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Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 11, 2249

Sanaa and Eight Point Seven were long returned by the time Leona’s day of the year appeared on the timeline. They, in fact, had spent a lot of time traveling, and were currently birdwatching a few kilometers away from what Trinity was calling Homebase. Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida was one of the most wondrous and interesting planets in the stellar neighborhood. It was full of plant and animal life, which made it a haven for biologists, and related scientists. While Varkas Reflex was really taking off as a resort planet, Bida was primed for tourism and exploration, and this was thanks to Trinity’s efforts. Paige never seemed to want to grow up to be a scientist, but this other version of her, Trinity sort of fell into it shoulder first. She didn’t set out to learn so much about any scientific field, but the people she recruited to help her transform the world taught her some things along the way. She picked the best and brightest she could find around the world in the 21st, 22nd, and 23rd centuries. She never conducted her search further back in time, or to any point in the future. She kept herself on a fairly linear timeline, only detouring a little to find someone new.
She arranged for the experts to sign non-disclosure agreements, rather than choosing to erase their memories of the events. This meant there were a couple dozen people who knew the truth about Bida’s ecosystem, or at least some part of it. She never let them meet each other, or even be certainly aware of their contemporaries’ existence. Most of them were smart enough to figure out that Trinity wasn’t the only one involved in this, but they had no empirical evidence of it. She kept track of most of them after she was done with their services, and the majority of those were still alive today, having enhanced their substrates to survive the wrath of time. One such of these people signed up for a colony ship, and happened to be arriving today. Trinity wasn’t super pleased about it, but she claimed it was a necessary evil.
Tamerlane Pryce was a cryptozoologist originally, but his early experiences on Bida inspired him to switch gears, and start to study mind-uploading. Such technology was very theoretical in his day, but he became obsessed with living long enough to see humanity reach what he considered to be his second home. He didn’t quite figure out how to make it happen by the time he was old and on his deathbed, so he settled on Plan B. Worried it would come to this, he illegally commissioned a braindead clone of himself. Before he died, he programmed a team of robo-surgeons to transplant his entire brain into the clone. The authorities discovered what he had done, and promptly convicted him of manslaughter, breach of medical ethics, and other ancillary crimes. He was in prison for 121 years, which was just short enough for him to pull the last of his strings to transfer his consciousness to a third substrate before the second one met its end.
Feeling young, and stronger than ever, Tamerlane continued his work, now armed with orders of magnitude more knowledge on the subject than he had when he was first starting out. He now boasted himself the world’s foremost expert on alternative substrates. He wasn’t entirely inaccurate about this. Even though Trinity regretted choosing him as one of her scientists, she needed him once more to change the world yet again.  Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida was teeming with animals, at what was believed to be a higher degree of diversity than could even be found on Earth. Based on Trinity’s extensive memory of an alternate future, none of them possessed intelligence, or very much potential to evolve complex thought, but they did deserve respect. She knew people would want to watch these creatures in their natural habitats. No one wanted to build any zoos, which was what humans used to do on the homeworld, and most people of the day recognized how unethical that was, including those who were once participants. But how would a vonearthan enjoy the presence of an animal without disturbing it? The answer was simple, according to Tamerlane Pryce: become the animal.
Leona shook his hand politely. “It’s nice to meet you. My name is Leona Matic.”
“Are you a time traveler as well?” he asked, which was kind of a taboo thing to say before a proper greeting.
Trinity was about to scold him, but Leona had a word bullet in the chamber. “Aren’t we all traveling through time?”
“Quite right,” Tamerlane admitted.
“Mister Pryce,” Trinity said in a professional tone, “I hope you appreciate what I had to do to get you here. Ex-cons are generally not approved to leave Earth, let alone the solar system.”
“Believe me, I know,” Tamerlane said.
“Then know this as well, your foot is on the edge of a crumbling cliff. One false move, and I won’t just send you back to Earth, I’ll trap you in time.” She pulled up an image of half-barren hillside. “This was taken forty-two thousand years before Jesus was born. I don’t care how sophisticated you think your body is, it’s not gonna last long enough for you to see the invention of replacement parts. You’ll die before man figures out how to dig the first farm. You pickin’ up what I’m droppin’ down?”
“I most certainly am,” Tamerlane said, trying to hide his fear. “There was only one metaphor in that speech. The rest was quite clear.”
Paige snapped a photo of the wall behind Leona and Tamerlane, then used a different photo to instantly transport all three of them to the edge of an actual cliff. “Actually, there were no metaphors.”
Now Tamerlane was unable to hide his fear. Leona was all right, since she learned to trust Paige a long time ago. But was Trinity anything like the Paige she knew, or had she gone through too much to justify comparison?
Trinity used her most recent photo to return them to Homebase seconds after they left, much to Tamerlane’s relief. She continued with her directives. “You will respect my team, my friends, and anyone else you encounter here. You will make no mention of time travel unless we’re not in mixed company, and in no danger of suddenly being in mixed company. You will know when that’s the case and when it’s not. Err on the side of caution. Very few people on this planet are aware of us. You will report to me every step of the way. You will not breach ethics. You will not attempt to use your research for personal gain, or overpower me or my authority. Is that all I need to say, or should I go on about really obvious stuff, like don’t rape or murder anyone?”
“I understand everything you said,” Tamerlane began, “and I have no interest in finding loopholes, or doing something wrong that you failed to specify. You want me to be a good person. Believe it or not, that’s all I want too. I lost my way a bit when I was trying to figure out the science. When you showed me a literal whole new world, it made the prospect of death that much less rational, and I just couldn’t risk it anymore.”
“All right,” Trinity said, truly wanting to trust him. She indicated the entire warehouse. Ellie, a.k.a DJ Mount Alias moved her studio to a different building a few months ago, so the whole place was vacant. “This will be your lab. As you can see, there’s nothing in it. I’ve requested two large format industrial synthesizers, and regular shipments of raw materials. If you need any rare substances, let me know, and I will procure them for you. You will build all of your own equipment. If you need assistance, give me a list of qualifications, and I’ll find someone of sufficient education and experience. Is there anything you can think of off the top of your head?”
“I’m a little hungry.”
Trinity pointed to Ellie’s former studio. “There’s a fully stocked universal biomolecular synthesizer in there, along with facilities for human imperatives. You’re connected to our grid, but if you require excessive energy consumption, we may have to install an isolated system.”
Tamerlane nodded, and started looking around at the space like a potential buyer. “This will do nicely. I’ll install my primary workspace right here against the office. Grow pods can line that wall. That far corner would be perfect for a tank. You do have aquatic animals here, correct?”
“We do, yes?”
“Well, the work will go faster if I have access to a jumbo industrial synthesizer. The tank needs to be pretty damn big.”
Trinity narrowed her eyes. “I will look into that, or into an alternative. Anything else?”
“Yes, a familiar.”
“A what?”
I would like a familiar; an animal native to this planet...small enough to be comfortable in here, gentle temperament, capable of learning commands, etcetera.”
“You want a pet,” Trinity tried to translate.
This seemed to offend him greatly. “No, I would like a familiar.”
Trinity stared at him for a moment. “I will speak with the zoologists here, and see if there’s anything in their catalogue that fits your parameters. Do not get your hopes up, however. Part of your job will be to assist in building said catalogue. It is nowhere near comprehensive.”
“Thank you.” He pauses a beat. “Now, I’m going to look through the database for something to eat. Would anyone care to join me?”
“No, thank you.” Trinity took Leona’s hand, and escorted her out of the warehouse.
“Is he going to be a problem?” Leona asked after they were far enough away for what might be enhanced ears on Tamerlane’s head.
“I sure hope not,” Trinity replied as they were starting to walk down the trail to meet up with their friends. “I know your time here is short, but if he ever makes you feel uncomfortable, or you notice him break a rule, don’t be afraid to come to me.”
“I can do that.”
“So, he’s going to be building animal bodies for people to upload their minds into?”
“Yes,” Trinity confirmed. “In order for people to enjoy the fauna on this world, we’ll have them blend in as one of the pack, or herd, or whatever it is.
“But they’re just surrogates, right? No one’s going to be becoming one of these animals permanently?”
Trinity lifted her eyebrows. “I don’t know. I don’t really have any control over what people do with this technology. I was just asked to find someone who can make it happen. Tamerlane is that someone.”
Leona sighed. “We’ve seen what humans do with technology. Just because they’re not really humans anymore doesn’t mean it’s not part of the same pattern.”
“I know.”

“There’s no pattern,” Pribadium complained.
“I know,” Mateo replied. “That’s the fun of it.”
“How can I win if I can’t anticipate which one you’re going to choose?”
“It’s a game of luck, Pri.”
“I don’t do well with luck. I’m a study and get it right kinda girl.”
“I’m fully aware of that. That’s why I’m teaching you these games, to show you having an answer isn’t all there is. You’re too focused; you’re missing alternative solutions, and interesting perspectives.”
“Wait, what am I missing?”
“I don’t know,” Mateo said. “But you’re not a machine. Your brain is still organic. It requires breaks from thought, or when it gets stuck on a problem, it won’t be able to go anywhere. You need to learn to stop what you’re doing, and come back to it later. It doesn’t matter if you play rock, paper, scissors, or a thumb war.”
“I did not care for that one.”
“I remember. The point is that your mind could be even more powerful than it already is, but you won’t realize your potential if you don’t let yourself relax once in awhile, or be creative. Computers are really good at solving equations until they run out of memory, or power. Humans can’t add memory sticks. When we get burnt out—and even geniuses like you get burnt out—the brain will just give up, even if you really want to keep going.”
“Okay, I understand. Let’s go again. I think I know which one you’re gonna choose this time.”
Mateo chuckled. Hopefully she would get it eventually.

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