Sunday, July 31, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 28, 2398

Leona’s supervisor is not happy. She suddenly took vacation time, but promised to return soon. Then she extended it. Then she extended it again. She didn’t deliver any new data that whole time, so Petra is starting to think that there’s something fishy going on. She’s not rageful, or anything, and she hasn’t already made the decision to fire Leona, but she’s getting there. “You’re back.”
“Yes,” Leona confirms.
“I was beginning to think that you defected to a competitor. I’m still not sure that you haven’t.”
“I haven’t,” Leona says simply.
“Did you have fun on your vacation?”
“It wasn’t a vacation,” Leona reveals. This statement is true in the end, but where the lie begins is the explanation of what she was doing while she was claiming to be on vacation. She drops a tablet on Petra’s desk. “Plans for a tritium extraction facility. This is decades beyond what anyone already has, and once I’m done designing the reactor, we’ll actually be able to do something with all those isotopes you create.”
Skeptical, Petra lifts the tablet, and starts to tour the 3D model. She narrows her eyes in some places, and widens them in others. She then swipes over to the next page, which details specifications and production objectives. This is where she gasps. “Are these efficiency numbers accurate?”
“Completely,” Leona claims. “I’ve been working, I just haven’t been in the office.”
“Why would you keep that a secret? Did you go somewhere?”
Leona doesn’t respond, instead looking like she doesn’t know if she can say anything at all.
“What did you do?” Petra questions, becoming nervous as well.
“I think it’s best if you don’t know. Plausible deniability.”
Petra stands up straighter, and exhales through her nose. “Nothing illegal, I trust.”
Leona bobs her head. “More like...internationally complicated and delicate.”
Petra clears her throat. “You’re right, I don’t wanna know.”
“I’ll probably have to take more trips. I’m not just some genius who randomly came up with this stuff on my own. It’s borne from my experiences, and contacts. Sometimes I might have to reach out to these contacts, or conduct field research.”
“Very well. If you ever need to take time off,” Petra says with airquotes, “then let me know, and now I know that I shouldn’t ask any more questions.”
“You won’t be disappointed,” Leona assures her. She leaves the office, and begins to walk down the stairs when she notices someone she never thought she would ever have to see again, standing on the bottom step, looking up at her. Leona’s former observer—and prolific sexual harasser—who Petra agreed to dismiss three weeks ago, is staring at her menacingly. “How did you get in here?” she asks him impolitely.
Holger Bandoni shows his most evilest grin. Suddenly, he’s standing right in front of her, having somehow teleported up the steps, despite that being unheard of in this reality. He takes her by the shoulders, and tosses her over the edge, only to teleport down just in time to catch her. “Love knows no boundaries. Love walks through walls.”

Saturday, July 30, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 27, 2398

Ramses is responsible for taking readings in the Bermuda Triangle while Leona holes up in her little cubby to work on her fusion solution. He offered to help her with it, but she wants to do this herself. Obviously, he would never try to take credit for the accomplishment at her work—she doesn’t even care about that herself—but it still seems wrong. She’s already being dishonest with her employer regarding her background and experiences. She had to iron out a well-considered legal document that expressly barred the University from publishing her name, or other identifying information, anywhere for public consumption. In exchange, she agreed to not share the technology with any other entity. That goes against her instinct to make knowledge free and accessible, but that wouldn’t be good for her either, because it would shine a spotlight right on her face.
Before he quit his job at the electronics store, Ramses managed to steal just enough parts and equipment to build the instruments that they’re now using to conduct this research. One thing they’ve gathered is that the closer they are to the exact center, the stronger their time powers are, and the easier it is to teleport. Range appears to be stretched too, though that’s hard to test, because they’re in the middle of nowhere. They’re getting wet a lot, trying to test this out. They’re regretting the limited time they spent trying to figure out what was maintaining The Constant’s temporal energy, because it would have been a lot easier to walk around an underground bunker. This is worse since they can’t even travel all the way to the bottom of the ocean because the pressure is too high for The Olimpia to withstand. Fortunately, they’ve recently become confident in their assessment that depth is not an advantage. The energy appears to be sourced at the surface, rather than from something deep down in the abyss. The problem is, they still can’t actually find it.
This close to the center, higher concentrations of temporal energy seem to be more sporadic and—to put it in fitting terms—more fluid. It’s almost as if bursts of energy spontaneously emerge inside the water molecules, which float around until used up. They’re also pretty sure that these levels have been declining since they arrived, which makes sense, what with them being there to spend this energy. They have scooped up samples to be stored in the vehicle’s drinking water tanks, and will later study whether levels change after being removed from the area, and possibly even figure out how to compound or synthesize more energy. So far, even all this is not enough.
After the upteenth time testing to see if something changes about the water when heat is applied, Ramses trills his lips.
“Nothing interesting?” Mateo asks, knowing the answer.
“I think we should leave,” Ramses answers.
“Yeah,” Mateo agrees. “No land masses, no special shipwrecks. “It’s just a bunch of water, which somehow, for some reason, stores temporal energy. I don’t see any reason to stick around. I think it would be more beneficial to check out the other known locations, like Easter Island, Giza, and Stonehenge.”
“Oh, I’ve been meaning to ask about that,” Heath says, having seen it on Mateo’s list. “What is Stonehenge?”
The cubbies offer some privacy, but they aren’t exactly soundproof. Leona slides open the door. “You don’t have Stonehenge? In England?”
“What’s an England?” Heath questions, avoiding making the usual joke about thinking it sounds like the name of a band again.
Leona steps out, and walks over to the control room to initiate a map on the heads-up-display. She zooms into where the United Kingdom should be, but tilts her head in bafflement. She zooms out again, and drags it over, and back in. She keeps trying to find it, but can’t. “How have I not noticed this before?”
“Noticed what?” Ramses slides into the room, and looks at the map too. “Oh my God. Where is it? It’s just more water.”
“It doesn’t exist,” Leona utters, fascinated. “The North Atlantic Isles don’t exist.”

Friday, July 29, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 26, 2398

This was originally planned as a six-man operation. Well, actually, it was only going to be five men, but they lucked into finding Mateo, and decided that he would be a good sacrifice. It’s going to be a dangerous mission, but if Mateo doesn’t help, the rogue veterans say that they’ll out him as a fake Dominus. So Leona, Ramses, and Heath agreed to participate as well, so he wouldn’t have to do it alone. The military guys were hesitant, because they don’t understand that this is not at all the first mission they’ve been on. It’s just the first one they can talk about with these people. Heath is the least experienced, though, so he was assigned to stay with The Olimpia to provide air support, along with Captain Tarboda Hobson. They have lucked into having a fancy flying carboat submarine too. Perhaps it is the once-immortal time travelers who should be leading this superhero team-up adventure. Ah, yes, that’s the new plan.
Here’s the mission. A cargo ship is headed for the states, carrying perfectly normal goods, and also a bunch of innocent women and children to be sold into sex slavery. This is the consequence the country faces when it comes to religious freedoms. Slavery is not legal, but there are ways around getting caught by declaring privacy, exploiting loopholes, and executing well-coordinated timing. If they travel from the right port, and arrive at the right port, at the right time, they’ll be able to unload the trafficked people, and erase all evidence that they were there. The rogue vets intend to intercept this ship in international waters. This will be illegal, because it’s considered a form of privacy, and there’s no explaining that away. It’s this whole thing. That’s why they’re doing it, because if teams like them don’t, no one will.
The superempathy that Ramses built into their new bodies—which is still, for whatever reason, strongest in Mateo—allows them to sense each other’s feelings. That’s what it was designed to do, so they can at least communicate as much amongst the team members without anyone else noticing or knowing about it. To a certain degree, this also gives them a heightened sense of general empathy, which works on anyone they meet who happens to have a soul. It’s not perfect, but it gives them a pretty good idea when someone is lying. According to Mateo’s readings, the rogues are telling the truth about the mission, and their convictions. They’re not saints, but they believe that what they’re doing is right, and Mateo does not believe that the people running the ship don’t deserve what’s coming to them. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.
Here’s the plan as they drew it up after three more people signed on. Seven of the nine members of the taskforce are meant to sneak onto the ship from below, and break off into two teams. Technically, three of the soldiers are on one team, and two of the travelers are on another, but they’ll be moving throughout the vessel together. While Mateo and Ebraim go up to commandeer the bridge, the rescue team will head for the shipping containers of abductees. The strike team, lead by Goran, will protect both the rescuers, and the refugees that they find. Any help they might need from the outside will be provided by Heath and Tarboda on the fourth team.
It’s not safe, and it’s not guaranteed they’ll win, but the biggest issue with this plan is that people will most likely die. It might not be any of them, or even any of the refugees, but Team Matic is not fully okay with that. For various reasons, they’ve had to kill occasionally, but it’s never been something they’ve planned. Well, there was that one time Leona conscripted an alternate version of Reaver to stab Ulinthra with a dagger that erases her from time. And when she murdered Erlendr Preston in the afterlife simulation, it was pretty premeditated. But other than that, killing has been a last resort. This is so calculated, so intentional, and therefore so...wrong. So that’s not what they’re going to do. Instead, the time travelers manage to lock all of the soldiers in the galley, and steer their boat as far away from the intercept point as possible. They get free, but Ramses teleports away at the last second. When he arrives back on the Olimpia, the real mission begins.
They do sneak onto the cargo ship, and they do rescue the refugees, but they don’t kill anyone, and they don’t make a mess of things. They escort them all onto a lifeboat, drop it into the water, and distract all the guards and whatnot with a small explosion in the engine room, using explosives they stole from the rogues. The secret plan goes off without a hitch, and no one is the wiser.
The rogues are pissed when they break down the door, and make it back to the location of The Olimpia, having missed out on all the action. But they’ll get over it, and besides, it’s not like there’s no more work for them to do. It will be their responsibility to tow the lifeboat to safety. Do they have to go back to Santo Domingo? Will the U.S. take them in for asylum? Will another country? These are questions that Team Matic can’t answer, but there is one question that they can respond to quite swiftly.
“You will get those people to safety, wherever that might be. You will not return to the cargo ship to kill all those criminals, or harm them in any way. They are dead in the water, so you will contact the authorities anonymously, and let them do whatever it is they do. You will not tell anyone about what you know of Mateo’s situation, or even that you met any of us at all. If this is not clear, then I will kindly point out that we managed to achieve everything you wanted on our own, without any of them seeing our faces, or being able to tell you how we did it. I don’t know what you’ll take from that, but if I were you, I would start to think that I underestimated us at first. There is no telling what else we can do when properly motivated. Is any of this not making sense?” Leona Matic understands astrophysics and technology. She knows main sequence film history through the year 2028. But goddammit if delivering threats isn’t her best feature. The men all nod silently, now sufficiently afraid to do anything to anger her. This is where they leave it.
While the soldiers drive off to finish the mission without further supervision, the Olimpia heads farther out, to the exact center of the mysterious Bermuda Triangle. They were dubious that they would find anything out here, which is why Mateo and Leona chose to check it off the list of special temporal locations while getting a short vacation out of it. The fact that they can teleport in this region, just as they could near the site of The Constant, is interesting to say the least.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 25, 2398

It wasn’t easy, getting on a commercial flight to Bermuda at such short notice. It’s a popular destination, so lots of flights go out there, but this is the beginning of vacation season, so most of them were pretty full. Heath and Ramses deplane, and head for the exit. Ramses gets on the phone. “We’re here, where are you?”
“I’m about an hour and forty-five minutes away,” Leona replies.
“What?” Ramses questions. “You were meant to wait for us.”
I was worried I would lose the signal. I’m still worried. I need to come back and scoop you up, but what if he gets out of range. I already feel our psychic connection wearing off.
Heath takes the phone. “Leona, have you been going in the same direction the whole time?”
Yes,” she answers.
“Then we have a good idea where they’re headed by now,” Heath reasons. “Come back and get us. “You probably need to refuel anyway. We’ll leave as soon as we can, and get back on the trail.”
Okay,” Leona concedes. “I’m coming back.
Mateo is about 600 kilometers from Bermuda right now, traveling on the same bearing since departure. There’s nothing on the map out here, so either the men who took him are trying to get to Cuba, or they’re going to rendezvous with some other ocean vessel. All she knows is that they’re on a boat, and she’s on a plane. She can catch back up to him, even after flying all the way back to the island, but it’s going to break her heart if it turns out she can’t find that trail again.
Heath may be wrong. Mateo’s abductors could turn to a different direction at any moment. One thing that gives her comfort is that her husband feels okay right now. He was not doing well yesterday, but he seems to have recovered. He’s not happy, per se, but he’s not scared or sick anymore, so at least there’s that. Like she was saying, though, they might lose their empathic connection, either by moving too far away from each other, or just because the temporal energy that they’re working off of is used up. One good choice Leona made is to call up some help. She doesn’t know who they’re going to be up against, and she shouldn’t try to fight them on her own. Angela and Marie are still in Kansas City, moving forward with Operation Backup Twin, as one of them decided to start calling it.
As calculated, Leona lands back on the road within two hours. They take a little bit of time to replace the fuel cells, so they can be at optimal operational capacity. Leona never does lose the psychic link, but she can still feel Mateo getting farther away from her until the three rescuers get back in the air. Before they get too close to the enemy, they drop out of the sky, and transform into a boat. This is when they start putting on their tactical gear, and checking their weapons. “So, the reason we stopped flying is to be stealthy, correct?” Heath asks the group.
“Right,” Leona agrees.
“Why don’t we just go sub?”
Leona stops adjusting her thigh holster. “What? This is a sub?”
“Yeah, did I not tell you that?”
“Uhh, no.”
“Oh, yeah. This is a sub.”
“Put us down,” Leona demands.
Heath stops what he was doing, and engages the controls. They dive deeper until The Olimpia is fully submerged. Blast shutters slide down over the windows automatically, but Heath reverses them, under the assumption that they won’t be going very deep.
“No, put them back down,” Leona says. “I wanna kiss the bottom of the ocean. The closer we are, the more difficult it will be for the enemies to detect us, if they’re expecting anyone at all.”
“Very well,” Heath agrees. He does as he’s told, and sinks deeper and deeper and deeper, but then he stops.
“What’s going on?”
“This is as deep as we can go,” he warns. “It can only handle a couple hundred meters. That’s pretty good for a vessel this size in the 24th century.”
Leona sighs heavily. “Fine. Keep going.” She points towards the front. “That way.”
They maintain their pursuit, hoping that the boat doesn’t see them coming. Even if they do, though, what are they going to do about it? They probably don’t have torpedoes, or anything. The element of surprise would be great, but just being able to rise up to the bilge would be helpful on its own, as Ramses suggests. They don’t get that chance, which disappoints him a little.
Mateo gets on the radio, and makes contact. “Olimpia, Olimpia, come in.
“This is the Olimpia. Go ahead,” Leona prompts.
I wanna show you somethin’.
I’ll be with you in a second. I just need to get something from my cabin.” A minute later, Mateo teleports himself into the Olimpia. “I don’t have much time. I obviously didn’t tell them what I can do, so they can’t walk in to find me missing. Surface so we can talk in person. And put away those guns. I’ll explain everything.”

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 24, 2398

Mateo wakes up woozy, tied up and rocking on the metal floor. It was the heat that woke him, frying him from above, and scorching him from below. It’s probably the hottest part of the day, and he can’t move to find shelter. He immediately finds that he’s tied up, his hands together, and tightly bound to a railing of some kind. A salty breeze slips in between the bars, enough to burn his eyes, but not enough to cool him down. He’s on a boat. He pulls himself into a sitting position, but he can’t hold it for long. Whoever did this didn’t care how hard it would be for him to get comfortable, didn’t realize, or did it on purpose.
Two feet approach him, which are presumably attached to a body, but he can barely see above the ankle. He just can’t turn his head enough to get a good look, and even so, the sun would probably blind him. He hears two claps, and then the feet walk away, only to be replaced with two new feet. A voice he recognizes says, “afternoon, soldier.”
“I’m not a soldier,” Mateo groans back. It’s hard to talk, he’s so thirsty.
“Oh, we know,” Ebraim replies.
“Are you gonna kill me?” Mateo asks him. “It’s okay if you are. It wouldn’t be the first time I died. I always manage to come back, I’m sure I’ll figure it out again.”
Ebraim gets on his hands and knees to cut the zip ties. He clears his throat authoritatively as he’s pulling Mateo up and over into a more tenable sitting position. “The way you say that, you almost sound like one of us.” He nods and breathes loudly through his nose, looking over toward the other side of the boat. “Every man here has died at least once.”
“I’m not a soldier,” Mateo begins, “but I am a fighter.”
He coughs involuntarily. “I believe you. That’s why you’re here.”
Mateo looks around. “It’s why I’m where, and doing what?”
“We’re presently in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle, traveling at eleven knots, bearing Southeast deeper into the middle of nowhere, and you’re with us, because our mission happens to be a six man operation, and until you came along, we only numbered five.”
“But you know that I’m not one of you.” Mateo is still struggling to enunciate.
“We don’t need you to have any experience,” Ebraim explains. “We just need another warm body.”
“You mean you need a human sacrifice,” Mateo guesses.
Ebraim chuckles. “You’re so smart, why are you lying about who you are?”
He adjusts his position a little, and smacks his lips. “Water.”
Ebraim doesn’t break eye contact as he lifts his left hand, and snaps his fingers twice. A man Mateo doesn’t know yet places a bottle in it, which he transfers to Mateo.
“I just needed a new life.” When in doubt, be honest, but maybe not too honest. He does not intend to throw the forger under the bus, or say one word about his own team. It just needs to be believable, and only moderately close to the truth. He also shouldn’t add too many details. “I needed a new identity. The forger asked me if I wanted military credentials. I was in a pretty bad way at the time, and it seemed like an all right idea. I didn’t really think through the consequences. He gave me this little card that said I’m blah, blah, blah. I tucked it away, and didn’t worry about it. I didn’t think it would actually come up, because what I didn’t realize is that he also put my name in the system. It actually looks like I bear rank, and have a record. It’s only recently come back to bite me in the ass, I’m really sorry.”
Ebraim laughs again. “Ah, hell, we don’t give a shit about that. Way I see it, if the military doesn’t kill you, it screws up your life. The only way out is to lie, steal, and cheat. I’d be a hypocrite if I thought only people like me deserved to break the rules. I’m not a good man, but I’m not a hypocrite.”
“This isn’t a sanctioned mission?”
He helps Mateo to his feat, and starts to lead him into the inside part of the boat, whatever it’s called. “It’s sanctioned by the five of us. I suppose that’ll hafta be good enough. You don’t mind, do ya?”
“Why are you talking differently now?”
“My mama’s southern side comes out every now and then,” Ebraim replies. “I don’t work as hard to suppress it among friends.”
Now Mateo laughs. “I reckon we ain’t friends.”
Ebraim smiles. “Well, we’ll see. Let’s start small. Allow me to introduce you to the rest of the team.”

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 23, 2398

When Mateo and Leona Matic first arrived on the island on Thursday, they wanted to treat it like a real honeymoon, which means that they consummated their relationship like bright eyed twentysomethings who hadn’t lived and died a number of times together. Huge mistake that was Mateo’s stolen valor notwithstanding, they were having fun, and it took them a bit of time to realize why they were so in sync. Their faux wedding night was the first time they slept together since Mateo returned from the past. The reigning theory is that Mateo spent so much time in The Constant that he was able to absorb a certain amount of temporal energy. It was evidently not enough to give him even temporary teleportation powers, but his empathetic connection with the team is back. Well, at least he feels Leona’s emotions. She seemingly feels his because he was able to unwittingly share it with her. It probably won’t last, but they have it now, so they’re going to enjoy it.
They have also been enjoying all that Bermuda has to offer, including horseback riding, boating, and other water activities. They’ve done a lot already in only a few days, so right now, they’re just sitting on the beach, watching the calm of the waveless water. They’re just minding their own business when two men approach them from the side. One of them takes off his sunglasses, and the other does not.
The first one is obviously in charge. “Dominus Matic?”
Mateo clears his throat. The excitement surrounding his presence at the resort has died down, but anyway, they’re on Clearwater Beach, which is about 30 kilometers from the Sutton. No one should be looking for him here. “I am,” he answers regretfully.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, sir.” He reaches his hand out, forcing Mateo to stand up respectfully. “I’m Executor Ebraim Hardashev. This here is Premier Goran Peck.”
Mateo looks down at Leona in his periphery. She covertly and briefly drops her thumb down, indicating that those ranks fall below Dominus. “Happy to meet you two.”
“Listen, we were wondering if we could buy you a drink.”
“Umm...I’m here with my wife, and we have a day planned, so...”
“Oh, I understand,” Ebraim says with a nod. “But hey, if you change your mind, you’ll find us at this little nice place by the runway they call The Short Cut, not a click and a half from here. I’m sure you’ll love it. Lots of vets call it their second home away from home, as compared to this whole island, of course. Anyway, we’ll probably be there all night.”
“That’s a nice offer. I’ll consider it.”
Ebraim bows with his head, waves a short goodbye, and walks away. Goran, meanwhile, remains for a moment before turning away stoically without a word.
“You know you can’t go,” Leona says.
“Obviously.” That doesn’t mean this isn’t still a problem. If people all the way out here know who he’s lied about being, nowhere is safe. Who knew that traveling a thousand kilometers from the states would cause him more trouble than the exact center of it would? Maybe it will be okay. They’re going to leave tomorrow early afternoon, and then he’ll go speak with that forger himself about getting this all resolved. Military credentials are not worth the danger. Unfortunately, he may never get the chance to fix his mistake at all. He’s abducted from his bed in the middle of the night by four men.

Monday, July 25, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 22, 2398

Word spread throughout the resort that a military officer had arrived, placing Mateo in an awkward position. Now when he walks into a room, people applaud his valor, unaware that it was stolen. They’re not sure how the resort found out that he had military credentials, because he certainly didn’t advertise it when they requested a room, but it doesn’t matter now. The imaginary cat is out of the bag, and of course, being imaginary, it’s much more difficult to put it back in. The honeymooners are determined to stay out of the spotlight, which means signing up for activities on the other side of the island. They just hope the fake news hasn’t somehow circulated beyond the grounds.
“Why is this such a big deal? I mean, I know it can be a big deal, but they don’t know anything about me. They don’t know what I supposedly did.”
“It’s your rank,” Leona explains, still looking at the computer. “Dominus is a fairly high title. You’re theoretically responsible for about two thousand people.”
“Jesus. Why did that forger do that? I just thought we might need to steal some weapons from a military base. I don’t need to have this huge, complicated backstory.”
Leona spins her chair around. “You know why she did that. She probably thought she was doing you a favor, making you look like a big hero.”
Am I a hero?” Mateo questions.
“Looks like it. Your specific exploits are as classified as you would expect, but you have a few pretty major medals.”
“Two thousand people,” he echoes. “If even one of them comes forward...”
Leona turns back at the screen. “It doesn’t say which regiment you ran. But yeah, people here might expect you to tell them. I’m surprised, but glad, that no one has yet.” She shakes her head, trying to figure out how they’re going to get out of this. “Look, people like you’re pretending to be are often expected to look and act a certain way. That can cause us problems, but it can also work out in our favor. You can be the strong, silent type. Say few words. Don’t react too strongly to stimuli.”
“I shouldn’t pretend to be triggered by PTSD?”
“Absolutely not, Mateo, that would make it worse. You’re already far over the line. Just don’t give people any opportunity to ask too many questions. Now here’s the hard part; it’s really hot, but I can’t seem to find any evidence one way or another for what kind of tattoos you’re expected to bear. You’re going to have to cover up, just in case a savvy person walks by and wonders why you don’t have your district emblem on your shoulder, or whatever it may be.”
“Maybe we should just go.”
“That would make things worse too,” Leona warns. “Then people will wonder why you only stayed one night, and maybe they mention it on social media...”
“They could say something on social media now!”
“You’re right, which is why I’m calling Ramses, and asking him to make a visit to that forger. She put you in this mess, and she’s going to get you out of it, by whatever means necessary. If that means forging more documentation, or scrubbing the internet of your presence, then so be it. We’re going to have fun on this vacation, fraud or not.”
“Okay. In that case, which do you want to do first; snorkeling, or ziplining?”
“Neither. I’ve always wanted to go horseback riding.”

Sunday, July 24, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 21, 2398

The day off is over for the group in its entirety, but that doesn’t mean that the fun is over for everyone. They still have at least another week and a half before the trip to Croatia can take place, so some are preparing for that, but not everyone. Marie and Angela are back to work. Ramses and Heath are off buying various things for the mission; probably too much, in the end. This is a good opportunity for Mateo and Leona to spend some alone time together. They never really did have a honeymoon. They’ve decided to head for Bermuda. They’re only going to stay for a few nights, and it’s not only about the vacation. Back in the main sequence, anyone who wants full and permanent immortality, is required to drink from eleven sources of water, in the proper order, and within a particular time frame. Each is from a different location, and not necessarily in the same time period. The second type of water is called Existence. Along with the eighth water, Time, it’s not inherent to the process of being immortal, but in preventing one’s immortality from being undone by a time travel event. If a seeker goes out and finds all the other ten waters, but a time traveler goes back and kills their grandfather before he can have children, all of it will be erased from history.
Existence is found in what’s known as the Bermuda Triangle. According to what the team learned about it, the triangle isn’t special on its own. There are a number of perfectly reasonable explanations for why ships and planes have historically gone missing in the area, the number one being that it’s a heavily trafficked region of the world in the first place. Asking why such things seem to happen so much more often there than other places would be like wondering why people tend to die of heatstroke in the desert and never at all in Antarctica. Apparently the mystique and misconceptions about the Bermuda Triangle imbued it with its power, but no one has ever heard of it being able to do anything, except for being the source of one of the immortality waters.
No one on the team has ever been anywhere near Bermuda, or its triangle, so it’s on a special section of Mateo’s list for locations that they have simply heard of, but to which they have no personal connections. They probably won’t find anything, which is precisely why it makes sense to cross it off the list now, rather than dedicating too much effort to it. Leona is in charge of piloting The Olimpia out there for them. Mateo was sort of wrong in believing it to be completely automated. It is, to be sure, but not in the way he was thinking. It’s not something that can be operated by any idiot with a pulse. It takes a lot of training, or enough comparable experience to figure it out. Heath has such training, and Leona is just smart.
The two of them land in a safe area without any traffic, drive to the resort, and wait in line to check in. They were surprised that there were any vacancies at such short notice, but happy to get what they wanted. The concierge perks up when she sees them. “One moment please.” She runs off, and returns with another woman.
“Dominus Matic, we are honored that you chose to stay at Sutton Bermuda West. We have placed you in the Prometheus Suite, but if it’s not to your liking, we do have an Emperor Suite available at the Sutton East. Just say the word, and we’ll transfer you.”
Leona shuts her eyes, and pinches her nose. This is what she was worried about.
“Oh, uh...thanks. The Prometheus will be fine. Or really any room.”
“Glad to hear it. Follow me, I’ll take you there personally.”

Saturday, July 23, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 20, 2398

They asked the McIver family to keep what they learned about the true nature of reality a secret. The kids don’t know everything, and it looked like all the evidence was destroyed in the implosion that created an entire lake out of practically nowhere. It was going to be tough to explain to all the people who lived around there, and knew there was no such body of water, so they decided to go stay with their aunt and uncle in Utah for a bit until things cooled down. They always wanted to sell the land anyway. It’s not like they can manage to farm themselves, and they never really wanted to anyway.
Team Matic can’t be sure that they can trust these strangers, but when have they ever? At some point, concerning themselves with what might happen is just going to make living life even harder. If the government comes to E.T. all their asses, well...then they’ll deal with it then. For now, they’re going to stay at home, and try not to worry about anything at all. It’s a day of rest, and likely the last joint day off for a while. Leona postponed her return to work until next week, Ramses is newly unemployed, Mateo is still unemployed, Heath is already on sabbatical, and Marie and Angela are taking a personal day. They’re not just going to relax, though. They’re going to see the sites.
Moreso than the differences, it’s the similarities that this version of Kansas City shares with its main sequence counterpart that they find interesting, especially Angela. Marie felt the same way when she first arrived, but she’s grown used to it by now. The Fourth Quadrant was borne of the original, while the Parallel had a region that they called KC, but which did not resemble anything they had seen before. The Fifth Division seemed to not have anything on Earth at all, except for a small oasis in the middle of nowhere, at least part of which was holographic. It’s inexplicable and bizarre that this version should have the same World War I Museum and Memorial. It looks the exact same, and is in the same place, and this does not make any sense. WWI happened in the 1910s over there, but in the mid-19th century here; closer to the period of the United States Internal Conflict that the five aliens recall. Even just having the same city and state names is ridiculous. The countries, the oceans; none of it can be explained.
Something has to be driving these similarities, or let’s face it...someone. One or more of the Prestons are the most logical culprits, since they’re definitely capable of such things, but they’re not the only ones. Anyone they’ve met with such power has the potential to spawn alternate versions of themselves, if only through the help of others. Cassidy Long, the Repairman, or any one of the countless Jupiters, could also be behind this. They might be doing it for nefarious reasons, good reasons, or even with more of a neutral stance. Mateo realizes  now that he needs to make a special list of candidates. That doesn’t mean that it will help them get any answers, because it will be a shock to run into anyone they already know. Hell, even say, Vearden Haywood’s sister, Allison would be a noteworthy surprise. But it still makes sense to make a list.
Right now they’re standing in front of the Love Kansas City mural. “You didn’t tell us about this,” Leona almost accuses Marie.
“I didn’t know that the main sequence had one too. I died in 1816.”
“You’ve seen this before, though,” Mateo reminds her. “We came here.”
“I guess I forgot. What do we do with this information?”
Leona considers it for a long time. “What we do is all go on that trip together.”

Friday, July 22, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 19, 2398

Angela is sitting at the computer, wearing her headset, resting her chin on the palm of her hand. She’s looking to the side of the computer, bored out of her mind. The job is not easy, and it doesn’t really have downtime, but there are lots of little moments where there’s nothing she can do but wait while the computer runs.
Ange. Ange!” Marie alerts her through the headset.
The script is done.
“Did it go okay?”
You tell me.”
“What am I looking for again, red text?”
Yes, but there are other errors you need to look out for,” Marie reminds her.
“It looks good to me.” Angela moves her pointer over to close the window.
“Wait, what?”
You’re supposed to do something else before you exit out.
Angela stares at the screen, and tries to recall what she’s talking about. “Am I supposed to...instantiate the panda?”
No,” Marie laughs. “Confirm the bug report, so it ends the log at the last run. Otherwise, the next report will just start immediately after, and make it harder to find the one we’re looking for later.
“Oh. Right, right, right, right, right.” She confirms the report, then closes the window, and then tries to back over to the library.
No, what do you do next?
“I know!” Angela defends. “I just accidentally clicked on the wrong window.”
Angela switches over to the spreadsheet. “Why do I manually log the number of bugs every time? Isn’t that what the report is for?”
The contract supervisor doesn’t want to read through all those reports, and in fact, isn’t probably capable of understanding them. All she wants is a productivity log, so she can show the client that we add value to their company.
“This is dumb, it’s too much work,” Angela complains. “Can’t the computer just do this all for us?”
Angela!” Marie cries. “We’re the ones who write the programs, which automatically do the things that the employees at our clients’ companies would be doing themselves! That’s the whole purpose of scriptwriting. It has to start somewhere.
“Why can’t it start with an artificial intelligence?” Angela questions.
Someone has to create the AI in the first place, which they do through scripts, and other tools. And the kind you remember from the other realities you’ve been to are far beyond what The Third Rail has achieved thus far. It’s gonna be another couple of decades before we have a program that can write new programs.”
“Is that what we’re working on? Are we working towards that?”
Hm, I guess you could think of it that way. Once we deliver this particular script to the client, they’ll approve it, and probably ask us to train the individual or team who will be actually running it regularly. Right now, that person or people are doing all of it on their own. This will cut down on the time it takes for them to complete their job, and/or allow their bosses to give them additional work. Theoretically, we could write another script that’s designed to run before this one, or after it, which automates even more of that work. Automate it enough, and you might be able to fire the humans. You might clear out an entire department, or a company. That’s not what the client is asking of us right now, but it’s probably headed that way. That’s part of what drove automation in the main sequence. These people are just slower. The executives might realize this, and be hoping for it, or they might have no clue. It’s probably the first one, and what they really don’t that a script could one day take their jobs too.
“It could one day take your job too.”
Marie laughs again. “Yes, but I’ll be the last to go. That’s why I picked this field. Someone has to write the job-stealing scripts, and until that true AI shows up, such a job is guaranteed. Basically, if my job isn’t safe, no one’s is.
“Sneaky snake.”
“Oh. I forgot I can refilter the executions, now that the bug tracker is finished.”
That’s okay, we were talking.
“Hey, I’ve been meaning to ask; why do you have an office if you work from home? And why am I in your office, and you’re still at home?”
Well, we can’t rightly both be there, and you need experience with my colleagues.
“Oh. But I’m not going to be attending any meetings, right? There’s one on the calendar, but you’ll come in for that, right?”
No, I need you to fill in for me. It’s best you start now, so you’re aware of the new inside jokes, and all that stuff.
“What if there are old inside jokes that I wasn’t around for?”
I haven’t been staring into empty space while the tasker is locked up,” Marie begins to explain. “I’ve been drawing up a cheatsheet for you. Though, sheet is a bit of a misnomer since it’s more like a novelette by now.
“Argh, there’s so much to this!”
You don’t...have to...
“Don’t start again,” Angela warns. “I’m happy to do this for you. It’s just been a lot. This job is a lot.”
I know. But it’s why we live where we live, and why Ramses was able to quit his job without giving it a second thought.
“Yeah. Did you see this message from them? They’re on their way back.”
I did. I think we have just enough time for one more test. I don’t like how the screen flickers about halfway through the process, and it’s still not as fast as I would like it. I think I know how to fix those issues, though. Scroll back down to Line 216.
“Okay, boss.”
Angela and Marie end up running two more tests before they’re ready to call it quits for the day. By the time Angela gets back home, the rest of the team is already there. It’s time to come up with a new plan. Rather, they have to default to an old one. They probably need to move up the time table too.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 18, 2398

The McIvers agree to continue hosting Team Matic, but at their real house this time. They don’t have a fancy schmancy infirmary there, but it doesn’t look like that’s what Mateo needs. He just needs rest, and when he wakes up, fluids. There aren’t as many rooms in the farmhouse, but it’s comfortable enough, and the team is grateful. From what Leona can surmise, Mateo spontaneously traveled into the past, where he met up with his cousin, Danica. For whatever reason, she found it necessary to store him in a stasis pod for however long, strip The Constant of all sensitive materials, and leave a single clue as to his whereabouts. Once the trail was at its end, the bunker was programmed to self-destruct, giving Mateo—and anyone else down there—just enough time to escape.
Leona knew that her husband would be found inside that particular wall, if anywhere, because that’s where she found him back in the early 23rd century. He was removed from time, brought back dead using a sort of Rube Goldberg contraption of temporal objects, and resurrected with a final special object. The line from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, “meet me in Montauk” told her that it was the key to finding someone again who she had once forgotten. Mateo should be able to fill in the blanks when he’s better.
“He’s awake!” Trina calls out for the whole house to hear.
Leona was eating her breakfast. It was supposed to be a soup, but she was distracted, and accidentally skipped out on the milk, and most of the water. It’s good, though. She places her bento box in the refrigerator. Then she walks up to the bedroom.
“Lee-lee, what happened?” Mateo asks her after Trina leaves.
“It’s your job to tell us,” Leona says.
“I don’t know.”
“What’s the last thing you remember?”
Mateo tilts his lizard brain to think. “I was driving out to see if I could find the Constant. Sorry I went alone.”
“That’s the last thing?” she questions. “That was nine days ago.”
“Oh. I jumped forward in time? Then it’s true, and I was right, the Constant is still there, and houses temporal energy. How far are we from it?”
“It was there,” Leona begins to explain. “It’s been destroyed.”
“Do you remember not too long ago in the main sequence, when we ended up in that version of the Constant? Danica told us about a sort of reset protocol if the facility were ever compromised.”
“Yeah, of course. She did that?”
“Evidently, she did it halfway. She said that a new Constant would spring up in its place, and she would be replaced by an alternate version of herself too. But this Constant is just gone. There’s a lake where it used to be. You seemed to know it would happen. You called it Danica Lake.”
“When did I say this?”
“Yesterday. You fell down the elevator shaft, presumably went back in time, was placed in stasis, we found you, and then the whole thing imploded.”
Mateo tries to remember. “We need Nerakali.”
“That’s an understatement, but you passed out shortly after the event, suggesting that your memory loss was predetermined, and nowhere near an accident. It may have even been consensual.”
“I’m sorry,” Mateo says, shaking his head. “I wish I could remember why I don’t remember.”
“You can’t apologize for something you don’t know that you did, or why you did it. I blame you for nothing. I don’t really blame anybody. We’re all okay now.”
“Except for Marie.” Heath is standing in the doorway.
“Except for Marie,” Leona echoes.
“We’ll always have Croatia,” Mateo says, determined. “I won’t let anything happen to her. I’ll always protect my team.”
“You should know,” Heath says, hobbling forward. He’s hurt again—not still—having twisted his ankle when the elevator car came crashing down. It was the only injury. “You should know you saved my life. I’m not a traveler. What happened to you when you went back, may not have worked for me.” He frowns. “I probably would have just splattered onto the floor.”
“I would say you’re welcome, but according wife,” Mateo says in a Borat voice, which he has never done before. “..I can’t take credit for something I don’t remember doing.”
“I never said that,” Leona defends.
“You can’t have it both ways,” Mateo contends.
“You need something to eat.” She kisses him on the forehead. “Were I you.”
“Were I you.”

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 17, 2398

Everybody found their own room, and slept in The Constant that night. They didn’t make any plans for the next day, but it seemed as good a place as any. They stayed close to each other, even though they consisted of two parties of strangers. The next day, with nothing better to do, Ramses and Leona start looking into the database, or what’s left of it. There’s a lot still here, but it becomes clearer the more they look through the directories that a lot of data has been stripped. When Danica left, she knew someone else could find this place one day, and she didn’t want them to have access to certain information. The fact that she didn’t just run out all of the sudden, or die without warning, was already obvious. She had the wherewithal to seal up the top of the main elevator, and dismantle the elevator car itself. If she recorded some kind of log that might give them an idea why she’s no longer here, she took that with her too.
The little girl, Trina runs into the room, holding a small black box. “What is this thing?”
Leona isn’t paying her any attention, so Ramses takes it from her, and looks it over. “I have no idea? Wait. It looks like some kind of magnetic memory storage device.”
Leona turns her head. “It’s a video cassette tape.” She turns back.
“Where did you get it?” Ramses asks Trina.
“I think it was a library, but this is the only thing that was in it.”
Now Leona’s interested. “How big was this library?”
“Like, four stories tall, and maybe endlessly long?” Trina ballparks.
“And that’s the only thing you found?” Leona presses.
“Yeah, it was in this thing.” She hands Leona the case.
Jim Carrey is dreaming of himself lying on the snow next to Kate Winslet. “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”
“Is it a movie?” Trina guesses.
“Is it good? It must be good if they cleared out the entire library, except for this one thing.”
“Did you find it fallen on the floor, as if someone had dropped it, or still sitting on the shelf?”
“It was on the first shelf I saw when I walked in, facing the door. I looked through several aisles. They were all empty.”
Leona and Ramses give each other a look, but they’re not thinking the same thing. “Computer, where do you keep the VCR?”
The computer doesn’t respond vocally. It just lights up the floor and walls to lead them down to the legacy technology sector. Leona follows it, and Ramses and Trina follow her. They find the VCR already connected to a box TV, rather than tucked away somewhere. She expects to blow dust off of the top, but it’s perfectly clean. There’s a robot in here somewhere who’s been maintaining the bunker. Leona inserts the tape, and presses play.
I love you,” says Joel.
Meet me in Montauk,” Clementine whispers back.
That’s it. It’s stuck between 1:30:50 and 1:30:55, repeating those two lines over, and over, and over again. The tape keeps skipping. Ramses thinks he might be able to fix it, but Leona stops him. “It’s a clue.”
“It’s a clue for what?”
Leona pauses the video, and echoes the last line herself. “Meet me in Montauk. Meet me in Montauk.”
“Does that mean anything to you?” Trina asks.
“That sounds like a city. Is that where we’re meant to go?” Ramses questions.
Leona tilts her head, considering the words, and what they may mean in a more figurative sense. Thinking she has it figured out, she runs off. The other two follow her again, down the hallways, and into the main living area. Heath, Alyssa, and the boys are already there, chatting about this and that.
“Is everything okay?” Heath stands up to help in whatever way necessary.
Leona ignores him, and heads straight for the corner of the room. She stares at the wall. “Where’s that sledgehammer?”
“Why do you need it?” Heath asks.
She just turns to him and scowls. He’s not really in a position to question her. Intellectually, she knows she shouldn’t blame him—that it could never have been his idea to use a time bullet to blow a hole in a concrete ceiling five kilometers up—but she can’t help but be angry at him anyway.
He steps over to the main elevator shaft, and retrieves the sledgehammer.
“Rambo,” Leona says, “he’s still recovering. Could you do the honors?”
Ramses accepts the tool from Heath. He gets in position, but doesn’t swing. He places the business end against the wall that she’s staring at. “Right here?”
“Yes,” she orders.
He does as he’s told, bashing the hammer against the wall over, and over, and over again. The facility is constructed out of metal, probably graphene, and maybe other metamaterials. There’s no wood, or even brick anywhere. They wouldn’t last very long. Why is this made out of wood? Once he’s gotten through, they find a door on the other side. He knocks the last of the wall out of the way, and wrenches it open. A light flickers on to reveal an upright stasis pod. There’s only one reason to design a pod like that, and it’s if the user is literally kept in stasis. Time is probably moving at infinitely slow speeds, so almost none will have passed since they stepped in. As long as you have power, it’s the only way a normal person could survive for many thousands of years, if not longer. Other methods allow for too much aging, radiation poisoning, and other failures.
Leona uses the touchscreen to command the pod to open. When it does, Mateo steps out. “You’re here!” she exclaims. “You’ve been here the whole time?”
Mateo takes her by the shoulders, and pushes her out. He looks around the main living area to take stock. “Is everybody who came down here in this room right now?”
“What? What are you talking about?” Ramses asks.
Mateo screams in his face, “is everyone here!”
“Then run!” Mateo sprints across the room, to the little secondary elevator. He holds the door open, and ushers everyone in one by one. First Leona, then Ramses, Trina, Carlin, Moray, and Alyssa. Heath and Mateo squeeze in last, making it a very tight fit. But it’ll be worth it. Mateo pops open the firefighter access panel with a flathead screwdriver that he has in his pocket. He reaches in, but waits. “There are more people in here than I thought there would be. Make sure the young ones are in the middle.
Moray has to adjust a little, but it’s about as good as they’ll do.
Mateo pulls the switch. They shoot upwards, faster than any elevator should safely move. They can feel the g-force desperately trying to squish them into the floor. But it’ll be worth it.
“Oh my God!” Heath shouts.
“Whoopee!” Trina cries.
At some point, the elevator car starts to tip over. Everybody begins to yell in fear, even the little one, because they’ve reached the surface, and now they’re coming back down. They don’t crash, though. They can feel themselves bouncing, rolling, bouncing, and rolling. When the ride finally ends, the door opens automatically, allowing them to see the giant air bags that released automatically, which are now gradually deflating.
“What the hell was that?” Leona demands to know.
Before Mateo can say anything, they hear a boom. A plume of dirt rises into the sky. He runs over, and the rest are compelled to do the same. They hear rushing water as they near the road, and after they get over the hill, they can see the crater. It’s filling up with water, resourced from pipes that they barely have time to see before they’re covered up.
“I say again...what the hell was that?” Leona repeats.
Mateo catches his breath. “It’s Danica Lake.” He falls to the ground, and passes out.