Friday, March 31, 2017

Microstory 550: Second Day of No Death Crash at Same Location

One year ago, something terrible, and virtually impossible, occurred. A man named Drummond Breckenridge was the only survivor of a plane crash that resulted in the death of one-hundred-and-twenty people. The most alarming part of this story was that it happened on a day that the cosmos has set aside to disallow death, for whatever reason. Even after centuries of study, researchers are still not sure why it is that the Day of No Death exists at all. Most people have simply embraced it, and treated it as normal. After all, no one knows what the world would look like without it. It would seem that not being able to die on the eighth day of the eighth month of every year is just part of life. New interest in studying this phenomenon was sparked with the unique catastrophe that took the lives of passengers on Flight 5683. And now, even more interest has been ignited following the development that stopped the 5683 tragedy from being unique. A second plane has crashed. And it crashed on the Day of No Death. And it crashed at the exact same spot that the first plane did one year ago.

Flight 216 had just taken off from Kansas City, and was on its way to Miami, Florida when the craft experienced an inexplicable change in mass. The true reason for 5683’s malfunction was never discovered. The entire mechanical apparatus was in perfect working order. It was as if the pilots simply stopped monitoring the controls, leaving many to speculate that they were slipped drugs that put them to sleep (though no toxins were found in their systems). The reason for Flight 216’s crash—though so absurd, many do not believe it—is rather obvious. Scientists just don’t know how it’s physically possible. Broadcast media is already referring to it as The Golden Plane, because that’s what it became. At some point mid-flight, every single square inch of metal was somehow replaced with, or converted into, gold. Airplanes are primarily constructed using the metal nekromei. It’s light, durable, abundant, and cheap. It also exhibits low toxicity, which makes it perfect for encapsulating living beings for an extended period of time. Gold—also known in the scientific world as glomei—is extremely heavy, relatively rare, costly, and better used in smaller forms, like electronic components. No one would ever build a plane made out of gold. It would never even get off the ground. So how did this happen? This is why Flight 216 tumbled out of the air. It was simply too heavy.
Like last year’s fateful flight, Flight 216 ended in the death of every passenger but one. Her name has not yet been released, nor has anyone else’s, but sources say that she is currently in critical condition at an undisclosed hospital. Assuming she wakes up, authorities hope she will be able to shed some light on the matter, and explain what exactly happened up the plane suddenly transformed into gold, and also how she survived. The Transportation Regulation And Safety Commission, also known as TRASC, is scheduled to make an official statement to the public regarding the tragedy of The Golden Plane. A viagent close to the investigation has said that they want the family of the deceased to make proper arrangements before releasing any information.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Microstory 549: Bellevue Increasing Scope to Utah

Back in the early 1990s—and earlier, for that matter—only a select few people know that there existed those with extraordinary abilities. At first, it was only family and friends, with the occasional passerby catching sight of something they weren’t supposed to. In the midst of the great revelation to the rest of the world, the organization responsible for bringing them together was still trying to figure out exactly what it was. They knew that they wanted to be involved with these powerful anomalies, and they knew that they wanted to be leaders in the advancement of science, but something felt missing. As it turns out, what they hadn’t quite found yet were law enforcement, and even public policy. Bellevue became an agency; one designed at first only to protect anomalies, and people from anomaly dangers. The thing about this, though, was that the scope was far too narrow. The number of Bellevue members far exceeded the number of threats, and intensity, of threats. And so, they gradually began increasing their scope. They offered their abilities, knowledge, and skills to other law enforcement organizations. They were working the Confederacy, national investigators, and local orderkeepers. Pretty soon, most of what they were dealing with had little to nothing to do with anomalies. They were simply a force for good, safety, and equality. This is the Bellevue we know today. Most living anomalies are still active members, technological advancement remains their number one priority, but most of the world accepts them as another group of trained professionals exercising authority over the populace. But this does not cover the entire world. There are still some regions that reject their authority, probably the most notable being Utah.
The country of Utah is one of only a handful of nations that are each geographically within the entirety of another. In this case, Utah is as completely surrounded by Usonia, and is just as large as—and in some cases, larger than—other Usonian states. In fact, Utah began as any other state, just one that was more heavily populated by religious followers of Amadesis. However, things have changed a great deal since then. A nuclear explosion here, a war there, total global nuclear disarmament, and the Amadesins were given control over the majority of Utah land. Historically speaking, the Amadesin Utah has been resistant to any interference or interaction with any other country, maintaining a policy of isolationism. Few visitors are ever allowed on Utah soil, and for the most part, that’s how non-Utahan like it. Bellevue has recently taken a stance against this, stating that they no longer accept the idea that anyone living on this planet has the right to ignore anyone else. In a press briefing this morning, they have officially increased their scope to Utah. This does not mean Utah accepts this declaration, but it does force its leadership’s hands, calling upon them to take some level of action in response. They have so far made no move, and it is unclear what they will choose to do, but experts discredit any theory that any act of violence could seriously threaten the strength, and the will, of the Bellevue authority.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Microstory 548: What Makes Edward’s Haven Special and Exclusive?

Edward’s Haven. Many have visited; few live there. Situated in a secluded, but not remote, part of Roanoke, Virginia, Edward’s Haven is a gated community with perhaps the strictest application process of any. The houses are nice, but they are by no means mansions. Demographic data suggests that residents enjoy healthy wages, but fall nowhere near the highest tax bracket. It would possibly be that the most impressive aspect of Edward’s Haven is the landscaping. The grass is perfectly trimmed to the same length. In every lawn, you can find at least one bush cut into the shape of an animal, or some other magnificent pattern. I was able to secure a tour of this place, and spoke with a few of the residents about their experiences. One, who chooses to remain anonymous, had the following to say about what makes the neighborhood so special. “We are not exclusive because we think we’re better than everyone else. Nor do we belong to some dangerous cult. The majority of applications are rejected because not everyone belongs here. We’re not just a community, we’re a family. We trust each other, and protect each other. That your application was refused does not mean you’re a bad person, just that you belong in a some other family. Remember, it’s not wrong...It’s just different.”
To be sure, the application process is involved. Those who failed to pass mention going through several interviews, all with different people. Some of these applicants report a higher number of steps than others, suggesting there to be some kind of competitive “weeding out” method. Last year, Edward’s Haven suffered a somewhat minor attack as a result of their long process. Evidently, a potential and hopeful resident spent a not insignificant amount of money traveling to Roanoke, sure that their familiarity with one of the current residents would give him an edge over other applicants. Like most others, however, his application was rejected, and he was left needing to quickly find a cheap place to live in the area​. He reportedly succumbed to the call of alcoholism, and ended up driving a stolen car into the security guard both. The guard survived, and it did not cause Edward’s Haven to question their methods. “We know rejection, from anything, can be difficult,” said Joss Arnesen, who sits on the council. “We want to remind everyone that there are plenty of places to live. This is just one.” At this time, no spots are open, and hundreds remain on a statistically near-pointless waiting list.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Microstory 547: Solange Attar Coming to Wyoming

Wyoming is one of the largest states in Usonia. It is also the least populated; we live in a few large cities, and also several sparse towns. We’re mostly​ farmers and ranchers, but like anyone else, we love music. Unfortunately, not a whole lot of musical artists tour in Wyoming. It’s just not practical when they can go to Chicago or Austin, and sell out with no question. Of course, city officials are always looking to enrich theirs, and Wyoming’s, economy by reaching out to anyone who can draw a crowd. But this is not what happened. For those of you who don’t know, Solange Attar is probably the most famous singer across Europe. She has a not insignificant following in Usonia, but many stateside still have not heard her name. According to an official statement released by her publicist, she is looking to enter the North American market in a big way. This is why the mayor of Gravely, Wyoming is confused as to why she would choose to make her first appearance on this side of the pond in what’s only the second-largest city in the state. His assistant did a little research, and learned that there appears to be no connection between Miss Attar and anyone in Gravely. No one on her team is from here, there is no street coincidentally named something familiar in one of her songs. There’s nothing. There is just no reason for Attar to hold a performance ​in Gravely, let alone use it for her Usonia debut. Whatever her reasons, the city of Gravely, and the state of Wyoming, are ecstatic for the move, and are working tirelessly to prepare to give her a warm welcome. Private citizens are called upon to do the same, and make our great state proud. Miss Attar’s publicist declined to comment on this story at this time.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Microstory 546: Drug Problem Increases; Earthan Psychiatrists Deveiled

Every known planet has eventually learned of drugs that can alter the chemicals in the human body. Each planet, however, has had a different way of dealing with these. A fair amount of research has been done on the history of drug use and abuse, and a few things have become clear. One, we all seem to have about the same drugs. Not literally. Different plants grow in different places, but there is generally an equivalent of whatever effects one has on the body wherever one may go. Some act on endorphins, others inhibit pain receptors. In other words, we tend to all have the same type of drugs, coming from plants with similar properties. The second commonly accepted truth is that there is a negative correlation between the amount of prosperity a culture experiences, and the amount of drugs discovered and used. To put it in simpler terms, if—by some miracle—a particular civilization naturally feels no pain or hardship, they won’t discover drugs. They won’t even consider it necessary. In the reverse, if the civilization is riddled with disease and stress, academics will search for ways to alleviate it. This is taken even further when one accounts for recreational use, and ultimate abuse, of drugs. The more the people need to escape from natural life, the more they will...and drugs help them do that easily.

Unlike most planets in the Lactean galaxy, Earth has experienced a massive amount of adversity and misfortune. Problems with drug abuse are prevalent throughout their history, further exacerbated by their historical rejection of global community. Storms and other natural disasters led their ancestors to grasp at various religions for comfort, and they were less willing to let go of these as time went on. Science and enlightenment were denied, making technological advances difficult to accomplish. While people were discovering all these drugs to fix all their problems, they were met with so much opposition that understanding the difference between recreational and medically necessary was near impossible. By the time governmental regulations created some of these lines, the public had already decided that certain recreational drugs were acceptable, and they were never going to let go of this. At least they haven’t yet. They regularly consume alcohol, inhale carcinogenic stimulants, and eat psychoactives. Earth is noted by experts as having the worse drug problem in the universe, but now they are not alone. And now...they’re the only ones who can help us.

A new drug has hit the streets of The Core called Tremor. It is designed to stimulate the body’s nervous system, and cause violent convulsions. It was borne out of weight-loss experiments millennia ago on Vata. The idea was to vibrate the whole body so that the user would burn calories without actually having to do anything. Of course today we have far more sophisticated ways of promoting health, but records of this drug made their way into the hands of criminals, and the product is now being distributed all over the system. No one knows where it comes from, but that is being handled. The most pressing issue is the addiction. Thousands of people are now addicted to the substance, and health professionals honestly have no idea how to help them. Sure, they can treat the addict’s physical dependence, but a seemingly insurmountable mental component has prevented addicts from ever truly being free of their desire to take more tremor. In order to combat this incredibly rare problem, psychiatrists from Earth have been deveiled, and brought to The Core. They are currently undergoing an acclimation process, but will soon be put to work. It is hoped that their experience in treating drug abuse will help us come up with solutions that our inexperience prevents us from thinking of. With any luck, and a little time, we can all go back to a recreational drug-free environment.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: July 5, 2120

Ambrosios was so freaked out about not being able to kill Mateo, and steal his blood, that he was frozen. This would not necessarily last, however, and he could still be imprisoned, so Mateo knew he would have to run and hide. Unfortunately, Ambrosios could likely walk this island with his eyes closed, he had been here so long. And so Mateo began to run as fast as he could, eventually ending up in the stream, which he ran through so that it would wash away his tracks as he went. This ultimately led him to a lake. He found a secluded area, and buried his belongings in the dirt, except for his rebreather. He was going to use the same tactic he had all the way back in 2038 when he and Leona were trying to get away from their family. That had only been for a few minutes, though. This would have to last him for hours. Was that safe? Even if the rebreather continued to function for that length of time, was it otherwise unhealthy to remain submerged in water for so long? He wasn’t sure, and he couldn’t exactly look it up online.
After the jump to midnight, Mateo decided he had no choice but to get out of the lake. His trail would have gone cold by now, and he couldn’t live there forever. If staying underwater for so long had any health issues, he didn’t experience them. His unbreakable skin was protecting least for now. He was able to feel the cold, though, and the breeze was just excruciating. He built a pyramid fire only a few meters from the bank, and hovered over it, but then he he couldn’t help but succumb to sleep. The fire was still burning when he woke up. He boiled some of the lake water, and picked a few nearby berries. As he was eating, he tried working through a solution. The car. Ambrosios said that he turned off the battery, which must have been why it didn’t start. How exactly did he turn it off, though? Maybe he just meant that he separated the contacts. Okay, so that was one part of the solution to his problem...possibly, but it wasn’t the only. He first needed to get to the car, and that was dangerous. Though, to be fair, Ambrosios could be anywhere. He wasn’t any safer here than he was running off. He put the fire out, grabbed his stuff, and left.
He hiked the woods for a few hours, randomly picking fruit to munch on. Man, was he starving. With every bite he took, he felt even hungrier. He wasn’t feeling weak, but he needed to constantly find something else to put in his stomach. Something was terribly wrong, and getting to his destination was no more vital than it was now. He couldn’t remember exactly where the car had been, but he knew it was on the southern beach, so he just walked that direction, and hoped he eventually found it. He did, but that was not all he found. Ambrosios was waiting for him. He had the car hood raised, and was pointing a gun towards the battery. All Mateo could think about was how much he needed more food.
“I can’t hurt you,” Ambrosios said, “but I can stop you from leaving.”
“How would that help you?” Mateo dropped his bag and crossed his arms.
“At some point, the Invulnerability water is going to wear off, and then I’ll take your blood.”
“And how long with that be?”
“Three weeks. Each type of water stays in your system for its own period of time. Your skin cells are replaced about every three weeks.”
“Ambrosios, I’m a salmon. Three weeks for me is twenty-one years for you.”
“I can wait. I’ll live that long. It won’t be easy, but I’ll still be around.” He held up one of his water bottles. “I’ll ration my Youth water.”
“What do you want with my blood anyway?”
“I received a sentence here, not a complete abandonment. They wanted me to be stuck for thousands of years, just in case my immortality took longer to wear off than they thought. But they attached this sentence to the island, rather than me. Which means my time runs out in the year 4600. Of course, that’s far too long for me to survive, but if I only live once a year, that’s only a few more years. Then I can drink all the Youth I want, and move on with my life. I’ll have missed a lot, but at least I won’t be dead.”
“If you had asked, I would have just given you my blood.”
“No, that wouldn’t have worked. Just a few drops isn’t enough. I need all of it. I need to drain you.”
“I’m not going to let myself die so that you may live. You’ve been around for...however long. Your time is done, so just get over it, and stop whining. Everybody dies.”
“You could never understand. If you knew what it felt like to not be afraid of anything, you wouldn’t be able to go back either.”
“If you destroy that vehicle, how are you going to leave the island once your time runs out? Even if you don’t, what kind of shape will it be in? You can’t just switch on a millennia-old car, and expect it to run. The parts, the gas, it will all be worthless.”
“Well, I had it preserved in a special bubble, which you broke when you opened it...but I can create another one. For it, almost no time will have passed.”
“Still, you can’t shoot it. You need it more than me.”
“How do you figure?”
“I have something you don’t,” Mateo told him. “I have friends. Someone will come for me. Hell, even Arcadia will probably eventually just pull me out. You think you can wait? I can wait.”
An angry Ambrosios put his water bottle away, and retrieved something else from his bag. They were the same berries Mateo had eaten by the lake. “Hungerberries. They trick your brain into thinking the body is starving. It eventually commands your body to die. I’ll force feed them to you.”
Mateo laughed. “That’s no threat. I’ve already eaten a ton of those.”
Ambrosios lowered the gun and relaxed. “Then I guess my work here is done. When you die, your skin cells will die off too, and I can take your blood. Deadman’s blood isn’t exactly the most potent, but it’ll do, pig.”
Mateo really needed to get something to eat, because now he was hallucinating. He thought he could see an old woman creeping up from behind Ambrosios, but that couldn’t be, they were alone there. He even thought he saw her literally stab him in the back, and whisper something in his ear. Then his hunger overwhelmed him, and everything went black.

He opened his eyes to see firelight dancing on a rock wall, making it look like the cave drawings were animated. A woman sat on the edge of his cot, and drank something out of her mug. “How are you feeling?”
She giggled. “Good, so you’re cured.”
Mateo struggled to sit up and lean against the wall. “Who are you? How did you get here?”
It looked like she didn’t exactly want to talk about it. “I angered someone very powerful many years ago. She put me here to redeem myself by surviving these...expiations, she called them. I failed. My whole family is gone.”
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Mateo said to her.
“They’re not dead, mind you. They were just...”
“Torn out of time, yes. I know. It’s happening to me right now.”
“It is?” She was surprised. “How many do you have left?”
“My God, how big is your family?”
“Family and friends.”
“I see. What did you do to her?”
“She holds me responsible for her brother and sister’s deaths.”
“Oh, wow. What I did wasn’t that bad.”
Mateo chose to not ask her to get into the subject.
She stood up and placed her mug inside of a basin that was carved out of the natural cave structure, like it was just any normal kitchen sink. “Well, Ambrosios is dead. You can take his car...” she paused to lift up Ambrosios’ bag, “and his precious water.”
Mateo stood and approached her. “We can both take it. We can both leave now.”
She sported a small smile. “I can’t leave now. Arcadia said that she may one day return my family to me, if I’m patient enough.”
“Are you sure? I feel like I should do something to help.”
“You’ve helped. You gave me the opportunity, and the courage, to take this island back. I kept him alive in case he ever got over his grudge and started talking to me again, but that was never going to happen. And I think Arcadia wants me to be alone.”
“He held a grudge against you too?”
“I rejected his advances. We were the only two people on this planet, he thought I was owed to him.”
“I’m sorry.”
“On behalf of all men?” She smiled wider. “That’s okay.” She wrapped some of the hungerberries in a piece of cloth, and tied it off. “Here. These might come in handy for you someday.”
He took them, as morbid as it was. “Thank you.”
“You better go.”
“Yeah.” He left the cave and ran for the car. If he didn’t make it back to Tribulation Island by midnight, he would end up in the middle of the ocean.
He did his best to ignore Ambrosios’ body, and looked under the hood of the little Camry. When he said that he turned the battery off, he meant it. Someone had installed an actual switch. When in the Off position, no power was coming from the battery to the rest of the car. He had heard of something like that, but it was only ever needed when there was some kind of short somewhere that the mechanic couldn’t find. Yes, the car started after only one failed attempt, but how many other problems did it have? Was the engine going to fall out after one small bump? It didn’t matter, he had to try. He had to rock it back and forth to get it out of the mud, then he drove it down the beach, and headed for the driving course.
He topped off the gas at the little station, letting some of it drip down the side of the car, just to make sure it was as full as it could possibly be. Going at about fifty-five miles an hour was the most fuel-efficient for any standard car. It would take longer, but he needed to make it, and this was the only way. It wasn’t enough. After summoning the magical exit by driving the beltway a few times, like Xearea had before, he went on his way. Hours later, the gas ran out. It just didn’t hold as much as the ones he and Xearea had driven here could. He didn’t know how far he had gone, or how far he would have to go before reaching Tribulation Island, so he just got out and started jogging. It was grueling, but he did not stop. He could not stop. He couldn’t die without seeing Leona one more time. At the stroke of midnight, he still could not see land. The ocean highway disappeared from under him—or rather, it disappeared a year ago, soon after he had, and was just no longer there in 2121—once again sending him falling towards his death.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Voyage to Saga: Stunt Double (Part X)

In preparation for his departure from this universe, Vearden revealed to his wife, Gretchen the truth about him. From the second she met him, she had suspected that there was something off about him. Over the following five years, her suspicions grew at about the same rate as her love for him. Eventually, she decided that it didn’t matter where he came from, and that she would accept whatever he ended up telling her. She even considered the possibility that he was an alien, a Buck Rogers, or a humanoid robot. She never imagined that he was not from this version of Earth. That information was a tough pill to swallow, but several days of deep discussions were enough for her to be okay. It was not easy, but she wasn’t going to throw him to the wolves because of what he was, or because he didn’t tell her earlier. They were married, and they were in love, and they would together get through whatever was coming. There were still some questions, though, and she knew he wouldn’t be able to answer them himself. “When you leave, what happens to me?”
“I don’t know, Meta” Gretchen’s real first name was Gretchen, but Vearden later learned that it could also be a shortened name for Margareta, and that another shortened name is Meta. It was a strange little pet name, but they both liked it...especially now that it symbolized some interesting existential implications.
“Will this Shepherd woman let me go with you?”
“Do you want to go with me?”
“Do you not want me to?”
“Well, it’s not exactly a safe life. I have to admit, this is the best universe I’ve ever been in. Things seem to be rather normal, even including all we’ve been through. I don’t know why you’d want to leave.”
“I don’t know why you would want to leave me.”
“I don’t, but I have to do this. I have to get Saga back.”
“I understand that, but...what did you think was going to happen when you said yes to my marriage proposal?”
“I guess I hoped the Shepherd would send Saga and me back here once this is all over.”
“You had to hope, because you don’t really know. You have no clue what’s going through her head. These...choosers, and powers that be don’t seem all that keen on giving people what they want.”
“That’s true, but this one’s different. She doesn’t see people as chess pieces. I don’t even know that she’s human.”
The Shepherd came in from the other room. “I’m not.”
“You heard the whole conversation?” Vearden asked, not sure he would have to repeat it for her.
“I did. I heard every conversation. All the conversations. I’ve been here the whole time.”
“I don’t love that,” Gretchen said.
The Shepherd drew nearer to Gretchen. “I’ve seen more than you could even conceive. I stopped judging others a few millions years ago.”
There was a brief moment of silence.
The Shepherd restarted the conversation, “I’ll make a deal with you.”
“Oh, no.”
“I will let you and Saga return to this universe. In fact, I’ll put you right in this very moment, so that no one you know here wonders where you’ve gone.”
“Okay...” Vearden said tentatively.
“But only if Gretchen completes the last three challenges with you.”
“No, no,” Vearden said without hesitation. Can’t do it. I’m not subjecting her to that. It’s waaaay too dangerous. Please, we can come to an agreement.”
“We can come to an agreement,” the Shepherd...agreed. “We can agree to what I’ve already proposed. It shouldn’t be too hard, one-third of us already has agreed.”
“Well, I’ve not. I will not. I cannot.”
“I will,” Gretchen said plainly.
“You’ve spent the last five years in my world, Vearden,” Gretchen told him. “The least I could do is spend a little time in yours.”
“It won’t be my world,” Vearden said back. “You would be going to worlds I’ve never even heard of before. There’s no telling what we’ll find on the other side. I don’t even wanna do it, I just have to.”
Gretchen smirked. “I have to as well. You’re going off to save your partner, why am I not allowed to do the same?”
That was some twisted logic, but it was also solid, and Vearden had no argument against it.
“Me me biiig girl,” Gretchen said jokingly. “I’m going, and I’m going to do everything in my power to help you both. Then we’ll all come back here and live in peace.” She faced the Shepherd. “We will, right? The powers that be can’t get to us here?”
“Only I have access to this universe, and I would never. You’ll be safe.”
Gretchen definitively nodded her head once. “Then it’s settled.”
Vearden shook his head. “Now, hold on. I didn—”
“It’s settled,” Gretchen interrupted. She gave him the look. He knew the look well. She wasn’t backing down from this. He would have to get on board.
The Shepherd took in a deep breath to signify the end of the conversation. “I’ve left your outfits for the next universe in your closet.”
“Outfits?” Gretchen asked.
“Costumes,” the Shepherd clarified. “I honestly thought you two would stop at the self-defense training, but you went all out with the martial arts classes. I never thought in a billion years I would send you to this next universe, but I guess you can handle it.”
“Shepherd,” Vearden began, “are we going to samurai-world?”
“L-O-L,” the Shepherd said. “No.” She left the room, and at some point, disappeared from this dimension.
“We better not keep her waiting,” Gretchen said once she had gone. She sounded a bit too excited than Vearden was comfortable with.
They were not dressed like samurai. They looked like superheroes, complete with form-fitting jumpsuits, and masks. They were already in the new universe. “Why do I have a big F on my chest?”
“Is that a lance?” Gretchen asked. “It looks like a small lance.”
Vearden looked down at the sharp weapon that had suddenly appeared in his hand. It was a much shorter version of its medieval cousin, and it looked like the business end could be removed. He looked back at the big letter F emblazoned on his chest, and closed his eyes. “I get it. I’m Freelancer. Very funny, Shepherd!” he quietly yelled to the aether. This was a reference to the salmon title The Delegator had given him and Saga since they were constantly being traded between powers that be and choosing ones.
Gretchen couldn’t help but giggle.
“Well, what are you supposed to be? Is that a megaphone?” It was about the size of a handgun, with several buttons on it.
“It’s my metaphone. My codename is obviously Director.”
“Like your job title at Magnate. That makes sense.”
They were just standing in a darkened alley with vines running up a fence, no idea where they were meant to go, or what they were meant to do. Usually, something just sort of presented itself to Vearden, and this universe was no different. They could hear rapid footsteps approaching them, occasionally splashing in puddles of water.
A mid-thirties man wearing a leather jacked appeared out of the darkness and approached them. “Help me, please! She’s crazy!”
Another figure came from the shadows, stopping short when she saw them. She was wearing an all black form-fitting costume, with a mask over her the top of her face.
“Who are you?” Vearden asked. “Daredevil? Daredevilette?”
She tilted her head. “I’m Stuntwoman.” She kind of sounded like a female Batman, altering her voice to protect her secret identity.
“Well, I’m Freelancer. This is Director.”
“I’ve never heard of you.”
“We’re new,” Gretchen explained.
“Are you part of Forager’s crew?” Stuntwoman asked.
“Uh...” Vearden didn’t know which answer she was looking for. “No?”
“I was not aware there was competition,” Stuntwoman said. She approached the scared man, stopping only to acknowledge Vearden and Gretchen’s clear intentions to protect him. She looked him in the eyes, of which she appeared to have none. “You must go,” she ordered him.
The man hesitated, still too frightened to even move.
“GO!” she yelled. She patiently waited for him to run off, and out of earshot, before returning to the conversation. “Are you good or bad?”
Again, Vearden didn’t know what answer would make her happy. He just had to make a choice. He didn’t want to be judgmental, but the leather-jacket guy didn’t exactly look like an upstanding citizen. Theoretically, Stuntwoman was a hero, rather than a villain.
“We’re good,” Gretchen told her with confidence.
“Does your organization have levels as well? What level are you? How did it begin? What information were you given at the beginning. Who hurt you?”
“Uhhh...” Neither Gretchen nor Vearden had any idea what she was talking about.
“We’re visitors. We don’t have levels, or an organization. We’re just...doing this on our own.” Vearden always knew Gretchen to be a good liar, but this was a side of her he hadn’t truly seen before.
She paused to size them up and think it over. “Imitators. I don’t have time for you.” She turned and started walking away. “I have to go find another target.”
Vearden took her by the arm to stop her from leaving.
“Do not touch me!” she shouted at him.
“I’m sorry,” Vearden said, pulling his hand away. He would have done it anyway. Her sleeve was incredibly hot, like a cooking pan that hadn’t quite reached full temperature. “We’re not just copycats. We know what we’re doing. We have extensive martial arts training.” This was actually true. Not too terribly long after Vearden arrived in Gretchen’s universe, a stalker attacked Gretchen in an attempt to reach the new Magnate company owners. This had inspired both of them to take self-defense classes, and it was this that brought them closer together. They didn’t stop there, quickly learning that they enjoyed what it was teaching them. They maybe weren’t good enough to be superheroes, but they were decent fighters in their own right.
“It doesn’t matter. I have to find someone to kill by midnight, or I’m out of the crew. And you have nothing to do with this.”
“Superheroes don’t kill people,” Gretchen said.
“I’m not here to be a hero. I’m here to be a villain. I don’t...I don’t want to be, but that’s what they want, so I’m doing what they ask.”
“You’re infiltrating them.”
“I have to go.” She turned away again.
Vearden stepped towards her, but did not touch. Still, as a defense mechanism, she somehow set her arms and back on fire. She wasn’t at all fazed by it. “I guess we know why they call you Stuntwoman. Plus, Ghost Rider was taken.”
“Who?” Stuntwoman asked.
“Never mind him,” Gretchen said. “We can help. That’s why we’re here. In order to move up the ranks in this organization, you have to prove yourself by killing someone, right?”
“Correct,” Stuntwoman confirmed, just as confused about why she was confiding in them as anyone else Vearden had met during these challenges.
“Believe it or not,” Gretchen told her, removing her mask, “we’ve done this before. We have faked someone’s death. We can do that for you too.”
Vearden removed his mask as well. “We don’t know” He stopped himself from saying something like universe or dimension. You’ll have to find someone willing to go along with this plan, though. Do you know anyone like that?”
Taking a risk, Stuntwoman removed her mask to follow suit, and dropped the fake voice. “I have someone in mind. I actually think the crew will appreciate my...cruelty.”
“Then let’s get started,” Gretchen said. “We only have until midnight, yeah?”