Thursday, February 28, 2019

Microstory 1049: Shea

I’m going to tell you my story about Viola, but you’re not going to believe it. You’ve probably heard a lot of miraculous stories about the supernatural things she’s done, but all of them pale in comparison to what she did for me. All of those other things can be explained away. I remember what happened to Warren and the poison sumac when we were younger. That traumatic experience might have changed him for the better. It doesn’t mean she magically transformed his core personality. I know that it did, but it can’t be proven. But six years ago, she healed me in a way so literally that no amount of rationalization can deny it. I actually do have proof. See this here? And this? And these? There’s a reason why I wear long sleeve shirts, even in the summer. I had to suffer through a meeting with my parents, my pastor, my gym teacher, and both principals, to have myself excused from class. I substituted it with rigorous coursework on the history of health and fitness. In a small town, people talk, but no one talked about why I didn’t have to take gym with everyone else, and I’m convinced that that was just one more thing Viola did for me. These scars are not from an accident. They are the result of a heinous act of rageful violence, from an older boy we all now realize was very mentally unstable.

I don’t remember everything from the first day, but I remember her rushing into the room, as if someone had warned her what he was trying to do to me. I never saw her face rightside up, but I remember watching her walk straight up to him with no fear. He was prepared to use force against her as well, but she simply placed her three middle fingers on his forehead, and he fell to the floor. I thought she had somehow killed him, with, like, a poison needle, or something. But it turned out she had just made him go to sleep. Like you, I dismissed this as an exaggerated memory of the ordeal. I didn’t tell anyone what I saw, mostly because my mind was kind of focused on other things at the time, like the invasive rape kit I was in the middle of getting. Three months later, the boy I won’t do the honor of naming, was out of the treatment facility. The judge didn’t feel it was right for him to have to serve any more time than that for a wee little mistake. Well, it’s true, he didn’t rape me again, and as far as I know, he didn’t do it to anyone else either. He did, however, try to kill me in anger. He used a lawn mower, which is why I was hurt in so many places, all over my body. The only reason he didn’t get my face is because he accidentally let go of the safety lever. Once again, she was there. This time, she didn’t take any chances. She placed both hands on his head, and he hasn’t woken up since. The wounds opened me up good, and I should be dead right now, but she wiped them closed, like they were nothing more than packing tape that needed to be flattened out. She told me she could get rid of the scars in a couple weeks, but lots of people had seen them by then, and I didn’t want to expose her. We came up with the lie that when she found me, she drove me to a hospital several towns over, so I wouldn’t run into anyone I know, but that is a lie. And the only reason people believed the lie is because the truth is even crazier. A lot of people owe that woman a lot, but I owe her everything. I only wish I could do what she could. I would have used those powers to bring her back.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Microstory 1048: Herbert

Everybody just calls me Air Bear—because that’s how my name is pronounced in a French accent—which isn’t as original as you may think, but I kind of like it. It’s become kind of a running joke around town. The guy who ran the paper before you got here used to write these articles with funny little headlines that refer to me, but ultimately have nothing to do with me. You can go back in the archives to find such greats as Air Bear’s Parent’s Share Their Spare Hair. It’s about a real club at school where students coordinate hair donations. He also wrote Air Bear Cares About Pears, which is about our annual canned food drive, and Air Bear Dares Cher to Marry a Fairy in Town Square. That one sounds homophobic, but Cher and Beulah were the first kids from their graduating class to get married, the latter of which is infamous from having actually dressed as a fairy for Halloween every year. And they really did hold the ceremony in the town’s square. Again, I didn’t actually have anything to do with these things, but it was really important to Lester that he include me precisely once in every paper he released. The journalism teacher, and the rest of the administration, didn’t care for his headline fibs, but his aunt personally funded a renovation of the library, so they couldn’t really do anything about it. I know, I’ve talked a lot about me and Lester, so I’ll get on point now. Viola and I were on friendly terms, but I always hated her clique, and I never understood why she hung out with them. I’m telling you, they had more to do with her death than they’re saying. I’m not claiming there’s this big conspiracy to murder her, but they’re definitely lying about what happened that day by the river. She was a helper. She went all over town, fixing things for people, even those who didn’t know they needed any help. The truth about her so-called friends is starting to come out, and I’m thinking that’s why she was with them in the first place. You’re here to finish this for her, Alma. You have to figure out who those people really are, and what they were doing at Masters Creek. I don’t have any specific story to tell you about an experience I had with Viola, but what I can do is encourage you to pursue this with all vigor. Justice must be served, and if the police can’t do it, you’re going to have to do it for them. That’s what Lester would have done. Say what you will about the man, but he knew how to get to the bottom of a story.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Microstory 1047: Virginia

My mother has only ever had one job her entire life, and it’s one of the hardest out there. She had me when she was nineteen years old, by a stranger passing through town whose name she never got, and has never seen again. She said the song Meet Virginia, by Train always really spoke to her, because the music video basically depicted a day in her own life, and she even doesn’t look unlike Rebecca Gayheart. Inspired by this, she named me Virginia, even though that muddies the analogy a bit. I’ve never worked a table, and I never plan to. She would take double and triple shifts just to provide for me, so I’ve spent a lot of time in that diner, watching her in her native habitat. Her job was absolutely dreadful, which is what really turned me off to it, but she kept doing it, because she didn’t think she was good enough to do anything better. The town of Blast City is full of really good and honest people, but the diner is like a world all its own. After all, it’s where she met my birthfather, and we all know he wasn’t a great person. Lots of truckers stop there, and other people who need to stretch their legs from a road trip. Somehow that place brings out the worst humanity has to offer, and I’m grateful that she’s finally done with that thankless job. Three years ago, I was approaching the age she was when she started working there. Even though I was clear that I would never follow her down that path, she couldn’t help but be reminded of her own childhood when she looked at me. It prompted her to really start thinking about whether she wanted to do this for the rest of her days, and of course, the answer was no. So she made a plan to go back to school, just like all those online degree commercials say adults like that are supposed to. We’ve all heard the stories about how Viola liked to go around, motivating people to take their education seriously, but she didn’t do that with my mom. She actually actively discouraged her from taking online courses. She said that this would end with her getting a better job, with better pay, but it wouldn’t make her any happier. Instead, Viola said my mom should try to become a singer. It was the craziest idea ever, because mom had no history of singing. It’s not like this thing she used to do and love, but had to give it up when she got pregnant. She never sang in choir, or even in the shower, but Viola was positive she would turn out to have a beautiful voice. Well, she was totally right about that. My mom has the most enchanting singing voice I have ever heard, and it upsets me to realize how many years we wasted not enjoying this characteristic of her. Viola and I weren’t the only people who thought this either. My mom has an agent, and has been performing all over the state for years. She’s primed to go national in the next few months. As soon as she finishes her first full album, she’s gonna blow up. The weirdest thing about it is that Viola also recommended I write her music, which is something I never knew I could do. Every single one of the original songs are mine, and my mother’s. And they’re also Viola’s. We’re dedicating the LP to her.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Microstory 1046: Myrtle

Roughly eighteen years ago, two babies were born in the same wing of the same hospital, only hours apart. Their respective parents knew of each other, but had never been close, but this one event was something they would always have in common. A year later, they decided to get together for a joint birthday party, and the tradition lived on until one of those children died. Viola Woods and I were never good friends. Though we saw each other in the halls of school, we didn’t hang out together, beyond our annual celebration. It’s not that we didn’t like each other, but we never had much in common, other than something with only one in three hundred and sixty-five chance. She was always very good around other people. She loved them, and wanted to help. It makes me sound like a terrible person that I’m the opposite, but I’m just a proponent of self-sufficiency. I believe in capitalism, and hard work. I recognize that not everyone in this country has been given the same opportunities as others, so I don’t need to check my privilege, or anything. It’s all about affordability, which is a form of capitalism that people seem to ignore. They think anything they buy costs that much because the people selling that product or service have some corrupt control over it. And to some extent, this is true, but there are ways of protecting the consumer without using governmental oversight. Education is the number one solution to all of our problems, and probably the only thing I believe should be extremely inexpensive outright, though not entirely free. The reason you can’t stop hospitals from gouging you for every dime you have, and then some, is because you don’t know where it is they get their prices. We don’t have to have insurance, the simple fact that the government has recently required it is a great example of what’s wrong here.

Health insurance companies have been artificially inflating costs since they first began, and it’s only gotten worse over time. Instead of spending so many resources on free clinics, we should be teaching the citizens the truth, and arming them with what they need to fight back. The healthcare facilities and insurance companies are only able to screw us over because we let them. Viola was a free clinic kind of girl. I’m a free market—power to the people—kind of girl. Alma, you may not have released your interviews yet, but people are already talking about them. They’re sharing their personal stories with each other, and the biggest take away from all this is that Viola spent every waking moment helping others. Every student has been impacted greatly by her acts, even if they don’t fully understand the scope of that impact quite yet. Well, I’m here to tell you that this is not the case for everyone. Viola and I were born on the same day, but we only ever got together to please our parents, who never stopped thinking this piece of trivia was cute. She never helped me with anything. I mean, yeah, she was the only one whose friends came to our parties in the early years, which means I probably wouldn’t have been able to have one without her, unless I wanted to sit there alone. And it’s true that she was born a week later than she was meant to, and her parents, for some reason, attribute this to baby Viola’s will power. No, that’s crazy. Viola didn’t help me by being born on the same day as me, because she couldn’t have done anything on purpose. Right? Is she the only reason I have friends?

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: October 13, 2220

Welp, things were pretty much all fixed up in the Colony Site Alpha dome on Bungula when Leona returned to the timeline in 2220. There was no air filtration system for her to repair, nor any cataclysmic aftermath for her to suffer through. There was no threat from a powerful choosing one, or a friend from the past come to save the day from future danger. There was just Leona, and her two friends, Brooke and Sharice. There were no missions from the powers that be, or challenge to overcome. The last time things were like this for Leona was probably when she was safe in the Great Pyramid of Giza, living with The Escapologist. Technically she was hiding from the wrath of The Cleanser at the time, but only passively, for they never had reason to believe he had any idea where they were. She also experienced nearly three weeks of downtime after returning to Earth on the Warren in the late 22nd century, though she also had memories of fighting the Arianation in a corrupted reality, so that didn’t really count.
All evidence suggested that the commandeers on the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were on their way to Gatewood, which was exactly where they were meant to go. The only problem was Leona didn’t know how Mateo would find them when they showed up. She needed to warn him somehow, and if The Gravedigger was refusing to let her meet up with him using Dardius as a waypoint, then she would need to find another way.
“How did you get back to Earth when you were on Dardius all those years ago?” Brooke asked. “You didn’t take the Nexus, right?”
“No,” Leona said. “We used it a few times before that, but it went completely inert, and no one knew why. The Dardieti must have figured out how to reactivate it later.”
“So, how did you do it?” Sharice asked.
“We used The Trotter. He can jump between planets.”
“So, he can do it again?” Sharice suggested.
“I wouldn’t know how to contact him,” Leona said. “He just happened to be on-world at the time. I doubt we would be so lucky this time. He’s big into travel, and there’s not a lot for him to see on Bungula right now.”
A pigeon suddenly appeared out of nowhere, and landed gracefully on the table. It started cooing, and looking around for food.
“I think that’s a time pigeon,” Leona guessed.
“Read the note,” Brooke said, pointing at its little leg.
Leona removed the slip of paper, and unrolled it. “Take a picture,” she read out loud. “What the hell does that mean?”
The pigeon pecked at her hand. When she pulled away, it flew up and kept pecking.
“Stahp!” she cried.
It shook its other leg in her face.
“Okay, okay. Gah!” She replaced the note that was apparently meant for someone else, and removed the other. “Use The Caster. Well, how is that any better? The Caster isn’t here either. Can’t I just send a note with you?” Leona asked the bird.
In response, the pigeon flew off, and disappeared, once more into the breach.
“I guess that’s a no,” Sharice noted. “Who’s the Caster?”
“She’s a telepath who put us in touch with the Trotter. He was on Dardius at the time, but miles and miles away, and we didn’t have phones.”
“You may be able to contact her,” Brooke said. “If she’s telepathic, you might be able to send her a message with your own thoughts.”
“She would have to be able to reach the stars, which seems fairly unlikely,” Leona lamented. “And I would have to somehow be able to send out a message, which is even more unlikely.”
“Worth a shot, isn’t it?” Sharice said. “The worst that happens is you get a psychic nosebleed.”
“I suppose that’s true,” Leona conceded.
Leona didn’t think it would be as easy as simply having the thought to reach out to The Caster, but she didn’t think it would take the whole day. Actually, it only took about half the day, but it wasn’t like there was anything else she needed to do, and there was no harm in meditating.
After several hours sitting on a blanket in an empty corner of the dome, she heard a voice that was not her own. “Hello? New psychic link, who dis?
“Leona Matic,” Leona answered.
How did you get this number?
“We, uhh, met? On Tribulation Island? Back in 2159?”
That was sixty years ago,” the other woman complained. “I wasn’t born yet. Just how old do you think I am?
“I’m sorry, I just...I can’t see you, so I have no idea. I was trying to get ahold of The Caster.”
That’s me, the one and only. You were probably speaking with my grandmother, though. She was the one and only back then.
“So, why are you freakin’ out, if there’s a reasonable explanation?” A bit rude, but Leona was still having trouble filtering her thoughts. Her brain wasn’t used to thinking out loud like this.
I guess that’s fair,” the new Caster said. “And you don’t have to yell, by the way! I’m right here.
“No, you’re not. I’m on Bungula.”
You’re in a jungle?
“I’m in the Alpha Centauri star system,” Leona clarified. “Where are you?”
Why you wanna know? You writin’ a book?
“No, I’m just wanting to speak with the Trotter. I need to get back to my husband via Dardius, and I don’t know anyone else who can jump to other planets.”
Oh, and you think I know Maqsud, because we’re both A-rabs?
“Holy crap, don’t get defensive. Your grandmother is the one who introduced us.”
Oh. Well...” she paused for a moment. “I actually do know him. Give me a moment to connect you two. I think he’s in Triangulum, or something.
“That would be great, thank you.”
Get off my back! I said I would do it!” Perhaps even she had trouble with her filter, or she just didn’t care what people thought of her.
Leona waited in the silence, but had the acute feeling that she was still psychically connected to the Caster. Pity there was no muzak playing while she was on hold.
Finally, she returned. “I’m not a miracle worker, so I can let you two communicate, but I have to stay on the line. I recommend you don’t spread any gossip about me.
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Leona said.
Thank you, Miss Karimi,” came Maqsud’s voice.
“Mister Al-Amin. I was hoping you could transport me to Dardius.”
Uhh, right now?
“Yes, if you’re not too busy?”
I’m researching dark matter in three-one-oh-nine.
“That’s on the other side of the local group,” Leona realized. Millions of lightyears away.
It is, yes.
“Do you know when you’re gonna be around this area next?”
Well, I’m scheduled to visit Varkas Reflex in twenty-five years. Will that do?
Not really,” Leona said. Who knows what will have changed about their situation in the next twenty-five days.
If you can get to the wolf,” Maqsud began, “I can make a detour. Otherwise, you’ll have to find another ride, because I’m planning a century-long project observing stellar formation in the Baby Boom galaxy.
“Wow.” That would be an impressive endeavor. It would also be taking place in the very deep past, which meant it was entirely possible for him to be where she needed him to be, when she needed him to be there, but she didn’t want to argue. If she had twenty-five realtime years to wait to get to Mateo, she might as well just leave on a regular ship, and travel to Gatewood using sublight. “I may see you there. Thank you for your time.”
No problem,” Maqsud replied. “Hanging up now.
So am I,” the Caster said.
“No, wait,” Leona stopped her. “Could you connect me to one more person?”
Is this other person really frickin far as well? That really drains me of my energy.
“Mateo Matic is orbiting Barnard’s star. It’s only six and a half lightyears from where I am.”
She sighed. “Fine. Give me a second.
A few minutes later, she got back on the line. “There is no Mateo Matic anywhere in the vicinity of Barnard’s Star.
“There’s not? Well, where the hell is he?”

Mateo was sitting in a darkened room, at the head of a long table, full of military officers, governmental officials, and other important people. They were treating him like their leader, even though he had no clue what was going on, and had just lost a year of time. While he was gone, the Vice Patronus was in charge, which made Mateo wonder why they hadn’t just appointed him in the first place. Maybe it wasn’t possible to institute this dramatic shift in governmental oversight unless Mateo was the one at the top, regardless of how impractical that was. The VP was the real person in power here, but no one was going to accept that if he didn’t technically answer to someone the whole world believed in, which Mateo had to accept was always going to be him.
In the year 2199, a man whose name was unimportant attempted to murder a man named Mikilos Sparacello. He was saved by The Last Savior of Earth, Étude Einarsson, in what was advertised as her very last save before retirement. The killer was easily caught by human authorities, but that didn’t mean Mikilos was safe. As one of the most infamous figures of history, he unwittingly became a sort of white whale for some of the more violent temporal manipulators. There was this theory that Étude would protect him for his entire life, which inspired them to try to best her. The hunt for Mikilos got to be so terrible that Dardius decided Earth was no longer a safe place for him. Since they felt time travelers were responsible for his becoming a target, he was approved for relocation to the sister world. He was temporarily appointed Vice Patronus, and acting Patronus, over the whole planet, but came to be so well-liked by the people, that he remained in the role. Mateo really was only there for ceremonial reasons.
The two sides of the war were not exactly in the middle of a formal ceasefire, but the fighting had come to a temporary standstill. Upon Vice Patronus Sparacello’s orders, an entire continent, roughly the size of Australia, was evacuated. It was a perfect homebase for the Freemarketeers, because there were never a lot of people there in the first place, it wasn’t too far from Tribulation Island, which was where their reinforcements were arriving, and it would hopefully placate them for a period. The Dardieti needed a more permanent solution, though. They were currently discussing their options, and were interested in Mateo’s thoughts.
He was frozen in place, scared to say anything, but this was making everyone uncomfortable, so he had to say something. “I don’t understand how the timeline works.”
“You save people from the past, right?”
“And the present, yes,” VP Sparacello, who requested Mateo call him Mikilos, said.
“Have you missed any relocations because of this war?” Mateo asked.
“Uh, technically no,” Foreign Policy Advisor Abdulrashid answered. “The war itself is making immigration tenuous. We can take anyone from any moment in time, but in order to protect the stability of our society, we have to introduce them at very specific times. We’ve discussed this before.”
“Quite right,” Mateo remembered. He didn’t actually forget, but this all needed to be said out loud for him to express his idea. “How has the pattern been? Have you been introducing a lot of immigrants lately, or has it slowed down in recent years?”
“It has slowed down,” Transportation Administrator Moss acknowledged. “The Earthans just don’t need our help that much anymore.”
“So, do you really need the Muster Beacon back? Could we argue that its time is over anyway?” Mateo offered.
“That’s possible,” Moss agreed, “but our biggest problem with the beacon is how the Freemarketeers are using it.”
Mateo nodded, but was stopped before speaking more.
“He means to say we should destroy it,” Mikilos responded in his place.
The crowd looked amongst each other and whispered.
“Scorched earth policy,” Moss said, nodding. “I don’t love it, but if we can’t take control of the island, that may be our best option.”
“There could still be innocent Vespiarians on that island,” someone Mateo didn’t know said. She looked like a general, or something. “We’ve not confirmed whether their quantum replications are coming through too.”
“That’s true,” Ramses recognized. “So, let’s discuss this more. Let’s come up with a plan to take the Muster Twins back...and let’s come up with a contingency if we can’t.”

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Furor: The Other Side of an Expanding Universe (Part VII)

Neither Slipstream nor Jesi seemed bothered by the fact that their driver just referred to himself as The Chauffeur. A few years ago, it would have been a funny anecdote to tell his friends, but everybody Ace met these days with a nickname was probably bad news.
“Sup, Davey,” Jesi said to him.
“Call me Dave, Miss Utkin,” the driver said.
“Sounds good, Davey.”
“How do you know him?” Slipstream asked.
Dave went on before Jesi could answer. “I hear you’re out looking for a Beaver Haven fugitive.”
“We are,” I admit, planning mine and Slipstreams’ escape.
“I also hear you’ve become fugitives yourself, because you recruited an unlikely ally.”
“I don’t think I’m that unlikely,” Jesi protested. “I’m very likable.”
“What are you going to do to us?” Ace asked him.
Do to you?” Dave echoed. “I’m not going to do anything to you. I’m here to provide you with resources.”
“You work for the prison?” Slipstream guessed.
Both Dave and Jesi laughed. “I work for The Sanctuary,” Dave answered.
Jesi clarified, “your daughter built a special place to protect humans when they’re in danger from time travelers.”
“Isn’t everyone’s life in danger from time travelers?” Slipstream pointed out.
“That’s a fair assessment,” Jesi said.
Ace was still hung up on the comment she made about this sanctuary having been built by his daughter. Again, a few years ago, that would have sounded completely crazy. But he understood that just because the Paige he was raising hadn’t done something yet, didn’t mean that it hadn’t already happened. Thinking on it, he was not really surprised she would grow up to help people in this capacity. It made him smile.
Jesi noticed it. “Oh, I’m not talking about Paige.”
Okay, that was stranger news, but not completely out of left field. He didn’t want to know too much about this daughter he hadn’t even met yet, though, so he continued to stay silent.
“Her name is Meli—”
“I don’t want to know too much about my future,” Ace stopped her.
Jesi laughed again. “Meliora is not in your future. She’s from an alternate reality. I think two major reality shifts ago, yeah?” she asked Dave.
“There’s no such thing as a major or minor reality shift, since time is fluid,” Dave contended, “but you could say that.”
“So, I had a child with someone, then that child grew up, went back in time, and changed so much that I never even had her in the first place?”
“Essentially, yes,” Jesi said. “It would have been worse if her actions hadn’t erased herself from history, though. Then there would have been two of them, battling for the timeline. Nobody wants that.”

“Oh my God, I forgot about her,” Paige apologized.
We were back at the house. Ace had left Jesi and Dave in his car, so he could have a private conversation with his family, and Slipstream first.
“Paige, you knew about this Meliora?” Serkan asked her.
“Yeah, I met her just before you two came back to the real world,” Paige said. “I mean literally just before. I got so caught up processing where you had been, and trying to take care of you, that it slipped my mind.”
“You met her too?” Ace was getting too worked up. Paige had done nothing wrong.
“She’s the one who undid Jesi’s aging thing,” Paige explained.
“Jesi did imply Meliora was a very powerful person,” Slipstream reminded Ace.
“If she’s anything like your current daughter,” Serkan began, “she genuinely wants to help with our Rothko problem.”
“That’s assuming the driver even works for her,” Slipstream cautioned.
“I think we should speak with her directly,” Ace decided. “Dave says he has resources to help us bring Rothko in. I’m inclined to take any advantage we can get, but you three and Kolby are the only people I know I can trust, and maybe not even Kolby.”
“You can,” Slipstream promised. She stepped out of the door, and waved the other two to come on in.
Dave and Jesi walked in, the latter with a coat draped over her arms, in front of her stomach.
“Little hot for that, isn’t it?” Paige pointed out.
Dave removed the coat from Jesi’s arms, to reveal them to be bound together via handcuffs. “Our first gift to you.” He handed Ace a small device. “The cuffs suppress powers, but they can keep her immobile in a more traditional sense. Press that button right there.”
Ace pressed the button. The cuffs separated from each other, but each half remained on Jesi’s wrists, respectively.
Dave went on, “her powers are still being suppressed. If you push that button right there, you can restore them, and easily turn them back off when you want. There’s also a recall function, in case she travels to a different time without your permission.”
Paige took the controller from Ace’s hand, and looked it over like a curious cat. “Will these cuffs work on anybody?”
“Anybody,” Dave said. “Even you. You’re immune to the ones Beaver Haven uses, but not these. They’re one of a kind, so be careful with them.”
Having gotten used to modern technology by now, Paige expertly pressed a new button. The cuffs fell off of Jesi’s wrists, and headed for the floor, but before they could reach it, they stopped in mid-air, and docked themselves to the end of the remote. They obviously belonged there when they weren’t in use.
“What are you doing?” Slipstream questioned.
“We’ll need these for Rothko,” Paige replied. She handed the full set back to Ace, and stepped closer to Jesi. She was the one who had been most slighted by the prisoner, so even though she wasn’t an adult, this was her prerogative. “Jesi isn’t going to screw us over, are you?”
Jesi frowned at the girl. “If I had a team like you guys to help me when I was trying to stop the pathogen that destroys organic humans in the future, I could have figured out how to do it without killing anybody, or violating your body’s age. I am sorry, and I legitimately want to help now. I didn’t start out evil; none of us did, not even Rothko. We got our powers from a pocket dimension that had terrible psychological consequences that we didn’t see until it was too late. I don’t know how Kallias Bran has survived so long.”
“Are you saying Rothko can be saved?” Serkan asked her.
Jesi stood up straighter to consider the notion. “No. He’s lived through more trauma than any of us could imagine. His happiness is on the other side of an expanding universe. He’ll never see it again.”
“I have more treats,” Dave said after a brief pause in the conversation.
“I want to meet my daughter,” Ace said.
Dave looked perturbed. “Jesi shouldn’t have told you that. Meliora is not your daughter. Everyone thinks there’s such thing as an alternate version of yourself, but that’s impossible. Why, you’re not even the same person as you were seven years ago.” He gestured towards Ace. “The fact that you’re not running around, killing people, is proof of that in a multidimensional sense. The other Horace Reaver is you in name only. He wasn’t a good father, and he wasn’t a good person, and he’s not you. You are no more related to my employer than I am.”
“Your employer,” Paige began to argue, “called herself my sister. She used the word.”
Dave was mildly surprised by this. “She did? She said that?”
“Indeed,” Paige confirmed.
Dave cleared his throat, and shook his arms for no known reason. He took a freaking flip phone from his pocket, and opened it up. He didn’t dial a number, though. “Request sent.—Request received.—Processing.—Pending response.—Acknowledged.” He closed the phone. “Accepted. But only you two.”
Ace looked over to Serkan, who smiled understandingly. “That’s okay. Slip and I will debrief Miss Utkin while you’re gone.”
“Very well,” Dave said. With no warning, he lifted his arm, and snapped.
The three travelers were suddenly standing on dusty stone floor. A man was smiling at them cordially. “Welcome to the Great Pyramid of Giza.”
“We’re just passing through, Stargazer,” Dave said.
“Headed back to Dardius?”
“We are.”
“Have a nice trip.”
Dave closed his eyes, and breathed deeply. He faced the window showing the night sky above them. “Hold onto my waist.”
Paige and Ace grabbed hold of the teleporter, and held on tight. Dave lifted one arm towards the window, then pulled them off the ground like some kind of Asgardian god. They couldn’t really see anything, but they could feel themselves rushing through time and space; outer space. Within minutes, they were standing in the lobby of a hotel.
“Good afternoon,” a bellhop said from the other side of the counter. “Checking in two guests?”
“They’re not staying,” Dodeka,” Dave said to her. “Where’s the boss?”
“Right here,” came a voice from behind them.
“Here they are,” Dave said. “Call me when they need a ride back to Earth. I’m going to check on our defenses.”
“You don’t need to do that every time you show up,” the woman who was apparently Ace’s Alt!Daughter, Meliora said. “You’re not breaking through them, you’re unlocking them.”
“Yeah, and I need to make sure they’re locking behind me. I hope you or Doty are doing the same when I leave.”
“Yes, sir,” the bellhop said.
“Thank you, Dave,” Meliora said, both warmly and dismissively.
“Thank you, Dave,” Paige said to him as well, but he was gone before she was finished her sentence.
“Mister Reaver, Miss Turner,” Meliora began. “I was not planning on us meeting until much later. You haven’t even had your brain blended yet.”
“What does that mean?” Paige asked. “It sounds painful.”
“The pain is temporary.” She paused for a moment. “Are you here on business, or did you just want to meet me?”
“Both,” Ace said honestly.
Meliora had a sad expression on her face, exposing her superior intelligence to them, like a mother trying to avoid teaching her child about death. “He’s explained that I’m not really your daughter, right?” She grimaced under emotional discomfort.
“That’s not what you indicated when you saved my other daughter’s life,” Ace volleyed. “You wanted to be sisters.”
“I feel a closeness to people that they can’t reciprocate. I built this place, because everyone feels like a sister or brother to me.”
“That’s bullshit,” Ace argued. “If a lab tests our blood, what are they gonna find? Are they gonna conclude that we’re genetically related?”
“Well, they would, but—”
“But that’s all I need to know. There are three kind of parents in the world: those who are related to their kids, but don’t raise them; those who raise their kids, but aren’t related to them; and those who are both. I don’t know you, but I love you, and nothing you say will stop me from feeling that.”
“I’m a distraction,” Meliora said to him. “You have work to do. Rothko is just the latest in a long line of challenges you and your family are going to have to face. I can’t have you trying to include me in that, because I have my own work to do.”
“If that’s true, why did you send Dave to us?” Paige asked. “Why did you reyoungify me? If you wanted to stay out of it, then you should have.”
“I should have,” Meliora agreed. “Merton could have handled that, and I could have simply given The Courier your gifts.”
“If that’s how you feel,” Paige said, “I guess we have nothing more to discuss.”
Meliora looked to the bellhop, Dodeka. “Please retrieve that little brownish lockbox from the back. They’ll be taking the downgraded package. I can see they don’t need as much help as I had originally instructed Dave to provide them with.”
“Sir,” Dodeka said obediently as she was leaving.
Meliora turned back to her fake family. “You can stay in the hotel as long as you would like. She can provide you with any amenities, and will be sending you of with everything you need to defeat Mister Ladhiffe. We’ll see each other again, under better circumstances, and with less...hostility.”
“We do appreciate the assist,” Ace said as Meliora was walking away.
Dodeka returned with a whitish lockbox. Meliora must have been mistaken about the color. It also didn’t look that little. The bellhop set it on the counter, then lifted a brochure from its holder, and opened it up to show them. We currently have three swimming pools—”
“We won’t be staying,” Ace said, taking the lockbox from the counter. “Please call the Chauffeur back for us.”
“Very well, sir.” She reached into her back pocket, and returned with a lighter. Dave appeared as soon as she ignited it, and wasn’t happy about being interrupted, but he agreed to take Ace and Paige back to Earth.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Microstory 1045: Sylvester

Fun fact, Viola and I share the same name meaning. Sylvester means of the woods, and as you know, she was Viola Woods. That’s not really that important, but she pointed it out to me once, so I figured I would share it. I’m the high school guy who got his girlfriend pregnant, and we decided to go through with it. The baby isn’t due until the very beginning of summer, though, which is why Pearl and I will still be finishing out our senior year. We spent a lot of time discussing this with all of our parents, and we’ve come up with a plan. She and I were both accepted to the same college nearby. Ferroworth is neither of our first choices, but it’s a good institution, and it’s best for everyone that we be close to home. Starting next year, she is going to stay at home and take care of the little bobo, while I go to college for two years. But I will be living at the house, so it’s not like I won’t be part of his or her life. After those two years are up, I’m going to take a yearlong break, while Pearl starts her own classes. We have to switch at that point, because the school has a deferment limit of four semesters. Plus, I don’t want her taking all the responsibility while I focus so much on my own life. When the baby is three years old, they’re going to be starting preschool, which will allow me to go back to college, though probably not fulltime. I’m still figuring out what I want to study, so I’m not sure what kind of program I’ll be going into yet, or how many credits it will require. I may not be able to graduate in four years, but that’s okay. We have a lot of help from our respective families. They weren’t upset or disappointed in us. We’re not Catholic, or anything; everybody’s pro-choice, but everybody also wants this child, including Pearl, whose decision is the only one that matters. We can do this, and part of that is thanks to Viola. She knew a lot of people, presumably all over the world. She was friends with someone in the admissions department at our college. Don’t worry, she didn’t get us in, so there’s nothing unethical going on here. But he was able to work with us on the deferment plan that would best fit our needs. Viola also knew some rich woman in Ferroworth, who practically bought us a house. It’s not in the best shape, so we’re expected to pay a discounted rent, and fix it up, so she can rent it out later at a more lucrative price. We are going to make it, but not without help from all of our friends. Everyone at Blast City Senior High has been really supportive and helpful, but no one more than Viola. That’s how I knew her.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Microstory 1044: Louis

No, please just call me Louis. My parents named each of their children after the cities they were born in. It goes Dallas, Chicago, then me, and finally Colton. You have no idea what it took for the three of the older kids to convince them that they shouldn’t spell it exactly like Coaltown. It’s bad enough my baby sister is walking around with what’s traditionally a boy’s name, but to have it spelled exactly like the name of the town? They would have named her the full Blast City had Dallas not stuffed my mom in the car, and sped down the highway to the nearest place that was at least moderately acceptable. She’s pregnant again, so we’ve already picked out a nice, lovely secret hospital in the great city of Jordan. It’s about two hours away, but we think we can make it, even if we have to get a police escort from Sallie’s brother. That’s what we had to do last time. Or rather, we started a little high speed chase, until Chicago called him up in real time, and explained why we were driving so fast. So yes, technically my name is Saint Louis, but you can imagine how much trouble that can cause me. I’m not eighteen years old yet, but the very day I turn, I’m going to the courthouse and getting this changed. Those two insisted on using my full name on all of my official documents, so it’s kind of this huge joke all around the school. Every time a new teacher comes on board, I have to explain myself. Most of them are pretty good at accommodating me, but there was one substitute who absolutely refused to call me by what I wanted. What was on the list, was on the list, and it could not be altered. That was a tangent, I know. Though, can it be a tangent if that’s the first thing I started talking about? Yeah, probably still. You’re here for Viola, who had a lovely name, by the way. It just rolls of the tongue, doesn’t it? Viola Woods. Viola Woods. If I thought I could get away with it, I might have considered changing mine to that. There I go again getting off topic, so let’s just jump right into it. Viola, she taught me how to swim, which is kind of ironic, given how she died, but not really. Like I said, my parents are crazy. They think they’re the best caretakers in the world, but I would probably be dead ten times over by now, if not for Dallas and Chicago. Oh, that’s a really insensitive thing to say in this situation, I’m sorry. But still, because I was raised by my brothers, there was no way for me to legitimately learn how to swim. They didn’t have time to do it, and my parents don’t actually know themselves, because they don’t think it’s natural. I don’t know what kind of school they attended that taught them how to be hippies, but humans have had an extremely long relationship with water. Anyway, even though we were the same age, Viola took me out to Masters Lake when we were in elementary school, and gave me lessons every day for two weeks, until I was comfortable enough to go off on my own. And that was pretty much all the time we spent together. They should make a TV show about us; call it The Adventures of Saint Louis and Angel Viola.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Microstory 1043: Mollie

Thanks for doing this over the phone, Miss...what was your name again? Alma? I was still going to school when Viola died, but I had kind of totally checked out by then. I worked really hard in school, so that I could graduate a semester early, but what really gave me the edge was being homeschooled until freshman year. You see, it’s really hard to determine what kind of classes I’ve already theoretically passed, and where I need improvement. So when I finally started at public school, there were probably some credits that I hadn’t truly earned. I shouldn’t say probably. Possibly is a better word, because we don’t really know for sure. Don’t get the wrong idea, though. I got near-perfect grades for the years once I was coming here, and I was accepted into college fair and square. I will say this, though, I’m not sure I would have gotten in without Viola’s help. One subject I’ve always struggled in was math. The thing about homeschooling is that, just because you want to shelter your kids from the world, doesn’t mean you can provide them with the best learning environment. Sure, I had the advantage with a scientist mother, and economic historian father, but there were just some things I was missing. Don’t tell my parents I said that, though. I practically had to submit an application to them just to go to a real high school. Anyway, even with a literal genius trying to teach me mathematics, I can’t wrap my brain around it. I ended up resigning myself to the fact that I’ll never be the next Pythagoras, and for a couple years, I thought that was okay. But then for my junior year, I had the opportunity to take a more advanced class, or just play it safe, like I always had. Though Viola and I hadn’t spoken much, because I was hardly a member of society at the time, she urged me to take the harder class. I mean, she was heavily invested in my future, and I had no clue why. I also had no reason to actually follow her advice, because at the time, I was considering a career in social work. It wasn’t until my last semester that I realized that I was falling in love with psychology. In particular, I want to be on the research side of the field, which requires a not insignificant mathematical background. I might have been able to get by without those last two classes, but I would have been behind, and it probably gives me another advantage when I’m applying for grad school in a few years. I’m on track to graduating in just three years, and I owe it all to Viola, who got this close to offering me money to take her advice. Looking back, she had talked about it like something like this was going to happen, rather than her just wanting me to take risks, or something. How could she have known?

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Microstory 1042: Hattie

I’m glad you and I can finally meet. While you work for the paper, I work for the yearbook, so the two of us are kind of born rivals, aren’t we? Both programs used to fall under the same department, headed by the journalism teacher, but the school decided to separate them, for no reason—or just to make things different, I guess. Or maybe they wanted us to have to operate out of the library, while you get an entire room. And they gave me the crappiest camera to work with. See? This is what they forced on me, look how blurry that is. I ended up just using my own. Back to your questions, though, I had lots of encounters with Viola, but I’m not sure any one of them really stands out to me. I suppose I saw her more often than she saw me. I spend a lot of time walking around with my invisibility camera, taking pictures of other people without them realizing I’m even there. I first noticed my power to get close to people without being noticed when I was a child. My parents are huge partiers, at places unfit for a child. You would think an eight-year-old girl would stand out, but I was able to walk around without anybody paying me any mind. My friend, Mollie would later tell me all those adults were on drugs, but that doesn’t explain why I can be so sneaky around school. If I were to lay out every photo I and my team took of any one person, I could probably piece together almost their entire life story. I’ve already done most of that with Viola, at the request of Hope, but I haven’t had time to analyze the data. I can tell you that she was not a normal person. She was never in two places at once, or anything, but she was sure good at taking the shortest route from one place to another. Of course, people do that all the time, but she would sometimes show up with no logical reason, yet it was the perfect place for her. She could go from magic club, straight to Eugene’s locker, to leave him a note seconds before he got there. Then she could have a quick tutoring session with Raymond, and be at the pool hall with Finley by five. This may all just sound like a crazy schedule, but not supernatural, but like I said, I haven’t really looked at the pictures yet. I would be wildly interested in your finished interviews, though. The raw ones; not the truncated versions you’ll be releasing to the public. There was something about her; she knew things about people she shouldn’t, and she was able to help them in ways no one should have. I think you and I should collaborate, Alma. Don’t answer yet, just think about it. We’ll see each other tomorrow.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Microstory 1041: Archie

Most people think that my full name is Archibald, and because it’s kind of an antiquated name, my peers like to use it instead. My real name is actually Archer, which my parents desperately want me to be using instead, but then I’m constantly fighting this belief that I’m good at archery. Archery isn’t the last thing I would be doing, but I’m not interested in sports, and I don’t want anything to distract from my true message. I’m an active and healthy person, but my primary concern is promoting a well-balanced diet, and removing all the terrible things that the corporations put in our food. A lot of people probably don’t remember that I too ran for student body president, as a fourth candidate. Almost no one voted for me, though, because I was honest with my campaign promises, and they were not promises anyone wanted me to keep. When I started dating my girlfriend, Martha last year, I gave her my password to a certain movie and television library, because she isn’t eighteen yet. She’s stopped having very much time for it, but her viewing habits are still impacting my recommendations. She’s obsessed with learning, and finds documentaries to be the best source of her education, so I started seeing a lot of stuff on there that I wouldn’t normally watch. One of these such docs was about how corn is basically destroying the country. I won’t get into specifics here, because the topic needs its own monthly periodical, for Christ’s sake, but the takeaway is that there’s corn in everything, and the toxic waste it produces is harming the environment as much as fossil fuel. I ran my campaign on changing the way this school does business, and my fellow students either didn’t like it, or were totally indifferent. I wanted to overhaul our lunch menu, and get rid of all the magazines. Why would we get rid of magazines? Well, there’s corn in them too, which is insane. I mean, we shouldn’t be consuming so much paper anyway, because corn isn’t the only thing that’s causing us to head towards the apocalypse, but try telling that to a group of self-involved hormonal teens. Anyway, Viola was the only one who really paid attention to what I was saying, but she also realized that there was no way I would win. Instead of trying to support me, which probably would have been a waste of time, she modified her own campaign to better reflect the values that I was trying to push. As you know, she didn’t win either, and the both of us have always suspected this to be the reason, but that didn’t mean what she did was pointless. Though Riley ultimately won the election, people actually started listening to my warnings, and things are changing. The menu is still filled with tons of unhealthy ingredients, but there’s a lot less high fructose corn syrup than there was before you got here. You couldn’t walk ten meters without running into another soda machine, but they’re all gone now. I didn’t do that; Viola did, and the greatest sadness is that this revolution is only one of what could have been very many that she popularized. What other great change could she have inspired in this world if she hadn’t died so young? That’s what I wanna know.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: October 12, 2219

Many years ago, in another timeline, the powers that be gave Leona and Mateo the ability to survive space travel; a gift which remained with them in the new reality. Nowhere beyond a single star system could be accessed within the span of one day, but that didn’t mean they weren’t capable of reaching the stars using standard human technology. Instead of being returned to the same exact point in space—which didn’t ever exist, because everything’s location is based on its relative position to everything else, which is always in motion—they could come back to wherever they were in the vessel. This did not apply to just any vessel, though. It had to be moving away from some kind of orbital, so that they wouldn’t die by suddenly being exposed to the vacuum of space. If they were on a ship that was sitting on the surface of a planet, and that ship took off while they were gone, they would not be attached to it.
It was stupid of Leona to be on the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez when midnight central struck, because she had given Brooke and Sharice specific orders to leave her behind. The goal was to get the AOC to Gatewood, to save the Ansutahan human refugees, regardless of whether Leona could be there. They had apparently honored her wishes, which unfortunately meant Leona was now falling from more than two stories in the air. While she was plummeting to the ground inside of a Bungulan crater, two thoughts passed through her mind. Number one, it was so incredibly stupid of her to be sleeping in a grave chamber, knowing it likely wouldn’t still be there in October of 2219. Number two, also many years ago, she lost both her legs to an infection from an alien plant native to a planet she deemed Legolas. She managed to get back to Earth, however, where a group of fancy futuristic medical professionals essentially regrew them for her. She hadn’t really had much of an occasion to use them, but they were still significantly stronger than normal legs. At the last second, she flipped over, and landed right on her feet. It wasn’t completely painless, but she survived, mostly unharmed.
She looked around, just to make sure she couldn’t see the ship somewhere else, but it was nowhere to be found. Good, they had made it off the ground. Now the only question was whether they were doing okay en route. It was practically impossible to have a conversation from a relatively static planet to a ship moving at relativistic speeds. Though the trip was set to take a little more than eight years total, as observed by the passengers of the ship, less than six years will have passed. This discrepancy made communication reliant exclusively on delayed messaging, whether one was using a quantum messenger or not.
No longer with a ship to call home, Leona walked over to the building Sharice told her about, where the few Ansutahan were being held. She needed food, and that was the best place for her to find it at this time. Now that the AOC was on its way, she would soon be able to return to Dardius through the Halifax grave, but in case that didn’t work, it was prudent to secure resources here on Bungula. She was met with eerie silence when she walked into the habitat. Only then did she realize she hadn’t heard anything since she woke up. It was midnight central, yes, but the dome was meant to be operating under universal coordinated time, which was several hours later. There should have at least been some activity somewhere around here.
She kept moving through the corridor, until she reached the main common area of the Ansutahan habitat. The place was an absolute mess. Tables and chairs were strewn about the floor, and wires were exposed from the ceiling. There weren’t any burning fires, but it looked like there had been at one point. She didn’t see any dead bodies, but she did find Brooke and Sharice, whose bodies were both physically damaged, and powered down. Something bad had happened here, but she couldn’t make any assumptions without more information. She dragged them to the nearest charging port, repaired some of their more vital internal mechanisms, and had something to eat while she waited for them to wake up. Though there was still power to the habitat, there didn’t appear to be any computer terminals, probably because the Ansutahan would have little use for them.
A few hours later, Sharice’s eyes lit up, as her systems rebooted. “Sharice, Sharice. Do you know who I am?”
“Leona Gelen Delaney-Matic.”
“That’s good enough. Please run a summary diagnostic check on your systems.”
Sharice turned her eyeballs to the floor while her neural net synthesized the data. “All systems operating at, or above, minimal efficiency. No irreparable damage detected.” She turned her head when she noticed Brooke was slouched against the wall next to her. “Mom? Mom!”
“Hold on,” Leona tried to comfort her. “She’s still charging to minimal operating threshold. We’ll wait until then before we start getting worried.”
“What’s the date?” Sharice asked.
“October 12, 2219.”
“The AOC. Is it here?”
“It’s gone,” Leona said. “I thought you and your mom took it.”
Sharice shook her head. “No, I’m sure the Ansutahan did, if you didn’t see any evidence of its destruction. We underestimated their willpower. They started killing and destroying the Bungulans. I lost consciousness before I could know for sure, but it was only a matter of time before they tried to leave the surface. I know that not all of them made it.”
“Where are all the Bungulans?”
Sharice looked around the room, even though she knew she wouldn’t literally see anyone else. “The survivors must have escaped to Site Beta. That’s what I would do.”
Finally, Brooke’s eyes lit up as well, and she regained consciousness. She was far more panicked at first, but a cursory diagnostic test proved that she would survive too.
“Is there any way to find out where the Ansutahan took the Ocasio-Cortez, and who was on it, and whether Serif was one of them, and if the bridge is still active?” Leona asked. She was a physicist and computer expert, but she didn’t know everything she could have about the ins and outs of Bungula Colony Site Alpha.
Brooke nodded. “The telescope, if it was dormant, would have recorded a general view of the sky. If someone was studying a distant system at the time, however, then it might not have seen the vector. Either way, it’s not perfect, because the AOC could have changed directions later, or suffered a cataclysm.”
“Other than that,” Sharice added, “the colonists would probably know. I hesitate to ask them anything, though, as we have caused them so many problems since arriving. They owe us nothing.”
Leona nodded in agreement. “Then let’s hope the telescope data can tell us something.”
The three of them left the habitat, and headed for the observatory, which had been abandoned, just like the rest of the dome. Though they were hoping to avoid asking the colonists for help, they would have to be contacted at some point. If the surviving Ansutahan had stolen the AOC, that would leave Site Alpha free to be reclaimed by its rightful owners, and they needed to know that.
Brooke and Sharice interfaced with the database, to search for the right information, leaving Leona to twiddle her thumbs. She had gotten used to being the one who had to find out stuff like this, but now that she was walking around with bonafide androids, she was least qualified to help. Brooke was starting from January, which was when the second Ansutahan uprising took place, while Sharice started from yesterday, and worked her way backwards.
“I found it,” Brooke said. “February of this year.” She tilted her head as she sorted through the data. “They left. Traveling at...point-seven-five-c. Predicting a destination of...Barnard’s Star.”
Leona breathed a heavy sigh of relief.
“That’s not too surprising,” Sharice pointed out. “We had already calculated that trip. It would have been harder to calculate somewhere else.”
“True,” Brooke said, “but they would still need a good enough pilot to course correct.”
“Was there anyone there who could do that?” Leona asked.
“We don’t really know who survived, and who died in the firefight,” Brooke said. “But best case scenario...only kind of. The Ansutahan are not a space-faring race, because they don’t have very much space to fare in their home universe. Their ability to pilot the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is entirely reliant on the most intelligent of the passengers being able to improvise, or adequately study the manual.”
“So, we’ll just never know,” Leona lamented.
“You could,” Sharice offered. “You could jump back into that grave, and take that Nexus thing you were talking about to Gatewood. You should do that either way, so your husband doesn’t accept the arrival without having any clue what he’s dealing with.”
“That’s a good point,” Leona admitted. “But what will you do?”
“When I became an android,” Brooke began, “I lost a lot of what I was before, including my inability to experience nonlinear time. Still, I doubt the grave would work for me.”
“Besides,” Sharice said, “we have an obligation to stay here, and rebuild what we broke. We owe the colonists that much.”
“Are you sure?” Leona asked. “I could still wait. The ship won’t arrive at Gatewood for another nine...uh, days.”
“We’re sure,” Brooke said with a smile.
Sharice agreed. “I’m certain we’ll see you again.”
Leona said her goodbyes, packed some supplies, and walked up to the edge of the grave that Ramses dug. Then she fell back, and into it. When she climbed back out, Brooke and Sharice were still standing there, because Halifax had not come through this time.

Meanwhile, on Dardius, Mateo was living in a world still at war. Nonetheless, much had changed since last year. The good news was that the fighting was at a virtual standstill. While more quantum replications of the enemy continued to come through the Muster Twins,—as Ramses was calling the Muster Beacon and Muster Lighter collectively—Dardieti military might was increasing every day as well. It wasn’t something they thought they would ever need, being millions of lightyears from the nearest known civilization, but it was surprisingly easy to form from essentially nothing. Enough people with military experience had been rescued from the brink of death on Earth over the years, and while here, they had built a stable and harmonious global nation, capable of holding back any threat.
It wasn’t entirely clear what the Dardieti were meant to gain from Mateo claiming the planet as his own. It wasn’t like that was something the Freemarketeers were going to respect. At least that wasn’t what Mateo thought. But Ramses had a plan. He knew how to deal with these people, and Mateo’s coronation was only the beginning of that. True, if Mateo was to have anything to do with it, it would take years to fix this problem from everyone else’s perspective. But that didn’t mean they shouldn’t try. They would be locked in battle forever unless that found some advantage.
“Can we not call it a coronation, though?” Mateo asked politely.
The reality was that Ramses wasn’t really supposed to have gone on the mission to save Mateo on Tribulation Island last year. At the time, he was designated as a special advisor to the delegation, serving directly under one of the delegators himself. Since then, he was officially appointed as the Foreign Policy Advisor, to the other world delegator. Though the position had been included by its unknown mastermind in the initial political design that inspired the Dardieti government, it had never been used on the planet. These designs were originally intended for individual nations, who needed to communicate with separate civilizations, which was something Dardius as a whole had no use for until now. Any contact made back with Earth traditionally fell under the leadership of the Transportation and Citizenry Administrators, among a few others. Mateo was still trying to figure out the difference between an advisor, and an administrator, but he knew there was a difference. Ramses wasn’t responsible for policy, but instead made sure those policies were ethical and effective. Either way, he had led Mateo’s rescue mission out of a sense of duty.
“Seriously,” Mateo went on, “I don’t want to be king. I just want to fix this.”
“No one’s going to be calling you king,” Ramses assured him, “but they are going to look to you as a singular voice.”
“I thought that’s what the mediator did.”
Ramses stopped adjusting Mateo’s clothes for a second. “Let me explain this again. The government is broken up into two separate delegator groups, made up of advisors. They don’t report to the mediator, but receive guidance from her. She’s there as a go-between, so the two delegators don’t suffer from biases by interacting with each other too much. The idea is if they’re each asked to make a decision about something, and they come to a consensus without ever even talking to each other, it hopefully means it’s a good decision. The deputy delegator then relays whatever decisions they make to the administration board, who enact changes to their respective departments, as necessary.
“But once we came up with this system of checks and balances, the people were worried decision-making would not be fast enough. In peacetime, the snail’s pace of democracy is usually okay, but when a minute can mean the difference between a nuclear explosion, and a successful intercept of the missile, we need a top executive. Amendment Two allows us to vote for this executive, but Amendment One pushes you specifically into that role, should you happen to be on-world when the need arises.”
“But isn’t voting the cornerstone of any good democracy?” Mateo argued.
“Yes, but A-One allows us to replace a formal vote with general public attitudes. We can’t vote, Mateo, because you’re not here long enough to campaign, and you don’t have any competition anyway. The system takes your time-jumping into account.”
“I still feel icky about this,” Mateo complained. “It was fine when I owned a planet that nobody lived on, but billions of people are counting on me, and I don’t know jack shit.”
Ramses went back to making sure the outfit Mateo was wearing looked okay for the Dardieti public. “That’s good. You would be sociopath if it didn’t bother you.’re not doing this alone. That’s what the advisors are for. We haven’t abolished them just because you’re here now.”
“So, what’s my job title again?”
“Don’t call it a job,” Ramses warned him. “Running a planet is not like running a business. But to answer your question, you’re the patronus.”
“Did you get that from Harry Potter?”
Ramses laughed. “No, Latin. Now, are you ready?”
“No,” Mateo answered truthfully.
“The people are.” Ramses shuffled Mateo out onto the balcony, where a crowd of thousands, accompanied by a livestream for billions, was waiting for him.