
Vitalie pulled the lining from the lid, and retrieved a vial from behind it. “Got it. Who’s is this?”
“It’s Newt’s blood, with a little somethin’ extra. You infuse that in your body, and any child you conceive is guaranteed to be born with your powers. You’ll also lose those powers.”
“Why would we want this?” Young!Étude interrogated.
“It’s for him.” She jerked her head up to Tertius. “Just because he’s immortal now, doesn’t mean he’ll always want to do this. If he ever wants to pass the torch, he can. I even think his immortality will be passed on to his offspring. Now, put it back in the case and close it. It still needs to be preserved.”
Vitalie quickly did as she was told.
“Mister Valerius,” Old!Étude said, “could I possibly borrow your bed? I’m frightfully tired.”
“Of course. Here, let me help you.” Apparently back to full strength, and then some, Tertius lifted the old woman in his arms, and carried her to the other room. He returned ten seconds later. “She’s gone.”

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