Sunday, January 28, 2024

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 11, 2432

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image Duet AI software
The next stop on their magical mystery tour of the Goldilocks Corridor was Ex-371. For the most part, the reason it was called a corridor was because the inhabited star systems were roughly in a straight line. This one was a little more out of the way. It was less than a light year away from Ex-548, which was why their ship managed to get there in time for them to return to the timestream, but it was three light years away from the next world after that. Once they left here, they would be spending a little time cooped up with nowhere to land. That shouldn’t be a problem. Depending on what resources they could find here, they were considering pushing their next pit stop even further so that Ramses would have time to build them a better vessel. They needed to investigate this world to find out whether that was a viable option. If the locals decided to attack them with missiles, or cannonballs, or whatever they had here, it might not work out that way. The map of the empire only showed them which planets were inhabited, and where they were in relation to each other. It didn’t say anything about what they were like, and even if it did, the data was already fairly outdated.
“One town?” Leona asked.
“Only the one,” Ramses confirmed. “Based on the energy readings I’m getting, they’re fusion powered, which suggests 2030s-level technology, but their architecture and layout better resemble something out of the 20th century. I think they live simplier than they need to. They have cars. They’re electric. I doubt this planet came loaded with fossil fuels. The rest of it is barren.”
“It looks like Oaksent focused primarily on atmosphere when geoengineering his slave worlds,” Olimpia guessed. “He didn’t put too much effort into any greenery.”
“He didn’t put no effort into it, though,” Leona responded. “He just prioritized some worlds over others. I saw a squirrel on Ex-275. It wasn’t just squirrel-like. It was a squirrel. Anyway, Rambo, does any building down there strike you as a City Hall, or something like that?”
He pointed. “This coin-shaped building right here. It’s unlike any of the others, and it’s right in the center.”
“All right.” Leona cleared her throat as she was holding up her tablet, just a little worried about how the team was going to react to this. “We’re starting a schedule. I hope that’s okay. I’ve assigned Vitalie and Ramses to the Vitalie!371 search. This time, I have babysitting duties on the ship, and I’ll do it alone. Everyone else will go check out that building.” They might obviously realize later that it wasn’t practical to adhere to a duty rotation when the nature of certain worlds necessitated the division of labor to be distributed in a particular way, but for now, it seemed like the most fair way to do it. No one wanted to have to stay up in orbit, but someone had to. Any given world could be hiding secret technology that could ultimately trap them there, or worse.
“That sounds good,” Mateo replied. “Did you think we wouldn’t like this?”
“I don’t know.” The truth was, she still wasn’t comfortable barking orders at people, except in an emergency. When they were in danger, and-or trying to fix a problem, it made sense to her, but just handing out responsibilities like she was middle management in an office was a little weird. It probably never wouldn’t be.
He gave her a kiss on the cheek, and stole the tablet from her hands while he said, “we got this.” He looked over the upcoming schedule. “I couldn’t help but notice that you place yourself up here more than you should. I’m getting better at pattern recognition. Why are you always alone when you do it?”
“Well, I can handle it alone.” She tried to shrug, but it wasn’t convincing.
“So can Ramses, and he’s always with someone else.”
Ramses chuckled. “This wasn’t a bad idea, but let’s all work on it together later, okay? We’ll have plenty of time to worry about it on our way to Ex-586. It’s fine for today, though.” He offered his hooked elbow. “Shall we go, Vitalie!324?”
She took his arm as if they were in a courtship, and they disappeared together.
“Keep in touch, love.” Mateo gave Leona another kiss on the cheek, and the teleported down to the surface, right in front of the entrance to the building. No one was around to see it, except for the receptionist and security guard inside, neither of whom were looking up at the time.
They opened the doors, and started to walk towards the front desk. The receptionist perked up, and stared at them. “It’s them.” He slapped the guard on the shoulder. Hey, it’s them!”
The bored guard was writing something down, or maybe just doodling. “Huh? What? Oh my God, it’s the Matics. Hey, can we get a picture?”
“Of us?” Mateo questioned.
With you,” she clarified.
The guard and receptionist turned around to face the inside of the building. The guard held the camera up, and snapped the photo. It wasn’t a phone, so she had to turn it around, and check it with the digital viewer. Oh no, Miss Sangster didn’t get all the way. Could you scootch in more, and try again?”
“Sure,” Olimpia agreed.
They took a second one.
“Ah, man,” the receptionist said with a big smile. “That’s great, thanks. You go ahead through the gates. I’ll open them for you.”
The guard met them on the other side of the optical turnstile. She pulled up her pants a little since her belt was a little heavy on the accessories. “I’ll escort you down to the main lab.”
“Pardon, but may we ask, what exactly do you do here?”
“Oh, I just help greet people when they come in in the mornings, and say farewell to them at the end of the day,” she explained. “The job is pretty easy, we don’t have a problem with people trying to break in, or cause other issues. But theoretically, I would help with that. You’re the only ones who have come in who don’t work here, besides a few people’s spouses who do other things around town. They like to have lunch in our cafeteria, because it’s the best food in the world. I mean that literally. Do you eat? Are you...robots?” She was clearly concerned that she was offending them.
“No,” Marie replied. “Yes, we eat, but we probably won’t need anything for another few days.”
“I understand. Well, it’s back through those doors, if you need it.” She never did answer what the purpose of this building was, whether it was because she didn’t know, or it wasn’t her place to say, or because she didn’t realize that they were never asking about her job specifically. “Okay. Here’s the main lab,” she said after a few minutes of walking. “I’m not allowed to go in unless it’s an emergency.” She pantomimed tipping her hat at them before realizing her mistake, and trying to brush off the awkwardness. “Okay. Bye.” She swiped her access card, and held the door open for them. I love you, Mateo thought he heard her whisper as they were stepping through the door.
They were in a wide expanse, wider than was presumably needed for what they were building here. A football pitch away, they could see the unmistakable design of a machine that they had used many times before. It was missing two walls, and as they drew nearer, they could see some other flaws, but this was definitely a Nexus. “Umm...”
Angela and Marie exchanged a look. “We’ll manage the ship,” one of them said.
“I’ll switch places with Ram,” Olimpia volunteered.
All three ladies disappeared to soon be replaced by Ramses and Leona. Wow, her duty roster was already not working for them. A woman in a pantsuit jogged up to them. “Sorry, I meant to meet you out the doors. You just came through so quick. I thought maybe they would make you badges, since that’s protocol. But, you know, it’s fine. Hi, my name is Ex-371-JM6824.”
Mateo balked. “That’s...” That wasn’t a name. It was a number. She didn’t have a name? Wait, had anyone they had met here ever had a real name? They never bothered to ask, did they? Woof, that was not very nice of them.
She eagerly awaited her response, before guessing what was stopping them. “Oh, ha. We don’t have names like you, we just have numbers. Exin Empire, planet three-seven-one, region JM, resident number six thousand, eight hundred and twenty-four. Of course, we only have one region, but...”
“So there can only be ten thousand people on this world at any one time?” Leona calculated.
“No,” she answered. “We just share names. I’m sure you’re not the only, might be the only one, but—let’s see—Angela Walton? That’s pretty common, isn’t it?” That was true enough. Though, how would she know what was and wasn’t common on Earth? This was such an isolated part of the galaxy, and their knowledge appeared to be deliberately restricted.
“Right. So, you’re building a Nexus?”
6824 nodded and sighed. “We’re certainly trying to. I don’t suppose you’ll help.”
“Sorry,” Leona said.
“That’s okay. We have the plans, it’s just...”
“Not as easy as you would think?”
“Right? It’s so detailed, and the alloys have to be mixed perfectly. This is taking us a lot longer than we hoped. But we’ll get there. It’s only our second attempt.”
“What went wrong with the first one?” Ramses asked.
She lifted a device to her lips. “Switch on the lights to sector V-26.” The loud pounding sound of harsh lights flipped on in the back corner, revealing a second Nexus building, this one not missing any sides, though they couldn’t see how completed the interior was. “It’s totally finished. Or rather, we thought it was. It powers up, drawing vacuum energy from wherever that comes from. We can even get objects to dematerialize and then rematerialize. It just doesn’t go anywhere. We can’t access the network, and we have no idea why.”
“Could we see it?” Leona asked her.
6824 presented the finished Nexus to her like a gameshow model, prompting Leona and Ramses to teleport away. Meanwhile, Mateo offered her a hand. She took it tentatively, and then they followed.
“Venus, are you there?”
No response.
“Venus Opsocor, this is your favorite idiot, Leona Matic. Please respond.”
You’re not my favorite, Venus contended.
“Gotcha. Now I know you’re here. Could you tell me why this Nexus has not been assigned a term sequence?”
They’ve not asked, Venus explained. They have to submit a request.
“That wasn’t in the plans,” 6824 argued.
It was implied.
“Can I do that now?” 6824 requested.
“Ignore that,” Leona said quickly. She frowned at the woman. “I don’t know you. Maybe you deserve a Nexus. Maybe everyone in the Corridor does. But I know that Bronach Oaksent does not, and I know that you’re building this for him. Am I right? My guess is the entire purpose of this world has been devoted to getting on the network.”
“It has not always been our purpose,” 6824 countered. “We’re a research town. We’re not the only one responsible for scientific progress, but we are always dedicated to massive undertakings. Our last one before this was the antistar containment rings.”
“What will happen to you if you fail to get on the network?” Mateo asked.
6824 frowned. “We’ll be killed.”
She’s lying.
“Thanks, Oppie,” Leona said gratefully.
“Okay, we won’t,” 6824 admitted apologetically. “There is no time limit to our progress. He doesn’t even come check up on us. He just waits for us to call him. I’ve never called him. The rings were before my time.”
“So you just keep working on it,” Mateo reasoned, “and you can never fail. There’s no risk to you?”
“I suppose not. He has too many other concerns. There’s a lot going on in the empire at any one time.”
“How are the numbers determined?” Ramses jumped in, changing the subject. “This world is Ex-371. Where does that come from? Don’t tell me that it’s random.”
“It’s not random,” 6824 said.
“So, what’s the pattern?”
She didn’t say anything.
“Are you declining to answer, or is it random, but he asked you not to say that, so you can’t answer at all?” Mateo pressed.
She still didn’t say anything, but her expression gave everything away. It was as they thought; totally random. Oaksent seeded life on these planets to be his playthings, and like all children, he eventually gets tired of playing with some of them. They were worth very little thought, even when they were otherwise important to him.
Olimpia suddenly teleported to them. “I’ve always liked the name Floriana. How about Floriana Waltz.”
“I’m sorry?” 6824 was really confused.
“You deserve a name. Everyone deserves a real name. Including your planet. So I would like to start an exponential chain. I’ll give you a name, and then you give a few other people names, and eventually everyone will have their own. Just as it should be. Then together, you can come up with a name for your planet. How does that sound?”
“Hm, I think I like it too,” Floriana agreed.

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