Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 20, 2258

Perhaps death was inevitable, for anyone and everyone, and everything. Even those who managed to upgrade their substrates, or even transfer their consciousnesses to new ones, were going to end one day. Because the longer any given entity lives, the chances that something goes wrong increase. If people only lived for two weeks, most would probably survive that long, but as the lifetime expands, so too does the distribution. These were the ideas Mateo picked up on while he was waiting to return to his time period. Evidently, this philosophy magazine was left here to help him cope with his new situation. He decided to inject himself with the recovery solution while he was still in the future, and sleep it off until the next day. He had enough experience to know that when it came to time travel, the amount of time you waited to travel almost only ever had an impact on the amount of time you lived in the meantime, and rarely on the time you arrived once you finally did go through with it.
He could have stayed in his recovery room for five years, and still ended up back in 2258, though of course, he had no intention of waiting that long. He still wanted to see Leona, but he also dreaded seeing her again. What was she feeling now? How would she react to his unexpected return? Had she felt relieved when he finally died, because then she would never have to forgive him his indiscretion? Should he even go back at all, or was she better off without him? Old!Ellie came back into the room about a minute before he planned on finally getting out of bed on his own accord, making it look like he might never have made the choice without her nagging. He told her it wasn’t she who urged the end of his procrastination; that he had his own timetable, but he couldn’t tell whether she believed him or not. She led him down the nondescript hallway, placed him in the time chamber, and sent him on his way.
It was a few hours after midnight central when Mateo came back to Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida, in the exact same spot where he died by the cliff wall. Had he landed on the top of the cliff, he would have had trouble navigating back to Homebase, but here, it was even more difficult. He trudged through the wilderness for hours, just going in the general direction of the campus, but never really knowing how close he was. It was more by miracle than skill that he eventually succeeded. The first person he saw was Goswin, planting flowers in the garden. He didn’t look like one of his friends had just died, but Mateo had to remember that that was two years ago for him. The mourning period was long over for everyone, except for Leona, and maybe Cassidy. He didn’t avoid Goswin because he thought he should keep his resurrection a secret, but because he wanted Leona to be the first person who saw him. As irrational as it might have been, it was important to him. So he started sneaking around, trying to get an idea of where everyone was, and hoping to find his wife alone somewhere. She was.
“Mateo.” She didn’t say it enthusiastically, or inquisitively. It was more of a statement of fact, or at least an assumption of fact. The man standing before her might not have been Mateo at all, but an imposter, like Arcadia tried to do with her two weeks ago.
He had to be patient with her as he tried to prove himself to real deal. “I’m sorry you had to go through that,” he said.
She was silent for a moment, but then gathered herself. “Report.”
“Extraction mirror. I don’t know who, or when, or even where I was. It didn’t look like Palace Glubbdubdrib, though.”
“Has anyone else seen you yet?”
“I don’t think so. I wanted to see you first.”
She considered her next move for a moment, then grabbed Mateo by the shirt, and dragged him across the hangar, into the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. No one else was in there at the time.
“Are you hiding me away?” he asked.
“I think we should keep it on the down low, for now.”
“People are gonna find out sometime.”
“Yes,” Leona agreed. “But not everybody. We can keep the circle tight. You and I are leaving this planet today, and I don’t think a whole lot of others are coming with us. I just need to hang onto the secret until then. Can you handle this?”
“Leona, I need to—”
“I don’t have time for apologies. I need you to get into grave chamber four, and stay there until I reopen it.” She kind of stuffed him down in there.
“How am I going to pee?”
“Are you kidding me? How long did you live here? Ramses thought of just about everything.” She pointed to one corner of the chamber. “Open that small panel right there.”
Mateo opened it and found a tube. He also found what looked like a resuscitator mask. He held one in each hand, and looked up at his wife with puppy dog eyes.
“You don’t need the female attachment. Just...I think you can figure it out,” she joked.
“Leona.”
She nabbed a tablet from the table, and dropped it down to him, presumably for entertainment. “Okay, I love you. Bye!” she said as she was closing the hatch, but then she quickly reopened it. “I mean...were I you.”
“Leona!” he repeated, but she couldn’t hear him, because these things were soundproof. He could have opened it himself, but maybe she was right. The best way to prevent Ellie from learning anything about what her future self was going to do was to prevent her from seeing the product of her choices. This version of Mateo might never see her again, nor necessarily anyone else on this planet.
He hadn’t really thought to open any of the other panels before, which was a huge failure on his part. Besides the urine tube, the chamber was equipped with a bedpan, and disposal chute, both of which had to be cleaned manually, which was possible, because it also had a freshwater line. It was stocked with emergency meal bars for an amount of time Mateo didn’t want to do the math to calculate, and various other essential tools. There also seemed to be a way to convert the chamber into a stasis pod, but he deliberately avoided all of that stuff so as not to break anything. Instead, he just went back to the magazine he found in the future.

After hiding her resurrected husband in the ship, Leona went back outside, and started making inquiries. Who was coming with her to Glisnia, and would they be ready to leave today? Cassidy was so in, but no one else expressed any interest, except for maybe Pribadium.
“Do you want me to go with you?” Pribadium asked.
“Only if you want to,” Leona answered. “We can handle it alone. The ship is almost fully automated.”
“That’s not what I mean.”
“Should those two be alone together?” Thor insensitively asked, referring to Leona and Cassidy.
“We’re okay,” Cassidy spoke up. “What do you think we were doing when we were alone the other day?”
Thor shrugged. “Something weird?”
“Pribadium, you’re welcome to join us, but I don’t want to pressure you. Ramses and Weaver both created excellent operator’s manuals, dumbed down enough for a 21st century girl.” Leona was about to say something about Pribadium being a great addition to the crew, with her genius-level intellect, and familiarity with current technological advancement, but she decided against it. She wanted this to be Pribadium’s choice, not something she did because no one else was around to do it.
“I just want to make sure I’m not butting in,” Pribadium said. “I quite like the AOC, and I think it would be interesting to see what Glisnia is like.”
“It’s not that great of a place,” Thor jumped in, “and it’s certainly not interesting.” That was rude, which everybody’s facial expression showed. “What? I’m just being honest. There’s a reason it has the lowest biological colonist signup rate. Everybody’s coming here, or going to Teagarden.”
“I don’t intend to stay there very long,” Leona explained. “The plan is to use it to deliver Mateo’s remains to Dardius, then head back to Earth.”
The room fell quiet. Not only was Mateo’s death sad, but they also didn’t want to talk about the fact that everyone who wasn’t volunteering to go to Glisnia was simultaneously declining an invite to Mateo’s services.
“All right,” Leona said after a respectful pause, knowing full well that Mateo was still technically alive. “I’ve had a pretty eventful last few days, so I need a nap. I’ll run a preflight check after I wake up, and then the four of us can go.”
“Four?” Goswin asked.
Oh, crap. She was referring to Cassidy, Pribadium, as well as Mateo, along with herself. “I mean three.” She laughed it off. “That’s why I need the nap.”
“I thought we were going to have our own memorial before you leave,” Goswin reminded her.
Oh yeah, that was another thing. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but now it just seemed weird. They would be holding it but meters away from the supposed deceased, who was trapped in the ship, bored and unable to attend. “Well, I’ll think about it. It all depends on when I wake up.”
Most of the others nodded solemnly, while Thor was totally indifferent. But she knew he liked Mateo more than he wanted to let on.
When the group dispersed, Leona went straight back to the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and opened grave chamber four, where she found Mateo watching an episode of Batwoman.
“As far as I know,” Mateo began, “this show didn’t exist in my reality.”
Leona began to climb in. “It did not, no.”
“Do we need to talk?” he asked after Leona closed the hatch back up.
“Yes, but not about what you think. Honest hour? I don’t want to talk about that ever again.”
“Leona...”
“I’m serious. Cassidy and I are okay now. I just needed to get to know her. I can’t say I’m over it, but your death kind of...put things in perspective. My forgiveness is like a marble on a hill. Eventually, it will even out. Until then, however, the marble rolls a little closer with each passing second. Just let it roll, Mateo. Don’t try to make it go faster.” She removed a slip of paper from her pocket, and looked at it for the upteenth time, not yet showing it to him.
“What is that?”
“Proof,” she answered. “Briar couldn’t have killed you on his own. Trinity could have gone back and saved you, and actually did try that.”
“Oh, I didn’t know.” Mateo thought about it for a second, and had a realization. “He had the hundemarke.”
“That’s right.”
“Where did he get it?”
“He tried to throw me off the trail by referring to the culprit as a man,” Leona began, “but I had Eight Point Seven hack into his brain.” She presented the picture.
Mateo stared at it, not knowing what to say.
Leona continued. “I’ve heard stories, about terrible things happening that should have been prevented. Time travelers tried to stop them, but couldn’t. Because she gives the killer the hundemarke. So now we know the who. All we need is a why.”
That was a good question. She had never been nice, but had always exhibited a sort of obsession with Mateo. Why did Arcadia Preston finally want him dead?

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