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The Infernal Device

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The alarm goes off the moment he steps into the room and he can say goodbye to the idea of starting the day with a nice cup of coffee. He doesn't even know why he bothers preparing the damn cup of coffee every morning if he has to pour it in the sink every single time. He's probably just an hopeless optimist or, more likely, an incurable idiot.

He had always disagreed with the concept that insanity means doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, because in his opinion if you're doing the right thing – and you're sure that it's the right thing – eventually you can't get nothing but the right result, which is supposedly the one you want. Yet, this issue with his morning coffee is making him reconsider his whole mindset. Judging by what happens every time he gets a cup of coffee in here, he's clearly not supposed to bring one. He could try to fill the mug with some other kind of hot beverage – tea, perhaps – but he's pretty sure that it has more to do with him drinking and less with the beverage, but you never know.

The scientific method requires experiments.

Obviously, it's most likely that there's no correlation whatsoever between his mug – no matter what it contains – and the events that set off the alarm, and he should know better than thinking otherwise because managing cause-effect situations is pretty much the first line of his job description, but you can't expect much rationality from a man who didn't drink his morning coffee.

There are four alarms in his control room, three for minor inconsistencies and one for major disasters. He never heard the first three. As far as he knows they could be broken. The entirety of his workload is based upon major disasters – but try and explain that to his friends, who think he got away with the easiest charge.

As if.

If really there was an easy charge in his line of work – there's no such thing, but he's willing to pretend there is for the sake of argument – it wouldn't be the one he's got, and the fact that nobody seems to understand that makes him mildly angry, which is a pretty high level of anger for him. Everybody thinks that war, murder, disease and death are more difficult things to orchestrate than love, but nothing could be further from the truth. As they so often say, love is a bitch.

Unfortunately for him – and all his fellow co-workers – he couldn't choose his charge no more than he could choose the planet he was born on or the responsibility he was going to have on said planet. Everything was bestowed upon him by the much appreciated generosity of the universes – plural – that must have with him that sort of love-hate relationship you have with a younger sibling, whom you ultimately love but you spend most of your time punching in the face. He would like to say that the feeling is mutual.

Leonard calls him a time lord, because he needs to trace everything back to something he knows (and the weird guy in the blue box is definitely the closest thing to him that you can find in Leonard's world, where quantum physics is at an embryo stage and magic is not even a thing), but that is not the correct definition, as he's not a lord and time is only a very tiny fragment of what he manages on a daily basis. Besides, Leonard also calls him Pete, which is only a fraction of his real name; but it would have been too hard teaching a twelve letters name with two apostrophes in it to someone who has serious problems speaking any other language but his own. Not to mention the fact that Leonard shouldn't even know he exists, but this is a topic he always elegantly avoid – especially with his parents – by suddenly remembering things that urgently need his attention.

On his planet – which is extremely small, like a tennis ball to Earth's watermelon – there are only two macro-categories of people, whose names roughly translate into Providers and Keepers. Providers are farmers, breeder, artisans, builders, teachers, artists, people who give something to the community they live in and provide nurture of any kind – both physical and mental – for everybody. They are the backbones of society and literally nothing could be done without their daily contribution.

They are divided in smaller groups according to their jobs and each subgroup has a leader who acts as their representative in the Council, which is overseen by royalty but not ruled by it. In fact, each representative is considered the highest authority in his field, and their final opinion is always crucial whenever the Council is discussing something that falls within their jurisdiction.

The Keepers' job is of a completely different nature.

A universe – because there are many – is not just and endless stretch of matter that keeps expanding, bearing stars and planets. And it doesn't only exist in space, but in time as well. Pete likes to see it as a tree, with his trunk growing tall, upwards, piercing plan after plan of existence – as they lie one upon the other – and branches that give birth to other branches over and over again in an endless, fractal progression. In other words, a universe is an oak with a infinite number of branches growing inside a wedding cake.

And there are hundreds, thousands, millions and billions of them.

By its very nature, a universe is a living thing. When it grows, it expands and generates a new part of itself. These new parts – the branches – are what people usually refer to as alternative realities, that is instances where things are slightly or extremely different from what they are in the reality they know. What people don't know is that, while changes happen randomly, some things are always the same. Or at least they should be.

If they are not, that branch of the tree-universe starts rotting and it must be cured or cut off before the gangrene gets to its core and kills it. The death of a universe has always a ripple effect on the whole system of universes. It generates a blast wave so strong that it upsets the other universes and can even rip the fabric of space and time, something that must be avoided at all costs.

The Keepers' job is basically to keep the universes alive and well.

It's a job so complicated that you can't become a keeper, you are born one. Unfortunately on the planet a strict, uncorrupted democracy is in force – which means that nobody can be better than anybody else – and so having to work under constant pressure and being given the power to destroy literally anything that exist doesn't come with a special treatment. You are as important as the next baker, only with more problems, less hours of sleep and a five years training that can make you or break you.

Pete feels so lucky to be a keeper sometimes!

As any other keeper, Pete was selected when he was ten and trained for the next five years by Master Keepers, whose universes had either died out peacefully – universes as all living things at some point pass away – or were in their latest stages and so were expanding much more slowly, leaving them free time to teach the next generations of keepers. At the age of fifteen he faced his own final trial, a merciless procedure during which you're given your charge, that is the universe you're going to take care of for the rest of your life, and without knowing a single thing about it, you're thrown into the midst of the first of many disasters you're going to face in the attempt to keep the whole thing breathing. If you fix it, you're a keeper. If you fail, you get extracted, the universe sealed and you have to live in shame for the rest of your life.

Being a keeper. So. Much. Fun.

Every universe has two key elements – a constant and a variable – and few characteristics, called recurrent, that never ever change. The constant is an event inscribed in the very DNA of the universe and it makes up its core. It must always take place. If it fails to happen, the universe starts crumbling. The variable is an element that always exists in the universe in some form or other and it might or might not threaten the constant, so it must always be under the keeper's control. Recurrent are fixed points in all the timelines of a universe and they're hardly dangerous for the balance, but can be used by the keeper to move things in the right directions.

The constant in Pete's universe is Blaine and Leonard's love, more specifically their being together.
They are what you call connected-constants or double constants (soulmates, in poetry), that is two separate constants that should have had a universe each but ended up sharing one. Like in a twin pregnancy.
Now, usually soulmates universes are the easiest charges – that's why Pete's friends mock him – because the two constants always tend towards each other like magnets and the most you have to do is paving their way to happiness by convincing families or removing rivals, but Leonard and Blaine don't tend towards each other like all the other soulmates. In fact, they are the very definition of complication.

First of all, they're always – for God's sake, always! – born twenty years apart (they are constants with a negative recurrent characteristic) and they tend to meet when Leonard is just a kid, which makes things difficult for them in most universes. Secondly, their variable is never neutral and tends to be potentially catastrophic eight out of ten times. Their variable is obviously Cody.

Pete loves Cody – the kid is a full-fledged martyr – but there's no universe where his presence doesn't threaten to create a divide between Leonard and Blaine. Every time a new instance is born in his tree-universe, Pete always checks where Cody is, because he's inevitably going to cross paths with Leo, Blaine or both and he needs to be prepared. It took him years to learn how to use Cody for his own purposes, and he's not proud of some of the uses he made of him.

With this premises, it's easy to understand why his job is a constant matter of disasters, and the three small alarms don't even bother to go off. When your universe is on the verge of destruction any other day, the system doesn't even register minor inconsistencies. Pete sits down at the dashboard with a sigh and lets his chair slide towards the keyboards. Leonard would be utterly disappointed to find out that Pete doesn't have a blue phone box to move through the universes, but he loves his machine, even if it's not bigger on the inside at all.

He turns off the alarm and looks at one of the second monitors, which usually display second and third-level instances. These are instances that didn't sprout from the trunk of the tree-universe, but from its branches. The outermost instances are the easiest to deal with when something goes wrong and the instance is considered doomed (not salvageable in any way); since nothing depends on them, they can be cut off without consequences. Cutting off an instance means to wrap it in a sort of isolating bubble inside which the instance can run its course and die peacefully without taking the rest of the tree with itself.

This Leo met Blaine only when he and his boyfriend Cody discovered the BDSM scene and needed some advise from a more experienced Master. In Pete's personal list of best Blaines, this one is in the top ten. Leo and Cody have problems, but they're happier with each other than they are in a lot of other instances and the balance between them and Blaine is almost perfect and doesn't seem to be headed towards the usual threesome that solved all his problems in most of the recent scenarios.

That is why this instance is so special. Judging by the look of it, it's headed towards being doomed, but the system didn't pick it up that vibe yet. There's usually a ripple in the whole system that Pete uses as the touchstone to prepare for cutting, but it hasn't showed up yet and he's waiting to see what's going to happen. It's a risk, because if a good instance should sprout from this one and this one should finally go wrong, Pete would have to cut them both off because they would be connected, but he can't bring himself to act just yet. Instances have a way to correct themselves sometimes and he wants to see if this is the case.

He thought the alarm was finally signaling an imminent collapse, but what he's looking at doesn't make much sense. Rewinding the last few days – yes, he can do that, how cool is that? – he found out Cody met his abusive ex boyfriend William (he's a recurrent Pete would like to have the power to eradicate) and he went completely out of control, putting himself on display in a sketchy club that is not the Prince of Persia (another recurrent) without his boyfriend and Master's consent. Fast forward a few hours and Leo is breaking up with him (it must be at least the third time in this instance) and throwing him out of the house.

The problem seems to be this, and it's weird because the alarm usually goes off only if something happened that has brought or could bring to the end of an instance; but Blaine and Leo were never together in this one, so nothing really changed constant-wise.

Pete fast forwards to a few days after the break-up and finds Cody in the same BDSM club, which is definitely not his type of club. It's not the controlled, clean environment he's used to, but Pete knows him well enough at this point to know that this is exactly what he wants right now. Cody tends towards self-destruction when he feels bad, and even if the times he actually manages to kill himself are very few, he hurts himself in all the others.

The backroom in this place is a narrow, damp-looking corridor, illuminated only by UV lights that bring out stains on people's clothes and skin that Pete had rather not seen. There are men everywhere, leaning against the walls, bended over what appear to be pieces of furniture created for that purpose only, someone is even brave or high enough to go on all four on the floor. Cody walks through this jungle of arms and legs without looking at anyone, he's looking for something. There's a lounger at the end of the hall, some sort of ob/gyn chair, except that it's got handcuffs and shackles attached to it.

Cody gets closer and two men are suddenly on him. They grab him and hoist him onto the chair, his legs parted. Cody doesn't make a sound as they put restrains on his hands and feet. He's been here already, he's done everything. A third man rolls a fucking machine closer to the lounger. It's a squared, creepy-looking box with a metal arm and a black, satin dildo at the end of it. A contraption on the side of the box lets the arm thrust the dildo forward and backward automatically, relieving the user of the task of manning the dildo.

They don't make him ready. The first sound escaping Cody's lips is painful as the dildo breaches him and the three men murmur in appreciation. They've got their cocks out already and they stroke themselves leisurely, watching him. Cody's tense cries turn into moans of pleasure as the dildo keeps thrusting and thrusting into him relentlessly. He can't move, but he doesn't seem to want to. He lies perfectly still, whimpering.

The three men come and leave him there for other three, four, five men. Almost a crowd. And nobody turns off the machine. That is as far as Pete would watch.

He turns the monitor off and thinks. He could just cut off the instance and be done with it, of course, but the fact that the alarm hasn't gone off until now makes him wonder what design he still can't see in the intricate pattern of this instance. If only out of curiosity, he wants to keep it alive. To avoid the collapse here, he needs to send Cody back to Leo – he will act now and investigate later on the reason why he has to do this – but just pushing Leo towards the club won't work because his boy is pretty stubborn, and if he feels betrayed and diminished, as he probably feels now after Cody disobeyed him and had other people do things to him, he won't move a finger.

When Leo is angry – whether he's right or wrong – it's always Cody that makes him stop, so that's a real problem. Pete's got two options left, but they're both dangerous, and if there's something he doesn't like is to choose between a potential disaster and a potential catastrophe. He could go in himself, which is pretty much always bad since he shouldn't be seen by any of the major players (especially not when the original ones already know him), or he could send Blaine, with all the possible relevant consequences. Blaine has a thing for Cody in all the instances and what has holding him back until now is only his strong willpower. He could decide to keep Cody to himself now that Leo's out of the picture.

Jeopardizing his position in yet another instance or pushing Cody towards Blaine, turning a possible doomed instance into a surely doomed one? And it's only Monday.

If he thinks about it, tho, there's no much of a choice. The hazardous nature of both options being equal, the consequences of his involvement would be worse on the long run, not to mention that he can't predict what those consequences could be since he can't foresee (or even calculate) anything involving himself. That's why keepers tend not to get involved. So, Blaine it is.
It's hard to find a reason why Blaine – being the accomplished Dom that he is, with his reputation, his own circle and everything – would want anything to do with a club like that, so calling him in directly is out of the question. Pete can invite Matt, tho. Matt here is an entertainer and his routines with Casey involve strength, so they would be perfect for the place. He performs mostly at the Prince of Persia but he's got gigs in other clubs too, it's not unlikely that this club would invite him over, and he could go just to have a look. Besides, Pete likes Matt – the guy is the chillest creature in his tree-universe – and he never misses a chance to get him involved if he can.

If everything goes as planned, Matt will find Cody and he will take him to Blaine – Pete has no doubts about that since Blaine is almost everywhere the go-to person when something bad happens – and at that point Pete will have placed in the man's hands the future of his own instance. He can only hope in Blaine's wisdom and in his conscience. The first usually delivers, the second not so much.

“Come on, man, don't disappoint me,” Pete says, pressing a few buttons on the keyboard. “Bring the boy to your other boy. Deep down you know that it's the right thing to do.”

Sometimes it's like watching a TV show, except that you can affect the plot and you can destroy whole universes in doing so. No big deal.

Pete sighs, resting his shoulders against the back of his chair. Now that he set things in motion, he can't do anything else but wait. He changed the past a little, so that Matt will receive the invitation in time to find Cody at the right moment, now he needs to let the plot unfold before he can skip a few days and see what came of it.

He looks over sadly at his cold mug of coffee; maybe he can make a new one.
But the alarm goes off again.