Hogarth Pudeyonvic and Hilde Unger were back on Tribulation Island, awaiting some good news. It was time to go back home; or at least the last place they were living before their friend’s memorial services. They were pretty sure they would be able to get back to the Milky Way galaxy, but it might be a little more difficult to reach Glisnia specifically. The intergalactic transporter there was destroyed, and though they asked its mysterious engineer to repair it for them, she seemed hesitant to do that. It wasn’t that she thought it would be bad to help them, but she was very, very old, and none of this mattered to her. Anyway, it wasn’t absolutely vital. They really just needed to get close, and then they could travel the rest of the way by ship.
“Okay, I found it,” the technician said.
“What took so long?” Hilde asked. “That’s not a criticism, I’m just curious.”
“I had to change...a parameter.”
“What does that mean?” Hilde pressed.
“You had to adjust the fourth dimension, didn’t you?” Hogarth guessed.
“That’s right,” the technician confirmed. “I can send you to the recent past, to just before the Nexus replica explodes...or the far future, to just after it comes back online.”
“How far in the future?”
“The year 2400,” the tech replied.
“Why is that?” Hilde asked her wife. “Why that year?”
“That must be when The Engineer finally gets around to fixing the replica.”
“Well, we don’t want that,” Hilde decided. “We’ll go to the past instead.”
“We shouldn’t do that,” Hogarth argued. “We don’t wanna run into our Past!Selves, or do anything else that could disrupt the timeline.”
“What are you talking about?” Hilde questioned. “We’re time travelers, we do that all the time.”
“That’s true,” the tech agreed. “You’re time travelers. Twenty-two sixty-two, twenty-four hundred, what’s the difference? You may as well see the future. You’ve already done that once, right? Aren’t you from 2017?”
“Twenty-sixteen,” Hogarth corrected. “He’s right. We don’t even have to go to Glisnia. We could go to Earth, or Gatewood, or back to that place where we met the Engineer.”
“Oh no, I can’t get you there,” the tech said.
“Didn’t you modify the machine, as I instructed?” Hogarth wondered.
“I did not receive authorization to do that from Transportation Administrator Moss. She says we’re not ready to explore other universes. If you want to return, you’ll need to go to Glisnia.”
“I really do want that,” Hogarth said to her wife. She didn’t need her permission, per se, but every decision they made needed to be unanimous. Their relationship didn’t work when one of them resented the other.
Hilde shrugged. “Glisnia 2400; sounds like a TV show spinoff. Let’s do it.”
The tech nodded, and started pressing the appropriate buttons as the two travelers left the control room, and stepped into the transportation chamber. “Thirty second warning,” he announced, as per protocol.
“Thanks for helping us with this,” Hilde said.
Orange light rained down from the ceiling, and overwhelmed their senses, but then a problem arose. Hogarth thought she had gotten over this, but apparently it was still in her. Back in 2016, she built a machine she hoped would transport her to another world. It went wrong, and ended up sending the entire town with her. Though this would turn out to be for the best, it didn’t not come without its problems. For one, Hogarth began to suffer a time affliction. It wasn’t a pattern, like the salmon had, or a power, like the choosing ones. It was very difficult to control, very unpleasant, and dangerous. The last time it happened to her, she thought would be the last ever, but it was starting again. She was about to explode herself, and be sent to some random point in spacetime. “Wait! Abort!” It was too late. The explosion swelled from inside her just as the machine was reaching its final phase. Both of these energies released simultaneously.
Time slowed down. Hogarth couldn’t so much as blink her eyes, but she could still see. Her explosive power, and the Nexus replica lights, were crashing into each other, and igniting. She could feel her atoms doing the same, and being ripped apart from each other. She always knew this was what was happening, but it was the first time she could actually perceive it. She didn’t detect any pain, but it was still horrific. Then the scene changed, and she could see more than she ever thought possible. The entire network of Nexus replicas, and original Nexa was before her. She couldn’t reach any of them, but she could see them. She could watch them. She could witness them exploding all around her. First, the one on Durus, and then Earth, and then the Metanexus, which served as an entry point to the multiverse. Be it the past, or the future, they were all falling apart, and now she knew why. She was the one responsible for it. She had destroyed them all.
Time restarted, the network faded away, and her molecules reconstituted themselves. She fell to her back, and just lied there a moment. She still wasn’t in any pain, but she couldn’t bring herself to sit up, and get a look around. She and her friends had been trying to figure out who was running around, destroying Nexus replicas. Now they knew it was her. It was all her fault. While she was trying to work up the courage to get to her feet, and make sure Hilde was okay, Hilde did it first.
“Are you okay? Can you move?”
“I’m all right,” Hogarth responded. “You?”
“I’m okay,” Hilde said. “What happened?”
“That’s what I would like to know.” The tech was stepping into the chamber, and approaching them. “The controls are dead. I don’t know where or when we are. It’s not Darius, though, I’ll tell ya that much. That room is of a slightly different design.”
Hogarth finally got to her feet, and looked around. The place looked all right, so if the controls were off, it was probably a software issue, and hopefully easy to fix. “In that case, there’s only one way to find out.”
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Hilde asked again.
“I’m fine. I’ll explain later, but I need to know where the machine sent us first.”
“And why I came with,” the tech added.
“No, I know the answer to that,” Hogarth told him. “I screwed up.” She led them down the hallway, and towards the exit. There were almost no windows in this building. Glass was both reflective, and transparent, so it was counterproductive to the machine’s need to contain temporal energy. The window between the control room and the transportation chamber came from an unknown source. Whenever a new replica was built, the directions instructed the maker to leave that space blank. At some point by the end of the project, the window fabricated itself, out of an unknown material. It should have protected the tech, but Hogarth’s explosion must have interfered with its integrity.
Before she could open the door to the outside, it opened for her. A mech was on the other side, sporting a disconcerting smile. “The Forerunners. You have returned.” This wasn’t as glorious of a title as it sounded like. A forerunner was a type of ship that flew ahead of a new colony’s first colony vessel. If something ended up having gone wrong with the automated factory ships that were sent even earlier, they would be able to fix everything before the colonists arrived. When Hogarth and Hilde appeared in the Gliese 832 star system, they became the first vonearthans to set foot on Glisnia, which was its only terrestrial planet. This made them notable figures in Glisnian history, of course, but there was nothing else special about them, and they didn’t do anything. The only nanofactory ships that ever malfunctioned did so over a planet called Varkas Reflex. So Hogarth and Hilde used their time alone to build their own little home on the surface. It also gave them time to explore a little, and discover the Nexus replica in the first place, which they had tried to keep a secret. Apparently that plan failed.
“We have,” Hilde said. “Report.”
“It is the year 2400,” the mech began. “The Matrioshka brain is complete, and we’re now working on the body.”
“The whatnow?” Hogarth questioned. “I don’t follow.”
The mech now tried to show them a smirk, but it was even more unsettling than the first facial expression. Artificial intelligences were perfectly capable of understanding both why smiles were socially beneficent, and even also how to make one. Unfortunately, except for the ones that were built with synthetic skin—and, more importantly, lips—the actual execution of a smile was generally extremely difficult.  Their mouths just didn’t look quite right. Eye smiles were generally pretty good, though, so people were taught to focus on them instead. He bowed graciously, and stepped aside, so they could walk through the door.
Here there was a window, showing that they were no longer on Glisnia; probably because it didn’t exist anymore. It was taken apart completely, and integrated into a megastructure surrounding the star. A matrioshka brain was always on the schedule for the future of the star system. They only landed on the planet to get started, but the world wasn’t going to last forever. It was far more valuable in its new form. A dyson shell was constructed around Gliese 832. Most of the energy was absorbed by these artificial structures, and used to power their systems. The rest was bled off into space in the form of infrared light, and a not insignificant amount of visible light. They weren’t opaque spheres like old fiction liked to portray them as. That didn’t mean all the energy that escaped was completely useless. All they needed to do was build another shell around the first one. And then another, and another, and another. They built as many as they needed to maximize the energy input; until building more would be more trouble than it was worth.
They were clearly finished with this process, having been working on it for the last a hundred and fifty years. That was incredibly impressive, even for a group of artificials whose sole responsibility was to make it happen. “Was there enough raw material in this system to do this?” Hogarth asked.
“For the brain, yes,” the mech replied. “We sent refinery ships to nearby systems to get material for the rest.”
“Moar!” the tech exclaimed jokingly. They needed to learn his name.
“Indeed,” the mech agreed. Surely he had a name as well. “We do need even more, and we have to go farther out. That’s where you come in.”
“Me?” Hogarth asked. “What can I do?”
The mech gestured towards the door behind them. “You obviously have a way to travel the stars. We need you to replicate that for us, but on a much, much larger scale.”
She didn’t do that. She didn’t build the Nexa, or develop any other form of faster-than-light travel. That was Hokusai’s deal. She was more about parallel dimensions, and artificial gravity. Still, it should be possible. But why didn’t they figure it out themselves? “Why didn’t you just figure it out yourselves, while I was gone? Surely, with all this time...”
“We’ve been locked out of this structure since we discovered it. A human woman named Azure Vose told us to—and I quote—am-scray.”
“That sounds like her,” Hilde said.
“We just have one condition,” the mech said in a worried voice. “The other mechs won’t let you be involved unless you become one of us.”
“I have to upgrade?” Hogarth asked, though she knew that was what he meant.
“Humans aren’t allowed here. It’s been declared. Upgrading isn’t enough, though. You have to upload.”
This was no huge surprise. Though humans weren’t illegal in the beginning, it was probably always going to end up like this. There were hundreds of billions of stars in this galaxy alone. No one was going to get pissy about one of them being set aside for a particular group of vonearthans. Hell, there could be hundreds, thousands, millions, even billions of them in the future. There were plenty of resources for everyone. That wasn’t really the problem, though. Hogarth wasn’t sure she wanted to become completely inorganic. She grew up in a time before that was possible, and had been so busy as a traveler, that she had never given it any real thought. He was right, however, that she didn’t belong here in her current form. This planet was not meant for her, as it was designed for artificial entities. Perhaps it was time—not to change this fact—but to change herself. The only question was whether Hilde could ever feel the same way. Would she be willing to upgrade as well?
“I’m in,” Hilde said, shockingly. “I wanna see what this matrioshka body ends up looking like, and if nothing else, I need to survive long enough for you to finish it. Let’s do it.”
That was easy.

Body of Theseus

Consciousness is a tricky thing. For as long as computers have existed, people have been trying to draw comparisons between hard drives and human brains. The analogy certainly seems reasonable. Both of them store information, both allow that information to be accessed, and interfaced with. But there is a huge difference between how the two operate. Computers process information in binary code, through logic gates that really just boil down to on or off. Brains, on the other hand, are a chaotic mess of neurons and synapses. Memory is retrieved through associations and connections. Each one is unique. In the 21st century, many researchers believed they were capable of mapping a given human brain, and recreating the structure in a computer model. But it was nothing more than a copy, and a copy is not the original.
The science behind mind uploading was always a gray area, and the problem of mind transference felt insurmountable. If you were to attempt to upload yourself into a new substrate of some kind, there is a fifty percent chance that you wake up in the new substrate. There is thusly a fifty percent chance that you wake up to find yourself still in your old body, while some rando copy of you is waking up, thinking they’re the real version of you. It’s just a copy, though. That doesn’t mean this copy isn’t real, but it  hasn’t solved your problem of wanting to shed your old substrate, and become something different. It doesn’t matter how many times you try this, in each attempt, there is also a version of you that’s the copy, and a version of you that’s just failed in getting what they wanted. There will always be someone left behind. And the reason that is is because a human brain is not a computer. Files can’t be transferred to some other location, because thoughts and memories aren’t stored as files in the first place.
Experts came up with a somewhat viable workaround to this issue. If the mind wasn’t designed with files and folders, then it had to be converted. They called it Project Theseus. The Ship of Theseus is an old thought experiment, which questions whether a ship that’s had every part of it replaced over time is even the same ship as before. The rational answer seems to be...sort of. Mostly. We hope. Even though none of the parts were there in the beginning, some of the parts are older than others, and they were around to be connected to even older parts, and those older parts were there with parts that are older still. As long as they’re replaced gradually, each new part can claim to be a component of the whole, and that doesn’t change even when all its nearby parts are also replaced themselves.
Project Theseus took this interpretation of the experiment, and applied it to the human body. You replace a patient’s hands, and let them use them for a few weeks. Then you replace their arms. Then their feet, then their legs, then their internal organs. By not doing it all at once, each new part can integrate itself into the system, so that that system has a chance to consider it a constituent, rather than a foreign extension. After discovering that this seemed to work, the experts decided it was time for the next step. They now hoped to apply the Theseus technique to the central nervous system, though they recognized that it would be far more complicated. It was going to take a lot more research, heaps more patience, and an uncomfortable amount of trial and error.
The Theseus technique worked well for decades, but it wasn’t perfect. The time it took to complete the whole thing wasn’t much of a problem for most people. The average human being was going to live for a century without it, so even if they decided to become inorganic later on in life, there was usually plenty of time. There were some people, however, who couldn’t wait that long. Even after all this, there were still some medical conditions that science couldn’t fix, and brain uploading was the only solution. These people needed a completely new technique, which scientists started referring to neurosponging. An artificial brain is first synthesized, which perfectly resembles the patient’s brain. Electrical signals are then basically absorbed into the synth, just as they’re being lost from the original. It was like Theseus on a profoundly shorter timeline, but it alone did not solve the problem. Though artificial, this new brain was still organic, and still prone to degradation. Fortunately, it could be programmed to rewrite itself, until it exhibited an easier to organize filing system. Then that could be transferred to something more durable. This was the route that Hogarth Pudeyonavic and Hilde Unger chose to take.
In a matter of days, the process was complete, and they were both mechs. There were two primary types of mechs in the stellar neighborhood. Some were artificial intelligences, while others were transhumans who passed the singularity when they were upgraded so much that they became mechs. There were no terms to distinguish these two types, however, because internally speaking, a mech was a mech, and they treated each other as such. Hogarth and Hilde now belonged to Glisnian society, and would be allowed to contribute to the cause.
“Why are we keeping your former substrate?” The mech they met when they first returned was going to remain their associate. His full name was Mekiolenkidasola, though he sometimes just went by Lenkida.
The tech from Dardius was still human, and named Ethesh Beridze. “Yeah, your dead bodies are freaking me out.”
“They’re not dead,” Hogarth reminded him as Hilde was closing the drawer that contained her body. “They’re in stasis. In order to help the Glisnians crack superluminal travel, I need to study my old body. How did I do it? I explored the answers all I could while I was still alive, but now it’s time to perform a dissection, and really figure out how it worked.”
“You don’t understand why you were capable of traveling through time?” Lenkida questioned.
“It wasn’t so much something I was capable of as it was a medical condition that was thrust upon me. I’m not the best candidate for this research. If you want to study someone who can travel the stars, you’re gonna want The Trotter. He’s not here, however, and my body is all we have right now. Still, I once jumped here from another universe, so this should at least give us a start.”
“There are other universes?” Lenkida wasn’t shocked, but he was surprised. It was practically impossible to shock anyone in the 25th century.
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Wait, why do we need your body at all, if we’re just going to build more Nexus replicas?”
“I’ll be studying the replicas too,” Hogarth explained, “but I don’t want to just make more of them, not after what I’ve learned. I’ll go over my reasons later.”
“What do you need?” Lenkida offered.
Hogarth slid her metallic fingers over her old fleshy arm. “I need you to find me an assistant. Someone who was once human, understands both human physiology, and the human condition. Obviously they need to be discreet. I’ll build you a resource extractor, but not a stargate network. That’s my requirement.”
“Understood,” Lenkida said. “Let me go find you some candidates.”
“I’ll come with,” Ethesh asked.
While they were off doing that, Hogarth and Hilde took some time to get used to their new bodies. They chose a humanoid design, with a synthetic skin overlaid. It probably wasn’t too terribly common, but it wasn’t unheard of either. Many of the formerly organic mechs preferred this, because it made them look as they always did. Most eventually shed this facade, however, and just went with the robot look, because skin didn’t serve a utilitarian purpose, and faces only helped in certain social settings. The two most recent mechs weren’t going to make any rash decisions in that regard.
“How does it feel?” Hilde asked.
“I could ask you the same thing,” Hogarth said. “We’re in the same boat.”
“Not really,” Hilde contended. “You were the one with a time affliction. I haven’t lost anything I’ll miss, but your ability got you out of a lot of sticky situations, even if you weren’t in control of it. How many times did you almost die, only to be spirited away at the very less microsecond?”
“I don’t need to worry about that anymore,” Hogarth assured her. “My consciousness is constantly being backed up to eleven locations.”
“Still,” Hilde went on, it was a part of you, and now it’s gone forever.”
Hogarth smirked, and opened the drawer where Hilde’s body was resting in stasis. “Is it? Who says I can’t just jump back in whenever I want? Who says you can’t do the same?”
“Mech law—”
“Mech law can suck it. I haven’t ever followed anyone else’s rules, and I’m certainly not going to start now. I’ll do what I promised, and get them the resources they need to complete their matrioshka body. I may not do it the way they want it, and they’re just gonna have to accept that.”
“What didn’t you want to say when Lenkida and Ethesh were here? Why aren’t we just using the Nexus replica?”
“I cannot allow anyone the ability to travel faster-than-light. We’ve seen what humans do when they get a taste of a new world. They do whatever it is they want with it.”
“They’re mechs, though.” Hilde argued.
“Same same, but different. Vonearthans all come from the same place. Why, we’ve already seen it. Glinsia was a planet, with a surface, and a core, and satellites. They destroyed it, which is fine; there wasn’t anything living on it, but eating up resources is what people do. I have to be the one to control what they take, and where they take it from. I’ve seen too much not to.”
“What happened to you? When we jumped here from Dardius, you were on the floor, and you weren’t okay. Did you see something?”
Hogarth simulated a sigh. It felt strange, since she wasn’t breathing, and didn’t even possess any mechanism to pump or transmit air. She just let out a sound that sort of sounded like breath. “That jump is what destroyed, and will destroy, the Nexa. My affliction happened one more time, and combined with the transport. When that happened, it rippled all throughout spacetime. Every Nexus that’s ever been mysteriously destroyed, and each one we hear of from now on, will have been caused by what I did.”
“So what?”
“So what, Hogarth, who cares? It’s like you said, vonearthans abuse the powers they recieve. They don’t need the replicas, and the time travelers don’t need them either. No one needs them. They’re just more convenient.”
You don’t understand. I didn’t just destroy the replica network. I destroyed the entire thing. The explosion reached across to the originating universe, and is destroying all of those too.”
“Yeah, that sucks,” Hilde agreed, “but they’ll be okay. Or they won’t. Maybe people will die from that, or maybe people will survive because of it. Maybe a villainous force is on its way to invade an innocent planet, and you saved those people because the villains weren’t able to reach them. You keep using the word affliction, but you also keep trying to blame yourself for it. This isn’t something you’ve done, it’s something that happened to you, and in this case, it happens to have impacted other people. Again, it sucks, but you didn’t really do it. We have to find a way to move past this, because I know you, and you’ll brood for years. If the only solution is I hack into your episodic memory files, and erase the issue, I’ll do it.”
“I don’t want to forget anything,” Hilde. “My memory is everything.”
“Well, I guess therapy is your only other option. We’ll do that instead.”
“Did you just haggle me?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
She shook her head, happy to be with someone who understood her. “I should get to work.”
“What are you planning? What will studying your organic body do for us? You use the word extraction.”
“I don’t know yet, but if I learn enough about how I was able to jump across dimensions, I might be able to come up with a new solution. I don’t like the word extraction, now that I’ve thought about it. I believe I would call it...time siphoning.”

Out-of-Body Expo

The good thing about dealing with a mech was that it had the ability to erase memories from itself. Hogarth was free to tell the candidates for her associate all she needed about time travelers, her former affliction, and the Nexus replicas. There was no guarantee that they actually would erase their memories of the interaction afterwards, but she was pretty confident that they would. People lied a lot in the past. They lied about having completed tasks they didn’t want to do, or liking people they hated, or whatever. Vonearthans of all types didn’t generally feel the need to do that anymore. Prosocial lying wasn’t completely obsolete, but it wasn’t usually necessary. People rarely felt embarrassment or awkwardness. If someone asked them to do something, and they agreed to it, then it would get done, because if they couldn’t make it happen, then they would just say no. They would be able to say no, because there was little incentive to not be honest about one’s intentions. It probably all came down to the fact that each generation since the mid-twenty-first century bought less and less stock in judgmental people, until being judgmental was far too out of fashion for it to be instilled in the young.
Hogarth interviewed dozens of candidates, and only one checked all the boxes, and passed all the tests. Its name was Crimson Clover, and it preferred it as its pronoun. It didn’t say a word about its old life as a human, except that it possessed extensive knowledge of human biology/anatomy/physiology, and went through the background to back it up. It also implied prior experience with time travelers, though did not confirm it. Hogarth just felt comfortable opening up to it about everything that had happened to her and Hilde.
“So, this is it, huh?” Crimson said as it was standing over Hogarth’s old body.
“Yeah, you don’t think it looks the same as I do now?”
“I can tell the difference,” it replied.
“So, what do you think?” Hogarth prompted.
“Well.” It started to go over the body’s specifications on the interface screen. “You call it a time affliction, correct?”
“Yet you did eventually learn some control?”
“Yeah, kind of like how a person with allergies can hold back a sneeze, or anxiety can be treated with certain stress-reducing activities. I suppose I never tried too hard to fix it with science.”
“And you think this is our best avenue for getting the resources we need from other star systems, or interstellar space?” It asked.
“We could use the replica, but I don’t want to give vonearthans faster-than-light technology. If anyone is going to do that, it’s going to be my colleague, Hokusai Gimura.”
It nodded, and confirmed, “that’s Hilde’s mother, yeah?” As a mech, Crimson had perfect memory, so the question needn’t be asked. It was just exercising social grace, and keeping Hogarth part of the conversation, instead of internalizing its thoughts.
“Yeah, and she’s in charge of what the galaxy knows about space travel. I’m in charge of transdimensional work.”
“Why isn’t she here, then?”
“I don’t know where she is in this time period.”
Crimson nodded again. It opened a small panel on the back of its neck, and removed a syncing disc. “Well, the best way for me to understand your old body is to take it for a test drive.”
Hogarth stared at it, but said nothing. It wasn’t a surprise, but it was a shock.
“Do I have your consent to upload my consciousness into your former substrate?”
Hogarth stayed there, narrowed her eyelids, and stared at it. She stared into its eyes for eleven minutes. Neither one of them moved a micrometer the entire time. This was a test; a test of Crimson’s patience and commitment. She didn’t know why she felt the need to do it, but she barely knew this person, so she had to do something to give her peace of mind. She was going to let it upload its consciousness, as it asked, but she couldn’t let it be as easy as asking the question once, and receiving an immediate affirmative. Finally, after the time ran out, she responded. “I consent to the temporary use of my former substrate.”
“Great.” Crimson made all the necessary connections, then performed the upload. It was a lot quicker, and a lot less involved, than before. Technology had come a long way, even in the future, where a lot had long been invented.
Crimson woke up in Hogarth’s body, and took a couple minutes to acclimate. It was much lighter, and more fragile now, and it had probably not been so squishy in centuries. It walked around the room to get a feel for how the muscles worked. “Fascinating,” it said, like some kind of alien who has made a moderately interesting discovery about another species. “I can feel it.”
“You can feel what?” Hogarth asked.
“The power,” it continued cryptically. “The energy.”
“I didn’t feel energy,” she contended. “It was more...pressure. Like I was a covered pot about to boil over. It never built up, though, so I couldn’t ever predict it. I suppose when I figured out how to control it a little, I was just tightening the pressure on purpose.”
Crimson shook Hogarth’s head. “Nah, it’s not pressure; it’s moving, flowing. I can work with this.” It slowly lifted its new hands from its sides, and spread its fingers. It closed its eyes, and released some air from its lungs, through its nose and mouth at the same time. As it gradually turned its lips into a smile, tiny pieces from its fingertips began to disappear. Her body was breaking apart at the molecular level.
“Where are you going?” Hogarth asked.
“I’ll be back before you know it.”
It appeared to be right. A couple meters away, tiny pieces were popping into existence, and coming together to form larger pieces. There was something wrong, though. Present!Crimson started demolecularizing from its hands, but this new shape was forming from the feet up. Was this an entirely different being? What was happening? Still, they were traveling at the same pace, so when a quarter of the first body was gone, a quarter of it had reappeared. And when half of it was gone, half had returned. Now it was even clearer that there was something different about the returning figure. It was wearing different clothes, and standing in a different position. The fact that it was happening at the same time was a complete coincidence. Present!Crimson was on its way to somewhere in the past or future, and the fact that it returned to this very moment revealed nothing about how long it spent away. That was how time travel worked.
Just as the last of its feet faded, the last of its head appeared. “Did I get the timing right?”
“That was perfect,” Hogarth replied. “For how long were you gone?”
“Centuries,” Crimson answered.
“How is that possible? This body looks as young as it did, and I wasn’t immortal.
“You were anything you wanted to be,” it started to explain. “You had no idea the kind of power you had. You gotta try this thing out. I can teach you.”
“Maybe later,” Hogarth said. “I’ve agreed to do a job for the Glisnians. I need to see that through before I think of doing anything else. What did you learn, besides how much more complicated my condition apparently is?”
“I learned that your ability sprouted from your brain, and rewrote your DNA. Adapting it to technology in order to create a time siphon may be more difficult than you thought, or impossible. You were smart to keep it alive, for we may need it to power the machine.”
“I know someone who might be able to help. Adapting powers to technology is her thing. If it can be done, she can do it. To put it a better way, if she can’t, it means no one can.”
“Do you know how to contact this person?”
“I don’t suppose anyone in this system has a phone.”
“Like, with a dial pad?”
“Yeah, it has to have physical buttons.”
“Well, I mean, someone could build one for you, but you wouldn’t be able to call anyone. We use a completely separate communication network to stay in touch with each other now. You may as well ask me to sign you up for cable television. All those shows have been cancelled, so you’ll only get static.”
“It doesn’t have to be on a network. It just has to look like a phone, and generate electrical signals. The signals don’t have to go anywhere; they just have to exist.”
“Yeah, sure, that’s easy.” Crimson walked over to the industrial synthesizer. “Hey, Thistle. One obsolete push-button telephone, please.”
“Thank you,” Hogarth said. She graciously accepted the phone replica, and prepared to dial. “I’m glad I got these upgrades. Her phone number is really difficult to remember. She made it so long to keep the riff raff from reaching her.” She then proceeded to push the buttons. There were fifty-two digits in total.
Crimson tilted its lizard brain jokingly while she was still in the middle of it. “I recognize that number. That’s the code Data uses in episode three of season four of Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
Hogarth shrugged while she was waiting for her friend to answer. “Just because it’s hard to remember doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Her direct line is a hundred and eight digits long, and completely random.”
“If this isn’t her direct line, what is it?”
“This line lets you put in a request for me to come to you. My direct line would take you to me, and I only give it to the people I know won’t give it away to a stranger.” She was here. Holly Blue.
“Thank you for coming,” Hogarth said to her.
“Why are there two of you?” Holly blue asked.
“Oh, that’s just this thing. We were hoping to procure your services. Do you think you could turn my ability into a gadget? If you do, I’ll get you back to your son.”

Part IV

Coming soon...

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