Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: June 19, 2104

Click here for the 2016 table of contents

Mateo and Leona both went to the restroom after waking up the morning of 2104. They drank some water, went to the bathroom again, and then they went right back to sleep. Though their bodies had only gone through a single day last year, their minds had experienced hundreds of days with very little rest. And sleep wasn’t so much about rejuvenating the body as much as it was about recalibrating the brain. By the time they woke up again, it was a few hours from their jump to 2105.
The Cleanser jumped in just after they had finished a nice meal with their now extremely large family. Mateo said his goodbyes, and then casually left everyone behind as if he were just a normal person going off to a 9-to-5 job.
“It looks like you’re getting used to this,” the Cleanser noted as they were walking through the woods.
“I have,” Mateo replied. “You made it necessary in the last tribulation.”
“I have received word that a future version of myself promised you that Leona would be left alone. I felt the need yesterday-last-year to assure you to not listen to anyone but me, not even an alternate version. I own you. Do you understand that?”
“I do.” He did.
He seemed a little perturbed to not be getting a fight out of him. “I don’t know if this is some kind of new strategy, but I want to also assure you that it will not work. Even if you submit to my demands, I will not get bored and leave you alone.”
“This is my life now.”
“This is your life now.”
“What’s on the schedule today?”
“A series of tasks. I want you to retrieve something for me. You shall face three deadly challenges. If you survive them, you will be rewarded.”
“Rewarded with what?”
“Immortality.”
Mateo laughed a little. “I don’t need immortality. I’m Catholic.”
“I’m speaking literally. Not everyone qualifies for immortality, and many of those who do not have spent lifetimes trying to find the right ingredients, only to be met with death.”
“Only the worthy can be immortal?”
“That’s right.”
“And it’s a drink?”
“It’s water. But it’s special, taken from a host of different places at different moments in time.”
“And what would I be drinking it out of? A hipster thermos? A mug that says World’s Greatest Dad?”
“Why does it matter?”
“Is it a chalice, is my point.”
“I guess...it certainly won’t be a hipster thermos.”
“What you’re describing is the climax of Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade.”
“No, it’s not,” the Cleanser claimed defensively.
“Three deadly challenges for the righteous, leading to immortality, taken in the form of water from a chalice. That’s The Last Crusade.”
“Fine. I like movies too. Gilbert Boyce is not the only one who watches movies. I’ve seen multiple version of that film, actually. In one reality, Indy’s father stays behind to replace the ancient knight as protector of The Holy Grail.”
“Cool,” Mateo said condescendingly.
“My point is that, just because you’ve seen one version of the movie, doesn’t mean that’s the one you’ll have to recreate.”
“And my point,” Mateo said, stopping, “is that you’re not doing a movie tribulation because you like movies too. You’re doing it because that’s what The Rogue would have done.”
“I’m nothing like the Rogue.”
“You are now. Ever since you killed him, in the way that you did, you’ve adopted some of his characteristics. He’s told me that that is how it works. He spent years as Donald Trump and was more ruthless and twisted than he ever was in that other Rogue body. But then when he left, he changed, and became more like the next person he possessed.”
“I possessed him for seconds, literally. By your logic, his personality should have faded by now either way.”
Mateo shrugged and started walking again. “I don’t have all the answers.”
“No, you certainly don’t. And you would do well to remember it.”
“Is this cave what we’re looking for?” he asked, ready to change the subject.
He yawned and began to crouch down into the rather small opening. “It is.”
They crawled and walked through the cave. The Cleanser held his hand out as the daylight behind them started to fade. He was somehow able to apport fire above his hand without burning himself. Heh. Time, right? Mateo thought to himself.
“We’re almost there.”
“Is that pirate’s chest?”
“Don’t look back, just stay on track.”
“Have you ever considered a career in rap?”
“Been there.” He stopped at the entrance to a second chamber. “This is where we part ways.”
“Ya know, if this is The Last Crusade, you end up following me in there, drinking from the wrong cup, and suffering an excruciating death while a bad actress screams in your arms for no reason at all.”
The Cleanser looked to his left, and then slowly turned to his right. “There’s no one else here. So I guess we’re not doing that part.”
“Very well.”
Fortunately there weren’t any cobwebs to contend with. Mateo wasn’t, strictly speaking, arachnophobic, like one of his grandfathers, but he certainly didn’t like spiders. The main thing that convinced Mateo that the Cleanser was unwillingly holding onto the characteristics of the Rogue—and something he didn’t get to mention to him—was that The Last Crusade was Gilbert’s favorite movie of all time. This was something he had revealed to Mateo and Leona while they were on Easter Island. Either coincidentally, or fittingly, that was also during a quest for immortality. Even more interestingly, that mission actually did end up resulting in Gilbert’s immortality, just not in the way he expected. Mateo wondered if he even ever made the connection, but then realized that the main question here was whether the Cleanser understood these similarities.
About halfway through the passageway, he was stopped by a shirtless man holding a sword. This would be the part in the movie where a rotating blade jumped out and cut off the head of anybody still remaining in standing position. The idea was that you were humbled by the presence of God, and you were supposed to kneel to him. Then you were, for some reason, supposed to do a somersault, because there’s another spinning blade on the floor! Not knowing for sure just how much the Cleanser was expecting him to reenact, Mateo figured he was choosing to be more metaphorical. He decided to forego the somersault, but maintain the humility. He covered his eyes with his arm and knelt down in subservience. “Oh mighty one, please have mercy on me.”
“Who are you?”
“My name is Mateo Matic, and I am but a lowly salmon. I pose you no threat.”
“Stand,” the man ordered.
Mateo stood and found the man to be both confused and intrigued.
“What is this place?”
“We are in a cave on Tribulation Island, on a planet that is not Earth.”
“I was not aware that travel to other worlds was possible. This is an interesting development.”
“Are you a choosing one?”
“I am not. I was human, but this sword allows me to steal other people’s powers.” He stepped deeper into the torchlight and widened his arms to show dozens of scars all over his body. “I have a lot of power, but it comes with a price. Though, interstellar travel shall be my greatest achievement.” He reached back and prepared to plunge the weapon into Mateo’s stomach.
“Wait!” Mateo cried. “I can’t travel to other planets. I just happen to be on one right now. Just like you.”
The man stopped. “Oh.” He pretended to wipe sweat from his brow. “Close one, right? I guess you did say you were salmon. Okay, you may pass.”
“Thank you,” Mateo replied, happy to have completed the first challenge. “Hey, what’s your name?”
“They just call me The Warrior.”
“All right, well...please stop killing people. Power isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”
He made this face like it was the first time anyone thought to suggest such a thing. He answered genuinely with, “I shall consider it.”
Another man showed up from the aether for the second challenge. He seemed excited to see another person. “Hello, my name is Juan Ponce de León, but I seem to have found myself with the nickname The Navigator. Who are you, and where are we?”
“You’re Ponce de León.”
“Yes?”
“Like from history class?”
“Yes, I have apparently become famous. I admit, I do not relish the idea of eventually returning to my time and facing my death.”
“Maybe you won’t have to, the Fountain of Youth is up ahead.”
“Is it really?” He lifted his compass and examined it. “Huh. So that’s where it’s been taking me.”
“I should say so.”
Ponce de León turned around and began walking through an opening that led to a wide open space. Before them was a stone floor, but unlike in the movie, there were a hell of a lot more of them, and they were all the same clean-cut shape. “Follow in my footsteps exactly,” freaking Ponce de León warned. “This compass will take us where we need to go.” The two new friends made quick work of it, stepping only on the stones that would not fall away and destroy them.
For the third so-called challenge, instead of an optical allusion, part of the ground was just invisible...or in another dimension...or something like that, Leona would be able to explain it. Soon thereafter, they were in the chalice chamber. The Cleanser was waiting for them. “Wow. You did that weird. You were supposed to fight The Warrior, and then steal the Compass of Disturbance. I didn’t think you would befriend these guys.”
“You don’t know me very well,” Mateo said.
“Apparently not.” He clapped his hands together, preparing to sell a used car. “You know what to do. One of these contains the elixir of life. The others are poisoned.”
Ponce de León started looking around, hoping to find the right chalice. He likely wouldn’t have seen the movie, and would have no frame of reference for which one was right.
“It’s this one,” Mateo said, confident but cool. He picked up the most extravagant and heavy chalice there. It was gold, and lined with every kind of gemstone Mateo could recognize.
“Are you sure?” the Cleanser asked. “In the movie, it was the modest clay chalice.”
“Yes, but that was Jesus’ cup. You are not Jesus. You are a douchebag.” He handed it to the Navigator. “Here ya go. One glass of immortality, coming up.”
Ponce de León took the chalice graciously and dipped it into the pool of water. Before he could take a drink, the Cleanser spoke. “There is a catch. If either of you drinks, you will become immortal, and your pattern will cease. You will not be able to travel through time in any way, shape, or form. It’s either this, or that.”
“Leona...”
“Will remain on your pattern,” the Cleanser finished Mateo’s sentence for him. You’ll see her but once a year. You, on the other hand, Ponce, will remain in this time. The Compass will do you no good, and you will never see your wife and children again.” He paused for effect. “Only one of you will be able to have a drink.” He paused again. “You can choose amongst yourselves, but if one of you kills the other first, the drawback will be removed. Navigator, you’ll be able to go home, and Mateo, you’ll be able to give a drink to Leona. Your pattern will be broken, and you’ll never die.” He looked between them with a sinister smile.
Mateo Matic and Juan Ponce de León looked at each other. Then the Navigator dropped the chalice to the ground and they left the cave together.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Clean Sweep: Absolute Power (Part IV)

Click here for the previous installment...
Click here for the entire story.

There are certain objects in the the world of time manipulators that possess temporal powers of their own. A handful of these are natural, but most were created by someone whose temporal power allowed them to do so. A few of them are a combination of the two. For instance, time mirrors are composed of glass sourced from the sands of Atlantis, forged by the fires of Mount Wingen. Extraction mirrors, of which there is actually only one, can be created using sand from Uluru, and fire from Baba Gurgur. Immortality, meanwhile, can be found in the proper mixing of a number of different water sources all over the world.
Temporal objects are used by choosing ones and other time travelers in order to accomplish some task, often one that enhances their natural powers. Baudin carries a bone stake that can warp time around it while constructing complex architectural structures. The Navigator is actually just a regular human who found the Compass of Disturbance, and travels time and space using temporal rifts.  The Warrior too was born human, but uses the Sword of Assimilation to steal other people’s power. The Artist has a number of tools, each with multiple functions, that he uses to create people capable of temporal manipulation. And it was his objects that allowed Zeferino Preston to survive his apparent death. He had cut the neck of The Mass using the Sword of Assimilation just before the Artist tried to kill him with his special gouge. This confluence of events forced Zeferino’s mind into the body of the Mass, making him one of the most powerful forces in the universe.
Zeferino now possessed a plethora of temporal powers that he did not before. He could jump back and forth through time at will, create temporal bubbles capable of speeding up or slowing time in a localized area, witness events from an observation dimension, and many more. Unfortunately for him, the Mass came with one flaw. The Artist had written a sort of code that prevented his newest creation from lasting more than a few seconds at any one point in time and space. Though he never got a chance to implement this before it was accidentally given to chooser Aquila Bellamy, he had already provided it with a certain level of time sensitivity. While in the body of the Mass, Zeferino could go to any time and any place he wanted, but he would not be able to stay there very long. The code, as it were, was fickle, and did not always give him the same amount of time with each jump, but it always took him away eventually, and he was never able to return. He could never correct a mistake, or help a past version of himself.
His limitations, despite his enormous power, frustrated him greatly. He could do a great deal of things, but he was not perfect, and was notably vulnerable to the desires and decisions of the choosing ones and the powers that be. He spent a lot of time as The Cleaner, using his original power of course correcting the timeline to keep everyone in check, but they would always be able to undo his work, and he would never be able to try again. The best he could do was send his consciousness back in time a few minutes at most, but this was not usually all that helpful.
At some point in his new life, his anger over his feelings of helplessness overcame his contentment with what power he did wield. He transformed into something different; something new. He even changed his name. He became The Cleanser. He decided to make it his mission to destroy every single person capable of manipulating time in any way, shape, or form. His first victim was a salmon criminal known as Horace Reaver, for he knew that no one would miss him. Reaver was being kept in a special glass prison cube, by the order of the powers that be. He was being guarded by a contingency of men who had become intertwined with him and his temporal shenanigans. So first, Zeferino banished them from the scene so that he could have a conversation with primary target in peace. He would then apport them back, and kill them all at once.
Reaver, shocked by the guards’ unexplained disappearance, called out, “hello?”
Zeferino sighed, “yes, hello. I am here.”
“Could I ask you for your name?” Reaver replied, with honest congeniality.
“I was intending on keeping you in the dark,” Zeferino replied. In fact, in an alternate version of this conversation, I think that I did. But I’ve decided that I’d like to set the record straight on a few things. First of all, the choosing ones, and the powers that be, are not the same thing. They are two completely different sets of people, with different motivations, different power, and different weakness.”
“Okay...”
“Which means that, two; your daughter is a choosing one, and cannot be a power that be, which means that she has no conflict of interest. There is no family conflict of interest. She could have sent you back in time to fix your mistakes if she wanted, but she chose not to. She might have avoided it out of fear of natural consequences, but she’s pretty powerful, I doubt those affect her all that much.”
“What?”
“I can see you’re confused. That’s okay, I didn’t expect much from you. I just want you to know that I’m planning on killing every single person in the universe with any sort of ability to manipulate time. I don’t care whether we’re talking about someone as insignificant as a guy who can see the future, or as powerful as your daughter. They’re goin’ down, and I’m not doing it because time travel is wrong. I’m doing it to consolidate my power. When all time travelers are dead, then what are you left with? Me. I’ll still be here, and I will shape the timeline to my choosing, and I won’t have any weaknesses, and no one will be able to stop me.”
Reaver took in a deep breath, and Zeferino couldn’t tell whether he ever let it out. “Fine with me, I don’t know why you’re telling me this. I’m in prison, I don’t care.”
“After I kill you, I’m probably gonna kill Mateo Matic.”
Reaver laughed. “You can try. He won’t go down easy, though.”
“It doesn’t have to be easy. It can also be fun.”
“Well, good luck with thaaaat,” he said sarcastically.
“At some point, I’ll have to kill Meliora too.”
“I know, and I’m fine.”
“You’re fine with me killing your daughter?”
“No. Mateo is a survivor, but you might be able to best him. Melly, on the other hand, is a whole different story. I’m completely confident that you would never be able to kill her. You should get rid of Mateo first, because he will likely show you he’s more resourceful than you think, and it’ll warm you up to everyone else. But you should go after Melly last, because the only way you survive is if she has no hope.”
“I appreciate the advice.”
“Like I said, I don’t think it’ll matter anyway, though.”
“Well, we’ll see. I mean, you won’t, because you’re done now. But I’ll see.”
“Right, of course.”
Bored with the conversation, and true to his word, Zeferino brought all the guards back, but now inside of the cube, so that they could all die from the explosion.
Killing Horace Reaver was not nearly as satisfying as Zeferino thought it would be. He also felt bad about killing the guards along with him, because they were innocent, and were incapable of manipulating time on their own. He chose to very not take Reaver’s advice to begin his mission by killing Mateo. He went after a few smaller game first, but they proved to be more difficult than he imagined. Maybe this wasn’t going to be as simple as he figured.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Microstory 465: Floor 21 (Part 2)

Click here for a list of every floor.
Floor 22 (Part 2)

Project Manager 2: Hey man, what’s got you down? The lock...uh, down? The lockdown? Sorry.
Project Manager 1: Oh no, it’s got nothin’ to do with that. They locked us out of the system, so I can’t even do busy work. That’s really been the only thing that’s kept me from a complete meltdown over this window business.
Project Manager 2: Ah yeah, I get it. It’s a real bummer. All those people who died, and now some of our people are dying? It’s crazy. So crazy.
Project Manager 1: I mean, it’s not that. I feel responsible. You can blame the designers or builders until the cows come home, but the fact is they can’t do their jobs well if they don’t have the one thing that we’re all trying to get more of.
Project Manager 2: You mean, money?
Project Manager 1: Well yes, but not that. No, I’m talking about time.
Project Manager 2: Of course, that was my next guess.
Project Manager 1: Time is supposed to work for me. I’m a sodding project manager, and I failed. I failed this company, and I failed those victims. I’m a failure.
Project Manager 2: Yes well, if you make a point of assuming responsibility for every problem in the world, I suppose that would make you feel bad.
Project Manager 1: Come on, you know what I mean. This was important stuff. Someone messed up, I’ll give you that. Somebody screwed up something about the windows that led to the deaths, and I do not take responsibility for that. What I do take responsibility for how the general process went. Maybe someone felt rushed, and I didn’t give them enough time. Again, it’s my job to know how to organize all that, and to prepare for unforeseen circumstances.
Project Manager 2: Oh okay, so you’re worried that you made some kind of mistake that resulted in someone else making some other mistake.
Project Manager 1: Yeah exactly, that’s what I’m saying. Bottom line, the buck stops with me.
Project Manager 2: Well no, the buck stops with us. We’re a team, and frankly it’s insulting to the rest of us that you absorb all this pain over a problem that we all had a hand in. And this is all theoretical, because all you’re giving me is hypotheticals anyway. We have no evidence that we did anything wrong at all. Maybe the machinist was going through a terrible divorce. Maybe a pen exploded and obstructed the installation instructions. There are too many variables. Not even a master of time such as yourself can see them all, let alone do something about them.
Project Manager 1: All right, I get it. My ego is the real problem here.
Project Manager 2: That’s right, you’re getting smarter. Now, come on. There are plenty of things we could do without access to the system.
Project Manager 1: There are, like what?
Project Manager 2: When is the last time you played paper football?
Project Manager 1: Depends on what you mean by football.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Microstory 464: Floor 22 (Part 2)

Click here for a list of every floor.
Floor 23 (Part 2)

Designer: I shouldn’t have to tell you to get back.

Coworker: Hey, man, we’re just talkin’. Everything’s okay.
Designer: And don’t try that thing where you climb up here and tell me that you’ll jump if I jump. Or that you just feel like standing on a ledge. I’m not a sociopath, but I still don’t care about you. If you have a deathwish, that’s fine by me.
Coworker: No, I won’t do that. And don’t freak out. I’m just getting close so we can have a conversation. It’s dangerous for you to twist around like that, and it’s rude for you to not look me in the eyes.
Designer: Okay. Just...don’t try anything.
Coworker: I won’t. Now tell me what the problem is.
Designer: Have you been living under a rock? The company has been having major problems. People have died. And it’s all my fault. I don’t know what I did. My designs should be fine, but they won’t let me back into the system to find out what went wrong.
Coworker: Maybe you don’t need to find out what went wrong, because maybe nothing went wrong.
Designer: What is that supposed to mean?
Coworker: Maybe your designs had nothing to do with it. Maybe it’s someone else’s fault. There’s probably a legal reason they won’t release the designs, but that doesn’t mean they were the cause. Maybe Analion is keeping them from you to protect you. Have you considered that?
Designer: Of course not. Because that would be stupid.
Coworker: It’s possible, but the fact is that you don’t know anything. You don’t know that it’s your fault. You don’t know that anyone blames you. You don’t know that they’re gonna fire you. Killing yourself when you don’t have all the answers is foolish...at best.
Designer: People have blamed me for it, just not officially. I hear the whispers.
Coworker: Okay, well you show me ten rumors, and I’ll show you nine lies.
Designer: This is the tenth rumor. This is my fault. I know it. I don’t need the designs, or to be fired. I know.
Coworker: Must be nice. Being so well-informed. Perhaps when this whole suicide charade is over, you can tell me who’s gonna win the vector tournament.
Designer: Very funny. And this is not a charade. Nor is it a cry for help. I’m just...waiting for my moment.
Coworker: I say go ahead and jump. Then it’ll be my fault. But don’t worry, you wouldn’t be the first person I’ve killed.
Designer: What do you mean by that? Who did you kill?
Coworker: When I was eight years old, I was full of little else but anger. Most of this anger was directed at my parents. I felt very much that they didn’t care about me, so I decided to test that when we were at the beach one day. I swam out farther than I was allowed to, and started to pretend that I was drowning. I started waving my arms around and crying out for help. Well, help came. My father didn’t hesitate to swim out to me as fast as he could, even though he had a heart condition, and shouldn’t have been in the water so soon after surgery. He was supposed to be relaxing. He had a second heart attack, which he probably could have survived if he hadn’t drowned.
Designer: Oh my God.
Coworker: I can’t tell you to not jump, but I can tell you that I didn’t. My mother and I didn’t speak for years, but now we’re closer than we ever were. The shame never goes away, but you have to ask yourself one question. Should it?