Sunday, June 11, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: April 8, 2400

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Mateo is watching his wife pack the essentials, preparing to leave their most recent temporary home. He wishes that he could go with her, but it is not his place. Only members of the Shortlist are allowed, plus a mediator, whose identity has not been revealed to them. “’ll be back in a second, right? I mean that literally, it should only take a second.”
“That’s not how it’s going to work. However long this meeting is—and the way I understand it, it’s going to be very long—we will be separated for that amount of time. To put it another way, if it takes us three days, I won’t see you for three days, and you won’t see me for three days as well.”
“It’s not going to take days, will it?” Mateo figures.
“It might,” Leona warns. “We have a lot to discuss, and people will take sides. Then they’ll probably switch sides.” She gives him a kiss on the cheek. “But like I said, we’ll remain simpatico, so even if you were to restart your time jumps, you won’t have to worry about losing me for a whole year. It’s definitely not going to take anywhere near that long. Here.” She hands him a tiny, thin ring. “Stick this under your wedding ring. It’s a locator device. When it’s time for me to return, I’ll be able to find you anywhere in the universe. I have one too. It’ll activate a hologram.”
“Were I you, Leona,” he says as he’s starting to install the device.
“Were I you.” Leona throws her bag over her shoulder, and waves at Angela and Marie. She steps through the door, and when it closes, so too does the portal.
Mateo opens it to check, and finds only a closet on the other side. “Simpatico,” he whispers, hoping that she’s right about that.
“Come on.” Angela takes him by the hand. “Let’s get something to eat.”
“I miss the food on the AOC. We need to go back to either the Third Rail, or to the one we left in the Fifth Division.”
“According to Danica,” Marie begins, “main sequence Earth is the safest place to be when the Reconvergence happens. They’ve apparently built up the strongest solar system defense compared to the others, who either rely on outdated technology, or on offensive measures.”
“I suppose I would rather be on the surface than up here,” Marie determines.
“Let us lunch in London,” Alyssa suggests in a mild, but bad, British accent.
“Alyssa?” Mateo questions. “When did you get here?”
“Just now. Come on, I’ll navigate. I know a lovely place to eat on Maiden Lane.”
“They still have restaurants on this planet that aren’t in an arcology?” Marie asks.
“Of course they do.” Alyssa takes her hand as well. “But just the one.”
The four of them jump to what was once the United Kingdom, and have a traditional British meal at the oldest still-standing restaurant in the world. An hour later, Mateo finishes the last bite of his vanilla crème brûlée, and tosses his napkin down on the table. “All right. You’ve treated us, now why are you here?”
“We’re friends,” Alyssa points out.
“Of course we are,” Marie confirms, “and while this has been a lovely afternoon, you’re obviously here for a reason, and we’re here,” she says, indicating the geography, “for a very specific reason.”
Alyssa nods, and wipes her lips. “We need you,” she admits.
“We told everyone that we were done. We just want to go off and be anonymous for a while,” Marie explains.
“That’s very...stupid of you,” Alyssa says, taking it in a far different direction than any of them expected. “You’re the most famous people in five realities. The main sequence has just learned of time travel, and they’re already linking your team to it. Half of The Parallel is run by one member of your team’s alternate self. The Third Rail will forever associate Leona Matic with the sudden influx of time-powered people. The Fourth Quadrant learns about you in their history books, though of course, that’s limited to Kansas City...for now. Finally, the Fifth Division has experienced profound sociopolitical changes thanks to your interference in their affairs. After the Reconvergence, that will only get worse, because they’ll compare notes. Your exploits are legendary.”
“We’ll find a planet that doesn’t care about any of that,” Angela offers, “somewhere in the Sixth Key.”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about,” Alyssa says. “I’ve recently learned that the Reconvergence is a little less inevitable than we once thought. Don’t mistake me, it’s happening. Four realities will be coming together, and the Keys are vital to preserving the lives of the inhabitants. But we can spare one of them from the issue entirely. Apparently, only four original realities have to be collapsed, and apparently, you get to choose.”
Mateo grimaces. “What? What do we have to do with any of that?”
“Not we,” Alyssa contends. “Just you. You have been chosen to...choose.”
“The same question remains. What do I have to do with it?”
Alyssa doesn’t respond for a moment. “I don’t know, but I think...” She trails off before returning to her thought. “I think that there’s a new threat out there. After Zeferino, after Erlendr, even after all of the Constances. I believe that someone wants you to make the decision simply so that you will have to live with it.”
Mateo sighs. “I should have known. I should have seen this coming. What am I meant to do with that information? No matter what I choose, I’m deciding the fate of the Reality Wars, which are supposedly still coming. Or are they?” Leona would know what to do in this situation, even if it meant that they would just leave it to other people to decide. Then again, maybe there really isn’t any choice at all. If they take one opponent from the war, can’t that only make things better? Or maybe it can’t. Maybe it doesn’t matter. “If I choose to save the Parallel, for instance, am I keeping them out of the fight, or is that what causes them to become so violent? Would I really be changing anything, or just walking down the road of fate without realizing it?”
“I can’t answer these questions,” Alyssa clarifies sadly. “I don’t know if I should even trust Dalton’s words anymore.”
“You’re still talking to that guy?” Angela asks her. “Danica says to ignore him.”
“He says to ignore Danica,” Alyssa responds.
“So wait,” Marie chimes in, “if no one outside of our team can be trusted, why should Mateo do anything? What happens if he doesn’t bother to choose?”
“If you don’t even try,” Alyssa begins, “all five realities will reconverge. If you do try, there’s a chance that it’s all bullshit, and won’t work, but there’s a chance that it’s not, and it does. I suppose I would rather give it a shot than do nothing at all.”
“The downside to giving it a shot,” Mateo reasons, “is something that no one at this table could ever hope to comprehend. As I said, the choice could be what precipitates the war somehow, and the only way to stop it would be to do the unexpected, and treat all realities equally.”
“You are thirty minutes away from Stonehenge,” Alyssa tells them, standing up. “It’s 13:15 right now, giving you three hours to decide whether to go there or not. Or you could make the choice right now, and I’ll teleport you there.”
“We can teleport ourselves now,” Marie contends.
“Even better. Be there by 16:15...or don’t. I’m just the messenger.” Alyssa pushes her chair back in, and throws a hundred dollar bill from the Third Rail on the table.
“They don’t use money anymore,” Marie reminds her.
“I always forget.” Alyssa teleports away without retrieving the bill.
“What are you going to do?” Angela asks Mateo.
He stands up too. “I’m going to talk to the only person I know who can make sense of all this.” He grabs the leftovers, and jumps alone to Lebanon, Kansas. He misses his Danica Matic.

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