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Sunday, April 30, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: February 25, 2399

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Mangrove Rocket Three was heavily damaged in the explosion, for reasons they don’t understand. The whole point was that the self-destruct was supposed to go off upon their exit, so why would it begin before they were clear of the blast? They hadn’t even fully retracted the docking tunnel, and were not planning to leave until the last two members of their group had teleported safely on board. In response to the threat, the ship automatically entered reframe speeds, and traveled as far as it could in a few seconds. That placed them at only about four astronomical units from Phoenix Station, but the engines gave out after that, and took time to repair before they could get back on their way. They tried radioing Mateo and Ramses to see if they had escaped in the Avallo, but received no response.
Aldona has just made the necessary repairs using the automated systems. While she was working on that, Winona, Vearden, and Alyssa made sure that their prisoners were secure. None of them has given them any trouble yet, but there’s still time. They would all like to know what the hell is going on, but the briefing is going to have to wait. Getting the other two back—despite what Ramses did to Leona—is priority one right now. “Are we ready?” Alyssa asks.
“Just about,” Aldona answers. “The coolant is cycling. When it’s finished in a few minutes, we’ll be ready to go back.”
“Can’t we just go without the coolant?” Alyssa asks. “It’s not far.” She looks through the main viewport. “I can practically see the asteroid from here.”
“It’s too dangerous, and impossible now. The ship won’t budge until the process is done. It really won’t be long. When I said minutes, I meant minutes.”
Alyssa nods and looks at herself in the security mirror next to the captain’s seat. She gently runs her fingers along her cheeks.
Aldona notices this. “What happened to you?”
Alyssa frowns at her reflection, and doesn’t respond immediately. “I died.”
“Been there.”
Alyssa looks over at her. “I’m Alyssa.”
“I know. I’m Aldona.” She lances down at the computer when it beeps. The cycle is complete. “And I’m ready to take us back to that asteroid.”
Alyssa sits herself down in the captain’s seat, and not in any sort of playful way, but a real show of strength that she’s decided to start exhibiting since her near-death experience. “Then let’s go.”
“This is your pilot, Aldona Lanka,” she says into the intercom. “Prepare to enter reframe speeds. I know you all felt it yesterday, but the engine was not designed with short bursts in mind. Nor is it generally a good idea. We’ll be fine, but you’ll feel it again, and I imagine your adrenaline levels have dropped to normal since then. So I suggest you brace. Except you, Erlendr. You can get fucked.” She engages the engine.
She intentionally dropped down to 99 percent the speed of light to avoid taxing the engine, but those five minutes were still pretty hard on it. It works better when it can get in a groove. It’s not really practical to use something like this for interstellar distances. That’s what a teleporter would be for, but that’s sort of Ramses’ purview, and would take longer to engineer. It also requires injecting temporal energy into the machine. The reframe engine manipulates time as well, but it can use ambient temporal energy to function. It really only bends the laws of physics, rather than breaking them.
The initial explosions turned out to have only been an amuse-bouche. The real self-destruct vaporized the entirety of Phoenix Station, along with most of the asteroid. There is no way to know whether the Avallo managed to escape, or was taken out too. At their last attempt to reach out, their friends were still not responding.
“Mateo, Ramses, come in,” Alyssa tries.
“No, you have to tap this button. Here, there ya go. Go ahead.”
“Mateo, Ramses, anyone, please respond. This is Alyssa McIver of Mangrove Three. Mateo, are you there?”
“It’s Mangrove Rocket Three,” Aldona corrects. She starts to mutter when Alyssa gives her a look. “I’m just saying, Mangrove Three is the launch port.”
“Mateo, Ramses, please come in.”
Mangrove Rocket Three,” Mateo’s voice comes in through an unexpected speaker, “this is Captain Leona Matic. Please respond.
“Why is she acting like she called us first?”
“This is the laser array, not radio,” Aldona explains. “She didn’t get your message. It’s just that she’s spot us.” She opens the channel. “Captain Matic, we read you, five by five. Tell us where you are.”
We’re in the Avallo escape pod.” It still sounds like Mateo.
“Okay, now I know what I’m looking for.” Aldona mutes, then starts to work on tracking the pod. She gives Alyssa her own look. “There’s a problem, though. Only one person can fit in that pod. I don’t know how a version of Leona is there too, but you’re not fittin’ three people; I’ll tell ya that much. Ramses is...”
“...in the Avallo,” Alyssa insists. “I don’t know why they’re not together, but he’s not dead. He worked really hard to bring me back to life, and his reward for that was not dying himself. Okay?”
“Okay,” Aldona replies, not really believing it.
Okay?” she reiterates.
“I said okay.”
“Okay.” She takes a beat. “Glad we’re on the same page. Get me to that pod.”
Ramses is not in the pod, nor is there any second person. It’s just Mateo and Leona sharing the former’s body. She is apparently the same Leona who is currently trying to wake up in the infirmary; Vearden looking after her. At some point, she’s going to be nearly killed, and end up being forced into Leona Reaver’s fated car crash way back in the 21st century in the main sequence. Then Ramses is going to reach back to that event using the Phoenix Station extraction mirror, and his last act before his death will be to transfer her consciousness to Mateo’s brain. He urged them to teleport up to the Avallo, which Leona did, though she went straight to the escape pod, and ejected it from the ship, knowing that it would take longer to launch the entire vessel. Ramses is dead, and unless they can find another extraction mirror, they’ll never see him again.
“Why didn’t you teleport him with you?” Alyssa demands to know.
“I’m sorry,” Leona replies. “We were in a vulnerable position...highly susceptible to suggestion. You remember when you first got back, I’m sure. He could have ordered us to slit our own throats, and we would have done it.”
“Yeah? Well maybe you should have.” She storms off.

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