talonkarrde: (Default)
"Excuse me," he said politely to the person in front of him. "I'm not sure where I should be going; this is my first time here, I think."

A look of surprise came over her face. "Oh? I didn't know we still had newcomers; I haven't met any in a long time. You're in the wrong line — this one is for those that have already decided where they're going. But it's quite alright - just head over to that counter, and they'll take you through the entire process."

He went as he was directed, looking up at the tall, tall man behind the counter. It didn't look at him.

"Hello, sir. I'm here for...something." He paused, searching his awareness. "A process to be started."

"Everyone is here for something. This happens to be the sorting department. Why do you require sorting? Haven't your experiences taught you enough?" The response was curt, and the giant — a nametag said Gabe — still didn't look at him, though he did shift slightly behind the counter.

"Because," the smaller one said, "I've never done it before."

The reaction was immediate: the giant abruptly bent down, inspecting him carefully, with a look that was more omniscient than piercing. "Well," Gabe said after a bit, and then again, "Well."

"You are new. Come, please, follow me." Without another word, Gabe strode away, leading him through a veritable maze of hallways and intersections, with doors spaced every so often; each door bore a different name. Every once in a while, someone would pass by the pair — an old man missing an eye; a cheerful young woman with an ankh around her neck; a man, brown of skin, with a falcon's head; and a tall, slim man with eyes of madness and a shadow that writhed — and never once was he paid any mind by them.

Finally, the giant stopped in front of another doorway, one bearing a short, four letter word on it, and gestured for the newcomer to head on in.

"End of the line, beginning of the process. You'll have to make a choice and then, well, all of those that we passed in the Crossings will start taking an interest in you, that's for sure. Now, I don't usually give advice...but it's been couple eons since we've had a newcomer, and, well, maybe it will make a difference. So, here: take risks. You'll be back."

With that, Gabe rose to his full height, clapped the young man on the shoulder, and then spread his wings and flew away.

Miles — that's what he decided his name was — watched as the angel flew away, and then stepped through the archway.

-

The room was dark and close and pulsed faintly; it enveloped him and never seemed to extend more than a few feet to any side, though he kept walking and the walls kept retreating. Eventually, he stopped, and found that two others were there with him. One, he saw, was the light, and the other darkness, and they were in balance, neither overriding the other.

The light spoke first, and it knew his name.

"You are new to this existence, Miles, and so you have a decision to make. You may choose what form you take, what responsibilities you will be given, what burdens you will bear."

The dark continued, "And you will choose what pains you will suffer, how your nights will be spent, what calamities will pass you by."

"What-" he started to ask, and then found his question answered.

"Anything at all," the light said, sinking roots into the ground, stretching above Miles and communicating in patterns of dropped leaves and sunlight peeking through branches. "You could be an oak tree, starting from a seed in the ground, forever growing towards the light, casting a canopy thirty-meters wide and providing a home for tens or hundreds of other species."

"Until the bulldozer comes," the dark continued, twisting into a whirring, mechanical maelstorm, "and sawblades cut your body apart, destroying the shelter that you provide and leaving an ugly scar where you were. But you will feel nothing; you will simply, one day, stop living."

"Or you could be a cat," the light said, stretching out a paw and batting at the air, "and play with humans, and be fed and nourished by them, and enrich their lives when they are feeling down, and be a cherished part of their lives from the time that you are born to the time that you die."

"But you will suffer," the dark responded, and gave Miles the feeling of hunger from not being fed, of pain from being mistreated by owners that saw him as nothing more than a plaything, of terror at being chased by creatures bigger than him and having no one to defend him.

They were feelings that Miles did not envy, and he asked what else he could be, and the light and the dark told him of the millions of shapes that life had taken.

-

And then, finally, they show him what being human was like.

The light smiles at Miles and lets him see visions of a father cradling his newborn daughter for the first time, the love between two octogenarians that have been married for more than half a century, the thrill of a winning goal on a team of underdogs. He shows him the wonder of thousands of people working together to make peace in a war-torn region, and the effects that one good person can have on his community, on history.

And the dark shows him the pain from losing a child to a miscarriage, a misunderstanding between a child and his parents leading to something that tears the family apart. He inflicts upon Miles the pain of losing family members to war, of innocent civilians dying for no reason, and shows him the emptiness that their deaths leave behind. The dark tells him that pain is unavoidable though happiness is far from certain, and that many will live meaningless lives and die in pain, alone, for no reason.

And when they are done, they ask him what his choice will be, and he does not hesitate. There is no amount of pain, he says, that would not make life — and self-awareness — worthwhile. The light and the darkness disappear, and where they were, Miles observes that in the middle of this dark, pulsing, enveloping room, a cell is dividing.

Soon, he knows, it will be him.
talonkarrde: (Default)
Good day to you, Misters C______ and  A_________.

My name's Hob, and I'll be leading you on this tour today. If you have any questions, please go ahead and interrupt me, and I hope you find this visit worthwhile in your deliberations as to whether or not to buy the facility. If you'll follow me, we'll get started right now, as I'm sure you don't have time to waste.

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that any events which come to pass will be in want of someone to correct them." No doubt you saw the plaque on the lawn on your trip in. It's an impressive piece of architecture but all it really tells you, if you don't mind my honesty, is that the 'eccentric' founder of our company had a real hard-on for Jane Austen. Don't get me wrong — I like her as much as anyone else, but our founder, well, he enjoyed taking regular visits back to Bath around 1800, if you know what I mean. I'm afraid the investigation is still pending, so I can't comment on it officially, but I wouldn't be surprised if there's a Darcy in Austen's life right now, and not just on paper.

But I digress. Keep coming this way and we'll come up to the travel chamber soon. If you look past the poor reference, though, the plaque is a decent summary of what we do. I mean, everyone wants to fix something in the past, from the small things like having the South win the Civil War to bigger things like making sure Tesla gets all the credit for electricity... or making it so that Caligula ruled Rome for twenty more years. Hell, if you want a party, you should see what Rome is like under the man around 45 AD. Straight up party of the millennia, honest — just try not to get grossed out by the, uh, incest and stuff. He was a weird guy, for sure.

Anyway, as you pass through this doorway you'll notice the travel cubes — the one on the left is called Elizabeth and the one on the right is called Mr. Darcy — yes, he specified that the 'Mister' would always be included. Like I said... but interestingly, one of them is more temperamental than the other, and it seems they were named right.

Oh, yeah, 'big' and 'small' are really relative terms. We don't handle personal things like killing off grandfathers or anything like that, it's not really worthwhile. But for the more global things, the scientists have figured out approximately how much it would affect history and the accountants have it all priced out. Hell, they've quoted me just under eight figures for stopping civilization from arising in the future place, but—

No, no, of course I'm kidding, Mister C______. No one's ever done any analysis — or pricing — on something like that. And we'd have to go back earlier than we ever have. Anyway — you have a question, Mister A_________?

Ah, yes, we get this question a lot. Now, I'm not an expert on the science behind causality and whatnot, but there are branching universes and such, and apparently this facility exists in all the timelines that exist that you return to. So you can make any changes and see the repercussions in a timeline where you went. It's all a bit circular, as these things go, with the snake eating itself across a few thousand universes or so.

Anyway, if you'll come this way, I'll take you to our command center and tell you a bit about our past history — I'm sure you're interested in that. Do you have any other questions at this time?

Ah — well, our success rate is, and I'll be frank, the reason that we're trying to find a new investor right now. The problem is that, although there's never any difficulty in coming back and viewing the repercussions...well, as I'm sure you know, it's kind of hard to actually effect what you want to. Ripples in time, quantum disturbances, blahblahblah. But there's more, one that the pulps don't usually cover.

See, it's really effin' hard to actually... talk to these people. Sure, if you go back less than a hundred years, not a big deal, you can almost do it without training, even. As long as you don't reference current music, you can probably pass by without them looking at you like you're a three headed alien, or worse, someone with no taste.

But then you start going back further, and even with training, with culture integration, with the best tech we got to make translation easier, you still hit a stone wall. The problem is that, well, we don't share too much in common with the people that came two centuries before us, and we share even less with people as we go back further. The scientists say that our genes are the same, that we could go back and knock up any ol' broad on the streets, but we don't share any real culture in common, you see?

If you never talk, then it's not as big of a problem. But open your mouth, and it doesn't take more than a few minutes for the locals to know there's something mighty strange about you. We think about intergalatic travel, about the approaching Singularity, about trying out various new gene therapies and whatnot. People in the 1900s? They're trying to figure out how to feed themselves, how to make more money than the next guy — hell, they still have war with each other, and don't know that there's a whole universe out here that everyone can have their own special corner of.

Beginning to see what I mean?

I made a joke about Caligula earlier — I was there, in 43 AD, with Caligula still alive. And I...I wanted to see if I could change things a bit, teach them about what we have here. Not like, a huge leap, not something that would bump them in levels of civilization, but just a bit of political theory, a bit of engineering.

You know what I got? Absolutely nothing. Blank stares, like the ones that I would see in my university maths class. Just a complete lack of understanding. Now I did the whole deal, I laid the groundwork, gathered up materials, gave them everything they would discover in the next hundred years.

Nada. So I said, well, maybe Rome isn't the best era, let's jump forward to the 1600s, England. Talked to Shakespeare about writing, about the future of literature and plays and expression and—

Yes, Mister C______, another stone wall. Just a complete failure in explaining these concepts that they themselves will discover in ten, twenty, at most fifty years. No one's been able to figure it out; all the scientists say is that they need  more information. They always need more information.

For now though, all that political stuff is out. It's hard enough to talk to people without getting locked up for being a spy or a freak or a witch, and we may never be able to get over that hump. We're like the Old Ones of Mars to them, or perhaps varelse — communication on a meaningful level may never be possible.

...

Ah, yes, we do have the ability to knock 'em. I mean, there have been some clients that requested that we do such things, and, well. It's hard to talk to them, but we can shoot 'em up fine. Again, though, I would caution you on the dangers, because if you...

Well, yes, we could prolly go back that far in time, but it's never been tested, and so we don't have the data on that. No, we've never done anything substantial that far back, because it starts to affect humanity on such a major level that we don't know if we'd even be here.

...of course it's safe, Mister C______. if you insist on a demonstration we could do that.

4800 BC, you said? Tommy! Dial us in!

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