Sunday, November 10, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 19, 2257

In movies, people often remained standing when a cop or surgeon had to deliver bad news to them. Their knees always buckled, and they always regretted it. She still had hope that what her friend was about to tell her wasn’t the worst news she could receive, but Leona still sat down, just in case. “What is it?”
“We found Mateo,” Eight Point Seven had the unfortunate task of telling her.
On the surface, that sounded like good news, but Leona knew it wasn’t. “Where?”
“At the bottom of a cliff.”
Her breath escaped from her, and she had to steal one back. “This was last year?”
“Yes.”
“Where’s Trinity?”
“I know what you’re thinking.” Eight Point Seven reached into her pocket, and removed a dog tag. “She already tried.”
Leona knew exactly what that dog tag meant. “It was murder?”
“Trinity watched it happen from a distance, but she was unable to change it.”
“She has a rule that there are no time powers on this planet.”
“She made an exception, and she’s heartbroken that she couldn’t stop it.”
“Where the hell did Briar get the hundemarke?”
“How did you know it was Briar?”
“He’s the most likely suspect. My guess is he thought he was protecting me, or something.”
“That’s exactly what he said.”
“Where is he?”
“Briar? Or Mateo?”
“Briar isn’t relevant anymore. He can go jump off his own cliff, for all I care.”
“Mateo is in a stasis pod. We figured you would want to see him before...”
“Before he had a whole year to decompose?” Leona guessed. “That was thoughtful of you. I’m not sure if I want to see his body, though.”
Eight Point Seven nodded sadly. “Whatever you want.” She waited a respectful few minutes before continuing, “do you know what his wishes were?”
“It doesn’t matter what he wanted. He signed a contract.”
“Oh?”
“When he became Patronus of Dardius, he agreed to have his body transported back there upon death. They have this whole ceremony planned for him. They say it’ll be bigger than our wedding.”
“Oh, wow. How will you do that? Do we have a means of reaching Dardius? The reframe engine would still take four thousand years.”
“Thanks to Hogarth, we have a much faster way.”
“What did she do?”
“She’s on Glisnia right now, making sure everything is ready for the colonists when they arrive in four years. She sent a message to me using Ellie’s radio program, saying she discovered a Nexus replica there.”
“Really?”
“And according to the system, the Dardius Nexus was rebuilt, and is now fully operational. Hogarth hasn’t gone anywhere, but all connections are ready.”
“So, we just need to get to Glisnia.”
“Yeah, but there’s no rush. Mateo didn’t say specifically how long his survivors have to get the body there, but what are they gonna do, fine me for being late? I would like a small service here, just for us.”
“That can be arranged,” Eight Point Seven said.
“Maybe I do need to talk to Briar...for practical purposes. I need to find out who gave him the hundemarke.”
“That can be arranged as well.”

Leona was numb as Eight Point Seven led her down the hallway, towards where they were holding Briar. When she left to clear the air with Cassidy, she never dreamed she would never see Mateo again. She even said she was going to forgive him one day. It was never her plan to leave him in the dog house forever. Now she wasn’t going to get a chance to heal, and more importantly, he died thinking she might never come back to him. Was this all part of the plan? Cassidy was now on their pattern. Did the powers that be decide to make her the convenient replacement character; like the female analog of Mateo? Were the two of them meant to be new partners? There was no evidence that Briar was salmon, so they couldn’t have dispatched him to kill Mateo on their behalf. But they could have dispatched someone else.
She dangled the hundemarke in front of the bars. Briar looked at it briefly; not out of shame, but more like he didn’t recognize its significance. “Who gave you this?”
“Who cares? It’s just some antique. Why don’t you look at the name?”
Leona did look at the name, but as a reflex. She knew exactly what was on it. “I know Anatol Klugman. He’s a killer, but he’s not a murder, and he sure as hell wouldn’t have manipulated a child like you to do his killing for him. Someone else gave it to you, and I wanna know who.”
Briar sighed. “Why does it matter? Don’t you wanna know about your husband?”
“This is about my husband. You were wearing this when you pushed him off the cliff, right?”
“Yeah, so...?”
“What made you think you would succeed at killing him?”
“I never planned on keeping it a secret,” Briar admitted. “I always knew I would end up here.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about. You know time travel is real, so why did you think no one would go back in time, and stop you from killing him?”
He shrugged. “I guess I didn’t think it through that much. Is that what you’re gonna do?”
“I can’t! Because you were wearing this!”
“I don’t know what that is!” he yelled right back.
“The hundemarke,” Leona began to explain. “It creates fixed moments in time. No matter how many times I travel to the past; no matter how many realities I make, this will always happen. His death can’t be undone. So I want to know, who gave it to you? I know why you wanted him dead, but there’s someone else; someone smarter, who knew exactly what would happen if you had this around your neck. Give me a name.”
Briar sighed. “I don’t have a name. I wouldn’t even be able to describe him to you. I keep getting Trinity and Ellie mixed up, because I just don’t separate faces very well.”
“You have prosopagnosia?”
“Is that what it’s called?”
Leona’s nostrils flared. “Side effect of you only knowing your mother’s face for most of your life. Eight Point Seven!” she yelled through the door. “Get back in here, please!”
Eight Point Seven returned.
“Open his cell.”
“I’m not going to do that,” Eight Point Seven said. “Look, we’re all very frustrated right now.”
“Ugh.” Leona was fed up with everyone trying to protect her. She lifted her leg, and kicked the lock as hard as she could. It didn’t tear like tin foil, but it was damaged enough to be opened with a good tug.
“What are you doing?” Eight Point Seven exclaimed.
Leona put the dog tag on herself, and pulled Briar off of his cot. Then she removed her pocket knife, and placed it right against Briar’s neck. “I can either kill him right here, or you can read his mind.”
“What are you talking about?” Eight Point Seven questioned. I can’t read minds.”
Leona drew a little blood. “Don’t lie to me! You can tease fragments from his long-term memory, and convert them to visible images.”
“Leona, that could cause permanent neurological damage, or kill him.”
“I don’t care. I need a name, and if I can’t get it, I need a face. Find out who gave him the hundemarke, and we’ll be done!”
Eight Point Seven was analyzing the situation, trying to determine if there was anything she could do to prevent this, but helping Leona was her only choice. She took one last swing at it, though. “Mateo wouldn’t want you to do this.”
“That’s actually not true at all. But it doesn’t matter what he would think. Mateo is dead, and he’s never coming back, thanks to this asshole. Now, dig into his brain, and show me who he met.”
Meanwhile, in the future, a pair of strong hands was dragging Mateo away from the cliff, and into a dark room. He couldn’t see anything but a flurry of shapes and silhouettes. He couldn’t hear anything but muffled voices arguing with each other. He couldn’t smell anything but the sickeningly sweet stench of his own blood. He couldn’t feel anything but the pain of death. He couldn’t taste anything but the irony. And before too long, he couldn’t sense anything but the slow progression of time. Until he woke up.
He fell out of the bed, naked except for the bandages wrapped around his various body parts. He didn’t feel any more pain, but also didn’t feel the squeezing lightness of pain management narcotics. This was some futuristic medical shit right here. “Baxter! Baxter, where are you!” He was still moderately woozy.
A woman ran into the room. “Thistle, lights to eleven percent.”
The lights turned on, but not too brightly. “Setting the lights to eleven percent,” a voice came from the aether.
Now Mateo could see the woman’s face. It was Ellie Underhill. She was much older, but he could still tell it was her. He tried to catch his breath, and gather his bearings. “Report.”
“You died,” Old!Ellie revealed. “We brought you back with an extraction mirror. I’m sorry.”
“Do you know how I died?” Mateo asked.
“We do. Do you remember?”
“I remember everything. I just didn’t want to give anything away that would fuck the timeline. Where is he?” He was referring to Briar.
She knew exactly who he was talking about. “He died a long time ago.”
“What’s a long time? What year is it now?”
“Classified,” Old!Ellie said plainly.
He understood. “What can you tell me?”
“Very little,” she said. “We’re sending you back, to 2258. After your memorial.”
“I appreciate that. How did you catch Briar?”
“He confessed, as soon as he got back,” she explained. “You have to understand that he didn’t grow up with other people. He didn’t know how to—”
“I don’t need to hear his defense. Any shitstain knows to not push people off cliffs. This is on him.”
She nodded in agreeance. “You’re right. I just don’t want you to kill him right back the next time you see him.”
“Is Sarka still here?”
“No, he had to answer another call.”
“Well, if you see him before I do, would you thank him for me?”
“Yes.”
They sat in silence for a few moments.
“Are you okay?” she finally asked. “I don’t mean physically; that man is a wizard. I mean emotionally. Most people don’t live past their own deaths.”
“That’s why I’m fine,” he said, completely sincerely. “I survived it. I actually feel grateful...for you, for the good doctor, and for anyone else who was party to this that you can’t tell me.” He wasn’t at a hundred percent, however, so an affectionate embrace from Old!Ellie was quite welcomed.
After the hug, Old!Ellie removed a syringe from her trusty bag of holding. “You need about another thirty minutes to recover more naturally, so hold off, but when you take this, it will give you the energy you need to spend a half day in 2258. When it’s time for bed, though, you’re gonna crash, and sleep for about sixteen or seventeen hours. Don’t fight this. It’s vital to your health, and you’re gonna wake up feeling a lot better in 2259.”
“Okay, thank you.” He took the syringe graciously, and placed it on top of the stack of new clothes his rescuers had laid out for him on the nightstand. “What can I tell them...tell you?”
“Rule number two; no names. Tell them you were extracted, to an unknown future date, by an unknown individual or group, who never introduced themselves. Tell them you found the clothes, and directions to the time chamber, which was apparently preprogrammed to return you to your life.”
“All right. That’ll be easy to remember. Most of it isn’t a lie. I might start crying when I see Young!You, though.”
“I’m used to people knowing things about my future that I shouldn’t, and vice versa. The younger version of me will be okay. Just don’t say anything, and she won’t ask you any questions.”
“Okay.”

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