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Tuesday, April 25, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: February 20, 2399

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“Thank you, Tom. I’m sure those squirrels appreciated all those pillows, even though they can’t speak any human languages, and generally don’t care. Well, bizarre and frightening news out of Germany today. The shell of a High-Orbit Ballistic Missile, also known as an HOBM, landed in the middle of the Obstgarten in front of the capitol building in Berlin last night. The Obstgarten was closed for the day at the time, so no one was injured in the incident. Sources close to Festung Privatsphäre have revealed that the HOBM is of Germany’s own design, sparking conspiracy theories regarding the government’s plans to bomb their own people. However, the missile was not carrying an explosive payload, and was not capable of causing any mass destruction in the area. It is almost as if it was placed there intentionally to send some kind of statement, rather than any physical harm. As of yet, no individual or organization is taking responsibility for the possible attack, and authorities are actively investigating the matter.
“In other news, the number of sightings of unexplained seasteads in various locations around the world’s oceans has grown to nearly four thousand reports in the last two weeks. No confirmation of the existence of any of these mysterious structures has been made, and assorted national governments have denied the validity of these wild claims.”
Vearden mutes the TV, and turns his head towards Arcadia. “How much you wanna bet Team Matic is neck-deep involved in both of those things?” He acts like he’s waiting for an answer. “Yeah, I wouldn’t bet against it either.” He sighs when his phone rings. “I just saw the news,” he says after answering. “About the missile and those ocean bases, or whatever.” He waits for a fairly long response. “You want me to what?” He waits some more. “Can’t you teleport or something?” He sighs again. “I kind of have to stay here, and it’s not really my job. It’s—” She interrupts him. “I know, but—” She interrupts him again. “No. Just.” He has to interrupt her now. “No, just say it. Just say that she’s never gonna wake up. It’s fine, you don’t have to tiptoe around me.” He sits through her rebuttal. “Well, the next time you wanna ask someone for help, try to be a little nicer, okay?” He hangs up the phone.
Arcadia is still in the coma, and unable to speak, but that alone says enough.
“Argh!” He picks up the phone again. “Leona? I’ll do it. Give me twenty minutes to get down there.” She thanks him. “You’re welcome.” He kisses Arcadia on the forehead. “I have to go do a thing, but I’ll be back soon, I promise. I’ll have Nurse Chenda come in to sit with you, okay?”
When he leaves the room, Chenda is sitting at the nurse’s station on her computer. “Going out for supplies?”
“No, they gave me a mission.”
Chenda nods. “I understand. I need to finish this class assignment, then I’ll be right in, okay?”
“Class assignment? Are you...not a real nurse yet?”
She laughs. “No, I am. This is part of my continuing education. Medicine is always changing, and this course is required for me to maintain my license. I’m almost done, I’m just not allowed to work on it in a patient’s room.”
“Okay, thanks.” He heads out, worried about how he’s being received lately. He’s never been this acerbic, but what happened to Arcadia has changed him. He was going to ask her to marry him soon, but he never got the chance. Now he may never will. He gets out of his head, and into the car that’s waiting for him.
“Good morning, sir,” the driver greets.
“Do you know where we’re going?” Vearden asks.
“Absolutely, Mr. Haywood.”
They leave the hospital, and drive to that parking lot in Crown Center where time travelers come through. That’s why he’s being sent there. Someone new has arrived, and he’s the only one still in Kansas City. He doesn’t even consider himself part of Team Matic, but he’s the closest they have, and the government wants someone who’s actually traveled through time to be a liaison in this matter. It hasn’t happened in a while. They erected a gigantic white tent that covers the entire lot. He can’t remember what cover story they told the public, but for the longest time, the soldiers and agents assigned to guard it have had nothing to do. They’re probably pretty excited today.
The driver parks across the street, and insists on opening the door for him. Vearden walks over alone, and tries to present his badge, but the entrance guard waves him through without looking at it. Time travelers are famous now, at least in certain circles. He’s not sure how he feels about that. He takes his coat off, and hands it to the clerk at the front table, because the heat from the space heaters hits him fast, and it hits him hard. If he were in charge, he would turn them down.
The clerk notices him tugging at his collar. “We can turn the temperature down, if you would prefer.”
Vearden is looking around to find whoever has just arrived. “How does the visitor want it?”
“I wouldn’t know.”
“I’ll find out. This may be too cold. We don’t know who they are, or where they came from. Their comfort is most important right now.”
“Of course, sir. Right over there is the quarantine section. You’ll need one of these.” She hands him a respirator mask.
He takes it, and puts it on. It’s not comfortable, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. He walks over to the back corner, where a clear plastic room has been set up to contain the visitor-slash-refugee-slash-invader-slash-whatever. A middle-aged man is sitting on his cot. He’s wearing all white, and doesn’t look outwardly perturbed, suggesting that he’s been cooperating, and the government hasn’t been driven to force him to follow the new rules. This could have been Vearden. He came through this temporal anomaly months ago, and things could have looked very much like this for him. So he’s going to try to be as empathetic as possible.
The man stands up, and approaches. “You look like you’re the man in charge.”
“Not even close,” Vearden replies. “I’m the liaison. I happen to be the only time traveler still living in the area. Far more qualified people are busy with other things.”
“I’m hurt,” he jokes.
“They also live far away.”
“I see.”
“Have you given them your name?”
“They didn’t ask.”
“I’m asking now. What’s your name?”
“Humbert Messer.”
“It’s nice to meet you, I’m Vearden Haywood.”
“Hm. I’ve heard of you. Didn’t know what you looked like.”
“Now you do.”
He nods, but doesn’t say anything.
“Do you know why you’re here?”
“Your people think I’m dangerous.” He gestures to the two soldiers chatting with each other with their arms resting on the guns that are hanging from their shoulders.
“No, I mean why you’re in this reality. This is a new reality, by the way. It’s called the Third Rail. Where are you from?”
He doesn’t answer right away. “Lawyer.”
“This isn’t an interrogation. We just need some information.”
“That’s what an interrogation is for. Lawyer.”
All right, if he wants to play it that way... “Main sequence, Parallel, Fourth Quadrant, Fifth Division.”
No reaction.
“Sixth Key.”
There’s a reaction.
“So you’re from the future.”
“It’s more complicated than that, but yeah.”
“In our experience, people from the Sixth Key come here on purpose, unlike people like me.”
Humbert keeps quiet.
“Were you traveling alone?” Vearden continues.
“Technically.”
“What does that mean?”
He pauses again. “More are coming.”
“How many more?”
He pauses yet again. “Millions.”
“Are they coming here?” He points to the ground. “Specifically here?”
“Specifically yes.”
“Are you running from the war?”
Humbert smiles. “You know more than I was told you would.”
“We cannot accommodate millions.”
“That is why I came here as vanguard, to clear a path.”
“You mean you’re going to attack us? How are ya gonna do that alone?”
“I already have. You think that mask will save you?” He looks at the plastic wall between them. “You think this...crude polymer can hold me?”
Vearden glowers at him. “You’re diseased.”
“The portal moves. It doesn’t move much, but I knew that I wouldn’t appear already inside of quarantine unless I got very unlucky. You shoulda built a bigger tent.”
Vearden gets the attention of the soldiers. “Shoot him. Now.”
“It’s too late,” are Humbert’s final words before a dozen bullets hit him in the chest, killing him in seconds.
Vearden didn’t want to do that, but the love of his life is in this reality. She’s in this very city. If one man has to die to save her, he’ll accept that sacrifice. If everyone else in here has to die, including himself, he’ll accept that too. “Seal the place up,” he orders. “No one in or out. This whole tent is under quarantine now.”

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