Sunday, January 16, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: March 19, 2377

“Ramses, dark mode!” Leona ordered.
The ship became a darklurker. All nonessential systems were powered down to make themselves as undetectable as possible. Mateo decided to float up to the upper level, which was the only place with regular viewports. They were the only means of seeing what was going on outside. There was another ship out there. It was much smaller than The Investigator, which had taken them to the stellar engine. At the moment, it wasn’t doing anything. Perhaps it never noticed them, and its presence was a mere coincidence. Probably not, but they could hope.
“Battery level,” Leona whispered. She didn’t need to, but it was better to be safe than sorry.
“Twenty-four percent,” Angela reported.
“Hull integrity.”
Ramses popped his head up from the lower level.
“Propulsion,” Leona prompted.
“There is nothing out here close enough for us to get to it without the battery, and this maneuver took a lot more out of us than I hoped it would. I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault,” Leona promised. “Mateo—where’s Mateo?”
“He went upstairs,” Olimpia said.
“I’m getting a bad feeling,” Leona said, standing up. “Ramses, use a tablet, and run some simulations. I want options for getting us out of this mess.”
“Sir,” Ramses replied.
Meanwhile, Leona went up to see what her husband was doing. He was in the airlock, hatch closed, finishing up fitting himself with one of the vacuum suits. “What are you doing?” she asked through the intercom
“I’m gonna board that thing,” he answered.
“The hell you are.”
“Stop wasting power on the intercom,” Mateo argued.
Leona rapidly pressed the charging button on the console. Something as simple as this did not require much power, and could be recharged quite easily. “There, now it’s back up to four bars. You are not going out there.”
“We need fuel, that thing has fuel,” he contended.
“I’m sure it does. It has antimatter pods, and hydropellets, but the former won’t be compatible with our system, and you don’t know what you’re looking for.”
“I know what I’m looking for,” he said. “I’m not as dumb as you think. I don’t know how antimatter works, but I’ve seen you people replace lots of parts on this thing while I was sitting around with nothing to do. I can retrieve them for you, and the two of you can adapt the alien technology. If nothing else, the deuterium and tritium can be used with the regular fusion drive, correct?”
She sighed. “They can. It’ll be slow, but yes.”
“Slow for us is maybe a few weeks,” Mateo pointed out as he was placing the helmet over his head.
“I’ll go with you,” Leona offered. “There are eleven other suits.”
“But there’s only one jetpack, and I need all the power I can get.”
“Let me do this. Let me do something.”
“You promise you know what you’re looking for?”
“I do. You know our code words. If something goes wrong, and I tell you to through the cuff, then you darkburst the hell out of here, and don’t look back.”
“Mateo...” she repeated.
“I’ll be fine, I promise.” He couldn’t promise that, but he had to do something. They needed those power sources. Being stuck in an intergalactic void was just not a sustainable living arrangement. Better him than someone else. Out of everyone on the team, he was the most expendable. He double checked his vacuum suit, then turned around, and jacked himself into the jetpack on the wall. In the olden days, one or two people had to help an astronaut into a suit like this. This was a lot better, especially if Leona had chosen to be less agreeable about the whole thing.
“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” Leona was still so worried.
Mateo separated himself from the wall, and struggled to stay vertical from the weight of the jetpack. “Were I you.”
“Were I you.” She switched off the artificial gravity for him, so he didn’t have to stand. Then she pressed the button to open the outer doors, and watched him go.
According to the heads up display, the mysterious nonresponsive ship was floating about a kilometer away from the AOC. It had yet to make any move against them, or any move at all, for that matter. Ramses was reading heat waste coming off from it, so it didn’t appear to be abandoned, unless it was, and it happened pretty recently. The AOC remained in dark mode, staying in communication with Mateo using a carefully tuned laser. This would stop working once he boarded the vessel, but at that point, he should be able to take off part of the suit, and begin using the highly secure Cassidy cuff.
Using data relayed from Mateo’s sensors, Ramses was able to pinpoint a good place for ingress in what was probably an infrequently used airlock for automated external hull repair. It was too small for his jetpack to fit, so he removed it, and magnetically held it against the hull to retrieve later. He opened the airlock using the manual override they found, and slipped in. Still no response from anyone on the ship, suggesting that they had no idea he was there, or even that the AOC was. This could prove to be the hard part, figuring out how to repressurize the airlock without the team’s help. He reached over, just hoping there wasn’t an authorization code to block him, but before he could touch anything, the room started to make noise. It was repressurizing on its own, theoretically in reaction to his presence. The inner doors opened on their own too. Mateo removed his helmet, set it on the floor, and carefully exited.
He looked one way. Coast was clear. He looked the other way. Not clear. A man was standing there with a weapon of some kind trained on him. “Weapons on the floor.”
“I don’t have any,” Mateo told him honestly. They had never thought to store them on the AOC. It wasn’t a warship, after all.
“I don’t believe you.”
“Why did you let me in if you thought I was a threat?” That airlock didn’t pressurize itself. This guy was surely in control.
“I wanted to know who you are, and what you’re doing here.”
“We need fuel,” Mateo answered. “Our own ship, it’’s not gonna get far.”
“You mean that lifeboat down there?”
“You noticed us.”
“I’m not an idiot. Weapons, now.”
Mateo began to take off the rest of his suit, proving that he didn’t have anything up his sleeve.
“What is this thing?” the man questioned, holding Mateo’s wrist up, and indicating the Cassidy cuff.
“Comms and basic sensors.” He didn’t need to know about the sync teleporter, or the temporal pattern link.
He seemed satisfied with this answer. That was exactly what it looked like. More importantly, it didn’t look like a weapon. “That way,” he ordered with a jerk of his gun. He continued to direct Mateo from behind. This was a nice ship; kept clean and well-lit. There didn’t appear to be anyone else here, but it was pretty large. They could have been busy in other sections without Mateo ever knowing. “What fuel do you need, isotopes?”
“That, and antimatter pods. I know it’s a big ask, but if you’ll just speak with my Captain, I’m sure we can work something out. There’s no need for things to get—”
“We’re here.”
They were entering a big storage room. The roar of the engine was louder now, coming from a door on the other side. It did not look like a hock cell.
“How much do you need?” the man asked.
“Um.” That was an interesting question. He was just planning on stealing as much as he could carry. “Whatever you can spare. Our propulsion drive can handle six pods simultaneously, but our engineers will have to transfer what you have to—” He stopped himself to look down at the case the man had just opened. Inside were six pods. They looked nearly identical to the ones the AOC used. “Is that some kind of standard design?”
“I have no idea.” He shut the case, and pulled another one from the shelf. You carry them, I’ll carry the isotopes.
“Not that I’m not appreciative, but...why are you doing this?”
“I want you out of my business,” the man answered, “and I don’t care what it takes. This is my territory now, and I don’t need you hanging around any longer than necessary.”
It kind of sounded like he was doing something illegal. Mateo didn’t really care, though. This wasn’t his reality, and he didn’t know anything about the culture. He couldn’t even say that Salufi, or the others on the matrioshka brain, were bad people. Their reaction to the team’s arrival was not outrageous. They just couldn’t have it, and needed to leave. “I understand.”
“Thanks, let’s go.”
They started to walk back towards the service airlock, this time without the gun. “I’m sure you don’t want questions, but does this have anything to do with the matrioshka brain that was parked somewhere around here last year?”
The man stopped him at the shoulder. “You know it was here. Did you see it?”
“I was on it. We barely escaped.” Again, he couldn’t be sure whose side this guy was on, but against the matrioshka brain was a pretty fair bet at this point.
“Do you know its exact coordinates?” he pressed.
“Uhh, I don’t, I’m just the delivery boy. My Captain probably knows, or will do everything she can to help you find it.”
He set the isotopes down, and took one of the antimatter cases from Mateo. “Contact your ship. I will give you twice as much as this if you can get me to where they were.”
“This was exactly a year ago,” Mateo warned him. “We can probably find where it was then, but if it moved after that...”
“Doesn’t matter,” he said. “I just need its flight path, so I can predict where it will be next.”
“What are you going to do with this information?”
“Don’t worry about it.”
Mateo weighed his options in his head. He didn’t have much to go on, but one side imprisoned the team, and the other gave them presents. Dance with the one that brought you, he figured. He tapped on his cuff. “Leona.”
Finally! Yes—my God—where have you been?
“In a meeting,” he mused.
Are you okay?” she asked.
“Perfectly fine,” he answered. “Jump to these coordinates. I’ve made a business arrangement with a new associate.”
Powering up now.
“Hey, I don’t know how long this is gonna take,” Mateo started to say to the man, “but in case we make quick work of this, we should formalize it. My name is Mateo Matic. My wife, Leona is the Captain. We have an engineer, and two other crew members on board.”
“Xerian Oyana.”
Mateo pulled up his own info on his cuff. “This is my personal quantum sequence. If you ever need anything else, call me, and we’ll try to help if we’re in the neighborhood. Time lag might be a factor.”
Xerian pulled out his handheld device, and accepted the data, exchanging it with his own. After Leona teleported to their location, they all three went up to the bridge, stopping briefly at the storage room to double their payment. Once at the controls, Leona retraced the AOC’s steps, and found the region of space where the matrioshka brain was last year. Xerian knew it was somewhere around here, but he needed to be as accurate as possible. He added it to the points he had already plotted on a map, and connected them with a new line. “Ah, they’re tricky, but I see a pattern.”
“Me too,” Leona said.
Mateo didn’t see it. It just looked like a random mess to him.
“Well, I appreciate your help,” Xerian said.
“We appreciate yours. This should last us quite a while.”
“I must be off. I think I can finally get ahead of them.”
“We’ll leave, but do you know where we can go? Is there some kind of haven for people who don’t have identities, and don’t have a great relationship with that matrioshka brain?
“Andromeda is your only hope,” Xerian explained. “But since I imagine you don’t have a lightyear drive, it will take you too long to get there.”
“You don’t have instant transporters?” Leona pressed.
“We do, but that’s what I mean,” Xerian went on. “The closest Nexus that won’t ask questions is nearly 1400 light years away.”
Mateo looked over to Leona, who closed her eyes and nodded. That will be fine. Xerian didn’t know about the reframe engine, or their salmon pattern. “Thanks again,” she said.
Xerian found the coordinates to both the Nexus, and a supposedly safe place in the Andromeda galaxy, and beamed them to her cuff.
After the two of them teleported back to the AOC, Mateo realized there could be another way. “Maybe we should just ask if we can stay with him.”
“That is not our business,” Leona contended. “We just need to get somewhere safe.”
“I think I trust him,” Mateo decided.
“That’s great!” Leona said with false enthusiasm. “We’re still gonna go do our own thing. Ramses.” She held out one of the cases of antimatter, and one of the tritium. “Load these up while I plot our course. We’ll be there in two years.”
“We’ll be where?” Mateo pointed out.
“We’ll see,” she said simply.
They weren’t necessarily headed towards safety. They still didn’t know what the hell was going on in this reality.

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