Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 20, 2258

Perhaps death was inevitable, for anyone and everyone, and everything. Even those who managed to upgrade their substrates, or even transfer their consciousnesses to new ones, were going to end one day. Because the longer any given entity lives, the chances that something goes wrong increase. If people only lived for two weeks, most would probably survive that long, but as the lifetime expands, so too does the distribution. These were the ideas Mateo picked up on while he was waiting to return to his time period. Evidently, this philosophy magazine was left here to help him cope with his new situation. He decided to inject himself with the recovery solution while he was still in the future, and sleep it off until the next day. He had enough experience to know that when it came to time travel, the amount of time you waited to travel almost only ever had an impact on the amount of time you lived in the meantime, and rarely on the time you arrived once you finally did go through with it.
He could have stayed in his recovery room for five years, and still ended up back in 2258, though of course, he had no intention of waiting that long. He still wanted to see Leona, but he also dreaded seeing her again. What was she feeling now? How would she react to his unexpected return? Had she felt relieved when he finally died, because then she would never have to forgive him his indiscretion? Should he even go back at all, or was she better off without him? Old!Ellie came back into the room about a minute before he planned on finally getting out of bed on his own accord, making it look like he might never have made the choice without her nagging. He told her it wasn’t she who urged the end of his procrastination; that he had his own timetable, but he couldn’t tell whether she believed him or not. She led him down the nondescript hallway, placed him in the time chamber, and sent him on his way.
It was a few hours after midnight central when Mateo came back to Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida, in the exact same spot where he died by the cliff wall. Had he landed on the top of the cliff, he would have had trouble navigating back to Homebase, but here, it was even more difficult. He trudged through the wilderness for hours, just going in the general direction of the campus, but never really knowing how close he was. It was more by miracle than skill that he eventually succeeded. The first person he saw was Goswin, planting flowers in the garden. He didn’t look like one of his friends had just died, but Mateo had to remember that that was two years ago for him. The mourning period was long over for everyone, except for Leona, and maybe Cassidy. He didn’t avoid Goswin because he thought he should keep his resurrection a secret, but because he wanted Leona to be the first person who saw him. As irrational as it might have been, it was important to him. So he started sneaking around, trying to get an idea of where everyone was, and hoping to find his wife alone somewhere. She was.
“Mateo.” She didn’t say it enthusiastically, or inquisitively. It was more of a statement of fact, or at least an assumption of fact. The man standing before her might not have been Mateo at all, but an imposter, like Arcadia tried to do with her two weeks ago.
He had to be patient with her as he tried to prove himself to real deal. “I’m sorry you had to go through that,” he said.
She was silent for a moment, but then gathered herself. “Report.”
“Extraction mirror. I don’t know who, or when, or even where I was. It didn’t look like Palace Glubbdubdrib, though.”
“Has anyone else seen you yet?”
“I don’t think so. I wanted to see you first.”
She considered her next move for a moment, then grabbed Mateo by the shirt, and dragged him across the hangar, into the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. No one else was in there at the time.
“Are you hiding me away?” he asked.
“I think we should keep it on the down low, for now.”
“People are gonna find out sometime.”
“Yes,” Leona agreed. “But not everybody. We can keep the circle tight. You and I are leaving this planet today, and I don’t think a whole lot of others are coming with us. I just need to hang onto the secret until then. Can you handle this?”
“Leona, I need to—”
“I don’t have time for apologies. I need you to get into grave chamber four, and stay there until I reopen it.” She kind of stuffed him down in there.
“How am I going to pee?”
“Are you kidding me? How long did you live here? Ramses thought of just about everything.” She pointed to one corner of the chamber. “Open that small panel right there.”
Mateo opened it and found a tube. He also found what looked like a resuscitator mask. He held one in each hand, and looked up at his wife with puppy dog eyes.
“You don’t need the female attachment. Just...I think you can figure it out,” she joked.
“Leona.”
She nabbed a tablet from the table, and dropped it down to him, presumably for entertainment. “Okay, I love you. Bye!” she said as she was closing the hatch, but then she quickly reopened it. “I mean...were I you.”
“Leona!” he repeated, but she couldn’t hear him, because these things were soundproof. He could have opened it himself, but maybe she was right. The best way to prevent Ellie from learning anything about what her future self was going to do was to prevent her from seeing the product of her choices. This version of Mateo might never see her again, nor necessarily anyone else on this planet.
He hadn’t really thought to open any of the other panels before, which was a huge failure on his part. Besides the urine tube, the chamber was equipped with a bedpan, and disposal chute, both of which had to be cleaned manually, which was possible, because it also had a freshwater line. It was stocked with emergency meal bars for an amount of time Mateo didn’t want to do the math to calculate, and various other essential tools. There also seemed to be a way to convert the chamber into a stasis pod, but he deliberately avoided all of that stuff so as not to break anything. Instead, he just went back to the magazine he found in the future.

After hiding her resurrected husband in the ship, Leona went back outside, and started making inquiries. Who was coming with her to Glisnia, and would they be ready to leave today? Cassidy was so in, but no one else expressed any interest, except for maybe Pribadium.
“Do you want me to go with you?” Pribadium asked.
“Only if you want to,” Leona answered. “We can handle it alone. The ship is almost fully automated.”
“That’s not what I mean.”
“Should those two be alone together?” Thor insensitively asked, referring to Leona and Cassidy.
“We’re okay,” Cassidy spoke up. “What do you think we were doing when we were alone the other day?”
Thor shrugged. “Something weird?”
“Pribadium, you’re welcome to join us, but I don’t want to pressure you. Ramses and Weaver both created excellent operator’s manuals, dumbed down enough for a 21st century girl.” Leona was about to say something about Pribadium being a great addition to the crew, with her genius-level intellect, and familiarity with current technological advancement, but she decided against it. She wanted this to be Pribadium’s choice, not something she did because no one else was around to do it.
“I just want to make sure I’m not butting in,” Pribadium said. “I quite like the AOC, and I think it would be interesting to see what Glisnia is like.”
“It’s not that great of a place,” Thor jumped in, “and it’s certainly not interesting.” That was rude, which everybody’s facial expression showed. “What? I’m just being honest. There’s a reason it has the lowest biological colonist signup rate. Everybody’s coming here, or going to Teagarden.”
“I don’t intend to stay there very long,” Leona explained. “The plan is to use it to deliver Mateo’s remains to Dardius, then head back to Earth.”
The room fell quiet. Not only was Mateo’s death sad, but they also didn’t want to talk about the fact that everyone who wasn’t volunteering to go to Glisnia was simultaneously declining an invite to Mateo’s services.
“All right,” Leona said after a respectful pause, knowing full well that Mateo was still technically alive. “I’ve had a pretty eventful last few days, so I need a nap. I’ll run a preflight check after I wake up, and then the four of us can go.”
“Four?” Goswin asked.
Oh, crap. She was referring to Cassidy, Pribadium, as well as Mateo, along with herself. “I mean three.” She laughed it off. “That’s why I need the nap.”
“I thought we were going to have our own memorial before you leave,” Goswin reminded her.
Oh yeah, that was another thing. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but now it just seemed weird. They would be holding it but meters away from the supposed deceased, who was trapped in the ship, bored and unable to attend. “Well, I’ll think about it. It all depends on when I wake up.”
Most of the others nodded solemnly, while Thor was totally indifferent. But she knew he liked Mateo more than he wanted to let on.
When the group dispersed, Leona went straight back to the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and opened grave chamber four, where she found Mateo watching an episode of Batwoman.
“As far as I know,” Mateo began, “this show didn’t exist in my reality.”
Leona began to climb in. “It did not, no.”
“Do we need to talk?” he asked after Leona closed the hatch back up.
“Yes, but not about what you think. Honest hour? I don’t want to talk about that ever again.”
“Leona...”
“I’m serious. Cassidy and I are okay now. I just needed to get to know her. I can’t say I’m over it, but your death kind of...put things in perspective. My forgiveness is like a marble on a hill. Eventually, it will even out. Until then, however, the marble rolls a little closer with each passing second. Just let it roll, Mateo. Don’t try to make it go faster.” She removed a slip of paper from her pocket, and looked at it for the upteenth time, not yet showing it to him.
“What is that?”
“Proof,” she answered. “Briar couldn’t have killed you on his own. Trinity could have gone back and saved you, and actually did try that.”
“Oh, I didn’t know.” Mateo thought about it for a second, and had a realization. “He had the hundemarke.”
“That’s right.”
“Where did he get it?”
“He tried to throw me off the trail by referring to the culprit as a man,” Leona began, “but had Eight Point Seven hack into his brain.” She presented the picture.
Mateo stared at it, not knowing what to say.
Leona continued. “I’ve heard stories, about terrible things happening that should have been prevented. Time travelers tried to stop them, but couldn’t. Because she gives the killer the hundemarke. So now we know the who. All we need is a why.”
That was a good question. She had never been nice, but had always exhibited a sort of obsession with Mateo. Why did Arcadia Preston finally want him dead?

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Source Variant: The Friend of My Friend (Part IX)

Two hundred years ago, Saga!Two, Vearden!Three, and Saxon use their advanced technology, and their McIver hats, to bridge the gap between the two separate groups of Orothsew. The Telijir and the originals needed to come together, and see the world as a unified culture, full of diversity and new ideas. It was not an easy task. The humans spent the longest they ever had in one time period. For a year, they introduced diplomats to each other, and mediated trade negotiations. A literal highway was beginning to take shape between their lands when suddenly it was the year 800 OAC. The abbreviation was a calendar designation that stood for Orothsew Affirmation Count, as translated into Standard English. Affirmation was the best approximation of the concept that the humans could come up with. The Orothsew decided upon it during the reunion process, as they were establishing themselves as a singular peoples.
Though the Orothsew were unaware of their origins, they were able to trace their history to about five hundred years prior to the reunion, according to stories passed down the generations. They figured their species had lived at least another century before that, and were astonishingly accurate. They were only off by nine years; an imprecision that the humans were able to remedy with a little dumbed down science. A year for the Orothsew, based on the planet’s orbit around its parent star, took 1.1383 Earthan years, so the math wasn’t too terribly difficult to calculate. At the moment, now two centuries after the reunion, it should be the year 4210. But based on Alyssa’s claims of a new Earthan calendar being created, it’s apparently actually the year 1610 on Earth.
Over 600,000 people live on this continent now, which is about half what the human population was around 10,000 years before the common era. This is sometimes considered to be the dawn of the human epoch, even though humans and other hominids existed on Earth well before that.
“It’s not half,” Saga!Two argues. “It’s closer to the same. There are probably around a million inhabitants on this rock right now.”
“How do you figure?” Vearden!Three asks her.
“The Gondilak,” Saxon reminds Vearden!Three. “They’re on the other continent right now, doing their own thing.”
“Oh. Yeah, I remember that now,” Vearden!Three says. “When do they finally run into each other?”
“I have no idea,” Saga!Two replies. “The other Vearden and I never knew what year it was in that reality.”
“You told us a little bit about their level of advancement, though,” Saxon begins. “We might be able to estimate a future date from that data. Well, the computer could, that is.”
“Does it matter that much?” Vearden!Three questions. “We’re either going to catch up to that time period, or not. How does that impact what we do today?”
“I fear we made an error,” Saga!Two says solemnly.
“Explain.”
“We’ve unified the Orothsew.”
“Yeah, that’s a good thing.”
“This could be how it begins,” Saga!Two continues. “This could be why the Orothsew are so hellbent on conquering the Gondilak. In trying to teach unity, we may have inadvertently also taught them xenophobia.”
“I think that’s a stretch,” Vearden!Three disagrees. “We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. Maybe we prevented the war you saw in the alternate reality.”
“Or we precipitated it,” Saga!Two argues. “Time travel is complicated. You’re talking about an alternate reality, but that’s not exactly the same thing as an alternate timeline. When you call it a reality, you’re referring to the world as it is in any given instance. A timeline refers to how things developed over, well...time. How much of what we’re seeing now is different than what happened before? More importantly, how much is the same?”
“What do you suggest we do, Saga?” Saxon asks.
Saga!Two takes a moment before responding. “We have to come out of the closet.”
“What does that mean?”
“We should throw out our McIver hats, and introduce ourselves to the Orothsew as humans. You’re right, Vearden!Three, it doesn’t matter when your counterpart and I were dealing with this in the other timeline. Our best course of action is to start early, and show them that non-Orothsew aren’t all bad. So when they finally do meet the Gondilak, whenever that is, they might not have an immediate violent reaction.”
“That sounds like too much work for the three of us.” Vearden!Three didn’t say that because he isn’t willing to put in the effort. He’s just not sure it’s possible. Bridging the gap between two independent states is one thing, but deveiling a species so early in its development, proving that other intelligent life exists out there, feels like an insurmountable task, even if they had a large and well-qualified team.
The other two understand what he means. “I think it’s worth a try. Yeah, it’s possible that we ultimately make things worse, but I can’t imagine anything will get better if we don’t even try.”
“That’s true,” Saxon admits. “We’re here to do something, according to the Delegator’s directives.”
“Well, how would we even go about this?” Vearden!Three asks. “When I was living on Earth, humans expected aliens to come down in gigantic ships, usually landing in or around important cities, like New York, and Tokyo. But I don’t know what earlier humans thought of aliens.”
“I know a little bit about this,” Saga!Two begins. “When Vearden!Two and I were being sent backwards in time, we considered who it was that did this to us. We made some inquiries regarding what it was that people believed. We found that the first speculation about aliens from other worlds appeared sometime in the fifteenth century. The people we were around in the years before that time period had no concept of extraterrestrials. Of course, every species if going to be different, but if the Orothsew are anything like us, they are indeed far too young to understand who it is we are. Your point is well made.”
“I didn’t make the point,” Vearden!Two acknowledges. “You just did that yourself.”
“Now, hold on,” Saxon stops them from giving up. “You asked a good question, Vearden!Three, and then we skipped over it. If strange beings were to come, how would the Orothsew expect them? Flying ships? Teleportation? Crawling out of the ground? Probably not. But what about an ocean vessel?”
“They haven’t built seaworthy ships yet,” Saga!Two reminds him. “This world’s moon causes far too violent tides and waves for them to survive it. They’ve barely tried.”
“True,” Saxon agrees, “but they do have riverboats. The cities of Wonblajse and Dodeglu exchange goods, and experience seasonal migration, with this method of transport.”
Vearden!Three shakes his head. “There’s still so much to consider. Do we speak their language, or is it reasonable to teach them ours? Do we share our seafaring technology with them, or do we make them do it themselves. That could anger them, and either make things worse with the Gondilak down the line, or create friction between us and them. Quite frankly, I don’t think we can pull this off. Saga!Three, you said salmon from all over time and space were transported here by the powers that be. It sounds like it was a centuries-long enterprise. We can’t do this alone, and we have no way of asking for help.”
“That’s not entirely true,” Saxon contends.
“Do you have a way of contacting The Trotter?” Saga!Two hopes, or someone else capable of traversing interstellar space?”
“No particular individual,” Saxon starts to clarify. “I have the ability to reach the vonearthans, though.”
“Explain,” Saga!Two echoes Vearden!Two’s earlier imperative.
Saxon breathes in deeply through his nose, and the other two aren’t sure when he exhales it. “Follow me.” He proceeds to lead them down the hallways, and into a section of the facility they’ve passed a million times, ending up in a storage room full of random and boring replacement parts for the shuttles. “You have to understand,” he says as he’s moving some of the crates of parts out of the way, “I didn’t lie to you about this. I even mentioned it once, but I quickly changed the subject, so you wouldn’t dwell on it, and then you seemed to eventually forget about it.”
“What is this, Saxon?” Saga!Two questions.
Saxon goes on, “every single star system either has something like this, or will one day. Sometimes it’s built on a planet, sometimes on an asteroid, or even a comet. There’s a whole protocol the artificial intelligence follows to determine the most ethical and safest way to do it.” He moves enough of the supplies to reveal a secret door neither Saga!Two, or Vearden!Three ever noticed.
“I should have guessed something like this existed,” Vearden!Three muses. “What’s on the other side of that door?”
“I think I know what he’s talking about,” Saga!Two says, remembering something they never discussed after first arriving here. “It’s the quantum surrogacy room, isn’t it?”
“That’s right,” Saxon says, placing his hand on the door handle. “I disabled the link when I arrived here. I wanted to decide when and if other people came here.”
“I’ve been to a lot of different universes,” Vearden!Three says. “People often throw that word quantum around, as if it solves everything. What does it mean here?”
Saxon opens the door, revealing nothing more than a staircase. Once they descend, they see an entire wing of the facility. Dozens of more growth pods line the walls, along with all kinds of computers and other equipment. It doesn’t look a whole lot different than the rest of this place, but they can clearly see that it serves a very specific purpose. Saxon approaches one of the opaque pods, and flips a switch to make it transparent. Inside of it is a person, or at least the approximation of one. It has two eyes, two ears, a nose, a mouth, and a chin. Then it has a neck, a torso, two arms, two hands, barbie doll hips, two legs, and two feet. It looks like a person, but doesn’t really have any discerning features; like it was built out of clay, and the details haven’t been carved yet. It’s the base model of a human, but not unique. Surely these other pods house merely the same model, copied over and over again.
It’s the hips that really give it away. “It doesn’t have any genitals,” Vearden!Three crudely points out.
“That’s right,” Saxon says. “When a traveler—and I don’t use that word to refer to salmon, choosers, or any other kind of temporal manipulator—is transferred to this substrate, it doesn’t need to eat or drink, so it doesn’t need to make waste either. Nor can it procreate. This thing is just so the person who comes here can move around, and explore the star system.”
“It’s like a robot body that you 3D printed,” VeardenThree notes.
“Basically, yes.”
Saga!Three looks around some more. “So you’ve been in communication with Earth, or the other colonies?”
“Definitely not,” Saxon assures them. “And not just for your benefit. It’s true that you’re not meant to be here, but neither am I. Hell, I don’t even know if the greater vonearthan population has been made aware of Project Stargate, or Operation Starseed, by now. Most people may be completely in the dark, and believe that the only human establishments beyond the Sol were made with the fleet of colony ships.”
“Why haven’t you opened communication with them?” Vearden!Three asks. “Or, like, with the people you know already know about this whole secret project?”
“That is because of you,” Saxon says. “I didn’t know how the powers that be would react to this. I had the impression that they wanted you two to have to do all this on your own, and that my personal involvement has always been a concession on their part, rather than a mandate. I always thought letting other people here would anger them.”
Vearden!Three makes a closer examination of the surrogate’s face. “So you do have faster-than-light communication in this universe?”
Quantum communication, yes,” Saxon confirms. “We can send data, but not massive objects. Ships are still limited to sublight speeds. Though, obviously we all know FTL travel is possible, but a time traveler would have to introduce that, and the way I understand it, that’s against the rules.”
“It is,” Saga!Two says. “I believe you made the right call, not allowing the other vonearthans to come here.”
“It’s not guaranteed,” Saxon says. “This place was formed centuries ago. That’s more than enough time for the vonearthans to come here on their own.”
“True,” Saga!Two says. “We’re not too terribly far from Earth.”
“Even if we were,” Saxon begins, “it wouldn’t matter. We could be thousands of light years from Earth’s region of the galaxy, and it would still only take them a couple years to arrive. Like I said, this thing is going to be built somewhere in every star system. If they find themselves locked out of one, they could always access the next closest star, use one of the interstellar ships that the robots built for them, and come in no time. That aspect of the project is vital. I can’t remember the exact failure rate, but some of the factory modules we sent have, and will inevitably, experience functional errors. Some stars will rely on neighboring modules to fill in the gaps.”
Saga!Two sighs. “Well, like I said. I think you were right to shut this place down, but I don’t think you were right to not tell us. We’re both aware of how dangerous the powers that be are. We wouldn’t have done anything to jeopardize our mission.”
“To that end,” Vearden!Three says, “nothing has changed. We still can’t open communication. The powers may destroy all the surrogates, and might even kill us for defying them. We do this alone, just as they intended.”
The other two nod. It might not be the best way to get the job done, but it’s the safest. Just as they’re trying to walk away, the computers start booting up. More lights flicker on, and the air conditioning kicks in.
“What did you do?” Saga!Two asks, not so much accusatorily, but inquisitively.
“Absolutely nothing,” Saxon answers sincerely.
“Neither did I,” Vearden!Three makes sure the both of them understand.
They turn around and watch as all the equipment starts operating on its own, including the humanoid growth pods. They watch it all for several minutes, afraid to interfere, and risk breaking something. Once it’s over, the humanoid begin to wake up.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Microstory 1235: Catania Porter

Catania Porter discovered her time power when she was seven years old. On the first day of second grade, she learned the hard way that a boy in her class was deathly allergic to peanuts, but they were living in a time before email, so requesting other parents to not send peanut-based products with their children was difficult at best. She felt responsible for having brought the sandwich, and if there was anything she could do to help, she had to try. This was also before the epinephrine autoinjector was invented, so the teacher didn’t think there was anything anyone could do about it before the ambulance arrived. Fortunately for him, when it came to what existed when, Catania had no apparent limits. She instinctively summoned the life-saving device into her own hand, ignored her shock at what she had just done, read the instructions quickly, and jammed it into her friend’s leg. The other students, and their teacher, asked Catania what she had done, but she played dumb. The autoinjector disappeared as quickly as it had first come, and no one could prove that it was ever there. For the rest of the school year, and beyond, everyone knew that it was Catania who had saved the boy’s life, even though they didn’t understand how. They didn’t call her a witch, or a freak, or anything like that. They liked and respected her, and it was this reaction that led her into choosing her life’s path. Despite everyone’s curiosity, she continued to keep her ability a secret, while she practiced and studied it. Much like Ruby Nelson, Catania had the ability to find anything in the universe, at any point in its history, past or future. The two major differences were that she could also summon the things she found to herself—a skill known in the business as apportation—and that this power had no negative impact on her psyche. Still, it wasn’t guaranteed that she would do great things with this power. There were endless possible applications she could have chosen. She could have smuggled drugs from one country to another, completely subverting the borders, or any of the space in between. She could have broken people out of jail without being caught on security cameras. She could have stolen money from banks, or taken anything else she desired, from anywhere else, all without leaving her home. But none of that would have made sense to her; not with her personality. Helping people get what they needed was intuitive for Catania. It never crossed her mind to collect meaningless possessions for herself when she could be far more useful as a sort of superpowered assistant. People proved to be pretty grateful. So this was what she did with her life, delivering special requests from people—particularly choosing ones—that the powers that be decided against commissioning The Courier to handle instead. She also helped regular humans who had no idea that she had any time power, and thought she was just a really good investigator. For them, she would find missing cats, and misplaced keys, and misdirected mail. These types of jobs were the most rewarding for her, so she eventually started really focusing on those, and kind of leaving other time travelers to their own devices.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Microstory 1234: Ruby Nelson

It was no surprise to anyone when Ruby Nelson decided to become a librarian. She loved books, to be sure, but more than that, she loved organization. But even more than that, she needed organization. She liked grocery store shelves and kitchen hooks for the same reason. Her favorite sport was baseball, not because of anything special about the game itself, but because every player had a role. They stayed in their respective areas, and didn’t share responsibilities, and she found that comforting. Ruby was the seventh of eleven siblings, who were each named after their month’s birthstone. How did their parents pull off such a feat? How did they only ever birth one child per month, without doubling up even once? Because Ruby’s father was a choosing one. He could manipulate future probabilities. When they wanted a son named Garnet, they conceived him in the prior April, but that alone didn’t guarantee a January baby, so he coaxed the timeline to give them what he wanted. Why did he do this? Well, because it was one of the better uses of his time power that he could think of, because his gift came with a major downside. At least, that’s how he perceived it; it’s not really clear whether this was a downside, or just an unrelated and coincidental aspect of his personality. He had an urge to do bad things with probability. He could, for instance, calculate the chances that the businessman fumbling with his paperwork would drop it all on the floor of the subway station, and get hit by the train in his attempt to retrieve them. Nelson couldn’t help but want to force the reality where the businessman died to happen, when he could just as easily protect this stranger. Nelson didn’t really want these kinds of things to occur, but there was something about him that gave him bad thoughts. The best way he could come up with to avoid succumbing to these impulses was to use his power in healthy or innocuous ways. Controlling the births of his own children was a surprisingly powerful enough way to quell his need to let people get hurt. As long as he did this about every two years, everything would be fine, and everyone would be safe. Unfortunately, his trick only lasted him twenty years before his luck finally ran out. His wife experienced menopause, and was never able to have an October baby. So there would be no Opal—none in the family, that is—and Nelson would have to come up with a new plan. Sadly, he was never able to, and after relapsing once by being responsible for the death of everyone in his neighbor’s house, Nelson felt that he had no choice but to commit suicide.

Ruby was the only apparent child of his to have been born with her own time power. This wasn’t particularly astonishing, though, since time power heredity has never been proven to exist. She had the ability to find anyone or anything in time or space. This seemed to come with its own side effects. Ruby—her words; no one else’s—was going crazy. Every time she used her ability to help a client find something they had lost, she felt a little less like herself, and a little more like the darker side of her father. She was seeing things that weren’t there, including the faces of past clients. Objects from all over the world would call out to her. She stopped believing that she could trust anyone around her, including her family. She knew she had to stop, but her supernatural addiction was not any easier to overcome than her father’s. Her best course of action was to never use her ability, and the best way to do that, was to stay organized. She surrounded herself with the Dewey Decimal System, and submerged herself in a world that didn’t require special powers at all. She didn’t need to reach out to the timestream to find a book on big cats. All she needed to do was look for it in the library’s card catalogue, like any normal person would. Of course, since time travel was real, it was hard to explain to some people that she was no longer working as a finder. No matter how many times she said it, there was always someone who had heard about how she was when she was younger, and not about how she had changed. Still, she focused on her new job, and didn’t relapse once...until she had to. She was living in Springfield, Kansas when the city was being swallowed up by a destructive portal. It took her awhile to realize what was happening, because she had deliberately severed her connection to the timestream, but when she did, she knew she had to do something to help. After saving the one other person she knew of who could see what was really going on, she broke her vows, and reconnected to spacetime. Knowledge, to her, was vastly important, and if anyone ended up surviving the terrible trip to the rogue planet, she thought they might need a safe place to learn. They would fall into savagery if they lost all memory of life in civilized society. She connected herself to every single book in that library when the portal came for it, and the future Durune were better for it. Like the high school, which was at the time, accommodating several people who were immune, the Library didn’t survive on its own merits. It was only because Ruby was in it when it happened. But even that wasn’t enough to protect everyone else. The library remained intact on Durus, but in a spatio-temporal pocket dimension. For every one hour that passed in the Library, a year passed for everyone on the outside, and most of them were unaware that the Library existed. Ruby barely lasted a week under these conditions before she relapsed like her father, and killed everyone inside, along with herself.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Microstory 1233: Dodeka Sarkisyan

Temporal manipulation of any kind is a dangerous thing, especially for those who have no time powers at all. For the most part, time travelers prefer to stay out of regular human business. Well, that’s not really true—sometimes their whole purpose is to change the past—but they do like to stay in the shadows. They don’t interfere in personal human affairs, unless it specifically has to do with them. Even the so-called bad time travelers stick to their own kind, because causing harm to a human is too easy, so they generally don’t see much point. They could go back in time and kill their enemy’s grandmother before she has any children, and their ultimate target would have no way of protecting themselves. This is where Meliora Rutherford Delaney-Reaver comes in, because this does sometimes happen, along with many other unfortunate things. She built Sanctuary millions of light years from Earth, in a heavily fortified building, to prevent other travelers from hurting the innocent. Dodeka Sarkisyan was one of these humans, though by her own part, she had nothing to do with what transpired. Dodeka’s mother died when she was only ten years old, and her father did not handle it well. His wife made a lot more money than he ever could, and he found it extremely difficult to make ends meet while trying to raise five children on his own. One of them was old enough to be emancipated, but probably not responsible enough to help take care of the rest. The second oldest was incredibly intelligent, and landed a scholarship at a prestigious boarding school on the other side of the country, so she was out before anyone knew what happened. Their late mother’s sister was capable of taking in one of the children, but not all of them, so the middle kid went off to live with her on the other side of the state. This left Dodeka and the baby with their dad, who was still struggling with his demons, even with the lightened load. He surrendered to a life of crime; organized crime, to be more specific. He was nothing special in the organization, but he wasn’t totally blameless either, so when a vigilante time traveler decided to go back in time and eliminate every single member of the crime family from the timestream, Sarkisyan was not excluded.

So now fifteen-year-old Dodeka was alone, and solely in charge of her rambunctious little brother. She might have been sent into the foster care system, but Meliora already knew enough about the future to know that this would not turn out well. So she stepped in, and fabricated distant relatives in Australia who were supposedly going to take care of the two youngest Sarkisyans. Instead, Meliora brought them to Sanctuary, which was at the time, basically a fancy hotel that no one ever needed to leave. Dodeka was grateful, perhaps more so than any other guest, because she understood what a gift this was. During her first week there, however, she noticed something odd about everyone else, and realized that she wasn’t built quite like them. Others were perfectly happy to have their every need catered to, but Dodeka didn’t like to feel useless, and she could see that there was plenty of work to be done at the hotel. Even if Meliora could do it all on her own, she shouldn’t have to. Dodeka needed to contribute, even if only in some small way, not only to justify her own presence in Sanctuary, but also to help protect those in most need. She knew she could have survived in the real world—even with her baby brother—but there were people there who had no choice; whose lives would have been in immediate danger if they ever found themselves back on Earth. She became the hotel’s bellhop. It was her job to check new guests in, and help them with special requests. She wouldn’t be the only employee in Sanctuary for long, though. She set an example for all to see, and pretty soon, more people were offering their various services. The staff, and the population as a whole, was growing at an alarming rate, and Meliora knew she needed to expand. People with the right experience left the original hotel, and built other structures, like houses, restaurants, and recreational areas. Sanctuary turned into a village, and then a city, and then a nation, and eventually, a fully populated world. The growth would have happened anyway, but it was Dodeka’s initiative that allowed for smooth transitions, and made way for a safe and prosperous new society on planet Dardius.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Microstory 1232: Moka Vareli

In the year 2168, the rogue world of Durus finally became a Democratic Republic. No more would there be an unfair class system, or a corrupt government. The people were free, and justice became the norm. For forty-six years, the planet continued to fly through interstellar space, just as lonely as ever, and still reliant on its quantum connection to Earth’s resources. Then in 2204, scientists and paramounts joined forces, and expedited the journey to a new binary star system called 70 Ophiuchi. No planets orbited the stars already, so it was a perfect place for Durus to settle. They decided on a figure eight orbital pattern, so they would go around one of the stars once, then head for the other star, going around it in the opposite direction, ad infinitum. This type of orbit is so unstable that it requires careful and constant maintenance, and it’s something that would all but certainly never happen in nature. It was meant to symbolize infinity, suggesting that the planet would always survive, and go on forever. So began the Solar Democracy, though it did not function any different than before; it was again, all about symbolism. The primary individual responsible for creating the unusual pattern in the first place was a man named Ashalo Vareli. After his first successful full orbit, he and his wife celebrated, and ended up conceiving their first daughter. Moka was a paramount as well, but was born with what was perhaps the strangest power anyone had ever seen. In fact, seeing as the only kinds of special abilities that should have existed were time-based, it was hard to justify hers. She could create spatial bubbles that hovered in the air. An occupant will experience the same amount of time as they would on the outside, but will not require life’s necessities, like food, water, and a means of disposing of waste. It’s completely self-contained, and self-sufficient. A rather poorly understood substance inside the bubble will keep them alive indefinitely, while they age at a normal rate, providing nourishment and protection from external forces, until such time they are released. No one knows how it works. It was entirely possible for an individual inside one of these bubbles to break themselves free of it, so it could not be used as a prison of some kind, so the most obvious application—and least in Moka and her family’s minds—was for artificial gestation. Since most births could be handled with more traditional medical advancements, her services weren’t required all that much, but she did make herself available at all times, in case of emergency. She ended up going into the medical field, just because the experiences she had helping people as a child led her down that path. She was an imaging technician, operating machines much like the kind invented on Earth, but with special time power components.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Microstory 1231: Quivira Boyce

What is identity? Often when factoring in the concept of time travel, people conflate an individual from one timeline with an individual from another. The truth is that these are approximations of the same person, and are always technically different. The body is composed of organs, bones, muscles, etc. Each of these parts are composed of cells, and each cell is composed of cell parts. If we go down far enough, we get to molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles. These smallest pieces are constantly being exchanged for other pieces. You’re not even the same person you were just a second ago. You’ve been shedding skin, eating food, breathing air. Your neural pattern has been updated, your microbiome has grown. So when someone says that Quivira Boyce is the female version of Gilbert Boyce, from a newer timeline, understand that this is not entirely accurate. They don’t even have the same birthdays, let alone the same genetic makeup. Their mother and father conceived them at two different points in history, and remember, even the parents aren’t the same across these realities. So really, we’re just talking about two completely different people with similar parents, born at different times, with different genes, and experiencing different life paths. Still, there seems to be some kind of quantum entanglement going on here, because even though Quivira lived a very different life than her alternate counterpart, Gilbert did, she ended up in about the same profession. They both turned out to be nighttime thieves, and while they both later redeemed themselves, they did so in wildly different ways.

Gilbert stole from people to fund his business aspirations. He committed petty crimes so that he could build an empire, boost the economy, support important charities, and screw over the government. Quivira, on the other hand, just stole because she was good at it. She looked at her jobs just as she would any other career. She didn’t have any bosses, but she kept strict hours, researched heavily before starting a new project, instituted deadlines, and improved procedural efficiency. By all accounts, she was a model employee, except that she didn’t work for a company, and she wasn’t doing anybody any good, except for herself. It took her a long time, but she finally learned the most important lesson of her life. If she was this good at doing something bad, she could probably reapply her skills, and be really good at doing something good. It was time to try, at least. She had just been helped by a couple of time travelers, so now she knew they existed. What she didn’t realize quite yet was that she had become one of them. The experience had a profound effect on her, ultimately transforming her into something new. She discovered that she could now possess other people’s bodies, while they possessed hers. This was a parlor trick on its own, but upon doing a little directed research—which was her specialty—she found someone who could help her make a real difference. Garen Ashlock could send other people through time, and maintain a parallel temporal connection while his tether to them remained intact. By combining his ability with hers, Quivira could possess people in the past, and alter their lives for the better, using information about their evitable futures. Of course, the world at large never learned of what she was, or of all the people she helped, but she did become a lauded hero amongst other time travelers; an admiration which was well-deserved. She was even given the opportunity to erase the absolute biggest mistake of her own life.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 19, 2257

In movies, people often remained standing when a cop or surgeon had to deliver bad news to them. Their knees always buckled, and they always regretted it. She still had hope that what her friend was about to tell her wasn’t the worst news she could receive, but Leona still sat down, just in case. “What is it?”
“We found Mateo,” Eight Point Seven had the unfortunate task of telling her.
On the surface, that sounded like good news, but Leona knew it wasn’t. “Where?”
“At the bottom of a cliff.”
Her breath escaped from her, and she had to steal one back. “This was last year?”
“Yes.”
“Where’s Trinity?”
“I know what you’re thinking.” Eight Point Seven reached into her pocket, and removed a dog tag. “She already tried.”
Leona knew exactly what that dog tag meant. “It was murder?”
“Trinity watched it happen from a distance, but she was unable to change it.”
“She has a rule that there are no time powers on this planet.”
“She made an exception, and she’s heartbroken that she couldn’t stop it.”
“Where the hell did Briar get the hundemarke?”
“How did you know it was Briar?”
“He’s the most likely suspect. My guess is he thought he was protecting me, or something.”
“That’s exactly what he said.”
“Where is he?”
“Briar? Or Mateo?”
“Briar isn’t relevant anymore. He can go jump off his own cliff, for all I care.”
“Mateo is in a stasis pod. We figured you would want to see him before...”
“Before he had a whole year to decompose?” Leona guessed. “That was thoughtful of you. I’m not sure if I want to see his body, though.”
Eight Point Seven nodded sadly. “Whatever you want.” She waited a respectful few minutes before continuing, “do you know what his wishes were?”
“It doesn’t matter what he wanted. He signed a contract.”
“Oh?”
“When he became Patronus of Dardius, he agreed to have his body transported back there upon death. They have this whole ceremony planned for him. They say it’ll be bigger than our wedding.”
“Oh, wow. How will you do that? Do we have a means of reaching Dardius? The reframe engine would still take four thousand years.”
“Thanks to Hogarth, we have a much faster way.”
“What did she do?”
“She’s on Glisnia right now, making sure everything is ready for the colonists when they arrive in four years. She sent a message to me using Ellie’s radio program, saying she discovered a Nexus replica there.”
“Really?”
“And according to the system, the Dardius Nexus was rebuilt, and is now fully operational. Hogarth hasn’t gone anywhere, but all connections are ready.”
“So, we just need to get to Glisnia.”
“Yeah, but there’s no rush. Mateo didn’t say specifically how long his survivors have to get the body there, but what are they gonna do, fine me for being late? I would like a small service here, just for us.”
“That can be arranged,” Eight Point Seven said.
“Maybe I do need to talk to Briar...for practical purposes. I need to find out who gave him the hundemarke.”
“That can be arranged as well.”

Leona was numb as Eight Point Seven led her down the hallway, towards where they were holding Briar. When she left to clear the air with Cassidy, she never dreamed she would never see Mateo again. She even said she was going to forgive him one day. It was never her plan to leave him in the dog house forever. Now she wasn’t going to get a chance to heal, and more importantly, he died thinking she might never come back to him. Was this all part of the plan? Cassidy was now on their pattern. Did the powers that be decide to make her the convenient replacement character; like the female analog of Mateo? Were the two of them meant to be new partners? There was no evidence that Briar was salmon, so they couldn’t have dispatched him to kill Mateo on their behalf. But they could have dispatched someone else.
She dangled the hundemarke in front of the bars. Briar looked at it briefly; not out of shame, but more like he didn’t recognize its significance. “Who gave you this?”
“Who cares? It’s just some antique. Why don’t you look at the name?”
Leona did look at the name, but as a reflex. She knew exactly what was on it. “I know Anatol Klugman. He’s a killer, but he’s not a murder, and he sure as hell wouldn’t have manipulated a child like you to do his killing for him. Someone else gave it to you, and I wanna know who.”
Briar sighed. “Why does it matter? Don’t you wanna know about your husband?”
“This is about my husband. You were wearing this when you pushed him off the cliff, right?”
“Yeah, so...?”
“What made you think you would succeed at killing him?”
“I never planned on keeping it a secret,” Briar admitted. “I always knew I would end up here.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about. You know time travel is real, so why did you think no one would go back in time, and stop you from killing him?”
He shrugged. “I guess I didn’t think it through that much. Is that what you’re gonna do?”
“I can’t! Because you were wearing this!”
“I don’t know what that is!” he yelled right back.
“The hundemarke,” Leona began to explain. “It creates fixed moments in time. No matter how many times I travel to the past; no matter how many realities I make, this will always happen. His death can’t be undone. So I want to know, who gave it to you? I know why you wanted him dead, but there’s someone else; someone smarter, who knew exactly what would happen if you had this around your neck. Give me a name.”
Briar sighed. “I don’t have a name. I wouldn’t even be able to describe him to you. I keep getting Trinity and Ellie mixed up, because I just don’t separate faces very well.”
“You have prosopagnosia?”
“Is that what it’s called?”
Leona’s nostrils flared. “Side effect of you only knowing your mother’s face for most of your life. Eight Point Seven!” she yelled through the door. “Get back in here, please!”
Eight Point Seven returned.
“Open his cell.”
“I’m not going to do that,” Eight Point Seven said. “Look, we’re all very frustrated right now.”
“Ugh.” Leona was fed up with everyone trying to protect her. She lifted her leg, and kicked the lock as hard as she could. It didn’t tear like tin foil, but it was damaged enough to be opened with a good tug.
“What are you doing?” Eight Point Seven exclaimed.
Leona put the dog tag on herself, and pulled Briar off of his cot. Then she removed her pocket knife, and placed it right against Briar’s neck. “I can either kill him right here, or you can read his mind.”
“What are you talking about?” Eight Point Seven questioned. I can’t read minds.”
Leona drew a little blood. “Don’t lie to me! You can tease fragments from his long-term memory, and convert them to visible images.”
“Leona, that could cause permanent neurological damage, or kill him.”
“I don’t care. I need a name, and if I can’t get it, I need a face. Find out who gave him the hundemarke, and we’ll be done!”
Eight Point Seven was analyzing the situation, trying to determine if there was anything she could do to prevent this, but helping Leona was her only choice. She took one last swing at it, though. “Mateo wouldn’t want you to do this.”
“That’s actually not true at all. But it doesn’t matter what he would think. Mateo is dead, and he’s never coming back, thanks to this asshole. Now, dig into his brain, and show me who he met.”
Meanwhile, in the future, a pair of strong hands was dragging Mateo away from the cliff, and into a dark room. He couldn’t see anything but a flurry of shapes and silhouettes. He couldn’t hear anything but muffled voices arguing with each other. He couldn’t smell anything but the sickeningly sweet stench of his own blood. He couldn’t feel anything but the pain of death. He couldn’t taste anything but the irony. And before too long, he couldn’t sense anything but the slow progression of time. Until he woke up.
He fell out of the bed, naked except for the bandages wrapped around his various body parts. He didn’t feel any more pain, but also didn’t feel the squeezing lightness of pain management narcotics. This was some futuristic medical shit right here. “Baxter! Baxter, where are you!” He was still moderately woozy.
A woman ran into the room. “Thistle, lights to eleven percent.”
The lights turned on, but not too brightly. “Setting the lights to eleven percent,” a voice came from the aether.
Now Mateo could see the woman’s face. It was Ellie Underhill. She was much older, but he could still tell it was her. He tried to catch his breath, and gather his bearings. “Report.”
“You died,” Old!Ellie revealed. “We brought you back with an extraction mirror. I’m sorry.”
“Do you know how I died?” Mateo asked.
“We do. Do you remember?”
“I remember everything. I just didn’t want to give anything away that would fuck the timeline. Where is he?” He was referring to Briar.
She knew exactly who he was talking about. “He died a long time ago.”
“What’s a long time? What year is it now?”
“Classified,” Old!Ellie said plainly.
He understood. “What can you tell me?”
“Very little,” she said. “We’re sending you back, to 2258. After your memorial.”
“I appreciate that. How did you catch Briar?”
“He confessed, as soon as he got back,” she explained. “You have to understand that he didn’t grow up with other people. He didn’t know how to—”
“I don’t need to hear his defense. Any shitstain knows to not push people off cliffs. This is on him.”
She nodded in agreeance. “You’re right. I just don’t want you to kill him right back the next time you see him.”
“Is Sarka still here?”
“No, he had to answer another call.”
“Well, if you see him before I do, would you thank him for me?”
“Yes.”
They sat in silence for a few moments.
“Are you okay?” she finally asked. “I don’t mean physically; that man is a wizard. I mean emotionally. Most people don’t live past their own deaths.”
“That’s why I’m fine,” he said, completely sincerely. “I survived it. I actually feel grateful...for you, for the good doctor, and for anyone else who was party to this that you can’t tell me.” He wasn’t at a hundred percent, however, so an affectionate embrace from Old!Ellie was quite welcomed.
After the hug, Old!Ellie removed a syringe from her trusty bag of holding. “You need about another thirty minutes to recover more naturally, so hold off, but when you take this, it will give you the energy you need to spend a half day in 2258. When it’s time for bed, though, you’re gonna crash, and sleep for about sixteen or seventeen hours. Don’t fight this. It’s vital to your health, and you’re gonna wake up feeling a lot better in 2259.”
“Okay, thank you.” He took the syringe graciously, and placed it on top of the stack of new clothes his rescuers had laid out for him on the nightstand. “What can I tell them...tell you?”
“Rule number two; no names. Tell them you were extracted, to an unknown future date, by an unknown individual or group, who never introduced themselves. Tell them you found the clothes, and directions to the time chamber, which was apparently preprogrammed to return you to your life.”
“All right. That’ll be easy to remember. Most of it isn’t a lie. I might start crying when I see Young!You, though.”
“I’m used to people knowing things about my future that I shouldn’t, and vice versa. The younger version of me will be okay. Just don’t say anything, and she won’t ask you any questions.”
“Okay.”

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Source Variant: A Bridge Too Far (Part VIII)

After the deed was done, there was no more talking for a good deal of time. They took their showers, ate separately, and went to bed. For the following week, they didn’t bother keeping up much with the Gondilak. They could be in the midst of a bloody internal conflict for all they knew, but the humans felt it was none of their concern. They had just desecrated several graves, and violated holy law for both species. They were never really going to get over this; not even in time. They felt like they deserved a break, and the powers that be seemed to agree, or at least they didn’t argue in whatever way they would. Saga!Three and Vearden!Two kept opening doors—to the bathroom, the kitchen, other sections of the facility—and always ended up on the other side. Vearden!Two thought maybe they were being prevented from jumping through time again because they were avoiding each other, so the powers didn’t have any opportunities to transport them all at once, but he couldn’t vocalize his theory, because they were too melancholy to exchange even one word. One day, though, they all felt a jolt, but nothing in their respective rooms changed. Still, a quick query of the facility’s system told them that it was now indeed two hundred years later. Once they were all in the same room together, the environment changed again.
They are standing in the middle of Stonehenge, in front of The Delegator. He’s an intermediary between the powers that be and salmon, much like The Emissary, but in a more middle management-like capacity, rather than as an interdepartmental message delivery system. Both this version of Vearden, and this version of Saga are familiar with him. Vearden!Two was given his second assignment through the Delegator in the other reality, and Dr. Baxter Sarka had to go through him in order to recruit Saga!Three as his physician’s assistant in this reality. Being from a different universe, Zektene has no clue who he is, though.
“Are you three feeling better?” the Delegator asks.
None of them wants to answer, for fear of making the other two feel bad. The problem with not talking to each other this whole time is that they don’t know each other’s status. They’ve been internalizing their feelings too much.
“The powers that be did not see that coming,” the Delegator continues. He’s not any more comfortable here than they are. “They didn’t know what you were going to do. I think they predicted you would somehow blow up the entire facility, or learn how to reprogram the nanites.”
“We would never have learned how to program nanites, and blowing up the facility would have alerted the Gondilak to our presence,” Vearden!Two explains.
“True. Obviously your plan worked, and you saved however many lives, while also protecting the integrity of the experiment.”
Saga!Three scoffs and exclaims, “experiment?” This is the first word she’s uttered in five days. And the only reason she spoke before that was because she stubbed her toe on the food synthesizer, and involuntarily damned God to hell for it.
“Hey, don’t yell at me,” the Delegator pleads. “Neither I, nor they had anything to do with the creation of the Gondilak. Experiment might not even be the best word for it. I just don’t know what else you would call it. Endeavor?”
“It’s fine,” Vearden!Two tries to mediate. “We’re just on edge. What are we doing here?”
“What have you been doing on Gondilak this whole time, you mean, or in Stonehenge right now?
“Both,” Saga!Three clarifies.
“Hold up,” Zektene interjects. “Before you say anything about that, who are you?”
“Oh, sorry,” Vearden!Two says. “This is the Delegator. He gives salmon assignments. Though, he’s not particularly useful. The first time he showed up was over a year after my first assignment began. For the other Saga, it had been over three years.”
“I only go where I’m needed,” the Delegator explains. “You didn’t need guidance until then, and in this reality, you haven’t need guidance here until now. I came because of how terrible your last mission was, because we felt it necessary to clear the air. Like I was saying, we did not create the Gondilak. Nor did we create the dire situation you were in two hundred years ago. The powers that be are powerful, but they are not omnipotent. They don’t control every little thing that happens in this universe, and they don’t control what happens in other universes at all. Maramon technology is so beyond their purview that the only way to stop all the problems it’s caused here is by dispatching people like you three.”
“People like us?” Saga!Three echoes. “Are you saying there are others? Is there another team, somewhere else around here?”
The Delegator is taken aback by this. He clears his throat, but can’t think of what to say.
“Oh my God, there is,” Vearden!Two suspects. “Where are they?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the Delegator claims.
“He’s lying,” Zektene says. “But maybe you asked the wrong question, Vearden. Maybe it’s not about where they are, but when. Maybe there’s another team that comes every two hundred years as well, but always a hundred years before or after us.”
“I’m not so sure,” Saga!Three disagrees. “You’ve been through the Maramon’s computer systems more than any of us. Did you see any evidence that others have come through here?”
“No,” Zektene admits with a frown. “I guess I’ve not.”
“The Orothsew,” Vearden!Two says cryptically.
“Oh, that’s that other species, right?” Saga!Three remembers. “They evolve on that other continent, and come here once they’re developed enough.”
“Yeah,” Vearden!Two confirms, “or so we were told. Maybe we don’t have all the information. When we first found out about the true origins of the Gondilak, it was my assumption that the Orothsew were the native species here, and the Gondilak the invaders. But maybe that’s not the whole story. We always thought it strange how—I mean, don’t me wrong; the Orothsew didn’t look human—but they did look a little human. There’s another team on the other continent. No, there’s more than one team on the other continent. When the Gondilak captured me in the other reality, they said the human time travelers always showed up to help the Orothsew. Now I’m fairly certain I know why; because the Orothsew evolved from humans. They are the product of us, as altered by their own source variant.”
“What does that mean?” Zektene questions.
Saga!Three starts to work it out in her head. “The Orothsew came from humans, and the Gondilak from Maramon. They both came here, but were presumably unaware of each other, because the systems are all automated.”
Zektene seems to notice that the Delegator has been pretty quiet while Vearden!Two was trying to figure out the truth on his own. “What’s his motivation? What do the powers that be want with this planet?”
Vearden!Two shakes his head in disappointment. “We’re not here to help the Gondilak at all. The Gondilak are the enemies. I was never meant to make friends with them in the other reality; to...uncover their decency. Our objective has always been to destroy them, and we keep going off mission.”
It’s about this time that the Delegator would have let out an uncontrollable maniacal laugh, now that the three of them have figured out his secret. But he’s not an evil demon who’s trying to torture people. He’s just a soldier, following orders. So no laugh, but a bitter sigh. “You guys, like, totally tore this whole thing wide open. I didn’t let on what was happening; you just...logicked your way out of it. How the hell did you do that?”
“So, it’s true?” Saga!Three prods. “You want us to kill the Gondilak?”
“Well...that was the original idea,” the Delegator says. “It would have been easy for you to destroy the pods before they ever opened. I guess we didn’t quite realize how fond of them Vearden!Two became. I mean, they cut him dozens of times after learning he absorbed their healing powers. We also didn’t count on Ramses being here still, and filling your head with ideas of nobility. Have no fear, though, we took care of him.”
“What did you do with him?”
“That’s none of your concern,” the Delegator says. “The point is that you missed out on your opportunity. Every time you jump two hundred years forward, your job gets a little bit harder, and unfortunately, you get a little more invested in actually helping the monsters. My God, that was your first clue! They’re called..white..monsters! Why are you trying to save them!”
“Because that’s what people do,” Zektene jumps in. “I don’t know what things are like where you and the powers that be come from, but in my universe, we don’t kill people because of what they might do in the future. This isn’t even people; it’s an ever-growing population. They have a right to develop, whether you like it or not. You can’t just go back in time and nip their buds. What the hell do you think gives you the right?”
“Well, you know what Spiderman’s uncle says about power and responsibility,” the Delegator responds.
“We’re not going to do what you want,” Vearden!Two tells him defiantly. “Send us to any damn year, it doesn’t matter. We’ll always try to help.”
“Yeah, why is that?” Saga!Three asks. “Why do you keep making us jump two hundred years. If the plan was to destroy the pods, why did you make us leave at all? You can do anything, can’t you?”
“There are rules,” Vearden!Two explains for the Delegator, who obviously wants to say as little as possible. “The powers that be are playing a game, and it wouldn’t be fair—or fun—if they could just sweep the game pieces off the board with their arms. They have to actually play it, and see how things turn out. Two hundred year time jumps are just part of the gameplay that not even they can go against.”
“Look,” the Delegator finally says. “You can’t kill all of them now. I mean, you could try to develop a plague, and wipe them out, or something, but otherwise, their numbers are just too high. You can, however, weaken them. You can slow their development. There’s still time to fix this. Just make sure they don’t get too powerful, so when the Orothsew advance enough to cross the ocean, the war is...easier.”
“You don’t want a war,” Zektene spits at him. “You want a massacre. That’s horrid.”
“Well, that’s your opinion,” the Delegator says, knowing he’s far removed from the moral high ground. “Just be careful with opinions.”
“Why don’t you just send someone who’s gonna do the job you want?” Saga!Three asks the Delegator.
“Don’t give him any ideas,” Zektene says in a loud whisper.
“No, he already knows whether he can do that or not,” Vearden!Two says. “Like I was saying, that’s against the rules. They already chose their players, and if they’re not happy with us, that’s their problem.”
“So, what are we going to do?” Zektene asks her friends.
“Whatever we can,” Saga!Three replies. “Like the man said, send us to whatever year you want, we’ll continue to do the right thing. When the Orothsew come, not only will they not win the war against the Gondilak, but there will be no war. We’re gonna stop it.” She turns to address Vearden!Two and Zektene directly, ignoring the Delegator. “Throw out your McIver hats. We’re going to introduce ourselves to the Gondilak. That’s what the other reality was lacking. They were angry about being left out, and ignored. We need to show them that humans, and by extension, our descendants, aren’t all bad.”
“That’ll never work,” the Delegator says, now with a bit of an evil grin. “It’s the Orothsew who inevitably start the war, and you have no control over them.”
“Don’t we?” Vearden!Two asks rhetorically. “I think I realize why I’m working with a version of Saga from a different reality. I’m pretty sure I know who you sent to help the opposite side of this. It’s us, isn’t it? You sent...the other versions...of us.”