Sunday, September 29, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 13, 2251

After her talk with Eight Point Seven, Leona felt that she needed to get away from people. Fortunately, she had a whole world to explore. Unlike the other exoplanet colonies, Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida was fully hospitable, so her movements didn’t have to be restricted. She could go literally anywhere on the planet, and she didn’t even have to tell anyone. She left a note in the hangar, apologizing for borrowing a skyshuttle, which was a flying vehicle that wasn’t space-capable. Then she disabled all tracking and communication devices, input a somewhat random set of coordinates, and took off. She got a few extra hours of sleep that she didn’t really need while it took her away. When she arrived at her destination, she found herself unimpressed. It was certainly still quite beautiful, but it didn’t do much to alleviate her depression. She didn’t know what she expected to find, but this wasn’t helping. She just started wandering around the forest, not headed in any particular direction. She eventually strayed too far from her landing point, and couldn’t find the shuttle anymore. She was lost, and that was fine, because what did anything matter? She didn’t put much effort into finding her way back, and barely noticed when midnight hit.
With nothing better to do, Leona found a sorry excuse for a cave—which was more just a fixture in the face of a cliff wall—and holed up for a few hours so she could get more sleep that she didn’t need. Now armed with this rest, she called upon her orienteering skills, recalled her memories of where she’d gone, and finally found her way back to the shuttle. It looked a lot different already. Ivy had winded its way through the hatchway, which she had foolishly left open. There were noises coming from inside too, so some kind of creature must have taken up residence. It wasn’t like she had memorized the fauna catalog, so she would have little hope of knowing whether the animal was dangerous or not. She needed to get back to her friends, though, so there was no other choice. She carefully peeked inside, and didn’t find an animal at all; but a human. It was a young man, actually, around her age.
“Oh my God,” she exclaimed on instinct.
He was just as scared to see her, if not more so. He fell back into the control console with a short yelp, and started shaking.
Once the shock was gone, Leona calmed herself down, and tried to look as nonthreatening as possible. “Hey, it’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you. Do you speak English?”
“No, I don’t,” he answered with complete fluency. He wasn’t being funny; he seemed to legit think he didn’t.
“You appear to speak at least a little of it.”
He thought about this for a moment. “Oh, is that what this is called?”
“It is, yes.”
“Then yes.”
“Are you one of the colonists?” she asked him.
“I don’t know what that is,” he replied.
It sounded like she needed to approach this a different way. “How long have you been living here?”
“Here, exactly?” he pressed rhetorically. “A few months, I s’pose.”
“Where were you living before that?”
He crawled towards the exit, and pointed at a mountain that was probably twenty or twenty-five kilometers away. “I spent most of my life East of Mount De Vries.”
Leona looked back at it. “Who named that mountain?” She didn’t think anyone lived on this continent of Bida at all, let alone taken the time to name geographic features. While they were presently in a highly vegetated valley, most of this was rocky and mountainous. There was obviously life here, but it wasn’t as diverse and interesting as other regions of the world, so the researchers had not yet begun surveying and cataloging it in greater detail.
“My mother named it; after herself.”
“Your name is De Vries?”
He nodded. “Briar De Vries.”
“Where’s your mother now?”
He pointed to the mountain again. “Scattered over the summit. After she died, I performed the resting ritual, and then went out in search of a new place to live. I didn’t want to stay where everything would remind me of her. That was two years ago. Is this your spaceship?”
“It’s not a spaceship,” Leona answered. “It can only fly in the sky.”
He frowned. “The sky isn’t space?”
She shook her head. “Not while there’s still air. Space doesn’t start until there’s no more air.”
“Hm.” It would seem his mother attempted to educate him as much as possible, but there were still some key facts he was missing. Back in civilization, he could look those questions up, but trapped all the way out here surely left him with some significant misconceptions. He appeared to be receptive to new information, though.
“Do you have any idea how you got here, so far away from other people? Do you know that there are other people?” She didn’t want to assume too much.
“Of course I know that,” he said, offended. “They all live back on Earth. This is Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida. A woman hired her to help make this world safe for people, but no one lives here yet.” He was talking about Trinity, and her habitability project. His mother must have been pregnant, possibly unbeknownst to Trinity, when she came here. The question was why Trinity just left her here, instead of sending her back home to live out her life? Why was Briar still here now?
She shook her head again. “Your mother was successful. People do live here now. I suppose you wouldn’t have seen any of the landing ships in this hemisphere.”
He widened his eyes. “They’re here?”
“Yes. Thousands of them, with more coming every year.”
“The woman never really said when she was going to bring others. I guess mom thought it would take much longer. That was forty-two years ago.”
“Wait, you’re forty-two?”
“No, it was forty-two years ago when she told me why it is I was born on this planet, but I was fourteen already.”
“You’re fifty-six!” He didn’t look a day over thirty.
“You’re aging much slower than normal, Briar.”
“Oh, right. Kahaeli root. It doesn’t taste very good, but it keeps you young. Can we go meet the others now?”
“Umm, yeah.” Leona crawled in to start the pre-flight check. It was more important than ever since the vessel had been left exposed and unmaintained for a whole Earthan year. It was worse than she thought, though. Heavy rains must have caused really bad water damage in the circuitry, and it looked like vines had punctured the primary fuel line. There might be enough in the reserves to make it back to Homebase, but this was going to take a lot of work. “I imagine your mother never taught you to be a mechanic, or technician, or something?”
She was a virologist. I wouldn’t know the first thing about flying this, and I certainly wouldn’t be able to fix it. Did I do something wrong by moving in here?”
“No,” she assured him. “If anything, you being here lessened the impact nature had on it. I should have been more careful.”
“Can we not call for help?”
“I disabled communications, like an idiot. I’m kind of going through some stuff right now, and I didn’t want anyone to be able to follow me.”
He had no response to this.
“I can fix it, but it’s going to take some time.”
“How much time?”
That was an awkward answer. “Technically, only a day. But Earthan year.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I didn’t just leave the craft for an entire year while I lived somewhere else. At the end of today, according to how time is measured in a certain zone of Earth, I will jump forward one year. I can work on fixing this for the next several hours, but then I’ll literally disappear, and I won’t be back until 2252. I have no control over this. It’s just how I am.”
He stared at her for a moment. “I have a basic grasp of the idea of time travel. Mother was instantaneously transported here fifteen years prior to the arrival of the probe ship Earth sent to see what the solar system was like. It took that probe thirty-four years to traverse the distance. I don’t understand why it is this happens to you, but I can conceptualize the pattern.
And so Leona got to work fixing the flying machine. She probably could have completed it faster, but she wanted to teach Briar a few things along the way, in case more maintenance was required while she was gone. As she did so, however, she started getting worried that he might take advantage of his new knowledge. What if he was such a quick learner that he affected the rest of repairs, and stranded her there? She would have no way of returning, and no one would have any clue where she was, unless he decided to tell them. When he wasn’t looking, Leona pocketed the drive chip, so she could keep it with her when she made her jump to the future. It was a small but vital component. The shuttle would not fly without it, unless another was synthesized. Since that part of the controls wasn’t broken, she never explained to Briar how it worked, so hopefully he wouldn’t know what to do. In a perfect world, she could trust him to just wait until she came back, but this wasn’t anywhere near that. They had only just met, and there was no telling what kind of person he was.
She stopped working as midnight approached. “I could keep going with these last few things,” she began to explain, “but chances are I wouldn’t be able to get through it, and I don’t really want to be in the middle of it when midnight strikes. I think we’re at a pretty good stopping point. By this time next year, you’ll be at Homebase, where you will finally meet the woman who hired your mom to work here.”
“Trinity is still here?” he questioned.
“Yeah, of course.”
“I don’t wanna meet her.”
“Why not?”
“She ruined my mother’s life.”
Leona frowned. “Briar, why did she not return to Earth?”
“She couldn’t,” he said, as if Leona should have automatically understood that.
“Why not?”
“Against my mother’s advice, Trinity partook in wanderberries. It puts you in a haze, and makes you forget everything that happened to you for an amount of time proportional to the amount of berries that you ate. The way mom tells it, Trinity was so confused that she couldn’t even tell that my mom was there, begging her to take her back to Earth. After hours of trying, Trinity finally just disappeared on her own, and never came back to this region.”
“Well, that sounds like it wasn’t Trinity’s fault. I mean, I’m sure there’s a logical reason she ate the berries; maybe she didn’t know what they would do. And once she was in that state, she was in no condition to help your mother.”
He shook his head slowly. “Wanderberries wear off. She would have become fully lucic two days later, at most, assuming she stopped eating them. She would have remembered everything about her life, including the time she was on the drug. She never came back, Leona. She abandoned us here. Now, I can’t complain about my life. I lived with my best friend until she died two years ago, and I don’t know really know what I’ve been missing. But my mother longed for her, and it made her a little sad, all the time. I won’t forgive Trinity for that.”
“I understand your position,” Leona said to him. “But it’s irrational to make these judgments based on one side of the story. I’m not saying your mom lied, but maybe Trinity has a different perspective. Maybe she really did forget forever, because she also accidentally ate a different type of berry at the same time that your mom didn’t realize. Right there is all the more reason we have to go see her. You need to confront her about it.” Before, she was worried Briar would fix the shuttle and leave her here, but now she was worried he would sabotage it beyond repair, and still leave her here. That wasn’t something she would be able to protect herself against. Maybe she should have refrained from teaching him anything, and just worked doubletime, so they could leave today. It was too late now.
“I guess you’re right. If nothing else, I can yell at her about it.”
“So, you’ll still be here when I come back a year from now?”
“I promise.”
A year later, Leona came back to find the landing zone completely devoid of all shuttles and humans. Somehow, Briar had fixed the ship on his own, and had flown off to who knows where.

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