Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: September 24, 2201

Shuhana Shenare, a.k.a. The Shepherd was not as easy to find as Kivi thought it would be, but she managed to do it. Shuhana obviously knew Leona would want to speak with her, but apparently wanted to make it a challenge. Fortunately, it was one that Leona didn’t have to worry about. When she woke up a year later, Shuhana was there, waiting to answer her questions.
“What are you?” Leona asked.
“What are you?” Shuhana sent back.
“I’m salmon.”
Shuhana shrugged marginally. “Sort of.”
“Are you gonna answer me?” Leona went on.
“I think you already know, based on what you’ve heard about me.”
“You’re Maramon,” Leona guessed.
“Yes, but don’t be alarmed. I’m one of the good ones.”
“Why does it seem like there are so few good ones?”
“We all started off as equals. Everyone was immortal, everyone was provided for, E-T-C. Then our population started giving us problems, and people had to make sacrifices. A few of us, however, never made those sacrifices, because we were...essential personnel. We were the elite, so as our brethren suffered and died, growing angrier by the day, we did fine.”
“That doesn’t sound very fair,” Vitalie pointed out.
“It wasn’t,” Shuhana agreed. “That’s why we built the machine. We were looking for more space and resources, so we could go back to the way we were. Unfortunately, that led to more complications, and the angry ones just got angrier.”
Leona continued for her, “and you kept the machine for yourself, and never went back for them.”
“It might not have been the right call,” Shuhana said, “but I stand by it. Had I continued with the initial mission, things might have finally evened out. Or, nothing would get better, but now I’ve infected other universes with the Maramon scourge. Rock and a hard place.”
“Why did you pretend to be my friend?” Kivi asked her.
“I wasn’t pretending. We’re friends.”
“But you were using me,” Kivi said. “Are you even a real shepherd?”
“Kivi, every Kivi has made her way to her friends sooner rather than later, but you were different. You were born in the center circle. You were trapped. Even on your walkabout, there was no way you would make it to where you belonged. I wasn’t using you, I was helping you. Yes, I wanted Leona to have the Compass of Disturbance, but I could have easily just given it to her myself, and convincing her I could be trusted would have been no more difficult than it is now.”
“Why do you want me to have it?” Leona asked.
“You’ll need it for your quest.”
The obvious response to this was to ask what quest she was talking about, but no one wanted to give her the satisfaction. She just needed to explain herself on her own.
“Leona, I know you’ve been remembering Mateo.”
“Bits here and there,” Leona admitted. “Fragments of memories, really. I can’t even make out his face.”
Shuhana nodded. “It’ll come back faster and faster, and the rest will return to you once he does.”
“That’s the quest,” Vitalie figured. “You’re sending the three of us off to find him.”
“Four,” Shuhana corrected.
“You’re coming with us?” Kivi asked.
“No, what Vitalie said was just good timing.”
“Good timing fo—”
Shuhana interrupted, “three, two, one.”
An explosion sent something flying towards Shuhana, who caught it in her arms with no problem. Leona realized it was a person she had just caught, and then realized this person was none other than Hogarth Pudeyo...uhh, whatever; Hogarth. It was Hogarth. Shuhana gently set her down on her feet.
“Why, thank you,” Hogarth said graciously.
“What the hell just happened?”
“She just time traveled from...the past?” Leona assumed.
Hogarth nodded.
“Does everyone time travel like that?” Kivi asked. “Looks dangerous.”
“No, I’m the only one who has to explode every time. I’m Hogarth Pudeyonavic.” That’s it.
“Kivi Bristol.” They shook hands.
“Nice to meet you, Kivi.”
“Wow, no one ever pronounces my name right,” Kivi noted, astonished.
“Gang’s all here,” Shuhana said. “So let me explain. There are some things you’re going to need if you want Mateo back. You won’t need them, however, if you don’t want him back, though. That’s up to you.”
“What are they?” Leona asked. “Let’s assume I’m interested in doing this.”
“I don’t know,” Shuhana said, seemingly honestly. “I can tell you that you’ll need the Book of Hogarth, and I can tell you that Compass of Disturbance will help you find that, along with the rest of the ingredients.”
“How would we know what the rest of the ingredients are?” Vitalie questioned.
“Did I not just say that?” Shuhana asked. “The Book of Hogarth will tell you.”
“None of this makes any sense,” Leona lamented. “It’s like P versus NP. You can’t just say that you know there’s a solution to our question, but that you don’t know what that solution is. You have to first have the answer yourself. And if you do, then why don’t you just give it to us? You can’t possibly know that the compass and book will help if you don’t know what we’re going to use them to look for.”
“I don’t know what to tell you, Leona,” Shuhana said. “Some things I know, some things I don’t. Use the compass to get to the book, and see if I’m right. There’s no need to question it. This is my gift to you, so you can take it, or not.”
“Uhhh...” Kivi began. “Isn’t her name Hogarth? If it’s her book, can’t she just tell us what’s in it, or at least tell us where to find it?”
“I don’t know where it is,” Hogarth said, turning to face Leona. “Last I saw it, you had it, in 2025.”
Leona had to think about this for a moment. “Well, as we established, my memories from that particular adventure are pretty fuzzy. I wouldn’t have taken the book for myself. Paige would have likely had it last, so where would she have put it?”
“Use the compass,” Shuhana said again, like she was talking to children.
“None of us knows how,” Leona said. “We need to use the compass to find the book, and we need the book to give us instructions for how to use the compass.”
“I wipe my hands of this,” Shuhana said. “Figure it out for yourself. See ya, Kivi.”
“Will we ever see each other again?”
“In another life,” Shuhana replied, then she walked away without looking back.
The team was silent for awhile before Leona spoke again. “This is the part where I remind everyone around me that they have no obligation to be part of this.”
“Are you going to do it?” Vitalie asked.
“I am,” Leona said with a nod. “I have to see this through. If I loved this person, and I’m really starting to think I did, I have to find out.”
“Then I’ll figure out how to use the compass,” Hogarth said proudly. “Shouldn’t be too hard.”
“You said something similar about the teleporter gun,” Vitalie said to her.
“That worked out in our favor in the end, didn’t it?” Hogarth volleyed.
“I’m in too,” Kivi said after another brief silence. “I don’t know how I can help, but I know I can make tea.”

Hogarth spent half the day tinkering with the Compass of Disturbance, only slowing down upon being reminded that Leona would not have enough time to do anything until next year anyway. While Kivi was preparing their dinner, Leona and Vitalie went into the other room to talk.
“What do you want to talk about?” Vitalie asked.
“You’ve been doing this for a long time.”
“Doing what?”
“Helping me.”
“You think I should stop?”
“I think you’ve not seen your fathers much this whole time.”
“You’re remembering the corrupted reality. In actual reality, we spent plenty of time together after The Warren arrived on Earth.”
“That’s true, but the way my time works—and meeting all these immortals—I just think you need to appreciate what little time you do have. Unless you all plan to start upgrading to better bodies, you might regret spending their final years on a snipe hunt.”
“What is a snipe?”
“Don’t worry about it, I’m just saying that you’ve done more than enough.”
“Leona, I talk with them nearly every night. Astral projector, remember?”
“It’s not the same thing.”
“It’s good enough. Children leave their parents. Nowadays, people are moving out to other planets. Why are you so focused on finding a reason to kick me out of your club?”
“I’m sorry it feels that way. I just...I remember what it was like to be young. I don’t have a choice but to be here. Everyone I cared about when I was your age has been long dead. You should leave, because you can. It’s why Brooke hasn’t spoken to us more than once since the Orcus and Vanth incident, and why we haven’t seen Paige since we fixed reality. People shouldn’t spend so much time with me. I’ll expect Hogarth and Kivi to leave when they can as well.”
“I’ll make you a deal. I promise to leave the circles, and visit my fathers in person for the whole year that you’re gone, and I’ll continue to do that each year. I’m coming back on your days, though. Is that a good enough compromise?”
“It’ll do, pig,” Leona conceded.
Suddenly, Hogarth popped into the room. “I figured it out! And I’m the piglet.”
“You figured out the compass?” Vitalie asked.
“Yeah,” Hogarth confirmed. “It’s not that hard once you get the hang of it. What time is it?”
“Almost 17:30,” Leona said, looking at her watch.
“Oh good, I was worried I kept you waiting for, like, years.”
“Hogarth, did you go somewhere? Where have you been?”
“All over,” Hogarth said. “I’ve been gallivanting around time and space for three years. Vitalie, I think should go see your father tomorrow.”
“Yeah, it may be the right time.” Hogarth started pulling something from her bag. “By the way, here’s my book.”

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Brooke’s Battles: Believers (Part II)

The Sharice Davids was an old ship by the time Ecrin and Brooke took over as Captain and Pilot, respectively. It was only capable of traveling at about one percent the speed of light. This meant it would take nearly a month to reach Orcus and Vanth. At the moment, Brooke was sitting in the commissary, which she had little use of, since she did not require much sustenance. It was the middle of the arbitrary sleeping period, and though people were too nervous about their arrival tomorrow to sleep well, most were in their quarters. The kitchen manager came in and flipped on the lights.
“Whoa,” he said. “I didn’t think anyone would be here.”
Brooke looked at her wrist, where there was no watch, because she had a literally clock installed in her brain. “Oh, is it coffee time already?”
He feigned a gradual increase in fear. “Wait, if you’re here...who’s flying the ship?” He was well aware that it was fully automated. An independent pilot was almost never necessary in a technical sense, but a lot of people still felt more comfortable knowing that a person was in charge. The fact that she was nearly more artificial than biological didn’t seem to be a problem. To them, all that mattered was that she was born, and raised naturally, before acquiring any programming.
“It’s not quite time for me to get breakfast going. I come in early, because getting out of bed always wakes up my husband, so he needs the extra time to fall back asleep.”
“You’re married to...uh, Allen?” Brooke tried to remember.
He smiled. “I’m Allen. Married to Richard.”
“Right, sorry. My systems aren’t fully operational.” She was capable of simply downloading the ship’s manifest into her mind, but still preferred to meet and recall people the old fashioned way. Her upgrades were primarily designed to keep her alive, not turn her into a database.
“You worried about arrival day?” Allen guessed.
“I don’t know what to expect. I met Ulinthra in person. The reality that other people magically remember her is not what bothers me. It’s that, even without her breathing down their necks, they are still somehow doing their bidding.”
“It’s always been that way. Despite how much she pissed people off, they always did what she wanted.”
“Hold on,” Brooke said, “you knew her too.”
Allen nodded. “Back in the olden days. Richard and I had this plan to camp in every state in the country. We met her in South Carolina.”
“Forgive me,” Brooke said, “I thought you were standard human.”
“We are,” Allen began to explain. “The Overseer pulled us from our time period, and brought us here. She claims we were married to her in an alternate timeline.”
This gave Brooke pause. Leona was perhaps the most familiar with Ulinthra, having encountered her in multiple realities. When they were trying to defeat her years ago, Leona briefed the team on what they were up against. She had said something about Ulinthra marrying two men once, but didn’t bother mentioning their names. “I think she’s right. I think I heard about that.”
Allen had clearly hoped this was all a big misunderstanding, and didn’t like hearing more evidence that he had been married to a psycho.
Brooke shook her head to comfort him. “Things are different in different timelines. The way I understand it, she wasn’t nearly as bad in yours.” That wasn’t entirely true, but he didn’t need to know that.
Allen nodded, but didn’t seem to really believe that. “I better go start on my checklist. Let me know if you need anything.”
“I have my own checklist on the bridge, but before I go, just one more question. Is the Overseer going to send you back home after this? I just need to gauge what kind of person she is.”
“She’s good people,” Allen said. “She offered to take us anywhere, anywhen we wanted.” He took a deep breath. “Good luck with arrival. I wouldn’t want your job.”
“My job is easy. I wouldn’t want Ecrin’s.”

“Status report,” Brooke asked once she was on the bridge.
“On course, and on schedule.”
“Power levels nominal.”
“Weapons at the ready.”
“Crew status?” Brooke asked.
“Good to go.”
“Captain. Where’s the captain?”
The helmsman on duty jerked her head slightly towards the meeting room doors, like they were in mixed company, and she didn’t want anyone else to know.
Holly Blue was in there, sitting patiently at the head of the table, not doing anything else. Ecrin was pinching the bridge of her nose with both index fingers, the rest of her hand cupped around her mouth and nose. Her eyes were closed.
“Captain? Is something wrong?”
“Why am I here?” Ecrin asked of Brooke without moving.
“I don’t know, did we have a meeting?”
Ecrin opened her eyes, and released her hands. “In an hour, yes, but I mean in general. Why am I captain of this ship?”
“You’re a leader, aren’t you?”
“I was second-in-command at the IAC. Why isn’t Paige here, though, or Leona?”
“Well, Leona doesn’t exist right now, and Paige is gallivanting around some other time period.”
“I’m not equipped for this, Brooke.”
“You’ve been doing this for a month. You’ve been great,” Holly Blue pointed out.
“I’ve been captain of a passenger ship for the last month. We’re about to go into battle.”
“You don’t know that.”
“No one on Orcus and Vanth is going to be happy to see the Sharice,” Ecrin argued. “This isn’t going to go well, and people are going to get hurt, or die. Paige has done this before, can’t you contact her somehow?”
Brooke sat down. “Paige was the captain of a chaperone vessel, one that wasn’t capable of going into battle, and never tried. You’re what, twice as old as she is? And you have experience with police work. You’re the only one who can do this.”
“No, that’s not true,” Ecrin said. “I heard you in there, and I see you with the crew. They trust and respect you. And you have experience training a group of insurgents, and using them to defeat an enemy with superior firepower.”
“That may be true,” Brooke said, but I’m in a committed relationship to the ship. You’re the one responsible for the crew on it, and I need you to start taking that seriously. We will be arriving in Orcan space within two hours. You better get yourself ready. The first thing you should do is order Holly Blue to run last-minute diagnostics check on all electrical systems.”
“Yeah, go do that.”
Holly Blue just sat there like a stubborn child.
Ecrin looked back over when she realized Holly Blue wasn’t moving. “I said go run the diagnostics.”
Holly Blue stood swiftly. “Yes, sir.” She gave Brooke a secret wink as she was leaving the room.
Ecrin reached over and braced herself on the table to prepare for the day. “Thank you for this. I need to talk to Camden, though.”
“Can you?” Brooke asked. “Isn’t he dead?”
Ecrin flung open a knife, and pulled her pants down. Then she started cutting into her thigh—not even wincing at the pain—ultimately removing a small watch face protected in plastic from her flesh. She began to meticulously peel the plastic away. “Right now, for Camden, it’s the year 2000, but that’s always subject to change. We developed a recoil protocol, in case things go bad, and I need him. He called it Threat Level Midnight, which is a joke I didn’t get until several years later.” She began to adjust the watch’s time. “It’s not really meant for something like this, but it’ll do.” Once the time was set to midnight, she placed the watch on the floor. “I would like you to go now.”
“Okay,” Brooke agreed, though she was concerned. As she was leaving the room, she saw Ecrin lift her foot, and slam it down on the watch.
A couple hours later, Orcus was barely in view when another vessel appeared on their screens, warning them that there would be trouble if they didn’t adjust course, and go somewhere else. Captain Cabral ordered her crew to action stations, which was where most of them already were. A lot of them had significant training in their fields, but not all. Some of them had fallen into a life of war in the other timeline because it didn’t look like anyone else was doing it. With time having been reset, they lost all knowledge they gained from that, and had to relearn everything, if not more. Fortunately, space was a big and empty place, and they had a lot of waiting time before they could reach their destination anyway. While Brooke was busy getting to know her ship, and Ecrin busy getting to know her new people, others were just trying to learn their jobs. Personnel reports indicated that the majority of them were ready for action, but as said, there was no telling what they were walking into. No amount of training—be it practical or virtual—could prepare someone for the real thing. “Can we take it?” Ecrin asked the crew.
“We can,” the weapons officer stated. “They are an inferior enemy.”
This is your last warning,” the Orcan ship said again after receiving no response.
“If they want a warning, they’ll get it. One shot, ensign. Let’s give her a haircut.” Funny metaphors. The mainstay of any good ship captain.
The officer did as she was told, firing one missile that just grazed the outer hull of the other ship. It didn’t appeared to notice it. A few moments later, though it began to change.
“What’s it doing?” Ecrin asked.
“It’s getting bigger, sir.”
“How is that possible?”
“It’s not,” Brooke said. “It’s emitting a hologram.”
The holographic image grew and grew, getting brighter by the second, until it resembled a small moon. To the naked eye, though, it just looked like a spot of light. “Sir, there are more,” the communications officer reported.
“More what?”
“More ships. Dozens, no hundreds. Shit, thousands! All around us! They must be darkbursters.”
“No, they’re darkstalkers. Mauve alert!” Ecrin ordered. The alarms rang out, and the purple rights blinked on and off. A darkburster—or in this case, a darkstalker—was a relatively small ship capable of traveling without being detected, but this was only possible by blinding the dark vessel as well. Until they reengaged their own sensors, they were basically just hunks of metal floating in space, and since they were painted black, they couldn’t be seen with the naked eye, unless they were real close. The moon hologram must have been a signal to attack, since that was the only way to communicate with a darkstalker.
All at once, the darkstalkers began to fire at the Sharice, from all directions. Ecrin ordered her crew to fire back, but the enemy ships were so small and spry that they were impossible to target. They would run out of ordnance long before they made any dent against their opponent. It soon didn’t matter, though, as the darkstalkers were targeting the Sharice’s weapons systems, crippling them in a matter of minutes. They had really practiced this. Either they knew someone would be coming after them, or they were just paranoid, and always prepared for it.
The mothership dropped its moon hologram, theoretically signalling the darkstalkers to cease their assault, which they did immediately. After a few anxious moments, it released something from its underbelly. Its exact shape was imperceptible to their instruments, but it wasn’t flying like a missile, because it was too slow. It almost looked like a boarding boat.
Brooke and Ecrin just watched it come towards them as everyone else was trying to get their weapons back online. That seemed unlikely without physical repairs on the outside.
Holly Blue burst onto the bridge. “I know what this is!”
“Sir, permission to use the secret weapon?”
“What secret weapon?” Brooke questioned.
Ecrin didn’t answer Brooke. “It’s untested. No one has ever tried to make one at this scale before.”
Brooke wasn’t finished. “What! Weapon!”
“We have nothing to lose,” Ecrin said, still ignoring Brooke. “Do it,” she ordered.
Holly Blue nodded. She looked at the ceiling. “Computer. Execute program Kangaroo-Octopus-Laundry-Bachelor-Yearling Two-zero-two-eight!”
Brooke looked at the screen, which showed a platform rise from the bulkhead, and release a missile, presumably on a collision course with the boarding boat. “What does that thing do?”
“Plot for Orcus!” Holly Blue commanded the computer. “It’s like a giant teleporter bullet,” she said quieter.
The secret missile did collide with the boarding boat, except it must not have been a boarding boat at all. They zoomed in on Orcus on another screen. Just as the missile struck the enemy’s projectile, both of them disappeared. And then the entirety of Orcus disintegrated, and disappeared as well.
“What just happened?” Ecrin asked. “What was that thing?”
Brooke dropped her head, and sighed. “It was Lucius-bomb. We just killed thousands of people.”

Friday, October 12, 2018

Microstory 950: Time and Eternity

Time is one of the most abstract concepts in the universe, but also the very most important. Then again, I suppose it’s tied for the number one spot with the four fundamental forces, none of which really gets the credit it deserves. Time allows us to get things done, remember our past, plan for the future, and to experience the glory of life. If you’ve even read just a little bit of my website, you know that time travel is my biggest trope. That’s ironic, because when I was just getting started as a writer, I had a rule against time travel. And I had that rule because I firmly believe that time travel is completely impossible. There are no parallel timelines, no alternate realities, no temporal paradoxes; there’s only the now. Whatever happened, happened, and could not have happened any other way, because it’s what happened, and that’s that. Sorry if that’s not good enough. Though my fictional stories do not always effectively reflect my beliefs about cause, effect, and the indeterminacy of the future, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a bit of wriggle room. What really matters to us, in practical terms, is how we perceive that time. There are definitely those who experience time differently than others. Professional baseball players, for instance, must have the ability to slow the passage of time in their own minds, or they would not be able to hit those fast-moving pitches. I mean, seriously, if that’s not a superpower, than I don’t know what is. I’ve always been fascinated with this concept; the possibility that, though it’s impossible to add more time to our dimension, maybe it’s possible to be more productive by operating at a higher rate. Try this experiment. Sit at your computer, and type on the keyboard as quickly as you can. Don’t try to type any sentences, or words; just type. Wow, that was fast, right? You’re moving at least twice as fast—or more—as you do when you need to be comprehensible. So there’s not a very strong physical limitation to typing, unless that is, you have a diagnosable limitation. Otherwise, what really stops us is the speed at which we process information. Excellent typists, like office administrators, also have superhuman powers, because they’re capable of processing information much faster than the rest of us. That’s right, humble CEO, your secretary is literally a genius. So maybe we can exploit this skill, and reapply it to a more general understanding of the world around us. There is never enough time in a day, or in a lifetime, so we have to make the absolute most out of it before it’s over. Fortunately, time itself is showing no real signs of stopping, yet we are showing signs of extending our lives within it. I can’t wait.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Microstory 949: Dropping Murder Rates

I know things seem really bad right now, and I’m not going to claim you have no reason to feel uneasy, or unsafe, but believe it or not, we are making some progress. Things like King Dumpster, Brexit, and intensifying hurricanes can make the world look like a much worse place than it once was. A number of experts are actually going so far as to predict the actual real life apocalypse within our lifetimes. Sadly, in recent years, the murder rate in the United States is starting to trend upwards, but it doesn’t have to stay like that, and I predict it will swiftly drop once more. Starting in the 1990s, murder and other violent crimes began to trend downwards all over the world, and continued to do so for decades. This was caused by a number of factors, including more sophisticated means to investigation, but also possibly because of the fact that ill-prepared parents now had more options. So, what changed? Well, it’s too early to understand it, but one theory is that certain seemingly isolated incidents of corruption, like the Ferguson shooting, can increase a distrust in law enforcement. This snowballs into more and more people feeling slighted by the establishment. The election of the current administration only reinforces this division, leading to more uprisings that get out of hand. But this is not an eternal condition, and we do have a chance to make things better. First of all, we need to #votethemout when we get the chance this November, and do it again in two years. We need policymakers who care about all of their constituents, and the greater good, and aren’t just satiating their few extremely wealthy donors. We also need to invest heavily in technology. In the time travel film Looper—which is set in Kansas City, by the way—the whole reason people are sending their enemies to be executed in the past is because it’s nearly impossible to get away with murder in the future. Everyone is walking around with nanites in their systems, which alert the authorities once the body dies. Though this might not be the primary reason we use nanotechnology, it would be a nice bonus. We’ll want to have them anyway, to heal our wounds, fight off disease, and even connect us to virtual worlds. Emergency services currently relies on a victim being capable of contacting them, and do so with enough time to spare, which is not always the case, but if we had an automated system, this would not be a problem. Things can get better, but we have to work at it. We have to stop thinking of crime as something that needs to be solved, but instead of something needs to be prevented.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Microstory 948: Clean Meat

I love meat. Meaty, meat, meat. Here it goes down; down into my belly. Mm-mm-mm. I love cow meat, and pig meat, and bird meat, and sea meat. When I was younger, I was willing to eat any kind of animal, as long as it wasn’t lamb or veal. Why those exceptions? Well, they’re babies, and I think eating babies is monstrous. But maybe that’s just me. Other than that, I was up for anything. Cow tongue, escargot, caviar; whatever, I’m a pretty adventurous guy. I never had any interest in becoming a vegetarian, but somehow at the same time, I always wanted to be a vegetarian. I never liked the fact that something had to die so that I could live, but I did it, because I needed the protein. Things are different now, though. I’m educated enough to know that there are vegetarian protein options, I’m living late enough in history for those options to be readily available, and now all I need is the money. I would love to go full vegetarian right now, but I just cannot afford the substitutes I would need to stay healthy. If I had better self-control, and wasn’t a recovering binge eater, I might be able to get away with it. After all, the majority of your diet is meant to be carbohydrates anyway. That doesn’t work, though, when the you can’t get full just from eating fruits and vegetables, and ended up eating thousands of calories a day to compensate.

A few months ago, one of my cousins was being celebrated for having graduated from college. Family from all over came to the area for a lunch, which was being catered by a local fried chicken place. They came in with this huge tin of dark chicken meat, and I wanted to throw up. My favorite food had always been chicken, but that looked so...Usonian (you would call it “American”). It was excessive and wasteful; it kind of opened up my eyes. I decided I wanted to change my lifestyle, but I knew I couldn’t just go cold turkey (pun well intended). Ironically, I’ve actually kept the chicken in my diet, along with other fowl. I also continue to eat seafood, though it’s fairly expensive in landlocked Kansas, so it’s mostly birds. Chicken. It’s mostly chicken. All I did was cut out the mammals, which is perhaps the easiest way to explain it. I’m saving up money so I can by a car, but once I have that, I’ll start I can adopt an older child. But maybe someday down the line, I’ll be able to afford—and consistently stomach—all those nuts, lentils, tofu, quinoa, and yogurt. Hopefully soon, though, I’ll have an even better option. They call it clean meat. You know me; I’m great at naming things. Seriously, using my linguistics resources to figure out how to name things is a special skill I have that’s surpassed by few others. I’m the one who came up with the term materianet, for anyone reading this in the future when it has finally replaced the ridiculously-sounding “internet of things”. Clean meat is an odd choice of words, and an entirely politco-marketing one. It’s not any cleaner than regular meat, but it is less cruel. What they do is extract a few cells from a living creature, let that creature continue to live, then engineer the sample to grow on its own. It’s a fascinating process that is presently still in its infancy, but it is showing real promise. Imagine the staunchest of carnivores capable of devouring any meat they’d like without having killed a single animal. Despite all those restaurants that make you wear use forks for soup—or whatever other crap they do—this really will revolutionize the food industry, and I’m extremely pleased with the prospect.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Microstory 947: Chipotle

Not until I was checking my calendar to see what my next story was meant to be about did I remember that I’ve already sort of written about my love for Chipotle. It was a weird one, and I don’t expect you to read it. In fact, you probably shouldn’t. It was early on in my career, so I didn’t have much experience with the short form. Anyway, people love everything about food, don’t they? They love to cook it, to watch others cook it, and most importantly, they love to eat it. We’ve come up with so many different dishes, and so many different ways to eat them. We can’t go one day without at least one new restaurant that’s attempting to do things differently; sometimes even with the hope of revolutionizing the industry. There are restaurants with no lights, and/or blindfolds, supposedly so it enriches your sense of taste. We all know that’s actually nonsense, because this isn’t a comic book, and no one is Daredevil. You can’t impede a sense for an hour, and except the others to suddenly be extraordinarily enhanced. All you’re doing is giving people food without them knowing what it is, while also giving waiters ample opportunity to covertly lick the glasses, and make obscene gestures with their hands. Molecular gastronomists use science to try to make food better in some significant, but ultimately pointless, way; some don’t let you use utensils; and some don’t let you use chairs. There’s a restaurant for all tastes, and for no tastes, which is one reason why half of them fail within the first year. Yes, people do love to eat, but I am not one of these people. I would be totally satisfied with scifi food cubes, if given the option, and would actually prefer it. Why, I just watched an episode of a show I’ve already seen, because tonight’s programs had not yet begun, but I also couldn’t write and eat my soup at the same time. Food is a burden, and I would sooner eliminate it from my routine, if someone found me a way, than try out some edgy way of eating. However, if I had to pick a favorite restaurant, it would be Chipotle. Their menu is easy to understand, and their lines quick to move through, assuming you don’t have some jackass ordering for the whole office without using the catering system. The ingredients check all my boxes, and the meals don’t leave messes. I love it so much that I had to institute a once per week limit, which I knew I would break if I didn’t make this deliberate plan. I’m currently trying to make my waiting period longer, but it’s not easy. My closest store location is too close to my house, and I have trouble getting through my drive home from work without being hungry. I’m just glad they don’t deliver, because if they did, my bank account’s tummy would start grumbling. Still, thank you, Chipotle Mexican Grill, for being you.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Microstory 946: Taxes

I know it’s an extremely unpopular opinion, but I very much love taxes. In 2011, I worked for the IRS for a short stint during tax season. A year later, I worked at H&R Block as an editor in a temporary capacity in the Learning Department for several months. Almost exactly a year after my first day, I was rehired there in a similar position, which only lasted a couple months. I applied for these jobs very much on purpose, and only don’t still do them, because I was just a temp, and they weren’t going anywhere. Now, why would I like taxes? They’re a pain to fill out, and “that’s my hard-earned money”. Well, that’s true. You did earn that money, so the question is now, what are you going to do with it? Are you going to buy more guns? Cigarettes? Tiki torches? Or do you want to spend it on improvements to your community? Libertarians would say, “hell no” to the latter, and “you should be able to, if you want,” to any other option. If you think spending a day or two filling out tax forms each year is a huge hassle, you are in for a real treat, if we ever get rid of them. Let’s go on a hypothetical walk, and take a look around. You’re on a sidewalk, next to a road. Let’s say it’s the evening, which means there are streetlights, lighting your way, along with traffic lights keeping cars from killing you. There’s a county hospital. That’s a public a school. Right across the street from that police station is a fire station. Wave hello to that postal worker, on his way to delivering your paycheck. Oh, now we’re in a not so great neighborhood. These people are struggling to get by, but fortunately, the government helps them out. They provide them with a little bit extra, to make their lives easier, so they have some money left over, which they spend on goods and services, which stimulates the economy. Which helps us all. See that house with a flag in the front, still in “bad” neighborhood? A marine once lived there. Not anymore, though. She was killed in action fighting for your freedom, and is survived by her husband, and two little children. Your taxes paid for her gear, and then it paid for her memorial services. Your taxes paid for that road, sidewalk, and lights. It paid for police protection, fire safety, health care, community education, and mail. It even paid some welfare, and other assistance programs.

Some of things I’ve discussed you like, and some you don’t. Some you use, and some you don’t. But I guarantee you know at least one person who has, at some point, benefited from each of these things. An educated populace is a prosperous one, and I think it would be difficult to argue against the idea of safety and health. You may want these individual services to be paid for by the consumer on an as-needed basis. You may want everything to be privatized, so that companies compete for your business. That’s what capitalism is about, so why wouldn’t we use it for this? Well, because that would be hell. I don’t want to have to pay a toll every time I switch from one street to the next. L.A. traffic would look like racetrack compared to how that would be. Maybe we simplify it, by adding stickers to your car that indicates which streets you’ve paid for, and which you haven’t. Could you imagine the amount of manpower it would take to regulate this, however you set it  up? A labor shortage would put this nation into just as much turmoil as unemployment has in recent history. You may hate taxes, but they are the most efficient means of distributing wealth across the whole country. I’m not saying it’s a perfect system. There are so many ways we can make it better. I don’t understand why I fill out any forms at all. The government should know where I work, how much money I earned, and even what I did with it. Just take what you need, send me a statement, and give me back my Aprils. I also don’t always agree with what they spend my tax dollars on, but the solution to this is not to simply eliminate the concept completely. The solution is to vote for civil servants who I believe will change laws according to what’s best for society. If you agree with this sentiment, then come the next two elections...#votethemout.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: September 23, 2200

For centuries, civilized humans struggled for their rights and livelihoods. Life was a long and violent land rush that only ever ended in death. You took as much as you could, and hoped the heads you stepped on didn’t rise back up and retaliate. The sooners were the rich, and stragglers the poor. But as time wore on, people started realizing that there was no real point to this. Having a lot of money, and a lot of things, were unfulfilling exercises. As the old guard died off, their descendants began looking at life differently. They found that having everything they wanted was not more enjoyable just because there were those without. They still slept well at night in their comfortable beds knowing that others were doing the same; better even. Priorities shifted from the individual to the common good. It started to feel more rewarding the less poverty there was as a whole. Perhaps it was the promise, or threat, of an alien encounter, that only drew nearer as the years went by. Perhaps children are generally just better people than their parents. Whatever the cause, the reality was clear: money was a waste of resources.
Crime plummeted exponentially once society realized that the majority of them were perpetrated by those who felt slighted, underappreciated, and wanting. Early signs of this peeked through the global consciousness in the 21st century when superior paid services were chosen over inferior or illegally free ones. There was little place for illegal online downloads, for instance, when great content was affordable and easy to access. But it would take decades to truly see the potential of a world where labor and capital were not valued more than the benefits they provided. Still, crime was not entirely extinguished, for need was not the only reason. There was just no way to safely satiate the hunger of those who just want to hurt others. Virtual reality simulations alleviated some of this, but without a real sense of risk, they could only take it so far. Terrorists, rapists, serial killers, and the like, still felt the need to explore their impulses, and no amount of placating would be able to stop them.
Étude Einarsson was born with a destiny, to save the lives of strangers. Her predecessors had extremely strenuous careers, but hers was relatively easy. The world just wasn’t all that dangerous anymore. Deadly accidents were almost exclusively the stuff of legends and histories. The real danger came from operating in outer space, which was outside of The Savior’s purview. Even that was becoming safer anyway. And so the biggest problem positively contributing members of society faced was human nature. The Last Savior’s Last Save was seen firsthand by a couple hundred people, though nearly all invisible. A special choosing one named Sanela Matic had the ability to travel through time as witness to historical events, but was unable to interact with it. As The Screener, she could present an event to others, like a four-dimensional film. Normally she did this on an individual basis, but this was an important moment in time traveler history, and the powers that be wanted it to be shared. She and her audience were not the only ones there, though. Loa recorded the entire thing in her own brain, which was a secondary skill she had been working on for years. She would now have it for her lifetime, and anyone capable of contacting her would be able to request a viewing.
At the very last fraction of a second, Étude was teleported between the would-be killer, and his intended victim. He was reportedly not a well man, who became obsessed with murder mysteries as a child. He had apparently grown up studying these crimes, ultimately deciding to make a plan to see if he could get away with it, even in this day and age. At the end of the 22nd century, it was hard to do anything without people knowing about it. They accepted the lack of privacy since it was replaced by a deep sense of apathy. Just about anything one does could be discovered by others, but few worried about it, because—unlike the olden days of ubiquitous social media—few cared enough to do so. With the population of the solar system quickly approaching the first hundred billion, there just weren’t that many public figures. If you wanted to be famous, you had to agree to a level of transparency formally considered absurd. Even without fame, the hopeful murderer was easily caught by authorities, shortly after failing to hit his target. The bullet harmlessly struck Étude’s distribution vest, and that was that.
When Leona returned to the timeline, she heard Étude had been given a real identity, and was presently testing her way into medical school in one of the midrange circles. There weren’t many human medical professionals anymore. While other fields had plenty of room for people who just wanted to expand their knowledge, humans were too dangerous and inefficient at medicine. It was typically illegal to practice medicine without a certain threshold of operational upgrades. Even then, most patients preferred fully automated treatment, so not even many transhumanists had much work. The less advanced regions of the planet, and less developed offworld colonies, were the only ones willing to stoop to that level. Étude was supposedly sick of being limited in her movements to the one world, so it was believed her intentions were to travel to one of the exoplanets, where she could theoretically have plenty of opportunities to demonstrate her skills.
Brooke and Ecrin had been recruited into an elite task force, or something, overseen by the aptly named Overseer. They were jet setting around the solar system, investigating crimes, and rescuing people during classified missions. There were rumors that they were leading a team of people who helped destroy Ulinthra, as well as the timeline she had created when taking over the world. If true, revolutionary Holly Blue would surely be part of the team as well. Paige left without saying where or when she was going. Vitalie was finally starting to grow up, having been fully removed from Leona’s pattern. It was unclear as of now what kind of lifestyle she was planning to lead, and whether she would ultimately choose to die like a normal person.
The two remaining were presently sitting in their apartment, finishing up breakfast, when someone knocked on the door. Leona opened it up to find someone she recognized. “Kivi Bristol. How nice to see you.”
“You know me?” Kivi asked.
“Of course not,” Leona lied without skipping a beat. “Come in, though.” Kivi was an interesting person, whose temporal circumstances no one seemed to understand. There were multiple versions of her, born under completely different conditions, at different time periods, who were each generally unaware of her counterparts. She always had the same name, always looked the same, and was always about the same age. There was no telling how long she would last, and once she disappeared, it was sometimes a while before anyone remembered she had been there, and realized she was gone.
“Thank you, I’ve been walking for a while. Yours was the first place in this circle that opened when I knocked.”
Leona nodded. “Yes, people are having fun in their virtual environments, even here. Where are you from?”
“Center circle.” She tilted her head, not in pride for her answer, but willingly prepared for what she assumed would be the inevitable ignorant questions. The outer circle was the most advanced of all, though still less so than most pockets of civilization on Earth. Each further circle was more backwards than the last, until reaching the center. Some people there lived like ancient pioneers, with no electricity, or even the simplest of comforts, while others stayed in shelters they fashioned out of the materials in their environment. They weren’t, strictly speaking, isolationists, but they did reject technology. They warmly welcomed visitors, but not if they came with too many distractions. It was also a no-fly zone. Drawing on memories of Amish and Mennonite Rumspringa, residents of the center circle are encouraged to go out and see how people lived in the other circles. Unlike Rumspringa, this happens at different ages—sometimes as late as the last legs of life—and sometimes involves multiple trips. Conversion to the lifestyle was also a lot more prevalent, so their numbers balanced out, and remained pretty consistent.
“So, what can we help you with?”
“I was hoping you had some water.”
“Sure, I’ll get it,” Vitalie offered.
Kivi continued, looking directly at Leona, “and I was hoping you had some clue as to why I recognize your face from a recurring dream I’ve had.” She graciously took the water, and started gulping it down, but maintained eye contact.
Leona shrugged. “Eh, time, right?”
Leona sighed, not knowing how to get into it. How do you tell someone they’re not as unique as they may have thought? “Vitalie, you’re the only one who can explain this. Why don’t you sure her what you got?”
“Really?” Vitalie wanted to confirm. “Do we just do this for everyone we meet?”
“I already know her,” Leona explained. “She’s not just some random center circler. Please.”
Vitalie created a projection of herself on the other side of the room. It smiled at waved, then quickly segued into a not impressed expression. People in the future tended to be fairly receptive to the truth about time travel. A lot of science fiction tropes ended up becoming real, so there was a little less wonder in the world. This did not always work, though. Kivi looked between the two Vitalies in shock. She seemed confident this wasn’t just a hologram, possibly because she had likely never seen one of those either, and it caused her to faint.
She didn’t wake up when she fell to the floor, but something did fall out of her pocket. Vitalie picked it up, and opened it. “What is this?”
“It’s the Compass of Disturbance,” Leona replied as she was dragging Kivi to the couch.
“That sounds morbid.”
Temporal disturbance,” Leona added. “It finds and stabilizes tears in the spacetime continuum. It’s a tool.”
“Why does this girl have it?”
“I do not know.”
“Should I splash water on her face?”
“Should I even answer that?”
“Well, we do need answers.”
“She’s not dead. We’ll get them. Help me clean the table while we wait.”
Kivi woke up a few minutes later, and drank more of her water, but couldn’t say anything at first.
“Are you feeling okay?” Leona asked.
Kivi nodded “Yeah, I was just...surprised. I’ve never seen anything like that before. We don’t even have television.”
“Where did you get this?” Vitalie asked her, not wasting any time.
“My friend gave it to me,” Kivi answered. “She said to walk towards the outer circles, and not stop until I started seeing double. I didn’t know she meant it so...literally.”
“Who’s your friend?” Leona asked.
“A million bucks says you’ve already heard of the person she’s talking about,” Vitalie bet.
“She didn’t say anything about you two,” Kivi said. “She just gave this to me as a gift, and told me to keep moving. I needed to go on my walkabout anyway, so I didn’t question it.”
“What’s her name?”
“Shuhana. Shuhana Shenare.”
“Never heard of her,” Leona admitted. “You owe me a million dollars,” she said to Vitalie.
“I would seriously doubt it,” Kivi said, finishing the glass. “She’s just a humble shepherd.”
“Wait, is she a shepherd, or The Shepherd?”
“Hmm,” Kivi began. “Ya know, she does seem to act like she’s the only one in the universe.”
“Scratch that, Vitalie,” Leona said, eyes fixed on Kivi. “I owe you.”