Sunday, September 19, 2021

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: October 2212

Mateo was able to see his past self unceremoniously disappear while the mirror portal was still active. Leona and Horace moved on like nothing had happened, because to them, it hadn’t. The portal closed, revealing a normal door. Someone opened it up, and looked perturbed. “I believe this is the ladies room. I don’t care how you identify,” she said with airquotes, “but anyone who has ever had a penis..does not belong in here.”
“Thanks for the tip, Karen.”
“Um, it’s Jan.”
Mateo rolled his eyes, and passed her. “Sure, Jan. It’s 2212, by the way. Get with the times. Transphobia is so 20th century.”
“It’s only two thousand twelve, McFly.”
Mateo looked over his shoulder at her. Then he surveyed the scene. Cases of plastic water, cash registers on the counter, gasoline-powered cars through the window. This was 2012, wasn’t it? “Shit.” He jogged over the the clerk. “Is this Lebanon, Kansas?”
“It sure is,” he answered.
“Can you direct me to the center of the country, please?”
He pointed to the front corner of the store. When Mateo tried to leave, the clerk said, “hey. Bathrooms are for customers only.”
Mateo took an ancient hundred-dollar bill out of his quantum duplicating wallet, and slapped it on the counter. “I would like to pay for the next however many customers it takes to drain my tab.” When the clerk tried to take the money, he held onto it. “If this just ends up in your pocket, I will know.” He eyed the security camera that was pointing at the register. “My Field Supervisor will know.” Yes, it was illegal to impersonate a law enforcement agent, but he had to do something to make sure this money went to good use.
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” the clerk replied.
Mateo released the money, put on a sweet pair of sunglasses, and left the store. Then he walked about a mile and a half, all the way to US Center Chapel, where his cousin lived. He expected to walk in, and then maybe—maybe—be lowered down to The Constant, but the door opened right into the foyer underground, as if Danica was expecting him. She very well might have been.
She greeted him with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “You’re a bit off target.”
“By 200 hundred years, yes,” Mateo said. “Is there anything you can do to help? I have to skip over some time. I can’t just wait.”
“Yeah, now that you’re free and patternless, I can send you wherever you want.”
“Do you have a machine, errr...?”
Danica laughed. “No, it’s done.”
“How do you mean?”
“I just jumped you 200 hundred years, before you even asked your question about the machine. I’ve been waiting for you this whole time. Made sure to where the same clothes I was when we were talking, and everything. You blinked, and you missed it.”
Mateo smiled. “Thank you. Why do you think Darrow sent me to the wrong time period?”
Danica smiled too, but for a different reason. “It wasn’t the wrong time period, it just wasn’t the one you were expecting. Eleven people went into the convenience store after you who benefited from the money you donated to their purchases. Most of them just wanted a sports drink or a bag of chips, and most of those people moved on without much thought. A few actually subconsciously changed their lives because of the kind gesture; not by a whole lot, but you moved the needle. One teenager in particular was inspired by you. He gave the clerk sixty bucks of his own, which ultimately went to a woman who was desperately trying to get away from her ex-fiancé in Santa Fe. She was out of money, and 2012 suffered from the highest gas prices in the history of the country, not accounting for inflation. That paid for her whole tank, which was enough to get her nearly all the way to Chicago, where she was able to start a new life. You did that. You did it, and you didn’t even know it. You just wanted the clerk off your ass about the bathroom.”
“Well, it wasn’t really my money. I have this wallet, see?”
“Yes,” Danica said dismissively. “Your wallet literally copies the money you need, from any time period, from several select regions. The teenager didn’t know that, and neither did anyone else. The result remains. That woman is still alive today. In another timeline, she isn’t.”
He nodded, and waited an appropriate amount of time before segueing. “Leona’s not alive, nor is one version of Kivi. Rather, neither of them exists at the moment—not the ones I need anyway.”
She nodded. “Right. Well, Past!Leona activated the weird temporal object contraption yesterday. Unfortunately, it’s missing a component.”
“Yes,” he understood, “the Insulator of Life. I’m hoping to actually use it before her, as she won’t make it to the base on Proxima Doma until next year.”
“I don’t think that would be wise,” Danica decided. “Best not to cross paths with any of your past selves at all, or hers, or butterfly affect their futures.”
“I need that insulator,” Mateo argued. “I don’t know why The Superintendent brings us back dead, but as far as I know, this is the only way to fix it.”
“I’m not saying you can’t use it. You just can’t use it today. You would have to go to Proxima Doma, so getting back to Earth would be this whole thing. Plus, the timeline is going to change, and I don’t think it should. I think it’s best for everyone if you find the Insulator  in 2338. I know where it will be.”
“Twenty-three thirty-eight? But that’s...”
“Yes.” Danica knew everything. “It’s time to finish this.”
“No, it’s too early. She’s not ready.”
Danica placed a hand on his shoulder. “She’s been ready for a long time. She’s just been waiting for you to accept it.”
“So you want me to bring them back to reality using the contraption that you built for Past!Leona, and then jump all three of us to finally retrieve the Insulator of Life? Then you want us to go through with the challenge?”
“That sounds like a decent plan,” Danica said.
“You’re telling me this because you already know that it happens,” he figured.
Danica opened her mouth to explain, but had to think about it for a moment. “I know everything that has happened up to this moment right now, as long as it pertains to my job as The Concierge. I don’t know the name of some rando eating a turkey wrap in Toronto, or my old neighbor’s porn site password. I know some things about the future, but again, only when knowing it is necessary for me to help my clients. I know enough to urge you to go to 2338. I’ve had to guess as to why, based on evidence from the past. Make sense?”
“Actually,” Mateo began, “yes. I’m just so worried about her. Coming back to life and then having to jump into the battle right away. It’s not fair.”
“I promise you, it will be all right. Now sit. Let’s have a meal together.”
“I would really rather get Leona back right away,” Mateo requested.
“Oh, you can’t do it today.”
“Why not?”
“Let me show you.” Danica led him into the other room where the reintegration contraption was still up on a table. The LIR map was taped to the opposite wall, but there was something wrong with it. A hole was burned in the center.
“Can it be fixed?” Mateo questioned.
“It’s fixing itself. Or should I say, it’s healing. It’s taking its own sweet time, but it’ll get there eventually.”
“How long, do you suppose?”
“At this rate, I’ve calculated...three weeks?”
“Is that a question?”
“It’s barely started, so it’s pretty hard to measure, but that’s my current estimate, based on one day of observation.”
“Danica, that’s not going to work. I have to save two people. If it only brings back one at a time, Leona will start to decay by the time I’m ready to retrieve Kivi.”
“I can jump you both a month into the future,” she explains. “Hell, I could jump you to the end of this month right now, if you would prefer not to wait.”
“When you think about it, you and I don’t know each other very well. If you’re confident that your wards will keep out any nefarious characters, like the Warrior, then I don’t see why we can’t just wait until the LIR map is finished healing. But then I will want to skip to the end of November to get Kivi back.”
“Sounds like yet another decent plan.”

Two weeks later, the map was fully healed. They couldn’t tell that it was ever damaged. Even so, they decided to wait one more day just to make sure every atom was back where it was meant to be. Danica rechecked the instructions on the page from the Book of Hogarth, and verified that the contraption was set up correctly. According to what she saw at the beginning of the month, Past!Leona didn’t do anything to make it work except spin the Incorruptible Astrolabe. She presumably sent it some kind of psychic message, which let it know who she was trying to bring back from nonexistence. That would probably not be so hard for Mateo to replicate, since she and Kivi were the only people he knew who had been taken out of reality. If there was anyone else, then he probably wouldn’t remember them. He concentrated on what he wanted to happen, and spun the astrolabe.
It happened just as Leona had described it. The astrolabe turned the Rothko torch, which sent a beam of light towards the Jayde Spyglass, and then the Cosmic Sextant, which split the beam in two, which each passed through the HG Goggles, which recombined the light into a laser, which passed through the Muster Lighter. This burned another hole into the map, large enough to attach the Escher Knob. When Mateo pulled on it, however, it did not open a morgue drawer. An entire door broke from the wall, and out of it came Leona. She was followed by Kivi. And Kivi, and Kivi, and Kivi, and Kivi, and Kivi. They just kept coming through, one after the other, after the other. All told, likely over a hundred different versions of her appeared. The last two people were none other than Kallias Bran, and Aeolia Sarai. The truth was that Mateo knew a lot more people who had been taken out of reality than he realized.
Surprisingly, the Constant was large enough to accommodate everyone. They proceeded to the recreational area, where a football pitch and basketball court had been constructed. The five non-Kivis stood before the Kivis, who were sitting in the bleachers. “Which one of you is ours?” Mateo asked.
A couple dozen of them raised their hands.
“Which one of you was last with us on August 12, 2338?” Mateo amended.
All of them lowered their hands, except for two.”
“Uhhhh...” was all he could say at this point.
“Which one was dealing with Anatol Klugman, a.k.a. The Warrior?” Leona clarified for him.
Both of the remaining Kivis lowered their hands, but one of them stood up and joined the group.
“Thank you,” Mateo said. “I’m sure you’re all very great Kivis. I think we’re just going to...uh, stick with...who we know...for now.”
None of the others seemed the least bit offended.
“What is going to happen to them?” Kivi!Current asked Danica.
Danica was watching the crowd, and reacted fairly slowly to the question. “I don’t know. I can certainly...keep them all here. Or they could go to the Sanctuary, or to different time periods. There aren’t any rules about this sort of thing.”
Mateo couldn’t help but interject and change the subject. “Hey, man, did we just cure you?”
“I think you did,” Kallias replied.
“What happened to that homicidal madman, and his homicidal alternate self?”
“Let’s not talk about that,” Aeolia warned.
Danica chuckled. “It looks like you five need to regroup and strategize. When you’re ready, take the elevator back up to the surface. It will be 2338 when you get up there.”
“What of my alternates?” Kivi!Current asked again.
“We’ll discuss it, and reach some kind of consensus,” Danica promised. “You belong with your friends...for now.”
They found a room and got the other two up to speed with what had happened since they were gone. Leona confirmed that she was ready to finish this thing once and for all, and Mateo had to be okay with that. As they were walking to the elevator, Kivi!Current suddenly disappeared on them. They could still remember she was once there, unlike other times when their memories had been erased along with her.
Shockingly, but also fittingly, one of the Kivis was waiting for them at the entrance to the chapel. “Which one are you?” Leona asked.
Kivi smiled. “I’m all of them.”

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