Sunday, March 12, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: January 7, 2399

Petra is standing over Angela’s bed, watching her chest move up and down under the covers. The monitor indicates that she’s still alive too, though she’s not a doctor, which is why she needed more accessible confirmation. “She asked for this.”
“Yes,” the doctor repeats himself.
“Why would she do that?”
“She claimed that she’s not allowed to urinate.”
She looks over at him. “She didn’t explain why?”
“Sir, you instructed me to accommodate them. I didn’t ask too many questions.”
“I told you to give them what they wanted, not to just ignore your ethical obligations. You should have pressed her.”
“There was an apparent sensitivity of time.”
“So sensitive that you couldn’t have called me in first?”
“Those were not my instructions.”
Petra sighs, and takes a beat. “Is she safe like this?”
“It’s three more hours,” the doctor says. “I have nothing else to do but sit and watch her.”
“Good, do that. Literally don’t take your eyes off her. You’re not allowed to pee either.” She leaves the infirmary, and heads for the bridge. Today is a big day. It’s the turn around. Normal physics says that the faster you’re moving, the harder it is to change direction, and the longer it takes. They ought to be making a ginormous arc around the solar system, but the technology they’re using is decades beyond the need for that, if not longer. Leona Matic gave them more than just a fusion engine. She gave them instant acceleration.
The issue with traveling at fractional speeds—that is, speeds above ten percent of lightspeed—is that it takes an incredibly long time to start moving that fast. It’s not the engines themselves that are the only hurtle, but also the passengers. No organism is naturally equipped with the necessary biological characteristics that would allow it to survive accelerating faster than 10Gs. People have done it in experiments, but not for extended periods of time. But Leona’s people figured it out. Not only did they reach 99.9999% the speed of light virtually instantly, but they didn’t feel a thing. Petra still doesn’t quite understand how the inertial dampeners work, and this is her field of study. Researchers will be publishing papers on the science for years to come. She’s grateful for the opportunity to test it out, even though the trip will only last a few hours of observed time, and a few months of realtime.
They’re at the halfway point now, which means that it’s time to turn around. The plan is to make a stop in the middle of what Leona referred to as the Oort Cloud. While essentially static, they’ll literally turn the rocket, and then restart the engines. If all goes well, they should be on their way back to Earth within minutes. Petra walks onto the bridge. “How are we lookin’?”
The ship’s tiller keeps her eyes on her screen. “Just ran the final diagnostics. Everything is good to go.”
“You sure you can do this?” Petra asks.
“Does a Tamerist kill without reason?”
“I wish they didn’t.” A stranger has just walked into the room. No one else on the bridge recognizes him.
“Who are you?” Petra questions. “Security.”
The security officer assigned to this station draws her weapon.
“That will not be necessary. My name is Tamerlane Pryce, and I’m just hitching a ride back home.”
“Stand fast,” Petra orders. “What do you mean, you’re Tamerlane Pryce? Were your parents warmongers?”
The man sighs. “I did not mean for my religion to turn into that. It out of hand; out of my control.”
“Explain yourself.”
“I’m a time traveler. To say that I was friends with Leona Matic would be...said in bad faith, but we are associates. She would recognize me. Angela would recognize me.”
“How convenient that the only person who might be able to vouch for your identity is currently indisposed.”
“Uh, sir?” the tiller jumps in. “It’s about to happen.”
“Get him out of here,” Petra orders the guard. “Take him to hock.”
“You can go alone,” the supposed Tamerlane says. He points the crown of his watch towards the guard, and taps on the screen. The guard disappears.
“How the hell did you do that?”
“Custom modified teleporter gun,” he says with a shrug. “No big deal.”
The tiller has started counting down, “...six, five, four, three, two, one. Full stop.”
The doppler shades that Leona also designed stop filtering the grayish glow, and turn completely black. “Raising shades,” the aux officer announces so that they can see fully out of the viewindow.
There is something that none of them expected; none but Tamerlane. They’re parked in front of a chunk of rock. Embedded in this rock is some kind of building. The lights are on, so someone is home. “What the fuh...?” Petra questions in a breathy voice.
The astonished bridge crew stands up, and leans forward.
“That, my new friends, is The Constant. It was my home for billions of years. Then they kicked me out, and they thought I would never find them again.”
Frightened but awe-inspired too, Petra admires the sight. “How is this possible?”
“I can get you docked,” Tamerlane tells her, “but you have to give me control.”
“Do it.” Angela has just come into the room. She’s still wearing only her bra and underwear, and holding onto her IV pole.
“Put this on,” the doctor offers, finally catching up to her. He wraps the blanket over her shoulders.
“Angela, you do know him?” Petra asks.
“Let’s just say I know...his twin brother.”
Tamerlane smirks.
“Get—” Petra stammers. “Get us in that building, I guess.”
Tamerlane approaches the controls, and starts tapping away. He lifts the microphone up. “Constance, Vacuum Entry Override Protocol Temple-Algae-Marathon five-nine-nine-eight.” In response, the walls of the building split open. A greenish-blue light appears from inside, and takes hold of the rocket. It pulls them in, turns them up, and lands them gently on the floor.
“Welcome back, Mister Pryce,” a voice says as a staircase extends up to them, and lets Tamerlane start climbing down on it. Petra follows, but Angela has to stay in the airlock, as she can’t handle the steps.
“Step on the landing,” Tamerlane calls up to her. “It’ll bring you down.”
The doctor insists on accompanying her, but everyone else is expected to stay with the ship until they’re told otherwise. Once the other two are safely down on the floor, the stairs contract slowly, and let Angela and the doctor down.
A woman comes into the room. “I suppose it was only a matter of time before we were found. I just thought it would take longer than eight months. I hoped, anyway. Tamerlane, I admire the ingenuity in orchestrating all of this.”
“No, you don’t, Danica, you’re annoyed by it.”
“I can have mixed feelings,” Danica contends. She reaches out to Angela. “Miss Walton. It’s nice to finally meet you. I’m Danica Matic.”
“Mateo’s cousin, yes. I met a different version of you.”
“I hope to live up to your impression of her.”
“Based on my experiences in this reality, you have a long ways to go.”
“True,” Danica admits. “If you’ll come with me, I’ll personally escort you to a comfortable medical stasis pod.”
Angela looks over to Tamerlane for guidance.
“Him?” Danica questions. “You’re looking to him to see if you can trust me?”
“If you know that I need stasis,” Angela begins, “then that means you’re not only monitoring what’s happening back on Earth, but also specifically what’s been happening to our team. This means that you know that we’ve been looking for you. Well, they’ve been looking for, I’m not sure I give a shit. Yet here you’ve been, hiding a coward. You could have helped so many times, in so many ways.”
“I’m helping now. Do you want your sister to live, or not?”
Angela frowns, but surrenders. “Lead the way.”
“The rest of you can meet us in the master sitting room,” Danica says, taking Angela’s free hand.
“I’m staying with my patient,” the doctor declares. He gives Petra a look. “Those are my orders.”
“Very well.” Danica leads them both away.
“What is this place for?” Petra asks Tamerlane after the other three have left.
“Get everyone else, including the kids,” he replies. He nods at the stairs, which somehow respond to him by starting to extend back up towards the airlock of the rocket. “What this place is, is a haven for weary travelers. Danica has forgotten this fact, but we...are taking over.”
“Do you have the power to do that?” Petra asks. It’s become clear that Angela doesn’t care for either of these two mysterious people, but she seems to trust this one more than she does Danica.
“Not me,” Tamerlane acknowledges, “but Leona does.” He chuckles. “She should be here soon.”
Meanwhile, back on Earth, Mateo, Ramses, and Alyssa are preparing to investigate the region of the Oort cloud that Aquila mentioned, hoping to find the Constant, or at least a clue to its whereabouts. Unfortunately, they’ll be going in the wrong direction.

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