Friday, April 3, 2020

Microstory 1335: Debut

Entertainment Interviewer: Is this your first interview?
Film Student: My first real interview, yes. I’ve been in the school newspaper a time or two.
Entertainment Interviewer: Well, I bet you’re pretty excited, aren’t you?
Film Student: Yes, I feel very fortunate to have been given this opportunity. I haven’t even started working yet, and Sterling Serials has already been so good to me. They assure me they’re not just going to throw me in the deep end, and expect me to fend for myself.
Entertainment Interviewer: I mean this interview. I bet you’re excited for the interview.
Film Student: Oh, uh, yeah. Yeah.
Entertainment Interviewer: Then I guess we ought to get started. First, tell me a little bit about yourself.
Film Student: Well, my name is Film Student. I’ve been a film student at Hillside University for three years now. I’ve always known that I wanted to be a director, so I picked my major right away. I did a little bit of stage acting in middle and high school, and some of my film and video classes required us to make short films, of course. I much prefer to be behind the camera, though. Other than that, I do some photography—mostly close-ups—which I consider to be more like motion pictures than most people do.
Entertainment Interviewer: Oh, that’s cool Very interesting. So, what was your first thought when you got the call that you won the contest?
Film Student: I know you expect me to say I was giddy, and I jumped up and down, or did a dance, but my aunt always taught me to act like I’ve been there, so I played it pretty cool. I wanted to sound professional right from the start.
Entertainment Interviewer: It says here they want you to direct the fourth episode of the third season of The Light of Day. When does filming begin?
Film Student: First of the month, next month. I’ve already seen a draft of the script, and I obviously can’t give anything away, but I can tell you that it’s really good. I’m honored to be working off the incredible talent from the writers room.
Entertainment Interviewer: What about the cast?
Film Student: I haven’t met any of the cast yet, but the internet tells me they’re all really nice, and down to Earth.
Entertainment Interviewer: What do you have to say to all the little girls out there who are being told they can’t make movies? What did you wish you had said when someone said that to you?
Film Student: Um, well...that never happened to me. No one’s ever told me that.
Entertainment Interviewer: I thought you said you always wanted to make movies. No one ever tried to tear you down when you were young?
Film Student: My family has always been very supportive. I was born into middle class, and my parents sacrificed a lot so I could have the things I wanted to be happy. They bought me multiple video cameras over the years so I could practice my skills.
Entertainment Interviewer: Right, but wasn’t there someone who mocked you about your dreams, or at least tried to tell you that you’ll have to work twice as hard to make it as a woman in the industry.
Film Student: I—I guess that sort of thing does happen. But I don’t have any personal experience with it. Like I said, my family was very supportive.
Entertainment Interviewer: Okay. That’s—good for you.
Film Student: Yeah, thanks.
Entertainment Interviewer: Well, what are things like now? How does it feel to be a woman in such a male-dominated field?
Film Student: I don’t know, man. It feels great to be here, but I don’t really give my gender much thought, and no one so far has given me the impression they give it much thought either.
Entertainment Interviewer: Oh.
Film Student: Except for you. You seem to be giving it a lot of thought.
Entertainment Interviewer: I just want to acknowledge that it’s harder—I suppose I don’t want to make a generalization—but different. It’s different for a woman. People have different expectations, and there’s a history. No matter what job you get, it’s just..different.
Film Student: I think it’s only different because people look at it differently. I appreciate you trying to acknowledge it, but be careful to not fall into a trap while you’re at it. If we put less pressure on gender, we probably wouldn’t notice it as much, which is the ultimate goal here. I mean, think about when Clinton II became president. All anyone talked about was how she was the first female president of the United States. That’s great and all, but if a woman was the second president overall, immediately after Washington, we wouldn’t be singing her praises. I mean, maybe we would; it depends on who this hypothetical person was. My point is that it’s only a big deal because we make it a big deal. But I’m not impressed with Hillary Clinton because she’s a woman. I’m impressed with her because she’s a strong leader, and has a great deal of foreign policy experience. I don’t want to keep hearing about the first woman this, and the first black man that. We should be striving for a world where no one notices such things, because they’re totally normal. I don’t wanna be a female director. I just wanna be a director.
Entertainment Interviewer: Great. Well, that’s all the time we have today. Thanks for stopping by.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Microstory 1334: Unwanted

Therapist: My receptionist reported that you sounded a little upset on the phone when she was confirming your appointment. Is everything okay?
Journalism Student: Oh, it’s not a big deal. I don’t even know why I was crying about it.
Therapist: You were crying?
Journalism Student: Just a little. Again, it’s not a big deal; barely worth mentioning.
Therapist: Barely worth it, but not not worth it at all?
Journalism Student: Forget it, it’s stupid.
Therapist: The other day, a client of mine came in bawling because he had just seen an ad on his phone in the waiting room for hummus. Apparently, he and his late wife met at a mutual friend’s party when another friend turned out to be allergic to peanuts, and they both volunteered to rush to the store to pick up alternatives. His feelings were not stupid, and neither are yours.
Journalism Student: It’s just this thing that happened to me two days ago. I was interviewing this guy who dropped out of my high school. He’s starting a drone courier service for the city. They don’t sell supplies or anything; they just carry items from other companies to people who work from home. I thought it was an interesting concept, and I thought it was cool that someone I once took Spanish with was making a name for himself, even though he didn’t graduate. Well, he remembered me from that one class, and evidently thought I had some sort of crush on him, so he started making the interview personal.
Therapist: He made you uncomfortable?
Journalism Student: Yes. He didn’t touch me, or anything. I mean, he didn’t even really say anything inappropriate. I probably would have shrugged the whole thing off, except it’s not the first time this kind of thing has happened.
Therapist: Yes, I remember the swim team captain who wanted you to interview him in the boy’s locker room.
Journalism Student: Yeah, he acted like it was because that’s how they do it in the major leagues, but I don’t think that was his reason. I don’t think he was planning on us, like, doing something together, but I bet he figured I might start getting ideas if I saw him like that, in that environment.
Therapist: Yes, that could be what he was thinking. Remember, though, we talked about presuming other people’s feelings, positions, and intentions. He might have genuinely wanted to pretend he was a pro athlete.
Journalism Student: Yeah, I understand.
Therapist: Did you talk with this drone guy about it?
Journalism Student: Oh no, I just rejected him politely, and ended the interview. It was awkward, though, and I may have asked him a few follow-up questions if he hadn’t taken the conversation to that place.
Therapist: Well, was it awkward for him too, or just you?
Journalism Student: How am I meant to know?
Therapist: Did it seem like he was upset too? Or did he act like it wasn’t a big deal?
Journalism Student: I guess he seemed okay. Like, he didn’t get angry with me. But I still felt weird, so I had to get out of there.
Therapist: That’s a perfectly reasonable response. I’m saying, if you still need more information to write your article for the paper, you could call him with those follow-up questions, and act like nothing happened. You can’t let what he did get in the way of you completing your assignment. Even if he didn’t do that on purpose, you deserve to do your job. You never know, he could be talking with his own therapist right now about how that interaction made him feel. If you treat him with respect, he’ll either be relieved that it didn’t seem to ruin your life, or he’ll be pissed you’re bothering him again, but still without giving him a chance at whatever relationship he feels entitled to. To put it another way, either you make things better for him—and I think for you too, since you can get some closure—or you force him to show his true colors. Either way, it’ll be good to get this resolved.
Journalism Student: What if he turns out to be a stalker, or something? What if engaging him again is just leading him on?
Therapist: [...] As a woman, everything you do will be scrutinized and interpreted. The fact is that you could smile at the grocery store cashier a little too widely, and make him think you want to have his baby. This is a dangerous world, and there are lots of dangerous people in it who are looking for an excuse to justify their thoughts. We can’t let them have that much power. I’m not saying don’t be cautious, but you have the right to write your article, just as much as you have the right to smile without also agreeing to marriage. You see what I’m saying?
Journalism Student: Yeah, I guess.
Therapist: We can keep talking about this as long as you want, but I do what to make sure we have time to discuss your former teacher’s death. This virus hit us all really hard, and I don’t want you ignoring the loss, even if you didn’t know her very well.
Journalism Student: Okay.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Microstory 1333: Hillside Sky Courier

Journalism Student: Thank you so much for agreeing to talk to me, High School Dropout. I really appreciate this opportunity. I know a school newspaper isn’t exactly the kind of exposure you’re looking for, but I think my audience will really enjoy reading about someone they went to school with. I, for one, am very excited to learn about what you do.
Drone Service Founder: Thank you, but please, just call me Drone Service Founder.
Journalism Student: Okay, sorry. I didn’t mean to offend.
Drone Service Founder: No, it’s okay. Wadya wanna know?
Journalism Student: First, why don’t you tell me a little bit about what your company does?
Drone Service Founder: Well, I’m not sure we can call it a company just yet. We’re nowhere near making a profit. Right now, we’re in the middle of a major fundraising round. We can’t do anything until we buy our first fleet.
Journalism Student: How big of a fleet are we talking here?
Drone Service Founder: We hope to have thirty drones total by the end of the year.
Journalism Student: How much is that going to cost?
Drone Service Founder: I’m not at liberty to discuss the financial side of our business.
Journalism Student: Right. Well, why is it important to have a fleet? Can you not just get started with one or two drones, and expand from there?
Drone Service Founder: Our future clients will want a reliable service. They don’t want to call us, and be turned away, because we can’t help them at the moment. Even if we contracted with a single company, they would expect deliveries to multiple locations, and we’ll always need to be ready to scale up. It’s all about availability.
Journalism Student: I see. So, I know that it says some of this on your website, but what exactly will you be delivering?
Drone Service Founder: It’s a bit of a misnomer to call us a delivery service. That implies we sell products, and deliver them to customers. We do not sell anything but a service. Here’s how it works. A company will have, let’s say, a hundred people working for them. Let’s say they—no, no, no; scratch that. Let’s say we’re talking about a school district. Yeah, that makes sense here. They have buildings all over the area, right? Let’s say they have fifteen locations; elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, administrative buildings. Those people all need documents to be printed and copied, right? Well, they could hire someone to work at each location, whose job it is to handle only the work those people need. Or they could set up an entire building where all they do is print things for the teachers and administrators. But how do you get all those documents to the end users? You could drive around the city, sure, that’s probably how they do it now. Or you could call us. My drones don’t worry about traffic, or wait at red lights. They zip over everything, and drop what the client needs, where they need it, and most importantly, when they need it. That’s key here. If we can scale up enough, and manage our client base, we can promise deliveries measured in minutes, rather than hours.
Journalism Student: What about the cost to the clients? Will it be worth it for them to hire you, instead of just sticking with however they’re doing it now?
Drone Service Founder: We’re still working on the details, but this will come at an affordable price. Our overhead is lower than you would think, and our labor costs are really low. I’m here with my first investor and partner. We hired someone for legal, and one general laborer. I’ll probably hire a mechanic to maintain the drones themselves, and an accountant to keep us square. Beyond that, we shouldn’t need anyone else. Every company in the city could contract with us, and we won’t likely need to hire too many more people to keep up with it. Automation is key.
Journalism Student: What do you say to people who are already worried about robots taking all their jobs?
Drone Service Founder: I’ll remind them that we’re a new company. You can’t expect us to arbitrarily hire a staff for jobs we don’t have need for. We don’t plan on letting anyone go. Six plus people, and no room for downsizing.
Journalism Student: Wow, that’s interesting. Let me write this down. No room for downsizing.
Drone Service Founder: So, listen, I’m glad you called. I’m hoping I’m not misreading this. Can we go off the record for a moment? I would like to discuss something personal.
Journalism Student: Umm, okay, sure.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Microstory 1332: Peak Family

Uniformed Officer: I know you’re all really shaken up, but I do have to ask you a few questions so we can figure this out.
Mr. Peak: That’s okay. We want to get this son of a bitch.
Uniformed Officer: Were you home when the intruder came in?
Mr. Peak: Yes and no.
Uniformed Officer: I don’t understand.
Mr. Peak: My wife and son were home. My daughter and I were not.
Uniformed Officer: Oh, okay. I’ll direct my questions to you, Madam Peak.
Mr. Peak: No, don’t talk to her. I’m the head of the household. You will direct all your questions to me.
Uniformed Officer: Sir, I really need to get an eyewitness account of the events as they occurred. It’s important that I have the chance to speak with the rest of your family. I can’t take second-hand testimony.
Mr. Peak: Testimony? We ain’t in court.
Uniformed Officer: No, I just mean that I need to speak with each of you about what you experienced, and it’s best if we start with the people who were actually here when it happened.
Mr. Peak: You’re not gonna talk to my son neither.
Uniformed Officer: How old is your son?
Mr. Peak: He’s twenty-three.
Uniformed Officer: You can only refuse if he’s a minor. He’s old enough to answer for himself.
Peak Son: I don’t want to talk to you.
Madam Peak: You don’t have to, son.
Uniformed Officer: I’m sorry, I’m confused. Do you want this case solved, or no?
Mr. Peak: We do want it solved, and you’re gonna do it.
Uniformed Officer: Sir, I’m not a detective. I’m just here to get some basic information until one is assigned. They will be asking more in-depth questions.
Mr. Peak: In-deph [sic] questions, like what?
Uniformed Officer: They’ll ask you whether you had any enemies, or if there was a recent disagreement, or if anyone had access to your place. The answers you give me now will determine the detective’s line of questioning later on. I mostly need to know what was taken, and whether anyone was hurt.
Mr. Peak: Well, I can answer the other questions right here.
Uniformed Officer: Sir—
Mr. Peak: The Valley family down the street has always had it out for us. Ever since my daughter broke up with theirs, we’ve had issues with them.
Peak Daughter: I didn’t break up with her. It was mutual.
Madam Peak: It’s never mutual, honey.
Uniformed Officer: I really don’t need any of this information. Please, just tell me what you saw, and what was taken from the house.
Mr. Peak: Now, Mr. Valley and I have had our own issues. His Christmas lights last year were far too bright. It’s light pollution, ya know. So I go over there, and he’s already pissed, because I guess he lost his job, or something. I go over there, and he’s like, you don’t tell me what to do with my lights! I’m tryin’ to remain calm—I’m a level-headed fellow, you can ask anyone; those charges are bullcrap—
Peak Daughter: You tell her, daddy!
Uniformed Officer: I don’t care about any of this. Here’s where we stand right now. You have three choices. You can start cooperating, and tell me what happened, so we can proceed with the investigation. Second, you can keep quiet, and I’ll walk away like nothing happened. I’ll write this whole thing up as a mistake, and no one will contact you about it again. Or third, you can keep treating this situation with disrespect, I can report that you called nine-one-one fraudulently, and you will be charged with filing a false report. What do you want to do? Do you want to answer my questions, or do you want to give me trouble?
Madam Peak: ...
Mr. Peak: Well, go on, wife. Tell the nice lady about your creepy dolls.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Microstory 1331: Charitable Foundation

Lottery Winner: Thank you for calling in one last time. My friend told me to refer to this a suitability interview, so I don’t look like a jerk for making you interview more than once, but the truth is that I don’t really know what the hell I’m doing, and there were some things I forgot to ask you before.
Assistant Candidate: It’s no problem. I’m happy to answer anything.
Lottery Winner: Okay, great. I’ll make this as quick and painless as possible. After I won the lottery, everyone had a lot of ideas about how I could spend the money. If they weren’t asking for me to just give it to them, they were suggesting I buy a theme park, or a sports team, or a giant mansion. Of course, a lot of people said I ought to just donate it to charity, which is the obvious answer here, and why I placed the job posting. At first, I figured I would need help from an assistant who could field donation requests, and research the most reputable ones. I don’t want to give to a front for a terrorist organization, or to someone who’s embezzling it. The more I’ve thought about this, the more I’ve realized that this won’t be enough. I have eighty-three million dollars right now, and when I run out of that, then it’s gone. Most would say that’s no big deal, but I want to maximize my donations, and the amount of time I can do it. I don’t just want to give the money away. I want to set up a charitable foundation, so it can keep going, even after the initial money is gone; even after I’m gone.
Assistant Candidate: Oh, that’s a nice idea, I like that.
Lottery Winner: I’m glad to hear it, because once I decided to do this, I remembered your name. There were a lot of great candidates for this position, and honestly, I wasn’t too worried about who I chose before. I was mostly concerned with finding someone who wasn’t going to steal from me, or exploit my generosity. But it says here you’ve actually worked for a number of nonprofits.
Assistant Candidate: I have, yes.
Lottery Winner: What did you do for them?
Assistant Candidate: Well, I’ve done a lot of volunteer work here and there. I sorted thrift store donations, helped build houses, and cleaned up parks. I imagine that’s not what you’re asking about, though. You’re wondering about the administrative side, and I do have a little bit of experience with that. I’m an editor by trade, so I worked in two paid positions, editing grant proposals. The key to remember there is that I was an editor; not a writer. A lot of letters came across my desk, but I never had to be the one to write one from scratch, and I haven’t done anything else in administration.
Lottery Winner: I think that would be okay. I’m not looking for the best. I’m looking for someone flexible, who is willing to accept my mistakes, as well as their own, and try to get better.
Assistant Candidate: I can be flexible. I think I would be very happy in a job where I help you figure things out.
Lottery Winner: That would be amazing.
Assistant Candidate: I would have one suggestion, though.
Lottery Winner: You have a charity in mind?
Assistant Candidate: Oh no, nothing like that. If you don’t have any experience, and you’re going to hire me—who also isn’t all that experienced—then you might want to think about hiring some kind of lawyer next. That’s the trickiest thing when it comes to this. You hear a lot about white collar criminals who steal from their unsuspecting clients, but I bet there are some who just didn’t realize they were doing something illegal. Compliance is boring, but it’s important.
Lottery Winner: Yeah, that’s a good point. I could easily fall into that category. Why don’t you come in tomorrow? We’ll discuss how to find a lawyer for such a thing, as well as other things, like your salary.
Assistant Candidate: Cool, thanks.
Lottery Winner: Thank you.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: December 9, 2277

The new Cassidy cuffs that Ramses made for them didn’t seem to work as they were meant to. It was unclear at first exactly what went wrong. All Mateo knew was that the six of them were sitting in a room together in 2276 when midnight struck, and when he returned to the timestream a year later, he was alone. Not even Leona seemed to have made it through. The old Mateo would have freaked out at this point, but he developed a sense of clarity after he was brought back from total nonexistence two months ago. Things became even clearer after he was brought back from death three weeks ago, and this all came to a head when he witnessed his own funeral five days ago. Leona wasn’t dead; the powers that be wouldn’t have let that happen. She might have been thrown off her pattern temporarily, or accidentally teleported somewhere else, but she wasn’t gone for good. He could figure this out, but only as long as he stayed calm. He lifted his arm, and started looking through the data on his cuff.
Ramses said that he was giving him the primary cuff, which gave him some level of control over the others. He could evidently take everyone’s powers away, or geotag them to a certain location, or any number of things. That was probably best on the wrist of someone intelligent, like Leona, or experienced, like Nerakali. They had spent yesterday on a sort of break. He couldn’t call it a party, per se, but they weren’t allowed to discuss business either. All of them had recently experienced Mateo’s memorial services, so this was a celebration of his life, but with less focus on him. They just forgot about Mateo’s special status as the one in control. Perhaps that was why he was the only one who made the jump. The problem now was that he didn’t know where the others were. There had to be some kind of way of tracking his friends through the cuffs, if not a way to teleport directly to them.
He wasn’t much into manuals, so he just started tapping through menus, hoping to find something that could help. His efforts were not wasted as he soon found precisely what he was looking for. The cuffs were still connected to each other in terms of the passage of time. Three minutes had passed for Mateo since midnight central, and the system indicated the same went for everyone else. The bad news was not only were none of them in the present day, but they weren’t even in the same moment in time. The cuffs, for whatever reason, scattered them all throughout time and space. There was a time map, which told him both when and where they were. It didn’t say what they were going through while they were there, however, so Mateo had a decision to make. Who was in most need of rescuing, and more importantly, was he competent enough to do it? Nerakali. He wanted to save Leona first, but that was an impractical choice. Time travel was Nerakali’s arena. The responsible thing to do was to get to her first. He was also curious to find out why she was in March 21, 2014, because that was the day Mateo first started traveling through time.

When Mateo arrived in the past, he saw two different versions of Nerakali. They were arguing with each other, and he couldn’t tell which was which. The other one was presumably from the past, rather than the future, so he decided to call her Past!Nerakali.
“What the hell is he doing here?” Yes, that was almost certainly Past!Nerakali, the one wearing a blue shirt.
The other one looked back at him. “What year are you from?” she asked.
“I’m from when you would expect; 2277. What happened to you?”
“I don’t know,” Present!Nerakali spat. “I can’t jump through time. And this bitch won’t give me a ride.”
“Past!Nerakali,” Mateo began like the father of both of them, “why won’t you give your alternate self a ride to the future?”
“Why the hell would I help her?” Past!Nerakali questioned. “I’m just tryin’ to get back home. If she’s here, it means whatever I try doesn’t work, and I don’t want to encourage her to exist.”
“Going back to The Gallery is impossible,” Present!Nerakali explained. “You know this. You wouldn’t exist if it were possible, because then dad would have hunted the original Gallery workers down, and forced them back.”
“No,” Past!Nerakali said in denial. “There’s a way. There has to be a way. There’s always a loophole.”
Present!Nerakali shook her head. “There’s not. The moment the Gallery doors are opened is locked in time. Not even The Arborist can get to it. Believe me, I’ve tried. You’re a baby, but I’ve been down in this dimension for centuries, and I have tried everything.”
“Is this the day you fell from the Gallery?” Mateo asked.
“Yes,” the Nerakalis replied in unison.
“Is that a coincidence?” he asked. “The date, I mean.”
Present!Nerakali seemed to know what he was asking. Was it somehow connected to him? “It’s not a coincidence, but only inasmuch as the powers that be like to make important things happen separately, but at the same time. Our fall has nothing to do with you directly.
Mateo nodded. “I have to get you back to the future, so you can help me get the others.”
“Can you do that?” Present!Nerakali asked him.
“I’m here, ain’t I? My cuff still works.”
“What are those things?” Past!Nerakali asked. She clearly felt entitled to an answer.
Mateo ignored the question. “Do you want her to remember that this happened?” he asked Present!Nerakali.
I don’t remember it.”
“I guess we have to erase her memories then.”
“She doesn’t have powers,” Past!Nerakali threw at them, pretty proud of herself. “So she can’t erase jackshit.”
He released an evil grin. “I have her powers. I can erase them.”

Per Nerakali’s suggestion, he left her in 2277 when he went off to retrieve Leona on June 30, 2027. She suspected everyone had been transported to defining moments in their own lives, and it was best to limit the number of people who were involved in those fragile moments. He found himself in a hospital, but not just any hospital. He had been here before. After he broke Horace Reaver out of Beaver Haven Penitentiary, he brought him to this place to show him how his goodness had inspired a former villain to become a better person. She had just donated her kidney to save a younger Leona’s life. Mateo looked back at the time listed on his cuff. His own past self would be arriving in a few minutes. They had to get out of here to avoid altering the timeline too much. Rule number four; avoid alternate versions of yourself.
He walked down the hallway, and stepped into Jesimula Utkin’s recovery room. Leona was sitting in a chair next to Jesi’s bed. They were holding hands.
“Oh, hey,” Leona said. “Could you give us a little bit? I know I need to go back to the future, but I was hoping to get to know my donor a little better.”
Mateo looked at his cuff agan. “I’m afraid we’re out of time. Past!Me and Ace Reaver are going to be here any minute.”
“Ace?” Leona asked. “Not Horace.”
He shook his head. “He doesn’t have his brain blended yet.”
Leona frowned, and looked back at Jesi. “I just...there’s so much I needed to tell you. I mean, all this time traveling, this might be the only time we ever cross paths. What can I do? I can’t repay you, but there’s gotta be something I can do for you.”
Jesi smiled kindly. “There’s one thing that will help make up for the loss of my kidney.”
“Name it.”
“It has to be in the next two minutes,” Mateo warned them reluctantly.
“I can walk that fast,” Jesi said as she pressed the button to lift the head of her bed up. “It would mean the world to me if you helped me get on the toilet.”
Leona hesitated for a moment, not because she didn’t want to do it, but because it would only be a small gesture, and she wanted to do something grand. She recognized the time constraint, though, and knew this was the best they were probably going to get. She helped Jesi walk over to the bathroom, and sit down. And that was it. The two of them jumped back to the future just as Mateo saw his past self heading towards them from down the hallway, Ace in tow.
Mateo found Present!Ramses sitting next to his own past self at a skatepark. His eyes were closed, and he was pinching the bridge of his nose. “Oh my God, you are not getting this.”
“No, I get it. You betrayed our people,” Past!Ramses argued.
“No, I didn’t! You get new people! Better people!”
“All right,” Mateo tried to mediate again. “There’s no need to yell.”
“Who’s this guy?” Past!Ramses questioned.
“You don’t need to know that, because I’m going to erase your memories anyway,” Mateo explained.
Present!Ramses stood up quickly. “No, don’t do that. I’m trying to get through to him.”
“You can’t,” Mateo said to him apologetically. “Everything you went through for us to become friends, and everything you did for me after that, he deserves to go on that same journey.”
“What the hell journey are you talking about?” Past!Ramses asked rhetorically, because he didn’t care about either of them.
“I know you wanna change things,” Mateo said to Present!Ramses. “I know you regret how long it took for you to see the error of your ways. You can’t change the past, though. I mean, you can—we’ve seen it—but you shouldn’t. It’s been too long, and you’ve seen too much. No one can see the variables, and predict what will change about the timeline.”
“What if this saves your life? What if Briar never kills you, because Leona changes her plans, and they just straight up never meet each other, all because I was a better person before I met √Čtude and Vitalie?”
“My death is predestined. It can’t be changed, no matter what you do. You know this as well.”
“If I can’t make myself a better person, then what am I doing here?” Present!Ramses asked.
“It’s a glitch; one which you will repair when we get back all the others. You’re not here for any reason at all.”
Ramses kept his angry face on as he absorbed what Mateo was trying to tell him. Then he looked at his arm, and over at his past self. “That’s bullshit. If I can’t change everything, then I’m at least gonna change one thing. Go ahead and erase this asshole’s memories, but you can’t erase this!” He reached into his pocket, and pulled out a little pocket knife. Before anyone could stop him, he dragged the blade across Past!Ramses’ arm. It wasn’t enough to kill him, but he cut real deep. As he was doing so, a painful scar appeared on Present!Ramses’ arm, in the exact same place. As Past!Ramses was pulling off his shirt to apply pressure to his arm, Present!Ramses was holding his own scar. Even though it was many, many years old for him, the pain still looked like it felt new. He breathed in, and tried to move past it. “I guess now I finally know where I got this scar.”
Mateo helped Past!Ramses by tying the shirt off, so it would stay in place on its own. He then did his duty by erasing his memories, so Ramses would literally never see this moment coming. “We’ll talk about this later, he said to him as he was taking him by the arm.”

They went back to 2277 together. Mateo then went off to retrieve the remaining two members of their group. Both of them understood how causality, the butterfly effect, and paradoxes worked, so they came quickly and easily. When all was said and done, this was but a slight detour from their mission. It didn’t even take an hour of their time. They would still have plenty of time to discuss what they were going to do when J.B. returned tomorrow with Erlendr and Arcadia. It did inform their plan, though. The cuffs were obviously far from perfect. A few glitches had reared their heads since they started wearing them; enough to cause significant concern. The point was that, if this could happen to them, it could happen to the other three too. They could move forward with no plan until they made sure nothing else would go wrong with them. They were less worried about the glitches themselves than they were scared of how the Prestons were going to exploit any vulnerability they discovered, and how pissed they were that anyone tried to corral them. There was only one person who could help them now. They had to find the cuff’s inventor, Holly Blue.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Firestorm: Alexina McGregor (Part I)

It was a bit of an overstatement when Warden McAlister claimed that the rabbit dog was one of my creations. I’m the founder and president of Gregorios Bank, so I was responsible for bankrolling the research that eventually led to the rabbit dog, among other things. I didn’t have a hand in the research or experiments, but I suppose I can’t relinquish all blame either. I’m trying to become a better person, though, so I’m taking a page out of Jupiter!Two’s book, and dissociating myself from people who make bad decisions. That’s not all I’m doing, however. I’m also actively trying to make better decisions, and helping people when I can. I’m working with a new team now—a better team—and I can’t let them down. We are the only ones who can get an innocent man out of prison.
“What’s this?” Ace asks. He’s the prisoner.
“It’s about bunnies.”
He half-chuckles, and flips through the pages. “Yeah, my father read it to the family when I was a kid. I don’t remember anything about what happened, though. Thank you.”
“Look,” I say, “I know you have a lot of entertainment there in your pocket world, but I felt compelled to contribute.”
“Yeah, this isn’t in my library. I appreciate it. The Warden let you bring it in here?”
“I couldn’t figure out how to hide a time file in there to help you break free.”
“A time file?”
“Sorry, bad joke. There’s no such thing. There is no escaping Beaver Haven Rehabilitation Center.”
“Don’t be so sure of that,” a guard muses as she’s walking by, but she walks off before we can ask her to elaborate.
“Thank you for the book, Miss McGregor.”
“Please. Call me Alexina.”
“Okay.” He pauses a moment, presumably working up the nerve to say something that truly matters. “Can you take care of my family? Can you...?” he trails off.
“I can do the first thing,” I assure him, “but I can’t agree to the second thing until you vocalize it.”
He composes himself. “It sucks being in here.” He looks back behind him. The cell itself is about as small as any other, but the back wall leads to a pocket dimension, which is full of extra space, and amenities. Beaver Haven is a cruel facility. If you find yourself in here—present circumstances notwithstanding—you’re in for life. Every sentence is a life sentence, because every inmate is either capable of traveling through time, or can find someone who is. Whatever you did to get on their radar is bad enough, at least in their eyes, that you no longer deserve to ever be free. It is for this reason that they provide you with a lot more comfort than even the swankiest of white collar prisons has. “But it doesn’t exactly suck in here. It was really bad for Slipstream, because she’s a runner, and the treadmill they gave her doesn’t exactly scratch her itch. She runs to go places; not to move her legs. I’m not like that, though, so I’ll be fine. If at any point, the mission becomes too dangerous for Serkan or Paige, I need you to pull the plug. Now, they may hate you—”
“I understand,” I interrupt. “I run a bank; I know what it’s like to be the bad guy. I won’t let anything happen to them, even if it means you never get out of here.”
“Thank you,” he says graciously.
“I asked for a communication device, so you can be read into our plan as we’re formulating it, but the Warden didn’t allow that.”
“It’s okay. I’ll find out what happens when it’s over.” He shrugs, but only slightly.
“I better go. Your boyfriend and daughter will be wondering why I asked to speak with you alone for so long.”
“It’s cool. Don’t feel pressure to get this done quickly,” he calls out to me as I’m starting to walk away. “Do it right.”
I hear the voice of my former friend and business partner just before I walk out of earshot, but I can’t think about that right now. It was the Warden’s sick joke to put her in the cell next to his, and the best thing I can do for him now is get him the hell out of here so none of us has to see her ever again.

My new team and I return to our condo in the Ponce de Leon, which we’re using as our base of operations. Lots of temporal manipulators have lived here over the years. A man named Kallias Bran technically owns it, but he leaves it available for anyone who both needs it, and deserves it. We’re not sure where he goes when it’s not using it himself. Our mission is to find a way into the FBI building. An agent there has possession of two special temporal objects at least, and we suspect he has more. Though, I guess, calling the rabbit dog an object is a bit demeaning. It’s a living creature, genetically engineered by the woman who’s in the cell next to Ace. So this is a rescue mission as much as it’s about stopping a threat. We don’t know precisely what the agent knows about the world of time travelers. Hell, we don’t even understand what his own time power is, but our biggest concern is what he’s going to do with what he has. Though the rabbit dog would be a genetic marvel if word got out about it, its hybridness isn’t what will get us into trouble. It possesses electrokinetic abilities, which were adapted from a number of real life specimens, but it also has psychic powers, which it got from its creator, Volpsidia Raske. That could expose us all.
“I know what the rabbit dog is capable of,” Serkan says. “I took care of it for hours. What I don’t know is anything about this Omega Gyroscope. What does it do?”
“Anything,” I answer. I don’t know much about it myself. I’ve just heard rumors. “It can alter reality. Of course, certain people can do that, which you saw firsthand with your run-in with Rothko Ladhiffe. The reason the gyroscope is such a problem is because it’s an object; not a person. It doesn’t have any buttons or switches, and anyone in possession of it can use it. There’s no telling how bad things can get, because the user would have to know exactly what it is they’re asking for, and comprehend the side effects and consequences.”
“Few people are smart enough to do that,” Paige notes. “Maybe no one is.”
“Right,” I agree. “We can’t let anyone have it; not even ourselves.”
“Well, does he know what he has; this...what’s his name? I see references in these files to Austin Miller, but this part here just talks about Baby Boy. Can he alter his own age, or something?”
I laugh. “No. Okay, here’s the story, at least how Vidar told me. His parents wanted him to choose his own name when he was old enough. So the name they left on his birth certificate was just Baby Boy. That’s the placeholder they use until the parents come up with something else. Different states have different laws, but this country is one the least strict when it comes to what you’re allowed to name your child, and how long you have before you have to do it. So for four years, that was his name; Baby Boy. Then when he was four, his parents decided it was time for him to decide for himself. Unfortunately for him, like many children his age, he was obsessed with one animated film. You may be too young to have heard of it, but it’s called Aladdin.”
“I’ve seen it,” Slipstream says.
“I’ve heard of it, but haven’t seen it,” Serkan remarks.
“I’ve never heard of it,” Paige adds.
“Great,” I joke. “Now our survey is complete. Anyway, there was one phrase from the movie the kid couldn’t stop saying. It’s not a particularly interesting quote, nor something, if you heard it, would automatically make you think of the movie. But I guess he found it delightful, so he would just randomly blurt it out. When his parents asked him what name he wanted, naturally, that’s what he said. So they changed his birth certificate to Hello Doctor.”
“Hello Doctor?” Slipstream echoes.
“Hello Doctor,” I repeat. “I don’t even remember the context in the film, but that’s who he was. His parents made him go by Hello Doctor for twelve years before he was old enough to demand the court change it. He finally became Austin Miller on his seventeenth birthday, but even though he went to college halfway across the country, he can’t escape his first two names. I bet he gets really pissy if people call him either Hello Doctor or Baby Boy, so we should keep that bullet in the chamber. Good question, Serkan.”
Serkan nods. “I’m just going to call him Agent Miller for now. Does he know what he has? More importantly, does he know how to use it?”
I think about this for a moment. The Warden didn’t give any specifics in that regard, and the files don’t answer it. “I imagine the answer to both is no. If he knew how to use it, he probably would have created a reality where Austin Miller was always his name, and we wouldn’t have had a conversation about it just a few seconds ago. If he knew what it was, but didn’t know how to use it, we would probably see evidence of it, like a giant starfish crawling up the side of a skyscraper, or all the water turning purple.”
“So, he has this gyroscope,” Slipstream begins, “and this weird psychic creature. How sure are we that he’s keeping them in the FBI building? I mean, other people would have to be in on it for him to keep it under wraps, right? He can’t just occupy a secret space in there, and keep it all to himself.”
“Maybe he does have help,” Paige suggests. “Father is living in a pocket dimension at the moment, and Kallias has one of those too. Hell, there’s one over there.” She jerks her head over to the closet. “What if Hello Doctor’s office closet is bigger on the inside?”
“Are we really gonna call him that?” Serkan asked. Overruled.
“You’re right,” I say to Paige. “We need a lot more information if we’re going to do anything. We need to find someone who knows Hello Doctor.”
“I think I have a lead,” Slipstream announces unexpectedly.
We all look at her.
“People talk in Beaver Haven. We’re never allowed out of our cells, but we have our own phone network. Word got around about this FBI agent, and I think I know of someone who met him. It would be easier to ask a temporal manipulator for insight, instead of an oblivious human who won’t talk to us, because we’re strangers.”
“Oh, please,” I beg, “don’t make us go back to Beaver Haven.”
“It would give me an excuse to see him again,” Serkan points out, which is a reasonable position for him to have.
“Nah, it wasn’t anyone there,” Slipstream clarifies. “What did they call him? It was something...”
We wait patiently for her to recall what she learned.
“The Juggler. Yeah, he’s called the Juggler.”
“Oh, I know him,” Paige realizes. “I went to one of his shows while we were five people in different places.”
“His show?” Serkan questions.
“Yeah, he’s a magician. It looks like he’s a very limited apporter. He can transfer something from one hand to the other, but I don’t think he can go much farther than that. I can get us backstage. NBD.” And so it begins.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Microstory 1330: Judgment

Judge: Please, sit down.
Attorney One: I’m all right, Your Honor.
Attorney Two: As am I.
Judge: These are my chambers, and you will sit down when I tell you to. Understood?
Attorney One: Understood.
Attorney Two: Of course, Judge.
Judge: Okay, now stand back up! Good, you’re getting the hang of this. Now, tell me, what is going on with you two?
Attorney Two: Your Honor, I can’t do my job if Attorney One objects to every question I ask.
Judge: Some of those objections were sustained.
Attorney Two: True, but half of them weren’t. This is a tactic. He makes me look foolish in front of the jury. It doesn’t matter that some of them were overruled. The jury will only remember that I couldn’t get any of my questions answered.
Judge: He has a right to object to anything and everything. That is the cornerstone of our judicial system.
Attorney Two: Absolutely, but there must be some limit. That’s what you’re there for; to judge—not the case—but the proceedings of the court.
Judge: I understand my responsibility here perfectly, Attorney Two, thank you very much.
Attorney One: Could I say something?
Judge: If you must.
Attorney One: This has nothing to do with the case. Attorney One is still pissed that I stood her up for a date, and she’s attacking the witness, because she knows she couldn’t get away with attacking me.
Judge: Attorney Two, be careful with how you dismantle his argument regarding your personal relationship.
Attorney Two: There is no personal relationship. I asked him if he was going to be at the bar the other night for Attorney Three’s birthday. He said he would, but then he didn’t show up. I asked him about it the next day, not because I wished he had been there, but because I was making conversation. I am not upset about that at all. I went there myself with a date. This man is comically delusional, but in the saddest way.
Attorney One: All right, there’s no need for that. I think we can both agree that this was a misunderstanding, and move on.
Judge: Yes, I agree.
Attorney Two: I don’t. He’s been spreading rumors all over the office building about how I’m obsessed with him, and how I chose this case, just so I could see him.
Judge: I was not aware that you two worked for the same law firm.
Attorney One: We don’t. Our firms operate out of the same office building. We don’t usually cross paths in court, but the nature of this case demanded both of our respective expertise, on either side, of course.
Judge: Well, I’m going to help you resolve your issues, so we can get back to what’s really important, which is finding a resolution to this case.
Attorney Two: No, he was right. I can be professional if he can.
Attorney One: I can.
Judge: Oh, good. For a second there, I thought you thought I was serious. This is the last time I call you in here on a personal matter. If it comes to this again, you’ll both be in contempt.
Attorney One: Thank you, Your Honor.
Attorney Two: Sorry, Your Honor.