Sunday, October 24, 2021

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: March 7, 2365

Total darkness. The team was floating around in it, like the vacuum of outer space, except they could still breathe, so it wasn’t that. Still, the air was thinning rapidly, and about as quickly, the temperature was dropping. Both Leona and Ramses had the good sense to switch on the flashlights on their cuffs, prompting the others to do the same. They were still in the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but none of the systems was working. No lights, no life support, no power whatsoever. The only things that were working were the cuffs. Leona pushed herself off from the table, and dove back into the hole leading to the engineering section. She removed her cuff, and got to work, even as her lungs were tightening. Ramses floated down next to her. He stuffed a rebreather into her mouth. It would increase her time by a few minutes probably, but that was it. There just wasn’t enough oxygen to recycle. Out of the corner of her eye, she could seem him drift off and away. He was sacrificing his own consciousness so she could save them all.
The Cassidy cuffs were powered by a series of nanofusion reactors. In fact, a lot of the bulk was just power generation. They weren’t designed to last forever, but a pretty long time. If she interfaced it with the AOC, it should supply enough power to restart life support systems, if only that, and if only for a short while. They needed to get their bearings, and assess their situation, and for that, they needed to be alive. Fortunately, the AOC had already been retrofitted with interface capabilities. That was how they were able to take the whole ship with them on their time jumps, by basically turning it into one giant Cassidy cuff. Even so, they had never thought to exploit that connection for an alternate power source, because the AOC had its own reactors. Completing this objective wasn’t as simple as plugging the cuff in, but as long as she worked quickly, she should be able to get it done before her friends suffered permanent brain damage. This was all assuming power loss was the reason the ship stopped working in the first place. It was probably what caused Gatewood to lose connection with Pluoraia, and they had just walked into the same trap.
There. For a few seconds after it was done, Leona closed her eyes and quite nearly prayed. That was how long it took for the system to kick in. Emergency lighting flickered on, and the air began to circulate. She didn’t wait to see if Ramses eventually woke back up. She reached into her bag of holding, and retrieved an oxygen injector. This was the quickest way to supply a patient with a jolt of energy when nothing else was available, or not available yet. As soon as his eyes popped open, she dug into her bag for four more injectors, but she only found three. Why did she not even have enough for everyone on the crew to use once? She had to make yet another snap decision. She pulled herself back up the ladder, and went for the ladies first. They weren’t more important than Mateo, but they were the most innocent. Rather, they deserved this the least. Reviving her husband would have felt selfish and dirty.
Once she was finished with the other three, though, there was nothing more she could do for them. They would have to recover from here on their own. They didn’t keep tanks of oxygen on the ship. They had precisely two vacuum suits, which were stored all the way up in the airlock, and required power. She couldn’t give up on getting Mateo back, so she scooped him up, and dragged him to the nearest vent, holding his face against the grate, hoping that would be enough to reoxygenate his brain. The purpose of injectors was to help the patient while they were unconscious, and couldn’t try to breathe on their own. She couldn’t be sure that this would work, and as the seconds moved on without success, she began to doubt it was possible, and also maybe regret her decisions. No, that wasn’t fair. Angela, Olimpia, and Kivi deserved to live. If anyone was going to understand why she did what she did, it was Mateo.
Kivi suddenly crashed into both of them. She had her own injector, which she jammed into Mateo’s neck. He reawoke, and instinctively began to suck down the air on his own. By now, Ramses was back, and there was enough air circulating for him to speak. “Computer, report!”
“It’s not operational,” Leona explained. “I’m conserving power. The engineering console is the only thing on right now.”
“Go,” Kivi told Leona. “I’ll stay with him, make sure he’s okay.”
Leona nodded, and followed Ramses back down to engineering, where they started to search for answers. “Everything seems to be okay so far. Nothing was damaged, so it wasn’t an EMP, or something. It’s like...”
“It’s like whatever this was turned everything off, and drained all energy reserves.” He was seeing the same thing. “Nothing is broken.”
They continued to look through what little data they could summon.
“There,” Leona said, pointing at the screen.
“Yeah, heh. That’s all we need.”
“Turning on propulsion could...”
“It’s a little...”
“But not too much.”
“What are you two talking about in your little genius shorthand?” Mateo was down there with them now.
Leona sighed. “Transfer control up to the auxiliary console on the main deck,” she instructed Ramses. Then she floated over to Mateo, concerned. “How are you feeling?”
“Headache,” he answered, “but we all seem to have that.”
She nodded. “Oxygen deprivation. “It will go away on its own, but we can all take pain meds. Let’s go back up so we can explain what’s happening to the whole group.”
Since activating artificial gravity was an unnecessary drain on their energy, the two scientists held onto the railing while the other four strapped into the seats around the table to watch the presentation. Ramses began, “something took all of our power. We can’t find out what, because that would require data, and no data was saved from the moment it happened, because something took all the power. According to the ship’s logs, the trip was going smoothly, right up until it wasn’t. Everything shut off all at once. We were traveling at maximum reframe, which means our momentum carried us most of the rest of the way. Not all of the way, though.”
Leona took over, “we’re presently floating in the middle of intrasolar space, about eleven astronomical units from the host star, at an orbital inclination of about eighty-three degrees. In order to regain full power, we’ll have to cover the majority of that distance. Ramses designed the AOC with multiple redundancies, so solar power should be fine. It’s just not really good enough from this far out, not in a reasonable amount of time, anyway. Now, the great thing about fusion power, is that it’s scalable. The tiny ones that we all wear around our wrists are just as efficient as the ones that power entire cities. Obviously, however, being smaller, they can hold less deuterium. If we tried to bring this ship back to its former glory, it would drain fast, and we wouldn’t have anything to replenish it. That’s why you’re all wearing seatbelts right now, and why it’s still pretty cold, though not as deadly as it was becoming. The problem is that the math doesn’t work out. Using traditional means, we won’t make it close enough to the star to power up by the end of our day.”
“Can we use the ship’s teleporter to cover that distance more quickly?”
Ramses pointed to emphasize his words. “Yes, that will be faster. No, it won’t use less power. It’s like your petrol-powered car.”
Leona cleared her throat suggestively. “Uh, Ramses, none of these people drove cars, except for Mateo and me. Not even you!” she reminded him affectionately.
“Well, the analogy stands. They all know what cars are. My point is that if you drive slowly, you use less fuel, but it takes you longer to get there. If you drive faster, you spend less time using up your fuel, but you use a lot in a shorter time period. What we need to do is go right in the middle; find that happy medium.”
“So teleport part of the way, and propel the rest?” Kivi figured.
Ramses smiled sinisterly. “I’ve come up with something even better, which will use our power more efficiently than that.” Now he cleared his throat, but not suggestively; to prepare to wow them with his brilliance. “The whole idea behind teleportation is getting you from A to B instantaneously. You’re not supposed to fall down when you get there, which is why momentum is not part of the equation. I mean, it is, but it’s a safety thing that I won’t get into. What we need to do is not simply conserve momentum, but multiply it. I can rig this thing to teleport us one AU at a time, and every time we do, it will propel us another AU very quickly. This allows us to use what little power we have left more efficiently.”
“Why can’t we just use more of the cuffs?” Olimpia offered.
Ramses and Leona gave each other a look. “We could do that, yeah, but we don’t really want to, because we’re not sure if we’ll be able to refuel. This endeavor could also burn them out. Leona’s original cuff may never be usable again. It wasn’t designed for something like this.”
“Isn’t it worth it?” Olimpia pressed. “We don’t need the cuffs, we just like them.”
“If you lose your cuff, Olimpia, you’re going back to the echo.”
“I can think of worse fates,” she replied.
“This will work,” Ramses tried to assure them. “We just need to get to that star and then we’ll be good. I promise you.”
Mateo tried to stand up to comfort his friend, but the seatbelt got in the way. He didn’t undo it, because floating over would have been more awkward than staying put. “We trust you. If you both say the math works, it works. Who are we to argue?”
It didn’t work. But in the end, they decided as a group that it was good enough. The Cassidy cuff ran out of deuterium faster than they calculated it would. It wasn’t really anything Leona and Ramses did, but the battery projections on the cuffs themselves turned out to be slightly inaccurate. Based on even more math, the smart people were able to calculate that the ship could make the rest of the journey on its own, gathering solar energy little by little. The closer it drew, the more power it used, but also the more light the panels were able to absorb. It would be a fairly steady recharge, and by the time they returned to the timestream a year from now, it will have been orbiting the star for the last several weeks. That was when they would finally reach the planet, and figure out just what the hell was going on.

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