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Sunday, January 2, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: March 17, 2375

It was happening again. The ship just experienced a sudden loss of power. Fortunately, it wasn’t as bad as last time. Instead of returning to the timestream after a year, they were here when it happened, which meant there was still enough breathable air to keep them from dying within the next few minutes. The artificial gravity was gone, and the lights were off, but their Cassidy cuffs were still working, suggesting that they weren’t suffering from a direct impact of the Power Vacuum. Still, it was incredibly annoying. There should have been more than enough distance between them and the beam, even when accounting for the waves that go beyond the visible spectrum of light. Leona asked to gather all of the cuffs so they could try to siphon their fusion generators into the ship. Ramses said that wouldn’t be necessary. “Why not?” she asked.
He pushed himself off the wall, and floated down to his grave chamber. He opened it up, accessed a storage panel, and retrieved a box. “I was worried this would happen, so I came prepared.” He opened the box, and inside was another box. “The insulation worked. It wasn’t strictly necessary, but it’ll make it easier to open.” He casually tossed the outer box into the slowly thinning air.
“That’s some kind of power source?” Mateo asked.
“It’s a time battery,” Ramses said. “Or rather, it will be.” He set the inner box on the table, and activated the magnet to hold it in place. Then he flipped over just for fun, and got himself down to his seat, where he strapped in.
Everyone else did the same, though with less gymnastics. “You haven’t built it yet?” Angela questioned. “How are you going to charge it if we have no power to begin with?”
“Oh, it’s charged,” Ramses replied. “It just doesn’t exist right now. I programmed it to jump two hours into the future an hour before the Vacuum was scheduled to show up. When it returns, it will be more than enough to power up the reframe engine, and get us back to Earth.”
“You shouldn’t be able to store that much power in that small of a package,” Leona argued. “Now if it’s a fusion reactor, you might be onto something, but you called it a battery.”
“It is a battery, but it doesn’t store electricity. It’s not called a time battery because it travels through time. It stores temporal energy, which is the most powerful kind in the universe.”
“Where did you get it?” Leona pressed.
“I engineered it, obviously,” Ramses answered. “You don’t think I could do something like that?”
“No, I mean, where’d you get the energy? You usually spend more generating it than you get out of it, like fusion was back in ancient times.”
“I did spend more energy than I got out of it. But I used a stellaris collapsis, which is basically free. Two devices were attached to each other by a tether. I sent the collector through a portal, which exited close enough to the event horizon to create temporal dissonance. I then processed the energy using the device on my end, and charged the battery. And when I say I did these things, I barely did anything. I was too busy working on the limbo simulation. Ishida did most of the work. The Jameela Jamil has their own time battery. Actually, they have a battery of batteries, and they’re all larger than this one.”
“Could you have not just siphoned Hawking radiation, or rotational energy, from the black hole itself?” Olimpia asked.
Mateo was surprised she knew that a stellaris collapsis was another name for a black hole, since he had already forgotten learning that a while ago. What was Hawking radiation?
“Storing that would have been harder. Temporal energy works well in compact form, such as this thing right here.” He pointed to the still empty box.
Most of the team just nodded. “Do we have enough oxygen to last us until it shows up?” Mateo asked, feeling dumb.
“Plenty,” Leona answered. “That’s why we have microponics upstairs.” She looked at her watch. “We are coming up on midnight central, though. Did you not account for that?”
“When I said the battery was scheduled to return two hours after it disappeared, I really meant two hours and one year. We’ll just have to set the AOC to jump with us, instead of waiting for us. So I guess we will need to siphon some cuff fusion.”
“I see,” Leona said. “I suppose you already modified the ship to utilize our new power systems.”
Ramses smirked, and reached under the table. After a click, the center of the table popped up. He took hold of it, and pulled out a tube that Mateo never knew was there. “For those of you who don’t know, we use an antimatter drive for propulsion. Regular ol’ fusion isn’t good enough to reach the speeds we need, or power the reframe engine.” He kicked the base of the table with his foot. “That regular fusion, however, is more than enough to power internal systems. It’s always better to have redundancies. This will be our third redundancy. The battery goes in here, and can handle both propulsion, and the ship itself.”
“For how long?” Angela asked.
“That depends on how we use it, and how much loss the battery experienced from the time jump. Normally, we wouldn’t have to do that, but it obviously didn’t work as an emergency cache if the Power Vacuum drained it while it was still in the timestream.”
“This was a good call, Ramses,” Leona complimented. “I wish I had thought of it. I was just so concerned with Mateo, and the afterlife simulation.”
“That’s what I’m here for,” Ramses said, dismissing her guilt. “That’s why we’re a team.”
They spent pretty much all of their time together now, so there wasn’t much for them to talk about. They were relatively silent for the rest of the hour, but Angela and Olimpia had some stories, so that kept them occupied a little. A year later, the indicator light on the box turned green, prompting Ramses to open it, and check on his special battery. “Perfect condition, 83% capacity; not bad.” He installed it in its housing like it wasn’t any more complex than a USB drive, and powered up systems. The tube receded back into the table, and the fresh air came on.
“All right, it works,” Leona said, only a little surprised. “Plot a course to the exit portal. I’ll try to contact the Jamil.”
“Neither one of those things may be possible,” Ramses said, looking at his screen.
Leona pulled up her own screen to find out what he was talking about. “This doesn’t make any sense. Where the hell are we? Where’s the megaportal?”
“Did the Power Vacuum knock us off course?” Angela guessed.
“There are two things it could have done. One, left us to drift not too terribly far from where we were, or two, pulled us into the portal with it. Either way, we should have an inkling of where we are. I’m not seeing any stars at all, just distant galaxies. This is...”
“Bonkers?” Ramses finished for her.
“Bonkers,” Leona agreed.
“Maybe we traveled through time,” Olimpia suggested. “The stars are always moving.”
“I thought of that,” Ramses said. “Which is why I ran a program that checks the date based on stellar drift. A good time traveler always does that.” He gently pulled Leona over by the shoulder, and pointed to his screen. “What the shit is that?”
“A galaxy?” Leona offered, unconvinced herself.
“A galaxy?” Ramses questioned, like it was the stupidest thing he had ever heard.
“A...hyperdense? Galaxy?”
“What is it?” Mateo asked, not feeling dumb anymore, because they were just being cryptic.
“You’re not missing anything here,” Leona told him. “We’re just as confused as you.” She cast her screen to the central hologram, showing them a big blob of light. “Those are stars, and they are very close together. It’s not enough for them to have chaotic gravitational pull on one another, but it’s not natural either.”
“How could it not be natural?” Olimpia asked. “You’re saying that someone moved these stars?”
“It’s doable,” Ramses explained. “It would take a hell of a long time, though.”
“Time ain’t nothin’ but a thang,” Angela said. It was a common aphoroid for time travelers, but it sounded rather odd coming from her lips.
“If that’s where all the stars are,” Olimpia began, “then that’s where all the planets are. Earth may be somewhere in that blob.”
“It would be virtually impossible to find,” Leona said, “even if that’s The Blob, formerly known as The Milky Way. There’s no frame of reference. We can’t even tell where we are. All we know is that we’re about thousands of light years away from that thing.”
“Still, shouldn’t we go there?” Olimpia continued. “Maybe we’ll receive more data as we get closer, and be able to make more informed decisions.”
“Maybe,” Leona said, unconvinced. “It could take a month to get there, assuming we’re as far from it as I think. It’s impossible to tell from here. We would be drowning in radiation, I’m not sure anyone still lives there.”
“Were you able to contact the Jamil?” Mateo asked.
“Yes, but we’re not receiving anything,” Leona said. “I sent a message, but no one’s there to hear it. We could be billions of years in the past, or even trillions of years into the future. Who the hell knows?” She tensed up, and looked around like a paranoid racoon.
“What is it?” Mateo asked.
“Usually when we say things like that, someone appears and tells us they have the answer. It’s more often than not the villain.” She continued to look around, prompting the rest of the team to do the same.
No one was there.
“I think we’re safe,” Mateo decided.
Leona pointed to him. “They sometimes show up after someone says something like that.”
They looked around some more. Still no one.
“We may be the only people left in this universe,” Ramses lamented. “Trillions of years is a long time. They could have set the stellar engines on autopilot, and then died out.”
“We don’t know anything,” Mateo reminded them. “Let’s not despair just yet.”
“We better hope someone is still around. We need other people,” Ramses concluded. “We’re going to run out of hydropellets and antimatter pods sooner or later. The time battery is a quick fix, and I can’t recreate it in the span of a single day. This ship is not designed to be completely self-sufficient. If I had had more time back when—”
“No one is blaming you for this, Ramses,” Leona hoped he understood. “We all love this ship, and we’re grateful. The Power Vacuum does not discriminate. It seems to have been even more powerful than we knew. We can only hope that our plan to redirect the beam worked as intended, even if it was the last thing we did.”
“Still,” Ramses said, “I would feel much better near a star—a safe star, free from dangerous gravitational disturbances, and hot hot heat—than out here in the void.”
“Aren’t there stars and planets in the void?” Angela asked. “Someone once told me there were more isolated rogues, actually, than there are in galaxies.”
“Probably,” Leona agreed, “but anyone powerful enough to consolidate a galaxy of stars is likely also capable of stealing intergalactic stars as well. Even if we could confirm that the blob was once the Milky Way, we don’t have the tools to measure its mass to figure that out. My estimate of how far we are is based on how far we were from the galactic core, but that operates under the assumption that we traveled through time, but not space.”
“Let’s scan the best we can,” Olimpia suggested, wincing with regret for letting it rhyme. “Maybe we’re parked ten light years from a Class-M planet, and we don’t even know.”
“Class-M planet,” Leona echoed with a laugh. “Thanks, I really needed that.”
“What did I say?” Olimpia asked.
Mateo patted her on the head like a puppy. “Welcome to the club.”
They did scan as best they could with the technology they had. They were able to detect a faint source of light that was anywhere between a few light years away to tens of thousands. The only way to measure its distance would be to compare its relative position to other celestial objects, of which there was none in that general direction. Furthermore, if it was being moved towards the blob like all the others, its location would be even more unpredictable, because they were seeing its light reach them from as far in the past as it was away from them in space. It was moving either way, but the stellar engines were almost certainly faster than natural stellar drift. Regardless, it was their only option, so they pointed the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez towards it, and took a leap of faith.
They left the timestream a day later, and returned to find themselves still in void space. They hadn’t reached the star, and in fact, couldn’t find it anymore. It could have been receding from them, for all they knew. They weren’t alone here, though. A massive ship was hovering above them. Oh boy.

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