Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Circa 1921

It was blistering cold once Arcadia apported them through time, to a new date, theoretically in the past. The group huddled together and looked around, seeing only snow, clouds, and the hint of civilization a ways away. They were all bundled in several layers, with the men wearing tall fluffy hats, and the women hoods and scarves. They couldn’t remember changing into their new clothes, which made them uncomfortable, but they all agreed to just let it go. Surely they changed themselves, and only later had their memories erased.
They started trudging through the snow, towards the part of some building they could see in the distance. It would get larger and smaller as trees blocked their view. Only once they were nearly inside it could they tell that it was some kind of village. The houses were built of logs, often with stone foundations. They were crude and deteriorating, but it was unclear what year this one. None of them knew what kind of time period to assume when looking at this kind of architecture. It was possible for these structures to exist in Mateo’s original time in the early 21st century. They didn’t even know what part of the world they were in.
People milled about in either misery or depression, or both. As destitute as they were living from the perspective of privileged people from what was likely the future, this didn’t seem like a normal day. There was an air of unusual calamity that the residents weren’t used to going through. They tried asking a few people what was happening, but they just ignored them and moved on, not wanting to stir up trouble.
“Perhaps they don’t speak English,” Serif proposed.
“We just have to try harder,” Lincoln said. “We have to figure out what we’re meant to be doing here; who it is we’re being asked to save.”
They kept walking slowly, careful to not make any sudden movements. This didn’t seem like all that small of a village, but it also looked like it was larger than its current population. People must have been moving away in recent times. At least that was what Mateo presumed, but what did he know? They saw a few signs on the buildings, and they were all in English, so that didn’t explain why no one was responding to them. No, it was because everybody probably knew everybody, and they were very obviously strangers. Finally, an elderly woman didn’t wait to be asked any questions. She offered to help them spontaneously.
“We have traveled a long way by foot,” Darko said to her. “We were hoping for a place to rest, and a warm meal, though we cannot pay.”
“But we could work for it,” Leona said. “We do not wish to take what we do not deserve.”
“The synagogue will have food,” the old woman replied. “You can help with the children there.”
“What is wrong with the children?” Serif asked.
She turned to lead them to the synagogue. “They’re dying.”
The group looked at each other in horror. Arcadia had not prepared them for the sight of dead children.
They entered the synagogue to find several children lying in cots, each with similar symptoms. They were sweaty and shaky. Some were coughing, others were vomiting, and others were doing both. It was an even more frightful to see than they thought it would be. Most were toddler age, with the youngest probably having been born in the last couple months, and the oldest being around eight.
“What disease it this?” Lincoln asked.
The old woman was gone. A younger woman was nearby, though. “Double pneumonia,” she said. “It can be treated, but we do not have the medicine for it. Not here. We have sent word, but I fear help may not come in time. Unless, that is, you are who we have been expecting.”
“No,” Leona said with a determined look on her face. “But we can help just the same.”
She reached into her bag and took out what she referred to as her second aid kit. It had all the basic of a first aid kit, plus a few things that didn’t generally come with it. Not everyone was educated enough to carry needles and antibiotics, but Leona was, so she always wanted to be prepared. Her kit had seen a boost in inventory after she recovered from having to cut off both of her legs during the Legolas tribulation. “Pneumonia is easy to treat where we come from,” she whispered to the group while inspecting her supplies. “Unfortunately, these children may be too far gone. I can quell all of their symptoms, but I can only cure one, maybe two.” She took out one of those plastic pill organizers and opened up every slot. Then she started dropping medicines into the slots to create individualized cocktails. She stopped in the middle of it and started thinking. “Serif, go find a mortar and pestle. Lincoln, ask someone for everything required to make tea. Darko, start helping keep the children comfortable. Give them water—boil more if you have to—ask them if they want more pillows, or more blankets, or whathaveyou.”
They all sped off to complete their tasks, leaving Mateo wondering what he could do to help.
“You have the worst job of all,” she said to him.
“Like I said, I can only cure one for certain. The rest will have to pull through on their own, which they may not be able to do. It will be your responsibility to find out who it is we’re here to save.”
“Are we sure there is only one? Maybe we’re here for everybody.”
“Mateo, have you ever heard of a group of dozen and a half historical figures who all grew up in the same tiny village?”
“Well, no...but—”
“Your father was The Kingmaker, right? He saved famous people. There’s only one famous person here, and you have to figure which one of these children that is.”
“But we need to—”
“I’d like to save them all too, but Arcadia didn’t put us here to do that. If you want your father back, you have to do what’s being asked of you. Learn all of their names, and report them to the group. Hopefully, between the five of us, someone will recognize the right name.”
He hesitated.
“Go,” she ordered. “The faster I administer the medicine, the greater the chances we have that it works.”
Mateo did as he was told, and started asking the children’s parents’ their names. They weren’t particularly expressive, but they saw no harm in telling them this information. They could see that the newcomers were here to help, even if they didn’t understand how. Based on the names he was being given, everybody here was Russian, or something. He asked a couple of their birthdays as a sneaky way of finding out that it was probably around the year 1921. Why they were able to understand each other, Mateo didn’t know. They certainly didn’t know any Russian, and the villagers likely didn’t all speak English at the time. Arcadia must have put in place some kind of universal translator for them that also made signs legible, and made it so that no one realized people’s mouths as they spoke weren’t matching up with the translation listeners were magically hearing. None of the names sounded familiar until he reached the last one. A two-, maybe three-year-old was lying in his little cot. He was experiencing the same things as all the others, but wasn’t in near as much distress. He was a strong child, with an iron will who couldn’t be broken by phlegm or vomit. His name was Isaac Asimov.
Mateo had never read any of Asimov’s stories, but Leona absolutely adored him. As saddened as this ordeal was making her, she would be happy to learn that she would be the one to save his young life.
He went back to the group, and found them putting together the tea medicine the children would be given. When he told them the name, Leona stopped for a second, but then got back to work. “No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is...but the world as it will be,” she quoted. “I believe he would be pleased that a group of time travelers gave him the life I know he lives following today.”
“Would you like to meet him?” Mateo asked.
“And say what? Goo goo, ga ga?”
“He can speak now,” Mateo responded with laughter.
“Never meet your heroes,” Leona said.
“You met Juan Ponce de León,” Darko pointed out before heading out with two cups of tea for the first two kids to be treated.
“Wait,” Leona said, noticing something peeking out of her bag. “What is this?” She pulled out a manilla envelope. Little somethings slid back and forth as she turned it around. She opened it up and took out a note from Arcadia.
You can either save only the one, or all of them. You choose, the note read.
“What’s the catch?” Leona asked out loud.
“There’s writing on the back,” Lincoln noticed.
Leona flipped it over and read it out loud. “The catch is there is no catch. Save ‘em all, Leona Matic.” She reached into the envelope and retrieved a small brown pill, which she held up in front of the light. After some thought, she dropped it into one of the cups that Darko was holding. She then reached in again and took out a second pill for the second cup. “Go on,” she instructed him.
“Are we sure this isn’t a trick?” Serif asked. “She might just be messing with us.”
“I can’t help them,” Leona said. “Maybe this little pill can.”
They gave each of the children their tea with the brown pill, except of Isaac Asimov. He received a regimen of antibiotics. As the day went on, the children started dying off, and it was looking like they would all be gone by the end of the week. Apparently Arcadia really was messing with them. Out of seventeen afflicted children, only Isaac Asimov survived.

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