totally is a cicada
Joined: Aug 2011
Location: seaside and spires
Originally posted on MSPA
As far as Zach could tell, the arena, as it were, that had been chosen for the first round of this conflict was a curiously normal shopping street, as seen in small towns all over the world. Zaire had been right – there wasn’t anything special about it at all, bar the countless cadavers that littered the place. He would have thought that the best backdrop to a fight to the death would more likely be some majestic coliseum in an exotic location; underground, in space, or at the bottom of the ocean, perhaps. It should be fit to burst with traps and pitfalls so that every moment was spent on the edge of death, be it at the hands of some lethal death ray or one of the other contestants.
He wouldn’t, in a million years, have picked Garforth Main Street. It probably wouldn’t have even made the shortlist. Zach wasn’t even entirely sure where Garforth was. He’d ask someone about it, but, well, it was either another combatant who would probably rather slit his throat than engage in the mere trifle of light conversation, his corporeal counterpart or a corpse. He kept coming back to the corpses. Getting them out of his head was proving decidedly difficult, mainly because there were so many of them. Not enough to make manoeuvring awkward; he wasn’t sure he could bear to have to pick his way through mountains of flesh, but you couldn’t look anywhere without setting eyes upon one, unless you particularly liked staring fixatedly at dull brick walls.
He hovered for a little while, waiting for his companion to catch up – being unhindered by cars or lampposts or any other obstacle, he’d sailed along the main street, but now he felt it was only kind to wait for himself. He was sure he would have done the same. Besides, maybe he really ought to start talking to himself. As wrong as it sounded, if he was going to be stuck with his corpse trailing him everywhere, he might as well be on good terms with it. It wasn’t like they weren’t going to get along, was it?
“Some of us kinda have to lurch, you know.”
Though he wasn’t showing any of the signs of exhaustion, the corporeal Zach was certainly flustered. It had taken a little while before he’d gotten the hang of walking again; though it wasn’t something one ever forgot, even when you’d spent three days flat-lining, he was reasonably sure that, when he’d been alive, his legs had been a tad more responsive than they were now. His current pace was far too sluggish for his liking; he’d tried running after Zach as he drifted away, but for whatever reason, his legs no longer responded to the impulses that had once sped them up. It was decidedly irksome, but really, he was rather amazed that they moved at all. Grumbling about no longer being able to break into a sprint was probably in bad taste.
“Well, um, sorry. It’s just, well, I’m still not entirely used to not having to walk like I used to… like you have to…”
In an attempt to speed himself up, zombified Zach tried swinging his arms as pendulums, just as if he was running and not getting anywhere fast. Curiously, it seemed that he moved the best when he just held his arms straight up in front of him; shifting his centre of gravity a little further in front of him seemed to make his staggering much more efficient…
“Yeah, I think I understand. So, where are we going?”
The ghost of Zachariah had no idea. The honest answer was “as far away from the other seven deceased nutcases as possible”, but he wasn’t sure quite how honest he wanted to be, even with himself.
“Let me guess, we’re getting as far away from the other seven deceased nutcases as possible?”
“Erm. Yeah. Did you do that on purpose?”
“You just said exactly what I was going to say, just as I was thinking about saying it.”
The zombie chuckled, although the actual sound that emerged from his weathered throat was a little more sinister, a little more guttural and a little more like a moan.
“Well, man, that’s pretty neat. I mean, we are both us, right? So I guess it’s to be expected.”
Whether or not he should have expected it, it still struck Zach as damned strange. Even if he was a perfect copy of himself, there was surely no way he would be thinking the exact same things as himself. The two of them were totally different, after all.
“What number am I thinking of?”
“Well, you know how scientific we are about this sort of thing. I figure we can prove it by a simple “guess-my-number” game.”
“Nowhere near, mate. 44.”
As Zach’s hazy features contorted, his corpse reached up and patted him on the shoulder. Or, rather, tried to. There wasn’t really a shoulder there to pat, so he just waved his arm up and down a bit in a manner that was supposed to hopefully be a little bit comforting.
“But if we aren’t identical how the hell did you know what I was going to say? That cannot possibly be a coincidence, surely?”
“Zach, seriously, listen to yourself. Who cares? We’ve got bigger problems right now than your identity crisis. For instance, surviving for long enough to have an identity.”
With near-perfect timing, the chemist’s exploded.
A little while later, an uncomfortable tingle shivered up Zach’s back; the type of tingle that meant that something real was intersecting with his ethereal form.
“Dude, get up. It’s perfectly, perfectly safe. It happened quite a way away and the dude I think was responsible isn’t even looking this way. You’re just being silly now. It’s not like you could have gotten any shrapnel wounds or something…”
“Ah… now it all makes sense.”
Hearing a voice he couldn’t put a name to, (ghost) Zach jumped. Well, jolted upwards, anyway. Surveying the pair was a gangly man, peering at them intently through his rimless spectacles. He had a neat little smile on his face that gave the impression that he knew and understood the curious sight before him.
“What makes sense?”
For some unknown reason, this reply caused Scott to pale slightly. “Oh, nothing important, I shouldn’t think.”
Letting out something approximating a wail as he did so, the ghostly Zach up-righted himself and took in the figure before him. After a brief pause, he ventured; “Hello?”
“You don’t look particularly deadly; no offence…”
“None taken. Um, I think I might have to explain myself…”
“What is there to exp- oh, right. How you’re going to make what little remains of our lives as painful as possible.”
“Oh please. Try not to be such a coward… I do apologise profusely; my other half is a complete wuss.”
Scott nodded knowingly and sighed. “Yeah, um, as strange as I’m sure it’ll sound, I already kno-”
“Names. Damn, we haven’t introduced ourselves yet, have we? I’m Zach and this is, well, Zach. Heck, that’s awkward, I suppose…”
“Ah, so you haven’t come up with the system yet?”
“Well, if you want to call it a system, then yeah, sure… wait, whaddya mean, “the”?”
Rolling his eyes, Scott tried again. “I was going to say… see, rather than a normal nervous system I have an artificial system powered by a miniature generator in my heart. It works to keep me alive just fine, but it has something of a side effect; at reasonably random intervals, influenced by my heart rate, it creates an unstable time field that results in me being moved either forwards or backwards in time by an arbitrary amount. To me it seems like time is flowing continuously in one direction and one direction only, but in actual fact I’m generally all over the place, sometimes even in two at once.”
A little on the late side, he registered the slightly bemused expression shared by the two Zach’s. “Um. Sorry. I may have been a bit unclear…”
“Oh, I’m pretty certain I understand… it’s just that I’m not particularly sure I want to. I mean, how the hell is that even possib-”
The tingling sensation in his chest where his corpse had just elbowed him shut him up. “Look, be rational. Does it really matter how he does it? He just does, alright? It’s like it doesn’t matter how I’m not accumulating flies in an abandoned warehouse, or how it honestly has no bearing on or current situation whether or not you being a ghost breaks all the laws of reality; you can’t argue with it, ‘cause it just is. Now shut up and let me do the talking, please.”
As the ethereal Zach began mumbling to himself, Scott cleared his throat. “Yes, um, quite. Anyway, to make things a little complicated, I’ve met you guys before. You were a bit flustered then, so I didn’t get much out of you and to be honest, I was as well, so it wasn’t much of a conversation.”
“I would dearly love to be taking this in my stride right now, but time travel? Ergh, damn, I don’t wanna have to think about it. It must get so messy…”
The question was one Scott was commonly faced with, so he just smiled at the perplexed ghost. “Oh, it’s not too bad. I have a rather unique watch, of course, and my other selves are always ready and willing to help me out… look, there’s one over there; a future me, I think…”
Scott pointed to a pair of figures stood a distance down the avenue, just outside the remnants of the pharmacist’s. One of them was another Scott, speaking agitatedly to the man Zach’s corpse had noticed there earlier. The current Scott saw fit to wave at his future counterpart, who then waved back, shouting “you've got about a minute left, dude!”
“Thanks!” Smiling, Scott turned back to the duo, both now somewhat more enlightened as to Scott’s way of existence. “See what I mean? We help each other get through things without getting too tangled up. I’m just going to have to remember to look this way when I get to that point in my timeline…”
“But what about paradoxes? I mean, time travel is inherently riddled with problems. I’m surprised you haven’t collapsed in on yourself or something equally final…”
Obviously annoyed, the corporeal Zach stuck his whole arm into his other half this time, causing him to squirm noticeably.
“I’m going to have to find a way of stopping you from asking all these questions about everything and anything. Your tongue isn’t much of a weapon and as a shield it leaves a lot to be desired…”
The two stared at each other for a moment before Scott cleared his throat once more. Suddenly they were both rather embarrassed for having descended to petty arguing whilst a potential friend was trying to help. The zombified Zach couldn’t help but feel that such aggression was right on some level, but it felt wrong to be so towards himself. Mind you, he felt a lot of things, like slightly damp and miserable and hungry and tired and vaguely out of place…
“May I make a suggestion? Only I think you two might get on a bit better if you could talk freely to each other; you know, to sort out your differences and the like. I think, though, that doesn’t come easy to you two since you’re both the same person and it feels awkward. Heck, I know that’s the case; you told me yourself.”
“Maybe you should stop both being Zach. Maybe one of you two should take a different name?”
Scott knew he was standing on delicate ground here – if he said too much, he might cause a paradox like the one ethereal Zach was so worried about. It didn’t help that, by his watch, he had about thirty seconds left until he jumped…
“Can I keep Zach? I mean, I was around first…”
“Yeah, but honestly? You’re really not quite all there…”
Once again, the duo started squabbling; the repeated recurrence of the two arguing amongst themselves was stretching Scott’s patience. A brief glance at his watch told him he only had five seconds left. He made up his mind.
“Try Zach and Zom, since, well, you’re a zombie, right?”
Before they could give much thought to the proposal, one of the corpses beside them erupted as something burst out of the briefcase buried beneath it to a chorus of jarring brass. There was a short burst of light and a zapping noise as well, but the pair didn’t see Scott disappear, startled as he was by Simphonia’s sudden appearance…