Monday, October 3, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: July 31, 2398

Bridgette didn’t want to tell them who she was keeping alive in the back of her apartment with the Insulator of Life. That’s okay, it’s her business, but it was important they find out where she got it in the first place. She agreed to hand over the information, as long as they left, and left her alone. Mateo wanted to go find his alternate self, so Marie took the documents to deal with it herself. In the meantime, Mateo was able to convince Leona Delaney—the one who lost her version of Mateo after the kidney transplant—to accompany him on the trip to New Jersey. Never mind how he found out Alt!Mateo was there. He probably won’t respond well to anyone’s face but hers, and the other Leonas are busy at the moment.
Mateo looks through the map as Delaney is driving into the city. The internet calls Howell a township, but neither of them really knows what that means, especially not in this reality. No matter, the point is that Alt!Mateo was captured on camera on Aldrich Road, just off the highway. The file that Winona gave them indicates that he doesn’t have access to a vehicle, or at least didn’t have one in Kansas City, because he hitchhiked with truckers all the way there. So he most likely walked to the restaurant from his motel, and there’s only one in the area. That’s where they head first, hoping that someone will agree to help them.
The clerk—or maybe the owner—doesn’t seem pleased about seeing Mateo when they walk up to the counter. “Have you seen a man who looks like me?” Mateo asks.
“You mean you’re not the one in Room Eleven?” he asks.
“No, that would be my brother.”
The guy looks between the two of them. “He in some kind of trouble?”
“Only with the family. It’s important that we find him, though.”
“Could you maybe let us in his room?” Delaney asks.
“I can’t do that. You probably shoulda told me you were him, and lost your key.”
Mateo smirks, and nods over to a notice taped on the glass. “Then I would have had to pay the thousand dollar lost key fee.”
The man shrugs.
“Is he in there right now?” Delaney asks.
“Haven’t seen him all day, ‘cept when he left this morning. I have a great view of all those rooms. I’da seen him if he had come back. He wasn’t carryin’ nothin’ and he didn’t check out, so do what you will with that information.”
“I can get you the room next door,” the guy says.
“Thanks,” Delaney says, “but we’ll just wait for him in our car.”
Mateo isn’t sure that he agrees. Since his stuff is still here, he’s probably coming back, and if he doesn't, there is nothing more they can do to find him unless they get more updated intel. The only thing to do now is stake the place out. It could take days, they better get a room. “Hold on. Is Room One vacant?”
“Sure is.”
“Book us for the night.” Mateo catches Delaney’s look. “It’s an L-shape. We have a better view of him through the window, and it’s too hot to sit in a car.”
Delaney is nervous, but she appreciates the logic. “Okay.”
The man chuckles at all this, but takes their money, just the same.
It’s an incredibly gross room, but if all goes well, they won’t be sleeping here, or anything. They crack the shades, and position the chair in a good place. Mateo takes first watch while Delaney sits on the bed. They wait for hours, switching places when one of them gets tired of it, but boredom is the real killer. Everything here costs, including so much as turning on the television. They could probably expense it to the government, but then they get audited, and it would be this whole thing.
“Hey, uhh…Mateo?”
He’s in the chair again now. “Yeah?”
“It’s getting late,” she states.
“I know,” he replies.
“What are we gonna do about sleeping? There’s only one bed.”
“He may return in the middle of the night. We have to take shifts anyway.”
“Oh, right.”
“Why? Do you want to book a room in a nicer place?”
“No, it’s…it’s not that.”
“What is it? I know you don’t know me that well, but you can tell me anything.”
Delaney hesitates, but then she really decides to just go for it. “Can we have sex?”
“Excuse me?”
“Well, I never got that far with my Mateo, and I was just thinking—”
“Well, stop doing that, I guess.”
“Stop doing what, thinking?”
“If those are the kinds of thoughts you have, then just quit while you’re ahead.”
“If it’s a problem of fidelity, I already asked your wife about it, and she said—”
“You didn’t ask her anything. Why are you lying to me?”
“Will you stop interrupting?”
“Probably not, not if you’re gonna say things like that. I don’t know how much you’ve been told, but I got a lap dance once, and it nearly destroyed my marriage. I’m not going there, and I would ask you to respect that.”
“Your wife sounds like a bitch.”
“What exactly is your problem?”
“My problem?” She’s getting angry. “My problem is that the life of my life died to save my life, and I end up in this reality, only to find—not one, but two—men who look exactly like him. One of them has now asked me to help him find the other, and it’s giving me all these emotions that I’m not allowed to talk to anyone about!”
“I know a good therapist.”
“You know what I mean!”
“No, I obviously don’t. If you need help, you need to find someone who can do that for you, and I’m not that guy. I can’t even begin to understand what you’re going through, because I’ve lost the love of my life too, but I keep getting her back.”
Something clicks in her brain. “Yeah. You did. But I remember your Leona telling us that you were from two different realities. So how did you make that work?”
“Her brain was blended,” Mateo answers, hoping that the fight is over.
Leona tries to guess the meaning by the context. “I don’t know what that is.”
“It’s when someone pulls memories from an alternate—”
“Stop. Hold very still,” Leona interrupts him to say.
“What is it?”
Leona carefully lifts her hands up. “The sun set while we were talking.” She claps, signaling the lights to turn off. She gasps at the sight outside the window.
Mateo pivots to see what she’s so afraid of. It’s Alt!Mateo, and he is not happy. He’s so not happy that he runs away into the night.

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