Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: September 20, 2197

Though Ulinthra herself could not be caught, because she left the timeline as soon as Leona did, all of her loyalists directly responsible for Brooke’s senseless death were apprehended by the Kansas City Police Authority. Vitalie remained partially on Leona’s pattern, but experienced it differently than before. She would sometimes wake up and it be tomorrow, and sometimes a few weeks later. She continued like this for the entire year until Leona returned, at which point, they were able to regroup, and prepare for their next move. Without bothering to figure out how to contact Ulinthra, they flipped their penny yet again, more as a symbol than anything. It did land on heads, though Leona was determined to follow through with the plan regardless of the outcome.
“You can back at any time...while we’re still here. As soon as you make the jump with me, you’re on the hook. If this doesn’t work, Ulinthra will surely find a way to kill you, just as she has everyone else who’s helped me.”
“She hasn’t killed people who’ve helped you,” Vitalie argued. “She’s killed people you love. Unless there’s something I’m missing, I already qualify. If you try this alone, I’m still at risk. Hell, if we do nothing, I may be at risk, ‘cause Ulinthra be crazy.”
“This is true, but anything you participate in puts you at more risk. What you do does matter.”
“You’re right, it does matter. I just spent part of the last year looking for one of the only people in history who can get us where we need to go. You don’t need to convince me to choose a side. I already have. All you need to do now is say the word, and that woman comes into this room.”
Leona thought on it some more, just to be cautious. But the truth was that they still needed an advantage over Ulinthra, and she knew of only one person who could provide that for them. It would be a nice bit of poetic justice, because it was Ulinthra who once gave them this leverage against him, and if this went well, he would have the opportunity to return the favor. They needed Horace Reaver. But not just any Horace would do. They needed the OG Reaver, and in their current condition, he was a difficult man to reach. “Do it.”
“Come on in!” Vitalie shouted in the general direction of the door.
A woman came in with an apathetic look on her face. She reminded Leona of April Ludgate from Parks and Recreation. “Do you have it?”
“I don’t understand why you need this. Aren’t you powerful enough to get just about anything you want?” Vitalie questioned her.
“It’s not about me getting it. It’s about you going to get it for me. Yes, payment is hard to come by for choosers, because we’re so connected and powerful. But half of any transaction is sacrifice. If you want something, you have to work for it, even if I don’t technically benefit from it.”
“All right,” Vitalie said with a short sigh. “Here’s a diamond the size of my hand. Did people really value these things in your day, Leona?”
Leona took the diamond from Vitalie, and examined it. “In my day, most diamonds had to be found in the dirt. They had a certain...air of rarity that the jewelry companies imposed upon society. We were only starting to make them ourselves when I was growing up. Now, of course, they hold almost no value.”
The woman took a fancy cane from her magical bag of holding, and placed the diamond on top of it, to see how it looked. “They’re valuable, because they’re pretty.”
“Are we cool?” Vitalie asked.
“Seeing it now, I realize it’s not quite the cut I wanted, but it is what I asked for, so yeah...we’re cool.” She tossed the cane and diamond into her bag. “Are you carrying any citrus?”
“Of course not,” Leona replied.
“Then let us hold hands, like a coven of witches.”
“Is there any way I could know your name first?” Leona asked her.
“Transporter rules, sweetheart. No names. You can call me The Arborist.” She reached out her hands to grasp Vitalie and Leona’s. “Now, what year are we looking for?”
“2055,” Leona told her, “but we’re using an extraction mirror, so it doesn’t necessarily matter. I suppose it should be no earlier than that, though. Let’s say 2066, because I’m not certain when he died.”
“Why do you need an extraction? Why couldn’t you take him long before his death?” the Arborist asked.
“He undergoes dramatic changes to his personality, so the closest we can get to his death, the better. He’s in prison during the years leading up to that death, and we don’t want to interfere with that. Only the final version of him would be willing to return to his final moment.”
“Thanks for the life story,” the Arborist joked. “I’m to understand you have blended memories of the destination timeline?”
“Correct,” Leona answered.
“Good. It’ll be much easier to find. Please devote all of your thoughts upon it.”
Leona did as she was told. She had traveled through time many times before, in many different ways, but never like this. Time was extremely mutable. Choosing ones and salmon were constantly traveling back and forth, making small and large changes to the timeline. Each one sprouts a new branch of history, from the point of divergence, which was why this woman was called the Arborist. She could jump to alternate branches, supposedly without creating yet another branch. These older branches were delicate and precious. They were generally meant to be left alone, because any change could create a paradox. If anything a traveler does in a deprecated timeline negates the creation of the branch they first traveled from then they could never have come from that branch at all, but if they didn’t come from that branch, then they couldn’t have made the change in the old branch. This endless loop of impossibility was why not even the worst of the worst, like The Cleanser or Nerakali, trifled with old branches. No one really knows why so very few choosers were capable of traveling to old timelines, but those who understood the consequences were grateful for it. Leona would generally never risk it, but she was desperate, and they were only going to be there for a few seconds.
The Arborist pulled her hands away from theirs. “We’re here. Do you want some privacy?”
“We won’t be staying long, but this isn’t Palace Glubbdubdrib.” They were standing in front of a mirror, but not the one Leona had seen before, when she put the OG Gilbert Boyce back to his moment of death.
“I don’t really like that place,” the Arborist noticed. “I prefer this one. I assure you, it works, and it doesn’t require blood. Just say his name, and think of his face.”
Leona faced the mirror, and deliberately said, “Horace Reaver.”
The man could now be seen in the mirror, standing in his Easter Island cave prison, an explosion at his back. He was already in the midst of talking to someone from a completely different mirror. One of the men, whom Leona thought she should recognize, started angrily pushing a second man right through the event horizon. Reaver was assisting from the other side. A third man tried to help as well, but the victim pulled him through with him. Once it was done, Leona’s mirror managed to make time slow down, uh...again.
Reaver, noticing that his two new cellmates, were quite nearly frozen, stepped away. “What’s going on?”
“Come Horace,” Leona called to him. “It’s time to leave.”
“Leona?” Reaver asked.
“I don’t have time to explain. Just come through.”
“I didn’t think I could.”
“Don’t you trust me?”
“Who are those other people?” Vitalie asked, referring to Reaver’s security team.
“They have to stay,” the Arborist said sternly.
“Wait, that one is Lincoln. And that one is too!” Lincoln Rutherford was a security guard in this timeline, and in charge of Reaver’s imprisonment. But there was a second Lincoln watching the explosion from outside the prison cube, along with some other version of the guy Mateo forced through the mirror. Mateo. That was his name. Why did Leona know who Mateo was? Why was she meant to know him?
“You can’t save him,” the Arborist explained. “This version—these versions of Lincoln don’t matter. This is an old timeline, remember? We came for this guy, so take this guy, and we’ll put him back when we’re done.”
Reaver scoffed. “Screw that.” He went back over, and stuck his arms under Lincoln’s. He then leaned back, and started dragging Lincoln’s frozen body towards Leona’s mirror.
“You can’t do that!” the Arborist barked.
“Watch me,” Reaver countered. He stepped backwards through the mirror, pulling Lincoln with him. Once the latter’s last foot was all the way through, time restarted in the prison cube. The explosion overwhelmed the rest of the people left in there, and then the dimensional doorway closed completely, leaving them with nothing but their reflections.
Lincoln joined them in real time, and scrambled up from the floor. “What just happened? Am I not dead.”
Horace kindly placed his hand on Lincoln’s shoulder. “I just saved your life, brother. I couldn’t save everyone, though.”
“Shit,” the Arborist said.
“What?”
“Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit. Shiiit! Shiiiit!”
“What is it, Arby?” Vitalie asked.
“Did you see that?” the Arborist asked in a frenzy. “Horace Reaver and Lincoln Rutherford never go back to the cube, to their deaths. We would have seen it from this angle. You just changed the timeline, which means our timeline may never have been created.”
“We don’t know that,” Leona suggested. “Everyone may still think they’re dead. That explosion wasn’t just from an IED. It vaporized everything. There’s no way of knowing anyone survived.”
The Arborist was shaking her head. “I don’t think that’s right. I think we’re in trouble.”
“We’ll figure it out,” Horace said, stepped closer to Leona. “There was a time when she and I were an unstoppable team.” He stepped back. “Maybe we can find a way to get back to that.”
Leona reached up and wrapped her arms around Horace’s neck. “We’re already there. I remember everything.”
“What about Mateo?” Horace asked.
“Who?”

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