Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: June 21, 2106

About an hour into the Gilbert’s lesson on time manipulation, Mateo got an idea. They didn’t have to stuff every lesson into one day if Serkan was there. He could prevent Mateo and Leona from jumping into the future. That would give him an entire year to learn how to beat The Cleanser during what Gilbert decided to refer to as Tribulation by Combat. When they went over to Horace and Serkan’s place to ask for help, Serkan refused. He said that he would better serve the cause during the actual battle. Apparently, however, he would not be able to do that if he were stuck on Tribulation Island for an entire year. Only then did Mateo question the fact that Serkan was there in the first place. They were on a completely different planet, God knows how far from Earth. How did he get there at all if he was not capable of experiencing teleportation or time travel? Neither he nor Horace were willing to answer, saying only that it was complicated, so Mateo went back to his regular studies, hoping to be able to get through everything in just the one day he had.
Gilbert taught him as much as he could about the theory of temporal manipulation. They couldn’t actually manipulate time in any way, but Mateo still learned at least the basics of all different kinds of time manipulation. Uluru battles had a few ground rules. You could teleport to another point on Ayers Rock, but you couldn’t teleport away, and avoid fighting altogether. Obviously, you couldn’t jump through time either, because that too would defeat the purpose of the exercise. Similarly, a past or future version of yourself couldn’t show up and provide you with assistance; Bill and Ted-style. However, if you knew how to quantum duplicate yourself, then that was perfectly all right. They were all acutely aware that the Cleanser would have an insurmountable advantage over him. Not only did he have all kinds of experience with temporal manipulation, but he was also just generally more violent. If Uluru chose to remove temporal powers instead of copying them to Mateo, the Cleanser was still more likely to win. He wanted it more, and he would be willing to do anything to win. Mateo worried most about the consequences of the battle; win or lose. Horace coached him psychologically, reminding him that it didn’t matter what would happen at the end of the fight. That did not change the fact that the duel was going to happen, or the fact that Mateo would have to fight as hard as he could.
“Okay, it’ll happen any minute now,” Gilbert said. “He might remotely apport you away from the island, or ferry you to Autralia himself, I’m not sure. He might bring in spectators and supporters, but I can’t promise that.”
“Any last words?” Mateo asked his group of friends, knowing that it was he who should be thinking of something poetic and moving, or at least interesting.
“Just remember that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. If he tries to ripple you apart, you can defend yourself by straightening out your time field. If he tries to merge your body with a lamppost, then...just ripple the lamppost.”
“Okay.” Mateo turned to Horace.
“Kick him in the balls.”
Everyone looked at him with a sense of superiority, especially Leona.
Horace looked back, not sure why they thought that was the wrong thing to say. “Nobody said all attacks had to be time-based. Zeferino has balls, and if you kick ‘em, it’ll hurt. So kick ‘em.”
Couldn’t argue with that logic. “Leona?”
“Come home safe.”
He nodded.
“But end this first,” she added.
He nodded again. He was about to ask for advice from his mother, but upon spinning around, the scene changed.
He was in a dry desert, and could see for miles. The ground was rocky and reddish. Uluru, a.k.a. Ayers Rock. The man, Uluru was walking towards him from the distance. Kayetan Glaston was walking with him. Several meters away, the Cleanser appeared from thin air. He was looking around to get his bearings too, which made it fairly clear that he had not arrived on his own accord.
“What’s he doing here?” Mateo asked, indicating Kayetan.
“You mean me?” Kayetan asked back. “I’ve been asked to dress this place up a bit.”
“With what?”
Kayetan lifted his arms up above his head, then he separated them to form an imaginary circle down to his sides. As he did so, the replica of the Colosseum appeared on top of Ayers Rock. That looked like it was the easy part, because then he really prepared himself. He closed his eyes and took in several deep breaths. He lifted his arms again, hands in fists. He then drew them back down under his shoulders like he was pulling himself up on an imaginary bar. Unlike his previous merges, which really only involved splicing together two places, many were brought together. Tens of thousands of people appeared along the seats of the amphitheatre. Those closest to him—semi-permanent residents of Tribulation Island, including Leona—were watching from the emperor box.
“Oh my God,” the Cleanser said. I thought this was just gonna be a kicker.”
“I want everyone to see this,” Uluru said. “They need to know the consequences of their actions.”
“I didn’t even know this many people were salmon and choosers,” Mateo admitted.
“They’re not all human,” the Cleanser explained. And they’re not all from this time period. Kayetan here must have siphoned off power from someone else in order to accomplish this.”
“A lot of that was just me,” Kayetan said with a bow. Then he tipped over and fell to his face.
“Let him sleep it off,” Uluru said. “Ellie,” he called out.
A young woman appeared from behind a pillar, not as if waiting for her cue, but more like she had gotten distracted and forgot to follow him. “Is it time?”
“Yes,” Uluru replied. “Do you have your script?”
“I do.” She cleared her throat before looking out to the crowd. When she reopened her mouth, the sound was different. It spread across space much more broadly. It was like she was using a microphone networked with a series of speakers. Everyone in the Colosseum could hear her. She was explaining to them the situation, and why they were all brought there; all things that Mateo already knew, so he focused on his goal. He needed to win. That was it. He didn’t know how he could win, only that he couldn’t let the Cleanser gain the upperhand. He had to constantly find ways of maintaining control of the situation. Dear God, this was gonna be impossible.
After she was done with her speech, she walked off, and Uluru signaled up to someone in the emperor box. A little kid threw an imaginary life preserver ring and pulled Uluru up to him through the air. Man, people had some funny ways of exploiting the spacetime continuum. Uluru gave the go ahead and the battle royale could finally begin.
Both Mateo and the Cleanser just stood there. They didn’t even do that thing where they circled each other and exchanged disdainful remarks. Ellie spoke to them using her magic microphone voice, “we literally have all the time in the world! No one is gonna make you start, but you can’t leave until this is resolved!”
The Cleanser casually tossed a time ripple towards Mateo, who deflected it with some new kind of mirror he had unwittingly apported from wherever it once was. Yeah, he had time powers now. They didn’t make him feel any different. It wasn’t like a higher level of energy was surging through his body. All he could do was try things out and hope that they helped. The Cleanser merged Mateo’s body with a flame from some other point in spacetime, setting his clothes on fire. Mateo countered it by apporting a bucket of water over his head.
“You’re a natural.”
“Finally good at somethin’, eh?” Mateo answered.
“Hashtag-selfburn,” the Cleanser said. He then teleported right behind Mateo. “But try this out.” He tapped Mateo on the shoulder.
A flood of memories returned to Mateo’s brain. He could remember a plethora of alternate realities. He now understood why it so often seemed like the Cleanser could read his mind. Actually, he would regularly physically torture him for his thoughts. Once he had the information he needed, he would send his own mind back into the past and stop himself from doing it so that Mateo would never remember. Blending his brain now was meant to be a big blow, but it wasn’t. He was used to emotional trauma, and was able to bury that shit deep down inside. He shook his body and composed himself. It was over, and he was fine.
“Very good, but you can still only react. I can start things. I’ll always be the instigator, and at some point, I’ll send something your way that you won’t be able to defend against.”
“Oh, you want creativity?” Mateo asked rhetorically. “Here ya go.” He apported a pile of seeds into his own hand and throw them at the Cleanser’s feet.
“I’m impressed.” He wasn’t impressed, so his guard was down.
“Just wait.” Mateo waved his hand towards the scattered seeds and adjusted the speed of time, but only for them. They all broke apart at once and sprouted up into giant red oaks. He could hear the crowd gasp, and some of them cheer.
The Cleanser fell down from one of the trees, his body was blood and mangled, but still alive. Mateo didn’t know whether he was trying to kill him or not, but he certainly wasn’t proud of it. The body twitched and reassembled itself like Future!Leona had after her heart was ripped out. Mateo could have ended it right there, but couldn’t bring himself to it. He had killed before, but the Rogue and Hitler were different. They were different in that he now knew that they were wrong. Murder was murder, and that just wasn’t him. Or at least, it wasn’t the kind of person he wanted to be.
“Just...forfeit, Zef. Let it go. Neither of us has to die. We could just go our separate ways.”
The Cleanser got back up and turned an imaginary wheel that tipped the grove of trees over and replaced it with the original top of Ayers rock. “I’m not done with you yet!” He apported two handguns and started shooting towards his target. Mateo effortlessly slowed time for the bullets long enough to step out of their way. The Cleanser threw those first firearms to the ground and tried a shotgun, but Mateo just stopped the shot in place and reversed course, sending them all back towards the Cleanser, who teleported away from the line of fire. He then tried using a rocket launcher, but Mateo opened a fractal portal and spirited it away to outerspace. Maybe the Cleanser didn’t have an advantage. Maybe Mateo was just as good as a fighter. Maybe he had a chance.
Angry and frustrated, the Cleanser formed pretend binoculars with his fingers and started to scan the crowd. Realizing that they weren’t actually pretend, Mateo did the same and generated a set of magical binocular lenses with his very own hands, trying to find what the Cleanser was seeing, but it was too late. The Cleanser sighed. “Good enough.” He snapped his fingers and apported The Navigator’s Compass of Disturbance. He rubbed his fingers along the side of it, which somehow made Mateo realize that he was doing that to calibrate it. He then quickly spun around and found his next target. He snapped the fingers in his other hand and summoned the Sword of Assimilation. “Dodge this, asshole.”
But Mateo couldn’t dodge it. He tried to slow time, but all he was able to do was alter his perception of it. He could only watch helplessly as the sword came hurtling towards him like an arrow. The sword was a unique object, and avoiding its wrath was far easier said than done. But then something else happened. From the side, he could see a man running towards him as well. No, it wasn’t a man. It was two men, the second being carried by the first. As they drew nearer, Mateo realized that one of them was Serkan. He was being pulled along by a mysterious masked man, dressed all in black. The man plotted an intercept course, ultimately leaving Serkan behind as he ran out from the sword’s path. Time restarted, the blade started flying at a normal rate, and everyone watched in horror as it plunged itself into Serkan’s stomach.
“No!” Horace screamed from the emperor’s box loud enough for Mateo to hear, even without Ellie’s microphone voice. He jumped onto the wall and tried to come down for his husband, but was unable to. An invisible barrier was preventing him from passing through; it was probably designed to avoid anyone from helping the time duelers.
Uluru stoically waved Horace down, but didn’t work very hard to actually make it happen. He didn’t really care. As Mateo was cradling Serkan’s head in his lap, both Leona and Gilbert found themselves able to freely hop out of the box and down to the battleground. They were apparently special enough to be exempt from such rules. Savior Xearea Voss teleported in as well and tore something away from the Cleanser’s neck.
“No!” the Cleanser yelled. “They tricked me! I didn’t mean to! He wasn’t supposed to die, I was trying to kill Mateo. I didn’t break the contract! I didn’t break the contract!”
As she passed by, Leona kicked the Cleanser in the balls, probably only partly so that he couldn’t try anything else.
“I love you,” Serkan struggled to say to the speedster who had carried him into the amphitheatre. “Tell him too,” he said, clearly referring to Horace. He closed his eyes one final time and died. The speedster ran away in a flash.
The Cleanser desperately snapped his fingers towards Xearea while cupping his damaged genitals with the other hand, but nothing was happening.
Xearea shook her head. “Your contract has been broken. The powers are done with you. You’re on your own.”
Gilbert approached her and held out his hand. “Give it here, love.” When she didn’t budge, he said, “come on. It has to be done. I’ll do it. Mateo shouldn’t have to, and Horace can’t.”
“What is that thing?” Mateo asked.
“The Hundemarke,” Gilbert explained as he was ceremoniously donning himself with it. “There’s no coming back from this.” He picked up one of the handguns the Cleanser had used, and shot him. One in the head, two in the chest, Zeferino Preston was finally dead.
Suddenly, and right on time, Aura and Samsonite’s daughter from a different timeline teleported in. Mateo hadn’t seen his sister in years, and didn’t think he ever would again, because she should have been erased when Mateo went back and changed the timeline. She retrieved the Sword of Assimilation from the ground next to Serkan’s body and walked over towards the Cleanser’s.
“Aquila. What are you doing?”
“Falling on my sword. Sort of.” With no warning, she stabbed herself in the stomach and fell back on top of the Cleanser. Seconds later, both his and her body disappeared. Was he still alive?

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