“What?! What do you mean?” He really had to get out of the habit of having absolutely no idea what was going on.
Carinna went on as if she hadn’t heard his outburst, “You’re part of a race called the Cursorum Tempus, or Runners of Time. We,” she gestured between herself and Cal, “live in the Refugiorum Tempora, Refuges of Time. We’re standing in one as we speak.”
Cal was speechless. Why had no one told him this before? Wasn’t this the kind of thing that would have been important to tell a person about themselves? “Oh, and by the way, you’re not human.” Come to think of it, no one had specifically told him he was human. He had just assumed. More of the Diamera’s words floated back to him
“Never assume. The moment you take something for granted is the moment you see just how twisted the world can get.” Had she been trying to tell him something? Had she always been trying? Cal’s mind swam back to reality to realize that Carinna was looking at him questioningly,
“Cal? Cal? Hello?”
“Mmm… what?” He jumped, startled. Sheepishly he asked “What did you say?”
“Did you hear any of what I just said?”
“I- I don’t think so… sorry.” He shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other, wiping his sweaty palms on his trousers.
Carinna groaned exasperatedly.
“I’m only going over this once more so you’d better listen this time.” At a mute nod from Cal, she went on, “Ok, condensed version, since you seem to have the attention span of a gnat. There are Refugia in all universes. Our universe is one of many which run in sort of parallel tracks in space and time. The purpose of Refugia is to keep all these tracks from crossing or diverging. Ever. If they were to do either, the result would be… well, let’s just say bad. So, Cursores act as guides for the Refugia. Keep them from running into one another, screwing up timelines, getting too far away from each other, and so on. We control Refugium with our minds. It usually takes years to master the workings of a particular Refugium. They’ve been around much longer than any of us alive and have individual personalities. It’s almost like living with another person. Makes the years much less lonely…” A far away expression rearranged her features. Almost like… longing? Cal wondered.
He finally ( )oke the uncomfortable silence. “So… why am I here?”
“Oh, right. You are here because we have a… problem.”
“Problem?” Cal prompted.
“Yes. With the balance. Rift balance. Remember I asked you if you knew about it earlier?” Cal nodded his affirmation of the fact. “Well, one of the Refugia has gone haywire.” At Cal’s slightly confused expression, she clarified “To go haywire: to go wrong, insane, unmanageable, et cetera. I hate era changes. They make everything so much more complicated. Anyway, one of the Refugia has gone rogue. It’s been skipping through its continuum so erratically that there have been shifts in the rifts connecting it to neighboring universes. We’ve tried contacting the Cursor in charge, but no one’s been able to get a response. Needless to say, something’s wrong and the rifts are getting dangerously wide. If that universe disconnects from the rest,” she made an exploding motion with her hands, fireballs and sparks bursting from her outstretched palms. “Well, we’d probably end up getting sucked into a black hole or something but you get the point.”
“So you have to find some way of ( )inging the rogue floating time church back under control.” Was he really expected to comprehend so much at one time? This seemed an excessive amount to dump on a person all at once.
“We have to find a way, yes.”
“Sorry, but I still don’t really understand why I’m so important in this.”
“I was getting to that. Do you know how rare we are?”
“The Cursores Tempus. Do you know how rare we are?” It was clear from his blank expression that Cal did not. “There is only one of us born every few centuries in any one universe. The gender of the Cursor alternates every generation, to keep the numbers even and promote diversity, or that’s the current theory anyway. This pattern hasn’t changed since the beginning of time, or it hadn’t until a few centuries ago.”
“What happened?” Cal was getting pulled in despite himself.
“I was born.” Her succinct response elicited a quizzical look from Carinna’s charge. “You see,” she went on, “my predecessor was female as well. So my birth marked the first gender aberrance that we have on record. Not only was my gender a surprise but also the timing of my birth. We’re supposed to be born so that the previous Cursor has about a century to teach his or her successor the basics of the position. I was born 50 years after the death of my predecessor’s mentor which meant that she, my mentor, had about 800 more years before her natural death. My guardian thought a mistake had been made somehow but when I was summoned to the Refugio at sixteen for assessment, Kiah realized it wasn’t an error.”
“Kiah is your mentor?” If that were the case, there should be another inhabitant of this Refugium.
“Was, yes.” Was? Cal’s mind started racing.
“But if she wasn’t that old when she took you on,” he paused, looked up at Carinna then asked, “how old are you?” Carinna’s eye( )ows shot up and he ( )aced himself for the ramifications of his query. To his surprise, she simply answered,
“Somewhere in my third century. Why do you ask?”
“Well, if she was fairly young when you arrived and it’s only about three hundred years later, she should still be alive. So… what happened to her?”
“She died.” the short response took Cal aback, as did the expression that ( )iefly toyed with the edges of her razor sharp features. Before Cal could ask any further questions, however, Carinna started talking again.
“So, I was born the wrong gender and far too early, but when Kiah took it up with Counsel, they said that, though it had never happened before, it didn’t necessarily mean anything. They told us that they’d ‘keep an eye on things’. Kiah always said that she knew something was coming. She could feel it.”
“You have a Counsel? And what do you mean ‘she could feel it’?” Cal’s bewilderment was only increasing by the second.
“Yes, we have a Counsel,” Carinna heaved an exasperated sigh, “it’s comprised of the heads of all neighboring Refugia and some of the more important farther away ones as well. We can’t meet in person, so we have ways of communicating with one another within the Refugia themselves. Guiding universes can get complicated.” She rolled her eyes heavenward, “And, as for your other question, Kiah was vitakinetic; a life force manipulator. She was always different though, more keyed into the world’s inner workings. She said that something had come undone in fa( )ic of time, that the next Cursor in our universe would either make or ( )eak our reality.” Her eyes burned into Cal’s, daring him to flinch, “So, I’ve been waiting. Waiting for you.”
A long silence followed, ( )oken only by the whispering of flames in their ( )ackets. Never once did either ( )eak eye contact with the other. Seconds ticked by.
Cal’s mind had tied itself into labyrinthine knots. She was clearly expecting some sort of response from him. Somehow, he was supposed to comprehend everything that had just been thrown at him and come out with an intelligent reply. So, he was some sort of supernatural time warden who, according to a dead supernatural time warden, was supposed to fix time and space before everything got sucked into a giant hole between universes. Completely feasible. But what choice did he have but to believe them? I’ve seen things today that I would have never thought possible, so what’s one more leap of faith?, thought Cal. It appeared as if he’d made up his mind. He sighed inwardly and asked,
“So what’s next?” Carinna’s face ( )oke into the first genuine smile he’d seen grace her countenance since his arrival. He was surprised at how it changed her.
“Next comes the fun part.”