Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: December 4, 2272

Nerakali was dead silent after her bombshell about her and Arcadia’s father being the orchestrator of the hundemarke killings. She was never as talkative as her sister, but neither Mateo nor Leona could remember a time when she was speechless. She just sat there on the cold rock, staring into the space where her family was once standing. Leona had to step up, and decide where they were going to go. She chose to return them to Machu Picchu, because it was warm, and they all three noted feeling safe and comfortable there. After Leona went off to find firewood, Mateo noticed that Nerakali was still in her catanonic state. She didn’t even bother removing her jacket. He tried to encourage her to do that, since it must have been excruciatingly hot for her, but she was almost completely unresponsive. He had to physically remove it from her. She was, fortunately, unperturbed by this, and didn’t make it awkward. He had to remove her sweater as well, because even that was probably hell. It wasn’t until the next day that she opened her mouth.
“It’s okay to feel things,” Mateo said.
“What? I know that,” Nerakali replied. “I feel fine. I just needed a good night’s rest.” She input her Cassidy cuff code, and let it fall to the ground. “You are free from your obligation.”
“What are you talking about?” Leona questioned. “We still have work to do.”
“We do not. All of my plans were based on the idea that this was the work of mother. I didn’t account for Erlendr being involved at all.”
“Well, he is,” Mateo reminded her. “He’s the one doing this...we think. Just because you don’t know how we’re going to defeat him, doesn’t mean he doesn’t need to be defeated. All we need to do is come up with a new plan.”
Now Nerakali was a little bit too responsive. “A new plan? A new plan?” she reiterated louder. “I spent years working on this before I read you in. I scoured the timeline. I witnessed death, and not even just the hundemarked moments. I watched people die who I suspected as being even the teensiest bit connected to the problem.”
“Didn’t you do that all the time when you were living in The Gallery, for centuries?” Leona assumed.
“Not up close,” Nerakali began to explain, but she didn’t look at them. She stared right at a tree, as if he were the one who truly needed to hear her words. “You weren’t people back then. I wouldn’t have even shown you the dignity of calling you game pieces. You on the bank. When you died, the universe was just throwing you into the lake. But there were always plenty of rocks left over—so many that I couldn’t even tell that one was missing. And who gives a shit about rocks anyway?” She stopped talking, but they knew she was going to say more sooner or later. “This experience changed me, more than I expected it to. And now that is all over, because there is a massive difference between Savannah Preston and Erlendr Preston. She was crazy, but she was also accessible.
“As twisted as her logic was, one could at least follow it. Erlendr a genius.” She tried to figure out how best to explain it. “Both Danica and Lincoln can see all of time and space, right?” That was a rhetorical question. “But they don’t do it all at once. They have to focus in on what moment they want to see at any one time. Lincoln can do this spontaneously, and Danica theoretically can too, though she generally limits her knowledge to whatever’s relevant for her to help her guests. Now, Erlendr isn’t as powerful as that. He can’t see everything, but he doesn’t need to in order to attain his goals. He can see how time moves. He understands causality better than anyone in histories. I mean, the man is an artist in his own right, because with a tiny little nudge, he can move mountains. We can’t ever go against him, because he will always see us coming.”
Mateo and Leona listened to her story patiently and thoughtfully. After awhile of nothing but the sounds of the forest, and the crackling of the fire, Mateo had an idea. An idea from him was rare, and of course, very dangerous. Nonetheless, he had to risk vocalizing it. “He’s not the only one like that.”
“Who are you talking about?” Nerakali asked.
“Yeah, who?” Leona didn’t understand either.
He exaggeratingly shrugged his shoulders. “Iono. I just know that no one in the world of salmon and choosers is unique. You’re not the only brain blender, I’m not the only one on my pattern. Hell, even the Cleanser was just the evil version of Meliora Rutherford. If Erlendr is so goddamn smart, there is someone else who’s just as smart, if not smarter. We need you, Nerakali, because you know who that is. You know who I’m talking about. You already have someone in mind. I bet my entire life savings on it.”
“You possess zero dollars,” Leona argued.
“That doesn’t make me any less right. Does it?” he asked Nerakali.
She didn’t say anything.
“Do you know someone?” Leona asked.
Nerakali finally stopped addressing the tree, and looked between the two of them. “I do know someone. Well, I know of her. She’s not really in our world. I mean, she’s a choosing one, definitely, but she comes from an old timeline—which, obviously, a lot of people do; that’s what time travel does—but she seems to consider herself a woman apart. She had a mission to complete, and she completed it, and then she disappeared. I can probably find her, but I can’t promise she’ll want to help. We know very little bit about her, because her actions erased herself from the timeline, just like yours did, Mateo, when you killed Hitler.”
“What’s her name?”
“It’s something weird. Though, that’s not surprising. I feel like most people I meet have weird names. I mean, Dar’cy, Hokusai, Eight Point Seven?”
“Zeferino, Erlendr, Nerakali?” Mateo mimicked.
“You met Eight Point Seven?” Leona asked.
“Bhulan. Bhulan Cargill. That’s her name. She’s the only one I can think of with any shred of hope for besting my father, but she comes with no guarantee. Even if she does want to help, she may still not be good enough. She’s just the best we got.”
“All right.” Mateo reached down, and picked up Nerakali’s Cassidy cuff. “Let’s go find her.”
Someone who looked very much like Paige Turner Reaver-Demir suddenly came out of the woods, carrying a hiking pack. “Oh, good; I’m not late. I think you were about to teleport, though, weren’t you?”
“We were,” Leona said.
“Which one are you?” Mateo asked. “Original Recipe, or Trinity?
The Paige laughed. “I’m neither of those people.”
“Oo,” Nerakali said excitedly as she was fitting her cuff back on. “You’re not Duo. You’re...Deuteronomy.”
She sort of scoffed this time, but it was still laugh-like. “It’s Dyad, and no; I’m not her either.” She input the code that would release Mateo from his cuff, and pulled him away from the group. Then she held up her trusty photo storage device, so only she and he could see it. It was a picture of Vitalie, Pribadium, Hogarth, Hilde, and possibly Cassidy in the background, though it was hard to tell. “I’m Tetra.”
“Wait,” Mateo said urgently.
“Don’t forget to cry at your own burial.”

After Mateo attended his own memorial services, he returned to Machu Picchu to find that only two minutes had reportedly passed since he departed. Leona had evidently not been worried during this time, which he had to admit having mixed feelings about. She claimed they could trust any version of Paige, and that was probably a healthy maxim to live by. He couldn’t tell them anything about what he had gone through, and it was a lot, but one thing he knew about it was that Leona somehow made it there as well, though a little bit later, from her perspective. Nerakali was there too, but it was hard to tell how much time had passed for her, because she never said a word. He needed to let go of all of it for now, for it was time to find a new ally.
“Why aren’t you wearing your cuff?” Mateo asked.
“I had to keep it off so I could find Bhulan,” Nerakali explained. “I’m glad I did, too, because I was gone for a long time. Leona didn’t need to be involved in that. I got back here a minute before you did.”
They both replaced their cuffs while Leona was finishing up striking camp. Once they were ready to go, they teleported out of there with no plans to return again. This was still a sacred site, and had no need of them coming in and mucking it up any further.
A woman was waiting for them when they arrived at their destination. “Madam Cargill,” Nerakali said with a tip of her head that was deeper than a nod, but shallower than a bow.
“Madam Preston. I hear you’ve been looking for me.”
“We could use your help with something; something very important.”
Bhulan stood there for a moment, not saying anything.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Nerakali said. “I thought you kind of knew what we were going to ask. I mean, you knew we were coming.”
“No, I sensed you coming,” Bhulan corrected, “and I knew you would come at some point. I don’t know why, though. I don’t have very many contacts in this timeline.”
“You ever heard of the hundemarke?” Leona asked her.
Now Bhulan’s eyes widened. “Of course I have, why?”
“We’re looking for it,” Mateo replied.
“Who do you wanna kill?” Bhulan asked.
“No one,” Nerakali assured her. “We don’t need the hundemarke itself. We’re just looking for the person who’s been sending it throughout spacetime. He’s like you. He can see how time unfolds, and he’s using it to hurt people. We’ve been trying to track him, but we’ve realized only you can match his abilities.”
“What are you gonna do with the dog tag once you’ve found this person?” This was quickly becoming an interview. Or an interrogation.
The three of them looked at each other. “We really just need to get him away from it. We hadn’t thought about what we can do with the thing afterwards.”
“It can’t be destroyed,” Mateo.
“What makes you think that?” Bhulan asked.
“Oh,” he began, “I guess I just figured it couldn’t, or someone would have tried it by now. It doesn’t seem like something like it would ever let itself be destroyed.”
“Well, you’re half right,” Nerakali said. “There is a way for it to be destroyed, but it’s...not pleasant.”
Leona and Mateo waited patiently for one of them to elaborate.
“It requires sacrifice.”
“Because of course it does.” Leona rolled her eyes.
“It’s just the nature of the object. You can throw it in the fire all you want, but it will always escape. It might do this by transporting itself to another place and time, or maybe someone will just always return to undo its destruction. We don’t really know how it works, but we know there’s only one loophole to the problem. I don’t know of anyone who would be willing to try it, though.”
“I am,” Bhulan said. “You get me that hundemarke, and I’ll destroy it for you.”
“No,” Nerakali countered. “We can’t let you do that.”
“What is the sacrifice?” Mateo asked. “Why does she want to make it, and why do you not want her to?”
“She would have to die,” Nerakali said. “To both destroy it, and prevent someone from going back in time, and stop it from being destroyed, she would have to use the hundemarke against itself. She would have to activate it, kill herself, and create a fixed moment in time that cannot be altered.”
There was something Mateo knew about the future. Or rather, the past. Man, this was confusing. But he just had this feeling that this wasn’t right. They weren’t meant to be meeting this woman, or recruiting her to help. It didn’t fit with the things he learned during his memorial. He lifted his arms, and hovered his hands over the backs of Leona’s and Nerakali’s respective heads. He engaged his new brain blending power, and dropped them to the floor.
“What the hell was that?” Bhulan got all defensive.
“Do you know who Horace Reaver is?” Mateo asked.
“What is happening here?”
“Do you know that name!” When time travel was involved, nothing was really ever time-sensitive, but he didn’t want to leave his wife and friend on the floor for any longer than he had to.
“Yes, I’ve heard it.”
“Go to him in the year 2027.”
“Why would I do that?”
“You want the hundemarke? You don’t need us, you need him. Go now.”
“Aren’t I the only one who can find the person who’s using it, though?”
“Let us worry about that.”
“All right,” she said, hesitant but conceding.
After she disappeared, Mateo teleported Leona and Nerakali to Kansas City, and erased their memories of almost the entire day.

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