Sunday, March 24, 2024

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 19, 2440

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The team was split, but since there were only five of them now, it was not even. Mateo, Leona, and Olimpia all wanted to reroute the ship, and return to Ex-666, where they might be able to find some allies, specifically Mirage and Niobe. They had to get back to Angela, and since they had no idea where or when she was, seeking out help seemed like the only logical response to this situation. Ramses and Marie, on the other hand, wanted to continue on to Ex-467, where a time tech warehouse was waiting for them to break and enter. The rationale for this was that there had to be something there that could help them instead. Leona didn’t agree. Mirage and Niobe were known variables, while the warehouse could turn out to be completely empty for all they knew, or even just pretty much impregnable. One might think that the result would be obvious, but Marie’s vote held more power, as it was her sister who they were trying to locate. In the end, they kept on course, especially since Angela herself seemed rather excited for this mission, and even though she would like to be here with them, she would be more upset if they skipped it altogether on her account. Marie knew how her mind worked.
When they returned to the timestream in 2440, they immediately learned something about their destination that they could not have guessed before. So far, every Ex- designation referred to either a planet, or a person, with the planetary designations being significantly shorter, and the personal designations including the number of their planet of origin. Ex-467 was either a space station, or a ship. Its design included main thrusters that suggested it could be navigated away from the host star that it was orbiting, but the shape itself implied that it was meant to remain a stationary hub at all times. There were tons of ports on it, but none of them was in use at the moment, at least not the exterior ones. There could be large bays somewhere they couldn’t see. It was difficult for their scans to penetrate the extremely thick hull.
Ramses was able to detect teleportation suppressor field generators, however, they were turned off. Mateo and Olimpia were relieved by this until Leona pointed out that they were probably not there to keep people out, but to trap any thieves inside in the event of a breach. If they were going to break in, teleporting was likely the worst way to do it. “Why wouldn’t we break in?” Marie questioned. “Why did we just travel all this way if not to go in and shake some shit up?”
“Poor choice of words,” Leona said apologetically. “All I’m saying is that no one teleports, okay? Not even internally. It’s too dangerous. We are going long as everyone still wants that.”
Marie stepped forward authoritatively. “Yes, everyone wants that.” She glared at Mateo, who was incidentally the most vocal against this route, since they still had no idea what they would be up against.
Mateo regretted being so adamant in his position, but this development only proved his point. Everything they knew about this world came from people who Vitalie!613 had spoken to on the resort world. But they conveniently left out that it wasn’t a planet at all, which placed all intelligence they had regarding the Goldilocks Corridor in question, especially when it came to this place. “Yes, we do,” Mateo said, hoping to earn back some points with Marie.
Ramses nodded. “All right, the computer calculated the safest, most distant point of ingress that’s still large enough for the Vellani Ambassador to dock. We don’t want it to be too big, or our arrival might be noticed. It still might be. We don’t know a whole lot about their security measures.”
“Right,” Leona jumped in. “That’s why we stick together, no matter what. People say that in movies all the time, and it never works out. We can’t afford to get separated, though. If teleportation is our only escape, we absolutely must do it at the same time. That’s the contingency, and we only get one shot.”
“What are we waiting for?” Marie asked impatiently. “Let’s get on with it. It may take us a while to find an alternate self locator, or whatever might help.”
“Hold on,” Mateo urged. “Maybe we shouldn’t get on with it. I think I have a plan that necessitates us waiting. We’ve done something like it before, Leona and I.”
He explained his idea to them, and then they reformulated it together. It immediately called for a reversal of Leona’s order for them to stay together. It was all about misdirection. The Ambassador’s holographic generators were making them look like one of the ships they saw in guardian orbit over Ex-908, which was the planet that was constantly being attacked to test the Empire’s defensive technology. If they ran into other people, Marie was making herself up to look like someone who could not be denied. She was quickly becoming the best at impersonations. Olimpia would remain quiet and invisible the whole time unless they ran into trouble. Ramses and Leona made themselves look like random people that they knew from their pasts, who were not likely to be in any Exin historical records. Mateo was still particularly bad at all the powers, so he was just wearing a physical disguise of a beard and glasses. He was also going to keep his head down, and look like he was the lowest man on the totem pole here. He essentially was, so it wasn’t that great of a stretch. Then again, he was the one who was noticing everyone else’s strengths, and came up with this division of labor in the first place, so he wasn’t totally useless.
A group of guards filed into the room, pointing weapons at them as Leona, stepped out of the ship, alone at first. “State your business, strangers,” the leader demanded of them.
Leona stood tall, and inspected the guards with a cold look on her face. It was the face of a girl she knew in elementary school, aged up to her twenties. “Lower your weapons for the Oaksent,” she commanded.
Ramses appeared from the darkness first, followed closely by Marie to his left, but she no longer looked like herself. She was Bronach Oaksent now, Jacobson-Cline Father of the Goldilocks Corridor, Despot of the Exin Empire, Douchebag of the Milky Way Galaxy. She was their enemy. Mateo followed at her flank in rags as Oaksent’s own personal slave. They didn’t know whether he actually had slaves, but it was a decent educated guess. Plus, they figured that they didn’t have to specify Mateo’s role.
“Oh my God,” the leader uttered. He and the rest of the guards knelt down, but in the worst way they had ever seen. They placed the butt of their respective guns against the floor, and rested their foreheads against the muzzle. They weren’t about to pull the triggers, but it was a horrific sign of deference to an evil leader. Was this what everyone did in the presence of their god-king?
The rest of the team could feel Marie’s reluctance to let them treat her this way, but that wasn’t what the real Oaksent would do. They sent her feelings of support and encouragement, so she composed herself, and pretended like this was all perfectly normal, and not profoundly disturbing at all. She cleared her throat. “Not long ago, I sent a team here to extract an object for me as a test. You failed that test when you failed to report the item missing. Do not feel bad, these were the elites, trained personally by me. And lucky for you, I am now giving you the chance to redeem yourselves. My team did not remove the object from the station. They hid it somewhere else. Search the warehouse now, and bring it to me. The first person to come to me with the correct answer will be rewarded with a permanent life on Ex-613.”
“Sir, if I may,” one of the guards near the back asked, carefully letting his head up. “Many of us have families. Will they be allowed to join the winner on Ex-613?”
Marie waited to respond, trying to decide what Oaksent would say. The most obvious answer was yes. That would only incentivize them even more in this snipe hunt. But that didn’t sound like something the real man would agree to. Remember, he was a ruthless dick. She came up with a compromise. “They will be given their own opportunities to join you. Their place on that world is not guaranteed, but I won’t deny it outright either..”
“Thank you, sir. You are most magnanimous,” the inquisitive one replied.
“Go. Go now. Spread the word to everyone else here!” she ordered as they were running out of the room. “Find me that missing object!” They waited until everyone was gone. “Oh my God, I can’t believe that worked.”
“Ya did good, kid,” Mateo said, throwing an arm around her shoulder.
Just then, a guard came back into the room with a smirk on her face. “I was just transferred here from Ex-42,” she said. “I met you while I was there, sir. Do you remember that?”
“Of course not,” Marie responded. “Why would I recall someone like you?”
She smirked. “Well, you were on your way back to Ex-420. There’s no way you could be here now. You were heading in the wrong direction.”
Marie did her best to look like an offended ruler. “I ordered a change in course. I don’t have to explain it to the likes of you.”
“It’s true, the real Bronach Oaksent would owe me nothing, but you’re not him. There are other issues with your ruse here. For one, Oaksent likes the ladies. He doesn’t own male servants, because he can’t impregnate them with the next generation of servants. So I don’t know who that guy’s supposed to be.” She nodded towards Mateo. “And who’s that crouched on the hull of your ship?” They all fell for it. They spun around to see who the hell she was talking about, only to find that no one was there. When they looked back, the smart guard had her weapon trained on them. “Put your guns down.” They heard a short pounding sound as she lurched, and widened her eyelids. Then her eyeballs rolled out of view, and she fell to the floor, unconscious, but very much alive.
Olimpia briefly made herself visible to the team as she was still holding the gun over her victim, which she had used as a blunt instrument. “Good plan, Matty.”
“Except it’s hard to see how beautiful you are when we can’t see you at all,” Mateo acknowledged. He placed a hand softly upon her cheek as she disappeared again. “Y’all go look for the central database,” he told the other three. “Olimpia, you think you can find the security room on your own? I need to secure this one in a closet, or something.”
“Yes, sir,” her voice replied out of the aether.
They broke into their groups, and went off on their separate missions. What Mateo didn’t tell them was that he wasn’t hiding the guard somewhere on the station. He stuck her in hock on the Vellani Ambassador. A half hour later, midnight central hit, giving the station an entire year to cool down, and relax their defenses.

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