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Saturday, November 2, 2019

Source Variant: Painting the Forth Bridge (Part VII)

Saxon’s idea was to make their McIver hats turn them invisible. Whenever one of the natives was discovered having missed daily boulder god worship, they would step in front of them, and take the hit themselves, to prevent anyone else from getting hurt. They were wearing some padding, but they didn’t bring any special bullet-resistant vest with them, or anything. So it wasn’t a whole lot of fun, but it eventually did the trick. Their constant misses caused the Orothsew to believe that their means of punishment was not appreciated by the boulder. It took a few times for it to really sink in that this wasn’t just a fluke, or weirdly powerful gusts of wind. There was one particularly devout rock worshiper who wouldn’t accept it, though. He just kept throwing rocks at people, even going so far as to throw them at former victims who he figured were still not committed enough. Vearden!Three finally decided that the only way to deal with this bully was to start throwing rocks back at him. If this didn’t lead him to believe that God was angry with him, he at least didn’t like the taste of his own medicine. After a few days of monitoring this isolated group of Orothsew, Saga!Two, Vearden!Three, and Saxon stepped back into their shuttle, and flew off. They traveled really far in time, but not very far in space. They ended up landing exactly where they were before, but two hundred years later.
The three of them stay in the shuttle for awhile. It takes a few minutes for it to reconnect with the system. They need to find out what’s been going on before they do anything. After the update, they start looking through the historical records. The former nomads, turned rock worshipers, have now dropped all rock-worship, and have founded a new culture. And it’s all their fault. Again. As it turns out, the Orothsew they were trying to help—who have now distinguished themselves from the rest of the world by calling themselves Telijir—did not attribute the human intervention to the rock god at all. They now worship Ijirasa, a whispering god of the wind. While they were invisible, the humans still needed to communicate, but this was a difficult task since they were unable to see each other. They thought their voices were going unnoticed, but that was clearly not the case. All they did was replace one false deity with three others. Yeah, the Telijir were even able to tell that there were three of them. A cursory glance didn’t make it seem like their new religion was as violent as the one they followed before, but it still had to be stopped, right?
“What are we gonna do this time?” Saga!Two questions. “I feel like anything we try is just going to create a whole new set of problems that we can’t predict. I mean, if we’re only here every two centuries, we can’t keep trying to guide them in the right direction. I think this has grown beyond our capabilities.”
“Do we even need to do anything?” Vearden!Three asks.
“Why wouldn’t we?” Saxon asks. “This is our doing.”
“Right,” Vearden!Three agees, “but the Telijir haven’t heard whispers since we were here. Yet they still believe. I kinda think that’s on them.”
“Never underestimate the power of conviction,” Saga!Two says. “According to these notes, the Telijir still hear whispers all the time.”
Vearden!Three dismisses this with his hand. “We know they’re making it up. Every time a Christian claims to see a bush that burns but isn’t consumed; or a Buddhist claims to have found enlightenment—it’s all just bullshit. There is no God, on any planet, and anyone who claims to have uncovered evidence of such is only doing so to stop themselves from feeling like shit about their lives. They want to believe there’s some higher power, not to take comfort in their divine control, but so they don’t have to admit that their predecessors duped them into believing such obvious nonsense in the first place. No one wants to acknowledge that it isn’t real, and they’re just being stupid. Should we try to convince the Telijir that they’re wrong? Of course not.
“People spent a lot of time and energy on Earth trying to debunk other people’s myths, and they didn’t make one step of progress. No follower has ever been told they’re wrong, and been, like, yeah, ya know what? I think you’re right. Sure, they switched religions all the time, because some invading force conquered them, and they didn’t have a choice, but it never really took hold until the next generations. Why? Because people don’t change; they just die off, and make room for different people, with different ideas. That’s the only reason religion faded away on Earth. No one changed their minds; they were just increasingly less skilled at getting their children to believe as strongly as them. So why should we refuse to help? Because we’ve already seen that it’s a fruitless pursuit, and is more work than it’s worth. The only thing we can do is find some other lie to grapple onto. They won’t become rational overnight. The best we can do is hope it gets better for them faster than it did for us.”
“This is a complete one-eighty from your position last time,” Saga!Two points out.
“That was two hundred years ago,” Vearden!Three says.
“It was a week,” Saxon corrects, though it didn’t need to be said.
“Maybe I changed my mind after all those people threw a bunch of rocks at me.”
“I thought you said people don’t change their minds.” Saxon actually isn’t happy about noting the contradiction.
“I meant that people don’t change their minds about their worldview,” Vearden!Three argues, “but they gain perspective all the time.”
“Vearden,” Saga!Two begins. “How did you get to be so cynical? Was it really the rocks?”
“I’m just sick of this,” Vearden!Three begins. “When I was young, I kept looking for my purpose. With no prompting, I just knew there was something about the world that was hidden from most people. It was by random chance that I stumbled upon the truth. Now I know none of it matters. Nothing we do is going to make any real difference. So why have we been sent to this world? To keep fighting against the inevitable? Count me out; I ain’t doin’ shit this time. May the powers that be strike me down if my decision angers them. I don’t care anymore.”
During Vearden!Three’s last speech, Saxon was looking through the window. Once it’s over, he stands up, and tries to get a better view of something out there.
“What is it, Saxon?” Saga!Two asks.
“Do you think it’s possible that the Orothsew built a monument that’s strikingly similar to Stonehenge on Earth?” he wonders.
“You’re joking.” Saga!Two stands up, and gently moves Saxon out of the way, so she can see what he’s talking about. “That’s the real Stonehenge.” She engages the exit door. “Come on, Vearden!Three. There’s someone I would like you to meet.”
The three of them leave the shuttle, and head for the standing stones. The Delegator is waiting for them in the center with a neutral smile. “Ah, there you are. Thank you for coming.”
“Who are you?” Saxon asks.
“My name is The Delegator. I handle salmon assignments; when necessary, that is. Some salmon don’t need to speak with anyone to do their jobs. They figure out what’s expected of them, and do it with no instructions. Others can be confused, resistant, or just need a little proof that they are indeed there for a reason, and it’s not all just a random occurrence.”
“Which is it for us?” Vearden!Three questions. “Why are you here now?”
“It’s a little of all three. Saga!Two, you seem to be having a little trouble making decisions. Vearden!Three, you’ve obviously become quite jaded about this whole thing. And Saxon, you like facts. You’re a facts guy. I’m a fact. I’m here, and you’re here, and this planet needs you. Those are the facts.”
“Why are the powers that be having us show up every two hundred years, and not a year too soon. That actually is random,” Saga!Two complains. “It may seem like a pattern, but socio-political events don’t follow it, so neither should we.”
“You’re right,” the Delegator begins, “it’s a temporal pattern, but not a logical one. But that’s how they all work. We got a few guys who jump through time based on temperature scales, as they convert from Fahrenheit, Celsius, and Kelvin. We have another group that only lives during repdigit years; year eleven, year two hundred and twenty-two, year three thousand three hundred and thirty-three, and everything in between. One guy only exists on Tuesdays, and July. His name is JB. Anyway, that’s part of the suspense, and it mirrors real life more than you would think.” He starts pacing around demonstratively, like a college professor in the middle of a lecture. “The question that everyone should be asking themselves, whether salmon, or choosing one, or just regular human, is what do I do with the time that I’ve been allotted? The question doesn’t really apply to immortals, so don’t worry about them. Most fully biological people know, assuming nothing goes wrong, that they’re gonna live about eighty years; maybe a hundred. They have to grow, mature, learn, become wise, contribute positively to society, and leave a legacy. Some do better than others, but that’s besides the point. They all ask themselves the question, whether they’re conscious of it, or not.
“You have to ask yourself this as well. Just because you’re not limited to the linear eighty years doesn’t mean you don’t have a limit at all. You have a few days, maybe weeks, to help these people. You have to help them in any way that’s possible, based on where they are in their development right now. You can’t help them in fifty years, or a hundred and fifty. You’re gonna come back in two hundred. And when you do, you’re gonna try to help them again. Neither I nor the powers that be are going to tell you how to do that. They don’t..know. They’re not giving it any thought. They, honestly, probably don’t really care. They’re sort of...into math. Your appearances are mathematical, and they wanna see how that turns out. What you do here is totally up to you, but once you decide what your job is, the powers are going to wait until it’s done before forcing you to move on. This is how it’s been working, even if you didn’t realize it. So Mister Haywood, you intend to sit this one out?”
“Yes.” Nothing the Delegator said has changed Vearden!Three’s mind.
“You can’t,” the Delegator says definitively. “If you attempt to do nothing, you’ll be stuck here. You’ll be stuck here...for eighty years. Do you understand what I’m saying? Your life will mean nothing. You will have failed to answer your question appropriately. What are you going to do with the time you’ve been allotted cannot be answered with nothing of value.”
“So what if I’m stuck here?” Vearden!Three begins to argue. “What’s the difference between living eighty years in one place, and living eighty years jumping through time. That might be preferable anyway.”
“If you do your job, you are not going to be living here for eighty years.” The Delegator chuckles. “My God, man, that’s hundreds of thousands of years in realtime. How long do you think civilizations survive? This is your last assignment. Did you not realize that?”
“No,” Saga!Two says. “Why would we know that?”
“What does that mean?” Saxon asks.
“When you’re finished here, we’re going to let you live out the rest of your lives in Havenverse.” The Delegator pretends that this is a reasonably sufficient explanation.
“What the hell is that?” Vearden!Three asks angrily.
“It’s safe,” the Delegator answers. “Saga!Two, you will be reunited with your daughter. Vearden!Three, you will find where you belong. And Saxon?”
Saxon smiles with one side of his face, curious about the answer. He’s never really seemed to know what he’s wanted out of life, but safe has never been it.
The Delegator continues, “Saxon, we’ll let you go wherever you want, I guess. The powers that be have no real control over you. We’ve let you tag along with the other two, because we recognize your value, but you can quit anytime.”
“No, thank you,” Saxon says politely.
They stand in silence for a few moments.
“Well.” Vearden!Three finally says, but waits another moment to find all his words. “Any suggestions for this point in time? What could we do to help the Orothsew, and provoke the next jump?” He seems to have accepted his role.
The Delegator thinks about this. “You could be a bridge.”
“A bridge between what and what?” Saga!Two asks.
“Two cultures have appeared on this continent. They originated from the same one forty-seven, but they’ve been separate for centuries. Perhaps it is time to bring them back together.”
That’s not the worst idea ever.
The Delegator speaks again, “but that really is but a suggestion; one I’ve just now thought of. It’s not a mandate. You do what you wish.” With that, he disappears, along with all of Stonehenge.

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