Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: September 11, 2188

Vitalie was hyperventilating as midnight central approached. Ecrin was doing better, but appeared to be keeping her anxiety bundled inside. They had both traveled through time before, but always by their own will. They had to sit down from the fatigue, which was a symptom of Leona’s flavor of time travel, but something that she learned to overcome after the first dozen or so jumps. Three...two...one, and it was over. They were suddenly now standing in September 11, 2188. They looked over to the corner where Brooke’s Snow White pod was just opening up. It jolted her awake with an accelerated recovery serum, which was only designed for certain crew on sleeper ships that needed to react to a dire cataclysmic event. It wasn’t meant to be used for standard revival, even after only one year in hibernation, and it definitely wasn’t meant to be used over and over again. The best recuperation regimens called for at least one day of limited activity, and no operating of heavy machinery. If Brooke had to go through this for more than a few days, her body could be permanently damaged from the stress, and her organs might eventually give up on her. Her upgrades may give her an advantage to combat those medical issues, but the downgrades Ulinthra performed on her more than likely ruined all that. They needed to end this quickly.
“I think I have an idea,” Vitalie said as they were eating breakfast after a good night’s sleep. “I was thinking about it all yesterday, but I didn’t want to say anything until I had it all worked out.”
“And what would that be?” Ecrin asked.
“Okay, so you—wait, is she surveilling us?”
“Probably.”
“No,” Brooke said. “I installed a communication blocker on my body after Ulinthra’s doctors downgraded my systems. I also placed an anti-tampering device on it, so even if they figured out how to turn it off, I would know. If we were being streamed or recorded, I would know.”
“Where did you install it?” Leona asked. “Did they not find it while they were preparing you for your first time in the stasis pod?”
Brooke cleared her throat. “Ya know, even at the turn of the 23rd century, there are still some places that people are too embarrassed to search.”
“Oh,” Leona said.
“What? I don’t get it,” Vitalie griped.
“It’s in her vagina,” Ecrin explained.
Brooke cleared her throat again. “Vitalie, you were saying something?”
Vitalie couldn’t help but let her eyes drift downwards when looking at Brooke, but she composed herself, and moved on with her plan. “So Ulinthra can repeat the day?”
“That’s right.”
“At the end of everyday, say midnight, she goes back in time in her own body, and does it all again. But since she knows what’ll happen, she can make changes at will.”
“Yes.”
“Which means that we can never know whether we’re living in the day she does this first, or the day she does it for the second time.”
“Well, since she’s the only one with memories of what she calls her Round Ones, we are—for all practical purposes—always living through her Round Twos. We always have to assume that she has the advantage of knowing what we’re gonna do.”
“Okay,” Vitalie continued. It was clear that she understood all this perfectly, but the others needed to follow her all the way to understand what she was proposing they do. “That makes her the only variable. She’s the only one who changes things, so everything we do, we already tried the first time around, but just don’t remember. Our choices are only affected when we interact with her.”
“All right...”
“We can use that. We have to talk to her every day. We have to call her, summon her here, or go to her evil lair. The way she speaks to us, the things she says, will determine whether B.F. Skinner’s cat is dead or not.”
“Schrödinger,” Brooke corrected.
“Huh?”
“Schrödinger was the one with the cat in the box that could be dead or alive, so it’s both until you open the box and find out. Skinner was the one with pigeons and rats.”
“Then who’s the guy with the dog?”
“Pavlov.”
“Whatever. But yes, that’s what I’m talking about. She, and she alone, determines how the day plays out.”
“But what does that matter?” Ecrin asked. “So we talk to her everyday. What, are we going to ask her whether we’ve had that conversation before, or not?”
“It doesn’t matter what we talk about,” Vitalie said, smirking. “We just need her to have an affect on the coin toss.”
“What coin toss?”
“We flip a coin. Everyday, after our talk with Ulinthra, we flip a coin. Heads we go after her, tails we just hang out all day.”
Leona winced. “Well, that means fifty percent of the time, we flipped the same side on her Round One, and whatever we do, she’ll be prepared for, just like always.”
“True,” Vitalie said. “But that also means fifty percent of the time, the coin toss on any given day ends up differently, because we only toss it after Ulinthra does something. She can’t help but be informed by her yesterdays, just like normal people. Even something so innocuous and minute as saying the dog jumped over the fence instead of the dog hopped over the fence will alter exactly when we toss the coin, and how it lands.”
“Like Leona said,” Ecrin began, “half the time we, quote-unquote go after her, she already sees us coming, and has a way to best us. And even if she doesn’t see us coming, we still have to contend with her army. Power or no, she’s too powerful for the four of us.”
“Again, that’s true,” Vitalie said with a sort of nod-shake hybrid. “Look, if you want to scrap any offensive moves against her, and just try to find a way to escape Panama, I’m all for it. Just recognize that she still has her time power. The coin toss plan still helps with that.”
“She’s right,” Brooke finally spoke again. “If we have any hope of fighting her, or leaving Panama, we need to not repeat the same mistakes—whatever they may be—that we made on these Round Ones. Ulinthra is our only way of doing that, since we don’t know anyone who has her same power.”
Ecrin still wasn’t convinced. “I just don’t think we should be talking to that woman any more than we have to. If we can sit in this unit all quiet-like until she gets bored, and moves on, that’s the ultimate outcome. I’m not saying that’s gonna happen, but I just hate that bitch, and I want to avoid her.”
“We all do,” Leona said. “As do many others in this world. We are in a position to stop her, even if that means we escape to Kansas City, and tell some people what we know. I like the coin idea. Let’s start now. I’ll call her, then we’ll flip. Heads we decide what we’re gonna do. Tails, we hold a service for Paige. Ecrin, are you okay with that?”
Ecrin hesitated. “Yeah, we have to do something. Chance is our only...chance. At least now we have a little control over it. Make the call.”
“Brooke?”
“Do it.”
When Leona called Ulinthra that evening, she asked if they could speak with Harrison. She acted as if they thought they could reason with him, and get him to switch sides. Ulinthra giggled, and indicated that they had tried this before, but it didn’t work. The Harrison she knew from an alternate reality no longer existed. This was evidently an entirely different program that she simply gave the same name as her original android assistant. That was good. This time was easy. She had revealed not only that they had called her during her Round One, and that this was her Round two—which prevented her from going back in time and changing it yet again—but also that Vitalie had flipped tails. If they had landed on heads, and done what they were planning to try now, Ulinthra probably wouldn’t be letting Harrison come again.
“All right, Brooke. He’s on his way. Vitalie flips that coin, and it’s heads, you should probably go. We don’t know how this thing will affect you.”
“I understand.”
“Ecrin. Your upgrades have been...”
“Removed completely. I’m human, and safe.”
“This is ready, so flip, Vitalie.”
Vitalie flipped the coin, which they had to manufacture in the synthesizer, since coins weren’t really a thing anymore. They chose a standard United States penny, since that was Vitalie’s calling card. “Be the penny,” she said as it rose and fell in the air. Heads. Brooke left.
Fifteen minutes later, when Harrison knocked on the door, Ecrin and Vitalie hid in the other room, so they wouldn’t be seen. Leona backed herself against the wall, so the door would hide her when she opened it. Harrison immediately realized she was there, though. He pulled the door away from her, and grimaced.
“Hey, toaster!” Brooke’s voice shouted from the hallway. Then they heard her pull back the hammer of an old projectile gun.
Harrison frowned and opened the door again.
“I’ll be fine,” she said to him with sass, but that wasn’t meant for him. She was sending a message to Leona.
Leona decided to accept the possibility that she was about to hurt her friend. She activated the device, then peeked out from behind the door. Harrison was standing there, and not moving. She looked over his shoulder at Brooke, who was holding her head and chest. “Brooke.”
“I’m fine,” she said with a hoarse voice. “I’ll be fine. Just do what you need to do, and make it quick. I don’t know how long he’ll last. Or me.”
“Come back out!” she order to the other two. They came out with tools, and started working on Harrison’s hand, removing what they were looking for faster than they thought they would. They still needed to scan it, though, and they weren’t sure if the synthesizer was working perfectly. The device Leona used to freeze Harrison might have had unintended consequences on anything else electronic.
They placed the tiny little weapon he had embedded in his hand in the synthesizer, and programmed the machine to scan it, so they could make one of their own later.
“Is he gonna wake up?” Ecrin asked with a worried look. “This is goin’ pretty slow.”
Leona looked back at Harrison, still frozen. “If he wakes up, we’ll just kill him. Ulinthra will never know what we took, until it’s too late.”
Once the scan was complete, they put the piece back in Harrison’s hand, and everyone got back into position. Brooke’s job was the hardest. Harrison was an artificial intelligence, capable of measuring his surroundings to the precision of a millimeter; possibly even more. If Brooke didn’t return to the exact state she was in when Harrison was frozen, he would notice that she moved, and realize that he had lost time. That was why Leona had to reprogram his internal chronometer while the device they stole was being scanned. This was also why Brooke distracted him. If he had been looking at Leona when time stopped for him, her puny human brain wouldn’t have been able to get her back to the right place.
Brooke breathed in and out deeply, so she could push down her pain long enough to get back to where she was. “I’m ready,” she finally said.
“Are you sure?”
“Do it now, please. Goddammit.”
Leona deactivated the device, restarting Harrison’s functions. Leona could hear a tussle in the hallway. When she came out from behind the door, she found him hovering over Brooke, pointing the gun at her head.
“Please don’t,” Leona begged.
He grimaced at her again. “I couldn’t if I wanted to.” He helped Brooke up from the floor, almost like a gentleman. “Ulinthra programmed me with the three laws of robotics, like an asshole. Anyway, I guess our conversation is over. You just called me here to kill me.”
“You’re her greatest weapon,” Leona lied.
“Quite.” He adjusted his jacket with the Picard maneuver, and headed for the elevators.
“Are we good?” Brooke asked after he’d gone, having recovered from the device.
Leona went into the synthesizer’s memory, and found the plans for the teleporter gun that they had just taken from Harrison. “We have it.”

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Fervor: Five Woman Band (Part II)

“Who the hell are you people?” I ask of these two women who just appeared in my house, and wrecked the place. I don’t feel bad about, they’re not supposed to be here.
Slipstream easily catches up, and creates a human barrier between me and the strangers.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa.” One of them holds her hands up defensively. “We’re not here to hurt anyone. We must have missed our mark. We were meant to land somewhere in the middle of Kansas, since Springfield doesn’t exist anymore.”
“What do you mean, it doesn’t exist anymore? My great uncle was born there.”
The strangers give each other a look. “She must be a chooser.”
“I was born in the 1960s,” I explain, because I just don’t give a fuh.
“She must not have been in the timestream when the city started disappearing,” the other postulates.
“Well, I’m glad we ended up here, instead of a house full of humans. That would have been hard to explain.” She presents her hand. “My name is Hogarth Pudeyonovic. This is my partner, Hilde Unger.”
“Paige.” I tilt my head towards my new best friend. “This is Slipstream. What year is it for you?”
“It should be 2025. We were on another planet.”
“Oh.” I’ve never heard of people going to other planets, but nothing surprises me anymore. “Yeah, it’s 2025. “By the way,” I say to Slipstream, “some people have special temporal powers.”
“I gathered,” Slipstream replies. “I’ve seen some things that make a bit more sense now.”
“Well, this isn’t awkward,” Hilde says after a silence.
“Yeah, I guess we should leave,” Hogarth says. “Sorry for invading your...” she trails off as she’s looking around at the mess they made made. It looks like a mad scientist generated a miniature tornado that broke free of its containment field. “We somehow have to fix this, even though I doubt I have any money...since it was all tied to the Springfield Central Bank.”
I shake my head. “We live in Countryside, we’re rich. Don’t worry about it.”
“No, we’ll find a way,” Hogarth insisted. “Come, love. We have to find jobs, and figure out what we’ve missed these last eight years.”
“Universal basic income,” I say before the two travelers could leave the room.
Hogarth stops. “What was that?”
“It’s actually a negative income tax,” Slipstream clarifies. “If you don’t make enough money to live on your own, the government subsidizes your income. If you do, you get nothing, and if you make more than enough, you pay taxes, just like before. President Clinton pushed for total universal basic income, but had to make a compromise with the Republicans. The new system started at the beginning of this tax year. If you don’t have any money, you would qualify, except...”
“Except that we don’t qualify for anything, because we don’t exist. Even if the records rewrite themselves, now that we’re back on Earth, we’ve been missing for the better part of a decade. Neither one of us an identity.”
“The Forger,” I remember.
“Who?”
“A family friend, Detective Bran was telling me about the guy who gave him a new identity; an actual one, not just fake papers. He can rewrite your whole history. He might even give you money to start off.”
“There’s a guy who does that?” Slipstream asks me.
“There’s someone for everything,” I say, prideful of what I know about the world.
“Did this detective tell you how to find the Forger?”
I frown. “No. But I can ask him. I never went to his place, but he told me he lived at...uh, the Leon?”
“The Ponce de Leon?” Slipstream asks, impressed. “That place is pretty swanky.”
“He’s rich too.”
“You don’t have to help us,” Hogarth says with a worried look on her face. “We came here by accident, so you have no obligation to us.”
I smile. “If there’s one thing my dads taught me, it’s that a person in a position to help someone else..has a responsibility to do just. Bran protected me when I was in danger of a winter-making maniac, even though he didn’t have to. That’s what being a human is.” I step into the hallway.
“Is this all true?” Mireille asks me.
“Mireille,” I exclaim. “I, uhh...forgot you were here. But I guess there’s no rule that stops me from telling anyone this stuff. Did you hear everything?”
“Pretty much. You’re going to the Ponce?”
“We are.”
“Well, Slippy travels on foot, you can’t drive, and these two don’t have a car.”
“Oh, that’s true.”
“I’m glad I bought that SUV,” Mireille says. “Let’s go,” she offers the whole crowd.
Slipstream balks at the larger-than-necessary vehicle. “It’s not even two miles away,” she half-complains as we’re climbing it. I imagine she never takes motorized transportation, except maybe to get to the airport, or maybe not even then.
Five minutes later, we’re parking next to Mendoza Park, and walking the rest of the way to the condominium. We take the elevator up to what’s probably the most expensive unit in the complex, and knock on the door.
A woman answers, and she looks exhausted. “Yeah? Can I help you?”
“Um, we must have the wrong apartment,” Slipstream apologizes. “We were looking for, what was the name?”
“Kallias Bran,” I reply, upset. “I know he lives here.”
“Paige?” The woman squints her eyes at me. “Holy shit, it’s little Paige.”
A giggling kindergartner runs straight into the woman’s hip. “You’re it!” she cries.
“Brooke, pause on the game. We have company. Please, come in,” she says cordially. “I think you’re in the right place. When they gave this to me, they called it the Bran Safehouse. I didn’t know what that meant.”
“How do you know a fourteen-year-old girl?” Slipstream questions protectively.
“She wasn’t fourteen last time I saw her.”
“She’s a time traveler,” I whisper to Mireille.
The woman offers Slipstream her hand. “I’m Leona Matic, and I am from the future.”
“Told ya,” I say.
“Why are you and your daughter in a safehouse?” Slipstream continues the interrogation.
“She’s not my daughter. I had to take her when her mother...disappeared. I brought her to this time period, and I’ve been waiting for further instructions.”
“Where’s Kal?” I ask her.
“I have no idea,” Leona says seemingly truthfully. “The Repairman just set me up here and told me all he knows is that I’m meant to wait. Maybe I was waiting for you. I don’t suppose any one of you would be related to an Angelita Prieto—oh, you wouldn’t remember her. Goddammit! Or does the corruption have an effect on the past? How does this work?”
“I..don’t know,” Slipstream answers tentatively.
“Prieto was my mother’s maiden name,” Mireille says quietly. “My father’s French, but she’s Spanish.” She looks down at little Brooke, who is cautiously attached to Leona’s waist.
Yet another woman suddenly appears in the middle of the condo. A bubble of warped spacetime that was surrounding her dissipates. “Good, you’re all here. You have no idea what it took to get Mrs. Voss here to be your babysitter.” She gestures towards Mireille. “She can take care of Brooke while the rest of you are working.”
“My last name’s Travert,” Mireille says, confused.
The new woman chortles. “Right. For now...”
“What’s the meaning of this.” Slipstream; ever the leader, and protector. “You act as if you brought us all together.”
“I did,” she says. “I assembled a team of ragtag elites to take me on.”
“Take you on?”
“Well, not me. Past!Me. I like to call her Asshole!Jesi.”
“What are you talking about?” Hogarth asks.
This Jesi person prepares herself for a story. “In the other timeline, I killed a bunch of people with a virus from the future that I did not understand. I was trying to inoculate the human race, so they wouldn’t be affected by it later, when the virus shows up naturally. But it mutated, and got out control. I need you to stop me from making that same mistake again. Bozhena, I convinced Jupiter to have you deliver the transdimensional jacket to Horace, so he could go get Serkan back, and you could meet Paige.”
“The what jacket?”
Jesi continues, “Hogarth, I brought you and your lovely assistant here so you could provide the Book of Hogarth.”
“The what?”
This time, Jesi stopped. “The Book of Hogarth. Your book, that you wrote? It codifies the principles of time and space? Shit, do you not have the book?”
“What book are you talking about? I didn’t write any book.”
Jesi pinches the bridge of her nose. “Jesus Christ. I need to figure something out. You didn’t actually write anything. You...birthed it, for lack of a better term. I thought you’d find it on Durus. Well, you’re just gonna have to find it now. You can do that tomorrow.” She gestures to Leona. “Leona’s gonna need it in the future, so it’s kind of important, okay?” She’s looking pretty frazzled. “Okay, um. Let me rework the timeline to account for that hiccup. I would have contacted you earlier, but you two were still on Durus, and Ace was still here. We don’t need him in our way. Miss Travert, please stay here with Young!Brooke. I’m sending the rest of you someone who can help. She probably won’t be part of the band permanently, but she can lead you to the Book of Hogarth.” She opens a new mostly transparent bubble, and disappears.
“We’re not gonna do what she wants us to do, are we?” Hilde sounds confident.
Never do anything without having an answer why,” Leona recites, like it’s her credo, or something.
Hogarth is staring at the space that the cryptic woman from the future was once occupying. “When I was about Brooke’s age, I witnessed a group of older children being pursue by a giant monster. It’s what inspired me to build my machine, so I could study the portal they disappeared through.”
“I remember you telling me about that,” Hilde says, taking Hogarth’s hand.
“There were ten children. One of them was named Jesimula Utkin. Everybody called her Jesi.”

Friday, July 13, 2018

Microstory 885: Evitable

The thing about programs like this is that you’re not meant to know you’re in a program. They hook you up, and load your consciousness into the servers, while simultaneously temporarily blocking the last day or so of your life. There won’t just be a chunk of time missing, however; you’ll have a blurry sense of being alive during that period of time, but since you don’t remember what happened, your mind fills in the blanks, to explain why you are where you are when the program begins. Most of the time, this doesn’t come up anyway, because people don’t run around rehashing their yesterdays, unless something noteworthy happened, or someone else asks about it. But for me, it doesn’t remember, because I always retain my full memories. The point of these exercises is to behave the way you would in the real world, where your actions have lasting consequences on your and others’ lives. The belief that this is all just as dangerous as anything is generally vital to the purity of the system. I never thought that I needed that, though, because the fact of the matter is that I’ve always believed virtual realities to be nothing less than parallel dimensions of reality. I’ve always cared about what happens to these people, even though they’re so-called non-playable characters. To me, just because they’re programmed to believe they are real, doesn’t mean they aren’t. Hell, we’re all programmed, in one way or the other. I’m not saying we’re living on the thirteenth floor, and just a virtual reality that happened to create its own virtual reality. I’m saying everyone grows up being taught to follow societal norms, or to rebel against those conventions. While we all decide our own morality, those decisions are—every single time—informed by our past experiences, particular our interactions with others. This is just a different form of programming. So when I walked into the mall, knowing that I was part of a simulation, that didn’t mean I didn’t care.

Everything seems normal in the mall. People are browsing the shops and eating in the food court. Kids are playing on the train, and couples are resting their heads on each other’s shoulders. A janitor walks down the promenade pushing a big, gray cart. He’s bobbing his head to his music, causing passersby to smile and dance a little with him. Then he just stops and casually walks away, leaving his cart in the middle of the rotunda. As if on cue, random people from all over the mall assemble upon the cart. Children are widening their eyes, for they’ve seen things like this before. This is a flash mob, and they’re all about to dance. But they don’t. Each of the random people reach into the cart and pulls out a gun. They start spraying bullets all over the place, shouting things like, “Trump for four terms!” and “illegals go home!” And “hashtag-NRA-Lives-Matter!” I take out my sidearm, which my current persona is fully licensed to carry as the head of a private security firm. I start shooting the maniacs in the heads, retargeting as fast as humanly possible, and desperately trying to finish them off before any more innocent people get killed. I do pretty well. Nineteen injured and twelve dead.

The programs starts over, without telling me whether I succeeded in the mission or not. I go right back to where I started at the entrance of the mall. Again, the programmers have tried to wipe my memories, so I won’t have the benefit of forethought, but my brain just doesn’t accept that. Still, in order to preserve this concept, I watch the janitor head for his mark with as much patience as before, determined to not react any earlier than any other agent-in-training would. The murderous flash mob converges on the gun cart again, but when they pull their arms back out with the weapons, they start moving in slow motion. I reach for my hip, ready to end their lives before this gets bad. All the innocents are moving in slow motion too, so it’s not like they have time to escape. I’m the only one with the ability to stop this, but I have to do it right. I look closer, and realize that this is an entirely new set of killers. They didn’t just restart the program, and they didn’t only change the speed of motion. They also changed the characters, which only cements my conviction that these people are no less real than you or me. I couldn’t save the victims in the last round, but I also couldn’t save any of the killers. I only had one choice in that scenario, but this one is markedly different. This time, I can save everybody, and I have a moral obligation to do so. I race towards the crowd of killers. As I pass by a security guard, I steal the taser that she was reaching for. I take out my own taser, and then I just start shocking the shooters in the neck. I return to my memory archives to recreate the scene from before. While the faces are different, and they’re moving at a different speed, they’re still staged in comparable positions, and acting in the same order as before. I can exploit that weakness in the program, and end this all before it starts. I keep tasing the gunmen, one by one, starting with the one I know will shoot first, and working my way down the list. My arms are outstretched, so I can disable two of them at once. By the time the program ends, all of my opponents are incapacitated, affording me the time to disarm them completely, but I never get the chance. The technician releases me from the program, and sits my chair up. I’m sitting in a circle, with all my classmates, who have all presumably been through similar, if not the exact same, thing. They’re disoriented as their full memories come back, and I do my best to fake those symptoms. Our instructor steps forward. “Yours were the worst ratings in the history of the program. You all failed.” She looks directly at me. “Except for you. You will be our only recruit. Congratulations. The rest of you can go get your memories of this organization removed from your minds.”

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Microstory 884: Sap-Tinted Glasses

A few years ago, I was wandering the Maze Market, which is this monthly event some organization puts up in the middle of Freelake Park. It looks just like a marketplace you might find in Egypt, or some other Middle Eastern country. It’s hard to navigate, and it’s always packed for the whole day. I spot this booth where no one else was buying anything. The woman working there is watching people go about their business, not attempting to draw any customers, but also not completely over it, and reading a book. She looked like she was just content with the view, and was good either way. She had very few things to sell; a few hats, some jewelry, and this pair of glasses that really caught my eye. They kind of looked like the kind Ringo was known for wearing, but they were also unique. I just had to have them. As the clerk was completing the transaction, she didn’t even look at me, and I realized that she was waiting for someone else. I almost felt bad about giving her a measly five dollars, like maybe she was so distracted, she didn’t realize what I was buying. But after I started walking away, she said one thing; that the glasses would show me the truth. I turned around to ask for clarification, but she was gone, as was her booth. I was so freaked out that I never put on those glasses; not even once. But then my friend noticed them hanging on my bedroom mirror earlier today, and suggested I bring them with us to a new club called Pandemonium tonight. By now, all of my reservations had been vanquished, so I shrugged, and agreed.

We walk up to the club, and she reminds me that I need to stand out if I want to get past the bouncer, which explains why she has a long scarf tied around both of her thighs. Apparently you don’t get into this place by being pretty or rich, but by being interesting, and memorable. I playfully scoff at how silly this all his, but put the glasses on, just the same. It’s the only noteworthy thing about me, except maybe that my top is a little tight, and it seems to work. The bouncer totally digs it, and opens the door for us. I’m horrified when I walk in. The entire place is covered in, like, this green fungal sap. Some people have maggots crawling all over their faces, but that’s nothing compared to what I see front and center. A monster twice as tall, and three times as wide as any man is standing in the DJ Booth. His eyes are on his neck, and there are several rows of teeth in his mouth, which never seems to close. He doesn’t have horns, per se, but his head turns up on the sides. My God is he ugly. He’s got headphones on, but only one ear is covered, like you would expect from any normal DJ. He’s hyping up the crowd, and promoting his radio station, 66.6 The Pit. How is everyone okay with this, I think, but then I remember the glasses. I tip them down with my finger, and look above the lenses. Everything appears perfectly normal. The monster is gone, replaced by just a regular douche, and the walls look clean. I look through the glasses once more, and then without them, and then with them again. The woman must not have been lying; these things show me the truth. They do something else to me, though. The more I stare at the monster DJ, the more I have the urge to commit great violence against him. My rage doesn’t subside, even when I take the glasses off completely, and I know that the only way to satiate my need is to just get it over with. After an hour, he leaves his booth for a break, and is followed by two bouncers, which look like miniature versions of him when I’m wearing the truth glasses. I realize that the glasses also give me this strength the more I wear them, so I have to keep them on. Killing all three of them is the most effortless thing I’ve done in my whole life. I can’t believe how quickly they go down, and it’s exhilarating. Once it’s over, though, the shame and guilt set in. And the fear. I take the glasses off, and see that the monster disappears, just as before. He still looks entirely human to everyone else. No one would believe me if I claimed that he was the Devil, and these were his two demon assistants. I’ve heard of people like that, and they always end up between four padded walls. I drag the bodies into the janitor’s closet, and try to sneak back out of the bathroom. The club owner suddenly walks up to me and says, “where have you been? You get two minutes for the bathroom, like we agreed. Hey, where’re your goons? Whatever, just get back up there. The people want those beats!” Now I’m the monster.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Microstory 883: Forced Perspective

You are all here because you understand what we’re doing, and what’s at stake. This job will not be easy. We are investing heavily in counseling services, and while we’re still working out the details, one thing we do know is that witnesses will be limited to the number of cases they’re allowed to work over the course of a yet-to-be established duration of time. This is extremely dangerous technology; it can have lasting effects on a person’s psyche. Anyone who finds joy in their work will be immediately removed from the program, with zero compensation. I expect you to have trouble seeing the horrific things you will undoubtedly see, but at the same time, I expect you to do your job. One thing we haven’t explained yet is that there is an unusual component to the memories that we can’t seem to figure out. Has anyone ever heard of the medical condition known as prosopagnosia? Well, it’s also known as face blindness. It’s a less rare than you would believe cognitive disorder wherein the patient has trouble recognizing faces. They could conceivably be standing right next to a loved one that they’ve known their entire lives, and not have any idea. They interact with other individuals using context clues, like fashion, and hairstyle. Out of all of the survivors who have agreed to this program, not one of them suffers from this condition, so it has nothing to do with them personally. For some reason, when the memories are fed into the image interpreting software, it doesn’t come out right. You will be able to see through their eyes, as clear as they could; better, even, because you will not be experiencing the same shock and trauma as they did. You will not, however, be able to discern the face of their attacker, even if they weren’t wearing some kind of cover. Again, we don’t understand why this is, and we haven’t found a workaround to include this data into the system. If we could, we wouldn’t have to hire most of you, because we would be able to solve these cases with nothing more than a few memory fragments. It will be your job to look for clues from these scenes. You’ll still be able to see distinguishing marks, like tattoos, or moles. Think about how the attacker smells, how stronger they are, their balance of rage, resentment, and feelings of inadequacy. If you do manage to see their face, please let us know, so that we can further study this problem. This is important work, and if the pilot program succeeds, it could be a great boon to our justice system. No one in the world deserves to experience rape, which is why you will have every opportunity to back out of this program at any moment, with no legal consequences. You can even quit in the middle of a procedure, if you just cannot take any more of the pain. If no one has any further questions, then we will begin. We only have one machine at the moment, so who’s first?

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Microstory 882: This is Your Rifle

I’m not trying to keep anything from you, officer, but you have to understand that, after what happened to me, I’m not so keen on the police. I understand that not all of you are like him, but since law enforcement in general tends to turn the other way, and pretend things like this don’t happen, you can’t expect me to be eager to tell you anything. But if you want me to start at the beginning...again, and relive the worst experience of my life, then I will. So, I was on my daily walk, and before you ask that same dumb question, yes, I take walks. It’s good exercise that a lot of people do, so it wasn’t suspicious that I was out there without a dog. I looked over to the other side of the street, and I noticed a man hovering over the trunk of his car. No big deal, right? He’s probably just getting groceries, but then I saw the barrel of a gun, or whatever you call the long metal part where the bullets come out. Now, just because I’m not entirely confident on the vocabulary doesn’t mean I couldn’t be sure it was a gun. And besides, it doesn’t matter, does it? Because when he shoved it in my face later, there was no doubt it was a gun, so there’s no issue with probable cause, or whatever. So it looks like he’s putting it together, and I don’t see him wearing a vest, or a badge, and I definitely don’t see any other cops. He’s either coming back from hunting in a freaking Geo Spectrum, or he’s about to hurt someone. Naturally, I assume the latter, because if not true, then no harm done. On the other hand, if it is true, then it’s best to be cautious.

Anyway, I notice there’s some kind of party going on in the backyard of the house he’s parked in front of, and as he’s gathering his murder supplies, he’s eyeing the gate. So again, I assumed he was headed that way. I couldn’t call nine-one-one, because I don’t take my phone with me. I may look young, but I spent a lot of years without a cell phone every second of the day, and I’m usually fine without it now. Since I was the only one around, I was the only one who could do anything about this danger, so I snuck around to the party, hoping to warn them. Fortunately, the first person I came across was a dedicated lifeguard, so she didn’t question me, or just think it was a prank. She sprung into action, and started ushering the guests through the back gate, to the neighbor’s yard. I stayed back to distract the gunman. No, sir, I don’t have a death wish, and I never thought of myself as a hero. What I am is in service to others. Ya see, I’m always the one who suffers to make other people happy, because I can take it. I accept the crappy jobs at work, and I stand up on the bus. I don’t do this to punish myself, or because of my power. I do it because other people’s happiness is more important to them than mine is to me. So when I stayed back, I didn’t think I could actually take this guy on—I’m not bulletproof—but if I could keep him from catching up with the crowd for even thirty seconds, I’d’ve done my part. I don’t want to die, but if I do, the world is at no big loss. But there was kids at that party, and one of them might one day cure cancer, so they deserved it more.

Seeing his plan foiled, only then does he take out his badge, and make this claim that some terrorist was there, and I had ruined his sting operation. Like I said, I don’t know much about how you people do things, but I know you don’t take down a terrorist with one cop, so I immediately knew he was lying, and didn’t regret what I had done. For some reason, this guy takes me down to the station, telling me he’ll throw me in jail for obstruction, or some other such nonsense. The man actually chains me up like those serial killers who eat people. Well, what he didn’t know was that I have superhuman strength. I don’t like to use it in front of others, because they’ll start asking me to help them move, or threaten their abusive boyfriends, but this was a desperate situation. We pull into the driveway of a house right next to the station. I guess he lives there, I dunno. I tear those chains right off my body like they’re made of paper, and inform this self-proclaimed officer of the law that I will be walking into the station alone to report him. This freaks him out, and we get into it. He starts whaling on me with the butt of his rifle. Man, he’s just goin’ to town. Now, I do feel pain, mind you, but as I’ve explained, I’m okay with a little discomfort. Still, I get tired of it, so I start fighting back. Seeing no other option, he takes this stone out of his pocket and tells me it’ll let him control the concrete. The driveway starts liquifying and boiling, basically turning into quicksand right under my feet. I wade through the sludge and catch up with the guy, then I take the stone from him. I didn’t mean to drown him in the water from the now-liquid concrete. I just didn’t know how the stone worked. If defending myself is a crime, though, then I guess you oughta lock me up. Either way, I’m not saying another word without a lawyer.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Microstory 881: The Cardoso Method

I’ve always wanted superpowers, and whenever I got the chance, I would try to find out if I did. I’ve broken both my arms, and fractured my leg, getting myself into trouble I had no business being in. I’ve started fights, and I’ve jumped off of small structures, hoping I can heal quickly, or fly. My therapist uses a bunch of fancy lingo, but her ultimate message is that I’m delusional. And the weird part about it is that, yeah, I’m delusional. I know that everyone experiences déjà vu, and that it’s not any more potent in me than it is in others, and I know that I can’t sense what plants are feeling. But that doesn’t mean I can just let go of my beliefs. And thankfully I never did, because if I had just given up, I probably would have never discovered that I was right all along. I can see the future. Sure, I can only see a few seconds into the future, but it’s still something, and it is not without its advantages. Theoretically, someone with my power could use it to fight any opponent, and always win, because they would know what was coming. They might even be able to dodge bullets, but that would be a little more difficult, because it’s hard see a bullet’s path, even after its already happened. I’m taking things slow for now, and assuming my skills will grow over time, if I train correctly. For now, I just use my power for minor things. The first thing I noticed I could do was predict when my toast would be finished. This has come in handy, because something went wrong with the springs in my toaster, which causes it to launch those puppies high into the air. It may sound stupid, but I eat a lot of toast. I can move towards the edge of the intersection before it turns green too, because I know exactly when it’ll turn. Although, this is generally unsafe, and affords me little advantage over people who have learned to recognize the pattern anyway. One thing I like to do is freak out what few friends I still have left by saying exactly what I know they’re gonna say, at the same time they say it. Fortunately, this is nothing but a so-called parlour trick to people who’ve seen me in action. No one would suspect that it’s supernatural in nature. One day, I plan to learn to become a fighter, because I’ll still need moves of my own, but for now, I’m happy just being a performer. Who knows how I’ll feel about it in the future? Oh yeah, that’s right, me.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: September 10, 2187

When Leona Matic first started helplessly jumping through time, one of her first thoughts was of her loved ones. If she couldn’t stop what was happening to her, she would lose them all in a matter of months, from her perspective. Her heart was filled with such dread knowing that she would one day blink, and someone she cared about would suddenly be gone. And that process would be repeated until they were all dead. Everyone would be dead by the time she had a hankering for Chinese food again. But that wasn’t what actually happened. Ever since her first jump, family and friends would die, not of a long life long-lived, but at her responsibility. She never had to watch any of them grow old without her, because every single time, through her action or inaction, they would be killed before that was possible. She tried to run away from them once, with Serif, hoping to just leave them out all of this. She should have stuck with that plan. She should have tried harder. If they had just gone off on their own, all these people would either still be alive, or passed in peace, including one Paige Turner Reaver-Demir.
Paige was at least a hundred and seventy-five years old at the time of her death, though the exact length was difficult to discern when attempting to account for the time travel variable. She stayed alive as long as she did by utilizing biomedical developments, as well as other technological advances. She had not been fully human for a long time when Ulinthra struck her down with what could be best described as a power overload. Many would count her age as a blessing. She surpassed the conventional human lifespan by a century, at least as measured by the time period of her birth, but Leona recognized that this made it worse. As terrible as it might sound, killing a mortal is not as bad as killing someone like Paige. If you were to end the life of a normal eighteen-year-old human, for instance, you would at most, be robbing that individual of maybe ninety more years—as erred on the the side of exaggeration. If you were to end the life of an eighteen-year-old immortal, on the other hand, you would be stealing eternity from them. Kill a four-thousand-year-old immortal, and you’re still taking eternity. Because we don’t punish murderers for taking the memories of a person’s experiences. We punish them for stealing the memories that their victims can now never make.
While Leona felt guilty for everyone who had lost their lives because of the decisions she had made, Paige belonged to a special category of dead people whose deaths were directly tied to her inefficacy. Leona was at fault, for how she had handled the Ulinthra situation, and no one would be capable of disabusing her of this assertion. Fortunately for her, no one was interested in disproving her. They didn’t outwardly blame her for it, but they didn’t sugar-coat it either. They just stayed there with her in solidarity, having already spent a year grieving for their loss during Leona’s interim year. And then, as if called to action by a great psychoemotional need, Vitalie Crawville suddenly showed back up to help, reportedly on break from the year-long bicentennial celebrations.
Though she didn’t have the time to get particularly close to her, something about Vitalie reminded her of Paige, and she couldn’t help but break down crying when she saw her face. Vitalie didn’t say a word, but held Leona close for as long as she needed it.
“How did you know to come?” Leona was finally able to ask through the last of her tears.
“I just kind of got this feeling; not that Paige had died, but that you needed me,” Vitalie answered. “It’s been a long time since we’ve seen each other anyway. We were due for a five-year reunion.”
“I’m just so tired of losing people. It would be one thing if I had a job to do, or some kind of calling, but I’m just...here. Camden is a secret agent, Saga starts revolutions on other planets, what do I do? Nothing. I just keep getting forced into these situations, and the only real goal in place for me is to get out of those situations.”
“That’s kind of how life is, though, isn’t it? Most of us don’t have what one may call a purpose. We just do the best we can to survive to the end of the day. Then we wake up and do it again.”
“I guess that’s true, but those people exercise control over their lives. I’m salmon.”
“Everyone has their limitations. A poor person can’t go to the best college, get the best job, and buy the best house, unless maybe they’re really smart. Maybe. A celebrity can’t scratch their ass at a grocery store without making headlines. And you can’t leave Panama until you defeat Arianrhod. That’s your calling. Right now it is, so answer it. When you’re done with the...conversation, as it were, hang up. Then answer the next call.”
“I can’t defeat her,” Leona complained. “She’s too powerful. Everything we try, she’s already seen, because we can never know whether we’re living through the first time she experienced this day, or the second.”
Vitalie sighed. “That’s true, it’s a crapshoot, but didn’t you do this before, in another timeline? Didn’t you stop a man with the same powers? What did you do then?”
“I garnered help from The Gravedigger, who’s so obviously hiding that he’s one of the most powerful choosers I’ve ever met; and I met someone who created an entire universe.”
“Well, let’s call the Gravedigger again.”
“It won’t work this time. There was a warrant out for his arrest, and that’s not the case here.”
“What did he do to get into trouble that Ulinthra isn’t doing. If taking over the world doesn’t get the powers that be to step in, then I don’t know what does.”
“It’s complicated,” Leona said. “Way I understand it, Beaver Haven isn’t just a prison for people with temporal powers who are also criminals, or even the ones who use their powers for bad things. It’s just for people whose actions threaten the security of the rest of us. As far as the powers are concerned, Ulinthra can do whatever she wants, as long as she doesn’t expose us.”
“Then let’s do that,” Vitalie suggested vaguely.
“Do what? Expose us?”
“Get her to expose us.”
“How would we do that?”
Vitalie shrugged. “Dunno, but there’s gotta be a way.”
“I think if you tried something like that,” Brooke said from the doorway, “you would just end up getting yourselves locked up.” She walked into the room. “We’re in mixed company.”
A stranger in a uniform walked in behind her, followed by a hover sled, on top of which was some kind of chamber. “Where do you want this?” he asked.
“Just in the corner, over there,” Brooke directed him.
“What is that?” Leona asked, grateful that she had finished crying before Brooke returned.
“It’s my stasis pod. If I don’t get into this by midnight central, I die.”
“What?” Leona scrambled up from her seat. “Die from what?”
“I don’t know what it is, but Ulinthra infected me with something. This pod is scheduled to close at the end of every day I’m awake, and will keep me alive for a year, until I wake up and do it all again.”
“What are you talking about? What did I miss?”
“Vitalie, you should go,” Brooke said to her, “lest you be caught up in this.”
“It is too late,” Ulinthra said, walking in from one of the bedrooms, like a creeper.
“What is this about? I demand answers,” Leona said angrily.
“A few months after Paige’s death,” Ulinthra began to explain, “Brooke and Ecrin tried to go after me. They succeeded the first time around, but then time reset for me, and I did better on the next go. My problem was not that they tried—it was actually impressively courageous of them, if not bonker balls—it’s that you weren’t there. You and I have a history; several histories, actually. In only one of them do we get along. Even when you were married to Horace Reaver, we were rather cold with each other. As much as I remember about these things, I couldn’t tell you why we almost never have a good relationship, but I can tell you why we were friends in one of the realities.”
“Get to the point already.” Leona rolled her eyes.
“We were friends,” Ulinthra continued after she was so rudely interrupted, “because in that timeline, I gave you the greatest give I have.”
“And what was that? Your suicide?”
“Morbid much? No, it was my powers.”
“What?”
“I made you like me. Permanently.”
“Why would I have wanted that?”
“You were bored. You were just a human then, but I gave you a way to have fun. Together we wreaked more havoc on this planet than a giant groundhog on amphetamines, and when midnight hit, we’d go back in time and relax.”
“I don’t believe you. In no reality am I anything like you.”
“Well, I guess I can’t ever prove it to you, except to say...dougnanimous brintantalus.”
“We’ve established that my secret time password has never been a secret.”
“True, but I want you to start thinking about whether it’s possible that I’m being totally honest. You can do it while you’re on the table.”
“On what table?”
Ulinthra smirked, and motioned towards Brooke’s stasis chamber. “I had that built, because Brooke is pristinely ungifted, and I have not been able to find a way around that, even by using her umbilical cord pendant. Sorry about that again, Brooke.”
Brooke was showing her blankface.
Ulinthra went back to facing Leona. “I destroyed it while I was studying it. I didn’t do it on purpose, though. We all make mistakes.”
“You can go back in time and erase all your mistakes.”
Ulinthra pretended like this hadn’t occurred to her, but purposely in an unconvincing way. “I could have done that, couldn’t I? Damn.”
“You still haven’t gotten to the point.”
“Right, Ulinthra said. “Ecrin and now this young woman here, whoever she is, will be permanently placed on your temporal pattern.”
“Vitalie, go, now,” Leona ordered immediately.
“You think I didn’t know you’d say that?” She looked over at Vitalie, who was making no attempt to escape. “You won’t make it down the hall if you run.”
“I gathered,” Vitalie said.
“Good. I need your bone marrow,” Ulinthra said to Leona. “Blood can work, but it’s unreliable, and short-lived. I need the marrow to make Ecrin’s and Vitalie’s bodies generate your salmon juice on an ongoing basis.”
“You don’t even feel a little bit bad about killing Paige,” Leona pointed out.
“That was a non sequitur, and no, I suppose I don’t. To paraphrase Captain Malcolm Reynolds, someone ever kills you, you kill ‘em right back. Paige saw me threaten you with a knife on a security camera on your day a year ago. What I didn’t realize is that removing her life extension upgrades would reactivate her spawn power. That was my bad, and I paid for it with my life. Needless to say, Paige needed to die, so that I could be saved. Now go take a sonic shower. I want you clean so you don’t pass on some disease.”
“Should I even bother pleading for you to reconsider, or for you to at least give me one day to mourn?”
“You can mourn tomorrow with everybody else, but no one cares about your feelings. Now go. You can fight me on it next year when it no longer matters.”