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It was like looking at himself in the mirror. Except that there was no mirror, and he was literally looking at himself. Arcadia had placed him into the body Makarion while Makarion was already being possessed by Gilbert Boyce, a.k.a. The Rogue. Possessionception. This was no ordinary adventure with Gilbert, though. This was the day that everything changed; some things for the better, others not so much. This was the 30th day of April in 1945. This was the day that Adolf Hitler died. This was the day that Mateo Matic made a conscious and dispassionate decision to kill him.
Mateo, now in Makarion’s body, was holding a gun to Hitler’s face. In just a few seconds, Past!Mateo would take the gun from Makarion’s hand, and do the dirty deed. The whole point of this exercise was to decide whether Mateo was willing to change the past, or let things play out as he remembered. If things went according to plan, Mateo would never be born, Leona would be raised by his adoptive parents, and Ed would be reincarnated as Téa. If, on the other hand, he prevented his past self from carrying out the mission, things would revert back to the reality before...or at least something more closely resembling it. Mateo would be born, be turned into a salmon, and accidentally piss off Horace Reaver. Horace would dedicate his entire life to getting back at him, and never get the chance to meet the love of his life, Serkan Demir. Oh my God, Mateo thought to himself. There are too many variables.
“Give me the gun,” Past!Mateo said to the Mateo in Makarion’s body. The first time this happened, he just took it from Makarion’s hand. The script had already been changed. There was no telling what consequences that would leave, and Mateo had yet to decide whether that was the preferable alternative. Past!Mateo spoke again, “I’m here to do this, so let me do it.”
“Wait,” Mateo said. “Maybe there’s another way.”
“If you know of a way out of this...” Past!Mateo trailed off before coming back to it. “Well, I was gonna say that I’m happy to hear it, but I’m not. Hitler has to die, so why are we even standing here?”
Hitler was frozen in place, not by some temporal power, but because he turned out to be a cowardly piece of shit little man with no strength of his own, and had always relied on millions of people following his rhetoric. He was the Donald Trump of the 1940s.
“This isn’t you, Mateo,” Mateo said to his other self. This was weird, even for him. “You’re not a killer.”
“I’ve killed before,” Past!Mateo boasted. “I killed the first Rogue.” Then his face turned, because of course, he wasn’t really proud of that moment.
Present!Mateo recalled what he was feeling in this moment. He was scared out of his mind, but also determined and righteous. That didn’t mean it was actually right. “That’s not the same thing. That was the heat of the moment. You also made that choice on your own. This is being thrust upon you, and that’s not fair. That’s entrapment...the worst kind.”
“Someone has to do it, so it might as well be me,” Past!Mateo said, likely realizing how impoverished the logic.
“No, it doesn’t.” Mateo took a deep breath. I’ll do it.”
“You can’t.” Past!Mateo had a nervous look on his face. Yeah, he did not like seeing himself like this. Was he always this broody? God, he would have to find a way to change that. “The Cleanser sent me. He won’t let it happen any other way.”
“Well, you...you let me deal with him.”
Hitler said some bullshit nothingness in German. Theodore watched them patiently, knowing that it was best to not interject.
“I know you’re trying to prove that you’re better than my first impression of you,” Past!Mateo began, “but you could make things worse. Let’s just go with the original plan. Go ahead and hand me that gun. You can look away if you have to.”
This was Arcadia’s design. She was giving him a choice. Presumably that was to kill Hitler, or to not. But it was more complicated than that. It was not binary. Few things were. It was true that Hitler had to die in this moment. He now knew that for sure. Whatever bad that caused to the timeline, it meant a few extra years without one of the most despicable humans in history. That philosophical hypothetical about whether you would kill Hitler as a teenager was something he would never be able to answer. But this was simple. This Hitler wasn’t a teenager, he was a grown-ass man. The satisfaction from having removed that man from the face of the Earth was too good to pass up. In fact, he was looking forward to do it again. But this was about second chances. He would go on with his life, however long or short that was, and know that he was the man who actually killed Adolf Hitler. Meanwhile, however, most people would believe it to be suicide. A select few—the other time travelers, that is—would think they knew the truth; that he was shot point blank by the Rogue, Makarion Dimitrios. No one else would ever know what really happened here today. He wouldn’t even tell Leona.
The Mateo in Makarion’s body took one last look at his past self and couldn’t help but give him a look of pity, like he was a puppy who couldn’t figure out where the ball his human had purportedly thrown had landed. Then, just like before, he pulled the trigger. From his memory, he had killed Hitler twice. Not even Dean Winchester could brag about such an accomplishment. And the best part about it was that everyone but himself, Arcadia, and probably Gilbert, would go on thinking that Gilbert was the one who actually did it. Hopefully Arcadia wouldn’t use this information against him at some point. And hopefully this slight change in history wouldn’t have some unexpected, and scary repercussions.
Mateo blinked and found himself somewhere else; a garden of some kind. Arcadia was bent over a few feet away, picking something off the ground. “Did I do something wrong?”
“This isn’t math, Mateo,” Arcadia said, standing up and examining her prize. “There is no right or wrong. You did what you did, and now it’s done.”
“You have a better perspective. How did that change affect the timeline?”
“Eh, dead is dead. Very little was affected, except for these.” She handed him what appeared to be reddish mushrooms.
“I don’t understand.”
“I’m joking, you didn’t do this. But what you did was similar to what created, and ultimately destroyed these little guys.” She took the mushrooms back. These are called rust mushrooms. They’re a variation of a different species, I don’t remember either of their scientific names.” She smelled the cap like one would a flower. “The powers that be sent someone back to the 16th century to study the last days of a peoples called the Mississippians. The salmon accidentally introduced a modern spore to his environment and created this...beautiful specimen. She held the mushrooms up to the sunlight. She then carefully drew her hand down at a particular angle and held them on the ground. “Do you see that? There’s some chemical or whatever that scatters the light in a special way, turning the surrounding grass a different color. No plant can do that...nor can any other fungus, for that matter. You see, the time traveling spore latched onto a preexisting species and created a new evolutionary branch, which eventually ended up like this. It’s not important. It’s not medicinal, or hallucinatory, and it’s completely inedible. But it is..beautiful.
“What I’m holding here is a carry-over from an alternate reality. We keep copies of all species from all realities in this dimension. It’s maintained by a lovely couple known as The Horticulturalists. They’re two of the oldest of our kind, and they have dedicated their immortalities to a cause that most people couldn’t care less about. A second salmon was sent to the seventeenth century to do some kind of whatever, carrying a modern seed—completely ignorantly again, of course. This seed mutated a new strain of plant that had a strange consequence for the rust mushroom. It choked the life out of it as it propagated itself. Within a decade, all rust mushrooms were so dead that botanists didn’t even bother recording them. No one knows that they exist, except for the Horticulturalists, and me...and now you.”
“What does this mean?”
“This kind of thing is happening all the time. Salmon and choosers are making minor changes that no one notices, and can’t appreciate. My family could, though. It used to be our job.”
“So this is about them?”
“No, this is about you.” She, both dramatically and casually, crushed the mushroom between her hands and let the spores float around to make more. “Memory is a funny thing. I’ve protected you from forgetting anything that happens from the beginning of the expiations, until the end. But now I’ve sent people into the past, and they’ve changed things. When you return to the island, you’ll find a few major changes you weren’t expecting. Don’t be upset, but you’ll be the one out of the loop this time. Others in your group made their own choices, and you had no control over them.” She stopped talking.
“Please,” Mateo asked of her, “just tell me.”
“Hitler is dead, just like before, but you didn’t kill him, which means your 1975 conversations were different, as were future conversations. This had a ripple effect that I won’t bore you by mapping out completely.”
“Stop dancing around it. I can handle anything now.”
“Your daughter, Kivi. Her origins were complicated, but also now moot. You’ve still erased yourself from the timeline. You were never born, and Leona didn’t meet you until the 2080s, but just the simple act of letting Makarion do what you were meant to do resulted in Kivi never having been born either.”
“I’m sorry. I truly am. When you go back to the island, you’ll have memories of her, but no one else will know what you’re talking about. Likewise, you may not recognize everyone there.” Was that last part good or bad? Click here for the next installment...