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Sunday, November 3, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 18, 2256

The adjoining of Radiant Lightning, and The Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was totally finished when Mateo returned to the timestream. While they did fit well together, geometrically speaking, they weren’t designed with that in mind. There was still a lot to be done to adapt them to each other. Whatever it was that made the AOC go before first had to be taken out, which was apparently the easiest part. There was always a way to jettison it in case something went wrong, such as what happened in that movie where Tommy Lee Jones goes crazy alone in space. The end result of the new ship was exquisite, even though Mateo wasn’t intelligent enough to know what exactly this meant. They could now get to any planet in this region in a matter of days, sure, but why that was suddenly now possible was something that would always fly right over his head.
On a personal note, Leona and Cassidy were still off on whatever it was they were doing, wherever they were doing it. They kept in contact with Homebase, so people would know they were still alive, but neither of them agreed to talk to Mateo. Cassidy had done nothing wrong, and Leona certainly hadn’t, so Mateo was rightfully being treated as the bad guy. He just hoped this didn’t mean his life was essentially over. If he couldn’t be with Leona—either literally, or as soulmates, or both—he didn’t know how he would survive.
Things were awkward in 2256. The crew of the AOC had already known what happened between Mateo and Cassidy, but now that it was no longer an open secret, and just open, it couldn’t be ignored. Mateo, on the other hand, was ripe for being ignored, which was what most everyone was doing. Trinity had a completely different personality than he remembered Paige having before. That was no big surprise, though. They were two totally separate people now, who had experienced wildly different lives. She was ignoring him as well, but it didn’t seem to have anything to do with his indiscretion with Cassidy. She kind of acted like she didn’t love that there were now so many people here, and was ready for some to leave. Eight Point Seven seemed fine with Mateo, leading him to ask her if she would shrink him like she did for Leona so many times, but Eight Point Seven said that it would be a conflict of interest. This decision was probably for the best. The only person who didn’t seem to have a problem with him was Ellie. She was still as bubbly and tenderhearted as ever.
“Oh hold on.” Ellie pulled a pair of glasses out of her bag, and a clipboard. She crossed her legs, and looked at him inquisitively. “Go on.”
“I’m not really looking for a therapist,” Mateo said. “I just don’t have anyone else to talk to.”
“So I’m your last resort. How does that make you feel?”
Mateo laughed at this. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine. I’m just joking”
“How do you feel about what happened?” Mateo asked her. One of his biggest problems right now was that no one was expressing their thoughts on the matter. Did they just not know what to say, or were they deliberately trying to make him feel bad, simply because he certainly didn’t deserve to feel happy?
Ellie shrugged. “It’s not really my business.”
“But Leona is your friend.”
“And when she comes back, I’ll be here for her. That doesn’t mean I can’t be here for you too. Shitty sitcoms from the two-thousand aughts teach us that the friends of a couple in distress have to take sides. But that’s really reductive; relationships are more nuanced than that, and very complicated. You screwed up, and there’s no denying it, but you’re not irredeemable, and Leona isn’t beyond forgiving you.”
“That’s a very mature position to hold. I’m not sure I would be so thoughtful if I weren’t the one who done it.”
“Well, you gain perspective when you can eavesdrop on the conversations of faceless strangers from thousands of miles away.”
“You do that a lot?”
“I see what you’re leading to,” Ellie said. “I’m not going to listen in on Leona and Cassidy.”
“What if they’re hurt, or lost?”
Ellie reached back into her bag, and retrieved a tablet. She tapped on it a few times, and then turned it around to show him. He could see what appeared to be vital signs, separated into boxes; one for each of the core group at Homebase, plus the two who weren’t there at the moment. Only Mateo wasn’t on there at all. “We chipped everyone after Leona got lost on another continent. As you can see, they’re both fine.”
“Eight Point Seven is on here.” It looked different than the others, though, since she didn’t have a heart rate, or blood pressure, or any other biological reading.
She chuckled a bit. “Well, yeah. We still need to know how her internal systems are faring.
“What’s wrong with that one?” Mateo was pointing at a box that should have been displaying someone’s vitals, but whoever it was, they appeared to be dead.
“Oh, that’s Briar’s. His chip was damaged recently, but I guess he’s not allowed to undergo any medical treatment for this whole month? It has something to do with his religion. I don’t know anything about it.” She dropped the tablet back into her bag.
Mateo decided to change the subject, because he had another question. “Hey, um. Is that a bag of holding?”
“It is, yes,” Ellie confirmed, holding it up. “Do you two not have your own?”
“No one had them on Tribulation Island, which would have been a good place to stock them. I don’t know where else to find something like that.”
“I got mine from an old man I met in 1804 Kansas. Or rather, what would become Kansas a few decades later. I don’t think he made it, though. I won it off him in a game of poker.”
“I don’t suppose you would be willing to reconnect with him.”
“I would have to find him throughout time and space, and then I would have to speak to him. Both of those things require using my time power, which I’ve agreed to not do while I’m on Bida.”
Mateo nodded. “I understand.”
“There would be no guarantee he would have what you’re looking for anyway. Transdimensional bags aren’t the rarest thing in histories, but they’ve never been mass-marketed either. Lots of people who can create pocket dimensions can’t link them to a bag like this. It takes pretty refined skill.”
“It’s just..Leona has always wanted one.”
“You’re not gonna win her back with a gift, Mateo, and I think you know that.”
“If the gift didn’t win her back,” he began, “she would at least still have a bag of holding. I don’t see the down side.”
“I do,” Ellie claimed. “If you give a gift now, you’re just like any other cheater who thinks it’s possible to make up for the betrayal. You can’t compensate for it. Your only hope is to regain her trust. That’s done through things like being a good person from now on. Listen to her, acknowledge her contributions, ask her for help; basic things that a decent human being does for another. She has to feel like you think of her as a real person. A gift, of any kind—even something less materialistic, like a fun or romantic experience—will only perpetuate her perception that you think she’s a broken object you can repair. Relationships can’t be repaired; they can only grow a new branch, in a different direction, and hopefully leave the dead branch far enough behind that it doesn’t kill the whole tree.”
“Wow. Maybe I was looking for a therapist.”
“I’m not a therapist, Mateo. I’m just a woman.”
He nodded, but didn’t say anything.
After his little therapy session with Ellie, Mateo went out to take a walk on his own. Everyone said it was one of the most beautiful planets, and that Trinity had settled on the most beautiful part of it. The path did not disappoint. The trees and other plant life were gorgeous and calming. Even the animal noises sounded more pleasant than he ever remembered hearing on Earth. Maybe they were just different, and given enough time, he would grow used to them. This wasn’t his first time outside on this world, but he hadn’t paid much attention before. His walk wasn’t perfect, though. Throughout the whole thing, he had this sickening feeling that he was being watched. Perhaps that mad scientist who was trying to transfer people’s consciousnesses to animal droids was following him around, or a hungry real animal. His anxiety worsened every few steps, until it was no longer worth it to keep going. He turned to leave, and came face to face with that guy Leona found alone in the woods. He was acting creepy, but Mateo wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt.
“Oh, hey. Briar, right?”
“That’s right,” Briar said. “I’m here to kick your ass.”
“Mateo sighed. “To defend her honor?”
“Okay, I’ll let you hit me once. I can say that I tripped, or something. But if you hurt me more than that, I’m gonna have to tell her what happened, and she isn’t gonna be happy.”
“I dunno, I think she would probably be really happy about that.”
“You obviously don’t know her very well. She abhors violence.”
“She what’s violence?” Briar questioned, confused.
“She hates it,” Mateo translated.
She hates you more.”
“That’s not true. I know I made a big mistake, but she and I are going to get through this. It doesn’t matter what you do to me, she’s not going to leave me, and run to you.”
“This has nothing to do with me. I’m not gonna hurt you to get you out of the way, and take your place. I’m gonna hurt you, because you deserve it.” He started inching forwards.
Mateo didn’t get into fights when he was a kid, but he also wasn’t easily intimidated. He didn’t know why, but Briar was really freaking him out. It could have been the wrathful fire in his eyes, or just the way he was so convinced that this was the right call. Or maybe it was because they were now standing near the edge of a pretty steep drop. “She won’t forgive you.”
“She won’t need to.”
“I’m under the protection of the powers that be.”
“Then you shouldn’t be worried at all right now.” Mateo was starting to think this guy was genuinely mentally ill.
“Don’t do this, Briar.”
“Don’t do what?” Yeah, to be insensitive about it, he was definitely bonkers. “I’m not even here.” He presented the inside of his wrist. “My medical chip has been broken for a week.”
Briar had forced Mateo all the way to the very edge. If the powers that be were going to do anything to save him, like send the Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida’s version of The Savior to pull him back, this was the moment. Presumably banking on the unremote possibility that they weren’t going to do that, Briar delicately tapped on both of Mateo’s shoulders, and sent him tumbling over.
No Savior, no giant bird, no last-second portal. Mateo fell however far it was to the bottom of the cliff, and landed hard on his back. His whole body was in pain, and warm blood was pooling around him; almost like he was peeing his pants. After a few minutes of lying there, a butterfly-like insect started fluttering over his face, giving him one last beautiful thing to look at before he died. He couldn’t help but smile in wonder. This tiny little thing barely had what you would call a brain. It didn’t think, or feel, or hope. It just searched for food, and propagated the species. It probably didn’t even realize it was flying over the dying body of another creature. It probably just considered Mateo to be part of the landscape. He could feel his life slowly draining from him, but as it did, the insect slew down, until it was almost not moving at all.
This was the day Mateo Matic died.

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