Sunday, March 8, 2020

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: December 6, 2274

Most of what Athanaric Fury told them about Erlendr probably wasn’t all that useful. If the killer they were after was some kind of complete mystery, they probably could have used their knowledge of him against him in some way, but a lot of it Nerakali already knew. Even for the things she didn’t know about her own father, there was one important thing that made all of it obsolete. Erlendr Preston did not respond well to emotional appeals. He was driven almost exclusively by logic. Now, whether that logic was reasonable was an entirely different issue, but the point was they wouldn’t be able to stop him by bringing up all the people the hundemarke has hurt. Nor could his mind be likely changed by presenting him with new logic, because he was also stubborn, and he didn’t really believe that other people in the world were worth listening to. He was sounding a lot less like Nerakali and Arcadia—who were, even at their worst, always willing to listen to the other side—and more like their brother, Zeferino. They were only able to stop him because Gilbert Boyce protected them from the violence. That was no longer the case, so if brute force was the only option, would they be able to stomach it?
They still didn’t know how they were going to find the guy, even if they came up with a decent plan of attack. Then Leona seemed to come up with an idea. “We need help,” she began. “That’s been our problem this whole time. We keep trying to go out and find people one by one, and they’ve never been enough. They’ve also been very hard to track, especially since we’re getting so late in the timeline. From everything I’ve seen, time travelers seem to stick predominantly to the centuries surrounding the turn of the millennium. No one seems to know why—”
“I can kind of explain why,” Nerakali interrupted. “Well, I have a theory, because I have talked to people about it. Movies and the computer. People in the advanced age are more intelligent, and less superstitious. Mateo, when you first disappeared from the timestream for an entire year, your parents were very upset, but they didn’t freak out, and they didn’t try to exorcise a demon from your body when you came back. They figured it out, because humanity as a whole was capable of recognizing its own ignorance, and not attributing every good thing to God, and every bad thing to the devil. They wanted to understand, and that was enough to keep things sane until they did understand. Imagine going back to the seventeenth century, and explaining yourself. Why, a lot of people wouldn’t even be able to grasp the concept of time travel itself, so you’ve already lost before you began. Of course, that doesn’t mean time travelers can’t go back that far, or that they don’t. But a lot of it is uninteresting to them. They do it mostly to gain a rare perspective on history, and not everyone cares about that. There are just more things to do in the future.”
“That doesn’t explain why there are fewer travelers in the 24th century, and later,” Leona pointed out. “It’s even more advanced then.”
“Right, well now it’s too advanced. Now, it’s boring because everyone’s immortal, and life’s not as dangerous, so there aren’t as many people to save. A lot of entertainment exists in virtual constructs, which time travelers tend to shy away from, because again, it diminishes who they are. You control the laws of physics in a virtual world, which means anyone and everyone can have powers. No, it’s better to stay in the middle; not too early, and not too late. It’s a temporal goldilocks zone. If travelers were more aware that they were limiting themselves, they would probably deliberately stop doing it, but we’re mostly talking about the subconscious.”
“Okay, okay,” Leona said. She wasn’t upset about having been interrupted, and was genuinely interested in Nerakali’s tangent. It actually seemed helpful. “Well, regardless of how time travelers act normally, we know of one moment in history where a whole hell of a lot of them are going to be gathered, right? And though it’s happened in the past, it takes place in my future. I haven’t experienced it yet, but it is there that I can find help. I’ll have the pick of the litter.”
“You want to recruit from Mateo’s memorial service?” Nerakali questioned. She wasn’t reluctant, but she wasn’t quite on board with the idea either.
They looked over at Mateo, who had already experienced the memorial. He could give them insight into whether this was a good idea, if he were so inclined to divulge such information. “Uhh...careful, spoilers?”
“Is that a question?” Nerakali prodded.
“I don’t have a problem with him not being able to tell us,” Leona said. “My only problem now is I have no apparent way of getting to Dardius in 2263. Well, I guess Nerakali and I could jump back in time, and then use the Great Pyramid to jump there.”
“Great. It looks like you have it figured out.” Mateo released his Cassidy cuff, so when the other two started jumping through time, he wouldn’t be tethered to them. “Don’t worry, you’ll see me soon,” Mateo told Leona after she frowned at him.
“I’m worried about you being alone after I leave.”
“We’ll be gone and back in a blip,” Nerakali said. “And who knows how many friends we’ll have with us?”
“Go,” he said kindly. “It was a nice ceremony. I can tell you that it didn’t turn into a red wedding situation, or anything like that. It happened, and then it ended.”
“Were I you,” Leona said.
“Were I you,” he returned.
They both disappeared.
“God, I thought they’d never leave,” came a voice behind him.
Mateo wasn’t surprised to hear it. “I was worried they would stay too long, and you would get impatient.”
“No, that would screw up the timeline. I’m immortal. I have all the patience.”
Mateo turned around to face Erlendr Preston, who he met officially at the former’s memorial, just the other day. “Screwing up the timeline; isn’t that what you’re doing anyway?”
“You mean what we’re doing. And no, of course not; we’re fixing it.”
“I’m not so sure about that.”
“You agreed to the deal.”
“So, I can’t back out now?” Mateo asked.
“No, you can,” Erlendr assured him. “You can remove yourself from the equation, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. It just means you and Leona won’t be part of it.”
“I just want her to be safe,” Mateo argued. “You promised me that.”
“I can make her safe. I can’t get you away from the powers that be...but I can render them powerless. They’ll still be able to watch, but they won’t be able to change anything. No one will be able to change anything.”
“Then why are you changing things?” He still didn’t understand what Erlendr was going for here. Why was he sending the hundemarke all over time and space if he was ultimately planning to use the hundemarke against itself, and undo everything it had ever done? Arcadia seemed confident it made sense, but Mateo wasn’t much smarter than he was when this all started.
“I have to use the hundemarke a lot. I have to create so many fixed points in time, so when we finally screw with that, the universe will have no choice but to split in half.”
“Is it gonna be destroyed?”
Erlendr shook his head. “You can’t destroy a universe. This will work, Mateo. I’m going to create a world where time travel doesn’t exist, but I can’t do that without a paradox. The hundemarke, and the nonexistence of the hundemarke, have to be at profound odds with each other. If it’s not like that, one of the two realities will simply concede to the other, and collapse in on itself. If you want them both to exist at the same time, each one’s persistence must depend on the other’s. Does that make sense?”
Mateo didn’t start out with the intention of betraying Leona and Nerakali when he went to his memorial. He was hoping to get close to their enemy, so he could defeat him without involving either of them, or any of their other friends. Erlendr and Arcadia’s pitch was too compelling, though. He had long ago surrendered to the idea that there was no escape from the powers that be, but this was his opportunity to change that. Perhaps Leona would never forgive him for it, but at least she would be free. There was still one question, though. “Why did I get Bhulan to go to 2027? Your plan doesn’t work if she destroys the hundemarke.”
“It’s a contingency,” Erlendr explained. “If this doesn’t succeed, at least there’s a world where all those people I killed stay alive. I was only able to do this knowing it could all be undone, even if it’s not the way I wanted.”
“But it’s another paradox?”
“Yes, a third paradox. It’s not safe, I’ll tell you that.”
There was a brief pause in the conversation.
“So you’re sure Leona and Nerakali won’t be back until tomorrow?” Erlendr went on.
“Nope. I mean, yes, I’m sure. I told them to come back in 2275. I didn’t explain why, mostly because I don’t have a real explanation. I just needed to make sure you, Arcadia, and I have some time to discuss this in more detail. Where is she, by the way?”
“I think she’s here,” Erlendr replied cautiously, “watching us.”
“You can never tell with her,” Mateo noted.
“No. She’s, uh, wily.”
“She is coming, though, right? Whether she’s here now, or not, she’ll join the conversation soon?”
“Yeah, I’m sure she’s on her way.”
Arcadia suddenly appeared, but she wasn’t alone. Tons of water flowed out of her portal, and filled the room. It didn’t look like she had done this on purpose, because she was struggling to stop it. Back at the turn of the 22nd century, the Earthans were in the middle of a process to destroy all of their cities and towns, and replace them with arcological megastructures. Each tower was capable of housing tens of thousands of people, and though these towers were meant to be constructed in clusters, they still took up a whole hell of a lot less land than the metropolises of before. They were incredibly efficient, and were designed with emergency protocols in mind. Small ships were kept in vast hangars underneath the towers, which would allow the whole human race to evacuate within a single day, should a massive external threat come upon them, such as an alien invasion.
This wasn’t good enough for the humans, though. They wanted to be safer, and they wanted to be able to do it faster, so they repeated the process. For Project Airtight, they replaced every megastructure with a nearly identical one right next to it, and moved everyone over to it. Most of the look of the new structures remained the same. A time traveler from the past would have a hard time telling the difference just by looking at them. There was one extremely important difference, though. Instead of running drills every year that saw everyone rushing down to the bottom level, so they could enter their respective escape modules, and evacuate the planet a handful at a time, they just turned the whole thing into an escape pod. Each tower was a spaceship in its own right. Accounting for technical delays, and residents who were on safaris hundreds of miles away from the nearest arcity, the planet could now be evacuated within a few hours. This all meant the room the three of them were standing in now was completely sealed up. If someone didn’t figure out how to close the portal, or just teleport them out of here, they would drown. Even if they did escape themselves, what did that mean for the integrity of the room, or that of the rest of the ship?
Mateo looked around, but couldn’t lock eyes on his allies. He saw legs and heads thrashing about, but neither of them were making an effort to reach the surface. Had they both been knocked out? My God, this was up to him, and there was only one way out of it that he could think of. He reached into his bag, and pulled out his Cassidy cuff. Then he reinstalled it on his wrist, punched in the necessary sequence of buttons, and held his breath, because the water had reached the ceiling. He activated the instructions, causing Leona and Nerakali to appear, confused and scared. Now that he had the latter’s teleportation powers back, he prepared to use them. As he was swimming over to take hold of Arcadia’s body, Nerakali was swimming over to Erlendr’s, though there was too much chaos for him to know whether she knew who it was she was trying to rescue. Once they were all ready to go, Mateo teleported them all out of there, and dumped them onto the bank of a rushing river. He didn’t really do that on purpose, but water was kind of the only thing he could think about at the moment. Now the truth of his betrayal would have to come out. Oh, boy.

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