Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Advancement of Leona Matic: August 14, 2160

After a quick check-up for Lincoln in the hospital, which proved he was in perfect health, the team booked passage on an interplanetary ferry to Earth. Of course, they didn’t have to pay for it, but they also didn’t need to present documentation, or show any evidence that they were either born on Mars, or traveled there at any time in the past. It was actually as if the ship owners knew that they were coming, even though they made no indication that they had any awareness of the time travel underground. Leona asked them if they liked to eat salmon, which was the secret question often used to tease out their brethren, but they just said they were vegetarians.
Leona and Serif weren’t around for most of the trip since it still took far longer than one day to travel between the two planets. The others were worried they would die in the vacuum of space, but a friend many years ago assured them that they could survive. Sure, they was in another reality, but it should still apply. And if it didn’t, and this was the end, then at least the powers that be couldn’t control them anymore. As it turned out, it was perfectly fine. Come August 14, 2160, the women they left behind returned to the hangar where the ferry was being stored—again, as if the owners were told it was necessary—to meet up with the two time-skippers. Lincoln had already moved on with his life, so he was not there, but he reported that Serif’s magical healing was permanent. In his stead was someone Leona hadn’t seen in a long time. “Brooke!”
“We have a mission,” Brooke said, giving Leona a hug.
“Oh, down to business, eh? What’s it been, decades? You must be a robot by now.”
“Pretty close,” Brooke said. “Not being able to travel through time makes my options rather limited.”
“Kind of lucky from some perspectives,” Serif noted.
“What do you have for us?” Leona asked, breaking an awkward silence that formed after the brief greetings.
Brooke referenced her phone. “We’re supposed to go to Stonehenge.”
Leona looked around. “We all are?”
“Me included, yes. That’s why The Delegator can’t just open a portal here. We’ll have to go the long way around.”
“Is this time sensitive?”
“Very. Like, we should go.”
Leona scratched her ear and exhaled. “We have a ride then?”
They did. Brooke led them to a 22nd century flying machine, far more advanced and efficient than anything she had been in before, except for that one time she was in an intergalactic spaceship for thousands of years. It took them less than an hour to reach the United Kingdom, which had dramatically changed in the time it had been since Leona had seen it. Cities were replaced by massive megastructures that stretched more than a kilometer into the air, freeing the majority of ground space to be replaced by wildlife. Pollution of all kinds had been removed. Life was incredibly more automated. Many people spent the majority of their lives in virtual systems, which had the power to be literally anything its inhabitants wanted. Stonehenge was still here, though, and looked exactly the same.
The Delegator was waiting for them, as he always was. Leona had come here on multiple occasions, as nearly every salmon did at some point, but this was the first time she went there manually. She almost felt like a tourist.
“Where do you pee?” Kivi randomly asked him. “And what do you eat? Do you eat? Were you born immortal, and are you immortal, or do you just jump through time, but really you’ve just been doing this for, like, two weeks, or something? Are you an alien?”
The Delegator cleared his throat. “I do not live here, I just work here. I have many homes throughout time that I access using the stones, each one tailored for my mood on any given day. I do not recall what made me immortal as I have suffered brain damage, but I am currently in year seven-hundred-thirteen. Otherwise, I’m a normal human.”
Leona was impressed that he answered her insensitive questions.
He continued, “thank you all for coming. I’ve gathered you here today because someone will be arriving shortly. I don’t know how she’s going to react to this, but she will have missed a hundred and eighty-nine years, so I’m not expecting gratitude. I was grumpy when I met her. She wasn’t supposed to be there, and she was acting like a brat. So I banished her.”
“What will we be able to do?” Serif asked.
“I like all of you. I’ve been keeping track of how you handled Arcadia, and Tribulation Island.”
“What’s an Arcadia?” Dar’cy asked.
“Don’t worry about it,” Leona comforted her.
The Delegator went on, “I figured a group of strong, independent women would be able to talk her down from her anger. I’m not going to be here when she arrives, but I’m hoping you can steer her towards a...productive outlet for her emotions. Besides, one of you knows her. Well, I mean, technically Paige was there when it happened, but I don’t think you saw anything.”
“You’re talking about Ulinthra,” Paige said.
“Yes.”
“You were there?” Serif asked her.
“I was a child, on holiday with my parents at Stonehenge. Kallias Bran was there too, for the same reason. Anyway, Serkan and Ace—sorry, Horace showed up, trying to get answers from the Delegator here. They brought Ulinthra with them, but she was...as he said, being obnoxious. Anyway, Serkan and Horace ended up stepping through the wrong archway when they were trying to leave, which made them skip about a year of time. I happened to be walking through it simultaneously, and it pulled me through. That’s how I’m here with you today. I never actually saw Ulinthra, though, since they were all invisible. They just told me about it later.”
“But you have time powers, don’t you?” Missy asked. “You were one of us either way. Not to diminish the trauma.”
“No, wasn’t a trauma. Best thing that ever happened to me was being adopted by those two amazing men. But to explain, I am spawn, like Leona. I didn’t have powers until Serkan inadvertently gave them to me.”
Missy was about to ask another question, but she was interrupted by a woman suddenly flying out of one of the archways so fast, she collided with one of the other stones. She screamed in pain. The Delegator was gone before he could answer for his abuse of her.
Ulinthra was holding onto her arm. She was wincing and breathing in through her teeth. “I think it’s broken.”
When Leona just touched her skin, Ulinthra yelped loudly. “Yeah, it’s almost certainly broken.” She paused. “Serif?”
“What, you want me to try and heal her?”
“The scientific method requires you be able to repeat the experiment for it to be valid,” Leona explained.
“She’s not an experiment,” Dar’cy pointed out.
“You know what I mean,” Leona said.
“What are you talking about?” Ulinthra asked, still in a great deal of pain.
“Serif, look at it this way, if it doesn’t work, the worst you’ve done is breathe on her. You can’t make it worse.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Serif,” Leona scolded.
“Fine!”
She knelt down as well, and deliberately breathed on Ulinthra’s arm, releasing her magic puff of gray smoke. In seconds, her pain was gone, and it looked like the bones were starting to mend. Moments later, it was done, and Ulinthra was able to stand up, completely healed.
“Wow, that was amazing. What was that?”
“Her new power,” Missy said.
“Well, thank you,” she cordially said to Serif. Then she drew a frown on her own face. “Now, where’s that asshole?”
“The Delegator?” Leona guessed. “He’s gone. It’s 2160.”
“I’m in the future?” she questioned.
“Yes, look, I know this must be hard fo—”
“Whatever,” Ulinthra said, brushing that dirt of her shoulder. “Can’t be worse than my uneventful life back in Kansas City.”
“This seems easier than we thought it would be,” Serif said to Leona out of the corner of her mouth.
Leona wasn’t convinced. “We knew you in an alternate timeline.”
“Did you now?” Ulinthra used her best Scottish accent.
“Actually, I knew you in two different timelines,” Leona clarified.
“You’re being serious.” Ulinthra stated.
“You were a murderer. I tell you this, hoping that hearing it doesn’t give you any ideas about going back to those ways. Instead, I hope it shocks you into being more careful than the average human being has to be. We can help you; put you in touch with The Forger. He’ll make you a new identity, and give you a life in this time period. Or we can find a time traveler to send you somewhere else. You have to promise to be good, though. I mean this, Ulinthra. I’m going to be watching your every move, and if I get the hint that you’re up to something bad, you’re gonna be in trouble.”
“And what exactly will you do to me?” Ulinthra asked skeptically.
Leona hardened her expression. “I’ll kill you.”
This frightened Ulinthra, but she maintained her skepticism. “You wouldn’t. You couldn’t, you were just talking about how distasteful murder is to you.”
“I killed Hitler,” Leona explained. “You have the power—literally, a time power—to become just as bad as him, so if I have to take you out before that, I will. I swear to God I will. I’ll make that sacrifice on my soul.”
Ulinthra waited to answer, showing she was taking this seriously, or at least trying to convey that she wasn’t too eager to prove her worth. “I agree to your terms. I’ll be a good girl. Now, who’s this Forger you mentioned?”
They spent a good several hours working on Ulinthra’s new identity. First they had to summon the Forger; a task designed to mimic the dreadful boredom of the DMV. Then they had to wait for him to verify that he was even allowed to do this for her. More cautious than he was before—or perhaps less trusting than he could be with Darko’s request—he had to contact The Emissary to confirm with the powers that be that he was free to go ahead with the job. They escorted Ulinthra to an Irish town that refused to shut down and clear out for an environmentally-friendly arcological megastructure. They were a bit less advanced than much of the world, choosing to maintain what they believed to be healthier lifestyles, complete with actual jobs that weren’t being done by robots. There were similar movements across the globe—some even less advanced than developed countries were in Leona’s time—and though they were allowed to live like this, their impact on the global stage was minimal.
The gang of girls spent the rest of Leona and Serif’s day wandering the town as well, nostalgic for a simpler time. They woke up pretty early that morning, and were taking a stroll in the town square park when midnight central hit. Their friends were gone when they returned to the timeline, as was much of the town. The place was a disastrous mess, collapsed buildings and debris scattered around them. It looked like the devastation from an earthquake, but that couldn’t be. Advancements in science allowed experts to predict, and even prevent damage from, seismic activity. Something terrible had happened in the interim year. They had to figure out what, but for now, they just had to find a way out of here, and make contact with their friends. Hopefully they hadn’t been here when it happened.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Burning of Effigy: Chapter Five

When Effigy and I arrive at our new time period, the first thing we see is a young woman using special powers to destroy our homes from long ago, and each time she does, it’s simply replaced by one of the others. It’s a cabin, but then it’s the cottage, and then it’s the farmhouse, and then the mobile home, and then the cottage once more, and then the tiny home. Effigy places her hand gently on the girl’s shoulder. “That’s enough, Jayde.”
Jayde tries to push her away without even touching her, theoretically by some telekinetic power she has, but Effigy is blocking her from using it. “Effigy,” she says with disgust. “I am here to close your damn portal, once and for all.
“And we are here to help you with that,” Effigy responds, presenting me like a prize on a daytime game show. “But you can’t keep taking power from the other mages. They won’t survive.”
“Hi, my name is Kallias...Kallias Bran,” I tell her. “We’ve already met in the future.”
“What do you think you’re going to be able to do?” Jayde asks of him.
“Oh, me? Very little.” I point to Effigy. “But she kind of has a soft spot for me, so I’m here to make sure she does what she promised, which was to finish this. Here and now. You need power? She’s got it. You don’t need to steal from anyone.”
“I don’t think you have enough, Eff,” Jayde claims.
“This is the problem with people who can steal time powers. They get so caught up in it that they forget they have their own abilities. With our energy combined, we can do this. We just have to work together..”
“Oh, I’ve not forgotten I have my own powers. I have powers that no one else does. I can move things with my mind, which is completely unheard of on Durus.”
Effigy smiles. “That’s not real telekinesis. You’re mimicking it, in a way that’s very destructive.”
“How so?”
“What you’re doing is teleporting objects at an extremely fast rate. You do it so fast that the object doesn’t have time to disappear from one location before it appears in another. And that second location is so close to the first—measured in micrometers—that it looks like it’s moving. Now, with practice, you could harness the gravity that’s constantly tugging on the object to impart forward momentum on it, but you’re a long ways away from that.”
“Still. It’s something I can do that no one else can. I don’t need you.”
“You’re not the only one, JK. You’re just the only one on this world. Now stop being stubborn and proud, and let me help.”
“I can’t trust you!” Jayde screams. “I can trust no one!”
“Jayde Ramsey Resnik, you will let me help you close the portal, and you will not complain about it! I’ve had about enough of your insolence.”
“Oh, you wanna help?” Jayde begins the questioning.
“Yes.”
“You have the power to close the portal?”
“With you, definitely.”
“And I can steal powers from other people?”
“What?”
“And if you’re just a people, then I can steal from you too?”
“I didn’t say that.”
Jayde aggressively takes Effigy’s arm.
“Ouch!”
“I did,” Jayde says, hungry for more. A faint glow appears where their bodies meet. They both start vibrating, a does the ground beneath them. There’s so much energy between them that it’s starting to form an earthquake—I mean, a durusquake. The farmhouse that was left after Jayde was finished playing around with the...uh, quantum superposition of their homes, or whatever, crumbles. Left in its place is nothing.
“Help me!” Effigy begs, in an agony only felt my her. Jayde seems to be feeling better and stronger with each passing second.
“I’m not sure what you think I’ll be able to do,” I say. “Besides, it looks like this is what has to happen.”
Effigy continues to scream as the glow begins to shine, and crawl up her skin. The heat intensifies until a spark lights a fire, which overtakes Effigy’s entire body, and she is consumed by it until there is nothing left; not even a pile of ash.
Standing there now is Jayde Kovac, literally pulsating with power. She turns forty-five degrees to face me. “It is too much to keep in. I can close the portal, but you can’t be here when I do. Run, Kallias, run.” She cradles her head. “RUN!”
I run. I move faster than I think I ever have before. Behind me I can hear Jayde’s cries as she’s desperately trying to hold her energy in before what I assume must be some kind of explosion. In front of me I see a sort of blackish haze, floating a couple meters off the ground. I look to my left, and then my right, to find that it appears to be a ring. The farmhouse sits at the center, but this is the portal itself. I have to get all the way past this ring before I’m clear of the blast radius, and even that might not be far enough. I never really get the chance to find out, though. I hear the crack of thunder behind me. A wave of energy comes up and reaches for the ring portal. Once it’s taken hold, it begins to snap back, pulling me with it. I’m hopelessly flying through the air, back to the center. It probably would have been safer if I had just stayed in place. It definitely would have been better for my knees. I can see the rest of the ring closing in on the eye of the portalcane. That’s the last thing I do before I die...make up a word. How lovely.
I’m apparently knocked unconscious, because I wake up on the ground, instinctively trying to massage an ache from my head. I can’t move the rest of my body. I’m actually not in all that much pain, but the ordeal exhausted nearly every ounce of energy from me. I’m not sleepy, but I’m too tired to do anything but turn my head and try to get my bearings. It feels like I’m on asphalt, or something very similar to it, because it almost gives off its own light. A crowd of people are standing around. No, they’re crouching. Most of them are, anyway. They look to be pretty worn out as well. I blink my eyes a few times, trying to get a better view as a few of them have rested enough to walk over to me. Once they’re near enough, I can see what they truly are. They’re not human, but Ezqava’s species. What did Effigy call them? The Maramon. I must be on the Maramon homeworld—more to the point, their home universe.
One of them bends down and lifts me up by the shoulders. He speaks a sort of garbled orcish at me, trying to get me to understand. He studies my eyes, then looks up at the others to tell them something. They nod their heads in agreement, or understanding. They could be talking about finding a way to teach me their tongue, or for all I know, they’re discussing what spices to put in the pot with me. Ezqava never gave me the impression that she would want to eat me—nor did Effigy, for that matter—but I don’t know who these people are. They did say the worst of the worst would be the ones chosen for the portal; not the peaceful, pleasant people.
The one who was investigating me leans forward and sniffs my neck. “Ezqava.” He stands back up and addresses the crowd. What I hear is him saying something like, “Jila tega ken Ezqava Eodurus!”
“Ezqava!” I say eagerly. “Yes. I knew Ezqava Eodurus.” Let’s see, who was that other one they mentioned. “Shoe....shua. Shuhana.”
“Shuhana?” he asks me. He addresses the crowd again, “Jila ufe henti Shuhana Shenare!” He looks back down at me. “Boros jida henti Shuhana?”
I just shake my head, realizing now that that’s an international gesture for no, or uncertainty, but that may not translate well to aliens. I know nothing of these people. Effigy always acted rather human, and Ezqava barely said anything to me before she was absorbed into Effigy’s body.
He lifts me all the way up and gets me to my feet, letting one of his people keep me from collapsing. “Dwesben ke Ansutah,” he declares proudly.
“Ansutah?” I ask.
He sweeps his arm away from him, like he’s trying to indicate the whole world. “Ansutah,” he repeats, apparently happy to welcome me to their world. He begins to laugh.
Everyone else laughs along with him, including the one who’s holding onto me, who’s also adjusting his position.
The leader continues to laugh. “Jika paol vin jila paom ken ke fo huarza!” He reaches back, and the last thing I see is his fist, heading for my face.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Microstory 745: Conclusion

The wandering child removed the last canister from his head, surprised that he did not have to gasp for breath. Though his head had been in the canister for over fifteen minutes, watching this woman’s life story being told, he never ran out of oxygen. The canister had protected him through his faith in the process. It was then he realized what the fish woman did not tell him. The canisters were always meant for him, which explained their size. No one was destined to complete this quest but him. This last one was puzzling, though, and he doubted whether he would get it right. All other stories were that of moral lessons. They taught him to empathize with others, that you get out of life what you put into it. They taught him how to deal with others, to be sensitive to their needs, and to work together towards common goals. They taught him to work hard, and never give up. But this one was different. He used the magic communication cup as a reflector, to see that the water from the last canister had not left on him a brilliant shine, like the others had. Furthermore, the sparkle from the rest of the body was beginning to fade. He knew that if he didn’t figure out the final lesson, he would lose everything, and fail at the quest. So he sat on the ground, and meditated. He went back through all the stories, remembering what had happened. He recalled the farmers learning how to grow their crops right, the criminals who became an independent peoples, business owner trying to find employees, and unskilled laborers looking for work. Again, they all taught him how to improve himself, but the last one was teaching him nothing. The small shop owner lived a horrible life, and died not having accomplished anything remarkable. No one remembered her, and for as hard as she worked to please others, she received nothing. People were never particularly nice to her. Nor did they get their comeuppance once her generosity was gone. All signs pointed to the rational conclusion that her actions were fruitless. But that couldn’t be true...could it? No, that’s not the lesson. The lesson is that it doesn’t matter. It’s irrelevant how others treat you, or how you benefit from your own goodness. The only course of action is to be a pleasant and courteous person. This was the hardest truth to accept, because there is no fulfillment in it. Still, it must be so. If no one else is good, you can at least take comfort that one such person exists. The shop owner was the greatest hero of all, not despite achieving nothing, but because of it. She experienced so much hardship. Nevertheless...she persisted.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Microstory 744: Credos, Convention Fourteen: Courtesy

The child removed the penultimate canister from his neck, which was more of a ring, and smiled. He was near the end of his quest, and he was feeling good. The final canister was wide and round, perfectly shaped for a head his size. He was about to place his head inside of it when he realized how unusual that is. “The quest should be availed to all, so why is this one so small?” he asked the fish woman through the magic communication cup. “No one has gotten this far,” she answered. “The canisters know when a lesson has been truly learned. You are the first and only to understand what the stories are trying to tell you.” “That does not explain the size of this canister”, the now nearly fully-glowing child said. “The stories are long,” she replied. “You will have to hold your breath for a good while to finish this last one.” “That’s not what I asked,” he complained. “I will not give you what you ask for. You must experience it for yourself.” Seeing that he would not get a straight answer out of her, the wandering child took as deep of a breath as possible, and stuck his head into the canister, hoping this story would be quicker than the previous ones. It opened on a small shop owned by one of the nicest women you’ll ever meet. She barely made enough to stay open, and lived modestly on the second floor. This was a general store that sold a number of items that members of the community would need daily, or weekly. She struggled to maintain the business, but was dedicated to her policy of not refusing any business. If someone came in without the ability to pay full price, she would still sell it to them, at whatever cost they could afford. If someone came in with no money at all, she would give it to them for free. Her reputation was well known in the county, and people took advantage of this kindness, allowing the shopto stay open by the occasional kindness of a rich customer, who paid a little extra, and offset the overhead costs. Still, the shop owner could afford very little for herself. She had bedding that she laid upon the floor, but no bed. She had two chairs, one of which she had to use as a table. She scavenged food from nearby dumpster, and walked far away to bathe herself in a stream, because she did not have running water. Still her business stayed open, but this was about to change. A store opened across the street that ultimately forced her to close for good, because she could not compete. Though people knew they could purchase items from her for cheap, they could find so many more products at this larger store, and that was far more convenient. Eventually, people stopped entering her shop altogether, and that was that. She died just as he was born...with nothing.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Microstory 743: Credos, Convention Thirteen: Compromise, Chapter Two

Now that the kingdoms have converged into one nation, they were powerful and significant enough to enter the global market. Their technologies advanced enough for them to reach other lands, and people were taking notice. Time continued, and they began to solidify themselves as a major player in the grander economy. They had become incredibly self-sufficient, but the time for that was nearing its end. There were things that they needed from others, and as luck would have it, there were things others needed that only they could supply. One of their more popular exports was a special type of hybrid crop that provided consumers with nutritional value surpassed by no other. So many people wanted this crop that they didn’t have enough to go around. This was causing some problems with their allied nations, for everyone felt they had some entitlement to exclusive, or near-exclusive, pick of the crop. To the leaders of the kingdom nation, they had three choices. They could trade the crops with their most powerful allies; ones that could benefit their own need of certain imports the most, but this threatened war with those who lost out on the opportunities. They could try and spread the wealth across all trading partners, but that would leave everyone in wanting, and no one would be truly content. Their last, and most terrible option, was to simply keep the crops for themselves, and try to deal in only other exports. But a descendant of the queen who first brought all five kingdoms together had another idea. She decided that, instead of simply exporting the crops to the consumers, they should provide the seeds, and teach them the best way to plant them. This came out a far lower price, and they lost their indispensability amongst the other nations, but it had far-reaching implications for the future. They became the most powerful nation in the world, not because they had something others needed, but because they were seen to be trusted. Their willingness to compromise their control over the market actually acted to sustain that control through policy and mediation of global negotiations.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Microstory 742: Credos, Convention Thirteen: Compromise, Chapter One

Many years ago, before anyone in the galaxy was flying to the stars, there was group of kingdoms that held lands not far from each other, and they each had something that the another needed. One had the best soil for farming, but no water to irrigate it. One had access to a great river of freshwater, but no decent way to transport this water anywhere else. One had developed advanced forms of transportation, but did not have enough fuel to power them. One was sitting on top of a grand reservoir of chemicals that could be processed into fuel, but no way to dig into the soil. The last had the tools to access underground resources, but few crops and other food, so the highly trained workers were hungry, and unable to work. From the outside, there may seem to be a perfect solution to all of their problems. Kingdom One can give its crops the the workers of Kingdom Five. Kingdom Five can dig for the chemicals under Kingdom Four’s lands. Kingdom Four can provide fuel for the transportational vehicles of Kingdom Three. Kingdom Three can deploy vehicles to transport Kingdom Two’s water to Kingdom One. This seems easy enough to do, until you place yourself in each Kingdom’s respective perspective. No one is interested in trading with anyone else, for they are too close to the issues to see what the entire system looks like. Why would Kingdom One give any crops to Kingdom Five when they cannot get anything in return? They cannot see the whole cycle, and how it will ultimately come back around to them. Even if they could, who can start the cycle in the first place? The only way for anyone to give what they have is to first get what they need from someone else. Fortunately, there was a workable solution to this, but the whole process depended on everyone working together. Though there was no easy way to transport the water from Kingdom Two to Kingdom One, there were still much harder ways. Everyone in the five kingdoms had to band together, and get that water to the crops. The queen from Kingdom Four understood this, and she organized the labor force into something no one had ever seen before. The first batch of crops was sent to the trained diggers, and the cycle was able to begin. Eventually, this worked so well, that they ended up with a single unifying economy, and the kingdoms merged into a single nation, living in prosperity for decades.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Microstory 741: Credos, Convention Twelve: Consensus

The wandering child lay down on his back in the twelfth canister. Here he watched two candidates who were vying for the same leadership position in their great nation. One had made a career of enacting policy and improving the lands. The other was a foolish entertainer interested only in making money. Yet the latter was clever and devious. He managed to convince the populace that he was just like them. And they followed, for they too were fools, who could not recognize the difference between their modest pay, and his riches. They worked in mines, and on farms, while he remained comfortable in an office tower he had built ultimately with money his father gave him, yet he was to them a symbol of hard work and accomplishment. They believed him to understand what their lives were like, and every time he lied, they simply believed what he said. He was also capitalizing on their hatred for each other, and neighboring nations. He encouraged them to act against their best interests, contradictory to the common good, and in spite of all that is righteous. They were a terrible people, but they were not the only ones in the nation. Surely there would be more good people there than bad. Finally it came time to vote, but the way the voting system was set up, only a few people’s votes actually mattered. Regardless of who they chose, millions of voters would be fundamentally disenfranchised, while some arbitrary person, for whom they had not elected either, would ultimately represent them as a whole. Yet the people’s votes were still literally counted. As it turned out, there were indeed more good citizens than bad, and they had made the right choice in this election. Yet, because of how twisted and irrational the system was, this unfair electorate of the elite had chosen incorrectly. Because of where certain voters lived, and how boundaries were drawn, the evil candidate had persuaded—not the highest number of voters—just the ones he needed. “How perverse it is that the popular vote does not decide the outcome,” people said. But out of this there was hope for change. The evil man’s win was soon determined unlawful. He was removed from office, and the truly elected candidate was placed in the position, where she belonged. The nation realized that they had come to a consensus, and that this agreement must be respected if they wanted to avoid the downward spiral of savagery.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Advancement of Leona Matic: August 13, 2159

Leona woke up next to Serif feeling rested and renewed. Today was the day, they were finally going back to Earth. There were a few people on the island yesterday who could have taken them, but that was a whole year ago. They would have to find someone with the power and willingness who was around now. It shouldn’t be that hard, though, people were pretty friendly around here. Paige and Dar’cy were in, along with Lincoln, who was looking to get his life back on track. Horace decided to stay, hoping being on the island would keep him out of trouble. Paige was disappointed, but it wouldn’t be the first time they were worlds apart. Dar’cy’s parents, Darko and Marcy had built a home for themselves here, so they weren’t leaving. In fact, they were presently on a cruise in the Morden Sea. But they could easily return to Earth whenever they wanted. So it would just be the five of them. They packed their respective belongings, said their goodbyes, and went out to look for a ride.
Their first stop was at The Overseer’s office. She was responsible for managing personnel for massive salmon and chooser endeavors, like Operation Second Wind, the Second War Battalion, or something they called The Crowd at Myrtle Beach. She knew literally everyone who was on Tribulation Island at any one time. You couldn’t get within ten kilometers of this woman without her being able to pick up your scent. If anyone was presently here who could transport them all back to Earth, she would know. “Trotter,” she said to them after thinking over their question.
“Who’s that?” Paige asked.
“He’s a planet hopper. He has...terrible aim. It’s not his fault, though. He can go to any planet in the universe in a matter of minutes, regardless of how far it is. Exactly where on that world he ends up is anyone’s guess, but he can get you safely back on Earth.”
“He can take all of us?” Dar’cy confirmed.
“Yeah, he’s pretty strong. He could probably take an entire planet worth of people to another planet. Shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Do you happen to know where he is at the moment?” Serif asked.
The Overseer closed her eyes and breathed in through her nose. “Gandren Hall.”
“I’ve never heard of it,” Leona admitted.
“It’s a venue in central Norvata,” Dar’cy said. “On the mainland. They do concerts and stuff there. Beethoven himself played last month, it was an amazing show.”
“Thank you so much for your help,” Leona said to the Overseer, who smiled and nodded.
As they were leaving, Serif noted that she did not want to have to sail all the way to Norvata. “I can put you in touch with The Caster,” the Overseer added. “She can send Trotter a message for you.”
“Thank you again,” Leona said. “You have been a big help.”
They went downstairs to the Caster, who agreed to send a psychic message to the Trotter. This place was like a well-oiled machine. Everyone had a part to play, except for the five of them. That’s why they were leaving. Fortunately, the Trotter agreed to make a quick trip back to Earth, even though that wasn’t next on his itinerary. He spent his days jumping from planet to planet, just to look around, only spending significant time on inhabited worlds. It was he who discovered Dardius in the first place, somehow intuiting its shocking similarity to Earth without having arrived yet.
“You’re going to need a little boat,” the Trotter, whose real name was Maqsud said.
“Why’s that?” Leona asked.
“It helps me expand my energy,” Maqsud explained. “I can take multiple people with me, but water makes it easier. It’s up to you, but I recommend a raft, or something, to put your stuff on.”
“That works,” Leona said. “Lincoln, there’s a door next to the water heater in our basement that used to separate the shower and toilet from the sink. It was just in the way, so we took it off. Could you run up and grab that for us?”
“Sure thing, boss,” Lincoln answered, and then he ran up the beach to get it.
“Will that do?” Leona asked Maqsud.
“That should work. You all need to understand the risks, though. My body has a natural instinct to land safely. That does not necessarily extend to my passengers. I don’t normally take people with me, so I’m just not used to it. Try to find your footing right away, and if you have to fall down, be sure to do it correctly.”
“There’s a correct way to fall?” Dar’cy asked.
“Yeah,” Leona said. “Stay loose and break the fall with your upper arms. Don’t try to break it with your wrists, that could do a lot of damage.”
“It shouldn’t be a problem,” Maqsud assured them. “I just want to make you aware that you’re not just going to disappear from this world, and suddenly be standing on the next. It involves falling. It looks like you’re falling, and you gather a tiny bit of momentum. Can we all handle this?”
Leona looked around. Everyone seemed to be ready for the risk. “Yeah, I think we’ll be okay.”
As Lincoln was slowly carrying their door raft to them, a young woman appeared from down a ways, carrying luggage, and in a rush. “Wait! Wait! I’m coming with you!”
“It’s okay!” Serif called back. “We won’t leave without ya!” She spoke sideways, “do you know who that is?”
“Yeah, uhh...” Leona went into her memory archives. “Missy. She was at the Colosseum tribulation in the alternate reality.”
“Whew,” Missy said, dropping her bags onto the beach. “Thanks for letting me tag along. A precog stopped me in the jungle and told me I had to come. She didn’t say why, but I wouldn’t mind seeing Earth again anyway.”
“Well, we’re glad to have you,” Paige said, holding out her hand. “Paige Turner.”
“Paige...Turner? Really?”
“Yeah, why?”
“Nothing.” Missy was genuinely trying to hide a smirk at the pun that Leona wasn’t sure Paige ever noticed herself.
“Welcome aboard!” Maqsud said enthusiastically. When Lincoln came up with the door, he said it again, “welcome...a board.” Not too funny. “All right, fine. Everybody put your belongings on the door, and let’s wade into the water. Oo, and almost forgot.” He handed them all sunglasses. “The future’s so bright.”
They followed directions, and walked into the sea, holding their shades, letting the water get about chest high. It was as cold as any ocean water was meant to be, but then it started getting warmer.
“I didn’t fart, Maqsud said. “That’s just my energy, working to connect us all together, so you don’t tip over and wind up in the vacuum of space.”
Missy looked terribly frightened by this, so Serif shook her head comfortingly.
“Everybody ready? We’re nearly at critical mass.” No one answered him, which meant they were.
As the energy intensified, Leona started losing her vision. At last she saw, others were experiencing the same thing, blinking their eyes and moving their heads around, trying to hold on to their sight. The darkness that filled her eyes eventually evened out, and transitioned to a sort of gray color. Now she knew why she needed to wear the glasses. The light before them was increasing in brightness, threatening to permanently blind her. Hopefully the others eventually put them on too, like they were supposed to. She could feel her body being pulled away from the surface of the planet, but could still see nothing, like the first tunnel of a roller coaster. The anticipation was killing her. Eventually, her body acclimated to the acceleration, and now it just felt like falling, just as Maqsud had described it. Still, all she could see was gray. It was hyperspace. While movies and TV often portray faster-than-light travel as looking like stars being stretched across the sky, or pretty, cloudy colors dancing in a tunnel, it really looked like this. Just light. Blinding, relatively uniform, light.
After a few minutes, though, the light subsided, and they could see the solar system. The Earth was coming towards them fast, but they would not reach it. Mars got in the way, and suddenly they were heading towards the surface of the red planet. Though they were moving fast enough to kill them on impact, Leona could feel that they were safe. When she hit the ground, her knees buckled, and she fell to her side. She could see arms and legs all around her, as well as the luggage door. Then she saw Lincoln. He had not been as lucky as them. They had landed on the edge of a cliff, but he was just too far over it, and he fell away.
“No!” Leona screamed, but there was nothing they could do.
Missy slithered towards the edge, and stuck her arms over it. Likely fearful for Missy’s life, Serif grabbed her by the waist, and pulled her back. “It doesn’t matter,” Missy said. I think I slowed him down a little bit, but he was just going too fast. I don’t think it was enough.”
“What was that?” Paige asked. “What did you do?”
“I form time bubbles. I was trying to slow the time around him.”
“Can you do it again?” Dar’cy questioned. “Can you get us down there?”
“Now that I have time to prepare, yeah. That’ll be easy.”
“Then let’s go.”
They were probably about twenty-five or thirty meters up, which no normal person would be able to survive. Nor did it look like Lincoln would either. Though Missy likely did manage to slow his descent, she did so only minimally. He had still hit the ground with deadly force. They huddled around him, keeping pressure on his wounds, hoping for a miracle, but mostly just trying to keep him comfortable as the light left his eyes. Then something strange happened. A grayish smoke came out of Serif’s mouth, like breath on a cold day. It spread out over Lincoln’s body, moving in a completely unnatural pattern.
“What the hell is that?” Dar’cy asked.
Lincoln coughed and twitched.
“You’re hurting him!” Paige cried.
The cloud entered Lincoln’s body, and caused him to writhe around, not in pain, but more like he was just trying to scratch an itch without using his fingernails. As they watched, his bones appeared to realign, and his wounds sealed up. After only a few moments, he was back to his old safe. He was completely healed. As one would expect, the first thing he said was, “what happened?”
“We have no idea,” Paige answered.
“Serif, what was that?” Leona asked her.
“I don’t know either,” Serif replied. “Did I do that?”
“I think you did,” Leona told her. She found a sharp rock and cut herself on the arm.
“Leona!” Serif exclaimed. “What did you do?”
“Breathe on it,” Leona ordered.
“What?”
“Breathe on it,” Leona repeated.
Serif took a deep breath, and let it out over Leona’s cut. Another gray puff came out, and stuck to Leona’s skin. It healed her as well.
“You can heal people?” Maqsud asked. “I’ve never heard of anyone who could do that? Is that a time power?”
“Jesimula Utkin,” Leona said.
“Is that a band?” Maqsud asked, embarrassed for not knowing the reference.
“She can alter the speed of time, kinda like you, Missy. She healed Serif once.”
“She didn’t heal me,” Serif pointed out. “She just sped up my recovery. It didn’t feel good. It actually felt like I was gonna die. And it didn’t look like that.”
“I’ll have to study it,” Leona said confidently. “For now, we need to get to civilization.” She looked up. “We’re on Mars, and lucky we landed in one of the habitat domes. Most people live in the lava tubes.”
“I don’t know what happened,” Maqsud said apologetically. “My aim is inaccurate by design, but I’ve never ended up on the wrong planet!”
“It’s okay,” Leona promised him. “This is close enough. Lincoln could have fallen off a cliff on Earth. You told us the risks.”
“Lincoln didn’t hear the risks,” Dar’cy reminded them.
“I’m fine,” Lincoln said. “Thank you, Serif, for whatever you did.”
“How do we get to Earth from here?” Dar’cy continued. “Honestly, even though this seems to have turned out okay, I wouldn’t be comfortable riding with Maqsud again. At least not so soon.”
Leona frowned at Maqsud. “That’s okay. There are other ways home. Let’s get to a hospital, though. I wanna make sure Lincoln’s condition is permanent.”

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Burning of Effigy: Chapter Four

We’re in a hallway in what appears to be a high school. I look around and let my eyes adjust to the change in light. Yes, it’s not just a high school, but the high school. Are we back in Springfield? I find the nearest window, hoping to see a landmark I recognize, but the terrain is that of the weird planet, so we are still stuck here. We can hear voices down the way, so we follow them. “Our calculations were off,” a woman is saying. “We’re speeding toward Earth much faster than we thought. Well, we were supposed to have more time, but Hokusai’s arrival has given it some kind of boost. If we want to stop the world before it collides with Earth, we must act now.” Hokusai, she’s here too?
I round the corner and step into the room to watch. Everybody stops and looks at me.
“Uncle Kal?” the woman who was talking before asks.
“Kallias, you’ve come,” Hokusai says. “How fortunate.”
“You can see me?” I question.
“I told you that I don’t have control of it,” Effigy says. “They’re not meant to see us, it was an accident.”
“No, it’s fine,” the woman who called me Uncle Kal says. “It’s nice to see you.”
“Effigy, is that you?” yet another woman asks.
“It is, Miss Kovac.”
“I’m so lost,” I say. “What the hell is happening here?”
“It’s me, Hogarth. I’m...quite a bit older, I know. You must have thought I was dead.”
“No, I didn’t,” I half-interrupt her. “I saw you a long time ago. You were running from that Smith asshole with Hilde and Paul Harken.”
This she clearly did not know. “His eyes. You did that.”
“Okay,” Miss Kovac, as Effigy would call her, says. “We don’t time for this. Hokusai, you have to get your work done. Mister Bran, we could really use your help.”
“With what?”
“I’ve lost most of my powers,” Kovac begins to explain, “and there’s a horde of angry men on their way who don’t realize we’re trying to save their lives.”
“Well, I don’t have powers.”
“She does.” Kovac gestures to Effigy. “And you have a penis. The army out there will only respond to someone born with such a gift.”
“I don’t know what that means,” I say honestly.
“They’re chauvinists, and they won’t listen to us.”
“What about those guys?” I point to two old men.
Kovac nearly rolls her eyes. “Escher and Rothko have business in here.”
“Escher? Rothko?”
“Yes, yes, yes, they’re alive and older. Very exciting and surprising.”
“Escher, Rothko,” I repeat. “Hogarth, Hokusai.”
“Could we be quite quick?” Kovac pushes.
“I have been looking for everyone in this room, some for decades, so you’re going to give me a second to a second to wrap my head around it.”
“However long it’s been for you,” Kovac begins, “it’s been longer for most of them. “You didn’t find them, you stumbled upon them. Right now, though, they all need you. They need you to go out there and stall for time. If you don’t, this planet is going to hit Earth. I mean that literally.”
I say nothing.
“If you help me with this now, I promise to help you and Effigy get to where you need to be. Do this one thing now. Do one more thing after that, and you can go home. You can put all of this behind you. Escher, Rothko, Hogarth, Hokusai. They all belong here. You’ve done your job. You solved the case...es. You solved the cases.”
I take a good look at all these missing people. They’ve clearly each been through a lot, and if this is what they turn out to be, I can’t go back in time and change that. Who knows what I could screw up in the timeline? She’s right; it’s time to move forward. “Come on, Eff.”
“Eff you,” Effigy says, but just as a joke. We both walk out of the room, out of the high school, and towards an oncoming army.
The army is disorganized and untrained, but the soldiers look antsy and hungry for blood. “Is there any way for you to protect them? I ask of Effigy.”
“Go on and do your thing,” she tells me, staying back and looking like she’s preparing to cast a spell over the school. I approach the no man’s land between us and the men. One of them pushes his way out of the crowd to meet me halfway, a second man at his flank. Behind me, Effigy is creating a barrier of fire to stop anyone from nearing the school, or—is that a ship? It’s sitting several meters away.
“I am Common Purcell,” the man says with the air of formality. The other one, his personal security guard, says nothing.
“Your name is Common?” I ask.
“No, it’s my title, dumbass. Common. You’ve never heard of a military Common?”
“You mean Commander?” I offer.
“No, it’s...ugh.”
Then I get an idea. “General. You mean General.”
“Yeah, that’s an archaic term,” Common Purcell says. “I don’t know why it changed.”
“It’s because you people are stupid, and didn’t understand that general isn’t a synonym for common in this context.”
“Are we having parlor, or not?”
“Do you mean parley. Jesus, what have you done with my language?”
“Where are you from?”
“The past,” I answer.
“That explains your...insolence. You protect the Earthan visitor?”
“I am an Earthan visitor. And yes. Whatever you want with those people, you can’t have it.”
“They threaten our way of life.”
“Your way of life sucks balls.”
Purcell and the other man look to each other for answers. It’s probably best they don’t fully understand the derogatoration.
“My friend back there is trying to do better. I suggest you don’t piss her off.”
“Yes, we can see that she’s a mage remnant.”
This time, I don’t recognize the term. “I don’t believe so. She’s the real thing.”
He slowly stands up straighter, surprised, but still hardened. “She’s a full mage.”
“One of the most powerful. Possible the. She can take out your whole regiment with nothing more than a thought.”
“What are your demands?”
“Leave them alone. Apparently this world is on a collision course with Earth. As you can imagine, this is not something I’m interested in seeing happen either. We all want the same thing.”
“It is women like her who did this to us in the first place.” He’s not referring to Effigy this time. He’s talking about Hokusai.
“Does that really matter? If she can fix it, you need to let her do it.”
He tenses up at the sight of something behind me. I look back to see the group leave the high school, and head for the ship. I also hear the army of men collectively drawing their weapons. Purcell holds one arm out, indicating to the army that they should stay back. “Hold!”
“Have you ever had faith, Mister...” I close my eyes at the mere thought of having to use this ridiculous term, but I do anyway, “Common?”
“You want me to have faith...in a woman?”
“Many men before you have done just that,” I reason.
“And how did that work out for them?” Purcell asks smugly.
“Perfectly,” I say with all honestly. “You’ve been living a nightmare, brother.”
He tilts his head at this. “What did you say?”
“This is a nightmare. The whole world...Earth isn’t like this. We have a sun.”
“The Nightmare Brother,” he says in shock. “You’re the Nightmare Brother.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Purcell turns to his men. “He is the Nightmare Brother!”
After a few moments of silence, theoretically waiting for Purcell to admit it to be a joke or something, everyone in the army bends their knee, and bows their head.
“What..is going on?” I’m so confused.
Purcell is now smiling widely. “You are the prophesied arrival in the words of Orabela, The Teller. You have come to save us from The Falling Planets.”
“What planets? No planets are falling.”
Purcell looks up at the sky. “Yes, they are.”
I look up as well and see that he’s telling the truth. Massive planetary bodies are falling down like rain in the distance. But that can’t be what’s happening. I recognize the distinct coloring of Jupiter right away. The others must have been Neptune Uranus, and Saturn. What’s happening is the planet we’re on is heading towards Earth at an incredibly, impossibly, insanely fast rate. The fire Effigy had created has died down now, and I can hear Hokusai’s ship powering up. Rothko Torchlight shines from it, extending upwards through my home solar system. Earth is still a distance away, but it’s coming down fast.
“How is this possible!” I scream to Effigy. The rumbling from the ship echoes across all dimensions. The ground itself vibrates with immense power. 
“Time, right!?” she calls back. “You’re lucky to see this!”
I crouch down to lower my center of gravity. The planets keep falling, but we appear to be rotating. Somehow, Hokusai is turning the whole of the planet we’re on. In no time, Mars begins falling up, up, and away from us. The power surging through everything around me intensifies, and threatens to tear my whole body apart. The Rothko Torch, now facing the right direction to act as a rudder, adjusts the planet’s path. It does so just in time, it would seem. Earth comes inconceivably close to us, I can almost see people waving as we pass by. We continue past Venus and Mercury. Once we’re clear of the sun, the Rothko Torch flickers off, the vibrations abate, and it feels like we’re slowing down.
The rest of the crowd stands up with me, still staring up at the sky, watching the solar system drift away from us. “Did we just avoid hitting Earth?” I ask, knowing the answer.
Effigy smiles and puts her hand on my shoulder. “Just barely. This is good for us. The power that Hokusai just unleashed; I can feed off of it. I can get us back to the 21st century, exactly when and where we’ll need to be to close the portal once and for all. If we don’t do that, Gimura will never be able to save the world.”
We make one more jump.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Microstory 740: Credos, Convention Eleven: Collegiality

When the wandering child lifted his leg from the tenth canister, he looked upon the next two. They could hardly be called canisters. Sure, they had some depth, but they were long and shallow. He looked upon himself and realized he had not quite run out of body parts. He still had his back, and his stomach. “This is an unusual quest,” he said to himself. “How many other quests have you been on?” the fish woman asked him from the aether, even though the magic communication cup was not filled with water. She had a good point, though, so he continued with his task by opening the eleventh canister. He recognized the young man of this story, for his story had already been told. He was the same man from the lesson about cordiality. He had had trouble finding a job, because he did not want to engage in dull conversations with the interviewers. He ended up having to learn to fake his way through it, and succeeded. He was now part of a team, but was still struggling. All he would do is sit at his desk, with his headphones on, and complete the work that was assigned to him. He would go to the meetings he was scheduled for, and listen to the presenters with respect, but never engage with his colleagues. Then it was the time of the year when the sections heads had to make personnel decisions. Some were going to lose their jobs, and others were going to receive promotions. The awkward man’s manager pulled him into her office to have a chat. This was it, he knew he would be let go, and have to find a whole new job.
“We are not letting you go,” his manager said, much to the awkward man’s relief. “But we are also not promoting you.” It wasn’t the worst news in the world, but it also wasn’t the best. His productivity was higher than anyone else’s. By anyone’s measure, he was the best worker in the department. That promotion should be his. “It’s not that you are not productive,” his manager said, as if reading his mind. “You are a very hard worker, and you make few mistakes, but that is not all it takes to be part of the team.” “What else does it take?” the awkward man asked. “You have to actually participate in that team. You have to have conversations around the proverbial water cooler. You have to go out for drinks after hours.” The boy interrupted her, “does everything that’s required of me involve fluids?” This did not seem like a joke to the awkward man, but it did seem funny to his manager, and she laughed. “This is not so,” she said. “I’m not telling you specific things that you must do, but giving you ideas of what you can do to improve your standing in this department. People around here expect some level of collegiality. Honestly, I barely knew who you were when I read your name on my evaluations list. Your numbers speak for themselves, but it is your actions that must be doing the talking. You must show that you belong here, and that you want to be here. The work itself simply cannot be your only concern. Promotions come for people who have the potential to be leaders. A leader speaks to his colleagues, and I have not so far seen that from you.” “I understand,” the awkward man said, even though he didn’t. Calling upon the advice from his parents when he was interviewing in the first place, the awkward man began to fake his interest in what he perceived to be the pointless social aspect of the job. And though no one grew to like him, and he was never good enough to earn promotions, he did earn wage increases, and maintained his steady position until the day he retired.