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Sunday, January 14, 2024

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 9, 2430

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image Duet AI software
Ex-908 was unlike the other two planets in the Goldilocks Corridor that the team had been to. The first one was at medieval-level technology. The second one was more like the 2030s. This world was far more advanced, with an early-warning outer system defense grid, and multiple space stations in orbit. Fortunately, the AI on this little ship was intelligent enough to avoid being detected. It stayed out of range by hiding on a planetesimal in the inner edge of the transtellar debris cloud, which was smaller than the Oort Cloud that was around Earth.
“What are we going to do here?” Angela asked. “We’re trying to find the bad guy, but what exactly are we expecting to accomplish on this world? Or the next one? Do we have any protocols, procedures, or plans?”
“Good question,” Mateo said. It took him a few seconds to realize that everyone was waiting for him to answer it. “Why are y’all lookin’ at me? I’m not the captain.”
“This was your idea, though,” Marie pointed out.
“Wull...” He fumbled for words. “Why are you listening to me? I don’t know what the hell I’m talkin’ about!”
“It’s okay, honey.”
“Look at them, salivating like honey badgers, acting like I have all the answers. This is just what we do, try to stop all the bad shit happening when we find ourselves in a position to make a difference.”
“Okay, okay, it’s fine. Relax,” Leona encouraged. She looked into his eyes, and started to breathe methodically until he matched her. Then she gestured for him to continue while she talked. “This is the most advanced civilization we’ve run into. There seems to be some air of mystery surrounding the emperor of this empire, of whatever it is they call him, but maybe they know something. Let’s go and ask.”
“The last one could stop us from teleporting,” Olimpia reminded her as she was rubbing Mateo’s arm up and down, since he was the one who suffered from that technology the most. “We were smart to leave one of us in the ship, but that could have easily not been enough. We may not be so lucky this time.”
“Ah.” Ramses disappeared into his lab, and returned a few seconds later. He was holding a damaged gizmo with wires loosely hanging out of it. “The spatial tether. Yes, I almost forgot. In the future, I might be able to help us avoid it altogether, but until then, I’ve designed some clippers, which will break us out of it.” He held up the remote that he had been carrying around lately to do other things, like disrupt Bronach Oaksent’s interstellar holographic projection. The only thing is, there’s only one. If any of us gets caught, you’re gonna need me.”
Leona takes it out of his hand, and turns it around in her own. “How long will it take you to build another one?”
“A second remote that does everything? All day,” Ramses answers. “A cheap knock-off that only clips spatial tethers? A couple hours, maybe.”
“Stay here and do that,” Leona orders. “I’ll take this one in case we need it. Hopefully, if they have such technology, it operates on the same principles. If not, you’ll be up here to save us.”
“I’ll stay with him,” Olimpia volunteered. “I don’t think anyone should be alone. I can be your little assistant,” she said to him.
“I would love that.”
“Okay, we’ll split into three teams. The second group needs to go find this planet’s version of The Caretaker. Vitalie, I don’t know if you wanna do that, or if you very much don’t want to...”
“If not me,” Vitalie!324 began, “at least someone she recognizes. So either you or Matt. The other iterants never met Angela-slash-Marie.”
“I’ll do it,” Mateo said. “Whatever questions need to be asked to find Oaksent’s ruling world, I’m not the one to ask them. It may end up in a fight, who knows?”
“Okay,” Leona agreed. “I’ll go start askin’ questions, and knockin’ heads. Mateo will find Vitalie!908. Ramses and Olimpia are staying with the ship. By the way, keep moving. Break orbit, if you have to, which I think you probably will. Go into darklurking mode. We’ll still be able to communicate through our comms. I don’t think more than two need to stay here, though. Nor do I think finding the other Caretaker is more than a two-person job. So who wants to join my husband while the other two come back me up?”
Both Angela and Marie raised their hands.
“I don’t know what that means,” Leona said to them.
“We both want to help Mateo,” Marie clarified. She looked over at her sister. Then they dropped their hands down simultaneously for a round of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Marie won after the third game.
“All right, is everyone ready?” Leona posed.
They nodded.
“Rambo, navigate us to the planet. I want you to look for three things. Number one, the biggest, baddest seat of government you can detect. Number two, the remotest region on the surface. Number two, the most complex cave system that’s still remote. If something goes wrong, jump to, and hide in, the caves. We can find each other while avoiding pursuit. Once we know where to go, we’ll split. Group Confrontation will go to the city. Group Stasis will find the other iterant. She seems to usually be away from civilization. Obviously, Group Breakthrough will stay with the ship, which I’m realizing now still needs a name.”
“No, it doesn’t,” Mateo claimed.
She was thrown off a little by this, but didn’t push it. “Okay. Let’s do it to it!”
The quickly-conceived plan went as well as they thought it would. Speed was key, which Leona knew. Orbital defenses sprang into action, but they weren’t fast enough for them. The three groups jumped to their respective missions, and no one was caught. Not yet, anyway.
As it turned out, they might not have to worry about spatial tethers preventing them from teleporting. When they appeared in the lobby of what appeared to be some kind of capitol building, no one batted an eye. They walked up to the reception desk. “Hello. My name is Captain Leona Matic of the...” She faltered. “Well, I gave my ship away, but that doesn’t matter. We need to talk to whoever is in charge here.”
“In charge of what?” the receptionist asked. She looked pretty young to hold the job, and didn’t seem to care about it. She may as well have been chewing gum.
“The planet.”
She yawned. “I heard he’s dead.”
“Not Bronach Oaksent. I mean, in charge of this world specifically, or maybe even just this city?” Unlike the first two planets, this world had several distinct cities, and any number of smaller towns in between. This one was the largest.
“Oh, the Prime Minister. He’s on the top floor, but—”
They didn’t bother listening to her full explanation. They just jumped right up there and started to look around. There were people hurrying about, but it didn’t feel like a crisis. This just looked like a Tuesday. One of them made the mistake of walking a little bit slower than most. Angela gently stopped him by the arm. “Pardon me. Where can we find the Prime Minister?”
“He’s back there. Can I go now?”
She let him go, and they walked down the hallway until they reached the big double doors. Angela opened one while Vitalie!324 opened the other. Leona barged in through the center. A group of men were in the middle of a conversation around the long table. They stopped and looked over at the disruption. “Good afternoon, folks. My name is Leona Matic. Perhaps you’ve heard of me. It seems that your god-king is a pretty big asshole. I’m aimin’ to take him down. Problem is, ya see, I don’t know where he is. You tell me what you know, I’ll leave you be. You stand in my way, I’ll take you down first.” She teleported randomly around the room, which wasn’t impressing them. “You may know people who can do this. You may be able to do it yourself. But I have other tricks up my sleeve, so don’t test me. Where is the seat of power for this Exin Empire? My guess is you call it Ex-001, but I dunno.”
The man at the head of the table was the only one standing. He tugged down on his sports jacket authoritatively, and began to come around the corner. “Emergency teleportation.” Everyone disappeared, except for him. “You’ll leave them be, because they got nothin’ to do with this. Your fight’s with me.”
“You’re not Bronach Oaksent,” Leona accused.
“No, but I run this rock. We have heard of you. We were just discussing your team. You’re a problem. You’ve been to two planets already, not counting the, uhh...traitors. I think you’ll find that you won’t be able to bully us like you did 275 and 324. They are...irrelevant, especially Ex-324, which is in the state that it’s in because it doesn’t provide Oaksent with what he demands. And you’re wrong, the primary system is not called Ex-001. You could never begin to understand our naming conventions.”
“What’s the main world called?”
The Prime Minister smirked. “I can tell you what it’s called, but that doesn’t mean you’ll find it. No one goes to Ex-69, not even me.”
Leona cleared her throat. “Do you know the significance of the number 69, sir?”
“Oaksent calls it the Divine Figure. That’s all we need to know. That’s more than you deserve to know.”
Angela wrote it out for him on a whiteboard. “It’s two numbers having sex.”
Leona never broke eye contact with the Prime Minister. “Your leader is a fucking child. Tell me where he is, or I’m gonna fuck up your shit.”
“I would rather die.”
“Weird nerd,” she mused. She tilted her head away. “Ramses, are you locked on?”
We’re in, sir,” he replied through comms. “What do you wanna do?
“Burn up the biggest one,” she ordered. “I want this world to be defenseless.”
The Prime Minister’s face couldn’t decide if he felt horrified, or confused. “What are you doing? What are you burning?”
The phone on the back counter started to ring.
Leona paced around menacingly. “We were wondering, why would your world need the kind of defenses that it does? It doesn’t make any sense. This is an empire in the middle of nowhere. No one out there knows that you exist. And the other two planets don’t have it. You don’t care about Ex-324 and Ex-275. So are you fighting against outsiders like us...or amongst yourselves? We didn’t speak long, but Oaksent didn’t strike me as the type who would have some sort of inherent opposition to civil war. You’re not his little babies. You’re his playthings. Hell, he probably stirs up conflict on purpose. I suppose I’m more like him than I thought, because I’m doin’ the same thing. If you keep refusing me, there will be nothing left to defend you, except for her.”
Vitalie raised her hand up, and waved with her fingers. “That’s assuming you can convince her to stay here as your Caretaker. The rest of your defenses will have burnt up in the atmosphere.”
“What do you want?” the Prime Minister demanded to know.
“I want to know where your god-king is!”
“I told you, no one knows that!”
“Ramses, on my mark, drop another one, but don’t worry about avoiding populated areas this time.”
“Wait!” He struggled to catch his breath. “You would do that? You would kill innocent people? That’s not the Team Matic I grew up hearing stories about.”
“You must have heard sanitized versions of those stories. The way I see it, you’re fighting a war on multiple fronts. I consider you to be an enemy combatant, and I’ll do what I need to do to protect the lives of the people that I care about. The Welriosians weren’t hurting anyone, and your boss tried to destroy them all. What happens when the vonearthans make it this far out? How will you react?”
“It’s not my job to react to outsiders. We’re the farest from the stellar neighborhood out here. That’s the whole point.”
“What is Ex-908’s responsibility to the empire?” Leona asked.
The Prime Minister took a breath. “These are testing grounds. Ex-182 regularly attacks us to see how we survive. If you destroy even one more of our satellites, we’ll all die. These aren’t games, the stakes are real.”
“I’ll leave you with what you have left if you tell me what you know, like I’ve asked a thousand times already.”
“I really don’t know where Ex-69 is, but I know someone who might. Ex-42 could have the answers you need. I think it’s about 24 light years away. It’s where we keep all of our data. It’s like one giant space server.”
“Ram, you know where Ex-42 is?”
There are thirty-one planets between here and there.
“That’s our next stop.”
The Prime Minister looked over at the phone. “I never answered it. Which satellite did you destroy?”
Leona looked at him incredulously. “I didn’t destroy any of them. Ramses was the one calling you on that phone. He was able to hack the communications network, and not much else quite yet.”
“You were bluffing,” he realized.
“We were that time.” They teleported away.

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