Saturday, November 23, 2019

Source Variant: Public Friend Number One (Part X)

For the most part, if any version of Saga and Vearden wants to open a door to another time and place, there’s about a one in three chance that it’ll take them when and where they want to go. There’s a one in three chance that it’ll take them to some point in spacetime out of their control, that the powers that be have decided. And then there’s a one in three chance that it will simply take them to the other side of the door, like it will for any regular person. There are ways for them to increase the odds of getting what they want, but it takes a lot of concentration, plus the ability to kind of act like they don’t want it. They have to trick the spacetime continuum into believing they’re neutral about it, like a bit of metaphysical reverse psychology. As one might imagine, this is incredibly difficult to pull off, and none of them is sure the theory is even true. Still, Vearden!Two, and Saga!Three found themselves energized by their conversation with The Delegator. He wanted them to do some very bad things, which didn’t discourage them from going against him, but galvanized them into action. They became even more certain of their convictions.
Their determination alone seemed powerful enough to literally open doors for them. They started jumping forwards in time separately from their preset two-hundred year pattern, and it was unclear how hard the powers that be were fighting them on it. They thought maybe, perhaps, they were actually rooting for the three of them to do the right thing, and that this was all part of the plan. As far as their plan went, they had to refine it after owning their power. They chose to not throw out the McIver hats, but instead used them to their advantage. They each chose a random face from their past; someone they knew wasn’t a real time traveler, and would have no chance of showing up as themselves. Then they revealed themselves to the Gondilak, and made up a half-true story about being visitors from another world, here to help them develop as a race, and a nation. Saga!Three used her medical background to treat some of the sick and injured, to show that they could be trusted. Then they turned themselves invisible, and walked away. They returned a year later, but this time, the doorwalkers remained invisible, while Zektene appeared in a completely new form. She used her power of teleportation to save a few lives here and there.
They continued to do this; jumping a little bit further in time, putting on new illusions, helping the natives in some small way, and then leaving. As far as the Gondilak knew, humans were a species of temporal manipulators, who frequently traveled to other worlds, and altruistically helped the aliens they found there. This was in stark contrast to Vearden!Two’s timeline, where salmon were only dispatched to provide aid to the Orothsew, while Gondilak were either ignored, or actively offended. The Gondilak here felt special, cared for, and most importantly, worthy.
Neither the Delegator, nor the powers that be themselves—nor anyone else, for that matter—did anything to prevent their actions. They just kept opening magical doors, and making more jumps; a day or two here, a couple decades there. One day, they realized that it had been exactly two hundred years since they began their little rebellious crusade. They were back on their pattern, and wondering whether it was time to change strategies, not because it wasn’t working, but because so much about the world was different. Maybe it was time to regroup, and see if there was something else they should be doing.
“How are they doing?” Saga!Three asks.
They’ve been gone for the last seven years, so before they do anything, they need a progress report. Zektene is at the computer. “Two million, forty-four thousand, two hundred and fifty six people are presently living on the continent, plus the three of us.”
“Not too bad, according to projections,” Vearden!Two notes.
“How’s that internal conflict on the Uilkeh Peninsula faring?”
Zektene pulls up the survey from that region. “Still at a stalemate. Things have not gotten worse, but it appears they’ve not gotten better either.”
“If they can just last until the lunar eclipse next year,” Saga!Three begins, “they’ll see that the moon has nothing to do with crop yield, and the five families might come together again for the Harvest Meal.” She’s become the de facto leader of their group. While Vearden!Two knows more about the people they’re dealing with, Saga is the one with the leadership skills.
“Do you wanna intervene?” Zektene offers.
“The youngest Rekohs son’s condition should remind the Oppetara matriarch of her late sister. All they need to do is find out about it. Let’s wait it out,” Saga!Three decides.
“Okay.” Zektene switches the Uilkeh Peninsula file from a red flag to a green flag, indicating that they’ll monitor the situation closely, but not intervene unless there’s an immediate threat to life.
“Any other threats?” Saga!Three prompts.
Zektene scans the files quickly. “None the drones have marked as urgent. This is a pretty good jump.”
“All right, let’s get some sleep.” They sleep every night, and never specifically address it. When Saga!Three uses the word, she means that they’re going to be taking a break for at least three days. They’re no good to the Gondilak, or the world as a whole, if they burn out in the middle of a mission.

After a literal night’s rest, Saga!Three steps into Vearden!Two’s room uninvited. She does this, because Vearden!Two doesn’t look like himself at the moment.
He quickly drops the illusion, and slips off his balaclava, but it’s too late. She saw what he looked like.
She laughs. “I’m sorry, did you think I didn’t know about this?”
“It’s not what it looks like.”
“Don’t be a cliché. I know what you’re up to.”
“I assure you, you don’t,” Vearden!Two hopes.
“You’ve been sneaking out, dressed like him, doing good deeds, and making him look like the best person in the world.”
“Okay, maybe it is what you think.”
“Vearden!Two, they have shrines dedicated to Mateo Matic. Did you really think you were getting away with it?”
“I was just hoping to do this as long as possible without being stopped, whether you found out about it or not.”
“Why is this so important to you?” she asks.
“Mateo has had a rough go of it. He’s not always welcome when he shows up. I’m just trying to protect him, so if he ever finds himself on this planet, people will already have good thoughts about him.”
Saga!Three sighs. “Come with me. I need to show you something.”
Vearden!Two follows her out of the room, and down the hallway, back into the main section of the facility. Zektene is having a midnight snack, but doesn’t say anything, because this doesn’t have anything to do with her.
Saga!Three turns the computer monitor away, so Vearden!Two can’t see it. “When did you start sneaking out, and pretending to be Mateo?”
“A hundred and twenty-one years ago. I got the idea from—”
Saga!Three turns the monitor back around, so Vearden!Two can see what’s on it now. He tilts his head to get a different angle. “Yeah, that’s an incredible likeness. I’ve never seen that one before. Where is it?”
“That doesn’t matter,” Saga!Three explains. “This cave painting is over eight hundred years old.”
“What? No, that’s impossible. That’s after we...” He hesitates. “That would mean—” Vearden!Two can’t finish his sentence.
“Vearden!Two,” Saga!Three says reluctantly, “Mateo has already been here.” She taps a button, and moves over to the next picture. “So has Leona. I don’t think they’re coming back.” She goes to the next picture of the cave drawings. “I don’t know who these people are.”
“So I’ve just been wasting my time?” he asks sadly.
“You haven’t been wasting your time,” Saga!Three promises, “but you have been wasting your vacation. He doesn’t need our help.
Zektene is suddenly right next to them. “I wouldn’t be so sure of that.”
“Wadya mean?”
Zektene takes over, and pulls up a different set of photos that the monitoring drones took a very long time ago.
“Whoa,” Saga!Three says.
“No!” Vearden!Two cries.
“Are they burning him at the stake?” Saga!Three asks.
Zektene giggles. “They tried to.” She shows them the next picture. The fire has been turned to smoldering ash, and Mateo’s likeness isn’t there anymore.
“He disappeared before he died,” Saga!Three assumes.
“That was my guess,” Zektene says. “But I don’t know who he is.”
“He lives for one day every year; jumps forward at midnight, according to central time zone.”
“Ah.” Zektene nods. “Well, I would have said something had I known you knew him. I just archived these photos, and let it go.”
“So he may come back?” Vearden!Two asks.
“We’re time travelers,” Saga!Three answers with a shrug. “Anyone could come back at any time. Maybe you making him look good wasn’t a big waste. Maybe you changed everybody’s minds on him. I don’t know.”
Vearden!Two breathes a sigh of relief. “I know it seems stupid, to be protecting this one guy. He’s just...if you met him, you might understand. He’s just so...”
“Helpless,” Vearden!Two clarifies. “People don’t help him because he’s a good person—though, he definitely is—we help him because we know he can’t do this on his own. He needs people like me. I feel very protective of him; have since day one.”
Zektene places her hand on his shoulder. “That makes sense, Vearden!Two.”
Meanwhile, Saga!Three steps off to the side to think about their situation. She’s not thinking about Mateo. She has no strong feelings about him. His presence in those cave drawings does pose an interesting question, however. She should have taken it more seriously before. They are not the only time travelers, and theirs is not the only agenda. This is a big planet, and even with the insect drones, flying around, keeping track of progress, lots of things can fall through the cracks. Even if a drone catches something on camera, the artificial intelligence in charge of them may not tell the three of them about it. Not everything it sees seems like a threat worth mentioning. It’s particularly difficult for them to elicit information from it since the system wasn’t designed for humans. Almost everything they do to get it to work is done through force. “Zektene?”
“I know we’re on vacation, but...”
“What do you need, sir?” Zektene is always ready to get down to business.
“I need you to...write a program, or run an algorithm, or whatever. Make it so that the computer spits out every human it’s ever seen, including us.”
“Sir?” Zektene questions again, but this time because she doesn’t fully understand.
“Where are you going with this?” Vearden!Two elaborates on the question.
“The Delegator seemed too cagey, but also too confident. I’m worried we actually aren’t the only humans on this continent. Even with our recent shorter time jumps, there’s a lot of gaps we don’t know as much about. Someone else could even show up at the same time as us, but in some other village, and we may never learn about it.”
“If a drone saw someone,” Zetkene begins, “I’ll find that footage.”
Two days later, the computer has finished sorting all of the data collected over the last eight centuries. Saga!Three happens to be in the room when the computer beeps, letting her know that it found someone who shouldn’t be there. She pulls up the image, and sees a man. He’s standing before Atlimai Valley, smiling sinisterly and waving at the camera. When she summons her two partners to come take a look, it’s clear that both of them know exactly who he is.
“That’s Cain,” Vearden!Two reveals. “And if he’s here, the Gondilak aren’t the ones in trouble. We are.”

No comments :

Post a Comment