Sunday, June 14, 2020

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Tuesday, April 1, 2025

Declan was going to be vital to their survival in a world with no people, and therefore no civilization. None of the others knew how to build a shelter, or even start a fire without any tools. Darko Matic was evidently Declan’s trainer for years, and while their primary focus was the martial arts, they also developed a well-rounded education, including survival skills. He struck a fire with wood and rocks, no problem, and instructed them how to build sufficient single-person shelters for themselves. Still, once camp was complete, there was no competition when it came to whose shelter was superior. Being told how to do it ad hoc, and having the experience to build it right, were two different things. They were good enough to keep the elements out, however, and they all reportedly slept pretty well that night. It was April 1, 2025 when they woke up, according to the Cassidy cuffs.
“Anybody else have a countdown,” Mateo asked as he was watching his screen, “as well as what I can only guess to be a tracking beacon?”
“Yeah,” Leona said. “Jupiter said we would have us complete tasks for him, rescuing people from this reality. The beacon must be leading us to our first challenge.”
Ramses stretched, and rubbed his eyes like a cliché. “I would say getting through yesterday was the first challenge.”
“He didn’t want this world to be as it is,” Declan reminded him. “He wants people to rule over, and I don’t think he has it here.”
“If he wants to rule,” Mateo began to reason, “and he has the ability to travel between each reality at will, why wouldn’t he just take a bunch of people, instead of one or two at a time, which I presume is how the challenges are going to work?”
“His abilities are surely limited,” Leona presumed. “He’s probably traveling through time, looking for a workaround.”
“Don’t give him any ideas anyway,” J.B. warned.
Leona was working on her cuff screen. “Okay, so without satellites, it’s hard to tell how long it’s going to take us to get to our challenge, but based on the countdown, and the distance, I imagine we have about an hour and a half to eat before we have to head out.”
“Eat what?” Ramses questioned.
Declan lifted his teleporter cuff. “You leave that to me.”
He returned twenty minutes later with a shirt full of fruits and roots, plus a dead rabbit over his shoulder. Predicting this would be the result of his efforts, Leona had built a spit over the fire. An hour later, with full bellies, they started walking towards the beacon. There were a lot of obstacles in the way, namely trees, but there was also a deep ravine they had to walk around. Being the man they were learning he was, Declan estimated that they walked a little under five kilometers to their destination. When they arrived, eleven minutes were left on the countdown, so they sat down for a rest.
Before the timer reached zero, things around them started to change. Streets and buildings flickered in and out around them. Leona recognized it after a few times. “This is Country Club Plaza.”
“That checks out,” Declan confirmed. “It’s about as far from Mission Hills as it should be, in the direction it should be, based on our walk.”
“Guys,” Ramses said, holding his arm up like he was trying to block the sunlight. “These devices are AR. There’s someone up there, right under the beacon marker.”
The rest of them lifted their arms to see what he was. Sometimes a building would appear in a flicker, blocking their view, and sometimes just the person standing on top of it was visible.
“She’s gonna fall!” J.B. cried.
“I can get her,” Declan said, fingers hoving over his teleporter cuff.
“What are you waiting for?” Mateo asked desperately.
“She’s not really here yet,” Declan replied. “I have to time it just right. Count me down, Lee.”
Leona waited a moment before beginning. “Six, five, four, three, two, one!”
Declan pressed the button. The flickering stopped, and the figure standing in the middle of the air began to fall downwards. He caught her before she got too far, and they both started to fall together. Before they hit the ground, they disappeared again, and reappeared a few meters away, but upside down, so momentum was propelling them upwards. Once they were at equilibrium, Declan teleported them once more, safely to the ground.
The woman turned around to get her bearings, and catch her breath. Both Mateo and Leona recognized her immediately, of course, and simultaneously said, “mom?” It was Carol Gelen, and this was the day she was fated to start her ten day walk towards death.
“Leona!” Carol said inquisitively, but not as if it had been long since they had seen each other. “Where are we?”
Leona waited to respond. It was a little too late—and there was no reasonable way—to cover this up. She just didn’t know exactly what to say at first. “Mom. I’m a time traveler, and we’re standing in an alternate reality. We’re not sure what changed, or when it changed, but there don’t seem to be other people here.”
Carol studied her daughter’s face for a moment and a half. “Okay.”
“Okay?” Leona questioned. “That’s it?”
“I trust you, Leona. If you say this is another world, then okay.”
“Aren’t you worried?”
“You seem to know what you’re doing. You look a little older; maybe a few years? I assume you’ve been doing this for awhile.”
Leona looked over to her husband, who was Carol’s son in yet another timeline. “You could say that.”
Carol smirked. “And who is this?”
“This is my husband, Mateo Matic.”
Carol lifted her hand, and shook that of her once-son’s. “It’s nice to meet you. I guess it really has been awhile.”
“Guys?” Ramses was looking at his Cassidy cuff again. “There’s another countdown. It says the window’s closing.”
“We have forty-two minutes to get her back to her own reality, before she’s stuck here,” Leona posited.
“How do we get her back?” J.B. asked. “Do the cuffs explain? I’m not super experienced with technology.”
“Yes,” Ramses confirmed. “I can see the steps we need to take to send her home. Just tap the right arrow.”
“Now, hold on,” Mateo said. “Who said we’re sending her back? Jupiter said we have a choice.”
“She can’t stay here,” J.B. argued lightly, looking around at the wilderness.
“She can’t go back either!” Leona fought back.
“Leona,” Carol scolded. “Relax.”
“You don’t understand, mom. It’s dangerous.”
“That’s no reason to forget your manners.”
Mateo looked at his once-mother sadly. She had no idea who he really was. Their situation was like something out of a comic book TV show. It was even worse than when he ran into them at the Pentagon in 2005, because now he was married to what the multiverse could theoretically consider to be his own adoptive sister. Time demanded that Carol Gelen be on that plaza rooftop in forty minutes, so that Paige Turner could unwillingly return from the future with a pathogen that will apparently only be deadly to the second individual infected by it. Mateo didn’t want that to happen, obviously, and neither did Leona. They didn’t even really have reason to believe Jupiter himself had any interest in her dying. Perhaps that was why he extracted her from the main timeline in the first place. They just need to figure out what to do about it. There was no question that they needed to save her life, but this world wasn’t much safer. She wouldn’t survive here alone. There had to be some kind of loophole. There had to be a way to get her back home without also sending her to an inevitable death.
“Do we wanna talk about this over here?” Ramses asked.
“No,” Carol disagreed. “Unless telling me about my future is going to destroy the universe, I wanna hear whatever it is you’re discussing.”
Leona looked at her sadly as well. She had no right to keep the truth from her, and she knew her mother well enough to know that when she said she wanted to understand, she meant it. “Have you met a young woman named Paige Turner?” she asked.
“You didn’t see anyone in the parking lot up there?”
“I saw a few people,” Carol answered, “but I didn’t meet anybody.”
Leona consulted the countdown. “In less than an hour, time itself is expecting you to be back on that rooftop, presumably after you pick up your lunch from your favorite restaurant in this part of town?”
Carol checked her own watch. “That sounds about right. I’m a little early. I thought I would enjoy the day before pick-up.”
“Destiny says that a friend of ours is going to appear on that rooftop. She’ll be carrying with her a disease that a frenemy of ours forced her to bring back to this time period. The idea is to infect everyone now, so that when the disease shows up later, the population is already immune to it.”
“Okay, I guess I get that,” Carol said, “but how many people will have to die from it before herd immunity takes care of it?”
“Just one,” Leona replied, tearing up.
Carol lifted her head, absorbing the information that wasn’t being said. “Oh. But this will ultimately save lives?”
“Not really.” Leona fought back full tears. “It sterilizes people in the future, but they’re immortal by then anyway, so our species doesn’t actually die out; they just stop having biological children.”
“But if I don’t go back, the...immunity process doesn’t happen.”
“No, it still does,” Mateo jumped in. “Paige doesn’t have to infect you at all. You die, because you’re too close to her when she shows up. It’ll still spread on its own, and there will be zero deaths from it.”
“So, this Jupiter guy rescued me?” Carol guessed.
Everyone looked amongst each other. “We don’t really know,” Ramses chose to answer. “He brought you here, but his motivations aren’t a hundred percent clear. It could be a Sophie’s choice type of thing. We either choose to leave you alone in this world, which isn’t exactly full of supermarkets and houses, or send you back.”
“She doesn’t have to be alone.” Holly Blue was walking up to them. “My son and I will protect her.” As she drew nearer, she presented a device in her hand that kind of looked like an electric shaver, but instead of a regular blade on the top, it resembled the one specifically designed to cut nose hairs. She placed the tip against one of Declan’s Cassidy cuffs, and began to hack into it. “When the next window opens three years from now, we’ll slip back with whoever it is Jupiter brings in. All she needs to do is hop over her death moment.”
“Why don’t we save everybody?” Declan asked his mother.
“At least two people have to continue the pattern, so they can save everyone else,” Holly Blue explained. “J.B. has to be one of those people, and a Matic has to be another.” She continued working her hacking device. “There.” She pulled the trigger, which served to release both Declan’s cuffs at the same time. Unfortunately, there appeared to be some kind of failsafe. The cuffs fell from his wrist simultaneously, but before they hit the ground, they flew back up through the air, and secured themselves around Holly Blue’s wrists instead. “Also, there’s that.”
“Did you, or did you not, know that was going to happen?” Ramses asked. He took the hacking device from her, so he could examine it himself.
“I was worried he had programmed a contingency. Jupiter was a little not quite upset enough with me when he learned I was planning to rescue Declan. I should have known it was too easy.”
“Okay,” Declan said, “give it to me. I’ll put them back on myself, so you can be free.”
“No,” Holly Blue argued with her son. “I’m not letting you go back to this. You have too much potential to be wasting your time on this mission. No offense,” she said to everyone else.
None taken, really.
Declan looked sadly at his own mother, who could all but read his mind. She smiled back. “Someone has to protect Carol, and I wasn’t able to bring a lot of resources with me, so you’re far more equipped to handle that. It’s just three years, then you can both go back to the main timeline, and you can finally do what you’ve been wanting to all along.”
“Darko never said I was ready.”
“There’s no way he would say you’re not ready once this is all over,” Holly Blue assured him. “Let’s consider this your final lesson.”
Declan didn’t want to trap his mother on the Bearimy-Matic pattern, but this was the best of all terrible outcomes. Carol really did need someone to stay with her for the next three years, and he was the best for the job—not just out of everyone who happened to be here—but the best overall. The time window closed a half hour later, leaving everyone with no choice but to stay in their current predicaments. At the end of the day, Mateo, Leona, Ramses, J.B., and now Holly Blue jumped forward in time, leaving Declan and Carol to fend for themselves. They returned to a shelter complex impressive enough to drive Robinson Crusoe to tears. There was a third person with them who had been there for about a year, whose name was, for whatever reason, Hello Doctor.

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