Sunday, January 22, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 19, 2398

Leona pulls the gear off of her head. “What do you mean, Mateo is never coming back? Where is he?”
Alyssa is discernibly frustrated that she had to say anything, but if she wants this to move along, she can’t ignore Leona’s questions completely. “He stayed in the past. Danica made him. She said it was too dangerous to erase his mind a second time.”
“How far in the past were you?” Leona presses.
“There’s no time for these questions,” Alyssa argues. “Every minute we spend down here is another day up top.”
Leona shakes her head, and starts to pace. “No point in time makes any sense for you two to randomly jump back to, however you did it. If you were with Danica, the only non-random point in time would be when The Constant was first built, which was four and a half billion years ago. But that can’t be right. If a minute here is a day of realtime, that means you have observed over three million years. Are you three million years old?”
“Time wasn’t always moving at this speed. It used to be a lot faster.” Alyssa is growing very impatient. “You weakened the bubble just by coming here, but we still aren’t matched with realtime.”
“You’re just trying to avoid telling me what happened with Danica in the past.”
“No. Danica wanted to avoid that, so she put my memory on a timebomb, and she’s forcing you to either learn her secrets, and lose a lot of time with the rest of the team, or cut your losses, and pop the bubble for good.”
“Argh!” Leona looks around for clues to overcome the dilemma, like she’s just in a simple escape room. If there’s a solution, she can’t see it, and if she really is losing time, that could cause a whole lot of problems for their friends. “How do I break the bubble?”
“That box on the console that doesn’t belong. It tears tiny holes in the bubble, and sends out the distress signal that is probably what brought you here. If you can program it to open a hole permanently, the bubble will burst. At least that’s what she said.”
Leona goes down to the bridge, and inspects the box that she’s talking about. The first thing she has to do is figure out how to open it. She slides her fingers around the edges and the corners, but she doesn’t feel a release. It’s not made of adamantium, though. She takes out her knife, and jams it into the seam, then she pries the top open to reveal the guts of the machine inside. She scans the inner workings a little before understanding what she needs to do. Flip this switch to temporarily cut power to the oscillator. Pull the wire, and reattach it to the contact permanently. Reset the power. Boom. Done.
They watch through the viewport as the translucent bubble slides away like rainfall on a windshield. “I have time to tell you one thing,” Alyssa begins. “What you’re looking for is on Vulcan Point, but you’ll want to go there last. And it’s gonna take you longer than you think. You’ll be really tired by the end of the maze. But before you get any ideas, that’s not where Ma...” She trails off, and goes to la-la land.
This is what happened to Mateo just before he lost his memories in Lebanon. The trigger for him is hypothesized to have been the filling of Danica Lake. In this case, it was the bursting of the time bubble. This seems to be different, however, because he passed out—and there she goes, right to the floor. Damn, Leona could have caught her.
Leona drags the sleeping Alyssa up to the main loft, and lays her on the bed. Then she returns to the bridge, and tries to make contact with the team on the AOC. They don’t respond, but she gets a time announcement back, informing her that it’s November 19, 2398 at 15:05. A minute later, the announcement says that it’s 15:06, which means that the bubble is indeed down, and the urgency is over, as long as her friends aren’t in any danger. She uses their ship as a relay point, and manages to get a hold of Ramses. He’s in the lab with Cheyenne and—funny enough—Curtis Duvall. She hasn’t seen that guy in forever. She tells Ramses that she’s still at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, and just needs to figure out how to surface.
She postulates that there were two bubbles around the vessel. One altered the rate of time, and the other just protects The Bridgette from the pressure of the ocean above them. In submarine mode, it can dive deeper than its predecessor, The Olimpia, but not this deep. This is Constant magic at work, and she can’t be sure that it will persist through an attempt to rise back up to their safe depth. This little box was only designed to handle the time bubble, so the force field must be somewhere else. The most likely location is down in engineering. In the Olimpia, that could be found in the back. It was a tight space, but one could stand. Here, the ceiling is 75 centimeters up, making it a crawl space, and she has to get there by opening the steps that lead to the fuselage like a cellar door. Ramses sacrificed comfort for more beds to sleep passengers.
“Hello?” Leona can hear as she’s still working on the engine. She figured out right away that the pressure field will last as long as they don’t try to go anywhere. If they attempt to surface, it will collapse before they have enough time to go all the way up. It’s almost like it was designed that way. The issue is that she is this close to running out of power. A time bubble that can last billions of years would have taken enormous amounts of temporal energy. Not even the tanks on the Bridgette could store enough after being concentrated from immortality water. Yet it all runs out today; not a day too soon? Either Danica is trying to kill them in the most roundabout way, or there’s a way out of this that Leona hasn’t thought of.
Leona slides on her ass back towards the bridge. “I’m down here!”
Alyssa gets on her stomach, and sticks her head over the edge like a reverse prairie dog. “Is everything okay?”
“I don’t suppose you have any idea how we’re supposed to get out of here without the pressure of the ocean crushing us to death?”
“Where are we?”
“What is the last thing you remember?” Leona asks.
“Mateo and I were diving to the bottom of Danica Lake, just in case there were any clues left down there.”
“Were there?”
“I don’t remember.” She takes a beat. “I found this in my pocket when I woke up, though.”
Leona slides farther up to get a better look at what Alyssa is dangling in front of her. It’s an auto-injector. “This is probably temporal energy, and probably enough for me to teleport us to the surface, but not enough to get the whole craft up there.”
“So we have to leave it here?”
“No,” Leona says. “We’ll get more in the Bermuda Triangle, and then come right back. I’m not losing another home.”

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