Saturday, July 20, 2019

Bungula: Breathing Space (Part IV)

Brooke, Sharice, and Mirage are sitting around a table solemnly. The fight is over, but they are still feeling the trauma. Brooke is this close to deleting the memory from her brain, but she can’t, because there is work to be done.
Mirage finally speaks, “I think it’s important to—”
“Shut up,” Sharice interrupts.
“Nobody died,” Mirage manages to say.
“If you don’t shut your mouth,” Sharice begins, “you’re going to find out what my namesake did for a living before she became a civil servant.”
“Wasn’t she a lawyer?”
Sharice stands up threateningly.
“It’s fine,” Brooke stops her daughter from doing something else she would regret. “It was a billion to one incident. And Mirage is right. Nobody died.”
“They did die,” Sharice argues. “We’re lucky their respective consciousnesses were uploaded to an underground server. Plenty of fairly normal humans were in that dome. Had they been exposed, they would have been lost forever.”
“We had ample warning time,” Mirage reminds her. “The biologicals were rescued first.”
“You made me complicit in a tragedy,” Sharice complains. “Had this happened to Dome Three, dozens—if not hundreds—of people would have been killed.”
“It didn’t happen to Dome Three!” Mirage’s anger is growing. “It happened to Dome Four! If you would like, we can talk about going back in time to prevent it from happening, but what we’re not going to do is go back in time and make your worst fears come true. There’s no point in worrying about a past that never occurred. Life is dangerous anywhere in the galaxy, but in a colony, on a world that doesn’t naturally support human life, it’s even more dangerous. There is literally an endless supply of bad things that might have happened, or bad things that did happen, but could have been even worse. I take most responsibility for the meteor strike, but I won’t take all of it. I put you in charge.”
Sharice’s anger rivaled Mirage’s well. “You glorified 3D television set!”
Brooke has to hold her back, like this is a rap battle gone awry.
“I’ll disassemble you right now!” Sharice continues.
‘That’s enough!” Brooke declares. “Nobody is disassembling anyone, and nobody is going back in time. As terrible as this was, I don’t allow time travel. I don’t just mean that because I can’t do it myself. No matter your intentions, temporal manipulation is always bad. It’s caused so many more problems than it’s solved, and I stayed here to be free of it. Most of my family is off elsewhere, but Sharice and I made the decision to let them go, because their lives are just too insane and unpredictable. Mirage, if I ever hear you suggest that again, or if I even suspect we’re living in a timeline of your creation, you’re gonna regret ever becoming an avatar. The time you spent in that omniscience dimension has damaged your perspective.
“Now. That being said, there’s a reason humans developed technologies beyond interstellar travel. Our ancestors long ago started realizing how much it sucks to be a standard human. Humans die too easily, and they don’t come back, which is why we decided to improve upon ourselves, so we would be more resilient. Sharice, this could not have happened to Dome Three, because it’s fully encased in a lava tube. Dome Four wanted a better view of the sky, but that’s why there aren’t many fully organics in there, because it’s not safe. All colonists came here knowing their lives wouldn’t be easy. Earth is the safest place for any vonearthan. Or at least it comes with the highest chances of survival. I’m not saying they asked you to lose control of an icy planetesimal, and smash fragments of it into the side of their dome, but they knew you were dropping them in this orthant. Unfortunately, the process of seeding the planet with an atmosphere wouldn’t have worked if we focused our work on only one hemisphere, or something. Right, Mirage?”
“That’s right,” Mirage replies. “That may have worked if we were willing to wait centuries...”
“Why did we not just wait centuries?” Sharice questions. “Why are you so eager to get this done so fast? Is something coming? Is something about to happen. You’re obsessed with 2245, like all is lost if we don’t make it in time.”
Mirage’s silence is deafening.
Brooke nods for no apparent reason. “It’s time, Mirage.”
“What?”
“Yes, what?” Sharice agrees. “What are you talking about?”
“It’s time to tell her,” Brooke says.
“What do you know?” Sharice is feeling offended. “She told you some secret?”
Mirage emotes to Brooke, but they don’t exchange words.
“Fine,” Brooke resolves. “It’ll make her angrier hearing it from me, but if you don’t want to admit it, I will.”
“No,” Mirage stops her. “I didn’t realize you knew. It’s my truth to tell, so I better tell it.”
Sharice folds her arms impatiently.
Brooke actually had no idea what Mirage’s secret was, but she knew she wouldn’t give it up by request. Mirage had to think Brooke figured it out on her own, so she’d finally spill it. It was a tricky gamble, and it’s a miracle it was going to pay off. The problem is she has no way of conveying her gambit to Sharice, but perhaps that’s for the best, so her daughter can authentically express her surprise, and possible outrage.
Mirage prepares to explain herself. “In the year 1815, roughly seventy thousand people die in what history considers to be the most devastating volcanic eruption on record. Over two hundred years later, Meliora Reaver comes in possession of something known as the Muster Beacon. It’s capable of generating a massive portal, or thousands of single-serving portals simultaneously. Before this, Sanctuary was designed to save one person at a time. She would send her employee, also known as The Chauffeur to travel directly between Dardius and Earth, ferrying humans she felt needed to be protected from time travelers. Brooke, I know this is something you can understand. The Muster Beacon, however, was a huge win for her, because now she could save high numbers of people at once, without forcing Dave to cross his own timeline, and risk creating a paradox. Unfortunately, she and her team of scientists did not fully understand the technology. Early attempts resulted in nothing happening, but there was one time where it worked half way. They didn’t realize it at the time—and probably don’t even now—but they did manage to spirit away ten thousand would-be victims of the Mount Tambora eruption.
“Tens of thousands more died of related causes, but they couldn’t be saved, because the world would notice them missing. These closest ten thousand were pulled into a portal, but never made it out to the other side. They were, effectively, dead anyway. The Muster Beacon started functioning properly from then on, but that does the missing Sumbawa people no good.” Mirage closes her eyes in sadness. “I tried to rescue them myself. Bungula is destined to become hospitable in no later than four hundred years from now, so I figured that was the best place to put them. It looks like Earth, it has a good star, and...”
“And what?” Sharice presses.
“The Bungulans abandon it. I never did understand why, but they just up and leave, and vonearthans don’t ever come back.”
Brooke nods again. “It’s the life. They leave so that life can evolve on its own. Those bacteria you discovered are heralds.”
“No, but I told you that the bacteria doesn’t evolve.”
“Yes, you said that, didn’t you?”
“Okay, I didn’t see every single possible future. The point is that something went wrong on my end too. They’re scheduled to arrive in 2250 now, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. I came down to your plane of existence, because I need this place terraformed before they show up, or they’re dead.”
“You’re trying to clean up your own mess,” Sharice notes. “And you? You knew about this,” she accuses Brooke.
Brooke sports a sort of hybrid smile-frown. “I did not. That was just my way of teasing the information out of her.”
Mirage should be upset by the trick, but she’s probably just relieved to finally be open and honest. “I should have realized.”
“Why didn’t you just tell us this,” Sharice asks.
“You heard your mother. She hates time travel. It’s bad enough that we accelerated the ammonia bombardment, and used dark algae from the future. If she knew the whole reason we were doing this was to fix a mistake I made when I thought I was a god, she might have put a stop to the whole thing.”
“You severely underestimate me if you think I would let ten thousand innocent people die just to feel morally superior,” Brooke says, saddened.
“I couldn’t risk it. They’re coming, in 2250. This world has to be ready for them. I don’t know how they’re gonna handle it. Will they realize they’re on a different planet? Will they freak out about it? Can we integrate them into society? This is just my only option.”
“Well, maybe it’s not ideal, but Sanctuary was going to reveal secrets about future technology to them anyway, so why didn’t you just build them a special dome?” Sharice proposes.
“I don’t know exactly where they’re going to land; if they’ll be the same distance from each other as they were when the beacon took them, or if they’ll be in one spot. Maybe they’ll be randomly spread across the surface. The whole world needs to be able to support human life.”
“It will,” Brooke assures her. “I don’t know the answer to your questions either, but if we can protect them from physical and emotional harm, then we have to try. The ammonia bombardment and factories are working. The atmosphere is thickening as we speak, the magnetosphere is holding, and the temperature is rising. By 2245, this rock will be ready for life. Though that does leave the question of what we should do with the colonists. I don’t think the Sumbawa would get along well with them. If they realize they’re on a different planet, they’ll probably form a whole religion around it, and the more advanced colonists hanging around would just make it too complicated.”
“Are you suggesting they actually leave?” Sharice asks. “Like they did in the other timeline that Mirage saw?”
“Perhaps.”
“We would have to tell them why,” Mirage reminds her.
“That’s not such a stretch,” Brooke says. “They already know something’s up, and we’re fooling ourselves if we think they remain oblivious. The absolutely most optimistic estimates for terraforming any planet within twenty light years of Earth is two hundred years. Life takes time. Nature does it several orders of magnitude slower. Nothing and no one does it in eighteen years. We have to face the reality that the world is waking up. Many vonearthans already know specifics about salmon and choosers, and more grow suspicious every day. They were never going to stay hidden forever.”
“I guess you’re right,” Sharice acknowledges. “As long as Beaver Haven doesn’t lock us up for our crimes, then things should be fine.”
“Yes,” Mirage agrees. “And the worst of it is over. Now we just wait for the atmosphere to fully form. The next few years will be mostly about monitoring and adjusting. We can start wilding the surface after that, just like they did on Earth a hundred and fifty years ago.”

Friday, July 19, 2019

Microstory 1150: Braxton Cosworthy

They say that everyone has a doppelgänger in the world, but even if that were true, the chances of two lookalikes meeting each other are extremely low. Yet, extremely low does not mean never. When he was still a baby, Braxton Cosworthy was placed at a home daycare with another boy who looked remarkably like him. To make matters worse, an apple juice accident led the supervisor having to redress half of the children she was monitoring. She foolishly chose to do so with identical sailor uniforms, which she would normally use for fun photoshoots. Braxton and Hyram were switched that day, and lived with each other’s families for nineteen months before the real Hyram experienced a medical issue, and the doctors discovered the error. Depending on how you look at it, this debacle was both fortunate and unfortunate. The two boys were immediately switched back, and reverted to their real names, which didn’t seem to be too hard on them, since they were still so young. It wasn’t too long, though, that all four parents began to feel a sense of loss they couldn’t quite understand. They were now with their real child, but they had bonded with the other, and now missed him deeply. After weeks of pretty much everyone being in therapy, a decision was made to form an unusual blended family. They pitched in on what was basically a mansion, so there was enough space to accommodate everyone, and then they just lived together. Braxton and Hyram grew up as brothers, along with their other siblings. The name thing remained a complicated subject, though. Despite their young age upon switching back, both Braxton and Hyram easily answered to the wrong name; the latter being worse at it than the former. Similarly, Braxton felt equally connected to his temporary name of Kaveda as he was his real name. He alternated between them randomly, making legal forms a confusing matter for others to interpret. Despite the complications, everyone was fairly happy and well-adjusted, and their love for each other was most likely a unique dynamic. Braxton was a racer, and a tracer, though he did not join the tracer gang, because they were a little too close to being a branch of law enforcement. He was a fierce competitor, however, and it got him into trouble once or twice. He made a healthy name for himself in high school and college sports, and spent the rest of his life running in 5Ks, 10Ks, marathons, and other things of this nature.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Microstory 1149: Téa Stendahl

Literally in another life, Téa Stendahl was a tailor. She was originally born a man named Ed Bolton in the late 1700s. Years after the turn of the century, Ed jumped forward exactly one year, and there he remained for precisely three seconds, at which point he jumped forward again. He spent three minutes here, until it happened yet again. He continued to do this unwilling, both increasing the number of years he passed over, and the amount of time he spent upon his return. He would skip years according to the Fibonacci sequence, and spend three somethings (minutes, hours, days, etc.) there, before moving on. In the mid-20th century, he died in a car wreck, but he was an old man by then, and felt he had lived a decent life. He had eventually accepted his new pattern, and helped a lot of people along the way. He would never see is best friends again anyway, as they were traveling through time in the opposite direction, so it was all right that it was finally over. Except it wasn’t. Téa Stendahl was born a normal child, into a lovely family. She enjoyed fashion and sewing, but had no clue that this was not the first life she had experienced. As she grew up, though, she started recalling events that never could have happened to her. Her parents figured she just had a grand imagination, but they still sought help from a child psychologist. He was unable to understand what was happening with her either, but she eventually no longer needed his help. As time went on, she remembered more and more of her former life—or perhaps, more accurately, her former lives. While most jumps allowed him to retain all his memories, there was one thing that never stayed the same.

Bolton stopped going by his original name, instead adopting a new variation each time he jumped. In different time periods, he was called Ned, Teddy, Eddie, Edward, and Theodore. He could always remember the names he used to use, but was unable to revert to them at will. The people in charge of his time traveling were messing with his brain. They must have been messing with the minds of Téa’s new parents too, because her newest name couldn’t have been a coincidence. As the powers that be would have it, Téa was able to see her friends again. After they too were reincarnated, they suddenly jumped in the opposite direction, and met back up with her near the middle of the 21st century. They were surprised to find their companion with a new gender assignment, but not bothered by it. Téa felt that she was a woman, and it was unclear whether the powers that be transformed her on purpose, or if at least part of the reincarnation process was out of their hands, and subject to nature’s whims. Either way, she was happy. She later returned to her roots as a tailor, opening a clothing shop on an island on another planet, in another galaxy. There were others like the three of them, who were sent to various time periods, completing various missions. They weren’t always wearing the right clothing to blend in with the natives, so she was there to provide them with authentic clothes and accessories. They couldn’t just look like they should, like one might find on the set of a historical film. They needed to utilize materials and dye that could be found in any given time. Sometimes, her customers wouldn’t remember that they had ever gone to The Hub at all, instead believing they blinked, and were just suddenly wearing new clothes in the past or future. She even did this for the past version of herself, which was an interesting opportunity to gain rare perspective.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Microstory 1148: Mandis Romagna

Many have questioned how psychic abilities fit in a world of temporal powers. There is a surprising amount of diversity when it comes to special abilities in the universe, but they all involve some kind of manipulation of time and space. This prevents certain theoretical abilities from taking shape. Nobody can fly, because flight requires an alteration in the laws of physics that don’t have much to do with spacetime, or a magical form of propulsion that simply does not exist. Similarly, no one is born with the ability to breathe underwater through some kind of mutation, though they may indeed be able to accomplish this through other means. If they could teleport breathable air from one location to another, then practically speaking, there would be no difference. Psychic powers seem to be a class of exceptions to this rule, and people have been studying the phenomenon throughout time. Are telepaths teleporting their thoughts to other people’s minds, and visa versa? This seems unlikely, because that’s not really how neurophysiology works. The prevailing theory amongst the few who have experience traveling between separate universes is that humans are naturally capable of establishing telepathic connections with each other. One universe has people who can fly, while another is full of demons and angels. They each have their own set of rules, but psychic potential is not just universal; it’s multiversal. Whatever the truth, Mandis Romagna is one of the psychics, though he does have his own specialty. He can’t read your mind under normal circumstances, but he can place you in a pocket dimension, which is designed to read your mind. More specifically, it’s designed to tease out your deepest fears. He became a target once people discovered what he could do, by those who would either use him to hurt others, or would hurt him to stop him from exacting the harm. Hoping to use his skills to interrogate their enemies, the government tried to force him to work for them, but soon found themselves suffering profound regret, when he immediately turned on his captors, and showed them their own fears instead. In fear of these fears, they decided to leave him alone, and let him pursue his life ambitions. He chose a career in mental health, helping others overcome their fears by facing them in a controlled environment. The dimension would read their mind, and create a scenario for them to get through. Over time, he developed the ability to manipulate these scenarios, raising or lowering the difficulty level at will, or pulling the patient out when the obstacles overwhelmed them. He was given the nickname of Jaydecaster, based on the practice of adding the name of historical figure, Jayde Kovac to places or objects as a warning to stay away. Mandis didn’t appreciate it, as he grew up knowing the truth about who Jayde Kovac was, but once the public started calling him that, there was really no living it down. At least he was still helping people.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Microstory 1147: Freeley

The first of the New Gangs of Kansas City, starting around the year 2020, were the Gunbenders, and the Tracers. These two were inextricably linked to one another, ultimately sourcing from the same team, which arose to combat gang violence in the area. They were sick of all the death and danger, and they were tired of their elected officials not doing much to stop it. It was only later that they separated, but this was not due to ideological differences, or infighting. They felt it necessary to become two separate gangs, because one needed to focus more on exacting social change through public opinion, and legislation. The other were the boots on the ground; an enforcement branch, whose primary objective was to physically monitor the implementation of new policy. Their actions were generally illegal in the beginning, though the police did temporarily cede control to them, making their actions...still pretty illegal, since the cops did not have the authority to do this. Either way, the consequence of this was the emergence of new gangs. Most were merely extensions of completely lawful preexisting clubs, which were now adding a more criminal element to their activities. The two most prominent—the kind that were pretty much already gangs to begin with—were the Grammers, and the Taggers. The former were grayhat hackers, who originally provided technical support to the proto-gunbender-tracer alliance. The latter were just graffiti artists, who sought to fill the void left when the system of street gangs were gradually being dismantled. They largely operated alone, but when they realized law enforcement would rather let people tag a few buildings than deal with all the guns and drugs of yesteryear, they started organizing. Eileifr Blomgren was the one who saw this future. He was not the founder of the tagger gang, however. Just because he knew what the city was going to look like in a few years, didn’t mean he wanted to be part of it. He tagged for himself, and he liked to be alone while he was doing it. At the time, Eileifr was using an anglicized interpretation of his name, and drawing a unique design of a leaf to sign his artwork. Once the initial taggers started asking him to join, he decided to rebrand himself as Freilei, which was an anagram of his real name, hoping they would get the message that he was not a joiner. They continued pestering, though, mostly because they didn’t know how it was meant to be pronounced, so he anglicized again, and finally became Freeley. Still, he was proving himself to be one of the bravest taggers in the metro, and his signature piece came when he painted all over the front of a mayor’s private residence...while she was home. The leader of the taggers was on her way out, to attend an art cliché in Paris, so Freeley was the obvious choice to replace her. He soon discovered that maybe he was indeed a joiner after all.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Microstory 1146: Orabela Vinci

Orabela Vinci was one of the source mages on early Durus, and considered to be the most beautiful. Even as a child, people would rave about her physical appearance, and make claims that she would be a heartbreaker. They believed their remarks to be harmless and innocuous, but they were unproductive and irrelevant. They were ignoring her more important qualities, like the fact that she was a beautiful person. She saw the beauty in the world, even a lowly insect, and the good in others, including those who probably didn’t deserve it. As terrible of a leader as Smith was, he always recognized her potential as a contributing member of society, and completely ignored her physical characteristics. She knew that he wasn’t just born evil, but he saw the world they were trapped in for the dangerous powder-keg it was—monsters or no—and while he went about it in the worst ways, he legitimately wanted to protect his people. She was not much for leadership herself, and left those decisions to the other source mages after Smith disappeared. However, in retrospect, they probably would have benefited from a little more of her insight. She was relegated to being the face of the source mage movement; like a mascot with more agency. It was astonishing how much easier it was to get people to listen to them when their words were coming from Orabela’s aesthetically pleasing visage. When the group decided to seek the proverters, who had the power to make them grow up at an alarmingly fast rate, Orabela was the most vocal against it. She was already treated differently because of how she looked, and that was when she was only twelve years old. If the monsters made her look twenty-three, now people were going to be having inappropriate feelings for her, and that would make things worse. They wanted to age themselves up, so people would take them more seriously, but it would most likely have the opposite effect on her, and it would be artificial either way. The proverters were capable of manipulating the age of a target’s body, but could have no impact on their mind. So whether they accepted it or not, they source mages were all still twelve-year-old children, or even younger, in Valda’s case. Natural born protector, Ecrin Cabral had a huge problem with forcing people to do things they didn’t want to do, so she guarded Orabela from the others, and the proverters. She was able to escape this fate while the rest of her friends were magically turned into adults. Sure, this limited her influence on the society they were building, but she was still one of the source mages, and no one could take that away from her. She awarded her older friend, Ecrin with agelessness, as a gift for her bravery and loyalty. Ecrin was thusly one of the first humans to be granted temporal powers on Durus, and she didn’t even have to compete in the mage games to earn it. Of course, this would come with its own consequences, as she would forever be underestimated for her own young appearance, but she would still go on to do great things for the Mage Protectorate, and beyond. Orabela, meanwhile, remained grounded as their civilization grew. She continued to focus on its citizenry, and largely ignored her status among the elite. She would come to be cherished for her accessibility, even after the world fell into the phallocracy, and most women were treated as unequals.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 2, 2240

The Christmas Colonists, as they would come to be called, arrived on Varkas Reflex on December 25. This was just under the wire for the 2239 projection date. They were meant to land months earlier, but had some technical difficulties on the trip across interstellar space. This turned out to be a bit of a good thing, as Eight Point Seven and Hokusai hadn’t quite finished their habitats. The special oxygen-rich liquid they were suspended in wasn’t the easiest or fastest substance to manufacture. They weren’t extremely happy with the name, but would eventually surrender to its humor. Christians became an endangered species many decades ago, and by now, they were largely considered extinct. Those religions which hadn’t already fallen out of favor were on their way out as well, giving way to a civilization based on equality and rationality.
Before Leona disappeared from the timestream last year, Hokusai managed to figure out how to alter her personal gravity using her legs. Back on planet Legolas a century and a half ago, Leona was forced to cut both of her legs off to save herself from an infection. She was rescued by humans of the day, who were able to basically regrow her limbs. They could have made them a hundred percent organic, but she chose to incorporate a little bit of technology into them, so she would have greater strength. She went through hell living alone on that planet, so she considered them to sort of be cosmic reparations for that. These upgrades were evidently not enough to remove her from Mateo’s salmon pattern, so she had mixed feelings about them now. Still, they were making it a lot easier for her to walk on this heavy world. Time-delayed gravity regulator drugs were installed in her legs as well, which provided support for the rest of her organs.
“You can’t do that for me?” Sanaa asked after this was all explained to her.
Hokusai stepped closer to the glass.
“It’s not glass,” Sanaa argued. “It’s a polycarbonate.”
“What?” Hokusai questioned. “I know that.”
Sanaa sneered. “I wasn’t talking to you.”
Hokusai looked behind her. Only Leona was there.
“I know that too.”
Sanaa rolled her eyes. “I was talking The Superintendent.”
I know that as well. I was using the word more generically. The glass of your tank is what separates you from dry land, but allows you to see through it...like glass.
“Okay, but that doesn’t make it glass. There are lots of clear things that aren’t glass.”
Leona stepped forward as well. “Sanaa, are you really communicating with him? He’s in another universe.”
“So?”
“So, you’re communicating to other universes. No one can do that.”
“The Emissary can,” Sanaa contended.
Leona tilted her head. She hadn’t spent much time thinking about how the Emissary was able to be the intermediary between salmon and the powers that be. She now knew they lived in the Superintendent’s universe, so he would have to be quite powerful. “Still, it must be rare.”
Sanaa shrugged. “You were saying...about getting me out of this water?”
“Okay, we will circle back to this,” Hokusai said, drawing a couple circles in the air. “Do you like having powers?”
Sanaa shrugged again. “People are always talking to me, and I don’t love that. I would much rather be a teleporter, so I can leave when people start pissing me off. Can you turn me into a teleporter?”
“Uh, no. I can’t give you powers, but I can take them away. I would probably have to if you wanted to walk on land. You’re so tall and thin.”
“Body shame much?”
Now Hokusai rolled her eyes. “It’s not conducive to high gravity.”
“Oh, so you’re calling her fat.” She pointed at Leona.
Leona wasn’t offended, because that wasn’t what Hokusai was saying.
“Christ, you just can’t listen to what people are saying to you. You just have to be an unmannerly contrarian. The time gods screwed up when they gave you the ability to communicate with others.”
“They sure did,” Sanaa agreed.
Leona looked away. She met those people. None of the characters the so-called time gods came up with were well thought out, because those characters’ lives didn’t matter to them.
“I’ve spoken at great length about this, with lots of people. Paige Turner, Brooke Prieto, Mallory Hammer. It would seem that the more powerful you are, the less likely you are to keep those powers when you receive transhumanistic upgrades.”
“Leona’s been upgraded,” Sanaa argued.
“Leona is spawn, linked with a salmon. She’s unique, and it’s unclear what it would take for her to fall off her pattern, if anything. Besides, what we did for her is a temporary solution, but it will only need to last a few days. You, on the other hand, are an extremely powerful choosing one. One of her days is a year for you. If it’s true that you can reach other universes, then you’re even more powerful than we knew. It’s a miracle you can even receive a flu shot.”
“I’ve never had the flu shot.”
“I can give you nanites,” Hokusai promised, “so you can walk around here, but is that what you really want?”
“Yes,” Sanaa said excitedly. It looked weird, because Leona didn’t think she was capable of experiencing enthusiasm. “I hate it in these tanks.”
“You will quite likely lose your powers permanently, even if we try to remove the upgrades later. But what would be the point? Are you planning on staying here? I was to understand you were trying to get back to Earth.”
“That doesn’t seem possible,” Sanaa lamented. “Truthfully, I’m a little afraid to step foot in another ship. Where might it take me next?” She spoke with a degree of sincerity that Leona, again, didn’t think she possessed.
Hokusai placed her hand on the...polycarbonate.
“Thank you,” Sanaa said to the Superintendent.
Hokusai went on, “I’ve been working hard on my reframe engine.” She glanced over at Leona. “Yeah, that name has grown on me.” She turned to face Sanaa. “I’m quite confident that it will work. Now, it will take me some time to gather the right materials, build a prototype, test it, and incorporate it into Leona’s ship, but you could go with her.”
“But she’s not—” Sanaa started to say.
“She might not be going straight to Earth, that’s true. The beauty of this thing is that takes days to get anywhere within twenty-seven light years. Beyond that, we’re still only talking weeks. You would have to be sixty light years away for the trip to last longer than a month. You understanding my point here? Leona Delaney doesn’t always get to choose where she goes, but the powers want her alive, so she’s virtually invincible. She’s the safest person for you to be around.”
“We call that plot armor.” Sanaa appeared to be rather genre savvy. As a film scholar, this was something Leona liked about her.
Hokusai didn’t care about it. “Yeah, fine.”
“Leona’s ship is only designed for one person,” Sanaa complained.
“You are only one person,” Leona reminded her. “You would only have to suffer my presence one day a year. Not that it matters, because like she said, you’ll arrive in days. I’ll return just under a year later, so you’ll be long gone by then. It will be like I was never there.”
Sanaa looked between them, and thought this over. “If I’m long gone, then the plot armor argument doesn’t hold much...” She stopped herself, and cringed.
“It doesn’t what?” Leona asked. “Hold water?”
“Too soon,” Sanaa said sadly.
The conversation paused. Honest hour, Leona was feeling the urge to be submerged. Sanaa seemed to detest living in the tanks, but the human Christmas Colonists seemed to be genuinely happy in them. Were they that bad, or was Sanaa just a joyless person?
Sanaa continued after the reverent silence. “How long will it take for you to invent this new engine? To be done with it entirely?”
Hokusai didn’t want to answer. “Honest hour? Years. Up to a decade. These things take time. Believe me, you don’t want me rushing something that can explode if it’s not engineered properly.”
“I understand,” Sanaa said. She didn’t want to get exploded, of course. Her own life was important to her, if nothing else.
“You think you can stomach this place that long?”
Sanaa looked at the hatch behind her. Each habitat was designed about the same way. Individual, couple, or family tanks lined the perimeter, while communal tanks sat in the middle. Landwalkers, which were mostly inorganic, could visit water-dwellers in the dry area of their private residence, like the indoor section of a zoo aquarium. They could also socialize on the beaches and piers above the public tanks. Water-dwellers were still capable of surviving outside the water for hours at a time with little problem. In the eleven months that other people were living on this planet, besides Hokusai, Loa, and Eight Point Seven, Sanaa had reportedly never ventured beyond her own personal tank. “I guess I’ll have to find some level of happiness here until then.”
Leona removed all her clothes, and started up the stairs that would allow her to access the surface of Sanaa’s tank. “I’ll join you. I know you and I aren’t friends, but at least you know me. You don’t know any of those weirdos at all.
If Leona didn’t know any better, she would think Sanaa cracked a slight smile.

“Okay, Mateo, the smile is a bit creepy,” Cassidy pointed out.
“I’m just trying to be more positive,” Mateo explained.
“Why are we, uhh...sitting around like this?” It’s not mealtime, and this is kind of freaking me out.”
“I think he just called a reverse intervention.”
“That’s good, Weaver. That’s a good term for it. That’s kind of what’s happening.” He surely still had the uncomfortable smile painted on his face, and he was probably nodding too much. “I gathered you here to apologize. I understand that my behavior as of late has been..less than pleasant.”
“You were a [sic] asshole,” Thor remarked.
“Thompson,” Goswin scolded.
“No, no,” Mateo assured them. “That’s okay. This is a safe space. I was a asshole. I hear you. I recognize that. I appreciate your candor. I was under a lot of pressure when I was Patronus of Dardius, and I missed Leona deeply, but honest hour? I legit miss that too. I was in charge, of like, billions of people. Gos, you know what I’m talking about.”
Not really, Goswin said with his facial expression, like he didn’t want people thinking he and Mateo were anything alike.
I admit that things have been rough since I got back. I’m just a few light years away from my wife, but I still can’t reach her. The ship is going off to God knows where, and I’m kind of freaking out here. That is not your problem, and I am sorry for any stress that I added to your lives.”
“It’s okay, Mateo” Weaver consoled. “That was weeks ago.”
“Speak for yourself,” Thor said to her. “I ain’t over jack. People have been talking to me like him my whole goddamn life. They did it on Earth. They did it on Mars. And they did it everywhere else I went. I’ve been underestimated and dismissed so much that I put it on my résumé. But I keep my shit together, because people are counting on me. Do they count on you?”
“I hope so,” Mateo said, losing a bit of his smile.
“Then keep it together, bro.”
Mateo breathed in. “I can do that. Thank you for your truth.”
“And stop sayin’ stuff like that. It’s like a white person saying namaste. You don’t know what that means.”
“Thor, you are not the most pleasant person to live with either,” Cassidy asserted.
Thor stood up quickly. “I know. Why you think Saxon wanted to get rid of me?” He started to walk away. “I’m going back to bed. When I wake up, we better—” Then he continued with his mocking tone, but his words devolved into unintelligibility, like an adult on Peanuts.
“Well,” Goswin said. “Progress takes time.”

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Bungula: Buffer State (Part III)

The team of scientists and engineers constructs gargantuan domes on Bungula’s fully coalesced moon, using material from the oblong second moon. They then turn the heat up all the way, and convert the ice caps to liquid water, where they test the dark algae they created in a lab. It fares just as Mirage hoped, rapidly reproducing itself using the energy it collects from the mysterious dark matter, and microbes as a catalyst. Brooke was right to make Mirage test it, though, because it proves to be harder to maintain in its large numbers than they originally thought. This experiment allows them to come up with a better way to make sure the dark algae doesn’t get out of hand, and remain on Bungula’s surface forever. Mirage’s scientists spend what remains of a year studying their creation before transplanting it to the planet.
It takes another good year for the algae to spread across the entire surface, but its impact started months earlier. It produces minimal oxygen as waste, but it’s too thin to breathe. It will remain this way until something is put in place to hold the atmosphere together. The planet already does have a magnetosphere, but it’s weak—though not as weak as the one on Mars—and insufficient for human life. In order to make it stronger, Mirage came up with Operation Buffer State. Her team has been working on it for years, and now that it’s ready, it will turn out to be one of the shortest endeavors.
“They’re giant electrodes,” Sharice points out, looking at the design Mirage’s team created years ago.
“Essentially, yes,” Mirage confirms. “Current flows in one direction, and is resisted by the core of the planet, which heats it up, and gets it moving faster.”
“You’re trying to produce a stronger dynamo effect,” Brooke says, though everyone in the room understands that this is the point.
“Indeed.”
“I thought we already made a magnetic field?” Sharice questions.
“We did,” Mirage agrees. “We placed an artificial field generator between Bungula and Rigil Kentaurus, but that is only a technological solution.”
Brooke laughs. “These are all technological solutions. What else would we use to terraform the planet? Magic?”
Mirage shakes her head. “No, I mean that it’s a permanent tech solution. If we use the generator we have up there—which isn’t entirely working at the moment, by the way, since the atmosphere isn’t holding—then we have to leave it up there forever.”
“What’s the problem with that?” Sharice asked.
“Wait,” Brooke stops, “we’ll circle back to that. It’s not working?”
“It’s deflecting the radiation from the sun, but the atmosphere is still dispersing in space,” Mirage explains. “Radiation stripping particles away is not the only problem an atmosphere has.”
“Well, the algae is lowering the surface’s albedo, but it’s not really designed to generate a full atmosphere. Once we do that, will the magnetosphere still not be strong enough?”
“It could, if we strengthen it, but that’s not what I want to do.” She tries to think of how she wants to word this. “The algae is man made, the domes are man made, and the field generator is man made. Well, they weren’t made by men, but you know what I mean.”
They laugh.
“If aliens were to come to this world, they would see these things, and say, hey, people are, or were, here.”
“Okay...”
“The point of terraforming the world is to be able to remove those things, and the planet still be completely hospitable to life. We won’t need domes when we have a full atmosphere, and the dark algae is only here to warm it temporarily, before we can create a greenhouse gas effect. The plan was never to create an algae world, obviously. Once we’re done, all the vonearthans should be able to pack up every single artificial object—small and large—and then leave it to that hypothetical nineteenth century man we were talking about when this all started.”
Brooke turns her head. “Again, you’re not actually wanting to transplant people from the past, right?”
“Right.”
“And you’re not planning on people leaving, right? We’re building a world for the colonists who all already here; not for someone else.”
“Of course,” Mirage says. “You make me sound like a bond villain. The idea is to  make a world that can support itself, just like Earth is. It doesn’t need humans to survive, so I don’t want Bungula to need them either. That doesn’t mean they’re not sticking around; just that they shouldn’t have to do any work to keep it alive.”
“Have you done your studies?” Brooke asks, like she always has to.
Mirage nods. “This will not harm the planet in any way. It’s not going to cause the mantle to shatter, or set off a global EMP. It’ll happen quickly, too. We’ll know if it’s working or not pretty much right away.”
“I assume you’ve already built these things, haven’t you?”
“I’ve decided that I require your guidance on every dynamic-shifting action. Building them before using them was harmless, however. I won’t activate them if you can give me a reason not to.”
Brooke bites her lower lip in thought. “Welp, I can’t actually see a downside to this. I mean, sure, you could electrocute every conductive being on the planet, but what are the chances of that happening?”
“I could provide you with the chances,” Mirage notes.
“That’s quite all right. I’ll allow you to do this. I understand your logic. First of all, technology can fail, and then this planet is screwed. Even if it doesn’t fail, it makes sense that we wouldn’t want to be totally dependent on it.”
“Good,” Mirage says. “I’m glad we’re on board.”
“I kind of have to be,” Brooke realizes. “After all, this mission doesn’t require us to manipulate time and space in a way the vonearthans don’t understand. This is not true for Operation Icebreaker.”
Mirage was hoping she wouldn’t bring that up. “It would take centuries to bring all those icy planetesimals here if we do it the usual way. We have a solid cover story; I think we’re okay. Speaking of which, Sharice, how is that coming?”
“They’re all on their way. That, along with the factories you’re building, should be enough to produce greenhouse gases sufficient for a healthy, warm atmosphere. We are right on schedule.”
“It’s still strange that we’re causing global warming,” Brooke laments. “I lived on Earth when that was one of our biggest problems.”
“We’ll be able to control it this time,” Mirage assures her, “from the start.”
“I know, I know. It’s still the project that concerns me the most, though. Not only are we using time powers to move the ice closer to us much faster, and not only are we smashing them into a colonized planet, but we’re also hoping we can retain any level of control over it. How can I be confident in that?”
“Just have confidence in me,” Mirage offers, “and more importantly, in your daughter.”
“There is no going back with this one,” Brooke warns. “We could destroy the algae, or shut off the electrodes. But if we realize we made a mistake with those planetesimal impacts, we won’t be able to stop it.”
Mirage places what she hopes will be a comforting hand on Brooke’s shoulder. Brooke isn’t human anymore, and Mirage never was, so touch doesn’t have the same intrinsic utility, yet inorganics continue to do it instinctively. Experts can’t explain why. “We have taken all the necessary precautions, and then some. Nothing is going to go wrong.”
Something goes wrong.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Microstory 1145: Makarion Dimitrios

In an earlier reality, Makarion Dimitrios was chosen as one of the last Saviors of Earth. His career was different than those of his predecessors. He was less involved with choosing ones and other salmon, and more linked to the powers that be. To be sure, he never met them in person, but he did meet with The Emissary more often than one might expect. His tenure did not last long, however. In an attempt to free himself from cruel torment, Mateo Matic tried to kill his torturer, who was a man named The Rogue. But the Rogue had a secret, that he could subvert death, by transferring his consciousness to the body of anyone else with temporal powers. In this case, the Rogue didn’t have time to hunt for a suitable host, nor did he have any control over which body he possessed, so the nature of his attempted murder changed his powers permanently. He found himself in possession Makarion’s body, but unlike with his previous hosts, he was unable to leave. This was his last body; he would be stuck with it until the day of his death. Masquerading as Makarion, the Rogue continued to force Mateo and his friends into challenges, one of which involved them both traveling back in time, and killing Adolf Hitler before he would have died on his own. This act elicited a new reality. Mateo no longer existed, and since Mateo was instrumental in his creation, nor did the Rogue. So now there were two people running around the timeline with Makarion’s face. This seemed okay, because it allowed a version of Makarion to fulfill his duty as Savior, having no idea that he died in a different timeline. But there were consequences. The Rogue had made a deal with an even more powerful man named The Cleanser, and the Cleanser felt this deal had been broken, so he finally ended the Rogue’s life. It turned out, maybe the Rogue wasn’t so bad after all, but his death was not the worst of it. The Cleanser’s sister was known as The Conservator, except when she wasn’t; she was instead The Extractor. Their entire family was born with some ability to perceive alterations to the timeline, and they used these powers to manage certain outcomes. Sometimes, a time traveling act did, or undid, a particular event in history, even if only accidentally. It was their job to manipulate the timeline again; to correct what they believed to be a mistake. This family was egotistical, narcissistic, and uncaring, so the Extractor decided no Makarion would live past the moment the Rogue died. At the exact same time the Cleanser was killing him, she was killing the new Makarion herself, even though there was no real justification for this—and, in fact, no link to it at all. Even though the Rogue looked like Makarion, they had nothing to do with each other, so this was completely pointless. Makarion wasn’t the shortest-lived Savior in the long history of the program, but he certainly didn’t live the longest. His untimely death had a major impact on the future of the program, totally changing who was chosen next, and perhaps more importantly, who was chosen to be The Last. Had Makarion survived the Extractor’s morbid logic, neither Xearea Voss, nor Étude Einarsson would have become Saviors themselves, and maybe their lives would have been that much less dangerous. Then again, maybe those two were exactly what the Extractor had in mind when she murdered him.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Microstory 1144: Keilix Oliver

Everyone who signed up for the Kansas City Metropolitan Area City Frenzy event had their own reasons for it. About the only thing they all had in common was that they were athletic. Some were faster than others. Some were more competitive than others. Keilix Oliver was one of the few racers who was really just a runner. When she raced, she went straight for the finish line, not stopping for anything but traffic, and other obstacles. She studied the map exhaustively, and was extremely familiar with the entire metro. Unfortunately, her tactic wasn’t the most efficient. Even though she didn’t get distracted with dancing and waving at the cameras, she also didn’t take many risks, so she never won the Frenzy. That was okay, though, because that wasn’t why she did it, and when she finally aged out of it, she pretty much just moved on with her life. Keilix wasn’t ashamed of the things she did when she was young, but competition was never very important to her. She wasn’t a tracer, or a dancer, or a martial artist. She ran for health, and to fight against the wind. She could do that alone. She went off to college in Ireland, partially to gain new and exciting experiences, but also to deliberately separate herself from everything she had ever known. She wanted to be cut off from her family—her always reliable support system—so she would be forced to deal with her own problems, with no safety net. She lived in a world with people who had special time powers, and even knew a few of them personally, but she never discovered the truth. She lived in a time of great change, technologically and biomedically, though she remained as she was, and chose not to undergo youth and longevity treatments, or transhumanistic upgrades. She took an unremarkable job in a modest town, met a humble man, raised three lovely children, and lived out her days in the countryside. She kept running for exercise, until her body could no longer do it. She died as a content old woman, surrounded by her loved ones, which included seven grandchildren. She was a normal person—nothing to write home about, as they would say—but perhaps that’s exactly the kind of person whose story deserves to be told.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Microstory 1143: Mahala Davidyan

Out of everyone in the Freemarketeer faction, Mahala Davidyan was one of the least capitalistic, second only to Ramses Abdulrashid, though the question remains if Ramses was ever that open-minded, or if he managed to improve a great deal, due to his exposure to Brooke Prieto and her friends. Mahala was never much for change, even though the entire point of her faction was to completely alter the way the economy operated. She didn’t outwardly question her parents’ convictions, because she didn’t really have any of her own, but she didn’t exactly agree with them either. No one was forcing her to stick around, but she saw no reason to live any other way. If there was one thing the Freemarketeers did right, it’s that they didn’t force anyone to be part of the group. Anyone born into it was given the choice to leave with no social controversy. Mahala didn’t leave, though she probably should have. And that’s not just true because of how badly things turned out. After decades of scarce recruitment, and zero progress towards their goals of a capitalistic society, the Freemarketeers realized the only way they would be able to live how they wanted was if they did it somewhere else. The ship that was trying to transport them to a nearby exoplanet, however, suffered a cataclysmic malfunction, prompted by their own resentful leader. They thought they were rescued when a comprehensive network of portals opened up, and spirited them away, but they soon found them in a complicated situation when the same exact thing kept happening. Parallel timelines are nearly impossible to stabilize for an extended period of time. Most potential outcomes only last for microseconds, which is why they’re known as microrealities. For most universes, this is completely irrelevant on a practical level, because people aren’t conscious of the path they might have taken, especially since they’re not the only ones walking down the metaphorical path. When you’re dealing with time travel, it’s entirely possible to access these short-lived realities, and even steal from them. They’re about to collapse, so it doesn’t matter much anyway, except when it becomes cancerous. For some reason, the technology that rescued them had a malfunction of its own, and kept trying to rescue them, over and over and over again. It just kept drawing alternate versions of the same people from microrealities, and transporting them to the planet of Dardius. Every day, a new batch of alternates would arrive. This was causing problems for the planet’s natives, and for the Freemarketeers, and war broke out for resources. Both sides knew that nothing was going to get better if they didn’t start communicating with each other. Mahala was chosen as the Ambassador to Dardius primarily for her apathy. It was a strange tactic, but the truth is the Freemarketeers wanted a solution just as much as the Dardieti. They didn’t want to keep fighting either, so if Mahala could negotiate a peace, and they would have to make sacrifices, then fine. This is what she did, and after years of fighting, the war was finally over. But that didn’t mean all of the issues between them were resolved. Mahala’s job as an ambassador was just getting started.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Microstory 1142: Tick Tock

Byron Minett, a.k.a Tick Tock, hated making mistakes, and according to everyone around him, he literally stopped making them when he was eleven. It was around this time that he developed the ability to undo the immediate past. He couldn’t travel too far back in time, but it was usually enough to correct what he needed to. He wouldn’t just suddenly jump back to an earlier point in time. He would actually watch the recent scene play in reverse, until he reached his chosen destination, and pushed play on reality. The further back he tried to reverse, the harder it was on his mind, though, so he tried to stay within a day. Others had this same ability, but could only have on do-over. That is, one of their time jumps could not overlap with another time jump. He could try an occurrence over and over again, until he felt he had it right. Byron used his power all the time, and it became so second nature, that he sometimes didn’t even notice it happening. If something didn’t go well, he would just give it another go, and hardly remember the original timeline. He quickly became the best student in every one of his classes, sometimes spending the equivalent of weeks on a single school day. His teachers were astonished at how intuitive the topics seemed to be for him, including his judo instructor. As you might imagine, this life started getting a little boring. Sure, it still took him about as long to master something as it would anyone else, but most of the time, the choices he made had no consequences. Theoretically, he wouldn’t be able to undo his own death, and he had never tried to reverse more than two weeks, but everything else was fair game. One thing a person like that can realize is that everyone has their limits. No matter how many times he retried a foot race, he couldn’t change his finishing position. He signed up for the City Frenzy thinking that he would be able to find his way to first place, but it never worked out. Sure, he could steal a few seconds here and there if he memorized how the traffic lights were going to change, but nothing major. He just wasn’t fast enough, and no matter how hard he worked at it, that wasn’t going to get significantly better. Every time he reversed time, his body went back to its state in that moment, so his power didn’t help him build muscle, or anything. There were still only twenty-four hours in a day. In the end, he decided to accept this reality, because his life was still easier than most, and there were plenty of other, more useful, applications.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Microstory 1141: Bruna Pereira

Bruna Pereira was born on Durus under the First Republic, which would retroactively be called the phallocracy. As a woman, she was not allowed to practice medicine in any form. Doctors, nurses, and emergency technicians were all positions filled by men, because women could not be trusted. All they would let her do was clean up the medical facilities after they were done, though even that was humiliating, because a man would have to come in afterwards every single time to check her work. She studied at the library every day before or after work, learning what she would had she attended their culture’s version of university. One of the first things Hokusai Gimura and her rebel friends from the thicket did was overturn all discriminatory educational and employment policies. She immediately registered for classes, as did many of her contemporaries, first testing out of most college courses within a year, then going on to the four-year medical program. She wasn’t the first woman on the planet to become a doctor, but she did graduate in the first class. She ultimately decided to specialize in obstetrics, believing that it and gynecology were the two fields in most need of female representation. She hadn’t even been a practicing obstetrician for a year when she started getting mixed up with some of the Earthans visitors. Many people from Earth were sent up to Durus when the two worlds nearly collided in 2161, but there were a few others here and there who had the means to escape. These people had different rules, and in order to protect her patient’s lives, Bruna had to break some as well. Durus had changed by then, having fully entered the Democratic Republic, but equality was only the official position of the government, and plenty of people were still around who remembered what they believed to be the good ol’ days. Had a man made similar questionable decisions to value patient over policy, he would have been suspended for a brief period of time, at worst, and he probably would have had the option to spend it in another temporal dimension, so most people wouldn’t have even noticed that he was gone. Bruna was not so lucky. She was harshly reprimanded the first time, but as she continued to color outside the lines, her superiors felt they had no choice but to let her go. To make matters worse, they dragged the process out so long that the visitors had by then left, and returned to Earth without her. Lots of people, past and present, possessed powers, but not a one had the ability to take her offworld. However, that didn’t mean she couldn’t move to somewhere more accepting. Worried something like this might happen, she had procured illegal access to a database of paramounts; one of whom could send her to the future. She didn’t know exactly how things would turn out, but she strongly believed life there would get better in the future, so she just skipped over all the struggle in between. She landed thirty years later, when Durus had traveled so far through interstellar space that it had been picked up by a new binary star system. It was finally  a real planet, capable of sustaining its own atmosphere, and forming a water cycle, and this gave residents hope for peaceful lives, in a good society. This prompted greater change in policy, and she was quickly reinstated as a medical professional, following a year’s worth of studying to catch up with biomedical advances, of course. And from there, she continued on doing what she did best, ushering life into the world.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 1, 2239

The first face that Leona saw when she returned to the timestream was Eight Point Seven’s. She had been given a new android body, which looked just like her original substrate. Last year, Leona had had only enough time to manufacture a basic robot model, so she must have given herself skin later on. The second face she saw belonged to Hokusai Gimura, and the third to Loa Nielsen. “You’re here?” she half asked, half stated. “Last I heard, you built a lightspeed engine.”
“That’s a bit of a misnomer,” Hokusai said. “It’s still sublight, but you can going ninety-nine-point-nine-nine-nine-nine percent the speed of light. It’s nothing compared to my next invention.”
“What’s that?”
Hokusai and Loa just looked at each other.
“Here,” Eight Point Seven said. “Let me help you get out of this ship. The base you helped design is almost finished. It will be ready for primetime when the colonists arrive next month.”
As Leona was crawling out of the baby ship, Loa injected her with a gravity-regulating serum. It was true that her artificial legs helped her walk on the surface with such high gravity, but that wasn’t enough to protect the rest of her body. Her heart couldn’t pump blood throughout her body very well on its own. Well, it technically could, but it was needlessly taxing, so these drugs helped maintain healthy blood flow. A normal individual would be able to use permanent nanites, but the powers that be didn’t allow that level of transhumanistic upgrades. Hokuloa must have been using them, though, even though that likely meant the latter in the pair would lose her powers. They would not otherwise be able to thrive here for an extended period of time. Again, it was possible, but quite uncomfortable. The colonists would not be living like this on a regular basis. They were being set up with an entirely different type of environment.
“Have you been here long?”
“Couple months,” Loa answered.
“How are you guys doing in the long-term? Are you spending most of your time in the water?”
Hokusai laughed. “We don’t need that stuff.” With a charming smile, she hopped into the air, and tapped her shoes together dramatically. She went up and fell down a lot slower than she should have. “Antigravity shoes, from the future. I would have invented something myself, but why bother when someone else is going to do it for you?”
“Right now, we’re walking on point-nine-g,” Loa detailed.
“That...is impressive,” Leona said. Though it wasn’t surprising, because impressive was Hokusai’s resting state.
“She can do that for you too,” Loa said excitedly.
“Allegedly,” Hokusai clarified. “I might be able to integrate the technology into your prosthetic, but I would need to at least take a look at them, which I’ve never had the honor before.”
Leona was just as excited. “That would be amazing. I’m interested in this other invention you hinted at, though. You gonna leave me in the dark forever?”
Hokuloa gave each other another look, so Leona glanced at Eight Point Seven, whose facial expression implied she didn’t know what they were talking about either.
“Okay,” Hokusai relented. “I call it...the reference frame engine.”
“I prefer reframe engine,” Loa added. This prompted a hushed, but still audible, conversation between the two of them.
“Honey, we talked about this.”
“I just think it’s more succinct.”
“It sounds like we’re changing people’s perspectives.”
“That’s exactly what you’re doing.”
“No, the frame of reference for the passengers remains constant. I’m not changing that. The engine just changes the temporal outcome.”
“You mean for, like, the people observing from outside the ship? Their reference is being reframed?”
“They’re not actually observing anything; the ship is going too fast.”
“Oh, that’s semantics.”
“Wait,” Leona was pretty smart, but she was having trouble figuring out what they were talking about. “What is this? Who’s reframing what?”
“Okay,” Hokusai prepared to explain. “You know how, as you approach the speed of light, the relative time that has passed from the perspective of the traveler shortens?”
“I follow,” Leona said. This was all basic stuff.
“So, it took us almost eight years to get here from Earth, but since we were going so fast, for us, it only felt like four days.”
“Of course,” Leona agreed. She couldn’t do those kinds of calculations in her head, but the math sounded sound.
“Well,” Hokusai went on, “if I get this new drive working, it will coordinate—”
“Or reframe,” Loa interrupted.
Hokusai continued as if never interrupted, “the inside frame of reference with the outside. Basically, the ship is still going the same sublight speed, but it’s also technically traveling backwards in time, which allows it to arrive before light would.”
Leona understood. “It feels like four days to you in the ship, and it takes four days, even though it should take eight years.”
“That’s right,” Loa confirmed with a nod.
“That’s brilliant, Miss Gimura.”
“Don’t get too excited. It’s an idea; one that obviously requires a cylicone. I haven’t even so much as drawn up designs for it beyond that, though.”
“Still, it’s...I mean, if I were just some normal girl, I might not believe it, but we know that faster-than-light travel is possible. This wouldn’t even be the fastest we’ve seen, so surely it’s possible.”
Loa giggled. “Well, we can’t all be The Trotter. This will allow more reasonable jumps in space for anybody with the power to sit their butt in a seat.”
“Oh, that’s right; The Trotter. He said he was going to be here. He could reunite me with Mateo.”
“We’ve not seen him,” Loa apologized. “We’ve only seen the three of you.”
“Eh, I guess that makes sense,” Leona realized. “He’s not meant to show up for another five years.”
“Five days,” Loa corrected.
“That’s true,” Leona admitted. It was one of the few benefits of this life. On the other hand, how long was he going to stick around? Would he wait until Leona returned to the timeline, or would she miss him by that much? They never nailed down specifics. He knew what her pattern was, but did he keep track of the exact days? Not likely. Damn. She shook the thought out of her head, because it wasn’t worth worrying about right now. Besides, there was something else. “Hold on. You said you’ve seen three of us.” She pointed to Eight Point Seven, then to herself, then back to Eight Point Seven, all the while pretending to struggle with counting to two.
“Yeah, there’s someone else here. I guess she’s been here awhile. She refuses to tell us how she survived this long, but we put her in the water. She is not happy about it.”
So, life on a heavy world is difficult at best. Drugs and nanites are only capable of doing so much. At some point, walking around on a super-Earth becomes so tiring for the average human being that it’s not even worth it anymore. The alternative technology would be more important on an even heavier world, but not useless here on Varkas Reflex. Instead of injecting one’s system with drugs, chemicals would remain outside the body, which is suspended within it. Submersion in water simulates weightlessness, by distributing pressure evenly. Obviously this is not a good solution, unless there is some way for the person to breathe, which is why they’re not being suspended in just regular water. This oxygen-rich liquid can be absorbed through the skin, effectively turning a human into an aquatic animal. The tech was first used centuries ago, for certain medical treatments. It was also incorporated into a special suit to counteract the effects of acceleration—until internal inertial dampeners were invented—but this method doesn’t work well on a relatively static orbital surface. Enter habitat tanks, stage left.
Leona had to fight extremely hard against the urge to laugh at the person she was seeing inside the tank, like a penguin in a zoo.
Sanaa Karimi, who was not too pleasant of a person, was floating around in what was evidently her new home, staring back with dead eyes. She removed a device from her belt, and pressed it over her mouth. “What the f— are you looking at?” Like before, she self-censored. But why?
“What the hell are you doing here, Sanaa?”
“You tell me!” Sanaa shouted back.
“I have no clue. You’re the one who escaped Bungula without a word.”
“I have a few words for ya,” Sanaa spit back. “First one is bitch!”
“Settle down there, Spongebob,” Hokusai scolded.
“Why does she get to walk around?” Sanaa complained.
“I’ll tell you what,” Leona began, “you come out of that water, I’ll cut off your legs, and give you new ones. Then you can go wherever the f— you want. That’s more than I got. I had to cut them off myself!”
Sanaa appeared to not have known that about her.
“All right,” Eight Point Seven said in her mediator voice. “Nobody’s cutting off anybody’s legs here.”
“Tell me your story,” Leona asked calmly.
“The ship’s systems were pretty easy to operate. Everything seemed fine. I just told it I wanted to go to Earth, and it went on its way. Then something went wrong, and it changed directions. Next thing I know, I’m here. Her ship is broken.” Sanaa pointed to Hokusai.
Hokusai frowned. “I legit have no idea what happened. I’ve run diagnostics three times, and everything checks out. According to the logs, she never requested it take her to Earth. It thinks Varkas Reflex was always her destination.”
“I told you—!” Sanaa tried to say.
“I don’t think you did anything wrong,” Hokusai assured her. “Someone messed with the computer. I have no idea how, and I have no idea who.”

“Who would do that?” Mateo asked.
“I think you know who,” Weaver replied.
“Mirage? Mirage wants us to go to Thay...thay”
“Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida,” Goswin spoke for him.
“Yeah, there. Why would she not want us to go to Varkas Reflex?”
“We’re not even certain Leona is there,” Weaver reminded him.
“Is it possible she’s at, umm...you know what I’m talking about. We gotta come up with an English word for this planet; goddamn.”
“Some people call it Bida,” Thor jumped in.
“We can’t change vector,” Weaver said apologetically. AOC is heading to Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida, or at least in that general direction. It’s the most likely candidate. We won’t arrive for another sixteen years.”
“Wow, déjà vu all over again,” Mateo lamented. “But you said Cassidy and I have only been gone for five months.”
Weaver nodded. “It’s been about twenty-one weeks for us, but a year has passed for the rest of the universe. You see, when you approach the speed of light—”
Mateo waved his hands erratically in front of his face, like a swarm of mosquitos were on the offensive. “I don’t need to hear the sciencey relativistic bullshit again.”
Weaver cleared her throat, on the defensive.
“I’m going back to bed,” Mateo declared. “When I wake up, we better be on our way to Leona, wherever the hell she happens to be.”
“You know I can’t promise that,” Weaver shouted after him.
Mateo just threw up his hand, because he knew he was being unreasonable, but didn’t have the constitution to apologize for how rudely he was treating everybody right now.
“Is he always like that?” he could hear Thor say to the group.
He didn’t hear a response.
This was going to be a long flight.