Click here for the first series (Seeing is Becoming).
A series of bizarre events occurred over the course of decades for the two time-traveling adventurers, Saga and Vearden. After their first transplanetary mission as salmon, they spent what they thought would be the rest of their lives on Earth, during two time periods in the past. For the second period, they turned out to be the parents of their resurrected friends, which was this whole thing that nobody expected. Throughout all this, both of them aged at a normal rate, so they were old people by the time The Delegator beckoned them back to his Stonehenge office. As soon as they passed through the doors, their bodies transformed and regressed back down to spring chickens. Now that might sound like a gift, but it meant that they were still beholden to the wishes of the powers that be; the ones who were manipulating and controlling them, along with other unwilling time travelers. If Saga and Vearden could be de-aged so easily, then there was a distinct possibility that they would be forced to carry out the powers’ wishes literally forever.
“I had hoped you would be finished with us,” Saga lamented.
“What would make you think that?” the Delegator asked.
“We just spent the majority of our lives with Sam & L,” Vearden explained. “Was half a lifetime not enough for you people?”
“I believe the powers that be considered that to be a vacation for you,” the Delegator said.
“They need a dictionary then.”
“We can’t fight it, Vearden,” Saga said before directing her attention to the Delegator. “Just tell us what we’re supposed to do.”
“Do you not remember? You’re The Freelancers. You get to choose.”
“Then we choose to go to the year 2030 so that we can be reunited with her son and my daughter,” Vearden put forth with a spark of hope that it might work.
“How do you know that that’s where they are?” The Delegator was confused. “They were moving towards the past.”
“When we were in the past,” Saga began, “we did not encounter any other salmon. But we did when we were in the 21st century. That’s where all the action is. So you sent them back there. Go ahead and try to tell me I’m wrong.”
“No, you’re right, that’s where they are. I still find it interesting that you intuited that. But I’m afraid I can’t so much as tell you if you joining up with them is an option,” the Delegator said honestly. He gently waved his arm to the stone openings around him. Stonehenge was more complete at this point in time, whenever it was. All the stones were set up where they belonged. But through each doorway was a bridge to a unique scene. Some portals were of modern day, some of greenery, and some appeared to be alien planets.
“Oh right,” Vearden scoffed. “This is about our choice.” He used air quotes.
“Have you ever seen that show where—”
Saga interrupted him, “you get television reception out here?”
The Delegator ignored her and continued, “...that television show where hopeful buyers stand in front of a self-storage unit belonging to someone who failed to make their payments?”
“No, but I am aware of what you’re talking about. It’s an auction.”
“Right, well the game is that bidders are only allowed to see the contents of the unit for a few minutes before deciding whether they want any of it.”
“Are you developing an analogy between junk so useless that the original owners abandoned it, and our next harrowing mission?”
“Well when you say it like that,” the Delegator said with frustration, “you can make anything sound ri-goddamn-diculous.”
“Somebody woke up on the wrong side of the cold stone table he most likely sleeps on.”
“It’s just that I had this whole speech planned about your destiny, but you ruined it with your attitude,” the Delegator said grumpily.
Saga and Vearden looked at each other telepathically. She sort of rolled her eyes, but more like a mother for an unruly child, and less sarcastically. “We’re sorry. You can give your speech. We promise to listen and respect you. You are valuable to us.”
“Thank you, that’s really sweet. But the moment has passed, and we just need to move on. Literally.” The Delegator pointed to the stone doorways again. “Take your pick. I sincerely don’t know where they lead. I can’t even be sure they’re not random moments.”
They began to walk around the perimeter to get a better view of each one. Before them were twenty-eight choices, and none of them looked better than any of the others. They discussed a bit what they were looking for in an environment, since that’s all they had to go on. They were rather tired of the past, even though that’s where they raised their children. Not having access to running water was a massive bitch. More than that, though, Saga had no interest in traveling to an alien planet. Vearden, on the other hand, always felt the best Doctor Who episodes involved them. The last time they encountered aliens, they didn’t have the best time, but after all they had been through, it was barely a footnote in their lives; one they had all but forgotten. Decisions, decisions.
“I like this one,” Vearden said. “About as much as a guy can like a place he’s never been to and knows nothing about.”
“You just want to have sex with a green-skinned alien,” Saga complained. “Like Star Trek.”
“This one looks nice.” Saga presented the doorway like a model on a game show.
“You just want to take a picture of the pyramids as they were being built.”
“Rock, paper, scissors,” Vearden suggested.
“We’re not children anymore.”
“I’ll allow it,” the Delegator said, then added, “but if you end up in a tie, then I get to choose.”
“We’re supposed to be the ones to chose.”
The Delegator smiled slyly. “Yes, but you’re not choosing. You’re letting fate decide. I am fate’s emissary.”
The two friends who were supposed to be partners, and always be working together, looked to each other for answers.
“Unless you can come to a consensus.”
“Deal,” Vearden said.
“Vearden,” Saga whined.
“We’re never going to agree.” Vearden placed his hands in the ready position.
Saga placed hers at the ready as well. “I guess we’re doing this.”
The door-walking Freelancers reluctantly stepped through a portal chosen by the Delegator. Saga was sure that she had chosen rock, but her hand had somehow ended up in paper. How did that happen? In the end, she was forced to shake it off, for she had realized where they were. The image shown before made it just look like a stone passageway. It was only after walking through and gaining perspective that they could see things for what they really were. The architecture had fallen apart, but appeared to be at least partially restored.
A man they did not recognize teleported in front of them and offered his hand. “Welcome...” he paused for effect before continuing, “to The Colosseum.”
“What are we doing here?”
“I wanted you to see the original version of what you’re going to be building for me. Well...I suppose it’s not the original, but I’m just a lowly jumper, so I can’t take you to Ancient Rome.”
“Why are we building it if it already exists?”
“This one’s fallen apart! I need a new one.” He finally took his hand back, confident that no one was going to shake it. “And I need it built far enough away from people that they won’t bug me about it.”
“Why would the Delegator want us to do this for you?”
“I have nothing to do with the Delegator.” He curtsied. “My name is Makarion.”
“Makarion,” Vearden repeated, but not sarcastically.
“Interesting name,” Saga said. “Common in the future?”
“It has its place,” Makarion replied. He snapped his fingers. The scene changed, and they found themselves on a beach. It was unclear whether it was an island, or what. Besides the forest before them, and the ocean behind, there was only a single landmark of note. It was a giant metallic ring, with a ramp leading up to it.
“What is this? Where are we?”
“Not really important where we are. This is your home for the next few days.”
“Where’s the rest of the crew?”
Makarion looked at them funny. “Why would there be anyone else? You’re it.”
“You expect us to build a scale replica of the Colosseum?” Vearden scoffed. It’ll take us years.”
“Decades, at best,” Saga corrected.
Makarion was unfazed. “Is that a problem?”
“I’m joking!” Makarion yelled. “This is the 2070s. Construction will only take a few days. I just need someone moving supplies and monitoring progress for me. I would have robots do it, but since you showed up, I figured it was destiny.”
“What invention would allow such rapid development?” Saga asked with some rare genuine interest in technology.
“Nanofabricators,” Vearden answered instead.
“That’s right. You’re smart. Tiny machines programmed to do nothing but build, and to do so until they’re done.”
“And the ring?” Saga pressed.
“It’s a stargate,” Vearden answered again. “Looks like all that time I spent watching science fiction has paid off.”
“Evidently,” Makarion confirmed. “In the story, stargates are the only thing capable of sending passengers and cargo across space instantaneously. Of course in the real world, we have far more sophisticated ways of doing this. This ring here is just what I’m using to open portals so you can funnel the materials you’ll need. The nanotech will build the structure, but you need to give them stuff to work with.”
“You can apport people and open portals manually. Are you one of the powers that be?” Vearden asked.
Makarion seemed almost angered by this, but was able to keep his cool. “Do not lump me with those benchwarmers. I’m like you, except I choose how to use my power. Nobody controls me.”
“I didn’t know that was possible,” Saga began. “We’ve been looking for a way to step out of our own pattern. Can anyone do what you do? Could you teach us?”
Makarion started to walk up the ramp. As he did so, a portal opened to a second location, one that didn’t utilize the infamous unstable wormhole vortex found in the show. “I’ll think about it. I like games, by the way. The instructions for your work are hidden somewhere on the island. Before you can get to work, you have to find them, savvy?” He stepped through the portal and let it close behind him.
“He is apparently not concerned with time,” Saga pointed out, “if he wants us to spend some only finding instructions.”
“This guy sounds insane. Should we be helping him?”
“Bad things happen when you disobey the powers. All we can do is what we’re told. If they wanted us to stop him from recreating the Colosseum, I feel like that would be obvious to us.”
Vearden sighed out of both fatigue and concession. “Where do we start?”
“Look for a clue, I guess.”
They separated and searched for anything out of the ordinary, besides a giant magical teleporting ring. Vearden thought he saw something shiny peeking out from the ground, so he got down on his knees and pushed the sand away. Upon finding out what it was, he reeled and fell to his back.
“What is it?”
“I think it’s a dead body.”
“That can’t be good.” Saga walked over calmly and looked down to where Vearden was staring. It appeared to be an eye. An eye with a fork stuck in it. There were no other remains. She reached down.
“Don’t touch it!”
“Hold up,” she said, picking it up and examining it. “It’s made of wood. It’s not real.”
“Why is there a forked wooden eye on the beach? Is that our first clue?”
“Does this seem familiar to you?”
“Again, a forked wooden eye. On a beach. No, no it doesn’t. Should it?”
Saga sifted through her memory archives. The last time she watched something on film or television was decades ago, but she was finally able to recall the movie. “Pirates.”
“Pirates did this?”
“As in...of the Caribbean?”
Vearden recognized the name, but it too was a long time for him. They would have seen the movie as children. That was another life. “Okay...”
“Makarion did say he likes games.”
“Movies are not games.”
“I’ve heard it both ways.”
“Okay, well that tells us we’re in a movie, and also which movie. But that doesn’t tell us where the instructions are, unless they’re etched on the eye.”
“They’re not,” Saga replied. “But the handle of the fork was pointing inland, so we should head that way.”
“That’s a bit of a stretch.”
“The reason there’s a fork in it is because it was shot out of a cannon.” She pointed, “the fork came from that way. We should go look for its hypothetical origin.”
Vearden shook his head as another concession. “Very well.”
It was not long before they found their target; an actual cannon. It was dirty and rusting with cobwebs covering up the barrel. Saga agreed to be the one to reach inside since Vearden was afraid of spiders. Her hand returned with the next clue; a leather pouch. She unraveled it to find a rather large and ornate gold coin; triangles and swirls, symbols, and a skull. It was beautiful, and reminiscent of their past in the past when such trinkets held incredible value. In today’s world, it was probably worth almost nothing.
Another clue was written on the inside of the pouch. Blood of the battle, water of womb. // Go to a place where flowers don’t bloom. // Scary and dark, rocky and wet. // You will not need Tears, you will not need Sweat. // The one who jumps forward, but always looks back // is kin to the one who will put you on track.
“We’re obviously looking for a cave,” Vearden said.
The cave took a considerably longer time to find than the cannon, especially since there were multiple rocky structures that a film-obsessed psychopath might consider sufficiently cave-enough. “He’s not necessarily a psychopath.”
“He probably is.” Looking back, the cave they finally found had to be it anyway, because it was deep enough to be scary, dark, and wet. After some further searching, they finally discovered a chest. A small slit, about the size of the coin was cut on the top of the lid. A knife was ominously resting in the slit. “What happens in this part of the movie?”
Saga shrugged. “I don’t remember.”
“You’re the one who figured out this was all a movie recreation.”
“That doesn’t mean I have hyperthymesia.”
“I don’t know what that is.”
“Let’s just read the clue again,” Saga suggested.
They looked it over together. “Why are Tears and Sweat capitalized?” Vearden wondered.
“Because they’re names.”
“But we don’t need them.”
“Which means that we need...”
And then they simultaneously realized what the answer was. “Blood.”
“Do we think it matters?”
“The last part suggests it does,” Saga noted.
“Couldn’t we just try one, and then the other if it doesn’t work?”
“How would we get the coin back?”
“So who is the one who jumps forward, but always looks back?”
And then they simultaneously realized what the answer was. “Mateo.”
“You’re Mateo’s grandfather.”
“Sort of,” Vearden clarified.
Saga nodded. “Sort of.”
“But our blood doesn’t match. L wasn’t my daughter until after she had her son...and then died and came back to life. Mateo and I are not related.”
“The chest is fastened with your genetic code. The reference to Mateo was just a way to let us know that, and was probably the easiest rhyme this Makarion guy could come up with.”
“I guess we’ve confirmed that he’s insane.”
Saga took the knife from the chest and waited for Vearden to be ready enough to present his hand, knowing that he would not want to have to cut himself. Ever since he lost the super-healing power he had at one time been imbued with from the Gondilak fight on Orolak, he was squeamish about his own blood. Makarion probably knew that about him. He turned away while she drew a healthy dose of his blood and wrapped his fingers around the coin. After she dropped it down the slit, they could hear it roll back and forth down switchbacks. A series of other mechanisms clinked and clanged, along with a clearly erroneous release of gas, just for effect. The chest opened on its own, at last revealing their packet of instructions.
“And so it begins...”
Saga and Vearden worked together to drag the set of instructions for the replica of the Colosseum out of the cave, along with the chest itself. There was no apparent time constraint to their mission, so they decided to wait and start work in the morning. They were losing daylight, and needed to build some kind of camp. Saga suggested they just stay in the cave, but it was just too dangerous. Their boss liked movies, and too many movies were about people being trapped underground. Remaining in wide open spaces was their best option. They found a box of other supplies under the ramp to the stargate: a compass, two flashlights, a few tools, four bottles of water, and five towels of varying sizes. On top of everything was a note from Makarion, Don’t forget to bring a towel. What a strange little man.
Vearden was tasked with constructing the shelter while Saga went about getting a fire going. They chose to make it a contest to see who could finish first. Just before she had the fire raging well enough to be left alone, he had placed the final leaf on their new home and was mocking her loss playfully. “What the hell is that?” she asked of him.
“It’s our shelter. They call it a lean-to, I’m sure of it.” A line of sticks were leaning against a tree. Leaves filled in some, but not all, of the gaps between them.
“That’s only big enough for one person!” She chided him, adding, “who doesn’t mind getting rained on.”
“What are talking about? It’s fine,” he disagreed.
“It’s absolute rubbish,” she said in a feigned British accent. “I’ll have to do it again.”
“That’s ridiculous,” he responded with a laugh. “There’s plenty of room. We’ll just have to cuddle. We’ll need body warmth anyway.”
Saga took a deep breath and exhaled melodramatically.
“Oh, I see what’s happened here,” he finally said. “You’re looking at this pile of random sticks and leaves I put up against the tree. That’s not the shelter.”
“What are you goin’ on about?” Her British kick came from having thought about Pirates of the Caribbean. It was this assimilation thing she did when exposed to other cultures.
Vearden took her by the hand and led her down the tree line. Hidden behind some brush and tall trees was a completely finished cottage. He opened the door and waved her inside. She widened her eyes with interest while two beds were gradually growing out of the floor. He smiled and watched as well. “Okay, I guess you won the game since the beds aren’t quite done.”
“How did you know how to do this? We barely scratched the surface of the instructions.”
“It didn’t take much work on my end. I really just opened the cottage kit at a good location and let it go to work. It’s using the wood from nearby trees. I also found directions to another cache, this one of necessities that apparently can’t be manufactured like sleeping bags and toiletries. It’s evidently buried near a source of fresh water. I didn’t go off looking for it because I didn’t want to be too far from you.”
“And you wanted to spend time making me think that crap out there was our actual shelter.”
“Well yeah, that too.”
“Why did you let me build the fire so far from the cottage?”
“Oo, I didn’t think of that.”
Soon thereafter, they went off amidst the twilight to find what else Makarion had left for them, taking the small shovel and trowel along with them. They found the trunk sticking out of the ground. Either Makarion didn’t have time to bury it all the way, or didn’t think it was necessary. They wrestled it up and broke the lock with a few swift swings of the mini-shovel. Inside were sleeping bags, a water purification system, and several other helpful survival items. But there were two other things in the corner. “What does he want us to do with these?”
“I doubt I could come up with a possibility worse than what he might actually have in store for us,” Vearden replied.
“I’ve never used a gun before, Vearden.”
“Wha—you think I have?”
“I didn’t say that. Maybe they’re just for hunting, or they’re not even real.”
Vearden picked up one of the revolvers. “It’s real.”
“I thought you didn’t have any experience with them.”
“Toy guns aren’t so heavy!” he yelled back defensively. “It’s probably for a future one of his games.”
“Yeah,” she said solemnly. “I imagine a Clint Eastwood movie.”
They stopped, and again spoke at the same time, “Back to the Future Part III”.
“We are time travelers,” Vearden pointed out.
Saga took the gun from Vearden’s hand and put it back in the trunk before removing all other other supplies and cradling them in her shirt. “We don’t open that back up until we have no other choice.”
They followed the trail back down to the beach, both thinking that the other knew where they were going. It was getting darker by the second, so that was definitely a mistake. They did make it to a beach, though, where they found another collection of items scattered around. It looked like they had been abandoned there for years. “What is all this stuff doing here? It doesn’t look like it’s for us.”
“No, it belongs to someone else, for sure.”
She picked up some packages sticking out of the sand. The food was far past expiration date. “Whoever was here, they didn’t use any of this stuff.”
“Maybe they crashed here but were rescued before too long.” He was examining an inflatable raft, and noticing a hole in it.
“Or maybe they were killed,” she suggested. “Perhaps by Makarion.”
“We can’t think like that.”
He dropped the raft and and took a look at the compass. “We can’t be far from the cottage and the stargate. Grab what you can, leave the food if it’s gone bad. I’m starting to think Makarion owns this island, and is using it for other games, with other people.”
They quickly walked back to camp and stuffed all of their new belongings in the cottage. But they left the trunk of guns under the stargate ramp, safe and as far away from them as possible.
They woke at first light and looked at Step One in their instructions for the Colosseum job. They were being asked to find a nice open space to build the whole structure. The best way to know where to find this was to climb up to the highest point. Otherwise, they would have to search the entire island. Again, they didn’t know how much time they had, but starting early was the best plan of action. They ate a couple of the freeze-dried meals Makarion left for them in the survival pack, then they headed out. The climb up the mountain wasn’t all that bad. They suffered some bug bites and burr scratches, but that was nothing compared to the lives they had led up until that point. What they discovered upon reaching the summit was possibly the scariest part. They didn’t have binoculars, but they could see something white and big moving in the middle of the valley of a mesa down below. No, it wasn’t just moving, it was crawling. It could have been a bear, and in fact probably was. In another life, Saga had been a huge fan of the television show LOST. “Perfect,” she whispered.
“That’s a golf course.”
“Sorry, I meant to phrase that as a question. That’s a golf course?!”
“Of course it is,” Saga answered before beginning the climb back down. “They build it in episode nine.”
By the time they got all the way down to the makeshift golf course, the polar bear was gone, if it was even ever there. Two people they didn’t recognize were standing by one of the flags, as if waiting for them. “You must be our competition,” one of them said.
“Are we?” Vearden asked.
“Only one team gets to build the Colosseum,” the other one explained. “Did the Rogue not tell you this?”
“Who is the Rogue?”
“Oh, yes,” Saga said. “I mean, no, he didn’t say anything about another team.”
“So we’ll be golfing for the contract?” Vearden asked. “Like rich idiots whacking balls around while hammering out business deals?”
“I thought you didn’t watch the show,” Saga lamented.
“What show?” Vearden asked.
“Are we gonna do this thing,” the first guy began impatiently, “or just talk about it? The wind’ll pick up soon.”
The other one felt the need to mediate. “What my brother, Octavian is trying to say is that bad things happen when you keep the Rogue waiting.” He lifted his hand. “I’m Sevastian, by the way.”
“Saga and Vearden.”
Sevastian motioned for his brother to be polite as well.
Octavian reluctantly shook their hands. “You must be the door-walking freelancers.”
“Well, let’s play, door-walkers.”
After losing the game, Saga and Vearden found themselves rushing through the jungle. What they hadn’t known at the beginning was that they were competing not for the contract to build the Colosseum, but for the right to live long enough to build it. Had they won, they wouldn’t have been able to go through with this task, but Sevastian and Octavian seemed to have no trouble with it. In fact, they were acting like their responsibility was no different than any other day. Perhaps they had killed people before. Saga and Vearden were no strangers to death, but they had never been the direct cause of it. Vearden drove the first ambulance back in 1487 during the Siege of Málaga while Saga was a nurse at the hospital. It is there that they met their spouses-to-be. Vearden’s future wife, Violante was a nurse as well. Saga’s future husband, Hernán was an injured soldier that they all treated. The two of them had spent the majority of their lives helping and healing people. They didn’t want to kill. They would never kill. But it was either them or the brothers. They had to find a way out of this.
“We have to get back to the stargate,” Vearden eked out while they were at a jog, unable to keep the high pace from the beginning of their escape attempt.
“We don’t know how to operate that thing,” Saga noted.
“I do not intend to operate it,” he replied. “The guns should still be under the ramp.”
She pulled him down so that they could hide under some brush. “I thought we didn’t want to hurt anyone.”
“This is our island. We can’t leave, even if we had the means to do so. If we don’t fight back, we’re just going to keep running and hiding. That’s not practical. Somebody’s going to die, and somebody’s going to build a Colosseum. I know which one I choose.”
“So we shoot them?”
“It’s a lot more humane than their plan to bash us over the heads with golf clubs.”
“Were there even bullets in the guns?”
“Yes, twelve. I did look.”
“Violante would be disappointed in you.”
“My wife is dead, and has been for centuries, so I don’t really have time to worry about what she might have thought.”
“You don’t know she’s dead.”
“She’s dead to me, just the same.”
“Okay, well what would your daughter say?”
“Stop putting up roadblocks!” Vearden yelled. “I’m trying to get us out of here!”
They could hear Sevastian and Octavian draw nearer. “I think I heard them somewhere around here,” one of them, doesn’t matter which, said.
Saga and Vearden stopped talking and kept their heads down. They watched as feet walked by, still on the hunt for their prey. Saga wanted to point out that this was an iconic scene in the second season of LOST, but she managed to stay quiet. Once the danger seemed to have passed, they stood up and started running again, this time in a completely different direction. They were able to make it about a half-mile before Sevastian plowed into Saga like a bull, dropping them both halfway into a shallow creek. Vearden tried to run back and help, but was stopped by Octavian.
“Just let it happen,” Octavian growled.
Vearden called upon his memory of fighting the two Gondilak on Orolak many years ago, and also of some things they had later taught him. Though they were an extremely sophisticated race, they had a special brand of battle. They didn’t learn technique or control. They learned to let go. They summoned their baser instincts and forced themselves into a kind of fugue state they referred to as the blood rampage, so that all of their reservations could drift to the side. He had never actually tried this himself, but there was no time like the present. He first pushed Octavian away from his person and knelt only one knee on the ground, holding balance with the opposite fist. He began to hyperventilate himself, increasing in speed and intensity with every breath.
“What the hell is he doing?” Octavian screamed to his brother who had Saga pinned down, but was too intrigued by Vearden to continue his assault.
Vearden ignored them and went about his routine, purposefully allowing slobber to spray out of his clenched teeth like a rabid animal. He added a voice to the barrage of breaths to convert them into howls. Part of this ritual was to enter the battle state, but also to disarm nearby opponents. It was especially effective against an enemy who had no clue what was going on. The howling changed to shrieking, and then to full on yelling. Vearden’s head was pulsating with pain, and had turned red to prove it to everyone else. With no warning, he leapt off the ground, higher than he ever had, aided by a surge of adrenaline. He landed in Octavian’s arms, who had opened them by an instinct of his own. Octavian fell to the ground so that Vearden could begin a proper beating.
Before Vearden could do all that much damage, Sevastian had gotten up from Saga to pull him away, holding Vearden’s arms behind his own back. Vearden kicked at Octavian furiously before sticking his leg between Sevastian’s and tripping him. Sevastian let go to protective himself from the fall, so Vearden took his chance to attack them both simultaneously. It was like an action film sequence, but one choreographed by somebody who had come into work drunk that day. Not only did the the blood rampage increase the user’s ability to do damage to the opponent, but it also prevented them from being bothered by injury. A rampager will continue to attack until their final breath unless the danger passes, or they can be calmed by someone else.
While Vearden was fighting, a sort of summoning happened to Saga as well. After turning to her side so as to not drown in her own blood, a silvery object appeared before her eyes. It was one of the guns from the trunk that Makarion had left them. Despite Vearden’s wild side, it was clear that he was going to lose. His defeat over the two Gondilak was a fluke. Deadly weapons were involved, and he was mortally wounded. The only reason he survived was because he was imbued with the ability to self-heal. And he only won the fight because this was something the Gondilak had not expected. Nothing like that was going to happen here, so if they were going to beat the brothers, they would need an advantage. Without hesitating, she lifted the gun, pulled that thing on the top of it back, and squeezed the trigger with her eyes closed. She quickly reopened them—embarrassed about succumbing to a stereotype of female weakness—to see Sevastian fall to his knees, and then to the side. She had landed a hit right in his back, exactly where she was aiming.
Octavian flipped around, hoping to catch his brother, and somehow prevent him from dying. Vearden, still in blood rampage, picked up one of their golf clubs and slammed it against Octavian’s head.
Makarion teleported into the clearing as Vearden was coming down. “Wow, that was totally unexpected. Where did you learn how to do that?”
Remembering one last thing about the blood rampage, Vearden slammed his fist into his own jaw as hard as he could. Gondilak were taught to go for their eyes. They were the most vulnerable spots of their bodies, and the pain of a strike there was enough to push them back over the edge in case a new threat ever came about while they were in the middle of the self-calming process. Vearden used this second wind to attack Makarion.
Vearden never had a thirst for blood, and never thought he would kill anyone, not a human anyway. But this was different. Saga was in danger, and that always put him in a special state of anger. This Makarion guy had been toying with them for the last couple days, which was annoying, but their whole lives were meant to be nothing but challenges. Once he made them play the golf game of death, though, there was no saving him. Even if he had never killed anyone himself, he enjoyed putting people in no-win situations. He was basically just the character of Jigsaw, but without the tricycle. He was having the Colosseum built for nefarious purposes; there was now no doubt about that. Someone had to do something about him. He had to be stopped. Might as well be Vearden.
Unfortunately, he was growing tired, and the blood rampage was wearing off. Presumably, Gondilak could keep ahold of it indefinitely, but Vearden was human, and had his limits. In a matter of only seconds, they were really just two men fighting. It wasn’t epic or badass. There were no jump kicks or backflips. There was just sweat, skin, and spit.
“Stop right now!” Saga ordered.
Vearden immediately backed off, not because he saw the gun in his partner’s hand, but because he trusted her.
Makarion backed off because of the gun.
“Now we’re here to help people,” she continued. “That’s what we do. We may be freelancers, but we don’t kill people! You corrupted our morals. You turned us into killers. That is not supposed to be the deal.”
“You’re not here to help people,” Makarion explained angrily. “You’re here on a whim. The only difference between that other planet you were on and this island and is now it’s my whim. You don’t serve a purpose, Saga. You’re just a game piece.”
“Well now I’m a game piece who has a gun, so you’re gonna open that stargate and take us back to Stonehenge where we can sort this all out.”
“Who has the gun?” Makarion snapped his fingers, landing in the familiar vague shape of a gun. The sound of a real gun went off, however.
Vearden thought Saga had shot Makarion, but it was the other way around. In Makarion’s other hand was another revolver, a slight wisp of smoke curling out of the end. But it wasn’t another revolver, it was the same one. He had used his ability to steal it from Saga. Vearden wanted to go help her, but his masculine instincts kicked back in, this time without the benefit of the blood rampage.
The two men began to fight again, but this felt much different. Vearden could see the scene change behind Makarion’s shoulder, as if there were a portal. But they were not in front of a portal, they had just straight up teleported. He looked behind himself to see what was very clearly The Constant. It was a special building in the middle of nowhere Kansas. Construction workers had built it underground an unknown amount of time ago, designing it to accommodate salmon on vacation. Almost nothing in it had changed since Vearden had first taken refuge long ago. The Concierge was still there, and as young as ever, even though she would have to be at least centuries old. Makarion jabbed him right in the face, so Vearden lifted his leg and slammed it into his stomach, forcing him to trip over the coffee table. No, it didn’t collapse under him, because no one wants to own a table that just falls apart so easily.
“Dad? What’s going on?” His daughter, Laura was there, along with Saga’s son, Samwise. Some girl he didn’t recognize was with them.
The Concierge pursed her lips and waved her finger around. “Nope, nope, nope! This is 2034, you are absolutely not supposed to be here right now!”
“The year 2034? What?”
Before he could ask further questions, Makarion had recovered and tackled him to the floor. No, the ground. It was grassy and dewy. They were in Stonehenge, just like Saga had wanted, but in what year?
“Okay, this is getting weird, Makarion said. He climbed off of Vearden and crept forward. They could faintly hear voices on the other side of the stones.
Vearden crept alongside him, more curious about what was going on than he was angry at Makarion. Saga was shot and hurt, so he would need to get back, but that apparently wouldn’t happen for another few decades. The Delegator would know how to return to her.
They drew closer and could hear him speaking, “that’s the brilliant thing. Every salmon is given assignments. It’s my job to dole them out. But you’re different. To my knowledge, you don’t have any responsibilities. It’s my assumption the powers that be want to see what you do on your own.”
They peeked out from behind one of the stones and watched as Mateo and Leona disappeared from sight, leaving the Delegator alone. “I know what this is. This is when Mateo and Leona first come here. This is...” he had to think about the history. He knew entirely too much about all of them. “This is the year 1517.”
“Saga and I left 1517 and came here just before meeting you.”
The Delegator had come up to them as they were looking away. “Yeah, that hasn’t happened yet. You’ve just stepped into your own past. I don’t know how, I don’t know why, and I don’t wanna know. I just want you gone before the past version of yourself shows up and wonders why there’s another him.”
“We have no idea how we got here,” Vearden said honestly.
“I might have an idea.” He tentatively lifted his hand and slowly moved it towards Vearden’s arm.
As soon as he took hold, the scene changed again. Fire raged all around them, burning trees and stealing their oxygen. A fiery branch fell down between them. “Get us the hell out of here!” Vearden yelled.
“I can’t do it on my own!” Makarion called back, trying to breath through his sleeve. “Something happens when we make physical contact!”
“Okay, you come to me!”
“No, you come to me!”
“Goddammit, get the hell over here!”
“Son of a bitch, fine!” Makarion looked all around him to make sure nothing was going to kill him. Vearden was torn between wanting something to snap him up, and needing him to get back to Saga. “This is the Yellowstone fire of 2039,” he informed him, for no apparent reason.
Vearden tried reaching for him, only to be rejected. “Don’t you want to leave?”
“I think you may be in control of this,” Makarion explained. “I can control where I teleport, but I can’t travel through time. You can travel through time, but you can’t control it. I think we combined our powers.
“I told you when and where we are so that you understand this power. Concentrate on when and where you want to be, and that’s where we’ll end up.”
Vearden closed his eyes and thought about the island where they had left Saga. But he didn’t want to land back there at the exact same moment. He wanted to get there before so he could stop her from getting shot in the first place; perhaps even stop them from having to kill the brothers. He could feel Makarion’s hand on his shoulder, and he instinctively reopened his eyes.
They were standing on a bridge in the dark. A train was coming right for them. “That didn’t work,” Captain Obvious said.
Between them and the train were three figures which disappeared just before being run into. “Ya think?”
“Just take us anywhere.” He placed each hand on either of Vearden’s shoulders.
“Not again.” A man they didn’t know was rolling his eyes at them. “I just got rid of you people! Literally ten seconds ago!”
They found themselves in a pristine room that looked like a laboratory or something. “Where are we?” Makarion asked.
The man scrunched his face in disgust and pointed to the wall with his middle finger as if they should already know the answer.
Out of the window they could see planet Earth. “Is this the moon?”
“No, it’s Mars, dipshit,” the man said, of course sarcastically. “I am Commander Parker, King of the Mascos!”
Makarion squinted his eyes and asked, “who like us have you met?”
“I dunno, a bunch of people. I didn’t care about their names.”
“Was one of them named Mateo?”
He sighed out of exhaustion. “Yeah, I think that’s what they said.”
“Just as I suspected,” Makarion said, nodding his head.
“We’re jumping into important moments of Mateo’s timestream. God, that guy’s so important, and I do not know why.”
“Well, how do we get back?” Vearden demanded to know.
“All we can do is keep trying.” This time, Makarion cupped Vearden’s cheeks in his hands, but not in a good way, because he was a psychopath.
As Makarion was releasing his hands, they could hear an alarm blaring, and a voice on the intercom. “That is it! I’m calling in the cavalry. This is who we’re lookin’ for!” The walls around them turned out to be computer screens. Each panel was displaying a picture of Mateo Matic. Horace Reaver was in the midst of trying to capture him, as always. But that battle had already been won from Vearden’s perspective, so there was nothing left to do about it now. “Bring him in and I’ll write a blank check!”
“God, I hate that man so much.” Makarion had a deep scowl on his face. He really meant it.
“He sounds like your kinda guy.”
Makarion squeezed Vearden’s arms against his body with the fire of a thousand suns. “Don’t you ever compare me to Horace Reaver ever again! You under-fucking-stand me?”
Vearden nodded then looked around. They were outside, and it was a bit difficult to breathe, so they must have been pretty high up in the air. It seemed to be some kind of town. Three men were sneakily running across the lawn. One of them was Mateo, the other was Reaver, and the third was someone Vearden didn’t recognize.
Makarion looked horrified. This was different than his hatred of Reaver. “I don’t wanna be here. Not again.”
They were standing in a gigantic cavernous amphitheatre. The ceiling was showing the sky in various locations, like a constantly changing portal. Vearden wanted to admire it, but Makarion would have none of it, and they did hear what sounded like rushing water barreling towards them from the corridor behind them. “Ugh, I don’t want to be here again either!”
“Hello,” Doctor Baxter Sarka said to them. “Sorry, I was just doing a consult here. I’ll leave you two to grieve in peace.” They were in the special graveyard where salmon are buried. Vearden had only been there once, but he remembered it as an impactful experience.
“That’s okay, we were just leaving,” Makarion said.
A young woman was staring at them midstride, like a cat burglar who had just been caught. Vearden and Makarion were standing on a mattress in the middle of the floor of a warehouse. How odd.
“You understand how time travel works, yeah?” Makarion asked.
“Um...” she began.
“Causality, paradoxes, E-T-C?”
“Then when I tell you to forget you ever saw us, you recognize the importance of that.”
“I do, yes,” the woman replied.
“Oh my God,” Vearden said. “Where the hell are we now? I just want to get back to Saga.” They were in a cemetery, but a much larger one than before.
“She’s right over there.”
Vearden looked to where Makarion was pointing. He could see an earlier version of himself, along with an earlier version of Saga. This was March 21, 2014; the night Mateo first began his pattern of jumping forwards one year every day. They were there to witness it that night; after finishing their first mission, and before going back in time to live with Samuel and Laurel.
“And there’s Mateo,” Makarion moved his hand to a separate group of people. “And there’s also Mateo.” He was right. Birthday boy, Mateo was standing in the middle of the crowd, hanging out with his friends. But another Mateo was standing with two guys he didn’t recognize, and the girl from the warehouse jump. That must be Leona. He wished he had known that then.
Vearden threw up his hands and plopped down on the ground. “We’re never getting back!”
Saga struggled to turn from her back to her side so that blood could drip out of her mouth. There was a way to survive this. Gutshots are deadly, but people survive them a long time before succumbing to death. Well, maybe that means she wouldn’t survive this. She was alone on a remote island in the South Nowhere Ocean. Hell, she didn’t even know if she was on Earth. She looked up and scanned the clearing behind her. It was upside, but why? Oh yeah, it was because she was lying on the ground, bleeding out from a G-S-W, as the say on TV. Vearden had disappeared with Makarion in thin air. There was no way to know if and when he could come back to help. She was going to have to fix this on her own.
Crawling. That was the only way to get out of this. But it was less of a crawl, and more of a slither. About twenty feet into her journey, she encountered a snake. It was passing her by, but also daydreaming, so it wasn’t paying any attention. Where was she going again? The stargate, that’s right. That was the only way off the island, and even then, it might not be operational. This was a very bad plan either way. Why was her brain so screwed up today? Slithering was no way to get around, especially after Makarion had literally torn her a new one. But she also felt incredibly lethargic, and unable to stand. Vearden wasn’t particularly strong, or at all combat ready, but he had emulated a special kind of fighting from a race of aliens they had met years ago. The first step to this was engaging an adrenaline rush. That was what she needed right now, at least that’s what made sense. It’s not like she was a doctor, or anything.
She lifted herself to her hands and knees and began to hyperventilate, occasionally punching herself in the chest. Okay, so that was not a good idea. It wasn’t working, and it was only making blood leak out of her stomach faster, so why couldn’t she stop herself? The blood loss was damaging her mental faculties, and making decision-making decisions problematic. And she also had this sneaking suspicion that it was making her repeat herself, and she was also having trouble making decisions also. Then Saga opened her eyes and realized that it was twilight. She had been lying on her back for what was probably hours. Someone had taken her shirt off and wrapped it around her stomach to keep pressure on her wound. It took her a few minutes to remember that this mysterious stranger was herself.
A different stranger entirely came over her, preparing to attack. He wasn’t technically a stranger, though. She and Vearden had met him earlier in the day. They played a round of golf together, which was a lot of fun, but resulted in her having to murder him in front of his brother. Sevastian, that is, not Vearden. How Sevastian was alive and kicking...literally, was something she couldn’t understand. He didn’t look hurt, or at all weakened. He was, however, enraged from having been this close to death. His parents probably should have named him Karma.
“You goddamn bitch!” Sevastian towered over her like a bear, arms raised and everything. He dipped down, trying to scratch at her, but it was like he wasn’t quite sure which direction the ground was.
Saga crabwalked backwards, desperately trying to get away from him, like a pretty girl in a horror film. “I’m sorry!”
“No, you’re not!” he yelled.
“I didn’t want to kill you! Makarion made me! It was either you or us, and I chose us! You made the same call!”
“But you’re a good person! You’re not supposed to hurt people! You were a nurse!”
Saga was even more confused than before. “When did I tell you that?”
“I know everything,” he claimed.
“How could you?”
“Because I’m Batman,” Sevastian answered in a raspy voice. He finally seemed to have figured out exactly where she was. A hundred and eight arms reached down to her, clawing at her skin, but never tearing it and drawing blood. The arms weren’t just trying to kill her; this was torture.
“No, please no!” Saga pleaded, but was met with nothing but disgust.
Vearden’s loud whispery voice rang out from all directions, “It’ll come back around.”
Saga woke to find herself flolloping and globbering, her heart racing towards quadruple digits. She was pumped. Adrenaline rushed throughout her body and pulled her into standing position, eventually allowing her to start running through the jungle. She knocked into trees and tripped over roots, but nothing ever stopped her. She always righted herself and kept going without missing a beat. In her heart, she knew that Sevastian had never really been there, that it was just a dream, but she kept believing in the fear of him. It was the only thing keeping her from curling into a ball and drifting away. The torn shirt that was wrapped around her torso was soaked through with blood, but there was nothing to do about it now. Getting to the stargate was her only shot. Hopefully there was a way to make it work without help from Makarion.
Finally she was at the beach, stargate in view, lit up partially by a set of safety lights along the side of the ramp leading up to it. Oh, and there was also a polar bear. It was just standing on the ramp, staring at her. “Is this the part where you attack?” she asked politely.
It didn’t answer, because it was a bear.
“Shall I not pass?”
It still didn’t answer, but it did move out of the way, so maybe that was an answer.
Saga nodded cordially. She just about reached out to pet its fur, but caught herself just in time. No need to push her luck. She placed her hands on her hips and examined the piece of machinery before her as the bear slowly headed for the tree line. It felt real; not like a prop. The ring itself could spin around, which was probably true to the mythology of the show. There seemed to be no way of activating it, though. There were no buttons or switches. The characters probably just spun it around like a rotary phone, but what was the phone number? Makarion didn’t so much as snap his fingers when he first left them alone on the island. He was a powerful time traveler, so maybe that was what it took. No, that can’t be it. He wanted the two of them to transport building material to the island from God knows where, and he surely didn’t want to have to open the door for them each time. Besides, they were freakin’ door-walkers. This was their thing. Though, come to think of it, Vearden was more the door-walker. Saga was often transported to other places just by walking forwards, sometimes without even realizing it had happened. Oh. That’s the walking part of door-walking. It’s a pun! Sort of. She took a deep breath, keeling over a little under the returned pain of the gunshot wound. “One chance,” she hissed.
As Saga walked across the event horizon, the scene changed. She was on the edge of a battlefield. Gunshots, explosions, and other death noises polluted the sky. Men screamed out of rage in her right ear, but out of pain in her left.
“Hey!” she heard, but was too delirious to care whether the voice was calling to her. “Hey, are you hurt!” he cried.
“I’m...” Saga began as the figure of a man came up to her and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. “I’m not part of this.”
“Yes, I can see that, but you’re bleeding. I can help.”
“Can you?” she asked. “It looks pretty dangerous here.”
“Yes,” the man replied. “This is World War I.”
Even through the delirium, Saga knew that that was a strange answer. “If it’s the first great war, how do you know there will be another one?”
The man laughed. “What’s your name?”
“Saga Einarsson, why?”
“Pleased to meet you, Saga.” He started to lead her towards the tent. “My name is Doctor Baxter Sarka. We better get you patched up and into new clothes. That kind of bra doesn’t really exist here in 1918, but you’ll be safe with the salmon battalion.”
By the time Saga had sufficiently recovered from her wound, the war was practically over. The salmon battalion was gradually sent back to the future, leaving her and Baxter alone. She ended up following him to his next assignment to assist him with treating infamous salmon Mateo Matic after he donated a kidney to his partner. A much earlier version of Vearden showed up to heal Mateo after a bad reaction, but she managed to stay out of sight. After that job was done, she continued as Dr. Sarka’s nurse for the next six years or so.
Vearden lost track of the number of points in time he and Makarion helplessly jumped through, and how much time had passed from their perspective. Though it had to number in the thousands across at least a week. As they had guessed, the jumps were all tied to Mateo’s jumps forward, but not for them in any particular order. Makarion seemed surprised that Mateo was still alive and kicking, but oddly content about knowing this. He seemed to have mixed feelings for Mateo and Leona. Vearden kept asking about it, hoping to find away to make things better, but Makarion kept his mouth shut. In fact, as much as Makarion liked the sound of his own voice, the two of them didn’t talk all that much. They just kept going, desperately hoping to get back to where they had begun, never quite knowing how long it was going to take, if it even ended at all. They did run into Saga a couple of times, but future versions of her, so that wasn’t all that helpful, except in letting Vearden know that she did somehow survive the gunshot. Either way, they needed to return to 2074. Neither of them ever knew what year it was at any one moment, and would have to look for context clues. They would occasionally stay four to six feet from each other to allow time for food and sleep. One time, they accidentally touched from going for the same chip, but that was all it took to throw them to a different day.
At present, it was April 28, 2416. The reason they knew this was because Leona jumped in at the same time. “How are you here?” Makarion asked.
“How the hell are you here?” Leona asked accusatively. “You should be three-hundred and eighty-two years old. It was my understanding that the powers that be don’t like us to also be transhumanists.”
Makarion stepped away from Vearden to protect them from an accidental jump somewhere else. “By our powers combined, we are CAPTAIN PLANET!”
“Wow, tough crowd.” Makarion rolled his eyes. “When we touch each other, our patterns mix together to allow us to travel through time and space.”
“Force us through time and space,” Vearden corrected.
“That’s right, we have no control over it. We’re trying to get back, him to his partner, and me so I can find out how you survived that car crash back in 2073.”
“What do you mean? You already kn—” she stopped herself. “You haven’t learned how from your perspective.”
“No, that hasn’t happened yet.” Makarion looked over to Vearden with a smile. “I guess that means we get back at some point.”
“Eventually, yeah, I guess.”
Makarion continued, “we’ve been jumping into moments at the beginning, or the end of, Mateo’s day. How are you here? Your day was yesterday.”
“A lot has changed since you...” she trailed off, obviously not wanting to divulge too much information about the timeline. “We broke the rules, so we’re being punished. The powers switched me over so that I’m perpetually one day behind Mateo, which means that we don’t ever see each other. I only come back to the timestream the minute he leaves.”
“Hmm,” Makarion thought out loud. The both of them knew that this was not the situation in Leona’s future. At some point, somehow, their patterns are realigned, and they are reunited.
“It that ever changes, don’t tell me about it,” Leona insisted. “I don’t want to risk changing the future.”
“That is wise of you,” Makarion agreed.
“But I will tell you that I know who you are. I mean I know who you really are. I know why you’re doing this, and I forgive you.”
Makarion was actually touched by this, and almost speechless, but not quite. “If I didn’t—if I stepped back—things would be much worse for you.”
“We know. We find out, and we take care of that too. Don’t change your plans, but know that when the day comes when you can’t continue the tribulations, we survive. We’re still surviving. I don’t agree with your methods, but I understand why you did it.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Makarion said genuinely.
What the hell is going on?
“Well, I guess we better be off,” Makarion went on. “We’re obviously not going to find Saga here. Not the one we’re looking for anyway.” He tipped an imaginary hat and reached out towards Vearden.
“No,” Vearden said.
“What is it now?”
“I have to help her. I may be the only one who can.”
“I don’t understand,” Makarion said.
“I do.” Leona smiled and explained, “if you and Vearden develop a new pattern with physical contact, perhaps the same could be done with him and me. He could take me back to where I belong.”
“There’s no way for you to know that.”
“I’m willing to try if you are,” Vearden said, palm face up.
“I am,” Leona said. Before Makarion could stop her, she had taken Vearden’s hand in hers.
They returned to the timestream one year later. It was April 28, 2417. Mateo was staring at them, stunned by their sudden appearance. Leona removed herself from Vearden’s grasp and pushed herself into Mateo’s arms. “Oh my God, it’s so good to see you again!”
“How are you here?”
“Vearden helped me out.”
“I thank you, sir,” Mateo said. “It’s nice to see you again, brother.”
There was a tear or two in Leona’s eyes. “Where are Franka and Séarlas?”
“They’re gone,” Mateo answered sadly. “They’re gone, as you would expect, but they’re safe. I was with them for three years.”
Before Mateo had a chance to answer, Makarion strode up in anger. “I had to wait for you for a year! Everyone has superpowers now, and I’m a cockroach ‘cause all I can do is teleport!” He took Vearden by the shoulder.
They found themselves standing in a dark room with cargo lining the walls. “Ugh. I wanted to talk to them some more.”
“You’ll have plenty of time for that in the future-past.” He walked over and picked up a tablet for information. “It’s 2075. Close enough.”
“This is not close enough! I’m trying to get back to Saga before she gets shot, to stop it from happening.”
“Well, I don’t really care. I’m headed for Mars. You can come if you’d like, but don’t touch me.”
“The hell I won’t.” Vearden reached over to turn the tables and take Makarion by the shoulder for once.
The first thing Saga and Baxter could hear after jumping back into the timestream was screaming. They rushed down the hallway and into the room to find Leona Delaney on nothing but a mattress and blankets. She was having trouble getting comfortable, and couldn’t decide whether she wanted to lie down or sit up.
“Oh thank God, you’re back,” Mateo said, one hand on Leona’s neck, and the other suffering a few fractures from her kung fu grip. “They’re coming.”
Saga smiled. Birthing babies was her favorite part of the job. Sure, they weren’t without their complications, but they weren’t about correcting a problem; they were about new life. It reminded her of when her son, Samwise was born. Labor with him only lasted about six hours, and he came out with absolutely no problems. The fact that he was the reincarnation of salmon who had already lived for decades probably meant that the powers that be were protecting him with their magicks, but still, it could have still been more painful. Baxter delivered him, just as he had with Vearden’s daughter, Laura, and just like he was right now with the twins. Was he the delivery doctor for all salmon? Jack of all trades, master of probably all of them too. She missed her partner, Vearden, but knew that they would be reunited one day, and until then, it was nice to be around someone who knew exactly what he was doing, and didn’t really answer to anyone but the emergency.
“It’s almost midnight,” Leona cried while Saga started wiping her forehead with a washcloth. “What happens at midnight? Are my babies gonna just be left here in the middle of the room...all alone?
“It’ll be fine, Mateo said. “It’s not that close to midnight.”
“Shut up, yes it is!”
“We’ll still be here,” Baxter assured her.
“You don’t know that,” Leona argued. “You’re just a salmon.”
“Saga, take out my scheduler.”
Saga removed the little device that contained Baxter’s schedule for the next few appointments, at the most. She held it up in front of Leona, hoping to comfort her.
“Your babies are my patients too, see? I will not leave them, I promise.”
“Okay,” she said. “Okay, okay,” she repeated several more times until another contraction came on and she switched back to yelling.
“Won’t be long now,” Baxter said. “You’ve been taking the prenatal vitamins I gave you, right?”
“Every day,” Mateo answered.
“And you’ve been lying on your left side during your time jumps?”
“Yes,” Mateo said. “Well, for the most part. That hasn’t always been possible.”
“That’s okay, it was just a precaution.”
“Precaution for what?” Leona asked in a panic.
“It’s okay, Miss Delaney. No need to worry.” Baxter was examining Leona’s belly with a diagnostic device. “Everything is perfectly all right. This pregnancy is going to go swimmingly.”
“Okay,” Leona said again, still in a great deal of pain.
“I’m going to place the epidural and spinal injection now, okay?” Baxter said. “It’s going to be a little uncomfortable, but it will help you manage this pain.”
“Is it not too late? I heard it can be too late sometimes.”
“It’s not too late,” Baxter said. “It’s actually the perfect time.” He removed a labor pain gun from his bag as Mateo and Saga were helping Leona stay sitting up. After disinfecting her back, he placed the gun against her spine. With one squeeze of the trigger, both injections were sent in. He let go of the trigger and flipped the release with his thumb. As he slowly removed the gun, the fixation glue formed to hold the epidural catheter in place. “All right, that’s done. You should be feeling better in minutes.”
“Can we lay her back down, doc?” Mateo asked.
“Yes, of course.”
Not twenty minutes later, the first baby was on its way out. Saga looked down and could see little red hairs peeking out during the crowning that clearly did not belong to Leona. She was no longer screaming because Baxter’s pain medicine was the best of all time...literally. After the first baby was all the way out, they noticed something strange. A little hand was wrapped around its heel. His twin sister had no interest in spending any time in the womb without her big brother. “Hold onto the boy!” Baxter ordered.
Saga took the boy in her arms and held him in place while her boss went about delivering the girl. It was too dangerous to try and separate them at this point. An arm-first birth was risky enough, they didn’t need to aggravate them. She tried to whisper, “are you going to have to break her arm?”
Leona heard that. “What? Why would you do that? What’s wrong!”
“Nothing’s wrong,” Baxter said definitively. “It’s an unusual birth, but not one I can’t handle. Just don’t move.” Baxter became laser focused as he gently worked the second little baby out. “She’s entering this world like Supergirl,” he said, trying to lighten the mood. He was right. Only the one arm was on her brother’s leg. The second was down at her side, just as Kara Zor-El was known to fly. If she didn’t know any better, the babies were laughing. They didn’t seem to be upset, or in any discomfort. Even though it was one of the oddest births she had ever been a part of, it really was going well.
“More like Jacob,” Mateo said, making a reference to the bible.
Saga was not Christian, but she certainly had to pretend to be one for a long time because of how tricky life was centuries ago. Saga and Vearden had to remain vigilant, and not draw attention to themselves. She had to fake her faith, and avoid revealing the fact that she wanted nothing more than to just wear pants. She knew of the story of the birth of Jacob and Esau. The former was born immediately after the latter, holding onto his heel as presumed foreshadowing to their quarrelsome lives. Esau had even been born with red hair, which was another interesting coincidence. Due to all this time travel, Saga wondered whether the powers that be were making this happen because of the story in the bible, or whether this event came first, and will ultimately go back to inspire the story.
“Twenty fingers, twenty toes. Two happy and healthy babies,” Saga said.
“Let me hold them,” Leona said with beckoning arms.
They handed Leona’s twins to her one by one.
“She needs water,” Baxter noted.
“There’s some in the other room,” Mateo responded without breaking his gaze at his lovely new children.
“I’ll get it,” Saga said.
“See if you have find some more towels too,” Baxter said as she was walking away.
The door turned out to be a portal that returned her to the island through the little cottage they had built. “Oh, great.”
“Where have you been?” Vearden asked. The portal on Mars had transported him back to the island through the replica of the stargate. Saga was just walking up to him from down the beach.
“I’ve been traveling through time as Baxter’s nurse.”
“You two are on a first name basis?”
“It’s been six years for me.”
“Really?” The last time they were separated, she had lived with Sam, Lorena, and Edward for three years in the mid-19th century. When they were finally returned to each other, he had only experienced a year. This time, she had him beat again. Why were the powers that be separating two partners in the first place, and why the difference in duration? “It’s only been a week for me.”
“Where were you?”
“Makarion and I were forced through the timeline thousands of...times. We always landed either just before, or just after Mateo Matic’s midnight, though we usually didn’t actually encounter him.”
“That’s very interesting.”
“I’m tired of being away from you,” Vearden lamented. “Why are they doing this?”
“We’re the freelancers. We go where we’re needed, but only once it’s time.”
“Sounds like you’ve become quite comfortable with this life.”
“It’s why ‘cause all the lives I’ve saved,” Saga answered amusingly.
“I only care about the one,” he responded. “Did Sarka—I mean Baxter, patch you up?”
“Yes,” Saga replied. “But I had to get myself to him first. Running with a gut wound is not fun, but at least we now know how to operate the stargate.”
“We’ve no idea where we would end up if we do.”
“As long as it isn’t an island, I’m not all that worried about it.”
“Fair point.” The two friends took each other by the hand and walked back through the gate together.
They found themselves in a very darkly lit chamber of stone, reminding them of when they first landed in the original Colosseum. Torch light flickered on the wall up ahead. They could hear voices, but could not make out any words. Nothing around them could have acted as a new portal, so there only choice was to move forward. As they drew nearer, the voices became clearer, and even familiar. Before they reached the opening, Makarion popped into view with a torch and stopped them defensively. “Oh my God, it’s you.”
“What are you two doing here?” Makarion ordered them to explain themselves.
“We walked through the stargate. Where is here?”
“Giza? As in...the Great Pyramid of—?”
The sound of Vearden’s daughter’s voice came from around the corner, “Makarion, what’s going on up there?”
“Laura!” Vearden exclaimed.
They rudely ran past Makarion and bolted down to find both of their children sitting in a surprisingly modern chamber, along with Theo Delaney. There was a living room with couches and a television. Off to the side were cabinets, a sink, and other appliances. Hugs were hugged and laughs were laughed. They caught up with each other about what they had gone through since first being separated before getting into what was happening more recently.
“What are you guys doing down here?”
“We had a run-in with The Cleanser,” Samsonite started to explain. “He killed Leona’s parents after she accidentally killed Darko while trying to kill Makarion. She came here with us, but isn’t here now because today is not her day.”
“Are we actually in the pyramid?” Saga asked, fascinated. She had always wanted to photograph the pyramids. She had planned on developing a photobook including pyramids from all over the world, but never found the time or money. “How have tourists not caught you? Are we deep in the past again?”
“No, they’re around,” Makarion jumped in. “They just don’t know about this part of it. Neither does any egyptologist, or any expert, really.”
“How is that possible with modern day technology?” Vearden asked. “Radars and other sciencey stuff that goes over my head,” he suggested.
A naked woman they had never met before walked in from an opening on the other side of the wall, still in the middle of drying herself off after a shower. “They can’t see into these chambers,” she assured them. “They exist in a shielded bidimensional parastructure,” she technobabbled redundantly.
“Well, that’s what I figured, but...” Vearden said sarcastically.
The woman started back into it while rigorously scratching at her hair with the towel. She had obviously been over this multiple times. “There are some places in the world that exhibit very special physical properties. They are why salmon, choosers, and powers that be exist in the first place. Easter Island, the Bermuda Triangle, a random clearing in Ontario; salmon are constantly being drawn to these places, and will in fact, be more likely born in one of them than anywhere else. Hell, the entirety of Kansas seems to be a giant hotspot, with lots of smaller hotspots inside of it like Lebanon, Stull, and Lawrence. Choosers and powers have been declaring ownership of these landmarks of lore since their discoveries. The Delegator owns Stonehenge, The Concierge owns The Constant, and The Gravedigger owns The Graveyard. A salmon named Horace Reaver tried to take control of Uluru years ago. He refused to leave, even after failing.”
“So The Great Pyramid of Giza is yours,” Saga said, suddenly feeling the need to admire the walls, looking for what was protecting them from prying eyes.
“It is,” she said while pulling on her pants. “For now.”
“Choosers are not allowed to enter each other’s domains without permission,” Makarion said. “This is one of the few safe places on Earth, and our host has graciously agreed to provide us with sanctuary.”
“There is no sanctuary,” the woman said in a dark and low tone. Then she laughed, “just kidding. Meliora has control over that.”
“We...” Saga started, “do not know your name.”
“I prefer to keep my name secret, like many others. You can call me The Escapologist. Don’t ask me where I escaped from. Not even Makarion knows that much about what’s really going on.”
With the conversation fizzled out, Saga and Vearden retreated to the couches so they could focus on their family. The Escapologist and Theo started cooking them all a meal.
Just before dinner, Makarion politely asked if he could speak with them in the other room. He seemed quite different than he was the last time they saw him. The sadistic choice that the Cleanser had put them through had affected him a great deal. No longer was he the quippy, confident little jerk from before. He was scared. “I guess the cat’s out of the bag,” he said ominously. “I have been working for the Cleanser, but only so that he doesn’t wreak havoc on you people. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no saint, and I enjoy...toying with people. But he’s so much worse. The contract I had with him prevented me from revealing this, but I’m hoping to remedy the situation. If I don’t, you’re all in danger. But I need something. From you, and from Mateo, when he returns.”
“What is it?” Saga asked, not hopeful it was something she wanted to give.
“I need you to keep going. I need you to fulfill your contract with me. I still need you to build the Colosseum. When I showed up after the golf game, I was there to inform you that your job had been voided due to Mateo’s death. Now that we know him to be alive, I have to do everything I can to put us back on track.”
“We were building the Colosseum for him?”
“I’ve been putting him through what I call tribulations. They’re much like the ones you’ve been going through, but far more planned out, elaborate, and structured. The Cleanser thinks that kind of life is worse than death, and he may be right. But if he’s not, then we simply cannot stop. I don’t want to do this.” He stared at the floor solemnly. “Certainly not anymore. But if I don’t try—if I don’t make an attempt to get back to where we were, I fear the worst.”
Vearden thought about the offer. He made a good point about not knowing the danger lurking in alternate realities, but there must still have been something he wasn’t telling them. “What will Mateo be doing there once it’s finished?”
“It’s the Colosseum, what do you think?”
The just stared at him down their noses.
“Sorry. Force of habit.” He took an acceptable pause. “So, are you in, or do we band together and try to fight? I warn you that he’s the most powerful chooser I’ve met, and probably is exactly that.”
“Well, I’ve tried to fight before,” Vearden said with a sigh. “And that hasn’t worked out for me thus far.”
Saga looked at him and they nodded at each other with pure understanding. “We’ll play along for now, but when it’s time to fight, will you agree to fight with us?”
“Yes. I’ll even add that to the contract.”
Saga and Vearden held hands, as was tradition, as they walked through the portal created from the threshold to the backrooms of the secret pyramid chambers. Makarion promised them that there would be no more games, no more challenges, and that the job would be over once they finished construction. They spent hours on the island, reading instructions for how the nanotechnology worked. Technology had continued to march on, even since they first landed on the island several years ago. Their little cottage was still standing, but could have used a little maintenance while they were gone. Fortunately, someone had erected another little hut down a ways containing rovers, sky drones, and other automated entities. One of those was able to fix the place right up for them while they studied.
In the corner sat a powered-down android. No reason was given for his presence, so they decided to ask him. Unlike androids in pop culture, real androids didn’t need to be turned on with a switch. They could be woken up just like any other person, but with a little extra force. He looked at them with curiosity, “who are you people?”
“We are Saga and Vearden.”
His eyes darted back and forth as he was gathering as much information about his environment as possible, including everything he could tell by looking at them. “You’re salmon.”
“We are. Let me guess, you’ve met Mateo Matic.”
He nodded. “As well as Leona, Horace Reaver, and my former employer, Ulinthra.”
“Never heard of her,” Vearden said.
“Do you have a name?” Saga asked.
He scoffed. “Of course I do. It’s Harrison.”
“Nice to meet you, Harrison. Are you fully independent?”
“Other than the fact that I can be turned off like a toaster oven, yes.” He looked around the hut. “How much time have I missed?”
“It is the year 2079.”
“Thirty-one years,” he said under his theoretical breath.
“Who did this to you?”
“It was a man named Gilbert Boyce. Mateo, Leona, and I broke him out of prison while we were getting Reaver out. Ulinthra had just relieved me of my duties when he came out of nowhere and shut me down. I don’t know how he found my hibernation sequence, or why he wanted me out of the way. I certainly don’t know what I’m doing here.”
“We don’t know either,” Saga admitted. “A chooser named Makarion has contracted us to construct a replica of the Colosseum to be used for one of Mateo’s tribulations.”
He widened his eyes.
“It’s a long story,” Vearden said, somewhat dismissively. “But the point is that if we don’t do this, things will be bad for both us and him.”
“Just you two are building it?”
“Yes, and we hope all these robots.”
“Nanotech,” he said with a nod. “I can download the specs and handle that on my own. I don’t know why he hired humans for it. I need to find a satellite connection first so I can catch up on what I’ve missed. Plus, my battery is low.”
Harrison went outside and sat down on the sand like he was in deep meditation. It took a few hours for him to charge all the way back up and learn recent history. The human salmon continued to study the instructions, even though Harrison was apparently going to do all the work for them. While they were eating dinner, Harrison approached them and asked where the materials were. After they pointed to the stargate, he attempted to walk through it, but was met with nothing but open air. It would seemingly not work for non-salmon, or maybe just not androids. Maybe that was why Saga and Vearden were there, or maybe they were just there because the powers that be declared it to be done.
They say that Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it almost could have been with this technology. Saga and Vearden hauled raw materials through the stargate from various locations. They were essentially stealing from reputable construction companies. Security guards from one such of these called Regolith caught them in their warehouse. When they called it in, they were told to give Saga and Vearden whatever they needed and send them on their way. It was strange, yes, but Makarion must have had them in their pocket somehow. Each time they pulled the materials through the portal, a rover was waiting for them so that it could drive it all the way to the golf course.
Every once in awhile, the two of them would take a break so they could go up and watch the progress. The robots had started out building a foundation before expanding it to a framework. After that the nanotechnology pretty much just went to work on its own. Drones would fly around, inspecting the work per instructions from Harrison who was monitoring diagnostics and software code. Skyscrapers were being built with this method in a matter of days. Those, however, used a number of different materials that would have to be combined with precision. The Colosseum replica was made of a sort of stone and plastic mix, patented by one company, and licensed out to others. In just over a day, the entire thing was built at its full glory, complete with the pieces and features nowadays missing from the original.
Makarion jumped into the middle of the amphitheatre while drones were completing their final inspections on the backside. “Wow, you guys really did it.”
“You’re surprised?” Vearden asked, both offended but also indifferent to what Makarion thought of them.
“I wasn’t completely certain that you would be able to pull it off. Ya know, I don’t actually control the portals. You open them, and the power that be in charge of you actually decides when and where you go. In fact, I didn’t know when you had arrived. I’ve been coming here once a week to check on your progress, but you’ve never been here. How did you guys get it done so quickly alone?”
“I figured that’s why you put me here,” Harrison began, “so that I could expedite the process.”
Makarion had been admiring their work, and hadn’t actually looked over at them. He was shocked to discover Harrison with them. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“You didn’t bring me?”
“I was left in the hut, with all the artificials.”
“He’s how we finished overnight,” Saga said.
“Artificials. Hut. What? I didn’t give anybody a hut, and I don’t know what artificials you’re talking about.” It was exciting to see Makarion so distressed and confused.
Vearden jerked his chin up towards one of the drones who had come into view behind them. “There’s one of them.”
Makarion squinted and followed the drone as it glided towards another section. “That is not mine.”
Saga smiled. “Someone else is looking out for us.”
“Or for you,” Vearden said, in reference to Makarion.
Makarion shook his head. “The Cleanser would not have done this. We may have another player in town.” His watch began to beep. “The investigation, however, will have to wait. It’s almost midnight central.”
Mateo Matic appeared in the timestream next to them and exhaled. “You weren’t kidding about the Colosseum being to scale.”
After Mateo Matic was pulled into the timestream in the replica of the Colosseum, he was escorted down to a staging area. Makarion returned shortly thereafter with bad news. “Okay, so I told you that everything would be over once you built the Colosseum, but I can’t necessarily deliver on that one hundred percent.”
“What does that mean?” Vearden asked with a scowl.
“The Cleanser is going to keep using you,” Makarion began, “as long as the powers that be have you loaned out to us.”
“We’re on loan?”
“Yes, that’s what makes you The Freelancers. If the powers want you to go somewhere else, they will, which is why you, Saga worked with The Doctor for six perspective years. If you walk through the stargate now, and you end up anywhere other than Stonehenge, that means you’re still on retainer for us.”
Vearden breathed in deeply out of exasperation, but it ended up making him yawn. When was the last time he slept? “Why are the powers that be helping the Cleanser? They seem to be...” He couldn’t find the words.
Saga finished his sentence, “at odds.”
“I am not privy to that information,” Makarion said.
Dropping it, Saga said, “so we just keep walking through portals, waiting to find out who we work for next, assuming the current job is done.”
“That is how I understand it.”
She looked to Vearden. “Well, I guess that explains our nickname.”
“Yeah,” he responded. “Makes a level of sense now.”
“But you don’t know what’s on the other side of our portal?” she asked of Makarion.
“No,” he said honestly.
Saga and Vearden once more walked through the stargate to find themselves in some kind of encampment. “When and where the hell are we?” Vearden asked.
“I recognize these kinds of tents,” Saga said. “I think I’m back in World War II.”
“Why would they bring you back here?”
“I don’t know, but I worry about crossing my own timestream.”
A man Saga knew from before approached them stealthily from the side and pointed a gun at them. “Who are you?”
While Vearden held up his hands, Saga tried to diffuse the situation. “Sargent, it’s me.”
“Me who?” Sargent shook his gun threateningly. “I don’t know you.”
“We must have not met yet from your perspective,” Saga tried to explain. “We’re both salmon. This is my partner, Vearden.”
“Nice to meet you,” Vearden said, arms still up.
Sargent put down his gun. “Are you here for the battalion, or for Operation Earworm?”
“We don’t...” Saga started to say.
“Operation Earworm,” Vearden answered with confidence. It was a rational guess, because he really didn’t think an entire war battalion was in need of two more soldiers. If the powers that be dropped them off right here right now, it was for a reason.
“Good, because you would otherwise be dreadfully late,” Sargent pointed out “What year are you from?”
“Then you have implanted translators,” he said, nodding.
“No, we’re originally from the 2020s,” Saga clarified. “We have no transhumanistic enhancements.”
“Lucky for you, I have two extra, but we’re still going to need to find you Nazi uniforms.”
“We’re Nazis!” Vearden exclaimed.
“We’re pretending to be,” Sargent said.
But they were doing more than just pretending. The implanted interfaces allowed them to perceive the German language as English. The translator voice that played right inside their ears even sounded like the person who was talking. They only knew they weren’t actually listening to English because people’s mouths didn’t sync up with the words they heard. Visible text even transformed to the English language instantly. This kind of technology existed in Saga and Vearden’s original time, but usually had to be seen through some kind of device, rather than being sent directly to their visual cortex.
Using further incredibly advanced technology, they were provided with forged documents that allowed them to go just about anywhere in Germany. They headed to a place called Berchtesgaden. There they met a man named Hermann Göring who agreed to listen to them after learning of their powerful positions within the Nazi party. Sargent spoke to him in German, “Mr. Göring, tomorrow Karl Koller will arrive to inform you of Hitler’s intentions to appoint you negotiator for peace. The Führer believes the war to be over, and that it is time for us to move on.”
“I am to become leader of the Third Reich.”
“Yes, that is true, which is why you must act now.”
“What do you mean?”
Sargent sighed and paced around, careful to keep the composure and posture fitting for a Nazi officer. “The name Adolf Hitler has, for a long time, been synonymous with Germany. People treat him as a God, and will follow him everywhere. But you and we all know that he is but a man, and the Third Reich was always destined to outlive its creator.”
Göring did not respond, but appeared to be intrigued by what Sargent was saying.
“And you are destined to lead us into our next stage, to protect the sanctity of Germany, and maintain its dominance over Europe.”
“But if the war is over...” Göring started to say, never expecting to end the sentence.
“There are many different kinds of war,” Sargent explained. “Europe has turned its back on the Führer. Even if we were to win the war, the continent would be in great distress. We would be spending vast resources merely on appeasing and containing the population. The time for trenches and helmets has passed. We need someone new for the party, Germany, and Europe to follow. We need a new voice, one with the strength of a commander, and the eye of a true strategist.”
“But the Battle of Stalingrad...” Göring trailed off again, referring to his failure at that point in history.
“Will be forgotten in a year,” Sargent stated dismissively. “You and the Führer are not on good terms right now, but you must cement your place in the party. Send him a message. Remind him of his plan to appoint you as successor. Germans, we are a proud race, and we do not dance around the issue. We get to the point, and we get things done. No one knows that better than you. So get this done. Show the world what a true Führer looks like.”
Hermann Göring needed little further convincing. He agreed that this course of action was best for the Reich. He really just needed someone to stand up and tell him that was okay. After they left, Saga asked what was really going on.
“We need to encourage discord amongst the top levels of the party. Hitler is under a great deal of pressure now. Germany really has lost the war, and a telegram from his top officer, reminding him of his promise to allow him to take over? Well...whew, that’s not going to go over well.”
“Forgive me, Sargent, but if we’re time travelers, why don’t we just go back further in time and kill Hitler? Wouldn’t that be easier than just rocking the boat with one little telegram?”
“There’s something you should understand about this, Mr. Haywood,” Sargent began. “This is the upteenth time salmon have returned to this time period. They have tried countless permutations. They tried killing Hitler several years ago, they’ve tried killing him as a youth. They’ve tried bombing Berlin like the Americans did against Japan. They even tried meticulously extracting all prisoners from the concentration camps. But none of these worked. Stopping the war, using advanced technology to win the war; it all just ends up turning to shit. The only way history will allow us to move past this time period is if we let most of it happen the way it did. The main thing we’re changing is killing Hitler a couple years before he died of syphilis anyway, but we first need to prevent anyone who took over the party in alternate timelines from having enough respect to accomplish that in this timeline.
“I’ve been traveling Germany, and abroad, for months now. I’ve planted seeds of distrust amongst dozens of bigwigs. You wouldn’t believe how hard it was to convince Felix Steiner that his army detachment could no longer fight. I’ve had more rewarding jobs, though, like passing along certain bits of intelligence to the allied forces that they would otherwise be ignorant of. This, however, was my last mission before I’m sent back in time to join the salmon battalion for some good ol’ fashion guerrilla warfare, so the rest is up to Mateo.”
“Mateo is coming?”
“Well, I don’t think he’ll actually be coming to 1945. I believe Glaston has been assigned to run a merge point for him. Either way, he will have the worst-slash-best job of all of us.”
“What might that be?”
Sargent looked at them like they should have already figured it out. “He’s going to kill Hitler.”
Vearden discovered after watching him disappear in a literal flash that Sargent’s first name was Adolphe. It was rather ironic, but almost certainly done on purpose by the powers that be. Even more strange was the fact that, upon joining the salmon battalion, he was arbitrarily assigned the rank of Sergeant. Shaking it off, Vearden instinctively stepped into a tent and ushered Saga in. After letting the flap close behind them, they walked back through it to find themselves in a different camp altogether. Everyone on the campgrounds was running around, somehow both chaotically and systematically. Saga recognized a few of them as salmon, and the others held themselves in a similar fashion. This was another major time travel undertaking. A woman was standing under a canopy behind a folding table, barking orders to the others in a sexy Louisiana accent. They were all wearing what looked like Canadian military uniforms.
The two new-comers approached her with haste, knowing that they needed to start there. “Who are you?” she asked of them.
“Saga and Vearden.”
“What do you do?”
“We’re the door-walkers. We travel through portals, assisting others on an as-needed basis.”
She jerked her head around, upset about not having been given all the information. “Are you salmon or choosers.”
“Oh, sorry,” Saga apologized. “We’re just salmon.”
She slid her fingers down a list that was taped to the table. There was a second list to its left, probably containing the names of choosers who were helping them. “Saga and Vearden...I don’t have you on my list. Who told you to come here?”
“We are rarely told anything,” Vearden said. “We walk through openings, and appear somewhere new. We don’t always know when, and we never know where.”
She nodded as he was talking, still perturbed by how long the two of them would take to explain things. “If you’re—Glaston!” she screamed, interrupting herself.
They looked over to see a man on the boundary point between two locations. A section of the ocean had been pulled into the area. He had his arms out to balance himself between solid ground on his right and the deep, cold water on his left.
The leader woman continued to scream, “quit screwin’ around! I need you to merge southern Saigon with New Brunswick!”
Glaston just stared at her like a kindergarten refusing to participate in naptime.
“Now, Glaston! You have your orders!”
He just flipped her off.
She dropped her volume down so that only those in the canopy could hear her. “I guess we know why you two were brought here. You’ll be replacing him.” She turned her chin partially towards the man on her right, but didn’t look directly at him. “Mister Kolby, please send The Merger to Beaver Haven.”
Kolby lifted a very odd looking gun towards the dissident, and pressed it against the side of his stomach. He quickly pulled the trigger, hitting his mark expertly. Glaston slammed his palms on his chest where the bullet had hit. As small amounts of electricity surged throughout his body, he started to yell, “Yippee ki-yay, mother fffffuuuuuuuuuuu...!” Before he was able to finish his expletive, he shuddered and disappeared. Saga and Vearden widened their eyes and looked back towards the leader woman.
“Don’t worry,” she assured them, “he’s not dead. Kolby’s gun just expels people to a special prison. I’m not here to babysit.” She took a deep breath and released it. “This is Operation Second Wind. Starting today—April 30, 1975, by the way—the United States will execute a contingency plan to evacuate soldiers and civilians from the city now known as Saigon, South Vietnam. Due to extenuating circumstances, fixed-wing aircraft cannot be used, so dozens of helicopters will be flying back and forth between the embassy and an armada of ships in the South China Sea.”
“Yes,” Vearden said. “I remember this from history class.”
Yeah, they should definitely not interrupt this woman. “Yes, well unfortunately, not everyone makes it out. Not everyone can. If we evacuate the entirety of Saigon—which we’re fully capable of—we’ll be too exposed. 1975 is just too close to the invention of the internet for us to brush it off and bury it to history. But we are going to take who we can and sprinkle them throughout the world twenty minutes into the future, primarily in Canada.”
“So, we’re going to southern Saigon.”
She ignored them for a second. “Kingmaker! Kingmaker! What are you doing here?”
The Kingmaker threw up his arms. “Trang wasn’t there!” He drew nearer.
She started itching all over her face from the stress. “Okay, we must have the dates mixed up. But we gotta get that kid and his family to Indonesia. Tai Trang is too important to the future!”
“If the powers that be don’t take me there, I can’t get there,” he said, in full agreeance with her.
She continued to itch herself, but seemed to be getting better. “Okay, okay, okay.” She pointed over to another canopy where an elderly man was consulting one out of hundreds of books sprawled out around him. “Go speak with The Historian again.” As the Kingmaker was walking away, she yelled up to crowd, “and somebody find me The fucking Emissary! I’m sick of being jerked around by the powers!” She pushed the air away from her face, “okay, who are you people again?”
She cut Saga off, “the door-walkers, right. Southern Saigon. Kolby, please find me Glaston’s mission files. Hopefully he didn’t throw them to Jupiter or some nonsense like that.”
Kolby pulled them to the side so that the leader woman could move on with her very important work. “I’m not going to hunt for those files, that is not my job. He very likely could have left them on Jupiter.” He pointed to a tent next to the Historian’s. “The Archivist lives there. Tell him that you’ve been given the Merger’s assignment.”
“Understood,” Vearden said.
“Hey, how are Mateo and Leona?”
Saga shook her head. “We’ve not seen Leona lately, but we left Mateo over a hundred years from now. They’re not great.”
He nodded. “Give them my best if you ever see them again. I believe they refer to me as Guard Number Two.” He smiled warmly, but briefly.
They walked briskly over to the Archivist, dodging fake soldiers running through their path. They hesitated at the tent, not wanting to just walk in without first warning him. But there was no way to knock. “Umm...Mister Archivist, sir?”
They heard the sound of glass dropping, but not breaking. “What?” He did not sound well.
“We’re looking for, uh...the..the Merger’s mission files.”
“What do you want with that?”
“We’re replacing him. We, uh...we’re the door-walkers?”
“The Freelancers,” Vearden added in a quiet voice.
“The Freelancers,” Saga repeated so that the Archivist could hear.
They could hear him cough and scramble up, sticking his head through the opening. “Saga and Vearden, as I poorly keep track of records and breathe.” He tried to worm his hand through the opening as well, presumably to greet them. “Uhh...I need pants. Half a moment.” He pulled his head back in too quickly. The flaps separated just enough to reveal his member as he was turning around to look for clothes. He awkwardly laughed from inside. “If I managed my pants the way I manage my files then...well, then nothing would be different. I’m not very good at my job. I’m the fourth one, and this isn’t even my time period.” He reopened the flaps so that they could walk in. He hurriedly tried to clean up the bottles of cliché all over the place, but there was really nothing that could be done. “Sorry for the mess. I’m just the Historian’s red-headed stepchild, so no one visits me.” He took a swig of mouthwash but swallowed it quickly.
“It’s quite all right,” Saga lied.
He spoke rapidly. “Now, you’re looking for Glaston’s files—hold on, do you want something to drink? No, of course you don’t. You’re on duty. I have water, though. No, I don’t, I don’t know why I said that. I can find water. No, you don’t need water, you’re in a hurry. Of course, Glaston’s files.” He turned towards a metal filing cabinet. “You wanna see something cool? You’ve probably seen it on TV, but this one is real.” He smirked and released the catch on the top drawer. It started rolling open at a medium rate. The drawer was much longer than could fit in the cabinet. Had they no experience with spacetime manipulation, they would have looked behind the cabinet to find out what was going on.
The drawer continued through the flaps, and apparently hit someone walking outside. “Ow!” she yelled.
The Archivist warped his face, only playfully concerned about the woman’s safety. “Whoopsidoodles.” He clapped his hands together in preparation, and then started to run his fingers through the folders. “Chooser Kayetan Glaston, also known as the Merger, born June 25, 2016. Keeps mostly to the 20th and 21st centuries on Earth. He’s a total dick, and nobody likes him. And he...” he trailed off while looking through one of the folders.
“What is it?” Vearden asked.
The Archivist looked up at them then clumsily put the file away. In a clear attempt to downplay whatever it was that he had read, he said, “that’s from an alternate timeline, don’t worry about it. What you need is the mission file from today.” Without looking, he smugly reached over and pulled a fairly full accordion folder. “Here ya go. Don’t spend it all in one place.” He winked.
“Thanks,” Saga replied with almost a curtsy that she hoped she managed to hide well enough.
“Did you just curtsy?” Vearden asked after they left the tent through a portal to southern Saigon.
They spent the rest of the day, and part of the next, extracting South Vietnamese and third country nationals from Saigon, some to their respective homes, others to nearby ports, and yet others to random points in Canada. They had to give these refugees specific instructions to, of course, never mention to anyone exactly how they survived. Glaston’s mission files included packets of false stories that the refugees were asked to memorize so that they would have a credible explanation for getting out of the war zone. It seemed to work, because no one in the future suspected that anything unnatural had happened during Operation Frequent Wind. The question they had now was who wrote all those falsified documents, and how many other historical events had happened differently than the world knew?
“One thing about time travel is that it’s very easy to encounter someone at one point and have knowledge of their future. Or worse, they could have knowledge of yours. In some cases, both could happen simultaneously. Some salmon operate across a single timeline. The Shapers, for instance, often have an effect on their past selves without realizing it. Whatever happened, happened. Nothing can be changed. No one can be saved. No one can be stopped. If this were the only form of time travel, then things would be fine. Everything would remain as it was. If you tried to go back and stop a car crash, well, you would probably end up being the cause of the crash. To make things even more complicated, however, some salmon—and just about all choosers—are moving across realities. They can go back and make changes to the timeline. In fact, they can potentially make changes to their own timeline. Unlike in Back to the Future, this will not result in the end of the universe. Things might just get—for lack of a better word—fucked up.
“With all these salmon and choosers hopping through and altering timelines, then salmon who can’t do that are in weird positions, aren’t they? From their perspective, nothing about the timeline has changed. If anything does end up getting changed, single-timeline salmon are going to undergo the process of being overwritten. Their memories of the first variation of events will be erased from their minds, as if they had never happened...because they hadn’t. To them, and all the lowly humans, whatever happened, happened. They don’t know that anything changed, so they just move on with their lives, doing the best they can to make the future as good as it gets.
“There have been many terrible events in the history of mankind. The holocaust, 9/11, Aurora, and Pulse are but a few of the most recent. Have you guys gotten to Pulse yet? But you’re just a human, so you can see only one timeline. You don’t know all the other terrible things that happened before being retconned by time travelers. That may be a nice thought, but keep in mind that not every time traveler has good intentions, and people with the power to reign these bad eggs in are rarely interested in doing so. This means that many days have gone by without a hitch, but then someone goes back and makes things bad. I’m not going to go over these events with you, because I think you would be offended if I attributed heinous acts carried out by hateful people to magicks. You’ll just have to take my word for it that some of the worst moments in time were put there on purpose, while others were created incidentally from the butterfly effect of some earlier time traveling event.
“I’m telling you this so you’ll understand what I have to do. This may seem like a bad moment. The world will remember this day as the greatest mystery in commercial airliner history. But believe you me...this is the lesser of two evils. I guarantee that, my friend. Two-hundred-and-thirty-nine people are going to have to sacrifice their lives for the greater good. Now before you freak out, you’re not going to die. We’ll put you somewhere safe. I’ve already put in a call to The Chauffeur. But you can’t stay here, because then you really will die. The Triple Triple Seven catastrophe was the deadliest aircraft disaster of all times. I’m here to force us into a timeline where that does not happen. I went over a number of scenarios, and this is our only choice. Trying to divert the planes won’t work. All I can do is take one away.”
“Are you telling me that you’re a terrorist?” the passenger asked.
The stowaway sported a charming smile. “No. I’m an unsung hero.”
The passenger’s husband returned from the lavatory. “Hey, what are you doing in my seat, buddy?”
“The name’s not Buddy, Mister Burrows,” the stowaway said as he stood up and slipped into the aisle. “It’s Prince.” He started walking backwards to the cockpit, and spoke more loudly than decorum dictated, “Prince Darko!”
They were still looking at him with concern as Prince Darko spun around and stole someone’s drink from first class.
“Can I help you sir?” the flight attendant asked, then stopped short. “I don’t recognize you.”
“Oh, I’m not on the list. I’m a walk-in.” He nodded towards the cockpit door. “But it’s okay, I’m with them.”
Saga and Vearden accidentally opened the cockpit door from the inside.
“Oh my God!” the flight attendant cried, unable to keep his composure.
“Where are we?” Saga asked, surprised to be on a plane, but also not.
Prince Darko took a sip of the drink he had stolen, but then put it down on the counter with disgust. “Exactly where you need to be.”
“What is going on here?” The Pilot in Command had gotten up and assumed authority.
Prince Darko pointed his phone through the doorway like a remote control and tapped something on the screen without looking.
“We have lost ACARS now, sir,” reported the co-pilot.
“Well...” Darko said in an uncertain voice. “Not all of it. We still have to shake a few more hands.”
“Who are you?”
“Why, I am now your commanding officer,” Prince Darko responded as-a-matter-of-factly.
“I don’t know how you people opened the cockpit door, but I will not recognize your authority.” He tried reclosing the door, but failed. Each time he tried to swing it inwards, it would keep going past the brink and open outwards. In was out and out was in. No matter how he moved the door, spacetime would shift around it so that he was always opening it. “What is this? What did you do?”
“I’m afraid I can’t take credit for that. I’m just an object threader.”
Vearden cleared his throat to get Prince Darko’s attention. “You are Mateo’s brother.”
“We were told that you were a good person,” Vearden said.
“I met you in my past, do you remember that?” Saga asked, referring to a time when she accompanied Baxter to a house call.
“I do not,” Prince Darko admitted as he continued to work on his phone. “It must take place in my future.” The plane started banking left, not enough to cause fear in the hearts of the passengers, but enough to wake up any sleepers.
The pilots and flight attendant were speechless, as any regular human would be by the turn of events, and the current conversation.
“You have control of the plane?” Saga asked.
“Indeed again,” Prince Darko replied.
“Then please give control back to the pilots so they can land these passengers safely at their destination,” she requested calmly and politely.
“I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
“Please,” Vearden pleaded, more urgently.
“Look, I appreciate you opening the door for me. I needed line of sight for the program to activate, but now that it has, your services are no longer required. You are now free to move about time and space.” He pointed to the nearest lavatory. “This is just one of many doors. Pick one.”
Kolby, the security guard from the Vietnam camp appeared through the curtain from a cheaper section of the plane. He lifted his apportation gun towards Prince Darko, but did not fire. The passengers who were in the right places to see the gun started screaming and freaking out. He ignored them. “Darko Matic, you are under arrest for colluding with a rogue element, and for reshaping an Essential Temporal Juncture. You are hereby sentenced to an indefinite stint at Beaver Haven Penitentiary. I am prepared to shoot if you do not comply.”
“Are you going to revert the juncture?” Darko asked, with no obvious intentions to run from his fate.
“That is not my department.”
“Very well.” Prince Darko held out his wrists and allowed Kolby to place a special set of handcuffs on him.
Kolby looked over to Saga and Vearden. “Is this before or after Vietnam?”
“After,” Saga confirmed.
“Then I suppose it’s not urgent for us, but I recommend finding a door off this plane. I don’t know what the others are going to do with it.”
“That’s not up to us,” Vearden said with a deep breath.
“No, I suppose it’s not.” Kolby tapped a sequence onto some high-tech bracelet he was wearing while his hand had a firm grip on the bar between Darko’s bound wrists. They both disappeared in a flash.”
Passengers continued to whoop and holler.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa!” The Cleanser called out right after teleporting onto the plane. “No need to get upset!” he assured them. “The worst is yet to come, I assure you.”
The crowd grew quiet out of fear for what that meant.
“Now who’s ready to go back in time and crash this plane into The Pentagon?”
Vearden looked out the window to see the clouds flying by faster than they should have been. They were moving through time at an abnormal rate. He looked back to see The Cleanser dancing his fingers around in the air like he was lightly playing a floating piano. As he did so, everyone on the plane except for the door-walkers started drifting their head around in some kind of daze. “What did you do to them?” Vearden asked, probably a bit too curious.
“It’s like when you wake up and think you’re late for work but eventually realize it’s Saturday,” he tried to explain, “but that on crack.”
Saga violently grabbed him by the shoulder. “Forget about that! What did you say about crashing into the Pentagon?”
“Exactly what I said, bitch! Get your hands off me!”
“This isn’t what we signed up for.”
“What did you sign up for? Nothing? That’s what I thought. Now sit down and let me do my job.”
“And what exactly is your job?” Vearden asked, uncharacteristically more relaxed than his partner.
“I’m The Cleaner,” he replied.
“Don’t you mean cleanser?” Vearden asked.
“No, I mean Cleaner. What are you even talking about?”
As Vearden just stared at him in confusion, Saga quickly figured out what was happening. This was a past version of the Cleanser they all knew and hated. He did look significantly younger than before. For whatever reason, this chooser chose to change his name to the Cleanser, possibly as a response to whatever made him quit his chooser job and go rogue. Strangely, it would seem that Vearden had given him the idea for his new nickname all along. But if this were true, who came up with the name in the first place? “Nothing, sir,” she said, hoping he would drop the subject. “His bootstraps are just on too tight.”
The Cleanser Cleaner seemed to have understood the reference, and did make a point of letting it go. “Well, it’s my job to clean up the timeline. Some events are so pivotal to the timeline that when a chooser prevents them from happening, someone has to go in and put it back the way it was.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Saga pointed out. “I remember the 2001 and 2005 Pentagon attacks. The planes aren’t from the future. I mean, the government would have certainly tried to cover that up, but the events were so massive and far-reaching that we would have heard at least rumors.”
“First of all, you’re from a timeline where the 2005 Pentagon attack was carried out by humans, with regular airplanes that appropriately predate the event. Secondly, the government won’t have to cover up anything. We have ways of adjusting people’s memories by merging them with an alternate version of themselves through a quantum entanglement connection. I don’t expect you to understand how it works, because I certainly don’t.”
“We’ve heard that word before,” Vearden noticed. “Merging. We encountered someone called The Merger in 1975.”
“That’s quite interesting. I’ll have to remember that for my future, but I’m not talking about physical merging. I’m referring to blending.”
Remembering the problem at hand, Saga brought the conversation back. “So you’re going to send this plane to 2005 so it can crash into the Pentagon. Why would you need to do that? That human attack was successful.”
“Again, in the timeline you remember, but someone went back and stopped it.”
“Oh right,” Saga said. “I still see one problem with your plan.”
“That I’m short about four planes?”
“Oh yeah,” Vearden said, too excitedly. “Guess you better give up!”
The Cleaner smiled while he was interlocking his fingers to pop them. “I’ve not tried autocatalysis before, but I’ve seen it done, and I know that it’s one of my capabilities. I think I can do it for the whole plane, but I’m going to need your help.”
“Screw that, we’re not helping you,” Vearden argued.
“You keep acting like you have a choice. I recommend you get over that.” The Cleaner prepared himself and aggressively took both of them by the arm. He was incredibly strong, more so than he looked. Saga couldn’t think of any time manipulation function that would allow that, but maybe there was something. This particular chooser seemed to be excellent at finding loopholes, and using his powers in ever-creative ways.
They could feel energy surge through their bodies. The power didn’t move only from them and to him. Their combined powers cycled between all three of them like flowing water, methodically trickling out before shooting into the aether. With this power came knowledge. Both Saga and Vearden began to better understand time travel and the timeline. They saw the past, the future, alternate realities, spatial merging, extracting, regression, paradox stabilization, quantum blending, and autocatalysis, among others. They could feel the airplane split into two equal parts, and then those two separated into two more, and then those into one more pair. The Cleaner disintegrated the sixth plane across time, because it was not needed to accomplish his objectives.
The five remaining planes flew away from each other, headed toward the same spot. The three travelers could feel themselves in disparate places all at once, conscious of the slight differences, but still aware that they were but mirror images of only one thing. There was still only one plane, and it was about to crash into the past of the Department of Defense five times. In the original timeline, a powerful group of terrorists, angry from the ultimate failure of 9/11, coordinated a strike with five relatively small, but still powerful enough commercial airliners. Instead of hijacking preexisting flights, they simply stole the planes as they sat in their hangars. There was no lack of security, but certainly less than for aircraft being used for travel at any given moment.
The Cleaner had, probably inadvertently, bestowed upon Saga and Vearden a special level of perspective. A chooser, whose name was not relevant at the moment, traveled back into the past upon discovering her gift, before anyone else had a chance to introduce her to the world. A disproportionate number of family members of hers had died in the 2005 attack. So she used her foreknowledge to change the outcome of events, anonymously sending the authorities to the hangars before the terrorists could abscond with the aircraft. Her family was saved, but April 30, 2005 was too significant of a day in history. The powers that be were not happy with this change in the timeline. Though they did not particular enjoy the death of hundreds of people, they considered it too dangerous to prevent. Some events give rise to so many variables that not even the powers are capable of comprehending the ramifications. These variables stretch out beyond their purview, and create wrinkles in the fabric of space and time. Thousands of people are born or not by this single variation. And so they employed their Cleaner to repair the timeline for them, and restore their dominion. He was not the only one they used for this purpose, but he was one of their best. Ruthless and clever, he could always wrangle the variables. Or rather, he usually could. For one reason or another, he did not accurately predict what Saga would do.
The replicated time displaced airplane(s) plunged towards the building with even greater temporal precision than their counterparts in the other timeline. Vearden reached forwards with his mind and looked upon the faces of everyone in the affected area, including none other than Mateo Matic. He was standing in the middle of the courtyard, looking up at them with determination. At time slowed down from their point of view, the door-walking freelancers looked at each other in a way they never had before. In that moment, they both knew everything about the other one’s past...and Saga knew about Vearden’s future. She smiled. He frowned. But he understood. He couldn’t do what she had to. He had more work to do, and his time was yet to come. Her life was over, but he would see her again, in other ways.
Five copies of Saga Einarsson harnessed the fumes of the Cleaner’s special chooser powers to teleport themselves to five centers of the Pentagon’s roofs. They held their arms to the heavens, almost welcoming to the oncoming airplane barrage. She used the remnants of both her and Vearden’s power to transform herself into continuum bombs. The planes recombined into one and flew through a portal to a distant locations. The pilots reawoke and sprang into action, somewhat safely landing the plane in the ocean as if they thought it was the Hudson River.
Having lost his temporal insight and returned to salmon status, Vearden Haywood quietly crawled out of the airplane and swam to shore. He walked up to the stargate replica and stepped through. It sent him right back down the ramp, but about five years earlier. Harrison was waiting for him on the beach. “How long have I been gone?” he asked.
Harrison replied, “Several hours.”
“Mateo has yet to experience the tribulation.”
“Correct. Where is Saga?”
“She is not in this version of events. We changed history. She did.”
“What does that mean for what happens now?”