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Saturday, January 28, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 25, 2398

Well, that happened. Curtis was gone, as well as Cheyenne, and they left them using a tactic that no one else ever thought to try. Ramses asked Leona whether The Officiant ever gave her the means to contact her again through a divorce declaration, and she had to say that she didn’t. Perhaps it’s something that the Officiant instituted sometime after their wedding according to her own personal timeline, or she’s cognizant of every couple’s ultimate fate, so she only gives the secret words to the ones she knows will need them later. The question is whether Leona could potentially use this tactic to summon one of the few people they know without suppressed time powers, and if she did, would she and Mateo have to go through with the divorce just for the attempt? Cheyenne had to give up a favor to convince the Officiant to spirit them away, so if Leona doesn’t have anything to offer, it might not work regardless.
Right now, Leona is spinning her wedding ring around her finger. She wants to leave for the Oort Cloud, but it’s not time yet. It could take a really long time to find that proverbial nonmagnetic needle in a haystack. She still has commitments and responsibilities down here on Earth. First and foremost is the reintegration of one Bhulan Cargill into her real body. They have been communicating with her through the Insulator of Life interface, and she says she’s ready for the procedure, but that she still won’t answer any of their questions. Ramses is hooking her up to the virtual construct, so they can have a conversation in private. Erlendr’s consciousness has been restricted to a separate partition, so he doesn’t hear what they have to say.
“Hi,” Leona begins.
“Hello,” Bhulan replies politely.
“We don’t know each other very well. You don’t know any of these people very well, do you?”
Bhulan tilts her chin. “I know you well based on what I have been able to see with my time power, but I assume that’s not what you mean. No, we have not interacted much. It is in my nature to stay out of people’s personal lives.”
“Right, you meddle with the timeline all you want, but as long as you don’t talk to anybody, it’s like they’re not real people, so you don’t have to catch feelings.”
Bhulan takes a beat, but ends up confirming the truth with a, “yes.”
The construct is more elaborate than it was when Ramses first created it. He didn’t have time to program too many details back then, but he has since made a nice little fake house for her in the middle of a vast field of daisies, which are her favorite. They’re on the front porch right now. Leona sits down on the swinging bench. “This is a nice place you got here.”
“Yes, I appreciate it.”
“Have you seen where Erlendr is living?”
“I got a quick look.”
Leona nods. It’s based on the Level Two environment in Tamerlane Pryce’s afterlife simulation. You know him, right?”
Bhulan turns away to avoid betraying any telltale microexpressions.
Leona smirks and nods, because that is a macroexpression. “Level Two Static; the Reds. They’re trapped in a dark room. No windows, no light beyond the faint reddish glow that comes from nowhere, and everywhere. There’s not even a door; there doesn’t need to be, because it’s not real.” She nods again, and breathes in the false fresh air. “Kind of like this. It’s just an illusion; electrical signals being swirled around in a particular pattern. Some say that that’s all life is. We’re a brain in a vat, and everything we see is what we come up within our own minds.”
“What are you getting at?” Bhulan asks.
Leona takes a second. “Well, you’re not a brain in a vat, are you? You’re a bit of code inside of a glass insulator, and it doesn’t matter what you come up with in your mind, because you’re not in charge of your reality.” Now she gets all serious. “I am. I can put you in that fucking room with Erlendr, or I can put you in a separate one. I can turn these daisies into knives. I can remove all your fingers. I can do whatever the hell I want, and you won’t be able to do a goddamn thing about it! I am the angry one. If you wanted patience and compassion, you should have protected my husband!” She takes a moment to recapture her breath, and composure. “Fortunately, as far as we know, he’s not a lost cause, and you have a chance to redeem yourself, but Miss Cargill, you only have one chance. If you don’t give me some real information about where he is, and how I can get him back, I swear to god, I’m gonna program a Nietzschean abyss, and throw you over the edge. You’ll never stop falling, you’ll never get your body back—I’ll cremate it myself—and I won’t let anyone come save you.”
Bhulan turns to face her now, but turns away just as quickly. “You may have to get that abyss ready, because you’re not going to like my answer.”
“I don’t have to like the answer if it’s the truth.”
She sighs. “We don’t know.”
“Excuse me?”
“We don’t know where he is. Danica went into a room with him. It’s the same one that we use to erase people’s memories. You’ve been there, you just don’t remember. I don’t think she was going to do anything to him; she just wanted to talk. She needed to explain that he couldn’t ever leave, but...then we heard a scream. It didn’t sound like either of their voices—”
“Was it the Time Shriek?” Leona interrupts.
“No, it definitely wasn’t that, but it had the same level of energy attached to it. By the time we got through the door, Mateo was gone, and Danica was the one with lost memories. That room, Leona, it’s foolproof. One door, no windows, built of temporal containment materials. He could not have teleported or time traveled out. Nothing in the universe explains how he escaped.”
“Nothing in this universe, maybe.”
Bhulan winces. “You’re right, we don’t know much about all that, so we wouldn’t be able to protect ourselves against it. We’re aware that other universes exist, but we are quite ignorant of what else is out there, so...yeah, I guess that’s the best explanation.”
“Okay. I’ll tell Ramses to transfer you out, and then you can go wherever you want. Or you can stay. People seem to not realize that that is an option.”
“Thank you, and I’m sorry.”
“Lying is annoying more than anything. Just remember that when you start your next chapter. It makes everything worse, for everyone, including your damn self.”
“What will you do? How will you find him?”
“Trust is earned. You’ll have to prove yourself worthy of knowing our secrets. Goodbye, Bhulan.”

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