Saturday, July 21, 2018

Fervor: Zero Dimension (Part III)

As foretold, a new woman appears through a portal after we wake up from having all shared the unit in the Ponce. At first, she doesn’t seem to speak anything but German, but then she rewires her brain before our eyes, and introduces herself as Ida Reyer.
“Have you been told why you’re here?” Slipstream asks.
“No particulars,” Ida answers. “I’ve been asked to help you find something.” She pulls a compass out of her pocket, and presents it to them. “This can find virtually anything, across time and space” She tilts her head inquisitively. “This is usually the part where people reach out to see the compass for themselves.”
“We’re all adults,” Slipstream says, making me smile.
Hogarth does seem the most interested in understanding the thing. “How does it find what you want? Do you tap your slippers three times, and wish upon a star?”
“Not in so many words,” Ida answers. “No, but it would take me years to teach you how this thing works, and months for you to learn, if I were to just let you use it at your leisure. There are multiple layers, see?” She lifts the face of the compass, revealing more needles underneath. Then she lifts that face, and another face below that. Then she swings them out, and turns them in all sorts of directions. She even flicks one of them and lets it spin, claiming that it would never stop as long as the universe is ivory beige. “It can take you anywhere, and anywhen, and it can show you anything.”
“So, if we asked you to find a book, you could do so with that compass?” Hilde proposes.
Ida sports a neutral frown, and lays the compass on a table. She places her palm on top of it, and takes a breath. Upon flipping her hand over, the front cover of a book that’s suddenly there follows, leaving the compass now sitting on the title page. “You mean, like this one?”
Leona lifts the book, and reads the title, “Hotspots: A Look into Places of Great Power on Earth, and Beyond. No, not this one.”
“Hm,” Ida says. “You should keep that, just in case.” She claps her hands together. If I wasn’t awake before, I am now. “All right, so if you’re not looking for that book, then which one are you looking for?”
“It’s called the Book of Hogarth,” Hilde tells her.
“Heh, that’s a funny name,” Ida snorts.
“It’s my name,” Hogarth explains awkwardly.
“Right, well...you lost your own book? Why don’t you just...print off another copy?”
“I don’t remember writing it. I mean,” Hogarth has clearly been in the world of salmon and choosers for awhile now, but this is personal, and she’s having a hard time accepting it. “I mean, I evidently didn’t so much as write it as I guess I just made it come into existence.”
Ida keeps her mouth open, like she’s on the precipice of saying something else, but then she just looks amongst everyone in the group, almost as if waiting for Ashton Kutcher to jump out and give her a high five. “Are you talking about a cypher book?”
“I have no idea what that means.”
“Did you make it when you were a child?”
“Jesi didn’t say anything about that. She said I birthed it.”
Ida threatens to nod her head perpetually. “Those things are rare. Entire timelines go for thousands of years of human struggle without anyone ever making one. The first time, I think, was an actual cave drawing.” She starts pacing the room like a bee giving directions to a flower. “You basically have to cut into the fabric of the continuum, and focus the collective mass of the cosmic background radiation into a single point the size of a planck length, as observed within the zero dimension.”
“Uhh, what?” I ask, looking to the adults for answers, as Hilde looks to Hogarth, who doesn’t get it either.
“I’m an astrophysicist,” Leona says, “and I don’t understand that.”
“I’m just regurgitating something someone told me once,” Ida clarifies. “The point—pun intended—is that if you wrote a cypher book, it potentially holds the answer to literally any and all questions in the universe. We have to find it. Where did you live when you were a kid? Only children write cypher books.”
“Springfield, Kansas,” Hogarth answers, dreading having to explain that whole thing again.
She apparently doesn’t need to. “Okay, well we’re not going to be able to go there, and it possibly explains what happened to that city in the first place.”
Mireille walks into the room. “Umm, Leona? Is Brooke allowed to have—”
“No,” Leona interrupts. “Brooke, what did I say about lying?” she yells out.
“To!” Brooke shouts back from out of view.
“Brooke!”
“Fine! I know where you hide them!”
Leona shakes her head. “I moved them, don’t worry. Sorry,” she apologizes to the group after Mireille leaves.
“All right,” Ida says. “I have an idea. If you wrote a cypher book, then you should be maintaining a permanent quantum entanglement with it. It may have even made you immortal.”
This perked up Hilde. “Really?”
Ida shrugs. “Or it’ll die when you die, or you’ll die if it’s destroyed. Who knows?”
“What’s your idea?” Hogarth asks, not wanting to think too much about her own death.
“Just hold the compass. Maybe it’ll take you there.”
Hogarth holds out her hand reluctantly, fully prepared to whine about how stupid this feels, but she never gets the chance. As soon as her fingers touch the compass, it clamps down on her hand. She tries to get it off, but it holds on tighter. The back of the compass opens up, and flips down to grab her wrist. The opposite side does the same. No matter what Hogarth does—or how much we try to help—the compass is determined to take over her. It continues to open up, and climb up her arm, unfolding as many times as necessary to accommodate her whole body. There is no way this much stuff exists in such a small thing. It must be bigger on the inside, because in a matter of seconds, Hogarth is completely covered in this bizarre steampunk armor cocoon.
“Can you breathe?” Hilde asks in a panic.
“Yep,” Hogarth says, trying to keep herself from panicking too.
“Ida, what the hell is this?” Slipstream demands to know.
Ida is even more freaked out than any of us. “I have no idea. I’ve never seen it do this. I have to call The Weaver.”
“Who the hell is the Weaver?”
“She built the thing,” Ida replies. She turns around to walk away, then stops.
“What? What are you waiting for?”
Ida cautiously turns back around. “I need the compass to contact her.”
“Oh, shit.”
“Does it hurt?” Leona asks, as calm as ever.
“I literally don’t feel anything,” Hogarth replies from inside her cocoon. “Like, I can’t be a hundred percent certain I even still have a body.”
“We have to get her out of there,” Hilde states the obvious.
“How would we go about doing that?” Slipstream asks, looking to Leona.
“Why are you lookin’ at me?”
“Aren’t you a scientist?”
“I’m not a mechanic, and I don’t what this is.” She gestures to the cocoon.
“Well you’re the most qualified here, so maybe you could give it a think? What about a blowtorch? Or...a screwdriver?” She examines the armor, hovering her hands centimeters from it, like she’s performing reiki on her girlfriend, but she’s really just afraid to touch it. “Acid.”
“Those are all bad ideas,” Ida says. “Too dangerous.”
“I know,” Hilde agrees. “I’m just brainstorming, and I can’t think straight, because I’m scared.” She looks back at Hogarth. “Are you still doing okay in there, Piglet?” She waits patiently. “Piglet?” She carefully reaches up, and touches the part of the compass armor that’s roughly where Hogarth’s cheek should be. It caves in, like the sand of a castle. “No,” she murmurs. “No, no, no,” she continues as the structural damage causes a chain reaction, and more of the armor crumbles into millions of pieces. She never screams or cries. She just stands there, stunned and helpless, as the love of her life falls apart, leaving behind only a perfectly intact magical compass, and a book.
“This is it?” Hilde questions. She reaches down and pulls the book from the sand ashes of her loved one. “This is what we wanted? She had to die just to get this goddamn useless thing?” She pulls arm back and hurls the book across the room. Hogarth catches it  with one hand, like a pro baseball player.
Hogarth looks different, though. She’s much older, ragged and dirty, and she’s missing an ear. She sneers at the book in her hand. “This damn thing. Ain’t brought me nothin’ but trouble.”
“What happened to you?” Hilde asks, still in shock.
Future!Hogarth casually hands the book to me as she’s heading for Hilde. “Careful...” she dips her girl, and plants a passionate kiss on her face. “Spoilers.”
“How long has it been for you?” Ida asks out of profesional curiosity.
“Too long,” Future!Hogarth answers as she’s reaching down to pick up the special compass. She points it to the middle of the room, and squeezes, like it’s just a television remote. A beam of light shoots out of it and forms a portal. A group of ladies is standing on the other side of it. One looks like she could be related to little Brooke, and another is Leona. Yet another version of Hogarth is there too. She walks through the portal as Future!Hogarth is walking towards it. “Bye, Felicia,” Future!Hogarth says, feigning hostility.
“Bye, Vicki,” Young!Hogarth replies with equally fake animosity. “See you in the red forest.”
The portal closes, and now there’s only one Hogarth. “Well, this is a bit awkward. I’ve been through quite a bit since the cocoon. Sorry to scare you, but I’m fine.”
“You were missing an ear,” Hilde pointed out.
“That hasn’t happened to me yet. I don’t know why it does, but it doesn’t matter right now. The point is that we have the book, and we can...”
“We can what?” Slipstream prodded.
“We never did find out what the point of this thing is, did we?” I ask. I’m flipping through the pages. I recognize some of the words as English, but not all of them are. There are some other languages, and some are symbols that I’m familiar with at all. There are lots of graphs, and charts, and figures. Some pages have meaningless scribbles, while others are completely blank. This is a book only insomuch that it contains pages, wrapped in a cover.
“We can deal with it tomorrow,” Slipstream says as our leader. “This day has been a crappy one, and I think we’ve had enough.”
“Agreed.”

Friday, July 20, 2018

Microstory 890: License to Die

I have mixed feelings about my job. I believe that it’s the best solution yet that anyone’s come up with to deal with the overpopulation problem—and the most humane—but I hate that it’s necessary in the first place. Ours is a troubled history, full of death and war. Back in the golden age, we were making movies about what it would be like if the world ended. Sometimes it was a virus, sometimes an asteroid, and sometimes something religiously supernatural would take over. In very few of them did the end happen so gradually that it was hard to notice. We elected a bad president in our country. Meanwhile another country was purposefully separating itself from a union. Another country was going through a sex trafficking epidemic, while another a drug epidemic. People kept waiting for these things to get better, but they just never did. They got worse year over year, but scholars today seem to think the year we realized there was no going back was the one in which we found we were almost completely out of coffee. That sounds like a joke, like don’t talk to me until I’ve had my coffee, but it was a profoundly vital commodity, in more ways than one, and its loss marked the end of the beginning of the end. People kept having babies, but also kept being unable to provide for those babies. Procreation is a biological imperative that even we, as humans, have been unable to quell. Sure, an individual here, a couple there, can decide to not have kids, but sociologically speaking, it’s going to continue. Governments around the world started trying to come up with solutions to our problem. One thought to test everyone at the age of eighteen, and kill all the people who didn’t pass. Apparently they only wanted the smartest of their population to survive. Others figured their biggest problem was their criminals, so they just straight up executed anyone who so much as stole a pack of gum. Yet another country went the opposite direction, and just let people legally kill each other every once in a while. All of these remedies did what they set out to do, but at great cost to our morality. It was teaching people to be individualistic, and hateful, and most importantly, it was taking away people’s choice.

Then a woman came forward with what she believed to be a better idea. If childbirth limitations weren’t going to work, then the only alternative was to balance the other side of the equation, by organizing death. That seemed easy enough to grasp, since that was what everyone was doing anyway. But she realized the element these other methods were missing was self-sacrifice. She figured that there were plenty of people out there willing to support the common good without being forced to do so. And the suicide license was born. Now, you can’t simply fill out a few forms, and be handed a license. It’s a long and involved process that includes speaking with a trained counselor about it for weeks, which is what I do. I ask my clients a plethora of questions, test them on their mental stability, and make sure they’re not being coerced into this decision. If they agree to do this, their families will be afforded extra resources. While they are not given enough to alter the dynamics of their lives too dramatically—that would defeat the entire purpose of the program—some forced suicide has been attempted. It’s my job to explain to my clients what suicide truly means, and arm them with the tools they’ll need to make the right decision for them. There is no one size that fits all. My average right now is 56%, which means just over half of the people who come to me with their proposals actually end up following through with it once we’ve had all the necessary discussions. My colleagues boast higher numbers, but I don’t treat it as a competition. These are precious lives we are talking about, and that should be respected. I don’t enjoy what I do, but I believe I am contributing positively to the peace in the world, and I will continue to do it until it is no longer needed.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Microstory 889: Healing Glass

I have no idea how I ended up at the site of this car wreck, but I know I have to get out of here. It must be raining, because the side of my face is wet, and I’m having trouble staying on balance. I slip and slide away from the cars, and start heading down the street. At first I think there are a whole bunch of obstructions in my way, but then I realize how silly I’m being. There’s nothing in front of me, but my own glasses, which are so scratched up and cracked that I just can’t see very well. I take them off to examine them, but quickly realize that the reason I have glasses in the first place is because I can’t see without them, so this isn’t doing me any good. Best I can tell, there’s also some weird red stuff on the frame. There must have been paint in one of the cars that crashed. I put my glasses on and keep walking, angry that my glasses are damaged when I didn’t even do anything wrong. A guy can’t even have a few drinks after a hard day of work without his glasses getting all jacked up. Thanks, Obama!

I reach for my elbow, and wince in pain. A couple weeks ago, I fell down the stairs of a hotel. It busted me open, which was bad enough, but now I’m dealing with this terrible infection, and I got fired. Apparently a guy can’t even take a couple weeks off of work without telling his boss to make sure he doesn’t use his arm too much. Thanks, Obama! Anyway, that just adds to my case. Before, the hotel would only have to pay my hospital bill, and my medicine, which were quite expensive. But now I can sue for damages, or whatever, since it caused me to lose my job. My elbow isn’t hurting that much right now, though. It’s my other arm that hurts when I try to check on my elbow. Let’s see, when did I last take my pain meds? I lift up my watch, which is cracked too, but I can see enough of it to tell that it’s only been an hour. Surely I can take another couple, though. I’m not operating any heavy machinery, am I right? I keep walking as I take the pills, just waiting for my glasses to heal themselves, but it almost seems like they never will. What a rip off. I mean, the lady at the eyewear store didn’t explicitly say that they can heal themselves, but I’ve heard of things that can do that, so I guess I just figured my glasses was one of those things now. Okay, now the rain is getting into my mouth. Oh wait, no, it’s coming out of my mouth. Does rain ever do that, and why is it red? Is that paint? Oh my God, now I have to sue someone for getting paint in my mouth. When did I last take my pain meds? I lift up my watch, which is cracked too, but I can see enough of it to tell that it’s only been an hour. Surely I can take another couple, though. I’m not operating any heavy machinery, am I right? I keep walking as I take the pills. That’s funny, I should have at least ten left, but now the bottle is empty.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Microstory 888: A Letter Home

Hey, honey, I miss you, and I can’t wait to see you when we finally get back. I’m having a lot of fun here, but I wish you could have come with us. This trinary system is more interesting than we thought. We went to this one world that you are not going to believe. The scientists gave us this long-winded explanation that I couldn’t follow. She said something about the temperature of the planet, and the composition of the atmosphere. She hypothesized that the ocean didn’t form like this exactly naturally, but somehow transformed from fermentation brought upon by evolutionary fascinating microorganisms that she can only postulate exist. She wanted to stay and study the phenomenon more, but it was a pretty hostile environment, and we weren’t really equipped for a long term survey. Besides, there weren’t any resources, so it wasn’t like we would have gotten much out of it. She was allowed to take a few samples back to the ship, though, so maybe we’ll learn a thing or two about how the universe works. I wanted to take a few samples of my own, because I think it’s cool that that we found an ocean made of alcohol, but the captain ordered us to stay away from it. I imagine she’s worried I’m going to try and drink it, which would be outrageous, but I understand where she’s coming from. So we moved on. The next planet we came to—the one we’re still orbiting right now—showed unusually specific signs of civilization. We found no ruins, nor any ancient artifacts. There weren’t any petrified specimens, or bones. We only know that someone must have been there at some point, whether it was that species’ home planet, or not. We only found a single structure on the entire surface, or underneath at a depth of fifty kilometers, so we guessed it served as some alien outpost at one point. The rest of it appeared to be completely untouched by anything beyond some weird plantlife. There were computers and other instruments in the structure. They allowed us to not only control the weather, but also the composition of the atmosphere. We turned up the oxygen to help us breathe a little easier, but there is still so much to learn. Oh my God. Oh my God, sweetie, that’s it. How did we not think of this before? We need to move these machines over to the alcohol ocean planet. That’s the one with an atmosphere that needs to be adjusted. Okay, I gotta go, but I’ll send you another message tomorrow. Love you, don’t cheat on me!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Microstory 887: Surge

After the bioweapon that caused sudden onset intracranial pressure, the world was never the same. The war was so devastating that that the planet was no longer suitable for life. It technically could continue to support life, but only via small pockets of untouched nature. If we wanted to truly rebuild civilization, we were going to have to do it somewhere else. A private organization had been working for years on a sleeper ship capable to transporting thousands of people to an extrasolar colony. All they needed now was a final destination, and a group of passengers to get there. All were welcome, though there wasn’t an infinite number of seats, so it was first come, first serve. I was one of the last people to show up, looking for tickets, and should have missed out, but I got lucky. I happened to be walking up the muddy road towards the facility next to a surgeon. I wasn’t with her at all. We even came from opposite directions, but we arrived at the same time. Evidently not enough medical professionals had come for the trip, and a certain number of seats had been set aside to accommodate them. I was about to bow out with grace, when she stopped me, and informed the men with guns that I was her surgical assistant, and that she couldn’t do her job without me. Fortunately, there were still a few stasis pods left, so I secured passage, but I owe my life to her. Who knows what happened to Earth after we left?

We didn’t spend the whole time in pods. They would wake up essential personnel on a regular basis in order to assess our mental acuity. The hibernation process never had time to be thoroughly tested, so it was imperative we be able to wake up safely. The surgeon spent her waking time teaching me everything I needed to know to do the job she had convinced the people on the ship that I already had. She was surprised to find out that I did have some medical experience, and had seen field medicine performed on a number of patients during the war. So I wasn’t starting from scratch, but that didn’t mean I could just jump into any medical emergency, and execute my job effectively. I soaked in all of my crash courses, confident that, by the time something bad happened, I would have learned enough to help. Centuries later, we arrived at our new home planet, having only aged maybe a year. We continued to live on the ship for the next couple months, though. A different team was sent off to survey the surface, and environmental factors, to make sure it would be safe. Our bodies evolved to deal with a lot of diseases on Earth, but if an alien visited and tried to walk amongst us, a bacterium we would take for granted could kill it instantly. The same goes for us, since we are the aliens here. If there were any issues with the air, or plant life, we needed to survive to help anyone affected by it, so we weren’t allowed to leave until such an incident. To my new boss’ surprise, there were no problems at all. Edibility tests, and other scientific assessments determined a bunch of plants and animals that were not safe to eat, and others that weren’t even safe to be around, but our services were never required. The other teams disembarked with a plan, and tons of safety protocols, and came out on the other side better for it.

When we finally were able to leave the ship, we found ourselves trekking towards camp in the middle of an abrupt thunderstorm. Our guide and protection detail assured us that the rain was perfectly harmless, but we still needed to find shelter, just like we would have back home. We found a nice little cave that was about twice as large as we needed to fit everyone. We huddled together for warmth, and tried to get some sleep. When we woke up the next morning, we found ourselves next to this human-sized pool of water that wasn’t there the night before. Strange sounds were coming from the water, as if something inside of it was moaning in pain. A slight electrical current was running through the edges, and it pulsated with positively beautiful lights. It was a mesmerizing experience, and hard to explain to anyone who wasn’t there to see it for themselves. One of the others in our group claimed he could feel that it was alive. The water itself was alive. None of us believed him, except for my boss. He said the sentient water was in pain, and that he could feel what it was feeling. My boss believed this as well, and decided to help in any way she could. She took out her bag of medical instruments, and started performing tests on the pool, hoping that one of them came back with useful information, even though we were reportedly dealing with an alien species. She worked on that thing all day, and I helped her as I could. Finally, using the modest amount of communication the one guy managed to do, we realized that the water was full of parasites that were swimming around, and stealing its nutrients. So we rigged up an extremely fine net, and started scooping them up, careful to let the water that came up with it drip back into the pool. After an hour, the job was done, and the water-entity supposedly thanked us with a few mathematically suspect ripples. Maybe it really was an alien, and this guy wasn’t just crazy. We never did find out for sure, though, because after that day, we never saw anything like that ever again.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Microstory 886: Fish Out of Water

I’ve always been fascinated with the past. History was, by far, my favorite subject in school, and I never really liked learning about anything else, except in the context of history. I even taught myself Old English, just for the hell of it. I guess someone upstairs was paying attention, because I woke up one morning on the ground, and it was the middle ages. At first, I thought I was the victim of a practical joke. I couldn’t have known right away that I had traveled through time. I thought I was just left in the middle of the woods. Then I thought maybe I was at some weird renaissance faire without the Renaissance. I eventually realized that this had to be the past, because the kind of architectural structures I was seeing just didn’t exist anymore in my time, and to recreate them would have been prohibitively expensive. The more I walked around, the more I could remember about where I was the last time I was in my own time period. I wasn’t asleep at all, but walking back from the store. This left me with a few provisions, including some healthy snacks, and a vitamin-enhanced flavored water that I drink, because I don’t like regular water, and I don’t drink high fructose corn syrup any more. I would have expected people to look at me funny, because of my modern backpack, and strange garb. They didn’t care, though, because their lives were total crap, and they didn’t have the energy to worry about anyone else. They just kept going with their chores as I passed by, looking for shelter. I found an inn that gave me a room for a few nights in exchange for a box of gluten-free cookies.

After about a day there, I realized that as much as I enjoyed studying the past, I didn’t really like actually being there. Like I said, these people’s lives sucked. Even though they had never heard of video games, or good hygiene, they could recognize that they lacked basic comforts, and of course, this feeling was more acute in me. I went back to the place I woke up, hoping to find a magic coin, or a rift through time and space, or a wizard, but there was nothing. If there was a way back home, I had little hope of finding it. I was thirsty on my way back to the village, so I started drinking the second to last bottle of my flavored water. The first person to really speak to me was a woman who happened to be hunting for truffles. She immediately saw how odd my plastic bottle was, and wanted to know everything about it. I told her that I came from a land of magic and fairies, who had exiled me for being too tall. It was a dumb lie, but people these days are easy to trick. I could be a god in this world, like the wizard of Oz, if I wanted to. Anyway, she asked to have my last bottle, and I gave it to her. It wasn’t like I would be able to go get any more, so I might as well just end it now forever. A couple weeks later, I was completely out of the food I brought back from the future, which meant I could no longer keep my room. I packed up and left to look for work that was reported to be abundant out East. As I was walking back through the woods, the woman I gave my water to walked up to me, like she had been waiting for me to return. She handed me a jug with a wide smile, and asked me to drink. I was surprised to find that it tasted just like my water. She told me she had studied my bottle, and reverse engineered it. She said if I stayed with her, I could have as much as I wanted, whenever I wanted. I asked her how she did that, and how she knew the term reverse engineering. She smiled again. “I’m from the year 1954, and I’ve also been working on a way to get back.”

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: September 11, 2188

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

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Fervor: Five Woman Band (Part II)

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