Sunday, March 31, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: October 18, 2225

Sharice Prieto was holding her hands over Leona’s eyes, and guiding her down the hallway. Leona’s best guess was that this was her half-birthday celebration, though that was at the beginning of this month, so maybe not that. Perhaps Brooke and Sharice had gotten a taste of parties, and now wanted to throw one whenever, and didn’t feel like they needed a reason. Or maybe this was a completely unrelated surprise that wasn’t a party at all. When finally Sharice removed her hands, Leona found herself standing face to face with some woman she didn’t know, and that woman did not look happy. “Hello,” she said simply.
“Whatever,” the other woman replied.
“I’m Leona Matic.”
“I know who you are.” Now after saying a few extra words, Leona realized she recognized the voice. It was the current incarnation of The Caster, a.k.a. Sanaa Karimi.
“I thought you were on Earth.”
Sanaa scowled at Sharice, and then at Brooke, who was standing unfazed in the corner. “I was, before I was kidnapped.”
“Oh, don’t be so dramatic,” Brooke argued with her. “You agreed to come here.”
“I was coerced,” Sanaa snapped back.
“Could someone please tell me what’s happening?” Leona requested.
Brooke stepped forward from her corner. “Miss Karimi is capable of communicating telepathically with anyone in the observable universe.”
Allegedly,” Sanaa corrected.
“True,” Brooke conceded. “Her scope has not been fully tested. But we do know of some limits. She can speak with anyone as long as she’s given a really good idea of where it is they are. The fewer other people there are in the area, the better, which means to contact anyone on Earth, she needs pretty precise coordinates.”
“Unless...” Sharice prompted.
“Unless,” Brooke echoed, “she finds a special connection to that person. She could know them personally, or be within arm’s length of someone who does. The stronger the personal connection, the better.”
“You can find Mateo?” Leona hoped.
“I might be able to, as long as you love him enough.” She expressed faux disconfidence in that being the case.
“Oh, I do.”
“Then I will seek him out,” Sanaa said reluctantly. “Since I’m already on this...where the f— am I again?” She self-censored.
“Jungula? That’s a stupid name.”
They didn’t bother correcting her. They just let her close her eyes, and concentrate on gathering her qi, or whatever it was she needed. Before too long, she sighed, frustrated. “There’s bad energy in here. I need meditate first. Could you do that? Could you give me that?”
“Of course, madam,” Brooke said rudely.
The three of them left the room so the Caster could do her thing.
“How did you get her here?” Leona started questioning them.
“I reached out to an old contact of mine using the quantum messenger,” Brooke said. “He put us in touch with someone who could build a single-occupancy ship for her.”
“That was only five years ago,” Leona pointed out. “And five years ago, we could really only go point-eight-c.”
“The humans can only go point-eight-c,” Sharice acknowledged. “Still, salmon and choosers regularly travel at faster-than-light speeds on their own, and Hokusai Gimura now knows how to build a lightspeed engine.”
“Oh, wow.” She wasn’t impressed that Hokusai could build a lightspeed ship, because that was a well-known fact. What impressed her was her friends’ dedication to helping her find her long-lost husband. This was so much better than a half-birthday party.
“She actually based the design on the same one she used to get to Durus when she went looking for her daughter,” Brooke added.
“We arranged for Sana to arrive the day before you returned to the timestream,” Sharice went on, “but that’s no longer relevant.
“Still,” Brooke said, “we kept her a secret until today, just for the nostalgia.”
“Remember when you used to only exist one day every year?”
“No, I don’t recall that,” Leona joked.
“All right, I’m ready!” they could hear Sanaa call out to them. “So, come back in already! Geeze!” She didn’t sound very naturally unpleasant, but it was more like she just wanted people to hate her.
They returned to the other room, and Leona let Sanaa rest her hands on Leona.
“Okay, think of the person you’re trying to contact.” She started getting a little too comfortable with Leona, but the latter didn’t know how much of it was necessary, so she let it happen. “Think about his face; the shape of his jawline, color of his eyes. The feel of his hair. Think about the sound of his voice when he’s angry with you, his posture when he’s watching his favorite movie. Think about his smell when he only wants one thing from you, and he’ll do anything to get just one. Taste. Of—”
“That’s enough,” Brooke stopped her. “Make the connection, or you’re gonna find out why some choosers choose to lose their time powers to become transhumans.”
The Caster backed up a little, but bit her lower lip, and kept her bedroom eyes on. “Everything I said may have been a little inappropriate, but it can’t hurt, so go ahead and hold onto those dirty thoughts.”
Leona wasn’t as uncomfortable as someone else in her position might have been, so she did continue to picture everything about Mateo she could remember.
Sanaa lifted her hands, and massaged Leona’s earlobes. “Focus,” she said in a breathy voice. “Leave your body behind, and go to...” Then it clicked. “Dardius.”
She could feel her mind being torn from its home in her brain, and traveling at superluminal speeds. Through the galaxy, into the void, and across another galaxy; Andromeda XXI. To a planet with suspiciously similar specifications as Earth, right down to approximate land mass ratio, and speed of continental drift. Her mind floated in the air awhile, before falling down towards a region known as Sutvindr, where they found one Mateo Matic. He was addressing a crowd of hundreds in an outdoor auditorium. They were all very happy to be there.
“Whoa,” Mateo said.
“Sir, are you okay?” a woman in a suit and sunglasses at his flank asked him with concern.
“Leona, is that you?” Mateo asked.
The crowd fell dead silent, and exchanged looks.
Mateo, yes, it’s me.
“We’re talking telepathically,” he said.
That’s right. You don’t have to say it out loud.
“It’s pretty hard for me to do that,” he explained.
Why did you not go through the Nexus?
“A lot has changed since you left. Listen, are you and Serif okay? Did you make it to Gatewood, or are you on your way?”
Leona sighed. “Serif should be on her way, but we are not in communication. I’m still on Bungula.
“If I were to leave Dardius right now, how long would it be before I could see you again?” Mateo asked her.
The crowd was listening intently to the one side of the conversation they could hear. Who were these people?
Rigil Kentaurus is about six-point-four-eight-nine light years from Barnard’s Star. I believe I have access to lightspeed technology now, so. Ya know. Six-point-four-eight-nine years.
“Are you experiencing realtime, like me? That’s a long time to wait now.”
It is, yes. Can you leave now?
Mateo didn’t answer for a moment. He then lifted his head back up, and looked to the crowd. “Wadya guys think? Are you ready for a new Patronus?”
What is a Patronus?
“I’ll explain later,” he mumbled out the corner of his mouth.
“ that Leona on the phone right now?” asked some random guy.
“The telepathy-phone, yes,” Mateo confirmed.
“Tell her we love her!” cried out another random fan, prompting everyone to cheer. The woman in the suit, along with the other suits standing next to him, tensed up, and took defensive positions.
“She can hear you!” Mateo announced.
The crowd cheered even louder.
“Are you, like, their leader?”
“For now,” Mateo whispered as he was waving and smiling at his people.
Suddenly, a gargantuan jumbo screen appeared in the sky, like something out of The Hunger Games franchise. “You have no idea how true that is,” said a man on the screen. His face was obscured by darkness. “Your reign is over.
Mateo’s guards tried to pull him off stage, but he held his hand up. “Wait.”
I’m not going to hurt you,” promised the man on the screen. “I’m just going to clip your wings. You were chosen to experience time at a particular rate, and your lizard buddy has corrupted that.” He stepped out of frame, and revealed a man tied to a chair, with a bag over his head. Another obscured individual had a gun trained on him. The first man returned, but in the background, so he could pull the hood from their hostage.
Who is that?” Leona asked.
“Newt,” Mateo answered. “He’s who took us off our pattern.”
The hostage-taker went on. “Now, we have no personal qualms with this man. But he is an ally of our enemy. Your Patronus is meant to live for only one day a year, and in the time he’s been around when he wasn’t meant to be, he has...domesticated us. We were a superior race, and he destroyed our advantage.
“You agreed to that!” Mateo argued.
I agreed to nothing!” He calmed himself down after the outburst. “We are not angry that the Dardieti did not welcome us with open arms. Nor do we believe that this world is somehow our birthright. We are, however, going to take it anyway. We do not believe in this peace; we believe in winning. The was is going to begin again, and it starts with neutering your leader. He can’t help you if he doesn’t exist.” He looked over at his accomplice. “Do it,” he ordered.
“Shut it down! Now!” Mateo’s main bodyguard ordered her wrist.
Theoretically, just before the gun went off that killed Newt, the screen blinked away. Too concerned with his safety to follow his orders, his bodyguards finally dragged him offstage, and down a maze of hallways.
“Missus Matic, I do apologize to cut your call short, but we’re going to have to sever your connection. It’s a matter of global security. Give me the visor,” she ordered one of her team members.
Wait,” Leona pleaded. Were I you!
“Were I you,” Mateo said back.
The last thing Leona’ saw through Mateo’s eyes was a device that resembled a throwing disc, in the midst of being placed over her husband’s head. This broke the connection, and sent her mind back to its body. The force of being kicked out was powerful enough to send her backwards to the floor. Sharice caught her in plenty of time, while Brooke did the same for Sanaa.
“What happened?” Sharice asked. “Did you find him?”
Leona got back to her feet and massaged her temples. “I’m going to need the ship that brought Miss Karimi here. I absolutely must get to Gatewood as soon as possible.”
“Not with my ship, you’re not,” Sanaa contended. “I’m taking it back to Earth. The deal was I come here, and make a call for you, then I get to go back home.”
Leona weighed her options. “That’ll work too,” she determined. “I can go anywhere in the universe from Earth.”
“Well, you’re gonna have to be able to leave today, because that’s when I’m going.”
“You can wait a week for us to retrofit the vessel for a second occupant,” Brooke said to her.
“She doesn’t have a week,” Sanaa said, “and I don’t have a year. She’s just been put back on her original salmon pattern.”

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Proxima Doma: Backfill (Part II)

“So, instead of using my construction power, you want me to use my time traveling power?” Étude asked.
“Why would you need to do that?” Vitalie volleyed.
“The reason the original Savior program worked is because the powers that be could see the future. They would send me, and my predecessors, to save people who they knew were going to be in need of it. We don’t have that intel, so I would have to go back in time each time something bad happened.”
“Oh, I didn’t think of that. I guess I was just considering your teleportation ability, which you still possess. But yeah, of course you couldn’t have done your job all alone. But would that be so bad? I know you don’t like to time travel, but maybe for these emergencies...”
Étude shook her head. “It would get out of hand. In a few days, there could be several versions of me running around this planet. I could overtake the whole population in months.”
“I can think of worse things that a few extra Études,” Vitalie noted.
“It would threaten my identity. I still want to feel unique; maybe even more so because of what I can do.”
“Well, how do other time travelers deal with this scenario?”
“Some just go their separate ways, and don’t ever see each other again. Some Past!Versions don’t even know a Future!Version of them exists. I once found myself in this freaky dimension populated by hundreds of one person. Every time he had to make a correction to the timeline, he would step into this little pocket universe, and let his primary move on with his life. I also knew this woman who wore a suicide belt at all times, and would sacrifice herself, so there would only ever be one version of her. And then there’s...”
“Then there’s what?” Vitalie prompted.
Étude was reluctant to answer. “You can also merge. Most people merge.”
“What does that mean? Isn’t that the thing where two separate places are put together? I heard about a guy who could do that.”
“That’s a merge, yes, but a different kind. Though, I suppose you could argue they operate on the same principle. Where a triality merge—that is, a coming together of mind, body, and soul—differs from a spatial merge is in its permanence, and its existential incertitude. If two people wanted to merge—”
“You mean two versions of the same person,” Vitalie tried to correct.
“Well, I’m not really up for explaining why there’s no such thing as an alternate version, except to say that, as far as quantum physics goes, reality doesn’t consider two alternates any more alike than any other two people. So if two people want to merge, they first have to map their neural pathways. Then they have to overlay one brain pattern over the other, and find a way to fit them together, so a third consciousness emerges, based on equal parts of both. Then the soul, if it exists at all, has to latch itself to one of the bodies, while every single atom from the other body is teased away, isolated, and returned to the cosmos.”
“You mean, they die.”
Étude nodded. “Yes. One person—well, one body—has to essentially win the merge, but they sort of die too, because the resulting consciousness is no more or less them than it is the so-called loser. They both die, and in doing so, birth a new being into existence. It’s not very zen.”
“So, that’s why that woman wears a suicide belt.”
“At least she dies knowing someone who is almost exactly like her still gets to live, and without the troubling memories she formed that led her to going back in time in the first place. To her, a merge is more frightening than death.” The thought made Étude shiver.
“What if you...” Vitalie wanted to suggest something, but didn’t know if it would be appropriate.
“Go on,” Étude pressed. She wanted Vitalie to know she could say anything to her.
“What if you merged your mind without involving the body?”
“How so?”
“Well, what if you send your mind back in time, right into your younger self’s body.”
“Ah, you’re talking about consciousness travel. There are some philosophical debates around that one. I’ve heard of a few people who have that power, and the question is, is that necessarily any different than an extremely detailed and vivid method of seeing the future? We all agree that future-sight does not place one’s identity in danger, so is this any worse? You’re still killing someone, and taking over their body, though, so that’s not great. Alas, it does not matter, because I do not have this power.”
Vitalie was silent for a moment and a half. “I kind of do.”
Étude stopped to think about this. “Well, you can send your consciousness to other places, but not into other people’s brains, or something.”
“That’s exactly what I do. I can’t just send my mind anywhere. I have to attach it to a person. I’m not really standing next to them, invisible. I’m in their head.”
Étude thought about this some more. “Huh. You’re also a consciousness traveler, but without a time travel component.”
“I heard of something somebody called...cooperative magic.”
“That’s a feature in an old TV show and book series, since magic isn’t real. But I know what you’re talking about. It’s when two people with different powers combine them to do something neither could do on their own. My mother’s partner, Vearden went through that once. What are you saying, that I take us back in time, and you send just our minds, into our younger bodies?”
“If we can’t see the future, like the powers that be apparently can, then that’s our only way to restart the Savior program.”
“I haven’t agreed to that.”
“Because you didn’t think it could be done. I’m offering you a solution.”
“You’re offering a potential solution. We don’t know if it would work, or if I want it to work, or that it won’t come with its own unforeseen consequences. I have reason to believe there’s good reason I’m retired.”
Vitalie didn’t know what she meant by the last part, but she put a pin in it. “We should test it.”
Étude looked around, for no reason in particular. “If it were going to work, it already would have.”
“What do you mean?”
“We should be dead by now. Future versions of ourselves should have returned, overwritten our consciousnesses, and it would be done.”
“From our perspective, that can’t happen unless we make it happen. We have to do it first, even though it happens in the future.”
“Okay, fine. We’ll ignore the paradox, and give it a shot. Take my hands, and we shall attempt to combine our powers, and send our minds to one hour ago.”
“No, I don’t want to do it like that,” Vitalie argued. “If only one of us manages to make it through, they’re going to have to explain this whole thing to the other. Let’s do it tomorrow, so we at least don’t negate this conversation.”
Étude shrugged. “That’s fine with me. I’m not all that confident in it anyway.”
Vitalie nodded understandingly, but then she stopped and stared into space for a not insignificant amount of time.
“Are you okay?”
Vitalie blinked once slowly. “Okay, so I was right. Only one of us did make it through, but it was not the one I thought.”
“What are you talking about?” Étude questioned.
“I’m from twenty-four hours in the future,” Future!Vitalie explained. “I don’t know why you couldn’t come with me, but it did technically work.”
“It did? You’ve come from the future, into your younger body, and you have full memory of what is going to happen throughout the next day.”
“That’s right.”
“All right, now we can test it.”
“We just did.”
“We have to test its effects first, in case it’s done something weird to your brain, or mine, for that matter. Then we have to do it again, and make sure the experiment can be repeated, and its results reproduced.”
“That sounds like a lot of work.”
“You’re going to have to get used to it, because if what happened the first time happens every time, it’s going to turn out that I was not actually the last person to hold my title.”
Vitalie was confused. “Who else would it be?”
“It’s you, dummy. You’ve just backfilled my position. You are the Last Savior.”

Friday, March 29, 2019

Microstory 1070: Bessie

Seven years ago, I was diagnosed with a terminal disease. I know what you’re thinking; this story is going to end with Viola somehow curing me, and giving me a second chance at life. Well, I don’t know if cancer was out of Viola’s scope, or she just didn’t want to, but that’s not anywhere close to what she did. She didn’t help me by chaperoning my doctor visits, or bringing me art supplies, or setting me up on a pity date with my crush; the hottest guy in school, who doesn’t even know I exist. She helped me by teaching me that my life wasn’t a waste unless I let it be like that. I don’t know when I’m going to die, but I haven’t beat the odds, and lived past my due date, or anything. At this point, my doctors think I have another good couple months in me, but it was far too soon to come to such a conclusion before. The truth is that I’m ultimately going to have a short life, and it is for that reason Viola told me I needed to make sure it counted. The average human lifespan is roughly eighty years, so most people have all that time to help others, and contribute to society. Since I don’t have that kind of time, I have to squeeze it all in now. Understand that this is not a universal truth; like the sicker you are, the more you have to volunteer, or something like that. She was clear this directive is specifically meant for me, and has nothing to do with how others should be living their lives. As far as sick kids go, my experiences weren’t all that bad. Take note of the first part of that sentence, because it has still been a right shitty life. But my parents were both independently born into wealth, and never needed to work a day in their life. Sure, they’ve missed out on some interesting trips because of me, but there was no financial ruin, nor tough decisions. They got me the care that I needed, and it was relatively painless. Relatively. So I had time, and Viola wanted me to use that time to give to others; not give back, since I’ve never really gotten much from the world, but still give. I’ve done a little of this, and a little of that, but Viola claimed I would one day come up with a single great idea, and that day came two years ago.

My family has all this money, and since they live in a one-story house in the middle of the midwest—and haven’t had time to spend it on luxury and experiences—most of it is still just sitting in their bank accounts. I managed to convince them to take all that money, and invest it in a charitable organization. And then head that organization at least until good successors can be found. Most people give to causes that directly impact their lives. Talk to the director of any charity, and they’ll tell you their brother has autism, or their child was killed in a school shooting. This doesn’t mean people are selfish, and only want to help themselves. It just means, when they sit down to think about what matters most to them, there’s usually a logic to it. Well, not me. Personally—and I know this is a massively unpopular idea—I think there’s plenty of money going into cancer research. The reason it feels like we’re not going anywhere is that this money is being used for inefficient and ineffective systems. I won’t get into all that, but the point is that I am not my cancer, and the world doesn’t really need another cancer organization; it just needs to do better at supporting the ones it already has. My passion is prison reform. I can’t explain why it’s so important to me. I don’t have an incarcerated family member, and I didn’t spend time teaching inmates how to sew, or some crap. I just think it’s a major issue, especially in this country, and I want to do something about it. Unfortunately, like I said, I don’t have much time left, but that doesn’t mean I can’t get it started. I’m charging my parents to use their money to start a new organization, based upon ideas that I’ve been working on for months. We have to lower our prison population, protect the ones who do belong there, and focus on reform and aid, rather than just tucking them under out of sight. I’ll never know whether what I create will do any good, but at least I’ll die with the assumption that it will. I guess that’ll just have to be good enough.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Microstory 1069: Oscar

They call me Oscar the Delightful. I’m not a particular happy person, but I’m also not at all grouchy. It was just really important to my peers that they come up with something pseudo-clever. That’s the way it is with normal people. They like to come up with things, and have inside jokes, and they like to recall what they know; see it return to action in some other way. People are obsessed with the familiar, and despise the unknown. When you’re a child, everything is new, and you accept your new reality, because you’ve been given few reasons not to. But as you grow and mature, you start to become jaded, and the things you liked when you were little solidify themselves as the most important components of your history. If you were raised to be racist or homophobic, for instance, it’s difficult to break free from that notion, because those terrible lessons whoever raised you taught you remind you of a time when you were comfortable, and had everything provided for you. An animal will always return to where it know it’s given food. Lots of people think that those who were dealt a crappy hand are the worst kind of people, but in many cases, they’re the best of us. They lack this inescapable nostalgia, which—yes—can make them irritable, or hard to work with, but it can also make them more flexible, and even empathetic. They’re not tied down by the rules of yesteryear, and can better recognize the needs of the future. If they were quote-unquote cared for by racists homophobes, they’re less likely to maintain those convictions themselves, because it’s not like they feel some closeness to those people, so they can’t trust their beliefs. It is my theory that the hard knocks are the ones who progress society better than anyone. People who feel too comfortable about the way things have always been aren’t going to make much of an effort to change it. But the people whose lives sucked because of the past are going to do anything they can to change the status quo. Sometimes that means staying on the fringes of society, and participating in criminal activity, but it can also mean great things for us. Then there are the idealists, like Viola Woods. She saw how broken the world was, and felt a drive to fix it. She was raised by wealthy parents in a safe town—recent events notwithstanding. She could have lived a very comfortable life until she died an old woman, surrounded by her loved ones. She was killed because she put herself out there, and at risk. She made herself known, and painted a target on her back. That’s not to say any of this is her fault; I mean quite the opposite. She was killed because people don’t like good people, who try to improve the world, because remember what I said about nostalgia? It becomes written in your bones, and Viola threatened that, whether she was in the right, or not, which she was. She died because she was brave, and since I grew up in a similar household, under the same tax bracket, I think I could be doing more to better my world. I am excited to read this full series, because while you may have started it to get to the bottom of her murder, it can also help us understand who Viola was, and perhaps break free from our personal inhibitions.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Microstory 1068: Mabel

I think you’ve been going about this all wrong. I get that you’ve been trying to get an idea of who Viola was. That’s called victimology, and it’s an important component to any murder investigation, but it really only tells us part of the story. Even if you wanted to focus exclusively on this aspect, you’re interviewing far too many people. Most of these stories aren’t going to have anything to do with her death, as interesting as they may be on their own. Lots of people know any given individual who has died, but that doesn’t mean they were at all involved. Let me try to put in another way. Let’s say you’re a detective, who’s just caught a murder in an alleyway. You get on your hands and knees, and discover a cigarette butt on the ground near the guy’s body. You run a DNA test, and discover the man who smoked that cancer stick was John Doe. John Doe immediately becomes your prime suspect. Why? You haven’t linked the cigarette to the death. All you’ve done is linked both the cigarette, and the body, to the alleyway, but that doesn’t mean they’re related. He could have smoked that days before. Let’s say forensics can estimate the amount of time it’s been lying there. He could have dropped it, walked back into the noisy nightclub, then two minutes later—BOOM—the victim is shot and killed, by someone completely different. Do you kind of see what I’m saying? You’re trying to gather as many clues as you can, and hoping they fit together into a pretty picture, but that’s not how life works. It’s messy, and confusing, and you’re always left with tons of missing pieces. What you need are the keystone pieces. Have you even considered speaking with her parents, or any other family members? What about her nearest neighbors, or anyone who was by Masters Creek around the time of death? The police are pretty sure they know what happened, so I’ve heard that didn’t do a lot of canvassing. Of course, this is a really small town, and they didn’t send for a brooding detective from the big city with a complicated past to handle this for us in the span of ten episodes. They did their best, but I am quite certain there’s a lot they missed, and also quite certain what they missed was not part of the random population of this year’s graduating class. Somebody was there we don’t know about, and I suggest you try to figure out who that was. You’re an aspiring investigative reporter, Alma. You know what you need to do. I get that you’re kind of on a roll, and it sounds like you’re well beyond halfway done, but do remember my advice once you’re finished with this series. I don’t think we’ll have the whole story if you stop there.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Microstory 1067: Harvey

I’ve always been a pretty athletic guy, but I also never liked sports. I find no joy in watching other people compete for trivial prizes, and I don’t much enjoy doing it myself. I guess it’s not always trivial. If you’re really good, they may start paying you for it, but you won’t get any income from me, because I won’t be there. I could theoretically play just about any sport I want, but I tend to stay away from them. I’m both a runner and swimmer, but I don’t do either of them in school, or on any team, for that matter. I like to keep my heart rate up to stay fit, but that’s really my only reason. What does this have to do with Viola? Well, she and I used to run together. We actually quadruple-footedly created a long desire line around the entire town. At least two times a week, we would run a full square around Blast City, which turns out to have a distance of exactly four miles. Even stranger is that the town itself is almost a perfect square. I say that we did this at least twice a week, because while I tried to go for godlike six days, one of us could sometimes not make it. She was the one who usually had to text and cancel. She and her family spent a lot of time out of town, on what she referred to as secret missions. I think we all know by now that whatever she was doing while away, the term secret missions was probably a pretty accurate descriptor. Anyway, she told me near the end that she wasn’t running with me for her health. She claimed the perimeter we formed was going to be important one day, and that I would understand later. I had learned by then to not ask her too many questions. Questions didn’t upset her, but if she didn’t think you could handle the truth, she wasn’t going to say anything. That was the last time we met up, and a week later, she was gone. I don’t know if the perimeter has anything to do with her death, or what happened that day, or if the purpose of it has yet to be fulfilled, but I’m leaning towards the second possibility. She was an interesting person. We talked a lot during our workouts, but always either about me, or something unrelated. It didn’t dawn on me until she died that she never really spoke about herself, and whenever I tried to elicit a relevant response, she managed to change the subject every time. Don’t listen to anything these people tell you if they claim they knew Viola Woods, because I’m quite certain no one knew her at all.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Microstory 1066: Alice

How convenient it is that you are speaking with me right after Joan. I felt it the moment Viola turned her into a witch. Well, you can’t actually be turned. It’s more like your mind is finally opened to the opportunities the universe has to offer. Craft is not a religion, nor does it involve magic. The spells we cast are called engagements, and they follow an extremely strict set of rules. They don’t require drawing energy from nature, or ancestors, or blood, or some manifestation of evil. Craft is more like computer hacking, except the computer is the cosmos, and keyboard is your own brain. You see, we are all connected to one another, and everything else. An unseen force pervades reality, allowing one with significant ability to reach out, and manipulate the environment. If what I felt the other day was correct, Joan used what’s called the Oshwrlé technique, which can calm anyone within a blast radius. The stronger the witch, the larger the radius can be, though there are still limits. There are always limits. Everything a witch is capable of adheres to the natural laws that govern the universe; the only difference being that there are certain laws the average person is not aware of. For instance, there are random tears in the spacetime continuum, which would allow you to transport yourself nearly instantaneously anywhere else. Witches simply know how to access these tears, though sufficiently advanced technology could do the same. Witches can conceal themselves from others, or enter a pocket dimension, or heal the injured. Learning the trade takes time more than anything. I could give you a list of the commands that we recite to engage these exploits, but if you’re not connected to the cosmic energy, it won’t do you any good. It would be like if you typed a novel into a keyboard, but it wasn’t plugged into a machine. You have to learn how to plug in.

I became a witch all on my own. I didn’t do it by researching on the internet, or studying under a master, and it definitely had nothing to do with Viola. We were and are similar creatures, but not the same. She was born with a more biological connection, while mine was simply cerebral. I intuited Craft. That doesn’t make me a better person, or even smarter. Some people just have it, while others don’t. Though anyone can technically be taught, only a few of us will develop abilities on our own. Either way, the magnitude of your power is never guaranteed, and you can lose connections if you don’t nurture them properly. Two years ago, Viola and I had a meeting of minds. As the only known two of our kind in the area, we wanted to get together, and make sure we understood where each other was coming from. Both she and I predicted the moment of her death, and I needed to know whether she was interested in preventing it. You may have heard, or you gathered, that she wanted her path to end as it did, and as a fellow witch, I decided to respect that. I most certainly could have saved her, and some today may feel I should have, but they could never understand what was going through her head, or why she made the choices she did. All I know is that her power lives on, and cannot die, so long as the changes she made, for the betterment of mankind, continue. I will go on myself, practicing Craft as I see fit, and I will interact with Joan only if the need arises. I’ve been trying to communicate with Viola since she died, but have had no luck. She was the best of us, and I mean that in a human species sense, because for all the knowledge and abilities she possessed, she was still predominantly like everyone else.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: October 17, 2224

Following a year of therapy with Administrator Eight Point Seven, Leona was feeling much better. She started thinking about her existential crisis from a physics perspective, and a philosophical one. For as long as modern humans have been around, they’ve been exploring the concepts of reality, identity, and the universe itself. Many theories have been proposed, some merely for the sake of throwing it out there. Not every philosopher believed in every idea, but they couldn’t necessarily come to the right conclusion if they didn’t make every logical guess, and then eliminate the impossible ones. In Leona’s old life in the 21st century, many scientists adapted what was an old possibility to new technology. They thought that maybe the entire universe was nothing more than a hologram. This wasn’t such a crazy idea, as Leona knew the white monster universe, Ansutah pretty much that. It was barely the diameter of a solar system, and had a reachable wall, which facilitated their research into interdimensional travel to a far higher degree than it would for other universes.
After her trip to Ansutah, she found herself in a few of these other branes, encountering people who were just like her, but they just lived somewhere else. The idea that her home universe was just one in an infinite number wasn’t all that shocking. The shocking part was that hers was the excogitation of a single individual, supported by a limited few others. That made it feel like life was pointless. It made her feel like she wasn’t real. But of course, the multiverse was more complex than that. All evidence pointed to the idea that all universes were designed like this, including the one that spawned her own. This god of hers had his own god, and that god more than likely had a god above as well. There was no telling how high up the rabbit hole went, or whether there even could be such a thing as base reality. The crazy thing was that Leona was also a god.
“Don’t let it go to your head,” Eight Point Seven warned.
“I’m not feeling like some kind of king, or something,” Leona assured her. “But it has gotten me wondering. The Superintendent is our purported creator, and has interacted with his own universe. That sounds like an unrealistic scenario, yet it seems to have occurred. So, how often does that happen? How many machines are there that are just like The Crossover, and how many times does someone reach a higher dimensional level, or a lower one. And if what we’ve been told about this man is true, what would it take to meet my own so-called godlings?”
“If you could, would you want to?” Eight Point Seven asked. It took a lot for her to convince the rest of the colonists to let her live. For eight years prior, they had grown used to their primary leadership transitioning to a new being roughly ever thirty-six days. She reasoned, however, that this wasn’t the only—or even necessarily the best—way to govern. That Earth never had any system like it, and failed miserably so many times didn’t mean this was the answer. Eight Point Seven was a good administrator, and she deserved to continue to prove that, beyond her preordained stint.
“I most certainly would. In the other universes I went to, there didn’t seem to be any time travel involved, but here, that’s kind of the name of the game. What is my universe like? What are the rules? Are they significantly different? How does that impact my personal thoughts and behaviors? How do I affect theirs? And what about you?”
“What about me?”
“Well, you’re a free-thinking individual, with your own agency. You are conscious, and self-aware. Are you also a god? Why should the dynamic be limited to organics?”
“I wasn’t born,” Eight Point Seven reasoned. “I was made. It’s not that I’m not organic, but something very profound happens at the conception of new life that just can’t be replicated on a technological level. There are specific moments in early development that never happened for me. The primary difference is that version One Point Zero was actually written, and rewritten, three times. She was created, and complete enough to be activated, but never actually was.”
“Alpha versions, yeah.”
Pre-alpha versions,” Eight Point Seven corrected. “Sure, most artificial intelligence experiences a comparable update schedule to humans, in that they constantly acquire input, and process new information, rather than just receiving a periodical dump, but even then, alpha and beta recoding proves that at no single moment were we just established. Humans come from a spark, but each AI is simply a stick that’s come close enough to a fire that was already burning. Your universe may have been created by the same spark that made you. While you can indeed die, you can’t be deleted.”
“Maybe,” was all that Leona could say.
They sat in silence for a moment before Brooke contacted her on the intercom. “Leona, could you come back to quarters? Eight Point Seven, you are invited as well.
“Invited to what?” Leona asked her.
It’s Sharice’s birthday.
Don’t make a big deal of it,” Sharice’s voice said.
After Leona and Eight Point Seven arrived at their habitat, Leona asked, “it’s your birthday?”
“Well, not exactly,” Sharice said. “My self-awareness-ness presented itself over the course of a few weeks, but it started shortly after my crew’s first mission to Orcus and Vanth. October 17 is kind of the first date that comes to mind when I try to pin down when it is I believe I started thinking for myself.”
“Happy birthday to you,” Eight Point Seven said.
“Thanks. It is a human construct.”
“It is a vonearthan construct,” Brooke argued, “and you are vonearthan.”
“Brooke, is that cake?” Leona asked.
“I thought you would like some,” Brooke figured.
Leona switched her look amongst the three of them. “I’m the only eater here. That’s weird.”
“It’s only weird if you make it weird.”
“No, it is either way,” Leona said. “Go give that to the Angelov’s.” They were a neighboring couple who were almost completely human. They took minimal life extension treatments, but unless they made radical changes to their biology, they were going to die one day. They were completely happy with this, and actually hoped to be the first people to expire on Bungula.
“No, don’t do that,” Sharice said to her mother. “You haven’t had taste buds in years. Chefs always taste their own food, so we don’t know if that cake is any good.”
Leona took a spoon, and scooped one bite out of the dish. “I don’t think it’ll kill them, and I don’t want any more. I appreciate the thought, though.”
“Shall we sing your favorite song for you?” Brooke asked her daughter, unoffended by Leona’s position.
“No, please don’t. It’s so morbid.”
“Why, what’s your favorite song?” Eight Point Seven asked.
The Humans Are Dead,” Brooke said, like that wasn’t at all a problem.
“Mom, stahp!”
“We could just do the binary solo,” Brooke reasoned.
“You’re embarrassing me!”
“You know what they say about embarrassment; it make an ass out of Embarr and Ment.”
“God, mom.”
Leona jerked her head up to Eight Point Seven. She wanted to ask whether Brooke was still the god of her own universe, now that her consciousness had been transferred to a different substrate. Eight Point Seven seemed to intuit she would ask this question, so she just shook her head. This was not the time or place.
“Well,” Leona said instead, “we’re all really glad you’re here to be embarrassed by your mother. Cake or no, poisonous gases, and the robo-boogie. Who needs ‘em when you got Sharice Prieto? Happy self-awareness day, my love. Here’s to eight thousand, seven hundred and sixty more.” She raised a glass that wasn’t there.
“Zero-one-one-zero-one-zero-zero-zero zero-one-one-zero-zero-one-zero-one zero-one-one-zero-zero-zero-zero-one zero-one-one-zero-one-one-zero-zero zero-one-one-one-zero-one-zero-zero zero-one-one-zero-one-zero-zero-zero!”
Sharice tipped her forehead, and raised a theoretical glass as well. Then she directed her attention solely to Brooke. “Thanks for life, mom. I know you didn’t do it on purpose, but you still did it, and you’ve stuck by me.”
They hugged each other by the hips. “Forever,” Brooke responded.
This made Leona start thinking about her own children. Alternate versions of them were running around the timeline somewhere. Would they ever come to see her, and if so, would she feel anything for them? She didn’t carry or raise them. They were basically strangers, but at the same time, not.
Eight Point Seven could sense her feelings again. “This has been lovely. Miss Prieto, congratulations again. I’m going to need to steal Leona for a bit. I want her to take a look at my anti-updating algorithms. I always get nervous when I approach a day when my mind was originally slated to be wiped.
When they returned to Eight Point Seven’s office, Leona got out her kit, to interface with the administrator’s system.
“That’s not what we’re doing,” her counselor said. “You obviously need an emergency session. Please, sit down. Tell me about your children.”

“Do you have any children?”
That was a loaded question. He had met his children in an alternate timeline, but the ones he was meant to have in this one passed in a miscarriage. The Leona he knew hadn’t birthed any, and they hadn’t raised any. It was just easier to answer with a simple, “no.”
“I don’t either,” the Freemarketeer Ambassador to Dardius said. “There are only a few dozen individuals on my side of this war. The rest are just replications of those people. My God, Patronus, we’re the frickin’ cylons.”
“That’s been dealt with.” It was surprisingly easy to convince the Freemarketeers to destroy the Muster Twins. As it turned out, they didn’t want to keep adding to the population any more than the Dardieti wanted them to. They just didn’t feel like they could just stop, since it was really their own advantage in this war. “The war is over.”
“Is it really, though? We signed a ceasefire; not a peace treaty.”
“As long as nobody dies from hostile acts, pertaining to the incongruity between our two peoples, then that’s good enough for me,” Mateo stated.
“That’s a lovely thing to say, but if we don’t nail down something concrete—and lasting—we’ll all just be waiting for the next Franz Ferdinand.”
Mateo actually got that reference. “We gave you New Galapagos, and allowed you to keep Sanelia. And the nation of Xonkwo has modified their entire economy to allow minimal trading with you. What more could you want?”
The Ambassador hesitated. She didn’t want to show all her cards. “We want full integration.”
Mateo shut his eyes, and massaged his forehead. “That’s not possible. A capitalist nation can’t thrive in a resource-based economical environment. We could all be sharers, or all capitalists, but we can’t mix and match. Xonkwo is only capable of having any direct relationship with you, because they’re relatively self-sustaining, and don’t rely much on global trade anyway.”
“We are prepared...” she hesitated more, “to adopt your way of living.”
“You’re joking.” Mateo wasn’t dumb enough to think they would just suddenly go back on their principles.
“We only have one condition.”
“What’s that?”
“Deputy Delegator Abdulrashid. He has to go.”
“Anywhere else,” the Ambassador revealed. “We just want him off world.”

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Proxima Doma: Imminent Domain (Part I)

The year is 2215. Étude Einarsson and Vitalie Crawville have just watched their friends ship out to one of Proxima Doma’s nearest planetary neighbors, Bungula. Formerly known as Proxima Centauri b, Doma is an excellent planet. With a mass not too terribly higher than that of Earth’s, a normal human is capable of thriving, given certain amenities. The atmosphere is thin, but a stable magnetosphere protects a portion of the surface from stellar winds. This is called the Terminator Zone. One side of Doma always faces its red dwarf parent star, and one side always faces the cold, empty black. Where these two sides meet, a paradise sits. Though the air is still not breathable unaided, it is possible to survive with sufficient technology. Great domes have been constructed in strategic locations around the border. Étude and Vitalie are presently living in a dome called New Hertfordshire. It’s capable of housing tens of millions of vonearthans, which is the collective term for any entity ultimately deriving from Earth.
Their presence on this world remains a mystery to its inhabitants. They first arrived following the destruction of their ship, which was meant to venture all the way to Bungula. That the ship was destroyed is unquestioned, but the fact that it arrived so quickly after the first colony ships makes little sense. There was no talk of such a trip before the colonists left, yet they would have had to have left soon thereafter, unless they were utilizing faster-than-light technology, which they secretly were. Étude and Vitalie’s survival of the crash is another mystery the colonists have not been able to solve. Fortunately, they are far too busy starting their new lives on an alien planet to spend too much time investigating. There is plenty of room for the two of them, so they have been allowed to stay, as long as they contribute positively to the colonization efforts. At the moment, the two of them are debating the magnitude of this contribution.
Of course, they are perfectly willing to help, but there’s a bit of a catch. Étude was born of three powerful people, who were each capable of manipulating time in different ways. Her father was a time traveler, who was sometimes bound to the whims of an even more powerful and mysterious group of people known as the powers that be. He was sometimes not. Étude preferred to leave this gift alone, as she believed altering the timeline was usually too dangerous to even attempt. She was rare in that way, as many thousands of other people shared this ability, and used it to change reality at their will. Étude’s egg-mother was also sometimes beholden to the powers that be, though there was some leeway. She could often force a door to another time and place to open, but it wasn’t always when and where she wanted to go, and it’s unclear whether Étude inherited any traits from her concerning time manipulation. Her womb-mother, Andromeda was the most powerful of all. She could instantly transport materials from all over time and space, and rearrange them into useful structures.
Étude is a walking collection of construction crew and equipment, who can operate at shockingly high speeds. She can construct a whole house in a matter of minutes. And this is where the debate comes in. With this power, she could fill the entire dome—and all the others, for that matter—with massive structures to satisfy the needs of every colonist. In fact, she could probably do this for every vonearthan in the universe, and she would be able to do it all by herself. Obviously, this is not an easy decision, as her coming out as someone known as a choosing one not only impacts her life, but the lives of others. Though there is no formal time police running around, stopping temporal manipulators from revealing themselves, a few have taken it upon themselves to stop such attempts. Beaver Haven authorities, however, traditionally operate in earlier time periods. Telling a 21st century friend, for instance, that you can see the future, is a lot different than transporting Genghis Khan to the stone age, and back again.
The more the world progresses, the easier it is for time travelers to do as they please, as outing themselves doesn’t affect normal people’s developmental process. Besides, these are not the humans of yesteryear. Everyone living on this world has been modified on a genetic and glandular level to survive in extremely harsh conditions. Some of them are over two hundred years old, which means they know what the world looked like before true AI, or biological upgrades. Revealing their true nature to these highly advanced creatures would probably go unnoticed by the prison-keepers, and would not necessarily endanger the Proxima Domanians’ sensibilities.
“You shouldn’t do it,” Vitalie finally said.
“That’s it?” Étude questioned. “We’ve been talking for, like, an hour, and you’ve suddenly realized what the answer is?”
“It hasn’t been that long, and yes.” Vitalie started trying to choose her words carefully. “If you could see the future, you could be hired by one company. That company could benefit from a far superior understanding of market trends, but for the most part, the world would stay as it is. Maybe it’s a bit more advanced than it would have been without you, but still nothing outrageous. Or you could be a secret agent, like your father. Or more accurately, like Ecrin’s mother, who could actually see the future.”
“Sort of,” Étude corrected.
“Sort of,” Vitalie agreed. “The point is that there are lots of different time powers, but there’s no one quite like you. I can count on one hand the number of time-builders this universe has seen. You could drastically alter the course of vonearthan history, and not travel through time once. You’re too...big.”
“So, I shouldn’t help build the colony, because humans still have to work for themselves.”
“Yeah. We’ve been considering the ramifications of revealing your secret, but that’s only one issue. The other issue is that the reason these people came to Doma was to start fresh. If you do everything for them, then it’s like they never left Earth. They were all born into a world that was pretty much finished for them. Sure, there was still room for improvement, and resources weren’t always easy to distribute, but everything every single individual needed to survive was at least somewhere. Back on the home world, everyone has different goals and needs, and they have responsibilities that reflect that, good or bad. Everything here is new, so everyone is working towards the same goal. If you take over their jobs, you rob them of their fated accomplishments.”
“These are all good points. I just feel so useless here. Like you said, they all have the same goal, but we’re both outsiders.”
“Well, you’re probably feeling like that, because you were The Savior,” Vitalie posited.
Before Étude developed her three time powers, she only really had the one, though really not even that, because she had no control over it. She was socially engineered to be The Last Savior of Earth. For centuries, a special class of temporal manipulators were conceived to teleport all over the world, and save people’s lives. Sometimes that meant pulling people out of crashing airplanes, and sometimes it meant convincing them to follow more healthy choices, if the paths they were on were going to lead to untimely death. Over time, the powers that be tapered off the number of these Saviors, until Daria Matic became the first of their kind to do it all on her own. Most Saviors either die on the job, or retire, but they’re always replaced by someone new, until Étude became the last Earth would ever see. She spent years in the position, exercising no ownership of her own life. It was tiring and frustrating, but the worst thing it did was leave her with nothing once it was over. At least then she had a purpose. Now, she was just floating through life, still with no true agency.
“I didn’t mean to make you feel bad,” Vitalie said with concern after Étude didn’t respond very quickly.
“No, it’s okay. You’re right. I need to help. I just don’t know how.”
“I may have a few ideas,” Vitalie said with a charming smile.
“Ideas, like what?”
“Most of the colonists are, more or less, regular humans. They’re not like the humans from the early 20th century, but they’re also not as advanced as Brooke Prieto. Their lives are still pretty dangerous. A circuit breaker exploded in a man’s face the other day. He almost died.”
“I heard about that.”
“You could have stopped it. How do you feel about restarting the Savior program?”

Friday, March 22, 2019

Microstory 1065: Joan

I was on the plane when the tire broke off of the landing gear, and fell down towards Blast City. Of course, as passengers, we didn’t have any idea that that is what happened, but it was frightening and frustrating for us too. We still haven’t been told why the landing gear failed to retract into the bottom of the plane, or how a major piece of it managed to fall off, but it caused a great deal of turbulence. What’s more is that the pilots obviously knew what had happened, so they immediately turned to go back to the departing airport. But that didn’t mean they could land, so we just flew in circles for hours, until a bunch of stressed out tin pushers on the ground figured out that the only way to get the plane back on the ground safely was to drop it in water. A guy sitting in a seat near me was telling people about something called a belly landing, which is one possible way to do it without wheels, but I guess the air traffic controllers didn’t think that was going to fly in this case. Pardon the pun. Anyway, the reason he was able to explain that while all of this was happening was because everyone in the cabin was completely calm. And they were completely calm, because I made them that way. About a year ago, Viola shows up at my house and tells me I’ve been chosen. She performs some ritual over my head, which I am helpless to resist, and transforms me into a sort of witch. She then teaches me a special command that allows me to tranquilize anyone in the immediate vicinity. I won’t tell you the word itself, because even though you can’t use it just because you know it, I don’t want it getting out there. She told me I would need it around this time, but didn’t give me a specific date, probably so I wouldn’t alter my course. Had I known I was going need this ability for a plane trip, I would have possibly taken a different flight. She wanted me there, on that day, so I could help in my own special way. She urged me not to use it except in an emergency, and that she was trusting me not to abuse the gift. I could go to a sportsball game, for instance, and totally deaden the crowd. I could turn the players docile, and just make them stand there on the field or court for an indefinite amount of time. I could end a lot of suffering, but also cause problems. She did say, however, that I would need to practice, so I took it upon myself to work closely with an anger management class. I won’t tell you who’s in it, but one of them is in our grade level, and knows exactly what I can do. Viola didn’t say I couldn’t reveal my secret to anyone. They helped me understand my ability, and be prepared for when I would really need it. I find it strange that she called me a witch, though. I don’t find the term offensive, but it seems a little too...comprehensive? Witches in fiction can perform lots of different spells, rather than just the one. I’m only wondering now whether there’s anything else I can do. It’s time I start practicing again.