Sunday, March 3, 2024

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 16, 2437

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image Duet AI software
Finding the Vellani Ambassador was easy. Mirage had programmed it to follow her wherever she went while invisible with a space-warping generator on the hull, but something must have undone that at some point, because it was out in the open, and available to the public. The locals of Ex-666 had never entered the ship, but it was not clear yet whether they had ever tried, or if they deliberately stayed out of it. Because they had begun to revere it as a religious icon.
The government was a little too busy to return Mirage’s ship to her right away, though they did want to respect her ownership over it. They just really had to worry about preparing to go to war. The team was busy too, helping them take control of the eye in the sky. It was surprisingly easy. They were worried that there was some kind of catch that would come back to bite them in the ass, but the Chief Ascendant was convinced that no escape attempts had been made in the last 150 years, which probably caused some level of complacency.
Not much had actually changed about the world over the course of the last year. The armada from Ex-182 was not yet here. Some of the so-called prisoners were former fleet members, who knew enough about the ships that the empire used to tell them that they were mostly powered by reframe engines. They had built their vessels to be quite large, however, and scaling of the technology came at a cost. While regular fusion reactions were perfectly suitable to make the engine work for a smaller ship, like the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, capital ships demanded too much power. Not even a larger fusion reactor could compensate for the loss. The only way they could get up to maximum reframe speeds was to use matter-antimatter reactions. No one here knew enough about it to understand why that was a problem these days, but Mirage did.
“It was us,” she shrugged.
“You stole their antimatter reserves?” Leona asked her.
“Far as I know, it’s still there,” Mirage began to explain, but it’s hard to get to. It exists as a fully formed antistar, sitting out there alone in the void. Getting close enough to it to extract only as much antimatter that they need when they need it is a delicate dance. My team and I were tasked with engineering a containment megastructure. We were on schedule to completing that mission when I was separated from them, and captured. I knew that it was going to happen, so I made arrangements to halt all production and construction. If they returned to the project themselves, it’s going to take them a hell of a long time. I scattered my barges in all directions. Just getting them back would probably take longer than starting over from a new source of raw material.”
“Why were you helping them in the first place?” Mateo questioned. “Did you not realize that you were working for the bad guys?”
“We suspected from the beginning,” Mirage replied. “But we weren’t sure, we weren’t sure what level of technology they had—though it could have been vast considering their remoteness from the Earthan stellar neighborhood—and also we felt bad. We were the ones who destroyed their first antistar. For reasons I still don’t fully understand, they maintained a link between this region of the Milky Way, and Alpha Centauri. That’s how we ended up this far out in the first place. We were just going to Toliman to pick up my ship, which I had programmed to build itself years prior. There was something very wrong with that whole star system, so we blew up our asteroid to prevent anyone else from trying to investigate, and that’s what destroyed the star. It and the antistar annihilated each other.”
Leona winced. “Toliman has not been destroyed.”
“No, it had to have,” Mirage insisted. “What else could have happened?”
“I don’t know,” Leona contended, “but if Alpha Centauri B didn’t exist in this day and age, I would have heard about it.”
“Someone must have gone back to fix it,” Mirage guessed, “maybe me.”
“I don’t know how you would do that,” Ramses said.
“I have some ideas,” Mirage responded. She looked forward again, and sighed. “Looks like they’re nearly done.”
While Mirage was in the sixth circle of hell, the natives had transformed the site of the Vellani Ambassador into a sacred one. They didn’t worship the ship, nor whoever may have brought it here, but they conceived stories about how it might one day open for them, and a great savior would step out of it to rescue them from their damnation. It was only hitting them now that this was their very first sign of religious doctrine in this sector of the galaxy. The team hadn’t even noticed before, because vonearthan culture had managed to transcend its superstitious origins, so religion wasn’t much of a thing anymore. But the Goldilocks Corridor was apparently seeded with life thousands of years ago, and many of the worlds were severely underdeveloped. So it seemed rather odd, not that some evil religious order wasn’t controlling the masses alongside the evil empire, but that no one on the planets they had been to so far had taken comfort in the mystical. Was this agnosticism enforced...or incidental?
The religious leadership was dismantling the decorations and offerings that had been placed on and around the ship.  Some of them believed that Mirage was indeed their savior, and that their belief that she would literally come out of the Hope Chariot, which was what the worshipers called it, was just a matter of detail.
Why didn’t you have them do this before?” Angela asked. “You could have left before.”
“I figured I would give them one more year with it,” Mirage answered. “I knew that you would need that whole time to come back, and that kind of waiting means little to me in the long-run. I’ve developed high patience. Now they’ve had time to say their goodbyes.”
“Did you explain that it was just a regular ship, and not god, or whatever it is they believe?” Olimpia asked her.
“I don’t know if they believe me. Some think I am indeed the savior they’ve been waiting for, and others think that I’m just the one who is going to unlock it so the true savior can be released from it. This is a prison world, and while they’ve thrived here, they have not forgotten that. So if there’s a god of Ex-666, perhaps they’re a prisoner too, and maybe they’re trapped in the...Hope Chariot. It would explain why this deity hasn’t saved them yet.”
They had an interesting way to express respect here, at least as far as the religious people went. They would stretch their arms out wide, dip their nose down towards the ground as low as possible, and balance themselves out by raising one leg behind them as high as possible. Only the elderly members no longer flamingoed, but they still airplaned their arms, and lowered their head into a regular bow. The younger ones made the move with the most enthusiasm, and they did not care if they fell over in the attempt. “Hmm, it’s basically Warrior 3,” Marie noted, having tried yoga in the afterlife simulation in the early 19th century, before it was cool in the western world on Earth.
The Elder Priestess was the last in line to pay her respects to Mirage and the team. She made no attempt to bow, but smiled as wide as Mona Lisa, and nodded. As she passed by, she placed a comforting hand on Mirage’s shoulder, and walked down the hill to join the rest of the main group, who were watching from there. A huge crowd had convened behind them to witness the magic. Not everyone in the world believed, but surely there were plenty here who just wanted to see what happened. Fortunately, they were in an open expanse in the desert, which fit the instructions for the Ambassador to avoid populated areas, so something like this wouldn’t happen. The settlements here only sprung out as a result of its sudden appearance.
Mirage lifted her hand, and said in reference, “allons-y.” She snapped her fingers, prompting the back hatch of the ship to engage and lower. To her surprise, someone actually did step out. It was a young woman, perhaps in her early- to mid-twenties. She was completely ready for this, coming into the light with confidence and self-assuredness. The crowd went wild. A lot of them dove to the ground in a full Downward Facing Dog bow of intense unwavering loyalty and faith. The woman walked right down the hill, and approached Mirage. “Do you recognize me?”
“Niobe. You’re older now. How long have you been in there?”
This was the girl who was with Maqsud Al-Amin and Lilac’s son, Aristotle. She was a slave-child on Ex-324, but she originated on the Extremus planet of Verdemus. She smirked, and looked over at the team. “A few minutes.” She winked.
“Why?” Mirage asked.
“These people need someone to follow. They’re never going to let go of their convictions, at least not until they win the war. The Chief Ascendant is going to continue to run the state, but they are transitioning from peacetime, and they are severely underestimating what that is going to do to their culture. Someone else needs to be there to guide them. Now, I’m not going to explain why I’m the best person for the job, but it has to do with what I’ve experienced since we last saw each other. Just know that this is the right thing to do, and I’m not going to abuse my power. If you would like to be sure of that, you can stand by my side, Mirage. This team needs your ship more than you do.”
“What about...”
“Ex-10?” Niobe guessed. “Let it go, he means nothing. Do not be fooled by his low numerical designation. It’s a trick. Everything that Oaksent does is a joke, a smokescreen, or a mistake. So, how about it? Are you with me?”
Mirage looked back at the crowd, and let out her signature emulated sigh. She switched her gaze to Leona, who had made herself look like the real Iman Vellani. “Leona’s Rules for Time Travel, Number Fourteen, do not form, or inspire, a religion.
“Leona is just a person,” Niobe reasoned, “not a god.”
“Nor are we.”
“We won’t act like one,” Niobe continued. “We’re there to help. They understand where we come from, but you were about to open this ship, and I saw an opportunity. I won’t apologize for that. I really am trying to help. The Empire must fall, and while I have limits to what I’m willing to do to accomplish that, this does not cross the line. You have to decide where your line is.”
Mirage shook her head as she thought about it. “Give me the rest of the day.”

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