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Sunday, October 20, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 16, 2254

Though the life Briar’s mother ended up living wasn’t the one he would have chosen for her, given the opportunity, he couldn’t be sure she would feel the same way. She was a loving and protective mother, so in fact, if he could ask her what he should do right now, she would definitely tell him to not go back in time. The more he thought about it, the less he believed she would want him to erase himself from her timeline and memories. He didn’t know who his father was either, so even though she ended up losing him too soon as well, she might feel grateful for having met him in the first place. In the end, it wasn’t his right to alter history. He was just going to have to make peace with the fact that what happened wasn’t anybody’s fault. He still couldn’t help but feel a little hostility towards Trinity, but she didn’t seem too concerned about it. She understood that she couldn’t understand what he was going through. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. Her life had been upended by accidental time travel, just like his, and she also had to say goodbye to her parents—her real parents, by the way; not the two who conceived her in the 1950s, and never took care of her.
By the time Briar was confident in his final decision, it was nearing midnight central. They had yet to discuss what they were going to do with the time cave, but Trinity wanted Leona to be around for that. They determined it was okay to wait another year for the conversation. The only people who knew anything about it were the three of them, plus Eight Point Seven, Ellie, and Sanaa. The colonists still hadn’t come anywhere close to touching land on that continent, so it was highly unlikely they would have to worry about some random person stumbling upon it. Something did need to be done, though, because they had no control over what the ancient Earthans would do with the cave. They needed to be protected just as much.
“Can we cave it in?” Sanaa put forth.
“First of all,” Trinity said, shaking her head, “we would need to go into the cave to accomplish that. That would make coordinating detonation—not impossible—but not easy. We also don’t really know how close Briar’s father’s village is to the entrance. They might notice the explosion.”
“Are we even sure we should try to prevent people from crossing over?” Ellie asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Well,” Ellie continued, “it’s presumably a naturally occurring phenomenon; one that predates even Trinity’s involvement on this planet. It has only negatively impacted three people’s lives. Actually, I can’t say whether that can be called a negative impact; Briar wouldn’t even exist without it. Do we have the right to do anything?”
“We don’t know that it’s natural,” Eight Point Seven pointed out. “Nothing else on this world is natural. No judgment, Trinity.”
“No offense taken,” Trinity assured her. “Both you and Ellie make some good points. We’ve not yet proven the ethics of closing the cave at all. If we combine what you two said, perhaps it’s not natural, and that’s exactly why we shouldn’t do anything. What if it’s meant to serve a purpose? Maybe someone important will need it in the future-slash-past.”
At this, Ellie made eye contact with Leona, and gave her a wink. It was one of those winks that a time traveler will give to another to suggest they know something about the latter’s personal future, but can’t reveal specifics. Leona tried to shake it off, because even that was enough to cause problems with the timeline. Her mind was elsewhere anyway. In one day’s time, she would finally see Mateo again, and hopefully it would mean never being separated from him again. She hadn’t felt this nervous since she was a high school kid with a silly crush on a time traveler. How much had he changed since they last saw each other? How much of himself had he kept hidden when they briefly saw each other on Tribulation Island in the past? He seemed to want to tell her something, but was hesitant. Was it bad? Good? Shocking? Was she just reading too much into all of this, and was worried about nothing? More importantly, was there something about her own life that he might not like a whole lot when he arrived?
“Leona?” she heard in a muffle, which grew clearer. “Leona,” the voice came louder. “Are you still with us?”
“Yeah, sorry. Did you ask a question?”
Trinity was noticeably perturbed. “Did you see evidence that anyone else had ever traversed that cave?”
“No,” Leona said. “We suspect Irene had to spend an extended period of time there with Briar, so they could end up in more recent days on Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida, but I didn’t see anything that supported that supposition. The cave looked pristine, as far as I remember, but I wasn’t looking for such evidence either.”
“Is it easy to see and access from the Earth side?”
“It’s easy to find if you came from there,” Briar finally entered the conversation. “If you hadn’t been there before, though, I think it’s pretty well hidden. It’s fairly close to a path that others have walked, but no one seems to have found it.”
“That could change,” Sanaa said. “As the world develops, they might build a fast food restaurant right on top of it.”
“Or a library,” Ellie randomly added.
“I believe now,” Eight Point Seven began, “that we have a responsibility to close it up. If it’s not natural, and someone needs it there for a reason, they should have left a note. It would be one thing if it were just a bridge between Earth and Bida—even with the temporal component—but we can’t risk people losing years of their lives with their loved ones, just because they spend too much time inside. It’s not fair. Look at it this way, now that we know it exists, we’re liable if something happens, and humans are exposed to time travel. That could land us all in Beaver Haven.”
“That’s reason enough for me,” Sanaa agreed. “I ain’t goin’ to the pokey.”
“I’m inclined to agree,” Trinity admitted, “but I’m still worried about using explosives that close to veiled humans.”
“I could do it slowly,” Eight Point Seven offered. “I could just kick rocks, and shovel dirt. I could always make sure that no one’s watching.”
“You would get stuck over there,” Ellie told her, knowing Eight Point Seven was fully aware of this unfortunate consequence.
Eight Point Seven shrugged. “I can’t die. I’ll just wait and hitch a ride on one of the colony ships centuries later. Hell, Future!Me could be roaming around here right now, waiting to show back up here after Present!Me enters the cave.”
“That’s very kind of you,” Leona said, “but it’s not possible. You could survive all that time waiting, but the timeline can’t necessarily. What if something goes wrong with your internal mechanisms. You might be able to repair yourself, but what if a human sees? We can’t let you, as such advanced technology, be that close to ancient humans.”
“I’ll do it,” Sanaa said, surprising everyone.
“You’ll do what?” Trinity asked. “Go to bed? Eat a sandwich? What exactly are you trying to offer here?”
“Don’t be an asshole,” an offended Sanaa said. “I know what I would be getting myself into. All I ask for...is a sweat photo.”
“No,” Trinity argued, like it was the dumbest thing she’d ever heard. “No.”
“Why?” Leona asked.
“What is that?” Briar followed up.
Ellie and Eight Point Seven didn’t seem to know what it was either.
“You know I can travel through photographs, right?” she asked rhetorically. “Well, I’m not really traveling through the photographs themselves; I just need to see where I’m going. Anyway, I can take people with me, but like most choosers, I can’t...give my ability to others. Unless I use a sweat photo. It’s dangerous, though. It’s like carrying around a stick of dynamite. If you don’t use it right, or at the right time, it could tear you apart. When I first stepped through that Stonehenge portal in 1971, and became a spawn, my body was altered on a molecular level. I am designed to teleport and time travel. Other people’s bodies are not. One person died trying it, and I had to go back in time and change history to save his life. He sent his head, but not the rest of him. I won’t let anyone try that again. I believe my alternate did it to The Cleanser, but no one would have cared had he died.”
“I’ve traveled through time before,” Sanaa reminded her. “My body has been altered as well. That guy was completely inexperienced.”
“I told you about this, in confidence, in a vulnerable moment a few years ago. I know I didn’t specifically ask you to not tell anyone, but I think it was clear I don’t like people knowing about it.”
“I know,” Sanaa said apologetically. “But we need that cave closed, and I need to have a way back home.”
“I could just go with you,” Trinity said. “Solves every problem.”
“You’re too important,” Sanaa said to her, more serious than Leona had ever seen her before. “You have to protect these people from Pryce, and other threats. If I get stuck there, I won’t be super happy, but the timeline will go on.”
“Sanaa...” Trinity trailed off.
Sanaa sighed. “Give me a photo, and get me a shovel. I expect you to seal the Bida entrance yourself.”
“You don’t have to do this.” Leona wanted to ensure she understood.
“It’s really no big deal,” Sanaa promised. “I’m in the mood for some physical labor. I’ve been too sheltered all my life. Trinity will take a photo of the distance, so I don’t reappear before I’ve left, and risk a paradox. I’ll be gone for mere minutes, from your perspective.”
They continued to discuss the details of the mission, so that they weren’t rushing into anything recklessly. It was also going to be a hell of a lot of work. Sanaa kept guaranteeing that she recognized the risks and consequences. Leona couldn’t help but be proud of how much she had grown and changed over the years. It felt like everything Sanaa had been through since they met was leading to this heroic moment. Finally, after hours of preparation, and nap for the hero, it was time to do this. They could have done it on any day, really, but Leona wanted to be there to see her off, and to see her return.
Sanaa packed her essentials, took Trinity’s magic photo, and stepped into the time cave. They watched from the entrance as she practically froze in place. For her, time was moving much, much slower than it was for the rest of them. Future!Sanaa would be back before Present!Sanaa could be witnessed stepping around the corner. Except that wasn’t what happened. After a few moments of watching a boring movie on pause, they turned and headed for the other side of the lake, where Future!Sanaa should have been waiting for them. She wasn’t there, though. It should have been pretty much instantaneous, but she was nowhere to be found. Something had gone wrong, and there was nothing they could do about it. As they were trying to get back to the cave to stop their friend from possibly walking into a trap, the entrance exploded, and caved in. What just happened?

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