Sunday, February 19, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Year 172,398

Mateo has been waiting in his stasis pod for ten minutes now, and that has given him enough time to do a little math in his head, which is not his strong suit, but they didn’t give him any entertainment in here. If one second inside means 10,000 years outside, that means that he’s been waiting to be let out for 6,000,000 years. That’s right, right? That has to be right. He’s been solving the same equation over and over for the last five minutes. A minute is 600,000 years. Just a pen and paper would help. No, it doesn’t matter how long he’s been waiting, it’s both too long, and not long enough. If he can just stay in here for the next... Oh no, he’s going to have to do more math to figure out how long it will take him to get back to 2398, where his team is. Even then, he could only ever get a rough estimate, because everyone is telling him that this is four and a half billion years in the past, but they’ve never gotten more specific than that. Asier injected him with a power suppressant before he shut the hatch, so he can’t escape. This is false imprisonment. “It’s false imprisonment!”
The hatch opens. It’s Tamerlane Pryce. “I agree.”
Mateo looks at his watch again. “Six point six million years. You’ve kept me in here for longer than ever.”
“It hasn’t been that long,” Tamerlane explains. “Though you’re still right, it’s your longest stint yet, but still only 30,000 years.”
“How is that possible?”
Tamerlane turns a virtual dial on the pod’s touchscreen. “You can adjust the differential. Ten thousand years is just the standard during this aeon.”
“Oh. I guess that makes sense. Why is Danica letting me out now?”
“She’s not, but I’ve confirmed that she’s asleep right now, as is everyone else. It was a tricky situation, I would have tried to retrieve you sooner, but the AI was programmed to alert her to any unusual activity. Constance is undergoing maintenance at the moment. Well, she was, and then I took that opportunity to shut her down. When she awakens, she’ll know that she lost time, but by then, it will be too late.”
“Are you going to send me back home?”
Tamerlane grimaces slightly. “No.”
“Then we have nothing to talk about.” Mateo steps backwards back into his pod.
“I need your help with something. If you’re tired of Danica and Bhulan having all the power, then I know how to take it away from them.”
“Oh, yeah, how’s that?”
“Did you notice the dynamic between the two of them shift when you returned from the other realities?”
“Yeah, but I don’t know them all that well.”
“Bhulan is the one in charge of the Omega Gyroscope now.”
He shrugs. “Time. Danica was gone for too long, declared dead in absentia. For normal people, the waiting period is seven years. For us, it’s 50,000. Operating under a preprogrammed assumption that Danica would never return, the Gyroscope automatically switched masters to the next in line, which is Bhu-Bhu.”
Mateo is not the sharpest bulb in the basket, but he thinks he has this one figured out. Power moved from Danica to Bhulan, and now Tamerlane is asking for a favor, and that is most likely to help Tamerlane take control. But what could he do to help? “Since I showed up here, Tamerlane Pryce, you...have been the most forthcoming. You’ve always been that way, though, haven’t you? Bhulan told me about some of your issues, stemming from your guilt over your alternate self. But there’s something you may not know about him; he always thought he was doing the right thing. He wasn’t evil, just...alone. And if you don’t want to be like him, all you need to do is surround yourself with people that you trust.”
He nods, “yeah, I’ve heard that before.”
“Here’s something you may not have heard. They also need to trust you, or it doesn’t mean anything. So tell me, what good will it do becoming the master of the Omega Gyroscope?” He says those last words so dismissively.
“I don’t want to be its master,” Tamerlane clarifies. “I want to set it free.”
“It’s not supposed to have a master. It’s got a mind of its own, despite what the others may believe. If you help me get rid of Bhulan for 50,000 years at least, I’ll go away on my own, and give it another fifty. I promise to not return until its bond with us is broken, and it starts to get to decide what to do on its own.”
“What good does that do me?” Mateo questions. “What little progress I’ve made with my cousin will just be ruined.”
“We’re gonna be here awhile, you’ll hug and make up. The people—if you can even call them that—who designed this place; what do you know about them?”
“Nothing. No one’s told me anything. I don’t even know if they’ll ever exist, or if they collapsed their own timeline by creating the Constant.”
“Truthfully, I don’t know a whole lot about them either. Neither does Danica. One thing I do know is that they perceive the passage of time differently than you or I. They didn’t need stasis to not get bored for billions of years. I’m sure, on an intellectual level, they knew that stasis was necessary to prevent their little Concierge from going crazy, but I also don’t think their minds could truly fathom what going crazy would actually mean. They didn’t consider Danica’s needs very much, and they didn’t take me and Bhulan into account at all.”
“Why are you telling me all this?”
“I need you to teleport Bhulan far away from here. I can help you get your powers back, so you don’t have to worry about that. I’m telling you what I know of the Constant’s origins, because if you don’t do this, your cousin is going to be fired, and replaced with someone else entirely. I don’t mean an alternate version, I mean someone else. They have other candidates, they always did, and they kept their names on file.”
“Why would they do that? Why would they fire her?”
“Because they don’t want her to be too powerful. She is an underling, and she has a boss, just like anyone else. We’ve made our choice about what we want this reality to become, but now that that’s set, Danica has to wipe her hands clean of it, or her actions—her power—will wake him up. That’s why I sent you on a detour through time, and why we have to do something similar to Bhulan. I don’t know who he is, but I know he’s bad news. If he finds out what she’s done, he will place every reality in danger. Help me avoid triggering the failsafe by keeping your cousin off of his radar. The only way to do that is to distance her from the most powerful object in the universe.”
He sounds crazy, but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong. “Okay. I’ll do it.”

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