(This is only the second draft of the book Worthless. Expect typos, plot holes, odd subplots and the occassionally wrongly named character, especially minor characters. It is made public only to give people a rough idea of how the final story will look)
The slush in the cup tasted horrible. It was supposed to taste like strawberries, but it mostly tasted like the cardboard things that strawberries usually came in. And sugar. It definitely tasted like sugar.
"Do you have any idea how lucky you are, that we have access to future medical knowhow here?" asked Kris as he and Daniel sat down around the table. The Embassy medical department was disturbingly large, having taken over thehospital left behind in the colony, and then expanded to a few nearby buildings. Half the future medical knowhow had been left behind, too, and the woman in white had never gotten around to remove it. Or maybe she had just made use of it, like we now did.
"Yeah, I should have been dead, I know," I answered back calmly, much to the restrained frustration of Kris. "But then again, we use time machines. I didn't just cut myself on the kitchen knife, right?"
Daniel found the remark amusing. Kris, if he did, showed no signs of it.
"You actually took that bitch down with the original blast you took her down with back all those years ago," Daniel mused. "That's balls. You got, like, girl balls."
I smiled and nodded at what was clearly his attempt at a very high praise. I tried to put the weird strawberry slush away, but Kris took the cup from me and placed it right back in front of me with a resolute gesture.
"Drink up," he grumbled. "The crap they put in it wasn't all easy to come by. It's not for your enjoyment, it's to keep you bleeding your organs out of your ass, for #*@!'s sake."
A few defiant glances went back and forth between us, before I reluctantly picked the cup up for another horrible sip.
"And you're not going back on the road for a long while, either," he added, looking away to avoid more eye battle. "I'm almost insulted you actually survived this round. Guess I need to revise my guidelines."
"Oh, please don't!" I laughed, instantly buckling over with a grunt as my sides felt like everything inside was ripping open. For a moment, I feared it might, but my medical bracelet ran an instant scan and showed only a few minor bleeds that the staff would handle once my nutrient session was over. Calling it eating would be a bit too flamboyant.
"I need one last trip," I managed to say, ignoring the sore side. Both Daniel and Kris looked at me like I had screamed about spiders in my eyes.
"No, you really d...."
"Not now," I interrupted. "I'll heal up, then I'll go. And then I'll stay around here for a good long while, out of trouble, like a nice girl. Maybe go visit some family."
The two looked at each other, then over their shoulders, before they leaned in.
"Are you sure that's a good idea?" asked Daniel. Kris looked like he already had an answer to that, but I nodded quite casually.
"I visit now and then. I'm starting to look too old to play myself, so the copy gets to do that. But I'm quite the friend of the family at this point."
With a sigh of surrender, I took another sip at the gross slush, then dug my spoon into the cookie dough-like food that was going to, hopefully, be very good for me. Somehow.
"Meanwhile, I have a job for the both of you," I added, staring at the brown dough goop.
It was almost as I remembered it. The chaos, the yelling, the stench of burned materials in the air. The house was there, looking much like it still did back home. The Embassy was cautious about using it, fearing that local connections of the woman in white might still be keeping an eye on it, but it had turned out to be a great place to put half a dozen refugees and a few extras while they settled in to 2019.
I watched as my younger self appeared, all full of fire and faith. Part of me missed it, missed her, missed the innocent will to fight for what was good and right. The Embassy still did that, still saved refugees by the thousands, in Nakskov alone. But age brought nuance, and no good intention remained pure. She still had them, and it was a marvel to behold!
The spectacle played out as I remembered it. Elmer and Lisa being their usual hardass selves, just like they had been ever since, every time we ran into them. They were tacit allies, but they had never really accepted The Embassy and its work, still wanting a full ally in their little war. I had seen Karen since, too. She had mixed feelings. Looking at the whole thing unfold here in 2015, I started to remember how I had basically played her, using her knowledge to further my own agenda. I had never been entirely proud of that, but pride was not the priority that results were, sadly.
And then, it finally got to the point I had been waiting for!
The dots had already started swarming her when I snuck up through the tall, wild grass by the side of the road. At this point, nobody was coming back for her, not even my younger self. She had been abandoned, a casualty of war, not unlike the many refugees that had come through The Embassy over the years. Time traveler or not, she was fair game!
"Hi Vera," I whispered as I slapped the circular device onto her that it had taken me a month to reconstruct in this time. It had been a bitch to construct, but half the parts would never have made it even the few years back in time from The Embassy.
"Who are.." she gargled, twitching as the pains of return travel set in, but I shushed her as I dragged her away through the grass. We were basically in someone's back yard before I threw the cheap fireworks I had acquired from some shady bordershop, via the people we now had in 2015. People that would have been nice to have the first time around, but things had to play out the way they always had.
We waited, silently, on someone's lawn, behind assorted garden equipment and things I knew far too little about. The Embassy had gardens, as did the many hideouts we placed refugees and agents in, both in and around this time and in many other ages. But garden work was calming, and usually part of refugee therapy, so few of the rest of us ever had a garden to tend.
"What is this?" asked Vera, throat dry and raspy, as she tapped the circular thing on her stomach, without getting up from the damp grass.
"Emergency anchor. Some refugees from the 3400s figured it out by reverse engineering some scraps we took from... You know what, #*@! it. It's a time travel life preserve, how about that?"
She nodded with some effort. "Yeah, I'll take that."
Morning came as we waited for everything to be safe, and for her to regain her strength. By noon, we were sitting on a bench by the sports fields, both with a pita kebab and a soda in our hands.
"So, what's with the bag?" she asked innocuously, through another bite of meat, bread and assorted veggies.
"You get who I am, right?" I asked back, and she nodded very casually.
"You're Ida. Or Marie, if you want. You're the girl we got into this mess. Except you clearly got a taste for it. How old are you at this point?"
I chuckled over my meal, my brain again starting to try and calculate age by the way of constant time travel.
"Technically 17, but probably closer to 19, biologically."
Vera just nodded, looking at her pita kebab before taking a small bite, like a tiny predator carefully devouring its prey.
"So," she said again, "what's in the bag?"
The bag was a rather bulky thing, one that I had only picked up right before we went to eat at the bench. A courier from a small local office of The Embassy had held onto it while I pulled Vera out of the fight.
"Mission reports," I answered, my mind flashing through years of missions. "For you."
I sighed, a deep sigh, fearful of how she would react to the plan I had for her. At that moment, for the first time ever, I wondered how she had felt about lying to me about being special.
"The woman in white is going to lose Nakskov. Like, completely. It's going to be a haven for refugees in that war you have with her. And since you died in that war out there, you're no longer going to be a part of the fight."
"You're recruiting me? For real?"
"Yeah," I chuckled, "I guess I am."
Kids were running out into two of the football fields. School kids, most of them just wanting to mess around in the fresh air before going back to classrooms. Their teacher was desperately trying to enact his own plans for what had to be gym class.
"At some point, she'll get the upper hand, and I need to take that away from her," I continued, my voice suddenly very solemn, surprising even myself. "I need you to go back before all this mess even happened and start The Embassy all over again. A full copy, so that the bitch can't just swoop in and blow my younger self's brains out and replace her, thus stopping The Embassy from ever existing."
She had stopped eating, chewing the one bite in her mouth slowly before swallowing, all while looking right at me.
"I'm going to recreate what you created as, what, the time travel version of a backup copy?"
"Yeah, it was the b..."
"That's #*@!ing brilliant," she whispered, her eyes turning to gaze aimlessly out across the sports area.
"Uhm, well, thank you. Yeah, we had our best minds on it and everything," I quickly lied.
She finally started eating again, although her brain was clearly crunching the numbers and connecting the dots on what I had just told her.
"So I go back and reenact the whole creation of The Embassy, do all the missions as written, and so on, until it becomes inseparable from your own version of The Embassy. What then? I mean, if you want to timelines to merge, the two of us are still the one thing that keeps it apart. And won't people react differently to me than to you? I mean, you're Inuit, I'm Asian, so they..."
She stopped when I started giggling girlishly.
"Vera, nobody can tell the difference. Most of my life, everybody kept thinking I was Cambodian, and I have no idea why."
She sat silently for a moment, chewing on both what was left of hermeal and on that thought.
"Okay, but how am I going to prevent the past version of you from making the original Embassy? There can be only one, you know. Right?"
"I'm going back with you. Let me handle that."
"The moment you do, you'll no longer be able to exist here," she said quite casually. "If the timeline can't become what yours is, you'll fall out and back to your own."
I nodded, knowing that there would be no way for me to follow up, once I made it so that I would never start The Embassy here. It boggled the mind, but I understood the consequences.
The next few minutes were spent in contemplative silence, her trying to create the first pieces of a mental model of the ssignment, me just enjoying the sights of what Nakskov had looked like back before it had all started. Not so different, when all was said and done.
The air was dry. I had shared Vera's ride back to the days before my younger self ever got involved in any of the madness that had unfolded. The mission journals had been packed tight, so tight that there was no air to set the pages ablaze, and crammed into a fireproof box just as tightly. It was a clumsy way to get a lot of information through the time machine, but it worked, and had become the operating standard for many things. Paper and wood burned, but handled right, it only ruined the outside of a crate. Plastics, metals and electronics were still a problem that had no solution.
Vera was now at a house we had picked simply from the fact that it would be for sale for many years to come, and eventually bought by an ally of The Embassy. She had time to prepare there, time to figure out how to make sure her version of The Embassy would go through the exact same steps as ours. We would meet again, as she progressed, to sync up our results, by both going to meeting spots in the past in a complicated dance of aligning timelines that I still had trouble understanding. They, the original time travelers, used similar methods, and Karen had at some point sat down with me to explain them. Not because we were close friends, because that was never going to happen! But along the way, they had figured out that The Embassy was there to stay, so teaching us how to not make a complete mess of time travel was in everybody's best interest. I had not protested to that.
And now I stood on a Nakskov street, breathing in the dry air of the drought that had been plaguing farmers and the like at that point in time. And as I stood there, I saw her. Me. The younger me, from before any of it happened. She was walking along, minding her own business, ignorant about the secrets of the world. And she had to remain that way. A life that didn't matter. Born, lived, died, without making much of an impact, just like the woman in white had described it. I imagined living that life, never having gotten entangled in wars across time, never having been thrown through millenia to hunt down this and recruit that. Never having the responsibility for a flood of refugees that the younger me walking towards me knew nothing about. Part of me envied her. Part of me regrhetted nothing.
I saw the car this time. Some young person behind the wheel, distracted by something, seemingly talking on a hands free phone. He wasn't being overly reckless. Just some random person not completely aware of every bit of his surroundings. The kind of people who, whether they wanted to or not, were destined to be the source of a million sorrows.
And when I heard the slight mew, I quickly stepped over and reached down. As I lifted the kitten up in my arms, the car swung by, the guy inside shouting some obscenity at me as he passed, nearly clipping a bus that he failed to break for at the end of the street!
"Hello, little kitty," I whispered, as I stroked its fur. A little dirty, a little malnourished. Homeless, just a big kid prowling the streets for something to eat.
"Hi," I heard nearby. "Cute cat. Can I pet it?"
I looked up, looking into my own eyes. She stood there, on the sidewalk, smiling at the cat, her eyes looking at me like none of it had changed the entire world forever.
"Are you Ida?" I asked, and she nodded, looking a bit uneasy at this stranger asking her questions. Some part deep inside my brain remembered this cautious spirit. "Well, I heard from someone at work that you were thinking about having a kitten. Maybe you could give this little one a loving home?"
The young me looked wary, but she softened up the moment she held the cat.
"I think something's burning," she said, looking at the colored dots that had been gathering for the last minute or so, ever since I picked up the cat. "What's its name?"
"Jamie," I said, on the spur of the moment. "Will you keep her really safe?"
The pain was setting in. I could feel points on my body like tiny fires.
"Okay, yeah. Hi, Jamie," she said, holding the cat.
"I need to go," I sighed, petting Jamie's head for one last time.
"Okay. Take care," she answered back as she walked away, a little confused.
I walked around the corner of the nearest house. I just barely got to a small yard before I fell out of a timeline that I no longer belonged in.