After the movie, Ty and Nora sat in the observation lounge and talked for a long time.
To Ty, it felt like those afternoons they had spent together so many years ago on the National Mall as teenagers.
They talked about nothing and everything and whatever entered their minds. And he loved it. If given the chance, he would have stayed in that moment forever, safe in the space station, looking down on Earth, pondering ideas big and small.
But he knew they had to go.
Maria returned first, and Ty immediately saw a difference in her. She was glowing. There was, he thought, a sort of inner peace about her now, a quiet confidence that seemed to flow from the core of her being.
Kato returned next, and to Ty, he seemed like a dark mirror of Maria: serene on the surface but suppressing something darker deep inside.
The four quantum historians strode into the room and stood, their mirrored helmets showing a warped reflection of Ty, Nora, Kato, and Maria.
“Before you depart for your first official quantum mission, we have a gift.”
Each of the four historians stepped forward and held out a hand, palm up. Ty hesitated a moment, then extended his left hand, palm down, and grasped the historian’s hand. Around him, Nora, Kato, and Maria were
doing the same.
Ty felt a slight tickling in his fingers, then in his palm, and finally in his forearm, as though ants were crawling under his skin. He shivered.
The historian released him.
Ty glanced down at his forearm, where a symbol was appearing on his skin. It looked almost like the dialog box on a computer.
Ty looked over at the others. Nora, Maria, and Kato also had the Gestalt menu on their forearms.
“What is the Gestalt?” he asked.
“On the worlds of the multiverse,” the historian said, “we can offer you very limited support. As you’ve seen, Covenant agents are hunting quantum historians. Our presence draws them. Our communications draw them. But the Gestalt is the one tool we can provide you. It is a foundational technology on our world, one given to all adolescents and adults. Think of it as a sort of… evolution of the internet. The Gestalt stores data in your DNA and is capable of data communication across vast distances. In your case, the Gestalt has been loaded with the sum of knowledge from your world— history, science, and more, instantly available and searchable. It also contains a translation library that will enable you to understand all the languages we have observed across the multiverse—and speak them, though your accent will come across as neutral.”
“That’s helpful,” Ty said. He hadn’t even considered the language barriers they would encounter in the multiverse.
“Allow me to demonstrate its operation,” the historian said. They reached forward and lifted up Ty’s left arm, then brought the thumb of his right hand to the heel of his left hand and pressed.
The Gestalt menu disappeared. Once again, Ty’s skin was unmarked.
“The Gestalt reads your fingerprint at the activation point to ensure someone else can’t open it. All you do is hold your thumb there for two seconds and the Gestalt will activate.”
The historian pressed Ty’s thumb into his hand again, and the Gestalt menu materialized.
“We have also taken the liberty of adding four other items to your local Gestalt storage: each of your great works. For Miss Santos, Worlds & Time
—including everything from her notebook. For Miss Brown, the manuscript of The Birthright and her research notes. For Mr. Tanaka, The March of Humanity. And for Mr. Klein, his quantum research.”
“That’s much appreciated,” Ty said, “but how do we add to our work?”
“Simply write into the Gestalt—either with a closed pen or your finger— which you’ll get used to.”
Maria was already navigating the Gestalt, pulling up her songs. “Yeah, this is definitely going to take some getting used to,” she said softly.
“The Gestalt has another vital function,” the historian said. “Data collection and transmission. As you observe worlds across the multiverse, the Gestalt will automatically gather data—including everything you observe and learn. That data will not be communicated to us in real-time. As I said, Gestalt transmissions can be traced. As such, during your quantum missions, the Gestalt will operate in offline mode—it will collect data and you will have access to data, but nothing more.”
“When does the data get transmitted?” Ty asked. “When your mission is complete.”
“How does it know that?” Ty asked.
“For each world you visit, the Gestalt will receive an encrypted mission profile and desired outcome.”
“Like a smart contract,” Ty said.
The historian cocked its head. “An apt, though basic, analogy.” “Thanks,” Ty said. “I think.”
“Once the Gestalt detects that the mission outcome has been achieved— via some event you observe or information you collect—it will execute the departure protocol, which begins with uploading the data from your time on the world and any changes you made to your work or notes. The Gestalt will then receive an encoded transmission with the dial code for the next world you’ve been assigned to, as well as a clue about your mission there and the corresponding encrypted mission outcome.”
“Wait,” Ty said. “We only get a clue about what we’re supposed to do?” “We can’t broadcast your mission in clear text via the Gestalt. The data
could be intercepted by the Covenant.”
“But you can send an encrypted smart contract for the mission outcome,” Ty said.
“The programmatic trigger offers greater security—which the Covenant can’t break. We must assume that they can decrypt standard data. As such, a clue is all we can offer you. If the Covenant knew your mission objective, it would put you in danger—and allow their agents to counter your actions.”
“Assuming they even know we’re operating in the multiverse.”
The historian paused. “A fair point. But given your actions on A21, they will know soon.”
“And they’ll begin hunting us then,” Ty said. “Like they’re hunting you.” “Yes. They will.”
The historian’s helmet panned across them. “This is important: when the Gestalt identifies that the mission is complete and reveals the dial code for the next world, you should dial as quickly as possible. The broadcast from your Gestalt to us will be like a homing beacon for your location in the multiverse. The moment it transmits, the Covenant could become aware, and they may come after you—or direct their agents on the local world to your location.”
A long silence stretched out.
“Any further questions?” the historian asked.
“Just one.” Nora held up the quantum radio medallion. “On A21, you said we could have dialed our birthday symbols at any point to go home. Can we still do that—enter that code and go home?”
“No. From here out, that code is disabled. Dialing anything other than the codes we supply would risk jumping you to an uninhabitable world. Instant death.”
“Well, since you put it that way,” Ty muttered. “Are you ready?” the historian asked.
Ty took a deep breath. “Yes.”
On his forearm, the Gestalt activated, and in the center of the box, a sequence of four symbols appeared.
Nora held up the medallion. “Should I dial?”
“We dial this one together,” Ty said. “Ladies first.”
Holding the medallion in her left hand, Nora reached out with her right and keyed the first symbol. Maria hit the second one.
Kato made eye contact with Ty, nodded, and walked over and pressed the third symbol.
Ty glanced back at his forearm, at the fourth symbol that would transport them to another world in the multiverse. He reached out to Nora, to the medallion, but stopped, hand hovering above it.
“One last question,” he said to the historian. “What are our chances out there? Of coming home?”
“If you work together, and believe in yourselves, nothing can stop you. If you don’t, nothing can save you.”
The quantum historian stepped closer to Ty. The garbled, computerized voice was softer when it spoke.
“But I’ll tell you, Ty, sometimes it’s going to feel like you’re going around in circles.”
For a moment, Ty was transported back to Geneva, to the little coffee shop in the Old Town, six months ago, sitting at the table with Penny, where he had said the words Some days it just feels like we’re going around in circles.
Ty smiled at the historian. Yeah. He knew it.
He pressed his finger onto the quantum radio medallion, and the world disappeared.