Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Microstory 1017: Roy

As my momma would say, I’m not the brightest tool in the shed. Even I know that’s not the right saying, but I don’t know whether she meant it as a joke, or if it’s just—what’s that thing where somebody says something, but it’s funny, because it’s also about them? Iconic? I don’t always know what I’m talking about, and people have a hard time understanding me. My big brother wasn’t like that. He spoke my language; my dumb language. He could always translate whatever I was saying to other people. Sometimes he even seemed to read my mind, which was good, because it was embarrassing trying to talk, knowing that people were doing everything they could to hold back their snickers. He’s not here anymore. He flew planes for the army, and died. They couldn’t tell us exactly what happened to him, but the men in fancy uniforms said he died a hero, which didn’t surprise me. He grew up wanting to go in the army, but then I was born, and he had to take care of me. He coulda done anything he wanted with his life, but he knew he had to stay and take care of me. He stayed home and worked a suck job at the diner, so he could live at home. Lord knows our parents weren’t going to be able to help me. We live on the wrong side of the tracks, so they have their own problems, they shouldn’t have to worry about me. Anyway, my brother was finally able to go army because I was in high school. You see, I’m a slow learner, but I do still learn. So when I was six years old, I was still like a baby, but now I’m eighteen, I’m like a ten-year-old. Ten-year-olds take care of themselves all the time. Little Bill down the street stays at home and he’s even nine. He feeds his dog himself when he’s alone. We’ve been friends for a couple years now, and I know that’s weird. I don’t get along with kids my own age, however. They’re not that mean to me, because they know I’m different, and I don’t think it bothers them that much. Viola was the best, though. She would always smile at me in the hallways, and ask me how I was doing. I think she had a crush on Leroy when we were younger. That was my brother’s name, by the way. He started having people call him Lee, because he said it was stupid our stupid parents practically gave us the same name. They’re so stupid. They call me stupid, but they’re the ones who don’t have jobs. Even I have a job, working at the grocery store. My boss says I can start working at the front once I turn eighteen, which is in one week. Viola already gave me my birthday gift. She said she needed to give it to me early, in case she didn’t come back to school on Monday. And you know what, she didn’t. She died that day, it was weird. It was a cheat sheet. She gave me a math tables so I can give people the right change when I start working at the cashier. I’m really gonna need it.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Microstory 1016: Finley

Good mornin’. Yes, my people do say good mornin’ sometimes. It isn’t always top o’ the mornin’ to ya. Hi, my name is Finley, and I’m Irish. Well, that made me sound like an alcoholic. Is there a difference? According to our neighbor, there ain’t. Me dad wanted to move us back to a small town, like the one where we lived in Ireland, but we couldn’t afford to go back overseas, so here we are. Coming from the big city was a bigger culture shock than the original move to the states. People here a lot more racist, and they don’t even know it. They think they’re being funny and endearing, but that can be just as offensive. Viola wasn’t like that. We immediately became friends. Believe it or not, we liked to play darts and pool together. We weren’t technically supposed to be allowed in the pool hall, but the bartender made an exception, as long as we didn’t try to drink, which we didn’t. Councilman Koch is there all the time, and she was cool with it too. We would spend an hour or two there most weekdays, and sometimes on Sunday, just talking about meaningless stuff. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time with her before she was taken from us. I think that’s why that Ralph feller told you to speak with me early. Either he didn’t know how close we were, or he figures that three weeks is still just three weeks. I couldn’t tell you what happened that day, or what was going on with her friends. I can tell you that the whole group makes me feel really uncomfortable. I have a sense about these things, ya see. My mother was very sensitive to auras. I’m not super superstitious, but I believe there are laws of physics out there that we don’t even know enough about to study. I was really only cool with Viola. She was so much different than them, I don’t understand why they all hung out together. I’m sure they’re lyin’ about something, I just don’t know what. She was worried. She didn’t say anything, but I could hear the anxiety in her voice. The week of her death, she was really short and distant. I thought maybe I had done something to bother her. I scoured my social media pages, looking for a post I made that didn’t paint me in the best light. I didn’t find anything, but now I know it was a waste of time. It wasn’t me, it was them. I’m sure you’ve heard whispers, they are into some weird shite. Those are really the only ones you need to talk to.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: October 7, 2214

Mateo was devastated at the news. Just like his father—who was, ironically, not really his father, as Mateo erased himself from history long before he was erased from time—he tore the place apart. He flipped up the bed, and ripped into the mattress. He knocked over the nightstand, and kicked the door off the wardrobe off. He threw a chair at the viewport, which was strong enough to handle it. He pulled at his hair, and snarled like a wild animal. He got this close to bashing his head against the wall. All the while, Leona watched him patiently. It didn’t upset her more, and she didn’t see the need to stop him. She had her own way of dealing with grief, and this was his. He stomped out of the room in a huff, and took refuge in a closet. Still, Leona left him alone. By the time he returned to the bedroom not a half hour later, everything was exactly as it had been before. Not a single thing was broken.
He was still breathing heavily. “What the hell is this?”
“Étude’s womb-mother was a builder, like Baudin,” Leona explained. She was sitting on the bed, and it was clear that she had been crying. “She reset the room, in case you wanted to...destroy it again.”
He took a couple of deep breaths, and dragged the chair over to face her. “No, I don’t need to do that again. I shouldn’t have done it once, and I’m sorry for that.”
“No, it’s okay,” she assured him. “I know what you’re going through.”
He shuffled the chair closer, and leaned in. “But I don’t understand what you’re going through. I can’t. I’m—my perspective is inadequate. I will never know what it’s like to carry a child, and I will certainly never know what it’s like to lose one. I feel so angry that we never got to meet them, but also that I’m so hopeless to help you. I...I don’t know what to say.”
“These were your children, Mateo. Unlike anyone else, there is nothing you should or should not say. Your feelings are legitimate, and you have just as much right to express them as I do. It’s not your job to make me feel better. We need to work together. I appreciate that you recognize the difference between us, but that doesn’t diminish your position.”
“We have lost so many people; you more since I was away. But we always lost them to time. My versions of the Gelens, your versions, your biological parents, our friends. We met them, and we knew them, and we loved them. Sometimes we even hated them,” he said, referring to Gilbert Boyce. “But we never got to meet our children, and that’s the worst.”
“The worst is that they probably still exist in this timeline. Like you said, they’re powerful. I think they can travel to timelines they weren’t born to.”
“What are you saying?”
“Remember that show, Highlander.”
“There can be only one? Leona, are you saying our alternate children killed our babies?”
Leona shook her head. “No. I don’t think they would ever, but the powers that be have rules that go beyond the handful I came up with myself. They don’t like duplicates.”
Now Mateo shook his head. “No, I won’t except that. I can’t work for someone who would do that. And since I can’t quit, I have to believe they had nothing to do with this. Who was this cargomaster guy?”
“Nobody, just some pathetic capitalist whose life never amounted to anything.”
“But he’s dead?”
“He had no way off the ship when he sabotaged it. I don’t know why he went that far. He died with everyone else.”
“Good,” Mateo said. “It’s best I have no reasonable path to trying to kill him myself.”
Leona had no response to this. Instead, she glanced at her watch. “It’s almost midnight.” No, it wasn’t. “We should get a full night’s rest. We’ll try to find a way to Bungula next year.”

That night, Mateo dreamt of reality. He was watching the world through Leona’s eyes. He saw himself disappear by the extraction mirror, and his friends move on with their lives without him. Leona and Serif returned to Earth with the aid of choosing one who could jump across galaxies. They were contracted for a mission to retrieve the Last Savior of Earth, who was destined to be born out of her jurisdiction, on Durus. On their way back, they investigated a murder, and Serif was lost to another universe. Once on Earth, Étude left for her job. Some friends disappeared, while new relationships grew stronger. One by one, these died off in a years-long battle against an alternate Ulinthra. Then they were all brought back to life at once when the OG Horace Reaver killed their enemy with a dagger made of human ash.  Leona’s memories of Mateo were returned to him, and she went on a quest for several special temporal objects. Upon full assembly, they would bring him back into existence. Then he woke up.
“Finally,” Mateo could hear Étude say. “He’s back!” she called out.
“What happened?” he asked.
“Can you walk?”
Mateo got out of bed. He was covered in sweat, and hooked up to an IV. “Of course I can. I already recovered.”
“We weren’t sure,” Étude said.
Leona and Vitalie clamored into the room. The former took Mateo into a great, big hug. “Thank God. We were so worried. We thought the insulator took you away from us, but nothing helped.”
“I was just asleep,” Mateo said. “Wasn’t I? I remember my dreams.”
“Yes,” Leona said to him, “but you were asleep for nineteen hours.”
“I was?”
“Yes,” Étude confirmed, “and we couldn’t wake you up. You were showing signs of being in a coma.”
“I’m sorry, but I think I know why. I mean, I don’t know why, but I know what happened while I was out. I remember everything, Leona.”
“Everything what?”
“Your life, without me. I experienced it, as if I were you. It was like getting my brain blended, except it was slower, and it doesn’t hurt.”
“They were also not your memories,” Vitalie pointed out. “Can brain blenders do that?”
Étude stepped forward. “Technically, they’re always doing it. Alternate selves are, at their core, approximations. Identity only refers to a single entity. It can’t be copied or replaced. You are always unique; always. Vitalie, for instance, if you went to The Warrior, and asked him to blend your brain, he would hunt for someone in an alternate timeline who is not quite you, but is almost you. The other Vitalie lived under different conditions. Therefore, she is not truly you. If the point of divergence took place before your birth, the other individual is even further away from you, because now you were conceived and born under different conditions. All this means is that there is a negligible difference between someone and their alternate, and two entirely separate people. So yes, it would be easy for a blender to give someone the memories of someone else, because that’s actually how they do it every time.”
Leona and Vitalie stared at her for a moment. “I just can’t get used to you talking out loud.”
“No, I can’t either,” Étude agreed. “I can see how that would be more difficult for you, though, because even though I never said them out loud, I always had words in my head.”
“Are we thinking Anatol or Nerakali snuck into this room undetected, and blended my brain, then just left without saying anything?” Mateo asked the group.
“That wouldn’t be the strangest thing that’s happened in our lives.”
“No, and Anatol might be able to turn invisible, for all we know,” Vitalie said. “If Vito had that power, then someone else does, or did, or is going to.”
“Well, either way, I’m sorry to scare you. I really feel fine. I just hope we didn’t miss our window to go to Jungula.”
“Bungula,” Leona corrected.
“I’m never going to call it that,” Mateo said. “It’s Jungula. Ya know, like a jungle.”
“There’s no jungle there.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Yeah, we do.”
“You should get up and move around,” Étude said to Mateo. “You can check on Ram’s progress while you’re at it. You may be able to leave today yet.”

“You won’t be able to leave tonight, goddammit!” Ramses shouted after Leona and Mateo went to his lab, and asked him how he was doing. He was hovered over his table, soldering a logic board together.
“It’s okay,” Leona said. “We’ve no reason to believe Brooke and Sharice can’t survive in there indefinitely. Mateo, are you still hearing them?”
“I’m not hearing them,” Mateo clarified, “but I feel them. They’re still there.”
“I promised you would be able to lift off this year, so you arrive by the time the exodus ships arrive.” Rames was pissed off.
“Exodus ships?” Mateo asked Leona quietly.
“They’re carrying the passengers who are intending to settle on the planet.”
“What use would it be us getting there before anyone else does. Won’t it be empty?”
“It was hard enough explaining our presence to the people living here, though a vessel that was ahead of its time wasn’t the most implausible thing ever, we don’t think anyone believed us. We want to get in, erase all evidence that we were ever there, and get out. And we can do that, because the planet is not empty. Automated ships were dispatched before the passengers, to get ready for them. All initial habitats and other structures are already in place, including the tech we need to bring Brooke and Sharice back.”
Rames threw his tool on the table so hard that it bounced off. Then he split the logic board in half. “Son of a bitch!”
“I’m sorry we broke your concentration,” Leona said to him.
“Oh no, it isn’t you,” Ram promised. “I’m just having trouble working through this. My capitalistic upbringing really overshadowed my education. My parents struggled reconciling letting me go to school for free when they didn’t believe in it. I have the knowledge, but I’m always second guessing myself. I can’t believe I ever believed in that shit. If I were half the engineer Holly Blue was, I would have been done with this six months ago!”
“Holly Blue had magical powers that created things for her without her having to think about it,” Leona responded.
Ramses stopped short, then looked at Leona over his magnifying specs. “She did?”
“Yeah, did you not know that?”
“No. And Hogarth?”
Leona thought this over a bit, but Mateo decided to answer in her place. “Eh, it’s unclear whether her powers helped her with her work, but she definitely had them.”
Leona was dumbfounded.
“What? I told you I have your memories.”
“All of them?”
“No, just the ones you made while I wasn’t there.”
“Good. There are some things a lady does she doesn’t need anyone else knowing.”
“Oh.” Mateo cleared his throat. “I saw plenty of those things.”
“Really?” Ramses asked. “Tell me more about that.”
Leona ignored the intrusion. “Will our ship be ready by this time next year?”
“Yes,” Ramses said as he was pulling parts to replace the logic board he broke. “One year wasn’t enough, but two years is too much. I’ll have it done in another month or two. I just need to figure out this switching mechanism. I can get the ship to connect to your time jumps, so it disappears while you’re gone. We don’t want it sitting in a harsh environment for months on end, completely out of use. But I’m still working on allowing you to turn that off. It would take you decades of realtime if you used that feature while you were en route.”
“Okay, Ram.” She patted him on the back, and started walking away. “I believe in you!”
“I appreciate your support!” Ramses called back to them.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Furor: The Audacity of Politicians (Part I)

And then Horace ‘Ace’ Reaver returned to his bedroom to gather supplies. He was about leave his adoptive daughter to search for the love of his life, Serkan Demir, in another dimension, and he didn’t know exactly what he would need. He took extra clothes, a blanket, water,  chocolate bars, and some MREs. Once he had everything he thought could help, he took one last peek downstairs, where Paige was getting to know her new friend, Slipstream. Then he whispered a last goodbye to her, and activated the special jacket that could transport him to a copy of Kansas City.
Everyone in the entire metropolitan area had been copied, along with everything else in its borders. Ace didn’t know what he would find when he arrived. Did its inhabitants know that they were copies of the original, or had they moved on with their lives, completely unaware? No, they would have had to know that something happened. It had been an entire year, and only the city was part of it. They wouldn’t have been able to take trips to Easter Island, or Stonehenge, or even Topeka. Nobody was in the alternate version of their house when Ace landed. A few people had been exempt from the duplication curse that a very powerful temporal manipulator had done on them—Ace’s family included—so the house was empty, and he didn’t have to worry about running into an alternate version of himself.
After checking the house for any sign of Serkan, Ace stepped outside to find an eerie silence. It was meant to be the middle of the day, so normally people would be moving about. They would be doing yard work, and walking their dogs, but there was nothing, because the sky was pitch black, and it felt like winter. Had the evil time manipulators not created a fake sun for them to enjoy, or had it just taken longer for him to get there than he realized? He was grateful for having thought to bring coats. He slipped his on, and started walking. The last time he had seen Serkan was in an apartment complex southwest of here, but again, that was a year ago. If he wasn’t at their house, there were only a few places he might have gone. He could have returned to his mother’s place, but a younger version of him would still likely be there with his mother and brother, so he would have wanted to stay away. He could have sought help from the tracer gang, or his friends at the City Frenzy headquarters. There were too many options, and none of them good. A lot could change in a year. If Serkan survived the explosion that screwed this all up, he could have died any number of ways since then.
It was several miles away, but as luck would have it, a copy of Ace’s car was still parked on the curb, waiting for him. He was grateful yet again, since he had brought all of his keys with him, and then once more when he discovered the car key worked. A few minutes into the drive, he finally saw signs of life. Another car was driving in the opposite direction. It suddenly pulled over to the wrong lane, and blocked Ace from continuing. “Shit. This can’t be good,” he said out loud. He tried to go in reverse, but another car came up and boxed him in.
“You have to pay a toll!” someone shouted to him through a megaphone.
With no other choice, he rolled his window down, and stuck his head outside. “A toll of what?”
“Whatever you got!”
Ace sighed, then threw a bunch of chocolate bars onto the pavement. A lackey stepped out of the car, and checked on the merchandise.
“We got plenty of candy here! You’ll have to do better than that!”
There was one other thing that Ace brought with him that he hoped he would never need. He hung his gun out the window, and shot out one of the tollbooth operator’s headlights. Of course, though, that only made things worse. They had their own guns, and they were all trained right at Ace’s head. Click, click, click. But then something happened. The lights were not good enough to show him what was happening, but he could hear screams, and a few other gunshots. Ace just ducked down in his car as best he could. Just as it ended, he found something grab him by his hips.
When he opened his eyes, he was somewhere else entirely, and his car was gone. It was just as dark as it had been outside. “Hello? You don’t have to hide from me. I know all about teleporters. Come on out.”
A light switched on above Ace’s head, blinding him for a second. Then a man appeared from the darkness. “I am not a teleporter. I’m a runner.”
“A speedster.” Ace remembered the stories Serkan would tell him about the mysterious tracer who could runner faster than the speed of light. He had always assumed that to be a metaphor, but maybe not. “You’re K-Boy.”
“No, I’m a man...named Kolby. And you are?”
“Horace Reaver. Hey, it’s been a year. Is Kansas City just a lawless hellworld now?”
“It hasn’t been a year. It’s been less than a month. Where are you from?”
“The real world. How has it not even been a month yet?”
Kolby ran away, and returned just as quickly with two chairs, and two beers. They sat down and enjoyed them for a moment. “Andrews was afraid of that. He told us we were in another dimension. He was worried there was a temporal component too, so that time passes differently in here. He had no proof of that, though, since we can’t escape.”
“You know Duke Andrews?”
He laughed. “Nah, man. He is our leader.”
“He is?”
“Well, he could be. The mayors are trying to hold onto power, but...” he trailed off and shook his head. “Tracers are doing their best to maintain order, but it’s Duke Andrews who gives us hope. Without him, we would have no clue what’s going on.”
“I’m looking for someone here.”
“Brother, if you have a way to get back to the real Kansas City, I suggest you cut your losses, and take it.”
“I’m in love with him. And if what you’re telling me is true, then he hasn’t been waiting for me as long as I thought. He hasn’t moved on yet. I have to find him. Our daughter needs him too.”
Kolby thought about it, and scratched at the back of his head. “Well, if you must find him, you should probably talk to the Grammers. There’s not really anyone to hack anymore, so I think they’ve started a new Census Bureau. It’s probably not quite finished, though.”
“Thank you. Do you know where they’re working?”
Kolby started downing his beer.
“Oh no,” Ace said. He wasn’t able to hold onto his own bottle when he felt himself being flung across town again. They were suddenly standing in the lobby of the tallest building in Kansas City.
“This has become Capitol of the whole world,” Kolby explained. “Duke and his people run the top floors. The grammers are reportedly on the thirty-third. It’s the middle of the night, but this place never sleeps. Not anymore.”
They were heading for the elevators when an alarm rang out behind them. It kind of sounded like the sound effect used for the six million dollar man, and it didn’t hurt their ears. They turned around to see a group of soldiers approach. One of them was holding a small device that was creating the noise. She spoke into her radio. “Sighting confirmed. We have a salmon in the building.”
“I’m not a salmon!” Kolby argued. “I’m just human. I don’t know why I can run so fast. I wasn’t born like this!”
“Not you,” the guard spat. “We already know about you. The tracers have ordered us to leave you alone. “Walk out of the building, and down the street. You’ll be out of range of the power blocker eventually, and can go on your merry way.”
“What about him?” Kolby asked, concerned for Ace.
“He’ll be fine. The boss just wants to talk.”
“I’m looking for my boyfriend,” Ace complained.
“That’s not my problem,” she replied.
They ushered him into the elevator, where they rode up to the top floor. They walked down the hall, and into an office. A man was working intently on a tablet. Other people were flying in and out, giving him bits of information. After a few moments, he took a breath. “Horace Reaver. I’m Senator Channing, and also a huge fan.”
“Channing? The Frenzy council member?”
Channing smiled. “That hasn’t happened to me yet. I’m still a senator. Well, I was..before..all this.” He gestured all around.
“Can you help me find my daughter’s father?”
The senator shrugged. “Probably. But that’s not why I brought you here.” He clapped his hands with each word he spoke. “I need to know what’s going to happen tomorrow.”
“No idea.”  It was true, Ace had that power in another timeline, but not here.
“No, see I heard about you. Lincoln explained everything.” He stood up, started walking around the table, and pointed out him. “You’re The Rewinder. If this isn’t the second time you’re living through this day, then I need you to come back here, and give me the information once you do go back in time.”
“Sir, you have been severely misinformed. What Rutherford told you was about a different version of me, in a different reality. I have intuitions about the present, but I didn’t actually experience it. I may have some insights, but I can’t give you the advantage to take over this town.”
He burst out laughing. “I’m not trying to take over the town. Andrews and I are already the leaders. We’re just trying to create some semblance of civility. It’s been three weeks, and if we don’t reassert democracy, this new world is doomed. I’m trying to put down the violent gangs that are rising back to power. You can tell me their moves, before they make them.”
“Again, sir. I can’t.”
Channing sighed, and looked over to his guards. “Take him to the hock, give him a day. Or a negative day, as it were. Hopefully he’ll come back a few hours ago, and be ready to help.”
Ace rolled his eyes. The audacity of politicians; even the good ones. He believed the senator truly wanted to help New Kansas City, or whatever it was they were going to call it, but he was one of those people who didn’t like to hear what they didn’t want to hear. If it didn’t fit with their presumptions, it probably wasn’t true.
“And give me that funny jacket of his. I wanna know what it is.”
Ace sat in his cell for nearly two days before Kolby came back, and broke him out.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Microstory 1015: Fernando

I admit it. I was in love with Viola, and I had been for nearly a year. I guess I shouldn’t talk about it in the past tense, because even though she’s gone, my feelings haven’t gone away with her. I don’t know what it was about her that made me so nervous that I couldn’t ask her out. Sure, she was sort of seeing Julius for awhile, I think, but not all the time. I had plenty of opportunities to take my shot, but I always chickened out. I’m not some nerd who stares at girls from afar, and wants what he can’t have, though. I’ve dated lots of girls, and I’ve never had a problem carrying a conversation. I guess that’s why it’s meant so much to me for so long. The fact that she could make me trip over myself every time she appeared only made me want her more. Yes, there were many girls before her, but none of them meant anything. She was the only one for me, and I’ll never know whether she could have ever felt the same way. That’s right, I’m not delusional enough to think she automatically saw me as I did her. I barely talked to her, so I never had much of a chance to gauge her thoughts. I wish I had said something to her, and not just out of some fantasy for what we could have been. If we had become friends, at the very least, I might have been at the river bank that day. I might have been able to stop what happened to her. I can’t sleep most nights. I keep replaying this alternate reality in my head where things turned out differently, just because I was around. I’m not the hero of the story, but I am a witness, and that’s enough to save her life, and Gertrude’s memories. I’ve been trying to work up the nerve to talk to her now. I can’t help Viola anymore, but maybe I can help Gertrude. Maybe some good can come out of this horrible time in all our lives. You know what, I’ve decided. I’m not going to waste time like I did before. I’m going to go over to the Feldt house right now, and see how she’s doing. Sorry to cut this interview short, and sorry it probably wasn’t very helpful. I hope you catch the real killer, or whatever it is you’re trying to do. Thanks!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Microstory 1014: Gertrude

My name is Gertrude Feldt, of the Blast City Feldts, or so they tell me. I’m kidding. I actually do remember who I am, and much of my childhood, but the closer you get to the incident, the hazier it is. I remember virtually nothing from the last few years of my life. The doctors called that the robot’s law for Mercury retrograde amnesia, or something. I wasn’t really paying much attention. Anyway, I was apparently there when Viola died. They tell me she and I were pretty good friends, and we liked to hang out by Masters Creek, but that must have been a fairly recent development. It’s funny that, uhh...was it Rolof who told you to start with the classmates who knew her the least? Sorry, I’m still relearning names. I knew most of these people when we were younger, but I was kind of in my own world back then, and didn’t have the inclination to memorize my contemporaries. So yeah, I might be able to tell you less than anyone else can, even though apparently I was part of that whole group. The others girls in that clique haven’t spoken much to me. Wanda’s been the nicest, but even she’s rather distant with me. If I had my memories, I might be offended by this all, but it means so little to me now. When I first woke up, I was confused and belligerent. I was getting over some pretty bad physical trauma, of course, so I wasn’t capable of thinking clearly. Once all that passed, and the pain started subsiding, though, life became clearer. Not a single memory has returned from the threshold since then, but I’ve fully recovered emotionally. I truly don’t care about those memories. Sure, it would be nice if I could answer the sheriff’s huge array of questions about what went down that day—maybe give the Woods family a little closure—but other than that, I’m great. I feel like I can start fresh, and I don’t even know why. What am I missing? What events unfolded in my life that defined me, and what I became, and what am I without them? I’m still Gertrude Feldt, right? Right? Who else might I be? I have all the knowledge I learned in school all this time, even though I don’t recall the moments I learned them. I have all the skills I grew up with, and all my credentials. I have a caring family who have been rockstars in the face of this adversity, and I have several prospects for colleges. Do not misunderstand me, I wouldn’t recommend losing your memory, because again, what am I missing? Did I experience something so phenomenally beautiful, and unique to me, that I will never get back. Did my former self know the loving touch of another woman, but that woman has not taken the opportunity to tell me about it, and no one else knows? Could it have been Viola? Could we have been closer than anyone else realized, and could that have played a part in her ultimate demise? Could it have even been the driving force behind the terrible crime? As freeing as I’ve considered my new reality, these questions you’re making me ask are really bumming me out. Thanks, Alma, for the positively depressing wake up call. Maybe it’s exactly what I need. You seem to know me so well, but I don’t remember a thing about you. Were you and I friends as well?

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Microstory 1013: Floyd

No two people could be any more different than Viola Woods and I. Well, I guess on a personal level, we probably had a lot in common. After all, we grew up in the same town, and knew all the same people. But she was rich and loved, and I’m lower middle class, and invisible. I’m surprised I’m even on your list. I’ve never shown up for picture day, I don’t have any friends, and teachers often forget to call my name when they’re taking attendance. I have a pretty decent group of friends in online chatrooms, but I don’t really connect with people in real life. I have a lot of anxiety, and not the kind that everyone is diagnosed with so they can get prescription marijuana. I’m the real deal. I was nervous and depressed before it was cool. My perspective is quite different than what you’ll find in the rest of this school, so if you want to get an honest idea of who Viola Woods was, you’ve come to the right place. You see, I identify as asexual, which means I don’t experience sexual attraction towards others. I have an idea of what sexuality is, and it’s not that I don’t feel anything, but it’s not anywhere near what other people feel. Most people probably think that the brain is pretty basic. Your eyes see things around it, determine what they are, and draw conclusions. Your memories are stored in a single place, and your motor skills in another. But it’s far more complicated than that, and there are a lot of oddly specific functions that can be either enhanced or impeded, depending on an individual’s neurochemistry. My therapist thinks it’s possible that I would enjoy sex if I were to experience it personally. But my parents are extremely strict and religious, so there wouldn’t be a lot of opportunity for me to...uh, explore. I’ve also never really tried very hard to steal magazines from Lulu’s gas station, like the other boys, so there’s that.

The reason I may not exactly be totally asexual is because I have a severe case of something call prosopagnosia. The part of my brain that’s meant to interpret faces, and only faces, does not work properly. The better I know a person, the more likely I am to recognize them, but I couldn’t point out my own mother if she dressed like a goth at a football game. I know the people around me based on voices, and context clues. I can tell you that someone has two eyes, two ears, a nose, and a mouth. And I can tell that they’re supposed to be unique, but they don’t appear unique to me. So that’s what it really comes down to. I’m not attracted to people, because they just all look the same to me. An interesting side effect to this is that I have a pretty objective view of others. You would be surprised how much a person’s looks impacts other people’s thoughts on them. The truth is that Viola Woods was a good person. She was nice and caring to others, and she would likely have led a full and happy life. She was also flawed, a bit self-involved, and painfully normal. She was just like everyone else. Yeah, we’re all special in our own way, I get it. But there was nothing particularly astonishing about this one girl. You’re going to hear a lot of opinions about her over the course of your investigation, Alma. I just want you remember as it’s happening that all of these people are talking to you after her death occurred, and that death is going to have an effect on their words. No one is going to be totally honest with you, and no one is going to say anything they would have said if she were still alive, and this was just some random profile piece. If, when you’re done, you want a little extra perspective for those interviews, you may contact me again. I’m happy to help.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Microstory 1012: Edith

Death is such a horrific topic, I don’t want to talk about that. Let’s talk about life; specifically Viola’s beautiful, but tragic, one. I spoke with her dozens of times over the years, and the last one was a couple weeks before it happened. I was walking by her in the library, and noticed that she was doing tons of research on religion, which is a subject I know quite a bit about. I was going to leave her alone with it, but she stopped me, since she knew I was an authority. She wanted to know the difference between a religion and a cult. I know the difference, but it’s something I never think about, so I struggled to articulate my truths. We ended up skipping seventh period to discuss it more thoroughly together. She argued that all religious institutions brainwash their members into believing something, but that’s not true. Cults isolate vulnerable people from their support systems, demand unyielding loyalty from them, and do so under the rule of a single individual. A religion is a network of people who have chosen to believe in the same things, through complete free will, and independently of each other. She pointed out that many children born into a given religion end up remaining there, suggesting some level of repression. I noted that this happens a lot, true, but there are probably more people who reject the beliefs of their parents than she realizes. Or realized, rather. Unfortunately, we never really came to an understanding. My faith is so important to me, but I had never really been in a position to defend it. Honestly, this town is so predominantly Christian that I don’t hear much questioning. I had always assumed she was Christian too, but this incident showed quite a bit of doubt in her heart. I didn’t want to push it, but she was starting to make me think she was actually an atheist. It may sound intolerant of me, but I don’t know of anything that would be worse than that. How terrible it would be to go through life not believing in anything? How lonely and sad would it be, not having anything to look forward to? All religions have some form of the eternal soul, but atheists believe that at the end of your life, you’ll just stop existing. They don’t even believe in some perpetual darkness. They think you won’t be at all. I can’t fathom it. It’s the scariest thought I’ve even almost thought. I’ve been praying for her every night since she died. I pray that she found solace, and that she didn’t leave this world thinking there was no other beyond it. Like I said, our final debate was a couple weeks prior, which was plenty of time to see the light. I will continue to pray that she ultimately found herself being welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Microstory 1011: Sallie

I never said that the Viola investigation was botched, and neither did my brother. I love Lulu, but she is really good at hearing what she wants to hear. I want to go on record saying that my brother has nothing but nice things to say about his boss. Though said investigation is over, I am not at liberty to reveal anything I learned internally, which is nothing, because I am not a law enforcement officer. I can only speak to the matter as a private citizen, and resident of Blast City. I spoke with Viola once, when I went to visit Lulu, and they were just finishing up one of their tutoring sessions. I couldn’t tell you why she and I never crossed paths before. We didn’t hate each other. We didn’t have any particular thoughts on each other, as far as I know. While this is a small town, yes, we also operate within our own cliques. There are alternate realities where we’re close, I’m sure of it, but this isn’t one of them. You see, there’s this thing called a monkey sphere. People might claim to have lots of friends, but when it really comes down to it, an individual is only capable of truly caring about a handful of others on a deep level. Sure, most of us has a general love for humanity, but as far as real connections go, our brains only have room for so many. If we try to bond with too many people, we become spread so thin that none of them is all that real. That’s what I believe happened with Viola. No, I don’t think she died because of it—though maybe it played a part—but she was probably more lonely than she let on. Even her closest friends couldn’t have known her that well, though they might have thought they did. Maybe I shouldn’t be saying any of this, since I was neither friends with her, nor her therapist. It’s just that I’ve always wanted to be a psychologist, and have been studying the field for the last several years, even before I was old enough to take the class. I would not say no to an offer to join you when you finally interview her killer, should you be authorized to do so.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: October 6, 2213

And like Jon Snow before him, Mateo Matic was suddenly returned from the dead. He could only move his neck a little as he gasped for air, and he could feel a tingling in his fingers. He had no recollection of where he had been, if anywhere, but he had an acute awareness of the passage of time. For him, it had been fifty-five days. For everyone else, fifty-five years.
A warm hand comforted him by the shoulder and chest. “Don’t try to move,” Leona said to him.
He tried to speak, but his throat was scratchy, and nothing came out. It wasn’t complete silence, but it wasn’t intelligible. He looked around the room. There were two other women there. He didn’t recognize either of them, but one looked a little like Saga Einarsson. Mateo managed to lift his head some more, and saw another man in the corner, but didn’t recognize him either. A lot of time passed since he left, so it wasn’t super surprising Leona had found a new gang of friends. He had a few questions. He took Leona by the arm, a little too aggressively, and tried to speak again, mouthing his words deliberately.
The woman who looked like Saga moved her arms around. The other woman nodded. “He asked where he’s been.” That was exactly right. She could read lips.
“You were taken out of existence,” Leona answered.
He remembered that. Arcadia could erase people from reality, but she wasn’t the one who did this to him. It was someone called The Superintendent. What a dick. He directed his attention at the lip reader, and asked another question.
She signed his question, and the other woman translated again, “how did you get me back?
Leona smiled. It had been forever since he had seen that. “It wasn’t easy.”
How did you even remember me at all?” the interpreter translated.
“It doesn’t matter,” Leona answered. “You’re back now, and no one will ever take you from me again.”
Introduce me,” she translated.
“Mateo Matic, this is Vitalie Crawville. She’s an astral projector who was born on on Durus. You remember Horace telling us about that? It’s a rogue planet that’s been through a lot.” She presented the lip reader. “Étude was born there as well, but she’s the daughter of Saga Einarsson, and Camden Voss. I’m not sure you ever heard his name. He was Xearea’s brother.”
Mateo nodded in understanding, then tipped his chin as much as possible to greet his new friends. Then he looked over at the man in the corner.
“Oh,” Leona said. “I don’t know who that is.”
The man stood up and reached out to shake Mateo’s hand. “Ramses Abdulrashid. Former Freemarketeer, and engineer-extraordinaire.”
Leona awkwardly twisted her arm and shook his hand instead. “Nice to meet you.”
What’s this thing on my chest?” Vitalie translated for Mateo again.
“Can I remove it?” Leona asked the group. “Does he have to keep it with him the whole time? Is this not permanent?”
“I don’t know,” Vitalie said.
Étude shook her head to indicate she didn’t know either.
Mateo lifted his head more than ever to see. It looked like one of those old glass things they used to put on top of powerline poles. That wasn’t all, though. He could feel something coming off of the object. It was a feeling, packed with information that he couldn’t interpret. He only recognized one word. Who the hell is Sharice? he mouthed.
Étude was shocked by this. She put both her hands into fists, with one pinky up in the air. She then bumped then together three times.
“Sharice?” Vitalie questioned. “Did he know Sharice?”
“Impossible,” Leona said. “Mateo, how do you know that name?”
He focused on the glass thing on his chest more. Another word came to his mind, which he asked Étude about. Four fingers up, with her thumb over her palm. She tapped her cheek, then waved her hands in front of her, almost like a river. No, not a river, but a brook.
“Brooke?” Leona asked. She looked down at the object. “They’re alive. They’re alive in there.”
Étude was frantically signing to Vitalie.
“Yeah, yeah, I know. That’s why we couldn’t find their consciousnesses in the ship’s blackbox. Your seer didn’t tell you it would happen like this?”
No, Étude replied. That was probably the one and only sign that Mateo knew.
“How could we possibly get them out?” Leona asked.
“We would need somewhere to put them,” Vitalie pointed out.
“Okay, great. Let’s mock up some android bodies, and get this done.”
“Uh,” Ramses hesitated, “it’s not quite that easy.”
“I’m not saying it will be easy,” Leona acknowledged. “And we’ll have to convince these people to help, but surely they’ll want to.”
Ramses shook his head. “They would love to help, but they wouldn’t be able to. Two types of entities came here to Proxima Doma. It’s meant to be a haven for organic humans. They figured it was their birthright, since people have been dreaming of coming here longer than anywhere else, though I’m not sure that’s true. It’s possibly the least hostile environment, and definitely the best candidate for terraforming.”
“The point, Ram,” Vitalie pushed.
“The point is that they have helper bots, but no consciousness transference technology. They don’t even have Theseus tech. This is supposed to be our second home, not a transhuman establishment.”
“Well, we’re going back to Earth as soon as we can,” Leona said. “We’ll take the Insulator of Life with us, and transfer them to new substrates when we get back.”
Ramses shook his head again. “There aren’t any interstellar ferries right now. The whole system wants to operate on their own. New colony ships will be coming in a few years, but nobody is leaving.”
“Well, how far are we from civilization, goddammit?” Leona shouted.
Mateo took her by the hand to calm her down.
“Bungula,” Ramses answered.
“Okay, that’s actually better,” Leona said. “That is, if we can get there.”
“I’m sure that can be arranged,” Ramses said.
“There’s one problem, though,” Vitalie said.
Leona understood. “They would have to leave on a day where Mateo and I actually exist.”
“You don’t have to come,” Vitalie said. “Étude and I can handle it.”
“No,” Leona said. “Brooke is family, and by extension, so is Sharice. Now that I have all my memories, I realize that they’re Mateo’s half-sister, and his niece, respectively.”
Well, we can’t do anything about it today, Étude signed. My patient needs rest. It’s been an eventful day for him. Leona, when was the last time you slept too? You better get on it. I will call you if anything changes. Apparently, she was a medical professional, just like her mother.
Mateo tried to sleep after everyone left, but he was wide awake. It felt like he had been asleep the entire time he was missing, so now he had tons of energy. Of course, he couldn’t do much with this energy, as his body was no longer used to moving. He channeled his inner Beatrix Kiddo, and commanded his muscles to move, starting from his big toe, and upwards until he was fully standing at the side of his bed. Étude came back into the room shortly thereafter and smiled, as if this was her plan all along.
“Can you speak?” she asked him.
This was a shock. “I...I can. I thought you couldn’t. Are you not deaf?”
“No,” she said, shaking her head. “I’m just mute.”
He turned his lizard brain, but instead of responding, he simply waited for her to elaborate.
“I’m what we in the business would call a late bloomer. I wasn’t set to talk until  I was well into my second year of life. As crazy as it sounds, I recall the moment I decided to start speaking. My mother, Saga was in the middle of a conversation with a family friend of ours. We were in danger on Durus, you see, or at least that’s what Saga perceived. This woman created a haven for her in a parallel spatial dimension, so they were the only two people I knew for years, until Leona and her friends found us. They were discussing my womb-mother, and Saga’s wife, Andromeda. More specifically, they were discussing her tragic death. I know I didn’t understand everything they were saying, but I could certainly feel my mom’s pain. It wasn’t so much that I made a conscious decision to stay silent; it’s more like her heartache silenced me. I was going to start talking once I was older, but ended up not doing that either. Several years ago, I resolved to say my first word at the age of forty-five, which was how old my womb-mother was when she died.”
“If that’s today, why is it that the others still think you’re mute? Did you not, like, announce it, or anything?”
Étude shook her head. “I’m not forty-five yet. Your return from the dead galvanized me. I didn’t plan for it, it just feels like it’s time.”
“I don’t know whether I should apologize, or say you’re welcome.”
“I don’t know either.”
Mateo sat back down on the bed, and stared at the Insulator of Life, which he had set on the nightstand. “Where are we?”
“Proxima Doma, Proxima Centauri,” Étude answered.
“I do not understand that designation.”
“The star is called Proxima Centauri. The planet is Proxima Doma. It’s a pseudo-habitable rocky world where vonerthans have chosen to migrate.”
“It’s a collective term for any entity originally sourced from humans of Earth. The only intelligent creatures that the greater vonerthan population has encountered are from Earth. As salmon and choosers, we’re privy to information about aliens, but most people aren’t, so at the moment, it’s a hypothetical distinction. A lot of people here are artificial intelligences, so we can’t identify them as human. Transhumans and transgenics sometimes don’t consider themselves humans anymore either.”
He waved towards the insulator. “What are they?”
“You knew Brooke Prieto-Matic. As a transhuman, she was able to interface with a regulated artificial intelligence. A set of particular conditions resulted in the awakening of her daughter, Sharice. Right now, their consciousnesses are trapped in there, as per your claims.”
“Can they hear us?”
And we have to take them to...?” Mateo couldn’t remember what they had said.
“Bungula. It’s a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri A. It isn’t that far.”
Mateo nodded as he swung his legs forwards and backwards in an alternating pattern. He was warming his legs up before he tried walking.
“Does it bother you to be so far from Earth?”
“I’ve been farther.”
“I know, so maybe you’re ready to go back home.”
He stood up and gazed out the viewport. The sky looked about as it did in the Earthan night sky, though maybe it was always night here. Was there any atmosphere at all?  Perhaps it never turned blue. “I have no home.”
Leona walked in. “What about me?”
“Yes.” Mateo smiled at her. “You are my home.”
Leona didn’t say anything, but she was holding her stomach in one hand. He had seen that move before.
He looked around, possibly looking for a calendar, or a clock. “What year is it again?”
“2213,” Leona answered.
“Are you showing yet?”
Leona’s face so swiftly turned sad that Mateo almost couldn’t remember what it was like to see her smile, though it was just seconds ago. “How did you know about them? I didn’t find out until...” she trailed off.
“I’ve met them before. It took some time to put it together, but they appear to be a couple of quite powerful choosing ones.”
“Those are not our children,” Leona said cryptically. “This is a new reality.”
“Leona, what does that mean?”
She paused, frightened and nervous. “We need to talk.”

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Laymen’s Terms

Ecrin Cabral stepped into the machine, known as The Prototype. She was led there by a white monster called Relehirkojun ‘Relehir’ Rokoglubederi, a.k.a. Repudiator. With them was Vito Bulgari, and together they were set to travel to other universes, fighting against Relehir’s people, the Maramon. Though Ecrin had said all of her goodbyes to her friends, she did not know that they would leave so soon. As if it had a mind of its own—which it very well may have—the machine started up, and spirited them away.
“Where the hell are we going?” she demanded to know.
“I’m sorry,” Relehir said. “I copied the files for our recruits onto the machine’s computer. It must have interpreted that as a directive to head for them. We’re leaving the universe now, and entering the bulkverse.”
“What exactly is that?”
“It’s a higher dimension,” Vito answered instead. “Technically, we’re always in the bulkverse, because it describes every universe collectively. But now we’re going to an area of space outside any universe.”
“Why would we leave our universe?” Ecrin asked. “Aren’t all the recruits in ours?”
“Yes, but they exist all throughout time. The only way this thing can travel the timeline is to leave it first.” Relehir took a look at the screens, which were displaying information in a language Ecrin didn’t know. “It looks like the computer has chosen our first recruit for us.”
Ecrin looked at the screen as well, and was able to recognize one word. “She’s the one person I was completely unsure of, because I do not know the others personally.”
“This is a different version of her,” Relehir said.
“I know that, but Leona told me about that other version. She was evil there too.”
“We need a strategist,” Relehir argued. “and she’s one of the best in histories. I can guide you, and operate the Prototype, but we need someone to plan our battles.”
“I understand, which is why I didn’t reject her like I did three of the other candidates you provided, but I’m still concerned.”
The computer made a noise, which Relehir consulted. “This is your last chance to decide.”
Tristesse Ulinthra was a flavor of temporal manipulators called salmon. She could less manipulate time, and more be subject to other people’s manipulation. At the end of every day, she would go back in time, and relive it. She sometimes used this gift to save lives, but she sometimes used it in the reverse, by killing people for fun, and then evading the consequences. People had memories of her in multiple realities, and she was never good. She could theoretically, however, become good, if given the right tools. They were planning to recruit one of these other version of her, mostly because the one Ecrin knew best was erased from history, and the only reason she knew about that was because another time manipulator had the power to alter memories. This other version was also considerably less murdery than all the others.
“I’m in, but how do we handle this? Do we try to talk them into it where they are, or take them and ask later?”
“We have to take them. They’re all going to be living in precarious times, so we won’t be able to hang around, or we’ll disrupt the timeline. If they don’t agree, I guess we’ll rebuild that bridge when we get back to it.”

After they grabbed Ulinthra just before her timeline collapsed into oblivion, the Prototype navigated them back out to the bulkverse, and then back into the real world. They landed on an island. Vito, who was apparently capable of turning invisible, agreed to take this one. He snuck up behind a group of four people as they were arguing on the beach. One magically apported a gun into her hand, and pointed it at one of the others. Vito reached for it, turned it invisible, and snatched it out of her hand.
“What the shit?” she questioned. “Who’s there?” Then she noticed one of the others holding what appeared to just be a pen. “Where did you get that? Give it to me!”
Not knowing what the pen would do, as soon as the guy clicked it, Vito took ahold of their recruit, and teleported her back to the Prototype.
Once they appeared, Relehir injected the woman with a sedative, just like they had Ulinthra. “Lady and gentleman, the infamous Arcadia Preston.” He gently laid her down on the cot, and restarted the engines.

The Prototype landed on the edge of town, which Ecrin recognized as Kansas City. They walked down the street until they came across another four people arguing, this time in a warehouse. Instead of holding a gun, however, this woman was the only one without a weapon. The other three men were holding theirs towards each other’s heads. Ecrin realized that two of them had served on the ship she once captained, The Sharice Davids. This was the past, though, so for them, that had not happened yet.
“Now, fire!” the woman argued. She was Volpsidia Raske, the next one on the list.
Vito thought quickly again. He placed the men in a time bubble. The bullets were practically stopped in mid-air, just before they could hit their targets.
The woman looked over at the newcomers with curiosity. “Who are you people?”
“Your new bosses,” Ecrin told her.
Vito shook his head like a disappointed mother. “Trying to kill three people on your first day. Not a good start.”
“First day of what?”
“The rest of your life,” Relehir said. He looked over at Vito. “How do you wanna do this? You catch one bullet, and I’ll catch the other two?”
Vito scoffed. He waved his hands towards the men, and disintegrated all the bullets at once, like it was nothing. “What bullets?”
Volpsidia watched it happen in awe. “Whatever this is, I’m in.” She let a small bag slip off her shoulder, and drop to the ground.

“Okay,” Relehir said after they stepped back into the Prototype. “We have our strategist, our mascot, and our fighter. The next one is going to be a bit tricky. Our medic is on The Crossover, which is the finished version of the machine we’re in. This will probably be the only time the two machines are in proximity. I don’t know who is operating it, and I don’t know how they’ll react to our showing up.”
But it was Relehir’s reaction that was the most interesting. A woman named Mindy greeted them at the door. She did not seem surprised or perturbed by their arrival. She led them down the hallway, and into a room, and then she left. A monster was standing there. He looked like a Maramon, which was Relehir’s people, but different. All Maramon that Ecrin knew of were white. This one was black.
“Oh my God,” Relehir said. “What are you?”
The other monster was speechless for a moment. I’m, uhh...” He took a moment to gather his own courage. “I am Enarkased Edcubijmohjac, first Maramon operator of The Crossover since The Shepherd relinquished control, but you can call me Exile.”
“A black Maramon,” Vito said. “It is is an honor to meet you.”
“No, it is an honor to meet you, forebearer,” Exile said.
“You’ve heard of this?” Relehir asked Vito, almost scared. “I left my universe when it was in such infancy.”
“They’re incredibly rare,” Vito said, nodding his head, “and they are not very popular. They’re usually killed soon after birth. How did you survive?”
“A group of sympathizers saved me,” Exile answered. “They smuggled me to Eden Island.”
“The human refuge,” Vito understood. “And they accepted you?”
“To an extent.” It didn’t sound like his life had been super easy. “I hear that you are seeking to recruit our prisoner?”
“He’s your prisoner?” Ecrin asked.
“Yes, is that an issue?”
She shook her head. “It’s probably for the best.”
Mindy returned with the man they were looking for in chains. “Enobarbus Agnelli, a.k.a. Barbwire, your sentence is hereby commuted. You are the Prototype’s problem now.”

Their last recruit was a man named Smith, and they couldn’t have missed him if they had tried. As soon as the Prototype landed, they could hear the shrillest cry ever. Ecrin had heard it before, as had apparently everyone else. It was the Time Shriek; a pervasive sound that could be heard all over time and space, apparently throughout the bulkverse. But this time was different. It sounded like it was coming just meters away from them, and then echoing throughout the Prototype itself. Perhaps that was why it could be heard in other universes. Had they just created the Time Shriek?
They could hear the conversation as they rounded the corner. “I can still see you!” their recruit shouted, but there was no one to hear it. He was all alone, except for Ecrin, Vito, and Relehir, who he hadn’t noticed yet.
“Smith,” Ecrin said.
Smith turned around, and put his arms up defensively. “What the hell do you want?”
“To give you a purpose,” she answered him.
“I have a purpose. I protect this town from this world’s monsters.”
“And you have done that,” Ecrin said unconvincingly, “in your own way. Now we are the ones who need you to fight the monsters. These are much worse, for they are intelligent and self-aware.”
He snarled, and nodded in Relehir’s direction. “Like him?”
“Exactly,” Ecrin confirmed, “but not him. There are a few good ones. You will never meet them, though. We need you to fight all the rest...and perform repairs and general maintenance on our ship.”
Smith wasn’t completely convinced, but he would be around for the big speech that Ecrin was planning to give the whole team. Once the drugged people were reawakened, they all stood in a semicircle, and waited patiently for a full explanation.

“My name is Captain Ecrin Cabral. I am a chosen one. This is something my closest friends don’t even understand about me. I was born human on Earth in the year 2012. I was in Springfield, Kansas when it was sucked into the portal that sent it to Durus.”
“I don’t remember you,” Smith pointed out.
“I was a child, but not a special child,” Ecrin explained. “You only cared about the time babies. After you left, which was just moments ago, from your perspective, Springfield spent years without true leadership. When those time babies were old enough to think for themselves, they sought a proverter, who aged them into adulthood. They then started forming a new society. They used their own powers to create others like them, which they called mages, but on Earth, we would be considered chosen ones. I am hundreds of years old, and have gathered lifetimes of experience as a law enforcement officer. I was recruited by this man here,” she said as she gestured towards Relehir, “to start a new assignment. We are taking this machine to other universes, where we will hunt down and fight against all Maramon, until they have been wiped from the multiverse.
“We have brought you here to join our crusade. Each and every one of you has been a villain in someone else’s story. Except for you, Vito, you’re different. I am offering you the chance to become heroes in a new story.”
“You mean like Legends of Tomorrow?” Volpsidia questioned.
“No, not like...” Ecrin began, but then thought about it more. “Okay, maybe a little bit like Legends of Tomorrow.”
“What will happen to us if we don’t agree?” Arcadia asked.
“Sometimes time can be changed, and sometimes not,” Ecrin said. “You were all taken at a specific moment in your lives when no record of your future could be found. For some, your disappearance was a mystery; one which our current situation explains. For others, you were barely noticed. The fact of the matter is that we cannot allow you to return to these moments, and alter the timeline. If you don’t come with us, we will find a lonely planet in an empty universe, where you can live out the rest of your days in a sort of penal colony.”
No one protested.
“Ah, it doesn’t look like anybody wants to do that.”
“I’ll gladly fight, but it won’t be alongside that thing!” Smith scowled at Relehir.
“Shut up, racist,” Volpsidia said to him. “Get woke! It’s 2028.”
“No! It’s not!” he yelled back.
“This is gonna be fun,” Vito noted.
Suddenly, a black portal opened in the ceiling, and dropped a man to the floor. He was alive, but clearly in a lot of pain. He struggled to turn over to his back.
“Looks like you have your first patient, Enobarbus,” Relehir said. “Heroes and villains, may I introduce you to our last recruit for the group I’m tentatively referring to as The Laymen, Platinum Creaser.”