Saturday, December 31, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: October 28, 2398

Alyssa was closer yesterday, so Leona called and asked her to go out to Marie’s secret bunker in the woods to check on her Mateo. He was there, chained to the table, which was bolted to the floor. He didn’t think that Fax!Mateo was evil, so he was just chillin’ in there. He figured he would try to escape if no one came for him after two days. That would mean that the team believed the swapped twin gambit, and no one would be looking for him. It hadn’t occurred to him that Fax!Mateo would sacrifice himself to ensure that Alt!Mateo’s body died where it was supposed to in Reality One, taking with him anyone else’s consciousness trapped in the same substrate. It’s been about a day, and his plan seems to have worked. Alt!Mateo did not show up in the parking lot, and no reports have come in regarding destructive activity that matches Meredarchos’ M.O. He says that he can come back, but the chances of the team being the ones to have to deal with him again are low. They did all they could. They kicked him out of the house.
Everyone came back to the hotel, but they’re talking in the parking lot, in the new flying vehicle that Winona gifted them with, which yet remains unnamed. Kivi is up in the suite, keeping an eye on Bhulan. She will be returning to her SD6 team shortly, but she’s currently on leave, so she can get some rest after all this trouble. When she goes back, she’ll be part of missions unrelated to time travel, alternate realities, and powers. She’s just going to be a regular operative. It’s her calling. Arcadia and Vearden are planning their future together, so they may not stick around for much longer either. They probably don’t know yet themselves.
Bhulan has been exercising her right to remain silent. She follows all of their instructions, and accepts the food they place in front of her, but she doesn’t respond to questions, and she doesn’t speak up voluntarily. She’s not a prisoner, because she hasn’t done anything wrong, but they have strongly advised her not to run. She hasn’t tried yet, but she will. She knows where Danica is, and likely Tamerlane Pryce and Dalton Hawke, among who knows who else. She has a lot of answers that she’s simply unwilling to divulge. It’s not unreasonable of her to try to keep this information a secret, but they would at least like to understand her motives. “She’s protecting them,” Mateo offers as an explanation.
“Or she’s protecting us,” Marie counters.
Arcadia nods. “Bhulan Cargill is one of the most powerful travelers I’ve heard of, and you can’t rely on the power-suppressing properties of the Third Rail to protect you from her. I recommend we tread lightly. The people in my family are powerful too, of course, but we have never been guarded with our motives. The same cannot be said of her. It’s unclear who and what she cares about. Don’t think she won’t hurt you just because she hasn’t before. Her strength lies in her independence and enigmatic...ness. Plus, she’s theoretically been living in this reality for billions of years. It’s hard to know what that does to a person, even after knowing those who have done the same, like Danica.”
“If we let her go, will she see that as a sign of good faith?” Alyssa asks.
“Probably,” Arcadia answers. “Again, it’s hard to know what a person like that is thinking.”
“If we do let her go, would there be a way to track her?” Mateo is specifically asking Ramses.
Ramses is only half-listening. He has his laptop open, with the Insulator of Life plugged into it, looking for his own answers. Someone is in there all right, but it’s impossible to tell whether it’s Erlendr, or someone who has been stored the whole time. Ramses didn’t get a chance to test the interface before the whole thing went down at the black site. He’s working on it now.
“Rambo,” Mateo says.
“I’ve heard you can spray people with something, like a...isotope, and that would allow you to track their movements. If we let Bhulan go, could she lead us to whatever she’s keeping secret from us?”
“You could do that, yes, except I believe that sort of thing is illegal, even under military direction. What I would do instead is launch another brain scanner. That way, we can find her whenever we need to, and it won’t wear off over time, like any radioactive spray would.”
“You can do that?” Leona asks. “You can build another one?”
“Of course I can,” he answers. “I just need a way to get it into space, and a way to deploy the payload, or access to a satellite that’s already up there. I’ve always been able to do it, I just don’t have the authorization. The last time we tried, it barely worked.”
“It’s more complicated now,” Marie reminds them. “Honeycutt is under heavy scrutiny for the fusion rocket launch. I doubt she has any favors to cash in.”
“Yeah,” Leona agrees. “The lab was run as a joint effort between a university, certain parts of the government, and private investors. It was never given the right to build a ship, let alone launch it, let alone launch it on that day without warning.”
“Still, maybe you could work that angle. Just because you don’t have any favors coming to you, doesn’t mean you can’t ask for them in exchange for something later,” Mateo suggests. “Having access to space would help us beyond this one endeavor.”
“I’ll do it,” Marie volunteers. “My history with her, and them, is longer, and Leona has things to do here. I’ll try to keep all of you out of it, from now on. I’ve been sulking for far too long, and it isn’t helping anyone. Heath’s gone, and I need to accept that.”
There is no response to this revelation. It’s her decision.
“What’s that sound?” Alyssa asks.
There’s a buzzing noise outside, getting louder, approaching the entrance. “That’s probably for me,” Ramses says. He stands up, and opens the hatch.
A drone is hovering in front of him. “Package for Ramses Abdulrashid?” comes a voice from the drone’s speaker.
“It’s Abdulrashid.” He takes the stylus, and signs his name on the screen. Then he holds his arms out to let the package drop into them. He comes back into the vehicle, and grabs the nearest blade, which happens to be Mateo’s quantum duplication knife.
“What is it?” Leona asks.
“A neural VR headset.”
“What for?” she presses, growing suspicious.
“I need to see who’s in the Insulator of Life. All I can gather is how much energy is being stored in there. If I knew how much energy one person takes up, I could estimate how many people are in there, but without a baseline, I’m just guessing. I can tell you there’s at least one, but there could be hundreds.”
“So you’re going to go into it yourself to find out?”
“Not fully,” he explains. “That’s what this is for. It will allow me to communicate with anyone inside. Don’t worry, there’s no chance of me getting trapped.”
“I don’t like that you’re the one doing it,” Leona admits, “considering your history with this object.”
Ramses stops examining the headset he’s just unwrapped, and looks incredulously at the wall. “What would you have me do?”
“She would have someone else go in.” Mateo takes the headset from him. “Tell me what to do. I’ll find out who’s in there once and for all.”
Ramses looks over at Leona, who shrugs. “I won’t make this decision unilaterally. I’m going to stop doing that so much. It’s been getting us into trouble. We vote.”
“What about Kivi?” Vearden asks.
Leona sighs. “Alyssa, please go tell Kivi that Bhulan is free to leave whenever she wants. You’ll both vote by voice over the phone. This isn’t a congressional hearing.”
“All in favor of Mateo doing this, raise your hand,” Leona puts forth after Alyssa hops out.
Everyone raises their hand, except for Ramses, but he doesn’t want to be the odd man out, so he follows suit. A few minutes later, Alyssa and Kivi both agree with the group, and inform them that Bhulan is packing her belongings. She didn’t come here with any of it. It’s all stuff that the team gifted her.”
Mateo leans his chair back, and lets Leona affix the headset to him. Ramses, meanwhile, links it to his computer, and makes sure that it’s talking to the Insulator of Life. When everything’s ready, he confirms that Mateo is ready as well, and then he switches it on.
Mateo finds himself being pulled into a room that looks like the inside of the Insulator. It’s not much, because Ramses didn’t take time to design anything fancy. Before too long, two figures begin to materialize, as Ramses pulls consciousnesses in from the real Insulator’s storage. One of them is Erlendr. He looks around a little, and then crosses his arms. The other figure takes a little bit longer, but once it’s complete, Mateo can clearly see that it’s Bhulan. “How long have you been in here?”
“One second,” Bhulan answers, “but that tells you nothing. Time doesn’t pass in this thing. This is the first moment I’ve been aware of my surroundings.”
“What was the date when you were stuffed in here then?” Mateo questions.
She sighs. “There was no date. It was prior to recorded time.”
“Shit. Someone is out there with your body. Do you have any idea who?”
“Yeah, I know exactly who.”
“Care to share with the class?” Mateo asks.
“Not the whole class.”
Mateo closes his virtual eyes, and sends a message to the real world. “Ram, can you discern three distinct signatures now? One of them is me.”
“Try to toggle one of the others off. You have a fifty-fifty shot.”
Ramses gets it right on the first try. Erlendr disappears with no complaints.
“Go ahead please,” Mateo prompts Bhulan. “Who is in your body? It’s important; people I care about are with her right now.”
“You care about this person too.”
“Keep going.” He’s getting anxious about the answer.
“It’s your sister, Aquila.”

Friday, December 30, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: October 27, 2398

They didn’t think to have Arcadia build a mental defense for a doctor, and now that she’s pregnant, they don’t want to place her in any danger, or the baby at risk. They need to sedate Meredarchos, so they’re just going to have to do it themselves, and hope not to kill him in the process. This isn’t his body, and the man who owns it may still be salvageable, so they have a responsibility to protect it. Leona flicks the syringe to force the bubbles to the top, then releases a little bit of the sedative to clear them. She finds a vein, and plugs in. He has a black bag over his head, so she can’t try to prompt a response. His vitals show that he’s been put to sleep, though. She checks his restraints for the fourth time, then exits the room.
Leona performs the secret knock on the door to the observation room. “He’s out cold,” she says when Mateo opens it.
Mateo looks back at Kivi and Ramses. “Are you two ready for this?”
They both nod, but don’t reply vocally. Ramses gathers the Insulator of Life and the Livewire, as well as his laptop. Kivi gets behind Andile’s gurney, and follows him through the corridors. Winona takes up the rear to stand guard with her weapon. Mateo and Leona will be watching through the window.
Kivi pulls the bag from their target’s head. “Oh.”
“What? Are you okay?” Ramses gets defensive.
“Yeah, sorry, his eyes are open a little. It’s creepy.”
Ramses shuts the man’s eyelids closed all the way.
“Still creepy.”
“We can put the bag back on,” he suggests.
“No, I can make a stronger connection with physical contact. Get ready.”
“Hold on, I need to calibrate the interface.” Ramses thinks he’s found a way to connect his computer to the Insulator, so he can get a readout of its activity, instead of just having to blindly hope that it’s doing what they want it to do. “Okay, we’re good. It’s up to you now.”
Kivi prepares herself emotionally, then places her hands upon Meredarchos’ temples. She exhales, and focuses her intentions. At first, she visualizes her own mental barrier, but right away, it becomes the real one. Each time she tries this is a little easier than the last. She opens the door at the base of her wall, and stands at the bridge. She stands there with a frown.
Meredarchos and Erlendr are on the other side. They each have a sword to Cheyenne’s throat, having finally caught her while Kivi wasn’t here. “You shall not pass!” Erlendr shouts.
“You have no right to quote those words!” Kivi shouts back.
“Step one foot across that bridge, and we’ll kill her!” Erlendr replies. “If you’re killed in The Matrix, you die here! The body cannot live without the mind!”
“I think we both know that’s not true, not in our world!”
“Walk away, Miss Bristol,” Meredarchos demands, no time for pop culture references from a world that is not his own. “I have no problem with you. I don’t even have a problem with Cheyenne here. She’s just a nuisance at this point.” He’s not shouting, yet Kivi can hear him. This is a shared mental state, not a physical place. Sound doesn’t have to traverse a distance. They’re just exchanging brainwaves.
“One foot!” Erlendr repeats.
Kivi gazes into the abyss, which is more than just a manifestation of the gap between her mind and theirs. It needs to be there, but it doesn’t have to be so wide. The two land masses move towards each other until she’s standing a couple of meters from the other three. She could hop to the other side if need be. “I didn’t take a single step.”
“Can’t argue with that,” Erlendr admits.
“You should not have been able to do that,” Meredarchos says. “I’m the only one in control here.”
He’s lying or he’s wrong. This isn’t his mind. He is an intruder here, just like everyone else. This brain can only be controlled by one man, and even if Kivi can’t find that man, Meredarchos still does not have an advantage here. She can fight back. But she’s not going to do it with thought violence. Kivi puts on her diplomacy hat. “We have a new body prepared for Cheyenne. Let her go, and she won’t bother you anymore.”
“Then we’ll lose our leverage,” Meredarchos contends. “She’s the only thing standing between us and death.”
“What do you care? You’re not really here anyway.”
Meredarchos is silent.
“Oh, you didn’t think we knew that, did you?”
“If you kill this body, you’ll force me back to my home universe. Establishing a new connection will prove difficult, especially if I want to return to this time period. I would rather avoid the hassle.”
“You would rather, but it’s possible to survive.”
“It’s not possible for me,” Erlendr reminds her.
“What do I care?” Kivi asks.
“I too am holding a sword,” Erlendr says.
She shrugs, and removes two swords from behind her back. “So am I. If you can dream it, you can do it. Literally.”
“Two can play that game.” Erlendr lets go of Cheyenne’s neck to pull a hand cannon from behind his own back.
Kivi takes this opportunity to stab the man in the throat. He instinctively reaches up, and takes hold of the blade. Instead of pulling it out, she just reangles it to get better leverage. Once Cheyenne safely ducks away, Kivi pulls Erlendr towards her, and lets him fall into the narrow gap, down into the abyss.
Meredarchos doesn’t take time to mourn his body-buddy. “I’m going to break out of this prison eventually, like I did last time.” He hops over, and grabs Cheyenne, and throws her into the gap.
Kivi moves her physical mouth. “Ramses, now.”
Out in the real world, Ramses flips the switch that activates the circuit that the Livewire is plugged into. Energy surges out of it, passes through the patient’s hand, hopefully picking up Cheyenne’s consciousness in the process. It then continues on down the wire, and enters Andile’s brain. She wakes up. “Chey, is that you?”
“Yes, I thought I was dead.”
“We all did,” Ramses replies.
Kivi comes out of the psychic connection, and turns to the one-way mirror. “Get in here now.”
Winona opens the door for the two of them. Mateo wheels Alt!Mateo’s body into the room. Ramses quickly takes the Livewire, and rearranges it.
“Get her out of here!” Kivi orders.
Mateo grabs Cheyenne’s gurney, and pulls her out of the cell. Andile’s brain is the only one whose head hasn’t been protected against mental intrusion. Arcadia didn’t even feel comfortable doing that much, and Kivi still can’t figure out how to do it herself. He runs off at full speed to get her as far away from here as possible.
“How many consciousnesses do you see in that man’s head?”
“I don’t have time to check,” Ramses replies. “It’s more complicated than just looking for two dots. What do we do? Do we make the transfer, and hope it works?”
Everyone looks to Leona. “Do it. We’ll sort it out later.”
While Ramses gets back to work, Kivi pulls Leona aside. “Something happened in there. They had already caught her, so I was forced to improvise. Erlendr fell into the abyss first. It was before Ramses provided power to the Livewire, so I don’t know where he went, if anywhere. Meredarchos seemed to believe that the abyss was bad, though. Maybe he’s met the true death.”
“We all have barriers,” Leona reasons. “Except for Cheyenne. That wolf may be in sheep’s clothing.” She looks through the door. “Winona, go protect my husband.”
Winona cocks her gun, and runs out.
Leona turns back to Ramses. “Make the transfer. Now.”
Ramses plugs the Livewire back in. Power runs from the wall, down the wire, through the patient, back down the wire, and into Alt!Mateo’s body. Now Cheyenne is in Andile’s body, Meredarchos is in the ill-fated Atl!Mateo’s body, and Erlendr—as long as he didn’t seek refuge in Andile’s body first—is in the Insulator of Life. That’s where he belongs, because he has to eventually get back to the main sequence, and complete a series of events that lead to both good and bad outcomes. It too is fate.
“Did you do what I asked? Did you put the suicide inducer into his brain?”
“Not yet,” Ramses replies. “It’s right here.” He holds up a little device, which he’ll connect to the Livewire for one final transfer to Alt!Mateo’s head. It has been programmed to want one thing, which is to die. When Alt!Mateo’s body is sent back to the moment of death, it will prevent Meredarchos from letting the body fall back into the extraction mirror, and coming back to this reality. This should finally close that loop.
Leona, come in,” Winona calls through the radio.
“Leona here, go ahead.”
Cheyenne seems fine, but Mateo is gone. She doesn’t know where he went.
“I’m right here.” Mateo steps into the room holding a gun. “Everyone out!”
“Matty, what are you doing?”
“Everyone out!” he repeats.
“You’re working with them?”
“Hell no. Now do what I asked, and everything will be fine.”
They do leave the room, and go right to the observation window to watch. “Killing him won’t work,” Leona explains through the intercom.
It will how I’m doing it.” Mateo takes a bomb out of his bag, and places it on the belly of the man whose mind Meredarchos took over. He sets the timer at thirty seconds, then goes over to the end of the Livewire. He holds it by the metal, instead of the rubber. “Your husband is waiting for you, tied up in the Walton bunker in the woods. I’m sorry you have to watch me die, but my secrets must die with me.” Fax!Mateo plugs it in, and sends his own consciousness into Alt!Mateo’s body. Then the bomb goes off.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: October 26, 2398

For the first time in a long time, the whole team is back together, heavy a few extra people. They all came into the city at about the same time, but they didn’t meet at the hotel suite, or the Lofts, or the condo. The government has a facility for this sort of thing already in the area. It’s a sanctuary for negotiations, where members of opposing sides can come together, and figure out how to solve their conflict nonviolently. It’s stocked with food, water, and other basic amenities, but it’s nothing fancy. There isn’t even a security system in place. That’s expected to be up to the guests, should they feel the need for it. In this case, they don’t, and they’re not even really dealing with enemies. They just need to ask a few people a few questions.
Marie flew in from Manila with a woman named Divina Tiongson. The latter called the authorities on the former. They took her in for some psychiatric care, which Marie actually felt was helpful and refreshing. Divina came to visit during her stay, and after some explanation on Marie’s part, admitted that while she doesn’t know anything about time travel, she has memories that are not her own. In a few cases, she can recall entire lifetimes that other people presumably experienced for real. She’s always believed that these visions meant that she was crazy, and never told anyone for that reason.
Bhulan agreed to follow Alyssa back from the site of Springfield, Kansas, but made no promises in regards to whatever questions the team might try to ask her. They probably can’t compel her to comply, but Fax!Mateo is a different story. The version of Mateo who came out of stasis months ago, and has been living here with his wife, knows what buttons to push. For one, Fax!Mateo will never be able to be with Leona, unless they can find some other version of her who would be interested in that, so that’s a weakness they should be able to exploit. He thought he was going to be able to get away in the Constant, but Ramses still had enough temporal energy in him to teleport to his location, and capture him. The reason they didn’t use it to get to Lebanon in the first place was because they needed to save it for their exit from the Facsimile. Fortunately, the Constant gave him just enough of a boost to transport all three of them back to Kansas City, where they exited the Salmonday Club with time to spare.
“Does she need to be here?” Fax!Mateo asks, in regards to Divina.
“You have a problem with her?” Leona asks him.
“Why are there two of you?” Fax!Mateo questions.
“Uh...I’m Arcadia, actually,” the other person wearing Leona’s face explains.
“Of course you are,” Fax!Mateo says.
“You need to turn your attitude off,” Mateo scolds.
“Forgive me for waking up in a world where my wife doesn’t love me, and I’ve missed out on months of my life. What makes you so special? When this Facsimile thing was created, why did I end up over there, and you managed to stay on the correct side?”
“You tell us,” Leona says. “You’re the one who remembers what happened in the Constant, however long ago in the past. Why were you in stasis at all?”
“I’m not saying a word,” Fax!Mateo insists. “It is far too early for that.” He can’t help but glance over at Bhulan.
“Just as I suspected,” Leona goes on. “You were there too, and your memory is intact as well. Tell us what’s going on here. Why don’t we have any time powers, or transhumanistic enhancements?”
“Who told you that my memory is intact?” Bhulan asks her.
“Oh, wouldn’t that just be super convenient,” Alyssa muses. She’s really embracing her new role on the team now.
“We have two psychics,” Leona warns her, pointing to both Arcadia and Kivi.
“I’m busy with another project with SD6,” Kivi says. “And to that, I can only stay a short while.”
“My baby is too far along,” Arcadia reveals. “The only thoughts I’ll be reading will be hers, and her mine. I can’t risk interfering with her development.”
“I didn’t know that’s how it worked,” Leona says to her.
“That’s what Dr. Hammer hypothesizes,” Arcadia adds. “There haven’t been many studies on the development of children from mothers with psychic abilities.”
“That’s fine,” Mateo says. “Bhulan is going to tell us what she knows because it’s the right thing to do, not because someone invades her mind.”
“Oh, you know me so well,” Bhulan says sarcastically.
Mateo reaches across the table towards her, but doesn’t touch her. “I don’t want you to become an enemy. I find it annoying every time that happens. The Anatol Klugman thing was heartbreaking.” He stands up, and starts pacing like this is his room, and they’re all his guests. He places both hands on Arcadia’s shoulders. “I much prefer accumulating friends.”
Bhulan pantomimes chewing gum, just because she’s uncomfortable sitting still. She’s a bit of a fidgeter. She doesn’t speak at first, but it’s clear that she’s about to, so everyone just waits patiently. “I can only tell you my story. I won’t say anything about anyone else, and I’ll be as vague as I must to protect their identities.”
“Very well,” Mateo agrees. “Its a start.”
“I was in the main sequence,” Bhulan begins, “when I found myself in the company of Horace Reaver, Serkan Demir, and Paige Turner. They were in possession of the hundemarke, and they wanted to destroy it. For those of you who don’t know, the hundemarke creates fixed moments in time. If activated, it will protect every event that occurs within its spatial bubble, no matter how much time travel tries to interfere with it. This means that it can’t be destroyed under normal circumstances. You can’t just throw it in the fire, and watch it burn. As soon as you let go, the hundemarke will deactivate, and that moment will have the potential to be changed. And with something so powerful and important, it will be changed. Someone will want to stop it from being destroyed, even if they’re born a trillion years from then.
“Therefore, if you want to destroy it, you have to destroy yourself along with it, so that it remains activated the entire time. You use the power of the object against itself, it’s the only way it’ll happen. So that’s what I did. I was a trespasser from an old timeline, and I decided that my sacrifice was worth it, and that I was worthy. I don’t know if what we believed about it was untrue, or if I was just the wrong person to try it, but my plan failed. I jumped into the fire, and landed in this reality, unburned.”
“In that parking lot,” Alyssa figures.
“No,” Leona says, shaking her head. “The parking lot didn’t exist yet.” She points at Bhulan knowingly. “You landed in The Constant. You were with Danica Matic.”
“I can neither confirm nor deny that I was with The Concierge in the Constant.”
“That’s a yes,” Vearden claims. “That always means yes.”
“Forgive me,” Winona interjects, “but is this what’s most important right now? I have a prisoner in my custody who needs to be dealt with. If you can get him out of my universe, I would be fine with that, but I can’t be responsible for him forever.”
“I need to talk to everyone about that,” Kivi says. “Well...not everyone.”
That’s fair. They are not getting anywhere with these extra people around. The core group needs to peel off, and discuss things on their own. They all trust Winona by now, but she doesn’t need to be involved, so maybe she would agree to guard the others for them. Or maybe not guard them, but keep watch over them, so they don’t get lost in this five room building. “Is there somewhere we can go?” Leona asks her.
“Down the hall, to the left.” Winona stays seated, like she knows what Leona needs out of her.
Leona, Mateo, Ramses, Marie, Alyssa, Kivi, Vearden, and Arcadia leave the room, and go to the other conference. Arcadia doesn’t even hesitate, which is a big step for her. She’s learning. Leona waits a moment to speak. “We have a plan to kill Meredarchos and Erlendr. I won’t go through with it, though, if anyone here can come up with a good reason why we shouldn’t, besides the obvious fact that killing is a no-no.”
“Well, for one, Cheyenne is still alive,” Kivi finally tells them.
“Excuse me?” Leona asks.
“She’s in that victim’s body right now, along with the other two. She hides in his subconscious. I’ve been reaching out when I can, but the longer I stay in the triple mind, the easier it is for him to find me. That wouldn’t be a big deal, but if he finds me, he finds her, and I can’t let that happen. We have to get her out before we do anything else to that body, but I don’t know where she could go.”
“We still have Andile’s body on life support,” Ramses throws out there. “We have Leona Reaver’s body too, though we’re planning on getting rid of it, so I wouldn’t call that a good long-term strategy.”
“I can’t believe we’re talking about trading bodies around like they’re cars. Has anyone considered the ethical ramifications of all of this?” Alyssa asks.
“Yes,” Leona answers. “History’s top ethicists debated it for centuries before it was possible, decades once it was, and continued to regulate it as necessary. No one takes this technology lightly. I appreciate and recognize your concern. Andile signed away her body to do with it what we need. I firmly believe that she would agree to donate it to Cheyenne in a heartbeat.”
“The last time we tried to use the Insulator of Life and Livewire in this way,” Ramses begins, “it didn’t go so well. We have to figure out how to get one consciousness out of a body shared by two others, and not accidentally pull in those other two.”
“That’s what Kivi is for,” Arcadia believes. “She’s already described performing head dives. Use her in tandem with the temporal objects.”
“Okay,” Leona says. “Assuming we succeed in that endeavor, I’ll ask again; is anyone opposed to executing the prisoner via intervening fate.”
Divina opens the door. “You won’t be killing him. Meredarchos is not on this world. He’s safe and sound in his own universe, reaching out psychically. That’s how he always does it. He doesn’t have the ability to travel the bulk physically.”
They all stare at her. Why did Winona let her leave?
Divina sighs, realizing that she has to start being honest. “All right, I may know a little more than I let on before.”

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: October 25, 2398

Alyssa has been driving all over the region of central-Western Kansas which her brothers discovered to be a black hole of religion. Everyone in the area reports no religious affiliation. She’s interviewed a few dozen residents in several towns, and they all seem like normal people. They don’t act culty or cagey. None of them refused to answer her questions, except for a few who were late to an engagement, or otherwise preoccupied. They didn’t apparently move here with the intention of being in a community of like-minded atheists. Most of them didn’t even notice. Everything here seems completely above board, which means that something has to be lurking in the shadows. There is a force at play here that keeps itself secret; there has to be, or all the time Carlin and Moray spent researching the phenomenon was a waste. She doesn’t want to believe that. When they return from their space trip, she has to show them that she followed through on their suspicions, and found something worthy of investigation, even if it’s a bad thing. Even if it’s a good thing, for that matter.
Now that she’s failed to come to a conclusion, she decides to switch tactics by exploring the literal center of the religious black hole. She rechecks her coordinates. This is the center of her brothers’ map, and it’s the location of one of the presumed time travelers that Ramses detected with his big brain scanner. That can’t just be a coincidence, but this also can’t be what she’s looking for. This is the center of all of it? It’s nothing special, or at least it doesn’t look it. Maybe it leads to a giant high tech underground complex, like the one under her farm. This could hold the key to the answers they’ve been asking since they arrived. She’s standing under this dilapidated shack on stilts in the middle of nowhere. Surely no one lives here, that would be ridiculous. Then again, stranger things have happened to her already.
Alyssa doesn’t see any no trespassing signs, and again, this would be a terrible home for someone, so she decides to take a risk, and get a closer look. She climbs the ladder all the way up, and into the tower shack. The inside looks like a shack as well. It’s pretty clean, with no debris or equipment, but she ought to watch her step, because some of these boards may not be stable enough to hold her weight. It’s a long way down. There is nothing here, except for one window, and a mirror. The mirror is hanging there on the wall, so completely out of place. It’s not old and dusty, but new and pristine. Alyssa stumbles back when she realizes that she doesn’t have a reflection, but she doesn’t have time to figure it out. She was right about the instability of the floor. One leg crashes right through it, leaving the other leg at her side, causing her to hit herself in the crotch. She tries to get her breath back, but she can’t. The pain in her groin is almost too much to bear. Not only did she hit it hard in the fall, but now she’s doing the splits, which is not something she’s trained for.
She doesn’t want to move, because she’s afraid that any motion will cause the whole structure to fall apart, and then that will be the end of Alyssa McIver’s life. She’ll never see her brothers again. She’ll never fulfill whatever future Mateo and the team believe is waiting for in the alternate reality where they’re from. Okay, she packed climbing equipment. Kansas doesn’t have mountains, but it’s not as flat as the coastal elites believe. We do have edges, and it is possible to fall off of them, and it just made sense to be prepared for such an eventuality. If she can just spin her backpack around, and open it up, she might be able to find a rope, and throw it over something here.
As she’s starting to do that, she sees something move out of the corner of her eye. Is that—no. There’s not a hand coming out of the mirror like a Japanese horror film. It’s not being followed by the top of a head. Nope. Nope, nope, nope. This is not happening. She has to get out of here. How long will it take to hit the ground if she falls right now? Is there time to spin this backpack around, open it up, find the rope, and throw it over something? Probably, right? Let’s see, take the square root of her weight, and multiple it by the height of the shack. Carry the one, and no, she doesn’t have enough time. She’s either going to fall to her death, or get eaten by the ghost monster coming for her. Neither one sounds appetizing, but the ghost monster may spare her life if she spreads the message about how they died to as many people as she can, or something like that.
The figure finishes climbing out of the mirror, and does a front roll down the wall. Then she stands up, and reaches out a hand. “Let me help you.”
“Who are you?”
The woman doesn’t want to answer. “Don’t worry about it, just take my hand.”
Alyssa lets the stranger pull her to safety. Together, they jump over to the ladder, and make their way down to the safety of the ground. She finally recaptures her breath. “This is the center of unusual religious activity. Are you the cause of that?”
The stranger doesn’t want to answer that either.
Alyssa sighs, and takes out her tablet. “Nerakali Preston.”
“Meliora Reaver, Xearea Voss, Ariadna Traversa.”
“What is this you’re listing?”
“Sanaa Karimi, Aquila Bellamy, Amanda Moss, Cambria Buchanan, Susan Glines, Natasha Orlov, Ellie Underhill, Téa Stendahl...”
“Are these meant to mean something to me?
“Ida Reyer, Aura Gardner, The Officiant, The Overseer, Tonya Keyes, Dr. Mallory Hammer, Danica Matic, Dilara Cassano, Marcy Calligaris!”
“Stop! I don’t understand!”
“I’m listing names of people that you could be, because when I land on your name, your microexpressions will tell me that it belongs to you. I have dozens more to get through, unless you would like to speed this up and tell me who the hell you are!”
She doesn’t speak.
“Quivira Boyce, Catania Porter, Bhulan Cargill—there! There, that’s it. I bet you didn’t think I’d find it, but you’re Bhulan Cargill.”
“That’s Mateo Matic’s list, isn’t it? That’s the cleverest thing that man ever did.”
“Are you the cause of the religious black hole?”
Bhulan still won’t answer that question.
“Daria Matic, Dodeka Sarkisyan, Lita Prieto—”
“I thought you already figured out what my name is.”
“Now I’m just doing it because it seems to annoy you. Answer my questions.”
Still nothing.
“Khuweka Kadrioza, Hogarth Pudeyonavic—”
“Fine. Yes. I’m the cause of what you’re calling the religious black hole, but not by choice. I’m just a prisoner here.”
“Who did this to you?”
“That I don’t know.”

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: October 24, 2398

Mateo and Ramses made a conscious decision to not exit the Facsimile pocket dimension right away. This world has been abandoned for centuries, but certain things they know of were designed to stand the test of time—specifically, anything in The Constant. The version of the Constant in the Third Rail started out as the same as the one in the main sequence, but they split from each other at some point. There should have been two separate elevator shafts, two separate kitchens, two separate libraries, and two separate Danica Matics. The Facsimile, on the other hand, is an exact copy of the way the world was at its last save point, which was reportedly around Christmastime 2022. The only things that don’t get copied over are living beings, particularly people. Plants seem to do okay, but nothing that moves on its own was duplicated. They didn’t know who made the Facsimile in the first place, but they believe they met the man himself yesterday, who ended up being trapped there this whole time by The Cleanser.
Now they’re on their way to Lebanon, Kansas. It would have been a short trip, giving them plenty of time to return to the dimensional exit by the end of the day, except that there aren’t any working vehicles in the world. Nearly everything runs on fossil fuels, and gasoline breaks down over time. They could have found an electric car somewhere, but they wouldn’t have been able to charge it, because power stations run on...fossil fuels, and all the solar panels they happened to come across had fallen apart due to lack of maintenance. Bicycles still worked, though they couldn’t just grab two off the street. They had to first make their way to the nearest bike shop, and go all the way to the back, to the ones that had suffered the least amount of exposure from the broken windows.
They found some really good models, but according to Ramses’ calculations, the ride would take over 21 hours straight. It was the middle of the night, which made it more difficult to see, but at least they didn’t have to worry about traffic. They pedaled for a few hours, took a rest, then pedaled a few hours more. They kept going like this for the better part of two days, and they’re finally here. If there’s nothing underneath that can get them back to the exit in a reasonable amount of time, they’re kind of going to be screwed. The elevator has to operate, and they have to get down there for some help, and an advantage that they never could have hoped for before. If this doesn’t work, they’ll have to wait a whole other week until the next window opens. When they left, everything seemed fine, but a lot can happen in seven days. Things might have taken a huge turn, and it would only get worse. The moment of truth. Mateo presses the secret call button, and crosses his fingers.
“You know it won’t be another week, right?” Ramses says after they hear the motor humming through the walls. “It would be two more weeks by bike. It took us two days to get here, which was fine in the beginning, since we started at midnight, but now we’re starting late on the second day. When we get out of here, it will be the eighth of November.”
“That’s assuming we can’t get back home tonight.”
“Right,” Ramses agrees. The doors open, and he steps in. “This is a good sign.”
They ride all the way down to the bottom. The lights are already on inside, anticipating their arrival. “It looks empty.”
“Computer, report,” Ramses orders.
No response.
He shrugs. “Worth a shot.”
“We don’t have time to search.” Mateo breaks the glass with his shirted fist, and pulls the fire alarm. The alarm still works too. They take another break on the couches while they wait to see if anyone runs up from deeper in the facility. It’s a big place, it might take a person a while. After ten minutes, though, they’re just wasting time. Mateo cancels the alarm, and follows Ramses to the control room.
Ramses starts fiddling with the computer. “It’s blank.”
“What’s blank?”
“The hard drives; everything.”
“They’ve been wiped clean?” Mateo asks.
“No, this is more like how they would look if you bought the computer today, and haven’t used it yet. I guess there are some things that the Facsimile can’t copy.”
Mateo tilts his Mr. Spock brain. “This place is run by an AI, or it’s supposed to.”
“That would not be a living organism, but it would be a consciousness. If the Facsimile can’t copy people, it probably can’t copy other forms of intelligence either.”
“Hm. Yeah, you’re probably right. Damn, I was hoping to find some great tech, but I guess that’s not going to happen.”
“This place is huge. Surely there’s something we can use. Let’s go take a look around after all. We need to find some kind of car, or something, anyway.”
They each take a radio transceiver, and split up to search the premises, hoping to come across something both useful, and which they can take with them back to the Third Rail. But only Ramses is going to be doing that. Mateo already knows what he’s looking for, and he’s about fifty percent sure that it’s here. He goes back to the lounge area, and approaches the wall with the sledgehammer he found in the garage. Hoping that Ramses has gotten himself out of earshot by now, Mateo starts banging. It’s not long before he’s through the wall, and can reach the secret door behind it.
Ramses runs back in, having apparently heard one of the last swings. “What the hell are you doing?”
“What do you think?”
“There’s not gonna be another you in there.”
“Wanna bet?”
Mateo pulls the rest of the wood panels away, and opens the door. Inside is the stasis pod he was told he woke up in months ago in a different version of the Constant. It’s occupied, so maybe it’s not such a different version, is it?
“This is just going to make things complicated,” Ramses warns.
“He’ll remember what happened to him in the past. We need answers.”
Mateo deactivates the pod, and lets the other Mateo out. Fax!Mateo steps out. “Is everybody who came down here in this room right now?”
“Don’t worry about that,” the regular Mateo says. “It’s not going to implode.”
Fax!Mateo narrows his eyes at his other self. “Report.”
“No, asshole, you report. The memory of my time down here has been erased. Before it happens to you, you’re gonna tell us. What did you see? Who did you see?”
Fax!Mateo looks behind him at the pod control panel. “October 24, 2398. Sorry, it’s not time yet.” He runs off.

Monday, December 26, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: October 23, 2398

Leona has been at a retreat for the last five days since she was forced to accidentally kill Solomon Powers, the star of the hit talk show, Balance of Power. She didn’t technically have to kill him, but she lost control, and hit him too hard against the side of the head during their fight, and that was that. Now she’s in control of a broadcast program that she doesn’t want. They have reportedly been running repeats until she comes back out the woodwork, and gives them direction, which she’s not interested in doing. She certainly doesn’t want to host it. She just wants to go back to the way things were before, whatever that means. Winona has her tucked away on a special patch of land that serves both as the training grounds for intelligence department recruits, and a safe haven for furloughed and retired operatives, officers, and agents.
It’s been nice, but it’s time to leave. Her people need her, especially Mateo and Ramses, who will be returning from the Facsimile dimension in a couple of days. “Wait,” Winona says after Leona explains as much.
“Wait for what?” Leona asks.
“Ugh, I was hoping you would stay at least one more day, so we could clean it up for you. It’s ready to fly, though, and I suppose that’s what counts.”
“What’s ready to fly?”
“Come with me.” Winona leads her across the ranch, into one of the hangars. There’s only one aircraft there at the moment. It looks strikingly similar to The Olimpia.
A man is looking it over, and tapping on his tablet. “Oh, I thought we had until tomorrow. I’m so sorry, sir, I must have screwed up somewhere.”
“You didn’t,” Winona assures him. “She’s decided to leave early. I had to move up the presentation. Agent Matic, this is yours. We heard what happened to your last one.”
The engineer nods. “Same overall dimensions as your old model, but it sports a more streamlined and accommodating interior. More private lofts, no cubbies. Less room in the cockpit to leave more space for everything else, but that’s okay, because more systems are automated than ever before.” He pauses while Leona takes a quick look at the inside. “It’s also vacuum compliant.”
“It can launch into space?” Leona questions.
“It can self-propel from a fusion reactor,” the engineer clarifies. “It has to be launched as a payload on something else, though. Apparently you have your own special engine too? Mr. Abdulrashid left us in the dark for that part of the design.”
“Ramses knows about this?”
“He asked for an upgrade,” Winona reveals. “He’s been planning this for a while.
He always has a lot of irons in the fire. Leona nods at it. All she can think is how much Heath would like this. She didn’t kill him, but she is responsible for it. She feels responsible for everything. Being the captain is great until you count up all the pain it’s caused. She should step down and disappear. Wouldn’t everyone be happier?
“What do you think?” the engineer asks, proud of his work. “We still need to clean it, but it’s sky-worthy, and space-worthy. And subaquatic-worthy, and—”
“I love it. Thank you.”
“What are you gonna name it?” Winona asks. “Not the Olimpia again, right?”
“That’s not my call. My team needs to become more of a democracy.”

Sunday, December 25, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: October 22, 2398

Kivi hangs up the phone, confused and frustrated, perhaps even more frustrated than before she made the call, but now for different reasons. The interrogation of Meredarchos is not going well. There are only a few people in the world who are immune to his psychic abilities, and half of them don’t work for the government, so they’re off doing their own things. The rest are left to stay at the black site, and keep watch over him in tiresome shifts. They grow weary of it, but until they figure out how his ability works, they are the only line of defense against him. Kivi was hoping to get Arcadia to immunize others, but she can’t come back, for reasons she didn’t get into. She did make one crazy claim, which is that generating mental barriers in other people’s heads is something that Kivi may be able to do herself.
What you’re doing when you say that you’ve picked up the scent of a target has nothing to do with smell,” Arcadia said. “The reason you can find people is because you’re tracking the unique psychic signal that everyone gives off, whether they want to or not. You too have psychic abilities; maybe not as strong as Meredarchos, or even me, but everyone has a little, and you’re definitely better than the average person.
Kivi is confounded by this. Obviously she knew it had nothing to do with smell. Catching a scent was just the easiest way to put it without having a degree in neurology. Still, psychic is a bit of a stretch. If she can read minds, shouldn’t she have done so accidentally by now? In the movies, if a character has a special ability, it will always surface at an opportune time, especially if we’re talking multiple abilities. Kivi has been interrogating this dark entity for days, and nothing like that has happened to her. Though maybe just knowing it’s a thing will make it work the next time. She’s certainly going to try that before she attempts to protect a new agent from Meredarchos’ intrusions. If she fails, it places someone in danger, but this only puts her at risk.
They’ve been living at a safehouse about a kilometer from the secret one-person prison, which was built into an abandoned mine shaft by another team while Kivi and her team were still looking for the enemy. She makes the drive back, and checks in at the gate. She takes the elevator down, and heads for Meredarchos. His two frontline guards have already moved him to the interrogation room, and placed a dark bag over his head. If this is going to work, he can’t be allowed to sense anything through her microexpressions. She sits down across from him, and starts to operate on instinct. If I were a real psychic, how would I read someone’s thoughts?
After a few minutes, Kivi starts to feel something. Her own mental wall is still there, but now she’s getting the sense that there are two walls. One of them belongs to Meredarchos and Erlendr. They apparently also have to protect themselves against intruders. She looks up to the top. She can see both of them there, on separate corners, scanning the horizon. They’re looking so far in the distance, they can’t even see that she’s right there in front of them. It’s one tall-ass wall, though. As a metaphor, it’s a pretty good one. There’s no way she’s scaling that, and making it to the other side.
She hears a whisper at the base of the wall. “Psst. Come here.” It’s a shadowy figure, holding onto an open door.
Who is that?” Kivi asks.
It’s me, come on.” The figure steps a little more into the light. It’s Cheyenne.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: October 21, 2398

Alyssa comes out of her room, and looks around at the empty communal area of their hotel suite. It’s been empty for days. Mateo and Ramses are stuck is some sort of something or other. Leona and Winona are off doing whatever, they won’t talk about it, but it kind of sounds more personal than operational. Arcadia and Vearden are dealing with family issues. Kivi never lived here anyway. Marie was the last to leave, and she hasn’t called in since. Seems mighty weird, Alyssa living here all alone. Not only is it too much space for one person, but she has the least amount of experience with any of this. She’s just a farm girl from Central Kansas. That’s the problem, isn’t it? They don’t trust her with anything, so they don’t ask anything of her. At least not anymore. They asked her for a lot in the past. The temporal energy has dwindled, though, so she’s of no use to them as an illusionist. Still, a quick call would be nice.
She has to do something. Living it up in this fancy place is making her feel terrible. Maybe Marie needs her help tracking the other time travelers, but she doesn’t know how to ask. Let’s find out where she is. Alyssa pulls out her device, and looks for Marie’s location. Her device hasn’t moved in a long time, and it’s not where she had her surveillance nest set up. She zooms into the satellite view of the friend finder app, but she can’t tell what this building is. She has to cross-reference it with the regular map. It’s showing those coordinates to be a mental hospital, which doesn’t sound good. No one else’s device is on, or they’ve switched off location tracking. Either way, they’re not picking up. She can sit here alone and be useless, or she can try to help.
Seeing no better option, Alyssa looks up the number to the hospital, and dials. “Hello, English?” she confirms. “Yes, I’m looking for a friend. We share our location history, and she’s been there since yesterday afternoon.” She waits for a response. “Her name is Sydney Bristow?” It’s the alias that Marie has been using, and apparently the name of an agent on a TV show from her reality called Alias. “Oh, really? Well, does she have outside communication privileges?” She does, but Marie will have to call her if she’s feeling up to it. “My name is Alyssa, she’ll know me.” She hangs up, and waits.
Ten minutes later, her phone rings. “Sydney, are you okay?” The phone may be tapped, she doesn’t know what kind of laws they have over there, so stick with the alias. “Yeah, I can see where that might get you into trouble, if you weren’t talking to the right person. Well, how can I get you out of there?” Marie doesn’t want to leave. “You’re happy there? What, are ya gonna stay there forever?” Not forever, just a few days to clear her head. “Your friends need you. I need you, I don’t know what to do.” Marie has one idea. “You think I’m ready for something like that on my own?” Yes, it’s just reconnaissance. “That’s the problem, we don’t know what—or who—I might run into.”
They keep discussing it for a little bit, Alyssa asking to fly to Manila herself, and be there for her. Marie doesn’t want that, and she’s the one controlling the purse strings. The trip would cost about ten thousand dollars, and still, no one else is available to help. Marie has to go, so she leaves the choice up to her, and hangs up. Alyssa thinks about it for a few minutes. This is her moment to prove that she deserves to be part of the team, and she doesn’t always need help from other people. She grabs her coat, and heads downstairs. If she’s gonna do this, she’s gonna do it right. She needs to shop for supplies. Who knows what she’ll find in Springfield, Kansas?

Friday, December 23, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: October 20, 2398

Marie has been staking out this apartment for the last two days. This is the kind of work that she used to do for SD6. She was taken off of all such assignments when her team showed up, and that became her only priority, both on a personal level, and for the government. This still has to do with time travel, but her team isn’t involved. They’re looking for people who have experienced an inordinate amount of time for a normal living human, or just have unusual brain chemistry. The orbital scanner that Ramses built, and which Mateo installed on a Snowglobe satellite, only mapped where these targets were at the time of the last scan. This information is now over a week old, so if any of them were just on vacation, or something, they’ll probably never find them. This may all be a waste of time. She hates this now. She hates everything she used to love or like. She’s just bitter and angry, and nothing seems right anymore. She shouldn’t take it out on the team, though, and she knows it. Hopefully they understand, and won’t hold it against her. Maybe getting herself a win will raise her spirits.
She has the extra mobile scanner that Ramses left in his hotel room. He didn’t have time to write up a manual, and the data burst he was able to send from the time bubble he and Mateo are presently trapped in didn’t say much about it. Even so, it seems pretty self-explanatory. Marie was able to adapt it to a tripod, and place it next to her other surveillance equipment. She doesn’t know which unit in the apartment complex is housing the target, but they’ll have to go through the front door at some point, and when they do, this thing should beep to let her know. It starts to beep. The scanner doesn’t communicate with the digital scope, of course, so she has to cross-reference the time codes to find who she’s looking for. Three people entered the building at about the same time, but two of them appeared to be together, and the scanner only caught one unusual brain. That’s not a guarantee, but it’s a safer bet. She pulls up the photo, runs downstairs from her surveillance nest, crosses the street, and enters the building.
“English?” she asks the lobby supervisor.
“Yes,” he replies. “But my shift is over. Divina will be out soon.”
Just as he’s saying that, the woman she was looking for steps out of the back office in her uniform. The scanner beeps. The two of them exchange a few words in Filipino, and then the man leaves. “Yes, can I help you?”
Marie isn’t prepared for this either. She doesn’t know what to say, so she just goes with the tried and true code words. “Yeah, thank you. Listen, I’m in the mood for some fish. Do you know of a good restaurant that serves salmon?”
The lobby supervisor starts to consult her computer. “There is a really great seafood  restaurant down the street, but I can pull up a comprehensive list for you.”
Hmm. That didn’t work. Marie holds up her scanner, which thankfully, doesn’t look like a weapon. Yeah, her brain is definitely unusual.
“I’m sorry, do you live here? We’re really only meant to help residents.”
“I’m a time traveler from the 19th century, trapped in your reality, hoping to find others like me. We have been looking for a way back home, but we don’t want to leave without first checking to see if anyone else would like to join. I believe you’re one of us.”
“Of course, ma’am. One moment, please.” She calls the authorities.