Saturday, August 31, 2019

Gatewood: Operation Soul Patch (Part III)

In 2244, two ships from the Proxima Doma colony arrived to start a new life in Gatewood. Kestral and Ishida let this happen, because their dreams told them they were meant to. There was no explanation for why this was necessary, or who specifically they were waiting for, but the dreams that guided their recent lives had never steered them down the wrong path. The new arrivals were going to be relegated to their own centrifugal cylinder, however, because there is no way the secrets of the multiverse don’t get out if they’re allowed to intermix with the rest of Gatewood’s residents. They aren’t even going to be told how many others lived here, because history doesn’t account for eleven billion extra people in the human population.
A day after they arrive, and are settling into their new dwellings, Ishida receives an unauthorized communiqué from their cylinder, requesting permission to transport over to their location.
Well, who am I speaking to?” the voice on the other end of the radio asks.
“This is Ishida Caldwell. I do not lead this star system. I am just a scientist.”
Did she say Ishida?” a second voice asks.
“Do I know you?” Ishida asks her.
If you let us come over, we’ll promise to cook you a nice salmon dinner,” she really hit the word salmon hard. That is code.
Ishida doesn’t hesitate. “Authorization granted. I’m sending docking instructions.”
Soon thereafter, the small transport ship is docking with the main cylinder, and two women are walking down the ramp.
“Ishida Caldwell, Kestral McBride, and...Julius Parker?” the second woman greets them.
“Everyone keeps calling me that,” he laments. “My name is Saxon in this reality.”
The woman holds up her hands semi-defensively. “Very well. I am Étude Einarsson. This is my...associate, Vitalie Crawville.”
“Étude Einarsson, the Last Savior of Earth,” Ishida says in awe. “It’s an honor to meet you.”
“Wow, you’re famous,” Vitalie says to Étude, before turning her attention back to Team Keshidon. “Are we in mixed company?”
“We’re all mad here,” Kestral recites.
“I’m looking for my daughter, Étude explains. “She disappeared from 2019, and I have reason to believe she ended up here.”
Kestral steps forward with concern, but doesn’t respond immediately. “Cassidy Long?”
“Yes!” Étude cries. “That’s her. So she’s here.”
Kestral and Ishida look at each other. “She was. She left on the AOC.”
“What’s that?” Vitalie question.
“The Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,” Étude answers. “That’s Mateo and Leona’s ship. Ramses built it for them. You were there.”
“She has memory issues?” Saxon asks.
“Occupational hazard,” Étude replies impatiently. “You’re telling me my daughter is with the Matics right now?”
“I’m telling you she left with Mateo, and the rest of the crew years ago. Leona wasn’t there, though. He was trying to get back to her on Varkas Reflex.”
Étude acts like this is the worst news she could have heard. “So they’re on Varkas Reflex?”
Ishida shakes her head. “They sent a quantum burst shortly after departure. Something took control of their systems, and is forcing them towards Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida.”
“Okay, well, when will they get there?” Vitalie asks.
Ishida checks her unwatched wrist. “Eleven years.”
“Who took control of their ship?” Étude looks like she might throw up.
“We suspect it was Mirage, in which case, they’ll be fine.”
“We don’t know that for sure,” Kestral adds. “There are a lot of powerful people in your world.”
“I have to get to Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida,” Étude begs. “Please, can you spare any ship—any ship? I have to find her.”
“Hey,” Kestral says in what she hopes is a soft and soothing voice. She places her hand on Étude’s shoulder. “We’ll get you there. We have a vessel that would be perfect. It can go ninety-nine point nine percent the speed of light. For you, it will feel like less than nine months.”
This calms Étude down. “Thank you.”
“We’re all friends here.”
Just then, an alarm goes off on Ishida’s tablet. When she consults it, she sees readings that don’t make any sense. “There’s something wrong with Down,” she announces, referring to a ship that was transporting one of the telescope arrays to the intergalactic void. “We have to get back to the throne room now.”
“I can teleport,” Étude tells them. “Show me where it is.”
Ishida shows Étude the map, then lets her take both her and Kestral by the arm, and instantaneously drop them where they need to be. They immediately get to work, pulling up system diagnostics, and error logs.
“Speed is down to ten percent,” Kestral shouts.
“Life support is failing,” Ishida shouts back.
“Why does it need life support?” Kestral questions. “There’s no one on it!”
“I don’t know, but someone’s trying to breathe up there! We have to initialize environmental control!”
They continue working through a slight time delay. While the ship has slowed down, allowing communication to occur in close to real time, it doesn’t quite match up.
“There,” Ishida says finally. She watches the systems as they return to normal. Oxygen starts flowing through a ship that is not meant to be inhabited, and the alarms shut off.
Kestral bites her lower lip. “Get me comms. Shipwide call. I wanna know who the hell is down there.”
Ishida opens a channel. “Void Ship Down, this is Gatewood Control. Void Ship Down, this is Gatewood. Please respond.” She has to repeat her call a few times.
When the voice finally does reply, they instantly recognize it. “This is Anglo Three. Thanks for the pick-me-up.
Kestral is confused. “Is that—”
“It’s coming directly from Down. I don’t understand. I don’t...” she trails off, trying to figure it out.
Are you guys still there?” Anglo Three asks.
Kestral takes the microphone. “Anglo Three, this is Gatewood Primary. Forgive me, but who the hell are you?”
Parker didn’t tell you?
“Tell us what?”
Uhh...maybe he oughta explain it. It’s not really my call. I gotta figure out how to fix this stasis chamber, then go back to sleep. I don’t know what happened.
Kestral makes a direct call. “Parker. Get to the throne room right now.”
“I’m here,” Saxon says from the doorway.
Kestral grimaces. “I’m presently on the phone with someone on the telescope ship. He sounds uncomfortably familiar. Care to explain?”
Saxon sighs. “Operation Soul Patch. I hoped it would never come up.”
“What is it?” Ishida asks him.
Saxon prepares to explain. “Both Project Stargate and Project Topdown are designed to work autonomously. Artificial general intelligence will control every system on board, from propulsion to navigation to repair. Bots can be deployed to cover the kinds of tasks a human crew might perform on a ship that, ya know...has humans. Still. Computer system can be corrupted, or damaged. Now, I’m not saying that humans are perfect, but our brains have something AIs have never been able to replicate.”
Kestral is still pissed. “And what’s that?”
“They call it gasping. It’s basically how a human can be at the end of their life, and still push themselves forwards. We can fight against death, and hold on a little longer; possibly long enough to solve one last problem. If a computer is fed a virus, or encounters some kind of fatal error, it will stop immediately, and try to solve that problem. It will die trying to save itself, because if it succeeds, it can get back up to a hundred percent working order. A human, on the other hand, can choose to ignore their error, and solve for the greater good, because they know when they’ve passed the point of no return. Once we die, we can’t be put back together, and turned back on, which means our final act has to mean something. That’s, at least, why they think they haven’t been able to program an AI to even simulate this behavior. We’re putting humans on board every ship large enough for one, just in case he’s needed. If all else fails, he’ll at least try one last thing.”
“You said he,” Ishida notes. “He sounds like you.”
Saxon frowns. “That was not my idea. He’s my clone. My second clone, in fact. My first clone is in stasis in the Top ship, and many more are being grown to populate their assignments for Project Stargate.”
“How many of your clones are you making and deploying?”
Saxon hesitates, but knows he must answer. “One million, one hundred thirty-two thousand, six hundred and twenty-two.”
“Jesus.”
“So, it’s not just one for every rankfile of the galaxy,” Ishida calculates. “Some clones will be staying behind with no more work to do once the modules break off.”
“That’s right,” Saxon confirms.
“Then what?” Kestral asks. “They’ll just die? Or will they find some planet to live out the rest of their days?”
Saxon clears his throat. “Each one of us will be able to quantum cast their consciousness to a planet of their choosing, where they will live out there lives however they see fit.”
Ishida contorts her face. “The number you quoted is pretty close to the estimate of how many worlds Operation Starseed will seed life on. Will there be a Saxon on every one?”
“Or they’ll share, I don’t know. This is tens of thousands of years in the future.”
“Umm...hi?” Étude pipes up uncomfortably. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I was hoping you could save this argument for tomorrow. If you really do have a ship Vitalie and I could borrow, we’ll get right out of your hair, so you won’t have to worry about us anymore.”
Kestral closes her eyes, realizing she was the one being rude. “Yes. The strange crisis on the telescope ship seems to have been solved...for now.” She looks back at Saxon. “We will discuss these new developments further, but it does not need to be now. I suggest you go tend to your secret clone farm that I don’t know how we’ve never noticed is here somewhere.” She turns back. “I will prepare the ship for you. You’re fully biological, so I assume you need to eat?”
“We do, yes,” Vitalie replies.
Ishida waves them over. “Come on. I’ll show you where you can rest. There’s a biomolecular synthesizer too. We need to run through the pre-flight checklist before you can launch anyway.”
“Thank you,” Étude says graciously.
Étude and Vitalie follow Ishida to the guest quarters, where Cassidy once stayed; a fact which her apparent mother finds both saddening and comforting. She starts looking around, even though there’s no sign of her daughter having been here.
“She talked about you all the time,” Ishida discloses. “I mean, we didn’t realize it was you, since you evidently changed your name.”
“Yes,” Étude confirms. “I’ve never met anyone else with my real name, and we were trying to hide from dangerous time travelers. It would have been foolish for me to keep it.”
“Forgive me, but how does the timeline work? You’re not transhumanistic, so how is your daughter so old without you having been able to conceive a child while you were the Savior?”
“It wasn’t technically me,” Étude explains. “Vita and I went back in time to change history, so there was one duplicate of each of us. The other ones went off on their own adventures. I only remember it, because Nerakali showed up and blended my brain.”
Ishida nods like she understand. “Yeah, I don’t know who that is.” While she and Kestral are aware of people with time powers, they are not choosing ones themselves. They have this impression that there are thousands of others throughout the spacetime continuum, but they don’t really know for sure, and they’ve not met very many of them in person. Nerakali probably enjoys being a household name for these people, but she isn’t famous among regular vonearthans.
“She can make you remember things from alternate timelines,” Vitalie explains. “It’s this whole thing.”
“Well. You are welcome to stay as long as you want. I’ll make sure your new ship is safe, and you just let me know when you’re ready to use it. I imagine that will be as soon as possible, but it’s entirely up to you. We have plenty of room for friends in this system. And to that, if you ever find yourselves in the neighborhood, you always have a place here, as well does your daughter.”
“Thank you so much, Miss Caldwell. We really appreciate it.” Étude clears her throat suggestively.
“Yes, thank you,” Vitalie echoes, mildly annoyed at being mothered.
Ishida leaves them, and heads back to the throne room. What are they going to do about Project Stargate, Operation Starseed, and this new Operation Soul Patch? More importantly, what other subsecret programs is she and Kestral unwittingly involved with?

Friday, August 30, 2019

Microstory 1180: Beth-Anne McAlister

Beth-Anne McAlister, who didn’t allow anyone to just call her Beth, or Anne, was a normal human being, born in a very old timeline. She remembers watching the news when it was reported that a man with the power to temporarily erase obstacles to his path was using his ability to rescue miners trapped under a cave-in. He didn’t physically move the earth from on top of them. He just made it so that it wasn’t there, but only long enough to allow a pulley system to be lowered down, and all the survivors to be lifted up. Then he put it right back. After that, more people with special time powers started appearing. A woman who claimed to be a Savior of Earth came into the spotlight, and her apparently inherent side ability to erase people’s memories of her good deeds was suppressed. A couple of magicians finally outed themselves, revealing that they weren’t just using tricks, but actually instantaneously transporting volunteers across the stage. As it turned out, the world was full of these people; some good, some not so great. New legislation was passed in most countries to deal with these new possible crimes that most did not know was possible before. Though the world changed dramatically, it was hard to determine whether it had gotten better, or worse. For every good deed, there was a bad one; just like it always was, even before the secret got out. Beth-Anne was not in a position of power, but she chose to create a platform for herself, warning the world of what could happen if these people were not heavily regulated. She turned out to be right, when a particularly angry time traveler went back to before she was born, and killed her mother as a child, Terminator style. Fortunately for Beth-Anne, she had followers from all walks of life. Not everyone with time powers felt the same way about how they should be handled, and relatively few would have condoned the killer’s actions. One man, who could make himself aware of alternate timelines, sought help from an ally, and still in Terminator fashion, sent himself backwards in time to stop the killer, thus creating yet another new timeline.

The protector continued to keep watch over Beth-Anne, making sure she survived through adulthood, and he allowed her to voice her concerns to the public, just as she had before. At all times, she wore a bracelet that has since been lost to temporal changes, which prevented her personal past from being altered too significantly. But the protector could see that this would not be enough. The world just kept getting worse. War broke out between the two sides, and the humans stood no chance. Any sufficiently violent time traveler could wipe out any opposing force before it could even begin to gather. So he used his ability on Beth-Anne, transforming her into a different kind of person. Beth-Anne would always be born, no matter what any temporal manipulator tried to do in the past. She would always be able to remember her alternate lives, and she would always be free to make her own decisions. The biggest decision she made was to prevent that first choosing one from choosing to save those people in the mine. She explained to him why she had to do this, and he accepted it. He wanted to help people; not break reality. Unfortunately, Beth-Anne knew that his position was not shared by all. There was too much of a risk of it happening again, and not all timelines would benefit from at least getting its start with an example of a choosing one who wanted to do good. She built a prison, called it Beaver Haven, and became its warden. She didn’t care about time traveling criminals, per se. She was only worried about exposure. Good or bad, if any chooser or salmon risked the prosperity of the world by revealing their power to a high enough degree to risk everyone’s secrecy, she would lock them up. There was a little bit of trial and error with this. She eventually devised a decent system of monitoring for exposures, reversing time, and changing the recent past, and because she was protected, no one could stop her. She knew not everyone would agree with her goals, and certainly not her methods, but she was convinced this was the only way to keep members on both sides safe. The world of humans, and the world of temporal manipulators had to stay separate. Perhaps she was right, but not all of her choices would be good. Her ability to recall events from alternate realities had terrible consequences for her mind, and over time, it made her lose her sense of morality. That was still hope, though.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Microstory 1179: The Archivist

Nick Fisherman IV’s name came from Nick Fisherman III, who unwittingly took it from Nick Fisherman II, who adopted it in honor of the original. He didn’t much like the name, or rather he didn’t like that his parents felt they had no choice but to give it to him. He was pretty much always aware that he was a character in a story. That didn’t mean he wasn’t real, but it made him feel like he wasn’t in control of his life, which he wasn’t. For some reason, most people he met just assumed that he was a choosing one, who volunteered to keep track of all the temporal manipulators, and their associates. In reality, he was nothing more than a salmon; bound to his duty. His only escape from this responsibility, he felt, was alcohol. Unfortunately, from his perspective, it took a lot for him to get drunk, and even more for him to wake up hungover. As a salmon, the powers that be protected him from certain threats to his wellbeing, including intoxication. He could do it, but he had to drink a lot more than other people with his metabolism for it to have any effect. When he wasn’t drunk, he actually preferred to be hungover, because focusing on the physical pain distracted from his psychological pain. It was his job to create and manage every file for every individual, and he hated it. It was dismally tedious, and people didn’t take him seriously. He had this idea in his head that they were enamored by The Historian, but the truth was that few cared enough about either of them. For most, history and staffing just weren’t sexy. The Archivist chose to do his work poorly, hoping the powers would get frustrated with him, and replace him with someone else. They never did, though, because as it turned out, his incompetence was quite entertaining. Many problems could be solved with the right intelligence, so if it was too easy to gather this intelligence, then the universe wouldn’t be very interesting. He had no choice but to make the best with what he had, as boring as that was.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Microstory 1178: Dr. Mallory Hammer

Mallory Hammer was a time traveler. While other people had interesting niches or limitations, her power was pretty simple. She could move back and forth through time at will. She also had pretty good aim, which was good, because when she did jump through time, it was very important when and where she landed. The only use she found for her ability at first was to get a really good education, or rather, more like an array of education. She was born in the late twentieth century, which meant she could easily receive an early twenty-first century medical degree. She did not believe this was enough, however, if she wanted to be the best doctor in histories. She couldn’t just rely on future medical advancements either, though. For one thing, much of medicine in the future is done by nanotechnology, and other forms of automation. Future doctors just don’t know a whole lot about the practice of medicine. They mostly know how to operate the machinery, and even further in the future, human medical professionals do not even exist at all. So her education was done in three waves. She learned what she could in her own time, then jumped to the future with a new identity to learn more, and find a source of highly advanced tech. Then she went into the past, to learn the ways doctors did it long ago. This was the most difficult for her, being a woman, and also having to listen to people claim ridiculous things could be used to cure ailments, like like leeches. Still, she felt it was important to understand their misconceptions, not just for the sake of it, but also for practical reasons. If she wanted to help people in the past, she couldn’t exactly use a handheld MRI machine, or something. She had to do it in a way they were familiar with. Of course, that didn’t mean she couldn’t sneak in pills that wouldn’t exist for years. If she didn’t find a clever way to help them, then there was really no point in not just letting normal doctors take care of it. After spending an unknown amount of time as a time traveling doctor, Mallory started realizing this wasn’t doing the world much good. No matter how much she traveled, she was still only one person, and could only help so many others. She ended up just becoming a doctor for other temporal manipulators; aiding in both their physical, and psychiatric needs. She commissioned The Switcher to make her a communication system, so that anyone, anywhen, with her number could contact her for help on a special time pager. She didn’t really have a home base, but she would sometimes spend a significant amount of time, stationed in one place. She also did a fair amount of research into time travel, and its effects on the human body, because apparently, no one had thought to look into that before.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Microstory 1177: Ildemire Lorenz

Ildemire Lorenz was a writer, but more than that, he was a researcher. He was obsessed with gathering and organizing information. He was born on the wrong planet, though, because Earth had been working on such an endeavor since at least 1998. Ildemire was a Durune, and while he enjoyed a vague connection to all information in the multiverse, he didn’t really have access to it. There was just so much information, and it was so fuzzy, that he couldn’t actually use it. Unless he wrote it down. He realized he could channel the secrets of reality by externalizing it. Now, he could do this via spoken word, if he wanted. If someone were to ask him a question, the answer to which was locked away somewhere remote, in the head of someone far removed from Ildemire’s present, he could answer correctly. But if he wanted to just reflect on this truth, he would not be able to. He had to let it out, or his brain couldn’t process it at all. This made his life quite frustrating. He didn’t much like talking to himself, let alone anyone else, not that he wanted to necessarily involve other people in his precious secrets anyway. He couldn’t write it all down either. Even if he were immortal, there wasn’t enough time in any given universe to create an encyclopedia for all universes. He had to find a way to take all this information at once, and put it all in one place. He scavenged the First Town for old technology, hoping to cobble together a means of maintaining a database. He didn’t really understand how any of it worked, though, which meant he was neither able to create even a small operable storage device, nor fathom how much memory that would require in the first place.

After years of failing at everything he tried, an associate suggested he go at it from a different angle. There was no need to bring all that information to one place; it was perfectly fine where it was. All he needed was a way to call upon that information on an as-needed basis. Basically, the information network was already there. He just needed to build a computer that could connect to it. He drove himself deeper into his work, unavoidably isolating himself from everyone who knew him. He developed a reputation of being a recluse, a nihilist, and even possibly a sociopath. Some called him autistic. None of this was accurate, nor fair. He wasn’t as apathetic as people thought. People actually only assumed this about him, because he was so passionate about his ideas, that he didn’t have the bandwidth to care about anything else. When he started a project, he had to finish. This was his greatest project ever, because it was finally going to work. After years of searching his own mind’s link to the cosmos, for anyone’s insight into this matter, he completed the first draft of what he called the Time Book. This book was limited in scope. He couldn’t figure out how to codify all the knowledge ever, but he did find a way to do so with all the other written words. Many more things are known that are not authored, but at least this was a start. He didn’t know what he was going to do with this book, or if he would ever let anyone else read it, but he knew that it wasn’t enough. Now knowing that at least part of his dream was possible, he almost immediately started working on the second edition. He died without ever having finished it, but his final thoughts were of peace, because he came to realize that no one needed to know everything anyway.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Microstory 1176: Limbani Arendse

Source mage, Limbani Arendse was known as the strong one. She was physically stronger than a lot of her peers, sure, but what made her truly strong was her resilience. Her childhood may have been the hardest out of all the source mages. There were severe complications during her birth, which ultimately killed her mother, and nearly took Limbani before she could even open her eyes. She continued to have problems as a newborn, which probably would have been easy to correct back on Earth, but this was Durus. The medical facilities that made it through the Deathfall were limited in scope, and the medical professionals who survived the harsh environment long enough to see the pregnancy through were not very well equipped to handle the situation. Still, little Limbani kept fighting, and of course, came out on top. She was the least receptive to Smith’s grooming, and could see him for what he was, even when she was young. She made sure the other source mages could think for themselves, and didn’t just trust everyone who told them what they wanted to hear. There were always plenty of people to take care of her, since Springfield was isolated, and everyone sort of had to come together and pitch in, but she stopped needing it early on. She was exceptionally independent, and self-taught in a number of skilled fields. She liked to stand sentry on the town’s borders, and hike the Scarside Mountains in her free time, even though they were forbidden. She wasn’t the leader of the other source mages, but if there was ever a disagreement, whichever side she backed was usually the winner. When they were older, she was the one who came up with the idea of the mage games. She always had to fight for what she felt she deserved, so she thought it was only fair that candidates for time powers would have to do the same. She worked with some of the brightest minds to engineer effective and tolerable challenges for the competition. She never let a single one of these challenges move forward unless she personally made her way through it, and ensured that it surpassed her standards. She passionately believed in the rules, as long as they didn’t interfere with her self-growth or independence, and she never wavered in her convictions.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 8, 2246

When a future version of Arcadia Preston—who was evidently good now, and using her not-so-gentle nature to protect various other universes from the white monsters of Ansutah—asked Mateo if he could handle tricking her past self, he was confident he could. The crew of the Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez had this whole plan lined up. They didn’t know when she was going to show up on their ship, but they were pretty sure she’d time it to not be there until Mateo returned to the timestream. She would be focusing all of her attention on Mateo, and perhaps Cassidy, since she was a pretty perceptive person, and would likely pick up on the tension between them. She would be wary of Weaver too, since Holly Blue could theoretically invent something to defeat Arcadia. No one really knew if she had any limits. Goswin and Thor were thusly the safest. Neither of them would be on Arcadia’s radar, but since Thor had some experience kicking ass, he was the obvious choice.
Surprisingly, Thor agreed without question to be the secret attacker. He didn’t much like Mateo, nor anyone else really, but he might have had a bit of a hero complex. He knew that, if anyone was strong enough to get the jump on someone powerful enough to alter reality with a thought, it was him. He was free to choose his moment, but once he decided, he had to commit. He was to sneak up behind her while her attention was on Mateo, and jam the memory-altering drug into the back of her neck. It apparently worked a little bit like the flashy thingies in the Men in Black franchise. The solution contained Arcadia’s sister’s sweat, so it could draw memories from alternate realities, but in order for that to take hold, they had to get rid of the real memories. And the only way to do that was to reinforce the false ones with spoken word. After Thor did his thing, Goswin was going to use his diplomatic experience to weave a story about how Arcadia had come here to punish Mateo for having crashed his own wedding in the past. He didn’t have to be too specific about what she thought she had done to him, because her brain would fill in the rest, but he had to be convincing.
None of this truly worked, and it was almost as if Arcadia knew all of it was coming. Once she appeared, she was immediately drawn to Mateo, and started asking him about who Cassidy was. So she didn’t seem to know everything about the timeline, which was at least a small miracle. Thor came up behind her, quiet as a mute mouse, and stuck the jet injector into her neck. She did indeed act like she felt it, but Nerakali’s sweat wasn’t the only ingredient in it. There were also good old narcotics, which caused her to be loopy and agreeable, and also immediately forget having received the injection at all. Goswin spun his tale, and she accepted it. Then she smiled triumphantly, and declared victory over Mateo. He would never do anything like that again. They never did learn what she thought she had done to him, but it was not anywhere not over. Following her obnoxious gloating, Arcadia tipped an invisible hat, and disappeared. Then she reappeared, from the ladder that led to the engineering section.
Arcadia climbed all the way up the ladder, and started clapping. “Brilliant performance. You had me completely fooled. I really moved on, believing I had punished you, when really, nothing happened at all.”
Dammit. “You get your memories back, sometime later,” Mateo guessed.
Arcadia shook her head. “No. The Arcadia that whoever that guy over there is assaulted really did get false memories. She will never get the right ones. She is going to move on with her expiations on Tribulation Island. Then she’s going to be recruited into the Prototype team, and start killing Maramon with her bare hands in other universes throughout the bulkverse.”
“But she’s not you?” Cassidy asked.
“Quiet,” Mateo whispered. The target on Cassidy’s back was there, simply because Arcadia knew she existed, but they didn’t need to paint another coat, and make it easier to spot.
Unfortunately, of course, Arcadia also picked up on Cassidy’s concern. She didn’t do anything about it yet, though. She just moved on, for now. “No. I was worried. I honestly don’t know what’s happening here. What is this ship? Where are you going? How did you come back into existence after the Superintendent wrote you out of the story? These are the questions I have no answer to now, but I’m not super worried about it either. I didn’t know you would do what you did, but I thought you might try something. Weaver is what tipped me off. I can tell she’s not from this reality, which means she’s not the same naïve young woman who doubts her every move. This Weaver,” she said, pointing to the subject, “is dangerous. She could hurt me, which means I didn’t know what I was walking into. I figured my best bet was to create a quantum duplicate of myself, and watch her initial interaction with you from a safe distance.”
“You’re telling me there are two Arcadias in this reality?” Mateo asked.
“Yes,” she replied. “I never really wanted to do that. People who know me know that I like to be unique, so I’m not in love with the idea of there being some shittier version of me running around here, but fortunately, she doesn’t last much longer. I intend to never return to any time period any other version of me has experienced before. I don’t know what I plan to do with my life, or how you fit into that, but I can tell you that we’re going to have a nice little expiation for you. At least one.”
Arcadia snapped her fingers, and they were suddenly standing on the ground. They didn’t stand for long, though, before gravity overwhelmed them. Mateo felt heavier than he ever had before. “What is this?” he struggled to ask. “I’m being crushed.”
“This...” Arcadia said, still standing, “is Varkas Reflex. It is a super-Earth, and unless you jump into some water, or stand in a mesh dimension, like I am, you’re gonna have a bad time. Right now, your hearts are working overtime to pump blood throughout your respective bodies, and you’re all alive, because those hearts are presently moderately successful at this. Sadly, they will experience diminishing returns, and eventually give out. Your brains will run out of oxygen, and you will die.” She stood in silence for a moment.
No one could speak.
Arcadia waved her hand, and released them from the torture. “But..I don’t want you to die yet. Maybe never. I still need to find out who you are.” She eyed Cassidy.
“Leona is here,” Mateo slipped. Arcadia already knew this, but he didn’t need to point it out.
“Yeah, but you won’t see her. Before you get your hopes up, not being able to see Leona today is not your punishment. It’s just a pleasant bonus for me. No, this will be just like any other expiation, except you’ll only have one day to complete it. Plus, I’m making you choose. Don’t argue, or I’ll make it worse. Whose expiation do you want to complete? Who do you want me to rip out of time, possibly forever?”
This was an impossible choice, but Mateo knew he had to think quickly, or she would get bored, and a bored Arcadia is a scary Arcadia. He cared about everyone here, even Thor. He didn’t know any of them incredibly well, but that didn’t make it any easier to choose. He had to think, though—not who he would rather never see again, but whose challenge would be the easiest to complete. He couldn’t choose Cassidy, because Arcadia would have to look into who Cassidy was to come up with a challenge. Sure, she would probably only make Mateo give everyone else a lapdance, which they would survive, but he wanted to keep Cassidy as safe as possible, for as long as possible. Thor was a runner, but he also helped build colonies on other worlds in Earth’s solar system, so that could get complicated. Weaver was too damn smart, so Arcadia would probably want them to engineer some crazy, complex device from scratch, like when she made them create a map of time and space. They would too easily lose that challenge. What would they have to do to get Goswin back? Give a speech? Moderate a peace summit?
In the end, there was only one good answer, and Mateo hoped she would allow it. He had already not existed for a long time, and knew he could do it again. If his friends weren’t able to succeed in the expiation, this was the least of many evils. It was the least by a lot, because Mateo rarely existed anyway, and when he did, he couldn’t contribute positively to the AOC’s operation. This whole thought process took about ten seconds for Mateo to go through. “Mine.”
Arcadia was only half surprised by this. “I kind of thought you might say that. I considered excluding you as a possibility, because I don’t want you to disappear for good. As you know, I’m not a great person, but I do follow my own rules. If I don’t account for everything, and you find a loophole, I have always honored that, haven’t I?”
She was right; she always had. She never punished them for finding a way to let Leona and Paige use sentimental objects to remember loved ones who were taken out of time. She didn’t separate Mateo from Lincoln, when she realized he too kept his memories. Arcadia was a jerk, but she didn’t lie, and she didn’t go back on her word. “You have, so I expect you to retain that honor. You gave me the responsibility to choose, and you never said I couldn’t choose myself...so I choose myself.”
Arcadia took in a deep breath, and let it out. “Very well. Your friends will have to do something for the entire year, until you return to the timestream. Unlike other expiations, I won’t judge their success or failure myself. You will come back on November 9, 2247, regardless of what they do. The challenge is that they have to last long enough for you to survive when you come back. Their failure could even mean the destruction of your ship, because I won’t just be making them all forget who you are. They won’t even know that someone is missing, or that something is expected of them. They won’t know goddamn anything. I’m going to erase all of their memories. I’m going to make them practically as dumb as you. Let’s see how they fare.”
They fared beautifully.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Gatewood: Project Topdown (Part II)

The year is 2240, and it’s time to send the galaxy-class telescope arrays into the void. Eleven telescopes will work in tandem with each other to develop and deliver a clear picture of the entire Milky Way from one side of the relatively flat spiral galaxy. Another array of eleven will be on the other side, doing the exact same thing. This is all necessary so that the Project Stargate ships that are being sent in the next ten years have an idea where they’re going, and where they will be landing their seed plates. The two twin gamma ray detectors are responsible primarily for identifying obstacles, like supernovae, neutron stars, and black holes. These pose a danger to the ships, and might prompt course corrections to avoid them. The X-ray detector’s sole job is to catalogue the galaxy’s pulsars, by which the ships can navigate. If you can find the nearest pulsar, you always know where you are. Three optical telescopes, and two ultraviolet telescopes, work together to seek stars and their orbital bodies, so the quantum network can be mapped. The microwave telescope and radio telescope can help map the Milky Way too, but will mostly be looking for signals that could indicate the presence of intelligent life. The Stargate ships themselves are armed with such equipment as well, in case a particular star system needs to be ignored, or studied more thoroughly. The infrared telescope is the only one that isn’t really part of any of this. It’s going to be facing the opposite direction, just checking out the other galaxies, and relaying this data back to Gatewood.
Kestral, Ishida, and Saxon were not the ones who came up with Project Topdown. Nor did they even design the original plans. The public would be completely all right with the idea of mapping the galaxy from the outside, so the only reason they don’t know about it is because it’s too connected to Project Stargate, which is less socially acceptable. That’s why this is all being done on Gatewood, rather than back home. As Team Keshida was looking over the designs, they realized there were a few flaws. Long ago, Earth came up with the four pillars of spaceflight, which were Safety, Compartmentalization, Redundancy, and Modularization. The engineers for Topdown did not appear to have taken these to heart, so Keshida needed to make some adjustments. Every telescope in both arrays is important to the mission. Take one away, and the whole endeavor could be lost. The idea is to send these into quite empty space, with the nearest celestial body being thousands of light years away. If something goes wrong, there is no way to affect repairs, and this is not an acceptable possibility.
To solve these problems, Ishida practically scrapped the plans they were given, and engineered new ones. Companion ships will fly parallel to the telescope ships, equipped exclusively with replacement parts, raw materials, and mega-format industrial synthesizers. These will also deposit specialized seed plates on the border systems, so if all else fails, at least the project can go on eventually. She wasn’t the only one who worked on this. Their friend, Weaver, who had gone off with Mateo on the AOC, helped build special temporal components. She invented a teleportation shield, so that any debris in one of the ship’s paths will be instantly transported hundreds of meters away, safely away from the vessel. It appears that everything is ready to go, and today is meant to be the launch date, but Kestral isn’t so confident.
“Are we sure everything’s done?”
“I went over the checklist a million times,” Ishida assures her.
“I checked a million more,” Saxon adds. His arrival prompted them to rename themselves Team Keshidon.
“We have no time for hyperbole,” Kestral complains. “How many times did you each go over every single thing in the preflight book?”
Ishida sighs. “Over the last year? Seven and a half.”
“Why half?”
“I had to poop.”
“Be serious, Ishida.”
“I am serious, Kestral. This isn’t just your baby; it’s all of ours.”
“Less so mine,” Saxon admits. He only just arrived a few years ago.
“I understand that,” Kestral says to Ishida. “I’m not trying to diminish your contribution. Far from it. I’m the one who only went over the list twice, and I’m kind of freaking out about it.”
“Do you wanna wait another year?” Ishida asks.
“Could we?”
“No,” Ishida answers plainly. “This is happening. I can’t promise you that we’ve thought of everything, but I can tell you we added a hell of a lot more redundancies than the dumbasses who came up with this.”
“Yeah, I know,” Kestral acknowledges. “Do you feel like there are too few people here?” She looks around the command center. “I mean, there are only three of us. This is the biggest thing humans have ever done, and we don’t have a team? Why don’t we have a full team?”
“You’re spiraling, love.” Ishida places a hand on Kestral’s shoulder. “Our full team is humongous. We had three artificial general intelligences working various problems, and making calculations. Still more AI entities have been uploaded into the ships. They’re going to take care of everything en route. Our job is done.”
“What about the AI? Did we check the code? Are we sure there isn’t some huge bug? Or a virus. What if there’s a virus?”
“Who would have written a virus, and how would they have gotten it here?”
“Don’t look at me,” Saxon says defensively, even though they made no indication that they suspected him of anything nefarious.
“The refugees,” Kestral poses. “There are billions of them. We don’t know who they are.”
“The refugees?” Ishida asks. “These are the same refugees who came from a universe where they lived partly underground, and couldn’t even have electricity, or the evil white monsters that also lived on the planet might detect their presence? You think one of them is a hacker?”
“Okay, well what about the Maramon refugees? They were here awhile before they flew off to colonize a new home world.”
“Kestral,” Ishida says. “Stop making dumb suggestions.
“There is no such thing, my mother always said.”
“Your mother was stupid,” Ishida reminds her. She isn’t being mean. Kestral’s family was what the Earthans would call noncontributives. After money was abolished, and automation took over the world, people no longer needed to work. A citizen has the right to certain amenities, like a place to live, and food to eat. They do not need to do anything to earn these rights. They’re simply provided. Anyone who chooses to work—in some capacity—which may be nothing more than occasionally helping to design virtual constructs or simulations—is afforded other conveniences. They have access to any of these authorized virtual realities, they can travel anywhere in the solar system, and they can apply for relocation to an exoplanet, among other things.
Kestral’s parents chose to do nothing. They spent their days sitting around their arcunit, watching virtual entertainment that was converted to basic holography, and sometimes going for walks outside. Kestral had to seek out higher education, and eventually had no choice but to estrange herself from them. Plenty of noncontributives were perfectly fine individuals, but they at least got out and socialized. The McBrides didn’t even vote for their governmental representatives. Even noncontributives have the right to longevity treatments to give themselves very long lives, but the bare minimum requirement is first exercising their right to vote. They both died of age-related diseases several years ago, according to an automated quantum message Kestral received, but of course, she couldn’t have attended a service if she wanted to.
“I’m sorry. What were we talking about?” Kestral is the poster child for the absent-minded professor. She regularly gets lost in her own thoughts, and people around her either have to pull her back to reality, or just wait for her to come back on her own.
“You were really excited about launch day,” Saxon jokes, knowing she’s not an idiot, and doesn’t actually believe this. He continues, “you wanted to push the big red button yourself. I could get you one, if you want; it won’t do anything, but you can time it so it’s like you’re controlling the launch.”
“Ha-ha,” Kestral says in monotone. “I’m just doing my due diligence. I don’t think I’m asking too much.”
“You have been incredibly reasonable during this entire process,” Ishida says. “We have all done a great job here. Though it will be centuries before anything really comes of this, we should be proud of ourselves; you included,” she says preemptively, before Saxon can remind them yet again that he’s the new kid on the block. “A great writer is no good without a great editor to check their work. Your due diligence, and attention to detail was incredibly helpful. My God, you polished a lens once with a handrag.”
“I was bored, and wanted to see how difficult and tedious it would be,” Saxon explains.
“What was the verdict?” Kestral questions.
“Guilty on all charges,” he answers.
Ishida smiles, and takes a look at her watch. “The ships are scheduled to leave in eighty-three minutes. We need to depart in eleven if we want to get good seats.”
“Has anyone done a preflight checklist for our observation vessel?” Kestral asks in feigned urgency. She’s finally starting to feel like she can relax. The ships are indeed leaving in an hour and a half. If something were to go wrong, it’s pretty much impossible to stop it now. They have no choice but to wait, watch, and hope.
Saxon recognized it was a joke, but replies with the truth anyway, “I did, yes.”
“Does anyone want popcorn?” Kestral offers.
“Gross. No, thanks.”
They boarded their little ship, which was mostly clear, so as to see nearly all sides out of it. They flew away from their centrifugal cylinder, and headed towards the midway point between it, and the shipyards. From here, they watched all ships for Project Topdown fly off to the intergalactic voids. One went for the top...and the other went down. Everything went flawlessly, and for the next four years after that, they reported nothing but smooth sailing. Then something strange happened.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Microstory 1175: Tonya Keyes

The powerful Prestons, originally living in a different dimension, were born to serve the timeline. They weren’t helpless salmon, but they were created for the purpose of protecting the timeline from paradoxes, and other inconsistencies, or just because certain butterfly effects were considered undesirable in the new timeline. Until Zeferino rebelled, they didn’t really have that much understanding of what it would mean to make their own choices, so they never tried. Tonya Keyes possessed similar abilities to loose cannon, Arcadia, but she was a choosing one, which meant she never had to do anything she didn’t want to do. The first few years of Tonya’s life were pretty normal. If any inconsistencies popped up in that time, she might have ignored them as a typical feature of reality, or simply didn’t notice. Once she was old enough to realize that people weren’t seeing things the way she saw them, she started to question this reality. She discovered that people were going back in time, and making changes to the timeline, yet her memory remained intact. If they, for instance, with knowledge of how a given company was going to do, shorted a company’s stock, she could tell how that impacted the market. She wasn’t the only temporal manipulator with what’s known as multi-real perception, but other than Arcadia, she was the only one who could do anything about it. It took some practice, but she developed the ability to access those old realities. Not only that, but she could extract parts of an old timeline, and splice it into the current timeline, without having to accept the entire thing. She wasn’t just undoing the changes the time travelers made; she was making more changes. She was picking and choosing which changes took hold. Let’s say, because of how terrible that stock did, the president of the company commits suicide. Well, there’s a reality out there where he didn’t do that, because some other time traveler created a reality where the stock did okay, which was only later negated. Remember, these people are making these changes all the time, and it’s almost impossible to track all of them. Tonya could retain the bad stock, but bring in the reality where the president survives. She could even alter the president’s perception, so he doesn’t question the disconnect between the current outcome, and his memory of it. She came to be known as The Stitcher, and she made a lot of pretty random alterations to the timeline before anyone approached with the idea to do something good with her power.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Microstory 1174: Juan Ponce de León

Famous explorer, Juan Ponce de León lived in the late fifteenth, and early sixteenth centuries. But he also lived in an incalculably high number of other time periods. When he arrived on the Florida coast, he was surprised to find another apparent westerner waiting for him there. The woman spoke of the Fountain of Youth, which up until that point, Juan had never heard of. Still, he was curious, so he broke from his crew, and set about on a journey through the wilderness. Upon reaching what was supposedly his destination, he discovered what appeared to be a dried up river bed. At first he was discouraged, not in disappointment for having missed out on a magical elixir that could make him immortal, but because he felt a fool for having believed it existed in the first place. Just to be safe, however, he decided to dig, but did not intend to go very deep. Perhaps the water was deep underground. He just kept thinking that he only need scoop out one more handful, and water would spring forth. It never did, but he did eventually come across a compass. It must have been buried there for a long time, but it was in pristine condition. Curious, he started fiddling with the device, and after awhile, a rectangular light appeared before him, as if he had created it. Curiouser still, he pushed forward, and stepped into the light, where he found himself face to face with a bus. The bus was not moving, so he was in no danger, but he had no clue what this magnificent structure was. He looked around, and discovered there to be dozens of other buses like it, all in a row. He walked a little farther, until he came upon the road, where similar vehicles were ferrying their passengers to various destinations. He continued to do what he does best, and explored this strange new world, quickly learning this to be hundreds of years in the future. He only stopped when he finally encountered a library, where he could learn almost everything he wanted to know about what had happened to the world after he’d left it.

When he wasn’t studying the books, Juan was studying his new compass. Over time, he learned to navigate this special time object, and moved all across time and space, meeting all sorts of interesting people. Other time travelers started calling him The Navigator, which he had to admit, he quite liked. He learned several languages, beheld beautiful things, and witnessed terrible tragedies. He kept fairly detailed journals of his experiences, but even he didn’t quite know how long he had been gone from home. The possibility of a Fountain of Youth continued to nag at him, and he felt compelled to learn more about it. Certain other travelers believed it to be real, in some form, but even they thought the immortality water was just too difficult to procure. Yet he persisted in his search. Many times, some of the ingredient waters were in his grasp, but he had to give it up, to help others, or because he wouldn’t be able to find all of the ingredients in time. Each one was in a different place and time, and would go bad if they weren’t all found before the timer ran out. Following what must have been years from his perspective, Juan decided to create a map. He sought out each ingredient independently, but did not take any. Instead, he simply confirmed its authenticity, and then moved onto the next, until he had a clear picture of everything he would need. Then, he got a good night’s rest, tied his sweet kicks, and set about on his journey. He literally ran through the continuum, opening portals like a pro, and never stopping until he had checked off the entire list. His efforts proved fruitful, when he drank the waters, and became truly immortal. So now, Juan Ponce de León could never be killed, but that still left him with a terrible conundrum. He hadn’t seen his family in many years, and once he returned to them, would have to watch them die. This he could not have. He got his hands on something called a homestone, which delivers its user directly to when and where they first were when they first started traveling through time. He went back to his family, and his life. Then he frequently ushered everyone he cared about through his compass portals, and along the route towards the immortality waters. His whole family, sooner or later, became just like him. Now the only question that remained was, where in the world could they possibly live?

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Microstory 1173: Isabeau Tribaldos

As the mid-21st century approached, the world began to truly wake up. While the majority of Earthans recognized both that climate breakdown was real, and that humans were the cause of it, politics prevented the fight against it from starting. The people did not hold the power to elect their representatives. Instead, the few wealthiest individuals and companies were the only ones whose voices mattered, because they were the ones donating the most money to their selected campaigns. A few things fixed this problem, in no particular order. First, those wealthy people just straight up died. Second, their children tended to be more liberal. Third, legislation started passing that limited donor power. Fourth, politicians stopped being as concerned with pleasing their donors, and more concerned with supporting the electorate—and non-electorate, for that matter. Any major donors that had a problem with this were free to choose a different candidate, but would be faced with the fifth reason, which was that democracy was prevailing anyway, and their backwards ideals were no longer welcome by anyone. Now, politicians were free to express their concerns over the environment, and a plethora of other social issues; some related, others not as much. All of this combined to form a whole, and a whole new world. Materialism gave way to efficiency and technological progress. It’s stupid to own a giant house when you can jack into a virtual world of limitless scope. Your living unit really only needs to be big enough to fit your bed, your clothes, a bathroom, and a kitchen. Entire cities were totally demolished, and replaced by plantlife. Trillions of trees were planted, and the world turned green again. People started living vertically, hundreds of meters up in the air, ultimately taking up a fraction of a fraction of an unfathomably small fraction of the land originally used by civilization. The climate was slowly starting to recover. Everything became more compact in these arcologies, and humans were never happier. Politics changed more, to accommodate the new way people were living in these megastructures. A lot of problems that would arise yesterday were completely irrelevant now, so the government was able to streamline its bureaucracy. A representative will be responsible for a single floor in one of the towers, while a senator represents the whole tower. A group of thirty-six towers in one city will be led by a governor, and if there aren’t enough towers to reach that minimum, the senators fill this role in a council. A commissioner will be in charge of six of these arcities, while the Moderator, Facilitator, Mediator, and Assistant Mediator govern the world as a whole. Of course, this jurisdictional structure is modified when taking into account other ways of living, such as seasteads and primitivist communities, but everyone is still represented. Isabeau Tribaldos was elected the Governor-Councilor for the Panama Arcstate. The population of Panama was high enough to justify two separate arcities, but not large enough to justify a full county, and a leading commissioner. So she was in charge of an entire city of towers, and was ultimately responsible for over three million people. She was a great leader, and Panama was a prosperous region.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Microstory 1172: Annora Ubiña

When she was a little girl, Annora Ubiña discovered that she could create a very small pocket dimension. Her father called himself a traditionalist, which was really just a fancy way of saying he was abusive. He never physically hit her, but he did a lot of lunging, and towering over her with his huge body. He was loud, and demanded too much of her. He liked to intimidate people; not just women, but he held a high office in the Republic, so no one could do anything about it. She realized right away that she could not let her father, or anyone else, know what she could do, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t use it for protection. Whenever he was in the mood to literally throw his weight around, she would sneak away, and hide in her pocket. At first, there was nothing in there. It was really just a closet-sized space of listless energy. She could carry things with her, however, and leave them there, where they would remain. She became a little thief to furnish her hideout. Anyone who had the inkling that she was the culprit would have no evidence against her...until they did. Over the years, she was able to increase the size of the pocket; not indefinitely, but a little more every year. Unfortunately, this had a side effect of alerting others to its existence. She would later figure out how to shield the pocket’s energy from detection, but not before the authorities found her, and locked her away for her crimes. There was an engineering error in the design of the prison. The architect calculated how many cells he would need, and multiplied that by the width of each to see how wide the building would need to be. He failed to account for the width of the walls between each cell, and instead of correcting this, the construction workers just built fewer cells. This was still not perfect, however, and the last cell in each block ended up being only about twenty inches wide. Until this point, it had only ever been used for storage, but the warden decided it would be a fitting torture of Annora, since it was ironic that now her movements were limited to the extreme. The cell walls were lined with power dampening paint, so there was no escape.

She spent eleven years there before the phallocracy fell, and the Provisional Government took power. Many people, particularly women, had been treated unfairly since the fall of the Mage Protectorate, but their crimes against Annora were of the highest order. In an attempt at reparations, Annora was provided with a settlement that suddenly turned her into one of the wealthiest people on the planet. She lived comfortably for the next decade, not pursuing any further legal action, and just trying to put the whole thing behind her. After all, they had at least gotten her away from her father, and he managed to die of a heart attack before she was released, so she never had to see him again. When the crew of an interstellar ship arrived on a mission to rescue two inhabitants, they found others who wanted to go to Earth as well. Their ship, however, was not anywhere near large enough to fit even a few more of them, so they asked her if she was willing to come as well, and use her now considerably stronger powers to create some extra space. Annora was perfectly happy living on Durus. In fact, she would have quite liked to stay. Things were getting better by the year, and she wanted to be a part of that. But the people on The Elizabeth Warren needed her more, so she agreed to leave. This would turn out to be a fatal mistake, for when she discovered a stowaway on board, his cousin, Jarrett felt it was too risky to let her keep living.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Microstory 1171: Sabra

While Étude Einarsson was the last Savior of Earth, Sabra was the very first. In more recent years, there has only been one Savior at a time. It is their job to teleport all over the globe, saving people’s lives. They have no control over this, and failure to comply has disastrous consequences. Saviors are chosen from conception, and it is impossible for them to maintain their old lives after they’ve been activated. They are, therefore, almost all missing persons. Before only one was needed at any one time, multiple Saviors would operate simultaneously. This was necessary, because of how dangerous the world was. The powers that be conscript as many people for the position as they think they need, and this pattern has pretty decently followed the bell curve model. Near the beginning of civilization, life was more dangerous than ever. War, disease, and freak accidents were extremely prevalent at the time, but the population of the world was also fairly low, so the highest number of concurrent Saviors didn’t come about until much later. Sabra was born in Memphis, Egypt in what is now considered to be the 31st century BCE. She was picked as the test case for what was then the new Savior Program, and was ultimately responsible for helping understand how it should all work. She was granted immortality, and kept her job for the next hundred years or so before the powers figured they had worked out all the kinks. One thing they decided was to not make the rest of the saviors immortal. They would live thirteen years of their life, be activated for the role, then either retire at an old age, or die young. They did not remove Sabra’s immortality, however. She instead became a guide and trainer for all new Saviors. For the most part, they work alone, but in order for them to know what it is they are, and what they need to do to be successful, someone always needs to have at least one direct conversation with them. Since the powers that be do not speak to salmon themselves, and The Emissary is always busy with other matters, Sabra was the obvious choice. She ended up being responsible for the training of every single Savior beyond her—from the second to the last—across more than 5,000 years.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 7, 2245

Mateo and the rest of the crew were having their regularly scheduled breakfast bonding experience—which Weaver instituted to maintain morale—when Thor held up an envelope. “Guys? What the hell is this?”
Cassidy held her own envelope up. “I have one too. It just appeared on top of my food.”
“As do I,” Weaver confirmed. “It looks to be a wedding invitation.” She looked at Mateo. “Yours.”
Mateo peeked over at Goswin’s envelope, which he was already opening up. “Oh, would you look at that? It’s kind of hard to fathom. I mean, I knew I was sending these invitations across time and space, but I still can’t help but think in linear time. I suppose you four are getting yours now because we are new friends.”
“You sent them personally, but you don’t remember sending one to me?”
Mateo laughed. “I sent forty-eight thousand, three hundred and ninety-two invitations. So no. I don’t remember you specifically.”
“There are gonna be that many people?” Thor exclaimed. “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.”
“That’s what I said,” Mateo revealed.
Thor opened his invitation, and read it, like the others already were. “Do I have to accept?”
Mateo frowned. “This is the first time I’ve ever seen one of these be received. Arcadia never said anything about acceptance rate, and whether that impacted my success at the wedding expiation. If you don’t wanna go, you don’t have to. I can’t imagine one decline is going to make much difference.”
“But we are all going to attend,” Weaver demanded. “We wouldn’t miss it for anything,” she said to Mateo.
“I was just asking,” Thor promised, which may have been the truth.
“Do you all have a meal preference section at the bottom?” Mateo asked.
They all affirmed.
“Then you’re part of the elite three-thousand.”
“They’re just blank lines,” Cassidy noted. “Are we meant to ask for whatever we want?”
“Anything,” Mateo confirmed. “I saw one table with their own lobster tank, and another with a shark on a spit.”
“Well, if we’re all gone, who will maintain the ship?” Thor asked. “Mateo’s not smart enough to do it on his own.”
“Read the fine print on the back,” Goswin pointed out. “We’ll be returned to our place in reality less than a second after we left. Apparently, a veiled human could turn away from us in the middle of a conversation, and not realize we were gone.”
“Should we dress up?” Cassidy asked. She seemed excited to go to a party, even though it wasn’t extremely safe for her.
“Yes,” Weaver decided. “We will break power consumption protocol, and splurge on some new outfits using the industrial synthesizer in engineering. Everyone also gets an extra misty shower.”
The other three sat there for a moment before racing to the ladder, hoping to get into the shower first.
“I’m glad you stayed a moment,” Mateo said to Weaver. “I wanted to ask your opinion on something.”
She nodded. “We can try. If you hold on tightly, both to Cassidy, and the letter, you may be transported with her. Going back to witness your own wedding would be quite the interesting experience.”
“Is it allowed?”
She took a sip of her tea. “We’ll see.”
“Why do I have to try to hitch a ride with Cassidy?”
“You already share a temporal link with her. She’s your best bet.”

After the showers and clothing synthesis, the four invitees, and one stowaway, stood around the central table. The instructions said to place both index fingers on the RSVP box for yes, and holding for six seconds. They all, including Mateo, suddenly found themselves in the Colosseum replica on Tribulation Island, Dardius. It worked. Even better than that, Leona seemed to have had the same idea. She was standing right next to them, with a woman he didn’t recognize. They were in a huge crowd of people, gathering for the oncoming ceremony.
“Oh my God,” Mateo said, tearing up. “I was hoping to see a past version of you, but I never thought we would be able to talk. What day is it for you?”
“November 7, 2245,” Leona answered with a joyful smile.
“Same,” Mateo said with a nod. “This is a new friend?”
“The telepath, who connected us when you were on Dardius,” Leona explained. “Sanaa Karimi.”
“It’s nice to meet you in person,” Mateo said as he shook Sanaa’s hand. “This is Goswin Montagne, Cassidy Long, Thor Thompson, and of course, Holly Blue. We call her Weaver, though.”
“Thor Thompson?” Leona asked. “Serkan’s Frenzy runner friend?”
“You knew Serkan?” Mateo asked Thor.
Thor shrugged. “Whatever. When do we eat?”
“Ignore him,” Mateo warned, shaking his head disapprovingly.
“Where are you?” Leona asked.
“The AOC. Apparently, we’re on our way to...”
Weaver was about to say it for him.
Mateo stopped her, “no I have it down now. Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida.”
Leona nodded understandingly. “You’re not in control of it? Just like when I was on my way to Varkas Reflex?”
“Correct, but we know who’s doing it. Leona, it’s Mirage; from the other timeline. She survived, and became, like a technology god, or something.”
“She’s the new leader of Bungula, but as far as I know, she wasn’t a god. I just figured they gave a different AI the same name. You know, we met a completely unconnected android who only shared his name with our Harrison because Ulinthra made it so. But I guess it makes sense. The powers that be can move people across time and space, but they can’t control technology. It would certainly explain a lot.”
“I can’t control where I’m going,” Mateo said, “but can you? Would you be able to make it to Bida?”
Leona and Sanaa exchanged a look. Hokusai still didn’t have the reframe engine figured out, but most of the research was done, and she projected two more days in Leona’s time. “Yes. We could probably beat you there. If you were going the speed of light, it would still take you fifteen years total.”
Weaver looked confused. “Wolf 359 is even farther from Tau Ceti.”
“We can explain,” Leona said.
And so they proceeded to catch up with each other. Mateo talked about Cassidy, and how she was now on their salmon pattern, to protect her from some mysterious force. Leona talked about leaving Bungula for Varkas Reflex, and of Hokusai’s new FTL engine. They were able to speed through most of it before the wedding ceremony began. It was surreal seeing it from this angle, even though it wasn’t the first time they had gone back in time and watched past versions of themselves in secret. Both Mateo and Leona had the good sense to cover themselves with hoods, though a few people did manage to spot them. One of them winked at Leona, like he knew she was going to be there. She took a mental picture of him, while Mateo took a real picture to put in his notes. He would probably turn up again later. The other one to notice them looked more surprised, but quickly suppressed her astonishment, and adhered to the rules of time travel by not telling anyone else about it. Actually, both Hokusai and Loa were nearby as well. Leona had been friends with them for longer, so their invitations came long before they stepped foot on Varkas Reflex. They wouldn’t say precisely when in their personal timelines this was for them, though, and Leona knew better than to ask about it now.
After all this time, Mateo and Leona finally felt comfortable revealing to each other that they were always disappointed in their own vows, and expressed interest in basically having a short renewal ceremony, where they were able to do better. This could not happen now, though. They would have to wait until they were safely and permanently reunited. Neither of them was capable of going back with the other. If Mirage wanted Mateo on that ship, there was definitely a reason, and he probably shouldn’t disregard that. Leona strongly believed the two of them would require the reframe engine in the future, so she needed to wait for that to be finished. According to Weaver’s calculations, the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was destined to arrive on Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida in almost exactly ten years. Leona was determined to be waiting for them, and after that, they promised each other never to separate again. The reframe engine would only help with that, but the AOC would have to be retrofitted, so there would be enough room for everyone.
After the ceremony was over, people started to disappear. Only a few thousand people were to remain for the reception on the grounds, which would make it easier for someone to spot the wedding crashers. They couldn’t hang around for the festivities, but they couldn’t return until Cassidy and Sanaa were ready, even if they wanted to. Mateo and Leona decided to take a walk down to their old beach, just the two of them, so they could talk. Mateo wanted to have a discussion about the awkward Cassidy situation, but he also didn’t want to talk about it at all. If the only reason he mentioned it was to get ahead of the story, then didn’t that just make him even more worse of a person than he already was for having done it? Then again, trying to hide the truth about the lapdance certainly wasn’t putting his name in the running for sainthood. He kept trying to bring it up, but chickening out, and saying something else. He wasn’t sure whether Leona was picking up on it. She was.
Their conversation was interrupted when a small building appeared out of nowhere. It was The Prototype, which Leona had used to find all the tools she would need to bring Mateo back from nothingness. Arcadia pushes the door open from the inside, and walked towards them briskly.
Ecrin Cabral stepped out behind her. “Miss Preston, I am ordering you to stand down! You cannot interfere!”
“Court martial me!” Arcadia yelled back, but kept facing forward.
Mateo got into a defensive position.
“I’m not here to hurt you,” Arcadia said. “I’m only here to help. Please understand that I am a future version of the Arcadia you know. I have gone through quite a bit since then.”
“Is this possible?” Leona asked.
“I don’t know, because I thought...”
Arcadia dismissed the notion. “Lincoln didn’t tear me out of reality with the Superintendent’s unmagical pen.”
“Stop talking, Arcadia,” Ecrin ordered.
Arcadia went on, “it’s unclear whether his actions had anything to do with it, but Lieutenant Bulgari is the one who made me disappear in front of your eyes the last time you saw me. I’ve been traveling the bulkverse ever since.”
“So, you’ve been redeemed, like Horace Reaver?” Mateo asked.
“I would never try to compare myself to that man, but yes.”
Leona was less inviting. “What are you doing back here?”
“I came to give you this.” She removed something from her pocket, and showed it to them. It looked like a bullet to him.
Ecrin remained at Arcadia’s flank. “Arcadia, do not do this.”
Arcadia ignored her.
“It looks like a jet injector cartridge,” Leona noted.
“Sort of. You’ll have to synthesize an actual injector if you want to use it,” Arcadia said. She handed her a slip of paper. “Here are the specifications. The cartridge is filled with my sister’s sweat.”
“That’s gross,” Mateo said. “Am I meant to inject myself with this, and then I have Nerakali’s brain blending power temporarily?”
“Not yourself,” Arcadia replied. “Me.” She pointed in the general direction of the Colosseum. “I have just watched two unauthorized versions of the people I’ve been torturing walk away from their own past wedding, totally carefree. I was not pleased with seeing this, so I made a plan to punish you for it.”
“I remember,” Leona said. “You missed your mark by a couple years; showed up too early. I didn’t know what you were talking about yet.”
Arcadia nodded. “I did not make the same mistake with Mateo, and it had terrible consequences.” She forced the cartridge into Mateo’s hand. “Jam this into my neck, and you will alter reality for me, and me alone. I will move on with my life, believing that I punished you. Meanwhile, you will have escaped my wrath. It is possible that the memory I have of tomorrow never actually happened, because this new plan I’m giving you ends up working, and the memories I have of that day are false.”
They didn’t say anything.
“Can you do this? Can you pretend to have suffered long enough for Past!Me to jump back to the 22nd century, believing you were sufficiently punished? More importantly, can you trust the version of me standing before you now when I tell you that I really have changed, and I want to help.”
Leona took the cartridge from Mateo’s palm, and held it up to the light. “Captain Cabral. Assessment.”
Ecrin sort of frowned. “She violated a direct order when she coerced my navigator, Relehir into bringing us here. I do not know what it is in that vial, but she has proven herself to us many times. I do not believe she is deceiving you.”
Leona handed the cartridge back to Mateo. “Talk to Weaver. She’ll know how to make this work. Wait until you’re back on the ship, of course. Speaking of which, we better get back before we miss our rides.”