Interlude 2A: The Quitter

Everyone had sat down at the table, including The Being responsible for everything.

It watched them, the other fifteen, aware of all.

By took her third sip of her drink. It was kombucha. It had been kefir the previous time, and the last time before that, and the time before that, and the time before that, and the time before that, and the time before that, and the time before that, and the time before that.

Before that time, it had been yakult, but then before that kefir again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again.

It was kombucha that time, however. Which was an interesting accident. The very first time it had been kombucha too, and also many, many times since, although not always or often.

The Being could remember every detail of every time with perfect clarity. It was glad that the others couldn’t. They had the same souls, and it wasn’t as if they were replaced with others after every go around; it never would have done it if that had been the case. They’d never stopped existing, not even for a moment. All The Being did was change, not replace. It had never birthed anyone, and it had never killed anyone. It had only changed. Some details changed often, some rarely, and some never at all, at least so far.

But it was always different. No time had ever been the same, or even close to the same. With as many variables as there were in the universe, such a thing was impossible.

The Being accepted, as it always did, that it needed to do it again. The period that it had worked out long ago stretched from the moment Gloria exited her door to the fourth sip that By took at the Dining Room table. It wasn’t as if The Being needed all that time in order to know that it had failed to succeed — it knew everything from the moment it awoke back inside the first room — but if it didn’t wait for enough time to pass, not enough would change. It didn’t know why. That’s just how it worked.

All that needed to change, it knew, was one certain variable. If that one variable left the equation, everything else could function, the game could go on, it could end. It had seen similar variables change, but never the one that needed to. Technically, The Being didn’t know if it was even possible for it to change. It might have been one of the variables that never changed, if there really were such things.

The Being hoped that it wasn’t. Then it was all for nothing.

Then it would never stop.

It began charging in preparation, not saying anything or revealing the truth of how it felt to the others as they talked and ate and laughed and planned for a game that would almost surely not happen anytime soon. It wouldn’t have mattered, of course, but The Being preferred it that way. The Being had done it many, many times, more times than was possible for anyone else — almost anyone else — in the room to comprehend, and it never got easier. It hated what it had become, what it was forced to do.

But there would be release, one day, if all went well.

While it prepared, it spoke inside of its head. It spoke to its friend, its best friend, the friend it longed to see and be with more than anyone else in the universe.

The Being’s friend did not actually exist, of course, and the Being knew that well. But it could pretend, in the long interim.

“Buddy, this isn’t it. I’m not feeling it.”

The Being’s friend only said one word, the one it had expected to hear.

“I’m sorry, buddy. I know. I’m sorry. We have to keep going.”

Its friend, as kind and brave and loyal as ever, repeated the word twice.

“I wish I knew. We’re just unlucky, I think.”

The Being looked at their target.

“It’s not as easy as we want it to be. And being direct doesn’t work, I know, I’ve tried. And it’s too risky, I think. I’ve told you that before.”

It repeated the word.

“I love you too.”

One final repeat. Not the full word, but enough.

“Okay. I’m ready. I’ll go. She’s about to take the fourth sip, so I’ll go, like always. I love you. I love you so much and someday it’ll happen, and then it’ll all be worth it.”

And The Being retreated, taking everyone back with it.

9 thoughts on “Interlude 2A: The Quitter

    1. Also I’ll take a wild guess that either room combinations have some meaning and he needs a specific one, or they are truly random noise but he needs to exit fast and has no luck guessing the answer before others.

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    2. Wait, what. Why? I’m assuming there’s a narrative reason for it and it was planned. If not, I’m going to say that that is very worrying news. Unless this is a joke.

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  1. …huh.

    I’d thought it was possible that By had been manipulated at key points in her life, but it sounds more like the Being is save-scumming to reset the universe’s RNG until something good happens (God is actually playing dice!)

    If kombucha is victory juice, then I guess By doesn’t get popular in most universes. Ouch, hard life out there for web serial authors.

    Just in case, in the “Related” area above the comments, 2.03 has ‘In “haha_zb_you_stupid_fucking_idiot”‘. Kind of looks like a filename or alt text. At this point I’m not even sure that isn’t intentional, but watch out for that if it wasn’t. It would suck if a major plot point got spoiled because we saw text we weren’t supposed to.

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    1. Thanks as always, Badewell.

      That was just me messing around the tags I thought I’d deleted it, but oh well. It’s not a spoiler, I promise.

      (I mean, anyone who read this far already knows that much.)

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    2. >If kombucha is victory juice, then I guess By doesn’t get popular in most universes. Ouch, hard life out there for web serial authors.
      I wouldn’t think so, since it doesn’t sound like she’d even get the chance to enter the dining room if she lost out (so every drink she has is after winning that split). Rather, I’d think that suggests that some of the ‘variables’ mentioned include By’s backstory, which carries implications. Or more plausibly, that the goo ball that led to that vote was a very rare occurrence itself… though I’d like to think that the Being would be more excited if this current run were going noticeably differently from the usual. Maybe not, if they’re focused on that one variable, and the goo ball’s not it.

      The Being does judge the timing based on By’s sips, though, which implies they’re not used to being in the dining room after By lost out in the vote. That carries implications of its own.

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      1. I might have jumped the gun a bit, it’s definitely possible that By always goes to the supermarket, and just happens to grab a different drink based on small changes in the display.

        I don’t think that the Being is specifically using By’s sips as a timer (that doesn’t square with the loops not being “even close to the same”). It just knows exactly how long it has to wait to reset and also has precognition. The timing on this loop happens to match up with By’s fourth sip, but that changes in different loops.

        That being said, I’ve been suspicious of that vote for a while (reading the ending of 1B knowing that vote is going to happen makes ZB ominous as hell). I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that By almost never (or actually never) loses that vote.

        Changes to variables are probably happening sometime before By gives the gamemakers her drink preference, but after they’re all born. Let’s take another best guess and say any variable changes happen at around 2019, same time as Cold Minute. Four years of butterfly effect does seem like enough time for any of the 16 to change to the point where a vote would flip, but since souls are a thing we don’t know how a person’s nature holds up to external effects. The people that voted for By for the most part seem like they did so for emotional reasons, and that might carry through the loops.

        And I’m getting meta here, but I question that teddy would have decided not to eliminate By before we knew the timeline would be reset if that was on the table.

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        1. For myself, I’m hoping that the refrigerator has kombucha and kefir and yakult, and that By’s choice varies according to minor differences in her brain state.

          If each regression’s success or failure is known upon waking, but for a change the fourth sip (not counting the gulp?) must be waited until, then what does Gloria exiting her room have to do with it..?

          In any case, abormality is (apparently) unamgiuously in motion! *excitement*

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