Monday, September 12, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: July 10, 2398

They’re not sure why there was a time limit to literally get through the door to get processed out of Birket, but it turned out fine. They all made it through, and walked across the desert to the Israeli border. It was there that they waited for almost the entire day before transport to Cairo came for them. People obviously weren’t in any hurry to help them. They weren’t on the road for long before darkness fell, and their driver had to stop and check into a motel for the night. He didn’t secure any rooms for them, of course, and clearly didn’t care, so they were forced to sleep under the stars on the beach in a coastal town called Taba, Egypt. Fortunately, it was pretty nice weather, and they were all glad to be free at least. So far, there was no indication of how exactly they were going to get back to the states. Their devices were confiscated from them, and never returned—wiped clean upon any attempt at unauthorized access—and no one in Taba was willing to let them use a phone.
They woke up this morning, all reporting having slept well enough, and made their way back to the motel. Neither the driver nor his bus could be found. Amir asked the front desk about it in Arabic, and learned that he checked out early, and took off. That’s very weird. It’s his job to get them to a special final processing center in Cairo, not just to help them make it all the way home. They’re expected to exit the region according to policy, which entails either meeting their sponsor, or an approved representative, in country. Now it’s going to be much more difficult to do that, and might even get them sent back to Birket. Maybe that’s what someone has wanted all along, and is driving these obstacles. Still, no one lends them a phone.
“How long will it take us to walk?” Kivi asks.
Amir laughs. “At least a week. That’s if we walk for several hours each day, which we won’t be able to do, especially not without any water.”
“Why won’t anyone help us? Do they not have any taksis, or anything around here?” Leona asks.
“I tried asking,” Amir begins, “but just because we speak the same language, doesn’t mean they like me. They know what we are, and while Egyptians don’t have any particular distaste for colonists—or freed colonists, like ourselves—there is some local annoyance that they’re being used as a waypoint for us. Their government struck a deal to make it happen after Israel and Jordan both refused, but regular citizens don’t like it. It’s not the only deal that Egypt has regarding refugees. It’s a huge political issue.”
“Is that why the driver abandoned us?” Marie asks him.
“Probably, yes, but it doesn’t make much sense. He could still get in trouble for it, because now it’s worse. The only thing Egyptians hate more than processing refugees is wayward refugees who are stuck here, and can’t be processed out.”
“What about Saudi Arabia?” Kivi presses. “How do they feel about us?”
Amir looks to the south. “You’re not getting across the Red Sea, and you’re not getting through the two borders between you and Saudi Arabia on land.”
“It was just a thought,” Kivi says, shrugging.
“Keeves, maybe you could find someone to help us?” Leona asks her.
“I’ve already asked,” Amir protests.
“Keeve?” Leona urges, not wanting to explain what makes her method different.
“I can try,” Kivi replies, uncertain of her own skills. She steps away from the group, as before, trying to seek an ally. Her stride is wider than normal, reminiscent of a wedding party gracefully drifting down the aisle. She periodically alters direction, hoping to catch a scent, for lack of a better term.
“What is she doing?” Amir asks Heath in a whisper.
“Honestly, I don’t really know,” Heath answers him, probably not lying.
It feels like she walks all over town, encountering each one of the 10,000 people who live here. She doesn’t get the sense that any of them would tell them the time, let alone help get them out of the country. Amir talks to a few more people himself, and receives the same cold welcome. They’re starting to think that they really should get themselves out of the area as fast as possible. If they tried to walk to the next town over, it might only take them two days. Of course, water and food is still a problem. If only Birket gave them small samples of Energy water as parting gifts, they would be able to survive just a little bit longer. As it stands, they may die here like a flower in drought.
They don’t end up walking anywhere. They just go back to the beach, and sit to watch the waves come in. Marie suggests that they fish for food, which she surely learned how to do at the master level in the afterlife simulation. Amir informs them that he saw a sign back there, forbidding all shore fishing. Hours later, a fleet of helicopters roar towards them from the horizon. “Those are American,” Amir exclaims.
“We better go,” Leona determines.
Once more, they head for downtown, where they find a bunch of soldiers spread out, trying to take control of the populace. People are scared, but cooperating, and it doesn’t look like things are going to escalate to true violence. A woman who looks in charge spots them coming towards the crowd. She orders a group of her soldiers to escort us over. “Agent Matic?” she asks when they meet her halfway.
“That’s me,” Leona responds reluctantly. She doesn’t want anyone to know that she’s a secret agent, and only partially because she isn’t really.
“Miller Dennard. Why didn’t you call?” she demands to know.
 “We don’t have phones,” Leona explains. “No one would let us borrow theirs.”
She’s fuming, but not at them. She’s staring daggers at all the locals. “Follow me. We’re taking you straight to Frankfurt, where you’ll board your connection, like you were always supposed to.”
Leona nods to the others that they should accept the ride. “What prompted you to come for us?” she asks the Miller.
The Miller puts on her sunglasses. “Orders from high.”
“How high?”
Miller Dennard turns away to head for the helicopters herself. “All the way up!”
Leona sighs, recognizing that while this looks life a gift, it only makes things more comfortable. Every person who knows that they’re special makes their lives that much more complicated. Still, they have to get back home if they have any chance of getting back to their real home, so she runs over, and gets in the aircraft too.
Miller Dennard places her headset on as their launching, and turns towards one of the other helicopters. “Put an A-bomb in that water!” she orders.
Horrified, they watch as an object slides out of the other helicopter, and drops into the Gulf of Aqaba. Stillness until the water shudders and ripples all at once, as if a powerful electrical charge had been sent through it. They fly away.

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