“Do you have any idea what it takes to dig a mass grave with nothing more than a shovel? I have to match dimensions...in more ways than one!”
“Sorry, brother, it was all I had access to.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know.” He wasn’t really all that upset.
“Why do you only have access to a shovel?”
“That’s what I wanna know.”
“Do you remember me?”
“I live outside of time. I’m not immune to all reality changes, but major ones, and ones that would change my relationships with others don’t affect me.”
“So are we outside of time right now?”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Alt!Leona said. “You can’t be ‘out of time’. There is no ‘place beyond time’. You can be in a different timeline, or an alternate reality, or maybe a parallel universe, but you can’t just not be experiencing time. I mean, if we weren’t in time right now, this conversation wouldn’t be happening.” She started pointing between them. “Because you said something, and then you said something, and then you replied to him. It’s called causality, and maybe you can jack with causality, but you can’t just...like, have it both ways. You can’t both be subject to, and unburdened by it.”
The Gravedigger, Mr. Halifax stared at her for a few seconds, or for no time at all, since that was how it worked according to her. “We’re in a pocket universe.”
She paused for the same amount of time. “Okay, yeah, that’s all right.”
“Speaking of being all right,” Mr. Halifax said, “if we don’t get you to The Sanctuary soon, you could die.”
“What are you talking about?” Mateo asked nervously.
“Normal humans can’t be taken through time except under special circumstances,” Halifax explained. “Saviors, like your late Aunt, can teleport people to safety, but usually only once. Your father can do the same, but again, he has his limits. If a human is transported by just about anyone else, they’ll eventually get sick.”
“But weren’t those security guards normal humans?” Mateo asked. “The ones who watched over Horace Reaver?” he added. “And also their families?”
“I don’t have memory of that, but I’m sure they were moved back and forth by The Chauffeur,” he said. “That’s his job. He’s the only one who can regularly protect humans from temporal sickness.”
“Temporal sickness,” Alt!Leona repeated. “What are the symptoms?”
Halifax retrieved something from a bag that was sitting on the ground. It looked exactly like the portfolio binder Danica used to somehow find The Blender in 1975. “They vary based on type of travel, degree of separation between egress and return, strength of the traveler, and also just the biology of the human, as with any disease.”
“Is there a cure?” she asked.
“Not once the symptoms start.” Then Halifax corrected himself, “well, there was one case where Meliora treated him, but it took a long time, and Lincoln suffered from heavy side effects.”
“Abraham Lincoln?” Mateo gasped. “Abraham Lincoln, Time Traveler,” he continued in a sort of whisper.
“No, L-O-L,” Halifax said. “Different Lincoln.”
“Wait, this shouldn’t matter anyway,” Mateo pointed out. “Leona is a salmon. She’s just not been activated in this timeline.”
Halifax tore a piece of paper out of his portfolio and scribbled something on it. “I’m afraid it’s much more complicated in her case.” He took a lighter out of his pocket and started burning the paper, eventually letting the remains to fall to the ground and burn out. “I can explain later, but I have to get her to The Sanctuary, and you back to ‘a place within time’.” He winked at Alt!Leona.
Dave, the man who had worked for Horace Reaver’s counterpart, Ulinthra, along with Harrison, appeared in front of them. “Does someone here need a ride?”
“Dave,” Mateo whined. “You told me you weren’t a time traveler when we first met.” Yes, it was starting to come true his belief that literally everyone he had ever met was going to turn out to be part of all this.
“I’m sorry, you must have me confused with someone else.”
“Oh,” Mateo said. “It was in an alternate reality.”
“Well...maybe I wasn’t a chooser in that reality.” He placed his hand on Leona’s shoulder and spirited them both away.
“You never really told me what the Sanctuary is.”
“Precisely two time travelers are capable of entering Sanctuary; our friend, the Chauffeur, and Meliora Rutherford Delaney-Reaver. If you tried to go in, you would immediately experience temporal sickness, and likely die within minutes.”
“So it will protect Leona from the Blender, The Cleanser, and even Makarion?”
“It will, yes,” Halifax assured him.
Mateo spent the rest of his section of 2085 wandering around a new Topeka. Much had changed since he had first been there. Upon reaching midnight, he jumped forwards one year.
Mateo spent the first half of 2086 sleeping on a bench in a park. He was happy that parks still existed, even with all this urban expansion. A police officer approached him just as he was waking up to offer him help. Mateo politely refused and made up some story about his roommate needing the apartment to himself all night. The cop was still worried, but she moved on without further question. Without his mother, Mateo was going to have to figure out where he was going to live. Feeling homesick, he decided to go find her old house. It took a long time to get all the way across town, but public transportation probably required an identity, and there was no record of him in this timeline. He was even more isolated than ever.
His house was gone, replaced by some other futuristic structure. A beautiful young woman was just coming out of the building with her dog. She was jog-hopping around, presumably getting ready to go for a run. The dog broke free from her grip and raced towards Mateo. It excitedly jumped up towards him and tried to balance on his straightened knees. “I’m so sorry about that,” she said. “I promise she’s harmless, but she’s also shy around other people. She usually only identifies with...” she trailed off.
He smiled. “Identifies with who?”
“Hey, this may sound like a strange question, but do you like salmon?” She didn’t hit that last word too hard, but she accented it enough that he understood the reference.
He held out his hand. “Uh, yeah...I’m Mateo Matic. I come from an alternate timeline, but I don’t exist here.”
She looked relieved to not have to explain why she was asking a stranger on the sidewalk if he liked to eat fish. She took his hand and said, “Téa Stendahl.”
He shook his head. “You look so familiar, but I just cannot place the face.”
“You as well. Maybe we knew each other in the other timeline. Ya know, we sometimes catch glimpses of them.”
He kept shaking his head. “Maybe...briefly. I think I would remember better if I had ever spoken to you.”
“Well,” she said, “have you ever been to the past? I actually used to be a man.”
“Oh, you’re trans. I’m not sure.”
“No,” she said. “I died, but the powers that be weren’t done with me, so I was reincarnated, this time as a girl.”
“Oh, I’ve never heard of that. Your name is Téa?”
“Yeah, but I used to go by...”
“Yeah, so you did know me?”
Mateo wasn’t sure what to say. This was not only an alternate version of Theo Delaney, but a female Theo. In going back in time and killing Hitler, he had inadvertently erased himself from the the future. But he had also changed Ed’s fate so that he was reborn as someone completely different. Now it all made sense. If both Leona’s parents had died, and she was raised by the Gelens, it meant that Theo could never be born as her half-brother. But Ed still needed to be reincarnated so he could continue with his pattern at the pleasure of the powers. He was really starting to get a handle on these time travel complexities. “In my timeline, your name was Theo, and you were reincarnated as my girlfriend’s brother.”
Mateo looked back to the building. “Do Aura and Samsonite live here?”
“They do. They too were reincarnated, but with the same gender assignment.”
Even after all these changes, his mother still came back and lived in the same place as before. She would have no recollection of him, though.
“Under what conditions did you know them?” Téa asked.
He was about to explain the truth, but stopped himself. Alt!Leona was already in this, but there was no point in pulling his mother back into his drama. The former Theo, now Téa, was walking a freaking dog. They lived normal lives. It didn’t look like they were worried about Reaver, or The Cleanser, or any other evil time traveler. They were probably happy. He had to let her go. “Umm, well...you know, salmon swim into each other every once in awhile.”
“Yeah, this is true.” She looked at her watch and tugged at her dog who was still insistent she get to know Mateo better. “Listen, I’m going for a run. You’re welcome to join, and maybe you can have lunch with us? I don’t know your pattern, do you have somewhere to stay?”
“Oh, I’m fine. I actually have somewhere to be. I appreciate the offer. Really, it means more to me than you could know.”
She took out a slip of paper and wrote down her phone number. “Okay, well, you know where we are. And now you have our phone number. Don’t hesitate to call or drop by if you ever find yourself back in our time period.”
He took the number. “I’ll remember that, thanks.”
“Hope to see you again,” she called back as she was running away and inserting her earphones. Little Téa Stendahl. What a crazy world he was living in.
Makarion caught up to him on the corner as he was leaving. “I thought you might come here.”
“You’re looking better.”
“I’ve had a year to recover.”
“You have a movie for me or something?”
“Yeah, we’re back to the old structure. You’re about to walk sixteen more blocks. Well...you’re probably gonna wanna run.”