Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Shortest Day

Martin Schubert fully expected to arrive at his apartment and find that he’d been evicted and his stuff was locked up in some county sheriff’s holding cage or boxed into a storage locker.  Or maybe he’d have to buy it all back in bits and pieces from places like The Scrappy Student Used Books Store near the University -- if indeed there were still such places as used book stores.  

God knows what had happened in the last couple of years.

Interestingly, the world looked pretty much like it had when he last remembered it.  Cars were a little different, there were posters for another blockbuster everywhere, and the televisions were embroiled in the latest electoral campaign... some familiar faces, some new ones.

He stepped over dead leaves to the front door of Arledge Arms, named, presumably, after some forgotten founder of the University.  It was one of the few buildings left in the world that lacked outer security.  It still squeaked the same way it had years earlier as he stepped into the softly lit hallway and unlocked his apartment door.  Much to his surprise, his home remained exactly as he remembered it.  If it had been tossed, it hadn’t been a sloppy job.  In fact, the lights were still on and the place had heat.  Seems like somebody had been paying his bills even after his old self had vanished.  

He slowly descended into a well-worn leather chair and reached into his pocket, extracting a small, elegantly printed card.

The Reason Foundation.hwvoorsgweoccnjelgpirlilsecttnkixyugzovlwosnnhjcreqt

The beautiful indian woman had been so compelling when she'd handed it to him.  So magnetic.  Her offer was generous.  Who was she?

A question for which he currently had no answer.

For the first time, he wished he’d kept a journal of this thoughts, frequently taken photographs of himself, left some record of his existence for himself today.  But he hadn’t.  He wondered a little bit about the past simulacrum version of himself.  Who was the Martin Schubert who had lived in this identity for the last 3 and a half years? Was he just like the real thing or was he different? Had he done anything stupid? Were there warrants out for him somewhere? 

Schubert shrugged:  He’d find out soon enough.  Right now he was tired.  And hungry.

He dropped the card on his desk and grabbed a winter coat as he walked out the door.

His travel had been taken care of and he’d been given him some spending money to get home, but he’d blown through it.  His next stop was an ATM.  He’d pick up some cash and grab dinner.  It was Christmas Eve, but it didn’t bother him to be alone.  He’d blown through a lot of Christmas Eves.

A light snow fell on Campus Street.  The students were gone, and the streets were quieter than usual, but little else seemed different.  Certainly not the buildings themselves.  Things rarely changed on campuses... that was part of the appeal.  A new building here or there but little else ever grew unfamiliar.  He saw The Tap.  It was a bar and sandwich place that had been there since the 50’s and probably hadn’t been redecorated since they first cut the ribbon.

The ATM was just down the street in front the AT&T store.  Now there was change.  It had morphed with every decade: A head shop in the 60’s, a music store in the mid-70’s, a video game arcade in the 80’s, an internet coffee shop in the late 90’s, a regular coffee shop in the early 2000s and now it was a cellphone store.

Schubert gave himself about a 2% chance that he was going to actually be able to get cash.  He stuck his card into the machine.  It asked for his PIN.  He input the four digits.  1984 in honor of the Orwellian nature of ATMs.

He waited.  Expecting to be told it had expired and he was wanted by the IRS for tax evasion.&!*#&#*!&&&&*^*@*$^&@&@*^^(*#*%*@^(&%

It didn’t.  It asked him what he wanted to do.  Withdraw cash.  Check account.  Make deposit, etc.

He shrugged and checked his balance.


He’d rarely seen a positive balance in his account, much less one over 4 digits.  This was six.  Six! He was suddenly feeling a whole new appreciation for his previous simulacrum.  Much better with money than the Martin Schubert who had existed before Niantic.

Maybe he could start a new life.

“Martin?” A voice said.  It was familiar.  He turned.  It was Marlie.  He’d just seen her a week before.  Well, a week and a few years.

“Marlie...”  He desperately wished he knew how he’d left things with her.  He’d taken her for dinner before he left for Niantic.  It was a couple towns away where they hopefully wouldn’t be spotted by anybody from campus.  She hadn't been his student for ages, but academic circles were small, and if Schubert got any more stains on his record at the University it might not be readable anymore.

He desperately tried to read her face.  

“It's so good to see you.” Was she sincere?

Seemed to be.  She spoke again.

“When did you get back?”

“Fifteen minutes ago.  Just heading over to the Tap.”xtaqmyj5fkwhv2xj

“No you’re not.  You’re coming to my place.  I hate eating alone.”

She put out her arm.  He put his in hers and they walked down the street, in plain view of anybody who happened to be looking out the window on this darkening, snowy evening of one of the shortest days of the year.  Whatever he’d done, his last simulacrum had left things pretty tidy with Marlie and he had a feeling he was going to enjoy this recursion.

And then it hit him.  He'd heard Hank say it but it hadn't landed until just now...  a meaningless factoid until this exact moment.  A recursion... a simulacrum's life... it only lasts 1331 days.

Friday, January 1, 2016


Hank tried to clear his mind of anger toward Calvin before opening his mouth.  He knew the scientist, spook, corporate head and Anti-Magnus operative was going to be shockingly uninformative, because he too had recursed.  He’d lost all memory since the beginning of the Niantic Project.  He’d forgotten the experiments gone wrong...  Epiphany Night...  the deal he made with Ni...  the years of tumult that had followed the Niantic Project's collapse.

For Ezekiel Calvin the world ended somewhere in 2012 and picked up again in late 2015.  If Hank had gone to law school like his parents had wanted him to, he’d be wondering whether the recursion who stood before him was guilty of crimes that he could not remember committing, or most specifically, that his current recursion had never committed at all.

But he hadn't gone to law school.

If the look on Hank's face hadn't been enough, Calvin knew what was happening when he saw Jahan standing there.  The game was up.  Nowhere to run.  Seeing the realization set in was like watching someone rehearsing a role in front of a mirror.  Confusion.  Recognition.  Panic.  Remembering his training.  Finding self-control.  Reading the scene.  Finding a viable exit strategy.  Turning on the charm.  Preparing the attack.

Hank began the conversation, awkwardly at first, but steadily gaining momentum, then he handed things off to Calvin.

Calvin's rationalizations and justifications came pouring out like a litany.  It was for the knowledge...  To save and advance mankind...  To acquire knowledge and cure poverty, disease and war....  To fend off the Shapers....  You are now endowed with immortal life...  You should be grateful...  Only the chosen few could ever experience this ...  I had to lie to you, it was the only way...  National security...  You knew we were going past the cutting edge of science...  Everything will be made right...  

The researchers were more confused than Hank had expected, he had underestimated how jarring this would be for them and Calvin's stump speech wasn't helping.  For them, the betrayal that had stolen their right to self-determination, their bodies and three years of their lives was an abstract problem.  Something barely understood, and felt even less.  

Occasionally one of them would glance inquisitively at the striking, dark-haired women standing silently in the corner.  Jahan watched in silence.  Hank knew that someday soon she would approach them individually and try to take them under her wing, but for now she was simply observing.  Distancing herself, perhaps, from the foul taste this moment would surely leave in their mouths.

Hank filled the researchers in as best he could on the lost days, but there were holes in his knowledge.  There were a few questions, but most were practical.  Enoch wanted to make sure he could take his equipment.  Carrie wanted details about how she had supposedly died...  she inspected her arms and legs.  No tattoos.  Misty asked Hank how he had reconstructed his memories when he had recursed.  He told her about the Breadcrumbs.  She didn’t have any Breadcrumbs, she’d figure it out.  God knows who was after her now, and where would be safe for her to go.

Schubert, Lightman and Nagassa barely regarded each other.  It was strange.  Hank thought of them almost as a unit -- the three wise men -- but he realized that now they were almost strangers.  They would have a long record of their communications to go over if they chose to.8JgW5vtBN8xdqnF0P9j5z

The questions and answers seemed to go on for hours, then there was silence.  The confusion was slowly resolving into a realization: They were about to walk into the world with no idea what they had done for the past three years.  

Of all of them, Kureze seemed to understand the implications of what had happened the best.  He just stood there with a bemused look on his face.  His 'abduction' into Niantic had felt like just weeks earlier, but was in fact three years in the past.  Hank guessed that Kureze didn’t really live in time the way most people did, so he was probably the least perturbed.

For Devra, it was the most poignant of all.  All of it was erased.  The escape with Jarvis, Visur, the CDC, Shanghai, Australia, the 13MAGNUS Nest.  She wouldn’t remember Farlowe, her assassin turned guardian angel or 855.  She was shocked to see Hank.  She’d thought he was dead.  She hugged him.  He told her she'd understand, in time.  It went through her.  Truth is, she thought she was dead and this was some afterlife initiation ceremony.  She focused instead on what she could control, and that was to return to the familiar.  Her apartment.  Her office.  Her books.  Hank felt a deep sadness, the images of everything they had shared over the last three years kept flashing in his mind.  Meeting on the bridge.  Sitting on the bench in New York.  Those long conversations that could make time stand still and the world shrink into the palms of their hands.  She would never know any of those memories.  But maybe new ones would take their place.  So much had been lost, but Hank had hope for what could still be created.3wib7hsvhsvh26389 

He had expected a lot of anger, but he didn’t get it.  They were too confused and disoriented to think of anything but escaping this room, this facility, this moment.  Finding stable ground and a place to sort their thoughts in privacy and safety.

And nobody asked about where Roland Jarvis was.  Of course, they barely knew him.  Some of them probably didn’t remember him at all.

An hour later when the last of the cabs and black cars had pulled away, Jahan and Hank stood alone in front of the Niantic Facility.  

It was cold and a thin layer of moisture hung in the air.  The predawn light was just beginning to emerge and an intermittent wind whipped Jahan's long hair around her eyes, which were dark with the weight of what she had just witnessed and the possibilities that lay ahead.

There were a million things to talk about, a million things Hank could have said or questions he could have asked, but only one came to mind.

“You think there’s anywhere around here to get some breakfast right now?”