Sunday, July 11, 2021

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Tuesday, November 18, 2256

Due to having been living on another planet for the last three years, and not paying any attention to Leona’s special time watch, the group didn’t know how close to midnight central they were when they went back to the main sequence. Before the AOC was able to scan the surface for the location of the Nexus inside a crater, it was already three years later. There was no sign of Anatol, so hopefully that meant he was on their pattern, and not that he was already in the Gatewood Collective. This was the most likely reason, as Nerakali and Jupiter had to deliberately program the primary Cassidy cuff to keep them from being bound to the Bearimy-Matic pattern. It wasn’t set that way automatically, so he would have needed time to figure it out.
They found what they were looking for, and between the two of them, Leona and Angela were able to get their ship hooked up to the Nexus. There was no space next to the Gatewood Nexus, so they had to program their exit to appear in the middle of interplanetary space. Kestral and Ishida knew what the AOC was, so after confirming the crew’s identities, they let them dock at the nearest airlock. They recommended the Nexus technician to place anyone else who came through in a hock that was fitted with temporal dampeners. It wasn’t necessarily going to be Anatol, but it probably was, so it was best to be prepared. Team Keshida was busy with something, so the debrief would have to wait until later. Until then, the crew of the AOC decided to take a rest in a family-owned lounge in the main centrifugal cylinder. It was set up like a bar, but this was a dry cylinder. The owner was massaging a glass, and watching them from across the room. Mateo went over to see if he needed anything.
“I know who you are,” the owner said.
“I can’t tell if that’s a good thing, or a bad thing.”
“You saved us.”
“It was a team effort.” That wasn’t modesty, it really was mostly other people’s doing.
“I got somethin’ for ya...if you want it.” He reached under the bar, and Mateo could hear the beeping of a safe. He pulled out a bottle of bourbon, and set it down.
“Heh. That was never my drink, and I don’t drink anymore. Thanks, though. Better put that away.”
“I don’t drink either. I keep it for preferred customers.”
A young boy came in from the back room. “Dad?”
The owner looked back. “Yes, son?”
“A ship came in. I saw it outside. Do you know who it is?”
He smirked and looked back at Mateo. “He loves ships. Wants to grow up to be a captain.”
“Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that,” Mateo said.
The boy regarded him for a moment, then widened his eyes. He furiously started typing onto his handheld device. “You’re Mateo Matic.”
“I’m one of them, yes,” Mateo confirmed, knowing there was some other Mateo running around out there, somewhere.
The boy turned his head down abashedly. “Wait, it was you, in the ship.”
“Yeah,” Mateo said. “My crew and I are here to take a rest.” He gestured towards his friends, still sitting in the corner.
“Whoa,” the boy said, staring over at them.
“What’s your name?”
“Halan,” the boy answered. “Halan Yenant.”
“Well, Captain Yenant. I’ll have Crewmember Walton give you a tour of our ship, if you want.” Mateo moved his eyes back up to the father. “That okay?”
The father nodded. “Of course. Just go tell your mother first.”
While Halan went back to the back, Mateo went over to make sure Angela was cool with this. She was the best candidate, since next to Leona, she was the most knowledgeable about the ship, and also had experience counseling people. She was more than happy to do it, so once he came back, they joined hands, and left. Mateo started thinking about this interaction. He was no starship captain himself, but he was technically a member of a crew, which was just insane. He was a ridesource driver back before all this time travel began, no hope of going into space. It didn’t even cross his mind back then that such a thing was an option. Now it was just his life. Until Flindekeldan, he probably spent more time in space than on the surface of a planet, non-Earth worlds included. It wasn’t bad, or good, just different; the only problems now were all these people coming after him and his friends. Without them, he might even be able to enjoy himself again.
Mateo sat back down with the group. A few other people came in, and recognized them, so they got to talking. As it turned out, there were others who wanted to fly in spaceships. Apparently, space travel as a real concept was taught to children living in Ansutah. But this was kind of annoying, because they knew it would never be possible for them. Not only was there very little space to explore, but humans weren’t allowed to so much as leave their continent, or it would place the entire species at risk against the Maramon, who dominated the world. Now that they were actually living in what was technically a spaceship, some were frustrated that they still didn’t go anywhere. After more discussion, Mateo realized that it was no coincidence that so many such people frequented the same lounge. They deliberately formed a community for this reason. They wanted to be close to the Nexus, and the main docking sections. No one traveled to Gatewood, except for those who knew it was populated by aliens, and those few always came through here. Other docks on this cylinder, and in the other cylinders, would be out of use if not for the ferries.
After a while, Angela came back with Halan. They were soon followed by a man that Mateo recognized. It wasn’t Saxon, though, and it definitely wasn’t Julius. His name was Omega Parker, and he was a clone of Saxon’s, who chose to become independent, and ignore his duties. He was now evidently working closely with Team Keshida, and everyone in this lounge knew who he was. They didn’t seem to hate him, but they weren’t in love with him either. He took off sunglasses that didn’t make him look as cool as he probably thought. “I’m glad that most of you are here,” he said with a grin. “I have a proposal for—what the hell are you people doing here?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Mateo said coolly. “What’s your proposal, I’d like to here it.”
Omega was nervous.
“Go on, Omega,” Mr. Yenant echoed.
He decided to continue. “My associate came up with an idea. I thought we should move forward with it, but they have chosen not to. I’ve been trying to convince them for a week, but they’re occupying themselves with other projects, and I’ve determined it’s useless to keep trying. Still, I think it’s a good idea, and if you want to do it for yourselves, I doubt they’ll do anything to stop you.”
“What is it?” someone in the crowd asked.
“They call it Project Extremus. The idea is to send a ship full of people to the other side of the galaxy. You’ve been looking for an excuse to get in a ship, and this is that. You tell ‘em you want a new home, I don’t think the bosses will say no to it.”
“How long will it take to get there?” someone in the crowd asked.
“About two hundred years,” Omega answered, “with this technology.” He held up a virtual storage device. A woman stepped forward with the air of authority. She reached for the device, but Omega pulled it away. He lowered his voice to speak directly to her, but everyone else could still hear. “I need verbal confirmation that you’ll fight against any sort of punishment that Keshida tries to dole out for me for giving you this.”
“I promise to defend you,” the woman said after snatching away the device. “As I have always done.” Strangely, she handed it right to Halan, the only kid in the room. “You know what to do.” As the boy was running off, she turned back to Omega. “Thank you. You can go now.”
Omega nodded. “Yeah.” He left.
Now the leader stepped back to address the crowd. “We’ll convene a full roster meeting in three days, after we’ve had time to look over the data, and discuss the proposal formally. Everyone here think that’s a good idea?”
The crowd nodded and agreed.
“All right,” Mr. Yenant said to break the silence. “Drinks on the house,” he joked.
“Mateo Matic to the throne room, please,” came Ishida’s voice on the intercom. “Mateo and friends to the throne room.”
They all walked down to where Team Keshida operated. The two of them were waiting in front of the strategy table. An android was next to them, holding Anatol Klugman in custody. He had a muzzle over his face, like some kind of cannibal.
“Why did you come here with him?” Captain McBride asked.
“Gatewood was the only destination from the Nexus where we came from,” Leona explained.
Kestral started shaking her head mildly. “Someone needs to figure out how to make those more programmable. Can you imagine buying a phone that only calls one number?”
“I think that’s the point,” Leona continued. “We didn’t buy the Nexa. They’re gifts, and we can only use them however we get them.”
Lieutenant Caldwell sighed. “We don’t want him in our star system. We don’t want him within ten light years of our people.”
“We don’t want him here either,” Leona agreed. “Now that he’s arrived, we can all leave.”
“You have two options,” the Captain said. “You can step through the Nexus, and go to whatever other Nexus you want, or you can take your ship there. We don’t care which. You just have to be out within the half hour.”
“If we connect the ship to the Nexus from the outside—” Leona tried to begin.
“We won’t let you butcher our machine,” Ishida said dismissively. “You have your two options.”
“We need our ship,” Leona said to the group. “If we use the reframe engine, it will only take us three days.”
Anatol muffled something that no one could understand.
Kestral made eye contact with the android guard. She closed her eyes, and nodded once, prompting the guard to removed the mouthpiece from Anatol’s muzzle.
“Thank you,” Anatol said. “What I said was that I’m not taking off your cuffs. I’m still wearing the primary, and nothing can be done about that.”
“We could have his arm surgically removed,” Kestral suggested.
“Don’t worry about it, but thanks for the offer.” Leona took a moment to think through a plan. “We’ll all take the reframe engine back to Sol. I’ll program the AOC to land on an icy planetesimal that has not yet been colonized for Project Oort Shield. It will be waiting for us...” She stopped. “Can we at least suppress Jeremy’s pattern, so we’ll return in 2257?”
“No,” Anatol replied simply.
She didn’t want to fight in front of company. “In that case, the AOC will be waiting for us in 2275, at which point we can teleport to Earth, and deal with whatever is going on here. Keshida, if you could give us access to Oort Shield plans, it will help me choose a celestial body that won’t come online sometime in the next nineteen years.”
“We have access to that schedule,” Ishida confirmed. “We’ll give you an extra half hour to look them over before you have to leave.”
Kestral gave her a look, which Ishida could see, but she was unfazed by it.
 Mateo gave Leona his own look, hoping the magical psychic message came across correctly. She appeared to understand when she shook her head slightly to indicate that no, they would not be telling Team Keshida about what Omega told the residents at the lounge. Perhaps if they weren’t being kicked out so quickly, they would have considered being honest with Keshida.
“Very well,” Kestral said. “While you’re finding those plans, I’ll help the android escort Mr. Klugman to the AOC. I know you don’t have a holding cell—”
“I know what to do with him,” Leona promised. “Thank you for hosting us, if only briefly.”
Kestral bowed her head a little.
They executed the plan. Leona found a pretty random icy rock orbiting the Earth’s solar system near interstellar space. An outpost wasn’t destined to be built there for another hundred and fifty years, which would give them plenty of time to get out of there, and plan their next move. Something had to be done about Anatol, and it had to be done before he gained some kind of advantage over this stalemate. Without the Cassidy cuffs themselves, only so much could be done to suppress a choosing one’s time powers. He would break free at some point, and become another antagonist for the team to defeat. For now, they locked him in grave chamber four.
As soon as they entered reframe time, they were suddenly struck by the next midnight central, which instantly jumped them all to the year 2275. The AOC had landed long ago, and was waiting for them at the destination. They expected to just be sitting on the surface of IOO-TH-2-44-256-83, completely alone, but they appeared to be inside a hangar.

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