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Sunday, April 5, 2020

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: December 10, 2278

They never did manage to find Holly Blue, or her alternate counterpart, Weaver. Mateo decided, pretty unilaterally, that something had to be done about the Prestons, and that it could not wait, for anything. Not everyone agreed with his plan, but he was the one with the primary Cassidy cuff, which was the only in full working order. Not even Ramses would be able to stop him now, not that he would deign to try. Everything was going to change after the tenth of December, 2278. He would never be able to come back from this, but the timeline and Leona would be safe, so that was a sacrifice he had to make.
“You don’t seem that upset,” Mateo noted. He was standing on the other side of the cage Arcadia and Erlendr were in. This basement got a lot of use many years ago. Some very important historical figures did a lot of good deeds, for the city, and for time. But this work did not come without its enemies, and they did occasionally have to lock people up. This was where they decided to keep the Prestons, to keep them out of trouble. Since they were still here, it would seem their plan went fine.
“Why would we be upset?” Erlendr asked. He looked over at his daughter, in her own cage, separated by an empty cell in the middle.
“Well, we locked you up for...Leona told me how long, but I can’t remember.”
“It was about five months, numbnuts,” Arcadia said.
“Hey,” Erlendr scolded her. “I thought you had a thing for this one.”
“I can have mixed feelings dad!” she spat back like a petulant child.
“Childish antics aside, my daughter and I are immortal time travelers. Five months is meaningless. We’ll get out of here eventually. It could take five more months, or five thousand years; it doesn’t matter. Once we’re free, we’ll go back to the time periods on our schedule, and get back to doing what we’re doing. This is nothing. You did nothing. So no, Mister Matic, I’m not upset with you. You let us out right now, and I won’t harm a hair on your head. I won’t harm your friends either.”
“Yeah.” Nerakali appeared from up the darkened stairs. “You won’t hurt us, because you need us for something.”
Erlendr started to pace. “I need some people, for some things. I need some very specific people, with very particular time powers, and I need some cannon fodder. None of you belong to the first group, and I can find anyone for the second.”
“Which one am I?” Nerakali asked her father.
He smiled at his daughter sadly. “You’re neither, honey bunny. I’m trying to save you.”
“I’m already dead,” she volleyed.
He shook his head. “Only in this timeline. As far as I’m concerned, this timeline can get fucked.”
“Hey, billions and billions of people live, once lived, or will one day live in this timeline,” Mateo argued. “You will show them your respect.”
“Look at the audacity on this guy. This is not the man I keep hearing about. You’re...strong, full of conviction.”
“I’ve grown a little. Death does that to ya, I suppose.”
“But you’re still an idiot.”
This made Nerakali a lot angrier than Mateo himself. She lifted her cuff, and spoke into it. “J.B., are you in the geothermal room?”
“Yes, sir,” he replied through the intercom.
“Put baby in the corner,” she ordered.
“What the hell does that mean?” Arcadia asked flippantly.
Both she and Erlendr were suddenly pulled against the wires of the cage. It wasn’t killing them, but it wasn’t pleasant.
Mateo started mimicking Erlendr’s pacing. “Remind me, Nerakali, what was the proximity range we put on our prisoners’ Cassidy cuffs?”
“They can’t get within two meters of the primary, sir,” she answered, “and not beyond twenty meters.”
“And...about how far is the far corner of the power generator room of this facility?”
“Just over twenty meters, sir.”
“Okay,” Arcadia struggled to say with her face scrunched up against the metal. “We get it. We’ll be good.”
Mateo spoke into his own cuff. “Step back, please.”
The Prestons fell to their knees.
“You could have just had him walk up stairs,” Erlendr told them.
“But then your honey bunny couldn’t have made the Dirty Dancing reference.” Mateo leaned in real close to Erlendr, who was still on the floor. “Speaking of movie references...honey bunny was the douche bag’s girlfriend...pumpkin. That’s not an Oedipus complex, but it’s something.”
Erlendr banged his fists against the wire. “Okay, now I’m pissed!”
“Oh, you are, are ya!” Mateo matched volume with his best Irish accent.
“Yeah!”
“You are?!”
“I am!”
“I’m glad to finally know you draw the line at incest! Prestoncest!”
Arcadia banged on the cage too. “Hey! What the hell are you doing? This isn’t you!”
He slid over, and gave her the stink eye. “Oh, what’s my problem? I just have this thing about muthafuckas murdering me. It’s a quirk; I was born with it!”
Arcadia mimed squeezing a watermelon between her hands, shaking with frustration. “He’s going to undo that. He’s going to undo all of them!”
“Oh, he is? What about the people who once lived here? Their deaths galvanized an entire city to drop their weapons, which started a nationwide movement that inspired other cities to do the same. I’m not saying those innocent people deserved to die, but what world will we be living in if it doesn’t happen?”
“We’re gonna fix all that too!” Arcadia contended. “We’re gonna fix everything! The Parallel is just Step One of Stage Three.”
Who’s gonna fix it?” he questioned.
“Us!” she cried. “My father, my brother, Nerakali, even you!”
“And there it is.” Mateo lowered his voice back down to assert his calm dominance. “You Prestons have always fancied yourselves gods. You think you know best. Zeferino died for this delusion. But that’s why the powers that be made me! I don’t have a job, so when they need something done that’s unusual—that no one else is responsible for—they call me in. I rehabilitated Horace Reaver, I got The Cleanser killed, and I ripped you from this universe, where you too were rehabilitated.” He wasn’t finished yet. “My wife made Nerakali a better person, and our relationship with Reaver drove him to kill Ulinthra for us.”
“Who?”
“Exactly.” He started to pace again, but this time for himself. “I ran a planet. Leona saved a race of heavy worlders. We have bested everyone and everything that’s ever been thrown at us, including you. You think you can win, because there’s one thing no one has ever had the audacity—as you put it—to say to you.”
“Lemme guess,” Erlendr began, “no.”
“Close,” Mateo replied. “I was gonna say hell no.”
“You’re not a selfish man, Mateo,” Erlendr said. “You would never let a villain do a bad thing to get your own life back. But how can you say no to all those people the hundemarke killed? What would you say to their families?”
Now Mateo knew he had to be cold. “It depends. If they were religious, I would probably lie to them, and say that God has a plan.”
“And if they weren’t?” Arcadia asked.
He took a moment before answering, which they all managed to respect. “I would tell ‘em that shit happens.”
They didn’t have a response to this.
Mateo spoke into his cuff, “Ramses. Is it done? Will it work?”
It’s ready, boss. I’m no Holly Blue, though, so be careful. Handoff upon your orders,” Ramses replied.
“What does that mean?” Arcadia asked again.
“Do it,” Mateo ordered.
His cuff beeped. The Prestons stumbled back, but regained their balance.
“Sorry, I was too close.” He stepped back to give them more space to move around. Ramses just transferred ownership of their cuffs to him, which meant he was primary for all of them. He was done being cruel. Now he just had to kill them. It was the only way. Leona didn’t agree with it, though, which was why she wasn’t here.
Arcadia sensed the turn. “This is it? You want blood?”
“No blood,” Mateo said with a slow shake of his head.
“You know what I mean.”
“Yes, but you don’t know what I mean.” He inhaled deeply to prepare himself. “I suggested we erase your memories, but Nerakali told me my brain wouldn’t be able to handle that. You’re just too...much. You’re sick, and you’ve had traumatizing lives. I wouldn’t survive. But that doesn’t mean I can’t use her power.” Now he turned, and faced the only good Preston they had ever known. “You should leave.”
“I need to see this,” Nerakali insisted.
“I understand.” He started pressing a sequence on his cuff.
“What are you doing?” she asked, tearing up.
“I’m sorry.”
“You don’t have to do this alone,” she begged him. “You’re abusing your power.”
He sighed again. “I know. I’ll make you forget I did it later.”
“That’s worse!” she screamed.
Before she could say anything else, he executed the sequence, and apported her to safety in the hangar.
“What did she want to watch?” Erlendr looked scared, and it was probably the first time in his millennia-long life.
“I’m not gonna kill your bodies. I don’t have the stomach for it. No matter what anyone says, you’re not Hitler.”
“You’re gonna blend our brains,” Arcadia realized. “But what is that going to change? We’ve both been the same, in all realities.”
“Your sister taught me a lot about how her time and mind powers work, and about alternate realities in general,” he began. “She explained that, logically speaking, your alternate self isn’t much more you than any rando. I can blend your brain with anyone I choose. I just have to know who I’m looking for.”
“Who are you looking for?” Erlendr asked.
“Does it matter?” he asked. “You’re not going to remember.”
“Whose minds are you putting in our bodies?” Arcadia echoed.
“Years ago, you forced me and my friends to struggle through expiations. You took them out of time one by one, and held them hostage.”
“I remember,” she said. “This is payback?”
“No,” Mateo said truthfully. “We failed one of the expiations. We failed to bring back your previous target’s brother, and we failed to help your target herself. I’m here to fix that. The loophole is that I can clear all of your memories without taking them into myself as long as I replace them all with new ones.”
“Please,” Erlendr pleaded.
He used his Cassidy cuffs to disable the proximity range, and then he apported the both of them out of their cages. This could be their one chance to escape, but they were too frightened to do anything. They couldn’t think clearly. They had never been so powerless. But he was thinking clearer than ever, and possessed more power than he had ever known what to do with. Things were different than the last time, back when he was forced to fight the Cleanser using the same powers as equals. This time, he knew what had to be done, and he knew he was the only one in a position to do it, even though he wasn’t the only one with these gifts in his hands. He raised them now, and focused his energy on his targets. “Erlendr and Arcadia Preston, you have been found guilty on multiple counts of murder, for which the punishment is death by immediate overwrite.” It was faster than he thought it would be. In under a minute, Erlendr and Arcadia Preston were gone. The people he replaced them with were just as scared, though, and very confused.
Mateo used his cuff to summon his wife to their position.
“Is it done?” Leona asked.
“Leona Delaney, I would like to introduce you to brother and sister, Aldona and Nestor Lanka.”
“It’s nice to meet you,” Leona said to them.
“Please take care of them,” Mateo charged her.
“Where are you going?”
He gave the love of his life one last hug. “It’s best that you don’t know.” Then he teleported away, and left her there, never intending to see her again.

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