Sunday, July 16, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: April 13, 2404

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Leona was done with her meeting, and ready to rejoin her husband and the Waltons. The other members of the Shortlist—and the audience—were going back to wherever they were using Pribadium’s special portal, which would reportedly adjust their arrival in such a way to prevent any sort of detrimental exchanging of information. The process of delivering them took so long that Leona had to stay one more night while everyone else went through. Plus, there was an issue with this method with her. As an incentive to get her to participate in the meeting, Team Keshida graciously donated one of their several ships to her and her team. The Phoenix was a magnificent vessel, and the one reason why she wasn’t really all that upset about having to wait her turn. She wanted to familiarize herself with it first before she went off to find her people. What she didn’t know was how she was going to do that. The Phoenix would probably just stay here while she stepped through the portal, which was presumably going to send her to the future first. It certainly wouldn’t fit through along with her.
“Yes, it will,” Ishida claimed. Everyone else was gone by now. All that remained now were her, Kestral, and the residents of their host system of Altair, which weren’t going anywhere.
“How is that possible?” Leona asked.
“How was Ramses able to carry a copy of the AOC in his pocket?”
“He wasn’t carrying the ship itself. It’s more that he was pulling a copy of it from another dimension. It’s very complicated stuff, I’m not sure I understand it myself.”
“You don’t have to. We were inspired by him. And Hank Pym. And Doctor Who. You’ll understand enough when I show you how to use the Coffer.”
“That sounds ominous.”
Ishida teleported them to the Phoenix, inside the hangar bay of the Jameela Jamil, specifically to a section that Leona hadn’t seen yet. As far as starships went, it wasn’t the absolute largest ever built, but there was so much to see on the bridge, and in engineering. “The is the coffer sector. It is in the very center of the ship, and the most important chamber in the whole thing. It’s the heart, the soul, the body itself. Destroy this, and destroy everything. Protect it, and you can’t lose.”
“You mentioned this. It can resurrect the ship if it’s destroyed?”
“It does more than that.” Ishida reached up towards a camera, and flicked her wrist away from it. A heavy vault door swung open in the same direction. “The vault is impenetrable to all forms of teleportation, even your own. In an emergency, you can jump to just outside the door, but then you’ll have to open it. The security system is completely closed. The AI that runs the rest of the vessel will have absolutely no control over any of this. The antechamber we’re in right now even runs on a separate life support system.” Ishida forced the door open enough for them to slip through.
There wasn’t much to it. The ceilings were coffered, which was probably more of a design joke. There weren’t any controls, or chairs, or anything. The only interesting object in here was a pedestal sitting in the center. A hologram of the Phoenix hovered above it, slowly turning counter clockwise. It wasn’t directly above the pedestal, though. Between them lay what looked like a simple beige mat with black edges. It was creased to six sections. Ishida approached it. “This is the Coffer. And this...” she began, holding up her tablet, showing a security feed from the hangar bay. “ the Phoenix from the outside.” She reached out and lifted one of the sections of the mat until it was standing upright on its own. The hologram flicked so that the bow was facing one direction. The stern, meanwhile, disappeared completely. As it did so, the actual stern as seen on the feed disappeared as well. When Ishida lifted the opposite section of the mat, the bow disappeared too. The same thing happened to the starboard side, and finally the port side. Now all that remained was the little room they were standing in.
Leona looked outside the vault door to see that they were floating in midair. “Trippy. Transdimensional gravity?”
“Yes,” Ishida answered, “but as soon as I close this, we’re gonna fall. So if you do that, either be in the middle of space in a vacuum suit, or be able to teleport to safety.”
Leona nodded and admired the coffer. “Do it.”
“No,” Ishida said. “You do it.”
Leona smiled. She took Ishida’s hand in her own, then used the other hand to lift the lid, and slap it shut, grabbing the handle at the last second before the floor disappeared from under them. Ishida jumped them safely to the floor below. Leona shook her fancy new briefcase. “Ship in a box. Clever girl.”
“One more thing.” Ishida looked nervous to say more.
“Oh, no.”
“I’ve brought up the AI, but it doesn’t have an AI at the moment. The position has been filled, but the candidate has not yet begun.”
“Who’s the AI?” Leona questioned. “And why are you afraid to tell me?”
“Follow me.” She started to walk towards a maintenance station. “I have an idea of what happened to you while you were in the Third Rail. I don’t have the details, but I know that you butt heads with Danica, and everyone else in that version of the Constant. We have been in contact with them in recent days, though, and the Concierge would like to start a new chapter, which means that the old one must be closed. She asked me to take someone off her hands. She acted like it was more of a burden than a gift.”
Leona realized who she was talking about. “Constance.”
Ishida removed what looked like a kettlebell from a toolbox. “Yes. She asked me to make sure that Constance!Three was kept...constantly active. Apparently this particular program can become evil when left dormant?”
“Yes,” Leona agreed, “I’ve seen it.”
“Are you okay with this? It may be a little awkward, but I feel like you’re the best qualified to handle the responsibility.”
Leona accepted the kettlebell drive. She shook it and the Coffer at the same time, as if testing their weight. “You’re right. We’re the only ones who can do it. We can’t run the ship on our own.”
“I can take you to the Pribadium portal.”
“I think I’ll walk; get a few steps in for my health. Thank you for this, Ishida. Thank Kestral for me too.”
Ishida nodded. “Bye, Leona. We’ll see each other again.”
Leona walked clear across the habitat until she reached the portal. She was wrong; they weren’t the only three time travelers left here. Thor was still manning his station. He lifted his watch to his lips. “The Eagle is about to fly.”
Leona stopped in front of him to give him a peck on the cheek. “I’ll show you an eagle.” She turned to face the portal, and released a hologram of a gigantic eagle on her head and shoulders, flapping its wings. She couldn’t make it cry, but it looked awesome. What Thor probably couldn’t tell was that it was Eagly. She stepped through the portal with her bird, and a smile that no one could see, and left this world.
When she stepped out, she found herself in the huge ballroom of a hotel. Angela was the first to notice her, but it didn’t register right away. She looked up from her tablet, then had to blink and take herself aback. “She’s here. Leona’s here!”
Marie sat up from the couch that was facing the other direction. Mateo appeared from around a corner. “Oh, good!” He exclaimed. He ran over and tried to give her a hug, but the two heavy objects that she was carrying made that difficult. He took them from her one by one, and carefully laid them on the floor, not knowing what they were. Then he was able to get that hug, as were Marie and Angela.
“Tell us everything,” Marie asked.
“I will, but where are we, and is it secure?”
“We’re on the tallest mountain of a planet called Violkomin. Hogarth built it. Or rather, her staff did. Apparently I wasn’t the first person to be resurrected from the afterlife simulation. A number of world-builders were brought back in order to use their skills to design and construct entire planets in base reality. But this is not Salmonverse; it’s a separate universe that’s attached to ours, and the facility we’re in serves as a dividing line between the two halves of it, the other being what we’ve been calling—”
“The Sixth Key, yeah. Makes sense.”
“Does it, though?” Angela questioned.
“We have a present for you,” Marie said excitedly. “It’s in the bathroom, I think.”
“Is it Ramses?” Leona asked.
“No, but he is alive,” Mateo confirmed.
“I saw him too.”
Just then, none other than Olimpia Sangster rounded the same corner that Mateo had. “Lee-Lee!” She ran forward, but didn’t get far before she decided to teleport to cover the rest of the distance. She practically knocked Leona over when she tackled her. They held onto each other for a long time before letting go.
Leona smiled and wiped a tear from her cheek. The team was almost whole again. They were still missing one team member, and since all five of them saw him alive and well, there should be nothing keeping him from returning to any particular moment. Perhaps some force was keeping him away on purpose as a tool to maintain simpatico.
“Aww,” Mateo said. He regarded her sadly for a moment. “What are those?”
Leona reached down. “This is a whole spaceship called the Phoenix. It has true faster-than-light capabilities, and a whole lot more. This is Constance!Three. We need her to run the ship.”
“Okay.” Mateo spoke with his hands. “How do we get the ship out of the box?”
“Simple.” She handed it to him. “Teleport it as far as you can in one jump, and open it.” She gestured towards the girls. “Once life support kicks on, the rest of us will jump inside. I mean, we could all open it together, but I’ll die in space in this body.”
“I’ll help with that when I get back.” It was Ramses, walking towards the group. He snagged the kettlebell drive that was currently housing Constance!Three out of Leona’s hand. “I’ll come back with her too.”
“Ram, what are you doing, and why can’t you tell us?” Leona asked.
“Careful,” he said in an English accent with a smirk. “Spoilers.” He made a fist like Thanos, but instead of a gauntlet, he squeezed his metal beads, and disappeared.

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