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Sunday, February 4, 2024

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 12, 2433

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Leona peered at the viewscreen. “A shipyard, you say?”
“A shipyard, and a ship graveyard. A sizable portion of the surface is riddled with old ships, new ships,” Ramses explained. He looked more excited than a child on Christmas day. “All shapes and sizes.”
“You wanna take one?” she asked.
“Noooo,” he insisted. “I mean, if the shoe fits, I guess... But it has everything we need to build our own. The place looks abandoned.”
“You don’t have a life signs detector, though, so you don’t know that. All we can do is search for radio waves.”
“Yeah, but look at it down there, there’s no activity.”
“They could be lying in wait,” Mateo suggested. “This feels like a trap. We’re going in a straight line. They’ll always know where we’ll end up next.”
“They couldn’t have set all this up in just a few years,” Ramses contended. “Trust me, it’s fine. But...”
“But what?” Leona questioned.
“But we’ll need to land this little vessel down there to get to them. We can’t teleport to the surface without it.”
Leona was suspicious now. “Why not?”
Ramses breathed out through his nose, worried about how he’ll be received. “Okay, you know how most ships in our little underworld of time travelers have a teleportation field, right? Instead of just letting micrometeoroids hit the hull, we teleport the objects away as they pass through the field.”
“Right...” Leona encouraged.
“Well, the Exins apparently use that technology too, and...all of those ships down there are...passively active.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” She shook her head, getting kind of annoyed with him. “Passively active?”
“The fields are in standby mode. They’re not constantly using power, but if you try to make a jump anywhere down there, sufficiently close to the materials I need to build us a real ship, the generators will react, just as they would to any other celestial object. They’ll activate briefly, and then close back up again.”
“How do you know this?” Leona asked incredulously. “Have you seen this phenomenon before, a giant collection of ships with teleportation field generators?”
“No,” Ramses assured her, “I tested it with a probe.”
“What probe? We never talked about any probes.”
Ramses acted almost offended. “I built a probe. I thought it made sense to start using them to scout ahead. It’s designed to search for Vitalie too, so no one will ever need to go on that mission again. At least, not at first. As soon as it finds the pod, someone can jump there to wake her up, and greet her. And that will continue to work, just not here.”
Leona sighed. “Ramses, what happened to the probe? Was it sent back like a slingshot?”
He seemed afraid to answer, but he did. “There’s a game that you people used to play in the before-fore times? There’s a metal ball, and you hit it with these little things, and it bounces around...”
“Pinball,” Mateo realized.
“Yeah, it was like that.” Ramses nodded. He started pointing at the screen. “The probe was here, and then here, and then here, and then somewhere over there, and then I lost contact, because I think it was ripped apart by the tidal forces of overlapping teleportation fields.”
“Sounds like a wild ride,” Leona said sarcastically. “We could sell tickets.”
“Well, that’s why I want to land the ship, so that doesn’t happen!” Ramses argued.
Leona’s eyes widened in frustration. “The field isn’t teleporting teleporting objects, Ramses. It’s teleporting anything that falls into the field. Why would our ship survive that where the probe didn’t?”
Now he smiled. “Because our ship also has a teleportation field, which we can use to counteract the effects. We can force them to cancel each other out, and make it all the way through. I’m sure of it.”
“I assume we don’t have these fields ourselves?” Olimpia asked.
“No,” Ramses answered. “That’s not a bad idea—we would basically be bulletproof and punch-proof—but no.”
“I say we leave,” Leona voted. “It looks great down there. A real smorgasbord of amazing technology that we could salvage, but it’s not worth risking being ripped apart inside the Roche limit of two conflicting teleportation fields.”
“It’s usually more than two,” Ramses corrected.
“Oh, well, in that case...”
“Leona, I can do this. I’ve done the math already.”
“When did you do the math? We just freakin’ got here.”
Ramses put on a pompous face. “I’m fast, because I’m just that smart.” He reverted back to normal. “You can check it yourself, if you want. We have a little time, but I do want to get started. I’m sick of these cramped quarters. Pocket dimensions just don’t feel real to me. The AOC was designed to get you and your friends to the next planet over. It was never meant to house a full crew for the long-term. We made-do, but technology has progressed since then, and I want to create something better now. This world gives me that chance, and I don’t want to pass it up. We’ll survive, because we always do. That’s our job.”
Leona sighed again, but more patiently this time. “Okay, I’ll trust you, and won’t check the math. But I’m not making the decision for everyone. We vote, and it has to be unanimous.” She looked over at the rest of the team. “You all understand what’s at stake here if we do this?”
Everyone nodded, including the dummies, Mateo and Olimpia, because they were indeed able to follow the conversation. When Captain Matic called for an official vote, they all raised their hands, except for Vitalie, who seemed distracted by her thoughts.
“What is it?” Ramses asked.
“If she’s voting no, I won’t let you bully her,” Leona argued.
“You didn’t ask for nays yet,” Ramses reasoned. She’s not voted at all. She could be abstaining.”
“I’m not—” Vitalie was stammering. “It has nothing to with—” She huffed, and raised her hand. “Never mind, let’s go. I vote yea, or aye, or whatever.”
“Vitalie, you’re a part of us now,” Leona told her. “You have every right to express your opinion. We should have made this a blind vote,” she added when Vitalie didn’t respond.
“No, it’s not that,” Vitalie continued to stammer. “I agree, we should risk it. It’s just that I’ve realized that there is no hope for us finding Vitalie!741 down there. The only way we’ve ever done it is by triangulating it with your makeshift stasis pod communicator. If we can’t even teleport.”
“It’s not impossible,” Ramses began to explain to her. It would just take longer. When you get close enough to the pod with the locator, it will detect that there’s a pod somewhere nearby. When you jump again, if you get another ping, that tells you that you’re going in the right direction, or at least that you’re not farther from it. With enough jumps, you can eventually determine its position. But you don’t have to jump. You could take a car. You could even walk.”
“Then I’ll do that,” Vitalie decided. “I’ll walk.”
Ramses chuckled, a bit rudely. “I meant that you could technically, possibly do it. But not in practical terms. You could potentially have to walk across the entire surface. We can’t stay here that long.”
“You don’t have to stay here,” Vitalie said. “Just leave me with a locator, and I’ll work on it as long as it takes. Just promise me you’ll build another locator, and keep using it on the other planets, assuming this teleportation field mess doesn’t continue.”
“I already have multiple locators. That’s not the problem.”
“The problem is we can’t leave you here alone,” Leona said to her.
“And also that you still can’t be expected to walk the entire surface,” Marie added.
“Well, I could build her a car,” Ramses declared. “Hell, I’m sure one of those ships down there works well enough.”
“We’re not leaving her alone!” Leona insisted.
“It’s my choice,” Vitalie fought. “We voted on going down to the surface. But all of the sudden, you want to make an executive decision?”
“We could vote,” Leona began, “but it’s never gonna be unanimous, because I’ll always be a nay.”
Mateo placed a hand on her arm. “Lee-Lee. You’re the Captain; not the King.”
“Well, she—”
Mateo stopped her from continuing to argue with a simple jerk of his head. “Captain,” he whispered.
Leona looked back over at Vitalie with puppy dog eyes, hoping that she would change her mind, or maybe just show some sign of reluctance, but Vitalie was steadfast. Leona hung her head. “Okay. But we’re staying here for two days at least. Right, Ramses? You need that long to build something good?”
“It’s true,” Ramses confirmed. “I didn’t mention that before, but the construction will last beyond today. Vitalie, you’ll probably want to go into stasis, since we won’t be traveling at maximum fractional speeds. You don’t have to be awake for the locator to start trying to triangulate Vitalie!741’s pod. I can program it to wake you up if it finds her during that time. If it does, you’ll both be able to leave with us, no problem.”
They discussed the details a little more, and then made the jump. Instead of leaving their ship in orbit like they usually would, the whole thing dropped down. It was impossible for Ramses to predict what would happen with certainty, but they did survive the ordeal. They were sent teleporting all over the place before they found and island of stability, but once they did, everything was fine, and they were all in one piece, which was what they were really worried about. Their own teleportation field protected them without issue, or excessive power drain. They climbed out of their little ship manually one at a time, which made them feel like animals, but it worked. The industrial atmosphere wasn’t pleasant, but it was breathable. Vitalie wore a filter mask for added safety, but the rest of their substrates handled the task on their own. 
“All right,” Leona said, “get what you need. We’ll help with whatever, I guess.”
Ramses pulled out his tablet. “I have a list.”
“Do you guys hear that?” Angela asked. Their hearing was heightened, but they couldn’t hear everything on the entire planet, so they all tilted their respective heads to get a better angle on the soundwaves. Something was definitely sounding off in the distance, and it seemed to be getting closer. It was a sort of screaming noise. Angela took a couple steps forward. “What is that?”
Leona reached into her bag, and pulled out a pair of digital binoculars. She started to scan the sky. “Run.” She dropped her arms down, but kept looking in that direction. “Run!” she cried louder. She took off, and so did everyone else.
“Remember, you can’t teleport!” Ramses reminded them. “The field generators actually do react to each other! That’s why they’re kind of evenly spaced!”
They ran as fast as they could, the ones in front looking over their shoulders to make sure the ones in back were still coming. They could move pretty fast, but they were still within range of the blast when the missile crashed down, and exploded on impact. Mateo could see a piece of shrapnel flying towards him, but didn’t know what to do. Before he could try to escape, someone’s arms were wrapping themselves around his body. They teleported away, but they didn’t just make one jump. The teleportation field generators all around them started pinballing them every which way several times, until one of them managed to throw them clear of any other vessel. They fell from several meters up, and crashed onto the ground, just like the missile, but with no explosion.
Only then did Mateo see that it was Vitalie who had rescued him. “I’m sorry. I know we weren’t supposed to do that.”
“No, no, no, thank you. Leona, can you hear me?” Mateo half-expected the trauma to have fried his communicator, but it was still working.
Yeah,” she replied. “We’re all fine. You and Vita?
“We’re okay. I don’t know how far away we are.”
We have locators, remember? You’re only a few kilometers away. You see that giant blue crane?
Jog towards that. We’ll meet in the middle.
“The ship? Our ship, that is?”
Gone. You were right. It was a trap.
Just as they were starting to run towards each other, the ground began to shake. It shook, and it shook, and it didn’t stop shaking. Gargantuan explosions began to rage in the distance. The blue crane that Mateo and Vitalie were using as a reference point suddenly sank below the horizon. Cracks were forming in the ground.
A really good trap!” Marie shouted into the comms.
“Leona, everyone, jump.”
We can’t!” Ramses complained.
“You can! Just come to our location. There’s a reason we finally stopped moving in this spot. This spot is safe!”
The group appeared in scattered formation around them. Mateo and Leona hugged and kissed each other. They all began to huddle together instinctively as the tremors and explosions intensified. “If there’s any antimatter in those ships, it will be devastating. Ramses, do you remember where the biggest open area was?”
“That might not be good enough either.” Ramses slipped Angela’s bag off of her shoulders. “Thanks for carrying this for me.” He reached in, and pulled out a dimensional generator, but it wasn’t the same one they used in the ship. That one would still have been in there when the missile struck. That one was destroyed. “This one is smaller, barely enough room to walk past each other, but it’s stocked with supplies, and it’s all we got.”
“Then what?” Marie asked.
“Once all of you are inside, I’ll jump into space, and join you,” Ramses explained.
“I’m the Captain, I’ll do it,” Leona volunteered.
“That’s why you shouldn’t.” Mateo stole the generator for himself. He pointed it at Vitalie first, because she was the only one not equipped to survive in space, so she absolutely had to be inside. Then he started to shoot everyone else as well. 
No one argued, except for the last one, Leona. “Stop!” She breathed deeply, and looked around at the planet as it was being ripped apart. She laid hands on the generator. “We’ll go together.”
“Were I you.”
“Were I you.”
They jumped.

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