Tuesday, February 14, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: December 12, 2398

Mateo is up to his old tricks, though with a new twist. Every twenty-four hours, he and Danica are spirited away from their current position, and returned to a version of the time machine in the Constant. Instead of jumping a year into the future, though, they end up in a different parallel reality. They believe they have made their final jump now. They first went to the Fourth Quadrant, then the Parallel, then the main sequence, and finally the Fifth Division. There are only five of them total, so this ought to be the Third Rail again. Right? It has to be.
They leave the room, and head down the dimly lit passageways for Danica’s office. She tries to summon Constance, but she never replies. She tries to speak to whatever personality the AI in charge of this version may be, but no one else responds either. Either they’re in the right place, and there’s something wrong with the systems, or it’s a reality they were not previously aware of. “There’s one way to find out,” Danica says as they’re entering the office. “Help me move this.” She sticks her fingers underneath the edge of the back table.
Together, they carry it away to reveal nothing but an empty floor, and a papered wall. “Odd choice, I must say.”
She rolls her eyes, and peels most of the wallpaper away. Behind it, written on the wall in permanent marker, is a long-ass series of numbers and letters. “Yeah, that’s right. We should be home. So where is everyone?”
“This is some kind of code?” Mateo asks, mildly kicking the wall.
Danica starts to point at each number to explain them. H for heads on a coin, eleven for the outcome of a roll of two dice, six for the roll of one die alone, Queen of Hearts.” She takes a half step to finish. “I pulled six numbers for the lottery, five balls for bingo, and this...” She rips the rest of the wallpaper off to reveal a photograph of a lava lamp. “This is what that lamp over there looked like from my chair once I was done with all the other randomizations.”
Mateo nods. “So all of these variables are correct? This is indeed your version of the Constant?”
“It must be,” Danica decides. “The chances that every single outcome is the same in any other reality, especially when accounting for the lava lamp, are profoundly low. I’m not just talking about parallel realities, but other timelines.”
“Got it. So where is everybody?”
She regards him with distrust for a moment, having a debate in her own head, no doubt. Then she nods, and concedes. “Okay, follow me.” She leads him to a secret section of the facility, where they end up in a stasis chamber. This must be where she and the people she actually cares about were staying. It’s empty, as are the individual pods.
“There was always room for me in here with you,” Mateo notes.
She frowns. “You were never supposed to be here.”
He clears his throat. “Does the Omega Gyroscope prevent time travel?”
“Yes, that’s how I wanted it. That’s how we wanted it,” she corrects herself.
“Does it prevent time travel,” Mateo repeats, “or does it prevent altering the timeline?”
She looks away, clearly starting to see his point, but she doesn’t want to admit it.
He continues, “as long as that thing was working, I was always destined to travel back in time, and meet up with you. Your insistence that I’m not worthy of your time because of my intrusion is bullshit. You just don’t like me.”
“That’s not true, I don’t know you. No version of me knows any version of you very well. We’re salmon, the powers that be designed it that way.”
“The powers that be don’t have any jurisdiction in this reality, or over me anymore anywhere.”
“I know,” Danica acknowledges.
He sighs. “Can you get a time and date from one of these things?”
Danica taps on the screen a few times. “It’s dead.” She looks around. “Everything is dead. This is emergency lighting.”
“We seem to have life support.”
Danica looks towards the door, and thinks. “Or we don’t need it anymore.”
They jog down the hallways, and up to the main area for more information. They stop when they see the elevator shaft, which is no longer a shaft. Well, it still may be a shaft, but the wall behind it is gone. It leads to a short hallway, and a set of doors. “Has that always been there?” Mateo asks.
“Definitely not. This has been remodeled.”
They shrug at each other, and exit the building together, opening the double doors in sync. They have to blink when sunlight flies down to attack their eyes. They can obviously tell immediately that they’re in a breathable atmosphere. It’s the future. When they regain their site, they find themselves on a concrete trail, surrounded by lush vegetation, under a blue sky. A waterfall splashes pleasantly into the river or lake below. They’re not alone. Others are enjoying the day, casually strolling around the valley. Mateo notices an interesting symbol on a fencepost sign. It’s five keys in a 3D circle, with a sixth key in the center, larger and more prominent than the others. Danica spins around, and pushes the vines out of her way to try to open the doors again. “Locked.”
“That’s okay, I think I can teleport here, which implies that your precious gyroscope doesn’t last forever.”
“Well, prove it,” Danica suggests.
“There are too many people around,” he says. “We don’t know what they know.”
“It’s okay,” a familiar voice begins. “If you need to teleport somewhere, no one around will mind.” It’s Cheyenne. She’s smiling at them like a local before a couple of tourists. “As long as you take care not to disrupt the plants.”
“I’m sorry, have we met?” Mateo asks her.
“No, I don’t believe so. I have a pretty good memory.”
He nods. “Could you—and this may sound odd—tell us what year it is?”
“It’s December 12, 2398, according to the new Clavical Calendar.”
“Never heard of it,” Mateo says. “But it’s nice to meet you.” He offers his hand, which Cheyenne shakes. This seems to be when and where she’s from.”
“Even if you’ve spent your whole life on this world,” Cheyenne continues. “Surely you would have heard of the Clavical Calendar.”
“Why do you say that?” Danica asks. “What’s so special about this world?”
“It’s close to a black hole,” Cheyenne explains as she’s still shaking Danica’s hand. “A minute here is equal to about an hour out there.”
They disappear. They all disappear.

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