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Sunday, December 17, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 5, 2426

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Sheriff Kamiński’s posse, and some of the former slaves that they had recently freed, constructed a hock in the building that they took over to live in until Team Matic could return, and teleport them all to the other side of the world. The natives stayed away from Fort Welrios, and the Welriosians stayed away from everyone else, unless they were conducting their searches and investigations. The people they interrogated cooperated as much as they were able, scared to death that the team would do to them what Leona did to their previous monarchy, or worse. No one knew where Maqsud Al-Amin’s son, Aristotle was, but the family he was staying with was missing as well. Child slaves were treated differently than the adults. Their duties were limited to performing household chores, and never anything outside until they reached double digits. Even then, the work was light, which the slavedrivers probably figured was a really nice thing to do for them. When there was no more work left each day, the masters of the house homeschooled them. The curriculum included indoctrinating the young ones into believing that this was what was best for them. Cool.
“He won’t talk,” Sheriff Kamiński explained. “He’s the only one left that we’re not sure about, which leads me to believe that he knows something.”
“He’ll talk to me,” Leona said, determined to find that boy.
“He’ll talk to me,” Mateo argued. “You’re too angry right now.”
“I’m not too angry!” she shouted.
“Is that what I said?” Mateo asked. “I misspoke. I meant, you’re needed on the other continent. I’m sure there’s an invention or something that the Welriosians could do with, and I certainly can’t help with that.”
“You’re on thin ice, Matic. Get me a lead.” She disappeared.
“Were I you,” he said to her through comms. He cleared his throat, and walked down the hall to the makeshift interrogation room. “What’s your name?”
“It’s—” the prisoner began.
“Don’t care. Do you know what space is made out of?”
The prisoner was confused. “Umm...nothing?”
“That’s exactly right. Or it isn’t. Maybe there’s dark matter up there, or giant spacewhales, I don’t know. What you say you and me go up and find out?” He offered his hand to him.
The prisoner slunk back as much as he could against his chair.
“Not interested?”
“I don’t care to be threatened.”
“I don’t care to not know where my friend is. Now I promised his parents that I would take care of him. You don’t want me to disappoint his mother, do you? I mean his real mother, not the one who literally abducted him, and forced him to do her work.”
“I don’t know where they are!”
“But you know something, don’t you?” Mateo guessed.
The prisoner shook his head, all but confirming that he was holding onto at least one small bit of vital information.
“I don’t need you to consent to the spacewalk,” Mateo said, standing up, and starting to make his way to the other side of the table.
“No!” he cried. “Fine. I really don’t know where they are, but I saw them leave.”
“Leave where? I mean, what direction?”
“No direction. They just disappeared.”
“What did it look like?” he teleported to the other side of the room. “Like that?”
“Did you see anyone else?”
“The mother, the daughter, the neighbor, and the boy. That’s all I saw.”
“The neighbor? No one said anything about the neighbor. What neighbor?”
“The neighbor next door. They were in his apartment. I don’t know why they went over there. He’s just this old man who lives alone. He didn’t have any slaves. He was alive back when we had them before, but he never did. He doesn’t even hire labor. I don’t know where he gets his money.”
“The family where Aristotle was staying, they were rich?”
“Poor people aren’t allowed to take the children in. They don’t know what to teach them. I’m the gardener for the old man’s neighbor on the other side, and I didn’t take any slaves either. I want to be clear about that. I just don’t want to lose my job.”
“Describe it.”
“Describe what.”
“I assume you saw something through the window? Four people disappeared before your eyes. Describe what it looked like.”
“There was a glow, and then his skylight shattered. The glow escaped from it, but it was so quick, I couldn’t see if the people were in it, or whatever. I looked back down, and the parlor was empty.”
“What color was the glow?”
“Gray, I guess.”
Mateo studied the young man’s face to see if he was lying, or holding back more information. He clearly had no idea how Maqsud’s power worked, but was describing what Mateo imagined it looked like from the outside. It was reasonable to guess that Aristotle inherited the same gift, though it was unknown if he used it accidentally, or on purpose. Maybe he didn’t. Maybe he was trying to escape this life, and the people he was with were just swept up in the energy field. Unfortunately, there was probably no way of knowing where they went.
“Someone patched up the roof the next day, long before the Welriosians started asking about it. I’m sorry I didn’t say anything before, I just didn’t want to stand out. Workers who stand out get the worse jobs. Please don’t take me up to space.”
“Relax, I’m not going to kill you. I’ll go get someone to get you out of those chains, and escort you back to wherever you live.” Mateo stood up to leave.
“Wait.” He looked scared.
“What is it?”
“Take me to New Welrios, or whatever it is they’re calling it.”
“I don’t know how they’ll treat you there. I don’t know them very well at all. Most of our interactions have been us trying to rescue them.”
“Anywhere is better than here. I can work. I won’t expect them to do anything for them, I just can’t go back. My boss is...”
“You don’t have to explain. I’ll take you to a spot nearby. If you promise to stay put until I return, I’ll figure out whether you can join them. But if you’re requesting asylum, I’ll grant it immediately.”
“Thank you. Thank you so much.”
Mateo transported the witness to a backup location that Ramses and Angela found when there were looking for a place to relocate the Welriosians. Then he reconvened with his friends who had been listening through the comms the whole time. “Did I make the right call?”
“I think so, as long as he’s not lying, and he really didn’t own slaves.”
“Most people here never have,” Sheriff Kamiński explained. “There are hundreds of millions of them, yet only 11,000 of us.”
“I know what you’re thinking,” Leona says, watching her husband’s face. “We can’t save them all. Even if we could confirm who else never had slaves, we could not relocate them all here, nor anywhere else, for that matter.”
“We have to do something,” Mateo urged. “This world is so bleak. Everything sucks here for everyone, except for the one percent. Even most of the poor people with slaves don’t just sit around all day. They use the slave to double their productivity. They’re miserable.”
“I don’t feel bad for them,” Leona said.
“Neither do I, there’s no excuse. I’m just saying that there must be something we can do to improve conditions here, so no one feels desperate enough to enslave anyone, or pay with pennies.”
Leona sighed, and considered it. “Ramses, go to the old man’s house, and try to figure out if you can determine Aristotle’s vector. Mateo, bring that kid to us. I have some questions of my own. No anger, I promise.”
Mateo retrieved the witness, and brought him to the alpha site. He then started to help transport more supplies from the main continent, to the Welriosians. They had survived just fine over the last year, but there were a few things the natives had access to that they still did not. They were all still living in the cave, but had constructed a number of buildings within it, so the residents could have places to live in separately. It somewhat resembled the lava tubes that people lived inside of on Luna and Mars. The expanse was there to protect them from the outside—in that case, the vacuum; and in this case, the elements—but people still wanted and needed privacy. They cut down trees for these structures, and also figured out how to make mud bricks from scratch. It was an impressive accomplishment, finding a way to thrive here in so little time. They were not doing this without experience, of course. They had done something similar on their sanctuary planet before it was discovered, and ultimately destroyed. Perhaps one day this community will have the technology to rival what they had before, and then even the cities on the other side of the world.
The team reconvened once more an hour later, Leona with a vague plan, and Ramses with the answers they would need to solidify it. “It’s not like I can trace their ion trail, or photon trail, or any other trail that science fiction stories like to claim will make anyone findable in space. I do believe I have a decent idea of where they might have gone, though. The Monarchy gave me a list of inhabited star systems in this part of the galaxy. Once I figured out what the data meant, I converted them to standard galactic coordinates, and only found two possible planets where they might have gone. It’s a light year away. They all are. No one in the Goldilocks Corridor is ever more than a light year away from anyone else. I’m sure that’s why they call it that.”
“How many systems are there?” Marie asked.
“A hundred and twenty, though there could be more by now. The list I have is dated thirty-four local years ago, which is about thirty-five standard years.”
Leona shook her head. “All these people, and we had no idea they existed.”
“We know now,” Mateo reminded her. “Our current problem is that we don’t have a ship anymore. We can’t get to Aristotle, even if we go the right way, and even if he still happens to be there. I don’t know how long it takes for him to recharge, but I doubt that’s what’s keeping him in one place by this point.”
“Guys?” Olimpia jumped in. “Shouldn’t Lilac be included in this conversation?”
“I’ll go get her,” Angela volunteered. It was reportedly difficult to convince her to leave Fort Welrios, and come to New Welrios. She couldn’t leave the place where she had last seen her son. But they were certain that he had left the planet over a year ago, and she trusted their judgment on that. They started the meeting up again once everyone was there.
“I can build us a ship.” Ramses kicked at the dirt underneath his feet. “It won’t have a fancy-schmancy reframe engine, but it will get us to where we’re going. Eventually.”
“Forgive us, the uneducated,” Olimpia began, “but why no reframe engine?”
“I don’t have any concentrated temporal energy, and I don’t have any way of manufacturing antimatter, which would be good enough to power it,” Ramses answered. “The natives here don’t even know what I’m talking about. The ships that come to pick up goods use fusion, and in fact, one of the things they process here is tritium. I’m sure we can steal some of that, given our...influence over these people. I also happen to have a mini-reactor in the basement of our lab, so...”
“The lab has a basement?” Mateo asked.
Ramses shrugged. “Yeah, it’s for storage. Anyway, I could build a reframe engine, but it would use a lot of fuel, and I still probably couldn’t get it to maximum speeds. We also have that time-jumping thing tonight, so faster doesn’t really help us.”
“It would help me,” Lilac contended.
“We wouldn’t leave you alone on a strange new world to find your son. You could be on the wrong side of the planet with no hope of getting anywhere near where he might be. And you would also have no one there to protect you.”
“I could protect her,” Sheriff Kamiński jumped in. “I also know that you have teleportation tech that anyone can use.”
Ramses sighed. “We have emergency teleporters, which store temporal energy for, of course, emergency use. You can’t just jump however much you want, unless your body metabolizes temporal energy on its own, like ours do. When I was a normal human, I couldn’t have used anything like that on a regular basis.”
Leona frowned. “I’m sorry, Lilac. We want to find him too, but waiting two more years is the only way.”
Two years?” Lilac questioned. “Why two?”
“I need time to build the ship,” Ramses said apologetically. “One year to build it while we’re gone, and another to make the journey to the destination.”
“Put me in stasis,” Lilac demanded.
“Well, it’s a relativistic trip, so what will take a year will only feel like five—”
“No,” Lilac interrupted. “Put me in stasis now. My heart aches for my son, so put me to sleep, and don’t wake me up until it’s time to find him.”
The team exchanged looks for a few moments, reading each other’s feelings. “Okay. I’ll prep a pod for you.”

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