Sages of Time Part Four
“Hey, Will. You should really make a movie of The CPA Revolution.”
“Wouldn’t that be kind of hard to film, though? I mean, look at how many characters are in it, all the props and stuff we’d need…”
“No, no, I think we can do it. Why don’t you submit a script to the film club and see if they take it up? They wanted to do a feature this year since we’ve got that new ten gigabyte external harddrive for our PowerMac G3 workstations.”
“The mind reels. All that power.”
“Yeah, they’re pretty sweet.”
“But you know something, Mike? You get more bang for your buck with a PC. These days a thousand bucks will buy you a computer with 128 megs of ram, sound card, video card, even a modem. Try getting all that on a Mac for less than two grand.”
“Well, yeah, but have you ever tried using Windows 95 for video editing?”
“But yeah, Will, you should totally write this up. One way or the other, we’ll make it happen for Film Fest.”
A few days later, the prospective filmmakers gathered in Film and Video teacher Mr. Savage’s classroom to pitch their ideas to the members of the Charles P. Allen High School Film and Video Club.
“Okay, so the catch is, he marries her, but she turns out to be a he… Well, almost.”
“The whole movie is backwards. In fact, it’s wackbirds! Wackbirds! Get it?”
“It’s March, 2000, and most of the human race has been wiped out by the Y2K bug, but they keep the school open with only five students. It lampoons both Y2K and the overcrowding / new school hoopla.”
“This guy can’t hear anything people are saying to him, and it turns out that he went to a concert but forgot to take out his earplugs afterwards. There’s a lot of Blink-182 music.”
“The centerpiece of this film will be an apple. It’ll be red. It’s called La Pomme, because anything in French automatically sounds more profound.”
“Basically we have this box of props that we play with, and we mess around in the cafeteria and the stairwell for a couple of nights.”
As the final proposal was given, for a promising piece called The Silent Treatment, Will thought of a million places he’d rather be than trying to convince the Film Club to take up his idea over those of the other hopeful screenwriters. Even Math 221 would have been more interesting. He didn’t really know that for sure, though – after three tries at Math 421, the school finally gave up and gave him a 221 credit that he ultimately graduated with.
Earlier, Mr. Savage had looked at his script and said that he had “a good mind for dialogue.” What was really going on was that he was stealing from sufficiently diverse sources (Calvin and Hobbes mixed with Dave Barry) so as to give the appearance of brilliant originality. This was a fraud as much as the rest of Will’s writing career. As the script was passed around, he hoped not to be outed as a phony.
“Alright…” Mr. Savage began after Angela finished her pitch for Being the Ritz. “Mr. Matheson, I believe you have brought to us ‘The CPA Revolution.’ What’s it about?”
“Well, it’s about the Tantallon Separation Federation taking over the school.”
“Wait a minute, where’s Tantallon and why do they want to separate?” someone asked.
“Um… Tantallon Junior High is one of our three feeder schools. You might not know about them because they’re by far the smallest, and most Tantallon kids actually end up going to Sir John A.”
“Oh, man! I love Sir John A., he could totally kick Shakespeare’s ass!”
“I don’t know,” voiced another member, “I think Cretin is better.”
“So anyway,” Will resumed, “They want to separate from CPA because they’ve failed to get recognition as a distinct society.”
“Maybe Mr. Whitman could just recognize them as a nation within a united CPA?” Angela postulated.
“Well, in the movie, they force the issue. They compromise our antiquated computer lab with a program that causes an explosion. They shut down all communication, and then round up the students into the gym.”
“Wait a minute,” Mr. Savage preemptively cut in. “Did you write this after Columbine?”
“No, I actually wrote it last year, before Columbine.”
“Don’t you think this would be kind of an insensitive movie to make?”
“I guess so. But nobody actually gets hurt – what happens is that it turns out the TSF was a front for a few people that made fun of me in junior high-”
“Don’t you think that’s kind of petty?”
“It doesn’t sound pretty to me at all, Mr. Savage!” a club member exclaimed. “It sounds really mean and scary!”
And stepping out of this admittedly thin veneer of fiction (although this scene as I’ve written it never happened), I have to say that outside of sheer laziness, the reason why I didn’t pursue The CPA Revolution as a movie is that once you take away the in-jokes and personal vendettas (mine), there wouldn’t be much left. Instead I told Mike I wanted to make something new. On Christmas break I sat down on the couch at my Aunt’s house in Souris, PEI and began to write what would become William Matheson’s “The Artifact,” later Artifact. An additional year of wisdom and a willingness to lay down a few grudges produced a somewhat better product.
Let me take you on a whistle-stop tour of my imagination.
My craving for transformation, combined with all the talk of the new school at Lockview (so named, according to one teacher, because it would often be locked up since it was built under a public-private partnership agreement), produced CPA2. CPA2 was a glorious, thirty-story edifice partially inspired by the fictional Babylon 5 space station – right down to its colored sectors. It was hinted at in the first three parts of Sages of Time but never explored fully, a fact that I regret.
I can tell you why it wasn’t, though. You need a lot of character and plot to even justify, much less fill up, that kind of space. Moreover, the building only existed because it was cool. It had no real purpose, although I tried to broadly hint at something vaguely nefarious. I stole the idea of clones and their misspelled names from Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire and its sequels. (To this day I feel that his groundbreaking trilogy is the only one in Expanded Universe Star Wars that gets it all just right. Though there are other worthy books, his are all you really need to read.)
Did I mention I have ADD? No, I’m just kidding. That school board psychologist in Montague was just pulling at straws.
Okay, where the hell was I? So anyway, I have this building. There’s promise of great chases, explosions, high drama. The big payoff. The problem is, the foundations for such weren’t laid in the first part.
Well, maybe I’ll take a crack at it anyway.
* * *
Lori walked off down the old CPA driveway towards Rocky Lake Drive.
She’d told Sandra, formerly of the FBRT, that she had intended to destroy CPA2 and restore the timelines. She’d destroyed the Astral / Temporal Actuator that Sandra called “The Artifact,” and in so doing she’d taken away the ability for the school to generate clones.
Destroying CPA2 could be easy. The real trick would be resetting the timeline so that none of the confusion and misery would ever have taken place. She thought about it, but no solutions sprang readily to mind. Best to keep walking – she found that her mind was at ease when she walked.
She began walking down Rocky Lake Drive towards Bedford. She noticed that the RV dealership that was once on the east side of the street was no more. Instead, there was a Geely dealership with tasteful looking small cars.
Shummka, shummka, shummka! Huh! It was the sound of a train approaching on the adjacent tracks! It seemed to be going at quite a clip! It whizzed by her and disappeared to the north, where she could see that the level crossing just north of the Duke Street intersection had been replaced. It looked to her like a diesel powered tilting train!
Gee, this time is pretty good! Small cars, fast trains... She noticed another woman walking towards her on the sidewalk. “Hi,” she nodded.
“Ni hao,” the woman replied.
Ha-ha, show off! Lori laughed to herself.
She soon met another person, a man in his twenties. “Hello!”
“Xing hui!” he replied with enthusiasm.
Now that’s funny – two people in a row showing off their Mandarin.
“Bonjour,” she tried with the next woman.
But she just looked at her quizzically, shook her head a little and continued on.
She walked around the great curve over central Bedford and looked down upon the heart of the town. Some of the buildings she’d known were there, but she soon discovered that she couldn’t read the signs on any of them. In want of an explanation or guide, she looked up to a road sign:
Ack! What happened? What year is this? She realized that in all the confusion back at the school she’d never bothered to check.
She opened up her pack and slapped on her last dermal pad. She wouldn’t be able to send anyone on a one-way trip again, like she’d done with Sandra and her friend Ashley, unless she intended to stay in one timeline, linearly, for the rest of her life. She hooked the pad into her palmtop and pressed the ‘analyze’ button.
CURRENT TIME: 14:35:08 04/25/2018 WED
TARGET TIME: Not specified.
She quickly keyed in a time in 1999 and sent herself back.
“The automated security system’s not online yet. What’s the password?”
“Big yellow limousine.”
Lori journeyed swiftly though the building, passing through the security checkpoints with the prescience gained through having watched CPA2 being built back in Sages of Time Part Two: The New Age. Lori had thought that CPA2 was a good idea both educationally and socially – the way to keep everyone together – before she realized that keeping everyone together was vastly overrated. Will Matheson had thought that writing Sages of Time Part Two was a good idea, even though just about everyone in it would have graduated by the time he’d have finished writing the sequel. It survives as a few scenes and a pile of notes. CPA2 would have been the star of the show.
The background color on the indicator panel changed to an appropriate sky blue as the lift crossed the threshold at the twenty-fourth floor and entered the Skydeck Sector.
A pleasant chime sounded, the elevator doors opened, and Lori stepped out onto the thirtieth level. Facing south, she looked about. The round observation level was occupied solely by a large, white machine with a console on the end to her left and an enclosed cylinder on the end to her right. Between the two ends there was a large, cubic space. She looked more closely and was taken aback to notice that a great many of her friends and acquaintances, the ones from whom the clones would be made, were in the cube. The cube had a floor, a ceiling, and two opposite walls to which the cylinder and console were attached.
“Are you guys okay?!” she shouted. But they didn’t seem to register her. Could they not hear her? She waved her arms. Still nothing. Perhaps they were behind something like a one-way glass? No, she decided, they couldn’t be – the wraparound windows of Skydeck 30 that afforded a beautiful view also let in a lot of natural light. This day the skies were overcast, but such mirrors only really worked the way they were supposed to when the viewing side was in complete darkness.
The physicist looked across the room at her friends who were trapped in the machine. She knew the operator at once. He stood at a console attached to the machine.
He turned to her. “You can’t take them. I can’t let you. I’ve seen the future! It’s not glorious! It’s mediocre!”
He began to pace. “By using their energy to keep the school suspended in time, I’ve been able to keep the future at bay! We’ve reached a high school singularity – soon virtually everyone will be in high school, and this building will be expanded again – a second tower will be built beside this one, and it will be a hundred stories tall! The future will always be bright as the Sun, with nothing but untapped, saved potential!”
“But why do you want to save this potential… Will?”
“I saw the future, through the device I found because I was able to see the future and find the device. I saw outside the loop – lifetimes of mediocrity…”
“Well, it’s not your decision to keep everyone cooped up like this! How can you dare to impose your misgivings about the future on everybody else? You’ve absolutely stifled all hope we had for development and growth! Heck, you’ll single-handedly let the Chinese come in and take over everything! Surely you could have seen that!”
“It’s better than the alternative for most. Do you know what happens to you?”
“I don’t want to know!”
“Nova, tell me what happens to her!”
Lori was not surprised to see her Actuator plugged into the console, the same one that she destroyed when she was in the year 2018.
I CAN’T TELL YOU.
“What? Why not?”
IF I TOLD YOU, THAT WOULD HELP THE TWO OF YOU COME TO AN UNDERSTANDING AND DESTROY THE SACRED LOOP THAT WE HAVE CREATED.
“So you can tell me! You just won’t!”
THAT IS CORRECT.
“Huh. Okay… Nova, tell me how I can get you to tell me what happens to her!”
YOU WILL HAVE TO HOOK ME INTO A COMPUTER AND FORCIBLY EXTRACT THAT INFORMATION BEFORE I BURY MYSELF OUT OF YOUR REACH.
“Where will you bury yourself?” the physicist yelled.
IN THE SECOND LEVEL OF THE
“At least it’s honest,” Will sighed.
“We have to go after it.”
“Oh, man. That won’t be easy. It could have gone to Grey, Black, or Brown sectors!”
“I’ve encountered it in what you call Grey Sector before, in your future, so Grey seems more likely than Black or Brown, but we should check them all. Grey’s the old CPA building, Black wraps around it, and Brown is underground, right? Should we split up?”
“Wait, wait just a second. I never said I was going to help you.”
“I’d much rather you stayed here. You could build a new device, one that’s more cooperative and even more powerful! You could make this the land of milk and honey and of all this you could be queen!”
“All this? It’s just the walking dead! I’ve never seen a drearier place! If you were a wannabe author writing this story, you’d skip over all description of it! We’re not meant to just live the rest of our lives in school!”
“Well, it’s all I have! And it’s all you’ll have, too!”
Will slapped his palm down on a console switch. Lori felt a stunned horror as a force field immobilized her and lifted her off the ground. As she began to float towards the holding cage, she tried to yell, but her jaw was held securely shut by the force field. She could only manage to wheeze a little through her nostrils. “Fffffffffffffffffffff! Hhhhhhhhhh! Fffffffffffff!,” Lori protested.
“I’m sorry, Lori,” Will mouthed apologetically as the physicist was dropped into the throng, who wordlessly embraced her. “I only wanted everybody to be happy.”
As she was reintroduced to her friends, Lori realized why they hadn’t said anything when she’d come in the room. Being in the enclosure felt like pouring your motivational energy perpetually down a drain. She felt like sleeping, but there was no place to lie down, unless she undertook the effort of clearing a space, and after that she’d still have to actually lay herself down and arrange her limbs accordingly.
Oddly, it felt not unpleasant to be so neutralized. She watched as Will keyed furiously into the console.
“If you will not cooperate, then perhaps she will!”
The cylinder started to emit a cacophony of mechanical and organic noise.
Lori and her friends watched the cylinder open and a perfect imitation of Lori emerge.
“Allow me to present Loorri. All of your brains, none of your stubborn independence.”
“I exist to serve!”
“Thank you, Loorri! Your first job is to go to the home economics floor – Blue 9 – and make yourself some clothes.”
“You’re such a great writer, Will. I love your use of gratuitous nudity!”
“Off you go!”
This was hopeless.
There’d be no stopping Will now. The visions and prophecies would come true – he’d destroy everything. The clone vats she saw in 2018 would be built. The Mood Squad would have their aural reign of terror. Geelys and Cherys would roam the streets.
And all Lori could do was watch and wait. She wished she had the mental wherewithal to be truly frustrated, at least then she’d be able to stop feeling sad about how she was just standing there, accepting her fate…
“I wonder why I didn’t make a clone of Lori before,” Will asked himself. “I could have grabbed a hair or skin sample at virtually any time. Nova told me to clone all these other people, but I guess it didn’t think Lori was a priority.”
Time passed. The sound of frenetic mouse-clicking came from the console.
“Yes! 154 seconds! Beat that, Greg!”
He laid down his mouse arm and exulted, “This is terrific! There’s nobody here to make fun of me for talking to myself!”
Down in Blue Sector, Loorri was able to fashion a makeshift uniform out of student-made cooking aprons. I have to keep myself covered up; those are the rules, you know!
Okay, how can I be of service now? I’d better call upstairs and find out!
She went to the phone and pushed the zero key.
“Good afternoon, CPA Information Desk.”
“Hi, I’d like the number for the observation deck on Skydeck 30.”
“Certainly… It’s 7-3001.”
“Thanks.” She hung up and redialled.
Up at the top of CPA2, the phone rang.
“This is Loorri. How may I be of service?”
“I’d like you to start working on a replacement for Nova.”
“You mean the Astral / Temporal Actuator?”
“Oh, is that what you call it? Of course, your archetype made it. Yes, I’d like you to make a more powerful, more cooperative version. I’ll provide you with all the materials you need.”
Loorri wanted to cooperate and very nearly assented to this plan, but she hesitated. Knowing everything that Lori knew, she focused on what the Actuator had said about what would happen if it told Will Lori’s future. “I can do that, but first wouldn’t you like to know about Lori’s future? You seemed to take an interest in that. It would be a long time before a new Actuator would be able to tell you.”
“I do want to know. I’m afraid of what it will say, but I really do want to know. Can we catch it?”
“Leave it to me. I’ll need Lori’s things.”
* * *
A girl sat on a bench by the school entrance as a boy approached carrying something in a plastic Sobeys bag. The school was just the classic CPA – of the monolithic CPA2, there was no sign.
“I found it.”
“This. Found it in a mud puddle, you know, it’s all dingy, so I put it in this bag.”
“Oh, picking up garbage now are we?”
“Um, I don’t know if I’d call it garbage. The object intrigues me. I gotta find out what it does first.”
Finally! Loorri exclaimed in thought from the shadows. The Actuator had specified where it would be found, but it didn’t specify when or even what timeline. It wouldn’t matter that her search had taken many days – Master Will wouldn’t notice the difference when she returned to his time.
But how did the Actuator change hands in this timeline? Sandra said it had been in the possession of something called the Fall Badlands Reunification Team, of which she had been the de facto leader. The whole thing didn’t make any sense. It was like some teenager wrote this, plotting carelessly and heedlessly, until all of the people and objects of his narrative were painted into corners.
She stealthily followed the boy into the school. Sure enough, he walked to the second floor and put the bag containing the actuator in his locker.
When the coast was clear, Loorri cut through the combination lock like it was butter with a pocket laser. She surreptitiously exposed the Actuator, still inside its bag. Sure enough, it was dirty and dingy, as if it had been found in a puddle or a ditch. To the untrained eye the whole scene outside merely would have looked as if it had been shot before the prop was finished.
HOW DID YOU FIND ME?
“I have Lori’s memories. She knew Sandra. Actually, the hard part wasn’t finding you – it was finding you after you’ve given your ultimatum about Lori’s future. I’ve found you six times before this, and this is the first time you truly recognized not only me, but why I was after you.”
I HAVE IMPORTANT WORK TO DO HERE. MATHESON WOULD UNDERSTAND!
“You’re very sneaky. Tell you what – I’ll let you stay here, but only if you tell me Lori’s future.”
YOU’LL DESTROY THE LOOP!
“No, I won’t! He doesn’t want me to.”
BUT YOU KNOW THAT BY DOING SO YOU’LL BE DOING HIM A FAVOR, SO YOU’LL DO IT ANYWAY!
“I’ll leave it up to him.”
“Hey! Get out of my locker!”
Loorri spun around to find the boy staring at her, aghast and sporting a bewildered expression.
“What are you doing in my locker?”
“Um… I’m performing a locker audit!”
“No you’re not. Who are you?”
“Okay, wait. I’m not here to take anything.”
“I’ll see about that. Give me my bag!”
She handed him the bag with the Actuator inside.
“I should call the principal,” he said.
“No, please. I promise I won’t break into lockers again. I just needed to see that… er, that triangular prism.”
“How’d you know I had it?”
“I’m not from here. I’ve been following it for a while. Could you help me? I need to ask it something.”
“Ask it? I knew this was something special, but… it can reply?”
“I think it’s choosing to be dumb. It doesn’t want you to know what it’s truly capable of. It has its own agenda.”
“Well, color me interested – what will we ask it?”
“You hold on to it tight, and I’ll ask. Actuator, tell me what happens to Loorri!”
DARN THIS DIRT. I CAN’T GET AN ESCAPE LOCK!
SHE BECOMES A TEACHER, MOVES TO ALBERTA, GETS MARRIED AND HAS A DAUGHTER.
“Huh! That sounds reasonably bright.”
“Hey, this is cool! What happens to me?”
FIRST LOORRI STUNS YOU WITH HER LASER AND ERASES YOUR MEMORY OF THIS. THEN YOU GET EXPELLED FROM SCHOOL FOR HIDING ME FROM PRINCIPAL RONALDSON. YOU COME BACK AND TRY TO GET YOURSELF UNEXPELLED BUT INSTEAD END UP GETTING INVOLVED IN THE RESISTANCE AGAINST THE FALL BADLANDS REUNIFICATION TEAM. YOU ALSO GET INVOLVED WITH THEIR COMM OFFICER. THERE’S A DUEL, AND-
“Master Will, I have Loorri’s future!”
“Well, let’s have it.”
“She becomes a teacher, moves to Alberta, gets married and has a daughter.”
“Wow. Well, that sounds okay. I guess… I mean… I have no right to keep her from that, but what about the rest of them? I can’t just let her go and keep the rest, because it was her timeline as the physicist that let this happen in the first place!”
“Right, but listen – if you let her go, then all the other futures change! They were only dreary because you were keeping everybody here, because those futures were dreary!”
Will heaved with a sick exasperation, nauseated that he didn’t realize how he’d been manipulated by his Nova.
“I guess I’ll have to pull the plug. You’re not setting me up for a Link’s Awakening ending, are you?”
“Oh, it’ll be better than that. More like Mostly Harmless.”
Will went to the console and turned off the machine. “Okay…”
The real Lori and the other archetypes sprang back to life. Before Lori could get a bead on the new situation, the crowd turned on Will and began to push him to the east windows.
But in the confused, violent backlash a window was broken by the force of fifty sustained feet, and Will found himself on the wrong side of it.
Lori couldn’t bear to watch, but she heard the faint sound of an impact. As she grimaced disgustedly…
In her basement, Lori sighed, staring at her tools. “Then again, maybe I won’t.”
THE END OF SAGES OF TIME
However, that’s not the end of the story. Since the story involved real people, it will go on as long as humanity. It’s not really even my story – there was hardly ever an original thing in it.
As I opened the lid of this laptop and began to type, I realized that writing stories about the real people that I went to high school with was extremely foolish and risky and that I didn’t have the gumption to continue in the same fashion. For a long time I’d left Sages of Time unfinished, but this was the year of the 10-year-reunion. Time to at least put a cork on it.
I didn’t have much to work with. The whole “story,” if you could call it that, was a rough mish-mash of bad sci-fi, hackneyed fantasy, and inscrutable in-jokes particular to my high school. The structure of the plot echoed my favourite RPG, Xenogears: A sprawling, epic first part (disc, in the case of Xenogears), followed by a second part that doesn’t quite know how to pick up the threads left behind by the first.
These days the stories are so horrid to me that my eyes glaze over when I attempt to read them. To think they were once my pride and joy! Today I’ll be happy if someone doesn’t sue me for their name appearing in it. Using real people was most unwise.
I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to the following people, whom I feel that I have exploited unfairly at various points, both online and in real life: Jen H. (and later Lori W.), Angela R., Devon D., Shawn A. (and later Greg B.), Brian H. and M., Kristi L., the ISCF (they’re actually nice folks), the Student’s Council, the administration, Scott and Jamie G., Mark W., Ashlee S., Olivia H., and countless others. Some I asked permission to include, some I didn’t (especially early on). I hope they’ll forget or at least forgive, but I can understand if they won’t. I should probably reformat every last kilobyte of what are now the nether regions of willmatheson.com, but for the sake of misguided notions of archival sensibility I’m unwilling to do that.
My complete lack of decorum, tact, and consideration – both in person and in print – caused the formation of many needless enmities where there could have been friendships. I made a “click here if you hate Will” ending for The CPA Revolution because I was convinced that many people really did hate me, although I now realize that the cause and blame for that rests almost entirely on myself.
Well, the reunion should be interesting. =)