Monday, December 31, 2018

Microstory 1006: Ralph

Hey. I heard it through the bovine that you have this crazy idea to interview everyone in the senior class, to get their reactions to Viola’s death. Do you have any battle plans laid out, or do you intend to just run around blind. I have this school wired. I know who is who and who they do. You should start with the kid here who knew her the least. Let’s see, we have a few contenders, but I’m gonna have to go with Edna. She’s the newest student after you, so she doesn’t know much of anyone yet. In a town this small—so tight-knit—it’s hard to break in if you’re an outsider. Next, you’ll want to get the Vance interview out of the way. He’s kind of a douchebag, and he rejects everything about Blast City, so he’ll have little to contribute to your investigation. Blanche should technically come after that, because she’s a sociopath, and doesn’t care about anyone. But I worry if you talk to her, she’ll depress you so much, that you’ll just give up. Louise was overprescribed anxiety medication—but you didn’t hear it from me—so she’ll lift your spirits high enough to handle the Blanche storm. After that, you got Giorgia. She’s a lovely girl, ultimately from Italy. She had a lot of problems when she moved to town a few years ago. We don’t get a lot of visitors, you see, and people can be quite insensitive and ignorant. We’re all a lot more woke now, but she’s kind of been soured on us. She and Viola weren’t close, but she’ll have nice things to say about her, which you’ll need, again, after the Blanche storm. I know this is a lot of information, and I’ll write it all down for you. Maybe I could help on a more permanent basis. I can set up microphones, and transcribe your notes, or whatever you need. I don’t work for the newspaper, but like I said, nothin’ happens in this school I don’t know about. Oh, a little more about me? Well, I’m pretty quiet, and almost invisible, like the janitor. I talk to a few people sometimes, but only because they think I have some weird secret, like I’m a vampire, or a narc. Mostly I just observe, which is easy when nobody notices you’re there. Don’t worry about me, though, I’m totally fine. I’ve never tried very hard, and was always just biding my time until college. Viola’s death showed me that this is part of real life too—that the stakes are real—and I will always be waiting for the future if I don’t start living in the present. Anyway, I wish I had realized that before, and put myself out there. As much as I know about this place, there’s still a lot that I’m not privy to. If I had just been more open, she and I might have been friends. I got to get to class, but I’m looking forward to working with you. I’ll have that list ready for you tomorrow morning.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: October 5, 2212

Leona found herself floating around the exit bay of The Vosa. She could feel a deep tingling throughout her whole body, and the saliva on her tongue boiling away. Other debris was floating around her, and she could hear nothing. Life was tearing itself away from Leona’s body, and there was nothing she could do about it. She was about to lose consciousness when a gust of what felt like wind forced her against the back wall. Then the wind receded, and pulled her through the exit.
A person was helping her up, and catching her own breath. Leona was still in pretty bad shape, so it sounded like this other person said something like, “he aft two bet who adopter.”
Then she finally passed out.

Later, Leona woke up in a hospital bed, but it didn’t look like she was in a hospital room, or at least not one she recognized. This looked more like a fancy executive suite that rich people demanded when they needed medical treatment. A woman rushed into the room to check on her condition. It took Leona a moment to wake all the way up, but then realized it was Danica Matic. She was Mateo’s cousin, who had been working in a special location underground in Kansas called The Constant for billions of years. “What happened?” Leona asked. “How did I get here?”
“I can answer the second question, but I was hoping you would fill me in on the first,” Danica said. “Saga opened a door, and found you dying in what she assumed was a spaceship. The pressure change sucked you into a broom closet, and when she opened it to get back to your friends, she came out here. She went to get you some towels, but never came back. My assumption is that she opened another portal.”
“How long have I been out? What year is it?”
“October 5, 2212. You’ve only been out a couple of hours. We have pretty good medicine down here.”
“We?”
“The royal we. I still live here alone.”
Leona struggled to sit up. “I suppose you’ll need me to leave, since I wasn’t really invited.”
“Nonsense,” Danica said. “You’re family. I’m sorry I wasn’t there for the wedding. I’m not allowed to leave.”
“You remember that? You remember Mateo?”
“I remember everything. Literally. My mind cannot be corrupted.”
Leona looked around the room, paranoid. “My stuff. Did my stuff come through? I had very important objects with me!”
“It’s okay, they did. Your bag was over your back.” She handed Leona the page from the Book of Hogarth that had the instructions for how to put the ingredients together. “I made this for you.”
“You made...” Leona was confused. “You mean you assembled all the objects?”
Danica smiled triumphantly. “Yep. I don’t have a lot of things to do. Again, always alone.”
“Did it work? Is he back?”
“I didn’t turn it on,” Danica said, almost offended. “The instructions don’t say what it does, so that’s your job.”
“I thought you knew everything.”
“Not everything, everything.”
“Okay, cool. I’ll do it now.” She tried to get out of bed, but Danica stopped her.
“Hold on, I need you to stay for now. I called a specialist, who should be arriving shortly. I could treat your vacuum exposure, but I need her..to...”
“To what?”
“I will explain myself.” Dr. Mallory Hammer was standing in the doorway. “After the examination.”
“What’s going on?” Leona asked. “Why the hell is she here?”
“You should go,” Mallory solemnly said to Danica.
“I’ll be in my office,” Danica promised. “Shout if you need anything.”
Mallory sanitized her hands, and fitted herself with sterile gloves. Then she started out by feeling Leona’s lymph nodes and thyroid.
“What aren’t you two telling me?” Leona asked.
“Patience,” Mallory answered calmly. “Trust the process.”
Leona kept quiet while Mallory continued. She ran vitals, took some samples, and used futuristic equipment to test for whatever. Finally, she pulled her stethoscope out of her ears, and draped it over her shoulders. “You have been through a significant trauma.”
“Right...”
“You survived.”
“I see that...”
“Unfortunately, you were the only one. Everyone else on that ship was killed. It was sabotaged by someone named...” She consulted her notes. “Hargesen.”
“The cargomaster.”
“We still don’t know why he did it.”
“Holly Blue is dead?”
“She wasn’t on the ship. We’ve no clue where, or when, she is.”
“Why did Danica need you to be the one to tell me this.”
Mallory took a deep breath, trying to remain gentle. “Leona, you were the only survivor.”
“You’ve said that.”
“Including your children.”
“What?”
“The pressure change was just too much for their little developing bodies. I’m sorry.”
“No,” Leona said in denial. “They can’t be dead.”
“I’m sorry,” Mallory repeated. “I should have...” She hesitated. “I kept trying to get back to you, but no one would take me. And anyone willing was blocked by something. Somebody didn’t want me examining you. I don’t know if that was related to this.”
“You don’t understand, they can’t be dead.”
“I know this is hard to hear, but—”
“You’re not getting it, I remember him.”
“Remember who?”
“Mateo. My husband. I only remember him, because these are his babies.” She rubbed her belly. “If they’re gone, my memory of him should too.”
Mallory shook her head. “Maybe the memories can’t be undone. Maybe it takes awhile to fade. I wouldn’t mind discussing this more with you, over the course of—”
“I’m not one of your case studies!” Leona argued.
“No, of course not. I apologize.”
“Even if my memories aren’t proof enough, my kids have to be born. They have a future; a destiny. They’ve already impacted the timeline, because they’re time travelers!”
Danica ran back into the room. “That’s enough, Hammer.”
“I would like to stay. I need to be here a year from now, so I can see how the time jump effects her body.”
“Go home, Hammer,” Danica ordered, “before I make you.”
An understanding Mallory stood back up, and left the room. By the time Danica made her way back over to the bed, Leona was already bawling her eyes out. She took her cousin into a hug, and held her there forever.
She must have cried herself to sleep, because she woke up again hours later. Danica was sitting in a chair next to her. “I’m fine,” Leona told her when she tried to help. “I need to get up and move around.”
“I’ll make you something. You need energy.”
“That would be lovely.”
She followed Danica out of the room at a much slower pace. Danica was already rounding the corner to another room when Leona made it to the main living area. A crazy contraption was erected on top of a table. Every ingredient that Leona spent the last two years gathering was there in some fashion. They were held together by auxiliary parts, ending at a wall where Danica had taped the LIR map.
Leona went over to the beginning of what ultimately looked like a Rube Goldberg machine. The first object was the Incorruptible Astrolabe. Though it was designed to correct corruptions to reality, it was evidently not strong enough to do it on its own. Leona reached up and instinctively spun it with her finger. It started spinning, and didn’t stop, even after it should have lost momentum. The Rothko Torch attached to it flickered as they spun faster and faster, until the light was at full power. It shone though the Jayde Spyglass, and out towards the open cosmic sextant, which magically split the light into two beams. Each beam passed through one of the eyepieces from the HG Goggles, which bent the beams back together. The energy passed through the flame of  the Muster Lighter, and shot straight to the LIR Map on the wall. After a moment, a circle had been burnt on the map. The object machine then stopped on its own, letting the astrolabe and flashlight slow naturally.
The Escher Knob, sitting loosely at the end of the table, began to vibrate and glow. Leona tapped it with one finger to make sure it wasn’t hot, which it wasn’t. When she picked it up, it tried to reach the wall, like a magnet. Leona reached over, and let the knob attach itself to the map right at the burn mark, which was the exact same size.
“Did it work?” Danica was standing in the doorway again, holding a sandwich plate, and a glass of chocolate milk.
“I don’t know,” Leona said. Frightened and nervous, she slowly reached up to the knob again, and took hold of it. She pulled it away from the wall. The map came all the way out, at the end of what turned out to be a large drawer. Leona peeked over, and found a body resting inside of it. It looked like a morgue drawer, but deep inside, the walls looked more like a the padding of a casket. “Mateo!”
Danica set the food down, and ran over to help. Together, they pulled him out of the drawer, and laid him on the couch. Leona checked for a pulse, but found nothing. His skin was cold, and very dirty. She tried to perform CPR while Danica ran off to get the defibrillator, but nothing worked. Mateo was back, but he was dead.
“Did I not set it up correctly? Are we missing a piece?”
“I don’t think so.” Leona got the feeling that, if she didn’t find a way to bring him back to life quickly, he would be gone forever. She pulled Hogarth’s instructions out of her gown, and looked them over. No, Danica assembled them all exactly according to specifications. Then she remembered one of the last things Hogarth said to her. She flipped the page over. It was still blank at first, but then ink spontaneously started appearing. Place Insulator of Life on chest. “Oh my God, you’re right. We didn’t get everything. The Insulator of Life wasn’t on our original list.”
“I know where that is; Alpha Centauri C.”
“Proxima?” Leona questioned. “Brooke and Sharice were headed that direction. Of course! Bungula is inhospitable to life. Something called the Insulator of Life could, well...insulate their lives!” She panicked. “He’ll probably start decomposing. I’ll never get there in time.”
“Yes, you will.” Danica went back over to the contraption, and pulled the cosmic sextant off of it. “Hey Thistle, show me the southern hemisphere sky.” The floor disappeared, and revealed the night sky below them. Danica adjusted the sextant where she wanted it, and found the right place on the floor screen. “Come on.”
Leona got up, and gladly accepted the sextant from her cousin.
“Wait here. I’ll give you a care package.” She ran out, and came back a few minutes later with Leona’s bag, and a gurney. She placed a small black object against Leona’s chest, and it stayed there on its own. The two of them pulled Mateo up onto the gurney. “Point the sextant at that point of light right there.”
Leona did as instructed, and waited.
“Safe travels. I love you.”
The map of the sky suddenly zoomed in at a very fast rate, all the way until she could see the ground below her. When Leona looked up, she realized she was on the ground, and The Constant was gone, as was the sextant. This was Proxima Doma, the primary planet in the Proxima Centauri system. The black objects on their chests were emanating a forcefield to protect them from the vacuum, which was something she could have used to prevent her miscarriage. She had lost them, but she wasn’t going to lose her husband. She took the Compass of Disturbance out of her bag, and found her bearing. Then she took hold of Mateo’s gurney, and started running. Then she kept running, until it was 2213.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Brooke’s Battles: Bailout (Part XIII)

As it turned out, the ship that appeared in their cargo bay was not a ship at all, but a machine called The Prototype. Old friend and Brooke’s mother figure, Leona was on it, along with a few other friends. They had just been traveling the multiverse, looking for various objects that were apparently meant to help Leona find her husband, who was erased from the timeline. The last object they were looking for was the Cosmic Sextant, which Farhana happened to have in her possession. In a major personnel change, Ecrin and Relehir took the Prototype on their own new mysterious mission to battle Maramon in other universes. The Vespiarians decided to return to civilization on their refueled ship. A Freemarketeer cargomaster defected, and chose to go with them, as did Leona and Holly Blue, who wanted to see her family again. Vitalie, the astral projector from Durus, who helped Ecrin find Brooke after the latter had a breakdown years ago, wanted to come with them to Bungula. And so everyone left Vespiary at about the same time; The Vosa to Earth, and The Sharice Davids to the Alpha Centauri triple-star system.
Sharice was not chosen as captain because she had leadership qualities, or years of experience. She was chosen because she was the most intelligent entity on board, and was already ultimately most responsible for the ship’s operations. With an artificial intelligence like her, no human crew was truly necessary, especially not now that Sharice had access to an assorted complement of android bodies, some with nimble fingers. While in android form, she maintained contact with the ship proper via vocal and manual commands, just like anyone else would. After clearing Vespiarian space, the ship went off on what might have been its final mission, moving at eight times the speed of light. While it would take the light from the sun 4.37 years to get to Alpha Centauri A, it was only going to take the ship four and a half months. Unfortunately, fate—or perhaps some enemy—had other plans for them.
Four months into the the trip, just about everything that can go wrong on a ship, did go wrong. The cylicone exploded, killing three Freemarketeer crew members, and six passengers immediately. Weaver acted quickly, and jettisoned the back third of the vessel to protect the rest of it, which sadly killed the four Freemarketeers who survived the initial explosion. That was not their only problem, however. Entire systems shut down, including navigation, internal power, and thrust. They were out of FTL, drifting roughly towards their destination at a fraction of the speed of light, operating only on the momentum they maintained.
Sharice slipped herself into an android body just in time to protect herself from code corruption as the ship continued to fail. Artificial gravity was slowly losing power, and life support would probably only last them another five minutes, or so. She ordered everyone to congregate on the bridge deck, which could theoretically be separated from the rest of the vessel, in case of emergency. Étude took it upon herself to teleport all over the Sharice, looking for stragglers, or the immobile injured. The deck was packed with a few dozen people, but neither Brooke nor Sharice knew what they were going to do. Étude came back, and waved at them for attention.
“Did you get everyone?” Sharice asked.
She shook her head, and motioned for her to come with.
Brooke stepped forward and took Étude by her other shoulder, and the three of them teleported to an airlock in the cargo hold, which was about to be torn apart. Two Freemarketeers were ready for them, holding firearms, which they weren’t meant to have.
“What’s going on here?”
“Keep them away from me,” President Treacy ordered his men.
“What are you doing?” Sharice demanded to know. “Did you hack into our quantum messenger?”
“How do I work this thing?”
“There is no point in sending a message. We are light years away from civilization,” Sharice told him.
“Actually, we’re only about nine hundred astronomical units from Proxima Doma.”
“Do they have an interstellar ferry, or something, at the moment?” Sharice asked her, half-rhetorically.
“I don’t think so.”
“I’m not calling for help,” Treacy explained. “Got it. Hargesen, Hargesen!” He shouted into the mouthpiece. “Come in, Hargesen.”
“This isn’t one of our scheduled meeting times,” one of the guards told him.
“I know that, asshole!” Treacy cried.
“You’re not supposed to be using this at all,” Sharice said angrily. “How did you get past my sensors?”
Treacy ignored the question. “Fine. I’ll leave a message.” He went back to the mouthpiece. “Hargesen! We were set up! Operation Pyrethroid is a go!”
“Stop!” Shariced commanded him. She knocked the gun out of one of the guard’s hands, which prompted the other to shoot Brooke right in the forehead.
Brooke stood there for a moment, watching the light around her shrink inwards to the blackness. She felt her own systems shutting down, and the life draining from her body. As durable as she was, it was still possible for her to die. She could have survived a pedestrian bullet, but this was some kind of burrower. It continued to work its way through her brain, destroying everything in its path.
“No!” Sharice screamed. “Computer, initiate Operation Conflux!”
Brooke suddenly felt the life returning to her. Or rather, it was more like she was following her life somewhere new. It reminded her of what it was like to interface with an external system, which was something she hadn’t done in a long time. Her consciousness was being lifted from its original substrate, and transferred into another. She was becoming part of the ship. It took a few moments to acclimate to her new environment, and she had to figure out how to work the ship’s sensors. When she finally woke all the way up, she found herself watching the humans back on the bridge deck.
“You killed them all?” Weaver asked.
“I had to. They tried to kill my mother.”
“I’m not judging you,” Weaver said. “I just need to make sure no one else is going to be a problem.” She looked around at the rest of the Freemarketeers. “Is anyone else planning to stir up trouble, or do y’all wanna live?”
The head Freemarketeer engineer, Ramses Abdulrashid pushed himself through the crowd. “We will do anything you say. Won’t we?” he asked of his people.
They agreed, mostly out of fear. Of all of them, only Ram seemed reasonable.
“Good,” Weaver said. “Because I have a plan. But first, we have to break away from the rest of the ship. Unfortunately, that can’t be done in here. Only the console on the other side is functioning. It’s also a two person job. Since none of you is a transhuman, I’m going to need the strongest person to help me.”
“How are we supposed to get back over here?” a random person asked.
“Étude will teleport us back at the last second,” Weaver replied.
“She’ll what?”
“I can go,” Sharice said. “I’m stronger than anybody.”
Weaver shook her head. “Impossible. You will basically have to hold the doors closed all by yourself. I need a human volunteer.”
“I’ll do it,” Ram said. “I know more about how the ship works than anyone but the real crew. I’m the obvious choice.”
“Okay,” Weaver said. “Let’s go.”
A helpless Brooke watched as Weaver and Ram worked on separating the bridge deck. Time was running out as the integrity of the hull buckled under the stress. Weaver had to hold a button down on the console while Ram tried to pull the manual release lever on the other side of the hallway. He wasn’t strong enough, though. Suddenly, Étude appeared, holding Goswin.
“No!” Brooke tried to yell, but she still hadn’t figured out how to access the speaker system from the inside.
Goswin reached down and helped pull the lever, releasing the bridge deck in a way it never should have needed to. The two halves started moving away from each other at an incredible rate, and would be too far for Étude to teleport within seconds.
A figure appeared down the hallway, crawling towards them. It was Vitalie, who had come on board last second. Brooke had almost forgotten about her, and there had not been time to do a roll call. They were minutes away from losing life support, even if they all got back to the bridge deck. Ram instinctively ran over to her to help. He reached her just as Étude teleported there, took them both, and got them back to the bridge. Étude then tried to jump back for Weaver and Goswin, but something was stopping her. Technically, it was possible for a teleporter to jump into a deadly situation, like at the bottom of the ocean, or in the vacuum of space. Most were born with a sort of failsafe built into their instincts, which prevented them from doing this without trying really hard. For instance, a set of coordinates might send them to the middle of a wall, so the failsafe will kick in subconsciously, and land them at the closest relatively safe place. Étude could not get back to the other section of the Sharice, because it was already too far away.
Computer,” Weaver’s voice came in on the speakers. “Initiate burst mode. AU level. Target Proxima Doma.” A distance of 892 AU meant it would take the bridge deck 892 seconds to reach its destination, or about fifteen minutes. Holly Blue long ago warned that the integrity of the hull would not last a few hundred, but perhaps she and Weaver reinforced it somehow. After all, Brooke had no idea that they were capable of teleporting at the AU range, because they never had before. The lone Holly Blue often worked on unauthorized projects, so it was no surprise that two Holly Blues together would do the same.
Things were not going well, though. Sharice’s android body was about to give out from the stress of trying to hold the door closed. The deck was threatening to break apart just as predicted. The humans were all freaking out. The only person who was at all calm was Étude. After treating Vitalie’s wounds, she casually walked over to the hidden safe in the wall, and input a code she had no business knowing. She removed the Insulator of Life, and handed it to Vitalie.
“Do you know what’s going to happen?” Vitalie asked her.
Étude studied Vitalie’s face for a moment. Then she nodded.
“Are we going to die?”
Étude looked at Ram, then back at Vitalie, and shook her head. Then she looked over at the rest of the crowd, and nodded.
“Is there nothing we can do?” Ram asked.
Étude shook her head again.
“Looks like Treacy was right,” Ram said. “He was paranoid the solar system leadership would sabotage this mission. They backed out of the original deal pretty abruptly.”
Étude shrugged her shoulders.
“Yes,” Ram said. “There are worst tragedies.”
Étude exited the main area, to the entryway, where Sharice was desperately trying to hold the outer doors closed. She gently placed her hand on Sharice’s shoulder. Then she nodded, as if to say, it’s okay to let go. She signed the word for insulator.
“Will that work?” Sharice asked.
Étude smiled.
Sharice looked back at the doors one last time after Étude left, then sent her consciousness back to the main systems, right next to Brooke’s. The doors broke open, sending the android body flying out, along with a couple Freemarketeers who had decided to wait in the entryway. “Mom,” she said. “We’re going to live.”
“No,” Brooke said back. “Étude, Vitalie, and Abdulrashid will. The ship won’t make it.”
“I should have held onto the doors longer.”
“It wouldn’t have mattered. Our mission is over.”
“I love you.”
“I love you.”
A minute later, the bridge deck was literally tearing apart at the seams. At the last second, Étude teleported herself, Vitalie, and Ram to the surface of Doma. The rest of the people crashed and burned.
The insulator was keeping the three survivors alive in an otherwise very inhospitable environment. They were miles and miles away from the habitat a nanofactory had built for this planet’s colonists a few years ago. But how did Brooke see that? She could sense the three humans around her, but she should have died in the crash too. Evidently, the Insulator of Life was keeping her and Sharice alive as well. That was great, but that still left one question. Now what?

Friday, December 28, 2018

Microstory 1005: Giorgia

Contrary to popular belief at this school, I actually speak perfect English. See? I have a bit of an accent, but I play a pretty good North American. Lots of people seem to think I’m an exchange student, but I’ve been living in this country for nine years, so no. I kind of feel like a sitcom token foreign character, where when I say something, people just laugh and pretend I didn’t make any sense. This happened so absurdly often when I first moved here that I eventually gave up trying to connect with most people. I have my small group of friends, who all know me well, most of whom are in different grade levels, so I don’t really need anyone else’s validation anymore. I will say that Viola was one of the few people outside my friend circle who got that I’m an immigrant. I have full citizenship, as do both of my parents, and we didn’t even have to climb a wall to get it. I was born in Italy, but my family is very whimsical and spontaneous. We didn’t plan on coming to Blast City, per se. But after spending years in the city, our paperwork went through, and we felt we needed to make another decision. Since no globe would have a town this small on it, we couldn’t spin it like before, but my mom did close her eyes and point randomly on a map. So yeah, that’s how we ended up here. I think they wanted to leave again, but were worried about destabilizing my education, so that will probably be happening sometime next year, or even near the end of this year. I’m not going to college, which is one thing Viola and I had in common. You asked for a specific defining moment between the two of us, but there wasn’t really anything like that. She greeted me in the halls, and asked me how my cat was doing. She learned a few Italian phrases, but unlike others, who just want me to teach them curse words, she was doing it out of genuine interest. I think that’s probably why so many people think they had some kind of special connection to her, and maybe it’s even partly why someone killed her. She went out of her way to find common ground with everyone she met, even if it meant fabricating something that wasn’t there before. Fabricating isn’t the word I’m looking for. And again, that’s not because English is technically a second language; I’m just not articulating perfectly. Devising; that’s a better word. If for instance, she encountered someone who liked tennis, she would put on a pleated skirt, and give it a shot. She may not like it, and she may never do it again, but she will always have that bond with that other person. I guess, she doesn’t have it anymore. We do, though. We remember her, and we each have that one thing that she made us feel isn’t stupid, or uncool. In the end, I’m glad we weren’t really close friends. The light from a person like that belongs to us all, and I wouldn’t have wanted to bogart that.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Microstory 1004: Blanche

I’m sorry, I don’t know what you want for me, but I’m not going to cry over someone I didn’t know. Thousands of people die every day, you expect me to mourn for every one of them? No? Just the ones in some arbitrary geographical radius? No, that can’t be right either, because I know people who live in Chile, and Mongolia. I bet you would care about them too, but not about all the other Chileans and Mongolians. Look, all I know about Viola came from rumors and second-hand conversations. I’m not going to comment on a topic on which I am not an authority. I have my own problems to deal with. My parents are worried that I’m a sociopath because I didn’t shed a single tear, or even attend the memorial service. Just because I’m not emotional about everything, doesn’t mean I’m not emotional about anything. But if you really need it, I will give you a story of a notable encounter I had with her. You’re new, so you may not know this. In a town so small, we basically have two stores. You can shop at the snooty rich joint, or you can come to the regular place that’s been here almost as long as Blast City itself. Viola Woods and her ilk do not shop at the old store, because it’s beneath them. They literally built the new store on top of a slightly taller hill, just so they could look down on us. Yet there she was one day in the valley, I guess to get a look at the funny little normal people who shop there, or in my case, work there. It didn’t look like someone had dared her to do it, but she didn’t look comfortable either. Maybe it’s just that her parents have never let her go in before, and she didn’t know where anything was, but she stood out like a sore thumb. And that’s about it! She bought a few single-serving boxes of cereal, some milk, and I think a magazine. She paid in cash, then she walked out. This was about a year ago, and she never came back. Real brush with grace, I know, I almost fainted. I sure do hope the rest of your interviews are more interesting than this, because you’ve just learned everything there is to know about the infamous duo of Viola and Blanche.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Microstory 1003: Louise

I would like to thank you for doing this at my home. Ever since it happened, I have just been unable to return to school. Mommy and daddy says I have anxiety, so I’m taking these pills, which make me a little loopy. Would you like something to drink? I have tea, or just hot water. What did you want to ask me? Viola, right. Well, you know I always felt quite close to her, even though she probably wouldn’t have called us friends. I suppose you could say we were kindred spirits. She had an excellent sense of style, just like me. We listened to all the same music, and. [...] Sorry, was I saying something? Viola, yes. What a lovely young woman. Daddy always wanted me to end up with someone like her, but I admit, I’m more into the edgy girls. Don’t get me wrong, she was a wild one, when she let her inhibitions go. I saw her at a party once. Dancing all over the couches and coffee table, pretending that the floor was lava. Granted, this was at a sleepover when we were in first grade, but she hasn’t lost that spark, ya know? Or I guess, she hadn’t, until...ya know. Oh, tea’s ready. Where was I? Viola, of course. Her death had a really big impact on me. When something like that happens, it just really makes you take stork [sic] of your life. We’re all gonna die one day, and there’s nothing we can do about it. She was a lovely young woman, though, and didn’t deserve to leave this plane of existence so young, and so gruesomely.

Did you hear the rumors about how they found her? This abandoned building on the edge of town, covered in—oh, I tremble at the thought. If you ever find my body like that, please clean me up, and move me somewhere more proper, like The Alston. That’s such a nice place; both my parents are members, as are Viola’s. I saw her there a few times, and we would play this game where I would try to talk with her, and she would pretend I wasn’t there. Just like at that party, she was always using her imagination. We can all learn a lot from Viola; from her life, not her death. She was kind to everyone, except maybe me. How’s your tea? What was I talking about? Viola, indeed. Why, that sounds like the title of a television show. Viola, Indeed. Wednesdays at nine. Or perhaps Indeed, Viola. I’m still working on it. I’m afraid I lost myself again. These pills have really done a number on me. Sometimes I dream that I’ve flushed them all down the toilet, but then I wake up and realize that would be impossible, so I take another two and forget about it. I’m really only meant to take one a day, but I’m twice as anxious as my doctor thinks. Back on track, Louise, get back on track. I don’t mean to speak ill of the dead, but she wasn’t as nice of a person as everyone makes her out to be. She was cold and dismissive of me, for no reason. We had so much in common—we were both rich—so we should have been friends. I never did understand what she didn’t like about me. Don’t get any bad ideas, I didn’t kill her, if that’s what you’re thinking. Unlike some of my more...suspicious classmates—no offense—I believe they caught the murtherer. Murther most foul, that was. Or is it fowl? Which is birds, and which is bad things. I can never remember. How’s your tea? Where is your tea? Did I not give you tea? Where’s my tea? The whole pot is missing. Another mystery for Blast City’s finest.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Microstory 1002: Vance

You’re interviewing the entire senior class for this? No, that doesn’t sound ambitious so much as reaching. What do you hope to get out of this series? It’s not like the suspect pool is limited to a hundred people. Anyone in town could have killed her, and I do mean anyone in it, not just the people who live here. It’s not like we have a giant wall preventing other people from getting in. She was discovered on the edge of town, so anybody could have snuck in and done the dirty deed without anyone else noticing someone suspicious. If you’re just trying to get an idea of who Viola was, you’re still doing too much, because I didn’t know her at all. As crazy as it sounds, my family moved back to this town just before I started high school four years ago. My grandma got sick, and my mother desperately wanted to move us all to somewhere familiar. That’s right, we were all living in the city, but since grams was on her last legs, mom wanted to surround her with people she grew up with. Of course, my grandmother was over a hundred by the time she died, so everyone she knew growing up was already dead anyway. Plus, all the buildings and streets have changed, so it was really a stupid idea. Kind of like this interview. Sorry that was mean, but I just call ‘em like I see ‘em. Anyway, I know you’re not here to learn about me. Viola seemed like a cool chick, but we weren’t friends. I have my own group of friends in Coaltown, so you wouldn’t know them, but that’s a whole list of other suspects you could look into, if you have a million years lying around. Viola and I were lab partners once, so I’ve been to her house, which was apparently kind of a rare event. Her parents are not like anything you would think would raise someone as gentle and pleasant as Viola. Their house is littered with posters and decorations from all over the world, but I know for a fact that they haven’t stepped foot outside of Mineral County. My father works at the travel agency, so if they had left, we would know about. So I guess Viola’s parents are just obsessed with the idea of traveling, but have never been brave enough to do so. They’re certainly rich enough to do it. She doesn’t work, and he’s the big boss, so they would have time for it too. Maybe that’s why they’re so unpleasant. I don’t know how Viola survived that. Though I suppose, she didn’t. I dunno, they’re weird people. You should be interviewing them. You want me to say something about Viola herself? Well, she was lovely, of course. I’ve no clue why anyone would want her dead. I couldn’t have finished that lab project without her. I’m not dumb, but I have no motivation to do well in school, since you don’t need much education to be a flight attendant. All I care about is languages. It makes it a lot easier having someone else rely on me to make sure they do okay. That’s really it. Like I was saying, I know Maud, but I didn’t know Viola.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Microstory 1001: Edna

Well truthfully, I didn’t know the victim at all. I think she said hello to me once, but a lot of people did that to me on my first day. I started here at the beginning of the year, so I’m not as new as you are, but this is a pretty small town, so I still feel like an outsider. I don’t feel like I should comment on the situation, because all I know is what they wrote in the real newspapers. Not that you’re not writing for a real paper; I just meant…I don’t know what I meant. Sorry, let me start over. My name is Edna, and I’m a senior at Blast City Senior High. Go Miners! I’m kidding, I don’t care about sports. I’m a bit of a loner, but my fellow classmates have been pretty decent. If they’re saying mean things about me, they must be doing it behind my back, because they don’t say it to my face. Come to think of it, I did have one particular run-in with the victim; with Viola. The grief counselor says we should say her name; to honor her memory as a person, not just a victim. She sat next to me at lunch one day. She wasn’t being nice, or treating me like a pathetic loser, but it was the only empty table available. Mostly empty, I guess. My personal therapist says to count myself out. Anyway, so she sat next to me out of convenience, because she got in a fight with her friend. I heard her talking to someone on her phone the entire time. She used cryptic language, so I don’t really know what it was about, but apparently Maud did something she just couldn’t forgive. That ultimately seems untrue, because I saw them laughing with each other by the end of the week. Still, she seemed pretty upset, and the person on the other end of the phone call wasn’t helping her feel better. She slammed her phone down on the table hard enough to crack it, and got up in a huff. “I’m not hungry,” she stopped to say to me, before leaving. Maybe she was trying to be nice, because everyone knows I can’t afford a full lunch, so I was grateful for the extra food. I never got to thank her for that, even though it was weeks before she passed—I mean, died. Both the grief counselor, and my therapist, said we shouldn’t use pretty language to avoid reality. She didn’t pass by her life, and go somewhere else. She’s dead, and that’s the end of it.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: October 4, 2211

The Prototype powered down. The lights flipped off, and new ones came on, almost like the house lights at a theatre. All of the instruments and monitors were blank, suggesting that this was the end of their journey. They did apparently only need one more item on the list. Leona lifted her arm to check her tattoo, but it was completely gone. The regular Compass of Disturbance was sitting on the floor by her feet. Hopefully the Cosmic Sextant was nearby, because they probably wouldn’t find it otherwise. Vito walked over with confidence and opened the door. Hogarth and Leona followed him through. Vitalie took up the rear. A man was staring at them with wonder, in what looked like a cargo hold for a spaceship.
“Can I, uhh, help you?”
“We’re looking for the cosmic sextant,” Hogarth told him honestly.
“What is this thing?”
“The Prototype.”
“Oh.” He was in too much awe to fully process a machine suddenly just appearing out of nowhere. He tapped his comms badge. “Cargomaster Hargesen to Captain Prieto. Come in, Captain.” Prieto? As in, Brooke? Was this The Sharice?
Go ahead,” an unfamiliar voice responded.
“There’s a, uhh...ship here. I guess that’s what it is. It just appeared in the cargo bay. They’re looking for a tent.”
A tent?” the voice questioned.
“Yeah, for sex, apparently.”
A sex tent?” the voice asked him after a pause.
“Yeah, look if you could just come down here, that would be great. I’m not equipped to handle this.”
Why not, you don’t have genitals?” Okay, that one was definitely Brooke’s voice.
Sorry about that,” the other voice said. “I’m on my way.
A woman appeared in the form of a hologram. At the same time, Étude teleported in, holding Brooke Prieto, and a Maramon. “Brooke, is this your family?”
Brooke went over and gave Leona a great big hug. “She is, at least.” She nodded to Hogarth. “It’s nice to see you again, after all this time.”
“Likewise,” Hogarth replied.
“I recognize you two from The Warren,” Brooke said, looking at Vitalie and Vito.
“Brooke Prieto, this is Vitalie and Vito. Vitalie and Vito, this is Brooke, and our friend, Étude. Is this the famous Sharice Davids?”
“Please,” the hologram said. “Sharice Davids is my namesake, and my ship. I go by Prieto.” She and Leona pretended to shake hands.
“In another reality,” Hogarth interrupted the pleasantries, “you took our sextant before we could arrive, and it ruined our mission.” She immediately regretted saying that. “Sorry, I just went through a lot creating this timeline. From extending that game of Go, to hacking into your liveware. I’m exhausted.” This was all news to Leona.
“That was you?” Brooke asked her. “You hacked my brain.”
“I’m sorry, I had to.”
“That’s okay,” Brooke said. “I understand why you did it. I can take you to the sextant.”
Ecrin walked into the room and greeted the newcomers as well. “Is this it?” she asked the Maramon after she was finished.
“Yep,” he answered. “The Prototype.” Was Ecrin and this guy part of the team that fought against the Maramon all over the bulkverse? Did they work with Smith and Vito? Or rather were they going to?
“She’s all yours,” Leona said. “It doesn’t seem to be responding to me anymore.”
“I’ll give you the tour,” Vito said in delight.
“Go on, Relehir,” Ecrin said. “I’ll catch up.”
Vito and the Maramon went into the Prototype, while the cargomaster was asked to go about his business in one of the airlocks. Ecrin tapped her badge. “Holly Blue, Weaver. Please come down to the cargo hold.”
“Holly Blue and The Weaver?” Leona questioned. “You know, I always suspected that—”
“They’re one and the same?” Ecrin guessed. “It’s been confirmed.
Two different versions of the one person showed up, and the greetings had to start again. Evidently, this Weaver was the one from the alternate timeline where Leona and Mateo met all the way back in 2016. That was before the latter went back in time, killed Hitler, and erased himself from history via the butterfly effect. They weren’t fully vocal about how they had gotten her to this timeline, or why.
“I want to take this opportunity to thank you all for everything you’ve done. Over the years, I’ve—”
She was interrupted by a portal that randomly opened a few meters from them. Leona could see a younger version of herself on the other side. Little Paige was there too, as was Ida Reyer, Slipstream, Hilde, and another Hogarth.
Young!Hogarth hopped to it, and headed for the portal. “Bye, Felicia!” she jokingly said to the other Hogarth.
Future!Hogarth scrunched up her face with just as much fake disdain. “You said my line! Bye, Vicki!”
“See you in the red for—” Young!Hogarth tried to say.
“The moment has passed, it’s over.” The portal closed, leaving them with this older version of Hogarth, who was missing an ear. She jerked her head up at Leona, like a thug greeting another thug. “Yo, you got something for me?” she asked, also like a thug.
“What would I have?”
“Looks like a watch.”
Leona looked down at her watch. “This thing?”
“Nah, man. That just tells time. I’m talkin’ about the Paradox Ticker.”
“I don’t know what that is.”
“You mean from the lockbox?” Vitalie asked. “There’s a watch in there.”
“That’s the one,” Future!Hogarth nodded.
Vitalie ran back into the Prototype, then came out holding one of the special temporal objects they found with the hoarder, who also had the home stone and Escher Knob. “This?”
Future!Hogarth was ecstatic. “Perfect!” She turned the crown carefully, then held it up to her temple, and pressed the button down. Seemingly painfully, her ear reconstituted itself completely. She breathed a sigh of relief. “Glad to be done with that chapter. You have my book too?”
Leona reached into her bag, and retrieved the Book of Hogarth.
“Great.” Future!Hogarth took the book graciously, opened it up, tore out a page, and handed it to Leona. “Here are the instructions for assembly. Remember, there’s a back side.”
The instructions were short, but to the point on how to put all the ingredients together to get Mateo back. Leona flipped it over. “There’s nothing on the back.”
Future!Hogarth tossed the Paradox Ticker in her bag, but carefully laid the book inside. “There will be. Now. It’s been real.” She threw her bag over her shoulder, and gave them all a salute. “Tell that demon in there to go fork himself. Don’t worry, he’s not evil, but we have personal beef.” She took a few steps back, shut her eyes tightly, and sent herself into a temporal displacement explosion on purpose.
“Wow, that was weird,” Sharice noted after a long silence.
“What was I saying?” Ecrin asked.
“Goodbye,” Sharice answered bluntly.
“Yes, that’s it.” She composed herself after that crazy timey-wimey stuff. “It has been an honor serving with you all. I wish good luck to you in your endeavors. Leona, I hope you get your husband back. Vitalie, I wish we had more time to catch up. Sharice, you will one day learn to play Go without cheating. Holly Blue, remember that you are responsible for what you invent. Weaver, remember how influential you are to your alternate and younger self. Brooke, I love you. You and your daughter take care of my ship. No explosions, please. And finally, Étude.” She deliberately faced the former Last Savior of Earth, and stared at her intently. “There are no words.”
Étude rolled her eyes.
Ready now, Ecrin fought back tears, and walked into the Prototype. With no warning, the door closed behind her, powered up its engines, and disappeared.
Vitalie squinted and frowned at the space the machine once occupied. “I left all my shit in there.”
They heard a loud clap behind them. Sharice had her hands clasped together, and looked different than before. She was no longer a hologram, but a physical individual standing before them. “With Ecrin gone, I am officially the only captain of this ship. Now that we have what we need, as do the Vespiarians, we will be departing in a half hour. Anyone wishing to remain here should disembark now.”
“Yeah, uhh...” the cargomaster struggled to fit back through the airlock hatch, which wasn’t open all the way. He tripped, and fell to his hands. “Oh, shit.” He got himself back up. “Yeah, sorry, yeah. I’ve decided to stay. Magic doorways to Earth, disappearing ships; if that’s the kind of stuff the communists have access to, I want no part of Bungula.”
“We don’t call ourselves communists,” Holly Blue explained to him.
“Right, sorry,” he apologized. “Who is going to Earth?”
“No one,” Brooke said to him. “The Sharice is going to Bungula. The Vespiarians are staying here on Vespiary.”
“Are we sure about that?” Leona was looking more carefully at the instructions that Hogarth passed off to her. “If there’s a way to get me back to Earth, that would be wonderful. I didn’t think it mattered, but it says here I have to assemble these in The Constant.”
“We can take them back.” A woman was walking towards them. “We’ve discussed things with our Plutonian team, and have decided to go back home. This experiment is over. Besides, I was told someone really was interested in this sextant.” She held it up in her hands.
“Yes, that’s what I came here for. Oh my God, I have everything I need.” Leona went over to take a look at the last object.
Brooke frowned at the woman. “Farhana, did we contaminate the experiment?”
“Technically, I suppose you did, but that’s not why we’re leaving. We’ve received word on new rogue planet detection technology. We’re starting a new project in true interstellar space.”
“Would you be able to leave in a year?” Leona asked them. “For reasons I can’t quite explain, I have to leave either today, or a year from now.”
“We’re leaving an automated contingency to gather data on the Oort cloud,” Farhana replied. “Which means we don’t have to strike the base. My team can be ready to go within the hour.”
Leona was grateful for the circumstances. “That would be amazing.”
“I would like to go as well,” Holly Blue said. “I have family I would like to see again on Earth.”
“You do?” Weaver asked her. Something was apparently different about their respective personal timelines.
“Yes,” Holly Blue confirmed simply.
“Where is this ship going?” Vitalie asked.
“Bungula,” Brooke answered.
“What’s that?”
“It’s a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri, one of the closest stars to ours.”
Vitalie looked at Leona sadly.
“It’s okay if you want to go, love,” Leona said sincerely. “I’m thankful for everything you’ve done, but like I keep saying, you owe me nothing.”
“I think I’m just ready for the next chapter of my life,” Vitalie added.
Leona smiled and nodded. “I agree.”
Sharice clapped her hands loudly again. “Great. Sounds like everyone has their assignments. You have ten minutes to get your affairs in order before we start the preflight checklist.”
Ten minutes was not nearly long enough, especially since both Holly Blue and the cargomaster needed time to clear out their rooms, and move over to the other ship. Sharice ended up extending the deadline by twenty minutes for them. The Vosa was smaller than The Sharice, but was now just as fast, excluding any temporal manipulation add-ons. The trip back to Earth would take them the better part of a year, which meant Leona would only be on it for the rest of the day. When she returned to the timeline, it should already be on Earth, or be very close to it. For some reason, though, it wasn’t.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Brooke’s Battles: Begone (Part XII)

About 85,000 astronomical units from Earth, there lies a planetesimal with a diameter around 40 kilometers. While the majority of the solar system was conquered by the beginning of the 23rd century, much of the Oort cloud still remained uncharted. Dominated by relatively small celestial bodies, at unfathomable numbers, it just wasn’t priority for exploration, nor would it likely ever be. Though the era of darkburster technology was presumably over, that didn’t mean there weren’t ships that secretly escaped the clutches of the heliosphere long before. An estimated dozen or so significantly populated vessels probably managed to begin traveling interstellar space before detection technology designed to sense them was put in place. It would take them longer to get to any destination than a sanctioned mission leaving today, or years from now, when near lightspeed levels are reached, so it’s unclear what their goal is, but they are almost certainly out there, somewhere.
As the crew of The Sharice Davids learned, one such of these ships was manned by a small group of pioneer researchers. They didn’t leave to spite the rest of the solar system. They didn’t want to change humanity, or regress it, or destroy it. They didn’t even really want to isolate themselves. They left in order to study the long-term effects of extra-solar living. A primary drive of human beings, and many transhumanistic offshoots of humans, is to spread out. Hundreds of thousands of years from now, possibly every habitable planet in the galaxy will be inhabited, with potential plans to reach other galaxies. One thing every aspiration like this has is the assumption that each mission will head for a star system. Stars are life-giving entities. Even some crazy starfish alien capable of surviving in the vacuum of space would still likely be found near a star. So, these scientists questioned, what would it be like to live in the cold empty. They went out on their darkburster about two decades ago, and settled on the first orbital they could find outside of the heliosphere. They named it Vespiary.
“The Insulator was a lifesaver,” said the leader of Vespiary, Farhana Sultana. “We would all be dead without it.”
“Where did it come from?” Ecrin asked. She and Relehir were still on the ship, because evidently the machine they were planning to use to leave the universe would be arriving somewhere around here. It was a funny coincidence that had yet to come to fruition.
“A man appeared with it, literally out of nowhere,” Farhana explained. “Our habitat was undergoing a cataclysm. Half our people managed to escape to the ship—which would have done them little good, as we hadn’t installed a microponics lab, and don’t have enough fuel to reach civilization—but half were still stuck over here. When I say he appeared, I mean he wasn’t there, and a second later, he was. He left the same way, through no apparent means.”
“He gave you the insulator?” Brooke asked.
“He acted like it was his mission, called himself The Kingmaker, which is weird.”
Brooke and Ecrin gave each other a look. They knew exactly who he was. Mario Matic was a time traveling salmon, whose apparent job it was to protect socially vital individuals throughout time. It was surprising how many important people there were in history who unwittingly came this close to dying. The majority of them were saved by Mario. If he was sent all the way to Vespiary with a special temporal object capable of sustaining life, someone here was destined to do great things. That person could be Farhana, or it could be the janitor.
“How long have you been using it?” Goswin jumped in. He was there, because he appreciated a good adventure, didn’t have anything better to do, and was still in a relationship with Brooke.
“For three years,” Farhana answered. “How fortuitous you come today, for we have recently determined that we are finally capable of taking back control over life support. With these more robust redundancies, we should be able to do without the insulator.”
“We don’t want to take it from you if you think you’ll need it in the future,” Goswin said. He wasn’t technically authorized to make such a statement, but his sentiments matched with the senior crew, including The Weaver and Holly Blue, who were running final diagnostics on the FTL cylicone.
“Now hold on,” President Treacy stopped them. “If the Vespiary is willing to give it up, I’m sure we can negotiate a fair deal. They have it, we want it.” He was there, because they kind of had to let him be there. He represented the interests of the Freemarketeers, and like it or not, they were the Sharice’s passengers, and some of its crew.
“We all understand how capitalism works, jackass,” Ecrin said. The fact that the real crew had to put up with them didn’t mean they had to like it, or be nice.
“No need for payment,” Farhana assured them. “We only ask to borrow your communications array, to send a message to our Plutonian contact.”
“Is your communications system not working?”
“We do not have the resources to fix it,” Farhana said. “We’ve been radio silent since everything else broke.”
“You don’t need to borrow our array,” Ecrin said. “We’ll give you a quantum messenger that you can use any time. We’ll also refuel you, so you can return to civilization at your will.”
“Now hold on,” Treacy argued, “we need the fuel to get to Bugula, and  we need that quantum messenger to make deals with other systems.”
“Calm down,” Ecrin ordered. “We have two QMs, and oh yeah, a perpetual motion drive. We don’t need fuel.”
“How much for the perpetual engine?” Treacy posed.
“Shut up!” Ecrin, Brooke, and Goswin shouted in unison.
“We would be grateful for your aid in this matter,” Farhana moved on. “To be clear, though, this is not an exchange. We expect nothing. The Insulator is yours.”
“Understood,” Brooke replied.
“Do you also want the other thing?” Farhana asked.
“What other thing?”
“The sextant.”
Brooke put a puzzled look on her face. “We have far more sophisticated navigational tools. We’ve no need for a sextant.”
“I just thought it might be yours, since it showed up shortly after the Kingmaker departed,” Farhana said. She tapped her radio. “Weber, bring the sextant in here. No one on my team knows where it came from. One day, it was just sitting on top of the mass spectrometer, like someone had placed it there so they would have two free hands, then forgot about it.”
A moment later, one of Farhana’s people came in holding an honest-to-God sextant. Brooke analyzed it with her eyes, and could determine only that it was made out of gold. “Does it do something a normal sextant doesn’t?”
“We’re not sure.” She turned it over in her hands. “When we try to work it, we can feel a kind of pull towards the stars, but other than that...we just don’t know.”
Brooke was about to take the mysterious object, so Holly Blue or Weaver could study it, but a voice in her head told her not to. At first she thought it was just her intuition, but then she realized it was more substantial than that. When androids and transhumanistic upgrades were first being developed, there was an ethical concern about reprogramming. If humans were merged with technology, they could theoretically be hacked, and made to do things against their will. In order to preemptively combat this possibility, researchers came up with a way to map the unadulterated brain. A quantified neural baseline helped to recognize invading code; kind of like how a white blood cell can tell the difference between healthy bacteria, and a foreign pathogen. This thought of Brooke’s that she should leave the sextant be was not her own. Someone else had written the idea into her liveware, but who, and why? It could have happened at any time since Brooke first upgraded, and now. She may never know.
Brooke went back to their ship, and recruited Holly Blue to help connect with The Vosa, since Weaver could finish the finishing touches on the cylicone by herself. The head Freemarketeer engineer was still standing just outside the door, desperate to get but one glance at the technological marvel. He actually seemed like a pretty good guy, but he still couldn’t be trusted with this information. To get his mind off of it, Brooke asked for his assistance with the siphoning as well. They also decided to upgrade the Vosa’s main drives for present-day speed standards.
Along with the fuel, Brooke decided to provide Vespiary with some other resources; emergency food rations, medical supplies, a few replacement parts, and a chamber printer, which was so-called because it could print a three-dimensional structure the size of a small room. Treacy, and the rest of his cohorts continued to complain about all this charity, but there was nothing they could do about it. They didn’t see the irony either, instead believing their leaving the system was their payment for all the Sharice was giving them. If they were just better people, though, they wouldn’t need any of this.
They remained at Vespiary for one night, just so that Weaver was sure everything was ready to go. There was no real rush anyway. Come morning, Brooke woke up from hibernation mode, and asked Sharice where she was. Sharice was still wearing her android body, but maintained a constant link with the ship proper. Unlike on the old television series, Andromeda, which served as the inspiration for this dynamic, Sharice remained as a singular consciousness, capable of slipping back and forth between substrates, like neighboring rooms in a hallway. At the moment, she was apparently in the recreation room. When Brooke walked in, she found that the Maramon, Relehir was with her, as was Étude. The latter came on board after the last minute. The Sharice had already taken off from Luna Station when Étude teleported in. As per usual, she didn’t say a word, but Ecrin got the impression she was there upon the suggestion of someone who could see the future.
They were nearing the completion of their four-dimensional variant of three-player quantum Go. This version of the game takes into account, not only quantum entanglement, and the three spatial dimensions, but also a temporal dimension. Players are free to move their pieces forwards and backwards in time, according to a complex matrix of rules and logical algorithms that are practically impossible to predict. Players must agree upon a window of gameplay to prevent prehistorical hijacking, in this case, the three of them decided the game should last throughout the entire year it would take to get to Vespiary. As the most complicated game ever invented, it was first conceived by an unknown pair from a long-since collapsed alternate timeline, reportedly sometime in the 26th century. And so the truth comes out that Weaver only pretended to not be quite done with the cylicone, just to let these people finish their game. She had apparently grown fond of Étude, who would have lost if the game had ended early. Now, she was only one move away from winning, that was, unless Relehir pulled a miracle out of his ass.
“We’re about to leave,” Brooke said impatiently. “If you’re staying here, it’s time you get off the ship.”
“We’re almost done, mom,” Sharice said.
“No, it’s okay,” Relehir promised. “If I need to go, I will.”
“You can’t quit just because you’re in the winning position,” Sharice whined.
“Oh? I’m winning?” Relehir playacted. “I hadn’t noticed.”
“Make your final move, then it’s my turn.”
Relehir had a smug look as he placed his last piece. “Yuomi hack. Boom, go!” He did pull out a miracle. No matter what Étude did, she wouldn’t be able to win. It would be over, except that it was Sharice with the secret weapon.”
“It’s time, mother,” Sharice petitioned her.
“Gladly,” Brooke said. “As long as it gets us off the ice.”
She stepped forward, and removed a game piece from her ear. Then she reached up to the top of the holographic board, and placed the extra piece in a particular spot. Half of Relehir’s pieces disappeared, along with several of Étude’s.
“Holy crap!” Relehir cried. He stopped and studied the board, which was wildly different than it was just seconds ago. “Ashisuto maneuver. But how did you—” he stopped to study more. “March twenty-one, you jumped forward a month, and came out lighter. I was wondering what you had done with the second piece that you left with.”
Étude signed the word for legal, in the form of a question.
“Yes, it was a legal move,” Relehir said, outstretching his hand to shake Brooke’s “And a brilliant one, at that. Congratulations, Sharice.” He looked over at the clock on the wall. “Just in time, my ride’s arrived.”
Hargesen to Captain Prieto,” the Freemarketeer cargomaster called on comms.
“Go ahead,” Sharice said into her comms.
You better come down here. A, uhh...ship, I guess, just appeared out of nowhere.  They say they’re looking for a tent, reportedly for sex.
“A sex tent? I’m on my way,” Sharice replied.