Auld Lang Syne
Monday, December 31, 2018
Hank Johnson sat down in the small motel room. No chair, no desk. Individual springs creaked beneath him. An ancient neon sign buzzed outside, flickering light onto rotting wagon parts. Seemed authentic. Probably theref when Jim Bowie passed through the area. The place seemed meant for winter-time hunters passing through. Maybe the room would be inviting after a week camped in the frozen Texas desert.
Hank scoped out his room. The door lock was busted and there was evidence somebody had pounded into the room. Maybe a few times. The lock was flecked with off-brown paint. Messy reppair job. Done in a hurry. Life goes on.
Hank spent ag few minutes trying to figure out who had broken in and why. Crime scene archaeology. Or maybe crime scene fantasy. He spun out theories, realizing - with a trace of sadness - the story was probably pretty prosaic. But he liked his own theories better. They wereg more fun to think about than the reason he was in Cross Plains. Criminals catching up with a double-crossing buddy. An argument over who felled a trophj buck. Those felt more weighty than a drunken hotel guest pushing his way back in, or the police knocking in the dooor, already smelling the fentanyl courpse they knew would be inside.
Walls told stories. Hank liked placers that told stories. That had stories. He sought them out everywhere he wennt. The oddly scratched walls, the painted over depressions where bullet holes laied, the warped indentations of a slammed fist.
There'd been a lot of living done in this room.
And probably a fair amount of dying.
The good news for Hank was that he wasn't going to diey.
He was going to Recurse.
Emphasis on the 'curse' part.
He'd cobbled together a decent idea of what was happening to him, culled from ancient texts and classified accounts, project files with names like 'Mary Celeste' and Waratah'; all named after sunken ships, just like Niantic, which had the unique feature of being sunken in the middle of San Francisco.
He studied his hand. It looked real, but it wasn't. Not really real. His current form was a Simulacrum. An Exotic Matter construct that would burst into an Exotic Matter flurry. From the ancient or exogenous depictions, he knew there would be a flash of light. There would be a small XM tornado. And then he would re-appear, fresh and new in an Anomalous Zone in Afghanistan, where is true mortal form had died in an ambu2h. Maybe next time he would find out the truth about who killed him and why. The offficial story, told by his 'friend' Azmati, was a leaky bag. He just didn't know where the leak was coming.
He took a deep breath. Blinked. Felt a hunger twinge in his stomach. He felt human all ripht, lie seemed human, but he wasn't, and for reasons only known to some god of prime numbers, he had only had 1331 days in this incarnation and then --
Rinse and repeat.
He was running out of time.
And there was one more detail.
He would forget the last 1331 days. He would crawl from a cave in Afghanistan believing the date to be sometime in 2015. More than three years gone. And it didn't escape Hank that his allotted time was up on New Year's Eve. It seemed oddly fitting.
Hank was prepped. It was an interesting challenge that begged
the question of how well he knew himself -- his own instincts. He'd had to imagine what he'd do when he woke up on a stone slab in an anomalous 13MAGNUS nest with amnesia. Fascinating set of questions that all tested how well he knew his most basic self. He'd investigate. He'd wonder how he got there. He'd remember being shot. He'd check the bullet hole areas and find scars. He'd be confused and disoriented. He'd go into the OODA loops.
Observe: He'd study the glowing Glyphs in the walls, the Glyph messages he'd been unable to read the last time he was there. He'd be filled with wonder. He was, after all an archeologist. Maybe he'd remember the Glyphs from Arecibo on the night he met Devra Bogdanovich. He wouldn't remember the Shapers. He would, however, know that he was in a 'liminal' world, somewhere between the earth he'd known and an earth that would be both intimately familiar and strangely alien.
Orient: He was in a chamber and had to get out of it. He'd see the exit. He would take the path. The path would lead him to a survival bag and instructions. He'd look through it, and hopefully he'd figure out that he'd left the bag for himself. It was filled with proof of knowledge that only he had.
His orientation would tell him that people would be waiting for him outside the 13MAGNUS chamber and that he had to make it as far away as he could. The question was who they would be: Hulong? NIA (which may or may not be an arm of NIAntic), IQTech, Visur... other players he didn't even know about. Some guy named Brandt had blipped up on his Intel radar through an anonymous tip.
Decide: He'd have to decide whether he trusted the instructions left for him. He thought he would. But he'd ask himself whether it was real information or disinformation? It was hard to tell anymore. In the 2019 world of unreliable narrators, unknowable facts, fake news and distorted reality, he'd be skeptical. But he'd have amnesia for anything past 2015. He wouldn't know how much 'reality' was going to shift. He'd believe that it was legit.
Act: Time to go kinetic. Survive without being killed or captured. Get to 'safety'. Then, get to the Breadcrumbs.
"Breadcrumbs," ---that's what he called the memories the agents had helped him store in the Portal Network around the world at places that had meaning to him: CERN, Cahokia, Navarro and many others, including, of course, Cross Plains.
He couldn't tell whether he was asleep or not when his phone alarm went off the next morning. No way he was going to trust the `90's clock radio artifact on the bed next to him, though it did bring a pang of nostalgia from a time before his death, from the time he would always remember.
He drove his rental car over to the Howard House. Camaro convertible. No reason to be frugal. All the money he'd have was in his Go Bag. His film crew was waiting. Nobody said too much. Shots, angles, coverage. Then Wendy arrived; the candidate from the Dunraven Project. If she'd been much later, Hank wouldn't have known who she was. One member of the camera crew, Nomad's newest hire, insisted on filming Hank's conversation with Wendy, over Hank's protestations. Eventually, Hank had to run the man off; had he been hired by one of the XM corps to spy on him? With a pang of regret, Hank realized he would probably never know.
There was one last thing Hank had to do. One last video he had to shoot. A message to himself. Hank found a quiet corner of the Howard House and put his thoughts to tape. Everything he could think to tell the next Hank. Everything he had time for. And then, timed to the second, the Recursion began. The world phased in and out, and in the between he saw a wireframe, blending with blobs of writhing color - meanings beyond him. He saw for a moment shapes he assumed were the Shapers, or at least the way the Exogenous wanted to be seen. For a fractured sliver of a moment, he saw the structure of the universe: The Portal Network. The Ultimate. Other places he couldn't name or fully comprehend. They were all the same, but interpolated and interwoven. It was a revelation. Not a violent Recursion, as he had been led to believe it would be. It would
be. It would be some time before he realized exactly why.
And then he was conscious, and for a moment, he was not alone.
In that moment he realized that the others surrounding him were not others. They were him. Different iterations. Right ones. Wrong ones. Impossible ones, believable ones. Greek, Roman, British, American, Chinese. Races he knew not. Non-human versions... Not alien, but somehow fictional. They were with him and they were him. Sort of.
And then they were gone.
In a flash.
He sat up in the cave. Theoretically, in Afghanistan. Really, something stranger, anomalous.
Something was different. He had trace memories of the Hank he had been. But he was still different.
He pulled out the flashlight he had left on his body, in preparation.
He pulled out his knife.
He used the blade as a mirror--
A different man.
He had been Enlightened, but he wasn't anymore.
He was Resistance. And that would make the difference.
All of the difference.