Thursday, January 31, 2019

Microstory 1029: Eugene

I don’t know that there’s much I can tell you Alfred didn’t already say. I would have joined magic club without Viola’s coaxing. I’m just sort of always in my own little world, so I didn’t notice that he had started it when we were freshmen. To be completely honest, I was not particularly into magic before that, but I have an adventurous spirit, and I like to try new things. Those new things are mostly limited to dining at interesting restaurants that are thirty minutes away in Adamantingham. That’s the largest city in Mineral County, in case you don’t know from being the new kid. Not that you’re a kid, sorry. Anyway. I grew up pretty sheltered in this small town where nothing ever happens. This is kind of the worst place for me, since I was never exposed to all the crazy things happening in larger cities, which is what I crave. I’m getting out as soon as I can, and not because I hate Blast City as it is, but it’s just not enough alone. I need the Eiffel Tower, and the Egyptian Pyramids, and the ocean. I’ve been alive for eighteen years, and have never seen the ocean, or even a single mountain. For the time being, I’ve been okay, though. There are some hidden gems around here, and Viola was an expert at finding them. We literally never spoke over the course of our high school careers. She just kept leaving notes in my locker, with suggestions for adventures. The last thing she did for me before she died was sending me on a scavenger hunt all over Blast City. I never got a chance to thank her for that. I sent her a text message a few days after her death, just as a symbolic gesture, and to kind of unburden myself of the minor guilt. I didn’t realize the police would be monitoring her phone, so they came and questioned me about it. I guess that was actually the last adventure she sent me on.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Microstory 1028: Alfred

Nobody calls me by my name around here, but different people will have different nicknames. Al, Alfie, Allie, Fred, Freddie, and Batman are some of the more common variations. I don’t really like any of them. My parents named me Alfred, full stop, and that’s what I prefer. Viola was the only one who respected that, which was this small but courteous thing she probably didn’t think twice about, but now it seems significant, because of her death. I’m a pretty big nerd, but I’m not that much into comics, which is why I’m not all that fond of that last nickname I mentioned. It doesn’t even make sense. Alfred wasn’t the superhero, he was the butler, and didn’t have his own codename. Or maybe he did, but that’s not something I would know. What makes me a nerd is that I’m into magic. I feel like back in the day, liking magic wasn’t a nerdy thing. It seemed more accessible back then. Maybe people were easier to trick, because humanity as a whole was less educated? I don’t know. Now it’s just so universally hated that I don’t understand how professional magicians even exist, and are able to sell tickets to their shows. In junior high, I was the president of the magic club, and I wanted to continue that when I got here, but there was no such club at the time. I guess it’s more acceptable to be into it when you’re younger. And so, of course, I decided to start the club myself, thinking that if I built it, they would come. You have to have at least five people sign up for any new club, and prove that they’re coming to regular meetings, in order for the school to sign off on it. I bet you can see where this story is going. Not a single person showed up. I held introductory meetings every single day after school for nearly a week, until one person finally came. Viola. She was not into magic, but she felt bad that no one came, so she just made an appearance to boost my numbers. Like I said, that still wasn’t enough, so she also somehow convinced three other people to come over the course of the next few days; the last one just by the deadline. So she managed to find, not just random people she could coerce into making me feel better, but also ones who could actually learn to like magic. She even kept coming to meetings with us the rest of the year, never missing, and occasionally participating. The following year, two freshmen wanted to join right away, which allowed Viola to quit, and our numbers have increased ever since. I’m proud to say that Blast City Senior High’s Magic Club boasts one of the highest memberships of the school. We have to meet in the cafeteria now to have enough space for everyone. Viola did this for me—for us—and I will always be grateful for that.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Microstory 1027: Howard

Have you ever noticed that we write addresses backwards? If I want to send a letter to my friend at 123 Main Street, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, I make it harder for the mail service to deliver by writing it out like that. We should start with the general, and become more specific from there. The first person at the post office only cares about which country it’s going to. They see Spain, they throw it in the Spain bin. They see Canada, they throw it in the Canada bin. Once it gets to Canada, the next person only cares about which Province it goes to, so put that on the next line. Next person after that only cares about the city, and the next which post office, which means it’s only the last one who cares about which specific building, or unit, it’s meant for. I had this dream that we would completely revamp our delivery system, to make it make more sense. Now, I don’t really know how it works. Maybe I was always wrong, and no worker has any problem hunting for the line that matters most to them. Or maybe the entire address is relevant to everyone who sees it. I just thought there was a better way, but Viola helped me get over it. It’s an insane idea to change something that’s been so ingrained in our way of life for centuries, but she never treated me poorly for it. She gently explained to me that the problem with the way we write addresses has less to do with the order, and more to do with the spacing. The system would work just as well top to bottom, if only we separated the geographical regions more clearly. Anyway, this was really just one carefully explained example of these ideas I have in my head that normal people don’t think about. I obsess over small inconveniences and inefficiencies that most people gloss right over. There are better ways we could be doing things, but in the grand scheme of things, that doesn’t matter much. Viola taught me that, but didn’t let on she was doing it. She taught me that life is not so much pointless as it is too complicated. A lot of good has come from humanity’s advances over the last few centuries, but some have made things worse. Why do we have health insurance? It’s an unnecessary step towards healthcare. We came up with these ways of treating maladies and other medical conditions, and then we muddied it up with a bunch of erroneous programs that do nothing but cause mess. I was getting so bogged down with trying to make this life more efficient, that my life itself was inefficient. Viola helped me shed what she called the extra from my life. Minimalism is key. That’s not to say I’m going to go live in a tiny cabin in the middle of nowhere, and drink milk straight from the udder. But I’m also not going to play by all of society’s rules. My life is going to be simple, and fulfilling, and I owe that to Viola’s ageless wisdom.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Microstory 1026: Willis

Yo, my name is Willis, I talk a mile a minute, and I got a lot to do, so let’s make this quick. I’m on my way to the pharmacy, ‘cuz my father, he is sick. I didn’t really know the girl; we were never tight, but I saw her by the pond one day; she was in a fight. She was talkin’ all crazy, to herself, no one was there. I looked for something in her ear, but it was totally bare. I think she thought a ghost was by her side; or something invisible. Whatever it was, it had lied, and she felt that was impermissible. It was something about religion—myself, I don’t have faith. For Viola, it seemed like hers was the same case. Someone close to her was in a cult, or maybe something like it. She needed help to save her friend. As for the cult, she thought she’d fight it. She caught me peeping on her convo, and stopped right in her tracks. She didn’t seem upset with me, but told me I needed to relax. She did not deny she had had a religious argument, but didn’t want me thinking that she was just intolerant. I assured her that her business was her own, and I’m only telling you right now, since she’s gone off to the unknown. Well, we shook each other’s hand, and parted ways, but I could tell she was still worried. I later found her...stands [sic], by the locker bays, and now she was real hurried. I tried to ask after her friend, but she brushed off any issue. I thought that she would start crying, so I checked my bag for any tissue. By the time I looked back up, she was nowhere to be found. I tried to keep looking for her, but she got lost in the the high school crowd. I went on vacation the next day, so that was the last time I saw her face. By the time I returned, Viola was gone, and out of this lively race.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: October 9, 2216

Mateo and Leona learned from Serif that it had been centuries since the universe of Ansutah was created by the fourth pocket dimension on the interstellar ship, The Warren. For her, however, it had only been a few years. It was after The Crossover was invented, utilized to explore the bulkverse, and ultimately destroyed. It was before, however, the time that Leona went to Ansutah with all those people looking to get rid of their time powers. Since that had not yet happened from Serif’s viewpoint, there was no way for her to stay with them permanently. At some point, she would have to return to the monster world, and continue her own life with her daughter. There was just no way to save her. She knew this, but she was determined to save all the other humans there, by whatever means necessary. Apparently, they were the descendants of those who sought to be free from their powers, and had been transported back to the early days of the universe.
Unfortunately, the brilliant Leona quickly did the math on their plans to evacuate the billions of people in Ansutah. It would take a couple decades to get them all out through the little ceiling entrance magically attached to grave chamber four on The Ocasio-Cortez. And that was assuming those people literally ran up the rickety wooden ladder, and out of the vessel constantly, so they could funnel hundreds in a minute, which was probably also impossible. It would take many decades at the most realistic projections, and even then, there was nowhere for them to go. Bungula was not presently hospitable to life, and wouldn’t be for the next few centuries, assuming its colonizers decide to terraform the planet at all. The domes were not designed to fit quite that many people.
“What made you think this was going to work?” Leona asked. She was feeling overwhelmed by the situation, and was unable to just be happy to see Serif again.
“The scientist built the bridge, and apparently didn’t consider the logistics of the endeavor,” Serif defended. “I didn’t ask for this, but we have to find a way to escape. Ever since the Crossover was destroyed, and its remnants scattered throughout the bulkverse, the Maramon have grown more and more restless. As the human population grew, an entire continent was needed to be set aside for them. Religious superstitions have kept the Maramon from exploring the area, but like any sufficiently advanced civilization, those superstitions are waning. They want to see what’s over here, and if they discover an entire planet’s worth of humans have been hoarding resources, they’re not going to be happy. This will start a war.
“Why did he build a bridge, instead of another machine?” Leona questioned. “That could completely eliminate the time sensitivity. Every time the Crossover leaves a universe, it can spend as much time as it wants away, and always return one second after it left.”
“I understand that,” Serif said. “Sadly, he still felt he needed to ultimately honor his promise to his colleagues. He killed himself as soon as the bridge was finished. He didn’t even test it out first. There might be a way to move the exit somewhere else, but I would have no clue how to do that. Time itself wants the refugees to come through here. Something thinks this is our best option.”
“Time is not a conscious individual,” Leona argued. “The bridge exited out here, because this is where we are. It was seeking to bring you back to us.”
“If time isn’t conscious, how could it be seeking anything?”
“You know what I mean, like magnets. The three of us are entangled on a quantum level.”
Serif wasn’t buying it entirely, but it didn’t matter. Leona was right. There was no way to get everyone to safety using their only current option. The bridge was all but useless to them, and that wasn’t going to change, even when they landed on Bungula next year. They needed a creative solution.

Mateo, Leona, and Serif returned to the timeline a year later, and found the Ansutah situation to be no different than before. To keep Ramses safe, they decided they needed to lock the opening to grave chamber four. There was a lot of diversity in a group of eleven billion, which meant there would be plenty of irrational people who might try to escape through the bridge, even one that led to a ship designed for six to twelve people.
The upside was that there were two new members of their group. Ramses was able to extract Brooke and Sharice Prieto from the Insulator of Life, and upload their consciousnesses to new android substrates. And bonus, one of them seemed to have an idea of what to do with the Ansutahan humans.
“What about Gatewood?” Sharice suggested.
“What is Gatewood?” Mateo asked her.
“Orbiting Barnard’s Star, Gatewood is a collection of planetesimals, dwarf planets, asteroids, and comets about six and a half light years from here. Since there aren’t any planets, it wasn’t a good candidate for colonization. Still, people had dreams of reaching nearly all of the closest stars, and so a project was started in order to capitalize on the plethora of materials that can be found there. They would live in centrifugal cylinders instead.”
“What is that?” Mateo asked, feeling as much the idiot as ever. Serif didn’t seem to recognized the term either, though.
Sharice went on, “they’re basically giant space stations that rotate so fast, they simulate gravity on the inner surface. You might have seen the movie Interstellar. The people at the end lived in one.”
“Oh.”
“Well, the project was scrapped, but there was some sort of communication breakdown. All evidence suggests the automated factories in the system continued to build these cylinders on their own, waiting for colony ships that will never come.”
“Is there enough room for eleven billion people?” Leona asked.
“Theoretically. The basic designs are based on 21st century personal space requirements. People need less room now, and there’s no reason you couldn’t expand later, as needed.”
“What about Project Stargate?” Brooke asked.
“And what is that?” Mateo asked yet again.
“Like Sharice said,” Brooke began, “Gatewood is full of stuff. Most of it didn’t coalesce into larger celestial bodies, but this stuff is very useful for building things. It’s called Gatewood, because it’s also the home of the largest vonearthan endeavor in the entire history of our species.”
“It’s a rumor,” Sharice argued.
“I think I can guess, based on the name,” Leona said, “but just so I’m sure, what is this rumor?”
Sharice decided to answer. “The vonearthans are presently concerned with the colonization of the stellar neighborhood. We have settlements—or planned settlements—on Proxima Doma, here on Bungula, Varkas Reflex, Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida, and Glisnia, with a few other places in the early exploratory stages. Project Stargate would expand those plans by hundreds of billions. Every single star in the whole galaxy would be reached, over the course of the next tens of thousands of years. It’s an absurd idea, and it’s not real. It couldn’t be.”
“But if it is real, then Gatewood would be the perfect staging ground for it,” Brooke reminded her.
“It would be, if it were real, but it’s not.”
“Would they be building the galaxy vessels right now? If it were real, that is,” Leona added.
Sharice shook her head. “Maybe, maybe not. The people who came up with it projected a 2250 departure date, only because they wanted to travel as close to the speed of light as possible, and that’s when futurists think we’ll get there. They hadn’t figured out how long it would take to construct the damn thing. The smallest independent unit was called a seed plate. It’s about a meter wide, and three centimeters thick, and would have been responsible for installing quantum messengers, and other structures, in seven to twenty-eight solar systems. Look, Gatewood is perfect for the refugees. The cylinders are waiting for them there, no one else wants them, and there aren’t any goddamn Stargate automators swallowing up resources.”
“Well, we have to come up with some solution in the next few years,” Serif noted. “My people are on the brink of war with the Maramon. Our universe is not big enough for all of us. Something’s gotta give. I’m willing to risk Gatewood, if Bungula is not a viable option.”
“Even if you got everyone there,” Brooke complained, “it will still take forever to evacuate them. The bridge is still attached to this wee little bunk thing in the floor.”
“Grave chamber,” Ramses corrected.
“Morbid.”
“That’s an easy solution too,” Sharice said. “We just need the Muster Beacon.”
“The lighter that I used to bring Mateo back from nonexistence?” Leona questioned. She had gotten it from another universe, and though it was a powerful temporal object, there was no way it was strong enough to take on eleven billion people.”
Sharice smirked. “Every invention you’ve ever come across has had a more advanced counterpart, right? The Jayde Spyglass is an easier-to-use version of the Cosmic Sextant. The Escher Card is the sequel to the Escher Knob. Even the Crossover started out as a tiny Prototype. The Muster Lighter too has another version. The Beacon is much larger, and has a much greater capacity.”
“How much greater are we talking?” Leona asked.
“A handful of rounds could pull everyone from the other universe, into Gatewood. It’ll take longer to transfer it from cylinder to cylinder than it will to summon everyone from Ansutah.”
“Just what the hell are we talking about?” Serif was feeling left out.
“Special fire,” Leona said to her. “It somehow apports massive numbers of people, from wherever they are, to a single location. It’s like a bug zapper for people, that doesn’t kill the people.”
“And we have this object?” Serif tried to clarify.
“That’s another thing,” Brooke said. “If it does indeed exist, which we don’t know for sure, we don’t know where it is.”
“The Weaver told me where it was,” Sharice said, but she didn’t act particularly excited about it.
“Oh, yeah? Where?”
Sharice pretended to clear her throat. “Dardius.”
“That’s millions of light years away,” Brooke shouted. “If we could travel those distances, we could just take the refugees to Dardius itself.”
“There’s not enough room there either,” Sharice fought back.
“Still in another galaxy, young lady.”
“You promised not to call me that anymore.”
“There’s a way to get to Dardius,” Ramses jumped in.
“Is that right?” Leona asked him in disbelief.
Ramses took a deep breath. Then he looked between Mateo, and one of the other bunks. “There’s a reason Étude wanted the ship to be designed like this, and why she wanted us to call these grave chambers.”
“Why?” Serif had no clue.
Ramses looked back to Mateo. “Accent on the grave part.”
Mateo didn’t know what he was driving at either.
Ramses rolled his eyes. Then he reached down and slid back one of the doors in the floor. “Before...it was a closed grave,” he condescended. “Now...it’s an open grave.”
Oh. But would that work?
No.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Furor: A Difference Between Action and Inaction (Part III)

Five minutes to midnight, Ace ran up to find Serkan in his hospital room. He lifted him out his bed, and let him hang off his shoulders. He watched his watch intently, as the seconds ticked by. Kolby Morse, a.k.a. the future K-Boy was expected within the minute, but if he was even one moment late, then that was his loss. Ace’s primary concern was the father of his child, and he couldn’t let anything stand in the way of that. As soon as the clock struck 0:01, he activated the dimension-hopping jacket. This time felt different. There was a more violent tug as they transported back to the real world. He found himself face down on the floor of his own home. Serkan was there too, as was Kolby. At first, he was pissed off. Kolby must have screwed it up for them. The jacket was never designed to take more than two people at once. But then Paige’s babysitter, Mireille started helping him up, as Paige did the same for Serkan. Apparently it had worked, and Kolby’s transportation of them all the way back here had had something to do with it.
“Father Serkan,” Paige exclaimed. “You’re finally back!”
“Yes, dear,” Serkan said, giving her a kiss on the cheek. “It is so good to see you again. You too, Ace.”
“It must have been so lonely,” Paige guessed.
“It’s only been a month for him,” Ace explained. “Time moves differently in there.”
“Oh, so you’ve not been gone that long, have you?” Paige asked. “It’s been almost a month on this side.”
Serkan was having a lot of trouble staying standing. Mireille was doing everything she could to keep him upright. “He needs medicine,” Ace pointed out.
“I can go,” Serkan said. “You have a list, or prescriptions?”
“Yes, the nurse gave me this packet,” Ace said, pulling it out of his back pocket.
Kolby took it from him, and ran off.
Paige and Mireille were shocked, but not that shocked. “So...he’s fast.”
“I’ll explain later. We have to get your father up to bed.”
“Yeah, I need to nap too,” Paige agreed. “We can catch up in a few hours.”
Ace didn’t realize how little sleep he had gotten recently, so the three of them didn’t wake until well into the next day. They had a long conversation over breakfast, comparing war stories. They had gone through so much apart, and needed to reconnect. Quiche was good at supporting bonding experiences. Serkan evidently lost both of his legs from the explosion, but they were basically regrown using the miracle of science. That kind of technology was not quite up to par with federally regulated standards, but the hospital in the fake version of Kansas City didn’t have to worry about government agents breaking down their doors. Only time would tell if the limbs would cause Serkan problems. He could have them for years, and only then begin to experience rejection symptoms.
Paige had had her own fill of adventure since Ace left. Several new people fell into her life, and started wreaking havoc on it, in some cases on purpose. A woman named Jesimula Utkin commissioned her and a small group of other women, including Slipstream, to stop a version of herself from the past from destroying the world. Of course, since she had done something that could destroy the world in the first place, she wasn’t an entirely good person. She fulfilled her promise, but also forced Paige into becoming a carrier for a disease that did end up taking one life, which was a horror Paige would have to recall over the course of her entire life. Throughout the ordeal, she learned that she had the power to travel through time using photographic images. This was implied to have been caused by her having been holding a camera when her now-fathers accidentally brought her into the future the first time. Paige was still getting used to her new reality, and the other two would need time for that as well. They would have a year until things started to get crazy again.
July of 2026 was quickly approaching, which meant that Serkan was soon to catch up with his own timeline. The three of them weren’t sure what they were meant to do with that. When he first fell back in time, it appeared to be somewhat of an accident. Or if someone had done it according to a master plan, that plan was lost of its game pieces. They had spent this year getting to know each other again. Paige was going to school regularly, Serkan was working, and Ace was gambling. They hadn’t completely avoided the topic of time travel, but it also hadn’t consumed their lives. Now it was about to fold back in on them, whether they wanted it to, or not. There were a few decisions they would need to make.
“So, if there’s one thing I learned last April,” Paige began, “it’s that the timeline can be changed. Perhaps you are unaware of any alterations you made when you came back here, but you might have made them. Everything you describe about the weather, and everything else that’s meant to happen during the Frenzy race this year may have all been negated by your prior actions.”
“Or we made it worse,” Ace said.
“Or we are what ultimately causes it,” Serkan added.
“How?”
“Well, our first indication that something was wrong was the unpredictable weather events, as Paige just mentioned, right?” Serkan put forth.
“Right.”
Serkan continued, “then in 2024, we saw first hand how...out of hand weather can get when we’re dealing with people with powers. Keanu ‘Ōpūnui created a winter hellscape in the summer, which is why we started investigating his organization in the first place. We didn’t exactly put him in jail, which means he could still have plans for this city. We may have inspired him to those plans by working against him two years ago.”
“It could even be more complicated than that,” Paige said. She was sixteen years old at this point, and behaving a lot more like an adult than before. “The weather man does his thing by borrowing the conditions of other times and places. No one has answered what happens to those other times and places. Maybe he’s not using his powers at all this summer, but at some other time, and he’s borrowing it from July of 2026, which impacts the now. We have to find him again to know for sure.”
“No, we can’t do that,” Ace argued. “Serkan just said it, our actions could be causing the future events. Interfering with Keanu could be what causes our later problems.”
“What do you suggest we do?” Paige asked him. “Nothing?”
“Maybe.”
“If we’re living in a time loop, it doesn’t matter what we do, or what we don’t. Everything we try will be the quote-unquote right choice, because it all comes down to fate.”
“That’s true,” Serkan said, “but I still think that I came back for a reason. It may not be my reason, and it may not be a good one, but there is a difference between action, and inaction. The weather is the least of our worries during the race. Something was happening downtown while I was running around with Crispin. I never found out what.”
“Okay,” Paige said, but stopped to think. “We don’t know everything that happens in the future, but we know some things. What we need to do is consolidate all of that information. Amongst the three of us, there must be no secrets. Serkan, you’re going to have to draw us a map of the race. Not literally, I mean...we need every detail possible. From the color of the underwear that Future!Ace lets you borrow, to the model of the car you and Krakken steal to chase after that guy who stole the rabbit dog. Having all that information in one place might give us clues about what else happens that you don’t know about.”
Serkan was nodding. “Are we sure that’s a good idea? Maybe I should have told you nothing about it. What was that thing about boots your new friend told you?”
Paige understood. “Bootstrap paradox, yes. Knowing the future calls into question the source of originality. If Future!You tells you how to build a time machine, then after you build it, you go back in time and tell Past!You how to do it, who exactly first came up with the design for a time machine? That’s the thing about paradoxes, though, they’re impossible. If one is about to occur, it simply won’t. The universe won’t be destroyed, the forest won’t turn red, it just won’t work. And isn’t that all that really matters, the consequences? We could be facing our greatest threat since the other Kansas City. Whoever is responsible for the mayhem may already know the future too, because we know these people have friends. We need to arm ourselves with as much knowledge as possible.”
Serkan sighed and nodded again. “Okay, I’ll type up everything I know, and send it to both of you.”
The doorbell rang.
“You get on that,” Paige said, acting like their leader. “I’ll answer the door.”
“I’ll answer it,” Ace challenged. “Don’t you have summer reading to get back to?”
“Finished all of them,” Paige claimed. “I also went back in time and spoke personally with the authors.”
In most households, that would have been a clear joke, but this was something Paige could have actually done. “Just to be clear...” Ace started to ask.
“I’m kidding,” she said. “J.D. Salinger refused to see some random sixteen year old girl.”
“Somehow I doubt that,” Serkan said as he was leaving.
Ace walked over and opened the door to find Slipstream on the other side. “Slip, what are you doing here?”
“I need your help.”
“Help with what?”
“Once you meet someone with time powers, you can’t really escape that world. You know what I’m talking about.”
This was worrying. He stepped onto the porch, and closed the door behind him. “I do, but...what are you trying to say?”
“I became obsessed with it. I started looking into Jesimula Utkin, the one who terrorized me and your daughter. She did tell you about that, yeah?”
“She did, yes.”
“When you can change the timeline, like Jesi and her friends can, it’s hard for people to really know who you are. That little cabal has taken great pains to keep themselves hidden. Fortunately, I know people too now. Kolby and I—”
“Wait, you’re working with Kolby?”
“Didn’t you send him to us?”
“I might have accidentally let it slip that he has a place in this world, and that I know something about his future.”
“Well yeah, we’ve been working together, away from the other tracers. They all still think he can’t speak. We met someone called The Archivist. He has the records for every person who can manipulate time, across ever alternate reality. He wasn’t really allowed to give us any information, but he’s a confused drunk, so we were able to convince him.”
“Where are you going with this, Slippy?”
“I have a list; a list of Jesi, and Keanu, and all of their friends. They all come from the same town. This town no longer exists, because it was ripped out of time.”
“I know,” Ace said. Kallias Bran was a friend of theirs, who explained to them everything about the city that never was. “Springfield, Kansas.”
“These people aren’t supposed to have powers. They weren’t born with them like you guys.”
“Okay...”
“They all got them from the same source. They’re called the Springfield Nine, and one of the most powerful of them just broke out of this prison called Beaver Haven?”
“Yeah, Keanu mentioned that place. Who broke out?”
“His name is Rothko Ladhiffe, and he’s apparently taken issue with the City Frenzy event. I need that intuition of yours.”

Friday, January 25, 2019

Microstory 1025: Frederick

Hi, everybody. This is Alma again. When I started this project, I had no idea how honest people would be with their stories. This town is full of secrets, but it’s like the school newspaper has this magical power to get everyone to reveal things they wouldn’t say in any other setting. I cannot explain it, unless there’s something in the water. The urban legend is that all water in Blast City contains trace amounts of gold, which in drinking, supposedly helped the mining company’s founder divine where to dig. Ralph seems to think that I’m the one with the power to get people to talk, but that never happened to me before I moved here. Anyway, some of these secrets are a little bit harder to hear than others, and they’re even harder to transcribe. People have nasty, horrible thoughts about their peers, which is why humans came up with civilized society. I’m taking a break from the piece to warn you that this document contains the whole truth about Viola’s death, and everything that led up to it. The authorities were wrong, as was just about everyone else in town. I don’t have the evidence to prove it, but there is something going on that’s far more nefarious than a catfight gone wrong. I’m taking my opportunity to speak on this now, because of what I said about how honest people can be. I’ve chosen to retain the confessions that you can read once we reach those particular points in this series, but I’ve chosen to exclude Frederick’s perspective. He’s a despicable approximation of a man, who has backwards ideas about what purpose women have in the world. He has a better reputation at this institution than he should, and if you would like to hear what he said about Viola, you can request it from me privately. I’m still waiting to hear from my lawyer before I’m confident I can safely release the tape of his interview, because of how revolting it was, so be patient. I did not endeavor to tell the personal stories of the senior class at Blast City Senior High. I intended only to gain a full picture of how Viola impacted the people who knew her best. One thing I intuited before I even started was that her family did not really know her at all. One thing I learned through all this, however, is that no one else did either. Combined, the stories appear contradictory, and though there are zero lies within the text, there are conflicting viewpoints, and a lot of rejections of reality. No one lied to me, but they do lie to themselves. This series will continue next week, and go on from there, uninterrupted by my commentary.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Microstory 1024: Rufus

Most kids in my class think that I was held back in school, but that’s not what happened. I was just born at a weird time of the year, and missed the cutoff date by this much. So I’m really only a few months older than everyone else. Despite what they believe, I’m not dumb at all. It is they who are dumb. I can’t tell you how many of them ask me to buy beer, and not ironically either. Anyway, I live alone. My parents took a vacation in Seattle a few years ago, and fell in love with the place. They wanted to move there pretty much right away, but two things were holding them back: my grandparents, and me. One of those problems was solved when my uncle retired, and agreed to take over the caregiving duties. The other was solved when I became an adult. We had a lot of long conversations, but I adamantly encouraged them to follow their dreams, which they had done for me faithfully my whole life. They finally agreed to it, and left. Meanwhile, I’m still here, finishing my schooling. I’ve applied to a couple colleges in the Northwest, but haven’t heard back from any yet. I don’t need to move back in with them, but I would like to be close. There’s nothing keeping me in Blast City, that’s for sure. But you don’t want to know about me, you asked after my relationship with Viola. Well, I do have one pretty good story. As soon as my parents left, the house turned to crap. I had always been the one to do most of the basic chores around the house, and never had much problem with it, but I didn’t realize until then that I was really doing for their benefit. I suddenly had little motivation to keep the place nice and tidy. But now there were dishes piled up in the sink so high that I couldn’t reach the faucet. It was really bad, and the worst of it was the little mouse that kept leaving presents for me at night. I got this crazy idea to catch it, and keep it as a pet. I bought a little plastic cage for him, and everything, which he seemed to like. Our life together was going great until I had clean said cage, and he scurried out. No problem, I thought, I’ll just catch him again. Except that mice are like the people of the tiny world. They’re incredibly smart, and incredibly good at learning. He somehow figured out how to keep his hind legs planted outside of the trap, and lick the peanut butter off the back plate, so the lid wouldn’t be able to close on him. Either that, or he made friends with the cricket that’s been misguidedly trying to serenade me to sleep every night, and convinced it to haul the peanut butter out for Peanut Butter. Oh, I named the mouse Peanut Butter, by the way. For whatever reason, I felt put on the spot when it came time to come up with a proper thing to call him, and a jar of peanut butter was logically sitting in front of me.

Back to the story, my former pet continued to torment me over the course of the next few weeks. I found more presents on the counters, and could hear him rustling the newspapers in the middle of the night. I cleaned my house like no one has ever cleaned before, I tell ya, but nothing would get Peanut Butter to leave. Well, Viola came over one time to borrow a yarmulke—ya know she never told me why she needed it, and she never had the chance to give it back. Hm. That’s fine, because she managed to find a bag of mouse feed I had forgotten I was storing in the very back of an old cupboard I don’t use for anything else. I was feeding Peanut Butter the entire time! That’s why he wasn’t leaving! What a relief, right? Well, that’s not the end of it. A few days pass, and everything seems fine, but I walk downstairs to get some water one night, and there’s Peanut Butter. He’s just sitting on the tile of my kitchen, chillin’ like a villain. I know the trap won’t work. Even if I set it back up, I have little guarantee he’ll decide to climb into it after all this. So I grab a little plastic bowl I used to eat cereal from as a child, and hover over him for, like, five minutes. I just keep thinking that, no matter how fast I go, he’ll be faster. He just needs three centimeters before he’s under the oven, and gone forever. But eventually, I swing my arm down, and plant it on the floor. He’s in, good. I start to slide a piece of cardboard under it to keep him from escaping again, but I see red. There’s red stuff on the floor. Oh no, I’ve injured him; badly by the looks of it. Afraid of what I’ll find, I carry him out the door to the blistering cold—in nothing but my underwear—and open the bowl. He’s seemingly alive, but he’s not running away. In fact, when I try to walk back to the house, he follows me. I think he grew quite fond of me, and probably didn’t realize what he was doing when he escaped. It didn’t matter, though. The blood loss, and the cold cold; it was too much for him. I watched him fall to his little chin, and stop moving. Still half naked, I find a shovel in the toolshed, and dig him a little grave right there. Viola, like a psychic, randomly shows up, and says a few words in Peanut Butter’s honor. Then she leaves, and I go back to bed. The next morning, I wake up to the news that Viola’s body was found facedown in Masters Creek. She was killed before sunset the day before. I still don’t understand how that’s possible.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Microstory 1023: Arend

Death is nothing new to me. Some people never get over it, but others kind of become immune. I’ve lost literally everyone in my family, except maybe a few second cousins that I’ve never met. My father to cancer, my mother to a mining accident, my big sister to war, my little sister to before she was even born. Two of my grandparents were dead before I was old enough to remember them, and the other two passed shortly after. I kept being passed around to uncles and aunts until all of those were exhausted too. From suicide to murder, it’s all happened to me. They call it the Eagle family curse, and it’s been haunting me my entire life. I eventually ran out of relatives, and had to get myself emancipated. It wasn’t even that hard. I didn’t have to do much to prove that I could support myself. All those family deaths left me several inheritances, and a couple of life insurance payouts. If I weren’t so careless, I could survive a normal person’s lifespan without having a single job, but I figured I wouldn’t last that long anyway. For the longest time, I would wait for the day the curse came for me. But then I realized that it wouldn’t be a very good curse if it wiped us out completely. An evil witch, or a dark wizard, from centuries ago would have programmed a sole survivor, so the bloodline could continue. I’m the lucky duck for this generation. I’ve never tried to kill myself, or anything, but a couple years ago, I started testing my limits. I became one of those daredevils you hear about that don’t record their stunts, or even get other people to watch. I tried all sorts of drugs, often without knowing what I was taking, and picked fights with people twice my size. Just like I thought, nothing would kill me. I’m invincible until I have at least one kid, which of course, I never plan on doing. I turned eighteen a couple months before Viola died, which brings us to the one significant experience I shared with her.

My self-destructive behavior has made me not so popular amongst my classmates. Not even the other wastoids want me around, which means I don’t have anyone that I can trust. It was Viola who drove me to and from the procedure. Well, she tried anyway. You have to be eighteen years old to get a vasectomy, but the fact that I set the appointment for my birthday, and hadn’t ever shown the maturity to make any healthy decision before, no doctor would agree to do it. I tried half the surgeons in Mineral County, but those sneaky snakes all play golf together, or whatever, so I never stood a chance. But Viola was a trouper. She kept calling for appointments, and driving me to the ones that at least agreed to a consult. In the end, I never got it done, but now I don’t think I have to, thanks again to Viola Woods. I don’t think she ever believed that my family had a curse, but it wasn’t in her nature to argue with people’s convictions. If I couldn’t get a vasectomy, than there was really only one option for me, according to her. I just had to never have sex for the rest of my life. Sure, I could try to just be celibate, but one drunken night sitting next to a pretty stranger at a bar, and I’ve just doomed an innocent child to go through what I did. I had never really put much faith in religion, but it was my last resort. After high school, I’m going to join a monastery. Being around other people who are in an exclusive relationship with God is the only way I’ll be able to get through it without screwing it up. I don’t know why, but Viola planned it all out for me. They’re already expecting me this summer. Here’s a picture of the place; isn’t it lovely? Maybe there isn’t really a curse at all, but if there’s even a chance it’s true, they are the only people I can trust to help. The only question now is, what am I going to do with all this money? Viola would know.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Microstory 1022: Ray of Hope

The way I’ve been told, my parents thought I was going to be a girl until the moment I was born, and they discovered the truth. Apparently, the ultrasound technician made a big mistake when he made the call. He was reportedly extremely afraid for his job for this mistake, but my parents made sure he was safe, because they were and are very good people. Still, they had spent a whole year intending me to be called Hope, and they were never really able to let go of that. They settled on officially naming me Ray, as in ray of hope? But mom always just shortened it all the way back to Hope, which I didn’t fully appreciate until she died. Once that happened, I started asking people to call me that, in honor of her. And that brings us to Viola. She’s the one who suggested I try that out, actually. I don’t know how she knew that was even a thing, because we weren’t friends at all, but it was a good idea. I was a little worried about it, because people can be so judgmental, ya know? But kids here aren’t that bad. It ain’t exactly 1987 anymore, though, so I shouldn’t have been so surprised. Once Viola died, her friends were so distraught that I decided I needed to be the one to spearhead the social dedication to her. I took over all over her social media accounts, and transformed them into tributes. Of course, her family held their own funeral service, but I planned a memorial event at the school, and I’m currently working on the yearbook salute. I kept thinking that people who knew her better would get mad at me about it, and try to get me to stop, but I suppose they’re all just grateful they didn’t have to do it themselves. No one likes having to be so distant and professional about the legacy of their loved ones, and I was happy to help in the best way I could. If she were here, I think she would recommend I look into channeling my skills into a career. I could work at a funeral home, or I could start a private business that’s just designed to help showcase the lives of my clients’ loved ones. Yeah, I think both Viola and my mother would like that.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Microstory 1021: Florence

When I was very young, I would watch my parents get drunk every week. And when they did that, they would always act stupid, and often break something. The next morning, they would promise themselves they would never do it again, but if it was Saturday, they would be right back at it the next night, and if it was Sunday, they would do it again on Friday. I don’t know what happened to them that made them stop, but one day, we packed up, and moved to Blast City. They have been the epitome of civil ever since, so much so that no one until today has ever known anything about our real past. Anyway, either because I saw how bad things can get when you drink, or I saw how much better my parents were when they got sober, I don’t do it myself. In fact, I’m infamous for being a designated driver. I tell everyone I know that, if they ever find themselves drunk away from home, they can always call me for a ride. No one ever takes me up on that, partially because the town itself is literally small, so it’s not that hard to walk from one end to the other, but also because no one really pays attention to me. We also have a couple drivers for one of those ride-sourcing companies, and they kinda need the money, so that’s fine. Well, I don’t know exactly what went down, but Viola took me up on my offer once. She called me from some bar in Coaltown, totally wasted. I could barely understand what she was saying, and when she tried to text me the address, it wasn’t even comprehensible. I had to ask a random guy walking down the street which bar she would be talking about. Well, this was the dead of winter; probably the coldest night of the year. Yeah, it was, we had that winter storm that took school off the table for, like, a week. You weren’t here yet, I guess, but it was real bad. So bad, that the ice ran us off the road, and into a tree. The force of the crash, plus the weight of the snow, knocked a branch right on top of my car. I couldn’t even start it again, so there we were, freezing our asses off, alone in the dark. I called a tow service, but since the conditions were no better throughout the county, it was a long time before anyone could show up. Fortunately, ever the girl scout, I was prepared with emergency water, a med kit, and blankets. We ended up crawling into the backseat, and cuddling together for body heat. Before you stick your head in the gutter, nothing happened. She passed out thirty minutes before the truck arrived, and hauled us out. She was so messed up that she didn’t even remember that any of it happened, but I didn’t have to prove it to her, because I took pictures for insurance purposes. I suppose I have the magic touch, because according to a lot of classmates, she didn’t have one more drop of alcohol the rest of her life. That’s what really gets me about this whole thing, because if they found drugs in her system, she was not the one who put them there. I don’t believe it. There’s something we don’t know about what happened by the river that fateful day, and I don’t understand why they seem to not be trying to figure it out.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: October 8, 2215

Vitalie was watching Mateo and Leona intently during breakfast, with a big smile on her face. Étude was there, but was notably less excited. Ramses was off doing apparent work somewhere, but that wasn’t fooling anyone. “We all know you’re going to reveal the ship after this, Vitalie. It’s not like it’s a secret.”
“Shh, don’t ruin the surprise,” Vitalie scolded.
“I just told you, it’s not a sur—”
“Hush, darling.”
“You don’t know the name of it,” Étude pointed out.
“That’s true,” Leona agreed.
“Now, you’re the one who actually built it, right?” Mateo asked. “What did Ram need to do then?”
“I could use my mother’s power to construct the frame and shell of the vessel, and I could bring in a few random pieces, like seats, but it’s Ram who you need to make it work. The jury is split about whether I could build the entire thing single-handedly if I had the technical expertise to do so. I’m not convinced, though. Some details are just too specific. I don’t use hardware, ya know. There is not even one screw on the parts that I built. If I want two pieces to connect to each other, I basically teleport them to the exact same point in space, which causes them to be merged.”
“You could kill someone like that,” Mateo noted, which may have been an inappropriate remark.
“I could.” Then she jerked her head and hands towards him, threateningly but jokingly. Still, it did cause him to flinch, and her to giggle. “But any teleporter or apporter can send someone to the bottom of the ocean, or the top of a cliff. Is object merging really any more dangerous than that?” Probably not.
“Are you finished?” Vitalie asked, just as excited as ever.
“No,” Leona said plainly.
“I’m ready,” Mateo said, wanting to stay in his new friends’ good graces.
Leona started eating real slow-like, just to irritate Vitalie. She finally had to be done, however, and the whole group went out to the hangar.
A thin sheet was draped over a vaguely gumdrop-shaped object that was maybe eight meters wide. Ramses was waiting for them at the top of a set of movable stairs. “Ladies and gentleman,” he announced, “I present to you...” He took a pair of hedge shears, and reached over to clip something at the very tip of the ship. The sheet slid off on all sides, exposing the vessel Mateo and Leona would be taking to Jungula, and probably later Earth. “The Ocasio-Cortez.” Beautiful. He offered the group to follow him through the airlock, so he could give them the tour. They were in a circular room with a oddly-shaped table in the center that was about two and a half meters wide. “It’s designed for six people, but you could fit twelve, if you were willing to pair up in the grave chambers.”
“Grave chambers?” Mateo questioned, worried.
Ram knelt down and slid open a hatch in the floor. “One meter deep with a king sized bed, and storage on the sides.”
“Little privacy,” Leona guessed.
“The floor is completely soundproof,” Étude explained as she stomped her feet demonstratively. “You could have a screaming match in one of those things, and nobody else would hear it.”
Ramses pointed to other parts of the floor. “There are six of them in total.”
“Do we need that many?” Mateo questioned.
“Might could be,” Ramses said, standing back up. “You’ll need at least two for now. Étude, Vitalie, offer still stands.”
“You’re really not coming?” Leona asked.
“We’re gonna stick around here,” Étude said. “I promise you and I will see each other again one day, though.”
“Who is your seer?” Leona asked, shaking her head.
“They prefer to remain totally anonymous. Not even other psychics are aware of this person, because they’re capable of shielding themselves. Danica is the only other one who knows about them, and they only revealed themselves to me because I saved their life once.”
“Well, we’re both going to miss you,” Mateo said sincerely. “This is a wonderful ship you’ve created for us.”
“It was inspired by an old show I watched when I was catching up on Earthan culture,” Vitalie said proudly.
Leona nodded understandingly. “Dollhouse.”
“Now that you’re back,” Ramses began as he was walking over to a computer terminal, “wanna run a final diagnostics check with me?”
“Definitely,” Leona answered. “I need to familiarize myself with the systems.”
“We procured magboots, but I’m hoping the temporal sharing gravity drive...” Ramses started explaining, leaving the other three to glaze over and get bored.
While Leona and Ramses were making sure the ship didn’t blow up when they tried to take off, Mateo filled the Ocasio-Cortez with homely belongings, as well as journey supplies. They didn’t have much with them anymore, but they didn’t need much. Vitalie was helping him.
“What are these tubey things filled with green bubbling water?”
“It’s algae,” Vitalie replied. “I think it produces oxygen, and feeds plants? I’m not sure how it works. You’re asking the wrong girl.”
“Well, then I’ll ask you something you would know. What are you going to do here on Doma?”
“We’re going to contribute positively to society.”
“Do you think you’ll ever go back home?”
“I lived on Durus, The Warren, and Earth, before coming here. I have no real home.”
“So, maybe this is it.”
“Maybe. Where will you go after Bungula?”
“That’s not up to me. It’s not up to either of us.”
“Ah yes, these mysterious powers that be.”
“Do you think you can fly a ship far enough away from them, so they can’t control you anymore? Durus was too far away at one point.”
“I don’t think it was too far away, Vitalie. I just think it was out of their jurisdiction, because other entities had power over it. Beyond that, though, I think the powers own the whole universe. Dardius is millions of lightyears away, and they still had us in their grasp.”
“That’s depressing.”
“You get used to it. There’s a level of peace, knowing that your decisions don’t matter that much anyway. It’s a lot harder to make mistakes, that’s for sure. You can always blame them.”
“Is that why people believe in God?”
“I wouldn’t know,” Mateo said. “I’m an atheist.”
She frowned, like she didn’t think that sounded correct.
“Well, Miss Crawville. Thanks for your help. I feel like I know you so well, since I have all of Leona’s memories. I’ll miss you.”
She nodded. “I won’t miss you. I don’t know you.” She smiled, because it really was half true.
“Watch out for centaurs.”
“Will do.”
Leona and Ramses were finished checking the systems just before lunch, so they all ate one last meal together. This time, everybody stalled, and let it go on for longer than it needed to. Eventually, however, they needed to get going, so the powers that be didn’t experience any confusion as to where they were meant to return come next year. They didn’t even need to lift off the ground, and escape the planet’s gravity, which was a nice bonus. Étude interfaced with the ship, enhanced her powers using technology that The Weaver had invented, and zapped them straight into orbit. Then she and Vitalie said their final goodbyes, and teleported back down to the surface.
Mateo then watched the two geniuses operate the Ocasio-Cortez, but could do nothing to help. It was a shame that Mateo absorbed so many of his wife’s memories, but none of her skills or knowledge. He was just as useless as he had ever been. If he had the time, he could become a pilot, which would be a logical extension of his experience as a driver, but it still required too much studying, and possibly a level of intelligence he would never possess.
“All right, it’ll be a few minutes before we reach escape velocity,” Ramses said, leaning back, and letting the artificial intelligence take over.
“Are you going to be all right alone for an entire year?” Mateo asked him.
“I won’t be here for an entire year,” he responded. The trip is only four months long.”
“Yeah, but won’t the planet be totally empty until very late next year?”
“That’s true, but I’ll be all right. I have plenty of entertainment, and I designed a paradise virtual reality to escape to.”
“What’s that like?”
“Private,” Ramses said. Okay.
“Captain Abdulrashid,” the computer said in a sexy Australian accent.
“Yes?”
“There is someone at the door for you.”
They all looked up towards the airlock section.
“Not that door,” the computer clarified. “Grave chamber four.”
Mateo looked down at what he guessed the fourth grave chamber would be, but then he realized the other two were looking somewhere else, so he quickly followed suit. They seemed too afraid to check, so he decided to kneel down, and open it himself.
“You don’t know who—or what—is down there,” Leona warned.
Mateo scoffed. “They were probably sent here by the powers that be. It could be Saga, or Vearden.” He slid the hatch open, and was shocked by who he found there.
“Serif?” Leona asked.
“Help me up,” Serif asked.
Mateo took her by the hand, and lifted her out of, not the grave chamber, but a ladder in what looked like a library. Bigger on the inside, and all that. “You’re back.” He took her into a hug, and passionate kiss. “How?”
“One of the scientists who built the Crossover survived the suicide pact, and wanted to help all the humans who were stuck on Ansutah, so he built the Universe Bridge,” Serif said after escaping Mateo’s grip. She was then forced into Leona’s grip.
Mateo peeked into the library, where he saw about a dozen people, staring back at him. “We only have room for, maybe eight people? How many do you have?”
“Roughly eleven billion,” Serif answered. And she didn’t look like she was joking.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Furor: Exit Strategies (Part II)

Ace didn’t know if he should be surprised that Kolby came back to help, because he didn’t know the guy very well, but he was certainly grateful for it. A security guard unlocked the door, and stepped aside. “Why is she helping us, though?” Ace asked.
“Professional courtesy,” Kolby answered.
“I won’t work for a tyrant,” the guard answered for herself. “Senator Channing’s response to my helping you escape will tell this new world just what kind of person he really is. If we like how he reacts, we’ll back him, but if we don’t...we’ll take care of him.”
Ace didn’t want to know the specifics for what that meant.
“Sorry I took so long,” Kolby whispered as they were sneaking away from the guard, and down the hall. “I was getting this first.” He reached into his bag, and pulled out the dimension-hopping jacket.
Ace widened his eyes, and took the jacket back. “I’m shocked they didn’t use it to go back to the real world.”
“I have a theory about that. I saw a lot of black SUVs and white technician trucks parked by that giant orange TV tower near the border of Union Hill. I was literally running around the city, looking for a hacker informant I once had, who does not work for the Census Bureau. Suddenly, I lost my speed. I think they built a power dampener on that thing, which ironically, means the jacket won’t work.”
“We have to destroy that tower.”
Yeah, we do. But they will just rebuild it, so I need you to do me a favor.”
“What?”
Kolby remained silent.
“Oh, you want out of here.”
“I take out that tower, you take me with you.”
“The jacket can only take two people at a time, and needs time to recharge.” Ace could have left that part out, and let Kolby just go on thinking that Ace would be able to help, but he didn’t want to make any enemies. “I don’t even know if this thing is ready to take another trip yet.”
“That’s okay,” Kolby said. “I may have a loophole to that. Worst case scenario, the two of you escape. I’ll survive.”
Ace thought about it for a minute as they were lightly gliding down the steps, thankful they were only a few stories up. He knew that a speedster named K-Boy—which was similar to Kolby—was destined to end up in the real world, and join the tracer gang. “You sure will. I promise you’ll get out of here. I know this to be true, don’t ask me how.”
He agreed to not ask how. Then they left the building, and headed South, towards the Union Hill neighborhood. It was just over two miles away, so it was going to take just under an hour. “Is it frustrating?” Ace asked on the way, “You must not be used to walking at such slow speeds.”
“I didn’t get my powers until the flurry,” Kolby explained, referring to the unseasonable winter storm that preceded the creation of this dimension. “So I’ve only had them for a few weeks. Running like that is what I’m not used to.”
“Do you like it?”
“I’ve never been much of a runner, but as a private security professional, I’ve always had to stay in pretty good shape, so it’s not like I lived a sedentary lifestyle before this. I have mixed feelings about my new gifts. I guess I won’t really be able to process any of it until I get back to Earth proper.”
They continued walking in relative silence, until arriving as close as they were willing to get to their destination until they had a good plan. At least, what was what Ace thought. As it turned out, Kolby had already been working on a way to destroy the tower, and he hadn’t done it alone. There was an entire team waiting for them in their secret headquarters. They were in what looked like a print center, complete with a giant printer, but also an ATM.
“Horace Reaver,” Kolby announced, “welcome to the Forger’s lair. We have Garen Ashlock, expert thief. Quivira Boyce, also an expert thief. Hm, do we need two? Maybe one of you should go.”
“Shut up, Morse,” Quivira said.
“You’re right,” Kolby conceded. “I guess Ashlock isn’t so much an expert as he is an amateur.”
Ace wasn’t paying too much attention, though. He found himself just staring at Quivira, whose life he had saved last year, and who had saved his life many years ago. She was smiling at him knowingly, but not saying anything.
Kolby went on, “Doctor Mallory Hammer, who can provide medical support.” He paused to gaze at the last woman, both affectionately, and with disdain. “And here we have Natasha Orlov, former mob princess, and possible lone Russian survivor of the 2023 Gang Wars. She has seen the light, but has not forgotten her past. She’s on demolitions. The Forger and  Micro are busy at the Census Bureau headquarters. The latter will be providing technical support remotely. She’ll make sure we don’t get caught. She’s not a salmon or choosing one—or spawn,” he added, looking back at Quivira, “but she’s a good ally. Keep your guard up around Orlov, though.”
“I’m doing my best here, Kolby,” Natasha alleged. “Not every Russian is bad. I never wanted the life my father set out for me. I was always trying to get out, even as a little girl.”
“Prove it tonight,” Kolby advised.
A buzz began to sound from down the dark hallway, and drew nearer. A minidrone appeared from around the corner, and hovered in front of Kolby, who was not nervous about it. A voice spoke from the speaker, “the time is quickly approaching. If you’re going to take out the tower, you better get going now.
“Thank you, Agent Nanny Cam,” Kolby said to the drone. “Please review the team’s exit strategies.”
“I’ll check to make sure the coast is clear outside the Forger’s den first.” The drone buzzed away.
“You people are so well-organized,” Ace noted. “Have you all been working together long?”
“Just since this happened,” Quivira replied.
“What am I meant to do?” Ace offered.
Kolby laughed. “We’ve only been planning this particular job for about a day. We can’t risk throwing another variable into the mix. I wanted you to know who was helping you here, but you’re not a part of this. You need to get to the hospital, and find your man.”
“But, I can do stuff. I have really good intuition. Like, a supernatural sense of intuition.”
“That doesn’t work here,” Kolby reminded him, “especially not while that tower is operational. We have contingencies. Everyone has a backup plan if something goes wrong. We are going to make this happen, but it’s possible that Channing and Andrews have built their own backup at the Entercom towers. If that kicks in, you may only have seconds before the jacket stops working again.”
“You can just run me there.”
“I have my own contingency.”
“How am I meant to take you back?”
“You don’t worry about. Put your family back together, Reaver. We’ll take care of everything else.”
Ace wanted to argue more, but Kolby ushered him out of the lair, and directed him to Serkan’s hospital, which hacker Micro had uncovered. Not knowing how long it would be before the people on the A-team turned time powers back on, he ran towards the hospital. He was there well before midnight, which he assumed was go time, but the hospital wouldn’t let him in. It was the middle of night, and the whole metropolitan area was in a state of emergency.
“Please!” he begged the nurse. “I have to find my boyfriend; the father of my child!”
“I’m sorry, sir, but you’ll have to come back tomorrow,” the nurse argued.
A man with the air of authority walked up from the other side of the room. “Is there a problem here?” He didn’t look like a cop, or even a security guard. He did, however, look like a runner.
“You’re part of the tracer gang?”
“We protect this facility,” the tracer responded.
“I need to speak with Bozhena.”
“Who?”
“Slipstream,” Ace clarified.
“She doesn’t have time for you.”
“Tell her Jupiter sent me!”
“Like, the planet? Or the god?”
“Tell her Jupiter sent me!” Ace repeated.
The tracer lifted his chin, and eyed Ace with caution. Then he looked over at another tracer standing guard. He closed his eyes, and nodded.
“Is that a good nod, or a bad nod?”
“You better hope she knows who this...” he stopped in thought. “Jupiter Rosa? The gun manufacturer?”
“He doesn’t make guns anymore, but yes.”
“Interesting.”
“Can I help you?” came Slipstream’s voice from behind him.
He turned around. “The love of my life is in your hospital. I need to see him.”
“Why would I let you do that? I would need confirmation from Census, and they’re not working right now.”
He started walking forward, and looked around at the walls. “You know where we are right now?”
“We just established that it’s a hos—”
“I mean the world.”
“Andrews said it was a pocket dimension.”
“It’s a duplicate. The perpetrators didn’t tear Kansas City out of the ground. They just made a copy. Of it, and everyone in it. There’s another Slipstream out there, and right now, she’s having tea with my daughter, Paige. Well, I guess that was a couple days ago, but it happened. Serkan is a runner, like you, and a different version of him will one day join your gang. As far as I’m concerned, you’re part of the family. I need to get upstairs tonight.” He consulted his watch. “By midnight.”
“That’s fine,” came another voice. “We can all go; have a chat.” It was Senator Channing, and a posse of thugs, pointing guns at them.
Slipstream stepped over to one of her tracers. “Deep six,” she ordered cryptically. He ran off. She then got in between Ace and the men, to protect him. “I got rid of the firearms in this town once. I’ll do it again.”
“You did that slowly,” Channing laughed, “not in one fight.”
“Actually...” Slipstream began, “I once disarmed twice as many guys as you have, all in one go.”
“Alone?” Channing questioned in disbelief.
Slipstream smirked. “No.”
Tracers appeared out of nowhere—a couple from above—and took all the guns away at once, dropping their wielders to the floor if they had to.
Suddenly, Ace’s jacket began to hum as it powered up. “They did it.” It wasn’t quite midnight yet. Either this was always the plan, or they had to move up the timetable.
Channing looked at this phone. “The tower’s down, good for you. Fortunately, I have three extra. They should be coming online within a few minutes.”
“Shit,” Ace said. He nearly got down on his knees in front of Slipstream. “I need to get to Serkan now. Please.”
“Take him into custody,” Slipstream ordered her people. “We need to have a talk with the mayors tomorrow morning.
“Wait!” one of Channing’s men shouted. “Horace, this is Quivira! I’ve come from the future to fix this! You have to wait for Kolby. He’ll be there at midnight. Exactly at midnight.”
“The towers,” Ace argued.
“Will be taken care of,” Quivira said, using the voice of the man she was possessing. “That’s why I came back, but if you don’t take Kolby out of here, both of our worlds are screwed.”
Ace inhaled, and redirected his attention to Slipstream. “Take me to him right now. I don’t care about the worlds.”
“Bozhena, please!” Quivira pressed. “Wait until midnight. If that man finds his husband a minute too soon, we’re all dead. Remember what I said to you when you were young. Vous aurez un mouton...”
“...si vous avez la vrai nourriture,” Slipstream finished, astonished.
The jacket abruptly stopped buzzing. The towers were back online.
“I’ll take you to him,” Slipstream said to Ace, “at midnight.”
Twenty minutes later, the jacket turned back on yet again, but it still wasn’t midnight, so Ace had no choice but to wait.