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Wednesday, July 27, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 24, 2398

Mateo wakes up woozy, tied up and rocking on the metal floor. It was the heat that woke him, frying him from above, and scorching him from below. It’s probably the hottest part of the day, and he can’t move to find shelter. He immediately finds that he’s tied up, his hands together, and tightly bound to a railing of some kind. A salty breeze slips in between the bars, enough to burn his eyes, but not enough to cool him down. He’s on a boat. He pulls himself into a sitting position, but he can’t hold it for long. Whoever did this didn’t care how hard it would be for him to get comfortable, didn’t realize, or did it on purpose.
Two feet approach him, which are presumably attached to a body, but he can barely see above the ankle. He just can’t turn his head enough to get a good look, and even so, the sun would probably blind him. He hears two claps, and then the feet walk away, only to be replaced with two new feet. A voice he recognizes says, “afternoon, soldier.”
“I’m not a soldier,” Mateo groans back. It’s hard to talk, he’s so thirsty.
“Oh, we know,” Ebraim replies.
“Are you gonna kill me?” Mateo asks him. “It’s okay if you are. It wouldn’t be the first time I died. I always manage to come back, I’m sure I’ll figure it out again.”
Ebraim gets on his hands and knees to cut the zip ties. He clears his throat authoritatively as he’s pulling Mateo up and over into a more tenable sitting position. “The way you say that, you almost sound like one of us.” He nods and breathes loudly through his nose, looking over toward the other side of the boat. “Every man here has died at least once.”
“I’m not a soldier,” Mateo begins, “but I am a fighter.”
He coughs involuntarily. “I believe you. That’s why you’re here.”
Mateo looks around. “It’s why I’m where, and doing what?”
“We’re presently in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle, traveling at eleven knots, bearing Southeast deeper into the middle of nowhere, and you’re with us, because our mission happens to be a six man operation, and until you came along, we only numbered five.”
“But you know that I’m not one of you.” Mateo is still struggling to enunciate.
“We don’t need you to have any experience,” Ebraim explains. “We just need another warm body.”
“You mean you need a human sacrifice,” Mateo guesses.
Ebraim chuckles. “You’re so smart, why are you lying about who you are?”
He adjusts his position a little, and smacks his lips. “Water.”
Ebraim doesn’t break eye contact as he lifts his left hand, and snaps his fingers twice. A man Mateo doesn’t know yet places a bottle in it, which he transfers to Mateo.
“I just needed a new life.” When in doubt, be honest, but maybe not too honest. He does not intend to throw the forger under the bus, or say one word about his own team. It just needs to be believable, and only moderately close to the truth. He also shouldn’t add too many details. “I needed a new identity. The forger asked me if I wanted military credentials. I was in a pretty bad way at the time, and it seemed like an all right idea. I didn’t really think through the consequences. He gave me this little card that said I’m blah, blah, blah. I tucked it away, and didn’t worry about it. I didn’t think it would actually come up, because what I didn’t realize is that he also put my name in the system. It actually looks like I bear rank, and have a record. It’s only recently come back to bite me in the ass, I’m really sorry.”
Ebraim laughs again. “Ah, hell, we don’t give a shit about that. Way I see it, if the military doesn’t kill you, it screws up your life. The only way out is to lie, steal, and cheat. I’d be a hypocrite if I thought only people like me deserved to break the rules. I’m not a good man, but I’m not a hypocrite.”
“This isn’t a sanctioned mission?”
He helps Mateo to his feat, and starts to lead him into the inside part of the boat, whatever it’s called. “It’s sanctioned by the five of us. I suppose that’ll hafta be good enough. You don’t mind, do ya?”
“Why are you talking differently now?”
“My mama’s southern side comes out every now and then,” Ebraim replies. “I don’t work as hard to suppress it among friends.”
Now Mateo laughs. “I reckon we ain’t friends.”
Ebraim smiles. “Well, we’ll see. Let’s start small. Allow me to introduce you to the rest of the team.”

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