This story was first serialized in 30 daily parts during June 2022 via the @InternetofWords Twitter feed @ 9am. It is now reproduced in this complete form, with 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. I also record weekly videos.

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Grand Illusions

In the days leading up to the 2028 San Francisco MegaQuake, it would be fair to state a great deal of really weird shit went down. A lot was forgotten in the chaos that followed, but an equal amount is notable not simply for its existence: at distance… it wasn’t weird at all. The problem was no-one knew to look for it initially. Fortunately, when the time came, a number of people had done a remarkable job of documenting those events, independent of each other. During those last fateful days, pretty much all of them assumed they’d hit the jackpot.

A Vlogger, a scientist and an unassuming commuter might not seem like a trio of individuals you’d expect to come together and save the Universe, but that’s pretty much always how these things work. It’s never the people you expect: they’re prepared, organized and that’s too easy. In almost predictable late 2020s style, it began as inevitable commercialism. However, the events of those last seven days meant that at the crucial moment, all three individuals happened to be on the Golden Gate Bridge when it vanished, 12.6 seconds before the MegaQuake struck.

The fact it then took a full sixteen hours after the event for anyone to question the bridge’s absence just proves how utterly and comprehensibly terrible the following three months ended up being. That is a story for another time. We are only interested in the weird shit beforehand. It should also be stated that no-one lost their lives there. In fact, countless people were saved because of these events unfolding: on any other day, what transpired to trap three people on the bridge during the undoubted peak of morning rush hour would have been headline news.

However, nobody knew what really happened on the bridge that morning, and they must never know. It’s why we were forced to relocate three people and list them as casualties. If anyone was ever able to work out how the bridge subsequently reappeared 12.6 days later, utterly intact? Weird shit would be the least of everyone’s problems. Assessments concluded that explaining an absence would be easier than trying to cover up the initial loss. We sent back a weather drone to that moment, set to seed impenetrable fog as a cover, and only then did we understand.

Without the drone’s appearance, none of this would ever have happened.

“My name is Elizabeth ‘Kit’ Walker. I am sixty-two years old, and have kept video diaries of flora and fauna in the Bay Area since 1984, working at the California Academy of Sciences for over 40 years. I have recorded this message to be returned to my dearest friend and confident, Abigail Fisher, so she may know the truth behind what everyone else will be told was a terrible and untimely demise. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am well, happy, and in time will thrive. You will find Abigail in her office at the Osher Rainforest exhibit, and I would ask you not look at the details on this tape. It is a matter between her and me. She will know I am not dead, as she has always known everything about me, long before I was cognisant of my own feelings.

I am writing this statement not simply as an indicator that I fully accept the actions of The Tachyoscope Foundation, and am more than cognisant of the potential consequences had I declined their recommendations. That name may mean nothing now, but that will soon not be the case. Mankind has been fascinated with time travel’s possibility since Albert Einstein calculated his own theoretical concepts. I wonder now what he might have thought of these events over the last twelve days and six hours. I suspect he would have rejoiced in complexity and exactitude.

There is comfort, for me at least, in the mundanity that bought me into a Parallel World from which I have no intention of leaving. Abigail will understand why, completely and utterly, and the life that is left behind is now safe from any future and unwanted temporal incursions. Thank you for both your understanding and discretion at this time.”

“Excuse me, are you Doctor Abigail Fisher?”

The woman turns, putting down what is a sizeable box of papers… and the courier knows they’ve found the right person, without the need for acknowledgement. Fisher smiles, recognizing them immediately: smile becomes grin, then the distance between them is shortened in a moment. This hug, to an observer, would suppose that these two knew each other well, were perhaps even intimate at some stage of their lives, not two total strangers.

Walker has briefed her colleague well.

The courier pulls out their digital tablet and begins what should also, at a distance, look as if they are simply passing on a message, that is then signed for… when the truth is cleverly concealed. Dr Fisher has become a member of the Foundation. The Disaster Response centre should be quiet at this hour, but these people understand that in order for thousands of vital documents to be saved, time is of the essence. Fisher was in New York when the MegaQuake struck yet made it their business to fly straight back into terror.

If the Foundation are successful, all this recovery will be rendered unnecessary. No-one here will even remember weeks of chaos and terror, the consequences of which have been mirrored across multiple versions of this same space. Abigail has become a crucial portion of their plan. This woman is also waiting for their parcel: the DVD is handed over, inside which is a handwritten note that was provided by the courier’s Liaison Officer. Instructions are to wait until it is read, then convey the response back. The Doctor reads, as her face again breaks into a smile.

“What’s your name?”

Nobody had ever spoken to the courier before, other than a cursory acknowledgement of their task. No-one had EVER asked for a name.

“Evie Pryce, Ma’am.”

“I may be old, but I’m certainly not a Ma’am! Evie, would you like to come have some tea in my office?”

“You have an office here?”

“No, it’s a camp-bed and a small waterproof box of what’s left of my belongings: as the only way we return to normal here is with routine, there is a stove for boiling water…”

“I was told to wait for your response to the note…”

“Well, that’s it!”

Dr Fisher hands the note back to Evie, on which is written one sentence:

Ask Evie to have a drink with you: there is a lot to talk about.

Courier Pryce was told there would be a point in their career with the Foundation where a moment could define their progress. Here it is.

“Dr Fisher?”

“Yes Evie.”

“Do you know why the Foundation have asked me to do this?”

“Well, we have spoken a lot about what will happen when this timeline is erased. A certain number of people have been chosen to remain cognisant of events: maybe that now includes you as one.”

“But I’m nobody! I have no family, no-one who cares for me-”

“Which makes you an idea candidate to be left as a Temporal Marker. Do you know why I am not sad about losing Kit?”

“Is it because in the other timeline you’d been together for decades, but she recently passed away?”

“Partly, but that’s not the whole truth. I have inoperable cancer. My time here now therefore is short, and there is a legacy which will need preserving… so, the Foundation was asked for a willing mind to be my successor. I know how well they vet their employees: that’s why they sent you.

Evie stands, breathing in new possibility. It was the job no-one was ever picked for, but the one everyone secretly hoped to be chosen as. A quantum beacon, the straddler of multiple alternate realities. If Fisher passed naturally before this timeline was finally reintegrated… It was not only knowledge and history that caused the initial rupture that could be compromised. Kit Walker needed to be remembered, so their relationship to Gregory Jones could be kept safe. His association with anyone in the timeline must be denied. He must be erased for good.

Except, in this case… without Jones, the Tachyoscope Foundation would not exist. Here is the ‘Subject Zero Scenario’ that Pryce was taught on the first day, her inaugural session of Temporal Orientation. Without him, Parallel Dimensional Travel would never have been possible… Fisher’s smile is both infectious and beguiling. There are worse places to live out eternity, after all. The Doctor’s cancer might never have a chance to take their life either, if a Temporal Marker is already in place. The rules are very clear.

There is one way to find out…

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