Wednesday, November 2, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: August 30, 2398

There is a rumor that Earth possesses two Nexa, one of which is hidden on an island in the South Pacific Ocean. If anyone has ever found it, its whereabouts have never made it to Leona. The only one she knows for sure exists is the one in Antarctica, and they only have a rough estimate of where specifically, and that’s just where it is in the main sequence. If it’s anywhere in the Third Rail, it could be just that; anywhere. This is why they weren’t in a big hurry to look for it before. Antarctica is best accessed during its summer months, which begin with October, but even then, it’s better deeper into it. No matter, it’s not like the continent is impossible to traverse in winter, especially not now that The Olimpia has been repaired. Rames managed to equip it with some upgrades, which will allow it to survive under harsher conditions than original specifications ensured.
Marie volunteered to be Mateo’s caretaker. She insisted, since she still feels bad about lying to everybody, and wants to feel useful in a less secret agenty sort of way. He agreed to let her do it without too much reluctance now that there actually is hope in finding a way to let him use his hands again. Cheyenne, meanwhile, has grown tired of sitting around and doing nothing, so she asked to accompany Leona on the Antarctica mission. And of course, wherever Cheyenne goes, so shall Bridgette. Ramses wishes he could be there too, but it’s been decided that one of them had to remain local. The home team might need something invented, fixed, or just explained, so it’s safer to not put all of their smart eggs in one basket.
“I wanted to thank you.” Cheyenne is up with Leona on the bridge, looking at the endless white before them as the Olimpia’s sensors scan the area.
“For letting you come along? No problem. It should be pretty safe.”
“No, I mean for trusting us with everything, and not asking where I came from, or why I need the Insulator of Life.”
“Does your world have the concept innocent until proven guilty?” Leona asks.
“I’ve never heard those exact words, but I think I understand the meaning.”
“You and Bridgette have given us no reason not to trust you, but we have upended your lives. You don’t ever have to tell us where you’re from. We’re used to that being a potential risk. If you’re my daughter from the future, for instance, we shouldn’t know.”
Cheyenne bites her lower lip, and averts her gaze slightly.
Leona doesn’t say anything more about it. The conversation would not have continued anyway. The computer gets a ping.
Bridgette comes down from the back. “I heard a beep. Did we find something?”
Something is a good word for it,” Leona answers, looking at the datapoint. “We should be coming up on something big in Just over the ridge, they find a manmade structure, built up against the side of a mountain. It looks huge. This should be surprising, but nothing really is to them anymore. They could wake up tomorrow to find the sun has been transformed into a big ball of water, and they wouldn’t even bat an eye. They have seen too much already. It is interesting, though. “This is the most remote region of Antarctica that’s also close to the ocean. Nothing should be here, except for the Nexus. It’s not even populated in the main sequence.”
Unidentified Flying Aircraft, you have entered a secure area. Please recite your landing codes,” comes a voice on the radio.
“Rule Number Seventeen, when in doubt, be honest.” Leona opens a channel. “Unknown Antarctica base, this is Leona Matic, Captain of the Stateless Private Vehicle Olimpia. We request diplomatic visitor landing authorization. We’re here in search of something known as the Nexus.” She shrugs, hoping they don’t shoot her out of the sky.
There’s a long pause before the voice returns, “authorization granted, please land on the big yellow circle.
Part of the ground retracts, and reveals the landing pad. Leona instructs the Olimpia to land on it, and as soon as it touches down, the ground begins to lower. It goes down and down and down until reaching the bottom, which is a giant cell. The opening they just came through closes up. People with guns are standing all around them. And by all around them, I mean all around. This cell must be 8,000 cubic meters in volume, but the uniform guards are shoulder to shoulder around the whole perimeter on the other side of the bars. They look highly organized, and well trained.
“What do we do now?” Cheyenne asks.
Leona reaches for the PA system, which she never thought they would ever have to use. “Permission to disembark?”
One of the guards lifts her steady hand from her weapon, and motions them out. The three of them exit the vehicle, and head in that general direction. They all look the same, they can’t even tell which one of them gave them the go-ahead. It doesn’t matter when an old man in a uniform steps into the light. “I am Coronel Zacarias of the Mozambique Naval Fleet. This is my facility, where we research only one thing...the Nexus. How did you hear about it?”
“We’re travelers from a different world. That may get us home.”
Coronel Zacarias regards them with doubt, but he’s willing to entertain them with a leash. He turns to his soldiers. “Open the gate.”
They do as they’re asked without question or hesitation. Leona locks the Olimpia down with her gene-coded remote, and tentatively steps out of the cell. Bridgette and Cheyenne do the same. They begin to follow Zacarias down the passageways, heavily guarded by a dozen of the soldiers, none of whom needed any direction to do this. They apparently just know who has been assigned to their detail, and who must go off and do other things.
“I was this close to shooting you out of the sky,” Zacarias explains on the way. “No one in the world knows that we are here, let alone what we have found. We have been looking for a way to turn the machine on, but have had no luck. That is why I am taking you to it, because if you are telling the truth, you will be able to help us, but if you are lying, nothing will happen, and we will not have to worry. There is a computer in the control room, but it does nothing. We suspect it suffers from a depleted power source, but we have been unable to verify that.”
“I’ll try to help,” Leona replies. They come to a large expanse, like the one where they landed, but instead of a cell in the center, it is the Nexus building. Leona stops. “I should ask you kindly to let my associates remain here, at this distance.”
“Why?” Zacarias questions.
“The Nexus is truly as dangerous as you must suspect it to be, or you would not keep it such a secret. I cannot guarantee what will happen when we walk over there, but I recommend you evacuate the room, and leave only essential personnel.” That’s not really what she’s worried about. The Nexa are alive—or conscious, as it were. They respond differently to different people. She has used them before, and the machine likely knows this. There is a strong chance that it will power up simply by her arrival. She doesn’t want them thinking Bridgette and Cheyenne have anything to do with that.
He scowls just a little. “If this is a trick to overpower my soldiers, I’m afraid you will find yourself severely outmatched.” Zacarias eyes the high walls around them. Turrets line the perimeter. There is no advantage to lowering the number of people over there.”
Leona nods, prompting Zacarias to evacuate most of the scientists. A contingency of four soldiers accompanies them while the other eight escort Cheyenne and Bridgette back out of the great hall. She’s worried about them being separated, but all three of them are at these people’s mercy, whether they’re together, or not. She continues across the floor, and to the Nexus building. They step inside. It looks the same as they always do, but this one has been retrofitted with lights powered from a normal external source. He’s right, nothing turns on for them. They do for her, though. All of the retrofitted lights switch off on their own, only to be replaced by the ones that are built in. They’re not really built-in though, so much as the walls themselves illuminate.
“My Gods,” Zacarias utters in a breathy exclamation. “What did you do?”
“These machines are networked, so they communicate with one another, which means if one recognizes someone, they all do.”
Zacarias can’t stop looking around, even though it’s really just a room with the house lights on. The real interesting stuff is in the control room. “You mean there are others? What do they do?”
“They transport people from one place to the next. You didn’t know that?” A little rude on her part.
He looks at her now, still smiling like a kid in a candy store. “Please. show me.”

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