Saturday, March 16, 2024

Fluence: Mirage (Part III)

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Goswin wiped the rain from his eyes, and was able to see that this Irene de Vries woman was not alone. A very young child was huddled against her hip. All signs pointed to the fact that this was Briar, but it could also be his son, or his great grandfather, or his eleventh cousin, forty-two times removed. “What year are you from?” Goswin asked. “Oh wait, no. Sorry. I mean,”
Irene smiled. “Trinity used to say that to me all the time. Is that in the time traveler’s handbook, or something?”
“If there’s an actual handbook, I’ve not actually seen it. That’s just what I’ve heard others say. May I ask the boy’s name?”
“It’s Briar.” Confirmed. “Hey, do I know you from somewhere? You look familiar. Have you ever been to the 21st century?”
“Captain!” Behind him, Weaver was power walking up, followed by Eight Point Seven, and Harrison.
“Is Madam Sriav with you?” Goswin asked.
Weaver shook her head. “She didn’t come. We assume she’s still on Lorania.”
“That’s not good,” Goswin mused. “We’ll try to get back to her. Crew, I would like you to meet Irene de Vries, and her son...Briar.”
Eight Point Seven didn’t react, and of course, neither did Harrison. Weaver flinched, but kept it together. Briar was in very, very big trouble, but not yet. Warning Irene that her son would one day become a killer was not going to help. Things could conceivably get better, but they could also get worse. She may decide that the only way to stop this would be to murder her son, and that would not be an okay decision. It wouldn’t work anyway. Briar killed Mateo while he was wearing the hundemarke, which was a special temporal object that created fixed moments in time. No matter how you try to change the past, this will always happen, as will anything inherently necessary to lead up to it. “It’s nice to meet you.” She pulled Goswin towards her, and did her best to whisper in his ear while still being heard through the rain. “We need to get out of here.”
“I know,” he replied.
“If you have to go back to the Middle Way, or whatever it is you did to make this happen a fourth time, then do it again. I don’t care if we end up on the moon. Just get us out of this paradox.”
“Fourth?” Goswin questioned incredulously. “You think I’m the one who took us to Achernar in the first place? You think that this was just something I’ve always been able to do, but the first time I tried was when I was in my 80s?”
“The thought crossed my mind. Maybe you’re salmon.”
“Excuse me?” Irene interjected. “The rain’s starting to come down harder. I really could use some shelter. There’s a cave nearby that we can hide in temporarily.”
“Hey!” a voice shouted to them. “Get the hell away from my mother!” Briar was running towards Goswin as fast as he could, and unlikely preparing to come to a complete stop just to exchange a few choice words. He was in a tackle posture. Fortunately, he didn’t make it that far. Harrison reached out, and lifted him up by his underarms, holding him in the air effortlessly as Briar continued to paddle his feet to no avail. “Let me go!”
“Did he just say mother?” Irene asked, confused and scared.
Goswin waggled his finger at the still struggling Briar. “Stop. Stop! We’re not going to hurt anyone. If you want to protect her, then you will stop moving, and listen to me very carefully.”
Briar went limp, and started to pant.
“Everyone gather around. Not you, Madam de Vries. Please go protect your son.” Once everyone else was in a huddle, Goswin went on. “I have a theory. Briar, are you familiar with any landmark on Earth; anything at all?”
“No, nothing.” Yeah, he had only ever remembered living on Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida. “Well, except for this.” He held up a photo of Irene in her younger days, smiling in front of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. “It was her favorite place in the world.”
Goswin closed his eyes and sighed. “Okay, I’ve been there too. That’ll work. Think about that place. Think about trying to go there.”
“Would you just do it? The National Museum of Natural History. Think about the museum. Think about visiting there. Don’t think about anything else.”
“Okay, I guess.”
The rain suddenly stopped. They were now in the middle of a grassy park. To one side of them was a giant bosom, and to the other a giant phallus. Behind them stood a red castle, and before them was the target museum, which was the second bosom. This was Washington D.C. all right. They were soaking wet on a bright, sunny day. The tourists around them were confused, and a few of them looked really nervous.
“Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea,” Goswin admitted. “I just didn’t want us to go back to Bida, and Briar doesn’t have a frame of reference for much on Earth.”
“What is your hypothesis,” Weaver asked, “that he’s the one who brought us?”
“Well, it seems like the only possibility,” Goswin determined.
“We didn’t even see him at the other locations,” Weaver pointed out.
“Excuse me?” A man in overalls had approached Briar. “Could you please step closer to your friends?”
“They’re not my friends,” Briar spit at him.
“That is very much not my point, sir,” the stranger said. “Please step closer to them.” He waited, his patience thinning. “Please,” he repeated. “Thank you,” he added when Briar finally complied.
“What is it you need?” Goswin asked, ready for a fight, even though he was not much for violence.
The stranger held up his hands like he was trying to block the sun from his eyes. He jerked them a centimeter away from each other, which served to freeze everyone around them in place. Time was stopped, or at least moving very slowly. He gradually pushed his right hand forward, and in front of his left hand, which pulled back, and moved in the opposite direction. As he did so, time began to reverse outside of the bubble he had erected for them. They watched as the tourists walked backwards. A child’s scoop of ice cream flew back up to his cone from the ground. Once the scene was back to where he wanted it, he closed his hands into fists, and snapped them against each other, pinky to thumb. The five of them felt a lurch, as if the roller coaster ride were just beginning. The man carefully placed his left fist against his nose, and looked over his hands like a sniper. His arms were shaking, but not like he was struggling, more like it was integral to the process. As he slowly moved his fists away from his face, the scene around them began to blur and fade into blackness. They flew forward, also like a roller coaster. Finally, he opened his hands back up, and separated them, stopping the ride.
They were standing in a desert, the three main pyramids of Giza rippling above a mirage a few kilometers away. The slight distortion from the bubble dissolved, and the warm wind began to blow sand into their eyes and noses. “All right. It’s done.”
“What’s done?” Eight Point Seven questioned.
“You’ve been erased from the timeline. No one who witnessed your arrival in the National Mall remembers that it ever happened, because it didn’t. They’re all going about their day, still clueless about time travelers, and the like.”
“Thank you, Repairman,” Weaver said to him as if they were old friends. Maybe they were.
“When you say, we were erased from time...” Goswin trailed off intentionally.
“You just never showed up there,” the Repairman clarified. “Instead, you transported yourselves to this random spot in the Necropolis. You’ve been here the whole time, and if anyone were to ask a lizard or cactus around here what they saw, that’s what they would say.
“I don’t see any cactuses,” Briar noted.
“Then maybe you don’t have to worry about any witnesses,” the Repairman joked. He paused a moment. “Well, bye.”
“Wait!” Goswin stopped him. “Could you help us again...maybe by telling us what’s happening to us?”
“I wouldn’t know, but I heard you blame everything on this guy,” the Repairman said. “What I’ll tell you is that the ability to transport people from a distance is rather rare. It’s not impossible my experience, when multiple individuals travel together without any of them realizing how or why, it’s not because one of them is doing it on purpose, but because there’s some kind of glue that binds them together.” He made a quarter turn, reached out, and opened an invisible panel in the air. They couldn’t see anything, but they could hear the familiar creak of metal scraping against metal. He reached into it, and took hold of an equally invisible handle, which he pulled down. His figure turned into a black silhouette for a split second before disappearing completely.
They stood there in silence for a few moments. “I have another idea,” Goswin finally said, worried how they would take it.
“A new experiment?” Weaver asked him, intrigued.
“Are you up for it? We have to get a handle on this. I don’t really want to spend the rest of my life randomly jumping from point to point.”
“Let’s hear it,” Eight Point Seven encouraged.
“You can’t,” Goswin replied. “I’m going to write four places down, and keep them compartmentalized. You will each think about your own place, and only that place. If he’s right, and there’s some kind of glue between us, it won’t work, because it will be contradictory.” He pulled out his handheld device, and started writing the locations down. He showed Briar the first one.
“Really?” Briar asked incredulously.
“Don’t. Give it away,” Goswin warned. “It’s a magic trick.”
Briar sighed, upset. He was being expected to think about the cliff where he killed Mateo Matic. It was simultaneously the worst and best place for him. What happened there was probably the worst thing he had ever done, so that meant, now that he had been triggered, he wouldn’t be able to think of anything else, even if he wanted to.
The other three, on the other hand, were going to be thinking about the the west entrance to the primary research facility on Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida. No one ever went back there, so they shouldn’t have to worry about being seen. Goswin was the only one who knew that he, Weaver, and Eight Point Seven had the same spot in mind. If Briar were the one in charge, it didn’t matter what the others thought of, because they would always end up where he wanted to go instead. “Everyone ready?” Goswin asked. “I guess time travel works on psychic powers, so...everyone think about your respective locations, please, and really, truly, desperately try to actually go there. Don’t think about anything else. It may take a while, I really don’t know.”
They stood there in their huddle for a minute or so without anything happening, the humans struggling with the dust storm that was starting up around them. It did work, though. The sand and sun disappeared to be replaced by a dense forest at twilight. Alien bugs crawled around on a tree next to them, as wingèd ones swarmed in their faces. This was definitely Bida. But it wasn’t the cliff where Briar committed murder, and it wasn’t anywhere near the research facility.
“Whose spot was this?” Eight Point Seven asked.
“No one’s,” Goswin revealed. I don’t know that we’re right about this.”
“Don’t be so hasty,” Weaver said, taking out her own handheld. “I can connect to the satellite now.”
Goswin was worried again about how they would take it. “Briar had the...the cliff. You know the one I mean. The rest of us had the west entrance to Pryce’s lab.”
Weaver peered at him over her device. “Only two places.”
“Yes, it was like a blind study.”
Weaver nodded, and tapped on the screen. She held it in front of his face. “We’re right in the middle.”
“What?” Goswin took it from her, to see what she was talking about.
“Exactly equidistant from the cliff and the building.”
“We split the difference,” Eight Point Seven noted. “The Repairman was right. It’s all of us. Whatever each of us wants, this...force between us tries to come up with something that matches our criteria combined. If you wanted Italian food, and she wanted Chinese, and I wanted French, and he wanted Ethiopian, we would end up at a fusion restaurant.” She started pointing at the members of the group accordingly. “If we wanted to go to the years 1776, 1912, 2024, and 2100, we would show up in 1953.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Goswin said. “Briar wasn’t with us on that void planet, or on Dardius.”
“Wasn’t he?” Weaver prodded.
Briar frowned. “I was hiding. I wasn’t planning on showing myself at all, but then you attacked my mother...”
“No one was attacking her,” Goswin defended. He grunted. “We have to figure out how to get rid of this. It could cause us serious problems. If one of us wants to go to Teagarden, and the rest want to go to Glisnia, are we gonna end up somewhere in the middle of empty space?”
“We can’t do that yet. We have to go back to return Harrison and Madam Sriav to where they belong.”
“That’s true,” Goswin agreed. “Can we all come to a consensus long enough to make that work?”

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