Sunday, July 30, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: April 15, 2406

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When the team was trying to escape the Fifth Division, and return home, they knew that they wouldn’t be able to take their ship, the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, with them. They didn’t want just anyone to be able to steal it, though, which was why they flew it into a crevice in a random asteroid, and powered it down so that it wouldn’t be detected. There was a chance that someone would find it anyway, but it was programmed to purge all of its data should anyone but a member of the team try to use it in any way, so they took the gamble. They still did not have a map of this universe. All of the worlds that Kyra Torosia transported from their respective parallel realities were seemingly spit out wherever she could find space, except for the five versions of Earth, which were placed in a very orderly arrangement, very close to one another. None was more than two light years from any other, allowing for fast ferrying between them. They might not have been able to find the AOC on their own, but apparently their old friend, Xerian Oyana found it for them. It was only about 185 light years away, so they set a course for it, and let their pattern send them all to the future while Constance!Three flew their shuttlecraft the full distance in reframe time.
“I didn’t find it,” Xerian explained once they were all aboard the AOC together. “I was told to come here six years ago.”
“Who told you this?” Leona questioned.
“Someone who you may call a seer. He said that I had to get myself to your ship, and wait here until a certain amount of time had passed. I came here in my own little personal ship, but it disappeared, and I can’t get this thing to fly. Fortunately, life support has remained in working order, and your synthesizer still works. That’s all I’ve been able to do, though. I’ve just been stuck here.”
Leona nodded, and thought about it. “Did you leave anyone alive on your ship?”
“What, you think I killed a bunch of people?” Xerian asked, offended.
“No,” Leona replied. “I mean, did you come here alone, or were there other people on that other ship? Even just one?”
“I was completely alone,” Xerian answered.
Leona nodded again. “And you haven’t been able to make contact with anyone?”
“No one but you. I sent the message years ago, but I didn’t think you would ever come back. I know you left our reality.”
“Leona?” Mateo asked. “What’s goin’ on?”
“Kyra. She had the ability to move entire worlds, and also ships, and other stations, but she only cared about the inhabited ones. She didn’t need the entire galaxy to come through. It would have been too much work.” She looked back over at Xerian. “Someone wanted the AOC to be transfered, but they didn’t care about your own ship.”
“I don’t understand,” Xerian said, shaking his head. So they explained to him what had happened with the Reconvergence, leaving out a lot of unnecessary details, such as all of their friends’ involvement. “So, I’m not home anymore?”
“Everyone you ever cared about should still be around,” Olimpia told him, “unless they died in the six years since. But your ship, and any other belongings you left in a place without any other people, they may be gone.”
Xerian dismissed the thought. “I don’t care about any of that. I’m just lost here. Everyone else has had six years to get used to whatever new political landscape has arised, and I’ve been marooned.”
“We can try to take you somewhere,” Leona began to suggest, “or I’ll restore the AOC’s system, and you can go yourself. The reframe engine isn’t the fastest in the universe, but you can have it. Better than a lightyear drive. We’ve upgraded, but we still only have reframe capabilities.”
“Would you really just give me this?” Xerian asked, hopeful. “It’s not as fast as a Nexus, no, but it’s an upgrade for me.”
“Sure.” Leona faced the group. “Can I get a ride back to the Dante real quick?”
Angela reached out, and took Leona’s hand. They teleported up there together. “Can you restore the AOC’s AI?”
“I can’t,” Leona said. “I can give him Constance, though.”
“Do we really wanna do that?”
“I meant, I can give him a stunted version of her, just enough to make things work. It will be able to follow prompts, but not think for itself.” She set the kettlebell drive that was storing the Constance AI on the interface table. “Connie, you understand what I want?”
You want a dumber Constance, so Xerian doesn’t get too powerful.
“It’s not about him,” Leona clarified. “I don’t want there to be more than one version of you out there. You belong with our team, and our team alone.”
I don’t know if that’s sweet, or overly possessive.
“I don’t know if my request bothers you, or you’re fine with it,” Leona retorted.
A slot popped out of the front of the kettlebell drive, presenting them with a simple-looking USB stick. “If Dumb!Constance is all you want, then you don’t need to lug that huge thing back down to your friend. Plug that into the AOC, and it will upload itself into everything.
“Thanks, Con,” Leona said appreciatively.
My data suggests that Xerian Oyana prefers a masculine personality in his AI. Dumb!Constance is named Costas.
Leona laughed. “Okay.”
She and Angela jumped back down to their old ship, and plugged the memory stick into the central computer. The systems immediately began to rev up to full power, raising the lights to a more comfortable level, and warming up the engine. This could be the last time they ever hear that sound. The end of an era. This vessel had served them well, but it was over two hundred years old, and it was time to move on. It was great that it was going to continue on for someone else who needed it. “Where will you go?”
“I have to figure out what my life looks like now,” Xerian began. “I’m gettin’ old. Can’t keep fighting forever. But I know where to start.”
“I wish you luck.” Leona shook his hand, then took Angela’s again.
“That’s it?” Mateo asked once they were back on the Dante. “We’re leaving him down there, alone? With our old ship?”
“He’s not our problem anymore,” Leona explained. “I don’t want to keep dealing with the same things—and the same people—that we have in the past. I want to move forward. Does anyone here not agree?”
“I certainly agree with that,” came Ramses’ voice from the helm. They hadn’t noticed him sitting there, facing away from them, legs propped up on the control panel. He spins to face them.
“Are you back?”
Ramses scans their few faces. “Doesn’t look like it.”
“What do you mean by that?” Leona questioned.
He waves his hand in front of him. “This isn’t the Ramses you’re looking for.”
“I’m from the future. I have been this whole time. Your Ramses; the one who stepped through that portal on Altair. He’s the one you need to be waiting for. I’ve already been through all that.”
“Then why are you here? What is your purpose?” Mateo pressed.
He pulled something out of his breast pocket. He set a glass vial on the arm of the navigator’s seat. Then he reached behind him and pulled out a gun. “I came for blood.”
“What blood?” Leona asked.
Leona narrowed her eyes, then dropped the illusion that was making her look like herself, instead of the body she was in, which was Alyssa’s. “It wouldn’t be my blood.”
“That’s exactly why I need it.”
She didn’t expect that, even though it shouldn’t be a surprise. If this Ramses was from the future, then he would know all about this situation. “You’re building us new bodies, and you want us to be able to create illusions.”
“We need to be able to create illusions,” Future!Ramses claimed. “Our future endeavors depend on it. That was the one thing I missed, and why I came back.”
“So, you’re not fulfilling your own fate. You created a new timeline.”
Future!Ramses nodded. “When I’m done, helping you, I’ll go off to live on my own somewhere.” He played with the metal beads that he now always had in his hand. “It may not be this time, or this universe. I haven’t decided yet.”
“You’re giving up,” Leona asked, “on the team. You’re letting a different you have it. The other, other you never got over that. Tanadama, or whatever.”
Future!Ramses chuckled. “I’m stronger than him.”
“Or you’re not him.” Leona inhaled, and closed her eyes. She kept them closed as she reached out, and swung her hand down slowly, pulling the illusory light away from Future!Ramses’ face, and revealing the true face beneath. It wasn’t Ramses at all, but yet another Leona. She opened her eyes again, and exhaled. “Why?”
“I didn’t lie about my reasons for being here, only about who I am,” Alt!Leona said. “I chose his face, because I knew he wouldn’t be with you, and you needed to be able to trust whoever showed up. Generally speaking, people don’t trust alternate versions of themselves.
“But if you’re an illusionist, that’s not really a Leona body anyway. It’s Alyssa’s.”
“No,” Alt!Leona insisted. “My face, my illusion power. My timeline was very different than yours. We found Alyssa too, but it took longer, and...we lost her. They lost me too, but a friend had to choose to save one of us, and they chose my body...” She breathed in deep. “And her lungs. What I need now is her full DNA.”
“You are Alt!Leona,” the real Leona said. “You’re the one from the timeline where Mateo was trapped in the dimension where time only lasts for ten seconds. You rescued and rehabilitated him, and then you just disappeared. Still, you went to the Third!Rail, met a version of Alyssa? How similar was your timeline to mine?”
“I’m not gonna give you my full history,” Alt!Leona contended. “I’m not here to give you anything. I’m here to take your blood, and tell you where to find your new substrates in one year’s time.”
“Let me guess...” Mateo interjected, “Phoenix Station.”
Alt!Leona chuckled again. “No. The Phoenix is a symbol for rebirth and new beginnings. The Scorpion symbolizes growth and advancement. You didn’t die, you just...need to change.” Alt!Leona spun partly back around, and tapped on the controls. “Be at Scorpius Station next year. You’ll know what to do with what you find.”
“There is no Scorpius constellation in the Sixth Key,” Leona reminded her self.
Alt!Leona smiled. “Who said you were still in the Sixth Key?”
Just then, the back hatch transformed. It was still a hatch, but a different one; a much smaller one, just enough for a single person to walk through. It opened, revealing Arcadia Preston on the other side. “Hi, kids.”
“This is the Prototype,” Leona realized.
“Indeed. And I believe you’ve been missing a member of your team?” Arcadia took one step into the Dante, and hopped over to the side. Ramses—presumably the real Ramses—was behind her, as well as a stranger.
They all exchanged hugs, especially he and Olimpia, who he was this close to rescuing before ultimately failing. In this time, Arcadia said her goodbyes, and left with the Prototype. All right, I still need to introduce you to a new friend of mine. Leona, Mateo, Angela, Marie, Olimpia, this is Maximino Lécuyer. Max, this is the team.”
“Hi. It’s nice to meet you all. He talked a lot about you on the way here.”
“We have to help him,” Ramses went on. “He’s looking for a—what was it—a coat which can control his reality.”
“It’s a flipcoat,” Max began to explain himself. “It doesn’t control reality, per se. If I’m wearing it, and I’m using it right, everything that can happen, and I want to happen, will happen. Well, as long as it’s relatively plausible. There is a remote chance that a pink elephant will suddenly fly through your viewport, and I may even want that, but the reality where that actually happens is so far from what’s truly happening that forcing such an outcome is nigh impossible, or may as well be.”
“Quantum immortality. Sounds simple enough. None of us can do that, but we know a few people. Can it wait? We have somewhere to be next year.”
I’ll keep him company in the intervening time,” Constance promised.
“Is that okay?” Leona asked Max. “We sort of...”
“Exist one day per year,” Max finished. “Yeah, Ram told me all about it. As long as I can go back to my home universe to help my friends, and save the galaxy, I can occupy my time.”
Leona turned to face the helm. “All right, Con-Con. Lay in a course for Scorpius Station, so we can get our new bodies, maximum reframe.”
Course laid in, Captain.
“What will you say?” Marie asked. “Engage? Hit it? One of the others?”
Leona shook her head. “I don’t want to use something that’s already been used before, and one of them is just stupid. So instead, I’ll go with...” She looked at each of them for inspiration, which she ultimately found in Ramses. “Yalla.”

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