Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: July 20, 2135

Click here for the previous installment...
Click here for the 2017 table of contents.

Sometime in the interim year, Darko and Marcy had grown closer, and formed a solid romantic relationship. To everyone else, this seemed perfectly normal, and though Mateo and Leona knew they had been gone for that year, it still seemed far too fast for them. These crazy kids needed to slow down, or burn out. But no, this was totally acceptable, wonderful even. Back in the old days, when Mateo was just starting out, missing important life milestones was one of the first problems that arose. Since then, following the advent of immortality, this became less of a problem. People developed and changed more slowly these days. A several month journey from Earth to a moon of Saturn no longer ended with dying on that moon. It was very easy to go there, spend a lifetime worth of years there, and come back to do something else, or go somewhere new. Soon, people will be going to planets outside the solar system. It will take the first ships decades to get to even the nearest star, but it will be worth it, because that’s nothing compared to the amount of time they have ahead of them. Even after reaching the fastest speeds known to be possible, these trips will take years, but that won’t be a big deal. One day, it won’t be unheard of to take a fifty-year vacation. This is all coming from Leona’s lessons.
As was tradition, the remaining members of their island group were having breakfast together. “Did you know that Arcadia would be moving you here when you first came?” Leona asked of Marcy.
Darko didn’t look pleased. Marcy was content. “I was hoping I would be able to stay,” she answered.
“Why is that?” Mateo asked.
“Last year,” Marcy began, “you carried out the art expiation so that one of Aldona’s family could eventually come back from nonexistence.”
“Right.”
“You didn’t ask what that person’s name was.”
“It was you?”
“Yes,” Marcy replied. “I am Aldona and Gino’s daughter.” She paused to comfort Darko, who was conflicted by the whole thing. Likely grateful for her presence now, but bothered by what Arcadia had done to her. “I was returned early as a gift in good faith. Now you know that it can be done, and that she is not a monster.”
“She is,” Darko argued.
“Honey,” Marcy said to him. “Maybe you should meditate?”
“Yep.” He stood up and walked straight into the jungle. He was changing a lot.
Marcy continued, “I am here to stay until you complete your expiations, but I do not come without conditions. One, Arcadia reserves the right to remove me from time, or simply the island, at any moment. Two, I am not allowed to help with these expiations. Three, if you fail in any one of my family’s expiations, I will be immediately taken out of time again; this time for good.”
“We won’t fail you,” Mateo said. “We will complete these expiations. All of them.”
She smiled. “I appreciate that.”
“Do you know what we will be doing today?” Leona asked.
“You’ll more than likely be working to save my brother, Loris.”
“What was he like?” Mateo asked. He then corrected himself, “is like?”
“A chef!” she said excitedly. “He can cook anything, and it’s always the best thing you’ve ever had.”
Mateo looked down at his food, then to Leona’s, and then just up into space. “I think I know what the expiation is gonna be.”
In the blink of an eye, the scenery completely transformed. They were still on Tribulation Island, at about the same part of the beach as before, but everything else was different. The stage consisted of four tables, three of which were facing the fourth, which was more off to the side. Aura and Lincoln were standing at one of the chef’s tables, Mario and Leona were at another, and Horace and Darko were at the third. Mateo and Marcy were sitting at a smaller table, along with—with...is that? It couldn’t be.
Arcadia was wearing a flamboyant dress, standing between the chef’s tables, and the audience, which were seated on a platform of floating bleachers in the water. Mateo wasn’t sure who these people were, or what they thought they were doing there. She was also addressing a series of stacked cardboard boxes that roughly approximated the shape of a video camera, which was being ‘operated’ by Paige. “Ladies and germs, welcome to the first daily Tribulation Tryouts! As always, I am your host, Arcadia ‘Sweet Stinger’ Preston. It’ll catch on...” She kept holding the microphone, but pretended to be telling a secret by holding her hand to one side of her mouth, “I hope.”
The audience broke out in laughter according to their reaction cues.
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“Please give a round of applause to each of our judges. Ever angry, ever absent, Mateo Matiiiiic! Starving artist, Marcy Calligaris! And our celebrity guest judge...Jaaaaaaames Van Der Beeeeeeek!”
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” James-frickin-Van Der Beek said, smiling with his eyes closed. “It’s an honor to be here, really. Humbled, so humbled. Just don’t make it too spicy, I can’t handle that.”
The audience laughed.
“Seriously,” James Van Der Beek urged, still sporting a smile. “It does not sit well with me.”
The audience laughed even harder.
Now James Van Der Beek stopped smiling. “No, really.”
“Oooookay,” Arcadia went on with her spiel. “Introducing our contestants! She’s a once-mother with a dark past who can’t even remember her own son from an alternate reality; he’s an uptight lawyer who remembers everything, from every reality! It’s Aura and Lincoln! At our second table, we have a father who also can’t remember two of his children, and is so uninvolved with his other son that it’s easy to forget they’re even related; and a little girl who once somehow gave herself kidney disease so that she could trick her unrequited love interest into making her a time traveler! It’s...Mario and Leona! And finally, we have some villain named Horace, and also a time traveler who happens to be named Darko! How original, hashtag-amirite?”
“You are right!” the audience recited back from the teleprompters.
James Van Der Beek put his hand over his mic and whispered to the other two judges. “I don’t understand what’s happening. Where am I again?”
“The future.”
“Right. I’m getting paid, though, right?”
“I don’t know,” Mateo answered honestly.
“Whatever. Better than a Dawson’s Creek reunion.”
“All right, contestants, now for the secret ingredient.” She waited to create a false sense of anticipation, which the audience was pretending to experience. “The secret ingredient is...” They were literally on the edge of their seats, for no logical reason. “...nothing. We don’t do that on this show. Now, as you all don’t know, the premise of this competition is to make something halfway edible using ingredients found naturally on the island. Then the judges have to eat and keep down everything. Yes, that’s right, not only is it a cooking challenge, but also an eating challenge.” She looked over to the judges. “I don’t love your chances.”
The audience sparingly let out a few awkwards laughs. The reaction cues must not have been telling them to do anything.
“Okay, kids,” she instructed the contestants. “Go!” As they ran off to look for the stables of this island, she stopped them, “wait! Bugs.”
“What?” Aura asked.
“I changed my mind. There is a secret ingredient. It’s bugs. You have to include bugs, and it has to be obvious that there’s bugs, and you have to be able to taste bugs.”
The contestants just froze in place.
“Well, go on, go! Find bugs!”
Mateo was unable to help Leona...or anyone, for that matter. All he could do was sit there and play to the audience per Arcadia’s goading. He tried to crack a few jokes, as did Marcy, but they could only do so much. Fortunately, James Van Der Beek was good at stealing the show, and getting everybody to watch him. He eventually got out of his seat and started an impromptu stand-up comedy set, which...could do with a little more work. Meanwhile, his family and friends were rushing around the island, looking for anything people could eat, disappearing and reappearing between the trees. Boar, bananas, fish, berries, these leaves they discovered could be made into an energy tea. They also looked for bugs. In the dirt, and in the sand. They were hard to catch, and ultimately even harder to clean.
At the end of James Van Der Beek’s set, Arcadia thanked him for his service, and spoke to the fake camera, “we’ll come back...after the break.” And then she just stood there, frozen. She literally didn’t move a muscle, likely having trapped herself in a time bubble, just for the effect.
James Van Der Beek narrowed his eyes and stared at her. “How is she doing that?”
“Time travel is a thing,” Mateo said.
“What year is it?”
“2135. Listen, James Van Der Beek—can I call you James Van Der Beek?—James Van Der Beek, are you gonna be able to do the bug thing? This is kind of a life or death situation.”
“Oh yeah, sure, no problem. I’ve been through worse. On the set of Don't Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23, craft services didn’t even always have croutons for their salads.”
“Uh-huh.”
“I’m kidding. I get that this is important. I can stomach it, so to speak.”
“Thank you.”
There’s that nightclub air horn that sounds three times in rapid succession. People often mimic it with their own voices when they think they’re DJs. One of those goes off, signalling to the contestants that it’s time to return and actually begin cooking. They all rush in, holding their baskets of ‘food’ and doing their best to wrangle their bugs. They carry them over to their chef’s tables and begin preparations. As they’re working, Arcadia walks around, commenting on the minutiae of what they’re doing, and asking them stupid questions. She also goes over the judges’ table and asks for their opinion. Rather, she asks two of them, because Marcy’s literally not allowed to speak. She was apparently just placed there to round out the number. Mateo and James Van Der Beek have to explain the process the contestants are going for, and what they might be after with their decisions. Neither one of them is an educated or experienced cook to the calibre of someone who would call themselves a chef, so they have to BS their way through it, which Arcadia has no problem with.
Then came the hard part.
The food was worse than they thought it would be. Sure, these were all things they ate on the regular on the island, but they also had other things, like eggs and fresh Earthan vegetables. Mateo wasn’t sure exactly where it came from, other than a magical pantry down the beach that kept refilling itself every day. The fact is that they never ate a meal with only the island food, and this low level of flavoring made everything seem so bland. The bugs were the worst part, of course, but Mateo was doing okay. He knew the danger in not meeting Arcadia’s expectations. Marcy acted like she ate bugs all the time. James Van Der Beek was a trooper too. Even though he didn’t quite understand who these people were, or what the hell was going on, he forced the food down his throat, and came out the other side a better man than Mateo ever knew. They had to continue making remarks about the food, coming up with meaningless ways the contestants could have done better.
With the wave of her hand, Arcadia apported the audience, the fake equipment, and the furniture away. Now they were all just standing on the beach together. James Van Der Beek was still there. “Okay, the fun’s worn off,” Arcadia told them. “It looks like you’ve passed this expiation. Congratulations.” She looked to James Van Der Beek. “I suppose you want your money.”
“Just take me home,” James Van Der Beek insisted. “That’s all I need.”
“Very well.” She waved her hand and apported him away too.
“Goodbye, Arcadia,” Mateo said, unprompted.
“Have a pleasant evening.” Then she nodded to Marcy. “Marcy. Remember your options.” Then she teleported out of there.
“What did she mean by options?” Mateo asked.
“Don’t worry about it.” Click here for the next installment...

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