Sunday, December 5, 2021

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: March 13, 2371

A hundred and twenty light years away from Vendelin’s source planet—in the direction of the oncoming Power Vacuum—was a brown dwarf with tons of proto-planetary debris, but no fully coalesced planets. A quantum terminal was installed on an asteroid, but it was never part of the Quantum Colony game. It was available, like all others, but either people had come here, and decided to leave without declaring it their own, or no one had found it yet. The game was not something that most people could have played back in the 21st century. Players weren’t provided a map, or a list of star systems. Unlocking each one required solving a gauntlet of mathematical equations, and calculating the precise location for themselves. Some of these puzzles were naturally relevant, but others were arbitrarily injected into the game to make it more difficult. Because of how much effort went into finding a planet to call their own, many players didn’t bother. There were plenty of public-access worlds that their respective colonists chose to make a hub for interstellar activity. The chances that this system had simply not yet been discovered were pretty high. Leona and Ramses only knew about it, because they were afforded direct access to the complete and unadulterated database of Project Stargate sites.
Seven hundred light years away from both the source planet, and the brown dwarf was a main sequence star being orbited by four gas giants, one icy dwarf planet, and the densest boundary planetesimal cloud any of the smart people in the group had ever heard of. Being so far from Gatewood, Project Stargate had yet to reach it. They only knew about it, because the Project Topdown ships were already mapping the galaxy, even before escaping into the intergalactic void. They didn’t choose it for any specific reason, other than the fact that it was the farthest system they knew about at this point, and its remoteness was key to completing their mission.
While the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was parked on the quantum terminal asteroid around the brown dwarf, Kestral and Ishida’s ship was stationed in the void. The Jameela Jamil was commissioned to replace The Emma González as Team Keshida’s primary mode of transportation since the latter was donated to Étude Einarsson, who needed it to search for her daughter. Goswin, Weaver, and Eight Point Seven were in possession of it last, but they hadn’t heard a peep from them in years, so anything could have happened to it and its crew since then. It was funny that Medley called the AOC the fastest ship in the galaxy. The reframe engine was not something that could be improved. It was capable of moving a vessel at 707 times the speed of light. By its nature, that was the absolute maximum speed. It was based on a limitation hardcoded into the proper physics of the universe. Regardless, theirs was not the only ship with such technology, and the Jameela just surpassed it.
It was elegant, nigh impenetrable, fast, and chock full of time technology. Atterberry pods, Ubiña pockets, disturbance detectors, emergency personal teleporters, debris teleporter field generators, and more, gave it an edge over any contender. It could teleport at the light year range, and maintain hull integrity through burst mode, which was an engineering problem that no one had been able to solve up until now. It could get clear across the Milky Way in two days without having to stop for repairs, or to refuel. It could get to the next galaxy over, Andromeda, in a month. The only fastest way to travel—besides calling upon Maqsud Al-Amin—was the Nexus network, and that wasn’t always available. It wasn’t an argument against the Jameela anyway, as there was a Nexus built into it as well, in case passengers didn’t have days to wait.
During the team’s interim year, Team Keshida actually visited both star systems, and began work on their solution to the Power Vacuum problem. They programmed machines to construct some of the largest objects present-day had to offer. According to the data that they were able to pull from Vendelin’s computers, the energy sucking beam that was threatening to destroy Earth was about the size of a main sequence star. Indeed, its energy came from such a star. He constructed millions of objects around it, and coordinated their motion patterns in such a way to actually drive solar winds in one direction. Basically he built gargantuan bellows to harness plasma, and focus it as a projectile. Once filtered through the muzzle, this energy served as a sort of souped-up electro-magnetic pulse that could be targeted at an enemy’s planet. There appeared to be no means of stopping it, because anything placed in its path would be affected by its power. Fortunately, it wasn’t likely capable of nullifying temporal energy. If they were wrong about that, there really wasn’t anything they could do.
The teleporter rings were not completed yet, which was why they chose a departing site as far as they did, to give this process time. The Power Vacuum would reach it in 2374, but if all went according to plan, it wouldn’t go any farther than that. They were the largest teleporters ever, far outsizing the diameter of the star of origin. The beam should pass right into the entrance, and be instantly transported to the exit, where it would fly out into the void at the speed of light, where it would not be able to harm anyone anymore.
Since the robots were doing all of the work, and would continue doing it after they left the timestream, the humans weren’t all that useful anymore. All the intelligent ones could do was periodically check up on the systems, and make sure everything was going smoothly, and all the not super intelligent ones could do was twiddle their thumbs; maybe play a game of RPS-101 Plus, or two...or eleven.
Olimpia paused the game just before Mateo’s Sponge could doesn’t use her Math to win the round. “I’m sick of this.” It looked like a way to avoid losing again, but she wasn’t wrong. They were all bored. Their situation was serious, but in no way urgent.
Everyone agreed, so they leaned back in their chairs, and ignored the screens for a moment. As they were doing nothing, Ramses climbed down from the upper level, and began to head for the engineering ladder.
“Hey, Ramathorn, anything interesting happening on the Jameela right now?” They had temporarily converted one of the shower rooms to a small teleporter, which allowed them to seamlessly switch from one ship to the other, almost as if they were only on the one ship. This feature was limited in range, and a massive power hog, which was why they were pulling energy from the full-sized fusion reactor that was designated for the quantum terminal, completely bypassing their miniature version. The Jameela had one of this calibre on board, as well as a backup in storage, so this was no problem for them.
“Nope.” He slid downstairs without elaborating.
“Welp,” Angela said, looking at her watch. “That conversation killed about ten seconds of time.”
“What are we going to do now?” Olimpia questioned. She unpaused their game just to let the Sponge attack, and be done with it.
Kivi darted her eyes amongst her friends. “We could...upgrade to a better game?”
“What might that be?” Mateo asked. “I’m not playing 4D Go.”
“No, I’m talking about...” Kivi looked around to make sure they weren’t being spied upon. “...Quantum Colony.”
“We ordered that thing to be shut down,” Mateo exclaimed. He was the one who delivered the order personally.
“It mostly was,” Kivi admitted. “But not completely. A few of the hub worlds are still available, while all of the individually-claimed systems are locked out. Teagarden is currently working on a plan to reveal the whole truth to the populace.”
“I’m sure that won’t take thirty years,” Angela joked.
“What do people do there?” Mateo pressed, “on these hub worlds?”
“Well, they’re building an interplanetary train track on one of them,” Kivi said. She grabbed her tablet, and presumably started looking it up.
“How is that possible?” Angela asked. “I mean, in the afterlife simulation, no big deal, but out here?”
“Oh, it’s possible,” Kivi promised. “It orbits one planet, and then keeps moving out in concentric elliptical circles, eventually linking up with orbital tracks from other planets. Hypothetically, if you were none too worried about time, you could literally walk across a solar system.”
“Why would they bother doing that?” Olimpia asked.
“Quite exclusively, because they can,” Kivi answered. She flung the page up to the central hologram so they could all see it. They were looking at several planets with concentric circles connecting them to one another. Part of the circles were white, while others were red. “The red is planned track, not yet complete.”
Angela regarded it with deep fascination. “How long would it take for the whole train ride?”
“It doesn’t get specific,” Kivi replied, “but it says it would only take a matter of weeks. You can go real fast on very little power.”
“Perhaps we’ll go there when it’s done,” Mateo determined. “We probably shouldn’t go anywhere unless we ask for permission anyway. We’ll just get caught.”
“Sure, we can,” Kivi contended. “No one here is an elected leader.”
“They are our leaders just the same,” Olimpia returned. “A fool who refuses to follow their superior only proves why they are the fool, and why their superior is the leader.”
“Who said that?” Angela asked.
“Olimpia Sangster, circa 2371.”
They laughed. This conversation just killed a couple minutes of time.
Angela consulted her watch again. “It’s too late in the day to do anything now. If we’re gonna go somewhere, we should make it an all-day event, and we should make sure the smarties are aware of it. It’s disrespectful not to.”
“It’s nice to hear you say that.” Kestral and Leona were climbing down the ladder.
“Thanks for the heads up, Olimpia,” Leona said.
“What did you do?”
Olimpia lifted her Cassidy cuff, and tapped a button on the screen, which disengaged the communicator.
“We heard most of what you said,” Kestral clarified.
“I don’t feel bad,” Mateo told her. “Us dum-dums need sumfin to do.”
“It’s fine,” Kestral assured him with a smile. “I think it’s a great idea. Unfortunately, we have to amend the plan slightly. You wouldn’t be going to a hub world. A mission came up, and we are once again the best people for the job.”
“Either we all underestimated the number of Quantum Colony players who were aware that it was more than just a game, or Teagarden has been keeping more from us than we realized,” Leona said.
“Someone else set off another weapon?” Kivi guessed.
“No, but as part of the agreement we made with them, Teagarden had to recall all players, either to their homeworld, or one of those hubs. Only once they were returned could they be locked out of the necessary quantum terminals. Most players complied, because the military didn’t say why they were being recalled, or that everyone was being recalled at the same time, or that they probably wouldn’t ever be allowed to go back. There were a few holdouts, which required an actual contingency to go offworld, and scoop them up.”
“Did one of them fight back?” Mateo asked.
“No, they just did to Teagarden exactly what Teagarden was trying to do to them. They hacked into their own quantum terminal, and blocked all external access. It wasn’t hit by the Power Vacuum; it’s not at all in range; they’re just refusing to come back. Even if we didn’t force their hands, Teagarden still wouldn’t be happy about it. You’re not allowed to tamper with the terminal, or you’re meant to be booted from the game.”
“The point is,” Kestral went on, “we got an FTL ship, we gotta go check it out. I’m sure this is just the next of many requests they give us because of our advantage. It’s part of their strategy until they figure out how to reverse-engineer their own reframe engine.”
“Don’t both our ships need to stay with the teleporter rings?” Angela pointed out.
“They are not the only ships we have,” Kestral said, still with that smile. “Ours is a capital ship, complete with other, smaller ships docked inside of it. The four of you will be taking The Tahani on a recon mission to New Earth...on your own.”

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