Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: July 21, 2136

Dar’cy Matigaris was born on February 14, 2136. As it turned out, her mother was already pregnant the last time Mateo and Leona were in the timestream. Both of her names were created as combinations of her parents names; Darko Matic, and Marcy Calligaris. At the moment, she was about five months old, and—unlike the previous poor island baby, Brooke—both of her parents were alive and in good memory. The island had changed quite a bit over the last few months. Arcadia had used a special construction team—evidently the same one that had built The Constant—to build a home for the three of them. It was a single-family cottage, barely enough to fit the three of them, but it had running water and electricity. It was just one more thing Arcadia had done to convince them, and probably herself, that she was not a monster. Her first decision after construction was complete was to exempt Darko and Marcy from an indefinite number of following expiations. She couldn’t promise, however, that they wouldn’t be asked to jump back in sometime in the future. Nor could she say whether their child would be asked to participate as well.
After a lovely breakfast in the dining area/kitchen/livingroom/art studio, the rest of the group took their leave of the family, and prepared for a challenge to return Aldona’s mother from the void of nonexistence. Cambria Buchanan, as her granddaughter told it, held one of those jobs that didn’t exist when Mateo was growing up. She started out as an amateur, but soon became one of the most desired talents for the growing industry. As drones became ubiquitous, automatous, and cheaper to manufacture, it suddenly became apparent that an entire fleet of them could be managed by a single individual. They weren’t hired to pilot each drone on its own, but to keep track of scores of them. Cambria worked a number of jobs in a number of fields; including police work, courier services, disaster relief, aerial connectivity distribution, and scientific research. This reminded Mateo of himself, who had an interest in driving, but never wanted to spend too long doing one thing with that.
“One thing you might want to remember,” Marcy said as they were leaving for the expiation, “is that my grandmother never went by her real name.”
“What did she like to be called?”
“Agent Nanny Cam. Sometimes, people even just called her Agent.”
As they were walking down the beach, Mateo saw Horace repetitively nod his head. “What are you thinking about?”
“I never actually met Agent Nanny Cam,” he replied. “Serkan knew her, though. Her first job was recording the City Frenzy. She actually ran it herself once before that.”
“You mean that race that goes all over the city, where everyone has a different starting point, and a different ending point?”
“That didn’t exist in my reality.”
“I know,” Horace said. “I remember.”
Suddenly, Arcadia teleported in front of them, standing behind a large table that was full of drones, and related equipment. Some were tiny, others larger. There were action camera, controllers, monitors, battery packs, and extra parts. There was also a box next to the table marked clothes, and a black participation that presumably hid some other things. “Good morning,” she said, in a rather normal tone. “You’ve not been training, which is gonna make this hard. But you also each probably don’t really have an advantage over anyone else. Darko would probably kick all your asses, but he’s not playing anyway.”
“What is it?” Mateo asked.
“A race. Pretty simple. You’ll all start from different places on the perimeter. I’ve used artificial intelligence to map the island, and find an equidistant point in the middle of the jungle. Simply reach the center, and you win.”
“What does winning do?” Lincoln asked.
“You get to leave the island.”
“Be the first to cut the rope, and raise the flag, and you will win two first-class tickets out of here, for good, all expenses paid. You’ll move on with your life, at the point in spacetime of your choosing, and hopefully one day, you’ll forget about all this.” She waited a little bit. “You can opt out, and operate the drones instead, but you’ll be disqualified from the prize.”
“Two tickets?” Mario asked.
“You’ll be able to choose one person to go with you,” Arcadia explained. “That person can either be from the here and now, or someone I’ve already taken out of time.”
“We don’t remember the people you’ve taken out of time,” Aura remarked.
“That’s a good point.” Arcadia snapped her fingers.
Suddenly, everyone except for Mateo haunched over and started screaming, just like Leona had when her memories of the alternate timeline were returned all at once. Fortunately, they didn’t scream nearly as long, with everyone recovering inside of a minute. Lincoln was clearly faking it once he realized what was happening to the others. Luckily, everyone whose memories were being flooded back was too busy with their own pain to notice.
Arcadia didn’t seem to love that part of it. “Okay, now that that’s done, you know what you’re fighting for. I’ll take your memories back away at the end of the race, unless you win, of course.” She smiled and looked around. “Is anyone stepping aside?”
“I am...obviously,” Mateo said. “Unless, that is, my winning would cause you to reverse everything you’ve done, and bring all my friends back.”
“I’m afraid if I do that, it can’t be a race. Everyone else would just opt out.” He was pretty sure that wouldn’t work.
“I’m stepping aside too,” Leona said.
“Leona,” Mateo said, not sure whether he approved or not, and knowing that she did not require his approval anyway.
“I’m doing this. I’m staying here,” she said plainly. “The one I love the most has to stay no matter what, so I do too.”
Mateo just nodded.
“Great,” Arcadia said. “Get dressed and warm up,” she said to the rest of the group. “Your uniforms are in this box, and instructions for attaching the action cameras are in this corner of the table.” She addressed Mateo and Leona separately while the racers were preparing. “Since two of you volunteered for this, I’ll be leaving you to it. Read up on the manuals, and my personal directions.” She disappeared.
“You’re gonna have to take point on this,” Mateo told Leona, “and help me out.”
“I wouldn’t worry,” she comforted. “This stuff isn’t that hard. If you’ve played video games, you can do this.” She started inspecting some of the equipment. “Most of these are pretty damn autonomous. We’ll really just be here to make sure they’re going where we want them to.”
She seemed to be right about that. While the racers were stretching and hopping around, Mateo skimmed the instruction manuals, realizing that Arcadia could start the process at any moment. They appeared to be rather foolproof, so it looked like he was gonna be okay.
Leona didn’t bother with the manuals, though. She just started testing features, and making adjustments. She approached a drone on the other side of a partition that was as large as an adult human. She activated it and sent it up into the air. “Motherdrone,” she said, as if she had done this many times before. “Here.” She handed him a pair of sweet glasses. “That puppy’ll give us an aerial view, and these glasses will augment our vision.”
Mateo had used augmented reality goggles before, back when he was breaking evil Reaver out of prison, but these were far more advanced. He could control where they went with his mind. Just by thinking, the view bubbles hovering in front of his face cycled through various angles of various drones, most of which were still sitting on the table. The motherdrone, however, was already in place, giving him a bird’s eye view of Tribulation Island. “This is amazing,” he couldn’t help but say out loud.
“Just wait for it,” Leona said. She was opening up a tub that was also behind the partition. Mateo quickly figured out how to control one of the minidrones, and retasked it to watch Leona work. She smiled at the camera while presenting it with a handful of what looked like jacks game pieces. “Talidrones,” she said. “We don’t need any of those others when we have these.” She crawled over and pulled out a second tub, opening it up to show it was full of more of these talidrones. She then picked up a handheld device from the table, and scanned each tub.
“Tell your audience what’s goin’ on here, Leona,” Mateo said, doing his best impression of a sports event color commentator.
She held an individual talidrone to the flying drone’s camera so he could get a better look. “Smaller than a microdrone, but larger than a nanodrone, this beauty is useless on her own. But together, they work to provide a clearer picture of an area. Like smartdust, but with actual cameras.” She pressed one more button on her device, and the entire swarm of talidrones flew out of their tubs, and started arranging themselves around the island. “Tell those glasses to enter immersion mode,” she ordered.
“Enter immersion mode,” Mateo echoed. Suddenly he could see the whole island in a new light. He wasn’t just viewing one angle at a time, but any of them. Instead of flipping through these angles, he would just seamlessly drift in any direction he wanted to, at any speed he wished. The talidrones apparently compensated automatically. Basically, he could fly. It was only then that he realized all the racers were already in their respective corners of the island, ready to go. Mateo shifted his perspective into realspace, as Leona was stepping up next to him with her own glasses.
“Once this is all over, we’ll be able to enjoy future tech like this all the time.”
Mateo switched back to the immersive view. “One can only hope.”
Arcadia’s voice came out from the aether. “On your marks..get set...go!”
They started running over the beach, and through the woods, using their own augmented reality glasses that were giving them the general direction of their destination. Aura was fighting for Samsonite; while Mario was fighting to bring back his love, Angelita, so they could both start their lives with their daughter, Brooke. Horace and Paige were racing for each other, just trying to increase their odds of winning. Mateo didn’t know who Lincoln was racing for, if anyone, but it looked like he had the best chances. Aura and Mario each started out way too fast, and might not have hydrated enough. By the time they reached the first mile, they were too exhausted to keep running. Horace and Paige—theoretically having learned from professional runner, Serkan—were pacing themselves better, but they just weren’t in the best shape. Neither were they as tall as Lincoln, who almost acted like this was nothing to him.
This went on for more than two hours, with Lincoln only gaining even more ground with each passing minute. Mateo and Leona could do nothing but watch, not that they had any preference. They loved all these people equally, and couldn’t choose who they wanted to get their lives back. In the end, it was the anticipation that would have hurt the most. This was steadily becoming less and less of a problem, as the contestants moved beyond the point when any of them could catch up, barring Lincoln twisting his ankle, or something. When his nearest contender in Paige hadn’t even started mile eight, Lincoln Rutherford reach the bamboo table. He picked up the complimentary machete, and started hacking at the rope. Once it was cut, it zipped away, and dropped a flag that had the trademarked name of a popular reality television series on it. Lincoln removed his shirt and used it to mop the sweat out of his eyes. By the time he removed it from his face, Arcadia had apported all remaining racers, along with Mateo and Leona.
“Congratulations, Mister Presidents,” Arcadia said to him jokingly. “You’ve won the money!” She took out two actual plane tickets. “Who else do you choose? Anyone?”
He took his time to catch his breath. “Horace and Paige.”
“Sorry, you can only choose one.”
Lincoln handed the tickets to Paige. “Horace and Paige,” he repeated. “I’m staying here.”
Arcadia seemed rather indifferent to this decision. Still, “are you sure about this?” she pressed.
“I’m fine here,” he said, shaking his head. “I ain’t got nobody.”
“Thank you, Lincoln,” Paige said. She planted what was only a half-platonic kiss on his lips.
Horace did the same.
“I might let you come back and visit,” Arcadia said to the two about to depart.
“That will not be necessary,” Mateo asserted.
Horace, Paige, and Arcadia disappeared, leaving the rest to walk back to camp. They had made it out. They had actually managed to escape...which meant it could be done again.

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