Sunday, December 24, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 6, 2427

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image Duet AI software
Something interesting happened when Ramses started to program Lilac’s stasis pod to help her jump to the future faster. He expected to be able to start from scratch, and run his own program, but a link request popped up when he tried. He almost swiped it away, because it always carries over other default settings that he needs to alter himself, but it should not have done it at all this time. This was the only pod in operation for at least a light year. Right?
“There’s another pod?” Leona asked.
“Yes,” Ramses answers. “Well, there’s another stasis program running nearby anyway, which could turn out to be any number of other pods, as long as they happen to be on the same time differential.”
“How do you know this?” Olimpia asked.
“Pods like this are self-sustaining and modular,” Ramses began to explain. “They don’t have to be connected to each other, or to some singular power source or network, which is why I was able to just pull this out of the wall in Scorpius Station, and bring it with us. But sometimes you want them to be connected, so they can share preferences, and other settings. It helps for when you have to program thousands of sleepers in the same ship. When I activated this one, it alerted me to a currently running program, which I can evidently become a part of too.”
“So, it’s like when you take your phone into a restaurant, and it picks up the WiFi,” Mateo reasoned.
“That’s a good analogy, yes,” Ramses replied. “It’s offering to connect us to a network that we didn’t know was there.”
“This world does not look like it’s advanced enough to have stasis pods,” Angela pointed out.
“Well, no matter. Where is this other pod?” Marie asked. “Or pods?”
“There’s no way to know,” Ramses explained. “But it has to be close. I’ll look deeper into the specifications to get a better picture, but I doubt it’s more than a few thousand kilometers.”
“Oh, that close?” Mateo laughed.
“If it’s a facility,” Leona began, “we might be able to track it down. If it’s a single pod underground, it might be next to impossible. These things aren’t designed to locate each other. This feature only exists to keep everyone in a given population on the same timetable. The diameter of the Earthan moon, Luna is sort of the far end of the typical ranges you might ever need. You generally don’t even need to go that far.”
“Can you change the range?” Mateo asked.
“What do you mean?” Ramses questioned.
“Can you adjust the signal until it stops picking up the other program?”
“Oh, I see where you’re going with this,” Ramses said. “We might be able to pinpoint the location once we find an exact radius. You’re getting smarter.”
“It happens,” Mateo muses.
“Give me a little time. Like she was saying, this isn’t designed as a buddy locator. I’ll have to tinker with the innards.”
“What about me?” Lilac asked, arms crossed.
“Oh, right,” Ramses said. “I forgot why I was even doing this. Lee-Lee, while I’m working on this one, why don’t you get one of the other pods set up for her?”
“I can’t do that,” Leona contended. “If I set up a new pod, and start a new program...”
Ramses realized the issue. “The linkseeker on this first pod will find the second one instead, which could make it harder to locate the one we’re looking for.”
“So, I’m screwed?” Lilac figured.
“No, no. We’ll turn it off next year. I know you wanted us to wait to wake you up once we found your son, but we really do need to investigate this.”
“Okay,” Leona said. “Give Ramses a few hours to find the radius. Once he’s done, we’ll place you in another pod. We’ll wake you up next year, and try to actually look for the thing. I’ll want to spend some time inspecting our new ship anyway, but I promise we’ll get off planet by the end of the day. Is that okay?”
They carried out the plan. While Leona was programming the nanofactory to engineer an interstellar ship for them that was capable of reaching maximum sublight, but not of reframe speeds, Ramses was trying to find this mysterious other stasis program. He ripped the guts out of the pod, and just used whatever part of the machinery, since he didn’t need the entire apparatus to do the job. This would make it easier to triangulate a position. It actually didn’t take them the entire rest of the next day to complete the work. He found the radius, which was around 1200 kilometers away, but of course, that was 1200 kilometers in any direction. So he made a random jump 600 kilometers away. This dropped him into the ocean, and also out of range, so he knew he was going the wrong way. He went back to the center, and made a jump in the opposite direction. Now he was still in range, but the radius remained at 1200, so he had to lower it until the other program reappeared on the screen. He kept adjusting it, making ever shorter jumps several times until he found the spot. It was within about a hectare search grid. There was nothing there, and midnight central was approaching, so he went back to camp to wait.
The next day, they were glad that he was able to narrow it down that much, because that was as good as it ever got. Starting up Lilac’s pod severed the linked preferences from the first time, and they weren’t able to restore them, even when they woke her up, and powered her pod down. While Leona was working on their ship, and the Walton sisters were continuing to help the Welriosians, and Olimpia was helping the natives, Mateo and Ramses started a more direct search. It reminded Mateo of the time that he and Tarboda Hobson were in Madagascar in the Third Rail. Alyssa used her teleportation ability to search for whatever they might find there that could solve their problems. It was much quicker, but if the thing they were looking for were underground, it might be virtually impossible to locate, especially with their short window of availability. They were leaving today, whether the secret pod was found or not. Fortunately, they found it.
It was underground, but not in a bunker, or something. It was just buried in the dirt, part of the top corner exposed to the elements, probably due to natural erosion. They dug it out with their hands like a dog until it was exposed enough to be lifted out of the ground by hand. Ramses tried to wipe the viewscreen clean to see who was in it, but the face was obscured from the inside. There was no data on its occupant in the computer, so all they could do was cross their fingers, and open ‘er up. Vitalie Crawville leapt out of it with a crazed look on her face. She tackles Mateo to the ground, and tries to strangle him. Ramses spared no expense when he made these bodies. Humans, for whatever reason, evolved to have pitifully fragile necks, but it was relatively easy to engineer a superior substrate. Some called them superstrates. Vitalie could squeeze all she wanted, but there was no way she was breaking his windpipe. He didn’t fight back. He just lay there, waiting for her to recognize him. She did so after fifteen seconds, and got off of him right away. “Are you okay?” he asked her.
“Am I okay? Are you okay?”
Not a big deal. “I’m all right. How long were you in there?”
Vitalie looked back at the pod in disgust. “Hell if I know.”
“Someone put you in there against your will?” Ramses asked.
She took a deep breath. “Yes. Called himself...The Oaksent.”
“We’ve met,” Mateo said with a nod.
She looked around at their surroundings. “This world has been without my help. I hope it’s not too late.”
“Too late for what?” Mateo asked.
“To do some good. Do you know how far we are from civilization?”
“We’ll take you there.” Mateo offered her a hand.
She was confused for a moment. “Do you know how to be a navigator for a teleporter?”
“I know how to be a navigator,” Mateo answered, “and a teleporter.” He took her hand, and jumped them both to New Welrios.
I wanna take a look at this pod,” Ramses said through his comm.
“Be careful,” Mateo warned him. “There could be a tamper-proof self-destruct.”
“A lot has changed about you, Mister Matic,” Vitalie noted. “Looks like I got some competition here.”
“You don’t,” he clarified. “My team and I have to go. We’re looking for a friend, and the only thing we know is that he’s not on this world. We’re doing everything we can, but a lot of people here don’t deserve to be helped.” He jerked his head towards the Welriosians who were milling about outside the entrance to the giant residential cave. “These ones were once innocent slaves. We saved them from the destruction of their planet, then we had to save them again once the natives got their hands on them. The others live on the other side of the planet. Their society is complicated, and there’s only so much effort we’re putting into their redemption. You can do whatever you want, Vitalie, or you can come with us.”
She smiled at him while she watched the people. “My name’s Vitalie. It’s The Caretaker, and wherever you’re going, you’ll find me there too.”
“You duplicated yourself?” he guessed.
Dupe means two.” She paused, and tilted her forehead towards him. “I didn’t stop at two.”
“How many worlds are you on?”
She waited to answer. “All of them. Well, except for the ones who don’t need it, like all systems in the stellar neighborhood. I may or may not be on Earth II. I was still trying to decide when I left, so my alternates would have had to make that decision.”
“How did you get to each world, though?”
“The Nexus.”
“There’s a Nexus here?”
“I don’t think so,” she assumed. “You don’t need a Nexus to exit. You just need one to leave from.”
Mateo nodded. This was true.
Ramses suddenly appeared a few meters from them. Or rather, Vitalie’s pod appeared. It was standing up, but the bottom wasn’t stable, so it fell onto its back. He climbed out of it like a zombie from its casket. “This is not a stasis pod. It’s a medical pod with a—argh!” He ripped something out of a panel in the ceiling, “...stasis generator jury-rigged to it.”
“Is there a self-destruct?” Mateo asked him.
Ramses laughed. “No. They’re safe to use it as needed.”
“Do they even know how?” He looked at Vitalie. “Do you?”
She shook her head. “I can push a button. Is it that easy?”
“It’s easy enough to use,” Ramses said, “but difficult to maintain. A me will have to stay behind to help them, and with other things.”
A you?” Mateo asked. “Did you just said a me?”
Ramses took a breath, and approached Vitalie surprisingly cautiously. “You’re a time traveler, aren’t you?”
“I am. That’s how I replicate myself.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “Why?”
“There’s so much work left to do here. They could use a superhero like you, but...they need a genius like me. So send me back in time, just a few seconds. One version will stay behind, and the other will go on with the mission.”
“Now, hold on,” Mateo started to say. “If we have a time traveler, why can’t we just go back to before they took the kid? We could render this all moot.”
“That’s not possible, is it?” Ramses asked Vitalie.
“That asshole said it wouldn’t be. I’ve not tested it yet. I’ve been talking to you.”
Ramses shook the device in his hands like you’re not supposed to shake a Polaroid picture. “There was always a chance she would eventually escape the pod, and she could go back in time and stop the Oaksent from putting her in it in the first place. Anything that ever exists, always exists. He doesn’t have the hundemarke, so he found a workaround to prevent her from being able to undo what he did to her.”
“I don’t understand,” Mateo said.
“Let’s call it a Time Lid,” Ramses went on. “I think I read about something similar in a story once. She can’t go back any further than the moment we let her out of the pod, and disabled the stasis generator. The past is completely beyond her access now. What’s done is done, is done.”
“All we can do is move forward,” Vitalie agreed, but it wasn’t the same one they had just been talking to. It was Future!Vitalie. And she was standing next to a future version of Ramses.
“I guess you convince me,” Present!Vitalie mused.
Leona appeared, having been listening to the entire interaction through comms. “I couldn’t get away in time to stop you. Ramses, you don’t have to do this. Neither of you does.”
“It’s already done,” Present!Ramses and Future!Ramses replied in unison. Without communicating with each other, each of them placed a fist in an open palm to prepare for a game of regular Rock, Paper, Scissors. They had to play two dozen times before one of them finally chose something different.

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