Monday, September 26, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: July 24, 2398

Mateo wasn’t gone for long. He teleported himself, his other self, and yet another Leona to the Provo farmhouse, which was not part of the plan. He was supposed to take them to Alyssa’s secret cabin. It’s only by luck that the rest of the group hadn’t left for the rendezvous yet. He asked Kivi and Andile to drive the rescues to the cabin the long way around, and for Alt!Leona to accompany him elsewhere. He apparently had business left in the prison. “Do you trust me?” he asked.
She didn’t know him that well, but, “yes.”
Once they were gone, the other two did as they were asked, and headed for the cabin. They carried the third Leona over to the bed, and laid Alt!Mateo on the couch. Then they waited, all day, and all night. There didn’t seem to be anything medically wrong with them, but they could see electrode marks on their temples, and IV sites in their arms. They clearly hadn’t just been in prison, but in the infirmary, or something. They didn’t know what had happened to them, but Mateo and Alt!Leona weren’t back, which could mean the same awful thing had happened to them during this new mission.
The rescues wake up at the exact same time, as if programmed to do so. They’re both surprised to see each other. Neither of them knew that the other was in the same prison as them. Their memories are a little fuzzy, so they drink some water, and rest, before they can launch into their respective stories. Mateo goes first. “You see, there’s not much a man can do when he finds himself in a strange land with no identity, no money, and no hope for help. Especially if the world is designed to screw over anyone not fortunate enough to have been, fortunate. I had to scratch and claw my way to everything I had, and even that wasn’t much. I managed to get enough money for a fake identity, so that’s what I used, hoping to find a real job. I didn’t want to be a criminal anymore. Problem is, I reached that point in my life just as World War III was starting up, and I feel like they started from the bottom of the list, because I got called up right away. They sent me straight to Russia to hold back forces advancing on Mongolia. That’s when I learned that I can’t die. I can get close. I can get real close, but something always pulls me away.”
When he pauses, Kivi speaks, “the extraction mirror.”
“That’s how you survived Horace Reaver killing you in the old timeline in the main sequence.”
“Except I don’t survive. Or I won’t. Or whatever. I’m destined to die there, and every time something threatens my life here, I end up right back there.”
“But eventually, you have to die,” Kivi reasons. “You can’t just keep on doing that forever.”
Alt!Mateo smirks. “It’s on the floor.”
“What’s on the floor?” Andile asks.
“The extraction mirror,” Alt!Mateo says. “It’s literally on the floor in the hospital, right under me. Each time I go back, I just fall down again, and return to that goddamn parking lot on the edge of Crown Center. It’s a loop. It doesn’t matter how many times I do, it will never end.”
“That still doesn’t make sense,” Kivi believes. “You would constantly run into your alternate selves. You couldn’t all fit in the mirror at once.”
“I don’t know what to tell ya,” Alt!Mateo begins, leaning back in the wobbly chair. “That’s what happens to me. A Russky tries to kill me, I go back to the hospital room to find Horace Reaver frozen in time, trying to bludgeon me with a bedpan, fall into the mirror, and land in the parking lot. I fall down a flight of stairs, hospital, Reaver, bedpan, parking lot. Reaver never moves, the mirror is always there.”
“Who put it there?” Andile asks him.
“No idea,” Alt!Mateo answers. “No one’s come to claim responsibility, not even the first time.”
“How long have you been in this reality?” Andile asks.
“Eh, time, right?”
“Are you saying that you don’t age?” Kivi questions.
“No, I do. I skip time, and land in the parking lot at random points in the future.”
“Mateo was right,” Kivi decides. “This guy is the key. He’s been using temporal energy this whole time. Whatever is suppressing it in all of us has no effect on him.”
“What about her?” Andile asks, gesturing towards who they have decided to refer to as Reaver!Leona.
“I was skipping time too,” Reaver!Leona explains. “But more periodically. I live one day a year, just like he’s supposed to. It suddenly stopped a few months ago.”
Kivi and Andile look at each other. Everything changed on that day.
“This is all fun and interesting,” Alyssa begins, “but it doesn’t explain where our Mateo is, or the other, other Leona.”
“Who are you?” Alt!Mateo asks.
“Our friend,” Kivi replies.
“Who are you?” Mateo repeats, this time to Kivi.
“Your other self’s friend.”
“I dunno, where would they be?” Reaver!Leona asks Alyssa, hoping to avoid any further argument.
“He said they were going back to the prison,” Alyssa answers.
“Oh, he shouldn’t have done that,” Alt!Mateo warns. “He’s not going to like it there. They know about us. They’ve been doing tests on us. I’ve been in there the longest, I guess you just got there?”
“I’ve been there for about a month,” Reaver!Leona negates.
“How do we get them back?” Alyssa questions.
“We don’t.” Another Leona walks into the cabin from outside. They don’t know which one it is, though.
“Report,” Kivi says to her.
“I’m Alt!Leona,” she says, taking Andile’s hand affectionately to clarify her meaning a little more. “Mateo tried to keep me safe by spiriting me away to Kansas City, but we’ve all come back.”
The rest of the team files in behind her. “The third floor is done,” Ramses announces proudly. “There’s enough room for all of us.”
“Who are all these people?” Alt!Mateo asks vaguely.
Alt!Leona goes on, “the married Matics are in the prison together, having taken the place of their counterparts. We have been instructed to let them get themselves out, which they will do while freeing all the other test subjects. Our job is to be ready for them when they do that.”

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