Thursday, February 21, 2019

Microstory 1044: Louis

No, please just call me Louis. My parents named each of their children after the cities they were born in. It goes Dallas, Chicago, then me, and finally Colton. You have no idea what it took for the three of the older kids to convince them that they shouldn’t spell it exactly like Coaltown. It’s bad enough my baby sister is walking around with what’s traditionally a boy’s name, but to have it spelled exactly like the name of the town? They would have named her the full Blast City had Dallas not stuffed my mom in the car, and sped down the highway to the nearest place that was at least moderately acceptable. She’s pregnant again, so we’ve already picked out a nice, lovely secret hospital in the great city of Jordan. It’s about two hours away, but we think we can make it, even if we have to get a police escort from Sallie’s brother. That’s what we had to do last time. Or rather, we started a little high speed chase, until Chicago called him up in real time, and explained why we were driving so fast. So yes, technically my name is Saint Louis, but you can imagine how much trouble that can cause me. I’m not eighteen years old yet, but the very day I turn, I’m going to the courthouse and getting this changed. Those two insisted on using my full name on all of my official documents, so it’s kind of this huge joke all around the school. Every time a new teacher comes on board, I have to explain myself. Most of them are pretty good at accommodating me, but there was one substitute who absolutely refused to call me by what I wanted. What was on the list, was on the list, and it could not be altered. That was a tangent, I know. Though, can it be a tangent if that’s the first thing I started talking about? Yeah, probably still. You’re here for Viola, who had a lovely name, by the way. It just rolls of the tongue, doesn’t it? Viola Woods. Viola Woods. If I thought I could get away with it, I might have considered changing mine to that. There I go again getting off topic, so let’s just jump right into it. Viola, she taught me how to swim, which is kind of ironic, given how she died, but not really. Like I said, my parents are crazy. They think they’re the best caretakers in the world, but I would probably be dead ten times over by now, if not for Dallas and Chicago. Oh, that’s a really insensitive thing to say in this situation, I’m sorry. But still, because I was raised by my brothers, there was no way for me to legitimately learn how to swim. They didn’t have time to do it, and my parents don’t actually know themselves, because they don’t think it’s natural. I don’t know what kind of school they attended that taught them how to be hippies, but humans have had an extremely long relationship with water. Anyway, even though we were the same age, Viola took me out to Masters Lake when we were in elementary school, and gave me lessons every day for two weeks, until I was comfortable enough to go off on my own. And that was pretty much all the time we spent together. They should make a TV show about us; call it The Adventures of Saint Louis and Angel Viola.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Microstory 1043: Mollie

Thanks for doing this over the phone, Miss...what was your name again? Alma? I was still going to school when Viola died, but I had kind of totally checked out by then. I worked really hard in school, so that I could graduate a semester early, but what really gave me the edge was being homeschooled until freshman year. You see, it’s really hard to determine what kind of classes I’ve already theoretically passed, and where I need improvement. So when I finally started at public school, there were probably some credits that I hadn’t truly earned. I shouldn’t say probably. Possibly is a better word, because we don’t really know for sure. Don’t get the wrong idea, though. I got near-perfect grades for the years once I was coming here, and I was accepted into college fair and square. I will say this, though, I’m not sure I would have gotten in without Viola’s help. One subject I’ve always struggled in was math. The thing about homeschooling is that, just because you want to shelter your kids from the world, doesn’t mean you can provide them with the best learning environment. Sure, I had the advantage with a scientist mother, and economic historian father, but there were just some things I was missing. Don’t tell my parents I said that, though. I practically had to submit an application to them just to go to a real high school. Anyway, even with a literal genius trying to teach me mathematics, I can’t wrap my brain around it. I ended up resigning myself to the fact that I’ll never be the next Pythagoras, and for a couple years, I thought that was okay. But then for my junior year, I had the opportunity to take a more advanced class, or just play it safe, like I always had. Though Viola and I hadn’t spoken much, because I was hardly a member of society at the time, she urged me to take the harder class. I mean, she was heavily invested in my future, and I had no clue why. I also had no reason to actually follow her advice, because at the time, I was considering a career in social work. It wasn’t until my last semester that I realized that I was falling in love with psychology. In particular, I want to be on the research side of the field, which requires a not insignificant mathematical background. I might have been able to get by without those last two classes, but I would have been behind, and it probably gives me another advantage when I’m applying for grad school in a few years. I’m on track to graduating in just three years, and I owe it all to Viola, who got this close to offering me money to take her advice. Looking back, she had talked about it like something like this was going to happen, rather than her just wanting me to take risks, or something. How could she have known?

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Microstory 1042: Hattie

I’m glad you and I can finally meet. While you work for the paper, I work for the yearbook, so the two of us are kind of born rivals, aren’t we? Both programs used to fall under the same department, headed by the journalism teacher, but the school decided to separate them, for no reason—or just to make things different, I guess. Or maybe they wanted us to have to operate out of the library, while you get an entire room. And they gave me the crappiest camera to work with. See? This is what they forced on me, look how blurry that is. I ended up just using my own. Back to your questions, though, I had lots of encounters with Viola, but I’m not sure any one of them really stands out to me. I suppose I saw her more often than she saw me. I spend a lot of time walking around with my invisibility camera, taking pictures of other people without them realizing I’m even there. I first noticed my power to get close to people without being noticed when I was a child. My parents are huge partiers, at places unfit for a child. You would think an eight-year-old girl would stand out, but I was able to walk around without anybody paying me any mind. My friend, Mollie would later tell me all those adults were on drugs, but that doesn’t explain why I can be so sneaky around school. If I were to lay out every photo I and my team took of any one person, I could probably piece together almost their entire life story. I’ve already done most of that with Viola, at the request of Hope, but I haven’t had time to analyze the data. I can tell you that she was not a normal person. She was never in two places at once, or anything, but she was sure good at taking the shortest route from one place to another. Of course, people do that all the time, but she would sometimes show up with no logical reason, yet it was the perfect place for her. She could go from magic club, straight to Eugene’s locker, to leave him a note seconds before he got there. Then she could have a quick tutoring session with Raymond, and be at the pool hall with Finley by five. This may all just sound like a crazy schedule, but not supernatural, but like I said, I haven’t really looked at the pictures yet. I would be wildly interested in your finished interviews, though. The raw ones; not the truncated versions you’ll be releasing to the public. There was something about her; she knew things about people she shouldn’t, and she was able to help them in ways no one should have. I think you and I should collaborate, Alma. Don’t answer yet, just think about it. We’ll see each other tomorrow.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Microstory 1041: Archie

Most people think that my full name is Archibald, and because it’s kind of an antiquated name, my peers like to use it instead. My real name is actually Archer, which my parents desperately want me to be using instead, but then I’m constantly fighting this belief that I’m good at archery. Archery isn’t the last thing I would be doing, but I’m not interested in sports, and I don’t want anything to distract from my true message. I’m an active and healthy person, but my primary concern is promoting a well-balanced diet, and removing all the terrible things that the corporations put in our food. A lot of people probably don’t remember that I too ran for student body president, as a fourth candidate. Almost no one voted for me, though, because I was honest with my campaign promises, and they were not promises anyone wanted me to keep. When I started dating my girlfriend, Martha last year, I gave her my password to a certain movie and television library, because she isn’t eighteen yet. She’s stopped having very much time for it, but her viewing habits are still impacting my recommendations. She’s obsessed with learning, and finds documentaries to be the best source of her education, so I started seeing a lot of stuff on there that I wouldn’t normally watch. One of these such docs was about how corn is basically destroying the country. I won’t get into specifics here, because the topic needs its own monthly periodical, for Christ’s sake, but the takeaway is that there’s corn in everything, and the toxic waste it produces is harming the environment as much as fossil fuel. I ran my campaign on changing the way this school does business, and my fellow students either didn’t like it, or were totally indifferent. I wanted to overhaul our lunch menu, and get rid of all the magazines. Why would we get rid of magazines? Well, there’s corn in them too, which is insane. I mean, we shouldn’t be consuming so much paper anyway, because corn isn’t the only thing that’s causing us to head towards the apocalypse, but try telling that to a group of self-involved hormonal teens. Anyway, Viola was the only one who really paid attention to what I was saying, but she also realized that there was no way I would win. Instead of trying to support me, which probably would have been a waste of time, she modified her own campaign to better reflect the values that I was trying to push. As you know, she didn’t win either, and the both of us have always suspected this to be the reason, but that didn’t mean what she did was pointless. Though Riley ultimately won the election, people actually started listening to my warnings, and things are changing. The menu is still filled with tons of unhealthy ingredients, but there’s a lot less high fructose corn syrup than there was before you got here. You couldn’t walk ten meters without running into another soda machine, but they’re all gone now. I didn’t do that; Viola did, and the greatest sadness is that this revolution is only one of what could have been very many that she popularized. What other great change could she have inspired in this world if she hadn’t died so young? That’s what I wanna know.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: October 12, 2219

Many years ago, in another timeline, the powers that be gave Leona and Mateo the ability to survive space travel; a gift which remained with them in the new reality. Nowhere beyond a single star system could be accessed within the span of one day, but that didn’t mean they weren’t capable of reaching the stars using standard human technology. Instead of being returned to the same exact point in space—which didn’t ever exist, because everything’s location is based on its relative position to everything else, which is always in motion—they could come back to wherever they were in the vessel. This did not apply to just any vessel, though. It had to be moving away from some kind of orbital, so that they wouldn’t die by suddenly being exposed to the vacuum of space. If they were on a ship that was sitting on the surface of a planet, and that ship took off while they were gone, they would not be attached to it.
It was stupid of Leona to be on the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez when midnight central struck, because she had given Brooke and Sharice specific orders to leave her behind. The goal was to get the AOC to Gatewood, to save the Ansutahan human refugees, regardless of whether Leona could be there. They had apparently honored her wishes, which unfortunately meant Leona was now falling from more than two stories in the air. While she was plummeting to the ground inside of a Bungulan crater, two thoughts passed through her mind. Number one, it was so incredibly stupid of her to be sleeping in a grave chamber, knowing it likely wouldn’t still be there in October of 2219. Number two, also many years ago, she lost both her legs to an infection from an alien plant native to a planet she deemed Legolas. She managed to get back to Earth, however, where a group of fancy futuristic medical professionals essentially regrew them for her. She hadn’t really had much of an occasion to use them, but they were still significantly stronger than normal legs. At the last second, she flipped over, and landed right on her feet. It wasn’t completely painless, but she survived, mostly unharmed.
She looked around, just to make sure she couldn’t see the ship somewhere else, but it was nowhere to be found. Good, they had made it off the ground. Now the only question was whether they were doing okay en route. It was practically impossible to have a conversation from a relatively static planet to a ship moving at relativistic speeds. Though the trip was set to take a little more than eight years total, as observed by the passengers of the ship, less than six years will have passed. This discrepancy made communication reliant exclusively on delayed messaging, whether one was using a quantum messenger or not.
No longer with a ship to call home, Leona walked over to the building Sharice told her about, where the few Ansutahan were being held. She needed food, and that was the best place for her to find it at this time. Now that the AOC was on its way, she would soon be able to return to Dardius through the Halifax grave, but in case that didn’t work, it was prudent to secure resources here on Bungula. She was met with eerie silence when she walked into the habitat. Only then did she realize she hadn’t heard anything since she woke up. It was midnight central, yes, but the dome was meant to be operating under universal coordinated time, which was several hours later. There should have at least been some activity somewhere around here.
She kept moving through the corridor, until she reached the main common area of the Ansutahan habitat. The place was an absolute mess. Tables and chairs were strewn about the floor, and wires were exposed from the ceiling. There weren’t any burning fires, but it looked like there had been at one point. She didn’t see any dead bodies, but she did find Brooke and Sharice, whose bodies were both physically damaged, and powered down. Something bad had happened here, but she couldn’t make any assumptions without more information. She dragged them to the nearest charging port, repaired some of their more vital internal mechanisms, and had something to eat while she waited for them to wake up. Though there was still power to the habitat, there didn’t appear to be any computer terminals, probably because the Ansutahan would have little use for them.
A few hours later, Sharice’s eyes lit up, as her systems rebooted. “Sharice, Sharice. Do you know who I am?”
“Leona Gelen Delaney-Matic.”
“That’s good enough. Please run a summary diagnostic check on your systems.”
Sharice turned her eyeballs to the floor while her neural net synthesized the data. “All systems operating at, or above, minimal efficiency. No irreparable damage detected.” She turned her head when she noticed Brooke was slouched against the wall next to her. “Mom? Mom!”
“Hold on,” Leona tried to comfort her. “She’s still charging to minimal operating threshold. We’ll wait until then before we start getting worried.”
“What’s the date?” Sharice asked.
“October 12, 2219.”
“The AOC. Is it here?”
“It’s gone,” Leona said. “I thought you and your mom took it.”
Sharice shook her head. “No, I’m sure the Ansutahan did, if you didn’t see any evidence of its destruction. We underestimated their willpower. They started killing and destroying the Bungulans. I lost consciousness before I could know for sure, but it was only a matter of time before they tried to leave the surface. I know that not all of them made it.”
“Where are all the Bungulans?”
Sharice looked around the room, even though she knew she wouldn’t literally see anyone else. “The survivors must have escaped to Site Beta. That’s what I would do.”
Finally, Brooke’s eyes lit up as well, and she regained consciousness. She was far more panicked at first, but a cursory diagnostic test proved that she would survive too.
“Is there any way to find out where the Ansutahan took the Ocasio-Cortez, and who was on it, and whether Serif was one of them, and if the bridge is still active?” Leona asked. She was a physicist and computer expert, but she didn’t know everything she could have about the ins and outs of Bungula Colony Site Alpha.
Brooke nodded. “The telescope, if it was dormant, would have recorded a general view of the sky. If someone was studying a distant system at the time, however, then it might not have seen the vector. Either way, it’s not perfect, because the AOC could have changed directions later, or suffered a cataclysm.”
“Other than that,” Sharice added, “the colonists would probably know. I hesitate to ask them anything, though, as we have caused them so many problems since arriving. They owe us nothing.”
Leona nodded in agreement. “Then let’s hope the telescope data can tell us something.”
The three of them left the habitat, and headed for the observatory, which had been abandoned, just like the rest of the dome. Though they were hoping to avoid asking the colonists for help, they would have to be contacted at some point. If the surviving Ansutahan had stolen the AOC, that would leave Site Alpha free to be reclaimed by its rightful owners, and they needed to know that.
Brooke and Sharice interfaced with the database, to search for the right information, leaving Leona to twiddle her thumbs. She had gotten used to being the one who had to find out stuff like this, but now that she was walking around with bonafide androids, she was least qualified to help. Brooke was starting from January, which was when the second Ansutahan uprising took place, while Sharice started from yesterday, and worked her way backwards.
“I found it,” Brooke said. “February of this year.” She tilted her head as she sorted through the data. “They left. Traveling at...point-seven-five-c. Predicting a destination of...Barnard’s Star.”
Leona breathed a heavy sigh of relief.
“That’s not too surprising,” Sharice pointed out. “We had already calculated that trip. It would have been harder to calculate somewhere else.”
“True,” Brooke said, “but they would still need a good enough pilot to course correct.”
“Was there anyone there who could do that?” Leona asked.
“We don’t really know who survived, and who died in the firefight,” Brooke said. “But best case scenario...only kind of. The Ansutahan are not a space-faring race, because they don’t have very much space to fare in their home universe. Their ability to pilot the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is entirely reliant on the most intelligent of the passengers being able to improvise, or adequately study the manual.”
“So, we’ll just never know,” Leona lamented.
“You could,” Sharice offered. “You could jump back into that grave, and take that Nexus thing you were talking about to Gatewood. You should do that either way, so your husband doesn’t accept the arrival without having any clue what he’s dealing with.”
“That’s a good point,” Leona admitted. “But what will you do?”
“When I became an android,” Brooke began, “I lost a lot of what I was before, including my inability to experience nonlinear time. Still, I doubt the grave would work for me.”
“Besides,” Sharice said, “we have an obligation to stay here, and rebuild what we broke. We owe the colonists that much.”
“Are you sure?” Leona asked. “I could still wait. The ship won’t arrive at Gatewood for another nine...uh, days.”
“We’re sure,” Brooke said with a smile.
Sharice agreed. “I’m certain we’ll see you again.”
Leona said her goodbyes, packed some supplies, and walked up to the edge of the grave that Ramses dug. Then she fell back, and into it. When she climbed back out, Brooke and Sharice were still standing there, because Halifax had not come through this time.

Meanwhile, on Dardius, Mateo was living in a world still at war. Nonetheless, much had changed since last year. The good news was that the fighting was at a virtual standstill. While more quantum replications of the enemy continued to come through the Muster Twins,—as Ramses was calling the Muster Beacon and Muster Lighter collectively—Dardieti military might was increasing every day as well. It wasn’t something they thought they would ever need, being millions of lightyears from the nearest known civilization, but it was surprisingly easy to form from essentially nothing. Enough people with military experience had been rescued from the brink of death on Earth over the years, and while here, they had built a stable and harmonious global nation, capable of holding back any threat.
It wasn’t entirely clear what the Dardieti were meant to gain from Mateo claiming the planet as his own. It wasn’t like that was something the Freemarketeers were going to respect. At least that wasn’t what Mateo thought. But Ramses had a plan. He knew how to deal with these people, and Mateo’s coronation was only the beginning of that. True, if Mateo was to have anything to do with it, it would take years to fix this problem from everyone else’s perspective. But that didn’t mean they shouldn’t try. They would be locked in battle forever unless that found some advantage.
“Can we not call it a coronation, though?” Mateo asked politely.
The reality was that Ramses wasn’t really supposed to have gone on the mission to save Mateo on Tribulation Island last year. At the time, he was designated as a special advisor to the delegation, serving directly under one of the delegators himself. Since then, he was officially appointed as the Foreign Policy Advisor, to the other world delegator. Though the position had been included by its unknown mastermind in the initial political design that inspired the Dardieti government, it had never been used on the planet. These designs were originally intended for individual nations, who needed to communicate with separate civilizations, which was something Dardius as a whole had no use for until now. Any contact made back with Earth traditionally fell under the leadership of the Transportation and Citizenry Administrators, among a few others. Mateo was still trying to figure out the difference between an advisor, and an administrator, but he knew there was a difference. Ramses wasn’t responsible for policy, but instead made sure those policies were ethical and effective. Either way, he had led Mateo’s rescue mission out of a sense of duty.
“Seriously,” Mateo went on, “I don’t want to be king. I just want to fix this.”
“No one’s going to be calling you king,” Ramses assured him, “but they are going to look to you as a singular voice.”
“I thought that’s what the mediator did.”
Ramses stopped adjusting Mateo’s clothes for a second. “Let me explain this again. The government is broken up into two separate delegator groups, made up of advisors. They don’t report to the mediator, but receive guidance from her. She’s there as a go-between, so the two delegators don’t suffer from biases by interacting with each other too much. The idea is if they’re each asked to make a decision about something, and they come to a consensus without ever even talking to each other, it hopefully means it’s a good decision. The deputy delegator then relays whatever decisions they make to the administration board, who enact changes to their respective departments, as necessary.
“But once we came up with this system of checks and balances, the people were worried decision-making would not be fast enough. In peacetime, the snail’s pace of democracy is usually okay, but when a minute can mean the difference between a nuclear explosion, and a successful intercept of the missile, we need a top executive. Amendment Two allows us to vote for this executive, but Amendment One pushes you specifically into that role, should you happen to be on-world when the need arises.”
“But isn’t voting the cornerstone of any good democracy?” Mateo argued.
“Yes, but A-One allows us to replace a formal vote with general public attitudes. We can’t vote, Mateo, because you’re not here long enough to campaign, and you don’t have any competition anyway. The system takes your time-jumping into account.”
“I still feel icky about this,” Mateo complained. “It was fine when I owned a planet that nobody lived on, but billions of people are counting on me, and I don’t know jack shit.”
Ramses went back to making sure the outfit Mateo was wearing looked okay for the Dardieti public. “That’s good. You would be sociopath if it didn’t bother you. Besides...you’re not doing this alone. That’s what the advisors are for. We haven’t abolished them just because you’re here now.”
“So, what’s my job title again?”
“Don’t call it a job,” Ramses warned him. “Running a planet is not like running a business. But to answer your question, you’re the patronus.”
“Did you get that from Harry Potter?”
Ramses laughed. “No, Latin. Now, are you ready?”
“No,” Mateo answered truthfully.
“The people are.” Ramses shuffled Mateo out onto the balcony, where a crowd of thousands, accompanied by a livestream for billions, was waiting for him.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Furor: A Very Dangerous Period (Part VI)

Glasses!Paige separated herself from the group as soon as they arrived back home. Well, it wasn’t exactly home. They had left the real world to go to the prison in the summer, but this looked more like a snowy death world. “I’m sorry I brought you here,” she said. “But the summer of 2026 is a dangerous time period for time travelers. Because of what happens, things can turn out wonky. We’re in the first winter of 2019 right now, so Jesi can take you back to when you need to be.”
“When are you from?” Ace asked his daughter with a frown. “What happened to you? I thought you needed photographs to travel.”
Glasses!Paige pointed to the movie theatre that this parking lot was for. “Security camera, right there. These glasses contain millions of jump points for me to access, via historical records, and a few other sources. I’m not giving you any more information about myself.”
It was obvious that she was about to disappear. “I love you.”
“I miss you,” Glasses!Paige said, before jumping into some other picture.
Ace scowled, and looked back to Jesi. “Ground rules.”
“Lay ‘em on me,” Jesi said, though there was no telling how sincere she was being.
“You do everything I say, when I say it. You can question it, but only if you have a logical argument against my instructions. I do recognize that you are more versed in the world of time travelers, so if what I plan doesn’t make any sense, you have an obligation to tell me. Once I have all the facts, I may amend those instructions. Slipstream, Serkan, and absolutely any version of Paige has this same power over you.”
“I understand,” Jesi said.
“There’s still one little problem,” Slipstream jumped in.
“What?” Ace asked. “That she can disappear anytime she wishes, and there is nothing anyone can do to stop her?”
Slipstream nodded. “That’s the one.”
“I’ve been thinking about that.” Since this all started several years ago, Ace had changed. He was still the same person he was brought up to be. He still liked savory egg-pastry dishes, he still used his intuitive skills to gamble, and he still loved the City of Fountains more than his hometown of Topeka. But there was also a darkness in him that only came out when his family was threatened, which hadn’t really been an issue until Serkan showed up. He was of a more violent nature than he ever knew, and this side of him frightened him far more than any time traveler he could meet. Yet it also held its advantages. He wasn’t the only one who noticed this aspect of his character, and if necessary, he would be more than willing to use this to protect his people. “One thing I’ve realized about this underworld is that y’all kinda know each other.”
“Right...” Jesimula was with him there.
Ace went on, “time travelers sort of pop in and out of your life, seemingly at random. When a regular human meets someone, say, at the grocery store, unless they make a point of staying in contact, there’s a good chance they’ll never see each again. But every time a time traveler meets another time traveler, it’s profoundly meaningful, which means the chances are high that they will see each other again.”
“I don’t know exactly where you’re going with this.”
“Yeah, me neither,” Slipstream agreed.
Ace prepared to finish up. “You could use your power to leave us whenever you want. But you’re a fool if you think we’ll never see each other again. It could be the next day, or decades from now, but I promise you that our paths will cross at least once more. You’ve agreed to help us with this Rothko guy, and if you break that promise, I assure you that the next time I see you, I won’t ask any questions. I’ll just fucking kill you.”
The transformation of Jesi’s face upon her hearing Ace’s last statement was not one he would ever forget. This was fear, from a woman who was every bit his superior, except in two arenas; he had people he loved, and he was physically stronger than her. Even Slipstream, who had made a career out of violence, as a vigilante law enforcement outlaw, was shaken by his words.
Jesi put her tail between her legs, and though she didn’t technically step back, she did shrink away. “I’ll help you. I’ll do anything I can, and I’ll only leave when you grant me safe passage.”
Ace breathed deeply through his nostrils. “One more thing. Don’t hurt anyone. Not anyone.”
“Not even—”
“Not even Rothko,” he interrupted.
“Yes, sir.” She could have said that sarcastically, but she didn’t. He was her commanding officer now, and maybe that was what she needed all along. Maybe all these so-called Springfield Nine had lacked strong role models who didn’t take their shit. He probably wasn’t the best candidate for it, but at least Slipstream was here.
“All right. I may think of more rules, and I’ll expect you to follow them as well.”
“Of course.”
“Then let’s get out of here.”
Before Jesi could take the other two in her hands, a man appeared out of nowhere, holding a pair of what could only be described as futuristic handcuffs.
If Jesi wasn’t scared before, she was scared now. “Oh my God.”
“Who are you?” Ace asked.
“Name’s Tracker. I’m one of those few people who don’t put the word the in front of their cutesy little nicknames.”
“Ace, we have to go now,” Jesi warned.
“You are all fugitives of Beaver Haven Penitentiary, and I have been sent to bring you in.”
“I thought we were all immune,” Ace said. “You only got Jesi the first time because my daughter went after her.”
“That’s true, but once that happened, she became fair game, ad infinitum. And once you broke her out, you became fair game too.”
“That sounds fishy,” Slipstream pointed out.
“Ace, let’s go. Now.” Jesi was backing away, but slow enough to show she wasn’t planning on leaving without them.
“It’s too late,” Tracker said. “In addition to being able to follow people through their spacetime rifts, I can suppress people’s powers once I find them.”
“He’s lying,” Jesi said. “I know all about him, and he can’t do that.”
“If you try to slide into the future,” Tracker began, “it could kill you.”
“I’m gonna risk it.”
“It could kill all of you,” Tracker clarified.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Slipstream noted. “If you can suppress powers, it shouldn’t matter how hard she tries. Unless you’re not suppressing powers at all. You’ve put her on a leash.”
Ace was watching her as she was talking. Now he turned back to Tracker with hope. “Leashes can be broken.”
“Sure, by me. What would someone like you be able to do?”
“He probably can’t do anything,” Slipstream said. “Can you hold onto a leash when you’re unconscious, though?” She stepped towards him.
“Now, wait. I know what you can do, and no, I won’t be able to hold onto her once you knock me out. But I’ll be able to find her when I wake up.”
“I dunno,” Slip said. “It’s pretty cold out here. You sure you’re gonna wake up?”
Now Tracker started to back away. “Didn’t you, like, swear an oath that you wouldn’t use your gifts for evil?”
Slipstream scoffed and laughed as she kept inching forward. “No. Did you?”
He stopped, and stood up straight. “Yes.” His eyes darted to his right.
“What?” she asked. “Do you see a temporal rift over there, or something?”
“That’s...” Tracker was surprised. “How did you know?”
“I’m pretty good at reading people.”
“I know where you’re going,” Tracker said. “You knock me out, I escape through that rift, your mangy dog over there literally bites through his buddy’s leash.” He gestured towards Ace. “It doesn’t matter what you do, or where you go. We know that you’re headed for downtown Kansas City, summer of 2026.”
Jesi nodded. “That’s true, but you don’t wanna go there, do you? That’s a very dangerous period of the timeline, or so we’ve heard.”
“I’ll find a safe way in.” Tracker sounded pretty confident.
“Great,” Ace said. “And when you do, you can arrest Rothko Ladhiffe.”
“I will, and I’ll take you all with him.”
Ace placed her hand on Jesi’s shoulder. She shuddered a bit, but quickly realized he meant her no harm. Slipstream stepped back over and did the same. “You can try.”
Tracker pouted at them. Then he literally jumped into the invisible tear in the spacetime continuum.
With the leash broken, Jesi created a time bubble around the three of them, and slid them toward the future. Ace watched as the seasons came, and the seasons went. Cars drove up, parked in the spot they were standing in, and drove away just as quickly. Finally, the flashforward stopped, hopefully leaving them sometime soon after they first left.
Ace pulled out his phone, and called Serkan. “Hey. How long have we been gone, from your perspective?” He listened to the response, then relayed it to the group, “less than an hour.” He listened more. “We’re in Leawood.—No, don’t worry about it. It looks like Slip is already calling us a ride.”
“Dave will be here in a grayish rogue in four minutes,” Slipstream announced.
“We’ll be home in thirty minutes. I love you too.” He hung up.
Two minutes later, a grayish rogue pulled up next to them. “Bozhena?” the driver asked.
“Thank you for coming.”
They climbed into the vehicle.
“No problemo,” he said as he was driving away. “I’m Dave, but you can call me The Chauffeur.” Ah, shit.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Microstory 1040: Jerry

I’ve only lived in Blast City for a couple of years, so if you’re looking for a different perspective than you’re getting from these townies, you’ve come to the right place. I don’t know what reason your family had for moving, but mine had to do it because of me. I grew up in a really red state, but my mother had a really good job, and they thought they would be able to survive. My first high school was the absolute worst, though. In the summer after eighth grade, I asked if I could become a cheerleader, which they had no problem with whatsoever. They were actually getting a little worried that I wasn’t interested in anything. It was a bit too late to sign up for cheer camp, but they made tons of calls, and found me a place that was far away, but really open to beginners. Most of the other kids had been really active their whole lives, even if they were switching from gymnastics, or acrobatics, or whatnot. They were so incredibly supportive and patient with me while I was catching up. So you can see why, even though I knew my hometown was more conservative, it was a huge shock when I was met with such backlash when I tried out for my school’s cheer squad. It’s the 21st century, you would think there would be protections for diversity just about everywhere in this country, but no. They just shut the door on my request, and wouldn’t even entertain the possibility. In the end there was no fighting it. They seemed more angry when I mentioned I wasn’t gay, because then I wasn’t afflicted with the homosickness—their word, not mine—I was just confused and weird. Well, we learned about this place, which we found surprising progressive for a small town. My mom was offered a really good job at the club, though still not as good as what she had, and I will never be able to pay her back for that. You may be wondering why I’m even telling this story, and what it was to do with Viola. The truth is, everything. The issue with my old school was tragic and traumatizing for me and my family, but it didn’t make national news, or anything. Perhaps it should have, but I guess we just didn’t make a big enough stink. Viola herself actually called me out of the blue, and acted like she worked for your paper, Alma. She said she had heard what happened to me, and wanted to tell my story. We got sidetracked, and she brought up an open position at the club, and let me know how much safer and loving Blast City Senior High was. It was she who suggested we move all the way out here, though she did a great job making me think I had thought of it myself. It wasn’t until my second week in that I realized the whole thing was made up. She didn’t work for the school paper, and the article never existed. Even then, I never found out how she found out about me, let alone got her hands on my phone number. I’ll tell you what, though, I’ll always be grateful she did. I’m captain of the cheer squad now.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Microstory 1039: Charlotte

Hello, my name is Charlotte, presently known as An Artist, presently known as Charlotte. I do all kinds of art; painting of all styles, sculpting, performance. I work a lot with blue. Pretty much the only thing I don’t know is music, so I guess I don’t ever have to worry about going for an EGOT. I tried my hand at the flute, and then the guitar, and then the saxophone, but it’s just not for me. Anyway, I’m that girl who always has paint in her hair, and cares more about a book’s cover than the content inside. Don’t feel bad for me, though. I know that it’s almost impossible to make money as an artist. The game is rigged, and if you do manage to succeed, you’ll have sold your soul to do it. I never planned on making money on my work. I’m working hard in school, and while I’m still not certain what kind of career I ultimately want to have, I’ve never had any delusions about the art. I just enjoy the feeling of joy from creating something, and that of accomplishment once I arbitrarily declare that a piece is done. Viola suggested that I get the best of both worlds. I could potentially make a little extra cash, while going around all the people in the industry who’ve traded true beauty for money. She helped me build a website, where I can passively sell my work. It doesn’t cost me a thing, so if I never find any customers, no harm done. It doesn’t take much time to keep posting photos of my creation, so I can still focus on the more practical aspects of my life. I would have been happy just signing up for a service that has everything set up for me, but Viola thought it was important I carve out my own space on the internet. That girl can write code, which I bet most people don’t know about her. She did it right in front of me, literally writing up the little sideways carrots, and dollar signs. It all goes over my head, but man, was she fast. I know transcriptionists who can’t type regular words as quick she can type something she called PHP. That’s not just an analogy, I know a shocking number of transcriptionist personally. It’s this family connection that you don’t care about. I’m sure my classmates are telling you how she had such a huge impact on their lives, but what they might not be saying is how easy all of it was for her. When she was done coding, she just stood up, said goodbye, and walked away to help someone else. For me, it was one of the most important days of my life, but for her, it was Tuesday.