Sunday, June 16, 2024

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 31, 2452

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One of the crew members started counting down the distance. The physics of extradimensional space weren’t very intuitive. The equilibrium was proof that the membrane was all around. It wasn’t like one would have to travel a certain distance to reach it. They should be able to break free from anywhere. The fact that the Transit moved so quickly was just its way of accomplishing this, as opposed to other methods, like temperature and pressure, or surgical strikes. Still, there was a physical boundary, which would kill them if they collided with it, and it was approaching fast. Or rather, they were approaching it. In order to combat this, they needed Olimpia’s umbrella.
“Eleven units!” the engineer called out about a second or two after saying that it was thirteen. “Nine! Seven! Sir, we need to abort!”
“There’s no time, Dawn,” Freya reminded her. “We have to trust in magic.”
“This will work!” Olimpia insisted. “We just have to get closer before it actually starts...w—w—working.” She wasn’t super confident in this.
“Three! One!”
They held their breaths again.
“Two! Four! Six. Eight. Ten.” Dawn was beginning to relax.
“It is working, Olimpia, keep holding!”
“For how long!” Olimpia questioned. Increasing the length of the kasma itself was proving to be far harder than simply holding back the Lucius bomb back on Ex-467. And this time, she probably couldn’t ask someone else to give her a break, or they would be destroyed during the hand-off.
Dawn’s numbers kept going up and up and up as the walls of the universe cleaved for them. For Olimpia. “Fifty-five, fifty-six...infinite.”
“Infinite?” Freya asked.
“Infinite,” she repeated. “We’re not in the kasma anymore. We’re in the outer bulk. She just built a canal for us.”
Marie started to massage Olimpia’s back. “Ya done good, kid.”
Olimpia was breathing heavily, and hanging her head low. “I think I need to go to the med car too.”
Marie caught her when she keeled over, and teleporter her away.
Leona held one finger up when Azura tried to say something to her. She and Angela were listening to the state of their teammates. Both Olimpia and Ramses were probably going to be all right eventually. “Okay. What was that?”
“Are you talking to me now?” Azura asked.
“Yes, Azura, go ahead.”
“I don’t have the coordinates for very many universes. I’ve sort of...burned bridges in most of them, and I don’t know how the Maramon in Providenciaverse would react to you, since your history with their species is...complicated.”
“Can we get back into Salmonverse from here?” Angela asked.
“The membrane is too thick,” Dawn explained as she was looking at her computer. I can get you back in, but...”
“But what?” Freya encouraged.
“Not in your present day,” Dawn clarified. “The part of the barrier that runs throughout the entire time period is thicker. It’s like if you sealed a box with tape, and then wrapped a whole bunch of tape around the middle until the whole roll was gone.”
Azura looked at her like she was crazy. “You’ve heard of adhesive tape?”
“I grew up on a fairly primitive planet. Yes, I’ve heard of tape.”
“Where can we go?” Leona pressed.
“Where’s Treasure?” Freya asked, knowing that no one here knew the answer, or they never would have been in the kasma in the first place.
Leona sighed in the middle of the silence. “Matt, get back here, please,” she said into her comms. “I know, but you’re not a doctor. Trust whoever’s there to take care of them, and come back. You’re the only one who can do this.”
Mateo reluctantly jumped back to the executive car. “What is it?”
“I need you to reach out to Amber. We’re looking for someone in the bulk, and she’s the only one we can communicate with from presumably anywhere.”
Mateo looked at everyone in the group. All of the delegates from the Sixth Key were still here, watching him like eagles over a river. “I could use some space.”
“Olkan, take our guests to...” Azura grumbled, and massaged her face with both of her hands. “I dunno, nothing is ready here yet. I guess use car six. It would not be a bad idea to remodel some VIP living compartments at some point.”
A guy apparently named Olkan led the delegates away. Besides Leona, Mateo, Angela, Freya, and Azura, only Carlin stayed behind, which was fine. Mateo found a seat to relax in. Amber appeared to be able to reach out to him psychically whenever she wanted, and with very little effort, but it was a lot harder for him since he wasn’t a psychic himself; he was just bonded to her. He closed his eyes, and let himself drift away from this plane of existence. A few minutes later, he reopened them. But it wasn’t actually him. His consciousness was being suppressed. Amber smiled his lips, and looked amongst the small group, settling on Azura. “You must be Azura. I’ve met your brothers and sisters.”
“How are they doing?” Azura asked.
Amber shrugged Mateo’s shoulders. “They were all right, last I saw them. They left in their little grenade thing. Said something about a different war.”
“We need to talk to Thack Natalie Collins,” Azura went on. “You can do that?”
“No, we are not bonded,” Amber answered. “I can talk to Sanaa Karimi, though, and there is a point in the metaphysical history of the bulkverse when those two cross paths. Would you like me to call her?”
“That would be great,” Freya said in Azura’s stead.
Amber shifted her gaze over to Freya. “One moment, please.” Mateo’s eyes glazed over, quite literally. The irises and pupils were all but gone. Another few minutes later, the trance was broken again. Mateo looked over at Leona. “Hey, bitch.”
“Sanaa?” Leona questioned.
“Now with one hundred percent more penis. How the heck are ya?”
“Where are you?” Leona asked. “Is Thack there? Can you ask her where Treasure is for us?”
“Treasure’s here too, dum-dum.”
“Where?” Freya asked frantically. “Where are you?”
“Thack called it Stoutverse. We’re havin’ a picnic. Whole gang’s here.”
“Stoutverse,” Freya echoed. “Have you heard of that, Azura?”
“No,” Azura answered, shaking her head.
“Is this the Transit?” Sanaa questioned.
“Yeah.”
“She’s expecting you,” Sanaa said like it was no big deal. “ So you must figure out how to get here at some point.”
“What did you mean by the whole gang?” Azura asked Sanaa. “Who is that? Is anyone else there who might have the coordinates?”
“Well, sure,” Sanaa began. “The Crossover, the Prototype, some chick in a sexy spacesuit, a dude in a very colorful coat.”
“Dawn,” Azura said quickly. “Remember I told you about the Crossover. We’ve never formed a link before, because there’s no way to know who’s in control of it, but now we have a baseline. Piggyback off of Mateo’s psychic connection, and send a ping. We’ll have our coordinates.”
“Bye, sluts!” Mateo blinked. “It was nice to meet you all.” That was probably Amber. He blinked again. “You’re all gonna die.” he said in a darker tone, and with furrowed brows. He blinked again, and widened his eyes in horror. “Help!” he cried, in a higher pitched voice, but quietly, like someone might do if mimicking a cheering crowd without raising their voice too much. One more blink, and suddenly the Time Shriek started to echo throughout the car, and reportedly in other cars down the line. It wasn’t coming from Mateo’s mouth, but it was probably triggered by the multiversal link. They covered their ears in pain, as it was far louder than it usually was.
Azura reached over to the controls, and somehow figured out how to shut it off. “Jesus. What the hell was that?”
“You’ve never heard that before?” Angela asked, shocked.
“No, I’ve heard it before, of course, everyone has. I just mean why here, why now, why that frickin’ bad?”
“Mateo, what do you remember?” Leona asked.
“I remember how it felt,” he told her. It was fine when Amber and Sanaa were in my head, but not after that. It was...disturbing in a way that was all too familiar.”
“You know who that was,” Angela said, not as a question.
“It was Meredarchos. He’s not happy with us.”
Everyone exchanged looks.
“If he’s not where Treasure is, then I don’t care,” Freya determined. “If he is, then we have to go. We have to go either way.”
“Dawn?” Azura posed.
“I have the coordinates. Well, I have a trail of breadcrumbs anyway.”
“Then let’s go.”
The trip took them most of the rest of the day, though their aging and metabolisms were halted. Ramses and Olimpia recovered fully in this time, thanks to their superior substrates, and the work of the medic, Spectra. She checked Mateo out too, though they weren’t exactly equipped to detect issues that resulted from psychic connections, or psychic intrusions. One thing that Mateo was able to tell was that the person who cried for help at the end was not Meredarchos, but a fourth consciousness, and he didn’t know who it was, or where they were. He offered to reach out to Amber again, or even try to contact Sanaa, but Leona forbade it. It was not safe; what happened before could be repeated, and Meredarchos might be able to find a full foothold next time. They just all sat there and waited until the journey was over.
Finally, they pierced the membrane of what was evidently called Stoutverse. They could hear the train horn blare, which Dawn said they were unable to figure out how to disable. The viewscreens showed confirmation of Sanaa’s claims. The Prototype and Crossover were sitting next to each other in a wide open field. Several picnic tables were a few dozen meters away, but only a handful of people were there, watching them until the spacetrain came to a complete stop. Azura and Team Matic followed after Freya ran out. “Where’s my daughter?” she demanded to know
Thack pointed towards the sky, and looked up. “On the frontlines. The Darning Wars have begun.”
“I don’t know what that means,” Freya said angrily.
“It means the Transit needs to get up there, and start defending this planet,” Thack replied. “Anyone who doesn’t want to participate should disembark now. They’ll be safe here on the ground.”
Azura lifted her watch up to her mouth. “Evacuate the passengers. We’re going into battle. This is not a drill.”
“Get her back right now,” Freya ordered. She was also talking to a man standing next to Thack. “This is not what we talked about. We agreed to let her be more independent, not a soldier.”
“Zek made the decision to pull her up there,” another woman explained.
Freya gave her a dirty look, and then turned her face away again. “I don’t care that she asked to watch. Send her back down to me this instant.”
A teenage girl, a twentysomething guy, and a thirtysomething woman appeared on the ground. “Mom, why did you do that? We could talk later.”
“Are you fighting the Ochivari up there?”
“The Cormanu is the safest place I could be right now. And I need to learn.”
“That’s not true, young lady,” the man said, the implication being that he was her father. “The Primus has a bunker. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that she went up too,” he loud whispered to Freya. “It was only for a couple of minutes, though.”
They hadn’t realized that Azura had run back to the Transit. “Fray, are you coming?” She wasn’t urging her, just asking.
“Do what you gotta do!” Freya yelled back.
“Hi, I’m Primus Naraschone Mihajlović. This is my lieutenant, Kineret McArthur.” The other stranger reached out, and started shaking hands, but she kept messing it up, as if she were still learning how.
Leona showed her Mario Matic’s special watch, which recalibrated itself to every new destination’s timekeeping standards. “Is this the date and year right now?”
“May 31, 2452,” Primus Mihajlović recited with a nod. “It is.”
All of Team Matic were surprised. It was quite the coincidence, that the time period was close to what it was when they left home. Perhaps it was done intentionally, and the plan was for them to come here all along, but whoever was pulling the strings was waiting for the right moment. They may have let it go, but if they had broken the accelerated time bubble early enough, and returned to their regular pattern, this was bound to be one of the days that they were in the timestream. Did their pattern follow them here? Before they could dwell on it, though, most people there suddenly disappeared. Other than the team and Carlin, only the Primus and her lieutenant remained. “Uhh...can any of you teleport? Please say yes.”

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Orthogradient: People of Stoutverse (Part VI)

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Primus Naraschone Mihajlović sat at the edge of her desk, body bent forwards at her waist, hands braced tightly against the wood. Splinters dug in underneath her fingernails, but she didn’t pay them any mind. She barely noticed, and she almost felt like she deserved it. The war was not going in her favor. The enemy just kept coming, and they couldn’t keep up with it. The aliens seemingly had an infinite supply of fighters, and there was no competing with that tactic. The home field advantage could only take them so far. If they could only figure out where these portals were going to form, she might be able to bottleneck them, or something, but they appeared to be random. Random or intentional. Or both. There was a knock on the door. “Enter.”
Her assistant and Head Bodyguard, Kineret McArthur walked in. “There’s another one.”
“Send a squadron. I’ll watch them all die from here.”
“The ship,” Kineret began to explain, “it’s different. It looks different, and as soon as the squadron responded tactically, it retreated.”
Naraschone perked up. “They’re adapting. Send a second squadron. Overwhelm them with everything we got.”
Kineret held her finger against her earpiece. “They don’t think it’s the Zippers. They sent a message in binary, so the scientists need time to convert it. The alien ship is projecting the golden spiral on the front. That’s a symbol of balance for us. Maybe it means the same thing to them.” She jerked her chin as she listened more. “More holographic images are coming in. Smiling humans. The vierkam heart. A...sort of half vierkam heart. They’re interpreting the next one as an olive branch.”
“What, are they surrendering?”
Kineret kept listening. “They converted the binary code. It’s just text. It says, we come in peace. Take us to your leader.
“Have the General send them my coordinates.”
“Sir, I would strongly advise—”
“I’m not going to last another week in office, Kin. They’re this close to voting me out. Egypt and Holland are prepared to back my replacement now, which means he officially has enough votes. Dying at the direct hands of an enemy would at least make my biography read less pathetic. Give them my coordinates.”
Kineret turned away, and whispered the orders into her mouthpiece.
A couple of minutes later, as Naraschone was putting her blazer back on, a woman suddenly appeared in the office. “How did you do that?”
“I was born with it,” the stranger replied. “Are you this world’s prime leader?”
“Yes, I’m Primus Naraschone Mihajlović.” She held her hand out, palm up, as was the custom.
The woman looked down at it. “I don’t know what to do with that. Where I’m from, we hug upon first meeting. Most of my crew shakes hands like this.” She pantomimed moving her hand up and down, palm facing the side.
“We do it like this.” Naraschone swung her arm over, and palm circled Kineret, but Naraschone’s hand was on top, since she was the superior.
The stranger smiled, and reached out to mimic Kineret, but as an honored guest, it was her hand that should be on top. “Eliana Prime.” That’s just a coincidence. It’s literally my surname.”
Nararschone carefully turned her hand over for her, and performed the ritual. “So, you’re not from our world either? Humans evolved on other planets, or did you simply arrive in a form that I am supposedly more comfortable with?”
“It’s more complicated than that. I’m from a different universe. My crew all hail from different universes beyond that. We came together to fight the Ochivari.”
“Is that what they’re called?” Kineret questioned. She took out her handheld device to write that down, and take any other necessary notes.
Eliana lifted her chin as if to watch her type, but couldn’t really see, and didn’t care to. “Ochivari is plural. Singular is Ochivar. They originated on a planet called Worlon in Salmonverse. They evolved from semiparasitic insectoids which were accidentally introduced to human DNA millions of years prior. We don’t understand the mechanism by which the foreign code was integrated into their systems, but we hypothesize that it gave their ancestors a survival advantage over their cousins  who did not receive it.”
“This is good stuff, keep going,” Kineret encouraged.
“I’m no expert,” Eliana clarified. “I’m just the teleporter on the team. I’m not even the main teleporter. If you would like to speak with our captain, I could take you to her, but be warned, she is decidedly not human. Her form can be alarming to some.”
“I can handle it,” Naraschone insisted. “I’ve seen plenty of Zippers first hand.”
“Hold on,” Kineret interrupted, holding her earpiece again. “Another one just appeared. Very different form too. It’s...quite large.”
Eliana looked pleased. “Azura and the Transit found us. Thank God, we could use their help. Have you been at war for a long time? Ochivari don’t usually fight physically. They generally release this virus—”
Kineret interrupted again, “it’s a giant cube. It just appeared in the middle of Plangol Field.”
“A cube?” Eliana asked. “That would be the Crossover. There’s no telling who’s in it right now. It changes hands, and I’ve not even begun to explain to you how time works for people who traverse the bulk.”
“If you’re a teleporter, that means you can get me there?” Naraschone asked. “It’s on the other side of the planet.”
“Sir, please,” Kineret urged.
Eliana held out both of her hands. “All aboard who’s coming aboard.”
Naraschone grasped one hand while Kineret hesitated. “I guess I have to go to protect you,” she lamented before taking Eliana’s other hand.
The three of them were standing before the large Crossover cube. A ship was just landing next to it at the same time. Eliana looked upon it with a sense of familiarity that she did not show the cube. A second...building maybe, appeared as well. It was much smaller, fit for only a handful of people. Humans started coming out of all three structures, but more were coming from their own portals, each of which sparkled and shined with two or three dozen brilliant colors. A small group appeared, releasing a blast of energy that was enough to blow everyone’s hair back, but not enough to knock them over. A spacewoman appeared to be literally tearing through the colorful fabric of spacetime. More of this sort of fabric rippled and waved next to her as a coat formed from the aether. The man wearing it pulled the hood back, and smiled. Glass cracked and shattered as another man forced himself through his breach. He reached back through, and helped a companion of his across. A woman slowly faded into view to their left, sitting cross-legged on the ground. Yet another woman burst out of nothing, and crash landed next to her, but she seemed to be okay.
Eliana recognized some of them, but not everyone. She walked over to greet the others from her ship as they were descending the ramp. It was hard to tell who was in charge at first. Unless they came in together, they expressed surprise at being there together. Naraschone would think that the small group from the giant cube would be the leaders, but they looked just as out of the loop as everyone else. It was the woman escorted by the man who literally punched his way here who stepped away from the forming crowd, towards Kiteran and Primus Mihajlović. “Hello Primus. I’m Thack Natalie Collins, temporary coordinator of the vanguard. I wanted everyone to come here so they could see what happens when the natives of a given world fight back. You may feel distress, but you are faring better than you realize. When the Ochivari come to a universe, they usually only do one of two things. They leave it alone, or they sterilize the entire population, and then bug out. You’re proof that they do not get to decide everything.”
“I don’t understand,” Naraschone admitted.
“We’ll talk more about it.” Thack turned to the crowd, which quieted down for her. “Travelers of the bulk, welcome to Stoutverse. The fighting has only begun here. What the Ochivari do not realize is that everything they’ve been doing so far have been only minor skirmishes. The first battle in a multiversal war is coming, and you are all here to bear witness.” She consulted her watch. “The Transit will be arriving within the hour. Until then, I’ll ask the current operators of the Crossover—specifically the managers of Kingdom Hotel—to prepare a meal for us all. Khuweka, if you will, please take the Cormanu back into orbit, scan for breaches, and protect this world until the Transit Army arrives. Your crew will stay with us.”
“I would be honored to, Miss Collins.” This must have been who Eliana was talking about. While everyone else here looked human, Khuweka was tall, white, and almost monstrous. She could be intimidating if she wanted to be, but her voice was soft and unimposing. There was only one other like her. He was originally in the small building, but he followed his brethren up the ramp into the Cormanu without asking for permission, or even saying a word at all. Naraschone didn’t even know if he was a man. He just looked more masculine to her.
There were more in the Crossover cube than the small group that came out of it at first, but Naraschone didn’t get the impression that it was anywhere near full capacity. Picnic tables appeared out of nowhere, but Eliana wasn’t the one who did it. Her ship, the Cormanu itself appeared to be a conscious entity, capable of transporting anything from anywhere on the planet. Probably no one was missing all this stuff right now since most people were trying to survive in the bunkers. Well, not most. They had yet to build sufficient facilities for the entire population of the planet. They never thought they would need anything like that. They should have been better prepared. Lives would have been spared.
Kineret was uncomfortable taking this time away from the chaos of war that they had been in the midst of for the last few years, but Thack Collins was confident that the two Maramon, as they were called, were capable of defending them from orbit. Some of the others who came here were not soldiers, but a lot of them were, so they could jump into action if another wave showed up. Eliana’s remark that they were from all different sorts of universes was true of those who did not arrive in the Cormanu. The man who escorted Miss Collins was father to a young woman on the Cormanu. Her mother was supposed to be coming next on the fabled Transit, which would reportedly mark the whole world’s salvation as it was the only thing actually designed for a war like this one. Naraschone was holding off on judgment until later. For now, they just enjoyed the food that a man named Bell prepared, and talked. The two locals stayed quiet at first to let the others catch up with each other. This was evidently a pretty big deal. They had never all come together like this. There were supposed to be an infinite number of universes out there, but there must be something special about this one. Thack called it Stoutverse, a term that the natives had never used for themselves, but if Naraschone had anything to do with it, they would start now.
Naraschone was laughing with a new friend she met named Curtis, who had an endless supply of interesting stories about his time in an unnamed universe where he was part of a group of superheroes. He was part of The Grenadiers now. But Kineret wasn’t listening to him anymore. She was instead listening to her earpiece, which kept a constant consolidated stream of battle chatter. She was genetically engineered to be able to comprehend multiple voices at once, allowing her to keep apprised on the situation from many sources at once. It was called the Unified Tactical Awareness System, and while a lot of key players around the world could use it effectively to some degree, she could parse the highest number of distinct channels of anyone, which was why she worked directly for the Primus of Earth. “What is it?”
Kineret looked up at the crew of the Cormanu, who appeared to be listening to their own radio system. “They know. Breaches all over the place. It’s a full tactical assault.” The whole crowd stopped talking as she faced her superior. “We need to get you to the bunker. Eliana, it’s back on the other side of the world.”
“The mass incursion,” Thack Natalie Collins said, standing up. “I predicted this, but timekeeping is difficult to measure for me. You have so many time zones.”
Ecrin, the Captain of the Prototype—the small building that only a handful of people crewed—stood up. “What do we do?”
“I’m not a military leader,” Thack replied. “I can’t tell you what to do. But given the low maneuverability of your respective machines...I suggest everyone convene on the Cormanu.”
“Diamond Zek,” Kivi said, “beam us all up.”
They nearly all disappeared, leaving behind only Naraschone, Kineret, Thack, Thack’s bodyguard and universe puncher, Limerick, and Eliana. “Where’s this bunker?” Eliana asked.
“Right underneath the International Assembly House,” Kineret answered as she was tapping on her handheld device. “I’ll get you the coordinates.” Before she could recite them, a loud horn blared in the distance. A giant, and particularly long, object raced towards them. It stopped suddenly, right between all of the other machines and the picnic tables.
A woman stepped out of it, and approached the small group. Others followed behind her. “Where’s my daughter?” she asked Thack.
Thack pointed towards the sky, and looked up. “On the frontlines. The Darning Wars have begun.”

Friday, June 14, 2024

Microstory 2170: Twist in My Life

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Oh man, big news today. I got a new job, sort of. I wasn’t looking for a new one, but it fell into my lap, kind of literally. The warden came by to inform me that he and the governor had been in talks with my employer for a special new contract. He gave me the paperwork while I was sitting in my recliner. I’ve yet to tell you who I work for, or what I do, and I still won’t give you specifics about it, but this wouldn’t be the first time they’ve loaned employees out to other companies for this sort of thing. They’re a consulting firm, and while I didn’t actually work as a consultant myself prior to this, I’m getting a sudden promotion into it for an entirely new sector of the industry for us. This new department will be helping other organizations who need to manage large groups of people. We’ll help them figure out how to sort them in the best way to be productive and healthy. They call it Team Dynamics. I may not be explaining it right, because I’m not in charge of that. I’m not the head of the department as a whole, just the first team. They’ll give me a new boss once they figure out who that’s going to be, whether they promote someone else internally, or hire from the outside. Until then, I’ll be officially operating out of the jail, but I can work from home when my team doesn’t have to meet in person, especially now in the beginning, before I’ve gathered the team in the first place. Which is good, since I’m still in recovery. My future superior may have different ideas later, but that’s the plan for now. This is all moving so fast, it’s crazy. I mean, we were talking about the prospect of this sort of thing, but I didn’t think that it would actually happen.

This is a huge opportunity for me. I’ve been in leadership positions before, but never formally. When I was a teenager, my scout troop started letting us join a second fake American Indian tribe. I don’t want to get into all that, but we were primarily in the “competing” tribe, so for this second one, I was one of the older boys. I helped the younger ones figure things out, even though we were all new. I started managing a team of new recruits when I volunteered after a huge hurricane when I was only eighteen, just because someone caught wind that I was good at computers (even though it was just about being young enough to be familiar with them) so I already had the list of volunteers in a spreadsheet, and all the real supervisors were away from the shelter when the newbies showed up. When I worked for a tax prep company, they put me in charge of the seasonal temps, even though I was also a temp, because the permanent employees didn’t want to have to do it. So I’ve never been a real boss before, and I’m pretty nervous about it. It will be my job to figure out, not only what kind of people need to be on the team, but also to locate the specific professionals. I’ll have to interview them, and make a hiring decision if they end up being a good fit. I don’t mind admitting that I don’t super know what I’m doing right now, so my first order of business is finding an advisor. This is what I naturally know how to do. I recognize talent in others, even if it’s not in a field that I’m familiar with. I assigned those other scouts to various jobs by recognizing their strengths, and also noticing what they weren’t very comfortable with. I’m nervous, but I’m hopeful. My sentence has been officially commuted by the governor, at least in terms of the jail time. I’ll still be required to finish my community service, and report to my parole officer weekly. I don’t have an issue with either of those things, though. I’m excited and hopeful about this unexpected twist in my life.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Microstory 2169: Refund and Take it Down

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I came home today, a day earlier than we thought I would. I’m still not well enough to report for jail tomorrow, which means that I’ll incur some extra time to make up for it, and also as a punishment for missing it, but it wouldn’t make sense for me to go back when I’ll have to spend the entire time in the infirmary. I’m much more comfortable at home, and I’ve recovered enough to start taking care of myself for the most part. My neighbor will be checking in on me every once in a while, which she doesn’t have to do. My parole officer will be coming over too as a sort of welfare check. I think my therapist will show up, and not charge me for a quick session, but I’m not about that. I pay my way, I’ll tell you. I took sick leave from work, because I can’t keep my eyes open for long enough to get anything done, but hopefully I’ll be fully ready to go on Monday, so I will have only missed a week. It’s not even that I’m sleepy or tired. Have you ever seen anyone get hypnotized, even if in fiction? The hypnotist will describe weights on their subject’s eyelids. It kind of feels like that, but it also sort of feels like it doesn’t matter whether my eyes are open or not, I still can’t see very well. My surgeon thinks that that has to do with the medication that I’m on. Blurred vision is a known side effect of at least two of them. I’m gonna stop taking the narcotics, though. I’ve never done well with them, I personally can’t understand why people get addicted to these things. I’ve had to take multiple kinds over the years, and every single one of them has made me feel like crap. I’m going to be in a lot of pain while I rely solely on over-the-counter pain meds, but it’s nothing I’ve never experienced before. Pain and I have an understanding. It gets to do whatever it wants to me, and in exchange, I get nothing. I do want to circle back to that thing about my therapist. Not because of my therapist, but because of the money thing. Apparently, one of my readers started a CauseTogether.hope page for me. I want you to know that I have absolutely nothing to do with this, and I am currently working with the platform administrators to have all backers so far fully refunded, and shut the page down. I neither want nor need your charity. I’m making plenty of money, and I will be able to pay my own hospital bills. I shouldn’t have any lost wages from my time off, because the company I work for has great benefits. Really, please do not try to give me money. A nurse suggested that I could just regift it to charity, but no, I don’t want to reward this behavior. If I can’t get the page taken down, I’m donating it all to the nearest convicted serial killer, out of spite. You have been warned. Refund and take it down!

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Microstory 2168: It Mostly Breeds Resentment

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According to comments and replies to my social media, I don’t sound all that angry about what happened to me in the jail. First of all, I’m literally on drugs right now. I didn’t lie about anything that I said in my last post, but just don’t forget that when you’re reading it. Secondly, I am mad. Those guys really hurt me. I could have died, and that’s not okay. I’m not going to tell on them for strategic and practical reasons, because getting them in trouble isn’t going to help me. I have been promised that I will not be returning to that facility. Of course, my parole officer pointed out that that doesn’t mean I won’t end up running into those same people again, but the chances of all of us ending up together are pretty low. Obviously, that wouldn’t stop one of them from coming after me again anyway, but nothing is going to stop someone else from coming after me either. I knew the risks when I continued with this website after my arrest. There will always be people who don’t like what I’ve said, and some of them will be willing to do something about it. Even if I didn’t have this, they might attack me because they don’t like how I blink a little too much, or that I keep my hair so short. You don’t even have to be in jail or prison for something like this to happen. The world is a dangerous place. Anything can set someone off, and you won’t always see it coming. So yes, I’m mad, but it’s unproductive, and it has been my whole life, so I try to find other ways to channel my energy. I wasn’t always like this; it was a learned behavior. I’ve had a lot of issues with my anger. It’s not something that I’m probably ever going to get over, but I’m also not gonna let myself backslide if I don’t have to. Study after study has proven that negative reinforcement is minimally effective at best. Punishment just doesn’t work as well as the average “law-abiding citizen” would like to believe. It mostly breeds resentment, distrust, and recidivism. That’s why I’ve always felt that we should focus on rehabilitation—not just of the offenders in question, or even only their associates, but of society itself. Well anyway, I don’t know if any of what I just said makes sense, but I need to get back to bed. I’m still not feeling 40%.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Microstory 2167: Recall the Bad Stuff

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This is Nick again. I’m having a little trouble keeping my eyes open, and staying focused, but I’ll be all right eventually, and I wanted to share my own thoughts as soon as possible, even though my doctors would rather I abstain. I promise, Leonard will schedule it to post for me, which can sometimes take just as long as the writing itself. It’s true, a group of other jail guests ganged up on me last weekend, and beat me up pretty good. I never lost consciousness, but I did have to keep my face covered, so I remember more about how it felt than anything. In some ways, that made it worse, because I never knew when the next kick was going to come. Fortunately, we were in a camera blindspot, so the jail won’t ever find out who it was. I certainly couldn’t tell them, even if I wanted to. This was not a mixer, so people don’t shake your hand, and introduce themselves. If I ever learn anyone’s name, there’s a strong chance that I’ll forget it, especially since the intermittency of the schedule often means that I don’t see them again for a couple of weeks. People think that it must be awful, having such a bad memory, but I’ll refer you to the above, where I describe the terrifying sensation of being kicked repeatedly by multiple assailants. I would sure like to be able to forget this experience one day. Unfortunately, I tend to recall the bad stuff. Plus, they put me under general anesthesia, and repairing the internal bleeding was not a trivial matter. There was every chance that I would die on the operating table. I would never see my family again, my dog, Cricket and Claire. That’s what’s truly terrifying. I keep hoping that some bulk traveler will show up, if only to grab a quick bite at a fun unfamiliar restaurant. Just a few seconds of that portal opening could be enough to heal me. That could give me the time I need to accomplish my goals. But alas, that’s not going to happen. This is my life now, and it could also be my death. I’m at a pretty high risk of an infection, or there could be something else wrong with me that the doctors didn’t catch before. I know that none of you need a lesson on “how precious life is” but just don’t forget it, okay? If you want to do something, just do it; don’t wait. You never know what’s waiting for you under the next camera blindspot.

Monday, June 10, 2024

Microstory 2166: There is Violence Everywhere

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This is Nick’s parole officer, Leonard Miazga. Nick has asked me to write up a short post on his behalf. He was badly beaten by other inmates. They were displeased with his claims that the governor might commute his sentence, and allow the warden to hire him for a paid position at the jail instead. If it were to go through, it would be a massive change in dynamic, and that did not sit well with some of them. Nick has refused to name names, partially to protect the guilty, partially because he struggles with memory and recognizing faces, but also because he’s suffered brain damage as a result of his injuries. The attackers also broke three of his ribs, and two of his toes. His left shoulder was dislocated, and he has lacerations all over his body. They also discovered internal bleeding, which is why he’s currently being transported to the hospital for surgery. I’m sure that we will receive further diagnoses when the surgeon and other doctors perform their own examinations. While they’re doing that, I’m going to be in a meeting with the warden and the governor to discuss options. Nothing like this has ever happened before. There is violence everywhere, but this is the worst that this particular facility has ever reported. I will be strongly advocating for his release from his sentence, but either way, he should never be sent back in to this jail as he is no longer safe there. In addition to his prior work with the FBI, Nick is a model jail guest, and a positively contributing member of society. He has been gainfully employed for nearly two months, and has been working hard on this website, which readers have expressed gratitude for, for his ability to show what it’s really like to experience intermittent jail in this universe. I’ll update you tomorrow since I do not see him being well enough to write a post on his own so soon.

Sunday, June 9, 2024

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: The Rock – Part 3

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The Rock diplomatic discussions were over. Of course, the various representatives for the five former realities currently living side-by-side in the Sixth Key were going to stay in contact with each other, and diplomacy was never over. Even if they managed to integrate into a single unified peoples, internal conflicts would require constant care and consideration. Everyone was happy and unhappy at the same time, and that was all anyone could ask for when it came to something like this, especially at this incredibly unprecedented scale. The two major issues that they needed to cover were how to distribute resources, and how to organize some sort of joint form of governance. Things could always take any number of steps backwards, but they were ready to deal with that on their own, without any help from Pryce Tree, Team Matic, or the Vellani Ambassador. They found suitable locations in their own universe to handle anything new that came up.
There was only one thing left to do before the team could finally get back to their mission in the Goldilocks Corridor. As soon as the meeting was officially adjourned, Pryce Tree and Princess Honeypea disappeared, as did the delegates from the true main sequence. Everyone else still needed to get back to present day, and to the Sixth Key, or to its membrane twin, Fort Underhill. This other universe was attached to Salmonverse, but it could only be accessed at one location, for security reasons. Even a bulk traveler could not realistically enter the brane from a different spot, as the walls of the membrane were hyperdimensionally thicker than natural ones. For now, there wasn’t much traffic between the two conjoined universes, but that could change in the future, so Hogarth Pudeyonavic was currently erecting a checkpoint station to facilitate border crossings. Until that was finished, they just had to drop their own names to the little guard vessel, and go on through the breach.
Theirs was not the only biverse in the bulk. A few others were linked, like two stars orbiting each other. There were even rumors of a triverse somewhere out there. And when this happened, for whatever reason, the region of equilibrium between them was given a special name. They were now in the kasma. No one on the Ambassador was aware of the difference between the kasma, and any other part of the outer bulk. Perhaps it was an otherwise meaningless distinction, there only to designate its proximity to the connected branes. There was a bit of a lurch as their ship’s inertial dampener array began to recalibrate itself for the difference in environment. In a vacuum, you would be in a constant state of freefall, drawn towards the strongest source of gravity. In an equilibrium, gravity operated at an even distribution, which made it feel like every atom in your body was being pulled in every direction all at once. The strength of this pull wasn’t enough to spaghettify you, but it took some getting used to. That was why the internal dampeners were so necessary. They were taking longer to recalibrate. Hopefully, this would not be a problem on the way back.
“I would think that we would not feel such a thing from our little pocket dimension,” Carlin noted as he was stepping onto the bridge. Everyone else was either in the visitor’s pocket, or sitting around Delegation Hall.
“I wasn’t sure either,” Ramses replied. “I don’t know that much about it. I wish we were spending more time here, so I could take some more thorough readings.”
Olimpia shivered. “We’re spending long enough.” She hadn’t technically been in the kasma before, but was trapped between the two halves of the daughter universe. It too existed outside of the membranes, so it probably operated under the same physics. Her feeling of unease was not out of nowhere, and something that they should have been concerned about going into this final leg of the Rock mission. Fortunately, she lived there for untold time. This trip, however, would only take about an hour and a half.
Leona hugged her from the side with one arm. “We’re almost through.” The kasma was about three AU wide, at least here, which could have been incidental, or deliberate on the creator’s part. The reframe engine did not work inside, and in fact, they were unable to travel at high subfractional speeds. They were maxed out at about the quarter the speed of light. Their attempts to push it faster than that threatened to tear the ship apart at the seams.
They were watching on the viewscreen, but there wasn’t much to see. As they were too close to the nearest brane to view it in its full form, there was almost nothing but utter darkness. A pinprick of light marking their destination into Fort Underhill had appeared, now that they were only several hundred thousand kilometers away, but that was it. They were decelerating for safe entry, but they still would have covered the distance in a matter of minutes. Suddenly, a spacetrain appeared out of nowhere, roughly perpendicular to their vector. It was the Transit, of course.
Leona slammed her hand down onto the shipwide intercom. “Brace for gravity turbulence!” She pulled her hand away so she could slam it down again to the emergency stop button. There weren’t many physical controls on this thing, but that was an important one to include in the design, along with the touchscreens. “Full stop!”
The ship came to a complete stop, though Leona’s cry was her instinct to be safe rather than sorry. If anyone had an open glass of liquid, some of it would have splashed out, but they were otherwise okay. In normal space, a stop was a misnomer, as everything in the universe was in perpetual motion. But they were no longer in the universe, so it was extremely possible to be totally still. They just sat there in the equilibrium, and waited for the Transit to make its own stop in front of them. Everyone looked around. Someone was being recruited for the Transit Army. It could be any one of them, or hell, all of them. Usually, when the Transit appeared, time would stop for all but their target, but no one reported this happening. Everyone stayed in realtime, but perhaps that was a consequence of being in the kasma.
Unidentified beautiful purple ship, this is Azura of the Transit, please respond.
Leona opened a direct channel. “Transit, this is Leona Matic of the Vellani Ambassador. Who are you here for?”
A different voice came back after a mic bump, and some feedback. “Leona, this is Saga, but I go by Freya now. I’m looking for my daughter.
“Does the Transit have anti-teleportation tech?” Leona asked.
No, it does not,” Azura replied.
“Prepare to be boarded.” Leona switched off comms to address the team. “Olimpia and Angela, please stay with the delegates. Ramses, man the bridge. Mateo and Marie, you’re with me.”
At the last second, Carlin took Mateo in a bear hug to tag along. They were now all four in the Transit, which none of them had ever seen from the inside before. “Not cool, dude,” Mateo complained.
“Sorry, I had to see this,” Carlin responded. “No regrets.”
Leona approached the woman who looked just like Saga, but something shifted in her brain, forcing her to be absolutely certain that she was actually called Freya. In fact, she wasn’t even an Einarsson anymore, but a Hawthorne. Still, they reunited with a hug. Leona then shook the hand of the woman standing next to her. “Azura, I presume?”
Mateo was searching through his handheld device as Azura was nodding. He found what he was searching for. “I thought I recognized the name. I’ve heard it before, and saw you briefly. You’re an agent of the Maramon.” Centuries ago, when Mateo and Leona were separated for a long time, he was trying to rescue billions of human refugees from the universe and planet of Ansutah. During this desperate act, a Maramon broke into the facility, and co-opted the portal machine towards his own ends. Azura was one of the people that he sent off to god knows where. There were other names in this section of his list, including Cain, Abel, Seth, Luluwa, Awan, and Lilith. They were named after characters in the bible, no doubt. Then again, this involved time travel, so which came first, those chickens, or their eggs?
Azura nodded again. “I’m a hybrid, human and Maramon. You’re right, I was sent to spy on Missy Atterberry in Universe Prime, but I abandoned my post immediately. Actually, I abandoned it long before that. I secretly swapped my destination to Universum Originalis, billions of years before Missy would ever show up. I was bred to despise humans, as were my brothers and sisters, but that did not work on most of us. We make our own choices.”
“My daughter trusts her,” Freya explained, “and if Treasure says she’s okay, then I choose to believe as much.”
“Your daughter is Treasure Hawthorne?” Mateo flipped through his list again. “She’s on here too.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Azura said, “but best not give us any information about it. There is little chance that she has yet experienced meeting you in her personal timeline.”
Leona nodded acceptingly, and moved on. “What made you think that Treasure was here?”
“Thack,” Freya answered. “She can witness events in other branes, but not outside of other branes. The last she saw her, Treasure was taking my former ship, the Cormanu out of Salmonverse, but they never exited. Well, they do show up eventually, but Treasure isn’t there, and the ship has been repaired, so that’s some other point in the ship’s timeline. Time, right?”
“So if Treasure left one universe, and never entered another, she has to be in the outer bulk somewhere, including possibly the kasma?”
“That’s right,” Azura confirmed. “We had no idea that you would be here, but we were hoping that you knew something. Have you encountered anything unusual here? Anything at all?”
“No,” Leona answered apologetically. “It’s been smooth sailing. No anomalies detected. Though, we’re not experts on the kasma,” she added per Ramses’ interjection through comms. Yet. He was loving the chance to spend more time here to gather data. They all suffered through an awkward silence for a moment. “Well, we would help you find her if we could, but we have no idea. We actually need to get over to the other side to drop off all of these deleg—” She stopped herself when saw the viewscreen. “Are those readings accurate and in realtime?” she asked.
“Of course they are,” Azura replied.
“Ramses, where’s the aperture? I don’t see it anymore. Are we drifting?”
Hold, please,” Ramses said, leaving them holding their breaths for a minute. “No, the aperture is gone. They’re both gone actually. I’m only getting faint readings.
Don’t bother trying to make it the rest of the way,” came a familiar voice through the Transit’s communication array. It was that angry Fifth Divisioner who kept coming back to irritate them, like a latent disease. He was the herpes of the antagonists world. “My alt closed it on the other side. You’re trapped.
Freya opened a channel. “This is Freya Hawthorne, Engineer of the Transit. You do realize that we can travel to other universe, right? We don’t need a permanent aperture to fly through.”
We reinforced the membranes too,” A.F. clarified. “Your little toy train isn’t going anywhere. Some of you will die there. Others will be retrieved shortly.
“Sir, there may be a chance if we try to breach the cleavage between the two universes, but we have to go now,” one of the Transit crew members claimed. “That’s the main difference between the kasma, and any other region of the outer bulk. It carries the same properties, but is cut off from everything else, as a pond could be just like any other body of water, but still isolated by vast swathes of land.”
“Before you escape,” Leona began, “can you take on some extra passengers?”
Freya turned to her engineer. “Get it ready.” She turned back to Leona. “Get your people over here. You’ll have to leave your ship, though.”
Leona laughed, “no, we won’t. Rambo, get ready to pack up the Ambassador. We’re taking it with us, but I want everyone on board the Transit first, so Waltons and Olimpia, start teleporting them over two by two.”
Mateo jumped back to help with those efforts without being asked.
“There’s plenty of room,” Azura said. “We’ve only recruited a couple of cars worth so far. The problem is, I don’t know where to go.”
“Just take us wherever. We’ll figure out how to at least get back into Salmonverse later, even if that means seeking help from whoever runs the Crossover. I assume they use better tech?”
“Does a smartphone use better tech than a flip phone?” Azura asked rhetorically. “The membrane for Fort Underhill is already too thick for us. That’s how Hogarth designed it. We actually would need that aperture, just as you do.”
Freya’s engineer reported that they were ready to go just as Ramses was reporting that the Ambassador was empty, and ready to be folded into its pocket dimension.
“Come on over!” Leona ordered Ramses.
A minute later, he appeared, grasping the model size of the Ambassador. He was on the floor and unconscious. It would seem that surviving in the equilibrium was not the same as surviving in a vacuum. Mateo scooped him up, and demanded to know where the medical car was. Azura told him, and he teleported away.
Freya pushed the button, and the Transit flew off at the speed of light. According to her engineer, the kasma was like a tube, about three astronomical units apart, but theoretically several dozen AU long. At one of these ends, they theorized that it tapered off so that the branes weren’t technically touching each other, but there might have been a passageway just large enough for them to squeeze through. “We were wrong!” she cried as they drew nearer. “There’s no cleavage! We’re just gonna crash into it!”
“If there’s no space for us to get through,” Olimpia said, pulling the Sangster Canopy out of her bag of holding, and opening it up. “Then I’ll make space.”