Sunday, February 3, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: October 10, 2217

Mateo woke up in a bed with a terrible headache. He reached for his head, where he found some kind of cap on it that he figured he better leave alone. Leona was reading next to him. “You have to stop doing that to me,” she said.
“What happened?” he asked.
She kind of acted like she was still half-reading her book, and wasn’t too concerned with his wellbeing. “For starters, it didn’t work. I guess a grave chamber is not the same thing as a real grave in the ground. We shouldn’t be surprised. It’s only a meter deep, too wide, and not long enough. You didn’t manage to travel to Dardius, but you did hit your head somethin’ fierce on the side of the chamber. You’ve been out cold since last year.”
“Christ, it hurts.”
Leona reached for an IV bag hanging in the corner, and examined it. “Ahh, you ran out of painkillers. On the bright side, the pain is probably what woke up again.”
“So, it’s 2217?”
“I better get up, then. We need a real grave this time.”
She flipped the page. “Way ahead of you. Ramses dug it while we were gone. I’m not convinced you should do it, though.”
“Was anyone else able to do it?”
“No, but they got hurt in the trying; not quite as bad as you, but...”
“I’m pretty sure I’m the only one what can summon Halifax with an open grave,” Mateo said, “other than Serkan Demir, of course.”
“You’re in no condition to be falling backfirst into a hole.”
“I have to try, and I have to do it now. We don’t know when the Maramon will find the human Ansutahan. They haven’t yet, right?”
“Serif is coordinating with the leadership on the other side of the bridge right now. No, I don’t think the Maramon have found them yet.”
Mateo slid the needle out of his arm, and started climbing out of bed. “Take me to the grave.”
She sighed, and dropped her book on the mattress. “Very well. It’s in the Blacklight District.”
She led him outside, or to what passed for the outside under a giant city-sized dome that protected the human inhabitants from the harsh conditions of Jungula’s surface. People were watching them curiously, but someone had already provided the Jungulans with sufficient explanation.
Ramses was waiting for them with a big smile on his face. “I didn’t know when you would come to, but I knew you would come to here once you did.”
“Are you going to Dardius with us?” Mateo asked him.
“No, he’s not,” Leona answered quickly.
“She’s kidding,” Ramses said. “Yes, I am.”
“We need you to stay here, and keep watch over the ship.”
“That’s bullshit. Put me in, coach. I have to see this.”
Mateo gave Leona this look. “We’ve no right to keep him away from this. He’s been proving himself trustworthy since before I existed.”
Leona sighed again. “Fine. I don’t want you out of our sight, though. When it’s time to come back, it’s time to come back.”
“Absolutely,” Ramses agreed.
They huddled together, and fell back into the grave. The light above them changed, revealing that their plan had worked. They climbed out of the hole, and looked around. They were in a cemetery on the edge of a city, but The Gravedigger was nowhere to be found. “Hmm, he must be busy,” Mateo guessed. “He had enough time to transport us, but no time to talk.”
“As long as he takes us back, with everything we need, I’m okay with that,” Leona noted. “Come on, we have to get our bearings. Sharice indicated the beacon would be in something called the Intake Building.”
As it turned out, they were in Sutvindr, which Mateo recalled being considered the Kansas of Dardius. It was the central region of the world, where everything began. A friendly passerby gave them directions to the Intake Building, and didn’t ask why they didn’t already know it. The three of them moved on until they came upon it, and then they walked in, and up to the reception desk.
“Welcome to Intake, how may I help you?”
“Yes, umm...” Leona hesitated. “What is this place?”
“Everyone who comes to this planet does so through this facility.”
“Everyone, even you. Unless...” The receptionist peered at them. Then she looked over to the far wall, where they found a gigantic painting of Mateo, Leona, and a few of their closest friends. “Oh my God, you’re back.” She didn’t know how she was supposed to handle this situation.
“Please don’t make a fuss,” Mateo asked of her. “We’re just looking for the Muster Beacon.”
She was taken aback by this. “Well, that’s what we use to summon massive numbers of refugees from Earth. The last time we used it was for the arcology hanging tower in Panama.”
“Ooooohhh,” Leona said. “This is where it went.” Years ago, when Leona was deep in the fight against Ulinthra in the corrupted reality, the former tried to kill thousands of people by dropping their building, which was hanging from a platform, to the ground. A portal had opened up, and taken the building away, but Leona never found out where. Now it was all coming together.”
“Does that mean you’re done with it, and we can take it?” Ramses asked her.
“I’m sorry, who are you?” The receptionist questioned.
“A new series regular,” he replied.
She ignored him, and went back to the celebrities. “Mister Matic, it’s true you still own this planet, but in your absence, a governing body is elected to maintain order.” She frowned, worried about their reactions.
He wasn’t offended in the least. “Naturally.”
“I’m not saying you can’t have the Muster Beacon, but I also can’t say that you can. This may be a decision for the Senior Administrator. I don’t personally have a way to contact her, but I can get you close.”
“That would be lovely, thanks.”
The receptionist dialed the phone, and spoke into her headset. “Hello, this is Reception. I have two executive guests, plus an undesignated associate, here to see Transportation Administrator Moss.” She waited for the person on the other end to talk. “Uhh, the tippy top.—Yes, those two.—Just tell her the owners are here, thank you!” She hung up, probably in the middle of the other person’s sentence. She looked back up at them and smiled. “Please have a seat.”
They waited for about ten minutes before a woman that looked familiar walked down the steps, and greeted them. “Mister and Missus Matic, thank you for coming in. Who else do I have the pleasure of meeting?”
He shook her hand. “Captain Ramses Abdulrashid. I don’t own any planets, but I’m happy to be here.”
“Great, great. How can I help you?”
“We would like to...borrow your Muster Beacon.”
“For what?”
“Refugees, just like how you use it. Eleven billion humans, trapped in another universe, with no time to evacuate them all once.”
“I should say so,” Administrator Moss agreed. She consulted her tablet. “If they’re in another universe, that explains why we haven’t been notified of their need for help. Unfortunately, I’m not sure I can give up the beacon. We will be needing it for a pressing matter. Dozens of helpless passengers are requiring extraction from two related ships. Let’s see, The...Vosa, and The Sharice.”
Mateo, Leona, and Ramses looked amongst each other. “You’re saving them?”
“The Vosa, I understand,” Leano said.
“But the Sharice?” Ramses questioned emphatically. “Those people are horrendous. I would know, I used to be one of them. I was on that ship, and they don’t deserve to be saved!”
Moss looked back at her tablet. “Captain Abdulrashid? You were a mechanic.”
“Engineer,” he corrected. “I’ve transcended my old life.”
“It’s already happened, right?” Mateo asked. “I mean those ships blew up years ago?”
“So, it doesn’t matter when you extract them, because it’s time travel anyway.”
Moss nodded her head. “Yes, but we do have a schedule. It may seem arbitrary to you, but the assimilation of new people into our society is a very delicate process. Our experts have spent months dedicated to research and predictive modeling. They must arrive within the next seven weeks to safely acclimate to our way of life.”
“The Muster Lighter,” Leona said simply.
“I’m sorry?” Moss turned the tablet’s screen off so she could pay Leona attention.
“When I was on the Vosa, trying to get back to Earth, I spoke with Holly Blue about all the objects that I had accumulated. She said the Muster Lighter is capable of summoning hundreds of people at once. You don’t need the beacon for this mission. The lighter could do it.”
“We don’t have the Muster Lighter,” Moss reminded her.
“Something tells me you have ways of getting the things you need from Earth. If the beacon reach out and find its predecessor, maybe you still have access to the Nexus we once had on Tribulation Island.”
“Yes, it’s still there. We use it for recon missions.”
“Find a chooser with potential permission to go to The Constant. If the Muster Lighter isn’t still there, The Concierge will know what happened to it. Tell her I sent ya.”
Administrator Moss cleared her throat, and thought over this proposal. “I’m inclined to accept your exchange, but only because you’re the owner. I need assurances that you will bring it back as soon as you’re done with it, in pristine condition. Just because we may not need it for the next arrivals, doesn’t mean we’ll never need it again.”
“Of course, you have our word.”
“Huntsville Waterdome,” Mateo suddenly blurted out.
Administrator Moss had mixed feelings about hearing this, but she knew exactly what he meant by that.
“What?” Leona said.
“This was her. This was the woman who flew us all the way from Ontario to San Diego when we were trying to save my mother and Samsonite. She saved their lives, with little hesitation, even though she had no idea who we were.”
The Administrator was quiet and reticent.
“Oh, he’s right,” Leona realized. “I remember you. That was in another reality.”
“Yes, Dardius is aware of changes to the timeline. We save people from every reality, so even when one collapses, the people we took from there will still get to live out their lives in whatever reality remains.”
“You’re a good person, Administrator Moss,” Leona reminded her. “Like he said, you helped us when you had no reason to. You’ll do the right thing now.”
She considered it once more, then finally gave in. “Okay. You can take the beacon, but we do still need it back.”
“I promise.”
“I’m staying here,” Ramses said.
“You said you would come back when it was time,” Leona said, only a bit upset.
“I know, and I meant it, but if the Freemarketeers are coming here, I just...I don’t trust that they’ll accept their new reality.” He faced Admin Moss. “I don’t know what kind of economy and government you have on this world, but they’re fiercely capitalistic. I’m not sure you’re fully prepared to change their minds. My mind has already been changed, so I know what it’s going to take.”
“It’s fine with me,” Moss said. “I can help you get your citizenship request forms started.”
“Very well,” Leona relented. I do want to get back before 2218,” she said to Mateo.
“Me too,” he said. “But there’s no reason we can’t have some dinner at Lorenzo’s Grill.”
“It’s midmorning,” Moss said.
“Then we’ll have quiche at Reaver’s.”

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