Thursday, January 26, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 23, 2398

The outreach team turned northward with Aquila, and headed for Costa Rica to rendezvous with an extraction team. While they were on their way, Alyssa came to them in the Bridgette to pick up Leona, Marie, and Aquila. Marie could see the frustration in the eyes of the three other members of her SD6 teammates. They’re being left out of the real mission again, and it’s getting to them. That could be something that she has to deal with down the road. Her loyalties are split. That is a known issue for all SD6 employees.
They’re back in Kansas City now, with all eyes on Aquila to make sure she doesn’t try to escape them again. She seemed to have gone to a lot of trouble to make contact, so an outsider might think that she wouldn’t do that, but it’s actually what worries them the most. Why didn’t she just call them on the phone? “I don’t own a phone,” she jokes.
“Sit down,” Marie orders.
“This is a big table for the three of us,” Aquila muses. “Where did Leona run off to? She’s the only one I really need to talk to about this.”
“It’s not just for us.”
They’re in the conference room on the ground level of the lab, which was originally designed to be cut in half. Visitors were meant to come in from the outside, and discuss the pandemic without going through quarantine. The other half was for people working with the pathogen downstairs, who didn’t want to spend time coming out of quarantine. The hermetic seal has been broken, because they currently have no use for it. Now there’s just one big table that everyone can sit around. Ramses comes in first, tapping away at his tablet, surely working on another one of his Reed Richards inventions that won’t see the light of day beyond these walls. Behind him are Winona and Kivi, followed by Vearden and Arcadia. Cheyenne is next, carefully holding the Insulator of Life, which will allow them to interface with the real Bhulan trapped inside with no body to go to.
As they’re finding their seats, Leona returns. A part of her is smiling, but she’s not showing it. Aquila is going to talk, whether she wants to or not. They’re finally going to get some real answers, instead of just last second messages before someone loses their memory, or brief interactions with someone before they run away. Curtis walks in last, and sits directly across from her, so they can begin. He has an odd look on his face, and he will not turn away from Aquila. It’s like he’s more invested in this than anyone, but that can’t be. He doesn’t have anything to do with this.
Ramses stops what he’s doing, and hooks the Insulator up to a monitor. Bhulan appears on it, sitting at a virtual desk, as if merely conferencing in from the San Francisco office. Aquila grimaces at her. “Awkward.”
Ramses sits at the head, places his elbows on the table, and interlocks his fingers. He glances over at Leona, who gives him a nod. “Where is Mateo Matic; my best friend, Leona’s husband, and your brother?”
“I know who you’re talking about. What is this, a deposition? You don’t have to be so formal, do you?” Aquila questions.
“Unclear,” Ramses replies. “You dodged the question to crack a joke,’re sure acting like a defendant.”
“I didn’t hurt him. I didn’t do anything to him. I know how you get him back.”
“I didn’t ask how we get him back; I asked where he was. You avoid the question one more time, and there will be consequences.”
“What kind of consequences could you possibly—”
Marie reaches over with the Livewire, and taps Aquila on the head. It gives her a shock, but it’s not sending an electrical charge into her. It’s trying to pull her mind into it. She didn’t leave it there long enough to do lasting damage, and that’s what hurts. It would be like poking someone with a needle several times, instead of just stabbing them once, and drawing blood the right way.
“Answer the question,” Ramses demands. “I won’t ask it again.”
Aquila literally bites her bottom lip, desperately wanting to ask them where they get off torturing people, but recognizing that she’s not in a position to push these people. They want their friend back, and that has melted the ethical boundaries that would normally prevent them from taking things this far. He’s in a stasis capsule located in Phoenix 15-236P7 Marathon-Algae-Temple.”
“What the hell does that mean?” Alyssa asks, very confused.
“There could be thousands of objects in that bubble,” Leona complains.
“If you get close enough, you’ll see him,” Aquila explains.
“Can someone tell us what Phoenix fifteen-whatever is?” Vearden asks. He looks over at Arcadia, who shrugs, because she doesn’t know either.
“There are trillions of celestial objects in the Oort Cloud,” Leona begins. “Even in the main sequence, it will be centuries before we catalog and track them all. For now, the best we can do is estimate regions of space based on direction and distance. Phoenix is the constellation where you wanna look for your target. It’s 15,236.7 astronomical units away. He’s somewhere in there, or at least he was...four billion years ago. There’s no telling where he is now. Like I said, we can’t track them. We don’t have the data.”
“No, that is where he is now,” Aquila counters. “It’s stationary. All you have to do is look for a planetesimal in that bubble that doesn’t move.”
“Well, that would make it easier, but still not easy,” Leona says.
“Your ship can do it.” Aquila looks over at Ramses. “The AI you stole from The Constant can do it.”
Whatever, Ramses doesn’t feel any shame about that. “Well, we’ll look there. In the meantime, we have some more questions.”
“I’ve given this a lot of thought,” Aquila begins. “I’ve decided to tell you everything. I’m not supposed to...I’m not allowed to...but no one can stop me, right?” She shoots arrows at Curtis.
Curtis stares back for a moment, then looks over at Cheyenne. He stays on her for an even shorter amount of time before turning towards Arcadia and Vearden. “Take care of your daughter. She’s more important than you ever hoped to be.” He jumps up on the table, and dives towards Marie. He takes the Livewire from her, and jams it against Aquila’s—Bhulan’s—head. He doesn’t hold onto the insulation, though. His hand is touching the wire, so he’s being affected by it too. No one can pull him off of her, or they’ll be shocked by it just as much. In seconds, it’s over. They both fall onto the floor, but Curtis manages to get up, while Aquila looks dead.
“What did you do?” Cheyenne asks, horrified and confused.
“I can’t let her talk, I’m sorry.” Curtis looks at the crowd. “To all of you.” He looks out the window, and teleports away, but he doesn’t get as far as he thought he would.

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