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Wednesday, December 28, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: October 25, 2398

Alyssa has been driving all over the region of central-Western Kansas which her brothers discovered to be a black hole of religion. Everyone in the area reports no religious affiliation. She’s interviewed a few dozen residents in several towns, and they all seem like normal people. They don’t act culty or cagey. None of them refused to answer her questions, except for a few who were late to an engagement, or otherwise preoccupied. They didn’t apparently move here with the intention of being in a community of like-minded atheists. Most of them didn’t even notice. Everything here seems completely above board, which means that something has to be lurking in the shadows. There is a force at play here that keeps itself secret; there has to be, or all the time Carlin and Moray spent researching the phenomenon was a waste. She doesn’t want to believe that. When they return from their space trip, she has to show them that she followed through on their suspicions, and found something worthy of investigation, even if it’s a bad thing. Even if it’s a good thing, for that matter.
Now that she’s failed to come to a conclusion, she decides to switch tactics by exploring the literal center of the religious black hole. She rechecks her coordinates. This is the center of her brothers’ map, and it’s the location of one of the presumed time travelers that Ramses detected with his big brain scanner. That can’t just be a coincidence, but this also can’t be what she’s looking for. This is the center of all of it? It’s nothing special, or at least it doesn’t look it. Maybe it leads to a giant high tech underground complex, like the one under her farm. This could hold the key to the answers they’ve been asking since they arrived. She’s standing under this dilapidated shack on stilts in the middle of nowhere. Surely no one lives here, that would be ridiculous. Then again, stranger things have happened to her already.
Alyssa doesn’t see any no trespassing signs, and again, this would be a terrible home for someone, so she decides to take a risk, and get a closer look. She climbs the ladder all the way up, and into the tower shack. The inside looks like a shack as well. It’s pretty clean, with no debris or equipment, but she ought to watch her step, because some of these boards may not be stable enough to hold her weight. It’s a long way down. There is nothing here, except for one window, and a mirror. The mirror is hanging there on the wall, so completely out of place. It’s not old and dusty, but new and pristine. Alyssa stumbles back when she realizes that she doesn’t have a reflection, but she doesn’t have time to figure it out. She was right about the instability of the floor. One leg crashes right through it, leaving the other leg at her side, causing her to hit herself in the crotch. She tries to get her breath back, but she can’t. The pain in her groin is almost too much to bear. Not only did she hit it hard in the fall, but now she’s doing the splits, which is not something she’s trained for.
She doesn’t want to move, because she’s afraid that any motion will cause the whole structure to fall apart, and then that will be the end of Alyssa McIver’s life. She’ll never see her brothers again. She’ll never fulfill whatever future Mateo and the team believe is waiting for in the alternate reality where they’re from. Okay, she packed climbing equipment. Kansas doesn’t have mountains, but it’s not as flat as the coastal elites believe. We do have edges, and it is possible to fall off of them, and it just made sense to be prepared for such an eventuality. If she can just spin her backpack around, and open it up, she might be able to find a rope, and throw it over something here.
As she’s starting to do that, she sees something move out of the corner of her eye. Is that—no. There’s not a hand coming out of the mirror like a Japanese horror film. It’s not being followed by the top of a head. Nope. Nope, nope, nope. This is not happening. She has to get out of here. How long will it take to hit the ground if she falls right now? Is there time to spin this backpack around, open it up, find the rope, and throw it over something? Probably, right? Let’s see, take the square root of her weight, and multiple it by the height of the shack. Carry the one, and no, she doesn’t have enough time. She’s either going to fall to her death, or get eaten by the ghost monster coming for her. Neither one sounds appetizing, but the ghost monster may spare her life if she spreads the message about how they died to as many people as she can, or something like that.
The figure finishes climbing out of the mirror, and does a front roll down the wall. Then she stands up, and reaches out a hand. “Let me help you.”
“Who are you?”
The woman doesn’t want to answer. “Don’t worry about it, just take my hand.”
Alyssa lets the stranger pull her to safety. Together, they jump over to the ladder, and make their way down to the safety of the ground. She finally recaptures her breath. “This is the center of unusual religious activity. Are you the cause of that?”
The stranger doesn’t want to answer that either.
Alyssa sighs, and takes out her tablet. “Nerakali Preston.”
“Huh?”
“Meliora Reaver, Xearea Voss, Ariadna Traversa.”
“What is this you’re listing?”
“Sanaa Karimi, Aquila Bellamy, Amanda Moss, Cambria Buchanan, Susan Glines, Natasha Orlov, Ellie Underhill, Téa Stendahl...”
“Are these meant to mean something to me?
“Ida Reyer, Aura Gardner, The Officiant, The Overseer, Tonya Keyes, Dr. Mallory Hammer, Danica Matic, Dilara Cassano, Marcy Calligaris!”
“Stop! I don’t understand!”
“I’m listing names of people that you could be, because when I land on your name, your microexpressions will tell me that it belongs to you. I have dozens more to get through, unless you would like to speed this up and tell me who the hell you are!”
She doesn’t speak.
“Quivira Boyce, Catania Porter, Bhulan Cargill—there! There, that’s it. I bet you didn’t think I’d find it, but you’re Bhulan Cargill.”
“That’s Mateo Matic’s list, isn’t it? That’s the cleverest thing that man ever did.”
“Are you the cause of the religious black hole?”
Bhulan still won’t answer that question.
“Daria Matic, Dodeka Sarkisyan, Lita Prieto—”
“I thought you already figured out what my name is.”
“Now I’m just doing it because it seems to annoy you. Answer my questions.”
Still nothing.
“Khuweka Kadrioza, Hogarth Pudeyonavic—”
“Fine. Yes. I’m the cause of what you’re calling the religious black hole, but not by choice. I’m just a prisoner here.”
“Who did this to you?”
“That I don’t know.”

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