Chapter 12

We arrived several cycles later, or days as they were called on the ship. I was left alone after my conversation with Cana. I ate in the mess with Colm, most everyone ignoring me and though I was told I could roam the ship, the first time I took the chance, individuals stared, and the whispers followed me like a ghost. After that, I stayed in my room instead, alternating between sitting, napping, and worrying about Kieren, wondering what it was he’d ended up doing after I disappeared again. 

On the last day of the trip, with docking less than four hours away, Colm came and collected me. Cana had provided me with a Guardian uniform tailored to my size, black on black with black boots. I didn’t venture to ask where she’d gotten the uniform, instead taking it without comment and thankful despite the bloody history it likely had. With it on, though, I stuck out in my gloom as I moved through the people aboard all getting ready to depart, and all wearing soft Earth tone colors similar to the clothing that I’d originally been given. With my hair tightly tied back, the staff in a holster at the base of my spine, I cut a formidable figure. I caught more than one glance of nervous fear as I walked through the hallways to where Cana waited for us on the bridge. 

“Your reputation is growing,” Colm said, clearly amused.

I studied his broad shoulders under the beige tunic he wore. “What do you mean?”

He glanced over his shoulder at me. “No one beats me.”

Not able to comment as we’d arrived at our destination, I let it slide, though a certain warmth settled in my chest. I took Colm’s words as a compliment, though the feeling was quickly replaced by concern that I was starting to like these people who had taken me against my will. There was a term for growing to like one’s captives and even though I couldn’t remember what it was, I knew it wasn’t a complimentary word.

Shoving the thoughts aside, I looked around the bridge, surprised at its smallness. Cana was there, standing tall and straight in front of a large curved window that showed the glimmer of a sun and pricks of starlight. Studying the ceiling-to-floor window for a moment, I thought it likely that it was less a window and more a very high-quality image, the view transmitted by cameras mounted on the front of the vessel. Cana was talking to a short-statured human in a dark blue uniform, one of the first uniforms I’d seen, light brown hair short against his scalp. He nodded once at whatever Cana said, then exited the bridge at a door on the opposite side of the room from where we stood, his footstep silent on the heavy carpet.

 Cana saw Colm and I and waved us forward as she took a seat in the overly cushioned chair in the middle of the room, clearly a captain’s chair. The ease in which she took the position gave off the distinct impression that she was familiar and comfortable with the captain’s chair. Another individual, also in a blue uniform, with long curling like tendrils for hair and a very thin frame emerged and stopped at her elbow, presenting her with a tablet of information to go over. Cana did it quietly, glancing through the pages, then handing it back. “I trust you on this,” she said to the individual, of whose kind I was not sure, and it (he, her, they?) walked quickly away on silent feet, the dark tresses seeming to float behind their triangular head.

“I wanted you to see this,” Cana said, addressing me while simultaneously typing something into the arm of her chair. With her other hand, she pointed to an empty spot in front of a console. “Don’t touch anything, but you may sit there for arrival.”

I did as I was told, vaguely aware that Colm excused himself from the bridge with a bow. I felt a loosening at his absence, unaware before he left that I’d carried a tense awareness of his threat. With him gone, I extracted my staff from my back and settled down into the gray bucket seat, weapon on my lap. The chair and console before me lay parallel with another console operated by a Sideian female, her dark hair so long it nearly touched the ground in its braid, her uniform a darker shade of blue with several pins in the collar. Knotted tattoos were dark and striking at either side of her eyes, but she ignored my looks, focusing on her controls, of which there were many.

Looking away from the pilot, I stared forward at the black night with the distant stars and the faded glow off in the top right side of the screen. I wondered where we were, or even if I would know the location. As I watched, the glow increased, and though celestial bodies were too far away to really judge if we were changing course, the sudden appearance of a planet on the right side of the window was enough to indicate some kind of maneuvering.

“That’s Marious,” Cana said behind me. “We will soon reach Kepler.”

The name jolted me. “Kepler? From the human timeline?” I asked, glancing over my shoulder at Cana who calmly sat in her captain’s chair.

 “It is. One of them at least,” she replied, not looking my way but continuing to watch the scene unfold before her on the screens.

Something clicked and I studied the woman, feeling a rock in my stomach. “You never Traveled. When you got me, you didn’t Travel away from Earth and the human timeline.”

Cana looked over me and gave me one of her strange smiles. “No.”

“But it felt like it,” I said, thinking back on the experience.

“There are similarities, we believe, between what you call Travel and what we use to move from one space to another. At its base level, it is a transference of energy, which we believe is what you do when you Travel.”

That was sort of true. Travel was harnessing energy and using it with a precise location in space-time. “It’s a device?”

“Yes. It allows us to move about undetected. It’s essential to our safety.”

I read between the lines; I would not be seeing the device or using it; not that I needed it, not really. I could have Traveled at any point during the journey, but I was curious to know what was on the other side of this space travel; curious to know how these people that existed in this impossible scenario, and how they’d come to have a relationship with Tirius. I was also worried about the Archivist’s disappearance. Leaving hadn’t made sense, because if I left, I couldn’t have returned, not without knowing the precise time, date, and location of the ship or the location of Cana’s destination. 

The ship moved around the looming planet, emerging from its shadow and revealing another quickly approaching planet that looked an awful lot like Earth. We were coming towards the day side of the planet, clouds swirling in whitewashes against the backdrop of greens and blues and the occasional brown. “This planet is fully habitable?” I asked, awe creeping into my voice though I tried to remain neutral at the scene before me.

“It is. It always has been.”

A snarling mess of reason was trying to undo itself in my brain. We were still within the human timeline, but not in the human timeline because somehow, we were outside of it. But this planet clearly existed; as did the ship and the people on the ship with their range of different individual timeline origins. 

There weren’t only humans on the ship, which meant that somehow other timelines had bled into the human one. Unless by being outside the timeline, this planet we now approached had somehow become a waypoint for different experiments. Even Cana had mentioned that individuals found their way to her, but with what I knew about timelines and the separation of them, I was unable to reason out how individuals were moving from their respective places to this one, outside of anything that a Master had constructed.

I rubbed at my eyes, tense around my shoulders as we started our descent, stopping my circular thinking with force. As we broke into the upper layer of the atmosphere, blue skies wrapped about the ship and I could see the glint of sea below us. It was mere breaths before a landmass appeared in the viewing screen and we descended and slowed. It was hard to tell which direction we faced, but as we moved in, the sun set in front of us, the sudden bright light causing the screen to darken in response. With the backdrop of a setting sun, a striking city of emerald green buildings appeared, piercing the blue sky.

“That’s home,” Cana said, pride in her voice. “Akdia.”

“It’s big,” I said as we flew over. Numbering well into the hundreds, the buildings were all smooth curving lines spiraling about, rising to a point in the sky. Between the buildings there appeared to be grass and trees and nothing else. “Where is everybody?” I asked, the area between buildings empty of all moving life. It was beautiful, but strange, unlike anything I’d ever seen before.

My question remained unanswered, Cana talking quietly into a device at her arm. It was silver and wrapped around her wrist like a cuff. The Sideian pilot made a comment in a language my translator did not catch, and Cana answered in kind as we descended towards a strip of shining black. The landing was impossibly smooth, not even a bump and if the Sideian hadn’t looked quite so formidable, I would have congratulated her on her flying skills. As it were, I remained silent, watching to see what would happen next.

The screen went black; the low hum of the ship ceased; and Cana stood to her full height, the long gray dress falling in folds around her. I reluctantly got up, holstering my staff at the base of my spine, keeping my shoulders loose. I would fight my way out of anything, but I very much wished my partner was at my side facing the unknown together. It was not the first time I’d wished it on the several day’s journey. They had never explained why they had left Kieren on Earth, though I figured that they only needed me and would have rather not have another Guardian on board to be wary of; that, at least, was the best explanation I’d come up with, my questions about Kieren met with a change of subject or silence so many times that I had stopped asking.

Colm met us in the hallway, dressed now in the same blue uniform as the others. Gone was the usual earth-toned tunic and trousers, replaced with the crisp assemble complete with pins on the collar and stripes at the sleeves. The uniform looked strange on the Sideian as if he was stuffed into it, though the actual fit was perfect. From what I understood, Sideians held very little regard for such protocols, relying more on reputation than the arbitrary ranking on a uniform. But then again, I had also witnessed a Sideian male bow at Cana during the journey, so “normal” was relative. 

There were politics here as there were everywhere, little indications that contradicted Cana’s vocalized distaste of the Master’s power games. There were power plays and power movers that existed within her reality, her being one of them. This bit of irony was further emphasized when we descended from the ship to the black shining surface of the runway. I waited, watching, as the massive doors opened, and a ramp descended. The air was chilly, smelling of cold, the sun not quite warm as it set, and the breeze whipped along, causing me to involuntarily shudder, goosebumps under the black jacket they’d provided me. Despite the cold and the evening hour, lining up on either side of a narrow walkway were a series of individuals from all different timelines, standing straight and at, what I could only call, attention. There were Diaxes, Rishis, Sideians, and humans, along with others that I only vaguely recognized.

As we walked by, Cana leading and Colm following, the line on either side bowed.

Power indeed.

We entered one of the green spiraling buildings, the doors opening before us as we approached. Walking across the threshold and into the building, I stopped in surprise and wonder at the massive entryway colored in blues and greens. Colm gently pushed me from behind to keep me moving and I did, but my eyes traveled up and up, the walls appearing to be made of emerald and lapis, though that was clearly impossible. Lights were flowing down from a source at the top and sides of the three-story high entryway and we walked across the same shining black stone as we’d landed on. There was a coldness to the building, not only because of the chill from outside but because of the starkness of its interior. As we walked across the floor and started to ascend a spiral staircase wide enough for ten, the surroundings did little to put me at ease. I still followed Cana, her gray dress dragging behind her as she took the stairs, and Colm was a surprising comfort at my back, but the eyes that tracked me were not friendly, and the entourage that tailed out behind us remained silent in their step as they followed. 

The staircase led to a balcony lined with windows revealing another similar green building near us. We walked along the window and I glanced down at the trees and grass, and just as I’d noticed on our arrival, I saw no indication that individuals walked there or even animals. The grass was as spotless as the side of the buildings, the trees manicured or appearing so. A gloom had started to permeate the surroundings as the sun fully set on the day, and so not all the details were vivid. I wondered as I walked if I was missing something, something that would explain what I was seeing. To my eye, it appeared creepy.

Cana stopped in front of a pair of steel doors, which opened immediately. She waited for me inside the lift and as I stepped into the smaller space, I wondered how our entire entourage was going to follow us, but only Colm stepped in, the doors closing on the rest of the masses.

“I apologize for the welcoming party,” Cana said when the doors had closed, and the lift started to move. “It’s customary.”

I glanced over at her, again noticing that strange drooping aspect to her skin. “You are in power here,” I stated, not making it a question.

She hesitated, or at least that’s how I interpreted the slight pause before she answered. “I am one of many who have influence over the decisions made, yes.”

I couldn’t help the look of incredulousness that slipped over my face and she saw it for what it was, but both of us let the moment pass without making further comments.

The lift doors opened, and Cana led me into a hall of green glass, the cathedral-like ceiling capturing shadows. Along either side of us, lights were inlaid into the walls, casting a green glow across the expanse. I followed without question, more at ease now that it was the three of us again. The ease lasted as long as it took us to get to another arched doorway and step beyond into a smaller room. A woman lay in the single bed that took up most of the space. Immediately I noticed she was human, her blondish hair spread out like a fan about her pale face; skin, which would have probably looked pale anyway, now cast in gray; her lips with a bluish tinge. Around her, various machines beeped, and it was so very much like a human hospital that at first, I was thrown off balance. 

I came up to stand next to Cana who had stopped at the end of the bed. “Who is she?” I asked, knowing that she had to be someone of significance if they’d done all this work to bring me to her bedside.

Cana put a hand on the railing of the bed, her long fingers curling about the metal. “She is the woman from Tirius’s timeline; the nurse.”

I looked at the woman, and then back to Cana who remained fixated on her. “You mean, this woman is the woman from France, World War I?”

“No. But yes. She is a version of that woman, though this one lived in the early 21st century in the human timeline.” 

Feeling the rock-like pit in my stomach, a feeling that I was getting an awful lot of since joining Cana and Colm, I studied the woman. “How did she come to be here?” I asked.

“We found her.”

“And you kidnapped her,” I finished. “Out of her life. Out of her time. Because of Tirius. Does she even know who he is?”

Cana looked at me finally. “I hear the judgement in your voice, and perhaps you are right to judge. But two things must be understood. First, finding Tirius is of the utmost concern, and yes, he has been in contact with her during this life. We must know where he is so that we can bring him back. Things are at work, things that he had a hand in starting, and his presence is required. It is very, very important that we locate him.”

I rolled my hand. “Okay, let’s say she can even help you; you took her out of her life.”

“It was at an end anyway,” Cana said, and her words were so blunt they seemed to fall into the room like a stone in a pond.

“As in she was going to die?”

“We believe that there was a manipulation involved. She was very sick,” Cana replied. She moved around to the side of the bed, pulling back the white sheet to show a very pale arm with a myriad of freckles. Along the woman’s arm were very unnatural lines of black that looked like veins under the skin. Unhealthy veins. Dead veins.

“When we found her, her entire circulatory system was infected. We barely got to her in time,” Cana explained.

Time, I thought, staring at the woman. With the ability to move about timelines, I wondered if I was here to prevent whatever manipulation had occurred to cause those black lines. Obviously, they had helped her, but the veins still looked unnatural.

A shuffle at the door caught my attention and I turned to see a large Diax enter, its eyes taking in the situation before hustling over to the patient. “Mistress Cana, I am delighted at your return, however, this patient is not ready to be pulled back to consciousness.”

Cana smiled her strange smile. “I understand Healer, but we must do what we must do. Will it do considerable harm to her?”

The Diax rarely showed much emotion but I swore I could see irritation flash across its features. “No. But it might do irreversible harm.”

Cana gestured with two hands, the movement liquid and clearly meaning something because the Diax seemed to heave a giant sigh before turning to one of the machines and pressing a series of buttons. I couldn’t tell if any of the machines were monitoring things like heart rate or blood pressure like they would if they were in a normal human hospital, but something was clearly happening, the machines all humming different tunes. 

After a moment, the woman’s eyes fluttered and opened, uncertain, not at all in focus. The four of us, Cana and the Diax at one side of the bed, me at the end, and Colm at the door all watched the woman wake up from wherever she’d been moments before.

Gray eyes clearing, she took us in, opening her mouth to speak, but only a rattle emerged. Cana took the water from the Diax’s offered tentacle and handed it to the woman who struggled to sit up but eventually managed.

Taking a sip, and then another, a little bit of color returned to her face. “Am I dead?” she asked, her voice still rough but clearly audible.

 Cana took the water. “No, dear, you are not dead. Though it was a close thing.”

The woman looked at Cana, eyes widening when she caught sight of the Diax and then normalizing when she saw me and Colm at the door. “Okay. Have I been abducted by aliens?”

This amused Cana and a kind of laugh escaped. “In a way.” Cana sat down on the side of the bed, her light weight indenting the blanket. The woman moved away from her, creating space. “You are not dead, Diana. We’ve been able to help with your sickness.”

Diana looked down at her arms, her already pale face going gray at the lines of black. “I don’t appear to be healed.”

The Diax made a sound near the head of the bed, startling Diana who looked over and visibly flinched. Her response was rude, uncultured, and I was irritated by it, though intellectually I understood that Diana was a human who’d never seen any other beings before. I wanted her to be more though, this partner of Tirius’s. I wanted her to be like the Archivist, distant and wise. She appeared to be a human woman and that was all, nothing above or beyond her humanity.

“The healing is slow but is occurring,” the Diax said, not noticing the flinch or choosing not to notice it.

Cana gestured towards where I was standing at the edge of the bed. “This is Wren. She is going to ask you a few questions. There is no need to be alarmed. You are under no threat, from any of us. As I said we just need your help.”

The pronouncement startled me, though I tried to cover my reaction when Diana looked at me, confusion still contorting her face.

She nodded at me. 

Cana stood. “Thank you,” she said, and then with a look at the Diax and a hand to Colm’s arm, the three of them left the room, shutting the door quietly behind them.

Something stilled in me. It had been a long time since I moved into the space of Collector, but as I took a breath, the calm focus slipped on easily and without thought. I moved around the bed and instead of sitting next to the woman, I took a chair from the wall and moved it to be closer, but not too close. Diana watched me all the while, tracking me with her gray eyes.

“This is all a bit strange,” she said after a moment of silence, her voice cracking on the words.

I nodded. “It is a lot to take in. And, not many humans get to see this kind of thing in their lives. You’re quite lucky, actually.”

Diana glanced down at her arms, examining them as if they were not part of her body but something alien, which in fact they were in a sense.

“Luck might be a strong word,” I amended at the evidence that her association with Tirius, no matter how far apart or disjointed, had caused her harm.

“None of the doctors knew what was going on; they couldn’t identify the pathogen in my blood,” she explained. “I remember last being in the hospital bed, staring out the window at the sun and knowing with certainty that I was dying.” A sad smile moved about her face. “And no, I am not dead, but my children still don’t know where I am, so is it any better?”

I listened to her closely, as taught as a Collector, hearing her concerns and her worries for what they were and not how they emerged.

“You can be returned to that moment, I can help you with that, so no one will realize your absence, and you will be healed, a miracle as it were.”

This again caused a wry smile and she looked around the sparse room before settling her gaze on me. “I suppose I’ll have to take your word on this. Help then?”

“Yes. I need you to help me locate Tirius.”

Puzzlement furrowed her brow. “Who?”

I studied her but she clearly had no idea who I meant. “Tirius, you may know him by a different name. He is tall, thin, dark curling hair with one green and one blue eye.”

Diana’s face had very little color to begin with, but at the description, all color bled away, leaving her ghost white. Startled, I glanced at the machines still beeping, but the readings appeared the same. Silence fell like a heavy wet cloak as I watch Diana blink several times, inhaling and exhaling deeply.

After a moment, she unclenched her fists from where she’d gathered the blanket towards her. “Tirius is his name?” she asked, voice quiet, tone controlled.

“It is.”

“And he’s missing?”

I nodded. “I’ve been tasked to look for him.”

“Oh,” she said. “You are looking for him.”

I nodded.

“As in he is a real thing?”

Surprised, a question leaped to my tongue, but instead of answering, I watched her process the information. Her face went through the expressions of surprise to shock, elation, and then a sudden sadness that pulled at me even from where I sat some distance away.

I let her find her words and eventually she did, glancing up at me and then down again.

“You’re quite sure I’m not dead?” she asked.

I nodded.

“And that Tirius, somewhat melancholy, highly intellectual, tall, green and blue eyes; this person actually exists?”

I nodded again, watching her closely.

She slowly inhaled, then let her breath out in a rush, again looking at her black veins but clearly not seeing them, replying to me, but also not replying. “You see, I’ve always thought this man you call Tirius was a figment of my imagination. I have an overabundance of imagination. It makes me a good teacher but has also gotten me into a lot of trouble over the years. I dream and see things and it used to be that I thought they were real until I realized they weren’t and learned how to keep those things to myself.”

I shifted. “And Tirius, he was one of those things?” I prompted.

She paused, softness causing age to shed from her body, and I glimpsed the girl she was but had not been for some time. “He has always been there. I don’t really remember the first time I saw him, or felt him, or knew he was there. I suppose it was at some point when I was a teenager. You know, he’s very handsome, very charismatic, and I thought that it was a schoolgirl crush. All my other girlfriends had crushes on this actor or that bandmate, and my crush just happened to be someone that I made up. He had, or has the loveliest eyes, you said they were different colors, but they aren’t really, more like different shades of the same color.”

She shook her head, glancing at me, softness hardening. “Anyway. This image, he came and went through the years. I started to sit with him, I suppose you could call it, though I never went anywhere and it was all entirely within my head. At some point, while at university, I would have these conversations with him. We were always next to the sea, a beach, somewhere I don’t know, cliffs topped with flat land reaching out towards the horizon. Two protruding rocks, sheltering us from anyone and everything and we would sit and talk, side by side, staring out at the sea, white birds over head. I would tell him about my time, days, what was going on, and he would talk about his life, the things going on with him. I just knew him, like I read his mind, which of course is the reality of it as he was entirely made up by my mind. But it felt real, even sitting by myself on my bed, it would feel very real. Even the physical contact, the sensuality of his hands…”

Diana paused there, a red blush coloring her cheeks.

I waited.

She continued. “Then I met my husband or the man who would become my husband, Iain, and I felt guilty having these conversations, this relationship, with my imaginary friend. And so, I dismissed him from my mind. Sometimes I would feel like he was knocking at the closed door, trying to get my attention, remind me he was there, but I got very good at denying my imagination. Very good.”

She stopped talking but the story had yet to end. I saw her mind walk through the next part, picking her way through. She closed her eyes, shoulders hunching forward for a moment, head hanging, blond hair falling on either side of her face, wrapping her arms about herself.

Opening her eyes, she straightened, pinned me with her gaze.

“I denied him for fifteen years. I married Iain, I had my boys, raised them, always denying the impulse to answer, always denying that there was anything to answer. But then Iain had an affair, with his secretary, if you can believe that cliché, and I answered his knock.” She paused, searching my face. “I believed, I still believe, that he was and is a part of my imagination. Perhaps he is the masculine side of me. Perhaps he represents a split personality. I don’t know. But he is not real.”

“What happened?” I asked, leaning forward. “When you answered the knock.”

Pain, searing across her face in the tightness of her jaw, the lines of her face. “Heartache. You see, this man, whatever he is, feels like a piece of me. I feel him always, as if a tether connects us. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t even believe in soulmates or any of that, but just by being near him, in my head, I feel this terrible deep longing and separation, because he’s not real, because there is no way for me to be with him in reality, to have his arms wrap around me, or to kiss his lips or to really have those conversations while sitting on a beach surrounded by dunes. It’s this longing for the unattainable, more, it is a longing for something that does not even exist.” Her face pulled back into a grimace, a pained smile. “He’s in my head, so how do I reconcile that with what I feel?”

Again, I let the silence hang between us, letting her find her own path, and she does, bringing her arms up and around herself once again. “But he isn’t in my head, or perhaps this is all in my head, and I am mad, or perhaps I am dead, some kind of purgatory, and you’re lying to me.”

I snorted, not able to help it. “You’re very much alive, and not at all mad, and Tirius is very much a real person, as is your connection to him. I, we, hope that you can help us find him using that connection.” I wasn’t sure how that was going to work, but I wasn’t going to bring that up right then.

Diana scanned my face as if still looking for the catch, but whatever she saw there must have reassured her for she sat back in the bed, body relaxing, like something great and massive had fallen from her shoulders.

“He’s real,” she repeated and as if this admission released the tension keeping her conscious, I watched as the woman’s eyes got heavier and heavier, eventually closing into sleep. Sighing, I rubbed at my face, thinking of Diana’s words. Her description of her relationship with Tirius was not at all what I expected. I’d never heard of that level of communication between two entities, and a piece of me did wonder if she had made it up. But I remembered that moment in Rushiel, when Kieren and I had communicated in that unknown way, different locations entirely. It had been as if he was in the same room as me, sitting next to me.

I was beginning to suspect that I had no idea what was possible between these partnered individuals.

Leaving Diana to her sleep, I went to find Cana and Colm, not getting very far down the hallway before the individual from the ship with the tentacle hair stopped me.

“This way,” the person said, voice gravelly and low.

I followed without comment, though my hand stole to the small of my back to ensure that my staff was accessible. The individual gave no vibe, no threat, but as we walked through the strange environment, I was in the same situation as Diana; not at all sure of the circumstances or what would happen when we turned the corner. The individual led me to a large archway and then stopped at the threshold, indicating I should enter. I did, giving a slight smile as I passed that was not returned.

Cana stood at a gigantic fireplace, staring into the flames leaping upwards from massive logs. Colm was in one of the many sofa type chairs in front of the fireplace, long legs stretched before him. Neither of them noticed me at first, the only sound in the room the crackling fire. The walls in the room were made of the same green stone as the rest of the building, cold in the gathering night, but the dark gray carpets were thick, adding warmth to the ambience along with silencing my step. When further in the room, I saw a very low table opposite from where I’d entered, located underneath tall windows and weighed down with food and what looked like pots for tea.

I sat down in the opposite corner of the same couch Colm sat in. He gave me a look, a raised eyebrow, and I realized he’d heard me enter and I felt the familiar irritation at his knowing look. He was once again dressed in a light brown tunic and deeper brown trousers, his hair long and wavy around his shoulders, falling down his chest.

Cana turned from the fire, startling a bit when she saw me, though quickly covering up her reaction with a wave of her hand. “There is food. Drink. Help yourself.”

I did because I was starving, my stomach growling in sudden recognition of hunger and thirst.

Food and a cup of tea in hand, I resettled into the couch and then between bites told Cana and Colm of what I’d learned. Colm’s look of incredulousness was about the same as my own, but Cana listened without much of a reaction, except for an “interesting” as I finished up. Sipping at the hot tea, thankful for the warmth as the room seemed to get colder and colder despite the fire, I watched Cana who once more contemplated the leaping flames.

“I have experienced something similar,” I said, deciding to share a bit of what happened with Kieren and I while on our last mission together.

Cana listened with a hint of a smile around her lips. “So, there is truth there. We have some evidence that was the case, but nothing concrete; however, we had enough we felt it was worth bringing Diana in to see if she could locate him. That you have also experienced this is further evidence that such a thing can be done.”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. Perhaps. I thought it was a level of communication that we tapped into through our interfaces, but maybe.” I looked down at my tea, dark brown and swirling a bit with my unsteady hand. “There is no way to know, not officially. I mean, it doesn’t really make any sense to be able to have that kind of connection with someone.”

Cana lifted her arms up to either side of her body, smiling. “But why not? You do know of how quantum communication works, right? Is it so much of a leap to believe that we are able to communicate in the same way that the very building blocks of everything can?”

I only knew some of what she spoke of, but enough to know that there was a slight point there, though how much of a point I wasn’t sure.

She continued, dropping her arms. “There is something, and it seems that this ability to connect is even more so between these pairs that you spoke of, like Tirius and Diana.” Cana tilted her head. “I am to understand that Guardian partners are partners because of this pre-existing connection.”

I put the tea down. “Yes, but remember, I was not supposed to be pulled over. I am not even supposed to be in this reality, let alone partnered with another Guardian.” I paused, thinking of the meeting that had occurred so very long ago. Taking a deep breath, I continued. “And there is a possibility that Kieren requested a reassignment with this understanding.”

Cana frowned. “That is done?”

“No.” I let the word drop but then brought the conversation back around. “My point is, that there are no for-sure scenarios with this partner, pair thing, but there is also no harm in trying with Diana. If she is truly able to connect with Tirius on some other kind of level, then we would be amiss to not at least attempt to do so.” I paused, looking at Colm, then Cana. “If in fact his presence is needed to the extent that you suggest it is.”

I caught the tension between the two because I was looking for it. Taking up my tea again, I waited as they communicated through their shared gaze.

Cana turned from the fire and joined us on the couch, settling back into the cushions, the movement emphasizing the strangeness of her body. I was looking to Cana for an answer, but Colm was the one that spoke up, sitting forward so he could take in me and Cana in the same glance.

“We have a disagreement about this,” Colm said. “As you’ve likely noticed, Cana believes that Tirius’s presence is necessary. I know that we can move along with our plan without him if we have to.”

“Not ideal,” I said, picking up on that, to which Colm nodded.

“Not ideal,” he agreed. “But, much of our current situation is not ideal. It must be done, however. If we are to save ourselves, and to free ourselves and others from this tyranny, we must move forward.”

 I studied Colm, the determined nature of his Sideian features reminding me of Kieren. “How, exactly, are you planning to do this near-impossible task? You will have to locate the Masters because they aren’t all together in one place, they are scattered about the timelines, then you will need to get close to them. Every Master has a Guardian pair that protects them and has protected them for longer than I’ve been involved.” I looked between the two, letting the silence stretch out as I watched their faces. They glanced at each other, once again communicating without words.

When the silence stretched further, I got up with my empty dishes and took them back to the table. There was nowhere to put the dirty items, so I left them at the end of the table, tucked behind a large cannister of something. I paused there, looking out the window into the darkness, a moon rising in the East. The room I stood in had very little light, the fire giving off the only illumination, and perhaps that is why I saw them.

The dark shadows numbered in the dozen, gliding in the grassy space between buildings. The movements were terribly familiar, the formation something that I knew intimately.

I turned from the scene, looking at Colm and Cana on the couch, remembering Diana in the other room, and time paused in the way it does. Individuals that feel that time is always moving, have never known that pause in reality when time is static, when decisions that will way the entirety of a reality come to a point, and then, the sudden movement forward, as if time catches up, a hiccup of reality that is met by the terrifying present.

“You are under attack,” I said, already moving towards the door that would lead to the hallway that would take me back to the woman lying asleep in the bed.

I felt more than saw Colm come to his feet.

Gaining the threshold, pausing, I looked back at Colm standing, knife in hand, Cana rising gracefully from the couch. “Guardians, a dozen at least, and that’s only the ones I can see. You should alert anyone that means anything.” I caught Colm’s eyes. “I’ll get Diana.”

“The ship,” Cana said from where she stood. Her form was pulsating, and I wondered if she was changing. She looked at Colm. “Get them to the ship.”

Colm shook his head. “That’s not my duty.”

Cana pinned him with a look that spoke volumes of their relationship. “Your duty is to do as I say. Get the Guardian and Diana to the ship.”

There was an explosion, though there wasn’t a sound, just a rumbling through our feet and a creaking as if the stone around us shifted under extreme pressure.

“We have to go,” I said, and turned and left, not sure if Colm was following and not sure if I wanted him to follow.

The hallways were clear as I sprinted down them. Gaining the room, I immediately saw Diana still slept, and I was thankful to see that the Diax was nowhere around. Going to her side, I shook her, feeling another explosion in my bones and again the weird creaking sound vibrating around us.

She remained inert.

I looked around, feeling the tension outside my forced calm. I only had moments before the Guardians moved through the building, finding me, and finding her. Depending on how good their intel, they could be delayed by not knowing where Cana was, or they could be heading directly to the correct location.

“I have her,” Colm said from behind me.

His voice startled me out of my control, just a bit, but enough that I stumbled as I moved aside, letting him detach the various wires then pick her up with the sheet wrapped around her. A look at his stony face told me the story of what had happened with Cana and I followed without a word.

We headed down an unfamiliar hallway, our feet loud against the black polished stone. The walls amplified the sound and I wished for the heavy gray carpet from the other room.

There were shouts in front of us, and then gunfire, or what sounded like gunfire.

Colm slowed, listening. I elongated my staff, keeping it close to my body.

He turned down another hallway, taking a sudden stairwell quickly, though slower than he might have otherwise, Diana held close to his body. She still slept and I wonder if the Diax had given her something.

“There,” a voice said in Rushelian. I looked over the side of the stairwell at two pairs waiting for us at the bottom.

Pivoting, Colm started back up. I turned with him, now leading, but our way forward was met by another pair; both shorter than me, in their black uniforms, holding guns. The guns were highly unusual and worrying on a level that I was going to have to examine later.

Colm had come to a standstill behind me and I turned to face his large body. Even standing two steps above him I still only came to his nose and I doubted my abilities, but I shoved the doubts away, focusing on the two of them before me and not the rushing Guardians behind and in front of us.

“We can’t win this,” I said. “Not against three pairs.”

Colm’s hazel eyes flashed and his arms tightened about Diana enough to cause a moan from her still unconscious form.

I locked gazes with him. “I don’t know if this will work, and I’m sorry.”

Before he could reply, I took the last step towards him and then wrapped my arms around Colm and Diana. My arms were too short to circle them entirely, but I was in full contact and theoretically that was all I needed.

They knew what I was attempting to do, those Guardians, and I heard the shot just as we slipped away from time.

I Traveled.

It tore me in half.

Then in half again.

I think I screamed in pain, my entire being wrapped up with Colm and Diana, and then no longer wrapped but scattered, then returned but in a way that felt entirely wrong. It was too much, but not enough. Pieces of me fell away and I wondered distantly and hazily what those pieces might have been, rocking into reality with a force that knocked the air from my lungs.

The frigid winter wind cut through my clothing and battered at my kneeling body as I tried to regain enough normalcy to look around, to check on the other two, to make sure that they had Arrived with me or if they’d been left out there, particles in a space-time continuum with no way of regaining solid being. 

Blinking against the gray light, dim but bright with my newly Arrived eyes, I spied them lying in a pile next to my kneeling form. Colm was wrapped around Diana as if he was trying to protect her. His rigid form caused my heart to spike in fear until I saw his back rise and fall with a breath. I dragged myself over to him, touching his back, the solid muscles underneath it, and then pushed him away to check on Diana under his body. He remained curled about her for a moment, then relented, falling to his backside to stare blinking into the heavy gray sky. Diana was still wrapped in a sheet, her face pale but no paler than it had been, and she too was breathing slowly and steadily. She’d not woken, and I knew for sure that the Diax must have given her something to keep her unconscious.

“What was that?” Colm asked from behind me, his voice low and gravelly.

I turned to look at him. My world had started to right itself and the nausea was receding. “Have you never Traveled before?” I asked, knowing that we needed to get out of the cold wind and somewhere before the threat of rain became reality.

Colm groaned in response.

“Come on,” I said. “I’ve somewhere to go.”

I got to my feet, offering to help Colm but he ignored the hand, gathering himself to stand and then in turn scooping Diana up into his arms.

“It’s freezing. Hope you know where you’re going or this is going to be a short walk,” Colm said. His face was still pale, and I was reminded of Kieren’s pale face the night he returned to the dune house. The ache was a piercing in my chest. I missed my partner in a way that I was unable to fully describe.

“I know where I am,” I answered, pushing the pain away as best I could, and then leading this other Sideian to the cliffside and the winding path that led down to the black-pebbled beach. I suppose somewhere in my psyche, I was again wishing that Tirius would be at the cabin, but there was no one there, not even my past self, though that was sheer luck.

The cabin was empty, cold, and damp, but open and for the moment, safe.

Colm lay Diana down on the couch and straightened to look around.

“There are blankets in the bedroom,” I said, pointing to the dim hallway as I went to the pile of wood next to the fireplace and started on the fire. The pile had grown, and I wondered who had visited to resupply.

Colm disappeared, reappearing in moments with the entirety of the bedding and then wrapping up Diana. He did it with care, easing her that way and this way until she was cocooned within the blankets and likely a great deal warmer than either of us. The fire was a simple thing. The starting items were still close by from my last visit and soon a crackling yellow and orange flame combatted the chill.

Colm sat ungracefully down onto the oval rag rug in front of the fire, moving as close to the flame as he could. His shoulders were hunched, his head lowered, and he looked beaten in the glow of the fire.

Turning away from the warmth, I walked the short distance to the kitchen. This time I knew how to make tea and the tea from the cupboard was soon added to the pot that I made sure to warm before adding the boiling water. I worked in silence, glancing at Colm and Diana every few moments to ensure they were there, but neither moved, both still in their relative worlds. Properly brewed, I brought the two mugs of tea over to where Colm was and slid down next to him. He took the mug without question, sipping at the hot liquid and grimacing. I took a sip of my own tea, a flash of the prior attempt in the cabin, but it tasted right, and I put off his grimace to something else.

“Are you hurt at all?” I said.

Colm looked away from the fire for the first time since he’d sat down, and then pulled up his shirt with a hand, the bloody fabric coming away from the wound in his side.

I swore, glaring. “You could have let me know immediately.” Shaking my head, I went to the bathroom and pulled the first aid kit I’d seen there before. There wasn’t much in the kit, but there was antiseptic, bandages, and what appeared to be plastic stitches. I took it to Colm who had stripped his shirt away. His skin was still a warm brown color, but I could see the tension in his shoulders at the pain. I sat down, pulling things from the kit.

“This will hurt,” I said, not offering an apology as I applied the antiseptic. Colm’s only reaction was a hiss of breath. I continued to clean it, but the man had come off lucky and I said as much. “They were using laser weapons. If this had been a bullet the damage would have been much more significant.”

“Probably didn’t want to use bullets in the crystal buildings,” he muttered as I continued to clean the wound, adding the stitches in a neat row. The wound was only about a half an inch deep, a slice across his torso, and would scar but now cleaned and closed, would not get infected. I added the bandages, tearing the tape with my teeth and applying it to the edges of the white cotton.

I sat back, looking at my handiwork. I had managed to avoid getting blood on my hands but went to the kitchen sink and washed them anyway. Colm put his shirt back on, leaning against the couch and closing his eyes. I looked at the two, Diana who was still oblivious to everything, and Colm who was not of this life and wondered what I was going to do now. Traveling with the two of them had felt wrong, and, if I could avoid it, something I did not want to do again. But, this cottage next to the sea was a known point and it was only a matter of time before we were found.

I needed help, and I knew where to find it, but I had a suspicion Colm was not going to like the plan.

At all.

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