Sunday, March 10, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: October 16, 2222

As promised, Leona spent the rest of her time in 2221 working with the Bungulan scientists on a way to observe one of her jumps to the future. They were very receptive to her ideas, and willing to let go of their past experiences. Though none of them had any proof that all this was real, they started from a place of trust, and continued from there. When she returned to the timestream a year later, the entire laboratory was finished, just like Administrator Six Point Seven said it would. She was gone forever, though. The current leader of the colony was Administrator Seven Point Seven, who had been fully briefed on the current situation. Though the observational component of the experiment wasn’t going to begin until the end of the day, there was still a lot for her to do. They expected her to inspect the hardware, and run diagnostics on the entire system. Again, the scientists weren’t unrealistically confident in their own abilities, and respected her input. Everything looked perfect, though no one really knew whether anything they tried was going to do any good. What followed was, perhaps, the craziest thing Leona had ever gone through. And that was saying a lot. Theorizing one could understand time travel, Leona stepped into the observation chamber…and vanished. She woke to find herself in another universe, facing children playing a game—drivers of the now known force to change history for their own amusement.
“Whoa, is this part of the game?” Leona heard someone ask. Her eyes were still trying to adjust to her new surroundings, but she could already tell that they were indeed new. This was not the time lab on Bungula.
“The box doesn’t say anything about this feature,” another person said. They sounded like children.
“Where am I?” Leona asked.
“You’re in my house,” a bubbly young voice answered.
“What year is it?”
“It’s two thousand and—”
“You don’t have to answer that, Liora,” one of the other children interrupted her.
Leona’s vision was now completely recovered. She was in what looked like a game room, amongst a small group of children, maybe four or five years old. Well, no, a couple of them looked older.
“Don’t say anyone’s name, Xolta,” a third scolded.
“You just said my name, Eresh!” Xolta complained.
“Well, then let’s make this even,” the boy who looked the oldest, and acted the leader, said. “I’m Dhartha. You know Liora, Xolta, and Eresh. These guys here are Mariano and Odhrán.
“I’m Leona.”
They exchanged looks, like they had heard that before.
“Which is your current last name, Leona?” Dhartha questioned.
“Matic,” Leona answered him truthfully.
“Hm,” he said. “This is weird. Do you believe that you are self-aware?”
“I am self-aware. Are you?”
Dhartha picked up sheet of virtual paper. “The instructions say nothing about this. Characters don’t...come to life, that’s crazy.”
“I’m not a character,” Leona explained, “I am alive.”
“Dhartha,” the boy named Mariano said. He was roughly the same age, but much quieter and reserved.
Dhartha just kept scrolling through these instructions, trying to figure out what went wrong.
“Dhartha,” Mariano repeated.
“What!” Dhartha exclaimed.
“I warned you. We always knew this was a possibility.”
“Shut up!”
“Wait, he was right?” Xolta was on the verge of tears. “Are they real?”
“They’re not real,” Dhartha assured her. “This is just a dumb game.”
“A dumb game that came out nowhere,” Mariano reminded him. “The first line of the instructions even warn us that we would be playing with people’s lives.”
“That’s just...intrigue. It doesn’t prove anything.”
Eresh pointed to Leona. “She proves it.”
“Could someone fill me in?” Leona requested.
“What is the last thing you remember?” Mariano asked her.
“I was on a planet called Bungula. A group of scientists built a laboratory to observe my pattern.”
“Your pattern of jumping forwards in time one year at the end of every day?” he added for her.
“That’s right.”
Dhartha stopped trying to read through the instructions. “This isn’t possible. We would know. We’re keeping a pretty good eye on the surface.”
“It’s a different Earth,” Liora guessed. “Just like in the game.”
“We have no proof that there are more than two universes,” Dhartha argued.
“It’s unlikely there would only be two,” Mariano said. “One? Maybe. Infinite? Yes, definitely. But just two? That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Well, then, how did she get here? Did she have a bridge, or The Crossover, or an amazing technicolor dreamcoat?” That last one didn’t sound like a joke, but it must have been. Right?
“The observation chamber,” Odhrán suggested. “It messed with her jump, just like the Snow White coffin did for Mateo.”
“When are you people going to get this?” Dhartha began. “The characters aren’t traveling through time. Because none of this is real. It’s just an RPG that we’ve been for the last several hours.”
“This is no standard role-playing game,” Mariano said. “I’ve been to the surface, and the Earthans don’t play this kind of thing.”
“Whatever, it’s advanced. That doesn’t mean it’s magic.”
“We’re all witches,” Liora said.
“Who don’t use magic.” Dhartha was getting tired of being the only sane person in the room.
“I’ve also met The Superintendent,” Mariano said.
“That’s just a man,” Dhartha brushed off. “He doesn’t have powers either.”
“Are you kids trying to tell me that you are the powers that be?”
 Eresh laughed. “Xolta came up with that term. She heard it in an old monster TV show, and thought it sounded cool.”
“From your perspective,” Mariano said, “yes. We’re the PTB, and I promise you that we will stop playing the game, so you can move on with your life.”
“You can’t do that.” The Gravedigger walked into the room.
“You knew about this, Mister Halifax?” Dhartha asked him.
“I’m your teacher. I know everything you’re up to.”
Eresh stood up. “So, when we named the Gravedigger after you, that was just...actually you.”
“I’ve been helping in the best way I can. How we honor our dead determines how civilized we are.”
“They are not our dead,” Dhartha said. “Real or not, they’re still just our characters.”
“Why didn’t you stop the game?” Xolta asked Halifax.
“Once it started, it could not be finished. If you quit, the universe dies.”
“Whatever,” Dhartha said. “It stopped being fun two hours ago. The Cleanser, as a villain, cannot be beat.”
“My favorite was Nerakali,” youngest, Liora said with a smile.
“It would be.”
Leona tried to reason this all out. She was now in another universe, which was no big deal, since she had been to others before. But this one was different, because it supposedly explained everything that had ever happened to her in her whole life, as well as for everyone she ever knew. These were the powers that be; children playing a magical role-playing game with real life consequences. Everyone she lost; every obstacle she overcame; every villain she fought; every person she fell in love with. None of it was real. It was all a literal game. “You’re telling I’m just a figment of these children’s collective imagination?” She sat down on a plush chicken, but didn’t bother taking it out of the chair.
Halifax sat next to her, and waited to explain. “When you go to sleep, you dream, right?”
“Usually. Why?”
“Dreams are real. I would know, I’m a dreamwalker. I come from a long line of walkers, actually. Mateo met a few of them once, on Tribulation Island. When you dream, your mind conjures a parallel universe, and lets you live in it, as a hologram. When the dream is over, the universe collapses...unless it’s recurring, or you’re good at making it lucid, or you just have strong power over it. But not all dreams happen while you’re asleep. We often call people who dream while they’re awake...writers. They can amass an entire universe by sheer will, and control every aspect of it. The Superintendent is one such writer, and these children are just tapping into that. A story is only as good as its creator, or its audience. Without at least one of these parties, keeping the story going, you can’t exist. The creator of your universe has no audience, so he recruited the power of these witches of Atlantis, so he wouldn’t have to carry the burden alone. If they don’t keep playing, he will have to come up with story ideas all on his own, and since he has a fulltime job, he won’t really have time for that.”
“Does our story have to be so heartbreaking, and challenging?” Leona asked of him.
“Is any story worth telling not both of those things?” he asked her rhetorically.
Leona sat there with her face in her palms for a good long while. Everyone there knew to just stay quiet while she processed. “You’re pretty good at rationalizing murder.”
“Leona, everyone who believes in God believes in a benevolent force who murders people.”
“Not everyone.”
“Maybe not,” Halifax agreed, “but you have to ask yourself one question. Knowing what you know now—about dreams, and the subconsciousness—how many people do you think you’ve murdered?”
Leona stood back up, stiffened up her upper lip, and straightened her back. “Zero. Because subconsciousness is not consciousness. I’m not a writer. And now that I know the truth, I’m going to stop dreaming.”
“That’s your choice. They make a pill for that, but remember one thing before you leave.”
“What’s that?”
“God taketh, and God giveth life. You may have murdered countless people in countless dream universes, but you also created them. They are literally nothing without you.”
“They should be,” Leona said coldly. “Now take me to Mateo.”
“I can’t take you back to him. He needs to be free from distractions. But I can put you on his pattern.”
She was confused. “I’m already on his pattern.”
“Not the new one.”

“Whoa,” Mateo said. “That didn’t seem to work.” This time jump was different. He usually felt a little bit of nausea, but returned exactly where he was when he left. But this time, he was teetering. He would have fallen down had Ramses not been there to catch him.
“It worked,” Newt said. There was a rumor floating around history that there was a way to get rid of one’s time powers, or their pattern. Leona’s friends, Missy and Dar’cy went off in search of this holy grail. Once they did, they learned that the power remover came in the form of a stillborn child, born of a young woman from Springfield, Kansas, and a young man from Durus. So anyone who wanted that to happen would have to be at that place, at that time, because it would never happen again. But the reason this rumor existed was because things were different in an old alternate timeline. Newt was born perfectly healthy there, but the white monsters apparently felt threatened by him, so he had to be rescued from their universe, and brought to Dardius, where he would hopefully be safe.
“It’s still two thousand, two hundred, and twenty-two,” Ramses explained. You’ve only been gone a few hours. Sort of...temporal turbulence. You’re here for good now, though.”
“Is Leona like me too? And Serif? Did they fall off of our pattern?”
“I don’t see why they would,” Newt said. “You weren’t on the same pattern, you just had the same pattern.”
Mateo wasn’t sure this was accurate. “So I’m...I’m done? The powers that be can’t get to me anymore?”
“It would be like trying to eat a sandwich that someone already ate. You’re not salmon anymore. They can’t get to you.”
“Great!” Ramses slapped Mateo on the back, affectionately, but a little too hard. “Let us reintroduce you to your loyal subjects. Welcome to realtime, Patronus Matic.”

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