Sunday, October 18, 2020

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Tuesday, July 10, 2125

The pain disappeared in an instant, but Mateo was still lying face down in the dirt. He stood himself up, and looked around. He wasn’t extremely familiar with the topography of Tribulation Island—it wasn’t like he had a favorite leaf—but he could tell that he wasn’t there anymore. It was a lush jungle, though not one he had been to before, as far as he knew. He could see smoke coming from the bottom of the mountain, so with no other options, he started climbing down towards it. Just as he stepped into the clearing, dozens of other people did too. They nearly all looked confused, but were possibly more confused by the fact that Mateo didn’t seem to be. He confidently walked forward, and approached the outdoor amphitheatre they had set up. This wasn’t the first time he was suddenly thrust into a place he didn’t understand, so he needn’t fret. He sat front and center, right before the stage.
Seeing him do this made everyone else feel more comfortable doing the same. With no idea where they were, or what they were doing here, they began to find their own seats, and wait patiently. A woman stuck her head out of the curtain, and kept it tightly around her neck. “Oh, wow,” she said as she was looking them over. Mateo was only able to hear because he was close enough. “You guys are quick.” She watched until everyone had a place to sit. All but one. One man was left standing. “That isn’t right.” She slipped a clipboard through the curtains. “A hundred and forty-seven exactly. Is someone here who shouldn’t be?”
Mateo stood up. “I believe that would be me.”
“Name?” she prompted.
“Mateo Matic.”
She scanned her list. “Date of—of...” she trailed off.
That was fine, Mateo knew what she was asking. He was sure she wouldn’t want to say it out loud until she could go through her whole delicate spiel. “July 9, 2124.”
“Yep, that’s today.”
“I’ll come to you,” he decided. He climbed up on stairs, and followed her backstage. “There’s a reason I’m not on your list. I am a time traveler. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of us.”
“Oh! I thought they were joking. They went over it in training, but...”
He nodded. “It’s okay. My death started millions of years ago, but then a fffffrrr—someone I know pulled me through a portal so I could do die in present day.” Well, he wasn’t a friend.
“I see.” She gritted her teeth, and looked back down at her clipboard, hoping to remember the procedures. “I believe we’re meant to send people like you somewhere else. The Designers will want to speak with you directly. But I don’t know how to...”
“Again, it’s fine. Go ahead and run through your presentation. Those people out there need to know what’s happened to them. We can deal with me later.”
“Are you sure? The orientation process is quite long. People need time to adjust.”
“Really, I’m all right. Go do your thing. I’m here if you need help.”
“You’re very kind.” She took a deep breath, and prepared herself. Then she stepped all the way through the curtain to tell a crowd of people that they were dead.

“He’s dead?”
“I don’t see how he could have survived,” J.B. reported. “It was...it was bad. I’m sorry, this is all my fault.”
Leona stared at the ground a moment. “No, it’s fine. You saw a body, which means he’s still alive. He can’t die. The powers that be won’t let him. I’m sure his consciousness has been transferred back to the lab on Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida, just like it was last time. He’ll be back any minute.”
Sanaa was staring at Ellie. “No, he won’t.”
“What? What are you talking about?” Leona questioned.
“You gonna tell her, or shall I?” Sanaa asked.
“You can read minds again, can’t you?” Ellie hypothesized.
“Answer the goddamn question.”
“There were two clone bodies,” Ellie explained. “The first one that Mateo used was after his fall from the cliff. The second was after his fall from the hospital. We didn’t grow a third. If his mind was transferred to some other substrate, then we had nothing to do with it.”
“Why didn’t you make more?” Leona questioned. “Why didn’t you make an army of Mateos?”
“Humans aren’t cylons. I’m surprised the powers let us do it even once.”
Leona didn’t cry, or fume. She just kind of looked tired. The truth was she didn’t know what to feel. Mateo had died so many times already, it was a trend. He had always come back, and there was no reason to believe he wouldn’t do it an upteenth time. Anyway, they had a mission to complete, and now it was up to Leona to fulfill their promise to save Vearden. If nothing else, she would see Mateo again after it was over. This was probably the best outcome, because now they’ll be together. “Let’s go. Our window is closing.” She walked off.
They found Vearden alone in the woods. He freely gave them a sample of his blood without asking a single question, because he trusted that they needed it for something important. They returned to The Parallel with it, where a technician was waiting to produce a clone for them. They asked him to program it to grow to maturity after a year, and no sooner. There were ways to expedite the cloning process, but generally speaking, the closer you get to realtime, the more stable the substrate will be, and the longer it will last. They didn’t need this Vearden clone to last very long, but they did need it to be able to bleed and break, so it was just better if they took their time. They wouldn’t be able to use it for another year anyway.

On July 10, 2125, the team returned to the timstream. Leona half-expected Mateo to be waiting for them just outside the AOC, but no such luck. Maybe he really was dead, and it was nearly time to join him. “Are you ready, Ellie?”
“Are you sure about this?” Ellie asked diligently. “A life for a life is...a terrible trade.”
“Mateo had faith in you, and he died before he could prove it. I’ll die proving it for myself.”
“I can’t guarantee that there’s anything on the other side.”
Leona sat down in the chair. “You’re closer to a guarantee than anyone else has ever been able to give. Do it.”
“Anyone else want to object?” Ellie asked the other two.
“They don’t get a vote,” Leona argued.
“Yes, we do. It’s not just about you,” Sanaa fought back. “And no, no objections. We do this together, as long you’re capable of that.”
“I am.”
“What do you mean, together?” Leona questioned.
Without responding, Elle placed her hands at the Vearden clone’s temples. She concentrated a moment, and then worked her magic, teleporting Leona’s consciousness into its brain. But she wasn’t alone. She woke up in a darkened room, with a facsimile of the hexagonoid table from the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Ellie was sitting next to her, with J.B. next to her, and Sanaa next to him.
Oh my God,” Leona said. “What are you doing here?
We’ve all been asked to save Vearden. We’re all here to do just that,” Sanaa explained.
There was only meant to be one sacrifice,” Leona contended. “It can’t be Mateo, since he already did that, so it has to be me. And J.B., if you’re here, his death will be meaningless.
I was told that it was not,” J.B. replied plainly.
I’m the one with the power,” Ellie told her, “so there’s nothing you can do to stop us.
I have your power now too.
Ellie lifted her hand, palm up. A viewscreen for each of them appeared in the middle of the table, showing them the perspective of the lab from the Vearden clone’s perspective. They could see their respective former bodies, strewn about the floor. “No, you dont. Nobody’s wearing a Cassidy cuff. Whether he was ready for it or not, Jupiter can’t control us anymore.
Like always, as if he knew exactly when they were talking about him—which shouldn’t have been possible in this case, because they weren’t talking at all, but communicating telepathically to each other using the same brain—Jupiter appeared. He examined the death and destruction around him for a second before dragging the bodies up to more dignified positions on the couch. He removed their cuffs, and dropped them into his bag. Once he had all of them stored, he took out what appeared to be a bracelet. He held it up in front of the clone’s face. “This was made from Ariadna’s hair. It won’t let you cross any dimensional boundary you want, but it’ll get ya past the merge barrier on Tribulation Island. Give it to the real Vearden when you swap places with him, and tell him how to get back here. I’ll make sure he makes a good life for himself in the Parallel.” He wrapped the bracelet around Clone!Vearden’s wrist. “Godspeed.” He knew. He knew what Mateo was planning to do the whole time.
After Jupiter disappeared, the inhabitants of the clone body took a few hours to learn how to navigate. They were all capable of assuming control over its movements, but it was obviously better if they selected one person for that role. Leona was going to take care of that, while Ellie would be doing the talking. J.B. and Sanaa could therefore just be there for the ride. And the death. When they felt like they were comfortable with this new body, and ready to go, they transitioned back to the main sequence once more, crossed the merge border, and went off in search of the real Vearden Haywood. It didn’t take too terribly long to find him.
He was meant to be out hunting for Lita, who was busy taking care of her daughter, Brooke. Instead, he was wandering the Colosseum replica he built with his partner, Saga a long time ago. He wasn’t particularly surprised to see an alternate version of himself, as he had been through this before. “Why, hello. How are you today?”
“We’re okay,” Ellie said through Clone!Vearden’s mouth. “I mean...I’m okay.” First words, already a mistake.
Good goin’, genius,” Sanaa snarked telepathically.
Vearden stood there with a dumb smile on his face for a moment. “Well, bye.”
“Wait.” Clone!Vearden grabbed him by the arm.
Vearden looked down at it. “Careful. Time doesn’t like it when you rearrange her furniture.”
Clone!Vearden chuckled. That wasn’t how time worked.
Before they could say anything else, the entrance to the Colosseum replica opened up. A third Vearden walked through it, and closed the door behind him. He looked between the first two. “This is not how I was told it would happen.”
“Vearden!Three, what are you doing here?” Vearden!Two asked. He was from an alternate reality, where he and Saga jumped around in time, changing history, and the future, for the better.
This third Vearden was from this timeline, and he had his own adventures, mostly separate from Saga, of which there were also two versions. “I’m here to take your place, and rescue you.”
“From what? This island? I have to be here. I can’t go until Saga gets back.” At this point, Saga!Two had been removed from the timestream, and what Leona and her friends recently learned was that she was hanging out in the Parallel.
“You’re fated to die,” Clone!Vearden explained. “I’m going to take your place. The both of you are going to leave.”
“Why do I need to be saved?” Vearden!Two questioned. “Why does it matter which one of us dies? I’m not more important than you.”
“You are,” Clone!Vearden insisted. “Look. I’m not really an alternate version of you. I’m a completely different person who is using a clone body, so I can die in your stead. I can do this, because after that, my consciousness will transfer back to my real body, and we will all survive. You’re not more important, you’re just more fragile.”
Vearden!Two looked to Vearden!Three for confirmation, but Vearden!Three didn’t know anything about this either.
Clone!Vearden removed the Traversa Bracelet, and handed it to Vearden!Two, along with a hand drawn map, which J.B. was artistic enough to make for them. It used the campsite as a reference point. “Take these, and go. A friend of ours will help you over there.”
“No,” Vearden!Three said. “I already told Saga that I was coming here to save him.” He took the bracelet, and the map. “I’ll go meet your friend. He’ll go meet his. Is that a problem?”
“If that’s what happened in the original timeline, then...okay,” Clone!Vearden determined. “You have to complete your cycle, close your loop.”
“Great,” Vearden!Two declared, “as long as you’re not lying about being able to survive this.”
“I’m not lying,” Clone!Vearden lied.
“After a few more glances, hoping to suss out any hidden truths about this plan, Vearden!Two relented, and headed through the magical door, presumably back to wherever Vearden!Three had just come from.
Vearden!Three installed the Traversa Bracelet onto his own wrist. “Until we meet again...in the red forest.” He walked off.
Leona then walked off as well, looking for death. She found it.

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