Sunday, November 22, 2020

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Saturday, July 15, 2130

They were standing at the top of a very steep set of basement stairs. The lights weren’t on, and Mateo felt a great chill. There was something evil down in that basement, and it was just waiting for the horror movie to enter its second act. “What are we doing here?”
“We’re waiting,” Missy didn’t explain.
“Waiting for what?” Lowell asked.
“You don’t need to be here,” Missy answered. “As for you, Mateo, you want to find Trinity, I know the man for the job.”
Mateo thought about it for a second, running through all the usual suspects. “Vidar Wolfe,” he soon realized. “He’s here?”
“Not yet,” she clarified. Then she consulted her watch once more. “Twenty-four seconds.”
“How do you have that accurate of an arrival time?” Téa asked, impressed.
“I have my wily ways,” Missy said.
A few more seconds passed before Vidar appeared from a spacetime breach a few steps down. He wasn’t expecting to be on stairs, so he immediately started falling backwards, and it was unclear whether he was going to tumble down those steps, or back into his own portal. Missy reached out her hand, and caught him in a time bubble, which she gently laid down on the landing below.
Vidar stood up, and nodded, as if she had done nothing more for him but hold open a door. “Thank you. I appreciate your support.”
“You can pay us back with a tracking spell,” Missy said with a single nod of her own.
“I suppose I am honor-bound. Who are you looking for?”
“Trinity Turner,” Mateo replied.
“Does it have to be Trinity, or can it be Quinn, or what?” Vidar asked. “I think I just know where Quinn is.”
“It has to be Trinity,” Mateo confirmed. “Besides, I’ve never met Quinn.”
“All right,” Vidar agreed. “Where did you last see her?”
“We haven’t,” Téa said. “We need to know where she is today, regardless of where that places her in her personal timeline.”
“Okay.” Vidar yawned deeply. “This shouldn’t be too hard, and then I can take a nap, right?”
“Fine with us,” Lowell answered.
Vidar cracked his knuckles. “Gimme a minute.”
Meanwhile, over 25,000 light years away, Leona was being fitted for a new avatar. This one looked like Nerakali—even at its core code—so when she went out into the main simulation world, Pryce wouldn’t know that it was her who caused the prison break.
“Just give me a minute, and you’ll be good to go,” Gilbert said. “Maybe ten.”
“Is this going to work?” Jeremy asked.
“Wait, Jeremy?” Leona questioned.
“Yes, what?”
“I thought you went by J.B.”
“I don’t think so,” Jeremy said, confused.
Gilbert and the real Nerakali were giving each other a look.
“What?” Leona asked them.
“I’ll try to explain,” Nerakali volunteered. “The simulations are run on quantum computers. They’re a little...unpredictable when it comes to time travel. I mean, if someone were to go back in time, and stop you from dying on whatever day you died on, that doesn’t mean the simulation keeps this version of you here, outside of time, or something. It will still save your life, and this reality will be erased. But it’s capable of processing some of the more minor discrepancies. Somebody went back, and changed something about the past, which caused your friend to end up using a different name, and you’re aware of it, because the afterlife simulation is capable of recognizing both quantum states. Jeremy; J.B. They’re from slightly different realities, and your memories are muddled, because the simulation isn’t sure which one is standing before us right now.”
“Did you follow any of that?” Jeremy asked Sanaa softly.
“I wasn’t listening,” she replied to him dismissively. She probably was, and she probably understood it, but she had a reputation of being a rascal, and she had to protect it.
“Don’t worry about it...Jeremy,” Leona said. It wouldn’t be that hard to get used to the new name. This was just how life worked.
“To answer your original question,” Gilbert began, “yes, this is going to work.”
“How will she get Angela out of prison?” Jeremy pressed.
“I cannot make someone else Level 10,” Gilbert explained. “That’s like using one of your three wishes to ask for more wishes. That’s how Pryce put it during my orientation, anyway. I can make her Level 9, though, and she should only need to be an Eight to get out of prison. She can come up with her own plan, but she could construct a bunch of holes in the prison walls, for instance, and just run right in. Or, she could do something more elaborate, and less noticeable, and sneak her out of there. Again, she can do it however she wants.”
“I think I should go with her,” Jeremy offered.
“That’s very kind of you,” Leona said, “but let’s try to minimize the damage here. I’m already not sold on the idea of throwing Nerakali under the bus.”
“It was out of an airlock,” Nerakali corrected, “if you will recall.”
“That might have happened a long enough time ago that it’s funny to you, but for me, it feels like yesterday,” Leona scolded apologetically.
“Don’t worry about it,” Nerakali echoed, then she gasped. “Ah. You look so beautiful.”
Unable to contain herself after the surprising humor, Leona burst out laughing. Gilbert had just put the final touches on his work, and now Leona looked exactly like Nerakali.
“What happens to you when you get her out of the prison?” Jeremy continued. “Her clothes are still orange, aren’t they. Even if she gets out of the building, that doesn’t fix her level.”
Sanaa reached behind her head, and pulled out a giant duffle bag that wouldn’t have been able to hide back there in the real world. “That’s why she’s got this.” She dropped the bag on the table, and pulled out this long plastic-lookin’ thing with a button on one end. “It’s a portable recodifier. This will turn Angela into a Level 1, but before you freak out, it’s only temporary. Pryce is capable of monitoring the actions of anyone in the simulation, except in a few cases, like this little virtual subworld of Gilbert’s that we’re in right now. Level 1s are not in the simulation, though. It’s like tucking your flash drive away in a drawer, and expecting to be able to pull files from it on your computer. You gotta plug it in first. Level 1s still exist, but they’re unplugged.” She waved the recodifier around. “The cool thing about this is that you can unplug her in the prison, and plug her back in once you get back to VioletSpace. Pryce will be able to see you, but he won’t know that you have an Angela in your pocket.”
Leona took it from Sanaa’s hand. “When did you have time to become in charge of supplies?”
“I have my wily ways. Gilbert built them during or interim year, but I came up with the ideas last year, and told him what to do.”
“There are some other goodies in here too,” Gilbert said as he pulled the bag’s opening towards himself with his middle finger. “You might need all of them, or none of them; it depends.”
Gilbert showed her his creations, all of which Sanaa had come up with herself. They accounted for contingency after contingency, and a lot of them were pretty dangerous, even in a virtual world. Full, the bag was impossibly light, and folded in on itself until it was small enough to fit in her back pocket. When she ready ready to go, they realized Jeremy was nowhere to be found, theoretically because he didn’t think this was going to go as well as they planned. They couldn’t blame him for it, but this was kind of how she and Mateo operated. They made half a plan, and then let fate fill in the rest. It always seemed to work out for them. Then again, the powers that be, though highly restrictive, were on their side, and were never looking for them to fail. Pryce was an antagonist, and though he hadn’t zeroed anyone yet—which was a term in here that referred to permanent death—it was likely only a matter of time before their opposition pushed him far enough over that line.
It looked like Sanaa wanted to say something as they were sending Leona off on her mission. She waited patiently until Sanaa reached over, and gave her a hug. “Don’t go getting yourself killed, you asshole.”
“I love you too,” Leona said back.
She stepped out of the secret world, and into the main one. While time travelers weren’t the only ones with Level 10 privileges, they were incredibly rare, and everyone noticed when one walked by. Way the real Nerakali understood it, Trinity and the original designers wanted there to be a way to reward good behavior, and restrict those who misbehaved. The prison definitely existed in their concept, but there were fewer levels above that, and they didn’t agree with each other whether it was ethical to zero anybody, for any reason. Pryce was the one who came up with the color schemes, so people could distinguish themselves from others, and the elites could avoid the dregs. So when Leona started walking through the city center, dressed in royal purple, everyone turned to watch. She ignored them, not so as to keep her head down, but to give off an air of superiority to them. They expected her to be proud of her station, and acting like her regular, humble self would have caused even more of a stir.
She still didn’t really have much of a plan as she was walking, but Jeremy’s disappearance made her realize something about him, and changed everything about what she had already come up with. She quickly took the magic bag out of her pocket, retrieved only one item from it, and attached a quick note to the outside. She then  walked right into the prison, and started opening every door and gate in her path. She didn’t need authorization, or prior notice, or even to sign a check-in sheet. She could go anywhere she wanted. Now, this didn’t mean she was invisible, but that was totally okay. The guards, both NPC and career correctional officers, noticed her just as much as everyone else, and every single one of them felt compelled to alert Tamerlane Pryce to her presence. This was exactly what she wanted. Now a stir was a good thing, because it was just a distraction. Her plan hinged on something she had no control over, but she could mark that down in the half of the plan she didn’t know, and that wasn’t going to stop her from carrying it out. Finally, she had her first target in her sights. It was the NPC guard from when she was here to visit Angela, and case the joint. She had freed him from the prison of his own mind by giving him consciousness, and it was time for him to pay her back.
She covertly slipped the bag out of her pocket, and slipped it into his hand. He would know what to do with it, and the great thing about it was that she didn’t need him to do anything beyond it. His job would be quick and easy, and then the contents of the bag would take care of the rest. Hopefully he wouldn’t squeal later, but even if he did, they would probably be long gone by the time the consequences rained down on them. She continued on, and headed for her final destination. Guards kept their eye on her as she passed, and grew more earnest the deeper she went. She was in a more restricted area now, where the worst of the worst lived that Pryce still didn’t consider despicable enough to zero. Leona would beg to differ on at least one count, but his decision was going to allow her to feed two birds with one worm, or since it involved violence, maybe it should be kill two birds with one stone. No, because she only wanted to kill one of the birds. So she would kill one bird with one stone, so the other could have the one worm all to herself. Did that metaphor make sense?
She was here, but before she entered the room, she dropped the façade, and returned to the avatar that resembled her true self. She decided she wasn’t willing to let her friend get punished for her actions. She opened the door.
“Did you come here to get closure?” he snarked.
Leona stood there and stared at him menacingly. “You’re a rapist.”
He let out an irritated sigh. “She was my wife! You can’t rape your own wife!”
“Yes! You can! And you did! And you’re gonna die for it!”
Maniacal laugh. “Haven’t you heard, Sugar Tits? We’re all dead here.”
Leona took the knife out of her other pocket. “Some more than others.”
“What do you expect to do with that thing? I don’t need pain dampeners. I have complete control over what my mind perceives. I’ve been standing in a field of poppies since you came in.”
Leona spun the handle in her grip. “Then upon poppies you shall die.”
Either she was really committed to the bluff, or the knife wasn’t as harmless as he thought. The truth was that it was a zeroblade. If they got stabbed with this, it wouldn’t matter what level someone was, their consciousness would be extinguished, and there was no coming back from that. Dead is dead is dead. Erlendr Preston was about to become the first person whose death Leona was directly responsible for, and if it couldn’t be Hitler, at least it was a rapist like this piece of shit.
“You don’t wanna do that.”
“It’s why I’m here.”
“No, I studied your timeline, and I’ve seen your mind. You can’t do this.”
“In a different timeline, a man named Ed was reincarnated as my brother, and started going by the name Theo. He said something to me once that was powerful enough to cross the dimensions. He said, anyone who is physically capable of something is psychologically capable of it. We are all violent. Some are just better at restraining themselves.” She took a deep breath through her nose. “I’m tired of the restraints.” She pulled her elbow back as she stepped towards him, and then she buried the knife in his gut, forcing him to gasp. She creepily placed her mouth at his ear, and whispered, “that’s for Savannah.” She twisted the blade, releasing a whimper from his throat. “That’s for Nerakali.” She gracelessly pulled the knife back out, letting out a scream, and a geyser of blood. “And that’s for Arcadia.” She watched his body begin to blacken and char. “You’ll never hurt anyone ever again.”
He died...for good this time.

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