Sunday, September 26, 2021

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: February 8, 2338

In the year 2008, in one reality, day rewinder, Horace Reaver accidentally killed his best friend, Dardan Lusha. The former was only six years old, and the latter only seven. Knowing he was capable of it, Horace went back in time at the end of the day, and prevented himself from making the same mistake again. This was when he realized that other people only got one shot in their lives, and also when he knew that the two of them could no longer be friends. Dardan moved on with his life, never knowing what had happened to him. But Horace’s future daughter, Meliora knew, and she was worried that Dardan would always be in danger. She built a place called Sanctuary on a planet millions of light years from Earth. Here, normal people who were negatively impacted by time travel could live out the rest of their lives, protected and in peace. A fifteen-year-old Dardan was her first resident, but he was nowhere near its last. Even as travelers continued to change the timeline, Meliora rescued as many people as she could, always starting with Dardan Lusha. In one timeline, soon after him, she agreed to rescue a few more.
Starting with Ramses Abdulrashid, and ending with Jeremy Bearimy, seven more people were brought to the Sanctuary hotel in its very early days. There defeat Anatol Klugman. Though this enemy yet remained, the vacation was over. It was time to leave Sanctuary, and make a jump to over 300 years into the future. Mateo, Leona, and Kivi would be waiting for them to finish this once and for all. It was predetermined that when they arrived in 2338, the final battle would ensue. They could put it off as long as they wanted, but there was no avoiding it altogether. The duel had to take place, and the winner would decide both their own fate, and that of their opponent.
“That’s a beautiful story,” Anatol said in disgust. “Why don’t I remember any of it? I mean, I know how it happened. What I don’t understand is how you managed to overpower me, and let Tertius Valerius manipulate my memories.”
“We didn’t have to overpower you,” Mateo began to explain. “You agreed to forget about the challenge as long as we eventually got to it.”
“Why did I agree to forget about you friends, though?” Anatol pressed. “I still don’t remember those people.”
“We had him take a little bit more from your mind than you agreed upon. We figured you would circumvent the agreement yourself, so we at least wanted to protect them from your wrath.”
“Wait, you’re telling me you were worried I would betray you betrayed me first?”
“Exactly,” Mateo confirmed.
“I know I’m supposed to be mad, but right now, all I feel is respect for your decision,” Anatol admitted.
“Thank you,” Mateo said. “It was actually all my idea. I had to make up for years and years of being all but completely useless, and having to rely on much smarter people.”
Anatol would have done a spit take if he had been drinking. “Do you believe you have accomplished this goal?”
Mateo looked over to his wife, who was on the other side of the sandstone monolith. She was warming up for the duel, supported by their people. Mateo felt bad about The Warrior being alone, and came over to at least clarify what was happening, and why. “Not in the least.”
“Indeed,” Anatol agreed. “Even today she fights for you as champion.”
“She trained for this,” Mateo said. “I never would have made it through that training. She has a knack for learning new things.”
“Do you honestly think that she can beat me? Keep in mind that you are no longer protected by the powers that be, and that I have already demanded Uluru not let anyone else on the battlegrounds. That is the only reason you beat Zeferino Preston, and I will not let you so easily come at me through a loophole.”
“Where is Zeferino, by the way? He was with you at the theatre, and then we never saw him again,” Mateo pointed out.
“I put him back in his reality,” Anatol answered. “He wasn’t fun to work with anymore.”
“Indeed,” Mateo responded simply.
“Is there a point to you being over here?” Anatol questioned.
Mateo placed a hand on his enemy’s shoulder. “Whatever happens today, just know that I still believe in you. I still believe you can be redeemed. All you have to do is take that first step. The second one will be easier, I promise.”
Anatol rolled his shoulder away. “It’s always mind games with you. People think you’re this helpless little moron who hides behind his friends, but I know the truth. I know that you’re the most dangerous of the bunch. But what makes you dangerous isn’t your intellect, or your muscles. It’s your ability to make even the most steadfast of people feel like they’re making a mistake; like you know something that they will never quite understand, not even once the fight is over. I believe that you are an undiagnosed psychopath.”
Mateo chuckled once, like a high school student who knows the middle school student will know better someday. “Catch you on the flippity-flop.”
Unlike the duel he had with The Cleanser those many years ago, there weren’t many people in the audience. Only Leona’s friends would be there to take witness. No other family, no people from their future, no bulkverse travelers. It was a private affair, and it was much simpler, which was why it was taking place on the Uluru rock formation, and not in the Colosseum replica. Uluru, the man, approached the center of the grounds, and began his opening remarks. “This is a physical duel, with swords as exclusive weapons. All temporal powers and patterns are temporarily suspended. Death is not required to indicate defeat, but it is also not against the rules. The winner may spare the loser, but in order to be considered the winner, they must be in a position where a final blow would end the battle, and the loser must be without options. Both of you have been trained...trained under different circumstances, but trained just the same. You know the difference between winning and losing, but if there is a dispute as to who wins, I will step in and make judgment. Does everyone understand?”
The two duelers walked towards him.
“I do.”
Uluru looked from one to the other, assessing their fitness for the fight, and then he gracefully stepped back. “Have at it.”
The two of them began to clash. Anatol had been training for this sort of thing for more than his entire adult life, which was likely longer than most. They didn’t know if he was immortal, or if he just managed to pack in a whole lot of life during his prime years. He did look older than he did when this first began, but maybe Mateo was just imagining that. No matter what, he was a career fighter—which was what earned him the right to be called The Warrior in the first place—and Leona was not. She only trained for three years; by one of the most skilled fighters in two realities, but practice makes perfect, and Leona’s experience was limited. Still, Anatol was not overconfident, and he did not underestimate his opponent. He went at her with full force, and he clearly respected her. A lot of time travelers were from the past, during a time when women and minorities were considered less than. Yet nearly all of them embraced the wokeness of the future, either because they came to see it as superior, or because they never really bought into the racism and sexism of their day. Dr. Hammer posited that backwards-thinking time travelers necessarily did not exist, because if they were too tied down to the culture of their given day, they would never learn to escape it. Perhaps social responsibility was an important prerequisite. Anatol was evidently no exception, and unfortunately, that only lowered Leona’s chances of winning the duel.
Leona managed to hold her own, though. She just kept striking back, never letting him get any significant advantage over her. They swung and slashed and hit and kicked. The audience could see the fatigue setting in as the battle continued. If a scene in an action film were to go on this long, the audience would grow bored, and probably stop caring who won. They weren’t hopping off of rocks, or sweeping the legs. They were just desperately trying to cut each other with the blades, and never getting close enough. It would seem that Anatol’s advanced age, and Leona’s inexperience, made for quite an even match. Six minutes later, it was still going, which might not have sounded like a long time, but for this kind of combat, it was an eternity.
It was then that Mateo decided to break the rules, and step in. He walked right up to the duelers with his arms up, knowing that either of them could hurt him instead, whether by accident, or with malicious intent. Upon seeing him, they both dropped their weapons, and took a step back from each other. They were both grateful for the break. “Okay, okay, okay.” He smiled, not because it was humorous, but because it was absurd. “What the hell are we doing here?”
Anatol had to speak between breaths. “I made a challenge, and she accepted.”
“That was a long time ago,” Mateo pointed out, “for all of us.”
“Time ain’t nothin’ but a thang,” Anatol replied with the old adage.
Mateo didn’t know what he was going to say, so he just winged it. “The challenge was a duel, which has now taken place. There was no rule about someone needing to win, or how long it needed to go on. So let’s just say it’s done, and move on.”
“Someone needs to win,” Anatol argued, “or how will we decide what happens to the lot of you?”
“Is that really what you want, to be in control of powerless people? Is this the warrior’s way? Is this where you saw your evil plan going? There must be a reason they don’t call you The General, or The Lord High Commander.”
“I haven’t always won my fights,” Anatol began, “but I’ve never had a tie. It cannot end in a tie. This is not football.”
“No, you’re right,” Mateo agreed. “We can’t tie, because in a tie, both teams lose. I’m talking about a win-win situation. You walk away now, and the timeline will remember you as a merciful warrior, who fights with honor. You keep fighting my wife, whether you win or not, you’ll be forever known as a villain, not because she’s a hopeless girl, but because she is indisputably a good person, and everyone loves her.”
“You can’t control that,” Anatol contended. “You can’t decide how people perceive me, especially not in both directions of time.”
“We’ve done it before,” Mateo reminded him. “We restored the reputation of Nerakali Preston, Gilbert Boyce, and Horace Reaver. Hell, I’d like to think we even helped make Zeferino Preston look a little better. The jury’s still out on Arcadia; there are too many conflicting versions of her, and the noblest one doesn’t live in this universe.”
“All I have to do is walk away,” Anatol echoed.
“Might sound too easy to you, but remember where this offer is coming from,” Mateo said. “We are not known for being petty or vengeful, are we?”
“I suppose not.” Anatol considered it for a moment. He had long ago caught his breath, and was standing straight. He could go another round if he needed to, and so could Leona. Chances are, it would last another six minutes, and end just as inconclusively. “Very well.”
The three of them looked over to Uluru, who couldn’t care less about the results for this particular battle, and didn’t seem perturbed by the interruption.
Anatol picked up his sword, and jammed it into a crevice between himself and Leona. Assuming it was her turn to do the same, she followed suit. They shook hands, and then the Warrior dropped his Cassidy cuff, and disappeared. It would be the last time that anyone on the current Matic team would ever see his face.
“Well. That plan worked,” Mateo noted.
“I’m glad you rehearsed the speech,” Leona said, relieved at how well it went.
He didn’t rehearse nothin’. “What do we do now?” he asked. “We didn’t plan anything past the draw, and I imagine it’s only a matter of time before the next antagonist decides it’s their turn to torment us in what they believe to be a new and creative way.”
Leona retrieved her sword, wiped it off, and sheathed it. She picked up the primary cuff too. “Ya know what? I didn’t really like skipping from the 16th century to the 17th, to the 19th, and so on. I grew rather comfortable on the Bearimy-Matic pattern. Let’s put our cuffs on, and go back to that pattern.” She turned, and began walking towards their friends to tell them her idea.
Mateo, meanwhile, reached down and pulled Anatol’s sword out. He turned it up, and admired the craftsmanship. He wasn’t much of a swordsman—or any kind of swordsman at all—but this could come in handy one day.
“Put it down!” Leona ordered without turning back. “You’ll hurt yourself!”

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