Saturday, August 1, 2020

Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida: Turtle (Part I)

My alarm goes off, but I just let it play. The persistent beeping is almost pleasant to me now. It reminds me that I’m still alive, despite everything. I don’t even know how old I am now. I should know, and I would if I were younger, and I will once I’m younger again, but my mind is too hazy. That’s when I know, though. That’s when I know it’s time to go back and start over. My counterpart—the one you would be forgiven for calling the real Paige Turner—is immortal too, but in a different way. She upgraded her substrate with technology. Nanites repair damages, organs regrow themselves, or can simply be replaced with no rejection problems. She can interface with other technology, and even download information into her brain. I thought about doing this, but it comes at a cost.
I was born a human, but when I was a child, I accidentally stepped through a portal, and was accidentally granted special time powers by my soon-to-be adoptive father. I learned that I could travel anywhere in time, as long as I could see it, usually with a photograph. It has to be real; I couldn’t simply ask someone to paint me a picture of what they think the year 40,000 might look like, and then jump into it. I can teleport by line-of-sight too, but I find myself not doing that very often. I don’t really know why. The point is that when my other self upgraded herself, she lost this power. It made her immortal, yeah, but it also forced her to live through linear time, unless she finds someone to take her to some other point in time. I couldn’t live like that. I had a job to do, and it required the ability to go back and forth between Earth and where I live now, Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida. This is a beautiful world, though saying that is a bit self-aggrandizing, because I am responsible for people’s ability to experience it. Nearly everything on this planet was toxic to humans when I arrived. I spent decades modifying the genetic structure of every living creature, so that would no longer be the case. But in order to do this, I needed my own form of immortality.
During my travels, I came across a special object with temporal properties of its own. It’s not the only way to stay youthful, or live forever, but it’s the way I chose, and today is the day I go through it all again. If something goes wrong, however, I have to make sure my partner is prepared to move on without me. “Stop alarm.” I slide my legs across the bed, and let them fall to the floor. I make a lot more noises when I move now; yet another indicator that it’s time to use the stone. I struggle to get my nightgown out from under my ass, and pull it off. Then I stand up and walk over to the closet. My robe isn’t there. Did Ellie take it? Why would she do that? I step into my slippers, and shuffle outside, down the hallway, and into Ellie’s workspace. Man, why did I build this place so damn large? Oh, that’s right, it’s designed for young whippersnappers.
“You have forgotten your clothes, Lady Trinity.” Ellie chose a different way to stay young. She’s not completely immortal, like Paige is. She only drank Youth water, so if someone goes after her with a spear, or something, she’s in trouble. She started calling me Lady Trinity once I got old enough, and says she’ll stop once I reyoungify myself.
“Did you take my robe?”
“Oh.” She grows solemn, even though it’s not a bad day. “Is it happening?”
“I’m not dying, Ellie. I just need my robe. It’ll be fine.”
“You switched rooms years ago, remember? You left some stuff in the old one.”
“That’s right.” I remember now. I start shuffling that direction.
“Do you want help?”
I stop, and look over at the tank. I know she asked me a question, and I even know what it was, but my mind is too degraded for me to reliably carry on a continuous conversation. “He looks ready.”
Ellie walks over and gently caresses the tank. “I’m not sure how old he was when he died, but yes, it’s about time for him to be reborn. We’ll do it today, right after you get back. You’ll have the same birthday.”
I giggle. That’s not really how it works. The body in the tank is in a completely different situation than me. He doesn’t need to be reyoungified. In fact, the reason why it’s taken us forty years to bring him back is because we wanted him to be older, just as he was when he was murdered. It is indeed time to finally end the process, though. “Start the preparations. I’ll only be gone a couple minutes. That’s how long it’ll take me to get to my old room.”
“You have the stone?” she asks.
I open my hand, and show her.
“Be careful.”
“As always.” I get moving again, back to where I used to sleep. I don’t recall why I switched rooms. I think it had something to do with our associate. He’s not a good guy, and I was sick of living so close to him. Or maybe he had nothing to do with it, and I just needed a change in scenery. The automated cleaning systems have kept it in perfect condition, like I never left. “Hey Thistle, open the closet, please.” I would normally just do it manually, but I’m anxious to confirm my robe is in there. I could just print a new one; it’s not a big deal, but every time I decide to reyoungify myself, I’m worried something will kill me at the last second. It’s this last day each time that stresses me out the most.
“Can I come with you?” I didn’t realize she was in here. She doesn’t like her father any more than I do, so I shouldn’t be surprised this is one of the places she likes to go to get away from him.
I sigh. “Go home, Abby.”
She stands up. “Please. I want to see it. I want to know what you look like when you’re young.”
“And you’ll see me when I get back.”
“Can I at least be in the photo you take?”
I sigh again. “If you must.”
“Here. I’ll help you put that on.” She comes over, and places the robe over my head. Then she tugs at it to make sure it’s set right. “So ominous. Why do you do it again? I mean, it’s not like you don’t know who the people in the other robes are.”
“A wink, or a twitch, or a scar under my eye,” I start to explain to her. “It could give something away. I don’t want to know what my future looks like. It’s best if we just stay robed up. Besides...” I pull the hood over my head. “I have to wear the robe, because one thing I do know about my future is that every version of me always does.”
I forgot my photo device, so Abigail lets me use hers. I’ll literally only be gone a few seconds, from her perspective. “Say homestone!”
I hold up the camera, and smile. Then I snap the photo, squeeze the stone in my hand, and disappear.
The portal my now-fathers brought me through was at Stonehenge on October 8, 1971. The homestone has allowed me to travel back to that very moment, and in doing so, it also returned me to the age I was at the time. I’m back to being a twelve-year-old girl, which means I’m smaller, and the robe doesn’t fit as well. But that’s exactly what I want, because it obscures my face. Several other people are standing around in identical robes. But they’re not really other people. They’re me. They’re all me. I’ve done this many times already, and I will do it again in another seventy years or so. I can see a few of them from under my hood, but I don’t want to be able to count them. There aren’t millions of us here, so I know I’m not destined to live hundreds of millions of years. At some point, I give up my pursuit of everlasting life. That could mean I will upgrade my substrate, just like Paige!One. Or it could mean I manage to get my hands on immortality water. But the most likely explanation is that I eventually die, and the cycle finally ends.
This is the sixth time I’ve used the homestone. I don’t always let myself get as old as I did this time. One time, I was poisoned by a turtle-like animal on Bida, and had to jump back, even though I was only in my thirties. In all those times, I have not yet become the version of myself who’s over there, talking to The Delegator. Stonehenge is like his office. He’s responsible for giving a certain type of time traveler called salmon their assignments. I don’t come here on purpose. The homestone will always bring me back to the last place I was before I traveled through time for the first time. So I don’t know why this other Trinity feels the need to converse with him, and I definitely don’t know what they’re talking about. Presumably, none of the others do either. We’re watching them, even though we know the whole point of the robes is to avoid altering the timeline by knowing too much about it. One by one, they all look at their photo devices, and disappear back to their future. I need to follow suit, and go back to 2300, where I belong. I take one last glance at the talkative Trinity, then gaze at the photograph Abigail and I took together. Just before I jump into it, I see something that I have never been here long enough to notice. One of the other Trinitys attacks the talkative one. I have no clue why, and I’m gone before I can find out.
“You’ve been gone a long time,” Abigail says to me.
“I have? Oh my God! How long?”
“I’m kidding!” she assures me. “It’s been two seconds.”
“Don’t scare me like that. Jesus.” I pull the robe off, much quicker than I could before, because I’m strong and youthful again. This makes her a little uncomfortable. A naked old woman isn’t the most appealing thing to see, but it’s a whole lot less problematic than the body I’m sporting now. “Sorry. I should have prepared another set of clothes.” I grab the first outfit I find, and throw it on. It’s a dress. I’m wearing a dress. I’m wearing a dress that’s three sizes too big for me, and I’m about to go back to the lab. I hate being quite this young. I’m always at my best when I’m in my twenties. But the homestone wasn’t invented to make people immortal, and I’m never given a choice of how old I become when I use it. It was designed to let people go back to the beginning. Perhaps time travel screwed up their lives, and this is the next best thing to an actual reset button. It doesn’t let them undo everything that happened to them up until that point, but it does give them a second chance to lead a better life, starting right where they were when it all went wrong. In some cases, their loved ones won’t even know they were gone, since no time will have passed for them. The reyoungification feature is only there to help facilitate this ruse. I found another use for it, though.
Abigail and I leave the room, and head back to the lab. Ellie is there, running a diagnostics check on the machine. She’s further in the process than she should be already.
“Ah, Turtle Toes, you’re here.” This is what Ellie calls Abigail. “Did it go okay?” she asks me.
“Perfectly,” I answer. I choose not to tell her about the Trinity fight. If I could forget it myself, I would. “I’m a little young for this mission, though. Maybe we should wait.”
“His body will be too old by that time, and people will notice. I can do it myself.”
“No, that wasn’t the plan. I was just an old woman, and I was too cognitively impaired to think this through. This is wrong. We have to extract him together.”
Ellie smiles at me, and leans down to get on my level, which I just kind of find insulting, because I’m not really only twelve. “There’s something I never told you.”
“What’s that?” I ask.
“I’m, like, nine hundred years older than you.” She converts the smile into a smirk, activates the time chamber, and disappears into it before I can stop her.

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