Sunday, November 28, 2021

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: March 12, 2370

Sasha had released another teleporter relay over the planet in question during their interim year, which was able to orbit undetected because it was quite small, and required little power when not in use, so it didn’t give off much energy. Leona walked around to make sure that everyone’s tactical equipment was secure, and they were as prepared as they could be. Then she ordered their android to send them on their way. Hrockas stayed behind so there would be four hands on deck, but everyone else went down to the installation.
Everyone was pointing their weapon in a different direction, like Charlie’s Angels times two. They were in the open area of a pressurized dome. Inside was only one structure, and it looked not unlike a castle; a rather old, but seemingly still stable, castle. Additive manufacturing was very good at constructing buildings out of concrete and carbon polymer, but stone was a different story. Though no human being would have had to lay them down one by one, it still would have taken robots a long time to build all this. Creating something this complex required patience, and probably a pretty unhealthy ego. Since it was so audacious and inefficient, seeing it gave them a little insight into who they were about to meet. Leona tried to lead the team towards their objective, but Angela insisted that she take point. She wasn’t the only one here with combat training, but she seemed worried that she wasn’t contributing enough, and while that wasn’t true, dismissing her perceptions would have been worse than letting her handle it.
If all of them knew what they were doing as a tactical unit, they could have spread out to cover more ground, but that wasn’t the smartest thing for this group to do. So they stuck together, and tried to move through the structure as quickly and quietly as possible. The inside looked like a castle as well, except for the advanced technology scattered throughout, like the computer interfaces, LED lights, and a fully-functional quantum terminal. They didn’t look out of place, though. They were designed to fit perfectly within their environment. It looked as it would if people on Earth had continued to live in castles as they progressed scientifically. Ramses got to work on the terminal so that they would have control over it against all others. Only then did they separate. Kivi stayed behind to protect him while everyone else continued the hunt. It wasn’t until they were down in the dungeons when they finally found actual people. In fact, they recognized them. It was Team Kesihda.
“Captain. Lieutenant,” Leona said respectfully. “Everyone’s been wondering where you went.”
“We came here, lookin’ for answers,” Kestral responded, “while you were meant to go to Pluoraia.”
“Went and saw, knew we had to come here next,” Leona clarified without wasting time on the minutia.
Olimpia calibrated her teleporter gun, and trained it on Kestral. “Ready?”
Olimpia shot her, and then shot Ishida, sending them both right outside the bars.
“Who did this?” Leona continued. “Who’s doing this?”
Ishida shook her head. “No idea. As soon as we arrived, a dalek, a cylon, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, forced us down here, and here we’ve been ever since. R2D2 rolls in to feed us twice a day, but no one else comes.” She accepts a drink of Mateo’s water. “We’ve not seen him in a week now, though. We don’t know why.”
“Great,” Leona said, “a scifi fan. Those are always fun.”
“The real question is where all those evil robots are now,” Mateo said, checking their surroundings for the upteenth time.
“I’m not fighting R2D2,” Olimpia argued, though no one was arguing against.
“How is it going up there?” Leona asked into her Cassidy cuff.
We have control of the terminal,” Ramses explained through the speaker, “so we can block access if we want, but I can’t find a single thing about the Power Vacuum, or whatever it is the people who created it call it.
“Are we sure this is where it began?” Olimpia suggested. “Maybe this is just where we first noticed it.”
She has a good point,” Kivi said through her own cuff. “This is the first in a line of systems we lost contact with, but it could have originated on an interstellar ship in the middle of empty space.
“I don’t think so,” Ishida contended. “The amount of power it would take to make that happen can’t be put on a ship. I mean, you might, but why would you when you could just do it from here? The planets and their host star give you the resources you need, and nobody is this far out if they didn’t come through the quantum terminal anyway.”
“It doesn’t look like anyone lives here,” Leona said. “We searched most of it, and there was a lot of dust. If someone else is still on the premises, they’re hiding.”
Angela checked her sonic disruptor. “Mateo and I will head for the rest of the rooms. The rest of you should rendezvous with Ramses and Kivi. If we can’t get back to the ship, casting ourselves somewhere else might be our only option.”
Leona was the de facto leader here, but she conceded to Angela’s words without blinking. Olimpia asked to go with the hunting party, saying something about one of them dying, one of them fighting, and the third being able to run for help.
“Keep your head on a swivel,” Angela commanded, “and do everything I say.”
“Yes, sir,” Mateo promised.
It wasn’t long before they found what they were looking for. At the end of the corridor, on the next level below the dungeon, there was a room unlike anything else here. It was well-lit, clean, and chock full of technology, including a secondary quantum terminal. Now they wished that at least one smart person had come with them. A man was standing at the ready, surely having seen them coming a mile away.
“Who are you?” Angela asked impolitely.
“I am He Who Remains, and we are standing at the end of the universe.”
“Just for my own records,” Angela pressed, “are you going to be playing make believe the entire time, or will you at least eventually start taking this seriously?”
The man placed the sides of both index fingers along his bottom lip, then slowly slid them up. As he did so, his face transformed colors, leaving him looking like a creepy clown. “Why so serioussssuh!”
Angela rolled her eyes. “I guess that’s our answer.” And with that she shot him in the chest with the disruptor.
He fell to the ground, but wasn’t dead. By the time he woke up, the rest of the group had made their way down there. They wrapped two of the extra Cassidy cuffs around the man’s wrists. They didn’t know if he had time powers, but it was best to suppress them until they had a better idea of who they were dealing with. Powers or no, it was a good idea to keep him bound.
“My name is Vendelin Blackbourne, and I know why you’re all here.”
“You declared war on Pluoraia, and killed a lot of people,” Leona accused.
“That was not my intention,” Vendelin claimed. “I have no quarrel with the Pluoraians. That was only meant to be a weapons test, but my aim was way off. I was intending to sell it to Teagarden once I worked out all the kinks.”
“How did you end up in this system?” Leona continued, brushing past his idea to seek payment in a galaxy that gave up money centuries ago.
“Quantum Colony, just like everybody else,” he answered.
“Uhuh. And is that a game, or is it real life disguised as a game?”
He looked surprised by the question. “Both.”
“So you’ve always known that you weren’t ever just in a simulation?”
“It wasn’t hard to figure out,” Vendelin said with a laugh. “The day I started playing, I was suspicious. I ejected from the simulation, and then pored over the data regarding this system from base reality. I noticed that this data kept changing, ever so slightly, every time I made a change in the game. I realized that I was making a real impact. Anyone else should have come to the same conclusion.”
“Yet you still chose to set off that weapon.”
“Again, it was an accident. I built an outpost on a planet that lies between here and Pluoraia. I thought it would stop there, and only my own machines would be affected, but then the damn thing bounced off, and kept going. It didn’t even change directions too much. It’s still moving in about a straight line.”
“Okay, so stop it,” Leona demanded.
“I can’t, it’s over. Have you ever shot a gun, only to have entropy reverse, and the bullet come back into the magazine?”
“You could have at least told someone what you did, instead of erasing this outpost from the logs, and covering up your mistake. That thing is headed right for Earth. They need as much time as they can get to figure out how to survive it.”
“It’ll be fine,” Vendelin assured them unconvincingly. “The beam will dissipate long before then.”
“Are you sure about that?” Ramses questioned. It hasn’t started to diminish yet. Our readings indicate that it’s just as strong as it always was.”
“I don’t know what to tell ya, man,” Vendelin said with too much of a casual attitude. “I’m not worried about what’s happening on Earth. I’ve spent most of my life in the black.”
“Well, you’re going to start worrying about it now!” Olimpia shouted. “If you don’t figure out how to stop it before it even reaches Barnard’s Star, then we’ll kill you.” They would never do that, but no one seemed to be bothered by the hollow threat.
“I’m sorry, I can’t help you.” He didn’t feel a modicum of remorse. “Based on my observations, Pluoraia is back up and running smoothly. Earth will do the same; probably even better, since they’re the most advanced.”
“How many Earthans will die in the process when planes fall out of the sky, and hyperloop trains lose their levitation?” Kivi posed.
“You’re right,” Vendelin conceded, “I should have given them an anonymous tip. But now you’re here, and you can do it. In fact, why don’t you leave right now, so I can get back to my work?”
“We’re not going anywhere until you help us. Afterwards, we’ll drop you off at Teagarden, where the officials there can decide what to do with you,” Leona warned.
“You’re not giving me much of an incentive,” Vendelin said with a smile. “You’re also not holding any good cards.” He blinked deliberately, which prompted an uncomfortable sound in the hallway. It wasn’t long before creepy metal bugs crawled inside. They were on the floors, and the wall, and even the ceiling.
“Replicators,” Olimpia said in fear and awe.
“If you prefer, I can send in the Borg instead.” Vendelin was so pleased with himself for having co-opted intellectual property from ancient entertainment.
“I can handle them,” Angela said. She took out the same ball she used years ago to illustrate how skilled and coordinated she was. “I lied before. This thing is indeed magic. I call it my hyper-destructive happy fun bouncing ball.” She threw it at one of the replicators. It bounced off, only to make its way to one of the others. It just kept bouncing off each one, and sometimes a wall, but never losing momentum. In under a minute, every replicator replica in the room was destroyed. Once it was over, it flew back over to Angela’s hand, where she caught it, and placed it back safely in her bag.
“Touché,” Vendelin said. “I should have indeed gone with the Borg.”
It was then that Hrockas came into the room, surveying the mayhem, and watching his step. “This the guy?”
“We told you to wait in the ship,” Leona reminded him.
“We lost contact with you when you came down here,” Hrockas explained. “Sasha was worried.”
“I know who you are,” Vendelin said to him, still sporting his evil grin. “You own Pluoraia, you lucky bastard.”
“Yes, and you thoughtlessly murdered a lot of my friends.”
“I don’t see it that way.”
“I do,” Hrockas reiterated. He walked over, and pushed Vendelin into one of the casting pods. “I believe my people have the right to confront their enemies, and punish them as they see fit?”
They looked to Leona, who took a moment to consider the options. “He’s not going to help, and I already have an idea for how to stop the beam. It entails building something that no one ever has before. We don’t need him.”
“Thank you,” Hrockas said graciously.
Ramses helped him transfer Vendelin’s consciousness to Pluoraia, and then did the same for Hrockas. The rest of the team left to prevent his little accident from reaching any more inhabited planets.

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