Friday, February 10, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: December 8, 2398

Ramses and Mateo decided to not talk to each other too much for fear of disturbing the timeline, which feels more fragile than the ones in other realities. Ramses is grateful to know that his best friend is safe...for now, but worried more than ever for Leona. He can’t help either of them right now. He has his own problems to deal with. Erlendr initially declined his offer to loan him Leona Reaver’s body so they can fake Leona Matic’s death to get the bounty off her head. As promised, Ramses let him stay in Bhulan’s field of daisies simulation in the Insulator of Life anyway. The next day, Erlendr called to say that he had changed his mind, and he would help them with their ruse. The next day after that, he called again to change his mind again. He’s been flip-flopping ever since, and it’s only now that Ramses has realized that it doesn’t matter what they do now. They can never trust the man to follow the script. Team Matic has turned a number of people to the light side over the ages, but Erlendr Preston will never be one of them. Some people are just broken, and they can’t be fixed, because too many pieces are missing. In his case, it’s any concept of selflessness.
“I’ll do it,” Alyssa says.
“You’ll do what?” Ramses questions.
“Transfer my mind to Reaver’s body. I’ll play the part that Erlendr was going to.”
Ramses brushes the idea away from himself. “You can’t do that, it’s too dangerous.”
“Are you saying I’m not capable? You were gonna trust that man, but not me? I’ve heard the stories.”
“It’s not that we trust him,” Ramses explains, “it’s that we don’t care what happens to him. If it doesn’t work, and that Reaver body is on its last life, it would be no great loss to the world. That’s not something I’m prepared to risk when it comes to someone I actually care about.”
“You care about Leona more,” Alyssa forthputs.
“What makes you say that?”
“You’ve known her a lot longer.”
Ramses winces. “Love isn’t measured on a sliding scale. You’re one of us, I thought we had already convinced you of this.”
“The danger she’s in is real. Someone is going to kill her, or Arcadia. It’s just a matter of time, in my opinion. I only might die if I do this. I’ll take those odds.”
“Like I said, I love you, but I’m the one who understands the odds. We still don’t know who placed the extraction mirror underneath Alt!Mateo and Leona Reaver. They may have always been trying to kill you, and have been waiting for you to do what you’re proposing the whole time. You’re still not accustomed to envisaging motivations that don’t exist yet...of people who may not even exist yet.”
“Everyone else has risked their lives to help each other. If you truly think of me as part of the group...” She places a hand on his thigh, “and you truly love me, you’ll let me help.” She slides her hand a couple of centimeters up, extinguishing all ambiguity.
He’s never going to agree to this. They’ll just have to find another way. This whole plan was never foolproof, nor inherently necessary. There’s every chance that, even if it goes off without a hitch, Leona and Arcadia will still be in danger. No need to put Alyssa in the same position. Ramses gently removes her hand from his leg. “It’s hard to calculate how much older I am than you.”
She leans in. “I’m sorry, I stopped listening after you said that you were hard.”
“Not what I meant, just like I didn’t mean it that way when I said I love you.”
“I’m almost twenty-two. Where I’m from, when you turn nineteen, there’s no maximum age for your chosen partner.”
“Where I’m from, there is. I think of you as a little sister.”
“Gee, thanks.”
“Perfect,” Alyssa interrupts. “Now you’re gonna condescend to me.”
“Look around, Lyss. We’re the only two people left. Angela’s on a spaceship with your brothers, Leona and Marie are missing, Mateo is in another reality. Arcadia and Vearden are...ya know, not really part of this anyway. I don’t even wanna talk about Cheyenne. We’re both feeling lonely, I’m sure, but I’ve seen this happen before, in another life. These sorts of relationships that are just about boredom and escapism don’t just not work out; they turn sour. If we were normal people, I might not think it’s that big of a deal, but we’re going to leave the Third Rail one day, and we could be stuck on a tiny spaceship together. Trust me, it’s not a good idea, age gap notwithstanding.”
“I’m not asking for a boyfriend,” Alyssa spits. “Jesus, get over yourself.”
“What did you just say?”
“I said get over yourself.”
“No, who’s Jesus?”
“It’s just an expression.”
“No, it’s not, he’s a real person from history, but as far as I know, not your history. Why would that be an expression in this timeline?”
“I dunno, man, I’m not a linguist. Stop trying to change the subject. This isn’t one of your crazy time travel mysteries. If you’re not going to let me help you protect Leona, then we need to focus on coming up with a new plan.”
“No, this is the only thing that matters right now. If you really wanna help, I need you to get into that containment chamber, and stand in the center.”
“Are you going to hurt me?” she asks.
“Only if you refuse. Alyssa would not refuse.”
“I am Alyssa.”
“Great!” He nods at her, because she already has her orders.
Confused, she steps up into the chamber, and waits as he closes the door, then goes over to fiddle with his gizmos. “Are you seeing anything?”
“Don’t move, please,” he requests. He engages the scan, and watches the data. She looks mostly like herself, but not entirely. There’s something wrong with her brain, and in all likelihood, his own as well. He grabs his phone, and dials Arcadia. When she answers, he utters the emergency code, “media mavens mount surgical strikes from trapper keeper collages, and online magazine racks.
Get in the chamber,” Arcadia demands. “I’m on my way.
“What the hell is wrong?” Alyssa asks Ramses after he steps into the chamber with her, and commands the lab to go into lockdown.
“Your mind is infected with psychic energy, most likely Erlendr’s. I’ve been in the Insulator more than you; I must assume I’m infected too. Don’t worry, help is coming.”

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