Keeper 125 has some inkling that most of his counterparts are quite insane. Someone mentioned it once—maybe the Auditor—but he usually doesn’t bother himself about it. Anyway, if he looks like he’s dwelling on the subject of multiple existence, Aki tends to flip her hair at him and tell him he’s thinking too hard.
His job is excruciatingly tedious, for the most part. Very little of multiverse interest ever happens in their bundle. Maybe once a month he has to bounce from one branch of it to another to fix some little detail.
But the devil, as they say, is in the details.
And Lester Graves lives for details.
He actually enjoys the tedium.
His task as Keeper of the BB bundle is really quite simple: make sure the bundle stays within a certain narrow range of divergence. He devotes his days to things like making sure a businessman in Hong Kong steps off his train at precisely 07:52:04. Crucial little branch points, carefully nipped in the bud through solid-state probability reinforcement.
Karla tells him it’s stupid to go to so much trouble when he could just sit on his ass and wait until the branch gets bigger and easier to prune. But Karla’s always been a little too pushy, and Lester privately believes that the Avengers get a little too much enjoyment out of cleaning up big problems (honestly, they cheered the last time some terrorist cell threatened nuclear war).
And Aki loathes Karla. So there’s that, too. Why blatantly take the advice of the woman your wife despises most, right? It’d be inviting trouble, conflict, inconsistency.
Part of the reason Lester is suited to this job (or so Sprite keeps telling him, and she should know, since she’s his Node) is that he craves consistency. Karla has called it a ‘borderline obsessive-compulsion,’ and once said it was because he was moved around a lot as a kid.
Lester likes stability. He likes neatness. He likes predictability.
He thinks of himself as a gardener. He keeps the space-time topiary looking nice by trimming off the tiny out-of-place shoots before anyone even notices them.
“What are we doing today, love?” Akiko asks him as she sets his coffee exactly three inches to the left of his hand and turns it until the handle is at a tidy forty-five degree angle.
“I traced that stray branch, finally,” he tells her. “You’ll like this: we have to crush a butterfly in Iowa by nine in the evening.”
The corner of her mouth quirks up. “Butterfly effect. Little Miss ‘I Don’t Believe in Coincidence’ must have died laughing. All the chaos theorists on the planet just shuddered as one.”
“C’mon, you know I don’t tell her everything,” he says between sips.
Her derisively raised eyebrows tell him that she assumes he does. “Lester, if Karla were a man, you would spend all your evenings with her in sports bars, getting drunk and commiserating over the worst Major League Baseball teams.”
“That’s not true; you know bars make me antsy. And there’s a lot of things I don’t tell Karla.”
“How stupid you think her latest disposable boytoy is? How much you want to fuck her?”
He spills his coffee and hurriedly mops it up. “Aki, we’ve talked about this. Attraction by itself is a meaningless physical reaction. And you know I hate it when you swear.”
His pretty little Japanese wife walks around the table to stand at his side, leans in, and very pointedly says, “Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.”
He flinches every time she says the word. He can’t help it. He knows it’s old-fashioned and a little sexist (which is why Aki resents it so much), but he feels that beautiful women should only ever say beautiful things. A weird Oedipal twinge, Karla would probably tell him. Mother-worship.
For a fleeting instant, he wonders how he would have turned out if his mother hadn’t been such a good little military wife. Maybe that’s what’s wrong with so many other versions of him in the multiverse. Lost, insecure, frail men who could have their lives turned upside-down by the most unassuming details. No idea how to treat women, or handle their own tempers, or come to terms with themselves.
“I know a lot of things, my love,” Aki says with a smile. “In fact, in all the ways that matter, I know everything. So don’t patronize me, and don’t even think about telling me how I should behave. You are certainly not my father. Now, does it need to be a specific butterfly, or just in the right place at the right time?”
Lester feels a chill dance up his spine.
He’s seen her charge headlong through a hail of gunfire, but his wife will always be scariest when she smiles that sweet little smile and puts him in his place.
“Um,” he says. “Place and time.”
She looks at her watch. “I’ll go slip into some boots suitable for killing filthy insects. Is that what you’re wearing today?”
Like all well-trained husbands, Lester understands that she really means ‘that’s not what you’re wearing today.’ He looks down at himself. “What’s wrong with it?”
“Oh, honey…that tie with that shirt?”
“They match, don’t they?”
“Never double up on stripes or checks, dear, I’m sure I’ve told you that before. I’ll bring you a different tie; you go ahead and program the slide.”
He’d rather finish his coffee, but he won’t say so; it doesn’t look like Aki’s in a good mood today. Instead, he goes to the window (Sprite says she likes the sunlight) and picks up the Node.
~Good morning, Lester.~
“Prep a timeslide to the coordinates we pinpointed last night. No—make it five minutes earlier, just in case.”
~Coordinates locked. Ready to initiate slide on your command.~
Aki swaggers out of the bedroom in some ‘fashionably grunge’ designer boots and grins. “I thought these just screamed ‘butterfly stomping badass.’ Here, swap me the stripes for the solid.”
He obediently takes off the tie he chose earlier, but she must not have liked the knot, either, because she wrangles him into position and quickly ties the new one herself.
“It’s pink,” he says.
“It’s salmon, my pet,” she replies. “And it sets off the cornflower pinstripes delightfully. Shall we?”
He holds out his arm for her to take, and she gives a happy little sigh as she snuggles up to him.
“I love squishing butterflies,” she says brightly. “Does it have to be just one, or can we stomp as many of the nasty little things as we want?”
Occasionally, Keeper 125 gets an inkling that his wife may be nearly as insane as some of her own counterparts.