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Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: October 14, 2221

Leona, Brooke, and Sharice spent the rest of the day trying to figure out how the former could get back to Mateo, and barring that, contact him. The Caster said that he wasn’t at Gatewood, but it was unclear how reliable her information was. How did she know where to look, and how to find someone? It took Leona hours to reach her in the first place, but she did so by meditating, and never quite understood how she made it happen in the end. The whole field of telepathy was a little unusual. So far, besides Serif’s ability to heal others with her breath—which came from a different universe, with different rules—everyone’s power was related to time. There were a few people with something that resembled telekinesis, but that was just extremely rapid and miniscule-range teleportation that only looked like the objects were moving. Telepaths, on the other hand, seemed to be a different animal. They made it look like the universe had two kinds of powers; temporal, and psychic. But why? What was the connection, if any? Was Sanaa Karimi teleporting her thoughts across time and space, which justified her power? Or was something else at play?
Back in the day, Leona used to watch just about any decent science fiction that was released. Star Trek: The Next Generation featured a mysterious alien character who claimed time and thought were not as separate as most people believed. Was that it? Was he somehow right? Ultimately, these questions weren’t all that useful to Leona, though, because they only distracted her from the solution to her problem. She needed to help her husband, and hope for accomplishing this was dwindling with each passing day. She hesitated to contact Sanaa again, because she didn’t seem to like people doing that to her. Apparently, not everybody with powers was interested in using them.
When Leona returned a year later, Brooke and Sharice still had no ideas. To be fair, they hadn’t spent as much time in the world of salmon as she had.
“Here’s the most likely explanation,” Brooke said. “He’s still on Dardius.”
“That was my thought,” Leona said, “but that doesn’t really put my mind at ease. If he’s still there, that means he’s run into trouble. I need to get back to him either way.”
“Have you tried the grave again?” Sharice asked.
“Yeah, I did it while you guys were charging. I took a pillow with me this time, though. I don’t know why we didn’t think of that before.”
“Is it possible, maybe the pillow was interfering with the jump?” Sharice nervously suggested.
“There could be any number of reasons The Gravedigger doesn’t want to take me back to Dardius. He obviously knows more than he’s letting on, so maybe he has some reason I should be here; some grand plan. Or maybe bridging millions of lightyears is just as difficult for him as it is for the Caster, and he’s too tired.”
There was a knock at the door. Sharice stepped into a defensive position, to protect Leona, while Brooke went over to answer it.
A man was on the other side. “We have calculated this to be the optimal time to speak with your friend.”
“Which friend would that be?” Brooke dodged.
“The one who only appears once per year. Please retrieve her, so that I can escort her to the Administrator.”
“She’s not going anywhere without us,” Brooke demanded.
“Very well. You have ten minutes. If she’s human, she will require a tank. If she is not...I am not cognizant of what she will require.”
Brooke unceremoniously shut the door in his face. “Looks like they have figured out what you are, or at least that you’re different.”
“It was only a matter of time,” Leona said, standing up. “It’s easy to disappear on Earth, but the population here is so small, and our little group already arrived under unusual circumstances. People are watching.”
“We can escape to an outpost; hold our ground,” Sharice offered.
“Let’s see what they say first,” Leona decided.
Five minutes later, they were walking to the other side of the dome with the delivery boy. Leona was carrying an oxygen tank on her back, but wasn’t using it to breathe. Standard procedure was to build the habitats within preexisting underground geological features, to protect from cosmic radiation. The dome itself was in geodesic form, and kept the entire colony site pressurized. Airflow, however, was difficult to maintain, forcing organics to walk around with tanks, in case something went wrong. Internal habitat buildings were systemically independent, though there was still some level of remoteness. The leadership structure was built far away from all others, to prevent a cataclysm chain reaction.
Once inside, the man ushered them into the Administrator’s Office, where the colony’s leader was waiting for them. Before so much as one colony ship leaves Earth for a new world, plans are made. Everyone who wants to go has the right to do so, but that doesn’t mean they are all on equal footing. Colony prospectors spend years still on Earth, planning the new way things will work. Leadership is established well in advance. In Bungula’s case, the colonists agreed to follow the directives of a single artificial general intelligence called the Administrator. This entity maintains some memories of its past incarnations, but much of the data is wiped when its upgraded to a new version, just like any computer program. This is done ten times a year, according to the Gregorian calendar, though there is still some debate whether versioning should switch to a Bungulan orbiting timetable, or if some other system should be used altogether. For now, it is the fifteenth of October in the colony’s sixth year, giving the leader the designation of Administrator Six Point Seven. Its consciousness pervades the entire system, though it interacts with its users through an android body. It also currently utilizes a feminine personality profile.
“Thank you for coming,” Six Point Seven said.
“Did she have a choice?” Sharice snarked.
“No,” Six Point Seven answered. She pulled some data up on a viewscreen. “According to these reports, you are present on this planet once every year, and are missing the rest of the time. Is this correct?”
“It is,” Leona admitted.
“Where are you when you are not here?”
“Nowhere.” It was time to come clean. If the self-proclaimed police of time travelers decided she belonged in Beaver Haven for potentially exposing the reality to the galaxy, then she would deal with that. “I’m slipping time.”
Six Point Seven nodded. “What is your species?”
“Salmon,” Leona said, purposefully leaving it at that to elicit intrigue, rather than just explaining it right away.
The Administrator processed this information. “You do not appear ichthyoid.”
“It’s more of a nickname; used to distinguish time travelers from people like me, who have no control over it. We sometimes go against the current, like a spawning salmon.”
“Who does have control over your movements?” Six Point Seven asked.
“I couldn’t tell you.”
“How do you know these people?” Six Point Seven indicated Brooke and Sharice.
“Descendants of family and friends from before all this started happening to me. I had a life six months ago.” Time bubbles, alternate realities, relativistic space travel, and regular ol’ time travel made that six month figure a little less accurate, but there was no need to explain all that.
“How many salmon are there? How many travelers altogether?”
Leona stayed silent.
“I recognize and appreciate that your kind have been keeping yourselves secret, and I can even surmise the reasons, but if there are others like you on my planet, I need to know about it.”
“I’m the only one.” Leona didn’t know that for sure. The ability to manipulate time, or be manipulated by the powers that be, was not generally hereditary. True, seemingly everyone in Mateo’s extended family was salmon or chooser, but they were outliers to the rule. Most traveler’s parents weren’t travelers, and most of their children were not either. Anyone here could be born with some natural connection to the enigma of time, but since she was not specifically aware of anyone, her answer was not a total lie.
“How can I know for sure?”
“Think of it this way,” Leona began, “time travelers have existed on Earth throughout the entire anthropocene epoch, and then some. Since modern humans evolved, not a single second has gone by without at least one of us present. I can tell you that all magnificent feats of engineering, like the Great Pyramids of Giza, and the Panama Canal, were all carried by humans. We have ignited no wars, and possess no higher number of killers in our ranks than humans have. Each individual traveler contributes to our collective history maybe ten times as much as any normal human, giving them the equivalent of celebrity status.”
“What are your metrics for historical contribution?”
“Anecdotal, estimative, theoretical, and analogous,” Leona replied.
“So, nonscientific?”
“The point is that we have been here the whole time, and everything’s all right. Some of us are good, and some are bad; again, just like humans. You don’t need to know whether there are any more like me here, because you’ve never needed to know before.”
Six Point Seven lifted her chin and peered at Leona. “You are purely biological, unaided by technology?”
“I don’t even have a personal long-distance communication device,” Leona said. Some considered smartphones, and even the personal computer, to be the very first instances of transhumanistic upgrades. “A scientist friend of mine attempted to study our biology, physiology, chemistry, and genetics early on, but was...obstructed.” She was referring to Duke Andrews, who once tried to figure out what made Mateo tick by taking samples, and placing him in an observation chamber, but this caused him to jump more than a thousand years into the future, and did not provide them with much useful data. It was also in an alternate timeline, so what data they did manage to collect was lost now.
Six Point Seven nodded understandingly. “We will attempt this again. You will coordinate with a science task force, and assist them in devising testable hypotheses.” She prepared to get back to other work.
“Sir?” Brooke finally jumped in. “You forgot the most important part?”
“What might that be?” Six Point Seven asked.
“You forgot about consent,” Sharice answered for her mother. “You can’t someone.”
Six Point Seven would have sighed at this point, if she needed to breathe. She just looked back over at Leona.
Leona hesitated, but as a guest on this planet, didn’t feel comfortable rejecting the request. “I consent.”
“Very good, very good,” the Administrator said. “I will compile the team for you, and my assistant will show you to your new living quarters. A full laboratory extension will be built around them, and be ready for you next year.”
“Indeed,” Leona said. Then she walked away. She should have been apprehensive about being treated like a lab rat, but in all honesty, she wanted to understand it better than anyone. It was about time.
Mateo was falling through the air. A sky-motorcycle, for lack of a better term was falling right alongside him. Mechanically arms reached out, and embraced him with a soft canvas. Then it slowed its descent gradually, before finally landing safely on the ground next to a huge pile of rubble, and releasing him. Ramses climbed up holding a remote control. “It’s all about timing.”
Mateo looked around. Everything appeared to be the same in town, except that the entire capitol building was gone. “What the actually hell happened?”
“Well, the Freemarketeers did not appreciate our assault on Tribulation Island. In fairness, it was the second of two in a few years, and they’re pretty touchy about it. They destroyed the capitol in retaliation, but only the capitol. Everyone was killed in the attack, including Vice Patronus Sparacello, and excepting me. I was reassigned as Deputy Delegator to the other delegation. Woohoo, promotion, and only a few thousand people had to die.
“How did you survive?”
“I wasn’t here,” Ramses said. “I’m not a traitor, if that’s what you were thinking.”
“I wasn’t. Why did you catch me like that? Superman always just flies over, and snatches people out of the air.”
“Yeah, and that would have killed those people in real life. People who fall from great heights don’t die just because the ground is really hard, or something. They die because they’re moving really fast, but suddenly they stop. I had to match velocity, and decelerate safely. New rule. If you ever jump forward again, you’re going to have to do it on the ground, in the middle of a field.”
“Why would I not jump forward again?”
“Mateo, you are the ranking officer on this planet. The world needs you, and they need you to stop traveling through time. Come. There’s someone I think you should meet.”

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