Thursday, May 28, 2020

Microstory 1374: Internal Candidate

Internal Candidate: I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me. I understand that people like me aren’t normally given the opportunity to apply for this position.
Hiring Manager: People like you? I want to assure you that our company does not discriminate against a candidate or employee based on race, gender, age—
Internal Candidate: I mean an internal candidate. You always hire at this level from the outside.
Hiring Manager: Do we?
Internal Candidate: Uh, it’s my job to examine and understand trends. Yes, you definitely do. You’ve never promoted someone to this—or a comparable—level from the inside. Employees call it the promotion ceiling, because, as you said, it doesn’t seem to be based on protected classes. You regularly promote people all the way into my current level, but for the next one, you always look for external candidates, and then continue to promote from there.
Hiring Manager: Really?
Internal Candidate: Yeah, you don’t even post this on the internal job listings.
Hiring Manager: I’m sorry, I didn’t realize this. I don’t normally conduct these interviews personally. I’m just the one who’s in the office right now.
Internal Candidate: Yes, because I requested this meeting via email, since I wasn’t allowed to apply through the system.
Hiring Manager: You couldn’t have just found it on one of the job board sites?
Internal Candidate: The questionnaire asks whether you or a family member works, or has worked, for this company. If you check yes, it will disqualify you from consideration shortly thereafter. It doesn’t technically say that’s why, but...I’m pretty sure that’s why.
Hiring Manager: We use a contractor, of course, to manage our listings. I was not aware of this problem. I assure you that this is entirely an error. At least, if it’s not, I was somehow left out of the decision-making process.
Internal Candidate: Yeah. So, does this mean you’re willing to interview me?
Hiring Manager: I think I already am.
Internal Candidate: Okay.
Hiring Manager: Have you noticed any other issues like this? Have you seen discrimination of any other kind, or unfair disadvantages, or other weird things?
Internal Candidate: Well, in terms of the hiring structure, not really. I’m sure there’s plenty of discrimination happening we don’t know about; either because the manager doesn’t let on that they’re doing it, or they don’t even realize their prejudices themselves. I do know of one thing that’s frustrated our customers, though.
Hiring Manager: Oh, please, what is it?
Internal Candidate: Well, we have a product return policy of sixty days. You can request an extension, starting on day sixty-one, and ending on day ninety. It’s a form you fill out online, and an actual person has to review these every single time.
Hiring Manager: Yes, I am aware of this policy.
Internal Candidate: Well it’s fine, except I guess the system has some sort of software bug. To fill out the form, you have to input the order confirmation code, of course, and if the order was placed sixty-two days ago, the form just won’t submit. Which obviously just defeats the purpose, unless you happen to be precisely one day late. Customers have been forced to print out the form, fill it out manually, and either fax it in, or send it through snail mail.
Hiring Manager: Oh, that’s terrible. I don’t remember the last time I sent a fax, or used the mail service for anything short of a package.
Internal Candidate: Same.
Hiring Manager: I suppose it’s at least good that they do have some kind of workaround.
Internal Candidate: Yes, and no. The fact that there is a workaround has prevented us from correcting the mistake. If it just didn’t work at all, we would be flooded with complaints, and someone probably would have done something to solve it. Though, I have heard anecdotal evidence that some customers just give up, and keep the tools they don’t really want.
Hiring Manager: That’s a good point.
Internal Candidate: Yeah.
Hiring Manager: So, you’re applying for a management position in the marketing department?
Internal Candidate: That’s right, sir.
Hiring Manager: As a hiring manager, I have the authority to contrive new positions, within any department in this division. I can, however, speak with my counterparts in other divisions, and increase that scope.
Internal Candidate: I’m sorry, I don’t understand.
Hiring Manager: I’m formulating a plan. I think the company as a whole would benefit from a job—or even an entire department—that’s solely responsible for catching these types of errors, and coming up with solutions. How would you like to get a real promotion, and really break through this ridiculous promotion wall?
Internal Candidate: Wow, um...yes.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Microstory 1373: Scope Creep

Reporter: Are we live? Okay, thanks. [...] Mall Security Guard, you’re here because the clock recently started counting down on your fifteen minutes of fame because of a daring rescue you executed after encountering a victim you caught shoplifting under duress. Is this an accurate summary?
Mall Security Guard: That’s right. I would say I got about five minutes left on my fame clock.
Reporter: Why would you say that?
Mall Security Guard: Well, I would say a minute, but the investigation is ongoing, so it won’t be over until that’s over.
Reporter: The investigation into the criminals you helped apprehend, or the investigation into your involvement?
Mall Security Guard: The latter. Obviously, I am a security guard...or rather, I was. I don’t have the authority to arrest people, investigate crimes, or pursue suspects. The real police are currently investigating me, and if they choose to press charges, I’ll have to go to court, and I could be facing jail time.
Reporter: Jail time, really?
Mall Security Guard: My lawyer says that’s unlikely, because no one got hurt after I became involved; not even the suspects. I did technically break the law, though, and the judge may want to make an example out of me. That’s a long ways off, though. There are still a lot of steps before we get to sentencing, if it even comes to it.
Reporter: What have you been doing in the meantime? Are you still working at the mall?
Mall Security Guard: I am indeed working at the mall, but I’m not working for the mall. I’ve been put on unpaid suspension, but janitorial services at Hillside Mall is run by a contractor. I’m holding a position with them, and still eating lunch with my old crew. Theoretically, the mall could ban me from the premises until the investigation is over, but they haven’t done that. They’re not proud of what I did, but they’re not actively working against me either.
Reporter: Has your life become harder after the incident? You got a new job, but I imagine it pays less, and it’s not what you really want to do.
Mall Security Guard: Eh, it’s okay. It doesn’t pay much less, and I can’t complain. I know a lot of people are out of work right now, so I still count myself lucky. I recognize the awkward position the executive leadership is in.
Reporter: Have there been any other negative effects because of what happened?
Mall Security Guard: Not really. I mean, the kidnappers are none too happy with me, but they don’t hold much sway on society right now. The community has been really supportive, though, so that’s not great.
Reporter: How is that not a good thing?
Mall Security Guard: Well, vigilantism is illegal. It helps that I was in a public safety position, but it hurts my case that people have been so supportive. The local government doesn’t want a bunch of costumed superheroes running around, gathering fans, and putting themselves, and others, in danger. They don’t want to encourage this behavior, so they would rather the story just kind of go away.
Reporter: I see. So what’s next for you, assuming you don’t end up going to jail? Will you go back to being a security guard?
Mall Security Guard: Oh, no doubt. If Hillside doesn’t rehire me, I’ll find someone who will, even if that means I have to move. It’s in my blood to protect people. I just have to be careful about how exactly I go about doing that. I’ve learned my lesson in that regard.
Reporter: Well, thanks for talking to us. I appreciate your time.
Mall Security Guard: No, thank you.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Microstory 1372: Space and Time

Lifelong Student: Hi. I know people don’t really do this anymore, but I was hoping to get some help finding a book. I’ve looked for information online, but I’m struggling with understanding what it is I’m trying to research. I get a lot of results, but none of them is what I’m looking for.
Librarian: Not a problem. You came to the right librarian for help. I hail from the old guard, so I still remember what it was like before the internet gave everyone all the answers. I’ll try to find you that one perfect book. Let’s start broad, and whittle our way down from there, shall we?
Lifelong Student: Okay. Uh...space.
Librarian: All right.
Lifelong Student: And Time. Space and time. Is there a difference?
Librarian: I think..maybe not. But they both fall under astronomy and astrophysics. What would you like to know about space and time?
Lifelong Student: Well, I guess I’m less interested in learning the physics of it all, and more about the relationship between people and spacetime.
Librarian: Okay, give me a second to think. Yeah, 527 is Celestial Navigation. That will help you understand how seafarers traveled the oceans using the stars.
Lifelong Student: No, that’s not it either.
Librarian: Oh, okay. Well, if you’re talking about space travel, you may be more inclined towards the social aspect of space. Water, air, space transportation can be found in 387. If you need to know about space law, like who owns the moon, and whatnot, you’ll wanna go to the 340s. Though, to be honest, I’m not sure how to get more specific than that. Space law isn’t in my personal brain archives as its own decimal classification. It may be more history.
Lifelong Student: It doesn’t matter anyway. I guess I could get into some ethics, but I don’t care much about the actual laws. That’s too particular. I’m thinking more broad space and people, and what we think about it.
Librarian: Oh. Philosophy of space and time.
Lifelong Student: Yes! That’s it. Philosophy. Why didn’t I think of that word?
Librarian: That’s okay, I got you. Metaphysics are in the 110s. Let me think again...space is 114, and time is 115. Maybe they are different? Anyway, I assume you’re looking for something introductory?
Lifelong Student: Actually, now that I finally know what it is I’m actually looking for, I think I can take it from here. I can probably find better information on the internet. No offense.
Librarian: It’s okay. I understand that times have changed. I’ll keep helping until the day the last person ever leaves my library, and then one day after that.
Lifelong Student: Thanks so much. You really have been a big help.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Microstory 1371: Detained

Mall Security Guard: All right. You can go ahead and sit right there.
Shoplifter: Am I being arrested?
Mall Security Guard: I’m not the police, so I can’t arrest people. My co-worker has already called them, though. This isn’t exactly an emergency, so it may take them a little while to get here, but I’m sure it won’t be any longer than thirty minutes.
Shoplifter: Are you allowed to hold me here then?
Mall Security Guard: I am, yes. I caught you breaking the law, so I can keep you in here until the police arrive. Are you okay? Do you need some water?
Shoplifter: You seem a little too nice for someone who’s just been robbed.
Mall Security Guard: Well, I’m concerned. You were stealing medical supplies. None of it was particularly expensive, but based on my limited training, I can presume that someone you know is hurt.
Shoplifter: I don’t know what you’re talking about. I just stole that stuff so I can sell it.
Mall Security Guard: That’s not a very believable answer. Gauze and hydrogen peroxide doesn’t go for much on the black market. Well, I think that second one can be used to make drugs, but you weren’t stealing a case of it; you took one bottle. Tell me what happened.
Shoplifter: Nothing happened. I needed that stuff, so I took it. I’m just trying to keep my house stocked, but I don’t have enough money for it.
Mall Security Guard: That’s a different story than the one you told me just before.
Shoplifter: What can I say? You caught me in a lie, so now I’m telling the truth.
Mall Security Guard: No, I don’t think you are.
Shoplifter: Please, just let it go. I’ll wait for the cops to get here.
Mall Security Guard: I can help if you’re honest with me. You look scared, and not in the way I’ve seen people in your position look. They’re scared of going to jail, of their parents finding out what they did, or of this impacting their chances of finding a job. You’re scared of a person. Who were you stealing these for?
Shoplifter: No one. Myself.
Mall Security Guard: I don’t believe that either. Like I said, you look scared. But you don’t look worried. What happens when you don’t go back to wherever you came from with what you were supposed to take? Does someone come looking for you, or do they just come to replace you?
Shoplifter: Well, it’s like I said; I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Mall Security Guard: I may not be a cop, but I’m pretty good at judging people’s responses. I’m going to start making some guesses, and you’ll tell me if they’re true, or not. You won’t have to say anything out loud. It’ll be written all over your face.
Shoplifter: Do what ya gotta do. It’s a free country.
Mall Security Guard: Are the medical supplies for someone you care about? Is it for someone you don’t?—Someone you hate? Yeah, that’s it.—Is this person a threat to your wellbeing? Only a little. But maybe that’s because you’re here right now.—Are they holding someone you do care about against their will? Bingo.—Do you know the threat personally? Did you see something you weren’t supposed to? Were you just in the wrong place at the wrong time? Okay.—How many people are threatening your loved one? One, two, three...? Three.
Shoplifter: Stop doing that.
Mall Security Guard: I can’t stop until we get answers. I really do want to help.
Shoplifter: You’re just a mall cop.
Mall Security Guard: I can get you out of here before they show up.
Shoplifter: No, you can’t. You already called them.
Mall Security Guard: [into radio] Other Mall Security Guard, have you contacted the police yet?
Other Mall Security Guard: [through radio] They’re looking for someone who has the time to come down here.
Mall Security Guard: [into radio] Cancel the request. We worked something out.
Other Mall Security Guard: [through radio] Are you trading her freedom for sexual favors?
Mall Security Guard: [into radio] God no, Other. She’s just agreed to never do it again, and I believe her. This is her first offense, and I see no reason to involve law enforcement.
Other Mall Security Guard: [through radio] All right, Mall. Fine. I’ll cancel it. I’m sure they’ll be relieved they don’t have to come all the way down here.
Mall Security Guard: There, it’s done. Now tell me everything.
Shoplifter: Not here. He has eyes everywhere.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 23, 1871

It wasn’t easy, but Arcadia was able to work her replicated body in a matter of minutes. She was still too weak to do very much on her own, but it was nothing that a good meal, and some peaceful rest, wouldn’t be able to solve. Someone so powerful couldn’t be kept down too long. She did have to sleep all day, though, and by the time they saw her again, it was March 23, 2017. She had just spent the entire year living a somewhat normal life, staying with Declan and Ramses in Fletcher House. Nerakali, on the other hand, had grown used to being on Mateo and Leona’s pattern, so she asked them to replace their Cassidy cuffs, and kind of go back to the way things were. They were fine with it, because it gave them a little extra power they didn’t otherwise have.
As it turned out, the replacement body that The Artist built for Arcadia wasn’t exactly like the first one. It didn’t have any powers at all. Well, it might have let her retain her immortality, but there was no healthy way to test that. Either he didn’t want her to be as threatening as she had been before, or it was some kind of mistake. Either way, she almost seemed relieved by it. People in her position would relish the idea of being normal, at least for a little bit, Mateo imagined. He, at least, would kill to shed his pattern, and live the rest of his life right here. It probably wasn’t going to happen. His pattern was his, and though powers could evidently be added, there didn’t seem to be any way of changing it.
“You’re back,” Arcadia said. “I have been spending this whole time rebuilding my support network.”
“What?” Nerakali looked nervous.
Leona seemed concerned too, but Mateo didn’t really know what this meant.
“Yeah, well, it was a lot harder than before. I don’t have anything to offer, and I can’t threaten to annihilate anyone who doesn’t agree to help me, but I guess I just used my wiles. It isn’t what it used to be, but I can get by.”
“I’m not certain what’s happening,” Mateo said. “Who did you threaten?”
“I’ve told you this,” Arcadia began. “I don’t have many powers myself. I have to ask people to help me, and usually they do it in the background. I plan it out so carefully that you don’t actually see it happening, so it looks like I really can travel through time on my own, or merge two points in spacetime, or whatever.”
“Yeah, you did say that. It’s your support network. Why did you rebuild it? What do you want?”
“I just want it to be over,” Arcadia said cryptically.
“What does that mean?” her sister asked.
Arcadia flipped her bag over, and dumped a bunch of broken glass onto the table. “Here lies Erlendr Preston. He was a terrible father, and a terrible person. He made me who I am, though. If he hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t have killed him. This is on you, dad.”
“You can’t destroy the Insulator of Life,” Nerakali argued. “By its very nature, it protects itself from death.”
“Oh, this is just a prop. I gave the Insulator to Bhulan. She destroyed the hundemarke, just like we wanted her too, as a backup plan. Unfortunately, for our father, I had a backup plan of my own. Don’t freak out, Mateo; I am better. I’m doing this for you. I’m creating a safe reality where you’re free from the powers that be. I did not mean for all that to rhyme. Jesus. Anyway, Erlendr killed all those people with the hundemarke, and his plan was to paradox those deaths by saving the victim’s lives. Something that...dramatic, though, can’t just be undone. The paradoxes can only hold if they simply create a parallel reality.”
“We know all this,” Leona argued.
“Yes, but what Erlendr didn’t understand is that he never had to go back, and just save everybody’s life. The idiot was going to steal Jupiter Rosa’s power, quantum replicate himself, and send each copy to their own points in time, so he could essentially create the paradoxes at once. That’s too much work, and completely pointless. The only reason he would need to do that is if he wanted the hundemarke to exist at all. I don’t need that.”
Nerakali stepped forward. “Sister, I’ve been through the timeline. The creation of the hundemarke first occurred in one the oldest timelines ever. It predates the timeline where you and I were created in The Gallery. If the hundemarke doesn’t exist, neither do we. Arcadia, you would be erasing yourself from history.”
Arcadia smiled. “That’s the part that proves I’m a better person. We were indoctrinated into believing the Gallery was  vital to protecting the timeline, but we’re just erroneous. Left to their own devices, the choosing ones police themselves. The Stitcher and The Repairman do everything we can, The Warden imprisons any who would dare expose them, and others help out in their own ways. So many of them have jobs and responsibilities that no one asked them to do, and they often don’t even get paid. They don’t need us. We just made things worse. I’m proof of that. I can fix it, though. All I need to do is go back to one date.” She opened a small pocket on the front of her bag, and removed the hundemarke, so she could place it around her neck. She opened a third pocket, and took out the primary Cassidy cuff. People can only be redeemed if that’s what they want for themselves.
“Don’t do this, Arcadia,” Nerakali pleaded. “You’ll be erasing me from time as well.”
“You’ll be fine,” Arcadia promised. “You’ll continue on in this reality. I’m just trying to make a paradise, not so that I can live in it...just so that it exists.” She tapped on her cuff screen. “You’re the only one who can stop me, so I gave one of the cuffs to Serkan Demir in 2019; the power-blocking chosen one version of him. I just need to switch links, and you’ll be stuck there with him, and you won’t be able to follow us.”
“Please,” Nerakali said.
“You’re welcome,” Arcadia responded. She pressed a button, and forced Nerakali to disappear.
“I can’t tell if what you’re doing is evil, or good,” Mateo said honestly.
“Yeah,” Arcadia replied with a nod. “Me neither. Let’s go. You have to be with me when I go back to prevent the hundemarke from ever existing. Rama Lama Ding Dong, you’re coming too.”
“Where are we?” Leona asked. They were in the middle of the woods. Gunfire, and cannons rang out in the distance.
“Obernai, Germany. Well, it’s in France, but...this is May of 1871, so right now it belongs to Germany. We are on the edges of the battlefield for the Battle of Obernai during the Franco-Prussian War.”
“You brought us to a war!” Mateo cried.
“Well, this is where the hundemarke was born. The moment was so powerful, it created itself. The hundemarke stretched backwards in time, and actually kept the war going for longer than it was meant to, just so it would last long enough for the circumstances to be ripe for its creation. On its own, the hundemarke is already a paradox.”
“If it’s already a paradox, then why are we trying to force another paradox?” Ramses wondered out loud.
They heard a rustling in the leaves. Jesimula Utkin approached them, wearing some kind of cuff. “I made it, guys. Funny prank, trying to leave me behind.”
“Jesi, what is your business here?” Mateo asked her.
She laughed. “That is not my name. Volpsidia got a better body for herself, so she let me have this one. I’ve always identified as male, but I can make this work temporarily.”
“Dad?” Arcadia asked.
“Sho’nuff. Am I allowed to say that?”
“No,” Leona scolded.
“Well, whatever.”
“I destroyed you,” Arcadia accused. “How are you here? Are you from the past?”
“Well, that has to do with Bhulan Cargill,” Erlendr began, seemingly holding back a true-to-form maniacal laugh. “When she threw herself into the fire with the hundemarke, she—” He stopped short. Blood spilled out of Jesi’s mouth. He tried to turn his new body around to see who had stabbed him, but he wasn’t strong enough. He mouthed some kind of curse, but no sound came out. He just fell to the ground, and kept dying.
“Boom!” said the man with the murder weapon. “How ya like me now, dad!” He let out a legit maniacal laugh of his own.
“Zeferino?” Arcadia questioned. “What are you doing in Jupiter Rosa’s body?”
He giggled. “Nah, sis. I ain’t Zef. I’m actually Jupiter. I’m Erlendr’s only real kid. Y’all were made out of clay, but our parents did the nasty, and made me with their bodies.” He was a little too into talking about his own parents’ sex life.
“You can’t have kids in the Gallery,” Arcadia contended. “The original workers tried for centuries. The population never grew even once.”
“Heh. Try telling that to my brother. I never said I was born in the Gallery dimension, but he was. Why do you think Savannah disappeared for nine months?”
“You just said you were Erlendr’s only natural offspring, yet you have a brother?” Ramses noted.
“He’s my half-brother, but we were raised together. Erlendr found out his wife cheated on him, so he locked her up in an abandoned section of the Gallery. He kept her there in secret until the rest of his family fell to Earth. Then he dragged both her and the child down with him, and made me.”
Yet another man appeared from the trees. “He didn’t make you. He raped our mother to reassert his dominance.”
“He what?” Arcadia didn’t seem extremely shocked by everything this Jupiter guy had told her. Even though this was clearly all news to her, she was hundreds of years old, if not thousands, so these kinds of things rolled off of her. The rape thing was just too much, though. “He raped her?”
“I didn’t want to be that dramatic,” Jupiter said.
“The Screener showed us what happened!” his brother shouted. “She didn’t just say no a few times, then finally give in. It was violent, and horrific! I only wish I could have killed him as well.”
Arcadia stepped forward, and spit on Jesi’s dead body. “Same.” There was some silence for a bit before Arcadia continued, “why am I just now hearing about all this? Why have we not met before? I would have reached out if I had known you were my brother. I just wrote you off, because you were some random Springfield Nine I didn’t care about.”
Jupiter chortled. “I’m not really a Springfield Nine. Baby, I was born this way.”
My father,” the brother answered, “Athanaric Fury didn’t want us involved with all you people. I’ve kept my distance pretty well, and of course Jupiter here has his own group of friends. You’re right, though. I should have reached out.”
“Oooooohhh,” Leona realized. “You’re the other artist. You built the Rushmore extensions.”
“And Serif,” Mateo added.
“I was young,” Fury said to Mateo, “and I treated people as commodities. I’m not like that anymore.”
More rustling. This battlefield edge was a surprisingly busy place. Zeferino Preston struggled up to them. He looked drunk. “Ya gotta help me. He’s in my head. I can’t stop him. I can’t fight him anymore.” He did look like he was trying his damndest to keep it together.
“Erlendr?” Arcadia asked, helping her brother get back to a standing position.
“He’s a lot stronger than me, you know that. I can barely send a psychic email. You have to get him out. Please. I know we haven’t always been close, but I need you right now. Mateo! Mateo, we’re friends now. K—kind of. You’ll do the right thing.”
“Why the hell are you asking me? I don’t know how to get rid of a psychic invader!” Then he stopped to think about it. “I know someone who does, though.”
Leona nodded. “We have to go back to the future.”

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Firestorm: Alexi Lanka (Part IX)

My name is Alexi Lanka. I’m a runner, I have anger issues, and today is the day that everything about my life changes. I’ve always known that my mother keeps secrets, but she runs a bank, so I figured she was an embezzler, or whatever. The reality of her insane life never occurred to me, because how could it? Who could have known she would turn out to be a time traveler? Or that I would be too?
“So.” My father smiles at the two of us as we’re sitting at the table, eating what I hoped would be a casual meal. He speaks in a surprisingly poor Russian accent. He grew up around North Americans, so he spent most of his life without it. Even his parents apparently worked hard to shed their original accents, which makes it strange that he would try to adopt it in honor of them after they died two years ago.
“So, what?” He’s gonna say something embarrassing for me.
“So, are you two officially an item?” he goes on.
“Yes, sir.” Cambria Buchanan, a.k.a. Agent Nanny Cam and I have been friends for years now. She was a racer at one point as well, but now she’s a streaming drone operator. The woman actually paid a neurosurgeon to drill into her head and upgrade her brain with technology so she could be better at her job. I guess I’ve always loved her, even before we were together.
“You don’t have to call me that,” my father says to her. “We’re all friends here.”
“We are, aren’t we?” she asks rhetorically, with her own smile. It’s powerful enough to get me out of even the worst of my fits of rage. I better not do anything to screw this up. She’s gonna save me a lot of money in therapy expenses. “Then, can I call you dad?”
Mine is one of those cool fathers who never treats Gen Z-ers like us with disdain. He goes with the flow, and tries to understand people. I’ve never seen him angry my whole life. I don’t think he knows how. We couldn’t be more different. This comment from Cambria throws him off, which is unusual. “If you want. Are you getting married?”
“We’re thinking about it,” she answers. That’s misleading, though. She’s thinking about it, and I’m thinking about it, but we’re not thinking about it together, and we’re definitely not talking about it. I don’t know how long you have to wait before you propose, but I imagine the waiting period has to be measured in years, rather than months. That’s the kind of thing a real mother would be able to explain.
Dad smiles again, but my brain suddenly shifts. I’m thinking about something else, or trying to, at least. I can’t figure out what it is, but something is wrong. “Something is about to happen.”
“I’m sorry?” dad asks.
Cambria massages my arm. “What are you talking about?”
I can’t help but ignore them, even though I did register their responses. I stand up, and point into the living room. “There.”
They look over in plenty of time to witness three people magically appear on the other side of the sectional. One of them is my mother, and another is Slipstream of Tracer gang fame. I don’t know who the one in the middle is. My father stands up and takes one step forward. “Alexina,” he says. That may actually be anger. I know the two of them don’t get along, but he’s always been just as cool as ever when she’s around. He’s never uttered her name with such contempt.
“Rodion. This is your home,” mother says to him.
“Yes. And you promised never to do that in our son’s presence.”
“I didn’t mean to,” she says sincerely. It was an emergency. She got us out of a deadly situation, and I guess her...let’s them bosses decided she would bring us here.” She now turns to the third woman. “You need to go back for the others.”
“I can’t,” the woman replies. “If they don’t send me there, I can’t go.”
“It’s too late,” Slipstream chimes in. “Whatever that thing does, it did it to them. If we go back now, there’s no telling what we’ll find.”
“That agent had that thing just floating around in his closet,” mom began. “There’s no way it killed them. It would have killed him too, and he would have fought a hell of a lot harder to stop it.”
“What are we talking about?” Cambria, ever the curious one. She wasn’t going to let a little thing like the sudden realization that magic is real slow her down.
“It doesn’t matter,” dad says with his new tone that I’m not comfortable with. “You promised you would never do anything like this. You need to go.”
“Wait,” I argue. “The cat’s out of the bag. Now I know she’s a super...hmm. I feel like I can’t say hero, but does that mean you’re a villain?”
My mom looks at me with sadness. “There are no superheroes, or supervillains. That’s not what we use our powers for.”
“Speak for yourself,” Slipstream contends. She gestures towards the woman who was apparently responsible for bringing them here. “She’s a superhero. They literally call her the Savior of Earth.”
A savior,” the woman corrects. “It’s just a title.”
“Dad,” I say in the calming voice my therapist taught me to use on myself whenever I start getting upset. “I don’t know what kind of arrangement you and my mother had with each other, but it was broken, and it can’t be undone, so we just have to move forward from here. I can understand you believing it best to keep this stuff from me when I was younger, but whatever the whole truth is, I’m an adult now. You can’t really argue that anymore.”
“I must be going,” the Savior says, smacking her lips. “I don’t think they’re sending me back to that office, though. I’m goin’ somewhere else.”
“Thank you, Daria,” my mom says to her. “Stay safe.”
Daria disappears, and there’s a moment of tense silence.
“All right,” my father breaks the ice. “He was right about that cat. You might as well tell him the truth. You need to tell him everything, though. If you only go over the good parts, he’s gonna start thinking I was wrong to shut you out of our lives. I need him to know that you’re just as bad of a person as you always have been...except it’s for reasons he didn’t know until now.”
“Okay, Rodion,” she says dismissively. Again, they’ve definitely never been friendly since I can remember, but they’ve never talked to each other like this before.
And so my mother starts to tell me about what she is. She allows Cambria to listen in. Evidently, it’s against their internal policies to reveal themselves to the world, but not to individuals, so this is all okay. She tells us about choosing ones and salmon, and the powers that be, and this special quasi-omnipotent family called the Prestons. She says that she’s also in her own special class called the Springfield Nine, which were turned into people with time powers as kids, rather than being born this way. I asked if I could do what she does, but she doubts it. If I haven’t discovered my ability by now, I probably don’t have one. It would be like going through puberty in your forties. She also tells me the bad things, as she promised. My dad doesn’t hate her because of what she is, and didn’t shield me from her because of it. She used her power for her own gain, and that of her friends. She screwed people over, and ruined their lives. She took power where it didn’t belong to her, and she never once helped an innocent person.
She’s not a teleporter, like the woman who brought her and Slipstream here. She’s clairvoyant, which means she knows things about the past, present, and future. She doesn’t actually see what’s going to happen, but the feelings she gets can guide her to the right choices. Well, not necessarily the right choices, but the choices she wants. In the past, she has used her gifts for financial gain, and to maintain all that power. She’s reportedly trying to become a better person, but of course, it’s really easy for her to say that now that I know more about her life. In the end, I hug her, because my father was wrong. Getting to know my mother was all I ever wanted, and I have to assume she does truly want to change, because if no one believes in her—if I don’t believe in her—she’ll quickly lose faith in herself, and that will just prove everyone right about her. I know what it’s like to see almost everyone give up on you. I’m certainly not going to let anyone else feel like that if I can help it.
My father makes the gracious decision to let her stay the night with us. She says there are some dangerous people out there, and she wants to protect us. Cambria stays over too. After Slipstream goes out to look for their friends, she returns, and stays as well. Nothing against my mother, but Slip is the true protector here, and she doesn’t even need superpowers to do it.
I awaken to loud arguing in the morning, and rush downstairs to find out what’s going on.
“I know you have the Omega Gyroscope now, because I tracked it here!” a man is screaming at my mother. “Don’t make me go back and create a new timeline! I still got Ophir on speed dial. How’s your relationship with him these days?”
“What’s going on here!” I scream at him, defending my mother. “Who the hell are you?” I step in between the two of them.
The man who’s barged into our house regards me with such shock. “This..is...uh. Um. It’s a private conver—” His eyes start to droop, and his head gets real heavy. He tries desperately to remain in control.
“Get away from him, Alexi,” mom instructs.
“What’s happening to him?” I question.
“It’s a failsafe, in case you two ever met,” she answers cryptically.
“Who is he?” the man demands to know, indicating me. “I feel something here. He looks so familiar. Let me go so I can—I can figure this out.”
“No. I’ll die before I let you know one thing about him.”
“Why wouldn’t you want me to know him? Why do you care?” He’s about to keel over, but he protects himself by getting down on one knee.
“Volpsidia is one of the worst of us,” my mom begins, “but even she understands how dangerous you are. Your only hope now is to stop thinking about it. You understand? Psi put a bomb in your memory. If you don’t get the hell away from us right now, you’re literally gonna go insane. It’s the only way to stop you...unless you stop yourself. Get out now, and find someone who can erase your memory of today.”
“We have a pact,” the man argues. He slowly puts himself on the floor. “We can’t move against each other.”
“That pact was broken when Rothko showed back up,” she says to him. “Jesi broke it, and I’m glad she did, because her heroics have opened my eyes. I realized that I’m not much better than him...or you. The difference is I’m trying here. You can try as well, but you have to leave.”
Now on his back, he pulls his phone out of his pocket, and struggles to lift it up to his ear. He sounds like he’s approaching his last breath. “Ophir. Emergency exit. Get me to Tertius Valerius. Right now.” He disappears.
“Who was that?” I ask my mom.
She looks over to the kitchen, where Cambria and my father are. He’s somehow angrier than he was yesterday. Is this going to become a habit? “Don’t. When I said you needed to tell him everything, I didn’t mean that. We agreed to never talk about that.”
“Alexi’s in danger now. I stopped him this time, but if Jesi and I are the only ones who turned over a new leaf, that means he still has plenty of friends to help him. Alexi has to know what he’s up against.”
“What is it?” I ask. “Tell me.”
“I am your father!” my dad cries, as if I don’t already know that.
“He’s right,” mother says, turning to face me. She takes a deep breath. “He’s your real father. But he’s not your biological father.” I think I know what she’s gonna say, but then she adds a whole new level to this madness. “And I am not your biological mother. That man is named Jupiter Fury. He’s actually a Preston, but very few people know that. He and an...entity known as Effigy are your birth parents. I lied to you before. The chances of you not having some kind of temporal power...are negligible.”

Friday, May 22, 2020

Microstory 1370: Gareth Morgan

Prison Counselor: Mr. Morgan. I hear you’re getting out soon. Congratulations.
Gareth Morgan: Well, it’s bittersweet. That’s why I wanted to talk to you today, one last time.
Prison Counselor: Oh? Go on.
Gareth Morgan: Since I’ve been locked up, everything has been provided for me. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t wish I could stay, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I’ve grown accustomed to the routine and monotony of my days.
Prison Counselor: Yes, that’s very hard. That’s why we have programs, like halfway houses, which help those who have been released adjust to their new lives. We want you to be as productive and positive as anyone else in this country.
Gareth Morgan: Well, see, that’s not actually a problem. I don’t need a halfway house. I’ve come into some money. I should have gotten it months ago, but I was unqualified for the funds while I was in prison.
Prison Counselor: Where did this money come from?
Gareth Morgan: I won’t name names, but let’s just say a certain very wealthy business magnate recently died, and it turns out, he’s my father, and he left me a stipend.
Prison Counselor: A stipend, not an inheritance?
Gareth Morgan: No. My sisters—who not only did I never know about, but didn’t even know about each other—have already divvied up his assets. Only a little bit was set aside for my housing and food. According to his lawyer, I don’t even get a set amount each time. I have to save and scan my receipts every single month, and send them to an accountant. Then she will only reimburse whatever I bought that fits the criteria. Everything else I have to pay for myself. Which is fine, it’s just...
Prison Counselor: It’s really complicated.
Gareth Morgan: Yes.
Prison Counselor: Well, it seems to be the most complicated part is that you have sisters you’ve just met.
Gareth Morgan: Oh, no. We’ve never met, and we never will. In fact, I don’t think they so much as know I exist. The lawyer apparently wasn’t required to disclose the entire list of inheritors? There are many more than just the children, I guess. He left little bits of money here and there for charities, and other people he admired throughout his life. I’m just a line item.
Prison Counselor: Well, I’ve met you, and I can tell you that you’re more than just a line item. Don’t let your past determine what you do in the future, or try to predict how people will receive you. Your estranged sisters have just as much right to know you as you have to know them. Don’t take that away from them just because you’ve been kept secret, beyond your control.
Gareth Morgan: Well, what if they try to erase me from the will entirely? I might need that living stipend. I don’t have a lot of skills that apply in the legitimate workforce.
Prison Counselor: You’re again underestimating yourself. I’ve seen you grow in here, and I’ve heard what you’ve learned. You spend a lot of time in the computer lab. Plus, you have that road construction experience. But the truth is, yes, they may work against you legally. That’s a risk you have to take. But what if it’s the other way around? What if they want to include you? You’ll never know if you don’t try to talk to them.
Gareth Morgan: Quit making sense.
Prison Counselor: Haha. I have some other clients to get to, unless there’s more you want to talk about.
Gareth Morgan: No, I’m all right. You’ve given me a lot to think about. I really appreciate you coming down here. I know there isn’t a lot of money in prison counseling.
Prison Counselor: I don’t regret my choices at all.
Gareth Morgan: It would be inappropriate for us to hug, so how about I hug the air from over here, and you hug the air over there?
Prison Counselor: I can do that. Good luck, Gareth.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Microstory 1369: Jury Selection

Jury Selector: Jury Candidate, where do you work?
Jury Candidate: I work for a paperclip manufacturing company, based out of Kansas City. We’re the largest papercl—
Jury Selector: Great, and what are your primary responsibilities there?
Jury Candidate: I...I make paperclips. Like, I literally make the paperclips on the factory floor. I’m hoping for a promotion into an administrative department, though. I have really great interpersonal skills.
Jury Selector: Are you in charge of one or more other workers?
Jury Candidate: Uh...not yet. But again, it’s only a matter of time before I get that promotion, and show them what I’m worth.
Jury Selector: Okay. According to this questionnaire, you have served on a jury before. Were you the foreperson?
Jury Candidate: No, but I wanted to be, and I would like to be this time, so I’m throwing my hat in the ring now, before anyone else can.
Jury Selector: That will be up to the rest of the jury, and will happen at the beginning of deliberations, if you are chosen for a seat. We will not be involved with that decision. Now. Have you ever heard of RandoCorp?
Jury Candidate: You could say that. Yes, I have heard of it, yes.
Jury Selector: Have you, or anyone close to you, ever worked for RandoCorp, its parent company, CompreCo, or any of its subsidiaries, including Ordinariosa, Mundane Solutions, or Triviam Inc.
Jury Candidate: No, I would never. I mean, I have never.
Jury Selector: That was an interesting answer. What have you heard about the case for which you would be serving, RandoCorp v. Plaintiff?
Jury Candidate: I have heard nothing. I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Jury Selector: I find that rather hard to believe. This situation has been in the news for the past three weeks.
Jury Candidate: Well, I don’t really read the news. I don’t drive anymore either, so I don’t pay much attention to the software that goes into vehicles.
Jury Selector: If you’ve never heard anything about it, how do you know the case involves vehicular software?
Jury Candidate: Well, that’s what the company does. I just made a guess.
Jury Selector: RandoCorp does a lot of very different things; hence their name. There’s no way you could have guessed which division is pertinent here. Tell me, Jury Candidate, have you ever known anyone to be involved in a vehicular collision?
Jury Candidate: I don’t see how that’s relevant.
Jury Selector: The plaintiff is suing RandoCorp for alleged mishandling of an automated braking system. Vehicular collisions are completely relevant. Please answer the question.
Jury Candidate: Yeah, I have. My cousin died in a car accident, but it had nothing to do with the brakes.
Jury Selector: What did it have to do with?
Jury Candidate: Don’t worry about it.
Jury Selector: Your Honor, we reject this candidate for the jury.
Jury Candidate: No, don’t! What are you talking about?
Jury Selector: If you can’t give a reasonable answer to the question, I’m afraid we cannot trust you to be a fair and impartial member of the jury.
Jury Candidate: You work for the plaintiff! Why would you kick me out! I’m gonna find RandoCorp guilty.
Jury Selector: I am here to serve my client to the best of my ability, but I will not corrupt the judicial system for it. Again, Your Honor, we reject this candidate for the jury.
Selection Process Judge: Defendant’s Jury Selector, do you concur?
Defendant’s Jury Selector: One hundred percent, Your Honor. Reject.
Jury Selector: This is bullcrap! Unhand me, sir! RandoCorp is going down! If it’s not because of this, it’ll be because of something. I swear to God, I’m gonna figure out how to...!