I wasn’t sure what to expect from the description “space travel,” but actual space travel was what it was, a shuttle waiting for us after a long meandering walk through what appeared to be a stone castle. The shuttle was small, with only enough room for the three of us, and I figured it was just to get us off planet and not the actual vehicle we would be traveling in. Cana piloted, waiting until I was buckled into the full-body strapping system before taking off. As I suspected, when we came out of the atmosphere and around the side of the blue and green planet the real vessel appeared, though it was hard to see it, my eyes seeming to slide off of the image every time I tried to focus. The effect lessoned as we got closer and I saw the ship wasn’t giant, by no means, but it was significant, and when we docked, the small shuttle we were on was dwarfed by the side of the ship.
The cargo bay we docked in was cavernous, other shuttles tucked away among the industrial piping, grated floors, and dimmer lighting. We were greeted by several other individuals ranging from two fully formed Diaxes, a male human, a female Sideian, and a Rath. The Rath was very tall, towering over us in a willowy way that reminded me of the Master in the woods and I wondered if they were of the same timeline. All of them stared at me and I remained very still under their scrutiny, hands itching for weapons.
Cana turned towards me. “Colm will take you to your quarters. I request that you please stay there until we are fully launched.”
“And then?” I asked, knowing that I had no other option but to go along.
“Then we’ll discuss your partner,” she said. “And what’s to come.”
I studied her face, the unknown nature of it, the way her skin didn’t quite fit, and wondered who, or what she was, and what that meant for my safety and future.
She turned without another word, the welcoming committee trailing behind her as she left the bay.
“This way,” Colm said, bringing my awareness back to his largeness hovering behind my shoulder. It was threatening, and he knew it. I refused to concede, remaining stubbornly in one spot despite his overly large presence.
He passed me and started off in the opposite direction of where Cana had walked.
I decided not to ask about the quarters or the situation, knowing he expected me to; instead, I followed him out of the area and into a hallway without a comment of any kind. The hallway was tunnel-like, carpeted, with lights running along the top and along the bottom, giving off plenty of light, but in a calm sort of way, as if the gentleness of the light would take away from the idea that we were now in the vacuum of space. I preferred planet missions. Kieren and I were occasionally assigned space missions, but rarely, and usually not anything that required extensive space travel.
Turning a corner, Colm led me down another hallway, this one lined with blue oval doorways. Colm stopped in front of one of those doorways, putting a hand to the screen just to the side of the door and keying in a code that I was not quick enough to see. The door opened silently, lights brightening as he walked over the threshold into the room. I hesitated, only for a moment, but there was nowhere to go on the ship, and making the large Sideian angry hardly seemed like a good idea.
I crossed over into the room, looking around. It was a small space, but only somewhat smaller than my rooms at the Citadel, with a bed, chair, and desk, and through another doorway, a bathroom. Colm also examined the room, making sure that nothing was available for me to tamper with, and satisfied, left without saying anything.
The door closed behind him and even before I walked to it, I knew he’d locked me in.
Alone, I let the frustration and irritation well up. Here I was again, separated from Kieren, in an unknown situation at someone else’s bidding. I sat at the end of the bed and glared at my surroundings. There wasn’t much to see, but I did notice that there was a tablet-like device on the desk. I hoped for some kind of access, something to clue me in on timeline and location, but Colm had clearly not missed its presence, which meant that even though I turned it on with the small silver power button along the edge, the black screen remained stubbornly black. Studying the side, I saw where the power cord attached, but the desk drawers gave up nothing, and neither did under the desk and under the bed.
I returned the tablet to its spot on the desk and went to the bathroom. It was tiny. A toilet looking contraption and a small shower that would only fit one person. There was a mirror and I briefly thought about breaking it to use the shards of glass as weapons, but upon closer inspection saw that the mirror was not made of glass but constructed of highly polished metal-like material.
Returning to the room, I sat on the bed once more and tried not to let the antsy irritation take control of my mind and body. I hadn’t sat in silence for some time, so with nothing else to do, I did just that, sitting cross-legged and closing my eyes, letting myself fall into the rhythm of my breath, downwards towards my sit bones, towards that dark cavernous place of quiet at the root of myself.
It took a while, but eventually my mind calmed, the flow of breath becoming my entire focus and I sat until the door sounded, admitting a visitor.
The visitor was a human male. He was younger than me, probably in his mid to late 20s with wheat-blond hair cut close to his head, brown eyes bordering on amber, and a tan that looked like it had seen better days. Wiry with youth, he tried to emulate ease as he stood at the doorway, but the tension about his shoulders gave him away.
“Mistress Cana would like to see you,” he said, his voice low and surprisingly pleasant with a slight accent that indicated a human timeline versus the Master Realm.
I got up, stretching arms above my head as I studied the boy. The scrutiny unnerved him, though he tried to hide it behind a friendly smile. He stepped back into the hallway to allow me space to exit. Smoothing my clothes down with both palms, I felt the difference in my breath, in the calmness at my center. The stillness had worked as it usually did, and I felt calmer somewhere around my solar plexus.
I followed the male down the hallway to a lift that immediately opened at our arrival. The lift was empty, and we entered side by side.
“How many people are on board?” I asked as the lift moved, indicated by the numbers above the door rather than the actual feeling of movement.
He shook his head. “All questions are to be directed to Mistress Cana or Sir Colm,” he said in such a way that I could tell that the line had been practiced.
I shrugged, letting him have his line.
The door to the lift opened. We were in another hallway though this one was wider. The male led me down the hallway to a large dining area filled with long tables and chairs, all of them empty. The sound of cooking could be heard beyond the serving counter.
“What time is it?” I asked.
The human shook his head and I audibly sighed in response.
He brought me across the dining room to a door set back from the rest of the space. The door opened upon our arrival. The male remained outside the door, indicating with an extended hand that I should enter. I gave him a flash of a smile, amused by the way his eyes slid away, and then walked into the room. Cana sat at one end of a rather large table, food and a tea set set out in front of her. The food was mostly cleared from her plate, only a few greens left, bright against the white.
“Please, take a seat, are you hungry?” she said as I moved further into the room.
I was, but I shook my head, taking a seat that was outside of her reach zone.
“No bodyguard this time?” I asked, looking around the room for Colm.
Cana did that strange smile that wasn’t a smile thing as she gazed at me from where she sat. “He doesn’t go everywhere with me,” she replied.
I nodded and let it be. “Are you going to tell me where we’re going now?” I asked instead.
“In time, yes, but right now I wish to speak to you about your Guardian partner.”
I sat back, trying to cover my tense reaction to the sentence.
She also leaned back in her chair, emulating my movements, and I knew that I’d not fooled her. “What can you tell me about Kieren’s past?” she asked.
A slight shrug of acquiescence.
“He’s Sideian. From a rather powerful family, I understand, though we have never talked a lot about our time before moving over to the Master Realm.”
“The Master Realm, that is such an interesting name, isn’t it?”
She replied. “It is the idea that the Realm exists at a higher plane than others.”
“Doesn’t it?” I asked slowly.
“I suppose in a way if comparing the experimental timelines. But not all timelines are experimental Master constructs.”
Shaking my head, I tried to make sense of her words.
Seeing my confusion, she explained. “I am of a space that does not exist according to the Master Realm, but which clearly exists because I am of it.”
“You are, different,” I said.
Another one of the non-smiles. “Yes. This body,” she started, waving a hand down the length of her, “is not my own. But just because I am of a people that are not named, does that take away from my existence?”
I shook my head. “No, of course not.”
“And just because these experiments are experiments, does this take away from the humanity of a human, or the personhood of a Diax?” she stopped, took a breath that was not altogether connected to her body. “But this is a tangent. Your partner. How long have you been partners?”
The quick subject changed caught me and I paused for a moment, thinking through the two different subjects before answering. “We’ve been partners for six cycles.”
“And the nature of a Guardian partner is to be close?”
“And a Guardian relationship is entirely platonic?”
I hesitated, thinking of Tirius’s words, but then nodded. “More or less. There are cases in which the partners are involved beyond their duties as Guardian, but the guidelines set out is that of a working partnership.”
“Who fight together.”
“We are trained to do so, yes.” I stopped, thinking it over and then shrugged. “The way the partnership works is to train together, doing everything together, so that while in a fight there is a level of communication that exists without words, and also a trust as we know on an instinctive level the actions of the other.”
Cana stared at me for a moment, not blinking, which was strange of itself, but then she stood in that detached way, surprising me.
“Follow me, if you would.”
I did as she asked, pushing away from the table and following her as she led me through the ship. At some point, we must have departed the station because there was a hum under the floor that I had not noticed before.
“We are traveling?” I asked as we stepped into another lift.
“Yes. We shall arrive in two days, ship time.”
I wanted to ask where we were going again but figured that I would not receive a straight answer, so I remained silent, standing straight next to her taller, thinner form.
The lift opened and we walked out into a massive space sectioned off into individual areas. Though the location and the scene before me were strange, the sound of grunting, yelling, and curses were very familiar. Cana led me to one of the sectioned areas. About the size of the large dining room we’d just left, the walls were padded with blue foam, two lengths taller than my height, the wooden floor polished to a shine. In the middle of the area, Colm stood at easy attention. At some point, he’d changed his clothing and he wore a pair of loose brown trousers and a lighter brown tunic that was snug around his broad shoulders. His long hair was pulled back into the familiar caul at the base of his skull and in his hand, he held my staff or one that looked very much like it.
I turned to Cana for an explanation.
Colm answered for her. “Here,” he said, throwing the staff in my direction. I automatically caught it, the familiarity of the device like a piece of my body.
Without another word, he took two long shark curved blades from behind his back and attacked. I had little time to think, activating the staff with a jerk of my wrist, extending it to the fullest length, blades shining. Colm came at me straight on, perhaps believing that his longer reach and sheer mass would be enough to make contact. A clumsy attack, my body registered as my mind flowed behind it, crouching low, then rolling along the floor to come behind him. He was already turning, one blade slashing at my head, the other at my middle. I parried with my staff, the contact jarring all the way up my arm. I locked my jaw against the impact, using my legs like an anchor and a strength, twisting from the two blades on either side of my staff, and lashing out with my foot at Colm’s knee. With his hands full, he was unable to grab at my foot, trying to step back but my foot landed at his knee, causing him to grunt in pain and lose footing even as the kick impact ricocheted up my own leg. It felt like I’d kicked a wall, but using his off-balance as an advantage, I angled my staff up and sideways, catching his left wrist with enough force that his hand involuntarily opened and dropped the blade.
I kicked the blade away while crouching low to avoid his left jab at my head. I was fast enough to avoid the jab, not fast enough to avoid the right-handed blade that he angled low towards my body in a swifter than sight hook. I caught the blade barely with my staff but not before it sliced through the side of my shirt, the cut so severe that the lower part of my tank fell away, exposing the skin of my stomach and side. I switched the staff to my left side, angling upwards, hitting him sideways low to the groin. Colm deflected it with his free left hand, grabbing at my staff. I let him, briefly, then slid backward, my staff coming with me, the blade just barely nicking his palm before he let go.
His right blade came down at me from above my head, exposing his entire right side. I went for the jab, my staff a whirl of movement. Instead of contacting flesh, Colm grabbed the staff once again but before I could pull the blade backward in the move from before, he used his superior strength to pull me towards him. I adjusted, bringing my knee up to his genitals with considerable force. Pain flashed across his face, but his physical reaction was minimal, pulling me around and against his body, the blade coming up to my neck.
“Concede,” he said, voice low against my ear, chest heaving against my back.
Instinct prevailing, I stomped down hard on his foot. The blade at my throat sliced the skin, pain igniting in fire, but it distracted Colm just enough that the pressure of the knife eased up on my throat, allowing me to elbow him in his stomach. His hold loosened. Moving within the chamber of his arms, I grabbed at his wrist, pinching the nerve there causing him to grunt in pain, twirling it so I was behind him, his arm at an angle, staff in my hand.
I could have ended the fight, ended his life, thrusting my staff into the soft tissue of his lower back. Instead, I pushed him away with a foot, staggering a few steps from where he stood. Blood dripped steadily from the slice across my throat, dribbling into what remained of my shirt.
Colm turned, quickly, knife still in his right hand. Sweat glistened along his face, down his throat and he breathed deeply, hazel eyes flashing with the heat of the fight.
Tensing for the next attack, I watched the large Sideian.
“That’s enough,” Cana said from where she still stood at the entrance of the fighting area. While we fought, others had arrived, all now looking at me with a combination of curiosity, surprise, and a little bit of fear.
As my adrenaline slowly came down, darkness threatened at the edges of my sight. I blinked severely, taking calm, long inhales and exhales.
“You let yourself be wounded,” Colm said. In his voice was emotion, though I wasn’t sure if it was censure, admiration, or judgment. His eyes were still piercing in their intensity.
“Sometimes that’s how to win,” I replied, echoing my Guardian training.
Cana walked further into the area, studying me. “That’s how you are trained? This is the Guardian’s training?”
I ran my tongue over my teeth. The taste was metallic as if I had bitten my tongue to the point of bleeding. “We do what we must to win.”
Cana tilted her head. “That explains a lot.”
As my breath regained normalcy, the shakes started. To hide them, I tightened my hold on my staff, knuckles going white at the pressure. “That was to prove something, wasn’t it?”
“Not to prove, no, but to see.” Cana paused then, looking to Colm, who shrugged. He’d taken off his shirt to wipe the sweat from his face and I was not surprised to see large black bands tattooed in strips along his chest and shoulders. They were Sideian tattoos, designating rank and favor, and though I was entirely unfamiliar with the meaning, I knew enough to recognize that at home, Colm was a very important individual.
“We have never been able to speak with a Guardian, let alone witness their fighting style,” Cana continued.
I grimaced. “You mean, I’ve been the only one stupid enough to get kidnapped.”
Cana smiled in return, that strange, not quite right expression. “We had help.”
I rolled my eyes, inhaling. “Tirius,” I said on the exhale.
I retracted my staff, bringing the remnants of my shirt up to wipe at the sweat still rolling down the side of my face.
“I’ll take that back,” Colm said from where he stood.
Hands tightening further, I stared at him. He remained immune to my glare, but Cana waved a hand. “Let her have it.”
“She’ll kill you with it,” Colm said bluntly.
“Then she will,” Cana replied. “Come, let’s clean that wound up and find you clothes. We have much to discuss.”
Truthfully, I wanted to sleep, or better yet, to eat first and then sleep. The shakes from the fight were dissipating, but my body was low on energy, especially as my system was working on healing the slice across my throat. But instead of giving into the weakness, I followed Cana with what I hoped was a steady step.
Colm remained behind for which I was grateful, especially when we reached the medical bay and the medical personnel, another human, a female with ebony skin and startling blue eyes started to poke and prod in fascination at the wound that was slowly healing.
“Are they antibodies then?” she asked with the same accent as the boy who came to my quarters earlier. Sitting on the top of an examination couch, I let her scan me with a handheld, watching Cana at the corner of the room. The medical bay appeared as advanced as any I’d ever seen, and the woman before me clearly knew what she was doing as she typed in data and then continued to monitor the process of healing.
She looked up at me, eyes bright. “May I examine you physically?”
Raised eyebrows, I blinked several times. “Excuse me?”
The doctor put her hands underneath a machine, the blue light sweeping across the skin, disinfecting it. She held her hands up, long fingers with blunt pink nails, nodding towards my throat. “Just your lymph nodes, I want to see if there is any reaction there.”
I nodded towards the handheld she was using before. “Won’t that say?”
Her smile was bright. “Well, yes, but sometimes the old-fashioned way is the best.”
Staff still in my hand, I shrugged, lifting my chin. Her touch was gentle as she prodded at either side of my neck. “Your shirt please,” she said.
I looked down at the remains of my tank. Sighing, I pulled it over my head though I kept my staff in one hand the entire time. Sitting in trousers and a breast binding, she gently pulled one arm up so she could feel around my armpit and then the other. Paranoia washed over me, which was a strange feeling, one that I hadn’t had in a while, but I knew I smelled. The physical exertion, the sweat, the blood, all combining to create a putrid aroma that I was having a hard time not wrinkling my nose at; though the doctor didn’t seem to register the smell as she lowered my right arm and patted my hand.
“Thank you,” she said, then took up the handheld and started entering information.
“We knew that Guardians had an enhanced immune system, but not to this extent,” the doctor said, not looking up from her handheld. “Really, this healing process is amazing.” She looked up, gazing at me. “Can you also go without food and water?”
I frowned, my stomach growling at her in response.
Another flash of a brilliant smile. “Is that a no?”
“I think we can go longer than others,” I replied truthfully. “But we do need to eat and drink.”
Cana stepped in. “Are you done, Amia?”
The doctor shrugged. “Not really. But I can do the rest of the examination later.”
“Great,” I muttered, then pulled my tattered shirt back over my head. Though it barely covered my stomach and side, at least it was something. I was not modest, in the way humans tended to be and the way I used to be, but was still aware of my exposed skin, and the chill that seemed to permeate the air.
Cana took me back to my room. “There is clothing for you. Change and then I would like for you to go get a meal. You likely need it. Can you find your way back to the mess hall?”
I nodded, though I wasn’t entirely sure. Cana took my nonverbal as consent and left without another word.
Left alone once more, I opted for a shower, allowing my body to release as the hot water steamed up in waving clouds of moisture. Truthfully, the fight had been exhilarating and as my mind lingered on it, analyzing it, I saw some of Kieren’s fighting style in the larger Sideian. Not the same, really, but small pieces that showed a shared heritage. It made me wonder how much of our previous lives we brought over to the Master Realm. Did we maintain who we were, deeply, in the ingrained pieces of our flesh?
Stepping out of the shower, I wiped a hand over the mirror and stared at my face. It was the face I had known as long as I could remember, with the pointed chin, small nose with freckles, bluish-gray eyes that slanted upwards. My hair was the same dull mouse brown it had always been, long now, around my shoulder blades. I stepped back to better view my naked body, the slight shoulders with the wider hips, strong and lean arms, thick thighs.
I was me, but still, I felt a disassociation, as if, like Cana, I fit uncomfortably in the body I had.
Entering the bedroom, I found clothing left for me, which included human underthings, a loose tunic and a pair of loose trousers that were too long, both in a dirty brown color. I rolled the trouser legs up, thinking a bit longingly of my wardrobe at the Citadel. I would have chosen black. That was most definitely the mood I was in.
They’d also provided a pair of slip-on sandals. I eyed those for a moment, wishing for my boots and my Guardian attire. The clothing I wore felt comfortable but still felt wrong, as if another piece of me had been stripped away and replaced with something foreign.
I resisted the urge to sit back down on the bed and left my quarters, staff in hand, wandering in the general direction of the mess hall and finding it without anyone’s help. It was not empty this time, individuals eating and getting food as I paused at the threshold. I half expected everyone to go silent and stare at me, but though there were the few whispers, there were also a few friendly, smiling faces. Colm appeared at my elbow as I hesitated at the doorway and I barely contained my startlement, going still rather than flinching away.
“Let’s get you food,” he said, taking off towards the service line with a long stride. I watched his retreating backside for a moment, then followed reluctantly. I expected the food to be strange, alien, but it consisted of familiar looking vegetables and thick slices of bread with a red sauce poured over them. Smells tickled at my nose of spices I couldn’t quite place, but my stomach wasn’t picky and, once seated, I dug into the pile of food without a second thought.
It was warm. It was filling. It was bland.
I ate all of it.
Colm ate silently in front of me. Though he appeared to eat in a slow but steady way, his plate of food was gone considerably faster than mine and he got up without a word to refill it. Another Sideian took his place, this one female with dark brown eyes under a heavy fringe of dark brown hair, curling tattoos at her temples and along the side of her face. She regarded me silently, her expression neutral.
I stopped eating to stare back, irritated.
“Yes?” I pressed after a moment.
“You’re the Guardian?” she asked. Her tone held a tone of anger, cold and bright.
I didn’t answer, watching the woman, noting the tension in her shoulders, the grip of her jaw. Smoothly, I dropped my hand to the staff in my lap.
Colm returned, pausing to stare down at the woman. “Dani, not the time.”
Dani looked up at Colm and I watched fascinated as her expression went from irritation to anger, to lust, back to irritation in a matter of moments.
“Beet is dead,” she replied.
“Not because of her,” Colm said.
“A Guardian killed her.”
Colm maintained eye contact with the woman. “But not because of her,” he repeated.
Dani got up, slowly and gracefully, glancing at me with a look of hatred that was very easy to interpret. Then, giving Colm another complex look, walked away.
Colm watched her and I watched Colm, noticing that his eyes lingered on the woman.
“Beet?” I asked when he sat down.
“Her partner. She was killed in a raid,” he answered, already moving into the second heaping pile of food in front of him.
“Guardians killed her?”
“It was a mission. She didn’t return.”
I watched the man in front of me, scanning his relaxed body language. “What kind of mission?” I asked after a moment, thinking of Darkside.
Colm paused his eating, fork halfway to his mouth. He lowered it, pinning me with a look. “The kind that can get you killed.”
I leaned back, regarding him. The room had slowly started to empty, and we were of only five left eating. I was done, but even as I watched, Colm resumed, finishing off his plate.
“What was the mission?” I repeated, changing the wording.
Colm licked his teeth, smacking his lips. “You’ll see. Come on.”
He got up, grabbing his plate then mine and depositing them in the area for dishes. Again, I hesitated because he had not answered, and I wondered if he was there that night on Darkside. Also, I had no desire to do anything he said. But. Answers required following him, so after another moment of sheer stubbornness, I did, getting up from my spot and walking towards where he waited at the exit.
In reality, I didn’t mind following him, though I would’ve never admitted it. All things considering, I was in a good mood, which caused a little bit of guilt. I was full, clean, and mostly comfortable except for the lingering tiredness. Sure, I was in the middle of space, without knowledge of when or where I was, but the threat level was relatively low and though I didn’t much like Colm, I was starting to inch my way towards respect.
The fight had done that; though I could barely concede the fact, even to myself.
And then there was the very real possibility that I could start getting answers, or at least information that would help me to figure out the puzzle that was now my life.
Our destination was Cana’s office, or what I thought was probably Cana’s office as she sat behind a desk inlaid with technology. On my left was an entire wall of shelves with various scrolls and books and other contraptions I was unable to identify. On my right were several paintings made of abstract colors that took on different shapes the longer I stared at them.
She rose at our entrance. “Please, come in, sit,” Cana said, indicating with a long arm the chairs that sat on the other side of her desk. I took a seat. Colm did not, excusing himself and then closing the door behind him. I instantly felt the tension ease from my shoulders. Cana saw it and I felt like her off smile held a level of understanding.
“Are you feeling better?” she asked, sitting back in her chair.
I nodded. “Thanks. Though I would’ve appreciated some heads up before being thrown into a fight.”
Cana held out a hand, fingers limp, skin hanging as if not entirely attached to the bones underneath. “I do apologize. We needed to see how you would respond to the situation.”
“And study my fighting methods,” I said.
Thinking about the woman in the mess hall, I looked around me. “You’ve run into Guardians before.”
“And it hasn’t ended well,” I finished for her.
“It has not.”
Refocusing on the woman in front of me, I studied her face. “Watching me fight will not give you an insight into the way other Guardians fight; especially if it is a Guardian pair. There are basics to all of our fighting styles of course, but most of the time the fighting methods are very different from partnered Guardian to partnered Guardian.”
“I understand. But any insight is helpful,” she said.
I paused, studying her. “How many?”
She knew what I meant. “Too many,” she replied, and I let the conversation stall out, silence filling up space between us. What was there to say, really. I wanted answers but I also wanted to keep potentially valuable information to myself.
I looked beyond Cana to the heavy-set window behind her. There was nothing but blackness there as if we were sitting still amid the darkest night, but I knew we moved even though I couldn’t feel the movement. It was the hum of the ship, far off and distant, but down deep and ever-present. “Where are we going?” I asked the question again, hoping that she would answer now that we were traveling.
“To a location of space and time that is untouched by Masters and their games,” she answered.
At my puzzled look, she continued. “What I am going to tell you, is hard sometimes for species within the canopy of the Master Realm to understand. There are many of you. The human timeline. The Sideian timeline. Diax. Rushi. Brialian. That’s just a few and doesn’t encompass all the timelines that have come before and were not deemed a success, therefore fading into nothing. All these species, you as a human, Colm as a Sideian, believe that there is a master Creator. Even those of you within the species who believe in no creator, rather in a final death scenario, believe under the same kind of sky, the same kind of inherent, belief system. Many ways of expressing it, of course, but there it is. Then, when the few move on to the Master Realm, as you call it, and see that everything is a game, or as you say, an experiment, then it reinforces the idea that this Master Realm is somehow higher than these other timelines. The Masters control, therefore, they are the head of the hierarchy. And you believe this, along with everyone else within those timelines. Sure, in this way of looking at things, there is a Creator that’s above everyone, but it is an absent creator. The Masters, they exist, you’ve spoken to them, perhaps you’ve even shaken their hands. They are real. But they are not the center, or the head of the family, or the top of the hierarchal chain of evolution. They, just like humans or Sideians, or Diaxes, are but a piece of something quite a bit larger. They fight against this reality because they refuse to give in to the implications of such a reality. They fight against us, who live in this bigger picture because they refuse to give up their power, their position, even though the position is entirely imaginary.”
She tilted her head, skin hanging off her cheekbones. “This is the space that I am taking you. It is untouched by Travel because it exists outside of this Master construct.”
I looked down at my hands, trying to make sense of what she told me. It was akin to being told there was no such thing as gravity; it defied logic. Stepping back, taking a bird’s view, I could see the possibility of her words. Her explanation made sense, but at the same time a basic, instinctual piece of me refused to believe her.
She waited for me to process and I finally looked up. “But this place, it exists within the same space and time? How is this possible?”
“In a way, yes. It is not separate in the physical sense, not really, it is just outside of the Master deemed reality. When you have a reality, it is defined by the parameters that you place on it, or that others have placed on it, but just because those parameters exist, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything beyond those parameters.”
I studied her words, looking for fallacy. “But if you are outside of this reality, then why are you inviting notice by kidnapping me, or interacting with anyone or anything within the realm? It seems to me that you, and those who exist outside of these parameters, would be much safer not calling notice upon yourselves.”
The mood shifted to something darker and I felt her gaze like a heavyweight even as she answered. “Because we were not left alone. There are those of us who were born and have lived outside of the Master’s canopy of existence, and then there are those who are part of that existence and have found their way to us, some intentionally, looking for answers or explanations, and some by accident. We could have existed in this way, forever outside the Master’s notice. But, the Masters, they like power, and they like control. It’s why these timeline experiments exist to begin with. Naturally, then, when they figured out that something was going on beyond their reach, they reached a little farther.”
“To take control.”
“To take control. And so, we used to stand by and provide sanctuary to those who found their way to our borders, and we thought we are not part of this, that is them. But then, it became part of us, somehow. The Masters discovered our existence, and when Tirius came to us, explaining what was going on from the viewpoint of the Masters, and with his understanding of the way the experiments worked, we agreed that we would help Tirius if he would help to protect us from the Masters.”
I leaned forward. “So, you know for a fact that the timelines are being manipulated.”
She hesitated. “Yes. Tirius has the information and there is clearly something taking place within the timelines that suggests a bigger manipulation, something perhaps even between Masters. These actions have resulted in the deaths of living beings. The combination of these events and the Masters’ attempt to find and annihilate us has increased significantly. We have plans to stop them and we’ve started to take steps to make this a reality.”
“But Tirius has disappeared and he is instrumental in this?”
She inclined her head. “He disappeared; and we need you, who he was grooming to be the next Archivist, to help us find him.”
I stared at her. The information was not entirely surprising to me. A very small part of me had wondered if that was what he had been doing by bringing me in as his apprentice. But then I’d left, and then I’d found out that I was not the one that was supposed to move over to begin with; rather, I was supposed to be wandering Earth trying to figure out how I fit in with the masses; the odd bird out, the strange one, the one with no answers.
I rubbed my forehead; really nothing had changed.
“How am I supposed to help?” I asked after a moment. “If he has disappeared from the timeline, I’m not entirely sure what I can do. I have no magical way of locating people. There are billions of time points. He could be anywhere.”
Cana stood up, a fluid rising of her body that appeared wave-like under her flowing clothing. I watched her walk over to the shelves and pull out a heavy text. It was thicker than my arms stacked together and when she handed it to me, the weight pulled at my biceps.
“Page 86 if you will,” she said.
I dutifully flipped to page 86, scanning the pages as I did but most of it was written in an unfamiliar language. I wasn’t very hopeful for page 86, but instead of writing, the page held a graph with names and lines. I studied it, puzzled. “Is this a family tree?”
“Of sorts,” Cana replied. “Part of what Tirius’s research has uncovered is the partnership of individuals across timelines.”
I nodded, still looking over the page. “Yes, the partner theory. That has come up a lot lately.”
“What do you know of it?” she asked.
Looking up from the book, I shrugged. “That there are individuals that work exceptionally well together.”
Though her face barely changed, I felt as if my answer amused her. “That is all?”
“That’s all I know about,” I said, a bit defensively, feeling as if I was missing something and not liking the feeling.
“It is more than that,” she explained, the amusement fading. “It is a partnership that spans lifetimes and timelines.”
I traced one of the lines on the page with a finger, thinking about Kieren. “Timelines?”
“Yes. Timelines. And from what Tirius has uncovered, when a partnership is formed, great things, or terrible things, occur.”
“Kieren told me that the Warden picks partners based on the partner theory, that a pair has inherent traits that connect them.”
“Bigger,” Cana said, then leaned forward to point at the book. “That is Tirius’s line. The many branches of the lives that he has lived and the family he has had, or as much as he can uncover. Do you see the names with the single dot?”
I did. The name changed throughout the tree, along with how far it was from the line that was Tirius himself, but always ran parallel. There was a single time that the name was in the same sphere as Tirius’s name; a human timeline with the data 1915.
I pointed at it. “This person? Mary Lancashire.”
“That is who he believes is his partner. What you’re pointing at is the timeline moment he was killed in the trenches of France.”
“World War I,” I said, sighing. “Of course it is.” Shaking my head, I frowned as other items of consideration connected. “But you just said that when partnered, great things occur.”
“Or terrible things.”
I paused, looking up at Cana, alarmed. “Who was Tirius in 1915?”
“He was no one, a random soldier who was wounded and who was sent to a field hospital where he met Mary Lancashire, a nurse there. He recovered and was sent back to the front, but before he could get there, he died being trampled by a horse.”
She smiled that off smile. “Exactly.”
“I mean, that’s nothing. Aren’t you contradicting yourself saying that these partnerships lead to something? He died. What did Mary Lancashire do?”
“She went back to England, married, had three children who went on to have lives and their children had children, and their children. There is no indication of anything significant occurring in her timeline at all.”
I sat back in the chair and stared at Cana. “You’re not making any sense.”
“Yes, I’m aware. But see, every other partnership Tirius was able to uncover had a significant impact on the course of the timeline; a significant impact. Every single one. Except Tirius’s, who, instead of marrying Mary Lancashire, which he was going to do, ends up being trampled by a horse and wakes in the Master Realm.”
Closing the book, I put a palm against the leather cover. “Maybe that wasn’t his partner.”
“That was my reaction as well. But why the parallel lines?”
Cana smiled that strange smile. “Perhaps. Tirius, however, feels otherwise. He was trying to prove it.”
“By going back to that era again and again and again,” I said.
“In part, but visiting other times as well, and not only within the human timeline. Across multiple timelines.”
“And his conclusion?”
“That something, or someone, is manipulating his interaction with this other individual.” She got up, taking the book and replacing it on the shelf. “And this partnership is not the only thing being manipulated. There is so much evidence to show that these timelines aren’t free of influence, or not pure in their existence, but constructs, constructs made up of lives, real lives, not imaginary lives.” She sat back down. “That is why we are doing what we are doing.”
Feeling a pit in my stomach, a tightness in my chest, I asked the question that had hovered since I was kidnapped into the situation and started to talk with Cana. “What is that exactly?”
Cana sat forward, pinning me with her look. “The death of every single Master.”