“What did you do?!”
In that moment, something changed. Something fundamental. Jeff couldn’t place exactly what, but these thoughts of what was and what could be lingered just outside of his conscious thought, ready to rush to the foreground if given a chance.It reminded Jeff of a lecture on time as a fourth dimension, and how supers who could control time sometimes felt less moored to the moment, floating almost.
A familiar voice brought him out of the daze. Neural Co-Processors engaged. Sorting algorithm activated.
Within moments, the confusion gained some clarity. Thoughts sorted themselves into neat rows, and columns, forming a multi-dimensional matrix of possibility. Jeff took a moment to consider what this matrix meant. As he focused any one thought or memory floating in his HUD, he was back in that moment. He was able to relive past memories. They had this momentum, propelling the moment forward just as it had happened before, like a mix of VR and home videos.
And then he pushed.
It was a minor thing, a memory of knocking a glass of soda onto a stack of superhero tabloids and comics. Knowing what would happen, he instinctively reached out and grabbed the can.
It didn’t spill.
He had changed the memory. Or, had he done more?
He snapped back to to the possibility matrix, things shifting slightly around the point. Memories of re-reading those comics later replacing memories of searching for replacements at his favorite comic shop. He saw their addition to his memories of packing for Claremont.
It’s malleable! Jeff thought. The matrix was interconnected, sure, so altering any one piece would ripple through the rest. He had to be careful. While beautiful, the entire thing seem fragile. If he did anything to radical, it might rip itself apart.
Maybe I should leave it alone. he thought. What would be worth the risk?
Sure, Jeff had made some dumb decisions, but generally learned from them and moved forward. Nothing warranted changing, right?
The matrix parted and a singular moment came into view. Schism and Deaglan and the others were debating if they could make a bargain with the hydra when Jeff walked up and promised away a betrayer’s love to know what Aegis and Luke knew about him and his mom. At the time, it seemed worth the risk, but Jeff never thought Jason’s love would be what vanished.
I can undo that! he thought. He could see how that memory linked to other parts of the matrix, strong lines into the future, but weak lines in the present. He would have still gone to Luke to apologize. And he would have told Luke about what Schism discovered when she teleported Jason. The only thing that should change was that thick line leading into the future. The line was solid, there would be significant changes to his future. But he could undo that mistake, that moment where he chose what seemed like an easy out over facing Luke.
An itch told Jeff he could push again, go forward in the matrix and see where that thread took him. No. he thought. Going forward might be permanent. Or something worse. His thoughts drifted back to that same lecture on time theory, to a warning for the temporal kids if they used their powers to look too far forward. The lecturer’s dire warning stuck with Jeff.
His mind made up, Jeff snapped into the past. He was back at the docks, the hydra’s many mouths talking independently to all of them, trying to work a bargain before they could think it through. The event had inertia, going just as he remembered as long as he didn’t push. But he wasn’t here to relive the mistake. He was here to change it.
“No Deal.” Jeff spat.
The single head talking to him recoiled into the body with a hiss. “What? Are you sure, so much information, such a little price.” it said, slithering back to try again.
“No Deal. Everything that leaves you mouth is venom and I won’t agree to let your pour it into my ears. I’m done here. In fact, we’re all done here. Guys, we have a mission, and this thing is just trying to delay us. Let’s go.”
The scene faded and Jeff watched the ripples move through the matrix. Something major shifted just out of sight in the future and the temptation to follow it grew stronger. Instead, he shut down the sorting algorithm and pushed those thoughts away.
Jeff’s mind cleared and he was back in the now, or at least that was the only way he knew to describe it. That feeling of inertia was absent and instead every choice felt real again.
Jeff was at the winter formal, dancing with Jason. Jeff’s tuxedo was something from a rental place, while Jason’s was clearly tailored to him. A romantic song is playing, and they were simply holding each other, neither speaking for the moment.