Sunday, April 21, 2024

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 23, 2444

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Now that they had tested the refurbished reframe engine from a safe distance, it was time to test it while on board. They would continue to monitor the machine to make sure it held up, but that was something that they did every time they used it. They were just paying extra close attention in case there was a temporal component to the repairs. Perhaps ongoing stress would cause the nanofractures to reopen. They would never be completely safe, but then again, they never were at all in this line of business.
The speed of a ship equipped with this kind of technology was limited to roughly 707 times the speed of light, which means that they would always be able to travel a distance of 707 light years during their interim year. Making it back to the stellar neighborhood would take them 23 years, which for the team, was about three weeks. That was doable, but they were too busy for that. For one, they had to find a place to drop off Korali, and the rest of the staff of Ex-467, who nearly died due to their interference, and would have without their intervention. They needed a new place to live. It had to be nice and safe, but also had the chance of returning them to whatever worlds they originally came from, or just wanted to go to now. Korali said that the space station had a manifest, but she didn’t have a copy of it, because why would she? Perhaps someone in the Subdimensional Crucible happened to have it on them, but they could not interact with those people yet. Not until they were released would that be possible.
“Well, I’m not sure if I should say,” Korali began cryptically.
“Why wouldn’t you say it?”
“It’s dangerous,” Korali answered. “Well, I don’t mean there are monsters running around, or something, but as enemies of the state, you would not be welcomed there.”
“They don’t know who we are,” Ramses reminded them. He transformed himself into the likeness of 20th and 21st century actor, Misha Collins.
“That’s true,” Korali admitted, but she was still reluctant.
“It’s just an idea,” Leona said encouragingly. “We don’t have to take it, but we need to know what it is, so we have our options.”
“It’s Ex-18118,” Korali said.
“That’s not on my list,” Ramses said, pulling his handheld device out to check. “Plus, it breaks the three-digit convention.”
“You probably don’t have Ex-403 or Ex-404 on your list either,” Korali explained. “Wherever you got your intel it was probably from an ordinary citizen. Loyalists like I was have special knowledge. Ex-18118 is for Rest and Relaxation. On the occasion that we’re given leave from our duties, like between assignments, we can take it on Ex-18118. Regular people live there to support our needs, like vendors and sex workers, but the majority of the population are people like me who need a little time off to recharge.”
“So everyone there would hate us if they found out who we were,” Mateo figured.
“Then it’s the perfect place,” Leona decided. “No one will be looking for us. Everyone will literally have their guards down, and if it’s a hub for loyalists, they probably come from all over the Corridor, which means that we shouldn’t have to worry about people wondering why they don’t recognize us.”
“They still may ask you where you’re from,” Korali clarified. “You’ll need to know how to answer that question.” She sighed. “I would recommend Ex-420 or Ex-69. No one will ask any more questions if you say that, not even people who have worked at either of those places. It’s just not something you talk about. You’ll need to know what to wear, and how to act, though.”
Korali showed Ramses where Ex-18118 was. It actually wasn’t too far from Ex-42, which again, no longer mattered. They could cross the span of the entire Goldilocks Corridor in a day from their perspective. Still, they were considering going there next. Before they engaged reframe speeds, she described the Ex-420 uniforms, which literally had an image of a marijuana leaf on them, so that was fun to program into the industrial synthesizers. While those were working, she taught them how 420 staff members behaved, which was odd, to say the least. They were hardened and imposing, but also high all the time, because they were around so much smoke? It was confusing to learn, but it sounded easier than figuring out how to pretend to be Ex-69ers, who were also overserious, but at the same time, too horny to be professional.
While the smart people were discussing the plan with the dimensional box, Mateo pulled Korali aside for a personal conversation. “How do you feel?”
“I’m okay,” Korali answered. “I don’t have any problems with stasis. Some people do, but you use better technology anyway.”
“I don’t mean that, though that is nice to hear. I mean, you’ve been behind enemy lines for a while now. Going down to this planet is your chance to return to your life, but it’s also a chance to...screw us over. If you were planning on doing that, I wouldn’t expect you to warn me, but I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t attempt to ask.”
She smiled softly, and kept looking forward. “In December of 1943, during what your people refer to as World War II, two enemy pilots named Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler encountered each other on the battlefield. Brown’s aircraft was too damaged to continue fighting, but instead of destroying him, Stigler escorted him to safety. Decades later, long after the animosities from the war had passed, the two of them reunited, and became true friends. I don’t know if you and I are going to reunite in 47 years, but I know that I’m going to show you compassion now. You saved those people on the space station when you didn’t have to. I still believe that the Oaksent is a good man, but I no longer believe that you’re not. For now, that’s just going to have to be enough.”
Mateo smiled back. “I understand, and appreciate it.”
Leona came up to them. “We’re ready. Korali, you need to get in your stasis pod. It’s going to be longer than half a day for you this time, and you won’t be allowed out until we let you.”
“I get it,” Korali replied respectfully.
Once the Vellani Ambassador arrived at the outer edge of the system, it turned invisible, and parked itself on a long-period comet. Ramses had programmed the exterior hologram to make them look like a standard recreational shuttle from Ex-420, but they didn’t want anyone to find it during their interim year, regardless of what it looked like. When they returned to the timestream in 2444, they released Korali from her stasis pod to go over the plan one more time, and then they got dressed, and began to cover the rest of the distance at subfractional speeds.
Their reputation preceded them, even though no one knew who they were. Just dropping down to the surface of the planet with those three big numbers on the side of their hull practically parted the sea for them. No one asked them for verification, or to register with an intake officer. They could presumably do whatever they wanted here, and no one would try to stop them. One thing they apparently weren’t allowed to do, however, was land in a remote area of the planet. There were satellites and ground stations positioned all around the globe. This was to ensure that no one tried to stay here for the rest of the lives when they were supposed to go back to their work eventually. Besides, that wouldn’t do them any good, because the whole point was to help the survivors of Ex-467 return to those lives. The team was just going to be really far away when that happened. So they did need to be away from the population centers, just not too far away. They couldn’t teleport, though, because that could be tracked.
They stopped at the hotel to check in, which basically involved them showing those three special numbers on the shoulders of their uniforms, and providing the clerk with false names. They spent a couple hours in their suite before claiming to be going on a leisurely stroll in the arboretum. That’s exactly what they did, except that there was nothing leisurely about it. They walked as fast as they could, and even ran a little, though Korali found it difficult to keep up, since her body was not enhanced. Mateo actually carried her part of the way, because they wanted to get really far from anyone else. The survivors would eventually make their way back, but not too quickly.
Several hours later, they were roughly forty kilometers away. They were far enough away, in fact, that no one who suddenly woke up here would have any particular reason to suspect that their best hope of finding civilization lay in the east. This was a good place to drop them off, even though they could have gone farther. The weather was calm here, and the environment felt safe. A beautiful clear pond provided them with a source of freshwater, and Korali said that a lot of these plants were edible. They were looking for a cave to sort of maybe encourage the survivors to dig in for the night, but they were liable to do that either way, which was why they chose to land the Vellani on this side of the planet, because night was falling soon anyway.
“Do you have your story straight?” Leona asked Korali.
“Yes. I managed to get into an escape pod as soon as I heard the alarm go off in the warehouse. I left so quickly that I didn’t even hear the announcement to head for the mess hall. The blastwave of a secondary explosion that the Lucius bomb triggered struck my pod, and knocked me unconscious. I’ve been surviving in stasis ever since until the Oaksent dispatched a rescue team to search for survivors. They ordered me to come here to Ex-18118 to give the survivors one year to rest and recuperate. I then decided that it was best to let them out of the Subdimensional Crucible away from the nearest hotel to avoid inundating them with questions right after they were released.”
“Are you okay with lying?” Marie asked.
“It won’t be my first time,” Korali acknowledged, obviously never intending to elaborate. She carefully took the Crucible from Ramses. It was still in the giant suitcase that they used to conceal it from others. She set it on the ground and opened it up to use the microscope. “They’re all right. They’ll be all right.” She stood back up. “Who knows what’s happened to them, though? They’ve had years to form a new society. Your supply drops have surely helped, but they could be anybody.”
“You know how to contact us,” Leona reminded her.
Korali tapped the comms device secretly implanted behind her ear.
“We’ll see each other again, Mateo said confidently.” He took her in a hug. “Hopefully we won’t have to wait a whole 47 years for it.”
“Agreed. I’ll probably be dead by then.”
They left her alone, and made their way towards the hotel. Running at full speed this time, they were back in less than four hours. They relaunched just before midnight.

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