Sunday, April 18, 2021

The Advancement of Leona Matic: Tuesday, August 29, 2175

The Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was waiting for them when they slipped back into the timestream in 2175. It actually showed up about a year after they left, but such was the life of a time traveler. The Imzadi had done them well, but Imzadi had left to start her own life a long time ago, so it was time to get back to where they belonged. The AOC was Leona’s ship, and it was where she wanted to be. After they launched in order to reach their next mission in time, she and the team got themselves settled into their new home, and she gave the newcomers a tour. It would take several hours at reframe speeds to make it to the next transition window in interstellar space, but they would still have plenty of time once they arrived.
As they were sitting around the central table, eating their lunch together, Leona noticed how small the group was. As far as she knew, Sanaa was the only team member who left in recent times, but it just felt so incomplete. Four people? Four people were doing this all alone? She tried to shrug it off, since she knew that Nerakali was in charge of other teams that were doing their own work, but it still felt a little wrong. After all, Olimpia only just joined them. Before that, it was only the three of them. She just felt like they were missing someone, but as she thought about it, no one came to mind. Perhaps that was the point. Perhaps something had been done to her. Hours later, as the mission approached, her doubt only grew, and she knew she needed answers. It was eating away at her, and it wasn’t going away. So she called the one person involved that she knew was capable of manipulating memories.
“You think I erased something from your mind?” Nerakali was appearing in the form of a hologram.
“It wouldn’t be the first time,” Leona reminded her.
“What motivation would I have to do that?” Nerakali questioned.
“I don’t know, my memory was erased!” That was kind of the whole point.
“You don’t know that, because if you did, then your memory wouldn’t have been erased!”
“Did you do it, or not!”
“Not!” Nerakali insisted. “If there’s a void in your heart, then I’m not the one who made it. If something happened to you at all, then someone else is responsible...perhaps even yourself, but you would have had to do it to me as well, because as far as I know, everything is fine. I recruited Olimpia for you, so you would have a full roster of five. I always think teams should be no smaller than five.”
“We’re four,” Leona argued.
“What?” Nerakali didn’t know what she was talking about apparently.
“There are four of us!” Leona clarified.
“No, that’s wrong. You, Jeremy, Angela, Olimpia...” She narrowed her eyes, and looked to the side. “I forgot to say Jeremy.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“You, Angela, Olimpia, Jeremy, and...” She pulled her head back in confusion. “What the fuh...? There’s supposed to be five. I had a plan for five. I always like the number five. That gives you some leeway. Two of you can argue one side, while two can argue the other side. And a fifth person can say, ‘screw you guys, I’m goin’ home.’ You have to be five.”
“Well, we’re not!”
“Would you stop yelling at me, I don’t know what happened.”
They took a beat
“How can we figure this out?” Leona asked, calmer now. “Do you know of anyone whose memories can’t  be erased? Evidently yours can, but what about Tertius Valerius?”
“No, his can as well. In fact, he can erase his own, no problem. He regularly purges memories he doesn’t care about to make room for new ones. He never recalls what he ate for breakfast in the morning, so that way he never gets tired of having the same thing. I don’t know anyone who’s immune to psychic manipulation. That doesn’t mean that person doesn’t exist, because if they did, they would be powerful enough to keep their own existence a secret.”
She and Leona came to the same conclusion at the same time. “Retgone coins,” they said simultaneously.
“It would explain everything,” Leona continued. “They could order us to forget something, and we would never know it. Not even you can push through something like that.”
“No,” Nerakali agreed.
“That’s not it.” A woman appeared, standing next to Nerakali’s hologram.
“Who are you?” Leona asked.
“Who are you talking to?” Nerakali asked.
“I’m a psychic,” the woman answered. “Only you can see me.”
“I’m having a conversation with an invisible person,” Leona explained to the group. “I don’t know who she is, or what she wants.”
“Wull, then be careful,” Nerakali warned. “I don’t like things I don’t know about.”
“Let’s go to microponics” the woman suggested. “Obviously, your friends understand what’s happening, but one-way conversations are awkward for everybody.”
“I’ll be back,” Leona told everyone. “She seems to know what’s going on.”
She climbed the steps up to the floor above, where the mysterious psychic was waiting for her. “What’s your name?”
She walked around slowly. “Could you smell this one right here for me?”
Leona looked at the flower in question, eyeing the tag underneath. “This is a flower carpet amber. It has no medicinal or nutritional value, I’m not sure why it’s here.”
The woman urged her on, so Leona smelled the flower. “Could you tell me who you are now?”
“Yes,” she said with a knowing smile. “Amber Fossward.”
“You know what’s been taken from our memories.”
“Yes, but I can’t tell you.”
“Why not?”
“Because simply by knowing the truth, you interfere with the process.”
“What process?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“Is it good, or bad, because if it’s bad, then I absolutely want to interrupt it.”
“Necessary?” Leona guessed. “Unavoidable? Inevitable?”
“Out of our control,” Amber corrected. “I’m in a different universe, so the rules are different for me, but I can’t tell you what you want to know. All I can say is that...everything will be okay.”
“Do you know that, or is it just something you’re saying to keep me from asking questions?”
Amber took a long time to respond. “Yes.”
“Can you give me an ETA on when all will be revealed?”
“Five days.”
“Does that mean five days for me, or five days for you, or five days—”
“Five days for your team,” she said. “A few hours for you. Five weeks for The Superintendent’s readers. Over forty years for everyone else.”
“Oh.” That was a pleasant surprise. “What will take so long for my team? Why can’t I just say something once I find out about it?”
Amber took a deep breath, and said nothing.
“You can’t tell me. Right.”
Amber reached up, and placed a hand on Leona’s shoulder. Though this psychic wasn’t actually in the room with her, Leona could feel her comforting touch. “The window is about to open.” She lifted her hand, and caressed Leona’s check. “What comes through it is not unrelated, but it is not the answer you’re looking for. Still...embrace it, for it is good news.” Just before she disappeared, she took Leona’s hand, and kissed the back of it. She seemed like the kind of person who always knew what her friends needed, without asking, and Leona felt lucky to have fallen into that category.
What came through the window was none other than the love of Leona’s life, Serif. This was 2175, which meant that Past!Leona had just left Serif in Ubiña Pocket Dimension Four of the Elizabeth Warren. She didn’t know it at the time, but this would mark the end of their relationship. They would see each other a few times after this, but they would never be together again. Serif was fated to end up in a universe called Ansutah, where she birthed and raised her child alone, and never found the right circumstances to return home. Amber was right in that it was good news, but it was bad news as well, because in order for Serif to fulfill her destiny, she would have to return through another transition window. This was the burden of knowing the future.
As sad as Leona felt for having lost her love, she did not think of Serif often, and looking back, she got over the loss pretty quickly; too quickly. This was not her fault, however. It was the Superintendent’s doing. Her mourning period should have lasted weeks, if not longer, but that would have been a boring story to watch from the outside, so I used my creative license as a weapon, and simply skipped that part of the narrative. It was less that it didn’t happen, and more that I didn’t waste time describing it for dozens of installments, and Leona’s life was far too busy after that for her to reflect too much on her past.
They hugged “How long has it been for you?” Serif asked
“Far too long,” Leona answered. “A lot has changed since we separated.”
“You mean I won’t ever see you again?”
“You will,” Leona acknowledged, “but...not for long. We’re never given enough time.”
“How long do we have this time?” Serif asked.
“Infinite time,” Jeremy answered, looking at his cuff. “There’s no exiting transition window.”
“She has to go back,” Leona contended. “She has a destiny in there.”
“Maybe she doesn’t,” Angela put forth. “We already know we’re accessing alternate realities. Maybe this version of your friend never has to do whatever it is you think she does.”
“That’s a pretty big change,” Leona said.
“We’ve made them before,” Angela volleyed. “In fact, you could argue that it probably is a different reality, because of how much we’ve changed. Sure, perhaps we sometimes go back to old timeline branches but...nothing is inevitable, nothing is unavoidable.”
“Nothing is necessary,” Leona whispered. She watched the floor remain unmoved under her feet, and worked through the problem. She had to consider everything she could remember about the future. “You are with child.”
“That’s impossible,” Serif contradicted. “I have literally never had sex with a man. I was created to be with you, and with you I have always been.”
“I haven’t either,” Leona agreed, “but I think I’m also pregnant. Not me, though; Present!Me.”
“What does that mean?” Serif asked.
Leona kept thinking on it, trying to remember what was taken from her. Amber warned her not to interrupt the process, but it was overwhelming her, and she couldn’t stop it if she wanted to. It started out with a feeling; a feeling of love. Then it grew into more feelings; longing, friendship, trust, distance, betrayal, anger, hurt, more love, resilience. Then she started getting fragments, like a broken mirror trying to put itself back together, and once it did, the man she lost would be standing in it. He would be out of reach, but at least the picture would be clear. She kept trying to put the pieces back together, but they kept just falling back down to the floor. Repair of small objects was not her specialty. Still, she kept trying, cutting herself on the sharp edges over and over, but not caring. She had to know. She had to see his face. It was important.
“Stop!” came a voice from the other side of the room causing her to drop the metaphorical glass. It wasn’t just any voice, it was Leona’s. It was some alternate version of her, which Leona instinctively decided should be called Future!Leona. “If you remember, you’ll screw everything up. If you want him that bad, then I will take you to him, but the price is Serif. She walked towards them briskly.
Jeremy was closest so he tried to step in front first, but she punched him in the chest, which sent him flying backwards. But it wasn’t just him. A dozen versions of him appeared, each one behind the other. One by one, they disappeared, until the only one left was the one standing against the back wall.
Angela stepped forward now. Future!Leona grabbed her left leg, and made it disappear. She screamed in pain, and toppled over. Serif dropped down, and immediately breathed on her open wound to heal her.
Now Olimpia took her turn. She removed her cuff, and let it drop to the floor. The real Leona couldn’t see her face, but her shoulders were raised like an angry cat. “Get...back—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK!” she shouted. With each echo, Future!Leona was pushed back more and more, ultimately stumbling on the steps down to one of the grave chambers, and falling to her ass. Her words possessed force, and momentum.
“He is the only thing I care about,” Future!Leona explained. “I don’t know you, bitch.” She lifted her fists in front of her, then let a bird fly out of each one. At the same time, Olimpia disintegrated, her individual molecules sent to different points in spacetime. Now that there were no more obstacles in her way, she was free to take the real Leona. First, she kicked the back of her younger self’s knees, dropping her to the floor. Then she took her by the hair, and started dragging her across the room, back to wherever it was she came from. The real Leona reached up, and tried to peel Future!Leona’s fingers away, but it was no use. Once they were across, she tugged one last time, and dropped her past self into the portal.

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