Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 30, 2268

Mateo felt something hit him in the groin. It was clearly meant to wake him up, but even the pain wasn’t enough to stir him. A voice apologized, but it was so scratchy that he couldn’t tell whether it belonged to Leona or Nerakali. He was feeling groggier than he ever had before, almost like he had been drugged. The hand came back down on him, but this time higher, upon his chest, so it wasn’t painful.
“You gotta wake up,” Leona said, sounding groggy too. “We all gotta wake up.”
He could hear Nerakali making a ruckus on the other side of the tent. “Where’s my cuff,” she asked like a drunkard.
“It’s on your wrist,” Leona answered. She struggled to roll over on top of Mateo, seemingly in an attempt to get to the other side of him, but she just got stuck.
“Which one?” Nerakali asked.
“Pick one,” Leona instructed. “If it’s not there, then pick the other.”
“What is going on!” Mateo demanded to know.
“Something’s wrong with the wards!” Nerakali yelled back. “I can’t figure out how to get us out of here.”
Mateo lifted his own arm, and looked at it over Leona’s shoulder. She was still on top of him. “I’ve got a blinking button here that says EMERGENCY SUPERPOSITION.”
“No!” Nerakali cried. “Don’t push that one!”
“This is an emergency, it seems. Is someone coming?”
“Someone is indeed coming, but you can’t save us that way.”
“I’m gonna do it.”
“Don’t do it.”
“I’m doing it.”
But it was too late. Mateo managed to get his other hand out from between him and Leona, so he could press the button. The tent above them disappeared, but they were still in the woods. Well, it might not have been the exact same woods, but it was close enough. Then the trees disappeared, only to be replaced by different trees. Those trees disappeared, replaced with a clear sky. Mateo turned his head to watch the ground. The scenery continued to change, and not only that, but it was getting faster. Much faster. Much, much faster. Mountain summit, prairie, tundra, underneath an arcological tower, on the deck of a boat, on the bank of a river, on the side of Mateo and Leona’s special hillside. They just kept jumping over, and over, and over, and over, and over again. They must have gone to a hundred places before Nerakali got a grip, and stopped it using her own Cassidy cuff.
“What the hell was that?” Leona asked. She managed to get herself off her husband, and safely onto her own ass. It looked like they were on a hiking trail now.
“That button placed us in a state of quantum superposition. We would have continued to jump forever—generally far away from other people, and too quickly for anyone to be able to track us. I got the idea from a TV show about angels. I don’t know why that was an option on your cuff, and I sure as hell don’t know why you pressed it.”
“We were being attacked.” Then Mateo looked around. He actually wasn’t so certain of that. “Weren’t we?”
“Quite possibly,” Nerakali said. “The ward alarms went off, and we were experiencing the temporal sickness that was meant to be inflicted upon our intruder. I was trying to get us out of there, but not by doing that.”
“No matter,” Leona said as she was standing up and finding her footing. “It worked. Whoever found us, we’re here now.”
“So am I,” came a fourth voice.
Mateo closed his eyes. They just can’t get rid of her.
“Arcadia,” Nerakali said. There was some disdain in her voice, but also some love.
“Hello, sister,” Arcadia replied.
“You’re the one who attacked us?”
“No,” Arcadia argued. “I’m the one who tried to find you, not realizing you would place a gene blocker on your spatial wards. That’s why my approach jacked you up so much.”
“I did that so our mother wouldn’t be able to get to us,” Nerakali explained. “I guess I need to work on my technique. They obviously backfired.”
“Yes,” Arcadia agreed.
“No,” Nerakali said, “not because you should have been let through, but because they shouldn’t have done us harm. I don’t want you here either. Why are you here?”
“I want to help,” Arcadia claimed.
Nerakali chuckled. “Have you ever...said those words before? Perhaps you don’t know what they mean.”
“Ha-ha,” Arcadia said sarcastically. “I’m serious. I know you thought I was always mama’s little girl, but I want to stop her as much as you. That bitch is running around, giving me a bad reputation. People think she’s me. It used to not bother me, but my power-aides are losing faith in me.”
“A sports drink worships you?” Leona asked.
“Not the drink.” Arcadia rolled her eyes. “I’m talking about people who aid me with their powers. I can’t teleport, or travel through time on my own. I can’t create a spacetime merge point, or possess people’s bodies. If I want to do these things, I employ someone who can. They’re my aides.”
“You created a pretty sophisticated system,” Leona pointed out. “It always looked like you had the powers.”
“Nope,” Arcadia said. “Like most people, I just have the one power.”
Leona looked over at Nerakali. “Yeah, I’ve always wanted to ask, why do you have more than one temporal ability? You can blend brains, and travel spacetime. Why is that?”
“I dunno,” Nerakali replied. She sounded sincere. “Athanaric never explained why he built me this way. Why would a blender need to travel through time when she was designed to live in a higher dimension where time travel is impossible anyway? It’s like he knew I would end up on Earth one day.”
“Maybe he did,” Arcadia guessed.
“Are we gonna keep talking about this?” Mateo questioned. “Or are we going to figure out what to do. I can barely force myself to trust one Preston, but now I’m expected to trust another? What happens when Zeferino shows up? Are we going to end up at one giant hyper-destructive family reunion, or something?”
“It won’t be truly destructive unless our father is there,” Arcadia said. She mocked the sign of the cross.
“He’s right,” Nerakali said to Arcadia. “You can’t be here. You’re dangerous.”
“I really do want to help. I’m being honest about that. I’m not planning a doublecross, and I won’t get bored, and lose interest. I’m with you; one hundred percent.”
“Sometimes you’re kind of okay,” Mateo said to her, finally well enough to stand on his own two feet. “Sometimes you make Satan shiver in his seat. That means those times when you’re okay don’t really matter that much, because no one can ever trust you.”
Arcadia looked legitimately hurt by his words, and he almost regretted them. She stared at him for a moment before looking to her sister. “Self-cleaning mode.”
“What?” Nerakali asked. “Don’t even joke about that.”
“Not now,” Arcadia said. “Give me one of those cuffs. I know you have an extra, because they come in pairs. Program mine with an SCM protocol. If I step out of line, any one of you can activate it, and be done with me for good.”
“I can’t imagine you would agree to this,” Nerakali doubted.
Mateo looked over at Leona, but she seemed to have no clue what they were talking about either. They both decided to be patient.
“I’m not just agreeing to it,” Arcadia said. “It was my idea.”
“You must have some defense against it,” Nerakali assumed.
“Yeah, maybe. I mean...I guess that’s a possibility. I can’t really prove that I don’t, but I’m extending a sign of good faith. This makes it so that you don’t have to trust me. You just have to trust your own abilities.”
Nerakali shook her head for a bit, weighing her options. “It’s up to them, if they want to risk it.”
“We don’t know what an SCM is,” Leona reminded them.
“Self-cleaning mode,” Nerakali began to explain. “It’s a blender term. I can make an individual recall things that didn’t happen to them, by blending their brain with that of their alternate self. You know this about me. What you don’t know is that I don’t have to add memories; I can also take them away. In fact, I can take them all away. I can turn you into a vegetable, which isn’t..holding to the analogy very well. I can make it so that you remember nothing; total amnesia as a weapon, or a fresh start as a gift.”
Mateo was working through it. “So Arcadia is agreeing to wear a cuff that can be programmed to erase her entire mind if she steps out of line?”
“Basically, yes,” Nerakali confirmed. “It’s an insurance policy.” She looked back over to her sister. “I don’t like that she was the one who came up with it, though. It’s obviously suspicious.”
“You’re the one in control,” Arcadia said. “I can help. I know Savannah better than anyone. She liked to talk to me up in The Gallery, because I always agreed with her. I was a dumb child who couldn’t think for myself, but now that I can, I can use what I know about her against her. Let me do this. You said it yourself, Mateo; sometimes I’m okay. This is one of those times.”
“I said you’re sometimes kind of okay. You’re never good.”
Leona stepped forward, and got herself closer to Arcadia. She stared into her eyes, and studied the thoughts swimming through them for at least thirty seconds. “Give her the cuff. Even if it doesn’t work, we always beat her. We’ll get through it either way. If there’s a chance she can do some good, I’mma risk it.”
Nerakali took Arcadia by the arm. “The other cuff is back at the camp.” She teleported all four of them back to where they were before. It was here that they packed up, had some breakfast, and prepared to head out for their first mission.
According to what Leona knew of history, when the cities were torn asunder, and replaced by far more efficient arcologies, only a few things were left whole. Besides truly magnificent historical locations, like The Great Wall and Machu Picchu, there were also a few small outposts that didn’t necessarily serve a purpose, but were ignored anyway. These small pockets of history were only known to a few people, and they were pretty much all underground, because that was really the only way regular humans knew how to hide things. The reasons they remained were never recorded, but they might have had sentimental value to the people in charge of destroying them, so that was probably how they survived. Most were apparently too innocuous for the government to bother with them now. The Space Corp base where the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was presently stashed was one such of these places. Nerakali teleported the group to another place, which those who knew it existed called the Bucket. Water was dripping from the ceiling, and it possessed a certain sweet fungal scent. They carefully walked through the hallways, but she assured them that there was nothing to be afraid of, and they didn’t need to know exactly what they were there for. It almost sounded like she didn’t really know.
“I knew a friend who could find special temporal objects. The hundemarke was pinged at this location. “I do not believe we will be able to take possession of it,” Nerakali whispered, “but we’ll be able to trace its journey from here, as long as we get there in time.”
“Oh, you’re here in time,” came an echoing voice from down the passageway. They picked up the pace a little, and entered the room. A man was sitting against the dirty wall. He had a bottle of alcohol in one hand, and a gun in the other. “You’re always on time,” he slurred. “No matter what I do, you always find me. I just can’t get away.”
“Who are you?” Mateo asked, stepping a little closer. Leona tried to hold him back, but he was too curious.
“You don’t know me yet?” the man asked, then he took another drink. “I suppose that means my plan is successful, and I die here tonight.”
“No one has to die,” Mateo promised him. “We can talk about this. I’ve met people before who have already met me. Whatever I did to you, I’m sorry. Maybe I can change it. Just tell me what I can do to help you. Tell me what you need.”
The man closed his eyes, and nodded his head. “I don’t need anything, and someone does indeed have to die.” He reached into his shirt, and pulled out the hundemarke. “It ain’t gonna be you. I know this, because you’re right, I’ve seen you in the future. You do try to help me, and you fail. But that’s okay, because I’m here now, and I can end it. I can end it right here.” He jangled the dog tag. “I already have. I don’t mean to sound like some kind of mad purple alien, or anything, but I’m...inevitable.” He lifted the gun, and pressed it against his head. He also tipped the bottle down his throat, and finished it off.
“No!” Mateo shouted. He dove forward, and tried to reach for the man, but a mysterious force threw him across the room, and against the opposite wall. Then he heard a gunshot. Then everything went black.

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