Saturday, February 11, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: December 9, 2398

Arcadia has her own life, so she hasn’t had time to learn how to use the equipment in the lab. She and Ramses came up with a code phrase in case he ever suspected himself of being psychically compromised again, but that’s about as far as they got with the protocols. She and Vearden drove there from their house yesterday, and they’ve been here ever since, reading the manual that Ramses prepared in case he was ever indisposed. He didn’t write all of himself. He got a lot of help from their new AI, Constance. Actually, it was more like him helping her. The text is well organized, and easy to understand for the less educated, like Arcadia, but it’s still a lot, so she didn’t want to rush this. “Okay, I’ve found Alyssa’s most recent scan.”
“Okay,” Ramses replies, still inside the containment chamber with Alyssa. It was awkward after their conversation, but they took turns on the cot, and made it work. He might install multiple cots after all this, but on the other hand, he doesn’t want to plan for another crisis.
“And I see her history. It’s definitely changed.”
“Good, can you look at my history?”
“Yeah, I see it right here.”
“Okay, run a scan on both of us, it’s fine, just make sure you tell the scanner that it should be expecting two consciousnesses, instead of one.”
“No, I think I know how to scan you and you alone.”
“All right.” Ramses grimaces. That’s not a very high level function, but it’s not completely obvious either.
“Just please go to your separate corners,” Arcadia requests.
Ramses stays near the front while Alyssa goes behind him, thinking she’s getting out of the way.
“No, um, different corners.” The chamber is more circular than it is round, but Alyssa figures it out, and ends up catty-corner to him. Now that the two subjects aren’t too close to each other, the machine scans Ramses’ brain. Arcadia watches the data come in. She’s seen enough already by comparing the new scan with his scan history. “Constance, sequestration wall.”
A wall comes down from the ceiling, physically separating Ramses from Alyssa. “What? Why did you do that?” Alyssa questions.
Ramses sighs. “I’m not infected. She’s trying to protect me from you.”
“I still need to keep you contained,” Arcadia says. “I’ve only run one test, so you can’t leave, but I don’t want to risk further cross-contamination.”
“It’s gonna be okay,” Ramses says to Alyssa.
“Get it out. Get it out of my brain,” she begs.
“It’s not that bad,” Ramses assures her. “Erlendr can’t control your actions. It’s more like he extracted a piece of his consciousness, and implanted it in you, so everything you’ve experienced since then can be his. But don’t worry, you only uploaded yourself into the Insulator once to see if he would respond better to you asking for help with Leona’s bounty. You haven’t been back, which means he can’t have downloaded anything from you yet.”
“How do you know he didn’t download anything from me from my life before?”
“We would have seen that,” Ramses tells her. “We would have seen him doing that as it was happening. He hasn’t gotten anything from you, and we’re gonna figure out how to get the infection out before it can do any harm, right?” He turns to face Arcadia at the last few words.
“Yeah, I can do this,” Arcadia replies confidently. “With my new knowledge of this tech, combined with my naturally psychic abilities, this will be easy. I just need to know more about what we’re dealing with. I have to analyze Alyssa’s scan history.”
Synthesize,” Ramses corrects. “You need to synthesize it. It’s far more complicated than just pointing to an area of the brain, and saying, that’s been taken over by Erlendr.”
“I know, I just...don’t know all the lingo yet,” Arcadia says. Yikes, she thinks. Is she going to be able to do this?
After Arcadia completes one more scan for good measure on Alyssa’s brain, Alyssa sighs, and plops herself down on the cot to wait. Arcadia works on the problem for the next few hours. She scans her own brain with an external unit to figure out why it is that her mental defenses weren’t able to protect Alyssa from this intrusion. She asks Ramses for a little guidance throughout, but doesn’t want to involve him too much as she’s not one hundred percent sure that he’s not also secretly infected. Vearden, unable to do anything, becomes the errand boy for all three of them. He goes out to get them food, and other amenities. He also dotes on Arcadia, and tries to make sure she has everything she needs to be comfortable, like a lumbar pillow, and ice chips. She’s fourteen weeks pregnant, not in hospice, but if he can’t stop her from working, he’s at least going to make sure she doesn’t overexert herself. She accepts the support, because arguing would make it worse, and it is helping her focus on Alyssa.
Finally, Arcadia is certain that there is nothing wrong with Ramses, which is probably what she should have been most worried about the entire time. With him back in commission, she doesn’t need to be responsible for Alyssa’s psychic restoration. She lets him out of the containment chamber, and steps aside so he can take over. She doesn’t want to leave while he’s working, though, because now she’s invested.
“Hold on,” Ramses says. He pulls up Alyssa’s scan history again, and puts them all in a row. “Constance, loop these images in rapid succession, chronologically.”
The AI performs the request.
“What is it?” Alyssa asks.
“It can’t be.” Ramses peers at the screen, and watches the loop a few more times while Arcadia watches it over his shoulder, not sure what she’s seeing. He stops, and looks inquisitively up at Alyssa. “This is going to be an odd question, but I need you to really think hard about it. Before you met this team, did you have any other interaction with someone who may have been a time traveler, or a psychic, or something? Thinking back, was there someone who you now realize may have been a little...different?”
“Not that I can think of,” she answers. “Why? Have my scans always been weird?”
“Well, I first scanned your mind a long time ago, when we were figuring out how to do your illusion powers, and I always took the data as what we in the business call baseline, but maybe they never were. I don’t think this is Erlendr. I think someone else put something in your head, and it could have been a long time ago.”
“What do we do about that?” Arcadia questions.
Ramses takes a breath. “More tests.”

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