Sunday, February 2, 2020

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: December 1, 2269

It  was still 2268 when Mateo woke up from having been knocked out. He asked what had happened, but no one answered. As he was massaging his head, he struggled to get to his knees, and looked around. All three of the others were lying on the floor as well. He crawled over to Leona, and checked for a pulse. She was alive, but unconscious. He checked Nerakali too, and she was the same way. He might have checked on Arcadia, but he couldn’t bring himself to care enough about her. Besides, it wasn’t long before they all started to wake up as well. The first thing Nerakali did was slither over to the now dead body of the man they were talking to. She felt around his neck, but came up short. “Where the hell did it go?”
“The hundemarke isn’t there?” Arcadia questioned, turning herself over to her back.
“It’s gone,” her sister confirmed. “It can’t just disappear, though. Someone has to physically move it from place to place.”
“Maybe our mother placed a temporal enchantment on it. Maybe it will always go back to her after each time it’s used.”
“No,” Leona said. “Though she was the last to reawaken, she was the strongest of them, and was recovering fastest. She was up on her feet, and looking around. “Someone was here. Someone slipped in while we were unconscious, and stole it. It probably wasn’t your mother. I imagine she would have stayed, if only to figure out what you were doing here.”
“What happened to us?” Mateo was finally able to ask.
“The hundemarke, when activated, won’t allow its own history to be altered,” Arcadia began to explain. “It does this by whatever means necessary. Sometimes that means redirecting your teleportation destination. Sometimes it just means creating a spatial barrier between it, and anyone who would interfere. Mateo, when you tried to stop this dude from killing himself, the dog tag reacted, and literally kept you from reaching him.”
“That doesn’t explain what happened to all of you,” he said. “Did you all try the same thing, even knowing it wouldn’t work?”
“We’re connected, remember?” Nerakali asked. “You hit the barrier, so we did too.”
“Wait, so if I run into a door frame, you’ll feel the pain?”
“No,” Leona answered. “It’s not a magic spell. Door frames are just regular things, but the barrier was beyond three-dimensional space.”
“That’s comforting,” Arcadia noted, “since he obviously intends to throw himself into a bunch of door frames.”
“That was just an example,” Mateo tried to defend himself. After a few moments of silence, while they reoriented themselves, he spoke again. “Does anyone have any clue who he was?”
“No idea,” Nerakali said. “He was apparently from the future, though.”
Leona was clearly working things out in her head, but it didn’t seem to have anything to do with the mysterious suicidal man’s identity. “I thought this was meant to be the first step.”
“You suggested we were playing the long game here, and that this was just going to give us a clue to the hundemarke’s location.”
“We almost had it, though,” Leona pointed out. “If one of you had stopped Mateo from trying to stop the suicide, we wouldn’t have struck the barrier, and we would have been able to take the hundemarke after he was done using it.”
“Well, that’s not what happened,” Arcadia said.
“Yes, but you couldn’t have known that.” Leona rethought what she said. “I mean, of course you could have known, but if that’s the case, then why didn’t you tell us what was going to happen, and why didn’t you warn us someone was going to sneak in and steal it out from under us, and why didn’t you try to stop that?”
Nerakali yawned. “Those are a lot of questions, so I’ll skip them all, and just try to explain myself. I’m not trying to find the hundemarke as much as I’m trying to find my mother. This is the last known location where the dog tag was used. I didn’t know how it was going to be used, but I knew it would lead us to Savannah, which is the real mission here. It’s still going to do that. All we need to do is jump to two more years, and find our next clue. Nothing here went wrong. It wasn’t pleasant, but it couldn’t have happened any other way. I wouldn’t have been able to stop Mateo from trying to stop this guy’s death. Nor would either of you have been happy with me if I had. To preserve our relationship, I made a call. The good news is that this is obviously not the last time we see him. The bad news is we can’t change today. We all know that; it’s why we’re here.”
Leona might not have wanted to admit it, but Mateo understood. The hundemarke was a terrible and dangerous thing. There was no way they were going to complete this mission without seeing at least one person die permanently from it. “We’re all hungry, and tired,” he mediated. “I assume there is nothing we can do today, correct?”
“Then let’s move on from this, and try to make things better next year.”
A year later, they found themselves in a very different place, but also the exact same place. In the interim, someone must have come in here, and repaired everything. They somehow restored it to its former glory. It looked like a very large basement now, mooded with purple lights, like maybe it was always meant to be underground. Who would do this, though, and why? “How is it like this now?”
“Do not be alarmed,” came the distinctive voice of the man they just watched die. He rounded the corner, and came into view. “This place is suffering from a temporal anomaly. Sometimes it’s whole; sometimes it’s ramshackle. There doesn’t seem to be a pattern to it.”
“You know us,” Leona said, rather than asked.
“I do, yes.”
“We still need an introduction,” Nerakali told him.
“Forgive me. I’ve still not gotten used to you not knowing me very well.” He stretched out his hand, towards no one in particular. “I’m Matt Cameo.”
“Matt Cameo?” Leona asked in disbelief. “That sounds made up.”
“Don’t be rude, love.”
“No, she’s right, Matt said. “They started calling me Cameo, because of how infrequently I show up. My real last name is Caimeo.”
“You expect us to believe that’s a coincidence?” Leona asked, still suspicious.
“It’s absolutely not a coincidence.” Matt tapped on a device that was wrapped around his arm, and let a hologram of the name MATT CAIMEO appear above it. He then used his other hand to rearrange the letters in the air.
Well before he was finished, Leona gasped. “Holy shit.”
She ended up being right about the holy shit. His name was a perfect anagram for Mateo’s. The hologram now read MATEO MATIC. No letters needed to be removed, or added. “That’s your real name?”
“Afraid so,” Matt claimed. “My parents didn’t even name me Matthew. Matt is what’s on my birth certificate.”
Nerakali chuckled. “Lemme guess, you only live for one day every year. At the end of every day, you jump backwards in time three hundred and sixty-six days?”
“That’s exactly right,” Matt said. He looked back over to Leona. “No, it’s not a coincidence at all. The powers that be specifically chose me to be his opposite.”
“They do like their games and poetry,” Nerakali rationalized.
They continued to talk to their new...friend? He explained that he preferred to go by Cameo now, but would say little about his life. He refused to reveal what year he started this, or how long he had been doing it. Mateo had met lots of time travelers before, but no one quite like this. He wasn’t just generally going in the opposite direction, but very precisely so, and it had repercussions. This meant that every time they encountered him, they would know him a little bit more, and he would know them a little bit less, so Mateo couldn’t help but feel that that was just a little bit sad. No one else seemed to have strong feelings about it. It didn’t seem to bother them at all. While they were still trying to get something out of them, Arcadia suddenly blurted out, “Deana Noelle!”
“Excuse me?”
“Do you know someone named Deana Noelle?” Arcadia pressed.
“Oh,” Leona said. “That name is missing the y.”
“Your name’s not Leona Delane?”
Leona rolled her eyes.
“I do this alone,” Cameo explained.
“You don’t do it with us?” Mateo asked.
Now Cameo got all sad. “Our paths do not intertwine as much as you would think. We do not become close.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Mateo said. “Perhaps that can be changed?”
“Please don’t try,” Cameo requested.
“Could we..possibly...have a sidebar?” Leona asked as she was gently tugging at Mateo’s sleeve.
“Not a problem,” Cameo said. “I’ll be in the jail.” When they widened their eyes, he realized that he needed to clarify. “This place has a tiny little jail. Do you not know where we are?”
“It looks like the Arrow bunker,” Mateo said, looking up at the televisions hanging from the ceiling. “One of them, anyway.”
“Not a bad guess, but wrong franchise. It’s probably for the best if I don’t say anything more.”
When he was hopefully out of earshot, Leona started to vocalize her concerns. “This guy is hiding something.”
“Everyone is always doing that all the time,” Arcadia mused.
“How optimistic of you.”
“I’m serious,” Leona continued. “Does he look like he’s about to kill himself?”
“Are you saying that didn’t happen?” Nerakali questioned.
“No,” Leona replied, “I’m saying he must be lying about his temporal pattern. I mean, something really bad would have to happen today to make him want to end his own life tomorrow. The only logical explanation is that it’s not really going to happen tomorrow for him.”
“That’s not the only explanation,” Mateo argued. “You don’t know what’s happening in his head, or what he’s gone through. I mean, he just implied that he lives in a jail, and I find it hard to believe he has to. Lots of suicidal people keep their feelings locked away deep inside, and don’t show any signs that anything’s wrong. What you see on TV, with the loner wearing the beanie, and drawing disturbing pictures of his classmates—those are the ones who are asking for help. People who end up actually going through with it often don’t let anyone know what they’re planning, because they truly want it to end; not to just get better.”
“The only question is what we should do with him now,” Nerakali determined. “How do we interact with him, knowing what we know?”
“Well, surely he knows that we know,” Leona reasoned, “because he knows, and he knows when we’re from.”
“He may not,” Mateo said. “Or it may not matter. Or he may not be planning to do it tomorrow, but that’s what becomes inevitable over the course of the next thirty-six hours for him. It’s like Nerakali said, we can’t change the past. All we can do is move forward, and maybe make him feel a little less alone during his final days.”
“Jesus.” Arcadia rests her shoulder against a pillar, and places her forehead in her hand. “This is rough, even for me. I mean, I’m sadistic, but I don’t like knowing this much about his future. How can we not warn him, or try to stop him? Hundemarke or no, how can we just go on like everything’s fine?”
“Maybe we don’t have to,” Nerakali said, a bit cryptically.
It took them a minute to realize what she meant, and as always, Mateo was the last to figure it out. He did manage to get there on his own, though. Nerakali was suggesting that she manipulate their memories, so that they no longer remembered Cameo’s future. It was entirely possible; definitely for Mateo and Leona, presumably for Arcadia too, but maybe not so easy for Nerakali herself.
“I can make you recall meeting him yesterday, since that’s what he likely assumes happened. I can make you forget what he did, though.”
“What about you?” Arcadia asked. The fact that she was asking implied that Mateo was right, and her sister was incapable of screwing with her own mind.
“I can get through it,” Nerakali answered. “I can carry the burden. It’s the only way, anyway.”
“No, it’s not,” Mateo said. He lifted his arm. “These connect us. You said we have your brain blending powers. You don’t have to be the one to do this.”
“Not technically,” Nerakali agreed, “but I still do.”
“No, you don’t, sister,” Arcadia said. “I can do it.”
“Or we can draw straws,” Leona suggested.
“No,” Mateo said. “It’s just been decided, and there is nothing you can do to stop it. I’m sorry.”
“What is that, love?”
He didn’t bother answering her. Before they could stop him, he figured out on his own how to use Nerakali’s brain blending time powers, and erase everyone’s foreknowledge of Cameo’s ultimate fate. Only he would remember, and that was a weight he would never be free of. That was okay, though, because it probably wouldn’t be very long before he had to go back in time, and greet his own fate at the bottom of that cliff on Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida. After it was done, they freed Cameo from jail, and tried to get to know him a little better.

No comments :

Post a Comment