Saturday, June 8, 2019

Proxima Doma: Reconstruction (Part XII)

Vitalie wanted to help Étude, but she had no recollection of feeling perturbed about her own memory issues. At the moment, as in every moment, she could only remember the last fifty-six years of her life. For a person who was only in their early sixties, that would likely be traumatizing. Without amnesia, a person should be able to retain memories of when they were nine years old, and several years younger. Walking around with a total blank from that time period meant Étude could sense that there was something missing from her life. She should have been able to recall her mother comforting her when she was scared of the dark. She should have been able to remember her birth father sending her off to live on The Warren, so she would be safe from the dawning of the Maramon white monsters. Vitalie was different, though. She knew she was much older than that, which meant she had spent a long time without those kinds of memories, and now, it just felt normal. She also couldn’t remember Étude herself, so this whole situation was a little uncomfortable. Still, she tried. “What is the first thing you remember?”
“I remember Brooke teaching me how to fly the ship. I mean, she wasn’t really teaching me. Like, I couldn’t do it now. But she was showing me the basics.”
Vitalie nodded.
Tertius only frowned.
Étude went on, “it’s weird. Intellectually, I know that picking your earliest memory isn’t this easy. You don’t always know whether something happened before, or after, some other event you remember. Before full memories, you’re gonna have fragments, and two-dimensional freeze frames. Sometimes, you could also be conflating a fictional story you watched or read with your own life, so it never actually happened. Memory is usually complicated and unreliable, but I remember Brooke’s pilot lessons, and I know for a fact that that is the first thing. At the same time...” she trailed off.
Vitalie was still nodding. “At the same time, you can feel it slipping away.”
“Right,” Étude confirmed. “Because time is still moving. That memory is quickly being overtaken by the next thing that happened after it. I mean, I don’t even know if...”
Vitalie sighed. “It’s best not to focus too much on your earliest memory. It’s always ephemeral, and it’s really unsettling to feel it constantly being replaced by the very next event.”
“It feels like I’m riding on a train. Up ahead is only blackness, as the tracks form themselves little by little. Then behind me, it’s also black. It’s further away, but I can see the tracks gradually disappearing. I try to hold on—”
“Don’t try to hold on,” Vitalie interrupted. “You can’t, and it will just hurt more. Try to live in the present. We’re talking about episodic memories here. You’re not going to forget what a paperclip is, or how to drive a car.”
“I never learned how to drive a car,” Étude argued, but realized that that’s not the point Vitalie was trying to make.
Vitalie sported a small smile. “Whenever you pick up a new skill, you’ll always have it. Well, not necessarily. I’ve been told I used to be a doctor, but I guess I spent a long enough time pretty isolated, without any patients, and now it’s gone, because I didn’t flex my brain muscles. That’s true of anyone with anything, though. What I’m trying to say is, don’t worry so much about the daily events that you’ve gone through. Concentrate on what you have at this very moment, and do what you can to solve any problems based on what your gut tells you you know how to do.”
“That’s the thing, though,” Étude said. “I can’t just ignore those events. While everything before I was nine is disappearing, everything more recently is becoming clearer.”
Vitalie didn’t know what she was talking about. “It is?”
“Yeah, it’s like I’m slowly developing hyperthymesia. Anything within the fifty-six year timeframe is far easier to recall than it ever was before.”
Vitalie stared at her. “Either that’s a feature that will eventually go away, or you’re different than me. None of my diary videos say anything about it, but we shouldn’t be surprised if it turns out Tertius’ saliva is affecting you differently, since you drank it first.”
Tertius flinched at this; being the cause of all of it.
Vitalie noticed this. “I’m absolving you of any wrongdoing, Mister Valerius. I’ve been around for four and a half billion years, yet my brain is the same size it always was. I have a limited number of neurons, with a limited number of neural connections. Maybe humans just weren’t meant to live as long as I have, because we certainly weren’t designed to. I probably would have lost my memories anyway, but it would have been unpredictable, and it could have had other negative effects.”
“Well,” Tertius began, “you’re the only one who’s lived this long, so there’s no way to know.”
“I’m not the only one,” Vitalie contended. “I don’t remember them now, but my diaries have mentioned other immortals, who were much older than I was when I first ended up in that universe.”
He widened his eyes. “Really?”
“Yeah, I don’t know what happened to them. They seemed to be doing okay, but I think it was taking a toll on them. I’m fine with who I am. I enjoy a perpetual clean slate, like a bad credit score after seven years.”
Tertius breathed in deeply. “Well, we still haven’t tried something.”
“Can you even restore memories?” Vitalie asked.
“I never have before,” Tertius said, “but I’ve also never tried. Ya know, I don’t think I’ve met anyone with amnesia before. If I can’t do anything, though, we can try to contact The Warrior.”
“Who’s that?”
“He can give you memories from an alternate timeline. He might not be able to restore you and Étude exactly as you should be, but he could come damn close. Basically, you might remember wearing a red shirt one day twenty-four years ago, but in this timeline, it was blue. That would be the only difference; not a big deal.”
“I don’t want him to do that to me,” Vitalie said.
“You don’t?” Étude asked her.
“No, like I said, it’s been billions of years. He probably couldn’t access anything that happened to me in the other universe, and I’m so far removed from my life in this universe, that he would be giving me the memories of a stranger. I know you two wanted me to come back, and just restart my life, but this isn’t my life anymore. I don’t know who it is you knew, but I’m someone else. I don’t need to know her, and I definitely need to be her. I really am fine. I hope your respect that.”
They stood in silence for a reverent moment. “Miss Einarsson?” Tertius offered.
“I would like you to try, and if you can’t, I would like to see if we can reach the Warrior. I’m not sure if it’s possible, though. As far as I know, he doesn’t have a temporal calling card.”
“I don’t think he does,” Tertius agreed, “but I know someone who does have one, who could make an introduction.”
“Temporal calling card?” Vitalie asked simply.
“All these people with time powers,” Étude began to explain. “Since we don’t all experience linear time, someone figured out how to communicate across time, but only with a select few. You have one, actually.” Étude pulled out one of the pennies she kept on her person at all times. “I set this on the table and deliberately utter, be the penny, and it summons you to me. You’re not a time traveler—or, at least, you weren’t—so I think you would have to be in the present moment.”
“I’m always in the present moment,” Vitalie joked. “Anyway, I’ll get out of your hair, so you can try to get your memories back.”
“No, can’t you stay?” Étude instinctively took Vitalie by the arm with affection.
Vitalie was less tentative about this than she was when she first returned. “I can do that,” she answered gracefully.
Tertius took two cushions from their chairs, dropped them to the floor, and sat down on one of them. He patted the other, indicating that Étude should do the same, facing him. He began breathing exercises, and asked her to match. “Relax,” he instructed.
Étude kept breathing, until they were perfectly in sync. Without him telling her, she started clearing her mind, and focusing on one thing: the tower they were in. It was an echo chamber, which could amplify anyone’s time power. If he wasn’t normally capable of restoring people’s memories, the tower might have been the only thing that could make it happen now. She could feel an energy pass back and forth between her and him. Her head felt cool, and maybe soft? It was kind of hard to describe. She just felt open, and available to accept knowledge in a way she didn’t know was possible. She felt a pair of hands cup her temples, then she started receiving a flood of memories. But they weren’t of her childhood; they were of her daughter’s. She could remember going to Earth to retrieve the Cosmic Sextant. Something went wrong with the ship on the way back, and she was flung all the way to Dardius. She met Newt Clemens, and many other people. She had a child, and had to escape with her back to Earth 1997. She raised her for years, taking breaks only to find Tertius his immortality water. She was essentially killed, so her body could be cryonically frozen, and restored later. She came out, made her way back to Proxima Doma, lived in peace for a time, then went back up to this very tower, where she died.
Étude opened her eyes.
“Did it work?” Vitalie asked. “Was that supposed to happen?”
Tertius opened his eyes too. He looked above Étude’s head, and she realized it was not his hands that were touching her. He scrambled back like a frightened rodent under the sudden kitchen light. “Oh my God.”
Étude slowly turned as the hands removed themselves from her head.
It was Nerakali Preston, which was the woman who initially had the power to blend memories from alternate realities. Years ago, the Warrior killed her, and stole this power for himself. Though, when one is dealing with time travelers, one can’t ever expect to never see someone they know to already be dead. “You’re welcome,” she said, almost clinically, but not coldly.
“What did you do?” Tertius asked. He was still profoundly scared of her.
Nerakali scoffed. “I did what you asked of me. Or rather, what you would have been going to ask me in the future.”
“Are you okay?” Tertius asked. “Did she really do it?”
“Yes,” Étude answered him. “Well, not exactly. I have to find my daughter. I have to find Cassidy.”

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