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Sunday, September 1, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 9, 2247

Hokusai Gimura was waiting for Leona, right in her face, when the latter returned to the timestream. “Did Pribadium, like, fall onto your pattern, or something?”
“What? No, I don’t think so. Why?” What kind of question was that?
“She’s missing,” Hokusai replied. “She has been this whole year. Sanaa tried to contact her psychically, but came back with static.”
“Not static,” Sanaa corrected from the other side of Leona’s room. “Damp echo is the best way to describe it. It’s like she was there, but something was in the way.”
“Maybe she’s on a relativistic ship,” Leona suggested. “You have trouble reaching people experiencing time at a different rate, don’t you? That’s why you can’t connect me with Mateo.”
“That’s what I suggested,” Loa said.
“Pribadium wouldn’t just leave,” Hokusai argued, more concerned than ever.
“She might. You figured out how to build a mesh-dimensional launch pad, which negates gravitational pull, and allows any vessel to leave the surface.”
“I know what it does,” Hokusai spit back. “No ship is missing, and I don’t care how smart she is, she didn’t have the resources to build her own. She also made no indication that she was intending to leave.”
“Maybe you’re just in denial that you trusted the wrong person with your technology,” Sanaa said. She was a lot less acerbic than she was when Leona first met her, but her inclination towards telling it like it is occasionally came out. Still, it wasn’t the least plausible explanation.
“No. She was a good person, and I think we all know that.” They didn’t know that. None of them knew her very well. They did, however, want to be on Hokusai’s side. There was an answer to this mystery. Unfortunately, none of them was in a good position to find it. They needed someone like Gilbert, or Étude, who often just knew things.
“I’m sorry,” Leona said to her. “I can do what I can to help you look, but I’m afraid you will have long ago exhausted any ideas I may come up with.”
“It’s okay,” Hokusai promised. “I was just hoping something weird happened, and you knew where she was.” She continued after a brief pause in the conversation, “the reframe engine is ready, by the way. I built the launchpad specifically for you, which means your needs take precedence, but Varkas Reflex still has a schedule to keep. You’re set to leave in an hour.”
“Thank you so much for this,” Leona told her. “Is it destined for Earth?”
“No,” Sanaa said. “I’ve decided I don’t really have much of a life there anyway. I’m okay going to Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida with you.”
“Are you sure?” Leona questioned.
“Don’t ask again, or I’ll change my mind, and land the ship on an island in the middle of an Earthan ocean, then rip out all its guts so you can never leave.” Same old Sanaa Karimi, always trying to get a rise out of her.
The four of them had one last meal together, where they said their goodbyes. Leona continued to thank them for all their help, while they thanked her for helping to build the colony before they arrived. As far as Leona knew, Team Hokuloa was intending to remain on Varkas Reflex indefinitely. They were confident they would cross paths with her sometime in the future. Leona wasn’t so sure. Ever since she met Mateo, she had met a lot of other people too, and many had just been left behind, never to be seen again. While Hokusai and Loa were probably going to live forever, the galaxy was a big place, and Leona was eventually going to die.
Eight Point Seven had already uploaded her consciousness into the ship that was originally built by Brooke and Sharice, then retrofitted by Hokusai and Pribadium. Now disembodied, Eight Point Seven refused to let either of them board until Sanaa agreed to relinquish the temporary android head she had in her bag. Apparently, Sanaa wanted to keep it around as a souvenir, but that was just too macabre.
Leona marveled at the craftsmanship. Hokusai kept most of the original design, but did have to make some changes to account for its new propulsion system. It still resembled an umbrella on a windy day, with its canopy inverted, but there were a few embellishments here and there. “So, you finally gave it a name?” she asked. Brooke and Sharice never bothered coming up with a designation before, and neither had anyone else, evidently until now. It was painted along what Sanaa referred to as the shaft, which was where the passenger was meant to sit.
“I named it,” Sanaa said defensively. “It’s mine now, so I got to name it, and you can’t change it.”
“That, okay,” Leona replied. “I don’t care what it’s called. I just..don’t get it.”
“Radiant Lightning,” Sanaa recited. “I don’t know where it comes from. It’s just been in my head my whole life. Plus, the ship glows a purplish white, so I think it fits.”
“Very well,” Leona decided, satisfied with Sanaa’s justification.
The taksi wheeler carried Radiant Lightning from the dock to the launch pad, since it neither had wheels of its own, nor was it capable of launching from just anywhere. To break the planet’s gravity without expelling an enormous amount of fuel, Hokusai had to build a special anti-gravity launchpad, adapted from the same technology used in the resort buildings. The difference was that its gravitational pull could be altered at will, by cycling through various pocket dimensions. The Varkas Reflexives were even more impressed by this technology, and wanted to name it after Hokusai, but she rejected the idea outright. She wasn’t the one who invented it in the first place. Hogarth Pudeyonavic came up with it years ago, in preparation for her trip to a different super-Earth, called Glisnia. It had an even higher surface gravity.
Leona had to sort of sit on Sanaa’s lap. Modifying the ship enough to allow for an extra seat would have taken more effort, or more time. It wasn’t practical, since Leona was only going to be there for the next few hours. It wasn’t the most comfortable, but the inertial negators protected them from having to put on a seatbelt, or something. Hokusai was able to modify Radiant Lightning to not only operate with the reframe engine, but also move much faster than it was before. While no time will have passed for Leona, because of Bida’s distance from Varkas Reflex, Sanaa and Eight Point Seven were set to experience about ten months of time. Hopefully that would not turn out to be too hard on them, psychologically speaking. Hokusai initially wanted to be able to exceed speed expectations for present day, but was unable to figure it out the fuel efficiency. Sanaa promised she was okay with this. She wasn’t one to lie to someone to make them feel better, so it must have been true.
Once it was their turn to use the launchpad, they ran through the final pre-flight checklist, took one last look at a world they would likely never see again, and took off. They didn’t speak much during the time Leona was still in the timestream. This was fine with her. She just kept thinking about Pribadium, and where she could have gone. Perhaps she was a salmon all along, and just happened to be called up for a mission, and was simply working her way through her own new pattern.

Arcadia didn’t seem to realize that Cassidy was on Mateo’s pattern. If she had, she might have had the power to alter it. Instead, they both returned to the AOC at the same time. Recalling the space operas he’d seen, when he saw the rest of the crew staring at him in awe, he simply said, “report.”
They continued to stare at him like they didn’t know who he was, which they probably didn’t; a fact confirmed seconds later. They all started screaming in unison as their memories were all returned to their minds at once. Goswin suffered the most, while Weaver got through it faster than the other three. It was only then that Mateo realized there were indeed four crewmembers; one of whom he didn’t recognize.
“Who are you?” he asked her.
The young woman looked around. “Yeah, I’m now finally remembering that I’m not supposed to be here.”
“How did you get here then?” Thor asked.
“I dunno. I was meant to be on Varkas Reflex.”
“Do you know Leona Matic?” Mateo asked her.
“I do, yes. Wait, are you Mateo?”
“I am, yes.”
“Nice to meet you,” she said, presenting her hand. “Pribadium Delgado.”
“You were on the planet,” Mateo began to work through, “so when Arcadia stole my crew’s memories, she decided to bring you along. You’ve been here the whole year?”
“Yeah,” Weaver said. “We woke up in our grave chambers, with no idea who we were, or where we were. We had to use our semantic and procedural memory to survive. Arcadia figured out how to take us off automated systems, so we had to do everything ourselves.”
“I guess now we know why I knew how to do all those things,” Pribadium said. “I’m literally a genius.”
“Really?” Mateo asked, not surprised by her intelligence, but by her presence. “It’s like Arcadia wanted you to win. Otherwise, why would she include you?”
“Perhaps she underestimated the cognitive abilities of amnesiacs,” Goswin offered. “Not everyone knows that forgetting your whole life doesn’t make you stupid.”
“I don’t know her that well, but she seems fairly smart herself.”
“She is,” Mateo confirmed. “I do think she wanted you to survive. There’s this internal conflict going on in her mind. Her compassion is constantly fighting against her sadism and self-indulgence.”
“Or it was less about us winning, and more about you being safe when you returned,” Cassidy suggested.
“Yes, I did pick up on some sexual tension between you and Arcadia,” Thor agreed, ungently patting Mateo on the back. “Pribadium is innocent. Try not to cheat on your wife with her too, eh?” Same old Thor Thompson, always trying to get a rise out of him.
“Are we still on course?” Mateo asked.
“We are,” Weaver said. “Even without our memories, our instinct kept taking us towards Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida, because we thought we might be able to survive there.”
“All right. Well...thanks for keeping things running. I’m here now, though, so everything is okay,” Mateo joked.

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