Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: July 1, 2116

A not insignificant part of Mateo thought that maybe the driving course in the middle of the jungle never existed, or would be taken away by the time he returned to the timeline. That was something The Rogue, or The Cleaner would do, just to make it more complicated. But no, Arcadia was not like that. Everything was as it was before. He left the 1967 Chevy Impala alone, knowing that it was not the kind of car you use to teach someone how to drive. It was time to be practical; this was especially important for someone born in 2089. Xearea needed buttons, and so that was what he was giving her. He chose to use a 2003 Ford Taurus SEL. When he flipped down the visor to find the keys, a note fell down along with them. This car is a gift from The Superintendent. He says he doesn’t need it anymore. Your Love Always...Arcadia Preston. The Superintendent. He sounded important.
“All right, first we need to go over driving prep. You don’t want to be adjusting anything while you’re actually on the road, so as you’re sitting there, make sure everything is in place. You can move the seat back and forth, up or down, and tilt it as needed. Not all cars have that, though. This right here is your rearview mirror. It needs to be giving you the widest view of everything behind you as it possibly can. The side view mirrors should take care of the rest.”
“What’s that?”
“That’s the button for the sunroof.”
She pushed it. “What this?”
“The radio. I, uh...don’t think it’ll work here.” She turned it on. Early 20th century alternative rock music started playing. “All right, that’s enough playing.”
“No, I need to know what these are. What’s in here?”
“That’s the glove box.”
“There aren’t any gloves in it.”
“People used to wear driving gloves, the name stuck. Can we move on?”
“No, what is this one, and this?” She pushed two buttons, one to release the hood, and the other the trunk.
He sighed. She was in her twenties, but acting like a child. “There’s a secret combination of buttons in this car that will blow it up if you push them. So if you don’t do what I say, and exactly only that, you could kill us both.”
She studied his face closely, trying to decide whether he was telling the truth or not. He was lying pretty well, he thought. She instinctively placed her hands on the steering wheel, indicating that she was done messing around.
“Now that’s good, you already have your hands at ten-and-two. They say it’s nine-and-three now, but I never bought into that. This is the best position to keep control of the vehicle.”
“Okay.” She seemed ready to take this seriously. “If I push this button again, is that thing in front of me gonna go back down?”
“No, I’ll have to get out and close both of them.” He first went around and shut the hood, then walked around back for the trunk. Just after it latched, the car ignited and took off. Xearea was going rogue.
A car pulled up beside him and opened its door. Xearea’s voice came from the speaker system, “come with me if you want to live. Get it...’cause how we met?”
“Are you speaking in realtime?”
“This is a recording, by the way.”
Mateo jumped into the car and let it take him into the course. Xearea had zipped all through the side streets, and was currently getting on the highway loop. “Computer, catch up to her and match her speed.”
“Understood,” a stranger’s voice answered. His driverless vehicle did as it was told and started closely following behind Xearea.
After a few laps around the loop, she merged onto an exit that hadn’t been there before. As they started driving along a curve, he could then see that there was no highway several meters in front of Xearea’s car. It was building itself just in time for her to drive over it. Was Kayetan Glaston, a.k.a. The Merger involved somehow?
The highway continued to build itself as they passed through and over trees, and then past the boundary of the island itself. They were now on the ocean, like they were just going to the next Florida Key over. “Dammit, Xearea, where are you taking us?”
Mateo kept an eye on Xearea’s car, and their surroundings for some time, but then grew bored of it. She obviously already knew how to drive, and she wasn’t going to stop until she was done. He hadn’t been getting very much sleep from all this stress, so he decided to take a nap.
The car’s voice woke him up, saying, “we have reached land.”
“How long has it been?” Mateo asked, sitting up.
“Seven hours, twenty-eight minutes,” the car answered.
He looked out the windshield to see something familiar. “Is this our island? Did we just drive in a circle?”
“We drove fairly straight the entire time,” the car said. “This is a different island.”
He opened the sunroof and stood up. They were just entering what was reportedly a new driving course, but it looked just like the first one. Xearea finally stopped her car in front of this second garage, and got out. Mateo stepped out as well.
She looked tired. “We’re here.”
“Where is here? What did you do? When did you learn how to drive?”
“Arcadia taught me over the year. I’m glad she did, because I would not have been able to get through your test with only two days of training.”
“Why would she do that? Where are we?”
“This is called Lorania. It’s another island on the same planet. It’s not too far from the mainland, actually.”
“Why are we here?”
“I have been tasked with teaching you one lesson. Or rather, I’m here to give you the opportunity to teach it to yourself. In fact, it’ll be your responsibility to determine what that lesson is.” She paused for a moment. “Follow me.”
They started walking through the forest. Mateo was rested enough for it, but Xearea just had to drive half a day, so she had to take a couple breaks. At last, they had arrived. They were standing in magical puddle. It was murky and dark, but there were also bits of light. He examined it for a moment, eventually realizing that it was reflecting, not the daytime sky above, but stars from some other point in spacetime. This was some kind of special water like the time mirror, or the time window on Easter Island. “Fascinating. What is it?”
“It is but one of many,” Xearea said. “You’ll find the other ingredients all over time and space.”
He closed his eyes in exasperation. “Oh my God, is this the immortality water again?”
“So you know it?”
“Yeah, the Cleanser gave me the chance to drink it during one of his tribulations. If I drank it, my pattern would stop, and I would lose Leona. If I killed the guy who was with me, I would be able to give the water to Leona as well. We both chose to leave.”
Xearea nodded. “Well this comes with stipulations as well. First, it’s going to take a lot of work to gather all of the ingredients. If you choose to take this challenge, the expiations will cease, however, you’ll never get back the people we’ve already lost. If you succeed in this challenge, you will be able to give however much water you have to whomever you want, including Leona. And your patterns will cease.”
“Well, that sounds real nice, but I can’t leave Baudin, Gilbert, and Samsonite like that. I promised I would get them back, and I would keep going even if I hadn’t promised.”
“She also said something about giving back your kiwi. I don’t know what that means. Is that your favorite fruit, or something?”
Oh, no. This was more complicated than before. Now he had to choose between his daughter, Kivi, and three of his friends. What was he supposed to do with that?
Xearea saw the struggle on his face. “Oh, I can see this has become more difficult. She didn’t give me a time limit on this. I assume you have until midnight central.
Mateo didn’t really need any time. He forced himself to look at it as a math equation. One life for three. There was no way he could choose using his heart, so the most logical choice was really the only one. The lesson Arcadia was trying to teach him here was that sometimes there is no high road. Sometimes your only choices are bad. He didn’t know the details, though. Was this an explanation for her siblings’ behavior? Was it an apology for herself? Was this a warning for the future, or a mirror for his own choices? Was this meant to make him a better person, or to show him what he’s lost? What was the point of this, if there was one? Maybe it was nothing. Maybe he was just meant to take it at face value; a choice between immortality or not. There was one lesson that he had already learned, and needed to call upon now. When a choosing one hands you something, and offers to not give it to you, always walk away. Yes, Rule Number Twelve, never accept something from a chooser unless you are given no choice. Eh, the syntax needed work.
He picked up a rock and dropped it into the puddle where it disappeared into the black. “Come on. I’ll drive us back, and program the driverless car to follow us.”
Xearea nodded and rested her head against his shoulder as he slowly walked them back towards the driving course. A man suddenly came out of the trees, carrying a spear, and in fighting stance. He was shirtless, and wearing only a loin cloth. “We mean you no harm,” Mateo tried to tell him.
The man jerked his eyes back and forth between them. He was also wearing his game face, and did not look like he was interested in talking this out. He finally decided what he was going to do. He reached the spear back and jammed the bottom of it into Mateo’s face. Everything went black.

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