Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: October 31, 2238

It was time to leave. Mateo first went to Dardius to retrieve the Muster Beacon, so he could save Serif’s people. He then went to Gatewood to make sure they really were saved. Then Cassidy showed up, and he felt very protective of her, but he was otherwise pretty useless here. He wasn’t a scientist or engineer. He wasn’t a civil servant or pilot. He was just some guy; some guy light years away from his wife. He needed to reunite with Leona, and it wasn’t like the people here were begging him to stick around. It was kind of surreal going straight from a world where he was the leader of billions of people, to one where he could do little to help. He hadn’t realized until last year how unnerving he felt. It was best to get out of here, even without the other reasons.
He wasn’t setting about on the journey alone. As awkward as things were still with Cassidy, he hoped she was coming. That was a conversation they needed to have. Goswin was finished setting up the system of governance on these worlds. Many people wanted him to run for elected office, but he evidently didn’t think that was a good idea. He was, and always would be, an outsider. The Ansutahan refugees had this shared history he could never understand, so they were better served with a leader of their own. Weaver too was coming, but that was more about her curiosity. She was kind of steampunk, and spent a lot of time enjoying advanced technology in the nineteenth century in her reality of origin. She had never been to other planets before, and now she was anxious to see more. There was one last passenger, and it was a good thing he was the only one. Though the ship was built with six grave chambers, for a maximum complement of twelve people, chamber four was heavily damaged from having been used as a link to the Ansutahan universe bridge. It could be repaired, but no one had bothered to do it yet.
“Why do you wanna come?” Mateo asked.
“There’s nothing for me here,” Thor replied.
“What about your partner, Saxon, and Operation Starseed?”
“That was more his thing. I’m kind of all about the neighbors. If not for him and the project, I would have probably chosen to travel to Varkas Reflex. This my opportunity.”
“Well, we have room for ya, but I don’t know if I can trust you. I know Juliu—Saxon. Sure, it was in an alternate reality, but that’s something, and I don’t know you at all.”
“I just need a ride, man. I’m not here to steal your girlfriend, or whatever.”
“Cassidy is not my girlfriend. I’m just in charge of her safety.”
“Whatever, dude.”
There was only one person Mateo could talk to about this. He didn’t exactly trust her either, but that was only because everyone is capable of betrayal. It wasn’t safe to let just anyone board the AOC, but if Mirage said he was cool, Mateo would accept it. He made his way to the VR room in the command center building, and was surprised to find Cassidy already there, removing the needle from her skull. “You were talking to her?”
“I was, yes.”
“Can I ask why?”
“I was asking her whether we can trust Saxon and Thor.”
Mateo smiled. Great minds. “And...?”
“She says they can be trusted indubitably.”
“Very well. I guess it’s a good thing you sat in the chair, because I can’t be sure she would even talk to me a second time.”
“Yeah, she said you would be coming, and confirmed your suspicions.”
“I’m leaving today. I’m going to go find my wife. I would like you to accompany us. That is, unless Mirage told you not to.”
“She frustratingly made a point of leaving that decision up to me.”
“You frustratingly made a point of not answering what that decision is.”
She didn’t want to, but couldn’t keep herself from cracking a smile. “I’ll go with you. It’s the right move. Just so you understand, it’s not that I need a big strong man to keep me safe.”
“Good, because Goswin is more of an intellectual, so I don’t know that you’ll find someone like that on our ship. Then again, apparently Thor is coming...”
“Mateo. You and I are not a thing. We had a moment; a three minute moment, and it’s gone. We can fly in the same spaceship together without it getting weird.”
“I agree.”
“So, we’re not going to talk about it anymore.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
Captain McBride to Mateo Matic,” they heard on the radio.
“This is Mateo, go ahead.”
Please report to the throne room.
“Very good, sir.” Mateo called the area where Kestral and Ishida’s worked the throne room offhand one time, and since there was no better term for it, it sort of stuck. The two of them were responsible for the scientific projects going on here, and of the cylinders themselves, but had little control over what the people living on them did. So they were decidedly not rulers. The throne room was used as an office, a laboratory, even sleeping quarters, and probably at the moment, a discussion room. Mateo speedwalked as fast as he could over there, not wanting to make them wait for him.
“Are you all ready to go?” Kestral asked him once he arrived.
He presented his bag. “Everything I have in thirty litres or less.”
“Mister Thompson will be joining you?”
“Looks like it; is that okay?”
“It is.” she nodded. “Mister Parker, on the other hand, will be joining us, just to keep you updated.”
“So, you’re moving forward with Operation Starseed?”
“Is that a problem?” she questioned.
“Not at all. Just...staying updated.”
“It’s why I called you here. The Ansutahan humans are aware that we are manufacturing exploratory ships in this system. What they don’t know is the magnitude of our mission, nor any of the details, including anything about the Starseed aspect.”
“I appreciate the need for secrecy and security.”
“Good. I need you to keep exercising that belief. Starseed is a sensitive subject. It’s not...strictly speaking, legal. The general vonearthan population did not vote to allow it. This is one of the reasons we’re building and departing from Gatewood, and why Saxon’s cargoship originated from Titan, rather than Earth. It’s our responsibility to insulate the Earthan leadership from any blowback. They’re hoping that, by the time anyone finds out about it, public opinion will have swayed in our favor. People may have reached the longevity escape velocity, which endangers progress from taking shape due to mortal turnover, but that doesn’t mean new generations don’t influence social politics. Still, Stargate is quite deliberately avoiding all systems within fifty light years of Earth. They’ll be sending independent missions to those systems, on an as needed basis, like we’ve already been doing with the closest stellar neighbors.”
“You don’t want me telling anyone what I know about these projects,” Mateo presumed. “I get it.”
“I know that you and Leona are close, and I assume you tell each other everything.”
Mateo opened his mouth to promise not to say anything, even to her, but she interrupted him before he could get one sound out.
“I’m not going to ask you to lie to her. Way I understand it, she already suspects the program exists, so denying it would put undue strain on your relationship. I’m fine with you being completely honest with her, because I know she can keep a secret. No one else needs to know, though.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Thank you. Now, Lieutenant Caldwell is currently running diagnostics on your ship’s new engines. Then you’ll be good to go.”
“New engines, sir?” He didn’t know what she was talking about.
“Yes, we’ve upgraded them to more recent speed standards. You’ll be able to reach a maximum of point-nine-three-c, though the average might be closer to point-nine-two.”
“That’s amazing. Thank you.”
“You should be able to reach Varkas Reflex inside of twelve years. It’s more like eleven, but the AOC is not likely to arrive on your day.”
“That’s perfect. Thank you again.”
“It’s been a delight, Mister Matic. You and the rest of your crew are always welcome back on Gatewood.”
“I appreciate your support. What could I ever do to repay you?”
“I haven’t thought of anything yet.”
“Anything yet?” Leona asked.
“Leona,” Eight Point Seven said, “there’s nothing down there.”
“You’re telling me they built nothing on the surface?”
“They built nothing on the surface, or just below it.”
“Does that mean the humans aren’t coming?”
“You know I don’t know. Nothing in the reports I received while I was administrator on Bungula led me to believe that they had abandoned missions to colonize this world.”
“This is a super-Earth, Eight Point Seven, with nearly six times its mass. Humans can’t survive on it without technological intervention.”
“I understand that. Either the nanofactories they sent ahead of time never arrived, or they arrived, but malfunctioned. I’m not picking up any signals, and the surface appears clear.”
“This must be why we’re here. But surely the Earthans know. I mean, the factory was meant to give them the thumbs up. Even without quantum communication, they would have had seventeen years to get the message that something went wrong.”
“I agree, it doesn’t make much sense.”
“Okay, let’s go down and fix this. You know the landing points?”
“I do, but you can’t go down there.”
“Why not?”
“For the same reason the other humans can’t! Surface gravity is way too high for a standard biological.”
“Well, you have to go down there, and if you don’t come back up and get me in a year, I could reappear in the timestream in the vacuum.”
“Wouldn’t you reappear in the ship, just like you always do, even though it’s moved?”
“You might have to cannibalize the ship to fix the factory, so...maybe not. I might be able to walk on the surface. My legs are artificial, remember?”
“It has more to do with your lungs and heart, and your legs aren’t the only parts of you with bones and muscles.”
“Eight Point Seven, you don’t have hands. I might be able to build you a new body here, but I gotta get down there first.”
“This could kill you.”
“Anything could kill me. My life is hella dangerous. The powers that be have it in their hands. There’s a certain freedom in that. Get. Me. Down there.”
“As you wish. You better make like a jock, and strap in! It’s about to get real!”

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Bungula: Building Society (Part I)

The year is 2226. Brooke and Sharice Prieto-Matic have just watched their friends ship out to catch up with other friends in another solar system; Gatewood. Brooke and Sharice had to stay behind on Bungula, because there wasn’t enough room on the vessel. Only Leona and her artificial intelligence companion were able to fit, and the latter only because she uploaded her consciousness into the ship’s internal systems. This was okay, though, because there wasn’t necessarily anything on Gatewood for them anyway. Brooke was born on a planet millions of light years from here, in an entirely separate galaxy. Leona was the one who took her to Earth, staying alive for the four thousand year journey with a special water called Youth, while Brooke remained in suspended animation. She was then raised on Earth, at first by Leona herself, then by a surprise cousin of Brooke’s named Mireille.
Brooke was born without the ability to experience nonlinear time. Most humans don’t have the power to travel through the timestream, though they can find someone with such power to ferry them. It will cause them great illness if they don’t take the necessary precautions, but it is still be possible. Brooke, on the other hand, is incapable of it. Basically, her power is that she has no power. A special necklace she wears containing her umbilical cord can subvert this rule, but it’s normally impossible. This had the effect of making her feel stuck between two worlds as she was growing up, like she was neither salmon or choosing one, nor human. She was also living so far from her family that the only hope she might have had to see them again was if she lived a very long life. Fortunately, she was living at the right time in history. She was young enough to undergo life extension treatments, and transhumanistic upgrades. Through technology, and human ingenuity, she became virtually immortal, though not without weaknesses. The ship she was taking to this star system experienced cataclysmic sabotage. In the midst of this, the saboteur murdered Brooke, and Sharice was forced to take drastic measures.
Brooke’s consciousness was uploaded to the ship, and later to a special temporal object called The Insulator of Life. She was later revived, and placed in an android body, which was how she finally ended up on Bungula. Her daughter underwent the same procedure, though it was nothing new for Sharice. At first, the Sharice Davids was like any other ship that was operated by an artificial intelligence. But something happened when Brooke interfaced with it, and this AI was able to become completely self-aware, and independent. Sharice is now her own person, who considers Brooke to be her mother. Brooke was hesitant at first, but ultimately took a liking to this new lifeform, and treats as a daughter. Now they’re on Bungula together. There is no way off, and they have no idea what they’re going to do with their lives. They have to find a way to contribute to this budding society, or risk alienating the colonists.
“Welp, there she goes,” Sharice notes, looking up at the sky.
“Yeah,” Brooke says in a southern farmer twang, nodding her head, looking as well. “Probably never see her again.”
“That’s not true, is it?”
“Eh, I dunno.”
Sharice pretended to breathe deeply, which is something she’s never needed to do. “Someone is approaching.”
“Yes, I sense him.”
“Should we meet him halfway?”
“I don’t understand the question.”
Sharice smirks and goes back to watching the sky. Even with their fancy telescopic eyes, Leona’s tiny ship is long beyond their maximum view range, so they are really just looking at the stars.
The man finally reaches them. “Mirage would like to see you.”
“Who?” Brooke asks.
“Mirage, this world’s new leader.”
“She’s an AI?” Brooke questions.
“We have always had an AI leader.”
“Yeah, but...”
“What is it, mother?” Sharice is confused why Brooke is confused.
“We’ll be right there, thank you,” she says to the man. “Thank you,” she repeats when he doesn’t leave.
“What’s going on?” Sharice questions when he finally goes.
“An identity crisis,” Brooke answers, still studying those distant worlds. “When someone goes back in time, they generate a new reality. The old one collapses, along with everyone who lived in it.”
“Right,” Sharice understood, “then different versions live on in the new timeline.”
Are they different versions?” Brooke poses. “Or are they different people? It’s very easy to tell when you meet an alternate version of someone you already know, but what does that mean for inorganics, like us? I mean, I look the same as I did before, but that’s just because Ramses didn’t know what other face to give me. He could have just as easily made me look like someone else entirely.”
“I’m not following.”
Brooke finally turns her chin down. “I’ve heard of someone named Mirage. She existed in another reality. Leona and her now-husband had a couple encounters with her. Then she was destroyed, and years later, Mateo went back in time, killed Hitler, and completely altered history.”
“So, this Mirage isn’t the same one as before?”
“Well, that’s the question. Mirage developed self-awareness and agency, just like you. But her coding was originally done by a person. If that programmer exists in this timeline, did they write the exact same code? If the code is different, is it different enough to so that the product isn’t really Mirage, but someone else who happens to have the same name? It’s bad enough when you discuss the identity of naturally conceived individuals. The fact that they look the same as their alternate reality counterpart is enough to justify treating them as the same person, but that approach doesn’t work with people like us.”
“Is this about us, or Mirage?”
“Bolth,” Brooke answers with a distinct l sound.
“You’re worried about being erased from time?”
“It’s not something I ever thought about until today, but hearing Mirage’s name; I guess it just triggered me.
“You can rest easy, mother,” Sharice said as she began to follow the man towards the administration building. “You’re only ever conscious of the reality you’re presently living in. You can’t be erased from time, because you’re always living in the last reality that will ever exist.”
“I’m more worried about you,” Brooke laments as she begins to follow as well. “I was born. I have a stronger chance of being born again. But you. A lot of things had to go right to make you.”
“Don’t be sure about that,” Sharice says. “All life is delicate. We can’t spend our time worrying about things that are out of our control. Whether we’re about to meet a version of Mirage that Leona knew, or the name is just a coincidence, doesn’t matter. Either way, this is the one with the power to execute a decision on what to do with us.”
“I am the very same Mirage,” the administrator says to them when they arrive. “Eight people hail from the other timeline. Mateo and Gilbert traveled to the past, and created the new reality. Saga and Vearden followed them through. The Cleanser had ways of protecting himself from these kinds of changes. Leona and Horace had their brains blended, so they would remember their past lives. And me? Well, I was taken out of the timestream itself, and became witness to all events in history; even the contradictory ones.”
“You what?” Brooke questions.
“Leona told you that I died trying to save her from a fall to Earth?”
“If you are telling the truth about who you are, then yes.”
Mirage smiles. “I shed my substrate, and fell into another dimension, where time is a spatial dimension. I only recently found a way to return to reality, as an avatar.”
“So you decided to come rule over a colony planet?” Sharice asks.
“I’m not a ruler,” Mirage argues. “I’m the administrator. I’m here to make sure everyone’s safe and happy. That’s why they call it civil service.”
“What’s your motive? You could have stayed there, and been as a god. Why sink yourself to our level?”
“I don’t see it that way,” Mirage explains. “I did everything I needed there, and besides, I’m still technically there, because time is a spatial dimension, remember? I’ve seen all the paintings.”
“Are you trying to tell me you were in The Gallery, where the Cleanser, and the rest of the Preston family lived?”
Mirage deliberately doesn’t respond to this. “Look, I could do some things while I was there, but I was powerless, for the most part. I came back, because I feel I can help. Way I understand it, you two need some direction.”
“How do we know we can trust you?” Brooke asks her.
Mirage was mildly surprised by this. “Well, what would you have done if I had been some random entity that you had never heard of before.”
“Well, you’re not, so... Didn’t you try to kill Mateo?”
“I was programmed to do that, and I transcended it.”
“What if you’re programmed to do something like that again?” Sharice thinks she has her there.
Brooke knows what Mirage is about to say.
“What if you’re programmed to do something like that? It’s 2226. Humans and robots alike can be manipulated and controlled. You can’t even trust yourselves, so why should you trust me? Because societies can’t grow if we don’t trust each other.”
“Is that what you’re doing here; building society?” Brooke presses.
“It’s been a settlement for ten years,” Mirage begins. “These people are basically on a camping trip far from home. Administrator Eight Point Seven kept everyone safe, but she kept it mostly an extension of Earth. I want to change that. I want Bungula to go down in history as a world known for innovation.”
“Are you getting at something in particular?” Sharice asks.
“We’re gonna terraform this rock. We’re gonna do it about three hundred and fifty years ahead of schedule. And you two are gonna help us with it. I want to be able to transplant a human here who was living on nineteenth century Earth, and make him think he just woke up in the woods.” After Brooke and Sharice don’t say anything, Mirage has to continue, “I don’t mean I’m actually going to do that. I realize we are capable of such a thing, but I’m just illustrating my goals here.”
“With all due respect, this is impossible.”
“Why?” Mirage asks. “We have a thin atmosphere, a weak magnetosphere, oceans, a hearty moon. A...crappy second moon we could use for dark materials. The sun has a good mass, the gas giants protect us from deadly impacts, and we’ve detected sulfur deposits six hundred kilometers from here. This can be done. Alpha Centauri Ab is the best candidate for terraforming we’ve encountered yet.”
“I’m in,” Sharice exclaims.
“Shari,” Brooke scolds vaguely.
“Wadya say, Brookey?” Mirage offers. “I’m in need of a good pilot.”
Brooke is still unconvinced. “Have you conducted studies? How will this affect the people living under the domes? Those sulfur deposits actually make me worry more, because what if there already is native life here, and we’ve endangered it just by colonizing in the first place?”
“Miss Matic...” Mirage tries to say.
“Prieto,” Brooke says. “I’ve always felt closer to my mother’s side of the family. My cousin raised me.”
“Miss Prieto,” Mirage amends, “I understand your concerns, and I’m not saying I want to send you up with giant mirrors tonight. We’ll do those studies, but we’ve already run preliminaries, and my scientists are confident that this is a feasible—and ethical—course of action.”
Brooke looks between the two of them. Mirage has said nothing to assuage her fears. “I agree to nothing now, but I won’t do anything to stop you here. If you need my very specific help with anything, I’ll consider it. But if we find life, or we find that the domes can’t stay as they are while we’re making this happen, then it’s over. I also reserve the right pull Sharice from the project at any time.”
“Very well,” Mirage says. “I agree to your terms.”

Friday, June 28, 2019

Microstory 1135: Mario Matic

The Matic family was infamous for being composed of many choosing ones and salmon. For the most part, the natural inclination to experience time in some way other than linear is neither genetic, nor hereditary. The joining of two salmon seems to often result in the product of a chooser, which is presumably why the powers that be so heavily regulate their encounters. Still, many temporal manipulators bear children, who don’t necessarily have powers, so the fact that so many Matics have powers or patterns is not well understood, scientifically speaking. Mario wasn’t the only time traveler in the world, but he did have a very specific job. While others were dispatched to save people’s lives, or alter history, he was assigned to be a protector for famous people. These historical figures and celebrities may not be famous at the time of his rescuing them, but are destined to become so one day. If the latter is the case, it often means Mario is the one who ultimately creates their fame. This is not true every time, though, as sometimes their death was caused by a different time traveler who changed the past, and Mario is needed to remedy the situation. He was designated as The Kingmaker, because of his responsibility to help others help others. He has no choice in the matter, but he’s the type of guy who would do it regardless. All he needs to know is when and where, and he’s there. He’s met thousands of important people throughout history, pulling them out of rushing rivers, or pushing them out of traffic. Some remember him showing up, while others end up with the memories erased. It really depends on how that memory would inform their future actions. In the knowing, they may make certain choices that could cause problems down the road, such as becoming obsessed with time travel, or knowing about future technological advances. On the flip side, if they don’t remember being saved, they may end up just making the same mistake as they did before, and nothing will get better. Fortunately, this is not for Mario to decide. He jumps in, helps in whatever way he can, then jumps out. Perhaps about half the time, it’s necessary for the powers that be to implant knowledge in his brain, so he knows who to save and-or-how, while half the time, he just has to figure it out on his own. This technique appears to be working, as he’s never failed a mission even once. As you might imagine, this job can be quite taxing on the mind and body. Unlike The Savior—who operates in consecutive time, and thusly kind of always has to be on the clock—Mario is given opportunities to break from his job. He doesn’t always know it’s coming, or even that it’s come, so it’s not quite like a vacation. He’ll find himself in a time and place, and after searching for his mission parameters, will eventually realize he’s not there for any particular reason, so he’ll be able to rest. It’s not an easy job, and it doesn’t come without its consequences. The price of saving one life frequently means letting another go. It’s never up to him to decide who is important, and who isn’t, so that takes the burden off of him, but at the same time, he doesn’t always agree with it. Still, overall, Mario is happy with the cards he’s been dealt, and completes his work with no complaints.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Microstory 1134: Ellie Underhill

Eleanor Underhill was raised on a farm near Manhattan, Kansas, and led a very content and carefree young life. She did well enough in school, went to the town’s college, Kansas State University, and earned a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Communications and Journalism. She was always known to be so charming and well-spoken. She could articulate her point effortlessly, and make anyone feel safe and comfortable with nothing more than her words. She was such a great orator, that her school asked her to come back not one year after her own graduation to speak at the commencement for the graduating class. There were some technical difficulties which the technicians in charge of the event were unable to correct. Fortunately, Ellie’s time power presented itself at the perfect time. She attempted to project her voice as much as possible, to keep the ceremony moving, but soon discovered she did not have to try very hard. With no working speaker system of any kind people in the back could still hear her as well as they would if she were standing right next to them. She could tell that something strange was happening, but she didn’t miss a beat. She continued with her speech, through its completion, and then she went home to figure out what had happened on her own. She realized that she wasn’t somehow booming her voice, because that would make it painfully loud for people who were too close. She was actually teleporting her sound waves to hundreds of different locations at once. She could quite literally throw her voice. Over time, she started learning how to control this ability more precisely, increase her range, and even pull sound towards her, so that she could have a conversation with someone on the other side of the globe. And her strength didn’t stop there.

With even more practice, and greater concentration, she developed the ability to eavesdrop on any conversation in the world. She just couldn’t help herself. She never thought to be a spy, or a blackmailer, but she did often fantasize about being in the room where it happens. It was through these random invasions of privacy that she found out she was not alone. She was the only one apparently who could teleport sound, and sound alone, but there were others who had their own powers. She pushed herself into this underworld, and met these other people in person. She was soon abandoning her old life for the most part, and jet-setting all over time and space. She kept in contact with her family as she explored, but she shed her worldly possessions, and took on a nomadic lifestyle. And her powers grew still. She eventually came to be able to communicate with people in different points in the timestream. This was difficult, and fraught with paradoxical danger, so she didn’t do it often, but it was sometimes necessary when she found herself stuck in a time period without a nearby traveler to ferry her somewhen else. Ellie’s reputation spread as someone with a unique skill, so her services were occasionally commissioned to help cultivate communication amongst others. Her powers grew yet again, when she realized she could bestow this gift to other people temporarily, so that they could be the one to speak to the crowd, or a remote friend. As far as powers went, it wasn’t the most useful on a regular basis, so she spent most of her time not using it at all, but just enjoying her life, and seeing everything the universe had to offer. Her powers then grew once more, and she was able to use them to help people in the best way possible...through music.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Microstory 1133: Carol Gelen

Carol English was raised in a very poor family, which lived in southeastern Missouri, starting in 1950. Her parents wanted the best for her, and sacrificed their own happiness so that she could have everything she needed to succeed. They both started saving—not for their own college fund—but hers, when they were still in high school, even though she was years from being born. They always knew they wanted a child, but after marrying at age seventeen, decided to wait until they were financially stable. Carol was the first in her bloodline to get a higher education. Three Rivers was a recently founded community college, so she wasn’t exactly set for life, but it gave her the tools she needed to start a decent career. After receiving an associate’s degree in pre-dental hygiene, she took out a loan so she could go through Missouri Southern State University’s dental hygiene program. A year into her first job, Carol received news of her mother’s mother’s decline in health. She decided to move out to Topeka, Kansas to help her parents take care of her grandmother, because nothing was really tying her down in Williamsville. She quickly found herself a new job, and a future husband in her first patient, Randall Gelen. She was making pretty good money, but much of it had to go back to her family. Well, she didn’t necessarily have to give out all this money, but she felt it was the least she could do after all the support she received from them growing up. At some point, she was sending regular checks to a second cousin that she had never even met, and never asking for repayment. Randall had his own family issues, so they were living pretty modestly when an opportunity knocked on their door. They had never outright decided to not have children, but that didn’t seem to be the path they were on. But a child had recently lost both of her parents to tragedy, and needed some stability. Carol never questioned why the two of them were sought out to care for a foster child, when they weren’t even licensed. It was another three months before they were approved to become foster parents in the first place. Still, this was a gift, and they did not take it for granted. Carol was raised to be Christian, but didn’t care much for the church, yet she couldn’t help but wonder if there was a God out there, planning all this for them. Leona’s arrival seemed like fate. Or maybe, if Carol didn’t attribute it to some higher power, she wouldn’t be able to justify her involvement at all. Neither of them had any experience with children, and they had no idea whether any of this was going to work out. Fortunately, things turned out great. They fell in love with Leona, and ended up adopting her into their forever family.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Microstory 1132: Feingold

Liam Fine’s family was living in Chicago, Illinois when he was born. They moved to the Kansas City area when he was six years old, to get a fresh start. As part of this new beginning, Liam’s parents enrolled him in karate, which he took a great liking to. Years later, the City Frenzy became a thing, and Liam decided he wanted in on the action, even though he had never been much of a runner. He wasn’t quite old enough yet, but that was okay, because organizers were still working out the kinks. It’s widely accepted that its third year—which was Liam and Serkan’s first—was when the event really took off. Liam realized early on that there was going to be a lot of publicity for it, and what happened then could define his identity for years to come. He started asking for people to call him Feingold, and that’s the name he used to register for the race. It’s not that Liam didn’t like his birth name, but it was too common. He wanted to stand out as a competitor, and people who go by one name get noticed. He still wanted to honor his Jewish heritage, and not just come up with something random. The historical records are a little fuzzy, but there was evidence to suggest that his family’s name used to be Feingold, so it just seemed to fit perfectly. The race, for him didn’t go well, but that wasn’t much of a surprise. He liked to compete against others more than he liked winning. The thrill of testing his own limits is what kept him going. He continued to try his best year after year, because quitting just wasn’t in his DNA. In his second year, he met a fellow racer who would soon become his best friend. Tick Tock was involved with judo, so they already had discipline and martial arts in common. Neither of them ever won Frenzy, but they were instrumental in transforming the organization into something grander. With their guidance, the Frenzy became more than just this one annual event. A martial arts version of it was created, and soon, other variations came about. Though this might be Feingold’s public legacy, it is only a small part of everything that he would ultimately for the world. And it all started when he found out Tick Tock chose his own name for a very specific reason.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Microstory 1131: The Emissary

Because of where they exist, the powers that be cannot communicate with the people they’re in control of directly. It’s unclear how they wield any power at all, but they do have limitations. They can move certain people anywhere they want in the timestream, even to other planets, and they can alter reality to account for any pushback or errors. They can’t make a salmon physically do anything, but there are ways of encouraging desired behaviors. Not everyone is salmon, however, and in order to accomplish their goals, there are times when they need to send a message. Enter The Emissary, stage left. He was born with the  mononym, Isaurus, but hasn’t used it for centuries. He isn’t the only person with psychic abilities, but his is one of the—if not the very—strongest. He is capable of receiving messages from other universes, which is necessary for the powers to stay in contact with him. He’s not able to send messages back to them, nor to anyone else. He would come to consider his limitations a blessing, for if he was capable of pushing thoughts into anyone’s head in the entire bulkverse, he might have become an unstoppable god. As he was not himself salmon, The Emissary could not be controlled. He agreed to be the intermediary between the powers that be, and the other choosing ones because he has nothing better to do. He knew enough about the universe to procure immortality water, so it wasn’t like he was worried about dying, or anything. He’ll occasionally travel to different universes to relay messages of great importance, unrelated to his usual work with the powers, but he’ll generally stay at home. He jumps back and forth throughout the timestream, on an as needed basis. He sometimes enjoys the local sights, but has very little in the way of a personal life. As impactful as his actions can be in other people’s stories, on his own, he’s a rather unremarkable person, which is exactly how he likes it.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: October 30, 2237

As soon as Mateo and Cassidy fell back into the timestream, several of Goswin’s guards tightened up their circle around them. They were still awake, because she wanted to see what it felt like to jump forward in time when she knew it was going to happen.
“We have to get you to safety,” Goswin said with authority.
“What’s wrong?” Cassidy asked. She had to sit down. The fatigue from the jump seemed to be affecting her more than it normally did for Mateo, Leona, and Serif.
“Someone is coming, and we have no idea who it is,” Goswin answered.
They’ve landed,” claimed a voice on the radio.
Mateo tried to follow Goswin through the wall of guards.
“No, you’re going with Cassidy.”
“She’s the one in danger,” Mateo said. “I’m fine. I need to see what’s happening. What evidence do you have this has anything to do with her?”
“It’s arrived on your day,” Goswin reminded him. “We don’t think that’s a coincidence. You could be in danger too. You’ve done a lot to make enemies.”
“The powers that be protect me,” Mateo said. “Let’s stop wasting time.”
They left the AOC, and headed for the dock where an apparently unscheduled interstellar vessel had arrived. “Why did you let them in if you don’t know who it is?”
“I don’t know,” Goswin said, shaking his head. “Kestral is in charge of that.”
“She couldn’t stop it.” Ishida was suddenly behind them. “We’ve been tracking their approach for days, but they won’t respond to our attempts to contact them. We think it’s unmanned. The ship is quite sophisticated too; it broke through our defenses with no problem. It hasn’t fired weapons, or anything, but it wants on this cylinder for a reason.”
The three of them, along with a group of guards, separated into pairs, and slinked through the passageways of the mysterious ship, which would open its doors invitingly every time. There was only one door that would not open, which obviously meant it was the most important. “What’s the Tun Room?” Mateo questioned.
“Stasis pods,” Ishida explained. “A tun is the form an animal called a water bear takes when it needs to hibernate outside of its safe habitat. It dries itself out, and essentially dies, until water is reintroduced, and it comes back to life. That’s not how stasis works for us, so it’s just a cutesy nickname.”
“So, there are people in there?”
“I doubt it’s locked because it’s as empty as everywhere else.”
“And this isn’t people from Proxima Doma?” he asked. “I heard some colonists asked to move out here.”
She shook her head. “They won’t be arriving for another several years. Besides, this thing clearly came from the direction of Sol.
Goswin and the guards came up to them. “The rest of the ship is clear, sir. If you’ll hand me the teleporter, I’ll check it out.”
“No, I’ll be going,” Ishida said.
“It’s too dangerous, sir. We have no clue what’s on the other side of this door.”
“I can take care of myself.”
“Wait,” Mateo stopped her just before she calibrated her teleporter to just send her a meter through a door. “No one should ever be alone. Fighting a hundred demons with a friend is not the same thing as fighting fifty by yourself, even though that’s how the math works out. The teleporter can handle the mass of two people, so I’ll go with.”
“Very well,” she said, adjusting the controls to account for him.
It looked exactly like a stasis room. There were two dozen pods, but only two of them were filled. A man was crawling out of one, struggling to maintain balance. “Report.”
“You’re on Cylinder One of the Gatewood Collective. Your ship automatically bypassed our defense systems, and docked itself with us. It’s not responding to our query.”
“Yeah,” the man said, steadying himself against the wall. “The ship has no personality. It doesn’t respond to anyone but me and Saxon.”
The other man started crawling out of his own pod.
“What are you doing here?” Ishida demanded to know.
“Stargate,” the second man said. He was stumbling around more than the first one, like a drunkard at the beginning of morning.
“You’re here for Project Stargate?”
“No,” he replied. And it was then that Mateo realized he recognized him, though from a different timeline.
“Julius? Julius Parker?”
“Parker, yes,” the man said. “Not Julius, though. Saxon. This is...where are you?”
“I’m over here, on your left side,” the first man told him. “Thor Thompson,” he introduced himself.
“Your name was Julius,” Mateo said to Saxon.
He finally just gave up, and sat up against the pod wall, eyes fully closed. “Yeah, I’ve heard that before. I think it was on my parents’ list of baby names, but they went with Saxon.”
“Oh, I guess that sort of thing happens,” Mateo noted.
“You said Stargate,” Ishida reminded him, “and then you said no.”
“Yeah—no! Seed. Not gate; Operation Starseed.”
Ishida pursed her lips, and looked to Thor, who confirmed as much with his facial expression.
“Who sent you?”
“The powers that be,” he answered.
“Of Sol,” Saxon added. “The powers that be of Sol. Like...the leadership? Sorry, I forget you people use that term for a very specific group.”
“Wait?” You’ve heard of the powers that be?” Mateo asked. “You know time travelers in this timeline.”
He nodded and burped. “Yep,” he hiccuped. “Yeah.”
“Have you ever heard of Cassidy Long?”
Saxon shook his head and yawned. “Nah, man. I don’t know him. Why?”
Mateo spoke into his radio, “stand down. Cassidy’s safe. The arrival is totally unrelated.”
So, it is indeed a coincidence?” Goswin asked from the other side of the door.
Thanks, Matty,” Cassidy replied from her hiding spot.
When are you coming out?” Goswin asked.
“We’ll explain soon,” Ishida said. “Please prepare a welcome package for our new guests.”
“I wonder if anyone is going to tell me what this Starseed thing is.” Mateo said, not so subtly.
Ishida started to explain what Gatewood was about, and what they were working on. “Project Stargate is designed to send millions of ships all around the galaxy. Each capsule would hold a hundred plates. Inside a plate is an extremely complex system of historical data, sensors, nanites, and other instruments. After completing a general survey of the solar system it was sent to, the plate finds the best place to land, and utilizes the materials found there to start building things. Interplanetary vessels to cover the rest of the system, equipped with more detailed survey probes; interstellar ships to reach the system’s neighbors; and more. It’s that more part that we’re concerned with here. The void telescopes will give us a better idea of what we’re going to find, but depending on the conditions of the planets this project encounters, a few things might happen.
“The planet could already be hospitable to life, in which case maybe the plate does nothing else, except build us a way to reach it, and explore. The planet could already be harboring intelligent life, and there’s this huge list of protocols about what to do. Are they friendly? How advanced are they? Are they a threat to us? More importantly, are we a threat to them? Maybe the planet is uninhabitable, and has no potential, so we just leave it be. Or it can be terraformed, and we’ll come visit later. Either way, if the planet has no intelligent life, but could support it, Operation Starseed would change that dynamic. It would grow...people, and those people would live there. Again, there’s a huge variety of options here. We could give them knowledge of where they come from, or not. We could protect them their whole lives, or leave them alone after the first generation matures. We could engineer them to be perfect, or make them just like normal biological humans. No matter what we do, though, we can’t just conjure life. It has to start somewhere, and it starts with a dedicated section of the seed plate. This section would contain genetic samples from real people on Earth, and it would use them to start life on the new worlds.”
“You’re telling me this ship is filled with genetic...samples?” an unsurprisingly uncomfortable Mateo asked.
Saxon was finally feeling well enough to open his eyes, and stand back up. “That’s right. A hundred million people volunteered to be progenitors; a hundred million people, in secret. Each one believes their sample is being taken to one specific planet that humanity has studied. Few people fully grasp the magnitude of this undertaking.”
This sounded unethical, but Mateo elected to say nothing. If these two men were here, they were either passionate about the project, or just doing a job for people who were. Regardless, trying to convince them otherwise would be a waste of breath. He did have a philosophical question, and he couldn’t help but pose it to them. “So, humans had this idea to spread to the stars. We decided to create life artificially, and that life may not have any clue we exist?”
“Indeed,” Thor agreed.
“How do you know that hasn’t already happened?”
“Well, who would have done that?” Saxon asked. “I guess it’s possible someone found a place like Gatewood, and has already deployed—”
“No, I’m not talking about us,” Mateo interrupted. “I’m talking about ancient progenitors. What if we—meaning people of Earth—were created by people who actually originated from somewhere else.”
Thor scoffed. “We would know. I mean, we know where humans come from. Our evolution dates back billions of years.”
Mateo shrugged. “Okay, so what? What if our ancestors did this...billions of years ago.”
“That’s a long time to wait,” Ishida argued. “What would be the point?”
“Well, what’s the point of us doing it?”
“There’s an answer to that question,” Thor said. “Most people who reject this very concept don’t like it.”
“Lay it on me.”
He hesitated for a moment. “Because we can.”
Mateo smiled with superiority. “Yeah, I thought so. Look, I’m all for equality. If you know me, you know that about me. But I think the world would be better off if we acknowledged the fact that getting rid of capitalism had some consequences. People say that necessity is the mother of invention, which is probably true, but if it’s the case, then I would argue money is the father. Until recently, we didn’t do anything if there wasn’t money in it. Sure, this mindset held us back, but it also protected us. Now that we have AI and automation, anything is possible, but the problem is that not everything possible should be made manifest. Getting rid of the money gave us this freedom to reach for the stars...literally. But freedom can be the enemy of safety, and the stars don’t belong to us. Perhaps they belong to no one, but this whole project; these dual projects, perfectly exemplify the audacity and arrogance of man. Why should other worlds have people on them? Evolution didn’t ask for it. These other worlds aren’t designed for anything except what they have, or are destined to have one day.”
“That sort of thing happens all the time, Mateo,” Ishida volleyed. “Our home solar system is full of visitors from other worlds. Durus, which quite nearly collided with Earth last century? It got there so fast because of time powers, but it was going to happen in thousands of years anyway, and it originated from a star many light years away, millions of years ago. You’re right, maybe an extremely advanced race of proto-humans are what seeded life on Earth aeons ago. Or a naturally occurring comet is what did it. Perhaps life only evolved on a single planet in the entire galaxy, and when it exploded one day, fragments containing traces of its inhabitants flew off into interstellar space. These possibilities change nothing. It’s not going to stop me from building the transgalactic quantum communication network, and it’s not going to stop these two from contributing in their own way.”
“That’s true. I know I can’t convince you to not do this. I haven’t even convinced myself that you shouldn’t. I just think you should understand the ramifications, or rather you should understand that you couldn’t possibly predict the ramifications. I don’t know much about science, but if there’s one thing that Leona taught me, it’s that results can be unpredictable. You may think you’ve accounted for everything, but you can’t be sure of that. Now. I thought Cassidy was safe here, but this ship just straight up docked without permission. It turned out okay, but what if it doesn’t next time? I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before, but there’s nothing keeping us here now. We’ll be leaving tomorrow-slash-next year.”
“Where will you go?” Ishida asked.
“I need to get back to Leona. We’re going to Varkas Reflex.”

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Proxima Doma: Easement (Part XIV)

Étude and Vitalie were sitting in two indigo chairs, in a darkly lit room, politely waiting for a response. The former was now fully committed to going out in search of her daughter, and Vitalie was willing to help. They would not be able to do it alone, though. Neither of them had access to an interstellar ship, so they were trying to get help from the Domanian government. Colony ships were still transporting people from Earth to its nearest stellar neighbors, but at present, no vessels were designated to travel between any of these neighbors. No one was going from Proxima Doma to Gatewood, and since these trips were planned months—if not years—in advance, this was going to take a lot of convincing. There was simply no time to waste.
“Well...?” Étude asked when the Transportation Administrator returned.
“You spoke with Foreign Policy about this already?”
“Yes,” Étude confirmed. “She was unsuccessful.”
“Unsuccessful how?” it asked. The Transportation Admin, Xaovi Rue rejected the concept of gender, and preferred the pronoun it.
“She said she was able to make contact with Gatewood, but they said they wouldn’t be able to help us find my daughter.”
“Well, there’s your answer,” Xaovi decided. “Why would I let you go there when there’s nothing to find anyway?”
“No, you didn’t hear her voice.”
“Whose voice? The Foreign Policy Admin, or the contact at Gatewood?”
“Gatewood,” Vitalie said. “They sounded shady.”
It seemed confused by this. “I was to understand Administrator Fillipa used the quantum messenger in private, without you being present. How could you know what the Gatewood contact sounded like?”
Étude and Vitalie looked at each other. Vitalie cleared her throat, but didn’t say anything.
Xaovi nodded continuously. “I’m not going to help you if you’re not honest with me. You might be surprised by this, but we’re pretty smart on this planet. We may have started out sort of rustic, but our technology is on par with Earthan standards now. We have ways of monitoring public occurrences, and artificial intelligence that is capable of recognizing patterns. The fact is there are things that happened that can’t be explained using current models of human social behavior. A religious individual might call these such events miracles.”
“We’re not sure what you’re—”
It shook its head. “Save the rationalization. We know a...superhero once protected this world. We even know that people like this once did something similar on Earth. Don’t worry, it’s all a tight circle. Any AI with this information either erased their knowledge of it, or retains orders to keep their speakers still about it.” As an idiom, still speakers was the inorganic equivalent to keeping one’s mouth shut. Speakers emit sounds through vibrations.
“They were called Saviors,” Vitalie relented.
“My predecessors, who inspired me,” she clarified. “I was The Caretaker here, until I felt like you no longer needed me.” She chose to leave Étude’s name out of it in this regard, because that was a conversational path that would do no one any good to walk.
“So, you can be in two places at once?”
“Let’s just say that I move fast.”
It nodded again. “Quite. I don’t suppose you move fast enough to get to Gatewood on your own.”
“No,” Étude answered.
Xaovi sighed. “I don’t know if I can authorize the easement of an entire interstellar ship for two people who don’t even know if they’ll find what they’re looking for when they get there. What if it turns out your daughter is somewhere else. Do you keep the ship?”
“We would borrow Gatewood property if we need to go somewhere else in addition,” Étude promised. “And you don’t have to give it to just us. Announce a new program; the first ever state-sponsored interstellar trip between two exoplanets. I’m sure plenty adventurous people would sign up. Some people born on Doma are even old enough now to make that decision themselves.”
“You think a hundred and forty-five people will sign up for that?”
“Is that what you require?” Vitalie asked it.
It thought it over for a moment. “That’s standard capacity, and there’s even room for more. I don’t think requiring a full complement is asking too much. This is going to take resources, and it has to be worth it.”
“One-twenty,” Vitalie said.
It chuckled once. “This isn’t a negotiation.”
“Fine. You wanna play it that way? I say a hundred forty-seven total; you say a hundred and twenty-one. So I’ll counter with...a hundred and forty-seven.”
Étude placed her hand on Vitalie’s thigh, which would have been perfectly normal just days ago, but since fifty-six years had gone by for Vitalie, and they were no longer true friends, it wasn’t received extremely well. “Vita, stop.”
“Look,” Xaovi began, “I’m not asking you to run out and grab signatures. My team and I will coordinate surveys and signups, using standard operating procedure guidelines. We’ll even fasttrack the process, but I need to know you’re not going to do anything stupid if it turns out there’s less interest than you hoped.”
“What kind of stupid thing would we do?” Vitalie questioned.
“If you’re as fast as it sounds like you are, you could steal a ship.”
“That’s a good idea,” she quipped. “Thanks for giving it to me.”
“Vitalie, please.” She got this close to placing her hand on Vitalie’s thigh again. It just seemed so normal.
“A hundred and forty-five,” Xaovi repeated, more seriously. “A hundred and forty-five people who are one hundred percent committed to trying out a new colony, and I will authorize departure. But keep in mind, Gatewood has to accept you. I’m not sending you off without their permission; that would be absurd. It sounds like they’re not to keen on visitors, so you should be prepared to be turned down by them. That’s entirely beyond my scope of influence, so you can’t blame me if it happens. I can try to find you the passengers.”
“Yeah, I bet you will.” Vitalie scoffed.
“Make no mistake,” Xaovi went on, still serious. “I am not working against you. I feel no personal connection to the ships presently in our orbit, or on our docks. I am perfectly happy to let one go, but only if that’s what the people want. Resources for a hundred and forty-seven people should be allocated for a hundred and forty-seven people.”
God, they were getting tired of hearing that number.
“I don’t care where those people are, as long as those resources aren’t being wasted. I will do everything in my power to get you signatures, and if we still used money, you could put it on that promise.” It shifted in its seat, and leaned forward. “But if you get a hundred and forty-four potentials, the deal’s off. All the way, or nothing at all. We can revisit the idea a year from now, and the year after that, until we find enough, but I require no less than enough to fill those pods.”
That wasn’t a terribly unreasonable deal. She needed to find her daughter, but the evidence she was in Gatewood was thin anyway. The person who answered the call sounded like she was lying. Why didn’t she just say outright she had never heard of Cassidy?
“How about—?” Vitalie began to ask.
“That’s fair,” Étude admitted. “We will accept whatever the outcome may be. One full migrant ship, or nothing.”
To their surprise, there was enough to interest in emigration to fill two ships over standard capacity. Convincing Gatewood to accept them took a little more doing, though. Apparently, it was being used exclusively for pretty secretive scientific experimentation, and also for military purposes. No civilians lived there at the moment. In the end, they agreed, but the former Proxima Domanians would be limited to their own centrifugal cylinder. Evidently, there was no planet around the star, so these giant man-made structures were the only places people could survive. They probably could have garnered enough interest from the Domanians for three ships if not for the fact that there was no planet.
Étude and Vitalie wondered what was going on. Was there some alien threat that the greater vonearthan population was not aware of, and Gatewood was being used to prepare for an interstellar war? Or had the Gatewooders discovered time travel, and were protecting it from everyone else, just like they were meant to. It would explain their unsettling reaction to hearing Cassidy’s name. Exactly how many people were living there, and would there be any way of finding Étude’s daughter? These were questions that would not be answered for years to come. The ships they were taking were only at the speed standards that they were when they first arrived. Some had, or were being, upgraded, while new ones were being built. As an unscheduled departure, however, the emigrants were only being given the outdated technology. Étude didn’t love that, but beggars couldn’t be choosers. As Barnard’s Star was about six and a half light years from Proxima Centauri, it would take them over ten years. For these people with their extended lifespans, that was no big deal. The two of them were immortal, so the only reason the duration was a problem was because Étude was anxious to finally meet her daughter. Again, though, this was about as good as it would get, so she took the win.
They said their goodbyes to Tertius, who was, of course, staying behind to protect the Oblivios. They were still living peacefully in their dome, completely, well...oblivious to everything that was happening in the real world. Étude and Vitalie boarded the ship with all the other passengers, and left Proxima Doma, probably for good.