Richard entered one of the many small, “local,” coffee shops littered around the facility. She wanted to get something to drink, but mainly to focus on everything she had been thinking about the past few hours. As she stood in line, she went deep into contemplation.
Another version of herself coming back in time was already changing the project a ton, but… just seeing another her was really hard to reconcile with in her mind. Another person, exactly the same as her, but with two weeks more experience in life that apparently dramatically changed everything– it was really weird.
She remembered back when she was still a kid, maybe a teenager, she used to dream about time travel and all its amazing concepts almost constantly. She was able to wrap her head around the infinite strands of the multiverse even at a young age… And that led her into even greater curiosities, as to how the universe would change when certain elements would change. If you kill one mouse in the woods, how much of the forest is impacted ten years in the future?
Of course, she made herself a promise long ago, if she ever met herself via time travel, to prove to her other self that they were both really the same person. She hadn’t yet been able to do that with “Future Richard,” as everyone had taken to calling her. But maybe soon enough, if everything with the project improved…
“Hey, what are you doing?” A voice called out. Richard turned around, and there was Stephen. Both Stephen and Future Stephen, in fact. She could not tell them apart whatsoever besides the bandages still on Future Stephen’s face.
She sighed, wishing that she could get enough alone time to get enough thinking done, but at least she was interrupted by a guy (two guys) that she enjoyed the company of.
“I was just trying to get a drink,” she told them.
Stephen raised up a cup in his hand. “I knew you’d be here, so I went ahead and ordered you one myself.”
“Oh, thanks.” Future Stephen shook his head at Stephen, as if he were disapproving of his actions, which would be very weird because they were the same person. Unless they were simply playing two sides of one conscience and didn’t yet realize it. But that could bring up even more strange implications, so Richard let that line of thought die off.
The three of them sat down at one of those tables that was so tiny that they couldn’t all three place their drinks on there and have any room for anything else. The kind of useless table that’s smaller than a fucking laptop. Richard’s inner rage poured out, as if someone else, controlling her, was using her for their own nefarious agenda, because she didn’t care all that much herself.
“What have you guys been doing?” she asked. Now that Stephen… Stephens… knew about the true nature of the project, it was a very different atmosphere around them. She didn’t have to be so secretive anymore, and could actually talk about the real animal/science/whatever stuff going on. Most of the rest of the facility still didn’t know, though, and were probably still going to all be fired at once like Future Stephen mentioned, so they did have to keep it down a little bit. Richard sighed once again at the perplexing actions Dyan always took during this project.
“We’re trying to help you guys through the communications department as much as possible,” Future Stephen said. “They find it very weird that there are two of us, but apparently not weird enough to bother getting worked up about it. I don’t know whether to be offended or impressed, honestly.”
“This whole facility is nuts. I wish I didn’t work here,” Stephen said. He was significantly more perturbed about everything going on than Future Stephen; maybe those two weeks after everyone was supposed to be fired really did change everything? “Richard, do you want to just go home and never worry about this again? They already have a Richard and a Stephen to replace us. See?”
“No,” Richard said. Though she wouldn’t tell him that she had thought the exact same thing. She wouldn’t let herself forget that she was extremely close to retiring from the facility, and was only a day away from leaving before Dyan roped her into this clusterfuck. She wondered what would have happened if some time travel shenanigans made her end up leaving…
Future Stephen and Stephen began arguing about some inane thing about their communications job that Richard knew very little about. She tuned it out and drank her coffee. It was still very hot, but it had cooled down enough that she could sip at it without getting burned.
All she could think about now was: Everything was going to change very soon, wasn’t it?
Dyan walked into her office. Already sitting down in those weird chairs of hers were Richard, Hannah, and Odaawa, the latter two of whom had only been told about Future Richard and Future Stephen a couple days ago. Richard was pleasantly surprised that Dyan didn’t seem quite as secretive as she had been before all the time travel stuff.
“Man, I wish I had a future self come back,” Richard remembered Hannah saying to Future Stephen. “How come she didn’t go with you guys?”
“Because she was stabbed in the chest by the talons of a macroraptor, and then ripped to shreds as her body fell several hundred feet to the ground,” he had answered.
As she reached her desk, Dyan slammed down a stack of manila folders. She sat down and clasped her fingers together. Everyone tried looking at the folders, and Dyan cocked her head to the side like a confused dog. “Oh,” she said, finally. “Those don’t have anything to do with this meeting. I slammed them down as a memory device to remember to go through them later.”
She stood up and walked behind her chair, suddenly. “Okay, now the meeting will start.” She began walking around the desk– she seemed much more energetic than usual, and that was saying something. “As you know, there’s something fundamentally wrong with our experiment, because it produced, er, nonoptimal results. That’s something we need to change, in order to save the human race or something like that.”
“Do you have a good plan?” Hannah asked. “I’ve been trying to think of things we could alter to try and ‘level the playing field’ when it comes to mega-evolved dinosaur monsters, but I haven’t really thought of any good ones.”
“Dammit,” Dyan said. “I just had one… I forgot it. Let me try to– Nah, I’m just fucking with you guys. Yeah, I have a good plan. I’m Dyan Moore. I’ve already processed a list of minor fixes over every single biome, mostly just balancing the ecosystems so that all species have a better chance to survive and thrive, if they’re good enough. You’ll be receiving that list very soon, once it’s finalized by AI Dyan.” As she said this, the tiny hologram of AI Dyan on the desk flickered on and waved.
“The second part of the plan…” Dyan picked up M’tsargh’i off the floor and began cuddling it. “Getting rid of a few of the dinosaurs.” She sniffed loudly as she said this. “It’s a necessary loss to preserve the sanctity of the project. Though it is a very sad one.”
“Which ones, in particular?” Hannah asked. Richard shot her a quick glare; she never knew when to let Dyan ramble and give all the information at once. She was obviously just about to get to that.
“I was just going to get to that,” Dyan said. “The theropods, for the most part, are going to have to go. They’re too smart, too agile, and evolve too quickly. They dominate all other predators. Good thing though that I have a friend who’ll be willing to take them! He goes by the name of Hammond, if you’ve ever heard of him.”
“Dyan, please, we’ve all seen Jurassic Park,” Richard said.
“Fine, fine.” She stopped pacing, and se M’tsargh’i down. “Anyway, there is one good thing from all the project-being-destroyed-by-evolved-dinosaurs stuff.”
“What’s that?” Hannah asked, once again being the worst kind of interruptor.
“We don’t seem to have any outside threat to the ISRFA,” she said. “I was really worried that some asshole humans would breach it at some point; I put all the safety measures possible, but I don’t think any of the drastic ones were used. So that’s really good.”
Richard suddenly realized the strangeness of humanity’s apparent lack of influence on the evolution of the super-dinosaurs. “Why is that? How come no humans ever colonized Antarctica or anything like that, once global warming and tectonic plate shifting made it more habitable?” She was somewhat confused by her use of past tense for future events, though those future events were in a different timeline, so… Nevermind.
“In the far future, humans abandon Earth and go to other planets. We’re a shitty species like that. As for the near-term, well, one of the precautions was that I bought Antarctica and made sure none of my descendants would ever be able to sell it. So nobody’s allowed to access it in the first place.” Dyan put her hands on her hips and smiled, like she was some sort of genius or something.
“You… bought…” Richard was unable to finish her thought.
“How did you buy Antarctica?” Hannah finished it for her.
“I’m the richest woman in the world,” Dyan said. “I have so many patents going through paperwork every day that they have a whole wing at the USPTO dedicated to me. I stole a lot of shit to be able to fund the ISRFA.”
“Uh yeah? I used time travel to steal hundreds of thousands of pieces of technology so I could get more money for research.”
“You mean…” Hannah began, looking very confused and frustrated by this strange revelation. “You didn’t make the Wii?”
“No. What an awful name.”
“And the iPhone was someone else’s idea?”
“Yeah.” Dyan shrugged. “We all do what we have to do to survive.”
Richard rubbed her forehead and tried to forget that Dyan implied committing grand theft from an alternate universe was considered something she had to do to survive.
Future Richard left her room in her wheelchair. She still wasn’t allowed to leave her hospital room very often, but once most everything shut down, nobody really cared enough to stop her from wheeling around for a couple minutes. Better than staying cooped up for two weeks straight.
Tonight, everything felt a lot like… that one night, long ago, when she was lost in the facility before her going-away party. Nobody was around, and all the lights were dim. She felt almost nostalgic, even though it was only a few months ago that it all happened.
Mostly, it was peaceful.
“Are you sure?” a voice said. Future Richard jumped. Well, she was frightened. She couldn’t jump, obviously. Who was that?
“If you say so,” the voice continued… Wait, that was Dyan, on the phone with someone. What was she doing out this deep into the facility at this hour? Future Richard hid herself behind a corner and continued listening in.
“No, no, it’s going great. I love it. Everything’s moving along swimmingly. Yes, swimmingly. Like fish. You’re invited, if you want.”
What the hell was she talking about?
“Oh… that? I thought you were talking about… nevermind. No. We’ve hit some complications. The plan’s not going to work out as well as you wanted. Sorry about that. But– yes. Yes. No. You’ve got it all wrong. I’ll deliver it soon, don’t you worry. Bye.”
After a minute, when she was pretty sure Dyan was gone, Future Richard left her spot and began wheeling herself back to her hospital room. What was that phone call about? Her head was swirling with questions, and she really needed to go back to her room before anyone caught her.
She was going to have a little chat with someone in the morning, though, that was for sure.