Through My Eyes

 Through My Eyes
Matt’s 2014 NaNoWriMo Story version 1.4.nov14 (Complete through Chapter 4. Appendix included, but still a work in progress) On Footnotes Look, when I ‘m talking with friends, or with anyone that I truly can relax with, my conversation goes anywhere. Seriously, anywhere. This happens with writing, too. I’ll be chugging along, the main narrative will be flowing fine, then all of a sudden, full stop. tangent. Continue that thought for a bit. Reverse, get back on track, continue along. One of the cool things about actually writing this stuff down is I don’t have to spend a minute trying to get back to what I was talking about. It’s right there before we jumped to the foot notes. So there are a lot of footnotes. Most of them don’t matter, they’re just little tangents of my personality that are trying to escape, so we put them in a box and nailed them inside little boxes of text at the bottom of the page.1 So if the point I am making is too interesting to be interrupted when that little numeric super text pops up, go right on past it. But, when you’ve reached the end of the sentence, the paragraph, or the page, take a detour and check them out. None of them will be boring, I promise. 2 1
The origin of boots, if you fill in the gaps in the metaphor. This is a footnote, by the way. Hi. Promise of entertaining footnotes does not constitute a contractual obligation on the part of the writer. He’ll do what he can. Chill out. 2
Author’s Note I have to say, before we start, that this is the most egotistical thing I’ve ever done. I’ve drawn comics with my face, named Minecraft servers after my username, tried to get my family to join a podcast under aforementioned username, but this here takes the cake. I don’t really foresee anyone who is not acquainted with me in real life to read this, as it is a NaNoWriMo book, written for speed and word count and not necessarily quality, but if somehow you’ve stumbled on to this, you’ll need a little bit of my bio to know what’s going on in general. Hi. My name is Matt. I’m an inch or two under six feet tall. I weight a bit over three hundred pounds. It’s not all fat, as I have a bit of a physical job, but enough of it is. I have long hair, that I wear in a rough ponytail. My hair gets poofy, so it looks shorter than it is. I also have a beard, full and unkempt. Both my hair and beard are less of a fashion choice and more of a lazy way to not have to shave or get a haircut. I don’t have a lot of endurance, but when fully charged I have a pretty decent sprint. I can hear a phone at work over all the other noise and I’m normally the first one to it. My eyesight isn’t great, so I wear glasses. Mentally, I think I’m rather swift. I love to figure out the math, although I’ve been out of school for a while. I’m pleased with my witty sense of humor, although other people don’t get it sometimes. I love stories, writing them and reading or watching them. I think that’s enough. Feels like you have a good chance of knowing me now. I don’t know how much of this will come up, but hey, just in case, right? Let’s get started. Matt Chapter 1 I had been thinking a lot of the seven moments of power. Or maybe its the five surreal experiences. Or the eight steps to wisdom. Its a story idea I’m still kicking around in my head. I don’t quite have the number needed, or which moments they are exactly, but the idea of the story revolves around these situations that, once contemplated properly, can give you powers or something. Its not a fully fledged idea. I either have too many moments or not enough, which is an odd balance. Some of these realizations could happen to everybody in an everyday kind of way, things like being born, falling in love, holding your first child in your arms, seeing your parents as real people for the first time. This story opens with my first supernaturally surreal experience, but far, far from being the last one. ­­ It had been a bit of a blah day at work. Busy enough to make the time pass, slow enough that I really wanted to be at not­work. I trudged home, my boots heavy on my feet, my mind racing with stories and schemes, plotting whether to watch or read, to write or play. I live only a few blocks from my work, which is convenient as all get out, so in just a few minutes, I was bounding down the stairs to my basement apartment. I opened the door, stepping inside and froze at what I saw. Now, for full disclosure, I don’t really believe in security. I don’t have much worth stealing, and, honestly, it’d be hard to find the good stuff under my mess. I’ve also lived with people who locked the door to our apartment every time the went out and came in. Those minutes each day add up to a lot of boring time I can’t get back. So I don’t lock my apartment, nor my car for that matter. Its just not worth it to me, especially when I’m trying to cling desperately to the small town feel my town used to have in buckets. I froze because there was a backpack that was definitely not mine sitting on the oven. That was the first thing I noticed. I may be a fairly slobbish type of person, but I have a fairly good track record of knowing where my stuff should be and when things change. And someone had come in and left a backpack that I hadn’t seen before in my kitchen. I shut the door slowly and as quietly as I could, pushing my human sense to their limits, trying to listen, feel, sense where the intruder was. A noise in the bathroom.3 I glance around for a weapon and settle on this large knife. Its not a cleaver, but it fits well in my hand and has a good weight to it. A very Mike Meyers style of knife. Just what I need. I creep towards the door, listening as best as I can. I place my hand on the knob, take a deep breath, and wrench the knob with a shove. You know those surreal moments? Let’s add “walk in on yourself only wearing a towel” to the list. ­­ The two of us sat down in my (our?) living room. I watched him intently, a little stunned. He was me, exactly. Same height, just about the same weight. His hair seemed a little bit longer, but he was fresh from the shower. I poof out as the day goes by. But other than that, we were perfectly identical. We could have used each other for shaving mirrors, if we were into that type of thing. His gaze examined the room, whether it was to see if things had changed or what, I didn’t know. He certainly wasn’t as fascinated to see me as I was to see him. After a minute of silence that became more and more awkward, I started, although I state for the record that if you intrude on someone else’s reality by being their duplicate and you know what’s going on more than the other fellow, it is your responsibility to speak first. “I don’t think we’ve been introduced. My name is Matt.” I smiled at him and he smiled back. It was weird to see how all my facial hair moves when I really smile. I’ve never actually seen a real smile from myself. I normally have to pose for a camera or the mirror. “My name is Matt. I’m from the future. Your future.” The conversation paused as I processed this. Time travel is a common choice for the stories I love to read and write. I love a good time plot, me. You can do a lot of cool things with a good time plot.4 But one thing I know, people from the future aren’t compelled to tell you the truth. As often or not, they lie. Lies about who they are and when they come from. Other than the nostalgia, the past is boring. If you have a time tourist on your hands, they’re either lost or they want something. “The future, huh? How far, exactly” 3
My apartment is rather small and oddly laid out. While I have a front door, per se, I never use it. I come in through the courtyard, into my kitchen. From there, I can turn left into the living room, and go straight into the bathroom, which has a door on either side. On the far side of the facilities is the bedroom. turn left there and you end up in the front room, i guess, where I have a tv and a bunch of flat surfaces, most of which have a project of some kind on them. Its a pretty large one bedroom, but I still pay more than I want to a month for it. 4
You can also do a lot of things with a bad time plot. Sometimes its hard to tell them apart. My basic rule of thumb is if thinking about it too hard gives you a headache or at anytime, part of the plot makes you go “What??”, then its probably a bad time plot. If I knew what made a good consistent time plot, I’d write for Star Trek…. “About three weeks, give or take. You’re about to have an amazing adventure, and then afterwards, you get to come back, to where I’m sitting, and send yourself on that adventure.” “Uh­huh. So, you’re me, right?” “Right!” “And I can ask any question and you’ll answer it correctly, right?” “Right! Pull your Bill and Ted interrogations, dude!” With that he air­guitared, one of the best I had ever seen. You could almost hear the riff as an echo beyond the phenomena of sound, as if the universe was waiting for the foley guy to add in the appropriate chords. The thing is, I don’t air­guitar. I air­bass.5 And I don’t think I spent three weeks learning how to play a different fantasy instrument. I glanced at the microwave, just barely visible from my footless comfy chair in which I was slouched. Twelve minutes to seven. At least, by that clock. No two clocks of mine have the same time and none of them are correct. Its a personal quirk of mine. But, with the important information gathered, it was time to spring the trap. “Very well. What time is it, then?” It was his turn to pause, as he processed. It didn’t look like he turned up any good answers, though. “I beg your pardon?” “The time. Do they have that in the future? Twenty four hours in a day? I want to know where we’re at on the day night cycle. Because, if you are me, and you knew you’d be doing this, you’d have made sure to have memorized the answer to the one question that couldn’t be faked. You’re not really me, are you.” “No, I­” He paused, put his hands to his face and did kind of a wrenching motion. When his hands came down, they took a large part of his beard with it, some sort of prosthetic. He was left with some regal looking mutton chops, some how longer and fuller than they had been. His hair was also cut shoulder length. I hadn’t seen the change there, so I don’t know how he had done that one. He folded up the disguise and put it in a pocket in his backpack. Sitting across the room from me was something just as eerie, but a little bit more 5
No really, this is a thing. I’m certain. Why else would this comic have something like it?­in­the­air/ relatable. It was me, sorta. I still felt a connection to him, but it wasn’t like looking in the mirror or at a recording anymore. I suppose this could be one of those surreal moments, but how would I describe it? “You’re not going to believe me­” he began, but I interrupted “I believe a lot of things. Try me.” He collected his thoughts again, then started a new. “Hello. My name is Matt. I’m the Prime Indexer of Mattropolis, a city comprised entirely of Matts from across dimensions. The Grand ParliMatt has a bit of a crisis on its hands and sent me to find you, a Matt well versed in the realms of stories. Will you come with me, to aid a people comprised of yourself?” “I can see pronouns are going to be fun. Of course I’ll come! Why didn’t you lead with that? I don’t think I would have asked any confirming questions. This sounds awesome!” “... Twenty eight percent of Matts don’t truly believe in parallel words, but ninety one percent have heard of time travel. I was playing the odds.” “Seems legit. Well then, Indexer, let’s get moving! I’m not going to save myself standing around here!” ­­ I wasn’t exactly sure what I was expecting, to be honest. I’ve seen a lot of different ways people have done time travel and even cross dimensional travelling. Getting into a vehicle of some kind is normally a convenient way of travel, mainly for the guys who do special effects. No need to even show up. Protagonists get into the blue box, play some elevator music, then walk on out. Bam! Different world. Another popular way to go is the portal. And when I say portal, I normally think Minecraft:6 a rectangle of obsidian, with some slightly translucent material waving a little in the air, making weird sounds and spawning particle effects. All in all, a blocky character of something intended to be foreboding. Prime Indexer’s portals were just as serious, although not as aesthetically pleasing. THey ended up being an circle, perhaps about five feet in diameter. I’m not very good with estimating distance. They were raised off the ground into the air a little, and I had to duck through them to avoid hitting my head. 6
As opposed to the orange and blue portals of, well, portal. It was like stepping down a staircase a little oddly. It didn’t feel any different, although it seemed to be a different time when we came out than we came in. Not time travel, of course, but rather, this universe was out of sync with the last one. “Most of them do need their timing adjusted,” admitted the Prime Indexer. “ We just haven’t had room in the budget. After all, we still have to use these things.” He gestured to the bracer he was wearing, which was indicating a low battery and a distinct lack of map. “We’ll have at least one or two more hops to get back to the city.” “The city?” “Yes, Mattropolis, my home.” ­­ The Tourist Information Page of the Grand Archival Index of Mattropolis7 has this to say about the city. “Mattropolis is a large city of about ninety thousands individuals, the overwhelming majority of which are almost the same person. Sitting on an interdimensional nexus, Mattropolis is a gathering place for Matts across many axises of reality, exactly like other settlements of its kind.8 Of the majority of the population who maintain a permanent residence, an above average percent of them are involved in the arts.9 The main export of Mattropolis is artistic in nature, many fine novels, paintings, sculptures and the like originate from there. The main imports seem to be a larger amount of baking staples, flour, sugar, etc., than reported from other Self­Cities of the same area. “The government of Mattropolis is a rotating council of quasi­elected officials. As all residents are, in essence, the same person, they use computer algorithms to select seven individuals who have a large difference in education, experience and cultural background. This diversity enables this council, named the Grand ParliMatt, to make informed decisions. While it is a great honor to be nominated by this system, individuals due turn down the nominations. There are also provisions to disqualify other Matts from being nominated, although this has happened infrequently. In fact, the only time in Mattropolis’s history that a nominee was disqualified was deemed later to be accidental. The Matt in question had been unsure what hitting the related button would do and pronounced he was deeply apologetic. 7
In no way to be confused with some some sort of guide for hitchhikers... For example, Mattropolis’s brother­ and sister­cites of ConsZaacinople, Rio de Jaredino, Jerushalem, Tressijavik, and Los Elijaneles 9
A majority, if you consider computer programming an art form, which the Mattropolis Interdimensional College of the Arts totally does. 8
“Financially, the city uses the Mattbuck as its primary source, although it is used more as a bartering convenience than an actual form of currency. The value of work that a Matt can produce, whether artistic, insightful, or physically demanding, is determined by those present. Housing is provided free for all Matts, although special permission and dedication of resources is required for those who wish a home not part of the ApartMatts.10 These separate homes are sought mostly by those who bring their families to stay with them, although it is a rare occurrence. Most Non­Matts are ill at ease in the city. “In terms of demographics, each individual is normally only three or four points of difference away from the Average Matt, a definition that is calculated from the yearly census.11 A difference could be as small as a quarter inch difference in height, to as drastic as being a different gender or ethnicity. The majority of Matts are American caucasian, male, brown eyed with dark brown hair. They are just shy of six feet in height and weight around two hundred and eighty pounds. They average around twenty five years of age.” The Grand Archive Index has a lot of information. A pity so little of it was actually useful. ­­ I was rather impressed with the Council meeting hall. It had a large stone table, one of those round numbers, with room for more than the seven I was told about. Indexer went to his own seat, most likely one designated for him. Prime Indexer sounds like an appointed position, not one you take upon yourself. A few of the big wig Matts nodded to him as he took his seat. Look, I don’t know how easily you as a reader will be able to parse this. It was confusing enough myself and I was there. I’ll do the best I can, but I didn’t know these people any more than you did. All I know was it was me. I’ll skip a lot of the proceedings, because it was a council meeting and I was an addendum on the agenda, but here’s a sample of how much i knew was going on: The meeting was called to order by Matt, who turned the time over to Matt to discuss the new trade legislation that Matt (Matt’s predecessor) had initiated before the new period of appointments. After Matt, Matt and Matt brought up counter arguments, it was decided to be rewritten with Matt’s proposed changes and be brought before the council at the next meeting. After that, Matt read a letter to the ParliMatt, from Matt, the President of the the Mattropolis 10
Large cookie cutter style dormitory complexes, designed at base as a bed, a desk and a shelving unit for each Matts various projects. Each can be tailored to the hobbies and specialities of the individual, while common areas are provided for, well, the common tasks. 11
To determine your precise separation from the Average Matt, contact your local Mattropolis Census Bureau to receive your free Census Packet. More information on proceeding steps can be found within. Interdimensional College of the Arts, citing a decline in the amount of Matts registering for the new semester. And so on. The bureaucratic engine ground on, undaunted. I spent the time studying the Matts around me, letting their words flow around like background noise. To my immediate left sat a person I mentally dubbed Samurai Matt. He was taller than average, or maybe lighter. It was hard to tell with both of us sitting, but he had an air of presence that’d I was assuming was at least a little bit physical. He wore some type of japanese outfit,12 in a fetching pink that was in no way feminine.13 He also had the weaponry I’d assumed through blatant stereotyping, a katana of sorts and the little shorter one. His hair was drawn up into that top knot thing. He was definitely Asian, probably Japanese if I was going to guess from context clues. He spoke with a bit of an accent, and his phrasing was a bit off from standard English. A bit too formal, if you know what I mean. He took a bit of gruff stance, opposing change almost on general principles. I think it was almost his job on the council, to make sure change didn’t happen too quickly, without some voice of reason trying to curb it. I did notice that as soon as the others had addressed his points logically, he conceded the point gracefully. He was also a bit older than the rest of us, by a decade, I’d guess. A good voice of reason. On my right, I dubbed him Millitary Matt. His face was clean shaven, his hair cut short like my dad’s had been my entire childhood. He was definitely slimmer, well, at least around the belly. His shoulders seemed even broader than mine, but that could have been the cut of his uniform. He was wearing a weird color combination of blues and reds, a little reminiscent of the Marines, but not cut quite right. I assume it was for the City militia or the equivalent, as the colors not only looked good on a me, but were in colors I wouldn’t mind fingering as favorites. His chest had some medals of some kind on it, but since there was no one else in a similar uniform to compare it to, i wasn’t certain how impressive it actually was. I wondered if he, and the Samurai as well, dressed up like this for every session or if something (ie, me) was important enough to get dandied up for. Millitary Matt took stances for city defence, in any topic where it was applicable, but he also seemed concerned with public safety, infrastructure and morale. Across the table and a little to the left sat the Prime Indexer, who was studiously taking notes. He also apparently had records and surveys from the population of this town of myselves. Anyone could ask him a question, the percentage of college graduates among the Matts, for example, or the number of us who have owned a dog, and with only a second's 12
I only really know the word Kimono which wasn’t quite it. Later searching on wikipedia seems to indicate that it was a kimono, but his outfit also had a hakama, which is as far as I can tell, a Japanese version of a kilt, at least in basic concept. I’m not really sure what was going on with it, but hey, the more you know, right? 13
I have a little bit of beef with the “Man enough to wear pink” style of marketing. If you are man enough to wear pink, you should not have to assert that you are only that manly due to peer pressure. I, personally, am not man enough to wear pink. I do look pretty good in red, though. hesitation, he could give a confident answer. It seemed pretty impressive to me and I spent longer than I should trying to figure out how he was doing it. It had to be some form of wearable or bio­computing, but I couldn’t decide. Straight across from me sat Noir Matt. He had the look of a classical detective, maybe a private eye. Someone you could expect to see sitting in a smokey office, narrating to the audience with a bit of some city­based accent, describing how life was in the dumps before she came, describing her with metaphors that left no room for doubt as to that the narrator thought about said dame, but was vague enough in the actual phrasing to mean almost anything. Noir Matt was innately suspicious of anything that seemed to be going well and he harboured a deep mistrust for his fellow Matts. That’s not entirely accurate. He trusted the ones in the room just fine. And the ones he knew. But he didn’t seem to trust people in general or as a whole. He suggested a lot of oversight and follow up procedures, some of which were deemed too much, most of which were approved. Which makes sense to me. I’m horrible at actually finishing anything, no matter the task or the audience. For the sake of consistency, he was sitting a bit awkwardly in a trenchcoat and a fedora. I could make out a nice dress shirt with a solid tie,14 and his mustache was trimmed carefully, as if to make a point. Over to my right a bit were French Matt and Robot Matt. Both of them looked about what you’d expect. French Matt wore a striped turtle neck and a beret. He shared an ashtray with Military Matt, who had some large cigar. French Matt had a long cigarette holder . The two of them seemed careful to only breathe the smoke straight up.15 French Matt was the most sarcastic of them all, his accented wit cut into any topic and seemed to be negative in general. And yet, while he was a very negative individual, he voted in a different way, showing support by the raised hand on almost any measure brought to vote. 14
Solid ties are the One True Tie. They are a place of order in a chaotic world and are the only things that hold back the dark abyss hidden in the elegant folds of formal dress. the only other acceptable ties are the really cool ones, that do some effect for a reason instead of some chaotic pattern of stripes or shapes, or the ones a loved relation buys you for a reason. Under no circumstances should you wear a tie that looks like it was cut from a hotel comforter. They are the equivalent of the Black Spot and mark that your time is coming to an end. 15
As you might guess, there was a vent of some kind. But unlike your guess, it didn’t have a fan or anything. I asked around when I had some free time. It turns out magic is totally a thing that exists some places and one of the Matts who had a bit of the knack had done a thing that caused all the exhaust and other odors head straight out, where it was processed and recycled as fresh air. It seems that cigarette smoke wasn’t the original intent. That Magic Matt had a pet dragon who sat on his shoulder and emitted some nasty fumes. Removing the second hand smoke is a pleasant byproduct. It works well, provided they aim up. It also is good at countering the fumes from a diesel powered thinking machine of a Matt and made dealing with Mongolian Matt a better experience at least. Robot Matt was some sort of synthetic life form. Instead of eyes, he had sort of a cylon thing going on, a red light that was brighter where he focused. He spoke rarely and when he did, it was brief and direct, wasting no time on fanciful speech. He abstained on any topic that didn’t easily break down into a binary response or seemed to involve emotion more than cold hard logic. I asked Indexer about it later on and he told me there were only seventeen mechanical Matts known to the city of Mattropolis, although they all seemed to come from the same axises, 16 indicating there may be more of them out there beyond the current explored borders. Robot Matt’s skin was a metallic grey and his servos whined loudly when he moved, which was infrequent. He wasn’t clothed, but he wasn’t android enough for it to matter. He looked like a water heater with some extra attachments. On a side note, after everything was over, he invited me for a night out with the other Mechanicals. Nice bunch of bolts there. We did some Karaoke, which somehow wasn’t as awkward as you’d think it’d be when most of the group used speech synthesizers. They picked songs that used heavy auto­tune and it worked out okay. One of them got really tipsy, somehow, and spent a good part of the evening trying binary pickup lines on my cellphone. He didn’t get much response. On the left side side of the table sat the last two of our parade of descriptions. Its almost over I promise. I originally called the first Witch Matt, but I figured it’d get confusing if I ever had to say out loud. The phrase was a Matt run Abbott and Costello “Who’s on first” skit waiting to happen, and, knowing me, my doubles and I would probably interrupt whatever business actually needed done to pull it off.17 So as inaccurate as it is, let’s call that one Wiccan Matt. Not because I know of his religious choices or anything, but he looked like a hermit or a witch or something. Something that cast a lot of nature spells. There was an occasional croak from his black pointed hat, so take that as you will. His beard was bushy with a leaf sticking casually out of one side. I’m not sure if it was a fashion statement or if no one had told him yet. I wasn’t sure which one I’d have bet on. He was our version of the environmental protection agency, asking a lot of questions about carbon footprints and the impact on the local forestry departments. He also seemed to be the resident expert on the arcane, which surprisingly came to light during the proceedings. Some measure or statute or something pertaining to the sell of some magical ingredient, which was being debated due to its use as something or other. Mixing arcana and legalese is a personal recipe for confusion. The last member of our merry band was as unique as all the others. In my mind, he was Ancient Matt. If I thought the Samurai guy was above the bell curve, then this guy was in 16
A large part of the working theory of interdimensional travel, universes are said to be separated by small changes in a large number of Axises. Each Axis is a concept, mostly undefinable different, but still important. Identified Axises, such as Technology, Art, Logic, Chaos, Order, Love, Gravity, Time, or Moisture, are all explored further and further each year. The number of Axises is theorized to be infinite, but most of the explorers are confident the number is less than two hundred and seven. When pressed, all of those explorers claimed it was “just a feeling.” This is regarded by the scientific community of Mattropolis to be “significant, but we’re not exactly sure why.” 17
Completely, from start to finish. And not just once, oh, no. Every Time it would come up, I’m sure. the upper percentiles.18 His beard was long. Like, belly length, Gandalfian, “this is my life’s work” level of long. I mean, my beard is a monument to my laziness as anything else, but his, well, he knew what each white hair was supposed to be doing, where exactly it ought to be and what length he wanted it. Was magic involved? I don’t know. Maybe. I wouldn’t doubt it. but, then again, it could just be his thing. He was another of the quiet ones, although he had more talking he was required to do than any of others. He was the one who called for a vote when he felt that all sides had aired their opinions. He was the one who prompted the Prime Indexer to read the next agenda items. He was the one, when the meeting had finished with its primary business, who straightened in his cushy chair, tugged his light gray robe a little for comfort, then looked at me, saying in a quiet voice: “And now, our interest turns to our guest, a Matt carefully sought, gently found, and swiftly retrieved, who will interpret the words of a madman for us.” Nothing can compare to the willies that ran down my spine as he said that.19 20 18
There’s probably a more correct way to say this, but it’s been a few years since my statistics class Really, it felt weird, and odd cross of ASMR and the shivers. 20
Did you honestly think I’d be ending this chapter on anything other than another footnote? 19
Chapter 2 So, apparently, life in the city of Mattropolis is not all sherry and giggles, to use a phrase containing alcohol when I am a teetotaler.21 Lately, they’ve been having a bit of a crimewave that the local super population22 can’t seem to keep down. There have been numerous terrorist attacks, which is super scary when a DNA test or a fingerprinting can only confirm “yup. That’s a Matt.”23 Witch hunts have been kept to a minimum, if only because of protests by registered witches. The council brought up images and news clips,24 demonstrating the depth of the trouble, then Ancient Matt brought it around to the main point. “We call the Matt who claims to be behind all of this chaos the Rogue. As far as we can tell, he fits the definition of the Average very closely, perhaps to only two or three points off, but he’s turned out evil.” The center of the table contained some type of holographic projector. Unsurprisingly at this point, my face loomed over us. His beard was braided into two little tails that reminded me somewhat of Blackbeard, although I couldn’t see any smoke or fuses. A mask obscured the upper half of his face, useless, because he was one of us, but very, very theatrical. It gave him an air of menace. He also wore a flowing cape, one that would not look out of place on a vaudevillian vampire.25 “Our top analytical minds have been unable to discern a pattern of movement, any connected choice in targets, any links for origin of weapons, explosives, materials, etc.” The, well, robotic voice of Robot Matt sounded, if robots could sound, like it was desperate and had tried everything. “I’ve put the word on the street, but no one is talking. The people are afraid of squealin,’ thinking that’ll make them the next target.” Noir Matt chimed in. “This rebel has even had the audacity to attack here, at our base of operations!” Military Matt seemed indignant, as if the attack was worse for not being on the front line. French Matt took a long pull of his cigarette, then spoke in his hard to write down accurately be definitely French accented voice. “He even destroyed this table we’re sitting at! We only just got it replaced” “The issue, Matt­san, was clouded with confusion.” Samurai Matt’s head was bowed and he seemed to be speaking with great deliberation. “And then, his boastful nature gave us a clue.” He nodded at Indexer, who clicked the slide forward as it were. The holographic head zoomed out and there I stood, sorta, casting a very melodramatic silhouette. My voice, tinged with mockery cried out from the recording: 21
Only 8% of the known Matts drink alcohol for recreational purposes. One of those is a connoisseur, who, according to his ledgers, has tried 98% of the known forms of alcoholic beverages. He finds it most convenient that the city is filled with perfect potential donors and he’s reserved slots 3­10 on the replacement liver list. City law keeps him from being in first or second in line and rightly so. 22
163 registered superheroes reside in Mattropolis. They’ve mostly moved in because back home, they’re either treated as second string heroes, or their rent is too high for a vigilante to keep up. In Mattropolis, they make up the backbone of what functions as the police force. 23
There has been a limited amount of research into an Axial footprint, using the Matt’s home dimension as an identifying mark, but the process is slow and expensive, the evidence is hard to detect, and not enough Matts have registered. 24
News programs look weird when both anchors look pretty much the same. 25
Interestingly, I wear a cape like that when I drawn my author’s persona on my webcomic. “Fools! All who live in Mattropolis are FOOLS! You and your so called ‘Grand ParliMatt’ are nothing compared the threads of my plot! Their absolute and utter destruction is foreshadowed in every move I make, confirmed in every act they cannot stop! At the denouement, I will stand victorious and none of your council shall be able to tale you why! I am the author of their defeat! Your fate has been written.” On the holoscreen, the Rogue Matt stepped backward and disappeared and the holographic projector embedded in the brand new table shutdown. Expectant eyes looked on me from all sides of the round table. I rubbed my forehead a bit, trying to get over such a loaded statement. Why thoughts jumbled around in my head, fighting to be heard and deemed important. I mean, I’m fine with puns. Proper pun use can enhance almost any form of media, but it has to be subtle and that was definitely not subtle. He was almost trying to force the point across. Of course, if he was trying to send a message, what would the result be? Me or someone who thought like me. Okay, so he has me here. What’s his next step? What would he do when I... Wiccan Matt broke the silence that wasn’t awkward, not yet, but that was mainly because they all assumed I was deep in thought. “We... One of the holes in our experiences is a lack of a literary, someone well read who knows how stories flow. We can tell the Rogue is from a world where that knowledge is readily available, so we sent the Prime Indexer to find you, someone so steeped in stories, you can’t help yourself but predict where they lead. We need you to match him, to find the order in his actions, to find him, to stop­ You look mad. Why are you mad?” “Can’t you see? He played you perfectly! He wanted you to bring me here, to tell me all this! To show me this clip here and now! Can’t you see it’s a tr­” I bit my tongue. On purpose. The last word stopped before completely sounding, but I still flinched. My brain had finished its extrapolations. If this Rogue could predict to this point, then surely he’d know my first instinct would be a quote; the familiar words of the internet”s Aquatic Admiral of Ambush Accusations came easily to my tongue. Predictably easy. And the facts were there, weren’t they. Enough to prove that I was capable of playing the Rogue’s game. But was I his equal? The eyes of all were focused on me, still? again? one of those. But instead of anticipation, there was confusion. I took a deep breath, committing myself to a war I was not ready to fight. “Prime Indexer, how many Matts have seen Star Wars?” “Somewhere between sixty one percent to ninety seven percent. Since it’s an episodic media, the real number varies depending on which of the nine26 recognized movies you’ve seen.” “Return of the Jedi, then.” “Ninety five percent.” 26
One of the joys of the multiverse: each movie has been shot a thousand ways. Official Canon, according to Mattropolis, is the original trilogy, the Thrawn Trilogy, and the Solo Trilogy (Solo, The Courtship of Princess Leia, and Jedi Knights). Twenty three other films also have born the Star Wars name, but, while they have vast fan support, they aren’t universally recognized. “I thought it’d be up there. Gentlemen, I have grave news. During the renovations of this room, the Rogue concealed a voice activated bomb, designed to destroy the entire council in one fell swoop by triggering when a full council was in session.” Predictably, a bit of pandemonium ensued. ­­­ I’d read to you a bit out of the Grand Archival Index27 about weapons when you start dealing with multiple dimensions, but the it unhelpfully says “With infinite possibilities, all weapons are possible.” There might be more useless sentences,28 but they are rare. So let’s detour really quick into what weapon design means in Mattropolis. Think of a weapon. Any weapon, be it fantasy or science fiction, legend or truth, any bedtime story, tv show, video game. That weapon exists. There are Moljiners and lightsabers, phasers and Excaliburs, batarangs, bombchus and Blastoises. Any weapon that can be conceived of exists, somewhere out there. The real trick is finding it. We’ll talk about finding the right universe later, not to mention actually getting your hands on a Morganti weapon, when they’re illegal in the universe they’re from. Now, in the worlds where these weapons originated, there is a bit of balance. There is only one Orb of Aldur and only the king can wield it, or the power ring is counteracted by the color yellow. A +1 sword is countered by +1 armor. Sometimes its a tactics or a psychological thing. Keep your stone keep free of grass and other greens, for example, and the malevolent Thread won’t find a purchase in which to burrow below ground. Prisons evolve to counter any form of magic a prisoner might have. Balance, how ever uneasy is generally found. Adding in an extra piece of technology from another world, however, changes the equation. If you thought you could do something clever with a monomolecular blade of a impossibly forged katana, like the one Samurai Matt used to slice the solid stone table into strips, exposing the inner workings of the projector and the obviously added bomb, and gave that warrior a way to turn invisible, a way to walk through walls, or a way to teleport, well, that changes everything. The tech war between weapon and defense had always been slanted toward the attack, because it’s much easier to destroy than it is to create, but once the attacker can come from the infinite, conventional defenses become nigh impossible. Unconventional defenses are really you’re only way to go and those only last as long as your secrecy. Once someone learns of an exhaust vent port that leads straight to your main reactor, it doesn’t matter how good your other defenses can be, they will never be enough. And if you don’t know what your kryptonite is, start looking. Find every way you can to take down your own fortification. Because the only thing worse than the rebels or terrorists or invaders29 knowing your secret weakness is for them to know a 27
It’s kind of like Wikipedia For example, draw Geico’s motto of “Up to 15% or more” on a numberline. You’ll notice that it actually doesn’t give ANY indication of what type of number you’ll get in response. 29
Depending on exactly what type of hero you see yourself as, of course. 28
weakness that’s a secret even to you. The best way to keep the enemy force where you want it is to know what their goals are, what their motivation is. 30 ­­ “That should do it.” said Military Matt sliding the now diffused bomb over to the wall. “This Rogue feller is a tricky one.” “It is, how you say, fortunate that we have someone who knows how he thinks on our side.” French Matt had been helpful during the disarming. He seemed to know a lot more about bombs than any civilian really should. He studied the bomb, from a healthy distance away. “We’ll have it disposed of properly in a moment. But I feel we’ve accomplished a lot today.” A lot of heads bobbed in agreement with Ancient Matt. The fine little ritualistic details that mark a civilized bureaucracy went by quickly and soon, Matts of all kinds were standing and stretching and filing for the exit. Noir Matt was the first to reach the door, but he paused and turned to ask me a question. “What did he have the trigger words set to? I mean a man’s gotta know” The was a general murmur of agreement from the crowd. I’m never one to turn down an audience, so I stepped onto a scrap of the table, and once, I had their attention, gave the best impression I could of the Mon Calamari commander. “It’s a trap!” I proclaimed. Then the bomb blew a hole in the wall and knocked all of us over. ­­ `Staring out over the city of Mattropolis, it was a bit weird to see my face on so many billboards.We were probably five or six stories up, so it wasn’t exactly a bird’s eye view, but it gave me a good feel for the town. There seemed to be a lot of libraries and bookstores, at least in this district. I imagine that the various Matts would tend to group together by common interests. None of us were hurt, just a little bruised. Ancient Matt had to sit down for a while, but besides that we were fine. Military Matt had yelled at the French one for a minute or two for not disarming it properly, but he just waved it off, letting the words roll over him like the blueish smoke of his cigarettes. And of of course, the timing was as perfect as it could be. Seconds after Wiccan Matt stood, announcing that the Ancient Matt was fine to move, a missile31 flew in through the gaping hole in the wall. It didn’t explode, which I was expecting. Instead, it hit the floor, ricocheted into the air and hung there, making a bit of an odd humming noise. Then the tip of nose cone unfolded and lights began to flicker, projecting out from the inside. It took me a second to recognize it as a variation32 of the holographic projector embedded in what had been the table. 30
Sun Tzu said that. Probably. It sounds like something he’d say. I dunno, go read the Art of War. I’m sure it’s in there. I’m too busy to look it up for you. 31
Well, I say it was a missile. Those of you who have actually military experience might have a more technical definition. It very well could have been a rocket or even a torpedo, although I’m pretty sure torpedoes stick to salt water, just like crocodiles. 32
Instead of giving the images a bluish tinge, very Star Wars ­esque, everything was projected with a malicious red taint. Like the cover of Hunt for Red October. Guess what? My face again.33 It was the Rogue. Did I describe his voice earlier? I think I mentioned that it was my voice,34 but the Rogue took it to a new level. I never really worked on my ‘sinister’ voice. Matt, this Rogue one had put in the practice, in spades. He must have spent hours, talking to himself, letting his words echo with hate, practicing his vowels to get the inflection of contempt just right. He held his sibilants for just the right amount of time and put the perfect amount of air into his slightly trilled Rs. In other situations, 35 I may have applauded. “Hello, Matt. I see you’ve lived up to my expectations.Well done.” His mouth was somewhere between a smirk and a smile. I wished could see his eyes, but, well, that’s what masks are for, generally. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end, but I maintained my composure as best I could. I slid one foot forward through the dusty rubble of the floor and bowed. It lacked a cape and a hat with too long of a feather than a mortal bird could give, but, under the circumstances, it made me totally look like I knew what I was doing.36 Hopefully. In as steady a voice as I could muster, I returned the serve. “I live to please, good sir. But I am curious; since I have just recently learned of the game, I beg your word, how do you have expectations of me, a lowly beginner?” Movement, to the right. The witc­ I mean, Wiccan Matt had moved to the whole in the wall and looked out. Well, out and in, and up and down and even to the sides a bit. He was reaching a hand into his pointed hat before my attention was drawn back to the Rogue. He was laughing. It was a guffaw, if I had to label it. I could tell it was mostly for show, but there was some genuine amusement in there. “Truth, lord, but it is long since I’ve spoken the high tongue. Your name had not fallen on my ears, save in the way that all names echo in this place. Rather, in the undertaking of planting the seeds of your arrival, I knew nought save of some of your qualities: those you have met. The rest of you has exceeded the bar I set.” Wiccan Matt seemed to be waving a frog around the hole. I’m sure there was some chanting going on, and maybe some magical sound effects, like twig or maybe zim. 37Hopefully, whatever he was doing was going to be useful in the future, because I was done. Well, speaking in high style is addictive and once you get into a serious conversation, you can go for hours. But I had all my guesses confirmed, just by his 33
Seriously, it was getting a bit old. What does my voice sound like? How do you describe your own voice? Like your appearance, you never see it from the outside, naturally. I imagine that I have a very dramatic voice, with lots of changes in pitch. I also make a lot of references to other things and I’ll say the lines like the original, which probably comes off chaotic, if you don’t know the source 35
I am not above a good clap when a villain delivers a perfect line. for some reason, I haven’t felt the need for any hero recently. 36
I very rarely know exactly what I’m doing. The trick, however, it to fake it convincingly so everyone else is just in awe of your talents. Fooled you so far, right? 37
For those of you who haven’t seen me really get into it, there’s a lot of unwriteable stuff going on here subtly movements of hands, eyes, tilts of the head, as well as subtle vocal inflections. The game,sirs, is played by affecting not only a way of speaking, but the accent that lies behind, in truth, there is nought to be­ Oh, god. I’m doing it while typing in footnotes. Flee! Don’t let the monster get you too! 34
appearance here. The fact that we were matching each other in this ridiculous pseudo­medieval talk for so long was starting to scare me.38 “Exceeded, sir, I? How so? I have not given any thought to the matters at hand and have let the lots fall as they will.” “Two tests, friend, were prepared by my hand. First, the trap of situation, which your cunning is proven by the draft. The second, more impressive, was the trap of realization, which I judge to be surpassed by the fact that you stand amid the rubble. You have earned my respect, and, had you appeared at an earlier time, my machinations could have been diverted through the games we could play. But, alas.” “We’re all guys here, dude. What ‘machinations’ are you talking about? The terrorism?” During the Rogue’s speech, the Wiccan had carefully moved back around and had whispered to everyone in the room. Well, everyone besides me. I couldn't really find fault in that, but it was irksome. Did I need to stall more? Did we have a plan? Should we be begging for mercy? Should we be asking for his surrender? These are things you need to tell the party face. “Here, Matt, I’ll show you.” A wave of his hand and my view point changed. It took a second for me to understand what I was seeing, but then it came into focus. The broadcasting camera must have been in the city, somewhere. I was looking past a lot of the city I had gazed out on, except this time, I was the one center screen. Well, sort of. Physically, I was in the bottom middle of the screen, invisible and unimportant, hidden in the profile of the ParliMatt building. Above us, in the middle center, sat, well, I hate to say it, but, once again, there was my face.39 But this version of my face wasn't the standard “person with my face” that I was slowly getting used to. Oh no, this was something else entirely. “I call it my Headquarters, which I’m sure you’ll appreciate.” And I did. It was the only name a true Matt could give a floating citadel, shaped like my face. I’m sure it had impressive technical specs. Indexer could have scanned it, probably, and told the world, or at least us, how impressive it really was. It seemed to be at least the size of the building I was in, which loomed like a skyscraper over the city of Mattropolis. I don’t know how it was flying, how many soldiers it carried, or what it had for an arsenal, but I knew, with a knot in my throat, what was going to happen next. “You’ve been a welcome diversion, but I’m afraid it’s time to do this.” He pressed a button somewhere off camera,40 and the he waved. “Good bye, Matt. Sorry to cut your story short.” 38
For a few reasons, first, what villain would randomly talk like this? I’m not just commenting on his personality, but who has the time? Also, he was keeping up. Most people get bored of it really quickly. Also also: he was a scary person to talk to, on general principles. 39
Fun drinking game for NaNoWriMo: Each time I bring up my face like this, have a slice of pumpkin pie. (I don’t drink, so I'm not that great at making up drinking games) 40
Okay, he wasn’t actually on camera t the time, so it wasn’t exactly the same as doing something off camera. Also, i’m not sure it was a button. I heard a beep, but you can talk a lever or a touch screen beep, if you want to. Chapter 3 I smiled as the Laz­o­beams annihilated the ParliMatt building, all the way to the foundation. I’d probably have to rebuild it, but spectacles like that put the fear into the populous. Delicious, delicious fear. Fear is control. Fear is power. Fear is respect. Fear is the means to the end. A pity about that Matt, though. He was the first interesting conversation I’ve had in a long time. The Itsa trap had been in place for a whole week before I made that ridiculous speech. I thought Matts had a reputation for being clever, but the more of them I destroy, the less true I think that is. The com system chimed. A glance at the requisite panel told me another of the ‘clever’ Matts, the chief engineer, had another complaint. “Sir, the ‘o­beams are in a safety cooldown. I don’t know what you’ve had them doing, but they’re not built for it! They’re for sweeping away debris,41 not mining mountains! It’ll take an hour or two to bring them online.” “Take your time, Engineer. We’ve made our point. And we have other weapons at our disposal to subdue the locals.” I cut him off before he could complain about me classifying his bank of terawatt lasers as a weapon. Idiot. Why do so few of the engineer genius Matts realize their true potential? Weapons that can level buildings, force fields that can shrug off a nuclear detonation, engines that can bend space and dimensions with a whim. Well, if they won’t take advantage of their gifts, then, well, I guess its for my benefit. I never could have dreamed that standing in such a place of power would mean dealing with so many infuriating underlings. Back home, well… ­­ My world was not a world with super technology. As far as my spies were able to determine, it was a lot like that waste of a Matt who their ‘Prime Indexer’ spent so long looking for. A world with mediocre technology and only a slight amount of magic.42 I spent my days reading stories and dealing with idiots: Customers, co­worker, friends, family, acquaintances. Everyone I met was not worthy of my time and I vividly dreamed of letting go of the rules of civilized behavior and swatting them like the annoying mosquitoes they were. I longed for the lives I read in books, that I saw in movies, a villain grabbing for the world. A pity none of them made it. Life was dull, boring, pointless. Then he walked in. Through a wall. It was another version of me, a Matt, just like me. Only his world, he was a mediocre high tech super criminal, who couldn’t see beyond the next bank heist. He was looking for someone to take his place for an invasive investigation, where the authorities would scan his brain and pin the crimes found there to him. He had made a last minute escape, teleporting out with a pocket dimensional hopper. I matched the DNA test, the retinal scan, fingerprinting, the works. I was me, so they scanned my brain and locked my up for eight months for Visionary Manslaughter.43 Those months were a godsend for the two of us. The Matt of this world spent his time in his lab. Spared from being forced to run from the law, he put the time to good use, perfecting his equipment and processes for all things dimensional. I spent the time learning the science of this new world, which seemed 41
Debris is usually defined by the inspector. The size of your cleaning supplies is also a factor. Look to the appendix for a quick chart on what the levels of technology and magic mean! 43
Apparently, my daydreams of mosquito swatting were realistic enough to count as premeditation. But I got off light. My lawer proved I was killing people I had never met.At least, in this universe. 42
so magical. I learned the basics soon enough and developed a true objective. For the first time in my life, I knew what I wanted to do with myself, and, oddly enough, i was limited only by myself, just like all those self­help books claimed, in a way they never intended to. Good behavior was easy enough for me, and the parole officer i reported to monthly never thought that the self­loathing I felt was a symptom of a much greater crime in the works. As far as her petty brain scans, I was a changed man, who had given up on the world being bent to my whims through my scientific genius. Apparently, plotting to use someone else’s genius on another world doesn’t trip the same flags. Matt promised a place in his organization. When he failed to deliver, I took much more than that. He had left the business and social side of things to me, while he plotted inane attempts to “show them all.” My list of contacts increased, and soon, I had most of the supervillians of this world on speed dial.44 I watched the news, discussed their exploits with anyone I could find and bought pieces of their technology. I slowly learned the boundary of the impossible and how to recognize who went above it. During this time, I was hard pressed to keep Matt from spoiling everything. I would beg him to schedule his crimes with me, to use a proxy. to build alibis. It was hard work, trying to keep us under the radar, with little reward. He treated me like I wasn’t a real person, like I was a clone or a duplicator doppelganger.Finally, the straw broke the camel’s back. He went out for a petty rabble rouse, and when he came back, I had left. 45 I hopped around that same general vicinity for a while, meeting Matts. Most of them had never heard of multiple dimensions, much less travelling to or from them. I learned what I could from them, which was less and less from each one, although each jump seemed to be instructive, in and of itself.46 I was searching for something, but I didn’t know what. Then I came across a Matt who knew of Mattropolis. ­­ My Headquarters hovered over city. They hadn’t sent any representatives yet, but since I had just brutally killed all their representatives, I was understanding. I was sure it’d be either Mr. Organization, the head of the superhero guild or whatever exactly they were, or it’d be the Chancellor, head of the Mattropolis Interdimensional Collage of the Arts. Sure, there were probably a few other Matts here or there that had enough gumption to come and talk to me,47 but few of them had any authority to do actually anything. A 44
Some of them would even pick up when I called. Most said seemed more together in person. I claimed a form of bipolarism, with maybe a solid dollop of mania occasionally thrown in. All of them bought it. A few of them made perscription recommendations 45
I make it sound like we were a married couple who separated. It was not so heart breaking of an experience. For me. It was traumatic for him. I took everything I could when I left: all his research, his gadgets, anything i thought would have value. Then I sent the police a message. A laundry list of crimes, his crimes, my crimes, and any crime I could trade a scapegoat for anything I needed. All with photo evidence, video records, even a pair of opera tickets. A nice collection on articles and research on how to bypass brain scans and instructions on a crude memory erasure device ensured that they would throw the library at him He did not make it out unscathed. 46
Mainly, I learned that when you jump, you normally end up within a mile of where you’d live in that universe. Pretty useful, when trying to find yourself. 47
Where can you park a 500,000 ton flying death tower equipped with laser, missiles, and a squadron of attack fighters? Anywhere I want. cough caught my attention. I turned to the door. My butler, another Matt, of course, was waiting with an air of impatient patience that only the help seem to be able get just right. “If you would be so kind, sir, the kitchen staff has been holding your dinner for you.” I sighed. The weight of duty weighs heavy on the brow of the king. I stand, straighten my cape and mask, and head for lunch. I hate these social meals. I prefer to have my meal alone, with none of the pesky small talk that comes with meals at dinner. But, in order to make the sycophants feel like I take them seriously, the Head Chef selects four or five of them,48 and we sit down for a nice little lunch. Today’s affair started with a watercress salad, then moved on to a light fettuccine in a garlic cream sauce.49 It was delightful, although the conversation was mundane. All though Chef was adamant that business would not be the main point of lunch talk, a lot of conversation had to deal with our with our recent actions. “What I don’t understand,” said the Lord of Keys, a minor official in my household, “Is why there seems to be no response from the superheroes of their community. In all the tales I heard, superheroes are almost designed to deal with people like us.” Murmurs of agreement came from the others. Some looked worried, most likely ones from worlds with heroes and their legends. I smirked and held out my wineglass for a refill. “I can guarantee, my good man, that they won’t do anything to interfere. I made sure of it.” I took a sip of the nice fruity vintage.. The others around the table looked puzzled. “Milord… when did you do that?” I my smirk grew into a smile. and I signaled for dessert. ­­ My first stay in Mattropolis came six years before my current visit. If you’ve ever read the memoirs of any Matt when they first find the city, then I’m sure I don’t need to bore you with the shock of seeing myself in every face, on every sign, everywhere. I was fairly used to seeing one version of my face, however so many of them, was a bit overwhelming. I had nothing on me, save for a bag of stolen technology and a burning hatred of everyone I had ever met.50 I spent the first week taking in the lay of the land. I learned a lot about the commonalities between Matts, the small similarities that, in the end, make us the people we are. I found the college had a lab that was doing similar research to that of my old benefactor and cautiously, I approached them. They were annoying bunch, but they were good at their job. Remarkably good. The petty criminal Matt had only scratched the surface of a much deeper pool. With his notes, the Many Paths Society, as they called themselves, not only confirmed their own theories, but managed to push forward, expanding the horizon of what was possible. in regards to interdimensional travel.It may surprise you that I threw my lot in with them, 48
At random, supposedly, but I’m sure he plays politics, just like the rest. And because he makes such a wonderful lobster thermidor, he’s the only one I won’t kill without regretting it. Immunity is another form of power. 49
The Grand Archival Index reports that 98% of Matts like garlic. This is the most ubiquitous trait amongst our kind and some scholars believe its a source of why we’re so awesome. 50
To be fair, I also had a hatred for everyone I hadn’t met. I’m an equal opportunity loather. joining their team. I’m not much of a team player, but to hear the speculation and dreams of the team as we all idly sat around, waiting for an experiment to complete… It gave me hope. Not in that pesky “villain was actually just misunderstood, we’ve softened his heart” kind of way. Oh no. I remained committed to my sense of evil purpose. The fact that those years were quiet meant nothing. I was just temporarily adrift, needing only the seeds of a plot to anchor on to, to give me a place to stand to let me move more worlds than Archimedes ever knew. could ever exist My dreams were realized in the dreams of the self proclaimed Sandwich Scholar.51 A member of the Many Paths Society, he was adamant that his purpose in the multiverse was to have a sandwich made with every single possible ingredient. Some laughed at his childish dream. Some claimed that it was impossible. Some offered him a bite of their lunch, hoping they could help him out. To the laughers, he laughed along. He knew it was crazy. “It’s a dream. They’re supposed to be unobtainable.” was his standard response. To those who proffered their sandwiches, he would ask what was in it, check his little book, and see if it was anything he needed. And to those who claimed it was impossible, he’d pull out his little book, show them some equations and diagrams, present his list of rules, and show that yes, indeed, it was possible. His importance to me came from his research into the Potential Probe System, 52 a revolutionary concept that stemmed from his desire to find the best sandwiches. Before the PPS was initiated, you had two option in trying to find a dimension with a particular set of rules. First, you could sit down with a pencil, about six pages of scrap paper and spent hours plotting the Axises you wanted changed. There were formulae that would give you some sort of a control result. Feed that into your portal generator, and you had a portal to a universe that hopefully had the conditions you set, provided your math was right and you took into account all the variables. The other method was to open up a portal that was pointed in the right direction and hope you’d get a little closer and when it wasn’t exactly what you wanted, rinse and repeat. The PPS, however, streamlined the entire process. Instead of having to do tedious math or guess work by hand, they system did it for you. You’d enter some criteria and the computer would crank out the math and begin opening micro­portals, small enough that they cost almost no energy, just large enough to have the fabric of that universe tested to see if it met your search terms. If your search terms were simple, a world with a magic spell that caused a light to hover a perfect distance over your book, for example, 53 the computer could return the result quickly. But something longer, say, a world where the local Matt was slightly evil, a creative genius, willing to submit to my rule and capable of creating a flying citadel for me that could also shift into different dimensions instead of needing a portal, well… it took a month for the calculations to finish. With my future commissioned, I returned to biding my time. The estimation I was given was three years, but I was more than cynical enough about project timelines to not expect it to be finished on time. I spent my days working with the Many Paths Society, hiding backdoors in their software, taking their secrets, the usual insider corporate espionage. 51
Notable published works written by the Sandwich Scholar include A Comprehensive List of Sandwiches, Ingredients, and Side Dishes, The Earl’s Contribution to History, dealing with the historical impact of food between bread, and Seventy Miles Per Sandwich, his take on the travel guide. 52
I tried to make this into an acronym that had something to do with sandwiches. I didn’t try too hard, but I did think about it. 53
A spell available in any universe with at least a level of four. See the Appendix. What surprised me most was when I was nominated to be a member of the Grand ParliMatt. Not that I felt I wasn’t worthy, quite the contrary. In charge was where I felt I should be. I was more concerned that my facade would crack. Having to deal with problems from a whole city seemed like a great way to draw out a full blown rage state. I was also worried that my co­researchers had seen through me, but that was unfounded. They were all infuriatingly supportive. The political machine went on, unimpeded, and I was suddenly one of the seven ruling members of Mattropolis. I did consider changing my plans and taking over from the inside, but I decided against it. The goal wasn’t to take over, after all. Anyone can do that. The goal was vengence. The goal was blood. The goal benefited from some small legal changes that seemed beneficial to the community, but created some intriguing exploitable gaps in their civil process. Ones that wouldn’t be noticed until after I exploited them.54 They would probably patch a few of them, but I left as many as I could think of. But I could say with confidence over desert that the superheroes wouldn’t dare to confront me, not if they wanted to keep their licenses. ­­ Everyone was still lingering over their chocolate mousse, with occasional glances at me. They were wondering why I was so confident about the lack of interference, I’m sure. I try to share as little of my secrets as I can get away with. Not only does it add to my air of control and mystery, it also irritates the hell out of the younger ones.Just another perk of the job. I heard another of Jeeves’s small coughs. I runed, raising an eyebrow in his general direction. He stood at attention, as if he’d been waiting there for ages. “You have a communication, Sir. On the main board.” The main board referred to the large screens in my rather impressive throne room. 55 I stood, giving a slight bow of the head to the guests. “That most likely will be the Chancellor, calling to discuss my terms.Please excuse me.” I turned, giving my cape a small ruffle with my hand, causing it to flair out elegantly behind me.56 As I strode out of the room, I heard a wistful voice from the table. “I wish we could watch them surrender.” It was hushed, hoping I wouldn’t hear, I was sure. But it indicated to me I was not feared enough. There had been too much annoying talk. I was becoming “one of them”.57 I would have to be harsher in the future. ­­ I let the Chancellor stew on hold for a bit, as I made ready my preparations. The are careful considerations when preparing a show of force. Making the supplicative party wait, for example, is a trick common to world leaders and medical professionals alike. Its all about setting up dominance from even before the meeting begins. It took a minute to assemble the staff that should be present at the first official 54
For instance, did you know that if you’re a registered chicken farmer, you can legally bring concealed explosives into the city of Mattropolis during the months of July to September? 55
In addition to the large screens, I also had hologram projectors, a bypass control column for every technical system in the Headquarters, and a fold out autofilling jacuzzi tub hidden in a special panel in my hand carved mahogany throne. 56
This is the entire point of wearing a cape. 57
Or rather, they most likely felt they were becoming one of me, which is even more unforgivable. contact: my generals, my public relations team lead, even the head of my eager secret police. Each had to be placed just so, in relation with their importance and their place in the murky waters of our unavoidable internal politics. I had nothing to do with any of it. I munched on an apple as my seneschal sorted it all out. I don’t care for internal politics.58 I reviewed my demands, making sure I’d only need to read them off the paper if I wanted to.59 After about fifteen minutes of poking and prodding, we were ready. I raised four fingers to the communications chief. Being a bright lad, he matched my four and started slowly counting down, cutting the Matt in as he hit zero. That one needed a raise. “I apologize for the wait. I had to dismiss my staff for lunch when you took so long to resp­” It wasn’t the Chancellor, nor Mr, Organisation, My jaw hung open, stunned at the Matt before me. “Yeah, sorry about that Rogue. I’ve been having a good think, the last two days. Did you know that Mattropolis is is intentionally located in the slowest reality the founders could find? That seems strange to me. Anyway, its been a few days for me and I’ve had a good chance to really ponder matters. But enough about me, how was your lunch?” It was MATT! 60 58
I issued a memo stating I’d decapitate anyone trying to involve me or anyone using their rank in any internal power play, no questions asked. I fired anyone who complained about the policy and our efficiency skyrocketed. 59
Sometimes drama takes us strange places. 60
I love how this tells you absolutely nothing. Chapter 4 Look, in my book, defenestration should be your last resort in an escape plan, not the first initial element of it. Although, to be fair, Wiccan Matt’s frog waving was probably the true start of it all. As far as I can gather, he had looked out the window61 and seen the Death Face or whatever the Rogue called it. Suspecting trouble, he had come up with one of those crazy style “this just might work” type of getaways. His frog had croaked out the spell or enchantment or whatever to create an interdimensional portal62 that led to a specific universe, one he had set up long in advance. All Matts in the room realized what was going to happen a second or two before it did. When the button was pressed, Robot Matt threw me through the portal. Magic portals feel different from science portals. Sciency portals feel like a jarring step through a door, like when you think that its a step down, but its actually up a little. 63 Magic portals feel like you’ve been sucked through the void into the vast reaches of your own imagination, then squeezed back into reality through your own sense or self. Maybe the frog was feeling a little green around the gills. Who knows? It felt really, really weird. 1/10 would not escape through it again. ­­ Let’s take a quick minute to have a brief aside about time.64 Time moves at different rates for a variety of different reasons. Scholars of the Technomagic Coalition who have studied the phenomena postulate a particle called the chronit. The more chronits in a location, the faster the noted time moves. The base rate of flow is different from world to world, although even within a single word, certain areas attract a surplus of chronits, whilst other areas repel them. For example, compare how timeless those little hamlets in Europe are, compared to the “New York City minute.” Chronits, it has been said, are the only particle to be influenced by human emotion.65 When people are happy, or enjoying themselves, chronits gather, making time pass quickly. Conversely­wise, when folks feel ennui or boredom, chronits retreat, making time pass slower. Its not a question of perception. Time is actually moving differently. So why are we talking about this now? Well, the world Wiccan Matt had taken me to had an excess of chonits. Not a critical amount, but enough that I had plenty of time to look around before the others started to come through. To be frank, 66 I didn’t even think about them at all. I was too fascinated by what was before me. Picture a church. No wait, picture a cathedral. Yeah, that’s it. With lots of gothic looking arches and buttresses. Kind of a gray stone, possibly a granite building, although I'm not an architect or a stonewright.67 61
Or the hole in the wall, rather. Apparently, there is a large difference between magic based portals and the science based portals the Prime Indexer was using. To start with, magical portals can be subtle, appearing as only a few sparkles hanging in the air, at least until someone passes through, at which point it becomes opaque. Science portals aren’t as intelligent and open up a complete connection which is then capped with a filter. The filter, normally a rich swirly purple, keeps little things from crossing over. things like time, air, universal constants, things like that. 63
The REALLY weird thing is that it feels like its both at the same time. 64
See what I did there? 65
Excluding, of course, any form of emotion based magic 66
FYI, I’m Matt, not Frank. #dadjokes 67
I don’t even play one on tv. 62
Above anything else, it looked very, very imposing. The stone brick path I found myself on led straight to the door, so I did what seemed natural. I walked up to the door, and, after studying it a minute to make sure there wasn’t an electronic doorbell or a bell pull or anything like that, I lifted the heavy, wrought iron knocker and let it drop. CLANK! The sound rang out into the twilight air. Did I mention it was twilight there? Yeah, It had been full day back in Mattropolis with the sun shining brightly though just a few clouds. He, the last few minutes of sun were hidden behind a thick cloud cover, giving everything foreboding shadows with a touch of a blue tint. The door opened and I realized I was out of my depth. On a scale of religiousness, I’m probably a seven, maybe a low eight. Head to church every Sunday I’m not at work or unless I’ve been abducted to solve the problems of some interdimensional community. But in all of that, I’ve never had to deal with nuns. I know a few things, like they’re a sisterhood, their queen is an abbess and a bunch of them together is called a convent. The sister who opened the door glared at me a little, probably for not showing the proper deference by introducing myself first or something. “Who are you, traveller, who seeks entry at this time of night?” Huh. I hadn’t thought it was that late, but maybe nuns are strictly diurnal. “Uh, Hi? I’m Matt? This guy with a pointed hat sent me here?” I think were the words that I left unsaid. I talk a lot in case you hadn’t noticed.68 But I am pretty good about not saying everything. Sometimes. Wit is all about know what you should share and when. And occasionally, discretion is a better part of valor. When I mentioned the hat, with a hand motion indicating the tall pointyness of said adornment, the door opened fully and I got my first full look at a nun. It was exactly the experience I expected it to be. I don’t even know if I could have picked a particular nun out of a line up. Habits look exactly the same, on screen or off of it, it doesn’t matter. She opened the door wider and motion for me to come in. I complied, without too much hesitation. The twilight air was starting to feel a bit chilly and while I’m fairly tolerable of the cold, It was much more comfortable inside. Also, I didn’t know what it was, but the building smelled fantastic. Like a musty old stone library and… something. I turned to ask the nun what it was, but stopped before the question could escape my lips. Behind me, out the door, more figures loomed out of the dark. It was more Matts: French Matt and Noir Matt, carrying Ancient Matt between them. He didn’t look well at all. It struck me that if the portal had been hard on me, it’d have been worse for some me so advanced in years. The nun looked panic stricken and motioned for me to hold the door. I braced it open as she sped off down the corridor” “I’ll get the Abbess!” she called out from over her shoulder. I hoped these nuns could function after dark, because it looked like it might be a busy night. ­­ If I say anything else about Saint Constantine’s Sisterhood of Caffeinated Miracles, I want to make sure I get this point across: I’ve never seen a hundred people go from dead asleep to bustling and bursting with activity in so short of time as these nuns did. The have a peculiar mindset for a religious order. The assert that God didn’t really create the world in six days. He did it in six periods of wakefulness. I get where they're coming from. I personally define a day as the period from when I wake up to when I go to sleep. 68
Sometimes, I have to make you break reading the narrative to make sure all my random thoughts are heard. Sometimes, that’s only six hours long. My record is forty three hours. If these nuns are right and God did six thousand years of work in one session, well, my hat is off to him. Ancient Matt wasn’t the only one who had trouble walking into the convent by themselves. Robot Matt had been the last one through the portal,69 and he hadn’t entirely made it.The portal had gone all wonky as the building was being destroyed and his bottom half was distorted. The metal of his legs was fused together, and his wiring and servos looked like they had been squeezed like peanut butter through a plastic tube. The seemed to merged seamlessly with the metal.70 He had no movement or sensor response data from his lower half. The rest of us seemed to have gotten through okay. A few bumps and bruises, and French Matt complained a little bit about some marks left by Robot Matt when Frenchie was picked up and thrown through the portal. But we were alive when we were expected not to be. And that made us mighty. ­­ I was sitting on the balcony, watching the sunrise. I was down the hall from the infirmary, so I could hear people running in and out as a vague noise in the background. I had a cup of something fruity and caffeinated and was nursing it slowly. It had been a long day and the sun rarely marks the end of those kinds of days. After getting Ancient Matt to the infirmary, I went and help Samurai Matt with robo­surgery. It wasn’t as involved as I thought’d be, Robot Matt’s main body was mostly battery and motor controls. With the utmost care, the samurai cut away the molded plastic and fused wiring. Soon, the core was separated and a smaller Robot Matt was sitting on the table, looking cute and able to be easily moved around.71 It had been a long night. The hours before dawn were filled with a lot of thinking. Thoughts on the nature of evil, on the value of mercy, whether might makes right. The Prime Index had sat up with me, for a little, answering my inane questions as best he could. 72 None of them were really important. Asking random questions is one of the things I do when I’ve been trying hard not to think about something in particular, although my self distraction techniques never work one hundred percent. After every question, my mind would wander back to the forbidden topics: Myself, dying of old age in a bed down the hall,73 the rogue, sitting alone in a castle shaped like my head, how much i missed my little basement apartment. The sun rising over the moor74 felt very calming and very distancing, as if I was watching the scene from far, far away. “Do you want to talk about it?” The sudden words broke me out of my reverie. I turned to see Wiccan Matt, a drink in his hand as well,75 standing in just inside the alcove. He had changed out of the robes he had been wearing earlier and was now in a clean and simple linen shirt with some blue jeans 69
He had literally thrown a few of us. Wiccan Matt described it as a fifth level blending transformation. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but he was very impressed and talked about the studying the effect for reproduction. 71
The loss of the exosuit meant no motors for the cute little robot.footnote words: 2906 72
Apparently, I have a sixty four percent chance of passing as another Matt without any training or preparation, except with a quick trip to the bathroom with some trimmers. 73
Although the shock and the assassinas his general well being.ion attempt weren’t working toward 74
The fact these nuns intentionally kept a moor around for atmosphere and not any practical use put the hairs on the back of my neck on edge, 75
Although I noted that his was brown and steamy and mine was a rich purple. 70
below. They seemed a little anachronistic, but it looked good. He had some medieval indoor boot things on his feet. 76 He looked tired, but calm. Everyone looked tired. We were tired, but for good reason. It had been a long day and a longer night. I scooted over a bit and gave a small toss of my head, motioning for him to come join me. He did. “How is he?” Wiccan Matt had been by Ancient Matt’s bed for most of the night, giving orders and saying weird things while passing the frog over trouble spots. The Abbess and Sister Shennong, the infirmary matron, would give him disgusted looks of horror and disdain, but then glowy lights would happen and a fever would break.77 I wasn’t much use, although one of the orderlies recognized my impressively trained skills and had me move a table. I kicked a rock off the balcony. “Better. He’s stabilized, praise the Chordata, but his sleep isn’t as easy as I’d like. I’ve cast what spells I have, but a good sleeping draught would be best. Unfortunately, the nuns consider such things an abomination,78 so hopefully the natural sleep I tried to cast will last. Its not a specialty of mine.” I grunted my acknowledgement of his effort and of my hope for the future79 and looked back over the moor. I saw what was a fox or maybe a badger move behind a bush. I watched it for a minute, trying to see if it would come back out. It didn’t, not that I saw. “I’m sorry for the trouble.” I turned back to Wiccan Matt, surprised. He was sorry? In all the people I was trying to lay my guilt on, I hadn’t even seen the council. The Rogue and I were supporting it well enough, just the two of us. I could also see some of the Rogue’s henchmen or minions, maybe his trainer or parents or something, but the ParliMatt? “You haven’t caused me­” I started, but Wiccan Matt continued, running over me unimpeded, like a bulldozer over a homeowner, on its way to build a bypass.80 “No, it is my fault. Partially at least. When we sent the Prime Indexer out to get you, we weren’t unanimous about it. Frenchy and Patton thought it could be bringing trouble we didn’t need. Pie was suspicious, but cautiously for it. I was the biggest supporter in the ‘get you’ camp. I’m used to simply hiring consultants. In my line of work, there’s no way you can know it all. The point of being an expert is to be able to deal with things in your field. You’re an expert in stories. We had a clue, we followed the lead, it led to traps. If we hadn’t brought you in, the bombs wouldn’t have gone off, The Rogue would have attacked a different way, and you’d be home, living your usual routine. It’s my fault and I am truely sorry. 76
I spent a long time trying to find out the name of different kinds of boots for a costume. This is all that remains. 77
Or his breathing would ease or something else. I don’t know much medical terminology, I just know he would do something, the two would almost kick him out, the patient would get a little better because of his actions, and they’d grudgingly let him stay and continue 78
The Devil desires to put our minds and souls to state of sleep. Chemicals that make us groggy are obviously put on this earth by Satan to bind us with unholy sleep. 79
In a conversation between men who don’t really want to talk too much about the topic, why ad more than one syllable to your response? 80
Look, if you REALLY don’t get this line, you need to stop reading this horribly assembled pile of scrap and go read The Hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams's It is an AMAZINGLY assembled pile of scrap and I’m trying to channel as much of Mr. Adams's style as I can get away with. I’ll accept the movies, i suppose, but only under duress. I rolled that around in my brain a little, getting the feel of it. Yeah, I could see where he was coming from, but it didn’t feel right. He wasn’t blaming the enemy enough. I guess that probably made him a good person, better than me at least, but those definitions only work when everyone is just a regular guy. As soon as someone defineably evil enters the mix, well, then the good suffer more than they should. I yawned and took another sip. I rolled the juice around my mouth and trickled the liquid down the back of my tongue and into my throat. I felt better. More alive, at least. Today was the first time someone actually tried to kill me, I thought. It was an intriguing thought. A unique day. I’d come close to dying, before, and killing, too, I suppose. It always accompanied by a large surge of adrenaline. It was different, this time, probably because the knowledge of this hunter was all higher level thought. We weren’t tussling for a knife, he just blew us up a little, then destroyed a building after I had left. “When was the first time someone tried to kill you?” As icebreaker questions went, I didn’t think it was great, 81 but Wiccan Matt screwed up his face in recollection. “I was eleven, maybe twelve. There’s this small village, about, oh, ninety miles from here or so. This very world, actually. It’s rather medieval here, but as you can see from the sisters, there’s a bit of a modern outlook around. Even now, witches aren’t really a part of a ‘modern outlook.’ I don’t remember what I did, but some man from the church came around, claiming I was a witch and he needed to do things to save my soul. Well, I’ll cut the whole thing short,82 but it was the first time someone came after me for what I was. It wouldn’t be the last, oh, Chordata no. But it left its mark.” The fog on the moor was pronounced, now, but seemed to be thinning. It was nearing the waking hour, which meant the witching hour was probably over. I drained the rest of my cup, because I finish things like that more often than I ought to. Wiccan Matt stifled a yawn and I tried to do the same. He stretched a little, then a lot. “Man, I’m beat. C'mon, Matt, I’ll show you to the rooms the sisters set aside for us. The day will be here later, most likely sooner than we’d want, but that’s the price we pay for seeing the sunrise, right?” I nodded and followed. He led me inside, to an area of the cloister I hadn’t been to yet. 83 The rooms were cosy, with a pair of finely carved beds in each. The mattress, while not as soft as us modern folk are used to, did its job admirably. I laid in the one next to the big fluffy chair from where Noir Matt was slightly snoring,84 fedora draped over his eyes, coat, draped across him like a blanket. I was asleep as soon as my head hits the bag of pins they replaced my goose feather pillow with. ­­ As much as I’d love to start this new section with “the next morning…,” I’m a bit more realistic than you’d think. Plus,i’ve gone to sleep at eight in the morning. I know what the rest of your day looks like. Spoiler alert, you skip lunch. The next afternoon, I sat up and stretched. I felt tired and my head itched something fierce. I hate feather pillows. The people who make them always forget what I imagine to be a crucial part. Yes, I understand the concept: there’s a part of the feather thats soft. What people don’t remember, is there is a part of the feather that’s pointy.85 People shove both ends into the pillow a few 81
But I might test it anyway, just to see the looks on people’s faces. Leaving Author Matt comments helps make short stories appear out of the schlock. 83
Granted, the bits I had seen had been either at a run to the infirmary or the environs of the infirmary itself. 84
Do Detectives Dream of Missing Sheep? 85
look, we LITERALLY replaced using feathers as pens by making new points out of metal. That’s how sharp those things are. What, you thought they clung to the bird by static electricity? 82
thousand times and call it good. Maybe its just a karmic balance thing, but I always get poked and prodded every time I turn my head on one of those somnolent torture devices. My priorities upon waking up were an odd mix of firm choices, but fluid order. I needed a bathroom, preferably one with a bit more privacy than co­ed,86 some breakfast, preferably one with some of that purple stuff from the night before, and the other Matts, preferably in a healthier state than I left them last night. I headed out into the hallways, seeking my fortune. I found breakfast first, through the age old trick of following your nose. Fresh bread, which was a bit wholer of a grain than I make, but I never have the right type of flour, fresh enough cheese, a pale yellow number with a slightly nutty aftertaste, and some considerably not fresh enough jerky, that was hopefully from a cow. It was a bit too dry, lacking all the tasty, tasty preservatives that give us both flavor and texture. I broke my fast with a one two punch. With my face. Satiated, I politely asked the cook some directions to the facilities. Armed with knowledge, I ventured out to seek more fortune. ­­. Relieved, I found most of the other Matts in what appeared to be a storeroom. French Matt was sitting on a crate of potatoes, trying to covertly have a smoke. Robot Matt was sitting in a wheelbarrow, counting Military Matt’s pushups. Millitary Matt, was as you’d expect, doing pushups quite vigorously, if the metal man’s count was to be believed. His shirt was off and I could see the muscles rippling under Military Matt’s skin. He was very fit, enough to tempt a nun, perhaps, so being down here made a lot of sense. Samurai Matt was sitting on a pad set on the stone floor. There was a game board of some kind, I didn’t recognize the game, but he and Noir Matt seemed to be in the middle of an intense game. The Indexer was watching. I didn’t see Wiccan Matt at all. Ancient Matt was, of course, still in the infirmary. Role call complete, I stepped down the last remaining steps and through the doorway. No one seemed particularly shocked or surprised to see me.. No one seemed to care, which hurt more than it really ought to have. I carefully stepped my way around the various bags of vegetables and whatever else was down here and took a seat next to the Indexer guy. He didn’t look at me, but focused on the game board. The little stone pieces between the two were being slid around, at random, as far as I could tell, although Noir MAtt seemed a bit worried. Samurai Matt had an air of stillness around him; he was calm, collected, and unperturbed by anything that had happened. In an inconceivable level of timing, Samurai Matt somehow took the last piece he needed as Robot Matt’s synthetic voice sounded from where he was parked. “One. Hundred.” Military Matt stopped and stood, shaking his arms a bit. He picked his shirt off the ground, another one of those white linen numbers. I was still in my black t­shirt with a moderately witty saying on it, but it was hard to read. I needed a shower. And a laundromat. And a few other things from home. After replacing his shirt, Military Matt’s face grew serious as he addressed us. “As Mattropolis’s primary military adviser, I call this preparatory war room meeting to order.”\ ­­ 86
Oddly, I can’t seem to find an antonym for “co­ed” “Does he even have a body?” asked. Everyone turned and looked at me, with an incredulous raising of eyebrows and other indicators that what I just asked was stupid. And, yes, it sounded stupid, but it was just the leading question of something that had been occupying my mind in this dull meeting. This was my first contribution of the day, and I was rather proud if the thought. “I mean, we keep referencing ‘cut of the head and the body will fall,’ but is that really how we should be looking at this case? From what I’ve been told, the Rogue is nothing more than a terrorist with a fancy flying house. Where are his ground troop? Where is is his Navy? His force to , you know, actually take the city? He does have one of those, right?” I waited a bit of a smile on my face. I was really curious about the makeup of his troops. I may not be a tactical genius, but ‘ve won a few games of Risk. I can generally tell when a fight looks one sided. Silence on their part was maintained as I shut up, listening. My smile faded as these weren’t faces of people trying to decide if I could be let in on a secret, or the faces of someone deciding I didn’t need to know. Instead, they looked like the faces of someone who didn’t know where the enemy was, how big he was, or what he wanted. They honestly didn’t know. And that scared me. Chapter 5 Some people are superstitiously afraid of hospitals. Hospitals are where sick people go, they reason. Therefore, if I want to avoid being sick, I won’t go in. Other people cite the odd smells of disinfectant, the poor bedside manner, and the excessively large medical bills as good reasons to avoid the places and find a local quack or a frog waver.87 Me, I tend to stay away from hospitals due to the nurses. They get this look in their eyes when they see me, my hair all over the place, slouching, shirts I haven’t washed in hours… I can feel them judging me, finding me unclean, and dreaming of grabbing me, trussing me up, and dunking me in an all purpose disinfectant. It sounds unlikely to really occur, but I try to stay out of hospitals, just in case. Regardless, I slid into Ancient Matt’s room, into the chair beside his bed. “You wanted to see me, sir?” The nuns had propped him up in his bed, with a lot of plushy pillows. He looked cozy and a little tired. “I’m not a Headmaster, Matt. Not anymore. If I’ve learned anything in my retirement in Mattropolis, it’s that we’re all the same person, deep down. So no honorifics. I don’t need them to remind me who I’m supposed to be.” His rebuke made me want to put my head down, look at my shoes and mumble ‘Yes sir.’ but I fought the urge. That he had been involved in education didn't surprise me. His attitude about respect did. If there’s one lesson the youth of today are sorely lacking in, its respect. “You wanted to see me, Matt?” He smiled, sat up a bit straighter, and coughed a little. A noise out in the hall indicated that his caretakers had not abandoned him to my care, which was a little on the good side, a little on the bad side. It depended on what kind of secrets Ancient Matt was going to share with me. “Have they finished deliberating with their war council, silly as it is?” We shared a smile, the two of us. This was the man who ran an entire city, without ever raising his voice. I could feel the rapport building between us, even without having anything in common.88 “They’ve determined we need more information. So the others are going to try subtle routes. When that hasn’t worked by noon, I’m calling the Rogue.” Ancient Matt frowned at this. I could see him weighing the risks, coming to the same conclusions that we had reached in our long and tedious discussion. “Risky, but probably worth it. I worry for our hosts here. They’ve treated us so well, I’d hate for there to be repercussions.” Exactly one of the points we had reached. A vain attempt at teaching me the basics of interdimensional communication theory had yield poor results, except I knew a bit more about how they could track us. “We won’t make the call from here, for several reasons. The tech isn’t good enough, for one. Indexer knows of a tech heavy world a few jumps away. That should make it almost impossible for anyone to trace us back here. “ Ancient Matt nodded, looking satisfied. He leaned forward, sitting up straight. “Good planning, Matt. When do we leave?” I caught his arm, gently as I could, and eased him back prone. This was one of the parts that was going to be hardest to explain. 87
I love the concept of people who wave frogs to do magic. If I don’t get enough of it in this book, there’ll most definitely be something like that coming out from me in the future 88
Except for being us, I suppose. “We leave in the morning. You’re staying here. The Abbess insisted that you weren’t ready to leave yet. You need to be in peak shape. Who knows how much will need your guiding hand?” Ancient Matt sighed and slumped back into the pillows. “I figured as much, although I was hopeful. So, when you find out what going on, what’s your next move?” “Well, the council­” “No, not the council’s next move, your next move. Like it or not, i have enough experience in the world of stories to see you’re marked as the main hero. You know more of those tales, of course, But I can at least see its going to be up to you. So what’s your plan?” “I­ I don’t know.” And i didn’t know. I had stayed up most of the previous night, trying to come up with a plan or a strategy. Instead, I kept thinking about how the Rogue seemed to have all the cards in his hand, and I had nothing. I had no idea on how to proceed. “Good. Knowing that you don’t know is the first step of becoming an expert. Now, in these stories you read, what would the hero do in this situation?” This was a question I could answer. I closed my eyes and brought to mind all the stories I could think of, any that were in a situation similar to mine. Situations where the hero was defeated, where they stood against insurmountable odds, where the evil they were facing was well and truly evil. “The first thing they would do, well, it would be to give the Rogue a chance, an opportunity to redeem himself, to give up easily.” I felt good about the answer. I knew what Ancient MAtt would say later, that now I had a course outlined, I should go do it. But once I started the first step, I felt peace come to me89. It didn’t solve everything, but it made the future more tolerable. I had a foundation on which to build and that was more than I had before I walked into the room. “Good. That is the action of a good man. Its important, when fighting evil, not to give in to lower tendencies. If we become as bad as our foe, haven’t they won? So, if he agrees to surrender, out in a fit of consciousness, we’ll proceed as needed. but when he refuses, what would a hero do then?” Let’s see, the villain is in an fortress, possesses superior firepower and knowledge, and also will know we’re coming, sounds familiar enough.90 “Then they would assemble a rag­tag band of eclectic characters to take the fight to him, defeating him in his place of strength. And everything would work out well for the heroes, with parties and gifts and heart’s desires.” Of course, sometimes, Frodo doesn’t get to go home to the Shire. But that just complicates the recruiting pitch.91 “And if the Rogue knows what you know, what would he do to stop this future from occurring?” Now that was a good question. And the answer, one the council came up with earlier, was that we didn’t know 89
This peace was heralded by a knot of tension in my chest suddenly releasing the pressure. It was probably peace and not that odd cheese I had for breakfast. 90
Star Wars crossed with the Wizard of Oz. I would go see the star wizard of Oz. Jawas and droids and wookies, oh my! 91
Travel the multiverse, See the sights, kill yourself before you kill you! enough. The Rogue probably had spent time researching how the walls of the universe worked.92 I had a bit of a guess. With what I had heard of the Axises, my theory was that there were some worlds where endings work out happy, with the small troupe of heroes defeating the villain. if that was one of the potential boolean flags of the universe, then in the Rogue’s place, I would move to an evil­verse, where the good guys can’t win, no matter what they bring to bear.93 I explained this line of reasoning to Ancient Matt. He listened intently, nodding at the places he was sure of, frowning at the parts he wasn’t confident of their veracity. “I think you’ve thought it all out, as far as you can from here. We need more information. Start there. And remember, no matter what happens, you’re the hero here, and here, in this room, you’ve laid out a general plan for how you’re going to win. Don’t forget that. Good luck.” With that, I stood,gave him a bit of a bow, and walked out, my head a blaze with thoughts that could eventually be plans. ­­ The whole of the convent turned out to wave us goodbye. Or rather, wave goodbye to Wiccan Matt. There was a story there, one I hadn’t caught entirely. Something about an army, a curse, and saving the parish. They seemed rather sad to see him go.94 Ancient Matt was standing on the balcony, supported by French Matt. He had jumped at the chance to stay out of the line of fire, even if it meant the rest of his cigarettes would have to be consumed in small stealthy sessions. Regardless, the rest of us were headed out. Out of respect for the monastery, we weren’t going to make the first jump until we were an hours travel away, just to help with keeping the hunters off of anything remotely related to our scent. Indexer looked a bit out of place, standing up to his ankles in mud, trying to enter the needed requests on his wrist mounted portal control. His blue trousers and collared shirt were wrinkled and splattered with mud, but he held his head high. Robot Matt watched over his shoulders from the backpack style carry rig we had worked up. He didn’t weigh too much and the prime Indexer had volunteered. Finally, with confidence, he finished the final sequence and the portal blossomed into life. The world beyond was much warmer and a lot more humid. I was hit with a wave of wet air as soon as I stepped through and I felt sweat immediately bead up on my skin. I don’t like humidity, really. Those of us with larger stature are generally the same. I prefer the dry and cold, for several reasons. First, its inescapable. Its much easier to warm an area up than it is to cool it down. Also, theres only so many layers you can take off when it gets hot. You can always put on more layers or a blanket or something.95 I could tell everyone who came through the portal were bothered by the heat, same as I was. The area we came out into seemed to be a clearing in a large wooded area. I hesitate to call it a jungle, but the lush greenery and the sauna like conditions seemed ot indicate the possible was not remote. One by one, we came through. Once everyone was through, Indexer killed the portal with his wrist controls, then poked at it again. He frowned at the results, and gave it another good prodding. Another frown. 92
I would have. The reasons heroes tend to win in our stories is that they just do. We can’t fathom a universe where that’s false, because its deeply ingrained in us. 94
They had been happier to see him than nuns should be at his arrival. 95
We’re assuming, of course, that this isn’t some life or death situation. Just standard everyday living. Things change when its the other way around. Then it becomes survival over comfort and the hotter climate tends to be the more survivable. 93
“Apparently, theres some interference. Nothing drastic, but it drained my power cell more than it should have, and I don’t have enough of a charge for making a portal to move on to the next jump. It’ll recharge, but it’ll take an hour or so. Unless theres some way to get around the interference, we’re here for the day.” The rest of the party took that in, solemnly. While none of us were really opposed to a bit of walking, 96 we weren’t looking forward to doing so in this heat. “You know,” I said jokingly,” if this was a story, we’d be attacked by dinosaurs or something right now.” As soon as I said that, there was a rustle in the bushes. Everyone leapt to the ready, except for me. I’ve seen enough movies to know that level of ironic timing normally results into a bunny rabbit or some such to cause everyone to let down their guard. Except when the writers go for the double psych out. It was big, scaley, and headed right towards us, mouth open wide. ­­ The creature coming right towards us could very well have been a dinosaur. I mean, anythings possible. I backed away from it as fast as I could. It seemed to be confused by us, whether that was due to our number, our actions, or our smell.97 That confusion gave us enough time to get into a better position. For me, I’m sad to say, that position was halfway up the nearest tree with a low enough branch. The Prime Indexer was gracious enough to also flee a little in some semblance of terror. The others drew weapons. Samurai Matt was as fast as a samurai should be. His monomolecular katana sliced across the scaley skin of the beast, leaving a gash in its mottled green skin. The beast roared and turned, rounding its terrible maw on Samurai Matt’s unprotected back. And it would have not been good for us, except for the covering fire. “BOOM!” Noir Matt’s peashooter was lost under the booming roar of Military Matt’s powerful hand cannon, a large pistol he had to hold with both hands. the recoil from the massive slugs still caused him to stagger back. The death lizard flopped backwards from the force and landed in the mud. Samurai Matt was there with the follow up, and the creature’s head was suddenly on vacation from its body. 98 It landed in the mud nearby with a bit of a sickening thump. Samurai Matt cleaned the blade and sheathed it again, just like all those samurai you seen in the movies. it felt natural for him to do so. With Noir Matt and Samurai Matt standing alert, Military Matt knelt down in the mud and examined the creature. He poked and prodded at its skin, at its jaws, at its feet. I don’t know what he was looking for, exactly, but after a moment, he stood, methodically sweeping the edges of the clearing with his eyes. 99 96
All of us, except for Indexer, were dressed in what I was thinking of as medieval casual. Coarse linen shirt, undyed. Jeans, if we had themt, or rough pants of some brown material that didn’t look too comfortable, and whatever shoes we had with us. 97
Whether how different we were, or the fact that running water hadn’t been invented in the last universe. Your pick. 98
It sent a postcard, saying “Wish You Were Here...” 99
All of us were watching, in our own ways.. The samurai. kept his focus solely on where the beast had come from. I finished climbing up my tree, using it as a look out for motion in the deep woods. The detective would point his gun into the trees, then do a half turn and point it in a new direction. Wiccan Matt was holding a frog to his forehead. The robot’s head was rotating non stop, spinning so he could scan in all directions. The only one not looking was Indexer, who was messing with his bracer. Confident he hadn’t missed anything, he holstered the weapon. You could feel the tension and adrenaline drain out of the group as the all clear was sounded. “This kind is a loner, very protective of his territory. We’ll have a bit of breathing space before anything will wander in on us.” We all soaked this in, then Noir Matt spoke. “I move we get the hell out of here as soon as we can. I don’t want to be here after dark. What’s our timeline, Joe?” The Prime Indexer looked down at his controls, made a face and then an estimation. “With all the interference, I’d guess it’d be about three hours. As far as I can tell, though, we are getting further away from whatever anomaly is causing the distortion. If we continue to head south and uphill, we could get clear enough to jump in less than an hour.” Military Matt nodded. “Any objections?” There were none. We started walking. ­­ At the top of the hill was another little clearing, this one much drier than the last. By clearing, I didnt mean we could see the sky. The tree cover was still much too dense for that, but there was perhaps a fifteen foot circle free of logs, trunks, and roots for us to sit down in, for a minute at least. We had been walking for nearly an hour and I’m sorry to say, but my feet were killing me. I mean, I‘m on my feet all day for work, but trudging through the mud, in the heat and humidity, uphill, constantly on guard against possible dinosaur attack, well, that’s a horse of a different color. We were sick of this world. Sick enough that when Indexer announced that he could successfully create a portal, there was an attempt at a cheer. Not a good attempt, mind you, but we were grateful. It had been a long day and we were glad for it to be over. With no fanfare, Indexer activated the sequence and the door to a cooler, , cleaner, more civilized world opened and we all went through, quickly and gratefully ­­ Unbeknownst to us, our passage had not gone unnoticed. The sounds of us fighting the lightning lizard had drawn attention of a familiar type. A Matt had been watching us, stalking us through the jungle. He moved silently, perfectly at home in the lush jungle. He crept across the leaves and branches without making a sound, watching. Our speech and manner of dress were beyond him. But he respected how quickly we dispatched such a fierce predator, and how two of our number could coax invisible spears out of odd shaped rocks. But fear won out over curiosity, and Savage Matt never revealed himself to us.. It was beyond his comprehension when the portal opened. He didn’t understand what it was, but he saw what it did and he knew what it meant. And the next time he saw one, he knew what needed to be done. ­­ The next world felt like home, even though it wasn’t. It was just a medium technology world, with low magic. It looked to be about the 1950s. Old Fashioned cars and men who wore their mustaches like they wore their hats: out of the way of their pipe. We were in the middle of some suburban copy and paste­a­dice, down even to the cars in the driveways. The sun was just starting to set, and, lucky for use, not many people were out and about. We stood out like two hands of sore thumbs.100 Military Matt was the first to act. “Froggie! We need to blend in! Index, find us a place to catch showers and shut eye. This looks like a safe place, but so did the jungle. Don’t let your guard down.” Everyone nodded. Indexer started tapping stuff on his bracer again and this time, i was close enough to see his eyes glowing with some sort of ocular implant or contact lense screens. He started scanning the area or checking a database or something. Wiccan Matt pulled out his frog and started waving it around. After a a moment, glowy specks started swirling around us. How do I describe the first time I was under a glamour?101 First off, the swirly spark that landed on me had flown around the group colliding with the other sparks and growing larger. When it was about the size of a quarter, it bee­lined for my forhead. I recoiled, a little, but it was too quick for me to dodge. Its impact wasn’t the bullet strike I had supposed. It felt more like when you press a dollop of silly putty on your forehead:102 All the force went out of it and it began to flow. But it wasn’t the small bit of fluidity of the aforementioned silly putty. THis feeling of being coated in something went from the spot on my forehead and spread, across my face, across my head, down the back of my neck. It creeped over my shoulders and down my back. It spread over my arms and legs and I was entirely cocooned. I opened my eyes and looked, but all that I could see over me was a faint shimmer, as if I had a very light encounter with some glitter and some of it had stayed behind, all over me. The others, however, looked different. I can’t really describe it. If I looked at them closely enough, I could see through it, but at a casual glance, they just looked like they fit. They were all dressed in garb that looked a lot more reasonable, their clothes, while a little dingy, looked like they had just gotten out of a good game of rugby, instead of people who had marched through the jungle for an hour and a half. A distinct improvement, one that was less likely to get us thrown in jail. Indexer looked up from straightening the cuff on sleeve.103 “I’ve got something. A Matt, not two blocks away. And were in luck. He’s been to Mattropolis.” I could definitely see how that would be good luck. I’d hate to have to try to explain the four of us suddenly showing up at the door, looking for a bath and a place to crash for the night, to a Matt who hadn’t heard of the great city at all. I wasn't looking forward to trying to explain this to a Matt who did know the city. We followed where Prime Indexer led. ­­ We waved goodbye to the Wilson Family in all their 50s glory. They were truly happy, those four, and it was a shame to have to go. Mrs. Wilson, although she faltered momentarily when she learned that some of her husband's extended family would be staying for the night, recovered graciously and what the 100
That is to say, four sore thumbs. Robot Matt in his micropack was part of Indexer’s weirdness and didn’t count as his own individual thumb. 101
A glamour is a technical term for an illusion spell that changes how people perceive things, not how things actually look. Used notoriously by vampires, not designed to fool security cameras. On the positive side, it is one of the cheapest magical effects to maintain. Essentially, the spell makes everyone who looks at the thing think ‘Oh, its one of those.’ Depending on what you’ve defined as you ‘those,’ no one will bat an eye, unless of course they have sufficient magical training to see past the spell. 102
Other people have done this, right? 103
Which is what the glamour made it look like he was doing, instead of messing with his bracer type of hostess they sell stories of to toy companies who want their new line of dolls to sell. She knew a bit of her husband’s back story, of course, and had even visited Mattropolis, once upon a time. She bustled around the kitchen, the laundry, and above all, went above and beyond what any housewife should have to go through on short notice. Mr. Wilson was a solid gentleman, as straight as a rod and as honest as they come. He opened his house to us as soon as he recognized what we were. No questions asked. He proved to be a good conversationalist, and he and Military Matt had stayed up later than they should have, smoking their tobacco and discussing the problem of today’s youth. 104 I impressed young Susan by being able to tell a story off of any prompt she could name. Michael came home, excited by the from he had found; Wiccan Matt pulled his out and they compared the two. I don’t know how fun it was for the witch, but Mikey seemed to have learned a lot. We left them, cleaner than we were, more relaxed than we had been, with good solid directions for jumps on major jump points. We also left them with a small pile of Mattbucks and a cross dimensional transceiver. If they ever needed anything, they could hire a few days of man hours from Mattropolis or any of the outlying Mattvilles. The next jump was to a jump routing station. From there, it was familiar territory105 and we were ready for the hard part to begin. 104
An issue that transcends worlds, time, or even species. The next generation is never as good as we were. 105
For the rest. I was still lost. Appendix A: This information is used with permission from the Technomagic Coalition, an organization spanning many layers of the multiverse, dedicated to the research and cataloging of all information regarding the two branches of humanities interactions with the universe. This article was published in the Journal of Fascinating Boredom, Third Month, 1190 ACS. These results were arranged after studying and classifying world from many points in time, in many many dimensions. Levels of technology: ­1: A lower level than possible. Mostly a theoretical assessment level. Technology brought here will collapse and fall apart. Nothing over a simple machine will work. The Technomagic Coalition discovered when experimenting they could artificially bring a region’s technology level down to this level. All technology in a 30 unit radius, including synthetic fabrics and cosmetics, reduced into component parts. Much consternation was to be had. 0: The default of animalistic nature. No tools are used, no weapons are used. Humans are in their base state, large bipedal naked apes. Languages tend to be primitive, if existent and communities have yet to form beyond basic familial clans that scavenge for their food 1: With the creation of primitive stone tools, man moves up from an animal. Weapons bring down his enemies, the hunted become hunters. With fire, the night is not a time for fear, but a time for work. With crude clothing made from the skins of beast, humans can brave the elements, spreading further, healthier than before. Agricultural cultivation, with tools to till the earth and harvest the crops allow communities to thrive. Language is firmly in place. 2: The fires of the forge bring forth the Earth’s bounties in the form of harder weapons and more efficient tools. The simple machines begin to be used, wheels clatter down dirt roads, levers and pulleys allow a man’s work to be multiplied. Cities thrive and large structures are erected. 3: At this level, man begins to see that work is not restricted to his hands alone. Enter the windmill, the water mill, the horse drawn carriage. With less manpower required to feed the populace, the arts prosper. 4: Fire to feed it, steel to contain it, steam powers the world. The world shrinks in size as ships and trains give speed to bring people and products through the world. Smoke stacks belch as products begin to be massed produced. 5: Taking cues from natural effects like static and lightning, mankind taps into the power of electricity. Food begins to be easily preserved with refrigerators and freezers, changing economics and social life. The lightbulb allows man to break from setting their lives by the sun. Telegraphs also allow information to pass long distances quickly. 6: With the creation of Internal Combustion, vehicles are no longer owned by corporations, but by the every man. heavier than air flight becomes conceivable. 7: The discovery of the radio is a simple invention in principle, but its ramifications are long term. Music and information are able to be sent to mass markets. Two way communication, without the limitations of having to run miles of cables, change the face of war and business. Television provides new markets for entertainment and propaganda. 8: The computer allows large, complex numbers to be calculated quickly. But as the components become cheaper, more and more computers are available to first business, then the consumer, then they’re included in every gadget imaginable. Smartphones, smartcars, smartshoes, and so on. Computer graphics and video displays become increasingly real, and the abilities of computers to read user desires make the world more accessible than should be possible. Robots begin to replace more and more jobs, freeing mankind to live easier lives. Nuclear power and nuclear weapons compete with space travel for budgetary considerations.. 9: The future is now. Medicine can work miracles and, barring unforeseen circumstances, it’s not unheard of for people to live for a century or two, easy. Manufacturing and design is left to the robots and computers. Nanites, or microscopic robots, allow items to be assembled, disassembled, repaired and reconstructed at the nanoscopic scale. Colonies on planets in our solar system thrive. 10: Faster than light drives, teleportation, thought projection, the creation of new, hybrid life forms. Anything is possible, so try not to stand in the way of SCIENCE! Levels of Magic 0: Worlds without magic are drab and bleak. The underdog never wins, there is no beauty in the sunrise, luck has no place against the cold harshness of reality. This phenomena has been observed to be artificially created in situations where individuals or even entire civilizations feel there is no hope for the future. 1: Worlds with a small level of magic are vastly improved over Level 0 worlds. Colors are brighter, the sunlight is warmer, the stars at night go on forever. There is always a chance at victory, it never hurts to try. Sunrises and sunsets are filled with beauty and power. While no spells are actually able to be cast, everyone can feel its influences. In clinical trials, subjects reported that the transition from black and white to color in The Wizard of Oz adequately matches the feeling of moving from a Level 0 to a Level 1. It is also noted that theoretical emotional state known as “true love” or “love at first sight” can cause specific individuals to have their personal magical level move up to Level 1. It is unknown if this increase effect holds true if the subject starts with a magic level above 1. 2: At the second level, spells are able to be cast by a small part of the population. These charms tend to be small effects, often simple wards or tracking spells with a range less than a mile in most cases. The basics of alchemical theory, the motions of magical energy, and how to prepare one’s self for the channeling of that energy are developed at this level, mostly through trial and error, with errors often costing the life of the experimenter. This danger to themselves and people around them 3: As mages become more prevalent, magic becomes a good deal safer. Instead of learning spells in secluded laboratories and researching far away from the populations, experienced mages take on promising young lads, lads who might become trouble if not given the tools of control, shaping them into experienced mages. Spells become a bit more complex, divination allows for disaster to be averted, while other spells let healing push past what the normal body can do. While a single mage can change the fate of a skirmish, changing the destiny of a country is still beyond them. 4: More and more people learn little magical cantrips that they use in their everyday life, whether or not they’re a trained mage. Those who train at magic are powerful. If unchecked, they can cripple and destroy large armed forces single handedly. Military forces clamour to sign on versatile magic users, ones who can provide both offense and defense. Healers are able to regrow lost limbs and bring people back to life from the brink of death, but no further. Magic is taught in schools, with one teacher to twenty students, teaching the rudimentary skills. Around half of the population can use magic, in some shape or form. 5: The amount of people who can use magic has skyrocketed. About ninety percent have some ability, causing resentment in the rest of the population. Magic is taught within the public school system, and is a large part of society. Weather is controlled instead of predicted. Death can be reversed if got to quick enough. Talented individuals can fly on the wings of magic. 6: 7: 8: 9: 10: At the 10th level, reality can be reshaped on a whim. Any desire can be immediately granted, albeit with potentially dire consequences (not guaranteed). Individuals born in a Level 10 world are often seen as deities with unachievable power to those of worlds with levels lower than about 7. Above that line, they are seen at a distant, yet achievable level of power. Some legends claim the djinni are from a Level 10 world that became bored with their utopia and distributed themselves to less magical worlds.