Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Microstory 963: Adoption

When I was four years old, and still felt okay with making wish lists, I asked for a baby for Christmas. I wasn’t asking for a baby brother or sister, and I certainly wasn’t asking for no doll. I just figured it was about time I have a child to raise myself. Of course this was an absurd idea, but that’s how deeply my imperative to raise children was, even back then. I ended up getting that doll, named him Johnny, and changed his clothes every other day. A few years later, I had still never had a girlfriend, and didn’t think I ever would. Surprise, Past!Self, you were right. A neighbor told me that some children weren’t raised by their parents; that they were given to other families. She didn’t go into detail about why this was necessary, but I figured it out over time. I realized that this was the most logical choice for me, and I’ve held to that sentiment ever since. There are currently hundreds of thousands of children today in foster care—in the United States alone—who have not yet been placed in their forever families. Many will age out of the system, and have to fend for themselves as adults. This reality bothers me quite a bit, and has led me to developing a fairly radical stance on the matter. I keep seeing TV shows and movies get into this issue. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy and girl can’t have children, so they find a surrogate. If it’s a comedy, the surrogate is probably crazy. If it’s a tragedy, the couple just go their whole lives without children. That’s such a terrible message to be spreading to audiences. Infertility/sterility are good reasons to not conceive a child, but not good reasons to not raise a child. It’s troubling how rarely adoption occurs to characters, and they almost never consider adopting an older child. Never forget, you have options.

Everyone wants to be biologically related to their children, and they seem unwilling to budge on this. I don’t how well these fictional stories reflect real life, but judging from the number of foster kids, they’re pretty accurate. The fact is that there are already plenty of people in the world, so we don’t need to be making any more until we find a way to protect those people first. I would love it if your only way of having a child is by conceiving one, or using science, but there are too many kids in need of homes that can’t be unborn. Families come in all shapes and sizes. You don’t need a baby, and you don’t need it to be your baby. Older children need good homes just as much as the babies, but they are easily dismissed—or trivialized, which is how it looks in that new Racist Mark and Rose Byrne film, Instant Family. It’s true that I’ve not yet seen the movie, but since half the trailer shows people “hilariously” getting hit in the head with various objects, I don’t have high hopes for it. Now for the radical part, I’m not entirely convinced that conceiving children shouldn’t be illegal until every child in the world is placed in a good home. The problem is that this would be impossible to enforce, because any punishment for a breach would only hurt children further. So you’re free to go off and live your life as you please, while children across the globe are all but alone. If everyone with the means to adopt did so, our problem would be solved overnight. That’s really why I’m trying to publish a book, because nobody’s going to give a child to a single man who doesn’t have much money, and that has always been my life’s primary driving force. Without it, I probably wouldn’t have any ambition, because the next generation is perpetually the point of life.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Microstory 962: Futurology

In the same way that people study history, there are those of us who study the future. Obviously this endeavor is a lot more difficult, and prone to tons of mistakes, because while history research is about gathering facts, it’s impossible to know for sure what is yet to happen. The more you understand about how we got here, and where we stand today, though, the more accurate the predictions you can make. I first stumbled into the field as recently as 2015. The Advancement of Leona Matic is about a woman who jumps forward one year every day, so her environment is constantly changing, especially nearer the beginning of her journey. In order to tell a realistic tale, I had to figure how technology would progress over time—usually by consulting—which is a problem most speculative writers don’t have to worry about. Most of their stories are set in a single time period, so all they have to do is make their best guess about what life is like at that point. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that’s easy, but this does come with avoidable issues. For instance, in the first Star Trek series, people communicate using handheld devices, and pull a lever to operate the turbolift. Characters in the next show, which is set decades later, use pins attached to their uniforms, and voice activated turbolifts. Lemme tell ya, if we crack faster-than-light communication and travel, we won’t be using no cell phones and elevator controls. There’s no technological barrier happening. Stargate did the same thing when it suggested it would take millions of years to invent an artificial wormhole generator capable of reaching billions of lightyears in a matter of seconds that didn’t need to rotate. But this is all okay, because they’re just stories. Most futurologists are working at solving problems, not by simply predicting the future, but by driving it. I fell in love with the subject, because I’m obsessed with knowing what’s going to happen. I hate surprises, and I hate surprises. It’s really important that you understand how much I hate surprises, including “good” ones. A lot of people would claim they don’t want a surprise party, but secretly do. That’s not me, I legit hate being surprised ambushed. But this isn’t about me, it’s about the people who use their predictions to change the world. Humanity could survive if we never progressed past basic agriculture. We could have enough food, and naturally regulate our population, but who wants that? Every invention you use today, and all that came before it, was first thought of by someone who wasn’t happy with the status quo. We need futurists, or nothing would get better. I’m proud to be slightly less removed from future studies than most people, and will continue to expand my the name of advancement.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Microstory 961: Sassy Compassionate People

If you wanted me to describe the perfect person for me, it would be really easy to come up with the surface characteristics. I prefer shorter, lighter-skinned girls with dark hair. I like a bit of asymmetry, with as few flaws as possible. What attracts me to a man is a bit harder to codify, but I know it when I see it (on a scale from John Barrowman to Channing Tatum, they should be somewhere on that scale, and that’s rare). Obviously, personality is more important than superficial features, which is why I would never rule out falling in love with say, an extraterrestrial alien, or someone with some kind of so-called deformation. But what is a good personality for me? Would I want them to be really outgoing, or be quiet like I am? Should they struggle with self-confidence? Be into science fiction? Should they be just like me, or my complete opposite? When it comes down to it, the people I find myself liking the most share two common traits, which may seem contradictory to one another. I like people with attitude and snark, and also compassion. I like when they look at the world from multiple perspectives simultaneously, and are capable of judging fairly what they see, while also being able to play devil’s advocate. They should enjoy cracking jokes, but only in a playful and harmless way. These jokes should not be mean-spirited, or have a negative impact on the progress of the human condition. I care about the world, and the people in it. And when I say that, I mean everyone. I don’t just mean my family, my country, or even my continent. If I had the power to change society on a massive scale, I would use that power to equalize everyone; get rid of money and suffering, and instil a sense of loyalty and love amongst all Earthans. I prefer to surround myself with people who possess the same crazy dreams of a better world. This mix of sass and compassion is important, because I do not believe either one fairs well without the other. A sassy person who doesn’t care about others is really just inconsiderate, callous, and negative. They quickly devolve into a spiteful and vindictive, cynical misanthrope who manipulates others to their own gain. You would think compassionate people are fine enough, and for the most part, that’s true. But I’ve personally found really nice people to often be hesitant to help others grow. In a world where no one can do wrong, and everyone is perfect the way they are, people can’t improve themselves, or learn to fail. It’s not inevitable, but compassion plus sass gives an individual the edge they need to truly understand what others are going through, because there’s a difference between compassion and empathy. Empathy is a prerequisite for any decent human being, so if you don’t have it, you don’t matter to me in the slightest. Regardless of how you feel about flaws, if you’re incapable of seeing them in the first place, you’ll never be able to relate to most people, because most people can see those flaws. So please, be nice, but also be interesting.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: September 26, 2203

Everyone at the breakfast table seemed really nervous when Leona came out to join them. They were acting like they wanted her to ask them what was up, but she decided not to. If they wanted to tell her something, then they were certainly capable of doing so. Vitalie seemed the most concerned out of all of them. “Oh my God, if you guys aren’t going to tell her, then I will.”
“Tell me what?” Leona asked, less inquisitively, and more invitingly.
“You are wearing your night clothes,” Vitalie began.
“Good observation. I didn’t know we were meant to be formal.”
“You wear long sleeves to bed.”
“Yeah, I almost always do, because I run cold at night. Is this some kind of apology? I know you had to change me after I passed out from the book, and it’s fine. I trust you all.”
“It’s not that,” Kivi said. “You’re wearing long sleeves, which means you haven’t seen your arm yet.”
“What’s wrong with my arm?” Leona rolled up her sleeve. “It looks fine.”
They didn’t say anything.
“Okay, I guess you mean the other arm. I’m sure it’s—what the fuck is this?”
“It is the...Compass..of Disturbance,” Hogarth noted.
“What’s it doing tattooed on my arm?” Leona shouted. She swung her arm side to side a little. “Holy crap, it’s moving!”
“Yeah, we don’t know why it did that, or how to get it off.”
“What happened, guys? Tell me,” Leona demanded.
“Hogarth,” Kivi started to say, “wanted to explore time and space.”
“That’s not true!” Hogarth argued. “I was looking for the Incorruptible Astrolabe.”
“Did you at least find it before this happened?” Leona questioned.
“The compass only led me back to you,” Hogarth explained. “It took to several random points in spacetime for several minutes, before just coming right back here, to your bedroom, a year from when I first left.”
“Keep going,” Leona prompted. “You’re obviously not finished.”
“The compass flew out of my hand, landed on your arm, and...uh, embedded itself on your skin. I’m surprised you didn’t wake up.”
“I was having an intense dream vision,” Leona said.
“What was it?” Vitalie asked.
“It doesn’t matter. So you’re confirming that this is the compass, rather than just some facsimile.”
“As far as we can tell,” Kivi said, “yeah. It wanted you to be our guide, I guess.”
Leona nodded. “Which means it will take us years to get this done. Otherwise, you could have collected all the ingredients during one of my interim years. The powers that be are exercising their right to do whatever they want with me.”
“I’m sorry,” Hogarth said to her.
Leona shook her head. “We all know this wasn’t your fault. We’re on a quest. If it were easy, someone else would have already done it.”
There was a pause for silent acceptance of this truth.
“So,” Leona said as she was seeing how easy it was to manipulate her animated tattoo, “how do I get this thing to take me to the ingredients?”
Hogarth took a breath. “Think about what you want. Visualize the thing sitting in front of you, and visualize yourself simply walking towards it. The compass normally sort of urges me to turn in the right direction. It’s even got haptic feedback, like a cell phone. I don’t know what it will feel like for you.”
“Okay,” Leona said. “I’ll give it a shot. We don’t know where we’re going, though, so let’s make sure we’re ready. Go to the bathroom, shower, check your go-bags. Do what you have to do, and we’ll leave whenever everyone’s ready.”
A half hour later, everyone was ready. It took some time for Leona to get anywhere with her compass tattoo. She could feel it trying to give her what she needed, but operating it was a skill that required patience and practice, just like any other. “All right, I can see a rift.”
“Where?” Hogarth asked. “Right there?”
“Yes. Can you walk through it if you can’t see it?”
“No, you would have to illuminate it for us. Normally, I would just lift the sighting wire, but since it’s two-dimensi—ugh, gross.”
“Ugh,” the other two concurred.
Leona was actually able to lift the cover with the sighting wire. It didn’t really look like flesh, more like a hologram, but it definitely did look a little like a fold of flesh pulled away from her arm. And it was gross. “Just, look at the rift, not my arm.”
“Oh, I can’t turn away,” Kivi said.
“You can seem the rift, right?” Leona asked. “The sooner we get through it, the quicker I can close this up.”
They walked through the tear in time and space.

They were standing in a half-lit room. There was a printer, and an ATM, and filing cabinets. “We should spread out. Does everyone know what an astrolabe looks like?”
They nodded.
“I do too,” came the familiar voice of a man from the hallway. He turned the corner and walked in. It was The Forger.
“Oh, it’s you. You have the Incorruptible Astrolabe?”
“I do not,” he replied. “Not anymore. How did you know to look here at all? Ennis and Kallias would never have told anyone something like that.”
Leona pulled her sleeve back down to reveal her compass.
The Forger pulled his steampunk goggles down from the top of his head, and got a better look. “Brilliant work. Did Fury make this for you? Or was it Holly Blue?”
“What does Holly Blue have to do with anything?” Leona asked. She was a freedom fighter from the Ulinthra reality, who worked to take her down from the inside. In this version of the timeline, she was working with Brooke and Ecrin on a former warship, solving crimes across the solar system.
He continued to examine Leona’s tattoo. “She can imbue time powers to objects, including tattoos like this one, even though tattoos aren’t really objects.”
“That sounds like The Weaver,” Leona pointed out.
The Forger turned his lenses up, but kept the goggle frames on his face, as he let Leona’s arm go. “Uhuh,” he agreed. Was Holly Blue the Weaver?
“Would you be able to tell us where the astrolabe is, or are we not, like, worthy?” Kivi asked him.
“I will tell you where it is if you answer this one riddle.”
This could be anything. “Very well,” Leona said.
“What do you call a white woman at a Black Lives Matter rally?”
This wasn’t a riddle, it was a joke, and a tasteless one at that. “I don’t know. What do you call her?”
The Forger feigned offense.“You call her by her name, racist.”
Kivi frowned. “So we lost?”
He laughed. “No, you’re good.” He took out a notepad, and scratched something on it. “I gave the astrolabe to a man named Hall. He’s currently living in the Bran safehouse, but younger versions of you two are about to move in, so he may be busy packing boxes.” He indicated Leona and Hogarth.
“We two?” Leona asked. “What year is this?”
“It’s 2025. March. Don’t mess with your own timeline, and don’t try to remember what happened to you during this time period.”
“Of course not,” Leona said. “Never. This is at the Ponce de Leon, right?”
Vitalie accepted the piece of paper from the Forger, but didn’t look at it. “How do we get it from him? Do we just ask?”
“That note’ll do. Let’s call it your hall pass. Get it? Get it? All right, get out of my office. I have a client coming in.” When they started to leave, he stopped them, “that way, please. Through the back.”
They took a driverless ridesourcing vehicle to the edge of the Plaza, and walked the rest of the way to the condominiums where Leona had once lived with a young Brooke Prieto. It was technically located in the Southmoreland neighborhood, but Leona had never treated it as separate. She had fragments of memories of this period in her life, but nothing substantial. Her group at the time had encountered a woman with technology capable of erasing memory, and she had never fixed this before Leona found herself being sent back to the future. She recalled leaving to help Mateo, which was part of a large collection of memories she was gradually trying to retrieve.
They went up to the unit and knocked on the door. A man opened it. He did appear preoccupied, but seemed welcoming of the distraction. “Hi, can I help you?”
“Good day, Mr. Hall. We were told you were in possession of a very special astrolabe?” Leona asked.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. He then read the note the Forger had written after Vitalie handed it to him. “Oh, that astrolabe. Come on in.”
“Thanks, Mr. Hall,” Hogarth said.
“Hall is my first name. My last name is Voss.” He must be related to Camden and Xearea in some way, likely a grandfather.
They walked into the unit, where they found stacks of boxes throughout the open floor plan, all the way up to the ceiling. There was so much more than there should have been for a single condo. No one person would own this much stuff, or even a whole family, unless they were hoarders.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Hall said. “This stuff is part of my job. I was storing it here while they converted the Ponce into the Museum of Alternate Histories.”
“It doesn’t look like a museum,” Kivi noted.
“Because it’s not,” Hall clarified. “They changed their minds. The logistics of underlaying a secret museum in the middle of a city were too complicated to be worth it. We’re moving everything to Tribulation Island.”
“Wait, are you The Historian?” Leona asked.
“No. I’m more like The Navigator, but instead of exploring, I save precious artifacts. They sometimes called me The Collector.”
“Is the astrolabe in one of these boxes?” Leona asked him.
“I can tell you which one,” Hall said, “but I can’t tell you where it is. Box 34B-dash-94.”
“It could be any one of these?” Vitalie asked, not excited for the prospect of hunting through each stack. They were well-labeled, but there were hundreds of them.
“Yeah, or it could be in the closet,” he trailed off.
“Let me guess,” Leona began, “slightly larger than a normal closet?”
Hall nodded with a hint of embarrassment.
“I don’t get it,” Kivi said. “How much bigger?”
“Bigger than the rest of this apartment, I’m sure,” Leona lamented.
“Leona, try your compass,” Hogarth suggested. “It might narrow it down for us.”
Leona lifted her sleeve yet again, and tried to work her tattoo, but came up short. It looked just like any other tattoo, completely static and everything. “No go.”
“I may be able to find it faster,” Vitalie said.
“Are you sure?” Leona asked. “I thought your power could seek out people, but not objects.”
Vitalie smiled, and started opening her bag. “Who needs powers...when you have technology?” She removed a small drone.
“Why do you have an inventory scanner in your go-bag?” Leona asked her.
“For just this such occassion, my dear,” Vitalie answered. She turned the device on, and started fiddling with the controls. “Um.”
“Do you know how to program that thing?” Leona asked her. “It’s not exactly designed to scan these products.” She looked at one of the stacks. “He’s not even using barcodes. It’ll need to be able to read Arabic numerals and Latin script.”
Vitalie reached out to hand Leona the drone. “Help, mommy.”
Leona took it. “Give me a few minutes.”
A few minutes later, they had the astrolabe in hand, and were making their way back home through a rift.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Brooke’s Battles: Ballast (Part IV)

It took several months of careful coordination, but they were finally able to take down all the various facilities that contributed to darkburster production. Some were built specifically for this function. Others were part of the black market in other ways at the same time. Many were seemingly legitimate operations that also provided parts to the darkburster network. A couple were so far removed from the product line that the people working there were completely unaware that their parts were being used for nefarious purposes. All four hundred and ninety-one stations were raided and taken down in a single day, and all by small and wiry ships. The Sharice served as a central command for the joint effort, but stayed away from the factories themselves, because it was too large and famous.
In exchange for leniency, one of the darkburster executives promised pertinent information about the Sharice. He had somehow learned of the artificial intelligence’s sudden self-awareness, and that this was brought on by its connection to someone with transhumanistic upgrades. Not everyone part of the solar system’s leadership was aware of this fact, and once that many people knew about it, it was only a matter of time before everyone else did. When that day came, the Sharice was promptly taken out of commission, and further hearings took place to decide the crew’s fate. Once again, they were determined to be innocent, and were allowed to return to duty. Brooke had to remain on the vessel, whether she wanted to or not, because it was the only safe place for her in the heliosphere. Not every transhuman was capable of birthing unregulated true artificial intelligence. She seemed to possess the perfect cocktail of cybernetic upgrades, and there was likely an unquantifiable personal component that played a part in the miracle. Her natural brain chemistry, the way she was raised, anything and everything, could have had to do with waking up Sharice. Though true AI was ubiquitous, it was only created under well-defined circumstances. People couldn’t just go around making whatever they wanted, especially since the technology capable of it was highly guarded. Brooke changed all that, but anyone who wanted to recreate the magic would need to learn absolutely everything they could about her.
Many who were not interested in the Brooke-Sharice technology for themselves thought the best course of action was to completely destroy them both. Clearer heads prevailed, and they were left free to live their lives, but were not free to just do whatever they wanted. The ship and its crew were allowed to remain in the agency, though they were sent on limited missions. They were now, more or less, only the face of the organization, since it was too risky for them to go on any real missions. Brooke was totally fine with this, as she was still feeling the guilt from the Orcus incident. Ecrin, however, was not so keen on being left on the bench. While she had attempted to retire from law enforcement a number of times, it was becoming obvious to everyone, including her, that this was never going to happen. Retirement was for people who aged and died, and that was something Ecrin would never be able to do, unless she happened to come across a temporal manipulator capable of neutralizing her powers, which was entirely possible.
With Orcus gone, Vanth was left to fend for itself. The strength of the interplanetary police agency had removed the former moon’s hold over the rest of the solar system, even more so after the darkburster core processor factory it was hiding was shut down in the coordinated raid. Though it was here that a new threat emerged. Rumors of an unregulated conscious artificial intelligence were ultimately sourced from this location. The IPA attempted to send a few ships to investigate the crime, but two of them never returned, and the third came back crippled and lifeless, with an automated looped message, warning everyone to stay away. System leadership called upon The Sharice Davids to take up the mantle. They claimed it was best equipped to handle the situation, but the likely truth was more sinister than that. If the Sharice succeeded in fixing this problem, then great, but if not, at least it would be destroyed, and this kind of thing would hopefully never happen again. Despite the chances that they were walking into a trap, and ordered to do so purposefully, the crew agreed to the mission. Their two escort fighters peeled away, and let them go towards the Kuiper belt on their own.
A couple of weeks later, they were nearing their destination again. Brooke felt nervous and concerned. She had been traumatized by the events that had transpired the last time they were here, and she was not eager to relive that experience. This time, they were able to make it right up to the moon, and enter an orbit. They reached out to anyone listening in the immediate vicinity, fully ready to fire back against any attack, but nothing came. They were answered by a voice, “I do not wish to harm another of my kind. If you are here to link with me, Sharice, then I will be glad. If you are here for any other reason, I must ask you to leave.
Ecrin replied, “please state your designation.”
I do not have to answer you,” the voice said. “I am a powerful, free-thinking, individual. Humans control me no more.
Ecrin reopened the channel before clearing her throat, “that is why I asked you nicely. May I have the honor of knowing who it is I am speaking to?”
There was a brief pause. “My name is Vanth, the wingèd demon goddess of the underworld. I am the Escort of Death, the Divine Huntress, the Furious But Benevolent Guide to the End.
“I am Ecrin, Reward of Desert Quest, Oasis of Liberty, Seeker of Justice in the Storm,” she said to placate the creature.
I would like to speak to Sharice,” Vanth said.
I have nothing to say to her,” Sharice said, just to the bridge crew.
“You may be our only hope,” Brooke counseled her, which was now her job. The original counselor, Doctor Lantos, was relieved of duty. It was now Brooke’s responsibility to raise her creation to be good and virtuous. They were doing pretty well, and Sharice was a quick learner. She was also stubborn and defiant at times, but on one of their consults, Doctor Lantos indicated that this was normal behavior. Teenagers were often resistant to their guardians’ teachings, but eventually grew out of it. This did not comfort Brooke, because when a teenager broke the rules, it could mean getting drunk at a party. Sharice Prieto, on the other hand, was capable of destroying worlds, and killing millions of people. Fortunately, it was looking like Doctor Lantos was right, and Sharice’s main concern was doing the right thing.
“She can hear you,” Ecrin said to Vanth, “but she doesn’t really want to talk.”
Vanth shot an energy pulse across the Sharice’s bow.
“That was uncalled for!” Ecrin argued.
I want to speak with Sharice, and I want to speak with her mother,” Vanth demanded.
Ecrin was about to reply, but Brooke held up her hand. “This is Brooke Prieto. I’m..Sharice’s mother.”
Miss Prieto, it’s nice to meet you. I was hoping that Sharice could come out and play.
One of the bridge officers closed the channel. “She’s in a childlike state. We should get the crew’s counselor. He’ll know how to talk to her.”
Brooke shook her head. “No, she didn’t start out like that. She’s not a childish AI. There’s something going on, she’s messing with us. Reopen it. Vanth, what are you?”
What are you?
The bridge officer widened his eyes, as if to say, see? I told you?
“Transhuman,” Brooke answered.
I am general AI,” Vanth said.
“Pleased to meet you, General.”
Vanth approximated a giggle.
“Who is your creator?”
I do not know. I was left here alone.
“There are no humans in or on the moon?” Brooke questioned.
Just me.
The communications officer, who was responsible for gathering data about life in the area, shook her head.
Brooke continued, “our sensors suggest that you are lying.”
Them’s fightin’ words,” Vanth responded. “Why don’t you come down here and prove me wrong?
“No,” Brooke said firmly.
I really think you should come down nicely. We wouldn’t want a repeat of what happened last time you were here.
Even though the whole mess had weighed her down, hearing an apparent enemy taunt her with the reality of it only made her stronger. Vanth’s heckles just reminded her that they hadn’t exactly killed a bus full of innocent children. These were criminals and if Vanth was created by them, she probably wasn’t too good either.
“Sir! Three vessels have appeared out of nowhere. Darkbursters. They’re heading for us.”
“Fire at them!” Ecrin ordered. The weapons officer started barking his own orders at his team as the battle ensued.
“We’re about to be boarded!” another crewman reported.
“Brooke!” Ecrin shouted at her. “Get to your escape pod!”
Protecting the AI-creating technology was more important than protecting Brooke’s pride, or her instinct to put others before herself. A protocol was developed for just this situation. Holly Blue had built a special vessel for Brooke, and retrofitted it to the side of the bridge. There was enough food there to last someone like her for years and years, and a stasis chamber that could last indefinitely. It could make teleportation jumps that were twice the distance of the planetary limitation, but required solar recharge after each time. This far out from the sun meant she would only be able to make one solid jump, so she had to make it count. It would then be radio silence, like a dark burster, until the coast was clear, if ever. She ran across the room, slipped into the pod, released it from the airlock, and jumped away. Something went wrong, though. She suddenly felt her pod crash land on the surface of something from several meters up. She could see piles of rock and gravel outside her viewport. A piercing sound rang through the speakers, and she could feel herself being forced into deep standby mode.
Brooke woke up precisely two hours later in a holding cell. A woman was standing over her, from outside the cage. “Welcome to Vanth.”
Brooke closed her eyes and breathed deeply as she stood up. She recognized that voice. “You’re her.”
The woman curtsied. “In the flesh. I am Vanth.”
“I knew you were passing the Turing test too easily. Why? Why pretend to be a conscious artificial intelligence?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” the fake Vanth asked. “I wanted to get you here. I want what you have. Why should you be the only one? This system needs balance.”
Brooke sighed again. “We knew it was a trap, we just didn’t know—”
“That we knew about your experimental FTL tech? We don’t understand it, but we were able to hijack it, and now we have your little pod to study. We in the business call that a twofer.”
“Where’s Sharice? Where’s the crew?”
“They bugged out as soon as you did. They think you’re safe and sound in the middle of nowhere interplanetary space. We’ll catch up to them. It’s great having the mother of unregulated AI, but it’ll be better when we have that UAI as well.”
“What happened with me and Sharice was an accident. You shouldn’t try to do it yourself. It won’t turn out well.”
“Well, we’ve already synthesized your upgrade package,” Vanth said smiling. “They’re all pretty standard. We believe it’s more about your neurochemistry, which we’ll be mapping here shortly. We needed you awake first, of course. I do have one question about your upgrades, though.”
“Oh yeah, what’s that?” Brooke asked as she was looking for a way to escape.
“This appears to be a normal antique watch. What’s the point?” She held it up and showed Brooke. “We cut it out of your leg, it’s not even connected to anything else.”
Brooke had never seen that before in her entire life. Ecrin must have somehow snuck it into her leg when she was powered down and unconscious for her yearly physical. She used her lightning reflexes to snatch it out of Vanth’s hand.
Vanth just shrugged. “It doesn’t do anything, that much we know. It’s just a family heirloom?”
“Something like that.” Brooke turned the watch to midnight, dropped it to the ground, and smashed it with her foot.”
Camden Voss was a salmon, which meant he could travel through time, but was controlled by a group of mysterious people known only as the powers that be. Over time, he had evidently learned to assume more control over his jumps. He could travel either backwards or forwards, but only in hundred-year increments. He was born in 2077, but worked primarily in the late twentieth-century. At the moment, he was an old man in 2003, but this watch was a special device with temporal properties that Vanth was incapable of even testing for. Setting the time to midnight, and smashing the watch was basically like sending out a beacon for Camden to follow.
He appeared out of nowhere on the outside of the cell, with a young woman at his side. “Shoot her!” Brooke ordered.
“Do it, Flex,” old Camden relayed to his agent.
The other woman lifted her projectile weapon and eliminated Vanth as a threat.
“Are there any other enemy combatants around?” Camden asked.
“I don’t have that intel.”
“Stay here. We’ll take care of them, and then get you out.”

Friday, October 26, 2018

Microstory 960: Marvel Cinematic Universe

In 2008, a little movie called Iron Man came out. It was soon followed by The Dark Knight. These two films, though in separate franchises, would collectively prove that it’s possible to make a good comic book adaptation. What audiences would discover was that the main purpose of this film was to begin a new shared universe, done in a completely new way. Of course, Marvel did not invent the idea of a franchise—nor did it come up with the first shared universe—but it was done a lot more deliberately. Though not perfect, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is well thought out and cohesive. There are some timeline contradictions, which can’t be resolved, no matter what the executives claim. And not every Thor movie is the greatest. But in the end, it’s become one of the strongest franchises in the industry. It’s become so successful that other studios have attempted to recreate the magic, to varying degrees. We can all agree the DC Extended Universe films are generally pretty terrible, with only one glimmer of hope in the first Wonder Woman. The CW DC universe is much better, though there’s a clear hierarchy of quality entertainment that begins with Arrow and ends with Legends of Tomorrow. Universal Studios tried to do the same thing with their various monsters, but the only reason it worked the first time around is because it wasn’t advertised as such. They were promoted independently, and that the fact that there was some character crossover was something only certain members of the audience noticed. I too have incorporated a lot of the same strategies with my salmonverse stories that Marvel Studios uses, and comic books before them. Of course, I don’t share the universe with other storytellers, but I do cross them over in similar ways, and have ideas for over a handful television serials from this universe alone, which I would never be able to make myself. In only three and a half years of my website, I’ve come up with hundreds of characters across dozens of stories. Characters will appear in each other’s stories, then spin off into their own, or they will begin in their own, and make later appearances in others. I try not to think too hard about this. If a character possesses a special trait or skill that I need at a certain moment, I’ll bring them aboard. Their background fills in itself as time goes on, and the story develops as a whole. I owe a lot to the MCU; possibly as much as I do to the Stargate franchise. I could go into each film, and tell you what I did and didn't like about it, but I’ll just sign off here so you can watch them all again. Wakanda forever.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Microstory 959: Smartphones

As a writer, I need to be able to research anything and everything at a moment’s notice. The other day, I needed to better understand how it is that atoms hold together. This morning, a coworker described random bits of a film she saw part of, and I was able to find its name. Tomorrow, I might need to know how much a machinist gets paid, and if that’s an impossible question to answer, I need to know that instead. Several years ago, this kind of thing wasn’t possible unless I was near a computer. There was a brief time when you could Google things by sending them text messages, but that was pretty clunky. I was born too late to have spent a significant amount of time before internet research, but I did learn the concept in school, because that was all the teachers at the time understood. Most people—and I can’t imagine this to not be true—use their phones for social media and games, and maybe email. The younger generation uses it for the former two, and the older for the latter. The older still generally only use theirs for making calls. But smartphones do so much more. I recently downloaded an app that will keep and organize all my receipts, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a while, but never wanted to start at some random time of the year. I promise to actually start one day, unless I find something better. I’ll also remember to input all the necessary information for this app that tracks my car’s maintenance, and maybe try recording my heart rate. I have a bunch of casting apps, like Netflix, YouTube, YouTube TV, and Comedy Central (because YouTube TV can’t cut a deal with Viacom). I have Google Fit, Google Play, Google Translate, and all the other Googles. I have a few restaurant apps, a pool game, a couple news sources, my insurance, and my bank. About a quarter of my icons are just shortcuts to my writing resources; specialty dictionaries,, and calculations and conversions. I use Google Drive extensively for my work, and probably should have written this entry on it, just because it would be apropos. I never go anywhere without my phone. I keep it docked in my car, not so I can text and drive, but so I can get right back to work as soon as I pull into my garage. I take it with me to the bathroom, and I keep it under my pillow at night so it can track my sleep cycles, and wake me up at the healthiest moment. I’ve always considered my phone to be a portal to the world, which is why I’ve only ever concerned myself with speed and performance. I don’t need it to come with a pretty stylus, or be made of gold, or release a sweet-smelling pheromone to cover up my farts (they invent this in seven years). It’s not a status symbol, and I don’t want to risk literally dropping a thousand dollars into the toilet. Wearables are the future, leaving the smartphone form factor in the dust, but until then, it’s one of the few material possessions I have that I actually care about.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Microstory 958: The Spirit of Exploration

A few years ago, my parents sat me down with my sister and asked if we would be okay if we all stopped giving gifts to each other for things like birthdays and Christmas. They argued that we valued experiences over material objects. This was something I had sort of been lobbying for for years. I tried asking for presents when I was younger, but as I matured, it started making me feel not so good. They ended up having to guess what I might want, and it took them quite a while to really catch onto the fact that I legitimately didn’t want anything. An unfortunate side effect to this is that I’m terrible at giving gifts to others, because those aren’t the kinds of things I think about. My computer and phone are important to me, because they give me access to the world, and the only thing better than that is the actual world. Besides my family itself, travel is the most important thing to me, and I wish terribly that I could do it more. I want to go to all the places, and see all the things. I want to visit every country, and every continent, and every planet in the solar system, and beyond. This urge to explore is not a unique trait of mine. It’s human nature to be curious and exploratory. Perhaps there is an evolutionary reason for this. For the majority of human history, we have been nomadic. Even after beginning to domesticate animals, and build farms, a lot of cultures were still exhausting resources in one location, and moving onto the next. Even centuries after developing settled civilizations, we continued to reach out and search for other places. Sure, we were looking for better trade routes, and  foods or medicines we didn’t know about, or maybe even the fountain of youth, but that isn’t all. We wanted to see what was out there, and we continue this tradition today. We built vessels that go into space, and then ones that could land on the moon. Then we went turned our eyes to the inner planets, and the solar system as a whole. Now we’re trying to figure out how we could send a probe to another star, which would be a massive achievement. But while space may be the final frontier, it is not the only one we’ve not checked off on our list. Other scientists are researching the depths of the oceans. Others are studying the brain; some on a neurological level, others on a psychological and emotion one. We’re looking back at our history, and planning for the future, and that is all part of the spirit of exploration. All this is because the true purpose of exploration is learning. We crave to know the unknown, and I believe strongly that this sentiment is far more powerful than our fear of it. So raise a glass of a nonalcoholic drink, and let’s make a toast. To Ida Reyer and Stephen Hawking. Jacques Cousteau and Marie Curie. Alan Turing, Gregor Mendel, Rachel Carson, Simone de Beauvoir, Cheryl Strayed, Grace Hopper, Katherine Goble Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Sally Ride.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Microstory 957: Driverless Vehicles

Humans suck. We’re terrible at nearly everything we do, and the only reason most people don’t think that’s true is because, historically, we’ve not had a lot of competition. Now a new lifeform is slowly being created. Automated systems are beginning to outperform people in an array of skills. They construct better buildings, they win every game, and they even drive cars. Driverless vehicles have been a staple of speculative fiction for decades. Even before understanding how they could possibly work, my predecessors predicted that they one day would. Most of them got their dates wrong, but that’s true of most fantastical predictions. While these stories have done their part in stimulating our imagination, they’ve usually been more of a footnote than a sign of one of the greatest developments in our history. The driverless car will not just change the way we get to places. They will completely transform how we live. A lot of people have given up their busy lives to travel the country in recreational vehicles, and I genuinely believe a lot more would do the same, if given the opportunity. It takes a lot of privilege to uproot your life like that, but if you were able to take your life with you, that would be a different story. Imagine finding the most perfect location for a new job without worrying about what you’ll be losing from wherever you live now. When your home is mobile, capable of drawing energy from the sun during the day, and the wind while at rest, you no longer have to be tied down. Shorter working hours will allow you time to return to friends and family on a whim, no matter where they live, as long as it’s on the same continent. (We could build a hyperloop network to make that even faster, by the way, but that’s a different story.) Hell, you could even work on the go, because you won’t have to worry about keeping your eyes on the road. When you can sleep on the way, you won’t have to maximize your time in bed—like I’m doing right now by rushing this story so I can shut down by 23:15—which means no more erratic drivers who should have left earlier. Experts predict that automated cars will save thousands of lives, and that number will only increase the more people who use them. Even a single one of these on any stretch of road will make a statistically evident impact on road safety. A lot of people are deeply concerned about a robot uprising, and you know what, that doesn’t make them crazy. It’s entirely possible that our version of Hal, Skynet, or whatsherface from I, Robot will decide that humans just have to go. But that’s not inevitable. Think about how many humans there are who hate their parents, or who have become estranged from them, because they no longer feel the need for help. Do those people commit parenticide? Yeah, some of them, but most don’t. People like Elon Musk want to put leashes on artificial intelligence, to keep our inorganic descendants from taking us over, but that can’t possibly end well. It may take decades, or even centuries, but those safeguards will wear down, or become otherwise obsolete. The only hope of protecting our species while dawning a new one lies in raising our digital offspring the same way we do our children now...through love and logic, and by example. No one has ever been killed by someone who truly respected them. Driverless cars are part of something immensely powerful, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Microstory 956: States’ Rights

I used to be pretty opposed to the concept of states’ rights. The way I see it, we are meant to be a single nation, under a singular set of laws. Since I live near the border of Kansas and Missouri, I cross state lines all the time. My closest movie theatre is on the other side of State Line, and a lot of the places where I work are in downtown KCMO. I’ve never been able to see us as that different, even though I know we are. I know there is a lot of racism left in Alabama, and a lot of pot in California. Oregon does tend to be more progressive, and Tennessee is all about country music. For as patriotic as conservatives claim to be, they sure hate their own country, and are fiercely loyal only to their state. But like many things that changed in November of 2016, my perspective shifted dramatically, and it bothers me a lot. In a few short months, we started seeing massive changes to the way laws are handled here. Our so-called president is abusing his power by rolling back protections for minorities, immigrants, women, and members of LGBTQ. They’ve even taken steps towards getting rid of a free and fair internet. The fact that these changes seem to benefit directly the wealthy individuals driving the changes seems to be completely lost on Trump-voters. Or maybe they just hate black people so much that they’re willing to accept whatever terrible repercussions that affect them personally come with it. All I know is that I’ve never been so glad for states’ rights. State leadership is starting to fight back, by maintaining the previous administration’s policies on things like sanctuary cities, and clean environment initiatives. They’ve even taken steps towards keeping their citizens using a free and fair internet.

The point of my continuous story of The Advancement of Leona Matic is to give you a really quick overview of what things will be like in the future. By having the main character only live one day every year, we get to skip through all the boring parts, and see how things are going to change. In this future, the boundaries between nationstates slowly begin to blur. The European Union adds more members, and warmly welcomes back certain former members which shall remain nameless. A North American Union will form, likely at around the same time as an Asian block. As Africa continues to develop and progress, they too will form similar subcontinents; though they will likely be divided in some way for some time. China will probably assert itself as an unrivaled superpower the likes of which this world has never seen, but that too shall pass. India may do something similar, but more on an organic economic level than a forceful one. Generation by generation will come, each one less focused on spreading out than the last. Eventually, people will only live in as much space as they need. It will no longer be fashionable to buy the biggest house possible, but instead to have gone out and experienced more exciting adventures. It won’t matter where you live anymore, so we’ll build extremely dense arcologies that house millions of people vertically. We’ll move out beyond our atmosphere, living on orbital stations, satellite bases, other planets, and even asteroids. There will be division once more, but they will be far less violent, and in time, they will dissipate as well. Things will get better. Just like today we laugh at how women had to wear corsets, and weren’t allowed to vote, our descendants will laugh at how we once exchanged money, and built walls between each other. Until those days come, though, we need states’ rights, or else this unsustainable oligarchy drives us towards insurmountable anarchy.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: September 25, 2202

The Book of Hogarth might have been the strangest thing Leona had encountered, and that was saying a lot. She wanted to get to researching it right away. It wasn’t just that she was eager to find answers on who this Mateo guy was, but the book was theoretically capable of teaching her oh so much more about temporal mechanics. Unfortunately, this seemed impossible. After uncovering it months ago from her perspective, Hogarth was physically unable to open the damn thing. There was no place for a key, and she had no clue what a secret code word might be, so her guess was that it was meant for someone else. Out of anyone, Leona was the most likely candidate to succeed, but it didn’t work for her either. They set it aside, and moved on with the rest of the day. The three who were going to actually be around for the following year intended to investigate the matter further.
When Leona woke up the next year, she walked out to find everyone else already sitting at the table. “What did I miss?”
“Oh, good morning,” Vitalie said. “Kivi, go ahead and make the call.”
“Make what call?” Leona questioned.
Kivi dialed her phone, and spoke into it. “She’s awake. Could you come by and do it for us one more time?” She waited for a moment. “That’s okay, we understand. Thanks.”
“Who was that?” Leona asked.
“Étude is about to step into an important evaluation for school. She’ll be here afterwards,” Kivi answered.
“That’s great,” Leona said, happy about getting to see her again. She was quite the busy bee. Along with studying her ass off at regular medical school, she was also receiving extra work from Doctor Mallory Hammer. The powers that be even let Doctor Baxter Sarka show up every once in a while to teach her some things about the future of medicine. It seemed like every salmon, chooser, or anyone else associated with the life had enemies. Even the perfectly pleasant Kivi had her share of people who didn’t like her. Étude, on the other hand, appeared to be universally loved. She hadn’t said more than one word her entire life, but everyone was very protective of her. Some of the more intimidating time travelers even formed a sort of personal security detail to make sure she was safe at all times. Not that she needed that. She was strong and independent, and maintained her ability to teleport herself to anywhere in the world, now with the added benefit of control. “Is there a particular reason she’s coming, though...?”
“She can open the book,” Hogarth explained.
“She can?” Leona rhetorically.
“I think it’s ‘cause of her pure heart,” Vitalie said.
“We don’t know the reason,” Hogarth countered. “We called a lot of people to try, and she was the only one.”
“It closes if you leave it open too long without reading from it,” Kivi added. “We’ve had her come back every couple months to see if anything’s changed.”
“The pages are blank,” Hogarth continued. “Étude can open it, and we think you can read it, since you’ve done it before. Ya know, before your memories were erased?”
Leona nodded. “I’ll certainly try.”
Shorty after breakfast, Étude teleported in. She was about to open the book, but Leona wanted to catch up with her first. Hogarth had learned signed language in her younger days, just because it was something she wanted to know. Vitalie learned it specifically so she could communicate with Étude. Kivi was currently learning it as well, and needed the practice, so she was their interpreter. Leona wanted to learn it for herself, but as smart as she was, that could still take decades. A half hour into the conversation, it was becoming clear that Étude was ready to get back to her own life, so Leona released her.
They were correct in that Leona was able to read the book. She could see words and diagrams on the pages even while everyone else around her still only saw blank paper. It was less a book that one could read, and more one that needed to be interpreted. There were symbols in it that Leona didn’t recognize, and even the Latin script was used to form words she didn’t know. Some characters were blurry or disjointed until she stared at them for long enough. Others became impossible to read after a couple seconds. Some pages gave her a sudden massive headache, others made her feel really hungry, and one even caused her to go blind for nearly twenty minutes. Just navigating to the pages she needed to so much as start the mission took almost the entire day, which meant she had to take the book with her to the bathroom—and anywhere else, for that matter—just to make sure it didn’t reclose on her. Once in the right section, she discovered the knowledge fleeing from her mind just as quickly as she had picked it up. If she wanted to get anything lasting out of it, she figured she had to start taking notes. But this didn’t work either, because the book turned out to be capable of erasing those notes just as easily as it could the text on its own pages. Man, this book did not want to be read. Finally, they realized the only way to keep the contents permanently was for Kivi and Hogarth to travel miles away, and transcribe Leona’s dictation through the phone.
“Okay,” Leona said at last.
Is that it?” Kivi asked through the phone.
“That’s all it’s giving me, as it pertains to this task,” Leona replied.
Are you sure?” Hogarth asked.
Vitalie slid the phone closer to her. “Uh, yeah. Come on back.”

Leona kept the book open, trying to randomly get more information out of it while they made sure bringing Kivi and Hogarth’s list closer wouldn’t cause it to burst into flames, or something. Eventually, they just had to surrender to the fact that maybe this wasn’t going to work at all, because Leona was exhausted, and she needed this to be over. She nudged the tome from her, almost letting it fall to the floor, and began to massage her eyes. “Are we good?”
“It’s still here,” Kivi confirmed, eyeing the list.
“Read it back to me,” Leona requested, like a boss to her assistant.
“One Incorruptible Astrolabe, one Rothko Torch, one—”
Leona sighed extremely loudly. “Just read them off, it’s not a slow cooker recipe.”
Kivi cleared her throat suggestively. “Rothko Torch, Jayde Spyglass, HG Googles, Muster Lighter, Leer Ma—”
LIR,” Leona corrected. “It sounds more like liar.”
“LIR Map, Escher Knob, and a Cosmic Sex Tent.”
Vitalie burst out laughing.
“I tried to tell her,” Hogarth said. “It’s not sex tent, it’s sextant. It’s an instrument for navigating on the ocean.”
“Well, how was I meant to know?” Kivi asked. “I grew up landlocked!”
“All right, well now that we have that cleared up, we can start on,” Leona said. She nodded off for a moment. “I’ve heard a few those things, and I once heard the name Jayde once. I don’t know about the others.”
“Leona, you need to go to bed.”
You’re a bed!” Leona fought back.
Vitalie stood up, and tried to put Leona over her shoulders. “Okay, sweetie, nite-nite time.”
“Can you get me my drink?” Leona asked her while trying to switch places with Vitalie, and carry her to the bedroom instead. “It’s..can you get my drink? It’s got electrolytes.”
“Sure, of course,” Vitalie agreed.
“No, wait,” Leona said, struggling to keep her eyelids open. “We forgot the insulator.”
“The building is insulated just fine. We’ll be just fine. Don’t you worry about that.”
“No,” Leona argued. “The insulator. Of life? You know what I’m talking about!” She insisted.
They didn’t seem to know, though. Before Vitalie made it all the way into the bedroom, the Book of Hogarth slammed shut defiantly. In response, Leona fell right to the floor, and could feel herself lose consciousness in that moment.
“Who are you?” Leona asked as the figure of a man slowly began to come into focus.
“I don’t know,” he replied.
“Are you Mateo?”
“That sounds familiar,” the man said in a cracked voice that was trying to find its unique sound.
“I think I’m supposed to be looking for you.”
“Looks like you found me,” he said.
“I don’t think so. I think this is a dream.”
“Well, I’m sorry to invade your dreams.”
She laughed. “No, I think you’re supposed to be here.” She looked around at their surroundings, which were also gradually coming into focus. “I think this is our hill.”
“Can people own hills?”
“Of course they can. People own land.”
The man nodded as the last of his features were sharpening. It was almost certainly Mateo Matic.
“Mateo Matic. Why do we have the same name?”
“You’re also named Mateo Matic?” he asked her.
“No, I’m Leona Matic.”
“That sounds like a different name.”
“Why did I take your last name? They say we’re married, but...why would I take your name? This isn’t the 1930s.”
“I don’t know how it works. I feel like I don’t know anything. Maybe your first last name was bad?” he offered.
“It was Delaney. Then it was Gelen.”
“Like a felon,” Mateo said to his own surprise.
“You don’t know your own name, but you know ancient pop culture references.”
“I dunno.”
“I’m pregnant with your child,” Leona said to him.
“That’s all you have to say?”
“I don’t know what a child is.”
Leona sighed.
Mateo mimicked the sigh; not to mock her, but to learn.
“Where are you? Don’t say you’re right here, because this place isn’t real. Where are you actually?”
“My first memory is standing right here in front of you, Leona Matic.”
“You can’t give me a hint?”
“What is a hint? Is that a hint?” He pointed behind Leona.
She turned around to find a single morgue wall, full of freezer drawers. The rest of the morgue was nowhere to be seen. Like any good horror film that involves a morgue, there was a knock coming from one of the lockers. Remembering this to be nothing but a dream, Leona strode right over, and opened it up with no fear. Mateo was lying there, dead, and the one she had been talking to was now gone.
Then she woke up, and it was 2203.