Sunday, May 12, 2024

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 26, 2447

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Olimpia looked like she was about to follow Marie back to the magic tree. “No,” Leona stopped her physically. “It will be much easier for us to protect one in our group for breaking the rules than for us all to have to defend ourselves equally. So just let her go. She’s on her own.”
Understood,” Marie said back through comms before disabling the connection. She was standing before the tree, as well as Princess Honeypea.
“You have the patience of a hummingbird.”
“I’m as fast as one too.”
Honeypea sighed. “We are obviously all pacifists. This place survives on the goodwill of others. We cannot protect ourselves. We are uncomfortably open for attack.”
“I’m not here to attack you,” Marie insisted. “I just want one fruit. You may see it as an act of aggression, but it is truly one of love. I need to put my family back together.”
Honeypea nodded, and pulled a fruit pod down. “Results not guaranteed.” She reached out to hand it to Marie, then pulled it back at the last second. “We believe this tree has a consciousness of sorts, and if it does, its intentions and motivations are unclear. It could be an amalgam of disparate identities. It might want to kill you for all we know. That’s why we asked for time to study it.”
“I’ll risk it.” She took the pod, pulled one piece of fruit off of it, and tossed it in her mouth. It was an unsettling and unpleasant experience. She expected juices to flow down her tongue when she bit into it, but this was not what happened. First off, it was bitter and oddly spicy, like a combination of paprika and ginger. And instead of juices, fibers spilled out. The insides must have existed in a pocket dimension of their own, or something, because these fibers continued to grow and spread like slime mold. Tendrils reached down her throat, into her lungs, and down her esophagus to her stomach and intestines. They broke through the tissue, and circulated into her blood, her nerves, and even her bones. Her veins popped out and glowed the same brilliant blue as the Magnolia’s leaves. Her hair stood on end, and an energy surged all around her skin. A glow filled her eyes, blinding her to her surroundings, and when it receded, she wasn’t standing on the conflux anymore. She was on the floor of a great indoor expanse, accompanied by a ton of other people, none of which was paying her any mind.
It took her a few seconds to realize that the hundreds of people moving about were mostly duplicates of each other. There were only a handful unique individuals, with dozens of copies scattered about. And a lot of them were part of the crew who stole Angela from them. Yeah, this was the right place. She took one version of Briar by the arm, not worried about hurting him. “Where’s my sister?”
“I didn’t even know you had a sister, Leona.”
Marie was so confused by this, she didn’t even try to stop him when he ran off again. “Leona?” she whispered. What was that gesture that they taught her? The suit could change to any color. Every single pixel could hypothetically be its own shade on the spectrum. But there was also this one particular setting that was different than the others. Remembering how it went, she half-crossed her index and middle fingers so that the former was right under the latter. Then she tapped on the inside of her elbow three times before separating the fingers by a few centimeters, and dragging them both towards her wrist. A mirror appeared all along her forearm. Her eyes were not staring back at her through the reflection. She looked like Leona now. She was holding a holographic impersonation without even realizing. And she couldn’t drop it, even if she wanted to, suggesting that Honeypea was right that the tree was sentient.
She took a deep breath. This made more sense, and she probably should have thought of it herself. None of these people knew who she was, or that they should trust her, but they knew Leona, and they probably all loved her. By the time she could reach out to another one of them to ask after Angela, she felt another pull, and found herself back at the tree.
“How did that go?” Honeypea asked.
Marie reached up to massage her neck. “Whiplash.”
“Interesting, interesting.” Honeypea licked the tip of her pin, and wrote that down in her notepad. “Tell me more.”
Marie was anxious to get back to her search, but she could spare a few minutes. She certainly wasn’t eager to eat another fruit. She explained why, which Honeypea found fascinating, and also helpful. Being able to explain to people how caustic—and perhaps even traumatizing—the experience was could make it easier to discourage others from attempting it themselves. Marie had no problem with this tactic, and would even be prepared to exaggerate the discomfort to prevent a flurry of people from coming to this delicate world, hoping to travel the universe and the timeline. She needed to be able to do this, but she didn’t need anyone else to. Once the brief debrief was over, she reluctantly pulled another piece off, and made a second trip. This time, there was less glowing, but it felt exactly the same, and maybe even hurt a little more? The strain on her body was only going to increase each time.
She pulled a version of Goswin aside, and showed him an image of Angela to ask if he knew where she was, but he had never met her before. Only one copy of this group had taken her away, and it was going to take some time to figure out which. It would be a hell of a lot easier if they stopped moving around so goddamn much! Each time she ate another fruit, and went back, she had to hope she wasn’t talking to someone she had already tried. It happened a couple of times, but the more she went through this, the more she picked up her speed. She asked the question in the most succinct way possible, and she quickly learned that Eight Point Seven was the easiest to get through to, and Briar the worst. He questioned being questioned, but the android always just got to the point. Yes or no, that’s all Marie needed, and some understood that better than others.
Those four main people had the highest number of copies, but there were also others, and she occasionally spoke to these people too, just in case they happened to know something. Their presence amongst the rest was too noticeable not to include them to some degree. One group of four in particular didn’t appear to have any alternates. They lorded over the crowd from a balcony above, and started making proclamations about how they were going to literally move mountains together, or some shit. Marie obviously wasn’t paying much attention to that, and she hoped they wouldn’t pay any attention to her either. She continued to jump back and forth, but started to whisper. “Are you the ones who took Angela?” she asked another one of the Goswins.
“That’s a no.” She turned away to see if she could squeeze in one more.
He stopped her. “Wait. What does she look like?”
She held up her palm to show him the holographic photo. “A core crew was on our ship, and when they left, she disappeared along with them. She’s not here, so they left her somewhere else in spacetime, but if you don’t recognize her, then it wasn’t you.”
He looked at his group. “Let’s find her. Just like Misha.”
They nodded in agreement, and suddenly, Angela was standing next to them. “Oh, thank God,” she exclaimed, hugging who she believed to be Leona.
That was when Lord Tamerlane Pryce noticed that not everyone was listening to his speech, which Marie was sure he thought was pretty damn good. The helpful Goswin tried to explain to him what was going on, so Marie and Angela just decided to shrink away, and try to be as inconspicuous as possible. They held each other tightly, though Angela wouldn’t know that this was for a specific reason. They should have disappeared by now. Something was stopping her, and it was probably her worst fear, which was that she would not be allowed to return to the others. The fruit could only transport one person, with no hangers-on. Still, she hung on, because if they couldn’t go back together, well, then she wouldn’t go back at all. At least Angela wouldn’t be alone anymore.
Tamerlane and the helpful Goswin continued to argue with each other. The Lords had apparently erected some kind of time barrier, which prevented anyone from being able to leave, which explained why no one was trying, despite the fact that they clearly didn’t want to be here. The defiant Goswin was up on the balcony by now. He approached the railing to address the audience. “Do you all wanna be here? Raise your hand if you do.”
A few people actually did raise their hands, apparently into this whole being conscripted for the Reality Wars in the Sixth Key.
“Then be free.” Goswin!Prime swept his hands forward from his chest.
Marie and Angela saw everyone begin to disappear before they too were spirited away, finally to the Garden dimension.
“It worked,” Honeypea noted with a wide smile. “And just in time too.” She nodded down towards the pod. There was only one fruit left.
“Not quite. “I still need Ramses. I made a promise. I just...I don’t know how. Honeypea, I didn’t bring her back. Goswin had to do it for me. This was before he lost his power I guess. How could I get Ramses? Goswin won’t be there this time.”
Honeypea looked for answers in the clouds. “I don’t know. We need time to study it. That’s what I’ve been saying. That’s why we were asking you to wait.”
Marie took a breath, and reached up to turn her comms back on. The real Leona would know what to do. But her finger never made it to her neck. She had to do this herself. She made this choice, and Leona made it clear that she was on her own. Marie turned away, and walked down to thoughtlessly splash one foot in the water several times. Then she walked back up the hill. “Tell my sister where to go, to the others. I can figure this out.” She pulled the last fruit from the pod. “I just need to test it first.”
“There’s no time to test anything!” Honeypea exclaimed, but it was too late.
Marie was home, or at least what passed for a home as she was growing up. If she aimed right—which she expected to have, since she was always right on the money in the Nucleus—this was 1816, following her death at the hands of Milford. She wanted to marry Ed Bolton, but her father had other plans, so she had always partially blamed him, as well as the actual murderer. Plus, there was that whole owning slaves thing that she could never forgive him for.
He walked into the kitchen to find her standing there. “Angela, my precious girl. You’re here. You’re alive.”
She waved her hands in front of her, and sarcastically howled, “I’m a ghooooost!” As he came towards her for a hug, she reached over and grabbed their cast iron kettle. She swung it around, and smacked him right in the jaw, knocking him to the floor. “Black lives matter, bitch.” She had mixed feelings about this word choice.
He was not liable to change his ways from this one short experience, but it felt cathartic on her end, and there was a chance that he would shout her return from the dead on the rooftops, which might land him in an insane asylum, and that would be retribution enough. The Magnolia fruit forced her back to the Garden Dimension. Angela was still there, having presumably been worried about what her sister was doing. Marie dropped the kettle on the ground.
“Is that what I think it is?” Angela asked.
“Yeah. He doesn’t need one this big now that I’m dead.”
“Why did you take it?” she pressed.
Marie interlaced her fingers, and cracked them. “It’s about the same weight as the pocket dimensional generator.” She reached up to harvest another fruit pod.
“No!” Honeypea shouted, in a far more serious tone than she had ever exhibited up until now. “I never said you could take a second fruit! I’m putting my foot down!”
“So am I,” Marie replied calmly. She stepped up, took Princess Honeypea by the shoulders, and teleported her halfway across the dimension, to a random spot, which happened to be in a cluster of delvidians.
“Don’t do this,” Honeypea begged.
Marie didn’t respond. She jumped back to the tree to carry Angela to the inn. Then she went off to her own random spot to avoid detection. She ate one more fruit even though she was quite full, and sent herself to the Vellani Ambassador.
“Marie, where were you guys?” Ramses asked. “What happened? I lost your comms signals. My probes have been looking for you for two years.”
“Get in the pocket dimension,” Angela ordered.
“Get in the pocket before it’s too late. I’m taking you back, but you’re too heavy.”
“Well, I need to uninstall it from the door frame first.”
Marie had by now figured out how long she could stay before the fruit called her back, and her time was now up. “I’ll come back in ten minutes. Be ready.” She thought that she would return to where she had last left, but the fruit forced her back to the tree instead. Honeypea was there, and she was not alone. Everyone was there too, including Team Matic, the Horticulturalists, and Goswin’s crew. Most of them were not happy.
Onyx immediately snatched the pod out of her hand. That’s enough of that.”
“Please. I just need one more fruit for one more jump. That’s it! Ramses will be ready to go, and it will be over. Just let me go.”
“You lost all the goodwill that you had,” Storm argued. “You will never be allowed back in this dimension.”
“That’s fine! Just let me go get Ramses first!”
They shook their heads, determined not to change their minds, but the tree had other plans. It began to glow and pulse, and then it sent Marie back to the ship one more time, fruit not required.

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