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Sunday, September 12, 2021

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: August 12, 2158 Redux

Now only three people were left; the original team of Mateo, Leona, and Kivi. They had all been together since before even Jeremy was with them so it was fitting that they should end it together. They knew that this could happen, which was why the order of disappearances was as it was. Ramses could take care of himself, which was why it made sense for him to disappear first. If Anatol and Zeferino managed to remember him despite Tertius’ interference, he was willing to accept any consequences that might come out of that. Next in line after him—once the scheme proved viable—were D.B. and Dalton, who they had known the least, followed by Siria. Only then did they begin removing official members of the team: Olimpia, Angela, and finally Jeremy. They were so surprised it took The Warrior this long to figure it out, but it seemed to have worked. Even though he now knew his memory had been tampered with, he didn’t appear to know who he was missing. Even a future version of him never apparently came back to mess things up. Their secret plan had worked, and if the rest of them never made it out alive, well then, it was all a longshot anyway.
The last jump was particularly brutal. They appeared a few meters above the ground, and fell down on the sand hard. Anatol didn’t give them much time to recover before he appeared. He was holding the device that Holly Blue designed to remove Cassidy cuffs before they realized doing so could cause more problems than it solved. He threw it down in front of them with attitude. “There are presently eighty-three people on Tribulation Island,” he began. “That number will fluctuate, but not too much. It is your responsibility to choose your replacement.”
“I don’t understand,” Mateo said. He got to his feet, struggling against the pain from the fall.
“There’s charge enough for one change-over,” Anatol went on, still cryptically. “By the deadline, you must choose someone to take the cuffs for you, and continue on the pattern with Leona and Kivi.”
“What will become of me?” Mateo asked.
Anatol smirked. “It’s August 12, 2158. Or should I say, it’s August 12, 2158 again. Do you know what day that is?”
Much of the time, Mateo needed Leona to translate mathematical questions for him. She always recognized the significance of a date, if there was one. In this case, however, Mateo didn’t need any help. He recognized it himself. “This is the day I disappear. This is the day The Superintendent takes me out of reality, and erases the memory of nearly everyone I have ever met.”
“That’s right,” Anatol confirmed. “In a matter of hours, you’re going to blink out of existence. Not just the other you, but you you. You cannot exist between today, and October 4, 2212.”
“So I’ve heard,” Mateo said, referring to Thack Nataline Collins’ warnings about the issue back in 2156. She wasn’t here with a solution this time. “We’ve been through this game before. I don’t need to play it again.”
Now Anatol laughed. “You don’t understand. This is not a game. You’re not getting out of it this time. I am sentencing you to death, and not in a way that allows you to come back. Pryce’s afterlife simulation cannot save you now. Dead is dead is dead is dead.”
“And if I refuse, what happens? You can’t force me to choose a victim,” Mateo contended.
Anatol consulted his primary cuff. “You forget, you’re linked to your friends. I don’t know how you managed to unlink your other friends, but I assure that will not work again. I have taken steps to prevent anyone from messing with my memories. If you’re still wearing that cuff when the Superintendent takes all Mateo Matics out of the timestream, Leona and Kivi will be taken with you. So you either choose to keep the team going without you, or end it right here.”
Leona stepped forward. “We’re prepared to do that. We’re prepared to do whatever it takes to end this, now that our people are safe.”
“Yes,” Kivi agreed.
“No,” Mateo said. “I’m not. Why sacrifice all of us when we only need to sacrifice the one? There are plenty of people on this island right now I know would be okay with being on this team. Some might even enjoy it. Gilbert loves games; everyone knows this about him.”
“Mateo, I’m not going to go on without you,” Leona insisted.
“You won’t remember what you’re missing anyway,” Mateo reminded her.
Kivi was shaking her head. “There has to be another way.”
“There is,” Anatol said, then he abruptly removed a gun from his waistband, and shot Mateo in the gut with it. “If he dies, he loses his identity. His body will remain, as will your memory of him.”
Leona dove down, and pressed her hand against Mateo’s stomach. “Let this happen,” she whispered. “You’ll go to the simulation, and we’ll figure it out from there. We’ve done it before. Pryce, we can work with. This one is just impossible.”
“Afraid that won’t work this time,” Anatol said. He pantomimed pushing something away from him. The world around them began to flicker, and didn’t stop. They were now in the middle of a transition window to The Parallel. “This is limbo. You will be saved neither by Pryce’s simulation, nor the Parallel’s own advanced anti-death protocols.”
“It’s okay,” Mateo promised his wife as he caught a glimpse of her watch. He then turned his attention back to Anatol. “Fix this. Fix my wound, and I’ll do it. I’ll go find someone. I already have the right candidate in mind.”
Anatol weighed his options for a moment. Then he reached up and took hold of an imaginary dial the size of his palm. He turned it backwards, and reversed time, pulling Mateo back up to his feet, and the bullet out of his belly, back into the gun. Everyone could remember what happened, and three of them didn’t want it to happen again. The fourth one could take it or leave it. “Now...there is only one way.”
No. This was what Anatol wanted, and they had already decided that they couldn’t let him control their lives forever. The whole point of shunting their friends away was to protect them so they could work against him safely. They might as well start now. Mateo reached down and retrieved the cuff remover. When he tried to leave, Leona tried to follow. “No. It’s bad enough that there will be two versions of me here. Just wait for my replacement.”
“I need to be there with you,” she begged. “If this is really happening...”
“You’ll find a way to beat him, and bring me back.”
“I don’t think so this time,” Leona lamented.
Mateo faced Kivi. “Thank you for being here all this time. I wish I could explain. Everything will be all right. He faced Leona again. “Were I you.”
“Were I you.”
Mateo checked Leona’s watch one last time, and then ran off into the woods. This was the one day that he knew by heart. He memorized every single second of it, and he knew exactly how long it would take him to get to where he was going. He had enough time, but he had to run fast, and he had to be sneaky. He burst out of the jungle, and down the beach. He passed some people he recognized, and some he didn’t. They all knew who he was, though, and could tell that there were two versions of him in the same moment. This would not matter for long, for their memories were about to be erased. Before Mateo was ripped from the timestream, he escorted Gilbert and Zeferino to Glubbdubdrib, along with Leona and Horace. Together, they said their farewells as the two dead men walking stepped through the Extraction Mirror, and returned for their destinies. This was about to all go down soon.
To get to the other land mass, Kayetan Glaston remotely created a merge point, and the only way Future!Mateo was going to beat The Warrior was if he met up with the group after the merge, and not before. That was why the time was so vital. He succeeded. Without any of them noticing, he slipped past the boundary a few meters down the beach, and moved to the new location with them. He then hid behind a pile of rocks so his friends would keep going towards the palace without noticing him.
Like a secret agent, he followed behind them quietly and carefully. He wasn’t as good as he thought, though. Horace realized that they were being tailed. He turned back and locked eyes with Future!Mateo. He stared for a moment before making a decision. After a quick wink, and turned back around, and continued on with the group without saying a word. They entered the palace, and made their way to the corridor where the mirror was being held. Future!Mateo listened to the conversation again, waiting until The Rogue and The Cleanser were back where they belonged before revealing himself.
His past self and Leona looked back at him, not knowing what to think. Horace was delighted, but still didn’t know what was going to happen. The Maverick, Darrow didn’t seem to care one way or the other. “I don’t have much time,” Future!Mateo said. “You’re just going to have to trust me that this is what’s best. He mostly spoke to his younger, naïve self. “Things are going to get bad for you.”
“I know. I’m about to be taken out of reality,” Past!Mateo said, thinking he understood.
“What? No. That’s not a big deal, you’ll get over that. But if you don’t—” He placed the remover against his cuff, and tried to release the latch. “Wow, this is harder than Holly Blue made it look. It’s partially mechanical.” He twisted the remover, and forced the cuff to open. “There we go—if you don’t put this on, Leona is going to disappear too, and she will never come back.”
Without hesitating, Past!Mateo took the cuff from his future self’s wrist, and gladly wrapped it around his own.
Future!Mateo smiled. “Mr. Ness, I implore you to open a portal to Lebanon, Kansas on October 6, 2212, and then forget I was ever here.”
“I see no reason not to,” Darrow said. He reached up and adjusted the controls.
The image of a gas station bathroom appeared. Mateo stepped through just in time. He looked back at his once and future wife one last time.

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