Thursday, December 1, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: September 28, 2398

There’s a knock at the door. No one has the chance to even go over to answer it before it opens. A large and looming man comes down the hallway. His facial expression keeps changing from happy to irritated, like he can’t decide which one he feels. Vearden jumps up, and places himself between the man and his friends. Seeing this, the man forces himself to hold a smile. “I’m glad that my daughter found someone like you.”
Arcadia reaches behind the couch cushion and pulls out the emergency knife. Without any warning, she flings it at the body that her father is now wearing. It lands right in his heart, where it belongs.
Erlendr looks down at it. “This body will die soon, but we will find another.” He reaches both arms out like a stereotypical Frankenstein monster.
Arcadia feels a pulsing energy in her head. He’s trying to break into her brain, which would normally be fine, because she can hold the door closed, but her friends are not like her. She’s particularly worried about her beau, Vearden. She’s always struggled with empathizing with other people. She’s always had her own feelings—she’s not a sociopath—but she’s only recently figured out how to care about others. Well, she’s learned how to truly care about them, instead of just convincing herself that she does. If she doesn’t help combat the psychic intrusion for the other people in this room, though, it will prove that she didn’t learn anything. She really is trying to be a better person. Vearden is helping her with it. He’s not directly teaching her what it takes; she’s smart enough to understand academically. She just needs to be reminded everyday that it is possible for someone to love her. But that love is not what’s going to save them now. It’s her love for them that will. She concentrates on putting up barriers to protect them.
Erlendr smirks. “You may protect one or two, but you can’t keep me out of all of their minds.” He tips backwards, and falls over. He’s not dead yet, just unable to withstand his own weight.
She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t protect all of them, like he said. Vearden appears to be safe, she created a psychic barrier to keep Erlendr—as well as Meredarchos, most likely, judging by the fact that he used the word we to describe himself—out of him. Bridgette and Heath, on the other hand, are not necessarily safe. What did they do to them, though? The stranger’s body is dying anyway, which means that the psychic stowaways can’t maintain control over them, so did they just want information, or what?
Heath suddenly breaks out of a stupor, and gathers his bearings. He looks around, quickly settling on the dying man on the floor. “Master, no!” He runs over, and dives down to inspect the wound. “No, it’ll be okay. You’ll be okay. Just hold on. He takes off his own shirt to wrap around the knife, and keep pressure on the wound.”
“What are you doing?” Vearden questions.
“Somebody help!” Heath cries. “We can’t let him die!”
“Not only can we let him die,” Bridgette contends, “but we have to make sure it happens. Every possible vessel for his twisted soul is a threat.” She runs over too, but not to help. She jerks the knife out of the man’s chest, and then drives it into his chin, all the way through to his brain.
“No!” Heath elbows her in the face, knocking her to her back.
Vearden runs over and tries to break them apart, but they just keep fighting each other. They’re relentless. “Stop! Just stop!” It’s useless. Bridgette is as dedicated to destroying all of Meredarchos’ followers as Heath is to protecting his master. “Little help here?” Vearden asks Arcadia.
“I’m trying to help,” Arcadia explains. “I’m trying to clean their minds of whatever he infected them with.” It’s not working. He created his own barrier to prevent that very thing. He’s a strong psychic, that’s for sure...leagues beyond better than Erlendr. Combined, they’re the greatest threat she’s ever encountered. They have to be stopped, and saving these two people isn’t going to help. They can’t be saved anyway, and if it’s between preserving their lives, or killing the infection before it can spread, that’s what she’s going to do. They can at least die with a little dignity, though. The knife is too messy and slow. One shot to the head is the only good option.
“Is it working?” Vearden asks, doing his damned best to hold the fighters apart.
“No,” Arcadia replies plainly. She goes to retrieve the gun from the safe.
“Arcadia!” Vearden shouts at her. “Arcadia! What are you doing! No, no, no, no no! Ow! NO! Arcadia, come back! They just stabbed each other!”
Arcadia runs back into the common area to find both Heath and Bridgette on the floor, bleeding. “What happened?”
“Heath remembered the knife. He took it out, and sliced my arm. Then he stabbed Bridgette in the heart, so she took it out and tried to do the same. He dodged, so it landed in his stomach. I think he’s still alive.”
Arcadia checks them both for pulses. “They’re both alive, but barely.”
“We have to help them,” Vearden pleads.
“If we do, they’ll just go back to killing each other, and anyone else who gets in their way.”
“So we just let them die?”
“They’re like zombies, V; They can’t be cured.”
Vearden seethes. “I refuse to accept that.” He takes out his phone, and calls Mateo. “Matt? I need a doctor at the condo right now. They’re gonna die.”
Fifteen seconds later, Mateo appears in the room, holding onto a woman that Arcadia presumes to be a doctor. “What just happened?” she asks, confused.
“It doesn’t matter,” Vearden tells her. “Just save them.”
She kneels down to get to work. “We’re going to have to triage,” she says after seeing how far gone Bridgette is.
“Matt?” Vearden asks.
Mateo disappears and returns with a second doctor so he can focus on Heath. While they’re doing that, Mateo feels like the right thing to do is to bring Marie here. They’re struggling, but they’re still married, and still in love. She’s seen a lot of death in her day, so she’s crying and pleading, but she doesn’t interfere with the medical professionals’ work.
The doctor who was trying to save Bridgette sighs. “I’m sorry, she’s gone. Time of death thirteen-oh-nine.”
Marie can see that Heath is on his way out too. He’s not going to last much longer unless they take drastic measures. She starts thinking about her options. Arcadia can’t quite read her thoughts, but she can sense what’s happening in there. Finally, she thinks she has it. “Mateo, where is your knife?”
“What knife?” Mateo asks.
“The one that can duplicate things,” Marie clarifies.
“If the doctor needs any more equipment, I’ll be happy to retrieve it for them.”
“I’m not talking about equipment,” Marie says. “I’m talking about Heath. Duplicate him.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Vearden questions.
“It doesn’t work on people, Marie,” Mateo claims.
“Have you ever tried?”
“Have I ever stabbed someone to see if they die while a duplicate of them appears next to them? No, I guess I haven’t, but that’s crazy!”
“Doctor, what are the chances that he lives?” Marie asks him.
The doctor looks up. “They’re very low.”’
“There.” Marie starts talking with her hands. “You can stab him, a second one will appear next to him, and the first one will die anyway. The second one, however, will be good as new, right; that’s how it works? Now we have nothing to lose.”
“I’ll direct you to my earlier comment about that being crazy.”
“I would do it myself,” Marie argues, “but evidently you’re the only one with the literal magic touch, so would you please just try?”
“There’s a low chance of him surviving,” Vearden reasons, having basically caught up with what they’re talking about. “That’s not zero. But if you’re method of saving him requires stabbing him again, those chances drop much lower, I’m sure.”
Marie ignores him. “Please,” she begs Mateo.
“I don’t know what you’re going on about,” the doctor begins, “but if you plan on stabbing our patient, then we’re out.” They both clearly work for the government, but they haven’t been told everything.
Mateo frowns. “I can’t be blamed for the consequences.” He disappears and returns thirty seconds later, holding the knife.
“Maybe you should test it on her first,” Vearden suggests.
“Or maybe he shouldn’t do it at all,” Arcadia warns. “They’re both infected. They pose a risk to us all, especially anyone here without the slightest psychic ability.”
“Noted,” Mateo says, but it’s hard to tell how genuine he’s being. He pauses to think about it, but has to make a decision quickly, because if it doesn’t work for Bridgette, it definitely won’t work for Heath if he waits too long. He closes his eyes, and stabs her. Nothing happens. “I really don’t think this is gonna work, Marie.”
Marie grabs the television remote, and hands it to him. “Let’s see if it’s you or the knife, or just because she’s too far gone.”
Mateo sets the remote on the floor and stabs it with no hesitation. It breaks apart, but a second one pops out of the aether, and lands right next to it. “She’s either too dead, or too a human being.”
“If you stab him,” the other doctor warns, “we’re gone.”
“The door is that way.” Once they’ve left, Mateo crosses his fingers, and stabs Heath as well. Heath lurches and gasps, and his muscles relax more than they already were. For a few seconds, nothing else happens. Then a light appears out of nowhere and grows until it’s in the vague shape of a person. It recedes quickly, leaving a naked Heath lying next to his former self.
“Oh my God, it actually worked,” Vearden muses. Physically, yes, it did. Mentally, it didn’t work at all.

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