Saturday, April 27, 2024

Fluence: Amal (Part IX)

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Eight Point Seven took hold of Goswin, and laid him gently onto the floor. Blood leaked out of him like a popped water balloon. He screamed when Iolanta instinctively applied pressure to his wound, forgetting that her hands were covered in citrus juice. Airlock Karen drenched his abdomen with water. Eight Point Seven was not a doctor, but she had all necessary medical knowledge in her memory banks, because there was no reason not to. “Briar! Briar! I need a med kit.”
Briar was wrestling with A.F., trying to get the knife out of the man’s hands, but also maybe trying to kill him?
“I can get it,” Weaver replied.
“No!” Eight Point Seven argued. “He needs to be the one to do it! Briar, go find me some gauze! Now!”
Briar let go of the attacker, and ran off. Iolanta followed. “I know where the nearest infirmary is!” she explained.
One of the other Goswins, who had chosen to remain here, climbed up the ladder, and approached with no sense of urgency. “I know what to do.”
“I know what to do too,” Eight Point Seven spit.
“You can’t save him,” Goswin!Three explained. The numerical designations were largely arbitrary. This was the first shifted Goswin who needed one, but Weaver!Two’s Goswin was presumably Goswin!Two. “We shifted into the Fifth Division, which is where that guy is from. That blade is poisoned. If there’s a treatment, it’s not here.”
“Is that where we should go?” Eight Point Seven questioned. “The Fifth Division?” She looked behind him to see the rest of Goswin!Three’s crew appear up the stairs. They look disheveled and tired. Their experiences were apparently not nearly as safe and easy. Who knows what else they had been through?
“You wouldn’t know where to look, and neither would we,” Goswin!Three clarified. “Besides, all members of a crew must be conscious to shift.”
“So, what would you have me do?” Eight Point Seven was desperate. She had all this medical knowledge, but no tools, and she wasn’t a miracle worker. She at least needed to stop the bleeding, even if they still had a poison to worry about. Where the hell was Briar with that first aid kit?
“Let us take him,” Goswin!Three offered. “He needs to visit the Magnolia.”
“What would be the purpose of that?” Weaver questioned.
“You must not have had enough time to study it,” a shifted Weaver said. “It does more than you think. Trust us. He needs to go to Bida.”
“He doesn’t have much time,” the other Briar claimed.
“We should trust them,” Goswin!Prime struggled to say through the bubbles of blood popping out of his mouth.
“No,” Eight Point Seven tried to reason. “If you’re conscious, then let’s all focus on a medical professional in a medical facility. Somewhere in the Fifth Division, you say? We don’t need to know where to look. That’s what our power is for. It looks for us, we just have to concentrate on it. Gos? Gos!”
“He’s out again,” the other Goswin said. “We have to go now, but we won’t do it without consensus.”
Weaver!Prime took a half step forward. “You have it. I’m second in command. When he’s out, it falls to me. Eight Point Seven, let him go.”
“We’re obviously going with you,” Eight Point Seven insisted.
Everyone shifted to the location of the Memory Magnolia on Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida. This included the other shifted crews who chose to stay, as well as the warmonger crew. Even Briar!Prime and Iolanta were shifted with them, each cradling as much medical paraphernalia as they could carry. A version of either Weaver or Holly Blue was standing at the tree. She was wearing steampunk goggles, and inspecting the bark of the tree. It was much larger than the last time the Primes saw it.
“We need the sap,” Goswin!Three demanded.
Weaver!Four turned, but left her goggles on. “This kind of tree doesn’t have sap in the way that you’re thinking. If you just give me some time—”
“There’s no time, dipshit!” Weaver!Three argued. She pushed her other, other self out of the way as she approached the tree. She held her hand out by her hip, using her power to shift a spile out of some other time and place. She dropped her other hand, and shifted a drill into that one.
“No. I’ll do it,” the other Eight Point Seven insisted. She ignored the drill, and took the spile from her Weaver. She placed it against the bark of the tree, but didn’t jam it in immediately. She used her other hand to feel around the trunk until she found the right place well above her head, which she moved the spile too. She twisted it at first to begin making the dent before it was sufficiently deep. Then she forced it the rest of the way in. Once it was evidently ready, she placed her hands on either side of the trunk, and closed her eyes.
“No, I’ll do it,” Goswin!Three echoed her from earlier.
“You’ve already given too much,” the Weaver!Three reminded him.
“I’ll do it,” the Briar!Three volunteered instead.
“We’ll need a lot,” his version of Goswin warned him. “You’ll have to sacrifice a lot of memories, and that could kill you.”
“It’s for a Prime,” Briar reasoned.
“No,” Weaver!Prime jumped in. “Goswin wouldn’t want someone to die for him.”
Briar!Three smiled. “No one ever really dies. I am a wave returning to the ocean.” He placed his own hands around the tree like his Eight Point Seven did, and shut his eyes. He stood there for a few minutes, sometimes smiling, sometimes frowning. Finally, he shifted away, perhaps into oblivion. An amber sap began to flow from the spile. Goswin!Three jumped up to it, simultaneously shifting a golden grail into his hand. Once he had collected enough, he held up his free hand as if merely asking a waiter to stop adding parmesan. The sap stopped flowing after it let out the last few drops.
“Is he gone?” Briar!Prime asked regarding his shifted self.
Gone is a relative term,” Goswin!Three replied vaguely as he was slipping the sap between his shifted self’’s lips. “There’s a little bit of him in all of the other Briars now. We’re all only extensions of one person. That’s what makes us different from normal alternate selves. Identity is preserved, just...split.”
Tamerlane Pryce slowly began to climb the hill up towards the Magical Memory Magnolia. “What does that mean for those of us who don’t have any shifted selves?”
“Same thing it means for anyone,” Goswin!Three began. “You are just you.”
“But the tree,” Pryce tried to clarify. “What would happen if I were to...sacrifice a memory to it? Or all of my memories, which is presumably what caused your Briar to disappear.”
“That’s not our problem right now,” Eight Point Seven!Prime exclaimed. “How long is this miracle sap supposed to take? He’s not waking up.”
Goswin!Three checked Goswin!Prime’s pulse. “He may be too far gone. His heart is still beating, but barely. It should have worked by now.”
“You said gone isn’t really gone,” Briar!Prime pointed out.
“It’s complicated, okay?”
Everyone kept arguing while Pryce only stared longingly at the tree, and Iolanta warned him off of it. It was too dangerous, but he had to know. He would soon get his chance to find out, but not quite yet. Goswin!Prime was indeed gone, but not in the way that anyone here was imagining it. He found himself standing on an asteroid in the middle of outerspace. There was no atmosphere, but he felt no need to breathe. Only a few faint stars were in the sky, but they were moving as the asteroid rotated on its axis. From behind the hill, the Earth came into view. Except it wasn’t Earth. It was a warped abomination of many Earths, twisted around, and melded into, each other. It looked like how someone would draw the Earth if they kept messing up, and instead of finding a new piece of paper, just drew the next attempt on top of the old one. No one could have survived whatever happened to it, yet he wasn’t alone.
Some version of Briar walked up to him, and watched the Earth amalgam continue to rise in the sky over their head. “This is the result.”
“The result of what?” Goswin asked him.
“Of us,” Briar answered. “Us and our shifted selves. We just keep shifting, and these are the consequences. We start out with the best of intentions, obviously. We shift Hitler out of history to prevent the Holocaust. It works, but the war still happens, and people keep dying. So we keep shifting, a person here, a building there to avoid a tsunami. Shift this, shift that, shift who we believe to be an anachronistic visionary to another point in time. Shift entire groups of people. We try to remake the world in our image, and eventually, we just move the Earth itself. To compound the issue, we’ve already been shifted, so competing crews are running around, making their own adjustments to the timeline. The conflicts arose exponentially, and we couldn’t stop it. That’s what’s happened with that.” The amalgamation disappeared beyond the horizon. It wouldn’t be long before it was back.
“We break time,” Goswin acknowledged. “Time travel is always bad, no matter what you’re trying to do with it. We think it’s better, but it’s just movement...unless you’re a shifted one, that we end up with an amalgamated Earth.”
“That would seem to be the case, despite the fact that some of our best friends are time travelers. What’s to be done about it?”
Briar shrugged. “Some tried to go back in time to stop it from ever happening, but guess what?”
“It just backfired,” Goswin realized. “That’s the whole point.”
“That’s the whole point,” Briar echoed. “But you,” he went on. “You’re here to catch a glimpse of your future.” He put the last word in airquotes. “Perhaps you really can fix it before it starts.”
“How could that be possible?”
“How is any of this possible? Use your imagination. That’s what our power really is. We manifest what we imagine into reality, not by conjuring new constructs out of nowhere, but by shifting what already exists from one point to another.”
“Thanks for being so cryptic.”
“I’m not telling you how to fix it, not as some life lesson so you’ll come to the right answer on your own, but because I don’t know it. I was one of the ones who tried to fix it before, and it obviously didn’t work. That’s how we got the Amal.” He pointed at the Earth as it was coming into view once more.
“Amal,” Goswin whispered, getting an idea from his imagination.
“Yeah,” Briar agreed, though he did not understand what he was agreeing with.
Goswin shifted a goblet of Arthurian sap into his hand, but kept looking at his enemy-turned-friend. “I figured out your problem. You were trying to fix it on your own.” He held the goblet up to his face to prepare to drink. “It’s going to take us all.” He poured it down his gullet, and suddenly woke up in his originally body, back on the ground in the middle of the forest on Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida.
“Tammy, no!” Iolanta was shouting.
Pryce reached out towards the Miracle Magical Memory Magnolia, and placed a hand upon its bark. He disappeared much quicker than Briar did. Iolanta was holding onto his free hand, and disappeared along with him.
Goswin!Prime got himself to his feet. “It doesn’t matter. It will all be over soon.”
“Something happened to you,” Goswin!Three guessed. “You went somewhere...saw something.”
Goswin!Prime smiled at his shifted self, and placed a hand upon his shoulder. Then, without warning, he shifted him back into his own mind and body.
“What did you just do?” Eight Point Seven!Three asked.
Goswin!Prime shut his eyes, and shifted her into Eight Point Seven!Prime. Then he did the same for the other Weavers, and A.F. He took hold of the hands of each of his compatriots, and synchronized their neural signals. They reached out into the cosmos, to every shifted self, in every point in time, in every timeline, in every reality, and even some who managed to escape this universe, and enter another. He summoned them all to this small clearing in the forest, a hundred of them at a time. They were only here for a second before he absorbed them, even the copies that were not alternates of the core four, like Ellie and Paige. They absorbed them all, back to where they belonged in their respective bodies. One body each.
Now that that was over, and all was right with the world, they still had one more issue. The four of them turned to face the Mysterious Miracle Magical Memory Magnolia. Colors were flowing around the trunk and branches, radiating with energy. The space around it was distorted as it pulsated with power. It almost looked like it was getting ready to explode, and they couldn’t say what that would mean for anyone standing near it, or on the planet at the time, or hell, all of time. The crew was back together, but the rules of reality were still broken, and floating down a river of chaos.
“Something has to be done about that,” Goswin decided.
“The bark receives memories, the leaves store it, and the sap heals. What do the roots do? What do the fruits do?” Briar questioned.
“I see no fruits,” Eight Point Seven pointed out.
“It’s probably only a matter of time,” Weaver figured. “Some plants take years to mature enough to bear fruit.
“Something has to be done about it,” Goswin repeated himself.
“I have an idea,” Weaver said. “But it’s going to require more shifting, and I can’t predict the consequences. Have any of you ever heard of the Garden Dimension?”

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