Sunday, April 28, 2024

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 24, 2445

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They were still getting updates from their friends all over the Goldilocks Corridor. Things were changing. The Ex-666ers had formed a rebellion, and were at the beginning of a war against the establishment, particularly the military planet of Ex-182. It was pretty bad, and some will fault Team Matic for starting it, but this region of space was being ruled by an oppressive empire. Only a naïve fool would think that the end of such unjust violence would be caused by an abstract injection of peace. It was always going to end up like this. Things were going to get worse before they got better, but they were going to get better, and in order to keep going, everyone had to truly believe that.
After they left Korali with her people on Ex-18118—a designation which still bothered Ramses—they jumped back up to the Vellani Ambassador, and flew off to a random meteor to prepare for their next mission. They were finally going to Ex-42, which would hopefully give them the answers that they need to find Ex-69, which was their true goal. That was why the updates regarding the freedom fighters from Ex-666 were important, because it sort of gave them permission to skip all of the worlds in their original path. It was time to buckle down and focus. They didn’t have a plan, because they had yet to meet anyone who had ever been to Ex-42, except for Korali, who admitted to only having seen a very small part of it. Besides, while she was friendly with them, and promised not to rat them out, she remained loyal to the Empire, and refused to provide them knowledge that could dismantle a system that she still believed in.
While they were gone, the ship parked itself in a hiding spot, and turned itself invisible, as per usual. This was a particularly risky mission, though. They would likely face profound opposition from whoever ran the archives. Being invisible was only good enough while they were stationary. When they were moving, even at only subfractional speeds, they still gave off a heat signature, just like any other vessel. They needed some way of being totally imperceptible, to the naked eye, and other sensors. This was where the Heat Shunt came into play. This was one of those projects that Ramses worked on when he wasn’t actively participating in missions. Though not completely finished, it was finally ready to at least be used once. It worked by shoving all waste heat into a totally uninhabitable pocket dimension. The space within this pocket was not infinite, so all that energy had to be released eventually, which they were intending to do at safe times, like when they were traveling at reframe speeds anyway, or near a star, whose intense radiation would mask the negligible signature of a heat dump.
This made them truly invisible, as long as they didn’t forget to purge it eventually. Ramses included safeguards, which would trigger a purge automatically as it approached critical mass, but this was not a perfect solution. What if they were, say, on the surface of a planet, or docked at a space station? He was contemplating a means to a telejettison subroutine, which would dispatch the dimensional generator to a safe distance, but it wasn’t only about distance. The specific vector mattered, and that was always different. The teleporter might have to calculate the destination on the fly. To address the constantly changing variables, it was probably better to make those calculations constantly as well. Hopefully, this was not anywhere near a problem yet, and they wouldn’t have to worry about it until another day. For now, it just had to work in the first place. “Hot pocket is live,” Ramses announced confidently.
“Is that what we’re calling it?” Leona asked.
“You got a problem with that?”
“I guess not, they don’t exist anymore.”
“What don’t exist anymore?”
Leona was done with the conversation. “Is everyone ready to go?”
They were all standing on the bridge. While their enhanced substrates would help them survive in many harsh environments, redundancy was a core principle of SCR&M, so they were also wearing Integrated Multipurpose Suits. These were not the result of one of Ramses’ projects. They were standard dress for spacefarers in the stellar neighborhood, and to varying degrees, average, everyday people, and Mirage had equipped the Ambassador with enough for the whole team, and more. They came in layers, each one designed to protect the wearer from projectiles, blades, concussive forces, or even radiation. Different models had a different mix of these layers. The ones that they were wearing right now had all of the layers, for ultimate protection. To be honest, they looked pretty badass, standing there in the same sleek black and gray outfits, their air packs and helmets affixed to the back with magnets. Though, they didn’t have to look the same. The outer layer could shift colors to match personal preferences. They nodded affirmatively at Leona’s question.
“All right. Yalla.”
Marie engaged the subfractional engines, and headed towards the inner solar system. Before they knew anything about this place, they expected to find another space station, like Ex-467, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t a planet either. According to Korali’s intel, it was the smallest possible coalesced asteroidal sphere. That was, it only had enough gravity to form into a sphere, as opposed to the usual oblong shape of some other subplanetary bodies. A moon. It was basically a moon, except that it orbited the host star directly, and had Earth-comparable surface gravity, which Korali figured was powered artificially by a microsingularity in the center, though no one ever specified to her while she was there, and she never bothered to question it.
They made it into orbit. Ramses had to stay with the Ambassador, so he could monitor the new hot pocket. He insisted that he do this alone, so the rest of the team could teleport into the facility, even though they had agreed to never let that happen. They were already down one person, and they still didn’t know what they might be up against in there. He promised to stay on comms, and request help if he needed it. To be fair, his would probably be the safest job. Theirs was not going to be easy. Stealth continued to be vital while on the ground, and there was a downside to that.
“Okay.” Olimpia huddled them up. “Invisibility is invisibility. There’s no magical way to let you see others who are also invisible. I suppose Ramses could try to work on that later, but until then, we need to lean heavily into our group empathy. Try to stay connected at all times. We don’t have a built-in homing device to locate each other, but we should be able to get a sense of distance and direction. I thought about having us hold hands, or tying a rope between us, but there are so many things that could go wrong with either of those options. Invisibility is hard to maintain; harder than other illusions. You have to constantly let the light pass around you, and I do mean to use the word let, because if you concentrate on doing it, you will probably only end up psyching yourself out. Just...go with the flow.” She loosened herself up to demonstrate extreme chill.
“Thank you, Pia,” Leona said. “If any of you feel like you’re losing it, jump back to the ship. It’s better to be safe than sorry. We don’t know what people look like there, or how well they recognize each other’s faces. We might be able to blend in with them with holographic illusions, but it’s impossible to say for sure, so this is our only hope. The situation may change when we get down there, but I can’t promise anything. We will resort to brute force if we have to. I want..that information. Is everyone cool with that?”
They nodded.
“Okay.” Leona nodded too, and then looked back over at Ramses. “You good?”
He was munching on a snack, so he just held up an a-okay sign.
Leona made sure to make eye contact with each member of the away team. With a shrug of her eyebrows, she decided to repeat, “yalla.” They turned themselves invisible, and jumped.
They were immediately assaulted by a sensory overload when they landed inside the archive facility. A siren was blaring, trying to deafen their ears. Lights were flashing all around them, making it impossible to get a good look at what was around them. They were immediately wet, and getting wetter. It felt like a room temperature mist was falling all over the place. When they could get a look at it, the water appeared to be a neon orange, rather than transparent. They found themselves on the floor pretty much immediately, or that’s what they assumed. It was also difficult to keep track of the passage of time as they were squirming around powder? Someone yelled that they should try to teleport back up to orbit, but they couldn’t. The rubber band snapped them right back to where they were whenever one of them tried. At least the teleportation dampener didn’t hurt, as it did on that one planet. It was just an unbreakable barrier.
“Korali gave us up!” Marie cried.
“I won’t believe it!” Mateo shouted back.
“Who else knew what we could do?” Leona questioned. “This is obviously a trap for us!”
“Who else knew?” Mateo echoed. “Anyone who noticed that we only ever show up once a year, like Santy Claus!”
They could sense Olimpia trying to send Ramses the feeling of escape that they agreed upon, which was marked by rapidly switching between regret and satisfaction, over and over and over again. He replied that he understood by sending it back. After a few times, he left his own feelings on regret, which was likely what he was truly feeling at the time, due to having to leave them behind. They didn’t make any sort of specific plan for what to do after the designated survivor escaped, but he would probably go seek help from Ex-666, or maybe one of the Caretakers.
The lights and sounds ceased, but the mist still fell, and they were still covered in the powder. Theoretically, all they would have to do was to incorporate the new outer coating on their bodies into the invisibility illusion, but they were not feeling well enough to do that. Mateo was particularly out of sorts since he was relentless with his attempts to teleport back to Ramses, and was extremely exhausted. They were only as strong as their weakest link, so they were stuck as the bad guy walked up to them.
“Sir, be careful,” someone said.
“I know what I’m doing.” They recognized that voice. It was Bronach Oaksent himself. Yay! They didn’t even have to figure out where Ex-69 was! Their enemy came right to them. How nice of him. Now he just needed to give them a few minutes to several hours to recover from this, and then they could put up their dukes. He crouched down in front of Leona. “How does it feel? How does it feel, knowing that nothing you do matters? You think you made any sort of impact in my empire? You think that was the first prison break I’ve ever seen? You think I can’t blow up all of the ships that they commandeered with a wave of my hand?” He held up a hand, and kept it aloft.
Leona blinked, struggling to see him better, as the mist cleared up, and her vision returned. She saw him smirking, and occasionally looking over at his own hand, as if he was anticipating that dreadful wave, and that he didn’t necessarily have any control over it. There was a chance that an actual wave of that hand could trigger the mass death that he was warning them about. “State your terms,” Leona responded, making herself fully visible again, and staring back at him with an expression of professionalism, but not letting herself appear weak, or submissive to him.
“Call your boy back. I wanna take a look at that pretty purple ship o’ yours.”
Leona tapped on her comms. “Ramses, come back. Open a channel, and ask for a place to dock.”
I’m on my way, sweet girl,” Ramses replied.
Bronach dropped his hand and chuckled. “I admit, we can’t detect if that message went out, or if you’re bluffing, but you go ahead and send another one. He has ten minutes, or I’m killing one of you. Then it’s one person every...thirty minutes, I guess.”
“He heard,” Leona explained.
I’ll be there in five.
“He’ll be here in five. Tell him where to go.”
Bronach looked up at his man-servant, and nodded. The man-servant walked away with purpose. Bronach stood back up himself, and suggested that the team do the same. “No more tricks, please. I’m an honest man. We may disagree, but know that. I don’t like to lie, and I don’t like to fake it.”
Leona stood, and took a breath. “Even Donald Trump didn’t drink alcohol. Doesn’t make him a saint.” The rest of the team stood as well, now visible.
Bronach laughed. “I don’t know who that is.” He started to wander around the room, playing with the mist that continued to fall, though it was no longer neon. “Do you know why I called this place Ex-42?”
“Because it holds the answer to life, the universe, everything?” Olimpia figured.
“No,” Bronach contended. “Wrong reference. It’s because the information stored here keeps the island from blowing up. He placed airquotes around the words, implying a connection to the show LOST, though it was difficult to comprehend a reality where an alien had a frame of reference for that and Douglas Adams, but not Trump. He smiled. “And it does more than that. It does a lot more.”
Remember the lining of your suit?” Ramses asked through comms. “You noticed how different it was from the standard model. Open your hands, and tap both of those seams twice fast with your pinkies. The hot pocket is about to explode, so on my mark...” He waited for a few seconds. “Now!
The seams that he was talking about were around their crotches. The gesture that he was describing carried a crude meaning, which was surely the point. But still, they had to do it, and they did it in sync. Personal force fields formed around them just in time for the explosion that blasted into the room. The ship was not designed with a weapon, but that heat shunt could be purged safely...or not so safely. They were protected, but not unmoved, by the eruption. It threw them across the room, but they didn’t run into a wall. Instead, they landed in a river outside.

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