Saturday, April 22, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: February 17, 2399

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Of all the least stable regions in the world, one particular small so-called nation located in Central Africa may be the worst. On the borders of Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Chad lies a terrorist-controlled area that was once split between those four original nations. The historical events that led to this secession are too complicated to spell out in a few paragraphs, but the bottom line is that the terrorists operating there were building out their offensive strategies, and worsening a war that they would ultimately lose, but not before thousands—if not millions—died in the ensuing conflict. The only way the four countries saw to end the bloodshed was to simply let them take formal control over the land and lakes. Their only significant condition was that the terrorists allow anyone living within the new borders to migrate out if they wished.
People fled in all directions, and were accepted as refugees or preexisting citizens in the four countries. They were also accepted in a few farther countries, like Libya, and even Egypt. Hostilities from Fadi have not ceased since the borders were redrawn, but the violence has subsided, and fewer civilians are caught in the crossfire than before. One issue is that only these four countries acknowledge Fadi as an independent state, stifling its voice and influence on the international stage. They also experience extreme sanctions, which limits the resources that they can import. For this reason, they will take payment from anyone for literally any reason. As long as the price is right, they’re willing to agree to any deal. They’ll commit acts of violence against their own people if the result is the persistence of the state as a whole. One resource they have to export are fossil fuels, which some aircraft can use to fly. They don’t require filing flight plans, so many criminals use it as a layover. Fadi will usually ask them to transport goods back and forth for them as part of the deal.
It was hard for SD6 to find the plane that left Dublin Island after it made a stop in the completely inaccessible Fadi, but they think they’ve done it. A plane matching its characteristics was tracked leaving the area, and landing in North Sudan, right on the border with Egypt. Once there, Kivi began to feel a draw even farther northward, suggesting that they are finally on a hot trail to Leona. They still don’t know who took her, why, or what condition she’s in, but she has to be alive, or Kivi wouldn’t be feeling anything. As they drew nearer to Cairo, Kivi realized where they must be headed, and it makes a lot of sense. She and the team were in Egypt once after the whole Birket issue, but were unable to stay and investigate one of the most important locations in the world when it comes to temporal anomalies. From what she recalls, they were going to go back at some point to check out the pyramid, but there were political issues with that, so they placed it on the backburner. Then when they became teleportation-capable, they had sort of forgotten about it. There were other things to worry about by that point.
“There’s someone here,” she says, holding up the portable temporal error detector.”
“Here where?” Alserda asks. She looks around at the crowd enjoying their tours.
“Inside,” Kivi says, nodding towards the pyramid.
“You can’t go inside,” their tactician, Hartwin points out.
“No,” Kivi says. “You’re not allowed to go inside. That doesn’t mean you can’t. Team Matic doesn’t do well with rules.”
“Can you...” They’re in mixed company, so he just mouths the word teleport.
“Then when we use the word you, we’re not just talking in generalizations, are we? SD6 has no official jurisdiction on these lands.”
“Perhaps I can help?” Most tack teams have seven members, but this one often travels with a rotating list of eight member consultants. Their guide while in country is a man by the name of Nakia Mounir.
“Do you have that kind of pull?” Alserda asks him.
“Unofficially, no,” Nakia begins, “but my sister’s husband’s brother runs a tourism company for the Nile. I’m sure he has ties to the Great Pyramid.”
“That’s a lot of degrees of separation,” Alserda says.
“Let me try. It can’t hurt to make some calls. Worst that happens, they say no.”
“Go ahead and make your calls.” Alserda turns to admire the craftsmanship. “I’ve always wanted to see inside anyway,” she says, mostly to herself, but loud enough for others to hear.
A few hours later, they have permission to enter the pyramid, but not the entire group. Only two people will be allowed in, and one of them has to be of Egyptian citizenship, so obviously that’s Nakia. “Can you do this?” Alserda asks.
“Me?” Kivi questions. “You or Klein should go in. I don’t have any diplomatic training. Besides, you said you wanted to.”
“You know her best,” the leader reasons. “She needs to see a face that she trusts, not just one she recognizes.”
Kivi holds up the error detector. “Alserda, this thing detects...” She trails off, looking over at Nakia, who has not been read into everything. “Ugh. Time travelers. That’s all it can see. It doesn’t show me how many other people are in there. It doesn’t even tell me that it’s Leona. It could be anybody.”
“They’re only letting in one of us,” Alserda states the obvious. “You’ve had enough training. Stay on radio, and if it goes bad, we’ll breach. I would rather deal with the socio-political fallout of an unsanctioned tactical action than go in there without you. It’s your job to be the Spotter, so enter the pyramid and spot.”
Kivi sighs. “Well, if it’s an order...”
“It definitely is. This is not a voluntary mission.”
Kivi and Nakia make their preparations, then step through the entrance a half hour later. The guard lets them in without seeing any credentials, confident that no one who hasn’t been authorized would so much as attempt it. They’re not wearing full tactical gear, but they’re not dressed in their civies anymore either.
“I wanted to ask you a question,” Nakia whispers as they’re walking through the darkened maze.
“What I said about time travelers?”
“Are we hunting them?”
“No, this is a rescue mission. We didn’t lie about that, we just didn’t tell you everything.”
“Why is that good? You don’t even know who we’re here for.”
“I would always rather be on a rescue mission than a hunt,” Nakia explains.
“Fair enough.” Kivi checks her detector again. They can’t just go straight for the ping. They have to find their way there, and the corridors will probably lead them in the wrong direction many times. They were not provided with the floor plans.
“Please tell me that time travel does not explain how the pyramids were built.”
She waits a beat to answer. “The way I understand it, time travel doesn’t explain how they were built, but it does have something to do with why. It’s a special place, which helps facilitate space travel. I don’t know; they didn’t tell me that much about it.”
“How did you meet them?”
Kivi decides to answer honestly. “I’m one of them. Technically, I’ve never actually done any traveling personally, but my alternates have.”
“So you’re a traveler in other timelines.”
“Other realities, but that’s not why I have alternates. I just do. It’s called spontaneous reemergence. Different versions of me have been, and will be, born in different moments in time. We have different origins and different lives.”
“How did that happen to you?”
She chuckles a little. “That’s how this works. Things just happen. There’s not always a reason to it. Why were you born with dark hair?”
“That’s the cause, not the reason.”
“I understand,” he says in a way that suggests he doesn’t. But that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it? No one truly understands it. It just is. That’s her whole point.
“We’re closer,” she says. “I think she’s right on the other side of this wall. If we just go that way, I’m sure we’ll find a way in.”
“That won’t be necessary.”
Kivi turns around to find Ramses having appeared out of nowhere wearing shorts and a t-shirt. “We’ve been trying to call you.”
“I didn’t wanna be called,” Ramses replies.
“That’s not really your right to decide that.”
“It is.”
“Leona is missing.”
“She was taken. We don’t know by who, but she was brought here.”
“I’m the only one here,” Ramses insists.
Kivi isn’t sure that she believes him. She looks down at her detector. The dot that was once on the other side of the wall is now on the other side of them. “Oh my God. We’re been on your trail?”
“I guess. I’m sorry. I thought I successfully shielded myself, but I guess it was only good enough for satellite distances. The portable detector is able to get through.”
“That’s not how I found where you were. It’s just how I pinpointed your exact location. We used detective work to track you from Ireland to Fadi to here, and then my psychic ability to find you in the Cairo area.”
“Uhh...I was never in Ireland, nor Fadi. I teleported straight here after Mateo died. I’ve been here the whole time.”
“So it was Leona,” Kivi figures, “but then our intel went bad, and we followed the wrong third flight.”
“I apologize for pulling you off mission for nothing, but now you know I’m here. I’m never leaving, so if your ability ever takes you this direction again, you’ll know that it’s wrong, so just ignore it, and try again.”
“You’re here?” Nakia asks.
“There’s a modern apartment hidden in here. It took me some time to find the secret entrance, but it’s just as Leona described how it looked in the main sequence.”
Kivi shakes her head. “No, you’re still a part of this. I don’t care if you’re having a midlife crisis, or whatever. I need you to teleport to Leona using your superempathy.”
“I don’t have either of those things,” Ramses counters. “I ran out of juice.”
“Then I’ll get you some more temporal energy,” she argues. “Let’s go!”
“I really want to keep myself out of it now. I’ll just make things worse.”
“I don’t care what you—oh, hold on.” She answers her phone. “Hello?”
I have Leona on the line for you,” Winona says.
“What? You found her?”
Kivi?” Leona asks. “Stand down, I’m fine.

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