Sunday, May 8, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: April 4, 2393

Mateo looked at his wife, who was seething with anger. He was worried she was about to jump up and tackle this McCord girl, or whatever her name was. Thack seemed as lost as him, but then it apparently dawned on her. “Oh. Oh, that’s right. I forgot you went to their universe once.”
“It was not a pleasant experience.” That was the day that Leona learned she was just a character in a role-playing game, being moved around time and space by a group of children. She spent a lot of time in therapy with Bungula’s once-leader, Eight Point Seven because of all that. The one good thing about the situation was that she and Mateo were temporarily off of the Matic pattern, or Leona would still be in therapy today, working out her issues, it having only been six months since the trauma in that hypothetical scenario.
“What is this?” Mateo questioned. “I don’t know who this is. I should know everything you know, since Nerakali gifted me your memories during the time that I didn’t exist.”
“This was after that,” Leona said, not breaking her gaze from Xolta. To be sure, Xolta was one of the younger players she met, and the only one to express sadness over learning the truth about their game. If she had to run into one of those again, it was best that it was her. “This was when you were on Dardius, and I was on Bungula.”
“Oh, right,” Mateo recalled. “You didn’t talk about your time there.”
“Maybe it’s time I tell you the truth,” Leona said to him, finally looking away from the target of her fury. “Do we have time?” she asked Thack.
Thack bowed slightly. “Time has no meaning here. Miss McCord can wait.”
Leona went off to another room to explain what had happened to her those years ago. When they returned, the rest of the audience had cleared out. Only the team was left, along with Thack and Xolta. No one was talking, nor looked like they had been talking that whole time.
“Okay,” Thack continued, “as I was saying, this is Xolta McCord. She is a witch from Universe Prime, and she can age you up.”
“I haven’t actually agreed to that,” Xoltra reminded her.
“Yes, you have,” Thack corrected. She was not one to be argued with.
Ramses stood up, and shook the witch’s hand. “Ramses Abdulrashid. Mid to late twenties, please. I would very much appreciate it.”
Xolta waited a moment to see if anyone protested, but they were all just waiting to see what it would look like. Then she shut her eyes, and prepared herself. She quite slowly moved her hands around, like she was trying to find the exact right position.
“Is this gonna take very long?” Leona asked after a few minutes of this.
“I’ve never done it in the outer bulkverse,” Xolta explained. “I don’t know how to reach the gods from here.”
“The gods?”
“That’s just what we call them,” Xolta defended.
Thack placed a hand on her shoulder. “You don’t need the gods for this. It’s a local engagement. Just sense his body.”
Ramses opened his eyes back up, having closed them instinctively, and sported a certain look.
Thack reached over, and physically moved Xolta’s hand to Ramses’ chest. “Connect with him. Remember what I taught you about soulwork. Craft and spirit articulation are not so different.”
Xolta kept trying, until something apparently clicked. “I have it.”
“Now, don’t summon the gods. Use the words, but don’t worry about them. Use them to command Ramses to change directly.”
Xolta took a breath, and whispered, “eesa..avra..turo.”
Ramses did begin to change. He rose a couple inches taller. His hair lengthened. His skin wrinkled. By the time Xolta reopened her eyes, he was an old man.
“Oh no,” the witch lamented.
“What is it?” Ramses asked.
“Shit,” Thack said, which sounded very unlike her.
Embarrassed, Xolta held her left hand in front of her eyes, palm outwards. She then clapped it with her right, turned that palm outwards as well, and slapped them back together a second time. Finally, she slid them away from each other—quite abruptly at first, then smoothly—right hand downwards, and left hand up a little. Xolta’s face was gone, replaced with Ramses’ own. She turned herself into a mirror image of him. “I’m so sorry,” she told him.
“Is it not reversible?” he questioned.
“It is,” Thack promised.
“No, it’s not,” Xolta argued, “because this is one of the easiest engagements. I’ve done it a million times before, so if I messed it up, it means I just can’t do it.”
Thack put Xolta’s hands back together, and wiped Ramses’ face away. “That was one of the easier engagements, and you performed it beautifully, with no hesitation. You just need to concentrate harder on the one you really want. Do it again, but in reverse. We all believe in you...right?”
“Yeah,” and “we do,” the group confirmed, not all that convincingly.
Xolta took a breath. “Okay.” She placed her hand on his chest again, and reconnected with him. “Asee...arva...turo.”
That did it. As requested, Ramses was back to his twentysomething self.
“There,” Thack said happily. “Now the other five will be easy, ‘cause you know you can do it.”
“I would like to be a little younger than that,” Angela asked, bashfully. “If that’s possible.”
“Yeah, I can do that,” Xolta said.
“And I would like to be older,” Marie asked. “Just to tell us apart easierly,” she explained when people looked at her funny. “I’ll be the older one.”
I’m the older one,” Angela pointed out.
“By a few days, Marie contended. “Please, let me give this to you. I promise I won’t fall on my sword ever again. I’ll look thirty-five, but I won’t age beyond that, will I, Ramses?”
“No, sir,” Ramses agreed.
And so Xolta continued her magic, except that she was clear it wasn’t magic. Craft, as it was called—and very much not called witchcraft—was not magic. Nor were the gods. They were people who were in charge of certain technologies in her home universe, having used this technology to tap into a higher level of physics than most other cultures ever grew to understand. Craft was a way of hacking into this tech, except that the so-called gods were aware that this was happening, and rarely withheld it, though they surely could. They didn’t interfere with the regular people in the main dimension, for reasons no one could say, so this was kind of their loophole. Witches studied enough about the cosmos to learn some of their secrets, and that was fine.
Before too long, the whole team was back to where they belonged, not necessarily at the age they were before they died, but it was close enough, and exactly what they were looking for. Mateo was particularly relieved, more so than Leona, who had been trapped in a body younger than them all. That was precisely why he was so relieved. Ever since they transferred to these bodies, they were too busy with other things to dwell on how uncomfortable it was, looking so illicitly young. There was one specific thing it robbed them of. “Now we can have sex again,” he mixed company. 
“Mateo, damn,” Leona scolded.
“What, you’re my wife.”
“And we no longer have access to our grave chamber, so it’ll have to wait. We can’t even get back to our home universe.”
“Yes, you can,” Thack said. “Though I admit, I can’t get you back to your reality.” She ushered them into another room, where a young man was sitting in a recliner, reading something on an e-reader. “You can go home now. Your passengers are ready.”
The man shut off his device, and stood up. “Whatever.”
“Gang, this is—” Thack tried to say.
“No, no,” the young man stopped her. “Rule Number Two...”
Never be surprised, but never assume you have the whole story,” Olimpia recited proudly.
The man shook his head, and at the same time as Leona, recited, “no names.” He was pleasantly surprised by this, which was slightly ironic.
“You’re not the first person to tell me that,” Leona said.
“Where does he live?” Mateo asked.
“Fourth Quadrant,” Thack answered. “It’s the best I could do. I pulled a lot of strings just to get him here, and it cost me. He was not invited, so it was not received well. Getting you six in was easy by comparison.”
“Do you have a way back to the main sequence?” Leona asked of the man.
“Not personally. I’ll point you towards someone who might.”
“Thank you,” Miss Collins,” Leona said. Then she turned. “Thank you, Miss McCord.”
“Forgive me what my friends and I did in our youth.”
“I do not blame you,” Leona admitted. I blame him,” she said, implying The Superintendent.
Like Saga and Vearden, the way back to the man’s home was through a doorway. Evidently, the system was designed to prevent people from even realizing that they had traveled the bulkverse at all. The target left their house that day, was spirited away to another brane, and continued down the street, under the impression that nothing special had happened. Perhaps that was where the doorwalkers’ power came from, as some kind of extension of Westfall.
The man threw his keys in the bowl by the door, and plopped down on the couch. “I suppose you’ll be wanting me to offer you drinks?”
“That won’t be necessary,” Angela said. “Could you just take us to who might be able to help us?”
He leaned his head back all the way, farther than was medically wise. “I’m so tired. Can you just go yourself? Call a RideSauce.”
“We don’t have cell phones,” Marie explained.
He whined some more, and muttered unintelligibly. Now they could see the strings that Thack pulled. He wasn’t witness to the birth of a Boltzmann Brane material.
“That’s quite all right,” Leona said, pulling Marie away. “We’ll figure it out. Thank you for letting us hitch a ride back, Mister Mystery Man.”
They left his house, and stepped down to the sidewalk. Leona squinted her eyes in the sun, and got her bearings. “I can see downtown from here. We’ll just walk, it’ll be fine.”
“Do we get tired?” Olimpia asked Ramses.
“Yes, but after longer,” he answered. “Plus, we can teleport.”
“I keep forgetting about that,” Marie noted.
“I would rather just walk, though,” Angela said. “Despite the fact that the outer bulkverse is the greatest expanse than even a whole universe, it feels so claustrophobic, with all those lights swirling around.”
“It does, doesn’t it?” Leona concurred.
“Walking it is,” Mateo said cheerfully.
The Fourth Quadrant looked mighty different than it had before. While the main sequence chose to tighten themselves up into fewer and fewer megastructure habitats, this was more like what science fiction writers proposed for their stories set in the future. The buildings were sleek and shiny; more rounded, and less straight up and down. Each one was made of wildly different design, but they were seemingly constructed of the same materials. They fit together like a puzzle, as if someone had planned the entire thing from the start, and hadn’t begun until they knew exactly what they wanted it to be in the end. All of the cars that passed them were hovering half a meter over the road, while others flew overhead, possibly as drones, or maybe automated taxis. It was beautiful, and sprawling; clean and environmentally conscious.
Night had fallen by the time they reached The Capitol. It looked pretty much as it had the last time they were in this reality, though now with that new, advanced metamaterial. Two guards were standing at the entrance. They stepped forwards as they approached, and made it clear that they weren’t so much as allowed to enter the building.
“Hello,” Leona began. “My name is Captain Leona Matic. We are here to speak with someone who can help us return to the main sequence. Is President Natasha Orlov still in power? We’ve worked directly with her before.”
The guards looked at each other. “President Orlov is dead,” one of them answered in some kind of slavic accent. “Long live President Orlov.”
Mateo turtled his head towards them. “Like, a relative?”
“Her brother,” the other one answered. He checked his watch. “He’s the daytime president, at least.”
“And who runs the show at night.”
“That would be my brother,” came a voice from behind them. It was a woman, surrounded by her own posse of bodyguards. “Thank you, Arsenio, Stan. I’ll take it from here. Hi,” she said to the team. “My name is Skylar Spout, and we have all been expecting you.”

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