Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Microstory 768: Salmon

A lot of people wonder where the term salmon comes from. For the longest time, nobody actually knew, because it did not originate in the same reality. During one timeline, the powers that be decided to call upon one of their little pets, who was named Ed Bolton. He was living in the year 1809, but they pushed him forward one year to 1810. But he only stayed there for three seconds, at which point they pushed him again to 1811. Again, this was short-lived, as he was only there for three minutes, long enough to encounter his friend and roommate, who had been wondering where he was for the last two years. He didn’t have time to both figure out the truth, and explain it, when he was pushed forward two years to 1813. By then, his roommate had moved out of their unit, and somewhere else. It took Ed nearly three hours to find where this was, and then go to him, looking for help. But at this point, the powers that be pushed him all the way to 1816, where he spent three days discovering his friend had moved to the other side of the country. He continued to jump forward in time, hopeless, and completely alone; three weeks in 1821, three months in in 1829 and 1830, and three years from 1843 to 1846. Just when he was feeling comfortable in this new era, with some simple math, he realized he was destined to jump yet again, this time to 1867, where he was likely to spend the next three decades. Fortunately, he would not have to be alone the entire time. He found himself in the company of two other travelers, who were from the future. They immediately treated him with kindness and understanding, and he came to find out that they already knew him, for he was scheduled to run into them again, periodically over the next century. Each time he did, he knew them better, and they knew him less, for they were jumping through time in opposite directions. Through all this, at some point, somebody remarked that these friends were, in fact, going the wrong direction. But it was Edward who drew the analogy of salmon, who were known for traveling upstream to spawn in the same place they were first born. Now this moment—this seemingly innocuous moment—would have repercussions across all of time and space, spanning past, present, future, and all realities. Though earlier versions of the timeline left Ed Bolton free to live his life oblivious to time travel, they too would come to refer to travelers who had no control over their travels as salmon. Some call it inevitable, others fate or destiny, but this would not be the only example of something in a reality that does not yet exist having an inexplicable effect on prior timelines. It would not even be the most profound.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Microstory 767: Sailboat

Christopher Clark was a Hydro Scout, which was a special class of scout dedicated to water activities. This didn’t mean they didn’t ever enjoy other environments, or that other classes of scout didn’t also participate in water activities, but they did have their own niches. There were Forest Scouts, Mountain Scouts, Prairie Scouts, Desert Scouts, Snow Scouts, Jungle Scouts, and even stranger ones, like Swamp Scouts, and City Scouts. In this world, scouts work differently than what you may be used to. For example, there is no separate organization for girls. They would never think to put people in those boxes. Nor was there ever a time when certain peoples were excluded from joining. Nor was there ever a time when certain peoples were excluded from joining. You are free to practice whatever spiritual beliefs you follow, you can be of any gender, or sexual orientation, and you can be of any race. The scouting program is also designed to be more of a lifelong adventure. The penultimate division is Senior Scouts, which starts when an individual reaches the age of majority at sixteen years, and generally goes for four years. After that, Post-senior scouts become more independent, often enter the workforce, and involve themselves in scouting functions only when they have time. Chris was only fourteen years old when he moved up to Senior Scouts, but this was because he was such good friends with those already in it, so they made an exception. One day, Chris and his fellow scouts were scheduled to go on a sailboat trip, marking the first time most of them had been on the ocean, including Chris. With his ability to see the future, Chris knew that things would not turn out well for them. He did not seek to stop the trip altogether, even though he knew everyone would believe him. Instead, he kept trying to fix the timeline, so that the future would change in their favor. They were meant to travel from Hawaii to a remote island in the North Pacific Ocean, but something went terribly wrong, and a sea of death came to swallow them up. Though he was not able to prevent the catastrophe, it would seem that he was able to save some lives in the trying. Though it would not be easy, and Christopher Clark would never return to his home stateside, he would find a bit of peace...in the last refuge.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Microstory 766: Four Spot

The four spot, or the universal heart symbol, is a graphical representation of the human heart. Historians are unsure who first came up with the symbol. Earliest depictions can be found in prehistoric art from the sixth century BUC, but it is believed to be much older than that. As the myth goes, there were two people deep in love with each other, who used the four spot as their new family crest, intending to pass it down to their children. The four curves represent the four chambers of the standard human heart, and later on as four tenets, ideas, or beliefs. Many religions have adapted the four spot to their respective faiths, and have come up with differing uses for the quadrant symbolism to satisfy their own dogma. The original story, however, says nothing about it. What is present is the intersection of two independent streams of infinity, symbolizing time as cyclical, and that no matter how far one travels from their loved ones, they will always inevitably come back around to their intersection. This is important as the story progresses, predicting a grand reunion between the lovers sometime in the future, after a great cataclysm separates them across a seemingly insurmountable vastness. Supposedly, each of the couple was holding onto one side of the crest at the moment of the calamity. When they were torn apart, so too was the crest itself, with the man retaining only the bottom half, and the woman keeping the top. Later apocrypha suggests the man’s half represents the testicles, while the woman’s the breasts, but this is improbably more than coincidence. The man ended up in the new universe, spreading the symbol to its inhabitants as the only symbol for the heart, while the woman stayed in the primary universe, notably causing Earthan humans to believe that they had come up with it on their own. As the tale predicts, these two universes shall one day be made whole again, and the four spot heart can once again be accepted as the true icon of love.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: August 18, 2164

Late in the morning of 2164, Dar’cy came into Leona and Serif’s room and gently woke them up. “We let you sleep a little, but we need you. Serif, specifically you.”
Serif was still groggy. “What is it? What happened?”
“A lot. Since you’ve been gone. We lost Missy.”
Leona shot up out of bed. “What? What do you mean, lost her?”
“Acute radiation poisoning. She was exposed. Well...” she lifted her shirt to reveal radiation burns on her chest. “We were all exposed, but hers was the worst. She didn’t make it a week, even with treatment.”
Leona found Serif’s shirt while she was looking for her own, and threw it over to her. “The micrometeoroid. I scrubbed afterwards.”
“It was too late for us,” Dar’cy explained. “Symptoms appeared just after you left. We all thought we just ate a bad batch of meal bars.”
“How much treatment do you have left?” Leona asked.
“None,” Dar’cy answered. “We ran out months ago, and now everybody looks like me. We were hoping Serif’s special healing powers could help us.”
“Of course,” Serif said. She couldn’t get her pants all the way on without her morning coffee, so she just gave up. “Take me to them.”
The rest of the crew was sitting in the lounge area, except for Nerakali, who was sprawled out on the floor. They all had vomit buckets. Paige noticed them come in, and checked her watch with her eyes closed. “You’re back. I didn’t realize it was your day.”
“Brooke, Paige, your upgrades. They’re not protecting you?” Leona asked while Serif was assessing everybody’s condition.
Paige laughed. “I didn’t get the antirad upgrade. I didn’t think I would need it.”
“I did,” Brooke said lethargically. “But I bought the bronze package. I need regular doses, or I lose it, which are heavily regulated, and supplied by my employer, who has no control over this mission.”
“Dar’cy?” Serif asked. “You seem the healthiest.”
“I threaded two months after the incident, when my dermatitis appeared. I only came back yesterday. Obviously we needed to save treatment for the people who couldn’t jump through time.”
“I still don’t get why you couldn’t take us with you,” Nerakali griped from the floor, head buried in a throw pillow.
“I don’t really either,” Dar’cy admitted. “I guess radiation poisoning makes it difficult for me to take passengers.”
“You barely tried!”
“Enough,” Paige demanded. “She’s back now, along with...Serif.” She clearly just wanted to go to sleep. “Please start with our pilot.”
“I’m the worst one!” Nerakali complained.
“She’s right,” Serif said. “She has to go first.”
Paige shook her head. “I can’t have that. She may be the sickest, but she’s also the most expendable. If Brooke goes, we lose control of the Warren.”
“Why does it matter?” Brooke questioned. “We’re all getting cured? She can go first, I don’t mind.”
Paige struggled to sit up straighter. “What if Serif can only save one of us? What if she can only save one of us per day? No, Brooke, it’s you. I make the decisions around here, and with Miss Atterberry gone, you are our best bet.”
“You’re wrong,” Leona said. “If Nerakali dies here, it will create the paradox I was telling you about. We don’t know when she goes back in time to seal her own fate, but one thing I do know is that she wasn’t at all sick when it happened. She has to get the cure to protect the timeline.”
“Leona Matic. Unlikely voice of reason,” Nerakali said.
“Shut up,” most of them barked at her in unison.
“Dar’cy,” Brooke said.
“What is it, hon?” Dar’cy asked her, coming over and kneeling down at Brooke’s side, ready to help.
“No, you. You get the cure. This is a logical problem, like that one where you and a...and like a, sheep and a wolf, or something, have to cross a river. You’re the piece of the puzzle that solves everything.” She was having trouble concentrating, but pushed through it. “Serif cures you, and say...say she can only do it once a day. Days don’t matter if you’re alive. If the rest of us die, you can go back in time and pull us out of the timestream to stop it from happening, meeting up with Serif after she recharges.”
“And what if she can only do it every week? Or every year, from her perspective?” Paige posed. “What if she can only do it once ever? What if the illness is so bad that it drains her of all her power?”
The room had no answer to this morbid riddle.
“Twelve hours,” Leona finally said.
Paige slumped back into the couch. “To what?”
“I never got a chance to study her ability. Give me twelve hours to do so. You think you can all make it that long? More importantly, Brooke, can you make it? Because Paige is right about one thing, you’re the most valuable crew member this boat has, with Missy gone.”
“Yeah, I can make twelve hours. I can make sixteen.”
“Ten,” Paige amended. “You have ten hours, and regardless of what you find out, Brooke goes first.”
“All right,” Leona accepted. “I’ll make a list of things I need. You’re all more familiar with the inventory.”

Eight hours later, Serif walked into Leona’s lab. “Anything?”
“Lot of things,” Leona answered. “Come here and take a look.”
Serif put her eyes on the microscope. “What am I seeing here?”
“Nanobots,” Leona said with a grin.
“Nanobots?”
“Nanobots,” she repeated. “Organic nanobots. Your body makes them. It converts the chemicals you eat in everyday foods into programmable machines. Programmable..by your brain. You can expel these through your breath, instinctively programming them to treat wounds.”
“Don’t the Earthans have this kind of technology anyway? Aren’t they part of transhumanistic upgrades?”
Leona shook her head, even though this wasn’t technically wrong. “You can’t just..give someone medical nanites. They have to not only be programmed for specific tasks, but be customized to the individual.”
Serif just stood there.
“The only nanites that can treat a patient are the ones that were made especially for them. They’re non-transferable.”
“Well, then why are mine?”
“Because you’re a miracle,” Leona said, no doy. “We already knew that. When you donate your nanites to others, they automatically become compatible with their blood, organs, and microbiome.”
“You say I create them when I eat.”
“Yeah, basically. They die eventually, just like any cell, and your body discharges them, probably through urine, and replaces them simultaneously. That’s why your patients don’t suddenly start carrying nanites themselves. They lose them after the job is done, and they don’t replicate.”
“If I create them when I eat, and lose them after a period, then I only have so many.”
“At any one time, that’s right. But theoretically you’ll just keep producing them, like man’s sperm. I still don’t know why you can do this. If you were born with it, or what. It’s not really a time power, and those are the only kinds we’ve ever seen, but I guess it’s possible tha—”
“Leona!” Serif interrupted her. “Come back to me.”
“Yeah, sorry, I get carried away. This is a major discovery.”
“If I have a limited number, maybe I really can be drained. Maybe I can only save one. Maybe two. Hell, maybe even three, which means I don’t just have to decide who lives, but also who dies.”
“Paige is making that decision. It’s her job.”
“She can make all the decisions she wants. It all comes down to me.”
“Look, I need more time. I need you to heal someone, and then I can test your refresh rate. We can’t know that if you don’t use it.”
“You’re not getting it. You were supposed to tell me I can heal everyone, with absolute certainty.”
“Science doesn’t work like that.”
“This isn’t science. It’s magic. What we do is magic! There’s a way out of this, and you need to figure it out!”
Leona shut down and turned herself into a statue.
Serif composed herself. “I’m sorry. I’m under a lot of stress. I can’t wrap my head around the possibility that something I do—or don’t do—could lead to someone’s death. I can’t pass that off to Paige. I’m the one with the power.” At last, she inhaled.
“No you’re not.” Leona said, coming to an idea.
“What?”
“You are now, but you don’t have to be.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Allogeneic HSCT.”
“I don’t know what that is.”
“A transplant. Transplants can transfer powers.”
“That works with time powers, but you said you don’t know if that’s what this is.”
“True, but it shouldn’t matter anyway. Cancer patients receive marrow transplants when their body can no longer produce certain cells on its own. Your nanites are probably made in the marrow, originating as stem cells, like all your others. If we transplant these stem cells to all the patients, they’ll start producing nanites on their own, for a short time.”
“For a long enough time?”
“There aren’t any studies on this, Serif. I know that’s a shitty answer, but it’s all I have. That certainty you were looking for doesn’t exist, not in ten hours.”
“Can you perform a, uh...an allergic CT?”
“Allogeneic HSCT. Probably.”
“What?”
“Yes, I can,” she clarified, though she wasn’t really so confident.
“Paige isn’t gonna like this. A lot can go wrong in surgery, even I know that.”
“Well, if we had five days, and growth factor, I could give you growth factor, and it would be totally noninvasive.”
“Helpful remark.”
“I just need a blood centrifuge, and some needles,” Leona said, as if that wasn’t asking a lot. “And anesthesia.”
“And a sterile environment, surgical tools, time to practice the procedure, oh yeah, and the years it takes to become a surgeon.” Paige had hobbled into the room, and was resting against the door frame.
“You shouldn’t be up,” Serif said, trying to help her stand.
Paige refused the help. “And you shouldn’t be indulging in your girl’s fantasies.” She turned back to Leona. “You’re not performing surgery on five people, Leona. Jesus Christ, who do you think you are? I’ll be the first to admit that you’re an amazing woman, but you cannot do this. Time is up.”
“I have two more hours,” Leona argued.
“I’ve decided you don’t. Brooke’s health is too important, so Serif, you’re saving her now. We can only hope she isn’t your last.”
“Love,” Leona called out when Serif started following her out of the room.
“I’m sorry. If I can only save one, let me at least save one. If I jump forward in time to find nothing more than a pile of rotting corpses, because we wasted these last few hours on the off-chance you find out how to make this work, will the try have been worth it?”
“We can try to contact The Crossover,” Leona begged as they were walking away. “They know doctors, and they can be here in a flash!”
No one answered.
Leona remained to stew in her defeat, praying that someone from the Crossover randomly decided to show up without prompting. Then she realized that that was it. The Crossover. Serif was badly injured by the Sword of Assimilation. She must have absorbed the powers from someone else; someone from the other universe. She ran out to stop Serif, hoping her epiphany could be enough for them to rethink their plan. Only when she saw Serif breathing deliberately all over Brooke’s body did she realize the news didn’t matter.
As midnight approached, Brooke showed no signs of improvement, and the conditions of the others were deteriorating. In a desperate attempt to save the crew, Serif breathed on everybody, including Leona, just in case. Come 2165, they found everyone in perfect health. The nanite treatments apparently just needed a few days to work. Unfortunately, they realized that their exposure to radiation was not due to the meteor strike itself, but the contamination of most of their water supply. They had been forced to get creative with the recycling system, especially since no one knew how to repair the atterberry pods following Missy Atterberry’s death.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Void: Andromeda (Part IV)

The powers that be must have been keeping an eye on Saga from their secret ivory tower, because she was once again unable to open a door back in time. She wanted to return Morick and the couple to their own time, but whenever she opened a door, it led only to the other side. They read through the histories of their world, and were horrified by some things that had happened. Their home really went down the drain while they were gone, starting on the very day of their departure. Though their absence could not be to blame for the dark turn of events that followed, perhaps they could have been there to help prevent, or at least make things better. The couple was most concerned with their daughter, and knew that the stories of her twisted dealings and mistakes were nothing more than lies. Unfortunately, nowhere in the books did it speak of the three of them, which meant it was unlikely they would ever get back. They would just have to build lives for themselves here, where things were finally starting to get better, and hope that their child’s life was better than the books claimed it was.
Speaking of building, Andromeda was becoming quite the hero for her skills in the Earthan refugee camp, using her new powers to expand it into a grand city. Long ago, when the first Springfielders arrived through the town portal, a healthy fraction of them were pregnant. These children—though they would not have become choosing ones had they been born to Earth—were imprinted with their powers from having been in various crucial stages of their development when their mothers were transported to Durus. They grew up quickly, and became known as the source mages, for they had the ability to bequest time powers to anyone who proved worthy enough to wield them. They established a competition, with winners serving in an order of town protectors. One of the rules for becoming a town mage was that you were not allowed to have children. They actually employed special meta-mages to make sure this rule was followed by literally preventing conception from taking hold.
When Sadie and Jörm’s daughter started upending the system, and the Durune monsters took their opportunity to take over, the sterility mandate could no longer be enforced. After the monsters were pushed back, survivors on Durus had to restart their civilization, almost completely without time powers, for those that had them, lost them in the war. What they didn’t realize at the time, though, was that their genes had already been irreversibly altered when they were turned into choosers in the first place, which meant these were traits that could be passed down the generations. Because their descendants never displayed near the same intensity or power of their predecessors, they were known as mage remnants. They didn’t reserve their powers to protect the towns, since that was now being done with technology. They just used them for fun, or they sold them to people looking to accomplish various tasks, legal or otherwise. Andromeda was different. She was a full-fledged choosing one; probably the first one in this century, on this planet, as long as you didn’t count an alien named Effigy.
Having been raised by a decent mother, Andromeda decided to use her powers to do the most good. Seeing the suffering of the Earthan peoples, who were forcibly removed from their homes, and had no choice but to come here, she dedicated her time to helping them. As Morick pointed out, she was a builder, much like The Constructor, Baudin, who Saga knew from Tribulation Island. She could summon building materials from other times and places, sometimes in the form of fully living trees. She could then arrange them into proper configuration, as well as manipulate the speed of time, to build vast architecture in a matter of days. In only a few short months, the refugees had become the wealthy ones, leaving the rest of the world struggling to rebuild their infrastructure in real time, following the devastation of the syzygy durusquakes. The irony of the tables having been turned on them was lost on no one. Right now, the provisional government was seeking help from someone they insisted on calling Queen Andromeda. After a full year of watching her help the Earthans, they were only now recognizing her as their greatest asset; one they should not have taken for granted.
Morick, having retained his mage powers from another time, stood at her right flank as her primary bodyguard. Camden, whose episodic memories never returned, flanked her on the left, as another guard. Fortunately, he never lost his muscle memory, so he could still rely on his training as a field agent. Saga sat at Andromeda’s side for moral support, while Durune government officials pleaded their case.
“Your Highness—”
“Eh,” Andromeda interrupted. “That’s not what you should call me. If you are obliged to an honorific, then what did I say it should be?”
He hesitated, but acquiesced. “Your Badass,” he began. Andromeda thought this term up, thinking the Durune would be too uncomfortable to actually use it, and just revert to her proper name. It didn’t work, but honestly, she much enjoyed the new title, so ultimately just went with it. “We implore you to help. Our city is falling apart faster than we can repair it. It was created many years ago, using the last drops of power The Last Mages could muster. To be truthful, we don’t know what we’re doing.”
“I believe there were those who came to this world from Earth with construction experience,” Andromeda replied.
He was trying to figure out whether this was a question. “Yes,” he guessed.
“You could have used them. Had you treated them as human beings...read, with dignity, they could have helped you.”
“Surely someone with wisdom such as yours can understand our reluctance to rely on anyone but ourselves,” Provisor Drumpf replied.
“What was that again?” Andromeda asked aside.
“Negging,” Saga answered her.
“Negging,” Andromeda repeated. “Did you just neg me?”
“Your Hi—Your Badass, I would never. I...am afraid I..do not know what that means, but I promise, I meant no disrespect.”
Andromeda was silent, but in a way that made it clear no one was to speak until she was ready for them to. “The city was depositioned at the end of the 21st century, by Earthan years. The disparate towns were all brought together into one, so that we could collectively protect a shorter border, against the monsters who remained after the war. While populations in other worlds rise, ours falls. There was plenty of room in the city when the Earthans arrived, yet you rejected them. You were uneager to help, completely ignoring the high probability that they would help you in return. You held meetings, attended exclusively by loyal followers, and spouted hate speech against the immigrants. You spun a story, giving the impression that the majority of Durune were against providing any aid to our new friends. And when it came time to vote, you suppressed those who would oppose you, making it seem like half the city was against humanitarian efforts. And we are humans, by the way. We may not be from the same worlds, but we are the same. And now your approval rating is the lowest it’s been since we transitioned from source mage rule, to the republic. I wonder why that is. Is it possible that this is your last grasp at saving a dying approach to societal policy? Do your backwards views on the role of women remain in your hearts, but in a new form? You call me queen, and grovel at my feet, yet you still do not respect me. You still consider me inferior. Though you are all new officials, you are still all men, just as it has been since the republican reformation.
“It is time for a new reformation. The provisional government has outstayed its welcome. If you want help—from me, or any Earthan—you must step down, and make way for a rightly elected administration. I can rebuild your city...but not in your name.”
Provisor Drumpf breathed deeply through his mouth, and out loudly through his nose. “I will not be doing that. Nor will any of my comrades. This is our planet. We took it, because no one else had the balls to do it! We took it, because the people let us! We took it, because they want us here...because they need us...because they’re too stupid to do it without us! We will make it great again; even better than your shithole city, and we will do it without your help!”
Andromeda finally revealed her smirk. “We shall see about that.” She nodded to a young woman in the corner who the Durune bureaucrats didn’t even notice was standing there. “Cut.”
The provisor looked over to the girl, slowly recognizing her as as the infamous Loa. Her father was a mage remnant with the ability to remotely view anywhere else in the universe, like a window through space. She recently discovered she possessed a similar power, but hers was much stronger. She could broadcast an event to massive numbers of people, just by witnessing it herself. They asked her to televise the entire meeting to all of Durus.
“Frell me,” the provisor said, having learned the word from Andromeda, who was first taught it by Saga.
“Would you like to go out with me sometime?” Saga asked. She had been trying to rally the courage to ask her, and couldn’t help but blurt it out now. Seeing Andromeda take charge of the situation, and engineer such great change in the world, was just too much. The love was real.
Andromeda kept smiling at the provisor, and what she had done to him, as she nodded her head excitedly. “I sure would. Let’s have dinner tonight.”

Friday, January 26, 2018

Microstory 765: Nickel

In the realms beyond this one, there exists a hierarchy of demons. Of course Adversary is the highest of these, and it is he who rules over all others. His top twenty-three advisors are known as the Apostates, and are all but completely autonomous in their dealings against hopeless humans. Most other demons under them must follow the chain of command, and submit to their superiors. The lowest of the lows, however, are the nickels. They’re considered to be so insignificant that the Apostates don’t even bother giving them responsibilities. While mid-level demons are busy concocting new and interesting ways of torturing people in Hell, and beguiling those in heaven, nickels are just sort of always around. Hell is an open place. People aren’t most of the time locked in cages, or chained to great boulders. Instead, they travel freely, hoping to carve out some small shred of safety somewhere. Nickels find joy in being nuisances to the people they come across. They often cause physical harm, but spend most of their time just being incredibly annoying, preventing residents from finding any level of peace. If a nickel finds you, it might sing the same lyric over and over again in your ear, sometimes for days on end, until it gets bored and moves on. It might throw track ballast at you when you’re trying to sleep, or drench you in itching powder. If a group of nickels incidentally comes together, they’ll form something called a licking party, which humans will find difficult to escape. This all may not seem like that big of a deal, but nickels number in the hundreds of millions, and never sleep. When The Words predicted that hell would reign on Earth, they primarily meant that nickels would break free from their realm, and come into ours. And when the armies of evil are finally vanquished, it will be the scattering of nickels that remain, possibly for years to come.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Microstory 764: Hockey Stick

Few people could be considered as fierce an athletic competitor as Veraise Akima. Though born in Captain Mason, Usonia, her family decided to take up a nomadic lifestyle, and start moving all over the world. They never spent more than six months in any one place, and often did not even bother renting a permanent house. They wanted to experience everything that the universe had to offer, so trotting the globe was as close as they were going to get. As a result of moving around so much, Akima found herself in a number of completely different environments, but her one constant was hockey. From the street to the field, ice rink to roller rink, and even underwater, Akima did it all. Seeing her love of the sport, her parents moved to a small island in the Japanese archipelago where it was rumored an old woman was experimenting with graphene tools. She agreed to design a custom stick for Veraise that would be the strongest of its kind in the whole world. Once she had it, she never used anything else. No matter which type she was playing, or where she was playing it, she used the same stick, swapping out only the blades, when necessary. Even after growing old enough to move out on her own, Veraise stuck by her family, having long fallen in love with the idea of not being tied down to any one place for too long. In her mid-twenties, they found themselves living in inland Somalia. There they discovered the Great Salt Flats of Somalia, which she eventually decided was her favorite place ever, especially since it gave her an idea that would change the course of history. She founded a new type of hockey, one that could be played on salt flats. But not all salt flats are created equal. Some are completely dry, and playing on those would prove to be but marginally different than playing in a semi-arid desert. No. Though similar flats existed, no flat was quite like the Great Flats of Somalia. It lies just on top of brine water, which seeps to the surface, resulting in a thin layer of water. It is highly reflective, giving distant observers the impression that they are watching someone walk on water. It was on the edge of the flats that Akima tried out her new sport, gathering her neighbors to play with her, and work out some of the nuances. For the most part, it’s played like other versions of hockey, but requires special equipment to allow for speed in the shallow water. From this day on, Veraise Akima never played any other type of hockey, nor any other sport, for that matter, nor did she live anywhere outside of Somalia. She gathered crowds of spectators from all over the world, which snowballed its popularity, and encouraged the creation of a league. She served as its first commissioner, establishing most of the organization’s rules that remain today. She was buried somewhere in secret somewhere under the Somalian flats with her stick, while her various blades can be viewed by the public in the International Salt Hockey Association museum.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Microstory 763: Time Travel

People often come with me with questions about how time travel works. They watch a movie about it, and are confused on the timeline. Sometimes I can help them, because I’m fairly well-versed in the subject of time travel in fiction, but sometimes it’s done so horribly, or confusingly, that even I can’t follow it. A lot of writers seem to keep making the same mistakes, and I would like to clear some of them up. First, you can’t have an event in one moment of time have some effect on an event in another moment without impacting the time in between. If today you went back to when you were in first grade, and stopped yourself from cheating on a test, you would not suddenly feel the effects of that once you returned to you own time. A whole bunch of other things happened in between. While we’re on this subject, you can’t return to your own time anyway, or rather if you did, you would find yourself in an alternate timeline. You would have to deal with the version of yourself who is living there. A single timeline simply does not explain the point of divergence, for if you succeed in stopping yourself from cheating, Future!You would have no reason to go back and change it, which would leave it unchanged, which would give you a reason to go back and change it, and so on, ad infinitum. Alternate timelines are the only logical consequence of any time traveling event. Writers also try to bring in bogus tropes that make no sense. They have timewaves, which somehow affect the timeline at a different rate than the flow of time itself. This allows people to see the changes that are being made all around them, and maintain their memory of how things were before. But this is impossible. Like I’ve said about the alternate timeline, as soon as you go back to first grade, everything changes, from that moment of egress, onwards. One may be able to jump from one moment in time to another, but that does not stop time from moving forward at a constant. Now, this constant gets a little more complicated when you factor in relativity, but it is still always moving forwards. Time doesn’t change, only an observer’s perspective of it. I could go on about the issues I see, but no one has time for that. There’s a lot we don’t know about how time works, but by as much as I write about it, and the manipulation of it, there is one undeniable truth that must not be ignored. Time travel can happen by one of two ways: it either can not, or should not.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Microstory 762: Snowman

In the late nineteenth century, a group of people with a lot of money got together and started questioning the future of planet Earth. They did not believe in the bible, or any other religious theory on the end of the world, but they could not deny that it was a possibility. Something happened to the dinosaurs, and the surface of the planet was not always as hospitable as it would become. New technologies pose new threats, and humans are fickle and dangerous beings. They didn’t know for sure what might happen to humanity, if anything at all, but they figured the only safe bet was to find a way protect the continuity of the species...just in case. They formed an institute, and started recruiting. They developed plans, and built facilities. They started watching over people. At first their subjects were random, but as science progressed, they were able to choose the right subjects with the right genetic makeup. They weren’t looking for perfection, nor any superficial trait shared by all. What they were looking for was diversity. What they realized was that the healthiest people in the world came from genetic diversity, which was why inbred offspring often come with defects. It was absolutely vital that their subjects be compatible with each other in a way that no algorithm could, or should, predict, because that was how evolution operated in an uncontrolled environment. Afterall, they weren’t trying to save this small sample, but the future of the human race. As the years went by, they continued their work, in complete secret. They monitored people they now deemed inheritors at a one to one ratio. They built underground bunkers capable of surviving any number of extinction-level disaster scenarios. These bunkers were placed in strategic locations, far from each other, for if one, or even almost all of them failed, perhaps one might survive.
They calculated the optimal population, turned over older inheritors to new generations, and kept the system alive for decades. Over a hundred years from their beginnings, nearly all bunkers were complete. They still had an interstellar vessel planned, but technological limitations prevented them from constructing it yet. Should civilization have ended before such time, they would just have to do without it. While they were waiting, a woman noticed a problem that others had seen without voicing their concerns. Inheritors were being protected half their lives by people called sentinels. These brave men and women were fully aware of the contingency program, and knew that there would be no room for them in the bunkers, should they be activated. But this woman, named Nevra Adkins decided that she was unhappy with this scenario. Though she was no sentinel herself, and would be lucky enough to be placed in one of the bunkers in a leadership position to help the inheritors acclimate to their new lives, she sympathized with them. She did not feel it right for the institute to demand loyalty from their sentinels, knowing that their jobs would end only in death. She broke away from the organization, and formed Project Snowman. With no intention of designing a repopulation strategy, she wanted to create a special bunker, just for the sentinels, and perhaps their families, as sufficient compensation for their dedication. She carved out some land in Antarctica, and broke ground within months. Unfortunately, she spent all of her money on this, and was unable to raise significant funds beyond it, so she would not be able to actually build the damn thing. And so her former institute started allocating money to help her build Snowman. A couple of years later, the coordination efforts were becoming needlessly complex, and Adkins was reabsorbed into the original organization. She had successfully convinced them that this was positively necessary to not only maintain good relationships with their sentinels, but to keep their souls clean. They were there to save humankind, should they be needed. They recognized that they would not be able to save everyone, should they be able to save anyone, but if they didn’t even try to save the true heroes in their ranks, then perhaps humanity did not deserve to be saved at all.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Microstory 761: Trey

Trey Austin was a dancer. More importantly, he was a performer. He never felt quite as comfortable as he was when he was up on stage. He was having a rough go of it, though. Though he was brilliant with his craft, he had had no formal training. His family did not have enough money to send him to the schools that would help jumpstart his career. He tried performing in the park for passersby, but there was nowhere in his mid-level Kentucky city like Central Park. People were around, but no one was watching. He considered just buying a bus ticket up to New York City, but without a guarantee of success, he didn’t feel it was worth it. Besides, he was too anxious and insecure to give that a shot, and he certainly had no naïve delusions that he would just one day suddenly become famous. Still, he kept dancing in the park—not to hip-hop, like one might expect, but interpretive, and contemporary. He preferred slow and rising music that felt like it was telling a story. One day, a woman appeared in the park, and started admiring his number. He noticed her right away, but wanted to continue with his piece, so he would look self-assured, and professional. Once he was finished, she walked towards him, and clapped. Then she handed him a business card that felt much heavier than it should have. She told him she would like to hire him for a special tour coming soon, but that it was far away, and he might not see his family for weeks. She left, and he returned home to discuss it with his parents. Before he arrived, though, he had already decided. This was his chance, he had to go. He at least had to call her back and ask for more information. As soon as he dialed her number, the business card began to glow. The light started crawling up his arm, and then all over his body, and when once again he could see, he found himself in an empty auditorium. She was a time traveler, who was planning performances all throughout time, but only for people like her. Only they would be able to see him dance. He was amazed by what he was learning. It took some getting used to, but he eventually found his footing. He never knew dancing could be even more exhilarating and magical than it already was. The theatre was packed with people, but not everyone was there to see him. Only those wearing special glasses were able to witness his movements, for he was performing from another dimension. The woman made it look like he was floating in the air, high above the stage, where a band was playing that was entirely unaware that he existed. Trey swayed and spun to the music, like he had in the park, but this time, just because the floor was one direction, it didn’t mean he had to be pointed towards it. Gravity could be altered towards any direction, so he had to choreograph a special routine to account for the invisible sphere. He became a hit, and more spacetime locations were added than his superior had originally planned. He was the first in a special class of people with time powers known as The Zephdancers.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: August 17, 2163

Leona and Serif jumped out of bed and opened the door. Lights were blinking, along with the alarms, but in a recognizable pattern. Paige’s voice was echoing through the passageways, “please proceed to the atterberry pods. Please proceed to the atterberry pods.”
“Where are those again?” Serif asked.
“Follow the lights,” Leona said. She could remember exactly how to get to the pods, but lights on the walls were directing their path, just the same.
They climbed down the steps and hopped over to the wall of pods. Brooke and Dar’cy were in two of them, the third being empty. “Can both we fit in one?” Serif asked, her panic intensifying.
“There’s another empty one on the other other side,” Leona explained. “You get in this one.” She helped her love step into the alcove, and programmed it to release her at the same time as the others. She then went over to the other side of the ship where three more pods were waiting. Missy was in one, Paige in another, and Nerakali Preston was in the third. “Son of a bitch,” she exclaimed. There were only six pods total, and they were all taken, one by an evil psychopath. She closed her eyes for two seconds, and took a deep breath. The air was thin, though, which was a clue. “Computer, report!”
“Speed, nominal. Course correction, functioning. Hull integrity, eighty-three percent. Automated repair, damaged. Life support, near failure. Please enter atterberry pod,” the artificial intelligence responded in Paige’s voice.
“There are no more pods!”
The computer took a beat. “Please enter atterberry pod.”
“Computer, personality at a hundred percent!”
“Morning,” the computer now spoke with a far more casual tone. “How ya feelin’?”
“What happened?”
“You don’t remember?”
“I wasn’t in the timeline!”
“Really?”
“I’m a time traveler!”
“Oh, gotcha.”
“So, can you tell me what happened to the ship?”
“A micrometeoroid struck the forward viewport in the cockpit.”
“When was this?”
“Two-hundred and sixteen days ago.”
“Why wasn’t it patched up? That’s an easy fix!”
“Repair contingencies were damaged.”
“Well—” Christ, that’s annoying. “Computer, silence alarms!”
The alarms shut off. “Better?”
“What about repair redundancies, don’t we have those?”
“I don’t have that information.”
She tried to take another deep breath, but it was not easy. “Find me a maneuver suit,” she ordered.
“Follow the lights,” the computer replied, lighting up the walls once again to illustrate her path.
         Leona opened the equipment panel and removed a special kind of vacuum suit that provided her more maneuverability, so that she could repair the damage herself. She then commanded the computer to open the hatch to the cockpit. It closed immediately behind her, to protect the rest of the ship. Had the micrometeor struck the bulkhead itself, the material would have been able to heal itself. The polycarbonate window, however, was a different story. Viewports were few and far between, to lower the chances of something like this happening, but it was obviously not impossible. A robot should have been dispatched to correct the issue, resulting in maybe a day of the crew being in stasis, but that apparently failed too.
About an hour later, though, Leona had the problem corrected, with a little good old-fashioned human tenacity. She ran a complete diagnostic of the ship’s systems, ordered an environmental radiation scrub, replaced the air recyclers, and disengaged the atterberry pods. She wanted to be waiting for Serif, to comfort her immediately, since temporal bubbles could be disorienting, but she needed to do something else. As soon as Nerakali stepped out of her pod, Leona sucker punched her in the jaw, and bound her wrists with a zip cuff.
“I told you she’d be pissed,” Nerakali said, wiping the blood off her chin.
“You were meant to stay in your room,” Paige said.
“It’s not my fault the ship went haywire,” Nerakali complained.
“I know,” Paige said.
“What the hell is she doing here?” Leona demanded to know.
The other three crewmembers came around the corner.
“She’s our...” Paige began, at a loss for words.
“She’s like a psychologist,” Brooke jumped in. “This will only be eight days for you, but for us, it’s more like seven and a half years. We need something to keep us entertained. Nerakali creates virtual worlds in our minds for us.”
“Humans have that technology already,” Leona argued. “You didn’t need her!”
“The powers that be did not allow VR. We don’t know why, but they wanted her with us.”
Leona got all up in Nerakali’s face. “I suppose you know what happens to you in the past.”
“Of course I do. I also know that my killer was wearing the Hundemarke. I can’t stop it. But...I can put it off, and I can do some good before it happens.”
“Can you?” Leona asked rhetorically.
“Right now,” Nerakali started, “no one knows when in my personal timeline I go back to to 2107, and get myself killed. It could be in a century, or in a minute. If I try to harm you, fate will intervene, and send me right to that moment. You are perfectly safe around me.”
“I’m not worried about you hurting us,” Leona said, almost sinisterly. “I’m worried about creating paradox when you piss me off so much, I kill you before fate gets its chance.”
Nerakali tried to calm herself down with a deep breath. “It’s hard to breathe.”
“I had to replace the cardio brooms,” Leona informed her, rather professionally. “It’ll take some time to get LS back to full operation.”
“Thank you for fixing the ship,” Missy said graciously. “Had I realized how bad it was, I never would have entered my pod. I should have known.”
“It’s okay. “It’s fixed now, and we didn’t miss a beat. We’re still right on time.”
“I should have seen it coming anyway,” Brooke said in sadness. “What we didn’t realize is that Durus, as it moves away from Earth, is leaving behind tons of debris. We’ve had to adjust heading to avoid them, but one still got through.”
“I failed as well,” Dar’cy said. “I shouldn’t be here. I need to be able to help when we get to the planet, but I’m wasting resources by being on the vessel during its journey. You should have had your own stasis pod,” she apologized to Leona.
Leona approached her. “I would have had one, if that asshole weren’t here. But if that asshole has to be here, then I need a badass like you to protect everyone from her. No way am I letting you thread an object to the future.”
Dar’cy looked to Paige for guidance.
“You heard the lady,” Paige said in her captain voice. “This is my crew. It may not be the best, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The Warren is lucky to have every single one of you—even Nerakali, in her own way—and even Leona and Serif, despite how little time they can spend with us. I want you all to understand that violence and animosity will not be tolerated here. While you are on the roster, you are under my care, and anyone who threatens that, threatens the mission. The Savior, as exceedingly unimportant as the role is becoming, is one of Earth’s greatest assets. We were given the honor, and the responsibility, to bring her home safely. Anyone who has a problem with that, can spend the rest of the journey in a pod.”
Of course, no one wanted that, they all wanted to contribute. Still, Leona intended to keep as much distance between her and her girlfriend, and a very dangerous Nerakali, while still being able to maintain vigilance over the others.
After a nap, Leona let Serif stay asleep, while she went down to grab a meal bar. Each pack—known as a brick—comes with three bars; one each for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They’re stuffed with every nutrient a human needs to function throughout the day, according to standard macro ratio. Since it’s composed of the chemicals themselves, it’s almost completely tasteless. Boxes come with little flavor strips to put on the tongue before eating, which can make the bar taste like literally anything. Without these strips, astronauts would suffer from space madness after having to eat bland nothingness day in, day out.
Missy must have seen her go into the mess hall, because she followed soon thereafter, somewhat ardently. “I need your help.”
“With what? Ship going okay?”
“It’s fine right now, but as you saw first hand, that’s not always the case. I’m worried this mission comes with danger we cannot predict. Something else you might have noticed is that we lack redundant systems. We have one bot to repair hull damage, and when that failed, we were SOL. We have one extra pod should something go wrong, as long as you or Serif don’t need one. And there’s only one engineer. If I’m incapacitated, and something else goes wrong, there will be no one there to help. I need you to be my backup.”
Leona wiped her mouth. “You’ve just brought up the fact that I can’t help. Honestly, we got lucky that the ship sealed off the damaged section, and kept going without a crew. One false move, and it’s flying in the wrong direction. If I’m your backup...what if that hypothetical crisis happens literally tomorrow? Do you think the ship will survive an extended period of time until I can return?”
“Maybe not,” Missy said. “But you’re our only hope. You were a scientist in another timeline, and you’re an artist in this one, so you have a rare gift of synthesis, and creativity. I know the odds of you being around at the right time are low, but they’re better than zero. Brooke dies, who’s gonna pilot the ship? Paige dies, who can lead us? You can do anything and everything. Even if it’s just one day, that’s better than no day.”
Leona finished her bar and scooted closer to Missy. “It sounds like you need some cross-training. What you’re looking for is an easy solution, and that doesn’t exist here. I am a terrible backup plan. If Brooke...if she can’t pilot, then you have to learn how to do it. If your special pods lose power, Dar’cy needs to be able to fix them. And if Nerakali goes crazy, and tries to kill everybody, Paige needs to slit her throat. There’s a reason Serif and I weren’t given jobs. Whatever they are, we can’t do them. You have to pretend like we don’t exist, because most of the time...we don’t.”
Missy nodded her head. She already knew all this, but didn’t know what they could do about it.
Leona got an idea. “Start a school. You want something to do everyday, because it’s bored without Nerakali’s virtual realities—which I didn’t know she could make—then spend that time educating each other.” She stood up and threw her bar wrapper into the material reclamator. Before she left, she turned back once more, like a wolf. “You’re women. Get it done.”

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Void: Lost in Space (Part III)

They soon met this Hokusai Gimura, and understood why Ludvig thought they must have already known her. Everyone living on this world had been born and raised here, the most recent in a line going back seven generations. This planet was called Durus, and its first inhabitants arrived in the late 20th century, according to its oral history, but the majority of them arrived in 2016, when an entire town was sucked into some kind of portal. They found themselves on something called a rogue planet, which meant it was flying through interstellar space, having been voted off the island of its original solar system. There is no atmosphere, no sun, no water, no light. Everything it has it borrows from Earth, and possibly other worlds. Without these portal leaks, everything here would be dead.
No Earthan human had made their way here since 2016 when Hokusai came just days ago, looking for her daughter, who was in the town when it fell into the portal. Naturally, Ludvig assumed all Earthans knew each other, because he was kind of stupid, and maybe racist? Like most men, Ludvig was also always suspicious of women. Apparently, women have been involved with a number of disastrous events on Durus over the last century and a half, leading to a gradual shift backwards in gender equity. As one of Saga and Camden’s new friends here, Opal put it, “men were always there as well, and in fact, if you look closer, you’ll learn that a man was every time truly responsible for what hell was set upon them anyway. So if anyone’s to blame, it’s them.”
Hokusai was their savior, though, and this no one could deny. Durus was on a collision course with Earth for decades, but she stopped that from happening. This was what Saga and Camden witnessed in the sky, and it was also what magically brought them here. They weren’t the only ones, though. In what’s being called The Deathspring—a play on words with the original arrival, which was called The Deathfall—hundreds of other Earthans were pulled to it. Hopefully this one would come with far less danger. The first generations suffered great peril from terrible beasts, powerful and evil choosers, and the looming threat of Earthan annihilation. With the monsters gone, and the bad choosers turned over to time, maybe everyone could build a safe life here. They not only retained their connection to Earth, but formed a stronger one when they passed over it. While the sun had always provided them with warmth, it now once again featured cyclical daylight. It rained everywhere and anywhere, instead of just in one single location. The soil was rich with nutrients, and plants were back.
As far as Saga and Camden’s personal lives went, they never bothered trying to return to their home on Earth. These were the cards that fate had dealt them, and they were going to embrace that. “Here is as good a place as any,” Camden said of it. And so Durus was where they spent the next year, mostly free from excitement, but that was soon to change.
The Durune were not entirely happy with the new arrivals. They had built this independent civilization, and considered themselves to be an entirely separate peoples, perhaps even species. Of course, the Earthans didn’t want to be there either, but there didn’t seem to be any way back. Each Earthan landed in a different spot around the world, but they were eventually all rounded up and placed in a refugee camp called Pallid. They were provided with tarps, and some wood, but they had to build the shelters themselves. The only regular supplies of resources that came in were water and food, and only that by private volunteers. The new-forming Durune government did not have time to provide for the refugees when they were still trying to rebuild their own homes. One of the first things they did, however, was make sure it was illegal to house an Earthan refugee in a Durune home. It was not, somewhat fortunately, against the law for a Durune to be, or even live, in Pallid. This was nice for Hokusai, who still had familial descendants, and friends, here.
One day, a middle-aged woman approached Saga and Camden’s tent. “You are the mages,” she asked.
“We are not,” Saga tried to explain. Mages were really just choosers—people with natural time powers—who were born to an ignorant world. They once protected these lands, but died off with the monsters.
“Then you are mage remnants, at least,” the woman tried again. Some of their descendants remained today, but their powers were usually rather weak, and no more thrilling than a minor parlor trick.
“Where we come from, we do not use these terms,” Camden said to her. “Nor are the two of us like the mages you read about in your history books. We have little control over our powers. We are controlled by others. But we have since been abandoned.”
The woman shook her head. “I do not need your powers. What I need is someone who understands how they work.”
“What do you need from us exactly?” Saga pressed.
She was nervous, afraid to say too much.
“We can’t help you if you’re not honest with us.”
“It’s my daughter,” she said. “There’s something wrong with her. I think a mage remnant is hurting her somehow. Or...haunting her. Please, can you help?”
“We’ll do what we can,” Saga said, still not really knowing what they were to expect. “You will be in more trouble than us if you take us over the boundary, though.”
“I have no choice,” the woman said. “My daughter needs you.”
They quietly weaved between the tents of Pallid, careful to wake no one. One might think all Earthans would support each other, but the Durune guards that kept watch often traded favors for information. A few extra rations here, a clean blanket there, and the whole camp is the Eye of Sauron.
“You couldn’t bring her to us?” Camden asked.
“She cannot leave the house,” the mother explained.
Once they were at the boundary, she stopped and looked around. “The guards will be changing shifts in a few minutes. That is our best time to make our move.”
“That’s not entirely true,” Camden said suggestively.
“Camden,” Saga scolded.
“Do you have a better idea?” he asked.
“What if they have glitchhounds?” These were the only monsters that still existed today. They could sniff out temporal disturbances, like dogs with powers.
“If they did, then they would probably be at this woman’s house already.” That was a good point.
“I don’t know if I can do this,” Saga worried.
“I believe in you.”
“You shouldn’t.”
“Give it a try.”
Give it a try?” Saga echoed. “And if we end up in the vacuum of space? Again?”
He smirked. “Then I’ll rescue us. Again.”
“I don’t know what you two are discussing,” the mother said, “but if you can get to my daughter safely, then I’m in.”
Saga stepped between them, and took each of them by the hand. “Don’t hold your breath,” she warned. “I mean that literally. It could cause an aneurysm.”
She stepped forward, over the boundary line, but not to the other side. She let her time power pull from the thoughts of the woman standing next to her, using them to try to transport all three of them to the house, without traveling through the space in between. It did not work. They ended up in a house all right, but not the one they were looking for. This was of far older design, and cleaner, like it wasn’t built out of reclaimed wood. Saga had seen the houses people lived in these days, and this was not it.
Three people were standing in front of them, not too surprised to see three others suddenly appear. One of them was a younger man, and was quite protective of the other two. “They are my responsibility,” he said with authority. “If you want to question them, you’ll have to go through me. I am prepared my denounce my oath if it means stopping you from harming them.”
“We don’t plan on harming anyone,” Camden assured him.
“We must have gotten lost,” Saga said. What year is this?”
He squinted at them. “New Age seventy-four,” he answered.
“2090 in Earthan years,” the mother translated for them.
“You’re from Earth?” the homeowner asked. She was intrigued. “What’s it like these days?”
“What do you want?” the protector questioned.
“Morick, calm down,” the man who appeared to be the homeowner’s husband said. “They’ve told us they won’t hurt us.”
“And you believe that, Jörm? Sadie, I suppose you do too.”
“We are from 146 NA,” Saga told them in her calmest voice.
“I’ve never heard of anyone traveling through time that far,” Morick said. “Not since our people lived on Earth.”
“Things have changed,” Camden said. He addressed Saga only, “you need to try again. If this is the past, we should not stay.”
“Isn’t going to the past kinda your thing?” Saga asked with a smile.
“Not anymore. Let’s go. Open that door.”
Just then, a small object flew through the window. “Memory grenade!” Morick yelled.
On instinct, and recalling his training in the agency, Camden threw his whole body on the grenade, and let it go off. Morick pointed both hands at the window it had come through, and sealed it up with drywall, like the window had never been there. He then did the same to the other windows. “We need to go!” He tried to pull Jörm and Sadie towards them.
“I can take you so far from here, they’ll never find you, but you have to help me with his body,” Saga pleaded.
“He’s not dead,” Morick said.
“Well, he’s unconscious, so help me get him up!”
Jörm and Morick lifted Camden off the floor while Saga opened the door to a portal. They could see a different house on the other side. A young woman was curled up in the corner. “Mom?”
Saga ushered everyone through the portal. She stepped through herself just as the walls were coming apart. She closed the door, and knelt down to feel for Camden’s pulse. “What’s wrong with him?”
“He protected us from the memory grenade,” Morick explained. “He’ll wake up later, but he won’t have any memory of who he is, or what’s going on.”
“You must be in big trouble for someone to throw one of those things at you.”
“It only lasts a few hours,” Morick clarified. “It just makes it easier to transport people for questioning.”
“Mom, who are these people?” the woman in the corner asked. Suddenly, a bed sprung up under her body. After a few seconds, it disassembled itself, and disappeared.
“They’re from Earth. They can help us stop this.” She tried to approach her daughter to comfort her, but the bed reassembled itself again, and got in the way.
Morick chortled once. “She’s a builder.”
“A what?”
“Special class of mage,” Morick went on. “They’re the ones who construct all the buildings in our towns. I’ve never seen anyone manifest their powers so quickly after the mage games, though.”
“She wasn’t part of the mage games,” Saga reminded him. “This is the future.” She tore off Camden’s shirt to inspect what she hoped was a superficial wound on Camden’s chest from the grenade itself. “There are no more mages.”
Morick took something out of his breast pocket and climbed on the bed to the frightened woman, who shrunk even deeper into the corner. “It’s fine,” he said. “You can’t hurt me, and I won’t hurt you.” He showed her the little pouch he was holding. “This will suppress your powers. Just temporarily, so we can get a handle on them.”
Still afraid, she tentatively took the pouch.
“What’s your name?” he asked of her.
“Andromeda.”
Despite wanting to focus on Camden’s health, Saga couldn’t help but notice what a beautiful name that was...for a beautiful woman. Andromeda.