Wednesday, August 31, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: June 28, 2398

Kivi has been looking out at the scenery as the car drives down the highway, going the conventional speed, instead of as fast as possible, like Heath likes to drive. Her eyes are wandering now, occasionally looking over at Marie for a split second. Marie notices. “If you have something to say, go ahead,” she says, not aggressively.
“This trip has gotten pretty long,” Kivi points out.
“I can turn up the music, or change it.”
“I’m not bored.”
“There’s a rest stop soon, we can take a break.”
“We’re just...going a lot farther...than you implied when you asked me to accompany you.”
“Oh. We’re going to Springfield.”
Kivi winces. “Now, I don’t know everything that my alternate selves would know, but I know Springfield, and it’s the one that just disappeared one day, and ended up on another planet.”
“It wasn’t one day,” Marie corrects. “It happened over the course of decades, getting smaller and smaller all the time.”
“And that’s Springfield, Kansas. We’re going to Springfield, Missouri.”
Marie takes a beat. “It’s where I grew up.”
“Oh,” Kivi repeats. “I thought you were a Kansas City girl.”
“I went to a fake finishing school in Kansas City, but my family owned a farm outside of Springfield. That’s where the slaves worked.”
Kivi doesn’t really wanna talk about the fact that Angela-slash-Marie grew up owning human beings. Fortunately, she has a different line of questioning to go down. “What is a fake finishing school?”
“Do you know what a finishing school is?”
“No, I guess I don’t know what that is either.”
“It’s where young ladies would go to learn how to be proper women. Ya know, cleaning, finding a good husband, doing whatever the hell he tells you.”
“What made yours fake?”
“It was a real school,” Marie explains. “They taught us math, science, history; everything the boys were learning. In fact, once historians realized what had really been going on there, they also discovered that it was actually better than most traditional educational institutions in the area at the time.”
“My father sent me there on purpose. He was one of the few men who knew it to be fake, and he wanted me to have an education. Of course, there were ways for me to do that. It’s not like there were no women in regular schools. He needed to maintain the family reputation, though, so this was perfect, since it had to be kept secret.”
Kivi nods, and stays silent for the next minute or so. “Are we going to the farm to see if you can teleport in the area?”
“Oh, God no. It’s not special at all. In fact, maps were different back then, and it was in a different reality, but I do believe that the location of our farm is now the nearest airport.”
“I see. This is just for nostalgia.”
“I don’t know what this is for,” Marie answers honestly. “I just felt compelled to get in the car, and go this direction.”
“And I’m here, because...”
“Because if I go alone, the others are gonna freak out, and try to come save me.”
“You want to be alone, so I’m the next best thing?”
Marie throws the car into autolaning mode. It’s not full autonomy, but it can stay between two lane markings, and not run into the car ahead. If it does notice itself approaching another car too quickly, it will come off the gas, and beep at the driver. Now she can look directly at Kivi without drifting into the ditch. “Not at all. I brought you, because I trust you. You know what it’s like to suddenly come into existence, and learn that you’re a copy of someone else.”
“No one knows who the original Kivi is.”
“Your father wasn’t born to the Third Rail. Do you think you’re the original?”
“No, of course not.” That was a little mean, but Kivi’s fine. “I can see the connection between us.”
“Like I said, I don’t know why I decided to go this way. I just woke up today, and felt like it was the most logical next step. I asked you to come, because I didn’t want to be alone. I just didn’t want to have to explain myself to the others. I think you’re better at understanding that I can’t quite explain it.”
“That’s probably true. My whole life is a question mark.”
“I’m glad you’re here. I don’t know what we’ll to find, or how close we’ll be able to get without plane tickets, but either way, it’s an experience that will always be just between the too of us.”
“I like that.”
Marie returns to the steering wheel. She could let the car drive itself until it’s time to exit, but right now she feels the need to exercise control over everything possible.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: June 27, 2398

The new lab facility that the Honeycutts purportedly gave to Leona and Ramses isn’t gigantic. It’s about thirty meters wide, and twenty deep. It’s three stories tall, with a basement. It’s designed very simply, as a concrete block held together by steel beams. They never got around to laying a parking lot, but there’s a little warehouse in the back. It’s down a hill, so it’s actually on the same level as the basement, and they can drive right into it. Since they probably won’t require that kind of storage, it should be good enough. It’s not quite located in the suburbs, but it’s not in the center of the city either. This should make for a relatively quiet, but accessible, area.
They ended up never giving Winona the list of equipment they would need to set up a working lab for the both of them. Instead, they kept the list to themselves, and added up the cost to procure all of it. They also included the cost of construction and labor to make the place look less like a parking garage, and more like a legitimate place of business. Then they doubled that number, and gave that to Winona. She seemed neither surprised nor perturbed about it, and wrote them a check right then and there. Now they wish they had asked for triple. They set up a new bank account, separate from the Walton one they’ve all been accessing, and the credit cards. It’s good to not keep all of one’s eggs in one basket. It will still be a joint fund for the whole team, which is why they asked for extra.
It’s only been three days, and the place is already starting to look real. They just finished installing the interior walls, according to a design that the artificial intelligence that Ramses took from the Constant came up with according to his direction. Next, crews will lay tile on the second floor, and cork and high pile carpeting on the top floor. Winona probably expected them to use the whole building for their labs, but that shouldn’t be necessary, so they have other plans for the other two levels. The top floor will have to wait until later, but today is for the ground level. They’ve not done much with it yet, but they want to show the space to a couple of their friends, so they have called Angela and Heath in. Marie is taking some time for herself at a spa day. Mateo and Kivi could be here, but they’re doing some father-daughter activities, and this doesn’t really have anything to do with them.
“What do you think of this one?” Leona asks.
“It’s coming along nicely,” Angela says with a nod of approval. She’s being polite, because it really isn’t anything yet. “It’s not quite as done as the top floor.”
“Well, this one is special,” Ramses says cryptically.
“What makes it special?”
“It’s for you,” he says.
Heath steps in. “My wife is done with her job. After the procedure, she’s reprioritized her life, and she’s decided to”
“Okay...that means it’s my prerogative to quit?” Angela wants to be relieved, but she can’t know that yet. “Or do you want me to keep going?”
“We want you to quit,” Heath begins, “but we think you should keep doing what you’re doing.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Did Marie ever tell you how she and Heath manage to afford everything they have on the salary that you are all too well aware of now?” Leona asks her. “Teaching doesn’t pay that much, so where did the money come from in only four years?”
“Well, she implied that she had another job before this one,” Angela says, presuming now that it’s not the whole story.
Ramses chuckles, and hands her a pair of virtual reality goggles. “Put these on.”
Angela puts them on, and looks around at the start of a virtual world.
“That’s called Angaros. It’s a kind of game.”
Angela lifts the goggles up to leave them on her forehead. “That’s the name of the environment I was going to build once I was promoted to World-Builder in the afterlife simulation. I spent my free time drawing up plans.”
“What was the purpose of this world?” Leona asks encouragingly.
“Well, I was hoping to make it a sanctuary for Level Fours, particularly the ones who finally finished serving their sentences in Hock. They would be given amenities normally reserved for higher levels. I even wanted to start a program that helped to commute certain people’s sentences.”
Heath smiles affectionately. “She did that. She built that world. Of course, it’s not quite as sophisticated as anything you would have made in that other place, but it works. It helps people.”
“You just said it was a game,” Angela argues.
“It’s a game for convicts,” Heath clarifies. “It’s halfway between a prison and a halfway house. Inmates journey through this virtual world, and learn how to make good choices, as well as function in society after what they’ve been through. It’s fun, though; it is fun, so the prisoners don’t feel like they’re just taking a class. They actually want to play. They apply for session times. It’s estimated that her program alone has lowered recidivism by 24%...around the country.”
“Wow. Why didn’t she say anything about this before?” Angela asks.
“She sold it. She sold it for around four million dollars. She could have gotten a lot more, because remember inflation is much higher here than in your day. She had some stipulations, like the fact that her name couldn’t be made public, or that users would never have to pay or perform labor in order to qualify for the program.”
Angela is four years removed from her alternate self, but these sound like things that she would do, in the exact ways that she would do them. She understood the purpose of placing certain people in hock. Just because you die, doesn’t mean you automatically become a good person. But she also hated how the Limiteds were treated, sometimes as if they had never been released from prison at all. “I’m glad she did that.”
“She tried to retire,” Heath continues, “but didn’t care for it. I think she’s ready for it now, but we all thought maybe you would want to take up the mantle?”
“I don’t want to go back to that place,” Angela says sadly.
“You won’t have to. That’s what this space is for. We think you could start your own company, and do whatever you want with it. The whole floor is all yours.”
“You’re so good at the coding, and you have access to my new AI,” Ramses says. “Perhaps you could become a competitor, and just blow them out of the water.”
Angela nods and looks around again. “Can I think about it?”
“Of course,” Leona says. “Take all the time you need.”
Angela separates from the group, and starts dreaming up plans.

Monday, August 29, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: June 26, 2398

Mateo and Kivi yawn at the same time, the fourth in a series of yawns that started ten minutes ago. Everyone knows that yawning is contagious—though no one is a hundred percent sure why—but this is getting ridiculous. They both laugh, because that is also contagious. “Boredom is a sign of an unstimulated mind,” Kivi muses.
He looks at her differently. “That’s just the definition of boredom.”
“Oh. I thought it made me sound smart.”
“Are you not?”
“No, I’m cognizant of my alternate selves, but I don’t know the things they do. I should say that I’m cognizant of their existence. I don’t know anything about them. Are most of them smart?”
“A few of them are lawyers, but I don’t think we have any scientists in the family.”
She nods. “So, you’re my father, eh?”
“Leona’s theory is that your mother and I conceived you in an old timeline in the main sequence. Due to what you are, you managed to survive, and keep coming back in later timelines, including ones where Eseosie and I never met, or I didn’t even exist.”
“Now we’re in a reality where neither of you exists. I don’t know who my parents are supposed to be.”
“Let’s just say it’s me.”
“I think I would like that, if you’re okay with it.”
“You’re not the only daughter I have out there that I never took care of. You got a half brother too. He and his full sister do their own things, and I don’t know anything about them, though I’ve heard they’re incredibly powerful. Like..Meliora Rutherford-level powerful.”
She nods and yawns. He yawns. They sit in silence for another few minutes.
“I don’t even think I know how to ride a bike.”
“Are you sure?” he asks. “You know how to speak English, and tie your shoes?”
“Yeah. Maybe I do.”
As dense as he is, he should’ve realized right away that she was asking him to teach her. Marie does have a bike that she stores above their parking space in the underground garage. “I could teach you.”
“Would you? I would love that!” She’s excited.
“Yeah, I haven’t done it in...” He looks at his watch. “Oh, a few thousand years, give or take a few timelines.”
“It’ll be fun. We certainly don’t have anything better to do, do we?”
“No laboratories to set up, no couples trips to go on, no job to do.”
They go downstairs and retrieve the bicycle. He walks it down the hill to the park for her, where a father is already teaching his own daughter to ride. She’s at a typical age. Hopefully people won’t judge Kivi. Not everyone is born with the same privileges, weird temporal condition or otherwise. She gets on the bike, and tries to pedal. They quickly learn that she was right about not knowing how. He never had a younger sibling, and as he was saying before, didn’t ever get the chance to raise his children. It’s nice, even though she’s an adult, that they can share this one experience. Perhaps there will be more down the line. She might not know how to catch a ball, or talk to a crush either.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: June 25, 2398

Marie and Heath don’t spend long in Gothenburg. It’s as boring as it looks when you search the web for it. They see no signs that there’s anything special about the area, or that a secret time travel pitstop facility has been buried underneath. They didn’t even erect a sign that designates it as the center of the country, like they did for Lebanon, Kansas in the main sequence.
They’re in Belle Fourche, South Dakota now, which doesn’t mean much in any reality, but especially not here, what with the different national borders. That’s fine, they heard that there were some lovely hiking trails around these parts, and being out in nature is precisely what they both need right now.  They’re not talking, though, which neither of them believes is healthy, but they don’t know what to say. Should they talk about the abortion? Should they pretend it didn’t happen? Should they fight? Should they reaffirm their love? It’s just so awkward that the moderately treacherous terrain is the only thing keeping their minds occupied.
She stops to catch her breath. “Okay, can you tell me what you’re feeling?”
“I’m a little tired, but I’m okay to keep going. Did you want to make camp right here?” Heath proposes.
“I don’t mean about the backpacking, I mean about what happened.”
“We’ve been talking,” he sincerely believes.
“Yeah, but...”
“Do you want to tell me what you’re feeling?”
“That’s all I’ve been doing, telling you about my mixed feelings. You haven’t been giving me your opinion.”
“It was your choice.”
“I didn’t ask you what I should do, it’s done. I’m asking how you feel about it now!”
“Why is this turning into a fight?”
She sighs. “I don’t know, I don’t want it to.”
He steps closer, but doesn’t touch her. She still doesn’t want to be touched yet. “I’m proud of you, Marie, for making that decision. I know it wasn’t easy. And I know how easy it is for me, never having to do the same. You want to know how I feel...I’m sad. I miss the baby that never was. You know how my mind wanders, it’s why I keep buying fancy things, like The Olimpia.”
“I knew what you were going to do, even while I was fighting against it. I knew you would go through with it, because you had to. My brain, however, was insistent that it go over a hypothetical life that I had with that child. It chose a boy for me, and named him Ferris, after my great grandmother. I taught him about the world, and you taught him about cyberspace. He became a teacher, like me, and lived only a few miles away from us with his family. I don’t resent you for preventing this fantasy, so I don’t want you to think that that’s what I’m saying. It’s just been—” He’s struggling to continue.
“It’s okay, you can say that this has been hard on you. You have a right to that.”
“It has been hard. I feel like I knew him, and lost him. And when I think about the fact that I didn’t lose anything, it just makes it worse.”
She takes his hand. “I’m sorry you’re going through that.”
Heath shakes his head, and looks away.
“I mean it. This did happen to you, in a different way, but you’re not this removed observer. I’m sorry you couldn’t be there too. That probably hasn’t made it any easier.”
He nods, but says nothing more.
“Let’s keep going,” Marie suggests.
She lets go of his hand, and begins to head farther up the hill, but she loses her footing, and slips off the edge. They’re not on a cliff, but she tumbles down pretty far, and she can’t stop herself. She only does stop when a partially buried rock gets in her way. It cuts open her hand, and breaks at least a few bones. She’s holding her now limp wrist with her other hand, and trying to breathe through the pain as Heath runs down as fast as he can. He’s aware that he could fall down too if he’s not careful. By the time he gets all the way down to her, the pain is still there, and so is the blood, but her hand is otherwise totally fine. She’s able to move it.
“What the...?”
“Oh, yeah, I forgot to tell you, I can heal now. It’s a temporary consolation prize.”

Saturday, August 27, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: June 24, 2398

Marie and Heath have gone off to be alone for a while, on a vacation in Gothenburg, Nebraska. It would be a strange choice if not for the fact that it’s the center of the continental United States, due to a variation of the border of Texas and Mexico, as well as parts of the North; notably Maine and Canada. Gothenburg was never known to be a special temporal location, but The Constant was built under Lebanon, which is supposed to be the center of the country, so there’s a chance that there is something there. They might go up to Belle Fourche, South Dakota and Epsie, Montana for similar reasons. Angela is on site at Marie’s job, doing her best to keep her head down, and hoping the whole artificial intelligence thing goes away. It probably won’t, and she’s thinking of quitting. Marie doesn’t act like she ever wants to go back to it, and if they figure out how to escape this world, maybe it won’t matter. As for Kivi, she still exists...for now, and is home by herself. Last night, she took Ramses’ couch, while he slept in a recliner.
Mateo, Leona, and Ramses are standing on the third and topmost floor of a skeleton building. It has all the concrete walls and support structures, plumbing, and electrical systems in place, but none of the interior walls, flooring, or furniture. “I told you to leave them out of it,” Leona argues to Winona when she approaches from the stairs.
“This is not a mission,” Winona claims, hands held up defensively. “It’s just...mission-adjacent.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“We have caught wind of other unusual objects around the world. My team is ready to secure them for you, so that you can study them. You can study”
“What is this place?”
“It was going to be a research clinic,” Winona begins, “but the company that commissioned it suffered a major recall of one of their drugs, so they went bankrupt, and couldn’t finish it. We got a good deal on it. We’re why the staff at the time of closing ended up with severance packages, instead of missing paychecks.”
“Oh, you’re so noble,” Leona says sarcastically.
Winona scoffs. “I know you don’t like me, but this is a gift. You will have full autonomy, and zero oversight. It will be partially funded privately, but subsidized by the government’s black budget.”
“No, oversight, eh?” Leona questions. “Will you be supplying the digital clocks?” She’s referring to the hidden camera they placed in the room in order to watch Leona try to assess the item they stole from some competing force in Germany. It turned out to be the LIR Map, but fortunately, the clock wasn’t facing the right direction for them to see that. They’re still suspicious of her, even though they searched her person.
“That wasn’t my idea,” Winona says. “I had nothing to do with any of it. I was just in charge of leading the procurement team. I was still out of country when the supposed empty case got to you.”
“It was empty,” Leona lies.
“I believe you,” Winona lies too. She reaches into her bag and pulls out a lava lamp. “This is one of hundreds that we can supply you for security.”
“How are those a form of security?” Mateo asks.
“Randomity,” Ramses says for some weird reason. He’s intrigued by them.
Mateo looks over at Leona, who surprisingly doesn’t know this one.
“That’s right,” Winona confirms. “You generate your own encryptions, using the random fluctuations in these lamps. As a bonus, if you place the lamps in front of your security cameras, you’ll be able to watch for video doctoring. My people and I will not be able to come in and steal your data, nor will anyone else. We won’t even buy the cameras for you. We’ll write you a check.”
“Why are you doing this?” Leona questions. “What’s in it for you?”
“When you figure this out—when you finish your time experiments—I have faith that you will finally read us in, and be honest about who you are, and what you know.”
“What about our prior encounters gives you the impression that that’s true?” Leona presses.
“You haven’t hurt any of us yet. You haven’t attacked us, or exposed my father, or anything. You’ve helped us on a number of occasions, including by continuing your work with fusion power. Leona, we’re allies, whether you realize that, or not. Also remember that we haven’t hurt you either. We kept quiet about the flicker watch, and about how you jumped into a pool of water in Türkiye, and ended up a kilometer away. I admit, our tactics have been shady, and we’ve made you feel cornered, but I would like to change that. Your new identities, your intelligence credentials, and now this lab, have all been attempts to help you. I believe that you will one day recognize as much.”
Leona has no response to this. Winona is making too much sense. They have done things they didn’t want to, but they did do them, and they were never technically forced to. Perhaps one day they’ll build trust. But for now, she’s accepting the lava lamps. “We’ll see, I guess. We’ll see,” she says, not wanting to say nothing at all. She takes the lamp from her, and sets it on the floor.
“What else will you need? You don’t have carte blanche, but you should be sufficiently funded.”
Leona looks at Ramses, who doesn’t have an answer. They both spread out just a little, and look around at the walls and ceiling, blocking the layouts of their dream labs, no doubt. “We’ll have a list to you by the end of the week.”

Friday, August 26, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: June 23, 2398

Everyone is real quiet in the living room. Marie is feeling very anxious, because it is not yet time for her to take another pregnancy test. They don’t know this as a medical certainty, since it wasn’t exactly a normal abortion, but they’re going to follow conventional professional advice, which recommends an ultrasound no sooner than ten days. Angela took a day off to be with her sister, and Leona is working from home. She spent yesterday traveling to Washington alone to confront Senator Honeycutt regarding his family’s intrusion into their lives, but she promised to keep working on fusion for the lab so that’s what she’s going to do, even today. Ramses and Mateo are thusly left without purpose. It’s not looking like they’re going to continue with the special temporal location investigation. There are still plenty of places they could check out, like Giza and Antarctica, but it all feels so stupid now.
“It’s not,” Marie tells them when Ramses expresses his sentiment, and Mateo agrees. It was hard for them to go through that experience with her. They can’t imagine what she’s feeling, but that’s between her and Heath now. They’re confident that their actions were moral and justified, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt, or isn’t sad. “I can’ anything like that right now, but you two should go on. It’s important. I think that I want to leave. I want to leave this world behind, and I want to figure out how to bring Heath with us.”
“I’ve thought a lot about it,” Heath says in a tone that suggests they’ve been discussing this on their own. “Ramses, and your friend, Olimpia deliberately turned themselves onto your pattern by temporarily occupying your bodies. If it worked for them, it will work for me. You can make me like my wife. That way we can all return to the main sequence, and do whatever we want...together.”
“It’s not that simple,” Ramses tells him. “Olimpia and I were able to do what we did because we used Mateo and Leona’s original substrates, and they were vacant at the time.”
“They weren’t our originals,” Mateo reminds him.
“Right, but they weren’t the ones that I cloned,” Ramses clarifies. “Tamerlane Pryce specifically designed them to do that. The same thing won’t happen with these ones. I designed them not to, in case something like that ever happened again. We don’t want to saddle someone with this pattern without any way to undo it.”
“There must be a way,” Marie urges.
He sighs. “I could clone him a new body of his own, and give him all of our same biotemporal properties.”
“Okay...” Marie says, hopeful.
“It would take time,” Ramses says with a shake of his head. “These clones are special. We can’t accelerate the process any more than we did last time. In fact, after we used them for a little bit, I think I would have preferred to slow it down even more, perhaps even at a slower rate than a typical organic human. Heath would spend a year at a time, waiting for you to return, just like Mateo’s family once did.”
“We could use a Cassidy cuff,” Angela offers.
“We don’t have any left,” Leona says. “We had to give them all away.”
“Not all of them,” Marie contradicts. “Olimpia still has hers.”
“Olimpia still has hers,” Leona echoes, as if agreeing, “wherever she is.”
“I have an idea,” Kivi jumps in.
They all look over at her.
She goes on, “you don’t have to accelerate the cloning process using science. You could transfer Heath’s mind to a baby, and then provert his age, just like you did on The Stage with that witch from the other universe.”
They’re just staring at her.
“What?” she questions.
“When did you get here?” Leona asks.
Kivi consults her watch. “About forty-five seconds ago.”
“You understand that this world doesn’t have a lot of time travel and stuff, right?”
“Well, it’s got me,” Kivi answers. “Each reality has at least one of us, and I am the one and only Third Rail Kivi Bristol.”
Heath is confused. “Uhh...what are you people talking about? She’s been here this entire time.”
“Entire time, since when?” Marie asks him.
“Since April 9, when you all showed up in that parking lot?”
“Hm,” Mateo says.
Leona sighs. “I suppose we’re going to have to explain spontaneous reemergence to you.”
“Ooo, let me get my tablet.” Ramses is excited. “I wrote a new presentation software in my spare time, and I want to test it out.”
“Because of course you did,” Angela muses.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: June 22, 2398

They’re whispering, so Leona can’t hear very well, but she can make out most of what they’re saying on the other side of the door. It’s good, because she works better when people are rattled. She has had it up to here with people threatening her family, and that ends today, whether he heeds her warning, or ignores it, and suffers.
“I told you not to disturb me, Sheila,” or whatever her name is.
“I’m sorry, sir, but she has an SD6 badge.”
“SD6?” he questions. “Is it Agent Matic?”
“I couldn’t see, sir. I saw that symbol, and froze. She looks...”
“She looks what?”
“She looks...menacing.”
“Let her in, and go to lunch.”
“Sir, it’s only—”
“Go to lunch!”
The secretary comes back out to the waiting area, and immediately realizes that she’s no longer smiling, which is probably in her job description. She remedies it, and says, “he’s ready to see you now.”
Leona walks in and closes the door.
“Agent Matic, I apologize for failing to explain to you that our business relationship will be relegated to the laboratory. You are not to come to my office. I can’t be seen in your company.”
She stares at him stoically. “I failed as well. I failed my family. I thought, if I took up the mantle of the badge, you would leave them alone. I was wrong about that, and I promise that I will not let it happen again.”
“Leona, we all have a job to do—”
“And your job is to serve your country, but here’s the thing, I don’t give a shit about this country. It’s not my home, and it never will be. Those people are my home, and you’re threatening them. Where I come from, we react in kind.” She removes a little berry from her pocket, and sets it on his desk.
He’s actually scared of it, because he doesn’t know what it is. “Is that a...tiny little bomb, or something? Is that a fusion bomb?”
She rolls her eyes. “It’s a hungerberry. It grows seemingly naturally on a single island in the middle of the ocean, which just so happens to be named after me, on a planet called Dardius.”
“So you are aliens?”
“We’re castaways, stop losing focus. It’s called a hungerberry, because it makes you hungry. There’s no cure, certainly not on your world. I’ve been saving it for a very long time, but I haven’t kept it refrigerated, so honestly, I don’t know how potent it is. Perhaps it ferments, and grows stronger with age. It’s not shriveled and dead yet, which is weird when you consider it’s been years since I picked it. I have more than one, and like I said, we react in kind, so right now, while you’re at zero berries, you’re treading dangerously close to one berry. Now, it won’t cause you to feel starved, but you will be slightly uncomfortable for the rest of your life. You’ll never feel satiated, no matter how much you eat, but you’ll have to regulate your intake intellectually, or you could overeat, and die. Are you following me so far?”
“Poisonous berries, I got it,” he responds.
She lives up to her recent reputation of being menacing with an evil grin, and an uncomfortably jovial timbre. “Keep in mind that when I was using the word you, I wasn’t talking about you specifically. It’s more in the general sense, because I wouldn’t be force feeding you the hungerberry, I would be giving it to your daughter.” Upon the last few words, she drops the grin, and goes straight to genuine wrath.
If he wasn’t paying attention before, he is now.
“I understand that life is a give and take, so I’m not severing ties with your family, nor the lab. I will continue to work on fusion, and I will continue to execute missions to both your discretion, and my own. But you will not reach out to my husband, and you will not threaten or harm anyone else that I care about. Because if you only learn one lesson today, let it be this. The my least powerful weapon. If you fucking push me, I will ruin you. You and your daughter will suffer so hard, you will wish I had instead given you all the berries in my possession. Do you have any questions?” She overenunciates the last sentence.
He’s frightened and humbled. “No, sir. We’ll leave them alone.”
“Good. And be nicer to your assistant. Don’t be a cliché.” She takes the berry, so he can’t use it to start a war, or something, and starts to leave his office.
“One thing,” he says, still scared of her. “Is the berry real, or just a prop?”
“Oh, it’s very real. It contributed to the death of an immortal. Have a nice day.” That’ll only entice him to learn more about time travel, and find out what else is out there, but it was a pretty cool way to end the so-called conversation, so she just couldn’t help herself. She walks out of the building, and goes home to her family.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: June 21, 2398

Marie and Mateo are sitting across from each other in the two non-cubby seats while Ramses continues to do his work. They came here yesterday early morning, pretty much immediately after their run-in with Winona Honeycutt and her merry band of mercenaries. They were able to do this, because Ramses has been a lot more busy than they realized. He was able to rig up a make-shift temporal engine that can process what he calls temporal hydroxide; the apparent scientific name for water infused with temporal energy. He secured a few samples of the Death water, then injected the rest into this special new engine, which spirited them out of Türkiye airspace, and into the Atacama desert. Apparently, Body water could be found here, but only on February 9, 1972. This was just before a massive storm hit the area, delivering rainfall after a reported 400 years of drought. It’s one of the easier immortality waters to get to, but the absolute most difficult to pinpoint. If you can find water originating anywhere in a five kilometer radius, it should work, but it has to be enough, so good luck.
They’re obviously not here to look for Body water, which still no one knows the purpose of. They just needed a safe, remote place to work. They had one teleportation jump to use, and this place was on Ramses’ mind. He slept last night, but woke up bright and early to get back to the grind. He needs to be one hundred percent that this is going to do what they need it to. Unfortunately, that’s impossible, because they can’t exactly run it through human trials. Marie is okay with this. She knows that she’s taking a huge risk just by being here, and a bigger one by trying it. “Can you stop that?”
“Stop what?” Mateo asks.
“You’re bouncing your leg. Not only can I hear it, but I can feel it in my seat. This floor isn’t perfectly sturdy.”
“Sorry, I’m just nervous.”
“Why are you nervous? This is happening to me.”
“Yes, and I love you.”
She smiles. “Do you remember when we met?”
“Yeah, I was dead and fine with it, which surprised you, and all the other dead people you were in charge of orienting.”
“I could tell that you were special. Other people ended up in the afterlife to no surprise of their own. They had been given the privilege of time to accept it. But you weren’t just all right, you acted like you knew what was going to happen.”
“I didn’t. The afterlife simulation was a really well-kept secret, even amongst my people.”
She shrugs. “I guess you were just used to weird stuff.”
He nods. “Yeah.”
Ramses comes up from his little lab, which is mainly meant as an engineering section for the vehicle, but it’s the best space for his needs. “You left your phone when you came to check on me. Leona sent another coded message.”
Mateo glances at his watch. “Oh, crap, I was supposed to initiate.” He takes it, sees that she and Angela are still okay, then sends one back, letting her know that they’re fine too. They’ve been dealing with some scifi shit as well, but it’s not enough to warrant the away team’s return home, or their bug-out protocol.
“Are we ready?” Marie asks Ramses.
He grimaces just a little.
Are we?” she asks again.
I’m ready. Now it’s up to you.”
“Oh, great, it’s my responsibility again.”
“It always has been.”
“I know.”
“There is no time limit,” Ramses says. “You can wait as long as you need, or back out until I literally press the button.”
Marie sighs. “I don’t have infinite time. At some point, this cluster of cells is going to become a person, and it will become immoral to abort it.”
He nods. “I understand.” He looks around. “Um...if you still want this, I recommend we go to the cockpit. You should be lying down, and while the cubby seats recline, it would be better with more space.”
“That’s fine,” she says. “Let’s just not call it that. How about...the bridge?” After Ramses goes back downstairs to grab the machine, the two of them slow-walk up to the front. He goes in first, and Marie stops at the steps. She looks back at Mateo. “Are you coming?”
“Do you want me to?”
“I do,” she answers.
There are three steps down to the bridge, in between the pilot and co-pilot seats. Mateo sits on the first step, and holds Marie’s hand. After he places the target electrodes on either side of Marie’s belly, Ramses sits in the other seat, and calibrates his little machine. He does so carefully, so as to give her more time to cancel her request, but also to make sure it’s set up correctly. They only have one chance at this, and there is no guarantee that it will work. The fact is that she might die. Ramses Abdulrashid is an extremely intelligent and accomplished engineer, but he’s not a doctor. If something goes wrong, the first aid kit sitting open on the console might be their only hope. She’s consented a million times, but they’ve come down to the wire. In a matter of seconds, they will be at the point of no return.
He decides to give her one more opportunity. “Are you sure you want to go through with this?”
“I want this to happen,” Marie says quite formally. “I want an abortion.”
Ramses places his hand over the button. “I don’t know what it’s going to feel like physically, and I certainly don’t know what it’ll be like emotionally. It might be...jarring, like getting the wind knocked out of you. But we’re both here for you.”
“Okay,” she says, readjusting her position ever so slightly. “Do it.” She squeezes Mateo’s hand tighter.
“In five, four, three, two, one, mark.” He pushes the button.
Marie jolts and shudders.
“Are you okay?” Mateo asks.
She holds up her free hand. “I’m fine.” Her voice is tight, suggesting that she’s feeling a tightness too. “It’s just...oh, it’s cold. It’s really cold.”
“Is that normal?” Mateo asks Ramses.
“I don’t know,” he replies honestly, just as concerned and helpless.
Marie begins to do some measured breathing exercises, and relaxes as they go on. She exhales one last time, just as water is dripping onto the floor. She starts to cry.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: June 20, 2398

They took it slow. Marie first drove them into a more rural area of Germany, then had to return the controls to Ramses, so he could fly them over some of Eastern Europe, taking a little bit of a scenic route to avoid Czechian airspace. When they landed in Ukraine, they drove to the nearest dock, and floated for a little bit until submerging, and going the rest of the way through the Black Sea underwater. They reached the shores of Türkiye at around 4:00 in the morning on June 19. They weren’t at a port, though, because then they would have to register as visitors. To sneak in, they arrived at the most underpopulated area they could find, and performed a little trick.
The Olimpia can’t just transition from water to ground seamlessly. It has to roll up a ramp, and of course, that ramp has to be big and sturdy enough to accommodate it. That wouldn’t work here, so they needed a work around. In aircraft mode, it’s best to fly up as fast as possible. Vertical take-off and hovering takes a lot more energy than a normal runway launch, and forward propulsion, because it’s not drawing in ambient air to power it, among other reasons. But they can spend some fuel to make this happen, allowing them to essentially hop out of the water, and land on the road. They can’t fly as high as they would during a real trip, because then radar could spot them. Again, it’s not ideal, but necessary in this situation to meet their objective. They had to get into Türkiye undetected, and make it most of the way across the country, also undetected.
They hid in dense vegetation most of the day, but didn’t feel compelled to wait until nightfall, because they wouldn’t reach any street cameras until about halfway into this leg. Now it’s 4:00 in the morning again, and it’s time to get a sample of this Death water, hoping that it can do what Ramses believes. If not, they’ll just travel to Croatia via the Mediterranean Sea. They’ll actually probably head that way while he works.
“Hurry up, and get what you need,” Marie whispers. “This area opens to visitors in about two and a half hours, but who knows when a staff member might show up to...I dunno, pick up trash, or whatever?”
Ramses drops his bag on the ground, generating a clanking sound.
“Shh,” she whispers loudly to him. “What is in there?”
“This.” He pulls out a metal tank that’s probably large enough to fit five gallons.
“What the hell is that?” Mateo questions.
“Do I have to answer that for you, or is it rhetorical?”
“I thought you only needed a tiny sample,” Marie complains.
“We only need a sample,” Ramses agrees, “but we don’t want to come back here in the future, do we? While we’re at it, we might as well stock up. I don’t now how useful this stuff could become.” He dips it in the pool, and lets it fill up.
“It’s poison,” Marie reminds him.
“Well, I don’t plan on using it for that. If we happened to be in the Atacama Desert instead, I would take as much as I could of Body water.”
“What does Body water do?” Marie asks.
“No one knows.” As Ramses is lifting the tank up, and holding it while Mateo screws on the lid, they hear a commotion nearby.
All of the sudden, a strike team descends upon them, flaghlights and firearms drawn. A figure of authority, face still blocked by shadow, steps closer to the trio. “Is this it?” the forger, Winona Honeycutt’s voice asks. “Is this what gives you your power?”
“You’re going to spark an international incident if you try to take it,” Marie says, stepping towards her.
“It looks like you’re taking it,” Winona replies.
“We were thirsty.” Ramses struggles to lift the tank up to his mouth, then partakes when Mateo steadies it for him. If his theory is correct, it shouldn’t be poisonous without some good old fashioned temporal energy.
“Hand it over,” Winona demands.
Mateo screws the lid back on, and begins to place it in the bag.
“I said, hand it over,” she repeats more earnestly.
“Remember how I told you we would do anything to protect ourselves and each other?” Mateo asks her.
“Stabbing yourself isn’t gonna help you this time,” Winona explains. “We have a medic on standby right here, and our own doctor back on the plane.”
“I don’t intend to stab myself. I’m reminding you that you’re out of your league.”
“My dear,” Winona begins. “It is you who is out of his league. My father and I are playing chess, while you’re playing checkers.”
Mateo chuckles. “Then neither of us can win. We’re not using the same pieces. We’re not even on the same game board. Your advantage is an illusion.”
“My advantage looks like a battery of guns,” she counters, indicating her people.
That’s true, Mateo is really just stalling, and it sounds like he and Ramses did so for as long as necessary. They hear an explosion in the distance. Lights fill the sky. Everyone looks over to find more explosions, and more lights. Someone has set up a fireworks show. It’s incredibly odd timing. In any reality, he would assume it was a cognizant friend, or even a future version of himself, creating a diversion, but here, it must just be a coincidence.
Whatever the cause, it’s enough. Mateo feels himself being pulled over the edge of the pool, and into the water. A surge of energy overwhelms his body, and snaps him away, delivering him to the ground beside the Olimpia.
A woman comes around the corner holding a gun. “Stop right there!”
Marie stands up, and hits her in the forehead—not like a boxer, but with the precision of a grasshopper. She falls to the ground, unconscious. She stands with her friends for half a moment. “No jokes about how fitting it was for a woman to get into a fight with another woman.”
Fight?” Mateo echoes. “That was a savage takedown.”
“We gotta go.” Ramses opens the door, and climbs in, followed by Marie and Mateo. “Hey, Olimpia, engage Escape Pattern Alpha.”
“Acknowledged. Initiating.” The plane takes off, and heads for the dark skies.
“How did we teleport?” Marie asks.
I’m the one who teleported,” Ramses answers her. He shows them a syringe. “This is why I’m confident I can make the abortion bullet—”
“Don’t call it that.”
“I’ve figured out how to synthesize temporal energy,” he continues. “It’s only temporary, so I could inject you two too, but I think I have a better idea.”

Monday, August 22, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: June 19, 2398

The LIR Map, yeah, that sounds interesting, but Angela is going through something right now that she feels she can’t talk to anyone about. It was her idea to take Marie’s place at her job, but the situation has turned out to be a house of cards, and she’s worried about ruining the whole thing. At some point, when this all dies down, Marie is going to want to return to her life, and it’s Angela’s responsibility to make sure it still exists when that happens. She thought it was a great idea to use the artificial intelligence that Ramses took from The Constant, but it’s placed her in an awkward position. She thought she was being so clever, carefully utilizing the powerful tool in such a way to prevent others from noticing. Notice, they did. Apparently, her employer has been utilizing an AI of their own. To make sure the code that their programmers write is created by a human, and is not some kind of virus, they scan all submissions. No one is in trouble, but her superiors are very interested in how her code keeps failing the scan tests. They’re just too perfect.
She finishes the video call with the Prime Executive of the company. It’s a pretty big deal. This guy doesn’t normally talk to people like her. She keeps downplaying her work, indicating that she simply spent a lot of time bulking up her library of repeaters, which would explain why her new programs are so sophisticated and bug-free, but he’s not buying it. He can’t force her to do anything, and he’s being really nice and patient about it, but this is why Marie’s life could all just fall apart.
A knock on the door. Heath is on the other side. When did he get home? “Is everything okay?”
“It’s fine, why?” Angela replies.
“I couldn’t help but hear part of the conversation. Evidently, you’re doing quite well at Marie’s job?”
As far as she knows, the people on this team don’t lie to each other. Of course, she may just be ignorant about it, and it’s certainly no good reason to lie to them herself, but in this case, she probably has no choice. They have enough on their plates. This is her problem, and she has to fix it, no matter the cost. “Yeah, it’s not that hard once you get the hang of it.”
He’s giving her the same face the exec was when she was trying to lie to him. “It actually sounds like you’re too good at the job.”
“What are you saying, that I’m better than your wife?”
“You want I should call her about that? Could I get a quote?”
“What are you talking about? How did this become hostile?”
“Are you accusing me of something?”
“No, of course not. What kind of accusation might that be?”
“Just...I need to be alone right now.”
“Okay, that’s fine, I just—”
She closes the door, and leans up against it, trying some breathing exercises. This isn’t going to work. She needs help, even if she gets in trouble for what she tried to do. He’s still standing there when she opens it up again, like he knew she would. “All right. Let me tell you the truth.”
“It’s okay. We’ll figure it out. I have an instinct to help people with your face.”