Thursday, November 3, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: August 31, 2398

Leona has been working on this machine for the last fourteen hours straight. She gets bathroom breaks, and someone will bring her whatever she wants to eat from the kitchen—which doesn’t have much variety, because the more supplies come in from Mozambique, the greater the chances that someone will notice that they keep going to random region of Antarctica. It’s not really that she hasn’t been allowed to sleep, but the Coronel doesn’t seem to sleep, so she doesn’t feel she has the right to waste his time. As for the Nexus itself, it doesn’t go anywhere. She can see the so-called map of possible destinations, but there’s nothing on it. The artificial intelligence that runs the network has evidently decided that she doesn’t have the right to go anywhere. Maybe it’s because the Mozambicans are here. Maybe it’s only because one other specific person is nearby. There is no way to understand its motivations. It does not communicate with its users.
“Magnus Matic.”
Startled. “Yeah, I’m up.”
“I apologize for disturbing you,” Coronel Zacarias says. “I was just wondering if you made any progress.”
“Since you asked me ten minutes ago? No.” She’s grumpy.
“It has been an hour and a half,” he corrects. “I was tending to other matters.” He appears not to have interpreted her tone as nasty, even though it was.
Leona looks at her watch. “I’m so sorry.”
“No, I’m sorry. I sometimes forget that people need to sleep. That is why I am not in charge of duty rotations. I do not understand how it feels to work without rest. I was born with a condition that makes it impossible.”
“You were?” she asks, fascinated. “How do you function?”
“Medicine,” he answers, and it doesn’t look like he wants to elaborate.
She nods. “Well, I still can’t do anything. I mean, I can do this.” She dims and raises the lights a few times. “And this.” She presses another button, and the computer beeps.
“What does that beeping mean?”
“No idea, it just happens when I push this button.”
“It is okay. You have gone further than anyone else has. At least you have been able to tell us what it does. Perhaps one day, we shall prove ourselves worthy.”
She frowns. “This thing knows more than you may think. It doesn’t gauge how worthy you are, or your people. It measures the world. It may think you could handle the full power of the machine, but also be aware that it would lead others finding out about it. Heck, it may have nothing to do with Earth at all. If there are other inhabited planets out there, maybe they’re not ready, so there is nothing for you to do but wait.”
Zacarias nods. “Yes. God sees all.”
She sports a half-smile. She wishes that she could help these people. There’s a reason the Nexa are always placed in neutral territory. No single state is more worthy of using it than another. The fairest way to do it—short of the Inventors sending a representative to watch, and later interfere with, the natives—is to let the first group to find it make whatever decisions they will with it. She needs something from them, and she’s afraid that if she doesn’t do more for them, they won’t agree to it. The first time she encountered one of these things was on Tribulation Island, but in The Parallel, she was given the opportunity to learn more from experts who knew so much about them that they were able to manufacture their own at will. They didn’t hand her the operating manual, but they did tell her a few things, such as the fact that they’re all powered by bulk energy. That’s why they don't ever run out, or have to be refueled. It’s all around; you just have to know how to access it. There is something in the guts of the machine that lets it do that, and if she just had a little bit of whatever that is, she might be able to make gloves for her husband, so he can start using his hands again. But how to broach the subject with the Coronel?
Zacarias has moved away from the computer, and is looking at the hand dialer on the wall. “What does this thing do?”
“If you have the code for a destination, you could enter it there.”
“Instead of the computer? Why is that necessary?”
“Redundancy. There’s also a foot dialer in the machine itself, in case a traveler needs to go somewhere alone.”
“These markings? What do they mean?”
Leona wheels back a little so they’re looking at the same thing. “They’re numbers. Zero through F.”
“Base-sixteen,” Zacarias says, smiling widely.
“The civilization that created these must have used a hexadecimal system in their everyday life. That’s just a hypothesis.”
“Have you tried just pressing random numbers? How many digits does each destination require?”
“Any number of digits, and with sixteen choices, repetition allowed, that’s quintillions of permutations.”
Zacarias shrugs. “Well...have you ever tried the first one?”
“The first one, what do you mean?”
He reaches up and presses the glyph that represents zero. Then he presses the ENTER button. Suddenly, the Nexus starts to power up.
She stands up, and looks through the observation window. “Holy crap, I can’t believe that worked!”
“It did?” he asks.
“Come if you’re coming. It’s probably only delayed because it’s been dormant for so long!” Leona races out of the control room, and hops down to the main floor, ignoring both the steps, and the ramp. She jumps down into the transport cavity.
Cheyenne walks in. “Leona, we heard something. What’s going on?”
“Call our friends. We pushed zero!”
Just as Zacarias crosses the threshold, the chamber fills with technicolors, and spirits them both away.
When the light recedes, they find themselves in a gorgeous expanse. There are no walls, and there is no control room. A hand dialer is on a terminal within reach of the cavity. Under them is an endless ocean, and above is a starry sky. A rowboat approaches from the darkness. An individual ties it to a post where the door to the outside of the Nexus chamber would normally be. He or she steps onto the floating platform, and smiles at them. “Welcome to Origin. I am Intentioner Senona Riggur. Congratulations on finding this destination. My guess is that you tried the address on a lark. There are two of you, which means you get two wishes to share. What would you like?”

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