Sunday, May 19, 2024

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 27, 2448

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Once Ramses was safe and sound in the Garden Dimension with the rest of the team, the Horticulturalists decided that it was time to kick everyone out. Even though the Memory Magnolia had apparently made its own decision about sending Marie to rescue their last remaining member, she was the one who partook in the fruit in the first place. She made that decision, and these were the consequences of it. Everyone else was being kicked out just for being associated with her, and they had no problem with this, because they needed to stay together, and as pleasant as the garden was, it was time to get back to work. Before they left, they warned the Horticulturalists that Bronach Oaksent and the Exin Empire were seemingly trying to get into the garden themselves. Nothing else made sense to explain why Ramses blowing a hole through the hull of Ex-42 would send them down the river towards the Magnolia conflux. If they wanted to protect their specimens from those who would truly harm it, they needed to seriously rethink their defensive strategies.
The Team was now back on Earth. They asked to be returned to the Vellani Ambassador, which was parked and invisible in the Goldilocks Corridor, but no one in the garden was capable of accommodating them. Whatever was indeed responsible for this detour in the first place was located at that end of it. They could try to investigate it themselves, whether the Horticulturalists wanted them to or not, but first, they had to figure out how to get back there. Their first thought was to seek help from Team Keshida on the Jameela Jamil, which could get them to that region of space in under five hours, but they didn’t respond directly. A voicemail message from an apparent quantum autoresponder informed Leona that the JJ was on a mission in the Miridir Galaxy, which was where Dardius was located. Quantum communication allowed FTL signals to reach vast distances, but the technology still had its limits. If they were in Andromeda XXI, they were too far away to talk to in realtime, and once they did receive the message, it would take them a month to return to help, assuming they weren’t too busy there to return at all. They were surely that far away for good reason.
Leona popped her lips several times. “Welp, back to the Nexus?”
“Yeah, the Nexus seems like the right call,” Mateo agreed.
Everyone else seemed amenable, so they teleported to the Pacific Ocean Nexus, directly inside the building, which was still neutrally buoyant just under the surface. “Venus Opsocor, are you there?”
No one responded.
“Venus, can you hear me?” Leona reiterated.
 Still no response.
“You two on the outs?” Ramses asked.
“I’m sure she’s a very busy superintelligent god,” Leona presumed. She walked up the steps, and tried to enter the control room, but the door was locked. She tried to just teleport to the other side of it, but it didn’t work either. Venus was icing her out. She must have wanted her to stay here for some reason. She let out a frustrated sigh, and banged on the door before turning around to go back down the stairs.
A man opened it from the control room, bleary eyed, and trying to block the lights from hitting him. “Can I help you? It’s a little early.”
“Do you live here?” Leona questioned.
“Yeah,” he answered, like he had every right. He blinked a lot, and looked around. “Wait, do I? Where the hell am I? Why am I inside?” He jerked his head around to look back into the control room. “Where is my apartment? Who are you people? What did you do to me!”
“Please try to relax, sir. We did nothing to you. We did not expect to find you here. What is the last thing you remember?”
“Uh, I fell asleep on the couch. My couch, in my home. Now I’m suddenly here. I could have sworn that when I heard you banging, I woke up on my couch too. It was here a second ago. Could someone please tell me what’s going on?”
“I’m going to ask you a few questions, sir, and they may sound weird, but trust me, they’re important. Just answer them honestly. We are not going to harm you, or use anything against you. We’re here to help. What year is it?”
“It’s 2024, dumbass.”
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t assume that you’re the bad guy here. I’ve seen this move a million times. A group of people wake up in a cube, or on an island, or a weird building in the woods with a giant window-slash-mirror, where monsters watch you for fun. Or it’s a torture chamber, or a shower stall, or a spaceship, or a lobby in heaven—”
“Sir,” Leona had to repeat yet again. “You’re talking about the You Wake Up in a Room trope. I don’t think that’s really what’s happening. We came here on purpose, we just didn’t expect to find anyone else, and there is a way out. Let’s keep going. We know the year. Where is your apartment? What city?”
“Silver Shade. Silver Shade, Kansas.”
Leona nodded. “I’ve never heard of it.”
“It’s in Mineral County,” the man added.
There was no such place as Mineral County as far as she knew. “I should have asked this before, what’s your name, friend?”
“Baylor. Baylor Alexanderson.”
Leona proceeded to introduce herself, and the rest of the team.
“Those are some interesting names you got there,” Baylor mused. “Do you have any more questions for me, or are we gonna be able to get out of here?”
Leona consulted her watch, even though she had already looked at it as soon as they left the Garden Dimension. “I have some bad news, Baylor, it’s not 2024. It’s 2448, and given the fact that you’re from a city and county that doesn’t exist here, I can only assume that you’re in the wrong world. Given your description of answering what you thought to be your own door, my guess is that you went through the Westfall, though it’s not supposed to take you somewhere this altered. You’re supposed to think that you’re still on the same world. At least that’s how it was explained to me.”
Baylor stared at her for a moment. “What the shit are you goin’ on about?”
“I know it’s disorienting, but I’m still going to do all I can to help you, if Venus would just kindly respond to me!” she increased the volume of her voice, as she looked up towards the Nexus drum. She could never quite tell where Venus’ voice was ever coming from, but it always sounded like it was from above. “Hello?”
“Wait, is this one of those—wadya call it—Voldisil things?” Baylor asked. “Are you a fabled Voldisil?”
“I’ve never heard of that either,” Leona admitted.
“I don’t believe in ‘em,” Baylor explained. “They say that this kid out east can heal people, but I don’t put stock into such rumors. I’m sure it’s all a big hoax. I mean, he charges rich people a ton of money, and then he gives his poor patients some of that money, in addition to healing them? Does that sound right to you?”
“I don’t know, sir, that’s not my world, as I said.”
“Well, if I’ve been sent through the dimensional planes, or whatever, how do I get back? Tell me what to do.”
“You could...try to...close the door?” Leona suggested. She didn’t know how it worked, or whether it could ever be undone.
“Is that a question?”
“I’m not an expert.”
Baylor sighed, tipped an imaginary hat at her, and then closed the door.
She tried to open it again right  away, and was able to this time. Baylor was nowhere to be seen, and the lights inside the control room were starting to come on. “Guys, I think it worked. Or it sent him somewhere totally different.”
I’m here, Leona,” Venus’ voice answered.
“Venus, how long ago did I ask for you?”
It has currently been eight point seven seconds.
“L-O-L.” Mateo laughed at the coincidence.
“It’s been longer than that for me,” Leona told her. “We’ve been interacting with a man we believe to have come through Westfall.”
I did not register his appearance, but that’s the one thing that could have interfered with my temporal association, and my response,” Venus said.
“That’s okay, I think he’s back home. We were wondering if you could do the same for us. We left our ship in the Goldilocks Corridor, around a planet called Ex-659. Have you heard of that? It’s about 16,000 light years away.”
I never have,” Venus answered.
“There may or may not be a working Nexus on a planet called Ex-371. You and I spoke while I was there sixteen years ago.”
I have no recollection of that. Either my memory was purged, or it has not happened to me yet.”
“Okay.” Leona thought about it. “Can you take us to the Dardius Nexus? I have the term sequence.”
I’m afraid that the Dardius Nexus is presently offline at this point in history.
“That’s disturbing.” Leona took a deep breath, and centered herself. “Then we have one last option. Could you please send us to the Nucleus?”
“Captain, that’s not safe,” Marie warned.
“It’s the only place I know that can travel such distances, unless you can put us in touch with one of the Al-Amins?”
Marie put her tail between her legs.
“Venus?” Leona went on.
I have heard of that,” Venus said. “I can send you there, but there is no Nexus there in 2448, so you will not necessarily be in control of where you go next.
“We rarely are,” Leona responded.
Step into the cavity, please.
“We appreciate your support,” Leona said genuinely as she was taking up the rear.
The light rained down from above, and dispatched them to purported the center of the universe. They did not exit to another Nexus, as Venus had explained. They were in the same expansive room that Marie had come to while she was searching for Angela, which they both confirmed. It was mostly empty now. A man started to jog over when he noticed them, but then he suddenly stopped, and continued more slowly. “You came here on purpose,” he said to them, almost accusatorily.
“Yes, it’s only a pit stop,” Leona answered. “We’re trying to get to the Goldilocks Corridor.”
“I’m afraid we don’t take requests here,” he tried to explain. “My name is Intake Coordinator Pontus Flagger. Our only job here is to keep you healthy, fed, and comfortable, until the universe decides where to put you.”
“The universe doesn’t decide anything,” Leona argued. “There must be someone in charge, even if it’s an intelligence beyond our comprehension.”
“Like I said, the universe,” Pontus repeated, as if they were talking about the exact same thing.
Leona sighed. “Have you recorded any patterns? What kind of people come here, where they go, where they’re standing when it happens; that sort of thing.”
“No pattern detected,” Pontus said apologetically. “We’ve been looking for one.”
“How long have you been measuring?” Leona asked.
He acted like that was an impossible question to answer.
“Right. Time.” She looked over at her crew, who were waiting patiently for her guidance. “So, you got a suite for us, or something?”
“Right this way, sir.” Pontus spun around, and began to walk away.
“That won’t be necessary,” came an electronic voice behind all of them. His identity was being masked by an actual mask, as well as a sound distorter. He wasn’t alone either. Thousands of black-clothed stormtrooper types were standing behind him, all pointing their space rifles at the crew. They looked exactly the same, in the same positions, as if there was only one of them, and he had copy-pasted himself over and over again. Maybe that was the truth.
“Funny, I didn’t hear you come in,” Leona said.
“Um, they didn’t,” Pontus replied. “We have alarms for mass arrivals.”
Leona nodded, and lifted a hand. She sent a ripple of light towards the crowd, using her own holo-powers to disrupt and fade the image of the holographic army.
“Shit,” the only enemy there said. He reached over to his wrist, and switched off the ruse. Leona wasn’t quite right. There were actually still two of them, rather than only the one. “I need to regain the higher ground.” He shot Leona right in the chest.
The thing about these special suits being bulletproof was that they prevented most projectiles and energy blasts from piercing the layers. They couldn’t protect the wearer from everything, but they were extremely advanced, and Ramses had already bolstered their strength with a little bit of tinkering. And anyway, Leona fell to her back, and slid across the floor, because the concussive force was still strong, and she wasn’t magnetizing her boots at the time, not that that would have been the safer option.
“You are all now conscripted into the Resonant Parallel Coalition, whether you like it or not,” the shooter demanded in his weird little voice.
Leona stood back up, almost entirely unhurt, and arched her back to get the kinks out. She looked back with the confidence befitting a captain of her calibre. “Oh, no thank you.”

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