Sunday, January 9, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: March 18, 2376

A message popped up on the table hologram, showing a series of symbols that Mateo did not recognize, as well as diagrams and graphs. Leona and Ramses squinted their eyes and studied them for a moment. Angela and Olimpia tried to do the same, but they couldn’t interpret it any better than Mateo, so they eventually gave up too. “It’s a math problem,” Leona decided. “Really simple too, just not in Arabic script.”
“L-O-L, it’s pi,” Ramses said. “Reply in pi, use Arabic.”
“Yeah,” Leona agreed. She quickly typed out the answer. “Fifteen digits should be more than enough to satisfy this little test.”
“Are we sure we want to respond to these people?” Olimpia asked as the voice of reason.
“If they’re the type to fire upon a helpless six-person ship for giving the right answer, they’re surely the type to fire upon us for not answering, or giving the wrong one, for that matter,” Leona reasoned. She did wait a moment before pressing enter, in case there were any further objections.
A few seconds passed before the hologram changed into the image of a human being. “Greetings from The SWD Investigator. We do not recognize your vessel. Where do you come from?” the little guy asked.
“Greetings to you too,” Leona replied. “This is Captain Leona Matic of the stateless private vessel known as the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. We hail from Earth, but the ship was constructed on Proxima Doma, Proxima Centauri.”
The hologram looked confused. “Earth, you say?”
“Indeed. There may be a time discrepancy.”
“Quite,” the hologram agreed. “It is the standard year 22,376.”
“Hmm,” Angela noted. “Twenty-two thousand years exactly into the future.”
“We don’t know that,” Ramses pointed out. “We were scheduled to restart the calendar in two centuries. Who knows how many times they do something like that?”
The man had been listening to them politely as they spoke amongst each other. “Is your ship capable of light year burst mode?”
“It is not,” Leona responded. They were too far advanced for her to lie and risk ending up on their bad side. “We operate at a maximum speed of seven-oh-seven-c.”
“Interesting. You may dock with us, and we will transport you to the Wanderer.” He closed the transmission, leaving the hologram with an image of the space above them, where his ship was opening up to accept them.
“That must be the W in SWD,” Olimpia figured.
“Do we run?” Mateo asked. “Serious question.”
“We don’t,” Leona answered. “Trust, but verify.” Leona activated the teleporter for a single jump into the belly of the beast.
No one came to the docks to speak with them, so they just waited until the hatch opened up again, and a clearly automated voice instructed them to, “please exit the Investigator, and follow the highlighted route.
The presently personality-less AI of the AOC accepted the coordinates, and transported them to the surface of an even larger vessel, which Leona and Ramses explained was probably an understatement. They couldn’t quite tell how massive it was, but it appeared to be larger than a star.
Now a woman was waiting for them when they exited their ship, and climbed down the steps. “Please follow me to the Office of the Director of Alien Affairs. She will be...extremely pleased to meet you. If you are telling the truth that you are stateless, you’ll be the first true alien we’ve ever met. We would be interested to know why you look so human.”
“So would we,” Mateo said. He had a pretty good idea why, though.
They entered a teleportation closest, and transported down to the deepest, darkest, section of the whole facility. Of course, they didn’t really know that was what it was, but it sure felt like it. It was dark anyway. “There ya go,” she said with what looked like a slight shiver. She reentered the closet before they could ask any more questions.
They walked down the rest of the corridor, and knocked on the only door they saw. A hairy animal that resembled an ape of some kind opened the door, and looked them over. “Can I help you?” she asked.
“We’re, uhh...” Leona began, “aliens.”
“How do you know?” the ape questioned.
“We’re from Earth,” Leona added.
“This is Earth,” the ape contended. “What’s become of it at least.”
“We’re from the original Earth,” Leona clarified. “When it was a planet?”
The ape sighed deeply. “Come on in, I’ll run some tests.” She began to mutter under her breath. “Can’t possibly be aliens. Time travelers, sure, but I don’t know how they got past The Barricade.” She squeezed them all onto a couch that would not have been fit for three adults. She tried to scan them with a device before realizing she was pointing in the wrong direction, and had actually been scanning herself.
“Do you know what you’re doing?” Ramses asked.
“And I suppose you do?” the ape spat back.
He scoffed lightly. “I’m the engineer, Ramses Abdulrashid. This is our Captain, Leona Matic, First Officer Mateo Matic, and Crewmen Angela Walton and Olimpia Sangster.”
“Titles and ranks TBD,” Mateo said. Not once had anyone ever referred to him as the First Officer.
“Whatever,” the ape said dismissively. “I am Salufi.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Salufi,” Ramses said politely.
She closed her scanner, and carelessly tossed it onto a chair. “This damn thing can’t tell what you are, but what makes you think you’re an alien? Earth hasn’t been a planet for tens of thousands of years, but you’re still one of us. You’re an ancestor, I guess.”
All this time, Leona had been staring at something on the wall, chin resting in a palm attached by an arm to an elbow resting on Mateo’s knee. “I keep seeing that symbol. What does it mean?” It was a fairly simple graphic. A large arch was on the outside, followed by a second arch inside of it, which would be identical to the first, except it was broken down the middle. Inside of that was an arch broken into three parts, and then four, and then five.
Salufi looked over at it like it wasn’t important. “It’s The Fifth Division. That’s how our culture got started.” She scoffed harshly. “That symbol has existed long before you would have been born. If you have your own ship, and know how to use it—”
“We didn’t tell you we had a ship,” Angela argued.
“I knew you were coming,” Salufi explained. “You think I didn’t know? We’re not idiots around here. Do you wanna know about the symbol, or not?”
“Go on,” Leona urged.
“In the beginning, there was unity. One peoples, on Earth. Then a small group of them decided that they wanted to go back in time to—I guess—rule the world, or something. They call this The First Division. Well, about half of them wanted to go back only a little bit, while the other half wanted to go back thousands of years. They call it The Second Division. We don’t know what happened to the less ambitious half; their existence was probably negated by the people who went back further. Those people stayed there for a little bit, grew their numbers, and then decided to go to another dimension. Some of them—very few of them—chose to stay. They call it The Third Division. We don’t know what happened to those who stayed, they probably just lived their lives, and died pointlessly. In that other dimension, the people I think did rule over all of reality, making changes. Or no, wait, they were undoing changes that other travelers were making. Yeah, that was it. Well, apparently they got bored, so nearly all of them left; went back down to Earth. The Fourth Division. Finally, some of them chose to stay there, and do whatever. The rest, well, they went back in time again. We don’t know how far back, but either way, it certainly negated everything that had ever happened to them and their ancestors. It was they who developed the civilization you see before you. We call them...The Fifth Division. That’s their symbol.”
“Easter Island,” Leona said cryptically. “She’s talking about The Gallery.”
“The Gallery, yeah, yeah,” Salufi realized. “The other dimension was called the Gallery.”
“That’s where the Prestons lived,” Leona explained to the group when it was clear they didn’t know or recall what she was talking about. “A bunch of people used to work there, but when they left, Athanaric Fury had to keep things running with a skeleton crew composed of the couple, their three...clay children, and himself.”
“But that doesn’t make sense,” Mateo said. “We met the Prestons. They weren’t erased from the future by these Fifth Division travelers.”
“No, they wouldn’t have been able to,” Leona said, getting excited. “The creation of the Gallery dimension was a fixed moment in time. It could not be undone. If they wanted to create a timeline where it didn’t exist, it would have to be concurrent with the main sequence. We’re in an alternate reality; just like The Parallel. We probably didn’t even jump forward in time. This is probably still 2376, except as Ramses assumed, it’s a different calendar, because an advanced peoples created one long before the one we used could have been standardized.”
“We are aliens,” Ramses declared. “Being from an alternate reality counts.”
Leona nodded in agreement. The rest of them weren’t so pleased. What fresh hell awaited them here?
“Okay,” Salufi said, slapping her knees. She stood up, and lifted the Fifth Division symbol they were all talking about from the plaque on the wall. This revealed a big red button. She pressed it, sounding a terrible alarm throughout the room.
“I am not going back to jail,” Angela said definitively.
“I’m tired of being locked up too,” Leona agreed.
“Sync up and jump,” Ramses said as he literally took a stand.
Leona synced their cuffs, and tried to jump them back to the AOC. They could see it before them, but it didn’t stay where it was meant to be. It quickly disappeared, only to be replaced by the wall in Salufi’s office. Then it returned. They just kept flickering back and forth between the dock and the office, dozens of times before Salufi engaged some special temporal device, and permanently pulled them back into the office.
“You think you can just teleport wherever you want?” she asked rhetorically. “Time powers are heavily regulated in this reality. You’re gonna stay here until the authorities come to scoop you up. My department handles aliens who evolved somewhere else in the universe, of which we have so far found none. Soon, you won’t be my problem anymore, and I’ll go back to my nice life of not doing a damn thing all day, which is why I pursued this career in the first place. Until then, sit your hairless asses back down on the couch!”

The authorities did come to scoop up the team. They didn’t lock them up in a cell, though. They just quarantined them in their ship until they could figure out whether they were a threat. They wrongfully figured they would have at least one day to wait.
“We have one shot at this,” Leona said. “Can you do it?”
“Yes,” Ramses said. “We can attach ourselves to any object. Usually, we don’t want to do that, because we want to stay on the celestial object we’re already on, but just because we’re inside this matrioshka brain doesn’t mean we have to stay here.”
“Still,” Leona continued, “I want to be as unpredictable as possible. “Olimpia, you remember how to set the ship to burst mode?”
“Yes,” Olimpia replied. “Six bursts, six AU.” Hull integrity was predicted to degrade past that.
“Angela, time battery?”
“Fifty-six percent,” Angela answered.
“Ramses?” Leona asked simply.
“We won’t be stuck in one place when we’re done, but we still won’t have a power source to replenish our reserves.”
“I wish we had asked for them before they knew what we were,” Leona lamented. “Okay, we’ll build that bridge when we get to it. Mateo.”
“Yes, boss?” he said, hoping to contribute in some way.
“Were I you,” she said.
“Were I you,” he echoed.
“Okay,” Leona decided. “Timing is everything. We’re coming up on midnight. The stellar engine is operational. They should be far from this location by the time we come back a year from now. If all goes according to plan, they will assume we found a way to escape, not that we jumped to the future.”
A few minutes later, everyone was ready at their action stations. Angela was monitoring communications and ship systems, ready to report if the natives realized what they were up to. Olimpia was hovering her hand over the button, ready to activate the teleporter for six fairly short jumps. Ramses was down in the engineering section, ready to do whatever. Leona was there to coordinate. Mateo was making tea. “They should have never underestimated you people,” he pointed out. He sure got lucky, falling in with this good lot of people. His life could have ended up a lot worse.
Leona began to count them down by the second. “Six, five, four, three, two, one, mark!” They jumped into the future, as did the AOC. Olimpia sent them six AU away, just to be safe. The matrioshka brain was gone, but that didn’t mean they were alone.

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