Seeing is Becoming

Garage Door (Part I)

Vearden Haywood was getting ready to leave his house in Oklahoma. Four thousand miles away, Saga Einarsson was trekking through the rainforests of the Amazon. They had not seen each other since college. Saga didn’t even have a social media presence, so Vearden had no idea that she was a traveling photographer. While he was brushing his teeth and making sure that his cell phone was charged all the way, Saga felt a tremor. She looked around for shelter, but found nothing. It ended quickly, and she looked ahead again. Things had changed. Her environment looked remarkably different. She was still in the rainforest, but the arrangement of trees and flowers had been altered. Did she lose time? There was a roar behind her, and she began to run.
Vearden looked at himself in the mirror with the feeling of apathy and a bit of nausea. He didn’t want to go. He stood there, staring into space, for a few moments before sitting down on the couch and flipping on his TV. He had recently cleared out his recordings so there was nothing to watch but the late morning trash. He eventually just fell asleep from the depression.
His phone woke him up hours later. He grabbed it and answered, “yeah?—Yeah, I know.—I could lie and say that I thought it was tomorrow, but I just wasn’t in the mood.—Probably won’t be in the mood tomorrow, no.—You would not do that.—Okay, fine. I’ll be there, I promise...in two days.—All right, tomorrow morning. First thing.” He growled and let his phone fall back to the nightstand. It was only then that he realized he was in his bed instead of the couch. How did he get there?

The next day, Vearden completed his routine and made it out to the garage. He breathed in deeply but held most of it in; letting air out little by little. He haphazardly slapped the door opener several times before finally getting lucky. As he began to walk around the back to the driver’s side door, he saw the outside. It was not his driveway. It was some kind of wooded area. He looked behind him through the glass on the door to the backyard. That all looked normal, but in front of him was a different place entirely.
He cautiously dipped his feet across the border. It didn’t feel any different; as if that was just how it was supposed to be. He slowly made progress until he was fully past the line. He looked back. His house was nowhere to be seen, except for the frame of the garage. He dropped his bag to the ground and began to explore the immediate area. He was able to touch the leaves and feel the breeze on his face. So, it wasn’t just a visual hallucination. It was most likely a dream. He didn’t technically remember waking up, but that was old news. His brain made a point of erasing the memories of monotony.
While he was watching a flying insect that resembled a bee, he started to hear screaming. He looked up and saw a woman racing towards him. She stopped for a half second when she saw him up ahead. “Don’t let the door close!”
“What?”
“Make sure the door stays open!” she called up to him.
Then he saw what she was running from. A large creature was chasing her. It was nearly three meters tall, muscular, and angry. Just as Vearden was looking for a sturdy stick to use as a weapon, the creature caught up with the woman.  It was only then that he realized she was his old college roommate. Maybe this was all real. Maybe they had fallen into another dimension. Maybe this was happening all over the world. Saga fought back hard, managing to keep the creature at bay. Vearden ran up and joined in. Together, they were able to knock the creature to its back. “Get to my house. Go all the way into the kitchen.”
“If your door closes, we’ll be trapped here forever.”
There was a howl in the distance. The creature on the ground howled back to it. They were clearly intelligent enough to communicate with each other. “Then you better get going,” Vearden told her.
While Saga was running for the door, they could hear it begin to close on its own. Whatever had brought them there wanted them to stay. Vearden collided with the creature. It fought using strategy and patience. Even though it didn’t seem to say anything, it was thinking through its actions. Creature wasn’t a very good name for it, but that was all he had. It even carried a sheathed sword. He continued to punch and kick at it. He had never received any formal combat training, so it was just his instinct to keep as much distance as possible between them.
He got a few opportunities to look over to his house. He could see Saga straining to hold the garage door open. There was a sensor that kept it from hitting you in the head, but that was being overridden. “Just get inside!” he yelled to her.
“I can’t do that!”
“Either we both die, or just me! Please!”
As he continued to lose his fight with the creature, she continued to lose her fight with the door. He could only see her legs, and then just her feet. And then the door was all the way down. He could still see her through the little windows, pounding and screaming, trying to get the door back open. But it was slowly fading away. It would soon be gone, and he would be trapped. But at least she was safe.
The creature’s friend appeared through the trees, causing him to take his eyes off of the first one for a moment. It took its chance to stab him in the stomach.
“No!” Saga cried from inside the garage, her voice growing fainter as she held the word.
Knowing that his wound was fatal anyway, he decided to cause as much damage as he could muster. He shoved the sword deeper in so that it came out of his back. He twisted around and slit the creature’s stomach open. Then he jumped backwards and crashed into the second creature, stabbing it so they were both on a skewer. He fell to the ground on top of it. The first one was approaching him, his wound closing up quickly. Apparently they had a healing factor. That’s perfect. Vearden struggled to the pull the sword out of the other creature’s stomach, and out of his own. He released it just in time to trip the first creature and let it fall on the sword. He was in a creature sandwich, their blood mixing together throughout their three wounds.
He gathered all the strength he had left and rolled it off of his body. They were already starting to heal again. He swung the sword behind him like a baseball bat, and cut off their heads, hoping that they would not be able to survive that level of trauma.
Saga ran up just in time to watch Vearden’s wound close up, leaving not so much as a scar. “You heal like they do,” she said
“You were supposed to be inside.”
“I was inside. When it disappeared, it left me behind. Someone wants us here.”
“Where are we?”
“Another planet.”


For Food and Raiment (Part II)

“How do you know that we’re on another planet?” Vearden asked.
“Don’t you feel lighter?” Saga asked in return.
“Yes.”
“Either the wormhole creates some sort of gravity disturbance, or we’re experiencing the pull of a different planet entirely.”
“I thought you were a photographer.”
“I am. I’m one of those smart photographers you hear about.”
“Well, what made you think that closing the door would cause it to disappear?”
“You’re not the first person I’ve encountered here. A couple others have shown up, but they’ve all been killed by those things, except for one guy who managed to get back inside his door.”
“It sounds like they were mistakes. The people controlling this were probably looking for me, but found other people accidentally instead.”
“Not a bad assumption, but why is either of us here?” There was a howl in the distance. Saga closed her eyes in frustration. “They never stop coming. I lose them for an hour or two, but either the one chasing me finds me again, or another one. It feels like a sport to them. I literally haven’t slept in over a day.”
Vearden nodded then went over to pull the sword out of the ground. “Let’s go find a cave or something.”
It didn’t take them too long to find shelter in a recess on the side of a mountain. While Saga got some much needed rest, Vearden stood watch.
Night came and went. “How long have I been out?” Saga rubbed her eyes and yawned.
He looked at his empty wrist. “Over twelve hours, I would imagine.”
“You’ve been up this whole time? Why didn’t you wake me?”
“For obvious reasons. Where were you when they brought you here?” They spent a few minutes catching up with each other. She had done with her life what she promised she would. After interning at a nature magazine for a while, she made a name for herself and was given the freedom to travel pretty much anywhere she wanted, taking photos of whatever she wanted. He, on the other hand, didn’t do one thing right since graduating from university. He should have read the signs and not gone for a degree in journalism. There weren’t any jobs out there. He tried starting his own blog a few times, and finding other online sources to work for, but nothing came of it. He had spent the last several years finding nothing but temp positions and other jobs with no security. He hadn’t worked at the same place for longer than eleven months since high school. Before falling through the wormhole—or whatever it was—he was on his way to a summer camp. The deal was that he would have a job as a counselor if he went through the program once beforehand, to see what it was like. His younger sister had worked it out with a friend of hers, but Vearden was always disappointing her. It was ironic that, after finally being determined to follow through this one time, he was unable to for reasons that were legitimately out of his control.
“What do you think we should do?” he asked of her.
“I’ve gathered energy from sleep, but I haven’t eaten in a while either,” Saga replied. “It’ll take us 24 hours to run edibility tests on anything we find here.”
He opened his bag. “I have some food with me.” He pulled out one of those boxed lunches that were designed for kids, a single serving of yogurt, a can of vienna sausage, a piece of pie from a fast food restaurant, two half-filled bottles of water, and a loaf of bread with four or five slices left.
“What the hell is this?” she asked. She sorted through the food. “What is this strange medley of random items? Did you just open the cupboard with your eyes closed and brush down everything in the first row?”
“That’s ridiculous.” He pulled out a slice of bread and started eating the crust first. “I would never put vienna sausage and bread on the same row.”
She shook her head. “What happened to you, man?”
He shook back. “Nothing happened. A great big pile of nothing.”
She ate the sausage and boxed lunch. He offered her the yogurt, but she couldn’t make out the expiration date, and she wasn’t going to risk it. Not when it was coming from him. He was a stranger to her now.”
Just when they were starting to feel energized and comfortable, they heard a ruckus above them on the mountain. Men were shouting to each other and banging on the rock. There was also this sort of zipping sound, and they were getting closer. All of the sudden, a figure appeared from above, holding on to a rope, and stopped when it saw them. They were staring into the eyes of a humanoid alien. It was covered in fur, except for the head. The eyes were big and bulging. What skin was showing was tightly wrinkled into neat and straight folds. All of its teeth came to a point, like canines. They were markedly different than the intelligent creatures that had given chase before. Despite all this, it looked kind and honest. They assumed it to be male. He tilted his head inquisitively and tried to speak to them in a foreign tongue.
“Sorry,” Saga said. “We don’t understand.”
He leaned his head back but kept his eye on them before calling out to one of his mates. Another alien swung over with his own rope and looked at them with the same curiosity. The two of them talked to each other in their own language. Of course, Saga and Vearden still couldn’t understand them, but it didn’t seem like they were planning on eating them, or hurting them at all, for that matter. Once they had come to some kind of conclusion, the second alien addressed them, “human.”
Vearden nodded his head. “Yes.”
The aliens nodded their heads and smiled, apparently proud of themselves for having guessed correctly. They each cupped one hand upwards and pulled it towards their chests, indicating that they wanted the humans to come with them. Vearden and Saga obliged, because what else were they going to do?
As they stepped out from under the rocks, they could see other aliens rappelling down the side of the mountain. Some ignored the newcomers, but others smiled and waved. One called out to them in what sounded like Chinese, and unlike their own language. They were probably not the first humans to have traveled there if enough of them were familiar with two of Earth’s languages.
Once they reached the bottom of the mountain, they gathered in a crowd. The first two aliens—which, come to think of it, weren’t the aliens since this was their planet—appeared to be introducing the visitors. A third native walked through the group and took command, giving the others formal instructions. Afterwards, he pulled the humans aside so that they could speak privately. “My friend over there tells me that he smells Gondilak blood in you.”
Vearden looked down at his belly. He had changed into his spare shirt, and since the wound had closed up, there was no evidence of the struggle. “Yes. I was...contaminated by something; must have been a Gondilak. They attacked us, and stabbed me. I was forced to kill them, but some of their blood leaked into me, so I guess that’s why I healed so quickly?”
“You killed a Gondilak?”
“Two of them.”
Two of them. Impressive. We’ve not seen a human do that before.”
“What are they?” Saga asked.
“Not important,” the native replied. “Not anymore. Not now that you’re here with us.” He patted them both on the back. “Come. We will take you to the city so that you can change into visitor garbs and sample our victuals.”
“You’re not going to hurt us?”
“No,” the native laughed. “Not yet.”

Champions (Part III)

What the last Orothsew native had said to them was more of a joke than a threat. But it was still partly true. The first thing they did was take baths and change into new clothes that resembled Ancient Greek togas, but were a little bit more form-fitting. They were led to a great hall full of delicacies. Each food they tried resembled, in more ways than one, something from Earth. The grape-looking fruit tasted somewhat like grapes. The pinkish meat with white veins tasted remarkably like ham. The bread tasted exactly the same. Saga voiced her concerns about edibility, but the natives assured her that many a human had sampled the food, and there had been no problems.
“How many of us have you encountered?” Vearden asked during lunch.
Their liaison, Fanelius, put down his drumstick and wiped his mouth with a napkin. He was assigned to answer questions and keep them safe. “Over the centuries? A few hundred, I would estimate. They don’t all come from the same time. There doesn’t seem to be a temporal link between the other planets and ours. An Earthling will show up from the 20th century, and then another from the 17th. We know very little of how it works, and none of them have a clue.”
“But aliens from other planets, besides Earth, also appear?”
“Yes, it happens quite often, actually,” Fanelius said with excitement. “It would seem as we are some kind of focal point for spontaneous space travel. People from all over the universe come and go on a daily basis, but none of them report visitors doing the same to their home worlds.”
“You say they come and go? At some point, do they just disappear again?” Saga asked.
“Yes. As soon as they complete their mission. Sometimes they know exactly what they’re supposed to do, like it’s just their jobs to travel around, and they’ve been given instructions. Others need to use their instincts. One thing we’ve learned, though, it that each visitor who spends their time only trying to leave, never succeeds. Several of them have died here, never having discovered their purpose.” Fanelius said that with a purely intellectual tone, but Saga and Vearden couldn’t help but interpret it as a warning. They weren’t going home, unless someone else decided that they were allowed to.
“Even if we did get back,” Saga began once they were left alone for a period of time, “what year would it be? It could be 2004, or it could be 4666. What year is it right now? How long does it take to travel across space? To us, it felt instant, but maybe that was an illusion. Maybe we’ve been gone for thousands of years!”
“Yes, that may be. But what do you want me to do? Not hope we find our way back? We have to keep going either way.”
“No I know, Vearden. I’m just...trying to get things straight.”
He took her hands in his and looked into her eyes. “I promise you this, Saga. If we never get home, or if we do, we will always stick together. We will get through this...together.”
That gave her some comfort, until later that day when they were headed for the capital and they were ambushed by the Gondilak. Saga survived, mostly unscathed, but Vearden was captured. A native who also survived the attack took her to the capital to speak with the Magistrate.
“Did they head North, or East?” he asked.
“I was knocked out cold,” the fellow survivor admitted.
“If by East, you mean away from the setting sun, then it was that.”
“That’s promising,” the Magistrate said. “He may be alive yet.”
“What are they going to do to him?”
“If he’s the one who somehow inherited their healing abilities, then they will experiment with him, and test his limits.”
“We have to get him out of there,” Saga pleaded. “Please. I know that to you we are nothing but humans, but he’s important to me. There must be something that we can do.”
“We already know that you two are important,” the Magistrate said, surprised that she would feel the need to beg. “You were already scheduled to come here. Another human told us that you would, and said that we must conscript you into our army.”
“What?”
“You were being brought to me because you are our new Champions. We need you to lead us so that this war may finally end.”
“I see.”
“You will have the full force of Orothsewan resources at your disposal so that you can return to us your partner.”

Boarders (Part IV)

“You want me to do what now?” Vearden asked.
A Gondilak doctor was standing in front of him, hands on his hip. “I would like you to cut yourself. With that knife. It doesn’t have to be too deep, but it can’t be too shallow either.”
“I’m not into that.”
“We just have to see what it looks like.”
You do it.”
Dr. Reeder—translation unclear—rolled his eyes. He moved shockingly like a human. “Fine.” He took the knife back and carelessly ran it across Vearden’s arm.
“Oh my God!” Vearden screamed. “Does it always hurt like that?” The cut sealed up almost as quickly as it was created.
“For us, we get used to it,” Reeder replied. “Especially for those of us living so close to the Orothsewan border.”
“I was to understand that Orothsew was the name of the entire planet?”
Reeder cut Vearden on his other arm.
“Ouch again! Jeez, you never told me you were going to do it again.”
“Did I not?” He stabbed Vearden in the leg. “The Orothsew and the Gondilak evolved on two different continents, separated by a treacherous ocean. Each culture had named this planet on its own before the Orothsew progressed enough to discover us. We’ve been warring for centuries. They only recently made claim to their sliver of land on our continent, which they were able to do with slightly superior technology.”
“Do you get aliens on this side too?” Vearden dodged a few more attacks, but a stealthy archer shot him with an arrow from behind.
“We do occasionally,” Reeder said while he was breaking the arrow. “But humans only ever help the Orothsew.” He pulled the back end of the arrow out quickly. “We do not know why.” He lowered his gaze, obviously preparing to drop the knife on Vearden’s foot.
“Let’s...stop this for now,” Vearden said, gently taking the knife. “I think you have enough data for the day. And I need to contact my partner.”
“She is still with them.”
“Well, it’s not my fault that you only took me.”
“Not my fault either. That is not my job.”
He sighed. “Do you have a telephone, or a carrier pigeon, or something?”
“I have no idea what those words mean.”
Vearden thought about his options for a moment. “Okay. She’s going to try to find me. But she doesn’t know the terrain, so she would request a guide or a search party. Assuming they agreed, where might we be able to intercept them? Where would they start their search for me?”
“Well, they would go back to where the ambush was, probably. But that’s still in their territory. Our operatives took great risk to get you but that’s only because they value you. For her, the leaders would never agree to cross that deep past the boundary. Your next best chance is in the Diamond Forest.”
“You have a forest of diamonds?” Vearden was excited.
“It’s shaped like a diamond,” the doctor condescended. “Calm down. Anyway, I doubt they would let you go. You are, as I’ve said, valuable to them.”
“I don’t need their permission. I am not a prisoner here.”
Reeder shrugged. “Semantics.”
“Can you help me or not?”
“I can’t help you, per se. But I can lead you to someone who can.”
He gave him directions on where to go, but it wasn’t necessary. His new liaison-slash-bodyguard took him there. They walked into a tent and found themselves with a crowd of both Gondilak and Orothsew. One such of the latter was clearly in some kind of position of authority.
“Ah, the human,” she said. “What is he doing here?”
“I was told that you could help me get back to my partner. She’s with the...um, you know, with you guys.”
She laughed. “Don’t look so surprised. This war is based on land; not race. The Orothsewan government would like you to believe that they are following a singular vision, but they are most certainly not. The majority of the population on both sides disapprove of the war, and a few of us have temporarily defected in hopes of forming a new culture, composed of the entire planet of Orolak, free from segregation.
“Ked rihl,” one of the other Orothsew muttered in his native tongue.
“Quiet, Mujel. It isn’t a pipe dream. And please speak English in front of our guest. Those are the rules.” She looked back over to Vearden and extended her hand. “I am Uhyiopa.”
“I can’t help but notice,” Vearden admitted, “that there is a surprisingly high number of people here who speak my language. Even with the supposed hundreds of human visitors, most of you should not be able to speak it, especially not so fluently.”
“We teach it in schools now. We have determined it to be the most widely spoken language in the galaxy.”
“It is?” he asked. “How is that possible?”
“You have heard that Orolak is some kind of natural hub for alien visitors?”
“Indeed.”
“In the spirit of that, Earth seems to be a sort of ambassador homebase. It’s true that only a few hundred have come here total, but a not insignificant number of those few hundred have been transported to planets besides ours. You’re like a colonizing race, but without all the conquering. The strange thing is,” she paused for effect, “not a single one of you appears to have any control over it.”
Vearden took a second to process the information. He had already known that he and Saga weren’t the only ones. But it seemed to be so much bigger than that. The people in charge had some kind of grand design. They plan these missions, and they send their unwitting minions out into the field. No one knew who they were, or why they were doing this, but there was clearly a consensus that they existed. No one was even so much as entertaining the possibility that there was no plan at all. What if it was all just random? What if these...what should he call them, powers that be, aren’t there at all? What if people just didn’t realize that this was how the universe worked; a strange form of chaos theory where sometimes you’re simply teleported somewhere else?
“I need some air,” Vearden said, nearly hyperventilating. He walked over and pulled the flap of the tent back. What he found there was a change in scenery. He had been transported, just like before to Orolak, but this time he was back on Earth. At least, he assumed it to be Earth. He saw no Orothsew or Gondilak. The buildings looked more familiar. And he saw humans.
“Vearden?” came the voice of his sister.
“Allison!” he cried out. “It’s so good to see you.”
“You too,” she agreed. She didn’t act like he had been missing at all. “I honestly thought that you would crap out on me again. But you’re here. On time. And on the day that I asked.” That wasn’t right. Not only had he spent a few days on Orolak, but he had set out for this summer camp a day later than he had promised. Even if the powers that be had moved sent him back to Earth the moment after he first left, he would have been late, according to his sister’s schedule.
“What day is it?”
“What are you asking, V?”
“Just humor me. Please.”
She eyed him suspiciously, but felt like it wasn’t worth arguing. “It’s Tuesday, May 19.” That was the proof. He left for Orolak on Wednesday, and had already been scolded by Allison about that. He had traveled back in time.

Antibiotics (Part V)

Saga trekked through the mud and thicket of the Diamond Forest with determination. Despite being natives to this land, her small search party found themselves easily falling behind her. They informed her that their home continent had more mountains and lakes, and fewer forests and deserts. She, on the other hand, was used to extreme terrain. Her job required adaptation, and she absolutely loved it. Sometimes she was miles and miles away from the nearest human. She found comfort in being alone, not because she didn’t like people, but because it left her to her own devices. The knowledge that the smallest of problems could lead to death made life that much more exciting. It was then that she realized that, aside from Vearden, she was probably lightyears from the nearest human. That was enough to make her shiver. Isolation is one thing.
Saga kept pushing forward, and eventually found herself in a clearing. The land was much flatter and barren ahead of her. When she looked back, the forest was gone. She had been transported again, but to where? Up ahead was a small white building. It could have been a home, or a one-room schoolhouse. She hadn’t really seen how the common Orothsew live, so she very well could have still been on the same planet. The rest of her group hadn’t come with her, though, so she shrugged her shoulders and moved on. There was obviously nothing more she could do to find Vearden.
Seeing no other option, she knocked on the door. A man answered it. He looked exhausted and scared, and barely noticed that she was dressed in unusual garb. She was so shocked that she barely noticed he was wearing unusual garb as well. “Can I help you?” he asked.
“Um...I was just wondering if you...had a telephone that I could borrow?”
That woke him up. “A telephone?” he said with a bit of a laugh. “You have about a decade before the telephone is invented, if I recall correctly. It’s 1868.”
“Oh, really?”
“What year are you from?”
“21st century,” Saga said. “You?”
“20th.” He looked a bit relieved. “Don’t tell me what happens.”
“Are we on Earth?”
“The hell else would we be?”
“Never mind.”
“You wouldn’t happen to be a doctor, would you?”
“Nah, I’m sorry,” Saga replied. I’m just a photographer.”
He was phenomenally disappointed. It did seem that she was sent there to help. They didn’t know who was sending them through time and space, or exactly why they were doing it. But the...powers that be, let’s call them, appear to have some kind of reason. It couldn’t just be random. The fact that she was sent back to Earth, but over 150 years earlier, had to mean something. Either she was there to help him, or he was there to help her. She was sure of it.
“But I did happen to have a medical kit when I slipped back.”
“Do you have antibiotics?”
“Indeed, for animals.”
“I thought you took pictures.”
“Yes, but you can’t usually buy human antibiotics unless you’re already sick. Survivalists buy from pet stores to be prepared.”
“You’re beautiful,” the man said. “Come on in, please. My name is Sam, by the way.”
“Saga,” she volleyed. She stepped inside and began to dig through her pack.
“Interesting name. Common in the future?” He led her into another room where a woman was sitting up in bed. She was coughing and sweating profusely. Another man was keeping her cool with a wet towel. “Who is this?”
“Our savior,” Sam answered. “She has antibiotics. Right now, we’re the only people in the world who can effectively treat pneumonia.”
“She does?” the other woman asked.
“Are those the things that kill germs and cure diseases?”
“They are,” Saga confirmed. “In so many words.”
“Looks like we’ve encountered another salmon,” the second man said. “I’m Edward. This is our friend, Lorena. Those two are from the future. I’m from the past.”
“Saga,” she repeated. “Future.”
“Are those them?” Sam asked.
“Uh, yeah.” She handed him the bottle. “Here, sorry. I just didn’t expect to meet anyone else like me. Have you been doing this long?”
“Well, with time travel, it’s a little hard to tell,” Sam said while he took a couple pills from the bottle and gave them to Lorena. “But it’s been at least a year. She and I come from the same time, and we keep meeting him at different times. Something is pulling us together, just like it pulled you here.”
“That’s fascinating. I just started. There’s no way to tell what year, though; not where I was.”
“What does that mean?”
“I’m not sure you’re ready for that.” She pointed to Edward. “I know that he isn’t.”
Edward laughed. “I think I would surprise you.”
“How many of these can you spare?”
“Every last one of them,” Saga said. That there bottle is yourn.”
Lorena nearly spit out her water. “That’s the spirit. You’re already acting like it’s 1868. You’ll fit right in. But where did you get those clothes?”
“Thats what you’re not ready for,” Saga said teasingly.
“Just tell me one thing,” Lorena started, sitting up to get more comfortable. “Do they still remember Kurt Cobain where you’re from?”
Saga shook her head affirmatively. “Of course we do.”
“Was it Courtney? I’ve always thought she did it.”
“Still just rumors, far as I know.”
Lorena grew sadder. “Could I ask you a favor?”
“I’ll do whatever I can. I can’t be sure how long I’m staying here, though.”
“We consistently head backwards in time. Edward has agreed to look him up if he reaches that point, but I was hoping you would too. It’s my son. I left him in 1994.” She began to choke up. “I don’t think I’ll ever see him again. But if you only just started, there’s a chance your pattern lets you go back and forth.”
Saga breathed in deeply. She had been hesitant to explain herself, but it was probably inevitable. She didn’t want to lie. “It’s true that I don’t know my pattern, and that my foray into 1868 was...unexpected, even after my first jump. So there’s a chance I’ll run into him. But I feel it’s only right that you know that I’m not, strictly speaking, a time traveler. I was sent to another planet. That’s why we didn’t know what year it was while we were there. I promise to look for your son if I can. I fear, however, that such a thing rests in the hands of whatever entity is controlling us.”
“I know,” Lorena agreed. “We do not appear to have control. I would still like to think that they listen to us. Maybe the three of us are stuck with our patterns, but maybe you’re not. Maybe you don’t have a pattern at all, and they really will take your feelings into consideration. I’m very religious. And I actually don’t believe in the powers that be. I believe only in God. And I trust in him.”
“I sure hope you’re right, Lorena. After these last couple of days, I’m not certain I’m not already home. But for you, I’ll pray to go back, if only to check on your son. What’s his name. Where might I find him?”
Lorena gave her the information. Sam had a few requests as well, but nothing quite so profound. To their surprise, Saga remained with them in the mid 19th century for the next three years. At that point, a portal opened up in the middle of nowhere, and she felt drawn back through it, knowing in her heart that Orothsew was where she belonged at the time. She stepped through and looked back at the friends she had grown to love deeply. Sam and Lorena disappeared to continue their travels in time, leaving Edward behind alone. He smiled and waved as well. The portal closed.
“Where did you just come from?” Vearden asked. He then took her in a bear hug.

Hunted (Part VI)

“Did they send you back to Earth?” Vearden asked after releasing Saga from the hug. “I looked for you, but found nothing.”
“They did send me back,” Saga said. “To 1868,” she added.
“What?”
“I was there for three years.”
“How did you survive?”
“I met some friends. They’re like us. Two of them left 1994, and have been doing this a lot longer.”
“Three years,” he repeated. “I was in our time for only a year, using my alien blood to heal people.”
“Well, if that’s all the powers that be wanted from us, why are we back on Orothsew?”
“We call this planet Orolak now,” Vearden corrected.
He went about telling her what he learned from the Gondilak, as well as the things he had been doing on Earth before returning. She told her own stories about the mid-19th century. No supernatural healing for her, but life was never dull. Her and her new friends were always on some kind of adventure.
They were just finishing up their conversation when an arrow came out of nowhere and went right through Vearden’s shoulder. He casually broke it and pulled it out. “We have to go,” he said.
They began to run, zigging and zagging around the sharp needled trees. They ended up going through a dense area. Cuts and bruises formed all over their skin. Just when they thought that perhaps no one was following them, they discovered this to be untrue. There was a clear ruckus from behind. It sounded like a hunting party. “I thought you were on good terms with the Gondilak,” Saga said.
“I am. This must be the Orothsew.”
“No, they need us. They called us their champions.”
“Well, something’s changed.”
“Why aren’t you healing?”
Vearden looked down and grasped his wounded shoulder. She was right, it wasn’t closing up, and he couldn’t say why. He opened his mouth to question it, but found himself pushed down to the ground. An arrow flew just above his head and landed in a tree. A creature that looked not like an Orothsew, and not like a Gondilak, but like both, was on top of him.
“We have to go,” the creature said in a feminine voice. When they didn’t move, she yelled, “now!”
They hopped to it and kept on running through the trees. The stranger quickly overtook them and began to lead the way. She would change directions suddenly, apparently in an effort to hide their trail. Sometimes, she would use a tree branch to swing herself forward, preventing her tracks from logically connecting to each other. They tried to do the same, and were sometimes even successful, but only sometimes. She was agile, tough, and extremely quick. It was clear that she was slowing down for them, but she didn’t act frustrated. She legitimately wanted to help.
Soon, they were at the swamp. “Get in,” she ordered. “This will mask your scent.”
“Perfect,” Saga said, gladly lathering the mud and moss all over her body.
Vearden was more hesitant, having just spent a year in civilized society, but he did as he was told. He flinched as he stuck some of the moss in his shoulder wound after the friend who introduced herself as Yalshi claimed that it would help protect his blood from infection. “We should keep going,” he suggested.
“Yes,” Yalshi agreed. “But move more slowly, and take every opportunity to step on rocks and roots. At this point, we want them to think that we’ve disappeared completely.
“Give it a couple days, and we might just do that.”
“We do not have a couple days.”
They spent the rest of the day, methodically escaping their pursuers. They hadn’t heard a peep from them in hours by the time they reached the creek. They waded through the water and proceeded upstream for another few hours, at which point Yalshi felt is was safe to clean themselves up and find shelter.
All they were able to find was a shallow and unsecured cave; just enough to get out of the wind and talk. “Why were they chasing us?” Saga asked.
“You are invaders,” Yalshi said plainly. “More than that, you’re human. A couple of your kind came here decades ago. One of them had the ability to heal, just like the Gondilak, and it is said that he used this to kill many on both sides. A Mongrel named Trijko took his opportunity to unite the Orothsew and Gondilak against the invaders. He dispensed with any who claimed that the two human invaders actually hadn’t killed anyone, but I’ve spoken with Uhyiopa, and I believe her. She knew the healing one personally and admitted to me that the massacre was a lie they made up to end the war.
“This was decades ago?” Vearden asked. Where is Uhyiopa now?”
Yalshi drew a frown on her face. “She was killed for speaking so-called lies to The Mongrel King’s daughter. But I know the truth now, and I won’t let my father do this anymore. Even if it means we reform the schism between the two races, I won’t let them dishonor the humans who have a history only of helping our great world. I promise you, friends, that you will be vindicated. I will make Orolak safe for you once more.”
“You’re the king’s daughter, right?”
“Yes, I am. But I’m nothing like him, I assure you. I—”
Saga interrupted her. “I’m not saying you are. But I assume that mongrel means that you are born of both Gondilak and Orothsew blood?”
“My father is the result of genetic engineering. Gondilak and Orothsew cannot reproduce together, as no creatures of two species can. But scientists from an unknown land experimented with us many years ago. The king has no mother or father, but I am the result of a natural birth from him and another like him.”
“I see,” Saga said.
“How long has it been since the last invader?” Vearden asked.
“Why, it’s been at least twenty years.”
“And how long since the last human?”
“I haven’t heard so much as a rumor of a human in my entire life. I have no reason to believe that another has come through since the infamous couple. But you’re here now. You can show them that you mean us no harm, and visitors will once again be allowed through their magical doors.”
Vearden turned to Saga. “Maybe that’s the point.”
“The point of what?” Yalshi asked.
Saga answered instead. “We were the couple decades ago. It is true that we killed no one, but perhaps the lie your father and Uhyiopa told was what needed to happen. I’ve always felt that we were here to unite the two races and end the war. I just didn’t know we wouldn’t actually be around to see it.”
“If that’s true,” Vearden began, “what are we doing back here? If we’re done with our mission, why send us back? My healing powers are gone, and this is dangerous territory for us now.”
Saga shook her head. “I don’t know, V. Maybe they just wanted us to see what we had accidentally accomplished?”
“Or to tie up loose ends by having us killed,” Vearden suggested.
“Are you two really them? Why are your healing powers gone?”
Saga thought about it for a moment after Vearden showed that he had no answer. “You said you spent the last year on Earth healing people.”
“Indeed. I never really knew why. But I would have a dream with a sick or hurt person’s face, and their general location. When I woke up, I would have no choice but to go there and give them some of my blood. It worked every time.”
“And the last person you healed was one of us? That sounds significant. You must have been losing a little bit of yourself every time you healed, and this guy took the last of your special blood. Who was he?”
“I’m not sure. I did see his chart out of the corner of my eye.” He tried to remember. “It started with an M. Mark? Or Matthew?”
“Mateo?” Saga asked, surprised. “Mateo Matic.”
“Yeah, that sounds right.”
Saga just laughed. She laughed and laughed and laughed.
“What is it?”
Oh my God, we’re all connected.”
Yes, you are.” A man was standing outside, but he wasn’t exactly all there. He was between two large stones that were holding up a third stone. It looked like a portal to another place. “Please. Step into my office.”

Freelancers (Part VII)

The man’s office turned out to be the remains of Stonehenge. He called himself the Delegator and claimed that it was his job to help salmon figure out what they were supposed to do with their new lives. Yalshi was allowed to witness the meeting, as long as she kept quiet. “They’re going to be doing something different with you two,” the Delegator announced to them.
“Different how?”
“Most salmon aren’t given a conscious choice. They’re dropped wherever and whenever the powers want them, and they’re expected to do whatever they’re told. And for the most part, you’ll do the same. However, after each completed mission, you’ll be given a few options for your next assignment. These options may send you to Earth, to another planet, to the past, or the present. You’ll be given a bit of information, and from there you can make a decision. Isn’t that great?”
“You force us into these decisions, but since most people have no illusion of free will, you expect us to be grateful that you’re letting us decide where to risk our lives?”
“I expect nothing. I’m middle management,” the Delegator explained. “But I am getting the feeling that something has changed. You’re not the first salmon to have been granted a weird exception. Though, to be honest, that hasn’t technically happened yet since we’re in the past.” He shook the tangent out of his brain. “It is my guess that the powers have recruited someone new. Don’t quote me on that, but I think he’s interested in changing the program. It would certainly explain why you and only a handful of others are being treated differently. Again, I’m not sure that that is how it works. I have more information about this than you do, but I don’t have all of it.”
“Ya know,” Vearden began, “there’s one thing I’ve already decided. I don’t really care. I don’t care who the powers that be are. I don’t care why they’re doing this, and I don’t even care about figuring out how to stop it. I can stop it. You can drop me wherever you want, but if I don’t want to do something, I just won’t.”
“Speaking from experience, bad things happen when you don’t do what you’re told,” the Delegator said. “I don’t mean that I’ve seen it happen; I mean that I’ve caused it. Yes, I’m different, but also very much like you. My job as Delegator is just another mission. I exercise very little control.”
“How about you exercise some of the control you do happen to have right now?” Saga asked, but it was more of a command.
“Pardon?”
“Let me chose my next mission. Forget the multiple choice. I want to go where I want to go.”
“Where do you want to go?”
“1743,” Saga answered.
The Delegator lifted his head, considering the proposition. “I cannot guarantee such a request.”
“Well, what can you do?” Vearden asked.
“I’ll tell you what.” The Delegator rubbed his eyes from exhaustion. “I need you to make a quick stop for me. It’ll only be a few hours. Afterwards, if the powers have accepted your motion, then you’ll find out. If not, it’s out of my hands. I’m not certain you’re quite understanding that I’m more of a messenger than anything.”
Vearden whispered to Saga. “Is there any point trying to reason with these people? Do we have any chance?”
“I think they can hear us even when you whisper,” Saga returned. “Which, to be honest, probably means that we don’t have a chance. But I don’t like the idea of being pushed around. That’s why I became a freelancer.”
“That’s your name!” the Delegator exclaimed. “The Freelancers.”
“I’m sorry?”
“We like to give each other nicknames. That’s yours.”
“We are not children,” Saga insisted.
“Fine.” The Delegator was noticeably hurt. “I’m still gonna call you that,” he muttered under his breath.
“Where are we supposed to go now?” Vearden asked.
“Would you like to have a final moment with your alien friend? You won’t ever see her again.”
Yalshi had been so good at keeping quiet, that Saga and Vearden had forgotten that she was even there. “This has given me an interesting bit of insight,” she told them.
“What are you going to do with it?”
She looked to the ground for answers. “Knowledge is power, right? I’m going to seize control from my father, and make a few changes to our cultural biases.”
“We will return in another few decades to check on your work,” Saga smiled.
“He just said you wouldn’t be able to.”
“We don’t follow the rules,” Vearden said. “We will see you again.”
Yalshi smiled back at them. “I better get going. Who knows how long I’ve been away?” She stepped back through the portal. It shuddered and faded away, slowly revealing a different view. A few graves could be seen by the moonlight.
“Is that for us?”
“Indeed,” the Delegator confirmed.
The two of them walked through the portal without another word. On the other side, they found humans driving land vehicles into the cemetery. They were talking and laughing joyfully, spreading throughout the graves to start their own conversations.
A stranger holding a beer approached them. “Hey, are you two here for the party?”
“Uh no,” Vearden said apologetically . “We just came to visit an old friend.”
“Ah, sorry for your loss. We can move to a different corner, if you’d like.”
“Is this some morbid goth party, or something?”
The stranger giggled. “It’s a birthday party. We used to hangout here as kids. We don’t get too rowdy, though. Mateo, the birthday boy finds cemeteries to be inexplicably comforting.
“Mateo you say?” Saga asked, giving Vearden a look.
“We knew him way back when. Could we say hi?”
“Yeah, sure. He’s over there.” The stranger nodded vaguely in one direction. “I’m Kyle, by the way.”
“Nice to meet you, Kyle,” Saga said, offering her hand.
“We’re The Freelancers,” Vearden said, much to the dismay of his friend.
They walked over and could soon clearly see the face of Mateo Matic, a man who appeared to be particularly special, even amongst other salmon. “Is that really him?” Saga asked of Vearden.
“It most certainly is,” he replied.
Saga lifted her hand again and shook Mateo’s. “We’ve heard it’s your birthday.”
“That’s what they tell me,” Mateo said.
“How old are you?”
“Twenty-eight. Already feel like an old man.”
“Happy with your life?” Vearden asked.
It was a bit of a weird question, but Mateo seemed open to it. “Actually, I am. It hasn’t always been easy. I’ve experienced loss. But I’m in a pretty good place now. I couldn’t imagine it getting any better.”
“Oh,” Vearden said. “Well, be careful.”
“What? Why?”
“It’s just something my mother used to say before I left the house. It’s become my catchphrase.”
“I see.” He patted both of them on the shoulders. “Well, have a beer or two. I know we’re in a place of death, but tonight, we celebrate life.”
They spent the rest of the night getting to know other people at the party. Despite them being strangers, everyone accepted them and treated them like they belonged. Saga informed Vearden that it was presently the year 2014, which was more than a decade earlier than the time they originally left. They kept an eye on Mateo, mostly out of curiosity. The Delegator had wanted them to be there at that particular time, so it must have been meaningful. Exactly at midnight, they saw Mateo disappear. His beer exploded, sending a few remaining shards into Kyle’s skin. As they were running to help, Vearden noticed something wrong. “Saga.”
“What?”
“Tombs don’t usually just put a date on the front, right?”
“Of course not. They engrave the family name on it.” She looked up and saw the date January 3, 1743 marked over the door of the tomb. The lettering had a light but definite glow to it.
“I think this is our ride.”
“Come on, V.” Saga took Vearden’s hand and led him towards the tomb that was doubling as a portal. “There are a couple of people that I would like you to meet.”
The two friends opened the door and began a new time-traveling adventure together. Click here for the follow-up series (Second Stage of Something Started).

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