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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: March 28, 2399

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Everyone tumbles out of the portal. They’re still in Madagascar, crowded in the hut, but it’s no longer only part of it. Every part of it is here and unbroken. Everyone seems to be pretty tired, but otherwise okay. “I left something by a particular tree,” Tarboda announces. “If it’s there, we’re still in the Facsimile.” He steps through the door, and disappears. He doesn’t just blink out of existence, though. The faint hologram of two parallel lines appears at his back, and fades away shortly after he does.
“I don’t think this is the Facsimile,” Leona looks around to make sure no one else steps out of the hut. “It’s the Parallel. Is this where Cheyenne wanted us to go?”
“I don’t care which reality it was, as long as it gets me away from you people.” Erlendr huffs, and steps through the door. Instead of parallel lines, his hologram is of four quadrants.
“Okay, we’re all going to different places, it looks like. No one leaves until we can figure this out,” Leona orders.
“Screw that, I’m outta here.” Fairpoint runs out of the door. Two parallel lines. He appears to have gone to the same world as Tarboda.
“I don’t think there’s anything we can do to stop this,” Aldona says. “I have to get back to work, so hopefully I’ve been assigned the Third Rail, and if not, I’ll make my way back. It’s what I do.” She leaves, ignoring Leona’s protests. She goes to the Fourth Quadrant, which is sad for her, but at least someone is there to keep Erlendr in line.
“Dad!” Bridget shouts, but Senator Morton is already too close to the edge. When she tries to pull him away, they both end up returning to the Third Rail. So that’s...good?”
“I’ll follow your lead, Leona,” her future grandfather, Labhrás promises.
Leona shakes her head. “She’s right, nothing can stop this. I’m feeling a pull to leave anyway, like being here is making me ill. Anyone else experiencing the same?”
There aren’t many of them left, but they all nod.
“Still,” Winona says, “on your orders.”
“Cross the threshold, soldier.”
Winona walks through, leaving behind a fading hologram for the Fifth Division.
Labhrás nods cordially, and leaves right after her, and ends up going to the main sequence, which may be the only one that makes sense since he’s supposed to go back in time and father Leona’s father.
Mateo frowns at his wife. “Winona’s alone.”
“I know.”
“So is Labhrás.”
“I’m not so worried about that.”
I’m just saying...”
“That either you and I are going to different places, or the math isn’t going to work out very well,” she figures.
He sighs, and holds out a hand. “Let’s try to stick together.”
She takes it. “Okay, we’ll try.”
They walk through the door side by side, staring into each other’s eyes. Leona’s hand slowly collapses into a sort of fist as her husband disappears. “Were I you,” she hears his voice call out to her from the aether. She echoes the words, but can’t know whether he got them.
She’s back in the white, where they were between leaving the Facsimile, and ending up back in that limbo hut. If this is what either the main sequence or Fifth Division look like right now, they could be in a lot of danger. That’s probably not it, though. Aldona was right. These are not random; they’re assignments, and Leona apparently doesn’t have one, which would have pissed her off if it had happened to her when she was in school. Another blur forms before her, and is taking a long time to solidify. It’s not Cheyenne this time, though. She looks a little bit like Alyssa. “Are you...Mrs. McIver?” Leona guesses.
She laughs, and holds out a hand for Leona to shake. “Ebora.” They  shake. “Trina Ebora.”
“Oh. All growed up. I kind of thought you led a normal life.”
“Pretty much, but I’m still a Keyholder, and I still have a destiny.”
“Are the keys...”
“A bloodline?” Trina assumes she was going to ask.
“Yeah.”
Leona starts listing them off. “So Iris is Summit’s mother, and Summit is....someone’s father.”
“Kyra Torosia,” Trina fills in.
“My husband went to a planet called Torosia once.”
Trina nods. “Named for her. It’s Durus. Well, it’s what Durus becomes. They put the past in the past, and start a new chapter, which is why it needed a new name.”
“I see.”
“Go on,” Trina encourages.
“So Kyra is—I’m guessing—secretly Vearden’s mother. Then Vearden is Cheyenne’s father, and Cheyenne is Cedar’s mother.”
“You got it.”
“So the Keyholders are you, your dad, whoever Vearden’s dad is, Arcadia, and Curtis,” Leona finishes.
“Perfect.”
“What do the Keys do?”
“The realities are collapsing, every single one of them. You have met, and will meet, those who claim that it’s inevitable, and they’re just helping it along, but they are the ones instigating it. The reason they don’t want to take the blame is because no one knows whose idea it was, but it doesn’t matter, because it’s happening, and in order to prevent quadrillions and quadrillions of people from dying, the Keys are going to transport everyone to a new universe.”
“The Sixth Key.”
“Right again.”
“What do you and the other Keyholders do?”
“The Keys need to welcome everyone in the Sixth Key. The Keyholders need to hold open the doors that will let everyone through.”
“And what is our purpose; me, my team, and...the others who aren’t on the team? It seems like they were split up across the realities too.”
Trina nods. “The Keyholders need protection while they’re fulfilling their destinies. Your friends and enemies are going to have to work together, but I believe they can do it. We couldn’t just choose any random ten people. They had to already have been involved in all this stuff. We don’t have time to explain that time travel exists, or that the Sixth Key does. You’ve all been hearing the rumors for a while now.”
“Where is Mateo?”
“Main sequence.”
“Who’s with Winona in the Fifth Division then?”
“You’re not gonna like it.”
“Who?”
“Someone you know who is from there.”
“Oh, that guy who tried to kill me. I still don’t know his name.”
“It doesn’t matter. He’ll do his job, or I’ll leave him in that reality, and close the door behind me and Winona.”
“That’s ten protectors for five Keyholders for five Keys in five realities. What am I meant to do?”
Trina reaches into her bag and retrieves a wrapped gift that fits in the palm of her hand. “You have the most important job of all.”
Leona accepts it, and starts to unravel the ribbon.
“You’re the Captain,” Trina finishes.
Leona opens the box. Inside is a metal plate. Engraved on it are the symbols for the six realities, and in the center is a tiny little wooden boat helm with six spokes. “Does it allow me to travel between them?”
“Yes, it will be your responsibility to make sure that everyone does what they must to make all of this happen. You can travel freely between realities, and you’ll at least have to do it once, because Vearden needs to get in place after his baby is born.”
“How does it work?” Leona asks. “Each of the spokes is pointing towards one of the realities.”
“See that red thing sticking out of the very center? Pull that off, and place it over one of the spokes. That will activate the device. You have five seconds to turn it to the reality you want to go to, and then five seconds to pull the tip back off once you arrive.”
“Or else what?”
“Or the device will deactivate permanently, and you’ll be stuck wherever you are.”
“How do I get back here?” Leona questions.
“You don’t,” Trina answers.
“Are there any limits, and are there any other rules?”
“You can take two people with you from one reality to another, just like regular teleportation mass restrictions. Don’t do this unless it’s necessary. You are not a ferry service. This is not meant for you to rescue people in trouble. It is not to be used for anything but official Key business.”
“No abuse of power. Got it. Anything else?”
“Yeah, take everything you know of your past and future, and throw it out the window. “Literally everything is in flux right now. You could hypothetically let everyone die in the collapsing realities, and it will not create a paradox. Your grandfather doesn’t have to survive, the Keys don’t have to survive. Success is not certain. We all have to put in the work. If we fail, you specifically will survive to remember what happened...alone in the infinite void. So don’t fuck this up.”

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: March 27, 2399

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Mateo is closest to the window. He looks out of it to see whether it explains why no one else is here. Based on what they’ve learned from Heath and Imani, even on the off hours, the auditorium is never empty. Whether the speakers are rehearsing, or worshipers are praying, this place is never as dead as it is now. It’s also falling apart, as is everything outside, which can really mean only one thing. “We’re in the Facsimile. Did we just skip over the entirety of Saturday?”
“Why did you bring us here?” Leona demands to know from Dalton.
“I just reset the timeline,” Dalton begins to explain. “Anyone who was still in the Third Rail has forgotten everything that’s happened in the last few days. Well, they didn’t forget. To them, it never happened. I brought everyone here so you will remember. This is not a gift. I did this so that you will know for the rest of your few remaining days that you did this to yourself. When the Reconvergence comes, you will have no hope of escaping. Reality will collapse, and you’ll just blink out of existence.”
“We’re supposed to be friends,” Leona reminds him. “Why are you doing this?”
“We’ve  not been friends for a long time,” Dalton argues. “As for why I’m doing this, I’m not. I told you, you brought this on yourselves. All you had to do was build your little satellites, and save your little refugees, and leave the rest to me.”
“So you’re just going to kill us,” Leona states.
“Alternate versions of most of you will remain. For the rest, you’re collateral damage. I’m sorry it had to come to this.”
“We know how to get out,” Mateo contends. “You’re not dooming us.”
“I am, though. The door in the un-Salmon Civic Center has been closed. It’s technically still there, but I filled it up with cement. You could try to chisel through, I guess.” Dalton looks at his watch. “I don’t like your chances.”
“There’s still time,” Leona pleads. “Don’t do this. When we get out of here another way, and we will, because we always do, you’re going to regret it.”
“Whatever. I’m not too worried about it.” Dalton reaches out towards Alyssa. “Come dahling,” he says in a British accent.
“I’m not going with you,” Alyssa spits back. She takes Mateo’s hand, but she’s not doing it just because they love each other. She’s slipping him a note.
“This is non-negotiable. You’re gonna give them false hope that all they have to do is teleport to the Constant, or something.” He takes her by the hand, and whisks them both away.
“I don’t understand,” Senator Morton says. “What is this place?”
Leona explains to all those not already in the know where they are. If they don’t find the exit by midnight, they will be stuck here for another week, and that’s assuming they can make it by the time it hits midnight again. That may be what Dalton wants. His primary objective seems to be getting people out of his way. As far as they know, though, he doesn’t kill people. This seems very unlike him, and unless he’s just another version of Constance, there is another way out of here.
“There is,” Mateo jumps in after Leona’s done. He holds up Alyssa’s note. Scribbled quickly in god-awful handwriting, it says BACK DOOR. “There’s another exit.”
“Great.” Aldona throws up her hands. “There’s a back door somewhere, but we have no clue where.”
“Aldona,” Leona begins, “if you know something about the future that will help us, now is the time to ignore my rules of time travel, and just tell us.”
“I would tell you if I did,” Aldona replies. “I was not aware that this would happen. If Dalton has the power to reset the timeline, maybe nothing I knew of the future has done us any good. I don’t know. I just don’t know anymore.” She’s distraught.
“We don’t have time to search the whole planet,” Leona complains, “even if he let us keep our trusty teleporter. I have access to an aircraft. Ramses specifically designed it to be duplicated into this dimension, and be ready to go if and when we ever needed it, but where are we going to take it?”
“I know where we need to go.” Tarboda looks at Mateo. “We’ve been there.”
Mateo looks puzzled. Then he starts to think. “The antipodes,” he realizes.
“Which antipodes?” Leona asks.
“What is an antipode?” Labhrás asks.
“Kansas and Madagascar,” Tarboda answers Leona. “I don’t know for sure that it’s right, but there’s a weird dimensional thing out there, and if I were to install a back door, the first place I would think is the opposite of where I put the front door.”
“That makes some sense,” Winona encourages.
“It’s our only hope. Can everyone walk? Our aircraft will fly, not none of the other vehicles in this dimension are operable, and the Lofts are about an hour away.”
The group starts the hike northward from the Plaza to the Crown Center area. They don’t slow down, and they don’t make any stops. Their destination being very intentionally the farthest point on Earth from where they are now, it’s pretty much the longest flight they could possibly have to take. The jet is small, and barely big enough to fit all of them. Not everyone has a seat, but they’re not exactly worried about federal regulations at the moment. There is not enough time to make more than one trip. Ramses engineered it to be fuel efficient, and that meant sacrificing speed. It takes them the entire rest of the day, placing them within minutes of their midnight deadline. They don’t even have time to find a landing spot in all this dense vegetation. There aren’t enough parachutes for everyone either, so they have to triple up, which is also extremely dangerous, but they don’t jump from very high. Leona and Tarboda go last after gaining some altitude, and making sure the jet flies off into the distance.
“Leona takes out her phone. “There’s no GPS here, but the terrain is the same as it is in the Third Rail, so I can get us there.”
I can get us there,” Tarboda insists. “They were walking before, but now they’re running. With only a few minutes to spare, they find the half-hut. From the looks of it, it’s the other half. This is obviously not where Cheyenne and her key friends are living, though, because they were able to access the portal on a day other than Salmonday.
“Okay,” Leona says. “I’ll go first, and if I don’t come out in one minute, assume this is a one-way trip, and just follow me. If it’s killed me, well...you would have died in a matter of weeks anyway, right? All right, see you on the other side!” She runs through. Thirty seconds later, she peeks her head back through. “It’s two-way. Come on in.”
Everyone files in, with Mateo as the caboose. They’re in a world of white, like the Construct from The Matrix. A vague blur appears before them like a TV with a bad signal, then solidifies into Cheyenne. “You’re back.”
“Yeah, sorry,” Mateo begins. “We wouldn’t have come, except—”
“I was just gonna say that you’re right on schedule.” She points. “Walk that way.”

Monday, May 29, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: March 26, 2399

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Leona is grateful for the delay. It gave her the time she needed to practice Alyssa’s illusion power. As a bonus, with their relationship with her patched, Alyssa herself was able to teach her what she needed to know. It’s crazy that this is the same young woman they met less than a year ago. She was so ignorant, but so patient and welcoming, and now it feels like she gets this stuff better than they do. How much did Dalton tell her?
The sanctuary is packed. No, they don’t call it that. It’s just the auditorium. This religion thinks it’s different than the others, as if using more generic terminology somehow makes it less demanding of blind devotion. But they’re all the same. This, Mormonism, Christianity, Scientology. The details in their stories are irrelevant and interchangeable. Any wisdom or truth in their claims are overshadowed by their insistence that this is the only path to righteousness. That’s why Leona is choosing to reveal herself to this audience. While anyone will be able to log on and watch, this audience here is going to see what she can do in person, and they will instantaneously switch loyalties. Imani Pettis doesn’t think that’s going to happen. She thinks it will only strengthen their faith in Dalton. That’s just because she’s been too close to it for too long. These people are here because they don’t think for themselves. It’s not that they can’t; it’s that they don’t want to. Leona is going to wean them off of that mentality, but first, she needs their attention.
She’s sitting on the stage, watching the church leaders go over whatever garbage they’re trying to convince of the congregation. This is an introductory meeting house, so there is a lot they don’t know about the faith yet. Most of the agenda involves simply encouraging them to stick around and find out, rather than actually telling them something that helps them live better lives. Anyway, who is Leona to judge their methods? It obviously works. It’s probably not doing much today, though. Everyone knows that Leona is here, and that she’s here to do something big. Some in the audience may have no intention of converting to Daltomism. They just want to watch the big show from up close. A show is what they’ll get.
Now it’s her turn. She swallows her stage fright, and stands when Imani introduces her as the current leader of the new nation of Arvazna. “Thank you, Madam Pettis.” She turns towards the audience. “As she told you, I’m Leona Matic. What she didn’t tell you is that I...am from another world. I mean that literally,” she adds through the muted whispers of the doubters. “We call it the main sequence. Your world is the Third Rail. Over the next week or so, I’m going to be getting deeper into the secret truth, with the help of my new publicist team.” She smiles, and gestures towards two other people sitting downstage. “But I wanted to give you all a taste of it first, because I want you to understand something. Dalton Hawk...is a man.” Apparently, he’s never actually gone by his last name here, but they seem to understand who she means. “He is a man of immense power, but he is not a god. I should know...we were once friends. I honestly don’t know what happened between us. A lot of time has passed since we last saw each other. More for him than for me, I imagine.
“I know that this is hard for you to believe, especially those in the smaller congregations, who are watching from your own meeting houses. Some may have already turned off the feed, and I suppose I won’t be talking to you. I’ll be talking to the rest of you, who are open-minded, thoughtful, and interested in learning the truth. Now. Speaking of those watching from home, and other places, what you see here today is real. You may assume it to be nothing more than camera trickery, but I assure you that these holograms are powered by me, and me alone. What I’m doing is reaching across space and time, even to other realities. I’m copying photons of light from these places, and displaying them before you. The images I’ll be showing you really exist, somewhere, somewhen. Dalton Hawk has a different ability. He can conjure physical objects from these other realities that I mentioned. Again, it’s not that he is not powerful, but be wary of the tales the Word of Dalton tells you. They are not all true. He is trying to get you to believe in something, and he figured that something may as well be him. I’m just trying to show you the truth.”
That said, Leona turns herself into the accepted likeness of Dalton. The audience’s interest is piqued, but a sophisticated enough holograph machine could project such an image. This is why, after showing them a few more images, she recruits some help. Alyssa appears out of nowhere, and takes hold of Leona. She transports them both to a meeting house in New Orleans. This was part of the schedule, so the feed automatically switches to this new stage. She releases a few new holograms: of a giraffe, of a whale, and of the moon. Each time, she turns herself into a different celebrity that anyone from the Third Rail would recognize. She then hops off the stage, and starts shaking people’s hands. All of this could be fake unless tons of people can corroborate that they made physical contact with an individual. Alyssa teleports them again, this time to a meeting house in Vancouver. They repeat the bit all over the continent, and then all over the world.
The last location they go to is the largest meeting house in Kansas City. It’s the one where Heath started when he was a child. The crowd is cheering, ecstatic that their church was chosen to become part of the big show. They’re starting to believe too. It has to be real. It has to. After she’s done shaking hands, Leona climbs back on stage, and prepares to finish her speech from here. The back doors open suddenly, loudly like in a movie. Their ploy worked. She was confident that it would, but she never thought that Dalton would show up this quickly. They all assumed he would try to reach out to them covertly afterwards. But here Dalton is, walking down the aisle in his billowy robes.
He steps onto stage, and approaches her. “You got my attention.”
She tries to hand him her microphone. “Care to speak to your congregation?”
Dalton looks out over the audience, and into the main camera. “Did you notice I don’t have my cane?”
“Yes, Alyssa said she lost it.”
Dalton eyes Alyssa, who’s remained downstage and quiet this whole time, until it’s her cue to transport them to a new location. She’s scared of him. “Yes,” he confirms. “That seems to have led you to believe that I have now been stripped of my power.”
“Well, we know you have some level of mastery over the Omega Gyroscope too.”
He nods. “This is true. but that’s not my power. This is.” He raises his hand.
“Oh, shit.” Leona doesn’t know what’s going to happen, but it won’t be good.
“I am...inevitable.” Dalton snaps his fingers, and everyone in the auditorium disappears, except for him, Leona, and Alyssa. A bunch of new people are here now, though. Some of their friends have come, but so have the resurrected people who are supposed to be locked away in the black site. Heath and Vearden are notably absent. It’s nighttime. “I just undid everything.”

Sunday, May 28, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: March 25, 2399

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While Alyssa teleported rather randomly around the area, Mateo and Tarboda started hunting for the secrets of Daltomism the old fashioned way. They looked for hidden ruins, secret hatches, visible temporal anomalies, and anything else out of the ordinary. This is one of the remotest regions of Madagascar, known as Tsingy De Bemaraha National Park. The terrain is rough and unapologetic. It would be a great place to hide a real life god, and they’re pretty convinced that someone is here, or there wouldn’t be a tractor beam under that lake. They also don’t think that whatever they’re looking for is located too close to the lake. The tractor beam is trying to keep away from it. They’re focusing their efforts on the part of the jungle where Vearden first suggested they try. When they didn’t find anything by nightfall, they decided to make camp there. Alyssa offered to just take them back to civilization, but what if Dalton showed up overnight? What if his most devout followers build a ritualistic bonfire to worship the lunar demons, or whatever the hell else they believe in? They didn’t want to miss it.
The next morning, they go back to work. They’ve found it. It’s a half hut, but not the half you’re thinking of. The bed is part way on the wood floor, then hovers over the missing floor at the foot. The roof is over the missing part of the floor, and not over the actual floor. The window ought to have four quadrants, but the only two quadrants visible are diagonal to each other. The wall that it’s been placed on works the same way, but exists only by the missing quadrants. The nightstand is missing its legs, and the lamp is missing every other slice of its shade, as well as the entire bulb, though the light emanating from it shines as if it were there. A man steps in through a door, which only has a top half.  If this weren’t a transdimensional structure, or something else crazy and weird like that, they would have seen him walk up from the side. He came from another place. This...is a permanent portal.
The man starts to set his belongings down on the bed, and then finally notices Mateo and Tarboda. He stares at them and blinks like he’s never seen another human being before. “Crap.” He looks back at the door, likely weighing the pros and cons of running. He doesn’t budge, which suggests that anyone can walk right on through, without a key, or some time power form of it.
“It’s okay,” Mateo says, dropping his pack to the ground, and holding his hands up to show that he’s unarmed. “We’re not here to hurt you.”
“I don’t suppose any of you are one of the keys,” he asks.
“No, but we know two of them. Are we allowed to mention their names, or is there some sort of compartmentalization rule against it?”
He narrows his eyes. “Which ones do you know?”
“Iris Blume and Summit Ebora.”
He perks up. “My wife and child.”
“Does that make you a key?”
“Hm. We’re called keyholders...the co-parents.”
“Do you know who the other keys are? We might know where they are.”
Cheyenne comes through the portal door, and places a hand on the stranger’s shoulder. It’s okay, Rino. They’re friends.”
Are we?” Mateo questions.
“What my husband did was reckless, but necessary. And what I did was meant to protect him, and therefore also necessary.”
“We understand, we just...don’t know who you are.”
“I’m the Fifth Key.”
“What does that mean?” Tarboda presses. “What are the keys? “What do you do?”
Cheyenne ignores his question. “Did you find The Arc yet?”
“If you mean the weird building thing that’s actually a ship, then yes.”
“Good, you’re on schedule.”
“We’re using it to house refugees,” Tarboda explains. “If you have plans for some other group of—”
“No,” Cheyenne interrupts, “that’s who it’s for. Whoever needs it can live there.”
“What happens to those who don’t get on it? Does everyone on this world die?”
“Heavens, no. It’s a...bellwether. They built it for the Third Railers to show them what wonders are possible, to give them a technological boost.”
“Against the other realities in the war,” Mateo guesses.
“That’s Aldona’s job,” she says. “The Arc is a message of peace.”
“From who?”
Cheyenne smiles. “From you.”
Mateo sighs. “Don’t say anything else about my future, please.”
She keeps smiling, and nods in agreement.
Mateo takes a beat. “What about Dalton Hawk?”
She looks somewhat uncomfortable. “What about him?”
He eyes the magic door. “Is he in there somewhere?”
“I don’t know where he is now. He and we came to an understanding. We get to live here with no risk of running out of temporal energy, safe until it’s time to come back out. In exchange, we don’t interfere with his plans.”
“Are his plans...”
“Noble? Good?” Cheyenne thinks about it. “They’re not bad. They’re also irrelevant. If I were you, I wouldn’t waste your time with him. The Reconvergence is coming, the Keys will be turned, and the Reality Wars will begin. They can’t be stopped, and nothing he’s tried to do with his little religion is gonna make one goddamn bit of difference. Eight billion people live on this planet, and even less in the Fourth Quadrant. That is a rounding error compared to the vast populations of the other three parallel realities. People will one day know who he truly is, and they’ll stop following him, because others will show their own power, and they won’t be dicks about it. He only has so many followers because he’s the only one on stage right now.”
“You know a hell of a lot more about this than you let on before. When Danica and I first happened upon you—”
“That was not a coincidence. I was told to find my future there. I’ve learned a lot more about it since then, but the only lies I ever told were to protect everyone’s future.”
“Okay. Just tell me, who are the other keys?”
She frowns at the lost puppy. “Very well. Iris Blume of the Parallel, Summit Ebora of the Fifth Division, Kyra Torosia of the Fourth Quadrant, Cheyenne Duvall of the Third Rail.” She bows gracefully, then pauses. “Cedar Duvall of the Sixth Key.”
Cedar is not surprising. “Wait, you skipped one. Who’s from the main sequence?”
Cheyenne hesitates, but is preparing to answer. “Vearden Haywood.”

Saturday, May 27, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: March 24, 2399

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During World War VI, Captain Tarboda Hobson was an active member of the air force, serving by dropping supplies into quarantine camps so no one would actually have to go inside. When a new vaccine was released, he would drop that in too. Of course, a new strain—or an entirely new pathogen—was coming into power seemingly every day back then, so he never took any time off. Even that seems like nothing compared to what he’s doing now. He’s taking advantage of his new chance on life, and trying to help as many people as possible. What he’s been doing is technically against global law, but it’s a gray area when it comes to Leona’s nation. Of course, he’s utilizing resources from the U.S. government, but he’s just pretending that that’s not really happening. It’s not his job to be concerned with the politics anyway. He and his new team have one objective, which is to rescue people who are being trafficked all over the world, and to relocate them to Leona’s magical new building. He forgot how much he loved doing this, not worrying about making the decisions. He flies, that’s what he does. It’s all he does. Well, he sometimes pilots in boat mode.
Today is different. He’s being temporarily reassigned to a new mission. While Leona does whatever it is she’es doing stateside, he’s on his way to the Island of Madagascar. The religion of Daltomism supposedly originated here. According to Mateo, who’s here with him, this might not be completely random. If you drew a line from Kansas straight through the center of the Earth, and came out the other side, Madagascar would be the nearest landmass. These are called antipodes, though the place where they’re going is not the exact opposite point. The exact opposite would be in the middle of the ocean, as it usually is, since the Earth is mostly water. This was close enough, and it is Leona’s belief that Dalton chose this region because it was the farthest from The Constant in what is now Kansas. That’s where all the mysterious immortal people live that Tarboda hasn’t dealt with directly yet.
“Don’t we think this is all happening a little too quick? Word around the government water cooler is that Leona’s about to announce something big.”
“It has to happen fast,” Mateo explains. “The Reality Wars are starting early next month. Dalton Hawke is the last piece of the puzzle. If this is where he founded his religion, we have to know about it.”
“How did you find this place specifically?”
“Our new friend, Imani gave us a copy of Word of Dalton, Book II, which she can evidently get in a lot of trouble for. Vearden was researching it for us before his...” Mateo trails off. “He thinks it describes this part of the jungle.”
“What do we think, there’s a hidden temple somewhere around here?”
“Maybe.”
“Well, we may find out soon.” Tarboda slows down, and shifts into hover mode. “We’re at the coordinates you gave me.”
“Is there, like, a camera on the bottom of this thing?” Mateo asks, looking at the floor. “I would like to see what’s directly below us.”
“Is there a camera?” Tarboda echoes with a laugh. “Ha!” He engages erasure mode, removing the floor entirely, showing them what it would look like if it didn’t exist, and they could just float in the air.
“Whoa. I’ve seen stuff like this before. I have an idea of how it works, but it’s still trippy to stand here. Can you scan for structures, or whatever?”
“Uhhh...” Tarboda taps through the manual on the built-in screen. “Scan. Here we go.” He presses the button. Nothing happens that they can see, but the computer says that it’s scanning. “It didn’t find anything. No ruins.”
“That’s not surprising, or someone would have found it a long time ago. I’ve always wanted to do that thing where we—”
“Wait.” He looks at the screen. It’s detecting radiation from that body of water.”
“Bad radiation?”
Slight radiation.”
Mateo has to duck his head down to see the lake through the floor. “Does that mean we can’t do the thing?”
“What thing?”
“Sliding down to the ground on ropes hanging from the helicopter.”
“No, we definitely can’t do that.”
Mateo hangs his head.
Tarboda smirks. “Because this is not a helicopter. I’ll get the gear. That button over there will open the center floor hatch.”
Mateo goes over to open it. The floor reappears, but only in that spot. The hatch drops a little, then slides under like a pocket door. Tarboda drops the lines, and starts to get himself fitted with the climbing gear. He looks over the edge to see that the lake is closer than it was before. “What the hell? The jet has been moving on its own.”
“It has? You didn’t move it?”
Tarboda drops the gear, and runs back over to the cockpit and looks at the screen. The scanner didn’t find much before, but it’s found something now. All sorts of debris and wreckage is down in that water. It’s much deeper than it looks from a distance. “Close the hatch!”
Mateo slams on the button again. The floor starts closing back up. Just as it does, the jet tips over, sending him slamming against the back wall.
“You okay?” He asks.
“I’m all right!”
“I’m tryin’ to get us out of here!”
“Something’s pulling us down?”
“Yeah,” Tarboda calls back. “Hold on, we’re gonna start pullin’ some Gs!” He engages the thrusters, but whatever invisible force is tugging at them is reacting in kind. It won’t let them go, and it’s stronger than his beautiful new plane is. They gave this to him to please the team. They’re not going to give him a second one. “Try to climb back up here! I can’t get us out!”
“No! Jump, Tarboda!”
“What!”
“Jump down here! Trust me!”
These people brought him back to life; he has to do whatever they say. He undoes his belt, hangs between the seats, then lets go. They’re not perfectly vertical, so he slides on the floor, heading right for Mateo, who has his wrist up to his face. Suddenly, the jet is gone, and he’s tumbling on the ground. He gets himself to his feet and looks up to see the jet being sucked into the water, but not before it implodes.
Alyssa’s here with them. “Crushed it.”

Friday, May 26, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: March 23, 2399

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Vearden has done his best to stay out of all the time travel stuff, just like Arcadia wanted. It’s triggering for her, and he doesn’t like it all that much anymore either. He has occasionally done the team a favor, though, because they’re still friends, and he wants them to be okay. It’s mostly been research, but there have been requests that were a little more involved. He’s not asked for anything from them in return, though, so maybe they owe him. Hopefully they won’t make him resort to pointing that out. Hopefully Leona just does as he asks.
“You want me to make her look like herself?” Leona echoes.
“Can you do it?”
“Yeah, an illusion is an illusion, whether it’s superimposed over me, or someone else. Just give me a second.” Leona thinks back to how she remembers Arcadia. It’s been a long time since she’s seen that face, but she can still picture it pretty well. And anyway, Alyssa’s ability is so powerful that she doesn’t have to recall every single detail. It’s in her brain somewhere, and Arcadia herself is somewhere in time and space, and that’s really all that matters. She’s not magically generating a hologram that looks like someone else. She’s stealing light from somewhere else. “There.” She opens her eyes to see her success. There Arcadia is, lying on the bed before her. She’s still in a coma, but she looks like her old self again.
“Great, thanks,” Vearden says, admiring the real look of the love of his life. “You can go now.”
“Don’t you want to look upon her a little longer?”
“What do you mean? Are you saying this is gonna wear off?”
“It’s going to disappear as soon as I leave,” Leona explains. “I’m sorry, I thought you realized that.”
He stares blankly into space, and sits down. “No, I didn’t.”
“I’m sorry,” she repeats. “I would hold it here permanently if I could, but I can’t figure it out. I know that other illusionists have that power, but if Alyssa’s old body did, I’ve yet to learn it. We never asked her to try it when she was using it.”
“What about her new body?” Vearden goes on. “Would she be able to do it now?”
“She may,” Leona answers as she’s taking out her phone. “There’s still a lot she doesn’t tell us, and she may have just not thought to mention it.” She waits for the phone. “Aly? Can you teleport here? I need to...”
Alyssa appears before Leona can even finish her sentence. “Is everything okay?” She’s looking at Arcadia anxiously.
“It’s all right,” Vearden answers, realizing that she thinks this is a medical issue. “I was just hoping that you could make that permanent.”
“Yeah, of course, I can. Leona, could you...”
“Oh, okay.” Leona drops her illusion so Alyssa can make her own. She does it a lot faster, and doesn’t struggle with it at all.
“When you leave, she’s going to stay like that, right?” Vearden asks.
“Absolutely. I’m the only one who can get rid of it. If she wakes up, and wants to look like the other Leona again, she’ll need me. And if I die before she can do that, she’ll be stuck like this forever. So if you want to see what it’s like to be married to a human-sized mouse, or a monster truck, now’s your chance.”
“Why? Are you going to die?” Leona asks her.
“I...don’t want to be married to a mouse in a monster truck,” Vearden says as he’s admiring his love some more.
“That’s not what I said.”
“Whatever.” He stands there for another minute before looking up at them. “Thank you. Now you can go.”
“Come on, I’ll take you back to New York.” Alyssa offers a hand.
“I have a rental car. The reason I’m in Kansas City is because I had business to attend to in the lab, and I wanted to visit my friends.”
“That’s okay,” Vearden counters. “She can’t talk, and I don’t want to anymore.”
The two of them nod and respectfully leave through the door. Vearden sits down next to Arcadia. He doesn’t want to be married to a mouse, but he would like the chance to marry her. If she would just wake up, maybe he would be able to ask. They actually did discuss it before this happened. These were just preliminary talks; nothing concrete, but he’s confident that it would have ended up in a proposal. Now who knows how she’ll feel when she finally awakens? She may be in a weird sort of limbo dimension between life and death right now, having adventures with a stranger, and falling love with them instead. Vearden falls asleep thinking of a future that may never come to pass.
He doesn’t wake back up until it’s dark so when he tries to stand, and slips on the floor, he can’t see what it is. He tries to make his eyes adjust to the moonlight, but it’s not enough. “Hey, thistle, turn on the lights.” His eyes don’t even have to readjust completely before he can see what it is. Blood. Arcadia is bleeding. He reaches over and slams on the big mauve button. The alarm goes off. An army of nurses rush into the room. “She’s bleeding all over the floor! Something’s wrong.”
The nurses stop and stare.
“It’s her. This is what she’s supposed to look like.”
Two of the nurses start examining her while another checks the equipment. The fourth doesn’t move. “How did you make her look like that?” she asks him.
“It didn’t cause this,” he promises. “It’s a sophisticated hologram...just light.”
“Are you sure?”
“I guess not.”
“Who do you need to call?” she questions.
Vearden fumbles around, looking for his phone. It’s almost dead, but it has enough power for one call. “Leona? Get back here. Now.”
Five seconds later, Leona and Alyssa appear in the corner. “What’s wrong?”
“Take down the illusion,” Vearden demands. “It’s hurting her.”
“Impossible,” Alyssa insists, but still, she waves her arm, and drops the illusion. She looks like Leona again.
The real Leona takes Vearden by the upper arms. “Come on. Let them work.”
“Where’s the doctor?” he asks the head nurse.
“He’s coming,” she replies.
“I can bring him here faster,” Alyssa volunteers. “Where is he?”
“He’s coming,” the nurse repeats.
Dr. Cenric Best comes in right after that, and begins his own examination. He’s being frustratingly quiet about it. He looks very concerned, though. He’s moving his stethoscope around Arcadia’s belly. He’s moving it too much.
“What is it? Can you not find a heartbeat?” Vearden is on the verge of tears.
Now Dr. is just feeling around on Arcadia’s belly. “Nurse, get the echouterograph.”
“What is it? What’s wrong!”
Dr. Best pivots to face Vearden. “I don’t want you to worry. We don’t know what this is yet. I need to do one more test, and then I’ll try to explain it, okay? At this point, I’ll admit that I’m worried about the baby, but I’m not worried about Miss Preston. She’s exhibiting no signs of distress. The blood and amniotic fluid leakage is alarming, but there could be any number of benign causes that I’m not ruling out just yet.” He washes his hands, and then begins the ultrasound.
While that’s going on, Leona makes Vearden sit down, and try to relax. His agitation isn’t helping the situation. These people know what they’re doing. At least they do to an extent. Dr. Best keeps looking over at Vearden and the other three time travelers. He seems rather confused by what he’s seeing on the screen.
“I need an update, Doctor,” Vearden urges.
“Nurse, can you hold the wand in place?”
“Yes, Doctor.”
Dr. Best stands up, and removes his gloves. He stands in front of the travelers like a PhD candidate at the beginning of his presentation for the dissertation committee. “I’m going to ask you a few questions, and I want you to answer them in order, so I can get an idea of what’s going on here. Is that okay?”
“Go ahead,” Vearden replies, trying to be patient.
He points to Leona. “She’s not your twin sister, correct?”
“Correct. She’s in the body of my alternate self. The other Leona went through a traumatic experience in her twenties. Someone went back in time and changed it for her. Normally that would erase her from the timestream, and I would replace her, but she was somehow rescued by your world. Then Arcadia’s mind was placed in her body.”
“Okay, that tracks with what I’ve learned of you people. And what, uh...what powers do you have?”
“Well, right now I can create illusions by stealing photons of light from elsewhere in time and space.”
“And can she do that too?” Dr. Best points over at Arcadia.
“No. She doesn’t have any powers.”
He’s confused.
“But she had a pattern,” Leona amends. “She would jump forward in time. At the end of every day, at midnight, she would skip over a whole year. I was like that too.”
“That might explain it,” Dr. Best thinks.
“Explain what?”
“Your baby is gone. It wasn’t born, it wasn’t taken out by a laparysterotomy.” He tries to show them what he’s talking about on the monitor. “It’s just disappeared. Could it have...gone into the future?”
Leona looks nervously at Vearden, but he doesn’t look back. He doesn’t speak.
“Vearden?” Alyssa asks, waving his hand in front of his face.
Dr. Best checks his pupils with a pen light. “I think it’s psychological shock.”
Psychological shock. Sounds about right. His mind probably just can’t figure out what it’s supposed to feel about this. Obviously it feels bad, but it’s feeling all of the bad feelings all at once, and people aren’t built for that. He’s certainly not. “Fuck you all.”

Thursday, May 25, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: March 22, 2399

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Labhrás Delaney steps into the apartment behind Winona, and looks around with a frown on his face. It’s small, and it could do with some cleaning, but he’s lived in worse. He did not exactly grow up rich. That’s why he did what he used to do, because he had to. He’s trying to do better now, but he certainly wouldn’t say that he regrets his past transgressions. That’s not true; he literally said that he regrets everything, but he didn’t really mean it. He just knew that the only way he was ever going to get back to the surface of the planet was to tell these people what they wanted to hear. Luckily, lying is his specialty. He steps a little farther into the unit. “What’s this?”
“It’s your new place,” she tells him.
“I thought we were just stopping by to run an errand. You bought this for me?”
“Well, the government did; not me personally, and they rented it. Surprise!”
He shakes his head, looking at the mold on the wall, and incessant leaky faucet.
“Mateo taught me a phrase from his reality. He said that beggars can’t be choosers. This is what’s available. The government’s not going to spring for a penthouse apartment overlooking the water.”
“No, it’s not like that. I thought I would be living closer to my granddaughter.”
“She’s not your granddaughter yet, and I don’t think she thinks of you that way. And anyway, she lives in New York now, and I don’t think that she’ll be coming back anytime soon. There’s something there that cannot be moved.”
“Oh, you gave me access to the news down in the prison. I heard all about it. Which is why I was hoping that you would relocate me there.”
“That’s not a thing,” Winona says apologetically. “We don’t move people around. You began your rehabilitation in KC, because that’s where the person who was in charge of it—i.e. me—needed to be. We only relocate through the witness protection program.”
“I witnessed a murder,” Labhrás discloses.
“Are you talking about your own murder?”
“Would that not count? Hold on, I can think of another crime...”
“I’m sorry, Mister Delaney, but if you don’t want to go back to the black site, this place is your only option. You’ll also need to fulfill the requirements we spoke of. You need to check in regularly, stay sober, earn gainful employment by the end of April—”
“You don’t think this is going to last another month, do you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Word has spread, Miss Honeycutt. The world is ending.”
“Who did you overhear discussing that?” she questions.
“The guards never told me their names.”
“So it was a guard.”
“Don’t get anyone in trouble on my account.”
She sighs. “Leona is going to reveal herself to the Daltomists, and therefore the whole world, on Friday. The last thing she needs is a presumably dead future relative of hers showing up to make things even more complicated.”
He seems to get it now. He throws his knapsack onto the counter. “Thank you.”
“Try to find some joy here. This is the kind of second chance that no one else has ever received. I’ll come by to take you shopping tomorrow.”

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: March 21, 2399

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Alyssa left for a few hours, claiming that she was going to ask Dalton to agree to a meeting with Team Matic. When she came back, she apologized for not being able to make it happen. He was apparently still upset with her for losing the Dilara Cane, and only maintains any sort of relationship with her because he still needs her to be in charge of the Omega Gyroscope. The good news is that Alyssa has so far been able to keep to her word. She didn’t leave the Superscraper ship after relaying the news, and spent the night here. She had a lot of work to do before, but most of that is over now. Things should be working on their own without requiring constant attention.
“Thank you for trying,” Mateo says to her during breakfast. “I’m not sure I said that to you yesterday.”
“I’m sorry for how I behaved. That’s not me.”
“It literally wasn’t. Don’t worry about it. We’ve all done stuff like that. Ramses sacrificed himself out of his guilt for what he had done. Don’t let that happen to you. We’re a team, and we can get through anything. Together,” he adds.
She smiles. “Where’s Leona.”
“She’s getting ready.”
“Ready for what?”
“For our response to Dalton.”
“Hmm. What response would that be?”
Leona walks into the kitchen in her Shabatica best. She’s wearing a pretty floral dress that shows off her figure, but isn’t revealing or distracting. Her hair’s been done up all nice, and she’s wearing a modest amount of concealer makeup. “You told me to not wear blackface, so I’m not.”
Mateo shakes her head. “I still think it’s going to work. They just need to see what you can do.”
“Who needs to see what she can do?” Alyssa questions nervously.
“The Meeting House,” Leona replies. “I’m going to reveal myself as an illusionist.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“You’re right. I hadn’t given it any thought. I’m just doing this on a whim.”
“I thought we were friends again now,” Alyssa says.
“That’s how I talk to my friends sometimes. You’ll learn.”
“She’s anxious about it,” Mateo tries to explain. “It’s kind of a big deal.”
“It’s not that big of a deal,” Leona says dismissively. “People already saw this building appear out of nowhere magically. They just need some details.”
“She’s too anxious to be honest with herself about it,” Mateo adds.
“That may be, but do you think your remarks are helping?” Leona asks him.
“What exactly is the purpose of this?” Alyssa asks.
“Do you think that Dalton would change his mind if you asked about us again?”
“No.”
“That’s why.” His initial reaction was totally predictable. She didn’t think that he would go for it. If Dalton wanted to talk to them, he would have shown up anytime in the last year. This was just a wave hello. It was pleasant. It was nice. He’s going to wish he had answered it. The next move might hurt a bit. He’s the god here, and if someone makes an appearance, claiming to be just as powerful, that would cause quite a stir.
“I don’t understand,” Alyssa admits.
“We want his attention,” Mateo elaborates. “We’ll get it.”
“Are we not worried about the repercussions?” Alyssa presses. “The side effects?”
“It’s like the man said,” Leona begins, “they’ve already seen the building. If a house had appeared out of nowhere, we could have chalked it up to a magic trick. But a gigantic spaceship that’s taller than any building in the world by a hundred meters? In the middle of downtown New York City? Try explaining that away. The secret is out, and even if it wasn’t, it soon will be. The world is about to be destroyed, and everyone here is going to need to be moved to an entirely new universe. We have a term for that in the main sequence. It’s called The Edge, and it marks the year when everything changes. I think it was off by a few months, because this is happening, and it’s happening soon.”
“Okay,” Alyssa decides. “You do you. Can I come, though?”
“Absolutely,” answers a voice in the doorway.
“Imani Pettis, meet our good friend, Alyssa McIver. Alyssa, Imani.”
“It’s nice to meet you,” Imani says, stepping into the room, followed by Heath.
“Likewise,” Alyssa returns.
“Do I look okay?” Leona straightens her dress at the hips.
“You look perfectly acceptable,” Imani says, but she doesn’t sound happy.
“Oh, no. What’s wrong?” Mateo asks.
“I’ve been praying on it, and I don’t think this is a good idea anymore.”
“To be quite frank,” Leona begins, which is never the best way for her to start a comment to someone of which she is asking a favor. “Assuming Dalton is a real god who can hear your prayers, he’s the one we are trying to summon. If he doesn’t want to be summoned, of course he’s going to tell you that we shouldn’t do it.”
“First of all,” Imani replies, “Dalton is not a god. He’s a leader, and his power is undeniable. Secondly, what Dalton would want is paramount. If he doesn’t want to come, that is his prerogative, and nothing we do can alter it. Especially not you, since you are an unbeliever. That is why I’m allowing you to do this, because if he appears, our prayers will have been answered in that regard. If he turns out to be a fraud, then we will welcome this revelation, because it will be the truth, and the entire purpose of our religion is to seek the truth. That brings me back to my final point, which is that I’m not canceling your appearance. I’m merely postponing it. I was worried about it before, because it was such short notice. I realized that it will be better for us to do it on Friday. That will give us time to spread the news, and for people to make arrangements.”
“Oh,” Leona says. “Thank you.”
“Plus,” Imani continues, “we only broadcast services for the occasional very special event, usually to turn unbelievers such as yourself towards the light. We need time to test the system before we do that, because it has been some time.”
Leona lowers her head. “This was very thoughtful of you,” she says contritely. “I apologize for my outburst.”
“It’s quite all right. I would ask you, however, if you could...maybe...?”
“Show you again?” Leona guesses.
“If it’s not asking too much,” Imani says, uncharacteristically shyly.
“I’ve been practicing.” Leona winks at Alyssa. A beam of light shoots out of her chest, followed by another, and many more. She’s a humanoid beacon of light, and then she’s just the light. When it recedes, she’s made herself look like a growing oak tree.