Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: August 4, 2150

Fancy Dardieti doctors were able to fix Mateo’s fist up in no time, completely removing the pain within minutes, and healing the bones within hours. He called it an accident, which Leona didn’t believe, but she also got the feeling that she ought to let it go. She knew that he had been having secret conversations with Arcadia all this time, and worried it would make things worse to bring it up. Arcadia was a loose cannon, so they wouldn’t get through this if they upset Arcadia too much. There was just no telling what might set her off. Punching the table could have ruined everything. Technically, it still could. Yet he forced himself into higher spirits, reinforced by a convincing Lincoln Rutherford, who had taken acting lessons in a literal other life. He decided to spend the rest of the day with his wife, and the third wheel of their tadpole tricycle. He didn’t want to say anything about the dreaded 2151. He knew he would have to this year, though, because he didn’t want them disappearing without having heard his final words. No, he wasn’t supposed to think like that. In every movie, they always claim the dying person can tell their loved ones this themselves when it’s all over, but this isn’t a movie, it’s real life. Sometimes you don’t survive, and sometimes you don’t win. He may fail at their expiation, or he may die in the trying. Or both.
The next morning, they continued to spend the day together, but were scheduled to have dinner on the other side of the continent. It would take about an hour to get there by train, so he pulled the other two into a private car.
“This doesn’t look good,” Leona said, somewhat jokingly.
“No, it doesn’t,” Serif agreed. The two of them had grown closer over the last several days, which was good. He still didn’t quite understand what it meant to tear people out of time, but always imagined that they were somewhere, like maybe a train station with no escape. If this were the case, at least Leona and Serif would have each other. If.
“I need to talk to you about tomorrow,” Mateo said to them soberly.
“What’s tomorrow?”
“You will both be taken out of time. Taken from me.”
“You know this?”
He started massaging his hand, which no longer hurt, but he could still feel that something had happened to it. “Arcadia informed me yesterday. We...had words.”
“Did you strike her, Mateo?”
“No, of course not. I would never.”
“I mean, I’d be fine if you did. Chivalry really only applies to humans, not monsters.”
“I hit the table, but you seem to be missing the point.”
“No, no, we heard you. We just...does it matter?”
“Of course it matters,” he said. “How could it not? I know you don’t remember the details of everyone we’ve lost so far, but I would let them all go just to keep you two.”
“Well, that’s not something a girl wants to here. May sound romantic, but it isn’t.”
“I don’t think you two fully appreciate the seriousness of the situation. You’ll be gone.”
“Somehow I don’t think we’ll be upset under those conditions.”
“Is this a joke to you?”
“Love, you need to understand this. Those people are gone, poof. They don’t exist. That’s hard to fathom, I know, but in physics, that shit happens all the time. Sometimes particles just pop out of existence, and we don’t know where they go. Sometimes they pop back in, and we don’t know why, or what prompts that. Let me ask you this, how did you feel before you were born?”
“Before you were born, when you didn’t exist, did you feel bad? Did you not like it? Did you wish you existed.”
“Okay, well no, of course not. Because...”
“Because you had no feelings,” she finished. “You couldn’t feel anything. That’s basically what she does. She just unborns you.”
“All right, fine. But I’m gonna remember. Lincoln’s gonna remember.”
“He will?”
“Yeah, I guess the cat’s out of the bag. He remembers everybody—better than I do.”
“Well.” She hesitated. “At least you have someone you can talk to.”
“I don’t. We’re not allowed to talk.” He breathed deeply, trying desperately to stop from hyperventilating. “I’m not even allowed to tell you. My God, what is she gonna do?”
Arcadia teleported into the car. “Don’t say anything about it,” she ordered Leona and Serif. “Keep your mouth shut about Lincoln for the rest of the day, and there won’t be any consequences.” She was gone before any of them could respond, but not before she gave Mateo a look, as if she’d just done him a favor.
“I’m gonna be alone with this,” he continued. “Lincoln...sees this kind of thing all the time. To him, we are particles. But I’ll feel the pain, and I’ll have to push it down so I can work on your expiation. Let me tell you, I’ve never been more afraid of anything in my life, and I once jumped off a cliff.” He looked down where the wall met the floor, going through his memory archives. “Shit, I drove off of a cliff too. Do I have a death wish?”
His loves waited patiently as he pulled himself out of the tangential existential crisis.
“I don’t know what I thought this conversation was meant to accomplish here,” he admitted. “I feel like you’re going away, but you’re right, I don’t understand that. I get that everyone else’s memory is gonna be wiped. I get that I’m going to have to do something really difficult to get you back. But I can’t help but picture you getting on a bus. Just a regular bus that will eventually turn around and come back. Which means it’s important we have this talk so you can do something with it wherever you are when you’re not here. But a part of me does know that that’s not how it works. You’ll be stuck in time, and it’s the rest of us who will be going on without you, sliding down that timestream, at our respective speed. I guess that’s sort of how our loved ones feel when we jump into the future. Those interim years don’t exist to me, because I don’t experience them, but to everyone else, they’re very real.” He fell silent.
They remained patient.
This wasn’t fair. Through all this, Leona was always there. If Arcadia took her away from him, he would fall apart. Maybe that was part of her plan, but on the off-chance it wasn’t, he had to get through to her. He had to appeal to her better angels. “Arcadia Preston,” he prayed. “We need to talk. Please.” He waited. “Please, this is important.”
“Mateo, what do you think you’ll get from her? What are you going to ask?”
He was going to ask for more power. She was so strong that he could never hope to defeat her. Not alone. He needed allies, and if Leona and Serif couldn’t be that for him anymore, then he would need to find them elsewhere. By asking this from her, he asserts himself as a free-thinking individual, and an opposing force not so willing to roll over to her whims. It also might be so crazy that it intrigues her. If there’s one thing all Prestons have in common, it’s that they like surprises. His prayers weren’t getting through, so he decided to change tactics. He stood up and headed for the back.
“Mateo? Honey? What are you doing?”
“I need help?”
“Okay, we can get you help. You should sit down, though.”
“No, this is the only way,” he said, staring out the window.
“What’s the only way?”
He opened the train door.
“Mateo, stop!”
He didn’t look back, because either of their faces could stop him from following through with what he was utterly convinced had to be done. “Were I you,” he said to them quietly, harkening back to their code for I love you. Then he held his hands behind his back, closed his eyes, and dropped out of the moving vehicle, towards the train tracks.
“Uncle Tommy,” was the first thing Arcadia said.
He opened his eyes to find himself in a dark room. Or...just darkness, because he couldn’t actually see anything. “What?”
“Ya know...because you killed yourself..knowing I would have to save you from it..but you did it to save someone from being ripped out of time.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“You’ve never seen The 4400?”
“Zeferino must have forgotten to make me watch that one.”
“Yeah, well, there’s an episode that’s exactly like what you just did. Freakin’ weirdo.”
“I’m guessing no one called the character a freakin’ weirdo.”
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m here to make a deal.”
“I’m listening.”
“Leona and Serif are two different people. That the former didn’t always exist is irrelevant to that fact.”
“Do you mean latter?”
“Whatever, you know what I mean.”
“I don’t know what you mean when you claim a guy like you is married to one of the smartest people I’ve ever met.”
“Do you wanna hear my pitch, or not?”
“They’re two people. So are Horace and Paige. You never said you would ever take two people out at the same time, but you’ve already done it once, and you’re preparing to do it again.”
“I don’t think that’s fair.”
“I don’t think I care.”
“You owe me two people.”
“How do you figure?”
“You do the math.”
“No, you do the math. It doesn’t matter that I took them at the same time. I was gonna take them either way. Your argument is weak.”
“Still, I think you owe me. I’m firm on this.”
“What, you want me to create a person for you?”
“No, just give two of them back.”
“I’m not returning two people to you, Mateo. That’s not how this works, which I explained at the beginning, and who’s the one trying to change the rules now?”
“I’ve already beaten every expiation, so just give a couple back early. What’s the harm?”
“Okay, I appreciate your logic, and your audacity. I will say, though, that I did you favor when I brought Paige back the first time, which I never had the obligation to do, so that’s no longer an issue. Serif...she’s a bit different. So I will agree to a deal on her behalf.”
“I choose Gilbert.”
“Yes, that’s a beautiful sentiment, but no.”
He didn’t think that would work, but your first ask always need to be high so they don’t negotiate you down too far. “Okay, counteroffer.”
She purposely sported an evil smile. “You’re gonna love it. Oh, you’re gonna love it so much.”
Oh, no. “What? Who?” The Cleanser was her obvious choice, or maybe their sister, The Blender. They were his two worst enemies. No one else would fit with the level of dastardly excitement she was exhibiting.
“Do you remember when Reaver was telling you why he was trying to kill you in your pre-Hitler’s murder reality?”
“Yeah...? You’re gonna give me that version of Horace?”
“No. Better. There was another reality before that; the one where he was married to Leona. You knew both of them. Rather, a version of you knew them. You weren’t particularly close, but you were responsible for her death. Had you survived Horace’s rage, this mistake would have haunted you for the rest of your life.”
“What are you saying?”
“Extracting people from realities that don’t exist anymore is generally beyond even my abilities. I can call in a favor, though.”
“Arcadia, this is not what I had in mind.”
“That’s what makes it taste so good.” She snapped her fingers. A silhouette appeared on the other side of the room, only partially illuminated by a light. “Mateo Matic, meet...Alt!Mateo Matic.”

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