Sunday, November 19, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 1, 2422

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image Duet AI software
It always seemed like a lie that the reason Venus Opsocor wanted the team to go to Worlon was because it was the safest place to be during this time period. Perhaps what was happening now was what it was really all about, and the team being here was all part of some grander plan. They spent all day last year getting to now the Krekel, and understanding how they were different from the Ochivari. Something happened in their past, which transformed them from a race of regretful polluters bent on stopping anyone from making the same mistakes they did, at all costs, to one of compassionate and patient guides with ethical boundaries who only wanted to help people. Unfortunately, the Ochivari were bulk travelers. Once they left their home universe, they separated themselves from all of reality, meaning that while the timeline could be altered, they would remain in existence. Nothing could stop them from going on their crusade against other intelligent races by sterilizing entire populations. The Ochivari were not fighting their war in a traditional sense, with guns and bombs, except when it came to the Krekel. That was a real war. And right now, Team Matic was in the center of it.
The next day, when they returned to the timestream, they were invited to breakfast again. The first time they did it, they were up on the mothership in orbit. Now that a year had passed, the new capital of Worlon was well underway, including the Capitol Building, which was where the second breakfast banquet was taking place. Ellie Underhill wasn’t here this time. This was to become a yearly thing apparently. The team’s unexpected arrival was only a part of this new holiday. It was the part that dictated when specifically it would be held. Worlon had a different daily rotation, and a different solar revolution than Earth, but the team’s pattern was tied to midnight central of the Earthan Standard Calendar. This meant that Cadatora would be celebrated on a different day each year on Worlon, kind of like Easter. That was where the humans’ contribution ended. The Krekel had their own reasons to celebrate their peace and harmony, and these reasons were threatened by the sudden arrival of a fleet of Ochivari ships a couple of months ago.
The Ochivari were violent by nature, but it was not an arbitrary development. A long time ago, they realized that they were all biologically capable of traveling the bulk. They didn’t need a machine. They didn’t need an amazing technicolor dreamcoat. It was just something that they could do. It came at a great cost. The whole process involved a battle of chemicals, pheromones, and possibly psychic fortitude. That last thing lived within an area of research that scientists were not completely sure about. It also resulted in sacrifice. As these opposing forces reached critical mass, they would literally explode, and the consequence of this fight would be the sudden and fleeting opening of a portal to the outer bulk in which all universes were suspended. If two Ochivari were bulkbattling, one of them would die from this. The other would survive, and usually be sucked into the portal, and transported to another world. This was where the possible psychic energy came into play, because if they did it right, the survivor went to the right world, instead of some random planet, or the middle of empty space. They had to be fast, though, because if they didn’t jump in right away, the portal would collapse before them, and the whole thing would be a waste of time. The thing was, though, that the greater the sacrifice, the larger the portal, and the longer it lasted.
If three Ochvari came together to bulkbattle, two of them would survive while one died. If five came together, three would survive while two died. The total number of attempters, number of sacrificers, and number of survivors each went up exponentially according to the Fibonacci sequence. It was the most clear evidence that this sequence was more than a series of numbers, but a tangible physical phenomenon with real-world consequences. One of these consequences was that Ochivari ships were incredibly rare. The size and stability of the portal wasn’t actually based on the number of Ochivari involved, but total mass. The higher the mass, the more voluminous the pheromones and chemicals, the more stuff that could be used to fuel transportation.
A battleship was a profoundly massive object, so the sacrifices required to move it from one universe to another were equally profound. They numbered in the tens of millions of people, but even then, there was a catch, because the ship was a giant weapon flying through space, and that would kill anyone upon impact. So even the survivors of the bulkbattle generally ended up dying soon thereafter, because a ship would immediately come barreling towards them in order to make it through the just opened portal in time. It could last longer than smaller portals, but still not indefinitely, and it was possible for it to collapse while you were still trying to pass through it.
Over 70 million should be an unacceptable loss by anyone’s standards, especially since the reason they were fighting was because the Krekel figured out how to do it without incurring any loss. Instead of hating them for it, they should learn from them. As it turned out, these sacrifices didn’t need to happen at all. The winginsing that the orchestra of Nexus guards performed for them last year wasn’t just a beautiful symphony of nature. When done in the right way, using the right melody, and other mathematical precisions, it too could open a bulk portal. Krekel portals were not any more stable than Ochivari ones, but no one had to die to open them, even for those large enough to accommodate ships.
The Krekel were at a huge advantage because of their alternate technique. It made them nicer, peaceful, and more harmonious amongst each other. But their disadvantage...was that they were nicer and more peaceful than the Ochivari, so when war came for them, they mostly lost. Until recently. In response to the unprovoked attacks, the Krekel started building out their own armies, training them with the lessons they had learned from those early losses, and really fighting back. Their return to Worlon was not just because they were homesick. This was a staging planet now, and the Ochivari didn’t like that. That was why the fleet came here, and why they were even angrier than usual, because the sacrifices made to transport them had to total nearly a billion people. This was crazy. After all, that was the first rule of warfare, always outnumber your enemy.
The Battle Over Worlon lasted for only days, and in the end, the Krekel won with their home field advantage, and their ability to recruit reinforcements from a planet called Folia, in a universe called Moderaverse. That didn’t mean it was over, though. Krekel and Ochivari looked exactly the same, just as British and German people did because they were both humans. The only distinction possible was clothing, which could always be changed. The Krekel won the war, but that didn’t mean there weren’t survivors. Some of them escaped through sacrificial bulk portals, but others were believed to have blended in with the locals, and assimilated into society. Maybe some of them were indoctrinated into the new way of life, which included a lot less death, but others held firm. They became sleepers. Today on Cadatora, they attacked for the first time since the end of that fateful battle months ago.
Olimpia was the first to see the knife. She wasn’t sure if she should be nervous at first. Maybe it was some kind of ceremonial gesture, and wasn’t intended to be used as a weapon. But the supposed Krekel’s body language seemed to indicate that he had ill intentions towards the Domina. While the timeline that the Krekels came from was different, there were still some similarities. Their respective cultures were both ruled by diarchies. The Domino and the Domina were like King and Queen, except they were not in a relationship with each other. In fact, the more they liked each other, the harder it was for them to maintain power. While all systems of government that relied on non-elected leaders were at least a little tyrannical, in this case, it was pretty easy to overthrow a Dominé that began to act outside the interests of the people, and in the Krekel’s case, it could be done nonviolently. The Domini were well-loved, particularly the Domina. That was why the Ochivar infiltrator was attempting to assassinate her.
Everyone on the team picked up on Olimpia’s unease, and Leona acted quickly. She pulled out her weapon, and once she saw where the danger was lurking, she took her shot. She could have set her gun to incapacitate the attacker, but she didn’t. The would-be assassin was killed instantly, placing everyone in an awkward position. The only way they even knew that he was Ochivar, and probably was trying to kill the Domina, was because they could not identify him, so he wasn’t a known citizen of Worlon. He was certainly not approved to be in the Royal Court during the Royal Cadatoran Breakfast. So Leona almost definitely saved the Domina’s life, and who knows how many others, but that didn’t make it okay.
Weapons were not allowed in the Royal Court. All armed guardsmen kept their posts outside its walls. The guards inside had to check their weapons in, and if a problem occurred, would only be allowed to use their fists and feet and wings. The attacker broke the law by sneaking one in, but Leona shouldn’t have used hers either. They made an exception by allowing her to bring it in in the first place, but they were humoring her as their honored guest. They didn’t think that she would actually use it, and now that she had, they were all in big trouble.
“You have two options,” their state-appointed advocate explained to them. “If you risk going to trial, there is no telling what the arbitration panel will decide. You could be put to death, placed in prison, assigned to a work camp, forced into the military, exiled in universe, or expelled to the bulk. Or, I guess you could be found innocent. The first six are equally likely, but that last one is remote. These consequences could be suffered by you alone, or shared by the whole group, or each of you could conceivably be handed different sentences. Like I said, it’s a risk.”
Leona lifted her hand, and started counting herself and her friends, as if she didn’t know that there were six. “Death, prison, work, military, exile, expulsion. Six people for six punishments. Sounds like a long arc...except for one of them,” she mused, referencing execution. “You said there were two options. Was all that one option?”
“You could volunteer for one of them, but you would have to do it together, and obviously you can’t choose freedom.”
“Well...obviously we should choose exile, right?” Angela figured. “We didn’t really want to be here anyway.”
“That comes with a caveat. There are pros and cons to all of them. Death would be swift and painless. Prison would be comfortable. The work would be easy. Military service would be relatively safe. Expulsion would be to the universe of your choosing.”
“You skipped one,” Olimpia pointed out, “the one that we’re actually suggesting.”
“If you don’t leave by the end of the week, which for you would only be a few hours, you will experience all other punishments, and none of the advantages will apply. You’ll be put to work doing hard labor in an uncomfortable prison, and then sent to the frontlines of the war once the appropriate opportunity arises. If you somehow survive that, you’ll be expelled to a universe not of your choosing, and while I’m not privy to which universe that would be, my guess is that it would be an extremely hostile environment, especially since they were clear that you would have to go through all five other punishments, and death would necessarily be the last on the list.”
“Who came up with this, a science fiction writer?” Leona questioned.
“Probably. It’s not in the law books. That’s why it took me all day to get back to you while you were in jail, because the court had to explain it to me and the adherent first. He didn’t know what they were talking about either, and he’s more upset than I.”
“Okay, this doesn’t make any sense. Why is there a time limit on self-exile? We’ll just go through the Nexus, and it’ll be done,” Angela presumed.
“That’s the thing,” the advocate went on. “You can’t use the Nexus. And no one who lives here is allowed to help you. I told you there was a caveat.”
Leona sighed, annoyed at yet another round of games. This was reminding her of The Cleanser’s Tribulations, Arcadia’s Expiations, and all the other needlessly convoluted missions that people have sent them on over the centuries. “So it’s our responsibility to punish ourselves, and if we fail to do that, they’ll punish us, and it will be five times worse.”
“How would we get off this planet without help?” Marie asks.
“I don’t know how you could,” he said, “but I’m just an attorney. You’re the legendary adventurers. Isn’t escape sort of your thing?”
“Emphasis on the sort of part,” Ramses clarified.
Leona looked at Mateo. “You’ve been quiet. I noticed you put your thinking face on.”
Mateo turned his neck to face different parts of the room as if members of a crowd in the middle distance were taking turns expressing their thoughts, and he was listening politely. He settled on the door. “I’ve already solved this problem.”
“How do you figure?” Leona pressed.
Mateo kept staring at the door. “I just feel it. Help is coming. Senona Riggur lives outside of time. They can see the future as easily as anyone can see the present. Venus is no different.”
“What do those so-called gods have to do with anything?” Angela asked.
“Five..four..three..two...” Mateo lifted his hand, and pointed at the door just as he finished the countdown. The door opened to reveal Maqsud Al-Amin, a.k.a. The Trotter.
Maqsud was one of the few people in histories who were capable of transporting themselves from one planet to another, at seemingly infinite distances. He helped return Leona and her then-team from Dardius to Earth a long time ago. None of the others had ever met him, but they all knew who he was. He dressed very uniquely. “Does someone here need a ride?” he guessed. “I did not come to this planet on purpose.”
“We’ll take exile,” all six of them volunteered simultaneously.

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