Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Microstory 1267: Harlan Baer

Harlan Baer was a criminal, and he never tried to get anyone to believe that he wasn’t. He was a very low-ranking member of the Business Ends gang of Kansas City in the 21st century. When he was caught selling drugs on the corner, his superiors made no attempt to help him in any way. Nor did they ask him to do things for them while he was inside. He just wasn’t important enough to them, and this lack of mutual loyalty made him a perfect candidate for a new gang. While he was in jail, a very powerful temporal manipulator called The Cleanser pulled him out of his cell, and relocated him to several decades in the future, along with a small group of other guests. He had no strong feelings about these other criminals, and they had no strong feelings about him. The Cleanser had conscripted them for a mission, but because none of them was a salmon or choosing one, the trip itself could eventually kill them. And so the man they were asked to kill arranged for them to be transported to a special place called Sanctuary. There they would be allowed to recover, serve out their likely sentences in more humane conditions, and remain in the hotel forever. Harlan wasn’t interested in this, though. He wanted to go back to the real world, and armed with the knowledge that there was more to life than peddling drugs, do something good. So he asked to go back to Kansas City, where he soon became one of the first members of the Tracer gang. He never intended to start a movement, but more rehabilitating criminals followed suit over the course of the next few years. Harlan had few further interactions with people who could manipulate time, but he did help make the world a better place in his own special way.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Microstory 1266: Defirnod Taggart

As it turned out, the source mages had a little bit more control over who received which time powers than they led their people to believe. They were certain this was a necessary deception, however. They couldn’t be honest about what they were doing, both because  it could be dangerous, and because they didn’t want any accusations of favoritism. The truth is that they never gave certain people certain abilities, but when the truth came about about what they did, convincing people of this was the most difficult part. Some powers are more useful than others, and some aren’t really useful at all. For instance, Alyssa McIver was born with the ability to create illusions. She couldn’t simply create something out of her imagination. She could only show people things that existed somewhere, at some point in history. All she was doing was taking a magical video recording of some remote event, and overlaying it on reality to make it look like it was happening somewhere that it wasn’t. Her illusions were extremely precise, and impossible for the average person to detect, but as amazing as that is, the people of Durus had little use for it. The monsters they were fighting didn’t care who or what it was they were attacking; if they wanted to attack, they would. Yeah, someone with this ability could turn an entire town invisible, but the monsters could probably see right through the false image, and then nothing would matter. The source mages had to be careful not to let anyone get this power, or say, the ability to see what someone will look like when they’re older. They just could not risk wasting an entire mage for something they didn’t need. In order to keep the lie about the complete unpredictability of town mage powers, they created a special mage called a holistic diagnostician. It was his responsibility to identify a new mage’s powers, and to examine the extent of their gifts. As the diagnostician grew older, the source mages knew that he would one day have to pass the torch onto someone else, so they selected his two grandchildren, and made up an ancillary lie about this one ability, for whatever reason, being hereditary. While Elasy and Defirnod Taggart were both chosen, it was really only the former who fully embraced her role in society. Though the boy didn’t reject it, he would rather be doing something else. They found that his sister was much better at the job than he was. He was skillful, to be sure, but he had terrible bedside manner, and he didn’t much like it. That was fine; she could handle everything on her own. He had his own goals in life. Powers or no, he wanted to be a fighter. It was his dream to one day rid the entire planet of time monsters, and if they couldn’t ever figure out how to stop them from coming through the portal altogether, he wanted the mages to change tactics, and always stop them from even getting anywhere near the towns in the first place. Why bother protecting the towns when the enemies always came from the same place? His new plan was never realized, and before the humans won the war for good, a lot of innocent people had to die. He grew angry about this, and he blamed the source mages for their inefficient use of resources. Sadly for him, his outrage ultimately got him killed, along with a few more innocent people.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 26, 2264

All right. So Mateo and some of his friends were stuck on a planet as many light years from Earth as they were in the past. Leona could have been delivered back to the future, or really any point in time and space. There was just no way to know. He scanned the beach, just in case a real life message in a bottle had made its way to him, but no such luck. They didn’t have an exact date of when it was, but he would end up staying there for days. But before all that, they had to receive a visit from an old frenemy.
“You knew we were going to be here?” Mateo asked.
“I had my suspicions,” Arcadia Preston replied.
“You had Kayetan create the merge point between this time period, and the 22nd century for this purpose.”
“Who said anything about Kayetan Glaston? I never said he was the one who created the merge point.”
“Did he not?”
Arcadia just shrugged.
“You can get us back to Leona, though. All we have to do is cross the merge border, and you can take us anywhere we need to go.”
“Why would I do that?” Arcadia questioned.
“Because you’re in love with me.” He didn’t want to say it, and it might have been too strong a word to use, but it was the only card he had left to play.
Arcadia seemed notably upset by this, which almost made him regret saying anything. “You’re right. The problem is that I spent centuries in a higher plane of existence, where there was only one person there who I wasn’t related to. And Athanaric was more into my sister, Nerakali.” She tilted her head, then continued, “and also my mother, but we don’t talk about that. The point is that I don’t know what to do with my feelings, in any situation. I’m crazy.” She bobbed her head around, and rolled her eyes to demonstrate her supposed insanity. “So those feelings you’re referring to are enough to keep me from killing you and everyone you care about, but that doesn’t mean I have a healthy way of handling them. If you want me to help you, you’re gonna have to help me first.”
“Another expiation,” Mateo guessed.
“The current one,” Arcadia corrected. “You only have twelve friends right now. The math on that just doesn’t add up. When I brought Xearea to the island, I promised the powers that be, that I would personally see to it that Earth would enjoy comparable replacements for the years that she was missing.”
“Yeah, I remember,” Mateo said.
“Well, twelve friends, plus you; three years each. That’s not quite enough. I need three more people to fill in the gap from 2148 to 2356.”
“Xearea didn’t return to the timestream from non-existence until 2158,” Mateo warned her, but was worried about her reaction. None of that had happened to Arcadia yet, unless she knew more about the future than he realized, which wouldn’t ever explain how he ever bested her at anything.
“No, I’m going to give her an early release.” She jerked her head up to Cassidy, Pribadium, and Vitalie, who were watching their conversation suspiciously from twenty meters away. “If you can convince your new friends to pick up the slack for your old friends, I’ll take you wherever you need to go.”
He wasn’t worried about Pribadium very much, and definitely not immortal Vitalie. Cassidy didn’t deserve this, though. He looked back at them sadly, not knowing whether he should agree to this, or if he should just hope Pribadium figures out how to get out of here.
Arcadia obviously picked up on his hesitation. “Okay. Give me two. I will...actually...release Xearea even earlier. Don’t expect me to tell Past!Mateo about it, though.”
“That is acceptable,” he agreed, “as long as it is acceptable to them.”
And so Mateo returned to his friends, and explained the situation to them. He didn’t say that he was trying to protect Cassidy further, but claimed her being on Mateo’s pattern simply disqualified her from being able to help. He also didn’t say Arcadia was accommodating them in this regard by scratching three entire years of Savior duty from the schedule. Pribadium agreed to the deal, likely hoping to redeem herself for what she believed to be all her fault. Vitalie agreed to it too, but that was because she no longer cared what she did anyway. Even though she didn’t have memories any further back than fifty-six years, she was still billions of years old, and her soul still felt that. Three years out of her life was negligible.
After Arcadia apported the ladies to meet with the First Savior, Sabra, she turned back to the two remaining. “You’re not getting off that easy, though. I still need you to do something.”
“What is it?” It wasn’t always bad, so he didn’t want to sport a bad attitude before he even knew what she was going to ask of him.
Arcadia removed the Compass of Disturbance from her back pocket, and handed it to them. “I’m just borrowing it. I’ll give it back to Juan when you’re done.”
“What do I need this for?”
“This merge point is unstable,” Arcadia began to explain. “Since you’re from the future, you obviously know what I need it for; what Lita needs it for. There is evidently some interference coming from Lorania. It is apparently a natural merge point. I need you to find it, and destroy it.”
“How am I meant to do that?” Mateo asked. “It’s not that I don’t want to; I know how this story ends, so I don’t feel like you’re asking me to do something evil, but I don’t know how to destroy time rifts.”
“You’ll figure it out,” Arcadia said. “Use the compass.”
Mateo didn’t argue the mission. He and Cassidy just walked out to the driving track where he once attempted to teach Xearea how to drive. It was here that they found a nice 2016 Nissan Rogue, waiting for them just inside the garage. He chuckled, assuming this to be a reference to The Rogue, Gilbert Boyce, who currently did not exist. It was July 2, 2117.
They drove the car over the magical oceanic highway, until reaching the nearest bit of land to Tribulation Island, which was Lorania. Just after they shut their doors, they jumped forward in time one year. He kind of wished they had gotten there early enough to stop the actually insane immortal, Ambrosios from quite nearly killing Xearea, but her near-death experience had set of a series of events, the altering of which could lead to disaster. It was best to let things play out as he knew they did, and stay on mission. Cassidy followed him as he opened the special compass, and started walking, hoping he eventually learned how to make the damn thing work. It took him all day, but he did finally understand, to a minimal degree, how to make the object direct him towards the merge point. By then, Cassidy needed a personal break, but he was determined to find the source of this merge point that Arcadia was so bothered by. In doing so, he nearly ran into something. No, it wasn’t something, it was someone.
The newcomer had presumably been focusing on eating his lionfruit, which he recalled doing months ago. It was Mateo Matic himself. He had run into his own doppelgänger. The two Matics stared at each other for a few seconds. The younger Mateo cleared his throat and wiped some juice from his chin. Navigator Mateo looked back at his compass and walked past without saying a word. It was only then that he found his breath again. Leona’s fourth rule for time travel, avoid alternate versions of yourself. The other one would try to forget about the encounter as best he could, paranoid that anything short of total obliviousness could result in the collapse of the spacetime continuum. The tactic clearly worked perfectly, because he had totally forgotten about this incident.
He wasn’t worried about Cassidy running into the younger version of him, because everything seemed to be playing out just as it did before, and that never happened. He was right when she caught up with him a few minutes later, and didn’t know what he was talking about. Soon thereafter, the compass found what they were looking for. The merge point was large, and easily accessible simply by taking one step forward. But the source of this tear in the spacetime continuum was infinitely smaller. The compass acted like a flashlight, illuminating the slight ripples in space that gave it away. These ripples were all streaming from the same place, where they became tighter and tighter, until it looked like a t-shirt that someone was trying to stuff into a thimble. Mateo placed the compass just under this point, and then snapped it shut. He knew he wasn’t actually capturing the tear, but it did effectively repair it. Unfortunately, it appeared to have done much more than that.
Now that this was finished, Mateo and Cassidy went straight back to the beach, where their car should have been waiting for them. But it wasn’t there, and neither was anything else. Nothing around them looked familiar. Trees were trees, and grass was grass, but he could have sworn all the plant life around them was different than it was when they first arrived. If he had to guess, he would say that closing the natural merge point had a side effect, and that was trapping them in the past. There was no way to know whether it was anywhere near the time Pribadium and Vitalie would be returning to, or if it was another three million years prior. He should have asked Arcadia for details, or spent more time learning how the compass worked. Well, perhaps he would have the time now. He worked on it for a week before Pribadium showed up in a spaceship to rescue them.

“Well, then we could rescue them,” Hilde suggested.
“We can’t rescue them with the AOC,” Leona tried to explain.
“Can’t it go really fast?” she argued. “How long would it take to get to Dardius with the ship?”
“Four thousand years,” Hogarth answered instead.
“Oh,” Hilde said. “Sorry.”
“No, it’s okay,” Leona assured her. “I’m on edge, because I’m powerless. I mean, this just keeps happening to us. He runs away, I’m taken out of time, he’s taken out of time, the Halifax grave isn’t big enough, someone steals our ship, he dies. I feel like everything the powers that be did to us in the beginning was to get us to fall in love, and then everything after that was to torture us. Even Mateo’s indiscretion drove us apart a little bit. So I’m just wondering, when we finally do find each other again, how long will it have been for one of us, and what’s gonna happen next?”
“We can’t get to Dardius from here,” Hogarth said sadly. She was holding to mangled pieces of what was once this planet’s Nexus replica. “These things keep getting destroyed, but there’s one thing I know will never be destroyed.”
“What’s that?” Hilde asked.
“It’s on Earth,” Hogarth replied. “It’s protected by the oldest linear immortal besides The Concierge.”
“The Pyramid,” Leona realized. “It can get me to Dardius.”
“Present-day Dardius,” Hogarth reminded her of the caveat. “Mateo isn’t there, but if you go, you could find Étude, tell her where our friends are, and have her jump you back.”
“Why are you talking in second-person?” Hilde questioned. “We’re going with her.”
Hogarth shook her head. “I don’t know what happened to this thing, but it’s the backup plan, and even if Leona doesn’t need it, someone may in the future. I have to rebuild it. I have to figure out how.”
“It’s okay,” Leona promised. “I can go alone. It’s just one day.”
Hilde frowned. “I don’t care how long it’ll be for you. That’s days of travel time the ship has to operate on its own. What if it blows up while you’re out of the timestream? You’ll just be coming back to your death.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time,” Leona said, recalling when the Vosa was sabotaged, leaving her exposed to the vacuum of space. It was what led to her unborn babies’ deaths.
Hilde was shaking her head. “I just don’t like you going out there alone. It’s not just you either. I don’t like when people are alone; it’s always bothered me. The scariest horror movies are when there’s only one victim being terrorized. If they’re in a group, I feel a lot safer.”
“It’s okay,” came a voice that Leona knew. “I’ll go with her.”
“Nerakali,” Leona said. “What have you experienced?”
“Well, your friend, Étude recently tried to shoot me on Proxima Doma.”
Leona was mortified.
“Oh, no. It’s okay,” Nerakali claimed. “I asked her to do it. It was the only way for me to help her find her daughter. I’m currently on my fifth life, and I’ve been spending a lot of time tracking someone really bad. I need your help. Something is happening in the timeline, and I think it’s partially my fault.”
“What did you do?”
“The hundemarke, these Nexus replicas that keep getting destroyed,” Nerakali began. “Someone is messing with people’s lives, and I recognize the pattern.”
“Is it you?” Hogarth asked. “Is a younger version of you screwing things up?”
Nerakali laughed. “That would be a funny twist, but no. Close, though.”
“I already know the answer to this,” Leona believed. “I don’t know about the Nexus replicas, but Arcadia is the one who’s been sending the hundemarke all over time to kill people permanently.”
Nerakali shook her head. “No, it’s not Arcadia, but you can be forgiven for coming to that conclusion. Out of the three Preston kids, Arcadia’s the one who looks the most like our mother. She’s the one causing problems, Leona. I need you to help me find Savannah Preston. We’re gonna need Mateo’s help too.”

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Source Variant: Moving On... (Part XV)

“I’m sorry about your friend,” Hokusai Gimura says. “Is there anything we can do to get him back?”
“No,” Saga!Two says sadly. “This is fate. It’s his fate. I was hoping to stave it off as long as possible, but the truth is that he’s already dead.”
Hokusai nods her head reverently. “Well, maybe you’ll see him again one day. For now, we should get to work.”
They all eye her cautiously. “Get to work doing what?” Saxon asks her.
“I don’t know,” Hokusai answers. “You’re the ones who called on me.”
“You stepped over the threshold,” Vearden!Three points out, “like you thought you were supposed to be over here.”
Hokusai gestures towards both versions of Saga. “My friend obviously needs my help. I don’t know with what, or what I can do, but I trust that.”
“We’re not gonna hold a memorial, or something?” Zektene questions.
“Miss Gimura is right,” Saga!Two says. “We have too much work to do.” She directs her attention to Hokusai herself. “Saxon Parker here can fill you in on what we’re after, and hopefully you’ll have everything you need to handle it. This facility is equipped with a Calibre 8 industrial synthesizer, but the humans left a megastructure synthesizer in orbit, so you’re only limited by your imagination.” She’s trying to hold it together, but recent events have forced her to relive one of the most tragic moments of her life. She didn’t exist when her Vearden died, which was perhaps worse, because they always kind of thought they would die together. She remembers feeling bad when she was returned to the timestream, and her first thought was that she wasn’t there to see it happen. It really just made her feel powerless, and rational or no, seeing Arcadia take him to meet his destiny gave her the same pit in her stomach.
“Come on,” Saga!Three says kindly. “Let’s go talk this out alone.”
Vearden!Three leaves when the two Sagas do, because he doesn’t know how to feel about all this. It’s another Vearden, and not one he’ll become, or once was. He was a completely different person. But it’s still him, right? I mean, it’s like he died as well. How is he meant to live his life now, knowing what he knows, and having witnessed what he did? This is all too confusing, and he wants to talk with the Sagas about it, but this isn’t about him, so he just goes off on his own. He returns only minutes later, because everywhere in the building he tries to go to feels uncomfortable, or unsafe. Saxon is in the middle of explaining to Hokusai what’s going on.
“You want to move the planet?” Hokusai asks.
“No, the solar system,” Saxon clarifies. “They’re still gonna need a sun.”
“Well, I can’t do that,” she contends. “I can’t even do the first one.”
“They say you did it before, with the rogue world, Durus.”
“Yeah,” she admits, “I had a magical object called a Rothko Torch to do it for me. Everyone seems to give me credit for it, but all I did was switch it on, and point it towards the sky.”
“You can’t build this torch again?” Saxon suggests.
“I didn’t build it; I found it.” She looks around, but knows she won’t find anything. “I don’t imagine you have another one just lying around.
Vearden!Three continues to half-listen to them discuss the early stages of the plan, even though he has no idea what they’re talking about. His mind wanders as he’s thinking about everything that’s happened since that day he had the urge to travel to Kansas City, and met his first two time travelers, Serkan and Ace.
“I suppose we could use an adapted Caplan thruster. I’m sure the designs are in your database somewhere. I would need to modify it to account for this properties of this star, and it’s not going to be easy, but also not impossible.”
“Won’t that take too long?” Saxon figures. “Those operate in the millions of years.”
“Well, what’s our time table for this Ochivari invasion?”
“We don’t know,” he says, “but probably not millions of years.”
Hokusai takes a deep breath. “We could skip acceleration. I could design a cylicone-dependent velocity jumper that gets us to maximum speed in a matter of weeks. Months would be safer, but either way that’s only a light year every fifteen hundred years. I might be able to make it go a little faster, but not too much. There’s also the issue with the overall design of the Caplan.”
Saxon nods, knowing exactly what she means. “The dyson swarm we use for energy redirection would be visible from the surface of the planet. The Orolak would know we’re doing something.”
“Can’t you make this swarm thing invisible?” Vearden!Three didn’t know he was going to say anything until he already did.
The two geniuses seem open to the concept. “We have to make the system invisible anyway,” Saxon acknowledges. “It doesn’t matter where we move it if the Ochivari go looking for what they see is missing. We could blanket the atmosphere in a hologram to make it look like everything is copacetic.”
Hokusai smiles. “One glitch, and it’s over. They could wrap their religion around it.”
“Yes,” Saxon says, “we’ve seen that already. We accidentally made them worship a rock.”
They keep talking over the possibilities, while Vearden!Three tunes them out again, knowing he probably can’t contribute much more than he already has. Thirty minutes into it, Saga!Three comes back into the room. “Where are they?” Her eyes are puffy and red, indicative that she’s been mourning with her alternate self. Hopefully it was a productive cry for the both of them.
This whole time, Zektene has been looking through the Maramon database, in case the good monsters left anything behind that might help. “Where are what?”
“The Ochivari,” Saga!Three clarifies. “Where is their home planet? What planets have they conquered?”
“We don’t have that information,” Saxon replies. “We know where Worlon is, but we lost all quantum communication when I had to destroy the uplink back at the vonearthan base, so we don’t know anything beyond that.”
“But they’re really advanced,” Saga!Three presumes. She steps forward slowly as she’s talking. “They have spaceships, and aerosol cans, and firearms.”
“Yes,” Saxon says. “Where are you going with this?”
Vearden!Three stands up, also wanting to know the answer to this, and worried about what she’s saying.
“If they have all these amazing things, then they probably have really simple things. Things like...doors?”
Zektene looks horrified. “Saga, don’t think like that.”
“Doors like that one?” Saga!Three jerks her head over to the door that leads to the section of the facility that once housed the Gondilak growth pods.
“Don’t even think about it.” Zektene almost looks defensive.
“We need intel,” Saga!Three reasons. And if we can, we need to slow them down, or hell, even destroy them.”
“You’re not going to be able to do that with a door,” Saxon tries to reason right back, “unless you can find one large enough to fit the Death Star, or Lexx.”
“I have to do something,” Saga!Three explains. “I can’t just sit here. I can’t help you build your magical protection machines. I don’t even care much about it. This is so much bigger than this one little planet. Has anyone on Earth ever considered that? Are they going to war?”
“Way I understand it,” Saxon regrets saying, “no. Some disagree, but the vonearthan leadership has decided against interference.”
“You mean they’re sticking their heads in the sand,” Saga!Three spits. She drew closer to the door.
Zektene jumps a few meters over to block her path.“Do not go through that,” she nearly orders.
“I wouldn’t mind having a teleporter at my side,” Saga!Three says to her.
“We can’t fight these creatures by ourselves,” Zektene excuses.
“You’re right, which is why I’m not going straight there. We need a few things; fighters, scientists, weapons, maybe even transportation.” The list is obviously not comprehensive, but she couldn’t have been thinking about doing this for very long.
“I can get you transportation,” Vearden!Three volunteered. “You may need to travel to other universes, and I happen to know a little bit about that.”
“We don’t want to take The Crossover from whoever’s operating it, or The Prototype from the Laymen,” Saga!Three says.
“No,” Vearden!Three says. “Those wouldn’t help you much anyway. They can make jumps, but they’re not spacefaring ships. What you’ll need is The Transit.” He steps over, and opens the door for them. There’s a room on the other side, but not the one that’s meant to be there. “If you truly want to do this, that’s where you should start.”
“Wadya say, Zek?” Saga!Three offers. “While they go on the defensive, you wanna help me take offense?”
Zektene sighs, and considers it. “If you’re going to anyway, I guess I have to.”
Saga!Three smiles, and wipes her face of the remaining evidence that she was crying. “Are you coming too?” she asks Vearden!Three.
He shakes his head. “I have my own mission.”
Saga!Three nods. She takes Zektene’s hand, and leads her through the portal. Vearden!Three waves one last time, and closes the door behind them.
“Are they gonna be okay?” Hokusai asks.
“You can count on it,” Vearden!Three replies.
“You’ve already seen it, haven’t you?” Saxon guesses. “You know what happens to them.”
Vearden!Three smirks, and prepares to open the door again, but this time for himself.
“What’s your mission?” Saga!Two has just stepped into the room, but she was listening to the conversation the entire time from around the corner.
Vearden!Three looks back at her. “I’m gonna go get your friend.”
“No, don’t,” Saga!Two reaches out towards him. “You can’t change the past. I mean, you can, but you shouldn’t. My experience, it’s...it led me here. It resulted in my daughter.”
He smiles at her. “Vearden!Two doesn’t have to die. You just have to think he died.” He looks back at the door that had the potential to take him anywhere in time and space, as long as he was worthy of making it do that. “I finally know my purpose.” He opens the door, and closes it behind him before the other three can see much of what’s on the other side, other than the woods, presumably on Tribulation Island, where he plans on switching places with his alternate self.
A second later, the door opens again, and Vearden!Two walks in from the beach. His face is unreadable. “Saga?”
“Vearden,” is all that Saga can say.
“What did I just agree to?” Vearden asks.
“Self-sacrifice,” Saxon answers.
“What do we do now?” Saga wonders. She’s still trying to work up the nerve to hug her best friend.
“There’s nothing more you can do here,” Saxon says. “Why don’t you try to open that door too, and see where it takes you?”
“Everybody’s doing it,” Hokusai adds.
They laugh. And then Saga walks over to try what they’ve recommended. She and Vearden take hold of the handle together, and pull it open.
Two beautiful and amazing women are waiting for them on the other side of it. “Mom?” one of them asks.
“Grandma?” asks the other.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Microstory 1265: Allen Tupper

Allen Tupper wanted very little out of life. He saw it as a lack of entitlement, while his family saw it as a lack of ambition. He dropped out of college during his sophomore year, not because it was too hard, or because he was struggling with his grades, but just because he didn’t feel like he was getting much out of it. He didn’t have a thirst for knowledge, and he wasn’t much into the party scene, so higher education was a waste of his time, and a waste of parents’ money. At first, they were disappointed in his choices, but they came to realize the wisdom, and became thankful that he didn’t end up with mountains of student loan debt he would never be capable of paying off himself. His aunt owned a restaurant within walking distance of the house, so he started working there instead. He started out at the bottom, as a busser, but eventually made his way into the kitchen, where he became a line cook. He wasn’t astonishingly good at the work, but the menu wasn’t astonishingly complicated either, and he picked it up pretty quickly. His aunt was generous, and since the place was doing quite well, she kept it overstaffed, which afforded each worker more time off than most restaurants would be able to handle. Most of his coworkers didn’t take much time, since they weren’t getting paid to do it, but Allen didn’t care about the money. He worked to pay his bills, and as long as the number in his checking account stayed over zero, he didn’t feel the need to tire himself out. Instead, he took trips. He had this dream to go on a camping trip in every state in the country. Well, it wasn’t so much a dream as it was a long-term goal that his therapist suggested he come up with. She wanted him to worry a little more about the future, and not let himself get in a rut. It worked, because the only times he truly felt happy were when he was out there in nature, far from other people. There was one person he didn’t want to be apart from, however. Richard Parker had the exact same long-term goal, though he was a little less apathetic about it, and more enthusiastic. To make things even weirder, they had each already camped in the same states, so it was almost as if time were waiting for them to meet each other. Allen never believed in much, and he didn’t think anything happened for a reason. He couldn’t help but question his position, though. It was just too perfect, like they were already leading parallel lives, and just needed to notice each other. They exchanged information, and connected on social media upon returning home from Colorado. Richard was nine years younger, but it didn’t seem to bother him, so Allen decided to not let it bother him either. They took things slow, first moving to the same city to be closer to each other year-round, then moving in together, and finally marrying after a three year relationship. Unfortunately, they were only able to enjoy one year of marital bliss before their lives got really crazy.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Microstory 1264: Cecelia Massey

When a choosing one discovers their abilities, they often realize that they can help others with it. They don’t necessarily think they should become philanthropists, or superheroes, but they do see a market for their abilities. And so they adopt jobs within the time traveler underground. Some take payment for their services, but generally only when their power doesn’t inherently give them free access to whatever resources they need. For regular people, like Cecelia Massey, being part of the workforce was not a choice at all. She was an average human who had no time powers, and no knowledge of anyone who did. She was born in Hays, Kansas and attended an in-state school, because it was cheaper. After graduating from college, she stayed out East, moving around the Kansas City metropolitan area for various reasons, like following a boyfriend who got a better job, or wanting to be closer to extended family. She might have pursued a career with that sociology degree of hers, but she barely passed her classes, and never felt competent enough to go for it. The truth was that she probably would have been fine, and her biggest hurdle was her own lack of self-confidence. So she played it safe, accepting only entry-level jobs, until one day she blinked, and realized that she had been a shoe store clerk for the last six years. She didn’t even always work at the same place. She applied to a new job while she still had the old one, and it wasn’t until she did a little math that she realized she wasn’t making any more money than before, because now she was spending a lot more of it on gas. It was around this time that she also realized that this was one of the worst places for her to be. She hated working in sales, but she knew it could’ve been worse. At least she wasn’t peddling something stupid or harmful. Still, her job’s only purpose was the keep her going while she looked for something better; for her wallet, and her soul. It was time she remembered that, and actually got back on those career sites. This proved to be extremely disheartening, as she kept failing to secure interviews, and the interviews she did manage to land didn’t get her anywhere. Finally, her family had basically had enough of this. They were fine with her spending the rest of her life as a clerk, but they weren’t okay with her being unhappy, and she wasn’t listening to their words of encouragement, so they needed to be clear with her. Her best course of action was to go back to school, and really think about what she wanted out of life. It took her a few months, but she finally made a plan. Her degree alone wasn’t enough to get her a job as a high school guidance counselor, but it was a good start. Being a senior sales representative gave her the freedom to adjust her work hours according to her new class schedule. It might have taken a little longer than it did for her peers, but she found her calling, and she didn’t even need time powers to do it.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Microstory 1263: Lavitha Kistler

Before starting college in the spring, Lavitha Kistler was all set for a road trip with her friends. She had left Lawrence before, but she had never gone anywhere without her parents. She always struggled with growing up, and though no one would say they coddled her, they did often have to help her figure out things that most of her peers seemed to just get. She had an adventurous spirit, though, and this was her chance to do something without any help. Of course, the original plan was to not go alone. She had a good group of friends, until a tragedy caused everyone else to back out. Her friend, Cassidy’s mother died shortly before they were going to leave, so no one was up for it anymore. Lavitha was saddened and empathetic, of course, but this meant more to her than it did to them. This was a growing experience, and she worried if she didn’t do it now, she never would. She was going to college less than an hour and a half away from home, and was intending to take a pretty heavy schedule of classes every term, including the summer, so this could be her last chance. Cassidy understood why she was still doing it, and didn’t hold it against her. The funny thing is, it didn’t matter how Cassidy felt about Lavitha, because their relationship would soon go from really good to literally nonexistent. Lavitha’s second stop after Manhattan was Springfield, Kansas. It was a fairly small town, but due to a temporal anomaly, was once one of the largest in the state, and though that had since changed, a lot of tourists felt an inexplicable draw to it. That phenomenon came to an end, however, when the rest of the town was sucked into the Deathfall portal, and completely erased from everyone else’s mind. Almost no one outside of its borders could remember that it, nor anyone inside, ever existed. While she wasn’t a permanent resident, Lavitha happened to be there at the time, so she was spirited away as well, all the way to a rogue planet called Durus. But her situation was even more complicated than that, because within the temporal anomaly was yet another anomaly, and she was caught in that, though no one else would ever know it.

The Deathfall occurred on September 23, 2016, but it was followed a nearly hundred and forty-five years later with the Deathspring on May 19, 2161. For that, even more people were unwillingly pulled up to the rogue world, and it is with this new batch of refugees that Lavitha ended up with. At first she thought that what had happened to her was normal. Well, it wasn’t normal, but at least she wasn’t the only person who accidentally ended up on another planet, in the future. But she quickly realized that her situation was unique. All other refugees believed that it was 2161, and they were correct. She was the only one who experienced a temporal change, as well as a spatial one, and since she never told anyone about it, no one ever had the chance to study why that was. She kept her head down, stayed quiet, and did as much investigating as she possibly could on her own. She got her hands on some information about Earth, and eventually had to accept the conclusion that not only was everyone she ever cared about long dead, but also that they died with no memory of her anyway. So this was it; her life now. Even if she asked for help going back in time—which was not impossible—life on Durus in 2016 was said to be just god-awful. If she also managed to find a way back to Earth in her own time period, because of the nature of the original Deathfall, she wouldn’t have a life to return to. So she spent twelve years there, building herself a new life as an unremarkable office administrator for the provisional government, and for all the forms of leadership that rose to power throughout the decade. It wasn’t until an interstellar ship called The Elizabeth Warren arrived that anyone seemed to have any chance of reaching Earth. She decided she wanted to do that. Things were finally starting to improve for Durus, but she still longed for a self-sustainable world, with real plants, animals, its own sun, and everything else that Earth had to offer. She helped found a group of what she thought were like-minded individuals, who wanted on that ship too. It was too late before she realized that the other leaders were more like terrorists, who were willing to commit violent crimes to get what they wanted. They took hostages, and made their demands, but luckily, they lost, and no one was hurt. Because she was one of the few high-ranking members who opposed these actions, Lavitha was placed in charge of peaceful negotiations. She had never done anything like this before, but she was going to have to step up, for the sake of all the other hopeful passengers. This was finally her moment to grow up.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Microstory 1262: Atticus Morel

Virtual architect, Atticus Morel spent more of his life in simulated environments than he did in the real world. He didn’t have any particular affinity for the constructed at first, though. In fact, the reason he got into the business was to make these artificial worlds more lifelike. Over the years, after artificial intelligence was created, human civilization changed a great deal, specifically by shedding much of what made them who they were before. Things like war, food scarcity, and dangerous weather were becoming things of the past. And the most important impact was a loss of the human labor force. Many of the crappy jobs people didn’t want to do could be done by automated systems instead. Even better, a lot of these jobs were simply eradicated, so no one—or no thing—would have to do them at all. For instance, it took a lot of people working in the background to keep a single skyscraper running. Maintenance repair technicians, cleaning staff, security, and the like were all essential to the smooth operation of only a single building. And many of these collectives were needed, because there were many more buildings beyond this one hypothetical. These buildings existed, not to support the intelligent lifeforms on the planet, but mostly to indulge the overly complicated, and economically saturated, infrastructural system that was only necessary because every human felt they deserved an entire section of the planet for themselves. Of course, that’s an exaggeration, but the point is that enough people were clamoring for their own space that the species soon ran out of it, and most of what we were left with was excess. By consolidating systems, and altering the definition of ambition, people were free to pursue their dreams without interfering with other people’s dreams. Humanity stopped needing so many buildings, because they became more united, and driven to support the system as a whole. The most important advancing technology in this regard was virtual reality. There was no need to waste real estate to exorcise one’s aggression by smashing a bunch of legacy electronics with a bat. All one needed was a simulation of such a thing, and any given simulation, at its worse, takes up space as measured in millimeters. But they also didn’t mean much if they didn’t feel real; if the user could not—if only temporarily—suspend their disbelief that their physical bodies were still sitting comfortably in a chair, say in Panama. Atticus had the ability to design realistic environments to make people’s lives easier, and he eventually found himself more at ease in them himself, because they belonged to him. He created this art, and he came to love it deeply. So it was quite a jarring experience when he was suddenly ripped from the world he had built, transported thousands of miles away, and basically forced to begin serving on a warship.

A woman named The Overseer claimed to have knowledge of a timeline where he, and everyone else she had conscripted, had led completely different lives. They had evidently been part of some kind of rebellion to overthrow a tyrant, and were so successful, that they reset time so that none of it actually happened. He had little trouble believing any of this, but he also had trouble caring about this further work he was expected to do. Though the tyrant was gone, her followers weren’t, and it was this new ragtag crew’s mission to combat them. He didn’t want to be part of this, but he bit his tongue, because he was promised it wouldn’t take very long. Even if the mission lasted years, he should still be able to go right back to his old life, where he would later upload his consciousness to the network, and live forever. Unfortunately for his plans, there were other forces at play here, who felt this one job would only be the first of many. According to a history that never really took place, Atticus once took on the codename of Gatekeeper. It was just a name he used to disguise his identity in an alternate reality, which he didn’t even remember, so it meant nothing. But some people with the power to make convoluted temporal connections liked to use them to make more connections. These people provided Atticus with special water that made him immortal, so that he could be in charge of a very dangerous place forever. Now he indeed was a Gatekeeper, and he couldn’t have hated it more. The worst part about it was that he was no longer allowed to enter any virtual reality simulation. No, this would not do. He had to find a way to escape, even if it meant opening the gate.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Microstory 1261: The Saunter Twins

Cullen Gunnarsen and Einion Tamaro were aspiring actors, but since they lived in Kansas City—and were only children—there weren’t a lot of opportunities to get themselves on the big screen. They met each other in community theatre when they were both cast in a production of Newsies. After growing up, they couldn’t remember which parts they played, though it was definitely two of the younger ones. A few years later, Senator Elliot Channing approached them both with an interesting offer. They would be paid handsomely, and really get their names out there, and all they would have to do was walk around Kansas City on camera. It seemed ridiculous and random to them, but it was a job, so they took it. They figured they could quit anytime if it turned out to be a waste. It turned out to be the best choice they ever made, though they would come to find out that it was an ethically questionable one. He hired them to walk in the City Frenzy event, which of course, was generally a foot race, where the object was to run fast. After a couple years of streaming the race internationally, Channing learned that people were tuning out as soon as the saw who won. Many turned off the feed after the next to finished, and very few watched all the way through the end. This was no big deal for subscribers who had prepaid for an ad-free experience, but it was a problem for the ad-supported tier. The faster the winner got to the finish line, the less money they were going to make, and he wanted to change that. Of course, it would be really bad if he tried to get the racers to slow down, especially since he would have to convince all of them to comply, and to also keep it secret. Instead, he came up with an odd plan that somehow worked even better than he hoped. People weren’t just watching until the last real racer finally got to the finish line. They were watching for hours and hours, just for Cullen and Einion.

The two of them would walk the race at a fairly leisurely pace. They would stop to appreciate the shops they went by, smell flowers along their route, and take selfies with the passersby. People began to close the broadcast immediately after the winner was crowned at a lower rate then before, and this only decreased each year The Saunter Twins—as the papers called them—put on their own show. It was just a couple of kids walking through the metropolitan area, but enough people were fascinated by their alternate technique to increase revenue. They called it a spiritual journey, and it apparently spoke to a lot of people who didn’t have anything else going on in their lives. This was before Channing decided to end his political career, and focus solely on the Frenzy event, which might have absolved the rest of the committee of any wrongdoing, but even after he joined permanently, he was never caught; not even by the others. The Twins didn’t give him up once they were old enough to realize that they weren’t allowed to be paid for their performance, and no one else ever figured it out. Cullen and Einion moved on with lives after the former aged out, and eventually relocated to Los Angeles, so they could pursue their acting careers. By then, they were worldwide celebrities, so it wasn’t hard for them to start landing gigs, which was probably the main reason they never confessed to their involvement in the crime. They did some separate things, but they were largely considered a package deal, so casting directors often called them up to work together on the same titles. Parts were even rewritten to accommodate two actors, instead of one. They acted in movies, and television, and occasionally spent time in New York to perform on Broadway. Their fans continued to call them The Saunter Twins, but never caught onto the fact that neither of them behaved like zen spiritualists after the Frenzy chapter of their lives was over. It all seemed to work out.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 25, 2263

Now was the time. They were finally going to Dardius. In a show of good faith, everybody agreed to give Pribadium’s completely new form of teleportation a shot. She had tested it many times since she first invented it, so it wasn’t like they were guinea pigs in danger. They just had to get past the fact that this came from the mind of a human. If anyone had any further reservations about it, they were keeping quiet. Mateo wasn’t sure if he was sensing tension about that, about Cassidy’s decision regarding the blindspot elixir, something else entirely, or nothing at all, and it was just his imagination. He and Leona also didn’t know what kind of arguments or discussions went down while they were out of the timestream. They packed their belongings, stepped into the machine, and prepared for launch.
“Last chance to back out,” Pribadium warned them. “I know you’re worried about it, so if you just wanna take a rover across the Glisnian wasteland, like a peasant, it’s time to speak up.”
“Well, when you put it like that,” Vitalie said, “let’s all go peasant. Peasants don’t where clothes, right? On account of being birds?”
“That’s pheasants, honey,” Étude corrected her.
“What did I say?” Vitalie joked.
“We’re doing this,” Leona assured Pribadium, getting back to the matter at hand.
“It’ll be fun,” Hilde said in delight. Normal humans stick together.
“It’ll be a new adventure that I can recount in my video diaries,” Vitalie said, “though it would be more interesting if we didn’t wear clothes. Are we sure that’s off the table?”
“All right,” Hogarth declared, ignoring her. “Five, four, three, two, one,” she announced rapidly.
The transport was instantaneous, and took them exactly where they were meant to go in the Nexus replica. Mateo didn’t think it felt any different than the other times he had been teleported, but some of the more intelligent in their group seemed to be under the impression that it was. Perhaps that was just a sign of their biases. Everything appeared to be okay, but they would not be so lucky with the second leg of their journey. Now that Tribulation Island was no longer being used as The Hub, or as a staging ground for warmongering capitalists, things were a lot different. Only one person lived there permanently, and beyond that, but a handful of people were allowed to set foot on it. Most of those were comprised of Mateo, Leona, or anyone they personally specified. Certain high-ranking officials could go there for inspections or meetings with the island’s one inhabitant, who served as its caretaker. According to Hogarth and Hilde, Transportation Administrator Amanda Moss got a bit cagey when they asked just who this caretaker was. Why would it be a big deal? Was it someone bad, like The Cleanser, or Hitler? He couldn’t imagine it mattered.
This was where things got weird. The first thing the group saw when they arrived at their destination was a welcoming party. There wasn’t a whole lot of fanfare, because that was reserved for the capital, but it looked like a healthy number of smiling faces had shown up. They disappeared pretty quickly, though, as did everything else there. As soon as Étude stepped up to begin to shake people’s hands diplomatically, the rest of the group were swept away somewhere, or somewhen, else. Now they were standing just inside the treeline on a beach. It could have been an island. It could have even been the right island, but if it was, it was the wrong point in time. No artificial structure was anywhere in their line of sight.
“What happened?” Cassidy questioned. “Where did she go? Where’s my mom?”
“I think we’re the ones who went somewhere,” Mateo replied.
Hogarth pulled out her tablet, and furiously tapped on it for a moment. “I can’t connect to the satellite network.”
“Leona,” Hilde nudged, “your watch.”
“Oh, right.” Leona dragged her sleeves out of the way, and peered at her watch, which Mateo’s once-father, Mario had given to her as a gift. It was meant to always tell the exact time. It didn’t matter where she teleported, or what year it was. It would make contact with spacetime itself, and report back a hundred percent accurate readings. Leona’s face suggested that something was wrong.
“What is it?”
“This is hard to interpret,” Leona said, holding the watch face towards them, but shaking it around, so no one could really see it. “It’s not digital, so it doesn’t just give me the date. I have to figure out what all these needles mean, and how they correspond with each other.”
Leona continued, “I mean, we don’t assign years to prehistoric times, right? We say three million years ago, or say, sixty-thousand years ago.”
“It’s not sixty-thousand years ago, is it?” Pribadium asked with what was probably supposed to be a self-reassuring smile.
She didn’t say anything.
“Leona, it’s not sixty-thousand years ago,” Pribadium laughed. “Tell me it’s not sixty-thousand years ago.”
“It’s not sixty-thousand years ago,” Leona promised.
Everyone looked relieved, but they shouldn’t have.
“It’s closer to three million,” Hogarth said. She was holding her table towards the sky. Mateo actually understood this concept. Stars moved throughout the galaxy in a predictable pattern, and armed with enough information about these patterns, one could determine the present year. She could have been even more accurate with better data, like scientists were for the Milky Way.
“Two-point-eight-three million,” Leona confessed.
“Huh,” Mateo noted.
“What is it?” Leona asked, acting like everyone thought this was her fault, even though it was clear that she was simply the one with the magic watch.
“That’s how far we are from Earth.” Maybe Mateo wasn’t such a dummy after all. “Light years, that is.”
“He’s right,” Hogarth agreed. “If we took a lightship back home right now, we would return at around the right time.”
“Well, that may be our only option,” Leona said, throwing up our hands. “Unless we invented a time machine.”
“Or stasis pods,” Cassidy offered.
“We know of no stasis pod that could survive more than a million years,” Leona contradicted. “We can’t even be sure it’s physically possible for an unenhanced human being to make it to the other side of the Milky Way from Earth. They may break down so often that the traveler would age too much during the maintenance periods.”
“So, time machine it is,” Pribadium decided. “I can do that. I have to; it’s my fault.”
“How is it your fault?” Hilde questioned. She was still very protective of the only other one of her kind.
Pribadium shook her head in disappointment. “The teleporter I built. It must have interfered with the Nexus replica. I don’t know, I can’t study either of them in this state, because I just screwed us!” She kicked at the sand, and stomped off in a huff. No one followed her. This was what she needed. Hopefully that was everyone else’s reason for letting her go off on her own, because it was definitely Mateo’s. He didn’t want her to feel alienated from the group, but worse than that, he didn’t want anyone to actively alienate her, whether it was her fault, or not.
“This may be a dumb question,” he began, “but just to get it off the table, could Leona, Cassidy, and I just wait for our pattern to catch us up with the modern era?”
Leona pinched the bridge of her nose. “That’s over seven thousand years, Mateo. Jesus Christ.”
“Okay, I’m sorry! You know I’m not good at math!”
“You could be a little better,” she spat.
“Okay,” Vitalie said, almost like a mediator. “We’re not letting you get in another big fight. It’s exhausting for the rest of us. Now. To make things easier, you don’t have to worry about me. I can indeed wait for a few million years. That’s nothing.”
“Speaking of powers,” Cassidy asked, “can’t my mother jump through time, and come retrieve us?”
“She would have to know when and where we are,” Leona said sadly. “I’m not sure she has that capability. Jump-tracing is an incredibly rare time power.”
Cassidy frowned.
Vitalie decided to go on, “Hogarth can jump through time, though so it really depends on how many people she can take with her.”
“I can explode through time,” Hogarth argued, “it’s not pleasant, and I’ve never taken anyone with me. It’s far too dangerous.”
“I thought you figured out how to control it,” Vitalie said.
“Not enough to risk passengers,” Hogarth maintained.
“I’m willing to risk it,” Hilde reminded her. “I’ve told you.”
“I’m not doin’ it.”
“Great,” Vitalie said, “then just save yourself.”
“Screw you,” Hogarth jibed.
“What did I just say about fighting?” Vitalie asked rhetorically.
“I can stay here too,” Cassidy added.
“How’s that now?”
“I can...” Cassidy hesitated, speaking directly to Vitalie. “I can take your power on. I can become immortal, if only for a little while. Pribadium thought that could work.”
“It could,” Leona said, “but we don’t know. Immortality is a very different animal when it comes to time powers. I’m not sure anyone has been born with it.”
“I’m willing to try,” Cassidy echoed Hilde’s sentiments from a moment ago.
Mateo made it clear he wanted to speak, but didn’t say anything until he had the math worked out in his head. “If Hogarth were to hypothetically explode someone into the future, her most likely limitation is two other people. Wouldn’t you say,” he asked the group, but mostly Leona, “more often than not, that’s how it works?”
“That’s a reasonable presumption,” she followed.
“Okay,” Mateo said. “Let’s call that Hogarth, Hilde, and Leona.”
“Why me?” Leona questioned. “Why not Pribadium?”
“I’ll get to that,” he claimed. “Those three are taken care of. Let’s assume Cassidy can absorb Vitalie’s immortality, and that this eventuality becomes necessary. That only leaves Pribadium and me. I’ll be fine for awhile, as would Cassidy, if she just stayed on my pattern. That only leaves Pribadium, who’s undergone some anti-aging enhancements, and isn’t soon to die, even without further treatments. Maybe that gives her enough time to solve this problem. Because, while we don’t know if she can build a time machine, we know—given enough linear time—she could build a lightspeed ship.”
Leona sighed. “It’s not the craziest plan, but it has a lot of what-ifs.”
“Too many,” Hogarth lamented. “I don’t want to kill my wife.”
“Then don’t.” Hilde took her wife’s arm affectionately.
“I can’t recommend you try that,” Mateo said, “but if we don’t do something, we could all die here. Our bones will turn to dust before even one more person sets foot here, and that’ll be that.”
“We promised we wouldn’t separate again,” Leona said. “We both agreed to that.”
“I know,” he said. “But that was before, and no one can tell the future.” He couldn’t help but release a ducky smile at that statement.
“Shut up,” Leona couldn’t help but laugh at the fact that it wasn’t true. They didn’t want to fight, and every option was a shitty one. Whichever one stayed here could be stuck forever, and whichever one tried to go with Hogarth could literally die in an explosion. It wasn’t like arguing was going to allow one to save the other. There was no way to know which was the safest, if either of them worked.
Now they all looked to Hogarth, who was carrying some of her friends’ fates in her hands. She didn’t want to let anyone down. “Okay, I’ll try. If anyone survives past this, but Hilde doesn’t, however, I expect that survivor to seek a real time traveler, so they can fix that before it happens.”
“We can agree to that possibility.” Everyone piped up with their show of support.
Even Pribadium had something to say, having returned soon enough to hear the last bit of the plan, and probably with enough intelligence to guess the gist of what she didn’t hear. “I agree.”
“Okay,” Hogarth said. “Leona and Hilde, each take one of my arms. Don’t let go, no matter what. Like I said, this isn’t gonna be fun.”
Leona and Hilde complied with her instructions.
“The rest of you should back up.”
They complied as well.
Hogarth’s condition rested somewhere in the middle of a time power, and a time affliction. She did learn some control over it, but not total control, and no one else who could travel through time experienced her level of physical trauma by doing it. So it wasn’t completely useless, but it wasn’t great either. It was simply all she had, and it was their best way out. She tried to jump them a few million years into the future, and it technically did work, but instead of landing on future Tribulation Island, or anywhere else on Dardius, the three of them found themselves all the way back on Glisnia. Fortunately, they were all safe, but unfortunately, there was no way to know if any of the others were, or would be, or had been, as it were. Hogarth attempted to explode herself back there, but was unable to. The last jump must have taken a lot out of her. Too much, really. She couldn’t feel her connection to the timestream anymore. Her power, or affliction—whatever one might call it—seemed to be gone. To make matters worse, when they tried to seek information by jumping through the Nexus replica, they discovered it to have been destroyed. Hogarth pledged to figure out how to repair it, but there was no guarantee.