I sat back and let out a sigh. I'd been at this for three days and it felt like I was holding back the ocean.
Everyone wanted my help, almost always for simple things like preventing social repercussion. I did help save the life of a young woman getting surgery for cancer, but it one life from days of calls and dealing with difficult people. People kept asking me to explain my abilities early on, and it hadn't completely stopped even though the details were right there strewn across the first few pages of the thread!
I was getting tired of being a cape and I'd barely started. I had started taking trips to spas in both timelines just to cope. There were hundreds of requests lined up, and I didn't think charging much more was a good idea. It wasn't like I needed money. It turned out the Number Man was almost made of money and didn't even bat an eye at ten thousand dollars here or there. The price of my help was mainly to quell the growing hordes of people asking for it. Ten dollars didn't even phase people. A hundred caused a sizeable dent. More would be asking for trouble. I had already received a warning from a moderator telling him that the forums were not my personal shop.
My back gave a painful twinge. I really needed to try that standing setup his colleague had. I never thought being a cape would be working a desk job.
I sat up and made a call to the Number Man.
"I can help about ten people an hour with my current setup," I explained. "I need something better. Something faster. And speaking of better, I need a way to work so I don't want to off myself every five minutes. My back is killing me."
"I may have a solution," replied the Number Man. "The source of your frustrations is actually the people you're dealing with, but I'll put in the order for a standing desk for you. On the subject of your output, I can construct a website that allows people to try things without a call from you. It will no longer allow you to filter based on what kinds of things you want to help with, but it would multiply the number of people you can help a hundred-fold."
"A hundred times as many people?!," I interrupted. "Holy shit! How is that even possible?"
"If you'll let me finish," responded the Number Man, a little irritated. "It would work like this: People looking for your help would arrive on a landing page. Up to eleven minutes later, they would be prompted that it was now time to begin testing. You would split timelines slightly before this. In one timeline, say timeline A, the page would indicate that they are now testing in the other timeline. In the other, timeline B, the page would tell them they are ready to test, that this timeline would be discarded, and that they could send to their alternate selves the result of this test. They would try whatever they wanted and tell the site within ten minutes whether it succeeded or failed. After ten minutes, you would spend a minute conveying the resulting test data to timeline A and then close timeline B and split the timelines again for the next ten minutes."
"Transferring all that information must be hard, though," I noted. "What is that, a hundred tests? I'd have to tell a hundred different people how their tests went."
"That's why you'd be using a web service to tell all these people how their tests went," explained the Number Man. "With the proper setup, you can get the data down to three possible answers per each person, including the possibility that they do not finish their testing in time. I can compress this information slightly further and turn it into seemingly random words for you to type on a computer in the other timeline. At your current typing speed, you can use this to assist up to 430 people every eleven minutes, or 2,345 people per hour, or 56,290 people per day. In practice this will likely be less even with the waitlisting system. The good news is that you can spend most of your time doing whatever you want, so long as you are within your room and type the instructed words and handle timelines every eleven minutes."
I didn't understand at first, but after half an hour of further explanation and something about "bits" which I remembered from introduction to computing in college, I got the gist of it.
"Sometimes the stuff I help with take more than ten minutes," I mentioned. "I had to wait half an hour once for this guy to come back and tell me he won his bet. And many times I had to give someone multiple chances for them to get it right."
"I can add an hour-long slot every day at a convenient hour," replied the Number Man, "and multiple tests can be carried out without your help. If there's something special that needs to be done that doesn't fit these requirements, you can always fall back to scheduling an appointment."
Two days later, the service was up and running, and we were in business.
I needed to work on my typing speed, though. It turned out my ability to help others was now directly proportional to the number of words I could type in a minute. I usually could only manage fifty or sixty, but the Number Man told me not to feel too bad since all the words were random.
I watched as demand for my services slowly increased as more and more people became aware of the site. By the time the first hour slot rolled around, load was already at 10%. I posted a thread on Parahumans Online for special use of my powers, welcoming verified capes or people with particularly problematic situations to privately message me with their problems or opportunities.
Jake checked the screen for what must've been the dozenth time. It worked.
He called Samantha immediately.
"Hey," he began, in what he could only imagine was exactly the same way he had asked in the other timeline. "Do you want to grab coffee before school?"
"What? No," came Samantha's voice. "Did Rebecca put you up to this?"
"B-but," he stammered. But she had said yes in the other timeline! What was going on? "Are you sure? I mean, it's just coffee."
"Oh my god!" laughed Samantha. "Did you ask me that in another timeline? Ha ha, I can't believe you would do that!"
"What?" asked Jake, mentally stunned. "How did you know, though? It should be impossible to know that kind of thing."
"No, silly," answered Samantha. "If I didn't figure it out, you just confirmed it. But I already decided to answer yes to all questions in the other timeline. Don't tell Robin, OK? I'm still trying to get her to ask James out! Wow, she is going to find this so funny!"
The call ended, and Jake slowly stood up in horror.
Amy finished playing with the mouse's brain. She clicked the button indicating success and leaned back.
The world was ending.
She had five minutes before everything stopped. There was nothing she could do about it. It wasn't just death. Nothing she did would have any effect on herself, nor anyone else. These five minutes would be lost forever.
Amy got up and opened the blinds. What would you do if you knew you would die in five minutes? Say goodbye to the people you love? She moved to the living room. Mark was there, watching TV. She sat down next to him and wrapped him in a hug.
She could feel his body in far more detail than her own, his thoughts almost as if she were thinking them. Everything she did now would never go beyond this room. Amy was aware of the minds of all her patients. It was one thing to understand a brain, and quite another to change it. Amy let a minute drift by, tracing all the differences between Mark's brains and all the brains she'd ever seen. A slip, a consideration, and his mind changed.
His clinical depression vanished. His senses sharpened. Amy took his mind and turned it from that of a middle-aged man to a well-oiled machine. He was smarter now, better. He thought he was Mark, but whatever what sitting on the couch was not Mark anymore. He would never do the same things. Everything would be a little different, and he would always feel like a different person.
Mark sat up in confusion, a smile slowly spreading on his face. Something had changed from one moment to the next, and he felt great! He looked at Amy questioningly. She smiled back at him sadly. Mark couldn't remember the last time he'd felt this good. He could see Amy's hesitation as clearly as if he noticed a sign-post while driving. He hugged her, comforting her after whatever she'd done. It was all better now. Everything was going to be just fine.