Sunday, June 2, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: October 27, 2234

So named Project Stargate, also known as the Quantum Seeder Network, was a real thing. They were going to be sending truly massive module ships across the galaxy, on a course that would ultimately last tens of thousands of years. The idea was to build two gargantuan turtle shells; one for each of the two arbitrarily designated planes of the Milky Way Galaxy, which was relatively flat. Each turtle shell would break apart into four smaller pieces; one for each quadrant, with an origin point in the center of the Sagittarius A* black hole. These pieces would then break into smaller pieces, and then smaller pieces still, until you’re left with a seed plate. Each plate would be programmed to land somewhere in a solar system, and use the materials found there to make more interstellar ships, which would then spread out to the system’s nearest neighbors, up to twenty-eight.
The idea was to be able to instantly travel to any star system in a matter of seconds. This was not like its namesake, however, which feature actual gates that could open artificial wormholes for physical faster-than-light travel. This was quantum communication. No normal human would be able to reach distant stars using this technology. Biotechnological upgrades beyond a certain threshold were required to interface with a quantum messenger, which would then send one’s consciousness to the selected destination, and upload it to a surrogate body. They would then pilot this body around, able to see, hear, and feel everything they would if they were actually there in person. For the time being, the intention was to leave a constant connection, so that, if the system were to shut down, or something would go wrong on the other end, the traveler would simply revert to their real body. It was unclear whether it was safe enough to transfer one’s consciousness entirely, and completely sever any connection to the original substrate. When it came to consciousness transference on the whole, the nature of identity was always a moral, ethical, and philosophical concern. Of course, as a time traveler, Mateo was aware that it was possible to teleport to other planet by manipulating time. This was not universally known, however, so humans were given more believable limitations.
This endeavor would require constant calculations and recalculations in order to select the best candidates for landing. Local resources needed to be analyzed and synthesized, and failure rate needed to be determined. Alone, this would be impossible, even for an artificial superintelligence, because they would be operating blindly. No one was cognizant of  all the stars in the galaxy, because the majority of them were blocked from view from any one point while inside this galaxy. The only way one could potentially map the entirety of the Milky Way was to leave its confines, and see it from the empty space beyond. That was where Project Topdown came in. The plan was to construct two giant void telescope arrays, send them away, and use them to navigate the quantum seeders. If these telescopes were going to be able to stay ahead of these seeders, they needed to leave about ten years prior, which meant construction on them needed to begin now. Of course, this process was predominantly automated, but Kestral and Ishida were the humans assigned to monitor its progress, and be prepared to make creative decisions that may fall beyond the scope of the commanding AI. Weaver was still helping them.
With Ramses gone, it fell to Goswin to help foster the new Gatewood government. He was presently on a far away cylinder, on some diplomatic trip. So once again, Mateo couldn’t contribute much to the efforts. Nor could Cassidy. But the two of them weren’t speaking to each other at the moment. Mateo immediately regretted receiving a dance from her, and though it wasn’t her fault, he didn’t want to be reminded of his mistake. Leona was the love of his life, who had sacrificed so much for him. It wasn’t her fault either that they were so far separated. His anxiety was his own, and it was up to him to come up with healthy ways of relieving it. That relief could not be found in a three-minute song with Cassidy, nor anyone else in that capacity. It would seem that she did not feel the same way.
“I have something to show you.”
“I don’t want to see it,” Mateo said.
“I did nothing wrong.”
“I know, Cass. But I did, so please, just...just pretend it’s yesterday, or tomorrow, when I don’t exist.”
“I found something that could help you.”
He didn’t say anything.
“It has nothing to do with me,” she said. “I’m just he one who found it. I was going to ask someone else to show it to you, but I’m not a hundred percent certain you or I are allowed in that section of the building.”
“If you’re not sure, then we’re probably not, and I still don’t want to see it.”
She stomped her foot. “Mateo Alessandro Matic.”
“That’s not my middle name.”
“Stop dwelling on the past, and come with me. I will then leave you alone.”
He sighed. “Fine.”
They crawled out of the AOC, and into the building they were using as a command center. It wasn’t completely out of use, but their little group had been separated to other places. It served little function at this point. They rode the elevator up, then Cassidy led him down a twisty turny hallway, into one of the many rooms he had never entered before. It looked wholly unremarkable.
“What is it?”
“It’s a VR room.”
“So, what?”
“It doesn’t utilize hard coded programming.”
“Do they ever?” Mateo joked. He didn’t know what that meant.
“Yes. You don’t insert a cartridge, and play a program. This thing reads your mind, and generates an alternate reality for you to live in.”
“Like a dream?” It sounded just like a dream.
She nodded. “Like a dream, except you can be perfectly lucid in here, and it will set physical laws for you. The problem with a dream is that you’re in too much control. If, for instance, you become lucid, suddenly the things that are happening to you can be adjusted, and they’re no longer happening to you. That’s now how life works, though. You’re not in control of every aspect of it, which makes every experience actually worth experiencing. I’ve not tried this myself, but the instructional video made it sound promising.”
“Okay...” He still didn’t see the point of being here.
“You know what Leona looks like, and how she acts. You know how she would react to a given situation, or what she would think of your choices.”
“Way to rub it in.”
“I’m not talking about the lapdance. Let the dance go. With this system, you can see her again. Obviously, it won’t really be her, but it will be a damn close approximation. This is especially true since you know her so well. If you were to try this with some random person, or a celebrity, like James van der Beek, it wouldn’t work so well, because you’ve never met him.”
“Yes, I have.”
“I’ve met James Van Der Beek.”
“What! When?”
“It’s this whole thing with a fake cooking show; don’t worry about it.”
“This is all I’m worrying about. That man is my idol.”
Was,” Mateo corrected.
“You don’t know that.” This was true. “Okay,” Cassidy went on. “I told you I would leave you alone, and I will. You are free to create your reality, or just go back to sulking in the ship. I also found a vertical wind tunnel. I believe it was designed for research purposes, but we could ask one of the geniuses to make it safe for indoor skydiving, if that’s more to your liking.”
“No, that’s quite all right.”
Cassidy gave a curtsy, then turned to walk away.
“Thank you.”
She stopped for a moment, but didn’t turn back around, and didn’t say anything. Then she left.
Mateo started to watch the instructional video, but quickly ignored it, and just sat down in the chair, thinking he understood how it worked. Once he activated the system, he felt a sharp pain in the back of his head, and everything went black for a second. A picture then came into focus. He was standing on the side of the hill that he and Leona seemed to share on some psychic level. She was not there, though. Instead, he was facing an entity they had met many, many years ago named Mirage.
“What is this?” Mateo asked. “Why did I conjure you?”
“You didn’t conjure me,” Mirage said with some earnest. “I’m really here, and I don’t have much time. In order for the virtual reality system to work, you have to have be transhumanistic.”
“Like the stargates?”
“It had to insert three tiny chips into your brain, so that you could interact with the constructed environment. This goes against the wishes of the powers that be. If these chips remain, you will fall off your pattern for good, and they will not be able to get you back on it.”
“So they won’t let that happen.”
“No. They’re already figuring out how to pull you out of here, should I not comply, and pull you out myself within a timely manner.”
“Did you...did you manipulate Cassidy to bring me here.”
Mirage pretended to sigh. “I was trying to get her here, actually. I’ve been wanting to speak with her. But until then, I might as well tell you that everything you’ve been feeling is nonsense. I put you on Gatewood, because—”
“What the hell do you mean that you put me on Gatewood?”
“I don’t have time to explain myself. I can see the timestream, and I’ve been trying to correct what I know will become major mistakes. This is a delicate period in history; the human expansion to the nearest stars. Lots of things go wrong, and it would seem as though the powers have not planned on doing anything to help it. So I’ve stepped up. I needed Kestral and Ishida here to finish building the cylinders. I needed Ramses here to go with Greer to Kolob.”
“What’s Kolob?”
“That’s what the Maramon are going to call their new home planet.”
“Okay, go on.”
“The point is that everyone has a part to play, and though I would never say yours is the most important, it is still important. Serif’s actions, for instance, were highly dependent on her connection to you. Leona’s mission on Varkas Reflex doesn’t work if she’s not stressed out by being separated from you. You may feel useless, but you are not, and it’s important that you understand that.”
“I don’t. I don’t understand that. If you’re as powerful as the—”
“I’m not as powerful as them,” now she interrupted him. “I’m not even as powerful as Lincoln was. I require a lot of help, and you are part of that puzzle.”
He didn’t say anything.
“That’s okay. You’ll get there eventually.” She paused a moment. “Listen, I have two more things to tell you. First, I would love it if you strongly suggested to Miss Long that she come try this VR room out for herself. If you think she won’t come if you tell her about me, then don’t. I can’t force you to do anything, which is one major difference between me and the powers that be. All I can do is ask nicely. If she doesn’t want to come, then so be it. I just hope the future unravels as it should. Secondly, I do have a mission for you that—you’re not the only one who could do it—but the others are busy, and it does happen to land on your day. You would be saving a life.”
“Go ahead and tell me what it is,” Mateo urged, getting the feeling that the VR program was about to end on its own.
“Cylinder Two, row 56, arcology 24, floor 83, spoke six, unit A-11, at 13 o’clock central.”
“What am I meant to do there?”
“I need you to—” She was cut off, and Mateo was promptly expelled back to the real world.

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