Saturday, August 27, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: June 24, 2398

Marie and Heath have gone off to be alone for a while, on a vacation in Gothenburg, Nebraska. It would be a strange choice if not for the fact that it’s the center of the continental United States, due to a variation of the border of Texas and Mexico, as well as parts of the North; notably Maine and Canada. Gothenburg was never known to be a special temporal location, but The Constant was built under Lebanon, which is supposed to be the center of the country, so there’s a chance that there is something there. They might go up to Belle Fourche, South Dakota and Epsie, Montana for similar reasons. Angela is on site at Marie’s job, doing her best to keep her head down, and hoping the whole artificial intelligence thing goes away. It probably won’t, and she’s thinking of quitting. Marie doesn’t act like she ever wants to go back to it, and if they figure out how to escape this world, maybe it won’t matter. As for Kivi, she still exists...for now, and is home by herself. Last night, she took Ramses’ couch, while he slept in a recliner.
Mateo, Leona, and Ramses are standing on the third and topmost floor of a skeleton building. It has all the concrete walls and support structures, plumbing, and electrical systems in place, but none of the interior walls, flooring, or furniture. “I told you to leave them out of it,” Leona argues to Winona when she approaches from the stairs.
“This is not a mission,” Winona claims, hands held up defensively. “It’s just...mission-adjacent.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“We have caught wind of other unusual objects around the world. My team is ready to secure them for you, so that you can study them. You can study”
“What is this place?”
“It was going to be a research clinic,” Winona begins, “but the company that commissioned it suffered a major recall of one of their drugs, so they went bankrupt, and couldn’t finish it. We got a good deal on it. We’re why the staff at the time of closing ended up with severance packages, instead of missing paychecks.”
“Oh, you’re so noble,” Leona says sarcastically.
Winona scoffs. “I know you don’t like me, but this is a gift. You will have full autonomy, and zero oversight. It will be partially funded privately, but subsidized by the government’s black budget.”
“No, oversight, eh?” Leona questions. “Will you be supplying the digital clocks?” She’s referring to the hidden camera they placed in the room in order to watch Leona try to assess the item they stole from some competing force in Germany. It turned out to be the LIR Map, but fortunately, the clock wasn’t facing the right direction for them to see that. They’re still suspicious of her, even though they searched her person.
“That wasn’t my idea,” Winona says. “I had nothing to do with any of it. I was just in charge of leading the procurement team. I was still out of country when the supposed empty case got to you.”
“It was empty,” Leona lies.
“I believe you,” Winona lies too. She reaches into her bag and pulls out a lava lamp. “This is one of hundreds that we can supply you for security.”
“How are those a form of security?” Mateo asks.
“Randomity,” Ramses says for some weird reason. He’s intrigued by them.
Mateo looks over at Leona, who surprisingly doesn’t know this one.
“That’s right,” Winona confirms. “You generate your own encryptions, using the random fluctuations in these lamps. As a bonus, if you place the lamps in front of your security cameras, you’ll be able to watch for video doctoring. My people and I will not be able to come in and steal your data, nor will anyone else. We won’t even buy the cameras for you. We’ll write you a check.”
“Why are you doing this?” Leona questions. “What’s in it for you?”
“When you figure this out—when you finish your time experiments—I have faith that you will finally read us in, and be honest about who you are, and what you know.”
“What about our prior encounters gives you the impression that that’s true?” Leona presses.
“You haven’t hurt any of us yet. You haven’t attacked us, or exposed my father, or anything. You’ve helped us on a number of occasions, including by continuing your work with fusion power. Leona, we’re allies, whether you realize that, or not. Also remember that we haven’t hurt you either. We kept quiet about the flicker watch, and about how you jumped into a pool of water in Türkiye, and ended up a kilometer away. I admit, our tactics have been shady, and we’ve made you feel cornered, but I would like to change that. Your new identities, your intelligence credentials, and now this lab, have all been attempts to help you. I believe that you will one day recognize as much.”
Leona has no response to this. Winona is making too much sense. They have done things they didn’t want to, but they did do them, and they were never technically forced to. Perhaps one day they’ll build trust. But for now, she’s accepting the lava lamps. “We’ll see, I guess. We’ll see,” she says, not wanting to say nothing at all. She takes the lamp from her, and sets it on the floor.
“What else will you need? You don’t have carte blanche, but you should be sufficiently funded.”
Leona looks at Ramses, who doesn’t have an answer. They both spread out just a little, and look around at the walls and ceiling, blocking the layouts of their dream labs, no doubt. “We’ll have a list to you by the end of the week.”

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