Saturday, July 4, 2015

Seeing is Becoming: Freelancers (Part VII)

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

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