Saturday, February 17, 2018

Void: Crusaders (Part VII)

As the wedding day approached, Saga and Andromeda were asked to meet with a woman named The Officiant. She operated at a level of law that goes beyond humanity, and real time. Any salmon or chooser they’ve ever met whose been married was married by her. That was her one and only job, she took it very seriously, and she never let anyone do it for her. Right now, she was sitting across her desk from them. They were in a Justice of the Peace-like office that could travel with her across time and space, and apparently didn’t quite exist in this dimension. She regarded them warmly. “Do you know who I am?”
“The Officiant.”
“Do you know what that means?”
“That you marry people.”
“What kind of people?”
“People with time powers.”
She nodded, but like she was still waiting for a better answer, or for the most dramatic time to learn them the truth herself. But, then she just seemed to move on. “How long have you two known each other?”
“Four years,” Andromeda answered.
“Four years?” the Officiant repeated. “You don’t think this is too quick?” Her tone was ambiguously judgmental.
“No,” Saga said plainly.
“Good. There’s no room for doubt here.”
“I understand you’ve been having trouble with the locals.”
“As far as my world has come in the last several years,” Andromeda began, “there is still a lot of prejudice.”
“Has nothing to do with your genders, right?”
“Oh, heavens no.” Andromeda shook her head. “That’s never been an issue here.”
“So, certain peoples are just upset about a Durusian marrying an Earthan.”
“Durune,” Saga corrected.
“Apologies.”
“Tell me about the, umm...” she flipped through her notes, “the Dawidux incident?”
“That was a long time ago.”
“You think two years is a long time?” the Officiant questioned.
“I guess time doesn’t really matter to people like us. For us, it was two years ago. For Leona or Serif, it would be two days. For you? Maybe a literal aeon.”
She smiled and nodded again. “From what I gather, the Dawidux people were just one group of many.”
“I wouldn’t say many,” Andromeda disagreed. “There are others, yes. But they’re mostly harmless.”
The Officiant shifted in her seat. “I’ve heard people say that about Earth, but I’ve never heard an Orolakian say it.”
Saga grinned. “This is true.”
“I don’t know what an Orolakian is,” Andromeda lamented.
“Seems like a big part of your life, Saga, that she should know about.”
“The aliens, sweetie,” Saga said to her fiancée. “Remember? We sort of...started a revolution. Vearden and I.”
“You still need to finish it,” the Officiant told her.
“What?” Saga asked.
“That story is not over,” she added.
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about your marriage. Your relationship with each other is...a problem for time.”
“For time?” Andromeda asked. “Time itself?”
The Officiant nodded.
“Time can get fucked.”
“Saga,” Andromeda scolded her.
“What? I don’t care what the powers that be want from me! Ain’t nobody gonna stop me from marrying you.” She turned back to the Officiant and added, “including you.”
“I’m not here to stop you,” the Officiant said defensively. “I’m just here to chat.”
“That’s what detectives say to persons of interest,” Saga spit.
“Saga,” Andromeda scolded again. “Be nice.”
Saga regained her composure. “You’re right. I just don’t like being questioned. I put a lot of thought into my decision to marry this girl, and I know that she did as well. I’m not true salmon. I can resist the powers that be’s whims. Is that the right grammar?”
“You can postpone them, to be more accurate. Do not underestimate their power, or their...mercilessness. No,” she said before anyone else could speak. “Cruelty. That’s the word I’m looking for.”
“This is happening,” Saga said clearly. “You can either help us with it, or we can find a Durune officiant. Most people here are supportive, and not on a crusade against our bond.”
“I’ll do it,” said the Officiant, embarrassed for having failed in her mission to instill them with confidence in her. “But you do need to understand the risks. Leona and Mateo were authorized. You’re doing this without that authorization. Make no mistake, lots of salmon marry people the powers didn’t explicitly approve of, and they end up fine. I’m not saying this can’t work, but don’t you dare think you’re safe. The Atlantians make the Dawiduxians looks like a basket of puppies.”
Andromeda nodded soberly. “We recognize the danger,” she said after a respectful moment of silence.
“Who the hell is Mateo?”
“Let’s hammer out some of the details,” the Officiant said, moving on once more. “Have you chosen your chief attendants?”
The two concordants looked at each other. “Hokusai and Loa,” Saga said.
“Really?”
“Yeah, you know them?”
She laughed quietly to herself. “Time, right? Any honor attendants?”
“Camden and Morick,” Saga imagined.
“And my mother.”
“Well...”
“My mother is going to be part of the ceremony, Saga. Stop resisting.”
“Do you not like her?” the Officiant asked.
Saga mindlessly examined her fingernails. “She asked me to help her daughter with her time powers a few years back. She wasn’t expecting us to fall in love. She blames me for all the...issues we’ve had with the Durune. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a lovely woman, and she has no qualms with us being together. She’s not technically racist, but she’s one of those people—”
“Careful...” Andromeda warned.
Saga carried on, and repeated herself, “she’s one of those people who see racism in others, and think they’re helping by trying to get us to...avoid those situations.”
“She’s trying to protect us,” Andromeda reasoned.
“She’s victim-blaming,” Saga volleyed. “She wants us to change our behavior, when she damn well knows it’s everyone else who needs to change.”
“She just—” Andromeda didn’t want to have this fight again.
“She means well, and I know this, but I’m going to stand up for myself. You’re going to stand up for me too, and I would like—I feel I would like...her to do the same, instead of just saying we need to wait for others to wise up, and learn to do the right thing.”
Andromeda nodded, but didn’t say anything.
“You’re right, though, let’s not do this in front of company,” Saga acknowledged.
“No, this is important,” the Officiant said. “I can’t marry you if I don’t get to see what you’re going through.”
“You wanna see our baggage?” Saga chortled. How much time you got, doc?”
“Infinite,” she answered truthfully.
“That makes me think; they should make a time traveling therapist,” Saga noted, sort of off-topic.
“Yes.” The Officiant stood up and brushed the space dirt off the front of her pants. “Doctor Mallory Hammer. She’s very good, I’m sure you’ll meet her one day.” That didn’t sound so good. “Welp,” she continued, “looks like you two are ready to get married. I’ll be back next week for the ceremony.” She started handing them her business card, but then pulled it back. “Oh, wait, you don’t have phones here.”
“Uhhh...” Saga thought about it. “We do. Camden was carrying a sheetphone during the Deathspring. I’m sure it’s somewhere in our cottage. Battery would be dead, but we could find a way to charge it.”
“That’ll work,” the Officiant said. After handing the card over, she began to fade away, as did the rest of her office around them. They were left standing in the middle of the thicket.
“What is that?” Andromeda asked.
“Business card. Has her contact information on it.” Saga turned it over. “And a note. “Trust the ones in camouflage,” she read aloud.
“What does that mean?”
“It’s a warning from the future, for the future. I’ve seen these kinds of things before. The only decision we have to make is whether we trust the source.”
“I feel like we can trust her.”
“Then we’ll follow her instructions.”
That night, their cottage was attacked. A hate group dressed in black threw molotov cocktails through their windows, which Andromeda expertly sealed up with blast doors. Unfortunately, this was merely a distraction, for they were already inside the house. Camden, their most skilled fighter, was presently in the capital, consulting for a new law enforcement agency they were trying to get up and running. Andromeda tried to use her powers to build some structure that could help them, but one of the attackers knocked her out cold before she had the chance. Saga then tried to fight back the ol’ fashion way, but wasn’t strong enough. They must have knocked her out as well.
She woke up with her arms tied behind her back. Andromeda was already awake, tied up on the other side of the room.
“Finally,” the leader guy said. He removed his—what was that mask thing called, a baklava?—from his face, and grimaced.
They weren’t impressed.
“Do you not recognize me?”
“Should we?” Andromeda asked without fear.
“I’m the guy you dropped a tower on in Dawidux. Bet you didn’t think I survived, did you?
Of course, they did recognize him as the leader of the angry mob, but this guy survived on ego, and ego alone. They knew to not feed the trolls. “Honestly, I don’t remember you there,” Saga lied. “I remember that happening, but which one were you?”
This pissed him off immensely. “You stupid bitch.”
“Bite your tongue, assbutt!” Andromeda screamed, while clearly trying to use her powers against him.
“Not this time, sugartits,” he said to her. “This time your powers are being suppressed by an injection. You won’t be able to stop it with a knife this time.”
“What the hell do you want?” Saga asked derisively.
“I want a clean Durus. I hear you two are getting married,” he said with feigned excitement for their happiness together. Then he dropped the act. “We’re not okay with that.”
“Well, we would have asked you for permission, sir,” Andromeda said, besting him in the acting department by imitating a stereotypical obedient housewife, “but...who are you again?”
This man needed to find his center. His temper was getting worse. “I’m not going to try to show you the light this time.” He knelt down and wrapped his arms around Andromeda’s torso to cut her ropes apart. “You wanna be with your Earthan girl forever, then you got a deal.”
Now, this moment right here would have been a perfect opportunity to spit in his face, but Andromeda never did anything half-measure. On their upteenth date, she revealed to Saga that she had the ability to vomit on cue, which she decided to demonstrate again, this time for whatshistoes. Taking advantage of his absolute disgust, she snagged the knife from his hand, and totally jacked up his shoulder, then she prepared to fight her way through the other six men who had come into their home. Somehow, though, they had guns. A lot of them.
Firearms were incredibly rare on this planet. There were a healthy number of them in Springfield when it was sucked into the void, but few people around with the knowledge to make more. One of their terrible leaders was a man named Smith, who did have this knowledge, for he was a literal blacksmith. Overtime, however, production was able to cease, because he disappeared, or something, and had failed to pass his skills onto others. When a group of choosing ones started using their time powers to create mages, projectile weapons seemed too pedestrian to use, so they were locked up. They had been used on occasion since then, but not much. That these guys had them proved there was still at least one corrupt politician left in government.
“Sit back down!” one of the men with guns ordered. He then kicked the leader guy, who was now crying in pain, to his face. “Shut up, sir! I said sit down, you Earthanfu—”
He didn’t get to finish his derogatory term when a magical hole opened up in the ceiling. Above them they could see a hovering military helicopter. There were no helicopters on Durus. Soldiers wearing green camouflage dropped down on ropes and swiftly removed the terrorists from their respective waking states. The ceiling returned to its normal form. After the soldiers were finished, they turned toward the women. “We would love it if you could create a door for us. Our pilot would like to speak to you two. Please know you can trust us.”
“We know we can,” Saga said, disrespectfully removing the knife from the bigot’s shoulder, and wiping the blood off on his pants. “But she can’t make a door. Her powers have been suppressed.”
“Gadhavi?” she said to one of her soldiers.
Gadhavi stepped forward and held up a needle.
“Go ahead,” Andromeda consented.
He injected her with a serum that returned her powers to her, so she could recreate their front door. They walked out to find the helicopter on the ground. The terrorists who hadn’t made it into the cottage were all lying on the ground. The pilot was still finishing up a few things in his bird, but then he stepped out and removed his sunglasses.
Saga breathed a sigh of relief. “Sargent.”
“Nice to see you again, love.”
“How did you get here? Why?”
“We’re here to stop the New Crusades,” Adolphe Sargent, military strategist extraordinaire, said. “I also hear there’s gonna be a wedding?”

Friday, February 16, 2018

Microstory 780: Fever

It starts with a fever, just like any regular illness, but then it turns into something new. Something bad. Something you’ve never experienced before. It will not simply take your abilities away, which is something that’s already happened to you. Why, that’s what got you into this mess in the first place. They gave you this drug, and claimed it would enhance your abilities—which it ultimately did—and the only downside it was supposed to have was that you would lose them temporarily, while your body reworked itself into something even greater than it was when you were born. What they failed to tell you was that this drug was created by someone who failed to leave any notes or research. The people who gave it to you, not only didn’t concoct it themselves, but actually don’t know who did, so even if it had undergone extensive testing, there was no documentation for them to study. They didn’t realize at the time, but this enhancement drug had terrible long-term effects. Without treatment, if used more than once, the drug will cause your abilities to turn on you. Cosmo Drexler, who normally has control over the acceleration of moving objects, becomes trapped in a temporal bubble of sorts, unable to move beyond a snail’s pace. Tamra Shore, whose body constantly replenishes itself, while slowing her aging, develops rapidly progressing cancer. Pyrokinetic Diane Ghoti’s body overheats, Peyton Resin becomes stuck in rock form, and supervisor Valary Sela goes blind. Scientists began researching possible cures for the virus immediately, but have been unable to come up with an overarching cure. Though all anomalies will be affected by the pathogen, in some way, their symptoms will always present themselves in different ways. This means that, though a virus is what delivered the corruption to the body, in the first place, that is no longer the problem. Now your body has been genetically altered with the bad code. Even if they found a way to combat the virus, it wouldn’t help anyone showing symptoms, for the virus in them is already dead anyway. It’s their respective bodies they need to worry about now. Everyone gets a different cure, based on their abilities, and symptoms. And we all know whose cures they’re gonna work on first. Are you one of the elite?

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Microstory 779: Duck

My name is Cora Graves, and I have one question for you. Have you ever wanted to be a duck? It may sound like an absurd question, but it’s a perfect example to illustrate my point. Ducks are magnificent, and versatile creatures. They can fly, they can swim on the surface, or underwater, and they can walk (read: waddle) on land. When making its nest, a mother-to-be duck will pluck out her own feathers, instead of just using material she finds around. Have you ever thought about pulling out your hair and making a crib? Now you’re all wondering, why am I even bringing this up? I want you take a look at this...can we zoom in on my hand? This is my personal assistant, Tilina. Say hello, Tilina. Tilina is presently about six deam tall, but she didn’t start out this way. She was born as an average-sized human, but we transferred her consciousness to this substrate, which we are calling her anchor. I know, she looks a hell of a lot like a fairy, and that’s for good reason. We modeled this product on the fairies, because they had the right idea about shrinking. This is what brings us back down to my question about becoming a duck. With an anchor, you could do exactly that, or you could become anything else you can imagine. As long as we have the necessary parameters, we can build you virtually any new body, and insert you into it via your anchor. No longer will you need these standard human forms. You will be the anchor, and the anchor will let you become anything else. Well...anything larger than the anchor, that is. We could upload your consciousness into a pea-sized object, but then you would have to rely on someone else to place you into any new form. Should something go wrong, forcing you to abandon your current form, you’re gonna want to be able to fly away and find another one, so the fairy form is the best option for an anchor; not too large, not to small, for most forms. Unless you wanna be a bug. I want to make it clear that you would not be driving your form, using your anchor’s motor components. Once the anchor is inserted, your consciousness will be integrated into the neural construct, allowing you to feel yourself as that animal, mythological creature, or hey, maybe even an airplane, if you’d like. Ladies and gentlemen, we were born with limits. We’re too slow, too short, too grounded. I’m here to tell you that those constraints no longer exist. Now you can realize your dreams, and become literally anything you want, be that the mighty coleobeast, or the humble duck.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Microstory 778: Pothook

There are several moves in boxing, most of which were created during the invention of the sport itself, for they were really just formalizations of moves that already existed for real hand-to-hand combat. Traditionally, boxing has been a male sport, with women generally gravitating towards the various forms of martial arts. One notable boxer was a woman named Siveda Gualerni. She was large and muscular, weighing into bargeweight when she was only nineteen years old. What she lacked in speed, she made up for in power, of course. She was nearly impossible to knock down. One of her most common moves was to just let the other boxer hit her as many times as they could before they were too tired to take much of a beating back. During one match, however, she discovered this tactic would not work. She was up against former military officer, Sergei ‘Deadvelvet’ Fannen, who was known for being able to hit pressure points just so. Since they were participating in a Mystery Showdown, she didn’t know they would be competing against each other until the very last minute, which meant she didn’t have enough time to strategize a plan. She tried to fight like she normally did, but this was proving unwise, so she broke formation, and observed a regular stance. Still, it was only a matter of time before Deadvelvet found the right series of pressure punches, and took her out. In a desperate move, Gualerni tried to send him a left hook, but lost her balance in the middle of it, and her right hand ended up on the other side of his head as her instincts were just trying to keep her upright. The result was a devastating blow to both of Deadvelvet’s temples and ears that had terrible repercussions for his inner ear. For the next several moments, he was unable to maintain his balance, which gave Gualerni the edge she needed to knock him down for the count. The audience and announcers were shocked, not that she had won, but that she had done so in such an unorthodox manner, using a move no one had seen before. Reporters would later refer to this as the pothook, suggestive of her holding pot on the other side of the opponent’s head. The International Boxing Council would come to refer to it as a violation after Deadvelvet was shown to have permanent hearing loss. Ashamed of what she had done, Gualerni quit boxing that week, and started pursuing a career in nursing, but she would always be remembered as the inventor of the pothook; the only move in history to be used once before being deemed foul, except for that time a boxer bit another’s ear off.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Microstory 777: Hector

Some might say that Hector Cubit’s nickname as The Protector is proof that we are destined to be who we later become. The truth is, though, that he could have just as easily been named Bobby, or been deemed The Guardian. Still, though he generally had little enthusiasm for rhyme, he was proud of his title, and adopted it happily. It was quite useful, too, to have something that remained with him always, since he barely had time to make his name in one job before he moved on to the next. Hector attributes his protective instinct to his mother, Joaquima, who was also famous for her propensity to save people’s lives. It would seem that danger was stalking Joaquima, for she constantly found herself in mortal danger. From bank hostage to boating accident survivor, Joaquima had no shortage of stories saved up to later tell her children, of which she would ultimately have none. What people didn’t realize, however, was that danger wasn’t following her at all, she was actually looking for it. There have been lots of people throughout history who have been born with special abilities, but most of these are associated with some subspecies of human. Ambers, anomalies, vampirs; these all have abilities, because they were genetically engineered to be different than standard humans. What they could do was the result of something being done to them, with very little of it being natural. The universe, however, also contains a mystery or two, one of these being Prophets. Unlike some fictional stories, prophets do not simply see the future. They do not gaze into crystal balls, or make judgments from tea leaves. Real prophets are simply those destined to lead the world through great sociopolitical breakthroughs, using radical forward-thinking ideas. Yes, it’s true that they often possess some connection to the fabric of the universe, but their real power is what they do with it. Joaquima Quintana could not literally see the future, but she did feel the push and pull of safety and danger. Another possessing this trait would use it to avoid perilous situations, and possibly some higher power controlling all this had that in mind, but that was not what Joaquima decided to do with it. She placed herself in the hazardous situations, using her intuition to prevent a tragedy altogether, or at least save as many as she could. Her husband, seeing her path to be of great value to the world, provided for them both with a steady job for decades. She retired from this life, and took a regular job, when she had Hector at a relatively old age, but not before, some believe, she passed her gifts onto him. Though he was never considered a true prophet, the reason Hector kept switching jobs was because he always had to be where he was needed most.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Microstory 776: Neener

Neener, neener, neener. We’ve all heard the phrase, but where exactly does it come from? Well, most will tell you either that they personally don’t know, or that no one knows. But I’ve discovered the truth. It comes from a long dead language—a branch in the Germanic language—that few have even heard of. In the thirteenth century, a schism arose between the Western Frisian Islands, and the Eastern Frisian Islands. While the rest of the Netherlands was busy evolving towards the Late Middle Dutch language, the Frisians Islands were sort of doing their own thing, especially the Eastern islands. They decided to arbitrarily develop their own dialect, almost completely independent of all others. Their goal was for their words to be completely unintelligible with their origins, which meant they would have to come up with a slew of new vocabulary, and a new way to organize them. Unfortunately for them, for as few people as there were living there at the time, this was proving to be easier thought than said. People were used to the way language was spoken before, and had underestimated what it would take to get used to something else. This constructed language quickly died out, but not before a complete list of new vocabulary and grammar was written down, in a dictionary so rare, only one copy of it survives today, possibly out of a total of only three. The words are bizarre, and their usage even more complicated. There appeared to be a set of grammatical rules with far more exceptions than true adherences, making it even more difficult to learn than Modern English. One word stands out amongst them, and answers the age-old question of where the childish taunting song comes from. Their word for no was neener, which resembled the standard Dutch form at the time more than any other translated word. With family ties to the Eastern Frisian Islands, this historical anecdote is what led tech magnate, Katrijn Arbeider to choose this when she founded her conglomerate, Neener Neener Corp.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: August 20, 2166

Last year, Missy explained that she was near death when Dar’cy suddenly appeared from the future, and brought her here to be healed by Serif. Leona argued that she had no recollection of this. When she returned to the timeline after that, everyone was pretty sure she was dead. If she had disappeared without them seeing, they wouldn’t have assumed she was dead, but would have guessed something like this had happened. Why would they have lied? Nerakali then had to explain that The Warrior showed up to blend everybody’s brain, claiming that it was better for the future if they could remember both timelines. Unfortunately, from the Warrior’s perspective, it had not been long since he acquired this power from Nerakali, so he didn’t quite know what he was doing. He accidentally erased Leona’s memory of the timeline where Missy was presumed alive, replacing it with the one where she died. He also apparently erased the blending event from Leona’s memories, then disappeared before he could fix any of it. Leona asked Nerakali, who had not yet experienced the loss of her powers, and her death, for help, but she refused. She didn’t act like she was being mean, but that she was doing Leona a favor. She said that there was no such thing as a blending mistake. If she doesn’t remember something, she’s not meant to.
Things seemed to be going pretty well when Leona and Serif returned to the timestream in 2166. Missy had repaired the atterberry pods, and made sure Leona’s filtration system was in good working order. She even tweaked a few things to make it more efficient and reliable. Leona was glad to have a professional engineer back on the ship. Though she would never modestly claim to not be as smart as she was, she was not an engineer. Her experience in science helped her a little, but this could only take her so far.
At the moment, most of the crew was in a virtual world of Nerakali’s creation, while Leona opted out, and Brooke was busy monitoring the ship’s system. They were sitting in the cockpit together, but in silence. They had nothing to talk about. That was the problem with being stuck on the same small space together. No one goes out and has experiences without the others, so there aren’t any more stories to tell. And even though Leona was usually not even here, interesting things didn’t really happen, except for the crises she had to help fix. Otherwise, it was pretty boring, so everybody kind of knew everything about each other. But then Leona realized there was something about Brooke she didn’t know. “You went into an atterberry pod when the micrometeoroid hit.”
“I did.”
“But you’re pristinely ungifted.”
“I am.”
“Those things work on time power. How were you affected by them.”
“With this.” She pulled a necklace out from under her shirt, and handed it to Leona.
“What is it?”
“Gross,” Brooke answered.
It did look a little weird. It was a circular piece of jewelry, with a metal backing, and a glass front. Inside of it was a dark, and frankly, ugly substance she couldn’t decipher. It didn’t have particularly pretty coloring, so it wasn’t great, as far as jewelry went. She held it close to her face to get a better look, but still didn’t know what it was.
“It’s my umbilical cord,” Brooke added.
“It is!” Leona asked. She wasn’t grossed out by it, but was surprised at the sentiment.
“I was born without the ability to experience nonlinear time. I can’t teleport, or travel back and forth. I can’t be slowed down, or sped up, or rippled. But my mother can, and while I was still inside of her womb, I needed to be able to as well.” She took back the necklace, and held it up. “This was the literal connection between me and her. It’s not just a symbol, it was vital in keeping me more like her until I was ready to venture out on my own. Without it, I would have died. When Glaston created the merge point between present-day island, and the past, my mother would have been able to enter safely. But when she did, without this cord, I would have stayed put...as a mass of cells, fallen to the sand, like a very graphic abortion.”
Leona didn’t say anything, but let Brooke have this moment.
“The Weaver made the pendant for me, but I don’t think it took a lot of work for her. I think the important part was keeping it preserved. What she mostly did to it was allow me to turn it on and off.”
“How do you turn it off?”
“It’s usually off. I turn it on when I choose, like when I needed the atterberry pod. I won’t tell you what it takes to activate it, though. You just ate.”
“Really?”
“I’m kidding. I just have to focus. I have to want it, and I can’t have any doubts.” She started putting it back around her neck. “Otherwise, it’s just a creepy new age hormone-inspired keepsake.”
Leona smiled. “Never underestimate the power of oxytocin.”
They sat in silence for another good long while.
Leona spoke again, “so you could go into one of Nerakali’s virtual worlds.”
“I can, yes, but I don’t like them. When you know where you are—and not being tricked, like you were—the world appears in very low resolution. Since you know it’s not real, it’s sort of...hazy. Darkened. It’s hard to see people’s faces. They’re not really actually worlds, ya know. Those images aren’t stored on an external server, not even Nerakali’s brain. She’s really just slowly giving you memories of things that never happened to you, while allowing you to recognize it as a fabrication.”
“She’s not as bad as she has been, but I still don’t want her on this ship.”
“Then kick her out.”
Leona laughed. “Yeah, sure, I’ll just transfer her to another vessel when we rendezvous at Starbase Sixty-Seven.”
Brooke shrugged. “You could blow her out the airlock.”
Leona laughed again, but stopped when she noticed Brooke wasn’t so much as smiling. “You’re serious. You think I should kill her?”
“She’s already dead, Leona. All you would be doing is sending her to her fate.”
“Her fate is in the past.”
“Yeah, and she would go there, and she would be angry at you for it, which is what we need to preserve the timeline. If she goes to face her death, but you’ve become friends since then, how much of the timeline will change?”
“I’m more worried about how much I’ll change by sending someone to death, good or bad.”
She shrugged again. “Like I said, it’s already happened.”
“By that logic, we’re all already dead. Well, maybe not you and Paige, since you’re posthumans, but I certainly am. Just because it hasn’t happened to me yet—or even because no one here has seen my death yet—doesn’t mean it’s any more in the future than Nerakali’s death. When time travel is involved, everything has already happened, hasn’t happened yet, and is happening right now.”
“I’m just sayin’...”
“I hope that’s all you’re doing...saying.”
“Pshaw,” Brooke said. “She’s your problem, not mine.”
“She’s everybody’s problem,” Leona argued. “Her death is fixed, she can’t stop it. But she can kill everyone who was involved—or people who are friends with those involved—without creating a temporal paradox. Again, time travel changes the rules. I’m scared every day that Serif and I will come back, and you’ll all be dead. And you can die, Brooke. You’re still mostly organic.”
“I’m a pretty good actor.” True to form, Nerakali turned out to be listening to them at the entrance, having been there for however long.
“What?” Leona asked.
“I can act. I can pretend I’m still mad at you. When I go back to 2107, I can pretend I’m trying to hurt you.”
“That’s not what we’re talking about,” Leona said. “We’re worried—”
She’s worried,” Brooke interrupted to clarify.
I’m worried,” Leona went on, “about what you’ll do why you’re here.”
“I know,” Nerakali said, “which is why I’m leaving.”
“Why would you do that?”
“You can’t trust me, and you’re making me feel worse. I’d rather just die and get it over with.”
“You’re out of your mind if you think you can willfully walk towards your own death when you have an infinite amount of time before you actually have to be there.”
“We’ve already established that I am.”
“Am what?”
“Out of my mind. You think this is easy? It may be a little fun, but seeing other people’s memories is pretty taxing. I know everyone at their worst, even when they can’t remember it themselves. If you assumed my powers made me crazy, you would be completely correct. No single brain should have to go through what I’ve been through. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy. There’s a reason you don’t hear of the Warrior using my powers very often. He’s got the right idea.”
“So, you’re ready to die?” Brooke asked.
“I’m ready for peace.”
Leona closed her eyes and sighed. “The idea of peace in the afterlife came from a peoples whose lives are defined by a span of linear time. If I weren’t an atheist, discovering time travel would cause me to doubt my religion. I can’t reconcile the possibility of heaven when you can be born in one year, and die billions of years before it, and I don’t know if any superior being could either.”
Nerakali smiled at her, almost warmly. “That’s what you never understood about Mateo. It’s all about faith.” She coolly walked out of the room.
“Who the hell is Mateo?” Leona asked.
Brooke shrugged yet again.
Considering the possibility that Nerakali might have been serious about marching towards her death, they started trying to leave the cockpit. Brooke first had to make sure the ship would be able to continue on present course on its own.
They could hear Paige barking orders down the hall. “Preston, get out of there. Preston, it’s too dangerous. There are protocol for entering that room. You need magboots, and a tether.” She was on the safe side of the airlock while Nerakali was making sure the cargo being stored in the airlock was secure. Serif and Dar’cy were there too.
Missy came up behind Leona and Brooke. “What’s goin’ on?”
“She’s about to kill herself,” Leona said.
Paige spun around. “What? Why would she do that?”
“She think it’s what I want,” Leona answered.
“Do you?”
Leona said nothing.
Paige changed her attention. “Missy, you need to make sure that outer hatch never opens.”
“Oh, that’ll be easy,” Missy said. But as she was reaching for the control panel, someone else’s hand held her back. It was Nerakali. Another Nerakali. “Are you from the future?”
“I’m a quantum duplication,” Alt!Nerakali said. “I’m from a temporary alternate reality. My stay here is also temporary. I’m just here to stop you from stopping her. She’s made her decision. The powers that be found a way to keep her on the ship, but the Hundemarke is more powerful than that. This is her only escape.”
“She opens that hatch,” Missy began, “we change course.”
“We have faith you’ll figure it out.”
Paige removed Dar’cy sidearm from her hip and pointed it at Alt!Nerakali. “Open the interior hatch. Now.”
“That’s like threatening to dump a bucket of water on a swimmer. As soon as she disappears, so do I.”
“I’m ready,” the Nerakali in the airlock said.
“You have a duty to The Warren,” Paige said with authority, “and to this crew.”
“I’m fulfilling my duties.”
“Any final words?” Alt!Nerakali asked.
“Say them for me,” Nerakali requested.
The alarm went off, and the outer hatch prepared to open. Nerakali closed her eyes, turned her chin to the side, and lifted her arms, like Jesus. She disappeared just before the hatch opened.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Void: The Expanse (Part VI)

Saga and Andromeda were no longer living in their mobile home, and not just because it was destroyed in a hate crime fire. Andromeda could have easily reconstituted it, had they wanted to. They no longer had a need to move around the planet, though, and instead decided that it was time to settle down and plant roots. Hokusai and Loa weren’t living with them either, and were in fact in the middle of an uncomfortable separation, brought about by the strain of Loa’s father’s sudden heart attack, and death. With the help of a new mage child, Camden was beginning to remember his life before being affected by the memory grenade. Unfortunately, he was starting to feel a little abandoned by Saga, because he now remembered them being much closer on Earth than they were now. She was trying to patch things up, and rectify that for the future.
The memory retriever was not the only full chooser that started demonstrating time powers. The running theory was that the close call with Earth gave Durus a sort of recharge in temporal power, which was paving way to a new era. Camden drew upon an analogy of Star Wars, which Saga had seen herself, but hadn’t really made the connection that Jedi keep existing, and being destroyed, with interim periods where people don’t believe they ever existed. Presently, they were trying to push for new language, to distinguish these new empowered people from those that came before. They did not want to use the universal convention of choosing one due to a sense of pride for their isolation. They wanted to come up with something new, and policy-makers were sifting through those proposals. As banal as it might seem, this was the most exciting and useful thing they could be doing at the moment. Months after the first democratic vote since the Deathspring, people started noticing what kind of mistakes they had made by allowing some of the old guard to maintain their control over the planet. An emergency election—which still took several more months to get underway—was put in place to drain the swamp, as it were.
After a couple more months of growing pains, things were finally where they needed to be. Local officials were taking care of the day-to-day regulation of the disparate cities. The high-level social servants had time to vote on trivial matters, such as what to call the new mages, because the world was currently waiting for a vote on the new constitution, which was first drafted by a group of officials before they were even elected. Their dedication to bettering the state was why most of them were ultimately elected into office.
On a personal note, Andromeda and Saga were living happily in a small cottage in a city that was about as far from the capital as was possible at the moment. Though she had quit her position as a city-builder last year, Andromeda ended up generating the pipes that ran from Watershed to Yalshire, so they themselves would be comfortable. Seeing this as the most important component of any city, the government begged her to at least continue doing this for them. She agreed, but only as long as there was no more efficient way to do it. Recent evidence suggested an infant in New Springfield would grow up to have the power to create new watershed regions, and possibly even lakes and rivers, which would halt their reliance on the original, and allow them to spread further throughout the wild thicket. Only time would tell whether this was the reality, or not. Her parents refused to allow their child to be proverted into an older age. Morick quit his relatively cushy position as Capital Security Advisor to protect New Springfield, though it was the worst kept secret that he was really there to protect the child from anyone looking to exploit her potential.
At the moment, Saga was trying to ask Andromeda to marry her, but she was not making it easy.
“Well, it’s just that I was going to ask you.”
“I guess I beat ya to it, so what’s the problem?” Saga questioned.
“I had this whole thing planned,” Andromeda claimed.
“What whole thing?”
“I was going to ask Loa to broadcast it.”
“Broadcast it to whom?”
“Everyone?”
“Everyone on Durus! Why would we do that?”
“To prove our love to each other.”
“I don’t need the rest of the world being in on my love for my girlfriend. That’s a very private matter.”
“Hokusai was telling me about...what did she call them? Promposals?”
“No, just regular proposals. Promposals were inspired by the original; hormonal teenagers convinced they needed to ask each other to dances in increasingly elaborate ways. They believed, without these stunts, their conviction wasn’t real.”
“So marriage proposals are elaborate, but dance proposals aren’t. I think what you’re missing is that this is a marriage proposal, so why shouldn’t I broadcast it?”
“I was explaining how people did it on Earth in my time. I wasn’t endorsing that behavior.”
“She said something about a jumbotron.”
“Yeah, Loa is the jumbotron, but I would never want that, like I said.”
“What about a flash mob?”
“Those are cool, but...not for that. They should be used to surprise people who aren’t part of the plan, and bring some joy into their lives; not to propose.”
“Because proposals are meant to be private,” Andromeda remembered.
“Exactly.”
“Then what’s he doing here?”
Saga looked over at Camden, who froze, like a rabbit who’s been caught making a sandwich, in the middle of making a sandwich. “Oh, him? He’s family.”
“Well, then let me call my mother.” Andromeda pretended to take out her phone, which didn’t exist, because they had never been invented on this planet.
Saga pretended to stop her, “no, that’s okay.” She directed her attention towards Camden, who had restarted his sandwich. “Cammy, honey? Could you take that to your bed?”
“You want me to eat in bed?”
“Yeah, why not?”
“Because that’s insane. I don’t want ants in my bedroom.”
My bedroom,” Andromeda corrected. Their situation was not unlike a couple letting their deadbeat adult son stay with them while he got back on his feet.
“Cammy, honey? There aren’t any ants on this planet,” Saga said.
“Then space ants, gah! You can’t offer to put me up until my place is finished, and then make all these rules,” he complained.
“That’s exactly what we can do. A world without rules is anarchy.”
“Doesn’t sound so bad,” they imagined him muttering as he juggled his fixin’s, and headed down the hallway.
“Now,” Saga said with a sigh. “Where were we?”
“You were trying to propose to me in the least elaborate way possible.”
“Oh, right.” Saga smiled wryly. “About that...”
“What?”
She tilted her head coyly. “I called in a few favors.” She stood up and offered her hand to Andromeda. “Come with me.”
As soon as Andromeda took Saga’s hand in hers, and stood up, they teleported to a magical dimension, overlooking the southern thickets of Durus.
Andromeda looked around. They were literally on top of the world, near the equator, to be exact...or rather, where it would be if they had a sun. “You got us here with favors?”
“Oh, this is nothing.” Saga gazed into the aether, and rolled her finger in a circular motion, from her stomach forward. The planet below them started moving. Of course it was already moving, but what Saga had done was request someone slow time for them in a temporal bubble. This allowed them to witness the planetary rotation in what appeared to them as real-time.
Andromeda watched in awe. She had come from a world of magic and mystery, but also of suffering and dullness. Though she had seen the Deathspring with her own eyes but a few years ago, this was still an inspiring sight. The world began to roll towards them faster and faster with each passing second, until reaching a maximum legible speed.
“Look there,” Saga suggested.
Before them were lines of light, emanating from the ground. As the light came towards them, they were able to see that the lines were joined into a word. It was WILL. A few hundred meters later, they saw the word YOU. It was followed by MARRY, ME, ANDROMEDA, and finally, a question mark.
“How did you do this?” Andromeda asked. “Who can do this?”
“Typical Andromeda, answering a question with another question.”
“Never mind,” she said. “Yes. This was amazing. YES, I’ll marry you!”
They kissed. Then, still with her now fiancée’s lips pressed to hers, Saga said, “and now for the grand finale. I had to pay an arm and a leg for this. Look up.” She snapped her fingers.
“What am I seeing here?” Every star in the sky was brightening, shining all across the expanse, dimming only to make room for another.
“Every star that can be seen from this vantage point is going supernova. It’s basically what happens when a star dies. Loa is using all of her power to transmit thousands of moments in the future, throughout billions of years. It’s just for us, no one else can see this.”
“Yes,” Andromeda said.
“Yes, what?”
“Yes, I’ll marry you.”
“You’ve already said yes.”
Andromeda continued to watch the brilliant lightshow for a few beats. “Yes, again.”