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. 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.”

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