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Sunday, March 5, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: December 31, 2398

It takes a second for them to realize that Treasure never actually said a word with her mouth. Instead, an invisible speaker in the tiara that she’s wearing outputs her voice. It does sound like what they would expect a woman of her looks to sound like, but they all independently decide to not ask her about it. Mateo steps back into the master sitting room to shake Treasure’s hand. “I’ve been trying to get a hold of Thack Natalie Collins via Amber Fossward this whole time. Did you just get my message?”
“Miss Collins didn’t pass along any message,” Treasure says. “I heard a scream. I thought it was just the Time Shriek at first, but I felt compelled to investigate.”
“That’s weird that you would hear that from the bulk,” Leona says from still inside the neuro-tampering chamber. “What is this room?”
“What was the message?” Treasure asks Mateo.
Can you help us get out of here?” Mateo recites the psychic signal he was trying to send across the bulkverse.
“I can, yeah,” Treasure says politely.
“Is it okay if you take two trips?” Leona asks. “There are four of us.”
“No, five,” Mateo says. “Alyssa needs to come too.”
“She can’t,” Leona tells him with a shake of her head. “We’ve already seen her in the future. She’s destined to wait in a time bubble. If we hadn’t found her, we never would have known to come back here to get you.”
Treasure chuckles. “Four, five; I don’t need two trips. I can take you all.”
“Two people is usually the limit,” Leona points out.
“It’s not my limit,” Treasure contends, literally rolling up her sleeves. “Where would you like to go? I hear Schurverse is nice this time of Bearimy.”
“We actually just need to get to the future,” Marie clarifies. “Preferably November 26, 2398, but at least no sooner.”
“That’s four and a half billion years from now,” Leona adds.
“I can’t technically travel through time,” Treasure explains. “But what I can do is take you out of this brane, then back in at a different point in time.”
“That works for us,” Mateo says. “But actually she needs to go to a different point, and a different reality.” He points to Abigail.
“Then I will make two trips.” Treasure steps into the neuro-tampering room, and offers her hand. “I can’t read your mind, but my ability can. You navigate, and I’ll drive. We’ll get to where you need to be. Just concentrate on your target destination.”
While Abigail is on her way home, Mateo and Marie carry a sleeping Danica over to the couch. Leona starts to take the neuro-tampering device apart. She rips out its guts, and throws it into a pile. She places the innocuous pieces, like the casing and hardware, into a separate pile. That can all stay, because it’s not enough to rebuild the whole thing. Mateo and Marie come over to help, following her direction.
Just as they’re finishing up, Treasure returns. “It turned out to be a rather long trip. Something I should have said to your friend is that we can’t really talk while we’re in the bubble, but you can breathe just fine. Don’t try to hold your breath, it will only make the pressure worse. You can try to use hand signals but it’s also a bit hard to move. Otherwise, just enjoy the ride.”
Once they seal up the secret bookcase entrance, Treasure gathers them together and screams. As the sound intensifies, they feel themselves being jerked into the protective bubble she mentioned before with the same force as the start of a roller coaster. They’re then pulled into the bulk. Treasure was telling the truth when she said that they would be able to breathe, but not speak. They could hear each other’s muffled voices, but not make out any words. The bubble wasn’t this hollow object that they were inside of, but a dense gel that formed around each of them tightly. There wasn’t any seating per se, but they could bend their knees, and adjust their weight as they would if sitting down upon something.
They float in darkness mostly, but occasionally detect the vague outline of gargantuan objects in the distance when some kind of light ripples by. They look like knives, and Mateo gets the sense that each one is its own universe. When it’s over, they find themselves standing in the middle of a dense forest at twilight. “This is my homeworld, but I don’t think they want you spending much time here,” Treasure says apologetically.
“That’s okay,” Mateo says sincerely. “Perhaps one day.”
She nods and screams again, sending them all on the journey back. This leg is much shorter, suggesting that their respective timelines are closer in modern days, but Mateo doesn’t really understand the hyperdimensional physics going on here, and he doesn’t believe Leona does either. Despite it being her field of study, this goes far beyond her education and experience. It’s like the difference between knowing that an apple will fall down to your head from the tree, and truly understanding why and what causes that. The scream is complete when they land at their destination. At least that’s where they think they are; it’s where they’ve stopped.
“This doesn’t look familiar,” Marie notes. “Leona, what time is it?”
She looks at her watch, which always knows the exact time and date for when and where she is, no matter how much time traveling she’s gone through. “December 31st, 2398 at 15:02. Hm.”
“Sorry, I’m off,” Treasure says.
“No, I was meant to be the navigator,” Leona laments.
“No, it was me. I thought I overshot it. I’m still pretty new at this, to be honest. I should have been upfront about that.”
“It’s really fine,” Mateo tells her. This isn’t that long. I mean, it’s pretty long for me, but November 26 would have been a gap too.”
“Look at that architecture,” Marie says as she steps towards the skyline, towering up into the twilight sky. “We can’t be in the Third Rail. No where on Earth is like this; not yet, anyway.”
Leona looks down at her watch again. “Unless this thing is broken, it’s right. Maybe we’re in the wrong reality. I worked really hard to think about the right one, though. I purged all other thoughts from my brain.”
Could your watch be broken? Did leaving the universe mess it up?” Mateo asks.
“I’ve done it before,” Leona notes. “It’s never been an issue.”
“This is definitely salmonverse,” Treasure assures them.
“Can we ask that person?” Mateo suggests. “Would it be weird?”
Leona shrugs her shoulders. “If he looks at us funny for asking what year it is, what’s the worst that could happen?” She leads the way towards the man who is walking his dog along the treeline. “Excuse me?”
“Yes?” He’s not perturbed that they’re interrupting him in the first place, which is a good start.
“Could you tell me...?” She can’t even say it.
“The date?” he just somehow assumes. “It’s New Year’s Eve, 2398.”
“Which calendar?” Mateo furthers.
“Clavical,” the man replies. He reads their expressions. “Are you from before the Clavical? I’ve never met travelers from that far in the past. Could I get a photo?” He raises a hand, fingers separated, thumb placed on the band of the ring on his index.
“Sorry,” Leona tells him. “Better not.”
“I understand, you wanna keep a low profile. I’ll always remember this, though.” He and the dog casually walk away.
“They do this in the main sequence,” Mateo says. “They get rid of the old calendar, and start a new one. It’s 2398, but not our 2398. This is where Cheyenne is from, but she wouldn’t say how far in the future.”
“That tracks with everything we know of her so far,” Leona determines.
“I saw something when I was here briefly with Danica,” Mateo reveals. “There was a sign. It was six keys, each had its own symbol on it.”
“That’s where the word clavicle comes from,” Marie says. “Key.”
“What were the symbols?” Leona asks her husband.
“It’s hard to remember. Like I said, it was so brief. We accidentally took Cheyenne with us, which is why she needed the Insulator of Life; to get back to her future. One of them was, like, two vertical lines next to each other, complete with the arrows at each end. Another was three lines, but no arrows. Oh, there was one that was squarish...two lines intersecting each other. The bottom right was filled in.”
“Oh my God, that’s a quadrant, Mateo.”
“Let me guess, the fourth quadrant,” Marie figures.
“The Parallel, the Third Rail, and the Fourth Quadrant,” Leona lists. “Did you see the Fifth Division symbol? It had arches, we saw it while we were there.”
“I think so, yeah, and that would make sense. The symbol on one of the other two keys was a circle, and then several crescents to the above it.”
“The main sequence,” Leona realizes. “We’ve been moving through time with bad information. Everyone has only ever talked about there being five parallel realities in total, but they’re wrong. There are six.”
“That’s why we call it The Sixth Key.” They were so deep in discussion, they didn’t even notice someone approaching them. As he steps into the dying light, they get a better look at his face. It’s Ramses. Well, it’s a Ramses.
“Report,” Leona requests.
“The report is that you’re not where you’re supposed to be. You gotta go.”
“Wait, just answer one question,” Leona begs.
“No.” Alt!Ramses holds his palm towards them, and gently pushes air forward. They can feel themselves being flung backwards in time, but just the three of them. Treasure doesn’t come with. When the streaks of speeding light around them give way to discernible form, they realize that they’ve landed in the Crown Center parking lot. But then time has to move the opposite direction for a little bit. The cars drive off, and a large tent is erected. Soldiers are aiming guns on them. “Hold!” one of them orders. The leader steps forward. “It’s them! Welcome back, Agent Matic.”

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