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Wednesday, August 3, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 31, 2398

The team sits around the table, prepared to have dinner together, but not yet ready. Ramses is methodically walking around the condo, waving his wand at every wall, every floor, every object; sometimes more than once for good measure. They believe that they’ve been pretty sensitive to his needs, but there is a limit to their capacity to indulge him. “Rambo,” Marie says, but has to stop when her own grumbling stomach interrupts her. “This is the third time you’ve done that today. We’re all here to eat. Come to the table.”
“Yeah, it’s the third time, and I’m not with it yet. You think I’m gonna stop at two and a half? I just need a little more time.”
“You ain’t got more time,” Marie pushes. “Now we’re all here to celebrate Angela’s pending graduation, and you’re going to be a part of it.”
“Just one more room,” Ramses begs.
“No, it’s fine. No one snuck in here in the last three hours, and planted bugs. They would have to contend with our bugs!”
“I’m just trying to protect you in the only way I’m capable. I was once the only engineer, but now that everybody’s constantly studying, where does that leave me?”
“With any luck, at the dinner table,” Marie responds to his question, instead of trying to console him.
“Honey, he’s going through something right now,” Heath says, hoping to help.
“We’re all going through something,” Marie dismisses. “Angela has to steal my identity, Leona was just taken hostage, Mateo was...also just taken hostage, you recently quit your job, and I have to have an abortion.”
Ramses stops scanning for listening devices, and drops his arms depressively.
“You promised never to play that card,” Angela scolds.
“Why is everyone attacking me now?” Marie questions loudly.
“No one’s attacking anybody,” Leona contends. She stands up. “Ship or no, I’m still the captain of this crew. Ramses, come let us eat. Marie, be a little nicer. Mateo?”
“Huh, what?” Mateo wasn’t really paying attention. He’s too hungry.
“Pay attention,” Leona orders. “And Angela?” They hold their breath, not sure what criticism she could possibly have of Angela. “Congratulations,” she finishes.
“I’m not graduating anything,” Angela argues. “I’m just decent enough at my doppelgänger’s job to fake my way through a shift from here on out.”
“Pretty impressive, if you ask me,” Mateo says, hoping it’s enough to make it seem as if he’s been listening this whole time. He knew a kid like that in grade school. He would always answer one question, ask one question, or make one comment, per day. Sometimes it was very small and inconsequential, but that way, the teacher couldn’t claim that he never participated in class. He had some anxiety problems which otherwise made him the furthest anyone could be from the class clown, so that sort of thing was always a struggle for him.
“Well, the real test is tomorrow in the meeting.”
“I thought you had dealt with a meeting by now,” Heath says, digging into his potatoes, now that Ramses has surrendered.
“I’ve been to a meeting, yes,” Angela explains, “but I’m running this one.”
“It’s a big deal,” Marie says, trying to sound supportive, but realizing immediately that it also makes it sound like a lot of pressure. “You’ll do great.” Saved it.
“Thanks, but...”
“But nothing. You’re me, and I rock in those meetings, so you will too.”
“Who was that guy we met in the simulation?” Angela asks. “Somehow, we ended up teaching him how to play horseshoes? You remember?”
“Oh. Uh, Cyrano. What about him?”
“Well, we saw him at that restaurant something like fifty years later. He had won a ghosting mod in a raffle, and was using it to—”
“Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah,” Marie recalls. “He was, like, hypnotizing people to make them say weird things to their dinner dates? I don’t remember how he did that part, or why we were able to see him. But yeah, I remember him. Why?”
“You could basically do that,” Angela suggests. “I could wear an earpiece and video glasses, and you could just tell me what to say, and how to act in the meeting. That way, I wouldn’t be able to screw it up.”
“Oh, right, that’s a great idea!” Marie says, giving Angela some hope. “Oh, but no, there’s a problem with that plan.”
“What?”
“The problem is I’m not going to do that.”

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