Thursday, April 20, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: February 15, 2399

“Do you not recognize me?” the stranger asks. “We met once...when you killed my superior officer, and drove me from my home.”
“You’re gonna hafta be more specific,” Leona jokes.
“Rorkele Mast.”
“Is that your name, or your boss’?”
“It was his.” The still unnamed man turns back around and gazes out the window. He was a brilliant tactician, a powerful leader...” He faces her once more. “And someone I was proud to call my friend.”
“Still nothin’.”
“You killed him in a coup for the detachments, along with several other people.”
Leona thought back to that event. They were trying to stop a war, and the people in charge of it weren’t listening to her, so she felt she needed to just steal control from them. Nearly all of them decided to select champions to fight in their stead, and—believing that it would dissuade her from going through with it—chose Leona’s friends. The only person she killed was Mateo, which was fine, because all they had to do was upload his consciousness to Ramses’ lab on their ship, the Suadona. That’s what they did for Angela, Marie, and Olimpia as well. They were all killed by, “Rorkele Mast. He was the original leader of the Dominion Defense Detachment, right. I remember.”
“Yes!” He’s relieved that she finally remembers.
“I didn’t kill him, my husband did, and then I killed my husband.”
“Yes, we were surprised by that, to say the least. Of course, now the survivors know about cloning, consciousness transference, and all that stuff, but it was a harrowing time in our lives. And anyway, we still blame you for this, because you are the one who issued the challenge. Your husband was as much of a victim as my boss.”
“This is what this has all been about?” Leona questions. “You’re here for revenge? You’re just an action movie sequel villain? Oh my God, wake me up when cliché day is over already! He chose to fight. He could have chosen his own champion. He could have chosen you, in fact.”
“Rorkele never asked anyone to do anything he wasn’t willing to do himself.”
“You’re preachin’ to the choir, buckaroo billy. If you’ll recall, I fought for myself as well. I don’t understand why you’re all butthurt about this. If you thought your boss was going to win without question, what did you think the point of any of it was?”
“You still have to follow through,” he reasons.
“It doesn’t matter. He lost.”
“You cheated!”
“How the hell did I cheat?” Leona questions.”
“You uploaded all of your friends to new bodies!”
“So the hell what! Rorkele still died, and nothing would have changed that!”
“Yes, it would. If you hadn’t been capable of switching to new bodies, you wouldn’t have even considered challenging the detachments!”
Leona goes quiet. She’s right, but so is he. This man’s mentor may be alive today if Team Matic had not been able to subvert death in the way that they did. They would not have even considered the challenge as an option. She breathes deeply, and decides to take a page from her late husband’s book. “This is true. I’m genuinely sorry for your loss. I was trying to end a war, and I wasn’t thinking about the collateral damage.”
“That sounded sincere.” He shakes his head. “You continue to surprise me.”
“Friends?” She extends her arm. “Most of my enemies are my friends now.”
He takes her hand, but doesn’t shake. “Not on your life,” he mutters in disgust.
Leona pulls away when something stings her palm, leaving a tiny bloody mark.
He smirks and waves at her, but only to display the pinprick that’s coming out of his ring. “I didn’t want to take any chances. You’re dead, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. He takes a deep breath, and collapses into his chair. “It’s finally over. You have no idea how hard I worked to get to you. I found out that the time machine in my reality was a bastardized, partially working replica of an incredibly ancient version that was once on what you would call Earth. It was reportedly still there, so I scoured the land, and finally found the Constant. It was there that I met an intelligence aptly named Constance. We hatched a plan that would see her getting whatever it she wants from this world, and me getting my revenge on you. It was tough. There were so many moving parts. But she figured it out, and while it was not without its obstacles and complications, I’m happy to say I’ve finally done it. Did she get what she wanted too?”
“How long do I have?” Leona asks, ignoring his question.
He’s still reveling in his victory. “What? Oh, uh...a day, maybe two.”
“I’m going to survive this.”
He leans forward to place his arms on his desk, and rest his chin upon his knuckles. “Oh, because of the extraction mirror? Yeah, no, that was part of the plan too. You didn’t think I knew about the other Leonas, did you? Nah, we knew you would eventually find yourself in that body, so that’s where we have forced you to stay. The extraction mirror is gone, the loop is over. When you die, your body will jump back to that reality, where you’ll be declared dead on impact. There is no getting out of this.”
“I always get out of it,” Leona argues. “I beat Rorkele, I’ll beat you too.”
He’s still smiling. “In the meantime, why don’t you save your energy?” He presses a button on his phone three times. “My man will take you too your deathbed. Don’t worry, I’m not a savage. It will be a comfortable place to end your life.”
Leona follows the guard who comes into the room to her new quarters. A feast has been prepared for her on a cart. They put everything here, including breakfast, lunch, and dinner foods. They probably just didn’t know what she would like, so they threw it all in so no one would have to come to her door later. She eats a little of almost everything, then goes to sleep.
When she wakes up the next morning, the door is open. It’s not just unlocked, but ajar. Either someone is helping her, or the boss man just doesn’t care. She is sorry for what happened in the Fifth Division, but this guy murdered her immediately after she apologized, so she holds no sympathy for him. She starts to wander around. The last time she was here, she was mostly in the Nexus chamber, so she doesn’t know where she’s going, but who cares? The guards apparently do. Word got around that she doesn’t like to be touched, though, so they escort her back to the top office at gunpoint only.
“How did you get out of your room?” he asks when she arrives.
“I have my ways,” she answers vaguely. “Hello,” she says to a man sitting in one of the guest seats, but her face drops when she sees who it is.
“Yes, I believe you know Summit Ebora,” the boss says gleefully. “You abandoned him at the time machine, and he vowed to assist me in my quest.
Summit had a slight look of embarrassment when they locked eyes, but he replaces it now with an evil grin. “You should have figured out how to take me with you.”
The boss comes around the desk, and places an affectionate hand on Summit’s shoulder. “He’s the one who first gave me information about you. He sparked my curiosity about your whole team.”
Summit places his own hand upon the boss’. “I barely did anything.”
“Oh, don’t be so modest.” The boss goes over to the bar. “Would you like a drink?” she asks Leona. “I have the best bourbon in five realities.”
Summit follows him over to the bar to help make the drinks. He playfully tosses the chain that’s around his neck over the boss’ neck too. Leona assumes that he’s symbolizing their bond.
The boss giggles. “What are you doing?”
That’s when Summit twists around, and holds their backs together. He leans forward, holding the chain away from his own neck, and preventing the boss from doing the same. The victim gasps for air, but he’s running out quickly. Summit continues to lean forward, picking his once-lover up off the ground. His strength increases at the same rate that the boss weakens. In one final motion, Summit drops to his knees, and ends it once and for all.
Leona helps gently turn the both of them to their sides so Summit can remove the chain from his neck. “Why did you do that?” she asks him.
“The war ended, Leona. What you did for my reality worked, and I’ll never be able to thank you enough for that.” He scowls at the dead body. “He was weak and selfish. All he could see was what you did to his mentor. He couldn’t let it go, and I couldn’t stop him. My only option was to stay by his side, and keep him away from you as much as possible. I hoped that it would never come to this.”
“Do you know what he poisoned me with? Is there an antidote?”
He laughs. “I’m not sure if there is an antidote to saline. Maybe...river water?”
She’s confused.
“I’m the one who provided the poison. Trust me, you’re fine. I tested your blood last night, just in case he suspected me of being a mole, and you’re clean.”
“Great. Well, that solves that problem, but do you have a way out of here?”
“I have a way to take back the base, but I’m gonna need your help.”
“Help with what specifically?”
“I need you to bring my mother here,” Summit requests.
“Your mother? Ya know what? Doesn’t matter, if that’s what you need, you got it.”
He leads her into a secret passageway, all the way back down to the bottom of the facility, and into the Nexus chamber. They sneak up to the control room, but no one else is here, so it’s okay. “After a fraction of the DDD army came through, Coronel Zacarias managed to lock the computer. Only one person has the code, and it’s not him. I’m the only one who realized that it must be you. I need you to unlock the system itself, and then I need you to open travel from all addresses, starting with this one.”
Leona accepts the slip of paper that he hands her. “Wait, I recognize this term sequence. This goes to Flindekeldan in the Parallel.”
He nods. “You’ve heard of the Sixth Key, right?” Summit asks rhetorically.
“Yeah...?” she answers anyway.
“I’m the Second Key. My mother is the First.”

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