Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: July 11, 2126

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Click here for the 2017 table of contents.

About a week and a half after Mateo and Leona left the timestream, most of Vearden’s injuries showed few signs of improvement. There were lots of things to do on his and Angelita’s side of the merge border, and he was constantly trying to stand up so he could do them. This would exacerbate the damage to his body, and Lita would have to try to get him to wait and rest. He had already built for her a crib for her daughter, Brooke, so she was perfectly capable of gathering firewood and berries on her own. Unfortunately, though none of them had any real medical experience, there was a general consensus that nothing could have been done about Vearden. He was going to die no matter what they did, or what he did. The angry alien animal had just been too strong for him, and on day eleven, he succumbed to his injuries and died.
Lita spent most of the next day digging a grave using the sort of bamboo sort of shovel sort of thing that Vearden had fashioned awhile ago. She wrapped Vearden’s body palm-like leaves and laid him to rest. Since none of the others could cross over to the other side of the merge border, Lita picked up several handfuls of dirt so that she could ceremoniously toss them into the grave in their stead. She then filled it back in with her makeshift shovel.
“Did you not try to contact The Gravedigger?” Mateo asked at the memorial service they were holding for his and Leona’s benefit.
“Oh,” Mario said with a lot less energy than Mateo was used to seeing. His eyes were bloodshot and his hair unkempt. His separation anxiety from Lita and his child was getting worse and worse. “I didn’t even think of that.”
Mateo looked around for approval from everyone else. If they were wanting to just leave him as he was, then he would respect that. Honestly, he didn’t know why he hadn’t thought of it last year. They didn’t need a dead body to dig an open grave. The Gravedigger would come to their aid regardless, and might be their best way of crossing the merge barrier. He and Leona started reluctantly desecrating Vearden’s grave while Lita nursed Brooke. Once it was deep and wide enough, Mateo took a deep breath and jumped back into it, careful to not land on Vearden’s remains.

Upon opening his eyes, he could see immediately that he had been transported to The Graveyard. The dirt itself looked like it was composed of a different mixture than anything that could be found on Tribulation Island.
Mr. Halifax, the Gravedigger reached in and pulled Mateo out. “I’m sorry for your loss,” he said quietly.
“He needs to be buried with all the others,” Mateo said back. “So thank you for coming.”
“I’ve told you that I always will. It was a frightful long distance, though. I’m not sure I’ve ever been this far out.”
How far?” Mateo asked.
“Millions of lightyears,” Arcadia said. He didn’t know if she had teleported in, or if she had just been there waiting for him.
“You killed him,” Mateo said to her.
“I did no such thing,” she defended herself.
“Saga was a nurse. In order to fulfill her expiation, I had to deliver Lita’s baby. But that only took a day. When I came back a year later, you needed to give me a different expiation...something else that a nurse might do, such as treating someone’s injuries.”
“I did not hurt your friend, Mateo. Vearden took it upon himself to search for food on the island. That animal was native to that planet, and evolved its behaviors on its own, and according to its environment. I did not create it, I did not place it where it was at the time, and I did not force Vearden to be that close to it.”
“You expect me to believe that it was just a coincidence?”
“Yes.”
“Arcadia, Leona and I are around literally once a year. Mighty interesting coincidence that he spends that entire year being perfectly fine, only getting hurt on the day of our return to the timestream.”
“He was not perfectly fine,” Arcadia argued. “He got hurt all the time. All of them do. Bug bites, hypothermia, insomnia, sprained ankles. These things are happening throughout your interim years. You just don’t know about them because your friends and family don’t want to burden you with them.”
“I don’t doubt it, but these were mortal wounds. No one else has died before.”
“They haven’t, no,” she agreed, “but they have been terribly hurt. Why Téa and Horace both suffered such injuries while they were Saviors. She fell from cliff, and he was hit in the head by a hovercar taking off. Fortunately, they were close enough to medical attention, but not all of them were. Aura almost died from some kind of pathogen in 2113, and Paige was this close to losing an arm when they were cutting down a large tree for its timber. So, you see, Mateo, no world revolves around you. That you were not there to see these happen does not mean they didn’t happen.
“I was intending to force Lita back to the other side of the merge border so you and Leona would have to care for Brooke on your own as part of Saga’s expiation. And then this year, I was going give myself a deadly virus, and subsequently give you a choice. You could either take care of me and save my life, or you could let me die, at which point everyone you had lost would have been returned to you, and the expiations would have stopped. Those were supposed to be your challenges, but once Vearden got hurt, I knew I couldn’t do them anymore, so I just left you alone. Treating him wasn’t technically an expiation, but something you just had to do because of the kind of people you are.”
“Okay,” Mateo said. “As long as you’re telling the truth...okay.”
“You need to remember that coincidences and freak accidents do happen, Mateo. You’ve spent all this time being controlled that you’ve forgotten how random life is. Bad things happen, and I am sorry you had to go through it, as evil as you think I am.”
“I don’t think you’re evil,” Mateo said truthfully. “Just misguided. I want you to know that my offer still stands. You can stop this at any time. If you do, I won’t pursue you.”
“I can’t have that.” She took him in another hug. “What would I do without you, Mateo Matic?”
“So...?” Mateo asked as the hug was leaning a little on the long side.
“So what?”
“Does this mean there’s no expiation this year?”
“Not so fast, buckaroo. Close your eyes.”
Instead of arguing, Mateo just closed his eyes. When she instructed him to, he opened them again to find himself in a third location. He was standing in an upscale Italian restaurant. The tables were all set but no one was there, except for a patient water, and Arcadia. She was now in a sexy but classy champagne-colored dress, holding a black clutch with both hands. She had let her hair down, and applied some tasteful makeup. She smiled at Mateo and snapped her fingers, which magically turned on music.
“I looked up the twenty most romantic songs, found 400 of them throughout the decades, and put them all in a playlist.”

“What are we doing?” Mateo asked, even though he could clearly see the reality.

“This is our third date.” She sat down at the table and pointed to the chair across from her.
Mateo played ball and sat down too. “I’m engaged—wait, how would this be our third date?”
“I decided to skip the first two so we can get to the good part after dinner.”
“I’m not doing that.”
“This is an expiation, you have to do it.”
“You won’t give me Saga back unless I have sex with you.”
She took a drink from her wine. “Well, when you put it like that, it sounds like rape.”
“It is rape.”
“Don’t think of it like that, it’s more like prostitution.”
“Safe prostitutes can choose their clients.”
She flicked her hair over her shoulder to reveal a little more cleavage. “You wouldn’t choose me?”
“I don’t choose anyone other than Leona,” Mateo said.
“This isn’t an integrity test, Mateo. No one knows we’re here.”
“I do not demonstrate integrity only when people are watching.”
She took a particularly large gulp. “Coulda fooled me.”
“What is this?” Mateo prodded. “What do you really want out of this?”
“What? I’m not allowed to be in love with a man because it goes against feminist values? We still deserve love.”
He finally took a drink, but from his water. “We all deserve consent. And we all deserve to not be in toxic relationships. Even if I weren’t with Leona, you and I don’t work. You’re literally torturing it.”
“There you go again using language to make me sound more twisted than I am.”
“If everything you’ve been doing is your sick way of flirting with me then it’s exactly as twisted as I’m making it out to be, maybe even more.”
She authoritatively gestured to the waiter who reached under the counter and retrieved their dinners before walking them over and setting the plates on the table. Arcadia went on, “this is a variation of the virus expiation I had originally planned this year. Instead of death, your choice is love. You can either run off with me, or stay where you are. If you come with me, I’ll give you the rest of the immortality water, and return all those who were lost. You won’t, however, ever be able to see them ever again, ever.”
“That’s a lot of ever.”
“I’m serious.”
Mateo lifted his plate and, without looking, tossed it to the floor like a frisbee, much like he had during the Gulliver’s Travels tribulation. “Oh, me too.”
“If you insist in moving forward with the expiations, they’re gonna get hard. You risk losing that person forever; that is, if you even survive the physical dangers themselves. Can you handle that? If you come with me, at least you’ll have memories of Leona. When I take her from you—and I will one day—and you fail, she will be lost forever.”
“So there’s a chance these things could kill me?”
“Of course,” she said. “Life is just as precious as it’s always been, even with mind uploading.”
“What happens to my friends if I die.”
She shook her head like she hadn’t really thought about it before. “I’d probably just bring them back and go home. If no one misses them, then what’s the point?”
Mateo grabbed his steak knife and stuck it through his own throat before she had any chance to stop him. The blood running down his chest felt colder than he thought it would. His instincts forced him to grasp at his wound and attempt to close it back up, even though this was his choice. He had never been suicidal, but technically he remembered being alive for over four thousand years, so maybe that was enough life for anybody. If it meant protecting his friends, he had to try. The shock of his own actions caused him to lean back and tip over in his chair.
Arcadia lifted the table and pushed it to the side with all her strength, just so she could reach Mateo without going around. She bent down over him. She didn’t even try to stop the bleeding, fully aware that no amount of cloth napkins would be good enough. He was going to die, and there was nothing she could do about it. Or maybe she could. She left him lying there to bleed out, and instead started furiously tearing pictures of famous people who had supposedly dined there off the wall. She wasn’t just being destructive, she was looking for something. Finally, she found it, a big red button that Mateo had never seen before, but looked familiar. She adjusted a few knobs under the button. “Time for another hard reset.” And then she pushed it.

After giving him time to say his goodbyes to Mr. Halifax, and to what remained of Vearden, Arcadia popped in and apported Mateo back to Tribulation Island. Sadly, she transported him to the main side of the merge border, leaving Leona, Lita, and Brooke alone. He spent the majority of the rest of the day walking that border, hoping to find a way back to her, but he never did. When they returned to the timestream the next year, Lita was gone, but her now-talking three-year-old child was still there. Click here for the next installment...

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