Sunday, July 7, 2024

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: June 3, 2455

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When Mateo and Leona finally had the time to meet back up in their bunker room together, they both said, “I need to leave,” at the same time. They were surprised by the other’s declaration, and certain that it couldn’t have been for the same reason. They were right. They spent all evening talking about their respective missions until the end of their day when they jumped forward to the future. They then went to sleep to get their full five hours before waking up to have breakfast with their friends, Carlin included. He was vital to both operations, so he needed to know what was going on too.
The tension in the air was undeniable. Even though they didn’t know that they were coming together for a meeting, everyone seemed to feel that that was part of the reason they were here, not just to eat. Leona sat up straight to speak. “Olimpia saved our lives a few days ago when she used the Sangster Canopy to break through the dimensional membrane that separated Salmonverse from Fort Underhill. This was especially impressive since that membrane was particularly thick. Hogarth Pudeyonavic designed her artificial universe this way on purpose, in order to protect it from intruders. The way I understand it, that’s what makes it a fort. Someone evidently figured out how to replicate that technology, and-or extend it to our home universe as well, which was why we couldn’t just turn our ship around to escape.
“We must do the same, for this universe. What Angela and I learned from the Ochivar we interrogated was that they are not going to stop coming. This is a playground for them. They’re testing their infiltration methods, but it could worsen. They might later test weapons of mass destruction, or ultimately their sterilization pathogen. Time in this brane does not match up with time in theirs, which means that they could come here from any moment in their history. We believe that these invaders are coming from relatively early on in that history. The ones that the locals have detained as prisoners of war would therefore not be armed with the same knowledge that the future Ochivari we and our friends have encountered had. They’re young, and dumb, and people like that are reckless, and unpredictable. Shutting them out completely may be this world’s only hope. So I have to go back to where we came from, approach the Angry Fifth Divisioner who keeps trying to kill us, and get him to lead me to whatever actually intelligent person or group that he’s working with. Carlin, I would ask you to...relapse me there.”
“Me as well,” Marie offered.
“I was about to volunteer,” Angela argued with her sister.
“Like she said,” Marie began, “she’ll be confronting a dangerous man, who is probably working with a more dangerous group of people. She needs a fighter.”
“I am a fighter,” Leona reminded them. “I can go alone.”
“Oh, yeah?” Marie asked. “What happens when you need to defuse a bomb while keeping an angry horde of crazed zombies at bay? Can you do both at the same time?”
Leona gave her a look, and held there for a moment. “I’ll give you a million dollars if I find myself in a situation where there’s a bomb, and a bunch of zombies.”
“How will you pay?” Marie questioned. “You’ll be dead. I’m going with you. We don’t separate; not completely, not anymore. After what happened to me in the Third Rail, and Olimpia in her kasma, I won’t allow it. Carlin, you remember that. I’m telling you to never relapse only one of us somewhere. If she tries, you come to me immediately afterwards, and send me exactly where she went. Leona, you can’t prevent that.”
“She’s right,” Carlin agreed. “I don’t like people being alone either. You could order me to stand down, and I’ll just ignore that.”
Leona sighed. “Okay. I’m sorry, Angela, but she’s right. She’s better suited for this mission. You’re both smart and capable, but she was a spy, and we may need to spy.”
Angela folded her arms. “She wasn’t a spy, she was an asset. Totally different.”
“You can come with me,” Mateo suggested.
“Where are you going?” Ramses asked.
“I have my own mission,” Mateo began. “Speaking of the Third Rail, I once disappeared from that mine in Russia. Carlin can show me what happened; how I ended up with a solid block of timonite in my stomach. I don’t think that I just skipped over time. I think I went somewhere, and spent time there. It’s been long enough. I have to recover those memories. I am getting the feeling that it is of vital importance. I don’t know why, but now is the time.”
Angela took Mateo by the hand. “I would be honored to accompany you.”
“You’ll likely run into your past self,” Ramses pointed out.
“That’s probably why you lost your memories in the first place,” Olimpia conjectured. “You did it on purpose to prevent a paradox.”
“That’s the reigning theory,” Mateo concurred.
Ramses looked over at Olimpia. “I suppose the C-team will stay here to man the fort, huh?”
Leona scoffed. “Ramses, we’re on the front lines. Don’t downplay that. These people need you. Now that the breach detector is done, you need to start working on the breach predictor.”
“Good point.” He bobbled his head. “Some might even say that we’re on the most important mission out of the three groups.”
“Carlin?” Mateo started. “You’ve not actually agreed to relapse us yet.”
“You’re right, I’ve not,” he replied. “That’s probably because I wouldn’t know how to get you back. I’m not a boomerang thrower.”
“We discussed that last year,” Leona said. “I can always go to the nearest Nexus, and plead my case to Venus Opsocor. Mateo has a psychic bond with a woman named Amber Fossward, who can link him up to a bulk traveler. We’ll find a way back.”
“Those sound like very unreliable and vague strategies,” Carlin determined.
“I will admit to that,” Leona replied. “We always find a way, though. I’ve decided to stop worrying about it. Remember, someone wants us here. They set in place a series of events that led us to this planet on a day that, according to the local calendar, matches our pattern back home. It couldn’t be a coincidence; the odds are too low. If we had never left, it would be June 3, 2455.”
“That’s even more vague,” Carlin pressed. “You’re putting your faith in a higher power, like some dumb Santien trying to cleanse the population.”
“I hardly think it’s that,” Leona insisted, “but it’s not your concern. You only need to help us get out of here. Please?”
For some reason, Carlin looked to Olimpia for guidance. She nodded her head slightly. “Okay. I’ll send the four of you to your two missions. But I take no responsibility for what happens after that.”
“We would never blame you for it,” Mateo assured him. “You should know us better than that.”
“You knew me when I was a child, and children don’t have very good memories.” That was a decent point. They had missed so many years of his life. He was practically a stranger to them now. But he was a McIver, and that was good enough for them to trust him with this. “Are you going to tell the Primus where you’re going?”
“We won’t get into specifics,” Leona answered. “She doesn’t need to know, in case it doesn’t work out. We’ll just tell her that we’re going off to find help.”
“Okay.” Carlin stood up. “Let me know when you’re ready.”
“Thank you,” Leona said. “Oli, could we talk?”
“Sure,” Olimpia replied.
“Leona?” Ramses asked. “Could we talk?”
She laughed. “Sure. Just give us a minute.”
Leona transported Olimpia to the same place in the Gobi desert where she and Angela discussed the ramifications of the Ochivar’s claim that some of the exo-universe infiltrators were human, and would be more difficult to detect. If neither Leona nor Angela ever managed to come back, someone else needed to carry the burden of that information. She was free to dispense it as she felt was prudent, but Leona gave her some advice in this matter. It was a very delicate and sociopolitically charged situation. Once they were done with that, she met with Ramses in his lab on the Vellani Ambassador.
He presented her with a PRU, which stood for Portable Resource Unit. It was a special backpack that could be affixed to, or detached from, their integrated multipurpose suit. There were four components: oxygen, water, food, and other supplies. One side was flexible, capable of conforming to the body of the user as they moved around, while the other sides were more rigid and durable. They were not wearing them when they were spirited away to the Garden Dimension, but stored on the Ambassador. He had been lobbying for them to keep them on at all times, as well as the helmet, which could magnetically attach to the outside for a real turtle look.
“Okay,” she relented. “I will take them with us. But you’re the one who designed our bodies to be able to survive in the vacuum of outer space.”
He shook his head. “I didn’t design them to help you survive the equilibrium of interuniversal space apparently, though. And anyway, that’s not the reason I brought you here, or why I’m so excited.” He was smiling widely. “These are special. I modified them myself with miniature dimensional generators. They now come with three months’ worth of water and the liquefied dayfruit that comes through your feeding tube.” He flicked the food tube that was presently collapsed into Leona’s IMS collar.
“Dayfruit smoothie, my favorite,” Leona said sarcastically. This variety of the versatile food took a lot of the taste out of the daily nutritionally-complete food, and drinking it from the tube made it impossible to switch to other flavors, since it logistically had to come from one storage container.
“It beats dyin’,” he reasoned. “The oxygen tank is a lot larger too, which places less strain on the carbon scrubber, though that has also been upgraded, as have the surface ramscoop nodes.” Theoretically, a regular person could survive for weeks in outer space with nothing more than their suits, and a resource unit. There were minute amounts of hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon atoms in the interstellar medium, which the PRU’s ramscoop could suck up, and process for power, air, and even food. To Leona’s knowledge, no one had ever tested this, though, because that would be insane.
“Yeah, you’re right,” she acknowledged. “Did you modify the other three that we need for the two away missions?”
“Of course. I modified them all.” He reached over his shoulder, and tapped twice on his own PRU. “I need you to convince the other three to wear them now. I’ll take care of Olimpia. I’m sure we’ll all need them at some point, and I would feel better if you had them at any rate.”
Leona nodded. “Marie and I will operate at PREPCON three, I promise.” This preparedness condition required the user to be wearing the suit in its near entirety, as well as the PRU, with the helmet attached to its dock. The higher levels didn’t demand quite this much readiness, and for the lower levels, the helmet was on the user’s head. A member of the crew of a ship who was on duty was expected to be ready to be shot out of an airlock, or a hull breach, at all times, but that wasn’t necessary while they were simply walking around a planet with an atmosphere. This was the space travel equivalent to the DEFCON system.
“Thank you.”
Leona ordered the rest of the members of the away teams to report to Ramses for a short training session regarding the new PRUs. Meanwhile, she met with Naraschone and Kineret about what they were doing. She told them that they needed to investigate ways to stop the Ochivari from being able to come here at all, but that she couldn’t explain more than that. They planned on relapsing after everyone was finished packing up, but Ramses’ bulk portal detector went off. Mateo teleported Carlin right to the location in a rare opportunity for him to get to the scene within moments of an alert. The teleportation should have made it a quick detour, but Carlin was required to report to an after-action debrief. Fortunately, Mateo was able to jump them to the Defense Bunker too. He was asked to participate anyway, but it only took them about an hour, after which they were able to return to the Executive Bunker.
“Will it hurt?” Olimpia asked.
“You’re not going anywhere,” Carlin said to her. He tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. There was something going on between them, but it seemed rather nascent.
“Yeah, but I don’t want it to hurt my friends.”
He smiled. “People report that it’s jarring, but not painful.”
“We’ll be all right,” Marie promised.
“Have you thought about exactly where you wanna go?” Carlin asked the group.
Mateo handed him a piece of paper. “These are the coordinates to the Russian mine. I don’t know for sure that I traveled through time on that day, but it’s likely.”
“I don’t need this. You’re the navigator, as my teachers would call it. I’m just the engine. Concentrate on your destination. Mrs. Matic?”
“I have a few options in my head. I too am unsure, but I’m hoping that crossing into a bulk aperture sufficiently qualifies as a time travel event. We have to locate that angry Fifth Divisioner who trapped us in the kasma. He must be somewhere close. If not, there are other, less than ideal options where we’ll have to go the long way around.”
“Okay. Say your final goodbyes,” Carlin advised.
They hugged and kissed each other, then separated into their pairs to either make their way back to their own pasts, or stay exactly where they were. Ramses and Olimpia watched, fearing the worst for their loved ones, but hopeful that everything was going to work out. “Okay,” Olimpia said after they were gone. “It may all be up to us now.”

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