Saturday, September 21, 2019

Source Variant: Operation Starseed (Part I)

Right now—if there even is such a thing as a now—Saga is on a mission to find her daughter. Also right now—but a different now—Vearden Haywood is back on his homeworld, having just spent an indeterminate amount of time exploring the bulkverse. Neither of these people is unique. Each one of them possesses an alternate version of themselves. This Saga is from a different timeline, one in which Saga and Vearden are friends who were put in dangerous situations, charged with helping people at different points in time. This Vearden is from the current reality, and has never met any version of Saga, though he has heard of her. They will finally meet each other today, but what does it mean to be in today?
Saga!Two—as she’ll be called, to differentiate her from her recent counterpart—has been listlessly opening doors in this hotel. Her daughter was taken from her by The Emissary, who was working on behalf of the powers that be, who chose Étude to be The Last Savior of Earth. She has no choice in the matter but to teleport all over the world, saving people’s lives, and she won’t be able to see her family until she’s done. Saga!Three could be an old woman at that point, so she’s been trying to skip over all that, and jump forward in time. Unfortunately, her ability to open literal doors to others points in spacetime is less of a power, and more of a game of probability. It sometimes takes her on a mission she had no intention on going on, and sometimes just takes her somewhere random. Most of the time, whenever she opens a door, it just takes her to the other side of it, just like it would for any normal person. This looks promising, though. When she opens the door to room 233, she doesn’t find two beds and a TV. It looks more like a laboratory, full of computers, and equipment she doesn’t recognize. She might think this is some kind of secret temporary spy agency field office, but it’s a hell of a lot larger than it should be. It extends far beyond where the window to the outside should be.
Vearden!Three—as he’ll be called, to differentiate him from his earlier counterpart—is just hanging out. He’s in a hotel room as well, but 164 years in the past, from Saga!Two’s perspective. It happens to also be a room 233. He grew up knowing that he was meant to be a time traveler, and developed an inexplicable drive to go to Kansas City from Oklahoma when he was a teenager. This is where his suspicions were confirmed, at least partially. He met two totally legit men from the future, who were trying to return to their own time. He helped them get back, and then years later, met back up with them to help them again. This was when a special universe-hopping machine called The Crossover showed up. A woman who claimed to be his wife invited him in, and claimed she would introduce him to endless wonder. He took her up on this offer, but it’s been difficult for both of them. He hasn’t felt the love for this woman, Gretchen as she feels for him. She was married to Vearden!Two, and he is not that man. They both agreed to go their separate ways, at least for now, to take a bit of a break. Vearden!Three asked to be dropped off in 2019, because why not? It wasn’t exactly when he was from, but he quite liked it the first time around. He’s just opened the door from the bathroom when he finds himself in some kind of laboratory.
“Hello?” he calls out to the aether. “Gretchen?”
No one answers.
“Gretchen, it’s only been two months for me. I need more time than that.”
Still no answer. As he’s examining his surroundings, another door opens, right next to his, where he can still see his Peruvian hotel room. He instinctively hides behind a table.
“Hello?” Saga!Two asks. “Étude?”
Vearden!Three has heard the name before, so he can guess who this woman here is, and has been told that he would be able to trust her.
“Umm...hi,” he says timidly.
“Vearden?” Saga!Three asks. She hasn’t seen him in many years, since he died, and everything. She instinctively runs over, and wraps her arms around his shoulders.
Again, he’s never met Saga before, but this feels so comfortable. He should pull away so he can explain the truth, but he’s missed true human connection, so he just leans into it.
Saga!Two finally releases him, and takes a half step back. “I’m sorry. I don’t even know where in the timeline you’re from. When was the last time you saw me? Have you been to Tribulation Island yet?” That was where her version of Vearden died.
He shakes his head. “I’m afraid I’m not who you think I am. This is the first time you and I have met. I am from this timeline, not yours.”
Her smile transforms into a frown. “Oh. You’re Vearden!Three.”
“Yeah, that’s what people keep calling me,” he says. “I get who Vearden!Two is, but no one ever explains who Vearden!One would be.”
She nods. “I don’t know him either, or the first version of me. I mean, there have been far more than three realities, but people don’t like to think in such complex terms. I think there were really just two major timelines before this one, and they’ve had the most lasting impact on reality. You’re Vearden!Three. I’m Saga!Two.”
“I’m sorry to disappoint you.”
“No, don’t say that. Don’t ever apologize for being you. It’s still really nice to see that face after all this time, and if you’re half as good as he was, I’m honored.”
He smiles. “Thank you. He sounds like a lot to live up to.”
She smiles back. “Do you know where we are?”
“I have no clue,” Vearden!Three replies. He gestures towards the doors. “It’s supposed to be 2019 Cusco for me. You?”
“No idea. I think it’s 2183 Panama, but it’s hard to keep track. I’ve been trying to find my daughter. I don’t imagine this has anything to do with that.”
As they’re watching their doors, they slowly begin to close on their own.
“Should we try to get back through them?” he asks as he’s kind of inching in that direction.
Saga!Two shakes her head. “It wouldn’t work. The powers that be want us here, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. For all we know, it’s good for us. We better just let it go.”
The magical doors close completely, and turn back into regular doors.
Vearden!Three points to an ominous door on the opposite wall. “My instinct is to go through that.”
They carefully walk over to it. Saga!Two grabs a phallic device from a table that’s probably used to test atmospheric composition, or something. Hopefully it’s not an alien probe. She gets in a Jackie Robinson position as Vearden!Three prepares to open the door. She nods when she’s ready.
Stasis pods. That’s their best guess as what these things are. Slanted at forty-five degrees towards their respective walls, they span all the way down to the darkened other half of the giant room. They’re each only large enough to fit a child. Of course, they’re frosted over. Still carefully, they walk over and wipe the frost from one to see inside. Any two other people would have probably jumped back in fear, but this isn’t the first time they’ve seen aliens. This isn’t even the first time Saga has seen this particular kind of alien.
“You know what they are?” Vearden!Three asks.
“Orothsew,” she confirms. “It’s just a child, though.”
Vearden steps over, and clears the frost from another, and then two more. “They look the same. Is this gonna be some kind of horror story, Saga.”
“I don’t know. I’ve encountered them before, probably in the future, but also in a different timeline. They’re not evil, but they’re not saints either.”
Vearden starts messing with the console next to one of the pods. It’s in English, but he doesn’t understand what any of these metrics mean. “Nothing is all pure. Nothing is all dirty,” he says cryptically.
Saga!Two gets back in a defensive position when they hear another door open from the other side of this room. Footsteps approach.
“Hello?” a voice calls out from the dim lighting. “I know you’re in here! The proximity alarm went off! Make yourself known.”
“We can’t see you!” Saga!Two calls back. “Step into the light, then we’ll talk.”
The man gets close enough for them to see his face, and for him to see theirs.
Saga recognizes him as well. “Julius?”
He doesn’t look happy. “Would people stop goddamn calling me that! Saxon! Saxon! I’m Saxon Parker in this reality. I’m sick of meeting people from other realities.”
“Hey,” she says, kind of condescendingly. “I meant no disrespect. I just didn’t know.”
He calms himself down. “I know. It just gets a little tedious after awhile.”
“I can appreciate that,” Saga!Three says truthfully. “Unfortunately, we do have some more questions. Would you be willing to answer them.”
“I can, yes,” Saxon says.
“I’m Saga!Three, and this is Vearden!Two. He’s from your reality, so you have that much in common.”
Saxon is wearing his poker face.
“Could you tell us what year it is?”
“By your calendar?” Saxon begins as he’s consulting his watch. “3300.”
“Holy shit, Vearden!Three can’t help but say. He’s been to a dozen other worlds, but they all had the same start value, which means they all measure time in the same way. He was usually in the 21st century, give or take a couple hundred years. 3300 is the furthest in the future he’s ever been.
“What exactly is this place?” Saga!Two asks. “What are you doing with these Orothsew children?”
He looks inquisitively at one of the pods. “Is that what they’re called?”
“Oh no,” Saga!Two says sadly. “Did I just mess up the future?”
“Probably not,” Saxon assures her. “If you got this information from an alternate timeline, we shouldn’t be at risk of any bootstrap paradoxes. Someone else came up with the name where you’re from, you learned it later, now you’re naming them in this timeline. The future we’re heading for is entirely separate.”
She’s relieved. “Oh good.”
“Anyway,” Saxon begins, “these are the fruits of Operation Starseed. Earth sent giant ships from a star system called Gatewood. As we speak, these ships are breaking apart into smaller and smaller modules, which will be assigned different regions of the galaxy. For most of them, we’ll be taking surveys of every single star system, and building ways to travel there using faster-than-light quantum communication. In others, we’ll be doing something like this. People on Earth donated genetic samples, and allowed them to be placed on the Project Stargate ships. On suitable worlds, we are seeding actual life, which will live and progress there. In this case, I don’t think they’ll be aware of where they came from.”
“Do humans look like this in the future?” Vearden!Three asks, surprised.
“No,” Saxon answers. “They look different, because they were exposed to microscopic organisms from this planet. We didn’t have room to carry food from Earth, so they’re only eating what can be found here. What we didn’t realize was how much an effect that can have on the genes of the subjects. So, they’re part human, but part something new.”
“My God,” Saga!Two says. “This changes everything about my memories of meeting them in an alternate future.”
“Yeah, I predict this sort of thing will continue to happen on other worlds that we try to seed life on. This operation has become exponentially more complex than we thought it would. I’m tentatively calling it...the source variant.

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