The Two Hondo Paradox
“How did you wind up here?” I asked as I helped my friend up. The sky was growing lighter. I could see the sun behind Lantern City trying to burn through a few small clouds.
“It’s been a long time, brother,” Hondo said after taking my hand. He brushed himself off and sighed. He wore a strange brown tunic and green pants. His dark hair was long, dirty and unkempt. He eyed Ink and Rainsong, but neither of us were able to spare a thought for the two just then.
“It’s been a day,” I replied. “Maybe two. But it’s good to see you.”
“It’s been almost a year for me,” Hondo said, meeting my gaze with an odd look in his eyes. “Much has changed.”
“How is that possible?” I asked, though I had an idea. I’d already experienced time travel once.
Hondo gave me a strange look. “You don’t know? Special stones from the moons of a planet called Senna. They let you travel through time.”
I nodded. “We used one to get here. It still just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Do you know where we are now?” I asked.
“This planet is called Frostbane. We’re one hundred and forty-two years in the past. That’s Lantern City,” he said with a wave toward the waiting fortress. “Those fools that just kicked me out are the Imperial Guard.”
One hundred and forty-two years. Nearly a century and a half now separated me from my sister. I didn’t know what to say to this, so I decided to move on for now.
“This is my friend, Ink,” I said. “He’s been helping me.”
“A samurai of Senna,” Hondo said. He bowed with hands clasped, exactly as I’d seen Ink do. “An honor to meet you.”
“Likewise,” Ink said, returning the bow with a pleased smile on his face. He still had my jacket, I realized. I’d forgotten about the coat in all the confusion. The salamander had thrown it over his robes, but he wasn’t using the sleeves. They hung loose, flapping as he walked.
“I’ve been trying to find Lena. Have you seen her?” I asked. “Or the rest of the crew?”
Rainsong loudly cleared his throat. “This is Rainsong,” I said, waving toward the toad.
“A member of the House Guard?” Hondo asked. “Nice to meet you.”
The toad mumbled something rude in reply. I rolled my eyes.
“How did you get here?” I asked again.
“Why don’t you come to my camp? We can talk there and come up with a plan. I’ll update you, and you can tell me what you’ve been up to yourself.” He started to walk into the pine forest opposite the direction we’d come from.
“Is that a good idea?” I asked, following him nonetheless. “I feel like I should check the city for my sister.” Lost in the past or not, I was still going to cover my bases. If Hondo was here, why not Lena too?
“We will. It’s market day. The fools can throw me out, but it’s easy as pie to slip back inside on market day, as long as we don’t call too much attention to ourselves. I’ve got eggs and coffee back at the camp. You look like you could use a good meal.” My stomach gave a mutinous growl in response to this. The protein bar I’d eaten on our hike felt long gone.
“You drink coffee?” I asked, surprised. He’d always complained when the adults on the crew drank it, claiming he hated the smell.
Hondo shrugged. “I’ve learned to like it.”
We followed a narrow trail through tall, tightly packed trees. After a few minutes Hondo paused, then veered left. We stepped off the path. I followed the older boy, pushing aside shrubbery and branches thick with needles. Ink and Rainsong followed, trading insults every so often.
A small fire flickered against the crisp morning air inside a circle of smooth gray stones. A robot sat on a stump before the flames, poking a burning log with a stick.
“Ah, hello, Prometheus!” a familiar voice crackled.
“Gareth?” I asked. The robot was dressed in a black cloak, worn open to reveal his once shiny, silver plating was scuffed and scratched. One of his limbs had been replaced with a skeletal, black arm ending in a clumsy claw-hand.
“The one and only,” the robot replied cheerfully. There was a crackle to the words again. It sounded like his voice box no longer worked properly.
“He’s been in these woods for decades,” Hondo said. “Not sure how he got here.”
“I’ve suffered memory loss,” Gareth said with an enthusiastic nod of his head. After battling the glass spiders, the last thing I remember is waking up in this forest several miles from here. That was twenty-seven years ago.”
“And you’ve been here ever since?” I asked.
“Yes. I have been following my secondary directive—to aid those in need. These woods are strange and dangerous, so travelers often need help and guidance.”
“He’s been killing the brain beasts,” Hondo added.
“The octopus monsters?” I asked. “We fought one in the forest.”
“Yep,” Hondo replied. “They read your brain waves and show you things they think you want to see, to lure you deeper into the forest.”
“What have you been up to?” I asked Hondo.
“Let me get some eggs on,” he said, sitting on a log and fumbling through an oversized backpack. “They’re fresh! Got them right from a farm a few miles out from a generous farmer. Tell me your story while I cook.”
He pulled out a small kettle and filled it with water from a leather flask, then set the kettle near the base of the campfire. This done, he pulled out a battered skillet and got to work cracking eggs. He seemed to be dodging my questions. I had been hoping he would go first, but I didn’t mind. I told him everything I had been through so far.
He finished preparing the eggs and coffee about halfway through my story. I didn’t like coffee—particularly not black the way Hondo drank it—but the drink was warm, so I sipped a cup anyway as I talked. Ink seemed fascinated by coffee and gulped down two cups, along with a helping of eggs. Rainsong refused any food or drink.
“This older version of me . . .” Hondo began. Sunny, yellow eggs sat on his plate, untouched and cooling. “What did he look like?”
“He . . . you . . . were several years older. I don’t know, twenty-five maybe? You . . . he . . . had a long, nasty scar. You seemed different.”
“Different how?” he asked.
“Colder, somehow,” I admitted with a shrug. I wasn’t sure what else to say. He’d all but left me to die in a frozen wasteland.
“I can’t imagine leaving you like that,” Hondo replied. He squirmed in his seat a little. He was clearly uncomfortable with the idea of a future version of himself running around. “I must have had a reason. Maybe I saved Lena too.”
“I hope so,” I said. “I don’t think anyone could last long in that cold.” The memory of that bone-biting chill made me shiver.
“The scar on his chin, could you tell how he got it?” Hondo said the words with his eyes on the fire, refusing to meet my gaze. He was using his fork to shift his eggs around.
“No, I couldn’t see the whole—wait. I never said it was on his chin. How did you know about that?” I took a bite of egg. Mine was already cold, but I was hungry, so I didn’t care.
“I saw my future self in Lantern City,” Hondo admitted in a hoarse whisper. “I don’t know if it’s the injury or what, but something changed me. I’m scared of him. We’ll have to be on our guard. I do not want to run into myself again.”
“Did you see you before?” Hondo gave me a quizzical look when I said this. “Did he see you?” I clarified.
“No, it was in passing. He was arguing with a merchant about the price of digging tools. I think he’s involved with the new Pit. I recognized myself and kept my head down while I eavesdropped.”
“There’s a new Pit?” I asked.
“Yes, the people of the Pitworld--which they call Chronos--are here digging another Pit,” Hondo said. “My future self seems to be leading the dig.”
“And . . . why do you want to stop this new Pit now if you’re working on it in the future?” I asked.
“That’s what gave me the idea to oppose it! The future version of me was so angry. I don’t want to wind up like that. I don’t want to be him. If I refuse to help with this new Pit, it’s a way for me to change my future.” This seemed like fishy logic to me, but I was just beginning to puzzle over time travel, so I didn’t mention my doubts.
“Is that the only reason you want to stop the Pit?” I asked.
“No . . . these Pits. There’s something off about this whole thing. Did you know the Pitworlders are humans? Humans that speak English? How did they get to the Chronos, a strange planet in unexplored space? What made them decide to flee that planet? Why are the toads of Senna trying to send people here? And how does a hole in the ground lead to another planet, anyway? I just have a bad feeling about this whole thing, and one of the Pitworlders I talked to agreed, something stinks about the dig on Frostbane.”
“You’ve spoken to a Pitworlder?” I asked, feeling my eyes widen in surprise.
“Oh yes,” Hondo said. “Who do you think is digging the new Pit?”
“What was he like?” I asked.
“Human,” Hondo said with the shrug. “You can meet him when we go back to the city. I need to speak to him anyway. I have to let him know I failed to gain an audience with the emperor.”
“You were trying to meet with an emperor, honored friend?” Ink asked.
“Yes. He’s backing the dig. I was hoping I could convince him to withdraw his support. If I can do that, the dig will stop. No dig, no Pit. No Pit, no evil future version of me running around.”
“Well, what are waiting for?” I asked, standing and brushing off my dirty pants. “Let’s go!”
“Sure thing,” Hondo said. “And maybe we’ll get you some shoes.”
Ink stared longingly into his empty coffee mug. “Could I have one more cup, honored friend?”
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A mysterious world is discovered with a massive, miles-wide pit torn through one continent. The planet is strewn with the remains of a fallen civilization. What happened to the locals, and what were they digging for so desperately? A young intern assigned to the first expedition into the Pit will be among the first to find out...
J.L. Ender was born on planet Earth, third planet in the Sol system, which is located in a spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy. Ender enjoys coffee, Mexican food, and devastating robot apocalypses. He has tamed a member of the local wildlife, a thing called a dog. In a fit of confusion he named it Bear and often finds himself walking the creature.