Friday, January 15, 2021

Microstory 1540: First and Last Blood

I have never been to the ________ before. Or should I say that I’ve never been to any sort of medical ________ for any reason. I haven’t even ever needed to go to the ________ nurse for a tummy ________. I’m twenty-five years ________, and I’m only now starting to realize how ________ that is. It’s not something most ________ are aware of; how often they don’t have ________ problems. I should have kept it to myself, but my old college ________ is in town, telling me about her recent ________ surgery, and it came up. Now she’s ________ by me. She tells me she’s seen this movie, and that I have super____. I’m supposed to start walking through ________, and lifting ________ above my ________. I don’t know about all that, but if it’s true, I don’t suppose it could ________ to let her cut my ________ real quick—or try to, anyway. If I’ve just been lucky all my ________, then the worst that can happen is I need to wrap the wound up in a ________. But if she’s right, who knows what will become of my ________? Maybe I should be a ____hero. I can’t believe I’ve never thought to ________ this before. We leave the ________, and head to my ________, because we don’t want anyone seeing us do it. She grows more excited the ________ we get, and she can barely contain herself by the ________ we reach my door. I roll my ________, and take a kitchen ________ out of the ________. I hand it to ________, and before I can lay down some ________ rules, she slides the ________ across my ________. It ________. I don’t know what I ________ was going to ________, but not this. This hurts. This is what ________ feels like? ________ feel this all the time? I have to say that I’m not a fan. She seems even more ________ than me, and that’s saying a lot, because this is my first ________ ever. I tell her it’s okay, that we can ________ it up, but she’s watching the ________ flow out of my ________, and she can’t handle it. She desperately tries to cover it up with a paper ________, but it soaks through, so she grabs another, and another. Then she uses a ________ towel, but it’s no good either. She calls ________ services, but I don’t think they’re going to make it here in time. I don’t know how much blood the human ________ is meant to hold, because of course, that’s not something I’ve ever considered before, but this looks about that amount. The ________ is drenched in a matter of minutes, as is much of my living room ________. She apologizes, and tells me she was ________ about everything. I still don’t understand what’s happening. Is this why I’ve never been ________ until now? Am I actually more susceptible to injury then other ________, and some unseen force has simply been protecting me this ________ time? I’ve never just not been hurt before, but I’ve never gotten close. I never fell off my ________, or ran into a ________ ________. This must be why. Something out there has been guid____ me through life just so this very thing wouldn’t happen, and now I’ve gone and ________ it. The last drop of blood leaks out of the unstoppable cut, and the world turns black.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Microstory 1539: The Case for Skipping College

I did not like ________, so I’m not sure why I’m being asked to attend ________, let alone speak to my ________ class about some nonsense or ________. I wasn’t bullied, or ________, but I was always very ________. The subject ________ never mattered to me, and I barely ever tried. You can actually make pretty good ________ as a car ________. Some treat it as this really ____y job you have to get if you’re not ________, but that is not ________. First of all, you do ________ have to be educated; it’s just the kind you’re not going to get from ________ school. Sure, some ________ have special programs, but that takes up a lot of ________, and costs ________. It’s much easier to ________ by having a car—preferably a really old and beat up ________ that needs a lot of ________—and working on it on your ________. I could not convince my ________ to let me opt out of college, but I’m doing it ________, so they’ve pretty much disowned me. They’re only here ________ because they’re hoping ________ across this stage is somehow going to magically change my ________. It’s not. I’m not going to spend ________ years and thousands of ________on a waste of ________. It’s 20__, we don’t have to do this stuff anymore. Plenty of ________ don’t go to ________, and they lead very ________ lives. Not ________ can be the CEO of a multinational ________, and it’s foolish to dig yourself into a mountain of ________ just on the fraction of a ________ chance that it all comes ________ for you. I choose to be ____istic, and I won’t ________. Don’t worry, I’m not going to say any of this during my ________ speech. I just have to get it out so it doesn’t weigh on me. The ________ is that I don’t care about any of ________, or any of these ________, and nor do ________ care about ________. I was only asked to speak because I managed to ________ up the highest number of ________ service hours. I did it on my own, and didn’t tell my ________ in the hopes that she would have me recognized. I was just trying to explain why I never got into ________ or other after school ________, because I was too busy. I don’t know how to talk about ________, or the things that I ________. I was just trying to ________, and the way I see it, getting ________ for it publicly defeats a lot of the reason I do it. So, what do you ________? What should I tell these numbnuts that’s both what they want to ________, and what still lets me stay true to ________?

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Microstory 1538: Lost at Sea

I’m lost at ________, and I don’t know how I got ________. The last thing I ________, I was trying to wake ________, only able to catch ________ of a ceiling passing by. ________ must have been wheeling me down the ________ on a gurney. Before that, I was just ________ my own business at the ________ shop across the street from my ________ building. I don’t know if I was ________, or rescued, but whatever these people’s reasons, something seems to have gone ________. I saw fire on the ________, and dark shapes in the darkness. It was hard to tell where the ship ended, and the sky began, if it was a ________ I was seeing at all. I’m sure it was, but what do I ________? I’m dehydrated and starving, but at least I’m not ________, presumably because I slept pretty much all the ________ here. I look ________, and scan the horizon, hoping to catch ________ of land, or some other survivor, if only so we don’t have to ________ out here alone. Even if it’s one of my captors, it would be ________; they might be ________ to give me some answers. There is nothing, and no one. I mean, all I see is ________; not even one piece of debris. It all sank or ____ed away by the time the ________ came up. The ocean is so still, and so ________, I feel like I can see the curvature of ________. I lie ________ and watch the clouds go by ________, like ceiling tiles in a strange ________. I am acutely aware of the passage of ________. My ________ and hunger grow worse with each passing ________. An hour, another hour, two more. Several more after that, and then half a ________. The sun does not disappear. It does not even ________. It’s stuck in the ________ as much as I’m trapped on this ________. I think at any ________ that I should ________ up and discover this is nothing ________ than a ________, but that never happens. Perhaps a ____ulation? The ceiling ________ belonged to a virtual ________ company. Yeah, that must be the ________, right? I call out to the simulation ________, begging them to let me out. I don’t want to ________ anymore, or they’ve made their ________, or they’ve learned something about how people react to their ________. I don’t know, I’m just ________. Desperate for anything that ends this ________. My skin is ________ and peeling, and may even be bubbling. This all feels pretty ________ to me, and the virtual reality angle seems a little unlikely, even though being ________ abducted for no clear reason, and then ________ surviving a sinking ________, also seems unlikely. After another two ________ come and go, with no end to the sun’s harsh death rays, I start to ________ slipping off this ________, and letting the water fill my ________. I recall ________with similar premises. The hero always survives—or at least one of them does, if there’s ________ than one—and they move on with their ________. This is not a ________, and I am not a ________. I don’t die, though. The sun keeps ________ me, and I keep ________ here, and the ________ barely ever moves. After a few weeks of this, I realize that the reason I can’t ________ is because I already have. And I can’t ________ through the water either, because my ________ just won’t go that way. This is just my own ________ hell, and it will never end.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Microstory 1537: Grave Error

I’ve always loved going to ________, and in fact ________ to when I’m feeling ________ from work. They make me ________ calm because of how remote they are. Even the ones they ________ inside the ________ seem distant from ________ else, as if crossing through that ________ puts me in a different ________ altogether. I suppose I could just go ________ through nature, like the ________, or ________ ________, because it’s not like I ________ this fascination with ________. Then again, maybe I do, because I do like ________ the names on the tomb____, and especially the ________. I like looking for the ________ grave in the ________, and the most ________ life spans. I guess I can’t say that I ________ it; more like it’s a compulsion. I want to ________ who the youngest person is in ________, and who the ________ is. I saw one a few ________ back where the ________ date was the same as the ________ date. What ________ there? I mean, I ________ what happened ________. But how did the ________ react, and what became of ________ afterwards? It ________ have been heart____, I don’t know what I would have done if I were a ________ of that ________. The oldest ________ I’ve ever found up until ________ was a hundred and ________ years old. I can’t ________ that either, seeing all your ________ ones die as you go ________. I did a ________ research into her and her ________. All five of her ________ passed before her, and all but ________ were pretty old at the time. No one would have scoffed at their ages, but she ________ outlived them, and that must have been pretty ________. Now I’ve found someone who appears to be so much ________ than that, and I don’t know if I can ________ it. This guy’s marker reads ________ 1812 to ________ 1979. That is a hundred and sixty-seven ________. I mean, come on. The marker itself looks ________, so I’m thinking it has to be some kind of prank. I lift up on it, as ________ as that sounds, because I figure if it’s ________, it won’t be stuck in the ________ very well. The marker does move, but not because it hasn’t been ________ for long, but because it’s some kind of switch. The ________ where the grave ought to be ________ over like a trap ________, revealing a ________. A small group of ________ are sitting around a ________. They look up at me, unsurprised by my arrival. “Welcome,” one of them says. Now that you’ve found this ________, you must join us. Or ________.”

Monday, January 11, 2021

Microstory 1536: Talking Animals

This was probably the best ________ of my life, and that’s saying a ________, because I have had a lot of ________ great ________. My life is ________; I don’t let things get me ________, and I don’t suffer ________ who want to make me work too ________, or get ________. I was sitting on the ________ in my backyard when a little ________ came up to talk to ________. And I don’t mean that proverbially. He ________ started talking to me, as if we ________ the same language. It ________ English—in fact, I couldn’t tell ________ what it was—but it was absolutely a complex ________. I could make out separate words, and there were even a ________ cognates in there like ________, ________, and ________. Things seemed to be going ________. We were using ________ gestures to get our respective points ________, and picking up a few words here and ________, just based on ________ context. He appeared to be enjoying the ________. I was trying to hide how ________ I thought this was, for obvious reasons. I didn't know that ________ could talk, but I’ve always ____ed to * with ____s. I've been so ________ curious what they're ____ing about, how ________ they are, and most importantly, what they ________ of humans. I am no linguistic ________, but I did study it in ________, and this is a ________ opportunity. I try to work with ________, so we can have a better understanding of each ________, but I know I’m going to need some ________. I try to convey this to ________; that I’m going to need to contact a real ________ to help us, but he freaks ________. He starts ________ faster than he was before, and I stop being ________ to tell the separation between words or ideas. Then he ________ up to attack me, and I’m forced to ________ back. That’s why I’m here, doc. This isn’t just  any ol’ ________ that could be put down. You have to ________ him. He might be unique.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Monday, July 22, 2137

Amaranti went through the shatter portal first, along with their bug alien prisoner of war. Angela went through next, followed by Mateo. The punching guy took up the rear, in case the portal closed on them, and he had to create another one. They all apparently made it through just in time. The five of them were now standing on a moon in another universe. A ship was destined to come retrieve them at some point, but scheduling anything at a certain time was difficult when accounting for multiverse travel, since different universes ran on different timestreams. This rock wasn’t uninhabitable, but the atmosphere was a little thin, and not suitable for long-term survival. They got themselves into an outpost, where they found a little jail cell, enough supplies to last months, and breathing apparatuses, which just helped them get enough oxygen to be more comfortable. They reiterated that they would get them to July 22, 2137, but that Mateo’s best chance of getting this thing out of his neck was here.
Amaranti was hesitant to explain who it was they were, and what their mission was. Mateo didn’t care for any specifics, but they were evidently fighting an enemy that was well aware of the world of salmon and choosers, and he needed to know more about that. The other guy, Limerick pointed out that Mateo was clearly not completely oblivious to how the bulkverse worked, and their contact protocols did not bar them from reading him into the situation. Those secrets were mostly there to protect people who had only ever seen a little corner of their own universe. Mateo, on the other hand, had been to many other universes, perhaps even more than these two had. When he told them that, they were quite surprised, and flatteringly impressed. Their excitement grew when he added that his mission involved assassinating eight alternate versions of Adolf Hitler. There was clearly no issue when it came to telling Mateo about the war.
“They’re called the Ochivari,” Amaranti began. “They’re the basic bitch race of the bulkverse. Different factions have different exact motivations, but one thing they all have in common is that they want to destroy all evolved life, everywhere.
“It’s more than that,” Limerick continued. “They want to kill anything that impacts their environment too much. On my world, we have a species called beavers. They build these things called dams—”
“We know what beavers are,” Mateo interrupted.
“Well, that’s apparently enough to make the Ochivari try to wipe them out. They think they’re protecting the plantlife, and little critters that keep more to themselves. Birds build nests, that seems to be okay, and bees actually spread plants, so that’s great. Ants are fine, as are snakes. Humans, beavers, meerkats; they all just do too much to the planets they live on. We’re obviously the worst offenders, which is why they focus so heavily on us.”
“Beavers are a keynote species,” Angela pointed out. “They actually help the environment.”
“We don’t know if the Ochivari don’t realize that, or if they simply don’t see it that way. They just go in and try to kill anything that alters the ecosystem to a high enough degree.”
“Why have I not heard of them before?” Mateo asked.
“Beavers are never going to change,” Amaranti said. “They’ll keep building dams until evolution tells them not to. There are, however, based on what little evidence we’ve been able to find, some human cultures that have abandoned their old ways, or otherwise improved. They eventually develop technology that allows them to restore their planet’s wildlife, and stay out of its way. The Ochivari leave these worlds alone.”
Mateo recognized what they were talking about. People were already living in megastructures that avoided damaging large swathes of land by going more vertical. There were plans to take this further, and start hanging all of their structures from orbit, so they never had to touch the ground at all. “We do that on our version of Earth.”
“Exactly,” Amaranti agreed. “That’s why those two were there. They were surveying your Earth, and tracking your development. They have a large presence in your universe, because of your multiple timelines. Normally, they can just jump to the future, and find out how the people there end up progressing. It’s a lot different for you, they’re not sure how to handle it.”
“We were sent to capture one, and kill all others,” Limerick said.
“Like them,” Angela noted.
“How’s that?” Limerick questioned.
“You kill the Ochivari like they kill us,” Angela went on.
“That’s what war is, buddy.”
“Has anyone tried talking to them?” Angela suggested.
Limerick was shockingly offended by this. “You want us to do what!”
“Calm down,” Amaranti told him. She turned back to Angela. “It wouldn’t matter. If we went back to the Ochivari’s homeworld of Worlon—back to before they did any of this—we could conceivably convince them not to attack us. We could stop them before they decided to become what they become. It might work. However, it would create a new timeline, and as great as that sounds, the old timeline still existed. As we said before, different universes have completely different timestreams. When you left your Earth, it was July 21, 2136, but that’s only by your calendar. It’s the sixteenth century on this moon, according to a different calendar. And it’s not time travel. When you cross the boundary of one universe, you may enter another at any point in time, in any reality. Because metatime, which is time that exists outside of any universe, is not a temporal dimension, but a spatial dimension. There has been at least one reality where the Ochivari left their universe, and that can’t be undone, because as soon as they stepped out, they started experiencing metatime, and were no longer beholden to the logic of serial causality.”
Angela looked at the floor and nodded. “How do the Ochivari come to the ability to travel this bulkverse, as you call it? They build a ship, or something?”
“They’re born with the ability to do it,” Limerick explained. “It’s...it’s hard on them, though. Their method is extremely unpleasant, which I find quite satisfying.”
“They’re kind of like him,” Amaranti added.
“No, not like me!” he fought.
Amaranti pursed her lips, and nodded, actively avoiding making eye contact with Limerick.
Angela was still nodding, theoretically on to a great idea. “So they’ll become bulk travelers no matter what.”
“Yes,” Amaranti said, not seeing the purpose of this line of questioning.
Angela smiled. “Then why don’t you create an alternate reality where the Ochivari are good...and ask them to fight with you?”
Amaranti and Limerick didn’t know what to think of this suggestion. They had clearly never thought of it themselves. Before they could agree with her, or not, the door swung open. A man came through with a comforting smile on his face. “Y’all need transport? Oh, looks like we have a couple new recruits here.”
“We rescued them,” Amaranti replied. “They’re not recruits. One of them requires medical attention, and then we have to get them to their version of July 22, 2137.”
“Not yet,” the man said. “They’re not recruits yet. Hi, my name is Chase Palmer. Let’s get you home.” He offered his hand. Angela took it.
Chase led them out of the outpost, and about a kilometer away to a clearing, where a spaceship was waiting for them. They embarked, and strapped themselves in. “Take us up, Cassie. Head for Torosia.”
“Sure thing,” the pilot, Cassie said. She flew the craft up out of the atmosphere, but they didn’t go far before something changed. Mateo’s heart sank quickly, before springing back up to its place in his chest. Through the viewports, they could see an ocean of beautiful colors, but all of them shades of orange. Mateo guessed it to be some form of faster-than-light travel.
In about an hour, they were at their destination, so Cassie dropped them out of FTL, and landed on a planet that was presumably called Torosia. There, Mateo went under surgery to have the pattern suppression patch removed from the back of his neck. It was reportedly fairly easy to do, but wasn’t something he could have handled on his own. He was given the greenlight to travel after a few hours of rest, just to make sure nothing went wrong. Limerick had to go off on some other mission, so he wasn’t able to transport them back to their home universe. But that was okay, because he wasn’t the only person capable of doing it. A young woman in a fancy futuristic vacuum suit showed up wielding a knife. She introduced herself as Zoey Attar, which was a name Mateo immediately recognized. She was present at his wedding with Leona, and had helped flower girl and ring bear, little Dar’cy Matigaris find the rings after the latter accidentally mixed them up with the flower petals.
Zoey used her knife to tear a hole in the spacetime continuum, which they crawled through to get back to their universe. She did not follow them through, though, evidently confident that they were in the right place at the right time. They were standing at the top of a hill, and since they didn’t have any clue where they were meant to go, they just sat down and waited, spending the time tearing apart blades of grass, and talking about their lives. A few hours later, the world around them blinked away, leaving them seemingly at the same place, but in a different reality. Leona, Sanaa, Jeremy, Kallias, and Aeolia were trekking up the hill, headed right for them.
“Oh, thank God,” Leona said. “I was hoping it would be you.”
“We were all hoping that,” Sanaa corrected.
“Where have you been?” Kallias asked.
“We’ll tell you all about it. But first, how did the transition go last year?”
“It was fine,” Jeremy answered. “It’s probably good you weren’t there. That lunar hermit did not like being around people. Fortunately, he couldn’t see Bran or Aeolia, because the three of us were stressful enough.”
“The lunar hermit?” Angela questioned. If the transition was on the moon, why did the map send us to the Mariana trench?”
“The trench was two days ago,” Leona explained.
“It’s not Monday, July 22, 2138?” Mateo asked for clarification. “We were told very specifically that we would be delivered right to you.”
“Whoever you’re talking about overshot their target,” Aeolia said. “It’s 2138 now.”
“Ah. I guess that’s not that bad.” But then Mateo instinctually reached up to massage his neck, having felt a sharp pain back there.
“Are you okay?”
“I don’t know.” He saw the world around him change colors, like two dozen lamp filters flashing in front of his eyes, which started feeling heavy. Then he fell down and passed out.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Exemption Act: Necessary Evil (Part II)

The new team continued talking, asking questions, and arguing. Freya was used to being conscripted for missions, and fighting for causes she didn’t know anything about. It was just part of her life, so even though she wasn’t sure she wanted to do this, it was no longer in her nature to try to get out of it. These other people had no such experiences. They were polite and careful, but didn’t just agree to this blindly. If there was one thing Freya learned about the Maramon, it was that they weren’t very cunning, and they did not play the long game. If one of them approached you, and asked for your help, they were probably—honestly—one of the good ones, and knew that you were good too. Good Maramon like Khuweka were rare, and seemed to only become that way after spending time with decent human beings, but they were not raised as such. They developed in a universe that was literally smaller than most, and suffered a lack of resources beyond most people’s conceptions. They were angry and spiteful, and they only ever showed potential for change on the individual level, when they were removed from society, and their people’s bizarre worldview.
As one might expect, the ethicist, Professor Spellmeyer was the hardest to convince, while Limerick was the easiest. He didn’t know anything about the Ochivari, but he deliberately chose to think of them as insects, rather than insectoids, which would make wiping them out less like genocide, and more like large scale pest control. The Ochivari were somehow dragonfly-based, but they were not dragonflies, and did not evolve from them. According to what little data people were able to gather on them, their skin looked like that of a bug’s, but it was not an exoskeleton, and they were shaped like humans, complete with arms, legs, fingers, and toes. Their wings were not useless, but they did not allow them to fly. They used them in battle, to blow gusts of winds at their opponent, or to dodge attacks. They were very fragile, however, and even though damaging one didn’t cause too terribly much pain for the victim, they weren’t likely to heal, and doing so did lessen any advantage they had.
Freya called all this the source variant, which was a term one of her friends coined to refer to a subspecies that developed on an alien planet. They originally came from human DNA, which was shipped across the galaxy, and seeded on other habitable worlds. So they came from humans, but each unique environment shaped each unique population in unique ways. By being exposed to a different atmospheric composition, being fed different foods, and possibly by interstellar radiation, their genetic make-up was transformed into something different; probably always humanoid, but rarely—if ever—passably human. Freya and Zektene spent time on a planet with two of these source variants. The Orothsew were human-based, and the Gondilak Maramon-based. It was kind of a coincidence that both parent species chose to seed life on the same planet, except it wasn’t that far-fetched, because there were a finite number of hospitable worlds available, and humans wanted to live everywhere they possibly could.
The Ochivari were created in the same way as the Orothsew, but on a second planet that they called Worlon. One of them came to Orolak once, intending to bring death and destruction to all inhabitants. When Freya and Zek left, the people they left behind were working on defending Orolak from this threat. The two of them made it their responsibility to go on the offense, so while they weren’t happy about the temporal genocide, it would accomplish what they set out do, and bonus, they weren’t going to have to do it alone.
The engineer, Carbrey was either massaging his eyes, or trying to pluck them out with his fingers. He was not being gentle, because this was stressing him out so much. “Let me get this straight. You want me to build a spaceship from scratch that can travel at superluminal speeds. We don’t have that on my Earth.” He was more concerned with the logistics than the ethics, which was fine because they probably needed a break from the intense debate.
“Well, you won’t have to build it from nothing,” Khuweka clarified. “The humans in this time period have interstellar ship technology today. They’re just lacking our speed requirements, which I will procure from The Shortlist. I just don’t want to take a preexisting ship, because we would have to steal it.”
“What is the Shortlist?” Limerick asked, interested in it because it sounded ominous and cool. Freya didn’t know either.
“The Shortlist is a group of incredibly bright and busy women who are responsible for time travel technology in this universe,” Khuweka explained. “Most of the galaxy is not allowed to have their technology, because it would screw things up. If we want the specifications of the reframe engine, we will have to put in a request to them. Or at least, we might. I’ll contact the inventor first. She may be able to sign off on it without a full council meeting.”
“Okay,” Zek said, “who is this inventor, and how do we get in touch with her?”
“Her name is Hokusai Gimura,” Khuweka revealed.
“Oh, we know her,” Freya realized. “She’s the one trying to protect Orolak from the Ochivari.”
“Yes,” Khuweka began. “While that won’t happen for another two thousand some odd years, I believe the Hokusai living on the Earth at the moment has already experienced that in her personal timeline. I’m not sure, though, so careful what you say.”
“She’s on Earth right now?” Zek asked.
“Yes,” Khuweka began, “living alone on the beach in a place formerly known as Dounreay, United Kingdom.”
“She’s alone?” Freya pressed. “Does she want visitors?”
“If she wants us to leave, we’ll leave, and if we have to do that, we’ll try to reach the Shortlist, and perhaps a younger Madam Gimura will be more agreeable. For now, Miss Cormanu, could you please teleport us to that location?”
“Dounreay?”
“Dounreay.”
“I can only take two by two,” Zek explained.
“That’s fine.
They made the trip halfway across the globe, and ended up on the shore of the North Atlantic Ocean. A little hut had been erected several meters away, really just large enough for one person; two, if they were fine being close to each other. Someone was lounging back in a chair on the approximation of a front porch. They approached, and found her to be Hokusai Gimura, but a much, much older version of her.
“Madam Gimura,” Khuweka greeted her. “My name is Khuweka Kadrioza. You may also call me Keynote, if you’d like.”
“Just set it over there,” the old Hokusai said, haphazardly pointing to the ground beside her.
“Set what over here?”
Hokusai finally turned to look at who she was talking to, tipping her sunglasses down to get a better view. “Oh, I thought you were a...never mind. What can I help you with?”
“We were hoping to procure the plans for the reframe engine. I’m sure you have reserva—” Khuweka interrupted herself when she noticed Hokusai tapping on her wristband. “Umm...”
A flashcard popped out of the wristband. Hokusai sighed as she removed the card from its slot, and dropped it into Khuweka’s hand. “There ya go.”
“You don’t wanna know what we’re gonna use it for? I have this whole speech about necessary evil.”
“I don’t give a shit anymore. I’m tired.”
“We’re sorry to have bothered you,” Freya jumped in.
Now Hokusai perked up. “Madam Einarsson?”
“Miss,” Freya corrected. “Never married.”
“Oh, you’re the other one, that’s right. Anywho, I have a very busy day of not engineering any inventions. You may stay if it strikes your fancy, but when the sunglasses go on, the mouth goes off, ya dig?”
Khuweka carefully dropped the flashcard into Carbrey’s hand, like it was radioactive. “Maybe someday. You take care of yourself, Madam Gimura.”
Hokusai just nodded her head. She must have been through a lot since Freya last saw her. Time travel will do that to you, and who knew who she lost along the way? Her wife, Loa was conspicuously missing.
“We’ll be on this planet for the next two years or so,” Freya told her after the rest of the group had started walking back down the beach, even though they could teleport from anywhere. “I don’t have a phone number or anything, though...”
“I won’t need anything,” Hokusai promised. “Thanks for the sentiment.”
Freya just kept watching her with a sad panda face, even as Zektene started transporting the team back to home base.
“Really, I’m fine. Don’t you worry about me. Just kill those dragonfly mother fuckers. Kill them all.” So she already knew.
Zek offered to leave Freya there, so she could have a deeper conversation with Hokusai, but they all knew that wasn’t what Hokusai wanted. They just went back to where they were, an underground facility in what was once called Kansas.
They watched as Carbrey inserted the flashcard into the reader, and opened up the files. It took him a moment to get used to the system. Different universe, different way to use computers. He picked it up pretty quickly, and started looking over the data that Hokusai had given them. “Hmm.”
“What?” Khuweka asked.
“No, it’s just...it’s an interesting way to look at faster-than-light travel. I mean it’s just warp speed, but the math works out a lot easier this way. Anyone with a second-level higher degree would be able to decipher this, except...”
“Except what?” Limerick asked.
“I don’t know what this thing is.” Carbrey pointed at the screen.
“Oh, that’s the cylicone,” Khuweka started to explain. “Vital to any time tech. It’s what makes it work, and why a post-grad has no chance of stumbling upon the secret.”
“People aren’t allowed to know about this?” Carbrey questioned.
“Time travelers only,” Freya answered.
“For now,” Khuweka added cryptically. “Can you do it? This world has nanotechnology and ninety-nine automation. All you need to do is make sure everything runs smoothly. Two years should be no problem, but if we don’t make that goal, we really will have to go back in time. I don’t want that seed plate landing on Worlon, and so much as starting to create the Ochivari.”
Carbrey took in a breath, and looked back at the data. “I don’t know how your tech works, so there will be a learning curve. I can’t promise two years just because of that. I’ll go as fast as I can, though.”
“I think you can do it,” Khuweka said confidently. “Like I said, it’s all automated. Spaceships aren’t run by pilots, or even astronauts. They’re run by AI, regulated by engineers, like yourself.”
“All right,” Carbrey said. He went back to the computer.
“What are we going to do for the next two years?” Limerick asked as the group was stepping away to give their engineer some space.
“Hopefully we’ll be discussing this matter further,” Andraste recommended. “It’s fine he starts working on that thing, but we are nowhere near done yet.”
Khuweka was trying very hard not to roll her eyes. “Very well, Professor Spellmeyer. Let’s do an exercise called Devil’s Advocate. Professor, since you’re so adamantly opposed to this idea—”
“That’s not what I’m doing here,” Andraste argued.
“How do you mean?”
“I’m not opposed to the idea,” Andraste continued. “I just want to make sure you’ve considered the ramifications of your choices. Ethicists don’t take sides. We provide facts, or provide ways of determining facts.”
“Well, is anyone actually opposed?” Khuweka opened up the floor. “The Devil’s Advocate exercise only works when someone wants to do it, and someone doesn’t, so they can switch places, and argue each other’s position.” She waited for someone to say something, but everything they had heard about the Ochivari, and what they had done, had seemed to erase any true reservations they had. Andraste would probably always be wary—as would peaceable healer, Landis—even after the mission was over, but that didn’t mean they weren’t going to go through with it. “Okay,” Khuweka said with an air of finality. “We will continue to refine our methods, and contemplate the ethics, but I think it’s time we agree that this is happening, in one form or another. For now, let me introduce you to this fun little game I found out about called RPS-1o1 Plus.”

Friday, January 8, 2021

Microstory 1535: Unpopular Favorite Foods

Anyone who knows me well enough knows that my favorite food is ________. It’s a very unpopular favorite food to have, and everyone I’ve told this to has been very grossed out about it. I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe my mother ate ________ a lot while I was in the womb, or gave it to me early on. Or maybe my subconsciousness is called back to a particularly happy time in my life when I just so happened to be eating ________. It’s not all that hard to find, but unlike really popular favorites, like ________, ________, or ________, they don’t make restaurants dedicated to  ________. Nor should they, it would be weird, and I would be the only customer, at least in the area. Some people might go there, just to give  ________ a try, but it would quickly go out of business. It did give me an idea, though, this weird love of mine. What if someone created a restaurant that was specifically designed to appeal to unusual tastes. I looked up online what foods people hate the most, thinking I had a pretty good idea what I would find there, like  ________,  ________, and  ________. I ended up being wrong about  ________, but not  ________ or  ________. There were a lot of things on there that I would never have thought. Apparently, people have extremely strong feelings about  ________ and  ________. They also dislike  ________ when mixed with  ________, though they seem to be okay with them as long as they’re kept separate. People even seem to really like ________ when it’s instead mixed with ________. I once watched a show where a character discovered he liked  ________ and ________, and the joke was that it was an odd pairing, but there have to be people out there who like it, just like him. There are, after all, seven and a half billion people, or so. So what if someone did that? Made a restaurant just for the weirdos like me? You wouldn’t have to eat anything you didn’t want, but you would be encouraged to try other people’s odd favorites. If you’re the one person who likes  ________, and you’re friend is the one who likes ________, you could switch, just for the meal. It might even make you more empathetic to that person, or in general, and that can’t be a bad thing. This is just an idea that’s rolling around in my brain. It might work better as a food truck, or a ghost kitchen, I don’t know. I know, as a loan officer, you’re expecting me to come in with a business plan, and a full list of terrible foods, like ________. I have some. You probably don’t even realize how many people dislike  ________, or how many people actually like  ________. But I already have a full time job, so I didn’t want to spend too much time on this if you think it’ll be a terrible idea. I just want you to tell me, in your professional opinion, if you think this is worth anyone’s trouble, including mine. Why don’t you start by telling me what your favorite food is, and what food you like that most people don’t?