((Loosely ties into Pyrria's storyline, but mostly having to do with what happened the night that Sullivan first asked Lucy out. There are a couple of swears, but nothing too objectionable - Mike))
Deus Ex Interruptus
Saturday, February 11, 2012
The Washington Estate
Paragon City, Rhode Island
Sullivan arrived home at 9:33 p.m. after the interview that turned out to be nothing like an interview and more like him pouring his heart out over the course of two hours. To a woman he barely know. A reporter no less. About a range of topics that were, at best, iffy and, at worst, completely forbidden for any Mender to talk about to anyone.
But he had sat there on the floating island on Oroborous and talked not just at length about being a Mender, he had also talked quite freely about how he mended and the very nature of mending itself.
And to top it all off, he had ended the evening’s conversation off by asking her to go to lunch with him.
He had asked her out on a date.
And she had said yes.
He sat down on the couch and turned the television on, but barely paid attention to the Sportscenter highlights that flashed onto the screen. He had asked her on a date. And she had said yes. He flipped through channels. Pawn store owners. Cats doing funny things. A guy wrestling with a crocodile. Sullivan heard that the dude died at some point, but they still showed his television show.
He asked Lucy Jones on a date.
And Lucy Jones told him yes.
He nearly called Jennings to ask for a ginger ale, but then recalled that Jennings was still down in Alabama negotiating the remainder of the labor agreement with the union down there. Sullivan sighed and flipped off the television and walked to the smaller of the kitchens in the estate. The large kitchen was Mrs. Ramirez’ territory and, even as the owner of the place, he had discovered that it was probably best to leave his snacks and drinks in the smaller kitchen for those occasions when he wanted to graze.
Doing otherwise would inspire the woman to immediately begin preparations for a three course meal whenever he happened to walk to the refrigerator.
He drank his ginger ale in the darkness and marveled at how empty the place seemed without Jennings’ presence. Jennings was generally… there whenever Sullivan happened to be around. The first year that the Brit became his house manager, Sullivan wondered whether the guy ever slept or not… but in the way of most who happened to have a major domo of Jennings’ caliber, Sullivan Washington had simply gradually become accustomed to the other man’s constant presence. Now it was not having him around that felt sort of strange.
Sullivan actually wished that Jennings was present, because then he could slip the subject on his mind into the barrage of repartee between him and his butler and Jennings would confer his thoughts on the subject with a witty rejoinder that masked some sort of deeper sentiment. And probably some good advice to go along with it.
So Sullivan opted to simply stop dwelling on it for the moment. Thursday would come like it always did and there was nothing he could do to stop it at this point. He sipped the ginger ale and thought about the way the interview had gone.
Had he actually told her about his condition? Yes, he had.
He had told her many things, but one thing ran through his mind that Sullivan believed he was right about. He had told her that there was no sense in knowing how to do what he could do if he actually couldn’t do anything. He sipped his ginger ale in the darkness and considered. He remembered a woman’s voice at a Christmas gala.
So he finally takes off the coat…
He thought about a woman named Roxy sitting on a rock on Talos Island telling him about the woman who said that to him. He thought about what Lucy had told her about how long this woman had been missing.
There was no point in him knowing how to do what he could do if he chose to do nothing.
Sullivan put the empty bottle down on the counter.
No one other than Jennings among the staff had ever been in this room.
The elderly British house manager’s ironclad hold over the household guaranteed that. He alone came to this area of the estate when it needed cleaning. He alone ensured that all of the doors remained constantly locked and, other than Sullivan himself, he possessed the only keys to the set of three doors someone would have to come through to arrive at this small room.
In other words, it would be virtually impossible to stumble upon the room by accident, which was why Sullivan had redesigned this particular small wing of the estate in the manner he had. He stepped into the room at 10:08 p.m..
Floating in the center of the room was a small pillar of ice and flame.
There was a workbench on the other side of the room upon which his few necessary pieces of equipment sat. He walked over to the bench and pressed a button. A draw slid out that was partitioned several dozen times. In each of the small partitions, there was a small tray of currency of various denominations from various countries contemporary to a variety of time periods.
It was all still there. He picked up the chronometer that would measure his individual aging relative to the passage of time in his anchor period. He picked up the remote signal for the pillar, which would remain here, safely ensconced in this room. He checked his handheld, which would track the flow of information and predict the ripple effects of his activity.
It would be simple.
He would trace the activity of the woman in the days before her disappearance. He would track her location. Then he would find some way to reveal that information to her husband or some friend of hers while minimizing the ripples.
It was far simpler than most projects he had undertaken during his fourteen years of the relative personal time he had spent as a Mender.
March 18, 2011
Sullivan sat on a rooftop approximately thirty yards away from the assassin.
The assassin was focused on the ground below. All she had to do to notice him sitting there was to turn in his direction because he was sitting in plain sight. However, she did not, (as Sullivan knew she would not), turn his way. His attention was focused on the handheld and the growth of the information dump it was currently experiencing.
On his wrist, the chronometer was spinning away and when it finally slowed, he glanced briefly at it and observed that he had aged two weeks and four days. There was a time early in his career as a Mender when he had pedantically engaged personally in all of the activities necessary to gain information necessary for the handheld to make properly informed predictions about the ripple potential of various activities he might undertake, but that time of pedantically walking through all of the detective work was long in the past.
These days, like most Menders, Sullivan simply generated the request matrix and programmed the chronometer to slow once all of the activities were completed. He noticed that he was sporting a new bruise, a couple of burns and a slash on his left arm that actually broke the skin, courtesy, he assumed, of the assassin who was now focused on the ground where the client was scheduled to receive a phone call in approximately forty-eight seconds.
The bruise, he assumed, was from the client, as were probably the burns.
Sullivan had found it necessary to properly gauge the capabilities of both participants in the event. Both had generic files already imbedded in the handheld, but Sullivan never trusted generic files. And in fact, the assassin had proven to be approximately seven percent more effective, according to his notes regarding the encounter, than the files predicted she would be.
Sullivan absently uploaded that information so that another Mender would not be caught off-guard in the unlikely event that another would encounter the assassin at this relative point in her history.
The assassin rose and destroyed the client’s phone. Sullivan looked up and waited 7 seconds before walking over to the edge of the rooftop. From this point forward, the information necessary for a proper prediction that would eliminate the ripple effects would have to be done personally. He listened to them speak. Bravado at first. Then a word caught his attention. Then two more.
Sullivan reset the scene.
On the third walkthrough, Sullivan began to run the probability stream. He believed he had pretty well nailed down who this Ross was and which of the multitude of potential organizations calling themselves Allied Federal might be at the center of all of this. He glanced at the chronometer. He had aged another three days, so it looked as though at some point, he had decided that more legwork was necessary.
On the handheld, his notes informed him of a network of safehouses used by the clandestine organization and provided him with a bit more detail on the role the client had played with them in her relative past.
Sullivan did not care about that.
It was time to begin the prediction generation, which would take some time. The client was now unconscious and being carried away. Sullivan ran a brief image scan on each of the perpetrators. It would soon be time to take the next step.
He barely registered it when another pillar portal opened behind him, heralding the arrival of another Mender.
Sullivan’s attention was focused on the work he was doing with his handheld, but he spared a brief glance at the new arrival, who was a young woman with red hair and eyeglasses wearing Mender’s robes so fresh they might have just been created for her only a few days before.
Sullivan himself was wearing the same cargo pants and blue jacket he always wore when mending during this period in history.
All Menders had robes, but almost none wore them in any other setting than Oroborous itself. Sullivan supposed that his own Menders’ robes probably looked almost as new as the girl’s did. He knew her. She had been an acolyte in one of his classes. Her name was Amelia. He supposed, given her appearance now, she was now called Mender Amelia.
She seemed a bit hesitant to speak to him, “Mender Washington…”
“Did you check the sight lines prior to arrival?” he asked her quietly, his attention still focused on the numbers he was running.
“Yes, “ she told him, “No one will look at this particular spot for 17 hours and 44 minutes, as I am sure you have already calculated. Mender Washington, I have been…”
“Good, “ he said, “And you established a cover identity to explain your presence in this when in case it becomes necessary?”
“I did, “ she answered, then tried again, “Mender Washington, I have been sent to remind…”
“How deep is your cover?” he inquired, observing from his handheld that there was very little he could do to ascertain the client’s eventual location by interfering with either of the primaries. Both the assassin and the client created unacceptable ripples if he did so. He sighed and started running the secondaries.
“Sufficient, “ she answered primly. “I will not be in the when long enough for the cover identity to become vital. Mender Washington…”
“And how do you know that?” he pressed.
“Because my only business here is with you, “ she told him. “I have been sent to…”
“And what if I had been injured?” he asked. “Or suppose I was involved in something that would bend the timeline. Would your cover identity not become important then?”
“You are involved in something that would bend the timeline, “ she told him, “And no amount of grinning at me is going to change that. Mender Washington, this is not a lesson and I am not your student any longer. You have been suspended for six years and ten months of your lifespan, of which…”
She checked her own chronometer briefly and looked up, “… exactly ninety-four days have elapsed.”
Sullivan nodded, “Sounds about right.”
She seemed at a loss for a moment about how to proceed after he acknowledged his offense so easily, then said, “So you will cease?”
“Have you run the probabilities on what ripples my continued presence in Germany will cause in this when?” he asked.
“Of course I have, “ she snapped. “That is my job.”
“Amelia, “ he said to her. “I doubt that they sent you back here if they did not trust you. Are you working in administration or are you doing field work?”
“I do not, “ she told him severely, “think that it is particularly fair that you refuse to take this seriously!”
Sullivan grinned, “All right. Go ahead with the wrist slap.”
“It is not simply a wrist slap, “ she said, “I have been sent to warn you that if you persist in this, your tools will be confiscated!”
He nodded, “Consider me warned.”
He returned his attention to the handheld. Mender Amelia stood there nonplused for a moment, then sighed, “You have no intention of desisting, do you?”
Sullivan offered a small smile. At that point, yet another pillar portal opened a few yards away from them. Both turned in its direct as Mender Silos walked out of it. Mender Amelia seemed stunned by his presence and engaged in a flurry of attempting to make herself appear presentable. Sullivan returned his attention to the handheld’s calculations. There was a line that seemed promising.
Silos took in the scene, then smiled at the flustered young woman, “Go home.”
She seemed abashed, “Mender Silos, you have my apologies that I was unable to dissuade him from…”
“Your performance was perfectly acceptable, “ he assured her. “There are simply times we are unable to successfully predict the stubbornness of those with brick heads.”
Sullivan glanced up and arched an eyebrow at him. Silos regarded him with a bland expression. Mender Amelia did not seem assured by the elder’s words in the slightest, but activated her remote and disappeared. Silos walked over to the edge of the building without regard for the sight lines and glanced down at the alley below. After a moment, he turned around.
“Ninety-four days, Sullivan?” he smirked. “Seriously?”
“You told me, “ Sullivan noted, “that in the event of an emergency…”
“Which this is certainly not.”
“… that I had access to the equipment, “ Sullivan finished. “I’ve narrowed…”
“Oh, Sullivan, “ Silos interrupted him with a tone of exasperated affection, “I already know what you have done. You will track the agents to their next assignment. One of them will die during it and you will pull him from the timeline just before he does so to ensure there are no ripples. You will offer him the choice of dying in six seconds or living out the remainder of his lifespan in sixth century New Zealand with sufficient currency to live comfortably there.”
Sullivan looked at Silos for a long moment, slightly nettled, then asked, “I’ve done this before then?”
“Of course you have, “ Silos told him. “And once you start, the chain of events becomes more and more inevitable. Your solution is elegant. Generally, your solutions are elegant.”
“But you mean to stop me, “ Sullivan stated.
“Well… yes, “ Silos told him flatly. “Your solution is not really a solution because there is nothing here to mend.”
“That woman doesn’t deserve…,” Sullivan started, but Silos interrupted him with a snort.
“Oh, so that is the way it works now?” he asked. “We mend things to the way we think things should be?”
“There is no point in me knowing…”
“… how to do these things if I can’t actually do anything, “ Silos finished for him.
Sullivan sighed, “We’ve had this conversation before.”
“Then why bother going through it?” Sully demanded. “Why don’t you just erase the event?”
“Because you’re one of my better Menders, “ Silos told him. “Even when you are idiotically ignoring the rules and doing something that even you, at the back of your mind, already know is wrong.”
“The client…, “ Sullivan started again.
“Pyrria Gardner is not your client, Sullivan, “ Silos told him. “There is no client here, because, once more, there is nothing here to mend.”
Sullivan was silent for a moment, then said, “I can accomplish this with no ripples.”
“And after that, “ Silos asked, “what do you ‘accomplish’ next? Do you, oh, I don’t know, maybe go back to 2006. ‘Mend’ something there as well? Prevent a death that ‘should not’ have happened?”
“That’s not fair, “ Sullivan snapped. “You know I wouldn’t…”
“Do I?” Silos asked. “I know that you are doing something right now that has nothing to do with what we do. How do I know that once you ‘help’ Mrs. Gardner, you don’t decide that since you got away with once, there’s nothing to stop you from getting away with it again? How do I know that one of the biggest chronological messes I will ever have to Mend won’t be caused by one of my best?”
“Because I, “ Sullivan started, then stopped, then finally, “she just… doesn’t deserve this.”
“Bad things happen to people everywhere and everywhen, Sullivan, “ Silos told him. “And once you start down this rabbit hole, you will follow it to its end. You will see that she hasn’t just been captured. You will see what is done to her. You will start with just the intention to reveal her location. Then you will wonder why her location couldn’t have been revealed months ago. Then you will start to wonder why, if you’ve gone this far, what the problem would be with just preventing the entire chain of events from happening at all.”
Sullivan sighed. He could not deny that the thought had not already crossed his mind.
“But that is not what we do, Sullivan, “ Silos told him. “I did not bench you just because of what was happening to your body. I benched you in part because there are times when you are addicted to the word ‘should.’ Things ‘should’ be a certain way. People ‘should’ not have to suffer. I gave you almost seven years to think about it and you only lasted three months.”
“So what are you going to do?” Sullivan asked.
“At the moment, nothing, “ Silos answered. “At the end of this conversation, maybe something. It all depends.”
“You, “ Silos told him. “There is nothing here to mend, Sullivan. This woman, in the end, may be stronger for what happens to her. But it is not your place to save her. That falls to her friends and family. And they may be stronger for having done it. They may not. But even if there is no happy ending. Even if she dies miserable and alone, there would still be nothing here to mend. Even if her friends and family never find her, there would still be nothing here to mend because it does not matter what should happen, my friend. It only matters what does happen.”
“I don’t know if I can accept that, “ Sullivan answered.
“And that is why I may have to do something at the end of the conversation, “ Silos smiled, “but not yet, because the conversation is not over.”
“You don’t think I can Mend anymore?” Sully asked.
Silos laughed, “I am not sure if you really want to mend anymore, Sully. All right, I can see that what I’ve said so far hasn’t sunken in. So I think it’s time to break through all of the bullshit, shall we?”
Sullivan blinked. Had Mender Silos just said…?
“Fine, “ Silos told him, “You don’t know Pyrria Gardner, Sullivan.”
Sullivan blinked, “I know that. So what?”
“You’ve only met her one time at this point in your life, “ the elder continued. “And even that meeting was a questionable one… you might have met her, you might not have. She might have been there. She might not. Time will tell on that.”
“So what’s the point?”
“The point is don’t you think it’s a little ridiculous that you are in the middle of tossing aside everything you’ve believed in for the last fifteen years for a woman that you might have met, but probably didn’t, only one time?”
Sullivan glanced away, “I don’t know what you mean.”
Silos smirked, “Of course you do. You know exactly how silly this whole thing is, just as, deep down, you know that everything you are doing has absolutely nothing to do with the woman you probably never met and absolutely everything to do with the one you did.”
“I don’t know what you’re…”
“Oh, come off of it, Sullivan Washington, “ Silos’s smirk widened, “yes, you do. You know that if you end up preventing all of this, Lucy Jones will never have covered Pyrria Gardner’s radio programs. Therefore, you will never have met Lucy Jones and now you would not be stuck with having to live with the ramifications of the very correct impulse that you had that it was time for you to finally move ahead with your life.”
“That’s… the most asinine thing I ever heard, “ Sullivan growled.
“Is it?” Silos asked. “And to top it all off, you are arranging it in the most painfully noble way you can to ensure that you can always tell yourself that you ‘did the right thing’ as you go back to moping around your palatial mansion and wondering what to do with yourself.”
Sullivan stared at him.
Silos grinned and struck a dramatic pose, then intoned, “Oh, don’t nobody know and cain’t no one ever unnerstaind whut Ah dun here an’ I’m a’gonna be so lonely Ah jes’ cain’t stain’d it. I’ll jes’ have t’live mah life a’knowin’ Ah dun the right thing. But thait Lucy shore wuz purty, warn’t she? -sob, sob, sob-”
Sullivan continued to stare at him with greater annoyance.
“You’re a dick,” he informed the other.
Silos shrugged and chuckled.
“I mean, seriously, dude, “ Sully demanded, “where the hell in Utah are you supposed to be from?”
Silos shrugged and said, “Beaver.”
“People in Beaver don’t sound like they come from south Alabama, “ Sully told him.
“Whatever, “ Silos answered. “Just get a grip, Sullivan. You are panicking, and that is okay, but I’m not going to let you wreck my timeline because you’re freaked out that a girl said yes to you and over what that might actually mean.”
“Well, “ Sullivan said, “you make it sound sorta… dumb…”
Silos chuckled, “Just go on your date. Have a good time. For fucks sake, do not jump ahead to see how it turns out or start trying to reset the scene if you think you are screwing things up.”
Sullivan flinched, “I wasn’t…”
Sullivan shook his head.
“And seriously, “ Silos said, “If you keep this up, I won’t like it, but I will take your equipment away from you. Ninety-four days? Really?”
“So, “ Silos asked him conspiratorially after a moment, “be honest with me, is she ‘hot’?”
Sullivan blinked as the elder used his remote to open a portal that he gestured toward. He and Sullivan started walking toward it as Sullivan answered, “Cut it out, man.”
“Are you planning to marry her?” Silos needled him.
“What are you? Twelve?”
There was a brief silence, then Silos asked, “Does she have a sister?”
“Just stop it.”
The two men disappeared into the portal.