Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: June 15, 2100

Mateo spent the rest of the 21st century poring through thick and dusty books. He read classics like The Count of Monte Cristo, and novels that had been published after he began jumping, like The Last Refuge. He didn’t have to read one all the way through before being assigned another one, and he wasn’t always told to start at the beginning. There seemed to be no connection between them, though Mateo kept waiting for The Cleanser to reveal some bizarre mutual theme. But then he was ordered to read a math textbook, and a technical manual, and even a brochure. Apparently this tribulation wasn’t about the stories themselves, but about the work he was putting into reading them, much like the Stranger Things tribulation.
Then something even weirder happened. Following a night of rest and a jump to June 15, 2100, Mateo was taken to participate in a holographic Tai chi class. It was the calm and clarity from the exercises that helped him realize what was happening. This was not really a tribulation. It was a training montage, but one that he had to experience in real time. “Are you recording this?”
“Why would I be recording this?” the Cleanser asked.
“I figured you would edit it together and play it for all your evil friends.”
“That’s a stupid idea, Mateo.”
“Then it’s right up your alley.”
“Good one. No, I’ve recently watched this movie called Doctor Strange.”
“Yes, I’ve seen it. I’ve seen all of those.”
“So you know that all kinds of trippy spacetime stuff goes down.”
“This is true, but I thought you weren’t into movie-based tribulations.”
“I have the right to make an exception.”
“You have no right at all! This is immoral, don’t you see that?”
The Cleanser shrugged his shoulders. “Eh, eye of the beholder.”
“No,” Catholic Mateo said.
“Either way, we’re about to have a lot of fun.”
“Eye of the beholder.”
“Touché.” He waved his arm in front of him and opened another spark portal. “I’ve called upon an old mutual friend of ours to help us build a playground. I’m not ashamed to say that he possesses a particular temporal power that I do not.”
“Kayetan?” Mateo asked as he casually walked through the portal.
“Very good,” the Cleanser answered. “You’re getting smarter.”

Mateo never actually saw The Merger, Kayetan Glaston. He must have been too busy orchestrating the city’s temporal obstacle courses. He found himself standing at home plate in a baseball diamond. In the distance, and in the sky, streets folded over and buildings warped into themselves. Cars disappeared from one side and appeared from another. It was a beautiful recreation of a particular chase/fight scene from the first Doctor Strange live-action film.
The Cleanser pointed to the building about 200 feet away. “Your task is to make it to the FBI building. You won’t be fighting demon-worshiping bad guys, and you won’t have any help, but it will be difficult and interesting.”
A normal person in this position would run straight for the finish line, but Mateo could already see space shifting around them in unpredictable ways, and it was only going to get worse. If he had any hope of reaching his destination, he would have to be just as unpredictable. He turned to face the building and prepared to start running. He could just feel the Cleanser’s sinister smile from the edge of his view. Just before taking off, Mateo spun around and ran in the opposite direction.
“Like I said!” he heard from behind him. “Smart!
A sidewalk swung in front of him and continued to spin clockwise as he ran across it. It slid out from under his feet to be replaced by the narrow ledge of a single-story building. As he kept running down it, the ground below stretched away and the building tipped over towards it. He hopped down and kept going, now on the wall leading up to the edge, the gravelly roof itself right next to him. The perpendicular ledge up ahead blinked away, revealing open space which Mateo choose to dive right into. As he was falling headfirst towards his death, the whole world flipped over, altering the direction of gravity in respect to his movement. The Cleanser didn’t want him dead, he wanted to be entertained. That was all that mattered to him. He continued to shoot upwards before losing his momentum and beginning to fall back towards the new direction of down. After only a few feet of this, a street appeared under him. Cars drove all around him, crisscrossing and rolling around all axes. He rolled himself, dodged, and even slid across the hood of one vehicle like a 70s TV cop.
A door to a small shop felt like the right call at this point. He burst through it and ended up in a bathroom. The mirror had been transformed into a widow to the other side of the city. He pulled himself onto the vanity and jumped through it. As he ran, the buildings and streets around him flew around. They replaced each other like overlapping curtains over a stage. The scene changed dozens of times, forcing him to zig and zag to avoid roadblocks and other impediments. At one point, the road became like fluid, rolling up and down in waves. Mateo frequently lost his balance and injured himself against objects, but he never stopped.
He could just picture the Cleanser and Kayetan in a control room of some kind. Kayetan is wearing headphones with a microphone and a white shirt with a black tie. He’s dabbing sweat from his forehead in between manipulating a joystick and frantically typing in macros on a keyboard, constantly adjusting time and space. The Cleanser stands at his flank, watching the progress on a giant screen in front of them. “He’s good,” one of them says. “Oh, he’s real good.”
Too good,” the other one agrees.
And then the Cleanser says, “give him something to run from.”
“Yes, sir.” Kayetan reaches over and lifts a plastic cover from a big red button. He hesitates over it for a few seconds, but then he composes himself and presses it.
Back in reality, metal pieces were starting to fly in from all directions and assembling themselves in a giant game of tetris. Mateo stopped running, but kept moving, stepping onto new pieces as they fell in line. One of them flipped him over like a revolving trash can lid. As Mateo watched from the sidelines, Mads Mikkelsen showed up.
“Are you really here?” he asked as they were circling each other. They were standing on the roof of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. The horizon was at an angle, but Kayetan was allowing gravity to hold them in place when they should have been sliding towards the edge.
“This is my design,” Mads said as a response.
Mateo shivered. That was not a line from Doctor Strange. Before that, Mads played Hannibal Lecter on a television series. Mateo loved it, but he was only able to watch through the third episode of the second season before his life changed.
The figure of Mads Mikkelsen shuttered, which indicated that it was not actually the actor, but a holographic representation. “I know what you’re thinking,” Holomads said. “That I cannot hurt you. But I am happy to inform you that this is not Star Wars. This is Star Trek.” Holomads shuttered again, but this time for longer, revealing the figure of the Cleanser in its place. “I am more than just light. I can hurt you.”
“Can I hurt you as well?”
Holomads sported that creepy sociopathic pseudo-smile so often seen on the show. “You can try.”
Mateo kept quiet and hoped that he would not be discovered.
The Cleanser pulled his fists apart and apported a long-blade. His opponent remained still, not at all fearful of the weapon. The Cleanser swung his sword up and then swept it in a circle, missing his target each time. His opponent was expertly avoiding each strike as if this was nothing more complicated than walking up a flight of stairs. The Cleanser tried to bash him over the head, but he avoided it once more. The opponent stepped on the Cleanser’s hands and knocked the blade to the floor.
“What is this? How are you doing that?”
The Cleanser’s opponent showed his own sinister smile. His face shuttered as well and revealed the figure of Darko Matic behind it. The real Mateo was watching from the other side of the roof, completely safe, and somehow invisible. He didn’t know how Darko ended up there, why Kayetan was allowing him to take Mateo’s place, or whether the Cleanser could stop it. All he knew was that he was grateful to be out of the fight.
“Where is he?” the Cleanser demanded. “Where is Mateo!”
“He is where he needs to be,” Holomateo replied. Then he attacked.
The two of them swung and kicked each other, but neither of them were able to land any significant blows. The Cleanser was a surprisingly adept fighter. He had spent so much time torturing Mateo verbally and emotionally, that Mateo never really knew how physically formidable he was. Now he could see that the Cleanser probably spent years, possibly even centuries, training himself to be the best at nearly everything, probably in case something like this ever happened to him.
Still, no matter how hard the Cleanser tried, his were noticeably inferior to Darko’s skills. There was just no beating Darko’s ability to be creative and improvise. Before the Cleanser had worn out entirely, Darko stopped and spoke into the aether. “That’s enough, Glaston. Take us to the end.”
A street merged under their feet, replacing the roof. They then slid across it, up the ramp, down the highway, and back into the FBI building campus. It reminded Mateo of when he and Gilbert went back to 1944 and hovered down the streets of Germany. He now walked up to the wall and touched it deliberately with one hand.
Through heavy panting, the Cleanser asked, “how are you here? How did you do that?”
“Kayetan doesn’t always do what he’s told. You know that. He can’t be trusted.”
“Then I shall kill him.”
“You will not, brother.”
What? Brother? They were brothers? This whole time? “Darko. You never told me. He never told me.”
The Cleanser shook his hand and worked to regain his breath, but he didn’t say a word.
“We’re only technically brothers,” Darko said. “You and I share a father. Zeferino and I share half the genetic code from our mother. But he wasn’t born in the same way normal people are.”
“Stop talking to him, Darko,” the Cleanser pleaded. He did not want Mateo to understand what was going on.
“I will respect your wishes,” Darko said to the Cleanser. “As I always have, despite the things you’ve done. There will come a day, however, when not even our connection can protect you.”
“Thank you.” The Cleanser sounded genuinely humbled. Was this it? Was this his one weakness? The revelation certainly explained why he was so incredibly passionately upset when Leona accidentally killed Darko in the alternate reality. What Mateo didn’t understand was exactly why this made the two of them only technically brothers.
“Now give my other brother a break.” He deserves it.
“I will give him tomorrow,” the Cleanser agreed, “but then it’s back to work.”

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