This story was first serialized in 30 daily parts during November 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.

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One More Time

“Why do you keep coming back?”

Stan takes a long, considered sip of his Oat Milk Latte. Outside the café window it is a quite extraordinary Friday morning: chilled, relaxed, calm all the way up to Russian Hill. His ability surmises on a mood beyond… this time, he is different. Cat has become a memory, it’s the barista asking what was once her question. This remains a fine city to be an Empath in. The Mirror that used to make sense of all the realities, his path to this point, no longer exists either. It, too, has become a fiction.

“I am drawn here.”

“Like, a mystic thing?”

“Nope. Absolutely a practical thing. Quantum science draws me here.”

“That sounds way too complex to be drawn to, man.”

“You’d be surprised where you can be at peace in the Universe. Trust me on this, I’ve been doing this a while.”

Stan is on his own.

He is also totally aware that what sticks in this round, that’s the constant from now on. Events are his to dictate and command, for the first time since this ridiculous shit show began, which still has drawbacks, and remains acutely aware as a result that he cannot fuck anything up. He doesn’t sit and wonder about the vibe outside, it is the moment to be out here, in it, a part of it. Far too much of his life has become mired in his own head, without the much-needed distractions that living presents. It’s the downside to having briefly known everything.

Wandering around San Francisco is an oddly surreal experience as a result, especially today. He materialized back in that café at the exact moment the MegaQuake should have occurred, except, of course, everything is normal. There’s no connection to the Foundation any more, either. Except that’s a lie. For a while Stan thinks maybe he’s imagining it, that the random people passing by just seem familiar because that’s how it sometimes works, until he stops walking and watches the street from a corner. Then he sees it. The city’s full of the same eight bodies.

Then he looks closer: faces are the same, too. A simple selection, but amazingly never two the same put next to each other. Whoever programmed this simulation is not only smart but understands the significance of an aesthetically pleasing result, even if it is just for one subject. The assumption is, of course, that’s what this is: not because Stan’s arrogant, or indeed particularly worthy of having a whole, virtual world built around him. The moment before he’d vanished from the previous reality, and the one before that, and all the others… he’d known.

Everything had been real, confidence he was alive and present and never, at any point, was there even the slightest hint of something unusual at play. The last time, however, he’d known there was a difference at the moment he’d seen that cat at the intersection of 18th and Texas. Stan strolls there on autopilot, aware this could signal that he was a simulation too, but his brain says otherwise. This has happened so many times before it has become habit, as if every repeating time loop demanded certain events to happen as standard. He is surprisingly cool.

The cat is waiting for him, at the mural. He can’t tell what breed it is any more: the black feline has become a cartoon, simple lines and all black. It doesn’t have eyes either, unnecessary as it is here only to act as a placeholder for where he’s going. Stan’s off to Scotland. It is for him, as has always been the case, mostly incomprehensible light and noise. The odd image remains constant: a castle, the cannon, two people holding hands. Everything else is here just for context because this is when a relationship began. This was where his parents met.

His memories of them have been used as both backdrops and set dressing for some time now: faces featured prominently in the San Francisco simulation this time around. Cramond, he dimly acknowledges, was built from a set of holiday pictures kept in a red shoebox under the bed… But whose bed? Was it his, perhaps theirs… the details don’t exist anywhere to locate. It’s as if they are data to read but without depth, a recording or a recollection but nothing more. The main thing that matters in Cramond is the water. The water is more vital than anything.

Stan hates water. In coffee, it’s great, in a bath it’s tolerable, but anything past that is a great big NOPE. He hates the bridge too, because it goes over the water, and it’s way, WAY too high to be safe or sensible, and yet he’s going to go there after Cramond, and it’ll all play out. Then he’ll fall. He wasn’t pushed. He didn’t jump either, but there’ll be a moment when he’s standing on the walkway and looking over, back towards the land. Somehow he goes from being safe and secure to hurtling towards death, before a flying lizard swoops down, saving his life.

Except now, he understands that none of this ever happened to him. All of it was someone else’s imagination, overlaps of lives that were sucked into quantum space, that he mixed with. Memories so strong and vital they transcended matter itself and became the Universe it created. Stan has become the Everyperson in a simulation which he is absolutely NOT also running. That is the other voice, the secondary foil, the partner and the sliver from which every other player in this narrative was shaved. They are here now too, aware of his growing comprehension.

“Hey Stan, you finally made it.”

“Am I dead or what?”

“No, not dead, but at the moment between everything and nothing. This is the Universe on a subatomic level, a subquantum level: the annoying thing about the Universe is that it’s infinite for a reason…”

“And you are…?”

“I’m the last living thing you saw before this all went south.”

“All what?”

“Here’s the thing: when we start this again, there’s no stopping it, it just happens. I’ve held this place in stasis for what has been, give or take, nearly six and a half thousand years in Earth terms. I can’t tell you what’s gonna happen. You’ve got all the clues now, in your head. Everything’s there for you to work with, but the final decision can’t be mine. You’ll know why at a particular point in proceedings, that’s all I can offer as a help. I’m sorry, but you will get it. I also can’t change anything that takes when this runs: it has to get to the end or else nothing ever alters everywhere else. I thought I was stuck forever, and then I remembered you in all of this. You, my dear friend, are the game changer. Your life alters everything forever.”

“That’s the kind of responsibility I used not to be sure I’d be happy to have…but you’ve altered that. This whole scenario thing. All of this was for me, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, it was. An entire Universe just to teach the value of evolution as a benefit.”

Stan looks up, comforted.

It’s the first time he can remember her face properly for what he knows is thousands of years: the comfort it grants is considerable. Their bond had always been inseparable, since he was tiny and she had found him. Bringing him back to life, watching him grow.

His mother’s love.

Mom’s smile makes everything less stressful, it always did. Stan relaxes, allows life to fade to black. In the darkness, lights begin to appear, familiar patterns. A Universe surrounds them and both float in quiet moments of calm before the explosion. The quantum event is coming. Capable of thought, even now, Stan’s beginning to comprehend this reality. Not what other people think, or what he’s been told, but the movements of the Universe itself. Chaos has a form, just like everything does. Humans don’t understand: they’re simply far too stupid to do so.

Having spent his life watching them, there’d been little thought as to why anything they did made sense until now. Thanks to his mother, that has all changed. All of this is about a particular human, the other one in the photograph. The man that left. Her husband. Gregory Jones. Mom is gone now, and Jones is here. He’d been there the day before the accident. His car, outside the apartment complex. The car he now has to stow away in when this scenario begins, mere milliseconds from now. Their car that drives over the Golden Gate Bridge on the way to work.

Change is never going to happen if humans are involved. They’re too emotional and capricious. That’s his job. The dependable one, who can move fast and generate absolutely no suspicion. It’s up to him now, and he’s ready to change the World.

Stan, before the accident, was a cat.

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