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Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 25, 2263

Now was the time. They were finally going to Dardius. In a show of good faith, everybody agreed to give Pribadium’s completely new form of teleportation a shot. She had tested it many times since she first invented it, so it wasn’t like they were guinea pigs in danger. They just had to get past the fact that this came from the mind of a human. If anyone had any further reservations about it, they were keeping quiet. Mateo wasn’t sure if he was sensing tension about that, about Cassidy’s decision regarding the blindspot elixir, something else entirely, or nothing at all, and it was just his imagination. He and Leona also didn’t know what kind of arguments or discussions went down while they were out of the timestream. They packed their belongings, stepped into the machine, and prepared for launch.
“Last chance to back out,” Pribadium warned them. “I know you’re worried about it, so if you just wanna take a rover across the Glisnian wasteland, like a peasant, it’s time to speak up.”
“Well, when you put it like that,” Vitalie said, “let’s all go peasant. Peasants don’t where clothes, right? On account of being birds?”
“That’s pheasants, honey,” Étude corrected her.
“What did I say?” Vitalie joked.
“We’re doing this,” Leona assured Pribadium, getting back to the matter at hand.
“It’ll be fun,” Hilde said in delight. Normal humans stick together.
“It’ll be a new adventure that I can recount in my video diaries,” Vitalie said, “though it would be more interesting if we didn’t wear clothes. Are we sure that’s off the table?”
“All right,” Hogarth declared, ignoring her. “Five, four, three, two, one,” she announced rapidly.
The transport was instantaneous, and took them exactly where they were meant to go in the Nexus replica. Mateo didn’t think it felt any different than the other times he had been teleported, but some of the more intelligent in their group seemed to be under the impression that it was. Perhaps that was just a sign of their biases. Everything appeared to be okay, but they would not be so lucky with the second leg of their journey. Now that Tribulation Island was no longer being used as The Hub, or as a staging ground for warmongering capitalists, things were a lot different. Only one person lived there permanently, and beyond that, but a handful of people were allowed to set foot on it. Most of those were comprised of Mateo, Leona, or anyone they personally specified. Certain high-ranking officials could go there for inspections or meetings with the island’s one inhabitant, who served as its caretaker. According to Hogarth and Hilde, Transportation Administrator Amanda Moss got a bit cagey when they asked just who this caretaker was. Why would it be a big deal? Was it someone bad, like The Cleanser, or Hitler? He couldn’t imagine it mattered.
This was where things got weird. The first thing the group saw when they arrived at their destination was a welcoming party. There wasn’t a whole lot of fanfare, because that was reserved for the capital, but it looked like a healthy number of smiling faces had shown up. They disappeared pretty quickly, though, as did everything else there. As soon as Étude stepped up to begin to shake people’s hands diplomatically, the rest of the group were swept away somewhere, or somewhen, else. Now they were standing just inside the treeline on a beach. It could have been an island. It could have even been the right island, but if it was, it was the wrong point in time. No artificial structure was anywhere in their line of sight.
“What happened?” Cassidy questioned. “Where did she go? Where’s my mom?”
“I think we’re the ones who went somewhere,” Mateo replied.
Hogarth pulled out her tablet, and furiously tapped on it for a moment. “I can’t connect to the satellite network.”
“Leona,” Hilde nudged, “your watch.”
“Oh, right.” Leona dragged her sleeves out of the way, and peered at her watch, which Mateo’s once-father, Mario had given to her as a gift. It was meant to always tell the exact time. It didn’t matter where she teleported, or what year it was. It would make contact with spacetime itself, and report back a hundred percent accurate readings. Leona’s face suggested that something was wrong.
“What is it?”
“This is hard to interpret,” Leona said, holding the watch face towards them, but shaking it around, so no one could really see it. “It’s not digital, so it doesn’t just give me the date. I have to figure out what all these needles mean, and how they correspond with each other.”
Leona continued, “I mean, we don’t assign years to prehistoric times, right? We say three million years ago, or say, sixty-thousand years ago.”
“It’s not sixty-thousand years ago, is it?” Pribadium asked with what was probably supposed to be a self-reassuring smile.
She didn’t say anything.
“Leona, it’s not sixty-thousand years ago,” Pribadium laughed. “Tell me it’s not sixty-thousand years ago.”
“It’s not sixty-thousand years ago,” Leona promised.
Everyone looked relieved, but they shouldn’t have.
“It’s closer to three million,” Hogarth said. She was holding her table towards the sky. Mateo actually understood this concept. Stars moved throughout the galaxy in a predictable pattern, and armed with enough information about these patterns, one could determine the present year. She could have been even more accurate with better data, like scientists were for the Milky Way.
“Two-point-eight-three million,” Leona confessed.
“Huh,” Mateo noted.
“What is it?” Leona asked, acting like everyone thought this was her fault, even though it was clear that she was simply the one with the magic watch.
“That’s how far we are from Earth.” Maybe Mateo wasn’t such a dummy after all. “Light years, that is.”
“He’s right,” Hogarth agreed. “If we took a lightship back home right now, we would return at around the right time.”
“Well, that may be our only option,” Leona said, throwing up our hands. “Unless we invented a time machine.”
“Or stasis pods,” Cassidy offered.
“We know of no stasis pod that could survive more than a million years,” Leona contradicted. “We can’t even be sure it’s physically possible for an unenhanced human being to make it to the other side of the Milky Way from Earth. They may break down so often that the traveler would age too much during the maintenance periods.”
“So, time machine it is,” Pribadium decided. “I can do that. I have to; it’s my fault.”
“How is it your fault?” Hilde questioned. She was still very protective of the only other one of her kind.
Pribadium shook her head in disappointment. “The teleporter I built. It must have interfered with the Nexus replica. I don’t know, I can’t study either of them in this state, because I just screwed us!” She kicked at the sand, and stomped off in a huff. No one followed her. This was what she needed. Hopefully that was everyone else’s reason for letting her go off on her own, because it was definitely Mateo’s. He didn’t want her to feel alienated from the group, but worse than that, he didn’t want anyone to actively alienate her, whether it was her fault, or not.
“This may be a dumb question,” he began, “but just to get it off the table, could Leona, Cassidy, and I just wait for our pattern to catch us up with the modern era?”
Leona pinched the bridge of her nose. “That’s over seven thousand years, Mateo. Jesus Christ.”
“Okay, I’m sorry! You know I’m not good at math!”
“You could be a little better,” she spat.
“Okay,” Vitalie said, almost like a mediator. “We’re not letting you get in another big fight. It’s exhausting for the rest of us. Now. To make things easier, you don’t have to worry about me. I can indeed wait for a few million years. That’s nothing.”
“Speaking of powers,” Cassidy asked, “can’t my mother jump through time, and come retrieve us?”
“She would have to know when and where we are,” Leona said sadly. “I’m not sure she has that capability. Jump-tracing is an incredibly rare time power.”
Cassidy frowned.
Vitalie decided to go on, “Hogarth can jump through time, though so it really depends on how many people she can take with her.”
“I can explode through time,” Hogarth argued, “it’s not pleasant, and I’ve never taken anyone with me. It’s far too dangerous.”
“I thought you figured out how to control it,” Vitalie said.
“Not enough to risk passengers,” Hogarth maintained.
“I’m willing to risk it,” Hilde reminded her. “I’ve told you.”
“I’m not doin’ it.”
“Great,” Vitalie said, “then just save yourself.”
“Screw you,” Hogarth jibed.
“What did I just say about fighting?” Vitalie asked rhetorically.
“I can stay here too,” Cassidy added.
“How’s that now?”
“I can...” Cassidy hesitated, speaking directly to Vitalie. “I can take your power on. I can become immortal, if only for a little while. Pribadium thought that could work.”
“It could,” Leona said, “but we don’t know. Immortality is a very different animal when it comes to time powers. I’m not sure anyone has been born with it.”
“I’m willing to try,” Cassidy echoed Hilde’s sentiments from a moment ago.
Mateo made it clear he wanted to speak, but didn’t say anything until he had the math worked out in his head. “If Hogarth were to hypothetically explode someone into the future, her most likely limitation is two other people. Wouldn’t you say,” he asked the group, but mostly Leona, “more often than not, that’s how it works?”
“That’s a reasonable presumption,” she followed.
“Okay,” Mateo said. “Let’s call that Hogarth, Hilde, and Leona.”
“Why me?” Leona questioned. “Why not Pribadium?”
“I’ll get to that,” he claimed. “Those three are taken care of. Let’s assume Cassidy can absorb Vitalie’s immortality, and that this eventuality becomes necessary. That only leaves Pribadium and me. I’ll be fine for awhile, as would Cassidy, if she just stayed on my pattern. That only leaves Pribadium, who’s undergone some anti-aging enhancements, and isn’t soon to die, even without further treatments. Maybe that gives her enough time to solve this problem. Because, while we don’t know if she can build a time machine, we know—given enough linear time—she could build a lightspeed ship.”
Leona sighed. “It’s not the craziest plan, but it has a lot of what-ifs.”
“Too many,” Hogarth lamented. “I don’t want to kill my wife.”
“Then don’t.” Hilde took her wife’s arm affectionately.
“I can’t recommend you try that,” Mateo said, “but if we don’t do something, we could all die here. Our bones will turn to dust before even one more person sets foot here, and that’ll be that.”
“We promised we wouldn’t separate again,” Leona said. “We both agreed to that.”
“I know,” he said. “But that was before, and no one can tell the future.” He couldn’t help but release a ducky smile at that statement.
“Shut up,” Leona couldn’t help but laugh at the fact that it wasn’t true. They didn’t want to fight, and every option was a shitty one. Whichever one stayed here could be stuck forever, and whichever one tried to go with Hogarth could literally die in an explosion. It wasn’t like arguing was going to allow one to save the other. There was no way to know which was the safest, if either of them worked.
Now they all looked to Hogarth, who was carrying some of her friends’ fates in her hands. She didn’t want to let anyone down. “Okay, I’ll try. If anyone survives past this, but Hilde doesn’t, however, I expect that survivor to seek a real time traveler, so they can fix that before it happens.”
“We can agree to that possibility.” Everyone piped up with their show of support.
Even Pribadium had something to say, having returned soon enough to hear the last bit of the plan, and probably with enough intelligence to guess the gist of what she didn’t hear. “I agree.”
“Okay,” Hogarth said. “Leona and Hilde, each take one of my arms. Don’t let go, no matter what. Like I said, this isn’t gonna be fun.”
Leona and Hilde complied with her instructions.
“The rest of you should back up.”
They complied as well.
Hogarth’s condition rested somewhere in the middle of a time power, and a time affliction. She did learn some control over it, but not total control, and no one else who could travel through time experienced her level of physical trauma by doing it. So it wasn’t completely useless, but it wasn’t great either. It was simply all she had, and it was their best way out. She tried to jump them a few million years into the future, and it technically did work, but instead of landing on future Tribulation Island, or anywhere else on Dardius, the three of them found themselves all the way back on Glisnia. Fortunately, they were all safe, but unfortunately, there was no way to know if any of the others were, or would be, or had been, as it were. Hogarth attempted to explode herself back there, but was unable to. The last jump must have taken a lot out of her. Too much, really. She couldn’t feel her connection to the timestream anymore. Her power, or affliction—whatever one might call it—seemed to be gone. To make matters worse, when they tried to seek information by jumping through the Nexus replica, they discovered it to have been destroyed. Hogarth pledged to figure out how to repair it, but there was no guarantee.

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