Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: June 25, 2110

Mateo had already dealt with Zeferino and Nerakali. It was only fitting that their sister would jump into the game now. “The third Preston,” Mateo said to Lincoln after returning to the timeline in 2210. They had been interrupted last year, and were never able to finish their conversation without anyone else catching wind. For some reason, he felt that he wasn’t supposed to talk about it anymore for the rest of the day.
“The fourth, actually,” Lincoln Rutherford corrected. “I imagine nobody’s ever mentioned The Curator to you, though. He’s another entity I can’t track. No one knows what happened to him.”
“Am I gonna have to deal with him at some point too?”
“Probably not, if anything he’s apathetic about the whole thing now.”
“I feel stupid for not thinking of Arcadia before. It’s so obvious. She’s pissed about her siblings’ death, and people like to blame me for everything.”
“Yes, revenge does seem to follow you around.”
“What is her power again?”
“She was The Conservator. She made sure certain events in the timeline happened in a certain way, even if a choosing one went back in time and changed it.”
“She was, but isn’t now?”
“She’s started calling herself The Extractor. She’s changed a few minor things. For instance, when you first entered The Constant, your cousin, Danica gave you cell phones. They were for you, Leona, your mother, Samsonite, and Theo.”
“That never happened.”
“It did. In fact, many events hinged on that having happened. The Extractor doesn’t remove things from history, she just tears them out of the timestream. We are not in an alternate reality, Mateo. We are in a corrupted reality. All those crazy adventures and tribulations you had still happened, but no one remembers them. She obviously made a point of shielding your own memories, probably as some sort of punishment.”
“Well, being trapped on an island on another planet with everyone I love doesn’t sound like the worst punishment I could think of.
“That is not the punishment.” A woman had appeared; obviously the Extractor, Arcadia Preston. “This is just the beginning.”
Oh no.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “I’m not adding punishment because of what you just said. This has been in the works. I have a plan.”
“Please.” He took her by the arms, almost lovingly, and not forcefully. “Tell me what I can do. This doesn’t have to go on for weeks. I know you’re upset about your family, and I’m sorry. I never wanted any of that. I think you’re smart enough to know that I absolutely did not start this.”
She took his arms too so that they were grasping each other in a kind of secret handshake. “I do understand that. I’m not as crazy as they were, I think you’ll find. I have my reasons for doing this. There will be challenges—not tribulations, mind you—but they will not be easy. They’re not designed for you to prove that you deserve to live. They have goals.” She did not let go. “Every three days, I’m going to remove someone from time that you love. Only you will remember them...” she turned her head towards Lincoln, but did not remove her eye contact with Mateo. “...except for this guy. I can’t change that, but I do want him here with you. There are rules, though. He can help you with the Expiations, just like everyone else you have left, but he cannot reveal to anyone that he remembers. And you two can’t discuss it with each other, even in private.”
“I complete one of these...expiations, and you’ll give them back?”
“No. You have to complete all of them. Rather, you are going to be assigned all of them. Whether you succeed is entirely up to you. I will return everyone you’ve earned, but I will return them all at once, when you’re done with the whole thing. If you failed with any of them, you won’t get those people back. Ever.”
“Is there anything I can do to prevent this? Can I...can I test out of the class?”
“No, you can’t. I know this sounds cruel, but it’s important to me that you learn from your experiences over the last several years, and this is how I’m choosing to teach you. I want you to win. That sounds ridiculous, because hypothetically, I could just cancel the whole thing. I could, but I won’t, because you deserve this. Even if you don’t see it, you deserve it. This is happening. Do you understand?”
He did. “Yes.”
“Okay.” She pulled him closer and hugged him tightly. Strangely, the hug felt good. Arcadia really did seem different than her siblings. She wasn’t sassy or dickish. True, she was screwing up his life, and some innocent people were suffering for it, but it really didn’t look like she was deriving pleasure from it. That was at least something. “Your first expiation is going to be for The Constructor, Baudin Murdoch. I’ll tell you right now that you’re gonna have to build something, but most of the time, I won’t even show up. I’m going to install the instructions for it in someone who happens to be left to help you. The first one is easier, which is why you’ll only have tomorrow to get it done. For the others, you’ll be allotted three days. When you and Leona disappear, the others on the island might remember that the expiations exist, but nothing about the expiations themselves. They’ll just go about their lives, waiting for you to return. And when you do return a year later, their memories will flood back in, and you can start back up where you left off.”
“I suppose that’s for the best. I wouldn’t want them to be so anxious all that time when they have to wait anyway.”
“Yeah, see, so you get it. They’re better off being oblivious until they can actually do something to help.” She finally looked over to Lincoln. “Again, I can’t do anything for ya. I’m not omnipotent.”
Honestly, it really was nice interacting with an enemy who wasn’t just straight up evil, or intent on accumulating power. Mateo eventually grew to be friends with Gilbert, and even Horace. Maybe the same would happen with him and Arcadia. Or maybe not.
“Now,” she went on, “I’ll let you get back to your family and friends. Don’t forget that part of the challenge is convincing them that you’re not crazy. If they don’t help you, or even if they try to stop you, I won’t interfere. You would be wise, Lincoln to remember how much you’re even allowed to know.”
“I understand,” Lincoln said with a bow of the head.
“Can I tell them myself?” Mateo asked of her. “Can I tell them about you, and this conversation?”
“You can tell them what you’d like. Hell, these expiations might not even require help in the first place. I’ve not come up with all of them yet.”
“Could I ask you for a favor?” Mateo asked.
She was wary, but receptive. “You can ask...”
“Remember that you have the power here. You can stop anytime you want. You can call off the whole thing. That is...unless you’re actually working for someone else, like Gilbert was.”
“I will not forget that,” she said genuinely, dismissing his accusations of her having a partner. “I couldn’t even if I wanted to.” She gave him a kiss on the cheek and then disappeared.
“Wow, that was weird,” Lincoln noted.
“Indeed. Are you gonna be okay?”
“Me? These challenges have been given to you.”
“You have to carry this burden alone. At least I can talk to people about it.”
“I’ve been carrying secret knowledge on my own for my whole life. It’s nothin’ to me now.”
“It’s just Tuesday,” Mateo suggested.
Lincoln smiled. “Exactly.” They started walking back towards the camp. “You really do seem to be handling this well.”
“Part of my problem before was my resistance and antagonistic disposition. The only way I get through this is if I think positively. I have to treat her like a friend, and maybe—just maybe—someday she will be.”
“That’s very mature of you.”
“Well, I am 124 years old.”
They laughed, but then they stopped at the edge of the forest.
“We better come from different directions at different times,” Mateo said. “Like we did yesterday.”
“Right. If you’re about to explain what’s going on, it shouldn’t look like I was with you.”
“I need to get some water for us anyway.”
Everybody waited patiently while Lincoln slowly walked up to them, carrying the now empty bucket from the little plane Gilbert had crashed there for an early tribulation. That was okay. It wasn’t like Mateo was eager to talk to these people again. What was he going to say? Even with all this time manipulation, they would have a hard time believing that they had been experiencing entirely different lives just a couple years ago. But Lincoln was finally there, and it was time to begin.
“Okay, I know I freaked out a lot of people with my meltdown yesterday. I now believe that to be part of the game, to see how I would handle the changes. Believe it or not, I was completely right. I just spoke with one Arcadia Preston, a.k.a. The Conservator, a.k.a. The Extractor.”
“She has two nicknames?” Gilbert asked.
“She changed it because of her new mission. When once she helped the timeline, she now messes with it. That’s what she’s done here. She tore Baudin out of time, along with all of his buildings.”
“Why do you remember and we don’t?” Téa asked, more in wonder, and less in doubt.
“She kept my mind intact so that I could suffer their loss, and effectively work to get them back.”
“How do you know?” Xearea questioned.
“How do I know what?”
“How do you know that she didn’t mess with your memories as well? In fact, how do you know that what you remember isn’t false, and what we remember isn’t the true reality?”
“I’m going to work with my knowledge, under the assumption that I can trust my own mind. You can either accept me, and help, or you can ignore it. It makes no difference to Arcadia. I do want to make one thing clear, though. Baudin is only the beginning. She is going to start tearing other people from time. He pointed to Mario. “You could be next.” He pointed to Saga. “Or you.”
Saga shrugged like it wasn’t that big of a deal.
Mateo kept going. “Our first challenge, which she calls an expiation, is going to be tomorrow. She’s going to make us build something. Rather, she’s making me. Rather, she’s not making me do anything. Each expiation will be attached to one missing person, and the success of it leads to their return. If I don’t do it, or I don’t win, I don’t get them back, but it doesn’t stop me from getting anyone else back.”
Xearea pressed on. “Are you threatening us?”
“If we don’t help you now, are you just going to forsake us when we do disappear?”
Mateo got down on his a martyr. “Never. I will always work my hardest to get you back, no matter how close I am to you.” He looked over to his daughter, Kivi. “Or how little I know you.”
That seemed to satisfy Xearea. Mateo had to answer a few more questions, but then they were all satisfied as least as much as they were going to be for what they were faced with. The rest of the day was awkward, except when Mateo was alone with Leona. After night fell, they retired to their little hut and fell with it.

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