Proxima Doma

Imminent Domain

The year is 2215. Étude Einarsson and Vitalie Crawville have just watched their friends ship out to one of Proxima Doma’s nearest planetary neighbors, Bungula. Formerly known as Proxima Centauri b, Doma is an excellent planet. With a mass not too terribly higher than that of Earth’s, a normal human is capable of thriving, given certain amenities. The atmosphere is thin, but a stable magnetosphere protects a portion of the surface from stellar winds. This is called the Terminator Zone. One side of Doma always faces its red dwarf parent star, and one side always faces the cold, empty black. Where these two sides meet, a paradise sits. Though the air is still not breathable unaided, it is possible to survive with sufficient technology. Great domes have been constructed in strategic locations around the border. Étude and Vitalie are presently living in a dome called New Hertfordshire. It’s capable of housing tens of millions of vonearthans, which is the collective term for any entity ultimately deriving from Earth.
Their presence on this world remains a mystery to its inhabitants. They first arrived following the destruction of their ship, which was meant to venture all the way to Bungula. That the ship was destroyed is unquestioned, but the fact that it arrived so quickly after the first colony ships makes little sense. There was no talk of such a trip before the colonists left, yet they would have had to have left soon thereafter, unless they were utilizing faster-than-light technology, which they secretly were. Étude and Vitalie’s survival of the crash is another mystery the colonists have not been able to solve. Fortunately, they are far too busy starting their new lives on an alien planet to spend too much time investigating. There is plenty of room for the two of them, so they have been allowed to stay, as long as they contribute positively to the colonization efforts. At the moment, the two of them are debating the magnitude of this contribution.
Of course, they are perfectly willing to help, but there’s a bit of a catch. Étude was born of three powerful people, who were each capable of manipulating time in different ways. Her father was a time traveler, who was sometimes bound to the whims of an even more powerful and mysterious group of people known as the powers that be. He was sometimes not. Étude preferred to leave this gift alone, as she believed altering the timeline was usually too dangerous to even attempt. She was rare in that way, as many thousands of other people shared this ability, and used it to change reality at their will. Étude’s egg-mother was also sometimes beholden to the powers that be, though there was some leeway. She could often force a door to another time and place to open, but it wasn’t always when and where she wanted to go, and it’s unclear whether Étude inherited any traits from her concerning time manipulation. Her womb-mother, Andromeda was the most powerful of all. She could instantly transport materials from all over time and space, and rearrange them into useful structures.
Étude is a walking collection of construction crew and equipment, who can operate at shockingly high speeds. She can construct a whole house in a matter of minutes. And this is where the debate comes in. With this power, she could fill the entire dome—and all the others, for that matter—with massive structures to satisfy the needs of every colonist. In fact, she could probably do this for every vonearthan in the universe, and she would be able to do it all by herself. Obviously, this is not an easy decision, as her coming out as someone known as a choosing one not only impacts her life, but the lives of others. Though there is no formal time police running around, stopping temporal manipulators from revealing themselves, a few have taken it upon themselves to stop such attempts. Beaver Haven authorities, however, traditionally operate in earlier time periods. Telling a 21st century friend, for instance, that you can see the future, is a lot different than transporting Genghis Khan to the stone age, and back again.
The more the world progresses, the easier it is for time travelers to do as they please, as outing themselves doesn’t affect normal people’s developmental process. Besides, these are not the humans of yesteryear. Everyone living on this world has been modified on a genetic and glandular level to survive in extremely harsh conditions. Some of them are over two hundred years old, which means they know what the world looked like before true AI, or biological upgrades. Revealing their true nature to these highly advanced creatures would probably go unnoticed by the prison-keepers, and would not necessarily endanger the Proxima Domanians’ sensibilities.
“You shouldn’t do it,” Vitalie finally said.
“That’s it?” Étude questioned. “We’ve been talking for, like, an hour, and you’ve suddenly realized what the answer is?”
“It hasn’t been that long, and yes.” Vitalie started trying to choose her words carefully. “If you could see the future, you could be hired by one company. That company could benefit from a far superior understanding of market trends, but for the most part, the world would stay as it is. Maybe it’s a bit more advanced than it would have been without you, but still nothing outrageous. Or you could be a secret agent, like your father. Or more accurately, like Ecrin’s mother, who could actually see the future.”
“Sort of,” Étude corrected.
“Sort of,” Vitalie agreed. “The point is that there are lots of different time powers, but there’s no one quite like you. I can count on one hand the number of time-builders this universe has seen. You could drastically alter the course of vonearthan history, and not travel through time once. You’re too...big.”
“So, I shouldn’t help build the colony, because humans still have to work for themselves.”
“Yeah. We’ve been considering the ramifications of revealing your secret, but that’s only one issue. The other issue is that the reason these people came to Doma was to start fresh. If you do everything for them, then it’s like they never left Earth. They were all born into a world that was pretty much finished for them. Sure, there was still room for improvement, and resources weren’t always easy to distribute, but everything every single individual needed to survive was at least somewhere. Back on the home world, everyone has different goals and needs, and they have responsibilities that reflect that, good or bad. Everything here is new, so everyone is working towards the same goal. If you take over their jobs, you rob them of their fated accomplishments.”
“These are all good points. I just feel so useless here. Like you said, they all have the same goal, but we’re both outsiders.”
“Well, you’re probably feeling like that, because you were The Savior,” Vitalie posited.
Before Étude developed her three time powers, she only really had the one, though really not even that, because she had no control over it. She was socially engineered to be The Last Savior of Earth. For centuries, a special class of temporal manipulators were conceived to teleport all over the world, and save people’s lives. Sometimes that meant pulling people out of crashing airplanes, and sometimes it meant convincing them to follow more healthy choices, if the paths they were on were going to lead to untimely death. Over time, the powers that be tapered off the number of these Saviors, until Daria Matic became the first of their kind to do it all on her own. Most Saviors either die on the job, or retire, but they’re always replaced by someone new, until Étude became the last Earth would ever see. She spent years in the position, exercising no ownership of her own life. It was tiring and frustrating, but the worst thing it did was leave her with nothing once it was over. At least then she had a purpose. Now, she was just floating through life, still with no true agency.
“I didn’t mean to make you feel bad,” Vitalie said with concern after Étude didn’t respond very quickly.
“No, it’s okay. You’re right. I need to help. I just don’t know how.”
“I may have a few ideas,” Vitalie said with a charming smile.
“Ideas, like what?”
“Most of the colonists are, more or less, regular humans. They’re not like the humans from the early 20th century, but they’re also not as advanced as Brooke Prieto. Their lives are still pretty dangerous. A circuit breaker exploded in a man’s face the other day. He almost died.”
“I heard about that.”
“You could have stopped it. How do you feel about restarting the Savior program?”

Backfill

“So, instead of using my construction power, you want me to use my time traveling power?” Étude asked.
“Why would you need to do that?” Vitalie volleyed.
“The reason the original Savior program worked is because the powers that be could see the future. They would send me, and my predecessors, to save people who they knew were going to be in need of it. We don’t have that intel, so I would have to go back in time each time something bad happened.”
“Oh, I didn’t think of that. I guess I was just considering your teleportation ability, which you still possess. But yeah, of course you couldn’t have done your job all alone. But would that be so bad? I know you don’t like to time travel, but maybe for these emergencies...”
Étude shook her head. “It would get out of hand. In a few days, there could be several versions of me running around this planet. I could overtake the whole population in months.”
“I can think of worse things that a few extra Études,” Vitalie noted.
“It would threaten my identity. I still want to feel unique; maybe even more so because of what I can do.”
“Well, how do other time travelers deal with this scenario?”
“Some just go their separate ways, and don’t ever see each other again. Some Past!Versions don’t even know a Future!Version of them exists. I once found myself in this freaky dimension populated by hundreds of one person. Every time he had to make a correction to the timeline, he would step into this little pocket universe, and let his primary move on with his life. I also knew this woman who wore a suicide belt at all times, and would sacrifice herself, so there would only ever be one version of her. And then there’s...”
“Then there’s what?” Vitalie prompted.
Étude was reluctant to answer. “You can also merge. Most people merge.”
“What does that mean? Isn’t that the thing where two separate places are put together? I heard about a guy who could do that.”
“That’s a merge, yes, but a different kind. Though, I suppose you could argue they operate on the same principle. Where a triality merge—that is, a coming together of mind, body, and soul—differs from a spatial merge is in its permanence, and its existential incertitude. If two people wanted to merge—”
“You mean two versions of the same person,” Vitalie tried to correct.
“Well, I’m not really up for explaining why there’s no such thing as an alternate version, except to say that, as far as quantum physics goes, reality doesn’t consider two alternates any more alike than any other two people. So if two people want to merge, they first have to map their neural pathways. Then they have to overlay one brain pattern over the other, and find a way to fit them together, so a third consciousness emerges, based on equal parts of both. Then the soul, if it exists at all, has to latch itself to one of the bodies, while every single atom from the other body is teased away, isolated, and returned to the cosmos.”
“You mean, they die.”
Étude nodded. “Yes. One person—well, one body—has to essentially win the merge, but they sort of die too, because the resulting consciousness is no more or less them than it is the so-called loser. They both die, and in doing so, birth a new being into existence. It’s not very zen.”
“So, that’s why that woman wears a suicide belt.”
“At least she dies knowing someone who is almost exactly like her still gets to live, and without the troubling memories she formed that led her to going back in time in the first place. To her, a merge is more frightening than death.” The thought made Étude shiver.
“What if you...” Vitalie wanted to suggest something, but didn’t know if it would be appropriate.
“Go on,” Étude pressed. She wanted Vitalie to know she could say anything to her.
“What if you merged your mind without involving the body?”
“How so?”
“Well, what if you send your mind back in time, right into your younger self’s body.”
“Ah, you’re talking about consciousness travel. There are some philosophical debates around that one. I’ve heard of a few people who have that power, and the question is, is that necessarily any different than an extremely detailed and vivid method of seeing the future? We all agree that future-sight does not place one’s identity in danger, so is this any worse? You’re still killing someone, and taking over their body, though, so that’s not great. Alas, it does not matter, because I do not have this power.”
Vitalie was silent for a moment and a half. “I kind of do.”
Étude stopped to think about this. “Well, you can send your consciousness to other places, but not into other people’s brains, or something.”
“That’s exactly what I do. I can’t just send my mind anywhere. I have to attach it to a person. I’m not really standing next to them, invisible. I’m in their head.”
Étude thought about this some more. “Huh. You’re also a consciousness traveler, but without a time travel component.”
“I heard of something somebody called...cooperative magic.”
“That’s a feature in an old TV show and book series, since magic isn’t real. But I know what you’re talking about. It’s when two people with different powers combine them to do something neither could do on their own. My mother’s partner, Vearden went through that once. What are you saying, that I take us back in time, and you send just our minds, into our younger bodies?”
“If we can’t see the future, like the powers that be apparently can, then that’s our only way to restart the Savior program.”
“I haven’t agreed to that.”
“Because you didn’t think it could be done. I’m offering you a solution.”
“You’re offering a potential solution. We don’t know if it would work, or if I want it to work, or that it won’t come with its own unforeseen consequences. I have reason to believe there’s good reason I’m retired.”
Vitalie didn’t know what she meant by the last part, but she put a pin in it. “We should test it.”
Étude looked around, for no reason in particular. “If it were going to work, it already would have.”
“What do you mean?”
“We should be dead by now. Future versions of ourselves should have returned, overwritten our consciousnesses, and it would be done.”
“From our perspective, that can’t happen unless we make it happen. We have to do it first, even though it happens in the future.”
“Okay, fine. We’ll ignore the paradox, and give it a shot. Take my hands, and we shall attempt to combine our powers, and send our minds to one hour ago.”
“No, I don’t want to do it like that,” Vitalie argued. “If only one of us manages to make it through, they’re going to have to explain this whole thing to the other. Let’s do it tomorrow, so we at least don’t negate this conversation.”
Étude shrugged. “That’s fine with me. I’m not all that confident in it anyway.”
Vitalie nodded understandingly, but then she stopped and stared into space for a not insignificant amount of time.
“Are you okay?”
Vitalie blinked once slowly. “Okay, so I was right. Only one of us did make it through, but it was not the one I thought.”
“What are you talking about?” Étude questioned.
“I’m from twenty-four hours in the future,” Future!Vitalie explained. “I don’t know why you couldn’t come with me, but it did technically work.”
“It did? You’ve come from the future, into your younger body, and you have full memory of what is going to happen throughout the next day.”
“That’s right.”
“All right, now we can test it.”
“We just did.”
“We have to test its effects first, in case it’s done something weird to your brain, or mine, for that matter. Then we have to do it again, and make sure the experiment can be repeated, and its results reproduced.”
“That sounds like a lot of work.”
“You’re going to have to get used to it, because if what happened the first time happens every time, it’s going to turn out that I was not actually the last person to hold my title.”
Vitalie was confused. “Who else would it be?”
“It’s you, dummy. You’ve just backfilled my position. You are the Last Savior.”

Neighborhood Watch

“That doesn’t make me the Last Savior,” Vitalie pointed out. “You’re still the one who can teleport. I’m just the source of your intel, like the powers that be.”
“I can apport you anywhere you need to go,” Étude explained, “but you have to be the one to help these people directly.”
“Why would that be?”
Étude was quiet.
“This has something to do with your mysterious future-seer, who has dictated your life since you retired, doesn’t it?”
“So, what if it does?”
“Are you still in communication with them? Do you have access to the quantum messenger.”
“Look, all you need to know is that I’m not meant to continue the job. It’s all about you now. This is important.”
“If you knew all this, why did you not say anything? Why did I just have to convince you of any of it?”
“I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen, Vitalie. I was just told to hand my torch to an old soul who has seen tomorrow.”
“You think that’s me?”
“Well, it can’t be some rando resident of Proxima Doma. You just came back from twenty-four hours in the future, you understand what it is I used to do, and you were the one who came up with the plan to restart the Savior program in the first place.”
“Ya know, it’s really convenient you always have this seer who has already made big decisions for you. It’s like you forged a doctor’s note that gets you out of gym class.”
“Are you saying I’m lying about him?”
Are you?” Vitalie asked. She could trust that Étude was a good person, and wanted to do the right thing, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t capable of lying.
“I’m not. He hasn’t been dictating my entire life, but he has gotten me where I am today. Who knows how reality would have turned out if I hadn’t teleported to the Sharice Davids? I saved your life, and Ram’s. I protected the Insulator of Life, so Brooke and Sharice Prieto could be extracted from it. So yeah, I believe in what he’s told me to do, because I have years of experience with his predictions. I think he’s done more than enough to prove himself.”
Vitalie didn’t say anything right away. Then she stepped closer, almost condescendingly, but also quite affectionately. “Things are good, but they are not perfect. You can’t ever know how well history would have turned out if he had just kept his mouth shut. Perhaps our lives would have been even better.”
Étude mirrored Vitalie’s actions, and stepped closer still. “There is always a better timeline out there. Fortune-teller or not, we can never truly know what might have been. I’m just trying to do my part. Now, I spent seventeen years as Earth’s Savior. It may have been one of my kind’s shortest tenures—and it may have been the easiest shift to work—but I still know what I’m talking about when it comes to saving people’s lives. I just got promoted to management, while you’ve been offered my old position. You don’t have to take it. I’ll keep my ear to the ground, and do my best without you. But I’m not handing you my new job. It’s either this, or nothing. And that’s not coming from my seer; that’s from me.”
Vitalie hadn’t before thought of the Savior as an employee. In the real world, you can’t simply work whatever position you wanted; it had to be offered to you. Étude was the hiring manager, so it was her call. She had to take the job, or no one would. “Okay, I’m in. As long as you’re sure you can remotely apport me to the danger zones. I didn’t know you could do that.”
“Eh, not every teleporter can, but when I’m using my power to build a structure, teleporting objects from other places is exactly what I’m doing. Before you ask, this isn’t something I considered trying until after the Sharice Davids catastrophe. If I had realized it back then, I could have pulled everyone out of the other half of that ship, and saved them from the explosion. I’m not proud of myself.”
Vitalie sighed shortly, and placed a warm hand on Étude’s shoulder. “A bunch of maniacal capitalists destroyed that ship. No one blames you for not saving everybody. You barely got the five of us out of there once the rest of the ship blew up, and two of those people were stuck in a magical object. It’s a miracle that anyone was saved.”
“Thanks.” They paused in a moment of silence for their fallen friends and enemies. “So, now that you know what happens today, who needs to be saved first?”
Vitalie laughed. “Nobody. Nothing really happened today. A mining bot will be hit by a cave-in, but he was due for a hardware upgrade anyway, so we should leave that alone. Besides, he practically struck gold when he did it, so they’ll want that section open. The world is a lot more dangerous than present-day Earth, but that doesn’t mean it’s the stone age. People still have a lot of redundancies, and emergency protocols.”
“Yeah, you’re right. Though, things will get worse once the OPPs arrive.”
“The who?”
“Opps. Oblivio-primitivist Pioneers. You’ve heard about this; don’t you keep up with the news?”
“Not really. Aren’t those the people Brooke and Sharice fought against? They blew up a space elevator, because they want us all living like monkeys?”
“Not exactly. The Oblivios want to go back to a simpler time, but they’re not terrorists, or violent at all. They’re coming to Proxima Doma, so they can be free from all the distractions. They don’t want to see any aircraft flying around, or spaceships blasting off. They just want their farms and covered wagons.”
“How are they going to get that here? We have spaceships too.”
“There won’t be any in the gargantuan dome they constructed near the pole. It’s going to perpetually simulate a normal terrestrial sky. No advanced technology allowed. None of the other Domanians are going to be allowed inside either. We’ll sneak in when necessary.”
“Well, will these people be able to leave, if they want to?”
“They won’t want to. That’s the oblivio part. They’re having their minds wiped, so they have no clue that there’s anywhere to go beyond the dome, or even that there is a dome.”
“That sounds unethical.”
“They agreed to it. The first thing the nanofactory ship did when it first arrived twenty years ago was start working on their dome, and on local terraforming. This has been in the plans for a very long time. The primitivists who first came up with it are dead now, and will never see how well it goes.”
“That’s sad.”
“Welp, they knew this wasn’t going to be easy. They wanted to build a dome on Earth, but leadership wouldn’t let them. There was a huge debate about whether the dome would support, or undermine, our attempts to give the surface back to the wild. There’s wildlife inside, but it’s still just a simulated environment. Anyway, I don’t know if you’ll be able to do any good in there, because we don’t want to start giving out your secret, but we’ll see in a few months. Savior gotta save.”
“Yeah, I wanted to ask you about that. If I’m going to be doing this, do you think we could come up with a different name? It sounds a bit...”
“Pretentious? Self-indulgent? Prideful?”
“You said it; not me.”
“That’s okay. I obviously didn’t come up with the title myself. I’m sure we can think of something better for our new little Neighborhood Watch.”
So the two of them got to work. Before Vitalie could go on even one mission, they had to make sure they had the logistics ironed out. They needed to come up with a good name, because if they didn’t, other people would do it for them. They also needed to know how they were going to gather their intelligence, and how Vitalie was going to remember all the details. She wouldn’t be able to write anything down, since only her consciousness would be going back in time. They needed to make sure Étude was indeed capable of apporting Vitalie where she needed to be, and they needed ways to protect her from harm once she was there. They would have to stay in constant communication when she was out in the field, so the technology they used had to be reliable. In the end, they realized there was only one good replacement title Vitalie was comfortable using. She would now be known as Proxima Doma’s Caretaker.

The Hinterland

The thing about the original Savior program, and which Étude herself didn’t always know about, was that most of the people saved had no recollection of it. There was a lot of secret power behind the whole operation, and it involved a lot more than one person teleporting around, getting people out of bad situations. The sheer number of people who were ultimately helped by one of the Saviors throughout history would have resulted in the secret of it, well...never actually being a secret. At the very least, as soon as internet message boards started existing, rumors would have been so consistently accurate that it would be hard to argue against their veracity. Chances are high that you know someone who has been rescued by a Savior at some point in their life. In order to protect the secret, people’s memories had to be altered, and in modern days, other—more inescapably reliable—forms of evidence had to be changed too. It was unclear whether the powers that be what controlled Étude’s missions were themselves responsible for proverbially flashy thinging witnesses, or if they got choosing ones to do it. However it was done, it was something Étude and Vitalie could not. After some thoughtful discussions, they both agreed that they needed to find a different way.
“The problem is we’re so isolated here. We’re living in the hinterland.”
“This is true,” Vitalie agreed, “but I’m not following your point.”
“If we were on Earth, we would have access to the chooser network,” Étude answered vaguely.
“Is that a TV thing?”
“If you need something done, and it requires a time power to do it, and you don’t have that time power, and you don’t know someone who has that time power, then you know someone who knows someone who has that power. Or you know someone who knows someone who can find someone who has that power. All you gotta do is ask for help, and hope that your reputation—from both the past and future—hasn’t ruined your relationship with the right people. Take Arcadia, for instance. She tormented Leona and all her friends on Tribulation Island. She tore them out of time one by one, and forced them to compete in challenges to get them back.”
Vitalie nodded, “yes, I remember the stories.”
Étude went on, “she would often watch them covertly from another dimension, or she would teleport in, or control someone else’s body, so she could talk through them. Well, she alone wasn’t capable of doing most of these things. She really only had the one ability, so whenever she needed any of the others, she got someone else to do it for her. Now, she used threats and violence to get what she wanted, but you get the idea. This is a roundabout way of explaining that, if we were on Earth, or were capable of contacting the right people on Earth, there would be a time power solution to our memory problem.”
“Well, I might be able to contact someone on Earth. Who do we need, do I know them?”
“I thought you had to know them to communicate remotely, and I didn’t think you could reach all the way to another solar system.”
“I can’t go that far on my own, but fortunately, we have a workaround. I can piggyback on a signal that’s being sent to Earth, and talk to anyone I want, whether their near their own QM, or not. That’s how I’ve stayed in touch with my dads without anyone here knowing about it.”
“I didn’t know you were talking to them,” Étude said. “Well, what about that other question? Don’t you have to know someone in order to send you consciousness to them?”
“I can do it if I’m with someone who does know them. It’s not easy, and it doesn’t always work, but it’s possible.”
“Well, I suppose it can’t hurt to try, am I right? I knew a guy who could manipulate memories. He couldn’t blend people’s brains, like Nerakali or The Warrior, so he can’t make you remember alternate realities, but he can reconcile temporal corruptions. If you were to teleport someone out of a fire, he could make them think they found their own way out, or a firefighter rescued them.”
Vitalie nodded. “If you believe he can help us, I’m willing to give it a shot.”
“Do you need to be...” Étude didn’t know how this worked.
“No, I can do it from here,” Vitalie explained. “The QM is pretty much always on. Take my hands.”
The two of them held both each other’s hands, and closed their eyes to concentrate. “Okay, think of the person you’re trying to contact,” Vitalie instructed. “Think about his face; the shape of his jawline, color of his eyes. The fall of his hair. Think about the sound of his voice, and the manner of his gait.”
Étude did as she was told, and tried to remember everything she could about one Tertius Valerius. They could feel their minds being torn from their respective homes in their brains, and traveling across the planet, right to the Oblivio dome.
Tertius was standing in front of some kind of electrical box, messing with the wires. He stopped and looked over at them. “Oh, hi, babes.”
“Tertius? You’re on Proxima Doma.”
“That’s right,” he confirmed. “Where are you?”
Étude was very confused. “We’re here too, in Dome Four.”
“Isn’t that the one that collapsed?” he asked.
“That was Shelter Forty-One, and also...not..real.”
Tertius nodded, and started eying the electrical box. A part of him wanted to get back to work; doing whatever it was he was doing.
“So, what are you doing here?” Étude questioned.
“I work here,” he said. “In life support.”
“You’re not a systems engineer.”
“I’m learning,” he said with a shrug. “They needed my particular set of skills, so I’m working as an apprentice.”
“What skills do y—” Étude stopped herself. “You’re making the memory wipe technology work.”
He smiled. “They couldn’t figure it out. Sure, they can erase everyone’s memories of their own pasts, but that leaves so many gaps. Where did they come from? Who are their families? Do they like chicken? They don’t just want people thinking everyone in their literal microcosm suddenly appeared out of nowhere with amnesia. They want to fabricate an entire history. That’s where I come in. Should anyone in this dome start to remember things they shouldn’t, or question the nature of their reality, the environment can correct it in realtime. Life support.”
“The Oblivios know what you can do?” Vitalie asked. “They know about time powers, and choosing ones?”
Tertius laughed. “I came to them with revolutionary technology that I refuse to allow anyone but them to utilize. They have no clue I can just do it with my mind. They’ve been...quite grateful.”
“Well, they’re not the only ones who could use your help,” Vitalie began the pitch. “We’re restarting the Savior program.”
“You’re coming out of retirement?” he asked Étude.
“She’ll be taking over,” Étude said. “We’re calling it the Caretaker program.”
He nodded again, and yawned. “So, you want my help keeping your schtick under wraps, I dig it.”
“You can dig it, but can you do it?”
It was hard to tell what he was thinking as he was staring at them, but it felt like he wasn’t going to agree to help them unless he was getting something out of it. “I can, but I’m not sure I should. I’ve committed to the OPP dome. You’re asking me to divide my attention.” Okay, that wasn’t an unreasonable concern.
“What do you want?” Vitalie asked.
“Vita, careful,” Étude whispered to her, but it was loud enough for Tertius to hear.
“No, let’s not dance around this,” Vitalie argued. “He doesn’t work for free, this much is clear.” She directed her attention back to Tertius. “So name your price.”
“I want a house—no, a mansion—no, a tower!” He sought answers in the space before him at a forty-five degree angle. “A Sauron tower, with a panopticon.”
“You wanna rule over Proxima Doma?” Vitalie questioned.
“Not Doma,” he said. “Just this...doma. And I don’t want to rule them; I just want to live in a tower.”
“Aren’t the Oblivios meant to not have any technology? Surely they would notice a giant tower lording over them from the center of their world.”
He literally handwaved this problem. “I can make ‘em forget. I can make ‘em forget they saw a tower while they’re looking at the tower. I can basically be invisible.”
“Wull, I can’t build towers,” Vitalie said regrettably. “So, it’s not up to me.”
“I want this fix just as much as you do,” Étude told her, then she looked back at Tertius. “But you better be right the Oblivios won’t be able to see it. If you make me part of destroying an entire culture’s worldview, I’ll knock you off that tower. My mother did that once, and I inherited more from her than just her blood, so don’t think I’ll hesitate.”
He mimed cutting an X into his heart.
“I need verbal confirmation.”
“I solemnly swear that I am up to all good. Believe it or not, I feel for these primitivists. They’re sacrificing everything they have to start new lives, and they’re going to great lengths to unburden the rest of humanity from them. I’m not getting paid for this. I’m helping, because I want them to have what they need to be happy. It also reminds me of where I grew up, back before the common era.
“Then we have a deal,” Vitalie said with finality. “Let’s shake on it.”

Part V

Coming soon...

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