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.”

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