Amanda Moss

Roughly two-point-eight-three million light years from Earth, there is a galaxy called Andromeda XXI. This galaxy is also known as Miridir by its native inhabitants, nearly all of which live on a planet in the Beorht system called Dardius. This world is remarkably similar to Earth in as many ways as possible. From the mass and radius, to its distance from its parent star; from the ratio of dry land to water, to its atmospheric composition. Dardius enjoys a Terrestrial Habitability Similarity Index of .998, which is the highest ever discovered anywhere in the known universe. It was chosen as a second home for humanity for this very reason. A man with a special connection to time and space intuited that Dardius existed without ever having gone anywhere near it, but it was a woman named Meliora Rutherford Delaney-Reaver who sparked civilization there. She founded a hotel she called Sanctuary, which she built to protect those who were in everlasting danger from certain people with time powers. She named it after her first rescue, Dardan Lusha, who she believed was under constant threat from her very own father. Though Meliora was in charge of how Sanctuary was run, even she answered to someone. She was leasing space from the man who actually owned Dardius, Gilbert Boyce. And when he died, he passed it on to his good frenemy, Mateo Matic.
Another one of Meliora’s early rescues was a woman named Amanda Moss. She presently served as the Transportation Administrator for the entire planet. She was responsible for making sure the planes, trains, and automobiles ran smoothly, but she also had to worry about how to transport more rescues from Earth. This was traditionally done using a special machine called the Muster Beacon, which was capable of summoning large numbers of people, even from millions of light years away. Unfortunately, the machine became corrupted in its attempt to save the crews of two ships in recent past, and Moss had no choice but to allow the Muster Beacon’s destruction. Shortly thereafter, the other machine they used to connect to other civilizations was also destroyed, but this time by terrorists. The Nexus replica could only transport a handful of people at a time, and required a second machine on the other end, but it was at least better than nothing. So the Dardieti were isolated from the universe. They couldn’t save anyone, and they couldn’t communicate with their allies. The Muster Beacon was far too complicated to replicate. No one knew how it worked, or really even where it came from, so their only hope was to figure out how to rebuild the Nexus replica. It was also complicated, but not impossible, and about six years ago, the world’s top scientists finally figured out, and got it operational.
The first thing they discovered after rebuilding the machine was that there was a new destination that wasn’t there before. While they were working on it, a sixth replica was built on a new world, which they eventually learned was called Glisnia. It was only about sixteen light years from Earth, and very few entities lived on it as of yet. They had no knowledge of who built it, or why, and no reason to believe any permanent resident would have any interest in visiting Dardius. There were, however, several people on it right now that needed to come. The co-owner of the whole planet was recently murdered. Thanks to time travel, Mateo was actually still around and kicking, but that didn’t mean the Dardieti didn’t need to mourn his passing. He and a group of his friends were on their way to do just that. The Administration had just spent over a year preparing for this moment, and now the day was finally here. Administrator Moss was standing on the edge of the Nexus replica, eagerly awaiting arrival. After an hour, eight people magically appeared in the cavus. Just as one stepped out to greet Moss, the other seven disappeared again.
“What was that?” Moss asked.
Étude turned around. “Where did they go?”
“Are they back on Glisnia?” Moss asked, to no one in particular. Then she turned to one of the machine’s operators. “Did they go back to Glisnia?”
“I don’t know,” the technician replied.
“Well, find them!” Moss cried.
As the scientists and engineers were scrambling to figure out what went wrong, a voice came on the radio. “Transportation Administrator Moss.
“Not now,” she spoke into the mouthpiece. “We’re gonna figure this out,” she assured Étude, who was concerned about all her friends, but mostly her daughter.
It’s important,” the voice returned.
“I’m dealing with a crisis here,” Moss argued.
And I have a solution to that crisis,” the voice claimed.
“How could you possibly?” Moss asked. “Who is this?”
The voice cleared her throat. “This is Meliora.
Holy shit. Meliora Rutherford Delaney-Reaver was probably the absolute most powerful person in the universe. As a choosing one, she had pretty much every time power anyone had ever heard of. She could teleport, travel through time, see the future, even de-age herself, and rapidly heal from her wounds, among many other things. She was the one who built Sanctuary out of nothing, but after it became self-sufficient, she disappeared. Her last sighting was more than thirty years ago, and that one was never confirmed. “Madam Rutherford, I’m so sorry. Wha—I...” Moss didn’t know what to say. What can you say to someone who was practically a god? Well, there was only one reasonable response. It was respectful but neutral; brief, but eliciting. It could be said by superiors and subordinates alike, because it made no assumptions about status or potential. “Report.”
Everyone is here and accounted for,” Meliora replied.
“How?” Moss asked. “We saw them disappear.”
Eh,” Meliora began. “Time, right?” It was a common phrase, spoken by those who understood the flexibility of time, and time travel. For people like this, encountering alternate versions of the same individual, or even one’s self, seeing people come back from death, or meeting someone who knew something about the future were everyday occurrences. Simply taking note that time was indeed a thing was sometimes the only explanation needed for what most would consider a supernatural event.
Moss nodded her head, as did Étude. They didn’t know what the other seven people had been through, or how they had made their way back to present-day Dardius. It could have been years since they disappeared, even though it was seconds ago for everyone in this room. Or it could have been seconds for them as well.
“Would we be able to transport to your location?” Moss asked her—for lack of a better term—boss.
Meliora didn’t technically have an official position on Dardius, but neither did Mateo’s wife, Leona. That didn’t mean they couldn’t ask for anything they wanted, and pretty much get it every time. “Come to the hotel. Main restaurant.” The original Sanctuary hotel was no longer in service, and was converted into a museum years ago, but it also sort of became a holy place. People didn’t visit, not because they weren’t interested in history, but because they felt contaminating the space would have been disrespectful, and irreverent.
Moss hadn’t returned to the hotel since she and the rest of the original rescues left. It was an amazing place to live, but it was becoming overcrowded, and they needed to branch out. This was their opportunity to start fresh, and to make the new world as they wished Earth could be. The problem was that everyone in those early days was from Earth. They still couldn’t ignore all that history; good or bad. They could do better, though. Luckily, they had people like Amanda Moss to make sure they didn’t make all the same mistakes that their ancestors had. This was how Dardius ultimately became, not a paradise, but a safer and more prosperous version of Earth.
She pulled up a map of the planet, and showed Étude where Sanctuary was. Then they took each other’s hands, and teleported there. “Madam Rutherford,” Moss said, taking the goddess’ hand in both of hers. “It is such an honor to see you.”
“We’ve met before,” Meliora reminded her.
“I know, and you saved me, but that was before we made all this. Now what you did is so much more amazing.”
Meliora smiled. “I give you and your friends the credit for all that.”
“I thought you said everyone was accounted for.” Étude forced herself to separate from the hug with her daughter. They just kept losing each other, and they were both clearly growing tired of it.
“They are,” Meliora said. “Mateo, Leona, and Cassidy are here, while the others are in other places on the planet.”
“Why aren’t we doing this together?” Étude asked.
“Respect,” Moss whispered to her.
“No, it’s okay,” Meliora said, not offended at all. “There’s something you should know.” She pointed to the three who had been temporarily missing. “Theses people are from the future, as are Miss Pudeyonavic, Miss Unger, Miss Delgado, and Miss Crawville. When the Nexus replica was sabotaged—”
“It was sabotaged!” Moss cried.
Okay, now Meliora was a little perturbed. “It all worked out, so we’re gonna fix it, but we’re not gonna try to undo it. As I was saying, they’re from the future, but not the same points in the future. They were relocated elsewhere in time, and eventually made their respective ways to this point in history, but they’ve each experienced various amounts of the future. Leona here is a few days ahead of Mateo, while I believe Vitalie is from the 24th century.” She seemed to notice Étude giving her daughter the same sad look she always does. “You’ve not lost that much time with Cass,” she assured her, though it kind of sounded like a lie. “She’s actually why we’re here.”
“Forgive me, but what is this about?” Étude wasn’t as astounded by being in the same room with such an important woman as most people were. Though, to be fair, most people were awestruck by being around Mateo and Leona, while Moss had no strong feelings about it, so she understood where Étude was coming from.
“We’re here to discuss some legal matters. What with the Patronus clause being activated several decades ago, and Mateo’s death, things are kind of complicated. They’ve made some decisions, though, and it’s time we discuss that. We’re just waiting on your third.”
“Our third what?” Étude questioned.
Meliora held up her fingers, and dropped them one by one as she counted. “Five, four, three...” then she only mouthed the word two, and when it was time for one, she pointed out the door across the room. Right on time, the door opened. Étude’s mother—Cassidy’s grandmother—was on the other side, along with her partner.
“Mom?” Étude asked. She hadn’t seen her mother in...she didn’t even know how long, but she was a child back then.
“Grandma?” Cassidy echoed. The two of them had never met.
Saga Einarsson ran over the threshold, which was actually a portal to a different time and place. Her partner, Vearden Haywood closed the door behind them, and stepped over to shake Mateo and Leona’s hands. They had been good friends for awhile now.
After the tearful greetings and introductions, Étude looked back over at Meliora. “What is this? Not that I’m complaining, but why are we finally all together?”
“Oh, you don’t understand?” Meliora asked. She looked around to see if anyone knew what was going on, but only Mateo and Leona were apparently cognizant of what this was all about.
Not even Moss knew what the hell was happening.
“Well,” Meliora began, “it’s about Dardius. The Matics have decided that it’s impractical to own a planet when they’re hardly ever even on it. They would like to transfer ownership to you three.”

Newt Clemens

In a universe called Ansutah, a young woman and a young man met each other, and fell in love. Their names were Savitri and Avidan, and before too long, they conceived a child. Avidan had the ability to diagnose people’s general health through fairly simple examination, so it was he who actually alerted her to her pregnant status. He said she was pregnewt, however, and this way of saying it stuck around so long that they ended up using it for their child’s name. Sadly, Newt Clemens came into the world stillborn. His first, final, and only act was to remove the time powers for every single person on the whole planet. This was only in one reality, however. There was another timeline, where Newt was born perfectly healthy. His life would not continue to be so perfect, however. The primary species in this universe were the Maramon; white monsters who had complicated feelings about the humans. Many Maramon felt extremely threatened by Newt’s existence, and were always worried he would strip them of their immortality. So he had to escape.
He found himself on a vessel called The Transit. It was larger than The Prototype, and smaller than The Crossover, but was equally capable of traveling to other universes. He, a man named Nereus, and dozens of other humans fled Ansutah, and ended up in back in their own universe. The others were now fine, but Newt was not out of the woods yet. His ability was as dangerous as it was powerful, and there were people in this world who were just like the white monsters, and did not like that he could take away their abilities. His only hope was to be rescued by Dardius, where he could live in Sanctuary forever; safe and content—still separated from his family—but at least alive, and that was all his parents wanted. But even living here, things couldn’t be so easy for him.
While Dardius was a great place to live, and people were generally happy here, it was certainly no paradise, and Newt remained in danger. He was afforded protection by the world government, and the majority of the population had no ill intentions towards him, but as a public figure, there were those who wanted him for their respective agendas. A war broke out when the Dardieti attempted to rescue a ship full of capitalists from destruction. They were not happy with being forced to move from one non-capitalistic society to another. They wanted to stop being moved around, and they wanted control of their own world. After years of fighting and stalemates, a peace was finally reached, but that didn’t mean each individual was happy with the outcome. A faction of terrorists rose up and attempted to kill Newt because of how important he was to the leader of Dardius, Patronus Matic. They failed in this endeavor, and their operation was significantly diminished, but they weren’t destroyed. They returned, angrier now, and more determined than ever to complete their mission. They found Newt, fitted him with a suicide vest, and sent him off to kill the Patronus. The Patronus survived, along with most of his friends, but Newt was not so lucky.
Just as the bomb vest was about to explode, everything around Newt froze in place. He could see his friends being spirited away by a teleportation machine. “Hello?” he called to the void, but there was no answer. He cautiously stepped out from his own body, but did not turn around to look back at it. He knew exactly what was happening. This was the work of an extraction mirror. It was capable of accessing any time and place in the past, but there were many other ways to travel through time anyway, so its most common use was to slow time to a snail’s pace, and retrieve someone from the brink of death. The catch was that if you needed to slow time to accomplish this, it probably meant that whatever had caused this person’s death could not be undone. He looked down at his own neck. His new and temporary body was free from the suicide vest, but there was one thing on it that remained. It was called the hundemarke, and it prevented temporal alterations within the vicinity. His death was unavoidable. He was now free to move about time and space at will, but in the end, he would have to return to this moment, and finally let himself die.
Newt didn’t have an infinite amount of time, though. He quickly found the entrance to the extraction mirror, and stepped through the threshold. The barrier between now and then closed back up. He was standing in an unfamiliar place; a darkened hallway. It was clean, but stoney, like a billionaire’s secret mountainside winter getaway. A blinking arrow appeared on the floor beneath his feet, pointing down the hall. When he stepped forward, the arrow flipped off, only to be replaced with another arrow a meter away. This continued as he walked on, letting them direct him to whatever his destination was going to be. “Hello?” he repeated every once in awhile. The arrows led him to a room. It was just as stoney as it was everywhere else. Nothing was inside of it except for a chamber of some kind, and a note hanging from a string in front of it.
This will take you home,” Newt read the note aloud. He looked up to the aether around him. “What exactly does that mean?” He waited for a response. It was possible no one else was here anymore, or that they had been watching him this whole time. “They say that home is where the heart is,” he went on, “but maybe that’s not what you mean. Maybe this returns me to Earth, where my mother was born. Or maybe it goes to Durus where my mother was trapped, and where my father was born. Or does it go to Ansutah, where the two of them conceived me? Will it take me to 2226, which is where I was before I died? Tribulation Island? Sutvindr?”
He heard a click, and a sigh. “Just step into the time chamber, please.
“No,” Newt argued.
Why not?” she asked.
“I don’t know who you are, or what you want with me,” he tried to explain.
You think I’m trying to hurt you?
If I thought you wouldn’t get inside of this thing unless I forced you, I would have just forced you. If I were going to kill you, I would have just left you in your death moment. There is no reason to extract you unless I want you to live.
“You may just want to exploit my powers.”
The voice didn’t respond for a moment. “Okay, well, I can’t argue with that logic. That’s not what I’m doing, though.
“Prove it.”
Another sigh.
A hidden door cracked open on the right side of the room. A woman came through it, and walked forward. “My name is Ellie Underhill. Perhaps you’ve heard of me.”
He shook his head. “Are you in a band, or something?”
“I don’t mean I’m famous, though...I kind of am. I’m a choosing one, so it was possible you’ve heard my name before.”
“Wait.” Newt thought about it a moment. “Are you DJ Mount Alias?”
“The very one.”
“My father loved your show.”
Ellie pointed towards the way he had come. “I have other people to extract, and they all need to use this time chamber. Well, except for one, but the next one definitely does.” She looked at her watch. “He’s going to be coming through in two minutes. He’s very badly hurt, and Doctor Sarka is going to need this time chamber to get here to treat him, since the powers that be won’t be dispatching him themselves. I kind of need you to get the hell out of here.”
He jerked his head at the note. “It says home. Explain what that means.”
“It’s what you said,” Ellie explained. “It’ll take you to where your heart is.”
“My heart is with Étude and Cassidy.”
She sported a wide-eyed knowing look, but didn’t say anything.
“Am I going to see Étude and Cassidy?”
“I know of one good way to find out.”
“Thank you.” Newt nodded. “As long as you’re telling the truth about trying to help me, thank you.”
She nodded back, but then stopped short. “Wait, is that the hundemarke?”
Newt looked down, even though he obviously already knew the answer to that. “I don’t know how those capitalist terrorists got their hands on it, but that’s how they killed me.”
“No, I know that. I just...I didn’t think it would come with you. Like, I thought it would stay with your real body.”
Newt shrugged.
She eyed it.
“Do you want it?”
“No, but I know someone who needs it. We’ve been looking for it. Except...” She trailed off as she got lost in her own thoughts. “Why have we been looking for it if it’s already been found?”
He watched her, and waited for her to either answer her own question, or remember that he was still standing in front of her.
“No, I can’t take it. You have to.” She looked down at the floor as she spoke. “You have to give it to Horace, so he can get it to Bhulan.”
“What are you talking about? Who is Bhulan? Which version of Horace am I meant to meet?”
“This solves everything.” Now Ellie was getting excited. “You keep it, but give it to Horace Reaver, who you’ll see after you step into that time chamber. If all goes according to plan, this entire future will be erased.”
“If it’s erased, then you won’t extract me before my death, but if you don’t extract me before my death, then I can’t go back in time, and give Horace the hundemarke.”
She searched for answers on the ground again. “It’s a loophole. We can’t extract you permanently, because of the hundemarke, but we can extract the hundemarke itself, because it couldn’t have been destroyed in the explosion anyway.” She looked back up at him. “I don’t know what’s going to happen to you when you do this, so I guess it’s your choice. Can you make that sacrifice? Because I can’t make it for you.” And with that, she walked back through her secret door, and sealed it up behind her.
He let out a sigh of his own, and gazed at the time chamber. The hundemarke was one of the most powerful objects in histories. It could undo time travel complete. It could make a permanent world, with one timeline, and no second chances, or it could save humanity. But it was only ever used to kill, And it was for that reason that it needed to be destroyed. Newt knew a lot about Horace Reaver. He lived a lot of completely different lives, and he wasn’t always a good person, but he was one of the best in this reality. If he needed the hundemarke, it was surely to destroy it. That could only be good for the love of his life, and his daughter.
Newt Clemens, stepped into the time chamber, let it activate on its own, and disappeared through it. He appeared in the main restaurant of the original Dardius Sanctuary. Everyone he loved was there, including his wife, and his little girl; all grown up now. He hadn’t seen her since she was a baby, but he knew this was her, because it had to be. Mateo and Leona were there as well, along with Saga Einarsson, Vearden Haywood, Vitalie Crawville, Ramses Abdulrashid, Amanda Moss, and a few people he didn’t recognize. Horace Reaver was there too.
“Newt?” Étude asked, shocked and glad
“Dad?” Cassidy asked.
“I love you,” Newt said with a smile. “A lot of people say they would die for their children, but I get to prove it.” He began to remove the hundemarke from his neck. “This is a fixed moment in time...so I will always have been here.” He reached out towards Horace. “But I cannot stay.”
“Oh my God,” Horace said, staring at the dog tag.
“Take it,” Newt insisted.
“What is this?” Cassidy asked. “Dad? What are you doing? What do you mean, you can’t stay?”
“I love you,” he said again, because it was all that truly mattered.
Horace reached for the hundemarke and pulled it from Newt’s hand. And then Newt disappeared, like he was never really there.

Ramses Abdulrashid

Ramses Abdulrashid. Engineer. Former capitalist. Awarded most improved. Man of the people. Deputy Delegator. Exile. Rescue. Sacrificial lamb. Survivor. This was his life in a nutshell. He started out as a capitalist, and member of a movement called the Freemarketeers, who he would come to categorize as terrorists. He was grateful for having been pulled from that life, and nowadays, wishes to have nothing to do with it. A lot of people put in a lot of effort to cure him of his bad thoughts, and he didn’t want to live in fear of relapsing. So he filled his life with other stresses, and made sure he didn’t have too much time to reflect on the past.
At the moment, he was chillin’ in a laboratory thousands of years in the future. A lot had happened that led him here, but the short story was that he was placed in stasis so he could one day wake up and take care of the little monster babies who were created to live on this planet. He was here with a few other people.
“Vearden!” one of them named Saga called out.
“Where are you?” another asked. Her name was Zektene.
“Have you seen Vearden?” Saga asked Ramses.
“I’ve been napping, sorry,” he replied.
“Let’s check the other section,” Zektene suggested. The man they were looking for was very badly injured. He had had some time to recover, but something might have gone wrong.
As the ladies were heading towards the hatch, Ramses got himself off the couch slowly, and tried to follow them. They didn’t realize this, so they closed the door behind them. He opened it not a second after, though, and discovered the room on the other side to be completely empty. “Hello?” he called out. “Saga? Zektene?” he asked. Then he added, “Vearden?”
There was no response. Both Vearden and Saga were known for stepping through doors, and ending up traveling through time and space. That must have been what happened to Vearden earlier, and now the other two. Hopefully they were safe, if not all together and safe. Ramses turned around, and went back through the door. He breathed in deep, preparing himself for a life of solitude on an alien planet. This was his next chap—
Just then, he thought he heard someone choking behind him. He turned around again, and saw a movie projected on the wall. There was no projector, though. Ramses’ best friend, Mateo Matic was strangling someone in...was that Stonehenge? “He’s over there,” the man being choked struggled to say.
“That doesn’t look much like a portal,” Mateo argued, looking towards Ramses. “More like a window. Fix it.”
“Let me go,” the man begged, “and I will.”
Mateo let the man go. Then the movie turned three dimensional, and it did appear as if they would be able to cross from one side to the other.
“Mateo?” Ramses questioned.
He stuck his hand over the threshold. “Come on, friend. We’re back, together again.”
Ramses took Mateo’s hand, and crossed over.
“The Delegator, this is Ramses Abdulrashid. Ramses, this is the asshole whose life I had to threaten to bring you back to us.”
The Delegator was still massaging his neck. “He’s not supposed to be here.”
“And you’re not supposed to be a jerk!” Mateo argued. “I guess life’s funny that way. Now I don’t want to hear any lip out of you. I just want you to tell me which one is ours. And I swear to the flying spaghetti monster, if you send us through the wrong archway, I’ll find my own way back here, and you’ll regret ever taking this job in middle management.”
“I understand,” the Delegator said. He pointed to one of the Stonehenge archways. “It’s that one over there. No tricks. It will take you back to Dardius.”
Ramses held back when Mateo tried to lead him towards the other portal. “Dardius?”
“Yes,” Mateo said.
“I can’t go back there.”
“Yes, you can.”
“Why?” Ramses asked. “Is it in the past...before I was exiled?”
“That exilement was bullshit, and it’s time to remedy that.” He tried to lead him that way again.
“No, I can’t go.”
“You have to,” the Delegator said, “or he’ll blame me for it.”
“Why should I go there? Why now? Did the Freemarketeers change their minds?”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Tell me what you’re not telling me!” Ramses demanded.
“I’m dead!” Mateo shouted back. “I need you back on Dardius, because that’s where my funeral is. Or my memorial service; or something. There’s no way I’m doing it without you.”
“I don’t understand,” Ramses said. “I mean, I know you’re all time travelers, so it’s possible for you to die, but still be alive to deal with it, but why? Why don’t you just travel through time, and prevent it from happening?”
“My killer used the hundemarke. It can’t be undone. What happened, happened, and it can’t happen any other way.”
Ramses didn’t know what to say for a moment. “I’m sorry.”
“Me too,” Mateo said. “But they saved me with an extraction mirror, so I can live just as long as I would have anyway. Death ain’t nothin’ but a thang in our world.”
“I’m still sorry,” he repeated.
“I know, but it really is okay. Dardius wants to do this whole ceremony. Leona and I just want to get it over with. But we can’t do that until you’re there.”
Ramses didn’t know if he could do it. He agreed to never return. It didn’t matter how much time passed, or how many things changed; that was a promise he didn’t want to break. Still, this was his best friend they were talking about. How could he not be there? It would be disrespectful.
“The world isn’t as it was,” Mateo began to explain. “Both you and I left nearly forty years ago. The Freemarketeers have been pretty well integrated into society. I mean, it’ll never be perfect, so long as the first generation is still there. You have millions of people who all look exactly alike, which is freaky, but other than that, things should be fine. Besides, I’m about to hand the whole planet off to a new set of owners, so they’ll be rid of us completely, if they just give us this one day.”
“Why are you selling the planet?” Ramses asked.
“I’m not selling it,” Mateo said. “I’m giving it to a family that will take good care of it. Believe me, I tried to just relinquish all rights, but they won’t let me. Someone has to take ownership of it, because that’s part of the foundation for their whole society. Don’t ask me to explain it further. I think it’s weird too.”
“Yeah,” Ramses said. “Well, that’s the thing. Because of how weird the Dardieti are about it, I’m not sure if they’ll let you just give it away. I think they’re going to want you to get something for it in return. It doesn’t have to be the gross domestic product of every nation combined, or anything, but it can’t just be two chickens and a goat either. It has to mean something; to you, and the new owner. They’ll have to make a sacrifice of some kind, I’m almost sure of it.”
“Well, what do you have in mind?”
“I’m certain we could come up with something reasonable, but I would have to know who you’re selling to, of course.”
“Okay.” Mateo tried yet again to pull him through the Stonehenge portal.
“We may not want to go straight there, though. If this place can go anywhere in time and space, it could come in handy.”
“Oh, no,” the Delegator hesitated. “I’m not your personal taxi driver. You asked for one portal to come here, one more to get your friend, and a third to get back. I’m not giving you any more. I don’t care where you go now, but wherever it is, you’re staying there. At least, I won’t be the one to let you go gallivanting all over time and space.”
Mateo let go of Ramses’ hand, and approached the Delegator menacingly. “I’m sorry. Perhaps you’ve not heard, but I’m dead, so my hearing isn’t great. What did you say? It was something about helping us with anything and everything we needed.”
Wow, this was a different Mateo than the one Ramses knew all those years ago. They got everything they needed.

Vitalie Crawville

When it came to the question of home, Vitalie Crawville didn’t really know what that meant. She was born on a rogue planet called Durus in 2165, but her fathers were from Earth, and were only there as refugees. Fortunately, before too long, a small interstellar spaceship came by, and rescued a small number of people, which included her and her family. So she finally lived on Earth for a good stretch of time, until circumstances forced her to leave. She had to help a friend named Leona in her search for a husband she couldn’t even truly remember having. The journey took them throughout a few other universes in the bulkverse as they worked to procure special objects that would aid them in their quest. Once that was all over, she found herself on another ship, destined for a planet called Bungula. She never did make it there, but instead landed on its neighbor, Proxima Doma. The situation continued to evolve, and events continued to unfold—an alternate version of herself came back through time to change history—and she finally found herself on a planet millions of light years from Earth, and its stellar neighborhood. So where was home? Not really anywhere, and that was probably okay.
She came to this place with her friend, Étude, who had also been doubled due to time travel. They could have returned home at any time, but they chose not to, for Étude soon met a man, and fell in love. And soon after that, they conceived a child together. This new life changed Étude’s perspective on everything, and she quickly grew tired of the special temporal powers that she was born with. She could teleport and travel through time, and build massive objects almost instantaneously. She didn’t want to be like this anymore, and luckily, she knew someone who did. She also knew someone who could help them with their problem. Her husband, Newt Clemens had the ability to manipulate other people’s abilities. It was he who transferred everything Étude could do to Vitalie, so she could finally take her rightful place as The Caretaker.
Life was great on Dardius, but it wasn’t perfect, and there were times when certain people needed saving. Vitalie was able to provide that for them, as what few could deny was best described as a superhero. She protected the entire world from various threats. There were accidental threats, of course; faulty demolitions, and rickety staircases. There were more human dangers too, however. The populace was composed of people who had been rescued from Earth because they themselves were threatened by time travel. The rescuers made every attempt to properly integrate these people into society, but that didn’t always work out, and it was really nice to have Vitalie on the side of right, to make sure the outliers didn’t cause too much damage. She was good at it, and she was beloved for her efforts by most. Still, this took a toll on her, and it took her a long time to realize why.
Vitalie was nomadic. She didn’t like spending too much time in one place, because that was what she knew best. Circumstances had always thrown her to the next chapter in her life, but Dardius was different. It was stable. More to the point, it was too stable, and it felt to her like she was going to die there, which was something she didn’t want to think about. There wasn’t really any single moment that changed her mind about where she was, and what she was doing. She didn’t fail to save a child from a burning building, or punish someone who turned out to be innocent. These things could have happened, and would not have been available for do-overs, because time travel was illegal on Dardius. Except for one place. It was called Tribulation Island.
A man named Mateo Matic co-owned the whole planet with his wife, Leona. It was given to him by his frenemy, Gilbert Boyce, but it never really belonged to any of them. Dardius belonged to the people, and they had the right to govern civilization however they saw fit. They elected their own leaders, and made their own laws, and any accommodations they made for Mateo was predominantly out of respect. Even his status as the Patronus was a temporary solution to a terrible problem, and he was always destined to return to being less of a governmental official, and more of a symbol. These conditions, however, never applied to Tribulation Island. The Matics owned that land fair and square; like an independent nation over which no one else could have any control. It was for this reason that Vitalie decided to shed her life as the world’s Caretaker, and take up a new purpose. She was never allowed to travel back in time to help people while she was operating on the main lands, but those policies could not extend to the island, so she decided to exploit that.
There is a location in the universe called The Nucleus. No one knows exactly where it is. Some say it’s in a pocket dimension, while others think it’s literally in the center of the universe itself, though inflationary theory doesn’t really support this possibility. Some believe it exists outside of time and space, or perhaps beyond the boundaries of the universe. Wherever it is, no one in recorded history has ever accessed it by any means besides a Nexus replica. A Nexus is a special device used in one of these other universes that allows near instant transportation between planets. The design was replicated in Vitalie’s universe, but functions on vastly different principles. There are very few of them in existence, placed on different worlds for different reasons each. One of these was built on the Nucleus, though no one seems to know who was responsible. For doing so The reigning theory is that someone very, very far into the future finally discovered its true location, and went back in time to give their ancestors quick and easy access so they wouldn’t have to go to all the trouble. Vitalie moved to Tribulation Island to make use of this access.
The Nucleus is capable of accessing any point in spacetime, again for reasons no one who even knows for sure it exists understand. It’s an incredibly hostile and dangerous place, and is quite inhospitable to life. The temperature throughout most of it holds steady at a half degree above absolute zero, which is literally the coldest anywhere could ever possibly be ever. The Nexus replica building possesses a central heating system, but no matter what, it can never raise the temperature any higher than negative forty. External forces are constantly trying to freeze the whole place, so this is as good as it gets. If a traveler were to enter the only safe location on the Nucleus, they would want to do so with extreme-weather protection, and still probably not stay there for very long. Yet Vitalie has technically experienced the environment billions of times.
“What are you doing here?” Old!Vitalie asked. Old!Vitalie was a very different version of the Vitalie who lived on Dardius as the Caretaker. She was billions of years old, but only had memories going back for the last fifty-six. After all this time, she was finally confronting her alternate self. Well...one of them, anyway.
“I’m waiting for everyone to stop using the Nexus replica,” Young!Vitalie answered so I can get back to work. Every second counts. Literally.”
“Explain,” Old!Vitalie demanded.
Young!Vitalie prepared to go into her whole thing. “I was the Caretaker of Dardius, but before that, I was the Caretaker of Proxima Doma. Eventually, people stop needing my help. So I’ve had to find new purpose. Now, I may not look it, but I am over two hundred and sixty years old.”
“I’m much older than that,” Old!Vitalie pointed out.
“True, but I’m also much older than people realize. You see, I came here looking to help people, but I realized a few things about my skills. Number one, they become obsolete. I could go to any planet I want, but the people there will eventually stop needing me. Number two, these other planets do exist, and they do need me. Number three, as powerful as I am, I’m not immortal. I’ve been able to remain young, but I didn’t take immortality water, like you did. My time will eventually run out, so I can’t just keep hopping from planet to planet. I’ll die before I’m even finished with one. So I determined that my only course of action would be to go to all these planets, most of which will not even be inhabited for thousands of years, and extend my services all at once. What am I doing here, my alternate self? I’m generating billions of more alternate selves, and dispatching each one through the Nexus replica.”
“Where do they go?” Old!Vitalie asked.
“They go to a very special place called the Nucleus, and from there, they can move on to their respective final destinations. I can send about eleven alternates every single second, and I’ve been doing that ever since they built this damn thing in 2095.” Young!Vitalie gestured towards the Nexus replica.
“Didn’t people notice you doing that?” Old!Vitalie asked.
Young!Vitalie breathed in deeply. “Yes, which is why I’m still not done. I keep having to take breaks, and let other people use it—or simply hide away so they don’t discover me here. Why, you coming through has already set me back about three thousand planets.”
Old!Vitalie just stared at her. “That’s stupid. What you’re doing is stupid. You’re sending your alternate selves to save people in the future after they colonize planets in the galaxy?”
“Well, not this galaxy, but yeah.”
“Don’t you think that’s a little...?”
“Narcissistic?” Young!Vitalie guessed. “Self-obsessed? Vainglorious? Whatever the difference there is between those three words, and others like them, then yes, all that. But I’m fine with it. Now, if you and your friends are quite finished with this thing, I would like to return to my job.”
“Don’t you wanna be there?” Old!Vitalie questioned.
“For what? Mateo’s funeral?” Young!Vitalie asked back.
Young!Vitalie shrugged. “I barely knew the guy.”
“Well, maybe you want to be there for his wife?” Old!Vitalie suggested. “It might be kind of nice for her to interact with a version of us who actually remembers the day we met. I have no recollection of that myself, as that day rests far beyond my memory threshold.”
Young!Vitalie could see her point, but this was really important work, and she was almost done with it. Though maybe that was what made it okay. She could probably stand to take one more break, and finish up in the next several years. What’s one day to celebrate the life of someone she did legitimately care about? Well, it was about nine hundred and fifty-thousand planets, so... “Okay, I’ll do it. I just hope I don’t die before I reach the outer edges of the Milky Way galaxy.”
“We all hope that,” Old!Vitalie agreed, though it was hard to tell the difference between sincerity and sarcasm when it came to her delivery. The two of them took each other by the hand, and headed towards the exit together.
Pribadium Delgado vigorously scratched the part of her head just above her ear. “I’ve seen a lot of weird shit since I met you time travelers, but that might be the most bizarre conversation I’ve ever heard.”

Pribadium Delgado

Pribadium Delgado never saw herself becoming a parent. She was still pretty young when she found herself introduced to the world of salmon and choosers, but the plan was always to become transhumanistic. Given enough upgrades, an individual will be incapable of conceiving or gestating a human. Their body will just no longer be hospitable to new life. Of course, this didn’t mean she couldn’t raise children, or even that she couldn’t have them before she received these upgrades, but it was still never in her plans. This did not change when she was forced to mother baby Brooke Prieto-Matic, but it did give her an idea. In the year she spent taking care of this precious little thing, Pribadium did form a bond, and it was unclear whether the woman who forced her to care for someone else’s child, Arcadia knew this was going to happen, or not. That didn’t matter, though. The point was that she could use this situation to her advantage. There was something she needed to get done, and convincing Arcadia, and all the others, that she felt compelled to continue raising Brooke was the best way to do it.
The year was 2129, and Leona was preparing to take Brooke home to the 21st century. The latter was incapable of experiencing nonlinear time, so the only way to get her to Earth was with the relativistic ship that Pribadium had built. It would take millions of realtime years, and thousands of years from the perspective of anyone inside the ship. Brooke was set to be placed in stasis, while Leona had to pass the time in an unusual way. Arcadia set things up for her to stay awake the entire time, but unable to hold onto short-term memories. She would recall enough to maintain the ship, and correct issues, but would not be totally aware of the passage of time. Technically, she could have been placed in a stasis pod as well, but Arcadia wasn’t allowing that. As terrible as that was, it was what gave Pribadium her big idea.
“What are you doing here?” Arcadia questioned. “I thought I let you cross back over to the other side of the merge border.
A man named Kayetan Glaston had the ability to put two different points in spacetime together, so that one could walk back and forth at will. He had merged modern-day Tribulation Island with ancient Tribulation Island. Pribadium, Vitalie, and Cassidy were sent over to the other side, so they could make their way back to the future, but the other two agreed to do things differently. They had formed a bond with Brooke as well. So when Arcadia wasn’t looking, they snuck back over to the ancient side. “We want on that ship,” Pribadium demanded.
“Who are these people, Arcadia?” Leona asked.
“You’ve not met them yet,” Arcadia explained to her, before turning her attention back to Pribadium. “This wasn’t part of the deal.”
“It’s a new deal,” Vitalie said. “We’re going back to Earth with the two of them. There’s plenty of room. It was built with three pods that you’re not even using. It’s perfect.”
“Do you even need a pod?” Arcadia asked.
“I’m immortal,” Vitalie replied, “but I still get bored.”
“Why do you want to do this?”
“I can’t let Brooke go,” Pribadium said. “I want to be there for her.”
“Really?” Arcadia wasn’t so convinced.
“You’re the one what made me nurse her,” Pribadium tried to explain. “What did you think was gonna happen? That I could just walk away?”
“Say what?” Leona asked.
Arcadia pointed to the ship. “This thing is going to arrive on Earth in the year 2025. That’s essentially random for you. None of you has been there before, and it’s not anywhere near when and where you need to be.”
“I was close once,” Cassidy noted. She first disappeared from her old life in 2019.
“Don’t you need to get to Mateo’s memorial?” Arcadia questioned.
“Mateo’s memorial?” Leona asked, upset. “What are you talking about?”
“This is many centuries in the future,” Arcadia lied to her, which only seemed to make her feel a little bit better. “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure you don’t remember any of this when you get to Earth.”
“There’s no reason to not let us do this,” Pribadium said, trying to get back to the matter at hand. “Not only does it not hinder your plan to make Leona stay awake for thousands of years, but it reinforces it. Now there really aren’t enough stasis pods for her.”
“I suppose that’s true,” Arcadia had to agree. “But what do you plan to do when you get there? I’ve already set things up so that Leona takes care of her on her own for a little bit, and then Brooke’s cousin, Mireille takes over. How do you plan to insert yourself into her life, and how long do you intend to remain there?”
“You let me worry about that,” Pribadium said. “Again, this has nothing to do with you. What do you care where we go, when we go there, and whose child we raise while we’re there?”
On paper, Arcadia obviously knew that Pribadium was right, but she was the kind of person who didn’t like being dictated to. She liked to come up with the rules, and the plans, and she didn’t appreciate when someone came along and changed things on her. Her face transformed as she was considering the options. When at first she was annoyed, now she was apathetic. “Whatever. Do what you want. I don’t care. It’s your responsibility to return to your own time period when you’re ready. That ain’t got nothin’ to do with me.” She started to walk away. “You best get on your way, though. That does have to do with me.”
Leona gently took Arcadia by the arm. “Thank you,” she said. “I don’t know who these people are, but they seem really nice, and I’m happy to see that you have a heart...even if you won’t admit it.”
Arcadia scoffed. “You don’t even know what the hell you’re talking about.” She reached down to the ground, and lifted the fabric of space like it legit was indeed fabric. She slipped under the magic curtain, and let it fall back into place behind her.
Fifteen minutes later, Brooke, Vitalie, and Cassidy were safely tucked away in their stasis pods. Pribadium was meant to be the only one left, but she had other plans. Leona and her husband, Mateo were always very kind to her. They immediately accepted her into their group without question. She felt that she had made a lot of mistakes, and still felt responsible for them all becoming trapped in the past. This version of Leona had no idea who she was, but she was still herself, and she deserved something good to come to her. There was really only one gift that Pribadium could give, and it came in the form of the last stasis pod.
“This is not meant for me,” Leona argued.
“No,” Pribadium agreed, shaking her head. “Arcadia wanted you to be awake, so you’ll end up around the same age as your husband. But who cares? Arcadia’s not here, and neither you nor Mateo is going to fall out of love with the other because of the age difference. It’s not even really an age difference. Mateo hardly thinks about the time he was stuck in that crazy spatio-temporal dimension. He’s not four thousand years old, and you don’t need to be either. So this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to sip on this Youth water, and sit here in the pilot’s seat. You’re a great physicist, Leona, but I built this ship. I know how it works, and how to fix any problem we come across. You just need to go to sleep, and forget about all this. When we get to Earth, no one will know what happened. I’ll wake you up first, and tell no one that we switched places. The worlds will keep turning.”
“I don’t know if I can let you do this for me,” Leona lamented. “You’re a stranger.”
“No,” Pribadium said with a kind smile. “I’m not.”
“Are you sure?”
“Hundred percent.”
Leona agreed to the new plan. She crawled into the stasis pod, and let Pribadium put her to sleep. Pribadium went on to live for thousands of years, but she didn’t do it the same way that Arcadia had planned. She switched off the temporal distortion feature, and passed the time in a totally different way. Stasis pods served two primary functions. First, they were designed to keep the subject alive and young, so they could actually survive long enough to see the end of the journey. They were also made to put the subject in a dreamless sleep, so that they woke up however much time later with no memory of it. To the four of them, the whole thing would last mere seconds; not centuries. But that was a human necessity, and Pribadium Delgado wasn’t entirely human.
Transhumanistic upgrades were not black and white. At no point did someone transform from human to android. It was a gradient, full of complicated choices and variables. While Pribadium was predominantly a biological entity, she was also a little something more. The Youth water that was meant for Leona was more than enough to keep her alive like suspended animation would, but that was easily rigged up as an IV fluid. In order to capitalize on that second function, all Pribadium needed to do was program her brain to experience time differently. Arcadia was wanting to do this for Leona using magicks, but Pribadium was capable of it through technology, and she could exercise her own control over it. The ship was going to be traveling through space for 2.83 million years, and her body was going to be sitting in the ship for just a hair over four thousand years, but her mind was only going to be there for twenty-four days. She could have sped time up for herself even more, but this made it easier to snap out of it for any maintenance issues. Hopefully, when this was all over, she would feel better about everything she had done, even if it didn’t really make up for it.
Millions of years later, they were on Earth in the year 2025, and no one discovered what Pribadium had done. She didn’t wake her friends up until Leona and Brooke were exactly where they were meant to be. When Vitalie and Cassidy asked why it was she wasn’t helping take care of baby Brooke, she said she didn’t want to talk about it. This was easier than coming up with a lie, and it seemed to be good enough for them. Now the only question was how the hell they were going to get back to Dardius in 2263. Surprisingly, it was Cassidy who came up with a good plan to accomplish this.

Hogarth and Hilde

The only way Hogarth Pudeyonavic was going to repair the planet-hopping machine called the Nexus replica, and make it back to Dardius, was to study a working version of the machine. They were rare, though. The first one created in this universe was thought to have been built by a special choosing one named Baudin Murdoch; also known as The Constructor. This turned out to be untrue, however. No one actually knew where they came from. They were always just discovered on a planet, and there seemed to only be six total.
The question now was where they would go to study one of these Nexus replicas. The one on Dardius was out of the question, of course, because if they could get there, all their problems would have been solved anyway. That only left four possibilities, one of which was rumored to be extremely dangerous, and they didn’t know where it was in normal space anyway, so that wasn’t that helpful. Earth, Gatewood, or Durus. Hogarth had to pick one out of these three to travel to. She didn’t know anything about the Earth Nexus replica. She didn’t know where it was, or who was in control of it, or what. Gatewood was technically the closest of all, but only by a small margin, and if Hogarth was successful with her plan, that probably didn’t matter much. She and Hilde had been to Durus a couple times, and each time was a unique experience. All signs suggested that things were a lot better there than before, and even with the bureaucracy, whoever was now in charge was the most likely to be willing to help them. It wasn’t a certainty, but they were better off taking  a chance on them than anywhere else.
“How far is it?” Hilde asked as she was standing just outside the chamber.
“From here? Roughly eighteen-point-four light years.” Though Durus was once a rogue planet of unknown origins, it somewhat recently found itself attached to a star system called 70 Ophiuchi, which was about sixteen and a half light years from Earth, and enjoyed no terrestrial planets of its own.
“This thing can take us there?”
“I don’t see why not,” Hogarth replied.
“It’s a teleporter,” Hilde began to argue. “It can definitely take passengers to the other side of the planet, but that doesn’t mean it can go farther than. My car was never able to travel to the stars.”
“True,” Hogarth agreed, “but your car didn’t have this.” She stuck her hand outside the chamber, and shook it around. “Or this.” She pulled her hand back in, and returned to shake something else at her.
“I don’t know what those are.”
“The first one is a power cell from the Nexus replica. Most of them were damaged beyond repair, but this one is more or less intact. It should give us the boost we need to make one jump.”
“It should?”
“The second one is a navigational module. I don’t technically need it, since I can find out exactly where Seventy Ophiuchi is, but I might as well use it since the calculations have already been done for me.”
“If you put find a way to put those things in this teleportation machine that Pribadium built, then why do you even need to repair the Nexus at all?”
Hogarth climbed out of the access panel, and stepped over to hunt for a particular tool in her box. “First of all, it’s not a Nexus; it’s a Nexus replica.”
“Why do people keep calling it that? Where are the original Nexuses?”
“Nexa,” Hogarth corrected again. “The real Nexa were built in another universe. These just look like them, but they used this universe’s physical laws.”
Another universe?” Hilde questioned. “You mean a fictional universe.”
“Way I hear it, it ain’t so fictional. Anyway, to answer your question, I still need to fix the Nexus replica. This one is too small, and it’s unique. I’ll be able to jump to Durus, but I’ll have no way to jump back. Pribadium never created a retrieval function, and she obviously didn’t build a companion on the other side.”
“Okay, but...” Hilde began, “don’t we have to jump back anyway? We have to come back here to repair this one.”
“Well, that’s not really what I meant. That’s one reason I’m choosing to go to Durus. I know there will be someone there who can help us come back, but it won’t be a permanent solution. The Nexus replica is.”
“Are you sure we should do this? I’m not convinced the Nexus replica needs to be repaired. I mean, who is using them? Who, for instance, both needs to instantaneously travel from Gatewood to Glisnia, and is allowed to?”
“That’s not my call,” Hogarth said. “Someone thought it should be a possibility, and I’m honoring that by fixing what broke.”
Someone,” Hilde reiterated. “We don’t know who it was, or why they did it. Maybe it’s part of an alien invasion, or uh...a time invasion. We just don’t know. You’re presuming benevolence with no evidence.”
“I choose to believe,” Hogarth said as she was crawling back into the access panel.
“I think I know what this is.”
“What what is?”
“You don’t like to feel useless. This has always been your problem. You gotta keep moving, like a shark. I never could get you to relax, and think things through.”
“Well, when you can literally explode at any time, and be unwillingly transported anywhere in time and space, you don’t really have the luxury of being cautious. If I see an opportunity, I have to take it, because there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to change my mind tomorrow.”
“Well, maybe you could slow down now. You said your explosive time power-slash-affliction thing is gone.”
“I said I feel like it’s gone. I don’t know for sure. That’s why I never let you out of my sight. I can’t risk leaving you behind, not even now.” She worked in silence for a moment. “There.”
“It’s done?” Hilde asked. “That seems fast.”
It did seem fast, but it wasn’t difficult at all for Hogarth to adapt the few parts she salvaged from the Nexus replica wreckage to the teleporter Pribadium that invented a few years ago from scratch. It was pleasantly intuitive. What Pribadium built, and how she built it, made so much sense—and so elegantly exploited known properties of physics—that it was actually shocking no one had invented time travel before her. Hogarth was finished in a day. It should have taken weeks. “Yes. Are you okay doing this? Maybe you’re right, and we could survive being separated for a little bit. You don’t have to come with me if you don’t want to.”
“No. We’re a package deal. I’m in.”
“All right. Let’s get packed up. Proverbial wheels up proverbially in five.”
By the time Hilde was finished making sure they had enough provisions to survive something going wrong, Hogarth was already looking through the system at the interface terminal. “What is it?”
“There’s something funny here,” Hogarth answered.
Hilde didn’t bother asking for an explanation. She wouldn’t understand it, even at its dumbed-down level, so she just waited for her wife to figure out what she needed to on her own.
“I’m looking at the navigation, and there’s something here that wasn’t there before,” Hogarth went on. “Or maybe we just couldn’t see it while it was still hooked up to the replica.”
“You mean, like, an extra location?”
Hogarth tilted her head a little as she was looking through the data. “More like an extra set of locations. There’s a hidden partition here. I mean, it’s not a partition, since it’s not a disk, but you know what I mean.”
“No, I have no idea what you’re talking about, Piglet.”
“Oh my god.” Hogarth stopped and turned to Hilde. She held one fist up in front of her. “Imagine this is a hard drive. There’s data on it, and we can read that data, because that’s what it’s designed to let us do. She placed her other fist next to the first one. “This is like a hidden section of data that we couldn’t read before, because they’re not even connected to each other.” She shook her fists to illustrate the space between them. “When this thing was hooked up to the Nexus replica, you could only see the first section, because there was a physical separation between them. Basically, Hilde, I screwed up when I adapted it to Pribadium’s machine. I...I hooked it up wrong, and it gave us access to all this new information.”
“What does that mean?”
She pulled up a cosmic map, which showed dozens of destinations that weren’t there before. “It means there are a lot more Nexus replicas out there. This is still just a fraction of them. We may even be able to reach the original network...ya know, the one that’s in a different universe?”
“Are we going to do that?”
Hogarth revealed a sinister smile, and pointed at one of the destinations. “No, we’re going to go here. This was hidden behind a virtual protective layer of its own. I think it’s the origin of the replicas. That’s where we’re going to find what we need. Durus doesn’t have to be involved at all.”
“If you think it’s safe enough...I’m down.”
“Let’s go.”
Hogarth queried the destination, confirmed the power requirements, and set the timer. Then she and Hilde stepped into the transportation chamber, and waited for the countdown to be complete. Ten seconds later, they were standing in a Nexus pit, be it a replica, or a real one; Hogarth could not yet be sure.
Hilde looked around, but didn’t move. “Are we okay?”
“You’re okay,” came a voice from a dark corner. A figure stepped forward. “How did you get here?”
“We found the hidden partition,” Hogarth explained.
The woman stared at her a moment. “Oh,” she realized. She didn’t seem too terribly impressed. “Okay.”
“Where are we?” Hilde asked her.
“This is my workshop. You didn’t ring the doorbell.”
“I’m sorry.”
“I’m kidding, it’s fine. I’ve not had visitors in...a couple million years, probably.”
“How are you that old?” a wide-eyed Hilde questioned.
“Old?” the woman asked. She laughed for a good solid minute. “Honey, someone who’s only a couple million years old would be, like, a week old in my terms. You two have been alive for, what, ten seconds? Ya got about ten left.”
“My name is Hogarth Pudeyonavic.”
“That’s a mouthful.”
“This is my wife, Hilde Unger.”
“It’s nice to meet you. I’m Engineer Azure Vose.”
“Engineer? You engineered the Nexus replicas,” Hogarth guessed.”
“Yes, well, we automated the process in my home universe, so it just seemed like more fun to move on to somewhere else.”
“Two of ours were destroyed, at least. One was repaired, but the other still needs it.”
Azure shook her head at medium speed. “They’ve all been destroyed.”
Hogarth was surprised. “What?”
“Come on,” Azure said. “You’re time travelers, right? Everything that will inevitably be already is right now, and already was a long time ago, and won’t be for awhile? They all get destroyed at some point...multiple times, actually. There’s no such thing as the present, so I repair them now, or later; in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter.”
“It matters to us. We need it repaired now, in case someone needs to use it soon. And by soon, I mean from the time it was destroyed, onwards, as perceived through linear time.”
“Well, where do you wanna go?” Azure asked. “I will send you wherever you want, to do whatever you want, and then I will go back to whichever replica you’re talking about, and do whatever I want with it, whenever I feel like it.”
Hogarth wanted to argue more, but Hilde could tell it wasn’t going to do any good. She was ripped from her life before she had the chance to go to college, so she didn’t understand a lot of this stuff, but one thing she was always good at was math. She wasn’t able to make a full calculation, but she could come to a decent enough estimate. This Azure Vose person was claiming to be billions of years old. In fact, she seemed to be more than twice Vitalie’s age, which was already insanely old. This wasn’t the kind of person you messed with. If she made a decision, you just kinda had to accept it. “We were hoping to get to a planet called Dardius. It’s in a galaxy called Andromeda Twenty-One, but the natives call it Miridir.”
“Oh yeah,” Azure said. “I know what you’re talking about; I can do that.”
Hogarth still wouldn’t let it go, so Hilde had to interrupt her yet again. “November 25, 2263, by the Earthan calendar. That would be great.”
Azure started walking towards the control room. “All right. Give me a minute. You’re lucky. The original Nexa can’t travel through time. Well...except occasionally, when the story calls for a time adventure.”
“What?” Hilde asked.
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Wait,” Hogarth said. She didn’t let Hilde stop her this time. “I have so many questions...about so many things.”
Azure smiled sincerely. “The answer is yes; this is my natural hair color.” She winked, and slipped through the doorway.
A minute later, they were back on Tribulation Island. Pribadium, Cassidy, and two Vitalies were already there. A woman walked in and introduced herself as Meliora Rutherford Delaney-Reaver. Then she escorted them halfway across the world.

Meliora Rutherford

Savannah Preston: Hello. I figured it was high time we met. Hi, my name is—
Meliora Rutherford: I know who you are.
Savannah: Are you sure? Because...
Meliora: Yeah, I know. I can see the hat.
Savannah: You can?
Meliora: Listen—wait, what do you want me to call you?
Savannah: Savannah will be fine.
Meliora: Fine. Listen, Savannah, I’m not going to interfere with what you’re doing. You think you’ve seen a lot, and it gives you some sort of entitlement to manipulate the passage of time on a grand scale. But you’re a little baby compared to me, and you haven’t seen past your nursery. I have been all over the bulkverse, and I can tell you that all this...is pointless. You’re going to lose, and you know that, because you’ve seen the future.
Savannah: No future is immutable.
Meliora: That’s not entirely true, and you’re going up against the Matics.
Savannah: So what? They’re not so amazing. Mateo is a dum-dum.
Meliora: He is, and you’re right, they’re not powerful. He’s a salmon, and she’s a spawn with limited abilities. But that’s not really what we’re talking about here. What makes them so special is all their friends. People want to help them, and they do. You can’t beat them, not because they’re better than you, but because no one will let you. My God, Savannah, your own daughters are helping them. Nerakali and Arcadia are powerful, so you should be scared.
Savannah: I’m not worried. When this all comes to its inevitable climax, I can count on Arcadia to betray her new friends, just like she always does, and I can count on Nerakali to break down and go along with it.
Meliora: It’s over, Madam Preston. You have hundemarked everyone on your list, so why are you putting this off?
Savannah: I was hoping to get your help.
Meliora: Why would I help you?
Savannah: All powerful being to all powerful being.
Meliora: ...
Savannah: All right, very powerful being, at the least.
Meliora: What do you want from me?
Savannah: How do you do that thing you do?
Meliora: Are you going to elaborate, or just—I do many things. I really am all powerful.
Savannah: How do you jump to other universes?
Meliora: Very carefully.
Savannah: I’m serious. I want you to teach me.
Meliora: You think you’re done with the work you need to do in this brane, so you’re ready to move on to another?
Savannah: Isn’t that what happened to you?
Meliora: Yes, but I went to those other worlds to help people. And before you start arguing that what you’re doing is a necessary evil, spare me the apology. You know what you’re doing is wrong. The love of your long life died, you flipped out, and corrupted your own life’s mission.
Savannah: You listen to me now, buckaroo billy. I may not be the holy angel saint that you are, but I have my reasons, and I’m not evil. Mercury’s family had to die so he could become the hero his city needs. Mateo had to die so he could return through an extraction mirror with temporal invincibility. My daughter had to die so she could have eight more chances to be a better person.
Meliora: Why didn’t Arcadia earn the same gift?
Savannah: She already became a better person when she stepped onto The Prototype.
Meliora: And your son? Why did he have to die?
Savannah: That wasn’t me.
Meliora: It wasn’t? I thought—
Savannah: That I was the architect of the hundemarke’s entire journey? No. Plenty of people have used it to serve their own agendas.

Meliora: Well, I didn’t know that.
Savannah: Maybe you’re not as all powerful as you thought.
Meliora: That’s how you talk to someone whose help you’re asking for?
Savannah: Will you help? Is there a world where that happens?
Meliora: Well, there is one, yes.
Savannah: You mean...?
Meliora: I can’t teach you how to jump universes. It’s not a skill; it’s just something I can do.
Savannah: I was to understand you spent decades in training for it.
Meliora: I did, but it was always in me. No one else could replicate it. I can help you escape to another world when the time comes, but that will be your home forever, unless someone helps you travel somewhere else.
Savannah: You would do this for me? You would go against your own mother?
Meliora: Leona Matic is not my mother.
Savannah: No, Nerakali blended her brain. She remembers the reality where she and your father got married.
Meliora: Horace Reaver isn’t my father. Lincoln Rutherford is, because he’s the one who raised me.
Savannah: Everyone knows the story. Rutherford took you in when your mother died, and your father went to prison. He barely had anything to do with your life.
Meliora: That’s the story I spun. I was very young and stupid back then. I came up with this story about choosing ones and powers that be, claiming they were one and the same. I was trying to create a reality where people believed I could exercise more control over the salmon than I really could, and the best way to do that was convince people I was removed from foster care, and indoctrinated into the system. My birth father died in prison, and Lincoln Rutherford raised me for years, until I felt confident enough to go back in time and alter the past. Everyone calls me Meliora Rutherford Delaney-Reaver, but my name is Meliora Rutherford.
Savannah: Does he know that, the Lincoln from this reality?
Meliora: He knows everything. Literally. He is a great man, and I try to honor him everyday with my actions. So I’ll help you, but only to stop the dream team from killing you. If that future comes to pass, they will never recover from what they did to you.
Savannah: Mateo and Leona have killed before.
Meliora: I’m not talking about them. Your daughters will regret what happened, but since they used the hundemarke, they won’t be able to go back and change it. We all know what happens when a Preston spirals.
Savannah: We don’t know if they use the hundemarke on me. That’s a big mystery.
Meliora: You die from by means of the hundemarke; that’s no mystery.
Savannah: ...so it can’t be changed. It really is inevitable.
Meliora: No, there’s a loophole.
Savannah: ...?
Meliora: The other world. Nothing is more powerful than the bulkverse; not even the hundemarke. It has consequences, though. Time will never be the same if you do this. In fact, it will undo everything you have ever done with the hundemarke.
Savannah: What?
Meliora: There is a reality out there where the hundemarke does not exist. All we have to do is get you there, and then you can leave. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll die, but not you you. It will be a different version.
Savannah: Well, why do I have to go to another universe, if I can just live in this other timeline?
Meliora: You can’t stay there forever. It’s unstable. You have to leave, and let it collapse behind you.
Savannah: Why would you do this for me? I came here asking for help, and you were very adamantly against it. What’s changed in the five minutes since we’ve been talking.
Meliora: It has been longer than five minutes for me. After you told me that you weren’t responsible for your son’s death by means of the hundemarke, I took a little detour, and investigated the timeline to corroborate your story. That was about a month ago.
Savannah: I must have blinked.
Meliora: No, I froze you in time for three seconds while I disappeared, and returned.
Savannah: Why are you like this? How did a salmon and a spawn...spawn someone like you?
Meliora: I won the lottery. It’s as simple as that. The fact that my birth parents experienced nonlinear time before conceiving me made it so that I was genetically predisposed to being born with time powers. At that point, it was a crapshoot which ones I got. I could have ended up with anything, and it just so happened that I ended up with pretty much everything.
Savannah: So now that you know I was telling the truth, and maybe I’m not as bad of a person as you thought, you’ll help me survive my hundemarke death?
Meliora: I will, but I won’t do it for free.
Savannah: What’s your price?
Meliora: As we’ve established, I’m very powerful, but I don’t have a mind like yours. You can see the threads of time, and make subtle changes to arrive at the outcomes you want. I need that gift now. There are several people who are meant to attend Mateo’s memorial services here on Dardius. They were all torn away from that, for reasons I do not yet understand. There is someone else; someone like you, who is manipulating events from the shadows. They’ve been destroying Nexus replicas, and causing other problems. My month-long sabbatical allowed me to rule you out as a suspect. I’ve also ruled out Mirage, Boyce, and Zeferino. I don’t have any reason to believe the powers that be themselves are involved, but I can’t rule them out yet. Either way, I need someone smart enough to combat their changes. I’m going to give you a list of people. I’m not going to tell you anything about them, but the list itself is dangerous. You could hurt a lot of people with it, so I have to be able to trust you. With your skills, it’s a simple task. Get these people to Dardius within the next hour, and I will help you. Miss even one of them, and our deal is off. Cause harm to any one of them, and not only is our deal off, but I will kill you myself. Like I said, your hundemarke crusade has been completed. This mission doesn’t interfere with that, but you can help a lot of people feel a lot better about themselves by helping them go through this catharsis. Mateo is important to people, throughout all of time and space, and they want to be there for him. Do you think you can help?
Savannah: I can make no promises. I would have to see the list first. Just a glance, to make sure there aren’t any conflicts of interest. You can erase my memories if I choose to decline because of something I see there.
Meliora: I agree to your terms. Here it is.
Savannah: This one is going to be tough. I know a lot about his timeline, and he would not be cooperative in later years; I can tell you that much.
Meliora: When would you suggest we take him?
Savannah: Uhh...2027.
Meliora: He didn’t even have his brain blended back then.
Savannah: I can arrange for it to happen early, if I have your permission. You said I’m not allowed to hurt these people, which I have no problem with, but this is a bit of a gray area. I don’t know who Pribadium Delgado is, but I think I can get everyone else with just a few historical nudges. This guy is more complicated, though, and brain blending isn’t exactly pleasant. He has a lot of really bad memories, so it’s going to be particularly bad for him.
Meliora: Do what you have to do, but he’s really busy in 2027, so make sure he gets back before anyone there misses him.
Savannah: They won’t even know he’s gone, until he...tells them about it.
Meliora: Okay, go ahead. You have fifty-seven minutes now.
Savannah: I only need one.

Cassidy Long

When most people hear that an individual is a stripper, of course they have a judgment about it. Even if they visit strip clubs themselves, they usually feel a sense of superiority over the people who work there. There is a common belief that exotic dancers are damaged; that their daddies didn’t give them enough attention, or even that they were sexually abused as children. There’s also this joke about them paying their way through nursing school, as if that would be a bad thing anyway. For some, these judgments are true, though that doesn’t give anyone the right to assume them, or to assess them in any way. For Cassidy Long, nothing could be further from the truth. The reality was that she became a stripper, with the full support of her mother, because strippers make bank. Back before she mysteriously disappeared, in a four hour shift, she could make a hundred and sixty dollars. That was if she only managed to do two dances every hour, which was pretty unheard of at her location, even during the day. Even after splitting some of her profits to the bartender, DJ, and waitresses, she was still earning more than a lot of people in fulltime positions. All told, she made six figures a year. The work was relatively easy, and if she could keep it going for a couple decades—though work would slow down as she aged—she could retire with enough money to live fairly comfortably for the rest of her life.
Cassidy Long was happy with her life, and it came with an interesting bonus she didn’t even consider when she began. She met a lot of people; and not people whose secrets she could weaponize to exploit them, but networking contacts. Her connections got her out of parking tickets, into fancy parties, and more connections beyond the ones she made herself. She met all sorts of people, and since she had a loveable personality, they were always willing to help her out without much convincing, as long as it didn’t threaten their own social standing. There was one particular man she needed to reach out to now. He was a private investigator who also happened to be a decent artist. There was someone she needed to find, but the problem was she went missing six years ago, and where she had been wasn’t something she could explain. Still, she had to risk it, because he was probably their only hope of returning to Dardius in the future.
“My God, you’re alive.”
“I am,” Cassidy confirmed by demonstrating her ability to speak, which was something dead people generally could not do.
“I looked for you,” he said.
“Who hired you?” Cassidy questioned. “My mother was dead, and the club wouldn’t have put that much effort into finding me.”
“I looked for you myself. No one paid me for it. I wanted to know what happened to you.”
“Aw, that’s sweet.”
“So...?” he prompted.
“So, what?” Cassidy was confused.
“So what happened to you? Jesus.”
Pribadium reached into her back pocket, and retrieved a wallet, which she opened and flashed to the PI. “Priya Bragado; FBI. This is my partner, Valerie Crawford. Miss Long has been working with us on some very special cases for the last six years. She’s only returned to her old life because we require your assistance with finding a man whose name she does not know.”
He stared at Pribadium forever, though it did look like he was buying both the fake names she made up for her and Vitalie, and the idea that they were federal agents. He also seemed to want to believe that Cassidy could possibly be involved with them. It was probably more about trusting that Cassidy herself wouldn’t be standing here, lying to him. Though of course she was indeed withholding the truth, she was known to be an honest and forthcoming person. She was pretty famous for it. “It’s gonna be hard to find someone without a name.”
“I have a face,” Cassidy explained.
He still hesitated, but only because he had always irrationally questioned his own skills as a sketch artist. He left the police before Cassidy met him, because he decided he wanted to be an investigator instead, but didn’t like following someone else’s schedule, and adhering to their rules. “Okay, I’ll give it a shot.”
“Thank you,” Cassidy said graciously. “Priya and Valerie, this is Elmo Barone, but we all just call him The Baron.”
“Please, no jokes about Elmo,” Baron requested. “I’ve heard them all.”
“I don’t get it,” Vitalie explained. She wouldn’t, and nor would Pribadium. Neither one of them grew up having heard anything about Sesame Street.
Baron was pleased with their apparent ignorance. “All right, have a seat. I’ll get my sketchbook.”
After an hour of Cassidy describing what she could remember of the man she last saw years ago, the composite was ready. Baron ran it through the facial recognition database, which he wasn’t meant to have, and the four of them tried to have some lunch. Pribadium stressed to him how important it was that no one knew that Cassidy was still alive, and not truly missing. He got a little bit annoyed at her about this. He understood the value of discretion, and felt no desire to reveal her secret. She wanted to tell him the actual secret, but knew that it was best they leave him out of all this time travel business. They had barely begun their food when Baron’s computer beeped, indicating that his software had found a match.
“That was fast,” Cassidy noted.
“I narrowed the parameters,” Baron began to explain. “The programs you see cops use on TV seem to search through pictures of everyone on the planet. I limited the search to male Lawrence residents of a certain age range, and directed it to search for people arrested for minor offences first, before it would move on to the DMV database.”
“Well, it worked,” Cassidy said. “This is him.”
Vitalie leaned in, and read from the screen, “Gareth ‘Gaz’ Milburn. Fifty-eight years old. Arrested twice for public intoxication, once for assault; bar fight, apparently. And five times panhandling? Isn’t that the gold thing?”
“In this case, it’s just begging for money on the street,” Baron explained.
“That’s illegal?” Pribadium asked. She was from the future, long after begging became obsolete when money itself did. Poverty was a concept she would never truly be able to grasp.
Baron leaned in as well, and looked through the man’s details. “It technically is, but it’s hardly enforced. Officers try to get to know the homeless around the city, which means they know when someone’s lying. Gaz is not really homeless, and never was. He just pretended so people would give him money.”
“Why are we looking for this guy?” Pribadium asked. She had never explained the whole thing to them.
“You don’t already know why?” Now Baron was getting suspicious.
“He has information for us,” Cassidy started to lie again. “Or rather, I believe he knows someone who does.”
“He sounds like a standup guy,” Vitalie sarcasticated.
“His last charge was four years ago,” Vitalie revealed.
“Well, this is his last known address, so we’ll find out if he’s changed in that time.”
“I’m coming with you,” Baron offered.
Vitalie smiled at him condescendingly. “That’s cute. Stay here, and focus on your cheating spouses.” She snatched up a box of rice on her way out. “I’m taking this.”
Baron took Cassidy by the arm as she was trying to follow the other two out. “If you need out of something, I can help.”
“Thank you, Baron. I’m exactly where I need to be.” That was very much untrue, but lying to him was becoming a habit she couldn’t break now. “You’ve already helped so much.”
“You know where I am if you need any help in another six years.”
“I do.” She passed a woman on her way out of his office.
“Fitzsimmons,” Baron said. “Come on in. There’s food left over, if you’re hungry. I know it’s your favorite.”
“My favorite is in Kansas City.”
“It’s a franchise. It’s all the same stuff.”
Gaz appeared to be living in a very nice house in the suburbs. Vitalie insisted she be the one to knock on his door, and be able to stand between the other two should he turn violent. She was apparently wrong, though. A very well-kempt man answered, and greeted them with delight. He looked exactly like Gaz, but there was no way he was in his late fifties; not in 2025. The kind of de-aging technology humanity eventually came up with wouldn’t exist for another decade, at least. “Miss Long, you’re back.”
“Who are you?” Cassidy asked him.
“Please, come on in. I’ll explain everything. Would you like a plate for that rice?”
“I’m good,” Vitalie answered.
“How about some water to wash it down?”
“Thank you. I take my water with no poison,” she added as he was heading for the kitchen.
“Well, that’s weird, but okay,” he joked back.
“Are you going to tell us how you know him, but don’t really know him?” Pribadium whispered.
“Other than Jai, he was the last person I saw before I left work the day I disappeared. I gave him a dance. If I can absorb people’s powers, I think I maybe absorbed his.”
Gaz came back in with Vitalie’s water. “That is close to what happened.”
“So, you knew?” Cassidy asked. “You knew I would end up in the future, on a spaceship, light years away.”
“I didn’t know that, no. That’s not what my power, as you called it, does. It’s not a power at all. I’m salmon.”
“Then what’s your pattern?” Pribadium asked.
He sat down, and picked up the cup of tea he had been steeping when they showed up. I go where I’m needed. Future, past...other planets, theoretically. I don’t control where I go, or exactly what I’m meant to do when I get there, but that’s my life.”
“What are the sorts of things you do.”
“I make people feel things,” he said, creepily and cryptically.
“You dowhatnow?”
He smiled, realizing he didn’t say that right. “People can get in ruts, and they can get really stressed, and they can get underconfident, or overconfident. I level them out. I give them a boost if they’re feeling depressed, or I take ‘em down a notch if they’re alienating everyone around them. You probably found me because you saw my arrest record. That isn’t real. I only got drunk to show someone who was walking a dark path what rock bottom looked like, so he wouldn’t have to go down there himself.”
“That doesn’t sound...plausible,” Pribadium said.
“You wouldn’t think so, but it worked. Channing is a senator now.”
“And the fake panhandling?” Vitalie questioned. “Who did that help?”
“A lot of people, actually. I didn’t speak to most of them, but I didn’t need to. Homeless people give homed people perspective. It makes them think about their finances. Now, they may not want to do that, but it’s important. They need to be aware of how much money they’re earning, and how much they’re spending. Every time they see someone less fortunate, they have a gut reaction that they can neither control, nor ignore. Look, I’m not a Salmon Runner, or The Kingmaker, and I’m sure as hell not The Savior. My job is subtle...nuanced. Sometimes people just need little nudges, and if that comes in the form of the new watercooler guy who talks a little too much about the game last night, I can fill that role for fifteen minutes.”
“So, that’s what you did to me?” Cassidy asked, a little angry. “You call sending me centuries into the future subtle?
He took a sip of his tea. “I didn’t send you anywhere. I bestowed my pattern upon you...accidentally. As far as I know, that wasn’t meant to happen. I didn’t enter that strip club to do that. I had no idea you were an absorber.”
“Why were you there?” Pribadium asked.
“I think we all know the answer to that,” Vitalie snarked.
Gaz chuckled, and set his tea back down. “No, I’m gay. I wasn’t even there for her. I was there for, umm...Jai Quelen.”
“That’s my...” They never really put a label on it. “Friend. What were you doing with him?”
“Sometimes I don’t know. I walked in there, played my part, and left. Whatever he saw, or didn’t see, it changed him in some way. Hopefully for the better.”
“I do remember him acting a little weird at home that night. I didn’t know he showed up at the club that day.”
“He was holding flowers.”
“Ugh. Shit. And then I disappeared.”
Gaz thought about this. “So, maybe I was there for two reasons. Maybe I was sent to help get you get to the future, and also help your friend get through losing you. Like I was saying, I don’t always know what I’ve done. My impact is ripple-based. The people I meet go off and interact with others, and they interact with others...”
“Well, I need you to do it again,” Cassidy demanded.
“Get you to the future?” he asked for clarification.
“How do you look so young?” Vitalie interrupted. She was still suspicious of him.
“Oh, I hired a man named Merton Casey. He can reyoungify people. I don’t think you need it, though.”
“I’m gonna be verifying your story.”
Gaz narrowed his eyes, but moved on. “I can let you absorb my pattern again, fine. I can’t control it, though, so I don’t think you can either.”
“If it takes you where you need to go, then it will take us where we need to go.”
Gaz stretched out his hand. “I assume you never really needed to give me a lapdance to take my pattern.”
Cassidy subtly tapped on the palm of his hand with her finger. “Nope.” She stretched her own arms out, and let her two friends take her by the hand. “No one can know we were here.”
“Wheedler-client privilege, I promise.”
Once the three of them were gone, Erlendr’s daughter came back into the room. “You see, Salvy? We’re doing good things here.”
“I’m still not convinced, Gaz,” Arcadia replied with airquotes.

Mateo Matic

No, it wasn’t Cassidy in the background. Mateo was seeing Meliora Rutherford, whom he had only met a couple times; once in an alternate reality. They didn’t look anything alike, but the former was the person he was expecting to be here. He had always wondered why it was that Gilbert Boyce owned this planet, rather than her. She was in charge of the only inhabited building on it back when this all began, so why did her power not spread as the population did? After he hugged everyone in the room who was there for his memorial already, he decided to be brave, and pull Meliora aside, so he could speak with her about this. Seeing her here, and realizing why it was that all these people were coming together, gave him an idea.
“I thought this day might come,” Meliora said.
“You did?” he asked. “So you know what I’m going to say.”
“I have no idea,” she admitted. “But you and I have not spoken in quite a long time, from both of our respective perspectives, so we were probably due. Ask me anything.”
“Why did Boyce own this planet, and not you? I mean, didn’t you basically run it, and weren’t you the one who named it”
“Oh, we’re talkin’ about that? Okay. Well, it’s really complicated, but the gist of it is that I don’t want it. Maqsud owed Boyce a favor, and that favor came in the form of a star system. Boyce owed me a favor, but it was a much smaller one, so that favor came in the form of being able to use this planet for my needs. I wanted a place where Earthans could feel safe and comfortable. Right down to the surface gravity, they needed to feel like they were still on the same world. Keep in mind that this agreement was discussed and finalized when The Rogue was possessing the body of Baudin, and one other person. Neither one of them was evil, like The Apprentice, so he was far more congenial at the time. Anyway, I was responsible for The Sanctuary, and Boyce was not allowed to interfere, but he did maintain control over the rest of the planet. Or rather, he maintained theoretical control. He never had any ideas of what he could do with it, so when a few of my guests wanted to go out camping, for instance, we didn’t run into any problems.
“Around the time that Boyce first died, and ownership transferred to you, the people I was rescuing from Earth were multiplying beyond the Sanctuary’s boundaries. I took a risk, and expanded without permission, because I assumed you wouldn’t have a problem with it.”
“Of course not,” Mateo confirmed.
“Good. So, I started using more and more land, but I realized my people no longer needed me. They procured their own way of extracting those in need from the timeline, and of figuring out precisely who those people were. Recognizing that I would probably only be a hindrance to this new civilization’s development, I determined the best thing for me to do was leave.”
“Where did you go? Or when?”
“It’s a little bit of both. I began to travel to other universes.”
“Ah, I see.”
“I never know where I’m going, or what I will find when I arrive, because I have no means of navigating the bulkverse. That’s why I can’t own this planet. I can always return to a brane that I’ve been to, but I can’t guarantee where in the timeline I’ll be, or even if I’ll be in the latest timeline,” she said with airquotes. “So now I have a question for you, are you asking out of curiosity, or are you trying to pass it off to me?”
“Do you think I should...pass it off, that is?”
Meliora stood there for a moment. “Probably. I can’t take it, though. I’m a bulk traveler and that’s the way I like it. After this is over, I will be leaving again. If you would like someone to take Dardius off your hands, I can help you do that. It’s a good time for it, because even though you’re obviously alive, you have died, and that’s sort of when ownership transference happens.”
“Right. The problem is you are exactly who I had in mind. I don’t know of anyone else. Do you?”
Mateo’s memorial was quite literally a global event. The only people not paying attention to it were in emergency situations, like those at the hospital. Even they had the ceremony on in the background, though. There wasn’t enough room for everyone to watch in one place, however, so only a select few tens of thousands of people were afforded tickets to the stadium. Other stadiums held their own events, though they were self-regulated, and unofficial. Even the people in the main stadium didn’t have the best view, because there was a much smaller crowd on the grounds, full of only people who knew Mateo personally. Though the event would not begin for another few hours, Meliora decided to transport the living Mateo there, so he could catch a sneak preview. She slowed time down to a crawl so they could get a good look from another dimension.
“I don’t know how all these people get here,” Meliora began as they were staring at the group. “I dispatched some of my most trusted allies to assist in the endeavor, because the powers that be are not involved this time, like they were with your final showdown with The Cleanser in the Colosseum. I was also unable to recruit Glaston for this, because your wedding with Leona nearly killed him.”
“Who’s that guy?” Mateo was pointing to a mysterious man who they did indeed encounter at the wedding.
“He’s from the future. Don’t worry about it. Are you listening to me?”
“Yes, of course.”
Meliora went on, “not everyone here would be up to the task of owning a planet.”
“How hard could it be? I did almost nothing as owner. I only became Patronus later, and that didn’t last very long, and it never truly had to happen at all.”
“It is a psycho-emotional strain, Mateo. You’ve always been too busy to feel it, especially since for a good chunk of the time, you didn’t even know how many people lived here. All these people do. The new owner would know from the start that billions of people will know their name. They’ll likely feel the obligation to live here, because they’ll have the option, whereas you and Leona never did. They will spend their days in the public eye, not possessing any real power, but being asked for help anyway. Mateo, if you choose someone to take this world from you—which, by the way, you don’t actually have to—you will be simultaneously giving them an enormous gift, and a massive burden.”
“Do I have to give it to anyone at all?” Mateo hoped. “Can I not just relinquish my rights, or something?”
“Normally, yes. But with this particular world, with this many people, who all believe in you, no. They’re comfortable with having an owner, kind of like how it took over two centuries for the United Kingdom to abolish the royal family, and transition completely to a real democratic republic.”
“Wull, if I try to give Dardius to someone else, do the people have to approve of that person?”
“Well, they will, because you do. I know that seems like I’m not answering the question, but it’s true. They will accept anyone. You could hand it off to Adolf Hitler, Francisco Franco, and Donald Trump, and they’ll smile, because they’ll trust you had your reasons.”
“I don’t think I’m going to go that route. I want to choose someone who’s up for the job. Please don’t be neutral on this. If you have a good choice in mind, I want to hear it.”
“I have to be neutral, because I’m too powerful to let people listen to me too much. I do know someone who should be involved in this decision, though. I’ll take you back to the recent past, just before Leona arrives.”
“Yeah, that’s a good idea.”
Mateo returned to the Sanctuary hotel, and had an hour-long talk with his wife about what they were going to do with this planet. They generated a list of their most responsible friends, and pared it down. In the end, the three-generational Einarsson family proved themselves to be the most logical choice. Any help they needed they could secure from their various friends and allies, and as the owner of a whole planet, Cassidy would be forever protected from anyone who would do her harm. The trick would be convincing them to agree to it in the first place. He didn’t really know if the three of them had to agree to this, because Gilbert never gave him a choice, but he was determined to not force the issue if they didn’t consent. That wasn’t Mateo’s responsibility, though. Leona would have to take care of that herself while he was off doing something else. There were two people who were vital to the services, but Meliora’s people were struggling with finding a way to retrieve them. One in particular would not come easily, mostly because he had no idea who Mateo was.
Ramses was difficult to get to, because of when and where he was. Horace Reaver, on the other hand, was difficult because they evidently couldn’t choose just any version of him in any time period. The Horace living in 2027 was the one who needed to see the events that would be unfolding today, for temporal reason that Mateo wasn’t capable of understanding. He just had to trust that Meliora knew what she was talking about when she explained this to him. This would be a lot easier if he had managed to retain Nerakali’s brain blending power, but it was still possible without it. His best chance at success would be to appeal to Horace’s better nature, and make sure he suppressed his dark tendencies.

Horace Reaver

Horace Reaver was in prison. It wasn’t the first time being locked up, but he still had not gotten used to it. A bunch of stuff went down when an unhinged reality manipulator came to town, and started wreaking havoc on his and his people’s lives. Ace, as he was called at this time, and in this reality, submitted himself here somewhat voluntarily, in order to free a friend of theirs who never should have been here in the first place. It was under duress, though, so voluntary was probably the wrong word to use. He had so far been in here for six days, knowing full well that this didn’t mean his family was off schedule. They could get him out if they completed a mission for the prison, and their new partner advised them that it would take at least a week just to plan it. So he wasn’t worried, but he was already sick of it.
This place didn’t have yard time, cafeteria time, or anything. Prisoners remained in their cells permanently, because it was safer that way. Most of the inmates had special time powers, and The Warden said it wasn’t worth the risk to let anyone out for anything but medical or logistical reasons. Fortunately, each cell had access to its own pocket dimension, full of creature comforts, and wide open spaces. It wasn’t the same as being free, but it was better than a six-by-nine. To be clear, the six-by-nine regular cell did exist, and the pocket could be closed to punish prisoners for bad behavior, but according to a man named Tracker, that was rare, because prisoners knew there was no escape, and there wasn’t any point in causing trouble. Ace liked to spend time up in the front, outside of his pocket, because it allowed him to see outside the cell, into other people’s cells, and at the guards patrolling the area. It made him feel more trapped to be in a windowless room with low lighting, even if that room had a couch, bed, and entertainment. He ordered a lot of books. At the moment, he was sitting in his chair, reading one about bunnies, when he heard a commotion beyond his field of vision.
“Sir, please.” It was the Warden. Who could she possibly need to call sir with such deference? Was it possible there was someone even more powerful around here than her?
“You can’t stop me,” came a voice Ace didn’t recognize.
“How do you know that?” the Warden asked as they were just coming into view.
“I spoke with Meliora. She told me everything.” The two of them stopped at Ace’s cell. The man was smiling as deeply as the Warden was frowning. “Hello, old friend.”
“Do we know each other?” Ace asked.
“Mister Matic,” the Warden began, “those contingencies were designed to get you out of prison, if a mistake like that ever happened again. They were not meant for you to come in, and break someone else out.”
“I’m doing it anyway.” He reached up with both hands, and grasped the bars. While a lot of the security measures here were time power-based, it was still fitted with good ol’ fashioned cement blocks and thick metal gates. It looked like this kind stranger was preparing to rip them off with brute strength, which should have been impossible. Then again, time travel should have been impossible too, but that was quite clearly real.
“Wait,” the Warden said desperately. “If you do this, you effectively declare war on Beaver Haven.”
The man stopped to think about it for a moment, but less like he was considering changing his mind, and more like he was working out how he was going to combat this new threat. “Then I better make it count.” He tightened his grip on the bars, and pulled at them. They didn’t tear off like rice paper, but they did come completely off, leaving about a foot of space for Ace to slip through. Some of the other prisoners saw what happened, and began to make a ruckus. This drew more out, so that everyone could either see what was happening, or was close enough to hear others yelling updates.
“Are you going to stuff me back in there?” Ace asked the Warden once he was free.
She shook her head. “He’s made his choice. I can’t undo it any more than he can.”
“It’s not the last choice I’m gonna make,” the man said. He walked over to another cell, and tore the bars off of that one too.
A man named Curtis came out of it, and tipped his head cordially.
The man stepped one cell over, and did it a third time. “Oh,” he said when he saw Lucius just stand there. He pulled off two more bars, because Lucius was big as hell. That wasn’t it, though. Lucius still just stood there. “You can’t be put back in here. These people can’t move against me in that manner.”
“I deserve to be here,” Lucius replied in his low sexy voice. This guy was a god. If Ace weren’t with Serkan...
“No, you don’t,” the jailbreaker said. “You and Curtis have a destiny. I need you to take care of him.”
Lucius looked over at Curtis. Neither of them knew what he was talking about, but they trusted that the man was telling them the truth about their future together.
The Warden was extremely displeased. “Anyone else, Mister Matic?”
“Are Missy and Darko here?” Mr. Matic asked.
“Not in this reality,” the Warden answered, seemingly truthfully.
“Then my work is done here.” He pointed over to Curtis and Lucius. “You take them wherever they want to go. I’ll be taking Horace myself.
The Warden reluctantly looked up and over her glasses at a guard on the second level. She raised her hand, and gestured for him to come down, and presumably help transport the other two empardoned ones. Is empardoned a word? Well, it is now.
“Hey, Mateo,” Lucius called up to them as the mysterious savior and Ace were starting to leave. “I owe you a favor.”
Mateo smirked. “Nope. Now we’re even.” Time, right?
“Not that I’m not grateful,” Ace said as they were winding their way through the corridors. Guards were letting them through with no question. Who the hell was this guy, and why was everyone so afraid of him?
“Why did I break you out?” Mateo presumed. “You and I have had a complicated multi-timeline relationship, but I need to make sure you understand who you are.”
“I don’t understand.”
“One day, someone is going to come to you, and restore your memories. You will remember how much you hated me, and the terrible things you did to express that hate. I got you out of there, and I’m taking you to see something important, not so that you’ll remember how good of friends we are, but so that you’ll remember how good of a person you are.”
“Huh?” They opened the exit, and started to walk away from the secret prison. Ace chose to not look back. That was in his past, and he needed to get back to his family, and move forward. Mateo opened the back door of a car, and ushered Ace in. “Dave?”
“I’m not meant to be a literal chauffeur,” the driver said as Mateo was getting in as well. “That’s just a nickname.”
“Meliora agreed to help me get to either 2027, or 3413. I chose to come here, so you could help me with both missions. And you’re gonna do it, because this is your boss’ father. He’s your grandboss.”
The Chauffeur rolled his eyes, and restarted the car. “That’s not a thing.”
“You know Meliora?” Ace asked.
“Not super well, but yes,” Mateo confirmed.
“And you know me too?”
“From other realities, and the future in this reality, yes.”
“But you’ve seen my darkness.” Ace didn’t know it had anything to do with alternate timelines, but there were some things about himself that he couldn’t explain. He sometimes experienced...outbursts of violence that didn’t make any sense. They didn’t feel like him, but at the same time, they felt more like him than anything else. This all scared him a great deal, and if this Mateo guy could save him from that, he was willing to try just about anything.
Dave drove them to a hospital, and waited in the parking lot while Mateo took Ace up to a room. It was empty, but lived in, and the bathroom door was closed. They heard a flush, and a hoarse voice Ace thought he recognized. “Can I get some help here?”
“Stay here,” Mateo instructed. He slipped into the bathroom to help, and came out two minutes later with Jesimula Utkin.
“Thank you,” she said graciously. “Ace! What are you doin’ here, man?”
“Uhh...I’m here to see you.”
“Oh, that’s cool. I’m on drugs.”
“It sounds like it. Are you okay?”
“Oh, I’m great! I’m on this new diet, and just lost three ounces in a few hours!”
“Her kidney,” Mateo clarified as he was helping Jesi back into bed. “She just donated her kidney.”
Jesi placed her hand to the side of her mouth. “It was anonymous,” she told him in a loud whisper.
“I don’t understand,” Ace repeated. “Who did you give it to? Or was the recipient anonymous too?”
“The hospital thinks she was,” Mateo began to explain, “but we know who it was.”
“Yes,” Jesi agreed. “Leona Mulaney.”
“Delaney,” Mateo corrected.
“Right. Delaney Mulvaney,” Jesi said.
“She saved Leona’s life?” Ace asked. “She’s my daughter’s friend.”
“She’s my future wife,” Mateo said. “I mean that literally. I couldn’t give her my own kidney in this reality, so Jesi stepped up. How can you prevent her from adapting your time power, though?” he asked Jesi.
“I don’t have any powers anymore,” Jesi explained. “I assimilated myself into my alternate, and used her body as primary. I’m just a normal forty-five year old now.”
“You don’t look forty-five,” Ace pointed out.
“I still got friends,” Jesi argued. “Damn, man!”
“I’m sorry.”
“Forgiven. No, you’re threegiven, because I’m still a little mad.”
“Jesi, your light’s on,” Mateo informed her.
Jesi smiled, and lifted a little button. “Cool.” She started pressing it over and over again, still smiling dumbly at it.
“Don’t worry,” Mateo said. “It won’t give her more pain medication than she’s allowed to have.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“You did this,” Mateo said as Jesi was falling asleep. “You saved Leona’s life, because you didn’t give up on Jesi. You helped her become a better person, and I’m trying to keep you the same way. When someone comes to blend your memories with those of your alternates, focus hard on this moment. You’ve done a lot of good in your life, even in the other timelines. But let this memory be your anchor. I was told to come here to take you to my funeral. Don’t ask how that works, it’s complicated. The point is that I’m not going to do that. If you make it to the service, then great, I have a job for you. But I can’t let you do that job if you don’t remember everything about what we’ve been through together. So after they blend your brain—and once you’re ready—come to Dardius in the year 2263. Can you do this for me? I don’t know when it will be for you, but I want you to be prepared for it.”
“I can do that. I don’t really get what’s going on, but I will do my best.”
Mateo smiled softly, and placed a hand on Ace’s shoulder. “I know you will.” He took him into a warm hug. “I gotta get to Stonehenge, but be careful. I hear this Omega Gyroscope thing is a real threat to the universe.” And with that, he left.
Not two seconds later, someone else came into the room, and for a moment, Ace couldn’t believe it. Then he recalled Serkan’s advice to act like ya been there, and contained his confusion. It was another Horace Reaver.
Future!Horace reached into his shirt, and retrieved the hundemarke; a special object capable of creating moments in time that cannot be changed via temporal manipulation. He handed it to Present!Horace.
“What am I meant to do with this?” Present!Horace questioned.
Jesi woke up, but just long enough to cry, “throw it in the portal!”
Future!Horace shook his head no. “She’s talking about something else.” Then he just walked out of the room without another word.

Leona Matic

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.

Everest Conway

“Thank you for coming to the memorial service for the late but present, Mateo Matic. Wow, it’s a beautiful day here in Sutvindr, isn’t it? My name is Everest Conway, and this is not my story. Most of you probably don’t know me. I became friends with the Matics later on in the timeline, when there are fewer salmon and choosers around. I’ve come back into the past, though, on a sort of tour, I guess you could call it. I wanted to see where my best friend came from, and what he’s been through. Some of the time, I’m out in the open. I was physically present at the wedding, and I even got The Arborist to take me to Mateo’s original timeline, so I could witness the moment he first jumps onto his pattern. And of course, I’m here now, and you can see me. Other times, however, I’m watching from an observation dimension, or simply peering into the past, and have no way of interacting with people. Don’t worry, I did this with full consent from both of them. Neither of them understand who it is I am, since we’ve not yet met, but they agreed to let me deliver Mateo’s eulogy today, because they trust that I’m telling the truth. A few of you have been able to verify my sincerity through past experiences, and I appreciate that.
“I first met Mateo and Leona Matic in the year...uhh...well, let’s just call it 2630. This was well after they found themselves trapped in The Parallel...and The Third Rail. It’s after they deal with Raihan, and after their journey through The Goldilocks Corridor. It’s after their encounter with Savepoint, and after Earth gets knocked around by Project Tipping Point. But enough about me. We’re all here to talk about everyone’s favorite salmon. All of you know by now that he dies at some point in the timestream, but you may not have the whole story. I’ll explain exactly what happened to him, how he’s alive to be here with us today, and why it technically can’t be a permanent solution.
“On November 13, 2251, Leona Matic met a man named Briar de Vries, on a planet called Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida, which orbits a star called Tau Ceti. It’s several light years from Earth, and it’s completely habitable, but you probably haven’t been there. At one point, Briar was the only permanent human on this world, and it made him a little...unstable. He wasn’t crazy, and he didn’t want to hurt anyone, but he was susceptible to manipulation, and that’s precisely what happened. Mateo made a mistake. Leona forgave him for it without much trouble, but Briar felt compelled to protect her from her husband just the same. Unfortunately, a very powerful time traveler, who shall not be named, knew all too well how fragile Briar was, and how dangerous he could become. This individual gave Briar the hundemarke, and with it, the means to kill Mateo.
“There is no one on this planet right now that isn’t either a time traveler, or aware that nonlinear time is a thing. So, even if you don’t understand the physics of changing the past—which, let’s be honest, most of us don’t—you have some idea how it works. Anything that has happened in the past can be changed by someone with the necessary tools to go back, and alter course...that is, unless they’re going up against the hundemarke. The hundemarke can create a moment in time that cannot be changed. No matter what else you change prior to this moment, everything within it will occur exactly as it did in any new reality you create. Under normal circumstances, if you were to kill John Smith, then John’s daughter, Jane could go back in time, and kill you before you can do that. Then your daughter can go back and kill Jane before she can do that. But then Jane’s son can go back and kill your daughter. This may never end, as vengeful children continue to go back and change history, each new reality supplanting the last, and causing it to collapse. It won’t stop until someone, I suppose, arbitrarily breaks the cycle, and just lets the current timeline continue. But even in this scenario, these two families aren’t the only time travelers, so these kinds of changes are occurring all the time, and there are infinite variables to account for. The hundemarke takes away all those variables—all those options. Mateo was killed, and that cannot be undone.
“Now, you may be asking yourself, ‘Everest’—I’m not sure why you’re calling yourself by my name, but whatever—you ask, ‘Everest, if Mateo’s death can’t be undone, then how is he here today? I see him right over there.’ Point to Mateo. Oh wait, that was meant to be an instruction for my eyes only. There he is; Mateo Matic, alive and...well, alive. So how is he here? That’s a bit of a mystery at this point, so I won’t give you any details, but the explanation is that someone used another object to bring him here. It’s called the Extraction Mirror, and though it has many potential applications, it’s most famous for being able to pull someone from the brink of death, and let them live out their lives, probably in some other time period. The catch is that their death is inevitable. They will have to go back at some point, and finally experience that final moment. Theoretically, they could go back and prevent their own death to avoid this fate, but if they could do that, they probably don’t need an extraction mirror at all, because they always need help anyway. Of course, the hundemarke negates all this, though, so for Mateo, he will one day have to accept what’s already happened to him.
“This is all very sad, I can practically smell your frowns. But imagine what it’s like to be hundemarked like Mateo, or Nerakali Preston. They know what’s coming, but they keep going. They keep improving themselves, and making things better for others. And that’s incredibly admirable. So I don’t want us to talk about Mateo’s death anymore. I want to move on to his life. I wish I could tell you some stories about him that I experienced first hand, but he’s not yet been through any of that, so I can’t muddy the timeline. I can tell you, however, that he never loses that effortless benevolence and compassion he has now. You all know this about him, whether you like it or not. If you’ve ever gone up against him, chances are you’re on the wrong side. Good intentions or no, Mateo is generally the one who knows what’s right, and when he doesn’t, he listens to people who do.
“Mateo knows that he’s not perfect, and that he doesn’t always know what’s best, which is exactly what makes him one of the best of us. He’s willing to listen to people, even those considered to be his enemies. He recognizes and appreciates that most people just want to be understood, and that prejudgment only ever leads to antagonism. I want all of you to remember this lesson the next time you see him, because it may be more pertinent than you realize. He doesn’t always make the best choices, but he doesn’t do anything without a reason, and he deserves the benefit of the doubt.
“Like I said, I am not at liberty to share stories about Mateo’s future. I’m risking enough just by being here. I’m confident, though, that when I return to my time period, Mateo and Leona will have accepted me graciously, just as they did in the last timeline. Since it was more or less my job to discuss how Mateo’s life ended, it will be other people’s responsibility to fill you in on who he was when he was first alive. The eulogy is over, but there is plenty more to talk about, so if you had other plans for today, you may want to cancel them, or...what was that word Mateo taught me? The acronym. DVR. That’s it. You could DVR this, and watch it later.
“You will be hearing from a few other people today, and we may open it up to others, if that’s what makes sense. Obviously, Leona will be saying a few words. We’ve also scheduled time for Mateo’s current best friend, Ramses Abdulrashid. Use your time wisely, Rames. I’ll be taking your spot soon. Wink. Oh, wait, that was another instruction. I was supposed to just wink. Let’s see, Mateo’s frenemy, Horace Reaver has some time, as does Gilbert Boyce, though I’m not sure when he’s from. Once-brother, Darko Matic is in here somewhere. So yeah, it looks like you’re in for a good service. Either way, my eleven minutes are up, so it is my honor to introduce you to two very special guests. All the way from an alternate timeline, please join me in giving a warm welcome to Mateo and Leona’s once-children, Franka and Séarlas Matic.”

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