Saturday, December 5, 2020

The Pryce of Heaven: The Paigenic Council (Part I)

The team has been assembled, and Jupiter Fury thinks that it’s complete, but someone has a different idea. Lowell Benton is there to rescue Jeremy Bearimy, Missy Atterberry was assigned Sanaa Karimi, Téa Stendhal will be responsible for Angela Walton, and Trinity Turner was supposed to be there for Ellie Underhill. There is a reason that her name means three. She is the third version of the original Paige Turner. Jupiter knows of eleven versions total, but there might be more. Every time Paige has to go back in time and correct something about the future, it generates another alternate version, and instead of assimilating into one person, this alternate always ends up going off to do something else with her life. Trinity is the one with close ties to Ellie, so why are Tetra and Quinn here?
“She can’t be part of this mission,” Quinn argues.
“Why not?” Jupiter questions.
“There are things about her future that she cannot know,” Quinn explains.
“I hope you haven’t told her already,” Tetra adds.
“We’re looking for the afterlife simulation that a future version of Tamerlane Pryce creates,” Trinity says, proving what she knows.
“It’s too late,” Tetra says, shaking her head.
“No, it’s not,” Quinn assures her. “We can erase her memories to preserve the timeline. I just need to make a call, and I need...I need Trinity to consent.”
“No, hold on,” Jupiter jumps back in. “I have seen no evidence that Trinity—or any version of Paige—has anything to do with the afterlife simulation.”
“She will be there at its conception,” Quinn says.
“Well, I didn’t know that,” Trinity pushes back, “but now I do.”
“You knew enough before we arrived,” Tetra argues. “You have to erase your memories. Too much about the future is at stake here. You are the most important of all of us, besides Paige the First.”
“Please,” Quinn begins to beg, “just let me contact Tertius. You know what happens when you change the wrong thing about the past. This is wrong.”
Trinity shifts her gaze from Jupiter to Tetra to Quinn, and then back to Jupiter. He looks to the latter Paiges. “Okay, I will admit that my primary reason for conscripting Trinity for this team is a...little more poetic...and a little less inherently necessary.” He looks at Trinity. “You may have Tertius erase your memories, if you would like.”
Trinity thinks about it more. It’s true that she understands the dangers of altering the past, and she has to surrender to the wisdom of the latter Paiges. Each new version was created with greater concern for the timeline than earlier ones, like her. “Call him.”
Quinn takes out her photo device. When Paige was a child, she was accidentally whisked away from her life in 1971, and taken to the future. This had the side effect of giving her the ability to travel to any point in time and space, as long as she was looking at a picture of it. The devices they carry—which are alternate versions of the same thing as well—contain millions of photos from the past and future, so they can go just about anywhere and anywhen. Quinn isn’t using hers to make a jump, though. She needs to bring someone to her, which is a secondary time power that, for whatever reason, not all of the Paiges have. She finds the photo she’s looking for, then points the device away from her, like a TV remote. A beam of light shoots out of it, and conjures a man.
He looks around to get his bearings. “Greetings, kind folk.”
“Thank you for coming,” Quinn says with a slight bow. “I will send you wherever, whenever you want, if you will please erase my friend’s memories.”
All of them?” he questions.
“Heavens no,” Trinity clarifies. “They will be better at explaining what I am to remember, and what I’m not.” She takes out her own photo device, and finds the right photo. She hands it to Tetra. “Once it’s done, and I’m still in the daze, take me back to this dumpster. It’s where I was when Tracker found me.”
Tetra bumps Trinity’s device with her own, and transfers a copy of the photo. “I would have chosen a beach, but I won’t yuck your yum.”
“I would rather not explain why I’m digging around in the trash,” Trinity requests.
“Oh,” Tertius says. “If you’re going back to a departure point, I don’t need to know which memories to take, and which ones not to. I just need to know how much time has passed since then. You don’t even need to know the answer yourself. I can search your brain for the right duration.”
“What happens to my memories after you take them?” Trinity asks. “Do you keep them?”
“It depends,” Tertius begins. “I can hold onto them for you, like a flash drive, if you want them back later. I can keep them in my own head, and it will sort of feel like part of me is part of you. I can also just purge the memories, so they cannot be retrieved.”
“That one. Do that.”
“Okay. Since this is an individual job, and not for the greater good, I am going to need consent from you.”
“Of course, you have it,” Trinity replies.
“Right. But I mean, you’re going to need to keep the memory of your official, verbal consent. You won’t remember what memories I take obviously, but you will have access to this consent. You won’t be conscious of it, but if you need it, you can get it.”
“I don’t understand the point of that.”
He tries to formulate the right words. “You ever seen a movie where the protagonist spends ninety minutes trying to find out what happened to him, and in the end, he discovers that he actually asked for his memories to be removed.”
“I haven’t seen many movies,” Trinity says, “but I grasp the premise.”
“If you find out you have missing time, you might start running around, trying to get those memories back, and figure out who hurt you. This little secret memory nugget will be like a little voice in the back of your mind that tells you, in your own words, that it’s okay, you shouldn’t get those memories back. Everything’s hunky dory.”
“All right, I can do that,” Trinity agrees.
Tertius does his thing, Tetra does hers, and then Quinn announces she’s going to leave.
“Whoa, hold on,” Jupiter stops her.
“What?”
“I haven’t decided which one of you two is going to take her place on the team.”
Quinn looks back at Tetra. “We’ve already talked about it.”
“We didn’t talk about it,” Tetra contends. I won RPS 101 Plus...twice.”
“You cheated the second time.” Quinn is getting a little bit defensive.
“I don’t care if you fought to the death,” Jupiter declares. “It’s my team, I choose.”
“That’s not how consent works, sweetheart,” Quinn fights back.
“That’s a microaggression,” Jupiter volleys.
“True. But this is the way it is. You have Tetra, and I have to go do something else.”
“I don’t think you understand that—” Jupiter manages to say before he’s interrupted.
Quinn begins to fume, and gets in Jupiter’s face. She lifts her photo device, and speaks a command. “Protocol Six-Six-Six.” A picture of what just looks like a mountain of fire appears on the screen. “Tetra is gonna get you into heaven. You choose me, you go here. Is that what you want?”
Jupiter doesn’t say anything.
“You and your little Springfield buddies like to think that you’re top shit. But there are more of me than there are of you.”
Jupiter can’t help but scoff. “I can make endless copies of myself, and I don’t have to jump back in time to do it.”
Quinn smirks. “Technically, I do. But does that really matter?” She lifts her arms to the crucifixion position. About twenty alternate versions of her appear out of nowhere behind her, looking menacing.
“You can’t quantum assimilate,” Jupiter argues, but he’s quite fearful. “Now there are just a bunch of extra versions of you.”
“Who says I can’t?” Quinn asks rhetorically. “I just usually don’t, unless I’m trying to prove a point.” She gracefully drops her arms. The other Quinns disappear. “Thanks, Indvo,” she says, but no one knows what it means.
Jupiter doesn’t back up, but he does kind lean away from her as subtly as possible. “Tetra will be fine.”
“Good, because I’ve wasted enough time here already.” She swipes at her device until she lands on the photo she wants, and disappears into it.
He gathers his composure. “Are you ready to meet the team?”
“I’m sorry you had to go through that,” Tetra apologizes. “She’s been through a bit more than the rest of us have. Except for Nova. She...anyway, yes, let’s go meet the team.”
They make the trip to the Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, which is the ship that they borrowed from a slightly different team. They will be giving it back once this is all done. Missy, Téa, and Lowell are reading the same hardcopy book, suggesting they’ve formed some kind of club. Jupiter facilitates introductions and explanations before getting into his speech about what they’re going to be doing together.
“In the future, a man named Tamerlane Pryce will find himself on a planet called Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida for the second time. Trinity Turner will ask him to be there so he can help build a tourist attraction, where people will come to insert their consciousnesses into cloned animal substrates. This will allow them to go on extreme close-up safaris. After his job is done, he will remain on that world, and continue his own private research. Meanwhile, Trinity and her friends—which includes Tamerlane’s daughter, Abigail—will be working on their own thing. They had the idea of creating a perfect world simulation, and use it to upload the mind of every single person who has ever died. This obviously requires time travel, but that’s also obviously okay, because that’s what we’re all about.
“We do not know what happens after the spark of this idea, but we do know that Tamerlane Pryce becomes cognizant of the idea, and then gets his hands on the resources necessary to pull it off. For the last several thousand years, everyone who dies is sent to his virtual construct, instead of theirs. We don't know how involved the others were, but we know he’s at least in charge of it now. We also don’t know where it is in physical form, but it has to be massive, because the amount of processing power required to run the damn thing is something humans can only dream of today. I’m talking larger than a whole solar system massive. If it were close, we would notice it, so it’s probably thousands of light years away. I have assembled this team in order to locate it, travel to it, remove Pryce from power, and rescue a few friends who had no business dying when they did. That is all we are there to do. We do not want to destroy the simulation, and we’re not going to save everybody from it. We’re getting these four people, and that’s it.”
“Got it,” Lowell acknowledges, feigning enthusiasm. “How are we going to find it?”
“Did you enjoy the tea I gave you?”
“Yeah, it was actually pretty good.” Lowell grows suspicious. “Why?”
“I learned a few things about how the simulation works,” Jupiter goes on. “When you die, your consciousness transfers to the simulation, wherever it is. But how does it know that you’re dead, and how does it find your mind? There has to be something in the brain that allows this transfer, and that’s not something that people naturally evolved to have. I mean, it would be like a little computer somewhere in your head.”
“You’re making me nervous,” Lowell admits.
“Me too,” Missy concurs.
“Téa, are you nervous too?” Jupiter asks.
“I would be lying if I said no.”
“Don’t worry,” Jupiter says, shaking his head slowly. “Tetra, you’re all right too.”
“You said something about tea,” Missy reminds him. “We all drank it. Did you drug us?”
“Yes, but the drug itself isn’t going to hurt you. It’s like a beacon. If I did this right, it should allow us to track a dead person to where they go.”
“So...you’re going to hurt us,” Téa presumed.
“Not you.” Jupiter takes out a gun, and points it at Lowell’s chest. “Just the serial killer.”
Lowell makes no move to get away, or argue against it. He just regards Jupiter with disdain, and sighs. “Try to make it quick. I imagine shooting me in the head puts the mission at risk, and I know it seems like I don’t have a heart, but it’s right here.” He taps on the left side of his chest.” The last thing he hears is the gunshot, and Téa’s instinctual yelp.
Lowell finds himself face up in a stream, a large rock preventing him from being washed away. A child approaches as he’s climbing out. Without a word, the child takes Lowell by the hand, and leads him down the trail. They come to the treeline, and see a tower several kilometers away. They keep walking until they reach it. After the child presses the elevator button, she stays behind, and begins to walk away. Lowell goes up to the top floor, and is asked by a secretary to wait. After a few minutes, a very distraught Ellie Underhill comes out of the office, and heads for the elevator. Jupiter showed him a picture of her when his mission began, which is the only reason he knows who she is. They lock eyes, but just for a moment before the doors close in front of her.
“You can go on in now,” the secretary tells him.
Lowell stands up, and goes into the office. Tamerlane Pryce is waiting for him there. He doesn’t remove his gaze from the window. “Did you ever think,” he begins to ask before a long pause. “...that you would one day be here, having suffered exactly what you forced on others so many times?”
“Did I think I would one day die, just like them? Yes, sir, of course.”
Tamerlane nods. “Do you think you deserve heaven or hell?”
“Yes.”
He chuckles once, and finally turns around. “Best answer possible, I imagine.” He gestures for Lowell to sit in the guest chair, and then leans back on the desk. Next to him is a wheel with twelve unequal wedges. Jupiter told him about this too. You spin the wheel, and whatever you land on decides where you’ll be assigned. You could be killed forever, or resurrected, or get anything in between. “No, no, no. This one isn’t for you.” He lifts the wheel up, and turns it around, so it’s facing the other direction. On the other side is the same circle, but painted with different wedges. There are only four of them here: black, blue, red, and orange; all the bad ones. “You are a temporal manipulator. Well, I mean, you’re a psychic, but that’s close enough. Normally, I would assign you a good level, because I like people like you. But you hurt people, and like all other maniacs before you, this only ends bad. He points at the wheel. “Fate will determine how bad.”
Lowell studies the wheel, and recalls the levels as former dead person, Mateo Matic recited them the other day. Level 0 is the true death. Level 1 is like being put on a flash drive. You still exist, but you’re not aware of the passage of time. Level 2 and Level 3 are both prisons, except you’re completely alone in the former. He smiles, almost graciously, and nods. Then he reaches over to the needle, and turns it directly to Level 1.
Tamerlane watches it over his own shoulder. “That’s not exactly how it works, but...I suppose I have to admire your chutzpah. I do recognize that you only killed bad people, like Dexter, and you surely deserve some credit for that. Level 1, Iced blue it is.”
Lowell’s clothes turn blue.
“Oh,” Tamerlane says as he’s standing up, and walking back to the other side of his desk. “There’s a chance of you being unshelved eventually, but only if your friends who are coming after me can get past my defenses, and only if they like you enough to look for you. I don’t love your odds.”
Shit. He knows they’re coming.

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