Instead of writing I decided to put together a very simple video to show off some of the new artwork I've been working on, and to keep from being too dull there's music to go with it, a little song called "Get On." The art is from a series called Intimacy. The specific pieces, titles and more high def images, will be going up in the Visions section shortly. Meanwhile, enjoy!
Augustus raised an eyebrow, “An interesting gambit.”
The Professor shrugged. Sitting down he said, “Not really if you understand our impasse.”
Augustus gestured. Kairos retracted the gun barrel into his arm. The cybernetic bodyguard took an at-ease military stance.
Augustus probed, “And the nature of said impasse?”
The Professor said, “All of us dying prevents us from getting to the next moment.”
Chuckling Augustus said, “You want to know what happens next?”
“What could happen next.”
“Ah ha,” Augustus took a seat across from the Professor. Tenting his fingers he murmured an order only Kairos heard. A moment later the cyborg returned with a bottle of wine and two glasses. He served drinks then resumed his position as Augustus’s shadow.
The Professor said, “Now let’s get down to it.”
“Cheers to that.” Augustus raised his glass. After a sip he said, “However, if I may, there is still the possibility this is all a play.”
The Professor nodded, “Maybe, but there’s only one way to find out.”
“Indeed.” Typing into the terminal in his arm Augustus went on, “The Phantom Filament I wanted you to wrangle would cause the beginning of a domino effect. A chain reaction as it were. The strand itself was originally ripped to pieces eons ago when it stretched across time.”
The Time Map glowing above the table traced the route of the restored Filament as a green line.
The Professor remarked, “It intersects with so many others, the paradoxes it causes are…”
“Countless,” Augustus cut in, “Hence its initial destruction. The instability caused by the resultant paradoxes proved cataclysmic, but primarily only for the one timeline.”
Folding his arms across his chest the Professor said, “You think reintroducing it would cause more expansive devastation.”
A series of keystrokes caused the map to shift into a computer model. As it played out Augustus offered commentary. Paradoxes emerged then tore themselves out of existence. Once gone some timelines withered away, becoming at best Phantom Filaments; however, others, now ripped strands flailing in the wind, reached out to connect with the nearest stable line. Consequently, the dying timelines latched onto healthy ones causing new paradoxes which started the whole process over again. The Professor watched one line after another shatter and fade, or drift like sparks towards oily rags. He watched the computer model run its course: a prediction of time on fire.
When the show stopped Augustus said, “In the end, only one line will survive.”
The Professor smirked, “You sure about that?”
“Quite sure. The computer models I’ve run…”
“Reality ain’t a simulation. It can behave in annoyingly unpredictable ways.”
Augustus pursed his lips. Glaring at the Professor he said, “I assure you, I know what I’m doing.”
The Professor clapped his hands together, “Well, I’m satisfied. Let’s do this!”
He jumped up. Kairos dropped into an aggressive stance. The Professor ignored him, heading straight back to the Mirna Loy. Augustus called after him:
“A moment, Professor.”
The Professor shook his head, “No time like the present.”
“I would like Kairos to accompany you just to be safe.”
The Professor waved, “Come on if you’re coming.”
In what felt like half a second the stygian skinned cyborg sidled up next to the Professor. The two returned to the Mirna Loy. On the bridge Flynn turned in his chair.
He started, “You set those assholes strai…” -- stopping at the sight of Kairos.
The Professor said, “Don’t mind him. You remember the coordinates the Kid gave us?”
Flynn replied, “Sure. Even if I didn’t they’re in the nav.”
“Then set a course.”
“Don’t you wanna wait for the others?”
“The others are dead,” Kairos said in a flat metallic voice.
The rift runner glanced at the Professor. He trusted him, but Flynn didn’t always know what game the Professor was playing. The Professor winked at him. Flynn went to the navigation computer. He punched up the coordinates. With the route locked in he said, “Off we go. Should be there in an hour.”
Wrangling a Phantom Filament is no easy task. It requires on the fly calculations, nerves of steel, and a dash of death wish. Calling it more art than science would be near the mark. The mechanism, designed by the Professor himself, essentially acted like a magnet. Imagine that a magnet could be tuned like a radio, certain frequencies attracting certain elements. Dialing in one station attracts metal, while another coaxes the attention of wood. Now think of timelines elements, and the picture gets a bit clear.
Transmitters for wrangling, known as Hooks, are not common issue. Though the schematics got out thanks to a lousy poker hand, no generic apparatus exists. Every Wrangler builds their own custom made Hook which causes problems in and of itself.
The Professor sat down at the Hook terminal. Flynn announced their approach to the Phantom Filament. Eying the readouts the Professor started dialing in the right frequency. Timelines shift frequencies, but those shifts tend to be predictable. Once he found the current number he waited for a shift then another, and another until he figured out the pattern. 68.762, 84.6, 100.438, 97.638, 94.838, 92.038, 107.876… the frequency increased for three shifts at a rate of 15.838 before decreasing by 2.80 for another three. Time being what it is, eventually the numbers would collapse to zero when the Phantom Filament flickered out of existence for a millisecond. The Professor just needed to watch for the collapse then dial in the appropriate frequency.
After twenty minutes zero appeared. The Professor dialed in, 15.838, getting ahead of the pattern from the get go. The Phantom Filament began creeping towards the Mirna Loy.
Addressing Kairos without looking at him the Professor said, “Trick now is getting this to the nearest timeline without it catching up to us.”
He continued adjusting the Hook, coaxing the Filament along. They lucked out. The nearest timeline resided barely six minutes away. The Filament wouldn’t need to attach, just get close enough to absorb the residual energy from the neighboring temporal strand. Like a jump started battery the Phantom Filament would come to life, restoring itself in a matter of moments. However, if the two completely disparate timelines connected, the resulting explosive disruption would shred the Mirna Loy into metal confetti.
Aware of that fact, Flynn eased the ship at a snail’s pace – better safe than sorry. He still didn’t know the Professor’s angle, but figured now was not the time to get sloppy. The Phantom Filament flickered on screen.
Flynn said, “She’s starting to snack.”
The Professor shut the Hook down, “Get ready for it.” – he went over to Flynn. He leaned in, pretending to watch the display screen as he said, “Back in Tunguska you said you had something new.”
Flynn said, “Sure do.”
“When this is all over I’d like to see it.”
Sensing the Professor’s line of thought Flynn remarked, “We can see now if you like.”
Kairos snarled like a robotic wolf, “Don’t try anyth…”
But it was too late.
Flynn smashed a button on the steering console activating what he called the trapdoor. Immediately a rift ripped open beneath Mirna, and the engines fired at full speed plunging the ship through it. The drop caused zero gravity, and everyone onboard hit the ceiling. Unprepared for it, Kairos slammed hard. The Professor managed to catch himself.
Mirna Loy appeared in the sky above the signing of a historic peace treaty ending the decade long war between the bloody thirsty Swiss and the United States of South America. It existed there for the merest fraction of a second before falling through another of Flynn’s trapdoors. Meanwhile, the Professor whipped out the Adder. Taking aim he fired at Kairos. The cyborg moved quickly, deflecting the incoming blades, but the Professor didn’t hesitate. He kept shooting as he moved towards the soldier.
Flynn shouted, “Damn button’s stuck!” – as Mirna fell through one timeline after another. He managed to get it unstuck in a reality where the Earth was entirely ocean.
The Professor slashed at Kairos. In one deft maneuver the cybernetic soldier blocked the attack and took hold of the Professor’s wrist then proceeded to break the Professor’s arm in three places. The Adder fell from his hands. Kairos caught it, stabbed the Professor in the stomach. Kairos pulled it across, opening his stomach. A curious sensation then occurred. Kairos felt more than heard the thud as a bullet ripped through his head, a galaxy of static filled his eyes then nothing.
The solider collapsed though his grip on the Adder remained frighteningly determined. The Professor fell alongside him. Flynn hurried over, pistol in hand.
Seeing the grizzly wound Flynn said, “I got my gun fast as I could.”
“It’s all right,” the Professor said, “It’s all right. We don’t have much time. Here’s what I need you to do.”
Aboard the Occasus the Professor felt a subtle nausea as his personal timeline realigned. Katie Extinction and Seamus had matching expressions suggesting the same sensation. Kairos cocked his head to one side.
August went on, “As I said, we’ve had this conversation roughly 132 times. To date, I make my point of view known then you three make some type of crude rebuttal which is really just a juvenile prelude to shooting the place up.”
The Professor cut in, “No, actually, this'll be the 134th time.”
“I beg your pardon?”
Searching his pockets the Professor said, “Yeah, it must be hard paying attention to other people when you got a speech you're just aching to give. Ah, here it is.”
He pulled out a small data pad. Calling up a file he chuckled, “A moment ago you said ‘I live up to my reputation.’ Well, let me tell you something about that. A good historian knows the past is made up of far more than people are willing to tell. Take your shadow, Kairos, for example.”
Augustus spread a taut grin. His eyes narrowed, making him look very much like a serpent. He said, “What about him?”
“Kairos, execute command Omega Failsafe JX-37.”
Kairos stiffened sharply. Short arcs of blue electricity crackled off his body. Augustus jumped away. The cyborg let out a hideous shriek, and fell in a heap.
“Holy shit,” Katie said sounding delighted.
The Professor said, “See kids, where Kairos was from, all cybernetic soldiers had termination codes built in just in case any of them got any ideas. Can’t have a weapon that turns on its users, but you also can’t really get folks to volunteer for a program that puts a suicide switch in your head so unless you’re really good at researching the past…”
Katie interjected, “You ain’t gonna know shit.”
“Well put,” the Professor said lighting a pipe.
Augustus pulled his eyes away from the smoking ruin of his bodyguard. Swallowing hard he addressed the trio, “What now?”
Katie smiled, “I got an idea.”
Seamus dragged the man kicking and screaming to the Mirna Loy. Once the trio got back on the Unterseeboot they left Augustus in the docking bay. He pleaded with them, but all ears were deaf to his cries. The man wanted to exterminate infinite expanses of reality in the hope that one pure time might exist, and not once did he consider he might simply be lighting the match that burned everything into oblivion. Either way, he deserved no pity.
Katie did the honors. She disengaged the umbilicus linking Mirna to the Occasus. She waved to the screeching man inside as raw time poured into the open compartment surging around Augustus pulling him into the future and past at the same, every molecule speeding in a different direction ripping him to pieces from the inside out then snapping him whole again. He shredded and coalesced, died and was reborn, over and over again until little bits of him drifted into other time strands, other realities where they couldn’t find their way home; and soon enough he shattered into a trillion pieces lost on the winds of time, each fragment dimly aware of itself; frozen forever at the moment death strikes.
“Fuck,” Katie grumbled.
“What?” Seamus asked.
Her shoulders slumped, “We should’ve made popcorn.”
Turning to the Professor Seamus said, “I have a vague memory of you killing us.”
“Me too,” Katie added.
The Professor tucked his hands into his pockets, “I did what I had to.”
Seamus said, “Just sayin’ first round's on you.”
“Fucking A it is.”
The Professor grinned, “Fair enough.”
Those aboard the Mirna Loy tensed. The sound of metal arms clanging off the hull resounded through the corridors as the Occasus grabbed hold of the modified u-boat. Flynn winced, imagining the claw prints from the filthy mitts grabbing his girl, rude bastards digging into her sides. The Professor patted him on the shoulder. He could sense the rift-runner’s discomfort just as well as his own. Katie Extinction chambered a round into her pistol. Blue light glowed from the slot as the cartridge peeked out. Seamus cocked a grin:
“Those are illegal.”
“You don’t say?” Katie grinned back. The first person to catch her ire would find themselves getting shot with a hollow point bullet filled with a concentrated fluid composed of various temporal energies in a liquid state. Expensive ammunition, rare and guaranteed lethal, the round tore through a target aging whatever it struck a hundred years in a few seconds.
The Professor said, “Be ready for anything.”
Seamus grunted. Katie cast a no-shit expression. The Professor gestured for them to follow. The trio headed towards the docking access port. Flynn stayed on the bridge, ready to beat a hasty retreat as soon as necessary.
At the docking point, the Professor checked the scanners. The readout registered two people in the connecting umbilicus yet nothing else. He intensified the scan. The intercom crackled:
“I’m afraid you won’t see anything other than what I want you to.”
The Professor snorted. He flipped the mic on to reply, “And what makes you think I’ll open this door blind?”
Locking mechanisms disengaged, beeping as if in response. Katie dropped to one knee, pistol at the ready. Seamus aimed a shotgun straight ahead. The Professor unsheathed the Black Adder he kept behind his back. A casual glance might suggest he just decided to bring a knife to a gun fight. A casual glance would be wrong. The docking port opened.
On the other side a diminutive man stood. He wore a pair of spectacles almost two inches thick, augmented view screens streaming across the lenses. He tapped commands into a computer terminal mounted in his arm. When he saw the trio he grinned.
Gesturing at their guns he remarked, “There’s really no need for that.”
The Professor turned an eye on the six foot figure standing behind the small man. The figure looked like a shadow made of steel and wires, color by black hole paints. The smaller man tossed a dismissive gesture:
“Never mind him. Kairos is a bit overprotective.”
“Don’t change nothing,” Seamus said.
The little man sighed. Shaking his head he said, “Seamus, you never do learn.”
“I know you?” Seamus growled.
The little man nodded vigorously, “Oh yes, yes. By my estimate, we’ve had this conversation, in one variation or another, ohhhh 132 times?”
The Professor tightened his grip on the Adder, “So what comes next?”
“Hopefully not the same as last time,” the little man smiled.
“Who are you?” Katie asked.
He replied, “My name is Augustus de Porres. Come, come,” – he gestured for them to follow him onto the Occasus.
“Not a chance,” Katie said.
Augustus frowned, “You know, Professor, it often goes this way, and just once I’d like to avoid the unpleasantness of having Kairos, uh, expedite your acquiescence.”
“A moment then,” the Professor said as he sheathed the Adder. He stepped over to Katie, “I want to see where this is going.”
Through gritted teeth she hissed, “To the morgue that’s where.”
The Professor whispered, “He knows us.”
Katie said, “Or he’s playing you.”
The Professor, a gleam in his eye, said, “Then let’s play along.”
Snorting, Katie holstered her firearm. Seamus aimed the shotgun at the floor, but kept it ready. Augustus clapped his hands, a look of supreme delight filling his face.
Giggling he said, “Maybe this time will be different, eh Kairos?”
The sentinel stood silent. Chuckling, Augustus headed over to the Occasus. The trio followed. As the Professor passed Kairos the sentry moved aside, making no sound as it did so. The Professor kept an ear out, and though he distinguished everyone else’s footwear thudding, tapping, clicking, or slapping the umbilicus walkway, he heard nothing from Kairos. Glancing over his shoulder, though, he saw the guard marching at the rear, making no sound at all.
Augustus said, “So now you wonder what Kairos is then try to figure him out. I do love the questions you use trying to ferret out an answer, but I’m afraid that game might not be for the best. Things are going smoothly between us, so to keep things that way I’ll simply tell you.”
“Convenient,” the Professor remarked.
“Assuming it’s the truth,” Katie muttered, barely audible to herself.
“It will be,” a metallic voice spoke, chilling her blood. Turning slightly, Katie saw Kairos staring at her, or at least staring at her as far as she could tell. She felt eyes on her, burning beneath the dark.
Augustus waved his forearm at Occasus’s docking port. The door iris opened. Stepping through, Augustus went on, “Kairos is a cybernetic soldier from 2092 in the timeline IWW3.”
“When the Cold War went hot, though not nuclear.”
“Very good, Professor. You always live up to your reputation.”
“A good historian knows the Pasts. Otherwise, might as well be flying blind.”
Augustus cocked an eyebrow, “Agreed, but that’s not all a historian is.”
The Professor asked, “Is a soldier all Kairos is?”
“In a word, no.”
“All we get’s a word?” Katie sneered. She set her eyes on Kairos. Silent as the grave the cyborg stared right back.
“For the time being,” Augustus replied. He led the way through a series of widening corridors. The Occasus appeared to somehow be composed of simultaneously state of the art and antiquated technology: a 3D holographic computer terminal accessible through a typewriter keyboard, copper pipes dripping the neon purple fuel necessary to generate a way into the rift, ordinary steel plates set into place with a molecular weaver that left no seams.
The corridor opened on an octagonal room. Augustus pointed at to a hexagonal table in the center:
“Please, please sit.”
Hesitantly, the trio took seats.
“Would anyone care for something to drink? I know Seamus enjoys a good vodka.”
Seamus said, “Get to the point.”
Augustus nodded, “Quite right.” – tapping commands into his arm terminal – “As I said, we’ve had this conversation around 132 times. I make my point of view known then you three make some type of crude rebuttal which is really just a juvenile prelude to shooting the place up.”
“Fucking A,” Katie said.
Frowning, Augustus continued, “We fight. Kairos kills Seamus and Katie, though not necessarily in that order. It varies each time. Professor, you manage to kill Kairos, but not before receiving a mortal wound yourself.”
The Professor raised an eyebrow. Anger simmered in Katie’s eyes. Seamus took the information with a blank stone face. Augustus stopped typing. A display of various timelines glowed to life, hovering over the table, each weaving through one another, running parallel here there then perpendicular on occasion – the most complete map of the rift any of them had ever seen.
Augustus concluded, “You then signal the Mirna Loy. I’m not really sure what Mr. Flynn does; however, it causes us all to tumble into the Devil’s Maw.”
“How come none of us recall any of this… except for you?” the Professor asked, unless a person did their own Resurrection some residual element of the previous timeline persisted in memory like a blackout drunk recollection – fuzzy, vague, but there. Only bringing yourself back allowed a person to hold onto the whole memory, and the Professor doubted anyone could escape the Devil's Maw.
“Excellent question. My personal Resurrection Men always inform me of every detail surrounding my deaths, so I can plan accordingly. As such, I, at one point, erased all of you from existence. Memories can't leap across oblivion.”
“You what?” Katie jumped to her feet. Kairos glided into position behind Augustus.
“Hell no, don’t Katie me, Prof. This asshole is not…”
“We’re here now,” The Professor said. Mumbling a string of curses Katie sat back down. Kairos stayed near Augustus. The Professor said, “I’m guessing erasing us had effects you didn’t expect.”
“Too true.” -- Augustus tapped a series of commands. As he did the map of the rift highlighted several timelines, showing how they shifted and distorted. He said, “There are some things one assumes will be discovered; it isn’t a matter of whom, but rather when. Unfortunately, that is not true. And even more to the point, some people only become who they are, become capable of what they accomplish because of the people they know.”
The Professor pulled a cigarette out of a waistcoat pocket. He lit it as he spoke, “So we got you by the balls.”
“It seems so.”
Seamus said, “I don’t follow.”
“Me neither,” Katie said.
The Professor elaborated, “I invented how folks wrangle Phantom Filaments. Without me there’s no way to bring back a lost timeline; and causality keeps him from going back before I invent the process to just give to someone else.”
Katie cracked a grin, “He can’t go back because that would mean he’s got no reason to go back, so he never goes back.”
The Professor nodded, “And since time is happening all at once, this moment is occurring even as he builds to it.”
Seamus said, “The only way around it is to stay dead.”
“Or.” – Augustus held up a finger – “To convince you to join my cause.”
“Nope,” the trio said at once.
Augustus’ eye cracked red, “You never listen to reason.”
Seamus said, “You could give up this madness.”
Augustus snorted, “I am trying to purify time, remove the corruption of all the imperfect histories…”
“Enough of this horseshit,” Katie said reaching for her gun. The second her arm moved Kairos’s palm opened, a rifle barrel extending from inside his forearm. The Professor considered what would come next… then again… and again. It all depended on everyone doing what they always did. What needed to happen was someone make a move seemingly out of character. So he reached behind his back, whipped out the Black Adder, and fired.
A Black Adder resembles a Bowie knife with a trigger, though the similarities are superficial. Designed during the Reunification Wars in Spanish South America circa 1950, the Black Adder can generate and fire blades sharp enough and at a high enough velocity to scar most metals to say nothing about what it does to flesh. The weapon is, of course, reverse engineered from alien technology recovered after the Martian Invasion in 1938.
And without batting an eye the Professor fired, first one blade then another, each striking their targets in the throat. Bewildered, Katie and Seamus collapsed, blood spraying from the canyons in their necks. Kairos aimed at the Professor.
Sheathing the Adder the Professor said, “You wanna point that someplace else? I’m already in a bad mood. My friends just died.”
TRAITOR OR SAVIOR?
As Flynn piloted Mirna Loy through the rift the controls felt hesitant. The ship seemed to know its destination, and had no desire to get there.
“You ain’t alone girl,” Flynn murmured, petting the console.
An instability in the rift rocked the whole u-boat. Flynn chewed on the inside of his cheek. The Professor stepped over to the controls. He asked if there was anything he could do.
Flynn said, “Not unless you’re willing to give this up.”
Seamus and Katie shared a porthole. Katie rubbed the crooked weld marks from where Flynn inexpertly installed the hole. She tried not to wonder if the thing might burst open at any second.
She asked, “You ever been to the Maw?”
Seamus clenched his jaw, “Once, by accident. Smuggling run ten years ago, trying to ditch the cops, just tearing through timelines without thinking twice; we punch into the rift, and there it is.”
She asked, “Is it as bad as people say?”
He shook his head, “Nope. It's worse.”
Outside lightning cracked the rift. A swirling eddy sucked in a timeline where Ireland invaded England, beginning the 400 year reign of the Green Iron Fist. This caused the timeline to collide with another wherein Earth possessed two moons but only inhabited one due to prevailing superstitions. The realities tore each other apart in a chaotic nightmare -- the scream of universes dying echoing throughout the rift. The shredded remains of the two histories floated through the rift like a chum slick.
Seamus stepped away without saying a word.
Katie snorted, “Cry baby. Happens all the time.” – she watched a wisp of what once was drift by the porthole, saw a city rise and fall.
Flynn announced, “Alright everybody. Here’s where it gets weird.”
Rift-runners call it The Devil’s Maw because it swallows everything. There’s a part of the rift where time flows into something almost like a black hole. Into this void time spills, and erupts out in a stream of energy as yet uncategorized. Some speculate this is the force that moves time. However, all attempts to understand this chrono-quasar have resulted in catastrophe. Every scientific vessel which tries to examine the phenomena vanishes. Most rift-runners would rather get an amputation than fly anywhere near the Maw.
Easing back on the throttle Flynn chuckled. He hummed a few bars of the Danse Macabre. The closer they got to the Devil’s Maw the more the view screen lit up with myriad warning signals. Flynn flipped off the augmented view, settling instead for the plain nightmare of the Maw alone.
Mirna Loy vibrated, the whole ship trembling as she pushed through the turbulence caused by the stream of energy jetting from the void. The length of a galaxy, the torrent threw out unpredictable instabilities, commonly referred to as the Devil’s Teeth. None of them on their own could do much, but piloting the u-boat felt like trying to fly a paper airplane straight in a hailstorm.
On occasion instabilities drifted through the ship instead of hammering against it. Spectral moments from histories came briefly into view: Confederate soldiers strolled with Boston ladies in evening wear; a Japanese man stood at a blackboard discovering E=mc2; a Belgium housewife sat on the couch reading a magazine in 1902; the book shop manager in Peoria, Illinois hung a sign announcing a Fourth of July sale; Jimmi Hendrix put the sax to his lips; cows mingled in a field.
The Professor pointed to a spot on the view screen saying, “Head towards that.”
“Aye, aye,” Flynn saluted while he steered.
Katie stepped over. Eying the screen she saw what appeared to be a ship orbiting the Devil’s Maw. The vessel skated the edge of the void's accretion disc, cruising along timelines torn into grains of sand.
Katie said, “They must be nuts.”
The Professor said, “We’ll find out when we say hello.”
On screen another vessel erupted into view. It lingered a few seconds before speeding off, punching out of the rift into the nearest timeline to escape the Maw. Seamus frowned.
“What is it?” Katie asked.
Seamus replied, “That was me.”
The Professor said, “There’s no telling how warped time gets in this part of the rift.” -- as he spoke the thought crossed his mind there’d be no way to know how the Maw affected people. Rift-runners went mad being around ordinary time. Warped time could only be worse.
Suddenly the turbulence ceased. Mirna Loy no longer rattled under the steady onslaught of the Devil’s Teeth. Flynn released the controls. The vessel sailed on, drifting with the current as it were. Static crackled out of the com panel.
A metallic voice said, “Mirna Loy this is the Occasus. Hold your present course, and prepare to dock with us.”
Flynn asked, "Anyone else worried they know who we are?"
Katie sneered, “What makes them think we’re docking?”
Flynn flipped the augmented view back on. Pointing at the screen he said, “That.” -- the view showed a multitude of weapons systems activating and locking onto Mirna.
The Professor folded his arms across his chest, “Looks like we’re going to have company.”
Katie cocked an eyebrow, "Whether we like it or not."
PART 6: Without hope, Without Fear