Sunday, November 21, 2021

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: March 11, 2369

The soldiers escorted the team out of the conference room, and down to the nearest hock. Even Kennedy was forced to go, though they were redirected somewhere else, presumably because the military didn’t know if they could be trusted, but they wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt. Nobody padded them down, or recorded their information. They just stuffed them in the cell, and walked away. One guard was left behind to keep an eye on them, and that was exactly what she did. She literally stared at the lot of them the entire time. Mateo didn’t ever catch her blink once, leading him to believe that she was some kind of transhuman, who had other ways of moisturizing her eyeballs. It’s the little things, really. Science fiction has all these grand plans about gargantuan spaceships, and ubiquitous renewable power, but the tiny inconveniences are so often overlooked, because they’re not sexy, or impressive.
Leona looked at the LED tattoo timekeeper on her wrist. “Has anyone tried to go back?”
Hrockas abashedly raised his hand. “I’ve tried. It didn’t work. Sorry, I wasn’t really intending on abandoning you here, but...”
“It’s fine, Hrockas,” Leona said. “They obviously have some kind of signal jammer that’s preventing us from casting back to our real bodies.”
“Of course the hock has that,” the guard agreed.
“What’s your name?”
“Infinity,” she answered.
“Infinity, how long do you reckon they’ll keep us here?”
Reckon?” Infinity echoed. “Depends on how far back in the past you’re from, m’lady.”
“Three hundred and forty years,” Leona responded plainly, not expecting her to believe it. She turned to the group. “Honestly, I don’t know what happens to us at midnight.  I don’t know if these bodies disappear, or if our real bodies do, and leave us behind, or if our connection to them is permanently broken. Maybe we’ll automatically cast back when it happens? I wish I could give you some answers.”
“The most likely answer,” Ramses began, “is that you and Mateo jump. Not only did Pryce program your bodies with your original salmon pattern, but I’m fairly certain that there is a neurological link as well. The rest of us will probably stay here, while our bodies go with you, because they’re still wearing cuffs, leaving us to wait at least another year to get them back. I don’t think the cuffs are sophisticated enough to account for that neurological component.”
“I would go with them too,” Angela revealed.
“What?” Leona questioned.
“Yeah, Pryce programmed my post-resurrection body to be just like yours. Did I never mention that?”
Leona and Mateo shook their heads. “No.”
“Yeah, I’m full-on one of you,” she explained.
“Oh.” Was that good or bad? Angela needed to decide that for herself, and her facial expression was not giving it away.
“Should we be talking about any of this?” Olimpia asked. “What with the cameras, and Infinity standing right there.”
Leona sighed. “I just can’t care anymore. We’re thirty years out from The Edge. Whatever, close enough.”
“This is the military,” Kivi reminded them. “They know how to keep secrets. It’s entirely possible that the timeline already accounts for all of Teagarden knowing about us for three decades before the general population finds out.”
Leona sighed again. “I guess we just sit and wait.”
“What happens to me while you’re gone?” Hrockas asked, still nervous.
“Probably torture,” Ramses answered unapologetically.
Several hours later, they received their answer, and it was a weird one. They did not simply return to their bodies, but their bodies came to them. They blinked, and found themselves in the same cell they were in before, but their base models were collapsed on the floor next to them, and their consciousnesses were back where they belonged. They looked like themselves again. Infinity was still watching them, almost like she didn’t see a difference. Perhaps she had also suppressed the facial recognition software in her brain, or was born with prosopagnosia. No, that didn’t matter. There were now twice as many people in here. Even Hrockas transferred back, which was weird, and didn’t make any sense. Infinity nodded at them for a moment before lifting her watch to her lips, and speaking into it, “they’re back.”
Leona approached the bars, and took hold of two of them, like any good falsely imprisoned person. “Who are you talking to?”
“Someone who demands to know what hell is going on.”
A man in formal military dress opened the door and walked in with the thick air of authority. He cleared his throat, and sized them up. “My name is General Bariq Medley. We have been waiting for this for a standard Earthan year.” He opened an arm toward the door. “Come on in.”
Kennedy walked in reluctantly. “I’m sorry. I told them everything I knew. They have...sophisticated ways of getting people to communicate.”
“Hey, Kennedy...” Leona said before a long pause. “Don’t worry about it.” She looked back at Medley, and conceded to the truth. “So now you know, General, that our...bodies...somehow...transport back to us...spontaneously? I don’t really know what happened, actually. Perhaps you can explain.”
“That’s something that you don’t need to worry about,” Medley replied.
“Your ship is here, and she teleported you back,” Kennedy managed to spit out quickly, scared that it might be their last words.
He was mad, but not in an I’m going to kill you kind of way; just a we’ll talk about your punishment after dinner. Wash your hands first kind of way. He seemed relieved that the talk would go faster now that he didn’t have to dance around the truth. “Well, I was going to lead up to that after getting a few more answers, but fine, I’ll show you my cards. Kennedy explained to us what she could, and we pieced together more from others we discovered within our ranks who you apparently call...humans?”
“You’re not all humans—it’s an outdated term—but yes, because muggles was taken,” Leona said.
“I suppose that outdated is a relative term for people like you anyway. I must say that I’m impressed, managing to hide yourselves from the general population for...”
“Literally billions of years,” Leona filled in with a smile.
“I’m only eighty-three years old, I might have figured it out on my own had I been around back then.”
Medley cleared his throat again. “As Kennedy was trying to say, your ship showed up two months ago. We have some pretty smart people. They didn’t come up with our plan; they came up with yours. After careful thought and discussion, we figured out what was going to happen. Your ship’s AI was going to teleport your bodies down to wherever your consciousnesses were. I assume it’s not like Star Trek, and she couldn’t simply lock on to your location,” He said with airquotes. “Our quantum casting system comes with a subroutine that defaults every consciousness to its primary substrate if it comes within a hundred meters of the substrate that it’s been cast into. Why do we do this? Well, I’m not sure it matters anymore. In fact, I think it’s probably stupid, and I don’t remember the last time it even came up, but it’s a carryover from a very old version of the technology. We’ve all seen a mirror before, but early test subjects found it to be...eerie, standing next to their old bodies. It was moderately uncomfortable for some, and freaked others out completely. Developers decided that never the selves shall meet. Again, things are different now, but no one thought to delete that subroutine, because casters are generally either separated by light years, or their old bodies are destroyed en route to the upgrade. I’m not sure how Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida handles it.” He gave room for someone to have some kind of reaction.
No one said a word. Hrockas coughed, which was weird, because he was the only one still wearing a cloned body, and those didn’t suffer the same daily bodily limitations as normal people.
Medley went on, “knowing all this, your ship teleported your bodies down to the cell, which are tagged. Your consciousnesses, which we kept dormant for the last year, then reverted to those tagged bodies. I’m sure your ship intended to teleport you out, but there’s one thing she didn’t know, so she couldn’t do it immediately.”
“She didn’t know how long it would take,” Leona guessed.
“That’s right,” Medley confirmed. “She had to leave you down here for a few minutes, just to make sure it worked. That was more than enough time for our forces to disable it, board it, and commandeer it.” He shrugged. “Even if you had transported back, we would still have you in custody.”
“For what?” Leona prompted.
“A mission,” Medley said.
“What mission?”
“The mission you were on before you came here. We wanna know what happened on Pluoraia, and several other star systems in the neighborhood.”
“It’s still happening?” Leona asked rhetorically. “You’ve lost contact with other worlds?”
“Yes. Pluoraia wasn’t even the first. We were keeping the bug quiet, because admitting it existed would probably lead us down the path of admitting that Quantum Colony is all real, and not just a game. We were not prepared to do that, that’s our bad. Now we need you to fix it.”
“Why us?” Leona asked, not trusting him. “You don’t know anything about us personally. Kennedy couldn’t have told you that.”
“We’re not in the business of stealing spaceships, and yours appears to be the fastest in the galaxy. As far as we can tell, the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez flies the flag of Proxima Doma. We would ask them for guidance, but something tells us that not even they know what you are.”
“I’ve never met a single Proxima Domanian in my life,” Leona disclosed. Étude and Vitalie didn’t count. “Do you even know where we’re going?”
“We do,” Medley asserted. “The Source is a hundred and eight light years from Earth. Our number one priority is to protect The Seed and The Heart of Civilization, at the cost of all other worlds, if need be.”
“The Power Vacuum is moving at light speed, in a beam. It doesn’t spread out in all directions. It’s been targeted at Earth. We believe that Pluoraia was the way. It will arrive in 2418, taking other systems with it in the meantime, including the Gatewood Collective. Now that I think about it, I’m guessing you know who lives there. It’s always been above my paygrade.”
“No one lives there now, they abandoned it,” Leona replied truthfully.
He nodded, tabling that for a later discussion. “Since it’s a beam, you can fly around it, and still get there in time. We know you have redundant power sources, and according to the data that my boarding party has been transmitting to my brain this entire time, you’ve even already gone through it, and survived.”
Leona took everyone’s vital signs real quick. They all nodded their agreeance to the proposal. “We’ll do it, under a few conditions, the first one being you get the fuck off my ship.”
General Medley tilted his brainchip down. “Done. Anything else.”
“Yeah,” Mateo finally spoke up after saying nothing the whole time. “Shut the game down right now.”

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