Friday, September 30, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: July 28, 2398

Most everybody is somewhere other than the third floor lofts. Leona and Ramses are in the lab. Alt!Leona and Andile are helping Angela with her new business on the first floor. Heath is giving the McIvers a guided tour of Kansas City. Kivi is off doing something on her own, and Leona Reaver is holed up in her apartment. Marie is alone in her and Heath’s unit, so Mateo takes this opportunity to knock on the door. “When did you last speak with your handler?”
Marie frowns, uncomfortable at having to have this conversation, but not angry at him for starting it. “I’ve been informed of the development. You’ve not told Leona?”
“Not yet.”
“Why not?”
“I wanted to hear what you had to say about it.”
“You want me to justify my actions?” she figures.
“Some of them.”
Marie sighs. “I had nothing when I first came here. Heath makes it sound like this romantic story where he believed in me the whole time, and we fell in love at first sight. It wasn’t that easy, and it took much longer than that. I was homeless for a bit, sleeping in an empty lot before I ever felt safe telling him anything. I needed money, and I needed an identity. Winona had already set up her forgery operation by then, so that’s who I ended up with. Can you imagine how different my life would have been if I had just found a different forger? I can. I think about it all the time. She asked me a lot more questions than she did you, Mateo, and I didn’t have any good answers. She gave me what I asked for, free of charge, and I should have known right then that it wasn’t just pity, but I was on the hook. She started asking me to do things to pay her back. Little things at first, then more dangerous, and she came to realize that I was far more educated and skilled than any normal person could achieve within a single lifetime.
“I honestly don’t remember how we broached the subject, but I remember I gave her as little information about where I come from as possible. I didn’t just spill the beans about everything all at once. She’s been squeezing more and more out of me ever since. One day, she noticed a few extra people stepping into my condo, and she questioned me about you. It was her idea to have her forge your papers too. She had shut down by then, as it was an only temporary assignment years ago. She finished re-setting up her den just hours before we arrived for help, and you were her only recent clients. That’s what put her on the radar of legitimate law enforcement, because they noticed unusual activity in the system. She’s the daughter of a U.S. senator, but she’s not invisible. She decided she needed help, so she concocted this plan to get into bed with you by upgrading your credentials to SD6. To protect you, I...manipulated the situation to put a greater target on Leona, since she has actual training in the field.”
“This all checks out so far, but it doesn’t explain everything that’s happened to us.” He’s not judging her for what she did to get by. They’ve all done things. He’s only questioning her choice to keep it from them. The government has been weird with them from the start, which doesn’t make sense, given her position. Why wasn’t she honest? “They keep following us around the globe. Why is that?”
She’s seething just a bit. “They don’t trust me to report back on you, which they’re right not to. I’m trying to keep you out of it as much as possible. They’re following us because they hope you will eventually be more forthcoming about our origins and abilities.”
“What do they know about us already?”
“They know that we’re time travelers, and that we don’t have control over it. I’ve told them that you’re cognizant of certain special locations around the world that can give us temporary control. We are now looking for this special water in the hopes that it can somehow get us back home.”
“These claims are rather accurate,” Mateo points out.
“Yes, it’s very easy to omit information, but it’s not easy to lie to them outright. If I make a claim, it better be true, to some degree.”
Mateo nods. Now for the real question. “Why lie to us?”
Marie is reluctant to answer, or maybe she’s unsteady in her self-awareness. “This life; this...secret agent shit, it teaches you not to trust people. You get really comfortable hiding things from others, even when you love them. Heath knows absolutely nothing. I sold my intellectual property, that’s true, which mostly explains why we’re so rich, but it doesn’t account for all the money. I get paid for this work. I get paid very well. I just have to go in the field every once in a while.”
“Field work, doing what?”
“Various things, usually unrelated. At least that’s what I thought, but now we’ve found out that Senator Morton was involved, I’m starting to think there’s some kind of secret civil war in the government, and it’s all connected.”
“If there’s a secret war,” Mateo begins, “our team is at the center of it.”
“Yes. Unless...”
“Unless our arrival here is but a fraction of the story, and plenty of other travelers have made their way into this reality.”
“Yes, we may be only part of a statistic. I’ve been trying to find that out, but Winona doesn’t give without getting.”
“Then let’s give,” he suggests.
“What do you mean?”
“She wants answers, and you haven’t been able to give her very many, because you’ve had to protect us. But the thing is that we’re here, and we can protect each other, so let’s give her whatever we need to in order to get what we want. She may know where my cousin is, and not even realize it. She may know the location of a reality transition point, but not understand its nature.”
“You want to tell the rest what I did?” Marie asks, up to her eyeballs in anxiety.
“Well, only the core group. Andile, the alternates, and the McIvers don’t need to know anything about all that.”
“That’s how it starts,” Marie says, “the lying. You start justifying what you’re saying, and what you’re not. Then it just gets worse from there.”
“You’ve had to carry this burden on your own for four years, and I would love to share the load, but I am not smart enough to help. We need the others. Leona, Ramses, and Angela can tell us what to do. Truthfully, Kivi is literally unreliable, and Heath...”
“Heath is still an outsider to you.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t help it.”
“That’s okay, I get that. Either way, can we wait a little while longer?”
“Okay,” Mateo replies diplomatically. “Whenever you’re ready.”

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