Saturday, March 14, 2020

Dardius: Leona Matic (Part XI)

It was time for Leona to finally go to her husband’s memorial service. It wasn’t easy, but they did make it. She and Nerakali first tried going back to 2263, and catching a ride with the Great Pyramid of Giza, which acted as a way to focus and boost travel to other star systems. Unfortunately, that was only one ingredient. They also needed the Cosmic Sextant, which had been lost somewhere in outer space for decades. No one had bothered attempting to retrieve it before, so they had to request help from Darko Matic’s mother, Catania Porter. She was more than willing to find it, and before they knew it, the three of them were on Dardius together. They were the first to arrive for the ceremony. Over the course of the next hour or so, everyone began to trickle in, including the man himself, Mateo Matic. While he was busy on his own missions, Leona and Nerakali started theirs. They decided to recruit people for the big mission with interviews. They weren’t doing this to be exclusive and mean-spirited. They didn’t want anyone getting involved in their problems if they couldn’t protect themselves against the threat. Erlendr Preston was one of the most dangerous people they had ever gone toe to toe with, so they couldn’t accept just anyone. They erased the memories of anyone they rejected, so they wouldn’t know what had happened. Only the few they accepted remembered anything about the recruitment process, or why it was happening.
“I’m in.”
“Ramses,” Leona began, “you’re a brilliant engineer, but you’re no match for Erlendr and Arcadia. How did you even get into this room?”
“I don’t care,” he replied. “Mateo’s one of my favorite people in histories. I want to be there for him.”
“You’ve already done so much for the timeline,” Nerakali pointed out.
“I’m not done. This is happening.” He knocked on the top-right side of his head. It sounded like metal. “You can’t stop me.”
“What is that?” Leona asked. “Do you have a metal plate in your head?”
“You could call it that, yeah. It’s a little gift from my Maramon friends. You can’t erase my memories, so if you don’t let me go with you, I’ll find my own way to your time period, and help anyway.”
“You had major brain surgery?” Nerakali questioned. “How did you know that this was going to happen?”
Ramses chuckled. “You humans think you have a monopoly on time powers. It’s true that they’re incredibly rare in Ansutah, but a Maramon will be born with abilities from time to time. I was friends with a seer.”
“If we don’t let you come back with us, are you going to blab to everyone at the memorial what we’re doing?” Leona asked him.
“Of course not.” Ramses seemed offended.
“Then it’s fine that we can’t erase your memories, because we know you would never do anything to compromise the mission. That doesn’t mean we have to let you come.”
“You should anyway,” he argued. “Like you said, I’m a brilliant engineer. So were you, but your time has passed. You no longer fully understand how modern systems work. You could do with someone like me. What about those fancy cuffs you’re sporting there? You know how they work?”
“No, do you?”
“No, but if their inventor isn’t around, you might need someone to fix them. You’re also gonna need more. If you let me study one, I can replicate them.”
Leona looked over at Nerakali. “You only got four, didn’t you?”
“It might not be a bad idea if we let him take a look at the one Arcadia used briefly,” she said, only half-reluctantly.
“Great!” Ramses exclaimed.
“You stay out of the fight, though,” Leona warned. You’re still just a human. You don’t have powers, and you don’t have protection from the powers that be.”
“Totally agree,” he said sincerely. “I ain’t got no interest in butting heads with this Erlendr guy.”

“Your name is Yadira Cordoso?” Nerakali asked. “And you worked with Camden Voss at the IAC? What is that?”
“You don’t know?” Leona asked her partner. “I thought you knew everything.”
Nerakali shrugged. “I guess it isn’t that important.”
“Most of the agents aren’t choosers,” Yadira explained. “It was mostly just me, and Camden, who’s a salmon. The rest of the agency just carried out regular ol’ human missions.”
“Did you know my husband?” Leona asked.
“Mateo?” Yadira confirmed rhetorically. “No, we’ve never met. I’ve never heard of him. Director Sands asked me to take some time off, and suddenly I’m here, on this other planet, in the future. I honestly don’t understand what’s going on. Someone else just ushered me into this room.”
“Oh. But you’re a fighter?” Nerakali asked.
“Yes,” Yadira said. “I can see up to two seconds into the future. Fighting is really the most useful thing I can do with that. I simply can’t be beat.”
Nerakali shrugged at Leona. “We could do with some muscle. Since Slipstream has to take care of that kid now, she can’t help us.”
“Whoa,” Yadira stopped them from discussing it further. “I haven’t agreed to anything. I don’t know what we’re talking about.”
“There’s a man named Erlendr Preston,” Leona started. “He’s using his time powers to kill people throughout the timeline. We’re trying to find him.”
“And stop him,” Yadira figured.
“Well, he can’t really be stopped,” Nerakali said. “What he’s done, he’s already done. You can go back and change the past, unless you’re doing it the way he is.”
Yadira scoffed. “You expect me to accept that? I’m in the corrective division, working directly with Centurion. My whole job is creating new realities to replace the ones where bad things happened.”
“You see, it’s this thing called the hundemarke,” Leona said, worried no matter what she said, it wouldn’t be enough.
“The hundemarke?” She seemed to have heard of it before. “Agent Cabral has mentioned it. That thing was responsible for...” She was too upset to finish her own sentence. Agent Cabral, a.k.a. Ecrin. That’s right, she went back in time and lived for decades as an agent. “Okay, I’ll help, but only if we come at this thing with the intention of destroying that wretched object. I don’t want to hear any bullshit about fate and paradoxes.”
“We’ll do what we can,” Leona reasoned. “It’s not a paradox if you don’t know what’s going to happen, right?”
Nerakali sat there, like she hadn’t heard what Leona said.
“Kali!” Leona prompted.
“Right.” Nerakali finally said. “Yes. Death to the hundemarke. Welcome to the team.”
“Tonya Keyes. Your name is Tonya?” Leona asked.
“It is, yes. What, did you expect something exotic, like Paarhathi? Or something stupid, like Laurel Soulfate?”
“No, I just didn’t know.”
“You can call me The Stitcher, if you want.”
“Have we worked together yet?” Nerakali asked her.
“From my perspective, yes,” Tonya said. “Yours?”
“I heard you died. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Nerakali said. “I’m here now.”
“When and where, is or was, your memorial? I’ll be sure to get myself then and there.”
Leona shifted in her seat, and looked at her friend. “That’s true. You didn’t get one of these.”
Nerakali laughed uncomfortably. “You’re right, I should have a gigantic memorial that literally billions of people come to see. After all, I was so loved.”
“Well, no, I know that,” Leona stumbled. “But you should have something. You deserve something.”
“Gee, thanks. Don’t oversell it.”
“I’m serious. We were assholes. We didn’t do anything on The Elizabeth Warren when you sacrificed yourself. We could have at least held a moment of silence.”
“I didn’t sacrifice myself,” Nerakali contended. “At best, I boosted morale by taking myself out of the equation.”
Now Leona shifted more dramatically, and forced her good friend to to do the same, so she could take her by the hands. “That’s exactly why it was impressive, and severely underrated. Anyone can shield their child from a firefight with their own body. It takes a level of audacity possessed by few to let themselves die just to make their frenemy feel a little bit better.”
Tonya was smiling and nodding her head as Nerakali was speechless. “This is nice. This is lovely.”
“They both cleared their throats, and turned back to the table. “Well, we could do with a good reality manipulator, and you’re the best.”
“That’s not true,” Tonya said of her own skill, “but what is true is that I never liked that man.”
“You met my father?” Nerakali asked. Yet one more thing she did not know.
“In another life, yes. Literally!” she joked.
Just then, a breach in spacetime appeared over near the corner. Two hands appeared from it, and pulled space apart, so the man they were attached too could hop through. “Okay, I’m sorry. I messed up. I get it. That’s what happens. I will help you.”
“I’m sorry?”
“No, I’m sorry. I—I just..said that. Jesus.”
Nerakali held her hands up demonstratively, like she was holding a football in front of her chest. “Who are you?”
The man looked around, confused. He noticed Tonya sitting in the chair. “Oh, you’re here. That might mean that...I think I’m early.”
Nerakali kept her hands in position, and shook her head rapidly, trying to elicit a deeper explanation.
“Okay, now I really am sorry. My name is Vidar Wolfe. I’m frrrr...umm. I knew Slipstream and Horace Reaver. We didn’t get off on the right foot, but I’m not a bad person. Okay?”
They didn’t say anything.
“Okay?” he repeated louder.
“Okay, fine,” Leona promised. “We still don’t know what you’re doing here.”
“I’m The Tracker. I can find Erlendr Preston for you like that.” He snapped his fingers at the final word.
“Oh.” Nerakali said, happy. “Well, that’s exactly what we need. Thank you for changing your mind, and coming back in time to fix the timeline.”
“No problem. Except. It is a problem. I didn’t mean to come back this far. I thought I was just going to close my loop.”
Leona nodded. “So, now there are two Vidars in the same timeline.”
“Yes, I have to go assimilate with my past self. He’s not going to be happy.”
Tonya stood up, and took him by the hand like they were old pals. “I can help with that, and make it easier on the both of you.”
“Cool, thanks.”
“Wait,” Leona stopped her. “Tonya, are you in?”
She forgot she hadn’t officially agreed. “Oh yes, of course. We’ll be back. Don’t worry. Continue with the interviews.”
They did continue with the interviews, and in total, they were only able to find five people to help them with their mission. Lots of people wanted to contribute in some way, but it was too dangerous for them. Neither of the two of them wanted to admit it—which was impressive for Nerakali—but everyone they chose was...expendable, except for Ramses. He was important, but he was also right that he and Mateo deserved to be fully reunited. Everyone they lost and got back during the Arcadia Expiations ultimately went back to their own lives. The whole corrupted reality thing during the late 22nd century made asking them to join in really awkward.
Eight was enough, though. A team of eight was good. Ramses never explained how he was able to replicate the Cassidy cuffs so quickly, but he had their inventory doubled by the time they saw him again. This was no longer what they needed to think about, though. It was finally time for Mateo’s actual services. Leona was getting a stomach ache because of it. She found herself being far more emotional than she wanted, as if she was pregnant, or like something else was causing her hormones to be out of balance. She went through the gamut in under a minute. Sadness that her husband was dead. Happiness that they were time travelers, and he was still alive. Anger that his death was inevitable. Fear that they still didn’t know when it was he would actually die. Ugh. She just had to recognize that this was how normal people lived when she was first growing up. No one knew when their loved ones were going to die, but they always knew it was going to happen. This was normal. Still, she needed to level herself out, and to be there for her husband, but she was starting to feel like that was never going to happen. It was their fifth recruit who came through for her, which was weird, because even though she had indeed seen him before, he was a complete stranger. Until now.

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