Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: August 11, 2157

Lincoln and Darko were still standing in about the same places they were the previous year when Mateo returned to the timestream.
“What is it?” Mateo asked. “What’s happened?”
“Someone showed up, looking to retrieve The Superintendent’s special pen,” Lincoln said. “She said she was from another universe, but I don’t think she traveled in the Crossover.”
Mateo looked down at his hand. “Oh, crap, I still have it.”
“It doesn’t matter. She’s a time traveler. She’ll be back in a morning, and it won’t have been but a few seconds for her. She suggests you get some sleep.”
“We’re all going to sleep,” Darko reminded Lincoln, who was still feeling guilty about what he’d done, by placing his hand on his shoulder.
“Are we in big trouble?” Mateo asked.
“Tonight we don’t worry about that,” Darko said. “Tonight we eat, we drink, we be merry. We sleep. She’s not gonna show up ‘til we’re awake, so don’t set an alarm.”
“Are you sure about that?”
“She was clear. She said that sleep is very important.”
“Who is she?”
Darko shook his head, “she never gave a name.”
“Sandy.” The woman shook each of their hands the next morning. “Real name is Sandra Clausen, but I go by Sandy. Please, no jokes about beach sand.”
Last night, they spent an hour eating fourthmeal, and drinking water, and then they each went to bed. They were not in the mood to be merry, and were all still pretty serious.
“Wow. Tough crowd,” she said, trying to adjust her demeanor accordingly.
“What’s going to happen to me?” Lincoln asked.
“What’s going to happen to us,” Mateo corrected. “We’re a package deal.”
“I don’t know.” She looked at her watch. “In a few minutes, he’ll be asleep, and I’ll be able to channel his very thoughts. I’m just the vessel. I am going to need that pen back, though.”
Mateo took it out of his pocket and started handing it to her, but then pulled back. “Would it be wise for us to maintain leverage?”
“Mateo,” Darko urged, “just give it back.”
“It’s obviously important. I don’t think we should just throw it away. I don’t think we can afford to.”
She looked at him like she wasn’t impressed. Suddenly a man appeared behind Mateo and swiftly snatched the pen from his hand. He gave it to Sandy. “Thank you, Mister Casales. You were right, I couldn’t do this one alone.”
“What is it you do?” Mateo asked, knowing he had lost the pen gambit, and that it was time to move on.
“I am a creator of worlds.”
“You’re from Gaius’ universe,” Lincoln guessed.
“Yes,” she said. “But my bloodline is from a dif—” She realized the thief was still at her flank. “You do not need to protect me, Elías.”
“I’m not so sure that’s true,” Elías said.
She nodded and scanned the treeline. “I’m sure Valerio is somewhere in a perch, watching everything here. This is a private conversation.”
“Very well,” Elías said, leaving.
“You’ll have to forgive my associate,” Sandy said. “He spent quite a bit of time in prison, so open spaces make him nervous.”
Mateo was just worried about this second associate, perched somewhere in a tree.
“Oo, he’s ready. Mister Lohner cannot travel to other worlds, not even through the Crossover, so he has sent me in his stead. But once I open the channel, it will be him all the way. Speak to him as if he were really here. Please do not be alarmed, and do not condemn him for this. I do this sort of thing all the time, and I do not a consider it a violation—thank you, Sandy,” she said in a lower tone, like they were just conversing in a business conference call. “I’m glad we could schedule this so everyone could be here.”
“Gaius,” Mateo said, almost accusatorily. This wasn’t the first time he he had spoken with someone via someone else’s voice, so it wasn’t all that strange.
“Mateo,” he said back. “Congratulations on your win. You bested your enemy once more. Unfortunately, this one will not become a friend later on. It’s sad, really, I could have used her for more stories.”
“Sorry to disappoint you.”
“No, it’s quite all right. It had to end this way. This is what we in the business call narrative symmetry. I think.”
“I thought it was irony,” Darko said.
“That too,” Gaius agreed. “As a reward, you will tomorrow see all of your friends returned to you.”
“No more expiations?” Mateo hoped.
“One more expiation. You never got to do one for President Puppy here.” He gestured towards Lincoln.
“That will not be necessary,” Mateo said. “Just keep him here with everyone else.”
“That I cannot do.”
“Can’t...or wont?”
“Won’t.”
“Your damn story.”
“Hey, I got three more installments before this wraps up, I gotta do something with them.”
“Well, what am I gonna have to do to get him back? Are the others going to be able to help?”
“I don’t see why not, but I do not know what the challenge will be.”
“Let me know when you figure it out.”
Gaius nodded with Sandy’s head.
“Is that all?” Darko asked passive-aggressively.
“No, that was just the reward. You still need a punishment.”
“Punishment for what?”
He held up his pen. “Do you know why this thing has power?”
“Magic,” Mateo assumed.
He smiled. Then he broke the pen into pieces, and let them fall to the ground. “It had power...because I gave it power. I wasn’t lying when I said you people had free will. President Puppy, you chose to erase Arcadia from the timeline.” He held up his hands pseudo-defensively. “I am beholden to your whims. You wanted her gone, you had in your possession something you believed would send her away...and so it did.”
“The pen is nothing?” Lincoln asked.
“The pen is me. I am the God. I erased her for you, because you thought you were erasing her.”
“Then what’s the problem?” Darko questioned. “If the pen was meaningless, and it was you the whole time, why would Lincoln need to be punished?”
Gaius made Sandy’s face all serious. “Because I wrote myself into the story, and I brought three of my characters into my world. Then one of them stole from me, which made me look like a fucking idiot!” He paused for effect. “I’m punishing you, because I can. Because I want to. Next year is going to be wildly different. I had plans for you, Matty-boy. You were gonna sacrifice yourself. Arcadia was going to give you a choice after you had all the expiations finished. She was gonna make you lose one person from the island. She was gonna come up with some bullshit loophole for this. She would think she was so clever, making sure she stipulated that you couldn’t choose her. What she didn’t count on, was you choosing yourself.”
“That sounds like him,” Darko said. “What went wrong?”
“What went wrong is that Arcadia’s gone, dumbass. I haven’t figured out how intelligent you are, Donnie, that’s why you’re all over the place.”
“What are you doing instead of that?” Mateo asked, trying to come back from the tangent.
The self-proclaimed God put a smile Sandy’s face. “I’m just gonna do it myself. No choice. No free will. Not this time. I’m going to erase you from reality, just like your friends. The difference is, there will no expiations to get you back. And no one will remember you. Not even Leona, not even Vearden. After tomorrow, you’ll be gone.”
“You can’t do this!” Lincoln cried.
“Pretty sure I one-hundred-percent can,” he said, this close to letting out a maniacal laugh. “Just be grateful I’m giving you tomorrow.” He took another pen from his pocket. “I could take you anytime I wanted.”
“You don’t have to do that,” Darko said, stepping in, worried about there being some struggle.
“Is there anything we can do?” Lincoln pleaded.
“Literally no. How does it feel to be normal? I told you I was gonna take away your power, and I did. You won’t remember him either. I recommend you take solace in that. In one year’s time, you won’t be angry anymore. And you, Mateo...you’ll feel nothing.”
“What happens to Leona?” Mateo asked.
“She’ll be fine,” Gaius answered. “I mean, she won’t be fine, but she’ll survive.”
“Can you not break her out of our pattern? Once I’m gone, can you not give her that? For me? One favor.”
“I’m not gonna lie to you. I’m not doing that. She stays as she is.”
“Worth a shot.”
“Indeed.”
“If you can’t do that, maybe you can do something else,” Mateo tried again.
“What’s that?”
“Give them back today,” Mateo requested. “Return the missing now, instead of waiting until tomorrow.”
He thought this over. “That I believe I can do.”
“Thank you,” Mateo said solemnly, humbly, defeated.
“Say goodbye,” Gaius instructed.
“Goodbye.”
Sandy’s body started swirling, like it was slowly becoming liquid, then it faded away, and she was gone.
“We have to do something,” Lincoln said. “I’ve lost my powers, it’s true, but I still remember a lot. There’s something called the Incorruptible Astrolabe. It can fix problems with reality. Last I heard, The Forger had it. Now, he hid it somewhere safe, but I think we can—”
“Linc,” Mateo interrupted. “Lincoln. It’s over. Whether I consider him to be a god or not, he has power. We can’t stop this. I’m just going to enjoy my last two days.”
Darko started tearing up.
“I’ve been alive for thousands of years, my friends. I will be okay. Just watch over Leona and Serif for me.”
“We can do that,” Darko promised.
Mateo smiled warmly as Baudin’s buildings started coming back into focus. “Today is the day we celebrate. Tomorrow...is also for celebration. The day after that, is up to you.”
As the buildings and the people began fading into view, Darko and Lincoln faded away. Reality was rewriting itself, putting everything back to the way it was. A lot of people appeared that he didn’t know, showing that this was once more the hub of the time traveler underground. Mateo started walking around, occasionally noticing people he recognized, moving about as if nothing had happened. Téa was just opening her shop for the day. Aura and Samsonite were helping assemble a mannequin. Horace and Lita were playing a game of catch in front of the Hall of Records. Paige was taking photographs of people. When asked about it, she said she was responsible for contributing to the salmon and chooser files that The Archivist keeps. James Van Der Beek was one of them. Darko and Marcy were enjoying the day on their front porch, while their daughter, Dar’cy was presently visiting friends in Sutvindr, with Lincoln.
There were a few people that weren’t there, though. All of Marcy’s family had been returned to them, except for Nestor, but were living somewhere on Earth. Saga was on a freelance mission in 1947 Bangladesh, and Mario was already gone for the day, saving people’s lives throughout history. Xearea, now almost seventy years old, had resumed her duties as Savior, teleporting all over Earth. Her job was much easier now, as people were far more capable of protecting themselves from freak accidents. Though Baudin had moved his offices to Tribulation Island, having the apparent memory that this was several years ago, he was at a work site at the moment. No one seemed to know where Gilbert was, and no one seemed to know who Kivi was. She had been erased from the timeline once again, which was sort of her modus operandi.
“Mateo,” came Leona’s voice from behind. “There you are. We’ve been looking all over for you.” She jogged up to him, Serif in tow.
“Hello, love,” Mateo said.
“Something feels wrong,” Leona said. “This all looks familiar, but I’m also experiencing fragments of memory from the island looking nothing like this.”
“Come, let’s have brunch,” Mateo said. “I’ll explain what I can.”

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