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.”

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