Sunday, February 9, 2020

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: December 2, 2270

Back in the first timeline that Mateo could remember, which people often referred to as Reality 2—even though there were many before it, and many since—his life was pretty normal. Sure, his family situation was a little different, but no two families are exactly the same, right? There was a period in life before all this time travel business when he was just an average joe who drove a taxi. Taxis were a little different in Topeka than they were in, say, New York or Chicago. They didn’t roam the streets constantly, waiting to be hailed by someone on the sidewalk. If you wanted to be picked up, you pretty much had to call the cab company. If you saw one driving towards you, it either already had a fare, or was on its way to one. Even though Topeka was, by no means, a small town, it was chock full of licensed drivers, and had a decent public transit system, so the taxi customer base was relatively small, and it wasn’t unheard of for a driver to encounter a client they had driven before. Mateo even had a regular.
Depending on how one measures time, Mateo’s experiences as a driver were thousands of years ago, centuries ago, or only around a decade ago. Either way, there very few things Mateo could recall about his regular client, which perfectly illustrated the point he was trying to make to himself about his present-day life. Since Mateo literally had no one he could talk to about what he knew of Cameo’s past-impending death, his survival of the burden was entirely dependent on internal conflict resolution. So while they were waiting for something to happen in 2270, he was spending a lot of time in his own head, trying to give himself therapy, which was where his taxi years came in.
The client’s name started with an D, or an F. He couldn’t remember which, but to make things easier, he decided he was going to call him Favid for now. So Favid had some sort of medical condition that made it hard for him to work, and made it impossible to drive. It was something he developed after he started his job, so it wasn’t like he had lied to his boss about having reliable transportation. He did, however, technically lie to his boss all the time when he continued to not disclose what was happening with him. The real problem with his case was not just that he needed a ride to work every single day, but also that he worked at multiple locations around the city. At least twice a week, he would be sent to work at a given site in the morning, and then be rerouted somewhere else in the middle of the day, because something came up. As you might imagine, his wasn’t the kind of position that could be held with public transportation. Lots of employers ask a candidate if they have reliable personal transportation without it being necessary, but in this case, it was definitely necessary. What was Favid going to do if not hire Mateo to basically be his personal driver for a month while he searched for a job closer to home? Mateo agreed to it, even though the money was terrible, because he felt it was the right thing to do. If Favid was rich enough to afford a permanent driver, he could have just quit his job anyway, and lived off his savings until he found something that worked better. So Mateo had to essentially take a sabbatical from his own job, and just always be there for him.
Well, sabbatical probably wasn’t the right word, because he was still taking other fares; he was just limited to which ones he could accept. The customer had to be close to where Favid was working that day, and their destination had to be close too. This was at the very beginning of nontraditional ride-sourcing companies that relied on the ubiquity of smartphones to plan routes, and facilitate payment. So it wasn’t impossible for Mateo to know where it was any given customer wanted to go before he offered his services, but it was difficult, and that only added to his financial woes. Still, he was always there for Favid, because he needed the money more than Mateo, and again, it was the right thing to do. He could always rely on his parents to give him a little money for rent, while Favid enjoyed no such safety net.
But this story isn’t about how great of a person Mateo always was, or a way to relate what he did back then with what he did recently when he erased his group’s memories so that they wouldn’t have to interact with a new friend they knew was destined to die. This story is about the conversations Mateo had with Favid. More to the point, it’s about the fact that Mateo could remember that these conversations took place, and could even recall a few details about them, but not the conversations themselves. For every ride, Favid paid partially with actual money, and partially with interesting stories. He would always have a new tale about something that happened to him, whether it be recent, or awhile ago. They were always fascinating, and they always lasted from the moment he crawled into Mateo’s car, to the moment before he stepped out. It was almost as if Favid wrote these up ahead of time, and knew exactly what he was going to say, and how long it was going to take. He was a brilliant storyteller, which is an important characteristic, because it would go on to inform his future.
One day, as they were nearing the end of their business relationship, Mateo asked Favid whether all of these stories were true, or if he was making them up. None of them featured ghosts or aliens, or anything. He could reasonably believe that each individual story really happened to Favid, but combined, they seemed a little improbable. How could one person really have gone through all this? No, they were true. Of course, Mateo had no way of verifying them, except for the one where he found himself in the newspaper, but he still chose to believe it. The real question was how Favid was capable of remembering all these things. Was he embellishing the details, or did he really have such clear images in his head? It was then that Mateo started questioning if his brain was wired differently than other people. He was never a rockstar student, which explained why he was driving a cab, and not running a multi-billion dollar biomedical conglomerate. He hadn’t realized until then, however, that maybe even regular people had better memories. Maybe he was even dumber than he knew.
It occurred to Mateo that he couldn’t remember a single particular conversation in his life. For instance, he had dinner at a restaurant with his parents the other day. What did they talk about? What was one single sentence that Randall said to him? Nothing. If he tried to have a flashback to that hour of his life, the three of them would just be sitting there in silence, smiling at each other, because that was all he knew for sure actually happened. He and Favid were extremely different people, and this idea was only reinforced weeks later—after their special arrangement was long over—when Mateo realized he couldn’t remember any of the stories Favid told him. If someone asked him to regurgitate one of them, or even provide a summary, he would not be able to do it. Those memories were gone. He could tell you the places he took Favid. He could tell you the kind of clothes he wore, and even how long their arrangement lasted. But he couldn’t relive the events themselves, because his brain just didn’t retain that information. Over the years since then, he tried to deliberately prevent himself from forgetting these kinds of things, but it never worked. He continued to lose what he would later learn were called episodic memories; not entirely, like amnesia, but enough to bother him.
Favid went on to work at a public library. Per Mateo’s suggestion, he applied there to no particular job. They actually created a position for him, so that he could use his storytelling skills to regale audiences, both kids and adults alike. Some of his stories were probably the same ones he once told Mateo in the car, but he also started making them up, and adapting stories that could be found in the library, written by someone else. He became a bit of a local celebrity; a very much-loved pillar of the community. He later thanked Mateo profusely for what he did for him; for helping him with rides when he was desperate for help, and also for putting him on his truth path. He wrote a book about his life, which sold pretty well in Topeka, and the surrounding areas. Mateo was in it for about two pages. It was one of the most rewarding times of Mateo’s life, which only made it more frustrating that he couldn’t really remember much from it. He went on to become an unwilling time traveler, and alter history so that none of it even happened. New realities formed to replace the old one, and if Favid still existed in this one, he never knew Mateo, and perhaps never found his true calling, which was an incredibly sad thought. But even this isn’t the point of the story. This story is all about Mateo’s memories, and what he was going to do with them.
According to Nerakali, brain blenders were not capable of erasing their own memories. They could add memories from their alternate lives, but they were not capable of removing them. The way she explained it, erasing memories wasn’t like deleting a file from a computer. A blender had to basically absorb a target’s memory, so that the target no longer had it. The memory has to go somewhere, so if a blender were to try to do it on themselves, all they would be doing is removing the memory from their head, and then putting it right back. That was why Mateo had no hope of forgetting Cameo’s death, and would have to figure out how to deal with him without giving anything away. He took this on himself so that no one else would have to do it, and it would hopefully turn out to be the best decision he ever made, because maybe he didn’t really have to erase his own memories to forget them. After all, his brain wasn’t very good at remembering things anyway. It would always be in the back of his mind, but if his plan worked, he might be able to bury it so deep that it wouldn’t be able to rear its proverbial head, and overwhelm his thoughts.
Through Nerakali’s instruction, he learned how to blend brains. He didn’t reveal to her why he wanted her to teach him how to do this, but she was pleasantly respectful of his wishes, and didn’t ask questions. Once he felt ready, he reached all the way back to the second reality, and found the events he was looking for. He blended his own brain, filling himself with memories of the stories Favid gifted him with. The time he fell into the crocodile pit, and just chilled with them until zookeepers came to the rescue. The time someone in a grocery store parking lot wasn’t looking where they were going, and ran straight into his cart, knocking all his food out, and then just drove off. The time the cops banged on his door in the middle of the night, because they had the wrong address. Mateo could remember it all, and it was so much that he could barely think about what it was he was trying to forget. It might take a few days to have any real results, but he already felt better after the blending was done. He didn’t even scream like other blending people did. That was because he didn’t have any bad memories of Favid. No, his real name wasn’t Favid; that would be stupid. His real name was Erotan Blumenthal, which was so much cooler.
“Are you okay?” Leona asked.
There was probably a big goofy smile on his face. “I’m great.”
“Did you blend your brain with memories of another reality.”
“I did.”
She didn’t say anything, but she was clearly waiting for him to elaborate.
“They’re not relevant. I just wanted to remember something really nice.”
She seemed to understand that he wasn’t ready to clarify, and may never be. She just sat down next to him, and presumably enjoyed her own moment of self-reflection.

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