Saturday, April 29, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: February 24, 2399

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When Aldona first declared Radifor a new and independent nation, a lot of people who were working on the Mangrove Seasteads left. They returned to their own countries to serve in other ways. There were no hostilities during this time, and it happened relatively quickly. Some people, however, chose to stay. The majority of them were from the U.S., which maintains one of the healthiest international relationships with Radifor. No one had to turn coat, though. A lot of them were contractors who did not work directly for their respective governments, so there were no legal issues with them staying. Now, fewer people are involved in the program, but enough are still working, especially on Mangrove One, where the special projects are being conducted. The other seasteads are smaller, only large enough to accommodate the one rocket each, but this one has a number of other vessels. One in particular is not much larger than the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Aldona retrofitted one of her normal rockets with a new reframe engine, but this one was specifically designed for it.
After some of Aldona’s loyalists worked overtime to put the final touches on The Avallo, Ramses used his remaining temporal energy to teleport directly onto the bridge. He then launched it into space alone, and headed towards the Phoenix Station without bothering to orbit first. He arrived a few hours ago, and already feels better. The Omega Gyroscope is definitely on Earth, and it’s definitely still limited in scope. His biological enhancements are healing him rapidly, and at this point, they have no reason to believe that he’ll die from this disease. They should not have to rescue him through the extraction mirror. Still, he’s remained in isolation on the Avallo, testing himself once per hour to see whether he’s still infected. So far, he is, but the sample line grows fainter each time. He should be ready soon to join the others without worrying about infecting anyone. For now, though he’s only meters away, he communicates remotely. “Have you found the bomb yet?”
“No, nothing,” Leona replies. “They’re probably only accessible from the exterior, if they’re accessible at all.”
“I could take a spacewalk,” he suggests.
Aldona hops over. “Do not do that. I did not put a vacuum suit in there.”
“Don’t need one, my nanites are working.”
“Your nanites are healing you from the virus,” Leona reminds him. “Don’t make them work any harder than they have to.”
“Then I’ll go out when it’s done.”
“Even once you test negative, your body may still be in recovery. Once the line disappears, wait another hour, and then teleport in,” Leona orders. “We have a plan to get all of our friends back without destroying the universe at the same time. You being here, and alive, is what allows us to do that. If you die, then we’ll have to put you back in rotation, and someone like Constance!Five may have to be brought back to life as well. We already have one terrible decision to make.”
“Okay, I understand,” Ramses says, but he’s feeling antsy, so he tests himself once more, even though it’s fifteen minutes early. No line, he’s cured. An hour later, he injects himself with a small dose of temporal energy, and teleports himself inside.
“Are you good?” Leona asks.
“I’m good. Where are we?”
“I was just about to ask a very important question that I should have thought to ask before.” She faces the mirror. “Avatar, what is to stop us from extracting and resurrecting anyone we want from the timeline? How do you control that?”
“Actually,” the avatar begins, “you can resurrect anyone you want, as long as they belong in the half of the room that we have designated for them. For instance, you could place Tarboda Hobson’s mind into Vearden Haywood’s body, but you can’t place him into Erlendr Preston’s, because they’re on opposite sides.”
“Okay, but why can’t I just resurrect all seven of my friends, and then just walk away?” Leona presses. “What exactly is enforcing the one to one ratio?”
“I understand. Once you resurrect a friend, their pod will remain locked until you resurrect an enemy. Once you do that, both pods will open, and you will have to deal with whatever the outcome of that is.”
“Hmm,” Leona says. “So it’s as we thought,” she says to Winona and Aldona. It’s settled. Only five people need to be saved, and the five people they don’t like won’t be impossible to deal with. Whoever set up this sick game probably did the math, and realized that Ramses would be fine, but did not foresee the Mateo loophole. Here’s hoping they don’t change the rules on them.
“You thought what?” Ramses asks.
“We can’t tell you,” Winona tells him.
Leona clears her throat. “Do I have to recite the magic words from the miniseries, or can we skip the performance?”
The avatar makes Alyssa’s face smile. “Just tell me who you want.”
“Vearden first,” Ramses interjects before Leona can speak. “He’s dead. They’re all dead. I found out just before I left. The virus is contained to them, though.”
Leona regards him soberly, then reprepares herself. “Bring back Vearden Haywood,” she commands of the mirror.
The image of the avatar disappears to be replaced with that of Vearden in his isolation room. There’s a second bed next to him where Ramses was kept briefly before he managed to escape. No one else is in the room. The IV pump goes up and down, up and down, until it quite nearly stops. Time has slowed to a snail’s pace. Leona rolls out the neural sponger that was being stored behind the mirror, and aims it at Vearden. She then activates it, and begins to absorb his consciousness, digitizing it at the same time.
In under a minute, his whole brain has been scanned, uploaded into a compressed allocation unit, then transferred to his new body in the cloning pod. Electricity surges through the artificial amniotic fluid, and shocks him to life, like something out of a Shelley novel. He opens his eyes, and looks through the glass in horror. He starts banging on it.
Ramses steps over, and calms him down with hand gestures. He speaks out loud too, but Vearden can’t seem to hear him through the hatch. “Hurry up,” he requests of Leona. “This is traumatic for them.”
“Show me Senator Morton,” Leona says quickly.
Vearden’s old body disappears. They’re now watching Past!Winona raise her gun up to shoot Morton in the head. Present!Winona flinches, uncomfortable with seeing herself like this. Remembering the things she’s done is different than watching it happen, especially in such high quality, at an angle that would be impossible to get without being noticed if this were anything short of a magic mirror. Past!Winona’s movements slow down as well, but her finger has already begun to squeeze the trigger. Leona reactivates the sponger, and transfers his mind too. Once his cloned body is ready, both doors open, letting the two of them spill out onto the floor. Ramses catches Vearden while Winona hops over to tend to Morton.
They’re both confused, but moreso Morton, who doesn’t know much about this stuff, and has no frame of reference for how he’s here now. Unless there is a secret passage to another section of this facility, they have looked all over, and the only things they’ve found are a bunch of heavy gray blankets. They lay each clone on a blanket, then cover them with another. Then they drag them out of the room, so they can recover. Winona stays with them while Ramses returns for the next batch of two.
Before she does it, Leona has another question. “Avatar, can I scan the enemy first, and then the friend, so the friend spends less time awake in their pod.”
“I understand what you are asking, and why, but unfortunately, the system is not designed that way. To my knowledge, this was not done maliciously. In fact, I believe the designer did it as a sign of good faith, so you’ll always get a friend out first.”
“It doesn’t really matter until the hatch opens,” Leona says to the group. “Okay. We all agree on Alyssa next, right?”
Aldona and Ramses nod their heads.
“Avatar, show me Alyssa McIver.”
Alyssa appears in the mirror, lying on the floor of a cave, next to a burning torch, covered in blood and lacerations. A group of men have surrounded her. They look like they’re about to kill her. Leona sponges Alyssa’s mind quickly, and pulls her into the present. She does the same for the vengeful Fifth Divisioner whose name she didn’t have to provide to the avatar of their mysterious new frenemy. The hatches open, and Aldona drags them off to the cafeteria. According to the report from that wing of the facility, the clones are still weak, and are in no shape to initiate hostilities. They ought to have enough time to resurrect everyone before having to deal with the awkwardness.
Leona retrieves her grandfather, Labhrás as the cost of getting Tarboda back. She takes Erlendr Preston out of the Insulator of Life in order to save Bridget. Then finally, she gets Heath for Fairpoint. Now all who remain are Mateo, Ramses, Leona, Constance!Five, Constance!Four, and Meredarchos.
This is when Winona comes back. “Vearden’s fine. He’s awake and mobile. He’s helping take care of the others. Morton doesn’t want me to care for him. He thinks that I was going to kill him. He doesn’t know that I already did...yet.”
“Okay, you stay here,” Leona suggests. “Aldona, please get them to your rocket. They may become more agitated, and none of them has any strong feelings about you.”
“I’m on it.” Aldona leaves.
“All right, we got nearly everyone we need,” Leona says. “Now for the hard part.”
Ramses is looking at the three enemies, who should probably be better known as villains. “Who are you going to free to get your husband?”
Leona sighs. “None of them. Avatar, show me my husband.”
The AI language model knows what she means. The image changes to a view of the ceiling over the crawl space on the bottom level of the Bridgette, as seen from the floor. Mateo isn’t even there.
“Avatar, what the hell is going on?”
“I don’t understand the question,” its voice replies without the Alyssa deepfake.
“He’s not even in the shot. Maybe he’s there, but we can’t see him.”
“I can see him just fine from here,” the avatar claims. “I can’t alter the angle, but you can stick the neural sponge through to scan. He’s to your left.”
“I got this,” Ramses says. Instead of lifting the transfer device, he sticks his own hand through, waving Mateo over.
Unlike the others, Mateo is not frozen in time. He’s able to move about freely. This is exactly what they wanted, and Leona is thankful that it’s the case, because she doesn’t want to use the scanner at all. In fact, it’s in their best interests not to. They see him crawl towards the mirror, then go right over it. When he comes back from the other direction, he’s pulling a frozen Constance!Five along with him. He takes her back towards the teleporter that’s in the middle of exploding, then returns to the mirror, and dives through. “Did that work? Is she dead?” he asks.
“It has not been that long,” Leona answers. “If she survived, we’ve not seen her.”
Mateo looks around, quickly spotting the viewport that can show him the outside. He opens it to see the stars. “Guys...where are we?”
Leona smiles at him. “We’re at that Phoenix location in the Oort Cloud that we’ve been talking about for ages.”
“Finally made it, eh?” He nods and turns his head to look at the stars again. Then he seems to remember something. “Aquila said you’d find me here.”
“Yes,” Leona agrees. “She wasn’t wrong or lying. We just didn’t have all the info.”
He inspects the extraction mirror. “Have you used this for anyone else yet?”
Leona goes over to a control panel on the wall on the friend side, using it to open the hatches for three cloning pods. “You were never killed, so you don’t need a new body. Neither do we. The rest have been taken care of,” she explains.
Mateo goes over to the clones. Then he looks over at the real things, puzzled.
“Okay. Maybe you’ve been gone for a little while.”
“You’re gonna need this later,” Mateo says to her.
“Can’t be done,” Leona says. She crosses the room, and opens the other three pods. “If we save my life, we’ll have to save one of theirs too.”
Without warning, Ramses comes up from behind her, and injects her with a sedative. When Winona pulls a weapon on him, he stands back, and holds his hands up. “It’s okay. I did it for her. You need to take her to the rocket.”
“Why should I?” Winona asks.
“Because it’s the only way to save her life. Please. Trust me. Close the hatch behind you, and fly away. We’ll take the Avallo. I can’t tell you why, or it’ll ruin it.”
Winona lowers the gun, and does as he asked.
“What is your plan?” Mateo asks.
“Have you ever shared a brain?” Ramses asks rhetorically. “Avatar, show me the moment just before Leona’s death in the timeline where she was married to Horace.”
The mirror shows the scene. It’s chaos in the car. Leona Reaver, Horace Reaver, and an alternate version of Mateo Matic are in the cab of the vehicle. No one is buckled in, and they’re all flying around. Leona is about to die. Ramses scans her mind with the neural sponge, but instead of transferring it to her clone, he sends it to Mateo.
“There’s a ship right above us,” he tells him in the middle of the procedure. “Teleport up there. I’ll be right behind ya.”
Mateo doesn’t respond, but he did seem to hear the instructions, because he disappears. Seconds later, Phoenix Station blows up.

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