You can read all the previous episodes HERE, or from the ‘IDENTICAL’ page above, or select ‘Identical’ from the ‘Categories’ widget over there to the right. (they’re in the order I posted them so for the story to make sense you’ll have to start with the first entry at the bottom of the page)
What Has Gone Before:
In the Nicola Valley, British Columbia, Ciska, a ‘pentiment switcher’ meets Meg, whose exact duplicate is found dead in her car.
Following her mother Jane Lightsmith’s orders Tamsin Lightsmith, of the RCMP, deletes all references to ‘dead Meg’ from the records. ‘Live’ Meg realizes she doesn’t belong in this pentiment’.
Ciska tells Meg and Tamsin her true age and Jane Lightsmith arrives unexpectedly to challenge Ciska’s version of what is happening to the pentiments.
All the players are in town, but the rules don’t make sense. Just exactly what is going on
Mary Connelly looked up from her book as Silv’s ratty old truck sped by her front gate spilling dust over her dried out patch of lawn and veranda.
Using her thumb as a bookmark she closed her book and watched the truck, or at least it’s plume, disappear behind a slight hill. A backfire announced that Silv had reached her destination, Megs house.
Now, what would Silv want to be doing with Meg’s house?
Mary settled her generous derriere back into the comfy old rocking chair Wilf had made for her years ago when they were newlyweds with a house full of dreams. She opened her book again and read the same sentence three times. Apart from not having seen Silv go anywhere near Meg’s house ever before, which was mysterious enough in itself, something else about the truck bothered her.
Mary gave up on her book, she’d figured out ‘who done it’ several chapters previously, and closed her eyes. In her mind’s eye she replayed the brief moment she had a clear line of sight into the truck cabin.
Silv wasn’t driving! She couldn’t drive that precisely to save her life, so, who else was …?
Mary wasn’t prone to moving fast unless she needed to, but she made it into her bedroom in record time and stopped in front of her dresser mirror. What she contemplated would show her hand but recognizing the second woman in Silv’s truck proved these were irrevocable times.
She felt behind one corner of the mirror, held down a switch and reached through the mirror with her other hand. The mirror represented technology not possible in this pentiment, and the contents of the small case she withdrew from the hidden cache behind it were equally impossible. The irony of using one of Jane’s own devices, that Jane herself recreated from one of Ciska’s early sketches, brought a grim smile to Mary’s lips.
She released the switch and her mirror became just a mirror again.
Mary hiked along the fence that ran from her back paddock to the rear of Meg’s property, all the while trying to convince herself that she’d been mistaken, that she wouldn’t have to take such drastic measures. She’d come to love her life in this little country town as the ‘village gossip,’ and was far from ready to give it up.
The untended orchard in Meg’s yard allowed Mary to approach the back door of the house unnoticed. She ignored the old wooden stairs because even if they’d never ever squeaked before in their entire existence, of course they’d squeak the minute she stepped on them, and hoisted herself onto the veranda using the handrail closer to the house.
She ducked under the kitchen window and tiptoed inside through the open back door, thanking the weather for delivering yet another scorcher of a day.
After a quick glimpse into the kitchen to see where everyone sat, she pulled back into the shadow of the tiny hallway and waited for Ciska to finish explaining about the fall of the pentiments.
Ciska pulled her leather bag out of her pocket and scattered the disparate contents on the table. She assembled the eccentric sculpture and gathered her thoughts.
“Most thunderclaps vibrate at around one hundred megahertz,” she began. “If the vibration is a little lower then I switch. All I have to do is stay away from storms and I can live out my time as I choose. Sooner or later though, I’ll be caught, my biological clock will reset to my age the first time I switched, and I’ll be … elsewhere. A place that is, almost, exactly the same. Sometimes the differences will be on a scale that I can’t perceive, or crop up on the other side of the world. There was this one time I …”
Ciska stopped herself. Even if it was a great story, this wasn’t the time or the place. She glanced at Jane. Nor the audience I’d choose to tell it to.
“Anyway, every now and then I’d come across others who had this ability, but we’d avoid forming any of long term connections. What would be the point? After a switch, who knew what, and who, would remain the same and what would change? Some though, thought they were gods and set themselves up as such, according to the superstitions of the era. I must confess, I tried it once, but found godhood to be a rather bland existence after a while.” Not exactly one of my finer moments either. Although I did set some interesting precedents.
“About two centuries ago, I took refuge from the Napoleonic wars in a little seaside town on the border between France and Spain. In a fit of literary insanity I committed all my theories and experiments to paper. Not to publish them, who would believe me? But to clarify my thoughts, come to some conclusions.
“Then, as technology allowed, I constructed instruments to measure the switching phenomenon. The Age of Electronics baffled me for a time because I would fry any circuitry I came near, perhaps as a result of being close to lightning strikes far too often. But, with enough time, attention, and innovation I was able to enter the modern era the majority of pentiments close to this one currently exist in.
“One of the biggest mysteries I needed to solve was, ‘why me?’ Why me, and not the person standing next to me exposed to the exact same thunder? Was it luck? Clean living? Genetics? The Great Pumpkin?”
Everyone laughed or at least smiled at Ciska’s little joke. Everyone but Jane. Ciska wasn’t surprised. She and Jane had vastly differing theories about the conclusion of her story.
“As I said earlier this morning, the answer is genetics. The only child of only children, for generations, probably since the beginning, concentrated the ability, the anomaly, into a relatively few individuals who knowingly or unknowingly shifted.”
“I left France after …” Ciska saw a flash of, was it fear, in Jane’s eyes? “… after I completed my notes, and made my way steadily east. I started to notice ‘disturbances in the force’, subtle changes in each pentiment that couldn’t simply be attributed to switching from one to the next. Being a witness to one’s own transformations for thousands of years gives one a certain sensitivity to such things.
“I decided to seek out some of the others like me to see if they experienced anything similar. As soon as I made contact with them, they’d disappear. Only to turn up dead, in this pentiment and others. Worse still, they stayed dead. Which is an impossibility for switchers. Sooner or later a thunderstorm comes along and there we are, alive again.”
Tamsin held up a hand to stop Ciska, “Wait a minute. If you’re dead in one pentiment, why don’t you stay dead in all of them.”
“Suppose you were a switcher and I shot you. You’d be dead.” Ciska answered. “But if in another pentiment I missed, or you disarmed me, then you’d be alive, therefore you’d have to be alive in all pentiments, for all time.”
“Except me,” Meg said so quietly that only Ciska heard her. She gently squeezed Meg’s hand, then released it a heartbeat before Meg pulled away.
“It’s horrible,” Silv said, as she returned from the bathroom and slumped into the chair across from Ciska, although as far away from Jane as she could get. “Must’ve been something I ate.”
“Oh, I don’t know, you get used to it after a while,” Jane said, willfully misunderstanding Silv. “And immortality does have it’s advantages.”
The kitchen seemed to fall away from Ciska, and for a moment only she and Jane existed. “I do believe there is a way to make sure someone stays dead, everywhere. I just haven’t found it yet.”
Jane leaned in and spoke with the same intensity. “You just don’t have what it takes to do the job properly.”
Meg subtly nudged Ciska, enough to break the tableau between her and Jane, and laughed. “I understand the desire to kill Jane, she’s the most annoying person I know, but are you telling us that you’ve actually done it? Killed her?”
“On a couple of occasions,” Ciska said as she slowly released the sculpture. The pieces fell apart. She gathered them up and started again. She seemed distracted, for which Meg felt grateful. She didn’t want Jane and Ciska going head-to-head in her kitchen.
Tamsin turned pale at Ciska’s admission, except for two bright patches of color on her cheeks. Meg caught her eye and shook her head. There was too much happening that neither of them knew enough about for Tamsin to challenge Ciska now. Tamsin looked down and leaned back in her chair again. Meg sighed. Another confrontation averted.
“Why?” Meg asked, although it seemed like every answer she got only raised more questions, but she persevered anyway. Some questions needed answers whatever the cost.
“You’ve met her,” Ciska said. “She’s the most annoying person I’ve ever met too. At first it was because she did me a great wrong, and I was a vengeful person back then … and then, it became … a game? … a science experiment? … ” The pieces of sculpture clicked into place and Ciska placed it in the middle of the table. Meg cautiously picked it up, and a feeling of horror at the casual way Ciska talked about death threatened to overwhelm her.
“Sideways.” Ciska said obliquely.
Meg glanced across at Tamsin again and saw that she’d caught the inference. They’d both witnessed Ciska’s precognitive, or side-cognitive ability before. Something was happening, something else Meg was sure she didn’t want happening in her kitchen.
Jane Lightsmith looked steadily at the three women sitting across from her. She actually felt relieved that yet another inevitable confrontation between her and Ciska had been averted, they were getting tiresome. She ignored Silv.
“To cut a long boring story short,” Jane said. “Ciska believes the pentiments are getting closer together and they’ll eventually crush each other out of existence. I on the other hand …”
“How is that possible?” Meg asked Ciska.
Jane was almost sure the interruption was deliberate. She seethed. Meg was really starting to tick her off, but she supposed they did deserve an answer. She glanced down at her very expensive watch, that did a great deal more than tell time, and decided she could let things slide for a few more minutes.
“Picture it like this,” Ciska said. “You have a whole bunch of bubbles. The smaller ones join up and create bigger ones, that then merge with other bigger ones. The only problem is, whatever they’re made out of, soapy water for instance, gets stretched thinner with each merger. You’re left with one giant bubble that eventually pops.”
“Then what?” Tamsin asked in a small voice.
Jane knew her daughter wasn’t the most imaginative woman in the room, Silv didn’t count, but she saw that Ciska’s colorful imagery had spooked her. She huffed in mock exasperation and cut in.
“Apparently it’s the end of everything, the universe, time, every pentiment, all gone. I on the other hand, believe that there’s only so much energy available to drive the pentiments and what’s happening is … well I suppose you could call it ‘natural selection’. When a specific number of pentiments or ‘bubbles’ has been reached the whole system stabilizes. Remember, in the grand scheme of things switchers have only been jumping pentiments for a very short period of time. There was bound to be some adjustments. Unfortunately your counterpart,” Jane gestured to Meg. “The ‘dead Meg’ as Tamsin has dubbed it, was simply a casualty of the merger.”
Ciska looked up from contemplating her sculpture and smiled so coldly that Jane felt a frisson of fear lift the hairs on the back of her neck.
“Perhaps Mary could add something to the conversation at this point,” Ciska said maintaining her eye-lock with Jane.
“Don’t mind if I do,” Mary said, and moved swiftly into the room, aiming the device in her hands squarely at Jane.
Stay tuned for Season 2, Episode 4 of …