Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 25, 2079

What Mateo found out upon jumping back into the timestream was that Saga, Vearden, and even Harrison were responsible for building a scale replica of the Colosseum. It was a magnificent sight, one he felt oddly fortunate to have experienced, even though it wasn’t real, and there were far better ways to see the original in a world with salmon. Though he felt a great deal of anxiety about what he was going to have to do—whatever that was, it would involve killing—he tried to look at it from an outsider’s perspective. People die all the time, and yes, survivors become sad about it, but then they move on. Unless the death affects them personally, it goes no further than a social media post with sad face emojis. Mateo was going to have to kill someone today. It was either them or Leona. He would have to choose the lesser of two evils, and he had to believe whoever he killed would choose the same thing in his place. In fact, that person might have been given the same options.
Mateo had only rewatched the first Gladiator movie once. It was really long, and he didn’t care much for the story. It was like they were trying to remake The Count of Monte Cristo without all the most important parts. Why it received such high praise was something he didn’t understand the first time he saw it way back when. It wasn’t terrible, but it also wasn’t revolutionary. He certainly wasn’t a fan of Russell Crowe either. Mateo read online the various ideas for a sequel, the majority of them pulling the franchise towards more fantastical directions. There was one idea where the main character would continue his warrior ways in the afterlife. Mateo didn’t know if the afterlife was real, or if salmon were sent to their own special corner. Anything was possible at this point, and the chances of him not being able to escape this life even following death were already high enough due to reincarnation.
Makarion led Mateo down the ramp to an underground area where he was to wait until it was time to fight. Hours later, Saga, Vearden, and Harrison came down as well, apparently having been busy with other things. “We keep running into each other,” Mateo said with his hand held out. “We’ve yet to officially introduce ourselves, I believe.”
Vearden shook and said, “Vearden Haywood.”
“Saga Einarsson.”
“I’m sorry you two got dragged into this,” Mateo said with the full understanding that it was not his fault. “And I’m sorry you got dragged back, Harrison.”
“What’s a deprecated android like me gonna do in a world like this anyway?” he asked, both playfully and seriously.
“You two won’t have to fight, right?” Mateo asked.
“We’ve not been told as such,” Saga said. “But The Cleanser has yet to arrive.”
“I’m here,” the Cleanser said, having appeared at some point recently. “You won’t have to fight. This is for the prisoners, and Mateo.”
“Who are the prisoners?” Mateo asked.
“You’ve seen a lot of them,” the Cleanser began. “When you were actually in the prison?”
Oh, that’s right. One of The Rogue’s early tribulations was in a prison evidently designed to house salmon and choosers. He and Leona first had to reenact the escape from The Shawshank Redemption, before segueing into a show called Prison Break, until finally just having to improvise by letting everyone out of their cells.
“That was the first time you killed someone, Mateo.”
“I killed no one on that day,” Mateo argued. “We found Darko who threaded us back in time through a security guard’s hat.”
“What do you think happened to that security guard?”
Oh no. He hadn’t killed anyone directly, but the riot was dangerous. They didn’t know anything about those prisoners. Any or all of them could have been killers. “Are you serious?”
“I am, yes,” the Cleanser replied. “Don’t worry, doesn’t bother me. Except that they did make some changes to the facility that would make it more difficult for me to escape again.”
“You’ve been imprisoned there?” Vearden asked under a glimmer of hope that it might happen once more.
“Of course I have. I’m crazy.” He gestured all around him. “Just look at this place. Who the hell does something like this? The original was used for, like, a thousand years. We’re gonna use this once and then just walk away. That’s weird, and I do recognize that.”
“Have you thought about getting help?” Saga suggested. “Maybe dropping this whole killing all time travelers crusade?”
The Cleanser let out his best villainous laugh. “Where’s the fun in that?” He walked up the ramp and into the gravel field. In a weird transatlantic accent worthy of the original, he yelled as loud as he could, “are you not entertained!” No audience was there to hear it.
Little by little, prisoners were sent into the staging area. Each time one appeared, they would make a popping sound like one would hear in a smartphone video game; one of those with micropayments and literally no end. Did those still exist? He didn’t recognize any of the others. During the prison break, they were just trying to survive, so there was no time to memorize faces. That might have been useful, though. It could be a subordinate rule attached to the one that said, keep track of everything you do, and everyone you meet.
The prisoners did not seem surprised to be there. Perhaps the Cleanser or Makarion had filled them in on the situation. How they got them out of the prison was the interesting thing, though. The Cleanser indicated that he wasn’t involved with the facility, so either he struck a deal, or he really was just too powerful for anyone to stop. But that little line he said about the prison being dangerous for him was a slip. He did have some kind of weakness, and Mateo would need to find a way to exploit that. Or rather, he would need to get Leona back so that she could figure it out for him.
Some of prisoners greeted each other while others started to stretch and walk around with a little more freedom than usual. One guy held his arms to his side out at a curve like he was ‘posing at a gym for all da hotties’. As he flexed his time traveling muscles, the space around him rippled. A man started teleporting around, but he kept looking over to where he wanted to go, so he could probably only go as far as his eyes could see, unlike say Daria or Makarion. It also seemed like he was having trouble getting back into the swing of things. He kept tipping over and running into walls. He missed his mark once and ended up teleporting to right under the vaulted ceiling two stories up. A woman reached out her arms towards him, sending a pulse of energy. The falling teleporter nearly froze in place and started heading towards the ground at a slower rate, much like when Mateo and Leona were watching Prince Darko get hit by the sign in the hurricane. She released him from the temporal bubble after he had reached the ground. “Thanks, Missy.”
“You need get a better handle on that, nightcrawler,” Missy said.
“Wait,” Vearden exclaimed with excitement, “is he really named Nightcrawler? Is he the real Nightcrawler!” It must have been a pop culture reference.
The teleporter laughed. “If I were, I would have been able to stick to the ceiling.” He shook Vearden’s hand. “My real name is Curtis. That’s just a coincidence.” He paused for a moment in consideration. “I think it is, at least.”
“Are you all choosers?” Mateo asked, wanting to fully understand his competition.
“We are, Mr. Matic,” the man who could ripple space said in a very low voice. “It is quite a pleasure to meet you.”
“Likewise, I’m sure.”
He chortled. Michael Clarke Duncan. That’s who he sounded like. “Believe me, it is not.”
“Well, I don’t know what you did to land yourself in jail, but—” Mateo tried to say.
Some other guy interrupted them by announcing to the ether, “I’m ready. Let’s get this thing started.” He stretched his arms out towards the battlefield.
“Glaston, no!” Missy yelled, but it was too late.
As Glaston pulled his hands towards his chest, the battlefield moved towards them. Or maybe the he pushed them all out towards it. Whatever he was doing, it was similar to how Mr. Halifax, The Gravedigger was able to mash the graveyard up with some other location so that the two points in space were sitting on top of each other.
The Cleanser didn’t really laugh. He actually said, “ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!” as words. “If you’re ready then I’m ready!” He was sitting in the little emperor box, whatever that was called.
“Get back inside,” Mateo ordered to Saga, Vearden, and Harrison.
“I can help,” Harrison claimed.
“I suspect that androids are against the rules,” Mateo volleyed. “I don’t want to screw this up. I just want to keep my head down and protect my family. You protect those two.”
“Very well,” he answered with a tip of an imaginary hat. “Until we meet again.”
The Cleanser lifted his arm up and snapped his fingers, apporting Mateo to his side.
“What’s happening?” Mateo asked, fearful of being so close to, and so alone with, his deadly enemy.
“You didn’t think you were Maximus in this story, did you? Ha-ha-ha,” he said again. “You’re Commodus.”
“What does that make you?”
He focused his eyes on the prisoner crowd below. “The Roman gods.” Then he raised his voice so that all could hear, “a fight to the death! Only one lives!”
The battle was horrendous. Some of the fighters were clearly not killers, but others had no problem with maiming or taking lives. Some were able to use their powers to their advantage while others were not so obviously choosers. Curtis teleported all around the amphitheatre, including up in the seats, but he was not the only teleporter, and a far more violent one was able to take him down eventually. Missy could only hold onto one temporal bubble at any one time, but she used it expertly, moving across the group to prevent anyone from getting too close. The space rippler, however, was able to send out a beam of energy towards her from a distance after concentrating hard enough. She was torn into a million pieces in the exact same way that the Cleanser had murdered Leona’s stepmother, Melinda.
Mateo tried to look away from all the death and destruction, but there was no avoiding it. The Cleanser was able to manipulate his perspective so that the battlefield literally appeared no matter where he looked, even somehow when he closed his eyes.
“You are going to watch this. It is why you are here.”
“To what end?”
“To show you.”
“Show me what?”
“That you...are powerless. You cannot stop what’s coming. You cannot stop what I do. I am the Cleanser, and I will rid this world of time travel one person at a time. Or several, as the case may be.”
“Why not just kill me now?”
“Reaver warned me to kill you first.”
He looked away from the battle, which was quite nearly over. “Would you listen to advice from a man like Horace Reaver?”
Good point, he probably wouldn’t. “If the situation called for it.”
He smiled as the last two choosers remained. Glaston had just drawn a pillar from the other side of the arena to slam into the third chooser’s body. The rippler sent a beam towards him, but only one strong enough to knock him to the ground. He towered over him and readied himself to send the death blow.
“Haaaaaaalt!” The Cleanser commanded.
The rippler stopped and looked up.
“You know what to do,” the Cleanser said to Mateo. “Either Lucius kills Glaston, or I kill Lucius. You are the chooser now.”
Knowing no way out of his predicament, Mateo held out his fist, trying to decide which one would die.
Lucius lifted his hand to stave off the decision. “I will not be responsible for you sending another man to his death!” he called up to Mateo. “You are better than us! Do not let this...ghoul steal that from you!” He closed his eyes and began to ripple the space around him as he had upon first arriving. Glaston scooted as far from him as he could in spite of his injuries. Lucius began to yell in his beautiful low voice as time tore him apart per his own directive until he no longer held a voice, because he no longer existed.
The Cleanser was seething as he breathed in deeply through his nose. “I will allow it.”

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