Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: August 30, 2176

Leona wasn’t upset about losing Serif back in pocket three, because she had already resolved to go back at the end of the day. She calmly handed Étude off to Hokusai and Loa, who were best suited for taking care of a child, and debriefed the rest of the crew on the situation she had left. Then she sat down against the former entrance to the Ubiña pocket she had just come from, and waited for midnight.
About a quarter ‘til, Paige strolled up with her arms crossed, looking at her like she was a sad puppy. “Honestly, I was skeptical that your little plan to investigate Annora’s murder was at all viable.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Leona replied.
Paige squatted down, wincing as if she felt any strain from the move. Cybernetic programmers believed these microexpressions to be so ingrained in the human cerebral experience, that they happen even when they shouldn’t be needed. The appearance of pain is brought about by an evolutionary trait that promoted survival within a tribe in man’s early days. See someone else get hurt by something, and you know to avoid it. Researchers compare this to phantom limb syndrome, wherein an amputee continues to feel a missing body part, even once it’s removed. Paige felt nothing when she commanded her muscles to contract in such a way to misalign her center of gravity, and destabilize the support of her body weight, but she made it look like it did for Leona’s benefit. She was trying to endear herself to Leona, as an adult would to a child, so she could get something out of her. “That’s not I meant.”
“What did you mean?”
Again, in order to ingratiate herself, Paige lovingly pushed a lock of Leona’s hair behind her ear. It was a silly and predictable tactic; one that can be found in any given romantic comedy film, but only because it was effective. “I didn’t believe in this mission before, but I believe in you now. And I believe you have an obligation to continue on without her. Going back for her is not what she wanted. It’s up to you to move on to the next pocket, and gather more information.”
“And I’ll do just that,” Leona agreed. “Come tomorrow. After I get Serif back.”
“We don’t have that kind of time. It’s one day to you, but three hundred and sixty-five for us. The trail goes cold while you’re gone.”
“Trails go cold after a matter of days,” Leona argued. “By that logic, this whole endeavor is pointless. It’s a cold case now, so it might as well wait another year.”
“That’s horrible logic, and you know that. Someone may die before you get to ask them any questions. They may have a heart attack one year and one day from now, and they had critical information, but you failed to get to them in time.”
Leona scoffed, but had no retort.
Paige eyed her carefully. “My systems tell me that you are not being persuaded, and that any future words I try have little chance of success.”
“Your system’s right.”
Paige took Leona by the shoulder, but not affectionately. “Then we do this the easy way. Well...easy for me.” She used her considerable strength to peel Leona off the floor, and swing her over to pocket one.
Leona tried to fight against it, but quickly had to resign herself to the fact that resistance was futile. She knew Paige’s upgrades fairly well, and unlike in the movies, there was no cleverly placed thermal exhaust port to exploit. Transhumans were built for resilience, with multiple redundancies. She was on her way to pocket one, and that was that.
Before midnight hit, Hokusai came over. “It’s okay. We can tell her the real reason she can’t go back and get Serif.”
“What would that be?” Leona asked.
“I believe she has to save my life tomorrow.”
When Serif returned to the timestream in 2176, the pocket dimension that the substandard teleporter had stranded her in was noticeably larger. The boundaries had expanded beyond where they once were, leaving new land, full of vegetation.
Saga approached as Serif was admiring it with fear. “It wasn’t always like this. When the walls move, the land is born barren. Only later do things begin to grow, but they do, and they do it spontaneously.”
“Isn’t the dimension increaser still just a baby?”
“She is,” Saga confirmed, “but her power may never be controlled. It...emanates from her. I don’t think she’s a choosing one, or a paramount.” She paused. “I think she’s salmon. Her ability to make this place bigger is being done to her, rather than her using it willfully.”
“And the other one? The one who can make people out of practically nothing?”
“He’s done nothing so far, but that gives us little hope that it won’t ever start automatically.”
Saga turned away from the boundary, and prepared to go back to her housing unit. “Because girls generally develop faster. It’s science, I can’t explain it.”
As if on cue, someone turned the sun back off, which was apparently something that always happened whenever someone returned from outside the timestream, and not just when they originated from outside the pocket dimension. Saga started walking away.
“Do we have any ideas for what we’re gonna do about this?” Serif called up to her.
Saga did not stop walking, nor did she turn around. She simply replied, “no.”
The next morning, she found herself being shaken awake by Camden. “I think you’re gonna be needed!” he cried.
“Damn, son! Needed for what?”
“It’s time to close the loop.” He dragged her out of her room. The door that was supposed to be leading to the outside in the pocket dimension, was actually leading to somewhere else entirely. It looked like they were in some kind of small town, but it had been demolished by something terrible. Saga had used her salmon chooser power to open one of her special shifted timespace doorways. She was just running back through to the other side, to help carry what appeared to be a body. As the group drew nearer, Serif could see that Hokusai was injured by a freaking arrow, and being carried by Loa, a different version of Saga, and a woman Serif recognized from a photo as Saga’s late wife, Andromeda. This was some moment in the past, on Durus.
“I’m sorry, you can’t come through,” Future!Saga said to everybody. Then she closed the door. “You have to help her,” she then said to Serif.
Serif was frazzled, and still trying to wake up.
“Come on! Please! Her future is not set in stone just because you know she ends up on this ship in the future. She can still die in the past and create a new timeline.”
“No, I know,” Serif stammered. “But...I need that out of her body. I can heal her fine, but I don’t know what to do with that thing!”
“I do,” Camden said, presumably due to field medical training he received while working at the IAC. “Sit her up,” he instructed. Once she was held up in the sitting position, Camden place his ear on Hokusai’s chest, and delicately twirled the arrow.
Though still mostly out of it, Hokusai began to scream in pain.
“Why the hell did you do that!?” Serif yelled in a matching pitch.
“I had to see if the head was still on, which it is, so we’re lucky for that. But this is the bad part. of them.”
In response, Camden indelicately jammed the arrow further into Hokusai’s chest, so that it would come out the other end. Now she was fully awake, but only for a few seconds. The pain was so unbearable, she fell completely unconscious. Camden masterfully whipped out a pocket knife, from the pocket of his sleepwear shorts, because he apparently slept with it. He used the pliers to break the...uhh, feather part off. Just as quickly as before, he then pulled the rest of the arrow out, and breathed a sigh of relief. “Do not do this at home, kids,” he said to the two of them. “I only did it, because you have superpowers. Use them now.”
Serif and Saga laid Hokusai onto her side, so the former could breathe her magical healing nanites into both of her wounds. In minutes, she was almost fully healed, and totally awake. They vaguely explained what happened, but said nothing that could alter he decisions for the future. Then Saga reopened a doorway portal, and sent her back to her own time period.

Leona was not received well in pocket three. Some of the most unruly passengers were placed here. There was this whole mathematical algorithm to determine who they could put where. Sprinkling the most dangerous ones in with everybody else risked creating issues in all pockets, but putting them all in one place wasn’t a great idea either. They ended up employing a little bit of both, doing everything they could to avoid grouping those who could poorly influence each other, or incite unrest amongst the people. Still, pocket one was definitely the worst, and the worst one for her to be trying to continue this investigation without Serif’s enthusiasm. She tried to calm them down, but they were not happy. They were positively convinced that they lived in more unfortunate conditions. Of course, each pocket was one hundred percent identical to the others, for this very reason. But that didn’t stop these people from claiming theirs was smaller, or had more durry snails, or just smelled bad. Their stories were ever-changing, and constantly contradicted each other. It was just impossible to please them, and this news of murder wasn’t helping anything.
Many had assumed the portals back to the ship proper would eventually reopen. Upon learning from Leona that this might not be unachievable, their anger only increased. One man. One. He was not like the others, and fortunately he was strong too, because he was the only thing standing between Leona, and the mob who wanted to tear her apart. He helped her upstairs, and into a room that he could lock. He then lifted up the bed and barricaded the window with it. They could already hear people climbing up the side to get in.
Leona caught her breath, and inspected the severity of her wounds. Just a few scrapes and bruises. It could have been so much worse. “Thank you. Thank you so much. I knew people wouldn’t be happy, but I didn’t think it would be like this. Pockets three and four were no picnic, but they were at least civil.”
“Yeah, no problem,” he said, pushing his dresser in front of the door. “I’ve done what I can to keep them out, but they’ll probably get in eventually.”
“You’ll be able to hold them off, though, right. And they have to get tired, and see some point.”
“Yeah, maybe. But I won’t be able to help you.”
“I know it’s asking a lot,” Leona began, “but if you could just—”
He interrupted her, “it’s not that.” He was slowly walking towards her. “Believe me, I would love nothing more than to save the damsel in distress.” He tried to do the hair behind the ear thing, but she slapped his hand away.
“That is not happening!” she declared.
He laughed. “No, it’s not. This is.” He reached over and tore Leona’s emergency teleporter off of her shirt.
“No, don’t!”
“I hope you survive,” he said to her. “I really do. But I gotta get the hell out of here.”
“The ship is smaller than this dimension!” she insisted.
“Goodbye.” He activated the teleporter, and disappeared.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Missy’s Mission: Short Story Long (Part III)

Nothing in this new library was moving. A few dozen people were frozen in place; in the middle of walking down the aisles, opening books, or looking through catalogs. Upon careful inspection, they realized the library patrons weren’t completely frozen, but were moving incredibly slowly. Missy was feeling sick to her stomach, like a roller coaster was trying to pull her forwards, but her shirt was caught on a nail. Gradually, the people around them began to accelerate. Missy postulated that they needed time to catch up to Missy and Dar’cy’s speed, but then she realized the two of them were in their house now. It was actually they who needed to slow down to everyone else’s speed. After a few moments, they had reached their goal, and the world around them started looking a lot more normal. A few people noticed they were there right away, while others took notice as they walked by. Some smiled, others waved, but most people just moderately acknowledged their presence.
Before they could find the information desk, or The Librarian, they heard a crackle from speakers on the ceiling. Somebody cleared their throat. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have two new arrivals. Please join us for storytime in Collaboration Room C.
“Oh my God, not again. I’m busy,” said someone in the middle of what looked like important research.
“You have to go,” someone near him said.
“It’s not mandatory.”
“It could help with your research.”
He sighed. “Very well.” He did give Missy and Dar’cy a glare, though.
“What’s going on?” Missy asked as everyone began heading in the same general direction, to the other side of the library.
“I think the story is meant to be coming from us,” Dar’cy guessed.
“That might be difficult.”
A woman was walking in the opposite direction as everyone else. She approached the newcomers. “Come on, you’re the guests of honor.”
“Uh...we’re not from Durus,” Dar’cy tried to explain.
“We’re Earthans,” Missy added.
“Great!” the woman said to them. “Then you’ll be able to give us news of Earth. No one ever comes from there! Oo, this is gonna be a real treat. Follow me!”
“We’re just looking for information,” Missy stopped her. “We’re not really here to tell any stories.”
The woman stopped and turned around ominously. “Everyone who comes here contributes. We’re stuck in a different time dimension, so there’s no way to communicate with the outside universe. If you want information on how to get rid of your chooser powers, you will give us what we need. And you’ll do it first.”
That was intense. How did she know why they were there?
“As I said, follow me,” she repeated.
It was an exhausting ordeal. Some of the people in the audience were fascinated with them, and wanted to learn every little detail of their lives. Others couldn’t care less, or at least wanted to play it cool. Missy and Dar’cy updated them as best they could of the goingson of Durus, but the last storyteller was from fourteen years ago. Though Saga and their new friends filled them in on a little bit of what happened before The Warren arrived, there was still a lot they couldn’t explain. As that woman had said, they were fairly interested in Earth. Most people in the library had never been there before, and a couple of them even thought it to be a myth told to children to encourage imagination and hope. By the time they were done telling their stories, and fielding everyone’s questions, over an hour had passed. It was now probably roundabouts September of 2174.
The woman who had forced them to do this, who they now realized must have been The Librarian smiled and allowed everyone to go back to what they were doing before storytime. Once everyone had left, she faced Missy and Dar’cy with a sad face, but no frown. “Thank you for that. It’s been awhile, but you’ve given many people something to look forward to. They left that world when it was in shambles. I’ve already heard whispers about going back, now that they might be able to actually build a life there. Unfortunately, I lied to you earlier. I will not be able to help you remove your powers. I’ve done that before, and it has not turned out well. I’m afraid I cannot bring myself to do it again.”
“You don’t need to help personally,” Missy said. “Just point us in the right direction. Tell us where we can find a book, or maybe someone here right now who knows something.”
She shook her head. “No, I can’t do anything. If you’re not here to do other research, I recommend returning to realtime before too much of it passes. Please request whomever told you to come here to no longer send people my way who need what you’re asking for. I will not be able to help them either.”
“Do you like it here?” Dar’cy asked before the Librarian could turn away.
“Pardon?” she asked.
“This dimension,” Dar’cy clarified. “Do you like that time moves slowly here? Did you do that on purpose, or are you just living with it?”
She was taken aback, apparently never having been asked such a question. “Well, Durus is a very strange place. People have powers, like you, but the planet itself alters physical laws, almost like it’s a person too. So no, we don’t really want it to be like this, but it’s what we have. We would rather be protected and missing out, than in a regular dimension, and exposed.”
Missy jumped in, “but this is a repository of knowledge. Knowledge should be shared. Why are you hoarding it?”
“I suppose you’re right,” the librarian conceded, “but like I said, this is life.”
“How did you know we had powers?” Dar’cy questioned.
“Some things I know, some things I don’t,” the Librarian gave a nonanswer.
“Do you know what our powers are?”
“No, but it doesn’t matter. I have made a vow to myself to never help someone be rid of their powers again. And I thank you to stop trying to change my mind.”
“We can get you out of this dimension,” Dar’cy claimed.
“Darce,” Missy warned, worried about where this might lead.
“You could do that?” the Librarian asked, with a glimmer of optimism for the prospect.
“Well, she could,” Dar’cy admitted.
“We don’t know that,” Missy said. She could create localized temporal bubbles that operated under different speeds of time, but she had never tried changing the speed of a dimension she had nothing to do with in the first place.
“You could at least try,” Dar’cy said to Missy, then directed her attention back to the Librarian. “If she does, you will promise—with no lying this time—that you’ll give us whatever we need to complete this mission.”
The Librarian thought over this proposal for about six real days. “I don’t know if that would be wise. This temporal dimension is a headache, but it’s the only protection we have.”
“You heard the stories,” Dar’cy argued. “The world has changed. You don’t need protection anymore. There’s a real government, and when you go back, you’ll be given certain rights. What Missy said is true, you shouldn’t keep knowledge from others. You’ve been here for what, a few months?”
“A week.”
“Jesus Christ,” Dar’cy couldn’t help but say. “Well, it’s been two centuries for everyone else. It’s time to go home.”
“All right,” the Librarian said. “If you can put us back on realtime, I’ll give you anything you ask for. But if this is some kind of trick, and it’s not really as great out there as you said, you get nothing.”
“We can live with that,” Dar’cy agreed.
Missy pulled her friend over to the side. “By the time I get this done, it’ll be two years since we left. You’ve seen how quickly things shift. We don’t know what 2175 looks like.”
Dar’cy put her hands on Missy’s shoulders. “Nothing will ever get better if we don’t think it can.”
Missy had no response to this. She turned to the Librarian. “Take me to the center of the library.”
The Librarian led them out of the room, to a grouping of study tables. She stood over one of the tables, and looked up to the skylight, which was showing nothing but darkness. “This is it, right here. Unless it has to be the exact center, in which case I’ll need to find the blueprints.”
Missy spun around for perspective. “No, this should be close enough.” She climbed onto the table, and sat cross-legged on it. She interlaced six of her fingers, but kept the other two pointed outwards, in the vague shape of a handgun. She closed her eyes and began a breathing exercise that Dar’cy had taught her, imagining that her teacher was smiling at the sight. Once she felt like she too was centered, she outstretched her arms to search for the energies permeating this dimension, and the building within it. She concentrated on harmonizing her body’s vibrations with those of her environment, and its occupants.
She maintained this position, gathering all the vibes from the dimension, bundling all of them together with her mind, then seeking out the world beyond. What she needed to do was destroy everything holding this place together, and force it to revert back to the rules that governed the universe as a whole. As she predicted, even though this was the first time she had tried this, it was nearly an hour before she was successful. All barriers were removed. She could feel herself, and everyone around her, speeding back up. Before this connection was broken, she could also feel everybody in the building throw up. It was a jarring experience.
Once she opened her eyes, she found the Librarian on her hands and knees, trying to catch her breath. Others were doing the same, hovered over piles and puddles of their bile. Only Dar’cy remained standing, perfectly fine, likely because her mother taught her how to adapt to new situations at the drop of a hat. Or because she was an object threader, and often instantly found herself in new places.
The Librarian stood back up and started coughing. “I hope your new government employs some good janitors.”
Grossed out, Missy timidly peeked over to see the floor better. “I think you’ll just want a good carpet installer.”
“Welcome to 2175,” Dar’cy said. “I think, at least. I’m not the best at math, I grew up on an island.”
“Now we know how Leona and Serif feel.”
A group of people suddenly barged into the library from the outside, holding their badges up, like they were raiding a strip club known for laundering money. “This is the Intercity Police Department, Temporal Anomaly Division!” the leader called out.
“TAD?” Dar’cy giggled.
“We are here because of an unscheduled dimensional reestablishment!” the cop continued. “You have interfered with the stability of realspace, and caused severe structural damage! We are still investigating casualties! Please congregate in one place, so we can take your statements! Resistance is not recommended!”
“Shit,” Dar’cy said.
They both looked at the Librarian, who looked back with a poker face. “I can’t give you what you want until this is resolved, if it ever is. If you killed someone,” she said to Missy, “even just one person, the deal’s off.”
“Shit,” Missy echoed.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Microstory 825: Dodo

In 1604, a ship called the Resplendent set upon the island of Mauritius, and abducted dozens of dodo birds. Records recovered from its wreck suggest it was on its way to Malaysia, with plans to sell the birds. The last journals of her captain reveal that a terrible storm came upon the vessel, and dumped a great deal of its cargo into the ocean. They were then able to travel several miles towards Australia, before finally sinking altogether. A single scribble in the margin of the first mate’s journal read, beached birds? And I work for the woman who believed this to mean the dodos survived, and landed on an uncharted island, somewhere in the Indian Ocean. Of course, the scribble could have meant nothing at all, or was simply part of the last ramblings of a dying man. Still, my boss has a lot of money, and she was willing to spend ever last cent of it on the search for the lost dodo birds. We boarded a new ship, complete with GPS, and weather tracking software. We spent months on the water, using every bit of research we had found to hunt for the island the Resplendent’s first mate might have been talking about. We came upon the shores of many small islands, but found no evidence that any dodos had ever been on any of them. Until one day. Right there on the beach was a bottle of Cirne Rum, which was known to be the Resplendent’s captain’s favorite kind. This wasn’t proof that the birds had ever been on this island, or were still around, but if we were going to find them anywhere, it would almost certainly be here. The place was absolutely teeming with life, like people had come here to purposely plant a botanical garden, with as many species as possible. It was larger than it should have been for having apparently never been discovered. It was shaped like a top hat, with a sea level beach and wooded area along the perimeter, and cliffs in the center. We scoured the beach, and the wooded area, but found nothing. We knew our only option was to start climbing the tall rock face that led to the top of the hat. Though I hadn’t planned on doing any climbing, my boss had, and was fully prepared with all the equipment we would need. I had to get over my fear of heights to make that climb, but I did, and it was well worth it. In only four hundred years, the dodos here had transformed dramatically, growing larger, with tougher talons for grabbing onto rocks. They had evolved vibrantly colorful iridescent feathers; the most beautiful I had ever seen in my life. I told my boss that, as the leader of this mission, she had the right to name what we knew had become an entirely new subspecies of what they once were. She smiled and shrugged, ultimately deciding the informal name we had used to distinguish them from those who had never been placed on the ship was good enough: the resplendent dodos.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Microstory 824: Make All Ends Meet

When I first found a way to clone myself, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with this new technology. As a trust fund kid, everyone had always underestimated me, and I had always ignored them. Now, even though I had done something great, I had no connections. I just spent every waking hour of the last ten years working on this one project, and only now am I realizing that I could have set aside a little bit of that time to plan for a future where it exists. I decide I need to keep it secret, at least for now, and maybe test it out. Part of the reason I have all this money is because my parents were both killed by one of the mafia families. In the end, they weren’t the best of people, because I ended up discovering they had been working for all of them, but they were also not as despicable as the people who brutally gunned them down. I didn’t feel the need to avenge my parents so much as I had to consider how much better this city would be if there was no more organized crime. As rich as I am, I still need some support, and access to resources you can’t just get anywhere. So I become friends with a local police officer; someone low on the totem pole, who I can convince that I’m an undercover federal agent. It’s not as hard as you would think, and that’s not because the cop is an idiot, but because I’m a pretty charming and persuasive fellow, if I do say so myself. Working together, we build what I’ve told him is an elite team of other undercover agents. They’re each going to be sent into one of the city’s crime families, and bring them down from the inside. Of course, since I don’t actually have independent individuals to take this on, I have to claim to my new friend that he’s not allowed to meet any of them, or it would compromise the compartmentalization of the operation.

It takes more than a year to thoroughly infiltrate all of the families, but I do, and since they’re notoriously suspicious of each other, there’s no way anyone will find out that they’re all essentially dealing with the same person. Bonus, since they’re just my clones, I’m free to live my life as I always have, leaving my duplicates to fully immerse themselves into the crimeworld. Since I maintain a quantum connection to each clone, they don’t risk getting caught by reporting back to the handlers, which is always the most dangerous part of an undercover job. Tragically, I did my job a little too well, and inadvertently smoothed relations between the families. They start talking to each other on an unprecedented level, and ultimately schedule a gargantuan meeting the likes of which this town has never seen. Since I’m so high up in the food chain for each family, I’m expected to be there. What am I gonna do now? Well, about the only thing I can do is out myself to my partner. He’s surprisingly cool with it. Even though he knows there’s a strong possibility he’ll lose his job over this, if he goes out as the cop who took down the entire crime network, he’ll be able to move on with pride. He says that the only way out of this now is for him to go back to his superiors, and organize a massive interagency operation to arrest everybody all at once. I build a small army of my clones, and send them to the perimeter of the warehouse, to keep all the mobsters from leaving, being totally fine with sacrificing them for the greater good. Once it’s all over, before any of them realize that half the people they killed all look exactly alike, I set them to self-destruct, and destroy the evidence. Now my only problem is figuring out what to do about the corrupt cops who used this opportunity to take over the crime network.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Microstory 823: Bear to Cross

Something you might not have known is that not all bears like to swim, or are very good at it. Years ago, I was trekking through the wilderness in Siberia when I came across this very small kamchatka brown here. He was trying to fish in the river as I was passing by. We waved to each other, but neither one of us was there to make friends, so we didn’t stop to talk, or anything. So I just kept walking down the trail, enjoying the quiet solitude, eventually turning away from the river. Later on, though, the trail meets back up with the same river, and even crosses it. As I was drawing nearer, I started to hear this splashing and growling upriver. At first, I assumed the same bear came down, and was having a hard time with the hunt. Or it was some other bear. Honestly, I can’t really tell bears apart. I’m not racist, though, I just want to make that clear. I have bear friends. Anyway, he’s not having trouble fishing, but with swimming. He had fallen in, and even though bears are meant to be excellent swimmers, this one never seemed to figure it out. I imagine he was the runt of the family, and wasn’t cared for, or taught by his mother, the way a bear should.

He was gasping for air, trying to get out, looking to grab onto anything in his path. He found it in a branch, and thought he was safe, but he wasn’t. Something about the way that branch is hanging, it’s like it was trying to pull him all the way under. If he lost air for just a few more seconds, I was afraid he wouldn’t not make it. So I rushed up to him, and after fighting against the current, and making sure the panicky bear didn’t take me down with him, I got him out. We caught our respective breaths on the bank, but don’t speak right away. I gave up my life in finance so I wouldn’t have to talk to people anymore, and he didn’t appear too interested in getting to know anyone any more than I was. Still, we exchanged a few pleasantries, and I handed him my old business card, which still has my cell phone number on it. I told him to look me up if he ever found himself stateside, which was exactly what happened a year ago. He didn’t know anyone in North America, and needed a place to crash, so he decided to bite the bullet, and ask me for the favor. Unfortunately, since I gave up my job, I didn’t exactly have a place to live either. I was crashing at someone else’s place already at the time. He tried to be affectionate, hoping we could go halfsies on a cheap motel room, but he was clearly agitated he came all this way, and had no place to stay. To keep the peace, I agreed to the deal, and end up just paying for the room myself. We’ve been roommates ever since. It turns out we have a lot in common. We both hate Trump and Putin.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Microstory 822: The Room

I’ve been in this room for years now. At least that’s what I assume. I’ve never seen the sun, so keep tracking of time is pretty difficult. I’m not sure where this light is coming from, but it’s always at the same dimness, so I’ve had to get used to sleeping with it. That wasn’t the hardest part, though, because I don’t have a blanket or pillow either. There’s a hole in the corner that no one told me was a toilet, but I’ve been using it as such for years now, and have experienced no consequences for it. Once a day, when I wake from sleep, there’s a crate of new supplies. Gruel, water, vitamins, my daily allotment of toilet paper, and hand sanitizer, if I’ve run out. At least they don’t want me getting some disease from a lack of hygiene. Still, I wouldn’t say no to a shower, or even a bath. I’ve tried staying awake long enough to see where each new crate comes from, but like children and Santa Claus, if I’m not asleep, I get nothing. There’s also no door, and no seams on the walls to hide one. I think they knocked me out...built it around me. All I do, day in, day out, is eat, make waste, and sleep. I have nothing to watch, nothing to read, nothing to draw with. No playing cards, no pull-up bar, no life. I just here and wait. I don’t know how I got here, but the most important question is why I’m here. I have no real memories of before the room. I know I’ve ridden in cars, trains, and airplanes. I know I’ve had real food, and read books, and met other people like me. I have fragments of these experiences, but couldn’t actually describe them to you. Perhaps it’s all just my semantic memory disguising itself as episodic memory. Then again, the fact that I know what the difference between those kinds of memories is must say something about what kind of life I led before the room.

One day, I wake up and there is not crate of supplies. Oh well, I still have enough hand sanitizer, and I always save a little bit of toilet paper, just in case something like this happens. I’m grateful for my forethought now. I see something weird out of the corner of my eye, but the room has never changed before, so I must be imagining it. I just turn back around and stare at the corner for the next several hours. I fall asleep at some point, and wake up the next day to find myself crateless yet again. That thing is still there, though; that thing I barely recognize, that was never there before, and I guess isn’t an hallucination. I start staring at it and realize I know exactly what it is: a door. Doors are meant to get in and out of places. Like with everything else, I recall having many times opened and closed doors, but I can’t point to a specific instance of it. I crawl over toward the new door, which is my only mode of transportation. Since they give me, maybe 800 calories a day, I can’t exactly sprint over there. I reach for the handle, knowing for sure that it’ll be locked, but before my fingers can touch it, it disappears, and reappears behind me. Maybe I am hallucinating, because I have no vague memories of doors that can move around on their own. I hoof it over to its new location, and try to open it once more, but it moves again. While it’s at its new place, I don’t touch it at all, but inspect it closely. I see nothing between the door itself, and the frame that surrounds it. I think it’s unlocked, but I still need to figure out how to keep it from jumping away from me. This goes on for three days, at which point one glass of water begins appearing every time I wake up for the day. It’s three more weeks before my food also returns, and the door disappears completely. What I imagine is another three years, the cycle starts over. And this pattern continues for decades, until my body can take it no longer, and I’m lying on my back, near death. It is only then that the door finally opens. A man walks in and kneels over me. “Now you know what it feels like,” he says. And then it’s all over.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Microstory 821: Fits and Starts

When the bladapods first cropped up around our world, the first people to get a crack at them were the scientists. They wanted to research their biology, and behavioral habits. No one can blame them, really; they’re fascinating creatures. I mean, chlorophyll knives for legs? Who knew evolution could come up with something so elegant and dangerous? Of course we all know how this research turned out. They multiplied out of control, and released gases capable of altering both genes and reality itself. One thing those original researches hadn’t considered was the possibility that these bladapods were actually sentient, and could be capable of communicating with us on an intellectual. One woman realized this prospect, and urged the Association International de Bladapodologie to fund a new department, one designed to crack the code for a theoretical language deemed bladapotango. Suddenly there was a huge influx in open positions at the AIB, and I was proverbially first in line. As a linguist, I was always fascinated with the similarities and differences in languages. The chance to study the communication patterns of an entirely new species was too good to pass up. Unfortunately, the bladapod gas had transformed my perfectly normal-sized vehicle into one of those tiny motor cars that children drive around the neighborhood. Since I’ve been trying to find a decent job for years now, I’ve not had the money necessary to upgrade to something more reasonable. The upside was that the bladapod gas had only quartered my car’s top speed, so it was now sitting at a healthy thirty-five miles per hour, so it could be worse. It’s frustrating not being able to drive on the highway, but since it fits in the cargo hold of a commercial jet, I was able to take it with me to AIB headquarters in Martinique. Bonus: it now has a perpetual motion engine, so it never runs out of power. I discover, however, that the car operates better while within the North American bladapodosphere. It still works, but it keeps stopping and starting, forcing me to keep coming up with new little tricks to get it to start again.

I finally make it into mall, which is where my interview is. Apparently there was literal crapstorm over the actual headquarters last week that has yet to be fully cleaned up, and the mall is being used for continuity of operations. Honestly, I’m surprised they didn’t postpone, or even just cancel, the interview, but I certainly am grateful. I’m driving through the mall, trying to find the right retrofitted storefront, when I hear a commotion across the way. I drive up to it out of curiosity and find a man throwing a violent fit. He’s covered in mud, screaming at people, and flailing his arms all around. He almost looks like me, but he can’t be me, because I’m me. I shrug it off, and try to focus on being ready for my interview. I find where I’m meant to be, and the interview seems to be going great. Then, without provocation, a mudfooted ragepanda crashes through the wall from the store next door, and starts trampling over me. I’m overcome with anger, and start fighting it with my bare hands. They tell you to stop, drop, and roll when exposed to emomud, but the only people who say that are the ones who’ve never experienced it themselves. I don’t know how I ended up traveling back in the past, but needless to say, I was unable to break the timeloop, and did not get the job. To make matters worse, I didn’t get all the emomud washed off my body before trying to drive my car back to the hotel, so now it gives me lip, and won’t take me anywhere unless I give it compliments.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: August 29, 2175

Paige agreed to let the two of them reenter the pocket dimensions, searching for Annora’s killer. Her only condition was that they start with pocket four, so they could check on Étude, and her parents. They were wanting to do that anyway, so it all worked out. Leona had to warn them that, though they were doing their best to recreate the conditions that led Leona to pocket three, there were no guarantees. In The Langoliers, the only reason the survivors survived was because they were all asleep when their plane flew through a time rift, as was Leona when she fell through hers. That was an unlikely requirement, but not outside the realm of possibility. What had happened to her could also have been nothing more than a fluke, and they were just wasting their time. Even so, it was worth try, so just before midnight, they squeezed into what was once the entrance to pocket four, and waiting for launch, knowing it might not work.
It worked. They suddenly found themselves on the lawn of pocket four. While solar cycles were generally considered irrelevant when flying on an interstellar ship, they were arbitrarily programmed into Annora’s worlds, in order to better simulate people’s circadian rhythms. And since everything in the world of salmon and choosers revolved around Kansas, it was also based on the central time zone, meaning it should have been nighttime. But like before, the sun was up, prompting people to start filing out of the housing units, looking for answers. The others were hesitant to approach. Even though they all recognized Leona and Serif, they must have been worried their arrival came with bad news. Of course, Saga and Camden had no such fears. They came right up, with six-year-old Étude in tow.
“We’ve guessed that Annora is dead,” Saga said, spot on.
“She is.”
“How did it happen?” Camden asked.
“Murder. We’re going around to the other dimensions, trying to find out who.”
Camden nodded. “The entrances were sealed off, but if you’ve found a way through, I would like to join you. I have quite a bit of experience with these kinds of things.”
“We would love that. Unfortunately, it’s not possible. We only have one emergency teleporter to get up back to the ship proper, and only we can travel to other pockets.”
He stood up straighter, not in disbelief, but deep in thought for a workaround to their problem. There wasn’t one, though.”
“At least take Étude with you,” Saga requested. “If there’s a killer somewhere, and you know they’re not on the ship itself, then that’s the safest place for her.”
“We both need to go back,” Serif said. “If one of us takes Étude, the other will have to stay behind.”
“That’s not the problem,” Leona said. “The teleporter could probably handle the mass of two smallish adults and one child. The problem is Hokusai has been trying to figure out how to reopen the entrances for years now.” She looked up and gestured towards the microworld in general. “Obviously she hasn’t yet. We don’t know when you would be able to see Étude again.”
“But she’ll be safe,” Camden argued.
Leona shook her head. “I can’t take another child from her parents,” Leona said, recalling the events surrounding Brooke’s life.
“But she’ll be safe,” Saga echoed Camden.
“If the killer’s here,” Serif assured them, “we’ll find them. We’ll take them back to the ship, and you’ll be safe. If they’re not, then you have nothing to worry about.”
“And what if there’s more than one killer, or there’s a secret army amongst this group?” Camden suggested. “What if not one of these people can be trusted, and they all just managed to lie their way onto this ship. If you’ll remember, they started out by taking our people hostage.”
“That was the leadership. Each and every one of these passengers has been vetted.”
“Lotta good that did,” Camden retorted. “Somebody here got past your research. At least one person is a killer.”
I conducted that research,” Saga turned the argument. “And I used every resource on Durus to do it. There’s no way we could have known this would happen.”
“And why not?” Camden oppugned. “Didn’t you ask any seers whether something like this would happen?”
“I did,” Saga said. “But the future is always changing. No one told me this would happen, or I wouldn’t have let it.” Now she turned the argument back, “please. I wanna raise my daughter, but not if it means watching her die.”
All this time, Étude remained speechless, and unmoved. As with every child Leona had met after all this began, she was precocious and jaded. Xearea, Brooke, Dar’cy, and now Étude; they all had to grow up too fast, and had complicated family situations. What struck her about this family was their openness. She probably would have sheltered her own daughter from this conversation, but it looked like these two were keeping nothing from Étude. Though she never spoke, she did have other ways of expressing her opinion, in particular her disapproval of a decision, which reportedly happened often. She didn’t seem bothered by this argument, though, and appeared on board with whatever they chose.
“I’ll tell you what,” Leona began. “Camden, there’s no reason you can’t help us with the investigation while we’re in this pocket. Your skills, and my Serif’s love of mystery novels combined means there’s no way we leave here without being certain the murderer is either not here now, or won’t be after the teleporter is next activated. Once we’re done talking with everyone, we’ll revisit the question of what to do with Étude. I don’t think we can reach a reasonable consensus until then. Deal?”
Camden and Saga conferred telepathically. “Agreed.”
“All right,” Leona said. “I’m with you, Agent Voss. Saga, you’ll go with Serif. Each pair should question each individual. Then we’ll compare notes; look for inconsistencies, and such.
After being told what had happened, the rest of the residents were in full agreement that they should get to turn the sun back off, and get the rest of the night’s sleep before answering any questions. Camden told his fellow investigators that the were better off interviewing them now. It’s harder to tell a lie when you’re tired, and didn’t expect to have to. He gave them a few other pointers, most of which were designed to exploit their subject’s weakness. Though every person was different, there were a few universal weaknesses. Everybody needed to eat, everybody needed to sleep, and everybody hated repeating themselves. He instructed them to ask the same question multiple times, under the guise of just trying to get a clear picture of what they remembered from that night, to see if their story changed. He also did warn them that it had now been two years since the murder. While the fact that the incident had resulted in the pockets being sealed off—which made the day a memorable one—worked in their favor, the time that passed since then increasingly muddied memories. The last pocket’s alibis will be the least reliable.
The three inexperienced and untrained interrogators came out of the interviews feeling good about what they had learned, which was nothing. There seemed to be no indication that anyone here had killed Annora, or felt any ill will towards anyone here. Camden, on the other hand, was not convinced, and appeared more stressed out than ever. While the resident technician was working on turning the midnight sun off, and getting back on schedule, the five of them huddled on the edge of the pocket world, to discuss their observations.
“It’s worse than I thought,” Camden said, mostly to Saga.
“I’ve not found that,” Saga said.
“No, you wouldn’t. It was subtle, but it was there. People are fine with the pocket being sealed off. They’re happy here, they have everything they need, and they’ve no interest in going anywhere else. Few of them had planned on leaving at all throughout the whole trip. Those that had are still cool with what’s happened, and are just happy no one else can come here.”
“Okay, that sounds good,” Serif said.
“It sounds good; it’s not good. There are some paramounts here, the combination of which puts this place in danger.”
“I don’t remember anything like that,” Saga disputed. “We ran predictive combination models.”
“Yes, but you didn’t calculate children. Two have been born since we got here, and one got on board last minute. The latter can diagnose time powers.”
“Yeah, I remember him,” Saga said, “so what?”
“Well, he diagnosed the other two,” Camden replied. “One has the potential to expand the pocket’s scope. It could be infinitely large, once she’s old enough to learn how to use her power. The other goes hand in hand with that. He can create scions.” He looked at them like they were supposed to know what that meant in this context.
“He can have children?” Leona put forth. “So can a lot of people.”
“No, you don’t understand,” Camden continued. “He can take any two individuals—of any sex—and artificial generate offspring from them. And he can accelerate that offspring’s development. So as the girl is expanding the universe, the boy is adding people to it.”
“That sounds strange,” Serif agreed. “But bad? I dunno.”
“It could have serious repercussions for our universe,” Leona explained. “It could be kind of a this town ain’t big enough for the two of us thing. One could consume the other, likely the one that’s expanding the fastest, so goodbye us. They could both make each other pop. Or they could form a culture bent on our destruction, and ultimately cross back over to make war with us. We can’t just, like, let a whole new universe be created.”
“We also can’t stop them,” Serif pointed out.
“Maybe not,” Saga said, “but you can make good on your word, and get my daughter out of here.”
“Saga...” Leona started, having been dreading saying no to this request again, but believing strongly that she needed to.
“You said we would revisit the issue,” Saga reminded her. “That’s what we’re doing, and I think recent events have made the right choice quite clear.”
Leona was about to argue the point, but Serif stopped her. “We’ll do it.”
“Serif,” Leona scolded.
“We’re doing it,” Serif said to Leona. “Our job is to protect the Last Savior. This is how we do that.”
“We don’t know they have plans to make a new universe. They’re just babies.”
“That’s true,” Camden acknowledged, “but the whispers suggest it’s going to come to that. These people are trying to leave Durus, not go to Earth. They can build paradise here, and maybe a Savior would be a nice feature to have around in that paradise. We need to get her out now.”
“Very well,” Leona finally capitulated. “Well, if we’re gonna go, we should go now.”
“Great, I have her bag right here.”
“We’ll give you some time to say goodbye,” Serif told Étude’s parents.
“Are you sure about this?” Leona asked Serif once they had stepped off to the side.
“You said we could take a child with us.”
“I’m never a hundred percent sure of anything.”
“If it doesn’t work, I’ll stay.”
“But it’ll work,” she said with confidence.
It didn’t work.
The three ladies held hands, trying to emergency teleport back to the cockpit of The Warren together. It felt like they were in a mosh pit, being pushed and shoved in a chaotic crowd of strangers. The teleporter wanted to take them away, but wasn’t able to, yet it kept trying. Serif gave her love one last look, then let go. Before Leona could do anything about it, she and Étude were gone.