Sunday, March 15, 2020

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: December 7, 2275

Mateo immediately regretted bringing Leona and Nerakali back into this. They didn’t know they were going to be suddenly transported underwater, so they didn’t hold their breaths. Nerakali was immortal, so she was fine, but Leona wasn’t moving. She was lying on the ground, and she wasn’t moving. “No, no, no, no, no,” Mateo cried. He rushed over to her and started performing CPR. He probably wasn’t doing a very good job, but he had to try something. Erlendr pulled him off of her, literally kicking and screaming.
“I got this,” Arcadia said. She removed Leona’s own Cassidy cuff, and placed it on Leona’s chest. She pressed a few buttons on the screen, but Mateo couldn’t see which ones. As soon as she pressed the last one, a shapeless blob of water appeared in midair, and fell to the ground.
Leona woke up, and coughed, but only a little. When she saw who was hovering over her, she crabwalked backwards until she found Nerakali, who cradled her protectively.
Arcadia stood up, and remained stoic. “We will not hurt you.”
“Mateo, what the hell is going on?” Nerakali demanded to know.
“What’s going on is I’m finally here.” A middle-aged man appeared from the trail above them. He jogged and slid a little down towards them like they were all just hikers passing each other on the mountain. When he finally landed in front of them, he stuck his thumbs underneath his backpack straps, and smiled at the group. “Hi.”
“Uh, we’re doing okay here, sir,” Erlendr said. “We slipped in the water, but we’re all good now. You can move on, and...find yourself in the beauty of nature, or whatever.”
“I’m not a hiker,” the man said. He dropped his pack, and started rifling through it. “Let’s see, we got water, protein bars, duct tape, of course. Here it is; a notepad to keep track of other people like me that I meet.” He flipped through until he found the page he wanted. Then he started pointing at them, and listing them off. “Mateo Matic, Erlendr Preston. You can let go of him now. Arcadia Preston, Nerakali Preston, and Leona Matic. You’re a sandwich! The Matics are the bread, and the Prestons are the meat, cheese, and potato chips.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Nerakali exclaimed.
“You put potato chips on your sandwiches?” Arcadia asked, searching for answers on the ground before her. “Oh my God, where have potato chip sandwiches been all my life?”
“Who are you?” Erlendr asked calmly.
The man stretched his arm out. “I’m Jeremy, but all my friends call me J.B.”
Erlendr rolled his eyes. “Not what’s your name. Who are you?”
“Oh. I’m a time traveler.”
“We kind of guessed that,” Arcadia said. “Chooser or salmon?”
“Salmon,” J.B. answered. “I only live on Tuesdays, and July.”
“Why does that sound familiar?” Mateo asked.
“It’s from The Good Place,” Leona said, finally feeling safe enough to stand up. She stepped forward and studied his face. “Is your last name Bearimy?”
“It is, yes.”
“That’s a stupid name,” Arcadia pointed out.
“It is, yes,” J.B. repeated. “It’s not a coincidence. I was born on Tuesday, October 23, 2018. One of the firefighters at the fire station where I was abandoned happened to be watching the latest episode of that show. They didn’t know what my real name was, so Jeremy Bearimy seemed fitting. I guess the powers that be liked it, so they tailored my pattern to make it—I guess ironic, or something. At the end of the day, I disappeared from the station, and I didn’t come back for a week. Then it just kept happening, and the firefighters knew they had to keep me a secret.”
“You live on Tuesdays and July,” Leona said. “Like the dot on the i.” She nodded understandingly. “I suppose it was bound to happen to someone.”
J.B. smiled wider. He seemed like a delightful fellow, who despite his unusual upbringing, had a really nice life.
“Wait,” Arcadia said, eyes narrowed. “It’s not Tuesday. It’s Sunday.”
“I don’t think so,” J.B. disagreed.
Leona checked her watch. “It’s 2275. Mateo must have accidentally jumped to the future. We came back exactly when you said to, Mateo. Now I know why.” She turned to face their enemies. “You cut a deal with these two, and you didn’t want us knowing about it.”
“It’s complicated,” Mateo tried to defend himself.
“All those deaths,” Erlendr began. “All those people I killed, I can bring them back. I can undo all of it. But I had to make them happen first, or it wouldn’t really be a paradox.”
“You’re trying to make a paradox?” Nerakali questioned. “Why?”
“To save your life,” her father answered. “Some universes can maintain multiple concurrent timelines. Despite the fact that our whole thing is time travel, we only get one. If you go back in time and change the past, the reality you came from collapses. The only way time can justify allowing two timelines to exist is by paradox. The new timeline can’t exist unless the old timeline stays in place alongside it. They depend on each other. I call it...The Parallel.”
“Why didn’t you just go back in time and change one thing?” Leona asked him. “Why didn’t you just stop the hundemarke from existing?”
Nerakali closed her eyes and sighed. “Because of all of your friends.”
“I don’t follow,” Mateo said, which was normal for him.
“The hundemarke has been used for more than just death,” Arcadia began to explain. “It has also been used to create life. Leona, Darko, Quivira, Lincoln, and many others owe their lives to it. No salmon does—the powers that be will always make sure any  salmon they want to be alive is born in any new reality—but plenty of choosing ones and regular humans are only here because of it. If you removed the hundemarke from history, you could lose all of those people, and with it everyone whose lives were impacted by those people. You would have to undo the deaths, and only the deaths.”
“Why didn’t we hear about any of this before.” She scowled at Nerakali.
“I didn’t have the whole picture. Zeferino tried to tell me once that the hundemarke has sometimes protected life, but I didn’t believe him. That was centuries ago, so I forgot about it.”
“Dad just explained it to me,” Arcadia said. “He would have brought you in too,’re kind of too far gone.”
“I’m not gone,” Nerakali argued. “You are.”
“What do you have to do with any of this?” Mateo asked J.B. “Why did you come find us?”
“My father was friends with a time traveler from the future. He sent me off to find you and Leona, to protect you from harm whenever I can. By the time I was old enough to handle this mission, though, you were impossible to find; off on other planets, and whatnot. Like I said, I’m not always around. My operating windows are very small.” He tilted his head towards the sky in reflection. “Oh, how I love July. You know, I’m fifty-eight years old, but I’ve only had thirty-six birthdays.”
“Tell me about it,” Mateo said with an agreeable scoff.
Leona reached down and retrieved her Cassidy cuff. After she put it back on her wrist, she pressed a few buttons. “We three need to talk,” she said. “Alone.”
Before she could teleport them somewhere, Mateo felt compelled to take hold of newcomer J.B.
“Why did you bring him?” Nerakali asked. They were now standing under the foothills of some other mountain range. The weather was cooler and dryer. “We don’t know if we can trust him.”
“I didn’t want to leave him with your family,” Mateo defended.
“Good point,” Nerakali admitted.
Leona pointed towards the hills. “Go that direction, please.”
“Certainly,” J.B. said, still smiling, and not at all offended. He started walking in one direction, while they walked the opposite way.
Once the stranger was out of earshot, Leona resumed the conversation, “I don’t want to say the b-word.”
“Bearimy?” Mateo hoped.
“Betrayal,” Nerakali corrected.
Mateo sighed. He knew this day would come, but he hoped it would be in the new timeline, once they were finally free of the powers that be. He had already spent several tortured days on this. What was he going to say to Leona once she found out? How could he justify it? Perhaps it wasn’t possible. “I won’t apologize for trying to save you.”
“When did you even talk to them?”
Mateo didn’t say anything.
“I guess your memorial service was a busy day for everybody,” she presumed.
“Ten days,” Mateo said.
“I’m sorry?”
“I was there for ten days,” he expanded. “The powers that be let me stay that long, so they either don’t get what’s going on, or they’re fine with it.”
“You spent more than a week being indoctrinated by my family?” Nerakali asked him.
“I wouldn’t call it that, obviously,” Mateo argued. “It—it’s just...”
“It’s just what, Mateo?” Leona spat. “It’s just what?”
“We keep going up against these villains, and you know what happens—it. Dammit.” He was flustered, and very unable to vocalize his position.”
Leona was surprisingly calm. “It’s okay. Just relax, and take your time. I want to hear what you have to say. I’m sorry I attacked you. Go on when you’re ready.”
Mateo took a breath, and tried to lower his blood pressure. “Everybody we’ve gone against has been bad, ya know, until they weren’t. I guess Ulinthra never turned good, but maybe you and Reaver never gave her enough time; I don’t know. But Zeferino, Boyce, Nerakali! Even Arcadia has helped us sometimes. I’m sick of having enemies. What if we stopped being enemies with people? The heroes in movies are always worried about teaming up with the bad guys, because they think it’ll turn them bad. But what if it’s the opposite? What if we can turn them good? We’ve done it before.”
Leona patiently listened to his logic. “Mateo, Erlendr Preston has killed people.”
“So has she!” Mateo volleyed, indicating Nerakali again. “Probably.”
“Actually, no,” she said. “I’ve hurt people...emotionally, but I’ve never killed.”
Leona stayed calm, and directed her attention to Mateo. “You spoke, and now I am. Erlendr has killed. It doesn’t matter that he intends to create a reality where they never died. Those people will still be dead, because his whole goal is to create a parallel timeline, which means this one will still be here. It was bad enough when Baby Reaver and Baby Ulinthra were murdering people, then sending their consciousnesses back in time, and not murdering them again. That was sick, but it’s even worse that Erlendr can’t even do that. He’ll still be a serial killer, and there’s no way around it. There’s no loophole, no justification. He didn’t kill Hitler, which is sort of...ya know, an exception.”
“You’re just saying that because I killed Hitler.”
“I’m not, it’s a rule. My point is that you aren’t trying to turn those two good. You’re doing what they want you to do. Now, I don’t know if that’s making you a bad person, but it doesn’t make you a saint. It can only do harm.”
“I was just trying to get us out of this.” Mateo shook his head. Everything she was saying made a whole lot more sense than what he was saying, and not just because she was more intelligent, and better with words.
“I thought we stopped doing that,” Leona said. “I thought we long ago accepted where we were...who we were.”
“I guess we did,” Mateo agreed. “I just saw an opportunity.”
“I can appreciate that, but I don’t think it’s worth it.”
He exhaled for the first time in a few millennia. “Okay.”
“Okay,” Leona echoed. “We’re gonna move on from this, and find a way to bring that man to justice. We have help now.”
“Yeah, I was wondering about that,” he said. “I thought you were bringing recruits back with you.”
Nerakali jumped in, “we have a plan. They’ll be here next year.”
“But I won’t.” Jeremy Bearimy had snuck up next to them.
“How did you catch up to us so fast?”
J.B. held up a cube, inside of which was another cube. “This tesseract can fold space for me.” It might have been a wondrous thing, but temporal manipulation was common, so a tesseract would just be one more way of doing it. He nonchalantly plopped it back into his bag, and smiled once more. “Now.” He clapped his hands together. “You better make good use of me. I won’t be back for another three years.”

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