Friday, August 31, 2018

Microstory 920: Youth Programs

If there’s one thing I’ve learned since the beginning of this series, it’s that creating a list is a lot easier than expanding upon it. I’m ashamed to say that it took me a long time to come up with ninety-seven things that I love. Yes, that means I still have two empty slots that prove how negative of a person I really am. I tried looking online for ideas, but people are...what’s the word? Basic. People are basic. They like rainbows, and the smell of coffee in the morning. They like curling up with a good book, and—my God, this isn’t a joke—long walks on the beach. I’ve not been to a heck of lot of beaches—being landlocked in Kansas—but even on those few, never did I see a single person taking a long walk. Anyway, the point is that I love the idea of youth programs. I like that children are being engaged, and that they’re learning, and gaining new experiences, and that they have a safe place to go. I don’t however, have much experience with them, though. When my sister and I were younger, we were often placed in programs during the summer, so we would have something to do, and because our parents needed to work. It wasn’t until I was older that I discovered kids go to summer school because they have trouble completing requirements, or understand material, during the regular year. I’ve also been to summer day camp, sports camp, and participated Boy Scouts activities. They had me do these things because, like I said, I didn’t have anything else, but also to try to figure what I liked, and where I excelled. I was well provided for, well-educated, and I lived in a safe environment, but not everyone has that. While I don’t personally carry a connection to any sort of youth program (except for that one time in middle school when a group of us went to pair up with elementary school students at an underfunded school, for literally one day), I did want to take a moment to give them a shoutout. Thanks for looking out for our kids. We’re gonna need them if we ever wanna clean up this mess.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Microstory 919: Decline in Child Mortality

Wow, this is a depressing topic, isn’t it? Any attempt at being positive will be overshadowed by how dark the subject is. Before I started this entry, I was doing research, and what I learned was something I’ve already intuited, about a number of other concepts. It may not seem like any, or much, progress is being made, because people lack the historical references to understand what has changed. You’ve only been alive yourself for so long, and you can only understand so much about what things were like before you. I often hear arguments for going back to the way things were that involve claims that we did things that way for so long, and our ancestors did fine. Well, no, that’s not true. Before the nineteenth century, the child mortality rate was roughly fifty percent. This means that, for every one child that was born, and lived past five years old, one child did not. Medical science was severely lacking, as you would expect; utilizing treatment techniques that would be laughable today, if not outright horrifying. Sanitization was difficult to come by, if not virtually nonexistent. And people simply did not know how to care for children as well. Part of this was not their fault, but part of it was. Things were once so bad, that offspring were seen as a means of continuing one’s legacy, rather than family to be cherished. The Abrahamistic God, in his infinite cruelty, one killed a man’s entire family, just to prove the man would continue to love him. He and Satan teamed up for a wacky adventure where they destroyed this man’s life, taking everything from him, in an attempt to win an argument between each other. Of course, being the Bible, God won the bet. He used his power to not just restore Job to his former state, but make his life better than it was. He didn’t do this by undoing his own actions, but simply by replacing his wife and children with a whole new set. That’s right, people were living in such wretchedness, that a human could be replaced by another, and no one would bat an eye. We don’t know what the child mortality rate was back then, but I’m guessing it wasn’t great. I’ll never understand this need to trust in a higher power that would ever kill a human being for some “grand design”. How despicable an entity you would have to be to ever do that, much less to a child. I have big plans for the future, and none of them includes killing any children, and I hope yours don’t either. Things are getting better, but like any progress I’ve mentioned on this site, or not mentioned, there is always room for improvement. We must seek a state of zero child mortality, and the only way for us to do that is to embrace advancement, reject counterproductive nostalgia, and abandon religious superstition.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Microstory 918: Posthumanism

If you redirect your attention to this post, and this post, you’ll see that I’ve already spoken on the subject of transhumanism. If you’ve already read those stories, and don’t feel like going back, or if you just don’t want to, here’s the gist of it. Humans are weak and fragile creatures, just like most other creatures. There are too many things that can destroy life. Even the most ferocious beasts, and the hardiest of extremophiles are susceptible to multiple dangers. A lot of people have this belief that evolution is heading towards some level of perfection, but that is not how it works. A specimen develops a trait as a random mutation, and if it’s a bad mutation—one that hinders their ability to survive—then they simply won’t live long enough to procreate. If it does happen to help, then they’ll pass those genes on to their offspring. The reason humans have hair still, even though we’ve learned to fashion clothing, build houses, and invent central heating, is because there’s no one to change it. Having hair isn’t a problem for us. At best, our descendants might evolve out of it due to sexual selection, if mates begin to favor less hair enough, but that’s so unlikely, because for humans, it takes all kinds. The point of this is that evolution isn’t going to give us gills or wings, because we don’t live in environments that would require them. Winged humans wouldn’t have an advantage over non-winged humans, because we do just fine right here on the ground. If the floor suddenly literally turned to lava, we would just die out by the time our physiology changed to accommodate our new conditions. If you want wings, then you’re going to have to have them implanted. You’re going to need two things to do this, though. One, superhuman pecs. Seriously, look at any bird. There’s a reason the breast contains so much more meat the rest of any poultry. Two, you’re going to need to live in the future, because we can’t attach wings to people yet. We can’t implant gills, or artificial eyes, or neural interface chips. But we will be able to. One day. That’s what posthumanism is all about, and posthumanism is what I’m all about. Like I said, humans are weak, and I am no exception. I have allergies; my hands are in a permanent state of pain. I wear glasses, frequently have to ask people to repeat themselves, can’t smell the black mold in a house, can’t taste the difference between a hundred dollar steak, and a ten dollar steak, and can’t ever tell when my skin is wet, or just cold. I used to be adamantly opposed to body mutilation, like piercings, and tattoos. I guess I still am, but it wouldn’t bother me to have one, even if it seems permanent, but I know a secret: it isn’t. I’m young enough to still be around when we can replace any organ with a 3D printed upgrade. That’ll let me live long enough to see a time when my consciousness can be transferred to some other body; say a robin, a dolphin, or maybe a sentient tree. Posthumanism is looking forward to breaking the limits of our birth, which is why I love it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Microstory 917: Photography

Every time I go to the bulk store, one of the first things I see is the electronics section. This makes sense. As much as they move things around in that place, they still want to make sure everybody gets eyes on the most expensive things there. I pass longingly by the cameras, wishing I could afford one, but knowing that I can’t. Years ago, I started getting into Instagram. I didn’t use it to take pictures of friends, or myself, or the cool places that I visited. I was snapping photos of random objects at close range, and overusing filters, in order to create an image that you wouldn’t necessarily be able to recognize. A few weeks of this made me realize that I was into photography a long time before the service even existed, but in order to take a class in high school, I first had to take some other art class, and I was just not into that. I’ve never wanted to be a professional photographer. I had no dreams of opening my own studio, or traveling to far off distances with Sean Penn to shoot wildlife. I just wanted to take pictures. And that would be a fine dream if it weren’t just another one in a whole cluster of them. Filmmaking, astrophysics, evolutionary biology, medicine, futurology. These, and more, are my other passions, to varying degrees, and for different reasons. I don’t have time to do them all, and I don’t have the money to do any of them. Not even my writing actually makes me any money. I’ve earned $27.45 from Google Adsense on my website over the course of more than three years, which isn’t even enough to cash out. But my writing career holds the number three priority spot over anything in my life. It’s third only to family, and revenue. Photography is probably number four. It would be nice if I could purchase a decent camera, plus lenses, and anything else that goes with it, along with a couple classes so I understand how the damn thing works. I don’t know that I would ever do anything beyond more interesting Instagram posts, but it would at least be a start. If you personally would like to see my dreams come true, then spread the word about my website. The better this does, the more chance I have of publishing a real book, and the closer I get to pursuing any or all of my hobbies. Thanks!

Monday, August 27, 2018

Microstory 916: Free Hugs

Anyone who’s ever met me probably assumes that I don’t like to be touched. My diagnosis as autistic surely only reinforces this belief, since sensory issues are often associated with the condition. The reality is that I appreciate human contact. Yes, I will admit that I’ve never much liked kissing. If you take a step back, and try to look at the whole concept from an alien’s point of view, it’s a pretty bizarre thing that we do. Even stranger is that we freely do it in public, as the only socially acceptable form of incontrovertible sexual behavior. Hugs, on the other hand, carry no necessarily sexual intentions or sentiments. Any two or more people are capable of hugging each other without it being an expression of anything beyond friendship, no homo. That’s not to say that there isn’t such thing as an inappropriate hug. All parties involved must consent, but it’s also possible to hug a child without it being a problem. Or rather it’s possible for a child to hug an adult without causing problems. Every year, between the first of December, and Christmas, I have this tradition of watching the movie Love Actually. The pattern began as an accident. Of course, it plays during Christmastime, and I happened to just keep seeing it, but then I started watching it with purpose. The film is bookended with scenes of people hugging each other at an airport. “Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends.” I think we don’t do enough hugging in this world. Just watch any movie where two lovers come together after some harrowing series of events. They always start making out, even if buildings are exploding around them, or the antagonist is literally chasing after them, and they gotta go. We’ve been taught to value romantic relationships over comradery; sex over loyalty. Well, I’ve never really gotten a chance to incorporate this into my stories, so I’ll just tell you that there is a world where things are different. Shaking hands is reserved almost exclusively for executing business deals. When two people who don’t dislike each other greet each other, they hug, and it doesn’t seem odd to them. I’m not suggesting we could ever make our world like that one, but maybe we could start taking steps in the right direction, because the best hugs are free.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: September 17, 2194

When Leona, Ecrin, and Vitalie returned to the timestream, Ulinthra was there, waiting for them. She commended them for their attempt on her life, but claimed that it wasn’t necessary. “The first time this day happened,” she said, “the five of us had a lovely day on the beach. Well, I had a lovely time. The four of you were scared out of your minds, wondering what I was going to do to punish you.”
“Did you ever tell us?” Vitalie asked.
“That doesn’t matter,” Ecrin said. “Did you decide what our punishment is?”
“Nothing,” Ulinthra said, as if handing them their lottery winnings. “Darrow and I had some nice conversations while he was alive. That’s the benefit of being around for the whole year; you have time to get things done. Leona, you should look into that.
Leona would have rolled her eyes if she wasn’t so nervous about what Ulinthra was holding back.
Ulinthra continued, “I heard about your penny trick. I must say, it’s quite clever.”
Dammit.
“I’ve been wondering why the timeline keeps changing. I mean, obviously I’m having an effect on it, but I wasn’t making the connection between your daily calls, and those changes. Vitalie, if you’re ever looking for a job...”
“Where’s Brooke?”
“Brooke who?” Ulinthra asked.
“Ulinthra, where is she?”
“She’s in another unit, and she wants to be left alone. She still has her pod, but I’ve relieved her of her connection to you. Unlike our former justice system, I don’t believe in guilt by association.”
They had no response to this. While Leona wanted to be grateful that Brooke was safe, there was no way of knowing whether it was at all true.
“Did you kill Darrow?” Ecrin asked after a few beats.
“I did,” Ulinthra said, moderately enthused. “That’s what our conversations were about. You know, he’s been around a long time. He gave me an exact age, because he’s the kind of chooser who can calculate that sort of thing, but I can’t remember it. Needless to say, however, he was quite old, and so wise. He’s seen so much, and learned so much more. But he was ready to die, so I accommodated him. After months of testing, I finally took care of him a couple weeks ago. I wasn’t comfortable cutting him up, and burning his parts. So I reverse engineered a machine that would cause molecular teleportation.”
“What’s that?” Vitalie asked.
“It’s what Lucius has,” Leona said, horrified. “He can teleport individual molecules—maybe even atoms—to different places. Basically he can rip you apart into billions of pieces.”
“That’s right,” Ulinthra said. “Darrow can’t come back from that, which is what he wanted.”
“You have a molecular teleporter,” Leona noted.
Ulinthra wasn’t sure at first why Leona said that, since it had already been established, but then it clicked. “That’s right, I have one of the greatest weapons on the planet at my disposal, but I would never use it for that. I’m not as bad as you think. I suppose my attitude towards you haven’t helped your perceptions of me, but I really am trying to help. Besides that fact that the machine requires me to daisy chain every microgrid on this arc to start it up, leaving us without power for almost a week, it’s immoral. What I did was out of kindness, not malice. You need not fear it, or me.”
“If it’s more trouble than it’s worth, then why don’t you dismantle it?” Leona suggested.
“Why don’t you?” Ulinthra either asked or offered.
“What?”
“If you want it gone, then you can oversee its dismantling.”
“I..uh...”
“Don’t be coy,” Ulinthra said. “I’ll set it up for nine o’clock this morning. You best get some sleep before then. I’ll courier a pair of auggies, and send you directions.”
“Ulinthra,” Leona called up to her as she was leaving.
“Be there at nine!” Ulinthra reminded her.
The three of them sat in silence for a few moments. “What the hell is happening?” Vitalie finally asked.
“In my experience,” Ecrin began, “whenever something bad seems to be going better, it really means that it’s worse.”
Still, there was nothing they could do but go to bed.
At 8:30, Leona pulled the directions to Ulinthra’s Molecular Research Laboratory up on her new augmented reality glasses, and made her way there. Once she walked in, a team of scientists, androids assistants, and robot workers stopped what they were doing, and stared at her in apathetic anticipation. Holly Blue was there, and the only one not treating this like a middle scene in a horror film. “Don’t mind them,” Holly Blue said. “They know you have been assigned as our leader today. Arianrhod has conditioned them to follow orders without question.”
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do,” Leona whispered.
“Introduce yourself,” Holly Blue suggested.
“I’m Leona Delaney,” she announced to the crowd. “You all know why we’re here, yeah?”
They nodded, but didn’t speak.
“And you all know how to do that, right?” Leona went on.
They nodded again.
“Then you may begin.”
Everyone went back to work, unscrewing screws, and ripping out wires. It was a pretty self-sufficient operation. Leona was really just there to make sure it was being done. At least that was what she was told, but there was no way of knowing if this was the only molecular teleporter, or if they were just going to be ordered to rebuild it tomorrow. This could all be a waste of everyone’s time, but if so, what was the point? What did Ulinthra really have in store for them?
“Hi, I’m usually in charge here. My name is Holly Blue.”
Leona gave a sort of frightened and confused look, but didn’t want to say anything. That was meant to be her codename, but here she was, saying out loud with no concern.
“I know, it sounds like a porn star, or something. But it is my real name.” She tilted her head down, so she could look up at Leona. “It really is.” That was all Leona needed.
“Did you help build this thing?” Leona asked.
“I designed it. Of course, our immaculate leader already had the technical specifications, but the general shape, the chamber; it’s all me and my team.”
“How do you suppose she came to something like this?” Leona asked, perhaps pushing too much.
“Well, we’ve been teleporting molecules for over a century...” Holly trailed off.
“No, we’ve been copying molecules in a second location, and destroying the originals. This is different.”
Holly Blue—which was a name Leona felt couldn’t be broken up into first and last, but required being said in full each time—just shrugged. “Progress marches on.”
They both knew about time travel, but couldn’t say anything in mixed company. They just stood there together and watched the drones do their work. They were completely finished within the hour; all parts being dropped into various material reclamators. If they were going to rebuild it after Leona left, they would have to start from scratch. But they did it the first time in only a few months, so they could definitely do it again. This farce did not make her feel much better, but she did have conflicting memories of Ulinthra’s behaviors, so maybe Ulinthra had conflicting thoughts about her own actions. Maybe some good in her was inching its way to the surface.
Once it was over, Leona said goodbye to their ally, Holly Blue, and tried to make her way back to the unit. Something went wrong with her glasses. They kept trying to get her to go a different way, even though she had easily memorized her path. She might have just taken them off, and gone on her own, but she was curious as to why the glasses were leading her somewhere else, so she decided to follow it. Before too long, she found herself standing in front of Brooke, which the glasses indicated was her final destination. She looked better than she had in a long time. Color had returned to her skin, and she held herself straighter. She hadn’t appeared this healthy since she had all of her transhumanistic upgrades. She was in the front of a classroom full of students. Diagrams of various ships and instruments were floating around. It almost looked like she was teaching these people how to fly, but that wasn’t possible. Could it?
“Shit,” Brooke said under her breath. “Class, please reread the section on interplanetary gravitational influence. We’ll be going back into VR for a formation exercise after lunch.”
“What are you doing here?” Brooke accused her once they were out in the hallway.
“I was about to ask you the same thing,” Leona said.
“You shouldn’t be here.” She looked up and down the hallway.
“How are you a teacher? What, your students have class once a year?”
Brooke breathed in deeper than her body required to survive.
“Ulinthra cured you permanently,” Leona realized.
“It’s not what it looks like. Things are more complicated here than we’ve seen. People are doing better than the resistance led us to believe.”
“You gave up the resistance?” Leona said too loudly.
“No,” Brooke volleyed, just as loudly. She quieted down, “I would never. I know what you’re thinking, but I’ve not been indoctrinated. I’ve just found a way to live not so...urgently.”
Leona tried to break it down. “Ulinthra. Started a war. That didn’t need to happen. The smaller arcstates were fine before her.”
“You don’t know that,” Brooke pointed out. “You don’t know shit. This planet has no leadership. Their ancestors spent so much time designing what they thought was a perfect, self-sustaining modern civilization, with no central government, that they failed to imagine what would happen if something went wrong. Things were falling apart, so Arianrhod stepped up. I’m not saying she’s the ideal candidate, but no one else was doing it.”
“My God,” Leona said, shaking her head. “Darrow didn’t betray us. You did. You told her about the penny, and everything. Where did I go wrong with you?”
“Oh, don’t give me that. You were my guardian for, like, five minutes. Xearea and Camden’s grandmother raised me more than you did.”
“Who?”
“Don’t worry about it. You need to get back to your unit, so you can rework your battle plans. Something tells me the penny trick won’t work anymore. I have to get back to class.”
“Is this military training?” Leona asked, stopping her.
“What?”
“Are you training cadets, or cargo ship pilots?”
“I don’t have to answer that.”
“You just did.”
Leona went back to tell the other two what had happened. Vitalie disclosed that she had flipped a penny already, and had come up with tails again. She wasn’t so sure they should stop trying this just because Ulinthra knew about it. She could never precisely tailor their morning conversations to happen exactly as they had the first time around. The real lesson here, however, was that it didn’t matter what the power of probability could do for them. Ulinthra still had major advantages over them; namely that she existed three hundred and sixty-five times more than they did. Now they had lost another one of their greatest assets, and while Holly Blue couldn’t say anything outright, she did imply that the resistance was pretty hopelessly dead. Something huge about their dynamic had to change, and all the pennies in the world wouldn’t be enough to make that happen. There had to be something they could do; something they hadn’t tried before. What they really needed was a new ringer.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Fervor: Out of Action (Part VIII)

While Slipstream, Hogarth, and Leona showed no signs that they could remember anything about their lives beyond their childhoods, they were also receptive to mine and Hilde’s help. If we couldn’t find a way to make these people trust us, I don’t know how we could have helped. We went back to the Bran safehouse, and took care of them as best we could. At first, we thought a good night’s rest would be enough to get them out of this, but they woke up just as lost as before. Then we thought we might be able to jog their memories with a few context clues, but there was only so much we could do. Slipstream was easy. We knew where she lived, where she hung out, and who her friends were. None of it helped, of course, but the tracer gang insisted she stay with them just the same. Hogarth was the next easiest, but was still without hope. Hilde tried to remind her of the time they spent together, but since their hometown no longer existed, we couldn’t show her familiar objects. Not that it mattered, because this wasn’t working anyway. There was nothing we could try for Leona, since none of us really knew her. Baby Brooke seemed to think they hadn’t known each other for that long, so theirs wasn’t a strong connection.
On the third day, nearly out of ideas, Hilde and I decided to try something crazy. One thing I’ve gathered from this time traveler underground is that if you don’t know who might understand you, there was a word you can use. Salmon are a special class of temporal manipulators who have no control over their—well, you couldn’t really call what they have powers; it’s more like nonlinear time happens to them. I don’t really quite understand why it is they’re called salmon, but it’s a really good buzzword. Normal people will just think you’re talking about fish, but a time traveler will easily figure out that you’re trying to communicate with them secretly. Unfortunately, since there weren’t any possible travelers around, all we could do was put out a local advertisement, and hope that someone relevant happened to see it. It took days for it to work.
While Mireille was babysitting one regular child, and three two grown-up children, Hilde and I hung out all day at Mendoza Park. We’re sitting on the edge of the fountain on the fourth day since the memory loss when a young woman in sunglasses sits right next to us. We think she’s here for us, but there’s no way to tell. She takes out her phone. “Hi, mom. Yes, I can go to the store after work.” She turns to face us, and slides her glasses down the bridge of her nose. “I’ll pick up some of that good salmon from the bulk store.”
“Oh, thank God,” Hilde says. “We’ve been waiting for you for two days.”
“One and a half,” I clarify.
“Well, we knew something was strange when someone noticed you put out an ad just to ask whether the fish in Cleaver Fountain were salmon,” the woman says. “I’m Agent Cabral. And you?”
“Paige Turner. Hilde Unger. Who’s we?”
“I run an international coalition of intelligence agencies,” Agent Cabral says. Does she not have to keep that a secret?
“Let me guess, the government found out about people with time powers—”
“Hardly,” Agent Cabral interrupts. “We have a few choosers and salmon field agents, but we don’t revolve around them. What can we help you with?”
“Someone erased our friends’ memories,” Hilde explains. “She might have gotten some drug from the future, we don’t know. I just want my girlfriend back.”
“Are you sure it isn’t due to quantum blending?” the agent asks.
“What is that?”
“Was it a drug, or did the person manipulate reality to make them forget? There’s a big difference in how we solve this.”
“But you can solve it?” I ask.
“If it’s a drug, I know someone. If it’s because reality’s been jacked up, probably not. My organization does not have the same resources it once did. We’re probably on our way to shutting down.”
“Let’s assume it was some drug, and go from there,” I suggest.
“Okay. Follow me.” She stands up, and leads us to a more secluded part of the park, covered by trees. She takes out her phone again, and makes a real call this time. “Ashlock? Three to beam up.”
I feel something tugging on my chest, and pulling me backwards. I’m suddenly standing in what looks like the living room of a house that someone has remodeled for small business use. I’m having trouble reclaiming my balance, and a man is pointing a weapon at us.
“Stand down, Kolby,” another man says. “I obviously invited them here.”
“We don’t know who these two are,” Kolby states.
“These two children?” the other guy asks. “I think we’re safe. I trust Ecrin’s judgment.”
“Your name is Kolby?” I ask.
“Yeah.”
“Kolby Morse?” I add.
He lowers his weapon. “You’ve heard of me?”
“I met your partner in J.U. Mithra Labs,” I tell him.
Kolby clears his throat. “Please don’t talk about him. It’s not safe.”
“Of course.” I turn to the other guy, and give him my hand. “You must be Ashlock. I was to understand you could help with our friends’ memory problems?”
“Uh...not me,” Ashlock says. He looks over at Ecrin Cabral. “The doctor is on a mission in 2022 Maine right now. She’ll probably be back in an hour. In the meantime, Kolby made sandwiches.”
As hard of a man as he seems to be, Kolby makes a complete 180, and starts to smile proudly. “And avocado toast.”
“So what is it you have goin’ on here?” I ask with tofu sandwich in my mouth.
“We help people,” Ashlock answers.
“Help people with what?”
“It’s a complicated system, but basically I send our field agent to the body of someone in the past to help them, and people around them.”
“You could even say you...put right what once went wrong?” Hilde prodded.
“Yes,” Ashlock says with a grin. “A friend of mine came up with the idea, and he says that show inspired him.”
“Do you only send one person into people’s bodies?” Hilde asks.
“I can only send Quivira. She’s the one with the power to possess others. If I want to send someone else, they have to go back as themselves. We do it this way so we don’t have to convince the humans to trust us when we try to make things better.”
“And the doctor?”
“She can go back as herself,” Ashlock explains, “because she carries credibility. She’s a psychiatrist, and a physician, which we find to be vital to the success of our operation. You’ll meet her, but probably not Qui—.” He suddenly stops and stares into space. His eyes dart back and forth, and his lips move a little, like a child learning to read.
“What’s he doing?” Hilde asks.
“He’s talking with someone in the past,” Kolby replies. “It’s kind of creepy, but you get used to it.”
“He’s both Ziggy, and Al,” I note.
Kolby keeps smiling, and goes back to his lunch.
Ashlock comes out of the trance. “Hammer will be here soon. She says I should action the three patients here, so she can examine them at the same time.”
She wants you to do what with them?” Hilde asks, thinking she should be offended.
“That’s just what I call my power. It’s what I did when I summoned you to me. I pull you out of one time and place, and land you somewhere else. In this case, it’s time travel without the time. They call me The Action.”
“Who calls you that?” Kolby asks, obviously already knowing the answer.
“I prefer Ashlock,” I remark.
Ashlock isn’t pleased, but Kolby is. “Most people do,” he says.
After we finish eating, Ashlock sends us to our unit in the Ponce de Leon, where we retrieve Hogarth and Leona. Hilde then goes to the tracer gang headquarters alone. It takes her so long to presumably convince Slipstream’s friends that we’ve found a way to help her that a Doctor Mallory Hammer comes back from the past before they return.
“Pleased to meet you,” Dr. Hammer says.
“Do you need to rest?” Kolby asks protectively.
“I’m fine. They do have beds in 2022. Anyway, are these my patients?”
“These two are,” I say. “The third is on her way.”
“Okay, we’ll start without her. Privately.” She leads them to the examination room, which was probably once just a bedroom, while I wait here. Before she leaves, she asks Ashlock to check on her primary patient, so he goes down to the basement. While I’m not told specifically to stay out, it’s clear that the basement is a no-go zone.
Ecrin has to go upstairs to make a call, so now I’m just alone with the security guard. “Was he doing okay?” he asks of me.
“Who?”
“Elder. My partner.”
“I thought we couldn’t talk about him.”
“Not around others, but you can tell me what you know.”
“His name was Elder?”
“Yeah. Elder Caverness. I’m guess this means you didn’t spend much time with him?”
“Few minutes,” I lament. “He doesn’t seem the happiest where he is, working for the woman we’re trying to stop right now. He’s doing okay, though...convinced he’s exactly where he needs to be.”
Kolby nods. “That sounds like him.”
“I think he misses you. Do you ever see each other?” I ask.
“Radio silence, by design. Please don’t mention him to anyone else. His mission is too important.”
“Of course.” I zip my mouth closed, locked it up, and break the key in half with my bare hands.
Ashlock comes back upstairs, having actioned Hilde and Slipstream here. He escorts the latter to the backroom, then comes back to wait with us at the table.
A half hour later, Dr. Hammer comes out alone. “I’m sending samples to the time lab. I can’t expedite the testing, because there may be a temporal component to the drug itself, which could be distorted if it’s not measured in linear time. I’m fairly certain I know what it is, though. It resembles something I encountered a few hundred years from now. I think it came from another planet. The person who did this is serious business. Once I help your friends with a broad spectrum counteragent, you should all stay away from her.
“They can’t do that,” Kolby says, having completely warmed up to them.
I look at him, then back to Dr. Hammer. “The mission is too important.”
“Well, I can insulate you from the effects of the memory loss, but the formula also requires realtime, so it wouldn’t be ready for about a week.”
“That’s okay,” Hilde says. “We don’t think it’s her main weapon, or a weapon at all. We think our friends were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“Thank you for everything,” I say graciously. “All of you.”
“We’ll get your people fixed up, and on their way,” Ashlock says, standing up. “Ecrin will take you back home the long way ‘round, so you know where we are. Come for avocado toast whenever you want.”
“Thanks again,” I say. Then I add, “The Action.”
He smiles.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Microstory 915: Indoor Plumbing/Energy Grid

I think this is something that we can all get behind. It’s pretty easy, living in the developed world, to take for granted the basic utilities to which we have access. As I know you know, there are parts of the world without these things. They walk great distances for clean water, or just water that isn’t so clean. Not everyone has electricity, or heat, or air conditioning. A lot of these people are doing fine, so I don’t want you thinking I’m saying everyone else’s lives are terrible. I remember reading about an uncontacted tribe—I believe somewhere in the Amazon, and they may not be totally uncontacted—that does as little as possible. They wake up late, hang out most of the day, and only do as much work as they need to survive. They don’t have plumbing or energy, and it doesn’t seem to bother them. I’m not here to say that it’s unreasonable to want to return to a time before these things. In the future of my stories, you’ll see a sliding scale of technology in the world. Some will embrace amazing advances, even going so far as to upgrade their bodies to nonorganic substrates. There will be those, however, who would prefer to live without these amenities. There will be people who fall somewhere in between these two extremes. And for the most part, that will be okay. The only time the governing system should step in is if these people begin to needlessly damage the ecosystem with their way of life. We’ll let them live like nomads or pioneers, but we’re not gonna let them tear down forests for farms. And we’ll let nonorganics build superstructures, but they better be taller than they are wide. I’ve recently signed up for a special renewable energy program. Even though renewable energy sources do not exist in my area, I do pay for it. For every bit of energy I use, my bill goes towards offsetting my carbon footprint by providing wind power in regions where the infrastructure has already begun. There are still some major developments we need to make in that infrastructure, and in efficiency, but I wanted to take a moment to appreciate how nice it is to flip the lightswitch on in my home, and be fairly certain that the lights will turn on. Please note that KC Power & Light has, in recent years, been experiencing frustrating power outages. It all comes down to how much the growing population is taxing the system. What we need are microgrids, and personal renewable equipment, but that’s a story for another day.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Microstory 914: My Dogs

I thought I had told you this story before, but I guess not. A few weeks before my sixteenth birthday, my parents told me that they would need me for a trip over the weekend. My aunt was in the market for a new (old) car, but was in Spain at the time, and unable to look for one herself. She liked a particular kind at the time, and I know next to nothing about cars, so I wasn’t fazed when they claimed the one they found was hundreds of miles away in Minnesota. I remember telling my whole health class about the upcoming road trip, for some reason, as dull as I assumed it would be. We stayed one night in a hotel, and then drove out to the farm in the morning, where the car was supposedly waiting. My dad said he wanted to speak with the seller, so my mom and I waited in the car. A few minutes later, he walked back out of the barn with a man, who was holding a smol puppy in his arms. Once I was out of the car, he offered to let me hold her, which I gladly accepted. Only then did my parents reveal that this was my dog. She was a nine-week-old American Foxhound, and the most beautiful creature I had seen in my life. The whole thing about the car was a total lie; a ruse to get me up there. On the way back home, my dad handed me a list of French names, and suggested I take one from it, since I was studying French at the time. I chose Sophie, because I was also into philosophy back then. I kept that girl for almost ten years before we lost her to the evil of Billy Rubin, and I’ve never forgiven time for taking her away from me. I miss you, Sophie Love Highfill.

Cut to nearly five years later when I’m finally ready for a new dog. I have my own house, with a huge backyard, and a nice deck. While there are fences surrounding most of the property, they’re not the kinds we want, so we decided to contract a new one. It took my family and me months to prepare for the new pup. We had to clean up the yard, hire someone to remove a few trees, and totally rearrange the first floor of my house. I got rid of the giant dining table, and moved my TV into the dining room, because that’s where the door to the deck is. We bought kennels, and a cage, and a doghouse, and food and water bowls, and everything else the dog would need. I also spent a lot of time trying to come up with a good name for her, ultimately settling on Daisy Quake; after a character in one of our favorite television series, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. On the fourth day of July of this year, my dad and I drove to the other side of Missouri to pick up the six-week-old English Coonhound. I chose her because, while her brothers and sisters were clamoring for attention, she was just chilling in their huge doghouse. As it turns out, she was probably just tired at the moment, because she’s an energetic wild one in real life. She jumps, bites, wrestles, and plays tug-o-war. And I love her just as much as I did Sophie. I regret all the time I didn’t take to spend with my first dog, and I’m determined to not make that mistake again. I never did say that these 99 things that I love are in a randomized order. If they weren’t, my dogs and my family would be tied for first place.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Microstory 913: Blood/Organ Donation

When I was getting my first driver’s license, someone at the DMV was explaining to me what it meant to be an organ donor, and acting as if I had a choice. It was years before I started realizing that there are actually a fair number of people who choose to not be donors, which perplexes me. Why would you not want that? My instinct was that the majority of them are religious, and believe giving away parts of their former bodies is somehow going to hurt their conditions in the magical flying spaghetti monsterland, or wherever it is they think they’re going for chanting nonsense once a week. As it turns out, religion is a common reason people have in favor of becoming donors. So maybe it’s that many are so spiteful and misanthropic that, in one final middle finger to the world, they’re going to make sure their deaths lead to nothing good. Eh, those kinds of people aren’t as plentiful as it might seem. The truth is that there are many other reasons to check the wrong box. People get a lot of their education from glamorized television; this case being medical dramas. The rumor is that a doctor won’t save your life if your organs can be donated. This absurdity relies on the doctor making a choice between yours, and someone else’s life. What do you suppose the criteria are, and what makes you think you wouldn’t win? This is also related to a mistrusts in doctors, and medical science as a whole.  I guess I get that to some extent, because I’ve never met a doctor that I liked. But while there are outliers, every single one of them in the Western world took some modern form of the Hippocratic oath, and that’s not something to be ignored. The fact is that you don’t need your heart and kidneys after death, so there is no legitimate reason to try to literally take them to your grave. I do want to speak on some related issues that need to be addressed. As medical science improves, and life comes with more safety protocols, we face an even greater shortage of viable donors. People are living longer, and more easily surviving physical traumas, which means there are fewer to go around. And while this often means treatment can exclude the necessity of an organ transplant, it doesn’t preclude it entirely. We still need them, and you can help. In the future, we’ll be able to print organs in a medical synthesizer, using cells harvested from the patient themselves, to avoid any compatibility issues. But until then, do one thing for me; check that donation consent box. God forbid you die, but if you ever do, you could save up to eight lives, and improve the lives of a hundred more. And look at it this way, if you end up donating everything possible, you’ll be put to rest seven pounds* lighter than you were when you died.

*The totality of the organs you’re capable of donating upon death actually adds up to less than four pounds, but your scale is broken anyway, right? How do I do a winky face?

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Microstory 912: Fandom

I have mixed feelings about this topic. On the one hand, I love that people love to love things, but I think they can take it a bit too far. Back in the day, men were allowed to like sports, boobs, explosions, and more sports. Women were allowed to like horses, and making sure my dinner was ready by 5:15. These days, it’s cool to like comic books and video games, and it’s not really cool to like those traditional things. I take issue with this too, because while the jocks ruled the school of yesterday, the nerds run the show now. There’s just as much judgment and animosity as there was before, but now with different divisions of people. I admit that this is getting better already, with the mini-generation after millennials basically not caring what anyone does, as long is it doesn’t negatively impact the world. I also think there is quite a bit of materialism going on, even more than there used to be. Man, my goal of being more positive for this series isn’t going all that, is it? I’ll do better next time. For now, I want to talk about all the stuff. Major content creators make more money off of merchandise than they could ever hope to make from the source material. Why is that? Why do full-grown adults find satisfaction from owning an action figure, while doing nothing with it but set it on a shelf. Or they own so much of this crap, they can’t even display it all. Do you not find that absurd? Exactly how many plush porgs do you need? If you’re about to look around the room and count your porgs, don’t bother. The answer is a hard zero. I’m all for expressing your love for whatever, but there’s a way to do it without losing half your income. You need a cup to put your drinks in, so buy a cup with some insider quote from your favorite show, like “I’m the one who knocks” or “time out on this game of thrones; I need to pee!”. You need a bag to carry your essentials, so that one works out as well. But all these little stickers, trinkets, figurines, and costumes you never wear; it’s all just useless junk to which one of two things will happen. Either you’ll die, and burden your family with all that stuff you overestimated how much they would want, or you’ll become immortal, your priorities will shift, and you’ll wish you didn’t have it anymore. And you won’t be able to sell it, because guess what, everyone around you feels the same way. So now the world is down in resources, but up in full-sized pokeballs. Like I said, it’s all about priorities. If you have some disposable income to burn on a real 1940s police box, why not instead give that money to charity? You’re not gonna make me feel bad about trying to make you feel bad for wasting your money on a sonic screwdriver that stopped making noise after a week.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Microstory 911: Outdoor Activities

I hate sportsball. I hate football, I hate North American football, I hate baseball, I hate basketball. It would be easier for me to tell you which sports I like than which ones I don’t, because I don’t like any of them, so none. I do not, however, hate outdoor activities. I would certainly never want to watch someone else participate in one, but I enjoy them myself. When I was a boy scout, we would go on a camping trip pretty much every month. During the eight years I was involved, I can probably count on two hands the number of these trips that I missed; perhaps even one hand. Sometimes it was just all about tenting and cobbler, but we also went for specific things. We would always go on a bike ride in the fall. We would go to the slopes for skiing and snowboarding sometime in the deep winter. I didn’t think I would like skiing, since I’m afraid of heights and high speeds, and cold weather, but I got pretty comfortable with it. One time, I spontaneously belted out the Star-Spangled Banner when the other scouts were being particularly rambunctious in the cabins the night before. They must have thought I was meant to do that, because no one made a peep the rest of the night. It probably wouldn’t have been as fun if we had been too tired the next day. I especially enjoyed the canoe trips. I could paddle down a river for an entire day, across multiple days, if given the opportunity. Of course, there were also hiking and backpacking trips. My dad and I went down to backpack in the Arkansas hills with a small group, and one in the mountains of New Mexico that lasted longer than a week, and also involved horseback riding. My favorite trip was Seabase. We spent a week on a tiny Florida Key that was designated just for us. I experienced zero problems the whole time, developed a profound fondness for the mysterious deep, and uncovered inspiration for what I thought for years would be my first novel. I miss most of those things today, and wish there was an adult form of scouting that coordinates similar trips. Maybe there is, and I just haven’t really been looking. I suppose the closest thing to that would be Meet Up, but I feel like I’ve tried that. I guess I can try harder.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: September 16, 2193

Darrow looked the four of them over, like a man with new money on the hunt for the most stylish motorcycle he can find, with no plans to ever ride the thing. He stopped at Brooke. “Transhuman, but weakened. Your body won’t be able to take much more stress. You will die one day.” He stopped at Vitalie. “A spirit walker, interesting. But you also jump through time.” He looked between her and Leona, and back again, over to Ecrin, and then back at Vitalie. The he stepped away to get a look at all three of them. “In fact, you all possess the same temporal pattern. What’s happened here?”
“Someone transplanted my bone marrow to the other two,” Leona began to explain, “to trap them in my pattern. Brooke can’t experience nonlinear time, so they put her in that pod.”
“Fascinating,” he said in an attempt to mimic Mr. Spock’s voice.
“We need to draw up a contract,” Ecrin said reluctantly.
“Against the person who did this to you, I presume,” Darrow guessed.
“Yes, but not for doing that. She’s a warlord, and a mass murderer.”
“A warlord and a mass murder? I think I’m in love,” he joked.
“Will you do it, or not?” Ecrin was not happy about having to ask him for anything.
“I’ll kill anyone you want, love,” he said. “I would do anything for you; you know that. The question is not whether I’ll take the contract, but if you’re willing to go that far.”
“This won’t be the first time I had to get in bed with the devil,” Ecrin confessed. “Not literally,” she felt the need to add when she saw how the other three looked at her.
“No,” Darrow confirmed. “But we’re a better team than she would care to admit. You see, I’m what some might call an antivillain. I’m more bad than good, but I’m also necessary. This is a perfect example. None of you wants me to kill this person, but you know it has to be done.”
“But you don’t know that,” Leona pointed out. “You took the job without any details.”
“I trust Miss Cardoso’s judgment. If she says kill, I kill.”
“Miss Who?” Leona questioned.
“Uhh...it was an alias,” Ecrin said quickly. “He doesn’t need to know my real name, though.”
Darrow smirked slowly. “I know more about you than you think, Ecrin Leyla Cabral.” He clapped his hands. “Now, you said something about a weird timeline. What’s the deal with that?”
“It’s Ulinthra. Have you ever heard of her?” Vitalie asked.
Darrow had to think about it for a moment. “The Rewinder, yes. She disappeared in 2022.”
“Well, she’s back, and she’s taking over the world,” Vitalie explained.
“Oh, that’s why you want her dead. World domination is sort of my thing, but I can dig it. I imagine you don’t want me doing it just whenever, because she can see the future.”
“We have a system,” Vitalie said proudly. “It involves a penny.”
“We flip it every day that we’re in the timestream,” Brooke continued. “Theoretically, half the time, we’re flipping it differently than we did the first time around. It decides how we proceed. And as you know, we only exist one day out of the year, so you would have to do it one of those days.”
“Fifty percent ain’t great odds,” Darrow noted.
“Can you do better?” Brooke asked him.
“I can’t increase your odds,” Darrow said, “but I can keep you out of it. Protecting my clients from consequences comes with every package. You want to keep her followers from coming after you, you best have me do this while you’re not in the timestream, so your trail goes cold for a whole year.”
“That...” Ecrin trailed off for a moment. “...sounds uncharacteristically nice of you.”
“You may be the immortal one,” Darrow started, “but I’m also immortal, and I’ve changed since we last saw each other. I’m sure you can relate. I’ll take care of your problem, shield you from blowback, and get you back to your lives.”
“What’s the cost?” Leona asked, knowing there would be one, and assuming it would be nothing as pedestrian as money.
“I’ll have to think it over,” Darrow said. “I shall return next year. I like to have multiple meetings about one contract anyway. I would rather you back out before we sign than sign too quickly, and regret it.”

The next year, Leona called Ulinthra to ask for their synthesizers back. She was just doing it to open Schrödinger’s box, but much to her surprise, Ulinthra agreed to it. She did so a little too hurriedly, though, so Leona guessed that she was preoccupied. This made sense considering that her entire point of being was not to make Leona and her friends’ lives hell, but to wage war against the establishment. While she up until that point could set aside one day to devote to them, she must have been too busy today. At first Leona thought that was a good thing, but then started to doubt it.
“Are we ready to flip?” Vitalie asked.
“I’m not so sure you should,” Leona said, still working the problem in her head.
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“It’s hard to explain, but you heard, that conversation was real quick.”
“So?” Vitalie asked. “Quantum mechanics operates at planck time.”
Leona looked at her funny.
“Sometimes I read from your electronic book,” Vitalie said.
“Well, technically a particle needs virtually no time to choose its path, but we’re not dealing with subatomic particles. Our decisions are based on much broader differences that I don’t feel we have. I believe the conversation we’re having right now is fundamentally identical to the one we had in the prior timeline. I don’t feel comfortable testing that, especially not since Darrow is scheduled to fix it for us sometime this year.”
A defiant Vitalie flipped her penny anyway. “Tails. You win.”
Leona cleared her throat, but said nothing else.
“Do we have to do the cloak and dagger thing again?” Brooke asked Ecrin after an awkward silence.
“That was just to contact him. He said he’d be here, so he’ll come on his own. If he doesn’t, it means he’s rejected our proposal, for whatever reason, or he’s dead.”
“Not yet,” Darrow said from a dark corner.
“How long have you been there?” Ecrin demanded to know with a little too much fervor.
“Only long enough to hear half of your last sentence. Calm down.”
“Have you come up with your price?” Leona asked, like an intern preparing to go out and get everyone’s coffee orders.
“I have,” Darrow replied. “I’ve just spent the last seven years thinking it over, and I believe I’m ready to be done.”
“Done with what?”
“Everything,” he said. “Life. I want you to kill me.”
“Well, why wouldn’t you just—” Vitalie began to ask
“Is this one of those things where you’re immortal, except for one weakness, so you need someone’s help with it?” Leona posited.
“Yes,” Ecrin answered for him somberly.
“What’s the weakness?” Brooke asked.
“I need to be, uhh...” he hesitated.
“We’re all adults here,” Brooke said. “Except maybe Vitalie.”
“Hey.”
“I have to be dismembered, and burned separately, with my ashes sent to the four corners of the Earth.”
“Is that it?” Ecrin asked. “We can do that.”
“Ecrin,” Leona gently scolded, but only because she agreed to it too earnestly.
“Sorry, but I’m a centuries old career law enforcement officer. I don’t have the same kind of hangups with killing as you.”
“I know, and I’m inclined to agree to this as well,” Leona said, trying to explain herself, “but maybe we could stand to be a little cautious.”
“I won’t be a part of killing anyone,” Brooke said quietly.
“What?” Vitalie asked.
“I won’t kill anyone, even indirectly.”
“We all agreed to this,” Ecrin pointed out.
“I didn’t agree to shit,” Brooke reminded them. “I was grounded when you met with the resistance group.”
“The who?” Darrow asked.
“This has to happen,” Vitalie argued.
“Does it?” Brooke asked.
“Vitalie, it’s okay that she doesn’t want this.”
“No, it’s not,” Vitalie became more defensive. “Brooke you have it worst of all. We three are on a salmon pattern, but you’re sick. She freaking poisoned you. I can’t believe you’re being like this. You should want her dead more than any of us.”
“What can I say? I’m just not that violent of a person,” Brooke said.
“You used to fly a warship,” Darrow said to her.
“What are you talking about?” Brooke asked him. “No, I didn’t.”
Darrow swallowed. “Oh. What year is it again?”
“Brooke,” Vitalie continued, “you are either wankru, or you are enemy—”
“Enough with the references!” Brooke showed more emotion than she had in a long time, and to a higher degree than Leona had probably ever seen. “I watched that show! That girl went crazy and nearly wiped out the human race! I’m not your enemy, and I am not going to kill anyone. Those are not mutually exclusive.” She stood up, and retrieved the hover sled from its closet.
“What are you doing?” Leona asked her.
“I’m leaving,” Brooke said simply.
“I don’t think Ulinthra would want us to do that,” Ecrin said.
“Well, fortunately you’re about to kill her, so I won’t really have to worry about that much longer, will I?” Brooke pulled the sled over, and tried to pull her stasis pod onto it.
“That’s what this is about, isn’t it?” Vitalie asked.
Brooke continued to struggle with the heavy pod. “What are you trying to say to me?”
“Ulinthra is the only one with the permanent cure to whatever it is she gave you to make you sick. You can’t let her die, or you die,” Vitalie hypothesized.
Brooke stopped trying. “That’s absurd. I would never interfere with our plans to end this for selfish gains. Not once have I indicated that I would do something like that, and we’ve been trying for days.”
“Yes, but always to know avail,” Vitalie said, almost like she was accusing Brooke of something.
Brooke narrowed her eyes and stepped towards Vitalie, who drew back in fear. “Darrow.”
“Yes, Miss Prieto?” Darrow stood up straight, ready to serve.
“Please help me get my pod on the sled and escort me to a vacant unit. I’m not as strong as I once was.”
“Of course, right away.” For a killer, he was rather accommodating and pleasant.
“You can return when we’re finished and iron out the details of your evil master plan.”
“Brooke,” Leona tried to reason, “don’t do this. We have to stick together.”
“Do we?” Brooke asked rhetorically.
Darrow followed Brooke out of the apartment with her pod. He returned a few hours later with news that Ulinthra had learned of the separation, and had no intention of punishing them for it. She also showed no signs of having discovered Darrow to be involved at all, so at least they had their secret weapon. They worked out the details, and settled on a plan for Darrow to fulfill his contract about six weeks from now, to avoid any suspicion about their involvement. When the time skippers jumped back into the timestream in 2194, they learned that Darrow was dead...and Ulinthra was not.