Tuesday, February 28, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Year 262,398

Today is the big day. Mateo isn’t sure why the happy couple waited 10,000 years to get married, but it’s got to be a record for the longest engagement. Then again, they could have waited ten seconds, and it still would have set the record since literally eight people are alive in the observable universe right now. It’s soon to be nine, as The Officiant is set to return to fulfill her duties within the hour. Until then, Curtis needs some help.
“Did you ask Asier?” Mateo asks him.
“Do you not know how to tie a bowtie?”
“I do not, but he seems like the kind of guy who would. I imagine he’s had to go to police union luncheons, and stuff.”
“You’re probably right.” Curtis tilts his head as he’s staring in the mirror, trying to figure this out.
“Honestly, you two don’t seem like the type to wanna dress up all formal-like.”
“Ya know, we never met,” Curtis says. “I had heard of you, the guy who only lived one day out of the year, but we never hung out. Were we friends in your timeline?”
“Umm...” Mateo has to think about how he would describe his relationship with Curtis’ alternate self. “We were friendly, but we didn’t hang out either. Other!You spent most of his time in the early to mid-21st century, and I blew past that pretty quickly. He was in that time traveler prison.”
“Really? That doesn’t sound like me. I have no interest in exposing our secret to the world.”
“He had a different upbringing, I’m sure.”
“Yeah.” Curtis nods, then drops his arms in defeat. “Could you go get him for me? Please?” He asks as if he feels bad about putting him out, even though it’s no big deal.
“Of course.”
Mateo leaves, and returns quickly with Asier, who does indeed have experience with bowties, though only on himself, so he has to wrap his arms around the groom’s shoulders from behind him, like a sexy golf trainer. He does a great job; it looks perfect. “Are you nervous?” Asier asks.
“No, this has been a long time comin’. I’m ready.” He flicks his tie and says, “snazzy.” Then he spins around. “All right, who has a coin?”
Mateo and Asier pad their respective pockets. “No money here,” Asier says. “It hasn’t been invented yet.”
“What do you need it for?” Mateo questions.
“I’ve not yet decided who my best man is going to be. I know, I should have asked earlier, but I forgot. It’s all happening so fast,” he jokes.” He sees their expressions. “I can’t tell if both of you want to be chosen, or if neither of you do.”
This is only going to get more awkward. “Let’s both do it,” Mateo suggests. We’re obviously skipping the bachelor party anyway, so we’ll both stand up there with you.”
Curtis smiles, and accepts. As it turns out, the ladies had the same idea, but then they realized how weird it was, everyone being in the wedding party, and not having an audience. Abigail chose to step down to fill that role alone. The ceremony was simple, uncontroversial, and nice. The reception was small, but fun.

Monday, February 27, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Year 252,398

Curtis and Cheyenne have known each other for eight years now, which Mateo is finding surreal, because he’s awake even less than they are. Though, he shouldn’t think it’s that weird, since skipping time has been his life for awhile now. The two lovebirds met tens of thousands of years ago, but since they have so much time on their hands, they have spent some of it keeping track of actual time. In fact, that eight year figure doesn’t even account for the time that one of them was out of stasis without the other. A normal couple would count all the time they were geographically apart from each other, so all told, it’s longer than that. There aren’t a whole lot of options for partnerships here. Between relatives and external relationships, neither Curtis nor Cheyenne has a large pool to choose from. So they worked really hard to test their relationship with each other to make sure that it was real, and not just a last man on Earth type of situation. After all that, they have decided that they really do care for each other, and exclusively so, even if there were billions of others around. They want to get married, but the problem is that no one here is qualified to officiate the ceremony, or sign the papers.
“We don’t need a big ceremony, though,” Cheyenne says. “Are you sure that no one vested that power in you?”
“Certain,” Danica replies. “It’s the responsibility of someone else in our world.”
“Well...could you contact that person?” Curtis requests.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know how,” Danica apologizes.
“I know how.” Bhulan steps forward.
“You do?” Danica question.
“Not herme,” Bhulan says, confusingly. “This is Aquila.” Oh, right.
“Oh.” Danica nods. “You know how to contact The Officiant?”
“Yeah, I know a lot of things,” Aquila replies.
“I’m not sure that she can come to this reality,” Danica says, worried.
“She can go anywhere,” Aquila claims. At least that is the assumption. Perhaps they should come up with some way of knowing which one is talking. One of them could always be wearing sunglasses, or be holding the talking stick. “Trust me.”
“Okay. We have nothing else to do for the next 4,000 years, so let’s plan a wedding. And by let’s, I mean anyone else, because that is not my strong suit. Really, you don’t want me involved. I can set up chairs, or fold announcements, but...”
“We don’t need much,” Cheyenne says. “We can’t invite anyone else, and don’t really want to.”
Curtis is confused. “Wait, we talked about this,” he says to her in a hushed tone.
“Yeah, and I don’t think they’re gonna be able to swing it,” she replies in a more hushed tone.
They continue to argue softer and softer until no one else can here.
“Aquila, do you know if the Officiant would be able to transport people here, like her family?” Curtis asks.
“I doubt it, but you can ask. You can’t have the wedding today, she’ll want to meet you first, and then give you time.”
“Great. Call her.”
“I have to do it alone,” Aquila explains. “That includes you,” she says to her own shoulder, likely as a way of communicating with her brainmate, Bhulan. “I’ll go dormant, like we practiced,” she then says, suggesting that this is Bhulan speaking now. Yeah, a good talking stick would really help. “Just remember to wake me up.”
Aquila goes off to do whatever she needs to do to make contact with the Officiant. By the time she walks back into the room, the woman herself has arrived. A bookcase in the master sitting room disappears, and is replaced with the door to the Officiant’s office. She steps out. “Who are the lucky two?”
Curtis and Cheyenne step forward.
“Come with me so we can talk. This could be the first of many, or the last.” As they’re stepping up to the door, she looks at the rest of the group. “I need someone to join us as witness.”
Bhulan raises her hand.
“Only one witness, please,” the Officiant clarifies. “How about you, sir?”
“Me?” Mateo questions, looking behind him to see if she means it.
“Yes, you’ve gone through this before, you know what to expect. It could help.”
“We didn’t have a witness at mine and Leona’s meeting.”
The Officiant scowls. “I made a lot of concessions for that marriage. How is it going, by the way?”
“It’s been better,” Mateo replies. “I miss her.”
“Well, come on, then. Your friends need you.”
He wouldn’t feel comfortable calling either of them friends. Curtis is from a timeline that Mateo doesn’t remember, and he’s only ever met Future!Cheyenne. But still, if they need someone to be there, he can’t say no.
Once they’re all seated, she begins. “Why don’t I let you start and drive the conversation? What are your biggest concerns regarding this event?”
“Well,” Cheyenne says, looking over to make sure that Curtis doesn’t want to say something first. “Neither of us wants a big wedding, but I was hoping my family could be there. He thought it would be okay to ask if you could retrieve them for us.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” the Officiant replies. “Guest lists are beyond my purview. We in the business call it scope creep, and it’s caused some issues in past ceremonies. I can, however, perform the ceremony whenever, and wherever, you like. We can wait until you return to your family. Is that a possibility?”
“Not for a long time,” Curtis responds. “But we’re anxious to get to it.”
“Even if we did go back,” Cheyenne says, “people would hear about it, and ask a lot of questions. Who’s this guy? Where did he come from? Why wasn’t I invited? We don’t just want to keep it small, we don’t want excluded people to know about it.”
That’s an interesting take that Mateo and Leona might have tried in another life. There were some people at their wedding that they would not have chosen to invite. They didn’t get the chance to discuss before it was forced upon them. They probably would have split the difference, where all their loved ones could attend, but not the entire multiverse. Maybe they should consider a do-over. It’s certainly possible.
“Snap out of it,” the Officiant instructs with a literal snap of her fingers. “Today is about them. We can discuss your own situation at a later date.”
“Sorry, yes, of course,” Mateo says. He doesn’t remember her being psychic.
The Officiant nods. “Now. What else would you like to discuss?”
“The most important aspect of any wedding ceremony...flower arrangements,” Curtis jokes.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Year 242,398

Danica checks her watch. They should be here by now. There must be something wrong with this damn thing. Or maybe she just doesn’t know how to use it. Tamerlane was right about that. She wasn’t chosen for this job because of her technology skills. She was chosen by fate. Or destiny, or just arbitrarily. Who knows? As she’s shaking her head out of frustration, the machine turns itself on. In a flash, Mateo and Curtis appear from the past. “I’m sending you back. Bhulan isn’t here,” she lies to them. Technically, she is here, but not because this is where Tamerlane sent her. It’s because she returned 10,000 years ago, and now she’s still here, currently hanging out with Abigail, Cheyenne, and Curtis in one of the stasis chambers.
“So we’ve already lost,” Past!Curtis questions.
“Not yet. I have another trick up my sleeve.” Danica double checks the temporal coordinates on the time machine, set to send them back to ten seconds after they left 20,000 years ago.
“Is there anything we can do to help?” Past!Mateo asks.
“You’ve done more than enough,” Present!Mateo replies.
“I wasn’t talking to you,” Past!Mateo argues with his future self.
“Everything’s gonna be okay,” Danica assures him. “Just say you didn’t find her here, because that’s the truth. Safe travels.” She pulls the switch, and sends them home.
“The loop is closed,” Present!Mateo declares with an exhalation that sounds like he’s been holding it in the whole time.
“The issue remains.” Danica starts tapping on her watch, remotely unlocking Tamerlane’s special stasis pod, the hatch to his private stasis chamber, and the gate to his cell. “I need you to get something for me.”
“Tamerlane Pryce. I don’t feel like walking all the way down there, and all the way back. We may as well get some use out of your teleportation powers.”
“What are you gonna do to him?” Mateo darts his gaze over to the machine. “Or rather, when and where will you send him?”
“I’m going to send him where he wants to go,” Danica answers. Keeping him locked up was the wrong play, and crueler than she ever wanted to be. It’s messing him up, and it will only get worse. There’s one option left to fix this, but he’s not gonna like it, and she definitely won’t. Mateo will probably be displeased too. If Tamerlane wants to disappear, then she’ll help, but to different ends. After Mateo zips away, she starts to set new temporal coordinates, this time 60,000 years from now. He thinks that this will set the Omega Gyroscope free, but there’s something about it that not even he knows.
Mateo returns with the prisoner in hand. “I need to know that you’re not going to hurt him. I can’t be party to that.”
Danica takes Tamerlane by the shoulder, and escorts him into the time chamber. “He’ll be back in the year 302,398, just as he wanted.”
“Why are you doing this?” Tamerlane asks, a little worried about looking a gift horse in the mouth, but too curious to keep quiet.
“It’s clear that I can’t control you,” she explains as she’s stepping out of the blast zone. She frowns at Mateo. “But I think I can control Leona.” She pulls the switch again.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Year 232,398

It’s the Year of our Danica 172,398. That’s what Tamerlane always likes to call it. Bhulan went back in time to destroy the hundemarke, the Omega Gyroscope, and the Insulator of Life. She had a purpose. She always has purpose. She gets an objective in her head, and she can’t let go of it until she reaches it. Danica is under an immense amount of pressure. Even before any other guests arrived, she was worried about screwing up her job. That can consume her. They’re both so stressed. He was there to lighten the mood, and despite his own past—and all the very questionable things that his alternate selves did—they were glad he was on their side. Team Triple Threat, he called them jokingly. It had a nice ring to it. They only abandoned it entirely because Team Quadruple Threat didn’t have the same ring to it when Asier showed up.
“Why are you doing this?” Bhulan questions. “I mean, I know why, you’ve just told me, but what do you think it’s going to accomplish, in the long run? Do you not trust me to be a good possessor of the Gyroscope?”
“I do not. I trust no one with that power. Believe me I more than anyone know what power does to someone. It destroys you. It turns you into something you never wanted to be. I never wanted that for any of you.”
“This isn’t the way.”
He chuckles.
“You think what I said was funny?”
“No, it wasn’t that. I was laughing at myself. I was going to respond that you’ll thank me one day, but I know better. I know that this is going to ruin my relationships with you two. I’ve decided that I have to be okay with that. For the greater good. So instead I’ll just see your claim that this isn’t the way, and raise you a yes, it is.” He leads her into the time machine, and programs her cuffs to proximate the time chamber.
She doesn’t even try to leave, she knows how much it will hurt to break that proximity barrier. But she does take one step towards him for emphasis. “Please, don’t.”
“It’ll be fine,” he promises. “You won’t feel a thing, and barely any time will pass.”
“Danica will come for me. There is no way you get 50,000 years before she finds a way. She’ll trace my point in time, and retrieve me.”
Tamerlane chuckles again. “I’m sorry, but you two don’t understand this place like I do. For instance, this is not a time machine, at least not in the sense that you’re used to hearing. It’s a transtemporal relocator.”
“That just sounds like a fancy way of saying time machine.”
“To you. But to me, I see so much more. Enjoy your trip.” He flips the switch.

Bhulan feels herself being pulled away from her initial moment in time, but she doesn’t just jump to the future, or the past. She keeps moving. It’s more like she’s sliding along the timestream, just outside of it, and never landing. She can see all of time and space from here, but not like Lincoln Rutherford can, or Danica will one day, or even as herself. It’s a garbled mess of distant images that don’t look like anything at all. She’s gaining no insight into the timeline, and she can’t control what she sees, or where she goes. She’s just along for the ride. Then suddenly, something becomes clear. Amidst all the vague light and shapes, an image forms. With it comes familiarity. Thousands of people are witnessing something. It’s the Colosseum, and this is the day that Mateo Matic defeats Zeferino Preston, a.k.a. The Cleanser, and most powerful man in the universe. This is an important moment, but it’s not something that Bhulan has ever personally cared about. The scene comes closer and closer, faster and faster, until she’s right in the middle of it all, and collides with something.
She stops. Everything stops, and all she sees is darkness, plus the faceless silhouette of another person a few meters from her. They ran into each other, and have ended up here in this void. Can she even speak? “Hey, are you okay?” Apparently so.
“I’m all right,” the other person replies. The silhouette moves a little, then starts to stand up. It’s still too dark to see who it is.
“Bhulan Cargill.”
“I know who you are,” she says.
“Do you know where we are?”
The figure looks all around at the nothingness. “A psychic bridge...a very boring one, at that. You don’t have a very creative mind, do you?”
“Who are you? I’ve never heard of a psychic bridge, and I’ve been around the block.”
She giggles. “Which block?”
“What is your name, please?”
“Some call me Frida, but I don’t think I like that anymore. A few know me as Aquila Bellamy, but I’m still not used to that either. Most just think of me as—”
“The Mass,” Bhulan realizes. The Artist, Athanaric Fury once lived in the Gallery Dimension, where he and hundreds others helped protect the timeline from time travelers. They didn’t stop them from traveling, but if any of their actions caused damage to their arbitrary idea of what the timeline should be, they corrected it. One day, they all went on strike, and quit. Due to the nature of the dimension, it was impossible to return them to work, so Athanaric used his powers to build the Preston children to compensate. They too failed eventually, and he decided to entrust all that power into a single individual, which he called The Mass. Zeferino Preston stole the body before it could be activated, and in the scuffle, Aquila found herself forced into the responsibility of protecting that timeline instead. Funny enough, she’s Mateo’s half sister.
“Yeah,” Aquila says after Bhulan’s summary. “That’s me, that’s what happened.”
“What is the purpose of this...bridge thing, Aquila?”
“I died, and my consciousness was on its way to wherever we go after we die. Not even I know that, but it would appear that you intercepted the signal, and now we’re sharing a body. This place is like the lobby of your mind. Theoretically, you have a choice to make. You can either let me stay, or force me out.”
“That would be a dick move.”
Aquila shrugs. “You’re the boss, it’s your body.”
No, she’s not going to do that. They won’t need to share for long. When she figures out how to get them back to the Third Rail, Aquila can be transferred to Tamerlane’s body, and it doesn’t really matter what happens to his consciousness. Not anymore. He’s lost the right to autonomy. As she’s preparing to say yes, she feels the energy build up again. This is just a pitstop, and she’s about to be sent back down the timestream.
“You better choose fast, or fate might choose for you, and you could be stuck with me until we find a replacement, if that’s even a viable option where you’re going.”
“You can stay,” Bhulan says quickly, and just in time. The river of time grabs hold of them both, and pulls them away. Even though there’s no up or down in this dimension, or whatever, she gets the sense that they’re going in the opposite direction now. Perhaps she’s on her way back, 50,000 years too late, no doubt. Tamerlane is going to get what he wants, and due to their moratorium on time travel, there’s nothing that she and Danica can do to reverse the damage. This will have to become the Sacred Timeline; the world according to Tamerlane Pryce. Something has to be done about that, but it can wait.
The ride ends, and she finds herself back in the machine. Nice place, Aquila notes, not saying anything out loud.
“Let me do the talking,” Bhulan whispers to her.
I was going to, she whispers back.
“I just mean, I don’t know if we should tell people about you yet.”
“Constance, report.”
Day 216 of Year 232,398.” Sixty-thousand years, okay.
“Please list all current residents of the Constant.”
Danica Matic, Bhulan Cargill, Tamerlane Pryce, Asier Mendoza, Mateo Matic, Abigail Siskin, Cheyenne [last name unknown], Curtis Duvall, and Aquila Bellamy,” Constance answers.
“What the hell, you can tell that Aquila is in my head?’
Do I still have to let you do the talking? Aquila asks.
Bhulan sighs. “Is anyone awake?”
Everyone but Tamerlane.
“Please wake him up. Convene a meeting in the master sitting room. Don’t tell anyone why.”
Understood.” Bhulan has always had the better relationship with the AI, even though Danica is technically meant to be in charge around here.
While the group is gathering, Bhulan heads for the nearest bathroom to look at herself in the mirror. She feels physically dirty after having gone through all that, but she looks exactly as she did before. She doesn’t need a shower, or anything. She just needs to go out there and not waste time.
You’ll do great, Aquila encourages.
“Thanks.” Bhulan leaves the room and heads to the main area. She can hear the people talking to each other as she approaches the door. None of them knows who called this meeting or why. It’s not that she wants to make a grand entrance, but she wants to go over what happened, and what Tamerlane did, and she only wants to have to do it once. It’s best if they’re all here together. She clears her throat quietly, and walks inside.
Danica smiles at her sadly. She stands, and gives her a hug. “Glad you’re back.”
Bhulan hugs Asier as well, but none of the others, because she doesn’t know most of them, except by reputation, and she doesn’t have that kind of relationship with Mateo. She walks over to Tamerlane, sitting in the corner. He looks upset, but not guilty. He’s gone through some stuff too, she can tell. He kind of looks like he’s been tortured.
“I wasn’t trying to hurt you, I hope you know that.”
She breathes deep, and opens her arms. “I forgive you.”

Friday, February 24, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Year 222,398

Danica prepares herself, and opens the hatch to let Mateo out. He looks at her, then glances over to Curtis and Cheyenne. “I have a job for you,” she tells him. She hands him a tactical bag with the clothes and other gear that he may need. “Get dressed and meet us in the time machine room.”
“I don’t know where the new time machine room is,” Mateo says.
“I put it back where it was,” Danica replies. She takes Curtis’ left arm while Cheyenne takes his right. They all three teleport away.
Five minutes later, Mateo shows up, ready to go. “What’s the play?”
“After exhausting all other possibilities,” Danica begins, “I have decided to authorize a mission to the future to retrieve Bhulan Cargill.”
“Did Pryce tell you the exact date?”
“He did not,” Danica says, “but I was able to figure out how to trace it. He sent an object of roughly Bhulan’s mass to the temporal coordinates that I have already input in the machine for your mission. All you have to do is get her back into the chamber, and bring her home. If, for some reason, you cannot return to the future version of the machine, I’ve programmed it to slingshot you back after half an hour. As long as one of you is holding onto her, she’ll be pulled back with you.”
“Are you sure this is going to work?” Mateo questions.
“We’ve been planning this for three years, accounting for every possible obstacle, and coming up with every contingency. Curtis knows what to do. Follow his lead.”
“Okay, but she can’t go,” Mateo says, pointing to Cheyenne.
“Why the hell not?” Cheyenne and Danica question simultaneously.
“It’s no secret that I already knew Cheyenne when we first met,” Mateo says. “Just trust me that she is better off not being involved in this. I’m not saying she’s not capable, just that she ought to stay out of it.”
Curtis is ticked off, but he gets it.
Cheyenne is confused, but doesn’t feel comfortable advocating for herself, or maybe she just didn’t want to go anyway.
Danica has no choice but to trust Mateo’s words, and hope he’s not lying. Cheyenne volunteered for this job, but it only demands two people. Well, it really only needs one person, but Mateo is being sent to teach him a lesson, so he knows who’s boss, and obviously he can’t go alone, or he might just go off mission. “All right, Chey, sorry, you’re benched.”
“That’s totally fine.”
Yeah, Danica doesn’t think she was ever interested in this. It’s possible Mateo picked up on this as well, and that’s his entire reasoning. That’s the kind of thing he would do, if given the data. She really does need to cut him some slack. Until this, he hadn’t truly done anything wrong intentionally, and even this wasn’t an unreasonable choice. Besides, he didn’t technically do anything but teleport an empty stasis pod to the middle of outer space. Tamerlane is at fault here. He’s responsible for everything. “All right. Whenever you’re ready, I’ll pull the switch.”
Mateo and Curtis step into the chamber. “Go ahead,” Mateo says.
Danica pulls the switch, and they disappear. Ten seconds later, they return. “Report,” she orders as they’re stepping out, sans Bhulan.
“She wasn’t there,” Mateo answers.
Danica looks for confirmation from Curtis.
“She wasn’t there,” he concurs. “You’re the one who—”
“Don’t tell me anything about what I may or may not have done in the future,” Danica warns. He was obviously going to say that Future!Her will admit that Bhulan really doesn’t show up, suggesting that Tamerlane used a lie to cover up another lie.
“Sorry,” Curtis says.
“Thank you for trying. I have to go.” She starts to walk away.
“What are you going to do?” Cheyenne asks.
Danica turns around. “I’m resorting to Plan Z.” She leaves the room, but not before she shouts, “everyone out!”
Tamerlane has already been placed in a special hock of her own design, which the builders of this facility apparently did not foresee as being necessary. It has three levels. There’s a regular cell that operates in realtime. A stasis chamber moves faster, and the prisoner is free to choose when and when not to use it. The stasis pod, however, is mandatory when not activated. He can’t get out, and he can’t control the differential. He’s been in that level almost the whole time since she found out that he sent Bhulan to the future. He’s only been allowed out for interrogations, which have not gone well so far. He has given away nothing. He’s never going to be honest with her again. Bhulan will lose her control over the Omega Gyroscope, and until Danica can find a solution to the line of succession problem, there’s only one thing left to do.
He’s in the stasis chamber right now, so she switches off the differential, and opens the hatch remotely. “Come on out,” Danica demands.
Tamerlane does as asked. He is not showing any remorse whatsoever. “You tried to go to the future, didn’t you?”
“You lied to me. Again.”
“Where is she?”
“I can tell you, but you have to let me use the machine for myself...when the time comes. I must set the Gyroscope free.”
“I’m giving you one more chance to tell me where she is. If you don’t speak up now, you’ll regret it, I promise you that.”
“Not until power shifts. This is going to happen, and you can’t stop it. I don’t care how butthurt you are about it.”
Danica opens the gate, and doesn’t close it again. It doesn’t matter, it’s more for show. He’s wearing spatial cuffs, which means he can’t leave the immediate area, or get within two meters of someone else. “You made me do this.” She removes the Gyroscope from her bag as she steps into the chamber, and approaches the pod. She unlocks a secret shelf above the head, places the object inside, and locks it back up. “The minipod is special. It is simultaneously attached to the time inside, and the time outside, so we can keep using it, but you can’t ever be away from it, no matter how fast your differential is. Someone will always be in control. I control you, and you control it.” She once thought she would have to do something like this one day, but after the first few decades of realtime without him giving them any problems, she stopped worrying. She’s so disappointed. Perhaps spending a few decades in here will sober him up. Or maybe she’ll leave him there forever. She forces him into the pod. “Welcome to your new life.”

Thursday, February 23, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Year 212,398

Curtis is wandering down the corridors, checking all the doors to see if he’s allowed to go in. He’s not. He tried to teleport directly into a couple of the rooms, but they’re temporally locked as well. He’s made it to the main living area now. Cheyenne is already there. She’s staring at the open door to Mateo’s stasis chamber. “Hey. Is everything okay?” he asks, hoping not to frighten her.
“Huh? Oh, yeah. I just feel bad for the guy. It really sounds like Danica is screwing him over. He’s just trying to get back to his wife. Wait, is Danica here?”
“I didn’t see her,” Curtis says, “but these walls have ears. Literally.”
“Right.” She breathes deeply, and continues staring at the pods. “I should be more careful.”
“Hey, you’re trying to get home too, aren’t ya?”
“I’ve never been in any hurry my entire life. So yes, but...it seems weird to be so earnest about it. Him, I get. His life span is so short. Everything here is so weird.”
“How long is your life span?”
She just looks at him with no intention to answer.
She’s totally right. This place is so weird. You can be gone for minutes, and miss out on so much. In fact, you could be in stasis for the same amount of time as civilization had existed up to the point that Curtis first left. Empires would rise and fall. Wars would be fought. “Come on, let’s stop being depressed.”
“It’s the last day of the year, did you know that?”
“I guess.”
“He was supposed to be awakened, but the hatch never opened.”
“Maybe we could try to open it.”
“I already did. It didn’t work. It requires an access code. These people are so distrustful. I’ve never understood that. Where I’m from, our ancestors fought wars so that one day, we could live free from conflict. I don’t think that war is good, but I’m having trouble fitting in here.” Wow, they’re both making a vague connection between the situation they’re in and war. Interesting. There’s something about this girl.
“Well, this isn’t my first time being put in this kind of situation. Maybe it’ll be easier if you don’t try to go through it alone. Let’s do something fun together.”
“Something like what?” she asks.
“Well, a lot of this facility is off limits, but there’s one area I know is open.”
“Let me guess, your bedroom.”
He laughs. “No. Come on, I’ll show you. It’s a doozy.”
Cheyenne follows him into the elevator, which she never thought to try, because everyone says that it just goes up to the surface, which doesn’t even have a breathable atmosphere. That turns out to be okay, because in the mostly empty room at the top are two vacuum suits, which a little robot helps them put on. As she explains to Curtis, she’s seen space from ships and space stations before, but never like this. It’s wild, hopping along this planet, kicking at the space rocks. Because she’s traveled back in time to a completely unrecognizable calendar, and she’s been in stasis a lot of the time, the date is irrelevant. But, if she adds up all the time she has spent outside of stasis since arriving, it’s been nineteen days. It’s her birthday, and this is the best gift she’s ever received.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Year 202,398

Once Mateo was back up to full strength, he teleported himself and Curtis back to Theia, or maybe for the first time for the latter. Curtis can’t remember how he got in the pod, and wasn’t aware that he was in a parallel reality until being told. Danica’s little robots investigated the nature of his suspended animation pod, but found no answers from it. It was generic, and didn’t contain any helpful information in its memory; not even the date of manufacturing, or the name of the manufacturer. They couldn’t even tell how long it’s been active, or how long Curtis was in it, though probably not for too long, because he has not noticeably aged since the last time he saw himself.
He was given a new pod, but this time through temporal stasis. Not only that, but he was sharing a stasis chamber with Cheyenne and Abigail. With Bhulan gone, it’s three against three, against Mateo, who is all alone in his own pod. Actually, he’s not technically alone. The past version of himself is still in the pod next to him. He suspects that Alt!Mateo is awakened every once in a while as well, but it doesn’t really matter, because his memories will ultimately be erased when he finally makes it back to the future. Then, after months of continuing to try to figure out what the hell is going on, he’ll find himself back in the same time period, fighting with Danica, not being trusted, and being pretty much completely alone. That is when the loop closes. Time, right?
It’s Year 202,398, according to some random calendar that evidently started when Danica first came here from her own initial time period. It did not begin when the solar system began, because there is no such date. The coalescence of celestial bodies is a drawn out process, taking place over the thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of years, depending on how specific you get when discussing it. Or so says Tamerlane Pryce, who is now the only person who will talk to him. Cheyenne and Abigail don’t want to associate themselves with the outcast for fear of being ostracized as well. Funny, they don’t seem bothered by Tamerlane’s continued participation, but probably because he outranks nearly everyone, so their personal feelings regarding him probably feel rather irrelevant.
Mateo’s pod opens automatically. “Mateo Matic, please come to the master sitting room. Mateo to the master sitting room,” Constance says, in a much more robotic tone than usual.
This can’t be good. Mateo does as instructed, and goes to the master sitting room, where everyone else is already there, waiting. It looks like an intervention at first, but upon closer examination, Mateo starts to feel like no one wants to be here and most of them don’t exactly know why. Even Danica seems nervous, and every version of her always appears so confident and capable. “This looks like a party,” he jokes, instantly regretting trying to lighten the mood.
“Mateo, please sit down. I would like to begin,” Danica asks, almost politely.
He wants to ask what this is all about, but he’s even more convinced now that this isn’t about him. It’s Dani’s show.
She waits another moment after they’re all settled. “For those of you who it’s your first time for one of these, allow me to explain. Every time all four of us are awake simultaneously, we hold at least one meeting. We call them conferences. We discuss any issues that we don’t all know about yet, any plans for the future, and other such stuff. They’re usually not very long, but this will change in the future, once life starts roaming the planet. I cannot wait to talk about all the dinosaurs I saw during a surface excursion, but I’m worried that I won’t have anyone to tell when that actually comes to pass. That’s why we’re here today. I can’t believe I’m holding one of these without Bhulan, or with all of you, but we are facing a crisis, and I don’t know what else to do. Not all of you know why she’s gone, or where she went, but you all know that it’s Tamerlane Pryce’s fault, as well as Mateo Matic’s.”
They all awkwardly try to avoid making eye contact with the accused.
Danica goes on, “I’m not here to get angry, or to have a fight. I want to come up with a solution. I would like to hear from everyone, and since not all of you have the whole story—especially not our newest guest, Curtis—I’ll go over it before we begin that discussion. Please hold all of your questions until the end.” She starts by explaining the basics of the Constant. She breaks her no questions until the end rule for Cheyenne, who has been living here for a good amount of time, and still doesn’t know much about the place. In her reality, temporal manipulation is ubiquitous, but as far as she knows, this facility doesn’t exist there, and the history is completely different. She refuses to give too much detail about it herself, which is fine, especially for now, since this is about something else.
As Danica moves on to talk more on the specifics of the issue at hand, both Tamerlane and Mateo speak up to defend their own positions. Asier says a few words as well, ever worried that the discussion will turn hostile and unproductive. By the time they’re all done, no one has any questions...except for Danica, who opens the floor to anyone with any idea of how to fix this.
Cheyenne timidly raises her hand. “If the tracking device is in the future, why don’t you go to the future, and catch it there?”
“You want us to solve a time travel problem with more time travel?” Danica asks. “That’s now how we do things around here. That goes against our very principles.”
“With all due respect, your rule has already been broken,” Curtis submits. “Back where I’m from, if a vehicle driver breaks the law by driving faster than the speed limit, the only way a law-abiding law enforcement officer can effectively get them to stop doing that is by breaking the law themselves, and driving a little faster.”
“Actually, they’ve done studies,” Asier counters, “and researchers have concluded that police chases are one of the least effective means of catching criminals. Identifying them, and pursuing them later, has been proven to be safer for the community. Police chases usually only result in the target driving even faster than they would if they were just in a hurry, or on a joyride.”
“What kind of cop are you, you don’t like police chases?”
“A corporal,” Asier replies honestly.
“We’re getting lost in the metaphor. I need real ideas. Now, I’m not one hundred percent opposed to a brief mission using the time machine, but I’m going to need a whole lot more to be convinced. I don’t want to fight fire with fire.”
“Actually, firefighters do fight fire with fire,” Mateo says. “They burn the brush in the path of an oncoming wildfire before it can reach it, so there’s nothing left to catch.”
“What did I say about getting lost in the metaphors?” Danica questions.
“How do you know where Bhulan is if you can’t find her?” Abigail jumps in.
“Well, that’s where Mateo put her,” Danice replies.
Tamerlane looks uncomfortable.
“Is that what he said?” Abigail pushes.
“Yes, because that’s what happened,” Mateo claims. “I betrayed Danica’s trust, but I didn’t lie to her about it after the fact.”
Abigail looks to Danica for confirmation, who gives it. “Okay well, maybe he was mistaken. Maybe he only thought he transported Bhulan out to the middle of space.”
“I saw her face in the little window,” Mateo contends.
Abigail shrugs. “That can easily be faked with a hologram. I would pretend to be asleep in bed as a child when I snuck out of the house to pet the liefersevims.”
Danica studies Tamerlane’s face to see if he gives anything away. She doesn’t see any proof. Mateo is staying out of it. If this is true, he’s a victim too, so maybe that will be enough for her to cool off on him. Danica turns back to face Abigail. “What makes you think he’s lying?”
“Your probes never found her,” Abigail points out, “in thousands of years. Don’t you think that’s odd? I know your resources are limited, but that’s a long-ass time, and you did find someone, just not who you were looking for. I mean, it’s not even a stasis pod, it’s regular suspended animation, which means he couldn’t have been out there long, which means someone would have had to put him that far away, and his power signature would be lower than the ones we’re using. Trust me, my father is an expert on all things pods. It’s his whole thing.” She’s talking about a different Tamerlane Pryce.
“Well, where do you think she would be, if not out there? I searched the whole facility, including rooms that Tamerlane doesn’t even know about—”
“Wait, why doesn’t he know about them?” Abigail interrupts. “Could there be rooms that you don’t know about? Again, ten thousand years is a long time. You could build something in secret if you wanted to while everyone else was frozen.”
Danica looks to Tamerlane again. “Is there any truth to her hypothesis?”
“I promise you that I did not build any structures, or extra rooms, in secret.”
“Okay,” Danica begins, “but what she’s saying sounds reasonable. It is weird that we never found her, and also weird—now that I think about it—that you may have tried to hide her like that, knowing that I would have 50,000 years to remedy the situation.”
“Fine.” Tamerlane faces Mateo. “I’m sorry I lied, and risked your life in the vacuum of space. The stasis pod you threw out there was completely unoccupied. That’s just how heavy they are empty.” He looks at Danica. “I didn’t send Bhulan’s tracker into the future. I sent Bhulan. She’ll be back in 40,000 years, just to be on the safe side.”
“Why do all this?” Danica asks. “Why the ruse?”
“I was trying to keep you busy,” Tamerlane admits. “Curtis was a part of that too. He showed up 200,000 years ago via Westfall. I erased his memory, put him in his own pod, and kept him on ice for an occasion such as this. Both the Omega Gyroscope, and the hundemarke, are too dangerous. They cannot be trusted to stupid humans.”
“Bad logic,” Danica argues. “By your own admission, you’re not competent enough to decide what to do with the objects, yet you unilaterally decided to take that power from everyone.” She holds up her hand to stop him when he tries to respond. “Now that I know the truth, this is no longer an acceptable topic for a group conference. We will continue in private, along with Asier. Mateo, I’m sorry for everything you’ve gone through. I shouldn’t have forced you into the vacuum again. I’m the asshole.”
“I’m grateful that he came for me,” Curtis says.
“I too am grateful that I did that,” Mateo agrees. Curtis is good people.
“Anyway...” Danica says with a disappointed sigh. “Meeting adjourned.”

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Year 192,398

Danica personally opens Mateo’s pod after the usual 10,000 years. “Good news,” she says. “We found Bhulan, but I wanted to wait until your usual wake up time, so you could help us.” She steps aside to let him out.
“Help you with getting her back?” he assumes. “How long did you wait?”
“Consistency is efficiency’s neighbor. I waited 700 years.”
“Okay. How did you find her?”
“I sent probes throughout the entire growing solar system. It took them so long, because I couldn’t send very many. This is a very delicate dance, and any alteration in the gravitational forces that bind the growing planets and asteroids together could throw off the entire timeline. We’re not safe from screwing up the future just because we’re living in the Hadean aeon.”
“And why do you need my help? Could not one of these probes tow Bhulan home?” Mateo suggests.
“That is not their job, Matthew. That is your job.”
He yawns, because even though he’s been away for thousands of years, he has not been asleep. It’s been a couple days, and he’s due for a rest. She won’t let him do it. “Tell me where to go.”
Danica smirks. “Constance, drop down a hologram, please.”
The AI creates an image of the early solar system, initially showing where they’re located under the crust on Theia. It zooms out and pans over, all the way to the remote location of Bhulan’s pod, floating randomly in the middle of empty space. “How far?”
“It’s around eighteen million kilometers from here.”
Mateo’s confused. “You mean eight.”
“No, look.” Danica uses her minority report hands to pull the image out again. “Eighteen and change.”
“Danica, I can’t make it that far. I’m limited to the distance of the moon, which means that would take over forty-five jumps.”
“Then make forty-five jumps.”
“I can’t breathe in space. I can survive the vacuum for short periods of time, but teleporting shortens that period significantly. I barely made it there and back last time, and that was half the distance. I didn’t know it could have drifted that far, but it’s out of my reach. I get that you wanted to teach me a lesson, but I’m not a wizard.”
Danica takes him by the shoulders, and starts leading him towards the elevator doors. “You’re going to go out there and get my friend back, no matter how far you have to go. You’ll do this, even if it kills you, and if you don’t, I’ll kill Abigail and Cheyenne. I don’t know what future history you have with the latter, but it’s clear that she’s important to you. Don’t. Test me.” She slaps a handheld device into his hand, which will direct him on the intercept course, then she presses the call button. The doors open.
He scowls at her. “Congratulations, cousin. You’ve done it.”
“Done what?”
“You’ve lowered yourself to villain status. Now you’re on my shitlist.”
“That’s okay. Way the timestream tells it, all your enemies become your friends.”
“Try telling that to Erlendr Preston, or Tristesse Ulinthra.”
“Who the hell is Tristesse Ulinthra?”
“Exactly,” he replies as he’s turning around. He doesn’t bother stepping into the elevator, he just makes his first jump into the void.
Jump two, jump three, jump four...jump forty-seven. He’s not going to make it. The pull of death is calling to him, begging him to close his eyes, and let go. He does let go, but not of his life; just the tracking device. As it’s floating away from him, he sees it showing him at around 300,000 kilometers from his destination. One more jump would do it, but it will also kill him. Then again, so will hanging out here. He’s well over halfway there, so it’s not like he can cut his losses and go back. There aren’t any spaceships or habitable planets around here. His only hope is not just getting to the stasis pod, but inside of it. It was designed to hold one person, but surely two can technically fit in a pinch. Bhulan won’t be happy, but she’ll be fine, and more importantly, so will he. He musters the last of his strength, and pushes himself to the limit. Eighteen million kilometers and change.
He’s arrived, holding onto the edge of the pod, but it must be the back of it, because there’s no little window. Let’s just get around to the other side before we do anything rash. There we are. Wait, that’s not Bhulan. Who is that? Holy crap, it’s Curtis Duvall. What the hell is this guy doing out here and way back when? Ha, Danica is going to be so pissed when she finds out. This is great. It means that Bhulan is still missing, and probably will be for the necessary amount of time, or Constance would have found more than one. This is farther out than he left her, so now it all makes sense. It also means he’s about to die. That is, unless he can get himself into the pod, which actually looks smaller than the ones the Constant uses. One final jump.
Curtis wakes up with a start, and instinctively pulls the tube out of his nose. He’s not in temporal stasis, but in normal suspended animation. He’s been lying here for however long, aging incredibly slowly and asleep, but destined to die eventually, if never found. The Constant pods can supposedly last forever, but this was probably never meant to. Curtis gets his bearings, looking down to check if the two of them are accidentally touchin’ peen. “Umm...report.”
“This is the Hadean aeon. You’re floating in the middle of space, between where Earth and Mars will be.”
“Actually, I don’t know that Mars doesn’t exist by now. But Earth is composed of two different planets, which have not yet collided, but they’re already there, ready to do that in millions of years.”
“How did I get here?”
“No idea.”
“How did you get here?”
“Magic,” Mateo whispers, trying to wave his hands in front of him theatrically, but there’s not enough room to do that.” Oops, sorry.”
“Yeah. That was my...”
“Yeah, sorry again. Anyway, I teleported. I teleport millions of miles in space to save someone else. It turns out it was you.”
“Well, thank you.”
“No problem, but uh...It’ll be some time before I can get us back to safety.”
“Well, in the meantime, make yourself at home. There’s plenty of space.”
Mateo laughs.

Monday, February 20, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Year 182,398

Mateo did as Tamerlane asked, though it was no small feat. The stasis pods are the lightest ever built in histories, but still more massive than Mateo. They set Bhulan’s to hover mode, which made it easier to move it to the elevator, and then into the airlock, but that’s not really the problem. Even some of the best teleporters have the standard triple mass limitation. They can carry themselves, and two other normal-sized adults, and no more. The number of people who are capable of handling more than that are very rare, and Ramses did not clone Mateo’s body to be one of them. The mass of the pod stood at the upper limit of this standard, which made the jumps difficult. He couldn’t wear a vacuum suit either, or that would have just added mass. He managed to make two dozen rapid jumps away from the planet, placing Bhulan’s pod in the middle of interplanetary space, at around ten million miles away. Tamerlane had placed a tracker on it, so it could be retrieved later, but then he sent the tracking device 50,000 years into the future using the time machine, so even if he wanted to, he would not be able to find her sooner.
It’s been 10,000 years now, and Mateo is getting worried. Using what Tamerlane taught him about his own stasis pod, he set the time difference at one minute per stint, instead of a second, which would have given him time to react if someone decided to reopen early. They haven’t. A full minute has passed, so he’s opening it himself. He steps into the main area to find Danica on that couch, clearly waiting for him. “Oh, hey.”
“Hello, cousin,” she replies.
“You don’t have to call me that, I know it makes you uncomfortable.”
“Oh, I just wanted to remind you that we’re kind of related, in case you ever got the idea to screw me over again.”
He sits down across from her. “There’s no need to be so vulgar.”
“I’m sorry. You want me to be a good girl?” she asks in a baby voice. Gross.
He’s going to ignore that. “Pryce made a compelling argument.”
“This oughta be good.”
“That no one should have the kind of power that that damn thing gets you.”
“Oh, this?” She reaches behind the couch as if going for a sword. When her hand returns, the Omega Gyroscope follows. She’s still not touching it; it’s hovering a few centimeters from her fingers. It seems you don’t have to be the possessor to play around with it. “You ever see the movie Wanted?”
“Can’t say that I have.”
“We have a very extensive library here.” She peers at the rotating gyroscope as it hovers over her left hand. She holds her right hand at the ready. “A library, Mateo is a collection—”
“You don’t have to talk down to me. I know I’m not smart, but you don’t know everything either. For instance, you obviously don’t know that mocking dumb people for being dumb actually doesn’t make you smarter. It just makes you an asshole.”
“You teleported my best friend to the middle of empty space somewhere. Some would say you’re the asshole.”
He sighs. “What did you want to show me?”
She keeps staring intently at the gyroscope. “The main character has been recruited into a shadowy organization, but before he can start killing people for them, he has to be trained, and go through tests. One of these tests is being able to snag a fast moving object called a shuttle through the fabric. We don’t have a loom here, but...” She darts her fingers into the gyroscope, taking something from the glowing orb in the center, and pulling it out before the metal bars—or whatever—can snap her fingers off. She drops one end of the object, but keeps hold of the other. It’s the hundemarke.
“What are you doing with that thing?”
“We’re trying to protect the timeline, but you seem to think you know better, and keep interfering with our work. First you show up, then you question our methods, then you try to escape through a time machine, and now you’ve kidnapped Bhulan.”
Kidnapped is a strong word.”
“A strong word, and the right word.”
“I’m sorry.”
She feigns delight. “Great. Go out and get her back for me!”
“I don’t know where she is,” Mateo explains. “I just jumped randomly. Tamerlane is the one with the tracker.”
Danica nods, because she knows this to be true. “Well, the reason I’m showing you the hundemarke is because this is what’s really in control of the timeline in this reality. The Gyroscope is a power source, and an interface. We tell it what we want to happen, then the Gyroscope tells the hundemarke, and the hundemarke keeps it from being undone with time travel, or similar nonsense. Right now, Bhulan is in control of the Gyroscope, because that is how it works. Only one person can control it at any one time, or contradictions would give rise to paradoxes. The hundemarke does not operate the same way. If someone uses it to undo something else that someone used it for, then a new reality will simply spring up to avoid the paradoxes. You’ve seen that first hand. My point is that the hundemarke is fine. We combined it with the Gyroscope, because that makes it easier to execute decisions on a global scale.” She places the dog tag around her neck. “But I can do without it. Tamerlane’s plan is flawed, and your participation in that plan only served to piss me off, and make me trust you even less than I already did.”
“This sounds like an internal matter that I shouldn’t have anything to do with.”
“You placed yourself in the middle of it when you took sides, and agreed to help Tamerlane betray us.”
“At least he can take ten minutes out of the billions of years he has in front of him to hold a simple conversation! What did you expect? Haven’t you heard of a self-fulfilling prophecy?”
“I’m gonna stick you in that pod, and not let you out.”
“Great, that’s what I’ve been asking you to do, so I can get back to my family!”
“When I said not, I meant never.”
“Don’t do this, sweet Danica. Don’t make me give you the speech about how people who go up against us never win. Don’t become my enemy.”
“That speech is about how well you win with a team.” She looks around. “I don’t see any of them here.”
Mateo leans forward. “I wasn’t born with a team. I built it, and I can build it again. Because I may not be a genius from the future, or a genius from the present, or a well-educated dead person with centuries of experience. Gathering armies is my forte.”
She leans forward to match. “Bring it on.”