Friday, June 22, 2018

Microstory 870: The Scoots

Name a sleeping disorder, and I got it. Sleep apnea? Yeah. Insomnia? Sure. Kleine–Levin syndrome? Not sure what that is, but I bet I have it too. So it was no surprise when I woke up this morning, and headed straight for the fudge emporium, for no reason. I don’t even like fudge, so I wouldn’t have gone there if I were in right mind. I wasn’t sleep-walking, but I wasn’t fully awake either. It was more like someone was driving my body and all I could do was watch. When I got there, I was still tired as hell, so even though this mind intruder wanted to explore, I wasn’t capable of taking two more steps. Fortunately a fleet of those disabled-person scooters was sitting there by the entrance, beckoning to me. I sat down in one of them and started driving around. People looked at me and laughed, and I couldn’t figure out how they knew I didn’t really need this. Sure, some of them saw me walk in, but this place is giant, there was no way that everyone knew. I ignored them, and tried to get to the other side of this ordeal in one piece. I spent about an hour there, going through every single aisle at least twice; once one way, and once the other. Finally my mind driver let us head to the exit, no fudge in hand. When I got home, I tried to tell my roommate what had happened, but he just laughed too. “That wasn’t a fudge emporium, dumbass,” he said. “That was a sewage treatment facility, and you were on a forklift. They weren’t laughing at you, they were trying to get you to stop. I think the only reason you got out of there without being arrested was because you didn’t end up hurting anyone.” When I asked him how he knew all this, he gave me this weird look. “You’re not wearing clothes, dude. My uncle, Rob works there, and he livestreamed that shit. You need to get some help.”

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Microstory 869: Lemon-Drizzled Bananas

“When I was a child, my father died of some rare disease that I can’t remember anymore. Social services couldn’t find my mom, who ran out on us before I was old enough to know her, so I was placed with my grandmother. Her husband, my grandfather, had died not one week prior, so we were both in mourning. She was so good to me, though. She always prioritized my needs, and my emotional issues, over her own. And it wasn’t until I was an adult that I recognized her sacrifices. Anyway, she was a little weird, which you may recall; you met her a couple times. She was always coming up with new ways to eat very simple foods, hoping to find some miracle concoction that would allow her to eat the same thing every day and not get tired of it. She came up with this recipe—if you can call it that—that she called Yellow Wedding. I know what you’re thinking, it sounds racist, but I assure you she came up with the term out of complete innocence. All it is is lemon-drizzled bananas. That’s it. All you do is peel a banana, put it on a plate, and drizzle lemon juice over it. You’d think it would taste horrible, and—well, why don’t you give it a shot? Bad, right? But somehow it makes you feel better. No? Okay, it might take some time for it to kick in, but they can work miracles. Whenever I’m feeling bad, just buy a bunch of bananas, and a bag of lemons. Works every time.”

I politely eat the bananas, assuring my friend that I’m open to finding something to like about them, even though that is a total lie. He’s trying so hard to help how he can, and I appreciate the effort so much. We haven’t seen each other in years, but I guess he heard about what happened on social media. Despite many friends I’m in better contact with living closer, he was the first one to show up and offer his support. Last week, I was involved in one of those mass murders you’ve been hearing about on the news. I was walking on the sidewalk with my husband and daughter when we heard screams behind us. A truck had come up on the curb, and was on its way to us. It didn’t look like it was going to stop, but there also didn’t seem to be any way of escaping it. My husband thought quicker than me. He kicked me right in the stomach, knocking me out of the path of the vehicle. He then picked up our daughter, and threw her onto this raised terrace garden against the building, just before the truck struck him dead. I scrambled back to my feet, and tried to get back to my child, but the truck was still there, in my way. The psychotic driver backed up, making me think I had an opportunity to get to her, but he was just trying to gather some momentum. He slammed on the accelerator so hard that he was going fast enough to make it up onto the terrace. My daughter was the only person there, so he actually made a point of going after her. The more I think about her, the more I wonder what she would think of these things; these sour sweet confections that no one but this guy’s grandmother would think to make. And the more I eat them out of politeness, the more I want to eat, and the better I feel. I’m still not sure I like them, but I actually think that it’s working. I feel better than I have since the attack. I’m not cured, of course, but it’s the first time that I think that I might actually get through it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Microstory 868: Fall at the Final Hurdle

I’m an extremely competitive person, and I quite frankly don’t understand people who aren’t. What’s the point of life if you’re not going to develop, progress, get better, than everyone else? What are you doing with your time if you’re just sitting there, content with being mediocre. I’d sooner kill myself than waste away with no purpose. Obviously not everyone can be the best, but people who don’t try just don’t make sense, and I can’t stand them. Thing is, I can’t stand other competitive people either. We’re all alphas, so we easily get on each other’s nerves. I’ve never been in a fight in my whole life, but I can’t hold in my anger this time. There’s this one guy from Easton High who I have never been able to beat, in any track event. I’m always so incredibly close, but I just can’t make up that fraction of a second. But I’ve resolved to correct that in my last event before I graduate. If I don’t win this, I’ll forever be a loser, and that is not acceptable. I push myself harder than I ever have before, and almost feel like I’m gonna pass out. I’m about to do it when something hits me in the chest. Whatever it was, it was small, but even that is enough to make me fall face forward, right on the hurdle. Looking back, I guess I’m just lucky I’m alive, but I was not so clear-headed at the time. I know he threw a rock at me, or something like it. My lane was right by the the grass, I so I couldn’t find it to prove it; not that the police would have dusted it for prints, or anything. The first thing I see when I come to is my nemesis, jumping up and down at the finish line, rousing the crowd, and proverbially patting himself on the back. The rage boils up inside of me, then explodes. I hop right over the hurdle from a standing position, and bolt right for him. He’s so shocked at seeing me keep going even though the race was long over than he can’t move. I barrel right into him like a charging rhino. I want to punch him in the face, but I hold myself back. No matter what anyone tells you, I showed restraint; it wasn’t because the other racers kept me away from him. Needless to say, I regretted what I did, but the principal didn’t care. That bitch expelled me three days—three days!—before my last final exam. It’s so late in the year that I can’t even transfer to a new school. I’m going to have to go to summer school just to graduate. I still don’t know if college will let me defer a year so I can take care of this. Whatever happens, though, I know I’ll fix it, and probably still graduate early, because I’m a winner. And that’s something people like my bitch principal could never understand.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Microstory 867: Steadfast

I need money. I need all the money I can get. I’m paying for college myself, so I sometimes walk around campus, looking for opportunities to make a little extra cash. When I was a freshman, I learned that grad students were always looking for people to participate in their research studies, and many of them paid. I’ve worn eye-tracking visors to show how people look at pictures, I’ve gone for days without sleeping, and I’ve even donated my saliva. I still don’t know what they did with my DNA, but hopefully nothing. After all this time, I know a few people in the right departments, and I usually know when something good is coming. The other day, a psychology professor called me up to let me know they would need a handful of people to come and watch a presentation. He said it could pay up to two hundred dollars, which is the highest I will have ever gotten, so I jumped at the chance. I walk in the building and find the right room. There are a lot more people there than the professor led me to believe, but that shouldn’t make a difference; it’s not a competition. Like many of these things, no one comes up to tell us why we’re here, or what they’re looking for. An orator just steps onstage and starts talking about fairly advanced concepts in the field of psychology. I start taking notes, because I take this very seriously, and they may test us on it later in order to understand the principles of comprehension. One by one, beautiful girls start coming up and standing in front of me so I can’t see the stage. With no provocation, they just start flirting, and I realize the study is not about comprehension, it’s about concentration. I’m resolved to get through this, though, so I ignore all their advances. All in all, I estimate there to be fifteen girls, and one guy, over the course of a half hour. Not one of them succeeded in breaking my focus. I watch the whole speech, understand a few things, and learn even more. The speaker says nothing about the girls, or even about the human brain’s capacity to focus on a task at hand. It’s actually about how smart people can often miss very obvious things because they overthink the problems in front of them. But I know that it doesn’t matter. The presentation itself is irrelevant, but how I react to the interruption. After it’s all done, I walk down the steps and approach my professor friend to ask him how I did with the experiment. He frowns and all but throws the stack of cash at me. “That was a ruse,” he says. “We’re all just trying to find you a girlfriend. You worry too much, and we thought a companion could help you relax.” I scoff. That’s a dumb experiment.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Microstory 866: Pierced Through

I’m sitting in the morgue, along with six strangers, and we’re all waiting to find out what we’re doing here. I already have a job in a mortuary uptown, and have no interest in a change of scenery. I only came because I was curious. People in my line of worked aren’t known for being poached by competitors. There’s a body on a table in the middle of the room, covered with a sheet. We’re obviously here for it, but why would there need to be so many of us? Finally a woman comes in and informs us that this is a particularly nasty case, and one that needs to be solved quickly, which is why they brought in a whole team. We’re here as temporary medical examiners, working for a government contractor, with employment to be terminated upon completion of the project. We would only work on a second case if necessary. One of the guys just leaves without saying a word, much to our apparent new superior’s dismay, but she could do nothing about it. The rest of us stay, but not everyone is happy about it. “I work a alone,” says one guy, making it painfully obvious that the only reason he works alone is because no one would ever want to work with him. He immediately takes over the investigation, insisting that he take charge of the file, and remove the sheet from the body. I see his face when he first lays eyes on the victim. He wants to jump back in fear, but he’s clearly restraining himself. He notices that I caught his microexpression, and he is not happy about it. We’ve all seen our fair share of death; blood, broken bones, terrifying mutilations, but I doubt anyone has ever seen this. The woman is covered in dermal piercings, in what looks to be a pattern, but no discernable one. After a quick examination, which I do unprompted, I conclude that all the piercings were done postmortem, which means this wasn’t just how the woman lived. The murderer pierced her body himself, to make some kind of statement. We just need to figure out what that statement is, and hope it somehow proves that he doesn’t plan to do it again.

He does it again. We still haven’t figured out what the piercings mean when another victim is found the next day. He’s displayed her in the middle of a park, wanting us to see it as soon as possible. Killers like this want to be discovered, and recognized for their work. They might not want to be caught, but they want us to know who they are. Over the course of the next five days, one new body shows up about every twenty-four hours, each one killed by suffocation, and we still haven’t made any progress. There’s no evidence that he plans on stopping until we stop him, so I come in after hours one night, and try to work on my own. It’s not that I think the others can’t contribute, but I cannot sleep with this hanging over my head. As I’m going over the medical files, the loner examiner walks in with a smug look on his face, and tells me that he’s called our boss about me coming in alone. He’s sure this will get me kicked off the team, but it doesn’t. Our boss calls in from a business meeting on the other side of the world to tell us she doesn’t care what we do to get the job done, as long as everything comes together in the end. That’s it. That’s what we have to do. We have to put all the bodies together. The pattern is continuous, not independent...he’s telling us a story. I scramble for the stack of photos we took, and start arranging them in different ways, looking for a way to solve the puzzle. Finally I see it, but I need to arrange the bodies themselves to get a better look. My nemesis reluctantly helps. I was right, it’s part of the logo for the company that we’re currently working for. Is this why we were brought in; because our boss knew it had something to do with them, and she couldn’t trust her own people? I suggest this possibility out loud, but my colleague disagrees. I turn around to find our boss with a knife to his throat. “It’s not about the company,” she says. “It’s about this team.” I question what exactly she means by this when the guy who quit before we got started rolls in with a seventh body, and uses it to finish the puzzle. He smiles and declares that they’re ready to go. The piercings suddenly begin to glow, and the bodies sit up. I stumble back in fear. “Contact the rest of your team,” our boss orders her accomplice. “We need to proceed with the second half of the puzzle.”

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: September 7, 2184

In the 20th century, scientists began researching global climate change, partially in order to understand mankind’s impact on their environment. They discovered that industrialization, while a boon to the economy, was significantly detrimental to life on Earth. Research persisted for decades, with a correlation of consensus from legitimate experts, who increasingly urged the public to recognize the problem. Denial of these issues continued simultaneously, as the average citizen limited their beliefs to whatever echo chamber supported their suppositions. The truth was replaced with alternative facts, and inequality reigned. Things began to change as the middle of the 21st century approached, however. New generations of activists and voters demanded change on scales never before seen. Rich rulers of the old world finally died so they could no longer make things worse. A great deal of damage had been done to the planet by then, but despite many claims, it could be reversed. It would be a massive undertaking, but it was possible, and it was what happened.
As technology progressed, our ancestors’ ways of doing things no longer made any sense. Clean meat, harmlessly grown from cells extracted from a still living specimen seriously lowered the amount of farmland required to sustain the entire human population of the world. Likewise, vertical indoor farming allowed for controlled environments to support fruits and vegetables without the need for pesticides, or wasteful irrigation. Food scarcity had become a thing of the past, easily being grown in practically any location. Nanotechnology, and advances in material sciences allowed gargantuan structures to be built in a matter of days, aided by the direction of artificial intelligence, which was in charge of supporting nearly all other technologies as well. Additive manufacturing and drone delivery provided everything the average consumer would need to live healthy and happy lives, and universal basic income kept most people from needing to work. Immersive virtual reality enabled escape to literally anywhere they wanted to go. It was suddenly no longer chic to live in the largest and most luxurious houses. All most individuals needed was a bed, a bathroom, a closet, and a couple of 3-D printers.
This minimalist mentality gave rise to an entirely new way of living. No more would we live in sprawling cities, which destroyed the wilderness. Megastructures were constructed in strategic former population centers around the world. Tens of millions of people could live in a space of only fifteen square kilometers, raised above the ground to allow wildlife to thrive once again, as it was always meant to. Some were larger than others, each one falling into a logical class, according to standard populations. China and India housed Class A arcities since each one necessitated more than two dozen of them to support their respective populations. The first one of these kinds of habitats was built in Kansas City, leaving it to be in a class of its own. The rest of the United States and Indonesia belonged to Class C, along with more than fifty other nations. The more of these that were built, though, the less important archaic borders mattered. The only reason they were built on an international baseline was to serve preexisting geographic population clusters.
When Ulinthra was thrown unwillingly to the future, she found herself in a world she didn’t understand. She had no reasonable objection to the way things had turned out. She just saw her unique perspective as an opportunity to amass the power that she always dreamt of having. The smallest nations needed the least amount of housing, with many island countries being relegated to Class H, which meant if they wanted to change the way they lived, they would have to do it themselves. She decided to prey on the people still living in these places, using their own insecurities against them. Once they were on her side, she formed a union, predicated on preserving the cultures she convinced the smaller classes were being threatened by the larger states. The greater governments ignored her at first, thinking her power would die out when her constituents wised up to how much she was lying to them. But it never did. It only increased. She systematically gathered more and more support, and she was soon taking over the Class G nations as well, which only held tens of thousands of people.
Finally seeing the Arianation as a significant threat, the Class F arcities prepared for an attack. Knowing they would assume this to be her next move, Ulinthra started war with the Class Es instead, catching the whole world off guard. She used more advanced technology than anyone knew she had. Since a grand peace had resulted from all this progress, the majority of the population was not at all prepared for war, with even many adults not having seen so much as a minor skirmish in their entire lifetimes. Only the Arianation had pursued more and more deadly weaponry, since they were the only ones who felt they needed it. They began a monumental attack on all Class Es at the exact same time, which included Panama. When the leadership of these arcities tried to defend themselves, it was like their new enemies knew exactly what they were going to do. No one but Ulinthra’s most loyal followers knew that she lived through every single day twice, allowing her to learn from mistakes that would be irreversible for most, and change strategies during the second time around. She was practically unstoppable, and in less than a week, she and her people were in charge of nearly a five hundred arcities. This was the hardest part. Now she could make demands. Now the world would have to answer to her. Soon she would have everything. But first, she needed to reunite with a few old friends.
While Ulinthra had people to deal with each individual arcity on her behalf, The Panama Report was given to her directly so she could hear about the prisoner of war who was placed in confinement, then disappeared at the strike of midnight. She immediately moved her base of operations to that location, and waited patiently for a year, so she could be ready to see Leona Matic once more.
“Cool story, bro,” Leona said dismissively after Ulinthra was finished explaining this all to her. “Tell me, have you never seen a movie in your life? When the evil megalomaniac tells the protagonist about their dastardly plans, it always comes back to bite them in the ass.”
“I told you nothing of my plans,” Ulinthra countered. “I spoke only of what I’ve done.”
“You told me how this was all part of the plan; that you tricked all those Class H countries.”
Ulinthra shrugged. “I didn’t need to tell you that, you already know who I really am, including my real name, so you would be able to use it against me either way.”
“That’s true,” Leona had to admit.
“What is this thing?” Ulinthra held up the ardusite dagger.
“Family heirloom.”
“It’s just a work of art. A friend gave it to me a few days ago,” Leona lied.
“You mean a few years?”
“What does it do?” Ulinthra asked.
“It’s decoration. It doesn’t do anything.”
Ulinthra pursed her lips and studied Leona’s face. “Then you wouldn’t mind if I break it?”
“No, I would mind, because it has sentimental value. Like you said, it was years ago. My friend is dead now. You can keep it while I’m locked up here, but I would like it back when I get out.”
“What makes you think you’ll get out?” Ulinthra laughed.
Leona waited to answer to foster the anticipation. “I always get out.”
She smiled. “I believe that.” She paused as well. “Harrison,” she called over her shoulder. “Would you come in here?”
“Harrison?” Leona asked. Harrison was an android with artificial intelligence who worked for a different version of Ulinthra in an alternate timeline. He never really liked it, and ended up getting out from under her thumb when he had the opportunity. If an android named Harrison existed in this reality, then it couldn’t be the same one. There was no way an AI shared any similarity to an alternate counterpart. The differences in programming between the two of them would be so much larger than the personality of an organic lifeform under the same circumstances. Right?
A man walked into the room that Leona didn’t recognize. That didn’t mean anything, as it could just be a different model he was using. Ulinthra handed him the dagger. “Break this, please.”
“No, don’t,” Leona begged.
Harrison took the the dagger in both hands, and slammed it against his robot knee. It didn’t break.
“You still tryna tell me this thing doesn’t do anything?” Ulinthra asked.
Shit. The fact that a superstrong android couldn’t break it meant that it couldn’t just be some random artifact. On the other hand, at least it wasn’t destroyed. Leona exercised her right to remain silent.
“I know Paige and Brooke,” Ulinthra said, switching gears. “Who is that other woman with you?”
“It’s been a year, you didn’t just ask her yourself?”
“I felt like it would be better to speak with you before doing anything. I’ve not said a word to them. Far as I know, they don’t know I’m involved.”
“Brooke and Paige are superintelligences. They know.”
Ulinthra seemed to agree to this. “Who is she?”
“Just a friend.”
“Who is she?”
“She’s your daughter.”
“Okay, fine, she’s your mother.”
My mother?”
“Goddammit, Leelee.”
“She’s from another planet!” Leona finally admitted, not thinking Ulinthra knowing this would have any impact on their situation. “That’s where we’ve been since we last saw you. We had pick up a passenger from a rogue planet, and bring her back here. We met Ecrin there, and she came with us. There’s no big conspiracy. I had no clue what had come of you until a half hour ago.”
“I was just wondering,” Ulinthra said, feigning offense, “gahh.”
Leona sighed.
Ulinthra sighed.
“I’m just wondering what you think you’re accomplishing by taking over the world.”
“You just answered your own question. I’m taking over the world. What more could one want?”
“World peace?”
“War is necessary. For now,” Ulinthra opined.
“I heard the guards talking before you arrived,” Leona said. “Israel is fighting back.”
She shrugged. “Israel always fights back. It’s just one battle, and sometimes by losing a battle you find a new way to win the war.”
“Jesus Fucking Christ, Ulinthra, a fucking Nazi first said that quote.”
“What can I say? He was my favorite president.”
What the hell did that mean? “What are you talking about? Trump wasn’t president in this timeline. He didn’t even run.”
Ulinthra acted coy, and didn’t say anything.
“You had your brain blended,” Leona hypothesized.
“The Warrior owed me a favor.”
“Son of a bitch.”
Ulinthra made a grimace. “Yes, this is going to be a lot harder for you, isn’t it? You thought you had an advantage having known my alternates. Well, I know them too, and I know the other yous.” She stood up and opened the door. Harrison left, but Ulinthra waited there for a moment. “You’re free to go. You can meet your friends back on the beach where they found you.”
Leona was, of course, reticent about the offer. “Why? What’s your angle?”
She snickered. “I love games.” She took a beat. “Catch me if you can.”

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Missy’s Mission: The Newt Normal (Part XI)

Missy did end up exploring her leadership skills, which she had not up until then considered part of her repertoire. She had spent a lot of time of her personal timeline running from The Cleanser, and traveling to other points in time and space. She met a lot of people along the way, but not large groups of people in need of guidance. Dar’cy would have been good at this, but she never really got over her feelings of guilt over the people she lost while jumping back to this time period. It was just one more in a series of terrible events that she felt responsible for, including the Secret Library debacle. Curtis and Lucius were no longer in any position to garner trust from these people, so the job fell squarely on Missy’s shoulders. She never denied her role, but she did make sure everyone was okay with it, and that no one else qualified was interested in it.
She kept the fate of Sage and Avidan, and what they had to do with everyone on Eden Island, to herself. While the two of them seemed to have no interest in subverting their own destiny together, it was best to let their relationship develop organically. And develop it did. They started dating immediately, or insofar as it’s possible to date on a remote oceanic island on an alien planet where you’re the only two teenagers in the whole universe. Within months, they were ready to get married and start sleeping with each other, the latter of which they were wanting to wait for until they had completed the former, and had also reached the common Earthan age of majority. They decided to hold the wedding ceremony on Avidan’s birthday in 2184, or at least what passed for that date in this universe. No one had the technology to measure the duration of a year on this world, though it was suspected to be similar to that of Earth’s, and rumored to be exactly the same. Nor were there any choosers or salmon here with an innate sense of the passage of time, which was a not uncommon power elsewhere, but also not one that lended itself to the user having a desire to be rid of it.
The ceremony went off without a hitch, except for the one moment in the middle of Avidan’s vow of commitment when the Time Shriek rang out from the aether. Even that wasn’t much of a problem either, because everyone but the concordants showed signs of having heard it before. Seeing no one else bothered by it, they quickly relaxed, and returned to the situation at hand. There was dancing, and there was food, and there was joy. And according to the happy couple the next morning, there was also sex. Missy and Dar’cy had taken them in as their wards, though they were now fully moved into their new home. Everybody lived in huts erected at the entrances of various caves, some of which connected to each other by passageways. They were all quite clean, and clustered together in a community, giving rise to the theory that it was done by intelligent design. Normally, Missy would shoot down this possibility, but the universe had expanded by the semiconscious time power of a formidable choosing one, so that was a fairly reasonable explanation.
Less than a week later, the newlyweds were back in Missy and Dar’cy’s place for brunch, which was something they once did every day, but was set to diminish due to the need for some young adult independence. Avidan was sitting in front of his fruit, having eaten little of it, waiting impatiently with a wide grin.
“Do you have something to tell us?” Dar’cy asked him. Her mood had improved quite a bit recently, especially since the wedding, which had acted to lift everyone’s spirits. The conditions on the island were perfect; with gentle rain, instead of harsh storms, and no apparent disease. Still, the anxiety from not knowing when they would succeed in their mission weighed on the people, and the boredom of life with no struggle wasn’t always a blessing.
Somehow, Avidan’s grin grew even wider. He looked between the three of them, excited to finally speak his piece. His eyes finally settled on his wife. “Sage! You’re pregnewt!”
“I am?” Sage asked. “How do you know?”
“I sense it. I first felt the presence last night, but I wanted to wait until we were all together.”
“Sage, Avidan, congratulations,” Missy shouted, and not just because the news signaled what one might treat as the penultimate leg to their extremely long journey.
“Yes,” Dar’cy agreed. “I’m so happy for you two. You will make excellent parents.”
“Should we tell everybody else?” Sage asked.
Missy and Dar’cy looked at each other.
She wanted to approach this delicately, Missy she spoke slowly. “People tend to wait on the big announcement until the first trimester is over, which is about fourteen weeks.”
Avidan didn’t understand. “Why is that?”
Dar’cy continued the explanation, “a lot can happen during a pregnancy. A lot can go wrong, but the risk drops around that time.”
“So, they don’t want to jinx it?” Sage asked.
“No,” Missy explained, “but people will ask you about the baby, and if you’ve lost it already, you won’t want to talk about it. It’s best to wait.”
“You seem pretty sure we’re gonna lose it,” Avidan argued.
“It’s not personal to you, it’s convention,” Dar’cy clarified. “No one wants to talk about things like this, but the conversations are necessary, because it does happen. We don’t have access to vitamins, or ultrasound equipment. We’ll have to do this the ol’ fashioned way, and that doesn’t always go well. If you’re going to do this—if you’re going to raise a child—you have to understand the dangers. Life isn’t perfect. I know you know this, we’re not telling you because we think you don’t get—we’re aware of what you’ve both been through. We have a maxim on Earth: hope for the best, plan for the worst. It means to be ready for the bad things to happen, while remaining optimistic that they won’t.”
Avidan and Sage both had difficult childhoods. Sage’s home life when she was young was not the best, which made it almost a blessing when she accidentally helped create a portal to ancient Durus. She spent a great deal of time alone there before a friend came through, and even longer before their third friend showed up. Avidan was orphaned at too young of an age for him to remember his parents. He begged to be placed on The Warren, so he could find a better life on Earth. He almost didn’t make it, as he was only seven years old, but they let him on at the last second. They knew how important family was, and that they were always sitting on a precipice. They listened to Dar’cy and Missy’s words with respect, and took the advice to heart. When the hard conversation was over, though, they were able to celebrate with some shokalia root. It was the only rare food on the island, and on its own, tasted bitter and sour. When mixed with literally anything else, though, it would turn sweet and euphoric. Generally inedible leaves could be turned into a flavorful and nutritious salad base, just with a little shokalia water. Since there was so little of it available, it was carefully rationed, so that everyone could have some, some of the time.
A few weeks later, Missy volunteered to go back to the mainland to retrieve Serif, who was set to return to the timestream sometime in the next week or so, according to their best guess. She didn’t love wearing the teleporter hair hat, but somebody had to do it, and she was hoping to gather some intelligence on what the Maramon were up to. That was, after all, why Serif was back there when she jumped to the future last year. Dar’cy insisted on going with her, still feeling the need to proctect her partner.
Once they were gone, Lincoln Rutherford came up to Sage and Avidan. “Your mothers have left already?”
“To get Serif, yes,” Avidan said. “Why?”
Lincoln sighed. “It’s time.”
“Time for what?”
“To close the loop,” Lincoln replied cryptically. He led them down the path, and into Curtis and Lucius’ hut.
“What are we doing here?” Sage asked.
Lincoln ignored her. “Curtis? You have it?”
“I do,” Curtis said, seemingly conflicted about whatever it was they were going to do.
“You have what?” Lucius asked, sitting up from the table.
Curtis opened a dresser drawer, and took out a jar of sand.
Lucius was apprehensive. “Is that what I think it is?”
“It’s Serif’s day, so it’s time for you to fix this. We won’t get another chance.”
“I’m not letting this happen,” Lucius protested. “I won’t do it.”
“This has to happen,” Lincoln urged. “You have to do it.”
Lucius held firm. “No.”
“I can see the future, Lou. Why don’t you trust me with that?”
“I don’t know you,” Lucius said to him. “That you know something does not mean you are being honest about it.”
“What if I promise that everything turns out okay?”
“I wouldn’t believe you.”
“What is going on?” Sage demanded to know.
“We have to fix the Wrench of Creation. Only you two can do it.” Lincoln indicated Sage and Lucius.
“He can rebuild the things he’s destroyed?” Avidan inquired.
“With her help, yes,” Lincoln answered before directing his attention back to Lucius. “If you don’t do this, we’re all dead. You’re going to lose your powers in less than a year, whether you want that or not. If we don’t get this done, the Maramon will become a threat to the entire bulkverse.”
“Aren’t they already?” Lucius point out.
“Not like this. Stop being an asshole, Lucius, and do as I say! For once in your life in this timeline, do the right goddamn thing! Every single time we switch to a new reality, you do one good thing! Make this that one thing!”
Lucius looked like he was finally about to agree to what was being asked of him, but then they heard Missy’s voice shouting from what they were calling Town Square; the common space in the center of all the dwellings. “Everybody out! Serif’s back, but she doesn’t have much time! She has something to say!”
They all stepped out of the hut, as did everyone else in the community. Serif was standing in the middle, watching to make sure everyone was there. Once they were, she began, “everything seemed fine when I did recon last year, but I’ve been back in the timestream the whole day, and things have changed. They know you’re on Eden Island, and they’re coming. This place is no longer safe.”
“Where will we go?” someone in the audience asked.
“I can’t decide that,” Serif said, looking at her watch. “I’ve only got a minute left.”
The time is now,” Lincoln said to Lucius. “Curtis, please do the honors.”
Curtis threw the jar on the ground, spilling the sand, and remnants of the Wrench of Creation. Sage placed her hand on Lucius’ muscular arm, while he raised his other one, and sent a beam of energy towards the mess. Tiny flashes of light burst from the pile, mirrored by teleportational exits that flashed several centimeters above. Pieces of the wrench coalesced, slowly at first, but ever faster. Before too long, the object began to take shape, until it was all finished, and a fully formed plastic wrench toy fell back to the ground. Lincoln reached down, cutting himself on the glass. He tossed it to Serif, who caught it on instinct, but still didn’t know why she needed it. Before she could ask what she was meant to do with it, her salmon power kicked in, and she disappeared.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Microstory 865: Cashier or Credit

After seven years, the war is finally over, and wouldn’t you know it, it ended in peace. No side truly won over the other, but compromises were made. Hell would continue to house all the dead bad people, but exactly what qualifies as bad would be drastically altered. There would also be limitations on the conditions of the hellscape, rendering the place more depressing and banal than torturous. Heaven would be turned over completely to be run by the hypostates, with very little cross traffic, save for checks and balances. Earth would be left mostly to its own devices, with an interesting twist. Any demon wishing to relinquish their connection to the other realms would be free to start new lives, alongside living humans, with no repercussions. The apostates agreed to this, not thinking it would make any difference. A surprisingly high number of demons wanted to live with mortals, which was actually rather beneficial to the global economy. The world was primed to restabilize after the apocalypse, but that didn’t mean demons were automatically awarded decent jobs, or that they would be happy about it, or that they would not revert to their old ways. Most of them ended up with dead-end, minimum wage, high school jobs. If you were a law-abiding demon who went an entire workday without doing anything with trash, you were lucky, just that good, or had brilliant connections. With this in mind, I get into the line at the grocery store that’s being run by a demon cashier. The woman ahead of me is wearing that infamous tattoo, indicating that she was a warrior for The Lightbringer during the war, which explains why she’s the only other human willing to risk it. I’m here because demons don’t bother me that much, and the other lines are far too long. It doesn’t hurt that the demon cashier is extremely beautiful. I identified as pansexual even before the armies of darkness brought hellfire to the surface, as many people did. I know a lot of others started questioning their sexuality when that happened, never having before been confronted with the puzzle of how to feel about someone who we would best be described as a monster. I had no problem with it, and were we not literal born enemies, I would have considered a relationship with a demon years ago. I treat individuals individually, and try not to judge people until I know more about what they’ve been through. The warrior takes her groceries, along with the fiver that the cashier tried to pocket. She doesn’t even argue about it; she just gets it back, and walks away. I throw my own stuff on the belt, and try to swipe my credit card. The cashier tells me that the reader is broken, and she’ll have to swipe it for me. Extra cautious from what she tried to do to the warrior, I watch her carefully, easily catching her slipping the card into her cleavage while replacing it with another one. She tries to give me the wrong one, likely hoping I’ll put it away without even looking. I politely ask for the right one, and remind her to return this other one to its rightful owner. “And one more thing,” I say. Her eyes dart over to her supervisor. This may be the straw that causes the camel to fire her. “Would you like to get some coffee sometime?”