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Saturday, January 14, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 11, 2398

It’s been a month since Angela, Carlin, Moray, Petra, and a small crew of scientists started their relativistic journey to the Oort Cloud. For them, however, it’s only been an hour, and nothing interesting has happened. The four of them are in the middle of a game of Bridge, but that’s about it. Now Angela’s bladder is yelling at her, so she’s taking her break and heading for the head. When she opens the door, she runs into someone she assumes to be one of the research scientists. She doesn’t even look up at his face. “Oh, apologies. I’ll go find another facility.”
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, madam,” the man says as she’s trying to walk away. That voice. She would recognize it anywhere, even a thousand years from now. It’s the man who put her in prison, Tamerlane Pryce.
She spins around, a little too whimsically than she would like, given the tone she wants to present. “They were right. You’re here.”
He’s genuinely confused. “Someone told you I would be on the rocket?”
“No, I mean, this reality. I don’t know why you’re on the rocket.”
“I’m here to save your life,” he says cryptically.
She folds her arms. “How? Did a seer four million years ago tell you that it would blow up?”
He chuckles. “We don’t have seers. That’s by design. No time travel, no fortune telling, no temporal manipulation of any kind...except for the thing that controls all of that, of course.”
“Of course,” she mocks. “I would love to continue this conversation, but I really do have to go.”
“I meant what I said,” he calls up when she tries to turn away from him again. “You shouldn’t use the toilet.”
“Excuse me? You’re trying to tell a woman what to do with her body?”
He nods as he’s preparing his explanation. “Exactly four months ago, Earth realtime, you imbibed three cups of water while stranded in the village of Vertegen, on the Svalbard archipelago.”
“Yes, we surmised that they were three types of immortality water. That’s why I’m here, to buy time for my friends to find the rest, so Marie isn’t killed.”
“That’s not why I had the villagers give you the water,” Pryce says. “Something worse happens in your future, and I feel responsible for you, so I didn’t want you to die, but that event cannot be changed. What I mean is, the sequence of events leading up to it can’t, but I could alter the outcome. Fortunately, you came to my reality, and provided me with the perfect opportunity to do just that.”
“Okay. Let’s say I believe you. Why won’t you let me pee now?”
He shrugs with both his shoulders, and his chin. “Isn’t it obvious? The waters don’t last forever. Your body purges them from your system, just as they purge anything else you consume...unless it’s permanently detrimental, like a pathogen. If you pee today, Marie will die. Actually, she’ll already be dead, because the whole point is that you would be trying to save her life in the past. You don’t have much time left. I calculated incorrectly, and didn’t give you very much time to reach all eleven immortality waters before the first ones expire. You can do it, but you have to hold on for the next several hours. Your friends are already on the path that will lead them to a permanent solution.”
“We don’t need any solution that you came up with,” Angela contends. “I lived in your world for centuries, but I eventually broke out, thanks to my new family. We’ll break out of this one too, especially now that I know it’s yours.”
Pryce smiles sadly. “The afterlife simulation is not my world. Now, before you argue, I really mean it. I’m a different version of the man you know. He went back in time, and created a new timeline, one in which no one ever really dies. I was born in that one. I never did any of the stuff that he did.”
She’s taken aback by this, but his story isn’t completely implausible. He certainly wouldn’t be the first alternate self she’s met. There have been so many in the Third Rail alone; it’s like a magnet for them. She herself has an alt who goes by their middle name. “You just said you felt responsible for me.”
“I do. I feel personally responsible for all the people he’s hurt. If he’s not going to make up for his mistakes, then I guess I have to.”
She takes a deep breath. “Horace Reaver was a serial killer in one reality, then a rich douchebag in the next, and a hero in the next. I want to trust that you’re like that, but there’s no reason to believe versions of people in subsequent timelines are always better than their Past!Selves. It could just as easily go the other way. Maybe you’re not the man I knew, but that doesn’t mean you’re an improvement.”
“You’re right, but I can give you this.” He pulls a water bottle from behind his back like it’s Excalibur. “Energy water isn’t the most difficult kind to procure, but in the political climate surrounding the Dead Sea and Birket, I would prefer it if you didn’t risk your freedom by trying to go back there to steal more.”
Angela peers at it. “How do I know that isn’t just tap water from a suburban house’s kitchen sink?”
“I went through a lot of trouble to get you the three first immortality waters. The first one is from billions of years ago, the next is from another universe, and the next is from another galaxy. If I couldn’t even sneak into Birket to get this one, I certainly couldn’t have gotten the others, and the whole endeavor is moot.”
She keeps her eyes narrowed, but accepts the gift. “I can’t drink this yet. If I remember the order, I need waters from the Bermuda Triangle and North Pole first.”
He nods. “The others will handle that. This is a good faith gesture, don’t drink it until you get back to Earth. But remember, you can’t go pee. I haven’t had a doctor examine you, so I can’t say for sure it would purge your system of what you need to keep, but if I were you, I wouldn’t risk it.”
Now that he’s been talking about it so much, it’s all that she can focus on. The pressure is worse than ever, though that’s clearly only a psychological reaction. Assuming she believes him in the first place, how long can she last before she explodes? “Thank you...I think.”
He smiles, “that’s as much as I can ask. I better go hide again. I’m a stowaway, after all. Try to keep yourself busy. Maybe activate your acute stress response. When your body is in a hurry, it shuts down digestion, because it knows that it can’t take a break when you’re running from a saber-toothed tiger."
Angela watches him disappear, then she returns to her cabin to stash the Energy water in her refrigerator. Then she goes out for a jog. It doesn’t work.

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