Saturday, March 31, 2018

Void: Taken (Part XIII)

One week. After accepting the truth that she had no choice but to take her daughter to Earth, Saga took some time to get past it. Since they would not be able to leave until Leona and Serif returned to the timeline anyway, she decided to make the best of her situation. She joined a gym, learned how to meditate, and continued doing what professionals suggested to encourage her daughter to speak. She tried to be more patient and understanding with those around her, cognizant of the crew of The Warren’s position, and appreciative of what they were trying to do for her. In the end, even though Durus was now her home, it wasn’t the first, and only. She had lived in the early 21st century, mid-19th century, mid-18th century, and the turn of the 16th century. She had been a globe-trotting photographer, an alien revolutionary, and a nurse. She spoke four languages, built a full-scale replica of the Colosseum, and was quite literally torn out of time. She’d lived through multiple lifetimes, across multiple timelines, and experienced an array of adventures she would always remember. Her meditation instructor, Dar’cy taught her to think of this one as but the latest, and to prepare for the next. But week.
When Leona returned, she really needed to do her own inspection of the ship before she would let them leave. Saga was in support of this, because if that took an entire day, they would have to push the whole thing a whole other year. That would just give her more time to teach Étude about where she was born. A three-year-old is capable of some independent thought, but people tended to not recall much from this early in their lives. If she wanted her daughter to have full and intact memories of life on Durus, she would have to at least make it to four. As badly as Saga wanted this for her, she didn’t want it like this. Not if it meant having to endure this one week.
Serif was helping her check the house Andromeda had built for their family for any belongings they would want to take with her. Despite the diminutive size of the vessel, Annora would be coming with them to create a pocket dimension. They would live comfortable in this parallel world, able to forget the stale and metallic world that lay just beyond. It also meant they would have room for just about anything they wanted to keep. She thought she had all they needed, but then Saga remembered the doorknob to their bedroom closet, which Andromeda claimed was a family heirloom that possessed great power. She went back upstairs to retrieve it, leaving Étude with Serif on the street. Suddenly, there was a great explosion outside that shook the whole house. She ran back down to search for her daughter, but found nothing. She looked all around, but there was no sign of the two of them. Hoping they had activated their emergency teleporters, Saga activated her own, and jumped all the way back to the ship. She was relieved to find this to be the case. Everyone else on the crew was already there, having undergone their own attacks simultaneously. They thought the worst of it was over, but then both she and Étude were taken hostage...separately. For one week.
The people who had attacked them were part of yet a new fringe group of Durus. Comprised fairly evenly of Earthan refugees and Durune natives, these people no longer wanted to live here, and decided it was the Warren’s responsibility to take them to Earth. Had they not known Annora would be creating a relaxation dimension, this group probably never would have formed. It was clear how few spots there would be on the ship without her. But they indicated they understood so many more people could fit, and they felt entitled to proverbial tickets, for all two hundred of them. Annora tried to explain that her worlds were of greatly limited scope, and would not be large enough to accommodate that many people; not for a years-long journey, at least. If they were just traveling to the other side of the world, on a trip that took a few hours, that would be fine. But they expected to live on top of each other for almost a decade, and that just wasn’t going to work. Still, they were determined make this happen, and their leadership proved to be completely capable of hurting people to achieve their goals. They weren’t sure how long this standoff was going to last, but definitely long after midnight central, which was the end of their departure window. Leona and Serif were taken out of the timestream, destined to not return for another year. Yes, Étude would be four-years-old by the time they could leave, but at too great a cost.
A man with the knife kept Saga in one of the ship’s cabins for the whole week, refusing to so much as give her his name. The only words he spoke—aside from whispered conversations with his people on his phone—were used to demand food from the crew left on the rest of the ship. He even refused to give Saga updates on her daughter’s condition. For all she knew, she was long dead, and her own life was completely over. Apparently Dar’cy managed to negotiate herself to become a hostage, in exchange for Étude’s return. Though they agreed to her terms, they went back on their word, and just kept them both as hostages somewhere outside the ship. Days later, the Durune police force—which had established itself as highly reputable, organized, and legitimate division of the world’s government—made their move. They raided the hostage-takers’ lair, recovering both Étude and Dar’cy, who were as healthy as could be.
A few days later, the police chief presided over peace talks between the crew of the Warren, and the hostage-takers, who were now identifying plainly as The Passengers. Obviously, the Warren owed these people nothing. As Captain Turner had pointed out when this all began, had they asked nicely, they might have been able to work something out. Their gut reaction to use violence to get what they wanted had immediately spoiled any good relationship they could have forged. But the situation was not so simple. These people were not happy with their lives on Durus, and since the government kept a reasonable tally of unhappy citizens, everybody knew that this was the limit of their numbers. If they could make Annora’s dimensions large enough to fit these two hundred, they would not have to be any larger. Furthermore, since they no longer wanted to live here, Durus was, quite frankly, better off without them. They were just bound to cause more problems down the line anyway, so if the Warren could take them off the government’s hands, they were for it. Again, it was not that easy. While Annora and Missy were using the borrowed access to the paramount database to see if the technical issues could be resolved, Paige and Saga were sitting down with the Passengers.
A man named Faustus Lambert was their founder and highest leader. He was given the authority to speak on the behalf of the Passengers, but Saga was not convinced every one of them was in favor of this decision. When she spoke to some of them privately, she found a general consensus that few were happy with the way he handled their plea for safe passage. Perhaps he was not the man they should be speaking to, and so Saga took it upon herself to color outside the lines.
“Mister Lambert, do you speak for the people?” Saga began the questioning, looking for a way to lead into what she was really trying for.
“I speak for my people.” He clearly felt no remorse for the pain he had caused others, and was still fully convinced that what he had done was necessary; honorable, even. Saga guessed he expected to go down in history as a great leader.
“Were you voted into this position of power?” she asked.
He smiled wider. “Well, no, that’s not how it works. I started something, and they follow me, because they believe in it.”
“They believe in holding people against their will?” she pressed.
“I did what I had to do to protect mine. I stand by it.”
She nodded, feigning acknowledgement of his predicament. “You don’t think there was a better way?”
“Like what?” He looked towards Paige. “Asking nicely?”
“Would you have even entertained the idea if we had just requested it?”
Saga stood from her chair, and leaned on the desk with her fists. “To be quite unambiguous...yes.”
He scoffed, and didn’t believe it. “You would have done exactly what I did. Get off your high house.”
“It’s high horse,” Paige corrected.
“What the hell is a horse?”
“I don’t think we should be speaking to you,” Saga said, moving on. “Because I don’t think you represent these people anymore.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I spoke with some of them. Sounds like there was some trouble in paradise. Sounds like a group of parents had to step in, and protect my daughter, from you and your...violent cohorts.”
“They exaggerate, I wasn’t gonna hurt anyone,” he defended himself.
“I don’t believe you,” Saga replied. “The man who trapped me on the ship had a knife. Held it to my throat. Drew a little blood. Did anything like that happen, to my daughter, or Miss Matigaris.”
“Absolutely not.”
“You know we speak the same language, right? The two of them and I. And they have memories. You didn’t erase them. They told me how they were treated, and how bad you were. And how scared they were of what you would do.”
“I’ve spoken with the police too. They tell me they’ve already been investigating your connections with the Dawidux, and the terrorist known as Barbwire.”
“He wasn’t a terrorist, and he was a great man, and a great leader, and you did something to him!”
“So you did collude with him?” Saga asked, still as calm as ever.
“Lies!” He stood up angrily. “It is you who works with terrorists! Crooked Saga!” He looked over to the police, who tensed up. “There’s evidence of her involvement with the Earthan Uprisers! I have it, and can show you. Maybe tomorrow, just you wait. I’m an upstanding citizen. Saga has been working against this world since the Deathspring, long before I became the leader of the Passengers. Also, no collusion!”
Saga sat firmly, and waited patiently for him to come out of his rage. “That right there, sir, is how I know you’re a terrorist, and have been plotting against us. I don’t know how you maintained control over the Passengers, but that ends here.” She directed her attentions towards one of the police guards. “Please send in Mrs. Kistler.”
“What?” Faustus questioned. “Her?”
Camden came through the door, ushering in a woman named Lavitha Kistler, who had been the most upfront to Saga about her dissension to Faustus’ poor conduct. She hovered over Faustus.
“The police asked me to bring out your true side,” Saga announced. Apparently they can’t charge you with anything without an understanding of your attitudes. They need to see how you really think, and how you treat others. I don’t remember that being in the Constitution, but okay. You, and those who directly carried out your violent orders during the hostage situation, will be excluded from negotiations. I think that means we only have to worry about, what, a hundred and eighty-four people? The Captain and I will be continuing these negotiations about the rest of the Passengers with Mrs. Kistler here.”
“You can’t do this,” he argued. “I’m the leader! I started this, and I’m gonna goddamn end it!”
“People like you make me not regret agreeing to leave,” Saga said to him, still calm.
“No!” he screamed. In true form, he reached over and removed a teleporter gun from the nearest police officer. They were nonlethal, of course, but were inconvenient. Once someone was teleported into a holding cell, it took a lot of paperwork to get them out. He pointed it at the crowd, and literally backed himself into a corner.
As if having been called, Kolby teleported into the room. He was a career security guard from Earth, whose job it was to incarcerate choosing ones who had abused their powers to the detriment of mankind. “Mine’s bigger,” he said in a phony gravelly voice. And he was right. His own transporter gun was massive, probably because it had to be able to send people through both time and space. He shot Faustus with it.
“He’s not a chooser,” Camden pointed out.
“We’ve expanded the prison’s reach,” Kolby explained. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have over a dozen more on my list.” He walked out of the room.
As promised, Saga continued talks with Lavitha, and the Passengers. Though they didn’t show it specifically during the hostage situation, a few of them had somewhat violent histories, and were considered too dangerous for the ship. Several others felt bad about what they had done to the crew, and especially Étude, so they volunteered to be excluded from consideration as well. They assured the government that they would continue to contribute positively to society, and not cause problems on Durus. Yet still more strongly believed in the Warren’s companion ship, the González, which was supposed to arrive mere days after the first. These Passengers were convinced that it still would, even after all this time, when the most likely scenario was that something had gone wrong since the Warren lost contact with them. They agreed to stay behind as well, though, leaving the number at a perfect gross of a hundred and forty-four. Annora and Missy were confident that this was a tenable number, with some modifications. Now all they needed to do was wait yet another year, which was when it was finally time for Saga to return home. The Durus chapter of her life was finished.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Microstory 810: Driverless

I woke up in a bed, but it wasn’t my bed. I thought I was in the middle of an earthquake, but when I tried to sit up and take a look, the whole room turned. No, quakes don’t move like that, so something else was going on. I rubbed my eyes and got a better look around. It wasn’t a room at all, but a van, completely hollowed out, and filled to the edges with this van shaped mattress. Despite having no apparent driver, it was rolling down the highway. I looked out the deeply tinted windows, where it was either early morning, or late evening. Other cars were around, but none of them was towing this van, so it was probably being operated remotely. Why anyone would kidnap me would be a hard enough question to resolve, but trying to figure out what their reasoning behind putting me in this thing was beyond unanswerable. Of course, I tried opening the doors, but the handles were removed, and they wouldn’t budge without them. I took off my shirt and used it to protect my fist as I pounded on the glass, but that wasn’t doing any good. I might have tried a shoe, but they had taken those as well. I crawled up to the front to at least see where I was going. As soon as I drew close enough, a blue light lit up the windshield, and a soothing voice alerted me to the fact that autopilot had been disengaged. The van immediately started swerving, so I reflexively willed it to straighten back out, which it eventually did. We were coming up on one of the busiest stretches of the highway, so I wished the van would exit to the side streets, and as if the vehicle could read my mind, it exited. Or maybe that was exactly what it was doing; reading my mind.

I continued to think about where I wanted to go, and the van would comply. When it was necessary to stop for a light, or stop sign, or slow traffic, it didn’t seem to be planning on reacting properly, unless I deliberately thought that it should. Yes, it was quite clear after several tests that the van was responding to my instructions telepathically. The most pressing question now was where was I even going? I realized I could make these minor adjustments to my route, but ultimately, I was heading in one direction. The van was still working somewhat autonomously, and was apparently programmed to take me somewhere specific, whether I wanted it to or not. I kept trying to get it to just take me back home, but nothing was working. After hours of this, I was getting bored, having resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t really in any control, even though I still had to keep my eyes on the road. Finally, it pulled into an abandoned drive-in movie theatre. There were dozens of other vans already there, and a few more coming in behind me. Once everyone was apparently there, all of our doors opened at the same time, revealing that no one else knew what was going on either. The movie screen turned blue, and radiated different shades as the voice on the speakers spoke. “Welcome to your new home. Everything you need can be found in your gloveboxes. No one may enter your van without your permission. But have no fear, there are no criminals in this new world. The only that you must remain here forever. To leave means death.” Then everything outside of the parking lot disappeared, as if the world had fallen out of orbit, leaving only us standing.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Microstory 809: Seven Year Stitch

From the moment I was born, I knew that I was put on this Earth to protect people. Okay, well that might be a bit of an overstatement, but no matter when I realized this about myself, it’s a integral part of me that I can’t change. I had no short supply of options when it came to what I was going to do with my life. I had a few ideas, but they all seemed to be so minimally impactful. I worked as a lifeguard in high school and college, but that was generally uneventful. I would have to move to a beachtown to be any sort of active protector, and even that was only on an individual basis. What I wanted was a way to protect massive numbers of people; something more general, perhaps even something secret. I went to the Bureau academy for a little while before I was recruited into the CIA, which seemed like the best choice at the time. What I didn’t know then was that there was a lot going on in the agency that seemed pretty unproductive, and I wasn’t likely going to be an international spy. I was ecstatic when I was told I would be joining an elite reconnaissance team in the midwest, but that excitement quickly faded when I realized what I was in for. The term elite was being used in this context to describe a group of agents operating mostly autonomously, but that didn’t mean they were doing anything of great significance. I was given a new partner, which was the most thrilling aspect of the situation, because we were then planted in a small town to do practically nothing. As part of something deemed Operation Stich, we were instructed to act as if we were happily married, and live the simple life, doing little work beyond taking mundane notes on everything we encountered.

Now, I’ve never been one to belittle the contributions that so-called unimportant workers make, but this was almost literally nothing. We kept track of what our neighbors were doing, which was nothing interesting or illegal, and sent encrypted emails to an address that never responded. After years of this, we started questioning whether what we were doing at all mattered. Was anyone on the other side of those emails, or did they forget about us? What were they doing with the information? Were we missing something about some kind of underbelly in this town? Was it ever going to end? We started coming up with explanations for why we were there, each one more imaginative than the last, and not one of them making any real sense. And then after seven years, everything ended. I mean, the whole country went down the tubes. Every single major city was attacked by some unknown enemy, all at once. The only people left alive were those living in smaller towns, and rural countrysides. Someone rode right up to our house on horseback, and revealed that Operation Stich was now fully activated. When we asked what that meant, she handed us a manila envelope, and rode away. The documents explained that we were there to create a new world order, as a contingency plan. Should anything happen to the original form of government—which was exactly what ended up happening—we were meant to pick up the pieces, and join a new national police force. We requisitioned two of our own horses and began our journey halfway across the country, to the provisional capital of this, the nation we live in now. And that, kids, is how your mother and I became founding fathers of Nusonia.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Microstory 808: Diamond in the Rough

When I was younger, I used to hang out with the neighborhood kids. As I grew up, I realized that we weren’t so much friends as our proximity simply made it really convenient. We grew apart when our age differences became more noticeable, and a couple of us moved away. But before then, we liked to sneak into construction sites, and our neighborhood had a lot of them, because it was still quite nascent. One day, we strayed a little too far from where we all lived, and discovered a site we didn’t know about. It was completely cordoned off with barbwire fencing, and warning signs. Now, you have to remember that this was the late 90s, when parents let their children go out for hours at a time. We didn’t have cell phones, and we didn’t tell each other everything. It was perfectly normal for us to be so far from home, and in such a dangerous place. Being the ever mischievous ones, we found a point of weakness in the fence, and broke in. At first, it all looked like any other site. It was particularly large, so it probably wasn’t designated for a single house, but otherwise, nothing was out of place. There were tools leaning up against an office module, a pair of work gloves accidentally dropped on the ground, and various heavy machinery scattered about. Then one of us—I can’t remember which—noticed something shiny on the ground. I picked up the gloves, and used them to brush away more of the dirt, fancying myself a junior archaeology excavator. It almost looked like diamond. But that couldn’t be true, it was larger than a manhole cover. Reena, who had the ability to move particles with her mind, came over, and spread the dirt some more, revealing the diamond-like surface underneath to be even larger than we believed. Glenn grabbed a pick axe, and tried to break into it, but couldn’t even make a scratch. It must have been a diamond. Ralph, our resident mechanic, hacked into all the vehicles, and moved them off to the edges. Reena swept away the rest of the dirt, revealing the full diamond, which was in the shape of a baseball diamond. Knowing we wouldn’t be able to lift the thing out of the dirt and sell it, or something, we ignored our fantastical ideas of greed, and just decided to play baseball on it. I never liked sports, but that was definitely the best day of my life. When we went back the next day, the diamond was gone, having left only a giant crater behind, and a group of clearly confused government agents, who thankfully didn’t catch us. And so here we are at the brink of my upteenth archaeological dig. I think I’ve finally figured out what the diamond baseball diamond was, and what happened to it. Madam, if you would just provide me with the funding we need, I can prove my theory that these diamond structures are ancient spaceships. I eagerly await your response.

Best Regards,

Dr. Herbert Ruff

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Microstory 807: Shower Scum

I was never the kind of person to claim that I was living my best life, or that I didn’t make any mistakes, or that I was happy with how all of my relationships turned out. But I think I ultimately did okay with the cards I was dealt. If I ever thought I could have stood to keep a few friends from the old days, my experience earlier today has relieved me of that sentiment. The first to show up at my house was Bobby. He and I were the best of friends in grade school, but when I realized that I was always interested in what he had to say, and he was never interested in my thoughts, I decided I had to break it off. I hadn’t spoken to him in nearly a decade when he just knocked on my door, and invited himself in, as if we had made brunch plans. I was so stunned, I didn’t even have the mental capacity to ask him what he was doing here, let alone kick him out. As soon as I closed the door, the bell rang again. It was my worst enemy in high school, who used to torture me incessantly, for no reason but his own psychological insecurities. Time had not been kind to the space between us, and I still hate him as much as I now hate Bobby. Again, he walked in and passed me, like he belonged there, and the two of them started chatting it up. I demanded to know who they thought they were, and they just gave me this look like I was the crazy one. The doorbell rang again, and it was my first supervisor when I worked at the grocery store. Now, he probably thought we were on pretty good terms, I’ll give him that. I had to pretend to like him, though, to keep from losing my job. He was actually a completely unaware despicable human being, who used to treat the girls at the store so disgustingly. I had always regretted not standing up to his sexual harassment, but maybe some higher force was giving me that opportunity. Had I won some kind of lottery I didn’t know about, or did I accidentally pray to God one time, and just forgot about it? One my one, two by two, and so on, more and more people came, and all of them terrible people. Eventually, I gave up trying to figure what the deal was, and just decided to be patient.

The trend continued as every single person who came in was someone I despised to some degree, and generally wished I would never have to interact with again. They didn’t act like they felt the same about me, which made sense for some, but was unbelievable for others. Then the last girl walked in without ringing. It was Carly Braddock. I had been in love with her all through since the seventh grade, but never said anything. We slept together once just a few months ago, after we bumped into each other at the library. I was so nervous about finally getting close to her after all this time, that I acted like a jerk, and haven’t felt like I could contact her again. She greeted me warmly, and rubbed her belly with a knowing smile, completely ignoring the fact that I had blown her off. I immediately felt bad for noticing that she appeared to have gained a little weight. As much as I hate myself, I’m not supposed to be that shallow. As I was trying to shake off my untoward thoughts by trying to enjoy what was shaping up to be a party, I realized what was happening. I had just died. Yes, I suddenly remembered everything about the teacup, and the fire, and the bridge. But I hadn’t gone to heaven, or hell. This was limbo. To my right were all the people I hated in my life, and to my left was the girl of my dreams, along with a future baby that I desperately wanted. Now all I needed to do was determine whether I was being given the choice of which afterlife I would have for eternity, or if it had already been made for me, and this was simply a cruel form of torture.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Microstory 806: The Future and the Past

During spring break, I had nothing interesting to do, so I just decided to go back home to visit my parents for the week, which I hadn’t done in a couple years. I was having trouble sleeping, and thought that it was just weird to be back after all this time, but another part of me was urging me to go to their basement. In almost a haze, I stuck two fingers in a hole in the wall paneling, and started ripping it all out. Then I just kept going, tearing out all the insulation. I had this uncontrollable belief that there was a subbasement I never knew about, and that this was the way to get to it. I felt validated to see a light on the other side, but was surprised to discover that it was not another basement, but instead, I was back in my bedroom...the past. It was so far in the past that we hadn’t even moved there yet. I had to sneak out quickly, not wanting to disturb the nice family that lived there. At the risk of screwing something up with the timeline, I contacted an old friend, and asked if he would take me on his relativity ship. The idea was to fly around for ten years, until I was back in my own time period, and then go back home. He agreed, but something must have gone wrong, and we found ourselves decades in the future, on another planet. And instead of coming out the same age I was before, I was ten years older, which was unfortunate, because this planet turned out to hold the secret to immortality. You had to be young enough for the immortality solution to work, though, and I had just barely passed that threshold.

The rest of the crew realized they would have to stay there in order to stay alive, so I took the ship myself, and headed back home, even though I knew it would be the year 2130 by the time I arrived, which meant everyone I knew and loved would be long dead. What I didn’t count on was learning that Earth was secretly being run by angels, nephilim, and demons. And the only reason they even told me about it was because they thought I was an alien, and wanted to include me in their future plans for the humans. Out of fear of what they would do to me when they found out I was one of those humans, I booked passage on a time machine, hoping it would finally take me back home. Once again, I was detoured, this time 300 years even further in the future. I made my way to an information booth, and asked what things were like now. The booth attendant explained to me that the secret of the supernatural creatures had long ago come to light. Humans were now hunting angels, paving the wave for nephilim to take full control, for they lacked the weakness that their angel parents possessed. Things were actually going okay in this state, but demons were slowly gaining power. Seeing me as an valuable outlier, a group of independent supernaturals who wanted to see the world return to what it once was, bequested me special nephilim powers, hoping I would use them to fight the demons.

Still seeing myself as an outsider, I tried to use these powers to return home, which is all I ever wanted, but of course this could not be. I accidentally jumped millions of years into the future. Most everything was the same as it was while I was first growing up, as some sort of cyclical timeline sort of thing. I discovered myself to be a particularly notable historical figure, even though I hadn’t ever actually done anything to impact the world. Hoping to capitalize on this, scientists had been researching for years how to clone me. They ended up creating a genetically engineered daughter from my DNA, whom they considered to be close enough to their goals. She still needed someone to take care of her, though, and now that I was back, I was the obvious choice. I decided to take her out on a stroll so we could get to know each other. Somehow, I walked several miles before I realized she was no longer even with me. I tried to retrace my steps, but I never found her, and no one seemed to be bothered by this. They shrugged and said that if she was to be their savior, she would have to find a way to survive on her own. So that’s why I’m here. I’m hoping to find even a small remnant of the ancient nephilims and angels. They’re the only ones who can recharge my powers, or send me back to the past, where I can work to stop any of this from taking place. Can you help me?

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: August 26, 2172

It took the crew of The Warren that remained in the timestream days to convince Saga to leave the safety of her pocket dimension. Once she and her daughter were out, they spent a lot of time in Camden’s hospital room, and Saga was still hesitant to agree to go with them back to Earth. She wanted to stay on Durus, where they had built a life. Her wife had used her time powers to construct a lot of the buildings in the world, and that wasn’t something a loved one just turned their back on. The crew desperately wanted to respect her wishes, but they were at the mercy of the powers that be. If the Warren didn’t take little Étude to her responsibilities, someone else would be called in to do so, and they might not be so pleasant about it. When Camden Voss finally woke up from his coma, he helped them contact The Emissary, who served directly under the powers, and it worked, but the Emissary refused to hear them out. Saga had to come to the realization that she never had a choice. And now that Leona and Serif were back, it was time to leave.
While Leona was running her own check of the ship’s systems, just to double check everyone else’s work, Paige and Missy approached.
“Could we have a word?” Paige asked.
“Sure,” Leona agreed, but kept working. “Is this a good word, or a bad word?”
“More like a sad word,” Paige answered. “We need to catch you up on what we’ve already been discussing.”
Leona lowered the wrench, and hung her arm down. “Should I be sitting?”
“It’s not a multitasking kind of conversation,” Paige explained. “Let’s go into one of the cabins.”
They went into Leona and Serif’s room, and closed the door.
“There have been some changes to the ship’s manifest,” Paige started back up. “We won’t be leaving with the same people we came with. Some are people are boarding.”
“Like who?”
“Missy and Dar’cy.”
Leona looked to Missy inquisitively. “You’re staying on Durus.”
“I came here for a reason. I’m trying to get rid of my powers.”
“Why would you do that, you’re not salmon?” Leona questioned.
“She has her reasons,” Paige said solemnly.
“That’s okay, Paige. I’m not keeping it from her.” Missy took a moment to gather her thoughts. “I have a stalker. A time stalker.”
“Who is it?”
“It doesn’t matter, but he wants to kill everyone with time powers, and he seems to be heavily focused on me, at least from my perspective. I knew if I were on the ship, the powers that be would protect me, but that won’t last forever. There’s a way to get rid of powers somewhere on Durus. I don’t know what it is, but I’m gonna stay here, and try to figure it out. He’ll leave me alone if I’m just a normal human.”
Leona shook her head with general disappointment in humanity. “He sounds like The Cleanser.”
Missy squirmed in her chair, and Paige sat up straighter.
“Holy shit, is it the Cleanser?”
“He’s a time traveler,” Paige reminded her. Just because Gilbert killed him, it doesn’t erase him from the past of his own personal timeline. Before he goes back in time and gets himself killed, he jumps around the universe, working on his...mission. That’s what she’s experiencing now.”
Leona closed her eyes and leaned back to face the ceiling. “My God, it never ends.”
“Like I said, she’s been talking about it for awhile. We’ve looked into our options, and she feels this is her best way to survive. Obviously, we can’t kill him, because his death is a fixed point in history.” Paige took Missy’s hand, like a protective mother showing affection and care. “This is how it has to be.”
Leona got out of her chair and gave Missy a warm hug. “I’m sorry you’re going through this. I feel responsible.”
“You’re not,” Missy said. “I was part of this before you were born.”
“Weren’t you born after me?” Leona asked.
She grunted. “Eh, time, right?”
Leona gave her a respectful moment of silence, then said, “looks like we’re gonna be out an engineer.”
“Actually, we have that covered,” Missy said.
“Hokusai Gimura, Saga’s friend,” Paige said. “She and Loa will be joining us.”
“Along with the woman who created Saga’s pocket dimension, Annora. She’ll also be replacing me. I need to be there for the atterberry pods to work properly, so we converted them to Ubiña pockets. You’ll have six dimensions to choose from at any one time. I guess that means she’s replacing Nerakali too.”
“Are the powers that be okay with you doing that? On our way here, you weren’t meant to use the atterberry pods the whole time.”
“Screw ‘em,” Paige said with a shrug. “They’re getting Étude on Earth, so they can be happy enough with that. What we do on our way is our business.”
“Yeah, Étude is, what, three years old now? Must be talkin’ a mile a minute.”
This made the other two uncomfortable. “She appears to be mute. She’s never said a word. The doctors don’t know why.”
“Oh. That reminds me of baby Dar’cy, though. Why is she staying? Is the Cleanser stalking her too?”
“She’s staying for me,” Missy said. “She’s appointed herself my personal bodyguard. If all goes well, we’ll find a way back home later. Hell, we may even beat you there.”
“Well, I’m glad for the new friends, but we will miss you...Missy. Is that why that’s your name?”
Missy started to laugh, but was cut off by the sound of the ship’s alarms. They ran out of the room to find Serif standing in the cockpit, shaking with fear, and holding little Étude’s hand.
“What happened?” Paige demanded to know.
“An attack,” Serif answered, unable to elaborate.
One by one, all the crew members, new and old began to emergency teleport here. Loa, then Brooke, then Dar’cy and Annora together, and then Hokusai. Finally, Saga arrived, freaking out. Upon seeing that Étude was already here and safe, she picked her up, and started crying.
“Report!” Paige ordered.
Brooke was busy working on making sure the ship was secure. “A horde of people. They found out we’re leaving today, and they want a ride.”
“And they just attacked you?”
Brooke looked around. “It would seem they attacked us all at once. They were organized, and watching us.”
“Missy, are the power dampeners operational?” Paige asked.
Missy just stood there.
“Missy! Are they working!”
“I haven’t tested them since the upgrades,” Missy said honestly.
“Brooke, turn them on anyway.”
“Already done,” Brooke replied.
“Too late,” said the voice of a man behind them. They turned to find him holding a knife to Saga’s neck.”
“They took her,” Saga said. “Before Brooke turned on the shield, one teleported in and took her from me.”
“Well, we need hostages on both sides of the barrier, don’t we?” the man asked rhetorically.
Paige stepped forward. “My name is Paige Turner Reaver-Demir. I’m the captain of this vessel. State your demands.”
“I wanna get the hell out of here,” the man answered.
“Did you forget to ask nicely?”
“Depending on how many there are of you, we may have agreed to take you. Was your first thought to kidnap and threaten people? Or did you even consider that we could have done this civilly, and nonviolently?”
He was flabbergasted by the question. “We’ve been through this before. The salmon battalion—or whatever they were—refused us outright.”
Paige stepped closer, but stopped when the man adjusted his blade. “We’re not a military contingency. We do things differently. You should have tried. Now I’m just pissed off.”
He was still stammering. “It..doesn’t matter. We have the little girl, and I have you. There are two hundred of us, and we all want in. If that means some of you can’t go, then I guess that’s what we do.”
“We can’t take two hundred. Does this ship look that big?”
“Screw you, we know you have a pocket dimension creator.” He nodded in Annora’s direction.
“Not enough for two hundred,” Paige argued. Then she asked Annora, “how many could you take?”
Annora kept her attention on the hostage taker. “My dimensions are small, especially if I’m going to be maintaining six at once. I estimate a hundred. And that’ll be tight. The point is to have room to breathe, so we don’t feel so claustrophobic.”
“That’s sixteen per,” Leona noted, but regretted it when Paige looked to her and shook her head sharply.
As the hostage-taker thought this over, it was becoming clearer that someone else had organized his group, and he was more brutish than intelligent. They’d probably intended more people to teleport in, but he was the only other one who made it through. “A hundred and fifty,” he proposed. “I think I can trim some fat.”
“This isn’t a negotiation,” Annora argued. “I can only make the pockets so big. My powers have limitations, just like anyone else’s.”
He still didn’t understand what she was saying. “Hundred-twenty. Final offer.”
Annora sighed and threw up her hands in defeat. There was no reasoning with someone like this.
“Yes?” the man asked, tilting his head to indicate he was speaking with someone using an earpiece. He listened for a moment. “Okay, we’re gonna wait you out, let you sweat. We know you have to leave by the end of the day.—What!” He was interrupted by the person on the other end of the line. “Well, if you don’t want me telling them something, you should tell me not to...tell them.” He listened some more. “We’re gonna wait until you give us the answer we want.” He started backing up, still holding onto Saga.
“You have my daughter,” Saga told him. “You don’t need to threaten my life when you’re already threatening hers.”
“But I do need to protect my own life,” he said, backing into Nerakali’s room. “Close and lock this door,” they could hear him say once inside. The door closed.
“I don’t suppose Étude has telemagnets,” Paige suggested.
“No,” Serif answered. “Saga says she’s too young to use them properly. Which she is, according to this world’s conventions.”
“Does she at least have a tracker we can use?” Brooke asked.
“I don’t know,” Serif said. “And we can’t ask Saga, or it’ll tip of the hostage-takers.”
“Goddammit,” Paige said. “Son of a—shit! Dammit! Son of a bitch, goddammit, shit!”
“I’m sorry,” Dar’cy said sadly. “I should have protected her. I should have protected all of you. That is my one job.”
“You can’t take on a whole army, Darce,” Paige said, still rattled. “Shit!” Everyone let her calm down, and try to think clearly. “Is there any way you can stretch the pocket dimensions to fit two hundred people. What if they’re on...multiple floors of a building inside of it?”
“Ten people total, on multiple floors in any one dimension is what’s normal,” Annora explained. “Maybe fifteen. You double that, and you’re just huddled together. There’s no privacy. You think this situation is bad? Just wait until thirty people have to share that small a space. People start getting hurt. Like that Earthan TV show, Snowpiercer that Loa got me hooked on a few months ago.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Serif said. “We shouldn’t be trying to figure out how to accommodate these evil people. We should just be trying to get Étude and Camden back. If we help them, something like this is just waiting to happen again.”
“She’s right,” Leona agreed. “We can’t help them. Not if we wanna stay alive for the next several years.”
“You mean, if we want to stay alive,” Brooke corrected.
“Exactly. She and I get to leave the timestream every year. You don’t have that luxury, so you have to choose carefully who you spend that time with.”
“We don’t know who’s out there. They’re not necessarily all hostage-takers. Some, I’m sure, were against it,” Missy pointed out.
“Yeah, sure. We’ll just ask them to send us only the good ones,” Paige spat.
They argued about this for most of the rest of the day. Eventually, they all realized there was no way they would be able to solve this problem by the time midnight central hit. They would have to wait to leave in a year. Things were headed in the direction of letting some, if not most, of the mob come on board. In order to do this, though, Annora would need more time to get clever with the architecture of her pockets, and maybe garner some help from someone else. They would need to look through the paramount database that Paige lied about deleting from her memory. Once Leona and Serif were gone, hopefully things would settle down a bit. It was impractical to hold Étude hostage for the entire interim period, and it wasn’t like the crew of The Warren could leave before then anyway.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Void: The Next Generation (Part XII)

At the end of the day, Leona and Serif disappeared from the timeline, and would return in one year’s time. Until then, the rest of her friends were going to spend every one of their waking minutes trying to convince Saga to return to Earth with them. Apparently they had been on a mission for the last several years, by orders of the powers that be, to retrieve Étude, who was purportedly the new and last Savior. A Savior was a special kind of salmon who teleported around the planet, helping people, generally by literally saving their lives. Saga had been through too much in her life to question the veracity of their claims, or the fact that Étude was physically incapable of being sent back to the homeworld through more instantaneous means. Still, when she left Earth all those years ago, it was doing okay on its own. A lot of the dangers that plagued earlier generations were no longer an issue. All forms of transportation were completely automated, and safer. Drones and surveillance were so universally ubiquitous, murder was laughable, at best. There were just too many ways to get caught that it was rarely worth it. Terrorists still existed, of course, but with all the safeguards, it was not usually logical to target human lives. Instead, they usually just destroyed infrastructure to make their points, which continued to go unheard.
The point was that surely this generation of Earthans didn’t need a Savior if the next generation wouldn’t. If Étude was destined to be the last anyway, then why couldn’t they just skip it? Camden’s sister, Xearea did a lot of good while she was in the position, but she will have been dead for years by the time Étude came of age anyway, so it wasn’t like there always had to be one.
“Unfortunately,” Paige began, “that doesn’t matter.” She was the captain of the small ship that brought them all here, and had seemingly been hardened from decades of immortality, and years of leadership.
They were sitting at Camden’s bedside, which was where Saga spent a great deal of her time. Now that the secret was out, and Étude was no longer safe from the world, she might as well honor her commitment to her partner. “Why?”
“The powers that be want your daughter, and they’ll have her,” she explained. “We encountered a trailing ship on our way here. Which means there could be a third ship, full of people who are not so nice. An entire fleet could be on their way to make sure you do what you’re told.”
“Plus,” Dar’cy said, “there’s no way to contact the powers, even if we thought we would be in a position to negotiate.”
“There’s a way,” Camden eked out.
“Cammy! You’re awake!” Saga carefully handed her daughter, who was still her usual patient and quiet self, to the ship’s pilot, Brooke’s arms. She placed her hands on Camden’s shoulders, and massaged them with her thumbs. “You’re finally awake.”
“How long has it been?”
“Two and a half years,” Saga answered him. “Did it feel like yesterday?”
He laughed and struggled to sit up a little. “Absolutely not. It was slower. Feels like centuries.”
Paige nodded. “Your brain would have been operating closer to computational speeds. Our programming prevents that from being an issue, but you’re new to transhumanism.”
“It’s like I could see the code behind the data I downloaded into my brain,” Camden described. “They were layers of blankets piled on top of me that I couldn’t get off.”
“Missy took those away two months ago,” Brooke explained, “so we could find Saga.”
“I remember that.” He nodded. “I still couldn’t wake up. I could hear you all, though. I’ve been here this whole time.”
“And you know how to contact the powers that be?” Paige pressed.
“We can worry about that later,” Saga said. “You should speak with a doctor first.”
He sat up some more. “I’m fine. Have you ever woken up after sleeping in all day, but it doesn’t feel like a waste of time, and it’s like you were making up for all the stress of the week? I feel great.”
“Your muscles have still atrophied,” Saga warned, calling upon her years of experience as a nurse.
“That’s true, but my brain is on point. Yes, I know how to reach the powers that be. Have you ever heard of The Emissary?”
“Yeah, he’s a bridge from the powers to the choosers,” Saga remembered.
“If you want to get your daughter excused from her duties, he’s the guy you talk to.”
“She’s your daughter too,” Saga realized. She took Étude back from Brooke, and handed her over to Camden. “I’m gonna need a lot of help from that Andromeda’s gone.”
“Hi,” he said in his best impression of a bubbly voice. “I’m Camden.”
Étude just looked at him and smiled.
“She’s still not talking, huh?” he asked, having heard Saga discuss it with the others sometime in the last couple months.
Saga shook her head solemnly.
“And she’s not deaf?”
Saga shook her head again, and almost thought maybe Étude was shaking her own in agreement. “She’s physiologically totally fine,” Saga said. “She just...doesn’t talk.”
Étude acted like she knew her parents were talking about her, and even understood what they were saying, but was unmoved by it. She always had this, almost unsettling, old soul demeanor, like the reincarnation of someone who had lived many lives.
They sat in respectful silence for a while, then Saga looked around. “Obviously you all want to continue with this conversation about the Emissary. I know you’re all dying to get back home. What I want you to understand is that I am home. Everything here reminds me of her, because she had a hand in building everything, if not the only hand. I don’t wanna lose that. And I want Étude to see what her mother did, what she created. If I let you take her away, she’ll never see this world. She needs to see all of it, to grow up here, to live in a house that Andromeda made for her. She didn’t think I knew, but she constructed a place just for us in secret, deep in the high thickets. It was meant to be our home. I’ve not been able to go there yet, but Étude deserves to live there. Camden, how do we contact him?”
“We’re gonna need her.” He pointed to Dar’cy, who was one of only two choosing ones in this world.
“I mean...” Dar’cy stammered. “He contacted me specifically about this mission, but that doesn’t mean I know how to get ahold of him.”
“Have you ever meditated?” Camden asked.
Dar’cy burst out laughing, then stopped herself in embarrassment. “Sorry, it’s just, if you met my mother, you would know how funny that question is. Yes. Yes, I meditate every day.”
Camden smiled. “That’s great. It takes years to learn how to communicate with the Emissary, but if you’re as experienced as you sound, it should go pretty quick.”
“That’s all you do?” Dar’cy asked.
“It can’t be that easy,” Paige argued.
“Most choosers who have a way to contact them make it easy, because why would it be difficult? His method is the hardest, because he doesn’t want a bunch of salmon running around asking him to get them off their pattern. Like I said, though, Darcy shouldn’t have a problem.”
“It’s Dar’cy,” Brooke aggressively corrected.
“It’s fine,” Dar’cy said. “Do I seem like the kind of person who gets bothered by that?” She switched gears back to the conversation. “Tell me how the meditation works,” she requested of Camden.
“It’s best done by a large body of water.”
“That is not going to happen.” Dar’cy’s lakeside meditation worked. In only a few days, the Emissary had arrived to ask them what they wanted. He was not being particularly accommodating, or understanding, though.
“You mean the powers that be won’t agree to that, or you won’t talk with them about it?” Saga asked to clarify.
“Both,” the Emissary replied bluntly.
“Why not?”
“I think you misunderstand my purpose. I’m not a diplomat. It’s not by job to nurture relations between powers and choosers. I am here on their behalf. I only do anything on their behalf. I don’t come to them with requests, or news, or help. I just tell choosing ones what the powers that be want them to know, much in the same way The Delegator does with salmon. This is the one thing that everyone has trouble figuring out. Regardless of what power you have—what you can do with time, or how many people you can control—they control everything. And everyone. Your needs are completely irrelevant, as are everyone’s in the universe, at all times.”
“What, they think they’re gods?” Dar’cy questioned.
“Aren’t they?” the Emissary asked rhetorically.
“The Superintendent might have something to say about that,” she noted.
“Do not speak his name.” He was supremely offended by the mention.
“That’s not his name,” Saga assumed.
“If you do everything on behalf of the powers, then why did you come when I called?” Dar’cy asked. “Why is it even possible to contact you?”
“I came at their command.” He smirked. “You didn’t summon me. I got your message, and they told me to respond, but only to remind you that this is not a voluntary mission. You know what you need to do, and you’re going to do it. I’m not sure if I said this before, but you’ve been told to extract The Last Savior. Saga’s participation is completely optional. If you have to take that child from her, then do it. Oh, and as for why there’s a way to contact me, what you did, you can do with anyone. You’ll only get an answer from those who have a way of replying, but anyone with your patience and experience can see anyone at any point in time. I can’t stop that.”
“Which means that I could see the powers that be using the same technique.”
“You would have to know what to look for.” He turned to leave, “and trust me, you don’t know who you’re dealing with.”
“When Leona and Serif return to the timeline, two people need to be on that ship: Leona, and Étude. Everyone else can space themselves, for all we care.”
“Saga, I’m sorry,” Paige said after the Emissary was gone.
She started on some breathing exercises. “It’s okay. I don’t know why we thought that would work. Come on, I want to see what Andromeda’s house looks like. There’s plenty of room for everyone.”

Friday, March 23, 2018

Microstory 805: Psychic Killer

No one was quite sure how it was that Dezi Bavoss became the nation’s Prime Chancellor of Grade Schools, but it happened, and everyone had to deal with it. She clearly had no idea what she was doing, leading detractors to suspect she herself had not even once set foot in a school. As it turned out, this might not have been too far off the mark. I was put in charge of investigating a series of murders, with the only thing connecting the victims was that they were all proven psychics. Once I learned this truth, I knew that the best way to stop the assailant from continuing their rampage was to compile a comprehensive list of psychics in the entire country. This took several months to put together, especially since people tend to prefer their privacy, even while promoting their gifts as legitimate services. I was surprised to find out from one of these psychics, who was interested in helping develop the list further, that Dezi Bavoss belonged on that list, and was in danger of being killed. Now it all made sense. The more I dug, the more I discovered just how unqualified this woman was for her job. She had never thought for herself, obviously having cheated her way through nearly every obstacle in her life by reading the minds of those around her. When my superiors found this out, though, they could do nothing about it. There were no laws regulating the use of psychic powers for personal gain, possibly because it’s easy for a psychic to blackmail a policymaker using personal secrets against them. Since Bavoss was a public figure, I was removed from the main investigation, and placed at the head of her special security detail. She adamantly opposed this added security...unreasonably so, and this made me even more suspicious. I agreed to keep her new detail at a safe distance from her, so she could maintain her privacy, but I personally tailed her closely. After only two days of this, I found the truth. She was the so-called Psychic Killer, going around assassinating her competition so she could hold onto her power. Even when I confronted her with this knowledge, she seemed unperturbed, and unashamed. She thought she was untouchable. What she didn’t count on—and could not have known—was the fact that I’m the most powerful psychic of all.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Microstory 804: Through the Roof

The two of us stand on the edge of the roof together. The sun has long set, but is still spilling faint light into the sky. It’s the very end of twilight. There is a light breeze, but nothing strong enough to knock us over. He begins to ask me the same six questions he always does, and I answer each one. I see two cars pass each other on the street below. One swerves towards the other, but catches itself in time, and gets back in line. After it’s passed, the other car swerves away from it in this bizarre delayed reaction. I hear a bird announcing to its flock that it’s time to sleep, or at least that it’s going to bed. I smell the rotting wood of a nearby water tower past its maintenance date, the sweet scent of pastries from a new shop right below called The Night Bakery, and a cigarette butt which someone must have just left up here somewhere just before we arrived. I taste the musky, metallic, sickly environment of a city that should have been torn down a decade ago. He remains silent for the next several minutes, which is unlike him. He’s supposed to ask me the final question, which is what do you know? The truth is that I know very little. He asked me to come up here, as he does every evening. It’s always a different place, and we’re always there for a different reason. Yesterday, we were measuring the height of waves coming up on the beach. The day before that, we threw rocks at people’s windows, only leaving once we’d both broken one, and it had been noticed. Two weeks ago, we popped every tire on some guy’s car, and then the next day, we anonymously delivered that same guy a brand new bicycle. I’ve seen him riding around with a big goofy grin since then, so it looks like we did some good. I can’t remember when I met my boss, or why I agreed to do everything he instructs me, but I always do, and never fail. He calls these tasks experiences, and though I don’t understand what they have to do with anything, or if they’re all part of some complicated grand plan, I enjoy them. I used to be a clerk at an auto mechanic, and never once felt fulfilled until I started doing whatever it is I do now. “What do you know?” he finally asks me, and the spontaneously answer comes to me. It’s always like that; I recite some random fact to him with no explanation for how I know it, as if the asking itself psychically imbued me with the knowledge. “A friend of mine is down there about to ask his crush out on a date.” I thought that would be it, but then something else comes to me. “The Rooftop Slayer’s next victim lives around here.” He sports a toothless smile, and nods. “Which one are we here to do?” I ask. “Help my friend ask out a girl, or stake-out a serial killer?” He just looks at me with a raised eyebrow. I don’t remember what happens next, but I get a call from my mother the next day, telling me my friend has been killed. I immediately call my boss, but he never answers, and I never see him again.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Microstory 803: Kicker

My friend, Cooper invited me to a kickback party, which he prefers to call a kicker, but no one else does. It’s actually a little rowdier than I would have liked, but he’s having fun anyway, so I stay for about as long as he wants. Finally, though, I convince him to go on a walk with me out in the woods behind the apartment complex. There’s always been this sexual tension between us that I’ve wanted to explore, but I’ve never been able to muster the courage to talk with him about it. We’ve known each other since before either of us can remember, having been paired by our respective parents, primarily as an excuse for them to daydrink together. We walk under the light of the awkward moon for a few minutes before he asks me what that sound was. I didn’t hear anything, but we have this connection, so when he’s scared, so am I. He tells me he’s got goosebumps, and I tell him I have chicken skin. Before we can get into another argument about each other’s dumb words for things, there’s another sound, and this time I hear it too. We instinctively roll into the ditch next to the path, and huddle next to each other. My eyes dilate as we stare at the trail, waiting for us both to realize that everything’s cool, and there’s no problem. A pair of hooves appear in front of us and stop. He breathes a sigh of relief and points out that it’s just a deer. I ask him where the other two legs are, then suddenly receive my answer. No deer face looks like what we see bend over and hiss at us. Its head resembles that of a human’s, but more like those giant statues on that island in the middle of the Pacific ocean that no one knows how they got there.  The visage has places for eyes, and a nose, and a mouth, but it’s like the devil accidentally turned him on before finishing carving out all the features. It’s hard to tell in the dark, but the skin even seems more like stone than flesh. Oh, and it also doesn’t have arms.

The first thing it does is lean back and try to kick Cooper in the face. I pull him out of the way, and on top of me, just in time. But we both know that we can’t stay there. We scramble off the ground and start running, but it’s extraordinarily fast. I’m talkin’ comic book superhero fast, this creature is invisible when it’s moving. It kicks at Cooper again, and he dodges it again, but then it tries a third time, and makes contact. Having slowed down its first target, it now goes after me. I drop fast and cower submissively, but it just keeps kicking. “Stop!” I scream at it, but can it even hear me? Surely it can, ‘cause that’s how it knew we were there in the first place. By now, Cooper’s recovered, and is back on his feet. He decides to give the creature a dose of his own medicine, and kicks him literally in the ass, or rather what passes for an ass with this species. It stumbles back, stupefied at Cooper’s audacity. Taking this opening, I get back up and take my own shot. It trips back more, and tries to redirect its attention towards me, but it’s clearly confused as all hell. We give each other a psychic look, then we go full on crazy, kicking it as hard as we can. It’s squirming and twisting on the ground, but we don’t stop until it starts to laugh. Then we both notice it. Our goosebump chicken skin has turned the sickly grayish green that it has. The discoloration spreads all over our bodies, and then I feel my face melting off. In seconds, I don’t see, or hear anything. I just feel vibrations; the wind, the stream a hundred meters away, my friend next to me, and the creature—the creature, who is now our leader. All my brain is capable of thinking about now, though, is how good it’ll feel when I find a human to kick.