Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: October 29, 2236

Mateo went to bed early that night, so he could be awake and alert come midnight central, and the next year. Cassidy was a bit claustrophobic, and didn’t like closing the sliding hatch of the grave chamber when she slept, which was a good thing, because then he could make sure she was there and safe. A lone private security guard was standing still against the bulkhead, shrouded in darkness. When he stepped out of the ship, he saw a right army of guards protecting the whole vessel. “Have there been any incidents since I was gone?” he asked the nearest one.
“All safe, sir,” the guard answered. “No incursions, whatsoever.”
“Do you happen to know where Weaver is? Her grave chamber was empty.”
“She likes to work late, in her lab.”
“Thank you.”
He tipped his hat.
Mateo went off to Weaver’s lab, where he found her engrossed in her work. She didn’t even seem to notice he had walked in. He peered at a model on her computer screen. “That doesn’t look like what I thought it would look like.”
“Oh, this?” she asked. “No, this isn’t it. That was done months ago. This here is a prototype of this idea I have for a teleporter shield.”
“What’s that?”
“Well, the void telescopes are going to be flying through interstellar space at ninety-nine percent the speed of light. We can send navigational probes to alert the telescope ship to any impediments in its path, but each course correction slows progress. Plus, the probes themselves can be damaged, and replacements can’t really be manufactured to compensate, because then the telescope would have to slow down, just so that replacement can get ahead.”
“So instead, any debris that tries to crash into the telescope will run into the force field, and be teleported away?” Mateo guessed.
“Right, but I’m having trouble with the vector calculations. Every time I try to model it, about point-oh-three percent of debris ends up being teleported inside the field, which defeats the purpose.”
“I wish I could help, but I barely understand what you’re talking about.”
“So do I,” Weaver admitted. “I’m not really that educated. My power doesn’t simply allow me to invent things with temporal properties. It’s the powers themselves that engineer the inventions. I’m more like a vessel, so when I run into an issue, like this one, I don’t know right away how to fix it. That’s why come it takes me so long to make something new.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself. Most people can’t ever do it ever. I don’t care how long you give me, I wouldn’t be able to invent a single thing.”
She smiled at the praise. “Anyway, that’s not what you’re here for.” She removed a key from around her neck, and used it to open a drawer. She removed a small box from inside, and presented it to him.
“That’s the thing?”
She opened the box, and pulled the device out. It looked a whole lot like jewelry. “The absorption regularizer.”
“Why has it not yet been implanted? Honest question.”
Weaver placed the regularizer in his hand. “You need to calibrate it first. If it’s going to match with your pattern, it needs to know what that pattern is.”
“What does that involve?”
“I just need some blood,” Weaver said.
He lifted his sleeve, and letter her draw blood from his arm. “Would this work for anyone else?” he asked as she was doing whatever it was with his blood. “Like, if Goswin wore it, could he be on my pattern too? Did you just invent a way to give humans powers or patterns?”
“That’s not what I did,” she answered. “I spent weeks studying and testing Cassidy. She’s the one with the ability to absorb powers. This thing is just designed to make sure she keeps the pattern we want her to have, in case she comes across someone else. If I wanted to give one random human some random chooser’s powers, I don’t think this would do us much good.” She connected Mateo’s blood to her computer, and initialized a program.
“What if we need Cassidy off my pattern temporarily? Can the regularizer be switched off, or switched to a different pattern?”
She rifled through some papers, and removed a sheet phone from the table. “There’s an app for that.”
“I don’t think I’m allowed to carry a phone. Leona called it marginally transhumanistic; extensions of the self.”
“Well, Cassidy is the one who needs to maintain possession of it anyway. Still, I’ll code your DNA for access, should things go south. We can’t let it fall into the wrong hands, though. Anyone who controls the app controls her.”
He nodded listlessly, and turned the device over in his hands. “Why does it look like a belly button piercing again?”
“So it can hide in plain sight,” she answered.
It did look like the one Cassidy already had, which Mateo wished he didn’t know. He stuck it back in its box, and cleared his throat. “Weaver, am I doing the right thing?”
“You mean, are we? Do we have a better choice?”
“It looks like she has pretty good protection,” Mateo noted, referring to the dozen guards assigned to protect her, and the countless others who would protect her too if someone attacked.
“Time is complicated. It can be both bane and boon. You just have to know how to use it to your advantage. We don’t know how many people are going to come after her, or how many times they’re going to try. If we don’t do this, they’ll have three hundred and sixty-five days a year to try something, and they’ll just keep getting better at it. I would rather reduce their chances than have to protect her twenty-four-seven. Yeah, Mister Matic, I think we’re doing the right thing.”
“Good.” It was Cassidy herself. She was gliding into the room. “I don’t want ‘round the clock protection. It’s asking too much of others.”
“No one’s complained,” Mateo pointed out to her.
“They shouldn’t have to do it either way.” Cassidy nodded towards the box. “If it’s ready, I’m ready.”
Weaver’s computer beeped. “Perfect timing. It is indeed ready. Go ahead and lie down on that table over there. Lift up your shirt.”
Cassidy did as she was asked. She reached out and stopped Mateo as he was trying to leave.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he answered an unvocalized request.
“I assure you,” Weaver said as she was preparing for the simple procedure, “this is perfectly safe. I’m just going to take your original one out, and replace it with the other. You might feel a pinch, but it shouldn’t hurt like it did when you first got the piercing.”
“Please,” she repeated to Mateo.
No one really knew exactly what had happened between Mateo and Cassidy a few years ago, but everyone knew that it was something. Weaver was trying to be polite, but the patient needed to feel safe. “It couldn’t hurt to have the donor present—to make sure that the absorption takes hold.”
That surely wasn’t necessary. They didn’t know if the power or pattern Cassidy absorbed at any one time eventually wore off, but they knew it wouldn’t happen in the next five minutes. Still, he had little room to argue. It wasn’t like she had to take her clothes off.
It didn’t take long at all. Mateo held her hand all through the ten seconds it took for Weaver to remove Cassidy’s piercing, and the twenty seconds it took for her to replace it with the high tech version. Then she started fiddling with the sheet phone. Once she was finished, she spoke to Cassidy like a doctor. “This is to be used in emergencies; in an extreme emergency, that is. You are now, more or less, permanently on Mateo and Leona’s pattern. If you run across, say, somebody with the ability to see the future, and you want their power, use this.” She unscrewed the tiny fake pearl from the bottom of the piercing, and revealed it to serve doubly as the handle for a needle. “You just need a drop of their DNA. The app will recalibrate your regularizer. But you still can’t have more than one power or pattern at the same time, so you will fall back into realtime, until you switch back. You can also suppress the pattern, and turn it back on at will. Do you understand how dangerous this phone, and your piercing, are?”
“I do, yes,” Cassidy said with a nod.
Weaver was worried. “Mateo can use the app too, but you are administrator, so you can remove permissions whenever you want, or add other people. Again, though, use discretion. This thing is like your heart in a box. It can turn you into a weapon.”
“I get it,” Cassidy took the phone, and tucked it away. “Heart in a box,” she echoed. “Well, more like my pocket.” She looked between her friends. “You two act like I’m the first person in the world to be in danger.” She hopped off the table. “Your lives are filled with danger; why are you so obsessed with me?”
“We both knew your father,” Mateo said. “He was a good man, and he died for it. We know he didn’t want you to suffer the same fate.”
“You don’t know that he’s dead. Weaver’s told me that story a million times over the past year. You didn’t see him die.”
Mateo frowned. “We kinda did.”
“You don’t know what you saw. One day, a bunch of smart scientists are going to turn the Dardius Nexus replica back on, and we’ll find out. Until then, I have to pretend like I’m salmon. I would appreciate it if you didn’t place such a stigma on that.”
“We can do that,” Weaver said.
Kestral McBride walked into the room, staring at her tablet. “Weavey, I was hoping you could double check my math on the—oops, sorry. I didn’t realize you had company. Mateo, it’s that time of the year; I lost track of the calendar.”
“It’s nice to see you, Captain. We’ll get out of your hair.”
“Did you do the procedure?” she asked.
Cassidy lifted her shirt to show her.
“Looks good. Keep it clean. Don’t want an infection.”
Mateo and Cassidy left the room.
“All right,” she said with a deep breath. “I guess this is it. It was nice knowing ya.”
“What does that mean?” he questioned.
“Now that I’m on your pattern permanently, we don’t have to be anywhere near each other. It’ll never wear off.”
“Is that what you want?”
“It’s obviously what you want.”
“I never said that.”
“I can see the guilt in your eyes, Mateo. It doesn’t exactly make me feel great about myself. I’ve danced for dozens, if not hundreds, of people. I never have to meet their spouses. Well, there have been a few couples, but something tells me Leona wouldn’t—”
“I’m sorry I put you in this position,” Mateo said. “It wasn’t fair, and it’s not fair how I’ve been treating you. We can get through this, and remain friends.”
“We can be social media friends, you mean.”
“You have a home on the AOC.”
“I also have four gigantic cylinders, and my pick of the empty units. Hell, Goswin tells me they never filled the one I was using when I first got here, so I could just go back.”
“You’re still in danger, and I don’t mean to stigmatize you, or whatever. It’s just...I would rather keep you close. This doesn’t give you superpowers; it just lowers your chances of being attacked by making you harder to find.”
“They’ve set up great security here; I’ll be fine.” She tried to walk away.
“Please,” Mateo said. “It’ll be worse for my marriage if you leave. Like you’ve said, it was one dance. That’s not illegal, but if it ruins our friendship, Leona will think it meant something more.”
“Did it?”
“Did it what?” He knew what she was asking.
“Did it mean something to you?”
He stammered, “wull, I—just because...”
“That’s what I thought. It’ll be worse if I stay. It’s not like it matters anyway. You have to get to Varkas Reflex, and I have no business there.”
“Ishida said it’ll take twelve years to get to Varkas Reflex, and we’re still not a hundred percent certain Leona even went there.”
“Then you better get going.” She turned and walked away.
He stared at the space where Cassidy once was. Things were extremely complicated. He was in love with Leona, but he also loved Serif, who wasn’t exactly real, and now in another universe. Now this new woman shows up, and he doesn’t know what to feel. Were all his caveman friends right? Were humans just not built to be monogamous? Or was he just a bad person?

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Proxima Doma: Excavation (Part XIII)

Étude remembered. She still didn’t have the memories of the first several years of her life, but she could remember one thing: her daughter, Cassidy. It wasn’t really her daughter, since she wasn’t the one who traveled to Earth, and then to Dardius, delivered a child, then went back to Earth. That was a different version of Étude, using a different body. But it still felt like her, because she could remember it all as if she had actually experienced it.
“Did you do this on purpose?” she asked of Nerakali.
“Yes. You should remember asking me. I blended memories of the alternate timeline you experienced that led you to seek me out in the first place.”
“I don’t remember that,” Étude said.
“There’s no need to lie,” Nerakali assured. “I know that that timeline wasn’t super great for you, but there’s no shame in asking an enemy for help.”
“We’re not enemies,” Étude told her, “but you didn’t blend those memories. All I remember is the first eighteen years of my daughter’s life.”
Nerakali laughed once. “Wait, what?”
“You have a daughter? Wait, what happened? You asked me to come back to the past and give you the first nine years of your life back. That’s what I did.”
“No, it’s not,” Étude argued. “Something went wrong. You blended my brain with that of my alternate. We both lived in one timeline, but separately.”
“That’s impossible; it’s never happened before.” Nerakali was mortified at the thought.
“Are you so sure?” Tertius questioned. “You don’t receive the blended memories yourself, so you can’t ever really know whether you did it perfectly.”
“I’ve heard no complaints,” Nerakali promised.
“Well, you wouldn’t,” Vitalie reasoned. “If you missed something, they wouldn’t remember what they don’t remember. There’s no way to ever know.”
“I would know. If a tree falls in the woods, it makes a sound, even if no one is there to hear it. And the cat’s life doesn’t depend on whether or not we open the box to observe it.”
“What are you talking about?” Tertius asked.
“I’m saying that we would know. I’ve blended hundreds of brains; billions more, if you count the times I did it on massive scales while I was still in my home dimension. If I were the type to make mistakes, I would have seen evidence of it.”
“Maybe you just don’t wanna see,” Vitalie suggested.
“You shut your damn mouth!” Nerakali shouted, feeling vulnerable and defensive, possible for the first time in her very long life.
“Miss Preston,” Étude said calmly, after a brief moment of silence. “I am not upset, so you shouldn’t be either.”
“But if you s—”
“Miss Preston,” she repeated, still as calm as before. “I believe someone interfered with your blend. It could have been an alternate version of one of us, or some random chooser, or hell, even the powers that be. I don’t know why this future version of me wanted you to do anything, but I am happy with the results. When yet another Étude told me about her daughter, I was able to detach myself from it, because it didn’t feel real. She wasn’t around, I never met her; she was just a story. Now she’s real, and now I need to find her. If you feel bad about this, you can relieve your guilt by helping me figure out where she is.”
“I can’t stay here,” Nerakali said. “I have to go back in time, so I can die at the hands of The Warrior. The more I put that off, the more the timestream is at risk of a paradox.”
“I just need you to find the past, or the future, or whatever. It’s not so easy for us to jump back to Earth and gather information. Can you do this for me?”
Nerakali stared at Étude for a good while, with an exquisite poker face. “I will do my best. It won’t be easy for you, though. You might find it...distasteful.”
Tertius went into protective mode. “Why would it be distasteful?”
“I can teleport and travel through time,” Nerakali explained. “I can’t take people with me, and it’s not particularly easy on my body, but it gets me out of tight spots, in a pinch. I definitely can’t jump between planets, though.”
“How did you get here then?” Vitalie thought she caught her in a lie.
She sent me,” Nerakali answered, pointing at Étude, “through a door.”
“So, you can open portal doors?” Tertius noted.
Étude shrugged. “I guess. Why would that be distasteful, though?”
“You can’t open doors yet,” Nerakali said. “It’s...complicated. I mean, we can try, but Future!You seemed pretty confident you wouldn’t develop that power until you were much older.”
“I’ve never heard of people having to develop their powers,” Tertius said. “We’re born with them, and we just have them. It’s like teaching a baby how to speak. They’ll get it eventually; you don’t have to work at it deliberately.”
“That’s true, for the most part,” Nerakali agreed. “It’s not always the case, though. Ellie Underhill was in her twenties before she manifested. Why, Étude’s mother broke free from the powers that be by sheer will.”
“I thought it was...” Étude began.
Nerakali nodded. “People assume she and Vearden retained residual power from my brother when he shared it with them, but that’s not quite what happened.”
They didn’t say anything for a beat.
“What’s distasteful?” Tertius asked again.
“You have to try to kill me,” she answered bluntly.
“What?” Vitalie rolled her eyes.
“My death is predestined,” Nerakali started to explain. “It’s already happened, and I can’t stop it. The upside is I can’t die until I go back to that moment, and let it happen. So every time anyone tries to kill me some other time, the universe itself will rescue me.”
“It’ll rescue you by sending you right to your death,” Étude pointed out. “This happened on The Warren before I was on it. I remember Leona talking about it.”
“Well, it’s not a perfect situation, but it gets me to Dardius, and from there, I can take the Nexus back to Earth. From there, anywhere.”
“So, you do this often?” Vitalie asked.
“I wouldn’t say often. Each time I nearly die before my time, it gets me one step closer to my actual death. Literally. Nine steps. Nine steps from the sidewalk, up to the building where I die. At some point, I run out of steps, and there’s no going back.”
“You’re a cat?”
“You have nine lives, like a cat.”
Nerakali smirked. “It’s more like cats have nine lives, like me. Where do you think that phrase comes from?”
Cat jokes aside, Étude had never killed anyone before, and wasn’t interested in trying now. Sure, any attempt on Nerakali’s life should end in failure, but what if that was wrong? What if it’s the universe that fails, and destroys itself in the doing?
Tertius sighed. “Well, I can do that for you.” It would seem they had some history.
“No, it has to be her,” Nerakali said, looking directly at Étude.
“Why me?”
“You’re the one who wants my help; you’re the one who has to make payment. It’ll work either way, but if anyone but you points that gun at my head, I’ll just move on with my life, and forget all about whatever it is you’re asking of me.”
“What gun?”
Nerakali dropped her gaze downwards for a split second, then looked right back up. Étude looked down as well, then felt her pocket. Inside of it was a teeny tiny revolver. It would be wothlessly inaccurate in a shootout, but at point blank range, it would get the job done. It wasn’t that guns didn’t exist anymore, but they were pretty rare. With no money or war, people generally didn’t feel the need to shoot each other anymore. Any enjoyment they could receive out of them was tremendously overshadowed by virtual simulations, which had the added benefit of no lasting consequences. As The Last Savior of Earth, she had probably seen more real firearms in her lifetime than anyone else her age, in this time period, and she did not like them. Still, it would certainly be worth it if using the one she had now would result in her finding her Cassidy. It wasn’t like she would actually be killing anyone. Nerakali said it herself; she was already dead, and there was no undoing that.
She opened the spinny thing where the bullets go, and made sure it was loaded. Then she pulled back that thing on the back that people in movies do to show how serious they are.
“Étude,” Vitalie said, stepping forward, “you don’t have to do this. We can find your daughter another way. We have a quantum messenger, and between the two of you, we’ll find someone with answers.”
Étude lifted the gun to Nerakali’s unfazed face. “She lived in another dimension for thousands of years, where she could see all of space. We know some people. She knows everybody. She’s my best chance.” Before anyone had a chance to stop her—including her own reluctance—Étude pulled the trigger. The bullet lodged itself in the wall behind where Nerakali was once standing. At the same time, Étude heard what sounded like papers fall on the table behind her. She twisted, and picked them up. On the front of a manila envelope, it read Cassidy Long – List of Appearances.
“That was quick,” Tertius said.
“There’s no telling how long your friend was working on this, or what it took” Vitalie reminded him.
He was disgusted. “She was not our friend.”
Étude was looking through the file Nerakali had compiled for her. It wasn’t undetailed, and contained information about her and her daughter’s life back on Earth at the turn of the 21st century. Honestly, the fact that none of this information seemed to have spread beyond Nerakali’s eyes would have been impressive for someone who could actually be trusted. “I don’t know about that. She done did good.”
“Does it say where she is now?” Vitalie asked, standing on her tippy toes to get one peek.
Étude flipped back and forth, back to the beginning, then to the end. “Well, there are a lot of question marks on this page, but Nerakali seems to think Cassidy was spirited away to a different planet, in the future. No, not a planet, but like, a space station, or something?”
“Like the ISS?” Tertius wondered.
“Yeah, but bigger...much, much bigger. Either of you ever heard of a place called Gatewood?”

Friday, June 14, 2019

Microstory 1125: Eudora Mercari

Eudora Mercari was born on Durus during the reign of the First Republic. Upon turning twenty, she was promised to a man. In this world, she had no choice in the matter, and though she knew intellectually that this was wrong, she never felt like she could do anything about it. Society’s way of doing things left a lot of very important questions unanswered. If a woman has no choice in the man she marries, is it even possible for her to consent to sex? Can she make an informed decision about her body when she’s inescapably expected to provide for her husband whatever she needs? No. Still, when it comes to sex, there is at least some difference between assault, and a vague approximation of true consent. There are men out there who are very clearly raping their wives. They’re doing so with violence and malice, and despite protest. This was Eudora’s fear her entire life; that she would be stuck with a man like this, and it is that fear that drove her towards accepting her fate. Marital rape is a heartbreaking fear that pervades the minds of many women of Durus in this time period. It is better to be assigned a mate against your will, than be hopelessly bound to a man who your family has not vetted and interviewed. This was not how the new phallocratic society began, but it is how its government maintains its power. The system isn’t perfect, but destroying the policies without effective replacements wouldn’t help alleviate the dangers. If that were to happen, the people who instituted those original policies would still there, along with everyone who agreed with them. They would still feel the same way, but there would be no protections whatsoever; just anarchy. Of course, being that the system is designed quite publicly to subjugate women, even properly vetted potential husbands can turn out to be abusive.

Eudora’s new husband started out slowly, like he knew what he wanted—how far he wanted to go—but didn’t want to be called out for it. If, say, he raped Eudora on their first night together, there might be some legal actions she could take against him. No, it was better to break her down gradually, so she felt there was nothing she could do, because she was all alone. They had been married for so long, and she had never complained before, so who would believe her now? He was careful and patient. He didn’t so much as touch her for almost two months, trying to make her think that he wouldn’t make the first move; that he was a good guy. Then he started to be a little affectionate, but not overtly sexual. He would criticize her appearance and behaviors, but mask these complaints as encouragements. Instead of telling her she was fat, he would work out a discount at a fitness center, for the both of them. Instead of telling her she was ugly, he would buy her makeup as gifts. On their own, these things seemed so innocuous that not even Eudora realized what was really happening. When he was finally ready to take what he believed he was entitled to, he turned drastically. He forced himself on her, and he finished so quickly, that it barely registered to her right away that anything had happened. She was so shocked, she didn’t even get a chance to vocalize her refusal, which meant she didn’t think she could report it. When he wanted it again the next day, she was better prepared, but no stronger. His technique was working. She begged her parents for help getting out of this marriage, and didn’t even bother asking them to seek to charge him to any crime. She just wanted to get away from him, but they wouldn’t allow it. Her father was not unlike her husband, and her mother was not unlike Eudora feared she would become one day: hopeless and powerless.

This is one of the few times that the system didn’t completely fail women, however. After months of his abuse, Eudora’s husband started getting too confident. He didn’t think he could ever get in trouble for the horrors he was inflicting, even if people knew about it. He bragged about the power he was holding over his wife, and of the extramarital conquests he was making all the while. A man nicknamed Professor Pane caught wind of his stories, and decided he could help, though not in the best way possible. He was a mage remnant, and could create one-way visual portals to other places. He used his ability to keep track of current events on Earth, but there were so many more applications. These portals were only windows, which allowed him to see some distant location, but not interact with it. Anyone on the other side would not be able to see him back. So he approached the authorities, told them what he knew, and opened a window to Eudora and her husband. Recording devices were never invented in this world, so his was the only way of catching the husband in the act. Obviously that meant he would have to rape her one last time, but Pane would fight with all his strength to make sure it was indeed his last time, even if the authorities didn’t take action after witnessing it. They did, though. They could not deny what they had seen, and they arrested Eudora’s husband immediately. She spent years in a deep depression after that, working alone to overcome the trauma. Therapy existed on Durus, but it was given mostly to men. A woman can seek psychological help, but only if the man who owns her gives his permission, and she no longer had one of those. The only light in her life being her daughter, Andromeda, who was the product of one of her husband’s crimes. By the time Andromeda was old enough to understand where it is she came from, the world had changed. The phallocracy was crushed, and a new government was formed. The crimes of yesteryear were wiped clean, in one of the most despicable acts of this provisional government, and this historical whitewashing would not be remedied for many years. Eudora decided to keep her terrible history a secret for the rest of her life, as apparently the new convention dictated. Both she and her daughter died never having spoken of it.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Microstory 1124: Relehirkojun Rokoglubederi

When interstellar ship, The Elizabeth Warren left Durus, it brought with it dozens of passengers. The vessel itself was far too small for this many people, though, so they lived in extra pocket dimensions that a paramount named Annora Ubiña created. This was an eclectic bunch, and the only thing they all had in common was that they wanted to leave their rogue planet, and find a home on Earth. Some once lived there, and had been taken to Durus against their will, while others had lived there for their whole lives. Though there was an attempt to build balance within each pocket’s population, based on histories and personalities, Pocket Four was known from the beginning to be the most volatile. Two completely unpredictable variables were children who were yet to be born. One would have the ability to expand the pocket infinitely, while the other could create life with every breath. Once the second developed his time power fully, he used his imagination, not to create humans, but a corruption of human, which eventually came to be called Maramon. They worshiped the humans as gods, though their definition of worship was a lot different that ours. As for the pocket, it had to be severed from its link to the ship, or it could disrupt the delicate order of the universe. It became its own universe, but not before the girl who could make it larger was pulled out of it. So the size remained limited, yet the population continued to increase. This caused a number of political and social issues, the likes of which no being from an infinite universe could possibly hope to understand. It was through all this strife, and hardline religious convictions, that the white monsters regressed to a violent and incursive nature. They were inclined to war and conquest, and no universe was safe from their drive to expand.

One early Maramon was named Relehirkojun ‘Relehir’ Rokoglubederi. He lived in the pocket before it was separated, and managed to slip out at the very last second, in pursuit of those that would take one of their creator gods. At the time, there seemed to be no way for him to return, so he used his talent as a scholar and researcher to find out everything he could about what happened to his brethren after he left. Though his movements were monitored and restricted, Relehir found himself meeting choosing ones with knowledge and experience throughout all of time. After careful study, he was gradually able to piece together a history of his universe of origin, and he was not happy with what he discovered. He learned of their wars, and invasions of other universes, and decided he wanted to do something about it. He felt it was his responsibility, not because their actions were his fault, but because he was the one of their kind who had been blessed with the gifts of perspective, and understanding. His time with the humans allowed him to recognize right from wrong, not because humans were wholly good, but because there was far more diversity. He took on the woxa of Repudiator. Woxa were nicknames from his homeworld, that were bestowed upon those who became famous in some way, be it good or bad. It wasn’t possible to give a woxa to oneself, but going against the convention was sort of his entire point. He began to plan a revolt by setting in place a series of events that would one day lead him to a team of misfit fighters. Most of the crew were each on their own path of redemption, or at least, could be put on one, just like him. They were villains in someone else’s story, but with the right leadership, had the chance to become heroes of the multiverse.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Microstory 1123: Hadron Grier

There once was a planet orbiting a star. There was nothing particularly astonishing about this planet, nor its parent. But this rocky world had a gas giant brother, who nudged himself closer to their mother with every orbit. The gravitational disturbance grew to be too much for the smaller planet to handle, so it was ejected from its system, and began a long journey across the Milky Way. Through means unknown, it formed a connection to Earth. It had never encountered Earth before, nor had anyone traveled from one to the other. Temporal anomalies are, for the most part, random and unpredictable. This quantum connection had dangerous implications, however. People started slipping through the breach, and ended up on the rogue world with barely enough resources to survive. They wouldn’t have been able to survive at all, however, if the world they called Durus hadn’t been borrowing any resources from Earth. It was a cold and lifeless place, except that it funneled warmth and a breathable atmosphere from its far away partner. A society was formed by the castaways, but this society was far from perfect, and life was difficult, even for the most well-off. Hadron Grier’s family was always on the fringes, though no one seemed to be able to explain why. They weren’t known for revolting against the leadership, or siding with that leadership as it was falling. They weren’t notably poorer than others, or less equipped to contribute positively to society. They just somehow developed this stigma, so people around them grew up being told to stay away. Some believed it was some kind of curse, while others simply did not give it much thought. As it turns out, the former were partly right. Generations later, Hadron’s father became one of the last holdouts when the government transitioned from the phallocratic republic to the provisional democracy. He accidentally killed a political candidate during a protest, and was sent to prison for life. This had terrible consequences, not only for the future, but the past. The candidate was a mage remnant, who lived his whole life without knowing what he could do, and it’s unclear today exactly what how it could have manifested if he remained alive. His death, however, echoed in both directions of time, ultimately branding the Griers as the outcasts they were seemingly predestined to be. It was a self-fulling prophecy at its finest, for the only reason Hadron’s father was so angry was because of how his family had been treated since humans first arrived on Durus. Hadron wanted to leave his past behind, and start a new life on Earth, but was summarily rejected. There was only so much room on the vessel that was making the trip, and already one Grier was on the manifest; his cousin. Jarrett considered this to be unfair, and after several unsuccessful attempts at rectifying the situation, decided to sneak Hadron aboard anyway. Their deception was discovered, and Hadron yet again fell victim to his family’s curse when he was locked up in the ship’s secret jail. Jarrett’s crime was obvious. He followed in his uncle’s footsteps, and killed the woman who had imprisoned his cousin. Hadron’s crime was not so cut and dried, and it was completely unprosecutable once they arrived on Earth. So the question became, what to do with him now?

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Microstory 1122: Saxon Parker

While a select few run around with special temporal powers, the rest of the world develops pretty much unimpeded. Even though faster-than-light travel is clearly possible, the people who possess such capabilities have kept themselves secret. They don’t do this to hoard their power, but because exposing oneself means exposing others, and no one has the right to do that. If they were to come together, and create some kind of council, they might be able to agree upon a time period to reveal themselves to the world, but this has never taken shape. At the turn of the 23rd century, some time-based technology is finally made public, but its use is heavily regulated, application limited, and true nature disguised as advanced quantum research that was already heading in this direction anyway. In the meantime, without being able to reach the nearest planet in a matter of minutes, humanity continued on its upward trajectory of expansion. We traveled to Luna, and Mars, and the moons of the gas giants. We sought out new worlds around neighboring stars, and made plans to explore the farthest reaches of the galaxy. One man who was part of this was named Saxon Parker. Before Thor Thompson could travel with his family to create a permanent presence on Mars, pioneers like Saxon needed to do this first with Earth’s moon. Luna became an important staging ground for Mars missions beginning in 2024, when a permanent outpost was established. This outpost was designed to manufacture vital materials, and process fuel, so that any ship wishing to reach Mars would be able to get far enough. In another reality, and with a different name, Saxon chose a career of military service in the air force, but in the new timeline, he remained a civilian. His education was expedited, and he became an astronaut by the time he turned eighteen. In February of 2026, he went on his first trip to the moon, and he never returned to Earth again, except for a relatively brief mission that the public cannot know about. He helped construct and expand the lunar base, so by the time the first Martian passenger mission took off, they were ready to provide assistance. In the fall of 2028, with Mars at a decent opposition to Earth, Saxon joined one of the crews that were bound for the red planet. He remained here for some time, using his expert knowledge to build even grander habitats, for an even larger settlement. After another few years, he began to move out to other worlds in the solar system, making sure researchers and colonists had everything they needed to survive so far from Earth. Then, when he was 223 years old, he boarded his first interstellar ship, to a nearby system called Gatewood. And from there, the entire Milky Way was at his fingertips.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Microstory 1121: Gérard Fortier

Gérard Fortier never thought he would one day be working for a covert operations organization, but he also never thought he would join the military. His was a mundane and smooth childhood. He had decent parents, lived in a safe neighborhood, and received a good education. There was nothing in his life he could point to today and claim that it was the moment that led him to signing up for the French armée de terre. He could have gone to university, had he wanted, but he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life, so service seemed like the most logical next step. After the end of his five-year contract as an engagé volontaire, he was intending to return home to look for work when he was approached by someone from the DGSE. He wasn’t technically a recruiter, but had heard about Fortier’s excellent record, and thought he would be a perfect fit for the agency. Again, he mostly agreed because he didn’t have any better offers. Two years in, he was approached again, this time by a member of the service canadien du renseignement de sécurité, known in English as the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, or CSIS. This was a major joint task force, composed of multiple competing intelligence agencies, for the purpose of exemplifying the spirit of allied cooperation. Branches were located in several key locations around the world, not only in participating nations, which included Canada, Portugal, Australia, United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as France. This was the perfect place for Gérard to work, for while he loved his country deeply, he always considered the whole world to be his home. He felt that, when allied organizations treated each other as competitors, it was the people who suffered. They wanted him to head up their main French office, but Fortier was disinterested in a leadership position. At the moment, the only other open positions were out-of-country, which he was fine with. He hadn’t grown up wanting to see the world, but it certainly wasn’t an opportunity he would pass up. He ended up flying overseas, and being stationed right in the middle of the U.S., in Kansas. It is here that he met the tight-knit team he would be working with, and would come to think of as his family. His partner was Yadira Cardoso, who came up through the Serviço de Informações Estratégicas de Defesa. It didn’t take him long to realize that she was not like the other agents. She possessed an uncanny ability to anticipate an opponent’s moves, making her a virtually unstoppable fighting machine. They were later transitioned into a three-person partnership, with a man named Camden Voss. Unlike Yadira’s, his abilities could not be explained away. He could jump through time, and there was no denying it. Gérard started to suspect that this entire task force organization was created by, or for, people with supernatural powers, but was surprised to learn it was not. They were recruited for their talents, but the organization itself was designed to foster the six-nation alliance that founded it. Powers were just a bonus, and Gérard’s skills and past experiences were just as valuable to his superiors as anything else.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: October 28, 2235

Mateo had to take medication to get to sleep that night. This wasn’t the first time he was being sent into a mission without any clue what he was doing, but it felt different. Mirage’s warning about where to be, and when to be there, wasn’t just giving him ample time to prepare, but also to become anxious about it. When he woke up the next morning, he decided to embellish his kit of essentials with some more specialized equipment. He used the Gatewood’s industrial synthesizer to fabricate graphene bulletproof clothing, nonlethal debilitating weapons, augmented vision glasses, and several other tools. He also got his hands on a Gatewood communications device, so he could contact help in the event he needed it. Goswin was the only person he told where he was going. Goswin strongly implied that he would have a security force on standby, should Mateo need it. When the time came, he took a shuttle to cylinder two, the automatic train to arcology eleven, and the elevator to floor eighty-three. Then he walked towards unit A-fifteen of spoke six. But then he found he wasn’t alone.
“Did you follow me here?” Mateo asked, looking around feverishly, worried about any threat.
“I was told to,” Cassidy replied.
“Who told you that?”
“She told you to accompany me on my mission? That seems unlikely.”
“No, she told me to stay close, that you were my only shot of surviving here.”
“I can’t protect you, Cassidy. I’m just a guy.”
“You’re not just a guy. People have said you’re a Vin Diesel-level action hero.”
“I’m an above average driver. That’s about as close as I get to Vin Diesel-level anything.”
“Well, Mirage said...” She didn’t have much intention to finish her sentence.
Mateo’s watch beeped. He turned his head quickly to eye the door he was meant to go through. It remained closed. He turned back to Cassidy. “Go back to the AOC.”
“There won’t be a shuttle for another hour.”
“Son of a bitch. Then just go! Anywhere else.”
They heard a sound down the hallway. The door was opening, and a man was stepping through. “Ah-ha!” he exclaimed. “You’ve brought her right to me. Now I won’t have to track her down.”
“Shit.” The man obviously didn’t have good intentions. “Run!” he ordered Cassidy.
She ran off.
“What did I just say?” the man questioned as he was walking towards Mateo.
Mateo dropped his bag, and made sure his Batmanesque utility belt was secure. “My brother taught me a thing or two about fighting, so come at me, bro!” That sounded neither like Mateo, nor Darko, but it felt like the right thing to say at the time. He decided to not give this stranger the chance to attack first. He ran straight for him, and they started grappling. The fight between them looked cool in his head, but probably appeared petty and graceless from the outside.
The elevator doors right next to them opened up. It was Cassidy. She immediately ran out, and knocked the man against the wall. Then she grabbed his shirt by the shoulders, and swung him into the elevator himself, where he fell to the floor.
“Holy crap!” Mateo cried. “How did you do that?”
“The bouncers at the first club where I worked were ineffective. I had to learn how to take care of myself. Mirage, emergency evac, protocol seven; authorization code Castaway-Vociferous-Laundry-nine-nine-seven.”
The man in the elevator couldn’t get all the way up, but he could take a teleporter gun out of its holster. He pointed it at Cassidy just before the doors closed, so Mateo had to jump in front of it.
He suddenly found himself in the elevator with him. It was falling much faster than they normally moved. The two of them started grappling again, but stopped once they realized how long they had been falling. They should have reached the bottom by now.
“Mirage, status report!”
Mirage’s voice came on the speakers, but it was just a canned response. This wasn’t the actual Mirage, who was a self-aware artificial intelligence with agency. “We are currently on a course for orbit around Barnard’s Star b-twelve.”
“What is that?” the man asked.
“It’s the largest coalesced celestial body in this system, after the planet’s destruction. Cassidy must have sent you out here to take you off the board. Why are you trying to kill her?”
“I’m not trying to kill her. Sure, she may have to die, but the goal is not to kill her. We need her.”
“You need her for what.”
“When I say we, I mean all of us, including you. The white monsters are a threat to the very survival of this universe, and her blood is the key to stopping them.”
“Wait, back up. Start at the beginning. Who are you?”
“Who I am, specifically, is unimportant, but until rescue arrives, I suppose it can’t hurt to explain why I’m here; more to the point, why she’s here.”
“I’m listening.” Mateo had activated his beacon, but was expecting Cassidy to reach out to the others for help.
“Cassidy Long was born on Dardius not too long ago.”
“She was? How?”
“Do you wanna hear this, or just ask questions?”
“Okay, go ahead.”
The man restarted his story, “Cassidy Long was born to Étude Einarsson, and Newt Clemens on Dardius. The planet was designed as a sanctuary, mostly for humans, but she was not safe there, so her father sent them away. They went through the Nexus replica, and ended up on Earth in 1997. What he didn’t realize is that we would never hurt a child. Time travel can make things really urgent and hectic, but if you use it right, it can grant patience. So we waited until she was old enough to be recruited for a mission. She was all set to take a trip with her friends to Springfield, Kansas. Her mother didn’t want her anywhere near that town, but Cassidy was rebellious, and wanted to go anyway. Sadly, though, Étude died, and Cassidy didn’t want to go anymore. Fine, she missed the Deathfall, but we still had another shot. If we could get her to the Deathspring in 2161, we would be all right. Of course, that didn’t go well either. We had her protected in a cabin, ready for her to run into a woman with the ability to skip forward in time.”
“You mean Dubravka?”
“That’s my daughter.”
“Yeah, we knew that. Annoyingly, the Maverick intervened, and we lost again.”
“What are you talking about? Not that I wanted you to do this, but why didn’t you just find some other time traveler to take her?”
“We didn’t want her to be able to travel back and forth. We needed her on Durus, so she could later end up in Ansutah.”
“Why? Why go through all this trouble?”
“She can absorb people’s powers. If we could figure out how she works, we can replicate that, and build an army to defeat the Maramon.”
“A supersoldier program? This is all about a cliché B-movie action film premise?”
“These things are nearly impossible to kill, Mateo. We need an edge.”
“Yet she would die from this.”
“The procedure could kill her, yes; a noble sacrifice.”
“Nothing is noble about this. You kidnapped her from her hotel room—”
“We didn’t do that,” the man contended.
“Then who did?”
“We have no idea. Our best guess is she met a client she didn’t know had time powers. She absorbed them, and jumped all the way here. It’s taken us forever just to figure out where she was, and even longer to figure out how to get here.”
“You keep saying us, and we. Who else is here?”
The man didn’t respond.
“Who else is here?” Mateo demanded.
He still kept his mouth shut.
Goddammit. He took out his comms. “Goswin. Goswin! Do you have eyes on Cassidy. Where is she?”
We couldn’t find her,” Goswin replied. “There’s...there’s blood, though. And broken glass.
“How much blood?”
Not too much. We think she’s still alive. I have my best people on it. I would have updated you, but you activated the radio silence beacon.
“I don’t care what the attacker hears now. I’ll be the last face he sees before I throw him into the hock permanently.”
I also have people on their way to you, but you should know, someone else is approaching in an evac pod. They’re way ahead of us.
Just then, as if on cue, the metal from the elevator pod clanked and vibrated. The doors opened, revealing Cassidy yet again on the other side. She was in her own elevator pod, holding a bandage on her hand. “Could you help me close this up?” she asked.
“You’re alive!” Mateo hopped over, and hugged her tightly, then pulled back, because this was still awkward, and because she needed help.
“Enjoy the ride,” she said to the man. “Mirage, close the doors, and separate.”
After the pods separated from each other, Cassidy directed theirs to head back for cylinder two. The other would be reached by Goswin’s security team before too long, and the man would be dealt with accordingly.
“What happened to you?” Mateo asked her.
“There was another guy. He held me down, and took some of my blood.”
“I think he wanted all of it,” Mateo explained.
“He got one vial, but I broke the other in my escape. ”
“I’m so sorry this happened to you.”
“It’s not the first time.”
“So I’ve heard. Why didn’t you tell me about the cabin?”
“Mateo, I’m not a prostitute, but I have gotten offers that I just couldn’t refuse, so to speak. I wasn’t having sex, but it was sometimes a lot more private than the champaign room of the club. The hotel gig was for a client who just wanted to wake up next to someone in the morning, and kiss me goodbye when he went to work. The cabin, on the other hand, happened when I was young and stupid. I trusted the wrong person, and I paid for it.”
“That wasn’t your fault, Cassidy. They were trying to kill you.”
“He was insistent that he wasn’t.”
“A justification. They were trying to steal your powers. Chooser blood transfusions can copy powers, but they don’t last. You need a hell of a lot of it to make it last. If you had told me, or someone, we would have handled your arrival differently. We would have known to protect you.”
“I didn’t know it had anything to do with this. That was, like, two years before I came to Gatewood, and nothing happened since then.”
Mateo sat cross-legged on the floor. “They didn’t bring you here. I don’t know who did, so there’s at least one other party we have to worry about.”
“We don’t have to worry about that. Mirage is the one who brought me here.”
“Why? To protect you?”
“She didn’t explain everything, but yes. I think she thought these blood thieves wouldn’t be able to follow me.”
“She was wrong.”
“But it wasn’t just her,” Mateo went on. “She can’t do anything herself. She has to recruit others. Who was your client? The hotel guy?”
“Just a PhD student. I’ve known him since middle school. He doesn’t have powers; he would have told me. He talked to me about everything. I know more about hospital administration than I ever wanted to. I was basically his wife...except we weren’t actually married. We were only in the hotel to renovate his home.”
“He was a PhD student, and you were twenty-two at the time. You’ve known him since middle school, but he wasn’t in middle school.”
“Yeah, there was a bit of an age difference. Don’t judge me.”
“I’m not judging you.”
“Wasn’t Leona fourteen when you met?”
“Fifteen,” Mateo corrected. “Days from turning sixteen. We didn’t sleep together until we were the same age, though.”
“Jai and I never did it at all!” she reminded him.
“Okay, fair enough.”
They sat in silence for a moment.
Then Mateo had a weird idea. “Just to, uhh...make sure. Could you go ahead and tell me what your client’s last name was?”
“Why does that matter?”
“It’s, coincidences are hard to find in our world. I would feel a lot better if I heard his last name, and could be sure I didn’t know him. I mean, it wouldn’t be bad if it was, but...I just need to know.”
“Quelen,” she answered.
He let out a snort-laugh. “Jay Quelen.”
“Yes, he’s heard all the jokes.”
“When I knew him, I never made any jokes.”
Now she laughed. “No, you’re serious.”
“He’s good people. Married to my sister.” When he saw that she was confused, he clarified, “in another timeline.”
“Why didn’t they marry in this timeline?”
“She doesn’t exist anymore.”
Cassidy frowned, not knowing how else to react.
“It’s okay. I used to not exist; it’s not that bad.”
“Why wasn’t he on your list?” she asked. “When we met, you gave me a list of people you know.”
“You were right, he’s human. I don’t have a list of humans I know. Maybe I should.”
They spent the rest of the elevator pod ride writing up a list of humans they knew, and cross-checking them with each other. They had no other known mutual acquaintances. Of course, that didn’t mean she was safe. They needed a new plan.