Sunday, April 19, 2020

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: April 19, 1993

Mateo and Ramses woke up at about the same time the next day. They weren’t a hundred percent sure exactly when that would be, but the powers that be seemed to simply hold the pattern, but in this new time period. It was now April 19, 1993. Little Declan was three years old now, which was probably old enough to start coming up with his own ideas, and operating somewhat independently. He was eating his torus oats, and—why the hell did he just call them torus oats? Was that the shape of the cereal? Yes, it was, but even if he knew that himself, it wasn’t a phrase he would have normally said. He would have just used the brand name, especially since this was all just in his head, and he didn’t have to worry about any legal issues. There was something very strange going on in his brain, but unfortunately, Nerakali wasn’t around to answer any questions. The two of them stood awkwardly in the kitchen entryway, wanting to ask what they could do to help, but not wanting to interrupt Holly Blue’s process.
“Oh, just sit down,” she said. “I made it for all of you.”
“All of us?” Mateo asked.
Holly Blue frowned slightly. “Yes. I built your machine in my lab over the course of the year. There’s not really a way to test it, but it should take you back to the beginning of your pattern. I doubt you’ll need it, though. I had a whole year to think it over, and I’ve decided your relationship with your wife is indeed my business. I’m going to help you to get through whatever went sour, and what better way to do that than with some powdered sugar?” At that very moment, she sprinkled some actual powdered sugar over the pancakes she had just set on the table in front of them. “They must be tired, though.” She lifted her watch, and tapped on the touchscreen, which was not a very 1993 thing to do.
An alarm went off upstairs, followed by a thump.
Holly Blue spoke into her watch, “breakfast is ready. Come as you are.”
Leona appeared from the stairs, followed by Nerakali and Vidar. Mateo couldn’t be mad. He couldn’t hold the high ground here. She had mixed feelings about seeing him. She obviously wanted to see him, or she wouldn’t have chased him back in time, but she was angry about all the effort she had to put into it.
“Now,” Holly Blue began, “my mother...didn’t raise me. I don’t know why I intended to lie to you about that, or why I went back on it in the middle of the sentence. Let’s just call this an original thought. We’re going to hash this out, family therapy style. And we’re gonna do it over a meal.”
“Sweet,” Vidar said, sitting down. “We don’t have to say grace, or anything, though, do we?”
“Dig in.”
That Mateo couldn’t be mad didn’t change the fact that he had no idea what he was going to say to his wife. Holly Blue could have given him a thousand years to think it over, and there still wouldn’t be any words to justify his actions. He didn’t want to defend himself, but he didn’t want to apologize either. Honestly, he just wanted to run away again, perhaps using the new homegrown home stone.
Everyone was really hungry, so they didn’t just sit there in awkward silence, but they didn’t speak either. They just chowed down silently, as if their crazy uncle had just said something ambiguously sexual about his nephew’s fiancĂ©e at thanksgiving dinner, but he was helping to pay for the wedding, so no one could argue. This went on for about ten minutes. Holly Blue waited impatiently for someone to break the ice, and then just had to go for it herself. “Let’s just get some background. Mateo, you killed someone?”
“A villain,” Ramses clarified for him. “Two, actually. Erlendr and Arcadia Preston.”
Holly Blue looked over to see Nerakali’s reaction.
Noticing this, Nerakali spoke up, “they had it coming. We all agreed.”
“Yes,” Leona agreed defiantly. “We all did.”
“But you’re not the one who had to do it,” Mateo spat back with rougher turbulence than he had intended.
“I offered!” Leona clapped back.
“This is not going to become a screaming match,” Holly Blue mediated with her inside voice. “We’re talking. If you don’t remain civil, neither of you will get what you want. Whatever it is you want, I’ll keep it away from you. I know that’s vague, but I don’t have a lot of options for punishment here, so please just do the right thing.”
Mateo sighed. “I didn’t want to leave you, Leona. I didn’t plan on it either. I just...watched the life drain out of their eyes, only to be replaced by new bulbs. It was in that moment that I realized I would never be the same. I’ve killed before, but...this was different. This felt...malicious, vindictive. It didn’t feel like me. You married me. I mean, you married the man I was, but I’m worried that he died with the Prestons.”
“You didn’t even try to stay and talk. You just teleported away. I didn’t know where you were going, or when you were coming back, but I was prepared to give you space. Then I noticed your dot on my Cassidy cuff disappear, along with Ramses’. If you were in shock, I would have understood, but you had the wherewithal to shut me out. That was not okay.”
“I know, I’m sor—”
She cut him off, “this is not the first time you’ve run away from me, Mateo. It will either be the last, or the second to last. You understand me?”
He did. He could either never do it again, or if he did, she wouldn’t try to find him. That was supposedly what he wanted, but also, he didn’t.
“Ah,” Holly Blue said. “That smells like a breakthrough. Or it’s the quiche.”
Everyone perked up.
“Settle down,” Holly Blue told them. “Horace Reaver isn’t the only one who’s allowed to make quiche. Jesus Christ.” She stood up to tend to the oven.
“So, are we cool?” Ramses asked.
“The conversation isn’t over,” Leona said, “but I think we can move on from now. I just don’t know where that is. Do we jump to April 20, 1994 after this? Do we return to where we should be, which is December 12, 2280? Do we completely remove ourselves from our pattern?” She started swiping through menus on her cuff. “There’s gotta be a way to do it.”
“Oh, I know what to do,” Mateo claimed. He did?
“You do?” Nerakali questioned.
Mateo started swiping through his own cuff interface screen, which was yet another term he wouldn’t have used himself. He didn’t even realize what he was looking for. He was now in, like, a hidden partition of the memory drive, or something. What? No, that was just technobabble, it was called something else. He was trying desperately to fight against his newfound intelligence with his oldfound stupidity. Oh my God, what a fitting thing to say, a voice in his head muttered. Oldfound? How the hell did you survive grade school? “Who is that?” Mateo cried out loud.
“What?”
“Shut up! Shut! Up!”
“Are you hearing people’s thoughts again?” Leona asked.
They all looked to Vidar. “Don’t look at me,” he defended. “I put up mental wards after the last time.” He tapped his fork against his head. “Nothin’s gettin’ in here.”
Mateo scoffed, completely out of his control. “You sure about that, jackass?”
“What the hell has gotten into you?” Leona scolded.
“A little bit of perspective, bitch!” Mateo said. But no, that wasn’t him. It couldn’t have. He didn’t use that word, and he sure as shit wouldn’t use it on her. If the shoe fits.Be nice, honey. That last thing was like a different voice; nondescript, like the first one, but still somehow distinct. It was like there were two other people in his brain, and they were fighting for control of his thoughts and body. This was a psychic attack. “Oh, Sherlock’s got it figured out!” he couldn’t help but say out loud.
“Holly Blue, do you have any idea what’s happening?” Ramses asked.
“I have no clue,” she replied. “But I’m taking my son to the panic room. You all are staying out here. I can’t trust anyone.”
“I’ll find you later, caterpillar!” Mateo shouted to her as she ran off.
“Mateo,” Leona tried to say comfortingly. “Talk to me. What are you trying to do?”
All this time, Mateo’s hand was tapping furiously on his Cassidy cuff. “I’m trying to find something? These things can do virtually anything, but you have to know how to use them.”
Leona looked down at his cuff. “Ramses, get that thing off of him. It’s malfunctioning again.”
Mateo’s hand took a quick break from whatever it was doing to return to the main menu, and send an electrical shock to everyone else’s cuff to stop them from trying to stop him.
“I can’t!” Ramses exclaimed. “He still has the primary!”
“Got it,” Mateo declared in a faux British accent. He finally pressed the execute button. A tiny portal appeared over the dining table. The hundemarke fell right through. Mateo caught it before it landed in the deviled eggs. He triumphantly placed the dogtag around his neck.
They all stood up from the table, and backed away.
“Holy crap,” Nerakali said in fear. “That’s not Mateo anymore.”
“Who is it?” Leona asked.
Mateo grimaced. “Yes, who am I, Wilson?”
“It’s my father,” Nerakali answered. “That’s what he called me. I’m named after a character in a maxiseries called Inspectors. Nerakali Wilson.”
“Wasn’t Makarion in that too?” Vidar asked.
“No,” Mateo’s voice said as Mateo’s legs were standing Mateo’s body up. “He was in Masterminds.” His hand picked up the carving fork from the dishwasher that Holly Blue used for the chicken last night, and threw it straight at Vidar. It stuck in his head, causing him to fall down, presumably dead. “I don’t think I’m gonna paradox his death. I’m just gonna let him lie.”
“Get out!” Nerakali shouted at Mateo’s face. “Get out of his head right now!”
“Oh, I would, darling,” Erlendr responded. “Unfortunately, my body is being used by some asshole in the future who doesn’t even deserve to live.”
“Then at least cede control!” Nerakali ordered.
“No. I had a plan, and you people screwed that up. Well, this is what you get. This is my backup plan. I didn’t see it coming, but here we are. You can have Mateo back whenever Arcadia and I find replacements. Until then, I—what are you doing?” Mateo was struggling to take back control. It wasn’t easy, but it clearly wasn’t impossible either. This was his body, and no matter how strong these psychics were, he would always be able to lay claim to it. Was he strong enough to hold the line, though?
“What’s happening?” Leona asked as Mateo was turning away from them.
“He’s fighting back,” Nerakali explained. “Keep fighting!” she urged him. “They’re stowaways. All you have to do is get back into the pilothouse. You can do this!”
“Then what?” Mateo eked out. “They’ll still be here. I’ll have to fight like this every second of my life unless we can get them out. How do we get them out?”
They all looked to Nerakali, who stood there for a moment. “I don’t know how to get them out. Psychics are generally good people, even Sanaa. They don’t do this; they just don’t.”
Mateo moaned. He could feel Erlendr and Arcadia coming back. He only had one choice. He reached over, and input the exit code on his Cassidy cuff. It dropped to the floor. Now at least when his enemies took back control of his body, they wouldn’t have his friends’ powers. He tore the hundemarke off his neck too. He knew he couldn’t hold on forever, but he only needed a couple more minutes. He forced his legs to keep walking, right towards Holly Blue’s lab. There was a mirror on the other side of the room. Had he been simple ol’ Mateo, he wouldn’t have known what the mirror did, but Erlendr was a genius, and let it slip. This was the home stone she had built for them. She kind of had a thing for mirrors, rather than rocks, so it made perfect sense. With the last bit of strength he could muster, he reached around to the controls on the back, and activated the portal. Then he stepped through.
Leona dropped her own Cassidy cuff, and tried to follow him, but couldn’t.

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