Sunday, July 21, 2024

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: June 5, 2457

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Leona and Marie were in hock, and had been for the last five days. They managed to return to their past, in the middle of the kasma, where they hoped to be, but they were immediately scooped up by the Angry Fifth Divisioner’s ship. As he was the one who deployed the technology needed to seal up the membranes of the two sister universes, he could pass through them freely using some kind of temporal skeleton key. They needed that key, as well as the technology itself. They just had to escape first. In the meantime, he was looking for their co-conspirators. He was convinced that the rest of the team members were floating around here somewhere, and had been on the search this whole time. It was only five days for them, but five years for him. He would not listen to reason. Well, to be fair, he had every reason to believe that the others were here too, but after all this time, how could they still be alive?
“Maybe you two had to bail out in your suits, but your friends had personal pods, or an evac shuttle.” He didn’t know that they had come back in time from the future. He assumed that the Transit had managed to escape, but left the team behind for whatever reason. There was no point in correcting him. At best, he wouldn’t believe them, and at worst, it would make things harder for them.
“Well, I think that you would have found them by now,” Leona told him. “They would be emanating heat, and you could detect that heat, right? There’s not much heat in the kasma naturally, is there?” She kept having to baby him, and it was exhausting.
“No, it’s even colder than the vacuum.” He was right about that. Ramses measured the mean temperature to be at 2.16 Kelvin. “So, where are they?”
“We don’t know!” Marie said for the upteenth time. “We got separated.” This was technically true, even though her wording implied that it was not done intentionally.
“So, what do you want me to do, let you out?”
“That would be a start,” Leona replied.
“You realize what you’ve done, right?” A.F. asked. “The only thing that was keeping you alive was the prospect of being able to kill you all at the same time. If no one else is here, I’m just going to cut my losses, and kill the two of you alone. I’ll worry about the others later, I suppose. Your execution will be scheduled for tomorrow morning.” A.F. said with confidence.
“Problem with that,” Marie started to point out.
“We won’t exist tomorrow,” Leona added.
“Right.” A.F. tried to figure a way out of this glaring mistake. “Tomorrow, Greenwich Mean Time. It’ll be later tonight local time.”
That was a dumb answer, but they didn’t push it. “Of course, sir.”
“I’ll go make the preparations. Say your final prayers to your god.”
“Yes, sir!” Marie saluted him sarcastically, but he took it genuinely. She watched him leave. “Okay, your plan hasn’t worked so far, so can we just go with mine now?”
“Yeah,” Leona answered her with a sigh. The original idea that Leona had for their escape plan was to hack into the keypad on the cell door. They heard the beeps when they were first locked in here, so they knew that they were dealing with an eight-digit combination. She was able to covertly stick a brute force strip underneath the pad, but in all this time, it had yet to find the right answer. It was probably something absurd, like 99999999. The strip was programmed to try them in order, so that would be its last guess. Unfortunately, it might take up to another year or more for it to get to that point, and they no longer had the time for that.
Obviously, when A.F.’s people captured them, they removed the outer layers of their integrated multipurpose suits, leaving them only with the biometric base. They stashed the response and armor layers elsewhere on the ship. Ramses upgraded their suits in various ways, but they appeared normal, so anyone here wouldn’t have felt any need to take any special precautions with them. They just stuffed them in a drawer, and forgot about them for the last five years. One special feature was the suit’s ability to become mobile on its own. This was possible to some degree in all standard models, but it would still need a user to be wearing it in order to provide physical support. It was meant to allow the suit to carry its user back to safety if they fell unconscious, or to their gravesite if they were dead. The original engineers didn’t think that the suit would have any need to move around completely on its own, but Ramses being Ramses, he did. It could indeed move while totally empty, like something out of a cartoon. It was less inconspicuous than a hacking strip, but it would work.
Marie placed her sleeve up against her temple to activate the remote neural interface, and began to command the outer layers to climb out of their drawer, and walk down the corridors towards them. The helmet was fully attached as well, so it looked like a real person, but that didn’t mean it had the authorization to go where it was going. If someone decided to stop and ask for its ID badge, or something, the jig would be up. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, but making it to them was the easy part. Dealing with the hock watcher was the real challenge, and it was about to begin.
“Wait,” Leona ordered just before the empty suit could enter the hock section. “This isn’t going to work.”
“It’s all we have, LeeLee.”
“Just give me a second.” Leona tried to concentrate, but she didn’t have the power to see remotely. “Here, let me join.” She grabbed Marie’s free hand, and placed the sleeve against her own temple. She closed her eyes to see through the suit’s point of view. “I can do this. Throw your voice into the helmet, but put a delay on it. For everything you say, make it come out of the speaker ten seconds later.”
“What are you doing?”
“I’m changing your plan so it actually works. Throw your voice.”
“It’s not my voice. It’s going to sound like A.F.’s.”
“Even better. Ten second delay,” Leona insisted.
The hock watcher opened the little window in the door when the suit knocked on it. “Can I help you?”
“I need to interrogate the prisoners again,” Marie said through the speaker, modulating her voice to impersonate the leader.
“Sir? You’re back so soon?”
“Yes. Open the door.”
“Why are you wearing one of their suits?”
“Because it makes me feel sexy, now open the goddamn door.”
The hock watcher was unconvinced, but that was okay. That was why Leona was here. “I’m sorry, sir, but this could be fake. I’m going to need you to raise your visor.”
Marie looked to Leona for guidance. Leona nodded confidently. She was ready for it. “I appreciate your dedication to the job,” A.F.’s voice said to the hock watcher. Marie raised the visor. Inside the helmet was A.F.’s face, in holographic form, of course. This was why Leona needed the delay. Every time Marie said something, Leona would need to match the hologram’s lips to it.
“Thank you, sir. I just want to be cautious.”
Of course, they didn’t want to make this any harder on themselves than they had to, so from this point on, short answers only. “I’ll remember that for your next evaluation.” Could’ve been shorter. Leona really struggled with that, but it seemed to work. The hock watcher opened the door, and let the deepfake A.F. in. “Go ahead and open it up.”
“Sir? That’s not protocol. You’re the only one who knows the code.” Shit. Really?
“Uhh...use the master code.” A decent guess?
“Master code?” The hock watcher questioned. “Who are you?” He shook his head. “This is a trick. I’m calling security.”
The suit reached up, and slammed the hock watcher’s head against the cell wall. He was knocked out cold, which would delay the security team’s response time, but someone would find him eventually, or he would wake up on his own, and call them then. The fact was they were still locked in this cell, and didn’t know the code. They were going to have to extend this mission even further, and go find A.F. himself.
“Stuff the body in that cabinet,” Leona ordered.
“He’s not dead.”
“He still has a body. Put it in there, please.”
You do it...Captain.”
“This is your plan!”
“Your supposed to be the smart one. You should have come up with both Plan A and Plan B. Now you’re going to have to impersonate someone else for A.F., and he’s going to be a lot less accommodating since he’s apparently the guy in charge.”
“Well, we may have had more options if you hadn’t knocked him unconscious,” Leona reasoned.
I didn’t do that. You did.”
Leona was taken aback. She decidedly had not. Before they could argue any further, though, the door clicked, and swung halfway open. The stared at it for a moment. “Hm. The strip found the code.” She stepped out, and looked at the keypad. Her guess was close. It was 88888888.
Marie saw it too. “All ones would have been easier on us.”
While Marie was putting her suit on, Leona dragged the hock watcher into the cell, and locked it back up. She removed the hacking strip, and tucked it back into her base layer, in case they ever needed it again. They also didn’t want to let anyone know how they managed to get out of here. Hopefully, they would just blame the hock watcher for the whole thing, and not investigate any deeper. “I still can’t teleport. I think the power blocker works all over the ship.”
“Well, you can obviously make yourself look like anyone, so I’ll continue to be A.F., and you be the hock watcher. We’ll go down to get your suit, and then get to work.”
“No, I don’t want to run into anyone else again. Let’s become invisible instead.”
“That’s Olimpia’s forte.”
“We can all do it. There’s a mirror over there for us to practice with. I’m sure no one will be back too soon.”
The door opened, and A.F. walked back in.

Saturday, July 20, 2024

Extremus: Year 73

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Tinaya Leithe blinks slowly. Something hard and sharp is on top of her, but she can’t see what it is. She’s in a glass chamber of some kind. It’s taking a moment for her mind to stop being so jumbled. She can’t remember what happened, but she knows that she was severely injured, and on the brink of death. Her vision focuses, and she’s able to get a better view of her surroundings. She’s inside in what appears to be an infirmary, but she can’t see much, and she doesn’t recognize it. She doesn’t get the sense that anyone is around, and if they’re nearby, she doesn’t want to alert them, because she couldn’t know if she can trust whoever has placed her in this. She struggles to sit up, and looks down upon herself in horror. First of all, she has somehow phase-shifted through the closed medical bed cover. Or maybe that isn’t the right word for it, because the glass is still all around her, embedded in her skin. Or no, it’s more like her skin is made out of a layer of glass now. How is this possible?
She lifts her hands out of the chamber, and moves them around before her eyes. They’re stiff, but still mobile. So it’s a flexible glass at least, but not pleasant either way. She reaches over to the side of the medical chamber, and feels around for some kind of switch. The cover slides away from her chest towards her legs and feet. They too are made of glass, though they’ve not yet passed through the cover. Maybe she was wrong about it. Maybe her glass skin is unrelated to the transparent cover. It sure feels like a different material, at least when she manages to concentrate, and touch it with her fingers. If she’s not careful, they will pass right through it, as her torso did before. She is now a glass-based entity that can phase through solid objects. Because that makes sense.
Tinaya spins to the side on her smooth glass ass, and plants her feet on the floor. It’s slick, and hard to balance on. No, the floor is probably fine. Her soles are made of glass. Is this her life now, doomed to skate around the world like Sasha Cohen? She feels like a newborn foal, teetering and tottering, arms out wide, ready to try to grab onto something if she succumbs to the fierce gravity of this planet. If she really is made out of glass, then it could kill her, but if that’s true, nothing she does for the foreseeable future will save her life. It may just stave off the inevitable. She’ll eventually drop a handheld device into her crotch, or accidentally bump her head on a cabinet. It might be better to shatter to a million pieces now than try, suffer, and ultimately fail anyway. She does fall, but does not shatter. It doesn’t even really hurt. She must look like an idiot, though, sprawled out on her stomach. How could Arqut still love her now? Her memories are beginning to come back; what brought her to this moment. An explosion of the extraction mirror threw her across a field, and nearly killed her. Someone has apparently managed to revive her since then, but she doesn’t know how long ago that was, or who this person might be. Lataran hopefully made it back to the Extremus.
The door opens while she’s still face down on the floor. Spirit runs in, and starts to help her up. “Oh my God, are you okay? The medchamber alarm should have alerted us to your awakening.”
“What happened to me?” She struggles into an armchair.
“We don’t know yet.”
“I’m made of glass!” Tinaya shouts.
“I know. It’s from the time mirror. That’s also why you’re not dead.”
“Yeah, that explains it,” Tinaya spit sarcastically.
“Well, it’s made of magic, so it doesn’t really explain it, but if it were a regular explosion with a regular mirror, the regular glass would have given you regular cuts, and made you regular dead.”
“Right.” Tinaya focuses on lowering her heart rate with slow, deliberate breaths. She accepts the cup of water that Spirit gives her. “Report. How are you alive?”
“It’s tough to kill a Bridger,” she begins to explain. “I was given certain temporal properties to protect me. The explosion that killed me was massive, but even that wasn’t enough to keep my molecular structure apart forever. They reconverged at an exponential rate, and eventually made me whole again. Your body experienced something similar. It even took about the same amount of time for it to reacclimate to its own new structure. It’s 2342 now.”
“We’re stuck on Verdemus, I assume. The mirror was the only way back to the ship.” She was still only thinking of Arqut.
“Affirmative.”
Tinaya takes a look around. “You’ve rebuilt the infrastructure quite nicely.”
“We had help.”
That’s a weird thing to say. “From who?”
“A ship arrived. The Iman Vellani. You remember it from your studies?”
“I remember her from my studies.”
Spirit nods. “Her namesake was built by an android who was involved in the world of time travelers named Mirage.”
“Oh yeah, I remember her from history class. I’m better with people.”
“Yes, Oaksent’s evil army sent her and her crew to kill us. They destroyed the planet, so they could record the whole thing. Then we sent our consciousness back in time to stop ourselves from doing it, but kept the recording. They took it off to sell the lie that we were all dead. Hopefully the bad guys won’t be coming back here ever again.”
“That’s quite the story. I’ll require the full mission brief.”
“Of course, when you’re up to it.”
“Will I ever be up to anything again? I’ll repeat in case you forgot, I’m made out of glass! How does one get over something like that?”
“I did,” Spirit answers.
“What are you talking about?”
Spirit lifts her shirt all the way up to reveal her bare stomach and chest. “Go ahead and touch it.” The skin is reflective from its own layer of magical glasses. Her entire left breast is hardened and unmoving, while the other is only partially restricted. The rest of her body appears to be okay. “While I was still reconstituting, I fell upon you, and some of the shards stuck in me as well. As you can see, it’s not as severe, which is why I woke up faster. I’m also part phoenix, so that helped.”
“I’m sorry, Spirit.”
She winces, and pulls her shirt back down. “How could this be your fault? The mirror exploded, and struck you. What could you have done, steered away from me while your were flying through the air uncontrollably? You’re just as much of a victim as I am; more even. Besides, Belahkay kind of likes it.”
“Who the hell is that?”
“He was one of the crewmembers who showed up, but he decided to stay. We’ve been together for about two non-realtime years.”
“Must. Be. Nice.” It’s made her think of Arqut, who is now hundreds of light years away from her, and counting. But that was rude. “I’m sorry, I’m just still trying to get used to all this.”
“It’s fine. You’ll like him, he’s cool. We’re a small group, we have to stick together.”
“The kids. The kids! I saw them just before I passed out. They didn’t make it through the mirror? But they were gone by the time I started running up there?”
“They made it through,” Spirit replies, trying to calm her down with hand gestures. “They’ve led their own lives for several years, and returned to us with homestones. They’re older in mind than they appear, so speak to them as if they’re young adults...because they are.”
“How did they get here in the first place? Why would a homestone bring them to the planet?”
“They were born on Verdemus. The young man’s mother is Hock Watcher for Ilias Tamm. The girl’s parents are dead. Died in the explosion.”
“Is that everyone?”
“Yeah. Like I said, small group.”
“Hm. Only need 141 more people, and we could populate this world with a self-sustaining faction of humans,” Tinaya muses. “The Glassmen.”
“Right.” Spirit laughs.
“I need a light,” Tinaya determines.
“Hey, Thistle, turn the lights up to 100%.”
“No, not that kind of light. Where are my clothes? We can communicate with Extremus through my own little time mirror, but I have to open the spectral lock.”
Spirit stands up, and walks over to a cabinet. She grabs the tactical clothes that Tinaya was wearing when she first came here, and sets them on the little table next to the visitor chairs. She then takes a handheld device from her back pocket, and hands it over. “This is all yours. You can apply your profile to it.”
Tinaya unravels her jacket to find the hidden pocket, and spreads it out on the table. Then she fiddles with the device’s flashlight settings, searching for a specific shade of green. She can’t remember exactly which it was, but she has a general idea, so she only has to try a few hex codes before the right one illuminates the zipper. She opens it, but the mirror is gone. She’s able to stick her hand all the way through, and back out to realspace on the other side. “Shit. The pocket dimension I had it in must have collapsed in the explosion, or something.”
“I dunno,” Spirit says. “The spectral lock is still there, which means it’s still detecting the pocket dimension. It’s just...been moved.”
“Moved where?”
Spirit thinks about it for a moment, darting her eyes in saccades. “Into you? Maybe that’s how you survived the explosion.”
Tinaya sighs, and leans back in her chair to rest again. “Yeah, maybe.”
“Let me put you back in the medchamber. Just because you woke up, doesn’t mean you’ve finished recovering.”
“Very well. Thank you.”

Friday, July 19, 2024

Microstory 2195: Should Not Have Jumped

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I had this whole thing planned. I was going to welcome our first staff members with a little party. It wasn’t going to be a huge celebration, but I thought it was a good idea to give people the chance to meet each other in a more social environment. I, for one, do not like parties. Crowds make me uncomfortable, and I tend to say the wrong thing. I’m much better in a professional context. Jasmine pointed out that we would just have to keep doing this every time someone new came along. A lot of them are starting on Monday, but not everyone, and I guess I just wasn’t thinking it all the way through; probably because of everything else I have on my mind. It makes sense, to wait until we’re all together. We can call the early days the soft open, and then have a grand opening party later on. I’ll have to find someone else to eat this ice cream cake. I cannot keep it in the house, because I can eat the whole thing myself at once, and I will. Don’t test me. So we’ll work first, and wait for the party. I should have not jumped the gun, and maybe I shouldn’t have told you about it—I don’t know—but it’s fine. There’s nothing left to say. Who knows what I’ll be able to divulge in this setting next week? I’ll have to feel the situation out with my new and growing team.

Thursday, July 18, 2024

Microstory 2194: Up a Reputation

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I’m still not allowed to give you any details, but so far, everyone we have reached out to for a job offer has ultimately accepted. A few of them need the full two weeks to get their affairs in order, a few of them will be able to start as early as next week, and one of them won’t be able to begin until the middle of August, which should be okay. We’re willing to be a little flexible when it comes to this, but they will have to work hard to play catch up once they do finally arrive. I truthfully thought that it would be more difficult than this. I figured at least two of them would miss my call, and never get back to me, or promise to return, but then flake out. It’s not that I’ve experienced that with a lot of other candidates in my day, because I’ve never really done this sort of thing before, but as I always say, there are as many kinds of people in the world as there are people in the world. People have flaked out on me my whole life; not everyone, but enough to assume that a fraction of a given population will include them. I guess it depends on the kind of population you’re dealing with. These are all highly experienced professionals, and in the industries that they’re working in, it’s often not hard to build up a reputation, and dangerous to forget how one mistake can follow you around for the rest of your career, or spell the end of it. Still, I didn’t expect it to be quite this easy. I know I shouldn’t be surprised that it’s going well. And maybe my attitude doesn’t paint me in the brightest of light. I guess my mind is just still trapped in the past, where things didn’t usually turn out the way that I hoped. I suppose it all goes back to the thing I’ve mentioned about trusting others. Using a team of good people, I found more good people, and together, we’re going to do great things for the community. I only have a few more calls to make today, so tomorrow should be all about literally preparing for the first arrivals.

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Microstory 2193: Unremarkable Piece of Wood

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As I warned you, there is nothing that I can say about our hiring process right now. We’re in a precarious position, and have to keep things confidential until the next step. But my work is the only thing I’m doing right now, and I don’t have anything else to tell you. What shall we discuss instead? How about I just make up a quick story for you? It’s been a while since I’ve written fiction. I kind of started to try soon after I arrived here, but nothing came of it. Yeah, I think I’ll see if I still have the skills. Here goes.

I don’t have any trees in my yard, nor do my neighbors. They had all been removed by the time my dog and I moved in here a few years ago, so I couldn’t tell you why. I see stumps, so they were there at some point. I bought it because there’s a lot of space for her to run around, and a really nice deck. There was a tiny little porch behind our old house, and she loved to sleep there, but she deserves better. One morning, I let her out to do her business when I discovered a twig right in the center of the deck. It had to have blown in from quite a distance away. I drew meaning from it that surely wasn’t there. Still, I tossed it over the railing, and it landed on the patio. The next day, I noticed it still sitting there, so I casually threw it back up onto the deck. I kept doing that periodically ever since. I would sometimes go out, and leave it alone, but sometimes switch it from one of its landing spots to the other. Again, it wasn’t every time, but it still felt like part of my routine. It felt like it was something that I ought to do, like a little game I played with myself. A few weeks ago, I was barking at my dog, trying to get her to do her thing quickly, because I was running late for work. It was really hot, so while she can normally just stay outside, I was going to have to keep her inside, and drive home during my lunch break to let her out again. I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing, and heard a crack underfoot. I froze there for a moment, certain that it couldn’t be what I thought. Perhaps it was only an acorn, or something. Of course, an acorn would be just as unusual to find here, but far less valuable, because that twig was mine. I carefully lifted my leg, and saw it sitting there. It appeared to be okay. It was still intact. I smiled, and picked it up. Yes, everything was going to be okay. I tossed it back up to the deck, and called my dog over, so we could move on with our day. She trotted up the steps, slower than I would like. She knows how impatient I get, but my girlfriend occasionally comes in through the garage, and she’s always sniffing around for her new mama, even when she’s not there. We got all the way up to the deck, and then I saw it. The twig was where I threw it, but in two pieces. It hadn’t survived my attack. I froze again, unsure what I was supposed to do now. It sounds so stupid, this unremarkable piece of wood, that I should care so deeply for it. How long would it have lasted if this hadn’t happened? I’ll never know, because I ruined it. I can’t concentrate on my work, or anything else I’ve tried to do. I think the incident just sort of forced everything I wasn’t happy about in my life to bubble to the surface. I dunno, I’m no psychologist. Life just seems so futile now. No matter how many times you’re able to toss that twig over the railing, it falls apart eventually. Everything ends. Everything dies.

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Microstory 2192: How Frivolous

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This is a very delicate period of time in this process, and I won’t be able to say much as these offers go out. It’s not like I’ll be able to summarize the conversations I’m having with my future staff members (or not, as it were). Luckily, I have something else to tell you about today. Well, two things, actually. You remember my parole officer, Leonard Miazga, right? I didn’t really think that I would see him again, but it seems that we’ll be working together at the jail. He’s been hired by the county to work on that side, so he won’t serve directly under me, but he’ll be in the meetings with us, along with the correctional officer, and the reentry specialist. It wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t named him on this site. Of course, the government knew who my P.O. was, but reading about him in my blog posts sort of stuck him in their brains, so when they were deciding who to hire, he was the first candidate that they thought of. Don’t worry, it was a fair process, but he ended up being the best for the job. You can guess why; because he’s not just a jerk who feels like he’s suffering through his work every day. He cares about his parolees, and that much was clear both from my anecdotes, and also his interview, as well as his references and résumé, I’m sure. The second announcement is that the lawsuit against me has been officially dropped. The company who sued me on the grounds that I damaged their reputation even though I never told you who they were finally relented. It’s shocking how long it took for them to realize how frivolous their case was. So now that it’s over, I’ll tell you who it was. Lol, psych! I still won’t, because that would be equal parts dumb and mean-spirited. I just want to lock the memory of the ordeal in my past, and leave it there. They’re doing fine, and I’m doing amazing, so there’s nothing left to talk about anymore. That’s all I got. What’s up with you?

Monday, July 15, 2024

Microstory 2191: Already Proud

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Have you ever seen a movie about making a movie, or maybe a play, or something. They have all these headshots on a table, and they’re shuffling them around, looking to cast the perfect actors for the parts. I’ve basically been doing that today, except not with headshots, because I don’t care what the people on my team look like. I’ve read through their résumés multiple times, and consulted the notes that I took during their interviews. It’s bittersweet for me to say that I have reached a conclusion on who we would like to extend offers to. The top candidates will be receiving calls over the course of the next week, once I receive higher level approvals. I don’t expect there to be any issue with any of the people I chose, but I do need to give it a little time, just in case. If you do not receive an offer by the end of the week, it’s possible that you still might. I don’t want to make anyone feel bad about being the runner-up, but that’s the way it works. Each position can only be filled by one person, and just because that person didn’t get there by being our first choice, doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve it. Plus, that’s not even necessarily the reason. We also could have experienced other delays, like technical issues, or legal questions, so even if you do receive a late offer, don’t think you know exactly why that was. I want to thank everyone who took the time to apply. The sheer amount of interest we received serves to reinforce the fact that what we’re trying to do here is the right thing, and that we will succeed in our mission. We’re going to make the judicial system better than it ever has been, and I’m already proud of that.

Sunday, July 14, 2024

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: June 4, 2456

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What they didn’t know before was that Kineret had a young daughter. She had been living in a remote bunker in the south with a nanny, but her mother’s relocation request finally went through. Kineret and Primus Mihajlović were busy with work off-site today, so Olimpia had agreed to babysit. Shay was sitting on the floor right now, playing with the model-sized Vellani Ambassador. Ramses was actually inside of it, in the middle of testing the habitability of the dimensional miniaturization technology that he had reverse-engineered from the box in the Goldilocks Corridor. The air was breathable, and the inertial dampeners were reportedly working okay. Propulsion was another thing, but given that it was literally a million times smaller than it would be in full form, that probably wasn’t necessary anyway.
Olimpia was sitting on an undersized chair in the playroom, elbow on her knee, and chin in her palm, watching the little girl play. But there was another reason for this game. “How you doin’ in there, bud?”
Communications were tricky too. It was garbled and weak, but they could still hear each other, and that was better than nothing. “Little nausea, but the dampeners are compensating. They don’t work perfectly great for any ship while it’s in gravity, so I’m not surprised. Nothing has fallen off my desk yet. Is she still swirling it around?
“Jzhhoooooo! Jzhhoom!” Shay was exploring space with the toy ship.
“Sure is,” Olimpia replied.
Great,” he said.
“Listen, I’m hoping that you can make a replica of the VA for her to keep. She seems to like it quite a bit.”
That will not be difficult,” he answered.
There were three doors in this room. One led to the hallway, one to the bathroom, and the last to a closet. All of these opened at exactly the same time. A different man was on each side, and they were all very confused. Olimpia instinctively grabbed little Shay, and pulled her to the only wall that didn’t have any doors attached to it. She dropped the Ambassador as a result.
What just happened?” Ramses questioned.
“Get out here immediately,” she demanded. Olimpia didn’t know everyone who lived in this bunker, so maybe someone might open the entrance, but not the bathroom door, and not the closet. Those were both empty. She had checked them, because she was a good babysitter who knew that Shay was in particular danger of a political attack.
Ramses appeared, and spun around when Olimpia pointed. “Who the hell are you people?”
The one who somehow ended up in the bathroom tightened the towel around his waist, held his hands up nonconfrontationally, and took a step forward.
“Don’t move,” Ramses insisted.
“Okay.” He breathed deeply. “I believe that you and I have met. My name is Elder Caverness, and I am currently training under the Transit Army. Is this a test?”
Ramses held up a finger. “Stay there.” He swung around so the other two men could see the finger. “All of you.” He then reached into his pocket to retrieve his handheld device. He was looking through the little database that the team had curated over the years, detailing everyone they could remember meeting, even before becoming time travelers. “Elder Caverness. Right, yes. I saw you get on the train, I was there.”
“You’re Mateo’s friend.”
Ramses was still suspicious. He held the device up to his ear after dialing a number. “Yes, this is Ramses Abdulrashid?” He waited for a response. “Yeah, one of the visiting alien people. Listen, did a giant spacetrain appear anywhere? Today, I mean?” Short pause. “Okay, thank you.” He hung up. “The Transit didn’t show up today. How are you here?”
“I don’t know.” Elder looked over his own shoulder. “I was in a bathroom, but not this bathroom.”
“I know you as well,” said the man standing in the closet doorway. “You were both there the first time this happened to me. It was just a minute ago, but we were somewhere else.”
Ramses eyed him. “Of course. You were in the Nexus. “You’re a long way from home too, unless this is your universe. Was the world ending when you left?”
“No.”
“Then maybe not. What about you? I don’t know you.”
The third man, the one by the main door, was also holding his hands up. “Hey, man, I’m just a gardener. I work at a nursery. I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about, with the Nexus, and the universes, and all that.”
“This sounds like Westfall,” Olimpia pointed out.
“Yeah, you called it that last time,” closet guy said.
“Is that a band, errr...?” the guy they had never met at all before asked. Maybe he too was from Salmonverse, but just didn’t know about time travel.
“Okay. Elder Caverness, and...Bay...”
“Baylor Alexanderson,” he reminded him.
“Yeah. Baylor Alexanderson. And you are?”
“Late for work.”
“What is your name, sir?” Ramses was not in the mood to joke at the moment.
“I’m Dutch Haines.”
“Dutch Haines,” Ramses began, “you’re from another world. I don’t know why you’re here, or who brought you, but you can’t go home unless whoever it was decides to send you. I’m sorry. We have zero control over it.”
Dutch looked down the hallway that he decidedly had not come from. He looked back at Ramses and shrugged. “Okay, cool.”
Ramses looked over at Olimpia. “I don’t think these guys mean us any harm, but your job is to protect the girl, so go somewhere else to do it. This room has been compromised. Take the ship, please.”
Olimpia knelt down to retrieve the Ambassador. She handed it back to Shay, then lifted her up against her hip, and teleported away.
“Whoa, shit!” Dutch exclaimed. Baylor was surprised too, but Elder wasn’t.
“Yeah. We can do that.” Ramses tried to think about what to do next. Protecting the girls was as far as he could figure out, but without Leona to make decisions, the decisions fell upon his shoulders. He wasn’t sure that he was up to the task. Ochivari were bad guys, this much was clear. He knew to fight them off if they ever showed up, but humans? How would he deal with this? What would the Captain do? He tilted his head to think, acutely aware that the men were still watching him, awaiting the answer to that question. What would she do? She would test them. He pointed. “Stand in a line, facing me.”
The three of them looked amongst each other, and agreed in their respective heads that Ramses was indeed the man in charge. Even if he wasn’t qualified, they didn’t know that. So they got in the line, and stood there patiently.
Ramses cleared his throat, and stared at them, focusing on their eyes. He wasn’t trained to study microexpressions, but maybe his intuition would show him the light. “Ochivari,” he stated plainly.
Elder furrowed his brow, disgusted by the name of their enemy. This was not surprising as the last time they saw him, he was going off to learn how to fight them. Plus, he even said that he was supposed to be training with the Transit Army. The other two didn’t react at all. He may as well have spouted a nonsense word to them. Either that, or they were sociopaths who he couldn’t read. Olimpia had confided in him that the Ochivari were using human allies to infiltrate this world so their plans could be carried out undetected. It felt wrong that this should be the case with these other two men. The way they showed up here, it probably was Westfall. The Ochivari had a weird and violent way to travel the bulkverse. It was noticeable; conspicuous. They couldn’t just quietly appear in a closet. They could, however, walk down a hallway, having arrived in this world at some other point. Elder and Baylor were probably okay dudes, especially the former, who Mateo would vouch for as a friend. Dutch, on the other hand, could be the enemy. This was why Leona didn’t want to tell anyone about the human infiltrators, because they did not know how to handle them yet. The only possible way probably involved getting one of them to confess, and using them as a baseline to suss out any others. Then again, the odds that they would show up at the same time were low if they were here for the same reason.
“All right, we’re gonna go on a little trip,” Ramses decided. He offered his hand to Dutch, who took it more out of curiosity, not knowing that he was about to be teleported to the wrong side of a set of metal bars. He came back for Baylor and Elder, relocating them to their own cells, right next to each other. They didn’t complain or question it. It was the only logical course of action, even considering what Ramses knew of them. He told the jail guards to treat them with respect, but to not let them out without authorization directly from the Primus. Then he left to relay the information to her.
“Why would you be worried about them if they’re human?” Naraschone questioned.
“Some humans are bad,” Ramses answered. “You know that as much as I. The reason you have jail cells in the bunker is because you sometimes have to lock people up. We’ve not been able to verify this information, but according to the Ochivar that Leona and Angela interviewed, some humans are bad enough to be working with them.”
Primus lifted her chin, but kept her eyes contacted with his. “We always knew that that was possible, especially after learning that they were from another universe. If there are an infinite number of them out there, it stands to reason that a handful of people would find themselves in accordance with the aliens. The statistics make it essentially impossible for there not to be.”
“Your team interrogated the Ochivar years ago,” Kineret pointed out. “Why are you only telling us now?”
“They were worried what we would do with this information,” Naraschone explained for Ramses. “Every single person in the world has now become an enemy.”
“No, there are people I’ve known my entire life,” Kineret reasoned. “If we can trace someone’s background, we can rule them out.”
Ramses shook his head, reluctant to argue. “No, you can’t. Bulk travel is time travel. Infiltrators may have shown up years before the war started, or centuries, or longer. Half the people on this planet may be the descendants of those who originated on some other version of Earth. You would never know. There’s no way to tell.”
“Surely there is,” Naraschone determined. “There’s something different about you, isn’t there? Given enough data, could you not find a way to detect—forgive me—foreigners? You should be able to use yourself as a baseline.” Hm. She came up with the same word that he had for this problem.
“We possess genetic data from nearly everyone on the planet,” Kineret continued. “We would have to requisition it, but that shouldn’t be too hard, given the fact that we’re in wartime. Compare it to your own DNA, look for differences.”
“My DNA is different,” Ramses explained. “I’m posthuman.”
“Well, what about our new prisoners?” Naraschone asked.
Ramses nodded, not because he agreed that that was the answer, but because it was technically a possibility. “I can take samples today, and I can start to run some tests, but I am no biologist.”
“Aren’t you the one who grew the bodies that you and your team now inhabit?”
“With the aid of centuries of prior research, and an AI. To do this, I would need to devise new technology. I’m not saying that I can’t do it; just not today. It would take me a year, and by then, your prisoners will no longer be locked up.”
“He’s right,” Kineret admitted. “We will not be able to hold them all year.”
“We won’t have to,” Naraschone decided. “If I’m to understand this correctly, only the Ochivari have the means to transport themselves to other universes, which is why we’ve never been able to allow them to roam free. We can keep these three people without actually locking them up. There is no legal time limit for how long you’re allowed to accommodate guests.”
“They can travel the bulk,” Ramses began to explain, “they just can’t control it. There is no guarantee that they will still be here next year when Olimpia and I return.”
“We’ll store the samples, and cross any bridge we must when we come to it,” Naraschone decided. Kineret was right, we’ll be able to request access to the global DNA database, but we would probably not be able to get it done by the end of today anyway. Let’s plan on starting this plan in one year’s time.”
There was a slight pause in the conversation. “Now that that’s been discussed, could you please transport me to my daughter?” Kineret had to make her job her number one priority, but she also had a responsibility to her family, and it was time that she personally made sure that Shay was okay.
Ramses held out his hand, but Naraschone reached for it instead. “First, transport me to the jail in the Executive Bunker. Then take Kineret to her daughter, and stay with them for support.”
“Very well, sir,” Ramses replied.
A year later, Ramses returned, and immediately began to work on the problem of detecting bulk travelers. It took the whole day for him to start getting the idea that this was not a DNA problem, but something else. He needed to be looking at the subatomic level. That could take even longer, so there was no time to waste.