Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: June 13, 2098

Mateo’s predicted, but still surprising, reunion with Horace was going to have to wait. He had a responsibility to speak with his birth mother first. He woke up rather late in the afternoon of June 13, 2098, knowing that it had been two years since she saw him. This was going to be even more awkward than if he had been given the chance to explain himself entirely after first dropping that bomb on her.
“I don’t feel awkward about it,” Aura assured him.
“You don’t find it strange to be speaking to a son you can’t remember from an alternate timeline?” he asked.
“I’ve experienced stranger things.”
Mateo shivered at those words.
“Oh, sorry,” she apologized. “I recognize that your trauma was quite recent for you. It must be difficult, seeing people around you get past events that only just happened. I would find that quite frustrating.”
Mateo nodded gently. “The trauma of the time jumps themselves have become easier to swallow. I met a choosing one who had the ability to keep me in a temporal bubble for five years from my perspective. While there, she taught me some coping techniques. I’ve just not had time to meditate today, but when I do, I’ll have absorbed the time that I missed.”
“You can absorb time?” Aura asked with interest.
“Not literally. Sorry, that was unclear. I just mean that I can redirect short-term memories so that they feel older. It’s a technique the chooser picked up in the future that therapists use to help patients recover from post-traumatic stress disorder.”
“That’s fascinating,” she said. “You’re fascinating. I wish I could remember the reality where I knew you.”
“I don’t know that you do. The price would be too high.”
“No, not by this Blender woman. From what I hear, we can’t trust her. I just mean...tell me about yourself. Tell me about our relationship. Why did you not live with me? Was I a bad parent?”
“You were young,” he began to explain. He then paused to gather his thoughts. “A lot of people thought you were selfish for giving me up, but that’s not what happened. Your own parents were...unhelpful. You knew Randall and Carol from the hair salon. By coincidence, your schedule matched up with Carol’s for a couple months, and evidently you would spend more time than you needed there, just talking. Eventually, they took you under their wing and you became friends outside of the salon. When you found out that you were pregnant with me, they were the first people you told. Over the course of the next nine months, they took care of you, and of me, by extension. When I was finally born, it was a no-brainer. They just kept taking care of me while you took your time to grow up and mature.
“You didn’t sign any documents, you didn’t see a courtroom. We were all just a family. Had you not disappeared, like you evidently did in this timeline as well, I probably would have moved in with you in a couple years. You were ready by then.”
Aura did not speak.
“No, your friends didn’t understand why you remained in my life even when I had Carol and Randall. They thought that was a perfect opportunity to get out of your responsibilities. But you were so wise, so careful. So thoughtful. Carol and Randall weren’t just my parents. They were yours. They were there for you when no one else was.” Now he began to tear up. “They had so much love, and they could no longer manage it between the two of them.”
Aura was tearing up as well.
“I was angry at you for a very long time. For leaving us. They gave you more than I think that version of you realized, and you just threw it away. But they were never angry. No, not them. Not Randall and Carol Gelen. They still had all that love in their hearts, and they raised me to learn to love you again. And they raised me with religion because they knew it was important to you.”
Aura waited, understanding that he was not quite finished.
“I wish they could have been alive to see you return, to see that their faith in you was not unfounded. To see that it was not your fault, that someone else did this to us. To see that they were right.”
“They sound like wonderful people.”
He was now full-on crying. “They were. You would have liked them. They were the same in this reality too. They raised my girlfriend for me. No matter what timeline these people create, those two will always be helping someone.” He wiped some tears away with his sleeve. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to talk so much about them. You asked about yourself.”
“I was asking about you,” Aura corrected.
Mateo nodded and sniffled. “I killed Hitler. That’s who I am. That’s what got me into this mess. That’s what erased me from this timeline, and here I was thinking that that was the worst part.”
She looked at him like a concerned psychologist. “So, what is the worst part?”
“That I didn’t hesitate. I pointed a weapon at a man’s head and set it off. Then I just stood there, like it was Tuesday. Removing you and Leona from my life was punishment for that. From God, or Satan.”
“We’re here now.”
“Exactly. That’s why The Cleanser is still doing this to me. I wasn’t able to suffer from my original punishment so he’s picking up the slack.”
“Mateo, I don’t think that’s what’s happening. You’re not being punished. God didn’t change the timeline, you did. That was a human choice, and as I understand it, you saved thousands of lives by doing it. What the Cleanser is doing to you is also a human choice. And he can be stopped. You just have to keep trying.”
“I’ve been trying. Nothing has worked. He’s too powerful.”
“Well now you have me. And Samsonite, and Téa. You have people who care about you, even if they don’t remember why. You do not have to do this alone.”
“You’re right.”
“It happens.”
“The Cleanser has been pulling me away from the people I love this whole time. He’s kept me isolated and angry. He knows that I can’t defeat him on my own, so he’s orchestrated these tribulations. But why? Why does he care so much about me?”
“He’s afraid of you.”
“I’m just a salmon, what can I do?”
“You own a planet. That’s a pretty big deal for someone like us, isn’t it?”
“You’re right, I do. But only because of The Rogue.”
“Yeah, I’m still not quite clear what his deal is. Is he good, is he bad?”
“He’s a Boyce is what he is.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that he positively detests Horace Reaver.”
“I thought he was dead anyway?”
“We’re time travelers. No one ever really dies.”
“What are you saying, Mateo?”
“Everything that has happened to me is designed to keep me alone, we’ve established that. Even if I overcome that obstacle, he knows who I’ll choose to help me. He knows that I’ll lean on you and Leona for support.”
“He sounds smart.”
“He sounds limited. Horace Reaver’s return was a calculated move. He and Nerakali think that I can never trust him.”
“Can you?”
“More than anyone else right now. Except for Boyce.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to start fighting back. Stay here.” Mateo left his room, ignoring Aura’s protests. He walked down the hall and opened Horace’s door.
“Mateo, how can I help you?” Horace asked, book in hand, reminding him of the time he was reading in Panamanian basement just before murdering Leona.
“I need your door.”
“It’s yours.”
Mateo closed the door behind him and then performed a Constructor knock on it, but he didn’t actually give Baudin enough time to answer. He opened the door to his headquarters himself.
Horace followed obediently.
“Sir, sir!” a man exclaimed. “You cannot come in here without an appointment.”
“I have a standing appointment.”
“Mister Matic, I know that is not true. And that man is not allowed within a hundred lightyears of this place.”
“He’s with me.” Mateo opened the door to Baudin’s office who appeared to be with a client, but there was no time to worry about interrupting them. “I need you to take us to Palace Glubbdubdrib.”
“I’m sorry?”
“This one thing and I’ll never ask for anything again.”
“Mateo, this is not a contest. You can ask me for favors, but I don’t see why you need to—”
“Can you send me or not? I just need a door that goes there. You don’t even have to come with.”
Baudin sighed slightly but pointed to another door. “That closet.”
“Thank you. Come, Horace.”
Mateo opened the closet door and entered the palace. Years had passed since they were last there, and it was obvious that no one had been around to take care of it. Cobwebs and dust littered the floor and furniture. “Crap. I should have been more specific.”
“What is this place?” Horace asked while Mateo was zipping through the hallways in search of the right one. “What are we doing here?”
“We are looking for the magic mirror.”
“I believe you’re mixing metaphors.”
“This is it,” Mateo finally said. He removed a small pocket knife from his handy time traveler’s tote and slit his own finger which he placed on the mirror. “I stand at the gates of life and death. Come forwards. Come forwards, spirits! Here is life. Boyce, rogue agent and trusted friend, smell blood! Smell life! I summon you!”
The mirror adjusted the scenery so that it was showing Makarion in his final moment. He had just revealed to Mateo that he had been the Rogue the whole time. They were just starting to form an understanding, and develop an alliance when the Cleanser somehow leapt into Makarion’s body himself and destroyed it from the inside. Mateo and Horace watched from the other side as the scene played out in slow motion, but then something happened that Mateo never saw the first time around. A figure, like a ghost, lifted itself from Makarion’s body and began to walk away from it. It wasn’t just any Boyce. It was the Boyce. It was the only Boyce that Mateo had ever known.
“Mateo? You’re using the extraction mirror.”
“I am. What is happening? How are you...?”
Gilbert looked back to the exploding Makarion. “It looks like I’m about to die. The mirror was designed only to remove people from the timestream at their final moments, to avoid altering the timeline. Most choosers don’t worry about that, of course.”
“Would you...would you have ever told me that you were Gilbert? I mean that Gilbert was the Rogue. I mean...I don’t understand.”
Gilbert smiled and reached through the magical mirror to place his hand on Mateo’s shoulder for comfort. “I can explain everything, as long as you can explain what the hell Horace Reaver is doing with you.”
“So you can come all the way out of the mirror?”
Gilbert stepped through as proof. “I will have to return one day, but for now, I’m all yours.”
“Like Clara?” Horace asked.
Gilbert laughed. “Ya know, I may just get along with this version of you.”
“Come,” Mateo said. “It’s time to face the raven.”
“Not yet I hope.”

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