Friday, March 3, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Year 292,398 Part 1

Tamerlane holds up his hands defensively. “Don’t shoot, I’m unarmed.”
“We’re not going to hurt you. We’re worried about what you’re gonna do to us.”
“I’m not the Pryce you know. I’m from a different timeline.”
“So does that make you friend or foe?” Marie questions.
“Loyal to Danica, but a friend to you; I’m torn. Fortunately for you, you’re winning out today. Your plan is solid, but it’s not perfect.” He looks up at the time machine. “This thing is magnificent, but it’s loud. It makes a lot of literal sound, and it draws a ton of power, and it’s got alarm bells out the wazoo. You can’t just jump into the past, and expect to sneak around without anyone even knowing that you’re there.”
“So, what can we do?” Marie asks.
“You can ask for help.” Tamerlane steps towards the machine, and starts to fiddle with the touch screen. “It’s more customizable than Danica understands. She knows I know it better than her. She knows I know this whole facility better. It’s not because I’m smarter, but because I’m committed to it. Her concern is the world out there, but I have no such obligations, so I’ve dedicated a lot of time to mastering the Constant.” He finishes one final flourish, then tugs what looks like a hard drive out of the wall. “Anyway, it’s designed for same-space travel. You come out where you left, just at a different point in time. I can modify that. I can make you invisible.”
“When you say invisible...” Leona begins.
“Not literally,” Tamerlane clarifies. “You’ll still have to lay low, but no one will know you showed up. That should give you time to hide in the master sitting room.”
“Which one of us?” Leona asks.
“All three of you.”
Leona is confused about the math. “All three of who?”
“Me.” Tamerlane’s daughter, Abigail steps into the room.
“She may not be my daughter, but I can’t help but feel more loyal to her than anyone else here, including myself. Danica gave her permission to leave, then quickly rescinded it, based on some secret conversation she had with Mateo, Bhulan, Aquila, and I guess Cheyenne.”
“Cheyenne?” Marie is shocked. “Cheyenne is here?”
“Naturally,” Tamerlane answers.
“I know where to hide,” Abigail interjects. “We better get going before the others come out of stasis.”
“Okay. Like you said, we’re trusting you,” Leona reminds Tamerlane.
“You won’t regret it.” The three of them step into the time chamber while Tamerlane waits at the controls. “Remember. Be sneaky and quiet. You’ll be going straight to the sitting room. Find your little panic room, and wait until Danica and Mateo come. Close your loop.”
“Thank you.” Yeah, Marie just said that to Tamerlane Pryce, and no one can believe it. She almost can’t believe it, but it’s not completely implausible. He certainly isn’t the first alternate self she’s met. There have been so many in the Third Rail alone; it’s like a magnet for them. She herself is an alt who goes by their middle name.
The machine powers up, and spirits them back to the past.
They expect to find themselves alone, but they’re not. There’s already someone in the master sitting room. He’s leaning against a blue couch, reading something, and he doesn’t notice their arrival right away. It’s Curtis Duvall. Once he does see them, he grimaces slightly, and starts to back away towards the door. Euh...carry on, ladies.”
“Wait, Curtis,” Leona stops him. “You can’t tell anyone that we’re here.”
Abigail takes a step forward. “You can’t tell anyone ever.”
“I understand.” I already forgot all of your names. He teleports away.
“Do you think we can trust him to keep quiet?” Leona questions.
“We already know that he doesn’t squeal, remember?”
“Oh, yeah. Hm.” Leona takes a breath, and looks to Abigail. “You know where we can hide?”
“Yeah, over here.” She walks up to a bookcase, and starts to take off all the books. Most spy movies that involve secret panic rooms or passageways involve pulling on the right book, or maybe a few of them. This entailed a lot more than that. She removes as many books as she can carry at once, and sets them on the table. Once she has the whole first shelf removed, she turns them around, and puts them back, but now with the spines facing inward, and in the opposite order. Now that Leona and Marie know the deal, they are able to help with the rest. Fortunately, they only need to do this with one case of books. “Are you ready? Come close.” After they huddle tighter against the case, she spins the reading lampshade one direction, then the other, and then back the first way, like a combination lock. Finally, she pulls on the chain. The case spins around, taking them with it. The back of the bookcase disappears, leaving them with a view of the master sitting room above the shorter books, like something out of Interstellar.
“How did you find out about this, and how does Danica not know about it?”
“Oh, she does,” Abigail corrects, “but she won’t expect us to be here. We will need access to this room anyway.” She pulls the lamp chain again to switch the light on, and turns around. In the middle of the still pretty dark room is a menacing-looking chair with a helmet attached to the top. “I know about it, because she tried to use this on me once, but little did she know, my real father insulated me against neuro-tampering. If I don’t want something changed in my brain, it doesn’t get changed, so I remember her bringing me to this chair.”
“It erases memory,” Leona realizes.
“It can do more than that,” Abigail begins. “It can alter your personality, turn you into a different person, or eff you up in a number of ways. I don’t even think Bhulan knows about it. It’s Danica’s failsafe; a way to keep her in ultimate control.”
“You told your father’s alternate, though.”
“Not even him,” Abigail says with a slow shake of her head. “I told him that I know of a secret panic room behind the bar. He didn’t push it.”
Marie has a bad feeling about this. “We’re gonna use this on Danica?”
“We’ll only erase the last few minutes of her life, or however long it will have been since she walked in. Then we’ll put her to sleep for a bit, dismantle the wretched thing, and take the parts with us to the future, where we’ll destroy them. Sound like a plan?”
They hear sounds coming from the other side of the bookcase. They can see Danica and Mateo come in, and close the door. They’re alone. Abigail reaches for the lampshade, but Leona reaches over to stop her. “We came back here for answers,” she whispers. “Let’s let her give some away before we interrupt.”
“Very well,” Abigail agrees.
“I’m not doing it,” Mateo insists on the other side of the bookcase.
“I don’t see you having any other choice.”
“That’s what people like Zeferino, Anatol, and Jupiter wanted me to think, but I see now that I always had a choice, and I’m making it. I’m not going to help you. I’m not going to stop you from doing whatever you want, but I won’t be a part of it, and not because of any moral stance against it, but because it’s not my goddamn responsibility!”
“I fail to see the relevance of that,” Danica contends. “I want you to do something, you work for me, you do it.”
“Since when do I work for you?”
“Since you came back here and gave me a headache that has lasted for 300,000 years!”
He scoffs. “Exaggerate much?”
“You question my leadership and my methods, you kidnapped Bhulan—”
“No, I didn’t, remember?”
“You thought you did, which is bad enough. May I remind you of the leash that I have on you? Leona is on her way here. She is the new possessor of the Omega Gyroscope. I decide how close to realtime your life is.”
“When she comes, I’ll get us both out right away, and she won’t have anything to do with the Gyroscope anymore. By the time we come back, none of it will matter.”
“I won’t let you even see her.” Danica looks at something on her handheld device. “She’s not on her way from the future. She’s here, floating in orbit above us,” she says with a laugh. “It’s done.”
Leona nods to Abigail, who inputs the lampshade combination, and then pulls on the chain. They spin back around, but only halfway, so they can freely walk back and forth. “I’m already here,” she says with a curtsey.
Mateo smirks. He steps over, and gives her a big hug. Then he hugs Marie.
Danica nods, and gives them a moment. But only a moment. “Constance, Lockdown Protocol Dolphin-Algae-Nautical two-three-nine-nine.”
“Constance, belay that order,” Leona commands quickly.
Danica looks up. “How the hell did you do that?”
“I still don’t know,” Leona answers honestly. “I really don’t.”
Abigail takes Danica forcefully by the shoulder. “Brutus!” Danica shouts.
“You should have let me go home,” Abigail replies. She escorts her over to the neuro-tampering chair, and makes her sit down. She and Mateo strap her down.
“This isn’t gonna hurt her, right?” Mateo asks hopefully.
“She’ll be fine,” Abigail promises.
“You know how to use this then?” Leona asks.
“I saw her try to do it to me, and the instructions are in English.” Abigail taps on the screen, and then activates the helmet. A glow emanates from it. Danica screams, and it echoes in an unusual way, all throughout the room, into the next, and the hallway.
“Well, that’s the famous scream we heard about,” Leona muses. “I guess we’re not leaving the universe.”
As Danica’s scream subsides, another replaces it. They look out into the master sitting room, where a young woman is now standing. “My ears were burning.”
“They were?” Marie asks. “Who are you?”
“I’m Treasure. Treasure Hawthorne of Voldisilaverse, at your service.”

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