Friday, November 30, 2018

Microstory 985: The FBI

One thing you may not know about me is that I’m very wary of law enforcement. The idea of it seems reasonable; I even wanted to be a policeman when I was quite young. You might have heard of something called the Myers-Briggs Personality Test, but there’s also the lesser known version called the Keirsey Temperament Sorter. I prefer the latter, because it better categorizes personalities according to how people behave—rather than simply how they feel internally—which I find to be a more practical use of the test. I tested into the Protector temperament, which correlates to ISFJ. I get how important it is that we have people who are responsible for the safety of others. So, as I said, the idea makes sense, but there are two fundamental problems that arise from it; the corrupt justice system as a whole, and the corrupt individual actors. The system is designed to punish offenders for their crimes, and once that has been accomplished, they can be sent back into the world with almost nothing. Then when they’re busted for further crimes, they’re punished again, so the vicious cycle can continue until they either die, or commit such a terrible offense that they’re never released again. Few come out of prison both better people, and with the tools they need to enact their new philosophy by contributing positively to society, which is now how it should be. In all the centuries we’ve been doing this, you would think we would have caught on by now to the fact that punishment absolutely does not work. The name of the game is rehabilitation. That’s what gets people to stop coming back for more. Some people are born with certain psychological issues that cause them to want to hurt others, while some people develop these tendencies later. I’m no doctor, nor psychologist, so I can’t tell you how to help those ones, but I can tell you that the majority of offenders do so out of, if only by their own perception, necessity. Poor people steal, because they don’t already have what they need, and they’re expected to live like that without complaining. The American Dream gets touted around as if everyone here has equal opportunity to better themselves, and too much privilege prevents the elite from recognizing, if they were to care, that the American Dream is actually total bullshit. Outside of the mentally ill, nearly all crime would go down to negligible numbers if money didn’t exist. If every citizen was given a baseline amount of food, water, shelter, and protection, they wouldn’t need to steal, or find unhealthy ways of protecting themselves.

As we see all over the news, dirty cops are a problem that’s either growing, or we’re hearing about it more than before, but regardless, it has to stop. We have to stop shooting innocent people for the crime of existing while black, and we have to penalize these heinous crimes with the same response we give to murder. Any other individual kills someone, and we send them to jail, but if a cop does it, suddenly everything is what they in the business call a “good shoot”. This all being said, I believe that our system can improve, as can similar agencies around the world. I often find myself defending people or institutions that I never thought I would. I had no strong feelings about Taylor Swift until Kanye West disrespected her so thoroughly on national television. And now I feel the need to express my gratitude for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The point of law enforcement is to investigate, and appropriately act upon crime. The first mandate is important, because if we only worried about a crime that’s proven simply by a miraculous and unprovoked confession, then the country would be more crime than non-crime. The FBI has to investigate foreign interference in our elections, and King Dumpster’s ties to Russian espionage, before they prove that the connection exists. You can’t just dismiss that investigation because you don’t like the idea that you voted for a Russian asset. When confronted with this possibility, Trump-voters react one of two ways: straight up denial, or a complete 180 degree shift from their original position with an endorsement of these activities. It’s absurd how literally the exact same people who were distrustful of all Russians due to the cold war are suddenly, not just indifferent to Russian influence, but completely on board with it. You can’t call yourself a patriot while promoting treason against your own nation, and I’m not sure I can make that reality any clearer. Thank you, Robert Mueller and team, for your integrity in the face of internal adversity, and your persistence toward discovering the truth, even if it means that just under half the country voted for a real Russian pawn.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Microstory 984: Live Theatre

I grew up in the same world that you did, even though I make a lot of jokes about being born on a Keserint space station orbiting Pluto hundreds of thousands of years ago, or in the future. One of my biggest regrets is allowing myself to be influenced by so many bad sources of information. As a man, I’ve had it extremely easy, never feeling like I had to transform myself into the perfect people in magazines, or like I wasn’t allowed to wear pants. I did, however, contribute to the negativity this world has offered, almost always without even realizing it. My parents were always very loving, and believed in diversity, but there were so many other things vying for my attention, that not even their good teachings could insulate me from everything. I once had a teacher in middle school who got off on a tangent about some associate of hers who underwent gender reassignment surgery. She talked about how gross that was, and charged us to never do anything like that. She wasn’t an absolutely terrible person, but she was a clueless jackass who didn’t know what she was talking about, and that sort of behavior would never be tolerated today; not even in Kansas. I didn’t feel as sick about the idea as she did, but I didn’t question her position either. I spent years being indifferent to transgender people; time I could have spent being a vocal ally. That teacher fucking blocked something good in me with ignorant darkness, and I will never get that time back. People have died because children are highly impressionable, and are being taught to agree with just about everything a role model says. I’m optimistic about that teacher, and have enough faith in her that she’s changed her beliefs, possibly without even remembering—and thusly not feeling guilty about—the damage she inflicted on young minds. I recall her being fairly open-minded and liberal otherwise. She was just as much a victim of society’s rules as I was; more so, because she was older. The reason I’m saying all this is because, especially when I was younger, I’ve been conditioned to be resistant of certain things that I later realize I like. I had to overcome society’s expectations that I not like live theatre, because I am not a girl. I was expected to like sports and boobs, and nobody outside of my family even thought to let me question these assumptions. I like RENT, and I like listening to show tunes, I miss Smash, and I very much wanted to win the lottery for Hamilton tickets when my family took a trip to New York City in 2016. I even determined the physiological characteristics of a species in my stories based on the possibility that I may be able to help write a musical about them decades from now. They have two sets of vocal cords, so they can sing notes humans can’t, and singing is vital to the conception, and early development, of their offspring. The point is that gender roles are a social construct, rather than a biological one. You would probably agree if you saw Book of Mormon.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Microstory 983: Drones

When people hear the word drone, they tend to think of two things; pointless little remote-controlled toys, or remotely piloted killing machines used for wiping terrorists off the map. Drones have so many more applications, and I’m sad to admit that I believe we’re very far behind on these developments, based on how long they have existed. I’m not sure what the amateur drone pilot is getting out of flying around the neighborhood. Are they spying on hot housewives getting out of the shower? Or is that pile of bricks in the back of their neighbor’s yard a fascinating thing to watch? This technology can be used to save lives, or increase safety. In a pretty early installment of The Advancement of Leona Matic, way back in 2015, a car broke down in the middle of nowhere. Instead of waiting for a tow truck that’s hours away, they summon a patrolling drone, who shows up within minutes. Using advanced software—possibly including artificial intelligence—it was able to scan under the hood, and diagnose what was wrong with it. It was then able to call for a driverless rental vehicle, accept payment via thumbprint, and even play music while they waited. Had a serial killer showed up to attack them, it would have been able to record his face, and contact emergency services. This is just one example of what a solar-powered drone could do. Besides regular maintenance, these little things can keep watch over rural roads pretty much indefinitely. Even deeper in the wilderness, a similar device can guard the hiking trails. A hiker can buy an emergency beacon to call a nearby drone in a dire situation. It can carry water, minimal rations, medical provisions, and other supplies. Hell, you could even commission one of these to literally follow you around everywhere you go. Maybe they can boost a signal to a satellite phone, or keep in constant communication with some kind of OnStar type service. Two to four of these can come together and take hold of a stretcher, if it’ll take too long for traditional rescue solutions to arrive. In a major disaster, a fleet of drones can be dispatched to hunt for the injured, and other survivors. After it’s all over, they can look for victims in hostile environments, long before it’s safe enough for a human rescuer venture there. Drones don’t have to be used only to murder people, or for fun that you get tired of after awhile. They don’t even just have to be used by law enforcement agencies for reconnaissance, or general surveillance. It’s estimated that millions of drones will be in the skies within the next two years, for various purposes, 30,000 of which will be stateside. Let’s try to make that number refer primarily to socially responsible usage, rather than unethical privacy invasion, or death. Drones have the capacity to make life safer and easier. Or they can destroy everything humanity holds dear, and lead the way to the destruction of civilization. I don’t love drones now. I love more what they have the potential to become.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Microstory 982: Antiseptic

Most people think I’m a germophobe, because I carry a bottle of hand sanitizer on my belt loop. I haven’t always been this way. In some ways, I’ve gotten worse, but from my side, I’ve gotten better. I’m a firm believer in letting kids go outside and get dirty, so they can boost their immune system naturally. I watched the first episode of an old scifi series called Earth 2. One of the plot points was that, in the future, children born in pristine environments easily contract diseases because their bodies don’t know how to handle the invaders. Now me, I used to get sick all the time, and I think if a pandemic spread through the world, I have a pretty good chance of being completely immune to it. I was 24 years old before I started carrying hand sanitizer around, and not too terribly much younger when I finally discovered it existed in the first place. The truth is that I’m not actually scared of getting sick. Like I said, it used to happen to me all the time, and I always got through it. I’ve known elderly people who spent all their lives in perfect health. You would think that would be the best way to live, but until such time that we conquer all diseases, no one escapes death. Everyone who doesn’t die from some external trauma, like a vehicular collision, or a bullet, dies from an illness. It’s impossible to die from old age itself; something always comes for you, and if you’ve never experienced anything like it before, it’s probably going to be a lot harder for you to cope. I’m not worried about some deadly pathogen, because I understand what’s happening there. I know how to seek treatment, and I would be able to wrap my head around the concept of hopelessness, if I were to be told that there’s nothing the medical professionals can do. No, I carry hand sanitizer around with me because I have trouble with cross contamination, because when I’m clean, I want to stay that way. And if I go around touching dirty things with my hands, I can’t then go around touching clean things, because then those things are also dirty. This has just reminded me that I’ve already been over this, so I’ll move back to what this entry is really meant to be about. Donnie Darko once pointed out that the greatest invention in history was soap. Antiseptic is still considered one of the most important ways of preventing the spread of disease. As with many rampant pathogens, scientists still can’t be sure exactly how the Spanish Flu began, but we know why it got so bad. I use this as an example, because I’m preparing to explore this time period in a story. One thing we do know about it is that its spread could have been halted with a little more soap. If you’re reading this, you’re probably lucky enough to live in a region with unimpeded access to antiseptic, but not everyone lives like this. So just don’t forget to be grateful for that.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Microstory 981: Upcoming Equality

In my research for a topic I originally called Growing Equality, I learned that inequality is actually on the rise, much like violent crime, both of which I found surprising. While I can’t actually give you the statistics proving my supposition that things are getting better, I can promise that trends do not necessarily predict the outcome. When you’re watching a sports competition, and things start looking bad for your team, you don’t immediately turn it off and assume you’re going to lose, do you? Well, maybe you do, as I’ve heard fans nauseatingly recount to other fans what they missed when they did this. But you shouldn’t, because there is always hope for a shift. While recent data demonstrates that inequality has increased in every single region of the world, that doesn’t mean we won’t win in the end. The rich are getting richer, the poorer poorer, and hostilities are adding up, but we are working on ways to fix these problems. I keep bringing up automated labor, and universal basic income, because tests have proven that they work, when implemented properly. I believe strongly that they are the future of our global economy, and I won’t believe otherwise unless I find myself on my deathbed, having lost out on the opportunity to use other technologies to become immortal. Basically, if we don’t progress enough to conquer death by the time I’m old enough to die of age-related medical issues, I can’t be sure it will ever happen, because we are on course to solving that problem. It won’t matter how much richer the rich are when we decide money is worth nothing anyway, and the first step towards that is increasing the value of material objects that really matter—like computers, 3D printers, and nanotechnology—decreasing the value of pointless trinkets and wasteful machines, and decreasing human labor. The reason there is still so much inequality is not because that’s what the people want, but because most of our governing systems were built on a foundation of injustice. The majority are, at the very least, tolerant of people who are unlike them. Many accept our differences, and some even love diversity. It is the system that’s working against us, but systems can be changed within the span of a political campaign. If a bad candidate can suddenly wrest control over a state from its people, than certainly a good candidate can do the same thing next time. No, equality may not growing, but it doesn’t have to, because the strongest opposing actors are operating under borrowed time. They will die soon, and we will prevail, but only if we keep preaching our love, and not giving into discrimination. Love trumps hate.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: Composite

“What happened?” Kivi asked.
“The Nawvo happened,” Savitri answered.
Khuweka groaned, and looked disgusted.
“Who is Nawvo?” Leona asked of her.
“A fundamentalist, and quite violent, faction of the Maramon,” Khuweka explained. “For the most part, Maramon revere their human gods. They have their own ways of showing this, and those ways aren’t always healthy, but the Nawvo take it to a whole different level. They believe in complete annihilation of the human species, so we can ascend to a higher power. I don’t know that much about them, but not even Effigy wanted them to make their way to your universe.”
“Well, they made their way to this one,” Savitri said. “They wiped out what few humans were left after a massive internal conflict, which some believed was secretly instigated by the Nawvo.”
Vitalie lowered her head, and looked around defensively. “Where are they now? If they won the war, they must still be around.”
Savitri shook her head. “They’re dead too. A small group of people showed up and killed them all right back. When I say small I mean no more than the number of people in your group. They came in a machine not unlike this one.” She jerked her head at the prototype behind her.
“That thing is one of a kind,” Khuweka said. “If they were using it to travel to other universes, then we will one day relinquish control of it to them.”
Savitri locked eyes with Vito. “Not all of you will relinquish control.”
Vito didn’t act surprised, and seemed know it was best to not be told anything further about his future.
Hogarth stepped forward. “We’re here looking for a special pair of goggles.”
Savitri nodded her head before Hogarth could go into detail. “I know the ones. One of the elite team of Maramon-killers wore them. His name was Smith.”
“So he’s not here?” Leona guessed.
“Oh, he is,” Savitri replied. “He was their only casualty. I can take you to where they buried him.”
“Wait,” Kallias stopped her. “You’re telling me Smith fought a war on the good side?”
“Yes,” she said, “but don’t worry. You don’t have to alter your perception of him. He died as big of an egotistical megalomaniac as he always was. But the only reason he was ever able to amass power over others was because he hated Maramon so much. He was a bad enemy to have. Thousands of Nawvo could attest to that.”
“There weren’t thousands of Nawvo on the Crossover when it went critical,” Khuweka pointed out. “Hell, I don’t think there were thousands of them total.”
“That may be,” Savitri agreed, “but you can breed, right? This all occurred over the course of centuries.”
“I need to see his body,” Kallias said. Now Leona remembered both he and Hogarth had terrible run-ins with a man back on a very early Durus. She had only forgotten this man’s name because Smith was so generic and forgettable. “I need to make sure.”
“I would love to confirm this too,” Hogarth said, “but he is not why we’re here. We’re just looking for the goggles.”
“They are one and the same,” Savitri said. “I said he wore them, but that’s not entirely accurate. They basically replaced his eyes. You’ll have to cut them off his face.”
“I think I can handle that,” Kallias said. “I gave him those goggles. Now it’s time I take them back.”
Most of them needed to eat something before transporting to the site of the final battle between Maramon invaders who had become stranded in this universe, and a ragtag team of warriors who were fighting to protect humans all over the multiverse. Savitri refused to reveal any more of their names, but did seem to believe most of them would be recognizable. Instead, she spoke of her own story. She was with Missy, Dar’cy, Khuweka, Vito, and dozens of others who had gone to Ansutah in search of a way to end their time powers. She personally had no interest in losing her powers, but had instead stumbled upon The Abyss during a sudden time storm decades prior to its very creation. It was her stillborn son who removed everyone’s powers, but for her, that was millennia ago. She originally had the ability to enhance the strength or intensity of other people’s powers, but had ultimately absorbed many others at the same time Khuweka and Vito had. Unlike them, she was in The Crossover when it went critical, and scattered all passengers and crew members through the bulkverse.
Curtis was the one who donated his ability to teleport to everybody affected by the Serif-nanite incident. He was born with a limitation which made it so he always needed to see where he was going. He could teleport to the other side of a prairie, but not a mountain. This limitation was eliminated when combined with Savitri’s enhancement powers, however. This meant that she, Khuweka, and Vito were now all capable of teleporting anywhere on the planet instantaneously. This was a handy bonus since it was unlikely that they would find a working vehicle, and it would have taken weeks to walk. After dinner, they left, and found themselves standing on the edge of a town the natives once called Bellevue, which had served as the unofficial capital of the whole world. From there, they only had to walk about a kilometer to the entrance of a cemetery.
Savitri held Kivi back as she tried to step through.
“What is it?” Kivi asked her.
“You are the one with spontaneous reemergence, right?” Savitri asked.
“I suppose you could call it that,” Leona said. “There are many different versions of her, all over time and space in our universe.”
Savitri nodded. “It may be dangerous for her to go in. The rest of you should be fine, but it could kill her.”
“Why would it do that?” Finally something that Khuweka didn’t know.
“There’s a power dampening field around this place. Smith’s team wanted to protect his body the best way they could. You walk in here, you won’t be able to turn invisible, or create a time bubble, or anything.” She gestured to Kivi again. “This one could very well just stop existing.”
“I’m the only one who needs to go in,” Kallias said, “and I don’t have any powers.”
“No one should go in who doesn’t have to,” Khuweka suggested. “You will be alone, Detective.”
“I’m not a detective anymore,” he said as he stepped forward.
“I’ll go too,” Hogarth offered. “You may have given him his goggles, but I made him who he was.” As soon as she tried to cross the threshold, she was thrown back by an invisible explosion, and disappeared into it.
“Oh, God,” Vitalie remarked. “That happens with her sometimes.”
“True,” Leona said, “but we are not in our universe. Where is she going to be when she returns?”
Everyone looked to either Khuweka, or Savitri, or both, but neither of them had any clue. “If she comes back to this universe, I shall be here to greet her,” Savitri said.
“You’re not coming back with us?” Khuweka questioned.
Savitri shook her head. “This has been my home for a hell of a lot longer than it hasn’t. I don’t want to leave.”
“But you’re all alone,” Young!Dubra reminded her.
“I won’t be alone forever, little one,” Savitri told her with a smile as she leaned down to her level. “Not everyone was on-world when it ended. They’ll be back one day. This is not the first time something has tried to destroy this planet, and it won’t be the last.”
Kallias refused to allow anyone to cross the threshold with him. He dug Smith’s grave himself, then extracted what he could of the goggles from the corpse. He would later report it as the most disgusting thing he had ever done, and expressed his relief that no one else had to be there. As he was walking back from the grave, he pointed behind the group at someone walking towards them. As the figure drew nearer, they realized it was none other than Hogarth Pudeyonavic. She must not have exploded too far.
She stood before them, panting and weak. “I am so positively glad that I got the date right.”
“Where have you been?”
“The past,” Hogarth replied. “Centuries ago.”
“Oh my God,” Leona said. “I’m so sorry. How did you find your way back to us?”
“I met some lovely survivors of the fall of civilization. I didn’t tell them much about their future, but they still agreed to place me in a secret stasis chamber, and programmed it to open today. I should have told come out yesterday, though; to give me more time.”
“Don’t ever do anything like that to me again,” Kallias said.
“I’ll try,” Uncle Bran. After all that time on the Prototype, telling each other their stories, at no point were these two clear on the depth of their relationship. Leona didn’t get the sense that they were blood-related, or even that he was her uncle through marriage. Yet they were clearly closer than either of them had let on, and Leona couldn’t figure out why they were being so quiet about it.
“Well, if that’s it,” Savitri began, “I guess it’s time for you to go.”
“You can still come with us,” Khuweka said, motioning for encouragement from the crowd, which she easily received.
“I’m not staying so I don’t intrude. I’m staying because I want to. When you’ve lived as long as we have, centuries of peace and quiet are a nice break. Wouldn’t you say?”
“Cheers to that,” Vito agreed.
“We may run into Avidan,” Khuweka said to Savitri. “You never know.”
Savitri bit her bottom lip, and smiled only with her eyes. “Actually, I do know. Go get ‘im, slugger.”
“Go on, git!” Savitri said to the rest of the group. “I’m in the middle of a long game of Polygon with myself.” She spread her arms wide, and bowed to them, then she disappeared.
“My tattoo is doing something,” Leona said. She pulled her sleeve back. Numbers began appearing from the center, and floating off in random directions, before fading away. “Two, three, five, seven, eleven...”
“They’re all prime numbers,” Hogarth noted.
“Oh, I know where we’re going,” Khuweka said.
“Where?” Kivi asked eagerly.
“Universe Prime. The Superintendent lives there.”

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Brooke’s Battles: Bond (Part VIII)

Ecrin stared at the viewport, into empty space. She could see the stars and planets, but no ships. She was completely alone with the Maramon who was keeping her hostage. “Did we teleport somewhere, or did they?”
“Neither,” the Maramon said. “We slipped into a different temporal dimension.”
“At what rate?”
“Infinitely slower,” the Maramon explained. “For us, time is moving slower and slower, but will never stop completely. By the way, I’ve yet to introduce myself. My name is Relehirkojun Rokoglubederi, but you can call me Relehir for short, or just...Repudiator.”
“What are you repudiating?” Ecrin asked him.
“My people; more specifically, their actions. I have not just been sitting in a cell since The Warren first arrived on Earth those years ago. I’ve not been able to go out and do whatever I want, but I’ve been able to gather knowledge. In that time, I learned some things about what becomes of the Maramon. They lose all sense of peace, and start killing each other for space and resources. In a desperate attempt to end the conflict, a group of brilliant scientists come up with a machine that allows them to travel to other universes. Theirs was a noble effort, but the technology was corrupted. The military co opted it from themselves, and began waging wars in these other universes. Fortunately, the machine was stolen from them as well, but not before a great explosion sent a number of them all over the multiverse. The Maramon scourge is no longer capable of spreading to any other universes, but that does the ones they’re already in no good. They’ve continued to reproduce, and grow their armies, and the humans are usually fairly helpless to stop them. I want to give them an advantage. I want to fight.”
“Wait, you want to fight with the humans, against your own kind?”
“I feel it is my duty,” Relehir said with sincerity. “I’m working on forming a team, and I want you to lead them.”
“Why would I lead them? Why not you?”
He shook his head. “I am a scholar, not a leader. The people I have in mind for this team will not respect something like me. They need a human, and you are perfect.”
“Who have you been considering for this...crusade?”
“There are some people throughout history who have experienced banishment. They’ve been betrayed, or neglected, or dismissed. This universe will not miss them, for they are all ruthless and violent malcontents.”
“That’s what you want, malcontents?”
“This is a war, Captain Cabral. We won’t get anywhere with diplomacy. Even before the Maramon turned to hostilities, we were unreasonable. Our creator subconsciously tried to make the perfect race, so he did not endow us with much ability to be flexible, or patient. These are traits that I have had to develop through my positive exposure to humans. If we want to fight the Maramon, we have to do so physically, and we have to be sure it’s done by killing them. We have to kill them all. It’s the only way.”
“What about the ones in Ansutah, your home world? Will you kill them too?”
He shook his head again, “we can leave them alone. The Crossover will absolutely never go back to that universe, so long as a human operates it. All original researchers were either killed by a faction who did not believe in their cause, or committed suicide to prevent their work from being replicated. There will be no escape, so I’m only concerned with the monsters who are already out.”
“That brings up a good point,” Ecrin said. “If the Crossover is the only machine capable of traveling the multiverse, how are we planning to do it?”
Relehir smiled. “It’s not the only one; it’s just the biggest one. Before they used up resources building it, they needed to make sure the technology worked, so they built a prototype. Seats about eight, has everything you need, but it’s not particularly glamorous. They call it The Prototype.”
Ecrin Cabral was very old, which meant she was very mature. Over the centuries, she honed her interpersonal skills. She had decided long ago that the best way to gather genuine information was to start from a foundation of apprehensive trust. She could not treat Relehir as an enemy combatant, or even an intellectual opponent, yet she also couldn’t treat him as a friend. It was her responsibility to question everything he claimed, but take every response at face value, and use it to fuel each next question. She had to assume that he wasn’t lying, and she had to express to him her willingness to believe him. When an individual feels they aren’t being believed—whether they’re being honest or not—they instinctively tighten up, and become defensive. Many interrogators use this to create a sense of discomfort, hoping to force them into revealing, not the truth, but the presence of lies. This technique is fundamentally unreliable, because an uncomfortable person may demonstrate a lack of confidence, even if they really are telling the truth. Therefore, the best way to gauge a person’s honesty is to let them make a mistake on their own. This technique takes more time, but will ultimately leave a lot less room for doubt. Ecrin didn’t know whether she was going to take Relehir up on his offer to lead a small army against the Maramon, but if she immediately ruled it out, the conversation would go nowhere, and she would never get all the facts. “I need a list.”
“A list? A list of what?”
“Of the team. I need to know who you think should be on it, and why. I need as much information on these people as we can get. If I’m even going to consider your proposal, I need to know who I’ll be working with, and what they’ve done in the past, and the future.”
He was pleasantly surprised by how easy this was going. He had kidnapped her, but he hadn’t done it without his reasons. He couldn’t be sure she would be willing to so much as listen to someone who looked like him if he didn’t take precautions to make sure she couldn’t simply walk away. That was another thing Ecrin’s age gave her. She had lived several lifetimes already, which made it that much easier to take more risks, and accept dangerous conditions. She had survived everything she had experienced up until now, even her own death in another timeline, so why not this? “I have files on each of them.” He woke up the nearest terminal. “I’ll pull them up right now.”
“First,” Ecrin said, “I need you to take us back to realtime. How much have I missed?”
“I don’t have a relativity clock. Months, I’m sure.”
“Take us back, and we can keep talking.”
He closed his eyes and nodded graciously, then he lifted his little device once more, and sent them back to the normal temporal dimension. He pulled something up on the terminal. “I was right. It’s been about ten months. I’m sorry, I felt like I had no choice.”
“I understand why you stopped time,” she said as he was loading the requested documents. “What I don’t know, is why you seemingly pretended to be a pirate.”
“Oh, I wasn’t pretending,” he returned. “I stole those ships for you.”
“Every one of those was retrofitted with illegal temporal manipulation technology. None of you has fully grasped how bad it’s gotten, but the solar system is becoming aware of time travelers. This isn’t Durus. People who can manipulate time want to live in secret, and they were being threatened, so I took care of it for you. Then I sent out a flare, and waited for The Sharice Davids to come find me, because I strongly believe we contained that threat.”
“Who made you like this?” Ecrin asked. “Why are you so...?”
“Good?” Relehir suggested, handing her a tablet with the team information. “I had good teachers, it’s true, but they were nothing compared to my role models.”
“Like who?” She started skimming the list of potentials. “These people here?”
“Oh, hell no. Those would have been terrible role models. I’m talking about Mohandas Gandhi, Anne Frank, John Brown, Brooke Prieto, you.”
He opened his mouth, as if to laugh, but didn’t. “That probably wouldn’t surprise you so much if you hypothetically had your memories erased, and then read your biography.”
She was blushing, so she decided to change the subject, “I need to call my ship. They’ve probably been looking for me, and wouldn’t think to return to where they last saw me.”
“Actually, that’s not true.” He leaned back to show her his screen. A small space buoy was pictured there. “They left this here in case you returned. Someone probably suggested we had just become invisible, or something. The Sharice is already on its way back. Unfortunately, it will take about a month. Again, I’m sorry.”
“Yeah, well maybe you did your best. Hopefully the apocalypse didn’t come while we were gone. How are we going to handle this? I’m leaning towards not arresting you, but they will want to.”
He nodded. “The Prototype is currently being used by someone else.” He used airquotes for the word currently, ‘cause time travel. “My sources do not predict its return to this universe until 2211, and have no reason to believe something will happen to it if we don’t get to it right away. You and I are both ageless, and the people I want on our team exist in other points in time anyway, so there’s literally no rush. I am willing to accept the consequences for my actions, and can wait as long as it takes.”
“No. I’m not saying I’m going to agree to this, but I have to believe you never intended to cause this solar system harm, so I will let you go. There has to be away to make yourself scarce before my ship returns.”
“I can use executive escape module. It doesn’t go super fast, but if I leave now, I should be able to stay dark.”
“That’s dumb. I’ll take the module, you take the ship. I’ll just have to make sure I have enough rations.”
“Are you sure about this, Captain? This isn’t our only option.”
“I can handle it,” Ecrin assured him. “It’ll give me time to read over your files. Again, I agree to nothing, but this is a start.”
“Very well. I’ll start checking inventory.”

Friday, November 23, 2018

Microstory 980: Disco

I just have one question for you: why does everyone seem to hate disco so much? It’s not like everyone who listened to it when it was first popular is dead, so why is disco itself dead? We still listen to all kinds of music that isn’t trending right now; wasn’t created just a year or two ago, so why is this one genre so largely despised? Well, I’ve done a bit of research on the matter, and learned that it all stems from people’s hatred of it back when it was first being created. Or rather it comes from people being convinced that there was something wrong with it. Evidently, radio station personalities began a national campaign to combat the genre; a coordinated strike against what they perceived to be a threat to real music. Disco was catchy, but often overproduced. It gave rise to discotheques, which replaced live bands, souring people’s perception of it. Basically, all the complaints we had about disco are the same ones we’re seeing today with pop. There is a markèd difference between a band who writes and performs their own music—who believes in what they’re making, and has something to say—and a pop singer who hires a lyricist and composer to make something for them, and essentially absorb all the credit. But not all art is the same, and performers and audience members don’t all get the same thing out of that art. It’s okay that Miley Cyrus doesn’t have any strong feelings about Jay-Z or Britney Spears, yet they were both included in her song Party in the USA, because her fans like the sound, and that’s really all that matters. While art is always in competition with other art for your attention, it’s not designed to be better than anything else. I love disco, and I won’t apologize for that, just like I don’t expect you to apologize for listening to crap, like The 1975, or The Lumineers.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Microstory 979: Teachers

As I’ve said, I think the education system is flawed. This is a major issue, in different ways, all over the world. Each student is expected to learn certain things, regardless of their interests or strengths. Even at higher levels, where there’s more freedom to study what you want, they have needless restrictions. For instance, when I was working towards my linguistics degree, there was no class that taught geolinguistics. I didn’t care about phonemes and sound frequency. I wanted to learn who speaks what languages, where, at what times in history, why it came to be like that, and how surrounding languages influence those speakers. I should have been given the opportunity to look into all that stuff, instead of wasting my time diagramming sentences. With all this technology, that could have been possible, but humans are notoriously fearful of change. The reason we study the way that we do is because the way we do it is perfectly suited to really intelligent people. An individual with a high intelligence quotient does really well when confronted with new information via lecture, or reading, and then evaluated through achievement testing. Not everyone benefits from this, and I daresay most don’t. So why, when only the few function well under these directives, do we do it like this? Well, obviously because people who come up with these methods are smart. Normal people don’t reform education, because we’re generally not in a position to do so. We’re so looked down upon by the elite that we wouldn’t be able to make any headway.

Now is the part where I make it clear that I blame none of this on the teachers. They are teaching under guidelines set forth by others, and coming from a history of having been taught this same way when they were students. To put it bluntly, it’s all they know. To put it more bluntly, it’s often all they’re allowed to do. Teachers have some leeway to choose their own curriculum, but there are still a ton of expectations on the district and national level that require the majority of their attention. Standardized tests, entry exams, and college acceptance thresholds prevent teachers from going too far off book. The arts generally have a little more flexibility, but not nearly enough. At a certain point in the history of the world in some of my stories, education shifts to the future. Students begin to learn somewhat independently. They’re given the tools they need to explore topics of their choosing, and work at their own pace, using AI instructors. They still have authorities guiding students, but instead of calling them teachers, they use the term facilitator, because they’re meant to help their students stay on track. A student, for example, wouldn’t be allowed to spend years learning only underwater basket-weaving. They are still expected to grow, and become well-rounded contributors to society. These highly-tailored study modules are supplemented with instructional videos, group discussions, and group activities, so don’t think of this as dystopian mindlessness. We can do this, but we have to want it. Teachers are great. They shape young minds, and get them prepared for their future careers. The problem is that they’re bad careers. The way we do business on a general level is inefficient, and predominantly meaningless. Most jobs are stupid, and either should be done by a robot, or just not done at all. We should be teaching our kids to excel in their own ways, and chase their passions, rather than simply expecting everyone to be able to solve for X by age Y. I don’t know where we start with this; whether we transition to a more fulfilling labor structure, or if it begins with the teachers themselves, but something has to be done. Teachers have to be allowed to help students be their best selves. The elite can handle anything, so we need to be focusing our resources on helping the average, and underprivileged.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Microstory 978: Chocolate

I just took a big sniff inside my bottle of melatonin, because it smells like chocolate. I didn’t know this brand did that to their product, so I certainly didn’t buy them for that reason. They don’t even advertise the smell, which is weird. My allergies, made it so it would take me weeks to realize what the scent even was. The reason I do this every night is because smell is surprisingly well-associated with memory; better than most other senses. Even sight can’t compete in some respects. I worry about forgetting that I’ve already taken my medicine, and overdosing, so I have to find ways of reminding myself, which makes me wonder why pharmaceutical companies don’t do this with all of their pills. They want people to take them, right? So make it worth their while. Anyway, it’s probably not a shock to you that I love chocolate. Bear with me while I go off on a tangent. I just got in an argument with someone on Twitter today who absolutely could not understand why I could possibly have the audacity to not like sports. He just couldn’t fathom it, I mean it has everything. If you’re looking for entertainment, sports is the best, and personal preference doesn’t exist. Everybody likes sports, and anyone who doesn’t has a severe—and likely terminal—medical condition, and is missing something in their life. We shall never know happiness. We shall never know peace. My point is that we all like different things, but I’m notably irregular. I like disco, I hate Star Wars; I listen to Selena Gomez and The Offspring; and I don’t really enjoy eating food all that much. One thing I do like to eat, however, is chocolate...just like everybody else. You see, chocolate isn’t like sports. Chocolate is perfectly tailored for human consumption (once processed appropriately). The reason anything tastes good at all is because our ancestors needed to know what foods were safe to eat, and which were not. When I say ancestors, I’m talkin’ way, way back. This is how organisms have survived for literal aeons. Chocolate is very good, and nature wants us to know that, as does evolution. I don’t go one day without eating the stuff, I like it so much. Almost all of the various protein and granola bars I eat include them as a significant ingredient, so I’ve been living like this for years. I try not to be too much like you neurotypicals, but I cannot resist the chocolate. Huh. I guess I do have a medical condition.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Microstory 977: Rain and Petrichor

People hate the rain, and they hate gray skies, but the same feeling of comfort you experience with the color blue is what I experience with gray. Two of the few scents that my allergies allow me to smell are poop and popcorn, which don’t smell all that dissimilar to me, so you can imagine how important it is when I encounter something pleasant, like petrichor, or rotten eggs. Most know that water is vital to life, and if we want to find it on other planets, it’s probably going to require that water in liquid form. But standard water alone is not enough to make complex life. It is the water cycle that promoted evolution in its earliest days, and continues up through today. This cycle is an extremely delicate process, with more moving parts than you may realize. As I’ve recently learned from an educational YouTube video (shoutout to It’s Okay to Be Smart) the primary reason there is so much rain in the Amazon rainforest, and not so much over deserts, and other places, has to do with the purity of air. Contrary to what you might have been taught, rain is not completely pure. It never is, actually, because that would be impossible. Amazonian trees excrete chemicals into the air full of tiny particles, which water molecules attach themselves to and grow. Too few of these particles, and not enough liquid water can form into clouds. Too many, and it can’t form at all, because now there are too many cooks in the kitchen. Every day, greedy people all over the world are doing their damndest to destroy this planet. The rainforest provides us with our oxygen, and the life-giving water cycle. Your actions impact everyone, whether you realize it or not. Throughout history, cultures have had mixed feelings over rain. It is both cleansing, and saddening. Rain can wash away your problems, and clean you of your past mistakes, so you can start anew. But rain also marks death. If movies and television are to be believed, it should be raining everywhere, everyday, 24/7, as long as someone important has died, which is everywhere, everyday, for the grieving survivors of about 151,600 people. I see rain differently. I know that it can’t wash away my sins. They belong to me, and I’m responsible for them. My problems don’t go away unless I do something about them. I don’t feel sad in the rain either, because I find it harder to associate it with crying tears than the average person. Rain, to me, is just another example of how rare and impressive this world is, and how perfectly suited it is to us. I’ve spent some time researching, and I don’t think we’ve encountered another planet where it rains liquid water, and liquid water alone. You should count yourself lucky, so the next time you need to write something down, maybe stay out of the paper, and reach for your phone instead.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Microstory 976: #MeToo Campaign

This series is meant to be a list of things that I love. I love disco, and chocolate, and Stargate. But I can’t say that I love the #MeToo campaign. It’s on this list because I’m glad that this, and related movements, are finally happening. For too long, women have been silenced. They’ve been expected to do not make waves, and to just move on with their lives. Men are conditioned to believe that they are entitled to their thirst for sex and power, and are charged with chasing those dreams relentlessly. I’m horrified every time I hear a new story about some kind of sexual misconduct, or abuse. Each time sounds like a surprise, but if you read deeper, you find that it’s not a surprise. People knew what this man was doing for a very long, and the only reason we’re hearing about it now is because it’s what’s trending. It’s not that all these twisted men got together, so they could coordinate their attacks. This is a systemic problem that has been going on forever, and it’s the revelations of them that are happening all at once. I once made this morbid joke that the only men I would be shocked to hear about doing something like this are Tom Hanks, Colin Hanks, and Jason Ritter. There are more people out there who aren’t abusers, but it’s becoming more and more difficult to trust in that reality. Like any social media movement, it has not come without its faults, or criticisms. It is unclear to some what the hashtag is supposed to accomplish, besides raising awareness, because awareness does not always breed action. It’s important to recognize that a hashtag, no matter how much it’s spread is not capable of truly transforming society. Each case must be examined independently, and abusers have to experience true accountability for their actions. Judges must stop passing out “get out of jail free” cards because their crime happened in the past, and there’s nothing we can do about it now. Could you imagine if we did that for every crime? “Well, we didn’t catch you before your murdered all those people, but the law says we have to let you go. It’s only illegal if you haven’t done it yet.” The entire justice system, in this country at least, needs to change. Statute of limitations is a legal concept; not a moral one. There is no limit to the amount of pain a traumatic event can cause a survivor. One does not simply get over it because enough time has passed. I can’t use the hashtag myself, because I have never experienced anything like this, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing I can do to help. I can start with #IBelieveHer, and I can continue to listen.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: Prototype

Leona looked behind her to make sure that Khuweka wasn’t gesturing towards someone else. There was no one else there, so she must have been gesturing towards her. Everyone was waiting for her to get this machine going, but she had no idea. “Why would I know how to work this thing? Just because I’m smart and educated, doesn’t mean I’m qualified to operate a machine that travels to other universes.”
“Well, not you specifically,” Khuweka said, “but that compass should do the trick.”
Leona looked down at her tattoo. It wasn’t moving or glowing, like it usually did when it wanted to tell her something. “How would I interface this thing with the controls?”
A gentle alarm began ringing from one of the terminals. Khuweka leaned forward and peered at the screen. “I can’t say for sure. All I know is you’re meant to get us out of here, which you should do quickly, because they’re coming.”
Leona started to wave her arm over the console, even pressing her skin against the smoother parts, but nothing worked. “Maybe you need to rethink your source, because I don’t think my compass can do what you say.”
“I was told you would have everything you needed,” Khuweka said cryptically. “They’re getting uncomfortably close.”
“Oh wait,” Vitalie said excitedly. “Hogarth needed a flashlight to check under the panels, and we noticed something strange.” She took out the Rothko Torch and shined it on Leona’s tattoo. The compass began spinning around and swirling. The light reflected off her arm, and scattered about the command center in all sorts of colors. More of the system awakened, and an engine of some kind started powering up.
“What are we looking for next?” Hogarth asked loudly through the noise. “Think about that, and if Khuweka is right, the compass will tell the machine! Even though that sounds insane!”
Leona did as she was told, and started thinking about the HG Goggles. She didn’t know exactly what they looked like, but their original owner, Hokusai Gimura once described them as steampunk. The engine noises subsided into a steadier and more tolerable volume, but never ceased.
A man walked in from the other room, wearing a t-shirt and shorts. He was scratching his mussed up hair on the back of his head, yawning, and blinking at the lights. “What’s going on here?” He looked around at them after his eyes were finished adjusting. “Most of you are human.”
“Hi, I’m Kivi. Who are you?”
“Bulgari?” Leona asked.
“Yeah, heard of me?”
“Yes,” Vitalie said. “You died in pocket four. You were trying to help Serif and little Adamina get back to the ship.”
Vito yawned some more and walked over to a corner. “You were terribly misinformed. I can turn invisible.” He pushed some buttons and revealed what looked suspiciously like a coffee pot. “Anybody want anything? It kind of tastes like tea and urine, but it wakes ya up.”
“I think we’re good,” said the other man, whose name Leona still hadn’t learned.
“I would love some,” Khuweka said graciously. “It doesn’t taste like that to me.”
“Have you been here the whole time?” Vitalie questioned.
“Not the whole time. Missy, Dar’cy, and the rest of the people who wanted to have their powers removed went back in time, and showed up not long after the universe was created. We lived in secret for awhile. Or I should say that they lived in secret. I lived in super secret, because I was invisible.”
“So it doesn’t work?” Leona asked. “They keep their powers.”
“No, it worked,” he replied as he was pouring Khuweka a cup of the Maramon tea. “A few of them wanted their powers back, though. The rumor was Eden Island would allow them to do it, so that’s where they went. I followed them in secret, as per usual.”
“That’s impossible,” Khuweka said. “I was on the island when that group showed up. You were not there, and you could not have been invisible, because the thing that took people’s powers was inescapable. It affected everyone in the whole world, except for Serif, because she wasn’t there.”
“It affected me too,” Vito said, taking a sip. “It was different for me, though. I was in a state of invisibility at the time, and it was in that state that I remained. I needed my powers back if I wanted people to see me, which is why I went with them.”
“Where are they now, the ones who wanted their powers back?” Leona asked him.
He lifted his cup towards Khuweka. “She can fill in the rest.”
Khuweka hesitated, but knew she needed to explain herself. “Like I said, I was there, because Serif asked me to be. She gave me a sample of her healing nanites, which I was intending to supply to your friends. Something went wrong, and everyone there, including me, ended up with all of the powers. I can teleport like Curtis, disintegrate like Lucius, thread objects like Dar’cy, diagnose powers like Avidan, create time bubbles like Missy, and slip time like...uhh...never mind.” She was referring to the older Dubravka, who little Dubra here had yet to become, so it was best to leave her out of the story. “They’re also immortal, like I always was.” She glared at Vito. “As far as I know, though, I can’t turn invisible.”
Vito smirked. “Are you sure? Have ever tried?”
She didn’t answer.
He continued, “you knew what the other people’s powers were, so it was easy for you to replicate them. You didn’t know about me, so it never occurred to you.”
“I guess I could try now.”
“Stop,” Leona nearly shouted. “You were telling us what happened to our friends.”
“Right,” Khuweka said innocently. “Sorry. From what we gathered, hey were sent to other universes.”
“From what you gathered? What does that mean?”
“You know that big circle of Maramon you found yourself in when you first arrived in Ansutah?” Khuweka prompted.
“They were attempting to travel to your universe, through a portal created by a woman named Ezqava Eodurus. You may know her as Effigy.”
“Yes,” Hogarth recalled. “I do know her.”
Khuweka continued, “Some good people, including Hogarth here, corrupted that portal. That’s what created those monsters on Durus. Whenever any of my people tried to cross over, they came out wrong on the other side. But it was their only hope, because very few of us knew that the prototype Crossover was still somewhere in Ansutah, and even few knew where exactly. Apparently Vito’s been sleeping in it.”
“Guilty,” Vito confirmed.
“How did Vearden, and all those other humans get their hands on the real Crossover?” Leona asked.
“There was a technical error when we all accidentally slipped time to the future, to a time when Maramon still had control of the machine. What we believe happened was it expelled everyone inside of it throughout the bulkverse, seemingly randomly, before the machine itself was lost in one of them. Effigy presumably landed in your universe, and was trying to call for reinforcements. And now we’re here, in the prototype, trying to travel to one of these universes.”
“Are we going to run into one of our friends then?” Leona asked her.
“I assume they’re as immortal as me, so it’s possible, but we would have to land sometime after they did, and the chances of us happening upon one of those universes are pretty slim. We just don’t have the data.”
Leona sighed. This was a lot of information, and she didn’t feel like much of it was useful. It was better when they could hope Missy and Dar’cy had completed their mission, but now there was so much more to worry about.
“This is all amazing to know,” the other man said. “I do have some business back in my home universe, so how long will it be until we get there?”
Khuweka pressed some buttons, and looked at the monitor again. “There’s no telling how long it will be until we get back, because I don’t know what these kids are trying to find. It will be another eight months or so until we arrive at our destination.”
“That won’t work,” Leona complained. “I’m going to disappear in a few hours. Where will I return?”
Khuweka tilted her chin. “I don’t think you’re going anywhere. You’re one of those salmon, right?”
The white monster almost laughed. “Yeah, I don’t think the gods who control you can reach you here. You should be good.”
She turned out to be right about that. The eight of them spent as many months in the Crossover prototype together. It was equipped with a quantum food replicator, and just enough living quarters for each of them. Leona asked why her baby was apparently not growing the whole time, but Khuweka had no certain answer for this. Though metabolism persisted throughout the journey, the bulkverse itself didn’t follow the same rules of time, so maybe all aging was halted. The Prototype also had tons of original entertainment, but all of it was from Ansutah, and thusly all in the Maramon language, which ultimately led them to learning it in a conversational capacity. Khuweka learned how to turn things invisible, while Dubra learned everything she would have in a school setting had she not been sheltered by her mother for her whole life. They learned all about each other too. The other man’s name was Kallias Bran. He seemed to not be salmon, nor choosing one, nor chosen one, nor spawn, yet he had a lot of experience with this life. When it was all over, Khuweka led them out of the machine, and breathed in the fresh air over a cemetery. It was chillingly quiet. “Welcome to whatever it is they call this universe.”
A voice came from above, “most people don’t name their universes, because they think theirs is the only one.” The woman gracefully hopped off the roof of the prototype, and landed on the ground with no problem. “People here are different. We call it the Composite Universe. You came to this world at a bad time, though.”
“Why is that, Savitri?” Khuweka asked, apparently having already met this mysterious young woman.
“Everyone’s dead.”

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Brooke’s Battles: Bounty (Part VII)

Sharice’s code had not been corrupted, and she had not switched allegiances. Through months of bureaucratic debrief, Captain Cabral, Brooke, and the rest of the senior crew learned from her that the captain of the Zerzan had figured out a way to bypass the chain of command, and communicate directly with Sharice. He and his people had gathered intelligence leading them to believe that a different faction on their side was intending to destroy the center Northwest Forest circles in an attempt to escalate the war. The problem, according to them, was that up until that point, they were fighting against their enemy using that enemy’s rules. They believed there were no such things as rules of engagement, or war crimes. The difference between anarcho-primitivists, and the primitivists living in the center circle was the anarcho part. They were not content living with little technology all on their own. Either the entire populace fell in line, or they would have to die. Anarchy, like many other forms of social politics, doesn’t work if they’re constrained by some other form of government’s idea of civility.
For instance, in the 21st century, most countries were capitalistic. Everything was valued at whatever anyone was willing to pay for it. If enough people couldn’t afford something, and the producers were incapable of sustaining their business at those price points, that price would drop. While other countries attempted to create some antithesis to this, it was impossible. Every nation traded on the international stage, so whether they liked it or not, and whether they believed or not, they were all capitalists. It was unclear whether the more violent faction of anarchists would have succeeded in their mission to force the solar system to stoop to their level, because thanks to the bravery of the late Captain Torben Altink, their whole plan failed. Evidently, he had attempted to open talks with the system leadership, to explain the growing threat to them, but was mostly ignored. As the Sharice and other warships took the enemy ships down one by one, power perpetually shifted amongst the winners. By taking out their competition, the violent faction was able to consolidate power, and basically do whatever they wanted.
The Zerzan had all but given up their fight to stop them when a random crewman came up with an idea. Since they didn’t have the resources to take on their internal enemy themselves, they would recruit the Sharice. They lured Ecrin and Brooke in, then secretly began talking with Sharice. The original plan was for Sharice to take total control over the ship itself, and follow the Zerzan back to Earth, where they would fight off the other faction together. Her mistake was not even trying to convince her people to listen to the Zerzan. In the end, with both vessels crippled, their only hope was to commandeer the drop ship, and take it straight down to the other faction, sacrificing Captain Altink in the process. Now the only question was, how did they get their hands on a Lucius-bomb?
I am not at liberty to say.
“What are you talking about? I’m your mother,” Brooke said.
“I’m your commanding officer,” Ecrin said to Sharice.
Yes,” Sharice began, “and you’re the one always talking about the chain of command. I am not at liberty to say.
“Are you telling me someone higher than me ordered you to keep quiet about the Lucius-bomb?” Ecrin asked.
Sharice waited to answer. “I’m not, not saying that.
“How far are we to intercept?” Ecrin asked.
Seventy-two minutes,” Sharice responded. While the crew was only now hearing her justification for recent events, the system leadership heard everything months ago. They were satisfied with the explanation enough to grant her full duty privileges, so she could return to work. They were presently on their way to capturing a fleet of space pirates.
“Oh, so you can answer some questions. It’s nice to know this old dog still has a little pull on this ship.”
Ecrin,” Sharice started to say.
Captain,” Ecrin corrected.
Sharice pretended to clear her throat. Of course, she didn’t have a throat, but she found that human speech relied on brief pauses, false starts, and other disfluency to maintain a bond between one another. These meaningless utterances are vital to natural language, because perfection can sound rehearsed, which comes off as didactic, or condescending. “Captain,” she echoed, “You know I would never do anything against your best interests if I didn’t have a good reason. I didn’t put that bomb on my drop ship, and I did not want it there. When an opportunity to get rid of it came along, I seized it.
“When was it put there?”
Sharice cleared her hypothetical throat again, but didn’t say anything.
“Miss Prieto,” Ecrin prompted.
“Answer her,” Brooke ordered.
During the quarantine,” Sharice said.
“That makes sense,” Brooke said. “A lot of people came in that I didn’t know.”
“So there’s no telling who did this, let alone who ordered it,” Ecrin said with a sigh.
“Unless...” Brooke began, sending Ecrin a coded message through her gestures.
Ecrin stepped back gracefully. “Use the meeting room.”
Brooke stepped into the other room. “Sharice, isolate yourself in here, and hand over control to the helmsman on duty.”
“We need to have a private conversation, that’s why.”
“Sharice, we can’t do our jobs if we don’t know what we’re up against. Right now, we’re going off to capture precisely five stolen interplanetaries, three boarders, and a command ship. And we know that’s what we’re up against because we’ve been investigating these crimes. We’re not just flying blindly, hoping we’re not outmatched. If someone was able to hide a Lucius-bomb in the drop ship, they could have hidden something else. Hell, you may not even know about it. Your internal sensors can’t see everything. Your relationship with the crew is built on trust. We all agreed to come back after what you did, because we trusted you believed you were doing the right thing. I’m here to remind you that you’re my daughter, I’m your mother, and I’m asking you for a name. The chain of command is important, but if the person who made you do this already broke that chain, it’s up to us to stop them. Do you understand?”
Yes, mother.
“Go ahead then.”
Sharice didn’t say anything.
“Go ahead,” Brooke repeated.
Holly Blue.
Holly Blue put it there.
“Holly Blue is not Ecrin’s superior officer. Ecrin is hers.”
I’m not talking about the chain of command from the Sol military. I’m talking about a higher level of authority; one that goes beyond anything any human could understand.
“When you say human, do you mean human like Ecrin is biologically human, or human like Richard and Allen are humans.”
The latter,” Sharice answered.
“There is no hierarchy in the world of choosing ones and salmon,” Brooke argued.
If The Last Savior of Earth tells you to do something, you do it.
“This was Étude’s doing?”
She had the intelligence. She knew this would happen, because someone with powers told her the future.
“She’s retired,” Brooke pointed out.
She’s quit working for the powers that be,” Sharice said. “That doesn’t mean she’s quit saving people.”
“What else did she do?”
“The Lucius-bomb is all I knew about. Like you said, though, my internal sensors weren’t designed to pick up every little thing that happens on this ship.
“I need to speak with Holly Blue.”
She’s busy preparing for the intercept.
“Sharice, if she’s built more bombs, or something else bad, she has to be stopped and questioned. What is she planning to do with the pirates? She cannot be allowed to continue.”
I assure you she has no intention of harming those pirates. The plan is to stop them peacefully, just as we did all those other ships.
“You can’t know that.”
I can, though. Please, don’t tell the captain, not until we close this case.
“Very well, but I want you monitoring her movements with what few internal sensors you do have. I’ll pilot the ship myself if you can’t divide attention.”
Understood. And mother?” she said as Brooke was about to leave the room. Thank you, I love you.
“I love you too.”
An hour later, they were upon the pirate fleet, which made no threatening moves towards the Sharice. Nor did it attempt to outrun them. Ecrin ordered Sharice to hold steady for a while, to feel out the situation. The pirates were hoarders, but no evidence suggested they were violent. They never harmed the rightful crew and passengers of the vessels they stole. They always packed them in lifeboats, and programmed a time-delayed rescue beacon. It would seem all they wanted were the ships themselves, almost like they were building an army.
“Sir?” Holly Blue offered. “Should I release the EMPs?”
“No. Open a channel.” Ecrin waited for the comms officer to set it up. “Rover One, this is Captain Cabral of the Sharice Davids. Please respond.”
This is Rover One,” someone responded immediately, in audio only. “We call it the Midas, though.
“Midas,” Ecrin acknowledged. “Please lower your defenses and prepare to be boarded.”
Sure thing,” the pirate agreed.
Ecrin looked over at Brooke.
“Maybe they know they have no chance,” Brooke suggested. What else would cause them to be so accommodating?
Ecrin turned to the bridge crew, and started delegating. “You, coordinate the transitions. Scan for weapons and tech, and put everyone in hock. Keep the leader separate from everyone else. I’ll want to talk with him first.” She walked out to prepare for the confrontation.
The pirates followed direction with absolutely no problem. When one of the guards questioned this, they all said they were actually following orders from the boss. He had some plan to get out of this, and they trusted him to follow through.
“Where’s my prisoner?” Ecrin asked as she was waiting in the interrogation observation room.
Uhh...he’s holed up in his quarters,” one the guards reported. “He says he’s only willing to talk to you on his ship.
“Force him,” Ecrin ordered.
We’ve been trying. We can’t break through.
Brooke shook her head. “Don’t do it.”
“It’s obviously a trap, sir,” Holly Blue concurred. “I’ve seen this movie a million times.”
“So have I,” Ecrin said. “But those characters didn’t have what I do.”
“What’s that, sir?” Holly Blue asked. “Us?”
“No,” the captain replied as she was checking the power on her belt. “They didn’t have emergency teleporters.” She looked back over to Brooke. “If something goes wrong, this ship is yours. You’re going to have to deal with the Holly Blue situation yourself.”
“The what?” Holly Blue asked, confused and offended.
“How do you know about that?” Brooke asked. She never reported what she had learned from Sharice about the Étude and Holly Blue conspiracy.
“I hear everything. Sharice, put me on that ship, and bring back our people.”
Sharice apported Ecrin over to the other ship. After a few torturous ignorant moments, she said, “receiving visual.
“On screen,” Brooke ordered. The monitor showed the inside of the pirate ship. Cameras were following Ecrin down a passageway, and up to a door. It opened automatically, and let her in. No man was in this room, though. When Brooke was piloting the Warren back from the rogue planet with Leona and the gang, something went wrong with one of the pocket dimensions they used to hold a higher passenger capacity. A boy had the ability to create a new being out of nothing with every draw of breath. He didn’t make humans, though. Some called them white monsters, because they were tall and as white as a chicken egg. They called themselves the Maramon. Most had stayed in their dimension, which was eventually transformed into an entirely separate universe. One of them was stuck in this universe at the time, and Brooke hadn’t kept track of what they did with him. The Maramon smiled at the camera and lifted a small device. He pressed a button, and his ship disappeared.