Sunday, January 15, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 12, 2398

Boots on the ground, that’s what Leona called them. Ramses installed a new global brain scanner on the AOC in orbit, and since they own it themselves, they don’t have to worry about losing control over it. While they’re up there, Mateo and Alyssa are down below. It will be their job to approach the so-called errors, and ask them if they would like to be brought into the fold. The scanner doesn’t operate in real time, since it’s not joined by a constellation of satellites, but their information is never more than ninety minutes out of date.
Ramses didn’t equip their ship with a particularly powerful camera, so they don’t have eyes on the surface. There is nothing particularly distinctive about one error versus another. They’ve decided to go to Venice, Italy first, mostly because both of them want to go there. Mateo was there once, very briefly. This was at the beginning of The Rogue’s Tribulations, which would turn out to be commissioned by The Cleanser. Mateo and Leona still didn’t know what was going on yet, they were just trying to survive. In that timeline in the main sequence, Venice was mostly underwater due to climate breakdown. That hasn’t happened here. The land is perfectly dry, and a great place for a vacation. Of course, that’s not what they’re doing here, but that doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy themselves while they wait for updated intel.
The last ping came from one of the bridges over the Grand Canal, but their target could be anywhere by now. In the meantime, they rest their elbows on the stone railing, and watch the gondolas go by. It’s quite romantic here, he wishes Leona could join. Maybe she can. No one’s going to be looking for her face here, right? They expect her to be somewhere in North America. Eh, she’s smart enough to come up with that option herself, and for all he knows, she’s the only thing keeping the other residents from going crazy up there. Alyssa is pretty good company too. Besides, this isn’t really for fun. It could be dangerous in its own right.
After a few minutes, Mateo looks into the distance, and sees a gondola passenger standing up in the boat as its moving towards them. He’s waving to someone on the bridge. There are other people here, but none of them is waving back, or paying him any mind. As the gondola gets closer, the man points excitedly, then goes back to waving. He starts calling up to them once he’s within earshot. “Hey, Mateo! You’re here!”
“I am!” Mateo replies. “And you too!”
“You don’t recognize me!” He seems pretty offended.
“Of course I do, you’re, uh...why am I lying? Sorry, I don’t!”
“Everest! Everest Conway! I delivered your eulogy!”
Of course! he repeats in his own head, but this time he means it. He died on the planet of Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida a long time ago, and it’s largely considered his true death, even though it’s not the one that landed him in the afterlife simulation. Thousands of people attended his funeral, including himself, and millions—if not billions—watched on TV. It was a surreal experience, he kind of tries not to think about it anymore. “Sorry, it’s just that I meet so many people! What are you doing here?”
“Why don’t you come down and take a ride?” Everest offers. “People are staring!”
“Okay.” Mateo starts to lift his leg over the railing. A few people gasp and freak out, making him feel like he’s Eric Andre. He pulls their hearts back up into their respective chests when he gets back on two feet, and assures them with hand gestures that it was just a joke. He and Alyssa cross the bridge all the way, and meet the gondola on the dock. He pays the fare in Usonian money, and they get on board. The gondolier adjusts their seating to account for weight, and then they head off.
“Don’t worry, he doesn’t speak English,” Everest explains. “Hey, Alyssa.”
She presents her hand. “Alyssa McIver of the Lebanon McIvers.”
“Everest Conway of Fistula Crisium-Tranquillitatis Conways.”
“Pipe of the Tranquil Crisis?” she questions.
“You speak Latin?” Mateo asks her.
“A little.”
Everest laughs. “It’s a lava tube on the moon, located between the Sea of Crises and the Sea of Tranquility. I lived my childhood underground.”
“I see.”
“If I remember correctly,” Mateo begins, “you were on a tour of my personal history. Have you been here the whole time, watching us, not helping?”
“I’ve not been able to watch via observation dimension,” Everest explains. “They don’t exist here. I had to keep my distance, but this is a loophole.”
“I’ll explain what I can in a few minutes. Go as fast as possible, Italo.”
“Are you being racist, or is that his real name?”
“Real name. An Italian named Italo. It’s very common.”
“I thought you said he didn’t speak English,” Alyssa reminds him when she realizes that they are indeed moving faster.
“He knows that one phrase.” Minutes later, they’ve passed under the highway, out of the canal, and into the open water. They go under the highway again at a different point, and now they’re really in the open. There aren’t any other gondolas around now, just other, larger boats. “It’s the water,” Everest goes on. “It dampens the signal. They can see that we’re together, but they don’t know what we’re talking about.”
“Who are we talking about?” Mateo asks.
“It will put you more at risk if I give you that information, but this is my first and only opportunity to drop a little bit of truth on you. I was dishonest in your eulogy. We’re not friends. We’re not enemies either. It’s hard to explain, because I want to tell you that I don’t know you well, but the truth is that I know everything there is to know about you. The real problem is that you don’t know me. I never joined your group. I was sent to observe you by a third party, and while I’m not cognizant of their endgame, I can’t imagine it’s good. I came up with this lie about us being future friends in case we ever ran into each other during my mission.”
Mateo nods. “Were you hired to do this, or...?”
“Coerced. They have my family. Or rather, they strongly suggested that they do. That’s another reason I don’t think their intentions with you are honorable. But to my knowledge, they haven’t actually ever hurt anyone. That’s why I couldn’t go to the authorities, or anything. My only choice was to do what they asked, I’m sorry.”
“How can I get this information to my team? Do we need open water?”
“If you absolutely had to, yes, but you have to be there for a good reason, or they’ll get suspicious. I was hoping at least Leona and Ramses would be here with you, but that’s not what happened. Sorry, I can’t answer any more questions. This is all I can say. Now go back,” he orders the gondolier. “I taught him that phrase too.”

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