Thursday, June 30, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: April 27, 2398

Leona inhales deeply as she stands before the surprisingly small, nondescript building. She pulls in air so fast, it tips her backwards, into the car.
“Are you okay?” Mateo asks.
“I’m fine.” She doesn’t look away from her future.
“You got your phone?”
“Yes,” she answers.
“Call or text me when you need a ride back. I’ll plan to return here at 5:00 unless I hear otherwise.”
“All right, dear.”
“Were I you.”
“Sure, dear.”
“This is all you ever wanted, isn’t it?”
Now she finally turns to face her husband. “In another life...literally.”
Now he breathes deeply, and looks down at the car. “We’re right back where we started.”
She purses her lips into a tight smile. “I’ll see you tonight.” She can feel him watching as she walks up the steps. He doesn’t begin to drive away until she proves the door is unlocked.
Her key contact is eagerly awaiting her in the lobby. “Magnus Matic. It’s so nice to have you here. We’re all really excited to hear your thoughts on our projects.”
“What kind of projects would these be?” Leona asks.
“Not here,” Petra warns. She faces the security guard. “She’s with me.”
“I already have a badge,” Leona says. Whoops, she’s probably not supposed to yet. They didn’t think this through.
Petra doesn’t seem to care. “Okay.” She must assume that Denver made it for her.
She crosses the infrared barrier with own badge, and doesn’t even look back as Leona does the same using hers. They walk through several sets of doors—each of which requires their badges, despite the fact that there are no turn offs—before stepping into an elevator, which is open and waiting for them. There aren’t even any buttons to press, but there are security cameras in all four corners, as well as one where the buttons would normally be found, so someone must be operating it remotely. It feels like it moves pretty fast, but they’re in it for a really long time. They must be going many, many stories underground.
When the doors open, all they see is yet another set of heavy metal doors. Petra places her hands on the crash bar, but waits to push them. “Brace yourself.”
“Okay,” Leona says, sure it’s nothing she hasn’t seen before.
She’s right. Petra opens the door, and leads her down one more short hallway, then through an open blast door. They’ve walked into an expanse. A rocketship is towering above them. It’s maybe 150 meters tall. Petra’s not looking at it, but instead at Leona’s face, hoping for a profound reaction.
“Oh. Oh, wow,” she pretends to be impressed, though probably not convincingly.
Petra is the shocked one here. “Have you ever seen anything like this before?”
“No, of course not!” Oh God, more bad acting out of this dumb girl. Take some lessons, why don’t ya?
“Holy shit, do the Croatians have this kind of technology?”
What Marie and Heath decided after some thought is that Croatia in this world is a prosperous and fairly self-sufficient country. While Leona supposedly most recently conducted research in Denver, she came up in Osijek. It would be hard to disprove it. It fits nicely, because of her last name, but God forbid someone ask her to try to speak the Croatian language.
“What, uh...what is it? I mean, I know what it is, but what is it specifically designed for? Luna? Mars?”
Petra chuckles once. “Try Alpha Centauri.”
“Oh, okay.”
Petra scoffs.
That’s right, she’s meant to be amazed by all this. “I mean, that’s astonishing.”
“Magnus Matic! The fastest our current rockets could potentially arrive at the nearest star system would be four hundred years! This thing is engineered to get us there in half a lifetime. How have you not fainted by now?”
Leona looks over at her boss. Acting is not going to work, at least not in the way it should have from the start. Now she’s going to have to come up with a reasonable lie. “What is your form of propulsion?”
“Fission drive.”
“Ten percent of light speed, huh?”
“That’s right. Why? You think you can do better?”
Leona nods. “What you may not know is that I’ve spent a lot of time researching fractional theory. I can get you to at least 30 percent. I can get you fusion.”

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: April 26, 2398

Mateo and Angela are sitting in the living room together, reading their respective books from the library. Marie and Heath are out on the balcony, having a private conversation. Though, it probably can’t be too private, because any other resident could potentially hear them. A phone rings from their bedroom. Upon seeing that the two of them don’t hear it, Mateo gets up and goes inside. On the nightstand, he sees four phones lined up next to each other on what’s probably a wireless charger. On top of each one is a scrap piece of paper, tucked into the case, labeling them by name. Using his newfound genius level intelligence, he surmises that the one labeled LEONA is Leona’s new device. He answers it, and clears his throat. Then he almost laughs, because he remembers that being a problem back when he was just a normal person in the main sequence. The rational thing to do would be to clear one’s throat first, and answer second.
“Leona Matic’s phone.” A bright light shines into the corner of his eyes. He pulls his head away from it as fast as he pulls the phone in the opposite direction. He didn’t realize that it’s a hologram. “Oh, sorry. I thought it was audio only.” He didn’t even know holograms were a thing here in this time period. They have some weird expectations when it comes to technology.
The little lady standing over the screen nods respectfully. “That’s quite all right. Is Magnus Matic available?”
She must be talking about Leona. That’s his newfound genius coming through again. “I’m afraid she’s unavailable, she’s at work.”
Apparently surprised by this, the woman looks all around her. “I’m sorry, I was to understand she would be starting here soon.”
“Starting where?”
“Oh, forgive me,” she says in a horrified tone. “This is Magnus Petra Burgundy of the University of Usonia Kansas City Astrophysics and Cosmology Department. According to our records, Magnus Matic has recently requested transfer from U of U Denver.”
“Oh, yeah, right, of course. Yeah, she’s just working part time in retail. We were to understand it could take months for the transfer to go through. We sort of had to move out here on late notice due to family circumstances, so she just took what she could right away to support us.” No joke this time, that was a decent lie.
“That’s understandable,” Petra responds. “We foresee her ability to maintain her position, assuming it’s not too demanding, and still be able to work with us. However, when we received the notification for the request, we were quite ecstatic. Someone with her credentials and experience is exactly what we were looking for in regards to a special project we’ve been struggling with. I can’t say much over the phone, or to you, but we would be greatly relieved if she could begin work here immediately.”
Really? What fanciful claims did the forger make on her fake background documents? Magnus sounds like some kind of educational title, which he knows Leona not to have achieved in real life. Hopefully it’s not something she can’t fake her way through. “I imagine she would be happy to do that, though I cannot speak on her behalf. We just got new phones, so she forgot to take it with her today, but she’ll be back in the next few hours, if you would like to speak with her directly.”
“Yes, we would. And I apologize if calling today has caused any faith conflict. We know quite a bit about what Magnus Matic has accomplished in her time at Denver, but she did not list any shabatica. We operate seven days a week, but we respect our team members, and their disparate religious observances.”
“Rrrright,” Mateo answers, not sure what a shabatica is, but sure that he’s supposed to know. “I’ll give her the message.”
“Thank you.”
“Thank you.”
She just kind of stands there a moment.
“Could you hang up first? I’m not good with technology, she’s the smart one.”
“Very well.” The hologram disappears.
Mateo spins around, and comes face to face with Heath. “You found the phones?”
“Yes, Leona received a call.”
“Yeah, we bought them years ago. I don’t know why we bothered, it’s not like it would have been urgent. But we stuffed them in a drawer, and kept paying the data plans. I don’t know what kind of devices you’re used to, but you don’t ever turn these off. They will last for weeks on one charge, but they will eventually lose power. Even if you were to indeed switch them off, they would trickle it away slowly. We forgot about them, then Marie remembered last night, and rushed to charge them up. Y’all left before we could get them to you.”
“It’s okay,” Mateo determines. “She’ll be back soon.” He starts to walk towards him, like he’s trying to leave, but Heath doesn’t budge.
“One question.”
“Okay.”
“It’s going to sound random, but...do you like oyriri?”
Do I?” Mateo asks as if it’s obvious that he does. “Do I?” he repeats, but in a more genuine tone. “What is that?”
Heath pulls a hologram up on his own device.”
Mateo squints and turns his head into different angles. “That’s a pineapple.”

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: April 25, 2398

The team enjoys a fairly silent breakfast together. Leona and Ramses are about to leave for their jobs. The former will be back in five or six hours, but the latter has a full eight-hour shift. Mateo and Angela were planning to stick around for the next few hours until the library opens, but they’re starting to get the feeling that they ought to find something else to do in the meantime. “I would like to see that memorial,” Mateo announces.
“Is that safe?” Leona asks.
“As long as you don’t go snooping around the parking lot,” Heath says, “it will be fine. You are not a known associate of ours.”
“We’ll stay up on that hill,” Angela promises.
“You can borrow my car,” Heath offers.
“We’ll just walk,” Angela insists.
The four of them depart at the same time, leaving the homeowners alone once more. They continue the silence for a little more. “As far as I know, nobody watched the parking lot footage from yesterday,” Heath says.
Marie throws her napkin on the table, and stands up. “No one’s going to show up in the parking lot, Heath. That was a stupid idea.”
“Well, forgive me for trying to get you answers.”
“I’ll consider it.”
“Me being arrested has nothing to do with our current issue,” Heath argues.
“Doesn’t it?”
“No. You were already pregnant.”
“It’s not just the pregnancy, Heath! It’s everything!”
“You promised you wouldn’t yell anymore!”
“Hypocrite!”
“Hypocrite!” he echoes.
They both try really hard not to giggle at this ridiculous exchange, but they lose that war. Marie calms herself back down into a somber demeanor. “I need this, and I need you to support me. I’ve been thinking about my options, and I know you hate it, but I can’t bring a mixed-race baby into this world. If we somehow knew there was a way out, it might be a decent choice, but probably not then either. My life isn’t—even now—equipped to handle the responsibility. The baby would have to be like me, or I would have to become like it. This world suppresses my pattern, but it did not erase it. We have no idea what’s making it happen, but even if it’s built into the fabric of reality, that could always change, because I am not inherently bound to one reality. Most people take their physical laws for granted, but it doesn’t work like that for me. There are no constants, and children need constants.”
He doesn’t breathe in until she finishes. “I understand that. Now,” he adds. “I understand it now. I didn’t understand it before. I do support you, but that doesn’t change the fact that abortion is almost impossible to accomplish here. We never had the...what did you call it?”
“Roe v. Wade?” Marie assumes.
“Yeah, we didn’t do that. If there’s one thing the religions can agree on, it’s that you can’t kill human life. You can kill cows, and you can kill prisoners, because a sufficiently heinous crime legally strips the perpetrator of their humanity. You can even euthanize someone with their consent, but you can’t get consent from a fetus. Nowhere in this country could you be sure the procedure will be both safe, and not a trap. And if you get caught, you’re no longer human, like I was just saying.”
“What if we went to a different country?” Marie suggests.
Heath shakes his head. “It’s not technically illegal to have an abortion in the U.S. I mean that literally, the act is not against the law. If a medical professional is discovered to have done it, they won’t even get a slap on the wrist. That’s why it’s so dangerous to try, because they don’t have any real incentive to keep it a secret, so you have to rely on their altruism, which is difficult to test.”
“How is it both illegal and legal?” she questions.
“It’s illegal to have had an abortion. It doesn’t matter if you do it here, or elsewhere. Immigrants and visitors can’t come into the country if they’ve had the procedure. At all. There have been times in our planet’s history where travel from countries that provided legal abortions was outright banned by countries that criminalized it. It is for this reason that most countries have ended up criminalizing it too, in order to get these bans lifted.”
“Just so I know, in which countries is it currently legal?”
“I don’t know, and I don’t know how to find out, because searching the internet for it alone could be enough to put us on a list.”
Marie sighs. There is still so much she doesn’t know about this world. When and where she grew up, it was illegal to terminate a pregnancy, but she could have crossed the border to Kansas in certain cases, or Washington or New York regardless. And then she could have gone home, but in this reality, she can’t even do that? “What can I do? Is there anything?”
Heath waits a very long time to respond. “It’s not a guarantee, but there are certain foods that you can eat that might induce a miscarriage. They normally recommend pregnant people don’t eat them for this reason, and some stores monitor certain purchases in order to track them. The rumor is that if you start eating a lot of a lot of these different foods combined, it could compound your risk of a lost pregnancy.”
“Can you help me, Heath?” Marie asks. “Could you make that sacrifice?”
“Yes, but I can’t do it alone. I can’t purchase them either. Even though I can’t get pregnant, they still flag the order combos, because they’ll assume it’s for someone like you. We’ll need the whole team for this mission.”
“Thanks.”

Monday, June 27, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: April 24, 2398

Angela walks back into the library. She’s only been gone for the last sixteen hours, but it feels like too long. She could learn all she needs to know from the internet, from the comfort of her alternate self’s home, but there’s something about being able to literally walk through the data that makes this place feel like her home.
The head librarian smiles at her. “Back so soon?”
“Not soon enough,” Angela notes. “Why are you only open 10:00 to 18:00?”
Madam MacDougas frowns just a little. “Hm. Seems normal to me.”
Angela nods, but still doesn’t agree.
“What would you like to study today?” Madam MacDougas goes on.
“I’m still working on history.”
“Are you just going to go from the beginning of recorded history, and continue chronologically?”
“I imagine that’s going to make the most sense in context.”
“All right, dear.”
Angela walks past the counter, and into the stacks, heading for the history section. She passes by the sciences, where she notices someone she recognizes. “Mateo?”
“Oh, hey,” he responds, looking up from his book on quantum mechanics.
“How long have you been here?”
“Twelve years,” he answers. “I’m from the future.”
She chuckles.
“Thirty minutes,” he answers truthfully.
“It just opened,” she points out.
“I didn’t know that when I walked down here this morning. The librarian let me in early.”
“I see.” She drops her gaze down to his book. “Little...uh...little advanced, don’t you think?”
He tips the book towards him to check the title from above, even though he obviously already knows what he picked out. “Yeah, I’m starting to get that idea. I don’t understand most of these words, but I don’t know where to begin.” Or whether to begin.
Angela slips back into the stacks, and isn’t gone long before she returns with a thin white book with lots of pictures. “At the beginning. This is for children, but I assume you could use a refresher since it’s been so long since you were in school. Not judging, by the way.”
He’s embarrassed, but she’s right, and he sees that. “Thank you.” He sets the big book down, and cracks the new one open.
“Can I make another suggestion?” Angela asks after watching him for another few seconds.
“Okay.”
“Don’t study that if you don’t care about it. Couples don’t have to be interested in the same things, or even be at the same level of intelligence.”
He sighs. “I know.”
“Does Leona ever make you feel dumb?”
“Sometimes,” he replies. “She doesn’t do it on purpose, but I see how annoyed you people are when I can’t follow what you’re talking about.”
“I can’t speak for the others, but for my part in that, I apologize.”
“It’s okay, Angela. I’ve been this way my entire life. It’s not like I thought I was a genius. I just assumed I would end up marrying a retail clerk, or maybe another driver.”
“Well, I didn’t know you back then, but I’ve already seen improvement. Honestly, it’s a lot faster than most people I watched develop in the afterlife simulation. Granted, most of them weren’t trying, because they saw it as their end state reward, but they had a lot more time than you, and essentially infinite resources. I saw the value in enriching myself while I was there, but that was a personal decision. I never considered it some kind of universal maxim. It’s okay that you can’t pilot a spaceship, or build a computer from scratch with a toothpick and some twine. You’re still part of the team, and no one thinks less of you. I can make sure they don’t make you feel like that again.”
“Please don’t say anything.”
“Okay, I won’t. But again, don’t study that if you don’t want to.” She looks around the library. “There’s a topic in here somewhere that you genuinely do want to learn more about. Let’s try to find that instead. Let’s find your niche. We already have a physicist.”
“I guess, maybe...
“Go on,” she encourages.
“I could look into philosophy?”
“Sounds perfect. I’ll go find you some starter books.”

Sunday, June 26, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: April 23, 2398

Mateo stayed up all night while the forger was working, so he has to take in a nap in the middle of the day. Leona is anxious to get to her new job, but she is going to have to wait a few weeks. The access badge she was given is ready on its own, but the backstory is not. She can’t just waltz in there and expect the humans to be as accommodating as the radio-controlled doors. The lie is that she’s transferring from another university, but it will take time to process the paperwork, and field the calls that her future supervisor will make to verify the request. Ramses, on the other hand, is all ready to go. It only takes a single call from store to store to verify his transfer, and his manager doesn’t need a bunch of information in this regard. He’s a warm body capable of performing a hard reset on a laptop; that’s good enough. She decides to accompany him on his orientation just to offer support. He thinks that’s a little weird, but the manager does not.
“We’re always looking for new recruits,” Oswald tells her enthusiastically.
“Okay, um. I would only be able to work part time,” Leona explains, wondering if this is truly why she came. “I have something else in the evenings.”
“That’s fine,” Oswald says. “Can you start right now?”
“You don’t want to interview me?” she questions.
“All right,” Oswald decides. “Initiate interview: how much do you want?”
“Normal entry level pay,” she answers.
“That’s only thirty dollars an hour.”
“Wow. Inflation has gotten pretty bad, hasn’t it?” Leona muses.
Oswald shrugs. “Hm. Seems normal to me, but okay, entry level. Deactivate interview. Activate offer: you got the job. Do you want it, or not?”
“I’ll take it,” Leona agrees. And just like that, she has a day job.
“Good.” Oswald is relieved. “By company policy, I have to be in the room while you watch the orientation video. I generally prefer to start as many people as I can on the same day. Sorry, Mister Abda...Abdula—”
“Abdulrashid,” Ramses helps.
“Right. Sorry, but you have to watch it too, even though you’re a transfer.”
“That’s okay,” Ramses assures him.
The video is fine, but it might get tedious after having to watch it for the upteenth time. While Oswald is wearing his headphones against the back wall, cleverly placed so he can’t be seen not paying attention through the window, the two of them learn about where they’re going to work. An anthropomorphic diamond appears on the screen with a big smile on its face. “Welcome to Tialma IRL, our brick and mortar division of Tialma Systems. Just so you know, there are two other divisions within the main corporation: Tialma Digital, and Tialma Services. You may be working with other team members from these departments, so it’s important that you’re aware of them on your first day. Speaking of which, congratulations. You have chosen to work for one of the most innovative, socially conscious, and inclusive stores in the world. At Tialma, we believe that the customer comes first, the employee comes second, and the shareholders come last. We’re not here to make money. We’re here to support the community, and you’re an integral component of that strategy. Let me explain to you what we mean by that.”
Once the generic video is over, they’re given a quiz on it, which they ace easily. They’re then handed aptitude tests. Leona will just be a salesperson, while Ramses will work in the repair department in back. They each ace their own test too, affording Leona a ten dollar increase in pay, and automatically assigning Ramses as the lead technician of his team. Unfortunately, this means demoting the guy who already had that job. They’re starting to learn that this is a pretty cutthroat reality, which stresses competition over personal growth and success. You have to be the best, and then stay the best. The main sequence encourages healthy competition as well, but with a much stronger emphasis on the healthy part. The Third Rail doesn’t care how you win, just that you’re the one at the top of the hill. This mentality is probably what led to all of their wars. According to his new coworkers, Ramses’ predecessor ended up where he was because he sabotaged the team lead before him. They recommend he sleep with one eye open.
Leona has a slightly more pleasant experience on the floor. Her coworkers don’t have the same drive to destroy everyone else on the ladder with them. Thirty to forty bucks is enough for their single, studio apartment lifestyles, and they’re not going to work too hard to go places they don’t wanna go. They don’t think it’s worth it. Leona has always had ambition, but she’s also always appreciated just being relaxed and comfortable. She finds the job itself a little difficult at first. She’s incredibly intelligent, but she’s not too terribly experienced with this reality’s technology, so she makes a couple of mistakes. It doesn’t cause the company any money, but the customers wouldn’t exactly rate their visit an 11 out of 10 either. She’s entitled to the 40 an hour she was promised for today, but starting tomorrow, it will only be 39. She doesn’t care about the money, but she doesn’t like to fail, so she downloads the worker’s guidebook, the inventory specifications list, and several technical manuals for the most important items in the store. She spends about $150 on this educational material, which is almost all the money she made during her four-hour shift.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: April 22, 2398

If Marie and Heath didn’t work out their issues, they didn’t let the rest of the team know. They came out of Angela’s bedroom after an hour, and sort of pretended like nothing had happened. Their friends could occasionally hear muffled yelling from the other side of the door, so they obviously said something to each other, but it’s unclear where they were going to go from here. Instead of saying anything about it, they decided it was time for the other four to secure their own new IDs, because they could be in this reality for a while. Nothing came from screening the footage from the parking lot, so they planned a field trip for the next day.
In the main sequence, they could have gone to a man by the name of The Forger, who could create actual new identities for all of them. These weren’t just fake papers, backdated as far into the past as possible, but a rewritten history of their lives, using real documents from the real past. And they could rely on the Forger to not leak the truth about them anywhere else, because he’s one of them, and just as susceptible to exposure. The Third Rail is a different story, obviously. It took some doing for Heath to find a forger for Marie, and they are at constant risk of being discovered. If their forger is caught by the authorities, he could give up his clients. He says that he doesn’t maintain records—and in fact doesn’t even ask for people’s original identities—but he had to take their pictures, and pictures can be copied. It’s dangerous for them to go back to the same guy, but even more dangerous to try to find someone else. At least he’s lasted four years without confessing to the cops. Theoretically, he could last four more.
He’s not there, but this is clearly still a document forging operation. They can see all the equipment behind the counter. A very young woman has her legs propped up on it. She’s scowling in a this place was better before they put in a door sort of way, and apparently upset about having to put down her book. She has an abstract tattoo along her jawline, and a funky haircut with a purple streak. The only thing missing is a lollipop in her mouth, or maybe seventeen sticks of gum. “Yeah, he’s dead. I’m his replacement.”
“Replacement?” Marie questions, “like, you interviewed?”
“No, I was more like an apprentice. Now it’s all mine. Behold, old ones, my exquisite palace of shit.”
“You don’t sound too enthusiastic,” Ramses says.
She turns to look at him. “The way I see it, if I’m too eager to do my job, I might be too eager to remember anything about my clients. I don’t care who you are. I don’t care why you need this. I only care if you have the money. Once you walk out of this room, you’re gone. I don’t wanna see you again. And if I do, it won’t matter, because I have a superpower.”
The team looks amongst each other.
“Not literally, they actually call it a disorder. I cannot detect or recall faces. Like, all I see are six people standing in front of me. I can’t tell you apart. When I hand you your packets, you’ll have to figure out whose is whose. That’s why I’m so good at this, and why Ramos chose me in the first place to carry on his dumb Kansas City secret legacy. Now. Do you want your IDs, or not?”
“Can we pick our own names?” Angela asks.
The forger shrugs.
Angela turns to Marie and Heath. “There’s no reason we can’t use our normal ones, right? I mean, we just need to be able to drive, and stuff. We don’t need to hide.”
“That’s how we saw it,” Heath replies.
“In fact,” Mateo says. “If anyone out there recognizes one of our names, we probably do want them to approach us. Even if they’re dangerous, we need answers.”
“I can explain,” Marie says to the forger, trying to think of a believable lie.
“Like I said, I don’t care. I need three things: your money, your chosen names, and for each of you to sit in that chair over there, and pose for a few photos. I have multiple backdrops for different IDs, along with some shirts you can borrow. I always do birth certificate, passport, and driver’s license. Those are included, but you can pay more for student IDs, certain employee badges, and even bank cards. I’m currently running a deal where if you buy one of the extras, I’ll throw in a library card for free. If you cough up enough money for a military ID of some kind, we go into the backroom, and I’ll let you do whatever you want for twelve minutes.”
“Uh, that’s okay,” Leona tells her. “We don’t need that.”
“You all can get whatever else you want,” Heath promises them. “Don’t worry about the money.” He jiggles his duffel bag of cash.
“We might could use a military ID,” Mateo declares.
“Excuse me?” his wife questions.
“But instead of twelve minutes in the backroom, I want to stay here and watch you work, for however long that takes.”
The forger narrows her eyes at him, and thinks about it. “It’s $10,000.”
Mateo looks to Marie.
“Okay, you can get it, but you’re eating all of your vegetables tonight,” she agrees. “And no dessert.”
“Oh, he can have dessert. I may not recognize his face, but I can see dat body,” the forger explains.
He grimaces, but of course, nothing happens between them that night. He just wanted to make sure she would do the job as they asked, and he was also curious how it would all come together. They may never need the military ID, but it could prove useful. Stolen valor is no joke, but Mateo can conceive of a situation where it’s their only way to solve a problem, or get out of a predicament.
He’s not the only one who opted for upgrades. Both Leona and Ramses ask for employee badges; her to an astrophysics lab, and him to an electronics corporation. It’s not the largest, nor the best, but it’s the only one the forger has access to. Now they can take all the equipment they might need, and also have some means of studying this reality. Angela takes one of the library cards for herself, and Mateo takes another. She wants to learn more about their new world, and he wants to finally learn something. All told, this ends up costing them $28,000, but neither Marie nor Heath are fazed, and it could one day save their lives.
“How was your night?” Leona asks when he returns the next morning.
“It was fascinating,” Mateo answers. “You probably would have liked it.”
“That’s great. One thing, though.”
“Okay?”
“You’re sleeping in the living room with Ramses tonight. You can come back to bed tomorrow.”

Friday, June 24, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: April 21, 2398

It should have been a happy reunion, but Fairpoint bogarts the conversation right away. He’s first through the door, followed by Heath and Angela. Before Marie can even hug her husband, he starts to yell at her. “You lied to me! You told me he didn’t know about the baby!”
“I said that we’ve not had the chance to talk about it,” Marie defends. “I never said he didn’t know. It was literally the last thing he found out before we got separated.”
“What is this?” Fairpoint questions accusatorily. “Who are you people? Why did this happen to Heath?”
“We told you all that we can,” Marie continues. “Why are you still so pissed off about it? It’s done.”
“It’s not done. Now I’m out there. Now the authorities know my name. Now I’m on some list.”
“You’re not on a list,” Heath argues.
“You don’t know that!” Fairpoint growls. “Who are these people?”
Marie tries to reply, “My sister—”
“No!” Fairpoint interrupts. “I want him to say it, because I’m starting to get the feeling that it’s all bullshit, and if your stories don’t line up perfectly, then I don’t know what I’ll do.”
At this, Heath loses it. The truth is that most of the team doesn’t know him that well, but their first impression was that he was incapable of anger, or at least incapable of expressing it. This moment disproves that. He slams his ex-husband against the wall, and holds his chin up with his forearm. “You know what I’ve done when someone has threatened my family. You know how far I’ll go, because I’ve gone there for you. I don’t know what Marie told you about what’s happening here, but whatever she said, you’re going to accept it. If you don’t, you’ll only see me again under one condition, which is if you leak any of what you know to external forces, and if you do that...Fairpoint Panders, it will be your last day above ground.”
Fairpoint reaches up, and yanks Heath’s arm off of his neck and chest. “You and I are done. I’m done with all of you. No more favors.”
“That’s fine,” Heath agrees. “We should never have kept in contact.”
“Clearly.” He opens the door, and walks out of the condo.
Marie tries to hug her husband again, but Heath catches her wrist midair, and gently keeps them off of his shoulders. “You knew I couldn’t have children. You told me you couldn’t on a physical level.”
“There’s a famous chaotician back where I’m from,” Marie begins. “He says...life finds a way.”
“I will always love you,” Heath says, practically ignoring her meaningless explanation. “I will always protect you. But right now, I can’t even look at you.”
“I’m taking care of it,” Marie spits at him.
“You can’t do that. That’s just as bad. The Daltomisik states—”
“I don’t belong to your religion, so I don’t have to worry about what your stupid book says.”
“We’ve already talked about this, Marie! You can’t just—”
Now Angela interrupts. “Hey!” She takes the both of them by the hand, and drags them down the hallway, into the bedroom she was using. She steps back out. “We learned this technique when we were training to be a counselor, remember?” she reminds Marie. “You’re staying in here until you can find a resolution.”
“This is our house, we can leave—” Marie starts to fight.
“I just spent a week in a holding cell for you. Stay! In! The room!” Angela slams the door between them. “Love you!” she yells too, but affectionately this time. She exhales, and walks back over to the group. “I don’t know if that’s going to work, but we don’t need to hear all of that. It is none of our business, and it is not my problem.”
No one else says anything. They just frown at her.
“Oh, it was fine,” Angela claims. “The police chief’s religion preaches killing your enemies with kindness. From what I gather, like, they sometimes interpret that literally. I don’t know how it works, but it must be a lovely way to die. Still, I’m glad to be back with my people. Tell me, what have you learned?”
“About all the religions, errr...?” Leona asks.
“No, about the parking lot. Did you...see anything?”
“We haven’t done anything with that,” Ramses apologizes. “We haven’t looked at the feed, or...”
“What have you been doing this whole time?” Angela scolds.
“Mostly worrying about you.”
Angela rolls her eyes. “Four people, eight days of footage. Rambo, load it up, divvy it up, and shut up. All we have to do is get through the last week, and then it will be easier to keep an eye on it in realtime. I want answers, don’t you?”

Thursday, June 23, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: April 20, 2398

Mateo Matic is not a very smart man. He hasn’t had a lot of education, and what he did manage to get through, he didn’t pay much attention, nor retain it. That’s why he became a driver. That’s not to say all drivers are stupid, but it he excelled at it, and he wasn’t great at anything else, so it made the most sense at the time. Even since all this, he’s had opportunities to enrich himself with knowledge, but he hasn’t really taken them. That’s fine, that’s why he has people like Ramses, Leona, and the Angelas. It’s also one reason he misses Olimpia so dearly, because she’s more like him. Despite all this, he’s still been around for quite awhile, and in that time, he’s grown wiser.
Jessie did not appear to be a threat, but he didn’t want to take a chance. After listening to her stories, he escorted her to her car parked by the side of the road, and then reentered the woods. He did not return to the bunker, though he was certain he knew what direction it was, which he was proud of himself for. Instead, he pulled out his bivy sack. It’s very small, but useful in situations such as these, and he’s grateful that it survived the destruction of his bag’s pocket dimension. It’s kind of weird, really, that all the essentials survived. His e-reader, and extra clothes are gone now, but he has a sleeping bag, pocket knife, and he had extra water, until he drank it all to turn it over to a fresh cycle. When Ramses got ahold of him through the radio, Mateo relayed that he needed to sleep outside tonight. He didn’t say why for fear of being eavesdropped on, but his team accepted it, and didn’t try to lure him back. If Jessie, an associate of hers, or some other nefarious party wanted to find out where Mateo’s friends were hiding, they were going to have to wait ‘til morning. That seemed unlikely.
Unprompted, Fairpoint called Marie the next late morning to inform her that he was finally on his way to the police station to find out where Heath and Angela were. She reminded him of what was at stake here, and what the authorities were allowed to know. Apparently, atheists are conventionally that way when it comes to religion, but so-called agnostic in terms of anything else. They don’t care about police brutality. They don’t care about racism. They don’t care about war. They think all these things are bad, to be sure, but they’re generally comfortable in their superiority, and find that trying to alleviate suffering can lead only to frustrating inefficacy. Religious people are the passionate ones. Some are on the wrong side of any given issue, but atheists don’t usually get involved at all, so someone like him needs to be directly encouraged to go out of his way to do the right thing. It should be okay. He sounds like he understands the concern, and is going to do everything he can.
“So we still have to wait,” Mateo presumes.
“It could take hours,” Marie replies. “They may make him wait, or not agree right away to let him advocate. There’s no telling how they’ll handle this. It all depends on the religious makeup of that station.”
“God, why does religion always have to mess things up?” Leona questions.
Marie twitches at this. Mateo was Catholic once, and he knows this academically, but The Superintendent stripped him of all his faith just before he tore him out of the timestream for half a century. Leona was born enlightened, and Ramses at a time after superstition had faded significantly from culture. Out of all of them, Marie and Angela could recall belief the best. Back when they were only a she, she did lose her faith over time. It was reportedly common for dead people to stop following the lies that their particular prooftexts claimed once they learned the truth. It wasn’t a given, though. There were those who continued to believe. Pryce’s afterlife simulation, after all, was just that; a simulation. It could never explain what happens after one dies. It only demonstrated that it was possible to technologically stave it off indefinitely. Some of the more intelligent religious people recognized this reality, and continued to believe in some kind of actual divine power that was still out of reach. Though to be fair, if they were so smart, they probably rejected mysticism anyway.
Here, religion has taken over society, but unlike most fictional depictions of such a world, there isn’t one governing body that lords over the innocent people. It’s not a cult of belief. It’s a cult of belief in belief. That is a lesson that the main sequence began to gradually learn for themselves in the latter days. It’s not really any specific denomination that ultimately proves itself no longer worthy of devotion. It’s the very idea of devotion to the unscientific. Young generations realized that simply believing in something that isn’t real is detrimental to healthy and ethical personal and sociological advancement. It doesn’t matter that a certain sect donates money to the poor, or accepts gay people past their doors. The act alone of trying to convince someone of a lie—even if you are genuinely convinced of it yourself—is immoral at the highest level. The only sane and virtuous path is the one towards observable truth. If what you think can only stand on its own potential to be true, then it is not true, and ought to be ultimately rejected. This is something that Mateo doubts the people of this planet will ever come to accept.
The phone rings. Everyone holds their breath as Marie listens. She then says, “okay,” and hangs up. “We’ll see them tomorrow. It’s over.”
No, Mateo thinks to himself, this has just begun.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: April 19, 2398

Still feeling the feels from their serious conversation yesterday, both Marie and Leona choose to sleep in, and make it a lazy Sunday. When Ramses goes on one of his walks, Mateo decides to go with him so he’s not making any noise down in the bunker. They only make it half a kilometer away before Ramses announces that he won’t be able to go any farther.
“What’s wrong?”
“I guess my body’s not used to the freeze-dried meals. I’ve been having trouble all week, but now it’s just...”
“I understand, we’ll go back,” Mateo says.
“No, I don’t want you to do that. I’ll go back, but you should keep going. The nature will do you good. It’s been a long time.”
“It hasn’t been that long,” Mateo points out. “We lived on Flindekeldan not two months ago.”
“Trust me, despite the terrible things Marie has told us about this place, the woods are peaceful. And there’s no one else for miles and miles. Just enjoy it. I really gotta go.” He runs off.
Mateo is about to slowly follow, but then figures he may as well do as asked. He keeps walking, hoping not to get lost. He remembered to pack one of the two-way radios, so it should be okay. Before too long, he realizes that Ramses was right. Flindekeldan was great and all, but there’s something special about this particular forest. It could be some kind of side effect from whatever is canceling out their powers and patterns. Maybe he’s always felt like a time traveler since he was 28, but now he’s normal again, and it’s changed him into something he doesn’t recognize. Is this how regular people feel all the time? They probably don’t think about it much.
A couple of hours later, Mateo squeezes their predetermined code into the radio, and gets the appropriate reply, which means he’s still within range. It’s probably time he head on back, though. He hears something that stops him. Oh, no. What is this? This is another thing, isn’t it? This is just like when he came across Cassidy Long in Gatewood, or that time he ran into his future self, or that time he became the future self, and met his past self. It’s gonna start something, and he doesn’t have time for it. Still, there’s someone over there, and he has to know who it is, and why they’re there.
He snakes his way through the brush, and comes to a small clearing. A woman is kneeling on the ground, presumably praying. Three pipes are sticking out of the ground. Does this religion worship some kind of metal God? She gasps, and stands defensively. “I don’t want any trouble, and I don’t have any money.”
“Neither do I,” Mateo agrees. “I’m just on a walk. I didn’t mean to disturb your....uh, ritual.”
“It’s a monument,” the woman counters.
“Okay.” He doesn’t need to know any more.
“To my friends.” She points to each one: “Frank, Lawrence, Jefferson.”
“Okay,” he repeats.
“I was placed underneath one of these once. They saved my life, so now I honor them by erecting a monument in every city we ever lived in together.” She clearly wants to tell someone about it.
“That sounds nice.” He clearly wants to leave. Marie needs to know about this in case she considers this woman a threat.
“Would you...please stay? I don’t have anyone to talk to about them, and they deserve to have their story told. I always try to find someone to listen, but this is the first time someone actually showed up at the site, so it feels like fate.”
He smiles sadly at her, then swings his bag off his shoulders, and drops it off the ground. It’s a bag of holding, which was designed to access a pocket dimension. That no longer works here, but a random assortment of items managed to stay in the normal part of the bag, including two small, light, camping stools. He pulls them out, and extends them with a flick of the wrist. “I’m Ma—artin. Martin.”
She doesn’t seem to notice he had to come up with an alias. “Jessie.”

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: April 18, 2398

They’re sitting in the bunker again, just as helpless as they have been most of this week. Fairpoint has not gone back on his word, but it’s Saturday now, so he can’t get in to see Heath and Angela-slash-Marie until Monday. All they can do is wait and hope. God, Mateo hates relying on other people to get things done. Fairpoint is not part of the team, and he can’t be trusted. In the future—and Mateo isn’t sure if he remembers why he knows this already—there will be a new member of this team that can disguise others using her temporal power. When they look at each other, they’ll see their real faces, but when others look at them, they’ll see whoever the team wants them to see. They will be able to turn themselves into anyone, which is a power that he could use right now. He would waltz into that police station, looking like the president of the United States, and order them to release his friends. Then he could end religious war, racism, and all the other global issues. Yeah, it would probably be that easy.
“He doesn’t want kids,” Marie says out of the blue, breaking the silence. She doesn’t look anyone in the eyes, though. She stares straight ahead.
“Heath?” Leona asks.
“It’s like Fairpoint said, Heath is not a zealot,” Marie goes on. “But that doesn’t mean he isn’t religious at all. In his culture, certain people are allowed to have children, and certain people aren’t.”
“What’s...the criteria?” Leona asks tentatively. Is that okay to ask?
Now Marie faces her friend. “Skin color. He’s too light. His bloodline ends with him, because it’s been diluted.”
“That’s...not okay, Marie,” Leona says.
Mateo and Ramses decide to stay out of the conversation.
“I know. Believe me, it was rough learning that about how he was raised. Lighter skinned people have a place. They have responsibilities. So it’s not like he was shunned. Genetics is really complex. It’s not as easy as saying, you can’t have a baby with a white person, though they do say that. And before you think they’re the worst of the worst, plenty of white denominations have similar rules, and some of them are pretty horrific about it. There’s been a history of...I don’t even wanna say the word.”
“It’s okay, we get it,” Leona assures her.
“Anyway, light-skinned babies come from dark-skinned parents all the time, and they just have to assign them certain roles because of that, and disallow procreation to keep the rest pure.”
“How do they feel about you?”
“They’re fine with me,” Marie insists. “They don’t have a problem with white people—though, they would change their minds if they knew my father was a slave owner, as was my arranged betrothed. He promised them he wouldn’t have any kids, and they accepted the risk.”
“What will happen to your baby?”
Marie is silent for a long time, and nobody tries to force her to continue. “I do not have a baby,” she explains. “I have a clump of cells in my uterus.”
“Marie...” Leona doesn’t know what else to say. There is probably nothing she could say.
“I’m not going to carry it to term. I’ve told you I’m happy, but that’s only because of him. I’m not happy here. This is the worst reality we’ve been to. At least the warmongers in the Fifth Division were honest about who they were. They didn’t hide behind divine mandate, or passive aggressive pseudo-tolerance. You’ll see. Stay here for another few months, and you’ll see.”
“We can get you out,” Leona told her. “You and your baby, we’ll get you out of here.”
“And then what?” Marie questions. “Heath can’t come with me down the fourth dimension, so I’ve lost him. There is no guarantee the baby will be like me either. I wasn’t born like this, and we don’t really understand how all that works. I didn’t even think I could have children. I told him as much. I didn’t lie, but I suggested he would have nothing to worry about. Now I have this thing inside of me, and I can only think of one halfway decent outcome.”
“I’m not going to try to convince you to make any particular choice,” Leona begins. “But I’m going to tell you that if you decide to have that child, I’ll love and protect it to my dying breath. Mateo and Ramses can make the same assurance, as I’m sure Olimpia would. Angela has already proved as much. It’s important you know this.”
“Thank you,” Marie says. “I’m pretty convinced already, and I plan to make an appointment with the doctor once I get my identity back, but it’s nice to know you’re by my side.
Leona leaned forward, and opened her arms, but didn’t initiate the hug. She waited for Marie to make that choice too. “I love you.”
“I love you.”
“Were I you,” Mateo says to all of them.

Monday, June 20, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: April 17, 2398

Fairpoint Panders is a consultant. Marie isn’t quite certain what that entails, or exactly what kind of projects he consults on, but she knows he has to travel a lot to do it. He usually goes out on a Monday morning, and comes back on a Friday afternoon. She doesn’t have his exact schedule, so the team has to sit in front of his house all afternoon, watching for activity. They have a creepy white van, which they hope neighbors won’t call in as suspicious. Finally, Fairpoint’s classic car pulls up to the driveway. Classic might not be the right word for it. It’s easy to forget that this is 2398, so this thing is positively ancient. Either somebody worked really hard to restore it to working order, or history is a lot more bizarre than any of the newcomers can fathom.
They move the van farther down the block, but still keep an eye out in case he leaves again. They then wait another hour to walk up to the house, because they want to give him time to settle back in, and they don’t want it to look like they’ve been staking out his place all day.
“How long have you been waiting out there for me?” Fairpoint asks.
“We just arrived,” Marie lies.
“I saw you there when I came home,” he reveals. “I didn’t realize it was you, but we’ve had a few break-ins in this neighborhood, so I notice things like that now.”
She gives in. “We just wanted to give you time to get some dinner, or take a shower, or whatever.”
“How thoughtful,” Fairpoint says sarcastically. “Now what the hell are you doing here?”
“Did you hear about Heath?”
His face drops. He looks devastated.
“Oh, no. He’s not dead. He’s just been arrested.”
“Your fault, no doubt,” Fairpoint assumes.
“It was mine,” Mateo blurts out.
“Can we come in?” Marie asks. “I’ll explain everything.”
He thinks about it. “Just you two, and only because I want him to be doing most of the explaining.”
Leona glares at her husband. He apologizes with his eyes. She and Ramses go back to the van to wait.
“Are you thirsty?” Fairpoint asks as he’s gesturing them towards the chairs in the parlor.
“We’re fine, thank you.”
He shrugs and grabs his own beer as he’s sitting down across from them. “Go.”
Mateo looks to Marie for guidance, but they don’t have the telepathic connection that came with his marriage to Leona, so he realizes he’s going to have to handle this himself. “Heath and...Marie’s twin sister were arrested for trespassing and disorderly religious conduct the other night. We need your help advocating for their release.”
“Why can’t you do it?” Fairpoint questions.
“Fair point,” Mateo jokes.
He rolls his eyes. “It was my mother’s name, I’m not ashamed of it.”
“As you shouldn’t be,” Mateo said. “Anyway, the authorities don’t think she’s the sister. They think she’s Marie. So Marie can’t go to them and get her out.”
“What about you and the other two?”
“We have no one that we’re capable of pretending to be.”
“Why do you need to pretend to be anybody?”
Mateo’s gotten better at lying over the years. In one form or another, he usually has the advantage of being a time traveler, or more specifically, of them not knowing this about him, but it doesn’t feel like that’s going to help him here. “We’re deeply embedded, and our true identities must remain a secret...for now.” Vague, not too nefarious-sounding, and altogether meaningless.
Fairpoint takes a sip. “You never mentioned a twin sister.”
“Now you know why,” Marie answers.
“No, I really don’t. You haven’t told me anything.”
“Don’t do it for me,” Marie begs. “Do it for him. Don’t worry about the details.”
“Heath Walton is not a zealot. That’s why I love him.” Fairpoint addresses Mateo. “You see, sir, I’m an atheist, and the only people that religious people hate more than competing religious people are people who don’t believe in anything. If he was arrested for zealotry, it’s because he was covering for something else...or someone else.”
Mateo waits to answer for an appropriate amount of time. “I’m an asset. I know things. More than anything, I can’t be discovered.” Also vague and meaningless, but maybe a little too intriguing. “Please, Mr. Panders, help me make this right. He wasn’t supposed to get wrapped up in this. An—” No, no names. “Marie’s sister said she knew someone in town who could protect us.”
“And she sacrificed herself to protect my baby,” Marie interrupted.
Fairpoint darts his head back over to her. “I just...” He’s seething a little. “Since I know what kind of person you are, I need to know...is it his, or do you even know?”
“There is zero chance that it’s not his,” Marie promises. “I just found out, so I’ve not had time to talk with him about it. Get him back for me so we can have that discussion. And don’t tell them anything about who my sister really is, or that her friends are involved.”
Fairpoint looks at Marie’s still flat stomach. “You always knew what buttons to push. I’ll do it, because I know that one day, he and I will be the couple with the baby, and you’ll just be—”
“A forgotten mistake,” Marie recites. “I recall.” She sighs.
He chuckles, and downs the rest of his beer. “I’m gonna need another, and you’re gonna need to get the hell out of my house before I start thinking of ways to trade you for him.”