Sunday, May 16, 2021

The Advancement of Serif: Tuesday, September 23, 2200

Lochan Madigan was a refugee from another universe. His world was attacked by an alien force bent on destroying all sufficiently evolved life. Instead of literally starting a war, though, they decided to simply sterilize the entire population. It had a near hundred percent success rate, but Lochan managed to slip past those odds. Scientists and medical professionals tried to figure out what made him different, but never came to any conclusion. His ability to resist the pathogen was completely irreproducible, despite everyone’s best efforts. The theory was that they could find success if they discovered a woman with her own resistance, but they never did. He was seemingly one in a trillion. And so he was rescued from his world, and transported through the bulkverse in an attempt to find him a new home. They couldn’t save anyone from that universe, but they could save him, and that would have to be good enough. Thack and her bulk traveler were on their way to drop him off when they received that call about Adamina and Esen, and decided to make a pit stop. When he was stranded here due to Tamerlane Pryce’s intervention, he asked to just stay in The Parallel. “This is as good a brane as any,” he said. “I just don’t want to watch everyone I love struggle, knowing that their legacy ends with them. If I can find someone to love here, then they all live on, in a way.”
Serif and the crew got him set up with a new life on Earth, and then jumped to the future. When they returned, they found him immensely happy. He did meet someone to fall in love with, and pretty quickly sired a son. The boy, Amulet was fourteen years old now, and eager for his own life. Lochan told him the truth about where he was from, and how he came to be here. He grew up fascinated by the whole idea of having adventure. There were billions of worlds in this reality. He traveled to a few of them, but they weren’t exciting enough. They didn’t have death or danger, and Amulet didn’t think that was living. He begged his parents to one day let him join the crew of the AOC.
They were all standing around the central table of their ship, the crew, and the Madigan family. Here was his problem. He was too young now, but if he didn’t put on a Cassidy cuff today, he would have to wait nineteen years. “I’m old enough,” he argued. “There is no standard definition for an adult in this reality.”
“That’s only because people regularly travel to different planets, with different solar cycles,” his mother, Ilaria reasoned. “According to Earth, you’re only fourteen. And a fourteen-year-old can’t go off on his own on a spaceship.”
“Since when?” Amulet argued. “That happens all the time. It’s not about the number of minutes I’ve been alive. It’s about how mature I am, and I think we can all agree that I’m well-prepared, and well-suited to do this.”
“We don’t even know if Serif would want you to be on this ship at all,” Lochan said.
They all looked to Serif now. “This isn’t, uhh...this isn’t a fishing boat. Our job is unfathomably dangerous, and none of us volunteered. We were all recruited, and while we’re comfortable doing it now, I don’t know that I’m allowed to bring in someone else. I’m in charge of the choices the crew makes, and how we handle our missions, but I’m not in charge of the roster, or what missions we take.”
“Well, who is?” Amulet asked.
“Her name is Nerakali Preston.” Serif lifted her cuff, and spoke into the microphone. “Do you hear me? Care to weigh in on this?”
A message popped up on the screen, reading, No.
“No, he can’t join, or no, you don’t want to weigh in?”
Another message appeared, He can’t join. Kill him, before he kills you.
“Ha-ha-ha. What?”
Nerakali’s coordinates then appeared, prompting Serif to tap on it. “I’ll be back soon, I think. But hear me, Amulet. You cannot join us if your parents do not approve. It doesn’t matter what I say without that, so you’ll have to convince them first.” Serif tapped the link, and jumped to Nerakali’s location on the edge of a foggy mountain.
“What the hell are you goin’ on about?”
“It’s like I said, you have to kill him,” Nerakali ordered. “That’s the mission today.”
“He’s just a boy.”
“That boy,” Nerakali began, “is the destroyer of worlds. He is the sickness that pervades. He is the end of all life.”
“Stop speaking in riddles. Tell me what the problem is, so we can come up with a solution together. Is he supposed to be the next Elon Musk, or something?”
Nerakali sighed quite heavily. “The timeline is confusing, and I don’t have all the information, because our memories have been messed with, but I’ll try to explain. There’s a pathogen in 3117. It renders every biological entity sterile. Sound familiar?”
“Yeah, that’s what happened to Lochan’s world. But he’s immune.”
Nerakali breathed slowly now, trying to figure out the words. “He’s not immune. He’s just very, very virile. It’s more like a game of chance. I can’t tell you how the pathogen works, but it doesn’t stop him, because he’s just powerful enough to overcome it. He’s still a carrier. Fortunately for us, he didn’t start infecting everyone he came into contact with since he left his universe, but he did pass it on to his son, and if that son is allowed to reach sexual maturity, he will start spreading it, and you can’t stop it then.”
“That doesn’t make any sense. You said the pathogen shows up in 3117. This doesn’t line up with him being here today.”
“It does if you give him that Cassidy cuff. He’ll be in 3117 in no time.”
“Okay, so my options are as follows. I can give him the cuff, and by the time we reach 3117, he will have matured enough to spread the pathogen. If I don’t give him the cuff, he’ll mature in a matter of years, and the pathogen will show up a millennium early. Or I kill him now, and stop the pathogen completely.”
“Yes,” Nerakali confirmed. “In some realities, the pathogen appears around this time period. In others, it’s in the future. You have to create a timeline where it never existed at all. You can end this now.”
Serif started to think over her options. Obviously, killing him was totally off the table. She wasn’t going to do that. Having him join the crew was probably never something she was going to agree to either. Why did Nerakali think that happened? In what reality did Serif make that choice? Perhaps people in the Parallel were different, but where she was from, fourteen was too young to do something this insane. Then she remembered what Thack told her just before she left. Let him enter the cave. “Wait, how do you know how the pathogen gets to 3117? How do you know it’s because he wears the cuff?”
“It’s how the math works out. I don’t actually know it, but it makes sense.”
Serif shook her head. “It doesn’t make that much sense. And I don’t think it’s true.” She kept digging into her memory archive, and trying to solve the riddle. “The time cave on Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida. It goes nine hundred and nine years in the future.”
“No, it goes nine hundred and nine years in the past.”
“Unless you enter the cave on Earth.”
Nerakali frowned, and looked away, now also solving the riddle. “Why would he go through the time cave?”
“Maybe he doesn’t know it’ll take him to the future. Maybe he’ll just try to get there before we go there for our transition missions.”
“That’s absurd.” Nerakali shook the thought out of her hair. “It doesn’t matter, though. You still have to kill him. He’s dangerous no matter what time period he’s in.”
Serif placed her fingers on either side of her nose, and cupped her mouth. There had to be a way to get through this without anyone getting hurt. “I’m a healer.”
“You’re a nanite healer,” Nerakali contended. “You think the people who have been trying to stop this haven’t already thought of nanites? You don’t have a power so much as you’re a walking nanobot manufacturer with a small-scale delivery system.”
“Maybe I can’t cure an entire population of this,” Serif said, “but maybe I can heal this one person before it takes full hold of his system.”
“If you try that, and it backfires, it could kill you.”
“I thought it didn’t kill people, it just sterilized them.”
“It’s killed before, if it’s too concentrated. It killed Leona’s mother.”
“I have to try,” Serif maintained. “It’s who I am. I was created...for...”
“That’s something you’ve forgotten. Why were you created?”
“Maybe for this. Maybe this has been my purpose all along.”
“In no reality has this happened,” Nerakali claimed. “In every reality, the pathogen takes hold somewhere, somewhen. If this were going to work, I would have heard about it already.”
“Maybe. Or maybe there are some things that even you don’t know.”
“Maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe. There’s too much at stake here for you to do anything if you’re armed only with a bunch of maybes.”
“Are you ordering me to stand down, Nerakali, or are you warning me that you’re gonna try to stop me? Because I can ignore the first of those, and I can fight against the second. Either way, this is happening. So all you need to do is decide if you’re gonna hold me back, or back me up.”
Nerakali was still reluctant. She didn’t want to kill a fourteen-year-old boy, but she didn’t want to let the whole species go extinct when she had the power to stop it. But that was true either way, wasn’t it? She had the power to stop it no matter what.
“If it doesn’t work, you can always go back in time, and change things. But if you do, then just take him to an unpopulated universe. Don’t kill him.”
This seemed to satisfy her. “Very well. Go make your attempt.”
Serif returned to the ship. Surprisingly, Amulet’s parents finally agreed to let him join the crew in a limited capacity. He would not go on any missions that were too dangerous, and— “It doesn’t matter. Stop talking about this.” She turned towards the boy. “You’re sick. You have the same disease your father’s people had. I might be able to cure you, but if it doesn’t work, you could be responsible for the end of the human race in this universe. If you think you’re old enough to join the crew, then you’re old enough to hear the truth.”
Amulet was frightened, but desperately didn’t want to show it. “Do it.”
Serif stepped forward, and inhaled to prepare to breathe on him, so her nanites could enter his system, and cleanse him of the lingering and dormant sterility pathogen. As she was trying to exhale, a pair of hands appeared between their faces, blocking the air from reaching him. The hands gently pushed Serif away, and she could see who it was. It was an alternate version of herself.
“Whew!” the other Serif said. “That was a close one. You have no idea what I just saved you from.” She started walking around the room, shaking everyone’s hand. “Hi, it’s nice to see you again. I’m Future!Serif.”
“What did you save me from?” Present!Serif demanded to know.
“Not you. Like, us, I guess. All of us, as a species. Your nanites are a key ingredient. Not only do they not cure him, but they exacerbate the problem. The pathogen makes the victim’s body turn on itself, like a cancer. They would attack your nanites, take them over, and use them to spread. You’re immune. Uh, I am immune. And that’s only because I’m...well, at the time, I was—”
“Pregnant,” Present!Serif interrupted. “I’m pregnant.”
“That’s right.”
“And the baby is Mateo Matic’s.”
“Right again,” Future!Serif said.
“Yeah, I’m starting to remember him. It’s all coming back to me.”
“Yes,” Future!Serif noted, “very..interesting. The point is that you’re not a cure. Your baby is the cure. We don’t need your breath, we need your amniotic fluid.”
“And then I’ll be cured?” Amulet hoped. “And then I can join the crew?”
Future!Serif laughed. “Ha! No, that would be stupid. Roster’s full now. You’ll find your place. You’re a second generation spirit, after all.”

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