Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: July 23, 2138

Last year, Arcadia warned Mateo and Leona that they would be better off getting all their sleep in that evening, because the expiation would start immediately. Of course, they heeded her advice, and were in bed before the sun set.
The next day, a little after midnight, they found themselves having been moved. The two of them were now waking up in separate jail cells. There was a third cell near them, but it was completely dark inside. Not even the starlight was shining through. The couple could see each other by torchlight.
“Mateo,” Leona said to him.
“Mateo,” she pressed, a little louder.
I’m here! I don’t understand what we’re supposed to do.
“Mateo! I can’t hear you!”
“Hello?!” Darko’s voice came from the third cell.
“What is it?” Leona asked of Mateo. If she couldn’t hear, then she probably had no idea that Darko was with them.
“Leona? Where are you? I can’t see anything.”
She’s right here, but she can’t hear anything.
“Leona, hello?” Darko asked. “It’s completely dark in here, but I can feel engravings on the back wall. They’re numbers. I think it’s a combination.”
Okay, read them to me!
“Did you hear me, Leona!” Darko asked.
I heard you, Darko. Leona can’t hear anything.
“Mateo, what’s going on!” Leona asked, upset.
“Mateo’s here?” Darko asked. “Why isn’t he saying anything?”
What the hell are you talking about? I’ve been trying to talk to you! Okay, Mateo needed to figure this out. There was a huge gap in the communication, and it didn’t make any sense. Leona couldn’t hear, and Darko couldn’t see. This much was obvious, but every time Leona said something, Darko would react to it. Yet neither of them were reacting to what Mateo was saying. Maybe he wasn’t saying anything at all. Leona couldn’t hear, and Darko couldn’t see. That just left...speaking. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. They were each left with a disadvantage. Great, how were they going to get through this one?
“Leona, what’s happening?” Darko yelled after too long in silence.
He would have to play charades with her if anything was going to get done. He reached his arms through the bars, and excitedly pointed towards the third cell, while maintaining eye contact with Leona. He then mouthed the word speak, and waved his hand from his chin to mimic sound coming out of his mouth.
“What am I supposed to say?” Leona asked.
Mateo just gave her the thumbs up, because that was good enough for now.
“You don’t need to say anything,” Darko answered. “I think I’ve figured out the numbers. Should I read them out to you?”
Mateo perked up, waved his hand from his chin again, and mouthed the word yes.
Leona turned her head slightly to the side, a little unsure that she was understanding him right. “Yes!”
“Okay,” Darko began.
Mateo hastily reached through the bars and presented Leona with his combination lock, of which she had none.
Leona nodded that she understood.
Mateo pointed towards Darko.
As Darko read each number out loud, Mateo tried to hold up his fingers so that Leona could see. “Eleven-twenty-four-forty-two-fifty-six-eighty-three!”
Shit! He didn’t have eleven fingers, let alone eighty-three. How could he indicate which two digits belonged in a pair? Not only that, but Mateo wasn’t great with numbers, and had already forgotten most of them. He pointed towards Darko again, and waved his hand in a circle.
“Again,” she requested.
“Okay!” Darko said. “Eleven-twenty-four-forty-two-fifty-six-eighty-three!”
Mateo closed his eyes and tapped the air with his finger, showing that he was doing his best to memorize the numbers. Once he felt he had, he reopened his eyes and looked back to Leona. He stuck one hand through the bars and showed one finger. Then he stuck his other hand out with a second finger.
“One-one,” Leona said out loud.
“No, eleven!” Darko corrected.
Mateo quickly pulled his fingers close together, so that she could get the right idea.
“Eleven,” she said.
“Right, can you not hear me very well?”
Five fingers on his right hand, and three on his left.
“No,” Darko whined. “Eighty-three.”
Three on his left hand.
Mateo could hear Darko sigh as he was clapping his hands together
“Eighty-three? Okay, understood.”
Mateo nodded. They then continued this procedure until she had all the numbers in her own head. It got easier over time. After they were done, Mateo placed his hands on his combination lock, which he couldn’t actually see from this side of the bars.
“Okay,” she said to him. “We can do this.”
“We can do what?” Darko asked, literally in the dark as to what was going on.
Mateo pointed towards him, then swept his fingers in the air dismissively.
Leona was getting even better at understanding his meanings. “Mateo and I are working on it.”
“Oh, so he is here?”
Mateo placed his hands back in position and waited for Leona. She reached out as well and slowly moved her hands as he was meant to, holding up the international signal for stop when it was time to turn it the other way. Finally, they reached the last number. He heard a click, and some pressure release. As soon as he opened his gate, they were all three apported to a windowless room.
“Can you hear me now?” he asked.
“Oh my God, yes I can,” she replied. “That was infuriating, and frightening.”
“Have we been here the whole time?” Darko asked.
Arcadia’s voice suddenly rang out from the speakers in the corners, “congratulations, players, you successfully completed your first challenge. Aldona’s brother, Nestor was fascinated by this fad called escape rooms. Starting in the early 21st century, these rooms adapted similar video game scenarios to the real world, adding a level of excitement and urgency never experienced before. Over time, these adventures became more elaborate and expansive. Years after the first one appeared, people were no longer tasked with breaking out of a single room, but an entire building. Decades later, these buildings would grow to enormous proportions, allowing contestants time to eat and sleep while still on the clock, which was now measured in days, rather than minutes or hours. Advances in automation and access to resources were providing people with more free time, and less of an obligation to work. They were now free to entertain themselves in new ways. But we have an advantage over the designer of those petty escape buildings that they could only dream of. We have control over time and space. The possibilities are quite literally endless. You won’t be trying to escape a room, so much as you’ll be seeking the prize at the end of the rainbow. Your mission is to break out of this place, and all others after it, until you find the one where your friends live.”
And so that was what they did. They continued questing through room after room, but it wasn’t all there was to it. They had to walk up 328 flights of stairs to get to the top floor of something called an arcological megastructure. They had to solve a critical failure on a space station before life support ran out. In a real escape room, this would be a simulation, but Leona made sure they knew, if they didn’t actually fix this very real problem, they would really, actually, die on the station. After that, they just had to get to the other side of the Grand Canyon, survive the battleground during a short skirmish between two warring nations on an alien planet, and complete a continental scavenger hunt against contestants who were doing it for mere fun. They met up with Aura, Mario, and Lincoln after walking upstream for a couple miles in a creek, thinking that their game was finally over. It wasn’t, though, because then all six of them were thrust into the next challenge together.
Through the fatigue, Mateo remembered that he had asked Arcadia to see Horace and Paige again, to make sure that they were okay. He now knew that these tasks were the means to that end. Unfortunately, they never knew how much further they had to go, or if they would even get through everything. All in all, this was the most taxing and dangerous of the Aldona expiations. It might have been fun if it had last, maybe, a quarter of the time. But the full day just kind of ruined the whole thing. By now, even if they managed to pass it, they wouldn’t have much time with Horace and Paige. As happy as he was for them to have gotten off the island, and away from the expiations, he missed them both. Missing Horace Reaver. Who would’ve thought?
After helping solve the crime at a murder mystery dinner, they were apported to another windowless room. Arcadia’s voice returned, “wow, ya know, you did those first ones pretty well, but then you started slipping. I guess I underestimated how tiring this would make you.”
“Yeah,” Mateo said, barely able to think straight. “You think so?”
“Well, there’s only one left, so you can all calm down. This is a standard room. You have one hour to break out of it. I’ll be here to give you clues, if you need them. Each additional clue beyond three will cost you time, though. If it takes you longer than seventy-five minutes, well...if you look at your watches, you know what happens then.”
They did all know what would happen then. That was the moment of Mateo and Leona’s jump to the future. If they didn’t get through this, they would fail, and Aldona’s brother, Nestor would be lost forever. Things started getting bad pretty quickly. They misunderstood what the most important information on the newspaper clippings was. It took them a long time to figure out the right sequence of flipping the light switches on and off. And they failed to recognize one of the panels on the wall to be part of the game, and not just as a function of the room itself. Arcadia had to give them five clues altogether, providing them with only five minutes to win.
Mateo wandered around, looking for anything they didn’t see before. Darko took the metal bar they used to magnetically retrieve a key down a tube, and used it to start prying one of the chairs bolted to the floor. Lincoln was asleep in the corner from having been the one to last the longest in the stamina challenge earlier that day. Leona and Mario were trying to decipher a combination to a safe, but were having trouble reading Aura’s chicken scratch.
“Got it!” Darko cried. They had a minute left.
This woke Lincoln up from whatever dream he was having. “Gangs aren’t illegal; just the crimes they usually commit!”
“Is there something under there?” Aura asked.
“No, of course not,” Darko answered, wrenching the fourth leg from the floor. “This is not part of the game. Dad, come help me!”
Mario came over, and lifted one side, though he asked, “what are we doing with this?”
“Fast as you can, on three,” Darko said, leading them over to the door.
“You can’t do it,” Leona warned them, “if it’s not part of the game.”
“We need to get through that door,” Mateo said. “This is the only way we have.” He got behind the chair and prepared to help.
“One,” Darko said, swinging it back, and then forward.
“Two,” Mario said as they swung it a second time.
“Three!” they all three hollered in unison, then smashed the chair against the door. It moved, but not enough.
They tried again.
“thirty seconds,” Aura notified.
They tried again.
And again.
And again.
“Seventeen seconds!”
“The chair is too big,” Mateo complained.
“You need to focus the force on its weakest point,” Leona explained reluctantly. “Right at the door knob.”
“Get that fucking chair out of my way!” Mateo ordered.
Mario and Darko complied.
Once they were out of his path, Mateo stepped back, and slammed his shoulder against the door.
“Mateo, stop!” Leona begged.
Mateo hit the door again.
“Five seconds!”
In one last desperate attempt, Mateo pushed himself into the blood rampage, which was an adrenaline flowing technique he had learned from Vearden. He ran straight for the door as fast as he could, with as much power as he could muster. The lock broke, sending him flying through the opening. He caught a glimpse of Horace and Paige’s faces before landing on the sand.
“Did we win?” Serif asked, helping Mateo up. “Did we get through it in time?”
“We’re back on the island,” Mateo said. “I think it’s next year, and I don’t think we won, no.”
Leona walked over from behind them and sized Serif up. “Who the fuck are you?”

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