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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.
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.
“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.”
“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.”

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