Sunday, January 12, 2020

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 28, 2266

Mateo still needed some time to recover from whatever it was that brought him back here. The jump to the future didn’t help things. Leona was frustrated, because he didn’t appear to have any serious injuries, and there really wasn’t anything she could do. She offered him some pain medication, but he refused, because he knew he would get over it on his own, and he didn’t like putting anything in his body that he didn’t have to.
Finally, Leona stepped out of nurse mode, and stepped into protective wife mode. “How did he get here? Why is he in pain?”
“I couldn’t tell ya,” Nerakali claimed.
“No, you said something about a time travel gun,” Leona argued.
“It’s fine, Leelee, I’m fine,” Mateo tried to comfort her.
“No, she’s gonna answer me.”
Nerakali sighed. “No, I’m not.”
Leona got all up in her grill. “And why exactly is that?”
“Rule number twelve,” she answered simply.
Don't learn too much about your future. It was kind of an amendment to Leona’s ninth rule of time travel, which was to gather as much information on the future, and your future, as possible. Well, maybe more like a clarification; a reiteration of the possible part.
“Look,” Nerakali said, “you’re gonna have to trust me on this. I cannot say anything more.”
“Let it go, Lee,” Mateo said.
“You don’t call me that,” Leona spat. “Stop acting like you call me that.”
He stood up and gave her a hug. “Okay, Del.”
“Ugh,” she growled, like someone whose dollar the vending machine keeps rejecting. She did let it go, though, and turned back to Nerakali. “Why are we here? What are we doing? You wanted us to find your mother, but I don’t see anyone else.”
“Her whonow?” Mateo asked, confused.
“We came to this place to get your husband,” Nerakali explained. “That’s as relevant to the mission as it is, and as relevant as it ever needed to be.”
“Well, then, where are we gonna start?”
“We start,” Mateo said coolly, like he had any clue what was going on, “by catching me up to what the bloody ‘ell is happening, and why she’s involved.”
Nerakali flipped a lid off the top of her ring, and revealed a holographic image of a woman Mateo thought he recognized.
“It’s Arcadia.”
“Everyone thinks that,” Nerakali said, shaking her head. “It’s actually our mother, Savannah. She’s the one what killed you.”
Mateo squinted, and looked again. “Okay, so she does look a lot like Arcadia, though I can spot some differences when I know to look for them. Still, she doesn’t look anything like Briar.”
“Briar was just the weapon,” she said, closing the hologram, and shrugging her shoulders.
“Evidently, she gave him the hundemarke so your death couldn’t be undone with time travel,” Leona added. She also gave it to Newt’s killers, and also Jabez Carpenter back in 2019.”
“I don’t know who that is.”
“Just one of many people my mother manipulated.”
“So she’s been doing this all over time and space?” Mateo asked.
“Yes. We are here to stop her.”
“Well,” Mateo began, “I’m happy to do anything I can to help, but this might be out of our wheelhouse. I’ve jumped back in time before—why, I was just in, like, a million years ago—but those are always flukes. I doubt the powers that be would let us keep doing that, so unless she stays in this time period, and during our days in the timestream, I’m afraid there’s little we can do.”
“Aren’t we just waiting for a moment when she shows up?” Leona assumed.
“Sort of,” Nerakali replied. She pulled up her ring hologram again, but swiped to a different image. It was a document of some kind; probably a spreadsheet, but holograms weren’t the best form factor for what was meant to be legible data. She seemed to just be showing them for illustrative purposes. “I know when the hundemarke was used. I have a list of every fixed moment in time that was made to be that way with the hundemarke. Most of them are deaths, but a few are presumably just moments that particular people don’t want to be altered. Not all of them have anything to do with Savannah. She seems to be deeply committed to wiping certain people from the timestream permanently, but other people have used it for their own ends.
“I believe I’ve narrowed the list down to just the ones she was involved with.” She swiped again to reveal another document. “But these just tell me the moments the hundemarke was used. What some people might not realize is that, just because you’re wearing it, doesn’t mean it’s going to be doing its thing. In fact, you don’t technically need to be wearing it all, but people usually do, because there’s a psycho-emotional connection. Still, some of the people she manipulated had no idea what they were wearing, yet they still activated its power. Why? Well, most of the time, it’s because even if they don’t know what they have, they are committed to the moment they’re in. Whatever it is, they want it to happen to a much higher degree than for other things they do. They may be wearing it when they go get their car washed, but since the wash isn’t particularly important to them, the hundemarke remains nothing more than an indestructible antique piece of jewelry.”
“We understand,” Mateo said. “It doesn’t work unless you really want it to, even if you don’t realize it has magical powers.”
“Right, but not all the time,” Nerakali said. “I mean, Jabez certainly had no intention of killing...” She trailed off, like she had been personally traumatized by whatever event she was referring to. “The point is that Savannah has seemingly exercised a level of remote control over the damn thing. She can activate it even when she’s not the one wearing it, and may not even be within its blast radius at the time. I don’t know how she does that, but what it means is that she’s even more powerful than we realized. If she can do that, we can’t just go to these fixed moments, and pick her out of the crowd. We have to trace the hundemarke’s path back from that moment, to the moment they received it from her. That’s the only way we’ll find her.”
“Why are you doing this?” Leona asked. “If she’s your mother, then...”
My siblings and my relationship with her has always been a complicated one. I don’t want to blame everything on her, because that’s not taking responsibility for my own actions, but she’s not totally blameless for how we turned out either. Zeferino inherited her obsession with becoming a master of reality. Arcadia inherited her desire for fairness, justice, and balance (read: punishment).”
“What about you? Or are you more like your father?”
“I am, actually. He taught me loyalty, honesty, and sticking to your word. I would be a really great person if not for Savannah, because I inherited her sadism. I like to hurt people. I like to hear their screams when I blend their brains, and I like that they have to live with the guilt from remembering doing things that they never actually did. Then I met you two.”
“Us?” Leona asked. “What about us?”
“You are good people. You’re a good couple, and even though I do know what happened to your kids here, I also happen to know how great of parents you were in another timeline. I admire you, and I’m jealous of you, and I wish that you had been my parents instead. You helped me remember why I was put on that plane of existence. I was created to help the world, by allowing people to let go of past traumas as if they had never happened, because to them, they hadn’t. I have a plan to find Savannah, and I don’t technically need you for it. It’s not even the most efficient plan, because like you said, you’re not generally allowed to jump back and forth through time. I’ve asked you to help, because I know you’ll make good choices. I need to make sure this happens, and I need you to be here, because you’re the reason I want to make sure it happens. The old me would have let it go. She was a bad mother, and I don’t ever want to see her again. But she’s doing bad things, and you’ve turned me into the kind of person who wants to stop her.”
Neither of them knew how to respond to what Nerakali said. It was a pretty moving speech, and it seemed pretty sincere.
“Obviously, you can back out. I’m not gonna force you, or hold something over you. This isn’t going to be safe. Mateo, you and I are kinda in the same boat now, except it’s worse for you. Every time I’m put in a life or death situation, I revert back to my actual moment of death, and take one more step towards it. I don’t think you have any steps, though. I think you probably have one chance, and then you’ll just die. It won’t be any safer for you either, Leona. I don’t have a comprehensive list of every single time the hundemarke was used, so for all we know, you could secretly be destined to become one of its victims.”
Leona smiled sadly, and wrapped her arms around Nerakali. “Of course we’ll help you. I regret everything that’s happened between us. Well, the bad things that happened. It hasn’t all been bad. You blended my brain without my permission, because of that whole sticking to your word thing. That wasn’t right, but I can’t argue with the results. I’m glad I remember Mateo, and I’m glad that you existed to give me that.” They ended the hug, and enjoyed a moment of silence together.
“I would hug you too,” Mateo said, “but that feels inappropriate.”
“Come here,” Nerakali said to him. So they hugged as well, and it wasn’t inappropriate, or awkward, or uncomfortable.
“So,” Leona said, after the moment was over. “What’s the plan? How are we going to find your mother, and how are we going to stop her?”
“Honest hour?” Nerakali asked rhetorically. “I thought it might take a couple years-slash-days to convince you. The mission doesn’t start today. It doesn’t even start next year. Our first clue can be found on November 30, 2268.”
“Okay,” Mateo said, “we’ll wait.”
“Until then!” Nerakali spun around until she lost her balance, and then just turned so she was facing the direction she wanted. She lifted a blue fob and pointed it towards the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She held down the button, and waved it towards the ship, which caused it to disappear, line by line. The more she waved, the more the ship was erased.
The other two watched her do this, confident that she wasn’t somehow destroying their ship. It didn’t look like it was being torn apart, but that Nerakali was using photo editing software to make it look like it wasn’t there. After she was done, the ship was gone, leaving only an empty corner of the underground hangar.
“I don’t think you want Savannah Preston to have the ability to travel over seven hundred light years in a year. It’s best we keep it secret. Besides, we need to jump all over the globe, but not beyond its atmosphere, and the AOC isn’t designed for that.”
“What is?” Leona asked, excited to see another vehicle of some kind.
“Are you ready?” Nerakali sported an evil smile, but, like, in a good way.
“Yes,” Leona said, happy that they were friends now.
“Here we go!” Nerakali teased. She reached behind her back, and quickly returned with futuristic handcuffs, but with the two halves separated from each other. Before they could stop her, she had them installed around their wrists. She then reached behind her back again, and retrieved a third cuff, which she placed on her own wrist.
Leona tried to get hers off. “What is this?”
“They’re Cassidy Cuffs. They bind our powers together,” Nerakali said. “Well, my powers, and your pattern. Whenever you jump forward in time, I jump with you. Whenever I teleport, you teleport with me. You could also blend someone’s brain, if it strikes your fancy.”
“Why did you do this?”
“I don’t want to get separated. You don’t want to separate from each other either, right? That’s rule number thirteen. This protects you from that.”
“We did not consent to this,” Leona complained.
Nerakali took out two slips of paper from her pocket, and handed one to each of them. “These are your respective cuff codes. You are free to leave at will. Please don’t. You’re not prisoners any more than I am, but while I think this is for the best, it’s up to you.” She started tapping on the console on her own cuff. “I’m putting a thirty second delay on this, and teleporting myself to what’s left of Machu Picchu. Either you unlock your cuffs in that time, and walk away, or you leave them on, and follow me through. You choose.”
She disappeared. Thirty seconds later, so did they.

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