Saturday, May 27, 2017

Flurry: The Man in the High Castle (Part VII)

Click here for the previous installment...

It wasn’t that much farther through the secret castle maze, though Serkan and Ace did get turned around a few times. The map wasn’t so much a map as it was a vague set of instructions. Imagine directions for the assembly of a piece of furniture that are in English, but with the words out of order. That’s kind of what it was like to read the map, but they eventually found their destination, though they still weren’t quite sure exactly what it was that had found.
A thirtysomething man was sitting at his desk in the middle of a field outside, his assistant off to the side, busy with her own work. They were halfway outside, but also not. The space above them would listlessly drift between a ceiling and the open sky, like something out of a Harry Potter movie. The man was casually talking on the phone, and did not appear to be at all surprised to see two strangers just waltz into his magical field office. He waved them towards him with his fingers as he was finishing up his conversation. “Yeah, don’t worry about. I’m sure ol’ Rothy boy is okay. All right, well give me a call when you find it. Thanks, Moomoo.” He cradled the phone and smiled at the two intruders. “You finally made it. I would love to say you made it record time, but the truth is you’re on the wrong side of the spectrum.” He glanced at his watch. “Most people find this place faster. That map there was stunting your intuition.”
“What is this place?”
“My home. Welcome to prehistoric Kansas City.”
“We went back in time?” Serkan asked.
“It’s more that we brought the past up to us, and merged it with the present.”
“Were you expecting us?” Ace asked of him.
“I knew that someone would notice the bad weather we’re havin’. I figured Kolby, or someone else from Beaver Haven, would show up, though.”
“What’s Beaver Haven?”
“A prison.”
Ace tried to get them back on track. “You’re the one creating the snow?”
The man looked at him like he was being just so rude, but then extended his hand. “Hello, I’m Keanu ‘Ōpūnui. Nice to meet who would break into my home and toss around accusations.”
“You’re too young to be the founder of this company.”
Keanu shrugged. “My friend, Moomoo keeps me young, and also I think you already know that I didn’t really found this company in the 60s. I wasn’t even born yet!”
“Does that even matter?” Serkan asked.
“No, in our line of business, I guess not.”
“You treat time travel as a business,” Ace said, again accusatorily, and not in the form of a question.
“What else would the point of it be?”
“Does there have to be a point?”
“Good point.” He smiled at his own joke. “Look, that company website didn’t lie entirely, just about the details. I really do want to fix climate change.”
“Do you imagine that it’s working?”
“Well, this is just the testing ground,” Keanu said. “I’ll take care of the whole planet after we gather enough data.”
“This can’t possibly work,” Ace said. “You can’t just turn on the world’s air conditioning and expect to fix the climate. The underlying problems are still there. We’ll still have pollution, poor regulations, and other concerns. All you’re doing is covering it up. Will your weather machine last forever?”
“What weather machine? Do you think I’m just doing this with technology?”
“You’re not?” Serkan couldn’t think of any alternatives.
“We’re time travelers, of course it’s not just tech. You think my teleporting friend, Jupiter ever drives electric cars?”
“Well, I can’t speak for Jupiter,” Ace said.
“Or for anyone who would name their child Jupiter,” Serkan couldn’t help but add.
Ace pretended like he hadn’t, “but we assumed you stole the machine from the future, which is something a normal person couldn’t do.”
“Ah, I guess that makes a sort of sense,” Keanu admitted, “but no. That’s not necessary; not when you can mesh instead.”
“What’s meshing?” Serkan was feeling dumb with all these questions.
“Meshes are like time windows,” Keanu said, excited to have the opportunity to explain this. “But instead of the proverbial glass, the window is opened. You can’t get through, like with a time door, but the environment can cross the barrier.”
“The window screen,” Ace said in understanding.
Keanu pointed to him like he’d won a gold star sticker. “Exactly. I open time windows, but leave the mesh in place. So I didn’t actually create the weather. We’re just sharing it with a different time and place; 1740s Arctic, to be exact.”
That was kind of cool, Serkan had to admit, but only to himself.
Keanu went on, “it’s a good thing I’m limited to this, otherwise I’d probably be like Kayetan, and not try to save the planet.”
“How many time manipulators do you know?”
“All of them,” Keanu answered ominously, but then he winked, as if to say, not really.
“You’ve still not explained how your time power can fix climate change. If you’re doing this yourself, rather than by a machine, then it’s even worse. You will one day die.”
Keanu opened his top drawer and removed an object from it, setting it on top of his desk. “Do you know what that is?”
Serkan peered at it, but it didn’t look familiar. Ace, on the other hand, thought he recognized it. “Well, it looks like the old Analion building. The one that shut down after a bunch of people died from their products, and the building itself.”
“That’s right. I actually once worked there, as one of its many vice presidents. But the building itself is what’s important. It houses what we in the business call an echo chamber.” He turned it over, like a professor at a technical institute, explaining the intricacies of a particular part. “A cone inside of a cylinder. Seems simple enough, but that’s just its basic shape.” He used his pinkie finger to point to various details. “Every line matters, though. Every corner, every room’s dimension; it all helps us focus our energy.” He tossed it at Serkan who had to think fast enough to catch it. “Here ya go, you can keep that one, I have loads. It might come in handy one day.”
Serkan looked it over himself. It seemed innocuous enough. “What does it do again?”
“I’ve told you that I’m a time mesher. That’s all I can do, but my friend can cross dimensional boundaries.” He removed another replica of the Analion building; one that was much nicer and sturdier. “We trapped his power in this thing so I can show you how people are reacting outside.” He smiled smugly and pointed his toy to the side like it was a remote control, but nothing happened. “I said, this is how people are reacting outside!” He inspected it to make sure it was working. Apparently what he didn’t know was that Serkan had the ability to prevent other people from using their own time powers.
“Having trouble performing?”
Keanu’s assistant stopped what she was doing, calmly stood up, and took a hammer from her desk. She began to walk around like she was in some kind of uncontrollable stupor.
“Wait, wait! Don’t do this!” he ordered her, but it was pointless. He directed his attention back to Serkan. “What did you do?”
“Oh, did you not know what I was?” Serkan asked him haughtily, smirking in a way that was a bit out of his character.
He went back to trying to stop his assistant, “nope! Don’t! I’ll get my powers back, and you’ll regret this.”
“We can’t let her hurt him, no matter her reasons,” Ace said to Serkan. He tried to approach the woman, but she effortlessly pushed him to the ground.
She lifted the hammer in the air, and Serkan squinted as he was helping his boyfriend back up, not wanting to see this happen, but also conflicted by how he was supposed to feel about it. His worry was unwarranted, however, for when her arm dropped, it was nowhere near Keanu. Instead, it landed on what was presumably the handle to one of his other desk drawers. Still in a sort of autopilot, she sifted through its contents, and retrieved what she was presumably looking for.
“Put! That! Down!” Keanu yelled to her like a disappointed father.
It was just a piece of paper, so Serkan wasn’t sure what danger it could pose, though to be fair, they couldn’t see what was on the front. The other two seemed to feel that it was important. She looked at him with a seething rage, and Serkan wondered if she was considering going ahead and using the hammer against him physically, even though she had theoretically gotten what she came from. She ended up deciding against it, but did feel the need to slowly raise her arm and show him her middle finger. To him she said, “you have already regretted this.” To Serkan and Ace she said, “it was nice to see you again as little babies. Adorbs.” She then switched her gaze to the paper, and literally disappeared.
As soon as she was gone, Keanu began to scream. He lifted his right arm, which was already bubbling in the midst of a strange temporal disturbance. The tips of his fingers disappeared, and then the rest of his fingers. The hand went afterwards before the effect continued up his arm, accelerating by every second. Time was somehow gobbling up his body, or at least part of it. The bubbling did stop once it reached his shoulder. The pain seemed to go away fairly soon thereafter, but his panic was not yet over. He kept screaming from having lost that arm. “Bitch paradoxed me!”
Serkan and Ace didn’t know what to think, but a part of them couldn’t help but be pleased.
“What are you so happy about? You’re about to die. Newsflash: this building never existed! It’s been paradoxed out of the timestream!”
“You mean...” Ace began.
Keanu nodded emphatically. “Yeah. You’re evidently immune to time powers, so I guess you’re stuck with the temporal corruption.”
“What is exactly is going to happen?”
No sooner that Ace uttered the words did the sky around them began to warp and collapse. The grass and trees before them shriveled up and disappeared. This destruction followed them from the distance, like a horde of oncoming langoliers. Once it had caught up to them, Keanu disappeared along with everything else, leaving them stranded in the middle of the sky, thirty stories up from the ground. They began falling towards the roof of the High Castle building, but it too disappeared before they could reach it. One by one, the floors and ceilings of every floor bent, shuttered, and blinked away so they could continue to fall towards their inevitable death.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Microstory 590: Operator Halts All Ploutonic Enterprises Operations

Our new overlord, proclaimed by some to be the incarnation of God, has decided to cease all operations at Ploutonic Enterprises. Ploutonic began in the early-to-mid 20th century with one goal: to give the people what they wanted. Their slogan was the same yesterday as it was when it first began, “Always there, hands open.” What exactly does this mean? Well, as time marches on, society and its peoples develop different priorities. At times of war, Ploutonic manufactured uniforms, munitions, battle transport, etc. At times of great peace, such as following the Stockton Nuclear Disarmament, Ploutonic designed innovative toys. Their original toy factory remains standing today, and has occasionally been used as a Bellevue outpost. They have had their hands in a number of wildly different industries, sometimes overlapping each other, but often after shuttering one division in favor of the next. Their unorthodox strategy has led to great profits, but have recently seen a decline in success. A quote from business analyst Riva Holsten, originally posted on her newsblog, is below.

[Ploutonic] always positioned themselves to take advantage of relevant opportunities. No one could accuse them of not understanding the future, that’s for sure. They’re always one step ahead of the trends, leading some to believe its founder to possess anomaly abilities to actually see the future. This would certainly explain their deep connection to Bellevue. But all the future studying in the world can’t help you if people begin protesting your brand. The fact is that Ploutonic has had to lay off more of its workforce than most companies of its calibre, and it’s done so in order to make room for these new opportunities, not because it had to. And their aggressively passionate stance in support of disloyalty finally caught up to them near the end of the millennium. Few employees were sticking around past a year, and even fewer people were applying for the vacancies. The enthusiasm just wasn’t there anymore. What always baffled me was how baffled they were about this turn of fortune. Honestly, I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner. I surmise that the only thing that kept it afloat was the number of people who were able to stay on board based on their qualifications, regardless of what direction the company went in. Accountants and marketers, for instance, can account and market for any industry. Unfortunately, many jobs aren’t like that, and this made people angry. If the organization didn’t close artificially anyway, I would have estimated their longevity at three years.

Godlike anomaly Operator—who possesses the ability to manipulate the physical movements of anyone and everyone on the planet simultaneously—has finally decided that enough is enough. Ploutonic Enterprises, and all of its divisions, have been completely shut down, effective immediately. Most people still working there have been transitioned into Operator’s universal basic income program, which draws its fund from the no longer necessary defense budget. Most recent president and CEO of Ploutonic declined to comment in detail regarding the new development, saying simply, “I didn’t want it to end at all, but I definitely didn’t want it to end this way. Operator was able to make my fingers type the email blast that laid off my entire workforce at once, but she couldn’t stop me from crying while I was doing it.” Early reports suggest that Operator will convert Ploutonic Enterprise’s headquarters into a reformed education academy.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Microstory 589: Extinct Human Civilization Discovered on Exoplanet

For thousands of years, our people believed humans to be the only species in the universe. But as we were progressing towards enlightenment through astronomy and computer science, we started questioning this belief. Scientists of the day thought it unlikely that, out of the trillions and trillions of stars in the observable universe alone, we would be, well...alone. Not too long later, we developed the ability to travel beyond our lonely star system, and visit other planets. On one such of these trips, we encountered a race of aliens. But they were not what we expected. We assumed they would have more than two arms and two legs, be able to fly, or breathe underwater. Some of them actually can do these things, but then again, so can we, but that’s just because of science. Strangely, these aliens were human, having evolved on a planet of their about the same time we did on ours. The only reason we were even likely to meet each other that early in our technological history was that their galaxy collided with ours not too long after the humble beginnings of our respective evolutions. They were supposed to be living in a separate galaxy, but it has been scientifically determined that we now belong to the same one. This angered a number of loyalists who did not appreciate sharing a home with outsiders, and so the scientific community came up with a compromise, referring to this single entity as the Justean-Nectean Bigalaxy (for reference, the Necteans call it the Nectean-Justean Bigalaxy).

We didn’t at first understand why humans would evolve so far from us. Simple genetic investigation taught us, however, that we were actually separate subspecies; genetically incompatible with each other, but there is still no denying that we are all in all the same. We would later learn that humans, and their variants, are the most common species in the universe, with very few capable of being excluded from this general categorization. We now know that Justean humans evolved naturally, however, while others are ultimately descended from genetic engineering. So okay, these were all extremely important discoveries, but also rather logical. In simple terms, Justean humans were meant to exist, and others had to be created. Certain terrorist organizations use this as an excuse to provoke war amongst our brethren, but the popular opinion is that we should just leave each other alone. A recent discovery has turned our notions of humanity on its head once more, however, and it threatens our status as the so-called legitimates. Explorers have uncovered evidence of an ancient civilization on a planet that would have been originally counted in Justean territory. Further research has shown that they were genetically identical to us, and evolved completely naturally. There is also no evidence that they are the result of some long since forgotten interstellar migration. After months of investigation, experts have concluded that these Justean humans evolved on their planet simultaneously as we did. The explorers have not yet revealed what happened to them, but their existence has opened a plethora of new questions about why we even exist. How many other legitimate civilizations were once out there, and more importantly, do any of them remain today?

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Microstory 588: Outsiders Selected to Crew Theseus

If there’s one thing this star system likes it’s trying to new things, thinking outside the box, and giving people a chance. I guess that’s three things, which makes sense if you know anything about our culture. In The Core, there are no half measures. We either go big, or we go home to work on something even bigger. We built for ourselves new bodies, modeled upon the old ones, but far superior physiologically. We designed an entire artificial solar system so that we could all live within spitting distance of each other. We fly around in ships despite our ability to teleport to anywhere in the observable universe near instantaneously. And it is one of these ships that’s going to undergo a change in dynamic. The Theseus is a ship that can never be retired. It is one of the oldest in our collective history, having been repaired too many times to count. When the Virgats first learned how to lift off from their lonely rock, and into orbit, they did so with single-use rockets, as most planetary cultures do. Once their technology had progressed enough, they built for themselves a vessel worthy of being referred to as a ship. This would not only take them to the planets beyond their moon, but could also be reused as many times as necessary. An entire field was created to maintain this one ship, and eventually others like it, called rocket surgery. In order to make another trip outside of the atmosphere, the Theseus would need to undergo heavy maintenance. As time went on, and technology greatly surpassed Theseus-class ships, the Virgats decided that they did not want their first to be left behind. And so the repair procedures were enhanced to a degree most would not find worth it. It was far more practical to simply decommission it, and move on to something better. Nevertheless, they persisted. That was many thousands of years ago, and the Theseus remains today, having been bequested to the Core once it was formed.
Also thousands of years ago, a small group of our ancestors were unwillingly shot through time, landing in present-day Earth. They struggled with their new lives, solving mysteries, battling ancient evil religions, and trying to get their physics homework done on time. They have recently made their way to us, seeking asylum from their pursuers. Of course we obliged their request, but we have decided to give them something else. They have been chosen to lead the crew of the new Theseus. It has recently experience a major retrofit, with all the bells and whistles that our other ships carry today. In fact, it is likely the most advanced and powerful vessel that we have in our ranks at the moment. These outsiders will not be doing this alone, so do not worry for their safety. They will be led by Prosper human Captain Eldon Cross, Navigator Erasteus Milke, Weapons Officer Monrovia Milena Varinia Labriola De La Prada, and Ambassador Keillor Hallenby. As the flagship of the Core, it will not have a mission for itself. Instead, it will remain available to all other travelers and offworld outposts in the case that they run into some kind of trouble. Sporting the largest artificial simplex dimensional elaborator, it will be potentially capable of housing thousands upon thousands of passengers, should the need arise. No one knows if this unorthodox plan will work out for us, but most involve have confidence. Afterall, we have been through so much—as disparate societies, and also following The Melting Pot Migration. The only thing that has gotten us through it is our ingenuity, our quick wit, and our ability to erroneously list three things when necessary.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Microstory 587: ‘Adventures of Conundrum & Treemaker’ Cancelled

Out of all members of Bellevue, including people with abilities, and those without, perhaps the least likely to be the inspiration for a broadcast series would be Bree Nolan and Connor Higgins. Yet that is exactly what happened more than six years ago. Nolan and Higgins grew up next door to each other, and were the best of friends. They were so inseparable that neither of them knew that either of them had special anomaly abilities. As it turns out, Higgins has the ability to negate other anomalies’ abilities, which means that Nolan’s never actually manifested, because she was just about always standing too close to her friend. Higgins’ ability was an invaluable resource to Bellevue, as it led to many breakthroughs on anomaly genetics, and allowed them to keep a handle on some of the most dangerous anomalies. Unfortunately, Higgins carried with him a level of danger as well. He cannot control the use of his powers. They are always on, always working. As painful as it might have been to some of his more sensitive brethren, it just wasn’t practical to let him stick around. So it was decided that he could, for the most part, better serve the organization as a field recruiter. He would travel the world, finding the best talent for this budding world law enforcement bureau, while maintaining a healthy distance from anyone he might incidentally put in danger. To no surprise for anyone who knew either or both of them, Bree Nolan stuck by her best friend, and signed on for his recruiter team; this despite the fact that her own ability to perceive genetic and hereditary characteristics of others would be in indefinitely hampered.
Bree’s loyalty to her partner spoke to Sterling Serials Network Executive Edelmira Baník, who would later commission the pilot for a new series based on Higgins and Nolan’s lives together. The first season showed the two of them as recruiters, encountering interesting characters, and solving minor crises. This all happened with a background of side characters like Clarity Garner, and Pantera as they battled against foes like the protégé of terrorist The Destruction, or global criminal networks. Adventures of Conundrum & Treemaker took some historical liberties with the second season when Nolan and Higgins began to develop abilities not present in their real life counterparts. The third season deviated even further when the partners—now in a purely fictional romantic relationship—found themselves in an alternate version of the world. This allowed the writers to regurgitate previously defeated enemies while simultaneously alienating many superfans. The fourth and fifth seasons attempted to return to the roots of the show’s source material, but many viewers felt that it was too little too late, and ratings have proven these tactics to be barely enough to keep the series afloat. Largely supported by a small host of advertisers loyal to the Sterling brand overall, a sixth season was greenlit on the 24th of Gaby. Months later, Sterling announced that this season would be its last, and that all remaining episodes would be released to the public, but on a heightened broadcast schedule. Series creator and showrunner Avisen Chen said this of the announcement on her personal weblog, “I was asked to take the reigns on this project after [Ernesto Vargas] left to pursue a rap career. I never thought it would get off the ground, hongestly [sic], but my team and I have been pleasantly surprised year after year. We were even considering a spinoff series involving fan favorite Thumbnail Jones. It looks like that’s not going to happen, but we are hopeful that this will not be the end of the Treemaker and Conundrum franchise. We are already in discussions with the network about a possible film to round out the story and tie up a few loose ends. Six seasons and a movie. Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?” The series finale is slated to air in seven weeks, at which point it will be replaced by a recently approved series about the founding of the island nation of Federama.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Microstory 586: ‘My Miacid, Sid’ Author Returning to Kansas City

Twenty-four years ago, a book appeared on the shelves that touched the hearts of many young children, and also their parents. I can’t tell you how many mothers and fathers I’ve met who’ve told me about how their sons and daughters require them to read that book every night before bed. I am, of course, talking about My Miacid, Sid. Before this children’s book was released, there were many others that involved pet care. They were designed to teach our young ones what pets need, and how they become part of the family. They deliver, not so subtly, an analogy for eventually becoming an adult, and a responsible member of society. This is all well and good, but they were missing a key component. Death. Death is one of the two things that unite us all; the other being life. We all come from different walks of life. We’re born at different times, to different guardians, under different circumstances, to different neural wiring, and with contradictory perspectives. But what we all have in common is that we’re alive, and that we know we will one day die. My Miacid, Sid is a surprisingly powerful and moving chronicle of a young girl’s experiences with her pet miacid. Sid grows up with Railly. Together they learn to be gracious, loving, and careful. They learn to not knock people down, and to give others a reason to trust them. And then, as would happen, Sid dies at a time when Railly is just really starting her life. She mourns her lost friend, and honors him throughout the rest of her own days by acknowledging the value of life. She goes on to become a hospice nurse, comforting people when they’re at their worst, and in their final days. We then flashforward more to watch her at her own death, surrounded by all of her loved ones. And as she passes to the other side, the first thing she sees is Sid, smiling and welcoming her to a new beginning. It’s a particularly long children’s book, one that the author has said she worried might deter people from giving it a chance. But we have, and I personally believe that the world is better for it. Sandra Cole has not written anything since this book. She has spent her career travelling the world, giving readings and moderating discussions. She does not relegate her trips to primary schools, and in fact receives a great deal of requests from tertiary schools, and even colleges. She will be returning to Kansas City, her hometown for the fifty-sixth time for one such of these events at James Simian Academy on the ninth of Manny this year.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: July 13, 2128

Click here for the previous installment...
Click here for the 2017 table of contents.

Mateo and Juan did not immediately go to Florida. They first traveled back through the teleporter pool, and onto the Tribulation Island. There, the both of them spent the day with the whole group, and then Juan and Leona spent the following year talking a great deal. He was one of her birth parents’ favorite historical figures, and subsequently the inspiration for her first name. He was not surprisingly experienced in history and the future He was famous in the salmon world for carrying around something called the Compass of Disturbance, which was capable of locating and harnessing natural temporal anomalies. He used these fractures to explore all of time and space, and learn about various cultures. By the time Mateo returned to the timeline the next year, the two of them were the best of friends, even though they had never even shaken hands, or given each other a hug due to the merge barrier. They all had their annual breakfast together, and then Mateo and Juan set off on their mission.
Juan took his compass out and moved it around in the air to get a good reading. “We’re not headed directly towards Florida, but we are on the right right path.”
“That thing can tell you how to get somewhere that’s going to get you somewhere else?”
“I have been using this thing for many years. I have learned to interpret it better than anyone else.”
“How did you encounter it? How did you make your way into our world?”
Juan tried to tell his story. “I first traveled to the peninsula of Florida in search of—”
“The Fountain of Youth,” Mateo jumped in. “Yes.”
“No. That’s a myth. Though, looking back, I imagine my search for immortality after my original mortal voyages will ultimately go on and inspire the rumors. But no, I first went to Florida for this type of plant I had heard of with fascinating, but still nonmagical, properties. I had encountered people who brewed a special vine into a tea that made them feel youthful. It made them lively, and happy, and it lowered their inhibitions. It basically just made them drunk, but without the alcohol, which meant it lacked its deleterious effects. If I had found it, I’d have been rich, selling a social and euphoric drink with no hangover. Could you imagine? Well, this is the future, people here don’t have to imagine, but back then, it would have been amazing. Anyway, I actually did find what I was looking for, but it wasn’t what I had hoped. Its effects had been greatly enhanced by the other drugs people were taking alongside it. So that was a bust, but the trip did end up leading me to this pit. It was the dryest place I’d ever seen. Water literally flowed away from it. When I opened my canteen for a drink, it was completely empty. I knew then that I was somewhere unusual, but I didn’t know exactly what.
“I began to dig. I wasn’t sure why, but I knew that something was in the ground. Something was making the water disappear. And that’s when I found it.” Juan held up his precious compass. “This compass. Despite having been buried naked in the ground for God knows how long, it was perfectly clean and brand new, with not a scratch on it. When I opened it, it started spinning around furiously. I thought it was going to burst. Then a light appeared before me. I walked through it, and found myself in the exact same place I already was, but at a different time. Ya see, I actually had discovered the Fountain of Youth. I had just gotten there too late. It’s a spring that runs more than sixteen hundred years ago, before naturally drying up, as springs do. Obviously, you have to go back in time and get to the water before that happens. I was there back then, but of course, I didn’t know that it had anything to do with immortality. And even if I did, I wouldn’t know I needed to drink Catalyst first. I just used it to fill my canteen, and then moved on. I’ve been running around with this thing ever since. It’s only recently that I was told what I was missing.”
“Wow. You must have seen so much. You’re going to see so much more once we find these waters.”
“That’s the plan.”
“It’s not a bad plan,” Arcadia said. She had been waiting for them at the lake where Mateo and Leona completed the Six Days, Seven Nights tribulation.
“You must be a waypoint,” Juan said.
“Are you calling me fat?” she asked with what was hopefully feigned disgust.
“Are you calling me a person who calls people fat?” Juan threw back with excellent precision.
She lifted her chin at a slant and studied his face. “I like you. I probably should have introduced myself earlier.”
Juan bowed, and kissed a hand that she presented him. “I greet you as the inhabitants of Kentavro in the 24th century.”
“I am pleased,” Arcadia says to him formally and gracefully, with a gentle curtsy.
“What’s a waypoint?”
The other two looked at him like he was a mountain man at a cotillion, Juan reluctantly so. He wanted to respect Mateo more, but there was just no getting around the fact that Mateo. Was. Kind of. Dumb.
“Waypoints come in many forms,” Arcadia started to explain. “They can be people, or geographical obstacles, or temporal illnesses. The one thing they have in common is that they make you wait before you can move on with your journey. They’re not designed for that purpose, necessarily. It’s really just a general term used to describe anything that gets in a true traveler’s way. It is interesting, Mateo, that in all your time as a salmon, you have met only two true travelers.”
“At the risk of making myself look even stupider, what is the definition of a true traveler?”
“You know choosing ones who use their temporal powers for some kind of gain. The Chauffeur takes payments for fares. Glaston just likes pissing people off. He can often be found literally kidnapping people by spiriting them away to other spacetime points. He puts them back when he gets bored. True travelers, on the other hand, simply want to experience life from other perspectives.” She pointed to Juan. “The Navigator does this with his device. The Warrior through death. Mateo, you would be a true traveler if you had been born a chooser, rather than a salmon.” She started to speak her sentences slowly, like she was trying to convey a message of importance, the same way that Barack Obama or Christopher Walken did. She also temporarily adopted a vague transatlantic accent. “This is the life you should be living. This is the life you’re looking for. You should be going on adventures, and quests, for nothing more than the sake of doing them. You should be collecting stories to tell vikings in a bar, smiling knowingly as they laugh, for they do not realize you are telling the God’s honest truth.”
“What are you saying, Arcadia?”
“I have another proposition for you.”
“Oh no, here we go.”
“I can release you from the powers that be. I can get you the immortality waters that you’re missing. I can give you the life you deserve; that you’re built for.”
“Let me guess, you won’t bring my friends back into the timestream, and I have to leave Leona behind.”
“No, I’ll bring them back, and I’ll let you stay with her.” She said the last word with such disdain.
“But,” she echoed. “Your memories will be erased. You’ve heard of blending brains, but my sister could do more than that.”
“That’s an arbitrary price. You don’t have to erase my memories. You just want me to have to make a choice.”
“Actually that’s not true. You would have to lose your memories in order to survive the transition.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Where you’re living right now is but one universe of many. I’m not talking many worlds theory, that’s bogus. These universes can be created by people in other universes, just by the strength of their convictions.”
Mateo wasn’t impressed. “You mean Imaginationland?”
“Not unlike that story. Which is a story...originating from another universe, and taking yet another universe.”
“So it’s not real?”
“Time and perception are all that matter when it comes to what’s real. It is not a simulation. It cannot be turned off, or reprogrammed, or hacked;t can only be accessed. It is real.”
“It would never really be real, because it is not this universe.”
“Well let me ask you this,” Arcadia said. “What makes you think that the universe you’re in right the real one?” She gave him a second to think about this. “You could have asked Vearden about this.”
“Don’t you say his name,” Mateo snapped.
She nodded calmly. “I will do as you ask. Will you?”
Mateo looked at Juan, and then back the way they had come, in the general direction of Leona.
“You can have your Leona, and your time with her too,” Arcadia said as her final selling point.
Mateo then just looked back at Juan again. “Is this waypoint going to take much longer. We’re gonna be late for our flight to Florida.”
Arcadia brought in and released a deep breath. “Very well.” She moved aside and let them pass. “Two more legs. Hurry back, though. I believe it’s Taco Tuesday. There may be ice cream too.”
Mateo and Juan walked a few more miles along the bank of the lake, and then on to the Golf Plains. Just as the top of the replica of The Colosseum was appearing in view, Juan informed him that they were near the breach. They walked through it and landed in what was present-day Florida. They were standing in a lush forest, but could hear the buzz of a drone not too far from them. Juan recalibrated his compass, and passed them into another breach a few meters away. Together, they filled nearly a dozen water bottles of Youth. The extra might come in handy one day.
They couldn’t just retrace their steps in order to get back to the island. They had to go through an entirely new pathway, one that was much longer than the first. They walked through many points in time and space, occasionally on alien planets. They actually saw a young Vearden talking with a young Lincoln. Mateo didn’t even know that they knew each other before the island. When finally they returned home, it was dinner time, and decidedly not Taco Tuesday. They just ate their regular boar and bananas, had some interesting, but sad, conversations, and then went to bed. Tomorrow would all about Longevity water, which meant it would likely take a long time.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Flurry: 13 Going on 30 (Part VI)

Click here for the previous installment...

Ace cracked the door open to get a tiny look around. People were walking back and forth. They weren’t paying attention to anything but themselves, but would still notice two guys coming out of a literal closet with no apparent authority to be there. “We didn’t really think this through.”
“We didn’t have all the facts,” Serkan said.
“We should have brought a ladder.”
“You mean like this one?” Serkan stepped back so he could see a step ladder hanging on the wall.”
“I mean one so that we could have climbed to the top of. That way, we would magically appear on the second floor, even deeper beyond security.”
“Again, we couldn’t have known that we would need that.”
“Well...we knew that we were going to an office building. We should have dressed as contractors, or in business suits.”
“You mean like these ones?” Serkan removed two business suits hanging on the wall behind the supply shelves. One was labelled with a big letter S, and the other, an H.”
“Why the hell are those even here? This is for cleaning supplies.”
“It’s like they were left here for us.”
“This doesn’t feel right,” Ace said, worried.
The doorknob started jiggling as someone was trying to open it.  They could hear someone talking from the other side. “Yeah, have a good night, Chip!” it said before starting to mutter under its breath, “you stupid corporate hack.” The door opened, and the voice asked them “why aren’t you two dressed yet?”
“Vearden?” He was much older, say about eleven years.
“Put your suits on. You look ridiculous.”
“How did you find us? How did you know when we would be here?”
He sighed impatiently and tried to close the door behind him. Some random guy asked him what he was doing. “Just having a secret meeting with a couple of time travelers!” he yelled back with a laugh. He then went back to Serkan and Ace. “It didn’t take me that long to figure out where you would end up, based on its distance from the road. Google Maps is a wonderful thing. I also knew you were destined for the summer of 2024, so I positioned myself to be stationed at this building for as long as I needed. Then I just keep an eye on this room.” He pointed to the back corner where they were being watched by a security camera. “Don’t worry, it’s a closed system. It can only be accessed from my account.”
“You work for High Castle?”
“Snowglobe, actually,” Vearden answered. “I figured we could use an inside man with some range. High Castle is not our only threat from this conglomerate.”
“That’s what you’ve been doing this whole time?” Ace asked.
Vearden smiled nostalgically, but also with sadness. “It’s been a long journey in this...City of Fountains. You got your math wrong, though. Lincoln Rutherford was far too young to be a lawyer in 2013. I did find Kyle K. Stanley, though. He didn’t own his own practice at the time, but he did give me my first job opportunity.”
“Oh,” Serkan said. “You’re right, I didn’t realize. I’m so sorry, we should have been more careful with you.”
“It’s okay,” Vearden said truthfully. “But you really do need to change your clothes. This place has a strict dress code. Business casual gets you fired, even for the mail guys.”
Serkan and Ace started getting dressed.
“I had to guess on your sizes.”
“Can you get us to the top floor?”
Vearden smiled knowingly. “You don’t want to go to the top floor. You want to go beyond that. And yes, I can get you there. Just be glad this isn’t 2023. It’s taken me forever to learn how to navigate the vator maze.”
“The vator maze. That...sounds...ominous,” Ace said, as he was tying his new shoes.
“It is. This place is confusing as hell. If you’re looking for a particular floor, you better make sure you’re in the right tower, or you won’t make it to the right room.”
Serkan adjusted his tie in a little mirror. “I assume there are secret passageways, like all the best castles had.”
“Boy, are there ever. Come on. This building is most vulnerable during the one o’clock shift change.”
Once he had determined that the coast was clear, Vearden led them across the lobby and into one of the elevators. It had to specifically be the freight elevator, though, or they wouldn’t be able to go where they needed to. As they were moving upwards, he hovered over the buttons and watched the numbers on the screen change, careful to press another one at the precise time required. For instance, when they were passing the second floor, he pressed 8, and when they were passing the third, he pressed 6. Not only was there a code, but you had to enter them at the exact right time. Finally, they stopped midway between twelve and fourteen, the buttons indicating that there was technically no thirteenth floor, presumably due to superstition. But apparently there was, just not one accessible to the general population. Vearden placed his index finger against his lips, then pointed towards the doors, which were not opening. He then reached over and took hold of the safety railing with both hands, using what appeared to be a not insignificant amount of strength to wrench it from its place, taking a section of the wall with it.
Removing that part of the wall showed there to be a second set of elevator doors. Vearden took a quarter out of Ace’s coat pocket and slipped it between the doors. They could hear it drop down. “Dammit,” he whispered. He now took the quarter he had left in Serkan’s pocket and dropped it into the crack more carefully. It fell it its slot, and opened the doors for them. Once they were through to the other side, Vearden pulled the false wall back in place, and pushed a button to close the secret doors. “Every Snowglobe subsidiary’s headquarters has a secret thirteenth floor,” he said, still in a low voice. “Many people know this, and even work there. Not even they know that there’s a secret section of the secret floor only accessible to an even more elite few.”
“You’re one of those few?” Ace asked.
“No. Infiltration is a complex process. We are still not anywhere close to knowing everything there is to know.”
“Who’s we?”
“We need to get going,” Vearden said, ignoring the question.
“Is this where the leader guy works?” Serkan asked.
“Not quite. It just gets us there. We still have a ways to go.”
Vearden continued to lead them through a series of doors, elevators, and passageways in a secret section of the building. At one point, they had to duck into this weird hobbit hole closet. They did not encounter a single other person on their way, or really any evidence that anyone else had ever been there. Except that it was always so clean. When they asked him about it, Vearden just said that The Custodian has been doing his job right. They traveled up, down, and around. One elevator even moved in several different directions, according to the right combination of buttons. Like, it’s one thing to make it hard for people to get into your secret building, but this would make it hard for you too. Even with muscle memory letting you enter all these codes, and navigate this maze, it would still take at least fifteen minutes to get through the whole thing. Was it worth not just, ya know, investing in better locks, or something? Or just build your evil lair in a volcano so that people won’t try to get there anyway.
He kept walking with a purpose, never having to stop and make sure that he was going the right way. If he hadn’t been here before, then he was certainly confident in whatever was telling him where to go. But then something happened that gave him pause. They turned a corner to find a set of double doors, which didn’t seem all that weird to Serkan and Ace based on everything else that was happening, but Vearden was concerned. “This...this is not supposed to be here.”
“Are you sure?”
He removed a paper tablet that had been stuffed into the back of his pants and started examining it, pinching and swiping through a set of blueprints and instructions. “No, it’s definitely not on the map.”
“Well, maybe it’s not on the map because it isn’t important,” Serkan suggested. “We go down the hallway regardless, right?”
“Right, but...” Vearden agreed, still confused.
Just then, the doors that didn’t belong swung open, revealing two women standing at the entrance to a lush botanical garden. “Vearden,” one of them exclaimed in excitement. “You’re alive.”
“Gretchen,” the other said. “This is 2024. It’s an alternative version of him; the one from this timeline. He doesn’t know you.”
Should I know you?” Vearden asked.
“We’re married,” Gretchen said.
“Gretchen, stop!” the other ordered.
“Shut up, Danuta!” Gretchen yelled back.
“It’s not him!”
“It is him!” Gretchen argued. “We can contact The Warrior, or even Nerakali. One of them can bring my Vearden back. I can’t believe I never thought of this before.”
“He’s clearly busy,” Danuta argued back. “Plus, look how confused he is. He has no idea what brain blending is. It goes against our code to involve him in our affairs.”
“Screw the code!”
“Uh, hi,” Vearden finally jumped in. “You know an alternate version of me? And he died?” He took a few beats. “And you and I are married?”
“Not just that.” Gretchen took a half step forward, but was trying to be careful. “But we’re also in love. I can restore your memories. Well...I personally can’t, but I know someone who can. He or she will blend your mind with that of the alternate version, and you’ll remember all the lives you’ve lived.”
“Gretchen,” Danuta pleaded. “We can’t do this.”
“I’m standing at the cusp of a shadow dimension,” Vearden told her. “I’m informed enough to make that decision on my own.”
“See?” Gretchen asked Danuta rhetorically. “Still my beautiful Vearden Haywood. I told you we would see each other again, doorwalker.”
He looked back at Serkan and Ace, weighing his options. He then presented the paper tab with the map on it. “This is important,” he said of it. Then he looked back to the garden, and the mysterious Gretchen. But this is important to me.” He handed the map to Ace. “You’ll figure it out. I have to do this.”
“We understand,” Ace said.
Serkan wasn’t feeling so generous, but kept his mouth shut.
Vearden ceremoniously stepped across the threshold and into the impossible garden. He turned back and smiled at them. “Oh, and one more thing. The next time you see Slipstream, remind her that she owes me a favor, and let her know that I’ve transferred that favor to you.”
How does he know Slipstream?
Danuta reluctantly closed the doors, which promptly disappeared.