Sunday, March 31, 2024

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 20, 2441

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While Mateo was taking a trip away from the station, the rest of the remaining team was trying not to get caught. When they first entered this station in 2440, they didn’t want to rely solely on Marie’s excellent impersonation skills. At some point, someone may realize that she couldn’t be who she said she was. Not everyone who worked here was in the hangar bay. As word spread, the chances of somebody catching on increased. The first guard who realized it could have just been the tip of the iceberg. Besides, they didn’t know anything about what objects were being stored here, or how vast the collection was. They needed time to download the manifest, analyze it, and make a plan. Still invisible, Olimpia walked straight to the primary security room too upload a computer worm that would take control of all management systems, but lay in wait during the interim year, so that no one would know that it was even here. Leona, Ramses, and Marie snuck into the main office to find the information that they were looking for. There they uploaded their own worm to gather all data on the warehouse, which they would redownload once they came back.
All of the personnel were so busy trying to find the fake missing item that no one came to bother them, and as midnight was approaching, they held their breaths, hoping that they would jump to the future without anyone realizing it. The staff would be very confused about what happened to their messiah, the godking Oaksent, but they would have no reason to believe that it was really Team Matic in disguise, right? They opened the door to a storage closet so they wouldn’t suddenly appear next year in front of other people when someone actually did show up. “I think I found it.”
“What?” Leona questioned. That should be impossible. They told these people that they deliberately misplaced a warehouse item at an earlier date, and that whoever discovered it would be rewarded. But nothing was actually misplaced. It was just to keep everyone busy while they executed the heist. They didn’t consider the possibility that an artifact was genuinely misplaced without their intervention, probably accidentally. A flaw in their plan.
The young man, whose job in the station was not immediately clear, held his palms out before them. On top of them was a lighter, and it was one that they recognized. This was the Muster Lighter, which could be used to summon people from distant places as a mass teleportation object. It was lost centuries ago, but it wasn’t entirely out of left field that it should end up here. This region of the galaxy was seeded with life by someone who once lived on the generational ship, Extremus, which launched from the Gatewood Collective, where the lighter was last used and seen. They didn’t think that Bronach was alive at the time, but perhaps a relative stole it, and he ended up with it. Or it was someone else on Extremus, and he procured it later. “This wasn’t in the Time Vault, where it belongs. It was hidden behind a box of scissors by the door to an auxiliary maintenance airlock that doesn’t get use.” When Ramses reached towards it, the young man pulled away. “No. I shall hand it directly to the Emperor.”
Marie nodded appreciatively, and accepted the lighter as ceremoniously as she could while so pressed for time. “Thank you, my child.”
“It’s legit,” Leona said to Marie before turning towards the young man, “but, uhh...this isn’t it. We hid a different item. Someone else must have left this where you found it. They probably just use it to smoke in the airlock, because then they can easily vent it all into space when they’re done.”
He frowned, and hung his head low.
Leona’s watch beeped, as did the other two. “Shit, we gotta go.”
The three of them slipped into the closet, and hoped that the boy would give up, and leave. He didn’t. He opened the door behind them. “Wait, can I still be sent to—”
They didn’t hear the end of his sentence before midnight central hit, and sent them into the future. But they heard it once they came back, “...the resort planet.”
Leona looked at her watch to confirm that they had indeed jumped forward. It was May 20, 2441. She looked over at Marie and Ramses, who now appeared as themselves. They were unable to hold illusions across the time jump. Good to know. “You’ve been waiting for us this whole time?”
“Yes,” the young man answered. “People underestimate me, but I am smart. I had a whole year to work out who you really were, Leona Reaver.” Odd choice for a surname that she technically remembered having, but never actually used in this timeline.
“Who did you tell?” Ramses questioned.
“No one. Something that you probably don’t know about the Corridor is that most don’t give much thought to who the Emperor is, or how the Empire is run. We just deal with our own lives. I have no strong feelings about him. I just wanna get out of here.”
“You want us to take you with us so you don’t have to work anymore?” Leona guessed.
“I think I deserve it. I kept your secret, and lured everyone away for a party that I’ve been planning for months. I don’t know why you’re here, but I know that you won’t stay here forever. You don’t have to keep me, or even take me to Ex-613. You can just drop me off on an uninhabited world where I can live the rest of my life in peace.”
“What do you think?” Leona asked the other two.
“I’m fine with it,” Marie replied. “We’re here to help people, right?”
“Rambo?” Leona pressed.
He was busy studying his tablet. “Oh, I don’t care. The worm has delivered the data. The algorithm found what we were looking for. We were kind of misled. This warehouse is predominantly for banned and restricted tech. As he said, there’s a Time Vault, and that is the only place that stores temporal objects.”
“All right, let’s go there. You’re coming with us,” she said to the refugee.
They made their way along the corridors, up the elevator, and down the people movers. The Time Vault was heavily guarded, as they expected it would be, though their new friend whispered that it was usually worse. The party was a banger. Marie took the initiative to speed up, and approach first. “I see that you are all dedicated to your work, and I would like to thank you for your loyalty and devotion. The winner of last year’s contest has finally found the missing object. That is why we have returned. She would like to attend the party now. Please proceed to the mess hall to offer your joint protection. You will be rewarded for your efforts as well.”
“Sir!” one of them said with intense respect. And then they all left.
“I could get used to this,” Marie mused.
They entered the vault, and started to look around, each of them being drawn to something different. Most of the objects were generic, like teleporter guns, spatial tethers, and wall breachers. These were all lining the walls. Unique and rarer objects were on pedestals in the center of the room, a few of which they didn’t recognize. The Muster Lighter pedestal was empty, which made sense, but so was one labeled for HG Goggles. It was never clear how many pairs of those existed, but like the lighter, these were probably being unlawfully used by some rando who worked here.
“Hey kid, what are ya doing?” Ramses asked as he was inspecting a teleporter rifle.
The refugee was standing before a pedestal near the back, blocking the others from seeing what was sitting upon it. He turned around, holding what resembled a Fabergé egg, though not so intricate and pretty. “They never would have let me in here, but I know that when the Oaksent learns of my heroism, he’ll reward my family with riches beyond imagining. I killed Team Matic.” He turned two sections of the egg away from each other, then another two sections, and then he pressed the plunger that popped up on the top. The egg began to disintegrate, followed quickly by the boy.
“It’s a Lucius bomb!” Leona shouted. “Get out!” As she ran for the hatch, she grabbed a tube of concentrated antintropic nanosealant while Ramses was swiping a clear box. “Olimpia, where are you!” She screamed into her comms.
Olimpia came into view next to her as they were running. “Right here, buddy!”
“Mateo, we’re gonna have to teleport!” Leona cried. “Stop darklurking, and spark a flare! Don’t dock with the station! Just stay within range!”
“We can’t just leave!” Marie yelled, still running. “These people are innocent enough! We have to save them!”
“We can’t!” Leona argued. “There’s too many, and the bomb is too fast!”
“Yeah, we can!” Ramses and Olimpia replied in unison. “I took something!”
“Okay, we’ll try, but I make no guarantees. Ram, where’s the party?”
“A few life signs are scattered throughout the station, but most are right here!” He showed her the dots on the floor plan.
“Tap into the public address system!”
“Go ahead.” Ramses handed her his tablet.
Marie ripped the tablet out of her hands. “This is your emperor, Bronach Oaksent! The station is suffering from a cataclysm! If you are not already at the party, go there now! That is the only safe location! Go! Go!”
“Whatever you two stole,” Leona began, taking the tablet back to keep an eye on the dots, “get ready to use them!” The live sensors were actually pretty smart, and well-distributed. She could watch the dots running for the party, and unfortunately, she could also see dots disappear from the screen, along with the wall boundaries that they were between, indicating that the bomb had already reached that section of the station. All sensors that had yet to be destroyed remained in operation throughout.
They made it to the mess hall, and started funneling people inside until they could do so no longer. The blast was approaching them quickly, and they had to get inside. Leona still didn’t understand how they were going to stop it, though. A Lucius bomb didn’t start working until it reached sufficiently dense matter, and once it did, it didn’t stop until all reachable matter was consumed. It didn’t really matter how thick the walls were. Olimpia had that covered, though. She was the last inside. She immediately turned around, and opened and umbrella, tensely holding it up against the wave of energy trying to kill them. The wall continued to disintegrate, but slower now, and then slower still. They watched as the last remnants of the station disappeared, ripped apart molecule by molecule, until everything but this room was gone, and the tumult ceased. They were now floating alone in outer space. This weird umbrella that none of them had ever heard of before was keeping the atmosphere from escaping into the vacuum.
Olimpia held fast, and smirked at the team. “Topological modulator umbrella. I can’t hold this forever.”
“You won’t have to.” Ramses spun around, and stepped onto the nearest table to address the crowd. “Workers of Ex-467, I know that you’re all scared and confused right now, but we are here to help you! The four of us have the ability to teleport out of here!” He pointed to the Vellani Ambassador, which was hovering over them now. “We could save ourselves alone, or we could save all of you as well! If you would like to die today, stand over by that far wall! If you wanna live, stand on this side, and wait to get into this tiny little box!”
Everyone stood still for a moment before all moving over to the rescue side.
“What the hell is that?” Leona asked him.
“Subdimensional Crucible. It should be able to shrink people.”
Should?” Leona echoed.
“Hey, I’m just goin’ by the name.” Ramses removed the teleporter rifle from his pants, and began to program it.  “I can get everyone in. All you have to do is wait patiently, and maybe give Olimpia a break.”
“I’ll give her a break,” Marie volunteered. She now looked like herself as well. She took hold of the umbrella, and they shared the burden for a minute before Olimpia felt comfortable letting it go.
Ramses used his tablet to interface with the box, and also the rifle. There was enough charge in it to pocket all of these people away. The problem was figuring out how the box worked. If he didn’t understand the mechanism well enough, all he would do was send the first person as a mangled mess of blood and viscera into the box. Everyone else would die when the umbrella stopped working. The survivors eventually started to sit down to wait, trying not too look up at the rippling force field above them, which threatened to fail every few minutes when the current holder of the umbrella got a little tired. It shifted hands periodically amongst the three ladies. A few members of the personnel volunteered to help, but it wasn’t safe. Even if Leona chose to trust them, they did not necessarily metabolize temporal energy. This thing might not work without it. Ramses needed time to investigate it, which of course, he couldn’t do right now.
After half an hour, Ramses was finished with his work. One of the section leads agreed to go first, and report back if anything went wrong. Ramses shot him in the chest, and then Leona used the box’s built-in microscope to check on him. He was standing in a miniature furnished living room in the middle of the box, and waving up at them in all directions. He was so small that he couldn’t even discern the shadows, shapes, and colors above him as people. “All right, he’s fine,” she announced. Who’s next?”
Ramses continued to shoot people with the rifle. It took longer than they would have liked, because the remainders always wanted to be sure that that last person also survived. They were apparently worried that each time was a fluke, and the next one after that may have resulted in disaster. The girls had to keep holding onto the umbrella the entire time, but eventually, everyone was shot and safe in the box, and they could drop it. The atmosphere vented around them as they teleported up to the ship together.
“Long day?” Mateo asked them, perhaps with a little too little sensitivity.
“Let’s just go. I don’t know what the hell we’re gonna do with these people.”
“Did you bring me a present?” Mateo asked.
Leona showed him the nanosealant. “Yes. I think I can fix the reframe engine.”

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