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Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: August 12, 2158

There was nothing special about the twelfth day in August of the year 2158. That it was Mateo’s last in existence did not matter much to the universe. When most people die, the worlds keep spinning, despite what others may feel about it. In this case, not even people would recognize that something was wrong, or different. Everything would just continue as if he had never existed, and any impact Mateo had on history would be reattributed to someone, or something, else. There was something liberating about that. It reminded him of his great grandfather’s death. Mateo was very young at the time, but he remembered vividly a conversation he witnessed between the man that everyone called Grandaddy Kai. He was a proud man who had sacrificed so much for his family that he never wanted to leave them. Mateo’s mother, Carol was not blood-related to Kai, but she took just as much care of him in his final days as anyone else, if not more. She told Kai that the family would be okay once he was gone. He was in so much pain, and the only reason he held on, whether he understood this or not, was because he thought everyone needed him too much. And they loved him, and they wanted him to stay, but his time was nearing, and he would need to let go. He raised fine children, who raised fine children of their own, who were still raising their own, using skills they ultimately learned from him. He could leave, because his job was done.
Mateo’s departure was not like this. Like everyone else, at least when he was first growing up, his time was not infinite. He too would one day die, whether this all happened to him or not. But no one needed to have a conversation with him about how they would survive without him. It wasn’t clear what lessons or feelings he would leave behind, or rather what exactly time would do with those experiences. He could take comfort in the fact, though, that his exit would not leave a hole in anyone’s heart. Not even Leona would feel a loss, and this made it easier for him to leave. “We need to spend every single second of today together,” Leona said, but was this true? You spend time with the people you love so you can remember those moments, and reflect on them later out of joy. Since this couldn’t happen with her, what did that matter?
“Without memories, what we do today is irrelevant,” Mateo said. “Neither of us will know a difference.”
“I’m still holding out hope,” Leona said in response. “I may one day get you back, you never know.”
The Superintendent would have to arbitrarily decide that this was going to happen,” Mateo calmly contended. “You certainly won’t be able to fight for it yourself.”
“I don’t believe that. Doesn’t your religion claim the soul to be real. If it is, maybe other people’s effect on it is not as easily erased as the mind is.”
“That may be, but you still won’t know what you’re missing, which means you won’t know where to look.”
“I dunno, I’m pretty smart. Maybe I’ll figure it out.”
“Maybe. But let us not worry about that. And let us not admit that this is an end. I’d like us to just go about our day as if it were like any other. I don’t want to eat a salmon dinner for the last time, or drive a muscle car for the last time, or even kiss you for the last time. Those...those symmetries are nothing more than illusions, especially when considering our unique situation.”
“So what do you wanna do today?”
“I just wanna relax.”
She sighed, and said nothing else.
“Mateo!” Gilbert’s voice came from down the beach. “Hey, Mateo!” He was waving excitedly, nearly dragging Zeferino Preston with him. As they got closer, they could see that the two of them were handcuffed together. Island dwellers thought it was weird, but not enough to ask questions. Everyone watched for a few seconds, and then just shrugged it off.
Mateo and Leona ran down to meet him halfway. “What are you doing?”
“I caught a big fish for ya,” Gilbert said proudly.
Zeferino just snarled.
“How old are you?” Mateo asked.
“It’s not polite to ask a lady her age,” Zeferino spit.
“Where have you been?”
“The Superintendent sent me back almost 2,000 years. I occasionally find someone who lets me hitch a ride to another planet, but I’ve mostly just been walking around this whole time, completely powerless, like an animal.”
“That’s a decent life,” Gilbert said, pulling his captive up so he couldn’t sit down to rest. “Even longer than mine when you add it all together.”
“What’s this about, Gilbert?” Mateo asked.
“I hear you’re going away,” Gilbert said.
“I am.” Mateo nodded his head. “I don’t suppose you two will be able to remember me.”
“Not this time buddy.” Gilbert shook his head. “That’s sort of why I’m here.”
Gilbert continued, “I don’t like you leaving with loose ends. When you’re gone, the two of us should be too.”
“Because it’s time,” Gilbert said. “No one should live forever who’s done the kinds of things we have. I appreciate you getting me out of the extraction mirror. I’m sure Zeffy here does too.”
Zeferino said nothing.
“Yes!” he shouted. Then he quieted down, “thank you. You didn’t have to do that. You would have found some other way to get Darko back, I’m sure.”
Gilbert redirected his attention to Mateo. “We’re all going back to Glubbdubdrib where the two of us will be reinserted into the last moments of our respective deaths.”
“Is that necessary?” Mateo asked. “Can’t you forever?”
“We’ve gotten lucky,” Gilbert explained. “If I die before going back to the mirror, I create a paradox. Same goes for this asshole.” He had to pull Zeferino up again to prevent him from resting. “What’s done is done. It’s created the reality we live in now. Don’t get me wrong, I have a long history of changing reality, but I don’t wanna do that anymore, especially not when it comes to you. He’s even more dangerous outside of the mirror. His death is marked by the hound, which is a metaphor I made up just now to describe people who have died under conditions of the hundemarke. Like I said, we’ve lived long lives, and they are already over. We just have to make it official.”
“Are you sure this is what you want?” Mateo pressed.
“No,” Zeferino answered instead.
“Shut the f—” Gilbert breathed in, and then out. “Yes.”
“Well, I can’t say I’ll miss you,” Mateo said, trying to laugh through the pain.
“I will,” Leona said.
“As will I,” Horace said as he was coming up to them.
“Did you hear all of that?” Gilbert questioned.
Horace took out a set of ear plugs. “Ellie gave these to me as a wedding present many years ago. She calls them bergbuds, but I don’t know why.”
“You little spy,” Mateo said with a smirk.
“Some things never change,” Horace said. “And good thing I was listening. I was able to call in a favor, so you won’t have to paddle to the an animal.”
Lifeless barrens magically appeared over the water, and floated towards them. Once they were all standing on the other side of the merge point, the beach disappeared, leaving them only a kilometer or so away from their destination.
“Thank you, Kayetan!” Mateo called out to the aether.
“Fuck off!” an echo of Kayetan replied without showing his face. They were never going to be friends. Well, after today, they couldn’t anyway.
The five of them started walking towards Palace Glubbdubdrib, but didn’t say a word on the way. There really was nothing to say. Mateo might have expected Zeferino to burn off some gallows humor, as he was known to do, but perhaps it wasn’t so funny when they were marching towards his death. He was literally born to live for eternity, and probably never considered his own mortality. Back when his death first happened, things were moving too quickly for him to process it, but now that it was about to happen again, his mind was probably racing with thoughts of fear, and regret.
They entered the palace, and walked down the corridors to the mirror room. A man was waiting for them, in front of the extraction mirror, which was already paused on the final moment of Zeferino’s death.
“Darrow?” Gilbert asked upon seeing the man. “What are you doing here?”
“Hello, Boyce,” Darrow said. “I am the bringer of death. I am present at the end of all salmon and choosers.”
“I...did not know that. You’re supposed to be The Maverick.”
“No, that’s not what I’m supposed to be, that’s just what I am. What my job originally entailed was to pull people from the brink of death if the powers that be weren’t done with them. They came up with more sophisticated means of doing this, so they abandoned me, and I struck out on my own. I came here today, because extractions are easy, but insertions take a little more finesse. They require a talent that none of you possesses.”
“Then thank you,” Gilbert said.
“First subject,” Darrow said, stepping aside to let Zeferino through.
“Am I entitled to some final words?” Zeferino asked.
“Yes,” Mateo said, but before Zeferino could speak more, Mateo pushed him through the mirror. “And those were pretty good ones.”
“Would you like to watch?” an apathetic Darrow asked.
“No, thank you,” Leona said.
Darrow reached up to the edge of the opening, and switched the view of the extraction mirror to Gilbert’s death.
“What about me?” Gilbert asked.
“You may have as much time as you need to say whatever you need to say,” Mateo assured him. “Or you can back out. No judgment, really.”
“I die here today, but it will not be the first time,” Gilbert began. “It will simply be the last. I have been given many opportunities to improve as a person, and have squandered the majority of them, if not all.”
Mateo was going to argue against that, but this was Gilbert’s moment. He had to say his peace.
“But there is hope. If I had been born a girl, my parents would have named me Quivira. As the timeline gods would have it, this is the truth of the timeline we’re in now. Quivira Boyce is a flawed, strong, beautiful woman. She dedicated her life to jumping through time, using her powers to help everyone she can. She is what I should have been, and I’m glad that this universe...will remember me as her.” He was tearing up. “Mateo..Leona, I thank you for your understanding. For your patience. For your love. When all I ever gave you was reason to doubt me. I have lived many lives, but the best two were the ones when we were friends, the ones when I was just me. I cherish the relationship you allowed to grow between us. I only wish I had some way to repay everything you’ve given me. Instead, Leona, I’ll give you some advice. Remember.” With that, Gilbert Boyce stepped into the insertion mirror...and vanished.
Darrow slid his hand on the edge of the opening again, revealing an image of Tribulation Island. “Fear not,” he said. “I can insert anyone anywhere, to any time; this doesn’t mean you’ll die. It’s just a portal back to your home.”
Leona looked up at Horace. “Is this our home?” she asked.
“Do we have another?” Horace asked back.
“I would much like to return to Earth, I believe,” she acknowledged.
“I can switch you to that,” Darrow said.
“We’ll find a way back on our own,” Horace said. “There is still much to do on the island. We have to get Serif anyway.”
“Of course,” Leona agreed. “Thanks for coming with me to see them off. I know you have mixed feelings about Gilbert.”
“I loved him as strongly as I love anyone else in our family,” Horace replied.
The two of them locked arms and stepped through the portal together.
That evening, Leona revisited the idea of finally getting off this planet at dinner. It was a huge feast that included everyone there at the time, though they couldn’t all fit at the big table. Dar’cy and Lincoln had long since returned from their trip to see friends in Sutvindr. Mario, on break for a few days, was excited to tell everyone what kind of person Winston Churchill was. His wife, Lita revealed an admiration for the historical figure. Aura, Samsonite, and Téa were wondering why they didn’t expand the island as a resort to attract tourists from the mainland. Baudin was open to starting talks about such a thing.
Paige Turner was happy with her job in the Hall of Records, but was quite interested in Leona’s plan to go back to Earth, as was Dar’cy. The latter had spent some time in two now-collapsed timelines, but very little in this reality.
“What do you think, Serif?” Leona asked.
“I go wherever you go, Leona Matic,” Serif said with a loving smile. “Were I you.”
“Were I you,” Leona echoed.
They kissed.

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