Sunday, October 2, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: July 30, 2398

Winona opens the door, and lets them in. This is a much nicer place than her forging den. Either being the daughter of a U.S. senator has its perks, or she’s just rich. It would make sense. Poor people don’t outnumber the rich ones in politics, no matter which reality we’re talking about. “Welcome. Would you like something to drink?”
“We’re not here for that,” Marie answers.
Winona nods, and starts making herself something.
Mateo is waiting patiently, but Marie has known Winona for a lot longer, so she doesn’t have to be polite. “Do you have it?”
“Well, yeah, but we need to talk about returning the favor.”
“Are you looking for someone too?” Mateo asks.
“As a matter of fact, yes, but not all favors are returned in kind. It just so happens to be the case this time.”
“Is this another Amir Hussain?”
She chuckles. “Don’t worry about him. Only Senator Morton cared about finding him, so wherever you left him, he’ll be least from us. I promise you that.”
“Her promises are solid,” Marie tells Mateo when he asks her with his eyes.
“Who are you looking for then?” Mateo asks, getting back to business. When she hands him the envelope, he opens it to find a picture of himself. “There’s another one?”
Winona shuts her eyes, slightly aggravated. “No, that’s your packet. He was last spotted in Howell, New Jersey. I’m giving you that in good faith that you’ll help me with my problem, even without incentive.”
“Don’t fall for it,” Marie warns him. “If we don’t follow through, she’ll use it against us later. Our incentive to pay her back now is to not have to pay her back later.”
“I understand,” Mateo says. “Go ahead and give us the second packet.”
Winona hands it to him. There’s a picture in this one too, but neither Mateo nor Marie recognize the woman in it. “We were friends as kids,” she explains. “Morton and my father worked closely together at one point. Then the former turned radically conservative, and dad had to cut ties with him. But then they both got elected to the senate, and suddenly had to start working together again. To be honest, we always thought it was just a way to get his daughter back in his life, but it didn’t work. They’ve been estranged for about eleven years now, I think.”
“Wait,” Mateo says. “The Honeycutts and Mortons were family friends. Then everybody had a falling out with Senator Morton, including his own daughter?”
“He wasn’t a senator yet, but yes.”
“Now she’s missing?” Marie asks.
“No, she’s not missing,” Winona clarifies. “We know exactly where she is, but you’re the only one who can bring her back into the fold.”
“The only one, who?” Mateo asks. “Which of us is the only one?”
“Her.” She points at Marie.
“What are you talking about?” Marie questions. “I never met the girl.”
“We have strong reason to believe that Bridgette has been keeping an eye on her father’s covert operations. That’s what happened between me and my father. He didn’t deliberately read me into all of this. I had to find my own way to the truth. The point is, we think she knows who you are.”
Marie sighs deeply. “You want us to approach her, and get her to come in to brief you on whatever it is she knows that you may not already know about your rival’s secret endeavors.”
“Bingpot,” Winona says.
“So, you want us to lie, or something?” Mateo guesses.
“No lying. Be honest. Tell her what you think of me, that’s okay. Just tell her that I wanna talk. We don’t want to trick her, but if I send my own people, she’ll run and go underground. You’ll be just enough of a curiosity to get her to pause, and listen for a second. There’s no huge rush, though. You can go find your doppelgänger first.”
Marie sighs again. “We can’t go try to bring him in, and then have to leave to do something else. When we do go, we’ll need to be able to give him our undivided attention. We’ll go talk to this Bridgette Morton for you. That’s all the favor is, though. We can’t guarantee it’ll work.”
“No one ever can,” Winona says. “Pleasure doing business.”
They leave Winona’s apartment, and head for Bridgette’s, which looks strikingly similar, as if they used the same architect and designer. Or perhaps it’s some common political aesthetic called senatorial modern. She’s surprised and excited to see them. “It’s you. You’re one of the people from my father’s menagerie. Please, do come in.”
“Is that what he called it?” Marie asks.
“No, that’s what I’ve called it. He had this thing about transparent prisons. He thought that part of a convict’s punishment should be losing all sense of privacy. The darkness surrounding your glass box was his form of a panopticon. Are you thirsty?”
“We’re fine. You knew what he was doing this whole time?” Mateo asks her.
“Yes, but I have limited data, and almost no resources,” Bridgette explains. “I’m the one who leaked your location to Winona, because I couldn’t get you out myself.”
“I believe she’s aware of that,” Marie says, “and she would like to meet with you.”
“To what end? Does she want to join forces? Look, I helped you out of the box, because it didn’t look like you deserved to be there, and as far as I can tell, the Honeycutts aren’t as bad as my father was, but they’re not exactly saints either.”
“I think she just wants to talk,” Mateo says sincerely. “For now,” he adds.
Bridgette scoffs. “That’s not all she wants from me.”
“What do you mean?” Marie asks.
Bridgette hesitates to go on, but seems to decide to when she notices Mateo and Marie not applying any pressure to her. “My father took notes about you. I don’t know exactly what he meant, but he said he couldn’t trust people like you. Generally speaking, any enemy of his is a friend to nearly everyone else. But still, I’m risking more than you could know by showing you this.”
“You don’t have to if you don’t feel comfortable,” Marie assures her.
This only deepens Bridgette’s belief that the two of them can be trusted. She goes back into a room, where they hear the distinct sound of her turning a permutation lock. She returns with an object that’s covered by a golden cloth. She hesitates once more, or maybe she’s just pausing for effect, and then she reveals what’s underneath. It’s a green glass telegraph insulator. “I’m not ready to tell you what this does, and I don’t know how it works anyway, but I can tell you that it’s immensely valuable.”
Mateo nods. “Ah yes, that is called the Insulator of Life. So tell me, who is it keeping alive?”

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