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Monday, June 20, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: April 17, 2398

Fairpoint Panders is a consultant. Marie isn’t quite certain what that entails, or exactly what kind of projects he consults on, but she knows he has to travel a lot to do it. He usually goes out on a Monday morning, and comes back on a Friday afternoon. She doesn’t have his exact schedule, so the team has to sit in front of his house all afternoon, watching for activity. They have a creepy white van, which they hope neighbors won’t call in as suspicious. Finally, Fairpoint’s classic car pulls up to the driveway. Classic might not be the right word for it. It’s easy to forget that this is 2398, so this thing is positively ancient. Either somebody worked really hard to restore it to working order, or history is a lot more bizarre than any of the newcomers can fathom.
They move the van farther down the block, but still keep an eye out in case he leaves again. They then wait another hour to walk up to the house, because they want to give him time to settle back in, and they don’t want it to look like they’ve been staking out his place all day.
“How long have you been waiting out there for me?” Fairpoint asks.
“We just arrived,” Marie lies.
“I saw you there when I came home,” he reveals. “I didn’t realize it was you, but we’ve had a few break-ins in this neighborhood, so I notice things like that now.”
She gives in. “We just wanted to give you time to get some dinner, or take a shower, or whatever.”
“How thoughtful,” Fairpoint says sarcastically. “Now what the hell are you doing here?”
“Did you hear about Heath?”
His face drops. He looks devastated.
“Oh, no. He’s not dead. He’s just been arrested.”
“Your fault, no doubt,” Fairpoint assumes.
“It was mine,” Mateo blurts out.
“Can we come in?” Marie asks. “I’ll explain everything.”
He thinks about it. “Just you two, and only because I want him to be doing most of the explaining.”
Leona glares at her husband. He apologizes with his eyes. She and Ramses go back to the van to wait.
“Are you thirsty?” Fairpoint asks as he’s gesturing them towards the chairs in the parlor.
“We’re fine, thank you.”
He shrugs and grabs his own beer as he’s sitting down across from them. “Go.”
Mateo looks to Marie for guidance, but they don’t have the telepathic connection that came with his marriage to Leona, so he realizes he’s going to have to handle this himself. “Heath and...Marie’s twin sister were arrested for trespassing and disorderly religious conduct the other night. We need your help advocating for their release.”
“Why can’t you do it?” Fairpoint questions.
“Fair point,” Mateo jokes.
He rolls his eyes. “It was my mother’s name, I’m not ashamed of it.”
“As you shouldn’t be,” Mateo said. “Anyway, the authorities don’t think she’s the sister. They think she’s Marie. So Marie can’t go to them and get her out.”
“What about you and the other two?”
“We have no one that we’re capable of pretending to be.”
“Why do you need to pretend to be anybody?”
Mateo’s gotten better at lying over the years. In one form or another, he usually has the advantage of being a time traveler, or more specifically, of them not knowing this about him, but it doesn’t feel like that’s going to help him here. “We’re deeply embedded, and our true identities must remain a secret...for now.” Vague, not too nefarious-sounding, and altogether meaningless.
Fairpoint takes a sip. “You never mentioned a twin sister.”
“Now you know why,” Marie answers.
“No, I really don’t. You haven’t told me anything.”
“Don’t do it for me,” Marie begs. “Do it for him. Don’t worry about the details.”
“Heath Walton is not a zealot. That’s why I love him.” Fairpoint addresses Mateo. “You see, sir, I’m an atheist, and the only people that religious people hate more than competing religious people are people who don’t believe in anything. If he was arrested for zealotry, it’s because he was covering for something else...or someone else.”
Mateo waits to answer for an appropriate amount of time. “I’m an asset. I know things. More than anything, I can’t be discovered.” Also vague and meaningless, but maybe a little too intriguing. “Please, Mr. Panders, help me make this right. He wasn’t supposed to get wrapped up in this. An—” No, no names. “Marie’s sister said she knew someone in town who could protect us.”
“And she sacrificed herself to protect my baby,” Marie interrupted.
Fairpoint darts his head back over to her. “I just...” He’s seething a little. “Since I know what kind of person you are, I need to know...is it his, or do you even know?”
“There is zero chance that it’s not his,” Marie promises. “I just found out, so I’ve not had time to talk with him about it. Get him back for me so we can have that discussion. And don’t tell them anything about who my sister really is, or that her friends are involved.”
Fairpoint looks at Marie’s still flat stomach. “You always knew what buttons to push. I’ll do it, because I know that one day, he and I will be the couple with the baby, and you’ll just be—”
“A forgotten mistake,” Marie recites. “I recall.” She sighs.
He chuckles, and downs the rest of his beer. “I’m gonna need another, and you’re gonna need to get the hell out of my house before I start thinking of ways to trade you for him.”

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