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.

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