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Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: September 8, 2185

Ulinthra wasn’t lying when she said she could meet her friends back on the beach. What she failed to say, however, was that this would not happen until the next day. Which meant Paige, Brooke, and Ecrin were forced to spend that entire year still locked up. They weren’t sure whether there was some underlying strategy behind this, or if it was nothing more than Ulinthra’s plan to keep them agitated, and off balance.
Not much had happened that the prisoners learned about in the time between. One thing they knew was that Israel was still fighting, but were receiving no military aid from any of the larger class cities. Ulinthra and her people were keeping the smaller classes hostage, threatening to destroy one every day they encountered military opposition beyond Israel’s own forces. The rest of the E-class and below arcities had fallen into a rhythm, with most of their everyday business going unchanged. They could no longer travel to other cities, be it the ones controlled by the Arianation, or not. This was becoming a less common practice anyway, as people were spending more and more time in virtual worlds. Of course, the worlds they now had access to were isolated from those of the rest of the world, and carefully monitored for any dissenting voices. All in all, though, the Ulinthra wasn’t actually doing anything with her subjects. She wasn’t using them for forced labor, she wasn’t executing her enemies in public, she wasn’t instituting unreasonable laws. Besides keeping them all separate from each other, it would seem she mostly just wanted to put her name on everything.
And her name wasn’t Ulinthra, according to what most people understood about her. Drawing inspiration from the land they were in, The Forger gave her the new identity of Arianrhod, who was the goddess of time in ancient Celtic belief. It was not at all culturally, or linguistically, related to the Aryan Nation made famous by white supremacists modeling their ideals partly on Adolf Hitler’s Nazi movement. While the Arianation’s plans seemed to include far less cruelty and violence as the Holocaust did, it was also insidious, and underestimated by the world’s leadership. It was only going to get worse from here.
“What is the safest place for us right now?” Leona asked, knowing that not all news spread to her friends while they were locked up.
“Kansas City,” Paige said. “If all other arcities fell to Ulinthra’s forces, Kansas City would still be standing.”
“Why is that? Just because it got started there?”
“That,” Brooke began, “and because it’s being secretly protected by choosing ones, and some salmon. Ulinthra is aware of this, and won’t go near it.”
“Then that’s where we should be,” Leona said.
“I would think you would want to go after her,” Ecrin thought.
Leona nodded. “I do, but not today. We need to regroup, and you need to enjoy your freedom.”
“Well, there is no way for us to get to Kansas before your day is up,” Paige explained. “Planes are grounded, the transcontinental hyperloop is shutdown, and Brooke couldn’t teleport, even if we had a teleporter.”
“What happened to your necklace, Brooke?”
“Ulinthra stole it, as you would expect.”
“I guess we just have to steal one the the Arianation’s jets,” Leona suggested, like it wasn’t any bigger of a deal than having to go to one of the few restaurants open on Sundays.
“Oh, is that it?” Ecrin asked sarcastically.
“I can hack into the systems, Brooke can fly. Ecrin, I’m sure you have experience with this sort of thing, what with your centuries as a secret agent.”
“I wasn’t always an agent,” Ecrin responded. “Yes, I do have some experience with this; emphasis on the some. I retired long before this level of technology, though.”
“And we are not what we once were,” Paige added.
Brooke continued, “some of our upgrades have been...downgraded.”
“Does that mean you’re gonna die?”
“We were never running at a hundred percent, Leona,” Paige told her. “People like us need to be around the right technology, so we can receive replacement parts, and software updates. We spent a lot of time isolated on The Warren, and on Durus, which would be like you living in the middle ages. We were barely scraping by before Ulinthra got her hands on us.”
“So she made it worse, which is all the more reason for us to get out of here, and get you back to working order. We absolutely must return to Kansas City.” When no one else said anything, Leona went on, “guys, we can’t stay in Panama. We can either swim, walk, or drive. Or we can take our chances, and fly.”
“We should drive,” Brooke said, having been thinking it over.
“I was kidding,” Leona said. “I mean, that would work for you, but it would take more than a day, which means I can’t go with you.”
“We don’t drive to Kansas City. We drive to Colombia, and then we fly to Kansas City. Colombia is a Class C-1 arcstate. It should only take eight or nine hours.”
“If we want to get out of this country fast, we should first take the water,” Ecrin said. “It would be easier to steal a car than a plane, but still not easy.”
“But it would be easy to steal a boat?”
Ecrin smirked. “Who said anything about a boat?” She lifted the leg of her shorts, and started pressing on subdermal buttons embedded in her thighs. “Intentional obsolescence. This tech is so old, the Arianation’s instruments don’t even read them as transhumanistic.” She put her shorts back down, and looked out across the water. Moments later, a submarine surfaced.
“Perks of being richer than God,” Ecrin noted.
“I guess we are swimming, a little bit.” Leona laughed.
The four of them started wading into the water, but before the waves even reached their torsos, the sub exploded. The blast was enough to knock them all back into the tide. They just sat there on the sand, watching the fire burn as the twisted metal sank into the depths. Then they could hear the sound of footsteps approaching from behind. A grimacing Ulinthra walked up and admired her work. She pointed a scanner at Ecrin, and recalibrated it in realtime. “Very interesting. We’ll update our software to account for that level of tech. Thanks for pointing out a flaw for us.”
“You knew about my sub the whole time?” Ecrin questioned.
“No,” Ulinthra said, “just for a day.” She addressed her guards, “get Miss Cabral into surgery right away. Remove that thing from her leg, and any other tech you find. Scan the others more carefully. Let this be a warning,” Ulinthra said as Ecrin was fighting off her captors. “I don’t want you leaving the country.”
“What do you want?” Leona hissed. “From us, that is?”
“I want you to fight, not hide.”
“And I want you to go to hell!” Ecrin screamed as the guards were gagging her.
“That’s not necessary,” Ulinthra said to them. “If her screams hurt your ears, then just turn your sensors down.”
“How did you know about the sub?” Leona asked, drawing nearer threateningly.
“I found out about it yesterday, when you used it to escape.”
“Yesterday, but we—” Leona stopped herself. “But you don’t have that power anym—” She stopped again. “Are you reliving every day twice, memories intact?”
“I am.”
“Blending brains doesn’t give you powers from alternate realities. Or at least...I didn’t think it did.”
“Normally, it doesn’t, but mine was a special case. My power is all about the consciousness, and remembering things I shouldn’t, so when the Warrior restored those memories, everything came with it.”
“But that didn’t happen to Horace,” Leona pointed out.
“Didn’t it?” Ulinthra began to turn and walk away. “Are you sure?”
Leona slipped off her shirt once Ulinthra had disappeared over the hill. “Take off your clothes. Every shred. Scan each other for surveillance bugs. Go to the atomic level, if you have to. I want to remove every possible advantage she might have over us.”
They removed all their clothing, and burned it, along with the rest of their possessions. They then went back to the arcology to shop for replacements. Back in Leona’s day, walking around naked in public would have not only been strange, but illegal. Over time, though, society had matured. There was a distinct difference between indecent exposure, and just regular exposure. No one batted an eye.
When they were done and fully clothed, Leona and Brooke went down to the medical facilities to get Ecrin back. She was perturbed by having been violated like that, but not particularly upset about losing the body tech itself. She kept her head down as Brooke pushed her wheelchair down the hall, into the elevator, and up to the temporary housing block that Paige had secured for them. She managed to get them a four-room unit, even though they would only need three most of the time. Only when she saw her bed did Leona realize how tired she was. She announced her intentions, then fell onto the bed, and found some sleep.
She woke up from the smell of dinner. Ecrin was cooking cultured burgers for them, using a stove. She didn’t even touch the food synthesizer. The smell seemed pleasant at first, but the closer she got to the kitchen, the worse it became, until she was overcome with the need to throw up again. Something was really wrong with her. Brooke held her hair out of the toilet, but once she was done, it was Paige who lifted her up over her shoulder, and started carrying her out of the room. “You’re going to the infirmary.”
Leona didn’t argue.
All of her friends sat with her in the room while they waited for the doctor to perform the necessary tests, all of which could be done much faster than they could in the early 21st century. “Is there any news I could tell you that you would want me to give in privacy?”
Leona looked at her people, and decided that there wasn’t anything she wasn’t willing to let them hear. “No.”
“You are seven weeks pregnant.”
Leona took a deep breath. “Not to diminish your expertise, or your instruments, but that’s not possible.”
“I assure you that the tests are quite accurate. You are exactly fifty-one days pregnant.”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t be. I haven’t had sex with a man in years.”
“Well, for you, a year is—” Ecrin tried to say.
“Years for me,” Leona interrupted. “It’s been years, from my perspective.”
“Did you spend time in stasis?” the doctor asked.
Leona shook her head. “No. I’ve only been with Serif this whole time, there’s just no way.”
“It’s the PTB,” Paige said.
“Do they make people pregnant?”
The doctor became concerned. “Who are the PTB? Did they force you to do something? Did they perform experiments on you?”
“Please leave,” Leona demanded, not in the mood for politeness.
“I’ve never heard of it,” Paige answered once the doctor was gone, “but it’s conceivable. Téa, Aura, and Samsonite were all reincarnated into new bodies that looked exactly the same as their old ones. So the powers must have the ability to deliberately insert a person’s DNA into a mother, at some point in the reproductive process.”
Leona faced the ceiling, but closed her eyes. “Goddammit.”
“It’s...” Brooke began carefully. “It’s still early enough. You’re not, uhh...Catholic, or anything.”
“What if this is my mother?”
“What if I’m carrying my mother in my womb, or the next Savior.”
“Étude is the last Savior,” Ecrin said, confused.
“I know...just. I have more people to consider than just me. Like you said, those three were reincarnated to new parents, one of them as my brother in an alternate reality. I can’t just...ignore that.”
“Leona, this is your choice. No one has the right to make it for you.”
“It’s not that simple, not in our world. My baby...may not be my baby, but they may be a time traveler, and if that’s the case, they’ve already had an impact on history. I couldn’t stop it, even if I wanted to.”
Her friends were silent.
Leona took a breath.
Finally, Paige spoke up again. “You can’t raise a child unless that child is born exactly like you, and manifests that trait immediately.”
“I know. I know!”
“Let’s get the doctor back in here and explain your situation, so she can continue to treat you throughout the years,” Paige offered. “She’ll need to run more tests next year so we can understand how your time jumps affect the pregnancy.”
“No,” Ecrin disagreed. “There’s no need to bring a human into this. I know someone who can help. I’m gonna need a cell phone, or a pager.”

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