Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 23, 1871

It wasn’t easy, but Arcadia was able to work her replicated body in a matter of minutes. She was still too weak to do very much on her own, but it was nothing that a good meal, and some peaceful rest, wouldn’t be able to solve. Someone so powerful couldn’t be kept down too long. She did have to sleep all day, though, and by the time they saw her again, it was March 23, 2017. She had just spent the entire year living a somewhat normal life, staying with Declan and Ramses in Fletcher House. Nerakali, on the other hand, had grown used to being on Mateo and Leona’s pattern, so she asked them to replace their Cassidy cuffs, and kind of go back to the way things were. They were fine with it, because it gave them a little extra power they didn’t otherwise have.
As it turned out, the replacement body that The Artist built for Arcadia wasn’t exactly like the first one. It didn’t have any powers at all. Well, it might have let her retain her immortality, but there was no healthy way to test that. Either he didn’t want her to be as threatening as she had been before, or it was some kind of mistake. Either way, she almost seemed relieved by it. People in her position would relish the idea of being normal, at least for a little bit, Mateo imagined. He, at least, would kill to shed his pattern, and live the rest of his life right here. It probably wasn’t going to happen. His pattern was his, and though powers could evidently be added, there didn’t seem to be any way of changing it.
“You’re back,” Arcadia said. “I have been spending this whole time rebuilding my support network.”
“What?” Nerakali looked nervous.
Leona seemed concerned too, but Mateo didn’t really know what this meant.
“Yeah, well, it was a lot harder than before. I don’t have anything to offer, and I can’t threaten to annihilate anyone who doesn’t agree to help me, but I guess I just used my wiles. It isn’t what it used to be, but I can get by.”
“I’m not certain what’s happening,” Mateo said. “Who did you threaten?”
“I’ve told you this,” Arcadia began. “I don’t have many powers myself. I have to ask people to help me, and usually they do it in the background. I plan it out so carefully that you don’t actually see it happening, so it looks like I really can travel through time on my own, or merge two points in spacetime, or whatever.”
“Yeah, you did say that. It’s your support network. Why did you rebuild it? What do you want?”
“I just want it to be over,” Arcadia said cryptically.
“What does that mean?” her sister asked.
Arcadia flipped her bag over, and dumped a bunch of broken glass onto the table. “Here lies Erlendr Preston. He was a terrible father, and a terrible person. He made me who I am, though. If he hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t have killed him. This is on you, dad.”
“You can’t destroy the Insulator of Life,” Nerakali argued. “By its very nature, it protects itself from death.”
“Oh, this is just a prop. I gave the Insulator to Bhulan. She destroyed the hundemarke, just like we wanted her too, as a backup plan. Unfortunately, for our father, I had a backup plan of my own. Don’t freak out, Mateo; I am better. I’m doing this for you. I’m creating a safe reality where you’re free from the powers that be. I did not mean for all that to rhyme. Jesus. Anyway, Erlendr killed all those people with the hundemarke, and his plan was to paradox those deaths by saving the victim’s lives. Something that...dramatic, though, can’t just be undone. The paradoxes can only hold if they simply create a parallel reality.”
“We know all this,” Leona argued.
“Yes, but what Erlendr didn’t understand is that he never had to go back, and just save everybody’s life. The idiot was going to steal Jupiter Rosa’s power, quantum replicate himself, and send each copy to their own points in time, so he could essentially create the paradoxes at once. That’s too much work, and completely pointless. The only reason he would need to do that is if he wanted the hundemarke to exist at all. I don’t need that.”
Nerakali stepped forward. “Sister, I’ve been through the timeline. The creation of the hundemarke first occurred in one the oldest timelines ever. It predates the timeline where you and I were created in The Gallery. If the hundemarke doesn’t exist, neither do we. Arcadia, you would be erasing yourself from history.”
Arcadia smiled. “That’s the part that proves I’m a better person. We were indoctrinated into believing the Gallery was  vital to protecting the timeline, but we’re just erroneous. Left to their own devices, the choosing ones police themselves. The Stitcher and The Repairman do everything we can, The Warden imprisons any who would dare expose them, and others help out in their own ways. So many of them have jobs and responsibilities that no one asked them to do, and they often don’t even get paid. They don’t need us. We just made things worse. I’m proof of that. I can fix it, though. All I need to do is go back to one date.” She opened a small pocket on the front of her bag, and removed the hundemarke, so she could place it around her neck. She opened a third pocket, and took out the primary Cassidy cuff. People can only be redeemed if that’s what they want for themselves.
“Don’t do this, Arcadia,” Nerakali pleaded. “You’ll be erasing me from time as well.”
“You’ll be fine,” Arcadia promised. “You’ll continue on in this reality. I’m just trying to make a paradise, not so that I can live in it...just so that it exists.” She tapped on her cuff screen. “You’re the only one who can stop me, so I gave one of the cuffs to Serkan Demir in 2019; the power-blocking chosen one version of him. I just need to switch links, and you’ll be stuck there with him, and you won’t be able to follow us.”
“Please,” Nerakali said.
“You’re welcome,” Arcadia responded. She pressed a button, and forced Nerakali to disappear.
“I can’t tell if what you’re doing is evil, or good,” Mateo said honestly.
“Yeah,” Arcadia replied with a nod. “Me neither. Let’s go. You have to be with me when I go back to prevent the hundemarke from ever existing. Rama Lama Ding Dong, you’re coming too.”
“Where are we?” Leona asked. They were in the middle of the woods. Gunfire, and cannons rang out in the distance.
“Obernai, Germany. Well, it’s in France, but...this is May of 1871, so right now it belongs to Germany. We are on the edges of the battlefield for the Battle of Obernai during the Franco-Prussian War.”
“You brought us to a war!” Mateo cried.
“Well, this is where the hundemarke was born. The moment was so powerful, it created itself. The hundemarke stretched backwards in time, and actually kept the war going for longer than it was meant to, just so it would last long enough for the circumstances to be ripe for its creation. On its own, the hundemarke is already a paradox.”
“If it’s already a paradox, then why are we trying to force another paradox?” Ramses wondered out loud.
They heard a rustling in the leaves. Jesimula Utkin approached them, wearing some kind of cuff. “I made it, guys. Funny prank, trying to leave me behind.”
“Jesi, what is your business here?” Mateo asked her.
She laughed. “That is not my name. Volpsidia got a better body for herself, so she let me have this one. I’ve always identified as male, but I can make this work temporarily.”
“Dad?” Arcadia asked.
“Sho’nuff. Am I allowed to say that?”
“No,” Leona scolded.
“Well, whatever.”
“I destroyed you,” Arcadia accused. “How are you here? Are you from the past?”
“Well, that has to do with Bhulan Cargill,” Erlendr began, seemingly holding back a true-to-form maniacal laugh. “When she threw herself into the fire with the hundemarke, she—” He stopped short. Blood spilled out of Jesi’s mouth. He tried to turn his new body around to see who had stabbed him, but he wasn’t strong enough. He mouthed some kind of curse, but no sound came out. He just fell to the ground, and kept dying.
“Boom!” said the man with the murder weapon. “How ya like me now, dad!” He let out a legit maniacal laugh of his own.
“Zeferino?” Arcadia questioned. “What are you doing in Jupiter Rosa’s body?”
He giggled. “Nah, sis. I ain’t Zef. I’m actually Jupiter. I’m Erlendr’s only real kid. Y’all were made out of clay, but our parents did the nasty, and made me with their bodies.” He was a little too into talking about his own parents’ sex life.
“You can’t have kids in the Gallery,” Arcadia contended. “The original workers tried for centuries. The population never grew even once.”
“Heh. Try telling that to my brother. I never said I was born in the Gallery dimension, but he was. Why do you think Savannah disappeared for nine months?”
“You just said you were Erlendr’s only natural offspring, yet you have a brother?” Ramses noted.
“He’s my half-brother, but we were raised together. Erlendr found out his wife cheated on him, so he locked her up in an abandoned section of the Gallery. He kept her there in secret until the rest of his family fell to Earth. Then he dragged both her and the child down with him, and made me.”
Yet another man appeared from the trees. “He didn’t make you. He raped our mother to reassert his dominance.”
“He what?” Arcadia didn’t seem extremely shocked by everything this Jupiter guy had told her. Even though this was clearly all news to her, she was hundreds of years old, if not thousands, so these kinds of things rolled off of her. The rape thing was just too much, though. “He raped her?”
“I didn’t want to be that dramatic,” Jupiter said.
“The Screener showed us what happened!” his brother shouted. “She didn’t just say no a few times, then finally give in. It was violent, and horrific! I only wish I could have killed him as well.”
Arcadia stepped forward, and spit on Jesi’s dead body. “Same.” There was some silence for a bit before Arcadia continued, “why am I just now hearing about all this? Why have we not met before? I would have reached out if I had known you were my brother. I just wrote you off, because you were some random Springfield Nine I didn’t care about.”
Jupiter chortled. “I’m not really a Springfield Nine. Baby, I was born this way.”
My father,” the brother answered, “Athanaric Fury didn’t want us involved with all you people. I’ve kept my distance pretty well, and of course Jupiter here has his own group of friends. You’re right, though. I should have reached out.”
“Oooooohhh,” Leona realized. “You’re the other artist. You built the Rushmore extensions.”
“And Serif,” Mateo added.
“I was young,” Fury said to Mateo, “and I treated people as commodities. I’m not like that anymore.”
More rustling. This battlefield edge was a surprisingly busy place. Zeferino Preston struggled up to them. He looked drunk. “Ya gotta help me. He’s in my head. I can’t stop him. I can’t fight him anymore.” He did look like he was trying his damndest to keep it together.
“Erlendr?” Arcadia asked, helping her brother get back to a standing position.
“He’s a lot stronger than me, you know that. I can barely send a psychic email. You have to get him out. Please. I know we haven’t always been close, but I need you right now. Mateo! Mateo, we’re friends now. K—kind of. You’ll do the right thing.”
“Why the hell are you asking me? I don’t know how to get rid of a psychic invader!” Then he stopped to think about it. “I know someone who does, though.”
Leona nodded. “We have to go back to the future.”

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