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Sunday, September 18, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: July 16, 2398

Finland. That’s where they want to go. Mateo doesn’t remember a whole lot from school, but he does recall a classmate of his once getting into an argument with their math teacher. The teacher claimed that the shortest distance between two points is a line, and she illustrated this using a geographical map. The student argued that it didn’t matter if the line was the shortest, because it wasn’t the fastest. Going that direction meant trudging through thick brush, and over a lake or two. It meant crossing straight through streets, and climbing over buildings. The fastest route was to get on the freeway, pass the destination just a little until the next exit, and cut through the city. The teacher insisted that this wasn’t what she was trying to teach, and he contended that she should be. Mateo recalls one quote quite clearly when his classmate said, “if what you teach us can’t be applied to the real world, then why are you trying to teach us anything at all?” He failed the assignment, and came this close to flunking out of the class.
To get back home, their shortest route would take them pretty much directly southward until hitting mainland Norway. There they could resupply, repair The Olimpia to its former glory, and contact their friends back in Kansas City with reliable cell service. They can’t do that, though, because in addition to it being the most direct route for them, it simultaneously creates the shortest distance between the island of Svalbard and the United States government, who they know they can’t trust. To protect Amir, and all the locals of Vertegen, they have to take the scenic route. Fortunately, they have a way to create a distraction in the form of Russia.
The Republican Federation of Russia bears an even more tumultuous history here than its counterpart in the main sequence. It has been on the sidelines of nearly every major world war since the first one. Funny enough, it doesn’t seem to experience much direct conflict with other states. It’s just been known to wait until the hostilities between two or more parties begin, and then choose a side. Some xenophobes might chalk this up to them making their choice randomly. A number of political cartoons, comedy sketches, and modern memes feature a blindfolded Russian leader throwing darts towards a map, or some variation therein. The reality is that Russia always chooses to back the belligerents whose victory would spell some kind of success for Russia. Russia chooses Russia is a slogan from a certain social awareness organization that is always trying to help people understand this.
The Russian government holds no convictions, and has no strong feelings about any specific faction. They are probably the least religious nation in the world—or maybe just when accounting for its sheer mass. The presidents have run their nation like a business, accepting benefits to their economy wherever they can find it, be it with a neighbor, a former enemy, or even a terrorist sect. At the moment, the United States is its biggest competitor, because while citizens of the U.S. would deny, deny, deny, their social practices are not without their similarities. They would never work with terrorists, but freedom fighters are just fine, and the difference between the two can often be found only in the nuance of personal perspective. So while Mateo labeled Russia the enemy, they are in fact more like a rival, and the Olimpia’s presence within their territory is no more dangerous than meeting an industry colleague for coffee in the cafeteria on the first floor of their office building.
Still, as stated, this is a distraction. If the team is spotted making their way through the White Sea, this will be all that Senator Honeycutt—and anyone else involved in all this—will focus on. They won’t even consider the possibility that they were once on Svalbard, or make any attempts to retrace their steps at all. It’s been a long journey, but thanks to Mateo’s new knife, not as long as it could have been. They’ve not had to stay on the surface of the water for the whole trip. Short bursts. They can stay in the air for a limited amount of time, which is what has allowed them to cross the distance as fast as they have so far, but they’re running out of power, and they need a new tactic. Leona may have come with the solution. “Well, if you have this thing, why can’t you just replace the solar panels altogether?” Solar power has been providing them enough energy to fly for a little bit, but they use that energy faster than it can come in, which is why they always have to drop back down to the water.
“I don’t know how to work this knife,” Mateo explains. I can’t get it to replace the entire panel. I can either replace part of the framing, or an individual...what did you call them?”
“Tiles,” Ramses helps. “Each time he stabs a panel, it only destroys that specific tile, and spits out a new one. I can’t figure out why efficiency is so low. It could be one or more of the tiles, but which ones?”
Leona takes the knife from Mateo, and examines it. Before anyone can stop her, she downs the rest of her water, sets the cub back on the counter, and tries to stab it. Nothing happens. “What did I do wrong?”
“You accidentally aren’t your husband, Mateo,” Angela says.
“What?”
“Only he can use it. We’ve both tried.”
“Well, I suppose I had to try too, given our connection, and the fact that some of that Existence water is still swimming through my veins.”
“Well, that was my favorite cup,” Angela laments.
“Then you shouldn’t have let me use it.”
Mateo chuckles once. He takes the knife back, and stabs the mangled cup himself, which generates a pristine replacement.
“That doesn’t make any sense!” Leona shouts. “Okay, it makes a new one; it’s quantum duplication, whatever. But why does it make an unbroken one? It goes back in time to before it was damaged? How far back in time? How much damage does it correct? What if there was a dent in it that had been there for twenty years?”
“These are all questions that none of us can answer,” Ramses tells her.
“Did you try asking the Rakripa where they got it, and what they thought of it?”
“Yes,” Angela says, looking suddenly tired. “I asked them a lot of questions. Communication was difficult, and I eventually learned that it wasn’t only because our languages aren’t mutually intelligible. They were cagey. They were nice...but they didn’t want us to stick around. So we didn’t.”
Leona sighs. “Where is that lantern thing you were talking about?”
Ramses goes back down to engineering to retrieve it. “I’ve been all over this thing. I don’t think anything else needs to be replaced. What we need is power.”
“And I’m going to get it for you,” Leona says. She sets the lantern on the counter, and arranges her husband in front of it. She adjusts his arms and hands like a sexy golf instructor, or a pottery ghost. “Okay. Go for it.”

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