Saturday, March 6, 2021

Big Papa: Day Zero (Part II)

I have the ability to teleport sound waves and brain waves. I can’t read people’s minds, but I can transfer a consciousness from one substrate to another. Is there something that connects these two kinds of waves? Are they just two sides of the same coin? I don’t know, that sounds crazy, so maybe I just have two completely unrelated time powers. I choose not to question it beyond those two possibilities. I’ve been developing my powers for millennia, and long ago, I figured out that I can listen in on a conversation that happened in the past, or even the future. I have to be careful not to step on any butterflies when I do this, and I generally don’t like to invade people’s privacy, but it has proven to be incredibly useful on many occasions. I have to find out what became of my friends after I left them sixteen years ago, and this is safer to the timeline than if I just went back to that moment, and interfered with them directly.
When Lowell was resurrected into a clone body, Tamerlane Pryce removed his power. He was born with the ability to see other people’s sins. He became a murtherous vigilante because of this, so being rid of it was actually a welcome relief. That’s not what I ever wanted for myself, so fortunately, Pryce didn’t remove what I could do. He’s not the worst person in the world, and if I can find a way to work with a serial killer, it’s not crazy to think that Pryce and I could come to some kind of agreement. I don’t want to kick him out of his job, but things have to change about the afterlife simulation, and I know he won’t do it on his own. No one—however noble they think they are—deserves to be solely responsible for over a hundred billion people.
I reach into the past, and even before I find the conversation I’m looking to eavesdrop on, I can tell that my powers are safe. This is the first time I tried them after being resurrected, so even though I could feel that they were still here, I couldn’t know for sure. It’s a great relief. I scour what I call the soundstream, and navigate all the way to Tribulation Island, in The Parallel reality, on July 3, 2218. You might think it’s weird that I can access a parallel reality, but it’s no further removed from my present-day than any other moment in time. The only reason I’ve never done it before is because I wasn’t aware that it existed until recently.
I’ve found them. Trinity, Abigail, and Thor are exactly where I left them. Though Past!Me is gone, they’re still discussing plans for our new afterlife sim. They plan on catching me up when I return. “...ethics. This will disrupt everyone’s perception of the divine.” Trinity, always the pragmatist.
“Everyone knows that their religion could be wrong,” Abigail argues. “At least, everyone reasonable knows this. Anyone who didn’t so much as consider the possibility will just have to figure it out. We will tell them the truth, and they’ll accept it eventually.”
“We’ll tell them our truth,” Thor reminds her. “We’ll tell them what we’ve decided to do with them.”
“Sure, yeah,” Abigail agrees.
Like I said, I’ve been perfecting my abilities for a really long time now. It started out small. I discovered I could act as a walking surround sound speaker system, and carry my voice to huge crowds without the need for technology. My strength grew over time, and I could always get better, hear further...but at a certain point, I reached a kind plateau. I can’t hear beyond the bounds of the observable universe, and I can’t see what I’m hearing. Light waves, or whatever, are not the same thing as sound, or even consciousness. I have never been able to see remotely. Until now. Either Pryce altered me somehow, or I was always destined to evolve. Little by little, my friends come into focus visually. At first, I just get the sense of how they’re moving their mouths, and then I can detect the silhouette of their mouths, which slowly begins to extend to the rest of their bodies. And then I see the world around them, which fills in gradually, until the picture becomes as clear as it would be if I were truly there. This is the second biggest leap in my abilities I’ve ever experienced, and I’m floored. I’m teleporting light, that’s insane.
Thor stops the conversation. “Do you see that?”
“What?” Abigail asks.
“Over there,” he clarifies, pointing the direction that I would be if I were really there.
“I see nothing,” Trinity says.
“I do,” Abigail confirms. She and Thor were also transferred to new bodies, but not because they died. Abigail’s father has always been obsessed with surviving past death, and was tinkering with consciousness transference since long before we came up with the afterlife sim. The two of them are the result of what was probably his last experiment before going full God mode. He must have given them extremely enhanced vision.
I adjust the angle at which I’m spying on them, like an invisible drone flying a few meters away. Except I’m not invisible. Thor and Abigail both turn their heads to keep an eye on me. If they could see me straight up, they would greet me, but they can clearly only tell that something is over there, watching them, but they can’t tell what. Before they freak out, I decide I have to explain what’s going on. “It’s me,” I say to the past.
Trinity tilts her lizard brain. “Ellie?”
“Yeah, sorry, guys, I’m watching you from the future.”
How are you watching us?” Trinity questions. “Did you contact The Screener.”
The Screener, whose real name is Sanela Matic, has a similar ability, though by slipping into an observation dimension, and she enjoys no control over it. She’s salmon, which means the mysterious powers that be decide what she sees, and who she shows it to. “No, I guess I’ve been...upgraded. I can see remotely now.”
Trinity looks behind her, in the general direction of the nearest other island on this planet, Tribulation Island. “When are you from? A version of you just left to help save Vearden Haywood’s life.”
“We did that,” I respond. “A lot has happened since then. I know what becomes of our idea.”
“Well, don’t tell us,” Abigail warns. “You’ll throw off the timeline.”
“There are things I need to know about what you went through after I left,” I explain to them. “We don’t see each other until now, and I need to know where you go.”
“We don’t plan on going anywhere,” Trinity says. “If we leave, it is an unplanned trip.”
Just then, we hear a rustling in the bushes. It could be some kind of alien rabbit, or a person, and if it’s a person, it could be an ally, or an enemy. They stop talking, but don’t approach. They just wait patiently. Finally, a figure appears. It’s me. It’s some other version of me. This Other!Ellie wipes leaves off of her arms, and scrapes burrs out of her hair. She still looks like a mess. “Okay, sorry I’m late.”
Thor and Abigail stare at her, and then turn their heads to where my signal is coming from. “What year are you from?” Abigail asks.
Other!Ellie squints her eyes in suspicion. “I don’t remember. I think Pryce did something to me.”
“That’s not me,” I warn the group. “I don’t know who that is, but I don’t talk like that. That is not me.”
“No, I’m me,” Faux!Ellie contends. “You’re not you.”
I didn’t say what I said to her. I only said it to my three friends. She should not have been able to hear my warning. “Get out of there now.”
Faux!Ellie smirks, and removes what looks like an ancient tape recorder from her pocket. “Captain’s log, Day Zero. Now that I’m back with my group, we can finally get to work. We’re gonna build this afterlife together, and it shall be glorious.”
“Run!” I warn again.
“What’s more believable?” Faux!Ellie asks. “That I went off to save Vearden, and then came right back to you only moments later, like a normal time traveler? Or that I’m talking to you from the future, acting like I can see you, which is an ability that I’ve never exhibited before, and I’m asking you to not trust the Ellie that’s standing right in front of your eyes?”
“Pryce has the ability to transfer his mind to other substrates,” Thor reasons. “This technology was always at risk of leading to impersonations. Most people probably wouldn’t think to use it in a post-scarcity society, but he’s a sociopath.”
“Psychopath, thank you very much,” Faux!Ellie says. “Uhh...I mean, that’s what he told me once.”
“Well, that seals it,” Thor decides. He reaches into his bag, and removes a gun.
“No, wait!” Faux!Ellie cries. “You can’t really ever know for sure.”
“The real Ellie is eleven thousand years old,” Thor says calmly. “That’s long enough, I imagine. It’s worth the risk.” He shoots her in the head.
“That was my father,” Abigail assures him. “I can always tell.”
“That was the right call,” Trinity agrees.
“He’s not dead,” I remind them. “He’ll always have an extra body lying around. He’s planned for every eventuality.”
“But he’s no longer among us,” Trinity replies. “We won’t ever talk about this beyond this group of three, and we won’t ever let each other out of our sight.”
“Three?” I question.
“I’m sorry, Ellie. You’re out.” Trinity looks sad, but determined. “We can’t trust anyone now. We’ll be sure to give you the credit you’re owed.”
“No, you don’t understand. He co—” I have to warn them that Pryce takes over. I still don’t know how he does it, but he does. At some point.
Trinity knows the risk of messing with the timeline. “I don’t wanna hear it. This is what we’re doing. Please kindly never eavesdrop on us again.” She takes out her device, which allows her to travel through photographs. “Keep watching whatever it is that allows you to know where this supposed Ellie is,” she tells Abigail and Thor. “I don’t want her seeing where we’re going.”
“Please, don’t do this,” I beg of them.
“Goodbye, old friend.”
The three of them take a look at the photo they won’t let me see, and disappear into it. I still have no idea how Pryce finds them, but there’s nothing I can do to change things. Not only could that ruin everything about the timeline, but my friends will never trust me again. They’ll never trust anyone. I exhale, and come back to the present.
“I could only hear your end of the conversation,” Lowell tells me. “But it didn’t sound good.”
“It is...the inevitable,” I reply cryptically. “Time travel aside, all we can do is move on. I will plead my case without their help.”

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