Artist Known

Caias Ward

May 15, 2023

We know we lost the war, a war based around what would be considered “reality,” by seeing a history which isn’t ours. The Tallarian Empire no longer is; it never was. I do not know what is this “Rome,” or why we have a Gregorian calendar instead of the Daystar’s Ascension calendar. My familiar candy bars, the PimPam and the Hoostaloo Bites, are replaced with “Snickers” and “Kit-Kats.” I do not know many things, and my stolen neural catalog shows me an alternate reality which is all too real now. They changed enough things in time and space, altered enough of the past and present and future, that we can’t hope to restore it.

My daughter no longer is.

I mean, I remember her, for now. But as changes in time ripple through and the fabric of reality sets, I forget. I had a wife. I know I had a wife, but I know nothing of how we met. I do not remember who was pregnant with our daughter, me or her. I don’t remember my daughter’s name. But they can’t get rid of everything. No matter how much they strike, what events they bleach and redye, the fabric of reality stains with What Was Before. Even their temporal bleaching and dyeing of the spacetime fabric leaves the threads weak and bare.

And in this weakness, I will force reality to remember my daughter even after I am bleached away.

I’m near a museum. Museums are secondary battlegrounds in the war. Here, even as history of the past and the future changes, not everything gets bleached perfectly clean. Objects which defy the past they make still stain the fabric of the world. Sometimes the enemy has to accept that some stains will stick, unless they are willing to cut away even more reality and unravel even more spacetime. We hide in trenches cut up and down spacetime, in tiny redoubts of parallel dimension. Here, we wait to go over the top and be unraveled as the threads of our being are pulled to satisfy the new reality, all so we can grab a few more feet of history. In this trench of a garden apartment nearby, multiple Mes and others time-traveled from various points, crammed in and planning and waiting. The Oldest among us are nervous there is no one Older than them still. The Youngers are terrified that they will become the broken threadbare phantoms the Olders are, or simply disappear when the changes in reality become too much. All from our side know we have lost.

We fight not for our history, but for memory now. A beloved place here, a cherished name there. All things that an enemy we never wanted to make and don’t even know are trying to erase, paint over, dye. All to get the reality they want with the places and people and names they want. Those places and people and names don’t include us, so into the bleach we go.

I fight for a bauble, a bit of spun blue glass. In my daughter’s apprenticeship, she heated the glass, drew it out into a spiral, careful, careful... and she wrapped leather around it and tied a cord to it. It was apprentice work. It was not her greatest work; that glorious piece of shimmering colors rested in the Ceberian Trust when such a place existed in spacetime. It was not her most expensive work, which sold at auction for nineteen million votens. But this spun blue glass bauble was her most important work, because she gave it to me as a gift and it is the last piece of her art which exists in reality.

It is pretty, pretty as her smile.

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I remember my daughter's smile, and I confirm by asking the others of Me present; most remember it. She had blue lips from the azomeberries she would eat constantly. Those berries don't exist anymore/never existed. But I remember the smile and her blue crooked incisor. I remember how she would hold the glass bauble up to the light and paint the wall with blue, dance it about for me and my...

I had a wife. We had a daughter. I do not remember which one of us carried our daughter. They both do not exist any longer.

If I succeed in this mission, a glass bauble of spun blue will hang in a museum display, missed or reluctantly accepted by those who are bleaching away my reality in favor of theirs.  Someone will walk in that museum one day and light will strike the glass just so. Color will paint their eyes with inspiration. They will carry that home and create something, something flashed with blue light. Paintings of lakes. Incredible dresses of cerulean silks. Songs full of serenity, courage, and wisdom.

In my trench in spacetime, I look to the other Mes. They are scared, trembling. Some are angry. Some I remember being, and others I do not. When you fight this much in time and space, people fray too. We are so frayed, threads plucked and washed out and ripped, like how Zhara would tear her wedding dress each day to avoid marrying Ilther.

I see no other Me who is older.

I hold up my bauble to the wan ceiling lamp to paint each of us blue. The others do the same. The light is cool on us. For a moment, we are blue with peace. For a moment, we know our daughter exists, regardless of what reality says.

We trade baubles around.  The mismatch of baubles and owners will strain spacetime and one bauble might stick. Again, too much bleach, you can wreck the fabric. They might just have to leave it rather than risk an unraveling of reality. 

After the war, someone will look at that bauble, see a description on a card.

Blue glass pendant. Artist unknown.

Reality will know her, though.

Caias Ward is a thick-wristed HVAC technician with over two dozen publication credits. A member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association and Codex Writers, he currently lives with his wife and daughter in New Jersey, where he enjoys terrible movies and agitating for labor. Find him @caias on Twitter and on Mastodon.

“Artist Known” originally appeared in Daily Science Fiction.