Sunday, July 14, 2024

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: June 4, 2456

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What they didn’t know before was that Kineret had a young daughter. She had been living in a remote bunker in the south with a nanny, but her mother’s relocation request finally went through. Kineret and Primus Mihajlović were busy with work off-site today, so Olimpia had agreed to babysit. Shay was sitting on the floor right now, playing with the model-sized Vellani Ambassador. Ramses was actually inside of it, in the middle of testing the habitability of the dimensional miniaturization technology that he had reverse-engineered from the box in the Goldilocks Corridor. The air was breathable, and the inertial dampeners were reportedly working okay. Propulsion was another thing, but given that it was literally a million times smaller than it would be in full form, that probably wasn’t necessary anyway.
Olimpia was sitting on an undersized chair in the playroom, elbow on her knee, and chin in her palm, watching the little girl play. But there was another reason for this game. “How you doin’ in there, bud?”
Communications were tricky too. It was garbled and weak, but they could still hear each other, and that was better than nothing. “Little nausea, but the dampeners are compensating. They don’t work perfectly great for any ship while it’s in gravity, so I’m not surprised. Nothing has fallen off my desk yet. Is she still swirling it around?
“Jzhhoooooo! Jzhhoom!” Shay was exploring space with the toy ship.
“Sure is,” Olimpia replied.
Great,” he said.
“Listen, I’m hoping that you can make a replica of the VA for her to keep. She seems to like it quite a bit.”
That will not be difficult,” he answered.
There were three doors in this room. One led to the hallway, one to the bathroom, and the last to a closet. All of these opened at exactly the same time. A different man was on each side, and they were all very confused. Olimpia instinctively grabbed little Shay, and pulled her to the only wall that didn’t have any doors attached to it. She dropped the Ambassador as a result.
What just happened?” Ramses questioned.
“Get out here immediately,” she demanded. Olimpia didn’t know everyone who lived in this bunker, so maybe someone might open the entrance, but not the bathroom door, and not the closet. Those were both empty. She had checked them, because she was a good babysitter who knew that Shay was in particular danger of a political attack.
Ramses appeared, and spun around when Olimpia pointed. “Who the hell are you people?”
The one who somehow ended up in the bathroom tightened the towel around his waist, held his hands up nonconfrontationally, and took a step forward.
“Don’t move,” Ramses insisted.
“Okay.” He breathed deeply. “I believe that you and I have met. My name is Elder Caverness, and I am currently training under the Transit Army. Is this a test?”
Ramses held up a finger. “Stay there.” He swung around so the other two men could see the finger. “All of you.” He then reached into his pocket to retrieve his handheld device. He was looking through the little database that the team had curated over the years, detailing everyone they could remember meeting, even before becoming time travelers. “Elder Caverness. Right, yes. I saw you get on the train, I was there.”
“You’re Mateo’s friend.”
Ramses was still suspicious. He held the device up to his ear after dialing a number. “Yes, this is Ramses Abdulrashid?” He waited for a response. “Yeah, one of the visiting alien people. Listen, did a giant spacetrain appear anywhere? Today, I mean?” Short pause. “Okay, thank you.” He hung up. “The Transit didn’t show up today. How are you here?”
“I don’t know.” Elder looked over his own shoulder. “I was in a bathroom, but not this bathroom.”
“I know you as well,” said the man standing in the closet doorway. “You were both there the first time this happened to me. It was just a minute ago, but we were somewhere else.”
Ramses eyed him. “Of course. You were in the Nexus. “You’re a long way from home too, unless this is your universe. Was the world ending when you left?”
“Then maybe not. What about you? I don’t know you.”
The third man, the one by the main door, was also holding his hands up. “Hey, man, I’m just a gardener. I work at a nursery. I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about, with the Nexus, and the universes, and all that.”
“This sounds like Westfall,” Olimpia pointed out.
“Yeah, you called it that last time,” closet guy said.
“Is that a band, errr...?” the guy they had never met at all before asked. Maybe he too was from Salmonverse, but just didn’t know about time travel.
“Okay. Elder Caverness, and...Bay...”
“Baylor Alexanderson,” he reminded him.
“Yeah. Baylor Alexanderson. And you are?”
“Late for work.”
“What is your name, sir?” Ramses was not in the mood to joke at the moment.
“I’m Dutch Haines.”
“Dutch Haines,” Ramses began, “you’re from another world. I don’t know why you’re here, or who brought you, but you can’t go home unless whoever it was decides to send you. I’m sorry. We have zero control over it.”
Dutch looked down the hallway that he decidedly had not come from. He looked back at Ramses and shrugged. “Okay, cool.”
Ramses looked over at Olimpia. “I don’t think these guys mean us any harm, but your job is to protect the girl, so go somewhere else to do it. This room has been compromised. Take the ship, please.”
Olimpia knelt down to retrieve the Ambassador. She handed it back to Shay, then lifted her up against her hip, and teleported away.
“Whoa, shit!” Dutch exclaimed. Baylor was surprised too, but Elder wasn’t.
“Yeah. We can do that.” Ramses tried to think about what to do next. Protecting the girls was as far as he could figure out, but without Leona to make decisions, the decisions fell upon his shoulders. He wasn’t sure that he was up to the task. Ochivari were bad guys, this much was clear. He knew to fight them off if they ever showed up, but humans? How would he deal with this? What would the Captain do? He tilted his head to think, acutely aware that the men were still watching him, awaiting the answer to that question. What would she do? She would test them. He pointed. “Stand in a line, facing me.”
The three of them looked amongst each other, and agreed in their respective heads that Ramses was indeed the man in charge. Even if he wasn’t qualified, they didn’t know that. So they got in the line, and stood there patiently.
Ramses cleared his throat, and stared at them, focusing on their eyes. He wasn’t trained to study microexpressions, but maybe his intuition would show him the light. “Ochivari,” he stated plainly.
Elder furrowed his brow, disgusted by the name of their enemy. This was not surprising as the last time they saw him, he was going off to learn how to fight them. Plus, he even said that he was supposed to be training with the Transit Army. The other two didn’t react at all. He may as well have spouted a nonsense word to them. Either that, or they were sociopaths who he couldn’t read. Olimpia had confided in him that the Ochivari were using human allies to infiltrate this world so their plans could be carried out undetected. It felt wrong that this should be the case with these other two men. The way they showed up here, it probably was Westfall. The Ochivari had a weird and violent way to travel the bulkverse. It was noticeable; conspicuous. They couldn’t just quietly appear in a closet. They could, however, walk down a hallway, having arrived in this world at some other point. Elder and Baylor were probably okay dudes, especially the former, who Mateo would vouch for as a friend. Dutch, on the other hand, could be the enemy. This was why Leona didn’t want to tell anyone about the human infiltrators, because they did not know how to handle them yet. The only possible way probably involved getting one of them to confess, and using them as a baseline to suss out any others. Then again, the odds that they would show up at the same time were low if they were here for the same reason.
“All right, we’re gonna go on a little trip,” Ramses decided. He offered his hand to Dutch, who took it more out of curiosity, not knowing that he was about to be teleported to the wrong side of a set of metal bars. He came back for Baylor and Elder, relocating them to their own cells, right next to each other. They didn’t complain or question it. It was the only logical course of action, even considering what Ramses knew of them. He told the jail guards to treat them with respect, but to not let them out without authorization directly from the Primus. Then he left to relay the information to her.
“Why would you be worried about them if they’re human?” Naraschone questioned.
“Some humans are bad,” Ramses answered. “You know that as much as I. The reason you have jail cells in the bunker is because you sometimes have to lock people up. We’ve not been able to verify this information, but according to the Ochivar that Leona and Angela interviewed, some humans are bad enough to be working with them.”
Primus lifted her chin, but kept her eyes contacted with his. “We always knew that that was possible, especially after learning that they were from another universe. If there are an infinite number of them out there, it stands to reason that a handful of people would find themselves in accordance with the aliens. The statistics make it essentially impossible for there not to be.”
“Your team interrogated the Ochivar years ago,” Kineret pointed out. “Why are you only telling us now?”
“They were worried what we would do with this information,” Naraschone explained for Ramses. “Every single person in the world has now become an enemy.”
“No, there are people I’ve known my entire life,” Kineret reasoned. “If we can trace someone’s background, we can rule them out.”
Ramses shook his head, reluctant to argue. “No, you can’t. Bulk travel is time travel. Infiltrators may have shown up years before the war started, or centuries, or longer. Half the people on this planet may be the descendants of those who originated on some other version of Earth. You would never know. There’s no way to tell.”
“Surely there is,” Naraschone determined. “There’s something different about you, isn’t there? Given enough data, could you not find a way to detect—forgive me—foreigners? You should be able to use yourself as a baseline.” Hm. She came up with the same word that he had for this problem.
“We possess genetic data from nearly everyone on the planet,” Kineret continued. “We would have to requisition it, but that shouldn’t be too hard, given the fact that we’re in wartime. Compare it to your own DNA, look for differences.”
“My DNA is different,” Ramses explained. “I’m posthuman.”
“Well, what about our new prisoners?” Naraschone asked.
Ramses nodded, not because he agreed that that was the answer, but because it was technically a possibility. “I can take samples today, and I can start to run some tests, but I am no biologist.”
“Aren’t you the one who grew the bodies that you and your team now inhabit?”
“With the aid of centuries of prior research, and an AI. To do this, I would need to devise new technology. I’m not saying that I can’t do it; just not today. It would take me a year, and by then, your prisoners will no longer be locked up.”
“He’s right,” Kineret admitted. “We will not be able to hold them all year.”
“We won’t have to,” Naraschone decided. “If I’m to understand this correctly, only the Ochivari have the means to transport themselves to other universes, which is why we’ve never been able to allow them to roam free. We can keep these three people without actually locking them up. There is no legal time limit for how long you’re allowed to accommodate guests.”
“They can travel the bulk,” Ramses began to explain, “they just can’t control it. There is no guarantee that they will still be here next year when Olimpia and I return.”
“We’ll store the samples, and cross any bridge we must when we come to it,” Naraschone decided. Kineret was right, we’ll be able to request access to the global DNA database, but we would probably not be able to get it done by the end of today anyway. Let’s plan on starting this plan in one year’s time.”
There was a slight pause in the conversation. “Now that that’s been discussed, could you please transport me to my daughter?” Kineret had to make her job her number one priority, but she also had a responsibility to her family, and it was time that she personally made sure that Shay was okay.
Ramses held out his hand, but Naraschone reached for it instead. “First, transport me to the jail in the Executive Bunker. Then take Kineret to her daughter, and stay with them for support.”
“Very well, sir,” Ramses replied.
A year later, Ramses returned, and immediately began to work on the problem of detecting bulk travelers. It took the whole day for him to start getting the idea that this was not a DNA problem, but something else. He needed to be looking at the subatomic level. That could take even longer, so there was no time to waste.

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