Sunday, October 27, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 17, 2255

During Leona’s interim year, Trinity received a letter in Sanaa’s handwriting, urging them to not look for her. She didn’t explain what had happened to her, or where she had gone, but she was clear that their plan had worked. She safely made it to the other side of the time cave, and filled it in so that no one else could pass. She implied an Earthan had aided her in this mission, but didn’t explicitly say who or why. She seemed to know that someone had blasted the Bida-side entrance for them, and she didn’t want them trying to dig it up again. According to her, this was the best outcome. Again, vaguely, Sanaa made it seem like Leona would never see her again. That was sad, but it was also not the first time it had happened. Even with all this travel, there were still some people she would forever miss. The last thing Sanaa said was that Leona should be happy, for by the time she would be reading the letter, Mateo should have finally showed up. She was right.
The Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was sitting in the hangar, right next to Radiant Lightning. It had arrived a couple months ago, but of course, neither Leona nor Mateo were there at the time. As she was exiting her quarters, he was exiting their ship, followed by the mysterious Cassidy, whose presence Leona never fully understood. She ignored this for a moment, and ran up to hug her husband. It had only been ten days for them, but that was long enough. They held each other in the embrace for a good three minutes before the rest of their now much larger group came in, and something distracted Leona.
“Pribadium! When did you get here?”
“I was on the AOC,” Pribadium explained. “Arcadia used me as part of the punishment for you crashing your own wedding.”
“Oh. That explains it...kind of.” There were still a lot of questions to be asked and answered. They spent the next couple of hours either eating, or just sitting around the large dining table. There was so much to catch up on, including a lot of information from before the wedding that Leona and Mateo just hadn’t had enough time to go over. All the while, Leona noticed that Weaver kept staring at the two ships on the other side of the large space.
Trinity noticed this as well. “Weaver, what is it?”
“What are the dimensions of that thing?”
Leona eyed it, trying to remember. “Uh...the passenger tube is about one-point-four meters wide, I think. It’s three meters tall, but with all the instrumentation, there’s still only enough space for one person. Why?”
“What about the inverted umbrella thing?”
“The main engine?” Trinity confirmed. “A little over six and a half meters in diameter. What are you thinking?”
Weaver kept staring at them. “They fit together. They fit together perfectly.”
“What do you mean?”
“Your passenger tube is about as wide as the AOC’s antimatter fusion drive.” Weaver held both her hands into claws, and visualized maneuvering the two ships in different formations. She appeared to be right. It was like they were built to fit together. It could be the easiest way to incorporate the reframe engine into the AOC.
“How long might that take you?” Trinity wondered.
“I need to study the engine first,” Weaver figured. “I guess it could take two years, because of Mateo and Leona’s temporal restrictions. I would hope to have it done in under a year, though.”
“That might be a little too soon anyway,” Leona said. “I’m still hoping Sanaa shows up, having lost Trinity’s picture. We still have a couple more colony ships on their way over the next few years. Maybe she just had to hitch a ride with someone else.”
Everyone got quiet. No one believed Sanaa was coming back; via ship, magic photo, or by any other means. Mateo was supportive of her, but he wasn’t around before, so he didn’t know what he was talking about. “We’ll leave whenever you want,” he said, wrapping one arm around her shoulders. “I’m not even sure who would be coming with us.”
“I’m probably gonna stick around here for a couple decades,” Thor decided.
“I would like to go with Leona,” Briar said. “Or rather, I would like to leave this planet finally.”
“One for one,” Eight Point Seven pointed out. “It’s perfect.”
“You’re staying too?” Leona asked her.
“I like my job,” Eight Point Seven answered. “You don’t need me anymore.”
“No one needs friends,” Leona argued.
“This isn’t the end. I promised to get you back to Mateo. I’ve followed through, so focus on that. I’m immortal. We will meet again. It might be, like, six hundred and eighty years from now, but it’ll happen.”
Ellie gave Eight Point Seven a look.
“Speaking of which.” Mateo pulled Leona closer. “Could we talk in private?”
“Sure. Let’s go for a walk; burn off some of these calories.”
“Do you want me to come?” Cassidy asked as she was standing up with them.
Mateo shook his head, but didn’t say anything. That was weird, Leona couldn’t help but think.
This felt familiar. Mateo had taken her on a walk on Tribulation Island a few days ago when they were briefly reunited. There was something he was reluctant to tell her. Was this it? If it was, he was certainly taking his time spitting it out.
Leona had to break the ice, or she would go insane right here. “When I was a little girl, my parents let me get a dog. The Gelens, that is. She was so smart; picked up on most commands so quickly, but sometimes she refused to obey. Our friends and neighbors thought she was stupid, but it was actually quite the opposite. Think about it; if I ask you to ram your face into that tree, would you do it? Probably not. Is that ‘cause you’re too dumb to figure out how? Of course not. You wouldn’t do it, because you’re smart enough to know you don’t want to, and you know the consequences for insubordination are far less than the severe head trauma it would cause. Freya—that was her name, by the way; after the Norse goddess—was the same way. If she didn’t want to sit, then she didn’t, because the treat she would get for doing it wasn’t worth it for her in that particular moment.
“One of the hardest commands for me to teach her was to speak. I wanted her to bark when I said so, because I didn’t want her to bark at inappropriate times. And she knew that. She screamed her head off when she heard an owl three houses down in the middle of the night, but she never did it when I was around, so conditioning her was practically impossible. I couldn’t get Freya to associate my hand signal with her bark, because they rarely happened at the same time. I understand, Mateo, that whatever it is you want to tell me is something you’ve probably been talking about for the last x-number of days, but that doesn’t do me any good. I don’t just need you to speak. I need you to speak to me. Does that make sense?”
“I didn’t sleep with her,” Mateo said, fully grasping Leona’s moral lesson.
She waited for a moment. “Obviously you’re not trying to confess what you didn’t do. So what did you do?”
“She was a stripper before all this.”
“I assume you’re talking about Cassidy.”
“So, she put on a show?”
“Just for me.”
Leona waited again, but not so he could explain in greater detail, but just because she didn’t know what to say.
“I’m sorry.”
“She touched you?”
“You touched her?”
“A little. I had just watched your bottle messages. Seeing your...decline—for lack of a better term—in such a short amount of time was heartbreaking. For you, it was days, but I watched you feel worse and worse over the course of only minutes. I’m not saying that my witnessing your pain was more difficult than you actually going through it. It just made me feel so alone. This ship full of other people, but not the one person I really wanted to be there. I guess Cassidy close as I thought I was gonna get. You know, you two aren’t so dissim—.”
“No, you don’t need to talk about your fetishes.”
“That’s not what I’m saying.”
“You’re saying that you have a type,” Leona argued, “and that both of us fit into it. But that’s what makes it worse. You took a substitute, because I wasn’t there.”
“If you were there, I wouldn’t have needed anything!”
“Do you want to pretend you didn’t just say that.”
“Yes, please!”
“Do you want to stop yelling at me, since I didn’t do anything wrong?”
Mateo took a breath, and lowered his voice. “I do.”
“Now. You had a lapdance. It’s not illegal. I’ve had friends who bought their partners dances at the club for their birthdays. The problem is you didn’t tell me. You didn’t ask me, and you didn’t tell me. I’m guessing this happened before we returned to Tribulation Island, which means you actually did have an opportunity. That lost you points. I’m a hundred percent certain we’ll get through this, Mateo, but we’re not supposed to lie to each other anymore. I don’t even want to look at you, but there is someone I do want to talk to.”
“Eight Point Seven?” he presumed.
“You’re gonna run up ahead, or stay behind. I don’t care who gets there first, but we won’t be walking back to Homebase together. Because when I get back, I’m taking the shuttle, and I’m heading for another continent. I won’t return until 2257, and where you and I will stand at that point, I make no guarantees. I’ll be going there with someone else, but no, it won’t be Eight Point Seven.”
“Then who?”

Mateo wandered around the woods for a couple hours. He was only planning on giving her a thirty-minute head start, but he got lost somewhere along the way. When he returned to Homebase, Leona was already gone, but he had to do a headcount to find out who had gone with her. After Eight Point Seven, his first guess would have been Trinity, who was just a different version of Paige Turner. But nope, she was still here. Briar was too. Mateo hadn’t picked up on any sexual tension between them, but he was an eligible bachelor, and a part of Mateo was honestly hoping she was doing something that would alleviate his guilt. Weaver, Thor, Goswin, and Ellie. Everyone was accounted for, except for one. He had no reason to believe that Leona would hurt Cassidy, but if they were going to be alone together on the other side of the world, there was no telling what was going to happen.

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