Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida

Turtle

My alarm goes off, but I just let it play. The persistent beeping is almost pleasant to me now. It reminds me that I’m still alive, despite everything. I don’t even know how old I am now. I should know, and I would if I were younger, and I will once I’m younger again, but my mind is too hazy. That’s when I know, though. That’s when I know it’s time to go back and start over. My counterpart—the one you would be forgiven for calling the real Paige Turner—is immortal too, but in a different way. She upgraded her substrate with technology. Nanites repair damages, organs regrow themselves, or can simply be replaced with no rejection problems. She can interface with other technology, and even download information into her brain. I thought about doing this, but it comes at a cost.
I was born a human, but when I was a child, I accidentally stepped through a portal, and was accidentally granted special time powers by my soon-to-be adoptive father. I learned that I could travel anywhere in time, as long as I could see it, usually with a photograph. It has to be real; I couldn’t simply ask someone to paint me a picture of what they think the year 40,000 might look like, and then jump into it. I can teleport by line-of-sight too, but I find myself not doing that very often. I don’t really know why. The point is that when my other self upgraded herself, she lost this power. It made her immortal, yeah, but it also forced her to live through linear time, unless she finds someone to take her to some other point in time. I couldn’t live like that. I had a job to do, and it required the ability to go back and forth between Earth and where I live now, Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida. This is a beautiful world, though saying that is a bit self-aggrandizing, because I am responsible for people’s ability to experience it. Nearly everything on this planet was toxic to humans when I arrived. I spent decades modifying the genetic structure of every living creature, so that would no longer be the case. But in order to do this, I needed my own form of immortality.
During my travels, I came across a special object with temporal properties of its own. It’s not the only way to stay youthful, or live forever, but it’s the way I chose, and today is the day I go through it all again. If something goes wrong, however, I have to make sure my partner is prepared to move on without me. “Stop alarm.” I slide my legs across the bed, and let them fall to the floor. I make a lot more noises when I move now; yet another indicator that it’s time to use the stone. I struggle to get my nightgown out from under my ass, and pull it off. Then I stand up and walk over to the closet. My robe isn’t there. Did Ellie take it? Why would she do that? I step into my slippers, and shuffle outside, down the hallway, and into Ellie’s workspace. Man, why did I build this place so damn large? Oh, that’s right, it’s designed for young whippersnappers.
“You have forgotten your clothes, Lady Trinity.” Ellie chose a different way to stay young. She’s not completely immortal, like Paige is. She only drank Youth water, so if someone goes after her with a spear, or something, she’s in trouble. She started calling me Lady Trinity once I got old enough, and says she’ll stop once I reyoungify myself.
“Did you take my robe?”
“Oh.” She grows solemn, even though it’s not a bad day. “Is it happening?”
“I’m not dying, Ellie. I just need my robe. It’ll be fine.”
“You switched rooms years ago, remember? You left some stuff in the old one.”
“That’s right.” I remember now. I start shuffling that direction.
“Do you want help?”
I stop, and look over at the tank. I know she asked me a question, and I even know what it was, but my mind is too degraded for me to reliably carry on a continuous conversation. “He looks ready.”
Ellie walks over and gently caresses the tank. “I’m not sure how old he was when he died, but yes, it’s about time for him to be reborn. We’ll do it today, right after you get back. You’ll have the same birthday.”
I giggle. That’s not really how it works. The body in the tank is in a completely different situation than me. He doesn’t need to be reyoungified. In fact, the reason why it’s taken us forty years to bring him back is because we wanted him to be older, just as he was when he was murdered. It is indeed time to finally end the process, though. “Start the preparations. I’ll only be gone a couple minutes. That’s how long it’ll take me to get to my old room.”
“You have the stone?” she asks.
I open my hand, and show her.
“Be careful.”
“As always.” I get moving again, back to where I used to sleep. I don’t recall why I switched rooms. I think it had something to do with our associate. He’s not a good guy, and I was sick of living so close to him. Or maybe he had nothing to do with it, and I just needed a change in scenery. The automated cleaning systems have kept it in perfect condition, like I never left. “Hey Thistle, open the closet, please.” I would normally just do it manually, but I’m anxious to confirm my robe is in there. I could just print a new one; it’s not a big deal, but every time I decide to reyoungify myself, I’m worried something will kill me at the last second. It’s this last day each time that stresses me out the most.
“Can I come with you?” I didn’t realize she was in here. She doesn’t like her father any more than I do, so I shouldn’t be surprised this is one of the places she likes to go to get away from him.
I sigh. “Go home, Abby.”
She stands up. “Please. I want to see it. I want to know what you look like when you’re young.”
“And you’ll see me when I get back.”
“Can I at least be in the photo you take?”
I sigh again. “If you must.”
“Here. I’ll help you put that on.” She comes over, and places the robe over my head. Then she tugs at it to make sure it’s set right. “So ominous. Why do you do it again? I mean, it’s not like you don’t know who the people in the other robes are.”
“A wink, or a twitch, or a scar under my eye,” I start to explain to her. “It could give something away. I don’t want to know what my future looks like. It’s best if we just stay robed up. Besides...” I pull the hood over my head. “I have to wear the robe, because one thing I do know about my future is that every version of me always does.”
I forgot my photo device, so Abigail lets me use hers. I’ll literally only be gone a few seconds, from her perspective. “Say homestone!”
I hold up the camera, and smile. Then I snap the photo, squeeze the stone in my hand, and disappear.
The portal my now-fathers brought me through was at Stonehenge on October 8, 1971. The homestone has allowed me to travel back to that very moment, and in doing so, it also returned me to the age I was at the time. I’m back to being a twelve-year-old girl, which means I’m smaller, and the robe doesn’t fit as well. But that’s exactly what I want, because it obscures my face. Several other people are standing around in identical robes. But they’re not really other people. They’re me. They’re all me. I’ve done this many times already, and I will do it again in another seventy years or so. I can see a few of them from under my hood, but I don’t want to be able to count them. There aren’t millions of us here, so I know I’m not destined to live hundreds of millions of years. At some point, I give up my pursuit of everlasting life. That could mean I will upgrade my substrate, just like Paige!One. Or it could mean I manage to get my hands on immortality water. But the most likely explanation is that I eventually die, and the cycle finally ends.
This is the sixth time I’ve used the homestone. I don’t always let myself get as old as I did this time. One time, I was poisoned by a turtle-like animal on Bida, and had to jump back, even though I was only in my thirties. In all those times, I have not yet become the version of myself who’s over there, talking to The Delegator. Stonehenge is like his office. He’s responsible for giving a certain type of time traveler called salmon their assignments. I don’t come here on purpose. The homestone will always bring me back to the last place I was before I traveled through time for the first time. So I don’t know why this other Trinity feels the need to converse with him, and I definitely don’t know what they’re talking about. Presumably, none of the others do either. We’re watching them, even though we know the whole point of the robes is to avoid altering the timeline by knowing too much about it. One by one, they all look at their photo devices, and disappear back to their future. I need to follow suit, and go back to 2300, where I belong. I take one last glance at the talkative Trinity, then gaze at the photograph Abigail and I took together. Just before I jump into it, I see something that I have never been here long enough to notice. One of the other Trinitys attacks the talkative one. I have no clue why, and I’m gone before I can find out.
“You’ve been gone a long time,” Abigail says to me.
“I have? Oh my God! How long?”
“I’m kidding!” she assures me. “It’s been two seconds.”
“Don’t scare me like that. Jesus.” I pull the robe off, much quicker than I could before, because I’m strong and youthful again. This makes her a little uncomfortable. A naked old woman isn’t the most appealing thing to see, but it’s a whole lot less problematic than the body I’m sporting now. “Sorry. I should have prepared another set of clothes.” I grab the first outfit I find, and throw it on. It’s a dress. I’m wearing a dress. I’m wearing a dress that’s three sizes too big for me, and I’m about to go back to the lab. I hate being quite this young. I’m always at my best when I’m in my twenties. But the homestone wasn’t invented to make people immortal, and I’m never given a choice of how old I become when I use it. It was designed to let people go back to the beginning. Perhaps time travel screwed up their lives, and this is the next best thing to an actual reset button. It doesn’t let them undo everything that happened to them up until that point, but it does give them a second chance to lead a better life, starting right where they were when it all went wrong. In some cases, their loved ones won’t even know they were gone, since no time will have passed for them. The reyoungification feature is only there to help facilitate this ruse. I found another use for it, though.
Abigail and I leave the room, and head back to the lab. Ellie is there, running a diagnostics check on the machine. She’s further in the process than she should be already.
“Ah, Turtle Toes, you’re here.” This is what Ellie calls Abigail. “Did it go okay?” she asks me.
“Perfectly,” I answer. I choose not to tell her about the Trinity fight. If I could forget it myself, I would. “I’m a little young for this mission, though. Maybe we should wait.”
“His body will be too old by that time, and people will notice. I can do it myself.”
“No, that wasn’t the plan. I was just an old woman, and I was too cognitively impaired to think this through. This is wrong. We have to extract him together.”
Ellie smiles at me, and leans down to get on my level, which I just kind of find insulting, because I’m not really only twelve. “There’s something I never told you.”
“What’s that?” I ask.
“I’m, like, nine hundred years older than you.” She converts the smile into a smirk, activates the time chamber, and disappears into it before I can stop her.

Cloned

I can’t travel through time on my own. I can send messages through the timestream, but I can’t actually travel to these places unless I have help. Fortunately, my ability gives me access to people who can give me that help. Throughout my travels, I’ve learned to endear myself to others, so they do what I need them to without question, or compensation. I’m not evil, so I’m not trying to manipulate people, or anything. I just want people to be nicer to each other, and the best way I know to teach them that lesson is to make it personal. I’ve kept a lot from them, though. You see, one thing I learned about my abilities is that they’re a lot more complicated than I knew at first. Yes, I can teleport sound, and yes it also allows me to carry on conversations across time. That’s not all, though. I can also teleport my entire consciousness. Theoretically, I would be able to do this to take over someone else’s mind, but that’s always been very distasteful for me. So I only do it to myself.
I periodically send my mind back to my younger body. I don’t do this to make myself youthful again, since I drank a couple bottles of water once to stay young anyway. No, I just don’t want people to know how old I am, and what I’ve been through. When I go back in time, I prevent myself from doing all the things I did. So I can recall those experiences, but they never happened to anyone else in this timeline, so they don’t know that. I’ve given people my age every once in a while, and it’s always a lie. I’ve kept really good track of how long I’ve truly been around. At the moment, it’s been 24,425 years, across an ungodly number of timelines. Most of the timelines have been about the same. It’s not like I go back and make a bunch of changes to history. I just wanna see it all, and I need time to do that.
Anyway, I’ve just stepped into a time chamber in 2300, and ended up back in 2256, because not everyone has the luxury of reversing their timelines. I have to save a very important man’s life, and I’m going to do it in a different way than anyone knows. I’m standing at the bottom of the cliff, back pressed against it. Mateo Matic is dying a couple meters from me, but I can’t help him quite yet. His murderer is still watching him, not to make sure Mateo dies, but because he isn’t a natural-born killer, and he’s freaking out about what he just did. I’ve seen this moment a few times, so I know exactly what happens. Four, three, two, now.
I dive down to Mateo. I don’t have long before he expires, and it’s too late. Briar killed him while wearing a special temporal object called the hundemarke, which means that this moment absolutely cannot be changed. If I don’t do this right, I won’t be able to go back and try again. This is it. I place my hands on his head, and concentrate. He coughs blood onto me. Man, I really wish I had more time. I have never tried this before, but I know I can do it. If I can do it to myself, I can do it to someone else. I close my eyes, and breathe deeply. I’m almost there. He’s in a vulnerable position, which is actually good, because it makes it easier for me to enter his mind. Just a few more seconds. There. I grab his consciousness from his brain, compress it, and teleport it all into my own brain.
Before anyone can come down to retrieve Mateo’s now completely dead body, I activate the recoil protocol, and jump back into the future. Trinity and Abigail are standing there, waiting for me, but they both look older. They look much older. I grit my teeth, and stare at them. “How long has it been?”
“Eleven years.”
I tap on my tablet, trying to figure out what went wrong. I should have only been gone a few seconds, just like Trinity when she went back in time to reyoungify herself. “Are you joking with me, err...?”
“No, you have been gone eleven years.”
“Why are you in this room right now?” I ask them. “How did you know I would finally return today?”
“A little bird told us,” Abigail answered.
I watch her a moment. “Do you mean that literally...?”
“Yes,” Abigail began, “a flying creature came to us, and told us to come back here on this date, because you would be returning. They flew off before we could find out who they were, or how they knew it. We chose to take their advice, and it looks like they were right.”
I look back at my tablet. “I don’t understand what happened.”
“It could be sabotage,” Trinity offered, “or a malfunction. The point is you’re here, and I assume you have the crown.”
I growl, and take the device out of my bag. It’s little more than a paperweight with pretty lights around it. I claimed that it can absorb someone’s consciousness, and store it, and that it’s what I’m using to save Mateo. Again, I don’t know for sure why I lie about my powers; it just makes sense to me. “I do. I was successful, but...”
Trinity peers at me. “But what?”
“The clone body is in its fifties now. That’s way too old. When he goes back to his friends in 2258, they will see that he’s aged, and our lie won’t work. We’re supposed to make them think someone rescued him with an extraction mirror.”
“I don’t understand that,” Abigail said. “Why didn’t you just use an extraction mirror? It sounds easier.”
“Mateo’s death cannot be undone. An extraction mirror would allow us to take him out of the moment he died, nurse him back to health, then put him back into his old life. He would one day have to go back through the mirror, and experience his death, which we don’t want him to have to do. But that’s not the biggest problem.”
“His body cannot be saved,” Trinity answered before Abigail could press it. “Your father performed the autopsy, and I got a second and third opinion. Once Briar pushed him off that cliff, it was over. Not even the extraction mirror could save him from that. We tried to use it before he was pushed, but the hundemarke blocked us. The clone body is our only hope.”
“Except it’s not anymore,” I complain. “We let it grow too long. I’m too late.”
“How long will the crown house his consciousness?”
“What?” I question.
“How long?” Trinity presses.
“Forever, I guess, until the parts degrade.”
“So, twenty-nine years should be a piece of cake.”
“You’re growing another clone?” Now who’s keeping secrets?
“The bird came to us the day you left,” Abigail explains. She walks over and presents me with a second tank, right next to the other one. “We started Plan B immediately.”
I smile. “I’m glad you two are here to sweep my mistakes away.”
“It might have been necessary,” Trinity says to me. “Tamerlane examined the first clone for us. I don’t think it would have worked.
“Why not?”
“He thinks he screwed up the sequence,” Abigail answers instead. “The first clone wouldn’t be on Mateo’s original pattern. It would have just been a normal guy.” Mateo Matic is a salmon time traveler. He only lives one day every year. At the end of that day, he jumps forward in time, and this aspect of him is critical to our plan.
I nod. “Someone from the future is pulling strings. That’s who the bird was.”
“Yeah,” Trinity says. “It’s possible. I’ve seen it done, just not with birds.”
“No one else is supposed to know we’re doing this,” I preach to the choir, “or how we’re doing it.”
“I know,” Trinity agrees. “Perhaps that’s being a little too optimistic, though. I want you to check that crown, and make sure he’s in there. Keep checking it for the next three decades, until we can finally finish this mission. We’ll need time to work out the kinks in the time chamber anyway.”
That’s a long time to keep a second consciousness dormant in my head, but I think I can swing it.

Twenty-nine years later, it’s finally time to complete this mission. The second Clone!Mateo has aged in his growing tank enough to return to his time period, and make everyone think it was due to an extraction mirror. We could have increased the speed of development using any number of techniques, including time travel itself, but that’s problematic for the endgame. In order to force this clone to experience time in the same way the original Mateo did, it was best to let it grow at a normal rate beforehand. Of course, when it comes to time travel, it doesn’t really matter anyway. When I insert his consciousness into the new body, and send him back in time, it will be the same 2258 as it would have been had we tried it twenty-nine years ago.
Speaking of Mateo’s consciousness, I can still feel it rattling around in my brain. It’s not awake, and he will hopefully never know he was ever in there, but as far as I can tell, he’s completely intact, and ready for his new life. Mateo 2.0. I’ll have to call upon my acting skills to convince him of the lie, so he can convince everyone else without having to lie himself. There’s a chance it’s pointless. If the truth ever, ever comes out, everyone will always have known. Because time travel.
I tell the others that it’s best if I do this alone. When he wakes up, Mateo is going to have to interact with someone, but there’s no need for him to know too much about the future, or who else is involved. They have plenty of things to do on their own, so they don’t argue with me about it. I place the clone body on the bed, and inject a sedative, so he doesn’t wake up while I’m still in the room. Right now, the body doesn’t have a consciousness, but it still possesses its autonomic functions, like breathing, and pumping blood. As for the brain, it only has one thought. I implanted a memory in there, which will remain even after I teleport Mateo’s mind into it. Like I said, I have to make him think that he was rescued with the extraction mirror. So he should have a vague recollection of that happening. He’s going to remember time slowing down as he was dying, and being dragged from his place of death, and pulled through the mirror. The memory doesn’t have to be perfect, or detailed. After all, when you’re dying, your ability to make accurate observations about the world is limited.
After I’m finished reversing the consciousness teleportation process from forty years ago, I check his vitals, and wrap him in bandages, to make him think he simply received medical treatment, even though his body is fine. We talked about giving him a pain inducer, so the idea that he has to recover from his injuries is believable, but decide against it. He’s going to think a man named Dr. Baxter Sarka treated him, and being from even deeper into the future, Sarka has access to untold resources. Mateo’s going to be perfectly accepting of the idea that it’s possible to remove someone’s pain without leaving them with side effects usually experienced from narcotics.
He awakens a few hours later, and falls out of bed. I’m right. “Baxter!” he calls. “Are you still here?”
I calmly but quickly walk back into the room. “Hey Thistle. Set the lights to twenty-four percent, please.” The lights turn up, but not too brightly.
“Report,” Mateo says after he’s certain that he recognizes me.
“I’m sorry to tell you that you died,” I answer professionally. “We used an extraction mirror to bring you back to life, if only temporarily.”
“Do you know how I died?” he asks.
“Yes. Do you?”
“I remember everything. I’m just worried about saying something that messes up the timeline. Where’s Briar?”
“He died long ago.” This was either a lie, or true. I don’t actually know what happened to him. A few of our friends took a ship to some unknown location, and Briar went with them as a prisoner. We’ve not heard from any of them since. Briar ages strangely, so he could still be alive, but it’s not guaranteed, and I don’t want Mateo thinking he has any hope of going after him. I don’t want any more violence.
“What year is it?”
“That I cannot tell you.”
He understands. “What can you tell me?”
“Only that we’re returning you back to your life. It’ll be 2258, after your memorial.”
“I appreciate it. I think it would be weird to attend my own funeral.” He switches gears. “Is Sarka still here?”
“He had to go to another appointment.”
“Thank him for me, if you get the chance.”
“Will do.” I pause a moment. He lies back down to work off the sedative. “Are you okay, emotionally speaking? I can’t imagine what it’s like to survive your own death.”
“I’m all right. I’m grateful to you, and him, and anyone else involved, who I presume I shouldn’t know about, at least not right now.”
“Do you want a hug?”
“Please.”
After the hug, I remove a syringe from my bag, and place it on his nightstand. “You’ll need thirty more minutes to recover, so don’t take this yet. Once you do, it’ll give you enough energy to stay awake for about twelve Earthan hours. Take it just before you leave, so you can reunite with your friends without falling asleep on them.  When it wears off, though, you will fall asleep, and you’ll stay that way for almost a whole day. Just go to bed, and let it happen.”
“Got it. What can I tell them? More to the point, what can I say to the younger version of you?”
“Tell them someone extracted you, but you don’t know who. You don’t have to worry about telling Past!Me anything. I never saw you back then. You must sneak past me, or I erase my own memories, I don’t know.”
An hour later, Mateo injects himself with the stimulant, and just hangs out in his recovery room until the crash. He doesn’t explain why he does this, but when he reawakens, I usher him down the hallway, and into the time chamber, so he can go back to where he belongs. It’s true that the past version of me never saw him alive after his death. I think he slips into their spaceship while I’m not looking, and doesn’t come out before it leaves for a new destination. At some point later, he’ll actually go back in time, to a very distant planet called Dardius, so he can attend his own real memorial service in person. Thousands of people are, were, and will be there with him, including me, Trinity, and Abby, while billions more watch on television. Then it’s time for us to go back to work.

Part III

Coming soon...

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