Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: July 26, 2141

Click here for the previous installment...
Click here for the 2017 table of contents.

“Well, I didn’t want to go with the obvious reference and tell you to run from the creepy walking mannequins,” Vearden began as he was leading them into something he called The Crossover, “but as you can see...” He presented his surroundings with his arms spread wide. “...it really is..bigger on the inside.” They were standing in the middle of a two story room that looked not unlike a hotel ballroom.
Mateo couldn’t help but stare at him, rather than the extradimensional marvel. He wanted to ask him how he was still alive, but clearly this was a past version of him. It was against the rules to reveal anything about his future.
Vearden picked up on his curiosity. “I’m not the Vearden you knew. He followed you into this reality you created when you killed Hitler. I’m the one who was born to it; the native, if you will.”
“Oh,” was Mateo’s only response.
“Why aren’t Lincoln or the others here with us?” Serif asked.
“They’re not part of this,” a woman said as she was walking down the steps. Another woman was walking through a door on this level.
Vearden reached up to the one on the steps and took her by the hand. “May I present to you my lovely wife, Gretchen Wallace. Well...the other Vearden’s wife. We met later, but technically I never married her.” He then walked backwards to present the other woman like a prize on The Price is Right. “And, of course, our associate.”
She lifted her hand to shake Mateo’s. “Ashton Martell.”
Suddenly everything changed. Ashton was still standing before him, but he was now on the floor. She had a gun trained on him, using her other hand to wipe blood off her face so it wouldn’t get in her eyes. She looked completely prepared to shoot him. He was already in a great deal of pain in various parts of her body. “What the hell is going on?”
“Shut up!”
Mateo looked around, hoping to find answers. They were in a different room now. Vearden, Gretchen, and somebody in scrubs were hovered over Serif on a table, performing some kind of ad hoc surgery on her. He tried to get up, but Ashton knocked him down just by tapping his very wounded shoulder with the butt of her pistol. “Tell me what happened!” he pleaded.
“I said be quiet!” Ashton ordered.
“Mateo,” Serif struggled to say in a hoarse voice.
Mateo tried to get up again, but Ashton smacked him in the face. “Let me up!” he screamed. “I need to help my...partner!”
“You’re the one who stabbed her, asshole!”
“I would never do that!”
“Ashton!” Vearden yelled while trying to hold Serif down, who was now convulsing. “Ashton!” he repeated.
“What!”
“Come assist Doctor Epiphany. I’ll talk with our friend here.”
“Vearden,” she started to argue.
“Now!”
Ashton reluctantly reset the hammer, and did as she was told.
Vearden took a deep breath and approached Mateo, who instinctively slid backwards on the floor. “What is your name?” he asked.
“Mateo. Mateo Matic. Is she gonna be okay?”
“What is the lasts thing you remember?”
“We walked into your weird...TARDIS thing, and you started introducing us,” he answered. “Then I was on the floor.”
“Banana hammock,” Vearden said deliberately.
“What?” This was no time for jokes.
Vearden closed his eyes in relief, and then reached down to help Mateo up. “Thank God you’re back.”
“Where did I go? What is this, Vearden?”
“You remember how Gilbert can possess people?”
“This was The Rogue?” Mateo questioned. It was possible that some earlier version of the guy could have showed up in the present and wreaked havoc, all before Gilbert showed his true colors, and effectively switched sides.
Vearden shook his head. “He’s not the only one who can do that. He’s just the only one from your universe.”
My universe? How many universes are there?”
“Including Ashton’s?”
“I guess.”
“All of them.”
“What?”
“Take off your shirt,” Vearden instructed. “Serif needs blood, and as she originates from you, yours is the most compatible.
Mateo agreed, letting the doctor take as much blood from his arm as she needed. Serif’s condition gradually improved, and the chaos was set aside. He remained at her side, waiting for her to wake back up. Ashton was giving him the stink eye in the corner, spinning her gun around. Vearden was talking to the doctor off to the side.
“Are you sure I can’t offer you some healing nanites?” She held up a small transparent tube, filled with a gray powder.
Vearden smiled warmly. “Thanks, Haven, but no.” He looked to Serif. “Her people wouldn’t allow it. Mateo’s blood should work. She just needs time.”
“And drugs,” Haven added. She took out a plethora of pill bottles, and handed him a slip of virtual paper. “This will tell you what to give her when. Are you sure you don’t want me to stay?”
“The worst is over. I shouldn’t have even contacted you. You can’t tell the SDS about this.”
Haven started walking away. “Not my universe, not my jurisdiction. And certainly not theirs.”
“First door on the left. Gretchen will let you out.”
“Who possessed me?” Mateo asked after the doctor had left.
“Sure about that tense, Bro Montana?” Ashton asked accusatorily. “Maybe he’s still in there.” She closed her nondominant eye and pointed the gun back at him.
Vearden stepped between her and Mateo. “It’s over, Ash. I don’t know how the fuck he got in this building, but I’ve placed a service call to Danuta. She’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Ashton hopped off the counter, leaving her gun on it. “I’m thinkin’ my services are no longer required. I’m thinkin’ you should take me back to my brain.”
“That wasn’t our deal.”
“Daniela is waiting for me.”
“This is a time machine. She hasn’t been waiting for even one second.”
“I have!”
“Ashton—” he tried to reason.
She interrupted, “I’m not gonna marry someone half my age. Every minute I’m stuck here, I’m not with her. Take me home.”
“You owe us.”
“And I paid off that debt when I didn’t shoot your boy in the head.” She gestured  towards Mateo.
“We don’t know if that would have killed him. But it definitely would have killed Mateo.”
“Not my universe, not my problem,” she paraphrased.
“His universe effects base reality, which effects your universe. So get with the goddamn program. After we go back to the Fosteans, I have two more jobs for you, and then I’ll take you wherever you want to go.”
She grabbed her gun and placed it at her forehead, then swept it forwards in a morbid salute. “Sir, yes, sir!”
“I’m gonna need you for this, Martell!” he called to her as she was storming off.
She raised her hand and flipped him off without turning back around. “In no reality do I spend anymore time with those bloody anarchists. I expect you to erase my memory in full before this is over.”
“Vearden,” Mateo said after she was gone. “Ya gotta help me out here. I feel like I’m watching the series finale of a show I’ve never heard of.”
“You called this the TARDIS,” Vearden started to explain. “That’s not the worst analogy. But we don’t just travel through time. We go to other universes.”
“She said something about her brain.”
“B-R-A-N-E. Like membrane? A universe is not like a reality. It’s entirely separate. This is one of the few things that can traverse them. The guy who possessed you can do it on his own.”
“Because he’s a choosing one.”
Choosing ones don’t exist where he’s from. He’s an anomaly.”
“Is he gonna do it again? Is he gonna take me? How long was I out?”
“A day. Your whole day. And I’m working on stopping that from happening. I reached out to Sandy Clausen. Hopefully, she’ll—”
“Who are all these people? A wife, an indentured servant, a TARDIS repairman? Have you just been running around to other universes—or branes, or whatever you call them—doing what, putting right what once went wrong?”
“Sometimes,” he said simply.
“Arcadia seems to be afraid of you. It looks like you could put a stop to my situation. You could get Saga back.”
Vearden pulled up a chair and placed him squarely in front of Mateo. “When you were in high school, you got a D on a science test. Kinda sounded like the end of the world.”
“That never happened.”
“It’s a metaphor, bear with me. That bad grade was awful for you, and it was a shame you carried with you for years. But then you eventually forgot about it, and even upon remembering, it no longer feels so bad. Because, it’s trivial. Why was it important back then, but not now? Because you have perspective. You can see a bigger picture.”
“Well, okay, yeah, but...” Mateo tried to reply, but didn’t know exactly what to say.
Vearden nodded, but in that sarcastic way that meant they were not on the same page. He stood back up and approached the window on the back wall that was covered by what was basically a sideways airplane partition. Mateo stood up so he could see as well. Vearden slid the partition back to reveals a dazzling display of bubbly stars. It was like a night sky that was being warped and stretched; each brilliant bubble protruding from the heavens. “This is not really what the bulkverse looks like. You can’t...see the bulk. But a friend of mine built this for us as a visual aid for passengers. Each one of these represents a universe, which we in the business like to call c-branes. Let’s say you’re from...” he started waving his finger around before settling on one... “this one. You are a planck-sized specimen on one subatomic particle for one atom of this bubble. You can’t even see everything in your own c-brane, let alone other branes. Asking you to recognize, and appreciate the magnitude of, the bigger picture that I’ve seen would be like asking a daffodil to say just one syllable. I’m not calling you stupid, Mateo...but your problem with Arcadia is just this side of nothing from our standpoint.”
“But isn’t this what you do? Aren’t you out there, helping people?”
“I am, yes. But as a product of something larger. I’m not helping them for the sake of it.”
“Then what are you doing?”
“Building bridges.”
“Mateo,” Serif whispered from her table.
He raced over and took her hand. “I’m here. How are you feeling?”
“Better. Listen, I know it wasn’t you.”
“What wasn’t me?”
“Who stabbed me,” she clarified. “I know it was him. I’m glad you’re back.”
“She’s right,” Vearden agreed. “You didn’t actually do it. Your skin and bones did, but not your mind. And definitely not your soul.”
“Take us back to our c-brane.”
“We’re not done yet.”
“Take us back.”
“I can’t do that. I brought you here to retrieve the Sword of Assimilation. We were successful, but then we lost it again. So we have to go back.”
“I’m not going back to the place where I stabbed my...partner.”
“Not there. Centuries later, in another galaxy.”
“Then we can go home?”
“Yes.”
They went to this other galaxy, in this other c-brane, or whatever. There they encountered some people who remembered them from before, apparently having lived long enough. They were happy to see Mateo again, but saddened and confused as he tried to convince them that that was not really him. They were technologically advanced enough to understand the concept, but were too butthurt to believe it. One man in particular was disappointed in the development, and Mateo got the sense that they had been together sexually, which was a horrifying violation of his body. They found the Sword, and took it back to Tribulation Island, to reportedly less resistance than before. The ordeal was over, but Serif still needed time to recover physically, and Mateo needed to recover emotionally. Click here for the next installment...

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