Saturday, January 23, 2016

Overwritten: Train Train Go Away (Part IV)

As I’m waiting to board the train, I can hear the woman who sells tickets get into it with a guy who is trying to purchase one at the last minute. As she’s giving him a hard time about his identification, I realize that I recognize him. His name is Mateo Matic. He first disappeared mysteriously in 2014, and then again in 2015, almost exactly one year later. Ever since then, I’ve spotted him hanging with Reaver’s alternate timeline wife, Leona Delaney, but only once a year. I was watching her before Reaver was paying me for it. He must be some kind of time traveler as well. I can’t be one hundred percent sure, but Reaver probably has dastardly plans for him. They might could be friends, but I highly doubt it. If he feels threatened by Mateo when it comes to his theoretical love, then only death will follow. Are my plans failing? Is Reaver falling into the same pattern as before? What am I going to do now?
I board the train, cautiously sit behind Mateo, and flip on the tablet that Micro gave me. She never told me exactly where they want the train to be, or when they want it to be there. I’m just supposed to let the program she wrote run and do absolutely nothing else. But I am going to do something else. I’m going to monitor Mateo and get a better sense of who he is. If I fear that his death is imminent then I’ll pull the plug on the whole operation. I’ll only be able to do this once, though. After I make that move, Reaver will no longer trust me. He doesn’t go on his killing spree in the alternate timeline for the better part of two decades. Anything could happen. Man, I really hope I don’t have to burn this bridge.
Mateo does nothing of note throughout most of the trip, but then someone gets on the intercom and claims that all the frequent stops are just as annoying to them because they have to be there too. Yikes. I adjust my body into a defensive position, worried that they’ll find out that I’m the one causing this. Micro assured me that no one would know, that these kind of scheduling issues used to happen all the time, but I’m still worried. Maybe I should have gone ahead and taken that stage combat class. A man on the other side of the aisle reacts to the announcement, “the difference between us and the crew, is that we are paying for the misery, while they are being paid.”
“So true,” Mateo answers.
“What’s your final destination?” the man asks. Who is this guy? Is he another time traveler? Another investigator? A threat? An ally? Does he know something, or is he just a stranger on a train?
Mateo takes a long time to answer. Either that or he’s ignoring him. I don’t have a great vantage point. I should have sat behind this dude’s seat so that I could secretly see Mateo from there. Rookie mistake.
“I didn’t know it was a trick question,” the man says with a laugh.
“No, sorry. It’s Grand Junction, Colorado.”
“Business or pleasure.”
I see Mateo take a deep breath. “New life,” he says with conviction.
“Ah, interesting. Running from, or just running to?”
Mateo tilts his head and pauses again. He must just be a thoughtful character, not wanting to answer inaccurately or rashly. “Both.” Nice answer; short and sweet.
“Well, I’m rooting for you. I hope you find what you’re looking for.”
“Thanks,” Mateo says, but it doesn’t sound genuine. The train lurches and begins to move again. “What do you do for a living?” He doesn’t sound all that interested.
“I’m a physicist. The name’s Duke Andrews. I assume you don’t have a career at the moment. What’s your name?”
“Mateo. I don’t have a last name anymore, though.”
“Full commitment,” Duke says back. “I respect that.” He really does sound like he respects the decision, if that really is what Mateo is going for. If Mateo’s struggle to buy the train ticket is any indication, his last name is no longer relevant. To perhaps his family and friends, he’s been missing. To the world, and particularly the government, he would no longer exist. Once you’re gone for long enough, they’ll just decide you’re dead. Mateo probably hasn’t reached that point yet, but he will relatively soon.
After another delay, I look at my watch and see that we’re about nine hours behind schedule. I wonder if that means we’re on schedule. I can hear Mateo open a paper map. A paper map. Paper. Guy still uses paper; what a weirdo. Eventually, he stops moving. I have this strange thought that the program I’ve been running does more than just manipulate train movements. Or maybe it doesn’t do that at all. Maybe it’s been sending out a magic signal that’s programmed to rupture Mateo’s brain stem, or some crazy science fiction like that. I stand up and head towards the front of the train so I can get a look while I’m heading for the lavatory. Crap. The lav is behind us. What will my excuse be then? I’m overthinking it, and no one is watching me. Yes, they are. Duke eyes me with suspicion. Or maybe it’s curiosity. I just need to leave. I could have business in another car. What does he know? He doesn’t know. Screw him! I’m going to another car, and he can’t do anything about it. Is the food car up ahead, or is it behind us? No, it doesn’t matter. Just keep walking. My only threat is Duke Andrews, and he can go to hell!
But he’s not the only potential threat to my life as a train schedule hacker. With each subsequent car, the chances that the food car is up ahead decreases. Soon, I realize that it can’t be, and I’m walking forward for no reason. There are other people here, and they are all watching me. They’re all cops, and judges, and time travelers, and “Reaver Enterprises” spies. That’s right, this entire train is full of people who work for Reaver. This is all a big test, and I’m failing. Shit, I have to get back to my seat. But how’s a man gonna turn around? If I just stop in the middle of one of the cars and start heading in the opposite direction, people will be like, dafuq is that guy doing? Because, like I said, they all work for Reaver, so they’re all watching me. Doesn’t matter. If I’ve failed, then I’ve failed. All I can do is go back and keep my head down from now on. Sure, I might be headed towards my death, but I knew that from the start. This train may very well be on a collision course. It could have been designed to kill Mateo, or to kill me. But that would be ridiculous because all the other people on the train work for Reaver too. Surely he wouldn’t kill so many of his own employees. No, stop thinking like that. That’s called paranoia. They don’t all work for him. Maybe half. No, shut up! Nobody works for Horace Reaver. Well, except for me, of course. And maybe someone else. And probably one more for good measure.
I sit back down in my seat and take my anxiety medicine. After a while, I can hear Mateo moving around again. He’s alive. For now.
Duke shuffles his newspaper. He uses paper too. “Welcome back.”
“Where are we?” Mateo asks. He sounds panicked.
“Don’t worry. You’ve not missed Grand Junction yet,” Duke answers in a very comforting voice. It even makes me feel better about possibly sitting in a death tube. “You can go back to sleep. I’ll wake you up.”
“No, I made a mistake. I meant Glenwood Springs. I’m supposed to go to Glenwood Springs!” His voice seems to wake other people in the car. A baby starts crying. Such a terrible mother bringing a baby to a death tube. Oh that’s right. This is not necessarily a death tube, and she does not necessarily—I mean, probably does not—work for Horace Reaver.
“Oh, well you’ve missed that. But it’s okay. You’re starting a new life. Does it matter where? You won’t be that far off course either way.”
“What time is it?” Mateo gets up and desperately looks at his watch. “Oh my God. It’s almost midnight.”
“No, it’s eleven o’clock.”
“I mean a different midnight!” He’s right. It’s almost midnight central time. Maybe this is everything the train schedule manipulation has been leading to. Are we where Reaver wants us to be? Am I okay with that? If we’re not, will he blame me? I can handle myself. What I’m really worried about is him blaming his hacker, Micro. She has no clue what kind of guy Reaver is. She doesn’t know he’s a murderer. I need to get back to Kansas quickly, just in case. Or maybe I’ll call Brian and burn his cover. No, it’s too early. I have to stay in the shadows, but ya know, in a visible way.
The tablet Micro gave me beeps and the train comes to an abrupt a halt. That is definitely not a coincidence. We are where we need to be, which means we probably shouldn’t be here.
“We apologize once more,” says a different the voice on the intercom. “We’re not sure why the train stopped this time, but we are looking into the matter and will have you back on track in no time.”
“I have to get off!” Mateo screams. Yeah, we’re here. He’s scared of this place, wherever it is.
“You won’t be able to,” Duke says. “We’re on a bridge over the Colorado River.” That makes sense. Bridges are dangerous places for trains. Just ask any action movie. This is it. It’s time time to die. I shut my eyes and take a deep breath.
“I’m still on the upper level!” Mateo jumps up and tries to pull his bag from under the seat, but is unable to. He gives up on it and runs for the door, but doesn’t make it. At exactly midnight central, he disappears from sight. Some of the crowd screams while others shudder while others didn’t seem to be looking at him at that moment. Yeah, Mateo is most def a time traveler. I look over to Duke who clearly didn’t know that was going to happen, but isn’t all that shocked by it. He did say that he was a scientist of some kind.
Mateo’s bag. There might be incriminating evidence on it. I can’t let the authorities get there hands on it, but I don’t want Reaver to see it either. I can protect Mateo, even if I don’t really know why. I can keep this secret, if I decide to trust the only other person on this train with any interest in what happens. I sneak over while everyone’s freaked out about a man disappearing in thin air. I take my time and release the bag from its grip on the seat’s frame. I sidestep over to Duke and hand it to him. “This is his. Keep it safe.” My God, I sound like a spy on a park bench. “Tell no one about me.”
“Who are you?” Duke asks.

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