Tuesday, May 30, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: March 27, 2399

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Mateo is closest to the window. He looks out of it to see whether it explains why no one else is here. Based on what they’ve learned from Heath and Imani, even on the off hours, the auditorium is never empty. Whether the speakers are rehearsing, or worshipers are praying, this place is never as dead as it is now. It’s also falling apart, as is everything outside, which can really mean only one thing. “We’re in the Facsimile. Did we just skip over the entirety of Saturday?”
“Why did you bring us here?” Leona demands to know from Dalton.
“I just reset the timeline,” Dalton begins to explain. “Anyone who was still in the Third Rail has forgotten everything that’s happened in the last few days. Well, they didn’t forget. To them, it never happened. I brought everyone here so you will remember. This is not a gift. I did this so that you will know for the rest of your few remaining days that you did this to yourself. When the Reconvergence comes, you will have no hope of escaping. Reality will collapse, and you’ll just blink out of existence.”
“We’re supposed to be friends,” Leona reminds him. “Why are you doing this?”
“We’ve  not been friends for a long time,” Dalton argues. “As for why I’m doing this, I’m not. I told you, you brought this on yourselves. All you had to do was build your little satellites, and save your little refugees, and leave the rest to me.”
“So you’re just going to kill us,” Leona states.
“Alternate versions of most of you will remain. For the rest, you’re collateral damage. I’m sorry it had to come to this.”
“We know how to get out,” Mateo contends. “You’re not dooming us.”
“I am, though. The door in the un-Salmon Civic Center has been closed. It’s technically still there, but I filled it up with cement. You could try to chisel through, I guess.” Dalton looks at his watch. “I don’t like your chances.”
“There’s still time,” Leona pleads. “Don’t do this. When we get out of here another way, and we will, because we always do, you’re going to regret it.”
“Whatever. I’m not too worried about it.” Dalton reaches out towards Alyssa. “Come dahling,” he says in a British accent.
“I’m not going with you,” Alyssa spits back. She takes Mateo’s hand, but she’s not doing it just because they love each other. She’s slipping him a note.
“This is non-negotiable. You’re gonna give them false hope that all they have to do is teleport to the Constant, or something.” He takes her by the hand, and whisks them both away.
“I don’t understand,” Senator Morton says. “What is this place?”
Leona explains to all those not already in the know where they are. If they don’t find the exit by midnight, they will be stuck here for another week, and that’s assuming they can make it by the time it hits midnight again. That may be what Dalton wants. His primary objective seems to be getting people out of his way. As far as they know, though, he doesn’t kill people. This seems very unlike him, and unless he’s just another version of Constance, there is another way out of here.
“There is,” Mateo jumps in after Leona’s done. He holds up Alyssa’s note. Scribbled quickly in god-awful handwriting, it says BACK DOOR. “There’s another exit.”
“Great.” Aldona throws up her hands. “There’s a back door somewhere, but we have no clue where.”
“Aldona,” Leona begins, “if you know something about the future that will help us, now is the time to ignore my rules of time travel, and just tell us.”
“I would tell you if I did,” Aldona replies. “I was not aware that this would happen. If Dalton has the power to reset the timeline, maybe nothing I knew of the future has done us any good. I don’t know. I just don’t know anymore.” She’s distraught.
“We don’t have time to search the whole planet,” Leona complains, “even if he let us keep our trusty teleporter. I have access to an aircraft. Ramses specifically designed it to be duplicated into this dimension, and be ready to go if and when we ever needed it, but where are we going to take it?”
“I know where we need to go.” Tarboda looks at Mateo. “We’ve been there.”
Mateo looks puzzled. Then he starts to think. “The antipodes,” he realizes.
“Which antipodes?” Leona asks.
“What is an antipode?” Labhrás asks.
“Kansas and Madagascar,” Tarboda answers Leona. “I don’t know for sure that it’s right, but there’s a weird dimensional thing out there, and if I were to install a back door, the first place I would think is the opposite of where I put the front door.”
“That makes some sense,” Winona encourages.
“It’s our only hope. Can everyone walk? Our aircraft will fly, not none of the other vehicles in this dimension are operable, and the Lofts are about an hour away.”
The group starts the hike northward from the Plaza to the Crown Center area. They don’t slow down, and they don’t make any stops. Their destination being very intentionally the farthest point on Earth from where they are now, it’s pretty much the longest flight they could possibly have to take. The jet is small, and barely big enough to fit all of them. Not everyone has a seat, but they’re not exactly worried about federal regulations at the moment. There is not enough time to make more than one trip. Ramses engineered it to be fuel efficient, and that meant sacrificing speed. It takes them the entire rest of the day, placing them within minutes of their midnight deadline. They don’t even have time to find a landing spot in all this dense vegetation. There aren’t enough parachutes for everyone either, so they have to triple up, which is also extremely dangerous, but they don’t jump from very high. Leona and Tarboda go last after gaining some altitude, and making sure the jet flies off into the distance.
“Leona takes out her phone. “There’s no GPS here, but the terrain is the same as it is in the Third Rail, so I can get us there.”
I can get us there,” Tarboda insists. “They were walking before, but now they’re running. With only a few minutes to spare, they find the half-hut. From the looks of it, it’s the other half. This is obviously not where Cheyenne and her key friends are living, though, because they were able to access the portal on a day other than Salmonday.
“Okay,” Leona says. “I’ll go first, and if I don’t come out in one minute, assume this is a one-way trip, and just follow me. If it’s killed me, well...you would have died in a matter of weeks anyway, right? All right, see you on the other side!” She runs through. Thirty seconds later, she peeks her head back through. “It’s two-way. Come on in.”
Everyone files in, with Mateo as the caboose. They’re in a world of white, like the Construct from The Matrix. A vague blur appears before them like a TV with a bad signal, then solidifies into Cheyenne. “You’re back.”
“Yeah, sorry,” Mateo begins. “We wouldn’t have come, except—”
“I was just gonna say that you’re right on schedule.” She points. “Walk that way.”

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