Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: October 31, 2238

It was time to leave. Mateo first went to Dardius to retrieve the Muster Beacon, so he could save Serif’s people. He then went to Gatewood to make sure they really were saved. Then Cassidy showed up, and he felt very protective of her, but he was otherwise pretty useless here. He wasn’t a scientist or engineer. He wasn’t a civil servant or pilot. He was just some guy; some guy light years away from his wife. He needed to reunite with Leona, and it wasn’t like the people here were begging him to stick around. It was kind of surreal going straight from a world where he was the leader of billions of people, to one where he could do little to help. He hadn’t realized until last year how unnerving he felt. It was best to get out of here, even without the other reasons.
He wasn’t setting about on the journey alone. As awkward as things were still with Cassidy, he hoped she was coming. That was a conversation they needed to have. Goswin was finished setting up the system of governance on these worlds. Many people wanted him to run for elected office, but he evidently didn’t think that was a good idea. He was, and always would be, an outsider. The Ansutahan refugees had this shared history he could never understand, so they were better served with a leader of their own. Weaver too was coming, but that was more about her curiosity. She was kind of steampunk, and spent a lot of time enjoying advanced technology in the nineteenth century in her reality of origin. She had never been to other planets before, and now she was anxious to see more. There was one last passenger, and it was a good thing he was the only one. Though the ship was built with six grave chambers, for a maximum complement of twelve people, chamber four was heavily damaged from having been used as a link to the Ansutahan universe bridge. It could be repaired, but no one had bothered to do it yet.
“Why do you wanna come?” Mateo asked.
“There’s nothing for me here,” Thor replied.
“What about your partner, Saxon, and Operation Starseed?”
“That was more his thing. I’m kind of all about the neighbors. If not for him and the project, I would have probably chosen to travel to Varkas Reflex. This my opportunity.”
“Well, we have room for ya, but I don’t know if I can trust you. I know Juliu—Saxon. Sure, it was in an alternate reality, but that’s something, and I don’t know you at all.”
“I just need a ride, man. I’m not here to steal your girlfriend, or whatever.”
“Cassidy is not my girlfriend. I’m just in charge of her safety.”
“Whatever, dude.”
There was only one person Mateo could talk to about this. He didn’t exactly trust her either, but that was only because everyone is capable of betrayal. It wasn’t safe to let just anyone board the AOC, but if Mirage said he was cool, Mateo would accept it. He made his way to the VR room in the command center building, and was surprised to find Cassidy already there, removing the needle from her skull. “You were talking to her?”
“I was, yes.”
“Can I ask why?”
“I was asking her whether we can trust Saxon and Thor.”
Mateo smiled. Great minds. “And...?”
“She says they can be trusted indubitably.”
“Very well. I guess it’s a good thing you sat in the chair, because I can’t be sure she would even talk to me a second time.”
“Yeah, she said you would be coming, and confirmed your suspicions.”
“I’m leaving today. I’m going to go find my wife. I would like you to accompany us. That is, unless Mirage told you not to.”
“She frustratingly made a point of leaving that decision up to me.”
“You frustratingly made a point of not answering what that decision is.”
She didn’t want to, but couldn’t keep herself from cracking a smile. “I’ll go with you. It’s the right move. Just so you understand, it’s not that I need a big strong man to keep me safe.”
“Good, because Goswin is more of an intellectual, so I don’t know that you’ll find someone like that on our ship. Then again, apparently Thor is coming...”
“Mateo. You and I are not a thing. We had a moment; a three minute moment, and it’s gone. We can fly in the same spaceship together without it getting weird.”
“I agree.”
“So, we’re not going to talk about it anymore.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
Captain McBride to Mateo Matic,” they heard on the radio.
“This is Mateo, go ahead.”
Please report to the throne room.
“Very good, sir.” Mateo called the area where Kestral and Ishida’s worked the throne room offhand one time, and since there was no better term for it, it sort of stuck. The two of them were responsible for the scientific projects going on here, and of the cylinders themselves, but had little control over what the people living on them did. So they were decidedly not rulers. The throne room was used as an office, a laboratory, even sleeping quarters, and probably at the moment, a discussion room. Mateo speedwalked as fast as he could over there, not wanting to make them wait for him.
“Are you all ready to go?” Kestral asked him once he arrived.
He presented his bag. “Everything I have in thirty litres or less.”
“Mister Thompson will be joining you?”
“Looks like it; is that okay?”
“It is.” she nodded. “Mister Parker, on the other hand, will be joining us, just to keep you updated.”
“So, you’re moving forward with Operation Starseed?”
“Is that a problem?” she questioned.
“Not at all. Just...staying updated.”
“It’s why I called you here. The Ansutahan humans are aware that we are manufacturing exploratory ships in this system. What they don’t know is the magnitude of our mission, nor any of the details, including anything about the Starseed aspect.”
“I appreciate the need for secrecy and security.”
“Good. I need you to keep exercising that belief. Starseed is a sensitive subject. It’s not...strictly speaking, legal. The general vonearthan population did not vote to allow it. This is one of the reasons we’re building and departing from Gatewood, and why Saxon’s cargoship originated from Titan, rather than Earth. It’s our responsibility to insulate the Earthan leadership from any blowback. They’re hoping that, by the time anyone finds out about it, public opinion will have swayed in our favor. People may have reached the longevity escape velocity, which endangers progress from taking shape due to mortal turnover, but that doesn’t mean new generations don’t influence social politics. Still, Stargate is quite deliberately avoiding all systems within fifty light years of Earth. They’ll be sending independent missions to those systems, on an as needed basis, like we’ve already been doing with the closest stellar neighbors.”
“You don’t want me telling anyone what I know about these projects,” Mateo presumed. “I get it.”
“I know that you and Leona are close, and I assume you tell each other everything.”
Mateo opened his mouth to promise not to say anything, even to her, but she interrupted him before he could get one sound out.
“I’m not going to ask you to lie to her. Way I understand it, she already suspects the program exists, so denying it would put undue strain on your relationship. I’m fine with you being completely honest with her, because I know she can keep a secret. No one else needs to know, though.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Thank you. Now, Lieutenant Caldwell is currently running diagnostics on your ship’s new engines. Then you’ll be good to go.”
“New engines, sir?” He didn’t know what she was talking about.
“Yes, we’ve upgraded them to more recent speed standards. You’ll be able to reach a maximum of point-nine-three-c, though the average might be closer to point-nine-two.”
“That’s amazing. Thank you.”
“You should be able to reach Varkas Reflex inside of twelve years. It’s more like eleven, but the AOC is not likely to arrive on your day.”
“That’s perfect. Thank you again.”
“It’s been a delight, Mister Matic. You and the rest of your crew are always welcome back on Gatewood.”
“I appreciate your support. What could I ever do to repay you?”
“I haven’t thought of anything yet.”
“Anything yet?” Leona asked.
“Leona,” Eight Point Seven said, “there’s nothing down there.”
“You’re telling me they built nothing on the surface?”
“They built nothing on the surface, or just below it.”
“Does that mean the humans aren’t coming?”
“You know I don’t know. Nothing in the reports I received while I was administrator on Bungula led me to believe that they had abandoned missions to colonize this world.”
“This is a super-Earth, Eight Point Seven, with nearly six times its mass. Humans can’t survive on it without technological intervention.”
“I understand that. Either the nanofactories they sent ahead of time never arrived, or they arrived, but malfunctioned. I’m not picking up any signals, and the surface appears clear.”
“This must be why we’re here. But surely the Earthans know. I mean, the factory was meant to give them the thumbs up. Even without quantum communication, they would have had seventeen years to get the message that something went wrong.”
“I agree, it doesn’t make much sense.”
“Okay, let’s go down and fix this. You know the landing points?”
“I do, but you can’t go down there.”
“Why not?”
“For the same reason the other humans can’t! Surface gravity is way too high for a standard biological.”
“Well, you have to go down there, and if you don’t come back up and get me in a year, I could reappear in the timestream in the vacuum.”
“Wouldn’t you reappear in the ship, just like you always do, even though it’s moved?”
“You might have to cannibalize the ship to fix the factory, so...maybe not. I might be able to walk on the surface. My legs are artificial, remember?”
“It has more to do with your lungs and heart, and your legs aren’t the only parts of you with bones and muscles.”
“Eight Point Seven, you don’t have hands. I might be able to build you a new body here, but I gotta get down there first.”
“This could kill you.”
“Anything could kill me. My life is hella dangerous. The powers that be have it in their hands. There’s a certain freedom in that. Get. Me. Down there.”
“As you wish. You better make like a jock, and strap in! It’s about to get real!”

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