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They woke up at the break of dawn the next morning. He had the urge to gather everyone yet again to make sure Arcadia hadn’t lied about her plan. No, everyone was still here. Everyone, except for Baudin, of course.
“So, what are we supposed to do now?” Paige asked.
“We’re supposed to build something,” Mateo said. “I don’t know what, and I don’t know all the rules.”
Samsonite suddenly slipped into a bitchy resting face and stepped forward. He stood there blankly for a few seconds, worrying everyone. Then he spoke in an unnerving monotone, “Traveler Four-Six-Two-Three, your first expiation is simple. You must construct a habitable structure large enough to accommodate everyone on Tribulation Island.”
“Well, that’s not so bad,” Horace said. “We have memories of doing that for decades.”
“You must do this on the other side of the island...using materials found on this side.”
“Okay, well, that’s not so great,” Horace amended.
“None of you has to do this,” Mateo said to the group after the instructions were over, and the real Samsonite came back to them. “Whether you believe me or not is not the point. The fact that you don’t remember him means that you can’t have any strong feelings about him, one way or the other. I can’t ask you to put heavy effort into something that you don’t believe in.”
Paige, who Mateo both knew the least, and wasn’t related to, stepped right in front of him. “What doesn’t matter is what we feel. You care about him, and so we do too. We are all stranded on this island. If we can’t learn to live together...we’re gonna die alone.”
That sounded like a quote from something. Saga smiled at it, at least.
“Well still, I couldn’t, in good conscience, hold it against anyone who refused, or got too tired of it. I do think, however, that someone else should lead the team. I don’t have any experience in construction. I didn’t even take shop class in high school.”
“Aren’t you a mechanic?” Vearden asked.
“I was a driver. I can change the oil, that’s about as far as my manliness goes. I never worked with wood.”
“Then I suppose I’m the most qualified,” Vearden said, and everybody seemed to agree. “Leona, though, you know the island best. Where are we going to build the shelter, and how far is it from here?”
Mateo started picturing Leona at the front of a classroom, drawing a map on the whiteboard, and wielding a baton. “The island is fifteen kilometers wide, and twenty-eight kilometers long. Since our basecamp is on one of the long ends, and actually pretty close to the middle, I can only assume that we’re meant to travel only the fifteen.”
“What’s that in miles?” Gilbert asked.
“About Nine-point-three-two,” she answered. “Walking it takes nearly three hours because of the harsh terrain.”
“I’ve done it many times,” Mateo remembered.
“Okay, we can do this. One day? That’s easy. No problem.” He took a beat to think. “All right, we’ll need three teams. Choppers, draggers, and builders. The choppers need brute strength, the draggers need endurance, and the builders need precision. Since there’s nothing to carry yet, and nothing to build, we’ll all start out as choppers. Then two-thirds of us will break off. And then half of that group will break off later.”
“We only have three axes,” Samsonite pointed out.
“Fine,” Vearden said. “I guess my math doesn’t check out, but that’s Leona’s department.”
Saga jumped in, “We’ll need the most people as draggers anyway, to cover all that ground.”
“That’s true,” Vearden continued. “I want a relay system. We’ll place draggers at strategic points along the path, and each will hand off their load. That will create more frequent breaks from all that carrying, rather than just everybody always walking the whole distance.”
Mateo had no memory of when he supposedly first arrived on the island, or when the others did. They’re memories were screwy either way, because most of them had no recollection of Mateo until recently anyway, so the time-altering, Hitler-killing adventure was still having the same effect on them. He was surprised, then, to learn that they did have a few amenities that they wouldn’t have had around had they just crashed. A single airplane does not have three axes, so these ones were just apported there, at least according to everyone else. Mario, Horace, and Lincoln were chosen to be choppers. Kivi was posted with them too. Once they had cut down as much, and as little, as she could carry, she would drag it away and hand it off to Mateo at kilometer marker two before walking all the way back. Mateo would then take it three kilometers away to Xearea. This process continued with Gilbert at marker seven, Samsonite at marker ten, and Paige at marker thirteen.
Paige would carry it to the beach where Vearden, Leona, Aura, Téa, and Saga were waiting to use it to build the shelter. Horace—having gotten into running from his life with professional runner, Serkan—chose to be their runner. He would literally run the whole distance back and forth, transporting water and snacks for them. Fortunately for him, the powers that be did not prevent him from maintaining his transhumanistic upgrades, meaning that running a few marathons in a day wasn’t actually as bad as it sounded.
After night fell, Horace ran back to the original beach and let the choppers know that they wouldn’t need any more wood. They grabbed what they had left, and started heading down the assembly line, sweeping up each dragger as they passed. They tried to help the builders finish up once everyone was at the other beach, but were rejected. Though everyone worked really hard, and no one had contributed any more or less than anyone else, the choppers had expelled the greatest amount of energy. It was time for them to rest and eat. The draggers were drained of energy as well, so they too sat down and had dinner.
While in the middle of it, Samsonite pulled Mateo and Gilbert to the side so they could have a conversation in private. “Please, keep eating. I just need to ask a few questions.”
“Shoot,” Mateo said.
“I think maybe Gilbert can help more, because he has more experience with time travel, but I can’t say for sure.”
“What is it?” Gilbert asked.
“What would you say to someone who has—oh, I dunno...been having hallucinations of zombie people sitting on horses?”
“What?” Mateo asked. “Has that been happening?”
Gilbert stopped eating and rested his chin on the palm of his hand. They waited patiently. “Were they dressed in western garb?”
“Yes!” Samsonite cried, then lowered his head, and spoke softer, when he realized others could hear. He didn’t want this getting out. “One of them had some kind of satchel with a stitching of a red fish. I assume it was a salmon. What does this mean?”
“It would seem that Arcadia has a flair for pop culture references, just like I did when I was doing this sort of thing to you.”
“What is it from?” Mateo asked.
“Teen Wolf,” Gilbert explained. “The ghost riders. The mythology is that...I don’t want to say it.”
“Say what?” Samsonite pressed. “Please, go on.”
Gilbert obliged, “if you see the ghost riders, then...then you’re next.”
“I’m going to be torn out of time?”
“Wait,” Mateo questioned, “in the show, these beings took people out of time, just like here, in real life?”
“They did indeed,” Gilbert confirmed.
“It sounds like Arcadia stole her idea from them, eh?” Mateo asked rhetorically.
Samsonite wanted to remain serious. “Why would they do that? And what does it have to do with Arcadia?”
“Well, they sort of had to. And I don’t think they have really anything to do with Arcadia. She’s showing you an image of that as a joke. She’s taunting you. I only hope that you’re the only one who ever sees it. The only thing worse than being torn out of time is, like, knowing it’s coming.”
“But you’ll remember me, Mateo. You have to tell your mother about me. I know we haven’t exactly been close, and that’s okay. Just please...tell her about me tomorrow.”
“I will. Of course I will. I am not leaving anybody behind. Everyone gets an expiation, and everyone gets my full attention. I won’t stop until I have you all back. I swear to God. And I’m Catholic, so you know that means something.”
“Thanks, that’s comforting, I mean it.” He turned to Gilbert. “Will it hurt?”
“It seems to hurt on the show, but I doubt it does in real life. You won’t feel anything at all soon after, but when you finally come back, I can’t tell you what you’ll remember. Presumably Arcadia is going to mend the corrupted reality after all of this is over, which makes you wonder what reality that’s going to be. Will our memories of being marooned on an island disappear? Will it go back to whatever Mateo here remembers? Or what?”
“I’m more interested in this conversation,” Mateo said. “I’ll almost certainly remember it when Samsonite is gone. But will you? What will you think you did for the last ten minutes? What if we go off away from Samsonite and talk about him at length right now?”
“There will technically be a gap in memory,” Gilbert said, “but Arcadia won’t need to replace it with anything. She’ll remove the memories of these moments, and then my brain will fill in the blanks.”
Samsonite moaned. “Oh, I feel so hopeless.”
“You are not alone,” Mateo reminded him. “I’ll never forget, as long as you don’t forget me.”
Samsonite laughed. “I don’t think anyone could forget you, Mateo Matic.”
But they did forget somebody. When Mateo woke up the next year, everybody was in about the same positions as they were before. They had decided to sleep in the new shelter, all together. Even though Arcadia hadn’t said that was part of the expiation, they didn’t want to take any risks. There was one person missing, so who would it be? Mateo checked them off in his head as he scanned the still-sleeping faces, the exclusion of which was Paige who was just watching him. Lincoln, Darko, Leona, Aura, and...and, oh no. Samsonite. Samsonite was there, lying right next to Aura. So who was it? Who was gone? He kept looking down the line. Kivi, Paige, and Horace.
Gilbert. It was Gilbert Boyce, a.k.a. The Rogue. He was gone. Damn. Click here for the next installment...