Wendell chuckled. Despite the nervous stranger aiming a gun at him, Wendell found the story amusing. Wendell was taking the trash out when the stranger cornered him in the alley. The gunman still seemed to have some shreds of humanity in him that kept him from pulling the trigger as long as he still held doubts.
“That’s not how it works,” Wendell said. He cautiously lifted his node up and tapped at it; then, he nodded. “You’re not from the future, you’re from an alternate universe. If you kill me, it won’t change a thing. And, you’ll be a murderer.”
“You’re making that up. You’d say anything to save your neck,” the stranger said; but, the gun wavered. Wendell shook his head.
“I can prove it.”
“How?” Wendell sighed at the question.
“Well, I can’t do it from out here. Come inside,” he tilted his head at the open gate to his backyard. “Besides, you don’t want one of my neighbors spotting you with a gun on me. If you decide to kill me anyway, at least you won’t leave my body out by the garbage.” The gunman’s eyes danced between Wendell, the gate, and the back door. After a moment, he lowered the gun ever-so-slightly and nodded. They trekked through the gate and yard to enter Wendell’s house into his back room that served as a den. Bookshelves lined the back wall. On the other wall, a large computer desk supported a computer with too many colorful lights.
Wendell held his node out to the gunman. The stranger glanced down at the clear, glass card.
“It’s a node. Just put your thumb on it and we can find your Zero in this universe.
“That’s just past me,” despite his denial, the stranger placed a thumb on the transparent card. Red text appeared on the screen.[Registering Zero to Sharp Database.] After a moment it changed. [Zero registered. Local match found.] The gunman pulled his thumb away when it looked like the procedure was done. He didn’t pretend to understand what was going on, but he still had a gun in his hand. He could interrupt the situation the moment he didn’t like something.
“Even with similar appearances, there are always some differences between Zeros; no matter how minor they may be. Come check the monitor,” Wendell turned around and walked to his high back rolling chair. By the time the would-be killer reached the desk, Wendell had a site open.
“Well, that was easy,” Wendell said and nodded at the obituary with a picture of the gunman. “The you on this Earth died last year. Obviously, you’re not dead, Stanley,” Wendell said.
“My name’s Steven,” Steven corrected him but lowered the gun. “So, I didn’t travel to the past?” he asked for confirmation. Wendell nodded.
“Yes, you didn’t.”
“So my Earth is still ruined?” Steven asked. Wendell nodded again. “So, now what do I do?”
“Go back,” Wendell replied; he stood from his chair and held out the node for Steven. “Take one of these with you.”
“What good is that going to do?” Steven asked, but reached for the node. He gripped it, and pulled, but felt a slight resistance. He almost gave up thinking he misunderstood, but he realized he was stretching the node out of Wendell’s hand. When it doubled in size, Steven’s end broke off and he had his own node.
“This will let you take control over your Earth, assuming someone hasn’t already. Do whatever you like with it.” Steven tilted his head.
“What do you mean, ‘take control’?”
“Think of Earth like a video game server, that lets you adjust the settings. Weather, magic, dragons, even different time periods; anything you want, you can have.”
“I can get my family back?!” Steven’s eyes lit up. Wendell shrugged.
“You can design NPCs that look and act like your family,” he explained.
“So… they’d just be like computer programs?” Steven asked. Wendell smiled and headed to the back door.
“They’ll be convincing enough,” Wendell opened the door to let Steven out. “This technology is so advanced, most NPCs don’t even know they’re not real.”