Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Microstory 1407: I Of the Portalcane

After defeating Effigy for the upteenth time, and solidifying themselves as a loyal and true Triumvirate, things seemed to be going okay. They developed a nice system of defeating the time monsters that came through the broken portal. Escher would steal power from the monsters themselves to use against them. He would donate this power to Rothko, who would destroy them anyway necessary. Savitri would supply a boost of energy as well. It didn’t last very long, though, as the consequences of their actions would eventually catch up to them. Time travel, and other forms of temporal manipulation, was tricky. It was usually pretty safe to do, because it was usually fairly controlled, and minimal. A teleportation jump here, a seer making a prediction there; the energy used in these interactions with time dissipated so easily that no one had to make sure it happened. But it was possible for all this to get out of hand. Had the time monsters been allowed to exit the portal, and go on their merry way, things would have been all right. It would have all been structured and safe, at least on the grander scale. But the Triumvirate always wanted to destroy them, and they used a lot of temporal energy to do this. Since they were acting in such close quarters, this constant transfer of power started to do some real damage. Reality was going haywire around them, causing the past, present, and future to be layered upon each other. They saw things that would not come to pass for decades, but it was all so chaotic that there was no way to gather any real information from it. Either way, it needed to be stopped, and there was seemingly no way to do that. They spent days trying to work the problem, but with every attempt, the problem only grew worse, because they were simply adding more and more energy to the convergence. There was one particular incident that kept coming back and seemed to be at the heart of the matter. They were witnessing a future event, wherein another small group of people were trying to fix their own energy problem. It generated a massive explosion that vibrated all across the globe, and when it was finally over, the portal was finally closed for good. They figured, if there was any way to stop their problems today, it involved somehow tapping into this future moment. What they didn’t realize was that the moment they were watching actually took place over the course of decades alone, and they were simply watching it on fast-forward. It took a long time for that portal to close completely, and a lot of people were taken in by it before that would happen, whether they wanted to go, or not. The Triumvirate paid their own price when they got too close. Savitri was pulled in to what was later called the portalcane, and dispatched to the universe where the monsters originated. This should have only been accessible any time after the event occurred. Even with time travel, the portalcane generally only had an impact on the future. As far as anyone knew, Savitri was the only exception to this. Her friends would never see her again. And they would never forgive themselves for it. Savitri, however, did fine without them. She lived a decent life—though, not without heartbreak. She just did it somewhere else.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Microstory 1406: Triumph of the Triumvirate

Only weeks after Rothko arrived on Durus, Effigy came back, hoping to use a different tactic to get what she wanted. She had had just about enough of Escher getting in the way of her plans to bring all of her people into this universe, and she thought she finally had an advantage over him. On the outside, Rothko was a really good person. He was compassionate, thoughtful, and ready to help anyone who crossed his path, whether he knew them or not. Yet he carried a darkness inside of him that he was only beginning to discover, and being a master manipulator, Effigy believed she could exploit these two sides of him at the same time. She could turn him over to her side, both by appealing to his instinct to be helpful and understanding, and to his inner demons. She began to communicate with him when he was apart from the other two. She didn’t whisper in his ear, or claim that his friends weren’t good for him. She didn’t even charge him to keep their new relationship a secret. She just became friends with him, and taught him how to use his time powers, and let him decide for himself whether he was going to reveal the truth to the rest of the Triumvirate. Most choosing ones develop an instinct for their abilities. They don’t know exactly how they work, but they know how to use them, just like a baby will learn to walk, pretty much no matter what, even if you try to teach them not to. Rothko, however, was particularly unskilled with his, and he needed Effigy’s help. He was a lot smarter than she gave him credit for, though. He could see what she was trying to do to him, and as long as he stayed grounded, he felt he could overcome any psychological poison she tried to use on him. He let her keep thinking that they were becoming real friends, but it was all just an act, so he could learn from her. He recognized that she was his best hope of figuring out how to use his gifts. He proved his loyalty months later; to himself, to his friends, and to Effigy. One thing he had always wanted to do was restore Escher’s hand. Now, the range of his powers was limited. While it was indeed called reality-warping, it didn’t give him free reign over the whole universe. It was localized. He could only make small changes, and only within the immediate area. He was disrupting physics, but not quite breaking any laws. The energy he used had to come from somewhere, and a lot of his work were more illusions than real alterations. There was a way, however, for him to give Escher his hand back. There was a reality out there where Escher didn’t lose his hand at all. This reality was unstable, and short-lived, but that didn’t matter when it came to  time travel. He could still access that timeline, and take from it what he needed. He stitched events from this microreality into the real one, and returned the hand, as if it had never been removed at all. This was great; the Triumvirate had beaten Effigy yet again, and she was furious, because it meant she hadn’t really found a weakness at all. Sadly, their new, happy, and intact life together was not destined to last forever. In utilizing his powers in this way, Rothko had unwittingly opened the world up to much larger changes in the future, and none of them would prove to be powerful enough to stop what was coming.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Tuesday, April 29, 2053

Before anyone could so much as begin to guess what the hell was going on, a pod appeared a few meters away from them, and opened up to reveal what Mateo could only describe as a future-cop. He smiled at the group apprehensively. “Hello. Reports indicate that some unusual temporal activity has been occurring in this area. Where, and/or when are you from?”
Hmm. He seemed to be a deveiled human, who used time technology on the regular. Mateo checked his wrist. Yes, it was honest hour, so he resolved to take the lead on this one, and not worry about whether anyone disagreed. “We apologize if we have broken any laws.” He showed the cop his Cassidy cuff. “We are not in control of our temporal movements. We do the bidding of someone who is very powerful. He’s trapped us here in your reality, though to be fair, all we’ve done so far is help people, so he may not be as bad as he wants us to believe.”
The time cop looked to the rest of the group, not because he didn’t believe Mateo’s story, but to see if anyone else had anything to add. “You’re from the main sequence.” It was a half-question.
“If that is what you call it,” Leona confirmed. “We just call it the main timeline, and we call this The Parallel.”
“Indeed,” the cop agreed. “You have been foretold.” He looked at his own watch, but literally. “No point in transporting you into the heart of the city, and alerting anyone else to your presence. I’ll be right here to pick you up in three years, two days.” He climbed back into his pod, and teleported away. Ninety minutes later, midnight central was quickly approaching.
Sanaa knelt down, and picked up what were formerly Ramses’ cuffs.
“Don’t touch those!” Leona warned.
“Why not?” Sanaa asked. “Will they magically wrap themselves around my wrists, and trap me on your hyphenated pattern?”
“Yeah, they might,” Leona warned further.
Sanaa smiled, and gracefully strapped them onto her wrists. “Well, what the hell else am I gonna do?” The damage was done now, and could not be undone, unless they forced someone else to take her place, or Kalea returned to explain how she removed Ramses from them in the first place.
Just as the man said, he was waiting for them three years later, but this time with a larger transport vehicle. He ushered them into it. “We’ve requested an audience with the Tanadama.”
“The whatnow?”
“The gods who created our galaxy. They’re very busy, but I’m optimistic that they will come here to speak with you.”
“They created the galaxy?” Leona asked.
“Well, not literally. The stars form naturally, of course. They saved our species, so that we almost never die. We only experience the occasional suicide from someone who’s just over it, or an AI malfunction that cannot be repaired.”
“You never die,” Leona continued the questioning. “How long have you been like that?”
“About twelve thousand years,” the cop answered. “I’m Officer Tynosey, by the way, but everyone just calls me Tyno.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Tyno.” Now Leona was just going to take over the conversation. “I assume that you are an interstellar civilization.”
“We’re an intergalactic civilization, but the majority of our population still lives in the Milky Way. We’re at K3.”
“My God,” she said. “How many people is that?”
“A couple undecillion,” Tyno said, like it was nothing. Mateo had never heard that particular prefix attached to -illion, which meant that it was probably pretty damn big. “Each host star houses around five septillion people. We could go higher than that obviously, but we like to spread out.
“That’s insane.”
“Yeah,” Holly Blue concurred. “Do you have faster-than-light travel?”
“We do,” Tyno replied. His watch beeped. “Oh. That’s confirmation. I’ve been authorized to return you to Earth, where your friends are waiting for you.” He closed the hatch behind him, synced his watch with a panel on the wall, and transported them to Earth.
The hatch opened from the outside as soon as they arrived. Ramses was there with his big fat smile. They were on the side of a mountain, overlooking a valley. “Man, we had always planned on being there, waiting for you when you arrived, but the timeline is complicated. We weren’t sure which timeline you would remember, so we just decided to let the locals handle it until this year.” He gestured towards Tyno.
Tyno hopped out of the transport, and closed his eyes. He placed three fingers loosely on his forehead, and then moved them down to his lips. He kept switching back and forth between these two positions, occasionally spending several seconds in one stop, and changing speed erratically. It reminded Mateo of how the Catholics did the sign of the cross. Catholicism probably didn’t exist in this reality.
“That’s enough, my child,” Ramses said to him.
“It is such a deep honor, Father. I am so humbled in your presence. I’m not worthy to breathe from the same atmosphere as you—”
“All right,” Ramses stopped him. “What does it say in the Book of Ramses, Chapter Eleven, Section Twenty-Four, Paragraph Forty-Two, Line Fifty-Six?”
When the Mother or Father appear to you, they will be human, and they will be accessible, and you will respect them, but you will not worship them,” Tyno recited. “Sorry, sir.”
“It’s all right. Just don’t forget that I’m only a person.”
The group looked at him in disapproval.
“It got away from us,” Ramses tried to explain to them. “We didn’t write the books, but we did edit them, adding lines like that so they wouldn’t kill themselves out of reverence every time we showed up.”
Leona rejected this response. “You formed a religion. That’s time travel one-oh-one. In fact, I better make it Rule Number Fourteen, do not form, or inspire, a religion.”
“It’s a lot more complicated than that,” Ramses argued.
“Clarify,” Mateo said. “Report.”
So Ramses began to explain where he and Kalea had gone, and what they had done. “This isn’t the first new timeline that we created. At first, we followed the plan. We got everyone off of Durus, and back to Earth. We continued on the pattern, and things were okay when it came to us. It wasn’t okay with the rest of the world, though. Earth was still devoid of nearly all human life. There was us, and the people that Jupiter transitioned. Kalea didn’t like that. Her whole purpose as a source mage on Durus in the main sequence was to protect people using time powers. So the lot of us went back to the cataclysm that destroyed the species, and fixed it. Now things were even finer, but not great. Technology was incredibly slow. They were building castles when they should have been working on the first rockets. So we went back again, and saved more lives. Every time we went back, we made the timeline a little better; a little safer. Kalea was never happy, though. She needed to fix everything, and to do that, we needed help. We created more mages, and used them like the powers that be use salmon in the other timeline.
“I don’t even remember how it happened, but the last thing we did was go back thousands of years, and turn everyone immortal. I tried to explain to her the repercussions of such a thing, but she wouldn’t hear it. She would not listen to the math. I told her that over a hundred billion people had ever lived on Earth, and also that Earth could indeed support that many people, but I also told her that in a timeline with virtually no death, you can’t just go by that number, because those people are going to have children. Over time, the number has grown so large that we are now a Kardashev 3 civilization, occupying every star system in the entire galaxy.”
“Yes.” Leona nodded. “Tyno did tell us that. You made a galaxy of time travelers. I can’t imagine how problematic that has become.”
“No,” Ramses contended. “Time travel is against the law, galaxy-wide. It’s not technically necessary, since the only way to have time powers is to get them from me or Kalea, but it’s a redundant system. People don’t die, and they can move across the galaxy at superluminal speeds. That’s all we gave them. They developed the rest of the technology they have.”
Leona shook her head continuously. “Two undecillion people,” she said quietly. “I don’t even know what that means.” She wasn’t the only one wondering this. Leona and Holly Blue were two of the smartest people Mateo knew. If even they had trouble fathoming the vast number of people presently alive in a galaxy with a millennia-long history of nearly no death, then he would have no hope of understanding it. “You couldn’t maintain a homogeneous system with that, even with ubiquitous FTL. That’s just too many people.”
“Each solar swarm has its own governmental body, yes,” Ramses said. Saying we’re K3 is a bit of a misnomer. We’re more like a bunch of separate K2s. But there’s a lot of collaboration, and we don’t allow war. Half the Book of Kalea is about living in harmony.”
“People keep talking about these K-numbers,” J.B. complained. “What does that mean?”
Sanaa chose to explain this one, “a K1 civilization can harness all the power on its planet. K2 can use its whole sun. K3 can use the whole galaxy. What Ramses is saying that, since the galaxy is so big, they’re not really K3, because they’re not all one civilization anymore.”
“What are you?” Mateo asked Ramses, not bothering to ask Sanaa why she understood this scale the scientists were talking about.
“I’m a source mage now,” Ramses answered. “Most of the time, the source mages in the main sequence only create lesser mages. There was a theory, however, that they could effectively make more, just by giving someone the power to give other people powers.”
J.B. giggled. “It’s like using one of your three wishes to wish for more wishes.”
“Kind of,” Ramses admitted. “She only did it once, though. She made me, and we’re it.”
“The Dadamama, that is,” Mateo put forth.
“Tanadama,” Ramses corrected, but you were on the right track. Ta, da, ma, and na are all used in various languages to mean father and mother, respectively. We put it together, because parents didn’t seem to do our role justice. It was Alt!Jeremy’s idea.”
“Sounds like me,” J.B. decided.
“So, it’s over,” Holly Blue presumed.
“What’s over?” Ramses questioned.
“The Matic-Bearimy pattern. The only reason we were on it was because Jupiter was too powerful to go against. That can’t possibly be the case anymore.”
Ramses deafened them with his silence.
“Ramses?” Mateo began. “Can’t you just put a stop to this...or make somebody who can?”
“It’s complicated,” Ramses told them, but did not elaborate.
“Keep going,” Leona urged.
“The Book of Ramses clearly states, To maintain temporal integrity, no native of The Parallel may interfere with the actions of those from the main sequence.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Sanaa argued. “You’re from the main sequence, and Jupiter is interfering with the Parallel. It doesn’t go both ways? Seems irrational.”
“The line I recited is taken a bit out of context. If you read more of it, you would understand that I can’t help you. I’m not really from the main timeline anymore. I’ve been here for tens of thousands of years. I couldn’t be The Father if I didn’t integrate myself fully into this reality.”
“Leona,” Mateo interrupted her before she could argue again. “This is not the friend who left us yesterday. He is an entirely different person, who has been through more than we will ever understand. You won’t be able to convince him to help. We just have to accept the fact that this is how it is. I tried arguing with The Superintendent, and it got me nowhere.” He turned to the man who looked like his best friend. “Thank you for rescuing us from Durus, and thank you for your time. We will let you get back to your galaxy, as we return to the mission. We would be grateful, however, if you could find us a ride to Australia.”
“He’s right,” J.B. said, looking at his own cuff. “Now that we have a satellite feed, we can see exactly where we need to go.”
“I’m sorry,” Ramses told him.
“I firmly believe that we’re saving lives,” Mateo said. “I don’t know why Jupiter wants us to think he’s evil, or why he thinks the only way to save these people’s lives is to temporarily pull them into another reality, but I’m going to keep going until we run out of people to help.”
Ramses nodded in understanding. “I’ll get you to that transport. It’s not far from here; right where you left it in the underground hangar. I don’t know when it transitioned.” He was talking about the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, which was the closest thing they had to a home these days.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Varkas Reflex: Vacuum (Part VI)

Hokusai didn’t know what was wrong with this planet, or why it suddenly needed her help. She made a point of staying out of its business, requesting that Pribadium not bother her with such matters while they were working, or visiting. She was worried, though, that someone had decided to use her technology for evil, or maybe even just something misguided, which could have similar negative results. Katica led her down the hallway, out of the lab, across the way, and into the Capitol building.
Councilor Gangsta Dazzlemist was waiting for them in the lobby. “You were right. She got here fast.”
“May I ask what this is about?” Hokusai looked around at the walls, as if this were a trick, and the building would collapse in on her like something out of a space war movie.
Gangsta breathed in deeply, and Hokusai wasn’t sure what he did with the air, because it never seemed to come out. “I’m retiring from public service.”
“Congratulations,” Hokusai said to him sincerely.
“We need a replacement,” he went on.
Hokusai nodded. Now, she was literally a genius, and her intellect wasn’t limited to knowing how to calculate the Roche limit, or observational time through relativistic speeds. She picked up on social cues much easier than the average person, allowing her to tease out an individual’s subtext, and know when someone was lying. So when Gangsta told her they were looking for a replacement, she immediately understood he wasn’t just posting an update about his life in person. His microexpressions, coupled with the fact that they had lifted her exile, meant that she was here for a very specific reason. They were asking her to be that replacement. She didn’t know why, though. “I don’t know how I could do it. I live twenty-two parsecs away.”
He pointed at her with an upwards-facing palm. “Obviously not.”
“It’s this whole thing.”
“I understand,” Gangsta began, “that you did not simply stumble upon dimensional gravity, Madam Gimura. No one has ever done anything like it. They weren’t even looking for it. I don’t know what you are, and I don’t know how many others there are like you. I don’t really care. You’ve given us so much, and we gladly accept it. But please, do not think me a fool. I know you’re more than just a scientist, and that your expertise goes far beyond artificial gravity. I am in so much awe of you, and I will not tell anyone what little I know of your secret, including your ability to teleport between star systems.”
“It means a lot, hearing you say that,” she said, again, sincerely.
“You are not only my choice to replace me. You’re almost everybody’s.”
“How’s that?”
“Someone leaked your trial,” Katica explained. “They know who you are, and what you’ve done for them.” Leak was a strong word. The governments decided a long time ago that court cases should no longer have audiences. They were still mostly public record—unless the transparency endangered lives—but without the spectacle, those involved generally found the process to be fairer. Still, the information didn’t need to be leaked. It just required someone with the motives to raise their voice loud enough for people to hear it. Combined with artificial intelligences, there were now tens of billions of “people” in the stellar neighborhood. So being a loud voice was pretty hard. A public figure with as many fans as the most famous on Earth in 2016 would be barely considered a local celebrity by today’s standards. Any rando capable of getting a whole planet—even a low-populated colony—to listen was impressive.
“They’re asking me to become a councilor?” Hokusai questioned. “Because they think it was unfair that I was exiled? That’s a bit of a stretch.”
“It’s not because you were exiled, though that does help your popularity factor,” Katica said. “It’s because they know what you did for them decades ago. They know you’re responsible for artificial gravity, and for repairing our habitats before the colony vessels arrived.”
“That wasn’t me; that was my friends, Leona and Eight Point Seven.” The first human to set foot on Varkas Reflex was Leona Matic, when a mysterious quantum force commandeered her ship, and brought her here to fix some problems with the nanofactory.
“Close enough,” Katica contended. “You’re a hero, regardless, and the people want you to lead them.”
“That’s not really my thing.”
“We know,” Gangsta said. “We think it should be, though.”
She sighed. “I don’t even like how you run the government. Don’t get me wrong, to each their own, and I’ll gladly come back to live here, but it’s too informal. I appreciate that you wanna be laid back, but you could be so much more, if you were more motivated.” She repeated her point with an exaggerated accent that a high school math teacher she once had used to get his students interested in algebra, “motivaaation. Motivaaaaation.”
Gangsta smiled. “That’s what we’re counting on. The people aren’t looking for a new councilor. They want you to be Superintendent.”
Hokusai caught half of a chuckle before it escaped her mouth, but couldn’t stop the first half. The Superintendent was essentially the term choosing ones used to describe God. It was more metaphysically complicated than that, which was exactly why the word god was avoided in the first place. In this case, Gangsta was referring to a governmental position for someone who possessed questionable decision-making scope. A superintendent wasn’t responsible for running the state, but for managing the people who were responsible for running the state. They were staff managers, human resource representatives, the occasional conflict mediators. On the surface, they appeared to have the most power of all, since they were in charge of everyone, but they still answered to the people, and they couldn’t just fire and hire other leaders willy nilly. They had to remain reasonable, and accountable. Every colony but Varkas Reflex started out with a superintendent, but most stepped down after two or three full election cycles, because they were useful when starting out, but usually obsolete once the engine got going. Only Earth held onto their superintendent, because theirs was the highest populated world. It was just funny that Varkas was finally deciding to get on board with convention.
“You’ve been in your head for a good long while,” Katica pointed out. “Do you have a response?”
“My initial thought is no,” Hokusai answered.
“That makes sense,” Katica said. “It sounds like you. But you’re the one who hates how they run the government. What better way to fix it than to be the one in charge of coming up with a new one?”
“I wouldn’t know where to begin,” Hokusai admitted. “While I believe what you’re doing now is not sustainable, I know that you don’t want to convert to a full mediatorial tetracameral legislature, and that’s the only one I know, because it’s the most common.” This type of government was composed of four parts. The population representative congress was there to speak for the needs of the civilians. They expressed their grievances to the two delegators, who met with separate advisory boards in order to come to decisions. Much like separate arbitration panels in the adjudicative system, the idea was, if both delegation boards came to the same conclusion, without talking to each other about it, it was probably the right one. The delegators then delegated the implementation of their decision to whichever administrators were in charge of whatever this change impacted.
This was all really complicated by design. Complexity often equaled more exploitable weakness, but also greater overall resilience. Maybe you could bribe one delegator to do what you wanted, but the other? Even if you did that, their irrational behavior would alert the mediator between them, so you would have to convince them to fall in line as well. Even so, the advisors would question why the delegators and mediator weren’t heeding their advice. The administrators would question their orders, and finally, the people would rise up against the injustice. And those people had the power to make swift changes to leadership personnel. It was practically impossible in Hokusai’s time to impeach a president, let alone remove them from office. Here, not so hard. If they wanted someone gone, they were gone. No one was entitled to power, and no one was entitled to maintain that power, once it was granted. These changes were positively unavoidable in modern times. No matter how good a leader was, there was too much risk of their control growing, well...out of control, over time. When accounting for immortality, this control could theoretically last for literal aeons, and that was probably not a good idea.
“You’re in your head again,” Katica warned her.
“Sorry, I was just going over what I would do if I were superintendent, and it always ends in disaster.”
“I don’t believe that,” Gangsta argued. “We’re not asking you to have all the answers today. Nor are the citizens. We just want you to get the process started. We all have immense faith in your ability to be fair, thoughtful, and sensitive to this planet’s unique needs.”
“Of course you may decline,” Katica started to add. “I urge you to give it some thought, though. Remember what happened the last time you made a rash decision, without knowing the consequences.”
Hokusai had never asked Katica to take responsibility for her own involvement in the memory wipe that was accidental from Hokusai’s side, but not from Katica’s. She glared at her now to remind her of this truth telepathically.
“Someone has to take care of us, and I can’t be the one to do it. Nature abhors a vacuum,” Gangsta quipped.
“Why do people always say that?” Hokusai questioned. “Nature loves a vacuum. It’s called entropy, and it’s kind of where everything in the universe is trying to get to.”
“Just think about it,” Katica requested. “In the mean, you’re expected on the balcony.”
“The balcony?” Hokusai didn’t know what she was talking about. “Who’s on the balcony?”
“No one,” she answered. “You’re the one who’s expected. They’re waiting for your fence speech.”
“What the hell is a fence speech?” Hokusai asked.
“You’re on the fence, right?” Gangsta asked her.
Not really, but Katica was right that she should at least think about it. “You want me to go out there, and tell people I might consider maybe starting to almost kind of theoretically think about one day possibly entertaining the idea of hypothetically accepting a potential offer to perhaps, perchance, try to run for Superintendent?”
“Well, I wouldn’t put it quite like that, but yeah, I guess,” Gangsta confirmed. “As I said, they’re expecting you.”
“You shouldn’t have told them I would be here.”
“We didn’t,” Katica said. “Like we’ve been trying to explain, it wasn’t our idea; it was theirs. They have been waiting for you.”
Demanding, even,” Gangsta corrected.
Hokusai massaged the bridge of her nose. “They’re expecting a...fence speech?”
“Yes,” Katica confirmed. “They are not anticipating that you will announce your intention to run today. If you go out there, and humor them for five minutes, they’ll finally go away, and move on with their lives. They will want you to make a final decision within the week, though, so keep that in mind.”
“Fine. I’ll go talk to them, but I promise nothing.”
“That’s all we ask,” Katica said gratefully.
“If it’s a five-minute speech, I will need ten minutes to write it.”
“That’s okay,” Gangsta said with glee. “I’ll go back out and stall them with another attempt at playing the gravity organ.”
By the time Hokusai finished delivering her fifteen-minute long speech, she had already decided to run. She did so unopposed, and obviously won.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Microstory 1405: Significant Other

Rothko Ladhiffe always figured he was a normal kid. He never wanted any special abilities, and he never intended to leave his mid-sized city of Springfield, Kansas. He was special, however, and he would have to leave Springfield, and by the time he managed to get back to Kansas at all, the city was completely gone from reality. For now, though, he was just a teenager who was stuck with a group of friends in the middle of a hidden dimension. The portal that went from Earth to the rogue planet of Durus wasn’t simply a straight line from one to the other. There was a limbo in between them, where the laws of physics were difficult to pin down. Time didn’t always move at the normal rate, space was virtually impossible to navigate, and reality was confusing. When he finally did make it all the way through, he was the only one left. The rest of his group managed to cross back to Earth, and all but forget about their time with Rothko Ladhiffe. Savitri and Escher knew he would be coming, so they were prepared to help him cope with his new life. They dreaded having to humor him as he did everything he could think of to get back home, but almost found what really happened worse. Rothko had already been through a lot before making his way to Durus proper. He wasn’t too concerned with getting back to Earth, because he knew some things about the future, and felt like he had to stay on this world until its problems were all resolved. He was almost excited about the prospect of living on a new planet, and fighting time monsters, which were only getting worse by the year. While it wasn’t the life he would have chosen, it was a lot more interesting than the one he was leading before, and he figured that was sort of the goal. Together, they formed the Triumvirate, but just like the Twoarchy and Solocracy of before, they didn’t have anyone to rule over. They just had themselves, and their enemies. Fortunately, for them, Rothko came with a real time power; one which allowed him to alter some of the laws of reality within a certain range. He vanquished the monsters with ease, using only a fraction of his potential, and for the next couple of years, they lived together in relative harmony. Effigy appeared a couple of times too, but for the most part, there weren’t any major events. It couldn’t last forever, though, and Rothko would ultimately be responsible for the Trimvirate’s demise.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Microstory 1404: Wish For One’s Hand

As the Twoarchy of Savitri and Escher continued on together over the years, the planet of Durus began to transform. Watershed remained the only source of water, but as the rain fell on this one spot, it flowed from it, and irrigated the surrounding areas. The land was inappropriate to live on, both due to all this uncontrollable water, and because of the rocky terrain that led to it, but there was some room for farming. While Savitri had already spent ten years there, figuring out how to survive, and Escher was particularly fond of camping, neither of them had had any past experience in agriculture, but that was fine. There was more than enough for them to eat while they worked on some trial and error. It wasn’t particularly nutritious, and it wasn’t at all tasty, but they got by. In only a few seasons, they had a well-maintained garden to take care of their needs, and they were actually kind of thriving. They entertained each other with made up stories, and they played games. They even finally got some wood, and carved little figurines to use as chess pieces. Neither of them knew how to play correctly, but Escher had seen it before, and as long as their contrived rules were consistent, they were both happy. They never stopped searching for a way to return to Earth, though. This planet was much, much smaller than Earth, allowing them to explore pretty much the entirety of it...eventually. Escher never did find the weird magical basement complex that brought him here, and Savitri had no clue what had happened to her when she was a toddler. They didn’t stress about it, though. Getting worked up about being stuck on this world wasn’t going to make their situation any better, and in fact, would make it much worse. So they made the best of what they had, while simultaneously holding out hope that they would one day be rescued.

After nine years of this, the Twoarchy found themselves face to face with none other than Effigy, which all but proved once and for all that Savitri was indeed who she said she was, and not simply Effigy in disguise. The actual Effigy was an alien from another universe, who was trapped on this planet, just like them. She could jump through time, but it wasn’t easy for her, and she didn’t have as much control over it as she wanted. At the moment, she was trying to reopen the portal to her homeworld that Escher had nearly destroyed upon first arriving. A trickle of time monsters had come through every once in a while, but they were small, unstable, mostly harmless, and usually more afraid of the Twoarchy than the Twoarchy was of them. Effigy now heralded an influx in monsters that were far more dangerous. Escher knew that he needed to stop her again, and do it the same way he had nine years prior, but this time, she was ready for him. She timed it just right so that a terrible monster known as a speedstriker exited the broken portal, and attacked the Twoarchy. It was violent, and angry, and too fast for either of them to fight off using traditional means. It was here that Savitri learned she was special too. She would learn more about her powers later, but her instincts saved her again, and diminished the speedstriker’s speed. At this point, it was still a killer, though, so it took the both of them to fight back, and win the day. Unfortunately, the battle did not end without casualties. Poor Escher lost his hand completely. He knew he had to persevere, though, and he didn’t need two hands to do it. With Savitri’s boost in strength, he drew from Effigy’s portal once more, and kept it in disrepair. Monsters could still get through—worst ones now—but at least the full army was held back...for now.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Microstory 1403: Two Against the World

When Escher Bradley first arrived on Durus, he met a few people. They were all time travelers, though, so they didn’t stick around for long. After his first harrowing adventure, his rival went away for a little while, and seemingly left him alone. His battle with that alien enemy resulted in him now possessing an exorbitant amount of temporal energy. He would come to discover that he did not exactly possess any time powers of his own. He could absorb energy that others expelled, and then relocate it somewhere else, but he generally couldn’t control it. If he held it in too long, it could start deteriorating his mind and body, though, so he would always have to get rid of it. In the beginning, the energy itself sustained him, though. He didn’t need to eat or sleep for the next several days. Not knowing how long this would last, he knew he had to find a source of water. He wandered the planet for about a week before he finally found a small pond. He knew the right thing to do would be to boil the water to make it drinkable, but he didn’t have the proper resources, so he just drank it up, and hoped for the best. It was hard to explain, but as he drank, the water seemed to be communicating with the temporal energy. No, they weren’t communicating. They were harmonizing with each other. His body and the pond vibrated in sync, and he could just feel that they were now being drawn towards each other. To see what would happen, he released a small fraction of the power. It suddenly started raining for a few seconds. He released some more, and it rained some more. If this was the only source of water—and there was no way back to Earth—then expanding the source was the best use of his power. He released the rest all at once, and started a downpour...which never stopped. He had just created what the Durune would come to know as Watershed. It would be the only place to get water for the next two hundred plus years. The rain was heavy enough to alert the planet’s only other permanent inhabitant, Savitri. She raced over there as fast as she could, and found Escher walking out of the rain boundary. They were both shocked to see each other, but then Escher’s surprise wore off when he assumed it was merely his enemy, Effigy, who was known to alter her appearance to deceive people. It took Savitri at least two years of proving herself before he seemed satisfied that her presence was not a trick. Nonetheless, all the while, Escher was teaching Savitri everything he knew about everything. He taught her how to speak, and then by drawing in the dirt, how to read and write. He recalled the few lessons he received in elementary school, though most of it wasn’t all that useful here. She taught him survival skills, but he was able to bolster them from his more traditional education. They had about nine years before Effigy showed back up and started giving them trouble.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Microstory 1402: Alone Here

There were a lot of things that Savitri was unable to learn, because she was ripped from her life, and her family, at such a young age. Fortunately, she wasn’t completely feral, as she did retain memories of living in civilization. She didn’t have a very large vocabulary, but she did have a concept for spoken language, which was enough for her to learn the words she needed when she finally stopped being alone. She reverted to her lizard brain for most of the first decade, though, and her instincts told her to be safe, and to stay alive. But what exactly did that mean? What would it mean if she stopped being alive, and how exactly would she go about doing such a thing? Her body knew it didn’t want to jump off of a cliff that was too high, but intellectually, she wouldn’t have been able to explain it. Fate didn’t care about that, though. She didn’t have to jump off the cliff to fall from it. Ten years into her life on Durus, as she was climbing up the cliffside, in an attempt to reach a new plant that looked appetizing, a rock gave way, and dropped her down. Death wasn’t something she understood until then. She had never seen it before. No one had taught her about it, and even if they had, they couldn’t have explained what it truly meant. She could feel it coming over her now, though, and she did not like it. To be honest, it was a miracle nothing like this had ever happened to her before. Sure, she had scratched her skin on burrs, and tripped often, but this was the first time she experienced a fatal injury. Her instincts took over again. She pulled off her shirt, and wrapped it around the gash in her leg. Then she dragged herself to a secondary shelter she had found that she only used if a storm came in, and she was too far from home. There she remained until it was safe enough to hobble across the lands to the small and only source of water in the world to clean her wound. Again, that was just out of instinct.

After it was over, she started to heal, and tried to get back to a normal life. But all the while, she contemplated what had happened. Had there been any animal life on this world, she probably would have thought to kill some of it to eat. But as it stood, she was totally vegetarian, and when she pulled these edible plants apart, it never occurred to her that she was stopping something from growing and persisting. She saw plants as food, or clothing material, and as far as she knew, this was just something the land provided. The more she thought about it, though, the more she started to put things together. She was smaller before, and had grown older. When she pulled a plant from the ground, she couldn’t go back to that place right away, because a new plant had not grown in its place. And it probably was indeed a new plant, rather than the same one magically going back to how it was, just for her. She didn’t have a word for it, but she was figuring out death on her own, and she was assuming it was an end. Had she fallen from higher up on the cliff, it would have caused more pain, and eventually ended her. Right now, she existed, but it was possible to not exist. And maybe that was preferable. Maybe that was easier. It certainly couldn’t be harder than all this that she was going through. Right? So she resolved to do just that. Once she was well enough to walk, she went back to that cliff, climbed all the way up to the top, and prepared to jump on purpose. As she was waiting for her bravery to show up, she started going over her memories, hoping they would bring her comfort. It was from this that she remembered more about her life before the hell world. A relative or friend had died, and the family attended their funeral. They were not happy that this had happened, and they wished it hadn’t. That was all it took for Savitri to decide that death was a bad thing. It wasn’t easier; it was just nothing. So she climbed back down, and never considered committing suicide ever again.