Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: June 10, 2095

Mateo had no way of getting off of Tribulation Island. Rather, he had no way to get back to Earth at all. The stargate never opened a portal for him, no matter what he did. He tried concentrating on his wish, running fast, running slow, meditating beforehand. Hell, he even tried closing his eyes and walking backwards. He tried to summon The Chauffeur with a slip of paper, but Dave never did teach him proper protocol, so maybe he was ignoring it. He also tried digging a grave to jump into. He sprained his ankle, but got nowhere.
The Cleanser could have gotten him out and back to Leona, but was obviously choosing not to. Mateo could watch Leona for short periods of time through the magic mirror. She was in a jungle somewhere, possibly even on the same planet. She had to cut off her own legs to save the rest of her body from an infection. He didn’t actually witness it, but he saw the aftermath. The mirror seemed to need time to charge in between uses. He didn't know whether it operated on solar energy or, like...temporal power? He just left it on the beach and it would be ready to show him how hopeless he was in about a day. One thing he eventually learned was that Leona never wanted to see him again, so he just gave up.

On what must have been June 8, 2093, he jumped forward to 2094. And then at the end of that day, he moved on to June 10, 2095. Things were back to normal; total shit. At present, he could see the Cleanser casually strolling along the beach, letting the tide tickle his shins, and enjoying the alien sunset. Mateo just sat with his raw fish and watched. Yeah, he took to not cooking his food sometimes, just to see how the other half lived. It wasn't bad.
“Nice day, isn’t it?”
“It was okay,” Mateo replied. “Fish?”
“I usually get my salmonella from other places.”
“As you wish.”
The Cleanser just laughed, apparently unaware that Mateo had secretly witnessed his and Leona’s conversation in the hospital. “Have you learned your lesson yet?”
“That I’m alone? Yes.”
“Oh, was that the lesson? If you say so, I’ve been bored with this whole thing for a while.”
“Does that mean you’re gonna leave us alone?”
“Technically yes, technically no.”
“When you see me next, I’ll be unaware of this conversation.”
“Ah,” Mateo said, “you came here out of order.”
“Yes, I’ve been enjoying the universe for the last couple millennia, but at some point, I’ll have to go back to finish it all.”
“Are you referring to your own death?”
“Yes,” the Cleanser said. “It is inevitable. I’ve tried avoiding it by changing history, but you end up garnering a powerful ally that even I can’t defeat. I managed to escape just before my last breath, but it can’t last.”
“You’re The Impossible Girl.”
“Mister Matic, I’m impressed. You so often prove yourself to be completely out of touch and uncultured, but here you are making pop culture references.”
This was an echo of something Horace Reaver once said to him, but Mateo was too tired to care. He just moved on, “do I have a tribulation today?”
“Do you want one?”
A little. “No.”
“I can tell you’re lying. I knew you would grow to love them.”
“I’ve not,” Mateo protested. He didn't particularly enjoy risking his life for someone else’s amusement, but he also didn’t know what he was supposed to do with his life. Everyone he ever knew was either dead or physically so far beyond him that they had in nothing in common. Or they were evil, or they were Leona. Or they didn’t remember him, or they were time travelers. Tribulations were dangerous, but they were also challenging, and that was what life was about.
“Don’t worry, it doesn't make you a bad person. I see now that the worst part about them was having Leona in danger. If you agree to continue under real threat of death, I promise to keep her away from it completely. I won’t even go visit her.”
“Last time you promised me something, you went back on your word.”
“Hey, The Blender is stronger than she looks.”
Mateo said nothing.
“I really won’t. Leona will be safe. I'll even protect her from others.”
“What about the other version of you, the one I’m to see next?”
“Well, I’ll take care of him. Don’t you worry your pretty little face.”
“Very well. I accept your terms.”
“Lovely.” He clapped his hands out of joy. “It’s been awhile since I’ve done one of these, and I'm itching to, just once more. I’ll make it easy, though.” He rubbed his hands together like he was trying to make fire. “What could it be, though?”
Mateo waited patiently.
“Oh, I know!” the Cleanser exclaimed at last. “We’re gonna run into some intellectual property issues if you keep using the stargate to go back and forth between planets. We need to build something we have the legal right to use.”
“The hell are you talking about?”
“How’s that?”
“They’re interstellar transport machines that use dematerialization plus simplex dimensional falling. They’re from the—”
“No, I know what they are and where they're from, but why would we be able to use them but not stargates?”
“Oooh, it’s just this thing.” He quickly changed the subject. “Tell me, have you ever met Baudin?”
“No, but I've heard of him. I assume he’s The Engineer, or maybe The Architect?”
“No, those were taken, but good guesses. We call him The Constructor. You’ll like him. He’ll build you a nice house here too if you want it.”
“Why would I need a house here?”
“This is your territory now, did you not realize that?”
“You inherited it from Boyce.”
“It’s special, just like Easter Island, or the Great Pyramid of Giza. You are free to do with it as you like.”
“What makes it so special?”
“It’s a near exact duplicate of Earth. No one made it, it just happened.”
“I see. Weird.”
“Congratulations on your new home. Your tribulation, should you be forced to accept it, will be to assist Baudin in the construction of a Nexus replica.”
“As long as you’re not forcing him to do it.”
“That won’t be a problem. He loves his job. Does it for free; doesn’t have to.”
Mateo followed the Cleanser up to his little cottage and waited as the Cleanser knocked on the door. He didn’t just knock a few times like normal. It was a special code; not shave and a haircut, but in the same vein. A man opened the door with a smile. Behind him, Mateo could see a lavish lobby to a beautifully designed building.”
“Can I help you?” Baudin asked.
“We would like to procure your services,” the Cleanser said rather politely.
Baudin stepped one foot on the outside and looked around. “This is Boyce territory.”
“Not anymore, he gave it to this guy.”
Baudin looked at Mateo. “A salmon?”
“Indeed,” Mateo answered.
“Works for me.” He grabbed a tablet from a nearby table and came out. “Why don’t you show me where you want me to put it?”
“You two have fun. I have an appointment with death,” the Cleanser said with the tip of an imaginary hat. Then he disappeared.
“You do know he’s just making you comfortable so you’ll be easier to manipulate?”
Mateo nodded. “Might as well enjoy it anyway, right?”
He smiled wider. “You and I are gonna get along just fine.”
While Baudin was examining the construction site, and drawing a sketch on his tablet, Mateo decided to engage in conversation. “I’ve heard your name before.”
“Perhaps you’ve heard of my work,” Baudin said. “I built The Gallery, The Constant, The Agora, Palace Glubbdubdrib...”
“What about Sanctuary?”
He stopped sketching for a moment. This was a sensitive subject for him. “That was not technically me.”
“Do you remember being possessed by The Rogue? Were you conscious?”
“I was not aware of my actions at the time, but once he left my body, I returned to surface level with full memories of everything he had done in my name.”
“What did he do? Did he kill a lot of people?”
“Oh no, nothing like that. He just used me to do what I would have done anyway. You would think that I would feel violated by having been possessed, but I felt no sense of helplessness. Once those memories came to me, they felt like a book I had just read; like the actions had been done by someone else, which they had. No, the real violation is that people treated him as if he were me. Few were aware of the true identity of the man in this body during that period, so they have an impression of me that I cannot change. It’s like...” He searched for his words. “It’s like when fans of a show or movie meet the actors responsible for characters they’ve watched, and have trouble teasing fiction from reality. I’m just an actor. Whatever thoughts someone has of me during that time I don’t deserve. That was just a character I played once.”
“I understand. I mean...I don’t understand, but I feel for you.”
“Yes, you would. The Cleanser has been making you play a part for weeks hasn’t he?”
“He has, yes, but it’s different. I do have a choice.”
Baudin removed what looked like a stake from his tablet, holstered in there like a stylus. “Choice is an illusion, my friend. Whether human, salmon, or chooser, you are being controlled by someone else. Everybody answers to their own powers that be.”
“That’s a level of negativity I cannot allow myself to surrender to.”
“And I admire you for that.” He jammed the stake in the ground then activated it with a switch. It started blinking and beeping. “My job is done. By the time you return to the timestream next year, it’ll be ready and waiting for you.”
“That’s it?”
He shook his head once. “That’s it. I may have left you a gift or two.” He winked and extended his hand.
Mateo shook it. “I thank you.”
“You remember my knock, right? Let me know if you need anything. I sometimes give tours of my facilities, and a position may be opening up on my staff.”
“I would be honored. Maybe after I’m done with this tribulation business.”
Baudin disappeared through the cottage door, leaving Mateo to finish out his day.

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