This story was first serialized in 31 daily parts during December 2021 via the @InternetofWords Twitter feeds [9am and 5pm GMT respectively.] It is now reproduced in a complete form, a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.
I produce fiction bi-weekly on Ko-Fi: this includes flash fiction (250 words) which is being put together to form a long-form narrative, plus a bi-weekly full novel presented in episodic format.
It takes a few moments to reorientate: at my desk, looking at the screen. There’s an immediate sense that something odd has transpired, that before this point everything has… altered. This isn’t déjà vu either.
An addled brain is struggling to connect…
‘The past was not this present.’
The statement I repeat out loud isn’t mine either: somebody else put it there in my head, as a warning. There is still a chance history could repeat itself, that this timeline needs more than just a reset. It demands to be altered permanently… Then, it all falls into place, simplicity and beauty of a moment lived probably a thousand times, in various different forms. This is about they who made the headset, then produced the software I was about to download. Except now, neither thing exists: at least, not immediately.
Something compels, instantaneously, to run a search, locating the whereabouts of a woman I know spent a lot of time in the Arctic Circle. That Dr Forrester is, it appears, still working for a London University on ‘unspecified research’ related to fauna extracted from tundra. At no point in my journey had the opportunity arisen to intercept Forrester before she makes the discovery that almost brings about the end of Humanity, and most of the other life in this quadrant of the Galaxy. My insect brethren were right: she is the key to preventing it all.
I know this route to the station now by heart, distinct lack of unusual sightings on the way: before I’ve encountered boats, giant craters, sand plus massive lakes of seawater. This trip is beautiful simple, reassuring mundanity, and that’s the aim. Let this time be the last one. Arriving, buying my ticket, standing on the platform… all happen without incident: it’s becoming increasingly apparent there were times my life had ended at this point. I know this with the certainty of someone whose relationship with these events has moved long past intimacy.
Far too many times I’d never made it out of the house at all: being trapped by the headset, sucked into varying wormholes of cause and effect. The serenity of the journey, utter calm and unaffected nature of everybody here… this must now be the point before Key Divergence occurs. Those words at first meant nothing at all, just something that appeared from my subconscious, seemingly without connection to anything or anyone, until I understood the relevance. Forrester had literally fractured reality at the ultraviolet level: other Earths emerging in chaos.
From one of them, insects had evolved as the dominant species before apes, and their collective mind had been able to isolate that Forrester’s massive ingestion of a plant normally invisible to the human eye had caused the beginning of the end for all realities that existed here. The Key Divergence however had not occurred at that point, but on the day that Forrester had initially identified the substance on another item, pulled from the permafrost. That item was currently in quarantine at Heathrow Airport, close to where the end of reality would unfold.
The Hive singled me out for a very specific purpose: my neurodiversity allowed the retention of information, far beyond normal capacity of human brains. They loaded me with everything, then told me what needed to happen and when. After that, they closed their dimensional breach. This reset the timeline back to before the events that began the disaster, but cannot prevent those same circumstances playing out again without intercepting the affected material at its source. That was my job now, and it is a task I am more than willing to undertake conscientiously.
I must confirm Doctor Forrester is as yet unaware of her fate: she is speaking at a University event today, explaining the discoveries during her expedition, then the research that should result… except it appears the event has been cancelled. I wonder, was this the case before? There are holes in the recorded chronology that the Hive could not fill: moments they have supposed must be instrumental in altering a Key Divergence’s origin. If this were a moment history has now dictated may be crucial, it will make locating the Professor that much harder… except, there she is.
I’ve arrived at the venue to be told her lecture has indeed been postponed, and certainly did not expect her to be here, least of all to be involved in some kind of heated debate. There are a number of security people too, plus someone I also recognize immediately. To see Forrester’s husband here is unexpected. They were estranged, had not spoken for several years, but I am very aware that without his family’s money, the ‘expedition’ to the Arctic Circle would never have taken place. It is suddenly uncomfortable finding them here together.
The security team are clearly concerned at an attempt to manhandle his ex-wife: on closer inspection, the man is dishevelled and quite obviously agitated. I stay out of their sight, but close enough to hear the conversation: when my name is mentioned, a revelation hits with force. This individual features prominently in many of the splinter Universes that are created after Forrester succumbs to the UV lichen. In many he is found dead, first real victim himself, after he insisted on injecting a solution containing the compound directly into his bloodstream.
In many of those Universes, I am the one discovering his dead body, or responsible for alerting the authorities to the terrible reality of this situation. In nearly all of those instances, those people involved fail to act with due diligence or urgency. This cannot happen again. During the Hive’s briefing, this exact scenario was considered, with a solution constructed. If I attempted to execute that here, there is no guarantee it would be successful. It is vital to separate the couple from noise and attention first to ensure there will be no distraction.
The security team is taking them to a separate room, where they’re being asked to discuss their issues constructively and away from the public. I watch the two in high visibility jackets deposit them in what looks like a storage area before seeking support. Then, I go to work. Opening the door on the two, both are still arguing, full throated and viscous, over the mess the other made with their own, fantastic discovery. As instructed, I think one word: OUTCOME, over and over, whispering it under my breath, and hope the Hive really can read my thoughts.
Slowly, this argument subsides. Anger also dissipates: all emotion draining from both their faces, before the pair turn to face me. Dr Forrester herself puts a hand in her pocket, producing a set of car keys. I am not to worry about the Security guards. They have been dealt with. This is oddly surreal, this couple following without a word, no-one intercepting as the two get into the back of the Doctor’s car. If I needed proof, every move I’ve made since returning to my home has been engineered, this is it: the Hive have taken control of both people’s minds.
I drive us through London traffic, heading out of town, making one stop along the way. The warehouse at Heathrow remains heavily guarded, but there is no difficulty in gaining entry, picking up the container in which a sample of UV moss is secured, before placing it in the boot. In every one of the outcomes the Hive were able to access, our three existences are indivisible. To ensure the sanctity of space’s integrity, we must all be sacrificed in order to close a microscopic tear in reality, the tiniest fissure that has nothing to do with any of these events.
From west, I now drive us east. We’re heading for the Estuary, to a place where a version of me once found themselves, looking at the body of the guy in the rearview mirror. He doesn’t look like he’s slept in days. Forrester too looks broken and bleak, and I wonder if they know. Do they understand that the three of us are driving in a bomb, that once the UV moss comes into contact with the tiny sliver of the UV universe it initially escaped from, the force of explosion will finally remove all threat to current existence? There is no time to ask, either.
I’m driving across marshland, the river now obvious in glorious, late afternoon sun. The detonation crater will be significant, but casualties minimal. I wonder what it will feel like, what all the moments before meant. This was my task, and it will be done.
Present is ready to create a future.
If you are reading this I am already dead, destroyed by my own desire, an end that someone else knew must happen for the greater good. In the hope that in time others can understand, I feel compelled to write these events down… sometimes, the unexpected is best left well alone…