Saturday, December 3, 2022


Alyssa adds more shirts to the suitcase as Carlin stands there, watching her. He’s old enough to pack for himself, but he doesn’t want to go, so this is his way of being defiant. If she’s the one who wants this, then she’s going to be the one to make it happen, and he doesn’t have to help her with that. Young Moray has just finished packing his own bag, because while he doesn’t want to leave either, making people do things for him is not his style. Alyssa smiles sadly over at him. “Thank you, Mor.”
“Why do we have to go?” Carlin questions.
“Because it’s not safe here anymore.”
“It’s never really been safe,” he argues. “These people’s lives are dangerous, that’s what makes them so interesting.”
“It’s become more dangerous since we arrived,” Alyssa clarifies.
“Then why aren’t you coming with us?” Moray asks her.
She stops trying to close Carlin’s bag, and goes over to Moray. She gets on her knees, and holds him by the arms. “You understand that they’re time travelers, right?”
“Yeah,” Moray confirms, holding back tears.
“Well, they know things about the future. They know things about my future. I’m destined to work with them, they’ve already seen it.”
“What happens to us in the future?”
Alyssa looks at Carlin over her shoulder, and then back to Moray. “You’re safe, and it’s because today, you go to Palmeria.”
“You’re lying,” Carlin believes.
“I’m not,” Alyssa lies. “That is where you belong.” She stands back up. “And where I belong. We’ll see each other again, I promise. Mateo can teleport me there whenever I need to. In the meantime, we’ll holo-chat, and text, okay?”
“Okay.” Moray is still holding back those tears, and doing a pretty good job of it.
“Okay,” she echoes. She leans over to kiss him on the forehead, then turns to face Carlin. “I need you to take care of him, because I’m not in a position to do it anymore.”
Carlin seethes just a little, but then grows determined. He punches the top of his suitcase, and holds his fist in place while his other hand zips it up. “I assume they have internet. I’m not done with the religion research.”
Relieved, Alyssa nods. “They do; Mateo confirmed. In fact, they don’t have dogma filters, so you won’t be limited to any given religion’s biased interpretation of competing faiths. You’ll have a better understanding of the history and culture for your thesis.”
“What’s a thesis?” Carlin asks.
“It’s kind of when you come to a conclusion before your research, and then you do the research to find out if it’s actually true.”
“Do they even need this anymore? I mean, if I’m leaving...”
“Part of the reason you’re leaving is so that you can continue safely, and without worrying about anything else,” Alyssa explains. “It’s still vitally important data; more so now, probably. We’re not just tryna get rid of ya, I promise.”
“I’m helping with it,” Moray interjects.
“I know,” Alyssa says to him proudly. “Now, come on. “We’re going to have one last group meal together before the big move.”

Friday, December 2, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: September 29, 2398

That proves it. Meredarchos and Erlendr are sharing a body, they can transfer themselves to anyone they choose, and the whole thing with taking Trina’s body was just a ruse to get them to look for the wrong face. The danger here is that, regardless of what body they’re possessing at the moment, they can psychically infect others. Either their victims become so loyal to them that they’re willing to kill their own friends, or the process instills such hatred in them that they’re willing to kill their own friends. Either result ends the same, and they don’t know how to stop it. Arcadia was able to keep them out of her head, as well as Vearden’s, but she may not be able to scale that to the entire team, let alone everyone in the world. Right now, the evil duo feels like an unstoppable force, and while nowhere is safe, some places may be safer than others.
“Are you sure?” Leona asks. She came back early from her business trip at the factory in Oberlin, Ohio to deal with all this.
“Positive,” Arcadia answers. “He’s...a shell.”
Heath is kind of like a baby, except that he doesn’t cry, and he has the motor functions of an adult with absolutely no motivation. If someone turns his head to the left, he just leaves it there. If they stick his hands up in the air, he leaves them there too. He can be physically manipulated like a puppet with invisible strings. He can’t talk, or express needs and wants. He can’t feed himself, and he soils his pants when the opportunity comes up. Fortunately, he’s showing signs of being able to relearn all of these things. He’s mimicked basic sounds, and Marie is hopeful that he will one day speak again. He won’t really be Heath, though. He’s just a doll who looks exactly like her husband did, who is now dead. Any emotional attachment she holds for this individual is irrational and human. He can’t reciprocate, at least not yet.
“We don’t have the resources to protect him,” Leona points out, “nor the qualifications.”
“What about our joint therapist?” Marie asks. She’s always teary-eyed now, but keeping it together.
“She’s not qualified to help someone like this with something like this,” Leona explains.
“But surely she knows someone. He doesn’t need neurological help, the tools are all there in his head. He just needs...a parent. I can help partially, but I really need the guidance of someone who understands development.”
“Okay, I can try to speak with Magnus Sharpe,” Leona agrees.
“No, I know her the best,” Marie says. “I’ll speak with her. I just need someone to help Heath get into bed for a nap.”
“I can do that,” Arcadia volunteers. She frowns when Marie gives her a look. “Forget what you remember of me, or what you’ve been told. I’m not that person anymore. I want to help. He and I grew close while we were living together at the condo. Let me do this.”
Marie is hesitant, but gives in. Heath needs constant supervision, and since she can’t be with him all the time, she’ll have to learn to trust others to pitch in. She steps away to make the call, expecting to have to speak to a number of people regarding her husband’s unique condition.
Mateo nods at her respectfully as he’s entering the apartment. He sees Arcadia ushering Heath into the bedroom. “What can I do?” he asks his wife.
Leona has been thinking about that. “You developed rapport with the founder of Palmeria, correct?”
“Keaton Palmer, yes, I did. He’s quite friendly. He’s going to help us leave this reality when his ride shows up in five months.”
“Even if it overrides that favor, I need you to ask him for a new one.”
“What’s that?”
Leona releases a hologram from her watch, showing a satellite view of the islands. “I had Ramses look into why you weren’t able to teleport within the borders of the island. Preliminary data suggests a powerful barrier protecting the area. I wondered how he was able to prevent invasion without any security to speak of. Why, even a couple of kids wanting to pull a prank might try to boat up there and teepee the woods. They can’t. Ramses found stories of people trying. They all wake up on this side of the border, feeling terribly sick, and with no memory of what happened to them. Barely any time has passed. This may be our best defense against Meredarchos, and his future legions. I think he has to be in proximity to get into your head.”
“You want me to ask Palmer how he built his barrier?”
“More than that, I want you to ask if he would be willing to accept some refugees. We need to protect our family. We need to protect Heath and Marie, and the kids. Ram and I can construct our own barrier of some kind if we need to, but this would still be a warzone. Palmeria is small, remote, and inconsequential.”
“You don’t need to sell me on it, love. I got you.” Mateo disappears.
Arcadia steps out of the bedroom and shuts the door quietly. “I think he understood me when I told him to sleep. He closed his eyelids on his own upon hearing the words. He’s picking up skills quickly.”
“Good. I know that Marie appreciates the help, and I appreciate you wanting to help us at all. And I think we both know that playing capacity nurse doesn’t exactly make use of your own skills, does it?”
Arcadia frowns. “What do you mean by that?”
“Kivi is leaving us. She’s leaving the business, and staying in the field. She may not know yet, but she’s taking her team leader up on an offer to work full time for SD6.”
“Okay...” Arcadia isn’t sure why she needs to know any of this.
“I have a lot of pull there, so while I haven’t actually spoken to anyone about it, I’m certain that I can get you assigned to the team as well.”
“Why would I do that?”
“Kivi can find Meredarchos and Erlendr. You can combat their psychic power.”
Arcadia wants to argue, but she knows she’s in no position to do so. “Okay.”
“Before you leave for that, however, I need you to do something else,” Leona begins, “if you’re even capable of it.”
“I’ll try, whatever it is.”
“What you did for Vearden, when you blocked psychic energy from getting into his head, or whatever it is. Is that permanent, or has his mental wall fallen since then?”
“I made it permanent once I realized the full extent of the threat. I suppose you want me to do the same for everyone else?”
“I like the way you think,” Leona says.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: September 28, 2398

There’s a knock at the door. No one has the chance to even go over to answer it before it opens. A large and looming man comes down the hallway. His facial expression keeps changing from happy to irritated, like he can’t decide which one he feels. Vearden jumps up, and places himself between the man and his friends. Seeing this, the man forces himself to hold a smile. “I’m glad that my daughter found someone like you.”
Arcadia reaches behind the couch cushion and pulls out the emergency knife. Without any warning, she flings it at the body that her father is now wearing. It lands right in his heart, where it belongs.
Erlendr looks down at it. “This body will die soon, but we will find another.” He reaches both arms out like a stereotypical Frankenstein monster.
Arcadia feels a pulsing energy in her head. He’s trying to break into her brain, which would normally be fine, because she can hold the door closed, but her friends are not like her. She’s particularly worried about her beau, Vearden. She’s always struggled with empathizing with other people. She’s always had her own feelings—she’s not a sociopath—but she’s only recently figured out how to care about others. Well, she’s learned how to truly care about them, instead of just convincing herself that she does. If she doesn’t help combat the psychic intrusion for the other people in this room, though, it will prove that she didn’t learn anything. She really is trying to be a better person. Vearden is helping her with it. He’s not directly teaching her what it takes; she’s smart enough to understand academically. She just needs to be reminded everyday that it is possible for someone to love her. But that love is not what’s going to save them now. It’s her love for them that will. She concentrates on putting up barriers to protect them.
Erlendr smirks. “You may protect one or two, but you can’t keep me out of all of their minds.” He tips backwards, and falls over. He’s not dead yet, just unable to withstand his own weight.
She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t protect all of them, like he said. Vearden appears to be safe, she created a psychic barrier to keep Erlendr—as well as Meredarchos, most likely, judging by the fact that he used the word we to describe himself—out of him. Bridgette and Heath, on the other hand, are not necessarily safe. What did they do to them, though? The stranger’s body is dying anyway, which means that the psychic stowaways can’t maintain control over them, so did they just want information, or what?
Heath suddenly breaks out of a stupor, and gathers his bearings. He looks around, quickly settling on the dying man on the floor. “Master, no!” He runs over, and dives down to inspect the wound. “No, it’ll be okay. You’ll be okay. Just hold on. He takes off his own shirt to wrap around the knife, and keep pressure on the wound.”
“What are you doing?” Vearden questions.
“Somebody help!” Heath cries. “We can’t let him die!”
“Not only can we let him die,” Bridgette contends, “but we have to make sure it happens. Every possible vessel for his twisted soul is a threat.” She runs over too, but not to help. She jerks the knife out of the man’s chest, and then drives it into his chin, all the way through to his brain.
“No!” Heath elbows her in the face, knocking her to her back.
Vearden runs over and tries to break them apart, but they just keep fighting each other. They’re relentless. “Stop! Just stop!” It’s useless. Bridgette is as dedicated to destroying all of Meredarchos’ followers as Heath is to protecting his master. “Little help here?” Vearden asks Arcadia.
“I’m trying to help,” Arcadia explains. “I’m trying to clean their minds of whatever he infected them with.” It’s not working. He created his own barrier to prevent that very thing. He’s a strong psychic, that’s for sure...leagues beyond better than Erlendr. Combined, they’re the greatest threat she’s ever encountered. They have to be stopped, and saving these two people isn’t going to help. They can’t be saved anyway, and if it’s between preserving their lives, or killing the infection before it can spread, that’s what she’s going to do. They can at least die with a little dignity, though. The knife is too messy and slow. One shot to the head is the only good option.
“Is it working?” Vearden asks, doing his damned best to hold the fighters apart.
“No,” Arcadia replies plainly. She goes to retrieve the gun from the safe.
“Arcadia!” Vearden shouts at her. “Arcadia! What are you doing! No, no, no, no no! Ow! NO! Arcadia, come back! They just stabbed each other!”
Arcadia runs back into the common area to find both Heath and Bridgette on the floor, bleeding. “What happened?”
“Heath remembered the knife. He took it out, and sliced my arm. Then he stabbed Bridgette in the heart, so she took it out and tried to do the same. He dodged, so it landed in his stomach. I think he’s still alive.”
Arcadia checks them both for pulses. “They’re both alive, but barely.”
“We have to help them,” Vearden pleads.
“If we do, they’ll just go back to killing each other, and anyone else who gets in their way.”
“So we just let them die?”
“They’re like zombies, V; They can’t be cured.”
Vearden seethes. “I refuse to accept that.” He takes out his phone, and calls Mateo. “Matt? I need a doctor at the condo right now. They’re gonna die.”
Fifteen seconds later, Mateo appears in the room, holding onto a woman that Arcadia presumes to be a doctor. “What just happened?” she asks, confused.
“It doesn’t matter,” Vearden tells her. “Just save them.”
She kneels down to get to work. “We’re going to have to triage,” she says after seeing how far gone Bridgette is.
“Matt?” Vearden asks.
Mateo disappears and returns with a second doctor so he can focus on Heath. While they’re doing that, Mateo feels like the right thing to do is to bring Marie here. They’re struggling, but they’re still married, and still in love. She’s seen a lot of death in her day, so she’s crying and pleading, but she doesn’t interfere with the medical professionals’ work.
The doctor who was trying to save Bridgette sighs. “I’m sorry, she’s gone. Time of death thirteen-oh-nine.”
Marie can see that Heath is on his way out too. He’s not going to last much longer unless they take drastic measures. She starts thinking about her options. Arcadia can’t quite read her thoughts, but she can sense what’s happening in there. Finally, she thinks she has it. “Mateo, where is your knife?”
“What knife?” Mateo asks.
“The one that can duplicate things,” Marie clarifies.
“If the doctor needs any more equipment, I’ll be happy to retrieve it for them.”
“I’m not talking about equipment,” Marie says. “I’m talking about Heath. Duplicate him.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Vearden questions.
“It doesn’t work on people, Marie,” Mateo claims.
“Have you ever tried?”
“Have I ever stabbed someone to see if they die while a duplicate of them appears next to them? No, I guess I haven’t, but that’s crazy!”
“Doctor, what are the chances that he lives?” Marie asks him.
The doctor looks up. “They’re very low.”’
“There.” Marie starts talking with her hands. “You can stab him, a second one will appear next to him, and the first one will die anyway. The second one, however, will be good as new, right; that’s how it works? Now we have nothing to lose.”
“I’ll direct you to my earlier comment about that being crazy.”
“I would do it myself,” Marie argues, “but evidently you’re the only one with the literal magic touch, so would you please just try?”
“There’s a low chance of him surviving,” Vearden reasons, having basically caught up with what they’re talking about. “That’s not zero. But if you’re method of saving him requires stabbing him again, those chances drop much lower, I’m sure.”
Marie ignores him. “Please,” she begs Mateo.
“I don’t know what you’re going on about,” the doctor begins, “but if you plan on stabbing our patient, then we’re out.” They both clearly work for the government, but they haven’t been told everything.
Mateo frowns. “I can’t be blamed for the consequences.” He disappears and returns thirty seconds later, holding the knife.
“Maybe you should test it on her first,” Vearden suggests.
“Or maybe he shouldn’t do it at all,” Arcadia warns. “They’re both infected. They pose a risk to us all, especially anyone here without the slightest psychic ability.”
“Noted,” Mateo says, but it’s hard to tell how genuine he’s being. He pauses to think about it, but has to make a decision quickly, because if it doesn’t work for Bridgette, it definitely won’t work for Heath if he waits too long. He closes his eyes, and stabs her. Nothing happens. “I really don’t think this is gonna work, Marie.”
Marie grabs the television remote, and hands it to him. “Let’s see if it’s you or the knife, or just because she’s too far gone.”
Mateo sets the remote on the floor and stabs it with no hesitation. It breaks apart, but a second one pops out of the aether, and lands right next to it. “She’s either too dead, or too a human being.”
“If you stab him,” the other doctor warns, “we’re gone.”
“The door is that way.” Once they’ve left, Mateo crosses his fingers, and stabs Heath as well. Heath lurches and gasps, and his muscles relax more than they already were. For a few seconds, nothing else happens. Then a light appears out of nowhere and grows until it’s in the vague shape of a person. It recedes quickly, leaving a naked Heath lying next to his former self.
“Oh my God, it actually worked,” Vearden muses. Physically, yes, it did. Mentally, it didn’t work at all.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: September 27, 2398

Kivi is exhausted. She’s been working with an SD6 team to hunt down one or all of three people. They need to find Meredarchos, Erlendr Preston, or the version of Erlendr who hasn’t yet been sent off to that other universe. He will still be in Ramses’ body, but the other two are unknown. They’re theoretically looking for little Trina McIver, but they’re not sure the extent of Merdarchos’ power. He had more tricks up his sleeve than they knew when he first arrived, so maybe there’s more, and that’s still just the tip of the iceberg. So far, Kivi and the operatives have found nothing. They’ve not uncovered a shred of evidence that any of these people have ever set foot on this planet. Given enough time, she’s supposed to be able to locate anyone, and this has certainly been proven true many times over the past week...just not in the way that they want.
The team leader nods her head, prompting the spotter to slip the snake camera underneath the locked door. “Too dark. Activating night vision,” he whispers.
“What do you see in there?” the leader asks.
“Three people. No, five. They’re sitting in a circle. One of them is lighting candles.” He peers deeper into the viewer. “It looks like a religious ceremony.”
“Can you clock any faces?”
“No. We’ll have to go in.”
“Secondary entrance?”
The spotter turns the snake. “Open skylight. No backdoor.”
“Hurst, cover the main entrance here,” she orders the spotter. “Strand and Kermode, go to the roof. The rest of you will be with me, standard formation. Klein...blow the door.”
“Wait, where can I go?” Kivi asks as the engineer is setting his explosives.
“I said standard formation,” team leader Alserda repeats.
“You know I don’t have the training for that,” Kivi argues.
“You’ve seen us do it several times, we all trust you now,” Alserda insists.
“They heard us,” Hurst announces, pulling the snake back.
“Klein, now!”
They barely have enough time to duck away before the doors blow open. The operatives burst into the room, and surround the targets. They could be bad guys, they could be good guys. They could be nobodies. It’s too early to tell. They don’t know anything about this situation. All Kivi can say for sure is that someone is here who needs to be found. It’s probably not the three men they’re after, but they have to move forward as if it is. So far, she’s rescued a missing kid, a wandering dementia patient, a few criminals, and a guy who just wanted to start a new life somewhere else. No matter how hard she tries to decide who her special gift seeks, it brings her to someone she didn’t even know needed to be found. It feels like the universe has taken control over her, like she’s just a salmon in the main sequence who the powers that be have chosen to be a Superfinder. Maybe it is her calling, but for now, they feel more like distractions. She’s happy to find these people, but they’re not who she’s really looking for. If the universe really wants her to do this, then it ought to let her finish her first mission first.
“State your business!” Alserda demands.
The people in robes hold their hands up high in surrender. “We’re just trying to worship in peace!” one of them says.
“We’re not hurting anyone!” says another.
“Hurst, face scanner,” Alserda orders.
The spotter holds the scanner up to each of their faces. Once he’s done, he says, “all missing college students. Suspected runaways.”
“We didn’t run away,” one of them argues.
“Well, we did, but we had to. The school won’t let us observe our holidays because it’s not an officially registered faith.”
Alserda turns to Kivi. “Bristol, you can sense our targets when you’re closer, right? What do you make of them?”
She’s been trying to find the three real targets this whole time, but the closer she is to a suspect, the easier it for her to rule them out. She scans the worshipers too, but with her own senses. “It’s not them. They must be who the scanner says they are.”
“Are you going to report us?” the apparent lead worshiper asks.
“That’s not our department.” Alserda walks away. “McGuinness, run the spiel.”
“It’ll be my last time, sir.” McGuiness is Alserda’s lieutenant on the tack team, and she’s on her way to retirement. She was actually meant to retire sooner, but this mission came up, and SD6 hasn’t been able to find a replacement. It’s become too late, though. McGuiness has other plans with her life, and her obligation to the government is over. They can’t keep her any longer, so she’s decided to leave at the end of the week. It’s going to take her that long to do her exit interview, and complete the closing paperwork. She was hoping to find Meredarchos and Erlendr, as are they all, but that’s not going to happen. Now she has to read these people their rights, and make them sign an NDA.
“I understand.” Alserda isn’t happy about losing her number two, but again, she has no choice in the matter. She speaks into her radio. “Secure the scene. We’ll meet you back at the base. Follow me,” she says to Kivi and Kivi alone.
“Sir. I’m sorry if I caused a problem.”
“That’s now what I want to talk to you about.” Alserda holds the car door open for her. “Have you ever thought about serving?”
“I serve my team,” Kivi explains. “I don’t serve the U.S. For now, our interests just happen to be aligned.”
“I understand that, but you’ve shown promise. I could sure use someone with your skills on my team. We’re losing someone, so we’ll be down an operative.”
“Sir, there’s no way I could be your lieutenant.”
Alserda laughs. “No, you couldn’t. You don’t have near enough experience. The top dogs would never allow it. No, I’m thinking about shaking up the team. Strand has learned enough to be an engineer, freeing Klein to be my new L-T. Meanwhile, Hurst has always wanted to be a tech, so he’ll replace Strand, and you can replace Hurst.”
“As a spotter?” Kivi questions. “I barely understand what he does.”
“He uses his eyes. He operates the cameras and scanners, as you’ve seen. If Kermode needs to snipe anyone, you’ll help her spot targets.”
“I don’t know about that.” Kivi isn’t in love with violence.
“You have a gift I’ve never seen before. Just think about it, okay?”
“Okay, I’ll consider your offer,” she promises with every intention of saying no after the appropriate amount of time has passed.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: September 26, 2398

Palmeria is the smallest country in the world, and is known as a micronation, though a few major countries do not recognize it as a sovereign state. Located on the border of the Minnesota, United States and Canada, and comprising two lacustrine islands, Palmeria is the home to an unknown very few people. To qualify as an independent nation, a population must interact with others in some significant way, and fulfill several other reasonable requirements. As an isolationist political region, the whole point is to not interact with anyone, but the founder—whoever they were or are—found a loophole, and of course, it has to do with religious freedom. Most of the time, declaring yourself independent of your host nation would be more difficult, because they might pose a threat to peace in the world, but Palmeria is so small and insignificant that most governments accept it because they don’t really give a crap. It’s not like the U.S. and Canada were clamoring to hold onto all of maybe fifty acres of land. The Palmerians stick to their islands, and don’t bother anyone.
There is a small economy. For one day and one night, a minimal party of guests are allowed to stay at a resort on the small island, which is only about fifty meters wide. It reportedly costs a buttload of money, and there are no extensions or repeat visits; no exceptions. The waitlist is several years long, and while no details have emerged regarding what a night stay actually entails, it enjoys a five star rating from one hundred percent of vacationers. Mateo, Marie, and Angela have arrived uninvited and unannounced via teleportation. They simply do not have time to do this the ethical way. Hopefully the Palmerians won’t be too angry about it to help. Who could be upset in a place like this? They find clear, unpolluted waters; crisp, clean air; beautiful greenery all around. Many would call this paradise. The only people who wouldn’t like it surely don’t like nature of any kind. It is so calm here, they hope not to ruin it with conflict.
They decided not to land directly on the island, because they don’t know what kind of security measures might have been put in place. Once Mateo finishes blowing up the raft, he and Angela paddle the half kilometer leg to their destination. At first they think they see a man standing on the bank, but the figure isn’t moving, so they decide that it’s an optical illusion. As they draw even closer, it becomes pretty surreal. It must be a person, right? No, it’s still not moving. Maybe a statue? It looks so real. It’s real. As soon as the raft touches land, he relaxes his Queen’s Guard stance to help pull it ashore.
“Thank you. We’re sorry to intrude,” Marie says to him diplomatically.
“Bring the boat up under here before today’s real guests see it,” the man says, helping carry it to a pile of brush and other debris.
“We were hoping to speak with the one in charge,” Marie continues.
“Follow me before today’s real guests see you,” he paraphrases himself.
As they’re following the stranger into the woods, Angela leans over to whisper, “this is a good sign. He might have access to a seer who foresaw our coming.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Marie agrees halfheartedly.
They don’t have to go far before they reach what the greeter calls the main house. He motions for them to approach the door, but doesn’t come with them. He must need to get back to greet today’s real guests. Mateo knocks.
Another man opens. “Ah, there you are.”
“You knew we were coming didn’t you?”
“Of course I did,” he says with a chuckle. “I have cameras all over the island.”
“No,” Marie says, “you knew we were coming today, even though you’ve never even met us.”
“No, I had no idea. You’re supposed to make a reservation online.”
“Why did you let us in then?” Mateo asks.
“I have cameras all over the island,” he repeats, “and a few off of it. I saw you three appear out of nowhere. I’m curious, what universe are you from?”
That makes it sound like he’s directly connected to Chase Palmer. “We’re from this one,” Angela explains. “We’re just from a different reality, where things like teleportation are slightly more common.”
He nods. “I see. “Well, what did you want to speak with me about?”
“Do you know a man by the name of Chase Palmer?” Mateo asks. “He was from another universe.”
The man in charge tilts his head back, surprised by the question. “Did you come here after hearing the name of the island? Did you think you would find him here?”
“We thought maybe we would find one of his descendents, or acolytes maybe?”
“I’m the former. I’m his son, Keaton.” He outstretches his arm. “Keaton Palmer.” After they take turns shaking his hands, he opens his arms wide. I grew up on Earth, where such is the custom. On my mother’s side of the family, however, it’s tradition to hug upon meeting friends, both new and old.
They hug him too.
“Your mother is not from Earth as well?”
Keaton smiles proudly. “No, I’m a successful hybrid. We’re quite rare.”
“I should say so,” Marie determines, “half human, half something else.”
“I’m fully human,” Keaton contradicts. “My mom was just born on a different planet. Technically a different universe too, but it’s a biverse, so we’re very close.”
“How did you end up here?” Mateo asks.
“That is a long story that’s not as interesting as you’re probably imagining. Essentially, I’m on vacation. I wanted to go somewhere without all the fuss and bother. I was just going to retire on my own Earth, but I kind of got detoured.”
“Does that mean you have a way to return?” Marie asks, hopeful.
“In about four or five months, yes,” Keaton answers. “Until then, I can’t so much as contact anyone beyond the membrane. Do you want a ride?”
“Four months is the shortest estimate we’ve heard so far, so...if you’ll have us...”
“Sure, there’s more than enough room for you.”
“Actually, we have many others back home,” Angela warns.
“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” Keaton says, unfazed.
“We appreciate it.”
Mateo nods, glad for the progress. He hands Keaton his notebook of names. “Whenever I meet someone new, I like to find out if we have any mutual acquaintances. Would you mind?”
“No problem.” Keaton takes the notebook, and begins flipping through the list. He’s taken aback. “My mother’s name is in here. How do you know Amber Fossward?”
“Uh, she literally saved my soul once,” Mateo answers.
He considers the news fondly. “That sure sounds like her. Now I definitely feel obligated to help you.”

Monday, November 28, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: September 25, 2398

They found only one other recognizable name from the comprehensive list of world religions. And it was another major one. Bhulahai was obviously named for timeline mapper, Bhulan Cargill. No one on the team who knew her knew how she could have ended up here, but it’s not that important. The fact is that she’s here, or at least she was, and she either created a religion, or inspired other people to start it, perhaps by performing miracles that would seem mundane to them. That’s probably how they all got started; Pryce turned himself into a sabertooth tiger, and the cavemen who witnessed it started worshiping him as a god. In Bhulan’s case, Bhulahai appears to be a pretty nonviolent religion. It promotes learning from one’s mistakes, and trying to predict the future with high accuracy. That makes sense for someone with the actual ability to do that with real past events.
It’s hard to say much more with just the list itself. It doesn’t necessarily tell them the whole story. Any of these others could lead to the identity of someone else and they just don’t recognize the name, or the name of the religion is simply not shared by the founder or inspiration. They need to do more research on the history of faith in this reality. Things can change a lot over the literal aeons. “Someone is going to have to trace these all the way back to their origin stories,” Mateo realizes.
“I don’t really have time,” Leona laments. “I need to get back to the fusion project. They have been operating independently of me for a long time now. I’m worried what they’ve been up to.”
“I have quite a bit of my own work too,” Ramses says.
Mateo would do it himself, but he’s not quite—what’s the word he’s looking for?—smart enough. “I shouldn’t bother, I would just make mistakes. I think I have an idea of who could handle it, though.”
“Who are you thinking of?” Leona asks. “Angela and Alyssa have the business, and Marie is helping them out while Kivi is in the field, looking for Erlendr and Meredarchos.”
“No, not them.”
Leona thinks she knows who he’s talking about. “Oh, don’t bother the people living at the condo either. They’re not a part of this anymore.”
“No, they made their choices,” Mateo says, smiling. “How quickly you forget the children.” Mateo leaves the lab, and goes up to the residential floor. He takes a quick look in the common area. Finding it empty, he walks back and knocks on the McIver door.
Young Moray answers. “Hi.” He hasn’t been the same since Trina’s memorial service. “My sister isn’t here.” He frowns. “I mean, Alyssa isn’t. Obviously Trina isn’t anywhere at all, since she’s dead.” Yeah, he’s definitely not finished grieving.
Maybe the boy just needs something to take his mind off of what happened. This doesn’t really have anything to do with that. “Is your brother here?”
“Car, it’s for you!” Moray shouts into the apartment as he slides out of the way.
“I’m here for both of you, actually,” Mateo says, stepping into the unit. “Could I have a word?”
Carlin comes out of his room. “Are you kicking us out?”
“Why in the world would I kick you out?”
“I caused a lot of problems yesterday.”
“Those are called feelings,” Mateo clarifies, “not problems. We’re working that out together, and I don’t know exactly how to help you, but I know it doesn’t involve kicking you out on the street.”
“What is this about then?” Carlin questions.
Mateo hands him the tablet. “This is a list of every religion in your world. That’s great and all, but we really need to know more about how they each got started, when and where, and how they evolved over time. We need to know which ones branched off into which others, and get lists of key important historical or mythological figures.”
Carlin peruses the list. “Why are you telling me this?”
“Well, we would like you and Moray to take on this challenge.”
Carlin drops his arms loose. “You want us to do homework?”
It sounds to Mateo like these kids need some structure in their lives. They have had it a little easy since they’ve come to Kansas City in terms of daily life. It hasn’t been easy—they’ve made sacrifices—but Alyssa has a job, and the boys need their own responsibilities. It’s not good for them to do nothing. “Everyone has their assignments. This is really important to us. We need to know who else like us is here, and this research could be the key to finding that out.”
He looks back at the list. Moray comes over to look at it too. “This isn’t just busy work?” Carlin asks.
“Ain’t nobody got time for that.” Mateo assures them. “Four of the most popular faiths in the world were named after people we know personally. One of them is my cousin, and I’ve been looking for her since we fell into this reality.”
Carlin sets the tablet on the dining table. “We’ll do as you asked, but we’ll need some direction on precisely what you’re looking for. Written guidelines would be helpful.”
Mateo nods. “I’ll have Leona draw something up for you. I’m liable to make mistakes, or I might try this project on my own.” He turns to leave the apartment gracefully.
“Hey, Mister Matic?” Carlin stops him somberly. “Thank you.”
“Thank you, and just call me Mateo.” He sends a text message to Leona as he’s leaving the apartment. He then walks downstairs to find Marie.
She’s taking a shift in the security room. “Hey, you wanna get in on this?”
“Nah, I came here to ask you a question. Do you remember when you and I were alone together in the Mariana Trench? Those bug aliens attacked us, and were probably going to kill you until a couple of bulk travelers swooped in and saved us?”
“Yeah, of course,” Marie says. “That was shortly after I joined the team, long before I split in two, so I was still just Angela back then. Why?”
“What was the name of that guy who flew us from the rendezvous moon to the battle staging planet? Do you recall?”
“Yeah, he called himself The Hound, but his real name was...Hunter? No. Hold on...Chase.”
“Chase,” Mateo echoes. “That’s it. Chase what?”
“Chase...Palmer. Why?”
“He’s from another brane, and we didn’t spend much time with him, so I guess I forgot to put him on my running list. Have you ever heard of a religion called Palmeria?”

Sunday, November 27, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: September 24, 2398

Different countries have different laws and conventions, but the most common number to use is fourteen. Though not yet an adult in these jurisdictions, this is the age when an individual is considered legally free to choose their own religion. It’s difficult for the state to regulate what a given religion can do to and with their children, but certain morally universal laws have been passed to prevent abuse or any infringing on those children’s rights. Basically, yeah, you’re free to express your own religious practices, but if you indoctrinate children into believing the same without providing them with the proper education regarding alternatives, then you’re being a hypocrite...and that’s illegal. They have the right to figure that out themselves, and once they’ve been alive for fourteen years, society expects them to declare their beliefs. Of course, they convert to something else later, but people generally believe that—assuming all anti-indoctrination laws have been followed—they can make a well-informed decision at this point. Carlin McIver is at this age now. Today is his birthday.
There is nothing the team can do to solve the Meredarchos-Erlendr problem. Sure, Leona is a highly trained agent, and Mateo technically works for the same covert governmental organization, but that organization has many other well-qualified agents, operatives, and analysts. Everyone on the team is at the Lofts now, which currently excludes the late Cheyenne, her friend Bridgette, Heath, Vearden, and Arcadia. So there aren’t all that many people at the party, but the ones that are here are committed to making Carlin feel special, safe, happy, and ready to make his choice. They’re all sitting together in the common area on the second floor, eating his favorite foods, and trying to keep the mood light. It’s not working. Alyssa is being strong for her younger brothers, but they’re still struggling. Carlin is particularly upset, as he felt it was his duty to protect Trina from harm. He’s not angry at the team for letting her go. He’s angry at himself for letting them let her go. Again, he’s not an adult yet...but there is a loophole.
“Tamerism,” Carlin says quietly.
Not everyone heard. They’re still smiling from their respective conversations. “What did you say?” Alyssa asks him.
“I choose...Tamerism,” he elaborates slightly.
“Very funny,” Alyssa says.
“I’m being serious. I’m fourteen now, I get to choose, and I choose...Tamerism!” He’s raised his voice, but isn’t yelling yet.
Alyssa scowls. “You are not going to be a Tamerist!”
The visitors to this reality look over at Marie, who shrugs. She hasn’t heard of every single sect of every single faith.
“I have to protect my family, and this is how I do it!” Now he’s yelling.
“That is not how you do it, because we are a nonviolent family!”
“You said that all these people are our family now,” Carlin reasons, indicating the team.
“They are, and they’re working very hard to protect us,” Alyssa volleys. “And I know what you’re going to say; they’re using violence. Yes, to a degree, but that’s not what you’re going to do.”
“Forgive me for interjecting, but what’s happening here?” Leona asks.
“This country has maturity milestones. You can work at thirteen. You can choose your religion at fourteen. You can drive at fifteen. You can vote at sixteen. You can marry at seventeen.” She takes a beat. “You can fight at eighteen.”
“Okay...he’s not eighteen.”
“You can fight at fourteen,” Alyssa goes on, “if your chosen religion says that you can, and Tamerism is the only major one that says that. And it has to be one of the majors, because they’re the ones who get resources from the government. The problem is that Tamerism is fucking insane! The things that they believe, the things that they fight for...”
“I can fight for whatever I want!” Carlin claims.
“Once you reach a certain level,” Alyssa argues, “which takes, like, a year. Until then, you go where they tell you to go, and you kill who they tell you to kill.”
“Some people accelerate in the program.” Carlin crosses his arms in a huff.
“You are not going to join Tamerism.”
“You’re not allowed to say that to me!” Carlin cries.
“Seven witnesses will assure the authorities that I never actually said that.” She’s confident that everyone here will lie for her, except maybe Moray, who may be a little too young to understand the consequences. When the state says that you can choose your religion, they mean that no one can stop you, not even a legal guardian.
Carlin tightens his arms around himself.
“You want to join the mission to find those evil men, don’t you?” Alyssa guesses.
Carlin nods his head.
She nods back. It’s time for some tough love. “That’s not practical. By the time you level out of obligatory service, they’ll be found and dealt with. Don’t throw your life away. Tamerism is one of the hardest faiths to convert out of. They get dirt on you, they blackmail you. You don’t genuinely believe what they believe. They’ll know that, and they won’t let it slide. They’ll act like they do, but then they’ll slowly brainwash you.”
“Hold on a minute.” Ramses jumps up. There’s a little whiteboard on the refrigerator. He wipes the party shopping list away.  “How do you spell that, Tamerism?”
“T-A-M-E-R-I-S-M,” Alyssa answers.
He writes it up in black marker. “Marie, how do you spell the one that your husband is in, or was in, or whatever?”
“Daltomism. D-A-L-T-O-M-I-S-M.”
Ramses writes that one up there two. He breaks each word in half using a red marker, and adds different letters to the ends. Tamerlane. Dalton.
“Tamerlane Pryce and Dalton Hawke?” Leona asks. “Two of the biggest religions in the world were founded, or perhaps inspired, by two people that we know personally? How did I not notice this before? Why did I not research the religions for clues?”
Mateo stands up, and regards the whiteboard. “I wonder if my cousin, Danica has one too.”
“Oh.” Marie approaches the whiteboard. She writes the word Anicari in black marker, and then adds a D to the front with the red marker.
Mateo nods as he’s staring at the names. “We need to make a list of every religion in the world. Something fishy is going on here. There may be more time travelers that we weren’t expecting to be involved.”
Leona retrieves her tablet from her bag.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: September 23, 2398

Meredarchos’ plan presumably hinges on this idea that the team is not meant to know that he has transferred to Trina’s body. While the authorities were looking for Andile, he would apparently be free to move about the world unnoticed. Except that he would be noticed, because we’re talking about an unaccompanied six-year-old girl. His plan just doesn’t make any sense, especially considering the fact that Ramses knew about the secret refrigerated room, and would discover it eventually, if not immediately, which he did. Of course, little Trina was not capable of carrying Andile out of the building, so he couldn’t take the body with him after the transfer, but then why didn’t he just take Trina’s body, and make the transfer somewhere else. This is all sloppy work, and Ramses believes that he has an answer for why.
“Erlendr is in there.”
“They’re sharing a body,” Leona understands. “That’s always been a theory, but it doesn’t explain why they would use Trina’s instead of Andile’s, and risk us finding out.”
“I think it does explain it. They’re both alpha males, trying to control the outcome of whatever it is they’re doing together. They have their own objectives, and their own ways of accomplishing them. It’s sloppy because they can’t agree on anything, and neither of them will concede to the other, which means that nothing gets done right.”
“The problem with this possibility,” Mateo begins, “is that we have a short window to take advantage of their disarray. Eventually, one of two things will happen: either they’ll learn to work together—though this is less likely—or one will win out over the other. It depends on who is the stronger psychic, I would guess.”
“There’s at least one other option,” Leona says. “They may be able to split their minds to a second body.”
“Whose?” Mateo asks. “The only other vacant body we know of is Leona Reaver, who is being protected by layers and layers of agency security.”
“Who says it has to be vacant?” Ramses poses.
Mateo shakes his head. “If they can share the body of someone who doesn’t want to share it, why take Trina at all? Why not go straight to the guy who owns the pizza place down the block, or any other random stranger?”
“Erlendr may not be able to resist the poetry,” Rames suggests. “The pizza guy means nothing to us, but he doesn’t think we can hurt Trina. Again, sloppy.”
“Well, that’s another problem,” Leona says before a pause. “Can we? Can we hurt Trina’s body? Can we hurt any child?” That is the classic question issued in philosophy classes the world over. Would you be able to kill Hitler as a child, knowing what he would turn out to be? Except they don’t know what Meredarchos is, or will be, and Erlendr has already done his worst.
They’re silent for a moment before Mateo speaks again. “We still have the Livewire, right?”
“Yeah,” Ramses answers. “Meredarchos apparently doesn’t need it to control the Insulator of Life, so he didn’t steal it too.”
Mateo looks at his wife. “I would hate to kill someone who looks like you, but...”
“But it would be easier than someone who looks like little Trina, and honestly, we would probably ask Arcadia to actually do it for us.”
“If you place someone in Leona Reaver’s body, they’re not going to die,” Ramses reminds them. “They’ll fall back to her original timeline, and then be dropped right back here in that parking lot.”
Leona nods. “I’ve been thinking about that. I need you to do something for me.”
“Okay. What might that be?” Ramses is worried now.
“I need you to build me a prefrontal cortical scanner, unless they exist in this reality already, in which case, you would just need to procure one.”
“Lee-lee, what is that?” Mateo asks.
“Leona Reaver and Alt!Mateo keep subverting death because an extraction mirror keeps saving them. They thought that they couldn’t get out of the loop, but I believe that they’re not trying hard enough. It’s true that it is difficult to let yourself die when you see a way out, even when you’re suffering from suicidal thoughts. That’s why people who genuinely want to die can’t just strangle themselves with their bare hands. These decisions are made in the frontal lobe, and with enough science, you can manipulate which decisions an individual makes.”
“Are you talking about inventing a suicide inducer?” Mateo questions.
“They already exist in the main sequence, and probably the other advanced realities,” Leona reasons. “Or rather, they could. Whether anyone has ever actually used such technology is irrelevant. It’s possible regardless. I’m not talking about using it on all my enemies, but I think it might be worth the risk.”
Ramses is torn between the two of them. “I’ll investigate the possibilities, but I make no guarantees.”
Leona tilts her head as she’s standing up to leave. Sometimes she wishes this were a dictatorship. Sometimes.
“I know my wife,” Mateo says after she’s left. “You may also know her well enough to know what she’s really planning.”
“I do. She’s not interested in making Meredarchos and Erlendr suicidal. She’s going to copy her own brain, and upload all three consciousnesses into her alternate self’s head. She’ll kill herself, and the other two will just be along for the ride.”
“How do we suppose we stop her from doing that?”
“Not how you’re thinking,” Ramses warns. “Don’t forget, I know you too.”
“It’s the only play that makes sense.”
“Sacrificing yourself to prevent her from doing it isn’t a fair trade.”
“It won’t really be me. It’ll be a different me. But it won’t even be that, right? It’ll be a lesser me. No memories, no real thoughts...just the impulse to get out of the extraction mirror loop, and end it once and for all.”
“You can get semantic on me all you want, Mateo. This is a murder-suicide pact. Whatever happens, you both need to appreciate that truth.”
Mateo stands up as well. “It won’t be the first time, and I doubt it will be the last. And hey, won’t they end up in the afterlife simulation anyway?”
Ramses shakes his head. “I don’t think so. It’s an old timeline. We don’t believe it existed back then.” He watches Mateo leave the lab too. Then he unlocks his Completed equipment locker, and takes out his neural scanner. It’s funny that the two of them are under the impression that she’s the one who came up with the idea to copy consciousness. He was working on this for weeks, and now he knows how he’s going to use it. He’ll scan his own brain, and end this once and for all.