Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: July 10, 2125

Mateo jolted and fell out of bed upon the sound of screaming. He tried to stand up, but his legs were so weak that he just ended up doing the wobbly...wobbly walk. Someone screamed again, and he screamed back, as if in reply to them, but really he just wasn’t in complete control of his own actions. He struggled to pull his shirt on, but knew that it would take him about a year to get his pants on, so he skipped it. He ran out of their little privacy hut. His intuition grabbed the first aid kit, entirely without his knowledge. As he passed through the doorway, something pulled him to his left. It was like he passed through some kind of charged force field. It didn’t hurt, but it certainly wasn’t normal. It reminded him of the air on the other island when he woke up after having slept in the Camry.
He ran down the beach to see a commotion. Leona was on her knees, hovered over someone on the sand. Even from fifty yards away, Mateo could see the distinctive color of blood. Angelita was off to the side, holding what appeared to be a baby. Everyone else was standing in a line off to the other side, acting like they weren’t capable of getting any closer than they were. “What seems to be the officer, problem?” Mateo asked. He knew that was wrong, but couldn’t help it. Never in his life had he drunk enough alcohol to mess up his sentences that much, but this must have been what it felt like. All that time doping to stay awake for three days straight had taken a huge toll on his body, and his mind. He need to snap himself out of it.
“Mateo!” Leona cried. “How did you cross the merge border? Oh my God, you have the med kit. Bring it here!”
Mateo kept wobble-jogging towards them, eventually dropping the kit at Vearden’s bloody head. He then kept going all the way towards the ocean. Something was seriously wrong with his head, because it looked like there were two oceans to choose from. He tried to head for the ocean on the right, but some invisible barrier was preventing him from doing so. He just slid along the wall until reaching the water. Once he was far enough into it, he fell forwards, letting the salt burn his eyes and tickle his skin. He let the rest of his breath out through another scream. Once that was done, he popped back out of the water and stood up. Wow, that actually worked. After a few seconds of dizziness, he was back in control of his movements. He still felt awful, but he knew that he could at least power through the next hour, which was more than enough to figure out what the hell was going on.
He walked back up the beach and dropped to his knees across from Leona, on the other side of Vearden. “What happened?”
Leona was desperately treating Vearden’s many wounds with nothing more than strands of her shirt. It would seem that every one of his body parts was injured in some way. Blood was spilling out of “multiple lacerations”, as they would say in a medical drama on television. “There’s some animal on this new island, very aggressive. We’ve been avoiding it, but Vearden got too close when he was looking for berries, and it attacked.”
Humor intact, Vearden laughed up a little blood and said, “I’m just glad I did it on a day that you’re here. Had this happened yesterday, I would have been screwed.”
Mateo took some dressing out of the kit and started working on Vearden’s leg. “Why isn’t anyone else helping?”
“They can’t,” Lita explained, holding what Mateo could now see was def a baby. Hers, presumably. “We’re on the other side of a merge border. Arcadia is preventing anyone else from crossing. We’re also lucky that she let you through.”
Mateo let his muscle memory keep wrapping the wound while he looked around. He could now see that the merge border was real, and that there really were two oceans, only one of which he had access to. The privacy hut was just on the original side, its side placed right up against it. Arcadia probably designed it that way so that Mateo would easily and quickly be able to cross over once he woke up.
They continued to treat him as they were able, but this wasn’t exactly a full medical bag, and they weren’t exactly medical professionals. They exhausted the majority of their resources, and could now do nothing but wait and hope. Vearden seemed to be okay for now. He was sleeping, complete with breath and a pulse. Lita kept an eye on him so that Mateo and Leona could wash up in the ocean.
“I’m sorry I’ve been asleep all this time. How long has it been?”
“It’s 2125,” Leona explained. “I’ve missed you. How was the Xearea expiation for you?”
“I see that. It wasn’t nearly as difficult for me; Memphis let me take naps. This was over the three days-slash-years before you, what were you doing all that time?”
Mateo told her the story of how he and Xearea drove over to the other island. He spoke of the supposed first immortal, who was bitter, and angry, and desperate for more immortality. He talked about how he accidentally drank some of that immortality water, and how there was a woman there who had already done Arcadia’s expiations before, and lost. “Who knows how many people could be out there, experiencing the same thing we are? She could be doing this all over the planet, or all over the universe!”
“Maybe, but we can’t think about that. Right now, we have three problems. Number one is Vearden’s health. Number two is the fact that we can’t cross back over to our friends and family. Number three, Lita practically has to raise her baby literally alone. Vearden helped during my interim year, but now he’s out of commission, and needs care himself.”
“We’ve done everything we can, especially you.”
“There’s something else,” Leona said, looking back to make sure no one was listening, like they were in a secret alliance on Survivor. “We are not on a different island.”
“We’re not?”
“No. I can’t tell you how long it’s been, but we are either in the past, or the future. I’m thinking past, because there is no evidence of the structures we built, but maybe there wouldn’t be. Some landmarks still exist, but others are different. Mateo, we could be separated from them by thousands, perhaps millions, of years. The gravity is the same, so we’re at least on the same planet.”
Mateo looked back as well. “And we don’t want to tell anyone else?”
She looked back again. They must have looked suspicious to everyone else, but they were probably assuming that Leona and Mateo knew something bad about Vearden’s condition. “Arcadia didn’t tell us, so I’m assuming it’s a problem. I don’t know when we’ll be able to cross back over, if ever. We may be stuck here until the end of the expiations...ya know, to really make this difficult for us?”
“Leona, I think they have a right to be worried about the same thing you are.”
“I dunno. This has already been hard enough on them, especially for Mario. I heard that most of the time, he sleeps against the barrier so he’s as closer to her as possible.” She pointed to a tiny structure on their side of the merge border, and near the treeline. “Vearden, Lita, and the baby sleep in there. The ground isn’t stable, so that’s as close as he could build it. Mario’s almost to the point of tearing his hair out.”
Knowing that made Mateo realize just what the alternate version of his father had missed out on. As a salmon, he had no control over his time travel, and was completely beholden to the desires of the mysterious powers that be. For some people, not being able to raise their child wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but it obviously was for Mario. He had never let on how much pain this caused him, but now Mateo was seeing his true colors. He was a father, and no one had the right to take that from him.
“Could you imagine not being able to hold your own child in your arms, even with her being only millimeters away?”
“We better get back. It doesn’t take this long to wash blood off of your hands.”
They walked back up, and checked on Vearden. He hadn’t gotten better in the last few minutes, but he at least hadn’t gotten worse either.
“Family meeting,” Lita announced.
They all sat in a semi-circle, three on one side of the merge border, six on the other. Vearden still lied in the middle. They had clearly done this many times before, perhaps every day.
“I’ll start,” Mario said. “Today has been a struggle. Things should be better. With Leona and Mateo back, Lita has even more people to take care of her, but with Vearden hurt—it just seems like the universe is against us. We just can’t catch a break. Lita and Brooke feel further away than they’ve ever been. I’m starting to doubt I’ll ever truly meet my child.”
“Thank you, Mario,” Aura said.
“Thank you, Mario,” everyone else said in unison, including Leona. It was like a twelve-step program, except that this wasn’t anyone’s fault. Except for Mateo. It was all his fault.
They continued to go around the circle, airing their grievances to each other. Some spoke more, some less. Mateo had nothing to say. He couldn’t. All he felt was guilt, and he didn’t want to talk about it.
“Mateo?” Mario asked. “How did you cross the merge border?”
“I don’t know, I just did. I had no idea it was even there. I just ran out and something forced me to my left. I guess I just figured it was my own imbalance. I was pretty out of it. My Xearea expiation depleted all my energy.
Mario looked up at the privacy hut. “It’s right in the middle. The border cuts through. Why the hell did I not think to try that before? I’ve been sleeping on the sand this whole time, but that’s our way in!” He jumped up and headed for the hut.
“Mario, I don’t know if this will work,” Aura tried to reason with him.
“So I don’t try?” Mario asked rhetorically.
“No, of course you try, but I don’t think this woman wants you on the other side. You need to be prepared—”
He interrupted her, “prepared for what! To never see hold my daughter? To never comfort her when she has an ear infection? To never swing her in the air like a helicopter? To never hold her arms up as she tries to walk? I’m not going to stay on this island doing nothing! I have to fight!” He continued towards the hut. Everyone followed, except for Leona who had to stay with Vearden.
Mario ran inside alone and started banging on the walls. “Why didn’t we build more windows on this thing?” he screamed. He then marched back out of the hut, still on the original side, mumbling, cursing, and yelling. He ran over to the main camp and retrieved a hammer, the only tool relevant to this situation. He ran back into the hut and started banging on, and tearing at the walls, again. Lita begged him to stop amidst little Brooke’s cries of fear, but Mario would have none of it. He continued swinging the hammer as hard as he could. It took a very long time, because that wasn’t exactly the best tool for the job, but he did finally break through. He reached through and tore a few more planks out so that he could fit half his body through. As he did so, his head banged against the merge barrier. It wasn’t perfectly straight. Arcadia had built it to turn and move around the hut. Mario grabbed the hammer again and tried to break through the barrier, but it was impossible. They had certainly tried that months ago. There was no way in.
“Mario, please stop, just stop,” Lita pleaded with him. “It’s not going to work. She doesn’t want you over here.”
He finally did stop, dropping the hammer to the ground, and pulling himself back into the hut. They could see him pacing around the room, trying to catch his breath, and still mumbling a little.
“It’ll be okay,” Lita went on. “We will find a way back to each other. I’m not giving up, but I won’t let you act this way around our child.”
Mario bit his lip and nodded in agreement, seemingly prepared to calm down. But he wasn’t. He flew into a rage. Through the hole, Mateo and Lita could see him zig and zag around the hut, slamming himself, and other objects, against the walls. By the time he was done, the structure was completely destroyed, like a tornado had come through. He then walked into the woods, and Mateo didn’t see him for the rest of the day.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Flurry: Time After Time (Part III)

“You are not serious,” Serkan said after Lincoln Rutherford filled them in on the plan. Dr. Andrews had to leave the room for a meeting.
“We are not doing that,” Ace agreed.
“It’s the only way,” Rutherford claimed.
“That isn’t even in the same league as the truth,” Serkan argued. “Your plan is so convoluted and random that it doesn’t make any sense. What, were you a Bond villain in another life?”
“No, I was a security guard,” Rutherford answered seriously. I’ve been through this before. When I did it, it took me years to gain the guy’s trust, but we don’t have that kind of time here, so you’ll have to get the executives to trust you in one fell swoop.”
They didn’t say anything.
“Yeah, my friend, Brian would say that I have complexity addiction, but trust me. I see the connections, I know this will work, but only you can do it.”
“So many things can go wrong,” Serkan said.
“And I don’t love what role I’m meant to play,” Ace complained.
“Ah, you’ll be fine,” Rutherford said, literally brushing away Ace’s fears with his fingers. “And so will you, Serkan.”
“How do you know?”
“Remember how I told you that I see time from a third-person perspective, like I’m just watching it on a screen?”
“Yeah, but your time power doesn’t work when I’m around, so you can’t know what’s going to happen in the future.”
“No, I can’t, but I’ve gotten good at predicting things just the same. I’ve planned this whole thing out, and I’ve accounted for every detail.”
“When did you do this?” Ace asked like a cop in an interrogation room. “You just walked in here.”
“I’ve been planning for you to do this for awhile, it’s just more pressing now. Why do you think I got you that job as a security guard?”
“One of your superiors had a criminal record that I took care of once when he applied for the job, so he owed me a favor. I made sure you were hired,” Rutherford explained.
“I can’t believe you did that to me. I’m just a chess piece for you, aren’t I? You can’t move me around like everyone else with your crazy movie-time perspective, but you can manipulate me in other ways.”
“That is sooo not true.” Rutherford seemed rather offended. “I’m here to help.”
“You’re here to help by having my boyfriend attack one of the executives, while I fend him off and save the executive’s life?” When Serkan put it like that, it sounded even dumber.
“He’ll be wearing a mask,” Rutherford said unconfidently.
Serkan wasn’t buying it. “Does this kind of thing ever work?”
“No, it doesn’t,” Ace said. “We’re not even going to try. We’ll find another way.”
Duke Andrews came back into the room. “Did you guys figure it out?”
“Yes,” Ace said, stone-faced. “We were just leaving.”
“Well, let me know if you need anything,” Andrews said to them sincerely as they were walking through the door.
Lincoln made no attempt to stop them.
“I’m glad we’re on the same page with this,” Ace said to Serkan when they were in the elevator.
“Of course,” Serkan said back. “Rutherford’s plan was stupid, but it wasn’t without its merits. It did give me an idea of how we can actually get into the building, but we can’t do it alone.”
“Who do we need?”
“About a year from now, I’m going on a very light jog when I see a struggle on the street ahead of me. Two men are fighting over something very small, and one of them finally takes it away from the other. He runs off as the other guy yells that he was just robbed. So, naturally, I use my speed to catch up with the thief and take the flashdrive from him, returning it to its owner.”
“Okay...” Ace replied, waiting for more.
“Turns out the victim was a member of the grammer gang, one of the best.”
“Serkie, I don’t want you getting involved with those gangs. They’re dangerous.”
“They’re not that kind of gang.”
“I know, but they’re still built on an us vs. them mentality. They don’t do anything for free, and if we ask them for help, they’ll want something in return.”
“That’s just capitalism, Ace. Nobody at all does anything thing for free.”
“Correct, but what people like this ask for is usually something you don’t wanna give, and/or can’t afford.”
“We’re kind of out of options here. We need in that building, and my warehouse security badge just won’t cut it. I need J-Cuken to upgrade it for me.”
“But you said yourself that you helped him in the future. He’ll have no idea who you are.”
“No. But I know who he is, and I know if we just talk to him, he’ll agree to help. Yeah, he’ll want something from us, but it’s gotta be worth it.”
Ace sighed and conceded, “okay. I’ll trust you.”
The grammer gang is different than other gangs. By their very nature, programmers don’t need to be in the room together to get their work done. They’re perfectly content communicating with each other remotely. This gives them an advantage over other gangs, which is especially good since their work is generally more illegal than others. They only ever convene IRL during new member initiation rituals, but even then, most watch it through video chat, or just don’t participate at all. If the authorities ever compile enough evidence on one of the hackers, they’ll only be able to get that one hacker, at best. And once they do move in on a target, all other members are alerted. They immediately trash their equipment, scrub whatever room they’ve been working in, and relocate to somewhere else. The only permanent bases they maintain are virtual, and fortunately, Serkan knew how to access their network.
Ace returned home with Serkan to watch as he got on their computer and logged onto the grammer chat system. Serkan sent nothing more than a ping to J-Cuken. After a few seconds, J-Cuken sent back a message with GPS coordinates to an abandoned mall.
“Serkan, I don’t like this,” Ace said. “What if he has a gun?”
“He won’t be here,” Serkan explained. “This is not where we meet, it’s just so that he can keep an eye on me while we discuss business using what he already knows to be a secure connection.”
“This is not true,” J-Cuken said, appearing from around the corner. He spoke in a Russian accent that was much thicker than Serkan remembered. It was probably just part of his mystique, and something that he ends up getting over sometime in the future.
“Whoa,” Serkan said, surprised. “I thought you didn’t like meeting IRL.”
“I do not, but you have sparked my curiosity. Once you contacted me on your completely vulnerable machine, I hacked into your webcam and ran facial recognition software. What I discovered was that you are literally in two places at once.” J-Cuken handed Serkan a tablet, revealing a feed from one of Agent Nanny Cam’s drones that were watching the younger Serkan training at Frenzy Headquarters.
“I can explain that.”
“You are time traveler,” J-Cuken suggested.
“Why is no one shocked by that!”
J-Cuken shrugged his shoulders. “I have seen stranger things.”
“Like what?”
“Like every season?”
Ace took control of the conversation. “We need to get into the Snowglobe Headquarters. Would you be able to help us with that?” He reached into Serkan’s pocket and took out Serkan’s employee badge. “Could you modify this so that it gets us to every room in every building?”
J-Cuken took the badge and looked it over a bit. “You still use badges?” He rudely squeezed the badge until it broke in half. He then threw it onto a stack of lumber that had been left on the dirty floor. “We don’t need no stinking badges. What do they pay you in, goats?”
“What the hell!”
“I will help you. The leaders of that company pissed me off many years ago, and I have been looking for a way to get them back. But tell me, what do you have against them?”
“They’re responsible for all this snow.”
J-Cuken stood on his tippy toes and looked down the hallway at a sliver of light coming from a boarded up window. “Does nature not do that on its own?”
Serkan laughed, “well, yes, but not in summer.”
“What is...summer?”
Serkan quickly directed J-Cuken’s tablet to Google Translate, pushing the little speaker icon so that it read aloud the Russian equivalent of summer.
J-Cuken was still confused. “What is...leto?”
Now Serkan was confused. “Something’s wrong here. You don’t act all that much like J-Cuken.”
“ got me.” J-Cuken placed both hands on his face and slowly started pulling it down. As his hands lowered, so did his eyes and ears, and then his nose, and also his mouth. He moved his features all around his head, revealing a hideous creature of some kind.
“Oh my God!” Serkan yelled.
But his boyfriend wasn’t all that scared. “What are you?” Ace just had to ask.
“My name is Effigy,” it answered...warping its face to look exactly like Ace.
“Oh my God!” Serkan was forced to yell again.
“Time after time,” the creature said, still in J-Cuken’s voice, “people have come and seen me. They all react the same way. With horror. Am I really that disgusting?”
“Well, you’re not exactly Melissa Benoist, I’ll tell ya that much,” Ace said
“This is fair,” Effigy said.
“I guess that explains how you knew Serkan was a time traveler.”
“It takes one to know one.”
“Could you...” Serkan tried to speak, but was faltering. “Could you...make yourself look like something else?
The creature blinked and transformed into Serkan.
“Something...else?” Ace requested.
“Like what?” Still with that heavy Russian accent. “A taco that shits ice cream? I do not do this for you. I prefer to remain in a form you are most uncomfortable with. And so, I will show you your worst nightmare.” It transformed into a man they didn’t recognize, which was nothing scary.
“Who is that?” Ace asked.
“I’m Mateo.”
They just shrugged.
“Mateo Matic?”
Still nothing.
“Oh, wrong timeline. Okay, whatever.” Still in Mateo’s form, he took the tablet back from Serkan and set it on the table. He then waved his hands around like a Vegas magician, using real magic to produce an extremely thin transparent plastic rectangle that looked like a cell phone. “Anyway, this will get you into any building, at any time, on any planet. It’s a more advanced version of the Escher Knob.”
“You’re still helping us?” Serkan asked, surprised that this monster would have any interest in helping them with anything.
“Snowglobe still pissed me off long ago. But honestly, if you’re upset about the weather, they’re not the ones you should be going after.”
“Who then?” Ace asked.
“One of their daughter companies is the one that would most likely actually be responsible for it. But don’t worry, I’m pissed off at them too.”
“Daughter company?”
“It’s called Snowglobe Collective. Their whole thing is owning subsidiaries. D’uh. Snowglobe itself doesn’t really do anything.”
“Then who does?”
“High Castle Corporation.”

Friday, April 28, 2017

Microstory 570: Dwyn Rinen Lands on Moon

Yesterday at 31:62 BCT, the first person to reach the moon planted the Buleoden flag next to Caterel Crater. Dwyn Rinen never grew up wanting to go to space. As a child, she watched as Koro Fallows first entered orbit around the planet, but did not intend to follow in her footsteps. Rinen was raised on a farm just outside of Pike City, ultimately becoming a crop duster for hers and neighboring families. Eventually, though, she decided to reapply her aerial skills as a commercial pilot, and was soon flying people all over the world. During her time off, she would go out and meet new people, learning their languages, and listening to their stories. She kept a vast collection of library cards from dozens of major cities, visiting them to study the subject for every book she could get her hands on. Before she knew it, she was one of the most knowledgeable uneducated people in the world. It was then that she was approached by a recruiter for the Buleoden-Hurshese Space Agency, the organization responsible for aeronautic studies all across the Central Euhsan continent. They were looking to increase their spaceflight capabilities, hoping to one day reach the moon. A lunar trip was planned for an octade and a half ago, but the BHSA ran out of funding, and the projects were put on hold. With the industry more robust, Rinen agreed to join the ranks of Fallows as the new class of aerospace heroes. She trained with her team for months, all the while continuing her extracurricular studies, and it paid off. Her first steps on the lunar surface were quickly followed by her partner, Bradford Jones. Together, they walked 1.3 sholmas to the edge of the largest crater on satellite, Caterel—named after the eleventh century astronomer who discovered it. Rinen and Jones will spend a total of 37 hours on the moon, collecting samples, and even planting sunweed (an extremophile plant, known for being able to survive in harsh conditions) before returning to the landing module and leaving the surface. It will take them 1.98 days to get back home, slightly longer than it took to get there, because they will be taking some time in orbit to capture more photographs, and waiting for their travel window. Stay tuned for updates on their progress.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Microstory 569: Brooks Clothing Opens in Kansas City

History has taught us that there are about a hundred people on this planet who display extraordinary abilities. That number is expected to rise very little as we continue through this new century. One such of these anomalies has already come and passed. In fact, Ormonda Brooks died before the fact that anomaly abilities exist was public knowledge. She was recruited by a sort of proto-Bellevue to help certain anomalies use their abilities without fear of one important thing that probably wouldn’t even cross most people’s minds. When she sewed clothes, a special oil was excreted from her hands that became intertwined with the fabric. The first person to wear this piece of clothing would also excrete oils from their skin, mixing with both the fabric, and Brooks’ oil. This would prompt a process wherein the clothes themselves would become imbued with that anomaly’s ability. No, this didn’t make sentient clothing, or even temporarily allow a second wearer to use that ability. All it did was prevent the original wearer’s ability from damaging the clothing. For instance, Serenity Theodo, who could phase through objects, would always have to concentrate in order to keep her clothing wrapped around her body while phasing through something else. Brooks’ oil, however, allows her to use her ability without worrying about this, so she can go about her day, thinking about more pressing issues. Ellen Snider’s body is designed unlike most others. She’s perfectly suited to fly around in the sky without frost building up, because her skin stops it from happening, but she couldn’t stop that from happening to her clothes. Brooks’ clothing changed all that for her.
One of the first things that certain qualified people within early Bellevue did was study people’s abilities, searching for ways of replicating them for common use. If Hosanna Katz can feel other people’s emotions, we should be able to understand his mind to create more effective therapy strategies, and yes, possibly interrogation techniques. Ling Guo helped engineer a universal translator, and a number of anomalies helped us crack interdimensional travel. Not surprisingly, early scientists realized how useful Ormonda Brooks’ ability could be; how many practical applications it could have. Paired with technology that mimicked Otto Vann’s ability to remove oxygen from the area, suddenly firefighting didn’t have to be all that dangerous. Law enforcement no longer need wear heavy body armor, because their standard uniform would be more than long as that uniform was modified with a synthetic version of Ormonda Brooks’ oil. A new store has opened in Kansas City, servicing all of North America, called Brooks Clothing. This clothing store does not carry the latest fashions, nor the cutest baby shoes. It is reserved exclusively for work uniforms. Law enforcement officers, firefighters, other first responders, steelworkers, and many others, will be able to order in bulk special clothing with a variety of uses. Electricians will be nearly impervious to electrical shocks, while general construction workers won’t be able to accidentally nail their hands to a door frame, as long as they wear their protective clothing. These uniforms are extremely regulated, requiring a long and complex application to even be considered as a customer. Since Bellevue still owns the patent of this advancements, there is also a long and complex process for becoming a legal vendor, of which there is currently none besides the Bellevue-backed Brooks Clothing location. Others may come in the future, and if so, could open up new markets, such as anti-sweat clothing for runners, or better swimsuits for competitive swimmers. For now, though, you’ll only be able to get your hands on this technology if your job field is considered to be one of the more dangerous, and your employer has been approved.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Microstory 568: Once Again No Winner For Seven Day Wonder

Eight days ago, seventeen contestants gathered on a little-used planet with a thin atmosphere in the Nuy system called Nuy o for an annual contest. The Seven Day Wonder competition has been going on for the last twenty-three years, with fewer and fewer people applying each year. For those readers who don’t know, Seven Day Wonder pits the best scientists from all over the galaxy. They are charged with terraforming a planet within only seven standard days. The prize for winning is automatic ownership of all planets involved, whether terraformation was at all successful or not, along with a multitude of new Arkeizen thralls. As a bonus, the winner is allowed to employ all losers as halfrthralls (thralls with better living conditions, servitude duration limits, other advantages) with whatever term stipulations they would like. In more than two decades, hundreds of people have attempted to win this competition, and not one has won so far. All contestants have failed to terraform their planet, and they have all become halfrthralls for jarls around Fostea. The rules for the competition are extensive and complicated, but here are the basics. Contestants are not expected to build a full eden, complete with lush gardens and vibrant ecosystems. They are expected only to generate a magnetosphere, and an atmosphere, and show promise for complex life. Terraforming, as a process, was discovered centuries ago, but it’s only relatively recently that it has become possible to complete in a matter of days. Some yet believe that seven days is an impossible goal, however, and shun this competition as nothing but a means of artificially triggering a supply of halfrthralls for the galaxy’s wealthiest. The leaders of the competition deny all such claims, and treat any serious accusations as legal threats to personal and organizational reputation. Still, despite the organization’s claims that seven-day terraforming is physically possible, no one has ever even come close to winning. Perhaps next time. At least then there will likely be even fewer competitors than in years past.