Sunday, May 5, 2024

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 25, 2446

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There was a small gap between the outer layer and the second layer down of the IMS. Tiny valves could form on their own, and suck in air from the environment to inflate this gap, turning the whole thing into a very thin lifejacket. They could form nearly anywhere on the suit, and heal themselves once the job was complete, or if they became submerged in water, and would replace each other accordingly until buoyancy was achieved. This function triggered in all four of their suits automatically, and sent them down river. They had to paddle with their hands and feet to avoid rocks and branches, but that wasn’t the problem. They didn’t know where they were, or how far they had gone. Ramses was not answering his comms, but maybe this was some kind of massive biodome inside Ex-42, which might be shielded in various ways. Their comms were supposed to break through anything, but for every solution, there was the potential for a counter-solution. After they rounded the bend, they found themselves coming up on a very large tree.
The current tried to take the team in different directions. This appeared to be some kind of confluence. They had to swim to stay together, and agreed that they should stop at the central tree to speak with the other people standing underneath it. As they drew nearer, they realized that they recognized about half of them. This was the crew of the X González; Goswin Montagne, Weaver, and Eight Point Seven, plus their prisoner, Briar de Vries. The last time they saw these people, they randomly popped up on the Vellani Ambassador, had a brief argument about Mateo’s supposed death, and then disappeared with Angela. There were five other people standing in the tiny conflux island, but Angela could not count herself amongst them.
 The team crawled onto the island, and approached the other nine, Leona taking the lead. “Report.”
One of the strangers stepped forward. My name is Storm Avakian, and I am the Ensemble Conductor of the Garden Dimension. That is where you are.”
“What year is it?” Leona asked.
“We don’t worry about time that much,” a man said. “Hi, I’m Pinesong Shadowskin, Dimensional Composer.”
Leona stared at them a moment. “We just came from the Goldilocks Corridor. It’s 16,000 light years from Earth. Have you heard of it?”
“We’ve not,” Storm answered.
Goswin’s crew shook their heads too.
Leona focused on the captain. “Where’s Angela?”
“That’s not her right there?” Goswin asked, pointing at Marie.
“That’s her twin sister,” Leona explained. “You took Angela from us, or you will anyway. But no, that had to have happened for you already, because that’s when Briar learned that Mateo survived his first death on Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida. He doesn’t seem surprised right now.”
“Ah,” Weaver realized, “you met a group of our shifted selves. They’re like alternates, but...different. We’ve absorbed their memories, but our respective brains are still consolidating the discrepancies. We’ve not really had any time to sleep, which will help us remember such things.”
“We know where she’ll be,” Eight Point Seven said. “We’ve experienced your reunion, and remember it just fine. We can send them there.”
“I thought you were the one who didn’t want to help any more people,” Briar reminded Eight Point Seven.
“Well, it’s Leona. We’re gonna help Leona,” Eight Point Seven contended.
“Of course we are,” Goswin agreed. He held his palm up towards Leona, but then he became confused. “Are we not syncing? What’s going on?”
“We all want the same thing,” Briar said. “I still feel you three, but...”
“But we don’t feel the cosmos anymore,” Weaver determined.
“Could someone please explain what’s happening?” Mateo requested. “Ya know, for the dumber people in this group. Not me, obviously, I’m a genius.”
“No, I don’t know what’s happening either,” Leona clarified.
“We were in the Nucleus,” Goswin began before stopping. “I mean...Weaver?”
Weaver nodded, and took over the story. “We were in the Nucleus, where our minds and bodies were split into an unknown number of what we called our shifted selves. We found ourselves with the ability to jump to any point in spacetime, as long as we did it together. We had to sync up our brains, and focus on a singular goal. We also realized that we could do this to others, which is what surely happened to your missing friend, but there was a learning curve. Recently, we used the power of this tree to merge all of our selves into a single body and brain each. As I said, our minds are still working through that. To protect the tree, we removed it from Bida, and transplanted it here. That literally just happened, and...our power is gone now?” She looked over at the Garden Dimension people. “I don’t suppose any of you can explain that. It couldn’t be the dimension itself. We shifted back and forth before, and it went just fine.”
“Princess Honeypea,” Storm said simply.
A young woman hopped over to the tree. It was a giant magnolia with blue flowers and blue fruits. The bark had a sort of indescribable glow about it, and the roots reached into the waters. In fact, some of the roots seemed to be growing before their very eyes, searching for nutrients in the conflux. Princess Honeypea was inspecting the tree now. She gave it as big of a hug as she could, though it was a stretch to use that word when her arms were just about flat with her whole body pressed against the trunk. She sniffed at the branches, and licked the base before pulling one of the leaves off, stuffing it in her mouth, and chewing thoughtfully. She nodded, and went over to Briar, taking him by the hand, and causing his to blush. She led him over to the tree, and placed his hand upon it. “All three of you, come on and do the same thing,” she instructed.
The other three members of the crew went over to touch the tree.
Honeypea nodded again. “Just as I suspected. Their power is not gone, it’s just been moved into Riverbell.”
“Riverbell?” Goswin questioned.
“Riverbell Hallowheart,” Honeypea went on. “That’s her name.”
“Well, I like it,” Briar decided.
Goswin laughed mildly. “No one said we didn’t like it.” He took a breath. “So, it’s over. We can’t help them.”
Honeypea plucked a fruit pod down. “Maybe you can’t help anymore, but Riverbell here could take over for you. She would be honored.”
“Does it have a consciousness?” Weaver asked, like that wasn’t one of the craziest things one could say about a tree.
“Not in the way you would think,” Honeypea began to explain. She walked over, and handed Leona the fruit pod. “But I’m assuming that you do...have a consciousness?”
“I do,” Leona confirmed. “You want me to eat this?”
“One fruit, one trip. These are immature, though, so each one won’t last long before it pulls you back to origin. You’ll have to keep eating them if you don’t finish what you’re trying to do, and need to go back. If you’re looking for your friend, but you don’t know exactly where she is, it might take the whole pod.”
“What happens when I finish the pod?” Leona asked. “Can’t I another?”
“You could try, but that might kill you,” Honeypea said. She was no longer her usual bubbly self. “They’re not poisonous, per se, but too much of a good thing is still bad for you. You can even drink too much water. Your body might eventually learn to metabolize it, allowing you to start eating again, but that would take time. In fact, I’m not sure that it would even be safe for you to finish the pod. Fewer is recommended.”
“My body’s pretty strong,” Leona explained. “I’m not like regular people.”
“I can see that,” Honeypea said, “but you’re not invincible. Like any plant, Riverbell wants to propagate, but unlike normal plants, it doesn’t do it by replicating itself. It’s more complex than I can say with words, but basically, when it sends you somewhere, you’ll be taking seeds with you. Seeds of time. You’ll be changing history just by being in the timeline with the fruit in your system. That’s what the four of them did before they came here, and that will continue with you, and anyone else who partakes. This is why we must protect it, because that can’t be allowed to get out of hand. The most beautiful of organisms can become an invasive species, and an ecosystem—even one as extensive as all of space and time—demands balance, not homogeny.”
“I need one too,” Mateo said. “Ramses is missing now. You can protect the fruit all you want after that.”
Honeypea nodded. “I understand, and accept your terms.”
“Now, hold on,” Weaver jumped in. “That private detective we met. He was looking for the fruit. He thought that it would make his client young again.”
“He was wrong,” Honeypea said. “The fruit doesn’t do that at all. I can see why his client believed that, though. The source of the Fountain of Youth is right there.” She pointed at the ground.”
Everyone looked down. “What?” Weaver asked.
“The Fountain of Youth? In Florida?” Honeypea continued. “It’s there. This conflux marks the crisscrossing of five rivers, which branch off in ten directions. The eleventh branch goes down.” She shrugged, her eyebrows, as well as her shoulders. “And then up again. It flows into a spring in mithgarther.”
“When did this happen?” Weaver was still shocked.
Honeypea looked at her bare wrist. “Like, ten minutes ago.”
“This was inevitable,” Leona realized. “The Fountain of Youth has existed in every timeline I’ve ever heard of. It dried up many centuries ago. It’s one of the immortality waters. Do all of the other waters come from here?”
“No.” Honeypea was certain of this.
Storm stepped closer to Honeypea. “Are you sure about the properties of this new tree? The fruits, the roots, the leaves; everything.”
“I’ll need a little more time to finish the full synthesis of data, but I’m quite confident,” Honeypea replied.
“Okay, coordinate with Onyx for his catalog.” Storm turned to Leona and Mateo. “He’s our Botanical Orchestrator. We don’t do anything with the plants, including eating them, until he’s done his due diligence. You’ll have to wait, I don’t know how long.”
“I suppose we can hold off for another year,” Leona decided. “Will that be sufficient, Madam Avakian?”
Storm bowed her head respectfully. “More than enough. For now, allow me to show you to our guest quarters. I hope they are to your satisfaction.”
An airboat came up to them automatically, and after they climbed into it, sped off down one of the rivers. It stopped and dropped them off at Citrus Inn. It was a small and simple building, but it came with a beautiful view, and the air smelled of lemons and oranges.
“You have citrus here? How does that work?”
Storm smirked. “Trade secret. I can’t tell.” She left it at that, and left them there, assuring them that everything they might need would be in the rooms, the kitchen, the bathrooms, or the closets. They were allowed to pick anything from the orchard, but could not touch any of the other plants.
There was no electricity here, which meant no TV or music. There was a small library down the hall for entertainment, but beyond that, they were limited to whatever they had managed to download to their handheld devices. They first sat down in the sitting room together, but were thinking of just going to bed soon. That wasn’t Mateo’s plan, though. “Ramses is all alone. We don’t know whether the Oaksent died in the explosion, or if he had his own plasma shield...”
“When you eat that fruit,” Leona reasoned, “you’ll concentrate on trying to find him seconds after he purged the hot pocket. You don’t have to worry about what he’s been up to since. He’ll have been up to nothing, for he’ll just jump forward in time with you. I know you’re worried, but it’s going to be okay. Angela is going to have gone through the same thing. I’ll find her moments after those alternates of the crew took her away from us. They’ve not been waiting for us to rescue them; it’s already happened.”
Mateo shook his head. “What if it doesn’t work like that? We may have less control over what that fruit does than that princess would have us believe. What if Angela has been gone for days? Don’t you want to not waste any more time?”
“I know what you’re thinking, and I forbid you, Mister Matic.”
She never calls him that, like he’s just a member of her team, and not her husband. “Oh, you forbid me? You think you can stop me?”
“I can punish you,” Leona volleyed.
“With what?”
“No sex.”
“For how long?”
Mateo glared at her, and she glared back. Ramses was important. He couldn’t let this be too personal. “Worth it.” He teleported away.
Marie teleported away immediately after, and came back with him. She shoved him back into his chair. “She’s my sister.”
“I was going for Ramses.”
“I know,” Marie said. “I love him too, so I’ll get him back too.” She looked over at Leona. “You and I aren’t having sex anyway.” She disappeared again.

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