Saturday, December 17, 2016

Clean Sweep: Losing (Part V)

One of the first people that Zeferino Preston tried to kill was the Savior, Makarion Dimitrios. He scoured the timeline, looking for him, and decided that the best time to confront him would be in the year 2054. He didn’t examine the timeline all that closely to find out why, but there are some moments in time that temporal manipulators are drawn to. It seemed as good a time as any, so he hopped back into the timestream and took out his knife.
“They’re not gonna let you hurt me.” Makarion did not even look back when Zeferino appeared from behind him. He was a lot more comfortable with his position as the Savior than his predecessor, Daria Matic. “I am their most important possession.”
“I am more powerful than they are.”
Now he looked back. “The powers that be? You think you’re more powerful than a group of people who define themselves as the ones in power?”
“Just because that is how they identify doesn’t mean that’s what they are.”
“Kinda like they once called you The Cleaner, but all you did was wave your arms in front of some paintings and adjust causality?”
This took Zeferino by surprise. Their existence within The Gallery was never entirely a secret, but the details certainly were. They were living in a totally inaccessible dimension. How would this one little salmon know anything about it?
“I know what you’re thinking.” He turned the rest of his body towards Zeferino. “And I don’t mean that I know because I’ve tortured you for your thoughts and then jumped back in time to generate a reality where I never tortured you so it seems like I read your mind.”
What the hell? That’s exactly what Zeferino did to get information out of people without them having any idea that he had. It was kind of a signature move, except that it worked best when no one knew he was doing it. Who was this guy?
“The Emissary.”
“The Emissary?”
“The Emissary.” He turned back to where he was looking before. “The powers that be sent that creepy little kid to me to warn me about a few things. Way I understand it, previous Saviors were not given so much information, but I guess they were worried you would try to kill me.”
“What are you looking at?”
“My latest assignment. He’s speaking with an old friend of his. They need to settle their differences before they never see each other again.”
Zeferino peeked around a bush and looked across the garden. “That’s Mateo Matic.”
“Who’s that guy; your assignment?”
“His name is Kyle.”
“Just Kyle. He’s not important on his own. He’s designed more as a symbol for Mateo, a final page on the first chapter of his book. This is the moment. This is when he finally accepts his life as a salmon.”
“I’ve seen the future. He does no such thing. He doesn’t accept it.”
“He doesn’t accept everything that happens to him, which no one else in the world does either. He does, however, now recognize that this is not going to change. This is his life now. It’s time to move on.”
“I was drawn to this moment in time, in this random hospital in Topeka, Kansas. I thought it was so that I could kill you, which is kind of what I do now.”
“Yes, it is,” Makarion agreed. Kyle had finished his conversation and was heading back towards the two of them. “Pause time, please,” Makarion asked.
“I can’t pause it completely, I can only slow it down. Pausing is impossible, everyone knows that.”
“Then do that, but now, before he sees you.”
Zeferino, intrigued, slowed time to a major crawl. “What do you need to say to me?”
“I believe that you are under the impression that the powers that be are somehow against you. And it’s true, they are not your biggest fans. What you don’t understand is that they consider you an evil lesser than their real enemies.”
“The choosing ones,” Zeferino said as he nodded.
“That’s right. They would like to make a deal with you, and they chose me to pass this message to you because I am more expendable than the Emissary.”
“Makes sense.”
“They will allow you to go on your tirade—oh sorry, I mean crusade. They will not long as you go after choosers exclusively. All salmon, including me, and including Mateo, are one hundred percent off limits.”
“Salmon are difficult,” Zeferino said, “because they’re being protected by the powers. Choosers are difficult because they can protect themselves. I’ve not been successful since Horace, and I think I only got that one done because he had already been forsaken anyway.”
“This is true, why does it matter?”
“I can’t kill anyone. Someone can always go back in time and stop me. My biggest weakness is that I can’t experience a moment in time more than the once. Oh my God, why am I being so honest with you?”
“Don’t sweat it, you don’t have much of a choice in that regard. But yes, it’s true that all of your work can be undone. As powerful as you are, you can’t do a simple thing that many others can, which is try again. I have been asked to provide for you an advantage, of course only as long as you agree to leave salmon out of it.”
Zeferino stood there pseudo-patiently. “Out with it.”
Makarion reached into his pocket and presented a rusted piece of metal that resembled some kind of military dog tag. “This is a unique object. It was once worn by The Warrior.”
“The guy who steals people’s temporal powers by killing them with the Sword of Assimilation?”
“That’s right. Before he became one of us, he was just a normal musketier, fighting in the Franco-Prussian War. The enemy was upon him, and he was about to die. An accidental rift in the continuum sent the Sword of Assimilation to him just in time for him to grab it and kill the enemy combatant. Both of their blood mixed together and imbued this hundemarke with a temporal power of its own.”
“What does it do?”
“Kill a chooser while you’re wearing this, and you create a fixed moment in time. Time is mutable, subject to the whims of temporal manipulators, but this prevents that from happening. When you kill someone, they cannot come back in an alternate reality. Dead is dead is dead is dead.”
“I’ve never heard of a normal object being imbued with temporal power, except by the hands of The Weaver, of course.”
Makarion pulled the Hundemarke back when Zeferino reached for it. “This is not something to be used as any regular chooser would. I know you think that, if you create enough immutable moments, you’ll create a pristine timeline, and will somehow be able to control it, but this is not what would happen. If you use it too many times, you’ll make the timestream too rigid. You’ll create so many paradoxes that they’ll be comin’ out your ass. Do you understand me?”
Zeferino tried to take the Hundemarke again. “Yes, I do.”
“I’m serious, Cleanser. You fuck this up, and no one will be able to fix it, not even Meliora.”
Zeferino took a breath and sported as blank of a face as he could to show that he was serious and impassionate. “I completely understand. I don’t want any more fixed moments in time than you do. I need time on my side, one way or another. I’m all about change. No more of the same.”
“Okay. The powers are trusting you with this. Just in case you’re thinking about going back on your word, there’s a failsafe programmed into it. If even one salmon dies by your hand, it’ll be taken away, and they will throw everything they got at you. I don’t care how many powers you have, if they want you destroyed, you will be destroyed.”
“I still understand.”
“Good.” Makarion finally handed him the Hundemarke. “Now, if you will excuse, I have to get back to work. I suggest you move along.”
And Zeferino ‘Cleanser’ Preston did move along. He programmed the temporal bubble to burst just as he was teleporting away. He kept going with his plan. Even with his amazing power cache, and the unique Hundemarke around his neck, he lost a few battles, and had to plan to take out his targets another day. He had received a more concrete contract from the powers that be that stipulated his role and limitations. He discovered a loophole in the agreement, however. He was not allowed to kill any salmon—or any notable humans, for that matter—but it said nothing about screwing around with them. Mateo was one of his greatest prizes; his white whale, as it were. He chose to make Mateo’s life unbearable, which was as close as he could get to killing him. Mateo never seemed to break, though, which only fueled Zeferino’s drive to take him down.
He met a reluctant ally to support him on his mission and prevent anyone from knowing that he was even involved. He used his influence to set Mateo on certain paths that would help him kill his chooser targets, through what he referred to as Tribulations. A few of them were successful, like the gladiator games tribulation that resulted in a slaughter of well over a dozen choosing ones. Only one survived. He even worked again with the powers that be for a subcontract that allowed him to put Mateo in a position to kill Adolf Hitler years before his original death. There were other attempts that did not go so well, though. Mateo was meant to kill a whole lot more than he actually did. He usually found a way to take the high road, and spare people’s lives. This grew increasingly frustrating, and so Zeferino tried to make them harder and more desperate, but this still never quite got him to his goals.
He was finally about ready to quit when another loophole presented itself. A bunch of choosing ones got together and decided that they were over the whole battle between good and evil trope. They lobbied for a time duel. Time duels were weird, archaic, and rare. Though temporal manipulators came from different moments in history, the majority of them were, to some extent, cognizant of modern lifestyles. They could see that the savage ways of the past were inferior to the civility of the future. Still, they took pride in one of their “traditions”. All time duels take place at a special temporal location called Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock. Other locations change hands by being stolen or purchased, but Uluru always remains in the hands of a man who goes by the name Uluru. It is unclear which name came first.
Time duels are respected by both powers that be and choosing ones. Participation is compulsory, and results honored. No one chooses to duel, and no one refuses an order to duel. This is important, because it was going to allow Zeferino to finally kill Mateo Matic without breaking his contract with the powers that be. After all, it wasn’t like he had the option to decline the offer. Unfortunately for him, it wasn’t ever going to be a fair fight. Uluru placed competitors on equal footing. No matter what powers—or lack thereof—either contestant possessed, they would either be stripped of those powers, or they would be copied onto their opponent. The fact of the matter was that Mateo was just better than him. There was no way for Zeferino to win, so the only relevant question was what would he lose? To understand that, one would first have to understand how he met The Rogue, Gilbert Boyce.

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