Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: October 29, 2236

Mateo went to bed early that night, so he could be awake and alert come midnight central, and the next year. Cassidy was a bit claustrophobic, and didn’t like closing the sliding hatch of the grave chamber when she slept, which was a good thing, because then he could make sure she was there and safe. A lone private security guard was standing still against the bulkhead, shrouded in darkness. When he stepped out of the ship, he saw a right army of guards protecting the whole vessel. “Have there been any incidents since I was gone?” he asked the nearest one.
“All safe, sir,” the guard answered. “No incursions, whatsoever.”
“Do you happen to know where Weaver is? Her grave chamber was empty.”
“She likes to work late, in her lab.”
“Thank you.”
He tipped his hat.
Mateo went off to Weaver’s lab, where he found her engrossed in her work. She didn’t even seem to notice he had walked in. He peered at a model on her computer screen. “That doesn’t look like what I thought it would look like.”
“Oh, this?” she asked. “No, this isn’t it. That was done months ago. This here is a prototype of this idea I have for a teleporter shield.”
“What’s that?”
“Well, the void telescopes are going to be flying through interstellar space at ninety-nine percent the speed of light. We can send navigational probes to alert the telescope ships to any impediments in their paths, but each course correction slows progress. Plus, the probes themselves can be damaged, and replacements can’t really be manufactured to compensate, because then the telescope would have to slow down, just so that replacement can get ahead.”
“So instead, any debris that tries to crash into the telescope will run into the force field, and be teleported away?” Mateo guessed.
“Right, but I’m having trouble with the vector calculations. Every time I try to model it, about point-oh-three percent of debris ends up being teleported inside the field, which defeats the purpose.”
“I wish I could help, but I barely understand what you’re talking about.”
“So do I,” Weaver admitted. “I’m not really that educated. My power doesn’t simply allow me to invent things with temporal properties. It’s the powers themselves that engineer the inventions. I’m more like a vessel, so when I run into an issue, like this one, I don’t know right away how to fix it. That’s why come it takes me so long to make something new.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself. Most people can’t ever do it ever. I don’t care how long you give me, I wouldn’t be able to invent a single thing.”
She smiled at the praise. “Anyway, that’s not what you’re here for.” She removed a key from around her neck, and used it to open a drawer. She removed a small box from inside, and presented it to him.
“That’s the thing?”
She opened the box, and pulled the device out. It looked a whole lot like jewelry. “The absorption regularizer.”
“Why has it not yet been implanted? Honest question.”
Weaver placed the regularizer in his hand. “You need to calibrate it first. If it’s going to match with your pattern, it needs to know what that pattern is.”
“What does that involve?”
“I just need some blood,” Weaver said.
He lifted his sleeve, and let her draw blood from his arm. “Would this work for anyone else?” he asked as she was doing whatever it was with his blood. “Like, if Goswin wore it, could he be on my pattern too? Did you just invent a way to give humans powers or patterns?”
“That’s not what I did,” she answered. “I spent weeks studying and testing Cassidy. She’s the one with the ability to absorb powers. This thing is just designed to make sure she keeps the pattern we want her to have, in case she comes across someone else. If I wanted to give one random human some random chooser’s powers, I don’t think this would do us much good.” She connected Mateo’s blood to her computer, and initialized a program.
“What if we need Cassidy off my pattern temporarily? Can the regularizer be switched off, or switched to a different pattern?”
She rifled through some papers, and removed a sheet phone from the table. “There’s an app for that.”
“I don’t think I’m allowed to carry a phone. Leona called it marginally transhumanistic; extensions of the self.”
“Well, Cassidy is the one who needs to maintain possession of it anyway. Still, I’ll code your DNA for access, should things go south. We can’t let it fall into the wrong hands, though. Anyone who controls the app controls her.”
He nodded listlessly, and turned the device over in his hands. “Why does it look like a belly button piercing again?”
“So it can hide in plain sight,” she answered.
It did look like the one Cassidy already had, which Mateo wished he didn’t know. He stuck it back in its box, and cleared his throat. “Weaver, am I doing the right thing?”
“You mean, are we? Do we have a better choice?”
“It looks like she has pretty good protection,” Mateo noted, referring to the dozen guards assigned to protect her, and the countless others who would protect her too if someone attacked.
“Time is complicated. It can be both bane and boon. You just have to know how to use it to your advantage. We don’t know how many people are going to come after her, or how many times they’re going to try. If we don’t do this, they’ll have three hundred and sixty-five days a year to try something, and they’ll just keep getting better at it. I would rather reduce their chances than have to protect her twenty-four-seven. Yeah, Mister Matic, I think we’re doing the right thing.”
“Good.” It was Cassidy herself. She was gliding into the room. “I don’t want ‘round the clock protection. It’s asking too much of others.”
“No one’s complained,” Mateo pointed out to her.
“They shouldn’t have to do it either way.” Cassidy nodded towards the box. “If it’s ready, I’m ready.”
Weaver’s computer beeped. “Perfect timing. It is indeed ready. Go ahead and lie down on that table over there. Lift up your shirt.”
Cassidy did as she was asked. She reached out and stopped Mateo as he was trying to leave.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he answered an unvocalized request.
“I assure you,” Weaver said as she was preparing for the simple procedure, “this is perfectly safe. I’m just going to take your original one out, and replace it with the other. You might feel a pinch, but it shouldn’t hurt like it did when you first got the piercing.”
“Please,” she repeated to Mateo.
No one really knew exactly what had happened between Mateo and Cassidy a few years ago, but everyone knew that it was something. Weaver was trying to be polite, but the patient needed to feel safe. “It couldn’t hurt to have the donor present—to make sure that the absorption takes hold.”
That surely wasn’t necessary. They didn’t know if the power or pattern Cassidy absorbed at any one time eventually wore off, but they knew it wouldn’t happen in the next five minutes. Still, he had little room to argue. It wasn’t like she had to take her clothes off.
It didn’t take long at all. Mateo held her hand all through the ten seconds it took for Weaver to remove Cassidy’s piercing, and the twenty seconds it took for her to replace it with the high tech version. Then she started fiddling with the sheet phone. Once she was finished, she spoke to Cassidy like a doctor. “This is to be used in emergencies; in an extreme emergency, that is. You are now, more or less, permanently on Mateo and Leona’s pattern. If you run across, say, somebody with the ability to see the future, and you want their power, use this.” She unscrewed the tiny fake pearl from the bottom of the piercing, and revealed it to serve doubly as the handle for a needle. “You just need a drop of their DNA. The app will recalibrate your regularizer. But you still can’t have more than one power or pattern at the same time, so you will fall back into realtime, until you switch back. You can also suppress the pattern, and turn it back on at will. Do you understand how dangerous this phone, and your piercing, are?”
“I do, yes,” Cassidy said with a nod.
Weaver was worried. “Mateo can use the app too, but you are administrator, so you can remove permissions whenever you want, or add other people. Again, though, use discretion. This thing is like your heart in a box. It can turn you into a weapon.”
“I get it,” Cassidy took the phone, and tucked it away. “Heart in a box,” she echoed. “Well, more like my pocket.” She looked between her friends. “You two act like I’m the first person in the world to be in danger.” She hopped off the table. “Your lives are filled with danger; why are you so obsessed with me?”
“We both knew your father,” Mateo said. “He was a good man, and he died for it. We know he didn’t want you to suffer the same fate.”
“You don’t know that he’s dead. Weaver’s told me that story a million times over the past year. You didn’t see him die.”
Mateo frowned. “We kinda did.”
“You don’t know what you saw. One day, a bunch of smart scientists are going to turn the Dardius Nexus replica back on, and we’ll find out. Until then, I have to pretend like I’m salmon. I would appreciate it if you didn’t place such a stigma on that.”
“We can do that,” Weaver said.
Kestral McBride walked into the room, staring at her tablet. “Weavey, I was hoping you could double check my math on the—oops, sorry. I didn’t realize you had company. Mateo, it’s that time of the year; I lost track of the calendar.”
“It’s nice to see you, Captain. We’ll get out of your hair.”
“Did you do the procedure?” she asked.
Cassidy lifted her shirt to show her.
“Looks good. Keep it clean. Don’t want an infection.”
Mateo and Cassidy left the room.
“All right,” she said with a deep breath. “I guess this is it. It was nice knowing ya.”
“What does that mean?” he questioned.
“Now that I’m on your pattern permanently, we don’t have to be anywhere near each other. It’ll never wear off.”
“Is that what you want?”
“It’s obviously what you want.”
“I never said that.”
“I can see the guilt in your eyes, Mateo. It doesn’t exactly make me feel great about myself. I’ve danced for dozens, if not hundreds, of people. I never have to meet their spouses. Well, there have been a few couples, but something tells me Leona wouldn’t—”
“I’m sorry I put you in this position,” Mateo said. “It wasn’t fair, and it’s not fair how I’ve been treating you. We can get through this, and remain friends.”
“We can be social media friends, you mean.”
“You have a home on the AOC.”
“I also have four gigantic cylinders, and my pick of the empty units. Hell, Goswin tells me they never filled the one I was using when I first got here, so I could just go back.”
“You’re still in danger, and I don’t mean to stigmatize you, or whatever. It’s just...I would rather keep you close. This doesn’t give you superpowers; it just lowers your chances of being attacked by making you harder to find.”
“They’ve set up great security here; I’ll be fine.” She tried to walk away.
“Please,” Mateo said. “It’ll be worse for my marriage if you leave. Like you’ve said, it was one dance. That’s not illegal, but if it ruins our friendship, Leona will think it meant something more.”
“Did it?”
“Did it what?” He knew what she was asking.
“Did it mean something to you?”
He stammered, “wull, I—just because...”
“That’s what I thought. It’ll be worse if I stay. It’s not like it matters anyway. You have to get to Varkas Reflex, and I have no business there.”
“Ishida said it’ll take twelve years to get to Varkas Reflex, and we’re still not a hundred percent certain Leona even went there.”
“Then you better get going.” She turned and walked away.
He stared at the space where Cassidy once was. Things were extremely complicated. He was in love with Leona, but he also loved Serif, who wasn’t exactly real, and now in another universe. Now this new woman shows up, and he doesn’t know what to feel. Were all his caveman friends right? Were humans just not built to be monogamous? Or was he just a bad person?

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