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Sunday, April 3, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: March 30, 2388

“So, this is a retcon,” Leona figured, totally unimpressed—bored even. “We were told that The Artist built three Preston children, but in fact, there was a fourth. You must have been so evil that the others never talk about you, and blah, blah, blah.”
Mithridates chuckled. “No. I wasn’t built, I was born. You think my parents spent centuries not having any children? I mean, even if they weren’t trying, having at least one kid eventually would have been practically inevitable. They don’t talk about me, not because I was too evil—because we’re all evil—but because they were just ashamed that I left the Gallery Dimensions with the rest of the disgruntled workers, instead of sticking by my family.”
“I see.”
“Besides, as far as I can tell, they so didn’t talk about me, that not even my brother and sisters know that I exist.”
Leona sighed, still bored. “Are you gonna...do your speech?”
“My villain speech where I reveal my dastardly plans?”
“Yeah, that one.”
Mithridates smirked. “Don’t have one.”
“You don’t have a speech, er...?”
“Don’t have a plan.” He started pacing somewhat menacingly. “Have you wondered why I’m bringing all of the star systems together, or why I’m taking so long to do it?”
“We’ve noticed it doesn’t make much sense.”
He shrugged. “It doesn’t have to. It’s cra-zy.” With these words, he bobbled his head around, rolled his eyes, and spun his finger around his temple. “The plan is to make everybody think I have a plan.”
“Okay, so no plan, but what’s the objective?”
“To make everybody think I have an objective!” He was so pleased with himself for having come up with a gigantic waste of time.
“Oh, Jesus Christ.”
“It’s pronounced Mithridates,” he countered. “You can call me Mithri, though.”
Leona didn’t want to end up in another battle royale with yet another antagonist. The bad guys always lost, but the team always lost a lot along the way, and she was disinterested in seeing that happen again. If the best option was to jump over all of this, and just move on to the plan to return to the main sequence, that was what she would do. “Look, I’m sure you’re quite happy with—” She stopped talking when she noticed that all the holography was back. The water, the tiny island, the hut; they had all returned. The sky was just a regular blue with one sun, but everything else looked as it did before Mithri dropped the illusion. Baudin’s faux son wasn’t around, though.
Mithri was wearing the same female avatar as before, but she was clothed now. He was walking out of the hut. “Oh, you’re back.”
“Where did I go?” Leona asked, pretty sure she knew the answer to that question.
Mithri checked his watch. “Nowhere. You just disappeared exactly one Earthan year ago. Imagine that.”
She reached over, and desperately tapped on her Cassidy cuff. It was off. It was never off. Something was very wrong.
“Oh, yeah, that technology won’t work here.”
She looked back towards the tooth mountain, in the general direction of the Suadona.
That technology is fine. Your friends are fine. I’m sure they’ve just been hanging out all year, wondering why you’ve not checked up on them.”
“How do you know so much about us? You didn’t ask me my name, or anything.”
“This.” Mithri grabbed a crystal tablet from a little table. He tapped on it, and presented it to her. She could see a website on the screen, which appeared to be a blog of some kind. The top entry read Extremus: Year 38.
“What is it?”
“It’s the Superintendent’s. This is how he tries to get people to read his shit. Nobody does, of course. Well, not in his universe. The sad irony is that thousands read it in this reality, and billions more in other self-aware universes. Unfortunately, he doesn’t earn page impressions from us. It’s just a mirrored site. You could even call it a quantum mirror?”
“So everything we’ve ever done, you already know.”
“No, not everything. Just what he writes about, and I don’t know how accurate it is. It hasn’t exactly been fact-checked.”
“What are you going to do with me and my friends?”
Mithri yawned deeply. “Nothing. I’ve read enough to know that you’re a non-threat.”
“How do you figure? We’ve fought against a lot of people, and we always win...in the end. Some of them even became our friends.”
“I know, and those enemies of yours have one thing in common.”
She didn’t prompt him to continue. He was going to on his own.
He smiled, recognizing her attempt to take some level of control. “They all tried to defeat you. You were right, when someone fights you, they lose, so all I have to do is not fight. Ya know, there’s this saying in your reality; you miss a hundred percent of the shots you don’t take. This sounds right, but it’s not. You miss zero percent of the shots you don’t take. I mean, can you imagine not running for president of the United States, and then being criticized for not being the president of the United States? That’s so stupid. You should only take the shots you think you might make, and also want to make. I’m not saying you shouldn’t try, or shouldn’t challenge yourself, but come on! You and your team are a behemoth, but an underdog at the same time. I’m not going there. So you tell me what you want me to do, and I’ll just do it, because I don’t care.”
“Because you’re an agent of chaos,” Leona put forth.
“I’m an agent of confusion. Which means, if you stop asking me to do anything I’m doing, it will maintain the status quo, because the status quo is there is no status quo. I can’t lose! It doesn’t matter what you say.”
This sounded like one of those stories where the hero runs into a genocidal artificial intelligence, and the only way to stop it is to force it into some kind of logical paradox. There was an answer that Mithridates didn’t want to hear, and she had to figure out what that could be. What would cause him to lose?
He could see the gears turning in her head. “You’re hunting for a loophole, but I assure you, it doesn’t exist.”
“What if I ask you to kill yourself?” She didn’t really want him to do that, but she needed him to illuminate the boundaries, so she could start with a decent frame of reference.
He shook his head like it was no big deal. He approached his hut, where a relatively sharp bamboo pole was sticking a little too far out. With little hesitation, he shoved himself forward, and let it dig into his neck. Blood dripped down to the sand, followed by the rest of the body. After Leona knelt down to check for a pulse, which she didn’t find, a figure started walking towards her from the mountain. It was Mithri in his own form.
“Was that real, or an illusion?”
“This is like a holodeck,” he explained. “The objects aren’t real, per se, but they are physical, and that body really died. I have mind uploading technology, just like you do. Anything else?”
“Don’t ever hurt anyone ever again.”
He crossed his arms, and looked to the sky as he pondered the demand. “That is a loophole,” he finally decided. “Yeah, I can’t do that one.”
“Because you just like it too much.”
“No, because it’s impossible. I mean, think about someone you love. Mateo, your parents; whoever. You didn’t wanna hurt them, but you did, on a number of occasions. You dated the wrong boy, or you failed a math test. That’s not killing them, or punching them in the face, but it did hurt them. Just because they forgave you for these things, doesn’t mean that pain could be undone. No one can live their life painfree.”
“Fair enough,” Leona agreed.
“I suppose you just need to figure out what you want. If you tell me your objective, I’ll come up with the plan.”
She had to laugh at this, but it did give her the idea she needed. “I want you to become an agent of peace in this reality.”
Now he was laughing. It went on a little too long, actually. He literally slapped his knee. “Have it your way, Mrs. Matic. I’ll become an agent of peace. You’ll pardon me for having to take some time to figure out what that means.” He laughed some more.
She closed her eyes, and tilted her head down respectfully.
“Now it’s my turn.”
“What?”
“Oh, this was a back and forth. You asked me for something, so now I get to ask for something. What, did you think it was gonna be unfair?”
She sighed. “I should have seen this coming, but you should have warned me.”
“You hadn’t asked me to become an agent of peace yet. I was still an agent of confusion, so I didn’t tell you, because that’s confusing.”
“Whatever, Mithri. Get on with it. I’m sure you already have your idea.”
“Two ideas,” he contended. “You asked me to do two things.”
“No, I asked you to do one thing. I asked for a response to a hypothetical about killing yourself. I never actually said to kill yourself.”
He thought about this for a moment. “I’ll allow it. You’re a smart one.”
“I have three timelines of experience to draw upon,” she said.
“I have more than that. What you asked me to do is very complicated, and it’s not going to come without its mistakes. I’m sure you expect something similar from me, but what I’ve learned over the tens of thousands of years is that sometimes simple is best. So I’m not going to ask you to do anything crazy. It’s even going to be something that you weren’t going to do anyway.”
“Just say it.”
“Kill yourself, and immediately transfer your consciousness to the upgraded organic substrate that Ramses engineered for you.”
“It’s not ready yet. She’s only twelve.”
“Yeah, that’s the joke. I thought you were smart.”
“I thought you were an agent of peace. Death isn’t peace.”
He shrugged. “Grace period.”
She frowned, now looking for a different loophole. There didn’t seem to be anything to that. He specified which substrate, so she couldn’t use some android body while she waited for the body to finish developing.
“I’ll give you one alternative.”
“What’s that?” It was probably going to be something even worse.
“Either start using your own new body right now, or make the rest of your team transfer to their own new organic substrates within the year. That will give me enough time to figure out what you even mean by peace. I’m not confident I have the right definition in mind, since I’ve never done it before.”
That was probably better, not worse. They would all be fifteen by that point, which would almost make them look like adults. The prenatal growth hormones and antibodies that they were currently floating in was the only stuff capable of accelerating their aging safely, and without side effects. It wasn’t something they could just inject into themselves afterwards. If they wanted to age after the transfer process was complete, they would need someone’s time powers. The team would surely understand that this was better than her being stuck as a twelve-year-old. Still, they had a right to know. “Let me speak with them first.”
“You can talk all you want, but the timer has already begun. If you jump to the future, or leave this planet in your ship—which will restore function to your Cassidy cuff—then you’ll have no choice but to switch to the alternative. Either you’re a twelve-year-old by the end of the day, or they’re fifteen by the end of the year.”
So Leona began to run. She wanted as much time as possible to figure this out. “It was nice meeting you, Mithri!” she called back, recalling Leona’s Rules of Time Travel number fifteen, don’t antagonize the antagonist.
“It was nice meeting you too!” he replied.
Leona hooked herself up to the computer, and entered the simulation. Her friends were all there. They looked relieved to finally see her. She explained the situation to them.
“Why can’t we just run?” Olimpia asked.
“I don’t know what he’ll do,” Leona replied. “He may just void the deal, but he may come after us.”
“The answer is obvious,” Angela said. “Just transfer us. We can be fifteen, that’s fine. It’s late enough in the timeline that people will understand.”
“Wait, Ramses, can’t you do something about this?” Marie asked.
“Can I accelerate growth after birth?” Ramses assumed. “With some time, yeah, probably. I didn’t invent this technology. I stand on the shoulders of giants, and none of them ever invented forward aging treatment, because it could be used as a weapon, and not much else.”
Leona nodded. “Mateo, you’ve been quiet.”
“Angela’s right, the answer is obvious. He didn’t tell you that you can transfer your mind to another body. He said you had to kill yourself to do it. I’m not okay with that. What we experienced was awful...necessary, but awful. You managed to avoid it, and I would like to keep it that way.”
This was true. They all died to end up here, and she never had to go through the same trauma; at least not for a while. All things being equal, that was the difference, so by the end of the day, Leona’s most recent body was dead, and she looked as she did when she was twelve.

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