Sunday, September 5, 2021

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: February 14, 2020

Now, it was cold back in February of 2013. It was colder than Mateo would have expected for Utah. But there was no precipitation, and no wind. In 2020, on whatever date, there was still no precipitation, but it was much, much colder, and the wind made it unbearable. All this time, Leona had tried to convince Mateo to sleep with his clothes on, because as time travelers, that was the safest way to do it. He attempted this multiple times, but never to any success. He often woke up completely naked without any recollection of removing his clothing sometime in the middle of the night. Other times, he could recall every time he peeled off another layer. It just wasn’t comfortable enough, so in the end, he had to make a conscious decision to not worry about it anymore. He would rather jump to a dangerous situation in the nude than jump there without at least a little rest. At the moment, he was only wearing his underwear, probably because going bare next to the unpredictable Past!Lowell could have been more hazardous to his health than a poor night’s rest.
The tent was gone, as was his pile of clothes. Anatol was nowhere to be seen. The shock of the freeze caused Mateo to just collapse right there on the frosty ground. He cuddled himself, trying to get warm. He struggled there for an indeterminate amount of time before he realized that his only chance of surviving this was to find shelter. Scared, he got himself back to his feet, and desperately looked around. He was in the middle of the woods, and it was still nighttime. “Leona,” he whispered, presumably worried about waking up a bear. Even the appearance of a raccoon would freak him out in his condition. Still, this was going to get him nowhere. “Leona,” he said in a louder voice. “Leona!” he shouted.
Only about ten meters away, Leona woke up to the sound of her husband’s pleas. She scurried out of the tent, immediately realizing that they were not in the same place they were before. “Mateo!”
They rushed over to each other, and came into a hug, not just because they loved each other, but because it was well below freezing out here. “Come on,” she said. She helped him between the trees, and to the tent.
Jeremy was up by now, and watching them from the entrance. He backwalked deeper in to give them more space. He then turned his sleeping back around so it would open towards Leona’s. They all got into the double bag and created a Mateo sandwich, rubbing his arms to generate some heat. “Hand warmers,” Jeremy suggested. He flipped over and wrestled with his bag. He took out the three packs he still had left. “Shake these, and hold them in your hands. I’ll shake the other, and keep it on the back of your neck. It’s often overlooked.”
They lay there for about an hour. All three of them fell asleep again. They woke up to the sun at 7:15, glad that they were now warm enough to stay alive. As Mateo was putting on an extra set of Jeremy’s clothes, their Cassidy cuffs beeped. The mission was eleven miles away as the crow flies, and they had less than two hours to get there. The three of them left the tent standing, along with much of their supplies, and got on their way. Mateo didn’t even have any decent footwear. He insisted on wearing Jeremy’s water shoes—which had been put in his new pack by the sporting goods store, for whatever reason—because Jeremy’s boots wouldn’t fit him anyway. He wore two pairs of socks, and just suffered a little more than he should have through the hike to civilization. The rest of his body was fine as he was using the sleeping bag as a jacket, but he kind of wished he had saved the hand warmers. His feet needed them more now than his hands ever did.
Less than a mile into their trek, they were stepping onto Hutton Road when they saw a man about to drive out of his neighborhood, probably on his commute to work. He could see that they were in distress, so he pulled up next to them, and offered a ride. He cranked up the heat, and headed towards the city before asking them where they needed to go. They couldn’t quite tell, as the cuffs were still only showing them location and destination. But for now, this was the right direction.
“I live in Kansas, but work in downtown KCMO. I’m the boss, so I can be late, and my boss is beautiful and amazing.  Do you need to go to the hospital, or the police station?”
“Actually,” Mateo said, “the nearest shoe store would be great.”
“That’s probably in Legends,” the driver said as they were getting onto the highway. “Hey Thistle, what’s the nearest shoe store?” The AI assistant listed off a few options, but none of them was open until later. They had to get to the mission before then. “That’s okay. If you just need to get your feet wrapped up better, we can go to the retail store. It opens at 8:00, and I know that because I once accidentally left my coffee on the roof, and had to desperately look for a replacement before a meeting. But again, no meeting today, so I can take you anywhere you need to go, even multiple places. I used to do this for a living; drove for RideSauce.”
“Oh, yeah?” Mateo asked. “Me too.”
“Nice. What do you do now?”
“Search and rescue,” Jeremy answered. It was a lie in that search and rescue was a real job, which people trained for extensively, but also the truth in that they often performed it in its most basic form.
The driver sounded impressed. “Really?”
“Well, we’re training,” Leona amended. She couldn’t backtrack the fib completely, so she decided to make it make sense. “That’s why we’re out here like this. My husband was playing the victim, while the two of us were sent to find him. The last part of the exercise is getting back to base.”
“Oh, am I interfering with that?” he asked as they were pulling into the outlet mall complex.
“Oh, no,” Mateo insisted. “The instructor said to get back by any means necessary. You’re a pretty good means. We really appreciate it. We’ll probably win the competition because of you.”
“I’m honored,” the driver said proudly.
They parked and got out. As they were walking towards the entrance, a woman was going for another door. Mateo did a double take, but it wasn’t necessary. He had seen this woman just yesterday from his perspective. It was almost seven years ago for her, so she wouldn’t recognize them, but he felt compelled to speak up. “Cecelia?”
She turned her head, leaving her hand on the door. “The Matics.”
“You remember us?” Leona questioned.
“You remember me.”
“How could anyone forget you?” Jeremy asked rhetorically, inching closer.
“Weren’t there four of you?” Cecelia asked.
“Don’t worry about it,” Leona said dismissively, not wanting to alert Anatol to their little scheme.
“Do you still work in shoes?” Mateo asked. “I need shoes.”
“Yes, you do.” a confused Cecelia grinned, and looked at his feet. “Unfortunately for you, I’m outta the game. I went back to school, and now I’m a guidance counselor.”
Jeremy smiled at her. “Oh, good for you. That must be so rewarding.” He liked women, but since he grew up only existing during about twenty percent of the year, he had very little experience with them. When he saw someone he liked, he came on strong.
She smiled politely. “I see the packs are holding up quite nicely after all this time.” The driver didn’t say anything, but as nice as he was being, he couldn’t be trusted with their belongings. It looked weird for them to come into the store with them, but probably necessary. “That’s why I remember you; it was an odd request, fully supplied hiking packs. I found out later that the store didn’t really do that sort of thing, and I went above and beyond. I know what you’re thinking, but I didn’t get a raise. They said that the rise in expectations from their customers would cost them too much.”
“We didn’t tell anybody,” Leona insisted.
“Whatever, it was Utah.” She paused, but it was clear she had things to do. “Well, it was nice running into you again. I have to go pick up some things before school. I’m already running a bit late.”
“Oh no, sorry,” Jeremy apologized. “It’s fine, we’re late too.”
“Okay, great, bye,” she said, walking in.
Jeremy smiled and crossed his arms. It was then that he seemed to notice his cuff. “The mission. It’s gone. Y’all got dots?”
The other two checked theirs. No dots.
“You mean you don’t have to get back to base?” the driver guessed.
“Yeah, that means we can just go home.” It sounded sad, like they not only lost the competition, but also failed the training exercise. It didn’t matter, though, since it wasn’t the truth. The real sad thing was that they may have just failed their actual mission, even though they weren’t scheduled to be there until 9:00. What had changed while they were here? “Thank you for the ride,” Leona said to the driver. “I think we’re just gonna hang around here, and grab some breakfast. Then we’ll call a RideSauce car.”
“Are you sure?” he asked.
“Yeah, you’ve been a great help,” Mateo agreed.
“Before you go,” Jeremy stopped him, “what’s your name?” Oh yeah, they hadn’t bothered asking him that yet. How rude?
He smiled, unfazed by the delay. “Norberto. Norberto Pastore, at your service.” The name sounded familiar, but Mateo left his stuff in the past, including the little notebook where he kept track of all the people he met, or heard of.
They said their goodbyes, and parted ways. The search and rescuers walked into the store, and headed for the fast food restaurant inside. Once they had their food, they sat down at a table. Anatol Klugman walked up with his own food, and Mateo’s regular bag over his shoulders. He dropped it to the floor, and sat down to start eating. He didn’t speak right away, so the other three just began their own meal, and waited for something to change.
“So?” Anatol began. “Did you have fun?”
“It was cold,” Mateo said, mouth full.
“I bet. You didn’t have any clothes on.”
“Thanks for that,” Mateo said sarcastically.
“No problem.” He pretended that this was all genuine and serious.
“What was the point of that exercise, just to remind us that you’re in charge?” Leona asked.
“Absolutely not,” Anatol contended. “You saved someone’s life today?”
“Whose? Norberto’s? Was he about to get in a car accident on his way to work?” Jeremy guessed.
“No, not him,” Anatol disputed. “I mean, he has his role in the future, but I don’t actually care about him. No, there was a the woods. He was very hurt, and as we’ve established, it was very cold. Not long after you left, he found the tent that you left behind, and he crawled inside. Your supplies are presently keeping him alive while he waits for help.”
“Who is he? Another one of your serial killer killers?” Mateo presumed.
“His name is Jabez Carpenter,” Anatol explained. “He’s an associate of Mercury Fletcher’s.”
“Why didn’t you just call emergency services, and tell them where he was? That would have been far easier.”
Anatol laughed. “He’s supposed to be in jail. No cops.” He could have also just left him the tent, but...whatever. Further arguing would have done them no good. “Anyway, I was—shall we say—listening in on your conversation with Cecelia, who has served her role a number of times, and can finally move on with her life. I noticed she mentioned there were four of you at the store seven years ago. What did she mean by that? You didn’t correct her.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Leona lied. She tried to ignore him and focus on her hash browns.
Anatol cleared his throat, and started tapping on the primary cuff. The conversation they had earlier with Cecelia played back to them. They could hear her clearly mention a fourth person.
“Shit,” Leona said. They had been caught. She held her hand in front of her, and moved them around in a very deliberate manner. They were finger tuts, and it was their way of secretly reaching out to someone who had been helping them for a while now.
Tertius Valerius appeared from a portal, holding onto a rope attached to the other side. He would not be able to stick around for long like this.
“Take him,” Leona ordered, gesturing towards Jeremy. “Now.”
“He’s sitting right there,” Tertius pointed out, indicating Anatol.
“I know, just do it.”
“Really,” Jeremy argued. “It’s fine, I can stay.”
“We promised we would get you all out, and we’re gonna get you all out. Now go.”
Tertius took Jeremy by the hand, then he tugged on the rope twice with his other. They were both pulled into the portal. A crowd had formed to witness it, but once the portal evaporated, all of their memories were erased. Only the three remaining time travelers could remember that anything had ever happened.
“I see,” Anatol said, possibly defeated. “This is going to make things surprisingly interesting. I don’t think you’re gonna like what I make you do, now that I know what you’ve been keeping from me.”
“Do your worst,” Mateo demanded. “Our friends are all safe now.”

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