Saturday, June 30, 2018

Missy’s Mission: Only the Beginning (Part XIII)

Once the bubble was gone, Missy found that she was now inside, alone in a small, dark room, but she could hear a bustle on the other side of a door. They were speaking in a strange tongue, and it took her a hot minute to realize it was the Maramon language. She was doing some spring cleaning last year, and found the universal translator mask stored away. She tied it around her leg like a knee pad, just because, but it started feeling normal, so she had been wearing it like that ever since, and was glad now for the coincidence. She slipped it off her leg, and wrapped it around her head just in time.
A Maramon came into the room, and flipped on the lights. “A human?” she said in her language, but it sounded like English to Missy. She was surprised to see her, but wasn’t angry or violent.
Before Missy could say anything, alarms began to sound throughout whatever facility they were in.
The Maramon looked around at the corners and edges. “No cameras. Those alarms aren’t for you. Are there others here?”
Missy stayed quiet.
The Maramon sighed. “I’m not going to hurt you. My name is Alaha, and I’m kind of a big deal around here. Because of that, I’ve been allowed access to some historical records that most of people don’t even know exist. I even know you’re language, so you won’t need that thing.”
“Where are we?” Missy asked, taking off the mask, knowing that being shy wasn’t going to help her get out of this alive, so she might as well play it cool.
“In your language, you could call it The Crossover. It allows us to—”
Missy interrupted, “travel to other universe. Yes, I’ve heard of it. I’ve known people who’ve been in it.”
“Really? Humans?”
Missy didn’t say anything.
“You’re from the future.”
“How did you guess?”
Alaha appeared to smile, but it was hard to tell with that white monster face. “Time travelers just have this...way about them. They don’t want to disturb people’s worldviews, so they’re quick to caution.”
“I don’t know what time I’m from. I came here on one day, then I went back to the past thousands of years. I don’t know if this is before that, or after the first day, or sometime in between. The first leader I met here was named Junyj. He was a...covfefe.”
Alaha nodded. “Junyj is a child, so if you met him as a leader, you were in the future. If you went thousands of years into the past from there, then that was in the past, from my perspective. Now you’re in between those two points in time. And you never answered my question.”
“I’m not likely alone.”
“All right, stay quiet. Give me a second.” She took a small device from her pocket, and spoke into it. “This is Alaha, report.”
We found six tertiaries,” came a voice from Alaha’s communicator. “They were with a Maramon we believe disappeared centuries ago.
“Does six sound right?” Alaha asked Missy, but didn’t receive an answer. “Work with me here, I’m a good guy.”
“Yes,” Missy said, giving in. There are seven of us. We were with Khuweka.”
“Never heard of her.” She went back to her communicator. Take the humans to Command,” she instructed. “And get the Maramon they were with out of the machine. She has no business here.
Belay that order,” came a third voice on the communicator. “Put them in the hock.
“Ezqava,” Alaha said, “I want them to speak with Captain Shuhana.”
That’s not your decision,” Ezqava spat back. “They are a security threat, and I want them isolated.
Bring them to me!” came a fourth voice. After a beat, she continued, “Azazil, bring them up to me.
“Yes! Sir!”
That goddamn motherfu...” they heard the Maramon who appeared to hold the most power say before trailing off. She must have forgotten to turn the radio off.
“Shuhana is a good person, but she can be unpredictable. There’s nothing we can do for your friends, but if you wait here, I’ll get you something that will let you blend in.”
Missy looked down at her human body, and then gestured towards Alaha’s. Then she scoffed.
This was definitely a smile. “You would be surprised what we can do with our technology.” She left and came back, carrying a sort of white cloak. “We wear these to make us look human when we go to other universes. Just a little reprogramming could do the opposite for you.” She draped it over her arm, and tapped at the wearable computer embedded into the fabric.
Missy then graciously took the cloak from her and put it on.
“Squeeze your collar.”
Missy squeezed it, and could see her body transform. She looked like any other Maramon. “Holy crap.”
“Might be a little unsettling, but hopefully you’ll get used to it. Stick next to me, don’t talk to anyone, and do everything I say. I’ll just tell people you’re my new assistant. Sorry if that’s humiliating, but you need a believable role.”
“It’s fine,” Missy assured her, but she said it the Maramon language, which was the most disquieting part.
They started walking through the winding halls. Other people were moving about as well, too concerned with their own problems to pay attention to the two of them. Missy followed Alaha to another level, where they found what must have been Command. Her friends were all standing there, hands in cuffs. Of course they didn’t recognize Missy in this form, and she couldn’t say anything to them. One of the Maramon was looking them over, like cattle at a livestock auction. “What universe are you from?”
“We have no designation for it,” Dar’cy answered.
“Hmm...” the Marmon said.
“That’s Captain Shuhana,” Alaha whispered to Missy.
“If you had to describe it to someone from a different universe, what would you say?”
“We have no frame of reference...except that your kind isn’t there.”
“That’s not entirely true,” Dubravka couldn’t help but say.
“What was that?” Shuhana asked, side-stepping over to face Dubra. “Speak!”
Dubra hesitated, but felt threatened. “We come from your parent universe. We are your gods!”
Shuhana laughed. “We don’t believe that anymore.” She continued to inspect her prisoners. “Well...most of us, anyway. Fine specimen you seven, however.”
“Seven? Sir?” one of the Maramon asked.
“Yes,” Shuhana replied. She lifted her hand, and pointed right at Missy without even looking. “That’s one of them too.”
Alaha closed her eyes in defeat. “Dammit.”
“You know better, Miss Adonai,” Shuhana said to Alaha. “I designed those cloaks. I can smell ‘em. I appreciate the effort, though. You have shown a care for the humans that I did not expect, not even from you. Had you come across the other six, instead of Azazil, this would have turned out differently. They might have been able to leave without us ever knowing.” She turned back to the rest of Missy’s people. “I’m afraid I can’t let that happen. Now that I know you’re here, I can’t risk you going out there with all those petulant civilians. Alaha, you’ve obviously already found your shadow. Please take that ridiculous thing off her body, though. The rest of you are going to need escorts as well. You’re free to explore most of the machine, but you can’t go anywhere alone.” She approached Savitri. “We’ll start with you. I think you would get along with...” She tapped her lips in thought. “Jakira Jeriesdi. Jakira! She cried out, still facing Savitri. “Oops, sorry, too loud.” She turned away, and tried again, “Jakira, get in here.”
Jakira appeared, hanging down from a crawl space in the ceiling. She was wearing a pair of steampunk goggles. “Yes, boss?”
“Protect this one with your life.”
“I’ve gotta do repairs on the primary hyperdimensional oscillator.”
“Great, she’s got two hands. She can help with that. Alaha, go with them. Make sure things don’t get too dangerous. I need to assign the rest of these people.”

Missy and Savitri tried to remain calm as they were watching Jakira work. Alaha had to leave after a couple hours to deal with some trouble Azazil was apparently brewing up. She said Jakira would be able to handle it on her own, which seemed to be the case. She didn’t ask for any help, leaving the two humans to carry on a conversation.
“What the hell happened?”
“Us? What happened to you, you ran,” Savitri accused.
“I know, I’m sorry. I just saw that...whatever it was, fall to the ground, and reacted. I don’t want my powers back. To be honest, I’m not sure whether they did, or didn’t, come back. I feel different than I ever have before. I feel...”
“Stronger?” Savitri suggested. “Me too. All of us, actually. There may be an explanation for that. The room we landed in wasn’t empty when Dar’cy jumped us here. I don’t even know what the Maramon was gonna do; whether he would help us, like your little friend, or if he was planning to turn us in. He didn’t get a chance to do anything...before Avidan killed him.”
“Avidan? What? How?”
“He rippled him apart.”
“You mean, like...”
“Like Lucius, yeah. Avidan has Lucius’ time power. Before that other Maramon found us, Khuweka explained that that red powder contained Serif’s blood, along with some other ingredients. I don’t know how they made it, or why, but it’s chock full of those nano things that allow Serif to heal people with her breath. It was supposed to give us our powers back, but I think we all breathed in too much.”
“So we may have all switched powers with each other?” Missy asked.
“I don’t know,” Savitri said, shaking her head. “Maybe. Maybe it was a fluke, but Lucius was certain he didn’t ripple that monster, and Avidan was certain he did. We didn’t have much time to discuss it before all of this.”
Missy thought this over. If it was true, it needed to be tested. She never wanted her powers back, and definitely never wanted anyone else’s too. But if she had no choice, then she had to at least understand it. And who knows? Maybe they could be used to protect herself from The Cleanser, which was all she really wanted all along. “See that big pillar thing over there?” Missy asked, pointing down the way.
“Yeah?”
Missy loosened herself, and concentrated on the spot on the floor just in front of the pillar. She drew in a breath, and let it out slowly. Then she clicked her tongue, which was something Curtis said he had to do when he was learning to control his power as a kid. It worked. She suddenly teleported about twenty meters away.
“Whoa!” Savitri shouted up to her. She stiffened up as well, and before Missy could protest, she tried to teleport too. She only traveled about a meter, and in the opposite direction, but it was something.
Maybe the new powers would wear off at some point, but if not, Savitri needed to not use them. “Don’t do that! You could run into a wall, or worse!”
Jakira crawled back out from under some piece of machinery. “What’s goin’ on? Get back over here!” she ordered.
“Relax!” Missy said, carelessly preparing to lean against this glowing wall next to the pillar. “It’s fine.”
“Don’t touch that!” Jakira warned, but it was too late.
Missy had her hand on the glowing wall, instantly scared it might burn her skin, but it was actually freezing cold; so cold that she was frozen to its surface, and couldn’t let go.
Jakira ran over to her, but Savitri beat her to Missy with a quick crash course in teleporting. “Mom, let go!” she screamed, which was the first time she ever called her that. She tugged at Missy’s other shoulder.
“I can’t.” The wall, or rather the mechanism behind the wall began revving up like a gigantic wind turbine. The glow increased, and it somehow became even colder, until her arm felt completely numb. Missy lifted her free arm, and pointed it out the wall, hoping to destroy the thing by Lucius’ power of molecular teleportation. The energy she sent towards it only seemed to make the machine even stronger. The glow burned hotter, and started spreading across the room. She tried to get away from the wall again, and was successful this time. Unfortunately, she left her whole arm behind, all the way up to her shoulder. It was still there, frozen in place.
“My God,” Savitri gasped. She too tried to use some power against the machine, but this only made it stronger yet.
“It’s overloading,” Jakira exclaimed, starting to back away. “Run!”
But it didn’t matter. The light was too bright to keep their eyes open, and a sudden wind thrust Missy off her feet, but in one second, it was all gone. She reopened her eyes, and saw literally nothing, except for Savitri floating next to her, and Jakira floating a few meters away. They were in an endless, near lightless void. She couldn’t breathe, but didn’t seem to need to. It was like outer space, but without the stars, or the vacuum. She realized she was slowly drifting away from Savitri, and couldn’t get back to her. Something was pulling them in opposite directions, faster and faster. As quickly as they had come, she left the void. She was standing in the middle of a field, along with a bunch of human strangers. They all looked like the wind had been knocked out of them.
“Is everyone okay?” a man asked. “My name is Detective Dimitri Orion! Can someone tell me where in the world we are?”
A man stepped forward proudly. “We’re not in our world. We...are in another universe.” Not another one.
“Oh my God!” a young man yelled. “She’s lost her arm. You tore off her arm!” he accused.
They all looked at Missy, who was dizzy from the pain, and could only focus on the treeline in the distance. Instinct took over, and she teleported her to it. Then she collapsed, and lost consciousness.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Microstory 875: Forensic Countermeasures

The first thing I see when I get back home is yellow tape blocking my way in. I slip under it, and open my door, only to find a huge mess. At first I think someone broke into my house while I was gone, but I also see bloodstains on the floor, so it’s even worse than I thought. I was gone for a whole month, but I don’t have any pets or plants, so there was no need for anyone to be in here. I’ve been trying to sell the place, but I’m not using an agent, so I paused my listing while I was in Japan. Worried about disturbing a crime scene, I step right back out onto the porch, and call the police. After some waiting, they finally connect me with the detective assigned to a recent murder. She tells me to stay put, then drives up a half hour later to give me the details. No one was killed on the premises, it would seem, but the killer did dump the remains, and all the other evidence, inside my home for two separate murders. I have a hard time expressing my concern for the matter. I watch a lot of violence on TV, and while it’s not made me violent myself, it has desensitized me to death and destruction. I’m upset that this is going to make it harder to sell the place, but I don’t have the same look of horror on my face as I gather this detective is used to. Even without contacting me while I was on my trip, though, they ruled me put as a suspect, so she doesn’t push me too hard. She leaves, and I try to move on with my life. I hire cleaners, and put the house back up on the website.

Two weeks later, I’m still struggling with the sale, when it happens again. No bodies this time, but I wake up to find bloody rags, frightening sharp instruments that I can’t name, and jars of what I guess to be highly corrosive acid. I review the footage on my door cams, and see the perp. I actually know him, he lives two blocks over. But I also see myself, sleepwalking down the stairs. I pass right by the guy as he’s planting the evidence. He just stops and watches me, but gets back to work when he realizes I’m no threat to him. I can’t show this tape to the cops; they’ll never believe that I wasn’t awake. It’s something that happened to me more often when I was a child, but it hasn’t been a problem for a long time, and I can’t prove it. Like a fool, I just gather the evidence that night, and drive it back to his place, planting it in his kitchen, with plans to call in an anonymous tip from a payphone the next day. Out of caution, I sit guard on the stairs all night, in case he gets any bright ideas, I must have dozed off at some point, because I wake up to it all again, but this time he’s left the stuff next inside my backdoor. I try again that night, but he sneaks in yet again. That does it. I drive right over to the guy’s house, and bang on the door. After he answers, he looks around the neighborhood to make sure no one’s watching, then he ushers me inside. “Why do you keep doing that?” he asks me. “We agreed to keep all our stuff at your place since my old parole officer moved to town. You’ve already been cleared, dude...don’t ruin what we have. And why the hell are you trying to sell your house?”

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Microstory 874: Translucent Government

All human skin is translucent. Don’t believe me, just shine a flashlight under your finger, and you’ll be able to see it peeking through. But last century, doctors began to see children with an incredibly rare condition that makes their skin several times more translucent that it’s meant to be. While not entirely transparent, you can see the insides of their bodies; bones, muscle tissues, and the hint of their vital organs. You might think it would freak you out, but you get used to it after awhile. I don’t agree with everything our government does, but if I didn’t do my job, things would be so much worse. I’ve always believed this, but now I see how frighteningly true it is. Fearing for these children’s lives, they are taken from their families upon being discovered, and raised in a secret facility. I don’t even know where it is. When they recruited me twenty years ago, they gave me a sedative, and flew me out somewhere in the world. I stay with the kids underground. I’ve not seen the sun once this entire time, and the kids go their whole young lives before seeing it...or so I thought. When they turn eighteen, I was told they were sent to live in a special forest commune. They could theoretically rejoin society if they wanted to, but the rumor has always been that this never happens, because they’ve grown up isolated, and don’t know how to live any other way. Well, as it turns out, this has all been a lie. The day after their respective birthdays, the government has just been executing what I now realize were always just prisoners; under the thin protection of some moral obligation to wait until they reach the age of majority. What they don’t realize—or purposely ignore—is that if they raise these kids in captivity, then kill them when they become an age some countries arbitrarily decide make them adults, they aren’t actually adults, because they didn’t live real lives, so they never matured. I’ve done my best with them, but I’m angry with myself for not having recognized what was happening all along. But that ends today. After all this time of proving my loyalty, there’s no way they’ll suspect I’m now working against them. Tonight, I escape...with all of them.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Microstory 873: Frenemies

I have this list; this list of people that I’ve grown to hate over the years, for varying reasons. Some were bullies in grade school, others were annoying coworkers, and a few were racist neighbors. I have a whole section for celebrities who’ve pissed me off, so I can keep track of which movies I’m allowed to like, and which ones need to be quietly boycotted. I don’t know why I started this list, or what I planned on doing with it. I know that I never had any intention to hurt these people, or confront them in any way. I think I just needed to remind myself that I’ve struggled, and that there are people out there who done me wrong. Of course, the list is completely private; I wouldn’t want anyone getting the wrong idea about it. I do own a gun, but only for protection, and I keep it well locked up. Not once have I considered using it to harm others, which is something I feel the need to be crystal clear about. The list has always been saved on my computer, but then this startup offers new customers thirty gigabytes of free cloud storage. I’ve never trusted the cloud, just like I don’t really trust banks with my money. Still, I have a bank account where I keep the majority of my money, so I figured security would be just as good for this. I signed up, and began transferring all of my files, except for the extremely sensitive documents, like my special list. Once it’s finished, the cloud system says that it’s scanning for other folders, even though I specifically told it which ones I wanted it to have, and which ones I didn’t. Before I can stop it, it’s taken everything off my computer, and I start getting suspicious. There are some...uh, videos there that I wanted to keep separated. They take up too much space, and I don’t need to risk some Silicon Valley nerd seeing it. I didn’t read through the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, obviously, since I’m not a crazy person.

Nothings happens right away, but I’m already scared, so I reverse course, and delete all my files from the service. I still can’t help but think that the damage has been done. When you delete something from a harddrive, it doesn’t actually go away. It just puts a little sticky note there that says it’s cool to override it with something else later. How do remote servers work? Are they the same, or are they worse? Is that shit saved forever? I close my computer, and try to forget about it. About a week later, I see this social media notification that says one of my “friends” is interested in going to an event near me. He’s the only person I’m connected with online who’s also on my list, and that’s because I didn’t realize how much I disliked him until he had already requested friendship. I see him every day at work, so I can’t remove him until one of us leaves the job. The event is called Noctilucent Mixer, which is just a weird name for anything. I run a quick search in my brain’s memory archives from seventh grade, and I recognize the word to be a species of cloud. Now that is suspicious. I try to click on the event, but I’m completely locked out of it. That’s even stranger, because if you’re throwing a mixer, then you don’t want to limit yourself to the few people you remember to invite. I ask my irritating coworker if he’ll invite me to it, but the system doesn’t let him do that. Still, he gives me the address of the party, so I make plans to go.

I get an unsettling vibe as I’m pulling up to the airport hotel, so I park in the lot for the restaurant next door, and sneak around back. I peer into the window of the ballroom, and the first thing I see is this woman who lived in my neighborhood before I moved a few years ago. We were both walking our dogs one time, and happened to be going the same direction, which caused her dog to bark, and her to flip out at me about “following them around”. It’s like, train your dog better, lady. Mine’s totally chill. Anyway, I look around at the other partygoers, casually standing around with drinks, and realize that I know every single one of them. They are all on my list. I might have written it off as a freak coincidence, but even the celebrities are here. We’re in Idaho, so there’s no way that they didn’t have to fly out for this. This right here proves that cloud storage is unsecure. It read my list, and did this with it, whatever the hell exactly this is. I’m frozen. I don’t know whether I should run away, or crash the party. Before I can decide, a man walks up wearing a shirt from the company that was supposed to store my files without looking at them. He’s pointing my own gun at me. “We were worried that you wouldn’t show up,” he says as he’s forcing me away from the building. “You really shouldn’t write the code to your safe anywhere. You should just keep it in your head.” Then he takes something out of his pocket, and pushes a button. The ballroom explodes, sending me crashing into the taillight of a car. He tosses the detonator to the ground next to me, along with my gun. “You should probably run.”

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Microstory 872: Equipathy

My mother grew up on a farm, and had two horses when she was younger. I can’t recall their names, but I remember her telling me stories of them getting to know each other, and about all the shenanigans they would get into together. I’ve always loved horses, even though boys are supposed to be more into monster trucks, and...like, blowing stuff up, I guess. I hate big cities. They’re noisy and there are too many people, and you can’t see the stars. I don’t much like the country either, though. Everything is too spread out, and it takes too long to get places. I much prefer the suburbs, which is where my family lives now. The only thing I don’t like about it is that I can’t keep a horse. If our backyard had access to some extra spatial dimension that would add acres and acres of space, I would have asked for a horse a long time ago. It’s my sixteenth birthday, and instead of getting me a car, though, my parents finally fulfill my most precious dream. They buy me a horse, which I didn’t think was possible. As it turns out, if you head due East, which I never do, because there’s nothing there, then you don’t have to drive very far before reaching more open land. On the very edge of town is a little farm apparently known for taking in stray animals of all kinds. Pigs, ducks, llamas, goats, dogs, cats, and of course, my wonderful horses. The owner agreed to keep my new horse on his property, and charge me discounted stable fees. I can go ride and take care of him whenever I want, but I have to be able to do it often, because he’s now my responsibility. I’ve also been asked to spend a little extra time helping out with the other animals. I agree to this deal completely, because why wouldn’t I?

I try to name my new horse Satchel, but I immediately get the feeling that he doesn’t like that, and prefers to be called Estenavorissegabaladon, which he claims means flying water in his language. I don’t know why I made up that word in my head; I’m not a particularly creative individual. I’ve always been better at math; real math, by the way, not this new math. After some coaxing—fully aware that I’m not actually communicating with an animal—he agrees to let me shorten his name to Tenavori. I start off slowly with him, but even though I’ve only ever ridden on a few family vacations, he makes me feel like an expert. We’re completely in sync that it’s almost like I don’t have to do anything. He’s leading the way, and I’m just along for the ride. You’re gonna have to buy me a few more carrots for a real ride, he says. But he doesn’t say it. He sends the thought straight to my brain. But he can’t have done that either, because that’s ridiculous, he’s a horse. Then he says, a horse is a horse, of course, of course, and no one can talk to a horse, of course; that is, of course, unless the horse is me, bitch! What the hell is going on? I don’t say that word, so why am I thinking it? I don’t know that you can think at all, Tenavori says with a laugh, and I see snot shoot out of his nose. Okay, that’s freaky. “Can you understand me?” I ask. If you’re trying to talk to me, don’t say it out loud, he instructs me. I basically hear feedback and static. Just...think it. I stay quiet, and try to project my thoughts. He starts dancing according to my instructions, to outwardly prove that he’s the real deal. To the left, take it back now y'all. One hop this time, right foot, let’s stomp. Left foot, let’s stomp. Cha cha, real smooth. Turn it out, to the left. Oh my God, this horse is even better than I thought. We do a little bit more funky dressage before I decide it’s time do what horses and riders do best. We start racing over the prairie, and through the woods. For a moment, he’s going so fast, it almost looks like he’s running over the river. All the while, we talk. I complain about high school, and he tells me about how horseshoes actually do hurt, but he knows it’s all just in his head. It is the greatest feeling in the world. I’ve never been able to make good friends with humans, and now I don’t have to anymore. It’s getting late, and I have to go back home. But tomorrow, we ride again, headed due East...and we’re never coming back.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Microstory 871: Pearl of Folly

A few years back, I visited my sister, who was working as an ELL teacher in Ecuador. While there, she suggested I learn how to scuba dive, which she had gotten into when she first arrived. I did extremely well in the class, easily grasping the mathematical components, and safety concepts, so I was confident in my abilities. What I discovered during the swimming pool portion of the course, however, was that I had some kind of breathing issue. At first, I thought I was panicking, because while my allergies have always made breathing through my nose difficult, scuba diving requires mouth-breathing, so it didn’t make sense. I went back home ashamed, and booked an appointment with the doctor right away, only to learn that I also had asthma. There was medicine I could take, and an inhaler, but the doctor couldn’t promise I would ever be able to dive. I wasn’t satisfied with that answer, so I became determined to figure out how to do it, even if that meant finding some workaround. I bought a snorkel, and started training myself in the pool in my apartment complex. It wasn’t quite the same, but it was unrealistic to buy full equipment if this wasn’t going to work out. Summer was coming to a close, though, so I needed to try my hand at the real thing one more time. I bought the best of the best gear, and drove out to the lake. I obviously shouldn’t have gone out there alone, uncertified, but this was something I felt I needed to do on my own. A few seconds underwater, and I was already having just as much trouble as I had before. This wasn’t working. All that time I spent at the pool—and all the money I spent on the gear—had been a complete waste. No, I thought to myself. This can work, but I have to take the training wheels off, and remove the safety net. I decided to just go for it, and head straight for the bottom.

I am freaking out on the way down, but resolute. When my whole family meets in Costa Rica in a few months, I have to prove that I’ve gotten over my issues. I keep kicking my feet until I can see the floor, along with something shiny peeking out from under a rock. Suddenly my breathing problems go away, and I feel as comfortable as I do on land. I keep going until I reach the treasure. It looks like a pearl, but it’s huge. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of one being this large, but I’m no expert. I scoop it up to make sure it’s not just a sparkly rock. As soon as my hand touches the stone—or whatever it is that pearls are—I get a vision. I see a meteoroid strike the surface of the Earth, killing all the dinosaurs in the immediate area. Time passes quickly, and I witness a plant grow from the impact site. It spreads its seed far and wide, until it’s rooted all over the globe. The plants can somehow communicate with one another, which allows them to release some kind of toxic gas that kills nearly all life on the planet. It is the most horrifying thing I’ve seen in my life. The vision ends, and the pearl begins to crumble away, like a small piece of soap in the bathwater. Only then do I realize that the water above is rushing towards me, draining impossibly fast down the little hole I created when I removed the pearl. In only a matter of minutes, I’m crouched on a dry lake bed, still breathing through my regulator. Something green appears through the hole, and grows larger. A plant shoots out so quickly that I fall to my back. I scramble to get my mask off, and find that there are already two plants sitting right next to each other. They each release a seed, each one of which lands a few meters away in either direction. Then all the plants do the same thing over again. And again and again and again. I take off my flippers and run towards the car, but I know that it doesn’t matter. This is how the world ends, and I’m the one who causes it.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: September 8, 2185

Ulinthra wasn’t lying when she said she could meet her friends back on the beach. What she failed to say, however, was that this would not happen until the next day. Which meant Paige, Brooke, and Ecrin were forced to spend that entire year still locked up. They weren’t sure whether there was some underlying strategy behind this, or if it was nothing more than Ulinthra’s plan to keep them agitated, and off balance.
Not much had happened that the prisoners learned about in the time between. One thing they knew was that Israel was still fighting, but were receiving no military aid from any of the larger class cities. Ulinthra and her people were keeping the smaller classes hostage, threatening to destroy one every day they encountered military opposition beyond Israel’s own forces. The rest of the E-class and below arcities had fallen into a rhythm, with most of their everyday business going unchanged. They could no longer travel to other cities, be it the ones controlled by the Arianation, or not. This was becoming a less common practice anyway, as people were spending more and more time in virtual worlds. Of course, the worlds they now had access to were isolated from those of the rest of the world, and carefully monitored for any dissenting voices. All in all, though, the Ulinthra wasn’t actually doing anything with her subjects. She wasn’t using them for forced labor, she wasn’t executing her enemies in public, she wasn’t instituting unreasonable laws. Besides keeping them all separate from each other, it would seem she mostly just wanted to put her name on everything.
And her name wasn’t Ulinthra, according to what most people understood about her. Drawing inspiration from the land they were in, The Forger gave her the new identity of Arianrhod, who was the goddess of time in ancient Celtic belief. It was not at all culturally, or linguistically, related to the Aryan Nation made famous by white supremacists modeling their ideals partly on Adolf Hitler’s Nazi movement. While the Arianation’s plans seemed to include far less cruelty and violence as the Holocaust did, it was also insidious, and underestimated by the world’s leadership. It was only going to get worse from here.
“What is the safest place for us right now?” Leona asked, knowing that not all news spread to her friends while they were locked up.
“Kansas City,” Paige said. “If all other arcities fell to Ulinthra’s forces, Kansas City would still be standing.”
“Why is that? Just because it got started there?”
“That,” Brooke began, “and because it’s being secretly protected by choosing ones, and some salmon. Ulinthra is aware of this, and won’t go near it.”
“Then that’s where we should be,” Leona said.
“I would think you would want to go after her,” Ecrin thought.
Leona nodded. “I do, but not today. We need to regroup, and you need to enjoy your freedom.”
“Well, there is no way for us to get to Kansas before your day is up,” Paige explained. “Planes are grounded, the transcontinental hyperloop is shutdown, and Brooke couldn’t teleport, even if we had a teleporter.”
“What happened to your necklace, Brooke?”
“Ulinthra stole it, as you would expect.”
“I guess we just have to steal one the the Arianation’s jets,” Leona suggested, like it wasn’t any bigger of a deal than having to go to one of the few restaurants open on Sundays.
“Oh, is that it?” Ecrin asked sarcastically.
“I can hack into the systems, Brooke can fly. Ecrin, I’m sure you have experience with this sort of thing, what with your centuries as a secret agent.”
“I wasn’t always an agent,” Ecrin responded. “Yes, I do have some experience with this; emphasis on the some. I retired long before this level of technology, though.”
“And we are not what we once were,” Paige added.
Brooke continued, “some of our upgrades have been...downgraded.”
“Does that mean you’re gonna die?”
“We were never running at a hundred percent, Leona,” Paige told her. “People like us need to be around the right technology, so we can receive replacement parts, and software updates. We spent a lot of time isolated on The Warren, and on Durus, which would be like you living in the middle ages. We were barely scraping by before Ulinthra got her hands on us.”
“So she made it worse, which is all the more reason for us to get out of here, and get you back to working order. We absolutely must return to Kansas City.” When no one else said anything, Leona went on, “guys, we can’t stay in Panama. We can either swim, walk, or drive. Or we can take our chances, and fly.”
“We should drive,” Brooke said, having been thinking it over.
“I was kidding,” Leona said. “I mean, that would work for you, but it would take more than a day, which means I can’t go with you.”
“We don’t drive to Kansas City. We drive to Colombia, and then we fly to Kansas City. Colombia is a Class C-1 arcstate. It should only take eight or nine hours.”
“If we want to get out of this country fast, we should first take the water,” Ecrin said. “It would be easier to steal a car than a plane, but still not easy.”
“But it would be easy to steal a boat?”
Ecrin smirked. “Who said anything about a boat?” She lifted the leg of her shorts, and started pressing on subdermal buttons embedded in her thighs. “Intentional obsolescence. This tech is so old, the Arianation’s instruments don’t even read them as transhumanistic.” She put her shorts back down, and looked out across the water. Moments later, a submarine surfaced.
“Whoa.”
“Perks of being richer than God,” Ecrin noted.
“I guess we are swimming, a little bit.” Leona laughed.
The four of them started wading into the water, but before the waves even reached their torsos, the sub exploded. The blast was enough to knock them all back into the tide. They just sat there on the sand, watching the fire burn as the twisted metal sank into the depths. Then they could hear the sound of footsteps approaching from behind. A grimacing Ulinthra walked up and admired her work. She pointed a scanner at Ecrin, and recalibrated it in realtime. “Very interesting. We’ll update our software to account for that level of tech. Thanks for pointing out a flaw for us.”
“You knew about my sub the whole time?” Ecrin questioned.
“No,” Ulinthra said, “just for a day.” She addressed her guards, “get Miss Cabral into surgery right away. Remove that thing from her leg, and any other tech you find. Scan the others more carefully. Let this be a warning,” Ulinthra said as Ecrin was fighting off her captors. “I don’t want you leaving the country.”
“What do you want?” Leona hissed. “From us, that is?”
“I want you to fight, not hide.”
“And I want you to go to hell!” Ecrin screamed as the guards were gagging her.
“That’s not necessary,” Ulinthra said to them. “If her screams hurt your ears, then just turn your sensors down.”
“How did you know about the sub?” Leona asked, drawing nearer threateningly.
“I found out about it yesterday, when you used it to escape.”
“Yesterday, but we—” Leona stopped herself. “But you don’t have that power anym—” She stopped again. “Are you reliving every day twice, memories intact?”
“I am.”
“Blending brains doesn’t give you powers from alternate realities. Or at least...I didn’t think it did.”
“Normally, it doesn’t, but mine was a special case. My power is all about the consciousness, and remembering things I shouldn’t, so when the Warrior restored those memories, everything came with it.”
“But that didn’t happen to Horace,” Leona pointed out.
“Didn’t it?” Ulinthra began to turn and walk away. “Are you sure?”
Leona slipped off her shirt once Ulinthra had disappeared over the hill. “Take off your clothes. Every shred. Scan each other for surveillance bugs. Go to the atomic level, if you have to. I want to remove every possible advantage she might have over us.”
They removed all their clothing, and burned it, along with the rest of their possessions. They then went back to the arcology to shop for replacements. Back in Leona’s day, walking around naked in public would have not only been strange, but illegal. Over time, though, society had matured. There was a distinct difference between indecent exposure, and just regular exposure. No one batted an eye.
When they were done and fully clothed, Leona and Brooke went down to the medical facilities to get Ecrin back. She was perturbed by having been violated like that, but not particularly upset about losing the body tech itself. She kept her head down as Brooke pushed her wheelchair down the hall, into the elevator, and up to the temporary housing block that Paige had secured for them. She managed to get them a four-room unit, even though they would only need three most of the time. Only when she saw her bed did Leona realize how tired she was. She announced her intentions, then fell onto the bed, and found some sleep.
She woke up from the smell of dinner. Ecrin was cooking cultured burgers for them, using a stove. She didn’t even touch the food synthesizer. The smell seemed pleasant at first, but the closer she got to the kitchen, the worse it became, until she was overcome with the need to throw up again. Something was really wrong with her. Brooke held her hair out of the toilet, but once she was done, it was Paige who lifted her up over her shoulder, and started carrying her out of the room. “You’re going to the infirmary.”
Leona didn’t argue.
All of her friends sat with her in the room while they waited for the doctor to perform the necessary tests, all of which could be done much faster than they could in the early 21st century. “Is there any news I could tell you that you would want me to give in privacy?”
Leona looked at her people, and decided that there wasn’t anything she wasn’t willing to let them hear. “No.”
“You are seven weeks pregnant.”
Leona took a deep breath. “Not to diminish your expertise, or your instruments, but that’s not possible.”
“I assure you that the tests are quite accurate. You are exactly fifty-one days pregnant.”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t be. I haven’t had sex with a man in years.”
“Well, for you, a year is—” Ecrin tried to say.
“Years for me,” Leona interrupted. “It’s been years, from my perspective.”
“Did you spend time in stasis?” the doctor asked.
Leona shook her head. “No. I’ve only been with Serif this whole time, there’s just no way.”
“It’s the PTB,” Paige said.
“Do they make people pregnant?”
The doctor became concerned. “Who are the PTB? Did they force you to do something? Did they perform experiments on you?”
“Please leave,” Leona demanded, not in the mood for politeness.
“I’ve never heard of it,” Paige answered once the doctor was gone, “but it’s conceivable. Téa, Aura, and Samsonite were all reincarnated into new bodies that looked exactly the same as their old ones. So the powers must have the ability to deliberately insert a person’s DNA into a mother, at some point in the reproductive process.”
Leona faced the ceiling, but closed her eyes. “Goddammit.”
“It’s...” Brooke began carefully. “It’s still early enough. You’re not, uhh...Catholic, or anything.”
“What if this is my mother?”
“Huh?”
“What if I’m carrying my mother in my womb, or the next Savior.”
“Étude is the last Savior,” Ecrin said, confused.
“I know...just. I have more people to consider than just me. Like you said, those three were reincarnated to new parents, one of them as my brother in an alternate reality. I can’t just...ignore that.”
“Leona, this is your choice. No one has the right to make it for you.”
“It’s not that simple, not in our world. My baby...may not be my baby, but they may be a time traveler, and if that’s the case, they’ve already had an impact on history. I couldn’t stop it, even if I wanted to.”
Her friends were silent.
Leona took a breath.
Finally, Paige spoke up again. “You can’t raise a child unless that child is born exactly like you, and manifests that trait immediately.”
“I know. I know!”
“Let’s get the doctor back in here and explain your situation, so she can continue to treat you throughout the years,” Paige offered. “She’ll need to run more tests next year so we can understand how your time jumps affect the pregnancy.”
“No,” Ecrin disagreed. “There’s no need to bring a human into this. I know someone who can help. I’m gonna need a cell phone, or a pager.”

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Missy’s Mission: Still Small Voice (Part XII)

Nine months later, everyone’s time powers were removed, all at once, whether they wanted that or not. Upon learning that the Maramon were in pursuit of them on Eden Island, the humans decided the safest location for them was Nod Plateau. There was an oasis of vegetation on the top of the plateau, which allowed them to live self-sustaining lives without ever leaving. It was a defensible position in the center of a desert no Maramon had any desire to visit. It wasn’t as much of a paradise as their original home, but it was good and safe, which was all that mattered. Unfortunately, nothing could have prepared them for, or protected them from, what would come of Savitri and Avidan’s child.
Newt Clemens was never born. Without medical equipment from a developed world, they were unable to determine exactly when he died, but Savitri reported lively kicking just days before going into labor, so it had to have been recent. The mother’s body still pushed the baby out of her body as if it were any normal birth. They knew something was wrong even before he was all the way out. Once his last toe passed into the open air, his body began to glow a deep red, like the passionate embers of a once-blazing fire. The glow soon turned orange, and expanded. Within minutes, the entire plateau was bathed in a cool yellow light. It changed to green as it covered the whole desert, blue for the continent, indigo for the whole world, and finally violet for the rest of the universe. The light slowly began to dissipate, and with it, all time powers.
Nobody could be grateful for what had happened to them. Nor could anyone who didn’t ask for this be upset. All focus was on Avidan, Savitri, and their sadness. The experience had depressed everyone. They woke up, did their chores, ate in silence, and went to bed. No longer did they dance, nor sing, nor play games. They didn’t try to get the parents through this terrible time, or tell them that everything was going to be okay. There were those who Savitri or Avidan didn’t like all that much, and those people kept their distances. Those closest to them, however, stayed close, and supported them. Everyone in between did what they could to help, and didn’t do anything they weren’t supposed to.
A month after the tragedy, Dubravka crawled into Missy and Dar’cy’s shelter, holding the map of the planet. It was created before the original artificial dimension that became this universe was separated from its parent universe. Adamina, the girl whose special time power allowed for the expansion of their once miniscule world, had an innate sense of its geography, and had relayed this information to amateur cartographers. Precisely how accurate the map was, was up for debate, but according Dubra’s calculations, they were running out of time.
“Running out of time for what?” Missy asked solemnly.
“Serif is coming back to the timestream,” she answered.
“Yes.”
“Serif? My mother, who is not yet my mother? We have to get her back.”
“I don’t see how that’s possible without any teleporters,” Dar’cy pointed out. “It could take weeks to cross the ocean.”
“Two months,” Dubra corrected. “Which is why we have to go now.”
“What would be the point?”
“Jesus,” Dubra said. “She has the Wrench of Creation. It can take us back to the future.”
“No, it can’t. Dar’cy was the one who could do that,” Missy said. “But she can’t anymore.”
“But the wrench wasn’t in the timestream when Newt erased everyone’s powers,” Dubra tried to explain.
“That’s irrelevant,” Dar’cy argued. “Again, I’m the one who had the powers. The wrench was just a tool.”
“It’s not just a tool,” Dubra said. “It’s been primed.”
“What does that mean?”
Dubravka looked at them like they should have known what that meant. “Primed. Your father didn’t tell you about priming an object?”
“Uhh...no.”
Dar’cy’s father was also an object threader; the only other one known to history. He taught her how to do it, but never said anything about priming. Dubra sighed. “Like you said, most objects don’t have special temporal properties. You have to imbue any given one with the properties you want. The Weaver can do this—she’s the most famous for it—but others have done it as well, in certain circumstances. I mean, all salmon and choosers are capable of it, which is why a normal human can adopt someone’s powers with an organ transplant.”
“Okay,” Dar’cy said, trying to follow, “maybe that’s true, but I didn’t imbue the wrench with my powers.”
“Yes, you did,” Dubravka said condescendingly. “Every time you thread an object, it maintains elements of your power. Not enough to let any random person do what you do, but your brain has muscle memory for threading. Have you ever threaded an object more than once?”
“I have,” Dar’cy answered.
“It was easier the second time around, wasn’t it?”
“I guess.”
That’s because it was primed. It was like the object itself remembered you using it before, so didn’t take take as much energy.
“That makes no sense. I’ve still lost my powers,” Dar’cy nearly shouted.
“I think you can still take one last ride. Whether it works or not, we have to go get my mom back, or she’ll die on that island, and I’ll never be born.”
“She’s right,” Missy said to Dar’cy. “We have to go back to the island either way.”
“Who does?” Dar’cy asked, not without intention to go herself, but covertly asking whether anyone else should go with them.
“Anyone who wants to,” Missy figured.
“If I can only thread an object one more time, we can’t take everyone,” Dar’cy said with worry.
“Unless Savitri can do what she does one more time,” Dubra hoped.
“That’s pushing it,” Missy said. “Besides, I don’t want either of those two going. They’ve been through too much.”
“It might be good for them to get off the plateau,” Dar’cy suggested.
“It’s too dangerous.”
“I want to go,” Savitri said. There was no telling how much she had heard of the conversation.
Avidan was behind her. “Me too.” The loss of a child can create a chasm between a couple, but the two of them relied on each other more than anyone else to help them survive. Apart, they wouldn’t have made it out of the first week since Newt’s passing. “If there’s any chance of getting out of this universe, I want to take it.”
No one argued with them on their position, so the matter was brought to rest of the plateauvians after dinner. Somebody brought up the possibility that their powers would return as soon as they left, and most others agreed that it was too much of a risk. Theirs wasn’t the best place to live, but it wasn’t the worst, especially not compared to other conditions they’d experienced. Some people considered the possibility of trying to go to the future, but ultimately gave in. Only a few people ended up wanting to make the long journey across the land, and over the ocean. Lucius and Curtis wanted to come, because they never wanted to lose their powers in the first place, just like Savitri, Avidan, and Dubra. Dar’cy never showed any resentment for having been caught in the blast, but if her powers came back as the result of this trip, she would probably be happier. Lincoln might have wanted to come, had he not randomly disappeared shortly after Newt’s stillbirth. So Missy was the only one in danger of reverting to her original state. She had to, though, because Serif was her friend, and all her other friends were either going, or back in her home universe. More than likely, this plan wouldn’t work anyway, and the trying was pointless.
It would seem that Dubravka’s calculations were a bit off, or rather they were too far on the optimistic side. She failed to account for the amount of time people would need to rest in order to keep going. You can’t just measure how long it takes you to walk a mile, and multiply by the number of total miles, because walkers can’t maintain the same pace perpetually. Still, they rallied towards their goal, and ended up reaching the water only one day behind schedule. Things got worse when it took them a bit longer to steal a boat than they thought it would, and once they did, they found themselves being chased by angry Maramon. On the bright side, they had all the more reason to make up time on the water. There was no room to relax, but as long as they remained steady, and navigated properly, they would reach the island before their pursuers. The only questions to answer now were whether they would make it before Serif disappeared again, and would any Maramon be waiting for them? The answers to those questions were no, and yes.
One of the monsters was indeed waiting for them on the beach as they pulled up in their dinghy. It was alone, and wasn’t standing in a threatening position. It stood patiently, and then waded into the water to help pull the boat on shore once they were close enough. It almost seemed familiar, and spoke in a distinctly feminine voice. “You must frightened. Do not worry. Not every Maramon has it out for you. There are three camps. The majority of us believe that your are gods, while the majority of those believe that, as secondary gods, you must die. Some believe, however, that you are either just as important as the primary gods—i.e. primary gods as well—or that all gods matter.” Yeah, she definitely sounded and looked familiar, but it was hard to tell these creatures apart, so maybe Missy was just being racist.
“Please tell me that you fall into that last camp,” Missy hoped.
“No,” she replied, then snickered. “I’m in the third camp.” She turned towards the treeline, and gestured for them to follow. “A very select few of us know that you’re not gods at all.”
“Were we lucky that you happened to be on beach when we arrived, or are all the Maramon here like you?” Dar’cy asked once they were out of sight of the enemy vessel, still on approach.
“You were lucky, sort of. Your friend, Serif appeared yesterday.” Missed her by that much. “She left you this.” The monster took the Wrench of Creation out of her pocket and handed it to Dar’cy. “She says to go without her; that this is exactly where she wants to be. And I’m saying that I will protect her. Not everyone on the island right now feels the way that I do, and now we have those newcomers on the boat to deal with, but I’ll spend all year correcting that issue. Eden Island will become a place of refuge for humans. No Maramon shall set foot on it.”
“How will you do that?” Savitri asked.
“I’ll turn it into a sacred spot...a holy place. I’ll use their religion against them.”
“What’s your name?” Missy asked, wanting to be cordial and respectful, and without letting on that she thought they might have met before.
“Khuweka,” she answered. That was the Maramon they met supposedly thousands of years in the future, who helped them find the Wrench of Creation in the first place. Upon remembering that, Missy knew for sure that it wasn’t just a shared name, but the same individual having lived an impossibly long life.
“Oh, you’re the—” Curtis started to say, but was interrupted by the sudden appearance of Dar’cy’s elbow against his side.
Dar’cy cleared her throat. “You’re the best,” she finished. Nice save.
“Where can we hide for the next year?” Missy asked. “Because we’re not leaving without Serif.”
“She was clear that she needed to stay,” Khuweka said.
“That’s my mother!” Dubra shouted.
“Keep your voice down,” Khuweka urged. “I understand that you care for her, but she didn’t want you to leave just because it would be too dangerous for you to wait here for an entire year. She wanted you to leave her behind, because she wants to be here.”
I don’t, and if she stays, I’m born in this wretched universe all over again, and we never break the cycle!”
“I brought you deep into the woods so that no one would see you disappear.” She pointed to the toy in Missy’s hand. “We’re deep enough. You should go.” She took a bucket-tubey sort of thing from her bag and held it up. “Who wants their powers ba—oh, shit!” She dropped the bucket onto the ground. The lid slipped off, spilling a reddish powdery liquid. Fumes drifted up from it, and headed for everyone. Missy tried to run away from it, but she could already feel it working on her. A bubble formed from the Wrench of Creation, still in Dar’cy’s hand, and began heading for Missy. She continued to run, but only out of instinct, because she did still want to leave this time period. Fortunately, she wasn’t fast enough anyway. Dar’cy’s bubble overcame her, and spirited them all away.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Microstory 870: The Scoots

Name a sleeping disorder, and I got it. Sleep apnea? Yeah. Insomnia? Sure. Kleine–Levin syndrome? Not sure what that is, but I bet I have it too. So it was no surprise when I woke up this morning, and headed straight for the fudge emporium, for no reason. I don’t even like fudge, so I wouldn’t have gone there if I were in right mind. I wasn’t sleep-walking, but I wasn’t fully awake either. It was more like someone was driving my body and all I could do was watch. When I got there, I was still tired as hell, so even though this mind intruder wanted to explore, I wasn’t capable of taking two more steps. Fortunately a fleet of those disabled-person scooters was sitting there by the entrance, beckoning to me. I sat down in one of them and started driving around. People looked at me and laughed, and I couldn’t figure out how they knew I didn’t really need this. Sure, some of them saw me walk in, but this place is giant, there was no way that everyone knew. I ignored them, and tried to get to the other side of this ordeal in one piece. I spent about an hour there, going through every single aisle at least twice; once one way, and once the other. Finally my mind driver let us head to the exit, no fudge in hand. When I got home, I tried to tell my roommate what had happened, but he just laughed too. “That wasn’t a fudge emporium, dumbass,” he said. “That was a sewage treatment facility, and you were on a forklift. They weren’t laughing at you, they were trying to get you to stop. I think the only reason you got out of there without being arrested was because you didn’t end up hurting anyone.” When I asked him how he knew all this, he gave me this weird look. “You’re not wearing clothes, dude. My uncle, Rob works there, and he livestreamed that shit. You need to get some help.”

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Microstory 869: Lemon-Drizzled Bananas

“When I was a child, my father died of some rare disease that I can’t remember anymore. Social services couldn’t find my mom, who ran out on us before I was old enough to know her, so I was placed with my grandmother. Her husband, my grandfather, had died not one week prior, so we were both in mourning. She was so good to me, though. She always prioritized my needs, and my emotional issues, over her own. And it wasn’t until I was an adult that I recognized her sacrifices. Anyway, she was a little weird, which you may recall; you met her a couple times. She was always coming up with new ways to eat very simple foods, hoping to find some miracle concoction that would allow her to eat the same thing every day and not get tired of it. She came up with this recipe—if you can call it that—that she called Yellow Wedding. I know what you’re thinking, it sounds racist, but I assure you she came up with the term out of complete innocence. All it is is lemon-drizzled bananas. That’s it. All you do is peel a banana, put it on a plate, and drizzle lemon juice over it. You’d think it would taste horrible, and—well, why don’t you give it a shot? Bad, right? But somehow it makes you feel better. No? Okay, it might take some time for it to kick in, but they can work miracles. Whenever I’m feeling bad, just buy a bunch of bananas, and a bag of lemons. Works every time.”

I politely eat the bananas, assuring my friend that I’m open to finding something to like about them, even though that is a total lie. He’s trying so hard to help how he can, and I appreciate the effort so much. We haven’t seen each other in years, but I guess he heard about what happened on social media. Despite many friends I’m in better contact with living closer, he was the first one to show up and offer his support. Last week, I was involved in one of those mass murders you’ve been hearing about on the news. I was walking on the sidewalk with my husband and daughter when we heard screams behind us. A truck had come up on the curb, and was on its way to us. It didn’t look like it was going to stop, but there also didn’t seem to be any way of escaping it. My husband thought quicker than me. He kicked me right in the stomach, knocking me out of the path of the vehicle. He then picked up our daughter, and threw her onto this raised terrace garden against the building, just before the truck struck him dead. I scrambled back to my feet, and tried to get back to my child, but the truck was still there, in my way. The psychotic driver backed up, making me think I had an opportunity to get to her, but he was just trying to gather some momentum. He slammed on the accelerator so hard that he was going fast enough to make it up onto the terrace. My daughter was the only person there, so he actually made a point of going after her. The more I think about her, the more I wonder what she would think of these things; these sour sweet confections that no one but this guy’s grandmother would think to make. And the more I eat them out of politeness, the more I want to eat, and the better I feel. I’m still not sure I like them, but I actually think that it’s working. I feel better than I have since the attack. I’m not cured, of course, but it’s the first time that I think that I might actually get through it.