Sunday, March 20, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: March 28, 2386

Rátfrid was an astounding entity, composed of something that he referred to as computronium gas. Disparate particles maintained cohesion with an electromagnetic field, and communicated with one another much like neural synapses, as Leona had surmised. He was capable of processing information at a speed that none of them could fathom, and not just because it was so amazing, but because they didn’t recognize the system of measurement. For as great as he was, he was not capable of spaceflight. He just sort of floated there, letting gravity take him wherever it would. Fortunately, the Suadona was, for some reason, equipped with a holding tank capable of housing a compressed form of him for transport. They plotted a course to the neutral zone in the Andromeda galaxy, not even bothering to alert the other detachments what the new plan was. It would take about a month for the ship to get there, so the team had to leave at the beginning of the journey. When they returned to the timestream, they were already back at the summit spot with the detachments. Apparently, Rátfrid had let himself out of the ship, and then programmed it to leave. It would seem they would never be too close to the war.
Please come in,” Xerian’s voice came in on the radio shortly after midnight central, whatever that meant in this reality.
“This is Captain Leona Matic. Please report.”
What happened last year?” Xerian questioned.
“We spoke with Rátfrid. He went off to stop the war on his own terms.”
We cannot proceed without his vote,” Xerian tried to warn her.
“I hate comms talking,” Leona said. “Could you please come here?”
About an hour later, Xerian was back on board. “We really needed him to be here,” he reiterated. “We have gone as far as we can with our strategy. It now requires a unanimous agreement.”
“I understand that,” Leona said. She was prepared for this. It was part of their own strategy discussion that they had even before meeting the RFD. “Tell me about your other attendance policies. What happens if one of you is destroyed? What happens if one of you is so out of control that the rest have to vote on what to do about that detachment? Surely you wouldn’t have them vote on whether to be kicked out of the committee, or whatever it is you are.”
“Actually, we would,” Xerian contended. “If, say, the Warmaker tried to stage a coup, and destroy the rest of us, the other seven would vote on certain repercussions, and so would the Warmaker. They would probably vote to not be punished, but we see no reason not to include them because of that.”
“There are eight of you,” Leona reasoned. “What do you do in a tie?”
“We have never had a tie.”
“But you have a protocol for it.”
Xerian took an uncomfortably long time to respond. “In the event of a tie, the two detachments most at odds with each other choose champions, who will fight to the death.” He seemed to think they would have a problem with this, and it was true, they did, but they were not surprised or shocked by it. It always comes back to violence.
“Champions,” Leona echoed, “proxies.”
“Yes.”
“Could someone theoretically vote as a proxy?”
Xerian smiled, and shook his head. “You can’t vote for the RFD, if that’s what you think. I mean, he would have to give you the power, and we would have to vote to accept you. It would be this whole thing. Besides, you’re not cognizant of the issues.”
Leona stood there a moment, thinking it over. They hadn’t gotten this far with their strategy meeting, because it was true, they needed Rátfrid here for something. They needed him to vote for whatever the detachments were voting on, or they needed him to request abstention. He made it absolutely clear that he was utterly disinterested in ever participating in one of these proceedings ever again. He was done with the group, but he also refused to show up, and formalize this decision, because that would defeat the purpose of making it. They were in a real pickle here, so the way she saw it, there was only one way out. “I’m commandeering the Suadona, and I hereby demand to be admitted into the group.”
“What?” Xerian questioned. “You can’t do that.”
“Why not?”
“The detachments aren’t this growing group that admits new people,” he tried to explain. “We were once fully integrated into the Fifth Division, and in some ways, we still are. None of us is new. We all broke off at the same time, and we maintained a system of self-governance in order to protect ourselves from retaliation by Fifth Division proper.”
She reached into her bag of holding, and removed her sword. She lifted it up, and trained it on Xerian’s face. “Then I’m taking over the detachment group as a whole. Bow to me.”
“You can’t do that either.”
“Oh, I’m telling you that I can,” Leona said, determined to get through this. “And this blade tells you that I am.”
“It’s impossible. You’re declaring a new war, which we’re all trying to stop.”
“True,” Leona said. “So either we can fight a war—with me on the Suadona, and you on your pathetic little overcompensation machines—or we can fight a literal proxy war. We’ll all choose champions. I’ll fight for me, and the rest of you, whatever. I don’t like your chances, though.”
“This is not our way,” Xerian insisted. “This will not work in your favor.” he wasn’t doubting her ability to fight, but the likelihood of her defeating seven opponents.
Leona nodded disagreeably. “One of my heroes once said, if brute force isn’t working...you’re not using enough. I’ll go as far as I need to take control off this bullshit. You still have bulls in this reality?”
“I recognize your meaning.”
“Good.”
“I notice your crew has been silent, and unargumentative. Do they back you?” Xerian asked.
“They’ll do what they need to do,” Leona replied confidently, and she was right.
“Give me another hour.” Xerian disappears to relay the information back to the...they still didn’t know what this collective was called.
A half hour later, Xerian was back, but he was not alone. He was joined by six other people. They were all dressed differently, suggesting that each was a representative of one of the detachments. They did not bother to introduce themselves. “We have agreed to your terms, but we have some of our own, because this is our supercluster, and we won’t allow you to make all of the demands.”
“That’s fair,” Leona admitted.
“You threaten to wrest control of every detachment here. Most of us have taken you up on that offer.” He pointed to the woman on the far end of the line. “The representative from the OCD is abstaining from the fight. She believes that it is vital that she maintain power in order to destroy the Andromedans, should we be left with no other choice. The rest of us reserve the right to fight for ourselves, or to choose our respective champions.”
Only seven people teleported here. There were no others. Either five champions had yet to arrive, or they had something else in mind. It was hard for Leona to believe that the leaders would choose to fight for themselves. That wasn’t usually how it worked. These people were responsible for billions of lives, if not more. That tended to make them feel above engaging in physical violence personally.
Xerian went on, “these champions will have no choice but to be placed in battle. It is up to them to fight, but if they don’t, they will die.”
“I understand,” Leona said.
“In keeping with tradition, participating representatives will now simultaneously point to their respective champions of choice. Again, the champion will have no choice once chosen. Either fight or die.”
They stood in silent anticipation for a moment.
“Now,” Xerian ordered. The man—who was a very large man, they all noticed—next to the OCD rep pointed to himself. The rest pointed to other people. Angela, Marie, Ramses, and Olimpia were all marked as champions, as was Mateo, who would be fighting on Xerian’s behalf. The leaders grimaced, wholly expecting the team to be horrified at this development. But they weren’t, leaving the leaders baffled.
“Well, let’s go,” Ramses said with a shrug.
“You would fight against each other?” Xerian pressed. “You understand it’s to the death? The fight does not end until all but one have fallen.”
“Yeah, let’s get on with it,” Marie argued.
That was not what any of them expected. Together they walked down to the recreation area, where a large dome was constructed with a holographic sky to resemble an outdoor sports stadium. The team didn’t recognize the configuration of the lines painted on the turf. It must have been designed for a sport that people didn’t play in the main sequence. This whole situation reminded Mateo of the epic battle that The Cleanser forced him to watch in the Colosseum replica on Tribulation Island. He could remember being so scared back then, but a lot had changed since. Now they were ready. Now they had a plan. Now they had a contingency. And this was their idea, even if the detachment leaders didn’t know anything about it.
Once they were in the center of the field, Xerian reached up, and snapped his fingers. The stadium was suddenly packed with an audience, and camera drones were flying over their heads to broadcast the spectacle to all with access to the feed. The team didn’t know who that was, or how many of them there were. They couldn’t think about that, though. They had a job to do, and it wasn’t going to take long. Xerian spoke into a microphone for all to hear. He explained what they were doing, and why, as well as the rules, possible outcomes, and consequences. The winner would immediately take control over all of the detachments, except for the Offensive Contingency, and Rátfrid. He also made a point of revealing that Mateo and Leona were married, and no matter what happened here today, that relationship was over.
Once everyone understood the situation, fighters chose their weapons, and took their positions. The OCD rep stood in the center, and held both hands over her head. She looked around to make sure that everyone was ready. Then she pulled her arms down, indicating that it was time to begin. The big man took off. He went for Ramses first, taking his head clean off with his battleaxe. Ramses barely tried to stop him, but he wouldn’t have been able to anyway. The man took out Angela and Marie at pretty much the same time before moving on to Olimpia. They all fell quickly and painlessly which was a nice touch. These people weren’t brutes, they had to give them that. Mateo was a little more difficult. He had to be. It was his job to provide a distraction while Leona set herself up for the finishing blow. Mateo held him off as long as he could with a large shield. Unfortunately, the man was smarter than they realized. He turned around, and smacked Leona against the side of the head, having known she was there the entire time.
Mateo had to act quickly, or they were going to lose everything. He lifted his shield, and jammed it into the back of their opponent’s head, right in the spot where it met his neck. This didn’t kill him, but he was severely damaged. He started stumbling around with his arms outstretched, like a moron with a trashcan over his head. This gave Mateo the opening he needed to pick up the axe, and drive it into the man’s back. The man fell down to his face, and stopped moving. If he wasn’t dead, he soon would be.
Breathing heavily, Mateo turned around, only to be met with a knife in his gut, placed there by his lovely wife. He smiled at her warmly, and she smiled back. The crowd gasped. She didn’t even hesitate, and they did not know what to think of it. That was good. The fact that no one seemed to have guessed their plan was still pretty important at this point. “Were I you,” he said to her before planting a passionate kiss on her lips, holding it for a long time to please the crowd. He died while they were still interlocked, and slipped away from her to the ground.
“Were I you,” she echoed.
The audience didn’t cheer like she expected them to. She was a more ruthless and merciless leader than they ever thought they might have, and they were probably too afraid about what she would do with all her power to react with anything but petrification. A woman murdering her own husband without a second thought was not something they had ever seen before, which was just another piece of information that would help the team end this war once and for all to the best of their ability. This reality was so technologically advanced, but there were still a lot of things they seemed not to have. AI, yes, but not androids. And consciousness transference had evidently not even crossed their minds...pun intended.
The winner threw her knife into the dirt, bloodsoaked blade downwards. As she started to walk off the field, she tapped on her Cassidy cuff to suppress her pattern. She needed to stay in the timestream for at least a full year to understand the sociopolitical state of the supercluster. She didn’t want to keep her power forever, but she had to do a good job in the meantime. She approached the leader of the Offensive Contingency Detachment, standing on the sidelines with a satisfied smile of her own. She was, in fact, the only one not positively outraged by the outcome. Leona shook her new partner’s hand. “I look forward to working with you.” She didn’t break eye contact with her as she added, “the rest of you can go now.”

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