Wednesday, April 5, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: January 31, 2399

There should be no one on the moon but the three of them. How the man outside is surviving the vacuum of space is a nonissue. Leona can think of a number of ways for him to accomplish such a feat. The problem is that there is nothing out here. They scanned the entire surface several times while they were still in orbit. They found no structures, no power signatures, no nothin’. They’ve also not detected any new arrivals since they’ve come. Best guess, he’s an android who lay dormant in a hole somewhere, and woke up when Mangrove Zero showed up. That wouldn’t explain who he is, or exactly what he wants, but either he’s crazy, and he thinks he’s asking someone who isn’t here, or Cedar is a thing that Leona should know. Here for Cedar. What does that mean? Is it a band? A place? A tree? Does he think Cedar is on this ship, or is Cedar the person who asked him to come here, and he is the one who actually wants something?
Regardless of what’s going on here, the guy is a creepy moonwalker, so no way in hell is he getting in. She’ll fight him to the death to protect the children. She’s chosen not to say anything to Mateo and Ramses, as they have enough on their minds, and their mission is more important than ever. If this is a sign of a conspiracy, their leechcraft array could be the thing that saves them. Instead, she has tried to contact Aldona, who is not answering. One would think she would want to keep apprised of the situation up here, but who knows what she’s dealing with at the moment?
Leona checked on the boys once to make sure they were okay, but has not returned to reclamation since. She has to stay out here, so she can keep an eye on the would-be intruder, and look out for any accomplices. He or they may just be waiting for enough alone time to break through. Aldona built this thing to be a stronghold, but it is not impenetrable. Nothing is impenetrable. If brute force isn’t working, you’re just not using enough of it. It’s been a day, and this is all she’s been doing. They have spent the last hour literally staring at each other through a viewport, as if in a contest. If he really is an android, there’s no reason for him to blink. She’s all right for now, but she’s no longer wearing the upgraded body that Ramses built for her, so she’s going to need to sleep at some point. That’s most likely what he’s waiting for.
Carlin comes up to her.
“I told you to stay put,” Leona scolds.
“Can he hear us?”
Leona glares at the stranger. “Possibly.” He can probably read lips, and he may be able to eavesdrop in more creative ways, like measuring vibrations, or even reading minds. Though, if it’s that second one, there’s nothing they can do to stop it anyway.
“Let’s go somewhere where he can’t.”
“I have to keep an eye on him.”
“Use the cameras. We have to talk.”
Leona exhales through her nose, then leads Carlin to the nearest bathroom, which is away from any exterior wall, but close enough to get back on the defensive if need be. “What is it?”
“We met someone.”
“What do you mean, you met someone?”
“His name is Cedar. He’s in a secret room behind the place where Moray and I were sleeping on the floor. He let us in.”
Now everything makes more sense. Mateo must have found out about him when he first came here, and he was trying to protect him by not saying anything. He hopefully didn’t know about this stranger, though, or it would have been irresponsible to leave, and leave her in the dark. “I see. Is he nice?”
“Yeah, he’s very nice. He’s Aldona’s nephew.”
“I see,” she repeats.
“What do we do?”
Leona looks at the camera feed on her handheld device. The stranger is still where he was when they left, staring into that viewport. Maybe he’s on standby mode. Goddamn, if Leona only had her real body, she would just teleport him to the South Pole, and build a new propulsion system with the nanites, scheduled to be completed before he had the time to get back. “If he’s Aldona’s nephew, he must have a way to contact her.”
“He did. She told him to stay inside, and go radio silent,” Carlin explains. “That’s literally all she said apparently.”
“Yeah, that thing out there might be able to intercept the signal.” She looks away to think. “Go back and follow those directions. Stay there, and stay radio silent.”
“What are you gonna do?” he asks.
“I’m gonna try to talk to him,” she replies.
“Is that safe?”
Carlin goes back to reclamation, and Leona heads for the airlock. The stranger is still standing on the other side of the building, biding his time, no doubt. She puts her vacuum suit back on, and prepares to exit. She grabs the golf club at the last second for a modicum of protection. She seals the hatch with a code known only to her, then walks around to meet the man. She stands to the side of him for a while, waiting for him to react in any way. When he finally does, he acts like he’s just realized that she was there. He really was in standby mode, wasn’t he? She taps her helmet where her ear would be if the helmet were her head. Then she points to herself, and then to him with an inquisitive face. “Can you hear me?” she asks at the same time.
He taps his thumb with his index and middle finger at her. He then holds his head out, palm forward and down, and slowly moves towards her helmet. He’s sporting an inquisitive face too. He seems to be asking whether he can touch her helmet.
She cautiously makes a fist, and taps the air twice to indicate a yes.
He raises his hand up, and places it upon her helmet. “I can hear you now,” he says. “Can you hear me?”
“Yes.” He’s sending intelligible vibrations down his arm, and then into her helmet space, which is atmospheric, and can propagate sound, unlike the space outside. “Are you an android?”
He tilts his head. “I’m using an android body. Saying that I am an android is a do I put this? Opprobrious.”
Opprobrious. What a douche.
He may or may not be reacting to her thoughts.
If you don’t remove your hand from my helmet, I’m going to rip both of your arms off, and set you on fire, she thinks.
No reaction. So either he can’t read her thoughts, or he’s pretending not to.
“State your business.”
“I’ve told you. I’m here for Cedar.”
“I don’t know what that is.”
“Yes, you do.”
“Say I did. Why should I help you?”
“Because I’ll kill your sons in front of you if you don’t.”
Hmm. If he thinks that Carlin and Moray are her sons, then he doesn’t know who she is. That’s good. “What do you want with this Cedar?”
“That’s not your problem.”
“You threatened my kids. It is indeed my problem.”
“That’s only if you don’t comply.”
“Doesn’t matter. You’ve said it, which means you’ve established yourself as an enemy. I don’t like having enemies. I always get rid of them.”
“How do you usually do that?”
“If they refuse to become my friend, I either kill them...or I erase their entire existence, past and future.” She’s not lying.
“You’re more than someone who was simply hired to protect the boy.”
“What has the boy done that makes you hate him so?”
“It’s not what he’s done. It’s what he will do.”
“This reality has no time travel. You can’t know the future.”
“We obviously both know that it’s more complicated than that.”
“What is your issue? What does he do? Why shouldn’t he do it?”
He looks away for a second, seemingly not wanting to clarify. “This is not what I intended when I founded Operation Free Will. This universe is too messy now. These parallel realities, and these people who are capable of reaching backwards to collapsed timelines; they’re too much. I was just trying to give people choice. I didn’t know that the elite few would use their choices to control everyone else. That is not free will.”
“What is Operation Free Will?” She doesn’t get the chance to hear the response. Something behind Leona catches his eye. She turns around to see what it is. An object is falling towards them rapidly from space. It’s this close to them when she realizes that it’s a missile. It’s heading for them; not the rocket, but the two of them, specifically. It’s very precise. At the last millisecond, she feels a pair of arms wrap around her shoulders, and spirit her away.
She’s in the hallway now of the flightworthy part of the rocket, looking into the control room. Ramses is at the radio. “Mangrove One, this is Mangrove Zero. All lives accounted for. I repeat, all of our people have been rescued.”
Thank you, Mangrove Zero,” Aldona’s voice replies.
Leona turns around to find her husband. “Cut it a little close, don’t you think?”
“You were unwittingly distracting him,” Mateo replies.
“Who is he? Or was he, rather?”
He sighs. Aldona didn’t say much when we asked for help, but he is a bit of an inaccurate pronoun. It’s more of an it. There’s more than one parallel reality, which means there’s more than one Constant...”
Leona nods, finally getting it. “Which means there’s more than one version of Constance. Constance!Five was just the beginning.”
“We were so wrong. The AI doesn’t work for Danica. Danica works for the AI. This is who Tamerlane kept calling the boss.”

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