Sunday, October 4, 2020

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Thursday, July 8, 2123

Mateo had heard of The Shortlist before. While they were on Glisnia long ago, and many years in the future, Hogarth had explained it all to him. He was evidently an honorary member, while Leona was a full member. She enjoyed voting rights and other privileges, but she wasn’t called into action very often. She was only part of it, because of her unique position under the powers that be. If ever they needed a scientist to reach the PTB, she was the only one with any real hope of being the liasson. Mateo was loosely associated with them, but only in the case that Leona wasn’t available. The Shortlist was exactly what it sounded like; a short list of people, all with scientific backgrounds. They felt responsible for the galaxy’s relationship with time travel technology, but not out of some arbitrary grab for power. They were the ones actually inventing all this stuff, so of course they held themselves accountable for what happened to it.
They were a self-policing organization, and the future’s answer for Beaver Haven Rehabilitation Facility. In the past, people weren’t allowed to reveal the truth about time travelers to the world, but in the future, these rules were a little less clear. Perhaps vonearthans had the right to this knowledge, because they had matured enough to handle it. That was why Beaver Haven never had anything to do with time criminals from the 24th century onwards, and why members of the Shortlist felt compelled to oversee such matters. Leona didn’t say why she was sent to this future, or what they voted on, or why the hell J.B. was involved. She didn’t get the chance before Jupiter and Tauno showed up to hold a meeting of their own.
The six of them sat around the table in the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Ariadna was doing whatever, Missy had never returned from the Fourth Quadrant, and there was literally not enough room for J.B. around the hexagon, so he gladly sat off to the side.
 “This is going to be...” Sanaa began, smiling as she looked at each of the others around her, “a hell of a lot of fun. We’re gonna argue, we’re gonna call each other names. J’accuse! I can’t see anything going wrong here, though. It’ll be great, you’ll see.”
“Color commentary from everyones favorite telepath,” Tauno said.
“I’m not a telepath anymore,” Sanaa corrected.
“She’s right,” Mateo said. “I don’t see this going well. Is it a parlay, or what?”
“We’re just talkin’,” Jupiter tried to assure him.
“Are you mad about the whole Fourth Quadrant thing?” Leona asked Tauno.
“That was a group project,” Tauno began to explain. “Every one of us was involved. Jupiter copied the people, Keanu gave us the weather, I created the pocket dimension, Yatchiko regulated reality. We all had some part to play. When you messed with that, you didn’t just interfere with my work, but all of ours.”
“We understand that,” Mateo said. As sick as this man clearly was, he wanted to remember Rule Number Fifteen. It was kind of the most important one recently, perhaps because all the others had by now become second nature for him.
“It’s okay. To answer your question, Mrs. Matic, I’m not mad. To be honest, it was becoming rather tedious. Man was it exciting for the first few years. Those duplicate Kansas Citians slowly started learning what happened to them, and what they were. Existential crises all across the board. But as the seasons progressed, it overstayed its welcome. I mean, there was a block of about two quadrant years that was boring as all hell. Nothing interesting happened; I probably should have cancelled it after that.”
They shifted uncomfortably in their seats.
“Oh, I wouldn’t have killed them, but I would have reset the time flow, and started ignoring them. It’s okay that you did it for me; like I said, I’m not mad. Unfortunately, also like I said, it’s not all up to me. Others in the group are less...shall we say, understanding. They stopped caring about the Fourth Quadrant even before I did, but they’re purists, and if someone does something without their permission, they wanna see punishment.”
“Who?” Mateo asked. “Whose shitlist do I have to get off of?”
I?” Tauno asked. “There is no I. There’s all of you, plus your absent friends. But nice try, Mr. Matic, trying to place the whole burden on your own shoulders.”
“I’m their leader,” Mateo explained. “The buck stops with me.”
“Well, see, it’s a little—”
“They’re purists, right?” Mateo interrupted. “A purist would recognize that it’s always management’s fault.”
Tauno leaned back in his chair, and stared at Mateo’s face from various angles. “You’re everything everyone said you were,” he finally said.
“I’m nothing if not consistent.” That wasn’t true about him; he had changed a lot since 2014, but it seemed like the right way to respond to his remark.
“I would use the word predictable,” Tauno volleyed. “They thought you would try to do this. Which is why you have a choice.” He revealed a sinister smile. “You either answer to me, or to them. Now, I’m a psychopath. I mean that literally; I was diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder. But I don’t kill. It’s kind of a pet peeve for me. But my friends, being purists, have no such qualms. If you deal with me, I’m going to—for lack of a less frightening term—torture you...all of you.”
“All of us,” Mateo echoed. “Which means if I choose door number two, they’ll kill, but only me.”
“That’s right.”
“Mateo,” Leona said.
“Rule X,” Mateo said to her. It didn’t belong with the rest of the rules, because it wasn’t a universal maxim. It was a secret code that only the two of them agreed upon, and they did this in an old reality, so most people shouldn’t have any clue what they were talking about. Invoking Rule X was so rare that neither of them had ever done it before, in all the time they had known each other. It essentially meant trust me implicitly. Leona was obligated to stop trying to argue, and let Mateo do whatever it was he was choosing to do. By its nature in this situation, this was his last chance to invoke it anyway, so it was perfect timing.
Everyone looked confused, except for Sanaa, whose eyes suggested she had read their minds at some point, and learned what this rule meant. Still, she kept quiet.
“Mateo, I won’t torture you forever; maybe for one season.”
“Why do you keep talking about seasons?” Sanaa questioned. “What the hell does that mean?”
“About fifty-two.”
Sanaa rolled her eyes at this. “Days? Years?”
“Maybe fifty-three.”
“Okay,” Mateo said. “I get it. We’ve been tortured before, though. Zeferino, Arcadia, and even technically right now, with Jupiter Fury. I’m sick of it. I’m done with it. And my answer is final! My only condition is that I get to decide how I die! I choose when, and where, and by what means!”
“Well, I would hardly say that you’re in a position—”
“I! Decide! I don’t think that’s asking too much!”
Tauno took a breath. “When is a complicated concept for us. There has to be some kind of time range; one that we can all agree upon, and which avoids loopholes.”
“Three days,” Mateo offered. “Three of my days, which means realtime three years, which means July 11, 2126. I can’t go until I save Vearden, but by that date, with no detours, no backtracking, no time bubbles, no do-overs, I’ll be gone. Does that sound fair?”
“Christ, Mateo, what are you talking about?” J.B. finally jumped in. He stood up, and stepped closer to the table.
Mateo ignored him, and focused on Tauno. “Do we have a deal?”
Tauno studied his face for a moment. Then he reached into his pocket, and pulled out a phone. He pressed it against his cheek without dialing. “What did they say?” He waited for a response from the other end of the call. “I don’t care what Jesi says; she gets a half vote now.—Well, ask Alexina.—I’m not saying that her vote matters either, but ask her to hunt for loopholes!—Okay.—We don’t have control over that.—I don’t want to call her!—Because she’ll make it all about her, and we don’t have time to tiptoe around her insanity!—He just wants to save his friend first, I have no problem with that, especially since Jupiter ordered him to.—I’ll ask him.—No, I’ll ask him!—Stop talking for a goddamn moment and I’ll do it! Jesus Christ!” He covered the mouthpiece with his hand. “They would like to know how you plan on dying. It’s like a verification, so it’ll be harder for you to back out of it.”
“Blunt force trauma,” Mateo answered.
“Oh my God,” was all Leona could say as she palmed her face. Rule X remained in effect.
“Is that satisfactory?” Tauno asked into the phone. “Okay.—Well, they’re the ones who wanted this. It’s not very fun for me.—I can keep my word. Can they?—Draw up a contract, and I’ll sign on behalf of all of us.—Thank you.” He hung up, and smiled. “Looks like we’re good. I’ll return tomorrow with the paperwork.”
“Why are you doing this?” Ellie asked Mateo.
“I have faith in my friends.” He placed his head against hers. “I have faith in you.” After a moment of peace, he tilted his head up to kiss her forehead. Then he sat back in his chair, and faced Tauno. “One more thing.”
“What is it?” Tauno wasn’t perturbed by this request for a request.
“I know people. Throughout all of time. Some of these people are violent. I’m going to die, and leave this plane of existence, and I don’t want anyone trying to alter that event, so I’m going to do it with the hundemarke. I want to prove that I’m committed. But my death doesn’t mean you’re free to do whatever you want. Everyone I have ever cared about is completely off limits. That means Leona, Ellie, Thor; everyone. Can you do that?”
“Yeah, I guess, I ain’t got no beef with those people, but you were saying something about violent friends?”
“Oh, yeah. If you break this promise, someone will kill you. It won’t be me, because I’ll already be dead, and Past!Me has never heard of any of this. But someone will show up on your doorstep. Even you’re afraid of some people, and before I go, I’ll put a bounty on your head, for anyone who wants it. You stay away from my friends, and this would-be assassin will stay out of your way. You don’t, they’ll do what I ask. Even my enemies wouldn’t turn down a chance to avenge me. No one hates me too much to do that. The Springfield Nine may be powerful, but you’ve isolated yourselves. You don’t have friends amongst the choosing ones, and that’s on you. Does what I’m saying make sense?”
“Perfect sense,” Tauno replied.
“Good. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to prepare for tomorrow. We can’t save Vearden unless we secretly visit Tribulation Island by 2124. I need that dog tag.”
Tauno took out his phone again. “Get me back, Ophir.” He disappeared.
Jupiter had been surprisingly quiet throughout all of this. He looked at Mateo. “I know what you have planned.” To show he wasn’t bluffing, his eyes flickered over to Ellie, then right back to Mateo. “As long as you don’t transfer Mr. Haywood’s consciousness, I don’t care how you do it. Just be careful how you proceed. You walk a fine line.” He too disappeared.
“Mateo,” Leona repeated. This was new territory for them, and she still didn’t know what to say. Anything beyond his name could be construed as an argument, and therefore a violation of Rule X.
He didn’t let it continue. “Why did they do that with the Quadrant? Why did they reverse the time bubble?”
“It was created in 2024,” Ellie started to say. “When we showed up, it had only been seven years for them, but decades for the people in the main sequence. They want to catch up. Whereas before, fourteen days for us was one day for them, now fourteen days for them equals one day for us. In five years, they’ll pop the bubble, and it will be 2129 for both realities.”
“Is that part of your plan?” J.B. asked him.
“No,” Mateo answered. “I just don’t wanna die with any mysteries over my head. Speaking of which, why don’t you tell me what you and Leona were doing in the future with the Shortlist?”
Leona stood up quickly, and fumed, but said nothing. She just left in a huff.
“I’ll go talk to her,” Sanaa said.
“Don’t,” Mateo urged. “She can’t know.”
“Oh, she absolutely can,” Sanaa contended. “I’ll prove it.” She walked away against his wishes.
He turned his head to Ellie. “Have you figured out the plan as well?”
“Yes,” she replied. “It’s a stupid one. We don’t even know if it’ll work. I haven’t seen it. This could just be it, Mateo Matic.”
“Like I said,” Mateo began, “I have faith in you.”
“I hope it’s not misplaced.”

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