Sunday, February 25, 2024

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 15, 2436

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The new ship was done. The holographic projectors were up and running, making them look like something else entirely. Reminiscent of holodecks from the Star Trek franchise, a magnetic field of equivalent dimension gave it the impression of physical size, for when light was not enough. If someone, for instance, were to shoot a missile at a section of it that didn’t technically exist, it would not simply pass through it, but interact with this field, reinforcing the lie that they were bigger than they really were. In honor of this inspired technology, Ramses chose the USS Defiant from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as their first hologram. It was a warship, so it looked a bit menacing, but was also relatively small. They couldn’t make it look as large as something like the Death Star, because the truth would be too easy to detect. There were a few other fictional ships that Ramses, and other members of the team, wanted to try, but they would eventually transition into original models. It wasn’t super likely that anyone in the Exin Empire had ever seen anything of these things, but there was always a chance.
This was an important test, because while the resort planet they just went to had no orbital infrastructure, Ex-666 did. It wasn’t much, but it was there, and it was trying to destroy them. Leona and Ramses both stayed on board so they could outrun it. For now, they were doing just fine with that. The defense satellite was apparently not designed to attack, but to prevent unauthorized entry. With this clearly being a penal colony, that made a hell of a lot of sense. So they were just going to keep away from it, and only fight back if the situation grew tiresome. Generally speaking, they did not operate on ships with weapons, but the Dorsch had an offensive system that they could use if they had no other choice. Ramses still had his eyes set on something brand new, advanced, and tailored specifically for their needs, but they weren’t going to find help on Ex-666, so that was still a dream for another day.
The rest of the team took the dropship down to investigate the surface. They didn’t want to teleport while they were being so closely watched, because they still didn’t know how ubiquitous such abilities were in this region of space. It could look too suspicious. The satellite may have called in reinforcements from somewhere, and who knew how quickly that would happen? Their only real concern was finding Vitalie!666, but it seemed ridiculous to not at least try to communicate with the locals. They were worried it would go terribly, and now was the moment of truth. “Good evening, folks. We are refugees from Ex-741. Have you, perchance, heard of it?” Mateo asked. At present, he looked like James Van Der Beek, because that was the only form he found himself able to maintain for extended periods of time for some reason. Again, hopefully no one here knew enough Earth pop culture to recognize him.
“We’ve heard of Ex-741,” one woman replied. “Why would you need to be a refugee from there? Weren’t you just engineers and technicians?”
“They were technicians,” Mateo lied, pointing to Angela, who looked like her finishing school teacher, and Marie, who looked like Marie Antoinette. “I was a janitor. She was a singer,” he added, pointing to Olimpia, who looked like a woman she had a crush on while she was still living in society on Earth.
“Singer? The dockyard had singers?”
“We need entertainment too. Anyway—” He had this whole explanation about how Ex-741 was going to be destroyed, and they were the last to escape, but they got lost in space, but these people didn’t seem to care.
“Sing something,” the woman insisted.
“Well, she doesn’t have to do it on comman—” Mateo started to say, but he was interrupted yet again.
“No problem.” Olimpia started to sing, using that positively gorgeous voice that the other five had forgotten she had, because she did not do this often enough. The locals were just as enamored by it. More started walking up when they heard it. They all clapped profusely after she was finished singing Ex:Re’s The Dazzler.
The woman from before smiled and nodded. “You’ve landed in the right place. This is where the Chief Ascendant lives. He’ll want to meet you.” She looked over to a teenager nearby. “Go gather some wagmen.” The young man ran off, and when he returned with five men who were rolling a wagon by hand, the woman rolled her eyes. “I meant pedal wagmen, son. These are honored guests.”
“Wait,” Mateo said, stepping forward. “You don’t have automobiles, so you get around by people who walk or pedal?”
“That’s right,” she answered. “Our technology is limited. You’ve fallen on a prison world. I’m sorry.”
Mateo shook his head. “Just tell us where the Chief Ascendant lives. We can walk there on our own. Really, we’re built tough. We insist,” he added when he saw that she was going to argue.
“Very well. It’s not far, just up the road.” She pointed up the hill.
The four of them nodded, and headed that way. Once they were at the sort of castle-looking building, the guards opened the gates with no questions, and let them through. They were wearing headsets, likely connected to radios, which meant that their technology wasn’t evenly limited. Who knew what other anachronistic things that they used in their daily lives?
They expected this Chief Ascendant to be lounging around on a bed full of pillows, and a harem of women, but he was behind a standing desk, along with other people. They were looking through papers, and discussing matters of state. “Ah. You are the freemen, aren’t you? Welcome to Ex-666.” He didn’t stop working. He kept signing declarations, and approving memos, or whatever else his staff was asking him to do.
“You’ve built yourself a nice society here, haven’t you,” Mateo put forth.
“Yes, well, we share a common purpose. We all hate the Exin Empire. I don’t know who told them that they should throw all of their insurgents onto one world, but we are probably the most successful one in the region. We work together, and if you’re here to disrupt our way of life, we will fight back.”
“That’s not why we’re here,” Mateo insisted. He was doing all the talking today. That was probably fine, for now. My colleagues are up in our ship right now, avoiding the ire of your orbital defense satellite.”
The Chief Ascendant laughed. “It’s not ours. It’s part of what keeps us here.”
“Do you want us to destroy it for you?”
The Chief Ascendant stopped, and raised one eyebrow at Mateo. “You came here in a warship?”
“It has weapons. It’s not a warship, but my engineer assures me that they can do it. They just don’t know what the consequences will be.”
“They’ll send an armada from Ex-182.”
Mateo sighed. “We can’t protect you from all that.”
“Could you...gain control over it?”
Mateo smirked, and turned his head slightly away to listen to Leona’s response. “Yeah, they surely could. They just need to get on board.”
“You could have anything you wanted,” the Chief Ascendant began, “if you did that for us.” He placed his elbow on the desk, and pointed to the sky. “That thing has an energy beam that can shut off all systems from hundreds of ships all at once, and then draw them in. If we had control over it, instead of the Exins, we would beg the armada to come, so that we could steal it.”
Mateo cleared his throat, and faced the group. “What do y’all think?” The conversation over comms was short, so he turned right back around. “Any enemy of Bronach Oaksent is a friend of ours.” He looked at the twins. “Go help them.”
Angela and Marie nodded. Angela tapped on her chest twice. “Two to beam up.” They both teleported away.
The crowd gasped. “You have some wild technology.” The Chief Ascendant noted.
Mateo chuckled. “They destroyed our planet on purpose, and since they didn’t wanna be destroyed along with it, they ran off a long time before it happened. We were left behind, with no oversight, so we stole all the tech we could, and flew off in the opposite direction.”
“Yes,” the Chief Ascendant agreed. “Their inability to organize, and our ability to do so, will ultimately be their downfall.”
One of his men sidled up to him, and whispered in his ear, “sir? What about the True Prisoner? They could help with her too.”
“Who is the True Prisoner?” Mateo asked, having easily heard his remark.
“This whole planet is a prison,” the Chief Ascendant began to explain, “but it is lush with vegetation, and other useful resources. We can’t leave, but most people don’t feel the need to. They’ve built a life for themselves. They entrust me to protect them, and to prepare to fight in their stead, which you’ve agreed to help us with. The point is, very few of us actually feel like prisoners. For the most part, things are better than they were before we came here. More would probably come on purpose if we could get the message out to them, letting them know that crime actually does pay. Only one of us is in a real prison. We, uhh...have been trying to get to her for decades. We don’t know anything about her; who she is, what she did to anger the Empire so much, or how she is able to survive the extreme heat and noxious fumes.”
“Extreme heat, and noxious fumes?” Mateo echoed. That sounded familiar to him. “Is she in a volcano?”
“You are quite perceptive. Yes, she is. It’s quite a distance to this volcano, but if you can teleport, you can get there quickly, and maybe even get her out. We would sure like to finally meet her.”
“Show me.”
The Chief Ascendant called for a map. His Prime Cartographer explained where they would be going, and went into more detail about the temperatures involved. Someone also called ahead to let the people who lived closer know that visitors would be arriving, and would need firesuits. Mateo thought about arguing against the need for such things, but decided not to bother. “Uhh...two more to beam up,” Mateo said awkwardly, trying to replicate Angela’s fake request for a technological solution. Unfortunately, he tapped on his chest after his request, instead of before, which would mean that their team wouldn’t have even heard it. That was stupid of him, but there was no undoing it now. He and Olimpia just let it go, and disappeared.
They found themselves in the magma chamber, standing on a solid rock formation. The heat was intense, as were the fumes. They could see a manmade structure shimmering in the distance, sitting upon its own rock island. It had a metal frame, but most of his was transparent, surely made of some kind of heat-resistant polycarbonate material. Mateo and Olimpia looked over to their left as someone was slowly side-stepping towards them in a shiny suit. They were holding an extra firesuit in their hand, and struggling in the attempt to give it to whoever was willing to take it. They were clearly finding it difficult to move in the thing, full stop, and the two of them didn’t need all that dead weight. Mateo dismissed the helpful volcanologist’s help, waving him away politely. He took Olimpia’s hand, and they made a jump into the cell. It was better inside, though not by much. Now that they were closer, he could see that this was no ordinary prisoner. He took her in his arms, and jumped them both to safety.
“Took ya long enough, James Van Der Beek!” Mirage exclaimed.
Mateo instinctually dropped his hologram, and turned back into himself. “Mirage Reaver, how the hell long have you been in there, dude?”
“That’s not my last name. What year is it?”
“It’s 2436.”
“I’ve been in there for eighty-three years,” she answered. “I did get one break thirty-six years ago, but then I had to go back.”
“Argh! God, it’s been so long!” He stepped back into her, and gave her a big hug. “I can’t believe you’re, like, all into this whole thing.”
“I’ve been doin’ my own thang, man. I know people. I’ve had adventures. I’ve traveled through time.”
“Not all it’s cracked up to be, eh?”
Leona appeared next to them. “Mirage. It’s nice to see you. Last we saw each other, you were on Altair.”
“You knew that she was back in this dimension?” Mateo questioned.
“I don’t tell you everything.”
“Are we cool?” Mirage asked Leona.
“We’re cool,” Leona confirmed. “Ramses is alive and well.”
“Thank you for getting me out of there. That place sucked. And also, hello.”
“Hi, I’m Olimpia.”
“Olimpia Sangster. It’s nice to finally meet you in person. I helped you once. You didn’t know it was me.”
“Thank you,” Olimpia replied graciously, not asking her to clarify.
“So.” Mirage clapped her hands together. “This is a prison world. My ship is nearby, and it’s invisible, so if you need a way to escape, you can come with me.”
“Where are you going?” Mateo asked her.
“I have a score to settle.” She looked at her bare wrist. “I just hope he’s still alive.”
Leona was too curious. What kind of vessel would an entity like Mirage build for herself? “What’s the name of your ship?”
“It’s actually a module called the Ambassador. It can detach from, and propel itself independently of, the main ship, which I named The Iman Vellani.”

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