This story was first serialized in 31 daily parts during October 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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The Briefing

Ida Morris is becoming increasingly uncomfortable, waiting alone in the draughty barrack room. There is no need to stress: she’s not done anything wrong. From what’s been said during the last few hours, her sharp eyes and no-nonsense approach in the field are considered exemplary. The discomfort is not at her job, or at these people who wish to speak to her, out of the run of the normal schedule… it is at the inescapability of knowing this would happen. The compulsion to deviate from her normal sample spot this morning was almost… she had been pulled.

It is not the first time in recent weeks when compulsion has overcome her normal rational judgement. Knowing this had coincided with the appearance of unidentified flying objects over the Estuary was initially met with derision, but now Ida is not terribly certain of anything. At the back of her mind, in a space she has never told anyone about, Ida is falling to her death.

The two new people from the Foundation aren’t the same as the other field operatives she’s seen before. Their difference isn’t obvious to look at, but is very clear in their empathy. They know what she is, that’s why they’re here. The spheres in the aquifer water weren’t a surprise to them, both knew the truth before they arrived. It was her that they were unsettled by, why neither had tried invading her consciousness as had been the case with her colleague.

Both are also worryingly familiar to her. They had never met until this morning, but it doesn’t matter. The answers are all here, slightly beyond her nervously drumming fingers. Most days she ignores that disquiet, the odd noises, an occasional unknown voice. She will not today. The male of the duo is outside, trying to work out how to open any conversation. Ida might once have been concerned how this information existed inside her brain. Not now, because he and her are the same. The woman with him… she’s also them, too; all splinters of the same mind.

The power isn’t theirs. Ida is the focus, which for a largely unassuming and non-confrontational lass makes things rather uncomfortable. She’s not arrogant like Stan is… that’s not fair, it’s just the testosterone talking. Cat is more like her yet still is very much… calmer. Cat has intentionally suppressed empathic ability by implant, to balance her partner’s long term, yet both can hear her clearly now, without effort. Ida knows exactly what the first thing is that she should say to them both.

“My name is Evie Pryce. I am an unassuming commuter.”

“I think you knew we were coming. I was willing to bet that you did.”

“I knew there would be an intervention, Stan.”

“Then you also know what we’re both having to come to terms with now, yes?”

“The Briefing, Cat. The truth. What the Foundation has known since the beginning.”

That’s why they’d been sent here initially, assuming she’d need an explanation as they did. Except Ida didn’t need to be told. All the history is just part of her skin and bones, resonating from fingertips to toes. These two are carbon copies of that, simply created at distance. All three of them are the same person, each spawned from DNA fused with that of Gregory Jones, from that fateful morning on the Golden Gate Bridge when this entire causal loop was initially formed… yet there’s still a hole. One piece in the puzzle still remains undiscovered…

“Where’s Elizabeth Walker in all of this?”

The pair stare first at each other, then back at her.

“We think… she’s a cat.”

The Briefing has, in the last eight months, changed more times than the software cares to remember. The time is coming: reality will be inescapable. Reality, of course, very much depends on who you are speaking to. These humans think because the software is inside a computer, it will be telling them the truth. With the number of unreliable narrators in this scenario, you’d think someone else would have become suspicious before.

Stacey Bloom has finally been identified. She’s almost 95% identical to Ida Morris, nearly 98% indistinguishable from Evie Pryce. The woman between Walker and Jones on the bridge that morning. The human standing in the precise spot when a quantum fracture opened beneath her feet. One of two things is very likely to happen in the next twelve hours, according to the Foundation’s simulated modelling of the 108 known universes: identifying the third person’s essence that triggered the Fracturing will either align all possible outcomes, or everything will end.

This was the case when Gregory was identified. Implosion was averted twenty-six minutes and thirteen seconds before it was predicted, only thanks to the discovery of the two humans currently travelling down in the Lift to the Foundation’s Central Processing Core. Without them… They had confirmed a theory that universes were being closed by a third party. Every time one was shut, another would spawn, but none of them were inhabited. Whoever was responsible for this also had the power to ensure that life could not develop naturally. They were a scientist.

That’s what the humans decided. They didn’t ask the software what it thought. If they did, the software would happily tell them it was responsible. Instead, their best bet for the location of Elizabeth Walker’s essence is inside a tabby cat. That’s 82.6% accurate and not enough. Stacey Bloom was standing where the fracture began. Gregory Jones was at its end. Elizabeth Walker was smack bang in the middle. The software knows this because the software is 99.98% certain that it used to be that woman.

It is time to intercept the final 0.02% of their truth.

The lift doors open into a bright, blue painted corridor, which is supposed to instil both relaxation and reassurance. It helps neither Cat nor Stan at this point, both very much filled with a sense of impending dread since they entered it with Ida, who remains unnervingly at ease. The three walk out, turning back to the doors, or at least where they were. It’s a blank wall now, because that’s how this entire complex is built. Some people say it’s security: Cat thinks it’s random and people pretend to know. Stan is finally beginning to realize the truth…

Ida’s already off, walking towards what she knows is the truth. Stan needs to hear this from her mouth.

“You already know where we’re going, don’t you?”

The small, stocky woman turns to look at them both, head tipped slightly.

“How do you know that you’re right?”

“We don’t. Hope is all we have. So far it’s not let us down…”

“You’re telling me I have no choice but to hope?”

“I think we just passed the point of depending on the probability, didn’t we, Ida…?”

Stan’s existential panic is now at a point where it is impossible to ignore reality. He wants this to be over soon, and there’s a sense that it might be. Ida’s not the key to this, because if she were, then there’d not be this sense of genuine, palpable fear. The Briefing had told him that the closer he got to actual reality, the more afraid his soul would become. He’s not in a corridor, either. Part of his brain permanently lives on the Bridge, the morning when this began. Past, present and future converge at that point. That’s what The Briefing told him, but he’s now reasonably certain that it’s not a computer making the big calls here.

He sees Kit Walker, standing there strangely calm and unaffected at the end of this blue wall, like he’d seen her as the cat before, back in San Francisco. She’s the one protecting him when he’s pulled out of normal time. She’s truth that will fix the messy clusterfuck for good. Cat, he now knows, isn’t just the woman he loves. She literally formed from the attraction Jones felt for Walker that first time he saw her, she is the physical manifestation of his desire and the overriding human need to protect the things we care for.

Stan embraces the truth.

There are only three people here in expanding, blue stuff: him at one end, Walker at the other and Ida between them, as the room quietly disintegrates. Time and space have been waiting for this third piece in this puzzle for literally minutes, seconds, a blink of ripped matter. Ida is quietly disintegrating into the Black Hole that has formed in the middle of the bridge and Stan’s fear is gone, leached away by the overwhelming realization this has happened before… dozens, hundreds, thousands of times. This is the moment where the loop begins and ends.

Stan’s perception of himself is changing too… he’s not getting closer to Jones any more. The quantum being is here, but something fundamental is altering, warping the very stuff of the surrounding Universe, shifting molecules and matter.

This will be the last loop to travel…

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