Monday, July 31, 2017

Microstory 636: Capture the Wandering Bellcone

About thirteen years ago, a previously unseen animal appeared on a random planet called Iusel. A ship of soldiers of fortune touched down to hunt for any useful resources, of which they found little. As they were in the middle of loading the cargo hold with the few things they found, a small animal crawled up the ramp as if it belonged there. It found a spot it desired against the bulkhead, and just sat there, waiting for the humans to take off. When they reopened the doors on the Hiereune dock, the animal walked right back out, apparently having reached its destination. It has been wandering the galaxy ever since, stopping only to casually look for food, explore, or transfer vessels. It has become a bit of a staple of the Fostean galaxy, never causing any problems. A survey ship later traveled to its world of origin, and found no evidence than any other animal of its kind ever existed. They did, however, discover a secret laboratory built into the side of a canyon. Not much of the original research was there, but they did find some information. The unnamed scientist based out of there genetically engineered the creature not long before it was found. She designed it as a gift to an also unnamed individual, the identity of which does not go beyond the fact that he is an Earthan. People of Earth often assign themselves, or each other, what they call spirit animals, a practice our ancestors on the old worlds sometimes enjoyed as well. Apparently this Earthan boy was assigned a mythical animal that was a cross between a bovine called a bull, and a lagomorph called a coney. For the last decade, no one thought much of this.
The creature grew up, and became much larger, but continued to remain pleasant and innocuous, unless threatened. A few people periodically attempted to trap or lure it, for various ends, but were always unsuccessful. It never let itself be in a situation where it couldn’t hop away, or rampage through a barrier. It was only recently when a Lightseer noticed that this must be the Bellcone of the taikon, even though it wouldn’t have existed at the time the Book was written. This was unverifiable, but linguistically possible, and eventually, the idea caught on. Since that time, there have been more attempts to capture the Bellcone, though not by true Lightseers, who all know that the fulfillment of any one taikon cannot happen until the completion of its predecessor. For every one of these hunting parties, however, there is a separate party in a position to protect and assist the Bellcone, and let it travel to its next world. However, following the ascension of the resurrected Sotiren Zahir as First Judge, the capture of the Bellcone was unavoidable. Presumably sensing this danger, the Bellcone instinctively changed tactics. It happened to be on Protanr at the time, and there it remained, never getting on any ship where it could be cornered. As it turned out, it’s one of the fastest, strongest, and most durable animals recorded. It always exerted very little energy evading capture during other attempts, but now it wasn’t taking any chances with these taikon attempts. Dozens of people were injured, though none was killed, like it knew that it didn’t want to cross that line. They would have used technology to accomplish their goals, but the Book of Light specifically demands that the Bellcone be captured by hand. The physically strongest Lightseers were brought in from all corners of the galaxy, and after hours of chasing and fighting, the Bellcone was pinned down. It submitted and allowed itself to be placed in a cage. The primary driving force in this feat would go on to be even more important.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: July 23, 2138

Last year, Arcadia warned Mateo and Leona that they would be better off getting all their sleep in that evening, because the expiation would start immediately. Of course, they heeded her advice, and were in bed before the sun set.
The next day, a little after midnight, they found themselves having been moved. The two of them were now waking up in separate jail cells. There was a third cell near them, but it was completely dark inside. Not even the starlight was shining through. The couple could see each other by torchlight.
“Mateo,” Leona said to him.
What?
“Mateo,” she pressed, a little louder.
I’m here! I don’t understand what we’re supposed to do.
“Mateo! I can’t hear you!”
“Hello?!” Darko’s voice came from the third cell.
Darko?
“What is it?” Leona asked of Mateo. If she couldn’t hear, then she probably had no idea that Darko was with them.
“Leona? Where are you? I can’t see anything.”
She’s right here, but she can’t hear anything.
“Leona, hello?” Darko asked. “It’s completely dark in here, but I can feel engravings on the back wall. They’re numbers. I think it’s a combination.”
Okay, read them to me!
“Did you hear me, Leona!” Darko asked.
I heard you, Darko. Leona can’t hear anything.
“Mateo, what’s going on!” Leona asked, upset.
“Mateo’s here?” Darko asked. “Why isn’t he saying anything?”
What the hell are you talking about? I’ve been trying to talk to you! Okay, Mateo needed to figure this out. There was a huge gap in the communication, and it didn’t make any sense. Leona couldn’t hear, and Darko couldn’t see. This much was obvious, but every time Leona said something, Darko would react to it. Yet neither of them were reacting to what Mateo was saying. Maybe he wasn’t saying anything at all. Leona couldn’t hear, and Darko couldn’t see. That just left...speaking. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. They were each left with a disadvantage. Great, how were they going to get through this one?
“Leona, what’s happening?” Darko yelled after too long in silence.
He would have to play charades with her if anything was going to get done. He reached his arms through the bars, and excitedly pointed towards the third cell, while maintaining eye contact with Leona. He then mouthed the word speak, and waved his hand from his chin to mimic sound coming out of his mouth.
“What am I supposed to say?” Leona asked.
Mateo just gave her the thumbs up, because that was good enough for now.
“You don’t need to say anything,” Darko answered. “I think I’ve figured out the numbers. Should I read them out to you?”
Mateo perked up, waved his hand from his chin again, and mouthed the word yes.
Leona turned her head slightly to the side, a little unsure that she was understanding him right. “Yes!”
“Okay,” Darko began.
Mateo hastily reached through the bars and presented Leona with his combination lock, of which she had none.
Leona nodded that she understood.
Mateo pointed towards Darko.
As Darko read each number out loud, Mateo tried to hold up his fingers so that Leona could see. “Eleven-twenty-four-forty-two-fifty-six-eighty-three!”
Shit! He didn’t have eleven fingers, let alone eighty-three. How could he indicate which two digits belonged in a pair? Not only that, but Mateo wasn’t great with numbers, and had already forgotten most of them. He pointed towards Darko again, and waved his hand in a circle.
“Again,” she requested.
“Okay!” Darko said. “Eleven-twenty-four-forty-two-fifty-six-eighty-three!”
Mateo closed his eyes and tapped the air with his finger, showing that he was doing his best to memorize the numbers. Once he felt he had, he reopened his eyes and looked back to Leona. He stuck one hand through the bars and showed one finger. Then he stuck his other hand out with a second finger.
“One-one,” Leona said out loud.
“No, eleven!” Darko corrected.
Mateo quickly pulled his fingers close together, so that she could get the right idea.
“Eleven,” she said.
“Right, can you not hear me very well?”
Five fingers on his right hand, and three on his left.
“Eight.”
“No,” Darko whined. “Eighty-three.”
Three on his left hand.
“Three.”
Mateo could hear Darko sigh as he was clapping his hands together
“Eighty-three? Okay, understood.”
Mateo nodded. They then continued this procedure until she had all the numbers in her own head. It got easier over time. After they were done, Mateo placed his hands on his combination lock, which he couldn’t actually see from this side of the bars.
“Okay,” she said to him. “We can do this.”
“We can do what?” Darko asked, literally in the dark as to what was going on.
Mateo pointed towards him, then swept his fingers in the air dismissively.
Leona was getting even better at understanding his meanings. “Mateo and I are working on it.”
“Oh, so he is here?”
Mateo placed his hands back in position and waited for Leona. She reached out as well and slowly moved her hands as he was meant to, holding up the international signal for stop when it was time to turn it the other way. Finally, they reached the last number. He heard a click, and some pressure release. As soon as he opened his gate, they were all three apported to a windowless room.
“Can you hear me now?” he asked.
“Oh my God, yes I can,” she replied. “That was infuriating, and frightening.”
“Have we been here the whole time?” Darko asked.
Arcadia’s voice suddenly rang out from the speakers in the corners, “congratulations, players, you successfully completed your first challenge. Aldona’s brother, Nestor was fascinated by this fad called escape rooms. Starting in the early 21st century, these rooms adapted similar video game scenarios to the real world, adding a level of excitement and urgency never experienced before. Over time, these adventures became more elaborate and expansive. Years after the first one appeared, people were no longer tasked with breaking out of a single room, but an entire building. Decades later, these buildings would grow to enormous proportions, allowing contestants time to eat and sleep while still on the clock, which was now measured in days, rather than minutes or hours. Advances in automation and access to resources were providing people with more free time, and less of an obligation to work. They were now free to entertain themselves in new ways. But we have an advantage over the designer of those petty escape buildings that they could only dream of. We have control over time and space. The possibilities are quite literally endless. You won’t be trying to escape a room, so much as you’ll be seeking the prize at the end of the rainbow. Your mission is to break out of this place, and all others after it, until you find the one where your friends live.”
And so that was what they did. They continued questing through room after room, but it wasn’t all there was to it. They had to walk up 328 flights of stairs to get to the top floor of something called an arcological megastructure. They had to solve a critical failure on a space station before life support ran out. In a real escape room, this would be a simulation, but Leona made sure they knew, if they didn’t actually fix this very real problem, they would really, actually, die on the station. After that, they just had to get to the other side of the Grand Canyon, survive the battleground during a short skirmish between two warring nations on an alien planet, and complete a continental scavenger hunt against contestants who were doing it for mere fun. They met up with Aura, Mario, and Lincoln after walking upstream for a couple miles in a creek, thinking that their game was finally over. It wasn’t, though, because then all six of them were thrust into the next challenge together.
Through the fatigue, Mateo remembered that he had asked Arcadia to see Horace and Paige again, to make sure that they were okay. He now knew that these tasks were the means to that end. Unfortunately, they never knew how much further they had to go, or if they would even get through everything. All in all, this was the most taxing and dangerous of the Aldona expiations. It might have been fun if it had last, maybe, a quarter of the time. But the full day just kind of ruined the whole thing. By now, even if they managed to pass it, they wouldn’t have much time with Horace and Paige. As happy as he was for them to have gotten off the island, and away from the expiations, he missed them both. Missing Horace Reaver. Who would’ve thought?
After helping solve the crime at a murder mystery dinner, they were apported to another windowless room. Arcadia’s voice returned, “wow, ya know, you did those first ones pretty well, but then you started slipping. I guess I underestimated how tiring this would make you.”
“Yeah,” Mateo said, barely able to think straight. “You think so?”
“Well, there’s only one left, so you can all calm down. This is a standard room. You have one hour to break out of it. I’ll be here to give you clues, if you need them. Each additional clue beyond three will cost you time, though. If it takes you longer than seventy-five minutes, well...if you look at your watches, you know what happens then.”
They did all know what would happen then. That was the moment of Mateo and Leona’s jump to the future. If they didn’t get through this, they would fail, and Aldona’s brother, Nestor would be lost forever. Things started getting bad pretty quickly. They misunderstood what the most important information on the newspaper clippings was. It took them a long time to figure out the right sequence of flipping the light switches on and off. And they failed to recognize one of the panels on the wall to be part of the game, and not just as a function of the room itself. Arcadia had to give them five clues altogether, providing them with only five minutes to win.
Mateo wandered around, looking for anything they didn’t see before. Darko took the metal bar they used to magnetically retrieve a key down a tube, and used it to start prying one of the chairs bolted to the floor. Lincoln was asleep in the corner from having been the one to last the longest in the stamina challenge earlier that day. Leona and Mario were trying to decipher a combination to a safe, but were having trouble reading Aura’s chicken scratch.
“Got it!” Darko cried. They had a minute left.
This woke Lincoln up from whatever dream he was having. “Gangs aren’t illegal; just the crimes they usually commit!”
“Is there something under there?” Aura asked.
“No, of course not,” Darko answered, wrenching the fourth leg from the floor. “This is not part of the game. Dad, come help me!”
Mario came over, and lifted one side, though he asked, “what are we doing with this?”
“Fast as you can, on three,” Darko said, leading them over to the door.
“You can’t do it,” Leona warned them, “if it’s not part of the game.”
“We need to get through that door,” Mateo said. “This is the only way we have.” He got behind the chair and prepared to help.
“One,” Darko said, swinging it back, and then forward.
“Two,” Mario said as they swung it a second time.
“Three!” they all three hollered in unison, then smashed the chair against the door. It moved, but not enough.
They tried again.
“thirty seconds,” Aura notified.
They tried again.
And again.
And again.
“Seventeen seconds!”
“The chair is too big,” Mateo complained.
“You need to focus the force on its weakest point,” Leona explained reluctantly. “Right at the door knob.”
“Get that fucking chair out of my way!” Mateo ordered.
Mario and Darko complied.
Once they were out of his path, Mateo stepped back, and slammed his shoulder against the door.
“Mateo, stop!” Leona begged.
Mateo hit the door again.
“Five seconds!”
In one last desperate attempt, Mateo pushed himself into the blood rampage, which was an adrenaline flowing technique he had learned from Vearden. He ran straight for the door as fast as he could, with as much power as he could muster. The lock broke, sending him flying through the opening. He caught a glimpse of Horace and Paige’s faces before landing on the sand.
“Did we win?” Serif asked, helping Mateo up. “Did we get through it in time?”
“We’re back on the island,” Mateo said. “I think it’s next year, and I don’t think we won, no.”
Leona walked over from behind them and sized Serif up. “Who the fuck are you?”

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Puzzle of Escher Bradley: Chapter Three

When a detective hits a roadblock, something they often do is go back to the beginning. They start again where they started before, maybe a little further back, and try again. They’re hoping seeing it from a slightly more ag├Ęd perspective will shed some light on whatever they couldn’t see before. I’m doing that here, but not because I think I missed a clue, but because maybe I literally couldn’t see it before. Ideally, Escher would be sitting in his new bedroom, unable to interact with people in the real world. Then I could get him back and send him home. Unfortunately he’s not there, and it doesn’t look like the room is any different from this side of whatever separates these two worlds. That’s insane. Just yesterday, my life was normal. I had a good job, in a reasonable town. I drank tea in the mornings, and watched TV at night. I went to the gym for fifteen minutes every couple weeks, or so, or ten. I liked The A-Team, cute animal calendars, and hiking. I didn’t read or watch much science fiction, but now I’m walking through what I guess one would call another dimension. It’s only been five minutes, and this already feels like the new normal, though. I know I should be freaking out right now, but this place makes me feel at ease. It’s almost like I belong here; like it’s home.
I shake off my internal monologue and start trying to do some real police work. I wave my hands through some of the objects in the room. I’m not trying to touch them, because I know I can’t, but what if there’s something here? What if there’s something in here that’s different than everything, that straddles the worlds as I do? I don’t think I have that much chance, but I have to give it a shot, and in the end, it was a waste of time. There’s nothing special about the Bradley family’s new house. No, it’s all about that other house. My only choice is to go back, and hope my luck changes.
As I’m walking across the lawn, I notice something strange. I see a man who appears to be jogging down the street. He’s moving in slow-motion, it just doesn’t look right. I look to the Bradley couple. They’ve moved since I last saw them, but not all that much. I look up and see a bird, flapping its wings so slowly that I almost die of boredom waiting for it to happen. This guy, though...this guy. Even at top speed, no human should be able to move that fast. Sure, it’s turtle slow from my perspective, but if I were in the real world, he would surely be nothing more than a blur. A person who could run as fast as The Flash wouldn’t be the first unexplainable thing I’ve seen today, but I’m not sure I’m comfortable just adding it to the pile. What’s next? Someone who can reverse their own age?
As fast as time is moving in my dimension, I still have a little trouble keeping up with the jogger, and I almost think he’s getting faster. I try to get his attention, but nothing works. My hand passes through his shoulder, which feels different than with other things, but not dramatically so. I know he’s connected to Escher’s disappearance, in some way, but there’s nothing I can do about it. He apparently can’t see me in this dimension, but I won’t be able to catch up to him if I go back to his. Then I realize I’m not certain I’ll ever be able to go back at all. Maybe I’m trapped here. Maybe this is just how I live now. “Goddammit!” I yell in the jogger’s face, frustrated by my own inability to figure out what I’m doing, and his inability to explain himself. This he reacts to. At least I think he does, but it’s so hard to tell. His right eye closes, holds a little longer than a blink, and then opens again...like a wink. He also begins smiling. I was looking right at him at the time, so it could be a coincidence, or it could be incredibly significant. He makes no further indication that he may know I’m there, and quickly speeds off. He somehow manages to run even faster than he was before, and he’s gone before I can catch my breath. I should probably start going to the gym a few times a week, and for thirty minutes.
I stare at the jogger’s wake for a minute, preparing myself to turn around and get back to the investigation. Before I can, I see something else move out of the corner of my eye. A little boy is walking up the cross street, looking around like he’s lost. I breathe a sigh of relief. I mean, he looks a little younger than his father said he was, but some people are like that, right? Though he’s a bit too far away right now for me to be certain anyway. He’s also wearing pajamas, which is weird, but I’ll take it. As long as we can find a way back to where we belong, we’re gonna be okay.
“Escher!” I call down to him, as I start jogging towards him.
The boy ignores me. Maybe he’s not really in this dimension, but is also a speedster.
“Escher!” I call again, drawing closer. “I’ve been looking for you.”
The boy seems confused. “Can you see me?” he asks.
I nod. “Yes. I’m here to take you home.”
“I don’t know how to get out of here.”
“I think I do,” I say, just hoping that magic elevator still works, and works going down. “My name is Detective Kallias Bran,” I tell him, showing my badge so he knows to trust me. I open my hand out from my hip, let him take it, and lead him back towards home. “Your parents are worried sick about you.”
“They are?” he asks.
“Why, of course they are. Why wouldn’t they be?”
“Wull...” he begins. “They usually don’t even notice when I’m gone.”
So he’s disappeared before? But they apparently just moved to the neighborhood. And the portal thing seems to be in the invisible house. If this isn’t the first time, then it could be that it’s just something he can do, or is done to him. Maybe the house itself is a product of his own power, which he does not yet understand. But why does his father remember him this time? What exactly has changed? The real question—the only one worth asking—is what the hell is going on here? These questions may or may not be answered once we get back to the real world, but if not, that’s okay. The important thing is that the family is reunited.
When we make it back to his block, I point to his near-frozen parents and smile. “See? Your parents have been waiting for you to come home?”
The boy looks around. Oh no, please don’t tell me people in this dimension also can’t see certain things in the other one. “Who?” he asks.
“Your parents,” I say. “See them standing on the lawn? They only look like they’re moving slow, but it’s my hypothesis that we’re just moving really fast.”
“Those aren’t my parents.”
“What?”
“I don’t know who they are, they’re not my parents.”
I stop and squat down to his eye level. “What’s your name.”
He looks like he’s on the verge of tears. “Tauno. Tauno Nyland.”
This isn’t the kid I’m looking for. I stand up and contemplate the house, the block, the neighborhood, and then the entire city. And then I start thinking about the planet, and the whole universe. How many other children like these two have fallen into other dimensions, and literally forgotten about by the people who are supposed to love them most? This investigation is nowhere near over, but either way, I have to take the child I have with me back home to his own family. Then it’s back to looking for Escher Bradley...and any others.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Microstory 635: Justice of the Free

Perhaps one of the most controversial aspects of our great galaxy is our justice system. Or rather our lack there of. Our ancestors decided long before Fostea was seeded that they didn’t want to be told what to do. Too long had they lived under the boot of the establishment, which regulated everything from business to health. Honestly, the bureaucratic nonsense sounds exhausting, and many modern-day Fosteans can’t understand how anyone lived like that. Still, and this may be an unpopular opinion, a lot can go wrong when anyone is free to do whatever they want. Though, most would argue that no one is truly free as long as they are opposed by others. Everyone suffers consequences for their actions, but those in power always exercise more autonomy and discretion. You have every right to cause harm to someone else, for whatever reason. What you must also remember, then, is that they too carry with them this same privilege. Up until now, however, these adjudications were processed on an ad hoc and individual basis. People enacted their revenge against those who had somehow wronged them, only if they had the power to do so. No single body has ever been responsible for such a thing, but Lightseers see things a little differently. We too believe in natural—rather than arbitrary—justice, but we believe that only the Light of Truth has the right to make these decisions. Since light obviously can’t presently vocalize its thoughts on any given matter, we lowly humans take the next best thing; Sacred Savior Sotiren Zahir. The taikon prophesies that he will take his place as First Judge, creating a new institution of justice, called The Court of Light. It will be signed to bring justice upon all who are free that he believes should not be. And he will hold this position until such time when the Light of Truth can manifest itself in a more comprehensible form.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Microstory 634: Sores Upon the Disloyal

One thing I’ve not mentioned before is the unfortunate presence of The Blind Ones. Once a sect of Lightseed, these people broke away from our religion to form their own. At first they only believed themselves to be unworthy of The Sacred Light. But then their terrible thoughts formed a tumor, and became cancerous. We needed to remove them from our ranks, and so they were exiled. We thought they would eventually destroy themselves, but they have managed to survive in the sludge of their own twisted beliefs. The Blind Ones do not call themselves that for pure metaphorical reasons. Their system is based on a series of levels. Rising up requires becoming more devoted to their lies. They literally hide themselves away from light. In fact, they’re based out of a tidally locked planet—not unlike Oirpelne—called Derkaz, living primarily on the darker side of the terminator line. These areas are dark enough to shroud the environment, but also warm enough to survive. The concept is to rid oneself of light sources little by little, until reaching the ultimate darkness: actual blindness. They undergo a surgery that removes their eyes from their bodies, so that they will never be able to see again. It is then that they can travel beyond Derkaz to recruit others. Of course, this technique is amazingly inefficient, causing their numbers to have plateaued about a century after their beginnings. They are angry and bitter about our great truth being discovered by more and more people each day. They consider themselves to be of the one true religion, even though we know that honor to be ours. It is for this reason, however, that they are convinced that many artifacts from our past also belong to them, including the Bow and Crown of Bertok. In retaliation for what they think to be the theft of these items, a group of Blind Ones attacked one of our transport ships, ultimately killing everyone inside. What they didn’t realize was that this ship was also carrying a particularly nasty virus that they accidentally released upon themselves. The disease didn’t manifest itself until the attackers had returned to Derkaz, spreading it across nearly their entire population. Most Blind Ones broke out in festering sores within two days. They didn’t die, but their spirits have faded, and they are no longer a threat to the Light.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Microstory 633: Steal the Bow and Crown of Bertok

In the explanation for a later taikon, we’ll get into more detail about what kind of person Eido Bertok was, and how he impacted the cause. One thing to understand about the situation, however, is that there is a difference between Fosteans and Lightseers. Not everyone in this galaxy believes in The Light, even though we were all saved by it. We were all brought here out of our hellish prison in the Lactean galaxy, and we all benefit from what our new home has to offer. We don’t really understand why not everyone reveres our great founder as much as we do, but maybe that’s part of it. Maybe it’s our responsibility to remind these nonbelievers of that light of truth, and once we do, we’ll find some kind of paradise of freedom. Though no exact endgame to these taikon is given anywhere in the Book of Light, many suspect that paradise of freedom to be the goal. Even though not everyone is a Lightseer, there are those who appreciate our beginnings on a more historical and academic level. They admire Sotiren Zahir, even whilst ignoring his sanctity, and strive to learn from his teachings in other ways. It was one group of these people that managed to create a museum of ancient relics from those early times. Two of these artifacts once belonged to Eido Bertok. There are many representations of Bertok in Fostean art, but nearly all of them depict him with his signature bow and crown. Though he was not as involved in the military efforts as Eido Ivanka, he was a bit of a fashion guru. He wore an ornate crown, and carried an empty bow with him wherever he went, no matter the occasion. They were part of him; extensions of his self. Taking them away would be like removing someone’s soul. It simply cannot be done without inflicting permanent damage. Upon Bertok’s death, his descendants kept them on display in their Clan Hall for decades. Due to a terrible turn of events involving a disgraced and nearly exiled family member, and a clerical error, these items were eventually passed into the Museum of Galactic History on Merek. They have been sitting there, collecting proverbial dust, ever since. Until now. Under orders of Eido Ivanka, the museum was raided; the bow and crown retrieved, along with a few other important artifacts that belong in the hands of true Lightseers. Now they sit behind locked doors at a secret location, waited to be bequested to Bertok’s replacement.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Microstory 632: Beginning of the Conquest

With young Vrasim Kappel fully capable of taking over the responsibility of integrating the Dodulkori refugees into the greater galaxy on the Lightseed front, Eido Ivanka was free to move on to more pressing matters. The Book of Light, in main text passages, speaks of someone known only as The Instigator. This person, and this person alone, is capable of deliberately starting the process of a taikon without necessarily any provocation. The Book does not say who this person is, or how they will show themselves, but only that they will become apparent over time. Eido Ivanka, after having been freed from her silent prison in the Anter system, took this role automatically. It is unknown if she knew she was meant to be the Instigator, or if she was just following her instincts, and turned out to fit the bill. While most taikon should be discovered incidentally, rather than started, there are a few taikon that require this instigation. One of these is in regards to the beginning of the conquest. Unlike the twelfth taikon, the thirty-second was never lost, but it has remained hidden to anyone who might be at risk of revealing its secrets to unfitting nonbelievers. It speaks in great depth of what must happen in order for the Lightseers to take over the galaxy...and quash all rivals. Though all Lightseers are aware of its existence, only the elite; the Highlightseers, are ever given the full text. Otherwise, the enemy would know all our plans for domination, and our tactics would be useless. It is these Highlightseers, along with Ivanka, who are responsible for carrying out the instructions for the grand conquest. The first step is a declaration of war for all to hear. The second...is to steal back the bow and crown of Eido Bertok. His replacement is going to need them later.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Microstory 631: A Child Made Wise

Vrasim Kappel was a refugee of the Dodulko War. Throughout his whole, yet short, life, he had known nothing but war. The foxhole he and his family lived in was in such a dangerous part of the world, that the only times they ever left was to forage for food, of which there was little. No one in his family had been educated, and since they were nowhere near a safe school, neither was Vrasim. He didn’t have very much knowledge, he wasn’t particularly intelligent, and he hadn’t accumulated any life experience. He was, in all meanings of the term, a child. So people were shocked when he suddenly became a leader to his people. It started out small, as he would give unsolicited advice to people nearby who were trying to navigate their new lives in civilization. They had all spent so much time in their little sheltered bubble, that they didn’t understand how things were meant to work in the galaxy at large. No one really had any money; they had always just stolen what they needed, so they needed someone to teach them the basic concept of economics. They didn’t have very advanced technology, or sometimes even running water. Somehow, Vrasim Kappel automatically knew how these things worked. He helped his fellow Dodulkori figure out things that most people in the galaxy take for granted. And he did it without having been taught these things himself. They called it a miracle, we Lightseers call it the fulfillment of a taikon. A child, through no logical course of action, has been made wise. Vrasim would later go on to become the primary voice of his people, and of those who once opposed them. Ye, as the light shines upon us, it shines upon others. All who accept this light, will see.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: July 22, 2137

There were only seven of them now. Well...eight, if you counted Dar’cy, but she was only sixteen months old. Marcy didn’t necessarily count since she wasn’t part of the original group, and her expiation was already complete. Mateo didn’t really even count either, because he certainly wouldn’t have to do an expiation for himself. At least he assumed he wouldn’t. Maybe the last one would be a sudden death round where he had to stop himself from being taken out of time. After today and tomorrow, there should only be five expiations left. Hopefully only four, though, since he had always really hoped Arcadia would not go so far as to take Leona from him. It wasn’t really clear, though, and he didn’t want to put any ideas in her head.
“My grandfather,” Marcy began as they were eating breakfast, “was a runner, along with his later wife, Agent. While she went on to produce the web broadcast for the City Frenzy, he kept running it. And he never stopped. Everyone who had tried that crazy race kind of had their own thing. Some were also dancers, while others were into martial arts. Some did parkour, while most were just trying to get through it as fast as possible. There were even a few walkers, who made the organization a lot of money, because people kept watching long after the majority of the racers were done. Alexi Lanka was different, though. He had a lot of anger, from his upbringing, from some trauma, and likely some neurological imbalances. Running gave him a way to clear out his energy, so he didn’t have enough left over to do something he regretted. When he hurt his leg in the last competition Kansas City ever did, his family feared for his temperament. If he couldn’t run, what would he do with himself? How would he behave now?
“Well, things ended up better than anyone thought. His physical therapist happened to enjoy gardening in her freetime. She decided to sort of step outside her purview, and get him into it as well, even though he hadn’t shown any particular interest in something like that before. As it turned out, gardening was a million times better at handling Alexi’s anger than any amount of exercise ever could. He took to it passionately, and no matter what he did with his life, it had to do with plantlife. He worked at an arboretum, and on a farm, and at a nursery, and all kinds of other places. During his time in between jobs, he even made frequent trips to South America to help protect the dwindling rainforests.”
“I guess we’ll be gardening then,” Aura said.
“Yes,” Mario agreed, “but under what exact circumstances?”
“She’ll probably force us to plant poison ivy, hemlock, and other horrible things,” Darko presumed.
“Nothing so ridiculous,” Arcadia explained, having been there for God knows how long. “You’ll just be doing what he did.” She lifted her bag from behind the log and set it in between her legs. “I have some seeds for you, and you are going to plant them. Then I’m going to bring someone in who can adjust the speed of time, so the plants grow faster.”
“You can’t just do that yourself?” Mateo asked.
“I cannot,” Arcadia answered. “I’m immortal, I can teleport, and I can manipulate memories. That’s it.”
“But you’ve done so much more than that. You created that merge point which Leona and Brooke got stuck on the other side of.”
“That wasn’t me. Whenever I need something like that done, I extract someone to do it for me. Ya know, I guess I can do that too. Immortal, teleporter, memory manipulator...time extractor.”
Maybe Mateo could use this knowledge against her one day. She wasn’t acting like she had slipped up by telling him, but that she couldn’t see it becoming a problem for her. Maybe it never would.
Arcadia continued, “Mateo, you remember after the Gilbert expiation, when we briefly met in that other dimension?”
Oh, he hadn’t told anyone about. They had made a pact to never talk about the expiation when they all went back in time in other people’s bodies, and changed their own histories. “Uh...y—yeah,” he stuttered.
“Oh, right, that was meant to be a secret. Sorry.” She seemed a little sorry. “Well, to those of you who’ve never been there, we went to The Garden Dimension. This is where we keep samples of every plant that has ever existed, in any reality. Time travel can often have an unnoticed effect on biological evolution, and a few people don’t really like that part of it, so they protect these specimens.” She presented a few random seed pouches from her bag. “I asked the Horticulturalists to come and give you a workshop on a few of the more unusual breeds that don’t exist anymore, but they declined.”
Darko scoffed. “They declined? When has that ever stopped you.”
“Oh, all the time,” Arcadia told him. “I rarely force people to do anything. From what you see, I’m a big control freak one hundred perfect of the time, but that’s not who I am normally. These expiations are important to me, but they do not define me. This is only the third time I’ve done them.”
Mateo believed that, but didn’t say it out loud. “So those seeds are from that other dimension?”
“Yes,” Arcadia said, slapping her knees and standing up. “We’re gonna see how they fair on a different planet.” She nudged that bag with her foot. “Choose whichever ones you want, and where you want to plant them. There are some documents in here too, which give you a rundown of what plants can survive next to which others. You wouldn’t want a black kudzu right next to a North American minkle, would you? Am I right? Up top.” She held her palm in the air, and she wasn’t going to let them go until someone didn’t leave her hanging.
Mateo broke down, as it was painful to watch her frozen there—dumbfaced—and gave her a pity highfive.
These expiations were actually kind of fun, and people were seemingly rather into it. It might not just have been that they were a little lighter; not so intense, but also that they had more of an obligation to help someone who wasn’t one of them. Fail your family, then okay, they’ll forgive you. But if you fail a stranger who who was trusting you...that  can hurt. People crowded around the duffel bag, and started looking through the seed pouches, all of which came with example photos. Leona immediately snatched up the descriptions, charts, and graphs that explained just what the plants were, how they needed to be tended to, and what problems could arise if they were too close to others. The two she found most interesting had actually developed a symbiotic relationship between them. The cotton fandin would carry the seeds of the lakwheat, along with its own, through the wind. In return, the lakwheat’s thorns would protect the cotton fandin from certain animals that eat it, but don’t propagate it. Of course, those two needed to be planted near each other, which Marcy was more than happy to do.
A few hours later, everyone was really happy with what they had created. They now had a large dedicated garden, probably about the size of a three school buses next to each other. Right now, it just looked like a big patch of dirt and straw, but Arcadia was evidently bringing in someone who was going to help. With the snap of her fingers, a woman appeared. She was wearing one of those chain things that connected her wrists to her ankles. One of the primary security guards that Mateo had encountered over the decades was escorting her.
“What the hell is this?” Aura asked, noticing Marcy becoming particularly protective of her child.
“She’s who we need to speed up time,” Arcadia replied, not seeing a problem. “I assure you, she is perfectly harmless in those things.”
“Obviously she can’t be harmless, or she wouldn’t be in them at all, or here,” Mario pointed out. “If she can accelerate the garden’s time, she can use it against someone. What did she do? Who is she?”
“Well,” the woman said, “who I am is standing in front of you, so you could just ask me directly.”
“Okay,” Darko said, “who are you?”
“My name is Jesimula ‘Jesi’ Utkin, and I only want to help. I’ve only ever wanted to help.”
“You look familiar,” Leona said. “Why can’t I place you?”
Jesi nodded in understanding. “Our friend manipulated your perception during that Easter Island showdown; the one where you killed Keanu? I was there. We were all there. Dozens of copies of each of us were there.”
“Oh,” was all Leona said.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Arcadia said. “I won’t let her harm anyone, least of all the baby.” She nodded to the guard, who began removing Jesi’s chains. “She’ll do her thing, and then she’ll leave. If she tries anything, anything, I’ll be right here.” She addressed Jesi. “I’m also not alone. I have some help tucked away, and they’re not as nice as me,” she warned.
As Jesi was preparing to use her time powers, Mateo’s mind drifted to Horace and Paige. They probably knew who she was, and had dealt with her a long time ago. Would they be comforted knowing where she was now? Where were they now? That was something he felt he deserved to know. No, that wasn’t enough, he needed to see them, to make sure they were okay. Proof of life.
Jesi approached the garden with her arms raised. Everyone else instinctively stepped back. She developed a semitransparent bubble that was warping the space around it, then she made it grow until the target area was completely covered. They watched as water formed inside of the bubble, providing nourishment for the seeds, and then the seedlings, and then fullgrown plants. They started to rise in the air, spreading out, covering every square inch with colored beauty.
“That’s enough,” Arcadia ordered.
Jesi popped the time bubble, and lowered her arms. Then she presented her wrists to the guard so he could take her away, feigning humility. Mateo didn’t know exactly what she had done to deserve to be locked up, but she admitted to being part of Paige’s kidnapping, so she was certainly no angel.
“All right,” Arcadia said to the guard. “Take her away.”
“Wait, one last thing,” Jesi pleaded.
“What is it?”
Jesi looked at Mateo, for some reason. “Don’t worry about the 2025 pathogen,” she said. “I took care of it.” What?”
“The guard pushed a button on his remote, and they both disappeared.
Now they were all just staring at Arcadia. “Okay, get back to work,” she demanded. “You have to nurture and protect these plants until the end of the expiations. If anything significant happens to them, Alexi is never coming back.”
While the rest of them were tending to the garden, Mateo pulled Arcadia aside. “What was she talking about, with the 2025 pathogen?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Arcadia said.
Fine. He could deal with that later. “Listen, I need to see Horace and Paige, to make sure you’ve not killed them, or something.”
“I promise that I’ve not.”
“Still...I need you to do this for me.”
She nodded. “Very well. But not now. Tomorrow will be better; for you, for me, for them. And it will fit nicely with your last charity expiation.”
“Very well,” Mateo echoed.