Sunday, June 20, 2021

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Tuesday, November 9, 2247

The next mission took them to Varkas Reflex, where an egress window opened up, not to bring someone else in, but to send them to the main sequence. They stood by patiently until the timer transitioned them over. They found themselves standing in the control room for a launch pad, where a pretty small ship was waiting. Hokusai was at the controls, operating the buttons, while Loa stood next to her as an assistant. They looked over. “ you want us to scrub the launch, errr...?”
“No,” Leona said casually. “That version of Leona needs to go where she’s going, as do Sanaa and Eight Point Seven.”
“Okay,” Hokusai said. She leaned into the microphone. “Launch in eleven, ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, good, luck.”
Unlike the rockets that silly ancient humans used to get off the surface of the planet, the Radiant Lighting shot straight into the sky without sound, and without damaging the surrounding area. The hull, and pad, both glowed, but that was about it. It disappeared from sight quickly, and went on its way towards Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida. It would arrive in less than a year. There, Past!Leona would have a few adventures with Trinity Turner, Ellie Underhill, and a few other people, until Mateo showed up seven years later, and further complicated matters.
Hokusai made sure everything was still going smoothly, and then finally exhaled. “All right. Report.”
Leona took the explanation. “We’re from as far into the future as 2278, but we went back to 2019, and have been moving forward on a new pattern ever since. These are our new team members: Jeremy Bearimy, Angela Walton, and Olimpia Sangster.”
“Nice to meet you. I’m Hokusai Gimura, and this is Loa Nielsen. We just watched Leona, Sanaa, and Eight Point Seven leave for a planet called Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida.”
“I remember her telling us about this,” Angela said. “Sounds like a beautiful place.”
Hokusai agreed. “We may go ourselves one day. Don’t say anything if you know something about our future that contradicts this.”
Leona pantomimed zipping her lips shut, not that it mattered. Nothing about what they knew of Hokusai and Loa’s future prevented them from one day traveling to Tau Ceti. They, in fact, did not know much about what would become of them. They lost touch.
“Do you need help with anything?” Jeremy asked. “Or were we just sent here to watch the launch?”
“Who sent you here?” Hokusai asked.
“Nerakali,” Leona answered. “She sends us on missions. People usually come to us, but sometimes we go to them. And sometimes we’re not expected to do much. This could be more like a vacation, just so we can relax, and catch up with old friends.”
“I see.” Hokusai nodded.
“Who’s hungry?” Loa asked. “We were just about to eat.”
“We don’t want to impose,” Leona said.
“Nonsense,” Loa assured them. “It’s not like food is a scarce commodity. Can you imagine a world like that?”
They gathered in their home, and started eating a lovely lunch together. It was cooked by a friend of theirs, who liked to do it the old-fashioned way, instead of using a food synthesizer. It was his passion. Loa asked them about this new mission they were on, so they took turns explaining how it came about, and how things were going now.
“Yeah,” Hokusai agreed, “I can’t imagine it’s a sustainable pattern. A lot of people needed help with a lot of things in the past, but not so much anymore. But you seem to suggest that you have a choice of patterns now. How’s that, just by switching off these special cuffs of yours?”
They hadn’t said anything about dying, and going to the afterlife simulation, which made their patterns a little more complicated, and a lot less tied to the whims of the powers that be. The cuffs alone weren’t completely necessary, but they were a good excuse. It was just better for them to not reveal any secrets about how life and death worked in the universe. “Yes, the cuffs. We could suppress Jeremy’s pattern, and return every year, like we used to. Or we could suppress mine and Mateo’s pattern, and come back every Tuesday and July. Or we could suppress both, and just be present all the time, or even go wherever in the timeline we want, assuming we find a traveler to help. I don’t know why we haven’t done that. Surely Nerakali wouldn’t try to stop us.”
“I know why we can’t do that,” Mateo’s anger was bubbling, just a little bit. The pot would have needed to sit on the burner longer for the water to be considered boiling. “The Superintendent. He’s responsible for everything.”
Like all these people, Mateo had free will. He wasn’t in complete control of his own life, but he wasn’t helpless either. That was just how the world worked. You’re always bound by responsibilities, and urges, and biological imperatives. You live under social expectations, and community rules. You can’t just do anything you want to do, and you are not omnipotent. Perhaps salmon were a little bit more beholden to a higher power than others, but that power is generally not abused. Except in cases like this. I won’t allow the argument to be rehashed, and I’m getting tired of writing myself into the story, so while Mateo has traditionally been free to speak his mind on the matter, that changes here.
Everyone’s memories of the last few moments were erased, and the rest of the conversation was able to continue. They didn’t talk about their present, or even current, lives. Nearly everyone here had a life before time travel, so they shared stories about those times, when they were ignorant, and things were normal. Jeremy and Olimpia didn’t have many stories like that, but they did their best. While their respective lives revolved around something they couldn’t control, there were days when they could just live in the moment, and be happy. Once the party was over, Hokusai and Loa went off to do their own thing. That was when Nerakali showed up, sporting a somber expression. She sat down at the table with the transition team, and started picking at the remaining food.
“Are you okay?” Mateo asked, concerned.
She took her time responding. “You picked up on something that I’ve known for quite awhile.”
“What is that?” Leona prompted.
“There is an expiration date on this whole mission series, just like Étude, and the Savior of Earth program. It’s also why Beaver Haven Correctional only goes for so long, and why time travel in general dies down eventually. The future belongs to the vonearthans, and the starseeders. It’s not that you can’t travel that far into the future. Plenty of us do, but there’s a lot less activity than there is in previous centuries. The troublemakers don’t find it fun anymore when the rest of the population has their own superpowers, and the helpers like us don’t have anyone to save anymore.”
“Where are you going with this?” No, now Mateo was concerned.
“I’m saying that it’s over. I put off this conversation, but those dumb farmers were the last mission, realistically speaking. I could keep transitioning people for you, but I wouldn’t have much reason to, and you wouldn’t be serving much of a purpose. My other teams are experiencing similar problems, but it was easier to tell them, because I didn’t have personal relationships with them.”
“It’s over,” Jeremy echoed, nodding his head with his hand cupped over his mouth.
“It feels like we weren’t doing it for very long, but I know you had a lot of missions under Jupiter’s supervision,” Nerakali continued. “I’m sorry I didn’t have some special series finale as a send off, but that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Danger sort of always just fades away, slowly to be replaced by safety, compartmentalization, redundancy, and modularization.” She was referring to a characteristic of space travel that was designed to lower the chances of something going wrong, but the idea had wider implications.
“What do we do now?” Angela asked. “I’m centuries old, but I feel like all that time, I was just preparing for this part of my life. Can we go back? Can we start a pattern?”
“Everything’s been taken care of,” Nerakali said with a single shake of her head. “I can’t tell you what you should do from now on. I can only tell you what I’m going to do. I’ve been the ultimate procrastinator, and it’s time to face the music.”
“Nerakali?” Leona asked, assuming they would all know what question she didn’t want to ask.
No one said anything.
“Nerakali,” Leona repeated, “how many steps do you have left?”
Nerakali smiled. “One more. If I try to travel away the next time, the universe will just straight up not let me. I’ll be within the hundemarke’s spatio-temporal range. Trapped. Trapped in the inevitable.”
“Well, that’s okay, because—”
“Don’t tell me, Leona, what you know of my future. I know it has something to do with Ellie Underhill. It’ll make it easier if I go in blind.”
“Why did you bring this up?” Leona went on. “You can put off that last step all you want. We’ll take you to a safe planet, and protect you from harm. You can live centuries just fine, I’m sure.”
“It’s like I said,” Nerakali contradicted, “it’s over.”
“Don’t do this.” Leona wasn’t ready to say goodbye.
I’m not going to be doing anything,” Nerakali said. “I need Mateo to do it for me.”
“Me? Are you asking me to kill you?”
“You did it for Boyce, and my brother.”
“Yeah, and I don’t wanna do that again.”
Nerakali nodded, acknowledging his feelings. “I don’t need you to push me so much as I need you to erase my memories just before I fall. Someone else can push, if they want, or I can try to rig up some kind of Rube-Goldberg Jigsaw death machine.”
“Okay, I’m not saying I approve of your suicide,” Mateo began, “but why would you need someone to erase your memories?”
“Because I love you, Mateo,” Nerakali explained. “I have to go back to 2107, and be your worst enemy. I have to be trying to take revenge for my brother’s death. I can try to pretend, but it would really help me out if you just...make me hate you again.”
“I don’t understand why you have to do this,” Leona said. “We already know that our actions have altered events in the main sequence.  Zeferino died twice, even before our transitions began, which I don’t really understand, but it happened. When he stabbed himself, his body didn’t disappear, and return to the Colosseum.”
“That’s complicated,” Nerakali said. “I don’t actually understand it myself, but I was told to ignore that apparent paradox. That doesn’t mean we make another one. This is what I want. Please.”
Mateo did indeed know about her future. Death was a lot less problematic than everyone throughout history thought it was...or at least the atheists. The truth was that the afterlife existed. People didn’t go up to sit on clouds and play the harp with angels, but their consciousness persisted, and Nerakali was no exception to that. He didn’t want to erase her memories, and he didn’t want to kill her, but he knew she would survive it. She already had.
Fortunately, Mateo knew quite a bit about what he could do given Nerakali’s brain blending abilities. He didn’t have to erase her memories, and in fact couldn’t if he wanted her to be a good person when she went up to Pryce’s afterlife simulation. All he needed to do was suppress them, and let their return be triggered by something. This could be a code word, or a gesture, or an image...or a traumatic event. Back in 2107, The Warrior didn’t kill Nerakali instantly. He stabbed her through the chest, and only decapitated her once he managed to get his hands on the hundemarke, which was what prevented them from changing this event. Mateo could work with that. Once she experienced that first wound, there was nothing she could do, and she no longer needed to hate them. Her memories could come back in those final seconds, so she would be able to take them with her.
“Okay,” Mateo said. “I’ll do it.”
“Mateo,” Leona said. “We have to talk about this.”
“It already happened, Leona,” Mateo argued. “She’s ready. We have to respect that.”
“Thank you, Mateo,” Nerakali said warmly.
“Just me,” he demanded. “No one else needs to see this.”
Nerakali transitioned them back to The Parallel one last time, but then the group stayed behind while Mateo and Nerakali took a dimensional gravity platform towards the nearest remote cliff. The surface gravity on this planet was far too high for them to stand on. Certain buildings were designed with lower gravity, and this platform was just a mobile version of that. They drove out there in silence, only speaking once they arrived.
“You know what you’re doing?” Nerakali asked.
“Exactly,” Mateo said. “Take all the time you need, though.”
“As you said, I’m ready.” She started tapping on her Cassidy cuff. Then she took it off. “Let’s switch. You still need my brain blending powers to do this, but before you push me off the ledge, you’ll need to steal the cuff back, so I don’t take it with me. Press this button here on the primary, and it will release yours from my wrist.”
“I understand.”
“I’m really grateful for this,” she said sincerely. “I just wish I would die feeling that way. I wish I could die remembering myself, and who I became, and how I grew.”
He smiled. “You will. I told you...I know what I’m doing.” Without another word, he reached up to her temples, and stuffed the last however long amount of time into the darkest parts of Nerakali’s mind.
When it was over, she had changed. She looked at him with a seething hatred. “You.”
“I love you too, Nerakali Preston.” He tapped a button on the primary cuff, which unhooked the one he usually used from her wrist, and summoned it to him magnetically. Then he pushed her off the edge, and watched her disappear.

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