Wednesday, October 5, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: August 2, 2398

One of the first things that Bridgette learned about her father was that he was after two interrelated things. He wanted to collect unusual people, and special objects with unusual properties. Based on what she was able to gather from a distance, he didn’t accidentally see something he wasn’t supposed to, or get read into an organization already involved in this stuff. He was obsessed with the occult his entire life, and it took him half of it to get anywhere with his investigations. Aliens, vampires, cryptids, superheroes, and time travelers. He didn’t know for a fact whether any of these things existed, but he was convinced that one of them had to, or one of the many others in a long list of fictional possibilities. Was there a secret society of five people who ran the whole world from the shadows? Did immortals travel the world with swords, cutting each other’s heads off? It had to be something, and he had to find it, and find it he did.
Once Leona realized that Winona’s father, Senator Honeycutt had figured out the secret of reality, she called it The Masquerade. But this suggested that there was some kind of organized system to all this, like the Archipelago from Sense8, or the chaotic network of salmon and choosing ones from the main sequence. It doesn’t seem to be like that here. Leona Reaver, Delaney and Andile; even Alt!Mateo; none of them has ever found anyone like them. If there are other time travelers here, they’re scattered throughout the world. They may even be separated by time, up to billions of years. There is no network, no I know a guy thing going on here. At least that’s what they have believed this whole time. Even Marie, in all her dealings as a covert agent with the U.S. government, hasn’t found evidence of such a thing. Until perhaps now.
They call him The Dealer, and the only thing Bridgette had about him in her notes is that he moves around a lot, and if you want to do business with him, you’re going to need a referral. It took three days of calling and texting for Marie to procure one from Bridgette’s initial contact, but here she is in Mount Zeil in the Northern Territory. Like Lebanon, Kansas in the main reality—or Gothenburg in this one—for the United States, it’s the center of Australia. It also happens to be around 270 kilometers from Uluru, which is on Mateo’s list of important temporal locations to check out.
Marie ducks down to clear the top of the entrance. All kinds of knick knacks, tchotchkes, trinkets, and baubles sit on the shelves along the wall. What she would guess to be a massive aboriginal mask sits in the corner. The man behind it probably thinks that she doesn’t see him, and expects her to look around on her own while he watches to get an idea of what kind of person she is. She examines a few items, but there is nothing of interest to her, except for one thing. “Nothing in this shack is of any real value,” she begins, taking the black hat from its shelf, and raising it up. “ for this.” She places it upon her head, faces the mask in the corner, and extends her arms to the side to present the new her. She’s transformed herself to look like a famous actor that anyone in the world would recognize.
The Dealer knocks the mask away from himself, and stands up. “You got it to work. How did you do that?”
“Let’s just say...I keep hydrated.” The Health-slash-Death waters are still technically in her system, and can allow her to tap into the temporal energy necessary to make the McIver hat work. It’s not enough to teleport, but this thing has its own power. Marie studies his face for a few seconds, and then transforms herself again, now to become a mirror image of him.
He slowly slinks towards her to get a better look. “Brilliant.”
She removes the hat to return to her true visage, and sets it back down. “Where did you get it, and where did you get the Insulator of Life?”
He gingerly sets the hat upon his own head, and frowns when he looks in a nearby beauty mirror to find that it still doesn’t work for him. It is unclear how he knew beforehand what it was supposed to do, or that it was supposed to do anything at all. Now he studies her face. “How well do you know history?”
“Not as well as someone my age should. Why?”
“I was born in 1991, right smack dab in the middle of the bloodiest battle of World War II. My mother was a soldier, who’s unit leader didn’t give a crap that she was nine months pregnant with me. She still had hands, which meant that she could still hold a gun. He was pissed when she went into labor, partially because of her, but also because the rest of her unit came together to protect her, instead of pushing forward with whatever mission they were on. When my cries rang out to the sky, it is said that everyone on both sides stopped shooting simultaneously...and they wept. The war ended that day, because of me. My first act in this world was potentially saving millions.”
“That’s...a haunting story.”
The Dealer smiles. “This isn’t about me, or my mother. It’s about the unit leader. You see, he wasn’t from around here, and when I say around here, I mean—”
“He was from another reality.”
This surprises him, but then he remembers just a minute ago when she activated the McIver hat without giving it a second thought. “That’s what he told me on his deathbed, and also that he was my real father, though I guessed as much when I heard we shared a first name. I don’t know why he didn’t raise me, or why he didn’t have the instinct to protect his baby mama during the war. I know that she wasn’t raped, though. They were in love at one time, to a certain degree. Anyway, he died right in front of me before he could say much more, but just before his last breath, he gave me a key to a safe deposit box. I found the glass insulator thing in there, and a few clues to other objects. Do you wanna know how old he was?” It was rhetorical. “I couldn’t get the exact date he was born, but it was somewhere in the neighborhood of over 500 years ago. It’s all because of that little green object that doesn’t even give off any energy readings. As far as I can tell, it’s nothing but glass.”
“You’re being surprisingly forthcoming with all this,” Marie notes.
“I have to be. Someone needs to keep going. Someone needs to find the truth about this world, and I won’t be able to do it for very much longer.” He reaches up to his hair, and pulls it all off. He’s completely bald underneath. “Shortly after he passed, World War III began, which I believe to have been the worst. Biological weapons gave an estimated three million people cancer. I only survived because of the insulator.”
“Why did you give it away? You know you have to stay close for it to work.”
“I’m tired,” he explains. “I’m done. That’s why he gave it away, and I’m sure whoever Bridgette gave it to will also only last a few centuries.”
She nods, respecting his position. “I’m Marie. What’s your name?”
“Lawson Junior. I was apparently named after my father, and he was named after his mother, Laura Gardner.”

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