Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: September 17, 2194

When Leona, Ecrin, and Vitalie returned to the timestream, Ulinthra was there, waiting for them. She commended them for their attempt on her life, but claimed that it wasn’t necessary. “The first time this day happened,” she said, “the five of us had a lovely day on the beach. Well, I had a lovely time. The four of you were scared out of your minds, wondering what I was going to do to punish you.”
“Did you ever tell us?” Vitalie asked.
“That doesn’t matter,” Ecrin said. “Did you decide what our punishment is?”
“Nothing,” Ulinthra said, as if handing them their lottery winnings. “Darrow and I had some nice conversations while he was alive. That’s the benefit of being around for the whole year; you have time to get things done. Leona, you should look into that.
Leona would have rolled her eyes if she wasn’t so nervous about what Ulinthra was holding back.
Ulinthra continued, “I heard about your penny trick. I must say, it’s quite clever.”
“I’ve been wondering why the timeline keeps changing. I mean, obviously I’m having an effect on it, but I wasn’t making the connection between your daily calls, and those changes. Vitalie, if you’re ever looking for a job...”
“Where’s Brooke?”
“Brooke who?” Ulinthra asked.
“Ulinthra, where is she?”
“She’s in another unit, and she wants to be left alone. She still has her pod, but I’ve relieved her of her connection to you. Unlike our former justice system, I don’t believe in guilt by association.”
They had no response to this. While Leona wanted to be grateful that Brooke was safe, there was no way of knowing whether it was at all true.
“Did you kill Darrow?” Ecrin asked after a few beats.
“I did,” Ulinthra said, moderately enthused. “That’s what our conversations were about. You know, he’s been around a long time. He gave me an exact age, because he’s the kind of chooser who can calculate that sort of thing, but I can’t remember it. Needless to say, however, he was quite old, and so wise. He’s seen so much, and learned so much more. But he was ready to die, so I accommodated him. After months of testing, I finally took care of him a couple weeks ago. I wasn’t comfortable cutting him up, and burning his parts. So I reverse engineered a machine that would cause molecular teleportation.”
“What’s that?” Vitalie asked.
“It’s what Lucius has,” Leona said, horrified. “He can teleport individual molecules—maybe even atoms—to different places. Basically he can rip you apart into billions of pieces.”
“That’s right,” Ulinthra said. “Darrow can’t come back from that, which is what he wanted.”
“You have a molecular teleporter,” Leona noted.
Ulinthra wasn’t sure at first why Leona said that, since it had already been established, but then it clicked. “That’s right, I have one of the greatest weapons on the planet at my disposal, but I would never use it for that. I’m not as bad as you think. I suppose my attitude towards you haven’t helped your perceptions of me, but I really am trying to help. Besides that fact that the machine requires me to daisy chain every microgrid on this arc to start it up, leaving us without power for almost a week, it’s immoral. What I did was out of kindness, not malice. You need not fear it, or me.”
“If it’s more trouble than it’s worth, then why don’t you dismantle it?” Leona suggested.
“Why don’t you?” Ulinthra either asked or offered.
“If you want it gone, then you can oversee its dismantling.”
“Don’t be coy,” Ulinthra said. “I’ll set it up for nine o’clock this morning. You best get some sleep before then. I’ll courier a pair of auggies, and send you directions.”
“Ulinthra,” Leona called up to her as she was leaving.
“Be there at nine!” Ulinthra reminded her.
The three of them sat in silence for a few moments. “What the hell is happening?” Vitalie finally asked.
“In my experience,” Ecrin began, “whenever something bad seems to be going better, it really means that it’s worse.”
Still, there was nothing they could do but go to bed.
At 8:30, Leona pulled the directions to Ulinthra’s Molecular Research Laboratory up on her new augmented reality glasses, and made her way there. Once she walked in, a team of scientists, androids assistants, and robot workers stopped what they were doing, and stared at her in apathetic anticipation. Holly Blue was there, and the only one not treating this like a middle scene in a horror film. “Don’t mind them,” Holly Blue said. “They know you have been assigned as our leader today. Arianrhod has conditioned them to follow orders without question.”
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do,” Leona whispered.
“Introduce yourself,” Holly Blue suggested.
“I’m Leona Delaney,” she announced to the crowd. “You all know why we’re here, yeah?”
They nodded, but didn’t speak.
“And you all know how to do that, right?” Leona went on.
They nodded again.
“Then you may begin.”
Everyone went back to work, unscrewing screws, and ripping out wires. It was a pretty self-sufficient operation. Leona was really just there to make sure it was being done. At least that was what she was told, but there was no way of knowing if this was the only molecular teleporter, or if they were just going to be ordered to rebuild it tomorrow. This could all be a waste of everyone’s time, but if so, what was the point? What did Ulinthra really have in store for them?
“Hi, I’m usually in charge here. My name is Holly Blue.”
Leona gave a sort of frightened and confused look, but didn’t want to say anything. That was meant to be her codename, but here she was, saying out loud with no concern.
“I know, it sounds like a porn star, or something. But it is my real name.” She tilted her head down, so she could look up at Leona. “It really is.” That was all Leona needed.
“Did you help build this thing?” Leona asked.
“I designed it. Of course, our immaculate leader already had the technical specifications, but the general shape, the chamber; it’s all me and my team.”
“How do you suppose she came to something like this?” Leona asked, perhaps pushing too much.
“Well, we’ve been teleporting molecules for over a century...” Holly trailed off.
“No, we’ve been copying molecules in a second location, and destroying the originals. This is different.”
Holly Blue—which was a name Leona felt couldn’t be broken up into first and last, but required being said in full each time—just shrugged. “Progress marches on.”
They both knew about time travel, but couldn’t say anything in mixed company. They just stood there together and watched the drones do their work. They were completely finished within the hour; all parts being dropped into various material reclamators. If they were going to rebuild it after Leona left, they would have to start from scratch. But they did it the first time in only a few months, so they could definitely do it again. This farce did not make her feel much better, but she did have conflicting memories of Ulinthra’s behaviors, so maybe Ulinthra had conflicting thoughts about her own actions. Maybe some good in her was inching its way to the surface.
Once it was over, Leona said goodbye to their ally, Holly Blue, and tried to make her way back to the unit. Something went wrong with her glasses. They kept trying to get her to go a different way, even though she had easily memorized her path. She might have just taken them off, and gone on her own, but she was curious as to why the glasses were leading her somewhere else, so she decided to follow it. Before too long, she found herself standing in front of Brooke, which the glasses indicated was her final destination. She looked better than she had in a long time. Color had returned to her skin, and she held herself straighter. She hadn’t appeared this healthy since she had all of her transhumanistic upgrades. She was in the front of a classroom full of students. Diagrams of various ships and instruments were floating around. It almost looked like she was teaching these people how to fly, but that wasn’t possible. Could it?
“Shit,” Brooke said under her breath. “Class, please reread the section on interplanetary gravitational influence. We’ll be going back into VR for a formation exercise after lunch.”
“What are you doing here?” Brooke accused her once they were out in the hallway.
“I was about to ask you the same thing,” Leona said.
“You shouldn’t be here.” She looked up and down the hallway.
“How are you a teacher? What, your students have class once a year?”
Brooke breathed in deeper than her body required to survive.
“Ulinthra cured you permanently,” Leona realized.
“It’s not what it looks like. Things are more complicated here than we’ve seen. People are doing better than the resistance led us to believe.”
“You gave up the resistance?” Leona said too loudly.
“No,” Brooke volleyed, just as loudly. She quieted down, “I would never. I know what you’re thinking, but I’ve not been indoctrinated. I’ve just found a way to live not so...urgently.”
Leona tried to break it down. “Ulinthra. Started a war. That didn’t need to happen. The smaller arcstates were fine before her.”
“You don’t know that,” Brooke pointed out. “You don’t know shit. This planet has no leadership. Their ancestors spent so much time designing what they thought was a perfect, self-sustaining modern civilization, with no central government, that they failed to imagine what would happen if something went wrong. Things were falling apart, so Arianrhod stepped up. I’m not saying she’s the ideal candidate, but no one else was doing it.”
“My God,” Leona said, shaking her head. “Darrow didn’t betray us. You did. You told her about the penny, and everything. Where did I go wrong with you?”
“Oh, don’t give me that. You were my guardian for, like, five minutes. Xearea and Camden’s grandmother raised me more than you did.”
“Don’t worry about it. You need to get back to your unit, so you can rework your battle plans. Something tells me the penny trick won’t work anymore. I have to get back to class.”
“Is this military training?” Leona asked, stopping her.
“Are you training cadets, or cargo ship pilots?”
“I don’t have to answer that.”
“You just did.”
Leona went back to tell the other two what had happened. Vitalie disclosed that she had flipped a penny already, and had come up with tails again. She wasn’t so sure they should stop trying this just because Ulinthra knew about it. She could never precisely tailor their morning conversations to happen exactly as they had the first time around. The real lesson here, however, was that it didn’t matter what the power of probability could do for them. Ulinthra still had major advantages over them; namely that she existed three hundred and sixty-five times more than they did. Now they had lost another one of their greatest assets, and while Holly Blue couldn’t say anything outright, she did imply that the resistance was pretty hopelessly dead. Something huge about their dynamic had to change, and all the pennies in the world wouldn’t be enough to make that happen. There had to be something they could do; something they hadn’t tried before. What they really needed was a new ringer.

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