08
Oct
09

midas: part ten: shuffle

Tensing had been wondering how to approach this for a while – how to get Carter on side and persuade him that letting him go was the best thing for all of them? He’d been overcomplicating it, and he realised that now – Carter was a simple man and in these complicated times the last thing he needed was more complication; keep it simple and he might just be able to pull this off. Carter was a businessman as well, so appeal to the greed that floated just beneath the surface.

Tensing had been watching the other inmates, some of them were confused, some of them were angry; some of them looked resigned to their fates. They had either accepted that they had killed a past self iteration or they were in denial, but to a man – he knew this – they were confused about why they might have done it. He was confused himself. He had spent so long maintaining a life which did not impact upon the world in any way that would endanger his freedom and here he was killing himself? It just didn’t make any sense to him – he knew that he was not the kind of person to be overcome with a sense of conscience that drove him to travel back in time and off himself so he could prevent any future acts. He was a businessman and anything he had done had been carefully considered; anyway, the nature of the work that he did generally involved bringing people back to life – turning the clock back to correct mistakes; it was very strange if what he did actually resulted in the death of someone. Sure, he put out an air of big scary criminal but when it boiled down to it that was all it was – an image; a defensive measure. Most of that was down to the fact that people had been looking for him for a long time.

He felt like there was some kind of block in his memory that was resulting from having performed the act of killing his past self, but what? He wondered whether there might be someone in the future who meant something to him who was being held hostage, forcing him to do something so monumentally stupid, but that didn’t sound like him, did it? He wasn’t the sort to go and get attached, and if he was, how would that shit get knocked out of his memory? Post-hypnotic suggestion? It was possible, but who the hell could get close enough to him to do that shit? He had so much tech dedicated to maintaining a perimeter that he should have been safe forever – he believed the only way he would be vulnerable was if he turned the system off himself, and why would he do that?

Yeah, why would he do that? He called one of the guards to him and decided to put the idea in the wind that he was the answer to Carter’s problem. He had to hope that in spite of the fact that he had killed someone they would trust him to fix this because it was in his best interest. He was worried though – he couldn’t lie to himself about that – what kind of paradoxes would fixing this total trainwreck of a situation throw up? He knew that it would be unlike anything he had ever seen before – that much was obvious. He was kind of interested in that though. Fix something and then fix the breakages that caused – how long would the process take? Well, if he was to do a good job it could take a very long time. He was hoping that bundled up into the deal he wished to cut would be included all of the tech he had had on him, otherwise ageing might be a problem.

So he started running in his head through the murders and the murderers. Carlisle Bluth – one of the few of them who was not in the vicinity when the murder was committed but whose DNA evidence matched that which was found at the scene. Who exactly would have it out for him? A time ship pilot wasn’t worth much to anyone. How would they have obtained the samples which made him look like he was guilty? There’d apparently been some kind of tachyon leakage that had left Bluth needing a windback, so what had caused that?

Verimen’s death at first glance appeared to be the work of a religious fanatic, but if you factored Verimen’s own religious conviction into the mix then it looked more like a message to someone rather than a message from someone. The similarities between it and Bluth’s murder meant they had to have been carried out or at least engineered by the same person.

Spudrillo really was small time, but out of all the survivors, the Spudrillo that was left behind seemed way more fucked up. Had he seen something? Had he seen someone? Tensing hoped that these kinds of questions were being asked, but then he had met Carter and his faith was not that strong.

Then you came to him and Carsmile – for him to be wrapped up in this made perfect sense, because he was, after all, capable of reversing the trend, but Carsmile? You could rule Carsmile out of the equation as irrelevant if his body and his other iteration hadn’t turned up.

And now what? Sherin Caldew and a missing baby that really was fucking with everyone’s head. Where was the child and more importantly why was the child missing?

What question did the killing of these people answer? What did the person who was doing these things stand to gain? Everyone was looking at as if it were a personal thing but what if it were a business transaction? What if it were designed to draw him out? Or maybe someone wanted to ruin Midas City? Or what if they wished to collapse down this segment of spacetime? What was here that would make that worthwhile? Was it something to do with the Timelock Station perhaps? Damn, so many questions. He hoped that answer were following close behind.

30
Sep
09

midas: part nine: from a distance

‘Tracking anomaly; anachronistic energy spike – can we dial in on the spacetime segment?’

‘Negative, too much temporal interference from that index.’

‘Can you clean that image up for me? Get rid of some of the background. I thought I spotted a flagged signature in there.’

‘Maybe, but you’re not going to have any joy zeroing in on it through this read.’

‘I’ve never seen so much anomalous data streaming in – what’s generating it?’

‘We don’t know but there appear to be several anchor points for the high activity.’

‘Bodies?’

‘Some hot and some cold, I think.’

‘You can tell me that much but you can’t clean it up?’

‘Hey, look, Verik, some of the filtering tech works better than other parts of it. I’m just an operator – if you have a problem with what we can do have a word with your boys upstairs. You know what they’ll tell you?’

‘Yeah, that unless our success rate improves we can’t expect an increase in budgetary spending. Stupid fuckers don’t understand squat about working in the field.’

‘My heart bleeds for you, my man.’

‘You know what, Klesterman? Cram it up your arse.’

‘Whoah! Motherfucker!’

‘What? What did you see?’

‘That shit just went off the scale. Another anchor point flared up – another dead one; and whatever did it sucked enough energy up in the performing of the act to dim out everything else.’

‘What are you thinking? Some kind of P.S?’

‘Fuck weren’t they declared illegal? Do you remember the last time we dealt with someone carrying a Portable Singularity?’

‘Yeah, a total continuum collapse and we had to send in the Rapid Temporal Repair Squad. You been back there to look at it at all? Paradox Stems, Oxymoron Wells, Logic Bypasses, Dynamic Rewrite Structures – it’s the most unstable quadrant anywhere.’

‘Who did that?’

‘The guy whose signature flashed up?’

‘Yeah, what – Tensing, wasn’t it?’

‘Yeah, well, it was his mentor, Sephorth.’

‘Perihelion Sephorth?’

‘The very same.’

- * -

It was a mess. It was one godawful mess. Sherin Caldew had been in the first week of her third trimester and here she was opened up like a suitcase and everything that had been packed into her spread around the room. Except the baby, and that was puzzling them. Where was the baby? That one of the supposed victims was missing did not make much sense in light of what had happened at the other crime scenes.

They did a rapid-analysis of the blood and there was only one person they were getting a read for – Sherin. So what in the hell had happened to the baby? What kind of killer kills someone, sets up another version of them to take the fall, and then doesn’t kill the baby? Because the idea that it was someone else killing these people rather than their own alternate selves was winning favour and this situation seriously cast doubt on the idea that Sherin killed her other self. If so, where was the child?

How they had managed to head off trouble with the public thus far was a miracle, but they were sure that it was going to boil over at any point. Word was out there about the crimes and there was also talk about the lack of results – people would start to question whether there was something that they might be able to do to better answer the needs of their city. They were fast running out of options in their struggle to keep a lid on this whole thing – how many Chronotechs out there could dial back something this big? Hent believed that they had the only one with any clue locked up. Carter was getting desperate.

They had been considering lockdown for Midas for a while, but they weren’t sure about being able to enforce it. Getting time travellers to stay put was not an easy task at the best of times; on a normal given day policing them was a nightmare – and this was no normal given day. And what if they let Tensing do what they wanted him to do and word got out? If everything went fine then Carter was sure that people overlook a few irregularities in procedure, but if something went wrong they would want someone to hang for it and that would be the men who had okayed it.

- * -

‘So, Klesterman, any more info on what we were looking at earlier?’

‘Not really, but the fact that there is such a weird level of activity going on out there means you could probably get the go ahead for a look-see.’

‘You think?’

‘Yeah, I’ll back you up on it – I’m kind of curious myself, given what you think you might have seen.’

‘That would be a great find wouldn’t it? Tensing after all these years.’

‘Fuck, finding Tensing is the kind of thing that would get you a promotion.’

‘That’s how I’ll sell it to Gorse – that kind of shit passes up the chain; victory showing that the chain of command works and all that.’

‘Sure – go for the thing that gets all those pencil necks creaming their pants – a desk job away from the front; chance of running for political office.’

‘This could be the biggest operation in the entire history of the organisation.’

‘You ever done any Chronotech fieldwork, Verik?’

‘Some small stuff – mainly jumper re-routes, magic bullet duties, that kind of shit.’

‘Same here – never gone up against a rogue operative before.’

‘There aren’t many who have – most rogues just get tired of the job and disappear off into the ether to grow things and fuck their remaining years away.’

‘But not Tensing, eh?’

‘No, he’s been freelancing, and that just doesn’t sit right with the men upstairs.’

‘What, loss of profit?’

‘Damn right. You ever jumped to a future where money or commerce doesn’t dictate the terms?’

‘What? A greed free land where people live forever and get to do exactly what they want? Yeah, I dropped a few tabs of acid while some kiddies vision-drop was running.’

‘Well, here goes. I’ll let you know how it pans out – whether we get the go ahead.’

‘You’ll ask for me to come with you?’

‘Sure, man – you’re a dick; but better the devil you know, eh?’

‘Sure, man – sure.’

29
Sep
09

midas: part eight: broken

‘So, it appears that they met and that he received the packet.’

‘Yeah, well he wouldn’t be here now if Carsmile hadn’t gone through with it, would he?’

‘No, I suppose not.’

‘Carter?’

‘Yes?’

‘This is not good..’

‘What gave you that impression? The fact that our messenger boy and the fucking guy who was supposed to fix all this are in a room which has been decorated with their insides?’

‘Now is not a good time to be a smartarse, Carter. Exactly how the fuck do we fix this? The chronotech we hired is dead and the bargaining chip we had that got him here is dead.’

‘Well, sir, and I know this might not be the best suggestion ever, there is …’

‘What, the motherfucker that appears to have killed him?’

‘It’s him, sir.’

‘Yes, I understand how this shit seems to be working, Carter, One version turns up dead, another version turns up alive with blood all over their hands. Now do you mind explaining to me how the hell Carsmile has a time travelling duplicate? As far as you’re aware had he, before this moment, ever jumped?’

‘Well, I couldn’t with all confidence say that he’d never jumped.’

‘Fuck me, Carter, what could you ever say with confidence? That your arse is something that follows you around? You have to be the most useless excuse for a law officer that I have ever heard of.’

‘Mr Hent, with all due respect, you can go fuck yourself. This shit that is going down here is something that has never happened before – there is not a man alive that would know what to do given these events.’

‘Well, now, that’s not strictly true is it? Your eviscerated friend in that room might have had a clue; so might his killer.’

‘I don’t think that is his killer. I don’t think any of these people have been killed by versions of themselves.’

‘You seem very confident in that assertion, and how exactly do you arrive at it?’

‘It’s just a hunch, I got to thinking, what would be the motivation? There is nothing that could compel most people to do that to themselves. Suicide’s one thing, but going out and shooting a version of yourself? No, that doesn’t compute.’

‘So who is doing it? Who has the ability to kill them in this manner?’

‘I haven’t quite got there yet.’

‘Surprise surprise.’

‘So what do you suggest? What is it that you want to do about this?’

‘I’m not sure. I hate to think about closing down the port but it is beginning to look like the easiest way to trap the killer here and prevent any further murders.’

‘Or it might increase them – concentrating everyone in one place.’

‘It might. I’m not sure I’ve totally ruled out the idea you floated of using the live Tensing to do what the dead Tensing was supposed to do.’

‘Well needs must as the devil drives and all that.’

‘Wonderful, already falling back on homilies, Carter? No wonder I have so much faith in you.’

‘Fuck, Hent, could you try not being a dick for one moment?’

‘Does he have any connection to us, apart from Carsmile, I mean?’

‘Well, yeah, and that’s something I didn’t realise; I’ve had dealings with him before.’

‘Great, well if any of this leaks out you know what’s going to happen, don’t you?’

‘Oh, don’t worry, Hent, I already knew you’d throw me to the lions as soon as anything bad happened.’

‘It’s not like that, Carter, it’s just …’

‘It’s exactly like that, Hent, no need to bother with the bullshit. I understand – I’d probably do the same thing myself.’

‘Fuck, this would be so much easier to make it go away if these duplicates stopped turning up. What in the hell is that all about? How is it even possible? Isn’t it supposed to be physically impossible?’

‘What two copies of the same person in the same space? Well, I thought so too – but here we have them, and spacetime doesn’t appear to be collapsing in on itself.’

‘I wonder if that’s the eventual intent. But why here? Why Midas City? Is there something special about this place that makes it a good candidate for the apocalypse?’

- * -

Tensing was confused – they were saying that he had killed himself, but there was no straight line from that event to the now in his head. Something had broken the sequence of events and he could not forge any kind of causal chain. The thing was though, he knew that he had done it – knew that they weren’t lying to him. The other detail that stuck out in his mind was that he had known perfectly well who it was that he was going to kill and he had still gone ahead and done it.

The people who he had been hiding from all this time were sure to notice his outputs suddenly peaking on their little devices and that meant it wouldn’t be long before they were here trying to reclaim him for their own justice systems. Carter and Hent would not hesitate to hand him over because at the end of the day they didn’t have a clue how to deal with him – they really didn’t have much of a conception of what he was and what he could do. He knew that they weren’t in on this thing, whatever it was – they were already way out of their depths and him being in a cell meant the whole thing had just got a damned sight more complicated.

They’d stripped him of all his tech – all the important stuff anyway; most of the internal devices were purely about keeping his body functioning whilst plugged into the machinery that kept him here. This wasn’t irony at play – him ending up trapped by the same skullfuckery that had got all these other poor schmucks behind bars on murder raps; no, it was design, someone had planned this fucking thing.

He would like to say that he had been in stickier situations than this but he might have been lying to himself. Whoever had the power to be able to fuck with the people he was fucking with from a distance and in a way that seemed to contradict physics was not someone who you took lightly. What connected each of them though? What was the Rosetta Stone that would make all of this make sense? Was it even something about each of them? Might it not be something about the very act itself that was being commited? With Carsmile they had stepped outside of the exclusive group that they had been hunting in before, because Carsmile wasn’t a time traveller.

He had to work this out. In order to do so he may have to find a way out of his cell. He was in here with resourceful men and they were being policed by men who had barely any skills at their disposal and were being stretched way beyond their ability. How hard could it be?

28
Sep
09

midas: part seven: fixer

Best to chew this shit over before you get yourself involved in something you can’t handle – Carsmile had run his mouth off so many times and got himself involved in so much shit that he’d started to learn when to take something in and hold it there while he pored it over. Now why the fuck would the law want to send someone like him to deliver a package? If they were getting involved in something fucked up enough that they were worried about their own immunity then how the hell would he deal with whatever shitstorm they were inviting into their lives? He wasn’t bullet proof and he didn’t like the law, and he didn’t like scary shit like this either. Secret packages, secret meetings, PA officials going plainclothes – smelt like trouble.

‘Well, Mr Carter, I’ve thought this over and, with all due respect, I think you’d be best looking elsewhere for someone for this job.’

‘Ah, Carsmile, well, there we might have a problem – you see you shouldn’t have gone volunteering your services if you intended to withdraw them because that makes you beholden to me, doesn’t it? I think we both know that there are more advantageous positions in which to find oneself – besides, the way I hear it you could really do with a bit of windfall to settle all those gambling debts. It’d be unfortunate if Segonia caught up with you and you weren’t able to fork over the readies.’

‘Now, none of that is really fair, is it Mr Carter?’

‘Fair? Seriously, Carsmile, how fucking old are you?’

‘Old enough to know I’ve been caught in a trap I can’t wriggle out of.’

‘Good, then all you need to do is take this package to The Smoking Ganesh in Polarity and you’ll be fine.’

‘Polarity?’

‘Yes, you have problem with that?’

‘Yeah, and you know why I have a problem too, you motherfucker. Sending me out there’s the equivalent of coating someone in honey and sticking their head in an ant’s nest.’

‘Tough shit – you know how much choice you have in this?’

‘You’re a bastard, Carter, you know that?’

‘I surely do. Look, with the amount of shit you’ve given me, I could just make you go and not pay you – but I won’t do that, so make your peace with it, because you’re going.’

- * -

Tensing scratched his chin, popped a tab in his mouth and chewed – simulbac, the best tobacco substitute on the markets of any period. He was free to move back and forth between any place and time he saw fit so why not take advantage of that and make sure he had the things he needed and the things he wanted. They had tried to capture him, to shut down his operation on more than one occasion – but nailing down a Chronotech was no simple operation and they had failed, the embarrassment he caused them meant an escalation of the operations to bring him to justice to regain honour, to save face.

His outline flickered – it took a lot of energy to maintain his presence here in the way that he wished it to: meaning that no ripples were sent out by him – free from the causal chain. It was as if he existed in a little bubble of his own reality that people could see and interact with but never truly enter.

His services were constantly in demand because what he did was not easy to pull off – what he did required a level of finesse that most surgeons couldn’t even comprehend let alone dream of. The cuts which Tensing made were so fine that it would have taken the perfect eyesight of a God to see them. Tensing believed he was a God – that science had freed him from the limiting constraints that bound most mortals. He had an understanding of temporal mechanics that had allowed him to cheat death for a period of time that most people would disbelieve on instinct because of its seemingly far-fetched grabbing of zeroes in the service of explanation. Tensing didn’t care – all the naysayers and non-believers would be dead soon enough: ashes to ashes, distrust to distrust.

He had been watching events unfold in Midas with mounting interest: wondering who was behind it, if it might be someone that he knew – and if not why not. Someone who could pull off that kind of thing was the kind of person that you wanted to be hip to. He was kind of interested in how exactly what was being pulled off was being pulled off – well, OK, he was more than kind of interested … he’d give his left nut to know.

Naturally his pondering led him to consider whether or not the mess there might prompt someone to come and look him up – get him to set things straight. This one would be a big money earner and no mistake – mustn’t seem too eager, which they would be expecting given his reputation and the strangeness of what was occurring, but mustn’t seem too underwhelmed either or they might be pushed to look elsewhere. Sure, there weren’t many around who could do what he did, and in this time sector he was not aware of anyone, but that didn’t mean it didn’t pay to be careful; you couldn’t take anything for granted.

He had word on the grapevine he should expect a visitor and sure enough one appeared. The sorry looking sack of shit that walked through the door was from Carter – he knew it before the man even opened his mouth. He did not look comfortable; looked downright resentful that he’d been picked for the shit detail.

‘We all have to shovel shit, boy; don’t sweat it so much – could be worse things he could have you doing.’

‘Sorry, I know you?’

‘No, you don’t, but I’d guess your looking for me. Midas City is going through some shit, eh? Carter needs it sorted, and he picked you for his patsy – that about it?’

‘Yeah, that’s about it, but how the fuck did you know all that?’

‘I have eyes and a brain and I’m used to how Carter does business. I have visited that shit-hole more than once. So, what do you have for me? I know he wouldn’t send you to me empty handed – so, come on, hand it over, and we’ll see whether we have any further business to discuss.’

Carsmile handed him the package; he’d usually ask for a bit more corroboration from someone but looking at Tensing you just knew he wasn’t spinning a line of bullshit.

‘OK, son, let’s saddle up. Have some work to do.’

‘That easy?’

‘Sure, why not? That easy. Were you expecting to have to wrestle me to the mat and drag me back? Good luck with that scenario. Carter doesn’t have much of a clue about much but sometimes he knows what needs to be done and how to do it: animal cunning you might say.’

‘Yeah, I’ll buy that.’

Tensing smiled and stood up.

13
Jul
09

midas: part six: runner

‘When’d you get in?’

‘Last night. Came in on the Fincher.’

‘What you running this time?’

‘Organs – fastbreed nanomech synthetics.’

‘Big money.’

‘Sure, ‘cept for the bullshit that’s just hit us like a fucking tidal wave.’

‘Eh? What’s that about?’

‘Another one of these murders.’

‘What murders?’

‘Geez, Bully, do you take any notice of your surroundings?’

‘Nope, not much – what the fuck do I care what’s going on around me?’

‘Well, ok, for the man who buries his head in the sand – here’s the scoop: there have been a spate of murders going on where it appears that either a past or future version of the victim did the killing …’

‘And that happened on your ship?’

‘Yes, that happened on our ship.’

‘Come on Sparkler, this is like getting blood out of a stone – who the fuck got killed?’

‘Spudrillo – they cut him from cock to crown.’

‘You saw it?’

‘I found it and him.’

‘Him?’

‘Yeah, this cranky old fuck, sat in the corner babbling away – I stand there looking at Spud and then I look at this guy, and you know what?’

‘What?’

‘It’s fucking Spud as an old man.’

‘That’s fucking insane.’

‘But the god’s honest truth, nonetheless.’

- * -

‘So, sir, can you tell us exactly when it is you came in from? How you got on the ship? Why the fuck you wanted to kill yourself at this particular point in time?’

Hent pulled Carter aside – he wasn’t happy with the speed that this investigation was progressing. His superiors were breathing down his neck so he was going to breathe down Carter’s. He wanted answers and he wanted them soon. Trade had dropped off and it would continue dropping off if this place continued posing a threat to the travellers who passed through it.

‘Carter, has this mad old fuck actually said anything at all?’

‘No, he’s been virtually catatonic since we pulled him off the ship.’

‘And does he have any link to the others?’

‘You mean apart from being involved in a similar type killing and being a time traveller? Not that we can see, no. There is very little to go on except for the fact that he was covered in the victim’s blood and he was sat in the room with the murder weapon in his hands.’

‘But these people who are supposedly carrying out these acts don’t appear to have any motivation do they? And there appears to be some kind of driving force behind all this bullshit?’

‘I would say so, sir.’

‘But you don’t have a fucking clue what that is, do you?’

‘No, sir, I don’t, but with all due respect, this is the first case of its type that I have ever heard of. We have the dead bodies of people who are still alive locked in the mortuary – victims killed by versions of themselves. There has to be something we’re missing.’

‘No shit, Sherlock. You need to start turning this around – we have all these bodies and we have their killers.’

‘We’ve already established that. Well, in one case we’ve established it – the others are claiming innocence.’

‘We need a Chronotech in here, don’t we?’

‘For what, sir?’

‘To re-jig the timeline, make this like it never happened.’

‘Do you know what you’re suggesting, sir; what you’re advocating?’

‘Yes, Carter, I am perfectly aware – I am coming up with a solution to the problem Midas finds itself facing.’

‘What about the Timelock Station?’

‘They’re hamstrung by the red tape that regulates them – they are watchers, they aren’t men of action, and we are.’

‘We are?’

‘We damned well better be, Carter, or we’re going to find ourselves out of a job – you catch my drift?’

‘So how do we get hold of one? They’re not the easiest people to find, from what I understand.’

‘Easy enough if you know where to look and how to ask. It’s going to cost but we don’t have any choice – the budget for your job is gonna feel the pinch, but fuck it – despite what we have to deal with out here it’s pretty straightforward usually, isn’t it?’

‘I’d say so. Yeah. Generally nothing we can’t deal with.’

‘You have a man that we can trust, who can deliver a package without getting too nosey about what it is that we’re doing?’

‘Carsmile’s probably our best bet.’

‘OK, then, go get this sorted. When you’ve briefed him give me a call and I’ll hook you up with the necessaries. Don’t drag your heels on this one, OK, Carter?’

‘Sure, sir, of course.’

‘Don’t fuck this up, Carter.’

- * -

They’d returned him to the cells – all of them were isolation cells due to the nature of the prisoners. They thought he was catatonic but that was because they didn’t understand his biology. He had to have time to think – what the hell had happened to him? He knew what he was supposed to have done but he didn’t have any memory of doing it and that was almost impossible: he had always been semi-eidetic and the echo-drive in his skull picked up and retained everything and he had been running that back and forth on the screen in his left eye and he had absolutely no record of killing this version of himself. It made no sense unless someone had hacked his memory, and who was there out there who had that skill whose presence he had been in in the last few days?

Also, what the fuck was up with him still existing? The one he had killed looked like a younger version of himself so theoretically that should have cut off all future possibles, shouldn’t it? He knew that the law had to be asking themselves the same things. He hoped that they were further along in their thoughts than he was.

He was clean now; that was good. Sitting around in blood that belonged to yourself, even if it wasn’t exactly yourself, was not good for the soul. Being accused of something you knew you didn’t do, or at least didn’t do willingly – that was fucked up too; but an accusation was not as bad as blood.

He wondered – could he transmit a cloaked signal from here and not have it intercepted? Could he get help here? He hoped he could – he’d have to try; even if being caught sending it would get him rumbled as far as the whole catatonic shtick went. Fuck it – he had to try.

09
Jul
09

midas: part five: time flees

Tempus Fugit Timelock Station – part of Midas City but temporally isolated out of necessity. It was anchored in what was effectively its own pocket universe with its own timeflow – all timeports had a place like this located near them for the purposes of monitoring what went on. There was no hope of really regulating it – they’d once tried that and it had instigated full on wars across several periods of time that they found hard to fight because of their position on the edge of it all and their codes of conduct which restricted interference in local matters of territory.

Joyce had been here for an undetermined amount of time – he wouldn’t be able to tell you because time didn’t really behave the same way in these places. How old was he? Nothing about him would tell you that, and his memories if stacked chronologically might mislead you into thinking he was older than he was. The lifelines of workers here followed two paths – the strictly linear one that you could plot alongside history and that gave a false sense of the data; or sequentially which jumped around from one time period to the next and was almost impossible to follow.

They would wander out from these places and try to correct anachronistic events that travellers were trying to engineer in order to benefit themselves. Bearing in mind that they considered time to be a multidirectional fairly flexible system they often would let something go that others would have considered ethically unsound. Some evolutionary jumps forward were just people from one alternative continuum bouncing back along the streams and pushing people there ahead faster than they might have moved under their own impetus. Gods, angels, some geniuses – they were merely people from the future sharing what they knew with those who were, what? Temporally disadvantaged?

Joyce knew that something strange was occurring in Midas though – stereo spatiotemporal signatures were not in the least unusual as people looped around through the various eras of their lives, but to have one terminated and a second remaining fixed thereafter? That was not so usual – it was not so good. Joyce was a student of lifesign trajectories and was fairly good at working out when someone had come from and when they were going to from studying their angle of approach in the dimensional analyser and then plotting the course of their exit, but this was puzzling to him.

He was monitoring the infofeeds to see if anyone anywhere else was noticing any weird anomalies in the data they were collecting but nothing was coming through. He often wondered what would occur if someone in a local timespace sector found a way to penetrate their shielding and shut down what amounted to the only kind of defence they had against timeline collapse? He and his co-workers relied on the highly trained network they had developed and if one element were out of place it might irreparably damage the finely tuned instrument they thought of themselves as.

He had not yet decided whether or not he should make an excursion into Midas to try and see if he could help them re-establish the natural order of things. Should he wait and see whether or not the situation escalated or not? Then he might be too late to do anything – it was a hard thing to judge; how far along one should let things travel before making a move. Him and his comrades were all trained in analytical thinking; all of them played chess to Grandmaster level; they were encouraged to keep sharp with sudoku, with crosswords, with writing in various poetic forms. Sometimes though you could just sit there and overthink yourself into missing your window of opportunity – it was no good having your balls on the line if all you did was move them around: all that got you was friction burns.

He liked Midas; had, against all the rules laid out for them, grown attached to it. In the eventuality of a major chronological deviation he might be reassigned – if it grew to the scale where it might threaten his reality’s integrity he might actually be called upon to initiate a STOPWATCH.

STOPWATCH was a continuum shutdown device – a doomsday weapon that would detonate, causing the implosion and sealing off of his entire sub-sector; the sub-sector being his temporally indexed version of the universe. It was a drastic measure and they didn’t like to use it – but they would have no qualms if they considered it a necessary precaution. He had never witnessed one himself but he had read the reports and the personal logs of those who had.

Part of their job was to stand on the brink of the collapse-point and guard against any potential dimensional egress – they operated a shoot to kill policy on anyone trying to leave. If your universe was marked for deletion then nothing was going to get you out of it. It seemed somewhat barbaric; part of him questioned whether he would actually be able to carry out the task. He had often sat there and pondered the action – its ramifications – it represented more than a single genocide; but it also represented the saving of countless more. There were those who had had their minds wiped because they could not come to terms with what they had done; could not exorcise the ghosts of an entire reality from their teeming skulls.

What if he were to have to go into Midas and then he failed? What then? He would be doubly responsible for their extermination. That would kill him – wouldn’t it? He knew those who had survived doing just what he would be called on to do – so it was doable; but that didn’t make it conscionable.

They had tried putting machines out here in these stations: artificial intelligences, ones that were indeed capable of making split second decisions, but it had proved a bad decision. No matter how delicately crafted their emotional software, they lacked the necessary empathy that might allow them to hold off initiating extreme measures – they were clinical and efficient as they had been required to be. The beings that had died as a result of the error could not truly be grasped.

He would watch, he would wait, and he would hope.

16
Jun
09

midas: part four: set adrift

An extract from the journal of John Doe One:

My brain has been fucked by me floating through the time streams with minimal protection – memories refuse to arrange themselves in sequence; I have a strange form of amnesia that they call Chronological Dissociation. It could have been worse – thankfully the physical effects of my time adrift were site specific and limited to the memory stores of my brain – I could have arrived here in Midas as a foetus or as an old man on the edge of death. No one quite understands why this didn’t happen to me. Something was done to me – that seems to go without saying; so while the what is slightly less puzzling the why sits there mockingly. The part of the story where I know who I am seems oddly elusive and the only thing I am fairly confident in saying is that I was crew aboard a Clockship.

There have not been any more Clockships in Midas City since I arrived, which is odd. Coupled with the strange deaths which have happened of late one has to wonder whether the two things are connected, and if they are then what role might I have to play in this scheme of things?

What’s my name? What’s my goddamned name? They stripped all identifying signatures from my uniform and it’s already hard enough to distinguish between companies since the Invisibility Accord that tried to remove competitiveness from the field of Chronotravel by making it hard for passengers to know who they were travelling with. They wanted us to provide a service but they wished to limit our potential for abusing our ability to pass around through different eras. See how frustrating it might be to remember so much and to not be able to put one’s finger on who one is?

John Doe One walks around the place staring into the faces of everyone he passes on the off-chance that there may be a clue as to his origins. He is under constant surveillance because the authorities of Midas City are just as curious to discover who this stranger might be and how he is linked to the failure of a single Clockship to dock in the place since his arrival. The clockships travel in stealth mode most of the time and no one ever converses with their crew outside of the times they dock for repairs and collection of supplies.

A lot of the bums who stumble around Midas City, cut off from their own times and everything they knew have no way of ever regaining what they have lost, so they tend to get forgotten and ignored; swallowed up into the anonymity that every large settlement has in plentiful reserves and Midas seems to have even more of.

John Doe One is the key to knowing what happened to the Clockships and therefore remains fixed in the memory – his damage speaking of some larger problem thaat exists out there somewhere backwards or forwards along the time lines.

He has bad dreams – ones that grip his head in a vice of pain and wake him in the night bathed in sweat. When he tries to remember his eyes grow dry and burn, retina spots flash, his mouth cottonballs, and it’s as if electrical storms dance across the surface of his mind; lightning drawn to burn down all the landmarks. He cries, he falls asleep again – wakes with little recollection of the episodes except a vague sense of sadness that sinks into his bones and paralyses him for a while.

‘So,’ says this guy to him; guy with a recording device ‘What do you think about the Clockships not coming in anymore – any thoughts on that?’

‘I used to be on one; that’s all I know. Just ask aaround about me – people will tell you, I just don’t remember anything.’

‘There must be answers out there about …’

‘Yeah about who I am, what I did, what happened to the Clockships. Who sent you? Why are you bothering? What do you expect to get from me? They’d tried to plunder my head with all the tech they have here and they can’t get anywhere – they’re waiting for something to unfold; waiting for me to wake up; whatever – not much else they can do. Now go away.’

‘Can I buy you a drink?’

‘Fuck, why not?’

They went to the bar and John Doe One sat down in what he kept forgetting was his regular seat. The guy with the questions sat down next to him, put some money on the bar ordered himself something and told John to ask for whatever he’d like.

‘JD for JD, barman.’

The barman leaned close: ‘Jack, who is this jerk? Do you know him? You should be careful who you speak to, not remembering who you are and what happened to you and all.’

‘Thank’s, barman – but all I require is the drink, thank you very much. What exactly is anyone likely to be able to pull out of my head? Not a damned sight – they’d been trying for long enough – haven’t they.’

‘Perhaps he has something else.’

John Doe One turned to the man who had just paid for his drinks.

‘So, friend, who are you? Who do you represent? What do you think you have on me? What do you think you might drag forth from my fucked up head? What danger to you pose to me?’

‘I’m from I-Site; a local newsblip broadcaster – all I do is ask questions. My name’s Errol Turnblad. You can scan my vitals pretty easy if you just zipread the bar on my jacket.’

‘OK,’ said the barman ‘Just make sure you don’t fuck with John; it’s not nice to mess with an amnesiac.’

‘Thanks again, barman – please just geet me another drink. Oh, Mr Turnblad, where are you going?’

‘Someone just called me in.’

‘I heard nothing.’

‘Sub-cranial Talk Channel.’

‘Scratch – yes, I heard about that somewhere.’

‘Good bye, John.’

‘Yes, Errol; Yes.’




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