Sunday, August 18, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 7, 2245

Mateo and the rest of the crew were having their regularly scheduled breakfast bonding experience—which Weaver instituted to maintain morale—when Thor held up an envelope. “Guys? What the hell is this?”
Cassidy held her own envelope up. “I have one too. It just appeared on top of my food.”
“As do I,” Weaver confirmed. “It looks to be a wedding invitation.” She looked at Mateo. “Yours.”
Mateo peeked over at Goswin’s envelope, which he was already opening up. “Oh, would you look at that? It’s kind of hard to fathom. I mean, I knew I was sending these invitations across time and space, but I still can’t help but think in linear time. I suppose you four are getting yours now because we are new friends.”
“You sent them personally, but you don’t remember sending one to me?”
Mateo laughed. “I sent forty-eight thousand, three hundred and ninety-two invitations. So no. I don’t remember you specifically.”
“There are gonna be that many people?” Thor exclaimed. “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.”
“That’s what I said,” Mateo revealed.
Thor opened his invitation, and read it, like the others already were. “Do I have to accept?”
Mateo frowned. “This is the first time I’ve ever seen one of these be received. Arcadia never said anything about acceptance rate, and whether that impacted my success at the wedding expiation. If you don’t wanna go, you don’t have to. I can’t imagine one decline is going to make much difference.”
“But we are all going to attend,” Weaver demanded. “We wouldn’t miss it for anything,” she said to Mateo.
“I was just asking,” Thor promised, which may have been the truth.
“Do you all have a meal preference section at the bottom?” Mateo asked.
They all affirmed.
“Then you’re part of the elite three-thousand.”
“They’re just blank lines,” Cassidy noted. “Are we meant to ask for whatever we want?”
“Anything,” Mateo confirmed. “I saw one table with their own lobster tank, and another with a shark on a spit.”
“Well, if we’re all gone, who will maintain the ship?” Thor asked. “Mateo’s not smart enough to do it on his own.”
“Read the fine print on the back,” Goswin pointed out. “We’ll be returned to our place in reality less than a second after we left. Apparently, a veiled human could turn away from us in the middle of a conversation, and not realize we were gone.”
“Should we dress up?” Cassidy asked. She seemed excited to go to a party, even though it wasn’t extremely safe for her.
“Yes,” Weaver decided. “We will break power consumption protocol, and splurge on some new outfits using the industrial synthesizer in engineering. Everyone also gets an extra misty shower.”
The other three sat there for a moment before racing to the ladder, hoping to get into the shower first.
“I’m glad you stayed a moment,” Mateo said to Weaver. “I wanted to ask your opinion on something.”
She nodded. “We can try. If you hold on tightly, both to Cassidy, and the letter, you may be transported with her. Going back to witness your own wedding would be quite the interesting experience.”
“Is it allowed?”
She took a sip of her tea. “We’ll see.”
“Why do I have to try to hitch a ride with Cassidy?”
“You already share a temporal link with her. She’s your best bet.”

After the showers and clothing synthesis, the four invitees, and one stowaway, stood around the central table. The instructions said to place both index fingers on the RSVP box for yes, and holding for six seconds. They all, including Mateo, suddenly found themselves in the Colosseum replica on Tribulation Island, Dardius. It worked. Even better than that, Leona seemed to have had the same idea. She was standing right next to them, with a woman he didn’t recognize. They were in a huge crowd of people, gathering for the oncoming ceremony.
“Oh my God,” Mateo said, tearing up. “I was hoping to see a past version of you, but I never thought we would be able to talk. What day is it for you?”
“November 7, 2245,” Leona answered with a joyful smile.
“Same,” Mateo said with a nod. “This is a new friend?”
“The telepath, who connected us when you were on Dardius,” Leona explained. “Sanaa Karimi.”
“It’s nice to meet you in person,” Mateo said as he shook Sanaa’s hand. “This is Goswin Montagne, Cassidy Long, Thor Thompson, and of course, Holly Blue. We call her Weaver, though.”
“Thor Thompson?” Leona asked. “Serkan’s Frenzy runner friend?”
“You knew Serkan?” Mateo asked Thor.
Thor shrugged. “Whatever. When do we eat?”
“Ignore him,” Mateo warned, shaking his head disapprovingly.
“Where are you?” Leona asked.
“The AOC. Apparently, we’re on our way to...”
Weaver was about to say it for him.
Mateo stopped her, “no I have it down now. Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida.”
Leona nodded understandingly. “You’re not in control of it? Just like when I was on my way to Varkas Reflex?”
“Correct, but we know who’s doing it. Leona, it’s Mirage; from the other timeline. She survived, and became, like a technology god, or something.”
“She’s the new leader of Bungula, but as far as I know, she wasn’t a god. I just figured they gave a different AI the same name. You know, we met a completely unconnected android who only shared his name with our Harrison because Ulinthra made it so. But I guess it makes sense. The powers that be can move people across time and space, but they can’t control technology. It would certainly explain a lot.”
“I can’t control where I’m going,” Mateo said, “but can you? Would you be able to make it to Bida?”
Leona and Sanaa exchanged a look. Hokusai still didn’t have the reframe engine figured out, but most of the research was done, and she projected two more days in Leona’s time. “Yes. We could probably beat you there. If you were going the speed of light, it would still take you fifteen years total.”
Weaver looked confused. “Wolf 359 is even farther from Tau Ceti.”
“We can explain,” Leona said.
And so they proceeded to catch up with each other. Mateo talked about Cassidy, and how she was now on their salmon pattern, to protect her from some mysterious force. Leona talked about leaving Bungula for Varkas Reflex, and of Hokusai’s new FTL engine. They were able to speed through most of it before the wedding ceremony began. It was surreal seeing it from this angle, even though it wasn’t the first time they had gone back in time and watched past versions of themselves in secret. Both Mateo and Leona had the good sense to cover themselves with hoods, though a few people did manage to spot them. One of them winked at Leona, like he knew she was going to be there. She took a mental picture of him, while Mateo took a real picture to put in his notes. He would probably turn up again later. The other one to notice them looked more surprised, but quickly suppressed her astonishment, and adhered to the rules of time travel by not telling anyone else about it. Actually, both Hokusai and Loa were nearby as well. Leona had been friends with them for longer, so their invitations came long before they stepped foot on Varkas Reflex. They wouldn’t say precisely when in their personal timelines this was for them, though, and Leona knew better than to ask about it now.
After all this time, Mateo and Leona finally felt comfortable revealing to each other that they were always disappointed in their own vows, and expressed interest in basically having a short renewal ceremony, where they were able to do better. This could not happen now, though. They would have to wait until they were safely and permanently reunited. Neither of them was capable of going back with the other. If Mirage wanted Mateo on that ship, there was definitely a reason, and he probably shouldn’t disregard that. Leona strongly believed the two of them would require the reframe engine in the future, so she needed to wait for that to be finished. According to Weaver’s calculations, the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was destined to arrive on Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida in almost exactly ten years. Leona was determined to be waiting for them, and after that, they promised each other never to separate again. The reframe engine would only help with that, but the AOC would have to be retrofitted, so there would be enough room for everyone.
After the ceremony was over, people started to disappear. Only a few thousand people were to remain for the reception on the grounds, which would make it easier for someone to spot the wedding crashers. They couldn’t hang around for the festivities, but they couldn’t return until Cassidy and Sanaa were ready, even if they wanted to. Mateo and Leona decided to take a walk down to their old beach, just the two of them, so they could talk. Mateo wanted to have a discussion about the awkward Cassidy situation, but he also didn’t want to talk about it at all. If the only reason he mentioned it was to get ahead of the story, then didn’t that just make him even more worse of a person than he already was for having done it? Then again, trying to hide the truth about the lapdance certainly wasn’t putting his name in the running for sainthood. He kept trying to bring it up, but chickening out, and saying something else. He wasn’t sure whether Leona was picking up on it. She was.
Their conversation was interrupted when a small building appeared out of nowhere. It was The Prototype, which Leona had used to find all the tools she would need to bring Mateo back from nothingness. Arcadia pushes the door open from the inside, and walked towards them briskly.
Ecrin Cabral stepped out behind her. “Miss Preston, I am ordering you to stand down! You cannot interfere!”
“Court martial me!” Arcadia yelled back, but kept facing forward.
Mateo got into a defensive position.
“I’m not here to hurt you,” Arcadia said. “I’m only here to help. Please understand that I am a future version of the Arcadia you know. I have gone through quite a bit since then.”
“Is this possible?” Leona asked.
“I don’t know, because I thought...”
Arcadia dismissed the notion. “Lincoln didn’t tear me out of reality with the Superintendent’s unmagical pen.”
“Stop talking, Arcadia,” Ecrin ordered.
Arcadia went on, “it’s unclear whether his actions had anything to do with it, but Lieutenant Bulgari is the one who made me disappear in front of your eyes the last time you saw me. I’ve been traveling the bulkverse ever since.”
“So, you’ve been redeemed, like Horace Reaver?” Mateo asked.
“I would never try to compare myself to that man, but yes.”
Leona was less inviting. “What are you doing back here?”
“I came to give you this.” She removed something from her pocket, and showed it to them. It looked like a bullet to him.
Ecrin remained at Arcadia’s flank. “Arcadia, do not do this.”
Arcadia ignored her.
“It looks like a jet injector cartridge,” Leona noted.
“Sort of. You’ll have to synthesize an actual injector if you want to use it,” Arcadia said. She handed her a slip of paper. “Here are the specifications. The cartridge is filled with my sister’s sweat.”
“That’s gross,” Mateo said. “Am I meant to inject myself with this, and then I have Nerakali’s brain blending power temporarily?”
“Not yourself,” Arcadia replied. “Me.” She pointed in the general direction of the Colosseum. “I have just watched two unauthorized versions of the people I’ve been torturing walk away from their own past wedding, totally carefree. I was not pleased with seeing this, so I made a plan to punish you for it.”
“I remember,” Leona said. “You missed your mark by a couple years; showed up too early. I didn’t know what you were talking about yet.”
Arcadia nodded. “I did not make the same mistake with Mateo, and it had terrible consequences.” She forced the cartridge into Mateo’s hand. “Jam this into my neck, and you will alter reality for me, and me alone. I will move on with my life, believing that I punished you. Meanwhile, you will have escaped my wrath. It is possible that the memory I have of tomorrow never actually happened, because this new plan I’m giving you ends up working, and the memories I have of that day are false.”
They didn’t say anything.
“Can you do this? Can you pretend to have suffered long enough for Past!Me to jump back to the 22nd century, believing you were sufficiently punished? More importantly, can you trust the version of me standing before you now when I tell you that I really have changed, and I want to help.”
Leona took the cartridge from Mateo’s palm, and held it up to the light. “Captain Cabral. Assessment.”
Ecrin sort of frowned. “She violated a direct order when she coerced my navigator, Relehir into bringing us here. I do not know what it is in that vial, but she has proven herself to us many times. I do not believe she is deceiving you.”
Leona handed the cartridge back to Mateo. “Talk to Weaver. She’ll know how to make this work. Wait until you’re back on the ship, of course. Speaking of which, we better get back before we miss our rides.”

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