Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: December 9, 2277

The new Cassidy cuffs that Ramses made for them didn’t seem to work as they were meant to. It was unclear at first exactly what went wrong. All Mateo knew was that the six of them were sitting in a room together in 2276 when midnight struck, and when he returned to the timestream a year later, he was alone. Not even Leona seemed to have made it through. The old Mateo would have freaked out at this point, but he developed a sense of clarity after he was brought back from total nonexistence two months ago. Things became even clearer after he was brought back from death three weeks ago, and this all came to a head when he witnessed his own funeral five days ago. Leona wasn’t dead; the powers that be wouldn’t have let that happen. She might have been thrown off her pattern temporarily, or accidentally teleported somewhere else, but she wasn’t gone for good. He could figure this out, but only as long as he stayed calm. He lifted his arm, and started looking through the data on his cuff.
Ramses said that he was giving him the primary cuff, which gave him some level of control over the others. He could evidently take everyone’s powers away, or geotag them to a certain location, or any number of things. That was probably best on the wrist of someone intelligent, like Leona, or experienced, like Nerakali. They had spent yesterday on a sort of break. He couldn’t call it a party, per se, but they weren’t allowed to discuss business either. All of them had recently experienced Mateo’s memorial services, so this was a celebration of his life, but with less focus on him. They just forgot about Mateo’s special status as the one in control. Perhaps that was why he was the only one who made the jump. The problem now was that he didn’t know where the others were. There had to be some kind of way of tracking his friends through the cuffs, if not a way to teleport directly to them.
He wasn’t much into manuals, so he just started tapping through menus, hoping to find something that could help. His efforts were not wasted as he soon found precisely what he was looking for. The cuffs were still connected to each other in terms of the passage of time. Three minutes had passed for Mateo since midnight central, and the system indicated the same went for everyone else. The bad news was not only were none of them in the present day, but they weren’t even in the same moment in time. The cuffs, for whatever reason, scattered them all throughout time and space. There was a time map, which told him both when and where they were. It didn’t say what they were going through while they were there, however, so Mateo had a decision to make. Who was in most need of rescuing, and more importantly, was he competent enough to do it? Nerakali. He wanted to save Leona first, but that was an impractical choice. Time travel was Nerakali’s arena. The responsible thing to do was to get to her first. He was also curious to find out why she was in March 21, 2014, because that was the day Mateo first started traveling through time.

When Mateo arrived in the past, he saw two different versions of Nerakali. They were arguing with each other, and he couldn’t tell which was which. The other one was presumably from the past, rather than the future, so he decided to call her Past!Nerakali.
“What the hell is he doing here?” Yes, that was almost certainly Past!Nerakali, the one wearing a blue shirt.
The other one looked back at him. “What year are you from?” she asked.
“I’m from when you would expect; 2277. What happened to you?”
“I don’t know,” Present!Nerakali spat. “I can’t jump through time. And this bitch won’t give me a ride.”
“Past!Nerakali,” Mateo began like the father of both of them, “why won’t you give your alternate self a ride to the future?”
“Why the hell would I help her?” Past!Nerakali questioned. “I’m just tryin’ to get back home. If she’s here, it means whatever I try doesn’t work, and I don’t want to encourage her to exist.”
“Going back to The Gallery is impossible,” Present!Nerakali explained. “You know this. You wouldn’t exist if it were possible, because then dad would have hunted the original Gallery workers down, and forced them back.”
“No,” Past!Nerakali said in denial. “There’s a way. There has to be a way. There’s always a loophole.”
Present!Nerakali shook her head. “There’s not. The moment the Gallery doors are opened is locked in time. Not even The Arborist can get to it. Believe me, I’ve tried. You’re a baby, but I’ve been down in this dimension for centuries, and I have tried everything.”
“Is this the day you fell from the Gallery?” Mateo asked.
“Yes,” the Nerakalis replied in unison.
“Is that a coincidence?” he asked. “The date, I mean.”
Present!Nerakali seemed to know what he was asking. Was it somehow connected to him? “It’s not a coincidence, but only inasmuch as the powers that be like to make important things happen separately, but at the same time. Our fall has nothing to do with you directly.
Mateo nodded. “I have to get you back to the future, so you can help me get the others.”
“Can you do that?” Present!Nerakali asked him.
“I’m here, ain’t I? My cuff still works.”
“What are those things?” Past!Nerakali asked. She clearly felt entitled to an answer.
Mateo ignored the question. “Do you want her to remember that this happened?” he asked Present!Nerakali.
I don’t remember it.”
“I guess we have to erase her memories then.”
“She doesn’t have powers,” Past!Nerakali threw at them, pretty proud of herself. “So she can’t erase jackshit.”
He released an evil grin. “I have her powers. I can erase them.”

Per Nerakali’s suggestion, he left her in 2277 when he went off to retrieve Leona on June 30, 2027. She suspected everyone had been transported to defining moments in their own lives, and it was best to limit the number of people who were involved in those fragile moments. He found himself in a hospital, but not just any hospital. He had been here before. After he broke Horace Reaver out of Beaver Haven Penitentiary, he brought him to this place to show him how his goodness had inspired a former villain to become a better person. She had just donated her kidney to save a younger Leona’s life. Mateo looked back at the time listed on his cuff. His own past self would be arriving in a few minutes. They had to get out of here to avoid altering the timeline too much. Rule number four; avoid alternate versions of yourself.
He walked down the hallway, and stepped into Jesimula Utkin’s recovery room. Leona was sitting in a chair next to Jesi’s bed. They were holding hands.
“Oh, hey,” Leona said. “Could you give us a little bit? I know I need to go back to the future, but I was hoping to get to know my donor a little better.”
Mateo looked at his cuff agan. “I’m afraid we’re out of time. Past!Me and Ace Reaver are going to be here any minute.”
“Ace?” Leona asked. “Not Horace.”
He shook his head. “He doesn’t have his brain blended yet.”
Leona frowned, and looked back at Jesi. “I just...there’s so much I needed to tell you. I mean, all this time traveling, this might be the only time we ever cross paths. What can I do? I can’t repay you, but there’s gotta be something I can do for you.”
Jesi smiled kindly. “There’s one thing that will help make up for the loss of my kidney.”
“Name it.”
“It has to be in the next two minutes,” Mateo warned them reluctantly.
“I can walk that fast,” Jesi said as she pressed the button to lift the head of her bed up. “It would mean the world to me if you helped me get on the toilet.”
Leona hesitated for a moment, not because she didn’t want to do it, but because it would only be a small gesture, and she wanted to do something grand. She recognized the time constraint, though, and knew this was the best they were probably going to get. She helped Jesi walk over to the bathroom, and sit down. And that was it. The two of them jumped back to the future just as Mateo saw his past self heading towards them from down the hallway, Ace in tow.
Mateo found Present!Ramses sitting next to his own past self at a skatepark. His eyes were closed, and he was pinching the bridge of his nose. “Oh my God, you are not getting this.”
“No, I get it. You betrayed our people,” Past!Ramses argued.
“No, I didn’t! You get new people! Better people!”
“All right,” Mateo tried to mediate again. “There’s no need to yell.”
“Who’s this guy?” Past!Ramses questioned.
“You don’t need to know that, because I’m going to erase your memories anyway,” Mateo explained.
Present!Ramses stood up quickly. “No, don’t do that. I’m trying to get through to him.”
“You can’t,” Mateo said to him apologetically. “Everything you went through for us to become friends, and everything you did for me after that, he deserves to go on that same journey.”
“What the hell journey are you talking about?” Past!Ramses asked rhetorically, because he didn’t care about either of them.
“I know you wanna change things,” Mateo said to Present!Ramses. “I know you regret how long it took for you to see the error of your ways. You can’t change the past, though. I mean, you can—we’ve seen it—but you shouldn’t. It’s been too long, and you’ve seen too much. No one can see the variables, and predict what will change about the timeline.”
“What if this saves your life? What if Briar never kills you, because Leona changes her plans, and they just straight up never meet each other, all because I was a better person before I met Étude and Vitalie?”
“My death is predestined. It can’t be changed, no matter what you do. You know this as well.”
“If I can’t make myself a better person, then what am I doing here?” Present!Ramses asked.
“It’s a glitch; one which you will repair when we get back all the others. You’re not here for any reason at all.”
Ramses kept his angry face on as he absorbed what Mateo was trying to tell him. Then he looked at his arm, and over at his past self. “That’s bullshit. If I can’t change everything, then I’m at least gonna change one thing. Go ahead and erase this asshole’s memories, but you can’t erase this!” He reached into his pocket, and pulled out a little pocket knife. Before anyone could stop him, he dragged the blade across Past!Ramses’ arm. It wasn’t enough to kill him, but he cut real deep. As he was doing so, a painful scar appeared on Present!Ramses’ arm, in the exact same place. As Past!Ramses was pulling off his shirt to apply pressure to his arm, Present!Ramses was holding his own scar. Even though it was many, many years old for him, the pain still looked like it felt new. He breathed in, and tried to move past it. “I guess now I finally know where I got this scar.”
Mateo helped Past!Ramses by tying the shirt off, so it would stay in place on its own. He then did his duty by erasing his memories, so Ramses would literally never see this moment coming. “We’ll talk about this later, he said to him as he was taking him by the arm.”

They went back to 2277 together. Mateo then went off to retrieve the remaining two members of their group. Both of them understood how causality, the butterfly effect, and paradoxes worked, so they came quickly and easily. When all was said and done, this was but a slight detour from their mission. It didn’t even take an hour of their time. They would still have plenty of time to discuss what they were going to do when J.B. returned tomorrow with Erlendr and Arcadia. It did inform their plan, though. The cuffs were obviously far from perfect. A few glitches had reared their heads since they started wearing them; enough to cause significant concern. The point was that, if this could happen to them, it could happen to the other three too. They could move forward with no plan until they made sure nothing else would go wrong with them. They were less worried about the glitches themselves than they were scared of how the Prestons were going to exploit any vulnerability they discovered, and how pissed they were that anyone tried to corral them. There was only one person who could help them now. They had to find the cuff’s inventor, Holly Blue.

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