Sunday, July 17, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 14, 2398

Heath Walton awakens in the darkness with no memory of recent events. The last thing he remembers is preparing to blow a hole at the top of the empty elevator shaft with Mateo. The storm just started, and they were running out to take advantage of the noise it would create. It must not have gone well. Sure, there’s a hole in the ground, but there’s also a huge lump on his head that hurts like hell, and Mateo is nowhere to be found. “Mateo! Mateo!” he calls out, but nothing. He begins to meander around the area with his flashlight, looking for clues, and continuing to call out his friend’s name. There’s an obvious place where he would be, but he doesn’t want to think about it. That is not an option. There is no way they went through all this—taking the easy way out—and Mateo is just dead, lying at the bottom of the elevator shaft.
As he keeps going with his search for answers, memories begin to return to his mind, first as contextless fragments, which gradually transform into coherent recollections. They hid behind the trees as the fuse shortened. No, Heath was hiding alone. Mateo had to light the fuse himself, and then teleport away at the very last second. But he did make it out, Heath remembers that quite clearly now. They...they high fived to their success, and went out to see it for themselves. But it was too early. Yeah, that was the problem. The hole wasn’t finished forming yet, so when they peeked over the edge, their weight caused it to widen more. They could not have fallen through, though, because Heath woke up on the surface. Think. What happened?
He sighs, and continues, but comes up short. This isn’t helping. He has to stop and concentrate on the last moment he experienced before falling down and getting bonked in the head. Let’s see, his watch is still fine. It’s been seven hours since dinner. That’s a long time to be unconscious. Maybe Mateo woke up first, and wandered off? Heath goes back to the spot where he woke up and shines his light on the ground. There. There’s the blood stain on the rock. He feels the back of his head. His hand comes back red. Yeah, that tracks. There’s only one blood stain, though. Remember. The ground fell out from under them, and they fell backwards. But... But Mateo fell in the opposite direction. There’s no doubt about it now. He still can’t recall the exact moment, but it is the only reasonable explanation. In fact, he has the feeling that the last thing Mateo did was save Heath’s life.
He points his light into the hole, knowing full well there’s no way he’s going to see the bottom of the five kilometer high elevator shaft. He should be able to see all the stuff they constructed near the entrance, though. The rope, the ladder, the little platform. One of those things might have saved Mateo’s life, but none of them have been left standing. The explosion took them all out, which isn’t all that surprising. The concrete ceiling was almost half a meter thick. If it didn’t break apart all the way, it would have taken out any obstacle in its path on the way down. And then Mateo would have fallen right upon that rubble a minute later.
There’s still some hope, though. Like the rest of the original team, Mateo has the ability to teleport, as long as he stays within some certain radius of this facility. He could have transported himself out before crashing to the bottom. That doesn’t explain why he never returned to make sure that Heath was okay, but there could be any explanation for that. Perhaps Mateo accidentally jumped to the other side of the world. Or maybe he finally figured out how to get back to his home reality. He can’t assume anything yet. This can all be proven wrong if Heath can find a body. The only thing he can do now is climb down there using the emergency ladder, and hope to find nothing but dust, dirt, concrete, and metal.
He’s about to rush down there, but realizes that there is absolutely no way someone survives that fall. If Mateo’s down there, it’s just his body. There’s no hurry to go down and see that, and he has to be smart about this. The sun is going to rise shortly, and anyone could just show up and see this weird sight. It’s probably going to be someone who lives around here, and knows that there’s not meant to be a gigantic hole by the side of the road. It’s okay, they planned for this. They ripped some bushes out of the ground from farther away, and set them off to the side. All he has to do is place them in between the roads and the hole. He doesn’t even have to plant them for real for now. He just has to make it look like they belong there. When they have more time, they’ll complete the transplanting, and cover this whole thing up better than any government agency could.
Once it looks good, he ties a rope to a tree, repels down to the emergency ladder, which is fortunately intact, but still doesn’t go all the way up to the very top. As tired as he is by now, he doesn’t stop. The journey takes him around an hour. He sets up the battery-powered work lamp, and starts to sift through the wreckage. He spends several minutes on it, and doesn’t find a damn thing, which is a good sign. He hasn’t gotten anywhere near the real bottom, but he shouldn’t have to go that deep. Memory issues notwithstanding, Mateo had to have been standing on top of the ground when the shaft caved in. Sure, some debris may have fallen down after him, but not this much. Heath should be able to find him here somewhere, or of him. That is, he would find him if he were here. But he’s not, it’s all but impossible. He keeps pushing things around for another half hour anyway, but still doesn’t find anything; not even blood. Mateo is alive, wherever he is. Then he has a thought. Maybe the question isn’t so much where, but when. The other team members would know better. It’s time to call them and explain. This is going to be a terrible conversation, but it has to happen. He just needs to take a rest for a second first.

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