Friday, March 31, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: January 26, 2399

“Why would I be here to kill you?” Mateo asks, taking a step back to look as nonthreatening as possible. “Is someone trying to kill you?”
“That’s what Aunt Aldona told me,” he replies. “She said I have to stay up here, because it’s not safe down on the planet.”
“When you say Aunt Aldona...?”
“She’s a family friend; not a real relative.”
“I see.” So the connection is nebulous, and may not help them understand exactly where Aldona came from. She was in the afterlife simulation, but how—and why—was she resurrected, and where did she go from there? How did she meet this kid, and his family? “Well, I’m not going to hurt you. I didn’t even know you were here. My name is Mateo. Mateo Matic. What’s yours?”
“Cedar. Cedar Duvall.”
Mateo perks up. “Your parents are Curtis and Cheyenne.”
“Yes, do you know them?”
“Yes, I know them pretty well. I’m going to go out on a limb here, and assume that you’ve heard of time travel? I mean, real time travel; not just as a concept?”
“Of course,” Cedar says.
Mateo, what’s the hold up?” Ramses asks through the radio.
The son of Curtis and Cheyenne Duvall is living—possibly totally alone—on a spaceship orbiting Earth. He was brought here by a dead and resurrected woman from another reality. It’s bad enough that Mateo now knows about it. He trusts Ramses, but Aldona doesn’t, and Cedar doesn’t even know him. Their team is having trouble with Aldona, and her choices, but she’s not evil, and he has no reason to believe that she’s not genuinely trying to help. The only way to protect this kid is to tighten the circle as much as possible, which means not so much as telling his wife about it. It’s the only respectful thing to do. The problem is, Mateo is a teleporter. What’s a good reason to not have returned to the hangar to retrieve Ramses in a matter of seconds? “Uhh. I’m, uhh...trapped under this octagon thing. I was just rearranging the equipment a little to make it more organized.”
Well, I...can’t help you,” Ramses returns.
“No, it’s okay, I’m getting it off. I’m just doing it a centimeter at a time. Give me a minute or two.”
“Why are you lying?” Cedar asks.
“Your aunt is trying to keep you safe. I’m not going to interfere with that, but we have work to do up here, so is there any place that you think would be a good hiding spot? Just so you know, Ramses will need to access this cargo bay, the bridge, engineering, and maybe a common area for food and rest.”
“There’s a safe room behind reclamation. I could survive there for a week or two.”
“That’s perfect, he won’t need that. Go there, and don’t come out unless you hear two knocks, a pause, and then three more knocks. Does this all make sense?”
Cedar starts to leave, but stops. “Why are you helping me?”
“It’s what we do.” Mateo lifts the heavy satellite part that he mentioned to Ramses. He finds the business end of an uncovered screw, and drags it along his leg to draw some blood. “Now go.”
“Thanks.” Cedar runs off.
Mateo gives it another minute, to make sure he can no longer hear footsteps from here. Then he sets the part down carefully, and returns to the surface.
“Are you okay?” Ramses asks.
“I’m fine,” Mateo says. “I’ll heal.”
“Next time, just wait for me. I know how all this stuff goes.”
“Good point. My bad, sorry.”
“It’ll be fine. Now let’s go.”
“Wait! You’re not going anywhere!” Aldona is running towards them with a gun, looking like some kind of federal agent.
“You’re gonna shoot us?” Ramses questions. “Really!
“It’s a teleporter gun,” Aldona explains. “It’s programmed to send you to hock in the bottom level of the base.”
“You think you can shoot us faster than I can teleport out of here?” Mateo poses.
“I only need to shoot one of you,” Aldona reasons. “You’re standing far enough apart. He can’t teleport without you, and you don’t have anywhere to go without him.”
“Don’t be so sure,” Mateo volleys. He jumps to right behind her. “Behind ya.”
Aldona spins around, and fires the gun, but that was just a distraction. Mateo immediately jumps to Ramses, and takes him up to the ship. She can be forgiven for not thinking this through. She’s desperate to protect her nephew. She doesn’t know that she doesn’t have anything to worry about.
After getting Ramses to where he needs to be, Mateo jumps right back to the hangar again. Her arms are hanging down, and she’s about to hyperventilate. “Cedar seems like a good kid,” he says to her.
“So it’s too late,” she laments.
“Too late to keep him a complete secret, but not too late to keep him safe,” Mateo says. “I didn’t tell anyone else about him. I didn’t even tell Ramses.”
“He didn’t see him yet?”
“No, and he won’t. I told Cedar to hide in the safe room. I don’t think Ramses will need more than a week up there. Once the satellite is deployed, he should be able to work it remotely, like any other satellite.”
For a second, she looks hopeful, but it fades. “No, it doesn’t matter. It’s just a matter of time before someone else finds out about him.”
“I don’t know what about your past—or future—interactions with us have made you think that we can’t be trusted, but I assure you that Cedar is safe. We would never hurt him, and we would never let anyone else hurt him either. People from all over the multiverse know that that shit doesn’t fly with us.”
She shakes her head. “You don’t understand what he’s up against.”
“You’re right, I don’t, and I don’t need to. Because anyone who’s after him doesn’t know what they’re up against. We don’t lose. Besides, I can guess why he’s at risk. No one will tell us what the Sixth Key really is, but one thing we have figured out is that Cheyenne is very special. The Officiant jumped at the chance to take a favor from her. If Cedar is half as important, it’s no wonder you’re working so hard to keep him a secret.”
She shakes her head again, but not lamentably this time. “If you have learned and surmised all that, you’re already too much of a danger to him. I’m sorry, I can’t let you go up there again, or bring Ramses back.” She shoots him in the chest.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: January 25, 2399

Alyssa went into the panic room to meditate in the dark yesterday. There’s only one way in, and one way out. It wasn’t designed for a criminal to get away undetected. It’s there to protect the homeowners from intruders while they wait for help to arrive. If she had left through the door, he would have seen her, and if she had teleported out, she would have said something. She wouldn’t have just disappeared. If for no other reason than to be here for her brothers, she would never have done something so irresponsible. Something happened to her, and Ramses is determined to remedy the situation. Since the Bridgette is already in Southeast Asian Oceania, he requested transport from the government. The McIver boys are here too, because now there’s no one else left to take care of them. Vearden has gotten everything he needs from the house by now, so he’s able to stay with Arcadia at the hospital permanently.
Mangrove One. Ramses thought the team had contributed a hell of a lot to this world’s development, but it’s nothing compared to what this Aldona woman has done, and she did it in a fraction of the time. He knows how to build nanofabricators, but he made a deliberate choice to withhold such technology. It’s not exactly the Prime Directive, but he didn’t think that these people deserved quite that level of sophistication, so he never bothered. He didn’t even want them to know that it was possible. Welp, the cat’s out of the bag, and he’s going to take advantage of it. There’s a spaceship at this ocean facility capable of reaching orbit, and sustaining life. There are other space agencies, of course, but gaining access to them would require reading too many people in to the whole time travelers situation, and would be a political nightmare. Ramses needs to deploy a new temporal error scanner, and this Mangrove Program is his only reasonable way of accomplishing that.
While Mateo stays with the kids, Ramses pleads his case to the little committee they formed here. It consists of Winona, Aldona, Leona, and a couple of other people, whose names may or may not also end in -ona. They never introduced themselves, and they have yet to say a word. Aldona is speaking now. “I’m sorry, we can’t do it.”
“And why is that?” Ramses questions. “It’s just a little satellite. All I need is a means of getting it up there.”
“You’ll just have to do what you need from the ground,” Aldona insists.
“The point is to get in orbit, so it scans the entire planet,” Ramses argues.
“Yes,” Aldona says, “and I do not feel comfortable with that. Honestly, if I had been aware of the last time you scanned literally every human brain on the planet, I would have tried to stop you back then.”
“Winona?” Ramses asks. “You let her push you around like this?”
“She’s...helping us,” Winona defends.
“More than we are,” Ramses says. “Got it.”
“It’s not like that,” Winona claims.
“No, no, I get it,” Ramses begins. “What you’re trying to say is that she has you over a barrel, and the water’s freezing. No, I understand perfectly. You lost your balls.”
“Watch it, Ramses,” Leona warns.
“Do you not want to rescue Alyssa?”
“Of course I do,” Leona contends, “but we’re not even sure she’s gone. It’s barely been a day.”
“Funny how differently you react when it’s not your husband,” he condemns.
“Watch it, I say,” Leona repeats.
Ramses sighs. “If you’re not going to let me take Mangrove One, then I need some temporal energy to make a few jumps up to Mangrove Zero. The equipment is too heavy to carry all at once, so I’ll have to partially disassemble it, and take multiple trips.”
“Why is it any heavier than the one that Mateo took up to the AOC the first time?” Leona asks.
“This one does a little more than just scan for temporal errors,” Ramses says. “I figured I might as well feed two birds with one worm while I’m up there. I didn’t know that I would get so much pushback.”
“Well, if you won’t even tell me what else that thing does, then I’m definitely not letting you go up there. Permission to enter Mangrove Zero is also hereby denied,” Aldona decides.
“You can’t stop me,” Ramses tells her.
“Do you have the temporal energy it would require to make it up there?” Aldona asks, annoyingly confident that she knows the answer, and feeling no need to wait for it. “I thought not. Permission to procure more is denied as well. I’m not telling you that you can’t go look for Alyssa, but you won’t do it by invading the privacy of everyone in the world. It’s my job to protect then, and I won’t have you undermine me.”
Ramses can’t accept that. He will find her. He doesn’t care how many bridges he has to burn. There may not be enough time to synthesize more temporal energy, and he doesn’t have a lab anyway. Here’s hoping he’s right that Mateo doesn’t run out anymore. He fumes at Aldona for another few seconds, then does the same for Winona, and especially Leona. “I don’t know if you and I will ever be okay.” He doesn’t lead them to believe that he’s going to go over their heads. He just tries to walk out of the room. He nearly runs into Mateo in the process.
Mateo places a finger in front of his lips.
Ramses has already faltered at the surprise, so he tries to cover with a cough. “Harrumph. I’m fine. You’ll be hearing from my lawyer,” he spits at them unconvincingly. He nods like that was a good save, and then leaves with Mateo.
“I was listening in,” Mateo says once they’re safely out of earshot.
“I gathered that.”
“I can’t believe that Leona isn’t backing you up. She must know something that we don’t. But if that’s true, we can only go on the information we have at the moment, and at the moment, it looks like the right thing to do is get you up to that ship.”
“I’m glad that someone around here hasn’t lost their mind yet.”
“No, the reptilians can’t catch me; I’m too fast for their chemtrails,” Mateo jokes in a conspiratorial tone.
After a laugh, Ramses takes Mateo to the hangar, where the new satellite has been set aside in the back corner. Together they disassemble it into more manageable parts. It takes them the rest of the day. It’s a surprise that no one surmises what they were doing all this time. Ramses accesses the blueprints for Mangrove Zero, so Mateo  knows where the cargo bay is. It’s only upon his last jump that something happens that they didn’t plan for. Aldona claimed that Mangrove Zero was completely unmanned. She was either lying, or mistaken.
“Hey,” the teenager says. “Are you here to kill me?”

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: January 24, 2399

There is something wrong with Alyssa’s brain. Or her body. Or both. Or maybe there’s something wrong with Leona’s body instead. Ramses’ current theory—with no evidence—is that whoever wants Leona Matic to die had a two-fold plan to accomplish it. Step one: get her into Leona Reaver’s body. Step two: prevent her from leaving that body, or coming back to her real body. To put it another way, they locked her in, and just in case she ever found a way to break free, they also locked her out of her own body. Alyssa is just kind of caught in the crossfire of that. Now that she’s here, she is unable to leave, because it would open a vacancy for Leona’s return, and their enemy does not want that to happen.
Ramses also believes that it’s possible for Alyssa to look more like herself before he comes up with a permanent solution. Time powers are apparently more mental than they are physical, meaning that there’s a chance she can create illusions from here. He said that it can’t hurt to try, so she did a few times, but she never even came close. It didn’t feel like it did when she used her ability before. The way she sees it, it would be like transferring the mind of someone with legs into the body of an amputee, and expecting them to walk again just because they remember what it was once like. Still, she doesn’t want to give up, so when he urged her to meditate in order to reactivate that side of herself, she decided that she might as well. She’s been spending most waking hours doing it, if awake is even the right word. In the darkened room there are only candles, a pillow to sit upon, and a mirror in front of her. She has to force herself to concentrate and not check it every ten minutes. When she does check it, the result is always the same. She still looks like Leona, and that is probably never going to change.
“Okay,” Alyssa says to herself. “You can’t look for another hour. How am I meant to know when it’s been an hour? Well, people who are good at meditating probably develop the magical power to automatically know things like that, so you’re off to another bad start. Just close your eyes, and stop thinking.” She holds there for what may be the hour that she was waiting for, or just another ten minutes. “Stop. Thinking. You think too much.”
“I agree,” comes a voice.
She’s scared to check. Was that in her head, or is someone else in the room? It didn’t sound like Ramses, or anyone else she knows. “Is that you, God?”
“Close. I’m a hawk. Majestic creatures.”
Alyssa opens one eye. She’s not in the meditation room anymore. She has no idea where she is. She opens the other eye. “What just happened?”
“I brought you back. Your reality needs you,” the mysterious stranger claims.
“Who are you?”
“You don’t recognize me? No, I suppose you wouldn’t in this body. It’s Dalton.”
“Nice to meet you, Dalton...I think.”
“No, we’ve met. I traced your location. This is where I sent you, and it’s where you’ve been. I mean, it was where you were in the future, but it’s the past now.”
“What the hell are you talking about? How far back in the past are we?”
“About four and a half billion years.”
This again? Goddammit!” Alyssa laments. “Okay, I have power, but I’m not that powerful. You’re telling me I ended up here just because I was meditating?”
“Must have been a coincidence,” Dalton says. “I’m the one who brought you back here, using the temporal translocator.”
“What do you want with me? I’m telling you, we’ve never met. Perhaps there’s another me in another reality, or something? I don’t know, I’m still learning this stuff.”
“Leona, I know that you—”
“Wait, Leona? That’s who you think you’re talking to? Well, that’s your problem, dude. I’m not really Leona. My name is Alyssa McIver. I’m just stuck in her body.”
“Pshaw. I’m the master of switching bodies. You don’t think I would be able to tell? I did my research. I know who you are.”
“Maybe that’s just who the assassin wants you to think. Something went wrong with the switch. We can’t switch back. Maybe it’s, like, masking our neural signatures; making me look like Leona, even from a brain scan. Honestly, now I’m just pulling words I’ve heard Ramses say.”
“So, you admit you’re lying, Leona.”
“That’s not what I meant!” She tries to remember what the internet said about meditating and centering one’s self. “Look, Mr. Dalton. I’m sure you have perfectly reasonable intentions, but you got the wrong guy. Why don’t we both just go to 2399, and get this all sorted out, okay?”
“No, I can’t. I can’t use the machine again,” he contends. “Even if you’re not really Leona, you’re close enough. If she switched bodies with you, it means she trusts you, which means you can do this job. I found you by hacking into the Omega Gyroscope, so it thinks you’re Leona too, and in the end, that’s all that really matters.”
“What job are you talking about? What’s the gyroscope thing again? I’ve never seen it, so I can’t remember what they said about it.”
“The Gyroscope is a thing that you own, but you’ll lose possession of it in 50,000 years. I can’t let that happen. Someone has to be in charge, or it won’t work. So I’m going to close the door, and leave you in here. You’ll reconnect to it every 49,000 years.”
“What? No. Don’t do that. What the hell are you doing? Let me out!”
“Don’t worry. The toilet and sink are in the corner. Those shelves are stocked with enough food for a month, but you won’t need it. You’ll only be inside for about five days. Try to get some rest, and don’t let yourself go crazy. It looked like you were meditating. You’ll have plenty of time to perfect your technique.”
“Stop!” Alyssa pleads, trying to keep the door open, but ultimately no match for his strength. “Please! I don’t want to be locked in! Please let me out! Dalton! Dalton!” He wins out, and gets the door closed. She starts to bang on it, and the walls, but receives no response. If anyone can hear her, they don’t care, can’t help, or won’t try. Though, if the time bubble activated immediately, it’s already been over a hundred thousand years for that guy. So she gives up, and just tries to teleport to the other side of the door. It doesn’t work. She spends the next hour-slash 36,000,000 years trying again, and looking for any other way out, but this is a cell designed to keep people in, and is probably inescapable. So she gives up on that too.
Four and a half billion years later, the door pops open on its own, and blinding light floods in through the crack. Alyssa tries to open it more, but there’s something blocking it. She pulls the door in, then back out, then it, then out. It’s going a little farther each time, and the sound it makes sounds familiar. Once her eyes adjust to the sunlight, she can see that it must be snow. It’s all over the place, part of which must be preventing her from getting out. She keeps working at it, though, and eventually shaves off enough to slip out. Wait, no, it’s freezing out here. She goes back inside, and retrieves a heated suit from the emergency kit. They’re thin overalls, but warm enough to handle the coldest of conditions. She takes the rest of the kit with her, and slips out again.
Alyssa comes face to face with a bear, growling at her. At least it looks like a bear, but unlike any kind she’s ever seen before, even in pictures. She realizes that she’s in a cave, and this big fella is the one what lives here. She presses her back against the ice wall behind her, and tries to inch her way to the side, but he doesn’t like that. He doesn’t want her to be there, he doesn’t want her to leave; why can’t this guy make up his mind? That’s when she remembers that she can teleport now. She tries to make a jump to the cave opening behind the bear, but it’s not working. Whatever was preventing her from escaping the stasis chamber is still doing its thing.
The emergency kit. It has a signal pistol. She carefully sets it on the ground, not wanting to make any sudden movements. She opens it slowly, and sticks her hand inside. She starts feeling around for the gun, maintaining eye contact with the bear. He hates it even more when she tries to look away. There it is. She quickly pulls it out, aims it, and shoots. The flare goes towards the bear, but doesn’t hit it. Instead, its lodges itself in the ice wall, and starts spewing out sparks. This is enough to scare the animal into running away from it. Alyssa takes this opportunity to run past it, and out of the cave. She’s not out of the woods yet, though. When the bear recalls that there’s no backdoor, it follows her, and starts to charge. She has to keep running, but she knows that she’s no match for its speed. She can practically feel its breath on the back of her neck when it suddenly disappears. She instinctively spins around, causing her to trip on a rock, and fall to her ass.
The bear is on the ground a few meters down the hill, a wooden pole sticking out of it. No, it’s not a pole. It’s a spear. She turns her head. A man still has his arm forward in the follow-through. Like the bear, though, there’s something very wrong with his face. He looks unlike any man she’s ever seen. It’s sort of flat and uglyish. He has one brow, instead of two, sitting upon a more pronounced forehead. He’s short and wide, but not fat. He does look like he’s smiling at her, though, so he probably was trying to save her life, instead of just wanting to kill the bear. As he approaches, Alyssa instinctively recoils, so he gives her a wider berth, and goes over to retrieve the spear from the bear. It’s still moving a little, so he serves it a death blow to the neck to put it out of its misery.
“Umm...thank you,” Alyssa says to him, still nervous.
He looks at her quizzically, and faces the direction he came from. He grunts something loudly in a language that she doesn’t recognize. A woman appears from behind the hill, carrying a child. He’s maybe four or five years old. She looks more like a regular person, and the child looks like a cross between the two of them.
“Oh! You’re a primacean!” They’re an ancient relative of humans who lived tens of thousands of years ago. Some believe they interbred with modern humans, while others do not. “I guess this proves those people wrong.”
He looks at her quizzically again, as does his mate as she draws nearer.
“The door opened too early,” Alyssa says to herself. “Oh no, this isn’t good. There’s no telling how far off the mark I am; I’m not a historian.”
The massive language barrier made it difficult to communicate, but she was able to determine that they wanted her help transporting their kill back home. She does, and eats with them that night. What else is she gonna do, fix the stasis chamber?

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: January 23, 2399

Mateo was missing his wife, so he’s teleported himself to Mangrove One, the floating platform off the coast of Balikpapan, Indonesia. He’s waiting in their quarters at the moment. When she gets off work, they’re gonna fight. She wants to come home, but she has to stay here and see this through. Aldona has asked her for help in completing the defensive capabilities of this reality’s version of Earth, and that’s what she’s going to do. She has some conditions, which she has spent the last couple of days researching. Her conditions would have been moot if the proverbial ship had already sailed.
First of all, they need to stop making ships. They can make a few more if they want, but they’re not the best way to go if the people running the show are being honest about their intentions. If they’re truly only doing it to protect the planet, then they should build a defensive orbital grid. The ships are great; they can be used for patrolling and transport. But they waste precious resources on mobility when all you really need is a wall. Aldona is fighting her on that point, but not because she doesn’t agree. She’s just spent so much time on this strategy. Leona has decided to let her cool off on that, and ask about something related. “Why didn’t you develop weapons for them?”
“I’m not here to help them kill people. I’m just here to protect people,” Aldona replies. “I wouldn’t have thought you would suggest such a thing.”
“I’m not suggesting it,” Leona says. “My biggest worry is why they didn’t demand you help them with offensive upgrades.”
Aldona chuckles and shrugs her shoulders. “They can demand in one hand, and shit in the other. I ain’t givin’ them jack.”
Leona narrows her eyes. “The U.S. has never asked us for weapons either. Why do you think that is?”
She shrugs again.
“You don’t find that suspicious?” Leona presses. “This world is famous for its wars, yet nobody has asked known time travelers for better ways to make that war?”
“You think they’re hiding something? Like what?” Aldona asks.
“Like a traveler that we don’t know about,” Leona hypothesizes.
Aldona goes back to plotting the locations of the next round of launching platforms. “I would think you would have found a way to find all the travelers by now.”
“We did. Well, we have, but we think there are two still left to check off our list.”
“Why do I feel like you’re about to ask me something?”
“You have a thousand of these ships, right? And you said that you’ve only been able to test one,” Leona begins.
“Mangrove Zero; launched from Panama, but Columbia was butthurt about it. It’s international waters from now on. Mangrove One is the only one this close to the coast.”
“But Mangrove Zero is still up there, correct? Doing what?”
“It was only proof of concept. It’s not doing anything. The small crew came back down in a drop ship. Why? Do you want it?”
“We lost our ship. We could use another. With a permanent orbital installment, I could confirm whether or not someone else is here, and where they are,” Leona explains.
Aldona considers the request. “Okay, I’ll send it up the chain. I can promise nothing, but my word should go a long way.”

Monday, March 27, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: January 22, 2399

Alyssa is lying on the bed next to her real body. She didn’t spend much time looking at it after she transferred to Leona’s. It’s so weird, seeing herself from the outside. Many religions talk about having out-of-body experiences, but none of them has been proven. It’s sad, really, all those eager believers who wish they could do what she’s done. Now it’s time to go back, though. Being able to teleport was fun and all, but this—substrate, is what these people call it—doesn’t belong to her, even though the real owner can’t get back to it. “Will it hurt?”
“Did it hurt last time?” Ramses asks.
“Well, that was a pretty different situation.”
“I know. But no, it won’t hurt. You’ll close your eyes, and when you reopen, they will be a different pair of eyelids, and you’ll be over there.” He points to her body.
“We don’t need the Insulator of Life, right? I don’t want to run into Erlendr again. I don’t much care for him.”
“We don’t need it. This is a simple one-to-one transfer.”
“Great.” She leans all the way back, and starts to relax herself by counting the holes in the ceiling ties. When she’s ready, she gives him the thumbs up. Moments later, she wakes up, unhurt. “Was that the smoothest transfer you’ve ever seen, or what?”
Ramses stares into empty space. “You know what, I think it was. It was probably the best anyone has ever seen with this thing. Seems as though something always goes wrong.” He coils the Livewire up, and sticks it into the little pouch they bought for it.
Alyssa looks back over at Leona’s body, which is now an empty shell, imagining there to be a way to save her. An odd feeling washes over her. It’s like a stomach ache without the pain. Her eyes grow weighty, and drop down. She wakes up in the other bed. “What just happened?”
Ramses had turned his back to the both of them. “Leona?”
“No, it’s Alyssa,” she says using Leona’s lips.
Ramses is dumbfounded. “Not the smoothest transference in history.”
“I’m stuck here, aren’t I?”
“Not forever, I’m sure,” he replies.
“How do you know?”
“We’ve already met you in the future, remember?” Ramses reminds her. “You didn’t look like Leona, you looked like yourself.”
“Maybe that was just an illusion,” Alyssa puts forth.
“Can you use your illusion powers while you’re in this body?”
“No, but I’m not the only one with them, and maybe someone else ends up taking over my body, and decides to use them to make this body look like me.”
“Okay, so we don’t know for sure that we’re going to fix this. But we definitely don’t know that we won’t. Let’s try to be optimistic, okay? I’ll have to run some tests, and then I’ll have more answers. Something—or perhaps someone—doesn’t want you to go back to your original substrate.”
“Or maybe it’s that someone wants me in Leona’s substrate instead.”
“That is a possibility, I won’t dismiss it.”
Alyssa lies back down on the pillow and sighs. Here we go again.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: January 21, 2399

Winona called Leona out of the blue yesterday evening, asking to meet her in Balikpapan, Indonesia. The team doesn’t know that much about the area. It’s not a known special location that holds unusual temporal properties. Nor is it a place that any of them has ever been. It’s the destination of one of the Stonehenge portals in the Fourth Quadrant, though. They’ve not really thought to investigate it, because they have had so much else going on. This morning, Leona took the Bridgette up alone, piloting it relatively manually since they no longer have a safe AI to help them. She’s landing at the coordinates now. It’s not on land at all, but about 33 kilometers off the coast. A little ways away, she can see a large blue floating platform structure. “Um. Platform Structure, this is the Stateless Private Multicraft Bridgette. Do you read me?”
It’s fine, Leona,” Winona’s voice returns. “Come and dock wherever you can.
Leona navigates the boat to the edge of the platform, and ties it off. That’s when Winona comes walking down the dock. “What is this?” Leona asks her.
“We call it Mangrove One,” Winona answers. “It’s a joint operation from the entire Global Council.”
“Operation for what?”
“You’ll see.” She leads Leona up the dock, and through a door to a set of stairs, which go deeper into the platform than it ought to given the height of it above water. They’re under the surface now.
Leona can look over the railing, and see a hell of a lot of floors ever below them, suggesting this to be of skyscraperesque dimensions. That must be why they call it the Mangrove, as their seeds can float vertically in order to take root and grow into full trees. The purpose of this place, however, is yet to be seen.
“Are you ready for this?” Winona asks, hands waiting on the crash bar at the eleventh level.
“I don’t know what it is, so...yeah.”
Winona smirks. She opens the door into a huge hollow vertical tube. Before them is unmistakably a rocket, probably about twice as large as the one in Kansas City. “They just finished it last week. It’s now officially spaceworthy. It was built with the fusion power technology you gave us in mind, instead of being retrofitted to a preexisting ship, so everything is integrated perfectly. What do you think?”
What does she think? Leona can only marvel at it, unlike the way she reacted when she saw the first one. She was unimpressed by it, because it was the result of years of engineering and construction. This they made too fast. This they did without her. Did someone else help? You built this from my designs? That was only months ago.”
“Saying that we built it is a bit of a stretch,” Leona says. “I didn’t know it was happening at all until a few weeks ago. They didn’t think it was relevant to my job. There are a lot of fingers in this cookie jar. Come on, I would like you to meet someone.”
They start going around the catwalk, down another few flights, and back out of the launch tube. They continue through a few corridors until reaching an office. Someone is working on the other side of a desk, face obscured by a computer screen. “Leona Matic, this is Aldona Lanka.”
Aldona pops her head around the monitor. “
“Mrs. Matic. Hello, I was wondering when our paths would cross.”
“So we’ve never met?” Leona asks.
“We have. Very, very, very briefly. You and your team put mine and my brother’s minds into Arcadia and Erlendr Preston’s bodies.”
“I recall” Of course, that was in the main sequence. “How did you get here? You don’t look like Arcadia.”
Aldona looks over at Winona. “Thank you. You can go now.”
Winona sighs. “I decided to connect you two so you could work together; not so you could shut me out.”
“You will be read in if I deem it necessary,” Aldona says. “I’ll let you know. For now, this needs to be private.”
“Very well.” Winona leaves in a slight huff.
Leona closes the door behind her. “Report.”
“I lived a long life, and then I died, and I went to the afterlife simulation.”
“I see. How did you end up here?”
“The sim is not what you think it is. It was leading to something, and I was a part of creating that future.” She stands up, and slides open a window, which allows her to see the rocket she apparently created. They’re painting lettering on it, but they can’t see which letters from here. “Well, I was there at the tail-end of it, anyway.”
“I don’t understand.”
“That’s okay. I’m not going to clarify where it was, and who else was there, so for now, let’s just was the future. That’s a simple enough concept for anyone to grasp. There are things about that future that I did not like. There is a war.”
“We heard about it,” Leona reveals.
“You did?” She fights a satisfied smile. “That’s quite interesting. But you don’t know who’s fighting it?”
“It’s a war between realities. That’s what it sounds like, at least. Our friend called it the Reality Wars.”
“That’s what they are. The main sequence, the Parallel, and the Fifth Division all have extremely advanced technology. They...cheated with time. The Fourth Quadrant, and the Third Rail, however, are little helpless babies.” She points at the ship. “I built this for them to level the playing field, so they don’t get wiped out.”
“You can’t just stop the war?” Leona suggests.
Aldona looks at her. “We’re talking about quadrillions and quadrillions of people, fighting over the only resource that matters. Do you know what that is, Mrs. Matic?”
Leona thinks about it for a few moments. She takes away food and water, because those resources are easy to come by, and trivial in cultures such as the Parallel. Fiat money, precious gems, even data. It’s all meaningless if you don’t have the one thing required to process them. “Energy.”
She nods. “Ten points for Ravenclaw. There are a ton of stars out there, but the closest ones are easiest to get to, and they couldn’t agree one what to do with them.”
“What did they end up deciding?”
Aldona chuckles. “Nanotech. That’s how we built that ship out there.”
Leona nods. “That explains the timetable. It should have taken years.”
“We don’t have years.” Aldona shuts the window partition dramatically. The Reality Wars are starting soon. I could use your help to protect these people. They’re asking for a thousand of these satellite carriers by April. I’ve only made a hundred.”

Saturday, March 25, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: January 20, 2399

Mateo is getting out of the hospital today. Constance!Five worked him over pretty good, but he’s still wearing a highly advanced substrate, so he heals fast. A little rest, a little protein, a little sun, and he’s as good as new. Ramses is with him now while Leona and Alyssa are getting the house ready. It’s Arcadia and Vearden’s house. It was nowhere near large enough to accommodate the whole team back when they first bought it, but their numbers have been pared down significantly since then. Mateo and Leona will get the second bedroom. The boys will get what is eventually going to become the nursery. Ramses and Alyssa are going to share the master bedroom, because it’s the largest. They’ll erect a curtain for more privacy. Arcadia is being moved to a long-term wing, to a room that can fit a companion.
For now, there is no lab. Normal technology is fine, like handhelds and tablets, but nothing advanced can be trusted. Constance!Five may have wormed her way into the internet, but she can do more damage with a teleporter gun than a phone. Ramses will work on a way of detecting and neutralizing the threat, but not here, and not now.
“There’s something I wanted to talk to you about,” Alyssa says as they’re carrying the crib down to the basement.
“What is it?” Leona asks.
“Mateo and Vearden want to get rid of the stasis pod, and everything that’s in it.”
“That’s the goal.” She looks over her shoulder to recount the number of steps.
“They want to do it now. Mateo’s idea was to teleport it to a volcano, and then his second idea was to shoot it into the sun.”
“Neither of those ideas is going to work.” They set the crib down in the corner.
“I suggested we try to take it back to the Constant.”
“Ugh.” Leona pulls some cobwebs out of her hair. “We don’t know where it is anymore. Besides, what makes you think Danica and all them will help us?”
“They don’t have to want to help us,” Alyssa says. “We’ll drop it off and fly away. What are they gonna do, return it? Good luck; they don’t have a receipt. It was a gift.”
“No. We can’t have that. Even if we successfully convince them that this version of Constance is dangerous, that’s the most powerful building in the universe. We don’t want her anywhere near it. That may be where she wanted to go all along. Just being in proximity—even while in stasis—could trigger this reality’s Constance into turning evil.”
“Oh, I didn’t think of that.”
“Sorry, the pod stays where it is. I know that means she continues to survive, but it’s our only option right now.” Transporting her anywhere is too dangerous. They know that she’s framejacking in there. That’s okay for now, because it’s a function of mental speed, not physical motion. But one day, she will break out of that pod, and moving her could expedite that. “We don’t know enough about her yet. I need your help.”
“With what?” Alyssa asks, looking around the basement.
“With making sure my husband doesn’t do something stupid. I wish he would always listen to me, but he...I don’t know, he just doesn’t. He has a soft spot for young women, though not in the way you think. He sees the helpless naïve girl that I was when we met. I’m not saying you should manipulate him, but you his choices.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”

Friday, March 24, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: January 19, 2399

When Mateo and Constance!Five first returned-slash-arrived in the Third Rail, everything seemed like it was going to be okay. It quickly turned into a horrorfest. A lone fisherman happened to be relaxing on his little rowboat in Danica Lake where the two time travelers came up. His first thought would not have been that they were a transhuman and an organic superintelligence from a parallel reality, but Constance!Five didn’t seem to think it was worth the risk. After taking a look around to check for other witnesses, she pulled the innocent man out of the boat, and drowned him in the water. Mateo was hopeless to stop her. He’s strong, but she’s much stronger. It would appear that she gave herself a better substrate than him. It’s a wonder that she did anything for him at all. She’s clearly completely self-reliant. And also evil.
Once the deed was done, Constance!Five demanded Mateo navigate them to an isolated location, where they would not be disturbed. Not wanting to put his loved ones in danger, he suggested they go to the Walton bunker in the middle of the woods. He didn’t know what she was going to do with him there, but he didn’t think she was going to torture him. After all, what did he ever do to her? She didn’t start right away. She activated a tablet that the team had left on the desk, and got to work. It took Mateo some time, but he eventually came to the conclusion that she was absorbing all the information she could find. History, politics, culture; all of these were unknown to her, and if she wanted to blend in, or complete whatever agenda she has, she’ll need to know everything. When she was done with that, she moved on to gaining personal information about Mateo and his life. She wanted to know everything he had been through, and she was willing to hurt him to get it. He hoped his upgrades would protect him against the pain, but she knew what buttons to push.
When she had everything she wanted out of him, that’s when the true horror began. As it turned out, she was far more advanced than he ever could have imagined. Like something out of the Terminator franchise, her epidermal nanites rearranged themselves, and in a matter of minutes, she no longer looked like herself. She looked like Mateo. That’s why she wanted to know everything about him, because she was going to initiate contact with the team, and pretend to be him. She was just about to clip him off like a loose end when an alert came in over the tablet. Apparently, the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was back in orbit over Earth. She had to get back to the group quickly, so she could sell a lie about Mateo having never died in the first place. He laughed at her, knowing that his people were not going to fall for her ruse. The little argument they had over the matter was enough of a stall to save his life. By the time she was ready to finish him off, her time really was up, and she had to teleport away immediately. That was the last he heard from her.
Mateo opens his eyes, aware that he’s lying on his back, but unable to gather any other information about his surroundings. His vision is blurry. He feels the mucus attached to his lids. “Hegh,” he says, realizing that it’s just an unintelligible noise.
“He’s awake.” It sounds like Alyssa, but he can’t hear very well either.
“Repo,” he tries. “That’s a little closer to a meaningful utterance, but still wrong.
Another figure approaches the bed. “Report?” Leona guesses. “All you need to do right now is relax.”
He feels a warm washcloth rubbing his eyes clean. “Wada,” he requests.
“Right here.” Alyssa says. She holds the strawn in his mouth.
Mateo smacks his lips, drinks a little more, and then clears his throat. “Does this bed move? Can I sit up, please?”
“I got you,” Ramses says, pushing the button for him.
“That’s good.” Mateo blinks and gets a better look at where he is. It’s a double room. There’s another person in the bed next to him. He can’t see who it is at this angle, especially since his vision isn’t all there yet. But he can tell that Vearden is sitting in the chair between them, and upon closer inspection, Mateo realizes that his roommate is pregnant. “What happened to Arcadia?”
Vearden had been staring at the floor. He looks up to find that everyone else is being silent, so he stands. “Constance!Five showed up, looking like you, claiming to be you. They were suspicious of him, so they asked Arcadia to psychically interrogate her. She’s in a coma now. We don’t know what Constance did to her.
Mateo tries to move his legs and arms over at the same time, but he’s attached to an IV line, and other instruments. “Get me out of this, I wanna see.”
“You can’t move.” Leona puts two hands on his chest, and gently pushes him back into place.
Vearden steps forward, and regards Mateo with a really good poker face. “I don’t blame you for what happened, but I’ve seen the security footage, and looking at your face makes me wanna choke you to death.” He turns away, and hastily pulls the curtain closed behind him.
Mateo stares at it. He’s got his own poker face, but it’s probably just from whatever drugs he’s on. He finally turns to face the ceiling. “Where is she?”
“Trapped in a stasis pod on a freezing oceanic island in the middle of nowhere,” Ramses tells him.
“Now that you know that she wasn’t me, you can destroy her.”
The three of them exchange some looks.
“What?” Mateo asks. “Now you’re suspicious of me? You think I wouldn’t suggest such a thing. I’ve changed, Arcadia’s in a coma. Blow that asshole straight to hell.”
“Even if we wanted to do that,” Ramses begins, “we don’t know how to kill her. Her nanites are sophisticated enough to impersonate someone to the smallest detail. She should be able to survive just about anything.”
“She had enough time to build backups too,” Leona adds.
“I don’t think she did,” Mateo contends. “She was with me the whole time.”
“Are you sure?”
“Stop questioning me.”
“We’re not questioning you, we just—”
“Get out.”
“Mateo...” Leona says.
“Get out of my room. I need some sleep.” They don’t move right away, so he appends, “please.”
They start to walk out. “Were I you,” Leona tells him.
Mateo clears his throat, and turns his head towards the wall without replying. When it looks like she’s left, he turns back. “Vearden,” he whispers.
“Leave us alone,” Vearden spits from the other side of the curtain.
“Vearden, I need your help.”
“I said that I don’t blame you, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to help you with anything.”
“Just come here, goddammit. You’re gonna like this.”
Vearden huffs, but does as asked. “What do you want?”
“Take this from my finger, and put it on yours.”
“Your pulse monitor thingy? Why would I do that?”
“Because I’m going to teleport to Constance!Five, and then toss her into the mouth of a volcano.”
Vearden stares for a moment. “I don’t think that’s going to work. You can’t just throw something into a volcano. There’s not, like, this cliff overlooking the hole.”
“Are you sure?”
“I don’t know, but..I don’t think so. You don’t hear about people just tripping and falling into a pool of lava.”
“I think it’s called magma.”
“Shh,” Mateo urges. “I don’t want them to know, for obvious reasons.”
Vearden sighs, and gets out his handheld device to look it up. “Okay, it looks like, to be sure the pod gets to where it’s going, you would have to drag it all the way down into a magma chamber.” He shows Mateo the photos on the search page, some of which are probably artist’s renderings. “But the heat will probably kill you before you get that close. I know you have those fancy new bodies, but still...”
“I can teleport into a chamber.”
“No one really knows what they look like, Mateo. You’re not necessarily going to find a patch of dry, safe land where you can stand and watch it happen. The internet doesn’t say anything about that, because normal people don’t ever seriously contemplate getting rid of bodies in a volcano.”
“I can sit on the pod, and then teleport away just before it finishes sinking.”
“What if it doesn’t sink?” Vearden asks. “What if the magma can’t even breach the pod at all. If she remains alive, there’s a chance she comes back. This is an incredibly foolish and ridiculous plan. It’s never going to work.”
Mateo thinks about it for a few moments. “Okay. I’ll send the Bridgette on a collision course with the sun. That’s even better. I can pilot it with voice commands.”
Vearden shakes his head. “They purged everything of AI. They don’t know what’s been compromised, and what hasn’t been. They’re not even living in the lab anymore.”
“Oh. That makes sense.”
“Mateo, I know you feel bad, and I know you want to fix this, but you and I have to face the fact that neither of us can live this life alone. We rely on smarter, more capable people to get us by. If we tried something like this, we would inevitably screw it up. The Two Stooges, they would call us.”
“Let’s take her to the Constant.” Alyssa has snuck back into the room, and could have been listening for who knows how long.
“Why would we do that?”
“Because it’s Danica’ fault, and therefore Danica’s problem,” she reasons. “It’s become clear that she’s not going to help us, so let’s give her the pod that she loves to use so much back, and rid ourselves of the whole thing.”
That’s not a bad idea, but it’s not a good one either.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: January 18, 2399

Ramses purged the version of Constance that he had uploaded to The Bridgette. They don’t know if it’s been compromised, but they can’t take any chances. The AI served them well for a long time without giving them any issues, or giving them any reason to doubt it. It’s only when the one from the Fifth Division showed up that they started having issues. The question is, is it even from the Fifth Division? Was that all a lie? Did Impostor!Mateo give them a partial truth? Could it have been an anti-Alyssa who was just using their illusion powers to pretend to be Mateo, while having a backup plan of prompting the wrong investigation if they were even discovered to be an impostor?
Leona, Ramses, and the McIvers are in an SD6 safehouse right now. It’s not completely devoid of electronics, but there aren’t any microphones that could listen in on their conversation, which they are having in the kitchen while the boys play a card game in the one and only bedroom. “Any ideas?” Leona asks. She waits for a response that never comes. “We were all meant to sleep on it.”
“I doubt anyone slept well under these conditions,” Alyssa notes.
“You’re the one who had the bed,” Ramses points out.
“With two smelly boys in puberty,” she counters.
“We heard that!” Carlin shouts from the room.
“I wasn’t trying to be quiet!” she shouts right back.
“All right,” Leona says. “Are we all in agreement?”
“Agreement of what?” Ramses questions, confused.
“We all agree that we don’t know what the fuck we’re doing, and we don’t have any idea how to proceed?
“Heard that too!” young Moray exclaims.
“First we have to decide whether we think that was Mateo, infected by a psychic, or someone else entirely?” Alyssa says. “If it’s the latter, we need to find the real Mateo.”
“It’s not really something we can decide, but yes. I’m not sure how we go about doing that. It’s not like we can look for a scar underneath his right eye, or something. It’s entirely reasonable that he would get himself into a pristine body. The impostor’s story about Mateo going to the Fifth Division was not unbelievable.”
“You think that really happened, but Constance!Five somehow transformed herself into him, and left him somewhere?”
“It wouldn’t be the first time. Fax!Mateo did it so he could sacrifice himself in Alt!Mateo’s body.”
“This is getting confusing,” Alyssa admits. “Has your life always been like this?”
“It hasn’t,” Leona begins. “Back in the day, when Mateo and I were just jumping forward in time, we met a lot of time travelers, but we never had to wonder whether they were the wrong version of someone we already knew. I mean, there was The Rogue, and then Makarion after that, but it didn’t happen nearly as much as it does now. For a reality that doesn’t allow temporal manipulation, there do seem to be a lot of wibbly wobbly, timey-wimey shit. Sorry,” she adds in reference to the children.
“It’s fine,” Alyssa promises.
Young Moray comes down the hallway, pulling away from every attempt of Carlin’s to keep him back. “What about the error detector?”
“What do you mean?” Leona asks.
“That thing you had in the sky. It told you where all the weird time people were, right? If the real Mr. Matic is somewhere else, that should be able to find him, right?”
Leona looks over at Ramses. “We need to replace that anyway to find the remaining errors, don’t we, since the AOC is gone?”
“Oh my God, the AOC!” Ramses laments. The error detector was on that, and now it’s gone. He feels so stupid. It would have been so easy to deploy a nanosatellite from the AOC, and it’s a lot more difficult now that they have to rely on this antiquated Third Rail technology. Months of living here, and he has still not gotten used to that. He keeps making these mistakes, and it’s really starting to piss him off. “The detector isn’t up there anymore. I’m such an idiot.”
“Now hold on,” Alyssa says. “Maybe we don’t need it. If Mateo isn’t dead—which, I’m guessing the detector wouldn’t detect anyway—and our theory is correct, then Constance!Five is keeping him somewhere relatively safe. He would need food, water, shelter. She hasn’t been here long, so she doesn’t know of a whole lot of places.”
“It would appear that she knows everything that Mateo does,” Leona replies. “He has a lot of places in his head.”
“How many of those places are isolated or hidden, so no one will stumble upon him?” Alyssa asks.
“Where was he last time,” Carlin offers, “the first time this happened?”
“The bunker,” Leona answers. She gets out of her chair, then just stands there.
“What’s happening?” Ramses asks her.
“I can’t jump,” she replies. “This body metabolizes temporal energy too quickly.”
“I don’t have any left either,” Ramses says apologetically. “I’ve had to use a lot recently, and I’m in no position to synthesize more.”
“I can still feel the power in this body. If that’s okay with you?”
“No, go, please.” Leona urges. “No one else will go with you to conserve the power you have left. I’ll show you where it is on the map, then we’ll catch up with you by car.”
Alyssa teleports to the middle of the forest, and can instantly feel that it was her last trip. She either gets her hands on more temporal energy, or she never jumps again. Her mother taught her how to read a map without satnav, so she can also tell that she’s a little off the mark, but not too far away. She carefully climbs down the hill, and finds the secret entrance to the underground bunker. She slides down the ladder to find Mateo on the opposite wall. He’s nearly naked, strapped to what seems to be a wire bed frame. He looks dehydrated and exhausted. “Oh my God! What happened to you!”
“Fuh...” he’s really struggling to speak. “Cons...conste...”
“Constance!Five, yeah, we know. She was impersonating you.”
“No.” He shakes his head while she tries to get the restraints off. He musters what little energy he has left. “Constellation.” He passes out.
One more push. “Constellation. Phoenix. We have to go there.”