Thursday, November 10, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Year 121 RSS

Leona turned out to have packed a lot more in her emergency bag than a teleporter gun. It’s all tricked out with a vacuum tent, an oxygen tank, a carbon scrubber, food, hydroponic tubes, basic survival supplies, and even a miniature meat bioreactor, along with a fusion reactor to power everything. She designed it to promote the survival of one to three people in an environment with no atmosphere, and no organic resources. It can recycle water for a time, but this is not a permanent solution. For that, she wants to include starter nanites, as well as a few other amenities, but the tools that she had at her disposal in the Third Rail were limited. It’s impressive what she came up with already, and it’s more than they need in this place. All combined, it’s far lighter than it sounds, and could be carried by an average-sized adult with little issue.
When the team first landed in the Third Rail, their bags of holding stopped working, leaving only a few random items available to them, possibly forever. They do not have the Compass of Disturbance, or the HG Goggles, but Leona had built something pretty similar. It was mostly designed to test for the temporal origin of a given object or individual, but she thinks she can rework it to find out how long the lost objects in this forest have been sitting there. Erlendr was already trying to do that himself, but he could only estimate it, and he was way off on a lot of things, because it’s not like he has any experience dating aged and weathered objects.
Mateo didn’t help with the mapping project that Leona performed to find the location of the next roving bulk portal. It was his sole job to keep an eye on Erlendr, and since he would be an incredible annoyance on the road, the two of them just stayed at camp. Leona taught Alyssa how to work her gizmo, while she kept a lookout for threats. There are other people on this planet. They can hear them in the distance, in their little village by the river. They never come this deep into the woods, though.
The planet is not naturally habitable in salmonverse, so calling it a duplicate of Proxima Doma isn’t really all that fair. Leona’s current hypothesis is that this universe developed about the same way as it did for their brane, but experienced an impact—or series of impacts—which resulted in this huge mountain range in the Terminator Zone. This region receives warmth from the host star, Proxima Centauri, while being protected from its wrathful magnetic flare-ups. It probably gets warmer at those times, but not detrimentally so. Free from these solar storms, which would otherwise blow the atmosphere away, a pocket of civilization has been able to develop here without artificial superstructures. They couldn’t have evolved here, though. They came from Earth. They’re human.
“I believe we have enough data,” Alyssa declares, having just finished analyzing a heavily bedraggled forest couch.
Leona thinks she heard something, so she scans the trees a little more while Alyssa is waiting. Once she feels comfortable, she takes the tablet, and looks at the readings. “It probably is, but I think I saw some right angles between those trees. If there’s one more lost object deposit, then I would like to check it, and then we’ll see if our map does us any good.”
“Is there a chance that there is no pattern at all?”
“There’s more than a chance. If this phenomenon has anything to do with the flares from Proxima Centauri, it may be hopeless. We may be stuck here forever.”
Alyssa frowns.
“Trina is safe,” Leona goes on. “So are Carlin and Moray. I know what it’s like to leave people behind, unsure of their fate. All you can do is be strong, and keep trying.”
“Okay.” Alyssa sets her anxiety aside for now. “Let’s go investigate these right angles.”
Whatever Leona saw, it must have been an optical illusion. This area seems to be beyond the range of the portal. Or maybe it sometimes shows up, but doesn’t deposit anything. It may go all over the planet, and this only looks like a place of higher concentration. They have caught glimpses of the village, which doesn’t look technologically advanced at all. Whether that was originally done on purpose or not, it suggests that the people have yet to discover the lost objects. There are a lot of cell phones here, like a shocking number of them. One might think that they would eventually reverse-engineer them, or at least become inspired to aspire to it. Who knows? They don’t even know if the bulk portal is two-way. This could all be a massive waste of time. “Okay, I guess that’s it. Let me see if the map has good news.”
They turn to head back for camp when they see a young boy staring at them a few meters away. He looks scared. “Well, hello there,” Alyssa says to him kindly.
“Are you a wraith?”
“A what?” Alyssa asks.
The boy looks down at Leona’s device when it beeps to indicate that the map is finished rendering. “Forbidden. Forbidden object!” He runs back towards his village screaming, “forest wraiths! Forest wraiths! Alert the king!”
“We should go,” Alyssa decides.
“Yeah,” Leona agrees. She starts heading towards camp, but stops when her tablet beeps again.
“What is it?”
“It’s already detected a pattern.” Leona’s eyes widen.
“What is it?” Alyssa repeats.
“We need to run.”
They bolt, and make it back to camp out of breath.
“What is it?” Mateo asks. “Is everything okay?” He looks at Erlendr, in case he had something to do with this.
“Se...” Leona continues to try to breathe. “Seven.”
“Seven what?” Mateo urges.
“Seven years.” Another breath. “Eighty-three days.”
“Seven years, and eighty-three days. That’s how long we’ll have to wait?”
She shakes her head. “No.”
“It’s okay, be patient with yourself.”
“I can’t. Erlendr was right, but he didn’t have the whole story. This planet makes one orbit every eleven days, and Proxima Centauri rotates on its own axis on an eighty-three day cycle. That means that the portal opens up every eleven days, but it only does it seven times before the poles reverse.”
“The poles?”
“The poles,” Leona confirms. “The AI from The Constant, it detected a pattern. Every seven Earthan years, the sun’s magnetic poles reverse, and begin dumping random objects from the bulk roughly every eleven days for eighty-three days.”
“How many times has it done it during this cycle?” Erlendr asks. “At least three.”
“There’s no way to know. If we miss the next one, we may only have to wait for eleven more days, or seven more years. My system detected some objects that were recent, some that were seven years old, others that were fourteen years old, and so on. Nothing shows up during the interim periods. That’s how I realized that they matched this solar system’s behavior.”
“So where’s the next portal going to open up?” Alyssa asks.
Leona frowns, and delays her response. “There is no pattern to that, at least not one that the AI can detect. I know that it’s going to happen today, but I don’t know where. It may have popped up already. That’s why I ran. That’s why I’m so earnest. Mateo, are you...sensing anything?”
Confused, Mateo switches his gaze among everyone, as if he’s not the only one who could answer that question. “No, not really. Little hungry.”
“Are your hands, uhh...being blocked right now?”
He pulls at his shirt, which would have disappeared if he wasn’t letting the layer of telekinesis magic protect it from the timonite layer on his skin. “Yes, you want me to unblock them?”
“You could try,” Leona suggests. Just try not to touch anything.”
Mateo clears his throat, and turns around. They see him start to undo his pants as he heads for the trees alone. He doesn’t go very far, so they can hear what he’s doing, as if they needed any more proof. “Okay,” he says once he returns. He takes his shirt off completely. He’s not had anything else to wear for eleven days, so it’s pretty dirty and uncomfortable—they couldn’t bathe or wash in the river without being seen—and he doesn’t want to waste the timonite on needless banishments. It may be a finite resource.
“Do you feel anything now?” Erlendr asks him.
“Shut up,” Leona orders.
Mateo holds his arms out, not only hoping to catch a scent of some kind, but also to keep from touching anything he doesn’t want to get rid of. He starts to wander around the area. Meanwhile, Alyssa and Leona begin to break camp, and Erlendr stews. His hands are still cuffed, though now in front of his body. He’s getting off easy. “I feel something!” Mateo announces.
“Where?” Leona lets go of the vacuum tent, which expands automatically from the outside of the bag, and has to be collapsed back in manually. Alyssa takes the job over, since it still has to be done.
“It’s close. It’s very close. I think it already dumped something, and it’s just hanging around. I think we could have gone back in where we came last year, had we been able to see it.”
“Can you see it now?” Leona presses.
“No, but I can tell where it is. Come on.” While Alyssa throws the pack over her shoulders, Leona and Erlendr begin to follow Mateo through the trees. He’s moving slow enough, so she’s able to catch up. “It’s here,” he finally says. “Are we ready?”
“How do we get through?” Alyssa asks.
“Everyone take a hand,” Mateo figures. Once they do, technicolor bulk energy begins to cover their bodies. They slip through the portal, and land on some rocks by the river. They’re not alone. “Medavorken?”
“Mateo?” Medavorken asks right back.
“Hi, I’m Cricket!” a young woman says excitedly.

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