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Saturday, June 24, 2023

The Edge: From Entrance to Exit (Part II)

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Pribadium directed Leona to a room where she and Ramses could have a private conversation, and also told them where they could find their bedrooms. The meeting wasn’t going to start until tomorrow, after formal introductions, and a fuller explanation of why there was to be an audience. “I figured, if you showed up, you would be from some time in the past.”
“I didn’t even wanna come now, but Pribadium forced me and Hogarth. I got the impression that she knows what’s going to happen to Olimpia, and either wants it to, or doesn’t think that it can be prevented.”
“Where is she?”
“The Sixth Key.”
“That’s what we guessed.
“But it’s complicated,” Ramses explained. “I think she’s the only one there. Let me start at the beginning. I didn’t find her by happenstance. I went there on purpose. Just before Phoenix Station blew up, I commanded the magic mirror to send me to Olimpia’s location after Dalton sent her away using his weird cane thing.”
“Oh! I should have thought of doing that. I keep forgetting that the mirror isn’t just for dead people. It can go to any point, any time, as long as someone is already there. I’m such an idiot. So, what happened after you found her? Is she okay?”
“Well, I didn’t find her right away. It was dark, but I came across two dudes who were working on the planet. I mean that literally. They were building the planet itself, or at least checking their work; I don’t know. They hadn’t seen her, but they agreed to help me look. We searched all night, kind of in concentric circles. The mirror was supposed to take me right to her,  so she couldn’t have been too far. Come morning, I felt something tap me on the shoulder. It freaked me out, but I was too curious to run away from the scary invisible monster. Of course, it was her. We decided that she was trapped in another dimension, because that’s what made the most sense. She was able to breathe, but there was nothing to eat. She could hear me if I yelled, but I couldn’t hear her at all. She can see through the dimensional just fine when she’s trying too, but if she loses focus, it sort of turns opaque. She was always able to get it back, she finds it claustrophobic. Because no matter how far she walks, the walls follow her. It’s like she was between two worlds, each one pressing up against her at all times.”
“You keep switching tense. Is she, or isn’t she, okay...the last time you saw her?”
“Kind of both. The dudes knew Hogarth Pudeyonavic, so they went off to ask her for help. She was the one who figured out where Olimpia truly was. She used Hokusai Gimura’s goggles to look through to the other side, and to communicate better with her. But then Pribadium showed up, and spirited us away. Hogarth said that the Sixth Key isn’t really there yet. It’s like this primordial reality that’s waiting for the Keys to do whatever it is they’re gonna do to make it exist. That’s as much as she was able to explain before Hokusai took her away to discuss this meeting we’re apparently gonna have. I know that the Keys are people, and they’re going to make a new reality, where all the people in the other realities are gonna live together.”
“Yeah, that’s all done. I mean, it’s not complete yet, but they’re doing it. I thought we weren’t going to have to deal with it anymore, but Olimpia’s situation changes everything. We can’t just leave her there. Ramses, they have someone who can literally move planets. She can transport them to other universes. She moved the Third Rail version of Earth to the Fourth Quadrant reality already, and she’s gonna do it with the countless other worlds. What’s that going to do to Olimpia? That much energy, that much gravity. That’s not a safe place to be. It’s dangerous to be in a falling elevator, but it’s even more dangerous to be standing at the bottom of the shaft while it’s falling. We have to go help her. We have to get the hell out of there.”
“Is that possible? We don’t seem to wield any power here. I feel like a space whale in a nebula around these people.”
“Little fish, big ocean.”
“Oh.” Leona sighed, and thought over their options. “You’re right, we’re the lowest men on the totem pole, which isn’t surprising. I barely belong here.  Where did Hokusai take Hogarth? Did you see?”
“If we get back to the portal, I can head in the right direction, but I can’t tell you where they went after that.”
She shook her head. “No, and they could have taken a teleporter to the other side of the planet for all we know. I do wanna look at that portal, though. There must be something special about it if everyone is coming through there, instead of just random spots in the area.”
Ramses took her by the hand, and tried to teleport them both away. “No, it’s no use. They’re blocking my power.”
“That’s okay. I remember where it is.”
They walked back through Town Square, and down to where they first came through from their respective locations. In front of the portal was someone they knew from back in the day. “Hello, you two.”
“Mirage. It’s been a long time for us.”
“Longer for me, I’m sure.”
“It’s been about four and a half billion years for me.”
Mirage laughed. “I stand, corrected.”
“You our way.”
“I can’t let you try to leave.”
“Just the fact that you’re on guard tells me that there is a way through,” Leona calculated, “and that means I’m going to take it, because that’s what I want.”
“Not here. You don’t get what you want while you’re here. I’ve been asked to keep anyone out using whatever means necessary, short of murder, of course. But then, you would just go to the afterlife simulation anyway, wouldn’t you?”
“You know about that?” Ramses asked.
“I’ve been briefed.”
Leona nodded. “I think you’re confused. It doesn’t matter where I am, or who I’m with. I get what I want because I take it. I’m taking that portal. You can use all the brute force you want, I will figure this out. It’s what I do.”
Mirage emulated a human sigh. “Pribadium Delgado built this portal herself. It is incompatible with conventional time tech and time powers. It operates on her own special protocols. If you try to step through, you could end up lost in time forever. There’s a reason why she’s the one who retrieved everyone from wherever they were.”
“I’ve seen Pribadium’s technology. I don’t know exactly how it works, but I noticed similarities between it, and other tech I’ve encountered. It may not be as original as you think. She may not even realize that she didn’t come up with it herself.”
“I don’t know why that matters,” Mirage said.
“Hey, Opsocor? Are you there?”
I’m here, Leona,” came the voice of the Nexus network from the aether.
Mirage was stunned. “Who’s that? Where are you?” She stepped into a defensive position, and narrowed her eyes, probably activating all of her sensors to find the source of the supposed intruder.
I am everywhere.
“She’s a god,” Leona explained.
No, I’m not.
“I’ve heard it both ways,” Leona responded. “Opsocor, can you help me navigate using this portal?”
I can, if that’s really what you want.
“Why would I not want that?” Leona questioned.
It sounds like these people would like to have a full roster.
“Without me and Ramses, they’ll still have a quorum. They don’t need us,” Leona explained. “They probably won’t take our opinions into account. They usually don’t.”
Very well. Please step aside, child,” Opsocor requested.
Mirage was super offended. “Who are you calling a child?” There was nothing she could do about it. Her feet started to slide along the floor, all the way to the wall, which she found herself pressed up against, hopelessly unable to move. “I’m not even magnetic,” she complained.
“Don’t hurt her, please,” Leona asked.
Of course not,” Opsocor replied.
“You understand where I want to go?”
Yes. Go ahead, I have your destination queued up. But just you.
“Thanks.” Leona reached forward and opened the door. “Wait, why just me?”
“Leona Bluebell Matic, do not step through that door!” Pribadium shouted from down the hallway.
“That is not anywhere close to my middle name. Where are you getting that?”
“Goddamn bug,” Pribadium muttered as she walked towards them, tapping on a handheld device.
I am not a bug,” Opsocor insisted. “I keep telling you, this is my people’s tech. Your brain picked up on the persistent psychic signals that bounce around—
“Yeah, yeah, whatever.” Pribadium made one final tap, and released Mirage from the wall. “Please stop her from leaving.”
Mirage took Leona by the shoulders, and held her in place. “Sorry.”
“Ram, go, please!” Leona pleaded
“No!” all three of the others shouted, but it was too late. He jumped through the portal without a second of hesitation.
Pribadium shook her head. “I think you just killed him. Isn’t that right, bug?”
Opsocor took a long time to answer, but she did answer. “It’s possible.

Leona woke up in her room the next day feeling like shit. Before Pribadium suppressed Opsocor’s presence in the system for what sounded like the upteenth time, Opsocor explained that the portal was tailored to her neurology, and her genetics. That was why only she was allowed to go through. She was intending to reinitiate the portal for him once she was through, but they weren’t meant to go at the same time, or out of order. There was a chance that he was vaporized or spaghettified so quickly that he didn’t even feel it, but he also could have appeared inside of a star, somewhere in outer space, somewhere in the outer bulk, or in something that she called the kasma, which was basically a particular region of the outer bulk. The chances that he landed anywhere safely were not zero, but they were close. She still had faith, though. They thought he died on Phoenix Station, and all of their lives were in danger tons of other times. The guy was pretty resilient. If anyone was going to find Olimpia again, it would be him.
Leona was startled when she saw that Pribadium was sitting at the table on the other side of her bedroom. “Christ!”
“Sorry to scare you.”
“I don’t need a guard. You’ve sealed up that whole section. I couldn’t leave if I wanted to. Opsocor isn’t answering me.”
“I can’t let what happened to Ramses happen to you.”
Leona got out of bed, and looked at her body in the mirror like Buffalo Bill. “I wonder what you look like naked?”
She transformed herself into a likeness of Pribadium.
“I...didn’t know that you could do that.”
“I think I’ll walk around the planet like this, making you look like a fool.”
“This is the future, Leona. No one cares.”
“Well, I have to do something to get back at you. Everything would have been fine if you had just let me go. I don’t blame myself. I blame you.
“Well, I know that—”
“And I don’t care about The Edge,” she said in a mocking tone. “All I’ll do at the meeting is oppose you. You could say that we should give the public time powers, and I’ll disagree. You could say that we should prevent all the children from dying, and I’ll say that we should kill them. Now, you can try to use reverse psychology to your advantage, but we will never come to a consensus, because you and I will always be at odds.”
“Don’t be so petty.”
“Oh, you’ve not seen petty, Pribadium Delgado. Like you said, this is the future. Everyone’s cool. Everyone’s woke. Nobody’s angry. I’m angry!” On that word, she turned herself into a particularly large zombie that she recalled from an episode of Z Nation named Sarge. He was portrayed by a man in makeup, rather than via CGI, which was why Leona was able to steal his light for the illusion.
Pribadium jumped up, and backed away from the monster, but she quickly composed herself, and decided that it wasn’t real. “Be in Lylla Hall in two hours for introductions. This is bigger than you or me, or Ramses. Please recognize that, and do your job. You may not have come up with the idea of The Shortlist—neither did I—but you’ve participated in the past. I hope you can remember why.” She walked out.

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