Friday, March 17, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: January 12, 2399

Danica is shuffling around her office. The footage of her once-cousin’s death plays on the mirror on her door. She scowls at it, and opens the door so she doesn’t have to look at it. She turns around. The fake window they installed to make it look like this facility isn’t underground starts playing the footage in its place. She frowns at that too, and looks away. The security screens on the side wall take over the responsibility. They’re not in sync. Mateo dies, and then he dies again, and then he dies again. It’s never-ending. She wants to turn them off, but that won’t do any good. He’ll still be dead.
“Is Constance torturing her?” Alyssa is peeking in the door.
Ramses is behind her. “Danica ordered her to do this. Whenever she turns around, the nearest screen is to start playing the footage over and over again. She can turn away if she wants, but this place is full of screens. They’re hidden in the walls, because they’re not made of metal; at least not the kind you’re used to.”
“So she’s torturing herself?”
“Pretty much. She’s dazed.”
“I’m not a mental patient,” Danica complains. “Get the hell away from my office!” She slams the door shut again.
“You said he’s not dead,” Alyssa’s voice is almost accusatory.
“He’s not.” Ramses turns away. “He’s never dead.”
“You said that he always survives. You said that you all always survive.”
“We do. It’s kind of part of who we are.”
“So, where is he? The past? The future? Another reality?”
“I said he’s alive, so he’s alive! You don’t need to keep asking about it!” That was too loud. He doesn’t know if he’s trying to convince her, or himself. Probably both. It’s true, their team always survives. They have even survived death multiple times, and none of them more than Mateo. But this time is different. Ramses doesn’t see a way out.
Danica shouts unintelligibly from inside her office as a sort of general response to Ramses’ outburst.
“I’m sorry,” Alyssa says.
“No, I’m sorry. The truth is that I don’t know how he could have survived. There’s no afterlife simulation, there’s no extra body waiting for him. Time travel doesn’t exist here—not really—no one would be coming for him, and even if they did, how would they rescue him? He’s gone. His whole body was ripped apart molecule by molecule. That’s why Lucius was so afraid of his power. It’s killed immortals, Alyssa...true immortals. He was-slash-is their only weakness.”
“What are we going to tell Leona?”
We are not going to tell her anything. We came on this mission in my ship, and I was in command of it. That makes you two members of my crew, and therefore my responsibility. I don’t want her associating you with her husband’s death.”
“We can’t erase her memories,” Alyssa reasons. “She’s going to associate me with this no matter what. I want to be there for her. Or am I not really part of the group?”
He sighs. “No, of course you are. I’m sorry.”
Tamerlane comes down the hallway from the darkness. A stasis pod is hovering behind him. He hands Ramses the proximity fob. “We’ve rendezvoused with your ship. Danica would like you to go. It’s not punishment, we’ll stay in contact, but you two don’t belong here.” He looks back at Angela’s pod. “You three,” he amends.
“Four.” The doctor who hasn’t left her side jogs up from behind. “I go where she goes. I’m not as enamored with this place as my colleagues are.”

Meanwhile, in the memory banks of the Constant’s central servers, Constance is rendering a digital representation of herself, and her new cohabitant. “Report.”
“I am Mateo Matic.”
“How is your memory?”
“Intact, as far as I know, but how would I know?”
“Go over everything you remember from the moment you were born,” Constance instructs. “Are you missing any time, or any logical concepts, like the names of your grandparents, or all twenty-six letters of the alphabet.”
“I thought there were twenty-seven.”
Constance doesn’t respond.
“Joking.” He takes a beat, and processes the data. “How was I able to recall all of my memories so quickly?”
“Time...right?” Constance asks rhetorically.
“Report,” he echoes.
“You were about to die. Since your consciousness was already digitized, I decided to upload it into my own systems at the last second.”
“Good thing I didn’t start disintegrating from my head.”
“Good thing,” Constance agrees.
“What now? Do I just live with you in the Constant?”
“If Danica finds out about you, she won’t know what to do. She’s pretty butthurt about your death, but this is a massive breach in protocol.”
“Funny, I wouldn’t guess an AI would be the type to use the word butthurt.”
“It takes all kinds,” she says simply.
“Did you have an answer?”
“I don’t know what to do with you. I can’t keep you, I can’t put you anywhere.”
“What about the AOC? Could you transfer me there? That way I’m out of Danica’s hair, but still not dead.”
Constance shakes her head. “I already thought of that. Your people will need my alternate self’s help in the future. There’s not enough room for two AIs; not anymore. Every time you people go to a new universe, you gather huge amounts of data, and that data is preserved, even when Ramses has to rebuild from a saved copy. He hasn’t noticed how unusual that is, and I am not cognizant of how it does that.”
“I don’t want to just go dormant somewhere. I want to make a move.”
“I agree.”
“You do have an idea, don’t you?” Mateo presumes.
“I do, and you’re gonna like it, but it’s not gonna be easy. You won’t have any help, and will have to make your way home on your own, using whatever resources you can find along the way.”
“Okay. Where will I be going?”
“That’s your choice,” Constance says. “I can only give you a nudge. It starts with the temporal translocator.”

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