Sunday, August 1, 2021

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 31, 1608

“This was not a win for you,” The Cleanser argued. “My girl was the one who actually rescued all the people from the boat.”
“My team provided the cuff necessary to complete the task,” The Warrior volleyed. “Your girl would have failed without us.”
“Uh, without us,” Mateo jumped in.
The Cleanser and the Warrior looked at him like he was even more of an idiot than he was.
Mateo held firm. “More specifically, without Leona.”
“Just so I can understand this,” Leona began, “are you two fighting over who manages to save the most people?”
Zeferino laughed. “Yeah, let’s go with that.”
“Ha, yeah,” Anatol agreed.
“Anyway, we agreed no mixing,” Zeferino said. “We’re supposed to be operating within different timelines.”
Anatol shrugged. “I’m still getting a handle on my new powers. I honestly didn’t realize this wasn’t a different reality. You normally do that for us.”
Zeferino seemed content with this response. “Then we’ll call it a draw, and move on to the next one.”
“Okay, but I don’t like your chances with this one,” Anatol said. “She”
“I am green,” the young woman agreed.
“Well...” Zeferino began.
“You wanna split the teams again,” Anatol figured.
“I’ve already worked with some of these people,” Zeferino said. “It could be fun.”
“So, what? Three against three?”
“There are seven of them.”
Anatol shrugged again. “I don’t really know why this Olimpia person is here, or what she contributes.”
Olimpia didn’t seem bothered by this remark, and no one wanted to come to her defense, because all it would do was lead her to being just as much of a pawn in their chess game as the rest of them.
Leona cleared her throat pointedly. “There aren’t seven of us, there are six.” There had been this unspoken agreement that everyone would pretty much stay quiet while the gods fought with each other, but Leona hated bad math, and she couldn’t let it go.
Anatol looked around. “Wait, where is Dalton?”
“I didn’t use him for this one,” Zeferino explained. “These two haven’t met yet.”
“What are we doing with the numbers?” Anatol questioned. “Are you bringing him on, or what?”
“Let’s do boy versus girls,” Zeferino suggested. “I have a fourth man to bring on who could be on your team, and that will make them even.”
“Hold on,” Anatol said. “I have to take the guys? They’re all morons.”
“D.B. isn’t that dumb, Anatol.”
“You have Leona and Angela. That’s crazy.”
“You have the primary cuff,” Zeferino returned.
“Well, it doesn’t work without it, does it?”
“You do have two to spare, according to my maths.” Zeferino looked directly at Leona.
“I do. But you still have the dream team,” Anatol reasoned.
“I’ll tell you what, your team can have any powers you want them to have. My team can have none.”
They both thought over the proposal, to make sure there weren’t any issues on either side.
“Deal,” Anatol said.
“Deal,” Zeferino echoed.
They both looked over at the group. No one was preparing to argue or complain. Mateo was smiling.
“What are you thinking?” Anatol asked. “You believe this will give you some kind of advantage?”
Mateo’s smile widened. “Not as of yet, but it will present itself. That’s a major lesson that I don’t think I realized I learned until now. You see, you are so powerful that you can think ten steps ahead. But you always miss one thing.” He used hand gestures for emphasis.
“What’s that?” Zeferino asked.
“You always miss at least one forking path. We’ll play your game. We’ll let you break us up, and compete against each other across two timelines. While we’re doing that...we’ll wait. Despite your immortality, you both possess an obscene amount of impatience, and regularly demonstrate a high capacity for boredom. I give this...nine missions before it all falls apart.”
Zeferino and Anatol smirked, and simultaneously said, “deal.”

Leona, Angela, Olimpia, and newcomer Siria went their own way with the Cleanser. Mateo and Jeremy, meanwhile, went off with the Warrior to meet back up with Dalton, as well as meet some guy named D.B. Mateo was surprised to find out that they were talking about the D.B. Cooper; famed plane hijacker and folk hero. He reportedly made off with $200,000 in 1971, though according to Anatol’s introduction, this was just a ploy to get himself to altitude. His time traveling ability only worked when he was falling from a great height, and he was actually just trying to get home. The Cleanser apparently screwed with his attempt, and forced him so far in the past that this goal would be impossible. He recently spent some time working with Mateo’s once-mother, Laura Gardner, and her partner, Samwise Bellamy. Even though he was still centuries in the past, being in 1608 was sort of a break from that harsh life. There was a reason that most travelers didn’t spend too much time before the 20th century. Toilet paper was a pretty big factor.
“All right,” Anatol began. They were in some kind of salon, or meeting room for rich people, who didn’t want to spend too much time with the less fortunate. Everything was made of leather, or wood. “Now that everyone knows each other, it’s time to begin. Today is May 31, 1608. You are in Timeline One. The ladies are in Timeline Alpha. Most of the time, these timelines won’t be running concurrently, but access to The Parallel has given me the ability to keep one from collapsing under the weight of the other. For now. You’re in a competition. Not only do you have to complete the missions we set before you, but you have to do them better than the other team. Whichever team ends up with the best timeline will get to live on in their timeline. The losing team, on the other hand, will remain in the defunct timeline until such time that it finally does collapse.”
“Wait, what?” Jeremy questioned. “You didn’t say anything about that before.
“Oh, it didn’t need to be said,” Anatol joked. “Zef and I knew that was part of the deal all along. Don’t worry, we’ll be all right. Only the four regular people on the team will die. He and I will get out and survive no matter what.”
“Yeah, we were worried about that,” Mateo said sarcastically. “I guess it’s okay now that we know you two will live.”
“Quite.” Anatol was just going to pretend they were all being genuine. He handed Jeremy a slip of paper. “This first one is pretty straight-forward, just to dip your toes in. They’ll get more complicated as you level up. That is the address of a young boy. Rescue him from his abusive uncle, who ultimately accidentally kills him today. I’m not even gonna give you access to my time power library, because I don’t think you’ll need it. In fact, I’ll be suppressing both Dalton and D.B.’s powers, in case you get any ideas about escape.”
“Thank you,” Mateo said. “You can go now.”
“Very well.” Anatol disappeared.
The four of them looked around at each other. Then they all sat down. “Obviously we can’t do this,” Jeremy decided.
“No, we can’t let them die,” Mateo concurred.
“I don’t understand how this works,” Dalton noted. “When it kills us, will we go to the afterlife simulation?”
“I don’t think so,” Mateo guessed. “The simulation is in whatever timeline wins out over the others. That is, it’s not like it exists outside of time. Every version of it that exists in a collapsing timeline should collapse along with it. Otherwise, everyone would have infinite alternate versions of themselves in there, and I don’t think that’s how it works. We won’t even really die, it will be more like we never existed.”
D.B. nodded understandingly. “What is the afterlife simulation?”
They explained it to him.
“So, if we don’t save the boy,” D.B. said afterwards, “we just have to hope your friends on the other team do? Our version of the boy will be erased from history regardless, but one of them will live on?”
“That’s the way I understand it,” Mateo said.
“I feel a little weird letting him die even though it won’t matter,” D.B. lamented with airquotes.
Mateo nodded. “He said you’re a time traveler. You’re not a time looper, though, right? You create an alternate reality every time.”
“Yes, I see where you’re going with this. I’ve killed an infinite number of people already. I suppose it’s just that I’ve never been asked to save a particular person. My God...” He reached over, and took the paper from Jeremy. “We know his name.”
“The answer is..don’t think about it,” Mateo instructed. “He will be saved. There’s no way Leona doesn’t figure out how to do it in the best way possible.”
Meanwhile, in Timeline Alpha, the girls were sitting around in their own salon, but it looked more island tropical than stuffy cigar club. They were getting to know their new member. Siria was like Angela in that she didn’t have powers, but she knew about it all. She worked at a special place that was simply called The Time Clinic. People with time illnesses were sent there to be treated, or just made comfortable. Her job was primarily that second part, as she didn’t have any medical training, but she also seemed to have a knack for coming up with permanent solutions that helped the patients lead semi-normal lives. Many of the illnesses were the result of the Cleanser’s petty retaliations, which was how she ended up on his shitlist.
They too had decided that they couldn’t let their friends die in the other timeline just to save themselves. Unlike them, though, they realized that the guys would come to the same conclusion, and that the boy would not be saved in any timeline. They sat there for about an hour before someone knocked on the door. When Leona opened it, she didn’t find a person, but there was a movie theatre on the other side. That was about three hundred years too early, so they all walked through, and took their seats. The guys came in from the other entrance shortly thereafter, and found their own seats.
“Did you win?” Mateo asked his wife.
“I didn’t play.”
“Me neither. I was hoping you would. Were you hoping we would?”
Leona shook her head. “No.” She didn’t elaborate.
The house lights dimmed, and the curtains moved. An image came on screen. It turned out to be a trailer for a movie that featured most of the people that were in the auditorium right now. It was about a team of time travelers who very specifically found themselves on a planet a hundred and eight light years from Earth. They had a ship that could only take them a light year at a time, so they had to have adventures with crazy alien cultures in the meantime. It sounded more like a TV show, but either way, the audience couldn’t tell if this was prescience, or a joke. Once it was over, the feature presentation began, but it was shorter than the trailer they just watched. A drunk man was beating a young boy in his room, and ended up taking it too far with a lamp. This was the boy they were meant to save, but didn’t. These were the consequences.
The house lights came back up, and Anatol and Zeferino climbed on stage. “As part of this sneak preview,” the former began, “my co-director and I are hosting a Q and A session. Ask us any questions about...oh, I dunno, why the hell you should agree to participate, and what’s going to happen if you don’t, many innocent people are gonna die?”
They waited. “No?” Zeferino asked. “No one wants to know those things?”
Leona stood up. “I don’t know what you thought you would accomplish by forcing us to become complicit in each other’s deaths, but good people don’t do that. We don’t choose to save ourselves. And if you can’t understand that, you shouldn’t be in charge of an outhouse, let alone all of reality. We’ve all asked you to help us save lives, and in exchange for that, you’re asking for us to kill each other. That’s not a thing, that’s not a thing! You can play it straight, or you can watch us sit here and do nothing. You have the power here, so either do the right thing, or perpetuate this macho psycho-killer bullshit reputation that you’re apparently so afraid to lose, you can’t see that all of your sadistic games are completely goddamn pointless!”
The two of them stood on stage for a moment. Then Anatol reached over, and placed his hand on Zeferino’s shoulder. They disappeared for a second, then returned in different positions. “All right, no games,” Anatol agreed. “One team, one timeline. Save the people we tell you, don’t ask questions, and we’ll let you know what the point of it all is in the end. This is our final offer. Either take it, or we’ll make you wish only half of you had been erased from existence.”

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