Monday, October 31, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: August 28, 2398

While the agency continues their search for Erlendr Preston, who is still in the body of Ramses Abdulrashid, Leona and Ramses continue their work on the timonite. It has gotten them just about nowhere. Since Mateo coughed it up in Lebanon, there is very little they have been able to learn about the thing. It doesn’t respond to temperature or pressure changes. It doesn’t refract light, or interact with immortality water. Despite its beautiful, and sometimes mesmerizing, appearance, and the unusual route they took to find it, it just appears to be a regular rock. It does feel a long lighter than they would expect, given its size, but perhaps that’s more about how important it is to them.
Mateo has come up to the lab to check on them? “Hey, wadya know?” 
They don’t know much. It’s technicolor, which implies a connection to the greater bulk. It’s impossible to cut, even using lasers, so that’s both an interesting fact, and why they have not been able to learn anything else. There must be some loophole. There must be a way to do something with it, because it can’t just be a really pretty paperweight.
“You cleaned it, right?” Mateo admires it, sitting on its little display stand.
“Since it was in your stomach? Yes, husband.”
“Whoa, I thought you were Ramses,” Mateo jokes. “Hold on...who did I sleep with last night?”
“Trying to lighten the mood,” Ramses presumes. Nice try. This is pretty depressing work.”
“Maybe it’s alive. Have you tried to feed it?” Mateo reaches out to poke it like a middle schooler at the museum of natural history. He doesn’t tap on it very hard, or it would fall off the pedestal, but it doesn’t matter, because it sticks to his finger like a magnet. He instinctively tries to flick it off with his other finger, but it only makes things worse.
“What the hell is happening?” Either Leona or Ramses questions.
What Mateo said before was a joke, but he’s not looking at them, so he genuinely can’t tell who said that. He’s too focused on getting the stone off of his fingers. He shakes it like you’re not supposed to shake a Polaroid picture, but it won’t come off. He tries to pull it off with his other hand, knowing that it’s not going to work, but desperate and not thinking clearly. The stone melts in his hands, and separates in half. The molten rock wraps itself completely around Mateo’s hand and fingers, and threatens to flow higher up on his arms. “Oh my God! It’s Venom! I’m Venom! Stay back, I’m gonna bite your head off!” But then it stops. “Oh, wait. Wait, I think I’m fine.” His hands are now technicolor and kind of sparkly, but otherwise, they just look like hands.
Leona and Ramses are staring at him in concern. “How do you feel?” she asks.
“I feel fine.”
“Does it...tingle, or hurt?” Ramses asks, ready to take notes, as always.
“It doesn’t feel like anything,” Mateo replies. “I can’t even tell that it’s there.” Without thinking, he leans back on the table beside him, and sets his hand down upon it. A pool of technicolor liquid comes out, and begins to overwhelm the desk, and everything on it. Once the entire top is covered, it all disappears, but it doesn’t manage to take any of the legs, so they just fall down, unsupported.
“Ramses, can you track that?” Leona questions.
Ramses grabs his tablet, and taps through the menus. “It’s off the charts.”
“What does that mean?” Mateo asks, making sure that he doesn’t touch anything else, including his own face, which of course, now itches quite a bit.
“Wherever you sent that stuff, it’s beyond the borders of our reality. I can’t track things that go to other realities, or...”
“Or what?” Mateo prompts.
“Or other universes,” Ramses finishes.
“You are wearing technicolor hands now,” Leona notes.
“Oh, yeah, just say it like it’s normal,” Mateo says sarcastically. He calms down a notch or two. “What was on that table?”
“Not much,” Leona explains. “Just some basic equipment, and a high-powered microscope.”
“That’s not all,” Ramses remembers.
“What?” Leona asks.
“My copy of your fusion work. That was on there too. That was all there. I didn’t think something like this would happen.”
They don’t know if that’s really bad, really good, or maybe doesn’t matter. If it landed at the bottom of the ocean, or an uninhabited world, or somewhere in the middle of outer space, it could be fine. It could also change the course of history for the entire population of some unsuspecting universe out there. They may never know. All they know right now is that Mateo can’t touch anything for the time being, not even his own clothes. Within minutes, he’s completely naked. This is gonna be a problem.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: August 27, 2398

When Ramses returned to the lab, he inspected it, but by then, Angela had reviewed the cameras. When Erlendr teleported there in his body, he was seemingly disoriented. He didn’t have some elaborate plan, and likely still doesn’t; it was an act of desperation. He wants to be free, and he probably felt like this was his only option. He stole the LIR Map for the same reasons, because it happened to be the nearest object when he first appeared. He might have even been only hoping for a stack of cash, or maybe a change of clothes. He got lucky, really, but now they suspect he’s using it to avoid detection. The map seems to show you what you need to achieve your objectives, not necessarily what you consciously wish. All he wants now is to stay out of sight, so it’s showing him CCTV blindspots, speed traps, and the like. That’s just the guess, though. At least that was Leona’s guess, once she returned home from rescuing her husband.
She and Ramses are sitting across from each other in his apartment. “I’m sorry.”
“You bent over to plug something in, it’s fine.”
“I’m not sorry for that. I mean, I am—I feel like an idiot—but I’m sorry that I’m trapped in this body.”
“Wait, are you apologizing to me because you look like me now?”
“I haven’t showered, I close my eyes when I go to the bathroom.”
“Do—do you want me to absolve you of some kind of sin? Do you want me to give you my blessing to use that body however you need to?”
Ramses sighs. “I’m just apologizing. I would apologize to her, but she’s not here. You’re the closest thing I got.”
“Rambo, you built me the body I’m using right now. You took a sample of my DNA, and cloned me. You have seen me naked, and we’re all friends here. You don’t have to be uncomfortable. This is just a substrate. It might have been weird in the past, but with consciousness transference, it’s just not a big deal anymore.”
“It still feels like a big deal. She wasn’t an empty clone, she was a real person.”
Leona nods. “Did you ever meet Téa Stendahl?”
“She was before my time. You told me about her, though. She was your brother.”
“That’s right. In one reality, she was my brother, and in the next, she wasn’t. She was born Ed Bolton in the eighteenth century, and traveled through time starting in the early nineteenth. He died, and was reincarnated as Theo Delaney. Fastforward to when my husband went back in time to kill Hitler, and created an entirely new reality, and suddenly I didn’t have a brother anymore. I didn’t even know what he was to me until my brain was blended later. When Arcadia was tormenting us on the island, we sometimes had downtime, and we got to talking about it. I asked her why she identified as a woman, even though she had more memories of a man. Was she transgender? She said, no. I’m just me. I’m not a man, or a woman; I’m not even salmon. I’m a person. When I was a man, I felt like a man, and now I feel like a woman, but if the powers that be see fit to reincarnate me as a praying mantis...I suppose I’ll feel like a praying mantis. There was a praying mantis sort of creature in the grass next to us while she was explaining it. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“Not really,” Ramses admits.
“I guess I’m saying...relax. You’re fine, Reaver’s fine, I’m fine. It’s gonna be fine.”
“That’s not necessarily true. Erlendr is still out there, somewhere.”
“We’ll catch him,” Leona says confidently. “He doesn’t have an identity here, so he can’t even leave the country.”
“He has the teleporter, and he knows how to use it.”
She shakes her head. The teleporter will run out of juice, if it hasn’t already, and he won’t know how to get more. Even if he did, he doesn’t strike her as the type of person who knows enough about technology to modify it to take him anywhere but right back to their lab. “He was only scary because of all the power he wielded in the main sequence. It was power that he was born with, and which is now gone. I bet he doesn’t even know how to drive a car, because he’s never had to before. We will catch him, and we’ll switch you back. Do you believe me?”
“I guess,” Ramses replies bashfully.
“I promise you, this is all going to work out. I just flew a helicopter in and out of a portal that took me to another reality. We’re closer than ever to figuring this all out. Now come on, let’s get back to studying that timonite. Trina is still our first priority.”

Saturday, October 29, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: August 26, 2398

Ever since the incident that sent Leona Delaney, Leona Reaver, Andile Mhlangu, Alt!Mateo Matic, and presumably Trina McIver to the main sequence, Leona Reaver’s body has been kept alive in the SD6 black site. The team asked the agency to  hook her up to life support, because they don’t know for sure what happens to a body whose consciousness has vacated it. Back in the main sequence, it’s legal to transfer a consciousness to another substrate, and then just leave the old body lying there. Bills were passed before it was possible, dictating the responsibility of whatever licensed individual or organization conducted the transfer. The old body must either be destroyed, or kept alive artificially. No legal experiments have been done to observe the consequences of leaving such an empty body as is. The assumption is that it would just die, even though certain involuntary bodily processes, including breathing and pumping blood can continue without true consciousness. To let that body die on its own is considered just as unethical as letting a real person die.
Alyssa insisted that Erlendr not be placed in chains. She doesn’t want to see her sister like that. She doesn’t want the memory of that to sit in her brain forever. It should be okay, Erlendr wants to make this transfer. He doesn’t want to look like a little girl any longer than he has to. Still, two guards walk at his flank while Alyssa holds him by the hand. It’s weird and uncomfortable, but necessary. They lead him into the room where Ramses is waiting next to Reaver’s bed. He has wrapped the Livewire around the Insulator of life. One end is attached to a helmet of his own invention, which he has placed around Reaver’s head. The helmet on the other end is sitting on the nightstand. A regular wire, which will provide power, is leading to the wall, but it has not been plugged in yet. He could probably attach a switch to the apparatus for easier control, but it’s safer just to keep electricity out of the equation until the last possible second.
“Okay,” Ramses says. “Everything’s ready, so everyone needs to leave the room.”
“We can’t do that, sir,” one of the SD6 guards replies.
“These helmets have never been tested,” Ramses explains. “Energy is going to be passing through the Livewire, which is not insulated. I’m not sure that it can be, and still function properly. There’s a chance that energy gets loose, and I don’t want to be responsible for what happens to anyone nearby. It’s better if I only put myself at risk.”
The guards exchange a look, and then leave the room.
“Go on,” Ramses says to Alyssa.
“Promise me that this will work,” she demands.
“I can’t do that. This is new territory. I had never even heard of the Livewire until recently. I can tell you that your sister is safe. Nothing’s going to happen to her body. Honestly, Erlendr is at the most risk here.”
“Gee, thanks,” Erlendr says.
Ramses ignores him. “Go on. You can watch from the observation window.”
Alyssa leaves, and closes the door behind her.
Unlike the cells down below, the observation room isn’t directly connected, so Ramses waits a minute to make sure that she has time to get there. Meanwhile, he has Erlendr sit in the chair next to Reaver’s bed. He sets the helmet upon Trina’s head, and makes sure that it’s secure. He didn’t include a chinstrap, but as long as Erlendr doesn’t move during the process, it should be fine. “Are you ready?”
“Absolutely,” Erlendr answers. “Get me out of here.”
“Okay.” Ramses gets on his knees, and picks up the power cable. He reaches for the socket, and just as he gets to it, he feels something on his head. He doesn’t manage to stop himself in time before power begins to run through the wires, and once it does, he can’t move at all. In a flash, the world goes dark.
Ramses is lying on his back when he comes to. “What happened?”
“Erlendr corrupted the procedure,” Alyssa explains. “I’m sorry. He’s in your body now. You’re in Leona’s.”
Groggy, Ramses flutters his eyes open, and looks down at himself. He can see the hospital gown that she was wearing. He looks over to the floor, where his own body is slumped against the wall. One of the guards is placing him in handcuffs, and pulling him into a more comfortable position. “How long has it been?”
“Not even a minute,” Alyssa responds. “You woke up a lot faster than the others did before.”
“I figured it would happen like that.” Ramses clear’s Reaver’s throat. “There’s no temporal factor.” He looks back down at Erlendr once he comes to. “What did you think you were going to accomplish? Now that we know it works, we’ll just switch.”
Erlendr puffs Ramses’ chest out, testing the tautness of the cuffs. “If there’s one thing I know about you, Rambo, it’s that you always have an exit strategy.” He pulls the cuffs under himself, and around his feet. The guard is back on him quickly, but it doesn’t really matter, because he doesn’t understand what to expect. Erlendr reaches up to the emergency teleporter strapped to his chest, and disappears.
“Call the building!” Ramses shouts to Alyssa. “He’s in my lab!”
“They took our phones!” Alyssa shouts back. “I don’t know the number by heart!” she cries when the guard tries to hand her his.
“Give it to me,” Ramses orders. He takes the phone, and dials Angela, hoping that she can make it upstairs in time to stop Erlendr before he does something crazy. “Angie, this is Ramses, trapped in Reaver’s body. Erlendr is in mine, and he’s there.”
He can hear her breathing heavily as she skips steps up the stairs. She opens the door, and starts to rush around, looking in every corner, and under every desk. “He’s gone. If he was ever here, he’s gone now. He probably took the fire escape.
“Is anything missing?” Ramses asks her.
I don’t know. I’m not familiar enough with all the stuff you have up—wait.
“Wait, what?” Ramses asks.
What did you have in the gray case where we found the LIR Map?
“The LIR Map,” Ramses answers. There was no reason to keep it anywhere but where it came from.
Oh. Then he took the LIR Map.
“Crap. Okay. I’ll get there when I can. Thanks.” Ramses hangs up, and starts to get out of bed. It’s a little difficult, learning how to maneuver this new body, so he’s going to take it slow. “Clean the sheets, replace the life support systems, and put Trina in them,” he orders one of the men. “No one else comes in without my say-so.”
“Yes, sir.”
He looks to the other. “And you, I need to find someone in the city.”
“This site is designed to contain suspects, persons of interest, and prisoners. Such tools cannot be here. I’ll initiate transport to the field office.”

Friday, October 28, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: August 25, 2398

By the time Mateo, Winona, Tarboda, and the cartographer, Oreata Kask, arrived at Stonehenge, it was full of people. In the main sequence, there could be billions of tourists who never had the pleasure of visiting the place, but most people on the islands in what is apparently the Fourth Quadrant have seen it by now. It’s often used for music festivals, food festivals, and all kinds of other festivals. For Sunday and Monday, and into this morning, it was booked for an exhibition dance party. Most of the fun took place a ways away from the stones, but party-goers were close enough that Mateo didn’t want to try anything there. He doesn’t want witnesses. While they were waiting, they helped Oreata in her office, organizing maps, and performing simple clerical duties. It was weird, seeing the world as almost all water. They had dinner both nights with the first friendly stranger they met, but slept in Oreata’s guest room.
Now that it’s midafternoon, they’re walking back to the prehistoric monument that spans realities. On the way, Mateo starts to think about what that means. Maybe they’re truly the same stones, which exist in multiple realities at once. Then again, much of Kansas City is the same here for no logical reason. This was all probably done on purpose by choosing ones. They seem to be responsible for everything.
“What are you thinking about?” Winona asks him.
“It’s hard to articulate,” Mateo replies. “My mind is a jumble of thoughts. I try to come up with explanations for the world around me, basing my presumptions on my exposure to more intelligent people, such as my wife. I fail a lot at that, and it takes me longer than a normal person to purge my system of all the nonsense.”
“That is a shockingly thoughtful answer, coming from someone who obviously understands himself well.”
“It’s harder for smart people to admit their faults. I’m more used to them.”
The conversation ends once they realize that they’ve made it to the henge. No one else is in sight, so this is a good time for them to conduct their experiments, whatever those may be. They don’t have immortality water full of temporal energy—and wouldn’t be able to find any without the planet’s normal geographical boundaries for reference—so there is only so much they can do. They can try to walk through a portal, and see if something happens. If nothing does, then that’s probably the end of the story.
The closer they get to the stones, the more the other three fall behind. They listened to Mateo’s stories, and it has them worried. Time travel sounds quite dangerous, and a portal can just as easily trap you on one side as the other. Sure, it might work, but if they don’t like what’s over there, what if they can’t cross back? Mateo nods softheartedly. “I’ll go on my own, assuming there is anywhere to go at all.”
Winona composes herself. “I’ll go with you. My training didn’t prepare me for this specifically, but I know how to survive.”
“Someone should stay behind either way,” Tarboda suggests. “If you never come back, we’re the only two people here who know what happened.”
“Unless you can get through to Kansas City,” Mateo begins. “If we don’t come back, tell whoever needs to hear that I have an idea. The people in the bubble might not be able to see through the barrier, but sunlight gets through somehow, so blot it out. If you can, tell them that Mateo Matic sent you. They all know me there.” He turns to Oreata. “Pick a number between one and eleven.”
Oreata shrugs. “Eleven.”
In his head, Mateo decided that the lone archway on one side of the circle is number one, and the rest go clockwise. “Number eleven it is. Follow me, Winnie.” He approaches the opening, and begins to feel different. The air is a little warmer around it. The differences only feel stronger the more he steps over the threshold. This is definitely something. It may not be what they want, but these are not just stones on stones on stones. There’s more resistance as he continues. It’s not impossible to walk through. It’s not even like something is trying to stop him. It feels like a protective membrane that needs a little bit more effort to breach. Breach he does. The pillars on either side of him start to move farther from each other, and change shape. He steps all the way through, and in a blink, he’s somewhere else, standing under a beautifully designed wooden archway. He only has to look around a little to know that this is Japan, or at least somewhere in Asia. It’s probably Kure, like Tarboda explained.
Winona comes in right behind him. “Whoa, you weren’t kidding.”
No one noticed their arrival, but there are plenty of people bustling about. He reaches out towards a man who looks less in a hurry than most. “Excuse me. English? You speak English?”
The man shakes his head.
Kind of a dumb question, but, “Japan?” He indicates the world around them.
“Japan,” he echoes. “Hai.” He’s confused, but humoring him.
“Uhh...China?” he asks, as he’s scanning the environment with his hand over his eyes, like he’s searching for it. “China?”
“China?” The man shakes his head like he’s never heard of it. He probably hasn’t.
“Arigato,” Mateo butchers the only word he knows, thanks to a certain pop song.
They walk back through the Japanese archway, and return to Stonehenge. As much time has passed for Tarboda and Oreata as for them, so no apparent time travel has occurred. They take turns, and try to walk through the other portals. Confident now in the dependability of the process, Tarboda accompanies him to Panama and El-Sheikh Zayed, and Oreata goes with to Easter Island and Muskoka District. Tarboda and Winona try to cross over to Machu Picchu on their own, but nothing happens. Upon trying it himself, Mateo learns that he has to be there, presumably because he’s time traveled so much more than all of them combined. One of the archways is blocked by a wall of glass, and some of them don’t go anywhere, even for Mateo. This is great, but they don’t really need to get to the rest of the Fourth Quadrant. They need to get back to the Third Rail, or ideally, the main sequence. Four of the openings feel like they should work, but do not, plus the one that’s probably KC.
“This changes everything,” Oreata says, awe-inspired, and hopeful for the future. “Thank you so much for helping us make these connections.”
“It may be a start, but I’m afraid I can’t spend the rest of my life ferrying people back and forth. What we need is a permanent solution from someone smarter.”
That was a cue to the universe. A shimmering portal opens in the sky, over the grassy area on the other side of the trees, where they first woke up in this reality. A helicopter descends from it, and lands before them. The door opens, and Leona hops out to meet the other four halfway. “Guys...where are we?”

Thursday, October 27, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: August 24, 2398

As soon as Leona walks into the room, Senator Honeycutt’s face drops into a here we go again expression. His assistant has to apologize for letting her in yet again. He keeps telling her to stop trying, because it’s not worth it, and to definitely stop apologizing for it. If Leona wants to go somewhere, she’s going to go there, and he knows it. “Agent Matic, what can I do for you this time?”
“When was the last time you spoke with your daughter?” she asks.
“Let’s see, is it Monday?”
“Yes,” she replies.
“Then...never. I don’t have a daughter.”
“Is that some sort of sad internal family political thing, or are you saying that you literally don’t have a daughter?”
“I literally don’t have any kids. Never have.”
She squints at him. “Given your age, position of power, and marriage status, why would you have never had children? Isn’t it sort of expected of you by your peers?”
“Well, it just so happens...” He trails off, realizing that this is a very good question. Men like him are concerned with legacy. It wouldn’t make much sense for him to rely exclusively on his career to keep his name alive. Children are a guaranteed legacy, even if you never do anything else with your life. He rests his forehead on his hand, and his elbow on the desk. “Why didn’t I have children?”
“You did,” Leona explains. “You just can’t remember her.”
“Why? What could cause me to lose my memory?”
“Well, there are a number of possible causes. The direct approach would be someone coming to you directly to remove the memories from your mind. Tell you what, call someone who would be cognizant of your fathering status, and ask them if they remember her. But it can’t be someone too close to you, because a memory thief may have gotten to them too. Choose someone distant, remote, but still unlikely to not be aware of your basic family information.”
“How old is she?”
“Late 20s, I think. I actually don’t really know.”
He thinks about it for a bit, and then calls someone to ask. He hangs up. “She doesn’t remember her either. We haven’t seen each other in about fifteen years, but back then, she would have known this mysterious missing daughter.” He’s so distraught now.
“Okay, so the next logical conclusion is that something happened to her, and my husband, which has ripped them from our spacetime.”
“You have a husband?”
“Yes, and a pilot-slash-boat captain named Tarboda Hobson took them to Easter Island. Is any of this ringing a bell?”
“I remember approving a plane. I don’t remember who for, or for what purpose.”
“Well, my memory is ripple proof, because of all the experience I have traveling through time. Only me and part of my team are like that, so I’m going to need you to approve another airplane, but it has to be something that can be flown by an amateur.”
“We have a prototype AICraft.” He doesn’t know what he’s fighting for, but he believes Leona, and is fighting for his lost daughter anyway.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: August 23, 2398

Neither Winona nor Tarboda have any clue what the United Kingdom is, or the North Atlantic Isles, or anything else that it might be called. If they ever called it something else, they don’t know that either, because it doesn’t even seem familiar when he tries to talk about a big land mass above France on the map. To them, there’s pretty much only ocean there. That’s when Mateo remembers that at least one little bit of England remained where it was meant to be, as its own tiny island. “Follow me.”
“Follow you where?” Tarboda questions, but he and Winona follow anyway.
“We’re gonna see if Bristol is here, or not. We’ll need to find some wheels, though, if they’re even a thing here.” They’re on a path, and that looks like a road in the middle distance, so vehicles existed here at some point. “We have yet to see a soul.”
“What are we expecting?” Winona asks.
“We’re expecting it to be missing,” Mateo answers. “We’re expecting nothing but water. That’s assuming I’m taking us in the right direction.”
They start walking northwest, which is about as accurate as Mateo can get with the orientation. They see the occasional farm building, and more roads, but no other signs of life. If the isles were sucked into a portal, the process may have been detrimental to complex life. If it happened a long enough time ago, maybe the plantlife came back on its own, Mateo doesn’t know how it works. Or maybe they’re just in a rural area, and nobody happens to be around. Finally, after a solid five-k, they find a small town, just waking up for the day.
“Morning!” a local calls out to them from across the street. He jogs over to them. “Are you nomads? I’ve already eaten, but my nanny will be making breakfast for my children soon. You’re welcome to join, and then stay with us for a night.”
“We’re not nomads,” Winona explains. “We’re just travelers. We’re looking for a town called Bristol.”
The stranger frowns, but not in a sad way. “Hmm. Never heard of it.” That’s a good sign. “The county cartographer would be able to help you. She’s heard of every street, every building, in the whole world.”
“Oh, wow. Tell me,” Mateo says, “how big is the world?”
He smiles. “Why, I’m not sure. She would know that too. If you’re asking how much land there is, though, I think it’s about 150 leagues wide, and 200 leagues long.”
“And there’s nothing beyond it?” Tarboda asks him.
“Beyond the ocean?” He laughs. “Not that I know of. Explorers used to search, but I think they gave up on it.” He narrows his eyes at them playfully. “Wait a second, you wouldn’t happen to be from beyond the ocean, would you?”
“What would happen to us if we were?” Winona asks.
“Well, we would celebrate, of course! New friends? We only ever get new friends when babies are born! They’re great, but they don’t say too much, and they’re always complaining.” He’s either talking in the more general sense of an isolated population, or there aren’t millions of people here, like there ought to be. “Anyway, I must get to work in Winterbourne Stoke in about an hour. The cartographer lives over there! Good luck!” He just heads down the street, not getting into a car, which suggests that he’s going to walk, and if he has to be there in an hour, it’s probably pretty far away. Hopefully they do have cars here somewhere. They would ask, but he’s busy, and he’s been so nice.
The cartographer’s house is across the street from a park, so that’s where they sit until a more appropriate hour. By the time they feel like it’s late enough, guessing by the sun, a fairly old woman comes out of the house. They approach her cautiously, but when she sees them, she smiles as joyfully as the man did. People are real friendly ‘round these here parts. She speaks before they can even explain why they’re there. “Nomads, no doubt! Please, accompany me to work. I would love to hear stories of your travels.”
Mateo decides to take a risk. “We’re from the world beyond the ocean.”
She frowns in a disbelieving way, and looks around for eavesdroppers. “Tell me where, and if you try to lie, I’ll know. I’m aware of all the islands.”
“We’re not from an island, we’re from Kansas City,” Mateo says.
She perks up. “Funny you don’t consider it an island. We’ve always suspected that the residents could not see outside the bubble. Tell me, how did you escape?”
“The bubble?” Mateo asks. While she’s not responding, he looks away to think. “You’ve seen this bubble? From the outside?”
“Not personally. I’ve seen video footage, taken from the scouting plane. How did you escape?” she repeats.
Mateo keeps thinking. “What other places have you seen? Easter Island, maybe?”
“Yes. That, plus Kure, Muskoka District, El-Sheikh Zayed, Panama, and Machu Picchu.”
“Have you heard of those places?” Mateo asks Winona.
“I’ve heard of Panama and Machu Picchu, of course, but that’s it,” she answers.
“Kure is in Japan,” Tarboda adds. “I flew missions there during World War VI.”
“And I’ve heard of Muskoka,” Mateo says. “It’s in Canada. Have you ever heard of Canada?” he asks the cartographer.
“Nope, are people nice there?” she asks.
“Very,” he replies. “Are all the others in bubbles?”
“None of the others is,” she says. “Only Kansas City, and we only called it that because we saw signs for Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri. We figured Kansas and Missouri were the subdivisions, and their conventions reverse the order.”
Mateo gets back into his own head. He had always wondered why they called The Fourth Quadrant its own reality when it just seemed to be a pocket dimension. Based on his interactions with the people living there, they believe that their universe is as small as the metropolitan area. He wonders how they explained the sun, because it’s only now that he knows that the sun he’s looking up at right now is the same one. There’s a whole world out there, and the key to reaching the farthest corners of it lies in that circle of stones to the southeast. He’s sure of it. “We have to go back.”
“We have to go back where?” Winona questions.
“Stonehenge. Those stone archways aren’t just well-placed rocks. They’re doorways. They’re portals.”
“I don’t understand,” the cartographer admits.
“That’s okay,” Mateo says. “I don’t understand it either. We just have to go back where we came from. I really appreciate the information, and thank you to your people for being so pleasant and accommodating.”
“Wait,” she says. “Information should go both ways.”
“I’ll do you one better,” Mateo begins. “If I’m right, there’s a way back to your world of origin, so you’re about to meet billions of new friends.”

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: August 22, 2398

Mateo, Winona, and Tarboda arrived on Rapa Nui yesterday, but they were required to wait in a facility during a 24-hour quarantine period. They came out with a clean bill of health, and are presently arriving at the volcano on the southern end of Easter Island, Ranu Kao. The last time Mateo was here, it was in the main sequence, and things were a lot different. For him, this island is famous for the mysterious humanoid sculptures that are located in a different region. For the people of The Third Rail, this is a nice resort with a rich history that the people who visit here don’t care all that much about. The island has beautiful landscapes, unique flora, and tame fauna, and is considered one of the best places to go if you want to get away from civilization, since it’s so far from the mainland. The statues Mateo remembers were never built here, though. He can’t recall exactly what they’re called, and since they don’t exist, no one can tell him. Perhaps this island doesn’t have any special temporal properties here. It would explain why the crater lake that’s meant to be here is completely dry.
“Is that bad?” Winona asks. “What does that mean?”
“I have no idea,” Mateo answers. “Leona should be here.”
“She’s quite busy.”
“Because your father is trying to take over the world with fusion power!” he argues, but he knows that he shouldn’t be too mad about it. Of course the government would want to mass produce the greatest breakthrough in energy production thus far. Leona knew it would happen, she just didn’t realize how little they cared about the rocket they built, which started it all.
“You said there was a secret passageway under the water,” Winona says, taking no offense to his words. “Maybe it’s still down there.”
He just frowns and kicks at the dirt.
“Come on. Let’s go on down. Tarboda, stay up here and keep a lookout.” The pilot nods respectfully. He’s been pretty cool about all this. He doesn’t seem to have ever belonged in that amoral group of mercenaries they met in Bermuda.
They carefully climb down the steep sides of the crater, and head for the bottom. As it was indeed underwater, and pretty dark, Mateo can’t remember exactly where the cave was, but it was somewhere on the opposite side as the ocean. His instinct is that it’s precisely the opposite, so that’s where they start looking. At a quick glance, there is no opening, which makes sense, or someone would have found it forever ago. Still, it can’t require a key, or a map, or an incantation. He also won’t accept the possibility that, like the moai—oh yeah, that’s what they’re called—it just doesn’t exist at all. It has to be here somewhere. All of the other significant places they’ve been to have been at least a little significant in this reality too. He starts running his hands along the walls, looking for anything unusual. “Go that way, please,” he asks her.
She does as he asks, but her heart’s not in it. Neither is his, but even so, they keep working at it. She has one little collapsible shovel, and one machete. She gives him the former to look for unstable spots. There’s so much ground to cover, and they don’t know where it might be on the z-axis, so Tarboda drops ropes down, and manages them from the top of the crater. No one comes to find them doing this. It’s apparently not that popular of a tourist destination, probably because it’s dried up, and they’re approaching the off-season. They work at this for hours. Ramses sent a bottle of Existence water in case he needed to do an emergency teleport, but it’s probably not going to come up, so he just drinks it once his regular canteen runs out. Once that container runs out, he decides that there is no point in going on. “Stop, just stop. There’s nothing here.”
“I know,” Winona agrees. “I’m sorry that this was such a disappointing trip.”
“What’s that you say!” Tarboda asks from above.
“We’re calling it quits!” Mateo explains.
“Oh, okay! I’ll pull you up!”
“No! I’m gonna do one more thing!” He removes his harness, and drops a meter down to the ground. Then he runs over to as close to the center of the crater as he can find. Here, while flipping off the world beyond, he pees. “Now who’s too dry?” he asks the island. Once he’s finished, he turns around, and gives the other two a thumbs up.
“Real classy!” Winona shouts at him.
He pumps his fist in the air. “Yeah!” Yeah, is right, assuming the question is if he’s tired, hungry, and closer to dehydration than he probably should be for as much as he drank. He tries to start walking back towards his rope when the ground trembles; just a little, but enough to throw him off balance.
“You better come on back!” Winona advises.
“I’ll get right on it!” Mateo replies. He starts again, but the ground shakes again, this time much harder. Each time he stops, the shaking stops, and each time he tries to move again, it moves too. Either it’s a coincidence, or some wibbly-wobbly shit is going on down here.
“Run!” Winona yells at him.
He takes her advice, but doesn’t get very far. The ground caves in under him, starting from the center, and expanding out, but not uniformly. It becomes impossible for him to stay ahead of it when the ground between him and Winona disappears early. Before he can see if enough of the Existence water is still in his system for him to teleport, he falls, and loses consciousness.
He awakens in the tall grass, wet from the morning dew. He’s not aching anywhere, but he’s dizzy and confused, and he can’t see well. His short term memory is gone at first, and has to come back to him in waves as he’s looking around and blinking, trying to fix his vision. The fuzziness subsides, and reveals an open grassy area, and some nearby trees. Winona and Tarboda are both lying there too. He crawls over to confirm their pulses and steady breaths. This is enough to wake them up, and they seem to be experiencing the same symptoms as they work to wake themselves up more.
“Where are we?” Tarboda asks.
“Unknown,” Mateo answers. We fell down into a cave, though, and now we’re back on the surface. Either someone moved us, or...”
“Or what?”
“Or we traveled. Can you both walk?” Mateo asks.
“Yes,” they answer simultaneously.
The three of them struggle to their feet, then struggle some more, like a newborn calf. Once they feel comfortable enough, they pick a random direction, and begin walking. It’s not long before they come upon something that Mateo recognizes. “Whoa.”
“What the hell is that?” Winona asks.
That is Stonehenge, and these...are the missing British Isles.”
“The whatnow?”

Monday, October 24, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: August 21, 2398

Ever since Arcadia bailed on Team Matic, Alyssa has been working as the receptionist at Angela and Kivi’s company. It’s been pretty easy. As a startup, they don’t have a lot of calls and foot traffic. She’s getting paid for the work, which seems quite weird seeing as her and her family’s room and board are also being provided by these people. They have given them so much, and now it’s time to ask them for one more thing. She needs to have a conversation with the man trapped in her sister’s body, but she has to ask permission. The security guards will let her watch him through a one-way mirror, but there is to be no direct contact without authorization, and only a member of the core group can make such a decision. She’s also going to need the day off.
“Are you sure that’s wise?” Kivi asks. “You remember, Trina isn’t in there, right?”
“I know,” Alyssa says. “She’s in the past with your other friends. I just...I wanna know who he is.”
“I can’t help you with that, but the others could.”
“I’ve heard enough second hand. I want to speak with him.”
“I understand. It’s all right by me for you to take off, but I have to stay here to fill in, so someone else will have to accompany you. Mateo is up in the air, Leona is halfway across the country, and Marie is...preoccupied. I think Ramses is your only choice.”
“I’ll talk with him. Thank you.”
Alyssa climbs the steps to the lab, and badges herself in. Ramses is there, like he always is. He has his own unit upstairs, but there’s a cot next to his desk, and he’s clearly been sleeping here. She feels bad. He’s so obsessed with figuring out how the Insulator of Life and Livewire work that he can’t make any time for himself. Perhaps driving her to the black site is as close to a break as he’ll be willing to take, especially if she’s the one asking. He would probably kill for her if she asked. “Hey, can you do me a favor?”
“What?” He was engrossed in his work. “Oh, yes, of course. Anything.”
“I need you to take me to the black site. I would like to meet Erlendr Preston.”
Ramses frowns. “Oh. I’m not sure that I should do that.”
It would be morally right for her to plead her case, and convince him through reason, and emotional understanding. She doesn’t have time for that, so she pulls out her trump card. “I’m sure that you should.”
He frowns for a few more seconds, but then his expression changes. “Wait, that’s perfect. Yes, that could work. He hates all of us, but if you talk to him, you may be able to get him to do what we need.”
“What do we need?” Alyssa asks.
“More data.”
“Okay. What kind of data?”
“Let me explain.” Ramses goes over what they would be asking Erlendr to do for them, and together they strategize how to get him to go along with it. He shouldn’t have any real problem with it in general, as long as they leave out one particular detail. They just have to hope that it’s not something he already knows about.
The guard lets them in, and escorts them to the observation room. The mentally unstable man in Alt!Mateo’s body is fidgeting with one of his flashlights. He’s fixated on the damn things, so the government agreed to supply him with dozens of all different kinds. He just keeps switching them on and off, and rearranging them around his cell. Alyssa thinks that they should get him professional help, but that’s not really her call. It’s also not what she’s about today. She’s here for Erlendr.
“You don’t need to rush this,” Ramses advises her.
“I’m ready. You can open the door.”
The guard opens it, but Ramses steps through first. Erlendr smirks, and doesn’t put the novel he’s reading down. He’s obsessed with books, instead of flashlights. He realizes that they’re in an entirely new reality to him, full of culture that he doesn’t know anything about. He’s got a lot of catching up to do. He changes when Alyssa follows. He sets the book down gently, and regards her with an empathetic face; the kind that Trina hasn’t gotten old enough to need to use yet. He seems to be gathering who Alyssa is, or at least that she’s not just some random interrogator. He waits patiently.
“We’ve not formally met. My name is Alyssa McIver, and you’re in my sister, Trina’s body.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Erlendr replies.
“I’m sorry to hear that you’re not a very good person.”
“In real life, villains don’t think of themselves as villains. We’re the heroes of our own stories, and in my story, everyone agrees with me.”
“You’re story is not factual,” Alyssa argues.
“No one’s is,” he counters.
“I didn’t come here for philosophy class,” Alyssa begins. “I’ve decided that I’m no longer okay with you being in the body of my baby sister.”
“I was never okay with it,” Erlendr explains. “I want you to understand—in case Leona and her friends have not made it clear—I did not choose to end up in here. The Insulator of Life is difficult to control.”
“I get that,” Alyssa says, “which is why I don’t blame you. I can’t even blame you for all the horrible things you did in your reality, because I wasn’t there to witness them. I can only go on what others tell me. The truth is that I’ve not known them much longer than you. Fate put us together, much like you and my sister. I can change my circumstances by leaving them, but I can’t do it without her, which is why I need you to change your circumstances first.”
“Would if I could,” Erlendr claims.
“You can,” Ramses declares. He takes the Insulator out of his bag.
“I told you that it can’t be controlled, not even by me. What makes you think you could do any better?”
“You wield magicks. I use science. That’s the problem with you choosing ones, you can live so easily without technology, you don’t know how things work.”
“I know a lot more than you might think, young one,” Erlendr condescends.
Ramses sets the Insulator down, and takes out the Livewire. “I want to transfer your consciousness to another body, but with such low technology, these are the only tools I have at my disposal, plus only one alternative substrate. You’ll look like Leona, which may not be ideal, but for my part, it’s better than where you are now.”
“I’ll do it,” Erlendr agrees with no argument.
“Now, if it works, you may think you’ll be able to exploit your new position, but—”
“I said I’ll do it,” Erlendr repeats. “You’re right, anything is better than this. And Miss McIver’s right, I’ve done a lot of bad things, but I don’t hurt kids. So get on with it.”

Sunday, October 23, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: August 20, 2398

Heath moved out. He couldn’t handle Marie’s lying. There may still be things that she hasn’t told him, and he just can’t get over that, for now. The team tried to suggest he move into one of the now empty apartments, but that was too close to his wife. The point is to get away—away from her, and the team, and everything. They have yet to sell the condo at the Ponce de Leon, so he just went back there. Hopefully they can get themselves into some marriage counseling, and get this resolved. Most of them stopped seeing Magnus Sharpe for their therapy needs, but they have maintained their relationship with her, so she’ll be able to help, if Heath can come back to the table.
Mateo keeps deciding to go off and investigate the special temporal locations, but things keep getting in the way, and that has to stop. They have been to a lot of them, sure, but there is one particular spot that he’s been anxious to get to, plus one that’s too cold for this time of year. Something tells him that that second one is going to come with some real answers, expressly because it’s inaccessible in the winter months. Easter Island is not like that, though. It’s accessible right now, and in most cases, all you need is something called a Flyer’s Card. This reality has a credit card for everything. They stopped using paper and metal money a long time ago, but really went overboard with the plastic. Unlike loyalty cards, they don’t only work at specific businesses, but for specific types of purchases. One card is for groceries, another is for public city transport, and another for carpentry tools. There’s one that lets you buy electronics, but a subcard that lets you buy handheld devices, and you need it in addition to the more generalized one. They run them both at the same time, and split the cost across each. It’s stupid and insane, and means that people either carry full purses—which is not a gendered practice—or they leave what they don’t think they’ll need at home.
Mateo doesn’t have a Flyer’s Card, because they didn’t think that any of them would need it. He needs it now, or a third alternative. They can’t take The Olimpia without someone who knows how to fly it, but that was always just to allow travelers to exercise some independence. There are other ways to get around the world, so just because Mateo is alone, doesn’t mean he has to wait. New Flyer’s Cards take weeks to process. That’s what he’s doing at Winona’s office. “Can you get me there? It doesn’t have to be covert, and I can make some kind of donation. I just don’t have time to deal with trying to get a Flyer’s Card, or begging someone on my team to go with me. I’m the only one who has time.”
“All you ever have to do is ask, Mateo,” Winona says. “Of course I’ll get you to Easter Island. I only have one condition.”
He wants to roll his eyes, but the muscles necessary to make that work are presently holding his tail between his legs. “Okay.”
“I’m coming with you, and there won’t be any secrets between the two of us.”
“I suppose that’s fair. Can you fly, or is there, like, a link to the air force?”
“I know a guy.” She takes out her phone to make a call.
Mateo accompanies her to her apartment so she can grab a few things. He calls Leona on the way to keep her apprised of the situation. They make it to the military airbase, where their pilot is waiting for them. It’s the Captain from the rogue veterans team in the Bermuda Triangle, Tarboda Hobson.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: August 19, 2398

It’s time. It’s time for Marie’s team to learn the truth about what kind of things she’s been doing in this reality for the last four years, and what kind of person they’ve turned her into. They could have lost Mateo. It’s a lot easier to build a machine that teleports you out of the timestream, but much harder to get it to bring you back. Such a fate could be waiting for anyone at any time. Honestly, it’s a miracle how few people they have lost along the way. Whoever is preventing temporal manipulation in this reality was most likely trying to keep it from hurting people, but there is plenty of danger here. Mateo could have been killed by something else, perhaps in a war against Russia? She can’t die without having told everyone the truth. Mateo knows, Alyssa knows, and most of the rest don’t need to know. They’re still not sure what happened to Vearden and Arcadia. He left a note that said he was leaving, but from what it looks like on the security camera footage, she followed him on a whim.
They’re all sitting around the table in the Walton apartment. No one knows what she’s about to say, though Mateo might suspect. She’s putting it off on the seconds scale, but it’s creeping up on a minute. Mateo is putting it together, if he didn’t already realize. “It’s going to be okay,” he pledges with a hand upon hers. “You can tell us anything.”
She nods at him and his kindness. It’s given her the confidence she needs to push forward. She gets into the explanation, starting at the beginning, disabusing them of some beliefs that they held regarding her. She started out as an asset, but became a full agent. Winona does not have some grip on her; she does it voluntarily. She’s not proud of every mission she’s been on, but overall, she doesn’t regret her choices. She tries not to focus too much on how they’re receiving the information, because it’s just making it harder. Ramses remains anxious as ever to get back to his work, but this was a good excuse for him to take the period break that he needs. Kivi is nodding nonjudgmentally. Angela seems hurt. She’s had a tough time with the dynamics of living with her alternate self. Leona acts like she’s always known, which wouldn’t be surprising. Heath is stunned and angry. Things might get bad with him. Things might get real bad.
When she’s done with her speech, silence falls over the group. Heath is not yet ready to respond, and may not feel comfortable saying anything until their friends have left. Angela breaks the ice. “I don’t understand. I know that I don’t know what you’ve been through, but I still can’t see myself going down this road. I mean, I couldn’t bring myself to step into Carnage World.”
“I’ve never killed anyone,” Marie protests. “I don’t do those missions. Well, I’ve...associated with it, but I’ve never done it, and I’ve never directly assisted in it.”
“Wait, what’s Carnage World?” Kivi asks.
“It was a server in the afterlife simulation,” Marie explains. “There were many like it. Basically you run around, killing people, and then they respawn. That one was particularly brutal, because you gained points by how creatively vicious your kills were.”
“I don’t care about any of that!” Heath cries. “I want you to explain why you lied to me for four years, and I want you to do it in front of your friends! I don’t want excuses, and I don’t want you to play the victim anymore! Tell me why you thought that was okay! I’m your husband, I deserved to know who I was married to!”
“I’ll try to stop playing the victim, but not if you keep yelling at me like that.”