Sunday, April 10, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: March 31, 2389

Mithridates couldn’t stop laughing when twelve-year-old lookin’ Leona reached out to him from the Suadona to prove that she had gone through with her promise. She just sat there with her emotionless face, waiting patiently for him to get ahold of himself. Finally, he was able to stop and apologize, explaining that it was just so funny, this little girl being so serious and jaded. He then reiterated his own promise to become an agent of peace in this reality. He was the fifth Preston she had met. One stayed an antagonist, though became a little more understated than he was in the beginning. The next ended up one of their greatest friends. The third’s true motivations were never clear, and if Leona was a therapist, she might have diagnosed her with bipolar disorder. The fourth was a much more obvious villain, who literally no one mourned after he was murdered twice.
Mithri appeared to be a villain from the beginning, but other than this body changing bargain, they didn’t really have any proof of anything he had ever done. His lonely planet was where some kind of automated transporter sent them once they entered the galaxy, but that didn’t necessarily mean that he was in charge, or really anything else about him. There was more than one original member of The Fifth Division, and in all this confusion, she had forgotten to ask after them. He smiled, and pretended like he was going to give her an answer, but then just didn’t. He wouldn’t even say anything more about how he grew up while he was in The Gallery dimension, or what his job there was, if anything. He simply thanked her for her cooperation, and ended the call.
Leona placed the Suadona in orbit, and just left it there for the next year. It was unlikely that Mithri would do anything to it, and he would surely protect it in his own way. Trust the devil you know, and all that. Come the next year, she logged herself into the simulation to check on her friends.
“Leona, why do you look like that?” Mateo asked.
“What are you talking about? It’s just...” She looked down at herself. “Oh.”
“Did you do what the Preston guy asked?” Ramses questioned.
This was a mistake. She thought the system would just use her normal avatar, but for some reason, it scanned her current substrate, and drew from that instead. “I had to. Unless he lied, he’s going to help end the conflict and hostility. I think it was worth it.”
“That’s not what we discussed,” Mateo insisted.
“My body, my choice.”
He sighed. “That’s an unfair spin.”
“I get it, you don’t wanna be married to a twelve-year-old.”
“You’re not twelve, you just look like you are. But yeah, it’s weird.”
“Well, it would have been weird if I were married to someone who looked fifteen!” she volleyed.
“Well,” Mateo began, stammering as he tried to continue, “yeah, that...makes sense! Ramses, did you figure out how to do it from your end?”
“Do what?” Leona asked.
“Yes, I have control over my own systems,” Ramses said.
“You’re gonna transfer your minds anyway? The whole point of me doing it is so you don’t have to,” Leona complained.
“We’re not going to let you look like this on your own,” Olimpia reasoned.
“As I’ve already explained, this was my choice.”
“And we respect that,” Marie said, “so respect ours. We’re tired of being in this simulation. It’s boring. Ramses was only allotted so much memory to construct with.”
“I can get you more memory,” Leona said.
“We want to be out in base reality,” Angela clarified. “That’s not something you can argue against.”
She was right. If they wanted to take on new bodies, it was their right to go through with the download. This wasn’t forever for any of them. They could always build even newer substrates, or find a proverter back in the main sequence to fix these ones. She had to concede to their wishes, and help them complete this task. “Fine. Just let me make sure that everything looks good on my end.” Before she could log out, she felt something jerk her whole body. There were different ways to connect to a virtual construct, but the best way to do it was to suppress the user’s physical movements, so that neural commands were sent to the avatar instead. That way one’s real legs didn’t start flailing about when they were really just supposed to be running inside of the program. Still, there was a failsafe to this technology, which allowed that user to feel someone trying to shake them awake, or stabbing them with a knife, or something. Something was what was happening to the ship in base reality, and Leona had to investigate.
“Computer, report!”
Lightyear engine is offline. Fractional reactors are offline. Low impulse drives are offline. Maneuvering thrusters are offline.
“I get it, everything’s offline!”
Interior artificial gravity online. Life support online. Lights are online.” So sassy.
“Are we being attacked!”
Not anymore.
“Who was it, and what are they doing now?”
The Warmaker Training Detachment is presently matching our orbit, and has done nothing since targeting and destroying our propulsion systems.
“The lightyear engine is offline, but what about the standard teleporter?”
The teleporter is located in a deep interior section of the ship, and is currently still operational.
“Make a jump to the surface.”
Hull integrity is at—
“It doesn’t matter, we’ll be in the atmosphere by the time it’s ripped apart.”
And ripped apart it was. Though the detachment was obviously only trying to prevent them from escaping, damaging all means of propulsion necessarily meant causing destruction all over the vessel. The Suadona would have survived enough to be towed into the Warmaker, but will never go anywhere on its own without extensive repairs. The fact of the matter is that it was over, and it was time to abandon ship. Fortunately, they had no strong feelings for the cruiseliner.
Leona spun around, hoping to quickly explain the situation to the team, but they were already coming out of their pods. Ramses had transferred their consciousnesses to their replacement substrates. It was pretty creepy, this group of naked minors standing around together. They all sensed the awkwardness. “You’ll get dressed later. Let’s get to the AOC first.”
“Wait!” Ramses ordered.
“We don’t have any time,” Leona argued.
“Exactly,” he agreed. “You can teleport with your mind now. Let’s go.” He disappeared. Apparently, there was no learning curve to their new temporal abilities. They deliberately built Ramses’ lab far from the hull so as to protect it from an attack like this, and they did the same with the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, though they kept them far from each other for similar reasons.
It was a rush, transporting themselves from where they were, right to where they wanted to go. Obviously they had teleported before, but never by sheer force of will. Until now, they had always relied on technology, or other people, but now they were in control. Now they had the power. Ramses had done did good, even if they had to start using these bodies a little too early.
“Hey, we ended up taking some extra power resources, right?” Marie asked.
“Yeah, they’re in storage down in engineering,” Leona answered. “We have more than we ever have before. We won’t need to refuel for a long time now.” She looked up. “Computer!”
Yes, Captain?
“Execute escape program Leona-nine-one-one.”
Initializing decoys,” the computer responded. The central hologram popped up to show them their progress. While Leona was alone in base reality, she didn’t spend that entire time doing nothing. She was busy preparing for this very eventuality. The Suadona was a beautiful thing. It was capable of getting them anywhere in the supercluster in only a few years—or from their perspective, three days. But alongside that, it was big and threatening, and while nowhere near as powerful as the detachments, it could competently hold its own against an enemy. This was why the Warmaker essentially destroyed it without any warning, and why they were far safer just leaving it behind, and returning to their true home. The AOC was small, inconsequential to these people, and easily underestimated. It was not undetectable, however, and the best way to avoid such detection was to confuse all sensors from being able to distinguish it from other things.
Leona designed and built decoys. They were watermelon-sized drones that only served one purpose: emit a hologram that made each one look like a copy of the AOC, and transmit a false signature that also made each appear to be the real AOC. The reframe engine was slow compared to the types of propulsion people in the Fifth Division were used to using, but these decoys should still distract the Warmaker long enough for the team to make their escape, and not be followed.
They watched on their own hologram as the drones teleported themselves to various points in the space surrounding the planet. At random intervals, they then darkbursted in all directions, shutting off their holograms and transmitters at the same time to make it harder for them to be found. While they were doing that, the real AOC was escaping at reframe speed, its crew hoping their opponents never figured out which one they ought to follow.
Captain Matic?” the computer asked.
“Yes? Are they following us?”
No, sir, but we picked up a data transmission. It’s a message from the Warmaker.
“Can they detect us this way?”
No. Anyone in the area with an antenna would have received it. It’s unencrypted.
“Play it.”
The battleground hologram disappeared to be replaced with an image of Xerian Oyana. “Crew of the Suadona. I’m sorry it has come to this. In your absence, power has reverted back to us. Against my advice, the others have decided to launch a full scale attack against the Denseterium, and the Fifth Division proper. We detected your presence in orbit over Earth, and I was unable to prevent them from including you in the first shots of this new war. I hope you find a way to survive, and I regret that our relationship deteriorated to a state of hostility. I’ve always admired you, and I appreciate all you did, and tried to do, for the supercluster. If we ever cross paths again, I promise not to be a driving force of opposition, but I can make no such promise when it comes to the other leaders, and their decisions. Please. Be careful, and just go away. Stay safe, and stay out of it. We are not your problem anymore.”
“Did he just say this is Earth?” Angela asked.
“Are we going to do that?” Marie asked at around the same time, barely registering that her alternate was also speaking. “Are we going to heed his advice?”
“Well,” Mateo began, “we’re going to be careful and safe, and we’re going to do our level best to stay out of it, but we can’t go away without getting back in it first. The only way out is through. As far as we know, Dilara Cassano, a.k.a. The Arborist is still on the SWD. If we want to go home, we have to retrieve her.”
“Can we even get to the other detachments?” Olimpia asked. “We’re so far away now, and we’ve lost our lightyear engine.”
Mateo looked over to his wife, who closed her eyes and sighed. “Computer, go back to the site of the attack. Once you’re there...initiate Pilot Fish protocol.”

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