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Sunday, October 6, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 14, 2252

Leona was maybe a meter and a half in up in the air when she jumped forward in time. She hadn’t expected the shuttle to be gone, and since she wasn’t prepared for it, she didn’t have time to land on her feet. Still, it wasn’t too far of a drop, and the ground was relatively soft, so she quickly recovered. She stood there for a moment, a bit disoriented, trying to make sure she wasn’t just confused about where the shuttle was. No, it was definitely gone, and Briar was the only one who could have taken it. Why, though, would he have done that? When did he do it? And how long had it taken him to fix it first. She checked her pocket and discovered the drive chip to still be in it, so he must have figured out what was missing. Perhaps he was a lot smarter than she realized, or he had purposely misled her. Either way, she was stuck there, and might never be saved, unless the powers that be assigned someone to rescue her.
Firewood. The first thing she needed to do was find firewood. Then she needed to go back to the nearest source of water, which was only about a half kilometer away. She had only gathered a handful of sticks when she heard the low drone of the shuttle as it approached. It landed exactly where it had been before.
Briar stepped out. “Sorry! Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry. I lost track of time. I think you’ll understand later. We didn’t worry about such things on the other side of the mountain. My mother was never more than a kilometer away from me, so things just happened whenever they happened.”
“You fixed it.”
“Yeah, once I read through the entire manual, it wasn’t too hard.”
“Briar, that thing is, like, five thousand pages long.”
He shrugged. “I didn’t have anything better to do. The drive chip was missing.”
Leona cleared her throat, but didn’t say anything.
He examined her for a second. “Oh, I see. You thought I would abandon you.”
“I thought...” she hesitated, “it could happen.”
“You were right to be worried. I get that we just met. I would have done the same thing, though I probably would have removed the main engine access grip instead. It’s made out of tantalum hafnium carbide, just like the rest of it, which means I wouldn’t have had the raw materials to synthesize a new one, and the panel wouldn’t have closed without it.”
“I’ll remember that for next time. Where did you go?”
“I went to the coordinates that my mother left me. I didn’t know if you would be willing to take me, and I kind of needed to go on my own anyway.”
“You should have risked that I would refuse,” Leona said. “What if you had missed something in the manual? You could have died, and I could have been stuck here forever.”
“This is true. I wasn’t thinking about that, though. I just knew I needed to go there. It’s on an entirely different continent, so I’ve never been able to get there before. This was my one and only shot.”
“Well, what are you talking about? What did you find?”
“I’m talking about a secret my mom kept that I don’t even think Trinity knew. I can’t tell you what I found, but I can show you.”
Leona weighed the options of getting into the shuttle with this stranger. She was planning to do that anyway, but that was before he proved how intelligent he was. Smart people are dangerous. Still, his story was intriguing, and her curiosity was stronger than her reason. “Do we have enough fuel?”
“The solar paint is enough to hold us. We won’t be going hypersonic, of course, but we’ll get there soon enough.”
Several hours later, they were across the ocean, and on the other continent. He had to land a few kilometers away from the destination, both because there weren’t great landing sites closer, and because he didn’t want to disturb the people on the other side, whatever that meant. Leona gained a decent grasp of the population geography of Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida in this time period, so she could find a remote region to escape to. Like the area they had come from, this wasn’t inhabited either, so she didn’t know who it was he might be referring to.
After they traversed the distance, they came upon the foot of a mountain, right at the mouth of a cave. “We’re going in there?” she asked. She wasn’t scared of the cave itself, but she still couldn’t be entirely comfortable going into an enclosed space with him. Now it was even more frightening, because of there really were other people around here, who knows what he had planned? Had he just wanted to kill her, he could have done it anywhere, but if others were involved, that would explain his need to transport her to a second location. Yet she pressed on, and followed him into the darkness.
Before too long, she started feeling noticeably lighter. It was as if the surface gravity was being altered with each passing step. Now, it was true that gravity was slightly different at different parts of any planet, based on proximity to the equator or poles, or altitude. But it didn’t change this dramatically in a matter of meters. Something weird was going on, and she was getting the impression they weren’t on Bida anymore. This much was all but confirmed when they finally exited the cave, and found themselves in the middle of a wintry forest at civil twilight. It would have also been impossible for the climate to have changed this quickly, for a number of reasons. They had walked in a fairly straight line, and would never have had the chance to reach the other side of the mountain this fast. It was pretty hot where they entered. Plus, she was pretty sure she had gotten a good bird’s eye view of the mountain, and it just didn’t look like this. No, they weren’t on Bida anymore, but where?
“I don’t know,” Briar answered. “Mom made me memorize these coordinates when I was a boy, but didn’t tell me why. She said I could use it to escape if it was my only option.”
Leona was nodding, and inspecting their new environment.. “It’s definitely an escape. It’ll be dark soon; here, not back where we came from. Night should fall by the time we get all the way back to the shuttle, and then all the way back here.”
“Why do we need to return to the shuttle?” he asked.
“There’s something in the storage compartment that I need. I don’t think this is Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida, but unless you’ve explored, and seen some frame of reference, there’s no way to know without more data. I have a pretty good guess, but we need confirmation. Didn’t you say there were people?”
“I’ve seen footsteps, but no actual people.”
And so they got their ten thousand steps in with a trek across the rocky landscape, back to the shuttle. They must have just missed a dust storm, because the craft was so much dirtier than it was. This time, she remembered to seal it up. They got even more steps with the walk back to the mountain with supplies. It was indeed nighttime on the other side of the cave. The more dramatic contrast proved that they had walked through some kind of portal. Leona removed the particular instrument she required, and set it up on the tripod in the closest clear area she could find. She needed a good view of the night sky. She made adjustments when the readings didn’t give her accurate results, working through the problem out loud. “Okay, Northern hemisphere, probably.—No, that can’t be right.—Predictive modeling only goes so far, so I better hope it’s within close range.—Historical data only goes so far back too.—There!”
“What is it?”
She double-checked the results, then sighed. She didn’t know how she should feel about what the readings told her. Whether this was naturally occurring, or created by a choosing one—perhaps spatial merger, Kayetan Glaston—this was Earth. The problem was that it was Earth over nine hundred years ago, so she was worse off than if she had just taken the reframe engine. “It’s Earth, year 1343.”
“Is that bad?”
“It’s just not helpful. This is why your mother said it was a last resort. It would really only help you if Tau Ceti was about to explode, or something. There are civilization in this time period, but they’re not great. I mean, we’re in the middle of the Black Death right now, though I guess that wasn’t true when your mom told you about the cave. Or maybe it was. Maybe the portal always takes you to 1343; I don’t know.”
“What does that thing do?” he nodded towards the tripod.
“It measures stellar drift. By looking at the stars, we can find out where we are, but with enough data, we can also find out when we are.”
“What do we do with this information?”
Leona triple-checked the results, then started packing everything up. “We do nothing. We can’t interfere with the native population, and we can’t tell anyone else. When we go back to Trinity and the others, you can’t say a word about the portal. Can you keep a secret? Did your mother teach you how to do that?”
“Well, she didn’t, because we didn’t have secrets between us. I spent a lot of time by myself, though, even when she was alive, so I certainly know how to be quiet.”
“I’ll have to hope that’s good enough. Word cannot get out about this place. Sure, lots of people can travel through time, be it on their own, or with help. We don’t need to be giving them any other means, however. This has to stay between us.”
“I understand.” It looked like he really did. She was fairly confident Briar would keep his mouth shut, especially since it was unlikely to come up naturally in conversation. He just needed to get through the first few days when people would still be asking him questions about his recent experiences with Leona. After that, no one would think to ask him whether he encountered any weird spacetime anomalies.
“We should go. The others are only going to believe it took me so long to repair my shuttle. After that, they’ll be questioning my timeline.”
“Will we ever come back here?”
“I’ll need to when I get a chance, to check how the portal operates over time. You won’t need to come back, and I kindly ask you to not try while I’m gone. Secrets don’t only get out when you tell them to people. Sometimes people catch you because of your actions.”
“I never learned how to lie,” Briar said, “but I’m not an idiot. You don’t just want me to not tell people; you want people to not find out. I really do understand.”
“Good. Now, come on. I’ll introduce you to everyone.”

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