Sunday, August 16, 2020

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Wednesday, July 1, 2116

Mateo met with Camden Voss of the IAC, who agreed to send him up to the year 2114. That was about as close as he could get to his people. Other time travelers would have been able to get him closer, but he knew Camden would do it without asking for anything in return, and he just wanted to get as close as possible. If he had to wait two years until the next transition window, then so be it. In fact, maybe this was best, because he had no way of knowing where exactly the window would show up, so he needed time to figure that out. That could be left as a problem for tomorrow, though, or maybe next week. For now, he just wanted to relax, and take in the sights. The powers that be couldn’t get to him, even though he was in the main sequence, because this new clone body didn’t have his original pattern. He was finally free—away from Leona, but still free, and if it could be done for him, it could be done for her too.
In 2030, workers finished the construction of a highly advanced intentional community called Hexagon City. They broke ground on former farmland just outside the Kansas City Metropolitan Area. Starting from scratch so late in human history allowed them to build with a better understanding of the future in mind. Living spaces were predominantly vertical; not nearly as large as the megastructures people were erecting all over the world right now, but taller than most skyscrapers of 2030, and designed for maximum efficiency. A railway loop, two-way buses, elevators, and people movers connected the residents to one another, and they were all connected, so traffic jams were a thing of the past. It was completely self-sustainable, growing its produce in vertical farm cylinders, and producing its own renewable energy. It wasn’t a prison; people could come and go as they pleased, but no cars were allowed within its borders, so if you wanted in on this, you had to get with the program.
Following the Kansas model, several more like it were built over the decades, in various locations that were inspired by the original designers, but not a whole hell of a lot. Engineers and futurists knew it was only a matter of time before the extremely consolidated arcologies would be possible, so it never really caught on. Their heyday was short, like the one car phones enjoyed before cell phones overtook them in popularity. The hexagons would one day be bulldozed, but for now, they remained, and just as many people still lived there, even though there were better options. Mateo and Leona had heard of this place back when they were first jumping through this time period, but never managed to see it before it faded away. She probably never would. That reminded him of how sad it was—
“Yes? Oh, it’s you.”
“I finally found you,” Jupiter said. “It was not easy. I had to contact a lot of your friends, and they all thought they knew where you were, because there are two versions of you in this reality.”
“Ah, yes,” Mateo remembered. “I’m on Tribulation Island right now, though. I wouldn’t go back there. Too many people would recognize me.”
“I figured,” he said. “I didn’t bother checking.”
“How did you even know that I existed at all?” Mateo asked. “Didn’t I die in the Parallel?”
“You did,” Jupiter confirmed. “You’re completely dead. There’s a body, and everything. Which doesn’t make any sense, because you’re fated to die on Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida. The universe should have automagically transported you there to avoid a temporal paradox. So it was suspicious.”
“Yeah, I can’t explain that,” Mateo said.
Can’t, or won’t?”
“You’re right, I won’t.”
“Let’s sit.”
“Okay, but I’ll lead.”
“I’ll ask the questions here!” Mateo said jokingly. “Seriously, though, I will. When we’re done, you’ll agree that I legit can’t explain myself to you, even though I technically could indeed tell you my truth. Let us begin. Are you my enemy?”
This question made Jupiter squirm. “No, sir.”
“Why did you pretend to be?”
“Would you have helped, if my brother and I had asked?”
“Why wouldn’t we?”
Jupiter bobbed his head, like he was weighing his options. “We toyed with the idea, but we decided that there was no way for us to explain our motivations to you. You help people all the time, of course, but only people who seem to need it. We didn’t need it; we just wanted it. Perhaps we chose the wrong path, but we determined the best way of recruiting you was to make you think you had no choice. You always make the right call when someone tries to get you to be bad. You’re used to having an enemy to fight, or an obstacle to overcome, so we gave you that.”
Mateo nodded his head. “I still don’t get your motivations, though. You’re pushing people through transition windows to the Parallel, but then letting us send them back? Why? Surely there would be easier ways to save their lives, if that’s really all you’re going for. It feels like there’s some master plan that we can’t see, because we’re too close to it.”
“There’s no grand plan. I mean, obviously we’re rescuing people we think can help the future. Jericho Hagen, for instance, is better for the timeline when he embraces the future of the adjudicative system than he is when he operates against it. The best way to do that was to stop him from being around while the new system was forming. Fourteen years ago, Jericho returned to this reality, pretended to be his own son—to avoid having to explain where he had been for the last twenty-two years—and started a new life; a better life. But that’s a personal situation. We’re not grooming him to have some profound impact on the people he meets. We mainly wanted to help him, just like we wanted to save your once-mother from the 2025 pathogen, and The Escapologist from the collapse of her reality.”
“But why these people?” Mateo questioned. “Sometimes we skip, like twenty years worth of people who can be saved. It seems a little unbelievable that the only ones you care about are the ones we’re around to help.”
Jupiter giggled. “These are the people that you’re helping, because you’re around to do so. You’re not my only team. You just never see the others.”
He smiled. “I know you know you’re not special. You’re part of something great, and that’s good enough for you.”
“Yes, of course. I guess I still just don’t understand why you felt the need to create the Parallel in the first place? Why don’t you just teleport in and pull people to safety?”
“I can’t teleport, Mateo, just like you can’t jump backwards in time on your own, or see the future. The Saviors, like Daria and Xearea, are responsible for doing what you describe. They break into hotel rooms to stop men from beating their sex workers. They appear behind someone sitting on a park bench, choking on their sandwich. That’s what they can do. The Kingmaker goes all throughout time, doing similar things, for a particular breed of person. I’m different. I can access alternate realities, but only for a specific reason. I have the power to copy myself, and I do this by reaching into a different reality, and extracting my alternate self from it. But I can’t actually go explore his reality, because it doesn’t really exist. He’s from an unstable, collapsing timeline. The difference between our two worlds has only happened on the quantum level. The Arborist can go to truly separate timelines, because she’s reaching backwards in meta-time. Maybe I’m not explaining this right. When you go back in time and change something—take note of the airquotes—you’re not really going back at all. What you’re doing is staying in place, and pulling the past to the present, so that you can branch into a new timeline. Again, I don’t have the ability to do this, but the Parallel is a loophole. It’s an alternate reality that is not also an alternate timeline, which means I can access it physically. I created it so I can help people in my way, because that’s all I got.”
“I understand,” Mateo told him. “You’re doing what you can. What can I do? How do I get back to my friends?”
Jupiter removed a pair of Cassidy cuffs from his bag. “I repossessed these from your other body. There’s a proximity feature that will transport you to one of the others, should you choose to go that route.”
“What other route would I go?” Mateo was confused.
“I told you about those other teams. You could join one of them, and do the same thing, but with a different pattern. You might wanna consider it. Leona has mourned your passing twice now. It could be traumatic to make her go through that again. This really is a choice, which you have to make. I’m not trying to coerce you, or even persuade you to go either way. I’m just giving you the option, which I probably should have done in the first place.”
Mateo had to seriously consider this offer. For a while now, Mateo had felt like a burden for Leona. It kind of started from the very beginning. When they met, his situation was so intriguing to her that trying to move on from him would have seemed like a wasted opportunity to learn something interesting about the universe. Then he gave her his kidney, and brought her onto the pattern. Even after creating the new timeline, which changed all of that, he couldn’t do anything to stop her from reentering his world. Then he disappeared from existence, and she had to go through a lot to get him back. Then they got separated by the intergalactic void, and then he had his indiscretion with Cassidy Long, and then he died. He had put her through too much, and if he let himself go back to her, he would probably do it again. He had two patterns; uncontrollably jumping forwards in time, and also making his wife’s life more difficult. But that was the caveat, wasn’t it? She was his wife, and suggesting that everything was his fault was actually also taking away her agency as an independent human being. She made a lot of her own choices, and it wasn’t fair for him to dismiss those because of his guilt. Her being his wife also meant that he had to do everything he could to put them back together, because that was what marriage was.
“Get me to 2116.” Mateo extended his arms, like a bank robber who knew he had been caught.
“As you wish.” Jupiter snapped the cuffs onto his wrists, while simultaneously pulling them both through a transition window. Then he tapped on one of the cuff’s interfaces to activate the proximity feature.
Mateo jumped two years and three months into the future.
“I knew it,” Leona said, taking him into a neck hug. “I knew you couldn’t be dead. There’s something fishy with the extraction mirror they used to bring you back. What do you know? Where have you been?”
While he was talking to Jupiter, Mateo was working through an explanation for his absence in the back of his mind. He wanted to get as close to the truth as possible. There was no reason his friends weren’t allowed to know about 2014, or Camden, or even his discussion with Jupiter Fury. He just couldn’t say anything about Bida, the clone tank, the people who brought him back to life, or how they did it. That was a secret that deserved to remain hidden. “Do you remember walking through Holly Blue’s homeportal? Do you remember what it felt like?”
“Yeah,” Leona said. “It was kind of slimy, but it didn’t leave behind residue. Still, I felt pretty warm for a long time afterwards. My theory is that the de-aging process is a form of reversing entropy, so heat concentrates into you.”
“Well, that’s what I felt, just after I died.” Mateo used airquotes. “One second, I was heading for the ground, and the next, I was walking through the cemetery, and I felt very warm. It’s like the homeportal did leave a residue, which saved me from death, I guess by making a new copy of me, or something. Anyway, I made my way to the IAC, asked Camden to send me to 2114, where Jupiter found me, and gave me back my cuffs.” There, that was it. That was a good version of the truth. “I don’t want you thinking you’re invincible, though, Leona. It might have been a one-time deal, or it’s just now worn off for you, I don’t know. Don’t tempt fate.”
“I don’t intend to let myself almost die,” she assured him.
Mateo was glad to hear it. “So, what did I miss with you guys? I assume Jericho went back to the main sequence through Xearea’s window? Did Ariadna go with them?”
“I’m here.” Ariadna popped her head out of the AOC’s airlock. “I was thinking about leaving this year, but there doesn’t seem to be an upcoming window for me to stowaway.”
“Well,” J.B. began, “you only got one more year. We’re in July now, so the Bearimy-Matic pattern is exactly like the original Matic pattern was, and will stay this way for thirty more days.”
“Let’s not waste our day off,” Sanaa said. “I, for one, could use a break. Who’s up for a game or RPS-101 Plus?”
“What’s RPS-101 Plus?”
“’ll see. I just hope I don’t get fenced again.”

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