TIME & TIED: RESOLUTION
ARC 4.4 - Terminated
PART 90b: TIMELINE THREE 2
Frank reached for the napkin holder on the table, but Luci waved him off. “Don’t, I’ve got it, don’t do that,” she sighed, standing and moving to a cupboard. She pulled out a cloth which she used to mop up the coffee she had spilled.
He stood, uncertainly holding a napkin in his hand. “I guess I could keep apologizing,” Frank said. “Except I’ve found that can be bothersome to people if I do it too much.” He glanced towards Laurie.
Luci tossed the cloth towards her sink, resting both hands on the edge of the table. “Here’s the thing you don’t seem to have realized,” she stated. “Namely that, while the rest of us have to hunt for lynchpin moments to divert the time stream, Carrie isn’t bound by that rule. She can change time on a whim. She doesn’t do it indiscriminately, granted, mainly because making changes seems to leave her with a hell of a headache. But that power? It means that she can thwart us every time we try to move against her. Or by extension, the Temporals.”
Tim cleared his throat uncertainly. “And s-so forty-six times..."
“I made up that number,” Luci admitted. “There’s really no way to track it. We only know it’s happening, not how often she’s triggered it. But that’s not the worst of it.” She pushed off from the table. “The worst part is all the prejudice that’s resulted.”
“Prejudice?” Frank looked over at Tim, then Laurie, then back to Luci. “Can you give us ANY more context?”
Luci regarded him, then looked up at the ceiling. “In for a penny, in for a pound. Fine. I suppose if giving you knowledge changes bits of this in your new timeline, it would be for the best anyway. Plus we might be able to make you forget, if absolutely necessary. You won’t get many specifics though.” She pointed at him as if to emphasize that, then walked towards the kitchen. “It all starts with the alien artifact. I’m going to make toast, anyone want buttered toast to go with your fruit?”
Frank blinked at the non sequitur. “No, thanks.”
“I’ll have some,” Laurie said, lifting her index finger.
“S-Sure,” Tim said, uncertainly.
Luci pulled the loaf out of the breadbox device where she stored it. “The artifact turned up... let’s say many years ago. The information it provided was completely unintelligible, for the most part.”
“When you say alien, did the artifact come from space?” Frank wondered.
Luci waggled her finger. “No specifics. Now, I never worked on it, and accounts differ... but it either contained genetic material, or had information about rewriting our own genetic code. At the time, the thought was, if we used the information, or spliced the material into us, whichever, we’d be able to understand the rest of whatever the artifact was trying to communicate. See where I’m going with this?”
Luci hit the plunger on the toaster. For whatever reason, among the various high-tech items Frank had seen in Luci’s residence, the toaster had at least retained it’s familiar functionality.
“I-Is it that gene stuff which m-made Temporals?” Tim asked.
Luci nodded. “Bingo. But more than that, it turned out that the gene sequencing or whatever they did only worked for one percent of the world’s population. A slice of the population who share a trait that makes them stand out in a crowd, so to speak.”
“Red hair,” Frank gasped, recalling what Mindylenopia had said to Julie right before they’d left the mansion in the time car. “All Temporals have red hair.”
Luci’s eyebrow arced. “Your new timeline is just FULL of surprises, huh? Fine, yes, red hair. The genetics worked on them. You can see how a racial-style divide might start forming.”
Laurie looked up from eyeing a lock of her hair. “Gingerism. Oh no.”
Tim looked over at her, frowning. “Prejudice based on red hair? That’s a thing?”
Laurie chewed on her lower lip. “Kick a Ginger Day, Kiss a Ginger Day, it’s kinda hard to miss such things when you are one. No one’s ever tried doing those things to me though. Possibly because of Corry.”
“Yeah, you are NOT going to like where this is going,” Luci sighed. She shook her head. “Moreover, full disclosure here, we don’t know why red hair is a trigger. It’s even possible the first scientists screwed something up, and locked it in. There’s been some incidental research into finding lynchpin moments around the time of the first Temporals, but Carrie was deemed the bigger threat.”
The toast popped up out of the toaster. Luci pulled it onto a plate with a pair of tongs, and reached for the loaf of bread again.
“Hold on,” Frank said. “When you first mentioned the artifact last night, you associated it with timeline one. If this is timeline three, or forty-seven, or whatever..."
“The artifact itself is what you might call a fixed point,” Luci yielded. She dropped more bread into the toaster, plunged it down, then reached for the butter dish. “It must exist in all changed timelines, because it’s what leads to time travel in the first place.”
“Oh! Then that’s what the artifact was c-communicating,” Tim realized. “The stuff you couldn’t f-figure out was the time machine knowledge. Which eventually only r-redheaded Temporals were able to understand?”
“Yes, but time travel is only one of the things the artifact provided,” Luci said. She slowly turned the butter knife around in her hands. “Again, not giving specifics, but the first Temporals? They still linked themselves to us “Mundanes”. The ‘pure’ Temporals, who came a bit later? They rejected last names entirely, started using the Temporal language to communicate cross-culturally, and basically see themselves as the next stage of evolution.” Luci grimaced. “Even though that’s not how evolution WORKS, you stupid, self-aggrandizing..." She stopped herself, letting out a slow breath before slicing her knife into the butter. “Sorry.”
“So you’re saying there was more information about genetics in the alien artifact’s translations too,” Frank said, hoping to pull the conversation back on track.
Luci sighed. “Yes. Tough to say if that’s where their mind manipulation power comes from, or if it was baked into the initial genes. It could even be that ‘pure’ Temporals like Mindylenopia are from actual parents, and not a result of genetic engineering - they simply reject their families. I’ve seen medical scans, and I can’t tell either way. All we know for sure is that there was SOMETHING more in the artifact, because of how Carrie was created.”
“Meaning they did something to her mother?” Tim gasped. “Before sending her back?”
“Maybe that’s how they did it.” Luci shrugged. “Look, I don’t have all the answers there, we should go back to the stuff I’m clear on.”
“Yeah, um... is your society in the midst of some ‘redheads versus the world’ thing?” Laurie said tentatively. “Should I even go outside?”
Luci finished spreading butter, and brought the plate of toast to the table before answering. “Let me put it this way. If you were a redhead when the news broke, you became associated with the artifact. Followed by being linked to genetic engineering, mind manipulation, knowledge of time travel - even if you had no flipping CLUE about ANY of that stuff. Meanwhile, some countries with very few - even no - redheads cried conspiracy. They demanded the real truth, wanted a piece of the action, and so forth.”
Frank winced, finally getting a sense of why Mindylenopia might have had trouble recruiting a redhead to pose as her double. And what Luci had meant by them being in over their heads.
Which was when the forty-seven year old asian looked at Laurie. “And then Carrie made it so much worse for all of you.”
It wasn’t her Carrie. Luci didn’t mean her Carrie, because this wasn’t her future. Not really. Laurie felt like she had to believe that, to cling to that tenuous fact, lest she lose her grip on reality itself. She swallowed, but before she could ask whether she wanted to know what Luci meant, Tim spoke.
“H-How do you make that situation worse?”
Luci turned away, heading back for the toaster. “To fully understand THAT, you need to know how Carrie operates. Let’s say we need to kidnap someone, to isolate them for a couple of days so that they’re freed of a mental suggestion they’ve been given.”
“You kidnap people?” Laurie gasped.
Luci reached for the tongs as the next set of toast popped up. She continued on as if she hadn’t heard Laurie’s outburst. “Carrie’s got a few options. The first is to ignore us, and let it happen; maybe she decides that the Temporal goal isn’t so hot after all, or there’s some other way to accomplish it without this person.”
“So Carrie does have a conscience?” Frank asked.
Again, Luci ignored the interjection. “Her second option is to tweak the past, jumping us into timeline twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two... we’re now aware of when this happens, simply because details don’t match up. The route our target was supposed to take, it’s suddenly different. Or our lookout, he’s delayed getting into position, because of a flash mob, or a car accident. Little things. The sort of thing you’d chalk up to bad luck - except, digging deeper, we realize Carrie had been involved. Directly or otherwise.”
Tim looked up from his toast. “Maybe that’s l-like when she destroyed the chip,” he offered. “Right Frank? Back when I was going to give the time chip to L-Lee, and instead, Carrie destroyed it. Except, aside from that, the week p-played out kind of the same.”
Frank simply nodded back at him. Laurie belatedly reached out for her slice of buttered toast too.
“Carrie’s final option,” Luci said, gesturing with the butter knife, “is a complete rewrite. Where, ironically, victory is ours - but it’s a Pyrrhic victory. We win, but we’ve lost. For instance, same scenario, but we’ve planned more. Plotted out the other probable routes, and we get a dozen lookouts, with two possible vans to make our escape, and then only identify the safe house to the driver after the target’s acquired... we build in SO much redundancy that Carrie can’t stop us, not with a minor alteration. So she doesn’t.”
Luci crunched down on her toast, as if waiting for them to draw the necessary conclusion. Laurie looked at Tim and Frank, gratified to find that they looked as confused as she felt. But they seemed equally as hesitant about admitting to it.
“So you win - but lose how?” Laurie asked.
Luci swallowed her bite. “First, it means we’ve committed so many resources to that project that we need to lay low for a while. But second, more importantly, it turns out that our target was a patsy - and “had been all along”,” she said, dropping her toast to make air quotes. “Meaning all the intelligence we’d gathered which pointed to that guy - was false. Which I don’t believe for a second. No, what that TRULY means is Carrie sent information back, telling her Temporal friends to not give this guy the swing vote after all. To have it be someone else... and yet to keep on him, as planned, so that we’d THINK we were getting the right guy.”
Frank let out a low whistle. “Hello paranoia city.”
“Such beliefs are not completely unfounded,” Luci said, retrieving her toast from the plate. “There’s a thing we’ve dubbed the ‘bleedthrough effect’. Curious actions on our part, which make more sense once we assume there’s a timeline being overwritten.”
“H-How does that make it worse for redheads though?” Tim asked.
“Because,” Luci sighed. “When Carrie makes the changes I mentioned, minor or rewritten? If she can, she targets the gingers. Every. Single. Time. It helps sow the seeds of suspicion and discontent within us. Makes us think they might be agents.”
“That's terrible... but also a weakness!” Frank realized. “Since if you KNOW Carrie operates by targeting the redheads, that means you can foil her by using... them... as... crud.”
Luci nodded. “Now you see it.”
“We’re bait,” Laurie concluded. “You’re saying redheads in the future are either genetically modified people who feel they’re superior, bait for Carrie within your resistance, or stuck somewhere in between. Seen alternately as villains or heroes by society at large.” With her stomach in knots, she dropped her half eaten toast onto the table, looking towards Frank. “I want to go back home now, okay?”
Luci moved back in, resting a hand gently on Laurie’s shoulder. “I’m sorry. Maybe I should have said nothing.” She looked back at Frank. “But do you understand now? What you’re truly getting yourself mixed up in?”
Frank nodded. “Yeah.” He ran his hands back through his hair. “Here’s the thing though. Based on what you said, there IS still a weakness. Because Carrie operates by tweaking your past, right?”
“Yes,” Luci said, patiently.
Frank pointed at the rest of them. “We’re not part of that past. Well, not your local past. Your Carrie can’t account for us. Or even if she can, we’ve got a Carrie from our time who can run interference. Maybe she’s doing that even now! As such, we might be your best shot at finally taking your Carrie out of the equation. Particularly if we get our hands on a certain weapon that Mindylenopia can give to us. That is, assuming we go along with her plans as I outlined.”
Luci stared. Laurie felt the older woman’s grip on her shoulder tighten slightly, before releasing. “You're... not wrong,” Luci realized. “Except we’d have less than a day to pull together some kind of... then again, working so fast, it would be equally unexpected. Can we do something?” Her teeth ground together. “Unfortunately, I think our only shot at managing this SAFELY means I call in... well, hell, no one would expect me to do that either.”
“Expect you to do what?” Frank asked.
Luci spun on her heel, stalking towards an adjacent room. “Would expect me to call on Julie LaMille for help.”