Monday, July 18, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 15, 2398

Heath Walton awakens in darkness again. His head feels better, and he’s comfortably lying down in a bed. He doesn’t know how he got here, though, or how long he’s been asleep. He has to regain his memory once more, but this time, he isn’t going to move around, and look for clues. He’s just going to lie here quietly and think about it.
“I know you’re awake,” comes a voice from the other side of the room.
“Who’s there?”
A light flips on, startling and blinding him for a moment. Once his vision returns, he sees a little girl sitting in the corner, holding a book. She turns off the tiny reading lamp she was using, and stands up. “He’s awake!” she calls out towards the hallway.
Heath looks around, realizing that he’s in the med bay of The Constant, where his wife, Marie is meant to have her abortion. Judging by the fact that at least two strangers are here, that’s probably not going to happen anymore. “What are you doing here?”
Three more people walk in, all of them children. The two boys are probably a few years older than the girl in the corner, and the last one might technically be an adult, though not likely their mother. She inspects Heath’s vitals on the monitor above him. “You have a concussion, but the computer thinks you’re gonna be okay.”
“Who are you?” Heath asks. “Do you live down here?”
“No,” the young woman replies. “We were driving into town to secure a booth for the farmer’s market when we noticed a hole in the ground by the side of the road.”
“A giant-ass hole!” one of the boys exclaims proudly.
“Language, Carlin,” the leader scolds.
“Sorry,” he says with a frown.
“You saw a hole, so instead of calling the cops, you decided to climb down a five-kilometer deep elevator shaft using the emergency ladder?” Heath questions.
“We didn’t climb down the ladder,” the woman denies. “We took the elevator.”
“There is no elevator,” Heath argues.
She nods. “There was a little hole in the side of the big hole. We dug into it deeper, and found a door, which leads to an elevator. It lets off at the bottom at what appears to be a hidden entrance down here too. Did you fall in the big one? How could you have possibly survived that height?”
“I didn’t,” Heath begins. “I fell next to the hole, and hit a rock, which knocked me unconscious. When I woke up, I climbed down the ladder, looking for my friend, and I guess I lost consciousness again.”
“You’re lucky we found you. You were asleep all day yesterday, and into this morning. It’s May 15 now.”
“You’ve been down here this whole time? Did you touch anything?”
“Of course we did,” the woman responds. “We didn’t do anything dangerous. This is a nice place. It kind of looks like an underground hotel, but clearly no one actually lives here. Did rich people build it centuries ago to survive one of the older wars?” 
“Yeah, let’s go with that.”
She can tell he’s lying, but appears to recognize his claim to this facility is much stronger than hers, and she’s not entitled to answers. “Anyway, you’ve already met little Trina, and foul-mouthed Carlin. This is Moray, and I’m Alyssa. We’re the McIvers.”
Heath perks up, and can’t help but ask, “Alyssa McIver?”
“Yeah. Have we met?” she asks him.
“No, of course not.” And it’s true, they haven’t, but he has heard the name before. Or rather, he’s read it. Mateo keeps a list of every person he’s met, even those he knew before becoming a time traveler. Anyone from his past or future could return, and he finds it hard to keep all that in his head. Heath has no such memory problems—at least, not unless he has a concussion—so he became pretty familiar with that list just by reading over it once. Alyssa McIver is on it. He knows she is, but what does that mean? Was that an alternate version of her? Does this one standing before him end up traveling to the main sequence at some point? Has she already been to the main sequence, and now she’s trying to keep it a secret? That wouldn’t be an outrage. What was that code Marie told him about, the one they sometimes use to find out if a stranger is like them, or oblivious to time travel? Oh, yeah. “Do you like salmon?”
“Huh?” she asks.
Oh, wait. He has to emphasize that word. “I mean, do you like...salmon?”
“I’m vegetarian.”
“I’m not!” Carlin announces.
Well. They could still be lying, but it’s not his job to decide what to do about them either way. He starts to get out of bed. “I have to call my friends.”
Alyssa steps over and gently presses his shoulders down. “Whoa, you are in no shape to go anywhere. There is no service down here, and there’s not enough room for a hospital bed in the elevator, and this bed doesn’t move anyway, and the computer says that you need more rest.”
“You have to leave, and pretend you never saw any of this,” he orders.
“Go back to sleep,” Alyssa orders right back. “We’ll talk about it later.”

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