Mateo was under the impression that when he returned to his regular pattern, he would find himself back in the Snow White coffin; under automatic quarantine. But he was wrong. He was standing up, but it was pitch black, so he had no idea where he was. He could be thousands of miles from home for all he knew. His father was quite obviously a time traveler, but they had jumped through so many years that there was no way to know whether they had also moved through space or not. He waved his arms around, looking for a lightswitch, but accidentally knocked a glass off of the counter.
When the light came on, the room looked familiar. He was almost completely certain that he was in his mother’s new house in Colorado. He turned around and found confirmation. His mother, Carol was standing in front of him. He tried to get away from her, but she quickly wrapped her arms around him.
“Mateo, you’re back! My God, what happened to you?”
He pulled himself away from her. “We both need to be quarantined. Separately.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’ve been infected with a virus of some kind. I’ve probably already passed it on to you, but we have to try.”
She stared at him for a few seconds before showing determination. “Get into the room at the top of the stairs and to the left.” She left for her own room. “I’ll call Duke. He’ll know how to do this.”
Professor Duke Andrews came over with Leona. Together, they constructed barriers with plastic sheeting. It freaked him out a little. He knew it was for everyone’s protection, but there was a television character years back who would build rooms like this in order to kill people without leaving evidence.
Once they were all finished, Leona came back in with her hazmat suit. “I’ll need to take more samples.” She got to work.
She looked annoyed with him.
“I didn’t run away this time. I was thrown into the future. That’s where I got this virus.” He waited for a reply but nothing came. “Leona, I’m sorry.”
“Tell me what happened,” she finally said.
He went about explaining everything he went through in 3118; from the dome to the robot, to the self-destructing message, to his father. She then relayed the information to Duke and his mother.
She shook her head. “The files were corrupted. We received almost no data from the machine, except for a series of unfinished equations regarding hyperspheres. But we didn’t think that meant it did something to you. When you didn’t come back a year later, we thought...we figured that you were dead.”
“I’m here now.”
She stopped working for a second and looked him in the eye. “Yeah, but for how long. I’ve always known, but with each passing year it sinks in more that you and I are destined for failure.”
“Well, maybe we can stop it. Tell me about the data. What’s a hypersphere?”
“We believe that the powers that be exist within five dimensional space. That allows them to see time all at once,” she explained. “Or so we think. Like I said, we didn’t get much from it. Which makes sense now that we know the way it disrupted your—what did he call it—pattern?”
“How would someone be able to see time all at once?”
“Imagine a beetle, crawling on the ground,” she began. “You pick up that beetle with a sheet of paper, and you carry it somewhere else; maybe hundreds of miles away. You set the beetle down, and what does it do? It just keeps crawling. It knows it’s moved, but that doesn’t matter. It has no choice but to keep going with its biological imperatives: to find food, and a mate. That’s what the powers that be are doing with you, your aunt, and your father. They’re picking you up and setting you down somewhere else. The difference is, since they see time from an outside perspective, they can move you back and forth within the timestream.”
“So we’re just game pieces to them? Moving us around on a board. For what reason?”
“If these people have any motivations, they would be so far beyond our comprehension that no analogy would sufficiently account for them. Again, it would be like the beetle trying to guess why you moved it from its original spot.”
Mateo nodded, knowing that if Leona couldn’t fully understand what was going on, there was no way for him to. He would have to surrender to the idea that this was his life now. There was nothing he could do about. Trying to figure it out would be impossible without access to the people controlling it. He decided to change the subject, “hold on. Is it April first?”
“It is, why?”
“That is yet to be determined.”
“Come on, don’t be like that. It’s gonna be okay.”
Professor Andrews entered the room without protection and directed Leona to stick Mateo back behind the zipper. “He needs to stay in there, but it’s pointless for you to wear that. We’ve all been exposed.”
“Leona took off her headgear. “What’s that now?”
“It’s a quick little bugger. It began spreading through the air as soon as Mateo arrived.”
“Oh my God,” Mateo said. “I’m here to destroy the world.”
“I don’t think that it will destroy the world,” Duke argued.
“The robot in the future called it a pandemic.”
“Yes,” he agreed, “you are a surprisingly effective delivery system. Whoever designed this thing had access to genetic data that we are nowhere near achieving. But my guess is that it was deployed on a massive scale, using some kind of weapon. You’re just one guy, and the virus has almost certainly mutated since then.”
“Mutations should be worse,” Leona said. “If anything, the strongest attributes have survived while weaknesses were stripped away.”
“Normally that would be true, yes, but you said that this was first created decades before your arrival?”
“That’s what the robot claimed,” Mateo confirmed. “He played it pretty close to the chest.”
“Like I said, this was designed with a very specific purpose,” Duke continued. “It was likely extremely aggressive on the outset. But once everyone was infected with it, the virus no longer had a purpose. There were no more hosts to attack; no more cells to hijack. But it didn’t die. So, it just sat there, quietly and slowly degrading and losing some of its attributes.”
“Are you saying that the virus would have eventually just disappeared?” Leona asked. “It seems like they would know that, and didn’t have to bother with Mateo.”
“They needed a cure for the virus because it caused infertility. If it ever died off—and I can’t be sure that it would, without more data—humanity might have died off before.”
“Please tell me you’re saying that it’s less dangerous to us,” Mateo begged.
“We have made great strides in medical technology since you’ve been gone, my young friend. It cannot yet predict the future, but it can come damn close. I suspect that the world’s gonna get sick. But it will survive. You have not destroyed us.”
He stayed behind quarantine for the remainder of the day, but the four of them still celebrated Leona’s 25th birthday together. Andrews was correct that the virus Mateo introduced did not destroy the world. As it turned out, it spread like a flu. A heavy majority of the population showed fever, sweating, cold flashes, and a loss of appetite as symptoms. But nobody became infertile as a result. In fact, Duke hypothesized that Mateo had immunized the entire human population so that, if it were ever to be created in the future, it would do little to no harm. Only a single person died from the infection; Mateo’s mother. He shouldn’t have hugged her. Click here for the next installment...