Sunday, January 7, 2024

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 8, 2429

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image Duet AI software
Just as the old man and the little girl were finishing up packing their belongings, they heard a commotion outside. Mateo had led the authorities right to their doorstep, which meant it could no longer be theirs. No matter, the girl had to return to her life, and the old man had no strong feelings about this place. This was a suburb of the city, which was why it took the teleportation detectors a little longer than last time to dispatch a strike team. Mateo lifted the girl in one arm, and placed his free hand on the old man’s shoulder so they could all disappear just in time. They should be fine here, clear on the other side of the world, where the rest of the team was waiting. Even if they could be traced, it would take a long time for anyone to catch up to them. The government’s main concern was probably the city anyway, not the rest of the planet.
“Where’s the woman?” Mateo questioned.
“We dropped her off back in the city,” Marie replied. “We were listening to your conversation.”
“She wasn’t happy about it, but slaveowners don’t get a choice, do they?” Olimpia added with an evil smile.
Leona knelt down in front of the girl. “What’s your name?”
The girl couldn’t answer. She turned away shyly, and hid behind the old man.
“Niobe Schur,” Lilac answered for her.
Mateo nodded, and approached. “You’re all three from Extremus.”
Lilac shook her head. “That girl and my son have never set foot on that ship. We found a planet that was suitable for human life in the intergalactic void. We found it interesting, so we decided to stay and study it. Both of the kids were born there.” She gestured towards Niobe. “She to two scientists assigned to research the ecosystem, and Aristotle to me and a visitor who randomly showed up one day.” She smiled at the memory of her late love interest, Maqsud Al-Amin.
“Can you tell us more?” Leona urged gently.
“Sudy disappeared. It was a passionate but fleeting relationship. I had to stay on Verdemus, and he had to go explore the universe. It was a long time before I realized that I was pregnant, and I had no way of contacting him. So I raised our boy there, hoping at some point the father would come back for a booty call, and I could tell him the truth. He never came back, but someone else did.”
Angela patted her on the back comfortingly.
Lilac went on, “an asshole from our ship took the majority of the researchers on Verdemus hostage, and I don’t have all the details, but he blew it up. I was in charge of guarding the planetside hock, and he was my first prisoner after years of sitting around with nothing to do. That’s why I survived the explosion, because the hock was deliberately built far from the settlement. Thank God her parents asked me to look after her that day. Others weren’t so lucky. Anyway, the fact that we stayed on the planet was a secret from the rest of the ship, so I tried to raise them there together until one day, the portal back to Extremus was also destroyed, and the kids went missing.”
“So how did you find them?” Mateo asked.
Lilac took a breath. “A man who looked a lot like my child’s father came, and said he would take me to Aristotle. It wasn’t until later that I realized he was Aristotle himself, all grown up, and there to close his own time loop.” She chuckled at this. “He transported me to Welrios, where we found the younger version of him. Adult!Aristotle left, and we settled down with the locals. We were happy there for a few years until the whole doomsday device tried to destroy us. And now you’re all caught up.”
“Except you never said how Niobe ended up on EX-324,” Ramses noted.
“I still don’t know that,” Lilac admitted. “Seems to be quite the coincidence. Someone other than an Al-Amin took those two kids from Verdemus, and dropped them off on different worlds here in the Goldilocks Corridor. Now it’s not all that crazy. I don’t know if you know this, but Extremus was the source of the Exin Empire. Bronach Oaksent was one of us at one point. Exactly what went down, and why he betrayed the mission, is above my paygrade, but all of these star systems,” she said as she was drawing a line across the sky with her finger, “sit directly on the same vector as Extremus. It’s why we had to divert into the void in the first place. He went back in time to plant his flag long before Extremus even launched, and he went to deadly lengths to prevent us from ever knowing anything about this region of the galaxy. He wants to keep it secret, from everyone. That much I know, and the last time I checked, we were at war with him, because he eventually decided that we knew too much, and also probably that the planet of Verdemus was too close for comfort. Which is ridiculous, because it’s, like, 24,000 light years away.”
“That’s farther than the stellar neighborhood,” Leona pointed out.
Lilac tilted her head, shrugged her shoulders, and widened her eyes. “They’re probably next. Because they’re calling this the Three Bears War. And I don’t think it’s just a reference to the children’s story. I think there are four combatants, and if one of the bears is Extremus, the other is liable to be Earth.”
Mateo nodded, and took the homestone out of his pocket. He waved it for Lilac to see. “We can undo everything that happened to the children after they left Verdemus. Well, we can’t undo it—”
“I know what that thing is,” she promised. “I understand how it works.”
“Then you know that you can go with her,” Mateo began, “but you have to be absolutely certain that the first time she experienced nonlinear time was when she disappeared, and ended up in the Corridor.”
“I’m sure of it,” Lilac responded.
Mateo stood up straight, and looked around at the group. “Is this what we want?”
“Are you sure Aristotle is back there already?” Leona asked the old man.
“I gave him the other stone...he disappeared.”
Mateo handed Lilac the stone. “Say your goodbyes. Sheriff? You can go with them too, if you want.” He separated himself from the crowd, and took in the scenery. This was a beautiful world, mostly untouched by man. They were on the edge of a meadow. Below them down the hill, the vegetation became more and more sparse before leading to a vast red desert. They could see for miles.
“I came here to do a job,” Kamiński said. “If that’s done, I would like to go back to New Welrios.”
“I think we can do that,” Leona agreed.
“Then what?” Angela asked.
“Rambo, you still have that star chart?” Mateo asked.
“Doesn’t say where the primary planet is, though?”
“No, I don’t think these people are allowed to know it.”
Mateo turned back around. “Then let’s go find it. Unless it’s not my place to decide, I think I’ll call us Baby Bear.”
Shortly thereafter, Niobe and Lilac took the homestone away, hopefully back to their home on Verdemus, but there was no way to know that. If all went according to plan, they would have landed there nearly 90 years in the past. Trusting that it worked, those left behind teleported back up to their little ship, and returned to Ex-324. They sent Sheriff Kamiński to New Welrios, and the old man to the planet natives, but they didn’t stick around to exchange information with anyone. It was up to the two societies to learn to live together, and to carve out some semblance of a decent future. Vitalie!324 and Ramses!324 had their ideas about what that looked like, just like Vitalie!275 had plans for that world. That wasn’t Team Matic’s responsibility. They had a new mission. The other copy of Vitalie!324 would tag along to help, at least for now.
Their next stop was Ex-908, which was the other planet where Aristotle might have trotted to, because it was on a similar trajectory as Ex-275. There appeared to be no pattern to the numbers, and how they were determined; at least none that Leona and Ramses could detect. Her first guess was that it was based on Project Stargate, and the Galactic Coordinate System that was devised to organize the endeavor, but this didn’t match up either. They were probably more or less random, and served only to illustrate to the citizens that their identity wasn’t even worth casual thought.
They were all in the pocket dimension, because that was the only part of the ship where they could actually fit and move around. Come midnight central, they would suddenly find themselves at their destination, so most were taking it easy. Ramses was in his lab, as per usual. “What are you working on?” Mateo asked, walking in.
“I’ll give you three guesses,” Ramses said, dismissing whatever blobby image was on his screen so that Mateo couldn’t see.
“Is that sarcasm?”
“Do you detect sarcasm in my emotions?”
Ramses smiled. “No, I just want you to guess. It’s a game.”
Mateo was getting smarter. He would be completely unrecognizable to himself at the age of 27. He wasn’t just accumulating more knowledge, but learning to be better at observing his environment, gathering facts, and sometimes even coming to the right conclusions with them. He looked around now for clues, but Ramses was making no effort to shield his view of anything, so there probably wasn’t anything specific that would help shed light. Still, just the act of looking around felt helpful. “You’re designing a new ship, aren’t you?”
Ramses laughed. “Damn! Good job! Yeah, this Breakthrough Starshot-lookin’ thing has been a good temporary solution, but I think we can all agree that we need something real. If we’re gonna fight this Bronach Oaksent prick, and his evil empire, it has to be something on par with the AOC. Care to come up with the name?”
“Hmm.” Mateo had been recently watching the versions of the comic book adaptations that they made in this timeline. “How about...The Iman Vellani?”

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