Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: September 22, 2199

The first thing that Leona Matic could remember was being killed by one of the mercenaries that she had commissioned to break Ulinthra out of her prison cube. She could recall the sting of the bullet, and the flow of blood spilling out of her wound. She could feel the light of her life dim little by little until there was nothing but a single pixel left. She never actually experienced that pixel being destroyed in her very, very final moment, but it still made her feel small. Though, through the magic of alternate timelines, she knew she had died before, no one had ever shown her what it truly felt like before. But she had apparently asked for it, and she had to trust her own past. The memories began to return to her backwards from there. Interrogating Ulinthra to find the ardusite dagger, retrieving an alternate Horace Reaver from the extraction mirror, watching Brooke Prieto die in a darkburster explosion. They just kept coming at an accelerated rate, until everything she had done before had finally returned, added to the ever-growing pile of parallel memories. The Warrior removed his hands from hovering at the side of her temples.
“I’m not screaming,” she noted. “Why am I not screaming? The others screamed. It always makes you scream.”
“Not always,” the Warrior explained. “You’ve had your brain blended before. It gets easier each time, and your brain is particularly...magnificent. Plus, the way you changed realities has never been done before, as far as I know. That dagger seems to have come from a completely different universe, so there’s no telling what other side effects it brought with it.”
“Where’s Horace?” Leona asked.
“He was never here,” Vitalie told her. “He and I followed Ulinthra to where she hid the ardusite dagger. Despite the fact that cops have been playing that trick on criminals throughout all procedural drama history, Ulinthra fell for it. She couldn’t help but check to see if we were bluffing about already knowing where it was.”
“Who did it?”
“He did, of course,” Vitalie continued. “He tried to tell you; that he knew it would mean his own demise. Ulinthra never existed. We are the only few people who have ever heard of her. Unfortunately, if she never existed, then we had no reason to go get Horace from the alternate reality either. As soon as he stabbed her with it, reality changed around everyone, leaving us with this, and without him.”
Leona shook her head. “We needed Horace to erase Ulinthra from history, which meant we didn’t need Horace, but if we didn’t have Horace, then Ulinthra couldn’t have been erased from history. It’s a vicious circle. A paradox.”
“I can’t tell you why it’s not a paradox,” Vitalie said. “Let’s just let it go, and be grateful that everything worked.”
“Yes,” Brooke finally spoke. Let’s.”
“It appears to be unanimous,” Ecrin pointed out.
Paige sighed. “The motion has passed.” She mimed banging a gavel.
“If that is all,” The Warrior said, “I will be going.”
“Yes,” Leona said, almost thinking they ought to give him a tip, as if he were a helpful bellhop. “Thank you so much, Anatol..for everything.”
The Warrior nodded respectfully, and disappeared.
“Well, he’s right that this feels different. Before, I got blended memories of different times. But this just went back through the last two weeks of my life, with only a little extra from having encountered Ulinthra at Stonehenge before we left for Durus.”
“Yeah, that’s what’s interesting to me,” Brooke said. “There are minor differences in what happened to us between the first time we saw Ulinthra in this time period, and when we saw her again in Panama, but nothing big. I have conflicting memories of recharging my systems on the ship one day, instead of going over navigational calculations; or of Dar’cy and Missy arguing over something trivial, when that actually never happened. But no one died who should have survived. No one was born that shouldn’t have, or anything like that.”
“I guess, in the end,” Ecrin began, “despite all the havoc she wreaked on the world, she wasn’t really all that important. It makes you wonder, do any of us matter? How different would the universe be if any one of us just disappeared?”
“Yes, about that,” a man said as he stepped through an invisible door in the middle of the room. In the timeline that had since been erased, they spent most of their time in Panama, but in the real timeline, Leona only got one day there before everyone went back to Kansas City. A couple years ago, they decided to move to one of the outer Northwest Forest circles, which was where they were now.
Ecrin tilted her head in friendly, mild surprise. “Ennis, how nice to see you again.”
Ennis looked like a mailman, complete with shorts, a cap, and a large satchel. He also had terrible burn scars on his face. “Miss Cabral, hello.” He tipped the cap.
“What do you have for us?” Ecrin asked him. “Anything good.”
“I guess,” he said.
“What did you mean, about that?” Leona asked. “About what?”
“Oh, you were talking about people disappearing, and I have something for you that is relevant to that.” He pulled a thick folder out of his bag, but did not hand it to anyone. “I was meant to come to you earlier, but I’m not allowed on Durus, and I don’t do moving vehicles. I could have given it to you after that, but I was told to leave you alone during the Ulinthra corruption. So I’m here now, at my earliest convenience, to give you this.” He handed the heavy folder to Leona.
Leona didn’t open it, but looked to Ecrin for guidance. She trusted her judgment.
Ecrin nodded. “If The Courier hands you something, it belongs to you. He’s legit.”
“Mrs. Matic,” Ennis began.
“Miss,” Leona corrected.
This confused him a bit. “I’m sorry, but aren’t you pregnant?”
“What does that have to do with anything?” Leona asked, appalled and offended.
“Well, it’s just, I was told...who’s the father?”
Now Leona was getting really offended. “That is none of your business.”
Ennis scratched at his chin, then took a notepad out of his bag, and started looking them over. “Oh, you’re only starting to remember. Hmm.”
“What? Are you? Talking about?”
“Okay.” Ennis clapped his hands together to begin his explanation. “There was a man. This man..was named Mateo. A...bunch of stuff happened, and then a really powerful asshole took him out time. Kind of like what you did with Ulinthra. And also kind of like Ulinthra, he owned a planet, but in this case, it was legitimate, and the people who lived on it actually liked him. Since he’s no longer here, however, the rights to that planet fall to his next of kin, which is you.”
“You’re telling me I have some relative that I don’t know about, because someone erased his history?” Leona had seen a lot as a salmon, and knew there were entire timelines she had no recollection of, but this was sounding fishy.
“I’m telling you that you had a husband you don’t remember. He’s the father of your child, which means that child is proof that Mateo Matic did indeed exist. His history wasn’t erased. He was erased. You don’t remember everything he did, nor do most people, but he still had an impact on the way things are today. And the days before, since we’re time travelers.”
Leona once again looked to Ecrin, who clearly had no memory of this either. “Again,” she said, “this man doesn’t lie. If he says this dude existed, then he existed.”
“The more the baby grows inside of you,” Ennis went on, “the more it will have an effect on you. You will start remembering. The Superintendent can do a lot, but he can’t stop that. I didn’t mean to suggest you had to be married to have a child, I just thought you were far enough along to start getting your memories back.”
“Okay, okay, okay,” Leona said, trying to wrap her head around having a husband she couldn’t remember. “I’m not saying I believe it, but I’m not saying I don’t. Assuming it’s true, is there any way to prove it? Can me something? Can we get the Warrior back here?”
Ennis shook his head. “The Warrior and The Blender can give you quantum memories from an alternate timeline. But this isn’t an alternate timeline. It’s a corrupted timeline, but still the same timeline. Same same, but different.”
“That doesn’t make any sense, I got blended memories from the Ulinthra corruption, which is what you called it.”
“That shouldn’t have worked either,” Ennis began, “but you made arrangements so that it would. You spoke with The Warrior before Horace used that dagger thing, and prepared him to help you today. That’s not gonna work here. I want to make it clear—and Ecrin can attest to this—I am quite literally the messenger, so don’t shoot me. I didn’t erase Mateo, I can’t put him back, I can’t prove that I’m not lying, and lastly—this is an important one—I can’t put you in touch with the Superintendent. He’s the one who did this, and like a witch’s spell, only he can undo it.” He pointed at the folder, which Leona had yet to open. “That is, if you even wanted him to undo it. Dardius is pretty nice this time of millennium.”
She didn’t know the answer to that. Surely if her memories had been removed against her will, she would want to get them back. Yet this was her life now, and though no sane person would call it a good one, it was one she understood. While she would likely never see Serif again, Leona would never want to lose the memory of her. If they only got together because Mateo wasn’t there instead, then what would happen to her? Could she give up one love for another? “What would that mean for Serif? Was what we had even real?”
“Oof,” Ennis said lightly, “that’s a loaded question. Was Serif real? Technically, no. She was fabricated, but she was fabricated...before Mateo was removed from time.”
“But she was, what? Just some friend?”
“No, you were with her; you and Mateo both. Don’t ask me to give you details on how your relationships worked, I just met you today. Some things I know, some things I don’t.” His watch beeped, as did Leona’s, though she didn’t know why. “Oh, look at that, it’s time. Are you guys going to the show? Do you have tickets?”
“Tickets to what?” Brooke asked.
“The Last Savior’s Last Save? It’s today, in just a few minutes.”
“You mean, she retires after this?”
“Yep, it’s over. The Age of Saviors is kaput. I can hook you up, if you want. I’m pretty good friends with Sanela. Hey Leona, she’s your, Umm. Twice removed? I don’t know how it works, your family tree is crazy.”
This was getting to be too much.
Ennis kept going, “so do you guys want to go, err...?” He trailed off an awful lot.
“That would be lovely,” Paige said.
“Yeah, sure,” Leona agreed. She was the last to step through Ennis’ invisible portal. It would be nice to see Étude again, but honestly, all she could think about was what she was going to do about this Mateo guy.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Fervor: Retourner (Part XIII)

Despite the best efforts of the doctors, Carol Gelen, Leona’s mother, succumbed to death shortly after being admitted to the hospital. Over the course of the next two weeks, the 2025 pathogen spread all over the world. Patients experienced the usual symptoms of a cold,  including a fever, but with some markèd differences. Normally, a pandemic like this would indeed result in deaths. Everyone is affected differently, but the very young, the very old, or those particularly susceptible to to the symptoms, would not all be able to handle it. Yet, everyone in the world seemed to be affected the same way, regardless of their immune system. It was almost like it had been programmed to protect its hosts until it died off, but if Jesi had done that, why would she have not bragged about it. And if she had been capable of it in the first place, why did she not just do something in the future, where it came from, and leave the 2025 populace out of it? One interesting component of this—which separates it from all other cold-like diseases—is that no pregnant woman was able to give birth while infected. It is believed no child was conceived during this period either, but data that would support this hypothesis was hard to come by, so the idea was relegated to anecdotal evidence. All in all, presumably from having been so close to patient zero at the earliest stages of outbreak, Carol was the only death known to have occurred as a direct result of the disease. Doctors couldn’t quite explain why, though they suspected someone like me existed, so I was able to get away with murder.
As soon as I had the chance, I pulled the version of Leona that I knew aside, and confessed my sins. She nodded, and waited patiently for me to finish, then she hugged me, and said that it wasn’t my fault. She didn’t blame Jesi either, apparently because she knew exactly who Arcadia and Nerakali were, and that they really were responsible. “I suffered for my parents’ death a long time ago, from my perspective,” she told me. “I’ve mourned them, and I know it can’t be changed. I’ve already seen enough of the timeline be altered, and I do not think it wise to try again. What happened, happened. Do not apologize for your role. If it had not been you, it would have been someone else. The Prestons can’t be reasoned with.” Not long after that, Garen Ashlock, a.k.a. The Action, sought Leona out at the Bran safehouse. She and Slipstream were sent on some secret mission in the future, and only the latter returned. Slipstream promised that Leona was not only safe, but exactly where she belonged. Afterwards, she left the group as well, and returned to her life as leader of the tracer gang. She and Leona never recovered all of their memories, specifically the ones in the early days of this Jesimula debacle, but for the most part, they were both back to their old ways. A few days after this, Hogarth and Hilde received brand new identities from The Forger, and chose to use them to abruptly leave Kansas City, and start new lives. Now it’s just me, Mirelle, and little Brooke. We moved out of the safehouse, so someone in need could use it, and came back to my house.
We’re nearing the end of the month, and I’ve nothing to do. It occurs to me recently that I’ve missed a great deal of my schooling, with no intention to return. When I was living in the future, I did as everyone else at that point in history, which was generally not working. Work in this time is a necessity, but not so in a post-scarcity world. People still have responsibilities, but really only if they want to. If, for instance, you want to help build a space station, then you go through an evaluation to make sure you’re qualified. There aren’t any formal education institutions there, though, so if you want to learn something, you go do it yourself. People spend their days enriching their lives by enjoying time with their families, having fun with hobbies, or learning new things. While I didn’t think I would be there long enough to commit to some society improvement project, I did partake in this education. In only a year’s time, because of the efficiency of this tailor-made program, I basically have the equivalent of a high school diploma. Going back to crappy 21st century school just seems like a waste of time. My fathers, if they ever come back, or are even alive, will surely understand. Afterall, I’m an adult now, right?
There’s a knock at the door. I jump up to grab it, thinking Mireille is busy entertaining Brooke, but she’s already taken care of it. Hilde is standing on the porch with a man, and no Hogarth. “Can we come in?”
“You can,” Mireille says, “but can he?”
“He has good references,” Hilde assures her. “He’s here to help.”
“Help with what?”
Hilde’s eyes dart up to me, standing mid-staircase. “Help with Paige.”
Mireille looks back up at me as well. “Come in, then.”
I walk downstairs, and follow them into the living room. “What’s going on?”
“Paige, this is Merton Casey,” Hilde announces. “He can put you right.”
“What exactly does that mean?” I question, suspicious of both of them.
“He can reverse your aging. Hogarth and I have been...networking. We finally found someone who can make you the age you’re meant to be.”
“What if I don’t want that?” I ask.
Hilde nods patiently. “We thought you might feel that way, so we brainstormed ways to convince you that this is for the best.”
“And what did you come up with?”
“Nothing,” Hilde says. “You know the advantages and disadvantages of being a twenty-something with the mind of a young teenager. I honestly can’t tell you which you should choose; I can tell you what I would choose.”
“You would go back,” I nod understandingly.
“No,” she says solemnly. “I’m the product of rape. My mother and I spent so long running from my birth father that I don’t know where I was born. I don’t even know if my mother remembers, wherever she is now. Children are vulnerable, as my mother could have told you when she was eleven.” She waits. “I would have jumped at the chance to grow up, so I could protect myself like she couldn’t, and I wouldn’t have regretted it. But you’re not me, or my mother, and your fathers aren’t my father. They deserve to raise you.” She finally exhales.
“Thank you for telling me that. I’m always here for you.” I take a moment. “Okay, I’ll do it. But don’t make me fourteen. I’ve lived a whole year since then. I’m fifteen now.”
Hilde looks to Merton for guidance, who shuts his eyes and nods slightly. “Now, from what I gather, this is going to be different than when Jesi did it. He’s going to have to get...” she trails off.
Merton looks away in shame.
“He’s not deaf,” Hilde starts over. He doesn’t talk, because women often need his services, and it’s not...great for him to have to do that. He actually doesn’t like doing it at all, and each time has scarred him a little more.”
Now I’m getting scared. “What does he have to do?”
“Jesimula’s power works by altering the passage time within an alternate temporal dimension. She basically made time move faster for you while you were in the bubble, without worrying about things like food, water, and sleep, which you would need to age in the real world.”
“Mister Casey, on the other hand, has to...physically alter your age. He has to touch you,, everywhere.”
Merton plants his face in his palms, and mumbles something.
“What was that?”
Too young,” Mireille says. “That’s what he said, too young.”
“You agreed to this, Merton,” Hilde reminds him.
Merton rubs his closed fist on his chest.
“I don’t want you to be sorry,” Hilde says to him. “I want you to ignore your instincts to stay away from a minor, and just pretend that you’re a doctor.”
Merton stands up, and shakes his head. He rubs his chest again, and starts to back away. A woman suddenly appears, and places her hand on his shoulder. “It’s okay, Merton. I’m going to make an exception for you. No one will ask you to do this ever again, not while you’re in Sanctuary. Would you like that?”
He tears up and nods graciously.
“Okay, I’ll be there soon for orientation.” The woman somehow makes Merton disappear.
“Dammit,” Hilde whispers, not mad at Merton for not being able to do it, or at this woman for stopping him, but still mad. “Now we have to go find Jesi.”
“No need for that,” the woman says, literally rolling up her sleeves. “I can do it for you. Besides, it was about time I meet my baby sister.”
Hilde and I look in the general direction of Brooke, who is apparently napping in the other room.
“No, not her,” the woman says. “Paige. My name is Meliora Rutherford Delaney-Reaver. Horace Reaver was my father.”
Was?” I echo nervously. “Is he dead?”
“Oh, heavens no,” Meliora swears. “He’ll be back with Serkan soon. I used the past tense, because he was my father in a completely different timeline. He doesn’t remember me at all. I still consider us sisters, though. I hope one day, you can as well.”
“You used two other last names,” I say. “Are you also related to Leona Delaney, and the infamous Lincoln Rutherford?”
“Yes to the first; a different version of Leona was my mother. The second was my foster father in that timeline. He actually contacted me when he realized what Miss Unger and her girlfriend were doing.”
“How would he know?”
“He knows everything.”
I can barely speak. “Leona and my dad were...together?”
“You kinda had to be there,” Meliora says. “I can explain when you’re younger. Are you ready?”
I lean back against the chair. “Do it.”
Meliora does have to touch me a lot to reverse my aging. She presses on my breasts to make them slimmer, on my head to make me smaller, and on my limbs to make them shorter. She rubs her fingers down my face to youngify it, and taps on my throat to change my voice. It only takes a moment, but once it’s done, I feel like a new person. “You’ll need rest,” she instructs me as her watch is beeping. “We got this done just in time. “You don’t need to tell them about me until you catch each other up on more important things.”
“Tell who?” I ask.
There’s a flash of light from the empty original laundry room, which we don’t use, because it’s in a weird location. Three men fall out of this light, and crash onto the floor. It’s Ace, Serkan, and some guy wearing a mask. Mireille helps Ace up while I’m taking care of Serkan. Meliora is gone.
“Dad, dad, you’re back!” I exclaim. I only realize now that we never decided what I would call which of my fathers. We always just know who I’m referring to based on context.
“Paige, I’ve missed you,” Serkan says, embracing me.
“What have you been doing this whole time?” I ask him.
“It’s not even been a month for him,” Ace explains. “We’ll get into that later. Your dad needs to rest and recover. K-Boy, can you run to the pharmacy for us? You know what to get.”
The masked man stands up for himself, and nods deliberately, like a Power Ranger. Then he runs off at superhuman speed.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Microstory 940: Virtual/Augmented Reality

At the moment, my job entails traveling to different sites around the city, and sometimes farther. I perform a multitude of tasks, but all of them are what I call auxiliary. Mail, shipping, and printing services are all important components of a company, but they’re not directly part of the company’s primary business needs. The company I work for provides these other companies with these other services, so they don’t have to do it themselves. This has exposed me to a lot of different corporate environments, and has taught me a lot about how people interact with each other. I was recently working at a site that was in the early stages of forming a relationship with a virtual reality company to enrich their employee education program. Because my job at this particular site involved troubleshooting audio/visual equipment, my supervisor there was invited to a hands-on meeting to try out this technology. Which meant I got to attend as well. After the meeting, he and I started discussing how our company could use similar technology to improve our business, and it ultimately got me thinking about how the tools can be good for practically any business. Training at the virtual reality level can be immensely beneficial. If you’ve never tried VR, it really does make you feel like you’re there, because when you turn around, you see the whole room. This gets the brain used to seeing practices and procedures as they would be seen in the real world. When a technician, for instance, looks at a machine, and a part is out of place, graphics can be superimposed in their field of view, which shows them exactly how to repair it, or perform maintenance. This can be used to train new employees, or heck, even be used in the field during real service calls. Theoretically, any layperson could make the repair, because everything they needed to do would be shown right there. Take it a step further and you could program specific daily procedures into a department’s system. An associate could simply look at a piece of mail, and an arrow will tell tell which mail slot it goes in. When they go out to deliver, more arrows will point them down the hallway, and to the right mail stop. This might sound like science fiction, but this level of technology actually does exist. Along with refinement, most of what we need now is data, which I understand is no small feat. Google Glass first came out as a niche technology for nerds who just wanted to try out a new form factor. What they should have done—and are apparently starting to do now—is market the device to various industries. Medical professionals can use artificial intelligence to diagnose a patient, or simply keep data available without physically picking up their chart. A security team can have a list of banned visitors, and spot offenders before they get anywhere near the door. We’re doing a lot of experiments in these earlier days, and focusing on the gaming possibilities, but there are so many other things virtual and mixed reality can do for us. It can make our lives so much easier, and even safer. I’m so excited for the future.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Microstory 939: Fire and Water

I want to start off by making it clear that I am in no way an arsonist, or obsessed with fire. I don’t even like it more than any other person, but along with water, it’s one of the most profoundly important components of the universe. We need both of these two things to survive, even long before we could manipulate and control the former, or make the latter safe enough to drink. The control of fire is believed to have first been done by the ancestors of man between one and two million years ago. This marked a turning point in our history. It allowed us to keep warm, ward off predators, and cook our food. As I said in my Stepwisdom series, we do not know of a single civilization that did not cook its food. Wow, a lot of these entries are repeats. Does that make me wise? I don’t know, you tell me...but yes. What I said about it there is that the intense heat is primarily good for killing off pathogens, but that’s not all. Despite what you may have been told about the raw food craze, cooked food is not only perfectly acceptable, but healthy. Fad dietitians may claim our species has not had time to adapt to modern foods, and in some cases, this is true, especially when it comes to synthetic ingredients. But you would be surprised how quickly we can change in but a few generations. Our bodies have evolved to digest cooked food, and absorb the majority of its nutrients. Likewise, we’ve evolved out of the ability to live on a lot of raw foods, particularly meats. Meanwhile, our carnivorous animal brethren are completely fine with tearing the flesh off a fresh kill. I won’t say anything further about it, nor will I go over yet again the benefits of drinking water. Both deserved to be on this list, but you don’t need a master’s thesis on them.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Microstory 938: Social Media

Way back in the day, people were using social media before they were calling it that. I had an AOL Instant Messenger account when I was eleven years old, and several more over the course of the next nine or ten years, until it started falling out of favor. I spoke primarily to strangers by searching “common interests” that I realize now no one was taking seriously. Back then, we didn’t have internet safety discussions in the elementary school library. We had to figure out for ourselves that, just because someone claimed they could be trusted online, didn’t mean it was true. Most of us intuited that we were not to give out personal information, aided by the fact that AOL asked us to create usernames, rather than use our real names. These were not even the early days of internet communication. People before by time were using newsgroups, and…I wanna say, usenets? I’m not sure what they were exactly, but I can guess they were fairly unsophisticated. Come high school, people were still using instant messengers, but it was becoming hip to have a permanent web presence. Sites like MySpace, Xanga, and even were vying to give you their free accounts. I built a few stupid websites on my own before then, and never thought it would be something almost everyone had. But I guess it just had to become easier, and require no coding skills (I taught myself HTML, but for some reason, didn’t become the next Bill Gates, which is weird). Soon, one social media engine was seen to be moving faster than all the others. Facebook was edging out all competition to be the dominant force. You had to have a legitimate college email address, had to request your institution be added if it wasn’t already there, and it was generally expected that you use your real name. Instead of pointless blog posts, or innocuous conversations, this was designed to maintain contact with people to which you were no longer necessarily geographically linked. It was also helpful for school itself. I used it extensively to ask for help from my classmates; a fact that ultimately led me to deleting my account once I graduated from college. Facebook was only getting better, adding more features by the month, and eventually letting anyone over the age of thirteen in, whether they were attached to a school, or not. But a pattern emerged from this as well.

There are four main types of Facebook posts. One: personal tidbits/irrelevant aglets of conversation. Two: memes. Three: news. Four: fake news. I don’t care about most of it, and always found myself using Twitter mostly. Why? Not in spite of, but because of, the character limit. It was nearly impossible to go on a rant in Twitter’s early days. If you wanted to say something, you had to think about how to shorten it, thereby only expressing the most vital information. It allows me to keep up on the news, and the fact that you can’t post the text of an entire article means it’s much harder to spread misinformation. While I’m meant to connect with everyone I know on Facebook, I don’t feel bad about only following people I want to hear from on Twitter. After nearly eleven years of this, my Twitter game remains strong. I have three accounts, which are accompanied by an Instagram account I don’t use as much as I would like. I have since created a new Facebook account too, but I don’t scroll through the feed, and am only interested in sharing my original content. I don’t understand the appeal of Snapchat and Instagram stories, because if I tell you something, I want you to remember it, not limit it to your short-term memory, after which you move on to something else. I do appreciate that others are getting something out of it, though, along with Facebook. I just hope you don’t pay too much attention to that fake news. That’s exactly what the Russians want. Come on over to Twitter, where it’s fairly clear who you should follow, and who you shouldn’t.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Microstory 937: Education

As you’ve seen from a few other posts, and will continue to see as this series continues, I’m a huge proponent of education. I believe in the availability of knowledge, and the truth that understanding is the true purpose of life. I’ve worked at literally dozens of different companies, and many of these organizations are almost completely meaningless. As depicted in films like Office Space, most of your jobs are complete nonsense. In the beginning of civilization, everything anyone did mattered. There were those who grew corn, because people needed to eat corn to survive. The corn growers traded with the fur traders, because they needed furs to keep them warm, so they could survive in the winter until they could go back to planting corn. And the fur traders needed shelters to live in, so they traded with builders to build the shelters. And thus the fundamental tenets of capitalism were born. Despite what fancy-pants words get thrown around regarding how other nations handle their governmental rule, or lack thereof, we are all capitalists. I perform labor for you, you give me money. I give you money, you give me product or service. Nearly everyone operates on these principles, whether they like it or not. A few smatterings of communes and hermits manage some modicum of independence from this, but not in all ways. They don’t create their own fabric from scratch, nor the saddles on their horses. Capitalism is not the best way to run a planet; it’s just the only one that works for now. But this can change, and it all come down to education and awareness.

The main reason so many teenagers are getting pregnant is because they’re being taught misguided practices, primarily by religious nuts, who more often than not, do not practice what they preach. The reason people all over the world are starving and homeless is because we are indoctrinated from birth to horde our resources. Some altruistic people teach their children that it is noble to give to those in need, when instead, we should all be taught that this is just something that you do. Our whole society is built upon the concept that, if you want to help someone else, you have to lose something of yourself. We are actively discouraged from such behavior, which makes it even harder for the willing to actually do some good. It all comes down to education. The more people who know more, the better we all are. If Teds—Nugents and Cruzes alike—of the world were given a proper education, they might be able to see how their political positions are harming others. Without it, their ignorance is killing people.  We should do away with the unproductive and counterproductive work that some rich people fabricated for the sake of wealth. Sure, it builds employment, but in this day and age, with so much automation, is that really necessary anymore. I’m not saying we should all go back to farming corn (which is a trash crop) and trading furs (which is cruelty at its worst). I’m just saying that we should focus our attention on contributing positively to the betterment of the human race, and the world in general. And that all comes down to education.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Microstory 936: Douglas Adams

My sister gave me the book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for my eighteenth birthday, just in time to see the film adaptation in theatres before it disappeared. For some strange reason, I liked science, and I liked fiction, but I didn’t seem to seek out a lot of science fiction. At the time, I didn’t watch Star Trek, Stargate, or similar franchises. I had heard of Douglas Adams books, but didn’t think I would enjoy them. They have since become my favorite books. The summer after graduating from high school, I went off to volunteer at a farm in Ceres, California. One of the first questions the fellow volunteer who drove me there from the airport asked me was whether I liked to read. I said that I didn’t, because it was true. But I still had four more Hitchhiker’s books to read, so I wasn’t going to let a little thing like my own personality stop me. We were given a break sometime later, and decided to take a weekend trip to San Francisco, which was where I bought the rest of the series. I was so fascinated by the brilliant writing that I couldn’t put them down but to work, eat, and sleep. I was even that weird guy at the party who went there with a book, which confused everyone who had learned that I was not much of a reader. This was the same party, by the way, that inspired some of the details of the story in my Dreams series called Man Planes, God Laughs. As I’ve worked tirelessly on my craft, and my canon, I’ve drawn inspiration from a number of sources, mostly television, but Douglas Adams books are part of that too. I love his wit, and I try to emulate it whenever I’m writing something humorous, or even just a little lighter. There’s that hypothetical question about which historical figure from all of time you would most like to meet, and Douglas Adams is my answer. Rest in peace, Mr. Adams. You were taken from us too soon.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: September 21, 2198

In one of the other timelines, a bad Horace Reaver formulated a plan to capture Mateo Matic, whom he considered to be his archrival, once and for all. After years of trying to track his movements, he was finally sure of where Mateo would reappear in the timestream after an interim year, within a couple dozen meters. He was also in the right position to purchase the entire chunk of land, so when Mateo did come back, he would do so right in a trap. While his plan ultimately failed, due to a number of unforeseen traitors, Horace was confident he would be able to employ the same strategy again, but make it work this time. This he explained to Leona Matic, who was meant to be in a relationship with Mateo. But this was a new timeline, and something had happened that had somehow prevented Leona from remembering him. The name sounded familiar, like that of an actor you know you’ve seen in a number of films and series, but cannot identify a single one at the moment. His name elicited a response of love and connection that Leona could not explain. Someone had messed with reality, and her memories of it. Unfortunately, this was not the time to deal with it. Right now, they needed to put Ulinthra and her plans to rest, and Horace’s idea was exactly what she was hoping for. It had even worked.
Horace let Leona sleep after she came back in 2198, because there wasn’t anything they needed from her. Once she was awake, he proudly marched her into the interrogation room he had commissioned two months ago after he and the whole world had finally located Ulinthra’s whereabouts. Ulinthra came back a week before Leona did, showing that the time-skipping pattern was wearing off. “Don’t worry,” Horace said. “This is Round Two of today, and you did not speak with her the first time around. Everything you say to her now will be just as unpredictable for her as any normal human conversation.” He looked towards the glass, and flipped on the lights inside, which illuminated Ulinthra on the other side. She was not only in a different room, but also locked in another confinement chamber, as if Hannibal Lecter. “She has lost all of her leverage.”
“So you didn’t find what I described?” Leona asked him.
“They’re still looking. No one else knows what it can do.” His eyeballs fluttered to Ulinthra, then back to Leona. “Not even her, I presume.”
Leona took a breath. “I never told her. At least I have no memory of telling her.”
Horace nodded in understanding.
“I’m kind of surprised she’s still alive, though. Lots of people have it out for her, not the least of which is you.”
“It wasn’t hard to keep the radicals at bay. Capital punishment was outlawed everywhere decades ago, which surprises me, but it did make it easier to keep Ulinthra safe. I don’t want her dead. She’s the only one of my kind.”
“Yet, you..” Leona trailed off.
“...would do anything for you,” Horace completed her sentence for her. “I’m not like this Ace you told me about. “While I’m no longer the antagonist, I’m still a villain. If I weren’t going to die anyway, it would probably be in your best interests to kill me after her.”
“Why would you die at all? We have this figured out. Everything in the other time branch happened just as it did before. The Arborist was wrong; we didn’t create a paradox. You don’t have to go back.”
Horace smiled kindly. “That’s not it.” He was going to continue, but was accidentally interrupted.
“Is anyone going to come talk to me, or what?” Ulinthra asked from her cell. “Let’s get this enhanced interrogation party started!”
Horace scoff-laughed. “It’s nice to be on this side of a prison cube.”
“Yeah,” Leona smiled coyly. “I see you used a similar design. Maybe you need to talk to a professional about your hang-ups.” She gave him a wink.
“I love you,” Leona thought Horace whispered, but she couldn’t be certain. She decided to not embarrass him by pushing the issue. “I mean, I’ll be right here.”
Leona nodded. “Horace, if everything goes according to our absolutely insane plan, I’m going to need you more than ever. I won’t be able to help tomorrow.”
“I won’t let you down,” Horace said to her, wiping a tear from his cheek. “Not this time.”
“Thank you,” Leona said solemnly. Then she opened the door and went into the other room.
“Ah,”  Ulinthra said. “I thought it might be your day, but I lose track of time in here. They’ve got some system going. I know that my days are resetting, just like always, but they make it hard to see it. That’s a form of torture. Guiltless Leona of yesterday would not approve.”
“I wasn’t here yesterday,” Leona said, knowing full well that Ulinthra was using the term in a more general sense.
Ulinthra tried to hide a smile. “Funny. I do want to extend my congratulations. Clever recruiting Horace Reaver. I would have thought of that, but I wouldn’t think you would have thought of it. I’m impressed.”
“I appreciate your support. You know why I’m here?”
“For the first time in my life, I do not,” Ulinthra answered.
“You stole something from me, years ago. I want it back.”
Ulinthra tilted her head to think. “I stole many things. I stole a planet from its peoples. I stole the lives of people you loved. I stole the hearts of my loyalists. But I don’t think I stole anything that I could ever give back.”
“This was literal.”
Ulinthra thought some more. It didn’t seem like a game. She genuinely might not have known what Leona was talking about. “I’m afraid I legit don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“My family heirloom.”
“Oh, that sword thing? The glass sword?”
“It’s a dagger, and it means a great deal to me.”
“Okay...sorry? I don’t know what you want me to say. I tossed it a long time ago, I think in a swamp. I don’t really remember, it meant nothing to me.”
Leona studied Ulinthra’s face for a moment. “Nah, you didn’t throw it out. It intrigued you, and you could tell that it was special.”
“It is—I mean was? What does it do?”
Leona needed a lie that was believably interesting. Ulinthra needed to feel like it allowed her to maintain leverage over Leona, but still consider giving it up for the right price. It was a good thing that Leona and Vitalie had spent last night thinking of a good one. “It removes your time powers...or pattern, depending on what subspecies you are.”
It was working. Ulinthra leaned back to see if she believed it. “A stabby thing that takes away powers?”
“Think of it as...a prototype for The Warrior’s Sword of Assimilation,” Leona explained. “It can’t transfer powers, but it can take take ‘em out.”
“It does look old, like it could have been one of The Weaver’s early inventions.”
Leona nodded slightly, and consistently.
“But no, I’m not buyin’ it.”
Leona closed her eyes in exasperation. “I am tired. You may enjoy rewinding your days, but I can’t do that. I was blessed with suck, and I want it gone.”
“Why didn’t you use it before?” Ulinthra questioned. “It’s unlikely I stole it just after you received it.”
“Actually it wasn’t all that long after, but that wasn’t why I hadn’t tried it yet. First of all, it doesn’t work alone. It’s one of two ingredients,” Leona continued to lie. “The other is easy to come by, but I just hadn’t gotten a chance yet. I have what I need now.”
“And second of all?” Ulinthra waited.
“Secondly, it’s a dagger. I wasn’t relishing the idea of stabbing myself with it. It requires something bigger than a wee papercut, but not so damaging that I can’t heal. If I just wanted to kill myself to end it all, I would have used any other dagger.”
“I see.” Ulinthra definitely believed the lie now. “What’s the second ingredient; the thing that makes the dagger work?”
“I’m withholding that. You need to tell me where it is.”
“No,” Ulinthra said firmly. “I don’t need my powers gone, I don’t care what happens to yours, and as long as I’m stuck in here, I can’t use it to control my enemies.”
“This feels like a classic impasse,” Leona said. “I can’t let you go until you give me the dagger, and you can’t use the dagger unless I give the other ingredient. The difference between you and me, however, is this barrier between us, and who’s on which side of it. I also have time. You’ll rot in here for years before I get the hankering for Chinese food again. I can wait.”
Ulinthra laughed abruptly, and loudly. “You don’t even know why that’s funny, because you don’t remember—”
“Mateo Matic?” Leona took a guess.
“So you do remember.”
“I remember...” Leona paused for effect, “that I know people with powers. Your problem is that you relied too heavily on yourself. You didn’t make any friends. I don’t have that problem, so when I asked my mind-reader buddy for a favor, he just did it. I don’t even owe him one.” She looked over at the glass, on the other side of which no one was standing, but Horace Reaver. “He’s just standing over there, getting ready to tell me where the dagger is. All I needed was for you to think about it in your brain.” Leona tapped on her own temple, again for effect.
“What? No, you’re lying.”
Leona shrugged. “Maybe I am, but you’ll die in here, never knowing for sure.”
Suddenly, there was gunfire on the other side of the door. Leona jumped out of her chair, and slinked back in fear. Ulinthra was noticeably frightened as well, because she didn’t yet know if this was a good thing or not. The firefight stopped, replaced with a grinding sound as someone was cutting through the wall with a laser. Once they were all the way through, people with guns slipped inside. One of them raised his weapon, and shot Leona right in the stomach.
“Oh my God!” Ulinthra cried as she watched Leona fall to the floor.
Leona had experienced a lot of pain in her life. She had lost everyone she had ever cared about, and despite being a time traveler, she rarely ever saw them again. But this. This was pain unlike any other. She did not expect it to feel like this.
“Is it a trick?” Ulinthra asked. “It’s a trick.”
“Lord Arianrhod,” the man who shot Leona said. “We’ve come for you.”
“You shot her!” Ulinthra shouted at him.
“Ma’am,” he affirmed.
“I wasn’t done with her yet!”
“I’m sorry, ma’am. What can I do?”
“You can shoot yourself in the head.”
Without hesitation, the man lifted his pistol, and did exactly as he was told. His dead body fell right next to Leona’s dying one. Their blood started intermingling as someone managed to unlock the prison cube. The last thing Leona felt before she died was Ulinthra’s warm fingers on her neck, checking for a pulse that would soon be gone.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Fervor: The Trinity is a Paradox (Part XII)

A kind woman is helping me up from the hot pavement of a rooftop parking lot. As I’m trying to recover from the lightshow, I see Jesi running down into the garage, still wearing her hazmat suit, and freaking out a couple walking back to their car. “Should I call the police?” the woman asks me.
“They couldn’t do anything,” I say. “She’s too powerful.” I remember what’s just happened, and scramble away from the woman. “Oh no, get away from me, I’m sick!” I look around, as if it would be possible to see the pathogen spreading through the air, or more ridiculously, that if possible, I could do anything about it.
“Hey, it’s okay,” she says to me calmly. “We’ll get to a hospital and figure this out. What exactly is it that you think you have?”
“They called it anthrolysis.”
They, who?”
I can’t answer that question, because I’m determined to keep time travel a better secret, and she picks up on this.
“Everything is going to be all right. I’m Carol Gelen. What’s your name?”
“Paige. Paige Turner.”
This somehow seems to catch her off guard. She reaches into her back pocket, and opens a sheet of paper. “I received this in the mail. Not an email, but the old fogey kind. I thought it was strange that a new bookstore would open after nearly all others have closed in recent years. I couldn’t pass up the offer for one free softcover book to the first fifty people who show up to its grand opening, though.” She hands me the flyer. “I figured it was a prank, because I can’t find a store by that name anywhere. I came back up here to leave.”
KC Page Turner Book Emporium,” I read. “Jesi, you bitch,” I mutter.
“This wasn’t me.” Jesimula Utkin has appeared next to me. She sounds sincere. “I’m Alt!Jesi, from the other reality. I’ve just learned what this is. The Prestons have it out for this woman’s children.”
“I don’t have children,” Carol corrects her. “I only have a daughter.”
“In this timeline, yes.”
The fear in Carol’s eyes. She pulls her phone out of her pocket, and almost drops it, trembling like a newborn fawn. “Hey Thistle, call Leona.”
“No,” I say out loud, absorbing some of Carol’s fear into my own eyes as she’s confirming that her daughter is still alive. “Please tell me that’s a more common name than I knew.”
Jesi frowned at me. “Technically it’s a different Leona than you know. The one at the Ponce is far older.”
“I saw you teleport,” Carol says to Jesi after hanging up. “I thought I was seeing things when Miss Turner here did it, but obviously not. What is going to happen to my little girl?”
“She will be fine,” Jesi assures her. “Well, maybe that’s not the best word to use, but she will survive, and she’ll become a hero. She meets a boyfriend and a girlfriend, and has two wonderful children. You actually met your grandchildren, as did your late husband, you just didn’t know it.” That was shockingly generous of Jesi to say, and it seems to be helping Carol feel better.
“But I’m still going to die?” Carol asks.
“It’s like it’s already happened,” Jesi confirms
“No,” I say. “We can stop this. Send me back.”
Jesi frowns at me again as she’s taking out her phone. “Okay Thistle, call Ophir.” She waits a second. “Fifi. Emergency evac to KU Med in realtime. One patient. The human.”
“She doesn’t need a hospital; she needs a reset,” I argue.
A man appears, picks Carol up like they’re newlyweds, and disappears again.
“Arcadia and Nerakali are not going to let this go. Mrs. Gelen died in the other timeline, and I don’t deign to understand why she has to die in this one, but I do not question them.”
“How is that possible? You don’t back down.”
“From them, I do. Anything more would be suicide. I’m sorry, Paige, but the only thing  we can do for Patient One right now is keep her comfortable until she dies.”
“At least take her to Doctor Hammer,” I suggest. “She might stand a chance at fixing this.”
“That is precisely why I didn’t involve Hammer. I’m trying to tell you, it’s hopeless. Her fate has been decided.”
Now I’m getting angry. “Yeah, decided by you! You can blame others all you want, but this was your doing, and you will have to live with yourself.”
“Not if I erase my own memories. I can do the same for you.”
“No,” I say, seething. “I wanna remember how much I hate you.”
“I think you’ll one day forgive me. Afterall, I’m the reason you just saved the world. Yes, someone died, but omelettes and eggs, right?”
I’m getting angrier. “People! Are not! Omelettes! Carol was a human bei—is. She is a human being!”
“In this analogy, Carol would be the egg, and humanity would be the—”
“Argh!” I scream. I invoke my memories of watching football with my dad. He doesn’t actually like sports all that much, but gambling on games with the power to vaguely recall the future is how he makes his money. I pull my arms in, and lower my head, so I can barrel right into her, like a...uhh...linebacker? Jesi’s nearly over the edge when a pair of hands tugs me at the waist. She’s still about to fall to her death when a second pair of hands saves her just in time. But it’s the same pair, and both belong to me. Two other versions of me just stopped me from making the biggest mistake of my life.
Second!Paige regards Third!Paige with surprise. “In the other timeline,” Third!Paige explains, “you pull First!Paige off of Jesimula, but it’s too late. Jesi ends up tipping over.”
I can’t speak.
“One thing you’ll learn, First,” Third!Paige says to me, “is that sometimes you can change the past, and sometimes you’re just completing a predestined loop.”
I still can’t speak. Part of me is in shock from encountering two other versions of myself, and the rest is still vengeful against Jesimula Utkin.
“The question now,” Second!Paige begins, “is what do we do with the three of us?”
“Easy,” Jesi says. “You have to do a physical blend.”
I finally feel up to joining the bizarre conversation.“What is that?”
Choosers tend to not like there being alternate versions of themselves running around,” Third!Paige starts, “so they join together, and form a new person.”
“This new person has the combined memories of the originals, which is why I’m not so sure we should do it,” Second!Paige adds. “Both of us remember killing Jesi, and I don’t want you to have to go through that. Besides, blending brains is bad enough, but quantum merging two bodies is said by some to be more painful than childbirth. I’ve never heard of it being done by three people.”
“Irrelevant,” Jesi says. “It’s immoral to remain apart. Jupiter Rosa is the only exception.”
“You’re one to talk,” Second!Paige says to her.
“The other Jesi and I will be quantum merging soon, I promise you that,” Jesi claims.
Third!Paige faced Jesi more straight on. “You should go before a fourth version of us has to come back in time, and save your life again.”
“I have business on the plaza,” Jesi responds, looking at her watch. “Fair warning, I’m only sliding a few minutes into the future. Be here, or be somewhere else.” She forms a temporal bubble, and disappears.
Second!Paige looks at her watch. “We should get going anyway. The rest of the team is going to be worried about her.”
“We can’t show ourselves to them,” Third!Paige reminds her.
“I know,” Second!Paige agrees. “Which means we don’t have long to settle our affairs, and say our goodbyes.”
Both of the other Paiges take sunglasses out of their respective pockets, and place them on their faces, completely in sync, like they practiced it ahead of time. Second!Paige puts on a funny hat. I guess we don’t want to draw attention to ourselves, which three triplets at somewhat different ages would do. We climb the stairs in silence. Once we’re back down on the street, I look back up to the roof, and see Jesimula Utkin creepily staring at us. I watch her for a moment, then turn away, and follow myself down the block. The disguises seem to be working, because nobody gives us a second look as we stroll the plaza.
“Why do we have to say goodbye again?” I ask of them.
“Jesi’s right in that we shouldn’t be seen together,” Third!Paige explains, “or interact with each other in the long run. If we’re each to survive independently, then we should do so, well...independently.”
This was sound logic, and I couldn’t figure out how I felt about. These two are me, and I could learn so much from them. They almost feel like my sisters, and I don’t to part from them. But yes, it would be uncomfortable and confusing for our fathers, and I don’t want them dealing with that. It’s already bad enough that I’m now one of their peers.
Second!Paige sighs deeply. “Our biggest hurdle is which of us gets to go back, and which has to go somewhere else?”
“How would you even get there?” Third!Paige asks her.
“I would...” Second!Paige tries to sound like she knows what she’s talking about, “make contact.”
“With whom?”
“You know many choosers?”
“Someone could take me there.”
“Someone, like Ophir Adimari?” Third!Paige questions.
“Yeah, maybe,” Second!Paige argues.
“I have something better,” Third!Paige says. She removes what look like two phones from her back pockets. I assume they’re not really phones, though. “I found Ophir after Jesi died by my hand for the second time, and asked him to take me back there. I had spent years not wanting to try to change history again, thinking it would  only end in disaster, knowing that only Asuk could help me through it. Our fathers were great, but I felt such shame every time I looked at them, I couldn’t bear it. Going back to the future helped immensely, but at a terrible price. Ophir, Jesi, Keanu, and all their friends are horrible people, who don’t do anything for free. Ophir wanted too much from me, so I came back to fix it all, but not before I made these.” She hands one device to Second!Paige, and the other to me.
“What are they?” I ask.
“Photos. Hundreds of millions of them,” Third!Paige answers. “There’s one photo for very day of eight thousand years, in a couple hundred strategic locations around the world. It can take you all the way to about five-thousand B.C.E.”
I examine the device itself, without even turning it on. “They all fit on this one thing?”
“That baby holds eight petabytes, and I’ve used almost all of it. For reference, a petabyte is a million gigs.”
“How did you find pictures before the camera was invented?” Second!Paige asked.
Third!Paige smirks. “I used a time traveling camera, that someone else invented. It doesn’t matter, the point is that those are yours. First!Paige, you’ll stay here, and continue your life. Jesi isn’t likely to be done with you, and her friends have their own nefarious projects going on. Keep a lookout. Second!Paige, you can be the one to go see Asuk, and his family. As you know, this is a different timeline, so they won’t have any clue who you are.”
“Where will you go?” Second!Paige asks graciously.
Third!Paige’s smirk grows larger. “Hey Glasses, telescope mode.” The lenses of her sunglasses turn a deeper black. She looks up, and looks around at the sky, until she settles on one point. “How about Tau Ceti?” Then she disappears.
“Did she just go to a different planet?” I ask. “How is that possible? She wasn’t looking at a photo.”
Now Second!Paige smirks as she’s flipping through her camera roll. “You don’t need a photo. You just need to see where you’re going.” She disappears too.