They finished their drinks and stepped out into the sidewalk and stood quietly allowing the warmth of the sun to touch their skin. Perdita knew that this sun was as real as the other suns in all the worlds out there, but the fact that that there were so many caused her to frown. She didn’t have an answer what was wrong, but she knew that if she had known that there wasn’t anything but this world, she would be much happier. Maybe, she thought, this is what some of those that looked to stars felt.
“This was the first time that two realities smashed together,” Perdita said. “This is when one died in silence while another one would live forever with false memories.”
“I can see both of them,” Ophelia said looking around. “It’s like seeing everything highlighted red light.”
“What things do we do daily,” Perdita whispered as they stepped into a park. “That destroys so many lives.”
Ophelia trotted up to a swing and sat on the black harness and kicked her legs out going higher and higher. All the while Perdita watched her smiling. This is what she should have been doing instead of trying to save a dying world. Maybe then she wouldn’t have broken so many rules and destroyed so many lives. Liam, she knew, would be happy with what he had, but there was a chance that things would go wrong, and those monsters would show up in those split realities.
She also wondered if he would eventually grow restless and leave again. But he wasn’t her, she knew that he would stay there and be happy. He may even force himself to forget the ability to do it and die an old man without dealing with time or realities ever again. Though she was happy for him, she couldn’t think of herself letting go like that.
Even while watching Ophelia swing, she could feel the restlessness swelling up inside her, knowing that she slips between realities and see something new. That there were worlds and worlds and worlds beyond anything that she had ever seen. That’s when she felt a deep sadness in her heart and knew that no matter what, Ophelia would never be able to settle because of her. Those realities would always be in danger because of her. And that because of the rest of hers, there would be no way to assume that anyone would ever be safe. She had seen what versions of herself had done in different places.
“That’s it then,” Perdita says to herself.
There’s no one to reply or knows what she is thinking. But there was only one answer for her to fix everything. She knew, watching Ophelia swing, that she had to get rid of all the possible versions of herself that she could in as many lines as she could, or else she would always have to be ready for some strange thing with unpredictable technology to appear that would potentially kill her.
She sat there and started a plan in her head while Ophelia continued to swing. The sun was rising in the sky and there were school buses taking children away to school while parents glided by in cars going to work. All of it was what kept things normal and in working order. Or else, it felt that way. But she wasn’t sure anymore. The more she thought about it, the more chaotic and brutal everything was.
Inside a person’s body there were life forms fighting on a microscopic scale, living, and dying each day while the human kept moving and not knowing anything. It was only when something bad started winning that a human grew aware through sickness. Energy was consumed to do everything. It was violence contained because some violence had positive results.
It was the Laws that she had adhered to as a scientist all her life. And while moving between the vibrating strings of realities, the Laws no longer mattered to her because she felt like she was above them. Sitting on a park bench where materials were forced and fused together watching her daughter swing on another item that was manipulated while both allowed things to live and die on and in their bodies was a little too much for her to deal with. So, she closed her eyes, took a breath, and tried to think of absolutely nothing.
That didn’t work.
So, she got up, walked to Ophelia, and told her it was time to go. That there was work needed to be done and she needed to find a place to do it. She said it because she knew, deep down, that Ophelia knew what was going to happen and where they needed to go.
“Okay,” Ophelia said. “Let’s go.”
They slipped through the walls of reality and drifted through the void holding onto one another while Ophelia guided them through and forward in time and realities until she stopped, slipped into a reality. They were standing in a room full of people dressed in military uniforms standing up from their seats with their hands on their weapons.
Perdita looked down and noticed they were both standing on a holographic depiction of earth. There were parts that were zoned off as uninhabitable and enemy controlled. What bothered her most was that half the world was covered in darkness. Whatever was happening here, she didn’t think she wanted to stay, but Ophelia squeezed her hand.
“Who are you?” A man with a trimmed pepper colored beard asked.
“I am Perdita, and this is my daughter Ophelia,” she said. “We travel through space and time.”
“I am Fredrich Algos, leader of the remaining free countries,” he said. “We are the light in the darkness.”
Perdita stepped off the table and helped Ophelia down. Many of the men and women kept their hands on their guns while they stepped away from everyone and stood a few paces back from the table. She noticed that they looked tired, hungry, and scared.
“What happened here,” she asked. “We’ve seen a lot, but this is new.”
“We’re not sure when it started,” Fredrich said. “But for three hundred years we have been holding back darkness from consuming the world.”
“Is this a literal darkness,” she asked.
“Yes,” he sighed. “Sometimes things come out and we have to use nuclear weapons to stop them.
“And it works?” She asked.
“It works most of the time,” he nodded. “Why are you here?”
“My daughter brought me here,” she said.
“We’re here to help you,” Ophelia said. “My mom can fix this and help us.”
“How do you know this,” Fredrich asked.
“Because it is what is supposed to happen,” Ophelia said.
If this had been normal circumstances no one would have believed her, but everyone had just watched the very reality around them jellify and then two people step out of it. So Fredrich nodded and filled them in on the history of the darkness and what exactly was happening as he led them down to the research facility.
No one knew why but in the middle of Brazil there was a massive explosion four hundred years ago and there was machine that appeared in the middle of the city. It was circular and three hundred feet in diameter. It spouted the color black from massive tubes and whatever it touched, it devoured in this the darkness. Water, wind, explosions were no way to stop it. There was a researcher, a woman that claimed her name was Madam Lux that knew how to withhold the darkness until someone would come along and stop it altogether. She created these beacons of light that they placed around the remaining borders. The lights emitted a golden hue and hummed in different frequencies.
“It wasn’t until later,” Fredrich said. “That we figured out how the lights were powered. We were desperate for the darkness to stop.”
He opened a door after typing in numerous numbers. The door hissed open, and he walked in. Perdita followed along with Ophelia. When she did step in, there was a shift in her ears, and she could feel something go blank inside her. It was the ability to travel; it had gone completely dead and in panic she tried and found herself moaning on the floor.
When she opened her eyes, Ophelia was at her head and Fredrich was standing over her with his hand on his side arm. She could see behind him four massive vats glowing a dark yellow with large cables snaking out of the top and running into the ceiling.
“I should have warned you about that,” he said. “There have been people like you before. This room is designed to ensure that there can be no intrusion from anyone or anything from anywhere or anytime.”
As she stood up, she looked past him to the tall cylinders to see that each one of them held forms in them. If she were to guess, there were hundreds of women and babies, naked, in different states of decay, floating around in the liquid. They were twitching and barely moving, but she could see that they were all alive.
“What the fuck is this?” She asked grabbing Ophelia’s arm.
“This is what Lux was doing for us,” he sighed. “She was using these people that she was finding from different places to stop the darkness from consuming us. She said she knew the right type and kind of person.”
Perdita took a deep breath and realized what was going on quickly. She also knew that if they knew who she and Ophelia were, that they would end up in the tanks as well. There wasn’t much she could do except go out of this room and jump, but it was already closed and there was a guard standing in front of it.
“Where is this Madam Lux and does she get these people from your world?” Perdita asked.
He shook his head and walked to one of the vats.
“No,” he said. “Her daughter died, and she left us to find her somewhere else. She brings back these women or sometimes she’ll step into her chamber. The lights will power back on full and she will leave again. She says these people were already bound to die.”
“When will she come back?” Perdita asked. “I’d like to talk with her.”
“She won’t be back now,” he said. “She said when you show up, that meant you would fix it.”
“Fix it?” Perdita asked.
He nodded. “Whatever she meant by that.”
“I don’t know how to fix it,” Perdita said.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” Fredrich said. “But you’re not leaving this room until you do.”
Perdita knew it was going to come to this. She knew that if she didn’t cooperate they would start taking things away from her, the first being her daughter, and she knew that these people didn’t see her or her daughter as real people, they say them as tools or an answer to a problem. Thanks to the woman who called herself Madam Lux.
“Fine,” she said. “But I want a place for use to stay inside here.”
“It’s already done,” Fredrich said.
He led them across the massive facility to a small two-story house built against the farthest wall. There was a boundary set up by tall poles that boxed an area in. Fredrich gave them a remote and told them that they just had to hit the button once they were on the inside, and they would see.
So, they stepped beyond the poles and Perdita hit the button. There was a flash and soon they were standing on real grass with the view of mountains in the distance, a valley between them. They could see Autumn’s orchard and gardens. Everything was the moment that they had been happiest. They walked into the house to see that everything on the inside was the same as the place as they stayed. There were even hidden speakers that played ghostly noises of Amara or Autumn laughing.
They sat down at the table and poured themselves tall glasses of orange juice. The hum of the machines that they knew were beyond the boundary were silent. There wasn’t any reason for them to assume they had any privacy, but it didn’t matter at that point.
“Did you intend to bring us here,” Perdita asked.
“I did,” Ophelia said. “This is where we have to be for us to fix things.”
“How do I fix things,” Perdita said. “There are versions of us soaking in those tubes out there. We’re probably going to end up there when they find out I can’t do anything.”
“But you can,” Ophelia said. “I have this.”
She reached under her shirt and pulled the half-moon necklace out that it gave to her. She laid it on the table and they both stared as the white light shifted and vibrated and sang to them. Perdita took it up in her fingers and turned it over and overlooking it over. When she asked Ophelia what it was, Ophelia told her everything until the point of seeing the Truth; that part, she continued to avoid.
“Then this is something that transcends what even we can do and see,” she whispered.
“It can break through and destroy anything,” Perdita said. “So, this is, what I think, you needed.”
“If they have the right technology,” Perdita said. “Then I can fix everything.”
They lowered the boundary and Fredrich was standing where they left him. When Perdita asked how long he had been waiting, he admitted that he had been waiting for less than two seconds. He explained, in his basic understanding, that the place inside was made for them by Lux so that they could get rest and still not lose a lot of time outside. She had, he explained, essentially made it possible to work twenty-four hours a day if needed.
“I’m going to need it,” Perdita said. “This room has everything she thinks I’ll need?”
“Then get the fuck out of here,” Perdita said. “And let us get to work.”
After he left, they stood around taking in the materials they had and the things they would ask for if there came a chance. They spent some more time staring into the vats watching versions of themselves be slowly drained of their lives to save half of a world. They had no idea what kind of world was outside the facility, but she was sure that she wasn’t interested anymore. What mattered was getting this problem fixed.
But what made it hard to sleep in that house for Perdita, was the impending doom that was outside the boundary or across the vibrating strings, it was the fact that at some point, Ophelia had gone somewhere and talked so something so vast and knowledgeable that she had been changed permanently. That she knew how deep and how vast the whole thing was. What even upset her more was the fact she was hiding something. But there was no way to push without destroying her relationship with her daughter.
Each day they spent a few hours walking the orchard, eating fruit, and admiring the view. Sometimes, when they grew bored, they would drive the red rusted truck down into the valley to see how far the boundary went. So far, in the week that they had been there, they hadn’t found one. The city, to their surprise was populate by regular people doing regular things. Sometimes they would eat in town at a diner and for long periods of time, they lived together as daughter and mother and nothing else.
And then they would work. With the humming machines around them Ophelia would work on small mechanical parts that her mother had drawn and instructed her to do while Perdita would step into a room, they called the observatory. It was a small square room with machines all over it. The door was four feet thick.
It was essentially a way for her to look through the realities and observe without interacting. She watched Liam play with his kids while his wife, who had miraculously been cured of cancer, sat on the back porch steps with a coffee in her hands. She watched how she had a slight frown and later, in bed she would tell Liam that he was different, and she felt like she was different, that her body had changed, and her soul felt too old to be there.
There was no way for Perdita to comfort her friend when he found his wife lying in a bathtub with her veins cut open. She watched as he raised his kids until he died of old age. Not a single time he didn’t react or do anything that would suggest that he wanted to go back in time or leave the reality. She admired that he stayed there with the people he loved and suffered through it all.
But she pinpointed how many versions of herself there were that hostile. And the final count of four million, eight hundred and forty-two. She had thought, at first, that it would have been a couple hundred. But seeing the vastness she knew her brain would never be able to unravel the possibilities. There would never be enough energy, luck, or intelligence that could handle that many people. So, she had an idea of a weapon that could be fired from one reality and destroy something in another.
Her focus was Perdita Prime who traveled between lines with an army of black monsters that ate up everything. She didn’t look like anything, and she looked like everything all at once. Most of the time, Perdita just focused in on the light instead of Perdita Prime herself, for she knew that her mind wouldn’t take much while staring at her.
It had been a solid week in this reality, but in their house, it had felt like a lifetime. They had started bringing in their work there as well. The answer to the world’s problem as to trap someone like Perdita Prime in the vats. A person with that much power would destroy the darkness without too much of a problem. The second answer would be that they needed to a safe place. That this might be the safest place they could be. So, they needed to ensure that there were over four million people that died throughout all realities.
“This is going to be impossible,” Perdita said as she held the half-made device designed to shoot the white light from the center of everything.
“This isn’t going to be enough to kill every single person,” she said.
“It told me that if it destroyed one,” Ophelia said over pancakes. “It destroys them all.”
“One shot,” Perdita said. “Will get them all?”
“Including you,” Ophelia slid her plate away. “So you can’t do it.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Perdita said. “I’ll find a work around.”
“I don’t want to leave this place,” Ophelia said. “I don’t want to go out there.”
“Out where,” Perdita asked sitting down the gun. “Where do you mean? In this world?”
“No,” Ophelia shook her head. “Beyond.”
“What is beyond,” Perdita asked.
“I told you I’d tell you when you die,” Ophelia said.
They sat there in silence unable to eat the breakfast that was sitting in front of them. For different reasons they had lost their appetite to eat. Instead, they went their different ways in the research facility and worked on their own things. Neither of them felt like talking and buried themselves in their work.
Far off in another place and time, Perdita Prime had felt the woman’s eyes on her. She had felt them shift on her, but she hadn’t been there. She had pretended nothing happened and continued to consume and destroy everything in her path to gain power as well as knowledge of where Ophelia had gone. So far, there had been nothing. The eyes on her came again and again and finally she started paying attention to the direction and without causing alarm, she knew where Perdita was hiding. She could see the reality, could jump to it immediately if she wanted, but for some reason, could not pinpoint the exact location of either of them.
This had to be something that she needed to be careful with. She started sending out her monsters into that world under the cover of the darkness. One the versions of herself had already been established there and had consumed half the world. She had watched, through their eyes, as monster after monster was destroyed by the very light she consumed. Or by the weaponry that made the world impossible to live in. It was a desperate and futile attempt that humanity did to save themselves and Perdita Prime knew that eventually they would lose. Or would have if that woman had shown up.
Already she could see that the timeline would shift but not split.
She didn’t like how, when looking at the timeline, everything curved but didn’t break. As she felt Amara move inside her being tortured by the numerous fluids that at her skin and renewed them, she knew she would have only one chance to stop this woman and get Ophelia.
It had been so long ago when she had lost her, and even knew the Perdita that had her didn’t know, which made it more insulting. But she didn’t care anymore. She didn’t care about a Truth or realities or rules. She had looked upon the beast moving across the lines, mated with it, allowed it to eat her and birth her as she was now. She scarified all shreds of her humanity for the thing she was now. All of it, of course, except for love.
And that had become manic.
It took them three days to talk to one another again fully. They apologized and Perdita had taken Ophelia on a cross country drive to the eastern part of the United States so that she could experience an ocean for the first time. Where they had been from, the ocean wasn’t a place of enjoyment or escape. It was a ravenous body of hunger and danger.
They had swum in the water and soaked in the sun while people beside them did the same thing. After eating ice cream, they drove home, taking two days to do so. There were back roads that wound around mountains and down into valleys that had hidden gems like reptile zoos and the world’s largest gumball.
“I wish we could just do this,” Perdita said.
“But you don’t,” Ophelia replied looking out the window as they drove home.
“I do,” Perdita said. “This is the best thing that has ever happened.”
“But it’s not,” Ophelia shook her head. “You’re already hoping to leave as soon as you fix the problem.”
“That’s not true,” Perdita frowned.
“But it is,” Ophelia sighed. “I want to stay and you want to leave.”
“We can’t let that world die,” she said. “If we do we will be next.”
“Of course,” Ophelia said. “Of course.”
They drove in silence for a while. Ophelia grew tired and laid her head on her mother’s lap. She watched the sky as they drove along, closed her eyes, and smelled her mother’s perfume and listened to the radio play some country song that was sort of sad but sort of happy. She knew what it meant because she felt the same.
There were things that were going to happen that she didn’t like and she knew had to happen to stop the mess that they had created. There were things that she had to do after, years later that she wouldn’t like to do but she knew that her job hadn’t even started. First, her mother had to do what she thought she had to do, then she would have to take over and do things she knew she needed to do.
But right then and there, she closed her eyes and enjoyed being eight with her mother, in a rusted-out truck, with a sunburn, and her belly full.
A long time ago, there was a man that heard a conversion between two people concerning the large hydrogen collider. He was still in the process of fixing things and there wouldn’t be any realities crashing into one another ever again. But this isn’t the story for that. Nor is it the story to give his name or what he had to do. Just know that you don’t know his name because he fixed it. Sometimes you get sad because a part of your time-genetic memory can feel his presence and what he did, but you can’t remember who he was or what he sacrificed. But that’s okay. He wanted it that way.