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Sunday, February 11, 2024

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 13, 2434

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Ramses wasn’t lying, nor even exaggerating. This particular pocket dimension was the smallest any of them had ever experienced. No, that wasn’t true. The one that Olimpia was trapped in between the two halves of The Sixth Key was even smaller than this, but to be fair, it was just for her. This was a very short hallway. Each of them had enough room to stand, but not outstretch their arms, if they wanted to. At one end of the hall was a storage closet with food and other necessities. At the other end was a stasis pod. Ram was glad that he installed that much, or Vitalie would have to find a way to survive over the course of the next year alone. They still had no clue how they were going to get out of this mess, but they were alive and together, and that was all that they could hope for for now. They were essentially living in a tiny little dimensional generator, which was floating alone in outer space. An EM field protected it from impacts, but there was no form of propulsion, not even for station keeping. There was no way of knowing where they would end up after a year, or what the former planet would look like after the dust settled.
Everything was completely different when the six of them returned to the timeline in 2434. Their living quarters were a lot larger. It had somehow grown while they were gone. It still wasn’t as big as the main one, which had been destroyed in the missile attack on Ex-741, but there was some breathing room now. “How the heck did this happen? Rambo?” Leona asked.
“It wasn’t me.” He ducked into one of the few rooms. “But my lab is back. It looks exactly as it did before, including all the stuff that I was working on.”
“How is that possible?” Marie questioned.
Mateo reached up to the console, and disengaged the stasis bubble of Vitalie’s pod. “Hey, do you know anything about this?”
Vitalie looked around. “Yeah, I built it while you were gone,” she answered as if they should have known that she would do that.
“How did you manage that?” Ramses asked her.
“Well, I’m a builder,” Vitalie said, just as casually as before.
“You are?” Leona asked.
“Yes. Newt Clemens transferred all of Étude Einarsson’s powers to me. As the Last Savior of Earth, she had teleporting abilities. As the daughter of Saga Einarsson, she had doorwalking abilities. As the daughter of Camden Voss, she had century-hopping abilities. And as the daughter of Andromeda Mercari, she had builder abilities. Now they’re all mine.”
They stared at her, only now realizing that none of them had bothered to ask her about this before. They had just gotten so used to being around people with special time powers that they didn’t question where they came from anymore. But Vitalie didn’t have any of that stuff before. She was born with the ability to astral project, which they hadn’t witnessed in a very long time. Actually, Leona was probably the only one who had ever seen her do it, since Mateo had a bad case of not being in existence at the time, and none of the others were part of the team yet.
“You’re welcome,” she said.
“No, no, no,” Leona said apologetically. “I meant to say thank you. We’re just shocked. We’re all grateful for you, though. Really. Thank you.”
They all agreed using their own words.
“How did you rebuild all of Ramses’ inventions?” Angela asked her.
“She used my master key,” Ramses answered instead. He held up a virtual storage device. “Everything I’ve finished, am working on, or plan to work on is on here, as is the current state of my lab. If you load a pack of starter nanites with my Bookmark program, it will start to rebuild everything from scratch. I told you about it in passing,” Ramses noted to Vitalie.
She shrugged. “I listen.”
“So, you’re a builder, huh?” Olimpia asked, stepping forward. “Can you build us an entirely new ship?”
“Not from in here,” Vitalie said apologetically.
“It’s been a year,” Leona began to reason. “Whatever the results of all those planet-destroying explosions, this system has surely fallen into some kind of equilibrium again. We just need to find the nearest celestial body. Then one of us can take a spacewalk, and teleport us to it.”
Ramses looked ashamed. “Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. There are no sensors on the exterior of the dimensional generator. There’s a single 180 degree camera, so you can hypothetically see if someone’s standing in front of the door, but that’s it. If one of us jumps out of the generator right now, and sees an object that we could teleport too, they wouldn’t know how far away it was. It could be beyond our range. Mateo, you’ve spent the longest in space? How many jumps did you make?”
“I made 48,” Mateo answered. “Well, it was technically 49, but the last one was to the other side of a door. I barely made it in before I would have died, though.”
“Yeah, so if it’s too far to see with the naked eye, we may all need to pitch in, teleporting along the route one at a time until the next person’s turn,” Ramses suggested.
“Could you build sensors now?” Olimpia offered, grimacing a tiny bit, worried that she was overstepping.”
“Oh,” Ramses said, “I suppose I could just print one of my new probes. It’s not designed for outerspace, but it wouldn’t take too terribly long to modify it.”
“I’ll help you with that,” Leona volunteered. “Everyone else, just relax. There’s nothin’ else to do. There’s no one to help, no bad guy to fight.”
“There are plenty of people to help,” Mateo muttered to himself after everyone separated into different parts of the pocket. The seven of them were people too, and right now, they were the ones in need. He didn’t want to say anything before, because he wasn’t used to being right, but Leona and Ramses made a mistake. They jumped onto the idea they had of trying to solve this problem through technology. But the explosion of Ex-741 only happened a year ago, and it happened right here. Remember, the tiny little instrument they were hiding in had no form of propulsion. It could only move due to drift, and gravitational disturbance. They were not swimming through a vast empty sea of space, like the asteroid belt that was between Mars and Jupiter. They were still within a densely packed field of objects. There was no way that they weren’t close enough to something. Ramses needed raw materials, and that was all around them. They just needed to get a look at it.
Mateo first tried to check the camera, but the cosmos was swirling by it too fast to gauge anything. They didn’t have attitude control, so nothing was stopping the generator from spinning and spinning and spinning. He decided that he would just make one jump out there to get a look at things. He would do it totally in secret from the storage closet, in case somebody wanted to give him some advice about it, or try to talk him out of the attempt.
Just before he could leave, Vitalie stepped in. “What are you doing in here?”
“Nothing. I’m—stealing food,” he stammered.
She rolled her eyes. “Really. Tell me.”
So he told her about how he was going to check outside before they spent all this time on a new probe. It was like breaking into someone’s house. You always try to doorknob first. It might be unlocked anyway.
“I had the same thought,” she admitted, “but I assumed the smarties had already thought of that.”
“Maybe they did. But it can’t hurt to check for ourselves, in case they didn’t.”
“It could hurt, Mateo. I know you people can survive in space, but you shouldn’t do it if you don’t have to. If all you need is a good look, then...” she offered her hand. “Let me take you.”
“Okay, cool.”
She projected them outside the generator. They were floating in space, but still breathing the air that was being recycled inside the pocket dimension. He was right. The majority of Ex-741 remained intact. Massive chunks had been dislodged, and were now orbiting it like moons, but they were all totally visible, which means that they were close enough to reach. In fact, it would not take more than two jumps. He looked over at Vitalie next to him, but didn’t say anything. She laughed. “You can talk. We’re not really here, remember?”
“Thank you, Miss Crawville.” He jerked his head down towards the generator.
She pulled them back inside.
“Let it be a surprise.”
Vitalie smiled. “Okay.”
Mateo went back out there alone, but corporeally this time. He grabbed the generator with his hands, and teleported to the nearest chunk. He walked around and jumped a little to make sure that it was solid enough to hold together. Then he set the generator down, and piled some space dirt over the handle so it wouldn’t fly off. Then he dove back into the pocket, calmly walked into the lab, and took Leona and Ramses by the hands.
The two of them looked at him funny. “Are we going on a date?” Ram asked.
“Just hold your breath.” He jumped out yet again so he could show them where they were.
A few seconds later, the girls all appeared too, including Vitalie, who was in her astral form, so she could still breathe. Ramses reached down, and scooped some dirt up with his hand. He let it filter back down through his fingers. Like Mateo before, he nodded affirmatively, and disappeared. Everyone else followed, meeting in the common area that Vitalie had built for them.
Ramses sighed, and plopped himself down on the couch. “Well, I feel like a right fool,” he lamented in a British accent.
“I didn’t see it either,” Leona concurred.
“We all lack perspective sometimes,” Vitalie tried to reassure them. “That’s why you make such a great team, because you’re not just one person in six bodies.”
“I keep telling you, you’re part of the team,” Leona claimed.
Vitalie shook her head as she was smiling. “No, I don’t belong with you. There are dozens of planets in the Corridor, and not all of them have a Caretaker. I didn’t know how to calculate the error rate when I started duplicating myself, but I knew it wouldn’t be zero. I need to fill in the gaps.”
“You could duplicate yourself again,” Olimpia put forth.
Vitalie shook her head again. “No, I work alone. I appreciate you taking me in, but I gotta go.”
“Well, you can’t leave yet anyway,” Angela reasoned. “The smarties haven’t built us a new ship yet.”
Vitalie let out that sweet knowing smile one last time. “I never needed a ship.” She looked towards the exit. “I just need a door.” She stood up, and grabbed the knob before looking over her shoulder at them. “Whose birthday is coming up the soonest?”
“Ours is June 19th,” Marie said, indicating herself and Angela.
“Happy birthday.” Vitalie checked her wristwatch as she was opening the door. There was a hallway on the other side of it, but it wasn’t the one in the pocket dimension. It was in another time and place. “Your gift is outside.” She closed the door behind her, and when Olimpia opened it up seconds later, she was gone, and it was back to the regular hallway.
They teleported outside once again to find a ship waiting for them, still powering down from having just landed.

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