Saturday, June 4, 2016

Second Stage of Something Started: Contracts (Part VIII)

“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.”

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