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Sunday, February 10, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: October 11, 2218

While the three of them were brunching at a restaurant named in honor of Horace Reaver, a group of Dardieti workers were disassembling and packing the Muster Beacon on the roof of the Intake Building. After Ramses left to start his new life on this planet, Mateo and Leona met up with the movers at the cemetery. It was clear upon seeing it that there was no way to get that whole thing into an open grave, even in pieces. They realized they would have to get back to Bungula some other way. So they called Transportation Administrator Moss to discuss their options.
“Can we use the Nexus instead?” Leona asked.
“I can send you anywhere you want on Earth,” Moss began to explain. “The Great Pyramid of Giza acts as a tethering point to focus interstellar, or intergalactic, travel. I don’t have to ask you whether something like that exists on Bungula, because if it did, I would know it. The Nexus control system shows every possible destination.”
“How many destinations are there?” Mateo asked her.
“Four, including this place.”
Her assistant whispered something in her ear.
“Did we confirm that?” she asked him out loud.
He whispered again.
“Correction, five destinations,” she said to the group. “Dardius, Earth, Durus, a secret location I’m not going to tell you about, and a new one that we don’t understand.”
“It’s new?” Leona questioned, fascinated by the technology.
“Yeah, it popped up in our systems last week, all on its own. The last time we had a new one was Durus, which we were expecting, because we were in communication with them. We’re not sure where this other one came from.”
“Well, where is it?”
The assistant handed Moss a tablet, who opened the necessary program. “It doesn’t appear to be too far from Earth, but I’m not overly familiar with your star systems.” She turned the tablet over to Leona, who took a few minutes to study the data.
“Holy shit.”
“What is it?” Mateo asked her.
Leona presented the screen to all of them, but they needed more information. “This is Gatewood. Someone built a new Nexus exactly where we need it.”
“Who would do that?”
Leona consulted the tablet again. “Simply designated FVG, courtesy of KM and IC.” She started pondering that.
“Why does everyone have to speak in acronyms?” Mateo questioned. It was the one of the most frustrating things he remembered experiencing before he became a time traveler. He called it the Abbreviation Epidemic. He broke out of his funk when he noticed Leona was frowning. “What is it?”
“These aren’t complete.”
Moss kind of rolled her eyes, and took the tablet back. “We are aware of this. I would have ordered my team to finish the calculations quickly if I knew you would be in need of it.”
“Can someone tell me what’s happening?” Mateo requested.
“These aren’t real Nexa,” Leona said. “In the movies, the machines can connect to each other automatically. They’re like cell phones. Whenever you call your friend, they don’t have to be in the exact same spot every time, right? Well, everything in the universe is in constant motion. A real Nexus could just send you without any trouble, but these are, more or less, replicas. I know for a fact that this is going to lead us to Gatewood, but not today, I imagine.”
Moss shook her head. “No. My team alloted eleven days for the project. They could have done it faster, but we weren’t in much of a hurry, because we had to prepare a recon team anyway.”
“So, we won’t be able to go until next year?” Mateo figured.
“That’s right,” Leona confirmed.
“Well, this hastens the process anyway, so that’s no big loss.”
“It is,” Leona argued. “We can get Gatewood instantly, but we still need the Ocasio-Cortez to get there.”
“Oh, that’s true.”
“We’ll have to separate,” Leona determined. “One of us has to wait for the Nexus to be ready, while the other returns to Bungula now, and gets our ship on its way.”
Mateo put on a blank face. “I can’t do either of those things.”
“I can help with either, or both,” Moss said. “I have Muster Beacon experts, I have engineers, and I have pilots.”
Leona spent some time in her head, weighing all the options. Mateo wouldn’t have been surprised if he learned she was predicting the outcome of 14,000,605 timelines. Finally, she said, “you go to Gatewood. I’ll pilot the AOC, and take the long way ‘round.”
“Are you sure about this?” Mateo asked. He didn’t doubt her, and he certainly didn’t think she couldn’t handle it. He was more concerned with the fact that he wasn’t fit for either task.
“Yeah, I think this is our best option. She stepped closer to the open grave. “As long as Halifax comes through.” She looked to Moss. “I can do this on my own. Please send him with the best Muster Beacon engineers you have next year.”
“Will do,” Moss agreed.
“Wait!” Mateo stopped her just as her heels were teasing the edge of the grave. “I love you.”
“Were I you,” she said, “I would too.” She fell back, and never came out.

Leona woke up at the bottom of the grave with a splitting headache. A cloud of dirt and dust was floating around her. She was having trouble focusing, but she had the wherewithal to check her watch, which told her it was now October 11, 2218. She must have been knocked out from the fall, and then just reappeared in the timeline a year later, which stirred up all this dirt. Mateo usually took the brunt of the fall when they traveled through graves. She had never done it on her own before, and just felt grateful that it had worked at all. The Gravedigger didn’t do this for just anyone.
She started to climb out, hoping someone would reach down and help her, but there was no one around. The dome looked a lot different than it had before, though. The colonists had expanded greatly since, theoretically as more ships arrived, full of passengers ready to settle on a new world. Things didn’t look completely great, however. She could see the Ocasio-Cortez in the middle distance, just where it was before, but having been toppled to its side. Something had gone terribly wrong. She kept her head on a swivel, and carefully made her way towards it, recognizing and appreciating that she didn’t know what she could find once inside.
Leona pulled herself up through the airlock, and walked along the wall, down to the main area of the ship. Whatever it was that did this, it had done it a while ago. Things weren’t as bad as she would have thought, fortunately. The systems were shut down, but it didn’t look like the vessel had suffered too much structural damage. “Hello?” she called out, nervous about what might still be around to respond. “Anyone there?”
A figure appeared from the steps that lead to the engineering deck, holding a flashlight in Leona’s face. “Oh, it’s you.” The figure turned the flashlight around to illuminate her own, decidedly friendly, face.
“You’ve finally come back,” Sharice said as she drew nearer, and turned the flashlight into a standing lantern. “Did Brooke not see you? She was meant to check the grave every year.”
“There was no one out there,” Leona answered.
“We’ve been having power issues, for our own bodies. She must be charging.”
“What happened here?”
“An uprising,” Sharice said. “Skirmishes have begun in Ansutah, and the human refugees became desperate. They figured out how to break through the door, and started pouring out.”
“How many got through before you managed to seal it?” Leona looked over to grave chamber four, which was fully closed again, and reinforced heavily.
“A few dozen,” Sharice replied. “They decided it was impractical for everyone to have to climb up to the airlock, so once a few of them got out, they turned the AOC over on its side.” They did a pretty good job, actually. The ship is not irreparable, but it will take some time.”
“Where are they now?”
“The Bungulan colonists rounded them all up, and placed them under house arrest. Robots built an entire facility to accommodate them. I don’t know what’s going to happen to them, but if we ever make it off the ground, they won’t be allowed to head for Gatewood with us.”
Leona nodded. “I’m sorry this happened to you.”
“Please tell me you have better news. Did you get the Muster Beacon? Where’s your husband?”
Leona looked at her watch again, but only demonstratively, because she already knew what day it was. “With any luck, he should be arriving at Gatewood with the beacon. We discovered a way to travel there instantaneously. I came back to get the refugees, but the beacon should be set up and waiting for them in nine years.”
“Better make that ten,” Sharice said. “We can’t leave until next year.”
Leona nodded in understanding. “Yeah, okay. I just want to get this thing up there as fast as possible, even if that means you leave during my interim year. The Dardieti need the beacon back ASAP.”
“We’ll need about four months.” Brooke Prieto was climbing across the ladder from the upper deck. “The Bungulans want us to leave, but paradoxically, they’ve been resistant to help us actually do that. They’re not happy with the Ansutahan refugees, and are still suspicious of our lie about how we got here, let alone how all those people supposedly fit in this tiny little ship.”
“That’s fine,” Leona said. “Again, leave as soon as you’re ready. I can always jump back into a grave, take a detour to Dardius, and meet you at Gatewood.”
“Understood.” Brooke nodded respectfully.
Meanwhile, back on Dardius, Mateo was waking to a world at war. He had ultimately traveled back to Tribulation Island with Ramses. Come the next few weeks, Ramses was meant to greet the Freemarketeers and Vespiarians in a location far removed from society. But something had apparently gone terribly wrong. Reminiscent of his jump to 2085, Mateo found himself in the middle of a firefight. And like that war, he had no idea why people were shooting at each other. Ramses ran up to him from a barricade, and pulled him to safety.
“What the hell is going on!” Mateo cried.
“I’ll explain in a second!” Ramses replied. “Fall back!” he shouted to everyone on his side. “Activate your recoil!” He held Mateo close to his chest, and punched a button on his belt.
They teleported back to what appeared to be Sutvindr, as did all of the other soldiers.
Ramses first took roll call, and gave instructions to his charges, to report to some command center. “Are you okay?” he asked Mateo. “Are you hurt?”
“I’m fine. Who are you fighting?”
“Apparently there’s a reason the Muster Beacon and the Muster Lighter are kept far away from each other. Even when one is supposedly dormant, it will activate the other, and they’ll start feeding off each other’s energy. We still don’t understand it, because we’ve not been able to study it, but this pairing had horrible consequences for us. Instead of simply summoning all the people from the ships before they were about to blow up, they summoned multiple versions of every one of them. Roughly every day, a new batch of Freemarketeers arrives from alternate realities, and are assimilated into their...clone army. We’re not sure what they’re doing with the Vespiarians, but some of the soldiers are masked, so we think they’re being brainwashed into fighting on the wrong side.”
“You can’t turn off the beacon and lighter?” Mateo suggested.
Ramses shook his head. “They have control over Tribulation Island, Lorania, and several other key locations. We can’t get anywhere near the objects. We risked everything just to get you back from behind enemy lines. You’re not going to Gatewood anytime soon.”
Mateo looked around the city streets. Sutvindr was probably the safest spot on the planet right now, but the people moving about still seemed fearful and nervous. “What can I do to help?”
“You can trigger Amendment One,” Ramses said cryptically.
“What is Amendment One?”
“Basically, you have to declare yourself King of Dardius.”

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