Sunday, February 12, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Year 102,398

Bhulan steps out of her stasis pod, and then out of the joint stasis chamber. She stands in the hallway for a moment, rubbing her eyes. She was actually sleeping in there, instead of only standing and waiting for the time to pass. She yawns, and smacks her lips together in a cartoonish way. “Constance, have Danica and Mateo returned yet?”
Not yet, sir. I would have alerted you if they had.
“You would not have if she had told you not to.”
If she had told me not to, I would probably be lying right now.
“Are you lying?”
Constance pauses for effect. “No.
“Where are Tamerlane and Asier?”
Asier is still in stasis. Tamerlane is in his simulation room.
Bhulan rolls her eyes, and heads that way. She finds him busy at his desk, scribbling notes on paper, instead of typing them out with a keyboard, or dictating them directly. The floor is covered in crumpled up paper from his now defunct ideas, and other mistakes. He’s not looking well. “How are we feeling today?”
He darts his head up, apparently having just realized that she’s in the room. “Bhu, I think I have it figured out. Instead of having all the different levels in the same world, we put them on completely separate worlds. You can’t want what you don’t know exists. I’m still working out the levels, but this system allows a lot more of them than the old one. If you’re allowed to build new worlds, then you do that on a separate server from the people who are stuck in prison. And they’re separate from just the regular folks. Right? I mean this makes sense, right? It makes sense to me. Heaven.”
“So, in your version of the afterlife simulation, no one can ever improve their afterlives. Whatever they did in their real lives decides their eternity, and that never changes.”
He starts nodding at her with an earnest forced smile. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, umm...shit. You’re right, this doesn’t work.” He stares at the corner of the room while he grabs some of the paper, crumples it up, and tosses it away. He then looks back down at his desk. “Wait, I threw away the wrong thing.”
“Tam.” She can see where this is going.
“Where did that end up on the floor? Do you see it? I think it was yellow.” He gets on his knees, and shuffles around in search of it.
“Tam, get up.”
“No, I have to find it. I was calculating the power requirements earlier. See, I think my real problem was relying too much on the Matrioshka Body as hosts. I need to be in control of the hardware, as well as the software, or I won’t be able to protect the residents.”
Bhulan crouches down, and tries to comfort him with her hands on his shoulders. “Tam, that wasn’t you. It was an alternate version of you.”
He stares into her eyes like she just kicked his puppy. “I know that, you think I don’t know that? You know what I mean. I’m trying to do better than he did. If I can figure this out, I can rewrite the entire program, and dismantle his version of the simulation entirely. You know how much heartbreak I can prevent?”
“Tam, he didn’t...he didn’t come up with it. He took ideas from others. And those people aren’t here either. This is not your problem to solve.” This isn’t the first time he’s become singularly focused on trying to fix the supposed mistakes of his counterpart in the main sequence who created an entire computer simulation that houses the uploaded consciousness of everyone who died across a span of tens of thousands of years. She has to be patient with him when he’s in this state. He spends the most amount of time out of stasis—to no one’s fault but his own—and he spends a lot of that in here, dealing with his issues. None of them is qualified to bring him back to reality. Still, they have to try every time, because they don’t think his fixation is healthy.
“People know what he did. They know who he is, and I look exactly like him. How do I stop looking like him?” He blinks slowly, and falls back to sit against the wall. “I had the dream again.” Time moves differently in dreams, and this is true of everyone, but the phenomenon is especially potent in people who are in stasis while they’re doing it. They can experience many lifetimes—or even longer—in great detail in a short amount of pod time if their brain becomes acutely aware of the passage of realtime. Some are more susceptible to this bug than others, Tamerlane Pryce being one of them. It starts to become a real problem after the first few thousand years in stasis, which is why most people wouldn’t even know what you’re talking about if you bring it up. This is one reason why the four of them always come out every once in a while, to stretch their legs, and to reset their internal clocks. Again, he has to do it more often to avoid suffering from psychotic breaks, but sometimes, not even that is enough.
“Come on,” she says, helping him back to his feet. “I know you’re afraid to go back to sleep, but once you surrender, you always feel better. You’re not in stasis right now, and I promise you that no one is going to force you back into it. Why don’t you just stay out here for a year or two? Someone will be with you at all times, starting with me.”
“Are Dani and Matt not back yet?”
“No, but if you agree to go to sleep, I’ll run diagnostics on the machine again.”
“Okay, thank you.”
Bhulan helps him back to his room, and even into his bed, as if a mother mothering her child. He conks out pretty quickly, so she leaves. She’s about to just go watch some Future!TV when she decides to not make herself a liar. She goes up to the time machine room, which they’re not even supposed to enter, but Mateo did, and Danica went after him. They disappeared 40,000 years ago, and never returned. They plan to be here for billions of years, so there’s technically no rush, but it’s still worrisome. According to the literature, the machine is designed for recon, and should always bring the travelers back to the moment of departure, even if they’re dead, and even if the machine itself is broken, which it isn’t anymore. She stands there in the doorway for a few minutes after a good diagnostics check, knowing that there’s not much else she can do to help the situation. She turns around, like she always does, giving up on this being the day they come back. Suddenly, the machine powers up.
A naked body appears in the center of the chamber, its back to Bhulan. It doesn’t move for a minute, and she’s honestly kind of afraid to approach. She’s lived with Danica for thousands of years, so she knows it’s not her, but it could be anyone else with a feminine figure. She’s breathing, though, so that’s good. Finally, she turns over so Bhulan can see her face. “Who the hell are you?” Bhulan questions.
“Abigail. Abigail Genifer Siskin Pryce.”

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