Sunday, June 30, 2024

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: June 2, 2454

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Ramses’ new bulk portal detection device was not ready by the time the team’s day ran out. He was able to program his AI to do some things during their interim year, but there was still some work left when they returned in 2454. While he was focused on that, the Primus asked Leona to exercise her diplomacy muscles for them.
“I don’t have any significant diplomacy experience,” Leona tried to explain.
“Is that not what your ship is for? It’s called the Ambassador,” Primus Mihajlović pointed out.
“That was how it was designed,” Leona went on, “and that’s how it was used recently, but my team and I aren’t on it because that’s our job. We just sort of lucked into possession of it. Whoever you’ve been using for your diplomacy with the Ochivari prisoners of war are better equipped than I.”
“We would be grateful,” Kineret began, “if you would at least try. We’re getting nowhere with the prisoners. We’ve passed laws in recent years that forbid us from detaining extraterrestrial POWs for longer than four months. We actually watched a lot of Ochivari die after we placed them in a communal area of the facility to let them attempt to return home on their own. Fortunately, Carlin has been here to prevent the bloodshed, but we’re running out of time. We’ve not been able to capture anyone recently, so this could be our last chance to get answers for  a while.”
Leona nodded respectfully. “I’ll have Angela or Marie see what they can do.” She turned around to look for the Walton sisters when she saw her husband. “What is it?”
“Nothing, I’m just standing here,” he replied.
“I know all your faces, Matt. You’re yearning for something. Do you think you should run this interrogation instead?”
“Absolutely not. It has nothing to do with that. We’ll talk later, in private.”
“If there’s something I need to know...” the Primus said.
“It really has nothing to do with it,” he assured her. “It’s personal. My mind is distracted. Go do your thing,” he said to Leona. “I’ll see ya tonight.”
They shared a couple pecks on the cheek, then went their separate ways. Leona and Angela teleported a few thousand kilometers away to a particularly cold region of the planet, which they would have referred to as the Northwest Territories. There was no name for it here. It was just the Subarctic North. This was where all of the Ochivari prisoners were being held, as far from civilization as possible, to protect the humans from them. They also discovered that Ochivari didn’t like the cold. They didn’t wither and die from it like a movie monster, but they were very uncomfortable anywhere outside of their climate controlled cells, so there was less danger of them trying to escape. Of course, they had to keep each prisoner separately, or they would be able to transport each other to a different universe. This would always result in some fraction of the travelers dying, but this was a risk that they were used to taking, so the humans had to take measures to stop it. Unless the time limit was reached. They had passed similar laws when it was just themselves on this Earth over the centuries, and as angry as they were about the alien invasion, the populace felt obligated to maintain some sense of their own integrity, and to treat their prisoners of war with care and dignity. The Ochivari still had rights, even if they would not extend the same courtesy to the humans.
Primus Mihajlović, who asked the team to call her Naraschone in person, but her title in the company of others, called ahead to let the prison know that two consultants would be arriving to speak with the prisoners. The guards let them in, and directed them to the underground cells. This place was powered by a thermonuclear generator, so it was self-sustainable, and mostly cut off from the rest of the world, for security purposes. The people who worked here lived in a nearby once-abandoned, but now revitalized, formerly indigenous village. For the most part, the only travel that occurred to this location was to drop off new prisoners, or to fly away from having just dropped off prisoners. They even grew their own food in aquaponic towers, further cementing themselves as a stable isolate. So they were very excited to see the new faces. Some of them were a little too excited, but Angela and Leona didn’t let it bother them, because it was understandable given their circumstances.
“I’ll just be right outside,” the guard said, closing the door behind them.
A polycarbonate window was installed in the middle of the room. On the other side was an Ochivar who was already sitting at his table up against the window, ready to talk. He was reportedly just as closed off about their motivations, and other details regarding their culture, but he was less nasty to the humans than his compatriots were. “Who the hell are you?”
“You don’t already know who we are?” Leona asked, pulling Angela’s seat out, and then sitting down next to her.
“No. Should I?”
They were famous in some circles, but not his, unless he was just playing it close to the vest. “We are not from this world. We hail from Salmonverse.”
Ochivari looked different, so their microexpressions would be hard to read without more exposure, yet it was apparent that he recognized the name. He tried not to let this on. “Okay.”
Angela met Leona’s eyes, and nodded. She would begin to lead the conversation. “What’s your name?”
“Nilstedd,” he answered courteously.
“What was the name of the man you killed when crossing over into this world?”
He hesitated with this one, likely surprised that she would show interest in such information. “Kuhsakego.”
“Were you two close?”
He hesitated here too, but less so, wanting to maintain what little power he had left here. “We trained up together. We always knew that we would be wing-locked one day. They discouraged us from becoming friendly for this reason.”
“Were you in love?” Angela asked.
“It wasn’t like that,” Nilstedd answered.
She believed him. “But you did care for him, and you regret his passing.”
“It is our way.” He averted his gaze, suggesting that he did not agree with his own statement. “It is the only way.”
That wasn’t true, but Angela wasn’t there yet. “We’ve noticed something. Well, others have noticed it, and relayed it to us. We have not met enough Ochivari to have any impression in this regard, but it’s become known that you are all men. Are you a single sex species?”
“Of course not. Our mating rituals are more complex than you could ever understand.”
“Where are all the women?”
He scoffed.
“They must be weak,” Angela said dismissively, trying to get a rise out of him.
“They are not weak. They are just too important!” he argued.
“So it’s just about propagating the species,” Angela guessed. “They stay out of the fight, so they can make more fighters.”
“I shall say nothing more of it.” He turned away even more.
“Have you heard of the Krekel?” she asked him.
He appeared determined to stop revealing information to them, but he couldn’t help but react to this. He spit on the far end of his table, as close to Angela’s as he could without phase-shifting it through the barrier.
“They’re like the Tok’ra, who are technically also Goa’uld, but not evil. That’s all they are; those who made different choices.” She shrugged. “You’re Krekel.”
“No, I am not.”
“You can be,” she reasoned. “You can escape your cell whenever you want. Krekel can travel alone.”
Nilstedd crossed his arms defiantly. “They’re lying.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Did you ever see them do it?” he questioned.
“My father was a slaveowner,” Angela suddenly said. “I grew up with massive trust issues. I had to work really hard to get over them. The Krekel told me that they can wingsing their way through portals. It’s not a trick, it’s not a lie. It’s true. I’ve been sent here to tease information from you, but if you escaped right here, right now, I wouldn’t stop you. I encourage it.”
He didn’t say anything.
“Music. Music is a language of love. For you to do what you do, and survive, you have to develop contempt from your partner, not because of its inherent value, but because of what you were saying. To lose someone you love; for him to die by your hands—or wings, as it were—would be a burden that you could not bear if you let yourself care about him. So you suppress all love, to protect yourself from disappointment, loss, and loneliness. Music brings us together. The way the Krekel I met described it, you can open a portal by focusing your energy on breaking free from the world that you’re on, while they open one by focusing on where they want to go. They seek connection, while you seek escape. That’s why it kills you.”
“I would sure like to read the scientific paper where you’re getting all this brilliant insight,” he volleyed.
She smiled. “I can’t. I briefly looked over the laws relevant to this war. The locals aren’t allowed to study how you operate. It’s illegal, because it’s unethical. They can’t encourage you to kill each other. So no, I don’t know that much about how your wing battle thing works, but I know that it’s not pleasant. If it were, Kuhsakego would be in the cell next to you.”
“What are you trying to do here,” Nilstedd demanded to know, “get me to turn on my own people?”
“No,” Angela answered sincerely. “I’m just trying to get you to tell me why you’re here at all. What’s so special about this world? It’s just another Earth. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want you to sterilize everyone, but why haven’t you yet? Why are you fighting in the first place?”
He appeared to laugh. “Look around, human. Do you know what the global temperature is? Do you see how much pollution there is in the air? The oceans? Do you know how many unevolved species have gone extinct? Does it have a stable ozone layer? Are these people barreling down a path towards their own self-destruction?”
“No,” Leona answered in Angela’s stead. “They’re fine. The environment is fine. So why are you here?”
Nilstedd was watching Angela during Leona’s response, but he turned his head now. “We’re not here to end the human race in this universe. We’re here to train.”
“To train for what?”
“For you,” he answered simply.
“Me specifically, errr...?”
“People like you, who travel the bulk, causing trouble for us. You can’t combat sterilization in kind. You fight us with guns, and other weapons. We need to know how to fight back, to protect our interests. So we found a universe that’s just advanced enough to give us a real challenge while being primitive enough to not absolutely decimate our forces.”
“These are field tests?” Leona questioned, horrified. “You don’t actually have anything against these people? By your own definition, they’re innocent, and you’re killing them anyway?”
He shrugged. “Orders are orders. Some were sent in ships, others were sent to test out various infiltration and subterfuge techniques. That’s why some of the people we dispatched are human.”
Leona had to actively hold Angela in place when she stood up to teleport away. “No. We can’t tell anyone what he just said.”
“Why not?”
“Come with me,” Leona ordered. She took Angela by the hand, and transported them both to the Gobi Desert.
“They have a right to know that some of the people they’re looking for will look human, and not Ochivari,” Angela argued.
“The right people have a right to know, but we have to be careful about this. Think about it, Ange. Right now, their enemy is obvious; unmistakable. If they have to be on the lookout for enemies who look just like them, they’ll find ‘em, whether they’re real or not. Neighbors will turn on neighbors. People will become suspicious of their children’s teachers. Constituents will lose trust in their leadership, and the entire civilization will crumble to dust. In my day, some conspiracy theorists believed that the government was run by lizard people. They once tried to attack a military base, convinced that aliens were being housed there. Imagine how bad it would get if this kind of stuff were true!”
Angela sighed. “You’re right. This situation requires finesse and tact. I don’t know if we’re up for the job. It puts us in an awkward situation too. We’re invaders, from another universe. What makes our team different? Why should they trust us?”
“There’s another option, but it will be neither safe nor easy. I got the idea just as Olimpia was rescuing us from the kasma. Perhaps the only way to protect this Earth is to seal it up tight. Now more than ever, we would have to return to where we came from.” If the answer was in Salmonverse or Fort Underhill, then they needed to get back to find it, not only because that was their home. Their enemy would want something in return—probably their deaths—but there was no reason to fret over it now. Priorities.

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