Tuesday, August 30, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: June 27, 2398

The new lab facility that the Honeycutts purportedly gave to Leona and Ramses isn’t gigantic. It’s about thirty meters wide, and twenty deep. It’s three stories tall, with a basement. It’s designed very simply, as a concrete block held together by steel beams. They never got around to laying a parking lot, but there’s a little warehouse in the back. It’s down a hill, so it’s actually on the same level as the basement, and they can drive right into it. Since they probably won’t require that kind of storage, it should be good enough. It’s not quite located in the suburbs, but it’s not in the center of the city either. This should make for a relatively quiet, but accessible, area.
They ended up never giving Winona the list of equipment they would need to set up a working lab for the both of them. Instead, they kept the list to themselves, and added up the cost to procure all of it. They also included the cost of construction and labor to make the place look less like a parking garage, and more like a legitimate place of business. Then they doubled that number, and gave that to Winona. She seemed neither surprised nor perturbed about it, and wrote them a check right then and there. Now they wish they had asked for triple. They set up a new bank account, separate from the Walton one they’ve all been accessing, and the credit cards. It’s good to not keep all of one’s eggs in one basket. It will still be a joint fund for the whole team, which is why they asked for extra.
It’s only been three days, and the place is already starting to look real. They just finished installing the interior walls, according to a design that the artificial intelligence that Ramses took from the Constant came up with according to his direction. Next, crews will lay tile on the second floor, and cork and high pile carpeting on the top floor. Winona probably expected them to use the whole building for their labs, but that shouldn’t be necessary, so they have other plans for the other two levels. The top floor will have to wait until later, but today is for the ground level. They’ve not done much with it yet, but they want to show the space to a couple of their friends, so they have called Angela and Heath in. Marie is taking some time for herself at a spa day. Mateo and Kivi could be here, but they’re doing some father-daughter activities, and this doesn’t really have anything to do with them.
“What do you think of this one?” Leona asks.
“It’s coming along nicely,” Angela says with a nod of approval. She’s being polite, because it really isn’t anything yet. “It’s not quite as done as the top floor.”
“Well, this one is special,” Ramses says cryptically.
“What makes it special?”
“It’s for you,” he says.
Heath steps in. “My wife is done with her job. After the procedure, she’s reprioritized her life, and she’s decided to just...be.”
“Okay...that means it’s my prerogative to quit?” Angela wants to be relieved, but she can’t know that yet. “Or do you want me to keep going?”
“We want you to quit,” Heath begins, “but we think you should keep doing what you’re doing.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Did Marie ever tell you how she and Heath manage to afford everything they have on the salary that you are all too well aware of now?” Leona asks her. “Teaching doesn’t pay that much, so where did the money come from in only four years?”
“Well, she implied that she had another job before this one,” Angela says, presuming now that it’s not the whole story.
Ramses chuckles, and hands her a pair of virtual reality goggles. “Put these on.”
Angela puts them on, and looks around at the start of a virtual world.
“That’s called Angaros. It’s a kind of game.”
Angela lifts the goggles up to leave them on her forehead. “That’s the name of the environment I was going to build once I was promoted to World-Builder in the afterlife simulation. I spent my free time drawing up plans.”
“What was the purpose of this world?” Leona asks encouragingly.
“Well, I was hoping to make it a sanctuary for Level Fours, particularly the ones who finally finished serving their sentences in Hock. They would be given amenities normally reserved for higher levels. I even wanted to start a program that helped to commute certain people’s sentences.”
Heath smiles affectionately. “She did that. She built that world. Of course, it’s not quite as sophisticated as anything you would have made in that other place, but it works. It helps people.”
“You just said it was a game,” Angela argues.
“It’s a game for convicts,” Heath clarifies. “It’s halfway between a prison and a halfway house. Inmates journey through this virtual world, and learn how to make good choices, as well as function in society after what they’ve been through. It’s fun, though; it is fun, so the prisoners don’t feel like they’re just taking a class. They actually want to play. They apply for session times. It’s estimated that her program alone has lowered recidivism by 24%...around the country.”
“Wow. Why didn’t she say anything about this before?” Angela asks.
“She sold it. She sold it for around four million dollars. She could have gotten a lot more, because remember inflation is much higher here than in your day. She had some stipulations, like the fact that her name couldn’t be made public, or that users would never have to pay or perform labor in order to qualify for the program.”
Angela is four years removed from her alternate self, but these sound like things that she would do, in the exact ways that she would do them. She understood the purpose of placing certain people in hock. Just because you die, doesn’t mean you automatically become a good person. But she also hated how the Limiteds were treated, sometimes as if they had never been released from prison at all. “I’m glad she did that.”
“She tried to retire,” Heath continues, “but didn’t care for it. I think she’s ready for it now, but we all thought maybe you would want to take up the mantle?”
“I don’t want to go back to that place,” Angela says sadly.
“You won’t have to. That’s what this space is for. We think you could start your own company, and do whatever you want with it. The whole floor is all yours.”
“You’re so good at the coding, and you have access to my new AI,” Ramses says. “Perhaps you could become a competitor, and just blow them out of the water.”
Angela nods and looks around again. “Can I think about it?”
“Of course,” Leona says. “Take all the time you need.”
Angela separates from the group, and starts dreaming up plans.

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