Chapter Twenty-Three: When Faye doesn’t quite believe in the “Temporal Cabal”
Faye was feeling all sorts of ways. She was hungry, for starters. She was cold. She was still a little thrown off by having almost been trapped for all of ever in a Basement Fractal. She thought Joss was paying a little too much attention to this Chemie fellow. And she was pretty sure she was standing in a room that floated thousands of feet above earth’s surface, unconnected to anything. And it was bright. Cool, clear sunshine shone through walls made entirely of glass, lighting the room and the people within. The glass walls supported a white-tiled ceiling and a white-tiled floor. Ten doors sat framed within the walls at equidistant points. The door they had arrived through looked no different than the other nine. No different, except that this one was somehow implausibly linked to the Quito basement they had just left. Faye kept smushing her face up against the glass, trying to get a glimpse of the other sides of the doors. The angles were wrong, though, and all she could see were impossibly blue skies and, a hundred feet below them, a thick, roiling layer of dark-silver clouds.
Faye tracked the sun as it moved across the sky, tracked the white-gold rays as they danced through the room, shifting about with the march of time. She tried to figure out what time it was, and where that might mean they were relative to the place they had just left. She gave up pretty soon. She didn’t know anything at all about geospatial positioning or the globe’s time zones.
The room itself was a perfect circle. It housed a conference-style table, a smattering of chairs, half a library’s worth of books, journals, and loose-leaf notes, and, as of five minutes ago, three men, two women, and a baby. Faye lapped the room again and again, half thinking about whether or not the room was truly and inexplicably floating, half thinking about what Chemie, Tarin, and Tristan were talking about, and half thinking about whether or not it was an appropriate time to ask Joss for the last piece of dried mango.
Chemie and Tristan were arguing about a girl. Typical, Faye thought, rolling her eyes and continuing her perimeter of the floating room.
“Hate to interrupt,” Tarin interrupted, not at all sounding hateful, “but we’ll be going, now. My contract is complete, and it’s almost naptime.” He looked at the sleeping child in Joss’s arms, his excuse landing a little short. Joss belatedly tried to shake Baby awake. But Baby was having a pretty solid snooze, and didn’t stir a wink. Tarin’s half-formed excuse didn’t end up mattering, though, as Chemie didn’t seem to have heard past the “we’ll be going now” bit.
“You…no, you can’t go!” Chemie sputtered, rising to his feet, “you can’t—no!” Faye wanted to tell the Leaguer to calm down, that of course Tarin wasn’t leaving. Not until they had plied more information from the two walking, talking environmental hazards about the global apocalypse they had apparently triggered.
“Chemie, just let them go,” Tristan muttered, not quite able to meet any of their eyes. He was still smarting over the verbal whipping Chemie had been meting out over the girl Tristan was supposed to have brought with him to Quito. “Why would we need them? They can’t help us any more than we can help ourselves.”
“Oh my &*%$ing &*%$,” Chemie more or less spat, turning on Tristan, “do you know nothing? He’s a Courier, Tristan. His organization predates the League by centuries. They know things, see things, remember things. Their institutional memory goes back millennia. Just what, exactly, do you think you know that makes you think you can afford to turn away this kind of help?
Faye didn’t bother telling Chemie that they hadn’t offered to help. She also didn’t bother telling Chemie that Tarin predated Tarin’s organization by centuries. Corrections like that weren’t fun anymore. Hadn’t been fun since the ‘60s.
“Chemie, I—“ but Tristan couldn’t figure out what it was that he wanted to say. He shut his mouth, slumped into a chair, and had himself a good sulk. Chemie very pointedly turned his back on his fellow Leaguer, twisting in his chair to face Tarin, desperate and ragged.
“Please. We need to find this girl. She has something that we—that the world—needs.”
“Oh? And what is that?”
“Half of all of time.”
“Ya… so…. I’m going to need you to start at the beginning. Or, at least, closer to the beginning than ‘half of all of time.’ Feel free to edit out any slow parts.” Tarin pulled up a chair beside Joss and settled in, his hand inching towards the backpack full of snacks she had leaned against the side of her chair. Joss swatted him away. Which was quite a feat, considering that most of her attention was going towards watching Baby blow funny-looking dream bubbles. Faye succeeded where Tarin had failed, coming up behind them both and plucking a bag of dried fruit from the pack before the other two had finished resettling. She sat down on the other side of Joss, chewing on the last piece of mango, and, for the first time since she’d gotten there, stared directly into Chemie’s soul. Well, into his eyes. And perhaps a touch of soul. Eyes or soul, it had the desired effect. He started looking properly ashamed of himself and began to metaphorically sweat and to literally squirm.
“I—um, I…” he swallowed, trying to suss out where to begin while also avoiding making eye contact with Faye. Joss reclaimed the bag of fruit from Faye. She also elbowed Faye rather squarely in the ribs. Faye grumbled to herself, still hungry and quite convinced she was the most misused person alive. Regardless, she moderated her gaze to something a little less aggressive and indicting as Joss tucked the food back into the backpack. That was all the time Chemie needed, apparently, He launched into his tale.
“I was recruited to the League when I was ten. I don’t really know why, though I kind of feel like it had something to do with my mother being something like a witch. Which is neither here nor there. Um… okay, yes. Three years ago I began a postdoctoral fellowship at an entomological institute in Ecuador. I was conducting studies for a book project and was interested in the impact altitude had on the exoske—“
“Edit, Chemie, edit,” Joss interrupted. Faye hadn’t expected such impatience from the other woman, and did her best to choke down the sudden giggle. Her best wasn’t enough.
“Right. Sorry. Okay. Um. Right. Yes.” He took a moment to fast forward through his memories, nodding along to himself as he flagged the relevant details. “Right. Okay. The League started diversifying its portfolio in the early 20th Century and went environmentalist in the late 1940s. Avoiding climate catastrophe has been a big agenda item for as long as I’ve been a member, and, by the time I was doing the postdoc, I’d already done several sustainability projects for the League. It was never enough, though. It was never going to be enough.” He lost himself there, for a moment. But Faye was growing tired of those thousand-mile stares. She snapped her fingers sharply, willing him to be on with it. He started a little, but then nodded to himself, launching back into the narrative.
“Two years ago, I was hiking one of the peaks outside of Quito. I was looking for a specific bug—no, it’s part of it, just hold on—looking for a bug, when I saw an old monastery. There are a few around and about that area, and it wasn’t the first one I had wandered into while doing research. Monasteries can have pretty cool libraries, after all, and this one was no exception. There were a few monks there. I guess that goes without saying. And there was another woman there, researching. I don’t think she was a laywoman. She was wearing a habit. I think. At least, the dress was all brown and had no shape. She heard me asking the librarian if he had any books about the insects native to that region–no, listen, it was a reasonable question! Don’t look at me like that. Libraries usually have some manner of local natural history section. And, anyway, this library did. So, there. The librarian got me what turned out to be a very interesting read about—right, sorry, fast-forwarding. The woman. The woman came over when the librarian left to get me my book and asked why I was interested in local entomology. I told her I was a biologist—an entomologist, I guess, though I like to think of myself as more interdisciplinary than the “just bugs” guy—and I described my project to her. She listened. Patiently, and with interest, I might add. She said she was a biologist, herself, and wished me well. She told me she would pray for me, for herself, and for the earth. She said she hoped that the earth would mend, and be around for the rest of our lives, so that we might continue to study it. She gave me this necklace, and told me I should also pray.” He pulled a string of wooden beads out from under his shirt collar. Faye almost groaned when she saw the bauble attached to the beads: a polished sphere orbited by two larger rings set at perpendicular angles. Four notches had been marked into the two rings at equidistant points. Faye had seen it before. Not for…well, millennia, she supposed. But the memories were there. Faye caught Tarin’s gaze. He nodded, recognition lighting his eyes as well.
“Is it a rosary?” Joss asked, studying the necklace. Faye gave her a good helping of side-eye, but let Tarin answer the question.
“Have you never been to mass?” He asked, not quite catching himself in time. He cleared his throat, immediately regretting his tone, and was a bastion of meekness by the time he was saying, “no, Joss, that is not a rosary.”
“It’s the insignia of the Temporal Cabal,” Chemie said–a comment that genuinely surprised Faye.
“That’s not–” Faye stopped herself, realizing that now was probably not the time to divulge particularly sensitive information. “Oh?” she said instead, “is that what the woman said?”
“Yes. Have you heard of them?” Chemie asked. Faye and Tarin both nodded.
“The nutters who have dedicated their lives to finding Father Time? Who think he’s a real person? Who think they can best him and wrest control of time from his cold, malicious fingers? That Temporal Cabal?”
Chemie swallowed even harder.
“They called him Peter Tempus…” he said.
“Peter, Pater. Tempus? It’s Father Time, Chemie, and–”
“Please continue with your story, Chemie,” Tarin interrupted, glaring at Faye. She threw her hands up in surrender.
“Sorry, sorry. Please continue, Chemie,” she said. He looked like there were a few things further up on his to-do list than “continue,’ but went on, regardless.
“The woman gave me this journal as well. She said I might look it over, if I ever felt like expanding my faith.” He stood up and walked around the table, stopping in front of one of the larger, more precarious stacks of books. He pulled a small notebook out from amongst the others. It looked to be about fifty pages in length and, if Faye wasn’t mistaken, appeared to be mostly handwritten. Faye was pretty sure it was a dollar-bin composition notebook. Which was almost funny. She had been expecting nothing less than an ancient, crumbling manuscript.
“I think I had one of those for high school English,” Joss said, leaning forward.
“I mean, I did too,” Chemie said, walking around the table and handing the book to Tarin. Faye told herself it wasn’t a sexism thing. Told herself it was a “he doesn’t know you’re a Courier as well” thing. She stood up and walked over to Tarin, contenting herself with reading over his shoulder.
“At least, I had a notebook that looked like this. It certainly wasn’t filled with anything like what’s in this one, though.
“A Temporal Cabal,” Tarin read from what seemed to be the title page. The words were scrawled above a circle with three points: one on the leftmost side, one on the rightmost side, and one in the dead center. Chemie held up the necklace again, pointing from it to the symbol. Faye could see how he would think they were the same thing. A 2-D rendering of the necklace would lead to more or less this drawing. “Is that what all of this is about?”
“I’d imagine you’d find out, if you kept reading,” Joss said, leaning over and turning the page. The paper was covered in cramped, all-caps handwriting. Faye counted five different languages by the end of the first page.
“Seems like somebody was having a bit of a breakdown,” she muttered, flipping to the next page.
“What is that? Spanish?” Joss asked, trying to read the writing.
“Some of it,” Faye said, “and English.”
“Oh, is that what that is?”
Faye ignored the sarcasm.
“Some of it is Latin, which is incredibly unoriginal.. Some words I don’t really recognize. But then, they look a lot like what we saw in Quito? Which makes me think they’re Quichua. Isn’t that what that guy was speaking in the Plaza?”
“It is Quichua,” Chemie said, “and a few other indigenous languages. And also some very ancient, incredibly dead languages.” He sighed. “It took me a year to transcribe and translate it. I had to go to the League’s Library, for the really old stuff. Not a cheap trip, let me tell you. All told, it’s a story about Peter Tempus, the first man to have a beating heart.”
“Yes. Sounds very relevant,” Joss said, skipping ahead several pages, looking for more English.
“It is,” Tristan said defensively. Yet again, Faye had forgotten he was there. She watched him curiously, wondering why the League had recruited him.
“Peter Tempus is a central figure in tales of the Temporal Cabal,” Chemie said, pointing to one of the symbols scribbled into the margins of the page they were looking at. It was the same symbol from the title page, if a little smaller. He held up his necklace, gesturing from it to the symbol. “I don’t know how many people have studied it, or followed it, or whatever it is a person does with a Cabal. A few local Leaguers, at least. Myself, of course. The woman in the monastery. And whoever wrote this journal.”
“Who is Peter Tempus, according to this book?” Tarin asked. Faye thought he was being laudably diplomatic. She wanted to throw something at him.
“There was a time before time,” Chemie said, part reading, part repeating from memory. “But nothing grew and nothing moved and everything was apparently quite dreary and drab. The creator was not a fan, and so created a heart that beat. The first beating heart. The creator gave this heart to Peter Tempus. With this gift, the creator gave Peter time. All of time. And he tasked Peter with giving it to everything else.”
“Peter did what he was told. He wove time into creation, tying it to his own beating heart. Stitched life and death into the world. That sort of thing. It went pretty well, for a while. But Peter was human, and lived and loved like anyone else. His love was one for the ages, apparently—ten of the pages are dedicated solely to describing his love for his lover—and then, one day, his lover died. And his heart broke. Which wasn’t ideal. Since, you know, his heart controlled all of time. The world was thrown into disarray and began to unravel around him. He decided that his heart needed to be put somewhere safe, outside of anyplace ruled by love and loss. He spread his arms wide, a heart-half in each hand. He tore through the fabric of reality and found a place beyond Creation. There he buried his heart’s two halves, one past the east, one past the west. His heart’s pieces stopped beating. They stopped hurting. They stopped doing anything but being. Earth fell back into a rhythm and creation survived. Ever since, time has held steady. How could it not? It is held in two halves of a heart that was hidden away, outside of space and time.”
“So… the book is, what, a creation myth? Whose? What happened to Peter?” Joss asked, frowning.
“He collapsed into the earth, mostly dead, never to be heard from again. And no, only the first half of the book is a creation myth. The second half of the book is filled with calculations and coordinates. I didn’t take any of them seriously—they give off “raving mad” vibes, as I’m sure you’ve noticed—but then, I decided to try my hand at one of the proofs. Solved it. Figured, might as well follow it.”
“One of the proofs?” Tarin asked, only half paying attention, his eyes busy scanning the words sprawling across one of the middle pages.
“I mean, they’re kind of like proofs. The author sets out to solve what seems to be a numerical problem, and the solutions are numbers. So, they’re basically proofs. I think. It doesn’t matter. The point is, some of the numbers are coordinates. And one day, I thought, why not? I decided to travel to one of the sets of coordinates. The last ones in the book. I chose them for convenience–they were near Quito, of all places. Which is, consequently, why we added that tenth door.” He nodded towards the door they had come through. “Used to only have nine entrances to the League’s HQ, but the American branch made an exception, once I explained what I had found.”
“Which was what?” Faye asked. Chemie ran his fingers through his hair, looking from one newcomer to the next.
“At first, nothing but a cave. I felt affirmed in my belief that the journal was bunk. But then, there was this sort of…shimmer, almost, along one of the cave’s walls. The journal had talked about “tears.” About places where the material of the world had been rendered or rent. Where something—or somebody—had torn through space and time. I hadn’t paid too much attention—it was very poetic, and didn’t seem nearly complicated enough to be real. I mean, come on. I’ve sat through lectures on quantum physics without understanding a single word. This made far too much sense to be right. You can’t just—“
“Chemie, the shimmer,” Faye interrupted, familiar with the direction this spiral was taking and not much wanting to waste time on that journey. She was hardly the sort of person who needed to be convinced of the limits of academic explanations.
“Right. Sorry. There was a shimmer on the cave’s wall, right where the coordinates took me. I touched it, and it gave way. No, it unfolded. Or folded. Whatever. A place that had not been there before opened up around me. It was different. It held no color. My heart stopped beating. And I was not alone.” Chemie paused, eyes wide, seeing something that wasn’t there.
“Yes?” Joss asked, fully engrossed and fully losing her patience.
“And Peter was there, I’m assuming,” Faye said, taking the booklet from Tarin. Chemie nodded.
“Yes, Peter was there. He looked… like a man. Like a man in a cave. He was middling-aged. Long hair, long beard. His eyes were full of cataracts. I asked him if there was a way to turn back earth’s time. Not to turn back time for all of creation, mind you. Just, earth’s. Turn back time on the damage and destruction that humans have wrought. I only asked because the book suggested we could do as much, and because my overseers at the League thought it was an avenue worth exploring. But he couldn’t hear me. Couldn’t see me. He just sat there, still as stone. But he wasn’t. I checked. Touched him, I mean. His skin felt like… well, skin. I left, went back to the book. Decided maybe I should have begun with the beginning, after all. Realized my error.”
He paused, glancing at Tristan. The other man was stuck somewhere between shame and determination.
“Which was?” Tarin prompted.
“He doesn’t have his heart,” Tristan said.
“We plugged in for the first set of coordinates. For the place where the western half of his heart was kept. The journal has a lot of opinions of what would be found. About how to approach Peter, once his ‘heart’–the journal doesn’t think it’s an actual heart, is why I said it like that–was taken from the place beyond time and space. I was going to wait, though. Was going to wait for Bo to weigh in.”
“Why?” Faye asked.
“The journal… well, the motivations of this ‘Cabal’ seem a little… less than, as it were.”
“That tracks,” Joss agreed, “‘Cabal’ doesn’t sound particularly altruistic.”
“And yet,” Faye asked, turning to Tristan, brow raised. Tristan met her gaze. Dropped it again.
“There was a miscommunication, apparently,” Chemie said. “I don’t think I…fully explained what I was doing. With my memory.”
“I got back earlier than expected,” Tristan said, watching the sun through the windows, “and just saw the body. I panicked. Thought I’d carry on with the mission. That’s the best I can say for myself.”
Faye didn’t say the first ten things that came to her mind. It wasn’t worth it. She bit her tongue and let Chemie finish their story.
“We were looking for the two halves of all of time.” Chemie watched Tristan, frowning. “Found a child, apparently. Or was she half of Peter’s heart? Honestly, I was taking most of what the journal said as a metaphor. I wasn’t even sure I had really seen a man named ‘Peter.’ Thought he was just my mind making sense of an intense concentration of temporal possibilities. But… I don’t know, after what Tristan’s told me of what he found…well, who he found.” He shrugged. “That’s it. That’s all I have to say. I worked out where the first coordinates led to, had told Tristan how to find the tear. And then I sent my memories to Bo. That’s the last thing I remember, though I’ve gathered that Tristan went ahead and travelled through the tear, found one of Peter’s children, and brought her here. And triggered a series of world-ending floods in the process. At least, Bo believes it’s that that did it. According to his annotations, anyway, which are, quite honestly, some of the more disorienting things I’ve ever experienced. Now, will you help us?”
“Help you what?” Faye asked, tearing a page out of the journal and stuffing it into her shirt. Tarin grabbed the journal from her, not quite so keen on destruction of property.
“Help us find her,” Chemie said, eyes wide, desperate. “Find the half of time that Tristan lost. You’re a Courier. You find people for a living!”
Faye stood, pulling Joss up with her. Baby woke up, then, cross-eyed and excitedly babbling.
“No,” Tarin said, standing as well, pulling both his and Joss’s backpacks onto his back.
“Wha—excuse me?” Tristan asked, jumping to his feet. A little too lithely, for Faye’s taste. She began to make assumptions about what manner of skills he brought to the League’s table. “You’re just going to leave? After all of that? We—the world will end.”
“And all because of you, it sounds like,” Faye said, walking around him, towards the door. “Because you kidnapped a little girl. Shame on you.”
Chemie couldn’t find his voice. He sputtered, tried to stand, couldn’t. His face reddened, his eyes began to water, then narrow. Faye turned her back on him and opened the door to Quito.
“Good luck with everything,” she said over her shoulder, stepping out of the floating room and into an Ecuadoran hotel. Joss and Baby followed and Tarin brought in the rear, pulling the door closed behind them all.
Faye wheeled on Tarin.
“The Temporal Cabal?” She asked, brow raised. He rolled his eyes.
“It has been a minute. Haven’t heard from them since… oh, at least the Spanish Flu.”
“Is it true?” Joss asked, handing an increasingly fussy Baby to Faye. She reached into one of the packs on Tarin’s back, rummaging around until she found one of the jars of baby food they’d recently acquired.
“Well,” Faye went on, “no. Ish. I believe Chemie found ‘Peter.’.”
“Who you say is actually Father Time,” Joss said.
“Which you said was nutty.”
“I said they’re nutty. Father Time is not nutty. Actually, he might be, by now. But that’s not the point.”
“Which is?” Joss asked, trying to spoon some mushed carrot into Baby’s mouth.
“Round and round the river goes, Joss,” Faye murmured, remembering a voice and a song from what felt like a thousand lifetimes ago, “where it’s going, no one knows. The woman in the library?”
“Excuse me, people,” Joss said, tapping a foot oh-so-dramatically, “I didn’t patiently endure a magically floating room all day just so that you two could continue on with this unnecessarily cryptic dialogue. Speak some sense, people. Unless you all have completely broken with reality, and I’m just enabling your delusions?” Her hands were shaking. “Oh my gosh. I am, aren’t I.” The carrot spilled from the spoon and onto Faye’s shoe.
“No, you’re not,” Faye said, gently taking the spoon from Joss’s hand. “Well, probably not. But I guess I wouldn’t know if you were, now, would I?” She smiled. Joss wasn’t having it.
“The necklace, Joss. The one that’s not a rosary. It’s not the super secret insignia of the Temporal Cabal.”
Joss was past frowning. Past prodding, past bothering to tell Faye she was being extremely and infuriatingly difficult. Joss just stared. Stared, and waited.
“The woman who gave it to Chemie, Joss. I don’t think she’s with the Cabal. Oh, the journal was all theirs, I’m sure. And, if we’re being honest, I can’t think of a single reason why she would have it. A reason that isn’t incredibly troublesome, anyway. They’re bad news, Joss. Power hungry, conspiratorial. Violent. Always have been.” Faye prodded the mashed carrots with the spoon. “No, can’t think of a single reason she’s messing with the Cabal.”
She pulled the paper she had torn from the journal out of her shirt. She handed it to Tarin.
“It’s… it’s a description of a mountain sunrise? Why’d you take this page?”
“No, Tarin, the margins, look at the margins.”
“Oh, right. Somebody’s written in a call number. For a book about–I don’t know, I can’t really read it, something about meditations and dawn. Why—oh, right.”
“Do monastery’s have unique numbering systems?” Joss asked. Faye shrugged.
“Unique enough, I’m sure,” Faye said. “I’ve only seen that necklace on one woman, Tarin. And if she’s shown her face, after all this time… and wrapped up with the Cabal, of all things…well, I figure we should pay her a visit.” Faye spooned some carrots into Baby’s mouth.
“Joss, we were made, me and Tarin. Us, our siblings. We weren’t born, we were made. We carried messages for our makers. The First Family, we called them. Well, we called them that after the fact. It’s not like we knew they were the first of anything, at the time. Didn’t really know they were a family, either, if we’re being–“
“Faye, the point.”
“Right, sorry,” Faye said, trying not to smile, “but, Joss, there were people before the firsts. Two people, to be exact. Well, not people, exactly. And not two, either, but I actually hate philosophy, so we’re going to stick with ‘two,’ for now.”
“One is Father Time, I take it,” Joss said, breathing through her nose.
“Joss, are you… flaring your nostrils?” Faye asked, grinning at the other woman. Tarin saved her from certain death.
“And the other is Mother Earth, Joss,” he said, looking at the paper in his hands. “The other is none other than the good woman herself.”
“The lover who died in the story?” Joss asked, eyebrow raised.
“’Died’ feels like a strong word,” Faye said, squeezing her eyes shut, trying to remember all the things she’d forgotten, “Parts of her have died, I’m sure. but she’s the mother. The Mother, that is. Mother Earth. She’s generation, she’s life. She sews spring and gardens summer, prunes fall. Flirts with Death through all of winter. I don’t think she can die, though.”
Joss stared at Faye, eyes a little too tight, jaw a little too tense. But then she blew the tension out with an exhale that defied Faye’s assumptions about the other woman’s lung capacity.
“I guess believing you is better than waiting for the world to end,” she said, taking the spoon back from Faye. “So, what’s next? Off to find the mother, I take it?”
Tarin grinned, chewing on a long-awaited bite of dried banana.
“Anybody feeling particularly prayerful?” He asked. Faye groaned. He was just the absolute worst.