Thursday, January 19, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 16, 2398

Leona wasn’t calling Marie and Kivi because she wanted them to try to find her husband in the Mariana Trench. She just wanted to record a census of all the versions of Mateo that they’re currently aware of. The one down there appears to be the only one at the moment, which makes things simpler. The two SD6 teams are free to go off and do their own thing. She’s going to handle this herself, but she needs more data. The global brain scanner that found him operates on two axes. They can get some idea of elevation by measuring the strength of the signal, but it’s impossible to pinpoint a precise location. If she’s going to teleport down to him, she needs to know precisely how deep to go, and where to land, or she’ll end up drowning in the ocean while being crushed by its unyielding thousand atmospheres of pressure.
Ramses has been working on a temporal energy detector capable of surviving the stress of reentry into Earth’s top atmospheric layers, and he’s finally finished. They have decided that this is a perfect opportunity to feed two birds with one worm. The detector will fall to the surface of Earth, measuring the temporal energy fields along the way, as well as hopefully whatever is suppressing that field. It should land in the ocean over the trench, then detach itself from the parachutes, and sink down to look for Mateo.
“About how long will all that take?” Cheyenne asks.
Ramses is monitoring the exterior maintenance robot—or EMR—that’s readying the probe for launch. The ship wasn’t designed for this, so he’s had to improvise a lot of the process. If they’re in a time crunch, that’s all the more reason they can’t rush. “Forty-two minutes and eleven seconds.”
“Oh, so you know exactly how long?”
“Well, I couldn’t tell you how quickly the probe will find Mateo, because the whole point is we don’t know where he is, but if it has to sink all the way to the bottom, it will take forty-two minutes and eleven seconds from launch.”
“If your bot ever finishes building the launch brackets,” Leona says impatiently.
Ramses peels himself from the central hologram to look at her. “I hope you know that there is no guarantee—”
“I know,” she interrupts, frustrated.
“Sorry, what were you gonna say?” Vearden asks.
“He was going to remind me that we can’t be sure Mateo is the one down there,” Leona answers instead. “It’s true, were I you is not, like, this secret phrase that no one else would know. I just don’t think anyone else would think to use it in this situation.”
“Okay,” Ramses says passive-aggressively. “We’ll find out in about forty-two minutes.” He starts heading back down to engineering. “The EMR is finished with its work just in time for our launch window. You can all watch from up here.”
A few minutes later, the probe is through the miniature airlock that Ramses built in engineering, sacrificing what was once used as storage space. It’s now a little bit more difficult to walk around downstairs. The probe flies away from the AOC, and heads for Earth. It screams across the sky, exciting all amateur astronomers who were not expecting such a large piece of orbital debris to decay today. The truth is that it’s not all that large, but it’s built with materials not found in the modern world, so it would be assumed to be the size of a tiny home. Let the conspiracies begin.
The probe is through the rough spots now, so the parachutes deploy to slow its descent. Ramses frowns as he’s watching the data come in. Velocity, temperature, pressure, pollution levels. It’s picking up all of these things, but the one thing it’s not sensing is temporal energy. This is incredibly odd, even for the Third Rail. After it lands on the water, he goes back up to the rest of the group.
Leona shakes her head. “You see these numbers?”
“Yes, they don’t make any sense,” Ramses notes.
“Forgive me, but...” she begins awkwardly
“I didn’t screw it up. The detector is working fine. There is something seriously wrong with this world, and it’s bigger than we ever imagined.”
“I don’t understand,” Vearden says, worried that they’re going to roll their eyes at best, or chew his head off at worst.
“If I’m reading this right—and I’m no scientist, so I might not be—but it says here that you’re not sensing any temporal energy whatsoever,” Arcadia says.
“That’s right,” Leona replies. She reaches forward to play with the interface, but stops. There’s nothing to adjust or calibrate. It’s all laid out before them. It’s all wrong.
“Didn’t we kind of expect that, though?” Vearden presses. “We already know there’s no time travel, at least not down on the planet.”
“There’s always time travel.” Arcadia starts to talk with her hands. “For most people, time moves at a one to one ratio, which means that for every second that passes, one second passes. Temporal energy isn’t this magical substance that we use to manipulate time and space. It’s simply the transfer of excited particles from one moment in time to another, as a function of entropy.”
“Temporal energy is just what happens when time passes,” Arcadia clarifies. “You can’t have no energy, because that would mean you have no time. It’s either balanced or unbalanced, and as time travelers, we exploit the unbalanced levels, but you can’t just have nothing. If you have nothing, you don’t exist. This world...doesn’t exist!”
The computer beeps. Leona looks back up to the hologram. “The probe is close enough to the source of the were I you signal. I know where to go.”
“Do you want me to come with you?” Ramses offers.
“No, stay here with this.”
Leona puts on her wetsuit, which is a half-measure, since it’s not what’s going to keep her safe down there. It just seems dumb to go down in her civies. She inserts the rebreather in her mouth, nods to the group, and then teleports to the signal. She can instantly tell that she’s standing inside of the Bridgette. She hears someone shuffling behind her, so she turns around to find Alyssa in a defensive position. Alyssa doesn’t loosen up, since Leona doesn’t look like herself with the mask on. “It’s me, it’s me.”
“Oh, okay. I guess it’s 2398 again.”
“Where were you?”
“Billions of years ago.”
“Tell me everything.”
Alyssa shakes her head. “I can’t. My memories are on a detonation mechanism. As soon as we surface, they’ll disappear, and I don’t have time to relay them to you.”
“I understand,” Leona says with a nod. “Is Mateo here?”
She hesitates to answer for a beat. “No. He’s never coming back.”

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