Disclaimer: I do not own Worm, or anything related, nor do I own anything that is and will be referenced in the following fiction.
A/N: Hello everybody! I finished this fic, and I decided to post it here too. The original can be found on SB (and a copy on SV if you only read that). It is an SI fic, in an AU universe, that is based on my understanding and headcanon of the original Worm universe, and an unabashedly a Fix-it fic. The fic is also done, and I will be posting over time after I do a final read-through. Have fun reading and have a nice day!
He casually leaned back on the bed while slowly closing the book on his lap and contemplating what he just read. The book, while enjoyable, was a bit on the short side. That aside, the story was worth the read.
He then put the book on the bedside table and looked at the clock. Then squinted because he couldn't really see it well without his glasses. It was around midnight, so he got out the bed, did his nightly ablutions. And prepared to be tossing and turning for at least an hour before falling asleep.
However, when his head touched his cool pillow, his eyes grew immediately heavy, and he fell asleep instantaneously.
When he woke up, he found himself somewhere else. Which was bad, because he definitely remembered going to sleep in an actual bed. Not in a shapeless, colorless space. He recalled something about hands being weird in dreams, so he glanced down at them. They were there and whole, and so was his entire body, clad in his sleepwear.
'So probably not a dream,' he thought.
He took another look around. Making sure he missed nothing in the very empty, shapeless, and colorless void. Not finding anything, he spoke out loud.
"Welcome, human," came a loud voice from behind him.
Which caused him to yelp in fright and turn around with a quick motion to face the owner of the unknown voice.
What he saw upon facing the voice was beyond anything he ever saw, even in fiction or in his mind. He, based on the masculine voice, was vaguely human-shaped. With two leg-like shapes, two arm-like shapes, and one shape where the head goes. However, it was filled with pulsating lights that went through all the colors of the spectrum. He suspected that he somehow saw it pulsate in infrared.
The being for the lack of a better word stood still, no movement visible. He got the sense that it was looking at him, and was somewhat amused.
"Welcome, human," repeated the voice loudly.
Oddly, with no infliction, like a computer reading a sentence out loud.
"Welcome, to the Inbetween."
He decided that for now, he will treat it as if it is happening in real life and not in a dream, no matter how silly it sounded. So he defaulted to the behavior that his parents beat into his head.
"Thank you for having me," he stated, while automatically reaching out with his right hand. "my name is Gabriel Whitefeather."
For a few seconds, or maybe an eternity, nothing happened. The being just looked back with what Gabriel felt was amusement. Fearing that he committed some extra-dimensional insult, he began to lower his hand and tried to think of a suitable apology, when it answered:
"And I am Reclusively Observing Beautiful Irradiation," she, now sounding feminine, answered. The amusement coming through quite clearly. "But you can call me…"
"Robi, or ROB," interrupted Gabriel with the horrified realization at the situation.
The very thought of this being a dream flew from his head. He would need to treat this as a very serious situation. In the face of this being, he had everything and more to lose.
While this rapidly went through his head, ROB approached him with two quick steps. Steps that somehow propelled the being farther than possible, and took his hand and shook it.
"You can call me Robin," again with a masculine voice, he cheerfully declared, while enthusiastically pumping his hand up and down.
"If I may ask," started Gabriel haltingly, "why am I here?"
The reply came immediately:
"Technically, you are not really here, I just took a copy of you while you were sleeping!"
Robin let go of his hand, took a step back, and continued:
"And before you ask why you, the reason for that is that you were chosen randomly from a pool of average people without some specific knowledge."
Gabriel just watched as Robin took a small step forward, raised his hand to the non-existent sky, and started to speak. All the while inwardly going over the fact that he was just a copy. In the end, he decided to ignore the implications that came with it, for now. He would have time to freak out later. Hopefully.
"I, the great Reclusively Observing Beautiful Irradiation, decided to conduct a line of experiments," he lowered his hand, pointing at Gabriel. "and I choose you to be my Agent of Change! Like a tiny pebble in the pond of the Multiverse!"
"Is this some kind of mandatory volunteering thing?" asked Gabriel nervously, not wanting to upset the obviously overpowered being. While Robin stood still with his arm pointing at him. "Or do I have a choice in this?"
"Oh no, this is totally your choice," came the answer immediately. "you can totally say no!"
"What happens if I say no?"
"You stop existing and your original wakes up without knowing what happened, and I move on to the next person."
Robin's voice here became somewhat more charming and upbeat:
"But if you manage to complete the tasks I set for you," his eyes bored into Gabriel's, conveying the absolute certainty of his words. "you will be rewarded beyond imagination."
There was a pregnant silence after that declaration, but was broken again by the ROB:
"Standard Djinn rules apply though."
That took Gabriel by surprise, because it was decidedly straightforward, nothing like the stories he read on the internet. Where the majority of ROBs didn't give two shillings about the will of their 'victims'. Still, if he were to accept this oddly phrased recruitment because the other option was unthinkable. Even though he was just a copy, which he still needed to have a nice panic attack about, he needed more information. Luckily, the ROB seemed to be in a talkative mood.
He decided to test the waters with an odd request.
'Let's see what happens!'
"Before we go over the deal," he started while looking at Robin, who was again standing weirdly still with his hand next to his body. "could we change the venue, because this whole gray nothingness creeps the hell out of me?"
Robin looked around. Which was quite disconcerting, because he did this by turning his head mechanically in one direction. Then at the same speed in the other direction.
He finished this movement, shrugged, and said:
"If you say so."
The next thing Gabriel knew was that he was sitting on a chair, still in his sleepwear, in an aggressively generic café, opposite of Robin, who was already sipping from a cup made of presumably a black hole or something equally ridiculous.
He took a curious look around, noting the very generic decorations, tables. And upon moving around a little, the oddly comfortable chairs. The smells wafting in the air reminded him of every café he has ever been to. While still calming him down because anything was better than that gray emptiness.
When he looked back at the table, there was a glass of cold water with a slice of lemon on the lip and a very crispy-looking, visibly warm croissant. He glanced at Robin, who watched him expectantly over the rim of his cup. Deciding to chance it, he warily took a bite out of the croissant.
The only thing that went through his head while chewing it was:
'This is so generic it hurts.'
Because the croissant was just as generic as the café itself, which slightly disappointed Gabriel. He expected it to have an otherworldly taste, yet it reminded him of every frozen croissant he ever ate.
'Still,' he thought 'let's start the negotiations.'
He took a sip of his water and asked his first questions:
"Sooo, how is this going to work? What do I have to do?"
Robin took another sip of his beverage, then placed the cup on the table and began his explanation.
"You will be given a few small pieces of knowledge and an opportunity to ask for one specific knowledge. Which you will then need to use to fulfill three tasks of my choosing in a specific Universe."
He took a quick break, presumably to let it sink in, then continued.
"Your reward will be based on your completion rate, but otherwise, you can ask for any three things."
"What happens if I fail?"
"Failure usually comes with death, so nothing." came the sobering answer. "I simply start anew with somebody else."
"Do I choose my reward now or after the job?" inquired Gabriel.
"Now," replied Robin. "We agree on everything before it starts, so as not to have any disagreement afterward."
"How do I know you will keep your word?" asked Gabriel, inwardly hoping that he hasn't stepped over any line.
The ROB seemed to consider this for a few seconds. Then nodded to himself and responded with a quiet sentence.
"You don't." Then continued a little louder. "You, Gabriel, simply have to accept my word for it and hope I wasn't lying."
The being opposite of Gabriel went silent again. He felt as if Robin was considering something, so he stayed silent after that very ominous declaration.
Robin oddly tilted his head sideways after an undetermined amount of time and said in a calm voice:
"If it helps, I have to account for my action for beings higher on the hierarchy of the Omniverse. So it is not like I can get off scot-free."
Gabriel just sighed. "That doesn't help me much."
In response, the ROB theatrically spread his hands out. "Is what it is, so you just have to deal with it."
"Right." Gabriel nodded, mostly to himself, then continued. "What comes first, rewards, or tasks?"
"You choose your rewards, one small, one medium, and one big reward."
Gabriel swallowed nervously. "Anything?"
"Anything," answered Robin with a knowing look. "As I said before, standard Djinn rules apply. No killing somebody. No making somebody fall in love. No resurrection and no more wishes," he chuckled a little "or in this case no additional rewards."
"Also you can't ask for a djinn. Been there, never ends well."
Gabriel nodded in understanding, then started thinking about his options. Luckily, he was always prone to daydreaming, so he already had considered what he would ask for if he was ever given three wishes in the past.
"I know what I want."
"So fast?" queried the ROB incredulously.
"Yes." agreed Gabriel. "For the first, I want for my original body in peak condition, excellent health, no genetic defects, low-rate regeneration."
"Acceptable," answered Robin, while writing it down with a feather quill on a paper that wasn't on the table the last time Gabriel looked.
"For the second," he continued, "I want the original to have the ability to do magic and the knowledge that goes with it."
"Standard request. I approve," stated Robin while writing it down, then looked up from the paper. "And the last one?"
Gabriel swallowed heavily again and forced himself to speak.
"I want the original to have the magical ability and knowledge about traveling through dimensions."
"Even more generic request. I accept." came the flat reply from the other side of the table.
Gabriel, having said his piece, waited for Robin to continue. Who with a flourish finished writing down his requests. Then turned towards him, the paper and quill vanishing at the same time.
"Your tasks, if you choose to accept it, are the following:" began the ROB with a small laugh in his voice. "Take a place of somebody, kill the enemy, and don't let their 'kingdom' fall into chaos."
Gabriel, instead of asking the obvious question, with herculean effort restrained himself from commenting about the vagueness of that description and waited for Robin to explain.
Robin, seeing that Gabriel chose to stay silent, huffed in exasperation, but continued.
"You will become a Shard."
Upon hearing this, Gabriel felt himself blanch and start sweating.
"Worm?" he asked in a shaky voice.
"Yepp!" came the short and oddly upbeat answer.
"So I will take over a Shard, have to kill Zion, and need to make sure that the Network doesn't go berserk?"
"As for the rewards, if you manage to stay alive you get one reward. Killing Zion grants you the second one, and obviously the completion of the last task grants you the last reward. If you fail, you will more than likely die."
Gabriel, instead of asking one of the myriad questions bouncing around his head, bit the bullet and asked one of the most important questions.
"Which Shard would I replace?"
The ROB didn't have a face, but Gabriel felt that at this moment if the being in front of had a mouth, he would be sporting a wide smile.
"Why, non-other than the famous Administrator!"
Blinking at the answer, Gabriel began to consider it. It was not the worst Shard to replace. However, the starting position as Taylor's power didn't help much. Despite that, he thought about how he would handle it, and what he would do as a Shard. He closed his eyes, then leaned back in his chair and went through everything he knew about Worm. He also started to put together a simplistic plan of action.
While his knowledge about the setting was not as expansive as some others, he had a mostly working knowledge of the events, dates, and people. Overall, it was not a terrible deal.
He opened his eyes, looked at the patiently waiting ROB.
"You mentioned something about a few bits of knowledge and one that I can ask for?"
Robin nodded and started to explain energetically.
"First of all, you will get the Shards technical knowledge without the memories. Including a how-to about recreating the Sting's effect. I will also provide you with the in-universe knowledge how to Path to Victory and Thinker/Simurgh proof yourself."
"That is oddly generous," he noted.
"It's my experiment. I decide what the starting scenario looks like," rebuked Robin. "Can I continue?"
"Of course. I apologize for the interruption."
"No problem. I also will provide an anti-Thinker and Path to Victory protection until Taylor triggers. This will be based on an outside-context power so nobody will be able to break it. After the Trigger, it will up to you to protect yourself and your charge."
Gabriel thought it through and decided it could have been worse.
"That is helpful, thank you. What about the knowledge I can ask for?"
"isn't it?" Robin emoted happiness, then continued. "Ask for any piece of information, and you will be provided. It is that simple."
"Any information?" asked Gabriel, to be sure.
"Again, anything." came the prompt response.
Gabriel sat back again, with eyes closed, and considered what information to ask for. But he only came up with one that would work with his hastily thought-out plan. It even hanged on this piece of information, but what is life without taking chances?
"I want to know the exact location of Geoffrey Pellick aka Saint and his group, the Dragonslayers, from 2011 January 1st until 2011 April 30th." he declared confidently.
"Odd request, but doable," responded Robin. "Now onto the time of insertion."
Gabriel held his breath.
"You will replace the Administrator on 1994 June 11th, one year before Taylor's birth."
His exhale after that piece of information was decidedly relaxed.
"So 16 years of preparation?"
"Exactly. No less and no more."
On paper, it was a lot of time to prepare, but without knowing how a Shard works it was a gamble. Still, it was once in a lifetime chance for him, even if he was a copy. He went over the facts a few more times, but in the end, he came to a decision.
"I will do it."
"I'm so glad," exclaimed Robin while clapping his hands together. "Then let us shake on it and you can start!"
With that, Gabriel stood up and reached out with his hand again.
The ROB also stood up, took his hand but before shaking it, he spoke:
"This is the last chance to back out. Are you really sure you want to make these choices?" He also accompanied this question with audible seriousness in his voice.
But Gabriel made his choice.
"Very well then!" she began to shake his hand up and down with obvious vigor and cheer. "I wish you the best of luck!"
Gabriel wanted to answer, but as he opened his mouth, he noticed the hands slowed down, and even his blinking took longer. After a few seconds, darkness began encroaching on the area. While Robin and he stood practically still, joined at their hands, motion frozen in time. After the next blink, the café vanished. By the next one, the only illuminated place was a small circle of gray nothingness containing him and the ROB.
After the last torturously slow blink, the light didn't return and soon afterward he knew nothing.