Sunday, February 6, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: March 22, 2380

They chose to link the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez up to their Cassidy cuffs, so it would jump to the future with them, rather than staying behind. This turned out to be the worst of two bad outcomes. Had it remained, it probably would have been destroyed while they were gone, but at least they wouldn’t have been there when it happened.
The Paz Protectorate Housing Department found them a secluded little canyon a few thousand kilometers from the main city. They parked the AOC there, and waited for their day to end. They knew they wanted to stay on this world for a little while, but they needed to learn more about it before they made any further decisions in that regard. For now, they were just going to relax. Most everyone was in bed, but Mateo was a bit restless when midnight central hit. The ship was equipped with inertial dampeners to prevent or lessen acceleration, as well as any jostling around that occurred during space travel. When entering an atmosphere, this became a little trickier, which is why they generally just usually just placed themselves in orbit, and then teleported down to the surface. Flying through the air didn’t make any sense when it wasn’t necessary. These safety protocols were shut off upon landing, however, because they shouldn’t have needed them. The crew felt it when the ship fell hard on the ground, tipped over, and crashed onto the ground on its side. Something about the terrain had changed drastically while they were gone, and the ship’s landing gear could not compensate for it.
Mateo woke up in engineering with a splitting headache. A few tools were strewn about him. A food cartridge was on his neck. The floor was the wall, and the walls were the floor and ceiling. He had been sitting at the central table during the crash, so he must have been sent tumbling down here. According to his cuff, he was out cold for the last fifteen minutes. He looked above him as the lights flickered to see that the antimatter reactor casing was cracked. Accelerator coolant was dripping onto his chest, and there was a sound that he didn’t recognize.
“Mateo! Mateo!” came a voice so muffled, he could barely make out that it was his name.
“Down here!” Mateo cried, but he didn’t think it was as loud as he would have wanted it.
The voice shouted something else, but this time he couldn’t decipher it at all.
Are you in engineering?” Ramses asked through the cuffs.
“Yes,” Mateo answered. “Report.”
Angela and Olimpia are trapped in a grave chamber. Leona is...
“Leona is what?”
She’s unconscious. I can’t do a proper medical assessment, but her heart is beating, and she’s breathing.
Mateo had to cough up some fluids before he could speak again. “What is this sound?” He lifted his cuff towards the propulsion drive so Ramses could hear the weird noise. “It sounds like something is dying.”
Ramses took a moment. “It is. That is the fluctuating magnetic containment field of at least one antimatter pod. It’s surviving on fumes. It’s not going to last long.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought. You all have to get out of here. I can’t move, and I can see that the food synthesizer is blocking my way out anyway.”
Mateo, there is nowhere to go. The resulting explosion will cover hundreds of kilometers in every direction at least. We’re all already dead. We should have asked for personal emergency teleporters. The city might be far enough away to be safe.
“We have teleporters on our cuffs. Only one of us needs to get to a safe distance.”
The cuffs can’t tele—
“Listen to me,” Mateo interrupted. “Remember that portal you built in the far shower that leads to the Jameela Jamil?”
Yes, but that was in another reality,” Ramses argued.
“It’s still open. might be. Take Leona, and try it. The rest of us can transport to your location if it works.”
And if it doesn’t?
“Then at least you will have tried!” Mateo reasoned.
Mateo lay his head back down, trying to breathe deeply, but he was unable to. The freezing cold coolant was not making anything easy. He reached over, and pulled some piece of twisted metal on top of him for protection.
Matty, it’s just a broken shower. Whatever you saw...whatever you experienced, it’s gone.
That was their last hope. “We never found out what happens when you die in this reality. We never asked anybody.”
They’re fighting a war,” Ramses said. “I would imagine that there’s nothing on the other side of the dark veil.
“Same,” Mateo agreed. His cuff beeped, which was weird because members of his team didn’t need to reach out to communicate with him. They could just start talking. “Oh, hold on, I’m getting another call.” He answered the waiting caller. “Hello?”
This is Xerian Oyana of the Cruise Ship Suadona, are you alive down there?
“This is Mateo of the Stateless AOC, or whatever. Where are you?”
In orbit around Paz. I just detected your ship as I was looking for clues after the attack.
“Xerian, get me out of here.”
Okay. Locking onto your signal. It might be kind of messy, but you’ll arrive intact.
After a minute, Mateo found himself on the floor of the bridge, still covered in debris. “Ramses, Angela, Olimpia...transport to my location now.”
All four appeared above him. Leona was just waking up in Ramses’ arms. Xerian already had a satellite-like image of the surface of the planet up, zoomed in to high resolution. There they could see their precious, beautiful ship. It wasn’t long before the explosion burst out of it, and began to spread over the desert. They watched in fear as the blast inched closer and closer to the city, hoping that the two would never meet. They did. For a second, it seemed to be slowing down, but it must have been an optical illusion. They collectively gasped and frowned, saddened by the fact that they did this. They killed those innocent people. They should have tried to warn them.
Xerian looked around at their faces. “You know there’s no one down there, right?”
“The city was evacuated. I told you it was attacked.”
“Attacked by who?” Leona questioned.
“Who do you think?”
“You’re still tracking them,” Mateo said. He was still just lying on the floor, too hurt to move.
“I’ve never been this close. They were just here a month ago.”
“The timing is too coincidental,” Ramses said as he was helping Mateo to a sitting position. “The planet has been rescuing people for who knows how long, and then we show up, and it’s suddenly found and destroyed.”
“It hasn’t been that long,” Xerian said, his tone implying that this wasn’t their fault. “This is just the latest in countless base worlds that the rescue network has used for the last few thousand years. They should have told you that it was more dangerous to stay here than to move on.”
“We didn’t know how dire the situation was,” Olimpia explained.
“Do you know how many died before completing the evacuation?” Angela asked.
“No way to know from up here, and that’s not my purpose. I’m just looking for the trail. How did you get here so fast without a lightyear engine?”
“That ship,” Ramses began, “was more powerful than we let on it. It couldn’t go as fast as all that, but it had faster-than-light capabilities. Seven hundred and seven times faster, to be exact. We have to return to the main sequence so we can get it back.”
“What do you mean, get it back?” Mateo asked.
“Yeah.” Leona didn’t know either.
Ramses narrowed his eyes. “Did I not tell you about the reset button?”
“The dowhatnow?”
“The reset button, the reset button.”
“Why don’t you say it a fourth time?” Leona mocked. “Maybe that’s all it takes to jog our memory. What the hell are you talking about?”
“It’s like...okay, some of you may not get this, but ancient computers had this thing called a system restore point? Basically, if you had a problem with your machine, you could revert it to an earlier state, which would wipe out everything that had been done to it in the meantime, allowing you to start over from there.”
“Okay,” Leona said, nodding. “So you left one of these resets in the main sequence, which can create a whole copy of our ship?”
“Yes, next to the entrance portal for the Power Vacuum. The reset won’t send us back in time, it will just reconstitute the ship into the form it was in when I last set up a restore point.”
“Why didn’t you set up one more recently?” Olimpia suggested.
“It resets the ship to as it was at a given point in time, including everything that was inside of it in that moment.” He looked around to see if they understood by now. “Including people? We haven’t left the ship since we ended up in this reality, at least not all of us at once.”
“Yeah, we did, we were in Salufi’s office,” Angela argued.
“Right, inside of the evil matrioshka brain. I didn’t think we would ever want to go back there. I have to tether the reset to a spatial constant of some kind.”
“Wait,” Leona said, starting to pace. “Did you not set up a reset point there, because you were worried about the danger? Or do you just not want to use that reset point now, because of how dangerous we know it is?”
“I don’t understand where you’re going with this,” Ramses admitted.
“Is there a reset point on the SWD that we could theoretically use?”
“Yes, I programmed it to happen after every time the ship is emptied. But what does it matter? We can’t go there. The safest recovery point is by that brown dwarf.”
“Since when have we only looked for the safest path?” Leona questioned.
“All of us almost just died,” Ramses contended. “Mateo’s still hurt, you may have a concussion.”
“Your point?” she pressed.
“I can’t demand that we not go back to that thing, but I also can’t endorse it.”
Leona looked over to Xerian. “You need to find them, right? That is your mission, your...crusade?”
“It is,” Xerian confirmed.
“We can tell you exactly where it is, and exactly when it’s there,” Leona promised. “We can show you the way. Ramses will restore our ship. Once it’s complete, we’ll teleport to one of the extra cuffs, and drop a pin for you.”
“A pin?” Xerian asked.
“We’ll send you coordinates,” Olimpia translated.
“We don’t even know what he’s trying to do with the SWD,” Mateo said, managing to stand up only long enough to find a chair, and sit back down. “Do you have a bomb that can destroy the damn thing? Are you trying to rescue your long lost love? Is this a suicide mission? We have to know that we can escape again before deciding whether any of this makes any sense.”
Xerian seemed scared to answer the question. Perhaps it was indeed a suicide mission. He walked over to the other side of the control console, and started fiddling with the switches. They didn’t seem to be doing anything, maybe just flipping lights on and off throughout the vessel. They waited patiently for him to respond. “It’s mine.”
“What’s yours?” Mateo asked.
“The brain, the SWD; it’s mine, I own it.”
“I’m sorry?” Leona prompted.
Xerian took a breath. “I am one of the original members of the Fifth Division. I won’t get into how our vision for the future of the galaxy supercluster came to be, or how we realized it—it doesn’t matter now. The point is that I broke away from them, as did a few others who didn’t agree with the direction we were taking. But we have a weird sort of hierarchical structure, and consolidation of power. That damn thing is mine, and I have the right to do with it what I choose, but I have to be on it to reclaim that ownership from the one who stole it from me. I intend to shutter the entire fugitive hunting program, and hopefully end the war, but I have to get to it first. It is the only thing that would have any hope of uniting the other detachments, and putting a stop to the Denseterium.”
“What exactly is this Denseterium?” Leona asked. “That is not a word where we’re from.”
Xerian pulled up a holographic image of the stellar blob that they saw when they first came to this reality. “The New Hyperdense Milky Way Galaxy. An obviously dense collection of stars that are within one light year of each other, resulting in the most massive celestial body in the universe. They’re using thrusters to move every star system closer together, so they can interlink them, and transport them anywhere they want all at once using the largest light year engine ever. If they finish it, no one is safe.”

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