Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: April 30, 2005


“Whoa. Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. This isn’t right. You’re acting like you’re helping me, but the last time you did that, you turned out to be the bad guy. I can’t trust you.” Mateo and The Cleanser had jumped into a closet somewhere.
“Oh, that was ages ago.”
“How long?”
“What?”
“How long ago was that for you? It’s been only weeks since we’ve met.”
“I dunno,” the Cleanser said, like an actress who didn’t want anyone to judge her for her age. “Maybe 150 years?”
“How old does that make you?”
“More than 150 years old, that’s how old,” he answered. “You’re pretty pushy for a guy who desperately needs my help.”
Do I need your help? I don’t even know what the problem is.”
“In this reality, Leona came to visit The Pentagon with her parents. They will all die in the 2005 attack unless you and I save them.”
“Okay, so what do we do? Pull the fire alarm?”
“First of all, that doesn’t work. That’s like cleaning the floors with a toothbrush, which I’ve tried by the way. Secondly, I’m still your enemy. I’m allowing you to save your family, but only them. Everyone else in this building who is supposed to die is going to die. There is nothing you can do to stop that.”
“Why not? I just killed Hitler. Let’s stop the attack as well. We know where the terrorists stole the planes from—I mean, I don’t personally remember, but you have ways of finding out. Let’s save everybody. Come on! Who’s with me?”
“Nope, that’s not part of the game. You either choose to save your family, or you choose to save nobody at all. Could I stop the attack? Yes. But that would mean screwing with my own timeline, and I’m not prepared to do that. An earlier version of me is in this time right now, and I have no intention of stopping him from carrying out his mission. Here’s something you have to understand. The powers that be, and the choosers are logistically capable of creating a perfect world. We could always, always go back in time and stop something bad from happening, replacing it with a better chain of events. We could stop Grog the Caveman from burning his face off when he tried to eat the fire he just discovered, and from there, we could adjust the timeline so that humanity never suffers. We could prevent all humans from ever knowing what pain feels like, but we don’t, ‘cause fuck ‘em.”
“That’s a pretty horrific perspective on the world ya got there.”
“That, Mister Matic, is everybody’s perspective on the world.”
“Well, I know better than to try to convince you to help your fellow man, and I do have to concede to the fact that you understand the timestream better than me. If you say I’m only allowed to save Leona and her parents, then I guess I have no choice but to go along with it. You’re too powerful for me anyway.” Was this Mateo maintaining his strategy of being unpredictable? Or was he giving up?
“I was expecting more backlash.”
“I’m happy to oblige.”
“No, that’ll be all.”
“Where is Leona?”
“Down the hall,” he said, sporting a knowing smile.
“What is it? What don’t I know.”
The Cleanser opened his mouth, hoping to release a bit of snark.
Mateo started speaking in a mocking voice, “yeah, I know that you could fill a fifty-two volume book series with what I don’t know. Har-har-har.” He went back to a normal voice, “tell me what you’re keeping from me.”
“I think it’ll be better if you just see.”
“If this is 2005, then I already know that she’s only a child, so if that’s what you have in mind...”
“No, it’s even weirder than that!”
“Okay,” Mateo said dismissively while opening the door.
He had seen photo albums of Leona from when she was younger, so it wasn’t hard to find her in the crowd. Little Leona was with a tour group, and was very excited to be there. As expected, her eyes were wandering. She wasn’t listening to the tour guide, instead taking in everything else around her. “Leona,” he heard from the crowd as he drew closer, but he couldn’t see who it was coming from. The voice was...very familiar, but that couldn’t be, because he had never met Leona’s birthmother. “Leona, get over here and pay attention.” A tall man finally moved over to reveal who was calling to her. No, it definitely wasn’t her birthmother. Or if it was, then his relationship with Leona would have been even stranger than they thought with the whole reincarnation bit.
“Carol, let her look around,” Randall Gelens said after coming into view. That’s right, Mateo’s adoptive parents from his original timeline were now Leona’s parents from the new timeline, presumably also adoptive.
“See what I mean?” the Cleanser asked him rhetorically.
“How did this happen?” It was neither good nor bad. It was just weird. And awkward. And weird.
“I actually don’t know the details, but I swear I had nothing to do with it. Both Leona’s parents died, instead of just her mother, and since you weren’t around to keep them busy, Carol and Randall ended up adopting her.
Leona was smiling in a way he hadn’t seen in a long time. Or maybe he never had. She was happy. Sure, both her birth parents were gone in this timeline, but if Mateo saved them, his parents would both live. She would never know what it was like to be painfully attached to a salmon, and the two of them would be able to live long and happy lives, possibly even long enough to reach that longevity escape velocity. Makarion and that Blender chick had left to take her from this life and pull her back into this one, forcing her to remember memories from another life without her consent. He now realized that that would not be fair to her. She had a life now, without him. She was better off, and it wasn’t like he could go back and stop her parents from dying, and create yet another timeline. No, this was as good as it gets, and it would be selfish of him to take that away from her.
“Could you do me a favor?” Mateo asked, still looking at the love of his life. She was, of course, way too young for him, even more so than when they had first met. But she still looked like the Leona he knew, and this was all he was going to get. He was going to savor every moment. If he only had had a phone, he could have kept an alternate photo of her on it. But he hadn’t had a phone since the early days of salmonhood, so this last sight of her would have to do. And bonus, he got to see his dead parents again as well. Maybe he had stepped into the best reality possible, even with the Pentagon attack. Erasing himself from the timeline might very well have been the single best act he had ever done in his life.
“You want me to stop Makarion and Nerakali from blending her memories from the alternate timeline?” the Cleanser asked.
“I know we’ve had our differences. I know you don’t like me for reasons I can’t even begin to understand. I know you are who you are, but for once, could you please try to do something nice for someone else, instead of what you think is going to be the funniest?”
“Yes,” the Cleanser replied somberly. “I sometimes make healthy choices. This will be one of them.”
“Thank you.”
“Find a way to get them out.” He teleported away.
Mateo spoke into the aether, “okay.”
How was he going to do that? None of them knew him, so it wasn’t like he could just ask that they leave the premises. He was already told that he couldn’t pull the fire alarm. He didn’t have a gun to wave around, and even if he did, he didn’t want to scare anyone. There was just no way out of this without looking like a terrorist. Yes, as a time traveler, he was one of the few people immune to retribution, but his ultimate disappearance from the timestream would raise eyebrows, making things worse.
The closet. Yes, that was the answer, as it had been before. After Mirage, the artificial intelligence tried to kill him in his birthmother’s home, Mateo jumped forwards through the year, and ended up appearing in Horace Reaver’s dastardly facility. But he hadn’t just landed anywhere, he had been in a closet. That closet happened to be filled with security guard uniforms, allowing him to blend in with his pursuers. The Pentagon closet had the same thing. He went back in and changed into the present guard uniform, hopeful that the mission would be easier than last time. Was this luck? Was this the Cleanser’s doing? Or was it something else?
He walked out with as much confidence as he could muster and approached Randall Gelen, the man who had raised him, but had no memory of it. For a second, Randall looked at him with some form of familiarity, but then shook it off. Maybe that was the answer to déjà vu, a brief peek into an alternate reality of things that once were.
“Yes, can I help you?” Randall asked, eager to comply with an authority figure.
“Sir, we are currently experiencing a threat to national security. I urge you and your family to quietly leave the premises, and move as far from the building as possible.”
“What about everyone else?” Carol asked, pulling Leona closer to her.
“We have protocol for this sort of emergency. It’s my job to methodically get everyone in my sector out, but a building-wide alarm would cause panic, putting civilians in further danger. Please tell no one of what you know.”
Randall thought it over for a second, but only to make sure Mateo knew that he knew how serious the situation could be. “I understand, thank you.”
It worked. His family quickly but carefully separated from the tour group and headed for the exit. Randall was keeping an eye on him, though, so Mateo started approaching other people, asking to see their visitors passes for a random check, making it look like he was trying to get them out of the building as well. Once the three of them were out of sight, and he was convinced that they would be safe, he walked away.
Mateo opened a door to the courtyard and slowly strolled toward the center, enjoying the scenery. He had never been to Washington D.C. before, and it seemed as good a place as any to die. He watched other people go about their day. They had no idea what was coming, but they were starting to see. Before too long, they could hear and feel a rumble, growing ever closer to them. Five airplanes were flying far too low, and getting lower. He stared up at them fearlessly, safe in the knowledge that everyone he loved would be able to go on with their lives without missing him. There was a sort of relief in that. He was the one person in the world who really could die without anyone caring. The worst part about death is the loss the survivors feel, and that was something he wouldn’t have to worry about. He was done. He wouldn’t have to jump through time anymore. What a nice thought.
I’m sorry to disappoint you, Saga Einarsson’s telepathic thoughts gently pervaded his mind. I’m not saving you for them, or even for you. I’m doing this for everyone else.
Mateo could see a person standing on the roof of each of The Pentagon’s five sides. It must have been Saga herself, but how she was able to be in five places at once was a question with no answer. As the planes dove towards the building, and everyone around him was screaming and fleeing, the five Sagas transformed into...something else. Just before their noses hit their marks, the planes disappeared. A sort of weird Matrixy ripple sort of thing fluttered through the air. Everyone who had been freaking out about the oncoming disaster flickered and returned to a state of calm. It was like several frames of film had been edited out of the movie. They continued as normal, none the wiser. Not only had Saga stopped the planes from hitting the building, but she had manually removed them from time so that only he could remember the version of events where they had existed. But why? Why could he? He was just a salmon. He shouldn’t have been immune to this particular change.
The Cleanser teleported next to him. “What happened? The planes should have hit. I’m the one who sent them here! This is not what I remember!”

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