Sunday, July 21, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 3, 2241

It took some doing, but Sanaa did manage to warm up, and open up, a little to Leona. Leona did the same to her as well. They had more in common than they realized. Their hostilities towards each other, especially on Sanaa’s part, didn’t make a whole lot of sense to begin with. As it turned out, she struggled with meeting people who genuinely wanted to be her friend, and didn’t just want to use her powers. Lots of choosers were called upon to do jobs for others, but that was different, at least in her mind. For someone else, it was more of a skill that others valued. For Sanaa, she was really just the middlewoman, who people only spoke to so they could connect with those they actually liked. It was unclear whether people were turned off by her because of her attitude, or if she developed a bad attitude because she felt underappreciated. Regardless, she wasn’t an unpleasant person on the other side of her protective emotional walls, and Leona was getting to know that.
She spent the rest of 2240 in the waters. The great thing about the technology was that the most skeptical and reluctant individual will still adapt surprisingly quickly. And they required no body modification in order to thrive in it. Some random guy from the nineteenth century would be able to dive into one of these tanks, and spend an indefinite amount of time there with no problem breathing. It was quite peaceful in the water, except when she was being bombarded with questions. The colonists somehow got wind that she was partially responsible for the construction of their habitats just before they arrived. Of course Eight Point Seven did most of the work, while she wasn’t in the timestream, but they still considered her to be a worthy celebrity. Unfortunately, they wanted to communicate with her using the sign language they developed, which was designed to be used inside heavier water resistance, and slight visual impairment. That was really the only thing that would hinder the hypothetical nineteenth century man from thriving. His eyes would never truly adjust to the way light bent in the underwater.
Leona was a highly intelligent person, with knowledge from three separate timelines, but even she wasn’t capable of learning the sign language within a day. Despite her seeming misanthropy, Sanaa had picked it up already, and was able to interpret for her when the colonists wanted to talk. This solidified their bond, because now Sanaa didn’t feel so alone and overlooked. They were having so much fun getting to know each other that Leona didn’t realize midnight central was approaching. Even if she had, she probably wouldn’t have thought to break the surface for her time jump. There was no reason to believe anything strange would happen to the environment as a result of her sudden disappearance, or her sudden reappearance a year later. When she tried to exit the tank at that point, the waters followed her out. Her gravity regulator was malfunctioning, which acted to envelop her in her own little aquatic atmosphere that she couldn’t shake. It was kind of cool, but a little annoying.
“Can you modify my gravity field remotely?” Leona asked.
Hokusai was fiddling with her tablet, trying to solve the problem. “It’s having trouble connecting. Like, it will connect, but it won’t let me do anything.”
“And you’re sure you can’t open up the panel on my leg?”
“The water has already damaged your systems enough. It’ll make it even worse if we open the floodgates. That could render your legs completely inoperable, and because of your pattern, it could be virtually impossible to build new ones for you. You weren’t on your pattern when you got these ones here, right?”
“Yeah,” Leona answered sadly.
“Your body needs time to adjust, and time is something  you have far less of than most people.”
Leona tried to use her hand to scrape the water from her face again, and from her legs, even knowing it wouldn’t work. Despite the fact that the planet itself should have been exerting a greater amount of attraction than her artificial gravity legs, it was like trying to scoop the water from a bucket with strainer. “What if I got back in the tank, and then got out some other way? What if I got dressed, or I dunno, started to dance?”
“I don’t think we’re gonna find a home remedy for this. Just give me a minute. If I can only connect for one second, that will be enough to deactivate your regulator.”
Loa came in and walked up. “How do you feel. Can you breathe?”
“Well, I’m not technically breathing, since that’s what my lungs are for, but yes, I feel fine. I just don’t want to feel like this forever.” She redirected her attention back to Hokusai. “Heat?”
“Cold. Maybe we could freeze it, and chip it off?”
“That would kill you. Just let me figure this out.”
“It’s not going to connect,” Leona tried to tell her. “It’s broken. You’re going to have to open up the panel, and switch it off manually.”
“No, I told you I can’t do that.”
“I’ll do it myself,” Leona decided. She knelt down to access the panel.
“Stop right there, young lady!”
She complied, secretly relieved that Hokusai stopped her. “If I wait until my next time jump, will that fix it?”
“It’s possible, though not likely. If I’m to understand your history correctly, you and Mateo once made a time jump while you were in a tent?”
“Yeah, it was weird. If we’re standing in a room, we don’t take it with us through time, but I guess the powers that be interpret tents like they do clothing.”
“How would they interpret a magical water blanket?”
“Good point.”
“How about you try sending an electrical pulse through the water; disrupt its tension?”
“Where did you get your degree?”
“In two thousand and twenty-four,” Leona replied.
“Now, that’s a good point.”
While it was true that Leona’s education and experience as a physicist and a science fiction buff combined allowed her to understand future technology to a higher degree than most, it only took her so far. She tried to keep up on modern advancements, but there were only so many hours in the day, and she just didn’t know how everything worked. She either understood the creative concepts based on her breadth of film knowledge, or the mechanics from her master’s degree, but if Hokusai tried to ask her for help with the new reframe engine, she would be all but useless.
“Where did Sanaa swim off to?” Loa asked. Perhaps she was merely trying to get Leona’s mind off her predicament.
“I dunno,” Leona answered. “Probably living her best life.”
“I’m right here,” Sanaa called up from the other side of Hokusai’s lab.
“What are you doing out of the water?” Loa asked her with deep concern. She ran over to help her carry this giant machine. It had wheels, but it sounded like they needed some lubricant. Tubing was dragging behind it.
“I’m fine,” Sanaa answered, though she was grateful for the help. “The gravity in this room is at one-point-four-g, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Hokusai confirmed. “I need it higher than Earth gravity for some of my experiments, “but you had to walk clear across the dome, and it’s much higher out there.”
“Hashtag worth it,” Sanaa said. Once she was right in front of Leona, she lifted one of the tubes, and pointed it directly at her. Then she switched on the machine, and everybody watched as it sucked all the water from Leona’s skin.
“A wet-vac?” Hokusai asked after the deed was done.
“Yes,” Sanaa said. “I have demonstrated their weakness may be found from a less sophisticated approach. You are no longer capable of such thinking.” This was a near direct quote from an episode of the ancient series, Stargate SG-1. She was a good person.
“Thank you so much,” Leona said. “You’re right, we did not think of that.”
Hokusai sat Leona down in the nearest chair, and examined her leg. “Remaining droplets are continuing to stick to your skin. This is fascinating. You’re like a little planet, with your own gravity.”
“Are you calling me fat?” Leona joked.
“She’s not a planet,” Sanaa said. “She’s a star.”
Leona smiled. They were friends now. Who knew?
“I have a mini-tank over there.” Hokusai jerked her head in its general direction, but kept her eyes on Leona’s leg as she opened the access panel. “Get yourself right, and we’ll talk. I took a break from my reframe engine to build you something. It’s not a perfect solution, and you may hate it, but it’s an option for anytime you want to get out of the water.”
“What is it?” Sanaa asked, though her own weight was already getting to her. It was a miracle she managed to walk across the dome on land, lugging that huge thing behind her. Even though gravity here was a significant improvement, her time in the tank had lessened her ability to withstand even this high of gravity. It wasn’t the weight so much as it was the distribution.
“You’ll see,” Hokusai said, still working. “Loa can you help her?”
Shortly after Loa helped Sanaa into her tank to rest, Hokusai was finished repairing Leona’s gravity regulator. “Okay. You’ll be able to get back into the water, if you need to, or want to. Prolonged exposure, however, is not ideal. Obviously these are meant to be waterproof, but it’s not worth the possibility of a recurrence. We seem to have learned a little bit about your time jumps, which may make you feel worse about them.”
“I’m the kind of person who wants to know, even if it’s terrible.”
“I would need to study it more, but based on yours and Eight Point Seven’s accounts of earlier attempts, I doubt it would be safe to do so. It would appear that time doesn’t so much as open up for you as it opens you. My hypothesis is that microfissures form all over your body at midnight, allowing temporal energy itself to flood your system. In this case, it’s how the water seeped in as well. How these heal afterwards, I can’t say, but seeing as you’ve never heard any of this before, they don’t seem to be hurting you. Now, if you felt pain every time it happened—”
“I don’t technically feel pain, but Mateo and I both get real tired. We’ve gotten used to it, and the more sleep we’ve had, the better, but I still feel it every time.”
Hokusai tilted her head in thought. “Hmm. When your skin cracks open, perhaps you suffer a temporary oxygen loss, which drastically diminishes your energy. This could bad, incidental, or quite necessary. We’ve always framed your pattern as jumping forwards in time, but maybe time jumps aren’t possible, or aren’t possible for you. You could be placed in suspended animation in another dimension that doesn’t support diatomic oxygen. These are all just guesses, of course. I have no real idea what happens to you or Mateo when you disappear. I don’t even know if you and Mateo experience the same thing, or if your body relies on a workaround, since you weren’t born this way; you were made. Hogarth Pudeyonavic would understand it better. I’m more of a space girl.”
“Oh, you know Hogarth? Did I know that you knew her?”
“I don’t know.”
Loa walked back up. “She’s sleeping. Let’s wait to give it to her until tomorrow.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” Hokusai agreed. “I wouldn’t hate taking one last look at the power source.”
“No, I’m up!” Sanaa exclaimed through her mouthpiece.
“Why do you keep hearing us from so far away!” Hokusai shouted.
“Hello!” Sanaa shouted back. “Psychic?”
Hokusai went over to a half-door next to Sanaa’s tank, and pulled out something that looked like a fancy wheelchair. “I don’t know if you would prefer swimming to lying down, but if you ever wanna be dry, this will help. It’s a gravity regulator, but like I said, it’s not perfect. You have to be at a pretty steep incline to distribute your weight effectively, but one thing it has going for it is that it doesn’t require a medical procedure, so it shouldn’t interfere with your powers.”
Sanaa pressed both palms, and her face against the glass—I mean, polycarbonate window. “I love it.”

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Bungula: Breathing Space (Part IV)

Brooke, Sharice, and Mirage are sitting around a table solemnly. The fight is over, but they are still feeling the trauma. Brooke is this close to deleting the memory from her brain, but she can’t, because there is work to be done.
Mirage finally speaks, “I think it’s important to—”
“Shut up,” Sharice interrupts.
“Nobody died,” Mirage manages to say.
“If you don’t shut your mouth,” Sharice begins, “you’re going to find out what my namesake did for a living before she became a civil servant.”
“Wasn’t she a lawyer?”
Sharice stands up threateningly.
“It’s fine,” Brooke stops her daughter from doing something else she would regret. “It was a billion to one incident. And Mirage is right. Nobody died.”
“They did die,” Sharice argues. “We’re lucky their respective consciousnesses were uploaded to an underground server. Plenty of fairly normal humans were in that dome. Had they been exposed, they would have been lost forever.”
“We had ample warning time,” Mirage reminds her. “The biologicals were rescued first.”
“You made me complicit in a tragedy,” Sharice complains. “Had this happened to Dome Three, dozens—if not hundreds—of people would have been killed.”
“It didn’t happen to Dome Three!” Mirage’s anger is growing. “It happened to Dome Four! If you would like, we can talk about going back in time to prevent it from happening, but what we’re not going to do is go back in time and make your worst fears come true. There’s no point in worrying about a past that never occurred. Life is dangerous anywhere in the galaxy, but in a colony, on a world that doesn’t naturally support human life, it’s even more dangerous. There is literally an endless supply of bad things that might have happened, or bad things that did happen, but could have been even worse. I take most responsibility for the meteor strike, but I won’t take all of it. I put you in charge.”
Sharice’s anger rivaled Mirage’s well. “You glorified 3D television set!”
Brooke has to hold her back, like this is a rap battle gone awry.
“I’ll disassemble you right now!” Sharice continues.
‘That’s enough!” Brooke declares. “Nobody is disassembling anyone, and nobody is going back in time. As terrible as this was, I don’t allow time travel. I don’t just mean that because I can’t do it myself. No matter your intentions, temporal manipulation is always bad. It’s caused so many more problems than it’s solved, and I stayed here to be free of it. Most of my family is off elsewhere, but Sharice and I made the decision to let them go, because their lives are just too insane and unpredictable. Mirage, if I ever hear you suggest that again, or if I even suspect we’re living in a timeline of your creation, you’re gonna regret ever becoming an avatar. The time you spent in that omniscience dimension has damaged your perspective.
“Now. That being said, there’s a reason humans developed technologies beyond interstellar travel. Our ancestors long ago started realizing how much it sucks to be a standard human. Humans die too easily, and they don’t come back, which is why we decided to improve upon ourselves, so we would be more resilient. Sharice, this could not have happened to Dome Three, because it’s fully encased in a lava tube. Dome Four wanted a better view of the sky, but that’s why there aren’t many fully organics in there, because it’s not safe. All colonists came here knowing their lives wouldn’t be easy. Earth is the safest place for any vonearthan. Or at least it comes with the highest chances of survival. I’m not saying they asked you to lose control of an icy planetesimal, and smash fragments of it into the side of their dome, but they knew you were dropping them in this orthant. Unfortunately, the process of seeding the planet with an atmosphere wouldn’t have worked if we focused our work on only one hemisphere, or something. Right, Mirage?”
“That’s right,” Mirage replies. “That may have worked if we were willing to wait centuries...”
“Why did we not just wait centuries?” Sharice questions. “Why are you so eager to get this done so fast? Is something coming? Is something about to happen. You’re obsessed with 2245, like all is lost if we don’t make it in time.”
Mirage’s silence is deafening.
Brooke nods for no apparent reason. “It’s time, Mirage.”
“Yes, what?” Sharice agrees. “What are you talking about?”
“It’s time to tell her,” Brooke says.
“What do you know?” Sharice is feeling offended. “She told you some secret?”
Mirage emotes to Brooke, but they don’t exchange words.
“Fine,” Brooke resolves. “It’ll make her angrier hearing it from me, but if you don’t want to admit it, I will.”
“No,” Mirage stops her. “I didn’t realize you knew. It’s my truth to tell, so I better tell it.”
Sharice folds her arms impatiently.
Brooke actually had no idea what Mirage’s secret was, but she knew she wouldn’t give it up by request. Mirage had to think Brooke figured it out on her own, so she’d finally spill it. It was a tricky gamble, and it’s a miracle it was going to pay off. The problem is she has no way of conveying her gambit to Sharice, but perhaps that’s for the best, so her daughter can authentically express her surprise, and possible outrage.
Mirage prepares to explain herself. “In the year 1815, roughly seventy thousand people die in what history considers to be the most devastating volcanic eruption on record. Over two hundred years later, Meliora Reaver comes in possession of something known as the Muster Beacon. It’s capable of generating a massive portal, or thousands of single-serving portals simultaneously. Before this, Sanctuary was designed to save one person at a time. She would send her employee, also known as The Chauffeur to travel directly between Dardius and Earth, ferrying humans she felt needed to be protected from time travelers. Brooke, I know this is something you can understand. The Muster Beacon, however, was a huge win for her, because now she could save high numbers of people at once, without forcing Dave to cross his own timeline, and risk creating a paradox. Unfortunately, she and her team of scientists did not fully understand the technology. Early attempts resulted in nothing happening, but there was one time where it worked half way. They didn’t realize it at the time—and probably don’t even now—but they did manage to spirit away ten thousand would-be victims of the Mount Tambora eruption.
“Tens of thousands more died of related causes, but they couldn’t be saved, because the world would notice them missing. These closest ten thousand were pulled into a portal, but never made it out to the other side. They were, effectively, dead anyway. The Muster Beacon started functioning properly from then on, but that does the missing Sumbawa people no good.” Mirage closes her eyes in sadness. “I tried to rescue them myself. Bungula is destined to become hospitable in no later than four hundred years from now, so I figured that was the best place to put them. It looks like Earth, it has a good star, and...”
“And what?” Sharice presses.
“The Bungulans abandon it. I never did understand why, but they just up and leave, and vonearthans don’t ever come back.”
Brooke nods again. “It’s the life. They leave so that life can evolve on its own. Those bacteria you discovered are heralds.”
“No, but I told you that the bacteria doesn’t evolve.”
“Yes, you said that, didn’t you?”
“Okay, I didn’t see every single possible future. The point is that something went wrong on my end too. They’re scheduled to arrive in 2250 now, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. I came down to your plane of existence, because I need this place terraformed before they show up, or they’re dead.”
“You’re trying to clean up your own mess,” Sharice notes. “And you? You knew about this,” she accuses Brooke.
Brooke sports a sort of hybrid smile-frown. “I did not. That was just my way of teasing the information out of her.”
Mirage should be upset by the trick, but she’s probably just relieved to finally be open and honest. “I should have realized.”
“Why didn’t you just tell us this,” Sharice asks.
“You heard your mother. She hates time travel. It’s bad enough that we accelerated the ammonia bombardment, and used dark algae from the future. If she knew the whole reason we were doing this was to fix a mistake I made when I thought I was a god, she might have put a stop to the whole thing.”
“You severely underestimate me if you think I would let ten thousand innocent people die just to feel morally superior,” Brooke says, saddened.
“I couldn’t risk it. They’re coming, in 2250. This world has to be ready for them. I don’t know how they’re gonna handle it. Will they realize they’re on a different planet? Will they freak out about it? Can we integrate them into society? This is just my only option.”
“Well, maybe it’s not ideal, but Sanctuary was going to reveal secrets about future technology to them anyway, so why didn’t you just build them a special dome?” Sharice proposes.
“I don’t know exactly where they’re going to land; if they’ll be the same distance from each other as they were when the beacon took them, or if they’ll be in one spot. Maybe they’ll be randomly spread across the surface. The whole world needs to be able to support human life.”
“It will,” Brooke assures her. “I don’t know the answer to your questions either, but if we can protect them from physical and emotional harm, then we have to try. The ammonia bombardment and factories are working. The atmosphere is thickening as we speak, the magnetosphere is holding, and the temperature is rising. By 2245, this rock will be ready for life. Though that does leave the question of what we should do with the colonists. I don’t think the Sumbawa would get along well with them. If they realize they’re on a different planet, they’ll probably form a whole religion around it, and the more advanced colonists hanging around would just make it too complicated.”
“Are you suggesting they actually leave?” Sharice asks. “Like they did in the other timeline that Mirage saw?”
“We would have to tell them why,” Mirage reminds her.
“That’s not such a stretch,” Brooke says. “They already know something’s up, and we’re fooling ourselves if we think they remain oblivious. The absolutely most optimistic estimates for terraforming any planet within twenty light years of Earth is two hundred years. Life takes time. Nature does it several orders of magnitude slower. Nothing and no one does it in eighteen years. We have to face the reality that the world is waking up. Many vonearthans already know specifics about salmon and choosers, and more grow suspicious every day. They were never going to stay hidden forever.”
“I guess you’re right,” Sharice acknowledges. “As long as Beaver Haven doesn’t lock us up for our crimes, then things should be fine.”
“Yes,” Mirage agrees. “And the worst of it is over. Now we just wait for the atmosphere to fully form. The next few years will be mostly about monitoring and adjusting. We can start wilding the surface after that, just like they did on Earth a hundred and fifty years ago.”

Friday, July 19, 2019

Microstory 1150: Braxton Cosworthy

They say that everyone has a doppelgänger in the world, but even if that were true, the chances of two lookalikes meeting each other are extremely low. Yet, extremely low does not mean never. When he was still a baby, Braxton Cosworthy was placed at a home daycare with another boy who looked remarkably like him. To make matters worse, an apple juice accident led the supervisor having to redress half of the children she was monitoring. She foolishly chose to do so with identical sailor uniforms, which she would normally use for fun photoshoots. Braxton and Hyram were switched that day, and lived with each other’s families for nineteen months before the real Hyram experienced a medical issue, and the doctors discovered the error. Depending on how you look at it, this debacle was both fortunate and unfortunate. The two boys were immediately switched back, and reverted to their real names, which didn’t seem to be too hard on them, since they were still so young. It wasn’t too long, though, that all four parents began to feel a sense of loss they couldn’t quite understand. They were now with their real child, but they had bonded with the other, and now missed him deeply. After weeks of pretty much everyone being in therapy, a decision was made to form an unusual blended family. They pitched in on what was basically a mansion, so there was enough space to accommodate everyone, and then they just lived together. Braxton and Hyram grew up as brothers, along with their other siblings. The name thing remained a complicated subject, though. Despite their young age upon switching back, both Braxton and Hyram easily answered to the wrong name; the latter being worse at it than the former. Similarly, Braxton felt equally connected to his temporary name of Kaveda as he was his real name. He alternated between them randomly, making legal forms a confusing matter for others to interpret. Despite the complications, everyone was fairly happy and well-adjusted, and their love for each other was most likely a unique dynamic. Braxton was a racer, and a tracer, though he did not join the tracer gang, because they were a little too close to being a branch of law enforcement. He was a fierce competitor, however, and it got him into trouble once or twice. He made a healthy name for himself in high school and college sports, and spent the rest of his life running in 5Ks, 10Ks, marathons, and other things of this nature.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Microstory 1149: Téa Stendahl

Literally in another life, Téa Stendahl was a tailor. She was originally born a man named Ed Bolton in the late 1700s. Years after the turn of the century, Ed jumped forward exactly one year, and there he remained for precisely three seconds, at which point he jumped forward again. He spent three minutes here, until it happened yet again. He continued to do this unwilling, both increasing the number of years he passed over, and the amount of time he spent upon his return. He would skip years according to the Fibonacci sequence, and spend three somethings (minutes, hours, days, etc.) there, before moving on. In the mid-20th century, he died in a car wreck, but he was an old man by then, and felt he had lived a decent life. He had eventually accepted his new pattern, and helped a lot of people along the way. He would never see is best friends again anyway, as they were traveling through time in the opposite direction, so it was all right that it was finally over. Except it wasn’t. Téa Stendahl was born a normal child, into a lovely family. She enjoyed fashion and sewing, but had no clue that this was not the first life she had experienced. As she grew up, though, she started recalling events that never could have happened to her. Her parents figured she just had a grand imagination, but they still sought help from a child psychologist. He was unable to understand what was happening with her either, but she eventually no longer needed his help. As time went on, she remembered more and more of her former life—or perhaps, more accurately, her former lives. While most jumps allowed him to retain all his memories, there was one thing that never stayed the same.

Bolton stopped going by his original name, instead adopting a new variation each time he jumped. In different time periods, he was called Ned, Teddy, Eddie, Edward, and Theodore. He could always remember the names he used to use, but was unable to revert to them at will. The people in charge of his time traveling were messing with his brain. They must have been messing with the minds of Téa’s new parents too, because her newest name couldn’t have been a coincidence. As the powers that be would have it, Téa was able to see her friends again. After they too were reincarnated, they suddenly jumped in the opposite direction, and met back up with her near the middle of the 21st century. They were surprised to find their companion with a new gender assignment, but not bothered by it. Téa felt that she was a woman, and it was unclear whether the powers that be transformed her on purpose, or if at least part of the reincarnation process was out of their hands, and subject to nature’s whims. Either way, she was happy. She later returned to her roots as a tailor, opening a clothing shop on an island on another planet, in another galaxy. There were others like the three of them, who were sent to various time periods, completing various missions. They weren’t always wearing the right clothing to blend in with the natives, so she was there to provide them with authentic clothes and accessories. They couldn’t just look like they should, like one might find on the set of a historical film. They needed to utilize materials and dye that could be found in any given time. Sometimes, her customers wouldn’t remember that they had ever gone to The Hub at all, instead believing they blinked, and were just suddenly wearing new clothes in the past or future. She even did this for the past version of herself, which was an interesting opportunity to gain rare perspective.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Microstory 1148: Mandis Romagna

Many have questioned how psychic abilities fit in a world of temporal powers. There is a surprising amount of diversity when it comes to special abilities in the universe, but they all involve some kind of manipulation of time and space. This prevents certain theoretical abilities from taking shape. Nobody can fly, because flight requires an alteration in the laws of physics that don’t have much to do with spacetime, or a magical form of propulsion that simply does not exist. Similarly, no one is born with the ability to breathe underwater through some kind of mutation, though they may indeed be able to accomplish this through other means. If they could teleport breathable air from one location to another, then practically speaking, there would be no difference. Psychic powers seem to be a class of exceptions to this rule, and people have been studying the phenomenon throughout time. Are telepaths teleporting their thoughts to other people’s minds, and visa versa? This seems unlikely, because that’s not really how neurophysiology works. The prevailing theory amongst the few who have experience traveling between separate universes is that humans are naturally capable of establishing telepathic connections with each other. One universe has people who can fly, while another is full of demons and angels. They each have their own set of rules, but psychic potential is not just universal; it’s multiversal. Whatever the truth, Mandis Romagna is one of the psychics, though he does have his own specialty. He can’t read your mind under normal circumstances, but he can place you in a pocket dimension, which is designed to read your mind. More specifically, it’s designed to tease out your deepest fears. He became a target once people discovered what he could do, by those who would either use him to hurt others, or would hurt him to stop him from exacting the harm. Hoping to use his skills to interrogate their enemies, the government tried to force him to work for them, but soon found themselves suffering profound regret, when he immediately turned on his captors, and showed them their own fears instead. In fear of these fears, they decided to leave him alone, and let him pursue his life ambitions. He chose a career in mental health, helping others overcome their fears by facing them in a controlled environment. The dimension would read their mind, and create a scenario for them to get through. Over time, he developed the ability to manipulate these scenarios, raising or lowering the difficulty level at will, or pulling the patient out when the obstacles overwhelmed them. He was given the nickname of Jaydecaster, based on the practice of adding the name of historical figure, Jayde Kovac to places or objects as a warning to stay away. Mandis didn’t appreciate it, as he grew up knowing the truth about who Jayde Kovac was, but once the public started calling him that, there was really no living it down. At least he was still helping people.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Microstory 1147: Freeley

The first of the New Gangs of Kansas City, starting around the year 2020, were the Gunbenders, and the Tracers. These two were inextricably linked to one another, ultimately sourcing from the same team, which arose to combat gang violence in the area. They were sick of all the death and danger, and they were tired of their elected officials not doing much to stop it. It was only later that they separated, but this was not due to ideological differences, or infighting. They felt it necessary to become two separate gangs, because one needed to focus more on exacting social change through public opinion, and legislation. The other were the boots on the ground; an enforcement branch, whose primary objective was to physically monitor the implementation of new policy. Their actions were generally illegal in the beginning, though the police did temporarily cede control to them, making their actions...still pretty illegal, since the cops did not have the authority to do this. Either way, the consequence of this was the emergence of new gangs. Most were merely extensions of completely lawful preexisting clubs, which were now adding a more criminal element to their activities. The two most prominent—the kind that were pretty much already gangs to begin with—were the Grammers, and the Taggers. The former were grayhat hackers, who originally provided technical support to the proto-gunbender-tracer alliance. The latter were just graffiti artists, who sought to fill the void left when the system of street gangs were gradually being dismantled. They largely operated alone, but when they realized law enforcement would rather let people tag a few buildings than deal with all the guns and drugs of yesteryear, they started organizing. Eileifr Blomgren was the one who saw this future. He was not the founder of the tagger gang, however. Just because he knew what the city was going to look like in a few years, didn’t mean he wanted to be part of it. He tagged for himself, and he liked to be alone while he was doing it. At the time, Eileifr was using an anglicized interpretation of his name, and drawing a unique design of a leaf to sign his artwork. Once the initial taggers started asking him to join, he decided to rebrand himself as Freilei, which was an anagram of his real name, hoping they would get the message that he was not a joiner. They continued pestering, though, mostly because they didn’t know how it was meant to be pronounced, so he anglicized again, and finally became Freeley. Still, he was proving himself to be one of the bravest taggers in the metro, and his signature piece came when he painted all over the front of a mayor’s private residence...while she was home. The leader of the taggers was on her way out, to attend an art cliché in Paris, so Freeley was the obvious choice to replace her. He soon discovered that maybe he was indeed a joiner after all.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Microstory 1146: Orabela Vinci

Orabela Vinci was one of the source mages on early Durus, and considered to be the most beautiful. Even as a child, people would rave about her physical appearance, and make claims that she would be a heartbreaker. They believed their remarks to be harmless and innocuous, but they were unproductive and irrelevant. They were ignoring her more important qualities, like the fact that she was a beautiful person. She saw the beauty in the world, even a lowly insect, and the good in others, including those who probably didn’t deserve it. As terrible of a leader as Smith was, he always recognized her potential as a contributing member of society, and completely ignored her physical characteristics. She knew that he wasn’t just born evil, but he saw the world they were trapped in for the dangerous powder-keg it was—monsters or no—and while he went about it in the worst ways, he legitimately wanted to protect his people. She was not much for leadership herself, and left those decisions to the other source mages after Smith disappeared. However, in retrospect, they probably would have benefited from a little more of her insight. She was relegated to being the face of the source mage movement; like a mascot with more agency. It was astonishing how much easier it was to get people to listen to them when their words were coming from Orabela’s aesthetically pleasing visage. When the group decided to seek the proverters, who had the power to make them grow up at an alarmingly fast rate, Orabela was the most vocal against it. She was already treated differently because of how she looked, and that was when she was only twelve years old. If the monsters made her look twenty-three, now people were going to be having inappropriate feelings for her, and that would make things worse. They wanted to age themselves up, so people would take them more seriously, but it would most likely have the opposite effect on her, and it would be artificial either way. The proverters were capable of manipulating the age of a target’s body, but could have no impact on their mind. So whether they accepted it or not, they source mages were all still twelve-year-old children, or even younger, in Valda’s case. Natural born protector, Ecrin Cabral had a huge problem with forcing people to do things they didn’t want to do, so she guarded Orabela from the others, and the proverters. She was able to escape this fate while the rest of her friends were magically turned into adults. Sure, this limited her influence on the society they were building, but she was still one of the source mages, and no one could take that away from her. She awarded her older friend, Ecrin with agelessness, as a gift for her bravery and loyalty. Ecrin was thusly one of the first humans to be granted temporal powers on Durus, and she didn’t even have to compete in the mage games to earn it. Of course, this would come with its own consequences, as she would forever be underestimated for her own young appearance, but she would still go on to do great things for the Mage Protectorate, and beyond. Orabela, meanwhile, remained grounded as their civilization grew. She continued to focus on its citizenry, and largely ignored her status among the elite. She would come to be cherished for her accessibility, even after the world fell into the phallocracy, and most women were treated as unequals.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 2, 2240

The Christmas Colonists, as they would come to be called, arrived on Varkas Reflex on December 25. This was just under the wire for the 2239 projection date. They were meant to land months earlier, but had some technical difficulties on the trip across interstellar space. This turned out to be a bit of a good thing, as Eight Point Seven and Hokusai hadn’t quite finished their habitats. The special oxygen-rich liquid they were suspended in wasn’t the easiest or fastest substance to manufacture. They weren’t extremely happy with the name, but would eventually surrender to its humor. Christians became an endangered species many decades ago, and by now, they were largely considered extinct. Those religions which hadn’t already fallen out of favor were on their way out as well, giving way to a civilization based on equality and rationality.
Before Leona disappeared from the timestream last year, Hokusai managed to figure out how to alter her personal gravity using her legs. Back on planet Legolas a century and a half ago, Leona was forced to cut both of her legs off to save herself from an infection. She was rescued by humans of the day, who were able to basically regrow her limbs. They could have made them a hundred percent organic, but she chose to incorporate a little bit of technology into them, so she would have greater strength. She went through hell living alone on that planet, so she considered them to sort of be cosmic reparations for that. These upgrades were evidently not enough to remove her from Mateo’s salmon pattern, so she had mixed feelings about them now. Still, they were making it a lot easier for her to walk on this heavy world. Time-delayed gravity regulator drugs were installed in her legs as well, which provided support for the rest of her organs.
“You can’t do that for me?” Sanaa asked after this was all explained to her.
Hokusai stepped closer to the glass.
“It’s not glass,” Sanaa argued. “It’s a polycarbonate.”
“What?” Hokusai questioned. “I know that.”
Sanaa sneered. “I wasn’t talking to you.”
Hokusai looked behind her. Only Leona was there.
“I know that too.”
Sanaa rolled her eyes. “I was talking The Superintendent.”
I know that as well. I was using the word more generically. The glass of your tank is what separates you from dry land, but allows you to see through glass.
“Okay, but that doesn’t make it glass. There are lots of clear things that aren’t glass.”
Leona stepped forward as well. “Sanaa, are you really communicating with him? He’s in another universe.”
“So, you’re communicating to other universes. No one can do that.”
“The Emissary can,” Sanaa contended.
Leona tilted her head. She hadn’t spent much time thinking about how the Emissary was able to be the intermediary between salmon and the powers that be. She now knew they lived in the Superintendent’s universe, so he would have to be quite powerful. “Still, it must be rare.”
Sanaa shrugged. “You were saying...about getting me out of this water?”
“Okay, we will circle back to this,” Hokusai said, drawing a couple circles in the air. “Do you like having powers?”
Sanaa shrugged again. “People are always talking to me, and I don’t love that. I would much rather be a teleporter, so I can leave when people start pissing me off. Can you turn me into a teleporter?”
“Uh, no. I can’t give you powers, but I can take them away. I would probably have to if you wanted to walk on land. You’re so tall and thin.”
“Body shame much?”
Now Hokusai rolled her eyes. “It’s not conducive to high gravity.”
“Oh, so you’re calling her fat.” She pointed at Leona.
Leona wasn’t offended, because that wasn’t what Hokusai was saying.
“Christ, you just can’t listen to what people are saying to you. You just have to be an unmannerly contrarian. The time gods screwed up when they gave you the ability to communicate with others.”
“They sure did,” Sanaa agreed.
Leona looked away. She met those people. None of the characters the so-called time gods came up with were well thought out, because those characters’ lives didn’t matter to them.
“I’ve spoken at great length about this, with lots of people. Paige Turner, Brooke Prieto, Mallory Hammer. It would seem that the more powerful you are, the less likely you are to keep those powers when you receive transhumanistic upgrades.”
“Leona’s been upgraded,” Sanaa argued.
“Leona is spawn, linked with a salmon. She’s unique, and it’s unclear what it would take for her to fall off her pattern, if anything. Besides, what we did for her is a temporary solution, but it will only need to last a few days. You, on the other hand, are an extremely powerful choosing one. One of her days is a year for you. If it’s true that you can reach other universes, then you’re even more powerful than we knew. It’s a miracle you can even receive a flu shot.”
“I’ve never had the flu shot.”
“I can give you nanites,” Hokusai promised, “so you can walk around here, but is that what you really want?”
“Yes,” Sanaa said excitedly. It looked weird, because Leona didn’t think she was capable of experiencing enthusiasm. “I hate it in these tanks.”
“You will quite likely lose your powers permanently, even if we try to remove the upgrades later. But what would be the point? Are you planning on staying here? I was to understand you were trying to get back to Earth.”
“That doesn’t seem possible,” Sanaa lamented. “Truthfully, I’m a little afraid to step foot in another ship. Where might it take me next?” She spoke with a degree of sincerity that Leona, again, didn’t think she possessed.
Hokusai placed her hand on the...polycarbonate.
“Thank you,” Sanaa said to the Superintendent.
Hokusai went on, “I’ve been working hard on my reframe engine.” She glanced over at Leona. “Yeah, that name has grown on me.” She turned to face Sanaa. “I’m quite confident that it will work. Now, it will take me some time to gather the right materials, build a prototype, test it, and incorporate it into Leona’s ship, but you could go with her.”
“But she’s not—” Sanaa started to say.
“She might not be going straight to Earth, that’s true. The beauty of this thing is that takes days to get anywhere within twenty-seven light years. Beyond that, we’re still only talking weeks. You would have to be sixty light years away for the trip to last longer than a month. You understanding my point here? Leona Delaney doesn’t always get to choose where she goes, but the powers want her alive, so she’s virtually invincible. She’s the safest person for you to be around.”
“We call that plot armor.” Sanaa appeared to be rather genre savvy. As a film scholar, this was something Leona liked about her.
Hokusai didn’t care about it. “Yeah, fine.”
“Leona’s ship is only designed for one person,” Sanaa complained.
“You are only one person,” Leona reminded her. “You would only have to suffer my presence one day a year. Not that it matters, because like she said, you’ll arrive in days. I’ll return just under a year later, so you’ll be long gone by then. It will be like I was never there.”
Sanaa looked between them, and thought this over. “If I’m long gone, then the plot armor argument doesn’t hold much...” She stopped herself, and cringed.
“It doesn’t what?” Leona asked. “Hold water?”
“Too soon,” Sanaa said sadly.
The conversation paused. Honest hour, Leona was feeling the urge to be submerged. Sanaa seemed to detest living in the tanks, but the human Christmas Colonists seemed to be genuinely happy in them. Were they that bad, or was Sanaa just a joyless person?
Sanaa continued after the reverent silence. “How long will it take for you to invent this new engine? To be done with it entirely?”
Hokusai didn’t want to answer. “Honest hour? Years. Up to a decade. These things take time. Believe me, you don’t want me rushing something that can explode if it’s not engineered properly.”
“I understand,” Sanaa said. She didn’t want to get exploded, of course. Her own life was important to her, if nothing else.
“You think you can stomach this place that long?”
Sanaa looked at the hatch behind her. Each habitat was designed about the same way. Individual, couple, or family tanks lined the perimeter, while communal tanks sat in the middle. Landwalkers, which were mostly inorganic, could visit water-dwellers in the dry area of their private residence, like the indoor section of a zoo aquarium. They could also socialize on the beaches and piers above the public tanks. Water-dwellers were still capable of surviving outside the water for hours at a time with little problem. In the eleven months that other people were living on this planet, besides Hokusai, Loa, and Eight Point Seven, Sanaa had reportedly never ventured beyond her own personal tank. “I guess I’ll have to find some level of happiness here until then.”
Leona removed all her clothes, and started up the stairs that would allow her to access the surface of Sanaa’s tank. “I’ll join you. I know you and I aren’t friends, but at least you know me. You don’t know any of those weirdos at all.
If Leona didn’t know any better, she would think Sanaa cracked a slight smile.

“Okay, Mateo, the smile is a bit creepy,” Cassidy pointed out.
“I’m just trying to be more positive,” Mateo explained.
“Why are we, uhh...sitting around like this?” It’s not mealtime, and this is kind of freaking me out.”
“I think he just called a reverse intervention.”
“That’s good, Weaver. That’s a good term for it. That’s kind of what’s happening.” He surely still had the uncomfortable smile painted on his face, and he was probably nodding too much. “I gathered you here to apologize. I understand that my behavior as of late has been..less than pleasant.”
“You were a [sic] asshole,” Thor remarked.
“Thompson,” Goswin scolded.
“No, no,” Mateo assured them. “That’s okay. This is a safe space. I was a asshole. I hear you. I recognize that. I appreciate your candor. I was under a lot of pressure when I was Patronus of Dardius, and I missed Leona deeply, but honest hour? I legit miss that too. I was in charge, of like, billions of people. Gos, you know what I’m talking about.”
Not really, Goswin said with his facial expression, like he didn’t want people thinking he and Mateo were anything alike.
I admit that things have been rough since I got back. I’m just a few light years away from my wife, but I still can’t reach her. The ship is going off to God knows where, and I’m kind of freaking out here. That is not your problem, and I am sorry for any stress that I added to your lives.”
“It’s okay, Mateo” Weaver consoled. “That was weeks ago.”
“Speak for yourself,” Thor said to her. “I ain’t over jack. People have been talking to me like him my whole goddamn life. They did it on Earth. They did it on Mars. And they did it everywhere else I went. I’ve been underestimated and dismissed so much that I put it on my résumé. But I keep my shit together, because people are counting on me. Do they count on you?”
“I hope so,” Mateo said, losing a bit of his smile.
“Then keep it together, bro.”
Mateo breathed in. “I can do that. Thank you for your truth.”
“And stop sayin’ stuff like that. It’s like a white person saying namaste. You don’t know what that means.”
“Thor, you are not the most pleasant person to live with either,” Cassidy asserted.
Thor stood up quickly. “I know. Why you think Saxon wanted to get rid of me?” He started to walk away. “I’m going back to bed. When I wake up, we better—” Then he continued with his mocking tone, but his words devolved into unintelligibility, like an adult on Peanuts.
“Well,” Goswin said. “Progress takes time.”