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It's time. At last. The ticking of the clocks has led to now and here. I step sideways from out behind the lightspeed wall into the heavy dampness of the air, the pasteboards gripped tightly stacked in activ hand. A token, this, that my goal is benign; while holding these fifty-two hostages to me in plain clear sight, I cannot spawn protector gammashine.
I hope he sees and understands.
The Stone is there as it has always/never been, simple brick amongst so many more that waits for us to pass and touch it on the face. Witness to so much this one small oblong has once been and will be again; to murder, heroes, ennui, rain and shine - to death and birth and long-lost song of kirlian rainbows walking past this shadowed place. My doorway leaves me some fifty meters from the alley's mouth, across the boulevard. Hazy shapes of rushing vessels slash by at running pace, the traffic of late afternoon in any city you would care to name here moving left to right and right to left betixt me and the watchpoint lane.
I rise from back against the concrete wall and stand, stretch once. No-one gives me a moment's thought, pacing there as they do in silent concentration. I look up, then, and down the line, and there - a mirror's pose away, equal meters down from the Stone, I see him standing on the street with eyes locked back onto mine. I raise activ hand, null pointing to the Stone. He raises his and there I see - relief. A stack of cards embedded firm, a hand with finger out, agreeing with me as to where we meet.
Dodging cars (fourteen) and vans (two only) and a bus I manage to achieve the Stone. He reaches it the same moment as I. There is a moment's silent acknowledgement, as we both show activ blocked by souvenirs, then I gesture into the darkened alleyway. He nods and steps inside without a hesitation, showing me vulnerable back held straight and proud as he strides out of the light into restricted space from which (were I so inclined) I could prevent him jumping out, preface to betrayal.
We move some five meters in, where there is an open space amongst the trash and wonder. He turns to face me, then we each pick a wall in silent dance and place our backs to the roughshod planes. I hold out his deck, and he mine; retrieved, the cards I take are warm with gammashine but unharmed. I tuck them back into my shirt and laugh as he does the same in as many moves. The grin that answers me is tight but real, then we both relax and lean back and down. He begins.
"What have you found?"
I shrug. "Not much. Acknowledgement that there is a general assumption of hostility when it comes to dopplegangers met, but no indication of who - or what - might wish that situation kept."
"The same." He runs a hand through his hair in frustration familiar. "I find that others asking questions such as these have vanished from the Lanes in years gone past, in circumstances others have (or will) not describe. And yours?"
"Then I do not know where we should turn. Have you found anyone who still retains existence with their double live and well?"
"Yes, one; but she is like none other of us that I know. She travels with a dog and has no face, and does not pretend to speak with her twin but only tells of sometime sightings as she tries to find her home."
"She tries to find...?"
"Her home. I think she's lost her birthplace lane."
"How long has she been blank?"
"I don't know. Perhaps the longest of us all. In subjective time...I have no idea. I have nightmares that were I to stay within the Lanes for long enough I too would lose my visage, watch it fade into the gray; the dawns would wipe all memory of my self and face, eventually, until I found myself seaching for home one day."
We sit silently for a time. Then: "I know her."
I freeze in shock. "You know her? Are you sure?"
"Yes. I speak with her every now and again. The dog is with her no matter where or when she goes."
"When did you speak with her last?"
"Since we met. I sought her counsel."
"And you found her where?"
"Hunting. As you say. On a world that has no name, like us, standing at a crack in the globe's top sphere and thinking how to move towards home by changing little things."
"That's...where I saw her last."
"The question, of course, is if we spoke to the same one, or if we each sought out a twinned ghost."
"Tell me this. Where do you go, most times?"
I look up, confused. "Where?"
"And when. And why? We can after all go anywhere at any time; what then do you choose and how?"
I frown. "I think...I choose to see times and places where things Changed. Where different paths split off; events which shape the times that come beyond and which I would, did I have a name, wonder if those in my own past had turned out slightly not-the-same, would I exist? How? Focal points, I think I should say."
"I too, unsurprisingly. Tourists, we. Denizens of freighted moments in the life of Man."
The laugh that comes is a friend long gone. "Mere mice, then. The wainscoting of time itself."
"Indeed." He laughs with me.
His face sobers. "Perhaps?"
"Perhaps that is related? After all, we spend our time near points that might be fragile. Do others that you know explore in this sort of way?"
"Not...really. Some search out beauty, some isolation; some seek only to expand their experiences, their stock-in-trade of memory. I know one who is obsessed with finding every instance of a place with a certain name that he recalls. World to world, time to time - he goes to each and all, looking for the places named thus. None are home, or so he claims; he just professes to like the sound of it, and feels kinship with all those who choose to live in such a place. City, village, hamlet, swale, river, tavern, hotel, dwelling - if that name is on the map, he'll end up there one day subjective, dropping in on his pilgrimage."
"A difference, then. I don't know anyone like that."
Thoughtful, he looks, now. "That's possibly important, then. We're not complete duplicates. Our lives have parallels but not congruence; of course, we do not travel to the same places at the exact same time, and so do not share fates. At least, I hope that we do not - for whence can we expect to go if so?"
I absently reach inside my shirt and bring out my deck. It is a sign of trust that he does not react, save to pull out his own. We shuffle idly for a time, the cards spinning through the air between our hands as we both think. I look up. "Do you know Herakles?"
"No. Is that a city?"
"No. It's a starship, on seven years' flight. I visit it from time to time."
"What does it carry?"
"The first exSolar colony."
"Ahhhh! I wondered, that. I never could find a spot to identify."
"It was not easy. I persevered. It took a couple years subjective time, some sneaky work and stealth; but I managed to get aboard before departure. Now I can open up a door, although the ship itself moves through space and time - I can find it when I need."
"Have you ever met another there?"
"And do you visit a narrow time, or have you been there through the flight?"
"Oh, spread around; but I have only spent perhaps four or five weeks subjective on the ship."
"Ah, no indication then that you've overlapped."
"I was about to suggest that we repair there to confer. It...would also be a more private rendezvous than the Stone; many in my lanes know here, and many come for reasons myriad and plain."
He stood and brushed off his legs. "I would be honored to be trusted with the place. I swear I will not disclose it to another."
I stood as well. "That's much appreciated. In fact-" The thought was not completed. A sudden blasting roar from the wall beside me carved a shattered hole through brick and steel. I felt the warm embrace of radiation ripped from sundered space and in an instant dove forward towards my twin. He had not yet reacted when I grasped his arms firmly around and shouted "JUMP!"
Before he had time to protest at my lack of specific destination, I opened a doorway out and toppled us both through. Another spacetime wound of radiation, shock and flame burned past my head as I watched the alley rotate away, and then there was only the nonsight/nonsound of the Lanes.
I couldn't risk Herakles until I knew pursuit was lost. We dropped back in on a grassy rise, with fences around us on two sides. I staggered as the doorway closed and felt a thump as I was hit from behind and fell forward to the ground. My twin? But no, he was in front of me, not to my rear - I could make out the sounds of a distant crowd and then a sudden staccato pam followed by the louder bark of a long-arm just near.
I turned, still on one knee, to see the man who'd hit me face away across the fence, a weapon raised. I heard screams, then, and looked out to see the scene I'd not meant to grasp - the limos still in motion and the struggle as the woman tried to escape. Already, faces were turning away from the road, some towards us - in reflex action I raised activ hand and bent the Lane. A storm of gammashine and blast struck the shooter in the back, just as I realized that he wasn't aiming in our direction, but too late - he was down and nought but char, and I grabbed the back of his carbon corpse and pitched him through the portal into the nothingness of unspecified space. All evidence of our passage gone, I grabbed my twin - who had not moved, in shock? Or fear? - and as he looked at me, I nodded. Sirens began to wind in the space around us, and the sound of panic rose from the people gathered all around although none were watching us; I stood, he raised an arm to mine, and we gave up our names.
The lanes took us in.
I cast about for signs of pursuit but could find none. I bent time and space for Herakles and wept silent tears for the man I'd killed, despite not knowing who or what he'd been - I'd traversed the line, just then. Observe but do not change. The golden rule. Bent, broken, smashed - and no telling where it would end.
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