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. Besides...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.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Furor: A Very Dangerous Period (Part VI)

Glasses!Paige separated herself from the group as soon as they arrived back home. Well, it wasn’t exactly home. They had left the real world to go to the prison in the summer, but this looked more like a snowy death world. “I’m sorry I brought you here,” she said. “But the summer of 2026 is a dangerous time period for time travelers. Because of what happens, things can turn out wonky. We’re in the first winter of 2019 right now, so Jesi can take you back to when you need to be.”
“When are you from?” Ace asked his daughter with a frown. “What happened to you? I thought you needed photographs to travel.”
Glasses!Paige pointed to the movie theatre that this parking lot was for. “Security camera, right there. These glasses contain millions of jump points for me to access, via historical records, and a few other sources. I’m not giving you any more information about myself.”
It was obvious that she was about to disappear. “I love you.”
“I miss you,” Glasses!Paige said, before jumping into some other picture.
Ace scowled, and looked back to Jesi. “Ground rules.”
“Lay ‘em on me,” Jesi said, though there was no telling how sincere she was being.
“You do everything I say, when I say it. You can question it, but only if you have a logical argument against my instructions. I do recognize that you are more versed in the world of time travelers, so if what I plan doesn’t make any sense, you have an obligation to tell me. Once I have all the facts, I may amend those instructions. Slipstream, Serkan, and absolutely any version of Paige has this same power over you.”
“I understand,” Jesi said.
“There’s still one little problem,” Slipstream jumped in.
“What?” Ace asked. “That she can disappear anytime she wishes, and there is nothing anyone can do to stop her?”
Slipstream nodded. “That’s the one.”
“I’ve been thinking about that.” Since this all started several years ago, Ace had changed. He was still the same person he was brought up to be. He still liked savory egg-pastry dishes, he still used his intuitive skills to gamble, and he still loved the City of Fountains more than his hometown of Topeka. But there was also a darkness in him that only came out when his family was threatened, which hadn’t really been an issue until Serkan showed up. He was of a more violent nature than he ever knew, and this side of him frightened him far more than any time traveler he could meet. Yet it also held its advantages. He wasn’t the only one who noticed this aspect of his character, and if necessary, he would be more than willing to use this to protect his people. “One thing I’ve realized about this underworld is that y’all kinda know each other.”
“Right...” Jesimula was with him there.
Ace went on, “time travelers sort of pop in and out of your life, seemingly at random. When a regular human meets someone, say, at the grocery store, unless they make a point of staying in contact, there’s a good chance they’ll never see each again. But every time a time traveler meets another time traveler, it’s profoundly meaningful, which means the chances are high that they will see each other again.”
“I don’t know exactly where you’re going with this.”
“Yeah, me neither,” Slipstream agreed.
Ace prepared to finish up. “You could use your power to leave us whenever you want. But you’re a fool if you think we’ll never see each other again. It could be the next day, or decades from now, but I promise you that our paths will cross at least once more. You’ve agreed to help us with this Rothko guy, and if you break that promise, I assure you that the next time I see you, I won’t ask any questions. I’ll just fucking kill you.”
The transformation of Jesi’s face upon her hearing Ace’s last statement was not one he would ever forget. This was fear, from a woman who was every bit his superior, except in two arenas; he had people he loved, and he was physically stronger than her. Even Slipstream, who had made a career out of violence, as a vigilante law enforcement outlaw, was shaken by his words.
Jesi put her tail between her legs, and though she didn’t technically step back, she did shrink away. “I’ll help you. I’ll do anything I can, and I’ll only leave when you grant me safe passage.”
Ace breathed deeply through his nostrils. “One more thing. Don’t hurt anyone. Not anyone.”
“Not even—”
“Not even Rothko,” he interrupted.
“Yes, sir.” She could have said that sarcastically, but she didn’t. He was her commanding officer now, and maybe that was what she needed all along. Maybe all these so-called Springfield Nine had lacked strong role models who didn’t take their shit. He probably wasn’t the best candidate for it, but at least Slipstream was here.
“All right. I may think of more rules, and I’ll expect you to follow them as well.”
“Of course.”
“Then let’s get out of here.”
Before Jesi could take the other two in her hands, a man appeared out of nowhere, holding a pair of what could only be described as futuristic handcuffs.
If Jesi wasn’t scared before, she was scared now. “Oh my God.”
“Who are you?” Ace asked.
“Name’s Tracker. I’m one of those few people who don’t put the word the in front of their cutesy little nicknames.”
“Ace, we have to go now,” Jesi warned.
“You are all fugitives of Beaver Haven Penitentiary, and I have been sent to bring you in.”
“I thought we were all immune,” Ace said. “You only got Jesi the first time because my daughter went after her.”
“That’s true, but once that happened, she became fair game, ad infinitum. And once you broke her out, you became fair game too.”
“That sounds fishy,” Slipstream pointed out.
“Ace, let’s go. Now.” Jesi was backing away, but slow enough to show she wasn’t planning on leaving without them.
“It’s too late,” Tracker said. “In addition to being able to follow people through their spacetime rifts, I can suppress people’s powers once I find them.”
“He’s lying,” Jesi said. “I know all about him, and he can’t do that.”
“If you try to slide into the future,” Tracker began, “it could kill you.”
“I’m gonna risk it.”
“It could kill all of you,” Tracker clarified.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Slipstream noted. “If you can suppress powers, it shouldn’t matter how hard she tries. Unless you’re not suppressing powers at all. You’ve put her on a leash.”
Ace was watching her as she was talking. Now he turned back to Tracker with hope. “Leashes can be broken.”
“Sure, by me. What would someone like you be able to do?”
“He probably can’t do anything,” Slipstream said. “Can you hold onto a leash when you’re unconscious, though?” She stepped towards him.
“Now, wait. I know what you can do, and no, I won’t be able to hold onto her once you knock me out. But I’ll be able to find her when I wake up.”
“I dunno,” Slip said. “It’s pretty cold out here. You sure you’re gonna wake up?”
Now Tracker started to back away. “Didn’t you, like, swear an oath that you wouldn’t use your gifts for evil?”
Slipstream scoffed and laughed as she kept inching forward. “No. Did you?”
He stopped, and stood up straight. “Yes.” His eyes darted to his right.
“What?” she asked. “Do you see a temporal rift over there, or something?”
“That’s...” Tracker was surprised. “How did you know?”
“I’m pretty good at reading people.”
“I know where you’re going,” Tracker said. “You knock me out, I escape through that rift, your mangy dog over there literally bites through his buddy’s leash.” He gestured towards Ace. “It doesn’t matter what you do, or where you go. We know that you’re headed for downtown Kansas City, summer of 2026.”
Jesi nodded. “That’s true, but you don’t wanna go there, do you? That’s a very dangerous period of the timeline, or so we’ve heard.”
“I’ll find a safe way in.” Tracker sounded pretty confident.
“Great,” Ace said. “And when you do, you can arrest Rothko Ladhiffe.”
“I will, and I’ll take you all with him.”
Ace placed her hand on Jesi’s shoulder. She shuddered a bit, but quickly realized he meant her no harm. Slipstream stepped back over and did the same. “You can try.”
Tracker pouted at them. Then he literally jumped into the invisible tear in the spacetime continuum.
With the leash broken, Jesi created a time bubble around the three of them, and slid them toward the future. Ace watched as the seasons came, and the seasons went. Cars drove up, parked in the spot they were standing in, and drove away just as quickly. Finally, the flashforward stopped, hopefully leaving them sometime soon after they first left.
Ace pulled out his phone, and called Serkan. “Hey. How long have we been gone, from your perspective?” He listened to the response, then relayed it to the group, “less than an hour.” He listened more. “We’re in Leawood.—No, don’t worry about it. It looks like Slip is already calling us a ride.”
“Dave will be here in a grayish rogue in four minutes,” Slipstream announced.
“We’ll be home in thirty minutes. I love you too.” He hung up.
Two minutes later, a grayish rogue pulled up next to them. “Bozhena?” the driver asked.
“Thank you for coming.”
They climbed into the vehicle.
“No problemo,” he said as he was driving away. “I’m Dave, but you can call me The Chauffeur.” Ah, shit.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Microstory 1040: Jerry

I’ve only lived in Blast City for a couple of years, so if you’re looking for a different perspective than you’re getting from these townies, you’ve come to the right place. I don’t know what reason your family had for moving, but mine had to do it because of me. I grew up in a really red state, but my mother had a really good job, and they thought they would be able to survive. My first high school was the absolute worst, though. In the summer after eighth grade, I asked if I could become a cheerleader, which they had no problem with whatsoever. They were actually getting a little worried that I wasn’t interested in anything. It was a bit too late to sign up for cheer camp, but they made tons of calls, and found me a place that was far away, but really open to beginners. Most of the other kids had been really active their whole lives, even if they were switching from gymnastics, or acrobatics, or whatnot. They were so incredibly supportive and patient with me while I was catching up. So you can see why, even though I knew my hometown was more conservative, it was a huge shock when I was met with such backlash when I tried out for my school’s cheer squad. It’s the 21st century, you would think there would be protections for diversity just about everywhere in this country, but no. They just shut the door on my request, and wouldn’t even entertain the possibility. In the end there was no fighting it. They seemed more angry when I mentioned I wasn’t gay, because then I wasn’t afflicted with the homosickness—their word, not mine—I was just confused and weird. Well, we learned about this place, which we found surprising progressive for a small town. My mom was offered a really good job at the club, though still not as good as what she had, and I will never be able to pay her back for that. You may be wondering why I’m even telling this story, and what it was to do with Viola. The truth is, everything. The issue with my old school was tragic and traumatizing for me and my family, but it didn’t make national news, or anything. Perhaps it should have, but I guess we just didn’t make a big enough stink. Viola herself actually called me out of the blue, and acted like she worked for your paper, Alma. She said she had heard what happened to me, and wanted to tell my story. We got sidetracked, and she brought up an open position at the club, and let me know how much safer and loving Blast City Senior High was. It was she who suggested we move all the way out here, though she did a great job making me think I had thought of it myself. It wasn’t until my second week in that I realized the whole thing was made up. She didn’t work for the school paper, and the article never existed. Even then, I never found out how she found out about me, let alone got her hands on my phone number. I’ll tell you what, though, I’ll always be grateful she did. I’m captain of the cheer squad now.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Microstory 1039: Charlotte

Hello, my name is Charlotte, presently known as An Artist, presently known as Charlotte. I do all kinds of art; painting of all styles, sculpting, performance. I work a lot with blue. Pretty much the only thing I don’t know is music, so I guess I don’t ever have to worry about going for an EGOT. I tried my hand at the flute, and then the guitar, and then the saxophone, but it’s just not for me. Anyway, I’m that girl who always has paint in her hair, and cares more about a book’s cover than the content inside. Don’t feel bad for me, though. I know that it’s almost impossible to make money as an artist. The game is rigged, and if you do manage to succeed, you’ll have sold your soul to do it. I never planned on making money on my work. I’m working hard in school, and while I’m still not certain what kind of career I ultimately want to have, I’ve never had any delusions about the art. I just enjoy the feeling of joy from creating something, and that of accomplishment once I arbitrarily declare that a piece is done. Viola suggested that I get the best of both worlds. I could potentially make a little extra cash, while going around all the people in the industry who’ve traded true beauty for money. She helped me build a website, where I can passively sell my work. It doesn’t cost me a thing, so if I never find any customers, no harm done. It doesn’t take much time to keep posting photos of my creation, so I can still focus on the more practical aspects of my life. I would have been happy just signing up for a service that has everything set up for me, but Viola thought it was important I carve out my own space on the internet. That girl can write code, which I bet most people don’t know about her. She did it right in front of me, literally writing up the little sideways carrots, and dollar signs. It all goes over my head, but man, was she fast. I know transcriptionists who can’t type regular words as quick she can type something she called PHP. That’s not just an analogy, I know a shocking number of transcriptionist personally. It’s this family connection that you don’t care about. I’m sure my classmates are telling you how she had such a huge impact on their lives, but what they might not be saying is how easy all of it was for her. When she was done coding, she just stood up, said goodbye, and walked away to help someone else. For me, it was one of the most important days of my life, but for her, it was Tuesday.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Microstory 1038: Ernest

You are probably going to hear a lot of crazy stories about the things Viola did for people, if you have not already. Well, I guess you will hear more of them, even if you already have. I do not know about all those other rumors, but I can fill you in on my personal experience with her. You may notice that I am quite...serious, if you will. I have excellent posture, and I cannot speak in contractions. I do not enjoy comedy movies, or amusement park rides. I do not ever smile, and I am never relaxed. All this, I believe, was a mistake. You may not know this, but not every part of our town is something out of a 1950s family situation comedy. We have poor people, and we have criminals. I grew up in an exceptionally unstable environment. My bloodline is messy and confusing, so I will not bore you with the details, but when my real parents were unable to care for me, relatives were required to pick up the slack. Unfortunately, no one I am related to is particularly refined either, so I simply did not have a chance. I started smoking cigarettes when I was nine years old, drinking alcohol when I was eleven, and smoking marijuana when I was thirteen. I was even addicted to opioids for a good long while. I was failing all of my classes freshman year, and was going nowhere with my life. Even if we could have afforded college tuition, there was no way I would be accepted anywhere better than a revolving door institution. Even then, I possessed no motivation to succeed, nor natural talents I could have used in the workforce. One day, Viola approached me with a frown. She said that she was not certain she could help. A disease of the body is easy. It is easy to spot, and given the right tools, easy to correct. But my problem was a disease of the mind. I was not raised to believe in myself, or that the world had anything to offer me, other than drugs, of course. Still, she tried, and though I am not convinced I am now better off, I will forever appreciate the effort. She worked harder for me than anyone else before. You see, she was trying to make me whole; to clean the slate, as it were. She was trying to make me normal. Sadly, she went too far. In giving me ambition, she removed nearly all feeling. I am not uncaring for others, and I would certainly do anything I could in an emergency, but I can no longer relate to people. Their issues are more trivial to me than ever, and this is a character defect that I have been unable to change. Perhaps, in time, I could learn to be more like I was before, but not too much. For now, however, I am stuck as this distant..numb..robot. I achieve perfect grades, and have been accepted into some astonishingly impressive educational establishments, but I am unable to make friends. I would like to think that, if Viola had survived whatever it was that happened to her, she would have eventually figured out how to balance me out. No, that is a purposeless thought, for it cannot be. Thusly, becoming a better person is all up to me, just as it is for everyone else. Is that all you need? I truly must return to my studies. Just because I am going to college no matter what, doesn’t mean I can stop trying. Did you hear that? I’ve used a contraction. Twice!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Microstory 1037: Raymond

Mind if I do my workout while we’re talking? I had to meet my tutor before school this morning, so I’m going to have to double up on my routine this afternoon. My father says that we’re all born with our own gifts. Some people are smart, and some are strong. He says siblings often don’t end up having the same traits, so Wynn got the smart genes, and I got the muscles. That’s not to say I didn’t have to work for these things. I adhere to a very strict diet, and exercise regimen. I’m not one of those people who thinks you should eat all protein, and no carbs, or that lifting weights is the only thing you gotta do. Life is all about balance: balance in food, in activity, and in everything else. Unfortunately, there are still some things that I struggle with since my brother stole all my smarts when he was born. I’m a year older than him, but we’re in the same grade, because I had to take ninth grade a second time. I don’t have a learning disability, like Roy. He has trouble comprehending and retaining knowledge, but I’m just not good at all the other stuff you have to do to learn. You have to pay attention to the teacher, and student presentations. You have to study, and complete your homework, and pace yourself during a test. My tutor hasn’t been teaching me the content so much as he’s been helping me become better organized, and more motivated. Ya see, maybe I could use my physical strength to make money. Maybe I could model in fitness magazines, or play some sport, or become a fitness trainer, but the first two things are unrealistic dreams, and I’m not at all interested in being a trainer. What my father said about natural gifts really got into my head when I was young, and I’ve never truly gotten past it. But I know that I have to graduate from high school if I want a chance at landing a good job. As things are heading, it’s not clear if I should waste my time going to college, but a liberal arts degree from an in-state school probably wouldn’t hurt. It would at least give me four more years to figure my life out, which might be really helpful. I don’t dislike my new tutor, but he’s not as good as Viola was. She made me a better student just by being around. Seriously, she could sit next to me while I did my homework—without saying a word—and I would get hundo-p on it. She had some magical power to make me feel comfortable, confident, and focused. I realized I was gay a long time ago, but I felt a love for Viola that I’ve never experienced before. It strained my relationship with my boyfriend so much that we had to break up. I don’t mind, though, because I needed Viola’s help with my grades more than I needed a make-out partner. Without her, I might have had to repeat my senior year as well, and that would have been even more embarrassing. I’m going to miss her in the worst way.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Microstory 1036: Wynn

I know it looks really crazy in here, but I’m kind of old school, because I don’t really trust computers. People call me paranoid, and a conspiracy theorist, or just a nut. I can’t honestly say with one hundred percent certainty that they’re not right, because maybe everything I’ve ever been suspicious about is completely explainable. I started questioning my world when I was really young, and really impressionable. Instead of starting to notice some discrepancies with the lies we were being told, I just accepted all the lies that other investigators we’re telling me. So no, I didn’t believe the government when they said nothing happened in Roswell in the 1940s, but that doesn’t mean I should have trusted the truthers who were saying something definitely did something. There’s a difference between healthy skepticism, and insane distrustfulness. As you can see from the office I’ve built for myself down here, I’m very good at walking the line between them. And when I say that I built it, I mean that quite literally. The basement was unfinished when my parents bought this place years ago. Just about everything else wasn’t finished either. They came here to try their hand at flipping. You can get a house for cheap out in the countryside, so this was a good opportunity for them to learn the trade. They worked so hard getting it fixed up—my brother and I helped as much as we could—and ended up falling in love with the place, and just sticking around. They found jobs in town, and we’ve been Blast Citians ever since. They left this basement alone, though. They wanted it to belong to their children, so when we were old enough, we were each given half, and charged with creating whatever we wanted. Raymond turned his half into a gym and game room, while I turned mine into this lair. Needless to say, I get a lot more out of spending time in his half than he does in mine.

Anyway, I’m not going to show you everything I’ve collected over the years, but I encourage you to come here whenever you want. I actually installed a door to the outside, so you don’t have to go through the house to get in. Here’s an extra key, you can come whenever you want. If I try to explain what I think I’ve found beforehand, it’s just going to freak you out, and make you second guess every one of my claims anyway. I think it’s best if you go into this part of your investigation with the most open mind. Please do come back, though. I know it seems a little creepy, me offering you the basement, but I assure you I have no interest in anything beyond the truth. You should do it, even if only to find inspiration to write a story on the town crazy who thinks angels are real. I think you’ll find a lot of this stuff pretty interesting. It may not seem like it, but I’m a quite organized person, so all the Viola Woods stuff is in one place. If you’ve already interviewed three dozen people by now, then I’m sure you’ve heard some stories about her that just don’t add up. She helped a lot of people, and did so with such...precision. Some of the methods she used were also a little hard to believe, I bet. Take a look at the travel records. Her family didn’t leave this town once after she was born, yet there’s strong evidence that she’s been all over the world. How did she do that? No, I’m saying too much, and I don’t want to corrupt your own journey. I may have been wrong about Roswell, and about chemtrails, and about a secret organization that controls every world superpower, but I’m not wrong about this. I don’t know exactly what Viola was, but I know she wasn’t one of us. Or rather, she isn’t. Raymond should be home by now, so you can talk to him now. He’s not as smart as I am, but he’s a lot more relatable.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: October 11, 2218

While the three of them were brunching at a restaurant named in honor of Horace Reaver, a group of Dardieti workers were disassembling and packing the Muster Beacon on the roof of the Intake Building. After Ramses left to start his new life on this planet, Mateo and Leona met up with the movers at the cemetery. It was clear upon seeing it that there was no way to get that whole thing into an open grave, even in pieces. They realized they would have to get back to Bungula some other way. So they called Transportation Administrator Moss to discuss their options.
“Can we use the Nexus instead?” Leona asked.
“I can send you anywhere you want on Earth,” Moss began to explain. “The Great Pyramid of Giza acts as a tethering point to focus interstellar, or intergalactic, travel. I don’t have to ask you whether something like that exists on Bungula, because if it did, I would know it. The Nexus control system shows every possible destination.”
“How many destinations are there?” Mateo asked her.
“Four, including this place.”
Her assistant whispered something in her ear.
“Did we confirm that?” she asked him out loud.
He whispered again.
“Correction, five destinations,” she said to the group. “Dardius, Earth, Durus, a secret location I’m not going to tell you about, and a new one that we don’t understand.”
“It’s new?” Leona questioned, fascinated by the technology.
“Yeah, it popped up in our systems last week, all on its own. The last time we had a new one was Durus, which we were expecting, because we were in communication with them. We’re not sure where this other one came from.”
“Well, where is it?”
The assistant handed Moss a tablet, who opened the necessary program. “It doesn’t appear to be too far from Earth, but I’m not overly familiar with your star systems.” She turned the tablet over to Leona, who took a few minutes to study the data.
“Holy shit.”
“What is it?” Mateo asked her.
Leona presented the screen to all of them, but they needed more information. “This is Gatewood. Someone built a new Nexus exactly where we need it.”
“Who would do that?”
Leona consulted the tablet again. “Simply designated FVG, courtesy of KM and IC.” She started pondering that.
“Why does everyone have to speak in acronyms?” Mateo questioned. It was the one of the most frustrating things he remembered experiencing before he became a time traveler. He called it the Abbreviation Epidemic. He broke out of his funk when he noticed Leona was frowning. “What is it?”
“These aren’t complete.”
Moss kind of rolled her eyes, and took the tablet back. “We are aware of this. I would have ordered my team to finish the calculations quickly if I knew you would be in need of it.”
“Can someone tell me what’s happening?” Mateo requested.
“These aren’t real Nexa,” Leona said. “In the movies, the machines can connect to each other automatically. They’re like cell phones. Whenever you call your friend, they don’t have to be in the exact same spot every time, right? Well, everything in the universe is in constant motion. A real Nexus could just send you without any trouble, but these are, more or less, replicas. I know for a fact that this is going to lead us to Gatewood, but not today, I imagine.”
Moss shook her head. “No. My team alloted eleven days for the project. They could have done it faster, but we weren’t in much of a hurry, because we had to prepare a recon team anyway.”
“So, we won’t be able to go until next year?” Mateo figured.
“That’s right,” Leona confirmed.
“Well, this hastens the process anyway, so that’s no big loss.”
“It is,” Leona argued. “We can get Gatewood instantly, but we still need the Ocasio-Cortez to get there.”
“Oh, that’s true.”
“We’ll have to separate,” Leona determined. “One of us has to wait for the Nexus to be ready, while the other returns to Bungula now, and gets our ship on its way.”
Mateo put on a blank face. “I can’t do either of those things.”
“I can help with either, or both,” Moss said. “I have Muster Beacon experts, I have engineers, and I have pilots.”
Leona spent some time in her head, weighing all the options. Mateo wouldn’t have been surprised if he learned she was predicting the outcome of 14,000,605 timelines. Finally, she said, “you go to Gatewood. I’ll pilot the AOC, and take the long way ‘round.”
“Are you sure about this?” Mateo asked. He didn’t doubt her, and he certainly didn’t think she couldn’t handle it. He was more concerned with the fact that he wasn’t fit for either task.
“Yeah, I think this is our best option. She stepped closer to the open grave. “As long as Halifax comes through.” She looked to Moss. “I can do this on my own. Please send him with the best Muster Beacon engineers you have next year.”
“Will do,” Moss agreed.
“Wait!” Mateo stopped her just as her heels were teasing the edge of the grave. “I love you.”
“Were I you,” she said, “I would too.” She fell back, and never came out.

Leona woke up at the bottom of the grave with a splitting headache. A cloud of dirt and dust was floating around her. She was having trouble focusing, but she had the wherewithal to check her watch, which told her it was now October 11, 2218. She must have been knocked out from the fall, and then just reappeared in the timeline a year later, which stirred up all this dirt. Mateo usually took the brunt of the fall when they traveled through graves. She had never done it on her own before, and just felt grateful that it had worked at all. The Gravedigger didn’t do this for just anyone.
She started to climb out, hoping someone would reach down and help her, but there was no one around. The dome looked a lot different than it had before, though. The colonists had expanded greatly since, theoretically as more ships arrived, full of passengers ready to settle on a new world. Things didn’t look completely great, however. She could see the Ocasio-Cortez in the middle distance, just where it was before, but having been toppled to its side. Something had gone terribly wrong. She kept her head on a swivel, and carefully made her way towards it, recognizing and appreciating that she didn’t know what she could find once inside.
Leona pulled herself up through the airlock, and walked along the wall, down to the main area of the ship. Whatever it was that did this, it had done it a while ago. Things weren’t as bad as she would have thought, fortunately. The systems were shut down, but it didn’t look like the vessel had suffered too much structural damage. “Hello?” she called out, nervous about what might still be around to respond. “Anyone there?”
A figure appeared from the steps that lead to the engineering deck, holding a flashlight in Leona’s face. “Oh, it’s you.” The figure turned the flashlight around to illuminate her own, decidedly friendly, face.
“Sharice?”
“You’ve finally come back,” Sharice said as she drew nearer, and turned the flashlight into a standing lantern. “Did Brooke not see you? She was meant to check the grave every year.”
“There was no one out there,” Leona answered.
“We’ve been having power issues, for our own bodies. She must be charging.”
“What happened here?”
“An uprising,” Sharice said. “Skirmishes have begun in Ansutah, and the human refugees became desperate. They figured out how to break through the door, and started pouring out.”
“How many got through before you managed to seal it?” Leona looked over to grave chamber four, which was fully closed again, and reinforced heavily.
“A few dozen,” Sharice replied. “They decided it was impractical for everyone to have to climb up to the airlock, so once a few of them got out, they turned the AOC over on its side.” They did a pretty good job, actually. The ship is not irreparable, but it will take some time.”
“Where are they now?”
“The Bungulan colonists rounded them all up, and placed them under house arrest. Robots built an entire facility to accommodate them. I don’t know what’s going to happen to them, but if we ever make it off the ground, they won’t be allowed to head for Gatewood with us.”
Leona nodded. “I’m sorry this happened to you.”
“Please tell me you have better news. Did you get the Muster Beacon? Where’s your husband?”
Leona looked at her watch again, but only demonstratively, because she already knew what day it was. “With any luck, he should be arriving at Gatewood with the beacon. We discovered a way to travel there instantaneously. I came back to get the refugees, but the beacon should be set up and waiting for them in nine years.”
“Better make that ten,” Sharice said. “We can’t leave until next year.”
Leona nodded in understanding. “Yeah, okay. I just want to get this thing up there as fast as possible, even if that means you leave during my interim year. The Dardieti need the beacon back ASAP.”
“We’ll need about four months.” Brooke Prieto was climbing across the ladder from the upper deck. “The Bungulans want us to leave, but paradoxically, they’ve been resistant to help us actually do that. They’re not happy with the Ansutahan refugees, and are still suspicious of our lie about how we got here, let alone how all those people supposedly fit in this tiny little ship.”
“That’s fine,” Leona said. “Again, leave as soon as you’re ready. I can always jump back into a grave, take a detour to Dardius, and meet you at Gatewood.”
“Understood.” Brooke nodded respectfully.
Meanwhile, back on Dardius, Mateo was waking to a world at war. He had ultimately traveled back to Tribulation Island with Ramses. Come the next few weeks, Ramses was meant to greet the Freemarketeers and Vespiarians in a location far removed from society. But something had apparently gone terribly wrong. Reminiscent of his jump to 2085, Mateo found himself in the middle of a firefight. And like that war, he had no idea why people were shooting at each other. Ramses ran up to him from a barricade, and pulled him to safety.
“What the hell is going on!” Mateo cried.
“I’ll explain in a second!” Ramses replied. “Fall back!” he shouted to everyone on his side. “Activate your recoil!” He held Mateo close to his chest, and punched a button on his belt.
They teleported back to what appeared to be Sutvindr, as did all of the other soldiers.
Ramses first took roll call, and gave instructions to his charges, to report to some command center. “Are you okay?” he asked Mateo. “Are you hurt?”
“I’m fine. Who are you fighting?”
“Apparently there’s a reason the Muster Beacon and the Muster Lighter are kept far away from each other. Even when one is supposedly dormant, it will activate the other, and they’ll start feeding off each other’s energy. We still don’t understand it, because we’ve not been able to study it, but this pairing had horrible consequences for us. Instead of simply summoning all the people from the ships before they were about to blow up, they summoned multiple versions of every one of them. Roughly every day, a new batch of Freemarketeers arrives from alternate realities, and are assimilated into their...clone army. We’re not sure what they’re doing with the Vespiarians, but some of the soldiers are masked, so we think they’re being brainwashed into fighting on the wrong side.”
“You can’t turn off the beacon and lighter?” Mateo suggested.
Ramses shook his head. “They have control over Tribulation Island, Lorania, and several other key locations. We can’t get anywhere near the objects. We risked everything just to get you back from behind enemy lines. You’re not going to Gatewood anytime soon.”
Mateo looked around the city streets. Sutvindr was probably the safest spot on the planet right now, but the people moving about still seemed fearful and nervous. “What can I do to help?”
“You can trigger Amendment One,” Ramses said cryptically.
“What is Amendment One?”
“Basically, you have to declare yourself King of Dardius.”

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Furor: Dude Thinks He Invented It (Part V)

The prison guard held the door open so Ace could call Serkan and Paige, and tell them where he was going to be. Slipstream needed to get her affairs in order with the tracer gang as well, though she wasn’t as honest with them about what she was doing. The reality was that neither of them really knew where it was they were going, though. They could be traveling to the other side of the world, to another world, to the future, or the past. Perhaps the prison existed in another dimension, or maybe somehow all of these possibilities all at once. Susan and Ennis seemed to think it was safe for them to travel there, but Ace didn’t exactly know them that well.
“No cameras,” the guard informed them at the doorway. He took their phones from them, and slipped them into his pocket. Then he started leading them down a passageway. “Who is it you need to speak with?”
“Anyone who can tell us about Rothko Ladhiffe,” Ace answered.
The guard flinched, almost imperceptibly. “He got out on my watch. I can tell you as much as anyone else here can, outside of his friends.”
Ace and Slipstream gave each other a look. “We should talk to his friends.”
“They are not allowed visitors,” the guard explained.
“We’re not here to visit.”
“Good point,” he admitted. He turned a corner that Ace didn’t even know was there. Some walls weren’t really walls. “Susan has instructed me to give you everything you ask for, but she is not my boss.”
“Who is?”
“The Warden, of course.” He ushered them into an office, where a woman was sitting at a desk, and just staring at the wood, like a powered-down robot.
Ace cleared his throat, but the warden lady didn’t react.
“Excuse me?” Slipstream piped up.
The Warden held up one finger, and didn’t drop it for a minute. Then she used it to point at what appeared to be some random point on the desk. “There. See it?” she asked the empty space right next to her chair.
“Yes,” came the voice of some invisible entity, right where the Warden was talking to.
“I want him moved to the other side.”
“I’m on it.” The side door opened and closed on its own.
The Warden finally looked up to the two of them. “What, you’ve never seen an invisible person before?”
“Well, no,” Ace said, “but that’s not it. We’re just not sure what you two were looking at on your desk.”
She smiled and reached under that desk. After a click, a holographic image appeared on the surface; apparent footage of the prison. “This is a live feed. We were looking at something that hasn’t happened yet, so you can’t see it unless you have a trained eye.”
Ace nodded. He didn’t fully understand what she had said, but he long ago learned when someone with more experience in the world of time manipulators said something is a thing that’s real, he was better of just accepting it and moving on.
“What can I do for you?” Who are you?”
“You just let us walk into your office without knowing us?” Ace questioned.
“Don’t you know the future?” Slip added.
“Not the whole future.”
“Well, I’m a salmon...sort of,” Ace began. “That’s what everyone calls me, but the powers that be have never asked me to do anything.”
“That you know of,” the Warden corrected.
“That I know of,” he agreed. “This is Slipstream. She’s, uhh...” Yeah, he still wasn’t clear how different people were going to react to a regular ol’ human.
“Bozhena Horvatinčić?” the Warden asked, with a proper fangirl squee. She stood up, and walked around the desk to shake her idol’s hand. “It is such an honor. What you did for Kansas City...”
“Was a group effort,” Slipstream said with flawless modesty.
“That’s my girl. We should do lunch. Are you hungry?”
“We’re...anxious,” Slipstream replied. “As I’m sure you know, our fair city is in danger.”
The Warden fell into seriousness. “Right, the ninth and last City Frenzy event.”
Ace and Slipstream gave each other another look. Neither of them knew anything about this being the last Frenzy.
“Whoopsie-doodles, I’ve said too much. I would hit the redo button, but I don’t wanna do that to you. You’re here looking for answers about Mister Ladhiffe. I can put you in a room with Keanu ‘Ōpūnui and Jesimula Utkin, but I’m not sure that’s safe.”
“You have ways of suppressing people’s powers, don’t you?”
“That’s not the problem,” the Warden said. “The Springfield Nine aren’t just dangerous because of their abilities. They’re also all insane. Well, Kallias isn’t, but that’s because he was immune to side effects of the...”
“What?”
“Well, I mean he’s not pristinely ungifted, like Brooke Prieto, but he can control how nonlinear time effects him, if at all.”
“Kallias Bran is one of the Springfield Nine?” Ace asked. “He babysat my child.”
“Yes, but like I said, he’s different.”
“Wait, that doesn’t make any sense. I read about those children,” Slipstream said. “I read about all nine. He wasn’t in there.”
The Warden nodded. “You’re probably thinking of Kayetan Glaston. No, he’s tight with them, but he’s just a regular choosing one. He was born that way. The Nine were made.”
“Are you gonna lock him up too?”
“Kayetan?”
“No. Kallias.”
“I don’t lock up anybody. I’m a warden, not a judge. But to make you feel better, I doubt it. Your child was safe with him.”
After a reverent pause, Slipstream continued, “what did we decide about the interview with Rothko’s friends?”
“Please.” She opened her hand, and pointed to their knees. “Have a seat.”
As soon as they sat down, they discovered themselves to be sitting in an entirely different room. Keanu was on the other side of a cold, metal table that was an awkward few meters long. At the far corner was a young woman Ace didn’t know, but guessed to be Jesimula Utkin. They were both chained to their respective corners. The prison guard from before was performing a beautiful impression of a statue in the corner.
“I don’t think she teleported us,” Ace said. “I think we lost time.”
“You’re getting smarter,” Keanu said to him with a grimace.
“It’s been so long,” Jesi said to Slipstream.
“Is that a joke, or has it been longer for you?”
“Just a year, but I do miss the time we spent together. What’s the deal with this table?”
“No touching,” the guard clarified.
Ace took a moment to pretend he was alone with Slipstream. “As a feminist, I grapple with this idea that hitting a woman is worse than hitting a man, but I know if I punch this guy in the face right now, everyone who heard the story would shrug it off. But if I did the same to—”
“I catch your drift,” Slipstream interrupted. She stood up, and punched Jesi in the face for terrorizing Ace’s daughter.
The prison guard immediately opened a cabinet on the wall, and pulled out a med kit. He removed a piece of cloth from a container, and placed it on Jesi’s face. “Sixty seconds,” he said to her before going right back to his corner, and freezing.
Jesi leaned her head back and sighed while she waited to heal.
“What is it with you people and hitting?” Keanu asked.
“What is it with you people and harming others on a grander scale?”
“Hey, I stand by my winter wonderland!” he shouted jovially.
“They let you stand in here?”
It was a silly retort, but offensive enough to the prisoner. “What is it you want?”
“Rothko.”
Keanu scowled. “That bastard promised to take us with him.”
“So, you’ll help us catch him?” Slipstream imagined.
“Hell no! Springfield code!”
“Oh God,” Jesi said as she was finally removing what was obviously a healing mask. “Enough with that bullshit! We owe him nothing.”
“We owe him everything,” Keanu argued. “He got us out of the pocket dimension.”
“Agree to disagree.”
“It’s a fact, Jesi. You can’t just ignore it because—” Keanu stopped short. “Oh, I see what you did there. Pitting us against each other, making us give you information about the pocket dimension. You’re a couple of sneaky snakes. I see you.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Ace said honestly. “You started fighting all on your own. If you don’t want to tell us what we need to know, then you are free to go.”
“They’re not free to go,” the guard said.
“Oh, my bad,” Ace said. “Looks like you’ve been compelled to help us.”
Jesi pursed her lips and regarded them with exaggerated disdain, like a lady thug. “Yo, watchu wanna know?”
Slipstream took this one, stooping herself to a way of talking that Jesi was already pretending to have. “Yo, like...what does he want? What beef he got with the City Frenzy?”
“That ol’ thang?” Jesi went on. “That dude thinks he invented it.”
“He did,” Keanu argued.
“Puh-lease, ain’t nobody remember him talkin’ about it when we was kids.”
“Well, he did. To. The. Letter.”
Jesi sucked her teeth, and brushed that dirt off her shoulder. “Yeah, right. And I introduced the world fleek.”
“You did,” Keanu reminded her. “That wasn’t meant to be part of English vernacular until 2049.”
“Oh, for reals? Schway.”
Slipstream reached towards Jesi’s face. “No. No. Use whatever accent you want, but no one is uttering that word in my presence.”
“What, schway?”
Slipstream stood up so fast, her chair fell back. Ace picked it up for her while Jesi assured them she wouldn’t use it again.
“Getting serious, guys, Rothko is not all there.” Jesi gestured to Keanu as her voice got quieter. “These kids love him, but he is not okay. He had this thing with this girl, on this other planet. But then there was this other guy, and I don’t know what happened to him, but no one’s ever seen him again. He don’t talk about it, but I think Rothko killed him.”
“Allegedly,” Keanu interjected.
Ace decided it was time to get to the point. “What’s his weakness? How do we stop him.”
Jesi laughed. “How do you stop gravity?”
“Lift?” Slipstream offered.
Jesi thought that was a pretty good answer. “Tell ya what, you get me furlough, I’ll bring him in...dead or alive.”
“You’re not getting furlough,” the guard said abruptly.
Ace looked back at the guard, and then back to the prisoners. “Can you do it.”
“They’re not getting out of here,” the guard said, growing angrier.
“Yes,” Jesi answered.
Steaming was coming out of the guard’s ears. “I won’t let two more people get past me.”
“Not two,” Jesi said. “Just me.”
“Traitor!” Keanu cried.
“I need backup,” the guard called into his radio.
“We have to go now,” Jesi urged. “You’re untouchable. They can’t hurt you. Either of you.”
“Okay,” Ace decided.
The guard tried to make a move, but Slipstream was too fast. She took him down without breaking a sweat. But then his jackbooted backup arrived. She pushed back on the door to keep them out, but they were too strong. Keanu jumped up and helped her. “You have a plan to get us out of here?” he questioned.
A pigeon suddenly appeared out of nowhere, and landed gracefully on the table. It started cooing, and looking around for food. The backup was now banging on the door harder, and it looked like someone was coming with a breaching bar to knock it down.
“Now would be nice,” Slipstream said.
“Read the note!” Keanu ordered.
Ace carefully removed the little note wrapped around the bird’s leg. “Take a picture,” he read. “I don’t have my phone with me.”
“They’re in his pocket,” Slipstream reminded him. She and Keanu were starting to lose the match against the guards.
Ace dove down and grabbed his phone. He flicked up the camera app, and snapped a photo of the floor. An older version of Paige wearing glasses suddenly appeared. She took Ace in one arm, and Jesi in the other.
“Wait. Slip!” Ace yelled.
“Everyone who wants a ride has to be touching me,” Glasses!Paige said.
The door was too far away from Jesi. “Go!” Keanu said to her. “I’ll hold them off, just go!”
“I won’t forget this,” Ace said to him.
As soon as Slipstream’s fingers were at Paige’s shoulders, the latter spirited the four of them away.