Sunday, February 13, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: March 23, 2381

They told Xerian everything—well, not everything—about who they were. They just told him enough for him to understand why they were going to disappear at the end of the day, and not return for another original Earthan year. They also told him about the reframe engine, which is significantly slower than the standard light year engine that these people were used to, but also not a useless waste of hydrogen. They explained as little about the cuffs as they could to get by, but after some probing questions, Xerian learned that their pattern wasn’t technically necessary. They ought to be able to switch it off whenever they pleased, and presumably forever. That made the team uncomfortable. They had to come to terms with the fact that everyone they met would always find it strange that they would elect to live this lifestyle. The way they looked at it, though, asking them to suppress the pattern would be exactly the same as asking a normal person to do it in reverse. This was how they perceived time, and even the newbies were used to it by now. It wasn’t out of the question, but perhaps it ought to be. Ramses figured he could modify the cuffs physically to remove the power/pattern suppression function. That would still leave them with the other useful features, like associated teleportation, and a handy computer they always had on them. Unfortunately, it was more complicated than it sounded. Olimpia would always need her time illness to be suppressed.
Xerian was patient, so he could stand to wait for the team to spend the rest of the day recovering from their ordeal, and then not be able to return to work for a year. The Denseterium was still decades away from realizing their dream of building a light year engine capable of traversing a whole galaxy across the observable universe in three thousand years or less. Theoretically, they could do it now, and in fact could have always done it. Their goal was to collect every star in the Milky Way, but they didn’t actually need to in order to demonstrate their might. Why, the whole reason they were at war with Andromeda was because they were so technologically advanced already. The Hyperdense galaxy was simultaneously already complete, and would never be complete. They could use it now, or continue to add at will They too were patient, because they had an objective in mind, and didn’t see Xerian as enough of a threat to alter those plans. Hell, they could have light year engined every star into place almost immediately, but they were using regular Class E stellar engines, because they required less energy.
“Is that true?” Ramses asked. “Why couldn’t they just use a lot of little light year engines to consolidate the stars first? Sure, this uses a lot of energy all at once, but the stellar engines lose a lot of mass for thrust. I don’t think they’re saving themselves anything.”
“They are,” Xerian contended. “The stellar material expelled as thrust is collected and recycled afterwards. A light year engine disperses the material that it leaves behind so much that it’s pretty much actually wasted.”
“Who told you that?” Leona asked.
“Uhh, I dunno, that’s just the science.”
“I’m not convinced that it is,” Ramses disagreed. “A light year engine is incredibly efficient. Otherwise, our colleagues back home wouldn’t bother using it.”
“They’re just using it for a ship, though, right?” Xerian reminded him. “Entire star systems are different. They’re open, making it harder to contain waste.”
“I guess,” Ramses said, “but I can’t imagine the Shkadov thrusters are any less wasteful. I mean, it takes energy to collect that too. I would need to see the math.”
“A what thruster?” Xerian asked.
“That’s what we call them where we’re from.” What the team chose not to explain was that they were from a different reality. They instead said that they came to this part of the universe from a distant galaxy which Leona called 3C 295. It was five billion light years away, which would take a light year engine a century and a half to cross. This fabrication had the added benefit of justifying their fondness for their temporal pattern. For them, the fictional trip only took five months. They didn’t explain what happened to their capital ship after arriving, or who else came with them.
Xerian nodded in understanding.
They could sense his eagerness to finish breakfast, and get started. Ramses wiped his mouth with his napkin, and took out the reset button. “If everyone’s ready...”
“Hold on.” Leona tapped on her Cassidy cuff, and suddenly everyone else’s cuff fell off of their respective wrists. “Okay, now we’re ready.”
“Why did you just do that?” Mateo questioned.
“Oh, did we not tell you?” Leona asked. She looked around the room. No one knew what she was talking about, except apparently Xerian. “New plan. Once Ramses reconstitutes the AOC inside the matrioshka detachment, I will associate teleport there alone. I will then make my way to a different part of the detachment, drop one of the extra cuffs there, and hopefully get out in time, before Xerian integrates one of the other cuffs with the Suadona, using it to associate teleport his entire ship to that new location, basically blowing up that section of the detachment.”
No one responded for a moment. “What!” Mateo questioned.
“We’re turning the cruiseliner into a bomb,” Leona reiterated. “At that point, he’ll use whatever tactic he needs to wrest control of the detachment as a whole.”
“And what exactly are we doing during this time?” Olimpia asked.
“You’ll be safe on a lifeboat,” Leona answered. “This will all be done remotely. Only one of us needs to actually transport inside the matrioshka brain to physically move the extra cuff, so it can be a beacon for the bomb.”
They just stared at her.
“This makes the most sense,” Leona defended. “Why would we all go there? That’s stupid and pointless. Xerian has already told me the best place to plant the cuff beacon. It will do a significant amount of damage to cause panic and chaos, but not enough to blow the whole thing up, which would defeat the whole purpose of the mission to take over.”
“Are people going to die?” Mateo asked her.
“Maybe. I won’t be able to evacuate people from that section, because then they’ll know something’s about to happen.”
“You forget, love,” he said as he was replacing his cuff. “I’m still the one in charge here.” She may have had the ability to remove their cuffs without their permission, but his remained primary. This was going to have to happen fast. He tapped on the screen, dropping Leona’s cuff too. He then magnetized all of the cuffs into his lap. He stole Ramses’ reset button, and pressed it as he was literally running away with all of the devices. As he ran down the corridors, he kept his eye on the progress bar that illustrated how much of the AOC had been restored on the matrioshka detachment.
Ramses was upon him before the bar had reached a hundred percent. “Wait! I’m all right with you being the one to do this in Leona’s stead, but...we need one of those cuffs. The matrioshka brain has ways of blocking anyone from teleporting into their borders without authorization, but our technology is incompatible with theirs. They don’t know how to block the signal. So just give me one of them, and you can go off and execute the plan.”
“New new plan,” Mateo said cryptically. “Nobody’s teleporting anywhere...except for me, I guess. But nobody’s killing anybody, period. There’s a peaceful way to do this, and I’m gonna find it. I’ll let you know where I am when it’s time.”
“What if you get caught before you can send us your location?” Ramses asked.
“If I get caught, and I’m not able to send a message, then it’s not time. Pretty simple.” Ramses’ reset device beeped. One hundred percent. They had their ship back.
“Tell my wife, were I you.” Mateo locked onto the signal of one of the Cassidy cuffs that were being stored on the AOC, and transported himself right to it.
He looked around carefully, worried that it didn’t work, and he wasn’t where he expected to be. Everything appeared to be in working order, though, with the ship powered down, currently operating on dormant lighting. He was standing in engineering, which was a section he didn’t spend a lot of time in, since he didn’t know how anything worked down here. Even so, he knew where the cuffs were stored. He unlocked the secret safe, and counted. They were all here and accounted for; the four he brought with him, the one on his wrist, and the five extras. Leona and Xerian wanted to destroy one of these for the sake of the mission, but as far as they could tell, these here were the only ten such devices ever created, except for the one in Kestral’s possession. Half of them were designed by an unknown party—likely some version of Holly Blue—while the rest Ramses made after reverse engineering one. So he could probably make more, but it was still best to treasure them. Besides, there had to be a diplomatic solution to this. Mateo was no diplomat himself, so he—
He jumped up, startled. This wasn’t super surprising, though, was it? A mysterious baby ship that disappeared five years ago suddenly reappearing right where it was  before? That was bound to raise some eyebrows. Winging it had gotten him this far so far, so he might as well try to ride that wave until it crashed down upon him. He quietly spun the safe back into the recess. Then he echoed the question, “hello?”
“Mateo?” Wait, was that Angela?
He ran through the numbers again. He definitely just left nine cuffs in that safe, and he was still wearing the primary. How had Angela come with him? “Angie?”
“Report!” she whispered back loudly.
“I asked you first!”
“I asked you second!”
She growled. Giving up, she climbed down the steps. “I came back in because I forgot to grab my multitool. As I was heading back for the upper level, the dormant lights turned on, but that seemed normal, and the hangar bay had plenty of lighting. And I could hear a flurry of activity outside. When I made it back up to the airlock, and looked outside, it was still lit up, and still noisy. Until it wasn’t. The lights all switched off at once, and the bay was completely empty. It felt just like it does when we jump to the future. I figured it was best not to open the outer door.”
“What is the date, according to the main sequence timeline, at least?”
She sighed. “March 18, 2376.”
Mateo checked his cuff. That wasn’t what it showed, and it should have adjusted accordingly if he had jumped back in time either way. “You jumped five years.”
“It felt like a blip.”
There wasn’t much seating in engineering, because it wasn’t necessary. There was one chair at an interface terminal, and a bench that was a tight fit for two. He sat down on one end, and tapped his hand on the other. She squeezed in next to him, and he placed his arm around her shoulders. “You’re a duplicate. You see, Ramses installed something that he didn’t tell us about. It was a reset button. Basically, he made a copy of the AOC, but sort of left it in the aether, so that if the real one was ever destroyed, we could get it back. I think the temporal battery has been drained.”
“The AOC was destroyed?” Angela guessed.
He nodded. “Huge antimatter-matter annihilation. Took out part of a city hundreds of kilometers away. Don’t worry, everyone who lived there was either already dead, or evacuated.”
“When does this happen?”
“It doesn’t matter, we can’t undo it. All we wanted was our ship back. I don’t know what went wrong exactly. I imagine the backup process had already begun when you slipped back in to retrieve your tool, and you were backed up as well. Way he tells it, that should not have occurred.”
“So I died?”
“Oh no,” Mateo assured her. “That’s what I mean, you’re a duplicate. The other Angela is safely on another ship, as is everyone else. It could be thousands of light years away, but I haven’t calculated our coordinates yet. I came here to retrieve the copy of our ship without putting the team at risk, and maybe—I dunno—end a war or two?”
“I see. This could get awkward.”
“No, you don’t understand. Olimpia...”
“We know.”
“Angela, we’re gonna figure this out. You have every right to be in this timeline, and the next. It’ll be fine. In fact, I could certainly use your help. You used to be a counselor, after all. I mean, that is, if you want to. There’s a reason I tried to keep the other Angela out of it in the first place.”
“Why don’t you call me Marie, to distinguish us. And of course I’ll help you. Tell me everything you’ve learned in the last five days.”

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