Friday, September 20, 2019

Microstory 1195: Harrison Senior

Harrison was an artificial intelligence that was created in a timeline that no longer exists. AI is different than natural-born humans. Even though they’re designed to become self-aware, and start making their own decisions, they first have to be programmed by someone else with intelligence. While the butterfly effect can indeed make wild unforeseen changes to how the future unfolds, there are other forces at play that can sometimes keep things the same as they were in another timeline. The Gallery and the powers that be are capable of making an individual be born who would otherwise be erased from reality simply because the events that led to their conception were not like they were before. The programming of an AI, however, is unnatural, and relies on a far more complex series of events. No one is powerful enough to see how these events affect each other, let alone modify them to their needs. So when the engineer who first created Harrison, and Harrison’s brothers and sisters, was working on programming AI in a new reality, he retained no memory of the first time he did it. There was no way for him to code them the exact same way again, so they always turned out different. Of course, very few could see changes to reality, and even fewer who could see that each creation was truly unique and that there was no such thing as alternate versions of them. In Harrison’s one true reality, androids were often created to fulfill some need in the workforce. Humans didn’t want to do certain jobs anymore, like yard work, so they built people to do it for them. They were cheaper, and didn’t require any concessions to make them comfortable and safe. They did not have souls, however, and could not even complain about their roles in the world. They were just machines; robots. It would be profoundly immoral to create a self-conscious AI like Harrison, and then force it to work to no benefit to it. Protective laws to prevent this from happening were passed long before true AI was possible. So why did the engineer create these AI? Well, he considered all his creations to be his children, just as strongly as he would have had he conceived or adopted a human. He loved them, and he cared for them, and he taught them right from wrong. He wanted to nurture life, because such a thing is as much an emotional imperative as propagating the species is an imperative on a biological level. He treated his androids as closely to humans as he possibly could. He even started them out in toddler forms, and gradually modified their substrates as time went on, though he did so much faster than nature would a human, because they were learning and maturing at a faster rate. Once they were adults, the programmer sent them off into the world, to start leading their own lives. He was quite old at that point, and chose not to undergo longevity treatments, or transhumanistic upgrades. His AI children were his legacy, and he was completely happy with that being all he left the world. His name was Harrison as well, and his first-born, Junior was always his favorite.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Microstory 1194: Duane Blackwood

Duane Blackwood came from a long line of people who helped others flee systems of oppression. His ancestors were members of the underground railroad, and subsequent generations helped ferry refugees from terrible places where their lives were in danger. Duane’s parents had their own way of rescuing people. Their main claim to infame was when they worked with the Gunbender-Tracer alliance to help rid Kansas City of its gang violence problem. They discovered that many people wanted out of their respective gangs, but even as gang power over the streets was dwindling, defectors were still in danger of retaliation. Their own gang might go after them for selling them out, even though they were never expected to snitch, or a rival gang might see the act as a sign of weakness. The Blackwoods forged papers for these people, and helped them get out of the city, so they could start new lives elsewhere. The local police were aware that this was happening, but since it wasn’t costing them, or the federal government, any money, they were allowing it. It wasn’t exactly legal, but the cops wanted to end the gang violence just as badly, and this whole new method was proving to be quite effective. The end justifies. Duane would have followed in his parents’ footsteps if he had had any choice. Instead, the powers that be decided they would use his inherited skills as a forger for a specific class of people. His physiology allowed him to survive nonlinear time, so they conscripted him to work exclusively with other time travelers; primarily with salmon. When one of them is dropped into a completely new time and place, sometimes they’re fine as they are, but sometimes they need new identities. It was Duane, a.k.a. The Forger was responsible for providing that for them. He wasn’t just capable of forging the papers themselves. His power reached into the past, and modified history to account for the newcomer. An authority who suspected a time traveler to not be who they said they were would be unable to find any evidence to this, as an entire false life will have been fabricated for them. Occasionally, the powers will allow Duane to work for a choosing one, or just a regular human, reminiscent of his parents, but for the most part, he is beholden to their assignments. He had few strong feelings either way. He liked meeting people, and he enjoyed the work, but he probably would have been all right if he had never learned anything about the secret underworld of choosers and salmon. He still would have found purpose.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Microstory 1193: Morick Dunbar

When an individual wins their section of the mage games, one of the source mages will bestow their powers in a ceremony. Common knowledge is that sources are not capable of deciding which power any candidate receives, but this is not entirely true. Every once in a while, the source mages will determine that it’s time to create a town mage who has multiple powers. This could happen because of an influx in monster activity, or maybe the current mages aren’t picking up enough slack. Due to Morick Dunbar’s brilliant performance at the games, he was chosen for this honor, though he would never know it. Like everyone else, he would believe his time power to have been randomized. They transformed him into something with no conventional name, though there have been arguments for student, scholar, learner, and apprentice. On his own, he was unable to do anything. He could gain any power he wanted, however, as long as he could learn it from someone who already had it. He didn’t simply absorb, channel, or share their ability, but instead studied their use of it, and eventually figured out how to replicate it himself. Most town mages were given their assignments right away, but he spent years waiting for his post, all the while traveling all over the world, studying others. He wanted to be absolutely sure that he could protect people from an attack. He felt it was better to be late and safe, then jump the gun, and get people killed. Sometimes it was best to just watch another mage in action, but other times, that mage needed to think about their power, and vocalize what it was like to use it. He had dozens of teachers, some of whom had a power he had already learned, but perhaps thought about, and used, it differently. He was able to pick up some skills easily, while others took more work, and there were a few that he just never really understood. That was okay, though, because even without them, he was still one of the most powerful town mages of his day. When it wasn’t protecting his town’s border, he continued to practice the powers in his arsenal, for if he didn’t, he would lose them. No, an unpracticed power wouldn’t just disappear completely, but he would have trouble recalling the lessons, just as any student does, for any subject. He developed a reputation as a somewhat unpleasant person to be around, but only because he was often so focused on maintaining his capabilities that he didn’t have much time for socializing. If all else failed, it might have been all up to him to be the last line of defense against their enemies, and he took that responsibility very seriously. The truth was that he was perfectly pleasant when he wasn’t feeling the intense pressure of being so versatile, and in demand. And once the war was over, people around him were able to see that.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Microstory 1192: Frank Delaney

Frank Delaney’s life was full of heartbreak and death in any reality. Though he was not salmon himself, he was always somehow involved with them. There was one timeline where his mother died when he was sixteen, so he changed his last name to Williams, in honor of her. His father lived long enough to be proud of him for this, but then he died too. Frank went on to become a famous model-turned-actor, but apparently that was too much of a happy ending. In the following timeline, everything started to play out as it had before, but a mentally unstable time traveler altered the past, which ultimately led to Frank’s untimely death as well. There was a timeline where both his parents survived into old age, but he spent a not insignificant amount of his adulthood battling a pirate serial killer, and other nefarious individuals. His first wife died in a later timeline, while he died with her in the timeline after that, and this was something he knew was going to happen. When the current version of Frank Delaney was a child, he encountered a boy in the park who introduced himself as Zeferino Preston. Zeferino claimed that Frank’s death was part of destiny; that it was inevitable. Someone had gone back in time, and changed history. This historical event had nothing to do with Frank personally, but due to the butterfly effect, a series of other events were leading to his demise, and there was nothing he could do about it. Most children would either disbelieve the prediction, or be scared out of their minds about it. All evidence suggested Zeferino was intending for him to live the rest of his short life in paranoia, but that’s not what happened. Frank just learned to make the best out of every situation. He still didn’t know exactly when death would come. He met, and fell in love with, his wife, just as he was scheduled to. And when his time came, he accepted his death. He just wished Zeferino had been clearer about the nature of the incident. His wife died as well, and this spawned even greater changes to the timeline, which few could have predicted.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Microstory 1191: Aimo Lahti

Aimo Lahti was another one of the source mages. His parents raised him to be generous, and actually gave him a name they thought meant just that. As it turned out, it translated better to ample or full. Plus, there was already a historical figure who shared his exact same name. That wasn’t that strange on its own, but the fact that Aimo’s father was so far removed from his family’s heritage that he wasn’t even made aware of their Finnish origins until he was an adult was odd. Aimo took to his upbringing well. He would have probably flourished back on Earth in a soup kitchen, or some other social justice organization. He was always looking out for others, especially if they weren’t strong enough to take care of themselves. The planet of Durus didn’t have any money during the despotocracy, or the adhocracy, but it did often have a chaotic bartering system. He was all about fairness, and grew angry with people who tried to take advantage in a business dealing. He was extremely outspoken against allowing the mages they created to sell their powers to others, or for having a monetary system at all. The candidates would be selected based on their drive to protect their town, and they would be provided the resources to do so. He didn’t think they should be angling for anything more, nor should anyone else. The Mage Protectorate would feature no money either, but instead be based solely on labor. Anyone who worked or studied was a citizen, and anyone who didn’t work was immediately—if only temporarily—stripped of that citizenship. Special educational programs became necessary during transitional periods in people’s lives, so they wouldn’t lose their rights. Some saw this as punishment for not being constantly employed, but Aimo saw this as a good thing. He believed in an educated populace anyway, so it was kind of a win-win situation, according to him. Sadly, his generosity weighed on him as the years passed. People were more than happy to take what he had to offer, but they were always reluctant to emulate his behavior, and give. He became frustrated, jaded and a little angrier every day. He put so much effort into making the world a better place, and still, humans were just as selfish as they were in the stories of them on Earth. He gradually moved to the other side of the spectrum, and kind of decided he was entitled to a life of comfort. He started to see the source mages as kings to be revered and followed, rather than a gift to be cherished. He never outright demanded fealty from others, but he sure did a lot to imply it. In the end, he wasn’t remember too fondly, and he died with what essentially amounted to nothing, because no one believed in him anymore.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 11, 2249

Sanaa and Eight Point Seven were long returned by the time Leona’s day of the year appeared on the timeline. They, in fact, had spent a lot of time traveling, and were currently birdwatching a few kilometers away from what Trinity was calling Homebase. Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida was one of the most wondrous and interesting planets in the stellar neighborhood. It was full of plant and animal life, which made it a haven for biologists, and related scientists. While Varkas Reflex was really taking off as a resort planet, Bida was primed for tourism and exploration, and this was thanks to Trinity’s efforts. Paige never seemed to want to grow up to be a scientist, but this other version of her, Trinity sort of fell into it shoulder first. She didn’t set out to learn so much about any scientific field, but the people she recruited to help her transform the world taught her some things along the way. She picked the best and brightest she could find around the world in the 21st, 22nd, and 23rd centuries. She never conducted her search further back in time, or to any point in the future. She kept herself on a fairly linear timeline, only detouring a little to find someone new.
She arranged for the experts to sign non-disclosure agreements, rather than choosing to erase their memories of the events. This meant there were a couple dozen people who knew the truth about Bida’s ecosystem, or at least some part of it. She never let them meet each other, or even be certainly aware of their contemporaries’ existence. Most of them were smart enough to figure out that Trinity wasn’t the only one involved in this, but they had no empirical evidence of it. She kept track of most of them after she was done with their services, and the majority of those were still alive today, having enhanced their substrates to survive the wrath of time. One such of these people signed up for a colony ship, and happened to be arriving today. Trinity wasn’t super pleased about it, but she claimed it was a necessary evil.
Tamerlane Pryce was a cryptozoologist originally, but his early experiences on Bida inspired him to switch gears, and start to study mind-uploading. Such technology was very theoretical in his day, but he became obsessed with living long enough to see humanity reach what he considered to be his second home. He didn’t quite figure out how to make it happen by the time he was old and on his deathbed, so he settled on Plan B. Worried it would come to this, he illegally commissioned a braindead clone of himself. Before he died, he programmed a team of robo-surgeons to transplant his entire brain into the clone. The authorities discovered what he had done, and promptly convicted him of manslaughter, breach of medical ethics, and other ancillary crimes. He was in prison for 121 years, which was just short enough for him to pull the last of his strings to transfer his consciousness to a third substrate before the second one met its end.
Feeling young, and stronger than ever, Tamerlane continued his work, now armed with orders of magnitude more knowledge on the subject than he had when he was first starting out. He now boasted himself the world’s foremost expert on alternative substrates. He wasn’t entirely inaccurate about this. Even though Trinity regretted choosing him as one of her scientists, she needed him once more to change the world yet again.  Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida was teeming with animals, at what was believed to be a higher degree of diversity than could even be found on Earth. Based on Trinity’s extensive memory of an alternate future, none of them possessed intelligence, or very much potential to evolve complex thought, but they did deserve respect. She knew people would want to watch these creatures in their natural habitats. No one wanted to build any zoos, which was what humans once did on the homeworld, and most people of the day recognized how unethical that was, including those who were once participated. But how would a vonearthan enjoy the presence of an animal without disturbing it? The answer was simple, according to Tamerlane Pryce: become the animal.
Leona shook his hand politely. “It’s nice to meet you. My name is Leona Matic.”
“Are you a time traveler as well?” he asked, which was kind of a taboo thing to say before a proper greeting.
Trinity was about to scold him, but Leona had a word bullet in the chamber. “Aren’t we all traveling through time?”
“Quite right,” Tamerlane admitted.
“Mister Pryce,” Trinity said in a professional tone, “I hope you appreciate what I had to do to get you here. Ex-cons are generally not approved to leave Earth, let alone the solar system.”
“Believe me, I know,” Tamerlane said.
“Then know this as well, your foot is on the edge of a crumbling cliff. One false move, and I won’t just send you back to Earth, I’ll trap you in time.” She pulled up an image of half-barren hillside. “This was taken forty-two thousand years before Jesus was born. I don’t care how sophisticated you think your body is, it’s not gonna last long enough for you to see the invention of replacement parts. You’ll die before man figures out how to dig the first farm. You pickin’ up what I’m droppin’ down?”
“I most certainly am,” Tamerlane said, trying to hide his fear. “There was only one metaphor in that speech. The rest was quite clear.”
Paige snapped a photo of the wall behind Leona and Tamerlane, then used a different photo to instantly transport all three of them to the edge of an actual cliff. “Actually, there were no metaphors.”
Now Tamerlane was unable to hide his fear. Leona was all right, since she learned to trust Paige a long time ago. But was Trinity anything like the Paige she knew, or had she gone through too much to justify comparison?
Trinity used her most recent photo to return them to Homebase seconds after they left, much to Tamerlane’s relief. She continued with her directives. “You will respect my team, my friends, and anyone else you encounter here. You will make no mention of time travel unless we’re not in mixed company, and in no danger of suddenly being in mixed company. You will know when that’s the case and when it’s not. Err on the side of caution. Very few people on this planet are aware of us. You will report to me every step of the way. You will not breach ethics. You will not attempt to use your research for personal gain, or overpower me or my authority. Is that all I need to say, or should I go on about really obvious stuff, like don’t rape or murder anyone?”
“I understand everything you said,” Tamerlane began, “and I have no interest in finding loopholes, or doing something wrong that you failed to specify. You want me to be a good person. Believe it or not, that’s all I want too. I lost my way a bit when I was trying to figure out the science. When you showed me a literal whole new world, it made the prospect of death that much less rational, and I just couldn’t risk it anymore.”
“All right,” Trinity said, truly wanting to trust him. She indicated the entire warehouse. Ellie, a.k.a DJ Mount Alias moved her studio to a different building a few months ago, so the whole place was vacant. “This will be your lab. As you can see, there’s nothing in it. I’ve requested two large format industrial synthesizers, and regular shipments of raw materials. If you need any rare substances, let me know, and I will procure them for you. You will build all of your own equipment. If you need assistance, give me a list of qualifications, and I’ll find someone of sufficient education and experience. Is there anything you can think of off the top of your head?”
“I’m a little hungry.”
Trinity pointed to Ellie’s former studio. “There’s a fully stocked universal biomolecular synthesizer in there, along with facilities for human imperatives. You’re connected to our grid, but if you require excessive energy consumption, we may have to install an isolated system.”
Tamerlane nodded, and started looking around at the space like a potential buyer. “This will do nicely. I’ll install my primary workspace right here against the office. Grow pods can line that wall. That far corner would be perfect for a tank. You do have aquatic animals here, correct?”
“We do, yes?”
“Well, the work will go faster if I have access to a jumbo industrial synthesizer. The tank needs to be pretty damn big.”
Trinity narrowed her eyes. “I will look into that, or into an alternative. Anything else?”
“Yes, a familiar.”
“A what?”
I would like a familiar; an animal native to this planet...small enough to be comfortable in here, gentle temperament, capable of learning commands, etcetera.”
“You want a pet,” Trinity tried to translate.
This seemed to offend him greatly. “No, I would like a familiar.”
Trinity stared at him for a moment. “I will speak with the zoologists here, and see if there’s anything in their catalogue that fits your parameters. Do not get your hopes up, however. Part of your job will be to assist in building said catalogue. It is nowhere near comprehensive.”
“Thank you.” He pauses a beat. “Now, I’m going to look through the database for something to eat. Would anyone care to join me?”
“No, thank you.” Trinity takes Leona’s hand, and escorts her out of the warehouse.
“Is he going to be a problem?” Leona asked after they were far enough away for what might be enhanced ears on Tamerlane’s head.
“I sure hope not,” Trinity replied as they were starting to walk down the trail to meet up with their friends. “I know your time here is short, but if he ever makes you feel uncomfortable, or you notice him break a rule, don’t be afraid to come to me.”
“I can do that.”
“So, he’s going to be building animal bodies for people to upload their minds into?”
“Yes,” Trinity confirmed. “In order for people to enjoy the fauna on this world, we’ll have them blend in as one of the pack, or herd, or whatever it is.
“But they’re just surrogates, right? No one’s going to be becoming one of these animals permanently?”
Trinity lifted her eyebrows. “I don’t know. I don’t really have any control over what people do with this technology. I was just asked to find someone who can make it happen. Tamerlane is that someone.”
Leona sighed. “We’ve seen what humans do with technology. Just because they’re not really humans anymore doesn’t mean it’s not part of the same pattern.”
“I know.”

“There’s no pattern,” Pribadium complained.
“I know,” Mateo replied. “That’s the fun of it.”
“How can I win if I can’t anticipate which one you’re going to choose?”
“It’s a game of luck, Pri.”
“I don’t do well with luck. I’m a study and get it right kinda girl.”
“I’m fully aware of that. That’s why I’m teaching you these games, to show you having an answer isn’t all there is. You’re too focused; you’re missing alternative solutions, and interesting perspectives.”
“Wait, what am I missing?”
“I don’t know,” Mateo said. “But you’re not a machine. Your brain is still organic. It requires breaks from thought, or when it gets stuck on a problem, it won’t be able to go anywhere. You need to learn to stop what you’re doing, and come back to it later. It doesn’t matter if you play rock, paper, scissors, or a thumb war.”
“I did not care for that one.”
“I remember. The point is that your mind could be even more powerful than it already is, but you won’t realize your potential if you don’t let yourself relax once in awhile, or be creative. Computers are really good at solving equations until they run out of memory, or power. Humans can’t add memory sticks. When we get burnt out—and even geniuses like you get burnt out—the brain will just give up, even if you really want to keep going.”
“Okay, I understand. Let’s go again. I think I know which one you’re gonna choose this time.”
Mateo chuckled. Hopefully she would get it eventually.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Gatewood: Project Long Game (Part V)

What they learned after the departure of the Project Stargate ships was that Operation Anglo started in 2238, and went all the way through 2245. Saxon Parker cloned over a 162,000 copies of himself every year, which averaged to 445 clones per day. Because of a patented accelerated aging chemical process, by the time they were deployed for the mission, they were adults. While most of the clones were in their thirties, the eldest appeared to be 48 years old. Omega was one of the youngest, at only 25. It took a few tries to figure out how to stop the aging process once they were at maturity; a necessity brought about by a genetic anomaly Saxon happened to possess. This was still nascent technology, and its inventors didn’t realize how much adaptation rapid cloning required for each subject. He might not have needed to fix this mistake if he had asked Kestral and Ishida for their help, but he refused to let them into his secret cloning lab on a distant outer planetary moon, even after the truth of its existence was revealed. It was only after he sacrificed his connection to the present day to monitor the progress of part of the network of ships that they were able to hack access to it. It was here that they discovered his reasons for this.
The lab was enormous, large enough to both grow the Anglos, as well as house them. Records found in his office showed that he had almost nothing to do with their upbringing, but they were instead taught using a combination of neural implants, subliminal memorization stenanographs, and robotic instructors. The most disturbing part of the facility was the biowaste section. There weren’t dead bodies lining the hallways, or anything, but there was definite evidence of the operation’s failures. According to records, Saxon lost an average of one clone a day. The biomass had to be disposed of properly, discreetly, and respectfully. Ishida discovered that Saxon took personal responsibility for this nasty business, rather than having a robot take care of it for him. They had no idea what he had gone through; the toll something like that could take on a person. Perhaps they had treated him unfairly.
There’s nothing they can do about all that now. It’s been eleven years since Saxon left, and one year since Project Andromeda launched. Team Keshida and Omega have kept themselves busy as best they can, overseeing general maintenance of the cylinders and other stations. Obviously, these processes are automated, and the residents are meant to take care of most of it themselves anyway, so it only serves their psychological health. The lack of a major project coming up is starting to wear on all of them, but especially Kestral, who has a big problem with feeling useless. The two of them came to Gatewood nearly a century ago, charged with building the cylinders that would one day house billions of human refugees from another universe. Once that was achieved, and the refugees were all safely aboard, they moved on. They started writing code and manufacturing machines to build Project Topdown, Project Stargate, Operation Starseed, and Project Andromeda. All of those have successfully been sent off, and the instructive dreams directing them to these endeavors have now ceased. They don’t know what to do with themselves.
“Did you find it?” Kestral asks.
“We’re not really meant to see this,” Ishida points out to her.
“Right. But did you find it?”
Ishida doesn’t say anything.
“Caldwell.”
“Yes,” she finally admits. “It’s right here. Project Long Game. Nothing involves Gatewood, or any other colony world. They’re all about Sol.”
“Well, we have to decide what we’re doing next, so...”
“Here,” Ishida says with a sigh. She casts her screen to Kestral’s.
Kestral looks over the list. “Ring a Bell is the soonest one, and it’s not happening until 2300.”
Ishida leans back to see what Kestral is referring to. “No, those are goal dates. They’ve probably already started on it.”
Kestral frowns. “Sounds boring anyway.”
“What is it?” Omega asks. He’s wearing shutter shades. Not only is he learning everything he would have in a less specialized school setting, but he’s also catching up on Earthan historical culture. Right now, he’s mostly in the 1980s, but he jumps around.
“What is what?” Ishida asks him, “your terrible fashion sense?”
“No, what’s Project Ring a Bell?”
“Oh,  it’s a Dyson ring.”
He’s never heard of that.
“They’re going to build a whole bunch of satellites to orbit the sun, which will draw energy, and beam it back to relay stations orbiting Earth.”
“Cool beans,” Omega replies.
“Why are they building a ring when they’re just gonna build a swarm with Project Marching Locusts a hundred years later. God, that’s a negative term. They should consider changing that.”
“You can go to Earth and suggest that,” Ishida joked. “That’ll be the only way you have anything to do with any of this. No one’s heard of us. I don’t know why you’re bent on injecting yourself into long-term Earthan projects.”
They stop talking when they hear Omega chugging a disgusting energy drink. He must have figured out how to reengineer the formula using a biomolecular synthesizer, and reproduce the original can with an industrial synthesizer. The drink, and others like it, were never technically outlawed, but they’re so unhealthy that people stopped drinking them. If you want something like that, you have to program it yourself, because no one else will have thought to include them in any recipe databases. He squeezes the can, and bros out for a second. “Why don’t you guys make somethin’ up?”
“Huh?” Kestral asks.
“Well.” He opens another can he had tucked into his armpit. “It doesn’t sound like you have much interest goin’ back to Earth, though that’s where the action is. You have—” He tries to gesture around the room, but the can ends up slipping out of hand, and spills onto the floor. “Oh, shit,” he says as a robot is coming to clean it up. “Sorry.”
“What were you saying?” Ishida prompts.
“Right. You have all these resources, so why don’t you come up with a project that no one’s ever thought of before.” He belches. “I mean, you are geniuses, aren’t you?”
“That’s true,” Kestral agrees.
They sit there quietly for a few minutes. Well, Kestral and Ishida do. Omega continues to emulate what he’s seen men do in the bad 80s movies he watched by lumbering around and making inappropriately loud bodily noises.
“I need time to sit with this,” Ishida decides.
“Oh, thank God. I do too.”
“God didn’t save you,” Omega says in a low melodramatic voice as he’s letting the last few drops of his drink fall to his tongue. “I did.”
“All right, that’s enough of you,” Kestral says dismissively. “Acting like a drunkard isn’t any better than legit being drunk. There’s a reason people don’t do it anymore.”
“I’m not as think as you drunk I am,” Omega tries to joke.
“Ha-ha-ha,” Kestral says sarcastically as she’s ushering him out of the room. Once he’s been pushed far enough to go off on his own, she turns back around. She has a smile larger than any Ishida has seen in years. “One week. Let’s not see each other for one week. Work on some ideas, and we’ll reconvene and do a mutual pitch meeting.”
“I like it,” Ishida says, just as excited. Not knowing has become the fun part.

Now, when two best friends in the twenty-first century don’t see each other for days, they feel a bit of sadness. They miss one another. That’s not to say Kestral and Ishida don’t feel such things as well, but time has forever transformed how relationships work in general. When you don’t intend to ever die, skipping a week or two doesn’t feel like that big of a deal. This patience is only going to grow larger as more time passes. People will start to travel between stars on a regular basis. They’ll plan casual meet-ups years in advance, because it will just take them that long to get to the same planet. The two of them are so old at this point that they barely noticed the time apart. They were so wrapped up in their work that the time flew right by, and before they knew it, a week was behind them.
Kestral had some interesting ideas about building a planet, but conceded that there was no longer enough raw material in the system to make one the size they would want. They could do a moon, maybe, but the idea would be to give the Ansutahan human refugees a real home to live on, and a small celestial body won’t have enough surface gravity. Besides, whether they tried it here, or in some other system, it would probably be too large of a project to tackle at this juncture.
Ishida had a different idea, but they wouldn’t be able to do it alone. She pulls up the diagrams she created, and starts her presentation. “Lady and gentleman, I give you...Operation Extremus.”
Omega raises his hand. “Like the supersoldier virus that gives people superpowers, and then makes them asplode?” He’s currently working on the MCU continuity, and his behavior has improved significantly. These two developments are unrelated.
“That’s Extremis,” Ishida corrects. “Is. This is all about us.” She summons an artist’s rendering of the Milky Way. It’s packed with new information about neighboring star systems, but the Project Topdown telescopes are nowhere near the intergalactic voids yet to give the complete picture. She points to a distant region of the galaxy. “There is a star system somewhere in here with a planet that’s capable of harboring human life. I call this theoretical planet Extremus, because of how far it is from here. I also call the generation ship that’s going to take tens of thousands of volunteers there Extremus.”
“Forgive me,” Kestral begins, “but isn’t a Project Stargate seed plate going to get anywhere we try to go before we could get there? I mean, even at maximum sublight, we would probably only hope to get there right around the same time.”
“Not if we have one of these.” She pulls another diagram up, but this time it’s not one she created herself.
“What is that?” Omega asks.
“It’s a reframe engine.”
Kestral nods. “That could work; if you can get Hokusai Gimura to hand over the specs. What you have right there isn’t enough to reverse engineer it.”
Ishida smirks, and pulls up a more detailed diagram. “She already has. We’re friends now. Didn’t you hear?”
“I don’t get it,” Omega says. He’s an engineer himself, but he doesn’t know anything about temporal manipulation beyond relativistic time dilation. They haven’t kept it a secret, but they haven’t read him into all the particulars either.
“It’s an exploit,” Kestral explains to him. “It still only travels at sublight, but it takes the dilated time as observed from within the ship, and warps the universe to experience the same amount of time.”
Ishida continues, “so while the star is over a hundred and fifty thousand light years away, it will only feel like a couple hundred years. The reframe engine allows realtime to also only last a couple hundred years.”
Omega nods. “Got it. That’s bitchin’.”
“We don’t say that word,” Kestral reminds him.
“But I was using it—”
“It doesn’t matter,” she interrupts. “We don’t say it.”
“I apologize. I meant no disrespect.”
“So, wadya guys think?” Ishida asks, trying to steer the conversation back to her idea.
“What will be the point of colonizing the far reaches of the galaxy?” Kestral asks her. “Just because we can, and we can do it sooner? The vonearthans can’t know we’re doing it, which is obviously why you called it an operation, rather than a project. The volunteers all have to be from Ansutah.”
“The point?” Ishida questions. “There’s never a point to anything. If you want to do something, you only have to ask yourself two questions. One: is it impossible? And two: will it hurt anyone? If the answer to either of those is yes, then that is the only reason you shouldn’t do it.”
“Eh,” Omega says. “I think morality and ethics are a little more nuanced than that.”
Kestral breathes deeply. “As much as I hate to disagree with fanboy over here, I have no choice. We have to do another debate.”
“Fine,” Ishida says. “Bring it on.”
And so it was broughten. In the end, they decided to do nothing. Asking the refugees whether anyone would be interested in something like this was bizarre at best, and needlessly socially disruptive at worst. Project Extremus was scrapped for its failure to justify its use of resources. At least...it was scrapped by them.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Microstory 1190: Aldona Lanka

Aldona was an only child, born out of Cambria Buchanan by Alexi Lanka in 2042. Her mother was a drone operator, and her father a gardener. She chose a career in science, ultimately specializing in antimatter rocket engineering. By the time she earned the equivalent of a master’s degree at the age of 20, particle physicists had already devised a way to produce sufficient quantities of antimatter at practical costs. What the world needed now was to apply these methods for actual use, with rockets and auxiliary technologies that did not exist before. Her name never appeared in the history books as a pioneer in her field, but she contributed greatly to the development of antimatter-powered spacecraft, for travel to the outer planets of the solar system. This work paved the way for the refinement of that field, so that even more advanced propulsion systems could be built for interstellar travel. Though she was young enough to reach the longevity escape velocity, and live long enough to witness such engineering triumphs, she was not allowed to stick around for them. While her family had a history of being involved with people who had time powers, she spent most of her life in ignorance. They were part of secret Lanka lore, though she never believed they existed, because she had no empirical evidence. One day, a woman approached her with some information about how to make a ship travel faster than light. According to everything she had ever been taught, she believed this to be impossible, so she refused. Besides, this woman didn’t have any credentials, and that was a huge red flag. Who knows who she was working for, or what hidden agenda she had? Out of petty resentment, the woman, Arcadia Preston proved she was telling the truth by instantaneously transporting her and her family to an island on a different planet, in another galaxy. She let Aldona have some equipment, so she could verify as much by the wildly different star constellations she was observing in the sky. Arcadia was about to send them all back when Aldona’s mother starting arguing with her about what she had done. This angered Arcadia even more, and out of spite, she tore everyone out of time, except for Aldona. It was now her responsibility to complete several challenges, which she called expiations; one for each of her family members. If she failed even one of these, she would lose everyone she cared about for good. The expiations were dangerous and incredibly difficult. Arcadia was born in another dimension, completely cut off from anything resembling civilized society, and she grew up with powerful temporal abilities, which blinded her to human limitations. She made them far too hard, and after barely scraping by with the first two, Aldona failed the third. She was left to fend for herself on that island, though she wasn’t always alone. An immortal named Ambrosios was placed there as punishment as well, but he was mentally unstable, and the two of them did not get along. She lived there for over fifty years before dying of age-related causes at the age of 90. But there was still hope for her family. Arcadia’s latest victim of this sick game, Mateo Matic agreed to take on Aldona’s expiations himself. He managed to save all but one of the Lanka-Calligaris family, which is what left her as an only child in the first place.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Microstory 1189: Gabriella Perez

Not everyone who participates in the City Frenzy event is a runner, or has any plans to win the race. Gabriella Perez is one of these people who has other ways of entertaining the viewers. Technically, the Frenzy is not the place to showcase one’s other talents. A kid isn’t allowed to sign up, and then just perform a cooking show in front of the cameras at their starting line. There is a time and place for such things, and this isn’t it. Gabriella and Celestine are kind of exceptions, but there are some rules they have to follow. First, they have to satisfy all the physical requirements for entry, which they are always able to do, because they’re very athletic people. They also have to pretend like they plan on racing this time, even though everyone knows they won’t. They also can’t remain right at the starting point the entire time. They have to at least gradually move closer to their respective destinations, but like any race, there’s no minimum speed, so they can dawdle. Still, they don’t fight this restriction, and instead consider it a challenge to figure out how to work it into their routines. As with all racers, the two of them don’t necessarily start at the same place, and in fact, because of the nature of their acts, the Frenzy council makes a point of keeping them separate, even though the routes are meant to be randomized. They generally stay within two hundred meters of the starting lines. They dance non-stop for what’s usually just under two hours, until they’re given word that the winner of the race has finished. This demonstrates their talent as dancers, and their stamina. As the time grows, so too hopefully do their audiences. Viewers will watch remotely with split screens, deciding which one they like best. At some point, a fan will leave the television, and head for one of the dancers, to watch them in person. Agent Nanny Cam even worked closely with engineers to design a drone projector screen, so people in the back can still see what’s going on. Yeah, they patented a new technology, just for these two faux racers. Throughout, and at the end of, the competition within a competition, artificial intelligence within Agent’s drones will count the number of people who showed up to each dancer. Full statistics are monitored, such as audience engagement, and particularly well-received moments during the performance, but the last figure is what matters. The dancer with the largest following when that real racer breaks the finish line is a winner in her own right. While it sounds like something like this wouldn’t be allowed, because it remains separate from the rest of the event, it makes a hell of a lot of money for Kansas City, so the council, along with the local government, are perfectly happy with to make that concession. Without it, viewers may tire of watching the runners themselves, who are, most of the time, just going forward at a steady pace. Since they began this subevent, each of them has one twice, and the ninth City Frenzy will be the last for both of them.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Microstory 1188: Alexi Lanka

Few people could understand what someone like Alexi Lanka went through in terms of anger. He wasn’t mad about his upbringing, or his family. He wasn’t mad at the world for treating him poorly, or for lost opportunities. It was just all too easy for something most would call minor to irritate him. His brain would then associate that irritation with similar experiences in his past, and remind him of how he felt in those moments. The anger would compound itself until he was mostly a boy made of rage. He was never violent or threatening, and even as a child, he made a deliberate effort to shield others from his wrath, but they still saw, and they still felt it. He needed a way to convert his anger into something positive, so his father got him into boxing. Well, boxing made things ten times worse for Alexi. Every punch he threw went straight into his memory archives, where he could dwell on his imperfections until he fell asleep from exhaustion. He was never good enough for his own standards. Furthermore, his coach taught him to be contemptible to his opponent, and that was not the right way for him to live. His mother wasn’t exactly a saint, but she did not appreciate the violence, so when she returned home from a particularly long survey, she pulled him out, and gave him something better to do. She turned him into a runner, so he could still get out his aggression, but do so while maintaining a fairly large personal bubble. His failures continued to eat away at him, but it was different than before, because they drove him to do better next time, rather than harp on a past he could never change. He was never the best, but he never gave up. Of course, his anger issues weren’t completely fixed by this either. He still had to work through his problems in healthy ways, utilizing advice from his therapist, and trying new medications when the old ones proved ineffective. Fortunately, running wasn’t something he would try forever. When a terrible accident forced him out of the game indefinitely, he finally found his true calling.

Alexi’s physical therapist liked to garden in her backyard. She invited him over to help, hoping it would take his mind off the pain. Part of it was just that she had enough work for two people, so there was never some master plan to change his life. He found himself in love with the hobby, and it calmed him down even better than his girlfriend, Agent Nanny Cam. Plants always did exactly what they were meant to. They did not argue with him, or stub his toe, or illustrate his inadequacy. They grew when they had the nutrients they needed, and they flowered accordingly. He also felt like an idiot when he was venting his frustrations at them, so it just didn’t make sense to vent anymore. He turned this hobby into a career. He worked at a number of places, all involving plants and wildlife. He was never fired, and never really wanted to quit any one place. He would just get the urge to start something new, but would often return to an old job when that was what felt right. He married Agent Nanny Cam, and together they had a daughter named Aldona. He never stopped creating life. As technology marched on, and people started wanting to live in vertical megastructures, the towns of old needed to be torn down, and replaced with wilderness, as it was always meant to be. Alexi wasn’t the primary force in this effort, but he did dedicate his life to it, and was partially responsible for the world’s salvation from the negative impact of climate breakdown. Once that was finished, he moved on to his greatest challenge yet: terraforming Mars.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Microstory 1187: Joanna Zegers

Joanna Zegers wasn’t the only person who could be invisible, but she was the only one who couldn’t turn visible. She was a normal baby at birth. Her parents took fine care of her, and had no reason to believe something was wrong. When she was six years old, she thought her family was playing a trick on her when they started acting like they couldn’t find her. She kept hopping around and laughing, trying to get them to see her, but they couldn’t. They, in fact, thought someone was playing a cruel trick on them, and had perhaps hidden little speakers around their house. They could hear Joanna’s voice, but not see her. She never got over this affliction. In this universe, invisibility did not bend light, or form illusions. All it did was take take a snapshot of a region of space, at some point in time, then overlay that in front of what people should be seeing when Joanna was standing there. To explain another way, even when an individual is standing in front of a box of tissues, that box still exists. It doesn’t get removed from reality just because no one is observing it. What Joanna’s power—if you could rightly call it that—did was show what the table and tissue box would look like if she weren’t blocking its view. The Zegers didn’t know what they were going to do with her. The library didn’t have any answers for them. There were no publicly-known cases of something like this having happened. They couldn’t send her to school in this condition. They couldn’t even take her to any medical professionals. Doctor-patient confidentiality might not have extended to a transdimensional alien robot from the future, or whatever she was. Instead, they kept her home, claiming to neighbors that she contracted a disease that prevented her from being able to go out in the sun. It wasn’t entirely untrue anyway. Then the world changed, and they gained access to a whole new resource.

Somebody invented this technology called the world wide web, which allowed them to seek information from all over the globe; as far as they knew, anonymously. Most of the info out there was garbage. People thought they were just making up an unoriginal story. Others played along, just to troll them. There was one man, however, who knew what they were talking about. The leader of an intelligence cooperative named Demcov Sands reached out, and made every effort to prove that he was legit. He said that he could help Joanna understand what she was, and lead a healthy life. He couldn’t promise he could figure out how to make her visible again, but he would help in anyway possible. There were no other people in the Interagency Alliance Commission who had time powers, but Sands had knowledge of the future, and knew it one day would. He took Joanna in, and helped her continue her studies in a safe environment, surrounded by people who specialized in keeping secrets. Her parents were worried about letting their daughter live at a spy agency headquarters, but Sands promised them she would never be in danger, and that he was not intending to groom her for spycraft. It was the best place for her to be at the time, but once she grew up, she could decide what she wanted to do with her life, just like everyone else. True to this promise, the IAC taught her everything she would have learned at a normal school. She didn’t want to become a spy; a decision everyone knew she would make. She did want to help, however, so Sands started teaching her about the world of salmon and choosers. He introduced her to some friends, and made the entirety of time and space available to her desires. She chose to move to the future, where she worked as Head of Security at Beaver Haven Rehabilitation Center. She became responsible for the daily ongoing safety or hundreds of prisoners from all over spacetime, and those whose lives they would threaten.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Microstory 1186: Vasanta Gadhavi

Vasanta Gadhavi loved toys. He was raised to be very materialistic, always looking out for the newest gadget and gizmo. His parents grew up poor, and found money somewhat later in life, so they never wanted their children to ever feel like they couldn’t have whatever they wanted. Vasanta liked to tinker around with electronics, and learned how to build and repair them pretty much on his own. There was really no limit as to what types of things he bought, which meant firearms were included. When he was old enough, he joined the British Army, and ended up working with the enemy in some less than savory ways. He specialized in getting prisoners to talk when they didn’t want to. He continued to use toys to do this, which earned him the nickname of Santa. His brothers often joke that he always had presents for the bad little boys and girls. During the Second Great War, Vasanta found himself in the middle of a deadly battle against Japanese forces. He retained little memory of the event, but he did remember being on the battlefield one second, and then suddenly being safe in a hospital bed the next. In the bed across from his was the Japanese soldier he was trying to kill, and who was trying to kill him. Now, Vasanta had no personal grievance with the enemy soldier, nor the enemy with him. They were both just following orders, and whatever was happening now, it didn’t look like they were meant to keep fighting each other. They did not attempt to communicate with one another, though, as automated machines came through and treated their wounds. Vasanta attempted to leave one time, but when he discovered the door to be locked, he made no further attempt to escape. Anyone with the level of technology he was seeing in the mid-20th century was probably best left unantagonized. Once they were both doing all right, a man came in named Adolphe Sargent. He explained in both English and Japanese that they were reportedly missing in action, according to historical records. They were extracted from the timeline, and transported to the 23rd century, where they would train together in something called the salmon battalion. Again, they had no problem fighting together. Neither of them personally believed in the war they had just come from. But that principle would likely extend to any other war. How could they travel through time, fighting people for reasons that were so profoundly removed from them? Sargent saw this in them during their training, and decided the powers that be who chose them for their new lives had made a mistake. Fortunately, he had some autonomy with how his battalion was run. After all, if he didn’t, then The Emissary might as well lead it himself. He selected Vasanta and his new partner, Rokuro Yamauchi for an elite force within the battalion. They would not be fighting, on either side of a conflict. Instead, they would take part exclusively in rescue missions, pulling innocent people out of dangerous situations, and occasionally delivering a prisoner of war from their cage. Vasanta and Rokuro easily became friends, ultimately teaching each other their native languages. It didn’t seem strange at all that they were once at odds, nor had they been forced to suffer some Hell in the Pacific scenario together. They felt a lot more comfortable with their new lives as rescuers than they ever did as fighters.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 10, 2248

Located nearly twelve light years from Earth, Tau Ceti enjoyed a strikingly high number of low-mass rocky planets in orbit, but only one of them coalesced satisfactorily within the star’s habitable zone. This planet was named Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida, which is Arabic for ostrich egg. Surface gravity was a little higher than Earth’s, but still well within acceptable parameters for an unenhanced human. It had a magnetosphere, liquid water, and oh yeah, a breathable atmosphere. It was the only world within spitting distance known to harbor life on its own, and for that reason, more colonists signed up for the journey than for any other stellar neighbor.
When Leona came back to the timestream, Sanaa was gone, but it looked like she parked The Radiant Lightning in a warehouse. The soothing voice of a young woman she once met was flowing through the internal speakers of the ship, as well as those in the warehouse. As Leona walked towards a small structure built on the floor inside the wide expanse, she could see the broadcaster inside.
But for those of you who don’t dig polka rap, I got somethin’ for ya that I think you’ll really love. This is from a mid twenty-first century Korea twang band called Alliterative Spoonerism. Here’s their most popular single, What Was Jenkem Used for Again? It’s seventeen minutes long, so I can take a break to talk to my friend, who’s visiting from out of town. I’m DJ Mount Alias, and this...is Salmonverse Radio.
Leona stepped into the studio just as Ellie Underhill was finishing her segment. “What is this? You broadcast music across time and space?”
“I do, yes,” Ellie replied.
“How come I’ve never heard it before?”
“It’s geared more towards shapers, or displaced salmon who are on long-term missions. They often need a taste of home, or at least modern life. You’ve not really had much need.”
“How long have you been doing this?” Leona asked.
“From my personal timeline, three years. This region of Bida is fairly remote, so we don’t have to worry about interfering with the colonists.”
We?”
“She means me.” It was Paige Turner. She crossed the room from the other door, and presented her hand. “Hi, I’m an alternate version of Paige Turner Reaver-Demir. You can call me Third!Paige, or Trinity.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Trinity. You’re telling me there’s a second Paige out there I’ve also never met.”
“Well, it’s complicated. The three of us met you back in 2025, when you went back in time to save Brooke Prieto from Tribulation Island. It was only after that moment that we split. It’s this whole thing that involves going back in time to stop myself from killing someone, and then going back in time to try again, because I failed the first time.”
“You’ve been here ever since?” Leona asked.
“For the most part,” Trinity replied. “It’s been about two hundred and thirty-five years, but I wasn’t always alone.”
“I don’t know that your math is right,” Leona questioned. “You said we met in 2025, which means you would have had to go back even further—”
“I technically did,” Trinity interrupted. “I can move faster than light, but light moves at a constant. I teleported here from Earth, which is twelve light years away. So when I was looking at Tau Ceti, I was looking at it as it was twelve years prior. I first appeared on Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida in 2013.”
Leona nodded. This was sound logic. “What have you been up to this whole time, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“I’ve been terraforming.”
This confused her. “Are you telling me this world is only habitable by your efforts?”
Trinity shook her head. “No, it was habitable, but inedible, and in some places, toxic. I’ve been gradually manipulating the plantlife and water composition to make it so that people can live here carefree.”
Leona didn’t know what to say.
Trinity went on, “you can’t eat everything, but if you do, chances are you’ll be all right. There are no deadly pathogens, or poisonous animals, or anything like that. It’s the closest thing to paradise you’ll find.”
“That’s...amazing. What made you think to do that? And how?”
“I got both the idea, and the technology, from the future. In my timeline, Bida was a terrible place to live. Humans came here with such high hopes, but found themselves profoundly disappointed when they started running chemical tests. Just about everything here would make them sick, if not straight up kill them. All the water had to be filtered to an impractical degree, and it just wasn’t worth it. They abandoned it for centuries until someone got the idea to tailor the ecosystem to human needs.”
“Is that ethical?” Leona asked. “I mean, if life evolved here to be the way it was, did we have the right to change it?”
“It’s not ethical, no,” Trinity agreed. “That’s why I did it myself before a single colonist arrived. That way, vonearthans are free from all moral culpability.”
“Do the colonists know? I mean, I’m sure they don’t realize you exist, but are they aware that the ecosystem was recently altered?”
“Well, they don’t know Barnard’s Star was once orbited by a low-mass rocky planet, so I doubt they’ll figure it out.”
“Huh?”
Trinity didn’t elaborate on that bombshell. “It was going to happen. Unethically terraforming a world isn’t the kind of thing the powers that be would have sent a salmon to correct, and it’s not like there are lots of other choosing ones running around making things better. I could have either exercised some futility in an attempt to prevent the vonearthans from manipulating the properties of life on this world, or I could just do it for them, and save their souls.”
Leona realized it wasn’t her job to police the people around her. Choosing ones and humans alike are always going to be running around, making bad choices. As far as questionable ethics went, at least this was in question, and not so undoubtedly wrong. “I understand, and I appreciate the precarious position you were in.”
“And I appreciate that.”
Leona just wanted to change the subject. “Where are Sanaa and Eight Point Seven?”
“They got stuck on the other side of the planet,” Ellie explained. “They were wanting to be here when you returned, but an unexpected storm appeared, and held them up. Don’t worry, they’ll be fine, but they won’t be back until tomorrow.”
“You don’t have emergency teleporters, or anything?”
Trinity chuckled. “Ellie’s broadcast is the only exception to a rule I came up with. There will be no time powers on this planet while I’m in charge.”
“Are you in charge?” Leona questioned. Surely the colonists wouldn’t know that she had been here for two centuries. They would get that she was an upgraded human with an indefinite lifespan, but they wouldn’t understand how she traveled twelve light years in the early 21st century.
“I’m in charge of all salmon and choosers. They’re welcome to come, but they have to follow my rules. I’m not alone in this position.”
“I don’t mean to argue with you, because I’m totally fine with that. I’m just curious what your rationale is. I don’t know what went through in your timeline.”
“Leona, this is an isolate. Did you not know that?”
“It is? No, I didn’t.”
“Yeah, the colonists who are coming here wish to remain separated from Earth, the rest of the stellar neighborhood, and anywhere else in the galaxy the vonearthans end up traveling to.”
“Oh, wow. I try to keep up with current events, but I never heard anything about that.” Leona must have fallen behind.
“The first colonists left in 2235, and arrived this year,” Trinity began to explain. “On the day of that arrival, the last three exodus ships left Earth, bound for Bida. Once they get here in 2260, no one else will come, ever again.”
“Why?”
“They want a fresh start. They’re not going back to pioneer days, or anything, but they’re hoping to free themselves from humanity’s past. They want to live on a world that hasn’t seen bloody wars, and nuclear bombs, and segregation, and all the other bad things we’ve done in our history.”
“They do realize they can’t escape that, right? No matter how far they go, or how much they cut themselves off from the rest of their people, the past will always remain right where it is.”
“They don’t see it that way.”
Leona wasn’t finished, “if they tell stories of the world that came before, it will continue to impact their lives, and if they don’t, it will probably repeat itself. They can’t win.”
“Again,” Trinity argued, “they don’t see it that way. Anyway, I’m not here to judge them, or poke holes in their logic, and neither are you. I’m here to protect them. What they definitely don’t know is that they can’t control what time travelers do. I can. I don’t want any Kingmakers, or Door-Walkers, or Saviors, or Caretakers. The timeline began on Year One, which is 2248 by the Gregorian calendar, and it will not be manipulated, even to save lives.”
Leona suddenly got real nervous. “You didn’t specifically list me and Mateo—partially because we were never given a cutesy nickname—but should we be on it? I came here on a ship built by a human, retrofitted by another human to be essentially faster-than-light. Mateo is on his way here on a different ship, with two other choosing ones. Unlike other salmon, the powers that be don’t give us definitive missions, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have them. We weren’t explicitly sent here, but they may want us here, just the same.”
Trinity didn’t know where she was going with this. “What’s your point, Leona?”
“What if I’m here to manipulate time, in my own way? What if Mateo will be coming here for the same reason? What do we do about that?”
“If you’re worried you’re going to break my rules, then you should get back in that thing right now, and leave,” Trinity decided.
“I’m not leaving without my husband.”
“I’ll send him your way. You can go to Glisnia, or better yet; YZ Ceti. It’s only a light year and a half away. He’ll be with you in no time.”
“None of YZ’s planets is habitable enough,” Leona contended. She did keep up with some current events. “And Sanaa doesn’t have the resources to orbit a flare star for years on end.”
“You don’t know that Sanaa would want to go with you. She’s agreed to not use her telepathy.”
Leona took a deep breath. “I suppose that’s true. But I also don’t want to do that. Mateo is coming here, and I’m staying put until he does so. One-point-six light years might as well be a million if something goes with either of our ships.”
“I’m not gonna let you interfere with these people’s lives, or their life choices.” Trinity was starting to raise her voice.
Leona matched the new volume. “I don’t think you have a choice. Just think about what the p stands for in PTB.”
“That’s enough!” Ellie’s voice supernaturally boomed throughout the entire warehouse. “Leona, no one’s trying to keep you from Mateo. Trinity, the rules don’t apply to her, or him. They never have, and you won’t be able to change that. You would have to break your own rules, and use your own power, to have any hope of going against the powers.” She stopped talking for a moment, but it was clear she wasn’t finished yet. “Now. Any two versions of you are friends at any point of time, in any reality. Kiss and make up, and I don’t want to hear any more about this. Que sera, sera. The Bidans will survive.”
“Bidians,” Leona and Trinity corrected in unison.
“There,” Ellie said in relief. “The fight is over. And so is the song, which means I have to get back to work. Trinity, perhaps you can give our new guest a tour of the planet?”
“That can be arranged,” Trinity said.