Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: September 27, 2398

Kivi is exhausted. She’s been working with an SD6 team to hunt down one or all of three people. They need to find Meredarchos, Erlendr Preston, or the version of Erlendr who hasn’t yet been sent off to that other universe. He will still be in Ramses’ body, but the other two are unknown. They’re theoretically looking for little Trina McIver, but they’re not sure the extent of Merdarchos’ power. He had more tricks up his sleeve than they knew when he first arrived, so maybe there’s more, and that’s still just the tip of the iceberg. So far, Kivi and the operatives have found nothing. They’ve not uncovered a shred of evidence that any of these people have ever set foot on this planet. Given enough time, she’s supposed to be able to locate anyone, and this has certainly been proven true many times over the past week...just not in the way that they want.
The team leader nods her head, prompting the spotter to slip the snake camera underneath the locked door. “Too dark. Activating night vision,” he whispers.
“What do you see in there?” the leader asks.
“Three people. No, five. They’re sitting in a circle. One of them is lighting candles.” He peers deeper into the viewer. “It looks like a religious ceremony.”
“Can you clock any faces?”
“No. We’ll have to go in.”
“Secondary entrance?”
The spotter turns the snake. “Open skylight. No backdoor.”
“Hurst, cover the main entrance here,” she orders the spotter. “Strand and Kermode, go to the roof. The rest of you will be with me, standard formation. Klein...blow the door.”
“Wait, where can I go?” Kivi asks as the engineer is setting his explosives.
“I said standard formation,” team leader Alserda repeats.
“You know I don’t have the training for that,” Kivi argues.
“You’ve seen us do it several times, we all trust you now,” Alserda insists.
“They heard us,” Hurst announces, pulling the snake back.
“Klein, now!”
They barely have enough time to duck away before the doors blow open. The operatives burst into the room, and surround the targets. They could be bad guys, they could be good guys. They could be nobodies. It’s too early to tell. They don’t know anything about this situation. All Kivi can say for sure is that someone is here who needs to be found. It’s probably not the three men they’re after, but they have to move forward as if it is. So far, she’s rescued a missing kid, a wandering dementia patient, a few criminals, and a guy who just wanted to start a new life somewhere else. No matter how hard she tries to decide who her special gift seeks, it brings her to someone she didn’t even know needed to be found. It feels like the universe has taken control over her, like she’s just a salmon in the main sequence who the powers that be have chosen to be a Superfinder. Maybe it is her calling, but for now, they feel more like distractions. She’s happy to find these people, but they’re not who she’s really looking for. If the universe really wants her to do this, then it ought to let her finish her first mission first.
“State your business!” Alserda demands.
The people in robes hold their hands up high in surrender. “We’re just trying to worship in peace!” one of them says.
“We’re not hurting anyone!” says another.
“Hurst, face scanner,” Alserda orders.
The spotter holds the scanner up to each of their faces. Once he’s done, he says, “all missing college students. Suspected runaways.”
“We didn’t run away,” one of them argues.
“Well, we did, but we had to. The school won’t let us observe our holidays because it’s not an officially registered faith.”
Alserda turns to Kivi. “Bristol, you can sense our targets when you’re closer, right? What do you make of them?”
She’s been trying to find the three real targets this whole time, but the closer she is to a suspect, the easier it for her to rule them out. She scans the worshipers too, but with her own senses. “It’s not them. They must be who the scanner says they are.”
“Are you going to report us?” the apparent lead worshiper asks.
“That’s not our department.” Alserda walks away. “McGuinness, run the spiel.”
“It’ll be my last time, sir.” McGuiness is Alserda’s lieutenant on the tack team, and she’s on her way to retirement. She was actually meant to retire sooner, but this mission came up, and SD6 hasn’t been able to find a replacement. It’s become too late, though. McGuiness has other plans with her life, and her obligation to the government is over. They can’t keep her any longer, so she’s decided to leave at the end of the week. It’s going to take her that long to do her exit interview, and complete the closing paperwork. She was hoping to find Meredarchos and Erlendr, as are they all, but that’s not going to happen. Now she has to read these people their rights, and make them sign an NDA.
“I understand.” Alserda isn’t happy about losing her number two, but again, she has no choice in the matter. She speaks into her radio. “Secure the scene. We’ll meet you back at the base. Follow me,” she says to Kivi and Kivi alone.
“Sir. I’m sorry if I caused a problem.”
“That’s not what I want to talk to you about.” Alserda holds the car door open for her. “Have you ever thought about serving?”
“I serve my team,” Kivi explains. “I don’t serve the U.S. For now, our interests just happen to be aligned.”
“I understand that, but you’ve shown promise. I could sure use someone with your skills on my team. We’re losing someone, so we’ll be down an operative.”
“Sir, there’s no way I could be your lieutenant.”
Alserda laughs. “No, you couldn’t. You don’t have near enough experience. The top dogs would never allow it. No, I’m thinking about shaking up the team. Strand has learned enough to be an engineer, freeing Klein to be my new L-T. Meanwhile, Hurst has always wanted to be a tech, so he’ll replace Strand, and you can replace Hurst.”
“As a spotter?” Kivi questions. “I barely understand what he does.”
“He uses his eyes. He operates the cameras and scanners, as you’ve seen. If Kermode needs to snipe anyone, you’ll help her spot targets.”
“I don’t know about that.” Kivi isn’t in love with violence.
“You have a gift I’ve never seen before. Just think about it, okay?”
“Okay, I’ll consider your offer,” she promises with every intention of saying no after the appropriate amount of time has passed.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: September 26, 2398

Palmeria is the smallest country in the world, and is known as a micronation, though a few major countries do not recognize it as a sovereign state. Located on the border of the Minnesota, United States and Canada, and comprising two lacustrine islands, Palmeria is the home to an unknown very few people. To qualify as an independent nation, a population must interact with others in some significant way, and fulfill several other reasonable requirements. As an isolationist political region, the whole point is to not interact with anyone, but the founder—whoever they were or are—found a loophole, and of course, it has to do with religious freedom. Most of the time, declaring yourself independent of your host nation would be more difficult, because they might pose a threat to peace in the world, but Palmeria is so small and insignificant that most governments accept it because they don’t really give a crap. It’s not like the U.S. and Canada were clamoring to hold onto all of maybe fifty acres of land. The Palmerians stick to their islands, and don’t bother anyone.
There is a small economy. For one day and one night, a minimal party of guests are allowed to stay at a resort on the small island, which is only about fifty meters wide. It reportedly costs a buttload of money, and there are no extensions or repeat visits; no exceptions. The waitlist is several years long, and while no details have emerged regarding what a night stay actually entails, it enjoys a five star rating from one hundred percent of vacationers. Mateo, Marie, and Angela have arrived uninvited and unannounced via teleportation. They simply do not have time to do this the ethical way. Hopefully the Palmerians won’t be too angry about it to help. Who could be upset in a place like this? They find clear, unpolluted waters; crisp, clean air; beautiful greenery all around. Many would call this paradise. The only people who wouldn’t like it surely don’t like nature of any kind. It is so calm here, they hope not to ruin it with conflict.
They decided not to land directly on the island, because they don’t know what kind of security measures might have been put in place. Once Mateo finishes blowing up the raft, he and Angela paddle the half kilometer leg to their destination. At first they think they see a man standing on the bank, but the figure isn’t moving, so they decide that it’s an optical illusion. As they draw even closer, it becomes pretty surreal. It must be a person, right? No, it’s still not moving. Maybe a statue? It looks so real. It’s real. As soon as the raft touches land, he relaxes his Queen’s Guard stance to help pull it ashore.
“Thank you. We’re sorry to intrude,” Marie says to him diplomatically.
“Bring the boat up under here before today’s real guests see it,” the man says, helping carry it to a pile of brush and other debris.
“We were hoping to speak with the one in charge,” Marie continues.
“Follow me before today’s real guests see you,” he paraphrases himself.
As they’re following the stranger into the woods, Angela leans over to whisper, “this is a good sign. He might have access to a seer who foresaw our coming.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Marie agrees halfheartedly.
They don’t have to go far before they reach what the greeter calls the main house. He motions for them to approach the door, but doesn’t come with them. He must need to get back to greet today’s real guests. Mateo knocks.
Another man opens. “Ah, there you are.”
“You knew we were coming didn’t you?”
“Of course I did,” he says with a chuckle. “I have cameras all over the island.”
“No,” Marie says, “you knew we were coming today, even though you’ve never even met us.”
“No, I had no idea. You’re supposed to make a reservation online.”
“Why did you let us in then?” Mateo asks.
“I have cameras all over the island,” he repeats, “and a few off of it. I saw you three appear out of nowhere. I’m curious, what universe are you from?”
That makes it sound like he’s directly connected to Chase Palmer. “We’re from this one,” Angela explains. “We’re just from a different reality, where things like teleportation are slightly more common.”
He nods. “I see. “Well, what did you want to speak with me about?”
“Do you know a man by the name of Chase Palmer?” Mateo asks. “He was from another universe.”
The man in charge tilts his head back, surprised by the question. “Did you come here after hearing the name of the island? Did you think you would find him here?”
“We thought maybe we would find one of his descendents, or acolytes maybe?”
“I’m the former. I’m his son, Keaton.” He outstretches his arm. “Keaton Palmer.” After they take turns shaking his hands, he opens his arms wide. I grew up on Earth, where such is the custom. On my mother’s side of the family, however, it’s tradition to hug upon meeting friends, both new and old.
They hug him too.
“Your mother is not from Earth as well?”
Keaton smiles proudly. “No, I’m a successful hybrid. We’re quite rare.”
“I should say so,” Marie determines, “half human, half something else.”
“I’m fully human,” Keaton contradicts. “My mom was just born on a different planet. Technically a different universe too, but it’s a biverse, so we’re very close.”
“How did you end up here?” Mateo asks.
“That is a long story that’s not as interesting as you’re probably imagining. Essentially, I’m on vacation. I wanted to go somewhere without all the fuss and bother. I was just going to retire on my own Earth, but I kind of got detoured.”
“Does that mean you have a way to return?” Marie asks, hopeful.
“In about four or five months, yes,” Keaton answers. “Until then, I can’t so much as contact anyone beyond the membrane. Do you want a ride?”
“Four months is the shortest estimate we’ve heard so far, so...if you’ll have us...”
“Sure, there’s more than enough room for you.”
“Actually, we have many others back home,” Angela warns.
“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” Keaton says, unfazed.
“We appreciate it.”
Mateo nods, glad for the progress. He hands Keaton his notebook of names. “Whenever I meet someone new, I like to find out if we have any mutual acquaintances. Would you mind?”
“No problem.” Keaton takes the notebook, and begins flipping through the list. He’s taken aback. “My mother’s name is in here. How do you know Amber Fossward?”
“Uh, she literally saved my soul once,” Mateo answers.
He considers the news fondly. “That sure sounds like her. Now I definitely feel obligated to help you.”

Monday, November 28, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: September 25, 2398

They found only one other recognizable name from the comprehensive list of world religions. And it was another major one. Bhulahai was obviously named for timeline mapper, Bhulan Cargill. No one on the team who knew her knew how she could have ended up here, but it’s not that important. The fact is that she’s here, or at least she was, and she either created a religion, or inspired other people to start it, perhaps by performing miracles that would seem mundane to them. That’s probably how they all got started; Pryce turned himself into a sabertooth tiger, and the cavemen who witnessed it started worshiping him as a god. In Bhulan’s case, Bhulahai appears to be a pretty nonviolent religion. It promotes learning from one’s mistakes, and trying to predict the future with high accuracy. That makes sense for someone with the actual ability to do that with real past events.
It’s hard to say much more with just the list itself. It doesn’t necessarily tell them the whole story. Any of these others could lead to the identity of someone else and they just don’t recognize the name, or the name of the religion is simply not shared by the founder or inspiration. They need to do more research on the history of faith in this reality. Things can change a lot over the literal aeons. “Someone is going to have to trace these all the way back to their origin stories,” Mateo realizes.
“I don’t really have time,” Leona laments. “I need to get back to the fusion project. They have been operating independently of me for a long time now. I’m worried what they’ve been up to.”
“I have quite a bit of my own work too,” Ramses says.
Mateo would do it himself, but he’s not quite—what’s the word he’s looking for?—smart enough. “I shouldn’t bother, I would just make mistakes. I think I have an idea of who could handle it, though.”
“Who are you thinking of?” Leona asks. “Angela and Alyssa have the business, and Marie is helping them out while Kivi is in the field, looking for Erlendr and Meredarchos.”
“No, not them.”
Leona thinks she knows who he’s talking about. “Oh, don’t bother the people living at the condo either. They’re not a part of this anymore.”
“No, they made their choices,” Mateo says, smiling. “How quickly you forget the children.” Mateo leaves the lab, and goes up to the residential floor. He takes a quick look in the common area. Finding it empty, he walks back and knocks on the McIver door.
Young Moray answers. “Hi.” He hasn’t been the same since Trina’s memorial service. “My sister isn’t here.” He frowns. “I mean, Alyssa isn’t. Obviously Trina isn’t anywhere at all, since she’s dead.” Yeah, he’s definitely not finished grieving.
Maybe the boy just needs something to take his mind off of what happened. This doesn’t really have anything to do with that. “Is your brother here?”
“Car, it’s for you!” Moray shouts into the apartment as he slides out of the way.
“I’m here for both of you, actually,” Mateo says, stepping into the unit. “Could I have a word?”
Carlin comes out of his room. “Are you kicking us out?”
“Why in the world would I kick you out?”
“I caused a lot of problems yesterday.”
“Those are called feelings,” Mateo clarifies, “not problems. We’re working that out together, and I don’t know exactly how to help you, but I know it doesn’t involve kicking you out on the street.”
“What is this about then?” Carlin questions.
Mateo hands him the tablet. “This is a list of every religion in your world. That’s great and all, but we really need to know more about how they each got started, when and where, and how they evolved over time. We need to know which ones branched off into which others, and get lists of key important historical or mythological figures.”
Carlin peruses the list. “Why are you telling me this?”
“Well, we would like you and Moray to take on this challenge.”
Carlin drops his arms loose. “You want us to do homework?”
It sounds to Mateo like these kids need some structure in their lives. They have had it a little easy since they’ve come to Kansas City in terms of daily life. It hasn’t been easy—they’ve made sacrifices—but Alyssa has a job, and the boys need their own responsibilities. It’s not good for them to do nothing. “Everyone has their assignments. This is really important to us. We need to know who else like us is here, and this research could be the key to finding that out.”
He looks back at the list. Moray comes over to look at it too. “This isn’t just busy work?” Carlin asks.
“Ain’t nobody got time for that.” Mateo assures them. “Four of the most popular faiths in the world were named after people we know personally. One of them is my cousin, and I’ve been looking for her since we fell into this reality.”
Carlin sets the tablet on the dining table. “We’ll do as you asked, but we’ll need some direction on precisely what you’re looking for. Written guidelines would be helpful.”
Mateo nods. “I’ll have Leona draw something up for you. I’m liable to make mistakes, or I might try this project on my own.” He turns to leave the apartment gracefully.
“Hey, Mister Matic?” Carlin stops him somberly. “Thank you.”
“Thank you, and just call me Mateo.” He sends a text message to Leona as he’s leaving the apartment. He then walks downstairs to find Marie.
She’s taking a shift in the security room. “Hey, you wanna get in on this?”
“Nah, I came here to ask you a question. Do you remember when you and I were alone together in the Mariana Trench? Those bug aliens attacked us, and were probably going to kill you until a couple of bulk travelers swooped in and saved us?”
“Yeah, of course,” Marie says. “That was shortly after I joined the team, long before I split in two, so I was still just Angela back then. Why?”
“What was the name of that guy who flew us from the rendezvous moon to the battle staging planet? Do you recall?”
“Yeah, he called himself The Hound, but his real name was...Hunter? No. Hold on...Chase.”
“Chase,” Mateo echoes. “That’s it. Chase what?”
“Chase...Palmer. Why?”
“He’s from another brane, and we didn’t spend much time with him, so I guess I forgot to put him on my running list. Have you ever heard of a religion called Palmeria?”

Sunday, November 27, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: September 24, 2398

Different countries have different laws and conventions, but the most common number to use is fourteen. Though not yet an adult in these jurisdictions, this is the age when an individual is considered legally free to choose their own religion. It’s difficult for the state to regulate what a given religion can do to and with their children, but certain morally universal laws have been passed to prevent abuse or any infringing on those children’s rights. Basically, yeah, you’re free to express your own religious practices, but if you indoctrinate children into believing the same without providing them with the proper education regarding alternatives, then you’re being a hypocrite...and that’s illegal. They have the right to figure that out themselves, and once they’ve been alive for fourteen years, society expects them to declare their beliefs. Of course, they convert to something else later, but people generally believe that—assuming all anti-indoctrination laws have been followed—they can make a well-informed decision at this point. Carlin McIver is at this age now. Today is his birthday.
There is nothing the team can do to solve the Meredarchos-Erlendr problem. Sure, Leona is a highly trained agent, and Mateo technically works for the same covert governmental organization, but that organization has many other well-qualified agents, operatives, and analysts. Everyone on the team is at the Lofts now, which currently excludes the late Cheyenne, her friend Bridgette, Heath, Vearden, and Arcadia. So there aren’t all that many people at the party, but the ones that are here are committed to making Carlin feel special, safe, happy, and ready to make his choice. They’re all sitting together in the common area on the second floor, eating his favorite foods, and trying to keep the mood light. It’s not working. Alyssa is being strong for her younger brothers, but they’re still struggling. Carlin is particularly upset, as he felt it was his duty to protect Trina from harm. He’s not angry at the team for letting her go. He’s angry at himself for letting them let her go. Again, he’s not an adult yet...but there is a loophole.
“Tamerism,” Carlin says quietly.
Not everyone heard. They’re still smiling from their respective conversations. “What did you say?” Alyssa asks him.
“I choose...Tamerism,” he elaborates slightly.
“Very funny,” Alyssa says.
“I’m being serious. I’m fourteen now, I get to choose, and I choose...Tamerism!” He’s raised his voice, but isn’t yelling yet.
Alyssa scowls. “You are not going to be a Tamerist!”
The visitors to this reality look over at Marie, who shrugs. She hasn’t heard of every single sect of every single faith.
“I have to protect my family, and this is how I do it!” Now he’s yelling.
“That is not how you do it, because we are a nonviolent family!”
“You said that all these people are our family now,” Carlin reasons, indicating the team.
“They are, and they’re working very hard to protect us,” Alyssa volleys. “And I know what you’re going to say; they’re using violence. Yes, to a degree, but that’s not what you’re going to do.”
“Forgive me for interjecting, but what’s happening here?” Leona asks.
“This country has maturity milestones. You can work at thirteen. You can choose your religion at fourteen. You can drive at fifteen. You can vote at sixteen. You can marry at seventeen.” She takes a beat. “You can fight at eighteen.”
“Okay...he’s not eighteen.”
“You can fight at fourteen,” Alyssa goes on, “if your chosen religion says that you can, and Tamerism is the only major one that says that. And it has to be one of the majors, because they’re the ones who get resources from the government. The problem is that Tamerism is fucking insane! The things that they believe, the things that they fight for...”
“I can fight for whatever I want!” Carlin claims.
“Once you reach a certain level,” Alyssa argues, “which takes, like, a year. Until then, you go where they tell you to go, and you kill who they tell you to kill.”
“Some people accelerate in the program.” Carlin crosses his arms in a huff.
“You are not going to join Tamerism.”
“You’re not allowed to say that to me!” Carlin cries.
“Seven witnesses will assure the authorities that I never actually said that.” She’s confident that everyone here will lie for her, except maybe Moray, who may be a little too young to understand the consequences. When the state says that you can choose your religion, they mean that no one can stop you, not even a legal guardian.
Carlin tightens his arms around himself.
“You want to join the mission to find those evil men, don’t you?” Alyssa guesses.
Carlin nods his head.
She nods back. It’s time for some tough love. “That’s not practical. By the time you level out of obligatory service, they’ll be found and dealt with. Don’t throw your life away. Tamerism is one of the hardest faiths to convert out of. They get dirt on you, they blackmail you. You don’t genuinely believe what they believe. They’ll know that, and they won’t let it slide. They’ll act like they do, but then they’ll slowly brainwash you.”
“Hold on a minute.” Ramses jumps up. There’s a little whiteboard on the refrigerator. He wipes the party shopping list away.  “How do you spell that, Tamerism?”
“T-A-M-E-R-I-S-M,” Alyssa answers.
He writes it up in black marker. “Marie, how do you spell the one that your husband is in, or was in, or whatever?”
“Daltomism. D-A-L-T-O-M-I-S-M.”
Ramses writes that one up there two. He breaks each word in half using a red marker, and adds different letters to the ends. Tamerlane. Dalton.
“Tamerlane Pryce and Dalton Hawke?” Leona asks. “Two of the biggest religions in the world were founded, or perhaps inspired, by two people that we know personally? How did I not notice this before? Why did I not research the religions for clues?”
Mateo stands up, and regards the whiteboard. “I wonder if my cousin, Danica has one too.”
“Oh.” Marie approaches the whiteboard. She writes the word Anicari in black marker, and then adds a D to the front with the red marker.
Mateo nods as he’s staring at the names. “We need to make a list of every religion in the world. Something fishy is going on here. There may be more time travelers that we weren’t expecting to be involved.”
Leona retrieves her tablet from her bag.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: September 23, 2398

Meredarchos’ plan presumably hinges on this idea that the team is not meant to know that he has transferred to Trina’s body. While the authorities were looking for Andile, he would apparently be free to move about the world unnoticed. Except that he would be noticed, because we’re talking about an unaccompanied six-year-old girl. His plan just doesn’t make any sense, especially considering the fact that Ramses knew about the secret refrigerated room, and would discover it eventually, if not immediately, which he did. Of course, little Trina was not capable of carrying Andile out of the building, so he couldn’t take the body with him after the transfer, but then why didn’t he just take Trina’s body, and make the transfer somewhere else. This is all sloppy work, and Ramses believes that he has an answer for why.
“Erlendr is in there.”
“They’re sharing a body,” Leona understands. “That’s always been a theory, but it doesn’t explain why they would use Trina’s instead of Andile’s, and risk us finding out.”
“I think it does explain it. They’re both alpha males, trying to control the outcome of whatever it is they’re doing together. They have their own objectives, and their own ways of accomplishing them. It’s sloppy because they can’t agree on anything, and neither of them will concede to the other, which means that nothing gets done right.”
“The problem with this possibility,” Mateo begins, “is that we have a short window to take advantage of their disarray. Eventually, one of two things will happen: either they’ll learn to work together—though this is less likely—or one will win out over the other. It depends on who is the stronger psychic, I would guess.”
“There’s at least one other option,” Leona says. “They may be able to split their minds to a second body.”
“Whose?” Mateo asks. “The only other vacant body we know of is Leona Reaver, who is being protected by layers and layers of agency security.”
“Who says it has to be vacant?” Ramses poses.
Mateo shakes his head. “If they can share the body of someone who doesn’t want to share it, why take Trina at all? Why not go straight to the guy who owns the pizza place down the block, or any other random stranger?”
“Erlendr may not be able to resist the poetry,” Rames suggests. “The pizza guy means nothing to us, but he doesn’t think we can hurt Trina. Again, sloppy.”
“Well, that’s another problem,” Leona says before a pause. “Can we? Can we hurt Trina’s body? Can we hurt any child?” That is the classic question issued in philosophy classes the world over. Would you be able to kill Hitler as a child, knowing what he would turn out to be? Except they don’t know what Meredarchos is, or will be, and Erlendr has already done his worst.
They’re silent for a moment before Mateo speaks again. “We still have the Livewire, right?”
“Yeah,” Ramses answers. “Meredarchos apparently doesn’t need it to control the Insulator of Life, so he didn’t steal it too.”
Mateo looks at his wife. “I would hate to kill someone who looks like you, but...”
“But it would be easier than someone who looks like little Trina, and honestly, we would probably ask Arcadia to actually do it for us.”
“If you place someone in Leona Reaver’s body, they’re not going to die,” Ramses reminds them. “They’ll fall back to her original timeline, and then be dropped right back here in that parking lot.”
Leona nods. “I’ve been thinking about that. I need you to do something for me.”
“Okay. What might that be?” Ramses is worried now.
“I need you to build me a prefrontal cortical scanner, unless they exist in this reality already, in which case, you would just need to procure one.”
“Lee-lee, what is that?” Mateo asks.
“Leona Reaver and Alt!Mateo keep subverting death because an extraction mirror keeps saving them. They thought that they couldn’t get out of the loop, but I believe that they’re not trying hard enough. It’s true that it is difficult to let yourself die when you see a way out, even when you’re suffering from suicidal thoughts. That’s why people who genuinely want to die can’t just strangle themselves with their bare hands. These decisions are made in the frontal lobe, and with enough science, you can manipulate which decisions an individual makes.”
“Are you talking about inventing a suicide inducer?” Mateo questions.
“They already exist in the main sequence, and probably the other advanced realities,” Leona reasons. “Or rather, they could. Whether anyone has ever actually used such technology is irrelevant. It’s possible regardless. I’m not talking about using it on all my enemies, but I think it might be worth the risk.”
Ramses is torn between the two of them. “I’ll investigate the possibilities, but I make no guarantees.”
Leona tilts her head as she’s standing up to leave. Sometimes she wishes this were a dictatorship. Sometimes.
“I know my wife,” Mateo says after she’s left. “You may also know her well enough to know what she’s really planning.”
“I do. She’s not interested in making Meredarchos and Erlendr suicidal. She’s going to copy her own brain, and upload all three consciousnesses into her alternate self’s head. She’ll kill herself, and the other two will just be along for the ride.”
“How do we suppose we stop her from doing that?”
“Not how you’re thinking,” Ramses warns. “Don’t forget, I know you too.”
“It’s the only play that makes sense.”
“Sacrificing yourself to prevent her from doing it isn’t a fair trade.”
“It won’t really be me. It’ll be a different me. But it won’t even be that, right? It’ll be a lesser me. No memories, no real thoughts...just the impulse to get out of the extraction mirror loop, and end it once and for all.”
“You can get semantic on me all you want, Mateo. This is a murder-suicide pact. Whatever happens, you both need to appreciate that truth.”
Mateo stands up as well. “It won’t be the first time, and I doubt it will be the last. And hey, won’t they end up in the afterlife simulation anyway?”
Ramses shakes his head. “I don’t think so. It’s an old timeline. We don’t believe it existed back then.” He watches Mateo leave the lab too. Then he unlocks his Completed equipment locker, and takes out his neural scanner. It’s funny that the two of them are under the impression that she’s the one who came up with the idea to copy consciousness. He was working on this for weeks, and now he knows how he’s going to use it. He’ll scan his own brain, and end this once and for all.

Friday, November 25, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: September 22, 2398

The agents are on the case. Cheyenne’s murder was a terrible tragedy, but in the end, it hasn’t changed anything. They still need to find Meredarchos, who is hiding out in Andile’s former body, and they still don’t know where he’s going. His motives are difficult to understand, to say the least. Why sneak into the Lofts, and how did he do it? Why kill her? For the Insulator of Life? If he’s as powerful as he sounds, death is probably not something he’s really ever had to worry about.
Angela calls Leona, Mateo, and Ramses into the security room. She’s been studying the footage, and might not have slept last night. At first, she was focused on making sure that Ramses didn’t do anything, or his body, anyway. After she cleared his name, though, she apparently wanted to go back through, and look more closely at the feeds. “How did he get in the building?” she poses.
“We don’t know. How?” Leona asks right back.
“I’ve seen every frame from every camera,” Angela begins, “and he doesn’t. He doesn’t step one foot in this place.”
“Okay... Do you need to sleep?”
“I’m fine, I’ve had some coffee,” Angela says. Coffee indeed, the trashcan is full of coffee pods. She takes another sip from her current cup of the stuff. “The reason I didn’t see him enter the building is because he was already inside.” She switches the monitors to the feeds from the fifteenth of this month, which is the day Rothko broke out of the blacksite, and—probably unintentionally—freed Meredarchos. It is here where they see him pick the lock on the side door, and enter the building. “I looked into the operation records from SD6. He came straight here. He knew exactly where we lived and worked, and he knew exactly what he wanted to do.”
“What did he want to do?” Mateo asks.
Angela begins to step through the timeline. They see Meredarchos walk right up to the lab, let himself in using a badge that shouldn’t exist, and which he definitely shouldn’t have, then approach the Insulator of Life. He touches the top of it, and disappears in a flash of life.”
“Where did he go?” Alyssa asks. She wasn’t in the room before.
“That I don’t know,” Angela answers, all jittery. She tries to take another desperate sip, but Mateo takes it away from her.
“Okay, that’s enough.”
“Whatever, you can’t control me, I’ll just wait until you leave. Now, that’s not the interesting part. Here’s the interesting part.” She jumps back to the feed from two days ago, dragging one particular camera over to the main screen, so they can see it better that’s showing the outside of that side door. “Okay, so watch her—I mean him—leave.” Meredarchos does indeed leave the building, and walk out of frame. “Right quick, look at the distant viewer...there. Did you see that? His arm—well, I mean, Andile’s arm—appears in frame for a second, and then he goes back out. So it looks like he’s leaving, right? Wrong. He comes back. Now, we don’t see him coming back, but I know that he did. Because look at this camera.” She switches to the loading dock camera, where nothing happens. “Uhuh. See it right? Right?”
“See what?” Mateo questions. “Nothing happened.”
“Run it again,” Leona asks, leaning forward, and squinting at the screen.
Angela nods. “Okay.” She does so. “There! Aaaaaand there! And there, and there, and there.”
“Yeah, I see it,” Leona acknowledges.
“I see it too,” Ramses says. Of course the three smartest people in the room see what the other two don’t.
“What is it?” Alyssa asks them.
“There’s a leaf on the pavement. The wind picks up, and pushes it maybe a centimeter to the left. It’s barely noticeable, but it’s there. And it keeps repeating. This footage is on a loop. In fact, it loops the same five seconds over and over again for twenty-five minutes. That’s enough time to step out of the blindspot, and into the dock through the regular door.”
“I thought that’s why you guys put those lava lamps all over the place,” Alyssa points out. “Don’t they prevent loops from happening?”
“There are none outside. It’s not a mistake,” Leona tells her. “We made a conscious decision to not put them on the exterior.” Having lamps on the outside would draw too much attention. It seemed safer to assume that anyone wishing them harm from the outside, would try to make their way inside, where cameras would be waiting. That seemed good enough...unless they had explosives. “They would look suspicious. People would be asking why the hell they’re out there.”
“So, what does this mean?” Mateo poses. “Meredarchos snuck in here to kill Cheyenne for the thing he already had in his possession a week ago?”
“It’s all about Erlendr,” Leona realizes. “He knew that he wouldn’t be able to keep Ramses’ body forever, because we would figure it out, and we would spend untold resources to get him back if he escaped with it again, so he came up with a plan to get himself into Andile’s body, which is extra, and thusly less important. Because apparently Meredarchos has the ability to store full substrates in the Insulator, which we were to understand is not something it’s capable of.”
“So both Meredarchos and Erlendr are in Andile’s body?” Alyssa guesses.
“Either that, or Meredarchos just took the Insulator with plans to use it on some other poor unsuspecting soul later,” Leona suggests.
“That doesn’t explain why he came back into the building,” Angela reminds her. “What did he need in the basement? We swept the whole place, nothing was taken.”
“You didn’t sweep everything,” Ramses reveals solemnly.
“What are you talking about?” Leona asks.
“Okay, don’t get mad, but I found something in the basement when we first got here that I decided to keep secret in case I needed to store hazardous materials. I don’t have all my memories of when Erlendr was in my head, but I get fragments back. I think he put something in there.”
“Something, like what?”
“Something like...Trina’s body?”
“Oh my God,” Alyssa exclaims.
They all take a field trip to the basement to see whether what Ramses believes is true. He remembers digging in the dirt, and coming down here with something approximately human-sized, so he just put two and two together. Now he needs proof. He removes the false panel, and opens the secret refrigerator door, but they don’t find Trina’s body in there. Instead, they see Andile’s.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: September 21, 2398

Bridgette is about to leave her room when realizes that she put her skirt on backwards. “Chey!” No response. She spins it around, glad she didn’t leave the apartment looking like that. Cheyenne would find it funny. “Chey!” Still no response. “Cheyenne, have you seen my bracelet! I don’t remember when I last wore it, but it’s not on my nightstand!” Why isn’t she responding? She needs to sleep a lot, even with the Insulator of Life, there’s no way she beat her out of bed this morning. She opens her door, and reaches over to knock on Cheyenne’s. “Are you there?” What is up with this? She takes the liberty of opening Cheyenne’s door. At first, it’s like she doesn’t see what she’s seeing. That’s not her, hanging there. It’s a big decoration for some kind of holiday that she’s not that familiar with. It’s’s an illusion. There’s nothing there at all. This is some kind of trick. That Alyssa girl can make you see things, right. But why would she do that? Why would she make her see her best friend hanging from the rafter? That’s sick. This is sick. It’s a sick joke. “Help!” She flips the upturned chair upright, and jumps onto it, holding Cheyenne by the waist as high as she can. “HELP!” she screams again.
The door is locked!” someone on the other side of it muffles back.
“Break it down!”
Mateo suddenly appears in the common area of the apartment.
“Get a knife!” Bridgette orders.
Mateo grabs a kitchen knife from the block. He runs into the room, squeezes himself onto the chair with her, and slices through the bedsheet. He tosses the knife to the corner just in time to catch them both before they fall to the floor.
Bridgette scrambles to remove the sheet from Cheyenne’s neck. She doesn’t check for a pulse, or a breath. She goes right into chest compressions and rescue breaths. By now, Leona and others have rushed into the apartment, having retrieved the master key.
Leona kneels down and takes Cheyenne’s wrist for some reason. “She’s gone.”
“She’s cold,” Leona explains solemnly.
“So? It’s a little cold today. It’s the first day of fall, isn’t it?” Bridgette keeps going.
“Bridgette, stop.”
Bridgette stops. Her hands come off of her friend’s dead body, and land on her own knees as she leans back. “She’s so cold,” she agrees, tearing up. “She did this last night. Either I was here, or I came in, and didn’t check on her like I usually do. Why didn’t I check on her? If I had just...”
“Where is the Insulator of Life?” Mateo asks, looking around the room.
“Is that all you people care about?”
Leona takes both Bridgette’s hands in hers. “If it’s not here, where would it have gone? Would she have put it somewhere else?”
Bridgette wipes the saltwater from her eyes, and looks around too. “No. You were done with it, so she would have brought it back here, where it belongs.”
“She did,” Kivi says. “We were chatting, so I followed her in. I saw her set it on her desk.”
“And she wasn’t suicidal, right?” Leona asks.
“No, of course not.”
Leona looks up at Ramses, who sighs, and shuts his eyes in sadness and fear. “The boo-boo cage is on, right?”
“Yes,” Leona answers.
Ramses takes a little remote out of his pocket, and presses a button, dropping the remote in time for it to not teleport with him.
“Angela, check the security feeds. I want to know everything that happened in this building since I let who we thought was Ramses out of that cage.”
“You have a client meeting today,” Alyssa points out.
“You take it,” Angela requests.
“I’m not qualified or experienced, I’m just the receptionist.”
“You helped me edit the discussion notes. You know the material. I trust you. I need to watch the feeds. My mind can absorb the footage better than normal people.”
“Shouldn’t Kivi do it instead?” Alyssa suggests.
“Kivi needs to find someone for me,” Leona says, standing up.
“Who?” Bridgette questions.
“Erlendr Preston,” Leona answers with a burning hatred. “We may be able to rewrite history.”
Mateo wraps Cheyenne’s body in her blanket, and carries her out of the apartment. Bridgette doesn’t know where he’s taking her, or what they’re going to do with it. They’re not really a part of society anymore. Would they even be able to call the authorities on this matter? No, they have to handle it in-house. When they find out who did this, be it Ramses, Erlendr in Ramses’ body, or a random burglar, Bridgette is gonna deal with it herself. She’ll hurt anyone who tries to get in her way. They’re going to answer for their crimes, and she’s the only one who gets to determine what that means.
Leona doesn’t feel like it’s good for Bridgette’s mental health to be at The Lofts right now, so Marie escorts her to the condo. Heath has been sleeping in his old master bedroom, and Arcadia and Vearden sleep together, so that leaves the smaller room free for Bridgette’s use. She woke up well-rested this morning, but she’s feeling so tired. She can’t even keep her eyes open. She passes out on the bed.
She doesn’t wake up until night has fallen. The other four, including Marie, are sitting in the living room. “I’m hungry.”
“We’re warming a dish for you,” Vearden says, standing up, and heading for the kitchen area to retrieve it.
“What is it you people like to say,” Bridgette begins, “report?”
“Please, sit,” Marie recommends. “Angela finished with the security footage. The whereabouts of Ramses’ body has been accounted for all day yesterday, and all this morning. He fell asleep in his lab, having missed out on a lot of work, so a camera was always on him.” She hesitates to continue.
“Say it.”
“Andile Mhlangu was seen leaving your apartment, going down the stairs, and exiting through the side door.”
“I can’t remember who was in her body,” Bridgette admits.
Marie nods. “It was the man we’ve been looking for, Meredarchos.”
Bridgette nods. “That’s good,” she decides.
“Why would that be good?” Heath asks, afraid of the answer.
“Andile doesn’t need her body anymore, unlike Ramses. That means I can kill it.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: September 20, 2398

Leona is back from Orlando. She was supposed to return last night, but there was just too much to do. She’s here now, though, and she’s ready to move on to the next issue. They have to somehow get Erlendr’s consciousness out of Ramses’ brain without also removing Ramses’ consciousness, and they have to somehow know that they have been successful. Erlendr is not the best actor in the universe, but he’s been convincing enough before, and he doesn’t have to be the one in charge of the body to be in it. He could go dormant, let Ramses take over for a day or two, and then bubble back up to the surface. What they need is a way to confirm that there is a consciousness inside of the Insulator of Life, that it’s the person they’re expecting it to be, and that no one else is in there with him. Unfortunately, the reality’s foremost expert on the temporal object is Ramses himself, and he’s not a reliable source right now.
Cheyenne doesn’t know very much about it, but she’s agreed to help in any way she can by looking over Ramses’ notes on the Insulator in the lab, just in case something catches her eye. “I can’t find page three from the sixth.”
“The sixth of what?” These notes aren’t exactly organized. This is unlike Ramses. Erlendr must have scrambled them on purpose.
Leona hunts for the page elsewhere on the table.
“It looks important,” Cheyenne says. The page before references a breakthrough
Arcadia comes into the lab with a big dumb smile on her face. “Hey, there!”
“I thought you were wiping your hands of all this,” Leona points out.
“I had to make something for you first.” Arcadia slaps a tablet on the table.
Leona picks it up. “What is this?”
“A personality test,” Arcadia explains.
“I see that. Do you prefer round or squircular watches? Does cilantro taste like soap? What is this for?”
“It’s the only way to test for a psychic invader,” she claims.
“How exactly?” Leona presses. She swipes down to the second page. “By asking them to describe the perfect April 25th of 2001?”
“It’s not the questions themselves that matter, it’s how the responder answers them. You know Ramses. You know how he talks, how he behaves. Ask these questions, and pay attention to his micromovements.”
Cheyenne looks at the tablet over Leona’s shoulder. “So if he were a stranger this would be useless?”
“Yeah, that’s why it’s so important to have friends and loved ones,” Arcadia lectures as if she hasn’t spent thousands of years not believing it.
Leona sighs and swipes through more of the questions. “Do you ever smell fudge where there is no fudge? You stole that from Warehouse 13.”
“Well,” Arcadia scoffs jokingly, “if you’re gonna steal, steal from the best.”
“Can you help with the Insulator at all?” Leona asks as she puts the tablet down.
“I’m honestly not that familiar with it,” Arcadia admits. “I can tell you that it’s psychic, so you’re going to need a strong mind to control it.”
Leona widens her eyes, and sticks her turtle head out towards her.
Arcadia mimics the gesture. “Yeah, what?”
“You’re the psychic here, dummy,” Leona reminds her in a tone.
Arcadia shakes her head profusely. “Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. You’re not tricking me into being responsible for helping Mister Abdulrashid. More to the point, I won’t let myself be the one to fail at it.”
“We need someone strong of mind. There is none better than a Preston.”
“You’re thinking of my sister. I’m an asshole, remember?”
“I remember,” Leona agrees. “Look, you’re the closest thing we have to a telepath, Third Rail power suppression system notwithstanding. If you can’t do it, no one can. I need you, Arcadia. I need you to go up against your last time.”
“What makes you think I would do that?”
Cheyenne takes a half step forward. “You’re the one who put him in there in the first place.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Arcadia questions.
“I can’t tell you how I know this, but the reason he’s in this reality is because you trapped him in that thing for billions of years.”
“I haven’t done that yet,” Arcadia explains.
“I know,” Cheyenne tells her. “But you will. You do it in your future, which means you can do it now.”
Arcadia frowns, and looks back over at Leona. Her face gives in even more. “Okay, bring him up here. I’ll try to transfer his consciousness out, but you have to run the Turing test, and you can’t blame me if it doesn’t work.”
“That sounds fair,” Leona says. She holds her hand out.
“What, you want a cookie, or something?”
Leona just shakes it once.
Arcadia reaches out and shakes it too.
Mateo escorts Erlendr upstairs, keeping him in chains the whole time. They place him in the boo-boo cage that Ramses built for anyone trying to teleport in or out of the area. Leona connects the Livewire to the Insulator of Life, then hands the other end to Arcadia, so she can work her magic on it. The latter takes deep breaths to center herself. She doesn’t have much psychic power here, so she concentrates what she does have, and focuses on a singular objective. When she’s ready, she plugs the wire in, and commands Erlendr’s mind to come out of the body he stole, and into the Insulator. Leona then sticks the Insulator away in a miniature Faraday cage, and the Livewire in a separate cage. Mateo takes the wire away, and Cheyenne takes the Insulator. Leona proceeds to test Ramses on his behavior. After running through the questions twice, she’s as satisfied with the results as she’ll ever be. It will never not be a risk.
That night, Cheyenne takes the Insulator back upstairs to her apartment, happy to once more have it in her official possession. She was all right lending it out to these people, but she really needs it so she can get back to the future. She sits down to craft a thank you and goodbye letter to them that she plans to have delivered after she leaves to restart her life. Halfway through, the Insulator begins to glow. It doesn’t normally do that; not unless it’s being used to store a consciousness...or free one. The glow expands into a light, which sharpens into the shape of a human. When the light fades, Andile Mhlangu is standing before her, except it’s not Andile; it’s Meredarchos. This is where he escaped to. Before she can scream for help, he rips the topsheet from her bed, and wraps it around her neck. He squeezes tightly until the lights go out.