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4 Beyond the Standard Model / Das Ende des Traumes

11 August 2004

OJ stared blankly at the horizon as it glowed orange with the setting of the sun. His eyes were oblivious to the battle that seemed to be raging in the skies between the orange- and grey-clad clouds, since his mind was preoccupied with what Dr Agcaoili had revealed to him. Earth-shattering, indeed, he thought as he remembered what the physicist had said before he started talking about the many worlds. He felt that his own mind had been shattered, first by the impact of Dr Agcaoili’s words, and then by the war within that followed, as he wavered between believing them and dismissing them as lies. The smile that the physicist had when he left the police officer lent credibility to his belief that he was being hoodwinked, but everything he had said made sense in context. It was the simplest way to explain the enigma of two Theresa Santoses, aside from the notion that the whole thing had been an elaborate trick involving identical twins.

But how the hell do I confirm something like this? he thought. OJ couldn’t see other worlds, so he had no proof of their existence other than Dr Agcaoili’s words, and the body of the dead Theresa (now stored in the morgue of a government hospital nearest the police headquarters) and the living one (whom, until recently, they had been desperately chasing.) Maybe there are other people out there who have seen these worlds, or even crossed them. He doubted that he would find the latter—Dr Agcaoili had told him that those were cases of extreme rarity, more unlikely than a person being struck by lightning thrice.

The ringing of his cell phone cut his musings short. He set the whole affair aside as he read the name on his caller ID.

‘What is it, Agnes?’

‘There’s a fire at the abandoned Dalampasigan oil depot,’ said Agnes over what resembled the din of rush-hour traffic.

‘So? Call the fire department for that. We’ve enough on our plates as it is.’ It was a mark of how distracted OJ was that he failed to realise that Agnes would never have told him this had it been irrelevant to their case. Fortunately, the non-commissioned officer was the understanding type.

‘That’s near one of the places Alex Garcia had been frequenting the past month, sir. It’s out of the way, and gasoline was stored there once, so it fits our parameters. I thought you’d want to check it out, since you’re closer to it than we are.’

OJ half-walked, half-ran to his car, motioning with his free hand for the other policemen to follow him. ‘I’m on my way there,’ he said to the phone. He heard Agnes say ‘Okay’ before hanging up, and he pocketed his phone. Theresa Santos could wait; there was still a case to be solved.

* * * * *

Patrick winced as he saw the blaze inside the abandoned oil depot. He had half-expected an explosion to greet him, but not this. He covered his nose with his left hand to avoid the worst of the smoke while he made his way towards Theresa, who was bound to a chair fallen on its side.

It had taken him a long time to make a decision regarding what to do, and more time to figure out how to do it. He had seen in his dream the building where Theresa was held captive, but he didn’t know what it was called or where it was, so he had to take a ferry along the Nilad River until he saw it. The Dalampasigan oil depot, it was called, now shut down after a successful law suit by homeowners near the structure, aided by environmental groups. The thought that a bomber would be crazy enough to have as his hideout an oil depot, even an abandoned one, barely crossed his mind as he headed towards the place as fast as he could, after getting off at the ferry port nearest it.

It was 7:44 pm according to his cell phone. In his dream, the building, with Theresa inside it, blew up at around eight. He figured out that he still had time to rescue her before that happened, which was why he was caught off-guard by the inferno that raged within.

He cautiously made his way towards Theresa, avoiding the flames and the falling debris to the best of his ability. He was less than a few metres away from her when he saw that he could not come any closer—a wall of flame stood between him and her.

He was so close to her now—he could see her laboured breathing and hear her feeble coughs from where he stood—yet for all that mattered, he could have been in another world. The feeling of helplessness, now familiar to him, enraged him in a way he had never felt before.

‘Get out of my way!’ he snarled at the wall of fire, though he knew that it wouldn’t change things. But he blinked hard when he saw a part of the flames flicker out, as if it had been nothing more than an illusion in his mind. After a moment of hesitation, he ran through the gap and rushed to Theresa’s side.

She was still conscious, but barely so. She was pale and sweaty, and her breathing was shallow. When her eyes fixed on him, though, he saw that they still flared with the usual intensity, one that rivalled the firestorm that surrounded them.

‘You’re so stupid, you know that?’ Patrick said to her. ‘You said that I could destroy the world if I changed the events in my dreams. But what would the world mean to me if I let you die?’

‘Patrick,’ said Theresa, and he was shocked to hear how feeble her voice sounded.

‘Don’t speak, Theresa,’ said Patrick as he finally loosened her bonds.

She spoke as if she had not heard him: ‘Never leave me alone again.’

‘Yes, I promise on my mother’s grave that I’ll always be by your side. I’ve been stupid to leave you. I hope you can forgive me.’

Theresa smiled at him in reply, before losing consciousness. It was the first genuine smile that he had ever seen from her—he realised that all the previous ones had been out of politeness or dissimulation. Despite their circumstances, Patrick still found the time to ponder how incongruous her smile was with the rest of her face—her sharp features and her eyes that had been shining with a fragility that he had seen before made him think how incompatible smiling was with her true nature. He also realised how much most of Theresa’s strength came from the force of personality. Now that she was unconscious, he noticed how delicate she was—he feared that she would shatter if he so much as touched her—, but he set those thoughts aside and carried her out of the burning building.

He walked through the iron-wire gate of the depot as fast as he could, expecting an explosion behind him at any moment. So intent was he with what lay behind him that he didn’t notice that a person had been waiting for him until it was too late.

* * * * *

Alex Garcia had fled towards the woods surrounding the oil depot, choosing a spot that afforded him a view of the building’s entrance without sacrificing concealment. There he waited for Patrick Cruz’s arrival; his visions had shown him that he would come, and, despite Alex’s failure to kill him in two attempts, his visions have not been too far off the mark. He found himself panicking when he saw smoke billowing out of the depot, but he was relieved when, a few minutes later, he noticed a lone figure rushing down the road to the depot. He readied the trigger to detonate the bomb he had placed inside the building when he received an uppercut to his jaw, knocking him down to the ground.

‘I’m sorry, man, but I won’t let you kill my friend and his lover,’ said a lazy voice, most likely from the figure standing before him. Alex was shocked to find someone managing to find his hiding spot, and doubly so that he had managed to approach Alex without his notice. He still had the detonator in his hand, though, and he moved his finger to press it. But his finger didn’t react immediately, due to the wound he received from Theresa, and his attacker noticed his lapse just in time to stomp hard on Alex’s forearm, making him release the detonator.

‘Man, that governor lied to me,’ said the man as he bent over Alex, who noticed that his captor was a young man, probably still in his late teens—about the same age as Peter—and dressed like one, too, with his baggy jeans and equally loose-fitting shirt. Then he felt himself being turned over as the youngster tied his arms behind him.

‘He told me I’d be up against an equal, one of the powers, but all I found here was you. Sorry to say this, man, but even if we met in different circumstances, I’d still kick your ass nine times out of eight.’ He sighed as he sat down beside the prostrate Alex. ‘I was hoping for a good fight, you know, one where I barely come out alive—it’s the only thing that gets my blood pumping—but here I am now, guarding a hog-tied dude until the police arrive. Life ain’t fair, man.’

Alex said nothing. In any case, even if he were in the mood to answer, he would only have ended up shovelling dirt into his mouth for his trouble. So instead he lay stock-still as the man beside him fell quiet, his stance bored but alert, something that could come only from someone supremely confident in his fighting ability, yet still clinging to the principles of prudence.

After about half an hour of inactivity, Alex heard the sound of sirens. His captor stood up, reached into the pockets of his pants, and drew out a flare gun.

‘Well, my work here’s done,’ he said, firing a red flare into the night sky. Alex watched the flare burst over him before he realised something.

Alvin Lim had disappeared from sight.

* * * * *

OJ arrived about a minute before Agnes and the rest of the force. As Agnes had pointed out, he was much closer to the Dalampasigan oil depot than she was, but he had to fight against the flow of rush-hour traffic most of the way, where his siren and flashing emergency lights barely got him through. He had already noticed that Agnes was just behind him, so once he drove to a halt just inside the Dalampasigan compound, he stood outside his car and waited for her to arrive. It was then that a flare shot up from the woods east of the depot. He sent a pair of his men to investigate while he continued to wait for Agnes, her convoy now visible and audible.

She barely waited for the car to come to a complete stop before she opened the door and rushed towards her superior. She saluted and OJ waved for her to carry on.

‘Sorry, I’m late, sir,’ she said, almost breathlessly. ‘I had to wait for the warrant.’

‘What?’ said OJ. ‘But aren’t the courts closed already?’

‘I talked to Briones’s dad, sir,’ she said. ‘He said we’re going up against a powerful family in the Garcias, but he’d be behind us the whole way.’

‘Bless his soul,’ OJ smiled gruffly. ‘I’ll vote for him when he runs for office. Now, do you fancy a walk in the woods?’

Agnes’s eyes widened a fraction at that, but she nodded in agreement and walked after the senior inspector. As they marched into the woods east of the depot, she asked, ‘So we’re following the flare? What about the burning depot?’

‘Before you arrived I told Guerrero to call the fire department—they should’ve been here before us, those lazy bums—and I told him to take charge of the entry team. But I have the feeling the flare’s more interesting.’

‘I agree, sir,’ said Agnes.

They found the two cops OJ had sent ahead standing guard over a young man in a black windbreaker, leaning against a tree with his hands tied behind him.

‘Who tied him up?’ barked OJ, and the two winced.

‘We found him like that, sir,’ said one. ‘He was down on the ground so we helped him up, but since we got no orders for this, we decided to leave him like this until you arrived.’

‘Did you see anyone else?’

‘None, sir.’

Agnes had been inspecting the ground around them when they arrived. ‘It looks like there were two people here earlier,’ she said.

‘Are you sure you saw no one else?’ said OJ to the two cops.

‘Sir,’ said the first one bravely, ‘we looked around after we helped this guy up. We found the tracks she saw, too, but we saw no one else.’

OJ gave him a brief nod of acknowledgement. He appreciated how he stood his ground on the matter. In any event this case was already full of mysteries—why not one more? An invisible man this time. He turned to the bound form between them.

‘Alex Garcia?’ he said, and the young man stirred upon hearing his name, looking up at OJ’s face.

‘You are under arrest for the murder of nineteen people,’ said OJ in a formal tone.

‘I confess,’ said Alex, almost as a whisper.

OJ continued as if he had not heard him. ‘You have the right to remai—’

‘I waive my rights,’ said Alex, more loudly this time. ‘I confess to the crime.’ He closed his eyes. He had failed Peter. He whispered a brief apology, hoping that his ghost would hear it.

* * * * *

Patrick found himself face to face with…

‘Dr Agcaoili?’ he said, struggling to keep his voice even, but unable to keep the wariness he felt down. ‘What are you doing here?’

‘Do you have any idea what I had to go through just to find you, Patrick?’ said Dr Agcaoili. ‘I have to tell you something.’

‘What is it?’ said Patrick. He knew that the man before him was a friend of his father’s (or so he said—there was no way he could confirm that now), and that Theresa had said that he would be able to help them in the situation they found themselves in. Despite all that knowledge, however, Patrick was unable to suppress the feeling of unease running down his spine, the feeling of his hairs standing on their ends, or the voice whispering to him not to trust the man.

Dr Agcaoili voiced out his own doubts. ‘You’re thinking I had something to do with your dreams, and the attacks on you, and Theresa crossing worlds, correct?’ He paused, as if to give Patrick time to reply, but he just stared at him. ‘I had nothing to do with the bombings, I assure you—harming you is the furthest thing from my mind—, but as for the other two, your suspicions are not misplaced.

‘What?’ said Patrick. ‘What do you mean?’

‘Like I’ve told Theresa over there, your dreams came about as a result of a wish I had to grant. She asked me who made the wish, and what the wish was, but I refused to answer her, nearly resulting in an altercation had it not been for my timely action.’ He smiled as if at a private joke. ‘But I had to tell you all about this, since it concerns you and your father.’

‘My dad? What does he have to do with all these?’ said Patrick.

‘Everything. It was his wish that led to you having those dreams.’ He stared wistfully at the ground after that sentence, and a dissonant serenity fell upon them. Patrick looked around and noticed that the conflagration consuming the abandoned oil depot was frozen in place; in fact, everything beyond a metre around them had stopped moving. Patrick tried to point this fact out to the physicist, but he found himself cut off before he could even speak out.

‘I stopped time within this space. I had to make sure we won’t be disturbed by anyone. Normally, I would have preferred that we hold this over coffee, but I guess this is hardly the time to be choosy.’

‘Stop time?’ said Patrick. ‘This isn’t a trick, or something like that?’ Now that he realised it, Dr Agcaoili had been talking about granting wishes, as if he were a genie…

‘Hasn’t that young woman told you? Dear God, she’s more difficult than even I imagined… I pity you.’

‘What?’ said Patrick, his familiar confused expression making an appearance even in the grave situation they were in.

‘Patrick, I am a governor of many worlds. The guardian of this time stream, so to speak. Consequently, I have some degree of control over this world’s space-time. That fact, and my friendship with your father, has a lot to do with your present circumstances.

‘If it weren’t for that damned experiment, none of these would probably have happened… when cybernetic technology has finally caught up with the requirements of the many worlds experiment, and scientists from all over the world had decided to carry it out, I was very much troubled. You see, one of my duties as governor is to keep the scientific community from gaining irrevocable proof of the Everett interpretation of quantum mechanics. So I had to find a way to sabotage the experiment. Getting in was easy—that’s what being a famous proponent of many-worlds was for. But altering the experiment was a more difficult endeavour. I could destroy the machines they would use, true, but that wouldn’t stop them from trying again. I had to make sure that the machine gave them wrong answers. The problem is, I don’t know a thing about computers. That’s when I remembered your dad.

‘I approached Richard and asked him to help with the AI program development, and to alter it in the way I needed. Your father was a man of integrity, though, so he refused to participate at first. I had no choice but to tell him why I needed to do it, hoping that he’d understand. So I told him about my being a governor, my duties, and about how I could grant one wish. That part won him over to my cause—all this time, he was still grieving over your mother, and he thought maybe I could change things.’

After this sentence, Dr Agcaoili cast his eyes down on the ground and muttered to himself. ‘That stupid woman… She gave him a moment of bliss, true, but a lifetime of mourning in exchange.’ Patrick was trying to make sense of this when Dr Agcaoili turned back to him.

‘As I’ve told Theresa, your father’s a genius. His modifications to the program ensured that the experiment failed, and nobody suspected that the results had been tampered. But Richard had his price for his help—he said he wanted to talk to Patricia. I told him that this was impossible, that we governors don’t have the power to turn back time or bring back the dead. But he said he didn’t care; he just wanted to ask her one thing.

‘I was at a loss. If he had only wanted to see her, I could have simply connected his mind to another world, one where Patricia was still alive. But he wanted to talk to her, so I had to take him to that world or bring Patricia here. Now the latter was a nearly impossible proposition—even we governors don’t know all the reasons people cross worlds, and trying to arrange for one specific person to come to one specific world is about as manageable as trying to pick a specific atom amidst this universe of atoms. But I do know of one way I could try. This relates to the circumstances of your birth.

‘Now I’ll tell you the story of the day you were born; even your father doesn’t know the whole story, since he wasn’t there in the first place, and he couldn’t see other possibilities, so he couldn’t have known how unlucky he was—well, perhaps he did. Anyway, your mother has always been a frail woman, and many were afraid for her when they found out that she was pregnant. So it hardly came as a surprise when she was diagnosed with placental abruptions that day. Your father had to rush home from a business trip abroad—he was on his way from the airport when the taxi he was in got into an accident, where he dropped his phone and broke it. When he finally managed to talk to the obstetrician attending Patricia, he told him that she had chosen to give birth to you instead of letting herself live.

‘Now, this was a curious set of coincidences, and when I investigated the matter further I found out that, in other versions of that fateful day, Richard had managed either to get to the hospital or to call the doctor in time to overrule his wife’s choice. That means in all other worlds, your mother lived but you were never born. This connexion between you two, this entanglement of fates, meant that I could probably use you to draw her into this world. That was why I gave you those dreams; the new possibilities you create bridge the gap between worlds, and bring them closer to each other, making it easier for Patricia to cross worlds eventually. I had told Theresa that you could create a singularity when you do changes in your dreams, but that was just a lie necessary for my plans.

‘When I connected your subconscious to this world’s future, I discovered that your entanglement was not to Patricia, but to someone else. Despite that, I had no choice but to continue with my plan. I was bound to the fulfilment of his wish, after all, and my discovery gave me additional impetus to continue. You see, I tire of this life, and I want to leave it all behind me, but I can’t just quit and leave my responsibilities. I need a successor, and I decided that whoever crosses worlds because of you, whoever she may be, will succeed me as governor of this world.’

‘Theresa, you mean?’ said Patrick. ‘But she’s an ordinary person; she can’t stop time, or grant wishes like you can.’

‘I was once human, too, Patrick,’ said Dr Agcaoili. ‘I’ve just been… a little changed. In any case, Theresa Santos is far from ordinary; besides the circumstance of her birth, the situation she finds herself in now, and the abilities she has gained because of it, she possesses one of the most brilliant minds I’ve ever seen—and, coming from me, that says a lot. In fact, right now she’s closer to my side of the world than she is to the mundane side, where you belong. And the more she uses her abilities, the nearer she draws to us.’

‘But…’

‘She has seen what was not meant to be seen by mortal eyes,’ said the governor, his voice changing into a more formal tone befitting his title. ‘She has broken the rules, and for that she is being punished. I’m sure you can see the signs—this world, this strand of history, is rejecting her. There are only two fates that await her: to be utterly destroyed, or to be exalted to our ranks.’

Patrick was stunned by this revelation from the governor. This was far worse than what he had expected; when Theresa told him that she could never be normal again, he thought that it was like trying to live with a disability or a chronic disease. He thought that she could live a normal life, save for where her abnormality would rear its head. But Dr Agcaoili’s words meant that even the semblance of normality would be impossible—Theresa’s abnormality wasn’t a disability, but a death sentence.

But then Patrick realised—even if the past could no longer be changed, the future was still something to fight for, or fight against. He was sure that, despite the resignation in Theresa’s words, she would still strive for a normal life. And Patrick was determined to be with her every step of the way.

‘And if she chooses neither?’ he said, a ringing challenge to the governor’s pronouncement. ‘In any case, whatever happens, I’ll stay by her side.’

Dr Agcaoili laughed at his reply, but not in a mocking fashion—it was more an outburst of mirth. ‘I may have said earlier that I pity you because of your association with her, but it seems that I have reason to envy you, too. You know, had it been any other Theresa, she wouldn’t even have looked twice at you. But this Theresa is entangled to you, for some reason or another, and I can see that you will be helpful to her as she walks down the path to being a governor.’

‘I told you, I won’t—’

‘She cannot escape this fate, child. In fact, your presence will draw her closer to it. Can you still find it easy to say that you’ll stay by her side?’

Patrick stood stunned, as if struck by a physical blow. The governor raised his right hand and snapped his fingers, and time resumed around them. ‘I’ll be leaving you two now,’ he said as he turned his back on Patrick. ‘I have arrangements to make. I hope that your short time together would be’—he sidestepped nonchalantly as Patrick rushed forward to try to hit him—‘to your liking.’

‘Damn you!’ snarled Patrick.’ Why are you doing this to her? She doesn’t deserve this. Can’t you see that’s she’s already been hurt too much?’

‘I did nothing, child. It was she who crossed worlds, and that thing carries its own set of consequences. I merely exploited them.’ Dr Agcaoili walked away from the pair, soon disappearing into the shadows.

‘Damn it!’ screamed Patrick into a night sky once again tinged with fiery colours. Behind him Theresa slowly returned to consciousness.

‘What are you doing, Patrick?’ she said as she took her time to sit up, and he quickly brushed away the tears that had begun to form in his eyes.

‘Nothing,’ he said, walking back to where she was.

‘I have something to tell you,’ said Theresa, and she reached up to pull Patrick down to sit with her.

‘What is it?’ said Patrick, fearing the emotionless tone of her voice.

‘You have only yourself to blame for this,’ said Theresa gravely. ‘You have made me, who hates the world and everything in it, fall madly in love with you. I hope you’re ready to take responsibility for this indiscretion.’

Patrick said nothing, and he hoped that Theresa didn’t notice the turmoil inside his mind.

‘I’m joking,’ said Theresa in a monotone. ‘Well, except for the “madly in love” part. Take your time to decide if you want me or not—I’ll hate you for making me wait, but I already hate you, anyway, so no big deal.’

She neither laughed nor even cracked a smile, but Patrick could see the happiness shining from her eyes. He wanted nothing more than to return her love, but he remembered the governor’s words. Your presence will draw her closer to her fate. He wanted to spare her the burden of having to choose between two equally horrible fates, but he couldn’t run away from her; he had promised her that he would never do so again. So he had no choice but to steel himself and try not to get in too deep with her.

While Patrick was deep in thought, Theresa passed her hand over his head, as if to catch an insect that flew there. She then turned towards Patrick, and with a smile she said:

‘Patrick, you don’t have to worry about your dreams anymore. I’ve cut your mind’s connexion to the future.’

Patrick’s lips formed a smile of thanks, but his heart sank further. He remembered more of the governor’s words.

There are only two fates that await her: to be utterly destroyed, or to be exalted to our ranks.

And the more she used her abilities, the closer she drew to those two fates.

But…

He remembered his answer, and from that he drew resolve.

Whatever happens, I’ll stay by her side.

I Crossing Everett / End

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