Sunday, December 26, 2021

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: March 16, 2374

In order for Ramses to make his small simulation look like the afterlife simulation, he had to connect the two of them together, and borrow code. The idea was that the fake sim, which they were calling limbo, would be placed between the individual’s consciousness signal, and the real afterlife. When Mateo and Leona died, they were supposed to travel through limbo first, but before they could make it all the way to where Pryce wanted them to go, Ramses would sever the connection, and trap them in limbo. From here, he should be able to download them into new bodies, and they would be on their merry way. And yes, Leona was part of this too. She decided that, if something went wrong, they would at least travel to the great known beyond together. No one argued with her about it, because it wasn’t a true and final death, and they were confident there would be some way to retrieve the both of them regardless.
They watched themselves fly right through Ramses’ backdoor into the afterlife sim, and land on the edge of the city. It didn’t look completely abandoned, but it didn’t look like it did before either. Vines were growing up the sides of the buildings, and there was trash all over the place. A few totalled cars were haphazardly parked off to the side. One of them was gently on fire. It looked like something out of a free-for-all violent video game. Did someone turn this place into a video game? It was certainly possible.
Mateo looked down at his clothes. “We’re wearing white.”
“I know,” Leona replied.
“It doesn’t seem like we should be walking around here wearing white.”
“I know, we can’t change into something else, though. If we try to put something else on top of our clothing, it will just turn white. Otherwise no one would be able to have purple curtains, or blue bed sheets.”
“Can we...?”
“We’ll stand out, does work, I’ve seen it. I mean, it doesn’t automatically give you access wherever you want, or downgrade you, but at least no one can see what level you are. They’ll probably assume we’re Yellow Limiteds, who actually were downgraded recently, and are embarrassed by it.”
They both stripped down naked, and stuffed their clothes underneath the burning car. It was then that Mateo noticed his penis was exceptionally large, and Leona’s breasts were at least one size higher. She rolled her eyes. “He’s so superficial,” she said, referring to Tamerlane Pryce.
The backdoor was gone. It wasn’t located in a particular spot in the simulation. Ramses did that on purpose in order to prevent Pryce from being able to find it, and destroy it. Unfortunately, it meant it would be difficult for them to find it. It wasn’t impossible, though. If they just kept walking, their intuition should eventually just lead them to the right location at the right time. They started to walk down the streets, hoping not to be overrun by zombies, grand thieves, cyberpunks, or whatever roamed this world now. Leona stopped suddenly just after they passed by an alleyway. She held there for a beat before stepping backwards, and walking into it. Here she found what her intuition was trying to show her. It wasn’t the backdoor. It was something bad.
“Do we know him?” Mateo asked.
They were staring at a poster of a man who had co-opted the Barack Obama Hope poster design. That wasn’t the buzzword here, though. Instead, it was Autonomy. And yes, Leona knew him. “I did this. I made this world.”
“How?” Mateo asked without judgment.
“He was an NPC. I turned him into a real boy. I gave him agency.” She exhaled, and indicated the world around them. “This is apparently what he did with it.”
Mateo placed an arm around her hip, but it felt sexual, and that wasn’t what he was going for, so he switched to her shoulder. “Ellie is supposed to be in charge here. If not her, Pryce. You didn’t do this. Something would have had to happen long after you left. He probably just took advantage of some kind of power struggle.”
“Power vacuum,” came a voice from farther down the alleyway. He walked out of the darkness, revealing himself to be a talking human-sized bunny. He was wearing a cool hat, and a vest, but no pants. Fortunately, he didn’t have any genitals to speak of. His fur was pink. “They were both MIA for an extended period of time.”
“Do we know him too?” Mateo repeated. “I feel like I would remember if I met a talking rabbit, and I hope that you would have mentioned it at some point if you had met him without me.”
“I don’t know this avatar, it’s a mod.”
“I’ve always thought of myself as a bunneh,” the rabbit said. He seemed to be sincere, but they were having trouble taking him seriously like this. “Fast, cunning, deceptively intelligent. Protective and ambitious.”
“Well...” Leona began, “they’re fast.”
Perturbed and offended, the bunny waved his little paws in front of his face, and transformed it into that of a human’s. The rest of the avatar remained in bunny form, though, including the rest of his wittle head. “Recognize me now?” Yes.
“Ew, David,” Leona zinged.
“It’s grotesque! Kill it! Kill it with fire!” Mateo joked.
Vendelin Blackbourne growled in a very unbunny-like way. He approximated the motion a human would be able to execute to snap their fingers, since they would have hands...and therefore fingers. Still, the magic worked, finally showing them his true form. “Happy now?”
“Not really,” Leona answered honestly.
“You’re gonna need me,” Vendelin argued. “I know this world.”
“We’re not staying long,” she explained.
“And we have to get going,” Mateo added. “Have fun here.”
“Pinochio has eyes everywhere. You won’t get far.”
“Is that what he’s calling himself?” Leona questioned.
“Did he have some other name before?” Vendelin asked.
“I don’t think he had one at all.”
She led the way away from the once-bunny, and Mateo followed closely behind. He didn’t get far before something tugged at his ankle. He looked down to find an orange shackle around it. They both looked back, only to watch Vendelin wrap the other end of it around his own ankle. He chuckled once. “Hock chains. They won’t take you to jail, won’t go anywhere without me.”
Mateo looked at Leona, who shrugged with just her eyebrows. They started walking again in the direction they were going. “Don’t slow us down.” Vendelin was a nuisance, and maybe even evil, but now that their friends were about to solve the Power Vacuum problem, he probably wasn’t too much of a threat. Once they figured out how to get these restraints off, they would decide what to do with him.
Vendelin jogged up to get next to them. “Don’t you two wanna know how I died?”
“We assume the Pluoraias executed you.”
“Yeah, but don’t you wanna know how they did it?”
“Not really.”
“You’re a lot less interesting than I’m sure you were led to believe you were when you were alive.”
“Oh, yeah? You think so? Yeah. Well. Um. I once, uh, lived in a different timeline.”
They just kept walking, unimpressed.
“Really? Nothing?”
“We’ve all been there.”
“No, I mean, literally,” Vendelin insisted. “I was a prisoner on Earth, and then suddenly, I wasn’t. And no one could remember who I was, and I didn’t have a record, and I just started my life over.”
“Cool story, bro.”
“You don’t believe me,” Vendelin assumed.
“No, we believe you, but we still don’t find it interesting. Like I said, we’ve all been there.”
“Oh. You’re serious. You’re time travelers.”
He stopped, and looked down at the ground, but he was really just staring into space. “Am I not special? Am I not unique?”
“Blackbourne...” Leona began, not knowing where the rest of that sentence was gonna come from.
“I based my whole worldview off of that. I thought that I was given the chance to make something of myself. I didn’t want to go down the same road I walked before, and I didn’t; I was good. I was special, and...I had a purpose. The machine, it was...I thought I was helping. But did I just...?” He paused. “Did I just walk the same road I was on in the old timeline, but I went further?”
Mateo kicked the chain out of his way, so he could approach the man in his existential crisis. He stood before him, and patiently waited until Vendelin lifted his chin, tears still in his eyes. Then Mateo waited a few seconds more. “Probably.”
“Was what happened to me just random?”
Mateo slipped into a slight sad smile, and repeated himself, “probably.”
“Leona! Mateo!” It was Ramses. He was running towards them in full tactical gear. It was black, but it wasn’t killing him, since he was an interloper, as was Olimpia, who was holding open the door. It did not look easy for her.
“Come on,” Mateo urged. He pulled at the chain, but Vendelin wouldn’t budge. “Come on! We’re letting you escape with us!”
Vendelin reached down with a little key, and unlocked Mateo’s shackle. “I don’t deserve to escape.”
“Mateo!” Leona called back to him. Ramses had her by the elbow, still in the middle of ushering her towards the program’s backdoor.
Mateo held up the index finger of patience. “Do you know why you’re a pink bunny?”
Vendelin made an exaggerated shrug.
“Pryce created a system where most people come here Yellow. Bad people are in hock, or worse, but everyone else has to work their way up from Limited privileges. Why were you automatically pink?”
He shrugged again.
“Vendelin, time travelers get special privileges. You are special. And you still have time to walk a different road.” Mateo pointed to the backdoor, which Ramses was now helping Olimpia keep open. “It starts over there.”

Vendelin had to spend a little more time in the limbo simulation. The four of them had bodies waiting for them in base reality, but nothing was prepared for him yet. They still weren’t sure what they were going to do with him, and anway, it wasn’t the most pressing problem here. The Power Vacuum was right on its wait to the location of the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The megaportals were up and running, and it was finally time to see this through. If no one else got hurt from this travesty, they could probably go easy on the man who built it. If even one more person was so much as superficially injured by its damaging power, it could be very bad for him.
Mateo and Leona crawled out of their pods in their new bodies, and came face to face with themselves. Alternate versions of the both of them were coming out of their own pods at the same time.
“Who are you?” Leona asked in an accusing tone.
“Now, don’t get mad,” the other Mateo said.
“We just don’t wanna have to wear the cuffs anymore,” the other Leona said.
Mateo squinted at them. “Ramses? Olimpia? What did you do?”
“They wanna be like us,” Leona realized.
“We want to be part of the team,” Ramses corrected. “And we don’t want anything to get in the way of us doing that.”
“You’ve just doomed yourself to this life,” Mateo argued, no longer weirded out by talking to someone who looked exactly like him. “The cuffs give you the freedom to walk away anytime you want. Now you’re stuck with us.”
“That’s exactly what we want,” Olimpia reasoned. “That’s what we’re trying to tell you. We’ve both been wanting this for a long time.”
“Me longer than her,” Ramses said.
“How did you even do it?” Leona asked. “Those bodies should be dead.”
“It’s the future,” Ramses said. “We can bring a couple of substrates back to life, if only briefly. We didn’t kill you with a bomb.”
“Look,” Olimpia began, “what’s done is done. There’s no point in arguing about it anymore. Let’s just go back to the AOC, and finish this mission.”
“Fix your faces first,” Mateo ordered. “It’s confusing.”
“Of course,” Olimpia said. “Our old bodies are still waiting for us.”
She and Ramses transferred their respective consciousnesses back to where they belonged. Even now, nothing could be done to undo what was done. They were salmon now, on the same pattern as the Matics, and Angela. Five of a kind. Honestly, if Mateo had to pick three people to stay on their team permanently, they would be them. It certainly wasn’t the worst thing ever.
They all went back to the AOC together through the closet portal. Sasha was back after having spent some time on New Earth, negotiating with the android who was deemed the rightful owner of it. His name was Onesnethri, and he agreed to let the seeding process proceed as planned, as long as he was in charge of early development. He agreed to work with a partner of Teagarden’s choosing. This was the result of a bunch of diplomatic discussions that the rest of the team didn’t have to worry about. They washed their hands clean of it. Now it was time to protect Gatewood and Earth from impending doom. Sasha and Kivi stayed with Team Keshida on the Jameela Jamil side, where the exit portal was. Theoretically, there was nothing that any of them could do at this point. They were just waiting for the destructive beam to show up, and only needed to be prepared to solve any hiccup, which would hopefully not come.
The team sat around the table, and watched the hologram in anticipation. “There!” Angela finally said, pointing at a flash of light, which had finally come close enough to be visible using one of their strategically placed interstellar stations. Immediately after the flash, the image disappeared completely. “What was that?”
“The diameter of the beam is larger than what we can see. The phenomenon exists beyond the visible spectrum of light.”
“Is the portal large enough to fit all that,” Angela continued, “what we can see, and what we can’t?”
“Yes,” Leona said confidently.
One by one, the warning stations went offline until the Power Vacuum was upon them. They saw it tunnel into the portal, but it also interfered with communications, so they couldn’t confirm its exit with the Jamil. Just as the tail of the beam fell through, they felt a loss of attitude control. The AOC went dark, and sent them spiraling.

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