Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Microstory 788: K-Boy

At some point in the history of the bulkverse, a version of K-Boy ended up in a universe unlike his own. Here, though special abilities were possible, they were rare, and not nearly as ubiquitous as the time powers he had come to know in his home brane. His powers remained while in this universe, but they were significantly limited, as if the laws of physics—though outwardly exactly like the ones he was familiar with—were ever so slightly different. While still faster than any normal human being, he was significantly slower than before. He could run, but within the bounds of normal spacetime, and could be seen doing so by the naked eye. He found himself attached to a group of heroes, most of which had no special abilities of their own, but he was most known for his entanglements with a man named Michael Fintan, a.k.a. Boom Mike. Fintan was an actual boom operator, working on a number of popular and high-budget productions. He was not well-liked personally, for his reckless attitude, and juvenile behavior, but he was coveted professionally. He could hold the boom microphone for extended periods of time, like a statue, with some claiming his record to be forever. The truth was that he learned his patience and stamina while fighting in war. It was the characteristics he picked up here that caused K-Boy to gravitate towards him. As much as they fought their feelings for each other, it was ultimately useless. But their relationship would not be without its problems. K-Boy was strictly a hero, fighting for good and justice, while Boom Mike had become disillusioned with the government from his time in the military, eventually leaving it behind for the private sector. He became a mercenary, lending his services to anyone who was willing to pay him enough money. This created great tension between the two of them, and when it came time to choose sides, it was unclear whether Boom Mike would choose the right one. He was not a lost cause, and redemption was just around the corner, but he would have no hope without the dedication, and love, that he found in K-Boy.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Microstory 787: Justice Clerk

In 1791, the United States Constitution was placed into operation, establishing the foundation of the nation’s laws, including those of the Adjudicative Branch of government. Many legal systems were proposed, the one that survived being an amalgamation of practically all of them. These are the parameters, as originally set forth by the administration, some of which has been amended over time. In every court, no matter how small, or how large, there exists one licensed adjudicator, and two independent arbitration panels of five individuals each. Known as arbiters, three of these are average citizens of the country, called upon to represent the people’s voice during deliberations. They are theoretically unbiased actors, charged with executing justice fairly, and without preconception, though this would be an unrealistic fantasy. And so each panel also has two arbitrators, who have undergone formal training in all matters of law. They study a variety of fields that fall into the four major departments of humanities, communications, government, and law. They are meant to serve as a sort of bias police, to ensure the arbiters are staying on track and keeping to the facts, as well as explain to them how law and policy work. Educated arbitrators serve an incredibly important role in the process. With no prerequisite of ethics training, it would be itself unethical and irresponsible to rely on an unqualified peer acting as an arbiter to be impartial during a trial. The separation of panel deliberations ensures as well, an ethical outcome to the court proceedings, by preventing undue influence, which could lead to a form of contamination called adulteration. If all has gone well, both panels, and the adjudicator, will reach the same conclusion regarding the case separately, and this is referred to as absolute accordance. Each case is defined by an accused, who is opposed by their accuser in the form of an alleger, which may or may not be a prosecuting body. If the latter is true, they are allowed to act as the adherent attorneys during the trial. They are thus opposed by one, or a team of, advocates, who argue for the rights of the accused. In order to maintain fairness in the trial, each side must maintain a balance of attorneys with the other, by at most a ratio of three to one. If, for instance, the adherents would like a team of seven, they must procure at least two more advocates to oppose them. This prevents a client with too much social or financial power from subverting the best interests of the state. Beyond these individuals, the court requires a certain number of other parties. For the protection of all, there must always be two court marshalls present, whose job as well is to manage any attestants. Attestants are called upon to testify in court if they have some level of background knowledge pertinent to the specifics of the case, or the crime itself. Lastly, an attendant (formerly known as a justice clerk) is responsible for handling the administrative duties of the court; documentation, scheduling, attestants, etc. As previously stated, many particulars have historically been determined to help create the best adjudicative system in the world, and these are only the basics that the founding fathers came up with over two hundred years ago.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Microstory 786: Nina

Nina Poole did not have an easy life, even while growing up in a nice enough house. Her parents were somehow both negligent, and overbearing, with her. They were quick to become angry when she made a mistake, but failed to recognize her accomplishments, and did little to teach her life skills, or so much as take care of her. She would often wish that they just abandon her entirely, so she could fend for herself. At least then, her life would be consistent. Still, she got through it, and moved on with her life, vowing to herself that she would never speak to them again. Unfortunately, their bad parenting had left a bigger mark on her psyche than she knew, which ultimately led her to becoming pregnant by a man she barely knew, and had no interest in helping. She had to raise her son, Harlow by herself, and to make matters worse, she would keep seeking help from gracers who were about as bad as he was, one of whom fathered a second child of hers, little Damaris. He too left, and though her responsibility to her family was even more difficult than it was before, she made another vow to herself. If she was going to have to do this alone, then she would remain alone. She would stop trying to find a second parent for her children, and just focus all her efforts on the job itself. Of course, nobody does anything alone, and since she could not lean on her own parents, she started relying on her children’s teachers a lot more than most do. The majority of them were fairly receptive to the fact that these two students were in need of a little more help, but they could only do so much. That is, until Nina met Senia Laureda and Isabelle Salomon. The former was Nina’s daughter’s favorite teacher, and understood the whole family’s needs better than any had before. The latter was the school librarian, who Nina soon discovered had the ability to see people’s futures. She would use this gift to guide her students down the right path, with the help of Senia, the school principal, Keturah Bachman, and even Nina. And through all this good she was doing, perhaps Nina also happened to find someone who could truly love and respect her.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: [Temporal Dimension Conversion Error]

“What time is it?” Leona asked when she woke up.
“Late o’clock,” Serif responded unenthusiastically.
“Is Ida still here?”
“I haven’t seen her. I haven’t seen anybody.”
“What?”
“Well, I’ve seen them, but nobody’s talking.” She snickered.
“Why can’t I...feel the bed?” I mean, I can feel it, but I can’t feel it.”
“It’s because we’re not really here.”
Leona sat up, which was difficult. Sure, she still had a headache, but other than that, she was feeling okay. No, it wasn’t her body that was having trouble moving, but more like there was some unseen force, holding her in place. Once she reached a new position, she was able to stay just fine, but getting there was a big chore. “There’s something wrong with the gravity.”
“You noticed it too? I thought I was just getting fat.”
Leona rubbed her temples, trying to swipe the headache away. “Did something happen? You’re acting weird. Did we get through the...weird gravity tower thing?”
“I think so. Or maybe that’s what’s causing the problems now.”
“What problems?”
“We’re stuck in here.”
“They locked us in?”
“Well, no, but we can’t open the door.”
“Serif. Can you please just explain what’s happening. How long was I out?”
She glanced up to the little window on the door. “A few weeks maybe. You’re better at the math.”
“A few weeks our time? That’s two decades!”
“No, few weeks their time. Few hours for us. I think.”
“That doesn’t make any sense. That’s not the ratio.” She struggled to get out of bed, and tried to open the door. She was right, it wouldn’t budge. She could touch the handle, but not move it. She forced herself back over to the bed, and found herself unable to move the sheets either. “Oh my God, what the hell is happening.”
“Every once in awhile they open the door, so I jumped out once. It took me forever to get back in, but I didn’t want you waking up alone.”
“Slow down, and explain things to me.”
Suddenly, Dar’cy came into the room and sat down at the table. She too massaged her temples, and also rubbed her eyes. Then she started writing in a notebook. And she was doing all of this many, many times faster than was humanly possible.
“We’re in a time bubble,” Leona realized.
“Yes,” Serif agreed. She stood up, and started heading for the door. “Like I said, you can do the math better. When she opens it again, which won’t be long for us, we have to jump out, or we’ll get crushed.
Leona quickly did some math in her head. “That shouldn’t work. She would have to leave the door open for, like, six minutes, for us to even have one second to escape.”
“She does. She opens the doorway, then she stands at the threshold for a long time, dreading going back out to the others, I guess. I think she comes in here to be alone. She’s packing up, let’s go!”
Dar’cy, moving at an incredible rate, gathered all of her belongings, and opened the door. Then she stood there for half a second, which was barely enough time for Leona to get out, and definitely not enough for Serif to. She tried to open it from the outside, but it was just as useless. Serif was accurate in that they weren’t really there. It would be like a drop of black pitch trying to nudge a penny. It just ain’t gonna happen, she was moving far too slow. That was what they were feeling. Though they were standing in time bubbles, everything around them had remained in standard time, which meant gravity was pulling on everything inside the ship using the same amount of force. But since they weren’t really on the ship, it was pulling on the two of them differently. Normally, time bubbles would counteract this dissonance, theoretically by accelerating gravitons, but honestly, Leona didn’t really know. Probably no one knew. Anyone who could manipulate the rate of time, like Missy or Jesimula Utkin, likely didn’t even understand how it worked. They just did it, and accepted its properties at face value.
Serif used mimery to indicate that Leona needed to move on and stretch her legs. Yeah, maybe the time bubble was going to last more than a year, but they had to hope it wouldn’t. And if that were true, all they would need to do was hold out for twenty-four hours. They would get hungry in that time, but they wouldn’t starve to death. If this problem didn’t stop once they reached the next day of their jump, then it wouldn’t matter where they were. They weren’t capable of eating food anyway. Leona powered down the walkways, very carefully avoiding the movements of the rest of the crew, who were entirely oblivious to her presence. She couldn’t quite guess what would happen if she bumped into one of them, but the universe could implode, so better not test it. She tried sitting in a few chairs, but people kept coming up and needing them, so she ended up finding a dark corner that was out of the way, and planting herself on the floor. There were two ways she was going to get through this without getting hungry enough to start screaming. She could either sleep, or meditate. Maybe leaving the room wasn’t such a great idea. At least there they had a bed no one else was using.
A couple of hours later, she could see Serif slowly walking down the steps. “I’m thirsty,” she said.
“Yeah, I know. Me too. But remember the rule of three.”
“Which rule of three. I don’t think I know any one of them, but I know there’s more than one.” She sat down next to her.
“You can survive three minutes without oxygen...three hours without shelter in a hostile environment...three days without water...and three weeks without food.”
They spent a couple seconds watching Brooke and Dar’cy play a heated game of ping pong. Brooke won, of course, but she wasn’t human, so that wasn’t really fair.
“What can’t you survive without for three seconds.”
“Three seconds you should be fine. You can survive anything for three seconds.”
“Let’s come up with something.”
“Ping pong?”
Serif laughed at the suggestion, which was important. If they couldn’t laugh anymore, they weren’t going to get through this. “Laughter! You can’t survive more than three seconds without laughter.”
“People...don’t laugh that often.”
“That’s true.”
They sat in the dark for just over a minute, because everyone was asleep for the next seven hours.
“Love,” Leona said.
“You can’t go more than three seconds without love. I think that’s true. That’s why heartbreak hurts so badly.”
Leona nodded. That was good. She had come up with something good.
“How long can you last witho—I mean, what can you live..without for longer than—for no longer than, three years? No, months. Let’s do months first.”
“Beethoven.”
Serif laughed again. “What?”
“I can go three months without Beethoven, but no longer than that.”
“Okay. Judges accept. For me, it’s...”
“What?”
“What? Oh, um. Manchester Orchestra.”
Leona nodded again. That was good. Serif had come up with something good too.
“Now, we’ll do three years.”
“Uhh...sex?”
“What about celibate people?”
“What about ‘em?” Leona asked, feigning disgust with such people. “I don’t know that we can do this one. I mean, if you can endure something for three years, you must be pretty good at it. I can’t imagine it starts getting difficult after that.”
“Prison? Coming from two people with no experience, let’s just arbitrarily say an individual starts having real problems in that fourth year locked up.”
“Speak for yourself, I’ve been imprisoned lots of times.”
“Yeah, I guess we both have. But not for three years!”
“That’s true. Though, there was that one time...”
They sat in more darkness.
“We need another game.”
“We can try to guess who will come into the common area next.”
“Okay, um, Missy.”
“I’m gonna say Paige.”
Then Missy walked into the room, passing right by them.”
“I win,” Serif bragged. “Nana nana boo-boo. Stick your head in doo-doo.”
“What is she doing?”
Missy was walking back and forth in front of them, like she was trying to find something, but without actually looking.
“What is she doing?”
She sped out of the room, and came back with Dar’cy, who didn’t understand why she was there. Then Missy started feeling around with her hands, forcing Leona and Serif to do everything they could to avoid her, which was damn near impossible what with them moving in superspeed.”
Finally they gave them a rest by leaving the room once more, but then they returned with the rest of the gang. Paige and Brooke couldn’t interpret what Missy was going on about. Meanwhile, Leona and Serif couldn’t hear anybody, but they did get the sense that it had something to do with them.
“Can she see us?”
“It would be impossible,” Leona said. We’re not..in this dimension. There are supposed to be three dimensions of space, and one of time, but we’re experiencing a second dimension of time. Yeah, her power is relevant, but this still isn’t one of her time bubbles. She does seem to be able to sense us, though.”
The crew was arguing about something, and then Paige ordered everyone to leave. No one returned as Paige sat down cross legged, staring intently at the wall, where Leona and Serif happened to be. She was moving around a lot, like one of those animations that isn’t drawn perfectly, so the lines shake around jarringly. But then she started slowing down, little by little, until she was barely moving at all. Then she slowed down even more. Finally, it was like her eyes opened up for the first time in history.
“What are you two doing here?” she asked.
“You can see us?” Serif asked.
“Of course she can. She adjusted her perception of time.”
“Yes,” Paige confirmed. “It’s not easy.”
“You should go,” Leona warned. “You’ve already been here for hours. You need to keep command of this ship. We’ll be fine.”
“Is this how it is for you? Do you always...watch the whole year go by.”
“I...” Leona began, not having even thought of that before, “don’t think so. Maybe we do. Maybe we always watch it, but something went wrong this time, which allowed us to move around.”
“Holy shit, could that be true?” Serif asked, horrified.
“Nothing in the rule book says it can’t,” Paige said.
“Seriously, you should go. If we’re not back next year, then I guess, ask for Missy’s help. Otherwise, I would rather we just not rock the boat.”
“It’s fine, I can stay here. Now that I see time this way, it doesn’t hurt. It’s actually getting easier.”
“Which could mean it’ll be hard to go back, which you should do now, because the ship needs you. You can’t just sit here for six months.”
“The ship’s automated. Dar’cy’s in charge, Brooke and Missy are keeping the systems running. My only real job was keeping Nerakali in line.”
“Paige,” Leona said softly. “There’s nothing you can do here either. The powers that be aren’t gonna let us stay like this forever.”
“They might not if you were salmon, but we all know that you two are different.”
“We are, but we were all asked to be here to do a job, and they still want that job done. I need to know that The Warren will still be here when we get back in 2168. You have to do that for me. Just ignore this corner for the rest of the year.”
“Leona.”
“Captain, please. For me? Go back to your time. We’ll see you later.”
Paige was still reluctant, but she finally closed her eyes in solidarity, and reopened them. “I’ll see you on the other side.”
She jumped up and ran away as fast as The Flash, or Quicksilver, or Lurker.”

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Void: Defiance (Part VIII)

The New Crusades, as they were so unoriginally called, were a set of small attacks destined to culminate in a war between those with time powers, and those without. What began as animosity between Durus natives, and Earthans, soon warped into something completely different. Angry about the petty squabbling of the derisory humans, the paramounts—which was what choosing ones were called now on this planet—decided to take charge. Armed with so much more power than humans could do anything about, they started moving people around their proverbial chessboard. They took over the government, and started instituting their own rules. Humans from either world were treated as second class citizens. This had the completely foreseen effect of galvanizing the humans into forming a mutual union. Not only had the paramounts known this would happen, but were counting on it. They figured that the only way the Durune natives, and the Earthan refugees, would ever get along, would be if they had some kind of enemy to battle together.
Unfortunately, certain paramounts in their ranks started liking their power, and were on a path of taking things too far past the point of no return. Drawing upon the lessons left behind by the ancient source mages, they thought they could achieve peace, and also maintain their power. They had it all lined out. They had control of the child who could create new Watersheds, and wanted to use this resource as leverage over others, so everyone would depend on them. One of them was a verter, who could control the aging process of individuals, which would allow them to stay young forever, further cementing their undefeatable tyranny. What they didn’t have, however, was Andromeda. She was the only builder anyone had ever heard of on Durus. If they wanted to build a kingdom without using slaves or indentured servants, they would either need her on their side, or be able to force her to do their bidding. It was unclear whether they were going to succeed in this, though, because all of this had happened in an alternate reality.
A paramount who was not interested in a Durus under oligarchical rule, went back in time, and contacted Earth. The Overseer, which was the woman Saga and Vearden had worked under during Operation Second Wind, sent a salmon battalion to Durus to change the outcome. If the world needed a mutual enemy to unite the two sides, they would have it. The natives hated them for being part of yet another invasion. The refugees hated them for refusing to return them to Earth. There were a few hostile actions against the battalion, which had established a temporary military state in order to achieve their goals, but the soldiers never retaliated with violence, and not a single person was harmed beyond superficial wounds. One of the paramounts reported to have become hungry for power in the other timeline was showing signs of repeating alternate history, so Andromeda and Saga were asked to postpone their one year anniversary getaway to speak with him.
Enobarbus ‘Barbwire’ Agnelli had the power to invoke the spirits of dead people, whom only he could see. Theoretically, this could be used to provide closure for the spirit’s loved ones. Instead, he just used the knowledge he gained from these conversations against his opponents, real or imagined. “What are you two doing here?” He didn’t necessarily hate them, he treated everyone with about the same amount of scorn.
“We just wanna talk.”
“You’re working for the battalion, aren’t you?”
“In the spirit of honesty,” Saga began, “I will admit to having a prior relationship with a sergeant in the battalion. We are here with information regarding your future, which we procured from the battalion, but we are not working for them.” That was neither true, nor untrue. She was asked to help, but she had no obligation to do so, nor to report back to Adolphe.
“What happens in my future?” Barbwire asked.
“You tell us?” Andromeda suggested.
“That’s not my power,” he said.
“Well, what do you want your future to be?” Saga asked.
He took a second to think about this, like he was just interviewing for a job. “I want to be able to use my powers how I want. I don’t want to have to hide them, or use them for noble causes. I don’t want to be ridiculed, or categorized, or controlled.” He spoke only to Andromeda now. “You and I are powerful people. We’re better than the humans—”
“She’s one of us,” Andromeda suggested.
“Well, not really,” he contended.
It was true, for as many times as Saga could open a door to another time and place of her choosing, there was an equal number of times when she couldn’t, or opened a door against her wishes. It was interesting that he seemed to recognize this in her. Most assumed that her powers were just rather screwy while on Durus, but he appeared to know that she was not actually a paramount.
He continued, “If we’re better, don’t we have an obligation to help them?”
“I would sure think so,” Andromeda agreed. “But...isn’t that everyone’s responsibility. If you have the power to help someone, you should. Everyone should, temporal powers or no.”
“Okay, so...this is what I can do.”
“You can do what?” Saga pressed.
“I’m not talking to you,” he spat.
Andromeda stuck her finger in his face. “Hey! You won’t talk to my wife that way.”
He took a breath, and pretended to calm down. “I’m sorry. This is just something only you can understand. You’re paramount...full paramount, and you’re from Durus. We’ve spent a lot of time complaining about how things are now, but not much time actually trying to change it. People thought the republic was such a great idea, but look where that got us. Women were inferior, and couldn’t even go outside without a man’s permission.”
“That’s over now.” Andromeda shook her head.
“Maybe. Maybe you’ve cleaned out the whole government, but it’s still based on this socialistic pipe dream that, as long as everybody has a job to do, nothing will go wrong.”
“You don’t really know what you’re talking about,” Saga told him.
He was about to attack her again, but restrained himself, because it was counterproductive to his objective. “My point is that we’ve all forgotten what things were like before. Way before. When we first came here, Smith ruled over everybody. Through fear. Then he disappeared, and the source mages came to power. That was our renaissance. Yes, Miss Einarsson, we have books here too, I know what the renaissance is. The source mages used their powers to create an order, and the world flourished. We had day, and we had night. We had houses, in towns, with grass, and other life. We had food, and security. We had people protecting us against the monsters. Everyone thinks that, now that the literal monsters are all gone, we have nothing further to worry about. Well, I’m here to tell you that humans are fully capable of being the monsters. I’m scared, Andy—”
“Andromeda,” she corrected.
“Andromeda,” he said apologetically, “I’m scared. I don’t want to go back to the first republic, or to the Smithtatorship, or Earthan control. And everything I’m seeing here is leading me to believe that one of those three things is on its way. Which one would you rather have? If it’s up to me, I pick door number four. I pick us.”
“The beauty of a republic, Mr. Barbwire, is that no one rules. The people decide. The people vote. You want to take that away from them.”
“The people are stupid,” he said.
“You sound like Drumpf.”
“He made some good points,” Barbwire said with a shrug, unashamed of his opinion.
“What makes you qualified?” Saga questioned. “Sure, you have time powers, but so do a lot of people. That doesn’t automatically mean you know how to run a planet. That would be ridiculous. Powers aren’t given to people because of who they are. They’re not given at all, you’re born with them, which means for every smart chooser, there’s a dumb one. I’m looking at one right now.”
“Be nice,” Andromeda warned.
Barbwire wasn’t pleased about having to explain himself to an unworthy salmon, but he worked past it. “Are you sure about that? Do you know for a fact who gets powers, and why? Have you studied it?”
Thinking he would have no way of knowing whether she had or not, she leaned forward and lied, “I have, yes.”
He looked at the space above Saga’s head, and then scoffed playfully. “No, you haven’t. You’re just a slave.”
Saga looked behind her, but saw no one.
“You fell into this life, completely unprepared,” he recited. “You did the best you could, but if these powers that be,” he spoke with airquotes, “wanted you to do something, you had to do it. Sure, you gained real power at some point, and even when you lost it, you kept an echo of it. But you’re still. Just. A. Slave.”
He was presumably referring to the time she absorbed The Cleaner’s power, and ultimately used it against him, which left her with residual powers that allowed her to transcend her station marginally. But how would he know that about her? Saga decided to test him. “That’s true, and that led to my downfall. I was literally taken out of time, like I never existed. But then my friend, Vearden brought me back, and we continued our job together. I remember this one time,” she said, faking nostalgia, “when the powers that be asked us to help a budding agricultural society learn how to irrigate their crops. We weren’t supposed to use any modern inventions, but I snuck some hose from the future, just to get them starte—”
“That never happened,” he yelled, still focused on something behind Saga. “You just made that up.”
“I knew it,” Saga said, standing up, and looking around aimlessly. “Vearden, are you there?”
Barbwire knew he’d been caught. “He can hear you, but he can’t help you.” He was using his power to speak with a past version of Vearden, which Saga should have expected, or at least caught onto earlier.
“He shouldn’t be helping you either. He would never betray me.”
“Fear not. He has to answer all of my psychic questions. That’s how my power works.”
She could imagine Vearden standing right next to her, invisible and silent, but desperately trying to communicate with her, and stop this madness.
“Enobarbus,” Andromeda scolded, “stop this right now!”
“Yeah, sure, whatever.”
“Wait,” Saga stopped him, much to his delight. “Is there any way for me to speak with him.
“Like I said, he can hear you.”
“But I can’t hear him.”
“I’m powerful, not a god,” Barbwire forced himself to acknowledge.
Saga walked over towards the door.
“What are you doing?” Barbwire asked.
She reached for the doorknob. “You shouldn’t have brought him here. If ever this door was gonna work, it would be right now.” She opened the door, revealing a gigantic hall, which did not exist in realspace. She stuck her head in a little. “Vearden! Oh, Vearden!”
“Hello?” came the voice of a woman from inside. A woman Saga didn’t recognize appeared from the other side of the hall.
“I’m looking for Vearden?” Saga requested.
“How did you open that door?” the woman asked as she drew closer.
“What the hell is this?” Barbwire demanded to know.
“This,” Saga said to him with a smile. “Is The Crossover. This reality’s Vearden lives here.” She presented her hand to the woman. “I’m afraid, we’ve not yet met.”
“In my universe, we hug when we first meet people,” she replied, arms wide.
Saga accepted the hug.
“My name is Mindy Novak. Vearden is indisposed at the moment. He is...nearing the end of his tenure here, so he’s preparing for his exit interview.”
“Oh,” Saga said sadly. “Are you replacing him?”
“A new primary operator has not been chosen yet.”
“I was hoping he could...help me with this...problem,” she said to Mindy, referring to Barbwire, who was scared shitless.
Mindy took a look at him. “You’re Saga Einarsson? Vearden’s old friend?”
“I am.”
She took a device out of her pocket that resembled a tricorder, and pointed it at Barbwire, who was too stunned to move. “He’s not that relevant to this universe, I can take him off your hands.”
“Could you really?” Saga was surprised. She was really just hoping this Vearden could stop Barbwire from exploiting Ghost!Vearden.
“Some people can’t change, and just need to be removed from the equation. This may sound like murder is the only option, but all you really need is a different equation. I have a nice new home for him in mind.” She took him away, and it was over.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Microstory 785: Valet

In 2007, Magnate began its line of appliances, which quickly became its most successful department. People would always need ways to store and prepare their food, as well as easily perform everyday household duties. Then in 2012, Magnate expanded to entertainment electronics, including cameras, phones, and music players. As time went on, it was becoming clear that smartphone apps were going to remain the most important tools people use to maintain their lifestyles. There were apps for scheduling, apps for communication, apps for games, and apps for tracking fitness activities. Wanting to bridge their other departments into a more cohesive system, in 2017, Magnate started getting into materianet, which is sometimes known as the tangiblenet, but Magnate coined the former. They wanted to connect every machine or device an individual owned, so they could all communicate with each other, and share data. Theoretically, with this technology, your home will wake up when your car drives close enough to it by adjusting the environmental temperature, opening the garage, turning on the hall lights, switching the television to your favorite news program, and disabling internal security precautions. Before you even leave work, it can remind you to pick up a carton of milk, because it’s been communicated this need by your refrigerator. Similarly, connected cities should be able to measure the traffic on a given road, keeping street lights dimmed when not in use, and brightening them only when a car or pedestrian draws near. This was going to be a huge endeavor, and not everything Magnate has tried has worked out perfectly. But one thing they realized was that they really needed a single system that all devices would use. There needed to be a set of standards, and the company set out to create these, feeling themselves to be in the best position to do so. On the front end of all this is a meta-application called Valet. Valet was programmed do everything physically possible for you. Valet knows your schedule, because it has access to your online calendar. Armed with this information, it can automatically instruct your thermostat to a setting ideal to saving energy, say when you’re off on vacation. Is a friend dropping by to check on the place while you’re gone? You can temporarily grant her certain house rights, which alters the temperature to her personal ideal, and it knows this, because everyone has their own account. You can lock her out of certain rooms, if she’s not allowed access, and can lock your car and/or garage down, so she can’t take your new Starburst out for a spin. All of this is controlled by a single application on your phone. Sounds nice, right? Though a great number of people came together to make this a reality, one special individual, with the ability to see the future, spearheaded the project. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage Manus Burke’s personal assistant, Lynne Wallace.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Microstory 784: Mullet

Mullets. What is a mullet? Well, it’s a species of fish; a few different species, actually. It’s a kind of haircut, known as business in the front, and party in the back. But that’s not what we’re talking about. In this case, mullet refers to a kind of time traveler very similar to a salmon. While other time traveler varieties are quantum biologically different than the others, a mullet is really just a special kind salmon that plays by their own rules. First of all, let’s codify the varieties, so you’ll understand how a mullet comes to be. The tippy top are the powers that be, and the choosing ones. Members of the latter have the ability to use their time powers as they please, while the latter have no power of their own, but can control salmon. Chosen ones, which are incredibly rare, are equivalent to salmon, but can be controlled by their respective chooser instead, though it’s unclear to what degree. Lastly, spawn are humans transformed into temporal manipulators by either a salmon, or a chosen one. They’re even rarer, and more mysterious. When Saga Einarsson and Vearden Haywood were first puppeted by the powers that be, they were deemed The Freelancers. This meant, actually that they displayed traits of salmon, but also chosen ones, which allowed them to sort of be passed around on an as-needed basis. But then an incident infused them with powers they were never meant to have. And though most of this power eventually drained from them, they maintained an unexpected level of independence, rendering them the first in a sixth type. Though they could still be called upon to act on the wishes of the powers that be, they could also refuse this request, which no salmon should be able to do. No one knows whether it’s possible to transform oneself from a salmon, to a mullet, and then to a full-fledged choosing one, to be completely free of the whims of the powers that be. But inspired by Saga and Vearden’s marginal success, salmon sure as hell started trying.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Microstory 783: Joy Girl

I wanted to take a moment clear a few things up about my approach to sexuality in my stories, because the way they do things in these worlds may be a bit confusing. As I believe I’ve said before, homosexuality has never been condemned on these so-called “fictional” worlds. People tend to identify as bisexual, recognizing sexual acts as independent of love and/or procreation, but not always. But this sex positive position goes deeper than the acceptance of diversity. In our world, we have strong opposition to certain positions, like exotic dancing, pornography, and prostitution. Even the word pornography means “obscene painting”. Likewise, the word prostitution has a longer history of referring to dishonorable harlots than it does the job itself, meaning you could be called that in the 16th century as an insult, before sex workers adopted it the term more formally. But that’s just us, and it’s not how it has to be. In other universes, these people are respected for their dedication to their trade as much as a stockbroker, or a coal miner. Dancers and adult film performers are treated as artists, who provide a necessary and specific contribution to the world of entertainment. Similarly, sex workers provide a service for clientele in a more intimate, and usually private, setting. They don’t use that vile word, instead choosing to be known as paramours, which carries with it an interesting linguistic twist, in that it’s a portmanteau of para + amour, signifying their status as more ‘parallel’ to love, rather than in true love. There’s a lot of stigma surrounding these jobs, a lot of it evidence of ignorance. They say that the only reason a woman would walks the streets is because of some psychological trauma they’ve been unable to come to terms with by “healthier” means. The most common of these claims is daddy issues, but setting aside my fiction for a moment, I want everyone to look at their wall and see if there’s a fucking psychology degree on it. If there is, I then want you to look back at your records and check if you ever even had a fucking conversation with these women to make a reasonable conclusion about their motives or history. To be more general, let’s all take what any pundit or commentator says about the mental capacity of a politician, celebrity, news subject, or subculture, with a grain of salt, and appreciate the fact that that is not goddamn how science works. To be sure, this stigma does not exist in my stories, and I do this to illustrate how our world could look like if you rethought your judgy intolerance for one second. People claim there’s a lot of abuse, danger, a drugs attached to these jobs, and that’s true. But those are peripheral consequences of the laws and opposition towards them, not the industries themselves. If these things were both legal, and socially accepted, plus regulated, do you think those actual crimes would continue? Localized data suggests otherwise. This became more of a tirade against our (in)justice system, when I set out to simply codify my narrative canon, but if even one person starts questioning their judgy attitudes towards other people’s choices, then maybe I’ve helped, even only in some small way. This story is dedicated to all the joy girls out there, empowered by their sexuality, not ashamed of it. They are the best kind of wild cards.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Microstory 782: Sax

One of my favorite bands growing up was Sunday Think About It, in no small part because of their variety of instruments that they used. I listened to their debut album, I Miss U!! I don’t know how many times. You can imagine how excited I was when I won tickets on the radio to see their Hudson City show, which would be their only Usonian stop during their international tour. The package included, not only two backstage passes, but also the opportunity to hang out with the band after the show. My best friend, Daleka and I were so incredibly excited, but there was just one problem: we lived thousands of miles away, and we had no money, and no vehicle. Our parents were supportive of us going, but since we had no way of getting there, they obviously didn’t think it would be a problem, so maybe that wasn’t so genuine. Well, we sure showed them. Keep in mind that this was a time before cell phones and security camera facial recognition. Back in these days, if you were caught on a train without a ticket, the conductor would send a message to the next station, where a law enforcement officer would be waiting for you. Of course, if you had enough cash on you, you could just pay for a ticket without dealing with the authorities, but if you had the money in the first place, you probably wouldn’t have had to sneak on at all. We played it right, though. He came by to check tickets, and we pretended like we were looking for them, freaking out about having lost them. There were real tears, and everything. We put on a good show. Fortunately, we are on the express line, which meant the stops were few and far between, so it would be awhile before he could let us off. He took pity on us, and agreed not to involve the law, I kind of always felt bad about us manipulating him.
As far as we had gotten, we hadn’t gotten far enough. We were able to hitchhike a few more legs, but that soon got tiring, and people weren’t willing to take us very far without being paid. We needed better options, so we thought up a new approach. Daleka had brought with her a saxophone, hoping that the band’s saxophonist at the time, Lochana McGiddy would sign it for, oblivious to the fact that nothing writes well on brass. Neither of us actually played the saxophone, but I was a decent flautist, so I knew I could figure it out. Every city we went to, we would find parks with the most number of visitors, and perform for them. We realized our shtick was better off with humorous undertones, with me “purposely” playing poorly, and Daleka dancing ridiculously. Well, we made it to the concert on time, and it was great. Unfortunately, we never did get to meet the band, though, as there were some failures to communicate that were beyond our control. As it turns out, the radio people didn’t have everything in order. Then about ten years later, someone on the internet invented a website where you could post short videos. Someone else, in one of the cities that paid our way to Hudson uploaded some footage from our performance. In response to this, others realized they had seen the same act in their own cities, and uploaded our other performances. Somehow, the band members of Sunday Think About It at the time caught wind of this, and saw our morning show interview about it. Feeling bad for having failed to meet us those many years ago, they invited us to Austin; paid our way, and everything. We started a jam session, and well, granddaughter of mine, you can guess the rest. I spent the next twenty-four years as their saxophonist.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Microstory 781: Sawbuck

Jane Brown hated her name. At least if she had been Jane Johnson, or Jane Jones, it would have been alliterative, but this was the most boring combination her parents could have come up with. She suffered through it her whole childhood, witlessly playing into her own insecurities on the matter, which only convinced those around her that she herself was boring. She ended up being admitted to a college on the other side of the country, though, and decided it was high time she reinvented herself. So, she took a gap year to earn a little extra cash, and start the relatively slow process of legally changing her name. She knew it would take a long time in her case since she would have to convince the court to allow such an unusual change. She had landed on the name Sawbuck, for no particular reason, except maybe she saw an advertisement for a sawhorse earlier that day. She would never know for sure, but it sounded perfect for her, because she wanted to become someone interesting; someone people talked about, and asked after. By the time her first semester started, she had completed all the paperwork, and was fully approved. She was now Sawbuck. Sawbuck Honeyglider. Her classmates and dorm neighbors would ask her about it, and she would never tell them that she made it up. She came up with a lie to explain where her family came from, and every time she told the story, shed add more and more flourishes. She never contradicted herself, though, so if her victims spoke to each other about it, they wouldn’t catch on to the fib. She got so good at it that she realized lying was her true passion. If she could weave this one incredibly intricate story about herself, maybe she could do it with some other story. So she sat down at her computer, and got to work. She came up with plausible falsehoods, but she didn’t incorporate them into a novel or short story. She didn’t write films or plays. She just wrote lies, and she found a way to spread them on the internet. Using what she had picked up on about law when she changed her name as a foundation, she taught herself how to set up false identities, and plant information in such a way that it looked like her characters had always existed, and that they had gone through all these harrowing or tragic experiences. She created an entire secret history of the world, all from her laptop, generating belief amongst even the most skeptical in the world in random, pointless, and sometimes innocuous things. Her reputation began to spread along with the lies themselves, and certain underground peoples began asking her for her help. This was how Sawbuck ‘Plain Jane’ Honeyglider turned herself into the infamous Fabricator.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: August 21, 2167

The crew was in a depressive funk when the two of them returned to the timestream a year after Nerakali’s death. None of them particularly liked her—though Dar’cy did a little, because she didn’t have any history of hostility with her—but they were apparently right about the necessity of her virtual worlds. At least, the problems losing the worlds would cause was a self-fulfilling prophecy. They were going a little stir crazy being trapped in a tin can with hardly anything to do. The database was loaded with some mindless video games, but they quickly got old. There were some books and movies, but not all of it was good, and what was good, they had already watched or read over the last five years.
Nothing had gone wrong with the ship in the meantime. It was on course, and on schedule; Leona’s water filtration system was working perfectly; and Missy’s atterberry pods were functional, though they hesitated to use them. It took so much effort to convince The Emissary to allow the pods as backup in the first place. Though this was never stated explicitly by the powers that be, they had the distinct impression that the pods were not to be used just to pass the time quickly. In lieu of this, the organic humans spent an unreasonable amount of time sleeping, or just lying in bed with their eyes either opened, or closed. Brooke and Paige, the not entirely organic beings, did have a limited ability to go into a sort of power-saving mode that tempered the dullness of this life. They could not completely shut down, but it was a vital extension of a software feature used for regulating their conceptualization of the passage of time. At some point in the advancement of transhumanistic technology, developers recognized how horrifically tedious life would be when an individual with enhanced neural processing power perceived seconds as centuries. Thus, the temporal attenuator. Without it, people kill themselves purely out of boredom.
Right now, those two were in an especially deep hibernation, while Missy was performing more tests on Serif’s healing abilities. Dar’cy was the only one free to talk, and it looked like she desperately needed it. “I think it’s punishment for us letting Nerakali disappear to her death,” she said, almost completely unprompted.
“What is?” Leona asked, worried they had been in the middle of a conversation, and she just hadn’t been paying attention.
“My powers,” Dar’cy added. “I’ve not been able to use them all year. If Nerakali were still around, I wouldn’t need them anyway, but now they’re gone completely. I can’t even jump five minutes away.”
“Yeah, your father experienced the same thing on Tribulation Island. But that was Arcadia’s doing.”
“How did he get through it?”
“You mean, how did he get his powers back, or how did he handle life without them?”
“The latter.” She was tearing pieces of skin off her lips with her teeth.
“Well, life on the island was a lot more interesting, I think. They did have some arbitrary amenities, but they also had a lot of work to do. Hunting, fishing, repairing the shelters. Then again, I think he spent a lot his life up to that point using his powers, more than I imagine you have. I suspected too that somebody blended his brain with alternate versions of himself, so he was probably rather accustomed to having them. You know, I guess I don’t know how he managed to not go crazy. Eventually, he met your mother, though, so I’m sure that helped.”
“So, I should find a girlfriend?” Dar’cy gathered.
Leona looked around the room they were sitting in, which wasn’t any less empty than any of the other rooms. She and Serif were now staying in Nerakali’s quarters, since she no longer had use for them. “Well, your options are fairly limited.”
“You and Serif got any openings?”
They laughed for as long as they could, glad for a joke that took up the better part of twenty seconds of their long journey to Durus. But also Leona had a fleeting thought that they did indeed have an opening, like there really was meant to be a third person in the relationship.
“You just need to get creative. How about a play?” Leona suggested.
“Which play?” Dar’cy asked.
“Doesn’t really matter. On The Next Generation, crew members would rehearse and perform plays for each other. The characters weren’t generally actors, but they often filled their time in between missions with the performances. Sometimes they were even originals, written by one of them. They also played instruments, and put on concerts. That would take even more time, if you don’t already play.”
Dar’cy thought this over. “The only play I know that’s in the database is Waiting for Godot. I don’t know anything about it, but I guess we could do that.”
“Probably not that one.” It would make them even more depressed about sitting around and doing nothing.
“There’s also a musical called...um, Bridgedoom, or something?”
“Brigadoon?” Leona assumed. “Yeah, maybe not that one either.” That hit a little too close to home when it came to Leona and Serif’s real lives. “I’m sure you’ll find something in there, though. Ask the others for guidance, since they’ve spent more time on Earth, and know what would be in the library. You could perform it for Serif and me when we get back. Maybe you’ll even find something they created after our first time jump.”
“Yeah, that might be fun.” She didn’t look super convinced. She planted her face into Leona’s pillow. “Or I could just go back to sleep.”
Leona affectionately pulled her back to a sitting position. “No, don’t do that. Eight hours a night. Maybe nine. No more.”
“What is night? What is night when there is no day?”
“Deep.”
“Do you hear that?”
Leona did think she could hear something as well.
“It’s like...like a metal blade cutting into something else metal. Or, soldering? Or a laser etching into something? What is that?”
It grew louder, and Dar’cy’s descriptions were pretty good. Then a light began forming on the floor. They jumped up on the bed, as if it were a mouse, and as if they were afraid of mice. The light started as a pinpoint, but grew larger and larger, as the sound intensified.
“Is someone taking apart our ship?” Dar’cy asked. “Are we being boarded?”
“The floor just leads to the deck below us,” Leona explained. “If we’re being boarded, they’re already in.”
The light continued, until it was large enough to reveal a portal, out from which came two hands that pulled a woman into the room. She struggled to get her feet all the way through. “Verdammt! Scheisse!”
Leona helped her the rest of the way through, while Dar’cy became combat ready.
The woman looked around and got her psychological bearings, then she took out the Compass of Disturbance, and tried to get her literal bearings. “Wo bin ich?”
“What did she say?” Dar’cy asked, still ready for a fight, even though the intruder looked like she was over sixty years old.
“I don’t know,” Leona said.
“Don’t you speak Russian?”
“That’s German, and no, I don’t speak either of them.”
“Obviously you do, because you know which language it is.”
“That’s not how that works.” Still. Leona tried to remember what few things she picked up in college. “Uhh....dein name?”
“Ida,” she answered. “My name is Ida Reyer.”
“You do speak English,” Dar’cy pointed out, suspicious of her.
“Yeah, sorry,” Ida responded, still in a German accent. “It’s not my first language, though. I still don’t think in it.”
“Ida Reyer?” Leona echoed. “I feel like I’ve heard that name before.”
“I got a Wikipedia blurb,” Ida said, only halfway proud of herself. She shook their hands. “I’m an explorer. From Austria.”
“You have Juan’s compass.”
“No,” Ida said. “Juan has my compass. I’ve yet to go back in time and leave it for him to find. The Weaver bequested it to me originally.”
“How far out of your time period have you gone?” Dar’cy questioned. “This is a space vessel.”
Ida nodded and inspected the bulkhead. “Yeah, it’s okay. Not the best I’ve seen. The first thing I did was go hundreds of thousands of years in the future, to a planet of two kinds of aliens called the Eloi, and the Morlocks. They themselves didn’t have any working ships, but I came across an ancient crash site or two while I was there.”
“The Eloi and the Morlocks?” Leona asked, wide-eyed.
Dar’cy had no reaction.
“Yeah,” Ida laughed. “My friend, Helena bastardized that story so the 19th century dum-dums could understand it better. Don’t worry, she gave me some of the proceeds from the book.”
That was a lot to unpack.
Ida went on, “anyway, today is your day, Leona, which means I’m here on time. Looks like we have about a year to adjust heading just enough to avoid the cataclysm.”
“What cataclysm?”
“The 2167 gravity well.”
“It is 2167,” Dar’cy said.
It took a second for this to register with Ida. “Wait, what, are you serious?”
“Well, relatively serious.”
“Ah, crap, I’m late. She ran out of the room. “Shut off the engines! Shut ‘em off now! Plan B!”
“Computer,” Leona ordered, running out after her. “Awaken Brooke.” She ran into the cockpit to find Ida hastily tapping and swiping at the computer interfaces.
Brooke came out of her standby and tried to get her off of her precious machines. “Hell you doin’?”
“Brooke, we have to stop right now.”
“What do you mean, we have to stop? You can’t just stop a vessel traveling at a hundred-forty-seven million miles per hour.”
“We don’t need to stop the ship, just attitude control and thrusters. And mostly everything else.”
“What are you talking about?” Brooke protested. “Who are you?”
“A really good friend of yours. I’m sorry you’ve not yet been introduced to me, but I implore you to trust me. If we don’t take systems offline right now, the sheer will tear the hull apart. We have to let The Warren fall into the well without resistance. It’s the only way we’ll break free of it.”
“Are you crazy, we’ve got a schedule to keep.” The computer had woken Paige up as well.
“You won’t be able to keep it. Better late than dead.”
“Miss Matic, who is this woman?” Paige asked.
“A famous explorer. She’s using the Compass of Disturbance.”
“Yes, thanks for reminding me,” Ida said, taking the compass out, and placing it on the interface table. Circles emanated from where the compass was placed, along with tangential and radial lines, the bridges connecting information between the two devices. Ida seemed to be able to read the data. “Okay, so we still have time, but we have to do it now.”
“Captain,” Brooke asked.
“I’m not doing it,” Paige said. “I don’t know who the hell you are, but I’m not compromising the safety of this crew, or the importance of the mission, for you.”
“Don’t you see,” Ida said, “that’s exactly what you’re doing. There’s a tower out there that Saga’s wife, Andromeda created. A choosing one used his power to levitate it off the ground, and away from the planet, but it’s been gathering gravitational energy ever since.”
Paige wasn’t relenting.
Ida turned her face to stone. “Warren, override operations, authorization two-one-six-seven-plaintiff-temple-bachelor.”
“Transfer complete,” the computer responded.
“What did you just do?” Paige argued.
Ida ignored her. “Warren, shut down all operations besides life support, and minimal internal lighting.”
“No!” Paige screamed, but it was useless.
The lights dimmed, and the engines cycled down. With the gravdisk below them decelerating, they were lifted from the floor, and started floating around aimlessly. Not used to life without some level of gravity, Leona found herself hitting her head against the wall. And then nothing.