Sunday, July 3, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: April 30, 2398

It’s been three weeks. They’ve been in this reality for three straight weeks. In that time, Heath and Angela went to jail, Leona and Ramses got jobs; the former nailed down two. Meanwhile, Mateo has read a few books, and meditated in a graveyard in the company of someone who he at best believes to be another lost time traveler, and at worst, their next antagonist. Even though a lot of technology in this reality resembles the kind he grew up with, there are some modern conveniences that make their lives easier. The Waltons own this little robot that cleans the whole condo, floor to ceiling. It roams around the condo, seeking dirt and grime, and destroying it without being told. It can even disinfect a room with ultraviolet light, run laundry and dish cycles, and answer basic questions from the internet.
There’s really nothing for Mateo to do to make up for everything these people are doing for him, and it’s starting to really get to him. Marie and Heath have done so much in such a short time, and he needs to figure out how to repay them, even only fractionally. Yes, they’re rich, but it feels weird, taking and never giving. Then again, he’s always done that. He still lived with his parents at 28. He didn’t even own the car he used for work. Hell, even Ramses built their ship for them. Mateo doesn’t contribute. That has to change, and since he can’t come up with an answer on his own, he’s going to have to seek help from someone else. Unfortunately, he can’t speak to the only five people he knows here. “What if...hypothetically, someone on this planet needed to seek guidance from a therapist?”
Leona sets her fork down on her plate. “Are you okay?”
“It’s a hypothetical. I’m fine.”
“What do you wanna know?” Heath asks.
“What’s privacy like here? I just...I mean—I’m not saying if a murderer confesses to his doctor, but just anything weird or crazy-sounding?”
“There are different classes of mental health professionals,” Heath explains. “Some of them are required to act upon what they learn of their clients. Others are required to not act upon it. You could confess to that murder, and they wouldn’t be able to say anything. But they’re less educated in psychology, so they might not be as helpful.”
“Is there something you would like to talk about?” Leona presses.
“Of course not. Just curious,” Mateo insists, quite unbelievably.
“I can get you the name of someone I used to talk to about being a time traveler,” Marie explains. “Like the forger, she never divulged anything to anyone, and she listened with an open mind. Or rather, she was good at pretending to believe me. Hypothetically speaking, I never actually talked to her.”
“Honey, you never told me about that,” Heath says.
Marie doesn’t look him in the eye. “I never had to work late. Or rather, I was always working late, I never sought professional help.”
He runs his fingers through his own hair, but doesn’t say anything else.
“Okay, I would appreciate that,” Mateo tells her, “hypothetically.”
Leona places a comforting hand on his arm.
“Do you remember—none of you was with us at the time—Leona, do you remember when Nerakali shared her ability with us, and I was able to manipulate people’s memories?”
She nods. “I do. Or...maybe I don’t.”
He waves his hands at all of his friends. “This conversation never happened. These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”
Humoring him, the rest of the team move the conversation along, and don’t talk about this again. Marie writes down the name and number of a therapist, and passes it to Mateo like a grade school love note.

Saturday, July 2, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: April 29, 2398

Mateo had to learn a few things about what it’s like to be on the road on this world. Most of it is the same. Cars look about the same as he remembered, though more advanced. Buttons and levers are in different places, but that can be true of variable models. While there are a great deal of driverless vehicles on the road, there are still plenty of human-driven ones left. If a cop has to pull you over, they would be a little surprised to learn that you were in control of it yourself, but not immensely so. There isn’t much that’s going to get Mateo pulled over, though. Part of what he had to learn was the fact that there is no such thing as a speed limit. They used to have them, just as they were in the main sequence, but eventually phazed them out once they understood that most accidents were being caused by distracted driving, and not speeding. In fact, in many cases, drivers found themselves more focused when traveling at higher speeds, and more likely to let their eyes wander at slower speeds.
Mateo is allowed to go as fast as he wants. Which just so happens to be about as fast as Heath’s car can handle. Mapping software accounts for it. Since he’s only recently set up a new account, and his habits haven’t been measured yet, he has to tell the system about how fast he’ll go, and it will use that to calculate travel time. A trip that might take most people an hour is only half that for him. To his surprise, he finds his destination to be identical to the way it was back home. He hasn’t been here in a long time. He hasn’t even seen Topeka. They sort of moved their base of operations to Kansas City, and started calling that their home, but he’s feeling nostalgic, and wants to see it all again. He was especially missing his secret little graveyard.
He didn’t invite anyone to come along with him. Leona, Heath, and Marie are at work anyway. Ramses has a day off, and wanted to join, but Mateo just wants to do it solo. There have been other times when he’s gone off alone, but those have mostly been attempts to protect his family. Today, he only wants to clear his mind, and not worry about anything for a little while. The last time he tried that, it didn't work out. It wasn’t a bad thing; it was the day he met his Aunt Daria, but it did sort of defeat the purpose. Hopefully he can just sit here now, and remain uninterrupted by drama. He’s successful for about an hour.
As he’s meditating with his eyes closed, he here’s the crackling of leaves a few meters away. A fairly old woman steps up to a gravestone, and places a bouquet of flowers against it. She stares at it reverently, possibly praying over the body below. But it’s not a body. Mateo can’t remember exactly which grave that is, but the most recent burial was in 1974. She never could have met anyone here, or probably even heard stories. If his mental math is even remotely close to the truth, there’s a dozen and a half generations between her and the dead person, and that’s assuming she’s mourning the outlier. No matter what, all that’s left are bones. Most of these people died in the late 19th century, and early 20th. He decides to leave it alone, and not bug her, though. After all, that’s why he came here alone. It probably has to do with her religion. It would not be unreasonable to assume that at least one faith doesn’t worship a deity, but ancestors instead.
She completes her hushed ritual, and then walks over to him. “Who do you know here?”
“Nobody,” he answers. “I just like the quiet.”
She’s taken aback by this, but regains her composure. That’s not a crazy answer.
“Do you know someone here?”
She looks back at the grave out of the corner of her eye, over her shoulder. “Of course not. He died 480 years ago.”
Now he remembers. Brantley D’Amore; September 4, 1875 to April 29, 1918. He’s not one for great memory, but he remembers gravestones. “Then why do you bring him flowers?”
“Everyone deserves to be remembered, even by those who never knew them. I come on the respective anniversaries of everyone here. The only personal connection I have is to that one over there.”
“Rossella Crocetti; April 7, 1888 to April 7, 1899.”
“Did you memorize all of their names and dates?” she asks.
“She was a child who died on her birthday. That one’s easy to recall.”
She nods. “Yeah.”
“What’s your name?”
“I’m Bu—” she stammers, like she decides midword that she doesn’t want to give out her real name, which is fine. “Bonnie. I’m Bonnie.”
He, on the other hand, doesn’t feel compelled to lie. “Mateo,” he says in kind.
“It’s nice to meet you. I’ll let you get back to your meditation.” She turns to leave.
“Wait.” He has a dumb idea. “Quincy Halifax.”
“Is that a band, errr...?”
He studies her face to see if he can detect a reaction. She does react. She recognizes the name, but she doesn’t want to talk about it, so he decides not to press it. “He’s just another guy I’ve met in this graveyard. I thought you might have encountered him too.”
“Can’t say I’ve had the pleasure.”
“Right. Bye, Bonnie.”
“Bye, Mr. Matic.” Wow, she’s not very good at this. He never told her his last name. Before realizing this, Mateo turns his head away, and by the time he turns it back, she’s gone. But he’ll see her again. All he needs to do is write down the death anniversary of everyone here.

Friday, July 1, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: April 28, 2398

Ramses is doing great at his job on a professional level, but not so much personally speaking. Two people on his work team hate him: the guy whose job he apparently usurped, and the guy who had been trying to usurp it since before Ramses was even in this reality. He doesn’t even care, but this gives him access to the resources his team may need to escape to the main sequence, and barring that, survive here. First and foremost, they need to understand the laws of physics. Is there something that’s constantly suppressing their powers and patterns here, or were they stripped of these characteristics upon arrival, and now they could theoretically get them back using some other avenue? He needs to run tests, and being in charge of this department should afford him the appropriate opportunities. All he needs to do is help his people do their jobs on their own, and not bug him all the time, or try to sabotage him.
“Bruno, can you come in here, please?”
“Is he in trouble?” Stockboy asks. That’s not his real name, but he started working here as a stock associate, and worked his way up to this position. He’s just biding his time until he can climb even higher.
“He’s not,” Ramses answers. “Bruno. Double time.”
Not only does he not speed up, but he actually slows down to a snail’s pace.
“You’ll be in trouble if you don’t get in here, though. I partially wanted to talk about the fact that my paperwork finally went through, so now I have full dismissal privileges.”
Now scared for his job, Bruno hops in, and closes the door behind him. “Sir,” he says through actual gritted teeth.
“Bruno, how long have you been working here?”
“Exactly 452 times as long as you have.”
“You believe that your six-year tenure here imbues you with some kind of...entitlement?”
“Sir?”
“You think you deserve to be in charge.”
Bruno looks like he’s considering his options, and ultimately decides to stand resolute. “Yes, I do. I’ve already proven myself.”
“Mr. Castillo, I am not a leader. My best friends tell me what to do, and I do it. Repair this, build that, invent something that has never existed before. And I love it, because it means I’m useful. I haven’t been feeling very useful for the last week, does this surprise you?”
“It does not.”
“I don’t want to be in charge. I don’t even want the money. I just need to maintain my position here. And I need you to stop making that so goddamn hard.” He picks up a stack of papers from his desk, and tosses them onto the floor in front of the man who is meant to be his subordinate. It hasn’t been very long, but he’s already exhausted with this nonsense. Ramses may have had a rivalry or two back in the day, but even a group of radical capitalists generally accepted the idea that one person’s success did not inherently mean another’s failure. This world, however, considers them to be one and the same. “My job is to make sure these time reports are filled out correctly. Your job is to fill them out, not deliberately screw them up to make it look like I’m an idiot. You may have forced others to complete your work, and then taken credit for it, but I’m not like that. I’m not going to try to pass this off as my own to illustrate my value. Nowhere does it say that I have to complete them, I am perfectly within my rights to delegate. So that’s what I’m doing. I don’t have time to do them, and I don’t have time to check your mistakes. So do them right, give them to me, and I’ll file them away. That’s called trust. I can google that word for you if you need me to?”
“You can what that word?”
Ramses sighs. “If you mess these up again, I’m blaming you, and the boss will believe me, because I’ve already told him that you’re continuing to do them.”
“Sir, forgive me, but if you don’t want to be the supervisor, why are you?”
“Because I’m on assignment from the corporate office,” Ramses lies. “In one year, that assignment will be over, and I’ll step down.”
“I need the money now,” Bruno argues.
“You’ll get it.” Ramses pulls a stack of cash from the top drawer, and drops it right on top of the reports on the floor. “Like I said, I don’t need it. That’s a pittance for someone of my calibre. I’ll even let you be my lieutenant. It’s not an official position, but the team will listen to you, and I don’t give a shit. All you have to do to keep making this extra income every month is follow my orders, stay out of my way, and keep this all quiet. Are you capable of that?”
Bruno bends over, and retrieves the cash to get a rough count of it. “I was making more than this when I had your job.”
Ramses rolls his eyes. “You’re not getting all of my monthly pay. The rest is my per diem. They sent me here, expecting me to use all of it in this capacity, but I’m prepared to sacrifice half of it to keep you on my side. You’re still getting your regular wages, dummy.”
He nods. “I can do that.”
“Good. That’s not an advance, it’s a free sample, since I obviously haven’t been here all month. You’ll get another one at the end of May.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Right. Clean that up, get out, and work overtime if you must to fix them.”

Thursday, June 30, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: April 27, 2398

Leona inhales deeply as she stands before the surprisingly small, nondescript building. She pulls in air so fast, it tips her backwards, into the car.
“Are you okay?” Mateo asks.
“I’m fine.” She doesn’t look away from her future.
“You got your phone?”
“Yes,” she answers.
“Call or text me when you need a ride back. I’ll plan to return here at 5:00 unless I hear otherwise.”
“All right, dear.”
“Were I you.”
“Sure, dear.”
“This is all you ever wanted, isn’t it?”
Now she finally turns to face her husband. “In another life...literally.”
Now he breathes deeply, and looks down at the car. “We’re right back where we started.”
She purses her lips into a tight smile. “I’ll see you tonight.” She can feel him watching as she walks up the steps. He doesn’t begin to drive away until she proves the door is unlocked.
Her key contact is eagerly awaiting her in the lobby. “Magnus Matic. It’s so nice to have you here. We’re all really excited to hear your thoughts on our projects.”
“What kind of projects would these be?” Leona asks.
“Not here,” Petra warns. She faces the security guard. “She’s with me.”
“I already have a badge,” Leona says. Whoops, she’s probably not supposed to yet. They didn’t think this through.
Petra doesn’t seem to care. “Okay.” She must assume that Denver made it for her.
She crosses the infrared barrier with own badge, and doesn’t even look back as Leona does the same using hers. They walk through several sets of doors—each of which requires their badges, despite the fact that there are no turn offs—before stepping into an elevator, which is open and waiting for them. There aren’t even any buttons to press, but there are security cameras in all four corners, as well as one where the buttons would normally be found, so someone must be operating it remotely. It feels like it moves pretty fast, but they’re in it for a really long time. They must be going many, many stories underground.
When the doors open, all they see is yet another set of heavy metal doors. Petra places her hands on the crash bar, but waits to push them. “Brace yourself.”
“Okay,” Leona says, sure it’s nothing she hasn’t seen before.
She’s right. Petra opens the door, and leads her down one more short hallway, then through an open blast door. They’ve walked into an expanse. A rocketship is towering above them. It’s maybe 150 meters tall. Petra’s not looking at it, but instead at Leona’s face, hoping for a profound reaction.
“Oh. Oh, wow,” she pretends to be impressed, though probably not convincingly.
Petra is the shocked one here. “Have you ever seen anything like this before?”
“No, of course not!” Oh God, more bad acting out of this dumb girl. Take some lessons, why don’t ya?
“Holy shit, do the Croatians have this kind of technology?”
What Marie and Heath decided after some thought is that Croatia in this world is a prosperous and fairly self-sufficient country. While Leona supposedly most recently conducted research in Denver, she came up in Osijek. It would be hard to disprove it. It fits nicely, because of her last name, but God forbid someone ask her to try to speak the Croatian language.
“What, uh...what is it? I mean, I know what it is, but what is it specifically designed for? Luna? Mars?”
Petra chuckles once. “Try Alpha Centauri.”
“Oh, okay.”
Petra scoffs.
That’s right, she’s meant to be amazed by all this. “I mean, that’s astonishing.”
“Magnus Matic! The fastest our current rockets could potentially arrive at the nearest star system would be four hundred years! This thing is engineered to get us there in half a lifetime. How have you not fainted by now?”
Leona looks over at her boss. Acting is not going to work, at least not in the way it should have from the start. Now she’s going to have to come up with a reasonable lie. “What is your form of propulsion?”
“Fission drive.”
“Ten percent of light speed, huh?”
“That’s right. Why? You think you can do better?”
Leona nods. “What you may not know is that I’ve spent a lot of time researching fractional theory. I can get you to at least 30 percent. I can get you fusion.”

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: April 26, 2398

Mateo and Angela are sitting in the living room together, reading their respective books from the library. Marie and Heath are out on the balcony, having a private conversation. Though, it probably can’t be too private, because any other resident could potentially hear them. A phone rings from their bedroom. Upon seeing that the two of them don’t hear it, Mateo gets up and goes inside. On the nightstand, he sees four phones lined up next to each other on what’s probably a wireless charger. On top of each one is a scrap piece of paper, tucked into the case, labeling them by name. Using his newfound genius level intelligence, he surmises that the one labeled LEONA is Leona’s new device. He answers it, and clears his throat. Then he almost laughs, because he remembers that being a problem back when he was just a normal person in the main sequence. The rational thing to do would be to clear one’s throat first, and answer second.
“Leona Matic’s phone.” A bright light shines into the corner of his eyes. He pulls his head away from it as fast as he pulls the phone in the opposite direction. He didn’t realize that it’s a hologram. “Oh, sorry. I thought it was audio only.” He didn’t even know holograms were a thing here in this time period. They have some weird expectations when it comes to technology.
The little lady standing over the screen nods respectfully. “That’s quite all right. Is Magnus Matic available?”
She must be talking about Leona. That’s his newfound genius coming through again. “I’m afraid she’s unavailable, she’s at work.”
Apparently surprised by this, the woman looks all around her. “I’m sorry, I was to understand she would be starting here soon.”
“Starting where?”
“Oh, forgive me,” she says in a horrified tone. “This is Magnus Petra Burgundy of the University of Usonia Kansas City Astrophysics and Cosmology Department. According to our records, Magnus Matic has recently requested transfer from U of U Denver.”
“Oh, yeah, right, of course. Yeah, she’s just working part time in retail. We were to understand it could take months for the transfer to go through. We sort of had to move out here on late notice due to family circumstances, so she just took what she could right away to support us.” No joke this time, that was a decent lie.
“That’s understandable,” Petra responds. “We foresee her ability to maintain her position, assuming it’s not too demanding, and still be able to work with us. However, when we received the notification for the request, we were quite ecstatic. Someone with her credentials and experience is exactly what we were looking for in regards to a special project we’ve been struggling with. I can’t say much over the phone, or to you, but we would be greatly relieved if she could begin work here immediately.”
Really? What fanciful claims did the forger make on her fake background documents? Magnus sounds like some kind of educational title, which he knows Leona not to have achieved in real life. Hopefully it’s not something she can’t fake her way through. “I imagine she would be happy to do that, though I cannot speak on her behalf. We just got new phones, so she forgot to take it with her today, but she’ll be back in the next few hours, if you would like to speak with her directly.”
“Yes, we would. And I apologize if calling today has caused any faith conflict. We know quite a bit about what Magnus Matic has accomplished in her time at Denver, but she did not list any shabatica. We operate seven days a week, but we respect our team members, and their disparate religious observances.”
“Rrrright,” Mateo answers, not sure what a shabatica is, but sure that he’s supposed to know. “I’ll give her the message.”
“Thank you.”
“Thank you.”
She just kind of stands there a moment.
“Could you hang up first? I’m not good with technology, she’s the smart one.”
“Very well.” The hologram disappears.
Mateo spins around, and comes face to face with Heath. “You found the phones?”
“Yes, Leona received a call.”
“Yeah, we bought them years ago. I don’t know why we bothered, it’s not like it would have been urgent. But we stuffed them in a drawer, and kept paying the data plans. I don’t know what kind of devices you’re used to, but you don’t ever turn these off. They will last for weeks on one charge, but they will eventually lose power. Even if you were to indeed switch them off, they would trickle it away slowly. We forgot about them, then Marie remembered last night, and rushed to charge them up. Y’all left before we could get them to you.”
“It’s okay,” Mateo determines. “She’ll be back soon.” He starts to walk towards him, like he’s trying to leave, but Heath doesn’t budge.
“One question.”
“Okay.”
“It’s going to sound random, but...do you like oyriri?”
Do I?” Mateo asks as if it’s obvious that he does. “Do I?” he repeats, but in a more genuine tone. “What is that?”
Heath pulls a hologram up on his own device.”
Mateo squints and turns his head into different angles. “That’s a pineapple.”

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: April 25, 2398

The team enjoys a fairly silent breakfast together. Leona and Ramses are about to leave for their jobs. The former will be back in five or six hours, but the latter has a full eight-hour shift. Mateo and Angela were planning to stick around for the next few hours until the library opens, but they’re starting to get the feeling that they ought to find something else to do in the meantime. “I would like to see that memorial,” Mateo announces.
“Is that safe?” Leona asks.
“As long as you don’t go snooping around the parking lot,” Heath says, “it will be fine. You are not a known associate of ours.”
“We’ll stay up on that hill,” Angela promises.
“You can borrow my car,” Heath offers.
“We’ll just walk,” Angela insists.
The four of them depart at the same time, leaving the homeowners alone once more. They continue the silence for a little more. “As far as I know, nobody watched the parking lot footage from yesterday,” Heath says.
Marie throws her napkin on the table, and stands up. “No one’s going to show up in the parking lot, Heath. That was a stupid idea.”
“Well, forgive me for trying to get you answers.”
“I’ll consider it.”
“Me being arrested has nothing to do with our current issue,” Heath argues.
“Doesn’t it?”
“No. You were already pregnant.”
“It’s not just the pregnancy, Heath! It’s everything!”
“You promised you wouldn’t yell anymore!”
“Hypocrite!”
“Hypocrite!” he echoes.
They both try really hard not to giggle at this ridiculous exchange, but they lose that war. Marie calms herself back down into a somber demeanor. “I need this, and I need you to support me. I’ve been thinking about my options, and I know you hate it, but I can’t bring a mixed-race baby into this world. If we somehow knew there was a way out, it might be a decent choice, but probably not then either. My life isn’t—even now—equipped to handle the responsibility. The baby would have to be like me, or I would have to become like it. This world suppresses my pattern, but it did not erase it. We have no idea what’s making it happen, but even if it’s built into the fabric of reality, that could always change, because I am not inherently bound to one reality. Most people take their physical laws for granted, but it doesn’t work like that for me. There are no constants, and children need constants.”
He doesn’t breathe in until she finishes. “I understand that. Now,” he adds. “I understand it now. I didn’t understand it before. I do support you, but that doesn’t change the fact that abortion is almost impossible to accomplish here. We never had the...what did you call it?”
“Roe v. Wade?” Marie assumes.
“Yeah, we didn’t do that. If there’s one thing the religions can agree on, it’s that you can’t kill human life. You can kill cows, and you can kill prisoners, because a sufficiently heinous crime legally strips the perpetrator of their humanity. You can even euthanize someone with their consent, but you can’t get consent from a fetus. Nowhere in this country could you be sure the procedure will be both safe, and not a trap. And if you get caught, you’re no longer human, like I was just saying.”
“What if we went to a different country?” Marie suggests.
Heath shakes his head. “It’s not technically illegal to have an abortion in the U.S. I mean that literally, the act is not against the law. If a medical professional is discovered to have done it, they won’t even get a slap on the wrist. That’s why it’s so dangerous to try, because they don’t have any real incentive to keep it a secret, so you have to rely on their altruism, which is difficult to test.”
“How is it both illegal and legal?” she questions.
“It’s illegal to have had an abortion. It doesn’t matter if you do it here, or elsewhere. Immigrants and visitors can’t come into the country if they’ve had the procedure. At all. There have been times in our planet’s history where travel from countries that provided legal abortions was outright banned by countries that criminalized it. It is for this reason that most countries have ended up criminalizing it too, in order to get these bans lifted.”
“Just so I know, in which countries is it currently legal?”
“I don’t know, and I don’t know how to find out, because searching the internet for it alone could be enough to put us on a list.”
Marie sighs. There is still so much she doesn’t know about this world. When and where she grew up, it was illegal to terminate a pregnancy, but she could have crossed the border to Kansas in certain cases, or Washington or New York regardless. And then she could have gone home, but in this reality, she can’t even do that? “What can I do? Is there anything?”
Heath waits a very long time to respond. “It’s not a guarantee, but there are certain foods that you can eat that might induce a miscarriage. They normally recommend pregnant people don’t eat them for this reason, and some stores monitor certain purchases in order to track them. The rumor is that if you start eating a lot of a lot of these different foods combined, it could compound your risk of a lost pregnancy.”
“Can you help me, Heath?” Marie asks. “Could you make that sacrifice?”
“Yes, but I can’t do it alone. I can’t purchase them either. Even though I can’t get pregnant, they still flag the order combos, because they’ll assume it’s for someone like you. We’ll need the whole team for this mission.”
“Thanks.”

Monday, June 27, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: April 24, 2398

Angela walks back into the library. She’s only been gone for the last sixteen hours, but it feels like too long. She could learn all she needs to know from the internet, from the comfort of her alternate self’s home, but there’s something about being able to literally walk through the data that makes this place feel like her home.
The head librarian smiles at her. “Back so soon?”
“Not soon enough,” Angela notes. “Why are you only open 10:00 to 18:00?”
Madam MacDougas frowns just a little. “Hm. Seems normal to me.”
Angela nods, but still doesn’t agree.
“What would you like to study today?” Madam MacDougas goes on.
“I’m still working on history.”
“Are you just going to go from the beginning of recorded history, and continue chronologically?”
“I imagine that’s going to make the most sense in context.”
“All right, dear.”
Angela walks past the counter, and into the stacks, heading for the history section. She passes by the sciences, where she notices someone she recognizes. “Mateo?”
“Oh, hey,” he responds, looking up from his book on quantum mechanics.
“How long have you been here?”
“Twelve years,” he answers. “I’m from the future.”
She chuckles.
“Thirty minutes,” he answers truthfully.
“It just opened,” she points out.
“I didn’t know that when I walked down here this morning. The librarian let me in early.”
“I see.” She drops her gaze down to his book. “Little...uh...little advanced, don’t you think?”
He tips the book towards him to check the title from above, even though he obviously already knows what he picked out. “Yeah, I’m starting to get that idea. I don’t understand most of these words, but I don’t know where to begin.” Or whether to begin.
Angela slips back into the stacks, and isn’t gone long before she returns with a thin white book with lots of pictures. “At the beginning. This is for children, but I assume you could use a refresher since it’s been so long since you were in school. Not judging, by the way.”
He’s embarrassed, but she’s right, and he sees that. “Thank you.” He sets the big book down, and cracks the new one open.
“Can I make another suggestion?” Angela asks after watching him for another few seconds.
“Okay.”
“Don’t study that if you don’t care about it. Couples don’t have to be interested in the same things, or even be at the same level of intelligence.”
He sighs. “I know.”
“Does Leona ever make you feel dumb?”
“Sometimes,” he replies. “She doesn’t do it on purpose, but I see how annoyed you people are when I can’t follow what you’re talking about.”
“I can’t speak for the others, but for my part in that, I apologize.”
“It’s okay, Angela. I’ve been this way my entire life. It’s not like I thought I was a genius. I just assumed I would end up marrying a retail clerk, or maybe another driver.”
“Well, I didn’t know you back then, but I’ve already seen improvement. Honestly, it’s a lot faster than most people I watched develop in the afterlife simulation. Granted, most of them weren’t trying, because they saw it as their end state reward, but they had a lot more time than you, and essentially infinite resources. I saw the value in enriching myself while I was there, but that was a personal decision. I never considered it some kind of universal maxim. It’s okay that you can’t pilot a spaceship, or build a computer from scratch with a toothpick and some twine. You’re still part of the team, and no one thinks less of you. I can make sure they don’t make you feel like that again.”
“Please don’t say anything.”
“Okay, I won’t. But again, don’t study that if you don’t want to.” She looks around the library. “There’s a topic in here somewhere that you genuinely do want to learn more about. Let’s try to find that instead. Let’s find your niche. We already have a physicist.”
“I guess, maybe...
“Go on,” she encourages.
“I could look into philosophy?”
“Sounds perfect. I’ll go find you some starter books.”

Sunday, June 26, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: April 23, 2398

Mateo stayed up all night while the forger was working, so he has to take in a nap in the middle of the day. Leona is anxious to get to her new job, but she is going to have to wait a few weeks. The access badge she was given is ready on its own, but the backstory is not. She can’t just waltz in there and expect the humans to be as accommodating as the radio-controlled doors. The lie is that she’s transferring from another university, but it will take time to process the paperwork, and field the calls that her future supervisor will make to verify the request. Ramses, on the other hand, is all ready to go. It only takes a single call from store to store to verify his transfer, and his manager doesn’t need a bunch of information in this regard. He’s a warm body capable of performing a hard reset on a laptop; that’s good enough. She decides to accompany him on his orientation just to offer support. He thinks that’s a little weird, but the manager does not.
“We’re always looking for new recruits,” Oswald tells her enthusiastically.
“Okay, um. I would only be able to work part time,” Leona explains, wondering if this is truly why she came. “I have something else in the evenings.”
“That’s fine,” Oswald says. “Can you start right now?”
“You don’t want to interview me?” she questions.
“All right,” Oswald decides. “Initiate interview: how much do you want?”
“Normal entry level pay,” she answers.
“That’s only thirty dollars an hour.”
“Wow. Inflation has gotten pretty bad, hasn’t it?” Leona muses.
Oswald shrugs. “Hm. Seems normal to me, but okay, entry level. Deactivate interview. Activate offer: you got the job. Do you want it, or not?”
“I’ll take it,” Leona agrees. And just like that, she has a day job.
“Good.” Oswald is relieved. “By company policy, I have to be in the room while you watch the orientation video. I generally prefer to start as many people as I can on the same day. Sorry, Mister Abda...Abdula—”
“Abdulrashid,” Ramses helps.
“Right. Sorry, but you have to watch it too, even though you’re a transfer.”
“That’s okay,” Ramses assures him.
The video is fine, but it might get tedious after having to watch it for the upteenth time. While Oswald is wearing his headphones against the back wall, cleverly placed so he can’t be seen not paying attention through the window, the two of them learn about where they’re going to work. An anthropomorphic diamond appears on the screen with a big smile on its face. “Welcome to Tialma IRL, our brick and mortar division of Tialma Systems. Just so you know, there are two other divisions within the main corporation: Tialma Digital, and Tialma Services. You may be working with other team members from these departments, so it’s important that you’re aware of them on your first day. Speaking of which, congratulations. You have chosen to work for one of the most innovative, socially conscious, and inclusive stores in the world. At Tialma, we believe that the customer comes first, the employee comes second, and the shareholders come last. We’re not here to make money. We’re here to support the community, and you’re an integral component of that strategy. Let me explain to you what we mean by that.”
Once the generic video is over, they’re given a quiz on it, which they ace easily. They’re then handed aptitude tests. Leona will just be a salesperson, while Ramses will work in the repair department in back. They each ace their own test too, affording Leona a ten dollar increase in pay, and automatically assigning Ramses as the lead technician of his team. Unfortunately, this means demoting the guy who already had that job. They’re starting to learn that this is a pretty cutthroat reality, which stresses competition over personal growth and success. You have to be the best, and then stay the best. The main sequence encourages healthy competition as well, but with a much stronger emphasis on the healthy part. The Third Rail doesn’t care how you win, just that you’re the one at the top of the hill. This mentality is probably what led to all of their wars. According to his new coworkers, Ramses’ predecessor ended up where he was because he sabotaged the team lead before him. They recommend he sleep with one eye open.
Leona has a slightly more pleasant experience on the floor. Her coworkers don’t have the same drive to destroy everyone else on the ladder with them. Thirty to forty bucks is enough for their single, studio apartment lifestyles, and they’re not going to work too hard to go places they don’t wanna go. They don’t think it’s worth it. Leona has always had ambition, but she’s also always appreciated just being relaxed and comfortable. She finds the job itself a little difficult at first. She’s incredibly intelligent, but she’s not too terribly experienced with this reality’s technology, so she makes a couple of mistakes. It doesn’t cause the company any money, but the customers wouldn’t exactly rate their visit an 11 out of 10 either. She’s entitled to the 40 an hour she was promised for today, but starting tomorrow, it will only be 39. She doesn’t care about the money, but she doesn’t like to fail, so she downloads the worker’s guidebook, the inventory specifications list, and several technical manuals for the most important items in the store. She spends about $150 on this educational material, which is almost all the money she made during her four-hour shift.