Sunday, March 10, 2024

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 17, 2438

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When the team stepped on board to familiarize themselves with their new ship, they were surprised to find out that the holographic generator that was meant to keep it invisible while it awaited the return of its original crew was not the only nonoperational component. The reframe engine was also broken. It was literally cracked. Trying to start it up could have vaporized them all, which was why it was so important to always run a preflight check before launch. Mirage didn’t know how this could have happened since the thing was fully intact the last time she saw it. Her best guess was that the Empire had somehow detected it, even while it was all cloaked up, and engaged it in battle. How it managed to ultimately avoid capture, and rendezvous with Mirage on Ex-666, was a question that this theory could not answer, but it was designed with its own AI, which could come out of dormancy as necessary. Its flight logs did not say anything about an attack, but maybe it erased this information on purpose, which Mirage said it might do if it suspected the risk of a temporal paradox.
As far as Mirage herself went, Niobe Schur managed to convince her to stick around to help formulate this new anti-Exin army. If the Empire was going to be destroyed, they were the ones to do it. They wouldn’t necessarily be staying here to work on this revolution, and they decided that any need they had to make some noise on other worlds would help Team Matic avoid being discovered. The fact that a new group of rabble rousers showed up once a year, generally a light year away from where an apparent different group of them showed up, was always a flaw in their plan. Everyone knew what the team’s pattern was, and even if they knew nothing about holographic disguises, they would eventually start to see that pattern shine through. Perhaps if others took up the mantle at the same time, the pattern might get drowned out as just one of many rebel factions spreading throughout the Corridor.
“Vitalie!613 has sent us the information that she was able to gather on the planets that we might be going to,” Leona said to the group. “Someone from just about every planet was sent to the resort recently enough to know what we could be in for. A few worlds are missing from the data, presumably because nobody from there ever won the competition, but that’s not a problem yet. Rambo?”
“Ex-811,” he began. “You could call it FarmWorld. So far, we’ve not seen a whole lot of automation going on, but this place wouldn’t survive without it. The whole surface is covered in crops, livestock, or oceans, lakes, and rivers of creatures. The people who work there are meant to keep the machines maintained, and to make executive decisions about the work. It is they who decide where the produce is going, and how much of it. There are some incompatibility issues going on with species that didn’t evolve alongside each other, so it’s also their responsibility to figure out how to return the ecosystem to homeostasis. Apparently, the people who used to work here, who now live on Ex-612, talked Vitalie’s ear off about it. They loved to brag about how they used to live here, that it was the best planet in the Corridor, besides the luxury worlds for the elite. I don’t know if that’s true, but I also don’t know whether there’s anything we can do here. What mission could we go on, besides finding Vitalie!811?”
“We could burn the crops.” When everyone frowned at Marie like she was a serial killer, she frowned back. “There are no bad ideas in brainstorming!”
“We don’t want the...Corridorians to starve to death,” Mateo told her. “But maybe we need to look at those distribution schedules. If someone isn’t getting enough food, either unintentionally, or as some form of oppression or punishment, we could maybe alter them?”
“That’s a good idea,” Leona agreed. “Though, that would be a long-term mission, and one thing we know about this region of space—and about ourselves—is that we are not built for the long-term. If we do something like that, our only hope is to sneak down and reprogram the automated delivery ships, and somehow make it so that the supervisors don’t realize that it’s happening.”
“Well, we’ll have to leave at the end of the day,” Marie began, “but maybe we can insert a ringer into the team.”
Leona nodded. “Vitalie!811. We could set her up as a new...President of Distribution, or something. Ram, do we have the necessary intel to put someone undercover like that?”
“Yeah,” Ramses answered, consulting his tablet. “We have a pretty recent roster. There may be some discrepancies from the time lag, but Distribution President is not a preexisting position, so I believe we could justify making it up.”
“We’ll have to find Vitalie!811 first, and then hope that she’s up for it.”
“That could be tricky,” Ramses said. “Those automators have tons of sensors. They’re not designed to detect sneaky humans, but they would see us anyway.”
“Maybe it’s time for us to do something different, ya know, instead of looking like celebrities,” Olimpia suggested. “We’re supposed to be able to turn invisible.”
Leona nodded. “That’s technically an ability that we have, but it’s complicated. “Time powers are ingrained into the neurology of the person who was born with them. And the way they specialize is not well understood. There are different flavors, even among people with the same thing. One teleporter, for instance, but only be able to make a jump by literally jumping into the air, while another doesn’t have that quirk. We’ve met other people who can manipulate photons, like Vito, but Alyssa McIver is not Vito Bulgari. He’s better at invisibility, she’s better at impersonation. I don’t think any of us has time to learn something new, at least not reliably.”
Olimpia smirked knowingly. “What are you talking about? I’ve been invisible during this entire conversation.”
“What are you talking about?” Leona questioned. “I’m looking at you right now.”
Are you?” came Olimpia’s voice from behind them.
Everyone jolted their heads to find her leaning casually against the doorframe. They looked back to see the other Olimpia, still perched next to them on the couch. Mateo reached out, swept his hand through one shoulder, out the other, and back again. Yeah, she was just made of light.
The standing Olimpia giggled, and shivered intentionally. “Oo, Mateo, you just touched my boobies.”
Leona stood up and approached what was presumably the real Olimpia, and peered into her eyes. “You can throw a perfect image of your likeness. That’s very interesting. I’ve made external holograms before, but nothing quite like that, not something that moves fluidly enough to make someone think that it’s me.”
Olimpia shrugged slightly. “You’re the Captain, and Second Engineer. I’ve had more time to practice. I’ve actually been doing it in my spare time for a while now. The other day, when you were teaching us, I was faking low proficiency until I was ready to show off this level of sophistication.”
“We might use that in the future,” Leona acknowledged. “Thanks for letting me know, Loki.”
Olimpia smiled. “It’s nice to finally be able to contribute in some small way.”
“Thanks,” Mateo said. “Now I’m back to being the only useless one around here.”
“We’re not gonna have this argument again,” Leona told him.
“Can you turn others invisible?” Angela asked Olimpia.
“I’ve never tried, because I wasn’t telling anyone about it.” Olimpia glided over to her friend, and extended a hand to help her out of the chair. “One thing I do know is that I have to initialize it with a passionate kiss.”
“I don’t really care for PDA,” Angela muttered.
“Well,” Olimpia muttered back, “if you don’t wanna turn invisible, okay...”
Angela rolled her eyes, and let Olimpia kiss her in front of the group, leading Ramses to squirm a little in his seat. “All right, enough games” Angela insisted. “Let’s get on with it.”
Olimpia looked towards the floor, and started to take a deep breath, which incidentally transformed into a yawn. “Okay, I’m ready.” She shut her eyes, and continued to breathe deliberately. Beams of light began to shoot through her body. They weren’t really going through her, but striking a spatial field that she had formed all around herself, which teleported the flux of photons to the other side, and then let them continue on their way. The beams grew and merged with each other until she was fully gone. Now she could begin to put Angela through the same thing, but it was slower, more erratic, and prone to being undone. The beams would shrink, and unmerge after they had already come together. The light flickered, and parts of Angela’s body began to appear randomly all over the room. They could hear the grunts of frustration in Olimpia’s voice.
“It’s okay,” Leona said. “Ramses and I can come up with a different way to fool the sensors. We’ll find Vitalie!811, even if we have to stay here for a couple of days. We’ve done it before. There’s no rule that says we have to leave within 24 hours.”
“No, no!” Olimpia protested. She sighed and gave up trying to make Angela disappear, but she stayed invisible herself. She started to speak again through Holo!Olimpia on the couch. “It’s true that I won’t be able to figure this out today. I need more practice holding two flux fields up simultaneously, which as I was saying, I’ve never tried before, because I was keeping this all a secret. That doesn’t mean this can’t be done. I’ll just go down to the planet on my own.”
“No,” Leona argued, “we don’t go anywhere alone. I’m pretty sure that was your idea, Oli.”
“It was? Well, great. Then I can change it. I’m going alone.”
“No, you’re not. That is an order.”
“Leona,” Olimpia said calmly.
“I’m already gone.”
“How is that possible?”
“I can throw sound particles too. That’s part of the deal, I guess.”
“Number one, no it’s not. Number two, they’re not particles; they’re waves, which is Physics 101. It’s deeply concerning that you think you’ve mastered this technique when you don’t even understand the basics of it.”
“Well, I don’t know how my heart pumps blood throughout my body, yet I’ve never accidentally stopped doing it, have I?”
“Mateo, she listens to you. Will you please talk to her?” Leona pleaded.
He tilted his head down to the side, kept it there for a few seconds, and tilted it the other way. “Olimpia, you go, girl.”
“Goddammit, Matty!”
“You can’t do everything, Leona,” Mateo contended. “We are a team, and we have to trust each other to help in our own special ways. I don’t know if you’re just jealous that she’s the best now, but it gets kind of annoying that you are always the end-all, be-all. You’re the leader, the scientist, the computer hacker, the master schemer. You’re the whole package, which tends to sideline everyone else. I don’t know if she’s gonna succeed down there, but I’m gonna let her try. And if something goes wrong, any one of us can jump down and save her. You can find your faith in us...or you can sulk in private, but you need to remember that you’re a captain, not a king.”
Fuming, but not about to blow up, Leona stuffed her fingers in Ramses’ pocket, and pulled up his magical clicker device. She pointed it at the Holo!Olimpia, and made her disappear with the push of a button. “The guy we’re trying to stop can do exactly what she can, but he can reach across light years. Why do you think that is?”
“I don’t know,” Mateo admitted.
“Me neither, and that scares the shit out of me. What we’ve learned about our friend today presents us with two possibilities. Either it’s a coincidence, or that girl down on the planet ends up giving that man out there power. Everything we’re doing right now could just be a loop that we’re closing, which leads to the greatest tyrant the timestream has ever seen gaining everything he needs to accumulate the power he has now, but in the past. I have no proof that that’s what’s happening, but it’s a possibility. It always is. It’s happened to us before. Horace Reaver terrorized you at the beginning of your journey, because you ruined his life in another timeline. Zeferino Preston moved us around like chess pieces in a game that he had all but already won. I don’t want to be the cause of my own effect.”
“That’s a good point.”
Leona tapped on her neck. “Olimpia, don’t talk, it’s not safe. Your life is first priority. Finding Vitalie is only second priority. You understand me? I mean...I know you understand me, still don’t talk. If she’s down there, she’s been asleep for centuries, and she can stay that way for another few years while we focus on the mission at large. Get back up here safely by EOD, whether The Caretaker is in pocket, or not. If you do understand...send me some love.”
They all five felt a lot of love coming from Olimpia.
Leona couldn’t help but smile from it. “I love you too.” She tapped on her comms disc to close the channel. “Now. Ramses, please look back through the data that Vitalie!613 sent you. Start working on a new food distribution plan. If this entire planet is covered in crop and livestock, there’s more than enough to go around, even if every other planet is as densely populated as Earth. An army marches on its stomach. Prepare a disc for Vitalie too, because we may have to amend the plan later.”

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