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Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: September 11, 2188

Vitalie was hyperventilating as midnight central approached. Ecrin was doing better, but appeared to be keeping her anxiety bundled inside. They had both traveled through time before, but always by their own will. They had to sit down from the fatigue, which was a symptom of Leona’s flavor of time travel, but something that she learned to overcome after the first dozen or so jumps., and it was over. They were suddenly now standing in September 11, 2188. They looked over to the corner where Brooke’s Snow White pod was just opening up. It jolted her awake with an accelerated recovery serum, which was only designed for certain crew on sleeper ships that needed to react to a dire cataclysmic event. It wasn’t meant to be used for standard revival, even after only one year in hibernation, and it definitely wasn’t meant to be used over and over again. The best recuperation regimens called for at least one day of limited activity, and no operating of heavy machinery. If Brooke had to go through this for more than a few days, her body could be permanently damaged from the stress, and her organs might eventually give up on her. Her upgrades may give her an advantage to combat those medical issues, but the downgrades Ulinthra performed on her more than likely ruined all that. They needed to end this quickly.
“I think I have an idea,” Vitalie said as they were eating breakfast after a good night’s sleep. “I was thinking about it all yesterday, but I didn’t want to say anything until I had it all worked out.”
“And what would that be?” Ecrin asked.
“Okay, so you—wait, is she surveilling us?”
“No,” Brooke said. “I installed a communication blocker on my body after Ulinthra’s doctors downgraded my systems. I also placed an anti-tampering device on it, so even if they figured out how to turn it off, I would know. If we were being streamed or recorded, I would know.”
“Where did you install it?” Leona asked. “Did they not find it while they were preparing you for your first time in the stasis pod?”
Brooke cleared her throat. “Ya know, even at the turn of the 23rd century, there are still some places that people are too embarrassed to search.”
“Oh,” Leona said.
“What? I don’t get it,” Vitalie griped.
“It’s in her vagina,” Ecrin explained.
Brooke cleared her throat again. “Vitalie, you were saying something?”
Vitalie couldn’t help but let her eyes drift downwards when looking at Brooke, but she composed herself, and moved on with her plan. “So Ulinthra can repeat the day?”
“That’s right.”
“At the end of everyday, say midnight, she goes back in time in her own body, and does it all again. But since she knows what’ll happen, she can make changes at will.”
“Which means that we can never know whether we’re living in the day she does this first, or the day she does it for the second time.”
“Well, since she’s the only one with memories of what she calls her Round Ones, we are—for all practical purposes—always living through her Round Twos. We always have to assume that she has the advantage of knowing what we’re gonna do.”
“Okay,” Vitalie continued. It was clear that she understood all this perfectly, but the others needed to follow her all the way to understand what she was proposing they do. “That makes her the only variable. She’s the only one who changes things, so everything we do, we already tried the first time around, but just don’t remember. Our choices are only affected when we interact with her.”
“All right...”
“We can use that. We have to talk to her every day. We have to call her, summon her here, or go to her evil lair. The way she speaks to us, the things she says, will determine whether B.F. Skinner’s cat is dead or not.”
“Schrödinger,” Brooke corrected.
“Schrödinger was the one with the cat in the box that could be dead or alive, so it’s both until you open the box and find out. Skinner was the one with pigeons and rats.”
“Then who’s the guy with the dog?”
“Whatever. But yes, that’s what I’m talking about. She, and she alone, determines how the day plays out.”
“But what does that matter?” Ecrin asked. “So we talk to her everyday. What, are we going to ask her whether we’ve had that conversation before, or not?”
“It doesn’t matter what we talk about,” Vitalie said, smirking. “We just need her to have an affect on the coin toss.”
“What coin toss?”
“We flip a coin. Everyday, after our talk with Ulinthra, we flip a coin. Heads we go after her, tails we just hang out all day.”
Leona winced. “Well, that means fifty percent of the time, we flipped the same side on her Round One, and whatever we do, she’ll be prepared for, just like always.”
“True,” Vitalie said. “But that also means fifty percent of the time, the coin toss on any given day ends up differently, because we only toss it after Ulinthra does something. She can’t help but be informed by her yesterdays, just like normal people. Even something so innocuous and minute as saying the dog jumped over the fence instead of the dog hopped over the fence will alter exactly when we toss the coin, and how it lands.”
“Like Leona said,” Ecrin began, “half the time we, quote-unquote go after her, she already sees us coming, and has a way to best us. And even if she doesn’t see us coming, we still have to contend with her army. Power or no, she’s too powerful for the four of us.”
“Again, that’s true,” Vitalie said with a sort of nod-shake hybrid. “Look, if you want to scrap any offensive moves against her, and just try to find a way to escape Panama, I’m all for it. Just recognize that she still has her time power. The coin toss plan still helps with that.”
“She’s right,” Brooke finally spoke again. “If we have any hope of fighting her, or leaving Panama, we need to not repeat the same mistakes—whatever they may be—that we made on these Round Ones. Ulinthra is our only way of doing that, since we don’t know anyone who has her same power.”
Ecrin still wasn’t convinced. “I just don’t think we should be talking to that woman any more than we have to. If we can sit in this unit all quiet-like until she gets bored, and moves on, that’s the ultimate outcome. I’m not saying that’s gonna happen, but I just hate that bitch, and I want to avoid her.”
“We all do,” Leona said. “As do many others in this world. We are in a position to stop her, even if that means we escape to Kansas City, and tell some people what we know. I like the coin idea. Let’s start now. I’ll call her, then we’ll flip. Heads we decide what we’re gonna do. Tails, we hold a service for Paige. Ecrin, are you okay with that?”
Ecrin hesitated. “Yeah, we have to do something. Chance is our only...chance. At least now we have a little control over it. Make the call.”
“Do it.”
When Leona called Ulinthra that evening, she asked if they could speak with Harrison. She acted as if they thought they could reason with him, and get him to switch sides. Ulinthra giggled, and indicated that they had tried this before, but it didn’t work. The Harrison she knew from an alternate reality no longer existed. This was evidently an entirely different program that she simply gave the same name as her original android assistant. That was good. This time was easy. She had revealed not only that they had called her during her Round One, and that this was her Round two—which prevented her from going back in time and changing it yet again—but also that Vitalie had flipped tails. If they had landed on heads, and done what they were planning to try now, Ulinthra probably wouldn’t be letting Harrison come again.
“All right, Brooke. He’s on his way. Vitalie flips that coin, and it’s heads, you should probably go. We don’t know how this thing will affect you.”
“I understand.”
“Ecrin. Your upgrades have been...”
“Removed completely. I’m human, and safe.”
“This is ready, so flip, Vitalie.”
Vitalie flipped the coin, which they had to manufacture in the synthesizer, since coins weren’t really a thing anymore. They chose a standard United States penny, since that was Vitalie’s calling card. “Be the penny,” she said as it rose and fell in the air. Heads. Brooke left.
Fifteen minutes later, when Harrison knocked on the door, Ecrin and Vitalie hid in the other room, so they wouldn’t be seen. Leona backed herself against the wall, so the door would hide her when she opened it. Harrison immediately realized she was there, though. He pulled the door away from her, and grimaced.
“Hey, toaster!” Brooke’s voice shouted from the hallway. Then they heard her pull back the hammer of an old projectile gun.
Harrison frowned and opened the door again.
“I’ll be fine,” she said to him with sass, but that wasn’t meant for him. She was sending a message to Leona.
Leona decided to accept the possibility that she was about to hurt her friend. She activated the device, then peeked out from behind the door. Harrison was standing there, and not moving. She looked over his shoulder at Brooke, who was holding her head and chest. “Brooke.”
“I’m fine,” she said with a hoarse voice. “I’ll be fine. Just do what you need to do, and make it quick. I don’t know how long he’ll last. Or me.”
“Come back out!” she order to the other two. They came out with tools, and started working on Harrison’s hand, removing what they were looking for faster than they thought they would. They still needed to scan it, though, and they weren’t sure if the synthesizer was working perfectly. The device Leona used to freeze Harrison might have had unintended consequences on anything else electronic.
They placed the tiny little weapon he had embedded in his hand in the synthesizer, and programmed the machine to scan it, so they could make one of their own later.
“Is he gonna wake up?” Ecrin asked with a worried look. “This is goin’ pretty slow.”
Leona looked back at Harrison, still frozen. “If he wakes up, we’ll just kill him. Ulinthra will never know what we took, until it’s too late.”
Once the scan was complete, they put the piece back in Harrison’s hand, and everyone got back into position. Brooke’s job was the hardest. Harrison was an artificial intelligence, capable of measuring his surroundings to the precision of a millimeter; possibly even more. If Brooke didn’t return to the exact state she was in when Harrison was frozen, he would notice that she moved, and realize that he had lost time. That was why Leona had to reprogram his internal chronometer while the device they stole was being scanned. This was also why Brooke distracted him. If he had been looking at Leona when time stopped for him, her puny human brain wouldn’t have been able to get her back to the right place.
Brooke breathed in and out deeply, so she could push down her pain long enough to get back to where she was. “I’m ready,” she finally said.
“Are you sure?”
“Do it now, please. Goddammit.”
Leona deactivated the device, restarting Harrison’s functions. Leona could hear a tussle in the hallway. When she came out from behind the door, she found him hovering over Brooke, pointing the gun at her head.
“Please don’t,” Leona begged.
He grimaced at her again. “I couldn’t if I wanted to.” He helped Brooke up from the floor, almost like a gentleman. “Ulinthra programmed me with the three laws of robotics, like an asshole. Anyway, I guess our conversation is over. You just called me here to kill me.”
“You’re her greatest weapon,” Leona lied.
“Quite.” He adjusted his jacket with the Picard maneuver, and headed for the elevators.
“Are we good?” Brooke asked after he’d gone, having recovered from the device.
Leona went into the synthesizer’s memory, and found the plans for the teleporter gun that they had just taken from Harrison. “We have it.”

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