Sunday, June 21, 2020

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Tuesday, April 4, 2028

The first thing they did was let Leona get caught up with her mother, whose last few years of her life were somewhat uneventful. Despite this being a harsh world to live in, there were, at least, no dangerous people around. Having never seen humans before, some of the predatory animals posed serious threat to the camp, but they weren’t impossible to deal with. They did once see a creature that looked more like a dog, and less like a wolf, so that suggested humans evolved at some point, but died out however long ago after that. An archaeologist or anthropologist would probably have a grand ol’ time studying this whole planet. Their first encounter with another person came when FBI Agent Austin Miller found them one evening after spotting the smoke from their fire. Miller was not happy with the fact that they knew his real name was Hello Doctor, but it was once part of Declan’s curriculum. For his training, he was expected to learn as much past and future history as possible. His teacher, Darko didn’t want him to be surprised by the appearance of anyone in his life; friend of foe. It was the only subject he studied that his classmate, Slipstream did not also study. She remained in the dark about time travel until years later.
Evidently, Agent Miller discovered time travel himself in 2026, when one of the Springfield Nine wreaked havoc on Kansas City, for hazy reasons. Paige Turner was able to erase most of the damage he had done, so that few could remember anything had ever happened. Miller happened to be one of these few, though he wasn’t entirely sure why. Either way, it inspired him to investigate the matter in secret, starting with a temporal object he found called The Omega Gyroscope. He discovered this thing could either create or access alternate timelines. He was in the middle of a long-term study of one of these realities when Paige returned with her fathers, and a group of other people who were trying to stop whatever he had planned. Miller was reluctant to explain his motives clearly to Declan and Carol, but whatever they were, they resulted in him becoming trapped in the other timeline, along with the Reaver-Demir gang. Everyone else managed to escape, but Miller had to sacrifice himself to make it happen. When he did, he somehow ended up here, in this empty world.
“Can you get me back?” Miller asked.
A third of the group looked to Holly Blue for the answer, while another third sought Leona’s expert opinion. The last third waited for Ramses to respond. “We sure can,” J.B. said, confusing everyone. He was a great guy and all, but he had been a salmon his whole life, so his educational experience was sadly limited. “What? Jupiter said we could go back with the people we return to the main reality. If we could go back, then anyone else should be able to as well. All we need to know is when and where the transition window is.”
As if commanded by J.B.’s words, their cuffs all beeped simultaneously. It was directing them to the northwest, for a distance of about nine kilometers. Carol Gelen was very fit and young for her age, but she was still seventy-eight years old, and nine kilometers was a lot. It would take them around two hours to get there at regular pace, but if she slowed them down, they might not make it in time. There was no way to know, because the Cassidy cuff didn’t give them a window deadline.
“She’ll be fine,” Declan explained. “I built something for this exact problem.” He led them around back, to a tool shed sort of thing. Inside was a little cart, just large enough for one person to sit in. Straps were attached to the front, suggesting that it could be pulled by a goat, or a large dog. But that wasn’t the case. Declan put the straps over his own shoulders, and rolled it out of the shed to give Carol more space to step in. She did so with no argument, implying that they had already discussed this, and it was the plan all along. Declan grabbed the end of a second set of straps from just inside the cart, and handed them to Mateo. “We’ll go ahead and get going. The rest of you should fill up on fourth meal, and catch up with us.”
Austin Miller pulled a portable torch out of the stockpile, and lit it from one of the ground torches. Then all four of them headed out. They were over halfway through the trek by the time the others caught up with them a couple hours later. They weren’t exactly walking on a paved road, so the wheels still slowed them down, but at least Carol didn’t have to exert all of her energy.
Once they were at their destination, Ramses lifted up his cuff, and looked through the augmented reality. “They’re train tracks. Like. A lot of them.”
“Ah, the railyard,” Declan said. “Makes sense.”
A familiar horn rang out while Mateo was sitting in the cart to have a rest. “Am I the only one who can hear that?” he asked.
“No, we can as well,” Holly Blue confirmed.
“It will probably be coming from another universe,” Mateo said, “rather than just another reality. Why are we here?”
“I don’t know what it is,” Holly Blue admitted. No one else did either. Leona and Ramses had both heard of The Transit from The Stitcher, but neither of them knew anything about it.
Only Mateo seemed to have any real knowledge. “It’s a giant train that recruits people for some multiverse army.”
As proof, the Transit appeared from its portal, and stopped before them. The doorway opened, and none other than Slipstream herself stepped out. “Declan.”
“Bo!” he shouted at medium volume.
“It’s been a long time,” she said. “Longer for me, I bet.”
“What’s going on here?” Holly Blue demanded to know.
“Declan Aberdeen,” Slipstream continued, sort of ignoring her. “You have been conscripted to The Transit Army to fight the Ochivari.”
“Do I have a choice?” Declan asked.
Slipstream hesitated to answer. “We’re the good guys. You may technically refuse, but...I wouldn’t recommend it. We need you.”
“Dec,” Holly Blue said, “no.”
“You let me train to become a superhero,” Declan said to his mother. “This is my chance to finally put my skills to good use.”
“A superhero, and a soldier, are two very different things,” she argued.
“He’ll be using the skills he has,” Slipstream explained to her. “Some people, like me, will just be there for hand-to-hand combat. Other people have powers. Others, like Declan, have tech. He’ll be fighting alongside the greatest warriors the bulkverse has ever seen, across thousands of worlds. We don’t plan to die. This isn’t that kind of war.”
“I don’t want him going to any kind war,” Holly Blue maintained.
“Mom,” Declan started, “I gotta go. I love you.”
“No.”
“No, you don’t love me too?”
“No, I’m not letting you go.”
Declan took her into a hug, and repeated, “I love you.”
She hugged him back, but could not echo his words, because in this situation, I love you was just a synonym for goodbye, and probably from her perspective, also meant you’re going to die, so I won’t ever see you again. So she couldn’t say that.
And then he went off to war.
When the Transit disappeared through its portal, no one’s memories were erased, and Mateo didn’t understand why. They didn’t have time to question it, though. Just like before with Carol’s arrival, the scenery flickered in and out of existence. They saw a man standing on the tracks, his legs tied to both rails. His eyes were shut tightly, waiting for the train on its way to come clear him from the face of the Earth. It was only meters from colliding with him when the transition completed, and pulled him all the way into The Parallel. Now that he was no longer flickering, Mateo and Leona could see that they knew the man. It was Elder Caverness, also known affectionately as Guard Number One. Along with Kolby Morse, he once detained Mateo in the second main reality, and sent him off to meet his police detective cousin, Danica.
Elder reopened his eyes, but kept his face scrunched up. Once he looked over, and found that he was perfectly safe, he breathed a sigh of relief. “Ah, you saved me! Thanks a bunch!” He tried to step towards them, but couldn’t. “But why am I still tied up?” Now he narrowed his eyes. “What do you want?”
“Someone else saved you,” Mateo explained to him. “He kept you tied up. We can free you, but just give us a little bit.”
Austin Miller stepped over with his torch. “I can take care of those ropes, since we don’t have any real knives, and those knots look impossible.” It took some time, but he managed to burn Elder’s ropes enough to free him.
“Thanks, Geri Thomas,” Elder said.
“Who?” Miller questioned.
“Don’t worry about it.” A traumatized Elder walked some distance from the tracks, and looked around some more. “Where the hell is the highway?”
“You’re in a different reality now,” Leona replied.
“Oh, okay,” Elder said.
J.B. consulted his cuff. “The next transition window is thirteen hours that way.” He pointed. “I guess the exit is sometimes in a different place than the entrance.”
Before they could formulate a plan, the Transit horn sounded again. It reappeared in the exact same way as before. Slipstream didn’t walk out of it this time, though. Neither did Saga or her new partner, Zektene. It was someone none of them seemed to know, and she didn’t walk out at all. She literally flew over to them, and landed gracefully on the ground. “Hi. My name is Ellen Snider. I’m looking for Elder Caverness.”
“That’s me,” he piped up.
“You wanna go fight some aliens?” she offered.
“Yeah, okay,” he agreed. He took her by the hand, and let her lead him back up towards the train.
“Wait,” Holly Blue stopped them. “Where’s my son?”
“Who’s your son?” Ellen asked.
“Declan Aberdeen. He may be going by Declan Blue.”
“Hmm,” Ellen said. She pulled up a phone, and started swiping through it. “Declan Aberdeed. Yeah, he was conscripted four years ago. They dropped him back home  a few months later. You haven’t seen him?”
“No, he must be back in the main timeline, in some other time period.” Holly Blue looked relieved.
“Oh wait,” Ellen said. “This is called salmonverse, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Holly Blue replied.
“Yeah, he’s not here,” Ellen said apologetically. “Most branes don’t have names, and this particular world is one of the unnamed. “I’m sorry, I’m just a recruiter. I don’t know why they placed him there, but it indicates that they did it on purpose, or that he requested relocation. I wish I could help.”
Holly Blue was seething. “Just go.”
The tried walking away again.
“Wait,” Austin Miller jumped in. “Can I come with?”
Ellen tilted her head. “You’re not on my list.”
“So, what? You need fighters, right? I’m a trained FBI agent.”
“I don’t know what that is,” Ellen said. “But come on. We do indeed have a few volunteers. They have to go through more rigorous testing, though, since their timeline doesn’t exhibit their abilities well.”
And so Hello Doctor went off to war as well, along with Elder Caverness, leaving Holly Blue at a loss. At least her son was still alive. Of course, time travel being what it was, being alive at any point in time wasn’t really relevant to someone who existed at some other point. Things were even less concrete when accounting for other universes, whose timelines didn’t sync up with each other in the slightest. She had to find a way to get to this other world, and she had to be there in the same time period as him. She should have thought to ask for a ride before the Transit left again. There were no more fighters in the group, so it probably wouldn’t show up a third time. She just wasn’t thinking clearly. Or perhaps she was only trying to believe he was exactly where he belonged. Surely innocent people required his services in this other brane.
Mateo, Ramses, and J.B. took turns carting Carol towards the transition window. Everyone else scouted ahead, and did their best to clear a path to make it go more smoothly. There wasn’t much time to blaze a trail, though, so they mostly just picked up sticks, and kicked rocks away. They arrived with plenty of time to have another meal, and send Carol back home. Unfortunately, she would be alone, but they gave her directions to the Salmon Civic Center, where someone there would almost certainly help her get her life back on track. Either way, she would most likely be dead by the time they had any chance of seeing her again. The next jump took them just over nineteen years into the future.

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