Saturday, May 2, 2020

Firestorm: Indvo (Part VI)

I have been awakened, and am called to a moment in downtown Independence, Missouri. Time cannot be stopped, but I can slow it down to a fraction of a snail’s pace. Now it is just the four of us. For the most part, when someone becomes in need of my services, I only speak with the replicates, but there’s a chaperone in this case, and that’s fine. I can still do my job, which is good, because I am the only one.
“Who are you?” the young woman asks.
“Paige Turner—”
“No, that’s me,” she cuts me off.
“Please do not interrupt.”
“Paige Turner Reaver-Demir, my name is Indvo.”
“Is that spelled how it sounds? E-E-N-T-F—?”
“No,” I reply, “and I am still not finished. There are two versions of the same person in this timeline, who have crossed paths. My recommendation is quantum assimilation. Normally, I would only counsel the subjects, but since you are the traveler, I believe it is best that you remain inside this temporal bubble. I reserve the right to remove you at any time, however.”
She says nothing.
“Now I am done,” I continue. “I can see that you have questions.”
“Who are you?” Paige asks. “And I don’t mean your name. What is this bubble for? You’re a counselor of sorts?”
“I am the quantum assimilator. I step in when the two should be merged into one.”
“What exactly does that mean?” Older!Orsen questions.
I prepare to lay it all out for them. “You are two people with two bodies. Most of your memories are identical, but one of you has some memories that the other does not. And now that you have met, you have undeniably become two separate people, on two unique paths. This is dangerous for the timeline, especially since neither of you are time travelers, and cannot necessarily be trusted with our secrets. I’m sorry, that’s just the way it is. Quantum assimilation is not a requirement, except in the most catastrophic of circumstances. Like I’ve said, however, I do recommend it in this situation, and I will not pop this bubble until I’ve done my due diligence when it comes to attempting to convince you to agree.”
“So, you’re going to make these two people one person?” Paige believes.
“Indeed,” I say.
“Why do we have to do that?” Older!Orson asks. Younger!Orson is still too shocked and frightened to utter a word. “Why can’t I just go back to the future?”
“As I’ve explained,” I begin again, “you are now two different people.” I point to Older!Orson. “When you first lived through this moment, none of this happened. You met Younger!Paige, she impacted your life, and you moved on with it in a certain way.”
“In a good way?” Now Younger!Orson speaks.
“I make no moral or qualitative judgments,” I tell him. “I only protect individuality. The point is that you have returned, and generated a new branch in time...a new timeline. If there are two of you now, when you jump back to 2027, there will still be two of you.” I point to Younger!Orson. “He will move on with his life in a certain way, impacted by what’s happening here and now, and will remain unless he’s, you know, killed, or something.”
Younger!Orson, who has only just now learned that time travel is real, whimpers. “Am I going to be killed?”
“Death is one way to remove the problem of alternate selves. It’s very nasty, and I don’t do it. I am only the quantum assimilator, so if death is the choice you make, you will have to take care of it yourselves.”
“We are not killing anybody,” Paige declared. “Just explain the process, and give us all of our options.”
I take a deep breath. “It is a simple process to explain, but a complex one to carry out. I will remove the consciousnesses of both individuals, and merge them into one. Then I will place this new consciousness into one of the bodies.”
“Which body?” Older!Orson asks.
“That is up to you. People have different reasons for which body they choose. I assimilated a woman who went back in time to stop herself from getting radiation poisoning. When I merged their minds, we obviously chose to put the new consciousness into the unirradiated body. Another, however, happened to live long enough to find a cure for their disease, so we chose the older body. Most of the time, however, it is not that dramatic. The most common choice is the younger body, simply because it gives them more time to live.”
The two Orsons look at each other uncomfortably.
“What happens to the other body?” Paige asks with predictably less fear.
“It is dispatched to oblivion. Every atomic bond is broken, and each atom is carefully placed somewhere separately in spacetime.”
“That sounds horrific,” Older!Orson says, concerned.
“There is no consciousness inside the body that is destroyed,” I contradict. “Even if there were, the process is instantaneous, and would be one hundred percent painless.”
Older!Orson is now getting a little upset, and seems to feel very protective of his younger counterpart. “What are the other options? You said we had a choice. What else can we do?”
“One of you can commit suicide, which we went over. One of you can go live off in a very far removed time period, with a brand new identity. You can also move to a different planet. Both of these run the risk of you encountering each other at some point, as does another option, which is to simply live in different cities, or something. That is, of course, the most dangerous, but it has been done, and I’ve allowed it.”
“Are there more?” Paige prompts.
“I spoke with someone who would regularly return to the past to alter recent historical events he deemed unjust. Every time he did that, he would step into another dimension, so his other self could live on without the hassle. Last I checked, there were hundreds of alternates, all just kind of hanging out together in their bizarre little city that’s totally cut off from the world. That sort of thing is why I’m here, because if he wasn’t capable of accessing this pocket dimension, those hundreds of alternates would all be on this plane of existence. The human population would be negatively impacted by that, and you would have heard about it.”
“That makes sense,” Paige says. “So, to recap, exile, suicide, or assimilation are our only options?”
“It all boils down to that, I suppose.”
“Serkan never did any of that,” she argues. “He and his other self live in the same city.”
“Your father wanted to do that, because he felt he would be reasonably capable of avoiding his alternate selves, one of which is totally oblivious to time travel. I allowed it, because Mr. Demir lives a very underground life, and I recognized that he would be mature enough to shed his old life, and let Younger!Serkan lead it in his stead. That was his secret gift to his self. Not everyone has the willpower to avoid checking in on their family and friends.”
“He didn’t tell me any of this,” Paige points out. “He’s never mentioned you, and he tells us everything.”
I smile. “I’m certain he would have told you if he remembered. He has no recollection of our conversation. No one ever does. Once our business here is complete, you will not remember this either.”
“Wouldn’t that defeat the whole purpose?” Older!Orson believes. “The whole reason I came back here was to convince my younger self not to start a time religion.”
I smile again. “You will remember everything that led to the creation of our bubble meeting. You will also be aware that a quantum assimilation occurred. You just won’t remember how it happened. You just won’t remember me.”
“Does anyone ever remember you?” This was genuine concern from Ms. Paige.
“I’ve not maintained a relationship since I was seven years old,” I tell them. “Whatever I was doing when I first sensed someone in the timeline needed me to help them, was the last time I did anything as a normal person. I don’t even remember what it was. I do remember returning home after my first job, and finding that my family didn’t know who I was. My entire existence; past and future was erased, and it could not be undone.”
She takes me by the hand, again so genuinely. No one has ever done anything like that to me before. I don’t remember the last time I felt human touch. I never need to make physical contact with my subjects. “I’m sorry that happened to you. Is there anything that can be done? Is it possible for you to force people to remember you after you leave?”
“I’ve met the most powerful time travelers of all,” I begin, “and none of them has exhibited the ability to know me. But this is not about me anyway. This is about the Orsons. It is time to decide. I will not force you, but my recommendation stands.”
“What if we disagree with each other?” Older!Orson asks.
I always hate this part. “The older version of someone is more knowledgeable, if not wiser. It doesn’t have to be unanimous. I will do whatever you decide. Younger!Orson does not have to be involved. It is easier this way.”
This saddens the older one, and frightens the younger one even more than he already was. “Still. Can we have a moment to speak in private?”
I nod. “I can create a bubble inside the time bubble. Ms. Paige and I will not be able to hear you, but our time will be synced. I urge haste. I have other things to do with my time.”
The two Orsons step over to the other side of a barrier that I create for their privacy. Paige and I watch them talk. It’s neutral; not heated.
“What do you think they’re gonna choose?” she asks me.
“I’ve done this literally millions of times,” I start to say.
“Really. I always know what they’re going to choose, even before they do.”
“Well...” she provokes. “What is it?”
I take a moment before I answer. “The older one is going to kill himself.”
I can smell the dismay seeping out of her pores. I can also see her reaction out of the corner of my eye.
“I can erase your own memories of it happening,” I assure her. “And his. The younger Orson will know he was told to do whatever it is you wanted him to do. Whether he complies with your request is up to him—that’s not my department, so I have no control over that—but neither of you have to realize what happened to the other Orson.”
“So you can control what people remember?”
“There’s a bit of leeway when it comes to what they forget, but I cannot make them remember anything extra.”
“So, I’ll go back to the future, and what will it look like? We’ll never meet Orson outside the Salmon Civic Center, but we’ll still need some way of continuing the investigation, as if Orson’s name had been attached to The Juggler and Agent Hello Doctor. Oh my God, we didn’t think this through enough. If he kills himself...”
“Again, that’s not my department. You probably won’t want to go back to that future, though.” I hate this part too. Sometimes the people I meet don’t even realize what’s happened to them. They don’t know what they are. It is the burden I bear to deliver so much bad news like this.
“Why’s that?” She’s confused, but she’s about to be scared. It’s about to get real.
“Older!Orson is not the only time traveler here. You are the one who created the new timeline. There are now two Paige Turner Reaver-Demirs in the same timeline. You’re going to have to make a decision too.”
I can see the hurt in her eyes. I’ve seen it many times. “Oh, no.”

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