Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: October 30, 2237

As soon as Mateo and Cassidy fell back into the timestream, several of Goswin’s guards tightened up their circle around them. They were still awake, because she wanted to see what it felt like to jump forward in time when she knew it was going to happen.
“We have to get you to safety,” Goswin said with authority.
“What’s wrong?” Cassidy asked. She had to sit down. The fatigue from the jump seemed to be affecting her more than it normally did for Mateo, Leona, and Serif.
“Someone is coming, and we have no idea who it is,” Goswin answered.
They’ve landed,” claimed a voice on the radio.
Mateo tried to follow Goswin through the wall of guards.
“No, you’re going with Cassidy.”
“She’s the one in danger,” Mateo said. “I’m fine. I need to see what’s happening. What evidence do you have this has anything to do with her?”
“It’s arrived on your day,” Goswin reminded him. “We don’t think that’s a coincidence. You could be in danger too. You’ve done a lot to make enemies.”
“The powers that be protect me,” Mateo said. “Let’s stop wasting time.”
They left the AOC, and headed for the dock where an apparently unscheduled interstellar vessel had arrived. “Why did you let them in if you don’t know who it is?”
“I don’t know,” Goswin said, shaking his head. “Kestral is in charge of that.”
“She couldn’t stop it.” Ishida was suddenly behind them. “We’ve been tracking their approach for days, but they won’t respond to our attempts to contact them. We think it’s unmanned. The ship is quite sophisticated too; it broke through our defenses with no problem. It hasn’t fired weapons, or anything, but it wants on this cylinder for a reason.”
The three of them, along with a group of guards, separated into pairs, and slinked through the passageways of the mysterious ship, which would open its doors invitingly every time. There was only one door that would not open, which obviously meant it was the most important. “What’s the Tun Room?” Mateo questioned.
“Stasis pods,” Ishida explained. “A tun is the form an animal called a water bear takes when it needs to hibernate outside of its safe habitat. It dries itself out, and essentially dies, until water is reintroduced, and it comes back to life. That’s not how stasis works for us, so it’s just a cutesy nickname.”
“So, there are people in there?”
“I doubt it’s locked because it’s as empty as everywhere else.”
“And this isn’t people from Proxima Doma?” he asked. “I heard some colonists asked to move out here.”
She shook her head. “They won’t be arriving for another several years. Besides, this thing clearly came from the direction of Sol.
Goswin and the guards came up to them. “The rest of the ship is clear, sir. If you’ll hand me the teleporter, I’ll check it out.”
“No, I’ll be going,” Ishida said.
“It’s too dangerous, sir. We have no clue what’s on the other side of this door.”
“I can take care of myself.”
“Wait,” Mateo stopped her just before she calibrated her teleporter to just send her a meter through a door. “No one should ever be alone. Fighting a hundred demons with a friend is not the same thing as fighting fifty by yourself, even though that’s how the math works out. The teleporter can handle the mass of two people, so I’ll go with.”
“Very well,” she said, adjusting the controls to account for him.
It looked exactly like a stasis room. There were two dozen pods, but only two of them were filled. A man was crawling out of one, struggling to maintain balance. “Report.”
“You’re on cylinder one of the Gatewood Collective. Your ship automatically bypassed our defense systems, and docked itself with us. It’s not responding to query.”
“Yeah,” the man said, steadying himself against the wall. “The ship has no personality. It doesn’t respond to anyone but me and Saxon.”
The other man started crawling out of his own pod.
“What are you doing here?” Ishida demanded to know.
“Stargate,” the second man said. He was stumbling around more than the first one, like a drunkard at the beginning of morning.
“You’re here for project Stargate?”
“No,” he replied. And it was then that Mateo realized he recognized him, though from a different timeline.
“Julius? Julius Parker?”
“Parker, yes,” the man said. “Not Julius, though. Saxon. This is...where are you?”
“I’m over here, on your left side,” the first man told him. “Thor Thompson,” he introduced himself.
“Your name was Julius,” Mateo said to Saxon.
He finally just gave up, and sat up against the pod wall, eyes fully closed. “Yeah, I’ve heard that before. I think it was on my parents’ list of baby names, but they went with Saxon.”
“Oh, I guess that sort of thing happens,” Mateo noted.
“You said Stargate,” Ishida reminded him, “and then you said no.”
“Yeah—no! Seed. Not gate; Operation Starseed.”
Ishida pursed her lips, and looked to Thor, who confirmed as much with his facial expression.
“Who sent you?”
“The powers that be,” he answered.
“Of Sol,” Saxon added. “The powers that be of Sol. Like...the leadership? Sorry, I forget you people use that term for a very specific group.”
“Wait?” You’ve heard of the powers that be?” Mateo asked. “You know time travelers in this timeline.”
He nodded and burped. “Yep,” he hiccuped. “Yeah.”
“Have you ever heard of Cassidy Long?”
Saxon shook his head and yawned. “Nah, man. I don’t know him. Why?”
Mateo spoke into his radio, “stand down. Cassidy’s safe. The arrival is totally unrelated.”
So, it is indeed a coincidence?” Goswin asked from the other side of the door.
Thanks, Matty,” Cassidy replied from her hiding spot.
When are you coming out?” Goswin asked.
“We’ll explain soon,” Ishida said. “Please prepare a welcome package for our new guests.”
“I wonder if anyone is going to tell me what this Starseed thing is.” Mateo said, not so subtly.
Ishida started to explain what Gatewood was about, and what they were working on. “Project Stargate is designed to send millions of ships all around the galaxy. Each capsule would hold a hundred plates. Inside a plate is an extremely complex system of historical data, sensors, nanites, and other instruments. After completing a general survey of the solar system it was sent to, the plate finds the best place to land, and utilizes the materials found there to start building things. Interplanetary vessels to cover the rest of the system, equipped with more detailed survey probes; interstellar ships to reach the system’s neighbors; and more. It’s that more part that we’re concerned with here. The void telescopes will give us a better idea what we’re going to find, but depending on the conditions of the planets this project encounters, a few things might happen.
“The planet could already be hospitable to life, in which case maybe the plate does nothing else, except build us a way to reach it, and explore. The planet could already be harboring intelligent life, and there’s this huge list of protocols about what to do. Are they friendly? How advanced are they? Are they a threat to us? More importantly, are we a threat to them? Maybe the planet is uninhabitable, and has no potential, so we just leave it be. Or it can be terraformed, and we’ll come visit later. Either way, if the planet has no intelligent life, but could support it, Operation Starseed would change that dynamic. It would grow...people, and those people would live there. Again, there’s a huge variety of options here. We could give them knowledge of where they come from, or not. We could protect them their whole lives, or leave them alone after the first generation matures. We could engineer them to be perfect, or make them just like normal biological humans. No matter what we do, though, we can’t just conjure life. It has to start somewhere, and it starts with a dedicated section of the seed plate. This section would contain genetic samples from real people on Earth, and it would use them to start life on the new worlds.”
“You’re telling me this ship is filled with genetic...samples?” an unsurprisingly uncomfortable Mateo asked.
Saxon was finally feeling well enough to open his eyes, and stand back up. “That’s right. A hundred million people volunteered to be progenitors; a hundred million people, in secret. Each one believes their sample is being taken to one specific planet that humanity has studied. Few people fully grasp the magnitude of this undertaking.”
This sounded unethical, but Mateo elected to say nothing. If these two men were here, they were either passionate about the project, or just doing a job for people who were. Regardless, trying to convince them otherwise would be a waste of breath. He did have a philosophical question, and he couldn’t help but pose it to them. “So, humans had this idea to spread to the stars. We decided to create life artificially, and that life may not have any clue we exist?”
“Indeed,” Thor agreed.
“How do you know that hasn’t already happened?”
“Well, who would have done that?” Saxon asked. “I guess it’s possible someone found a place like Gatewood, and has already deployed—”
“No, I’m not talking about us,” Mateo interrupted. “I’m talking about ancient progenitors. What if we—meaning people of Earth—were created by people who actually originated from somewhere else.”
Thor scoffed. “We would know. I mean, we know where humans come from. Our evolution dates back billions of years.”
Mateo shrugged. “Okay, so what? What if our ancestors did this...billions of years ago.”
“That’s a long time to wait,” Ishida argued. “What would be the point?”
“Well, what’s the point of us doing it?”
“There’s an answer to that question,” Thor said. “Most people who reject this very concept don’t like it.”
“Lay it on me.”
He hesitated for a moment. “Because we can.”
Mateo smiled with superiority. “Yeah, I thought so. Look, I’m all for equality. If you know me, you know that about me. But I think the world would be better off if we acknowledged the fact that getting rid of capitalism had some consequences. People say that necessity is the mother of invention, which is probably true, but if it’s the case, then I would argue money is the father. Until recently, we didn’t do anything if there wasn’t money in it. Sure, this mindset held us back, but it also protected us. Now that we have AI and automation, anything is possible, but the problem is that not everything possible should be made manifest. Getting rid of the money gave us this freedom to reach for the stars...literally. But freedom can be the enemy of safety, and the stars don’t belong to us. Perhaps they belong to no one, but this whole project; these dual projects, perfectly exemplify the audacity and arrogance of man. Why should other worlds have people them? Evolution didn’t ask for it. These other worlds aren’t designed for anything except what they have, or are destined to have one day.”
“That sort of thing happens all the time, Mateo,” Ishida volleyed. “Our home solar system is full of visitors from other worlds. Durus, which quite nearly collided with Earth last century? It got there so fast because of time powers, but it was going to happen in thousands of years anyway, and it originated from a star many light years away, millions of years ago. You’re right, maybe an extremely advanced race of proto-humans are what seeded life on Earth aeons ago. Or a naturally occurring comet is what did it. Perhaps life only evolved on a single planet in the entire galaxy, and when it exploded one day, fragments containing traces of its inhabitants flew off into interstellar space. These possibilities change nothing. It’s not going to stop me from building the transgalactic quantum communication network, and it’s not going to stop these two from contributing in their own way.”
“That’s true. I know I can’t convince you to not do this. I haven’t even convinced myself that you shouldn’t. I just think you should understand the ramifications, or rather you should understand that you couldn’t possibly predict the ramifications. I don’t know much about science, but if there’s one thing that Leona taught me, it’s that results can be unpredictable. You may think you’ve accounted for everything, but you can’t be sure of that. Now. I thought Cassidy was safe here, but this ship just straight up docked without permission. It turned out okay, but what if it doesn’t next time? I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before, but there’s nothing keeping us here now. We’ll be leaving tomorrow-slash-next year.”
“Where will you go?” Ishida asked.
“I need to get back to Leona. We’re going to Varkas Reflex.”

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Proxima Doma: Easement (Part XIV)

Étude and Vitalie were sitting in two indigo chairs, in a darkly lit room, politely waiting for a response. The former was now fully committed to going out in search of her daughter, and Vitalie was willing to help. They would not be able to do it alone, though. Neither of them had access to an interstellar ship, so they were trying to get help from the Domanian government. Colony ships were still transporting people from Earth to its nearest stellar neighbors, but at present, no vessels were designated to travel between any of these neighbors. No one was going from Proxima Doma to Gatewood, and since these trips were planned months—if not years—in advance, this was going to take a lot of convincing. There was simply no time to waste.
“Well...?” Étude asked when the Transportation Administrator returned.
“You spoke with Foreign Policy about this already?”
“Yes,” Étude confirmed. “She was unsuccessful.”
“Unsuccessful how?” it asked. The Transportation Admin, Xaovi Rue rejected the concept of gender, and preferred the pronoun it.
“She said she was able to make contact with Gatewood, but they said they wouldn’t be able to help us find my daughter.”
“Well, there’s your answer,” Xaovi decided. “Why would I let you go there when there’s nothing to find anyway?”
“No, you didn’t hear her voice.”
“Whose voice? The Foreign Policy Admin, or the contact at Gatewood?”
“Gatewood,” Vitalie said. “They sounded shady.”
It seemed confused by this. “I was to understand Administrator Fillipa used the quantum messenger in private, without you being present. How could you know what the Gatewood contact sounded like?”
Étude and Vitalie looked at each other. Vitalie cleared her throat, but didn’t say anything.
Xaovi nodded continuously. “I’m not going to help you if you’re not honest with me. You might be surprised by this, but we’re pretty smart on this planet. We may have started out sort of rustic, but our technology is on par with Earthan standards now. We have ways of monitoring public occurrences, and artificial intelligence that is capable of recognizing patterns. The fact is there are things that happened that can’t be explained using current models of human social behavior. A religious individual might call these such events miracles.”
“We’re not sure what you’re—”
It shook its head. “Save the rationalization. We know a...superhero once protected this world. We even know that people like this once did something similar on Earth. Don’t worry, it’s all a tight circle. Any AI with this information either erased their knowledge of it, or retains orders to keep their speakers still about it.” As an idiom, still speakers was the inorganic equivalent to keeping one’s mouth shut. Speakers emit sounds through vibrations.
“They were called Saviors,” Vitalie relented.
“My predecessors, who inspired me,” she clarified. “I was The Caretaker here, until I felt like you no longer needed me.” She chose to leave Étude’s name out of it in this regard, because that was a conversational path that would do no one any good to walk.
“So, you can be in two places at once?”
“Let’s just say that I move fast.”
It nodded again. “Quite. I don’t suppose you move fast enough to get to Gatewood on your own.”
“No,” Étude answered.
Xaovi sighed. “I don’t know if I can authorize the easement of an entire interstellar ship for two people who don’t even know if they’ll find what they’re looking for when they get there. What if it turns out your daughter is somewhere else. Do you keep the ship?”
“We would borrow Gatewood property if we need to go somewhere else in addition,” Étude promised. “And you don’t have to give it to just us. Announce a new program; the first ever state-sponsored interstellar trip between two exoplanets. I’m sure plenty adventurous people would sign up. Some people born on Doma are even old enough now to make that decision themselves.”
“You think a hundred and forty-five people will sign up for that?”
“Is that what you require?” Vitalie asked it.
He thought it over for a moment. “That’s standard capacity, and there’s even room for more. I don’t think requiring a full complement is asking too much. This is going to take resources, and it has to be worth it.”
“One-twenty,” Vitalie said.
It chuckled once. “This isn’t a negotiation.”
“Fine. You wanna play it that way? I say a hundred forty-seven total; you say a hundred and twenty-one. So I’ll counter with...a hundred and forty-seven.”
Étude placed her hand on Vitalie’s thigh, which would have been perfectly normal just days ago, but since fifty-six years had gone by for Vitalie, and they were no longer true friends, it wasn’t received extremely well. “Vita, stop.”
“Look,” Xaovi began, “I’m not asking you to run out and grab signatures. My team and I will coordinate surveys and signups, using standard operating procedure guidelines. We’ll even fasttrack the process, but I need to know you’re not going to do anything stupid if it turns out there’s less interest than you hoped.”
“What kind of stupid thing would we do?” Vitalie questioned.
“If you’re as fast as it sounds like you are, you could steal a ship.”
“That’s a good idea,” she quipped. “Thanks for giving it to me.”
“Vitalie, please.” She got this close to placing her hand on Vitalie’s thigh again. It just seemed so normal.
“A hundred and forty-five,” Xaovi repeated, more seriously. “A hundred and forty-five people who are one hundred percent committed to trying out a new colony, and I will authorize departure. But keep in mind, Gatewood has to accept you. I’m not sending you off without their permission; that would be absurd. It sounds like they’re not to keen on visitors, so you should be prepared to be turned down by them. That’s entirely beyond my scope of influence, so you can’t blame me if it happens. I can try to find you the passengers.”
“Yeah,” I bet you will.” Vitalie scoffed.
“Make no mistake,” Xaovi went on, still serious. “I am not working against you. I feel no personal connection to the ships presently in our orbit, or on our docks. I am perfectly happy to let one go, but only if that’s what the people want. Resources for a hundred and forty-seven people should be allocated for a hundred and forty-seven people.”
God, they were getting tired of hearing that number.
“I don’t care where those people are, as long as those resources aren’t being wasted. I will do everything in my power to get you signatures, and if we still used money, you could put it on that promise.” It shifted in its seat, and leaned forward. “But if you get a hundred and forty-four potentials, the deal’s off. All the way, or nothing at all. We can revisit the idea a year from now, and the year after that, until we find enough, but I require no less than enough to fill those pods.”
That wasn’t a terribly unreasonable deal. She needed to find her daughter, but the evidence she was in Gatewood was thin anyway. The person who answered the call sounded like she was lying. Why didn’t she just say outright she had never heard of Cassidy?
“How about—?” Vitalie began to ask.
“That’s fair,” Étude admitted. “We will accept whatever the outcome may be. One full migrant ship, or nothing.”
To their surprise, there was enough to interest in emigration to fill two ships over standard capacity. Convincing Gatewood to accept them took a little more doing, though. Apparently, it was being used exclusively for pretty secretive scientific experimentation, and also for military purposes. No civilians lived there at the moment. In the end, they agreed, but the former Proxima Domanians would be limited to their own centrifugal cylinder. Evidently, there was no planet around the star, so these giant man-made structures were the only places people could survive. They probably could have garnered enough interest from the Domanians for three ships if not for the fact that there was no planet.
Étude and Vitalie wondered what was going on. Was there some alien threat that the greater vonearthan population was not aware of, and Gatewood was being used to prepare for an interstellar war? Or had the Gatewooders discovered time travel, and were protecting it from everyone else, just like they were meant to. It would explain their unsettling reaction to hearing Cassidy’s name. Exactly how many people were living there, and would there be any way of finding Étude’s daughter? These were questions that would not be answered for years to come. The ships they were taking were only at the speed standards that they were when they first arrived. Some had, or were being, upgraded, while new ones were being built. As an unscheduled departure, however, the emigrants were only being given the outdated technology. Étude didn’t love that, but beggars couldn’t be choosers. As Barnard’s Star was about six and a half light years from Proxima Centauri, it would take them over ten years. For these people with their extended lifespans, that was no big deal. The two of them were immortal, so the only reason the duration was a problem was because Étude was anxious to finally meet her daughter. Again, though, this was about as good as it would get, so she took the win.
They said their goodbyes to Tertius, who was, of course, staying behind to protect the Oblivios. They were still living peacefully in their dome, completely, well...oblivious to everything that was happening in the real world. Étude and Vitalie boarded the ship with all the other passengers, and left Proxima Doma, probably for good.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Microstory 1130: Natasha Orlov

Varlam Orlov came to the United States from the Russian Empire with his family in 1916, when he was sixteen years old. They arrived with as little as many immigrants have, but they were hard workers, and they wanted a better life. Theirs was a roller coaster of a history. They made money, they lost it, they made it back, they struggled with their neighbors. They were persecuted during the Red Scare, and persecuted again during the other Red Scare. But they kept trying, and they never broke any serious laws. This isn’t a story about a legendary Russian organized crime family. This isn’t about a nuclear family of sleeper agents. This is about a woman named Natasha Orlov, whose father completely altered people’s perspective on their family, and he didn’t even have to. Varlam’s grandson, Maxim was born in 1951. He was obsessed with mob movies and books, particularly the ones depicting the Russian mafia. He was fascinated by their antics, and their tactics, and wanted to grow up to be just like that. Unfortunately for him, organized crime began decades ago, and you don’t just suddenly decide to be a crime boss. He knew he wouldn’t get anywhere just by sitting around, so he started committing petty crimes, learning from his mistakes, and escalating little by little, until he was finally arrested. This is precisely what he wanted. No one would teach him how to run a business out of the kindness of their hearts. He figured that prison was the only place he would be able to find someone to take him under their wing, and that they did. He got himself into a gang, who nurtured his desires to take on the world, thinking he would join their family on the outside, once his sentence was complete. Of course, he didn’t do this, because now he had the tools to strike out on his own.

He had listened to what the other inmates had said about people in their ranks, and the ones who maybe had a little less loyalty than others. He used this knowledge of the social structure to recruit people into his own organization, and before anyone realized what was happening, he was well insulated from any permanently damaging retaliation. Suddenly there was a new family in Kansas City that no one knew what to do about, and over the course of the next few decades, he carefully and methodically edged out all of the competition. He never intended to have any children, because the life would always be too dangerous for them, but Natasha came as an accident when he was pretty old. He wanted to keep her out of it, but he also wanted to keep her close, and those two contradictory sentiments just did not work well together. Others in his organization were pressuring him to teach her what he knew, and groom her to replace him one day, in some capacity, but he never cared about that. He wanted to run a business; not leave a legacy. She resisted as well, but in the end, it was safer for her to be within the confines of his protection, so no enemy could come after her without serious consequences. He placed her in his construction company, which was probably the farthest she could be from the illegitimate side of his business, while still being inside the bubble. She found herself drawn to the demolitions division, which was primarily designated for imploding buildings to make way for modern replacements. Even though it was the most dangerous, it was a positive venture, and helped shape the way the city, and its surrounding areas, would look like in the future. When the family finally fell, she was the only one left standing.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Microstory 1129: Susan Glines

On the ninth day of October in 1983, a baby was discovered in Bryant Pond, Maine, right by the actual pond, wrapped in a newspaper that would not come out for another three days. The man who found her would normally have gone straight to the authorities about this concern, but upon noticing the date of the paper, felt like he couldn’t. This child was abandoned by someone from the future, presumably, and he thought it was safer to just keep her a secret. She would have frozen to death if not for him, and he didn’t know if he could trust anyone else. He named her Susan, after a town resident who would be featured in the future news for having been the last switchboard operator for a hand-crank phone in the world. He even moved halfway across the country, and changed his own last name to match hers. He raised her as his own, but it was not the easiest task. She was never properly diagnosed with anything, since her father was always afraid to draw attention to their family, but she had clear communication issues. She was very quiet most of the time, and when she did try to speak, she had both a speech impediment, and trouble getting her point across. Again, he didn’t think it prudent to seek professional help, so he went to the library, and did everything he could to learn how to teach her himself. He ended up doing such a great job that she went on to graduate from the University of Missouri-Kansas City with a degree in Communication Studies. It was around this time that Susan started seeing things she should not have been seeing. It started off small; she could sense events happening around her without looking directly at them. By the end of the week, however, she had a general idea of what was going on in the whole city. Within the year, she could see the whole world, and before another year was up, she could see all of time and space. She wasn’t literally watching people move through their lives, though if she concentrated hard enough, she could do just that. Normally, however, it was more like time itself was a spatial dimension, which she was able to walk around and study. She was not the only person who could do something like this, but it did inspire her to put her college degree to creative use. She noticed there were people from different points in time who were trying to communicate with each other, but no cell phone company was capable of connecting them. She started connecting them herself. At first, she did this via relayed messages, but her means soon became more sophisticated. Certain peoples were given access to physical aids, so that when someone wanted to talk to that person, they would have a more tangible means of alerting Susan to this need. Seeing the river of time was demanding and taxing on Susan’s mind and body, so these alerting devices were vital in allowing her to relax, and only use her ability when necessary. She eventually came to be known as The Switcher, and officed herself with The Courier, who happened to also live in the Kansas City area. Together, they made sure that time travelers never lost track of each other, even across time and space.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Microstory 1128: Mala Savidge

In the olden days, people were always looking for new ways to charge and pay for things. You have your standard I give you money, you give me product model. You can buy on credit, and pay later, or in installments. You can get a little somethin’ somethin’ for free, but then spend on fleetingly satisfying microtransactions once you’re addicted. You can purchase a regular subscription. You can pay with labor, be it with an employee discount, from a credited survey, or by suffering through advertisements. But through all of this—sometimes even unbeknownst to the people doing it—a complete replacement was being devised. No, this isn’t a negative income tax, or universal basic income. This isn’t the corporate automation tax, or even charitable rehoming programs. This is a world where the commodities are self-improvement, self-fulfillment, brand recognition, and reputation. You’re only trying to get better, get happy, get famous, or get respected. Things are just things. How you feel is all that matters. Well, as it turns out, people have a lot of strong feels about money, and personal possessions. For the most part, society embraced this new way of life when it was introduced, because it was done so gradually, and thoughtfully. There will always be those, nevertheless, who just want to do things differently. Had these hardcore capitalists been born in the late 18th century, they might have become hardcore socialists. They were just radical contrarians, who didn’t like how the world was simply because it’s what they were born into, or because their parents glamorized the way things once were in the good ol’ days. Whatever the reasons, their ideas were virtually meaningless. No matter how hard they tried, these Freemarketeers could not survive in an interplanetary civilization, and maintain their principles. They decided the only way they could be who they wanted was to leave the system, and found a new one. This didn’t quite work out when the ship that was so graciously transporting them to their new planet was sabotaged by their own Freemarketeer leader, and destroyed. They ended up in a different galaxy, on a world that wasn’t quite as advanced as Earth at the time, but still no longer capitalistic. They started a war with the native Dardieti, powered by a machine that uncontrollably replicated each and every one of them every single day. Freemarketeer Mala Savidge never wanted any of this. She was even considering the possibility that she was less of a true capitalist, and more of a rebel, who would never be happy with the status quo. Her willingness to question her own identity is what lead her to being chosen as the Freemarketeer Ambassador to Dardius. It was she who negotiated the cease-fire, the peace treaty, and the ultimate integration of the Freemarketeers. She would later assume a leadership role in this new world.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Microstory 1127: Jörm Kovac

While much of Durune history is notable for its unending supply of inequality and death, there was a peaceful period that lasted for sixty years. The time monsters still existed, but they were mostly limited to the lifeless sections of the world. The human towns were protected by a group of people known as the mages. It was considered to be one of the highest honors, but Jörm Kovac was never interested in it. Some people looked down upon him for this, but most realized that only certain candidates were chosen anyway, and it wasn’t the most unreasonable position to just pull oneself out of the running. His main concern was water. The only place where it rained was a relatively small section of the planet that its new inhabitants referred to as Watershed. Here, it never stopped raining. It wasn’t supported by a water cycle, like on most planets, however. It took its rain from some other place—most likely Earth—and any excess seeped into the ever-forming water table. The ground directly underneath Watershed, and the surrounding areas, was hopelessly muddy, and unsuited for development. Disparate towns were constructed in areas nearby, but there were other geological impediments that made Watershed difficult to access. Therefore, irrigation was key. In the olden days, water was carted manually by people who were essentially slaves to the Smithtatorship, but when the source mages formed the Protectorate, they commissioned the construction of a vast network of pipes and sewageways. They were trying to recreate the kind of world that much of Earth was living in, which was where Durus’ first inhabitants were from. It was Jörm’s job to maintain this water network, making sure heavy metals and toxic chemicals weren’t leaching into the system, and that the pipes were holding pressure standards. He loved his job, and his wife, Sadie, but the only thing missing in his life was a child. She felt the same way, but they were both unable to have children. Unlike Earth, there was no foster care system on Durus. There were more hopeful parents than there were unhomed children, which meant there was a waitlist for adoption. It wasn’t a particularly long list, as the majority of people who wanted kids, had them, but there were also not a lot of kids in need. One day, a seer came to them. This seer was not the best of his kind. He could sense the future more than he could actually see it, so he generally didn’t know what was truly going to happen. He did get the feeling that something important was waiting for the Kovacs in the middle of an area of land that was not arable, but also not dead, called the thickets. This was an extremely large area, but the seer had a pretty good idea where the two of them were meant to go, and they were only searching for a few hours. Finally, they discovered exactly what they were looking for all along; a baby, who required care. They chose to tell no one. This was a gift in their eyes, but if anyone knew their child was the Durune version of Moses or Superman, there’s no telling how they would react. It’s better to ask for forgiveness later, than permission now. What they didn’t realize at the time was that their daughter was not abandoned by her birth parents, but left specifically for the Kovac to find, and she would grow up to one day serve an important role in the war against the monsters.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Microstory 1126: Cambria Buchanan

Cambria Buchanan was born and raised in Kansas City. Her parents were desperate to figure out something she liked, and could do well. They signed her up for all kinds of classes, in a wide variety of fields; art, golf, swimming, LARPing, whathaveyou. Cambria didn’t hate any of these things, but she never felt passion for them either. Finally, they decided to just go all in, and registered her for the City Frenzy. This was one of the hardest races in the country. It was like a marathon, except streets weren’t blocked off for the racers, and there were few rules about where one could and couldn’t run. Like everything else, she didn’t like it all that much, but it served to lead her to what she would come to love for the rest of her life. This was a huge event, and only grew larger year by year. The first one was funded by donations, but the more popular it became, the more of a draw there was to the KC Metro. People would come from all over the country just to get a glimpse of these crazy kids. Pretty soon, the leadership realized they could be making some serious money if they broadcast on the web, for the whole planet to see. It was an advertisement-supported service, with premium features available for a modest charge. Of course, a lot of the revenue went back into improving the race, and its logistical necessities. One of the things they didn’t hold back on was broadcasting technology. Cambria’s first and only year was the first to use drones alongside the usual action cameras. She ended up not even finishing her race, because she couldn’t keep from looking at the drone that was following her around. She went straight back to the headquarters, which was only the size of two small business store fronts at the time. She struck up a conversation with the broadcast supervisor, and started learning about what it is they did. The more she listened, the more she wanted in, and so the next year, she was part of the crew. She would quickly prove herself to be an invaluable asset, and ended up running the entire department, ultimately upgrading her sensory cortex so she could manage the cameras pretty much all by herself. She adopted the nickname Agent Nanny Cam, because it fit her real name; Cambria Buchanan, and her profession as a cinematographer. But it was not she who came up with it. That honor belongs to her good friend—and future husband—Alexi Lanka. He was an actual runner, who used the race, and others like it, to channel his personal anger issues. He was always great with Agent Nanny Cam, though. She calmed him down better than any exercise could ever hope to. Together, they had two children, Nestor and Aldona. Aldona would go on to have two children of her own, Loris and Marcy.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: October 29, 2236

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