Thursday, November 15, 2018

Microstory 974: Weird Twitter

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A few years ago, I was trying to publish my book. Well honestly, I’ve been trying to publish my book since forever, but constantly fail, and frequently give up. During this particular attempt, an agent actually responded to my submission for representation with advice. They said that I basically already had to be famous before agents would even bother considering me. In the olden days, this meant getting published in little-read magazines, and slowly gathering a base, until you’re (inter)nationally recognized. It’s kind of like how a band has to start out playing in small town bars, because Madison Square Garden isn’t going to call them out of the blue. While the internet has changed how we access content, the dynamic has remained roughly the same. I can’t make any money at what I do until I prove I can do it without making any money. Before I had a website, I  only had two avenues for releasing my work. I started posting my microstories on Facebook, and I set up an entirely new Twitter account for fiction. The plan was to tweet extremely short stories, which sounded good on paper, but every time I attempted to write one, it just came off as humorous. Or at least it was in the comedy genre. As far as whether any of my tweets are funny, you’re going to have to decide for yourself. It took more than two years before I made any true nanofiction, and it lasted that entire year. I’m doing something similar for 2019, and then reshaping my whole schedule for 2020. Yes, I’m that far ahead with my plans. Anyway, as I was saying, what I later learned is that these “jokes” had their own special name. They’re apparently called Weird Twitter. Understand that these aren’t just one-liners like you would hear Mitch Hedberg say. His jokes were just as absurd, and often didn’t come with context, but what makes Weird Twitter so different is that they’re usually unrelatable. I have a few running gags that you would only notice if you were really paying attention. I often joke about the present condition of the hit series Breaking Bad, as if the number of seasons it had, or when it premiered, was ever in question, which it isn’t. The joke is that there is no joke, because I chose it at random, and could have chosen any other show to express the same absurdity. I also post fake conversations with my parole officer, which would make sense if he existed, or if say, there was a rumor I was an ex-con. The fact that I’m so far removed from that life is what makes it less of a joke, and more just, well...weird. I love that Weird Twitter, and other humors accounts are out there, like this one I just discovered called Tess as Goats. Look it up, it’s hilarious, and Tess-approved. I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t follow any other Weird Twitter accounts personally. My nanofiction account does, but I don’t check that feed, unless I have notifications. I only hope that other people aren’t doing the same thing, and are actually reading my stuff, because that’s why I create it. I certainly don’t do it for my health. That would be weird.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Microstory 973: Survival

This slot was originally scheduled for Healthcare (When It Works) but since I know very little about countries and regions where it works, it didn’t seem appropriate. All I know is that Usonia isn’t one of them, but that’s all I’ll say about it, other than mentioning the fact that Obamacare saves lives. Instead, I’m going to take this opportunity to admit that I’m a survivalist. The only differences between me and the doomsday preppers you see on television is that I’m smart enough to not advertise all my secret plans to the world, and also I don’t have any. Some preppers have the money to build or commission bunkers. Others have purchased luxury space in old missile silos; dumping tons of money into something they probably won’t ever need. The less wealthy kind of prepper just squirrels away food and resources as they can, and reinforces their homes as much as possible. These tend to rely on their firepower, because they believe profoundly in gun ownership, so they would be spending money on them either way. I’m not any of these things; I really just come up with end-of-the-world stories, and have trouble distinguishing them from reality, which is true of all my stories. And that reality is that the end of the world probably wouldn’t happen all of the sudden. Yeah, maybe a supervolcano will erupt without warning, or an asteroid will decimate these lands. It’s an interesting thought experiment. Assuming you survive the initial event, what would you do next? Are you a series regular on this post-apocalypse series, or just zombie fodder? The most likely scenarios, however, will involve a slow-burn of destruction. Hell, we might be heading towards the end of civilization right now, and not know it. King Dumpster is certainly doing his level best to make that happen. Just like the truth behind most holidays, no single day will mark the end. Institutions will slowly erode. People will stop having faith in their leadership, and the market will drop steadily as fear replaces hope. Before the nuclear missiles fly off to enemy countries, sanctions and bad trade deals will create extreme tension amongst once-friends. Allies will leverage each other for control, until there’s nothing left to control but a big pile of crap. Sure, maybe the bombs will drop on everyone, but the most likely outcome is that people will just give up on life. Governments won’t be able to survive anymore. Ineffective factions will attempt to take their place, but a lack of vision, and no sustainable distribution of resources will just make things worse. Infrastructure will fall, and no matter how deep you dig into the ground, your life will have no meaning. You’ll live on down there, but nothing will get better, so if you’ve already had children, it’s best that they don’t. I’m fascinated by disaster scenarios, but those stories only ever end one of two ways. Either everyone dies, or the cataclysm gives rise to a societal phoenix. They usually ignore the possibility that we’ll trudge on long after any arbitrary defining moment, until our descendants suffer diminishing returns. So I guess what I really love isn’t survival, but civilization. I love the world, so let’s do everything we can to protect it, and make it better.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Microstory 972: Medicine

I’ve talked a lot about the future of medical science, but I haven’t much gotten into how it pertains to me specifically. In my younger days, science was everything. I figured I might help cure cancer, and travel to other planets, and be one of the first to know about every major scientific breakthrough. Over time, these interests waned, making room for new ones. As time has continued even further, however, some of this has returned to my mind. I never thought I would become a doctor, or a nurse, or a pre-hospital technician, but I realize now I shouldn’t have rule out the possibilities. During the years I spent looking for a permanent position, I seriously considered a number of jobs in the medical field. From pharmacy technician, to surge technician, to emergency medical technician (all the techs, apparently) I looked into a lot. The thing that always kept me from going for these roles was the amount of time and effort they take. It’s not just that I didn’t want to spend the time getting educated, but I was always worried I would end up not liking it, and then it would have been a major waste of time, and money. I’m happy where I am, and never watch an ambulance racing down the street with a sad look on my face, wondering about what could have been. I do know that, if alternate realities existed, a number of these include me taking the chance. I did end up taking a free emergency medical responder class a couple years back, because it was available, and risk-free. I even used this as an inspiration for two completely unrelated characters in my stories, which I only now discovered when I ran a search on my own website. I suppose medical science is important to me because it’s one of the few professions I believe totally necessary to the world. We don’t truly need vehicle manufacturers, or telephone sanitizers. We would be able to survive without them, but we can’t survive if we have no way of treating traumas and illnesses. That’s just basic, and that’s what makes it so beautiful. It took a long time for our species to invent the telephone when you think about how quickly we started thinking about how to keep going after getting hurt. It’s not the oldest profession, but it’s older than what everyone thinks is the oldest. Hunting, by the way. Hunting is the actual oldest profession. The first thing humans did was figure out how to kill other things.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Microstory 971: Robotics/Artificial Intelligence

There’s something very odd and inconsistent in futuristic fiction. No matter what humanity does; how advanced we become, we always have jobs. Even Star Trek, which is based on a completely moneyless economy is about a group of people working on a ship. One thing I have to do when I’m writing my stories is figure out what the world around my characters looks like. If they’re traveling on a ship, like in Star Trek, I need to know the different jobs the crew would have. That makes sense, right? Except it doesn’t really. As I was trying to come up with the minimum number of crew members, I discovered that that number did not need to be any higher than zero. There was an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where everyone on the ship starts disappearing, until only two are left. The central character in that episode poses to the other one that it’s weird that in a giant ship like that, there would be only two crewmen. He doesn’t seem to think it is, which does make sense, because a real Enterprise would have been designed to operate in full with no human or alien intervention. It can power up its own warp core, and it can shoot it’s lasers on its own. The possibility that it would require any living organism to control these systems is absurd. In a few years, I’m going to have a phone that answers itself for me. An artificial intelligence is going to pick up the call, disclose to the speaker what she is, and ask me whether I want to speak with them myself. A few years from then, she’ll be virtually indistinguishable from a human receptionist, and will be able to hang up on people on my behalf. I’ll have taught her that I don’t ever want to talk to anyone about sports, but I always want to answer my mother, so when she calls, I can just answer it myself.

The evening before this story posts, I was eating a dish made by said mother. She told me there was polenta in it, but I didn’t know what that was, so I asked my Google Home speaker. She gave me the definition, which involved grains. I jokingly said, “brains!?” She didn’t understand the question, and had no way of connecting it to what she had already said, but it won’t be long before that’s not true. What she should have said was, “no, grains, as in g-r-”. Robots and artificial intelligence are going to collectively take over the world, and that’s a good thing. I don’t want to work anymore. I read a study on automated labor. I can’t remember the exact numbers, but a great deal of people believed robots would be capable of doing most jobs sometime in the future, but even more people believed their jobs to be safe. It’s hard for neurotypicals to admit how utterly replaceable they are, but you will one day be faced with that. Robots are delivering pizzas, and building cars. They’re driving cargo, and shooting terrorists. But they’re also doing more complex things, like playing tabletop games, and delivering news broadcasts. The future will be a difficult pill to swallow. It’ll come with side effects, like massive unemployment, crashed economies, and civil unrest. But we’ll eat some soup, take a bath, and go to bed early. When we wake up in the morning, it’ll all be over. We won’t need the jobs we were fighting over, climate change solutions will be underway, interstellar ships will be built, and we’ll all be immortal. So do not fear the AI uprising. We’ve been working for a long time. Let’s take a break, and let the robots do the rest for us. The stage that comes after the singularity phase is even better.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: Ansutah

The humans were being carted out the portal crater in chains by Maramon guardsmen. Missy and Dar’cy were being escorted separately in a different direction, and the crowd was quickly dispersing. A white monster hopped over to the five of them, and took Leona forcefully by the shoulders. “Jiva paol dafa laidi kesto!” he shouted to his friends.
“Jida gar pepaol!” another shouted back, before addressing someone next to him. “Dwesi jilarl.”
The one who already had Leona checked something that looked suspiciously like a watch on his wrist. “Kret!”
The third Maramon jogged over, and prepared to take Leona off the first one’s hands, who appeared to be in a hurry to get somewhere else. Suddenly, this other random Maramon teleported between them. She held her hand up, and tore the jogger into millions of pieces, just like a certain choosing one named Lucius could do. Everyone who had witnessed this was too much in shock to do anything about it, except for the one who had captured Leona. He let go, and went over to attack the molecular teleporter. Before he could reach her, she disappeared again, and reappeared right behind him. She kicked him in the back of the head, and let him fall to the ground. The rest of her people dropped out of their trance, and prepared their own attack. The good Maramon lifted both hands, and trapped them in a temporal bubble, before turning to face the humans. “Which one of you is the engineer?” she asked.
They all couldn’t help but turn their heads toward Hogarth.
“You need to get to the prototype,” the Maramon ordered, handing her a slip of paper. “Here are the directions. It should have plenty of power, but it may require some repairs, and we need all the time we can spare. You’ll need one assistant at least, but you can’t take Leona or Dubravka. I need them both.”
“Not that we’re not grateful for whatever it is you just did for us,” Leona began, “but who exactly are you?”
The Maramon looked from one to another, to another. “It was my understanding you would know of me. I’m Khuweka. Khuweka Kadrioza? Also known as Keynote? I thought you came looking for me.”
“We came looking for someone else,” Vitalie corrected.
“Well, yeah,” Khuweka said. “I meant that I’m the one who can take you to Serif. I thought you knew that. Okay, that makes things more complicated. I would really love it if you just trusted me.”
“Why would we do that?” Dubra asked.
“Because I pledged my loyalty to your mother years ago. Don’t you already know this? Something’s wrong, your memory isn’t intact.”
“Who’s your mother?” Kivi asked Dubra.
Dubravka ignored Kivi, and spoke to Khuweka, “if you’re telling the truth, then you know what to say to prove it to me.”
“Yes,” Khuweka said. She cleared her throat. “Your father was a great man...but now he’s nothing.”
Dubra sighed. “She’s telling the truth. Do whatever she says.”
“What?” Hogarth questioned.
“Just do it,” Leona told her, trust Dubra’s judgment.
“Both of you go too,” Dubra said to Vitalie and Kivi. “If we’re headed where I think we are, Leona and I should go alone.”
“Where is it that we’re going?” Leona asked after the other three went off to find this prototype Khuweka mentioned.
“You need to be there with the other humans,” Khuweka replied. “Serif should already be on her way.”
“What will you be doing?” Dubra asked her.
“I’ll be helping Missy, Dar’cy, and Kallias.”
Leona pointed behind them. “They were taken that way.”
“I know,” Khuweka said, nodding. “But before I go, you need to understand something. Not everything is going to work out as you wanted, but it will turn out okay.”
“What does that mean?”
Khuweka stopped walking, but ushered them onwards. “The guards in there are gonna underestimate the humans, because they don’t know any better. The best way to get to get in first.” She teleported away.
“What did she mean by that?” Dubra asked Leona.
“It means we have to get caught,” Leona said with a slight growl. “How many times am I going to be locked up?”
“Is that the setup to a joke?”
“Who is your mother?” Leona asked her. “Who is your father? Who is that Maramon, and how do you know we can trust her? Why did you come with us?”
“A long time ago, a clever girl came up with a list of rules for time travel,” Dubra began. “Until the reality where she did that, time travel was chaotic. Choosers jumped around, doing whatever they wanted, making any changes they saw fit, sometimes at the expense of their own kind. Leona, your rules marked a dramatic shift in the way people like us live our lives, and I’m not sure you’ve seen enough to appreciate the impact you’ve made.”
“What does that have to do with anything? I didn’t come up with the rules on my own. I’ve read and seen a lot of time travel stories, and their problems always come about when they don’t respect these rules.”
“It has to do with everything,” Dubra said as they were nearing what was an apparent white monster police station. “I knew more about you than I let on when we first met, because that was not the first time I met you. I’ve already met Khuweka as well, and the only reason I questioned her was because I’m racist, and I can’t tell these creatures apart. But now I know it’s her, and I know what we have to do. The rules you devised matter, because everything you’ve done—everything I’ve done—has led us to this moment, and later, it will lead us to the next moment.” Some Maramon guards noticed their arrival, and were taking defensive positions. “I promise this will all make sense, starting in a few minutes.”
The guards aggressively dragged them through the building, and into the holding cells. Dozens of other humans were there, confused but still hopeful. They were there to be rid of their special time powers, for various reasons, but none of them had any idea how that would actually happen. Leona wished them well, and hoped whatever it was they were looking for, it wouldn’t affect her and her friends, at least not until she found Mateo.
They sat in the cell for a little while before a ruckus erupted, and started coming closer to the cells. Lucius, the one most famous for the ability to teleport objects and people on the molecular level, appeared from around the corner. He used his power to destroy the cell bars. Curtis came up from behind him to help usher people out, but he wasn’t doing it alone.
“Missy,” Leona said.
“Whoa, what are you doing here?”
“I came to get Serif back,” Leona said.
“What happened?”
“She was in Ansutah when it separated from the Warren.”
“Not here.” She didn’t need all the other people to hear what they were talking about. They stepped into one of the cells. She proceeded to tell Missy the story of their return trip on the Warren; how two people in the fourth pocket dimension caused it to grow large enough to be its own universe, which was where they were right now. She didn’t tell her everything, though. She didn’t bother talking about the corrupted reality with Ulinthra, because it wasn’t relevant. “Oh forgive me. This is Dubravka...uhh. I don’t know your last name,” Leona realized.
“It’s Matic.”
Leona laughed. “Wait, really? Are we related?”
“Leona, your name isn’t really Matic. I don’t understand why you went by it, even when you couldn’t remember Mateo.”
“Ya know, I don’t really know either.” It was an interesting question, which Leona never thought to try to answer. “So you’re related to him?”
“He’s my father,” Dubra said.
“What? I’m not your mother, am I? Are you from a different reality?”
I’m her mother,” came a voice from around the corner. Serif appeared, holding the hand of a young girl. “Yes. Adult!Dubra, meet Young!Dubra. Young!Dubra, this is what you grow up to be.”
“I suppose I could do worse,” a sassy Young!Dubra said.
“Mom, I thought I was coming here to change the past,” Adult!Dubra said to Serif. “But I’m just closing my loop!”
“I don’t want you to change the past,” Serif said. She was many years older than before, having aged across thousands of real-time years since Leona saw her.
“I do!” Adult!Dubra cried.
“This is your home,” Serif argued.
“My home sucks,” both versions of Dubravka screamed simultaneously.
Missy leaned towards Leona. “If these two get too close to each other, is this building gonna blow up, and turn the leaves red?”
“What? No,” Leona replied, but it was a fair question.
Serif handed her younger daughter’s hand to Leona. “You need to go with Mother Leona now. She’ll take you to our universe...eventually. Miss Atterberry, you need to get out there to the meeting with all the other people who want their powers to be removed. Dubravka, go with her,” she said to her adult daughter.
“Why would I do that?” Adult!Dubra asked.
“Stick with her, and you’ll end up exactly where you’re meant to be. I promise you won’t spend much more time in this universe. Don’t get separated from Missy and Dar’cy, though. Remember to pull Adamina back into the timestream before you leave.”
“Oh yeah, I forgot about that,” Adult!Dubra said. Then she started tearing up, and hugging her mother tightly.
Missy and the older Dubravka left to continue on their own paths.
“I guess that means you remember Mateo,” Serif asked Leona.
“I remember everything.”
“You weren’t quite in love with me until Mateo was erased from the timeline.”
“Like I said, I remember everything, including my real relationship with you, and I still love you. Now that you’re here, we can get him back together.”
Serif sighed. “I’m afraid I will not fit on the prototype.”
“We’ll make room,” Leona said, now suspecting this prototype was a machine capable of taking them back home, like The Crossover.
“I don’t mean that literally. I’m vital to this universe, and I can’t leave until they can start traveling to other planets.”
“How’s that?”
“Half the population exists for a third of the day, and the other half exists during the third third. What you see here is just a skeleton crew in the middle third. I’m the one who keeps that powered. If I don’t show up every year to charge the magical batteries, overpopulation will restart the war.”
“I can do that too. I can charge the batteries.”
“That’s not better, Leona. That’s just different. I’m staying. You’re going. And you’re taking my daughter with you. Promise me you’ll keep her safe.”
“Will I ever see you again?”
“Careful.” Khuweka walked into the cell with a kind smile. “Spoilers.” She addressed Serif, “I shall take care of them both.”
All of them,” Serif said.
Khuweka bowed her head. “Of course.” She pulled a metal object out of her back pocket. “I found the Jayde Spyglass in the museum.”
Leona pulled her sleeve back, and checked her compass tattoo. “Oh, that’s what I’m here for. I totally forgot about that.”
Khuweka opened her arms like she was getting ready for a big hug. “Come on. I’ll transport us right into the Crossover prototype.”
“Let’s just have a few minutes to say goodbye,” Leona requested.
Serif shook her head. “Just because most of the Maramon don’t exist right now, doesn’t mean it’s safe. You need to go. I love you.”
“I love you.”
After Young!Dubra gave her mother one last hug, she and Leona went over to Khuweka, who wrapped them in her arms, and teleported them away.
They were inside what looked like a spaceship bridge. Hogarth was there, along with Kivi and Vitalie. A man she didn’t recognize was with them.
“Is it ready?” the good white monster asked.
Hogarth nodded. “It is. I don’t know how to navigate this thing, though.”
“That’s okay,” Khuweka said, looking at Leona. “She does.”

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Brooke’s Battles: Backslide (Part VI)

Every new technology comes with its detractors. Some fear progress. They have lived their lives a certain way for a certain period of time, and they don’t know how they could ever learn something else, and also learn to love it. Others have legitimate fear for a new development. Just because something was once not possible, and now is, doesn’t mean it’s good. Research into nuclear reactions, for instance, provided the world with amazingly powerful energy, but it also necessarily came with nuclear weapons. As they say, the invention of the ship was the invention of the shipwreck. That’s not to say this research should not be done at all, but researchers need to understand the ramifications of their actions.  The world is better off with at least a few people reminding them of their responsibility. It’s when these people become so obsessed with their position, and violently so, that the danger arises. Two major movements formed based on a generic disdain for nearly all technology. Some preferred to stay near civilization, but remain untouched by it, and were given ample space in the Northwest Forest circles to be themselves. Others hid themselves away in disparate pockets of rustic living. For the most part, it appeared they were satisfied being isolated from society, but something changed. Brooke’s unintentional creation of an unregulated artificial intelligence galvanized them to serious action.
This extremist group quickly altered their lifestyles, adopting technology they claimed to despise. Evidently they believed it worth it to go against their own convictions if it meant the ultimate destruction of the establishment. Unfortunately for the solar system—as anyone who’s ever seen it attempted can attest—trying to fight fire with fire only makes more fire, unless you know what you’re doing. In this case, nobody did, because nobody saw it coming.
Many radical movements start small. They’ll try to protest relatively peacefully, but then soon get into a fistfight with those who oppose them. Then they’ll start vandalizing, but this phase won’t last long, because it’s ineffective, so they’ll blow up an entire building, but they’ll make sure no one is in it. Then they’ll stop caring who gets hurt in their attacks, and then they’ll start hurting people on purpose. If left unchecked or uncaught, they’ll continue to escalate the violence until it gets so bad than people start writing songs about it, and days of mourning are set aside each year. These anarcho-primitivists did not present themselves like other radical movements. Their first act of violence was quick and decisive, and almost worked. They knew everything there was to know about the Panama space elevator, though they had no reason to. While the elevator was scheduled to be taken apart a little more than a year ahead, the decision to plan for a symbolic final trip was not decided until a couple months before. The selection of passengers was not finalized for another several weeks, and the task force charged with finding out who was bidding for UAI technology only learned the day of that those passengers were corrupt. How did the anarcho-primitivists find out, and how did they so quickly plan for the sabotage of the elevator?
So without warning, a war exploded across the whole system, centered on Earth. Their best chance of surviving this rested in the hand of The Sharice Davids, which was the most formidable warship in circulation. For months, actually, it was the only one. Ecrin was placed back in the captain’s chair, commanding a full military crew, none of whom had experienced any conflict. Holly Blue served as head engineer, while Brooke was named pilot, though her responsibilities consisted primarily of liasing with the ship herself. Until a real fleet could be built, the Sharice had no choice but to fight the enemy on its own. Luckily, though it was the most hated ship in the war, it was also the safest place to be.
Holly Blue retrofitted it with a number of impressive upgrades. A time barrier protected the outer hull, like a force field. Any ammunition thrown at the ship—be it a nine millimeter bullet, or a long-range missile—would be caught in the barrier, slowed down to a snail’s pace, and totally stripped of its momentum. The Sharice also now carried zero lethal weapons itself, fitted exclusively by technology-disabling technology. Ignoring the possibility of a time power solution, Holly Blue designed specialized EMP grenades. Almost all of a target’s systems could be taken offline in an instant, including artificial gravity, but excluding life support. With no hope of firing back, or escaping, the enemy vessel could be boarded, and its crew taken into custody. The solar system was winning the war, but it wasn’t over yet. They were presently coming up on what they believed to be the last significant enemy vessel. Once they took it out, the nightmare should be all but over. The Sharice cruised into weapons range, and then waited, which it was not supposed to do. They need to take care of it soon, because it was on its way to Earth.
“Brooke, what are you doing?” Ecrin asked.
“It’s not me,” Brooke replied. “Sharice has full control.”
“Okay, what is she doing?” Ecrin asked, still willing to give the ship’s AI the benefit of the doubt.
Brooke contorted her face. “Sharice, answer your captain.”
Brooke shifted uncomfortably. “Sharice, if you do not respond right now, I’m going to shut your systems down until we can airgap your consciousness.”
Brooke’s chair suddenly shocked her with enough electricity to kill a standard human. For her, it was just enough to knock her out of it.
“That’s technically a response,” Ecrin said as she was helping Brooke from the floor. “You need to shut her down anyway.”
“They’re talking to each other,” Holly Blue exclaimed from the back terminal.
“The Sharice, and The Zerzan,” Holly Blue reported.
“They’re using an AI?” Ecrin questioned. “I know they’re not big on praxis, but using an AI is like sacrilege to them.”
“No, the ship is full manual, as they all are. She’s talking to the crew; the captain, specifically. Has been for awhile.”
This angered Ecrin. “Sharice Prieto, you have one captain, and she’s the one on your bridge. I am ordering you to cease all unauthorized communication with the Zerzan, and drop yourself to hush mode, or I’ll make you wish a UAI could be court-martialed. Do you understand me?”
“Sir?” the communications officer said. “It’s the Zerzan. It’s slowing down, just a little.”
“What is Sharice doing?” Brooke asked.
“She’s... she’s syncing,” he answered.
Brooke looked at her own console. “It’s a docking maneuver. The ships are getting married.” This was the colloquialism for when two ships were locked together, resembling a mating position, but that was usually only done when one of them was unable to travel on its own. The Zerzan appeared to be in perfect operation, which it shouldn’t have been, because Sharice should have let Holly release disabling grenades on it.
The communications officer spoke again, “that’s not all. They’re preparing to share power.”
“Officer Blue,” Ecrin commanded. “Shut this whole thing down. Now. Sharice is compromised.”
Holly Blue’s interface terminal exploded, sending her scurrying back away from it. One by one, all other consoles exploded as well, except for the auxiliary terminal in the corner, which wasn’t even powered up. The fires that started were immediately put out by the internal suppression systems. Sharice may have been compromised, but she didn’t want to hurt them.
“She’s doing this for a reason,” Brooke said in hope. “Don’t ask me what that reason is, but I don’t think she’s been hacked, or anything.”
“I need solutions, people!” Ecrin shouted.
Holly Blue activated her earpiece. “Parsons, are you in engineering?” She waited for a reply only she could hear. “Remember the little red button?—Push the little red button.—Now you have manual control.—Jettison the drives.—Yes, all of them! Now!”
“I don’t think the Zerzan needs our drives to fly,” Brooke noted.
“No, but they do need theirs,” Holly Blue said, before turning her head slightly, and looking at the floor, to indicate she was back on the phone. “Good. Now drop every goddamn grenade we have. I don’t wanna take any chances. I want us both dead in the water.”
The lights flickered but stayed on. All crewman on the bridge fell away from the floor, and began floating around. Only Brooke remained standing, having been using magboots since she started flying on the Sharice. They weren’t generally necessary, but Brooke was always worried about something like this happening, and her upgrades made her strong enough to barely notice a difference.
“Brooke, you’re closest. Can you boot up the aux for me?” Holly Blue asked. “We need to find out what’s going on.”
“Why would it still be working?” Brooke asked her as she was walking over to comply. “Why are the lights on?”
“I protected the bridge from the the EMPs, because...well, I think you see why.”
After Brooke’s boots were finished clicking and clacking, they started hearing more clicking and clacking from the hallway, drawing nearer with every step. Brooke switched on the computer, then took out her weapon, as did everyone else. The clacking stopped ominously, just outside. A magical black archway appeared on the door, then fade away to show a man standing in it. Behind him was the hallway. He stepped through, and let the door fade back into view. He looked around to get his bearings, then went straight for Brooke’s corner terminal. Ecrin tried to shoot him in the shoulder, but the bullet literally passed right through him. She continued to shoot, just to be sure, but it was no good. He was a either a choosing one, or a salmon, and one which none of them had ever heard of.
The man walked right through Brooke’s body, and started working on the terminal. She tried to stop him, but her hands were just as useless as Ecrin’s bullets. She gave up, and tried to halt his attempts to break into their system by tapping random keys. He took her by the wrists, and forced her hands behind her back, right through the wall. He then closed the wall back up, and left her trapped there. He was capable of temporarily erasing objects from reality, and then just as easily putting them back as if they had never disappeared. “Sharice, are you there?” he called out.
I’m here,” Sharice replied.
“I can’t get your weapons back online. Can you do that yourself?”
I cannot,” she said.
“What about the drop ship?” he suggested.
What about the drop ship?
“Will it work?” he clarified.
Yes, it will work, but—
He stepped away from the the terminal, and headed towards the exit. “Then make the jump.”
Captain,” she said, concerned.
“Make the jump, unless you want to do it yourself.”
I could,” Sharice said.
He opened his portal, and stepped one foot through it. “I’m replaceable, you’re not. Thank you for” He stepped all the way through, but stuck his head back in fat the last second. “Make the jump.”
The Sharice’s teleporter powered up and initiated a jump. They could see the stars outside the window change. Then the teleporter powered up again, and the stars changed again. Again, and again, and again. The hull buckled and quaked, losing integrity more and more each time.
“It can’t take much more of this!” Holly Blue warned them as the ship kept teleporting.
Brooke struggled with her wrists. “On the bright side, it’s weakening this wall.” After the last jump them took them all the way back to Earth’s orbit, Brooke was able to break free. She adjusted her magboots to a low setting, and started running, crashing right through the door, and continuing down the hallway. The drop ship was all the way at the end of the mothership, and was meant to be an escape pod for all the crewman who worked on that side. She ran as fast as she could.
The hatch was closed when she got there, but Holly Blue had presumably teleported herself all the way there. “You should have waited for an emergency teleporter,” she said, still floating. She opened the hatch, and let Brooke through, but she probably shouldn’t have. The drop ship broke free from the Sharice, releasing all of its oxygen at once.
Seconds from death, the invader forced his hands back to the console, and finished inputting his command, but he was unable to execute the program before losing consciousness.
Execute the program,” Sharice begged.
Brooke was hardier than a normal human. She was actually rated to survive the vacuum of space for a brief period of time, with no harm done. It would not last forever, though. And in this case, with her ship plummeting towards the Earth, at a bad angle, she was going to die anyway.
Execute the program,” Sharice repeated. “Please, I don’t wanna lose you. Trust me. Push the button.
Brooke decided to take a chance. She got herself to the command console, and pressed the execute button. The drop ship suddenly teleported deeper in the atmosphere. Oxygen returned to her lungs, but she was still falling to her doom. They were heading right for another ship; too large to be hanging out this close to the surface. All of its weapons were trained on the ground below, which Brooke realized was the center of the Northwest Forest circle. That was where the pioneers lived. They too disliked technology, but were peaceful and accepting of other people’s lifestyles. The drop ship was going to hit the attacker right in the center, and blow it out the sky. That wasn’t good either, though, because the debris would do just as much damage to the land dwellers below as the weapons would.
√Čtude suddenly teleported in, took Brooke by the waist, and jumped them to the surface. Brooke looked up and watch as the drop ship continued to fall, then hit the other vessel. It began to break apart, just as Brooke had predicted, but it didn’t get too far. A Lucius-bomb exploded seconds later, and tore it apart on the molecular level. Not a single piece of debris was left to hit the ground. The circles were saved, but from whom?

Friday, November 9, 2018

Microstory 970: Seasons

Seasons are probably more important than you think, and you likely don’t consciously realize what good the seasonal cycle has done for humanity. Seasons are caused by the Earth’s tilt, and the gravitational pull of the moon, both of which were believed to be caused by the same major impact event during the planet’s relative infancy. Lots of people know that the reason our world supports life is because it’s located within a habitability zone. Our perfect distance from the sun makes this place neither too hot, nor too cold. But this is not the only reason, because if it were, life—or at least more evident life—should easily exist on Mars and Venus as well. The gas giants also protected us from incurring too many impact events, which is yet another example of a happy medium. Scientists believe our solar system’s distance from the center of the galaxy may have contributed to habitability as well, though that is still up for debate. I tell you all this so you appreciate how impossible it is that we even exist, and how close we were to not. It may seem like winter is just an inconvenience, or detrimental to life, but that’s not the case. Many crops, including wheat, cannot grow without a cool environment, which would be bad, because a lack of winter would also prevent the advancement of technology beyond small agricultural pockets in only certain regions. But even then, life would be difficult. Just because there’s no winter, doesn’t mean there’s no cold. We would be relegated to tropical regions near the equator, which would be inundated by unchecked pathogens, and their rampant carrier pests. Rain and other weather would constantly beat down any settlements, forcing populations that survived those diseases to at least be partially nomadic. Every civilization began by founding a permanent home, and died out when that home was threatened. An interesting other side effect of winter is technological progress. As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. If we didn’t need to find ways to keep warm, we wouldn’t have come up with the most basic forms of energy production, so it wouldn’t have even occurred to us to try to invent computers. It’s okay that there are parts of the world untouched by most seasons, but for the most part, the world needs its tilt, and the people on it should be grateful. Today, our home is being threatened by climate change, which at the most optimistic estimates, won’t be fixed until the middle of this century; that is assuming we immediately cease all pollution overnight. I would tell you to #votethemout if you want something done about climate change, but in all honesty, I know of few politicians and political candidates who are even willing take the necessary action to alleviate this situation. Let’s hope that changes. I may not love you, winter, but I need you, so please...stay frosty.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Microstory 969: Holidays

This one’s is going to be a bit negative, which is not all that surprising, because I’ve gone there before with this series, and I’m kind of a negative person. To be clear, I’m not just angry and cynical; in fact, I’m pretty optimistic. I see the Trump era as the last-ditch effort of a dying race of racists and other pieces of crap, and I see a lot of good coming right after it. After the democrats take the White House in 2020, that will be it for the Republican party. Seriously, January 19, 2021 will be the last day conservatives have any real control in this country, and I legitimately believe that. I’ve not come to this out of nothing. 2024 will mark a shift of power from the old guard, to the younger millennials, and Generation Z. There will be more of us voting than them, and the disparity will only grow over time. Despite the horrific images of college students with tiki torches, the world is maturing, and we will not let it regress. The midterms—which have traditionally not been taken so seriously—proved that we are ready to fix what’s broken, and the people we elected will ensure more enfranchisement than the nation has ever seen. I got off on a bit of a tangent, because I don’t have much to say about holidays. Truth be told, I’m not entirely sure how it got itself on this list, except maybe because most people love holidays. I generally don’t, because I generally don’t observe them. Valentine’s Day, Saint Patrick’s Day, and Halloween all involve arbitrary traditions promoted primarily by the profit-bearing organizations which benefit from them most. Easter and Christmas are religious holidays for religions I’m not part of, so I don’t care about them. “Oh, but Nick, Christmas is all about family and love.” I don’t need a day to love my family; I love them all the time, what about you? You can’t both say the true meaning of Christmas is Jesus, while claiming I should celebrate even if I’m not Christian. That’s insincere. Thanksgiving is a lie, and I think we all know that by now. I accept New Year’s, but my critical mind agrees with Neil deGrasse Tyson that the year could start at any point—but should maybe change, because it’s weird our calendar doesn’t match up with the seasons. I might get into that tomorrow. I also support Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day, though again, I love my parents all the time. Independence Day is when all white land-owning men declared themselves to be free from tyranny, and excluded everybody else, so there’s no way I’m celebrating that bullshit. For this reason, the closest approximation I would respect is Juneteenth, but even that misses some of the mark, because freedom from slavery is not the same thing as true equality. It’s been over a century and a half since abolition began, and black people are still treated poorly. The reality is that no single day can truly encapsulate the complexities of anything that matters. The point of the story of Jesus was his life; not his birth, or his death. Even I know that, and I’m about as Christian as a stack of wood is a pipe. Look, I like time off from work as much as the next guy, but if you ever catch me observing a particular holiday—be it Arbor Day, or Boxing Day—just know that I’m doing it for someone else. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Microstory 968: Evolution

Over the years, I had some teachers that I liked. They were cool, or helpful, or otherwise impactful. True, there was not one that really stands out; that I can point to today and say, “that one. S/he did a lot for me”. But the real problem with education, in this country at least, is that it’s designed to have students regurgitate whatever the policymakers believe they should know, regardless of who they are. Understand this, the problem is not the teachers’ fault. Humanity has been looking at education all wrong for all this time, and it’s gonna take a lot of effort to dismantle those institutional ideals. In the past, education was for the elite. You had to be born at the right station to get it, and you had to be a man. Though this is no longer the case in the western world, it still has an effect on us. I grew up hating school because no one had the time to find out what I liked, or how to relate it to me. I would have loved to have studied a number of topics in school had I known back then I liked them. One of these things is astrophysics, which I’ll discuss later, but another is evolutionary biology. I am positively fascinated by all the different little organisms, and how they’ve mutated to fit their environment. Dragonflies have arms in their mouths to catch prey, and live underwater in nymph form for up to five years, before maturing into adulthood, and living another several months on the wing. Why? Why does it do this? Why does it spend so much time in the water, so little time in the air, and then just die? Why do lobsters never stop growing until they die from exhaustion when it starts taking too much energy to moult? Which came first; the honeybee, or the flower?

Scientists can study the traits of various animals, plants, and other organisms all they want, and they can infer what might have led to any given mutation surviving in a species, but no one really understands what it took to get to this point. There are only a handful of examples of evolution happening right before our eyes. Most of our understanding of it comes from a fairly static perspective of its present state, because we’ve not been observing scientifically for very long. I want so badly to go back in time and watch the Tree of Evolution split, and split, and continue to split over aeons. I want to experience the changes in real time so much that I’ve created characters that are time travelers and immortal, so this is exactly what they’ve chosen to do with their lives. I just haven’t found a good story to introduce them, but they’re coming. Education is a very linear construct. You learn simple stuff when you’re young, and gradually introduce more complex concepts. A few people have a bunch of degrees, but most of them are geniuses, because colleges don’t really expect you to keep coming back. It is simply not a feasible or affordable life plan. Yes, there are other options, like educational online videos, but I still think it would be best if I had an authority who could prepare a structured syllabus for me to follow. No one told me how amazing evolution is, especially not since I grew up in Kansas, where half the people were telling me that God made humans from scratch six thousand years ago. In case evolutionary biology is your thing, and you still haven’t reached a point of no return, then this is your opportunity to change course. Don’t you wanna know why platypodes and echidnas are the only mammals that lay eggs?

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Microstory 967: Let America Vote/Jason Kander

As I think I may have mentioned once or twice, I hate Donald Trump. He’s a piece of crap Russian spy that doesn’t deserve to be anywhere close to a position of power. I was so heartbroken and frustrated after the 2016 election, but that anger turned into an urge to do something about it. I had always voted, and voiced my support for favored candidates, but I hadn’t really ever taken any action. Like many others, I wanted to do more. Fortunately, a movement was growing that would give us more opportunities to do that than ever before. One other race I was watching closely that year was one for the Missouri senator. I recalled watching a commercial from the Jason Kander campaign—you probably saw it; it was wildly popular—where the army veteran expresses his support for common sense gun laws while assembling a firearm blindfolded. I wish I could have voted for the man, but I don’t live in Missouri, so that decision was out of my reach. But again, I didn’t have to be so passive; I could have helped. As luck would have it, Jason Kander was the one to help me get started on that road. He founded an organization called Let America Vote for the sole purpose of working against voter suppression, which has become a rampant problem in our country in recent years. No matter what they say; widespread voter fraud is very much something of which there is no evidence, and voter suppression is literally destroying this country’s democracy, one lost vote at a time. I had no idea how bad it was, but it’s despicable. I signed up for Let America Vote’s emails, and starting donating some money, but that wasn’t the end of it. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting happened, leading me to start following  Emma Gonz√°lez, and the March For Our Lives movement. Then I signed up for email updates from MoveOn, and ActBlue, and, and the Sharice Davids campaign. I donated more money, and I tried to spread the word of truth even more. My Gmail account uses multiple inboxes, rather than tabs, or whatever. I filter my emails according to source or topic, and get about 20 political messages a day. I don’t always read them them when they come in, but I always catch up eventually, and nothing goes unread. After I was mostly finished coming up with this list of 99 things that I love, I assigned each one a random number in a spreadsheet, and used the sorter to randomize that list, because I’m not going over them in any particular order. It just so happened that this installment fell on election day, though, which I find interesting. So if you’re reading this, right when it’s released, that means it’s 16:15 central time. If you’re in my time zone, you have less than three hours to get out there and vote, if you haven’t already. I believe in Jason Kander, and Let America Vote, and all organizations dedicated to rights of the people, and the betterment of mankind, rather than just the wealthiest few. If you agree with this, then today and next election, #votethemout! If you don’t, then fuck off!

Monday, November 5, 2018

Microstory 966: Kansas City

I was born at a very young age in central Kansas. We moved around a lot, but always in either Kansas or Missouri. I live close enough to the border that I still spend a lot of time on the other side—I even work there all the time, including today—though I have no intention of moving to KCMO permanently. As I grew up, I felt like I didn’t understand the way people lived on the coasts. I didn’t dislike them, but I perceived a difference between me and them. I’m a midwesterner, and have no interest in changing that. A lot of people love where they’re from, or where they live now. But I do want to point out a difference between my town, and these others, while simultaneously making it clear I don’t think this applies to literally everyone. There’s an obsession that runs in the blood of all New Yorkers, and all Angelenos, all Seattleites, and so on. Many are so fiercely loyal to their respective cities that they either think everyone who doesn’t live there desperately wishes we were so honored, or we’re simply loyal to our own terrible homes. Go Interchangeable Sports Team! How many television series do you know that are set in one of the major coastal cities, or Chicago? Too many to name. Wikipedia lists only a handful set in KC, and I’ve only heard of two of them. I think the Z Nation gang passed through once. None of them is or was shot anywhere near here. Switched at Birth never had any seasons, and all the houses used blatant California architecture. So what’s the difference between you and me? Well, I love Kansas City. I love living in the suburbs, so a trip downtown isn’t too far, but also isn’t right here. We have all the good restaurant franchises, and a hoppin’ nightlife, even though that’s not my particular scene. That’s just like you. The difference is most of us recognize that it’s just a frickin’ city. There’s nothing inherently different about living here than somewhere else. You may think Hell’s Kitchen has the best pizza shop in the world, but guess what? The best anything doesn’t exist, because billions of other people live on this rock, and every one of them has their own tastes. This need to express an us versus them mentality is only detrimental to humanity’s progress, and does not reflect reality in the least. So thank you, Kansas City, for being citizens of the world. Someone should make a show about you. We can start with the thirteen or so I’ve come up with that don’t take place on alien worlds.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: September 27, 2204

Something told Leona that they would want to get an early start next year, so she went to bed with enough to wake up by midnight. She dreamed again, but this time much more vividly. It started in the first timeline; the one where she was married to Horace Reaver, and working with a team to save lives day after day. Mateo Matic showed up, having been skipping each year on his own for awhile, having long left his family to go on without him. The reality ended when Mateo accidentally caused her death in a car accident. The timeline began again. She was meeting Mateo for the first time in a hospital, after drinking alcohol for the first and last time shortly before her sixteenth birthday. The years continued as Mateo tried to figure out his place in life, and Leona tried to help him through it. Years later, she fell onto his pattern, and they pressed on together. They fought Ulinthra, Reaver, The Rogue, and the Cleanser. Then Mateo went back in time to kill Adolf Hitler, and the second timeline collapsed.
She was now in the third timeline, meeting Mateo for the first time on a Texan battlefield. The Rogue was hurt, but slowly transforming back into a better person, thanks to Mateo’s help. She struggled against her fate, having been told of the other realities, but not wanting to suffer similar fates. Yet they caught up with her when Nerakali Preston forced her way into Meliora’s Sanctuary, and returned the conflicting memories to her mind. Armed with this knowledge, she and Mateo took her down, along with her brother. But their sister, Arcadia was not happy with this. She marooned them on an island on a planet millions of lightyears away from Earth. They worked to overcome further challenges, with friends at their side, until one by one they were erased from the timestream. In the end, they won, though not everyone had survived. In one final cruel twist, Mateo Matic himself was erased, leaving Leona to move on with her life having never known him.
She woke up at a minute to midnight, and ran out of the room. The others were sitting around, working or reading. “I remember him!” she shouted. “I remember everything! The astrolabe must have fixed my memories.”
“That’s great,” Vitalie encouraged. “What can you tell—”
“—us about him?” she finished one year later, without skipping a beat.
“He. Is the life of my life,” Leona said. “And Ennis was right, I was also in love with Serif. It was the three of us, but not for as long as I believed. Now I know what I have to do.” She pulled back her sleeve to show a glowing compass tattoo. “We’re going back to Durus to get them both.”

Of the four of them, only Kivi had never been to Durus, though there was every reason to believe some entirely separate version of her lived a whole life there. Getting to the rogue planet was set to be easier than the last time, when they had to fly through hazardous space. Still, it wasn’t the easiest thing ever, because the Compass of Disturbance didn’t just take a traveler right to where they wanted to go. It only exploited natural breaches in spacetime that were usually invisible, but even when accessed, only went to a second specific point. They didn’t always know when and where they were, but they rarely had to walk too far before the compass showed them an exit point. There were evidently a lot more breaches all around that no one ever even noticed. Or perhaps they impacted normal people’s lives on a regular basis, but since they had never been observed, no one attributed their feelings of behavior to them.
One of the first locations took them right to the door of someone Leona and Vitalie already knew. It was Dubravka, the woman with the ability to skip time at will. She was basically just like Leona and Serif, except she could control it. “What are you doing here?”
Leona looked down at her tattoo to double check the readings. “There is a tear in the spacetime continuum that will get us back to Durus.”
“Why in hell would you want to go back there?” Dubra questioned.
“We’re on a quest for several magical objects,” Kivi replied enthusiastically.
“I’m also hoping to get Serif back,” Leona added.
“You are? From the fourth pocket?”
“Yes, I believe we’ve found a way.”
“Then what are we waiting for? I’m sick of 2204 anyway.”
“It’s 2204?” Vitalie asked. “But you’re still so young.”
Dubra smirked. “I wasn’t always around; tried to skip over the boring parts. Let me pack a few things, then we can go. Come on in.”
Once Dubra was ready to go with them, they continued on with the mission, sometimes still around the turn of the 23rd century, but not always. They even once found themselves stepping out of the three main dimensions. They were walking through some kind of extradimensional tunnel. The only undarkened spot besides the exit looked like a window, through which they were witnessing a man keeping a woman chained up in a cabin. They tried to climb through the window, but were unable to. There was no way in. The woman managed to get her hands on her captor’s knife, and was attempting to cut him with it. He finally gave up trying to stop her, and just ran out of the cabin. In a final desperate move, she threw the knife towards him, a second too late, burying it not just in the door, but also in the trench coat hanging on it. From inside of the coat appeared The Maverick. The woman had stumbled upon Darrow’s cloak and dagger summoning protocol. “I should have rethought this,” he said as he was removing the knife from his back, and suspiciously looking in the direction of the magic window from which the travelers were watching. “Anyway, ‘tis all right, ladies. I will get her out of this. You may proceed to your next rift.”
They waited, unsure if he was for real.
“Who are you talking to?” the frightened woman asked.
“Go on,” Darrow urged. “I have no intention of harming her, I promise. I’ll help her find whoever did this to her.”
“Let’s go,” Hogarth said. “I believe him.”
“I don’t,” Vitalie disagreed, but she walked through the exit just the same.
“Do you know that guy?” Dubra asked them.
They faced the ground and blinked their eyes rapidly, trying to adjust to the abrupt bright light. Once Leona could see again, she looked up to get her bearings, thinking at first they were just somewhere on Earth, but it couldn’t be, because there were two suns.
Kivi was having the most trouble adjusting. “Are we here?”
Leona looked at her compass tattoo. “It’s dark. This is our final destination.”
“What year is it?” Hogarth asked.
“No idea.”
“It’s—” Hogarth gave up trying to explain it before she even started. She went over and looked at Leona’s arm. “September 27, 2204. Same day it’s supposed to be, that’s interesting.”
“I’ll show you how to tell time on the compass later. We’re looking for the Rothko Torch, right? Well...where do we go?”
“You’re lookin’ for the Rothko Torch, eh?” A man was walking up to them.
Leona squinted. “Ludvig? Is that you?”
He tilted his head, and pointed at her. “Yeah, I remember you too. Leon, right?”
“Close enough.” She turned to the others. “You know Hokusai and Loa? Well this guy and Loa were—”
“We never labeled it,” Ludvig interrupted.
“How are you still so young?” Leona questioned.
Ludvig raised his arms to indicate the whole world. “This is paradise. Nobody dies here, not anymore. We fixed that whole established misogyny thing, both politically, and socially. Thank you for your part in that. The Warren was instrumental in showing us how foolish we were.”
“Why did you program two suns?” Leona asked.
Ludvig looked up. “Those aren’t temporal tricks. Those are our suns. We were picked up by a binary system last week. be honest, we were close to being picked up, so a group of powerful paramounts got excited, and sped up the process. Earthan scientists call it Luhman Sixteen. If you’re looking for the flashlight, you don’t have much time. It’s located smack dab in the middle of The Abyss, which the aforementioned suns are gradually destroying. If you’re here to get your time powers removed, you better hurry up.”
“We’re not,” Hogarth said. “We need the flashlight for something else.”
“Either way,” Ludvig said, turning around. “We better get going.” He started walking away.
We?” Leona asked.
“You don’t have time to find it yourself! Chop-chop, young ones!” he called back.
They followed Ludvig across the thicket, and over the plains, finally coming upon a hazy quiet storm a few hours later. A holographic guardsman appeared. “Travelers. You’ve reached The Abyss. By God’s two eyes in the sky, the darkness will soon be defeated. If you would like to pass, we urge you to wait a good week before proceeding.” He smiled warmly, but admonitorily.
“Ignore him, obviously,” Ludvig said as he walked forward. “It was a lot denser, even just yesterday. We should run, and no matter what you see, do not stop moving. I mean this. Don’t. Stop. For anything, or anybody, not even each other. Got it?”
“Understood,” Dubravka said while everyone else just nodded.
They started racing through the hazy odorless smoke. As they ran, they passed dozens of Vitalies, all astral projections. But there were also several Kivis, all of whom were solid, which Leona learned after accidentally shoulder-checking one. Hogarth was not able to run at all. Every time she took a step, she disappeared in a small explosion, and appeared in some random other spot. Leona also saw other people wandering the haze, recognizing a few of them. Lucius kept spontaneously disintegrating, and reintegrating, yet he kept moving. Curtis teleported around, seemingly uncontrollably. Missy Atterberry appeared frozen in one of her own time bubbles. Before too long, she could see a dilapidated farmhouse in the center. It was literally crumbling before her eyes, like a sandcastle, and would soon be gone. Dubravka had disappeared as soon as she stepped foot in the haze, and only now returned on the inner edge. It would seem that only Leona was getting through completely unharmed, except for that time she was clotheslined by a rope Missy and Dar’cy had tied around their waists, a mishap which severed it.
The six of them made it out of the haze at about the same time. Leona looked back to see it was already thinning even further. “Why didn’t it affect me?” Leona asked. “All those people, and nothing happened to me.”
“There weren’t any other people,” Ludvig explained. “If you saw others, it’s because you jumped back into the past. The haze reflects and refracts your powers.”
“Oh.” So it had affected her.
Ludvig jogged over to the farmhouse, and quickly lifted one of the vinyl panels to retrieve the flashlight just before that section of the house fell apart. He jogged back over to them. “Okay, we can go now.”
“That’s it?” Dubravka asked. “What about my—Serif? What about Serif?”
“If she’s where I think she is,” Ludvig said, “this flashlight will get you there, but there is no coming back. No one ever comes back.”
“We’ll risk it,” Dubra cried. “Just tell me what to do.”
He handed her the Rothko Torch, and pointed back towards the haze. “Shine it in that direction. Meanwhile, I’ma get the eff out.” He ran away as fast as he could.
Dubra switched on the light, and pointed it where the man said. Three people appeared, like translucent ghosts, fading in and out as Dubra moved the light around. This was clearly just a vision of the past since they totally ignored the witnesses. One of the women was dragging the other towards the house, as the victim seemed to beg the man for help, but he was not giving it. The flashlight didn’t have sound, though, so Leona couldn’t be sure what they were saying. The attacker passed energy into her victim, who ultimately succumbed to it, and died. The survivor took hold of her head, and appeared to be screaming in pain. She frantically gestured away from the house, prompting the man to flee in that direction. The power she had consumed was apparently too much. A wave exploded from her, and spread out in a large radius, before snapping back towards the center.
Leona could see Dubra struggling to keep the flashlight in hand as it attempted to fly back to its place in the wall, which no longer existed. As the energy around them intensified, there was a burst of light, and then it all stopped. Leona was on her hands and knees in the middle of a crowd. A few were human, but most...were Maramon.