Sunday, January 3, 2021

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Saturday, July 21, 2136

Nerakali opened up a two-way transition window, and held it open for an extended period of time, so Aeolia could go and find her partner, Kallias Bran. They made quick work of it, as he was waiting at their rendezvous location, just as he said he would be. He was relieved and grateful to find a group of people who were actually capable of remembering his past. As it turned out, Aeolia had maybe been a little less than forthcoming about their use of their power. They had actually used their ability to influence people from the shadows on many occasions, and were secretly responsible for a number of reality-defining moments in the timeline. She had been honest about their intentions however, in that they only ever controlled people benevolently. They were never greedy, nor megalomaniacal. There appeared to be no cure for their condition, which matched up with everything they had heard about the retgone coins, so they just felt like they needed to contribute positively to society, and this was the only way.
After jumping to July 21, 2136, Mateo and Leona learned about one time when Aeolia and Bran interfered in the timeline that was particularly relevant to them. On August 12, 2158, Mateo was ripped out of the timestream by The Superintendent, and simultaneously removed from the collective consciousness. Leona went on for the next six weeks of her life, having no idea that she ever had a husband. Once she learned he existed, she spent the next however long doing everything she could to get him back, even going so far as to travel to other universes. She found him, of course, and brought him back from the dead, so they could start living their lives together again. Mateo had missed a lot, however, and Leona logically assumed she would have to fill him in, just like any two people separated from each other for any length of time. This proved unnecessary, however, when Mateo found himself being flooded with Leona’s memories, as if they were his own.
They asked people who could manipulate memories whether they had anything to do with what happened to Mateo, including Nerakali, but no one had any clue what they were talking about. The mystery of the shared memories was something they never figured out, and the two of them eventually just let it go, and decided to be grateful for it. Now, though, Bran was able to vocalize the truth, and he revealed finally that he was the one responsible for the brain blending. “I trusted you, Leona,” Bran began. “You accepted me as part of your team, and I think we became friends. Obviously you didn’t remember any of that, but it happened, and I remember it distinctly. If anyone could help us figure out how to restore other people’s memories of me, I knew it would be you. And I knew you would want to. So I conscripted Nerakali Preston’s help, intending to use her abilities on you. I wanted to test it out first, though, since commanding Nerakali proved to be wildly more difficult than most people. All the Prestons are notably resistant to our influence. So I just told her to give Mateo your memories, the ones he would have had himself had he been around. It worked, as you can see, but that was it. Nerakali felt my presence, and locked me out because of it. We were never able to control her again.”
“Ever since that attempt,” Aeolia continued the story, “we’ve been running around the timeline, helping people in any way we could. We abandoned our hopes of returning to the fray, because if Nerakali couldn’t do it, no one could. Had we known about these Cassidy cuffs, we probably would have tried something again, but this is the first we’re hearing of it.”
Mateo placed his hand on Bran’s. “Thank you. I’m sorry you wasted your one chance to ask for Leona’s help on me. I’m grateful, though.”
Kallias shook his head. “It wouldn’t have mattered. Leona would have been able to remember her past interactions with me, maybe, but still wouldn’t have been able to see me in realtime. She probably wouldn’t have even remembered that she once couldn’t remember. Nerakali would have still driven us from her psyche, and nothing would have changed. At least we made your lives together a little easier. Or did it? We don’t really know.”
“It did,” Leona confirmed. “I thank you as well.”
They enjoyed some unawkward silence until their cuffs beeped, indicating that they had a mission to get to.
“It’s the middle of the ocean,” Jeremy pointed out, looking at the two-dimensional map.
“It’s under the ocean,” Sanaa corrected.
“All the way under,” Leona added. “It’s at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.”
“Can we even go that deep?” Angela asked. She gestured towards their mobile home in general. “Can this thing survive down there?”
“Computer?” Leona asked simply.
Yes, I can,” the computer voice replied.
“Sorry to call you a thing,” Angela apologized.
Don’t worry about it.
“That sounds like Mirage,” Mateo noted.
“I already looked into it,” Leona said. “It’s the same voice, but isn’t actually Mirage. Every timeline ends up coming up with it, because of how it can sound innocently comforting, or sexy, just depending on your mood.”
You can call me Imzadi.
“Is that a reference?” Jeremy asked.
“It is.”
Without being asked, Imzadi teleported them to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, where they found themselves floating in the middle of an extensive underwater city. The Parallel natives saw everywhere as a place to live. Seemed too dangerous to Mateo. That was probably why they were here, because people in the main sequence would have constructed their own base down here, and something was destined to go wrong today.
“We don’t need to be here for another several hours,” Sanaa explained to the artificial intelligence.
I thought you might like to visit,” Imzadi explained right back to her. “Forgive me for thinking you had any interest in Parallel culture.” She was a feisty one. Every AI had a different personality, which helped remind humans that they were real people too.
“Okay, okay, you’re right,” Sanaa said sincerely. “Is there a main entrance, or something?”
We’re docking right now,” Imzadi said.
Once they were docked, they were directed to watch an orientation video, which laid out all of the exhibits and other attractions. Angela is the only other one who wanted to go see the ancient submarine exhibit, which was about the first vehicles they used to explore this part of the ocean. Or perhaps she didn’t want to see it at all, but didn’t want Mateo to have to go off alone. It was nice either way, because it would give them a chance to get to know each other. The museum was in a pretty remote section of the complex, though when accounting for teleportation, that didn’t mean a whole lot. What made it truly remote was that it was fairly boring, and there weren’t a whole lot of people there. They could tell how excited the other visitors were to see each other. It validated their passions, and reminded them that they weren’t alone.
After the two of them were finished going through, they were about to leave when Angela noticed a door that was blocked off with yellow tape.
“Not a big deal,” Mateo said. “They’re just doing construction.”
Angela approached the door, and wiped the knob with her finger. “It’s dusty.”
“Yeah, okay.”
“I’ve not been here long, but do you get the feeling that these Parallel people ever procrastinate their projects? I haven’t seen a single construction site anywhere. According to Leona, they can do just about anything in the span of a day.”
“Yeah, I guess I’ve not—what are you doing?”
“I have to see what’s on the other side. I’m curious.” She ducked under the tape, and walked through the door.
“Oh, God,” Mateo said in a breathy but nonjudgmental voice. The natives probably wouldn’t get mad at them about this, since they didn’t seem to ever get mad about anything, but that didn’t mean they should push their luck. Still, he had to admit he was kind of curious too. The tape blocking off the door alone looked very out of place in this reality.
Mateo followed her down the dark winding hallways for a bit until they started hearing noises up ahead, and felt compelled to walk in front of her instead. She was not offended about this. They kept walking towards the noises. They sounded more like computer cooling fans, and less like buzzsaws, but neither of them really knew what construction looked like in a world with this kind of technology. What was strange, however, was what they found when they finally made it to the room with all the computer servers. A giant insectoid was sitting at a terminal. It seemed to sense their presence, and turned around to see. It looked even buggier from this angle. Before they could introduce themselves to them, something struck Mateo in the back of the head.
He woke to a terrible headache, as one might expect, but his neck hurt a lot too. Angela was in the chair next to him, not yet awake. The bug man was standing in front of them, or not, it could have been some other bug man. It was probably difficult for a human to tell them apart.
“Why aren’t we just killing them?” the bug asked.
Another bug approached from the server stacks. “I have some questions. About these.” He was holding up Mateo and Angela’s Cassidy cuffs. They should have been coded to their respective DNA, but who knows what kind of hacking technology these creatures possessed?
“What do you wanna know?” Mateo asked.
“Where did they come from?”
“A friend built them for us.” He decided to be as polite as possible, and answer all their questions, but as vaguely as possible, to avoid these people from being able to exploit this knowledge. He still didn’t know what they wanted, or if they were friend of foe.
“For what purpose?”
“We use them for communication.” It wasn’t a lie, but it was not the whole story. If the bugs ever found out the truth, hopefully they wouldn’t use it against them since he wasn’t technically being dishonest.
“So others know where you are.”
“Yes,” Mateo confirmed. He actually didn’t know. It was possible to track someone wearing a cuff, but he couldn’t know whether anyone was doing that since he didn’t know how long the two of them had been down here, and whether anyone would be looking for them yet.
The bugs seemed to recognize that he wasn’t being entirely forthcoming, but it was hard to read their facial expressions, since Mateo wasn’t familiar with their species’ nuances. The one in charge nodded, though. Before he could ask any more questions, they all heard a pounding sound that was coming from over there. They waited a few seconds, only to hear another pounding, but they could also see the air ripple a little bit, as if being distorted by heat. Another pound, and the air rippled more. The space was being warped, presumably by something trying to get through some kind of portal that was—for whatever reason—not very easy to open.
“The Progenitor,” the subordinate bug said. “They’ve found us.”
“Hold your ground,” his superior ordered him.
More pounding, enough to wake up Angela. “What’s goin’ on?”
“These fine folk are worried about that portal,” Mateo explained to the best of his ability.
“You shut up!” the leader bug shouted. “He’s not coming to save you.”
“I wouldn’t expect him to,” Mateo said.
“Who are they talking about?”
More pounding, and faster now. The portal barrier was nearly broken.
“I dunno,” Mateo answered her.
After even faster poundings, the portal shattered open, releasing a wave of color, and letting a man crawl through, followed by a woman who was dressed up like a superhero. The subordinate was hyperventilating. He tried to run away, but the man chased after him. “Come here, you little snake doctor!” the man shouted. He tackled the bug, and started punching him in the face. Meanwhile, the superhero woman went after the leader bug. She used more finesse, and instead of striking her opponent, chose to use his own weight and momentum against himself. She kept knocking him to the floor, and letting him tire himself out. The man was a brawler, and she was an artist, but they would occasionally switch opponents without missing a beat, as if having rehearsed it. In the end, the leader bug was apparently dead, and the subordinate was bound in zip cuffs.
The man tried to leave back through the portal, but the woman started to help Mateo out of his own bindings. “Amaranti, we gotta go. I’m too tired to punch a new thinny.”
“We help them, that’s what we do,” she said to the man. “If you have to punch a new portal, then that’s what you’ll do, because it’s your job.”
The guy sucked his teeth, and looked away dismissively.
“Thank you,” Mateo said. As Amaranti was freeing Angela, he went over to retrieve their Cassidy cuffs. “Oh, no. Is that the date?”
“We don’t know what date it is,” Amaranti replied. “We’re not exactly from around here.”
“Yeah, you’re from another universe. I’m just sending the question into the aether, because I already know the answer.”
“Did we miss the jump?” Angela asked. “How is that possible? Wouldn’t you have just jumped without me?”
The bug alien snickered. “He was messing with you. He didn’t need to ask those questions. We know who you are, and what you do. We suppressed your powers.”
Mateo reached to the back of his neck, and felt a patch that was clearly attached to something that went deeper into his spine.
Amaranti sighed. “Come with us. We’ll get you to a doctor, and then deliver you back to wherever it is you belong.”

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