Branches on the Tree of Time, Chapter 15

“Okay,” said Sarah. “So what are we going to do with this machine? It’s accurate to within fifty meters, it doesn’t have the restrictions on flesh, and we can use it multiple times in a row.” She glanced at the clock again. In the backyard, electric blue lightning began to play out from a point in the air, and expanded to the size of a balloon, then to two meters across.

This time, instead of anyone new, the people who stepped out were familiar: Sunny, Oscar, and Reed. They ran to the safety of the house as quickly as they could, just as another lightshow started up, heralding another bubble of electricity and displaced time, bringing more people back. The continued on, over and over, scorching and stripping away the earth in the backyard. Eventually it stopped, just as the machine was finished being constructed inside. There were sixty people in the house, spilling out into the rooms surrounding the kitchen. All of them were duplicates, copies of people who had already been in the house.

“How can we lose now?” Kyle asked Sarah. His eyes never stopped moving from face to face. The doubles and triples were visually identical, and separated by no more than an hour of time from each other. Somewhere out there, another Kyle must have been thinking his same thoughts.

“They killed a dozen of these same people in only a few minutes, when we had the advantage of surprise,” said Sarah. “It’ll be better with numerical superiority, but numbers weren’t the only problem, to hear Whiskey tell it.”

“You think we’re going to lose?” asked Kyle.

“Yes,” said Sarah. “Undoubtedly there are timelines out there where most of us wind up dead. That said, I think that if we’re smart our chances of winning are looking to improve considerably.”

A war council was convened in the dining room, which had seating for twelve people and standing room for most of the rest, though it was packed. The original Sarah took a seat near the center, and the original Kyle stood behind her. Their duplicates were also seated, along with most of Sarah’s children. The Reese brothers and sisters stood, and Sarah wondered what the source of that deference was, and what she had done in so many timelines to earn it.

“We need to be careful,” said one of the Sarahs. “According to this audio transcription, we got lucky that everyone involved in the assault died, no offense to the departed. If Skynet finds out the location of our base, it’ll send back more force than we can handle – which, if I’m reading this right, might just amount to a single one of the liquid terminators. Whiskey, can we wipe the memories of your pets?”

“No,” said one of the Whiskeys, “At least, not without killing them. And they don’t have the phosphorus on their new chips, so assuming that they aren’t destroyed outright, then you’re right in thinking Skynet will know of our location if it does forensics.”

“So we have, at best, one shot at this,” said an Able, “At least if we choose to use the terminators.”

“We’ll have to make it count,” said one of the Reese brothers.

“What’s worst case scenario for what’s waiting for us at this base?” asked one of the Sarahs.

“A hundred of those liquid metal things,” said another of the Sarahs. “Which we can slow down but don’t know how to kill.”

“Biological warfare,” said another Sarah. “Held in reserve.”

“Maybe they have a time machine of their own on premises which they can use to counter our strategy as it unfolds, though that would only serve an advantage in the majority of timelines,” said a fourth Sarah.

“Or the whole thing is a decoy,” said the original Sarah. “A trap designed to lure us into feeding them more new versions of Skynet to test out, when in reality they took control of the whole operation months ago and moved the cryptographic keys to Oregon.”

A silence fell over the room.

“Anyone know what the accuracy on the time machine downstairs is?” asked one of the Bakers.

“Half a minute,” answered a Whiskey.

“How long is the cryptographic key that we need to break?” asked the Baker, “128 bits? We set up a computer to start trying to break that, let it run for a week, and send the results back. Sure, it’ll take millions of years, but no actual time needs to pass for us, because instead of a million years it will take a billion timelines. Since there’s no real risk of information leakage, there’s a good chance that we can get a friendly Skynet in control of the bulk of the computing power out there. We’ll have an infinite number of timelines where we’ve broken the key, against a billion where we don’t.”

“Alright,” said one of the Sarahs. “Go see to setting that up. But for now, we’re operating under the assumption that we’re in the unlucky billion.” The Baker had been standing, and he left the room with three doubles of himself in tow.

“What else can we do with heavy iteration?” asked Sarah. “We can keep making doubles of ourselves, but we’re already going to run into logistical problems there.”

“I’ll take a few guys to go get food, speaking of which,” said a Derek. “No doubles, twins attract attention. Volunteers?” A few hands went up around the room. “There was a thick pile of cash in one of the rooms, so that shouldn’t be a problem.”

When he and a few of the others had left the room, silence reigned again.

“There’s nothing for it,” said an Able after some time had passed. “We have to do the assault, and we pretty much have to do it right the first time. Granted, at least one of the quadrillion timelines will succeed – I hope – but how do we maximize our chances?”

“Can we weaponize the time machine?” a Sarah asked a Baker.

“Yes,” the Baker replied. “The bubble slices through metal and other materials like butter, the only reason that the backyard wasn’t stripped down to bedrock is that we altered the equations to give it a flat bottom. The only problem with using it as a weapon is that the lightshow that precedes the bubble makes it pretty easy to dodge.”

“Alright,” the Sarah said, nodding to her other duplicates. “I think I’ve got a plan.”

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Branches on the Tree of Time, Chapter 15

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