Saturday, November 19, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: September 16, 2398

All hell broke loose, and so did the two prisoners still left inside the SD6 blacksite. Rothko Ladhiffe, in Alt!Mateo’s body, figured out how to get his powers back, though they still don’t know how he did it, or what took him so long. It had been a few weeks since they gave him what they believed would be just another perfectly harmless flashlight. The man is not well, and they were just trying to keep him comfortable while they decided on a more permanent solution. They are not the time police, and he is not their responsibility. Neither is this Meredarchos fellow, now in Andile’s body, who evidently came from another universe. That’s about all they have been able to learn about him. When Rothko blasted his way out of the facility, he damaged enough of the building to collapse it in on itself, which provided Meredarchos with enough space to escape too. He will be harder to find, because they don’t know where he might go. Rothko, on the other hand, is completely predictable.
Fancying himself a superhero, he literally flew out of the rubble. As near as Leona can guess, Rothko Torches have the ability to teleport and accelerate particles of light, and possibly other things, turning them into extremely powerful rocket nozzles for their size. He obviously overestimated his ability to control the damn things, and fell to his death instead. But Alt!Mateo can’t die. Whenever he gets close, the time gods transport him back to where he’s supposed to die in an earlier timeline. It doesn’t happen there either, though, because a time mirror is waiting underneath him, so he falls back through, and returns to the Third Rail every time. That’s why Alt!Mateo and Leona Reaver had to escape their substrates, and transfer to new ones. At some point, the mirror trick is going to stop working, be it naturally, or following human intervention. They are not safe bodies to be in, but Alt!Mateo’s had at least one more life in it, because Rothko has landed exactly where they expected, in that unremarkable parking lot in Crown Center.
“Oh, uhh...hi.” Rothko stands, and looks at the small crowd. He reaches up to feel for what’s around his neck.
“That collar absorbs temporal energy,” Ramses warns. “If you try to use your powers, it will all just go in there, and be neutralized.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“You escaped from prison,” Mateo explains.
“I wasn’t talking to you.” Rothko is still looking right at Ramses.
Ramses clears his throat. “You’re unwell, and a danger to yourself and others. We’re here to take you to a new facility. It will be safer, and you won’t have any flashlights. You won’t have any lights at all. They’ll be situated outside of your cell, and come in through windows near the ceiling. You have lost the weirdest privilege ever, the ability to control how bright it is.”
“It’s not a weird privilege,” Mateo counters. “It’s just weird to lose it.”
“Wait. What if I gave you information?” Rothko pleads.
“What could you possibly give us?” Mateo asks.
“How do you think I broke out? Could I have done it on my own?”
“Shut up!” Ramses presses a button on his remote, sending an electrical shock to Rothko’s collar that’s strong enough to knock him to the ground.
Mateo and the four SD6 guards stare at him.
“He was...he was, ya know...”
“Gonna blow your cover?” Mateo guesses.
“What are you talking about?”
Mateo teleports away briefly, and then comes back, but this time behind Ramses. He wraps the prototype of the collar around his neck. It works all right, but there appears to be a limitation to how much temporal energy it can absorb, which the real Ramses found unacceptable, so that’s why he built the model that Rothko is wearing. Hopefully it will be good enough for now. “What did you think was gonna happen here, that Rothko was just gonna keep his mouth shut?”
“What are you talking about?” Erlendr whines.
“Save it, I know who you are. You people think I’m so stupid, but I have a lot of life experience now that I didn’t have before.”
“Mateo, I really don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m your best friend, you can trust me.”
“Oh my God, why are you so bad at this? Is it because you’re so used to being the most powerful person in the room that you get lazy about tricking people? You don’t sound like Ramses at all. You’ve been weird since we tried to switch your bodies.”
Erlendr knows he’s been caught. “You didn’t try to switch our bodies. You tried to trap me in the Insulator!”
“Instead, he’s there, and you’re still in there.”
“Oh no, he’s in here too. When you switch bodies with someone, you don’t have access to their thoughts and memories, but when you share a mind—Mateo, I could tell you things...”
“I don’t care. When Leona gets back from trying to find the other prisoner, she’ll help us put everyone where they belong. I might even stick you in Leona Reaver’s body after all, and then let you die in her timeline in her place.”
“It’s impossible,” Erlendr claims, shrugging Ramses’ shoulders. “It’s a loop. He’ll always end up here.” He looks over at one of the guards. “Go ahead and shoot him. He’ll disappear at the last millisecond, and be back totally fine tomorrow. You can shoot this Mateo too. He can’t die either. Wink,” he says with a wink.
“Come on,” Mateo says, starting to escort Erlendr and Ramses to the prisoner transport van. Two of the guards help Rothko off the ground, and follow.
“Wait, what if I gave you information?” Erlendr echoes Rothko’s words from before.
“Ha! Haven’t heard this joke before. Go ahead, I’m listening.”
“We talked on the inside, while I was still in Trina’s body.”
“You and Rothko,” Mateo assumes.
“Yes, but also with Meredarchos.”
“He was several stories below you, there’s no way.”
“He doesn’t need a voice to talk,” Erlendr insists, stopping at the steps up to the back of the van. “He has psychic abilities. Now, they’re suppressed while he’s in this reality—or else he would have taken over the whole world by now—but since I have a history of telepathy too, we can connect.”
“So you can use your own abilities, which should also be suppressed in this reality, to find him.” Mateo shakes his head. That doesn’t make any sense.
“Not only that, but I’m the only one whose head he can’t get into. Matty, trust me, you don’t want this guy out in the world. He will find a way to get his full power back, and he will destroy everything. It’s what he does. We don’t know why.”
“Why is it that you know so much about the bulk, but you had never heard of the Third Rail?”
“No one calls it that, Matt. Jesus, I just didn’t know your words for it.”
“Uhuh,” Mateo says sarcastically. “Get in the van.” He not so gently helps Erlendr up the steps, and begins to shackle him in place, then watches as the guards do the same to Rothko. This is a huge mess.
“You need me, Mateo!” Erlendr shouts. He keeps repeating that, and similar declarations, after Mateo shuts the doors, and heads for the front. “You need me!”

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