Saturday, April 15, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: February 10, 2399

Leona wakes up with the worst headache she’s ever had, and she’s had a lot of pretty terrible headaches. This one time, someone blended her brain with the memories of two of her alternate selves. The most painful memories were the most severe, overwhelming all the happy ones by orders of magnitude. This is worse than that, and she doesn’t know why. The last thing she remembers, she was leaving the city government building near Vulcan Point, on her way back to the jet. She wasn’t alone either. The pilot was with her. “Tarboda?”
“Present,” he replies in a gravelly voice.
“Do you know where we are?”
“Do you know what happened to us?”
“Got kidnapped.”
“Hm.” She searches for those memories. They sound familiar, but she still can’t recall what led up to them, or what she was doing. She’s chained to the wall, though, so that tracks. “Did you see them?”
“They came out of nowhere. Couldn’t pick a single one of ‘em out of a line-up.”
“Wait, do you mean that literally? Were they just really quick, or—?”
“Shh! They’re probably listening.”
“Good point.”
“I think they were just really quick.”
“Have you found a light switch anywhere?”
“Can’t see a damned thing. Chained to the wall.”
“Kind of afraid to turn the lights on anyway, lest I find myself chained to a pipe in a moldy bathroom, across from a guy who’s drowning in a bathtub, and a third guy between us with an apparent suicidal gunshot wound to the head, but—spoiler alert—he’s not really dead; he’s the bad guy, and he’s been listening the whole time.”
“That is incredibly specific,” Tarboda replies.
“Is anybody else here?” she asks with a raised voice. “We’re awake now!”
A door thunders opening, flooding the room with a light so bright, Leona and Tarboda can’t actually see anything. The door closes just as quickly, and they hear a single clap of the hands. A much more manageable reddish light begins to shine. Leona blinks as the scent begins to hit her too. The man approaching her—and while she still cannot see, let’s face it, it is a man—reeks of expired cologne, butter garlic vapor, and a diaper. He doesn’t smell of a dirty diaper, mind you, but clean diapers have a certain repulsive odor all on their own. It’s like he’s trying to torture them just by being around, and maybe it’s not like it, but that’s precisely his intention.
“What do you want with us?” Tarboda demands to know.
“We want nothing from you.”
Funny, Leona was expecting either a Filipino accent, or North American, but he sounds like he’s from Ireland. If true, it would be interesting to hear him explain where he thinks he’s from since the North Atlantic Isles literally disappeared to another reality, leaving no one with any memories of it. She obviously can’t ask that, though. “Okay, what do you want with me?”
“Yur Leona Matic.”
“I am.”
“Tere’s a bounty on yur head.”
She kind of forgot about that. Kivi Bristol and her team have been working really hard to take down anyone with any serious plans to collect the prize, but they cannot figure out who declared it in the first place. If they could stop them from being able to pay it out, and prove to the world that the bounty was voided, the problem would be solved. Kivi’s special psychic powers have yet to lead her to that ultimate goal. Meanwhile, Leona has been mostly living on the fringes of society, trusting in the discretion and loyalty of the relatively few government employees who have ever been aware of her and Arcadia’s whereabouts. She has not spent much time out in the world. She let her guard down, and this was stupid of her. “Ah, this is about the reward, eh?” She starts talking like a stereotypical caveman. “I primacean. I like stuff. You give me stuff, or I bonk you on a head.”
The abductor pauses. “Huh?” She knew he’d fall for it.
“How do you collect this bounty?”
“We were tinkin’ we could shoot ya, and take a photo.”
“Nah, nah, nah. You can’t do that,” Leona reasons. “Photos can be faked. They’ll never believe you.”
“What would yu do?”
That’s a good question. “For starters, I would take a photo of me holding today’s newspaper.”
“You said photos can be faked.”
She sighs. “Yes, but you’re just getting your foot in the door for now. You send them the photo, and demand payment. When they say it’s not good enough, tell them you want to meet. Bring me to that meeting, and I’ll be the living proof.”
He looks confused. “Then we shoot yu?”
How did she get caught by these people? She can’t help but sigh again. “No. Then you ask to see the money.”
“Hey, I’m not stupid.”
The door opens again, and someone else enters the room. “Get back to your post soldier,” he orders.
“I was just—”
“Get back to your post!” he repeats.
The first guy hangs his head low, and leaves.
“A tousand apologies, Miss Matic. He and his bruda are absolute eejits.”
“Well, you hired them, didn’t you?
“It’s true.”
“And it’s Missus Matic,” she corrects.
“Another tousand apologies.” His eyes dart over to Tarboda.
“No, not him. He’s my pilot. My husband died. He died saving your world. You’re welcome.”
“I don’t know what that means,” he says.
“And you never will. You’re welcome again.”
“Listen, Mrs. Matic. Oi got nothin’ against ya, but we need tat money. Yu shouldn’ta gon’ out in public.”
“You should just get a job.”
“Dis is my job. Yur lucky I’m da one doing it, ‘stead of someone else.”
“And why is that?”
“Oi’m gonna give you a fair chance. If you can come up with a quarter of the money yurself, I won’t turn you in. You come up with half, I’ll take you anywhere in the world. You come up with all da money, I’ll protect ya for life. We take care of our own, and yu can be oneovus.”
“First of all, no thanks. Secondly, I don’t have that kind of money.”
“Yu could also do a job or two for us, start payin’ it off.”
“No. Not interested. I don’t know what kind of jobs a group of people like you would do, but they can’t be good.”
“Oi understand. You’ll have two days to change yur moind. It will take as long to coordinate and negotiate with the bounty-setter.”
“In the meantime, I appreciate your hospitality,” Leona replies sarcastically.
The boss looks around the dirty boiler room. “I’ll see about getting you some better accommodations.”
He nods politely as if she’s just agreed to fill in for him for his shift at the grocery store while he goes to his cousin’s wedding. Then he leaves the room.
“You seem unconcerned,” Tarboda points out.
“I’m in trouble here,” Leona replies. “This means that my friend can find me. She can find anybody.”
“Yeah, I know her. I’ve flown her and her team around a bit.” He takes a beat. “But the way she explained it, she does this through some kind of psychic power, not because she simply guesses where or someone is.”
“That’s right.”
“Which means that not only do you have to be in trouble, but you have to feel like you’re in trouble.”
“What’s your point?”
“Well, if you’re confident that she’ll find you, you won’t be sending her a psychic distress signal, so she won’t be able to find you.”
“You’re right. So I need to feel real fear.”
“How would we go about triggering that? Pardon the awful suggestion, but would it work if I threatened your life? Perhaps I could strangle you with my chains? I mean, I wouldn’t hurt you, but...”
“No, that wouldn’t work. I don’t know where she is, but to prompt her to come this direction, it would have to be a continuous fear, otherwise the signal would just dissipate. I think, at least. I don’t really know how it works, but it makes sense.”
“What can we do?”
Leona stands up, and assesses the area. “We have to get them to do it.”
“This would not be the first prison I’ve broken out of. If it works, I get free, and if it doesn’t, I piss them off so much, they put the fear of God in me. Either way, we win.”
“Tell me what to do?”
“Can you reach that wrench?”

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