Sunday, July 4, 2021

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Tuesday, November 15, 2253

Flindekeldan was a beautiful planet. If they were going to be stuck on one world for the rest of their lives, this was a good choice. They spent the next three years here, just being normal, and not thinking much about time travel and transition windows. There were no specific rules for what kind of lifestyle they could choose. Though it was only populated by several million people, it was fairly diverse. Some worked, because they didn’t like not doing anything. Others focused on personal hobbies. Technically everyone did have a job, though. Those who didn’t work were backfilled by an android substitute. This was not an assistant, who fetched coffee for their human, or washed their clothes. It was there to work when the human did not want to. Everyone was free to choose how much it worked in their stead, be it all the time, or none of the time. A few hundred people who came here were androids themselves, but they were still assigned a Flindekeldanian android, and the procedures were the same.
Olimpia did most of her work herself. She had never had a job before, because she wasn’t part of society back on Earth in the main sequence, and she wanted to know what it felt like. She worked her way up pretty quickly, eventually becoming a supervisor for a Helium-3 mining operation. Mateo learned how to surf, and did a lot of rock climbing, which he never thought he would ever get into. Jeremy took up animal watching. He liked to go to the other side of the world, where no one had settled, and just observe the little critters in their natural habitat. Studying their habits was both part of his job, and a hobby. He and his android worked together, sharing the load. Angela really just relaxed every day. She was always rather busy in the afterlife simulation, helping people, or learning new things. Now she just wanted to do nothing. She spent most of her time on the beach, but she sometimes got into an inflatable raft, and wandered the sea, letting the water control where she drifted. And Leona? Leona was different. No one fully understood what it was she was up to; not even Mateo. They knew it was some kind of secret society, and while she returned home to Mateo at the end of the day, she didn’t talk about her work.
Leona did it again.
Leona did it quicker.
“Good. Keep practicing when your friends aren’t around. Your legwork is fine. Your arms need to be more precise. Remember to pay attention to the way the air is moving. Cut through it, don’t let it slow you down.”
“Understood,” Leona said.
“All right, Ellie, your turn.”
Ellie did the same move, but she was better at it, which Leona found annoying, because she hadn’t been here as long. This was actually an alternate version of the Ellie Underhill that they knew from before, though not really. Ellie was tens of thousands of years old, but not because she was immortal, or even ageless. Her body had only been around for a few decades, but her mind had experienced many, many lives. When she found herself nearing the end of her lifetime, she would send her consciousness back to the past, and overwrite her Past!Self. Everything she did in the future was completely erased, and no one could remember it having happened, except for her. This adventure was an exception, because it was taking place in The Parallel, which was why Leona was here for it, even though Ellie would one day undo the timeline.
“Very good, Miss Underhill, as always.”
Leona made a fake scowl at her training partner. Ellie chuckled silently.
“That will be all for today.”
“Really?” Leona questioned. They never cut the training sessions short.
“It’s November 15, 2253, according to the standard main sequence Earthan calendar.”
“Oh, umm...” Leona trailed off. “I don’t find much significance to that date.”
“Your husband does. Go home, Leona.”
“Thank you, Crucia Heavy.”
“Thank you, Crucia Heavy,” Ellie echoed.
The two of them started walking out towards the exit together, but Ellie would not be leaving, because this was where she lived. She decided not to reveal her presence to the transition team. There wasn’t any real reason they weren’t allowed to know the truth, but there wasn’t any reason they should know either.
“You gonna think about what I said?” Ellie asked.
“I thought you were joking,” Leona said.
“No, I think you should consider it. Today would be the optimal time.”
“Ellie, if we use your method of transitioning, I’ll have to explain how I found out about it, and you’ll be exposed.”
She shrugged. “I can think of worse things to happen. Leona, there’s a Nexus on the other side. You’ve completed enough of your training. You can go back, and fight as Mateo’s champion. Isn’t that why you agreed to join The Highest Order?”
“I joined in case The Warrior ever caught up to us. I stayed, because I wanted to—because I like it—because I belong. And I’m not done with my training. I’m never done.”
“Exactly, you’re never done, which means you could be here forever. That is not what this place is designed for. You’re supposed to go out, and live a real life. That’s what I’m going to do. You graduate when you’re ready.”
“I’m not ready. Maybe in another three years. That’ll put us back on the Bearimy-Matic pattern.”
“Talk to him.”
“I can’t do that,” Leona contended.
“They’ll see who you’ve become someday, and then you’ll have to explain why you claimed this was all a secret, when it isn’t.”
“I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.” She stepped onto the first of 576 steps back up to the surface.
“I just hope you can cross it, and it’s not just a pile of ash by then.”
Leona went up to the next step. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Ellie.”
“If you say so.” She turned, and headed towards her room.
Leona walked up the steps slowly. She would sometimes run them to get more exercise, but now she was worried about what conversation awaited her when she got home. Would Mateo want to go back if they could? More importantly, how would any of them react if she told them it was indeed possible; that there was a loophole she had known about for over two years now. Angela would probably be cool, and Jeremy liked his new life fine enough, but Olimpia often spoke of seeing Earth again, and eating fried chicken once more. Leona didn’t want to go anywhere. She didn’t want to stop her training, and she didn’t want to return to the Milky Way. This was her home now. No, she had to keep it a secret. Perhaps she would never tell them, and they would just live here forever. It would be difficult to hold back for quite that long, but not impossible. They had not yet qualified for full immortality, but they were receiving longevity and youth treatments, and there was still a chance that it would end there, and they would eventually die.
Leona opened the door to their house to find the whole team waiting to have dinner together, which she didn’t know was happening. It wasn’t surprising, though, as this was the day they would have returned to the timestream if the cuffs weren’t suppressing their pattern. They smiled as she walked into the dining room, and sat down. The food temperature suggested she was about fifteen minutes later than they expected, but they weren’t upset. She had stalled for time on the stairs, and on the walk through the park, but she still should have arrived earlier than usual. She glanced down at her watch. Nope, it had actually taken her a lot longer than it should have. She was more paranoid about the conversation than she realized. She was right to be. They immediately started reminiscing about their old lives, and lamenting not being able to do the things they once loved about Earth. It was like they knew what her secret was, and were trying to goad her into fessing up. Or maybe she was just imagining a tell-tale heart, and it had nothing to do with her.
“There’s a way back to the Milky Way galaxy,” her asshole voice said before she could stop it.
“I’m sorry?” Mateo prompted.
Leona closed her eyes, knowing there was no way to backtrack without looking as big of an asshole as her voice. “It’s called the Suspended Pond of Glieremé. If you swim deep enough, you’ll go through a transition window, and end up on Flindekeldan in the main sequence, where there is a working Nexus. It only has one unlocked destination, but we can go anywhere from there.”
“I suppose we wouldn’t have to swim,” Leona went on. “The AOC is small enough to fit right through.”
“Did The Order tell you about this?” Angela asked calmly.
“I can’t tell you who told me about it,” Leona said. “Spoilers.”
Jeremy wiped his mouth on the napkin, and dropped it down on the table. “Goddammit.” He stood up in a huff, and left the house.
“I’m sorry I lied to you about it. I don’t know why I did. I guess I was scared Anatol would find us. I don’t know.”
“He’s not mad because you didn’t tell us,” Mateo said.
“He’s mad because you did,” Angela finished for him. “I must say, I’m not so pleased about it either.”
“I don’t understand,” Leona admitted.
“When we were stuck here,” Olimpia began to clarify, “it was fine. We all settled into our new lives, because it was all we could do. Now you’ve given us the burden of choice again, which means we’ll have to figure out what to do.”
“We can still stay here, if that’s what everyone wants,” Leona tried to promise. “I only told you, because the longer I waited, the worse I thought it would be when you inevitably found out. The Pond of Glieremé isn’t exactly a secret. It’s just ignored, because you can take the Nexus back to the Milky Way, but there’s no way back to the Parallel once you’re there.”
Olimpia shook her head like a teacher whose student didn’t quite get the right answer. “Now, no matter what we do, each one of us will worry that the others don’t really want that. We don’t want to resent each other, or even think that there’s any resentment.”
Leona was mortified. She had no idea they felt this way. Yeah, that was a good point; she had no idea.
“Leona, we’re not mad at you. We understand that you didn’t know.”
“Exactly,” Leona said, standing up. “I didn’t know, because apparently you all have this group text that I’m not on, where you discuss these things. You made a mistake by working together to explain to me how you feel, because now I know I’ve been left out of a lot.” She tried to walk away too.
“Leona, you’ve been so wrapped up in that fight club,” Mateo argued. “Yeah, we have conversations that you’re not there for. What, you want us to sit in silence in case you decide to come home on time? If we always waited for you, we’d never eat!”
“That’s bullshit, you could have filled me in on some of the more important things. Maybe I don’t hear about what mountain you climbed yesterday, but I should at least know how you’re feeling. What else are you keeping from me, and how did you know it’s a fight club? I mean, that’s not what it is, but I can see how you would come to that conclusion if someone told you a little.”
“We see the bruises,” Mateo explained. “You’re exhausted every night. Hell, you even walk differently than you used to. Leona, you aren’t playing board games down there.”
“Well, I’m glad you know so much about me, and I apparently don’t know any of you people anymore!” Leona shouted. She walked away for real this time, but she didn’t get far.
Jeremy came back into the houses, forced there by the edge of the Warrior’s blade. “I can’t tell you what I went through to find out where you were. I had to do a huge favor for a timeline interpreter. You owe me the five months I spent spotting his nephew at the gym.”
The group stood from their seats, and approached him cautiously
“Anatol, you don’t have to do this,” Mateo warned.
“You also owe me your lives,” Anatol reminded him. “Don’t think I have forgotten about our little deal.”
“What does it matter?” Mateo questioned. “Why is everyone so obsessed with us? My God, the powers that be, Zeferino, Arcadia, Jupiter? What’s the deal?”
“You’re just so fascinating,” Anatol explained, possibly sincerely. “Now put your cuffs back on, and give me the primary.”
“Put them on!” he ordered.
They did as he demanded. Jeremy carefully helped fit Anatol with the primary.
“You’re going to regret this,” Mateo warned. “They always do.”
“Or they switch sides,” Leona added.
Before Anatol could make some snide remark, he fell to his side, losing his grip on Jeremy’s neck which he was at it. Ellie Underhill turned out to be the attacker. “Go,” she commanded Leona. “We can’t subject this planet to whatever it is he would do with it, so you’re going to lead him through the pond, and I’m going to make sure he never comes back.”
“I’m sorry, Ellie,” Leona said.
“This is not your fault. Enemies gonna enemy.”
The team ran out of the house, and across the field, where their ship was waiting for them in the same place they had landed years ago. The Flindekeldanians didn’t even bother moving it. They just constructed a big tent to protect it from the elements.
“I’m sorry, Jeremy!” Leona cried as they were running.
“Don’t worry about it!” he cried back. “Now we’re back to only having one choice!”
They climbed into their ship, and initiated rapid launch protocols. Evidently, Angela was secretly coming back here regularly to learn about how it worked, and maintain the systems. This was good, because it wasn’t designed to just be left unattended for three years. They blew right through the tent when they took off from the ground. They didn’t make it all the way into space before coming back down at an angle, and heading for the Suspended Pond of Glieremé, like a guided missile. The AI navigated them right into it, and the pond did what it was meant to by delivering them back to the main sequence.

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