Sunday, June 9, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: October 28, 2235

Mateo had to take medication to get to sleep that night. This wasn’t the first time he was being sent into a mission without any clue what he was doing, but it felt different. Mirage’s warning about where to be, and when to be there, wasn’t just giving him ample time to prepare, but also to become anxious about it. When he woke up the next morning, he decided to embellish his kit of essentials with some more specialized equipment. He used the Gatewood’s industrial synthesizer to fabricate graphene bulletproof clothing, nonlethal debilitating weapons, augmented vision glasses, and several other tools. He also got his hands on a Gatewood communications device, so he could contact help in the event he needed it. Goswin was the only person he told where he was going. Goswin strongly implied that he would have a security force on standby, should Mateo need it. When the time came, he took a shuttle to cylinder two, the automatic train to arcology eleven, and the elevator to floor eighty-three. Then he walked towards unit A-fifteen of spoke six. But then he found he wasn’t alone.
“Did you follow me here?” Mateo asked, looking around feverishly, worried about any threat.
“I was told to,” Cassidy replied.
“Who told you that?”
“Mirage.”
“She told you to accompany me on my mission? That seems unlikely.”
“No, she told me to stay close, that you were my only shot of surviving here.”
“I can’t protect you, Cassidy. I’m just a guy.”
“You’re not just a guy. People have said you’re a Vin Diesel-level action hero.”
“I’m an above average driver. That’s about as close as I get to Vin Diesel-level anything.”
“Well, Mirage said...” She didn’t have much intention to finish her sentence.
Mateo’s watch beeped. He turned his head quickly to eye the door he was meant to go through. It remained closed. He turned back to Cassidy. “Go back to the AOC.”
“There won’t be a shuttle for another hour.”
“Son of a bitch. Then just go! Anywhere else.”
They heard a sound down the hallway. The door was opening, and a man was stepping through. “Ah-ha!” he exclaimed. “You’ve brought her right to me. Now I won’t have to track her down.”
“Shit.” The man obviously didn’t have good intentions. “Run!” he ordered Cassidy.
She ran off.
“What did I just say?” the man questioned as he was walking towards Mateo.
Mateo dropped his bag, and made sure his Batmanesque utility belt was secure. “My brother taught me a thing or two about fighting, so come at me, bro!” That sounded neither like Mateo, nor Darko, but it felt like the right thing to say at the time. He decided to not give this stranger the chance to attack first. He ran straight for him, and they started grappling. The fight between them looked cool in his head, but probably appeared petty and graceless from the outside.
The elevator doors right next to them opened up. It was Cassidy. She immediately ran out, and knocked the man against the wall. Then she grabbed his shirt by the shoulders, and swung him into the elevator himself, where he fell to the floor.
“Holy crap!” Mateo cried. “How did you do that?”
“The bouncers at the first club where I worked were ineffective. I had to learn how to take care of myself. Mirage, emergency evac, protocol seven; authorization code Castaway-Vociferous-Laundry-nine-nine-seven.”
The man in the elevator couldn’t get all the way up, but he could take a teleporter gun out of its holster. He pointed it at Cassidy just before the doors closed, so Mateo had to jump in front of it.
He suddenly found himself in the elevator with him. It was falling much faster than they normally moved. The two of them started grappling again, but stopped once they realized how long they had been falling. They should have reached the bottom by now.
“Mirage, status report!”
Mirage’s voice came on the speakers, but it was just a canned response. This wasn’t the actual Mirage, who was a self-aware artificial intelligence with agency. “We are currently on a course for orbit around Barnard’s Star b-twelve.”
“What is that?” the man asked.
“It’s the largest coalesced celestial body in this system, after the planet’s destruction. Cassidy must have sent you out here to take you off the board. Why are you trying to kill her?”
“I’m not trying to kill her. Sure, she may have to die, but the goal is not to kill her. We need her.”
“You need her for what.”
“When I say we, I mean all of us, including you. The white monsters are a threat to the very survival of this universe, and her blood is the key to stopping them.”
“Wait, back up. Start at the beginning. Who are you?”
“Who I am, specifically, is unimportant, but until rescue arrives, I suppose it can’t hurt to explain why I’m here; more to the point, why she’s here.”
“I’m listening.” Mateo had activated his beacon, but was expecting Cassidy to reach out to the others for help.
“Cassidy Long was born on Dardius not too long ago.”
“She was? How?”
“Do you wanna hear this, or just ask questions?”
“Okay, go ahead.”
The man restarted his story, “Cassidy Long was born to Étude Einarsson, and Newt Clemens on Dardius. The planet was designed as a sanctuary, mostly for humans, but she was not safe there, so her father sent them away. They went through the Nexus replica, and ended up on Earth in 1997. What he didn’t realize is that we would never hurt a child. Time travel can make things really urgent and hectic, but if you use it right, it can grant patience. So we waited until she was old enough to be recruited for a mission. She was all set to take a trip with her friends to Springfield, Kansas. Her mother didn’t want her anywhere near that town, but Cassidy was rebellious, and wanted to go anyway. Sadly, though, Étude died, and Cassidy didn’t want to go anymore. Fine, she missed the Deathfall, but we still had another shot. If we could get her to the Deathspring in 2161, we would be all right. Of course, that didn’t go well either. We had her protected in a cabin, ready for her to run into a woman with the ability to skip forward in time.”
“You mean Dubravka?”
“Yes.”
“That’s my daughter.”
“Yeah, we knew that. Annoyingly, the Maverick intervened, and we lost again.”
“What are you talking about? Not that I wanted you to do this, but why didn’t you just find some other time traveler to take her?”
“We didn’t want her to be able to travel back and forth. We needed her on Durus, so she could later end up in Ansutah.”
“Why? Why go through all this trouble?”
“She can absorb people’s powers. If we could figure out how she works, we can replicate that, and build an army to defeat the Maramon.”
“A supersoldier program? This is all about a cliché B-movie action film premise?”
“These things are nearly impossible to kill, Mateo. We need an edge.”
“Yet she would die from this.”
“The procedure could kill her, yes; a noble sacrifice.”
“Nothing is noble about this. You kidnapped her from her hotel room—”
“We didn’t do that,” the man contended.
“Then who did?”
“We have no idea. Our best guess is she met a client she didn’t know had time powers. She absorbed them, and jumped all the way here. It’s taken us forever just to figure out where she was, and even longer to figure out how to get here.”
“You keep saying us, and we. Who else is here?”
The man didn’t respond.
“Who else is here?” Mateo demanded.
He still kept his mouth shut.
Goddammit. He took out his comms. “Goswin. Goswin! Do you have eyes on Cassidy. Where is she?”
We couldn’t find her,” Goswin replied. “There’s...there’s blood, though. And broken glass.
“How much blood?”
Not too much. We think she’s still alive. I have my best people on it. I would have updated you, but you activated the radio silence beacon.
“I don’t care what the attacker hears now. I’ll be the last face he sees before I throw him into the hock permanently.”
I also have people on their way to you, but you should know, someone else is approaching in an evac pod. They’re way ahead of us.
Just then, as if on cue, the metal from the elevator pod clanked and vibrated. The doors opened, revealing Cassidy yet again on the other side. She was in her own elevator pod, holding a bandage on her hand. “Could you help me close this up?” she asked.
“You’re alive!” Mateo hopped over, and hugged her tightly, then pulled back, because this was still awkward, and because she needed help.
“Enjoy the ride,” she said to the man. “Mirage, close the doors, and separate.”
After the pods separated from each other, Cassidy directed theirs to head back for cylinder two. The other would be reached by Goswin’s security team before too long, and the man would be dealt with accordingly.
“What happened to you?” Mateo asked her.
“There was another guy. He held me down, and took some of my blood.”
“I think he wanted all of it,” Mateo explained.
“He got one vial, but I broke the other in my escape. ”
“I’m so sorry this happened to you.”
“It’s not the first time.”
“So I’ve heard. Why didn’t you tell me about the cabin?”
“Mateo, I’m not a prostitute, but I have gotten offers that I just couldn’t refuse, so to speak. I wasn’t having sex, but it was sometimes a lot more private than the champaign room of the club. The hotel gig was for a client who just wanted to wake up next to someone in the morning, and kiss me goodbye when he went to work. The cabin, on the other hand, happened when I was young and stupid. I trusted the wrong person, and I paid for it.”
“That wasn’t your fault, Cassidy. They were trying to kill you.”
“He was insistent that he wasn’t.”
“A justification. They were trying to steal your powers. Chooser blood transfusions can copy powers, but they don’t last. You need a hell of a lot of it to make it last. If you had told me, or someone, we would have handled your arrival differently. We would have known to protect you.”
“I didn’t know it had anything to do with this. That was, like, two years before I came to Gatewood, and nothing happened since then.”
Mateo sat cross-legged on the floor. “They didn’t bring you here. I don’t know who did, so there’s at least one other party we have to worry about.”
“We don’t have to worry about that. Mirage is the one who brought me here.”
“Why? To protect you?”
“She didn’t explain everything, but yes. I think she thought these blood thieves wouldn’t be able to follow me.”
“She was wrong.”
“Yes.”
“But it wasn’t just her,” Mateo went on. “She can’t do anything herself. She has to recruit others. Who was your client? The hotel guy?”
“Just a PhD student. I’ve known him since middle school. He doesn’t have powers; he would have told me. He talked to me about everything. I know more about hospital administration than I ever wanted to. I was basically his wife...except we weren’t actually married. We were only in the hotel to renovate his home.”
“Cassidy.”
“What?”
“He was a PhD student, and you were twenty-two at the time. You’ve known him since middle school, but he wasn’t in middle school.”
“Yeah, there was a bit of an age difference. Don’t judge me.”
“I’m not judging you.”
“Wasn’t Leona fourteen when you met?”
“Fifteen,” Mateo corrected. “Days from turning sixteen. We didn’t sleep together until we were the same age, though.”
“Jai and I never did it at all!” she reminded him.
“Okay, fair enough.”
They sat in silence for a moment.
Then Mateo had a weird idea. “Just to, uhh...make sure. Could you go ahead and tell me what your client’s last name was?”
“Why does that matter?”
“It’s just...um, coincidences are hard to find in our world. I would feel a lot better if I heard his last name, and could be sure I didn’t know him. I mean, it wouldn’t be bad if it was, but...I just need to know.”
“Quelen,” she answered.
He let out a snort-laugh. “Jay Quelen.”
“Yes, he’s heard all the jokes.”
“When I knew him, I never made any jokes.”
Now she laughed. “No, you’re serious.”
“He’s good people. Married to my sister.” When he saw that she was confused, he clarified, “in another timeline.”
“Why didn’t they marry in this timeline?”
“She doesn’t exist anymore.”
Cassidy frowned, not knowing how else to react.
“It’s okay. I used to not exist; it’s not that bad.”
“Why wasn’t he on your list?” she asked. “When we met, you gave me a list of people you know.”
“You were right, he’s human. I don’t have a list of humans I know. Maybe I should.”
They spent the rest of the elevator pod ride writing up a list of humans they knew, and cross-checking them with each other. They had no other known mutual acquaintances. Of course, that didn’t mean she was safe. They needed a new plan.

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