Sunday, June 2, 2024

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: The Rock – Part 2

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The Pryce Tree temporarily bestowed the Vellani Ambassador with the power of time travel. Leona could navigate to anywhere or anywhen she chose. His only rule was that they could not stay in the Nucleus, and it was his preference that they go somewhere rather neutral. A region of space under control of one culture or the other could be construed as favoritism. Even a totally uninhabited planet could be claimed by one or another. Totally neutral? Where could that be? After some thought, and consultation with Ramses, they decided that the meeting would take place throughout all of time, and at no particular point in space. Instead of jumping once, and remaining at the destination, they would sail through the timestream at an accelerated rate. They were moving 108,000 times slower than objects outside of the bubble, so for every second that passed for them, thirty hours was passing for everyone else. They were ten billion years in the past, though, so there wasn’t actually anyone out there observing anything. This was about as neutral as it could get since the time period predated the creation of every branching alternate reality.
The hypertime factor was mostly for fun, but it also had a calming effect on the diplomats. The ceiling and floor of Delegation Hall could become completely transparent, allowing them to watch as the stars that they were surrounded by danced around each other. They called it the Stellar Waltz. Whenever anyone was getting stressed out or frustrated, they could just look up or down. Some of them did not care for the Waltz, so they were provided with special glasses that blocked out the view, and made the hull look opaque again. They would occasionally remove these anyway.
Olimpia served as Primary Host. She kept people fed and watered. One person needed a special neck pillow once, and another was colder than everyone else, so she retrieved a blanket. Ramses kept an eye on the ship’s systems, since it was not designed to operate in this manner, but everything was going fine, so he also split his attention to his own projects. Leona was more involved than she ever intended to be. They often demanded her insights, and her help mediating brief disagreements before they escalated. Angela and Marie were there to do that, but some of them had too much respect for the Captain to listen to anyone but her. She found it difficult to explain to some of the delegates that she was not in charge here.
Mateo’s may have been the hardest job of all, though. Pryce Tree provided them with a special AI that could receive and synthesize input from the multitudes of people watching from the Sixth Key. They had a lot to say about the situation themselves, and while it would be quite impossible to field questions, comments, and concerns from individuals, they could pare it down to consensus thoughts. There were still many hundreds of these generated ideas, so Mateo had to read through them, and relay them to the meeting members. No one but others on Team Matic could appreciate how much effort he was putting into this responsibility, so they grew frustrated when he asked for breaks. But the thing was, he wasn’t actually taking the breaks. He was using that time to catch up with the input. It was everyone else who could visit the restroom, or dine on the little cakes that Olimpia made for them using the Biomolecular Synthesizers.
They did take full breaks at the end of every day, for sleep and recharging, to prevent burnout. Each day’s worth of talks lasted for eight or nine hours, which resembled a standard workday on 21st century Earth. They were in the middle of one of these right now. For one hour every evening, the team went into their private pocket dimension to discuss amongst themselves, or to not talk at all. They were getting burned out, and they needed time away from everyone else. No one was allowed to disturb them during this period, but they were also discouraged from doing so at any time outside of the official negotiation sessions. The delegates had their own special pocket dimension. There was relatively low security in there, which could open up the possibility for one delegate to cause harm to another. Yet they were expected to police themselves, and Pryce Tree was able to protect them using his power. If he had to, he could simply transport someone away from someone else. To Team Matic’s knowledge, this had not yet come up, and probably never would. Killing one delegate, for instance, would have little effect on the outcome of this meeting, or the rest of the Sixth Key’s situation. As Ellie explained, there were so many other people in the biverse. Anyone trying to derail these discussions was going to have to work a hell of a lot harder than that.
Ramses, since he wasn’t a part of the talks in any capacity, was able to work at his own pace, so he wasn’t nearly as tired as everyone else. “Why are they calling it The Rock Talks again,” he asked, “because those words rhyme?”
Marie was chewing on her cuticles. “It’s really complicated, but the whole thing is based around rocks. They draw rocks to decide who talks first during a given segment, or for a one-on-debate. They select rocks to indicate their votes unambiguously. They even play games using stone dice when the dilemma appears to be about even on either side, and no one is too passionate about one or the other. They’re not trying to figure out who is entitled to have control over a border river, or something, like historical negotiations have been about. There are millions of little decisions that will add up to a bigger picture, and decide the fate of quintillions of people, and it’s exhausting.”
“The Rock,” Ramses repeated. “How long do you have left?” Their patterns were obviously temporarily disabled, though they didn’t know if that was a side effect of the temporal bubble they were in, or if Pryce Tree had to do something special to keep them on the same path as everyone else at the meeting.
“Are you getting bored?” Leona asked him.
“No, I love this extra time that I have. I’m getting so much done. I’m working on some things that I think you’re gonna be real excited about. I’m worried about you lot.”
“I’m worried about him.” Mateo jerked his chin behind most of the group, where the internal security feed was showing on the wall monitors. Pontus’ second from the Nucleus was pacing in front of the entrance to their pocket. He obviously wanted to ring their doorbell, but he knew that it was against the rules, so he was just stressed out, and probably waiting for the hour to be over.
Leona tapped on her armband. “Berko, what’s up?”
Nothing. It can wait. I know you need your alone time,” he replied.
“Just spit it out,” Leona urged.
There’s just a..minor...problem with the walking tree, and the princess, and...where they live.
She stood up. “I’m coming out.” She headed for the door. “Matty, you’re with me.”
They exited the pocket, and walked down to the other side of Delegation Hall, to the visitor’s pocket. About half the group of delegates were in a crowd in the common area, arguing with each other unintelligibly. A couple of others were sitting in the lounge chairs, not participating, but everyone else was presumably in their respective living quarters. “Silence, please!” Mateo shouted. “Your Captain is here.”
They all fell quiet, and parted the Red Sea to show that they were standing in front of Pryce Tree and Princess Honeypea’s door. It was fully open, but there was a second door after that, which was still closed. “What’s the issue?” Leona asked.
“Those weird people,” the delegate from the true main sequence began. “I caught a glimpse of where they live. It’s bigger on the inside, like the T.A.R.D.I.S.”
“This whole thing is bigger on the inside,” Leona explained. “That’s what a pocket dimension is. You wouldn’t have a bed if it didn’t exist.”
“Right,” the delegate agreed, “but theirs is much, much, bigger. It’s outside, and I could see the horizon.”
Leona nodded. “I’m not surprised that they go home to the Garden Dimension every night. I still don’t understand what the  problem is.”
The delegate sighed shortly. “We’re living in these cramped quarters. I understand that it’s another dimension, or whatever, but we thought there was some kind of limitation. We each only get one room, and we accepted that, but there’s an entire island on the other side of that door. Or maybe even bigger, I don’t know. We just didn’t know that nested dimensions were possible.”
“Of course they’re possible,” Leona confirmed. “But that’s not what this is. That door apparently leads them back home. It’s more like...a stargate.”
“Well, why can’t we live in there?” one of the other delegates questioned, but Leona couldn’t remember who she represented. “There’s so much more space.”
“The Garden Dimension is protected ground,” Mateo answered in Leona’s stead. “We’re not even allowed there.”
“It’s a nature preserve,” Leona added. “Highly protected, highly regulated, highly secure. It’s there to shield plantlife from interference. It’s not a place where people live, except for the few who work there.”
“Well...” the true main sequence delegate stammered, “can’t you make a larger pocket for us anyway? It’s getting tough. The smell. Can’t you smell the smell?”
Leona breathed in, a reflex triggered by his words. There was indeed a stench here, which she had subconsciously commanded her nose to block. Most of these people did not enjoy the same control over their senses, so she could appreciate their struggle. “I’ll ask Ramses to fix the ventilation system. I’m sure that it won’t be that hard, he just wasn’t aware. I am not here to help with the diplomatic discussions. These are the things that I need to know about, so do not hesitate to alert me.” They seemed responsive to this, but she wasn’t done yet. “However, if I catch you trying to break into anyone else’s space, or doing anything else of that nature, there will be consequences. I don’t care what the tree says, I’ll throw you in hock, and I can’t promise that they’ll find a replacement representative, which means your culture may end up being locked out of the benefits of this budding union. Do you all understand me?”
Some of them shrunk away, but they all nodded.
Leona nodded back. “Now get back to your rooms. It’s gonna be a hard day tomorrow, just like it always is. I know I need sleep.”
“That was so sexy,” Mateo whispered as they were walking across the realspace portion of the ship.
“I’m not in the mood, Mateo.”
“No, of course not. neither.” It had actually been a long time for the two of them. This was stressful for everyone.

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