Sunday, January 30, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: March 21, 2379

The Cassidy cuffs that they were still wearing—even though everyone on the team was bound to the same pattern, and no longer needed an unnatural way to stay connected—came with a lot of handy features, including a teleporter. They could not simply transport to wherever they wanted, though. When within range, they could only make jumps to each other. At least one of them had to physically be at a particular location in order for the others to come without dealing with that annoying realspace. This was why Mateo had to jetpack over to Xerian’s ship, but Leona didn’t once he had arrived for her.
Mateo was about to exit the no longer operational shower room when he realized how long he had been gone. He didn’t want anyone on the team to know quite yet that he had found a way back to the main sequence, but he also couldn’t explain why he just spent the last fifteen minutes standing naked in a portal closet that was also not supposed to be working. The cuff teleporter was his only hope. Everyone was already right there within several meters of him, but maybe he could fudge with that a little. Maybe he could jump to the other side of this floor, and come out of the working tub so he wouldn’t have to explain to Ramses what took him so long to figure out that the other one was useless. Did he just stand there like an idiot? Or had he realized his mistake right away, and Ramses simply hadn’t noticed him walking by a second time earlier?
Mateo gathered his belongings, but didn’t put his clothes back on, in case the AI had ended up filling up the tub for him. Again, the teleporter wasn’t designed to transport someone to a specific location, but just close enough to a teammate without appearing inside of a wall or floor. He was going to have to kind of do his best. He pressed the button, and jumped.
It was darkish, and he didn’t know where he was. Gravity suddenly took hold of him, and knocked him to his back. He landed on something smooth and soft, and then rolled off onto something soft and cushiony.
“Ouch!” cried a voice. Was that Olimpia?
“Where am I?” Mateo asked in a panic. For a split second he had thought maybe he was in outer space, and in that time, his heart decided to try to burst out of his chest in response. His brain knew he was safe, but his body was still freaking out.
“You are in my grave chamber,” Angela explained. Oh, it was her, not Olimpia. Then she switched on the light. It was both Angela and Olimpia. They were as naked as he was.
“Well,” Mateo said awkwardly. “I guess now we know the teleporter isn’t that precise.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Olimpia replied.
“I’m gonna go,” Mateo declared, sitting up, and fumbling for the hatch.
“Up to you,” Angela said.
They just went right back to what they were doing while he was climbing out of there, desperately trying to hold onto his clothes. Leona was sitting at the table, watching him. “It’s not what it looks like,” Mateo defended. “I mean really, it really isn’t.”
“Why wouldn’t you put on your clothes first, and then test the teleporter?” Leona questioned. Smart as a whip. “And why would you ever test it on a spaceship this small?”
“That’s why you wear the pants in this relationship?” he tried to joke.
“Well...maybe you ought to...try it yourself.”
“Yeah.” He started putting his clothes back on. “Everything okay in engineering?”
“It’s fine,” she answered. “I want us to be geared up by midnight when we arrive near the Nexus planet. We don’t know what we’re walking into, so you should get some sleep now.”
“In your own grave chamber,” Leona added.
“I know.” He started walking towards it.
“No, not ours...yours.” She gently jerked her head towards the one that Jeremy used to sleep in.
“We’re fine, I know you weren’t cheating on me, but...I need to be able to sleep here in a minute too, and I know how you get when you’re...because of what you saw.”
That was true, he was in the mood now. “Okay.”

Nobody talked about what happened to them. Ramses could sense some tension, but he ignored it. He was probably still thinking about the last chapter he read in his book. Leona, meanwhile, was making sure that the AOC was programmed correctly. They wanted it to come out of reframe speed about sixty astronomical units from the destination, and find a place to hide on an object out there. The star system may be equipped with defenses capable of detecting it, but this was as far out as they wanted to be. It would take about an hour to complete the journey from there, making maximum range rapid burst jumps, and then pausing to let the vessel cool down and recover. Most of the time, when they tried something like this, they would end up getting caught anyway, but they still had to try every time.
This time, it worked. When they returned to the timestream a year later, they found themselves sitting on a comet in a highly elliptical orbit around a class IV subgiant. No other vessels were around, and no one had fiddled with their ship while they were gone. According to data it collected for them, the single terrestrial planet was orbiting in the habitable zone, and was, in fact, inhabited. The locals were a group of resistance nonfighters. They didn’t want to bring down the system, but they wanted to live outside of it. The Nexus served as a means of ferrying refugees from the Andromeda galaxy, where the war was raging. Out here in the void, it was harder for the Security Watchhouse Detachment to find them. Detachment, Leona noted upon hearing this. If the matrioshka-class SWD was a detachment then they needed to be very afraid of the sheer scale of whatever it was detached from. It could be the largest object ever created across the four known realities. Wanderer was apparently a nickname they used in a pathetic attempt to fool the refugees into believing they weren’t truly the enemy. No one was buying it. The Fifth Division was a ruling force, and not everyone wanted to be ruled by them.
The Investigator was like a police cruiser, scouting around for signs of life. The planet here, Paz was the biggest prize, but they scooped up anyone who rejected the Fifth Division’s sovereignty. The theory now was that the SWD was actually being rather cordial with the team, and that the tactic was meant as a means of learning the whereabouts of this intergalactic star system.
“They’re probably going to be quite concerned about us,” Olimpia figured. “We can’t just teleport to the surface, and expect to be welcomed with open arms. We have to warn them that we’re here, and assure them that we come in peace.”
“Agreed,” Leona said. “Computer, send a message. Tell them exactly where we are, and that we seek sanctuary.”
Acknowledged,” the computer returned.
“Take off the tactical gear,” Leona ordered. “We don’t want to look hostile.”
Do I have permission to clarify our power systems?” the computer requested.
“Say nothing about the reframe engine. Tell them we use antimatter for propulsion, fusion for internal systems, and have an AU range teleporter drive, or whatever it is they call it here.”
Understood,” the computer replied. Before too long, it went on, “they’re sending a light year drive to retrieve us.”
“Very well,” Leona said. “How did they sound?”
Human,” the ship answered.
“I mean tone, demeanor, emotional mood.”
The computer waited a moment. “Human.”
“Does it not understand the question?” Angela asked.
“No, it’s just recognizing its own limitations,” Ramses explained. “Humans are emotional, and it’s not. We programmed it without such things to avoid creating another Sasha or Imzadi. It’s just telling us that the person or persons it conversed with are emotional beings, but it can’t tell us which emotions. It just doesn’t know.”
They sat there for a moment, waiting to be picked up. The computer then finally responded to Ramses’ last words, “correct.”
“We can tweak the language cadence later,” Ramses said. “I think it thinks that it was pausing for effect.”
They waited another moment before the computer said one last thing, “correct.”
A ship suddenly appeared above them. “Crew of the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, this is the captain of the Paz Rescue Vessel Ataraxis. We’re here to take you to the inner system. Do we have your consent to transport you to our docking bay?
“This is the captain of the Stateless Private Vessel AOC. We consent.”
They never met anyone on the ship. It was fast enough to jump them into their bay, jump themselves all the way over to the planet, and then drop them off on the surface before they knew it. The team exited the airlock, shocked by the bright light from the sun. How long had it been since they had seen something like this? It was dark and cloudy on Pluoraia, which was the last planet they had been on that was habitable without human intervention. Before that, they spent a little bit of time on 1816 Earth to say goodbye to Jeremy. They just didn’t do much on planets anymore. Perhaps they would wait to make the trip to Andromeda. This looked like a nice enough place. Sure, they were stumbling on the stairs—because they always kept the AOC at slightly lower gravity than Earth, and this world was reportedly slightly higher than Earth gravity—but they would get used to it quickly. This could be their new home. Maybe.
 “Greetings,” said a woman at the bottom of the stairs. “I’m Florida Telano.”
“Florida, like the state?” Olimpia asked.
“I’ve never heard of that,” Florida said.
“The U.S. doesn’t exist here,” Leona whispered.
“Right. My mistake.”
“Where do you come from?” Florida questioned. The name must have been a linguistic coincidence.
“We would rather keep that private,” Leona said. “We still have family there, and we don’t need any targets on their backs.” Really good lie.
“Understood,” Florida said surprisingly. “Let me give you the tour.” She lifted her arms up to project a hologram of the planet between them. “We are primarily a pitstop on a refugee’s way to their new home. The void consists of millions of minor celestial bodies, which we spread out to avoid detection. Every one of them is hydrogen-rich, and powered by at least one fusion reactor, depending on capacity. It’s capable of self-propulsion at subluminal speeds, but not faster-than-light travel. The idea is to radiate the least amount of heat possible in order to remain hidden. In contrast, Paz is orbiting a Stage Nu subgiant rogue star. It’s hard to find out here in the black, but still rather visible. People do live here, but it’s more dangerous. We are always at risk of being discovered. It’s up to you whether you’re willing to take that risk.”
“We were told that we could go to Andromeda,” Leona said. She showed Florida her handheld device. “A friend gave us these coordinates.”
Florida tilted her head, and frowned. “This is the capital of the Andromedan Consortium. It’s the number one opposing force to the Fifth Divisional Denseterium. It’s safe from the latter, but you’re at the mercy of the former. Some say they’re no better.”
Leona frowned back. She looked over to her team. “We’re not much for hiding anyway, are we?”
“No, not really,” Mateo concurred.
“All right,” Leona decided with a nod, “unless there are any objections, I think we’ll just stay here.”
“Great!” Florida exclaimed with sincerity. “We have a number of options for habitation. You’re welcome to stay on your vessel, or we can place you in a home. The price of the latter is some form of contribution, even if you choose privacy mode—which means we never go to you; you come to us—over community engagement mode.”
“Privacy mode,” they all said in unison.
“And we’ll stay on our ship,” Leona added.

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