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Sunday, December 31, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 7, 2428

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image Duet AI software
Ramses never told them which one was staying behind, and which would be going with them. Only the two of them understood whether the winner of Rock, Paper, Scissors would get to stay, or whether losing meant that he would have to stay. The same went for the two versions of Vitalie, who went off to make their own decision about it. Apparently, she wasn’t capable of simply sending someone else back in time. She had to go with them, which is why there were two now. Any given planet only gets one Caretaker, though, and they have to deal with that limitation, so one of the Vitalies climbed into the ship with them to help look for Lilac’s son.
The ship was extremely small. Most of it was taken up by the engine, and other functional equipment. The habitable space was limited to about the size of a stasis pod, which granted access to the pocket dimension generator. So it was bigger on the inside, like the TARDIS, but hopefully only a temporary situation, unlike the TARDIS. Lilac was placed back into stasis, and Team Matic jumped to the future, so Vitalie and Sheriff Kamiński were the only people who actually experienced the full duration of the trip. They were traveling at relativistic speeds, though, so while it took a whole year to get there, they only had to occupy their minds for about twelve hours. When the time-skippers came back to the timestream, their unnamed vessel was at its destination. It was programmed to seek an asteroid nearby, and wait until the humans could arrive to investigate. Aristotle might be here, or he might have been here at one point, or he might never have been here at all.
“What is this planet called?” Olimpia asked. They were looking at it through the viewscreen, watching it getting larger and larger as they drew closer and closer.
“It doesn’t have a name,” Ramses explained. “None of them does. They were only assigned numbers. We just came from EX-324, and now we’re on our way to EX-275.”
“It’s just one more way to make the natives miserable,” Angela figured. “They’re not allowed to have their own identity, let alone culture.”
Ramses placed the ship in orbit, and started to scan for civilization. Just as it was on the last world, there seemed to be only one region where people lived. It was hard to tell the population, of course, but it was probably larger here. They were living in high rises, and getting around via land vehicles on streets. This ship’s limited sensors were picking up multiple power sources, which appeared to generate electricity from fossil fuels, though it was impossible to tell from here. Just because a planet developed to have an ecosystem comparable to Earth’s, doesn’t mean it necessarily produced fossil fuels. It didn’t matter much. They were just trying to get an idea of what they might be up against. The people on the last planet didn’t appear to love the way they lived, even the wealthy citizens, but they were obedient to the Exin Empire. This one might be better taken care of, and more loyal, or they might be 100% rebellious. The only way they were going to get any real answers was to just go down there.
They released Lilac from stasis. Leona teleported her down to the surface while Marie took Sheriff Kamiński. Most of the rest followed, but Angela stayed with the ship. It was advanced enough to orbit indefinitely on its own, but it seemed prudent to leave someone up there at all times while in potential enemy territory. If they couldn’t figure out how to cross the 16,000 light year gap between them and the stellar neighborhood, they would probably have to keep doing things like that. It might be smart to enlarge and retrofit their new vessel to be more robust, or even build yet another one from scratch. It was too early to make that decision. Today was about finding Aristotle Al-Amin, and only that.
They were in an alleyway between what they guessed to be a hotel, and the capitol building. They still didn’t have a plan. If Aristotle was indeed here, bringing him up to anyone might place him in danger. There was no one they could trust. And also, no one could trust them. Before they had a chance to look around a little, a drone zoomed around the corner, and approached them. “Teleportation detected,” the robot voice declared. “Initiating dampening field.”
Mateo tried to jump, hoping to get ahead of the dampening field, but it started faster than he thought. It wasn’t like any he had ever experienced before. It didn’t stop him from teleporting completely, or limit him to a certain area. It made it feel like his skin was trying to rip itself apart. He flickered between the alleyway, and a different location. He couldn’t see much, but an old man was sitting in a chair, watching in horror as Mateo suffered. It only lasted for a few seconds before the field finally secured him in one place, on his hands and knees on the uneven brick road.
“Please do not attempt to escape,” the drone demanded. “An escort team has been deployed to transport you.”
While they were waiting, Leona knelt down to help Mateo recover. There wasn’t anything she could do but massage his arms and back until he was ready to stand up again. Meanwhile, Olimpia tested the boundaries of the field. It wasn’t just keeping them from jumping away. She started to feel the same pain he did just by attempting to cross the border through realspace. They were going to be taken to some kind of holding cell, but they were already in one right here. Ramses closed his eyes to concentrate. He was reaching out to Angela on the ship, but everyone on the team could feel him. Instead of using his words through the comms, which could be compromised, he went back to the emotion language they were working on. He ran the gamut of feelings, effortlessly switching from frustration to intrigue, to nostalgia, to disorientation, to vulnerability, to impatience, to triumph. Before he could finish the second word, Angela replied with understanding. She wasn’t trying to spell a word that began with the letter U. She literally meant that she understood where he was going with this.
A black van screeched by from the main street, and came to a sudden stop. A team of faceless stormtrooper-types flooded out of the door, and stuffed the team inside. They didn’t tie anyone up, or strap them down, but they could feel a mobile dampening field in here with them. They didn’t drive for very long before they reached the jail, or whatever it was. The abductors reversed what they did before, and dragged everyone out so they could stick them in a big cell together. No one on either side said a word. Once the secret police were gone, the prisoners helped each other up, and get over to the benches against the wall. They were acutely aware of the toilet that was just out in the open for them to use because someone was already using it, trying to keep herself as covered as possible. Everyone looked away politely, hoping it would be enough to make her feel safe.
Once she was finished, they thought it would be okay to talk. “We never asked,” Mateo began, looking over at Lilac. “Do you know where Aristotle was staying on EX-324? Did you meet the woman, or her daughter, or their neighbor, the old man?”
“No,” Lilac answered. “Why?”
“I saw an old man,” Mateo explained. “It seems unlikely that I would randomly go to him when I tried to teleport away, but...I dunno.”
“It’s not that unlikely,” Ramses said. “Our empathy allows us to communicate with each other, but we can still form strong connections to other people. You were desperately looking for Aristotle, and your power may have found him. That’s what I was trying to do when we landed in that alley. He may have been there at one point too.”
“I didn’t see Aristotle,” Mateo clarified. “Or anyone else.”
“His location is in your brain somewhere,” Leona said. “You can navigate back to him. When we get out of here, that’s as good a place as any to start our search.”
“How are we going to get out of here?” Sheriff Kamiński asked.
“With a little help from our friends,” Marie answered.
The woman who was on the toilet perked up now. Leona noticed. “We’ll take you too. Don’t worry.”
“I can’t go anywhere,” the woman said forlornly. “I broke the law. There’s nowhere to go.”
“What law did you break?” Olimpia asked her.
“Unlawful technology. I didn’t even know what it was. Still don’t. They didn’t take it from me, though.”  She pulled a stone out of her pocket, and showed it to them. “Doesn’t look like tech to me.”
Leona chuckled. “It’s a homestone. It will take you back in time to the first moment you experienced nonlinear time.”
“I’ve never experienced nonlinear time,” the woman revealed. “That is very illegal. I don’t understand why they just let me keep it.”
“They probably know you can’t use it,” Leona said with a shrug. “When we teleport you out of here, if you ever wanna get back into this cell, at this moment in time, you can squeeze it.”
She set it down on the bench like it was carrying a disease. “No, thank you.”
“Lilac, where is home for you?” Mateo asked her. “Maqsud had never been to Welrios before, and was quite surprised to learn you were there, so it must have been somewhere else.”
“I would rather not say. Not here.”
Mateo was about to ask whether the stone would help, but perhaps that would be too much information too, so he dropped it. That way he could pick up the homestone. It was useless to everyone but Lilac and maybe Sheriff Kamiński. They didn’t know if he was born on Welrios, or what. For now, all they could do was sit tight. It was hours before Angela and a third version of Vitalie showed up to rescue them. They burst into the building, and destroyed the dampening field generator. Then everyone teleported out to regroup on the other side of the planet.
“Hey,” Vitalie!324 said.
“Hey,” Vitalie!275 replied.
“Thanks for finding the other me, Angie.”
“No problem. I got energy for days.”
“If there’s one of you on every world,” Leona began, “we’ll always be able to count on you, won’t we?”
“Every inhabited world,” Vitalie!324 corrected.
“I’m gonna go,” Mateo decided, changing subjects. “I’m gonna go alone.”
“Are you sure?” Leona asked.
“Lilac, I don’t want to get your hopes up, so I’m just gonna run down this old man lead, and get back to you if it goes anywhere. It could be just some rando Two-Seven-Fiver.”
“The rest of us will keep moving,” Leona said. “They may be able to track teleportations, even this far out. Were I you.”
“Were I you,” Mateo echoed. He teleported away, and found himself face to face with the old man from before. He was still sitting in that chair, but a quick look around showed that he was not alone. A little girl was there too, and there could have been others in another room. “Sorry to bother you, but...”
“Have you been looking for us?”
“It depends on who you are.”
“I’m from EX-324, as is she.” The old man nods towards the girl.
“So you know what my next question is.”
“Where’s the boy?” the old man assumed. “I sent him home.”
“Ex-324 is not his home,” Mateo contended. “And Welrios has been destroyed.”
“He’s not from Welrios either,” the old man started to explain.
“Oh. When you say home...”
The old man nodded.
“You used one of these.” Mateo took out the homestone that the woman in the jail gave him.”
The old man nodded again.
“Where’s the slaveowner woman?”
“Who cares?” the old man wondered.
“Well, isn’t that her mother?” Mateo gestured towards the girl.
“No,” the old man answered. “As it turns out, she’s from the same planet as Aristotle. It’s quite the coincidence, but he recognized her when that woman took him as a child slave too. They knew each other as little kids, and he tried to take them both back there during an argument in my house. But Aristotle’s powers are...unrefined. Since the slaveowner and I were in the room with them, we screwed up the navigation, and ended up on the closest planet on the same vector. You have to account for mass; he didn’t know that.”
“Where did you get the stones, and how did one of them end up with some random woman in the jail cell?”
“Who said that was just some random woman?” the old man asked.
“Shit.” It must have been the slaveowner. “Goddammit, we should have found photos, or gotten descriptions. She’s playing innocent.”
“If she got you that homestone, she was hoping you would give it to the boy’s mother, so she could tag along, and get the hell out of Exin space. I want you to do the same thing, but I want you to take the girl instead. The stones need to account for mass as well.”
“Oh, I’m aware.” Mateo looked back at the girl again. “Where did you say they were from? What’s the name of the planet?”
“They call it Verdemus. People from the generation ship Extremus colonized it.”

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