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Sunday, June 12, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: April 9, 2398

They teleported into the portal just as the time hit midnight, which they hoped would confuse the jump enough to send them where they wanted to go. This way they didn’t have to wait an entire year for something to go wrong with the reality hopper, and extraction mirror. It wasn’t the perfect situation, because it meant they couldn’t use the friend detector in tandem, but if the pattern held, either Marie or Olimpia would be waiting for them in The Third Rail. Neither Omega nor his partner, Valencia had any idea what it was, or what they would find there. Way out here in intergalactic space, there wasn’t anything to do but try to survive. It hadn’t even occurred to them to travel to other realities. They didn’t have much time to discuss it either way; Team Matic just needed to take a leap of faith.
Immediately, Mateo felt differently. He felt more normal; like he did when he was first alive. As for the jump itself, it wasn’t as jarring as the other ones. They all just landed softly on the ground in a big empty parking lot, and began to look around for clues. They were somewhere in a city that looked strikingly similar to early 21st century Earth. His initial thought was that it didn’t work, and they just went through the mirror to the past in the main sequence, but there wasn’t anyone here to extract, so that was unlikely.
“Spread out,” Leona ordered, “but don’t go too far. Let’s just figure out where we are first. Rendezvous point is that corner over there.”
“Do you feel that?” Mateo whispered to her. “That is, do you not feel it?”
“I do. We’re not connected anymore. Our superempathy is gone. That is not a good sign, I’m not gonna lie.”
“Guys?” Ramses asked before anyone else could walk too far from the group. “I recognize this from history class. I feel like it was in San Francisco?”
Leona walked over there, because she could no longer teleport either. A large structure could now be seen between the trees. “No, you’re thinking of the Coit Tower. We have one like that too. It’s the National World War I Museum and Memorial. This is Kansas City, and it’s not midnight. Though, you wouldn’t know it by my watch, which is not working.”
“Where can we go to get help?” Angela asked. “Where would one go?”
“The Salmon Civic Center,” Leona answered. “We’re probably a few miles away, assuming we’re in the right time period. Since I’m sure you’ve all realized by now that we can’t teleport, we’ll have to walk.”
“Poor you!” shouted a voice from a few meters away. “Walking, like a bunch of mortals! No beaming up here!”
“I’m sorry, sir, are you a traveler?” Leona asked.
“Yes, Captain, I am from the U.S.S. Enterprise. Reporting for duty. Beep boop, beep boop boop.”
“The robot is from Star Wars,” Mateo corrected.
“Whatever, nerd.” He started to walk away with his friends. “Don’t cross the streams!”
“I don’t think he’s one of us,” Angela pointed out.
They started their walk too.
“Anything on the friend detector?” Mateo asked Ramses.
“Dead silence, which doesn’t surprise me. Powers and time tech don’t work here at all, which worries me. This place is...”
“Wrong?” Mateo suggested.
Unsettling, I was gonna say, but that too.”
The walk shouldn’t have been so hard with their new bodies, but they were quite quickly exhausted and hungry. Fortunately, they were headed towards Allen and Richard’s restaurant, and if they found it didn’t exist in this reality, they would find somewhere to eat. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any money. Mateo’s magical wallet was completely empty, the pocket dimension inside of it probably having been destroyed when they came here.
That first group of bullies weren’t the only people they encountered that looked at them funny. Everyone was wearing tee-shirts, jeans, slacks, business suits, dresses, and pant suits. Their crew uniforms stood out here more than anywhere they had ever been. They were going to have to find some new clothes too. There was a slight chance they could remedy this soon. While Téa Stendahl’s clothing shop was technically located in The Hub on Tribulation Island, a branch sometimes reached all the way back to Earth in the Bran safehouse on the top floor of the Ponce de Leon condominiums. If such an intergalactic branch existed before whatever destroyed time tech happened, maybe that branch was simply severed, instead of retracted. Some of the clothes might still be in the safehouse. Mateo didn’t like their odds, though.
Around an hour later, they were at the spot. Richard and Allen’s restaurant had two sides to it. One was located on the inside of a secret little mall, where one could also find the club, the post office, the forger’s den, the bank, and a few other things. The outside, however, was accessible to the public, and should be right around—nope, not here. They were beginning to think this reality was generated through some other means besides a recognizable point of divergence. It may have resembled some point in history, but it wasn’t historically similar. They may not be able to find anyone to help them here.
“Excuse me, could you tell me the date?” Ramses asked a random passerby.
“It’s April 9,” she replied.
“And...the...?”
“You wanna ask me the year? Jesus, it’s 2398, cosplayer.”
“Is that a joke?”
She took out her phone, and showed them her homescream. April 9, 2398. Where the hell were they?
“Thank you,” Ramses said, politely, but with a frown. “There’s something very wrong with this reality. I’m starting to understand why we’ve all been warned never to come here. We may be stuck forever.”
“It’s not so bad,” came a familiar voice from behind them.
They turned around to find Marie, holding a bag of clothing in each hand. She didn’t seem surprised to see them, but relieved. They rushed over to her to engage in a group hug. “I can’t believe we found you,” Leona said happily. “You could have been in China, for all we knew.”
“Nah, I stayed around,” Marie explained. “I bet we had the same idea, to look for help in the Civic Center. It’s not there, by the way, nothing is. Someone was living in the Bran safehouse too, but I saved up enough money, and convinced them to sell a couple of years later.”
“A couple of years?” Ramses questioned. “How long have you been here?”
“Since 2394,” she replied. “Realtime. No time jumping here.”
“Do you know why?” Mateo asked her.
“Nope. Don’t know how I could find out. There aren’t any other travelers. This place is clean. I imagine that’s the point.”
“It also explains what’s happened with the technology here,” Leona said. “Without travelers, advancement slows. It doesn’t halt; we didn’t build the pyramids, or anything, but our people have contributed in small ways, and that adds up.”
“That’s basically what I surmised,” Marie agreed, “though I first died in the 19th century, so I’m not cognizant of very much of our secret history.” She looked from each face to the next. “Where’s Olimpia?”
“We don’t know yet,” Mateo told her. “There was a pattern forming, with each of us showing up a year after the one before, in another reality. As it turns out, you were sent to the past, so...Olimpia could be anywhere and anywhen.”
Marie frowned sadly. “Oh.” There was silence for a moment. “Well, you can stay with me, it’s a pretty large unit. We’ll figure something out later, and we’ll do it together...at last.”
“So, we’re not gonna jump to 2399 at the end of the day?” Mateo asked as they were walking across the street, towards the park.
“I don’t think so,” Leona answered.
“You’re not,” Marie clarified with a high level of certainty.
“Mateo and I might,” Leona said.
“I sincerely doubt it,” Marie contradicts. “I’ll give you a million dollars if you do.”
“Is that hyperbole, or do you have that?” Ramses asked. There was still a little bit of capitalism in his soul that came out every once in a while. He was indoctrinated into the belief and trust in it from birth, and that was not something that could just be cured, or surgically removed.
“Oh, I have it,” Marie said. “No powers, no pattern, no time tech, but I retained all of the skills we picked up in the afterlife simulation over the centuries. I can get any job I want. So could you, Angie.”
“I’m sorry you were alone,” Angela finally said something after reuniting with her alternate self.
“I’m not alone,” Marie contended sharply, and without elaboration.
When they arrived at the Bran safehouse—which surely shouldn’t be called that in this version of Kansas City—they discovered what she meant by that. A man was waiting for her in the kitchen, preparing them a meal. “Is this them?” he asked, unsurprised.
Marie smiled. “It is, they finally showed up.”
He wiped his hand on a towel, and shook theirs consecutively. “Very nice to finally meet you—there are supposed to be five,” he said to Marie.
“One’s still missing,” Marie said.
“Ah, I’m sorry to hear that, but at least you’re here, and that’s a start. Forgive me, I’m Heath Walton.”
They all looked at Marie, who snickered. “It’s a coincidence, but...I admit, it may be what drew me to him. Don’t worry, we confirmed that we’re not related. Though a version of me does appear to have existed long ago.”
“I’m glad you skipped over that time.” They nuzzled each other, and then kissed passionately, but comfortably. They had obviously been together for a while.
“Are you married?” Angela asked.
“We are,” Marie answered her. “We’re very happy.”
“How did you two meet, and how did you broach the subject of where you’re from?” Angela pressed.
The lovebirds looked at each other like they knew something special, which they probably did. “Do you want to tell it?” Marie asked.
“You better start,” Heath answered.
She giggled.
“Sorry, we’ve just never been able to tell this story before,” Heath added before it began.
“Well, when I first landed in this reality, I assumed that I had traveled through time. But that was fine, because I knew you all would be showing up soon. I was in the middle of a parking lot, though, and I felt very exposed, so I walked over to a building that had some stairs going down to the basement, or whatever. I sat there and waited. I waited for hours before another soul came by. It was Sunday, and he told me this wasn’t a good place to panhandle. I told him I was waiting for some friends, but he didn’t believe me, so he handed me twenty bucks. I couldn’t leave to go spend it, so he decided to go buy me a sandwich. I was dressed like a spaceman, of course, so he must have thought that I was just crazy. That food gave me enough energy to spend the night, so that’s what I did. Come morning, a couple of people who worked at that building didn’t take kindly to my being there, so they called the cops, who tried to remove me from the premises.”
“We’re so sorry,” Leona said.
“It’s not your fault. I don’t even blame Dalton anymore. It feels like destiny now. I admit, it was rough that first night, but then Heath found me.”
“How?” Ramses asked.
“Well,” Heath began, “my nephew came over, and started telling us a story about how a lady appeared out of nowhere in the parking lot. He was the only one who noticed and he was, uhh...eight at the time, so nobody believed him. He’s always had such a great imagination, and everyone assumed he was starting to realize that about himself, and make up stories on purpose. I don’t know if I fully believed him either, but he saw someone in that lot, and I just had this feeling that she needed help. I went out there looking, not thinking she would still be there, but I could see a ridiculous number of cop cars out there, and figured it had to have something to do with it.”
“He waltzed right through them and demanded they release me into his custody. He said I was his unwell sister, and thanked them for finding her. They still wanted to take me to a facility, but he insisted. He was so brave.”
Heath laughed. “I wouldn’t call it brave, but when your skin is even this dark, it can cause problems.”
“In the late 24th century?” Mateo questioned.
“Yeah, I think we’ve developed slowly in many ways,” Heath proposed.
“Anyway, I didn’t want to leave, but there was no other way,” Marie continued. “Now we know that you didn’t show up that day either, but we had always worried we missed that small window, because we had a couple years covered since then.”
“What do you mean?” Angela asked.
“I bought a camera,” Heath answered. At night, I snuck over there, shimmied up a lamppost, and attached it to the top. We could see the whole lot where Marie first showed up, and more. We kept an eye on the feed for a long time before somebody noticed it, and took it down.”
“By then,” Marie went on, “I had basically given up. I mean, it had been years, so we didn’t try to put another camera up. I’m glad I ran into you. I should have thought to always check on the days that fall on our pattern.” She shook her head. “So stupid.”
“Again,” Leona said, “we’re so sorry. Fault or no, Heath or no, I feel bad.”
“We need to put that camera back up,” Angela determined, “just in case Olimpia does happen to show up. And hell, maybe every traveler who gets stuck here comes in at the same place. It would be prudent to keep an eye out for them.”
“I can rig something up that will be virtually invisible,” Ramses offered. “You’ll be able to see it if you’re looking right at it, but it should be rather concealed. We could put one up on every lamppost.”
“Okay,” Marie agreed. “For now, Heath, we’ll refrigerate our planned dish for tonight. We’re goin’ out to celebrate; my treat. You should get changed, though.”

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