Saturday, April 20, 2024

Fluence: Elder (Part VIII)

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They were time travelers, so there was probably no need to hurry away, but there might be. It was unclear how connected they were to their shifted selves. Perhaps every second they spent at one point in spacetime had an impact on the events in another that they couldn’t understand, or determined precisely when they could return to a given place. They watched the butterflies for a few more minutes, but had to focus on the task at hand, which was what exactly? They didn’t know yet. They were just going to go back to Po, and see what was going on there. The four of them came together as twilight was falling, and reached for each other’s hands, but then Goswin stopped, and massaged his chin while he looked upon Briar. In response to this, Briar flinched and leaned back. “Is there something wrong with me?”
“You know what...” Goswin began cryptically, pausing to everyone’s discomfort. “I don’t think that there is. You grew up under extraordinary circumstances, and you’ve improved in a very short amount of time. Do you regret killing Mateo?”
“Of course I do,” Briar said. “What does that mean? Why do you ask now, when we’re about to leave?”
“It means that I think we’ve officially become a real crew—all four of us together—even though I couldn’t point to a moment when it happened. We’ve been worried about shifting to competing realities apart from each other, but I don’t think that’s been happening. Eight Point Seven, you are our Eight Point Seven, just in a new body. Weaver, thank you for letting us into your home. And Briar? I think you’re gonna be okay. You’re one of us now, and I’m going to rely on you just as much as them to help us solve whatever problem we’re barreling towards. Whatever happens, we stick together, okay? Our powers operate on a psychic level. I’m not worried about the abstract concept of identity tomorrow. If we wanna stay together, we will. We can call ourselves The Primes.”
“Others shifted versions of us are probably coming to the same decision,” Weaver!“Prime” pointed out.
“Yes, but it will be true of none of them but us,” Goswin said, knowing that it didn’t make a lot of temporal logical sense.
“I hope you’re right, Captain,” Weaver said.
Eight Point Seven only nodded.
“Thank you,” Briar said to him graciously.
“What was that thing you said to Leona Matic that one time?” Goswin asked Eight Point Seven rhetorically. “You better make like a jock and strap in. Shit’s about to get real.”
They shifted themselves back to The Nucleus, which for all intents and purposes, was the center of the universe. They were not the only ones there; not by a long shot. The place was chock full of their shifted alternates, some running around, others wandering, and some just standing there, some in fear, and some in determination. There were several other people scattered about who weren’t the same as the core four, including Ellie Underhill, as well as her friend, Trinity Turner. They saw a few instances of Cassidy Long, her mother Étude Einarsson, and her mother, Saga Einarsson. They were all about the same age. At least one version of Leona was here, and she was either teleporting around, or different versions were popping in and out of existence like virtual particles. She was stopping only long enough to whisper something to someone, and hear a response before moving on. They didn’t recognize everyone, though. The place was utter mayhem. No one knew what they were really doing, and no one was in charge. Or maybe that wasn’t true.
A catwalk extended from a balcony two stories above the crowd. Four people walked along as it grew longer and longer. They were not alternates of the core four, but entirely different people, and they did appear to be in charge. They didn’t appear evil, but they didn’t seem particularly friendly either. One of them was Tamerlane Pryce, but none of the other three looked familiar. A cursory glance around the room gave the impression that they did not have any shifted selves here, but were each one of a kind. It wasn’t totally out of left field that Pryce should be here. He was present on Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida when the crew of the X González departed. He was there for a reason, but there must be a reality out there where he finished his work on the planet early, or was perhaps fired for sometimes being an insufferable tool. Where did these other three come from, though?
Pryce held up both of his arms, and slowly lowered them to quiet the rabbling crowd. They did not comply. He jerked his arms back up, and tried again, but still it didn’t work. He looked to one of the women to his flank, and held out his hand. She gave him an object that resembled a bullhorn, and that was exactly what it was, but not a regular one. The Time Shriek was a mysterious scream that randomly echoed across the lands at various points in space time. There was no predicting its appearance, nor anything to do about it. If it interrupted you while you were in the middle of something, you just had to stand there and wait until it was over. This device was evidently capable of summoning the Shriek at will, and even amplifying it. It scattered across the hall, pounding into everyone’s eardrums, causing them to grasp at their heads in pain, and forcing some down to their knees. “Thank you! It’s so kind of you to give me your attention with no incentive.”
“Why can’t we leave?” a version of Briar demanded to know from the floor.
“That’s a good question, random citizen,” Pryce replied, pointing down to him. “It’s because of my good friend here.” He placed a hand on the shoulder of the woman who didn’t give him the Time Shriek Horn. Iolanta Koval is a very powerful metachooser. None of you is in control anymore.”
Iolanta glared at the audience. She reached into her fanny pack, and pulled out some kind of fruit, which she bit right into, rind and all.
“Ha! She’s got an affinity for citrus. It’s a time traveler thing. You all get it. I’m sure you know me,” he went on, “but just in case one of you shifty mother fuckers is from a reality where I don’t exist, my name is Tamerlane Pryce, but to distinguish me from my Afterlife Simulation and Third Rail selves, please just call me The Elder.”
“There’s already a guy named Elder!” one of the Weavers called up to him.
“There are hundreds of people that share your name too, jackass!” Pryce snapped back.” He huffed. “Anyway, as I was saying, this here is Airlock Karen. That’s obviously not her real name, but everyone she thought she could trust on her ship started calling her that, so she’s decided to own it. Similarly, A.F. here adopted his name from his enemies, who never bothered to learn his real name either. He hopes to vanquish them one day, but for my part, I hope he fails, ‘cause they’re good people, but I’m not gonna get in his way. We’re a team, just like the four of you...and you...and you, and you.” He pointed at random groups. Was everyone here always in a group of four exactly, even when they weren’t the core defaults?
“What are we doing here?” a Goswin questioned.
Pryce looked down at him. “I want to join forces.”
“Yes? Go on,” the same Goswin urged.
“Yesterday, I moved a mountain,” Pryce said bizarrely. “I mean that literally. The four of us stood before it, and we made it disappear, only to make it reappear by the end of the episode—I mean, a few hours later. But we didn’t put it back where it belonged. It’s now two meters farther north. It wasn’t easy, but we got it done. Different crews have developed their powers differently, and some of you may have done something similar, or even more impressive. We can alter time and space on a level that no one in histories has ever enjoyed, and I believe that together, we can do even more. We can remake the future to our desires. Notice that I didn’t say whims. They’re not going to be pointless and silly. The mountain was just practice. There is a war brewing in the Sixth Key, I’m sure you’ve all at least heard about it. They call it the Reality Wars because five parallel realities have been forced together into one. Their respective habitats remain intact, but the stars have been consolidated, cutting their available resources by 80%. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine a friend sending you an uncompressed video on your phone, which suddenly dropped your charge from full to 20%? You’d be pissed. Everyone is pissed, and they don’t have a true culprit to blame, so they’re blaming each other. We can help them.” He paused for effect. “We can move them.”
Leona appeared next to Goswin!Prime. “Are you the ones who took Angela?” she whispered to him.
“That’s a no.” She was about to teleport away again.
“Wait. What does she look like?” Goswin asked.
Leona held up her palm. A small holographic photo appeared of a woman that he had never seen before. “A core crew was on our ship, and when they left, she disappeared along with them. She’s not here, so they left her somewhere else in spacetime, but if you don’t recognize her, then it wasn’t you.”
Goswin looked to the other three Primes. “Let’s find her. Just like Misha.”
They nodded. And just like that, Angela was standing next to them. “Oh, thank God,” she exclaimed, taking Leona into an embrace.
“Excuse me!” Tamerlane asked from his balcony. “What’s going on down there?”
“Sorry, sir!” Goswin!Prime answered. “She was just looking for a friend!”
Pryce looked over at Iolanta, and snapped his fingers at the primes. She peeked over the edge at them, and a second later, the whole crew was standing on the platform with the Elder, and the other self-proclaimed leaders. “You just summoned someone here, even with the Time Lid shut?”
“The what?” Briar asked.
“Is that a band, errr...?” Weaver asked sarcastically.
Pryce looked at Iolanta again. “Why are they able to do that?”
She took another bite of her citrus. “They shouldn’t be able to. Not here. Not now.” She shrugged, and tried to take another bite.
Pryce slapped the fruit out of her hand. “That’s your only job!” He pointed at the primes. “Focus on them. Stop them specifically from using their powers!” He faced the primes. “Bring me...a dancing monkey in a hat.”
“No,” Goswin decided.
“Okay, that’s fair,” Pryce admitted. “There’s ethical concern with that. Instead, just bring me a birthday cake.”
“No,” Goswin repeated.
“All right, you don’t want to steal from a kid, I get it. Just summon anything that isn’t already in this asteroid. Dealer’s choice.” He looked back at Iolanta. “Are you blocking them?” he reiterated.
“Absolutely. I can feel it,” she assured him.
Goswin sighed. He hovered his hand over the floor, and summoned Portrait of a Young Man, which was famously stolen by Nazis during the war, and never recovered. He held onto the frame to keep it from tipping over.
Pryce noticeably gasped. “How did you do that? You four didn’t even talk about it? That is the biggest issue within the crews. No one can agree on anything.”
“We’re in sync, I guess,” Goswin figured.
Pryce took the painting, and held it up for all to see. “Witness power! These four have accomplished the impossible: true neural synchronization! This painting has been missing for four hundred and fifty years, and now here it is. They barely gave it a thought. It was probably destroyed in the original timeline.” He gazed upon the Primes. “These versions will be our foundation. They—not I—will lead us into the future, and the past. They’ll stop the Reality Wars, and save all of mankind in the Sixth Key.” He figured that this choice would endear everyone to him.
“How ‘bout no, Scott..okay?” Goswin!Prime snapped back.
“You seem to like references,” Goswin continued, “so no. Scotty, don’t.”
“I don’t think I saw that one,” Pryce admitted.
Goswin rolled his eyes, and looked back at his crew. “Don’t tell Scotty, Scotty doesn’t know.”
“Enough,” Pryce declared. “I know that I’ve been cracking a few jokes of my own, but I’m being serious. “We need you. Your powers may be limitless. And you don’t really have a choice.”
“I actually think we do,” Goswin suggested. “I believe that that is exactly what you’re trying to tell us, wouldn’t you say, kids?”
“Yeah, I agree,” Weaver!Prime said.
“That’s what it sounds like,” Eight Point Seven!Prime concurred.
Briar!Prime nodded. “Yep.”
Goswin stepped up to the railing, and looked out over the audience. “Do you all wanna be here? Raise your hand if you do?”
A few people raised their hands.
“Then be free.” Goswin!Prime swept his hands forward from his chest, and all but the ones with their hands raised disappeared. Goswin turned, and swept only one hand this time, causing the famous painting to disappear. “It belongs in a museum.”
“We’ll get them back,” Pryce promised.
“No. You won’t.” Goswin held his hand up again to facilitate his own departure, along with the other Primes, but this A.F. guy took it as a threat. He reached over with a huge compensation knife, and jammed it into Goswin’s stomach.
“What the hell did you just do?” Pryce questioned. “Iolanta, stop blocking powers. We need to get a medic here stat!”

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