Thursday, January 20, 2022

Microstory 1804: Good Opinions and Right Choices

I was raised in an extremely hostile environment. My parents were racist, hateful, and mean. When my older brother was first growing up, he tried to rebel against them. He didn’t go full liberal—because he didn’t know what that meant—but he didn’t agree with the kinds of things they would say. And they weren’t super obvious about it. They didn’t go around claiming that black people were inferior. They just used very unclever cover words like urban and hoodlum. They weren’t as inconspicuous as they thought they were, though, and my brother wanted no part of it. Unfortunately, they decided they weren’t going to give him a choice. They verbally abused him until he stopped talking all that lovey dovey nonsense. The world didn’t use terms like snowflake and libtard back then, but they would have loved it if they had been alive to learn them. Anyway, when I was old enough to start possibly making my own decisions, my brother realized how similar we were. He taught me to pretend to be like our family. I let them think that I was all about letting poor people die on the streets to save the dollar in my pocket, and not getting upset about the injustices we would see on the news. I did a really great job, blending in as the good little conservative boy that I was expected to be. I did too good of a job, actually. They were so proud of me. My brother and I had about the same grades in school, but since they were so disappointed in him, it was like I was the second coming of the messiah. I also had to pretend to believe in the messiah. I wasn’t an exceptional student, or person in general, but I could do no wrong, and my parents did what they could to give me the opportunities they felt that I deserved.

They paid my way into a preparatory school, which led me to a really great college. I hated every minute of it, but I figured I would take my free education, and do something positive with it. The problem was that I was so used to pretending to be an entitled prick that it was too hard to turn off at this point. I let them get me conscripted into a secret underground brotherhood, which was designed to foster a network of good ol’ boys who help each other go places, and get out of jams. It was so rough, being around people with such wrong opinions. I know people say that there’s no such thing as a wrong opinion, but those people’s opinions are wrong. There is a right way to think about how the world should be run, and a very bad way. It was impossible to walk away, though, and not because the only way out would have been in a bodybag, but because it was so tempting to accept their gifts. With their help, I was poised to step on a lot of heads, and make a lot of money. At that point, I didn’t really care that everyone who was helping me get there disgusted me to my core. Because maybe they didn’t. Maybe they weren’t so bad. None of my brothers were violent or outwardly intolerant either. They were great at hiding it, and some of them probably weren’t even that conservative at all. That’s obviously how the secret society formed, but we all make our own choices. I had to make a choice too. I had to do something to become my own man, and stop letting my family dictate how the world should see me. The brotherhood fed into a militia. Not everyone joined it, but it was an option. I continued to pretend, and took the path towards that anti-government group. They accepted me, and armed me, and it wasn’t long before they decided to plan an attack on the capitol. Before they could, I warned the authorities, and got the place raided. I finally made the right choice, and it was my last.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Microstory 1803: Life Can’t Be Engineered

I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I went to school for engineering. I didn’t even know what kind of engineering I was interested in. I figured it was better to at least have some kind of direction, rather than spending two years undeclared, and then having to rush to graduate on time. I ended up choosing civil engineering, and ultimately earned an architectural degree to go along with it. A lot of people do it the other way around, but like I said, I hadn’t been thinking that far ahead. I started out at a firm where the work wasn’t very exciting. We constructed a lot of facilities that were basically carbon copies of buildings that already existed. Sure, there were some modifications necessary for every new project, due to certain constraints, like geography, but for the most part, I didn’t find the work challenging or glamorous. A friend from college called me up, and said that he was starting a business on his own. It was going to be small in every sense of the word. We were going to build these newish things called tiny homes. They were meant to be as small as possible while including all the necessary amenities that a homeowner would expect to encounter in a normal-sized house or apartment. Space was key, and understanding how to work within the restrictions of a smaller space was paramount. I was looking for a challenge, and I found it. I had so much fun, engineering household objects to not be simply smaller, but more efficient. My job has proved that humans need less space to live comfortably than some may believe, as long as they have the right tools. I designed some of those tools. I had to continue my education since not all of this was civil engineering, but it wasn’t too hard, and I enjoyed every second of it.

One of my proudest accomplishments was a stackable washer/dryer that included a sink. It took up a lot less room than you might have assumed, and it even won me an industry award. The whole washer came out like a drawer, it was so cool, if I do say so myself. There were a few other minor contributions, like the actual mechanism for a bed that receded into the floor, and other collaborative efforts. I even literally built my own house using the skills I used for my job. I was proud of myself for that too, obviously, but the laundry sink was my baby, at least at the time. I hadn’t thought much about starting a family. I wasn’t against it, but every morning, when I woke up, I thought about my workday, and didn’t realize how much time I had let pass until a stranger called me a cat lady. I think he was just being a jerk, because he shouldn’t have known that I was an old maid, but something clicked in me that night, and I decided that I did want a family. Back then, there weren’t any dating apps, or even online matchmaking services at all. All I could do was keep going to bars, hoping to meet someone nice. Occasionally, a friend would set me up with someone, but it never worked out. After all that searching, and all that failure, I discovered that my future was right under my nose. It was like a romcom when I suddenly started to see my business partner as something more. We both loved what we did for a living, we had a great shorthand with each other, and the attraction had always been there. We both agreed we would have one child, I guess to keep in line with our shared minimalist approach to life. That didn’t quite work out. Our first two children were twins, and our third was an accident. We loved them so much, we decided to have just one more. The fourth and fifth were also twins, but it was long before that when we outgrew our tiny home. We were forced to upgrade. It was worth it.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Microstory 1802: A Mother Doesn’t Know

The end has finally come, and I welcome the relief. The doctors have been keeping a close eye on me for years now, but they can’t stop the inevitable. I have a DNR, and nobody lives forever. I don’t remember how I ended up in this institution, but it was definitely against my will. They keep me drugged up so I can’t think straight, let alone move fast enough to get out of this place. It’s been such sorrowful torture. I would protest against them, but I just don’t have the energy anymore, and haven’t for a very long time. They know this about me. They do that on purpose. They took away my free will, because if I had a voice, people might actually listen to what I have to say. But they can’t have that. No, far be it for me to speak my mind. I’m a crazy person, who no one cares about. I had someone who cared about me, but they took him away. Not the same people, technically, mind you, but close enough. Anybody who works for the institutions of this country, and promotes the oppression of the masses, might as well just be one evil man. I can’t wait to get the hell out of here, and I am well aware that the only way that happens is in a bodybag. The time has almost come; what I’ve been yearning for. This won’t be the first time that I died. I tried to kill myself a few years ago. My son got into an awful mess, and ended up being murdered by a cop. I was foolish to have made my attempt on the day the charity organization would come to deliver meals. He was the only person who ever gave a damn about me, and now he’s gone. What do I have to live for but him? Now this cough has taken me down my final path, and I’ve been letting it happen. They can’t keep me locked up forever, no sir. Now it’s just a waiting game.

I reflect on the decades behind me. They say that your life flashes before your eyes, but maybe that doesn’t always happen automatically. Maybe I have to force it, and expedite the process. I’ll take any advantage I can get. I did my best raising my child, but I could only do so much without his terrible father. Sure, he was the one paying for everything, so I didn’t have to work, but he should have been there. He should have helped teach our son how to be a man. I don’t know how to be a man; I’ve never done it before! Looking back, maybe there were some signs that he wasn’t well, and maybe I should have gotten him some help. But, really, how was I meant to know that his fixation on certain girls in his class was some kind of warning? It didn’t seem weird when these fixations transferred down to new girls. They kept staying the same age, while he grew older. He was very protective of others; I thought it was sweet. He didn’t ever kill any small animals, which everyone says is the behavior you’re supposed to look for. He has absolutely no trouble feeling empathy for people. I mean, when I say these signs were obvious in retrospect, it’s because hindsight is 20/20, not because I think I should have understood what the problem was back then. I couldn’t have known, I couldn’t. He did some bad things when he was older—those cages. He didn’t have to die for it, though, and they certainly shouldn’t have blamed me for it. Like I said, he didn’t ever show any violent tendencies. He truly wanted to help those women, and the situation sometimes just got out of hand. If their own parents had raised them better, perhaps they wouldn’t look so vulnerable. That’s what he was attracted to, but not in a sexual way. He wanted to help them, and I can’t help but be proud of him for that. I know he’s in heaven now, where he belongs, and I know that I’ll soon meet him there...at last.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Microstory 1801: Jellyfish Cycle

I have been around for centuries, but I’ve not been young the entire time, or even most of the time. A few species of jellyfish are capable of something similar, through by different means. They use their genetics to be immortal. I use my soul. Before they can die, they will revert to an earlier stage of development, and begin anew. These creatures have evolved to do this, but the same can’t be said for me, because humans are not like that. The majority of us aren’t, anyway. I belong to a subspecies of humans called voldisil. We did not technically evolve out of the other either, though. You see, there are three genders. Normal people are only conceived by two, but a third can get involved, often without their knowledge. They’ll inject something else into the process. It’s a spiritual experience, which those like me would consider a gift. Back in the early second century, I was created, and unfortunately, I never had the pleasure of meeting my third parent. My mother and father died shortly after I came into the world, when you think about it, because it was only a few decades. I felt like I was able to spend a lot of time with my family back then, but I now realize how precious those moments were, and how I should not have taken them for granted. When I was 36, I contracted malaria, and I assumed that was it for me. There was no cure, no vaccine. It was pretty much a death sentence in my region in that time period. One night, I felt myself drifting away, and had to make peace with the end. I was surprised to find myself waking up the next morning as a toddler. All of my memories were intact, and I was cured. I couldn’t explain it. A new couple adopted me, thinking I was the child of a victim, and not even considering the possibility that I was the patient. They just thought of me as their little miracle.

I continued to go through this cycle lifetime after lifetime. Though, I probably shouldn’t call them lifetimes. I would be older when the transition happened every time, but I was also coming back older. The second time it happened, for instance, I looked more like an eight-year-old. By the fifth cycle, I no longer had to worry about someone trying to take care of me. I appeared to be old enough to handle myself. Each time, I would have to pack up, and move to a new land, so no one would become suspicious. I felt like I was in my early forties the last time I cycled, but that was only sixteen years ago. I’ve not known what it was like to die of age-related causes in a very long time. If I keep this up, I’ll probably only have days to live at a time, and I don’t want that. My soul’s ability to rejuvenate my body was never destined to last forever, and I always knew this about myself. What I needed to do was find some way to make my legacy last. I, of all people, understood what it looked like when someone just faded away. That’s what happens to most, in the end. Barring great fame, perhaps someone’s great great grandchildren will recall stories of their ancestors, but they won’t likely pass these on to their own descendants. I didn’t have any myself, because I didn’t know what their lives would have been like. It wasn’t worth the risk. As I lie here on my bed, prepared to go through this once more, and come back as another middle aged woman, I see now. I see that my third parent must have been in my same position all those years ago. This must be how it works; we pass the torch. I may simply be the latest in a line going back to the dawn of man. My final thoughts are of a newborn baby crying with the others two floors down, who receives my spirit ability, and has no choice but to accept the burden.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: March 19, 2377

“Ramses, dark mode!” Leona ordered.
The ship became a darklurker. All nonessential systems were powered down to make themselves as undetectable as possible. Mateo decided to climb up to the upper level, which was the only place with regular viewports. They were the only means of seeing what was going on outside. There was another ship out there. It was much smaller than The Investigator, which had taken them to the stellar engine. At the moment, it wasn’t doing anything. Perhaps it never noticed them, and its presence was a mere coincidence. Probably not, but they could hope.
“Battery level,” Leona whispered. She didn’t need to, but it was better to be safe than sorry.
“Twenty-four percent,” Angela reported.
“Hull integrity.”
“Holding.”
Ramses popped his head up from the lower level.
“Propulsion,” Leona prompted.
“There is nothing out here close enough for us to get to it without the battery, and this maneuver took a lot more out of us than I hoped it would. I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault,” Leona promised. “Mateo—where’s Mateo?”
“He went upstairs,” Olimpia said.
“I’m getting a bad feeling,” Leona said, standing up. “Ramses, use a tablet, and run some simulations. I want options for getting us out of this mess.”
“Sir,” Ramses replied.
Meanwhile, Leona went up to see what her husband was doing. He was in the airlock, hatch closed, finishing up fitting himself with one of the vacuum suits. “What are you doing?” she asked through the intercom
“I’m gonna board that thing,” he answered.
“The hell you are.”
“Stop wasting power on the intercom,” Mateo argued.
Leona rapidly pressed the charging button on the console. Something as simple as this did not require much power, and could be recharged quite easily. “There, now it’s back up to four bars. You are not going out there.”
“We need fuel, that thing has fuel,” he contended.
“I’m sure it does. It has antimatter pods, and hydropellets, but the former won’t be compatible with our system, and you don’t know what you’re looking for.”
“I know what I’m looking for,” he said. “I’m not as dumb as you think. I don’t know how antimatter works, but I’ve seen you people replace lots of parts on this thing while I was sitting around with nothing to do. I can retrieve them for you, and the two of you can adapt the alien technology. If nothing else, the deuterium and tritium can be used with the regular fusion drive, correct?”
She sighed. “They can. It’ll be slow, but yes.”
“Slow for us is maybe a few weeks,” Mateo pointed out as he was placing the helmet over his head.
“I’ll go with you,” Leona offered. “There are eleven other suits.”
“But there’s only one jetpack, and I need all the power I can get.”
“Mateo...”
“Let me do this. Let me do something.”
“You promise you know what you’re looking for?”
“I do. You know our code words. If something goes wrong, and I tell you to through the cuff, then you darkburst the hell out of here, and don’t look back.”
“Mateo...” she repeated.
“I’ll be fine, I promise.” He couldn’t promise that, but he had to do something. They needed those power sources. Being stuck in an intergalactic void was just not a sustainable living arrangement. Better him than someone else. Out of everyone on the team, he was the most expendable. He double checked his vacuum suit, then turned around, and jacked himself into the jetpack on the wall. In the olden days, one or two people had to help an astronaut into a suit like this. This was a lot better, especially if Leona had chosen to be less agreeable about the whole thing.
“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” Leona was still so worried.
Mateo separated himself from the wall, and struggled to stay vertical from the weight of the jetpack. “Were I you.”
“Were I you.” She switched off the artificial gravity for him, so he didn’t have to stand. Then she pressed the button to open the outer doors, and watched him go.
According to the heads up display, the mysterious nonresponsive ship was floating about a kilometer away from the AOC. It had yet to make any move against them, or any move at all, for that matter. Ramses was reading heat waste coming off from it, so it didn’t appear to be abandoned, unless it was, and it happened pretty recently. The AOC remained in dark mode, staying in communication with Mateo using a carefully tuned laser. This would stop working once he boarded the vessel, but at that point, he should be able to take off part of the suit, and begin using the highly secure Cassidy cuff.
Using data relayed from Mateo’s sensors, Ramses was able to pinpoint a good place for ingress in what was probably an infrequently used airlock for automated external hull repair. It was too small for his jetpack to fit, so he removed it, and magnetically held it against the hull to retrieve later. He opened the airlock using the manual override they found, and slipped in. Still no response from anyone on the ship, suggesting that they had no idea he was there, or even that the AOC was. This could prove to be the hard part, figuring out how to repressurize the airlock without the team’s help. He reached over, just hoping there wasn’t an authorization code to block him, but before he could touch anything, the room started to make noise. It was repressurizing on its own, theoretically in reaction to his presence. The inner doors opened on their own too. Mateo removed his helmet, set it on the floor, and carefully exited.
He looked one way. Coast was clear. He looked the other way. Not clear. A man was standing there with a weapon of some kind trained on him. “Weapons on the floor.”
“I don’t have any,” Mateo told him honestly. They had never thought to store them on the AOC. It wasn’t a warship, after all.
“I don’t believe you.”
“Why did you let me in if you thought I was a threat?” That airlock didn’t pressurize itself. This guy was surely in control.
“I wanted to know who you are, and what you’re doing here.”
“We need fuel,” Mateo answered. “Our own ship, it’s...it’s not gonna get far.”
“You mean that lifeboat down there?”
“You noticed us.”
“I’m not an idiot. Weapons, now.”
Mateo began to take off the rest of his suit, proving that he didn’t have anything up his sleeve.
“What is this thing?” the man questioned, holding Mateo’s wrist up, and indicating the Cassidy cuff.
“Comms and basic sensors.” He didn’t need to know about the sync teleporter, or the temporal pattern link.
He seemed satisfied with this answer. That was exactly what it looked like. More importantly, it didn’t look like a weapon. “That way,” he ordered with a jerk of his gun. He continued to direct Mateo from behind. This was a nice ship; kept clean and well-lit. There didn’t appear to be anyone else here, but it was pretty large. They could have been busy in other sections without Mateo ever knowing. “What fuel do you need, isotopes?”
“That, and antimatter pods. I know it’s a big ask, but if you’ll just speak with my Captain, I’m sure we can work something out. There’s no need for things to get—”
“We’re here.”
They were entering a big storage room. The roar of the engine was louder now, coming from a door on the other side. It did not look like a hock cell.
“How much do you need?” the man asked.
“Um.” That was an interesting question. He was just planning on stealing as much as he could carry. “Whatever you can spare. Our propulsion drive can handle six pods simultaneously, but our engineers will have to transfer what you have to—” He stopped himself to look down at the case the man had just opened. Inside were six pods. They looked nearly identical to the ones the AOC used. “Is that some kind of standard design?”
“I have no idea.” He shut the case, and pulled another one from the shelf. You carry them, I’ll carry the isotopes.
“Not that I’m not appreciative, but...why are you doing this?”
“I want you out of my business,” the man answered, “and I don’t care what it takes. This is my territory now, and I don’t need you hanging around any longer than necessary.”
It kind of sounded like he was doing something illegal. Mateo didn’t really care, though. This wasn’t his reality, and he didn’t know anything about the culture. He couldn’t even say that Salufi, or the others on the matrioshka brain, were bad people. Their reaction to the team’s arrival was not outrageous. They just couldn’t have it, and needed to leave. “I understand.”
“Thanks, let’s go.”
They started to walk back towards the service airlock, this time without the gun. “I’m sure you don’t want questions, but does this have anything to do with the matrioshka brain that was parked somewhere around here last year?”
The man stopped him at the shoulder. “You know it was here. Did you see it?”
“I was on it. We barely escaped.” Again, he couldn’t be sure whose side this guy was on, but against the matrioshka brain was a pretty fair bet at this point.
“Do you know its exact coordinates?” he pressed.
“Uhh, I don’t, I’m just the delivery boy. My Captain probably knows, or will do everything she can to help you find it.”
He set the isotopes down, and took one of the antimatter cases from Mateo. “Contact your ship. I will give you twice as much as this if you can get me to where they were.”
“This was exactly a year ago,” Mateo warned him. “We can probably find where it was then, but if it moved after that...”
“Doesn’t matter,” he said. “I just need its flight path, so I can predict where it will be next.”
“What are you going to do with this information?”
“Don’t worry about it.”
Mateo weighed his options in his head. He didn’t have much to go on, but one side imprisoned the team, and the other gave them presents. Dance with the one that brought you, he figured. He tapped on his cuff. “Leona.”
Finally! Yes—my God—where have you been?
“In a meeting,” he mused.
Are you okay?” she asked.
“Perfectly fine,” he answered. “Jump to these coordinates. I’ve made a business arrangement with a new associate.”
Powering up now.
“Hey, I don’t know how long this is gonna take,” Mateo started to say to the man, “but in case we make quick work of this, we should formalize it. My name is Mateo Matic. My wife, Leona is the Captain. We have an engineer, and two other crew members on board.”
“Xerian Oyana.”
Mateo pulled up his own info on his cuff. “This is my personal quantum sequence. If you ever need anything else, call me, and we’ll try to help if we’re in the neighborhood. Time lag might be a factor.”
Xerian pulled out his handheld device, and accepted the data, exchanging it with his own. After Leona teleported to their location, they all three went up to the bridge, stopping briefly at the storage room to double their payment. Once at the controls, Leona retraced the AOC’s steps, and found the region of space where the matrioshka brain was last year. Xerian knew it was somewhere around here, but he needed to be as accurate as possible. He added it to the points he had already plotted on a map, and connected them with a new line. “Ah, they’re tricky, but I see a pattern.”
“Me too,” Leona said.
Mateo didn’t see it. It just looked like a random mess to him.
“Well, I appreciate your help,” Xerian said.
“We appreciate yours. This should last us quite a while.”
“I must be off. I think I can finally get ahead of them.”
“We’ll leave, but do you know where we can go? Is there some kind of haven for people who don’t have identities, and don’t have a great relationship with that matrioshka brain?
“Andromeda is your only hope,” Xerian explained. “But since I imagine you don’t have a lightyear drive, it will take you too long to get there.”
“You don’t have instant transporters?” Leona pressed.
“We do, but that’s what I mean,” Xerian went on. “The closest Nexus that won’t ask questions is nearly 1400 light years away.”
Mateo looked over to Leona, who closed her eyes and nodded. That will be fine. Xerian didn’t know about the reframe engine, or their salmon pattern. “Thanks again,” she said.
Xerian found the coordinates to both the Nexus, and a supposedly safe place in the Andromeda galaxy, and beamed them to her cuff.
After the two of them teleported back to the AOC, Mateo realized there could be another way. “Maybe we should just ask if we can stay with him.”
“That is not our business,” Leona contended. “We just need to get somewhere safe.”
“I think I trust him,” Mateo decided.
“That’s great!” Leona said with false enthusiasm. “We’re still gonna go do our own thing. Ramses.” She held out one of the cases of antimatter, and one of the tritium. “Load these up while I plot our course. We’ll be there in two years.”
“We’ll be where?” Mateo pointed out.
“We’ll see,” she said simply.
They weren’t necessarily headed towards safety. They still didn’t know what the hell was going on in this reality.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Extremus: Year 27

Hock Watcher may sound like a funny position, but Caldr Giordana is responsible for the rehabilitation department of the entire ship. Here, rehabilitation is being used in its loosest definition. It’s a pretty simple concept. You break a law, you go in hock. If a ruling needs to be made beyond that, you go to trial, and either go free, or stay in hock to serve out a sentence. When you’re done, you go free. There’s no real rehabilitation, and there is no program for reintegration into society. It’s never been needed. Most crimes have been straightforward, committed by people who clearly made a mistake, but which can’t be categorized as menaces. Three of the men presently in hock are different, and more complicated, and Olindse Belo feels that something needs to be done to reform the system. She is not capable of doing this without the approval and aid of others.
The hock is a special department, which acts as an unlikely spot to bridge the gap between passengers and crew. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a civilian or a civil servant, if you commit a crime, you go to the same place as everyone. Hock Watcher is one of the most complicated roles to fill, and equally illustrates that bridge. First, the government nominates the most promising candidates. Then the passengers vote to narrow the pool further. The crew then votes for the winner, but the Captain is free to veto any decision, and restart at least part of the process. If that were to happen, there would be even more deliberation to decide how far back in that process the cycle has to restart. To get where he is today, Caldr had to really want it, and now that he’s here, it would be all but impossible to get rid of him unless he wanted to leave. He wields a lot more power than one might expect.
When Consul Vatal was discovered to be a True Extremist spy—or rather, outed himself to a spy—his job needed to be backfilled. He had his own sort of apprentice, who was prepared enough to take over, but the nature of his departure made that more complicated. For more than two years, the new Consul tried his best to carry out his duties, but everyone who required his services hesitated to reach out to him. The consul is not a lawyer. They are primarily an ethicist who understands the law down to the very last punctuation mark. By being untruthful about where he came from, and where his loyalties lay, Dvronen was quite ironically proving himself to be unethical at the highest order. If he’s the one who trained the apprentice, could that apprentice have good ethics himself? Well, probably, since he went through his own education, and had his own ideals, but we’re dealing with humans here, and humans are complicated. The crew, especially the Captain, found it difficult to trust him with their ethical needs. It essentially made it impossible for him to do his job, and he just couldn’t take the stress. He stepped down, and while quitting the crew is usually a complex process, Captain Leithe made an exception, and simply let him go. Any other member of the crew could have contested this ruling, but no one did, so it went through.
Renga Mas was fresh out of school, and didn’t think she was ready to take the job, but she was pretty much the only option. Others studied law, but they were predominantly on the other two of three tracks. One track focuses on civilian law, and that’s the route most students take. The other concerns itself with destination law. Such students are intended to become teachers, so they can pass their knowledge down to further generations. There are a lot of skills that people living on the ship won’t, or might not, ever use, but which their descendants will find critical. It would be irresponsible of them to let this knowledge disappear before the mission can be realized two centuries from now. If you want to take the third track, which prepares you to possibly become Consul, you have to complete an independent study program, and while Renga isn’t the only one who has done that, she’s the only one with sufficient competency. She likely would have apprenticed for Dvronen’s apprentice, and ultimately secured the job anyway, but the timetable had to be moved up. Today is her first major project.
“Okay, so, uhh...um.” Renga fumbles with the tablet before she realizes it isn’t even hers, so it isn’t signed into her account. That’s why her passcode didn’t work. “All right, I don’t think I need it. Is this being recorded? Are we recording?”
“We are,” First Lieutenant Corinna Seelen replies. Captain Leithe doesn’t need to be part of the decision-making process in this case, so Corinna is in charge. “Go on.”
Renga is responsible for running the meeting itself. “Great. Uh, that’s great.” She clears her throat. “Okay. This is the...hearing?”
“Proposal meeting,” Corinna corrects.
“Right, proposal meeting for the question of whether to accept Olindse’s—”
“Admiral Belo,” Corinna corrects her again.
“Admiral Belo’s prisoner reintegration plan. Thanks.” Renga nods sharply, proud of herself for managing to get through that, and forgetting for just one second that it’s literally only the beginning.
Corinna urges her on with her eyes, but no words. She may have to take over.
Renga continues, “Olin—Admiral Belo.” Olindse took Renga under her wing at school. They were studying completely different things, but they became friends, and the latter often mined the former for advice. It’s proven difficult to remember that she should not be so informal with this. “Please, begin your presentation.”
“Thank you,” Olindse says. “I’ve already given you my written proposal, so I won’t go into detail, but I’ll sum it up. I believe that our justice system leaves something to be desired. It’s far too simple. If you’re guilty, you go in hock. Maybe you’re given limited computer privileges, but for the most part, the severity of your crime dictates how long you’re there. Prisoners are not provided resources to help them rehabilitate, or later return to society. When and if they’re released, they’re just thrown back into the general population, where they have to move on on their own. Many will have been changed by the trauma, and their lives will be more difficult than necessary. I believe that this is unfair and unjust.”
Corinna holds up a hand, and closes her eyes, like it’s a performing arts audition, and Olindse’s minute is up. “Currently, the only prisoners in hock are...” She checks her tablet, but only to find the file for the least infamous prisoner. “A spy, a mutineer, a disgraced former officer, and a saboteur.”
“It was a prank,” Olindse argues, “not sabotage.”
“Tell that to the eighteen people who drank the contaminated water, and suffered from heavy diarrhea for the next three to four days.”
“No civilian charges were filed,” Olindse reminds her. “That’s not my point. I’m not here to argue if any of them deserve to be in hock, or not. I’m here to argue that we should be helping them learn from their mistakes. Egregious, or forgivable,” she adds before Corinna can debate the definition of a mistake, or contend that two of them did not simply make a mistake.
My point,” Corinna goes on, “is that only the...prankster will be getting out of hock outside of a body bag. The other three are enemies of the state, and will have to make their respective cells their homes for the next however many decades are left of their lives.”
“That doesn’t mean they don’t deserve respect and compassion,” Olindse says.
“I’m not saying that,” Corinna claims. “Though, I don’t have any personal respect or compassion for two of them in there, and I don’t much care about the fourth. I shouldn’t have to name names.” She doesn’t. Everyone still loves Halan Yenant, and no one likes Dvronen or Ovan. “I’m asking why we should divert time and resources to helping people we know will never be able to reenter society. You even call this the reintegration program.”
“That’s a catchall term, but it doesn’t just address actually placing prisoners back in the general population. There are many ways to reintegrate,” Olindse explains. “Besides, as you saw in my proposal, I also discuss counseling for those who have been given life sentences. And as a side note, Admiral Yenant has not technically received a definite sentence. His potential for parole is always there.”
“Don’t call him that,” Corinna demands. “I don’t like it any more than you do, but we legally can’t call him an admiral. Right, Consul?”
“Right,” Renga answers uncomfortably.
“Who do you suppose will provide these counseling services for the prisoners?”
“Nearly every job on this ship has a surplus labor pool. It won’t be hard to find someone to fill this void,” Olindse figures.
Renga realizes she needs to speak up more, since this is supposed to be her show. “I didn’t see this in the proposal—even though I read it...” She eyes the Lieutenant.
“I’m busy, I skimmed it,” Corinna defends.
Renga goes on, “I didn’t see anywhere that dictates whether this new counselor will be a member of the civilian workforce, or the crew.”
Olindse nods and points, having predicted this would come up. “It’s not in there, because I wasn’t sure about that. I hoped we could work together to figure that out. My first thought is to make it a joint effort, like the Hock Watcher, but still appointed, rather than voted upon.”
“That is a tall order,” Corinna says. “We would have to all vote in order to make this new flavor of job even a thing. What say you, Hock Watcher Giordana?”
Caldr had been listening intently and respectfully to all sides of this argument. “To be honest, I wouldn’t mind having one or two other people on the team. It can get lonely down there. Also to be honest, I sometimes chat with Mr. Yenant because of it.”
“That’s not illegal,” Renga assures him. They actually did consider fraternizing with the prisoners completely illegal, because it could theoretically lead to a conflict of interest, and even possibly a prison break. They had to decide against such harsh rules, because it was more unethical to restrict who a resident of the ship could be friends with. They made it so hard to become Hock Watcher in the first place in order to lower this risk. Caldr bleeds integrity.
“Okay,” Corinna begins, “let me read the proposal in full. I’ll assign some duties to my Second LT to make the time. We will reconvene in two weeks to discuss this further, and hopefully come to some conclusion. Vice Admiral, create a list of candidates for this counseling job, and determine whether you want anyone else on this expanded hock team. Consul Mas, you can tentatively approve them. Does this sound fair?”
“Yes,” they all agreed.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Microstory 1800: A Life Well-Earned

I was born into a very wealthy family, which only got wealthier with each generation. None of us was allowed to rest on our laurels, and relax. We had a system in place. Parents were expected to take care of their children, and give them just about anything they wanted (within reason). Once they turned 18, their college would be paid for, and everything that goes with that, like food and lodging. Any purchases they wanted beyond that had to be approved, and were always contingent upon extremely good grades. No one was expected to join the family business, but they had to do something with their lives. They had to live up to our name, whether that meant doing as they were told by their betters, or striking out on their own. A well-rounded education was vital to this. You were cut off once you turned 26, regardless of how prepared you were. The idea was to give everyone enough time to finish their undergraduate studies, plus their graduate studies—if they so chose to continue their education—and also begin pulling in their own income. There was no trust, there were no allowances. Everybody had to make their own way, at least after spending a quarter of their lives learning how to do that. I know, I know, this all sounds very ridiculous to normal people, but what would you have us do, reject our family money as soon as we could speak? That wouldn’t have done anyone any good, would it? For my part, actually, I didn’t even let my family do this much for me. I let them pay for tuition, books, and other educational expenses, but I paid for food, and my own place to live. I had a job while I was there, which was smarter than my siblings and cousins, because I learned a lot more about the labor force than they did from their ivory towers. I wouldn’t say that I struggled, but I certainly worked harder than the rest of them. I was at least closer to seeing what real life was like for most people.

Rich people have problems too, and I don’t mean to sound like we don’t, but I always tried to be careful with my perspective. The fact is that I had an easy life, and people like me have a responsibility to use our privilege to help others as possible. What better way to support those people than to provide them with jobs? No one wants to be a charity case. They don’t want you to just hand them stuff. They want to feel like they earned it. No, strike that from the record; they want to know that they undeniably earned it. Ya know, receiving free stuff activates the same part of the brain as incurring debt does. I mean...I don’t actually know that for sure, but it sounds right, so it probably is. People hate to feel like what they have isn’t really theirs, and I chose to do my part to alleviate that for them. I paid my employees fair wages, and I treated them fairly. Sure, if you read the statistics, it sounds like workers were generally unhappy in their positions, but that data is always skewed. Only the loudest and angriest of people are going to fill out those surveys. Content people tend to be too happy to bother telling other people about why. And sure, my company technically pays most jobs on the left side of that bell curve, but that doesn’t matter. That isn’t what my organization is about. What I found—and this is another one of those things that my relatives never understood—is that an employee would much rather be validated by their superiors than just be given more money. Money doesn’t make you smile. Money can’t buy you monthly division birthday parties, and great online coupons. Well, I guess it does, but family doesn’t need that from each other. That’s what we are at the company; a family. I couldn’t die prouder.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Microstory 1799: Adventurous Spirit

There’s not much to say about my life, so I’ll just tell you about my death, with a little bit of background. My father once told me that I had an adventurous spirit. I liked to learn about other places, and read about people’s harrowing ordeals. I didn’t actually do anything, though. I kept thinking that I would grow up to be a boat captain, or a pilot, or I dunno...just something that would show me the world. I was always watching Indiana Jones movies, so I thought becoming a college professor would help me. I ended up at the community college five miles from my childhood home, and I rarely stepped beyond my comfort zone. I was certainly not having any adventures. I woke up one day—it wasn’t a random day, but a few weeks before my birthday, which is around the time I start planning my party, which fewer and fewer attend each year. I was about to turn forty, and I had nothing to show for it. That was not acceptable. I had always considered that to be the age when you start getting old. It’s at the top of the hill. You spend half your life climbing up to it, and the other half falling down from it. Obviously I could make new memories in the second half, but I knew it would haunt me if I couldn’t say I did anything by then. I had to start before. I had to start now. I didn’t have any money, or more than a few vacation days saved up, but that was okay, because I was too scared to go too crazy anyway. There was a lake twenty miles out of town that I figured would be the perfect place for me to literally test the waters. If I could survive a baby adventure there, then I would know I was ready for something more, and then maybe more after that. I was never gonna end up in space, but I thought I would go further than this.

As someone who was so inexperienced, I didn’t know how to prepare. Was I going camping? Hiking? Water skiing? No, not water skiing, that’s insane. And no hiking either, I don’t like to walk. How about I just rent a little row boat, and go out onto the water? Yeah, the weather wasn’t too bad that day, so it should have been calm. I assumed that was what the weather report meant. Little wind, little waves. Anyway, twenty-five miles an hour sounded like a low number to me. I still didn’t know what to buy, so I just went to the watersports section of the sporting goods store, and pretty much grabbed one of everything. I knew I wouldn’t need a water trampoline, or a giant canoe, but every small thing seemed like a good idea, because it’s better to be safe than sorry. I gathered everything up, and drove to the lake, where there was indeed a little place to rent rowboats. God, I wish there hadn’t been. I wish it was out of season, or the guy had warned me that the weather was worse than I realized. I don’t know how the boat sank, or why it waited until I was in the middle of the water, but screaming for help did me no good. No one was around to hear, especially since that motorboat was being so loud. A life vest. That was the one thing I forgot to pack. I felt like such an idiot, loading up all this unnecessary gear, but leaving out the one thing that could save my life. I wouldn’t have needed it to keep from drowning, though. That’s not how I died. I didn’t stick around the boat, assuming it was best to swim towards the shore. That turned out to be my downfall. Had I stayed with all that floating crap, the motorboat people might have been able to spot me. Instead, breaststroking my way through the wavy waters, under the darkening sky, in my grayish sort of lake water-colored swimsuit, was the last mistake I made before the propellers came over to say hello.