Unraveling

explosion

Image: giantbomb.com

A Martin Fields and NaCumbea Time Travel Story

Martin thought, “If we ever get out of this mess, I’m going to have to bring NaCumbea here. This must be the ultimate time tourist’s destination.”

The Temple of Karnak. Even the sacred enclosure of Amun alone could contain ten average-sized European Cathedrals.

“So here I am. Martin Fields, Time Traveler disguised as a priest. I’m so scared, I’ve left my jump suit’s stealth mode active so I shouldn’t be noticed. I’m in Egypt somewhere around 1958 BCE, although exact measurements get a little splashy when mapping them to a 21st century CE calendar.”

It was getting close to the climax of this year’s Opet Festival, the twenty-seven day period when Egyptians believed their gods and the earth required a recharge of chaotic energy from the cosmos.

Martin headed to the storage chamber where the accessories for the god Amun were kept. The most prized of the gold and silver jewelry used to adorn the god for the climatic ceremony that’s supposed to regenerate him are kept there. The key gold encrusted ruby is missing. The priests just don’t know it yet.

If somehow NaCumbea and Martin couldn’t return it in time, a fundamental event in the history of Egypt, the most powerful nation on the planet during this time period, will change, drastically altering worldwide events for the next nearly 4,000 years.

Martin tried going back earlier, before the theft to prevent it, but for some reason he couldn’t. It was as if there were a barrier in timespace that shielded that span of the timeline. He had no idea what was causing it, and Isis wasn’t answering any of his questions.

It all hinged on NaCumbea now. She told Martin she could go in a different direction, like she knew where the artifact was. The problem was that she traveled forward into the future, past Martin’s own local “present” which is in 2017. He figured she’d done the impossible until he realized he had no idea what her own local present is. She died or will die about 700 years before he was born in what’s known in his present as Arizona.

That means she might not have a local present. That means she might be able to travel to any point in history across the entire timeline, from the distant past to the unimagined future.

What does she hope to find in the future? The artifact? How does she know where and when it is?

******

“I see you’ve sought me out again, dearest. I thought you were through with me forever. How ironic. Forever. I live inside forever.”

NaCumbea always nearly vomited every time she was here. When the artifact vanished without a trace from Karnak, she didn’t need Isis or Amun to tell her who took it and why. He’s always been obsessed with mystic symbols and devices. He thinks they’ll stabilize him. Once, he thought she’d stabilize him, because she was a fellow traveler, because she died.

“Vanir, I need that thing back. You’ve changed history too much already. You’re going to destroy it all, the planet, the people.”

She knew he could hear her, but she was shouting anyway. The chaos surrounding them both made a horrible noise, like being inside a hurricane. This wasn’t an actual storm though. It was the intersection between time and magic, the center of calamity, the core of all nightmares. He enjoyed it here. He may have even created it.

“Once I’m stable traveling through the timeline and emerging in real-time, I’ll put everything to rights, my darling. Don’t you worry about a thing.”

She hated when he called her endearing names. The son of a bitch had kidnapped her, raped her over and over again, beaten and burned her for what…centuries? She lost count in the midst of the endless agony.

Somehow, he made it possible for her to keep all of that a secret when he let her go, even from Amun, even from all of those like him. Was that because Vanir was a member of their cross-dimensional race too?

“Would you like to see it? It’s very beautiful.” Vanir momentarily assumed a man-like shape and held out the jewel in his right hand. For an instant, NaCumbea was tempted to leap at the object, grab it, return it to the distant past, but he was too powerful. Just touching him could kill her, though he was too much of a sadistic bastard to let her die quickly.

His shape twisted again and he returned to the time storm, except for his voice. The jewel was gone. It didn’t even make sense to think of it and the other stolen artifacts and people as possessing what you’d normally think of as a location. What’s the location of chaos?

******

The stealth capacity of the time jump suit let him slip past the heavily guarded entrance and into the treasure chamber of Amun. All of the artifacts that were to be placed upon the god were locked away in a dozen different chests ceremonially laid around the fine linen robe displayed in the center of the room.

The priests would be here in mere hours. That wasn’t normally an issue for a time traveler, but Martin didn’t know what to do if NaCumbea failed and time ran out.

He kept examining the time “bubble,” the area of time and space he couldn’t enter because it might let him prevent the theft of the sacred ruby. The sensors of the suit drilled down quite a bit, and while he was wearing the suit, all that information directly interfaced with his central nervous system. It was like the suit possessed a second set of senses that let Martin see, hear, taste, feel, and smell into time.

“What the…?” There’s a signature. It’s incredibly subtle. He might never have noticed if the suit hadn’t separated it from all the other noise. It was a set of coordinates but a totally crazy set of coordinates. It wasn’t the future or the past. It wasn’t anywhere or when that made sense. It’s…

Martin instantly vanished from 20th century BCE Egypt and emerged back in San Francisco on Friday, May 30, 1980, just before midnight, at the intersection of Clement and 34th Avenue.

“It’s the same coordinates. It looked like the future before, past my local present, but it’s not. I know where she’s gone and I can find the artifact.”

Martin Fields vanished in a flash of violet light not realizing that he was about to face the greatest danger of his very short career.

******

“Noooooooooo! You betraying bitch! You brought him here! You filthy human cunt!”

NaCumbea was hoping to get Vanir to trust her. He thought of her as his lover, not his victim. She almost had him convinced to show her the stone again when Martin materialized (if one is ever exactly “material” in the time storm).

“Martin! No! Go back!”

He crumpled to his knees and clutched his gut. Martin had never been much for using drugs back in the day, but this felt like how his Uncle described a bad trip on acid.

“It’s not supposed to happen like this! Not like this!” Vanir was screaming. Amazingly, he even sounded terrified.

Vanir was a shriek on the wind, unapproachable, untouchable. NaCumbea felt frozen in time and space. She couldn’t even reach Martin’s writhing body. He wasn’t used to the time chaos. NaCumbea had spent decades, maybe centuries here. She eventually adapted, at least enough to survive. If Martin stayed here much longer, it might kill him.

Explosion.

It was like the universe ceased to exist, tore itself apart, and then reassembled itself. The time chaos stopped and then NaCumbea and Martin were someplace else.

It was like a museum of all history combined with a storehouse of alien artifacts. NaCumbea blinked. It didn’t disappear. It was real. She checked her readings, but she couldn’t get a stable set of coordinates. Her suit did register as on stealth mode which meant there were witnesses around.

“Martin!”

She ran over to him. He was only a few meters away.

“It’s okay, NaCumbea. It’s okay. The nausea is down to a dull roar, but the headache is still off the charts.”

She held him and rocked him. It was the most intimate thing she’d done with Martin since they’d met. “You idiot. Following me could have gotten you killed.”

Martin looked up at her and weakly smiled, but before he could think of some smart remark to make, they both heard a moan.

They looked at the source.

“Vanir”. It was a whisper. “You’re human.”

The creature who thought of himself as a god managed to rise to his knees. He was staring at his hands, human hands. By appearance, he was a combination of African, Middle Eastern, and Asian peoples. He was clothed similarly to Martin, probably because what the time traveler was wearing was the closest approximation to what Vanir needed for his transformation.

Martin couldn’t help but notice that similarity. “I need your clothes, your boots, and your motorcycle.”

“You can make jokes at a time like…”

NaCumbea abruptly ended her sentence when she saw it. The sacred ruby, the one Vanir took from the Temple of Karnak. It’s here. For all NaCumbea knew, everything he took was here. If this was some sort of repository of artifacts being preserved from the timeline, it was a perfect place for him to hide his treasures.

“Hey! What are you doing in here? Where’s your clearance?”

Two uniformed guards turned a corner and amazingly, they could see them, even through stealth mode.

NaCumbea was within arm’s reach of the ruby. She quickly grabbed it and thrust it into Martin’s hands.

“Return this! I’ll stop him!” Martin was on his feet but still groggy. She used her suit’s interface to override Martin’s controls and send him back to the 20th century BCE Temple of Karnak.

An alarm was sounding and the two guards were drawing their strange sidearms. Vanir was standing but still disoriented, still all too human.

“Surprise motherfucker!” NaCumbea hit Vanir in the face with all the amplified might her suit could generate without killing him (assuming the bastard could actually die). At the instant of impact, she and her adversary vanished in a brilliant flash of violet.

By the time reinforcements arrived, they’d be left with a mystery that even Wyatt Ellison and Josue Hunter might not be able to solve.

******

nagasaki

The skeleton of a Japanese atomic bomb victim whose flesh was cooked off their bones in the heat of the blast. It lies in the rubble of a house next to an unbroken ceramic pot. September 1, 1945 Nagasaki – HistoryDaily.org

Rural Georgia, 1930, two moonshiners are loading small barrels in the back of their truck. They look up toward a sudden flash of light and see a woman in a very strange suit hitting a man a head taller than her in the mouth, his blood spraying. “Bastard!”

Nagasaki, September 1, 1945, in the rubble of a house, a skeleton, and an unbroken ceramic pot at their feet, NaCumbea doubled over Vanir with a punch to his gut. “Cocksucker!”

Brooklyn, December 23, 1929, a city street covered in snow. A letter carrier burdened with heavy packages tries to whirl at a scream behind him, barely catching a glimpse of what looks like a woman driving her knee into a man’s face. “Asshole!”

Novogrod, 1312, a seven-year-old boy named Onfim is drawing a picture when a strange man and women suddenly appears in front of him. She’s pounding his head on the floor. “I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!”

******

The Gobi desert, Mongolia, 1911. The nearest human beings, a tribe of Uyghurs, were traveling north-northwest over ninety kilometers to the east. No one saw NaCumbea and Vanir materialize, the time traveler standing over her prone tormentor, his blood dripping from her fists.

Vanir tries to rise but collapses. He spits blood and teeth from his mouth and then strangely chuckles as he turns his head to look at her.

“Is..is that the…best you can do?”

“No.” She kicked him in the ribs. “But it’ll have to do.”

Another flash of purple light. Martin materializes having traced their path through time.

“It’s back. I got it back in time. It’s over.” Then Martin fully takes in the scene. “What the…NaCumbea, what did you do?”

Martin was aware of how much force the suit could generate, how much it could amplify human strength. If this creature was now completely human, NaCumbea could have killed him.

“I did what I had to. You have no idea how dangerous he is.”

Martin walked slowly toward her. “He doesn’t seem dangerous now.”

Vanir managed to roll over on his back. “No, boy. I’m more dangerous now than you could possibly imagine.”

“Can you get any more cliché, Vanir?”

The once human alien began to shimmer and then to waver. “No. You’re little trick stabilized me temporarily but I’m no longer isolated from the time stream. When I die, everything dies with me, all of it, forever.”

NaCumbea walked over to Vanir and tried to place one of her boots on his leg. He was no longer really there, so she slipped and almost fell.

“Uh, NaCumbea. If these readings are correct, we are in a lot of trouble.”

“What trouble?” She turned to look at Martin.

“I’m not sure. My instruments don’t go that high.”

“Wait one.” NaCumbea checked her readings and then shock and astonishment replaced rage.

“What have I done?”

“Exactly what I wanted you to do, lover. Destroy the entire time-space continuum, all of existence, the end of eternity, as if the universe never came into being.”

Vanir’s form was no longer human, it was a shimmering violet and black blob of light and it was growing.

“Crap! I don’t know what to do, Martin. There’s no stopping this. There’s no going to a different point in history and stopping this. We’ve got less than five minutes to prevent universal armageddon!”

Martin’s mind was racing through his limited experiences in time travel, desperately searching through his jump suit’s database. Nothing. There was nothing they could do.

NaCumbea screamed at the shifting energy field. “You bastard! This is all your fault!”

Martin held her. For an instant, she almost broke free so she could hit him, but then she stopped. “What’s the use?”

They were both crying from pain, fear, and desperation. Then they were engulfed by Vanir.

To Martin, it was like the scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey, the one where Dave Bowman’s space pod is pulled into the stargate. All the colors, textures, sensations, distortions, insanity. Nothing is real. How could they both be alive inside an exploding universe, a cosmos that’s unmaking itself molecule by molecule? Were they pure consciousness? Were they souls?

Sound, noise, light, brilliance, heat, gravity, weight, builds to insane levels and then beyond that, and then Martin and NaCumbea are destroyed along with everything else for all time…

…or not.

Martin’s eyes fluttered. He was asleep but not in bed.

“What am I doing sleeping on the couch?”

He pulled the covers back and realized he was nude. His clothes are neatly piled on the coffee table in front of him.

He pulled on his pants and a t-shirt and went hunting for three ibuprofen and a glass of water. He swallowed, hoping the headache would finally go away, turned on his coffee maker, and then headed for his bathroom.

Walking into his bedroom, he saw her. NaCumbea. She’s in his bed. Her clothes are neatly folded on a nearby chair. She looks like an angel when she’s asleep. Then he remembered her face contorted in rage and hate.

An hour later, NaCumbea stumbled out of his bedroom and into the living room wearing clothes as disheveled as she was.

“I heard you stirring and took a chance you’d be hungry.” He placed one of two Moroccan omelettes on the kitchen table.

“Coffee first.” She sounded like she’s coming off of a week-long drunk.

“Sure. Black?”

“Yeah.”

She sat heavily in her chair at the table and Martin put her coffee cup next to her plate. She gingerly took a sip, waited a few seconds, then drained half the cup.

He sat opposite from her. He didn’t say a word. What could he say? There’s a lot more going on behind those beautiful brown eyes than he knows. He can be patient.

But what saved the universe?

Another hour passes. They’ve both eaten and had enough coffee to clear away the murkiness in their brains. Except for Martin rinsing the plates and putting them in the dishwasher, neither of them had moved. She sits silently at the table and he waits expectantly.

“You want to know, don’t you?”

“Only if you’re ready to tell.”

She remained silent for a few minutes more.

“Fuck!” It came out as more of a murmur than a curse.

Martin waited, but not for long.

“He is one of our kind. Perhaps I should relate these details.”

NaCumbea slightly jumped but Martin had been expecting her for some time.

“Please do, Isis.”

The beautiful, mysterious Isis stood at the side of the table. NaCumbea looked up at her and wondered why Amun wasn’t there.

“Vanir is one of our kind. Words like ‘before’ and ‘after’ have little meaning for us, but so that you will understand, before we enlisted human beings into the endeavor of time travel, one of us attempted it himself, even though he was warned against it.”

“Vanir.” The name escaped NaCumbea’s mouth with the sound of bitterness.

“Obviously it is not impossible for us to travel along the timeline, nor to manifest ourselves in any given time frame, but we are unable to make permanent changes, not because we lack the ability, but because of what it does to us.”

“Such as…?” Martin knew NaCumbea had the answer, but he wanted to hear it from Isis.

“Our best belief is that our essence would become physically and emotionally unstable. When Vanir made the attempt, he confirmed our worst possible predictions. Who he was and what he did in your history became completely undetectable to us.”

“Wait! What?”

“I know that sounds astonishing. We seem all-powerful to you, Martin.”

NaCumbea made a strange sound, a brief, dry laugh.

“The incident at the Temple of Karnak was just one of numerous incursions he made in your history. Now that he has been contained, we have a greater awareness of just how distorted your history is, and what needs to be done to correct your timeline back to its original form.”

“Like what?”

“That is for another time, Martin.” The irony of that statement was not lost on him. “You are both exhausted. You need rest.”

“What was he doing?”

“Vanir became insane. He could not establish stability in a time frame for more than a few minutes. He could only exist for any length of time in what we call chaotic time, a region of the realms between quantum realities that abide by almost no law whatsoever. Even one of us, except for Vanir, could not exist there. In this, you have the advantage, Martin.”

Martin remembered how sick and crazy he felt in “chaotic time”. He thought he was going to die. Maybe he would have if NaCumbea hadn’t gotten him out of there.

“Vanir believed mystical or otherworldly artifacts, and even unique human beings, held the key to stabilizing him in both time travel and controlling all events in the time stream. He was mistaken, but he caused a great deal of damage in any regard.”

“How did you find him? How did you stop him?”

“You did the unexpected Martin, which is another reason we employ humans for these missions.”

“Free will.”

“If you choose to call it that. Regardless, you did the unexpected and materialized in chaotic time. You added an additional unstable element to an already unstable environment and made it possible for NaCumbea to transport the three of you outside of chaotic time and to the location of the Egyptian artifact. An interesting effect is that it did temporarily did stabilize Vanir physically. For several minutes, he was indistinguishable from any other human.”

“Long enough for NaCumbea to beat the shit out of him.”

NaCumbea bristled at the reference and Martin immediately regretted making it.

“For that, you will have to consult NaCumbea. Amun is continuing to stabilize Vanir and reintegrate him into our realm. What you thought was your universe ending was our efforts to connect to him and stabilize him, once we were able to detect him outside of the chaos he created around himself.”

“Are we safe? Is the universe safe from him?”

“Yes. He will not have the opportunity to create that peril to your existence again.”

“But what about…?” Martin was shocked at NaCumbea’s outburst. “Oh never mind.”

“You have both acquitted yourself admirably in the face of an extremely challenging mission.”

“It was never about Karnak, was it?” NaCumbea’s realization frightened and sickened her.

“No, not directly. Your primary mission was to locate Vanir and draw him out of chaotic time by any means, in order for us to apprehend him. Had he continued to commit acts of temporal violence against the timeline, your universe may well have unraveled into chaos, as if it had never been created.”

“You cold-blooded bitch. Do you know what he put me through? Do you have any idea? The pain? The horror?”

NaCumbea was standing. Her fists were clenched. She knew she couldn’t possibly hurt Isis but she wanted to beat her to a bloody pulp anyway, just like she did Vanir.

Martin was standing. He half extended his hand to her but was careful not to touch her. “Maybe we can deal with this later.”

“Hah!” Her laugh was joyless as she let gravity pull her back down into the chair.

Isis regarded the two humans for a few moments more and then left their reality.

Martin walked over to NaCumbea and stood next to her. He wanted to help her, comfort her, do something to make it better, but he didn’t know what. He didn’t even understand what happened to her, why she hated Vanir so much.

She stood. She wasn’t wearing her jump suit, so if she intended to leave, she’d have to go back into Martin’s bedroom and put it on. She started to walk past him but he gently touched her shoulders.

NaCumbea pulled back.

“I know you’re trying to help, Martin. I wish I could let you.”

“You don’t have to talk. Just stay. I promise I’ll do anything I can to help, or nothing at all if you don’t want me to.”

NaCumbea thought she was strong. In fact, she really was a very strong person. She’d endured assaults almost humanly inconceivable and she hadn’t broken. She hadn’t let herself be broken. She had survived Vanir. But could she keep on surviving him now that he was gone?

She leaned into Martin and clutched him tightly. “Just hold me.”

They both sank to the floor. Martin held NaCumbea in his arms all afternoon and into the night. Her hysterical crying eventually became quiet sobs, and then the silent sound of astonishing loss.

In addition to the numerous links I’ve inserted into this story, I also consulted HistoryDaily.org to get ideas of where NaCumbea and Vanir would briefly materialize into during their fight.

I also leveraged a completely different time travel series, one involving my characters Wyatt Ellison and Josue Hunter. I don’t think they exist in the same timeline as Martin and NaCumbea, so briefly shifting sideways in time was a likely result of their exit from chaotic time.

NaCumbea’s story is just beginning.

This story is a direct sequel to The Impossible Direction

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