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Sunday, December 3, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 3, 2424

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image Duet AI software
Everyone teleported directly to Leona and Angela immediately, including Maqsud. Standing before them was a man. He looked menacing and creepy. He held himself up with a foundation of unearned confidence, but to the keen eye, it was clear that he was just an immature little baby with a superiority complex more massive than the gas giant that threatened to destroy them all any minute now. “Greetings travelers.” His voice was annoying too.
An angry Mateo stepped forward, and glanced up at the energy beam that was still in the process of destabilizing the integrity of the planet they were orbiting. “What did you do?”
“Something that I whole-heartedly regret,” this Bronach Oaksent fellow claimed. “I was much more militaristic in my youth. Years ago, I ordered the firing of an energy weapon. It was meant to be a warning shot for the entire Corridor to see.”
“Warning shots don’t usually kill people,” Leona argued.
“When you are responsible for as many people as I am, a few thousand individuals seems barely above zero. Again, I was young, and brash. I wish I hadn’t done it, but I can’t stop it now.”
Mateo looked over at his wife, whose facial expression and emotions indicated that no, there wasn’t likely anything he could do. It was like trying to save a giant ball of wax from a flamethrower. You would need something unfathomably large to place between the beam and the planet. It looked like it was too late either way. “That beam is traveling at the speed of light, but in order to have been at the source while it was shot, and also here today, you would have had to travel faster than light, which I think we all know is totally a thing. So why did it take you so long? You could have warned them.”
Bronach tried to speak up.
Mateo interrupted him, “I’ll tell you why, because you never had a change of heart. You came here to witness the undoing of this world, which you don’t regret in the slightest. Maybe this was always going to be a fun joke to you, or maybe you recognized me and my team, and now you’re worried that there actually is something we can do to save these people. It’s not an unreasonable concern. Beating the odds is our resting state. So instead of saying what you think we want to hear, why don’t you try being honest for once?”
Bronach did his best impression of Ted Danson from the first season of The Good Place; the part where he gets caught in the lie, and lets out a maniacal laugh. “I’m not even here right now.” He reached over to an invisible dial or something, and deliberately displayed a projection in perfection. He was a hologram. He was a long-range hologram. “You’re right, I don’t care. I was telling the truth about the rounding error thing. Killing this number of people means nothing to me. I’ve killed more before breakfast, and didn’t give it a second thought. It is my right. I created them.”
“Where did these people come from?” Leona questioned. “Where did you come from? We’re thousands of light years from the stellar neighborhood—” She looked over at the team. “—oh yeah, by the way, we’re about sixteen thousand light years off course.”
“That much I was able to determine based on data from Project Topdown,” Ramses added.
“Well...?” Mateo urged Bronach. “You heard the lady. How did you get here so fast, and how are there so many others?”
He started listing off the ingredients, “a little bit of Extremus, a dose of time travel, a dash of artificial gestation, and then tons and tons of sex.”
“I see,” Mateo began to muse, “so your empire has been here the entire time. Yet you’ve kept to yourself. Why?”
“We have no interest in dealing with the stellar neighborhood,” Bronach answered pompously. “The vonearthans are beneath us.”
“No,” Mateo said. “That’s not it. “You’re afraid of them.”
“We predate them,” Bronach insisted.
“You don’t predate everyone,” Leona corrected. “You don’t predate other time travelers, like anyone in The Constant. You know that it doesn’t matter how high you grow your numbers, a single one of us could put an end to it all by killing you before you even step out of the time vortex however long ago that happened in this timeline.”
Bronach had been found out, so he was growing angry. “That may be, but first you would have to find out when and where that was. Oh, my mistake. You would first have to get off this planet alive. Unfortunately for you, I am quite aware of Mr. Al-Amin’s limitations. I’ve had to learn everything there is to know about him in order to prevent him from discovering the Corridor.”
“The Goldilocks Corridor?” Mateo asked. “Yes, I’ve heard of you too. I just didn’t realize it at the time.”
“It doesn’t matter. He hasn’t had enough time to recharge.” Bronach consulted his watch. “The planet will explode by the end of the week, if not the day. He’ll die when that happens, as will everyone else on this moon. Your little team may not be here to experience it, but you’ll come back in a year to nothing but dust and debris. Good luck surviving that.”
“You didn’t learn everything about me,” Maqsud argued. “You’re right, my power wanes every time I use it, but it doesn’t replenish with time. It’s just that it takes time. I have to absorb celestial energy, which is generally low-key, and rather slow. Thanks to you, that’s not the case here. I have all the energy I’ll need.”
“Well, good for you,” Bronach retorted. “You can save a few people. The rest will weigh on your conscience until you finally do die.”
“Get me back to the town,” Maqsud requested. “We’ll see how many I save.”
Ramses lifted a remote control, and aimed it at Bronach. With a press of a button, the hologram flickered a few more times, and then disappeared entirely. Mateo took Maqsud by the hand, and transported him back to the town bunker, right into the situation room. The rest of the team followed.
“Did you decide that there may be something you can do?” the Mayor asked, a glimmer of hope in her eyes.
“Get everyone into that lake,” Maqsud demanded of her. “Put them in boats, throw them directly into the water; I don’t care. Just get them all wet.”
“What do you mean, everyone—”
The Mayor cleared her throat, and snapped her fingers twice at the communications officer in the corner. He handed her the microphone while he was pressing buttons, and flipping switches. When he pointed at her, she began the announcement, “this is Mayor Merrick. We have an exit strategy. There is no guarantee that it will work, but it is our only shot. We stay down here, we’re all dead. Salvation may lie upon the surface of the lake. So get into the lake. Good swimmers, go a little deeper and tread. Poor swimmers stay closer to the bank. Spread out as much as you can. Remember when we evacuated the town, and stuffed ourselves into these tunnels? Do that again, just in reverse. Go! GO, GO, GO!”
A commotion began outside the doors.
“My child and his mother,” Maqsud urged.
Mayor Merrick pointed. “We found her while you were out. They’re waiting on the other side of that wall.”
“They’ve probably already gone now,” Mateo guessed. He grabbed Maqsud again, and teleported into the room next door.
They weren’t gone yet. A woman was standing in the open doorway, watching the river of people rushing by. They were so fast, they barely looked like people; more like a swirl of Van Gogh colors. She couldn’t find an opportunity to join them, especially not since Aristotle was but a child at this point; maybe six or seven. A guard was hovering over the boy, trying to find a way out for them too.
“Lilac,” Maqsud said.
They all three turned. “You are here. There were rumors. I knew that you had to be the one to come. You’re the only one who can get this far out.”
“How did you end up here,” Maqsud asked her, “in this time period? I’ve never even heard of this planet.”
“It’s a moon,” little Aristotle corrected.
“Yeah, it is,” Maqsud accepted softly.
“It’s a long story. I barely had a grasp of what year it even was.”
“Did that man do this to you? Oaksent?”
“He has no idea about us,” Lilac answered. “We’re nothing to him.”
“You’re everything to me,” Maqsud said. “We’ll catch up later.” He turned to Mateo. “There was a boat on the other side of the lake. Do you remember it?”
“I remember a few.”
“Get them to one of those boats.”
“Yeah.” Mateo reached out with both hands.
“It’s okay. This is Mateo Matic,” Maqsud explained to his family.
“Take his hand, honey,” Lilac said. They both did so, and then disappeared.
They watched from the distance as people started throwing themselves into the water. Some of them were in charge of ushering them around, trying to get everyone in as fast as possible with no bottlenecks. One woman was taking a group into the woods, presumably so they could get closer to where Mateo, Lilac, and Aristotle were. Someone else started to do the same thing going counterclockwise. There were a ton of people, but despite the fact that none of them had ever done this before—nor had any warning that it may be something that they would ever need to try—they were highly organized and methodical. They looked like ants, not because they were small from this far away, but because there were no gaps between them. Everyone was right behind someone else, and had someone behind them. When one faltered, another helped them back up, and those who were running behind them detoured around effortlessly until they could rejoin the stampede, so no one would be trampled.
Mateo tapped on his communicator. “Can someone go get Maqsud back? He probably can’t even get out of the room.”
“We’re all on the roof,” Angela replied.
Mateo looked up to see them waving at him from the lakeside restaurant. “How long is this going to take?”
“When this began, I would have said around six hours,” Ramses replied. “But seeing them, I need to amend my answer. Give me a second.” A few minutes later, he came back on. “Half that. It will only take three hours. They’re bookin’ it.”
“What about the immobile?” Mateo asked. “The elderly? The young?”
“The Mayor made another announcement,” Olimpia explained. “They’re all staying put. Once there’s more room to breathe, we’ll round the rest up, and transport them into the boats.”
“This message is for Maqsud. Is this going to work? Can you really take 11,000 people out of here?”
Marie echoed Mateo’s words exactly, like a language interpreter.
There were no speakers, but the communicators had strong enough built-in microphones for them to hear ambient sounds. These could be turned down to cancel out background noise, or up enough to hear people who didn’t have one of their own. “I can do it. It’s not going to be easy, but I wasn’t lying to that asshole about my power. That gas giant is going to give me the energy I need to cover the entire lake, if it’s the last thing it does...or I do.”
“Are you saying that this could kill you?”
Maqsud waited a beat. “Don’t worry about it.”
Lilac frowned at Mateo, and then down at her son.
“I don’t know him very well, and I don’t know you at all, but...any halfway decent father would do what your son’s is planning on doing. Trying to talk him out of it would be pointless.” Mateo sighed. “Do you know how to drive this thing?”
“Yes,” Lilac replied.
“I’ll untie the ropes. Let’s get closer to the center, so the people on foot can have the bank.” Mateo teleported off the boat, and started to free it from the dock. Just as he was finishing up, the ground started to shake. It was an earthquake, or whatever equivalent to this moon would be. They still didn’t know what it was called.
“I was afraid this would happen,” Leona said. “It’s begun.”
“Could Bronach have...?”
“The beam is out of his control,” Ramses told him. “He couldn’t have hastened the process from anywhere. We just got here too late.”
“No, we didn’t,” Mateo contended. “One of you needs to transport Maqsud over here. Tell him to get wet and get started. Everyone else, go back into the bunkers, and just grab people at random, two by two.”
And so they expedited the evacuation. The bunker shook each time a new tremor came for them, but the walls and ceiling were holding. Marie stayed outside to watch the progress from the roof with Mayor Merrick, who said that the bunker was designed to withstand quakes of this magnitude. It would have kept the townspeople safe if these quakes weren’t leading to the moon being ripped apart completely. The heat was the real problem, but Maqsud said that this would energize him even more. People were tearing off their clothes to stay cool. The last time Leona was with Maqsud, he made the ocean water warmer with his power, but he could evidently control the temperature. This time, he made it cooler, so the lake wouldn’t boil everyone alive.
Ramses occasionally took a break from tele-ferrying people to check in on the planet’s progress, either by jumping back to where they first showed up here, or up in orbit. “We can do this. Just don’t stop,” he said from the other side of the world. “Ask Maqsud how long it will take once he actually initiates the jump.”
Marie teleported to him to get the answer. He was hanging off the side of Lilac’s boat, looking like a diver who was too tired to climb out, but he was really just letting his power seep into the water. As he did so, it turned a shade of violet. No, that was the wrong color. It was lilac. “It will be a matter of seconds once I’m finished covering every square centimeter of this lake with my temporal energy. The problem is, it’s going slower than I thought it would. I’m gaining power from the celestials fast, and I’m releasing it fast, but I’m not metabolizing it very fast. There’s your bottleneck.”
“Temporal energy,” Ramses said. “I can help with that.”
Shortly thereafter, as Mateo was dropping a couple of evacuees on the beach, he saw Ramses on Lilac’s boat. He was reaching down towards Maqsud. He jammed a needle into his arm. It was so potent that Maqsud lost his grip on the ladder, and disappeared below the surface. Ramses jumped in and towed him back up. Maqsud woke up right away, and got back to work. The lake was recoloring even faster now. Within an hour, it was reaching the bank. Nearly the entire thing was covered now. It should be strong enough to capture everyone. That was assuming they were all in the water. A few people were still dipping their toes in. Marie took Mayor Merrick back to the bunker to make a final announcement, just in case there were any stragglers. Angela made a series of rapid jumps using the layout of the whole place to find them manually. There was no one. The last of the refugees were coming out of the buildings, making their way towards the water. The tremors were becoming more intense, but they were going to make it. They were all going to make it.
Team Matic convened on the boat. “One more thing,” Maqsud said with a frown. “All of these people are going to turn blind. They’ll be alive, wherever we end up, but the doppler glow will damage their retinas beyond repair. Unless, Mayor, they all happen to carry sunglasses with them that are dim enough to block out the light of a supernova.” He handed a pair of the glasses he had on him to her, as well as to Lilac and Aristotle.
“They don’t. I suppose I could make another announcement, telling them to try to close their eyes, and cover them with their hands, if possible.”
Maqsud shook his head. “That won’t be enough.”
“We’ll take care of it,” Leona said. “Turn it black,” she ordered the group.
Mayor Merrick raised her megaphone. “People of Welrios! Before we depart, the world around us will darken! Do not be alarmed! This is for your protection! In a few minutes, we will make our escape! I can’t tell you where we’re going, or what we’ll find there when we arrive, but it will be better then this! We can’t shoot for Earth, because it’s too far away! It will have to be somewhere in the Corridor! Is everyone in the water!”
The team used their telescopic eyes to scan the land. They couldn’t see anyone who wasn’t in by now. “Do it,” Mateo said.
Maqsud jumped back into the lake, and with one more push of power, sent everyone away from this hellish rock. Everyone passed out from the pressure. By the time the team woke back up, it was May 3, 2424 according to Leona’s watch. Nearly everyone survived the journey. They were alive, except for one. Maqsud gave his life to save 11,000 people. The Welriosians, however...had been enslaved by the natives.

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