Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: September 7, 2184

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

Saturday, June 16, 2018

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

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

Friday, June 15, 2018

Microstory 865: Cashier or Credit

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

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Microstory 864: Hostage to Fortune

There was a time when bad things would always happen to anyone else, but never to you. Nowadays, being touched by violence of some sort is assumed, and there’s something strange about hearing of someone who came out of life unscathed. I was petrified when a gunman came into our school cafeteria, and took us all hostage. I was actually more surprised that he seemed to want something other than to hurt people. He didn’t look frazzled or pissed off at the world. It was more like a job to him. We did what he said, crouching under the tables, facing inwards, heads curled in, like it was a pointless a Cuban Missile Crisis drill. I wondered why he didn’t confiscate our cell phones, but when I saw several students fail to find a signal, I guessed that he was using some kind of jammer. That felt like overkill—pardon the insensitive pun—but again, he never told us what he wanted. He kept us there for two hours, asking nothing of us but to be quiet, and stay put. Eventually fear subsided, and kids started playing offline games. We could hear other students walking around the hallways, but no stomps of Federal agents, or cries of shock. When he was done with us, he removed the chains from the doors, and let us go. I stayed behind out of morbid curiosity, waiting to see him kidnap one of my classmates, or plant a bomb, but he just sat down at one of the tables, and started watching security feeds on his laptop. We slowly moved towards class, wondering if we had just experienced some mass hallucination. Our teacher marked us as tardy when we finally arrived, and had no idea what we were talking about. One girl I knew for a fact was there with us also acted unaware. I couldn’t tell if she was covering her ass, or had legitimately lost her memories. Our persistent claims that we were just in a hostage situation only made our teacher madder, and we were given detention. When the bell rang, I went back to the cafeteria. The hostage-taker was still there, not at all concerned that he would get in trouble. I snuck up behind him, and listened to his conversation on the phone. “Yessir, the field test worked perfectly. The artificial spatio-temporal dimension will allow us to operate surveillance facilities completely undetected. The rest of the school was totally oblivious to what was happening, and the hostages ultimately forgot as well...except for one. I agree, he would be a perfect candidate for running this region’s program.” He twisted around, and gave me a wink.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Microstory 863: Need to Know

I have never had very much money of my own. I’ve spent a lot of time unemployed, and looking for work. My parents have had to give me a lot more money than my siblings. They say it’s all evened out because of how much more their respective tuitions cost, but I have never really believed that. My mother told me that I can’t waste my days away either looking for work, or playing video games, because those gaps could reflect poorly on my character. She suggested I do start volunteering, because a lot of organizations are always in need of help, and I’m allowed to put that kind of work on my résumé. I started doing as I was told. Every time I’d lose a job, I’d get a new one right away; just one that didn’t pay anything. As much as I think it was helping, I never could find a permanent full-time paid position that was right for me, and my parents continued to have to send a supplemental allowance. I know now that it was ruining them. They never complained about it, though, and the only person angry at me was myself...and also my resentful siblings. They died in debt, and I could no longer afford to live in the apartment. I was unemployed yet again at the time, and was out of options. My brothers and sisters cut ties, and I was left to fend for myself, which I honestly believed I deserved. At my lowest, I was living on the streets, eating and sleeping at one of the shelters where I once worked, which was profoundly humiliating. A young woman I met there was still volunteering, and one day, she said they were shorthanded at a construction site. It seemed weird to build someone’s house when I was in need of one of my own, but she promised me some good meals, and a stipend. When I arrived the next day, I saw cameras and lighting equipment all over the place. There were trailers, and a woman walking around, barking orders about staging, acting more like a film director than a foreman. I asked whether we were building an actual house, or just a set piece, but none of the other workers appeared to know. The people I asked who definitely would know the truth refused to answer me. A camera operator followed me around during my work, asking me questions about who I was, and where I had come from. They were interviewing other volunteers as well, but it felt like I was getting the most attention. The project was finished within only a few days, apparently after having employed multiple shifts, day and night. When everything was done, they called me back to the site for the ceremony where they would hand the house off to the needy family, so that answered that question. I was standing in the audience, minding my own business, when I noticed one of my brothers standing on the other side of the walkway. I looked around, and discovered all of brothers and sisters. They looked just as terrible as I did: almost like they too were homeless. The cameras began to roll, and the host started talking. Suddenly, she introduced me and my siblings, and asked us to come up to the door and accept our new keys. The house was ours.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Microstory 862: Family of Thieves

When I was a child, I wanted to be a police man when I grew up. As I got older, though, I started becoming disillusioned with our justice system. I am one hundred percent against the use of recreational drugs, but I also don’t think cops should be wasting my tax dollars prosecuting mild offenders, especially not since true rehabilitation would be a better use for that money. I think prostitution should be completely legal, that there should be no statute of limitations on rape and sexual assault, and immigrant families should be kept whole. I quickly forgot my dreams of joining law enforcement, and ended up becoming an accountant. Boring, I know, but I make decent money, and I don’t take my work home with me. I am not exactly known for my social skills, and since I don’t drink, there aren’t a lot of opportunities to meet women. Most of my friends met their significant others at work, but that’s not a great idea either, because the only girls there that I don’t find incredibly boring are the ones who think that I’m boring. I can’t disagree with them either. Then just last week, my company decided to start handing out free lunches, and getting rid of our lunch hours. Some dumbass upstairs convinced them that paying for a thirty minute lunch break would be more cost effective than letting each worker be unproductive for an hour each business day. I guess I shouldn’t say that; Bill’s a pretty smart guy, and it’s the executives that are stupid for believing his BS. Anyway, I get off a half hour early now, and never have to think about where I’m gonna eat every day. Bonus, the girl who rolled the cart around with these sack lunches was absolutely gorgeous. Fortunately, my office was near the far corner of the lowest floor, which meant she was done with her work by the time she got to me. Lady, as unbelievable as the name sounds, immediately started eating with me, even though I never invited her. How perfect that she came to me, I thought. It wasn’t until two days ago that I realized she was just using me.

Our company was robbed, big time. The only files not taken were the ones I had anything to do with, so I started suspecting that the lunch girl, whose name could not possibly have been Lady, was protecting me. They didn’t take any money, but the data they did steal would likely fetch a pretty penny on the identity market. Most of our clients can afford to hassle with their bank on disputed charges, so it’s not exactly Robin Hood, but she’s not the devil either. Thank God the executives are so dumb, or they might have been suspicious of me. Anyway, I used what few detective skills I had to track down Lady. I was planning to confront her with what I knew, but one look at her with a messy updo, and sweat pants, and I couldn’t remember what I was going to say. I found myself asking her out, which she obliged, apparently not at all creeped out that I found her home. We had our date that evening, and I followed her upstairs that night. I woke up for the bathroom in the middle of the night, and heard a muffled conversation downstairs. Hopelessly curious, I tiptoed to the top of the stairs, so I could listen. Her whole huge family was discussing what they were going to do with me, now that it was obvious I had figured out their scheme. Lady—which actually is her real name; she showed me her driver’s license—was advocating to read me into their group, but others wanted to eliminate me. Desperate for my life, I snuck back into Lady’s room, stole her television set, and snuck out the window. Once home, I placed my new TV on the floor, and sat down in my dinette, sipping a ginger ale, and hoping my audacity is enough to impress Lady’s family. This is where I have been all morning. As I’m nodding off, I begin to hear scratching at my door, which quickly opens to reveal a guy about Lady’s age, so I infer that he’s her brother. “Nice try,” he says, “but you’ll have to go bigger if you want to audition for us.”

Monday, June 11, 2018

Microstory 861: X Gratia

Most people around here grew up wanting to be medical professionals. They played doctor when they were children—and I’m not talking about exploring each other’s bodies; they legitimately pretended to treat patients. I’ve never had a problem with blood or broken bones, but I also never considered a career in the field. It wasn’t until I was well into adulthood, working as a faceless engineer for a gigantic corporation that I started getting itchy. I saw a post on social media advertising for a free Emergency Medical Responder course. I had never heard of it before, and had always called knowledge that fell between first aid and EMT second aid. My role-playing game team recently disbanded when two of us moved out of town at about the same time, so I was looking for something else to do with my evenings. I signed up for the class, thinking a little extra education couldn’t hurt. I didn’t find out until later that my company provided a minor pay differential for intermediate medical training, because it allowed me to be a designated first responder in the office. That would have been good enough for me, because the worst that could happen in an office is a paper cut, or maybe a hot coffee accident. But then I started getting really into it. I didn’t realize how rewarding the training would feel, how satisfying it was that I knew something my friends and coworkers didn’t. Even if I never changed careers because of this, I felt comfort in knowing that no matter where I was, at least one person in the immediate vicinity would be able to help in an emergency. If no one better trained was around, at least I would be there. Once the class was over, and I was fully certified, I started looking into EMT training, while not being sure whether I would be accepted into a program if I had no intention of applying for a new job, and starting to drive an ambulance. Then the war began, and none of that mattered anymore.

Things got real bad real fast. My city was evacuated, and we were rushed to a refugee camp in the middle of nowhere. As I was sitting in the processing area, the intake counselor asked me for my profession, but I was not paying attention. All I could focus on was the triage canopy down the way. She told me to try to ignore the screams, and that the people there were doing everything they could. “I need to help,” I found myself saying. She asked me if I was a doctor or nurse, and I said no, but that I had to do what I could. So without permission, I jumped out of my seat, and ran over. I told them the limits of my knowledge, thinking there was a strong chance they would tell me to just take a hike. But they were happy to have the help. While the people with real expertise were busy treating patients, I could easily help with assessing newcomers, and assigning color tags. I also ran around to find fresh water, and helped unload emergency supplies. I wasn’t saving anybody’s life, but I was helping, and that was exactly why I continued my classes. I was finished cleaning the blood off one of the cots, and no one had told me to do anything else, so I went up to the nearest nurse, and offered my help. Before she could answer, the head of the patient she was treating burst open like a soda can in the freezer. Blood and brain matter oozed out, and I swear I could see some kind of gas leaking from the opening. I heard the nurse yell to the doctors that it was confirmed they were dealing with sudden onset intracranial pressure, brought on by a bioweapon that the enemy was using. I asked what the treatment was, and he just handed me a scalpel, telling me that I had to relieve the pressure manually since an EMP had fried all the drills. He ran off to help others before I could remind him that I was barely beyond a Boy Scout. I whispered to another nurse that I had no idea what I was looking for, or what I was doing, so she said that everyone in this canopy was in the same mall during the attack. They all had it, and would die if we didn’t help them. Then she showed me how she was doing it, carving the letter X in her patient’s forehead. So I gathered all of my courage, and got to work. And wouldn’t you know it, I was great at it? I should have started studying this years ago.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: September 6, 2183

True to her word, Paige was waiting for Leona on the surface of Earth when she returned to the timeline on September 6, 2183. With her were Brooke and Ecrin. Camden had jumped himself back to 1982, hoping to find some way of reconnecting with his old team that he left back in 2002. Ecrin had apparently gone back with him, and had returned to this time the long way around. She was now 371 years old. A distraught Saga reportedly opened the door to a hall closet, and never came back out, so she was either off on one of her Freelance missions, or looking for a way to skip right to when her daughter retires. Hokusai and Loa had kept in contact with the others. They were swamped with their new jobs as sort of independent social workers, still in charge of all the Durune passengers. They thought this work would only last a few months, but it was proving to be more difficult than they believed, and they felt like it would never end. While almost all of the passengers had climbed aboard The Warren wanting to live on Earth, they had varying expectations of what that looked like. Brooke was working on a cargo ship, operating primarily on the Mars-Belt run, which was a pretty simple life. She took some vacation time so she could return to Earth and see Leona again.
Hokusai never did figure out how to reopen the dimensions permanently, so they reactivated her original invention. The castaways were all prepared for this endeavor, and were packed and ready to leave at the right moment. Loa and Vitalie combined their powers again to let Paige and Brooke back into the pocket seven prison blocks, so they could retrieve the inmates. They then contacted professional designated security guard, Kolby Morse, so he could send them to Beaver Haven, which was the only place suited to hold them. Justice for Annora was finally officially served, and the case was satisfactorily closed. The dimensional destroyer freed the ship from its extra dimensions, then left to report to Team Hokuloa. Now, with no current missions, it was time for a little rest and relaxation, and what better place to do that but the beautiful country of Panama?
After a long hammock nap, Leona joined the rest of her current band of friends on the beach. Ecrin used only a fraction of the massive wealth she had accumulated over the decades to secure them a luxurious resort. They didn’t have the whole place to themselves, but since this was the off-season, it was close. Leona stood next to them smiling, glad for this respite, growing paranoid that it was but an illusion. She had already lost Serif, and still hadn't taken the time to mourn her, or figure out whether there was any way of saving her. She could use this time to think that over, and maybe find someone to help. That wasn’t going to be easy on its own, but interference for some mission would complicate matters even further. When would the powers that be step in, and ruin this nice break? Right now. Still smiling, Leona keeled over, and threw up all over the sand.
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” she assured the others when they jumped up to help her. “I was just thinking about Serif.”
“I’ll go get some water,” Ecrin offered, running off to the bar.
As strange as it seemed, lying on her stomach, with her head hanging over the top of the lounge chair was the most comfortable position at the moment. Ecrin also found her a really long straw so she could sip on her water, and not have to move.
“We can try to contact Vearden,” Paige suggested after a few moments. “If pocket four is now its own independent universe, then The Crossover is the only thing capable of reaching Serif.”
“Sounds great,” Leona said through mild moans of discomfort. “How do we contact him?”
“Maybe through that door that just appeared in the middle of the beach?” Ecrin guessed. She had presumably never encountered the Crossover before, but a freestanding door was very out of place.
Leona struggled to flip over to her back and get a look. “Oh, look; a deus ex machina.”
A woman—no, a man—no, a woman walked out of the door. He or she kept changing faces, like they were an amalgamation of dozens—possibly hundreds—of different people, cycling one by one. It walked right up to the four of them, noticing their reactions. “Oh, sorry. Give me a second.” It closed its eyes and concentrated, slowing down the transitions until finally settling on the single form of a woman. She took a breath. “I apologize for that, I forget how disconcerting I make people. I hope this is a form you are more comfortable with.”
“It didn’t make us uncomfortable,” Brooke said. “We were just surprised you showed up unprompted. Are you the current owner of the Crossover?”
“I am,” she said proudly. “My name’s Monster.”
“...that my real name?” Monster interrupted. “Actually, it is. You can call me Erin, if you want, though.”
The three of them looked at Ecrin. “No, Monster will be fine.”
“Monster, how did you know we were wanting to speak with someone from your machine?”
“I’m psychic,” she said simply. “You ever heard of the cocktail party effect? It’s when you can hear your own name from across the room, even when the person who said it wasn’t trying to talk to you, and you didn’t hear anything else they said. Your name is just that important to you. My ancestors could form psychic bonds with people, but I’m bonded to everyone, so the universe is my cocktail party. Now that I operate the Crossover, all the universes are.”
“If you’re psychic,” Ecrin began, “you know what we’re after; where we wanna go?”
Monster frowned. “Yes, and I debated whether I should come or not, but I figured it was my duty to speak with you, so you can move on, to other options, or with your lives. I’m afraid I can’t take you where you want to go.”
“Why not?” Paige questioned.
“The Crossover can’t get to the universe in question. It’s a no-fly zone.”
“You can’t make an exception, just this once?” Leona pleaded. “I only need a minute to get someone back.”
“It’s not possible.” Monster shook her head. “That world was locked out of the system almost as soon as the machine was created.”
“Because it’s a dangerous place?”
Monster waited to answer. “Because it was built there. Other branes aren’t like yours and mine. They can’t just alter time on a whim. Without the temporal stabilization factors that keep your universe together, these other universes could collapse. The Crossover won’t go back, because that could screw up its own creation.”
“Well, there was someone else. They can also travel between branes. I think they use their dreams?”
Monster nodded knowingly. “Yes, and it’s possible they’ll be able to help. But more than likely, they’ll only be able to send your friend a message, or bring one back. They can travel the bulkverse; you can’t.”
“Shit,” Leona said.
“I wish I could be of more help,” Monster went on. “I just wanted you to understand that even we have limits.”
Leona closed her eyes in defeat, used to this by now. “We understand. You better get back to...doing whatever it is you’re doing.”
Monster gave Leona a sad panda look. “You can kill me, if it’ll make you feel better. I hear it’s cathartic.”
“What?” Paige exclaimed.
“Don’t worry, I can’t die. See?” She took a glass dagger from her breast pocket, and prepared to plunge it into her neck.
“No!” Brooke stopped her. “We don’t need to see it, we believe you.”
Monster shrugged. “Then accept this as a gift.” She handed Leona the dagger ceremoniously. “This is made of ardusite. I have died more than three thousand times, which means that one of those times was due to being struck by lightning.” She pointed to the dagger balancing on both of Leona’s hands. “That was created from the ashes left behind. You stab someone with that, you can erase their entire history.”
Leona looked at the dagger, impressed but confused. “Lightning doesn’t turn you into ash. No strike has ever been that powerful.”
Monster smiled. “It does if you’re a phoenix.” She stepped back and snapped her jaw shut. Foam started spilling out of her mouth, then she burst into flames, and was reduced to a pile of ash. The door had disappeared sometime in the hubbub.
“And I thought our universe was weird,” Brooke noted.
“How many universes are there?” Ecrin asked them.
“All of them,” Leona answered.
Before Ecrin could question exactly what this meant, a helicopter appeared out of nowhere and landed on the field next to the resort. A horde of soldiers spilled out of it, and began sweeping the resort. One of them went straight for the four of them, who were the only ones on the beach at the moment. She fired some kind of nonprojectile weapon at Paige, who immediately collapsed to the ground. She did the same to Brooke before placing Leona and Ecrin in zip cuffs.
“What the hell is goin’ on?” Leona demanded to know.
“We have declared this a staging area for the Arianation,” the soldier answered in an authoritative tone. “You are now prisoners of war.”
“Oh, crap,” Ecrin lamented.
“What in the world is Arianation?” Leona asked, pulling away from her captor.
“That’s exactly what it is,” the soldier replied. “The Arianation is the world. The day of reckoning is here, and the arcities will have to answer for what they’ve done to this planet.”
“And Nazis are gonna make ‘em answer?”
In retaliation for this remark, the soldier punched Leona right in her stomach. “We are not Nazis! It’s a linguistic coincidence. It’s Celtic.” She placed a third zip cuff around the two of theirs, so they were bound together, and started leading them back up to the resort.
Once they were to the top of the hill, they could see the nearest arcology towering in the distance. It was being attacked by fleet of aircraft. They really were at war. But with whom?