Sunday, December 20, 2020

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Monday, July 19, 2134

They didn’t have time to process the letter Hua managed to get to them before their Cassidy cuffs began to beep. It was not a new transition location, though. An icon of an envelope was bouncing in the corner, indicating that they had a message. Leona tapped on hers, which released a full-sized holographic image of Jupiter Fury. “Dear Mateo and Leona, I left this message for you in the case of my death, or extreme temporal absence. I am a time traveler, which means even if I become preoccupied with something, I should be able to go back to the right time period, and coordinate assignments. If you’re watching this, it likely means my death, because I would have little other reason to not return at some point, and help you carry out your mission. I’ve set contingencies on these cuffs. Should they lose their connections to me for a given period of time, they were programmed to transition you back to The Parallel, where you will have a choice.
This reality provides you the best chances you’ll have at finding happiness. The powers that be cannot get you here. Tamerlane Pryce cannot get you here. Technology is millennia beyond anything we have in the main sequence. You can finally be free to live your own lives, and make your own choices. As you know, you are capable of removing your cuffs at will, or reprogramming them for other purposes. Leona, I’m sure you’ll think of something. You may instead choose to continue the mission. If you do, the cuffs can give you a list of the people I intended to help, and when they need that help. I make no judgments about which you choose. I’m dead afterall, and I probably shouldn’t have compelled you to wear the cuffs in the first place. Finally, if you are continuing, you will need something else, for it’s something that the cuffs alone will not be able to handle.” At this point, Jupiter’s hologram lifted his hand, and snapped his fingers. Two tiny SIM card-like slots popped out their cuffs; one on each. Inside of Mateo’s was a few drops of blood. Inside of Leona’s was what appeared to be a small shard of metal.
This is my blood. It is poured out for you, and with it, we make a new agreement. This is the tip of the Sword of Assimilation. Eat these as a way of absorbing my temporal powers. This will allow you to transition to and from the Parallel at will, and help the people from the list. You can add to this list, or make a new one, if that’s your thing. Or, I suppose, you can absorb my powers, and just go take over the world, or whatever. That’s something I’ve always been able to do, and I doubt you would be any more interested in it than me, but again, I don’t judge. I apologize for how we met, and how I approached the mission. I should have tried to recruit you. That would have made it a lot easier on everyone. Thank you for showing me that.” The hologram disappeared.
They stood there in silence for a few moments.
“You wanna vote?” Mateo finally asked.
“We’re not like the other salmon,” Leona began. “Rather, you’re not; I’m not salmon. But one thing I’ve noticed about our lives is that we don’t receive assignments, or mandates. Responsibility presents itself to us. At first, all we needed to do was learn the ropes. Then Reaver showed up, and we were asked to capture him. Boyce gave us the Tribulations, at the behest of Zeferino. Then Arcadia showed up in retaliation, and while you were suffering the consequences of your defiance, I was retrieving Étude, stopping Ulinthra, and getting you back. After that, we just kept ending up on other planets, with various tasks to complete on them, under little sense of formality. No one has been sitting around, thinking of things for us to do, but they do keep needing us just the same. Jupiter asked for our help—in a very unfair manner, but we would have helped either way, because that’s what we do. It’s...our calling. I don’t think we need to vote, Mateo. There’s only one option.”
“I’m lookin’ at this list.” He was scrolling through his cuff. “This isn’t just our assignments; it’s all of them, for these mysterious other teams that we don’t know anything about. He’s not asking us to transition people back and forth. He’s asking us to coordinate all the transitions. I don’t know how our pattern lets us do that.”
“Jupiter never had to be present for the transition windows,” she said. “He somehow set them up ahead of time, and directed his teams towards them. If one of us absorbs his powers, we’ll do the same.”
“If that’s the case, why didn’t he just set them all up? How does his supposed death even affect this?”
She had started looking through the list as well, but with a more critical eye. “There’s a limit. He can only predict so far in the future. Every time someone transitions, it changes the timeline, and each one runs the risk of impacting the next one. You’re just looking at the current list, but we can also see the revision history. Some people were removed, presumably because their transitions were no longer necessary. Likewise, new ones have been added that weren’t necessary before. This guy here? He was supposed to transition in 2103, but he was moved back to 2107, at a different location.”
“We’re on our original pattern now,” he reminded her, “because that’s how Pryce wanted it. Those changes are going to be even more complicated to follow for us. We can’t do this. I am all for continuing the mission as he wanted, but...we’re terrible candidates to replace him. We could never be promoted, not in these bodies. We’re just not cut out for management.”
Leona sighed, somehow letting more air out than she took in. “You’re right. I know you’re right. I don’t know why he chose us.”
“He chose us, because he trusts us. We still don’t know who these other teams are, but maybe none of them could handle it either. We’re just the best out of a roster of bad candidates.”
“Right.” Leona was in the middle of finding an idea. “That’s right. We’re all bad candidates.”
“Yeah, what are we gonna do with that?”
She smiled with her lips, but not her eyes, like a sad clown, but she wasn’t really upset. “We just need to expand the labor pool.”
“Who did you have in mind?” he asked.
Leona was smiling at her cuff, but this time with her eyes, and not her lips. “How about the transitionee from July 19, 2134.”
After realizing she wasn’t just going to say the name out loud, Mateo scrolled back up on his own cuff to hunt for the right date. “Huh. I’ve never believed in fate.”
“Why would you? You’re a time traveler. I have to admit, though, it’s quite fitting.”
“Do you think she’ll go for it?”
“Well, we don’t know who she is. What has she gone through? How many times has she died at this point? Are we even friends?”
“I’d like to think we were always friends,” Mateo decided.
Leona laughed. “Well, we better get back to Earth to find out. She’s supposed to come through soon. Everyone below her on this list is grayed out, which suggests that she was the last transition he prepared for before losing his connection. If we don’t get this blood, and this shard, into someone, we’ll start losing people. Then it really will have to be one of us, because I can’t think of anyone living in the Parallel who could take up the mantle.”
They took the Nexus back to Earth, and a short-range transporter to Belle Fourche, South Dakota. They arrived just in time to witness the transition window open up, defenestrate their candidate, and close back up again. She looked around, unimpressed. “Who dares summon me?” she said in a vocal fry. “Bwahaha.”
“What is the last thing you remember about us?” Leona asked her.
“This is 2134 still?” Nerakali inquired.
“And is this...your original 2134, err...?”
“This is our second time around,” Leona confirmed.
“Okay, great. That’s perfect. The last time I saw you was the last time you saw me. We are simpatico.”
“Do you mean that we’re all friends, or is that a time travel term?”
“I dunno, maybe bolth?”
“That sounds like a reference.”
“Kinda. But yes, we’re friends, and because our respective personal timelines have no inconsistencies, we are considered simpatico.”
“That’s nice,” Leona said. “And it’s helpful. Because we would like to interview you for a new position.”
Nerakali was intrigued. “You’re hiring?”
“We developed an understanding with Jupiter. We don’t know what happened to  him, but he can no longer perform his duties.” She removed the shard from her cuff, and then reached out silently so Mateo could hand her the blood from his. “These will give you his powers, so you can do what he did.”
Nerakali took the slides to examine them closely. She chuckled. “I once asked Anatol what happened to the tip of his sword. He said he lost it in a game of Rummikub. Now I know who won.”
“As I recall,” Leona said, “the tip was there when you died. That thing killed you.”
Nerakali grinned kindly. “And now it’s going to give me purpose.”
“So, you’ll do it?” Mateo was hopeful, and ready to be grateful.
“I can’t say no to you two.” She reached out, and took them in a bear hug. “Oh, I missed you so much. Do we have time to catch up? I don’t know what this is gonna do to me, so I would rather we conversate prior to it.”
“I think that can be arranged,” Leona told her. “Pick a star, any star. We’ll find the closest restaurant, and do brunch.”
“Okay. Then you can tell me exactly where we are, and how there are restaurants on other planets.”
Nerakali said that she wanted to eat as far away from Earth as possible, while still being in the Milky Way Galaxy. The Nexus technician knew exactly where that was. They went to a world called Extremus, which both Leona and Nerakali thought they had heard of before. They ate, and they drank, and they were merry. They told her about their adventures with the team, helping people coming through the transition windows, and not always sending them back. They brought up The Transit, which conscripted fighters for some great war. Surprisingly, Nerakali had never heard of it, but she was interested in meeting the people who operated it. They had a lovely time together, and at the end of the night, she consumed the blood and metal, and became one of the most powerful people in the galaxy. Then she disappeared to start her first day on the job.

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