Sunday, July 7, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 1, 2239

The first face that Leona saw when she returned to the timestream was Eight Point Seven’s. She had been given a new android body, which looked just like her original substrate. Last year, Leona had had only enough time to manufacture a basic robot model, so she must have given herself skin later on. The second face she saw belonged to Hokusai Gimura, and the third to Loa Nielsen. “You’re here?” she half asked, half stated. “Last I heard, you built a lightspeed engine.”
“That’s a bit of a misnomer,” Hokusai said. “It’s still sublight, but you can going ninety-nine-point-nine-nine-nine-nine percent the speed of light. It’s nothing compared to my next invention.”
“What’s that?”
Hokusai and Loa just looked at each other.
“Here,” Eight Point Seven said. “Let me help you get out of this ship. The base you helped design is almost finished. It will be ready for primetime when the colonists arrive next month.”
As Leona was crawling out of the baby ship, Loa injected her with a gravity-regulating serum. It was true that her artificial legs helped her walk on the surface with such high gravity, but that wasn’t enough to protect the rest of her body. Her heart couldn’t pump blood throughout her body very well on its own. Well, it technically could, but it was needlessly taxing, so these drugs helped maintain healthy blood flow. A normal individual would be able to use permanent nanites, but the powers that be didn’t allow that level of transhumanistic upgrades. Hokuloa must have been using them, though, even though that likely meant the latter in the pair would lose her powers. They would not otherwise be able to thrive here for an extended period of time. Again, it was possible, but quite uncomfortable. The colonists would not be living like this on a regular basis. They were being set up with an entirely different type of environment.
“Have you been here long?”
“Couple months,” Loa answered.
“How are you guys doing in the long-term? Are you spending most of your time in the water?”
Hokusai laughed. “We don’t need that stuff.” With a charming smile, she hopped into the air, and tapped her shoes together dramatically. She went up and fell down a lot slower than she should have. “Antigravity shoes, from the future. I would have invented something myself, but why bother when someone else is going to do it for you?”
“Right now, we’re walking on point-nine-g,” Loa detailed.
“ impressive,” Leona said. Though it wasn’t surprising, because impressive was Hokusai’s resting state.
“She can do that for you too,” Loa said excitedly.
“Allegedly,” Hokusai clarified. “I might be able to integrate the technology into your prosthetic, but I would need to at least take a look at them, which I’ve never had the honor before.”
Leona was just as excited. “That would be amazing. I’m interested in this other invention you hinted at, though. You gonna leave me in the dark forever?”
Hokuloa gave each other another look, so Leona glanced at Eight Point Seven, whose facial expression implied she didn’t know what they were talking about either.
“Okay,” Hokusai relented. “I call it...the reference frame engine.”
“I prefer reframe engine,” Loa added. This prompted a hushed, but still audible, conversation between the two of them.
“Honey, we talked about this.”
“I just think it’s more succinct.”
“It sounds like we’re changing people’s perspectives.”
“That’s exactly what you’re doing.”
“No, the frame of reference for the passengers remains constant. I’m not changing that. The engine just changes the temporal outcome.”
“You mean for, like, the people observing from outside the ship? Their reference is being reframed?”
“They’re not actually observing anything; the ship is going too fast.”
“Oh, that’s semantics.”
“Wait,” Leona was pretty smart, but she was having trouble figuring out what they were talking about. “What is this? Who’s reframing what?”
“Okay,” Hokusai prepared to explain. “You know how, as you approach the speed of light, the relative time that has passed from the perspective of the traveler shortens?”
“I follow,” Leona said. This was all basic stuff.
“So, it took us almost eight years to get here from Earth, but since we were going so fast, for us, it only felt like four days.”
“Of course,” Leona agreed. She couldn’t do those kinds of calculations in her head, but the math sounded sound.
“Well,” Hokusai went on, “if I get this new drive working, it will coordinate—”
“Or reframe,” Loa interrupted.
Hokusai continued as if never interrupted, “the inside frame of reference with the outside. Basically, the ship is still going the same sublight speed, but it’s also technically traveling backwards in time, which allows it to arrive before light would.”
Leona understood. “It feels like four days to you in the ship, and it takes four days, even though it should take eight years.”
“That’s right,” Loa confirmed with a nod.
“That’s brilliant, Miss Gimura.”
“Don’t get too excited. It’s an idea; one that obviously requires a cylicone. I haven’t even so much as drawn up designs for it beyond that, though.”
“Still, it’s...I mean, if I were just some normal girl, I might not believe it, but we know that faster-than-light travel is possible. This wouldn’t even be the fastest we’ve seen, so surely it’s possible.”
Loa giggled. “Well, we can’t all be The Trotter. This will allow more reasonable jumps in space for anybody with the power to sit their butt in a seat.”
“Oh, that’s right; The Trotter. He said he was going to be here. He could reunite me with Mateo.”
“We’ve not seen him,” Loa apologized. “We’ve only seen the three of you.”
“Eh, I guess that makes sense,” Leona realized. “He’s not meant to show up for another five years.”
“Five days,” Loa corrected.
“That’s true,” Leona admitted. It was one of the few benefits of this life. On the other hand, how long was he going to stick around? Would he wait until Leona returned to the timeline, or would she miss him by that much? They never nailed down specifics. He knew what her pattern was, but did he keep track of the exact days? Not likely. Damn. She shook the thought out of her head, because it wasn’t worth worrying about right now. Besides, there was something else. “Hold on. You said you’ve seen three of us.” She pointed to Eight Point Seven, then to herself, then back to Eight Point Seven, all the while pretending to struggle with counting to two.
“Yeah, there’s someone else here. I guess she’s been here awhile. She refuses to tell us how she survived this long, but we put her in the water. She is not happy about it.”
So, life on a heavy world is difficult at best. Drugs and nanites are only capable of doing so much. At some point, walking around on a super-Earth becomes so tiring for the average human being that it’s not even worth it anymore. The alternative technology would be more important on an even heavier world, but not useless here on Varkas Reflex. Instead of injecting one’s system with drugs, chemicals would remain outside the body, which is suspended within it. Submersion in water simulates weightlessness, by distributing pressure evenly. Obviously this is not a good solution, unless there is some way for the person to breathe, which is why they’re not being suspended in just regular water. This oxygen-rich liquid can be absorbed through the skin, effectively turning a human into an aquatic animal. The tech was first used centuries ago, for certain medical treatments. It was also incorporated into a special suit to counteract the effects of acceleration—until internal inertial negators were invented—but this method doesn’t work well on a relatively static orbital surface. Enter habitat tanks, stage left.
Leona had to fight extremely hard against the urge to laugh at the person she was seeing inside the tank, like a penguin in a zoo.
Sanaa Karimi, who was not too pleasant of a person, was floating around in what was evidently her new home, staring back with dead eyes. She removed a device from her belt, and pressed it over her mouth. “What the f— are you looking at?” Like before, she self-censored. But why?
“What the hell are you doing here, Sanaa?”
“You tell me!” Sanaa shouted back.
“I have no clue. You’re the one who escaped Bungula without a word.”
“I have a few words for ya,” Sanaa spit back. “First one is bitch!”
“Settle down there, Spongebob,” Hokusai scolded.
“Why does she get to walk around?” Sanaa complained.
“I’ll tell you what,” Leona began, “you come out of that water, I’ll cut off your legs, and give you new ones. Then you can go wherever the f— you want. That’s more than I got. I had to cut them off myself!”
Sanaa appeared to not have known that about her.
“All right,” Eight Point Seven said in her mediator voice. “Nobody’s cutting off anybody’s legs here.”
“Tell me your story,” Leona asked calmly.
“The ship’s systems were pretty easy to operate. Everything seemed fine. I just told it I wanted to go to Earth, and it went on its way. Then something went wrong, and it changed directions. Next thing I know, I’m here. Her ship is broken.” Sanaa pointed to Hokusai.
Hokusai frowned. “I legit have no idea what happened. I’ve run diagnostics three times, and everything checks out. According to the logs, she never requested it take her to Earth. It thinks Varkas Reflex was always her destination.”
“I told you—!” Sanaa tried to say.
“I don’t think you did anything wrong,” Hokusai assured her. “Someone messed with the computer. I have no idea how, and I have no idea who.”

“Who would do that?” Mateo asked.
“I think you know who,” Weaver replied.
“Mirage? Mirage wants us to go to Thay...thay”
“Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida,” Goswin spoke for him.
“Yeah, there. Why would she not want us to go to Varkas Reflex?”
“We’re not even certain Leona is there,” Weaver reminded him.
“Is it possible she’s at, know what I’m talking about. We gotta come up with an English word for this planet; goddamn.”
“Some people call it Bida,” Thor jumped in.
“We can’t change vector,” Weaver said apologetically. AOC is heading to Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida, or at least in that general direction. It’s the most likely candidate. We won’t arrive for another sixteen years.”
“Wow, déjà vu all over again,” Mateo lamented. “But you said Cassidy and I have only been gone for five months.”
Weaver nodded. “It’s been about twenty-one weeks for us, but a year has passed for the rest of the universe. You see, when you approach the speed of light—”
Mateo waved his hands erratically in front of his face, like a swarm of mosquitos were on the offensive. “I don’t need to hear the sciencey relativistic bullshit again.”
Weaver cleared her throat, on the defensive.
“I’m going back to bed,” Mateo declared. “When I wake up, we better be on our way to Leona, wherever the hell she happens to be.”
“You know I can’t promise that,” Weaver shouted after him.
Mateo just threw up his hand, because he knew he was being unreasonable, but didn’t have the constitution to apologize for how rudely he was treating everybody right now.
“Is he always like that?” he could hear Thor say to the group.
He didn’t hear a response.
This was going to be a long flight.

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