Monday, September 30, 2019

Microstory 1201: Ira Park

Ira Park was one of the good guys. He wasn’t raised to be a good person, so it was something he had to develop on his own by rejecting society’s outlook, particularly on women. He was probably autistic, though the field of psychology was severely lacking on Durus, since people were really just focused on surviving, or on oppressing half the population. Either way, he didn’t see the world in the same way he was expected to, and once his mage remnant time powers manifested, he knew how he was going to help. He had the ability to generate wards over a specified area or building. These protected the rightful owners of the space—which Ira could assign—against all intruders. They prevented unauthorized access using time powers, or just physical force. They were basically magical locks that limited admittance. Needless to say, his skills were in high demand for people looking to protect themselves, or just enjoy a higher level of privacy. At first, Ira worked for anyone who would hire him. He knew he had to develop his reputation, and grow his business, before he could use his powers for good. It was only after a few years that he started secretly protecting the rebel thicket. The thicket was an organization comprised primarily, but not exclusively of women. They fought against the oppressive abuses of the phallo-centric government, and sought a world of political and social equality. They weren’t violent, or even all that loud, which was probably why change came at such a slow pace, but they were not wholly ineffective. Their main responsibility was to rescue and harbor enemies of the state, and abused women who managed to find the courage to leave the men around them. In this capacity, Ira’s warding powers were priceless. He didn’t ask for any form of compensation for these services, and didn’t support the rebellion in any other fashion. Both he and the thicket leaders felt it was prudent for him to do this one wildly valuable thing for them, and nothing else. Any more noise would have painted a target on his back, and made it that much harder for them all to remain secret and hidden. It was of absolute importance that he remain a free man, so he could continue to help him in his best way. Once the phallocracy was toppled, the truth of Ira’s involvement with the thicket came out to the public. He suddenly had a whole bunch of enemies who now understood why the former government never made any headway in putting the rebels down. Unfortunately for them, it wasn’t like they had any means of retaliating. His wards protected his person at all times, so he perpetually walked around with an impenetrable shield. He was only ever rewarded for his noble actions, by people grateful for his bravery in a world that did not always appreciate it. He continued to work as a ward creator, though he could now be much more open about it. His power increased as well, as did the powers of many others, like it was the existence of the corrupt government itself that was keeping them down. He never used his gifts to help criminals, or anyone with known backwards ideas about how the planet should be run. He provided safety and security to a lot of people on Durus, and he did it for next to nothing. They even named a new wildlife reserve after him, located in an area once overwhelmed by thicket. Fittingly, they simply called it Ira Park.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 13, 2251

After her talk with Eight Point Seven, Leona felt that she needed to get away from people. Fortunately, she had a whole world to explore. Unlike the other exoplanet colonies, Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida was fully hospitable, so her movements didn’t have to be restricted. She could go literally anywhere on the planet, and she didn’t even have to tell anyone. She left a note in the hangar, apologizing for borrowing a skyshuttle, which was a flying vehicle that wasn’t space-capable. Then she disabled all tracking and communication devices, input a somewhat random set of coordinates, and took off. She got a few extra hours of sleep that she didn’t really need while it took her away. When she arrived at her destination, she found herself unimpressed. It was certainly still quite beautiful, but it didn’t do much to alleviate her depression. She didn’t know what she expected to find, but this wasn’t helping. She just started wandering around the forest, not headed in any particular direction. She eventually strayed too far from her landing point, and couldn’t find the shuttle anymore. She was lost, and that was fine, because what did anything matter? She didn’t put much effort into finding her way back, and barely noticed when midnight hit.
With nothing better to do, Leona found a sorry excuse for a cave—which was more just a fixture in the face of a cliff wall—and holed up for a few hours so she could get more sleep that she didn’t need. Now armed with this rest, she called upon her orienteering skills, recalled her memories of where she’d gone, and finally found her way back to the shuttle. It looked a lot different already. Ivy had winded its way through the hatchway, which she had foolishly left open. There were noises coming from inside too, so some kind of creature must have taken up residence. It wasn’t like she had memorized the fauna catalog, so she would have little hope of knowing whether the animal was dangerous or not. She needed to get back to her friends, though, so there was no other choice. She carefully peeked inside, and didn’t find an animal at all; but a human. It was a young man, actually, around her age.
“Oh my God,” she exclaimed on instinct.
He was just as scared to see her, if not more so. He fell back into the control console with a short yelp, and started shaking.
Once the shock was gone, Leona calmed herself down, and tried to look as nonthreatening as possible. “Hey, it’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you. Do you speak English?”
“No, I don’t,” he answered with complete fluency. He wasn’t being funny; he seemed to legit think he didn’t.
“You appear to speak at least a little of it.”
He thought about this for a moment. “Oh, is that what this is called?”
“It is, yes.”
“Then yes.”
“Are you one of the colonists?” she asked him.
“I don’t know what that is,” he replied.
It sounded like she needed to approach this a different way. “How long have you been living here?”
“Here, exactly?” he pressed rhetorically. “A few months, I s’pose.”
“Where were you living before that?”
He crawled towards the exit, and pointed at a mountain that was probably twenty or twenty-five kilometers away. “I spent most of my life East of Mount De Vries.”
Leona looked back at it. “Who named that mountain?” She didn’t think anyone lived on this continent of Bida at all, let alone taken the time to name geographic features. While they were presently in a highly vegetated valley, most of this was rocky and mountainous. There was obviously life here, but it wasn’t as diverse and interesting as other regions of the world, so the researchers had not yet begun surveying and cataloging it in greater detail.
“My mother named it; after herself.”
“Your name is De Vries?”
He nodded. “Briar De Vries.”
“Where’s your mother now?”
He pointed to the mountain again. “Scattered over the summit. After she died, I performed the resting ritual, and then went out in search of a new place to live. I didn’t want to stay where everything would remind me of her. That was two years ago. Is this your spaceship?”
“It’s not a spaceship,” Leona answered. “It can only fly in the sky.”
He frowned. “The sky isn’t space?”
She shook her head. “Not while there’s still air. Space doesn’t start until there’s no more air.”
“Hm.” It would seem his mother attempted to educate him as much as possible, but there were still some key facts he was missing. Back in civilization, he could look those questions up, but trapped all the way out here surely left him with some significant misconceptions. He appeared to be receptive to new information, though.
“Do you have any idea how you got here, so far away from other people? Do you know that there are other people?” She didn’t want to assume too much.
“Of course I know that,” he said, offended. “They all live back on Earth. This is Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida. A woman hired her to help make this world safe for people, but no one lives here yet.” He was talking about Trinity, and her habitability project. His mother must have been pregnant, possibly unbeknownst to Trinity, when she came here. The question was why Trinity just left her here, instead of sending her back home to live out her life? Why was Briar still here now?
She shook her head again. “Your mother was successful. People do live here now. I suppose you wouldn’t have seen any of the landing ships in this hemisphere.”
He widened his eyes. “They’re here?”
“Yes. Thousands of them, with more coming every year.”
“The woman never really said when she was going to bring others. I guess mom thought it would take much longer. That was forty-two years ago.”
“Wait, you’re forty-two?”
“No, it was forty-two years ago when she told me why it is I was born on this planet, but I was fourteen already.”
“You’re fifty-six!” He didn’t look a day over thirty.
“You’re aging much slower than normal, Briar.”
“Oh, right. Kahaeli root. It doesn’t taste very good, but it keeps you young. Can we go meet the others now?”
“Umm, yeah.” Leona crawled in to start the pre-flight check. It was more important than ever since the vessel had been left exposed and unmaintained for a whole Earthan year. It was worse than she thought, though. Heavy rains must have caused really bad water damage in the circuitry, and it looked like vines had punctured the primary fuel line. There might be enough in the reserves to make it back to Homebase, but this was going to take a lot of work. “I imagine your mother never taught you to be a mechanic, or technician, or something?”
She was a virologist. I wouldn’t know the first thing about flying this, and I certainly wouldn’t be able to fix it. Did I do something wrong by moving in here?”
“No,” she assured him. “If anything, you being here lessened the impact nature had on it. I should have been more careful.”
“Can we not call for help?”
“I disabled communications, like an idiot. I’m kind of going through some stuff right now, and I didn’t want anyone to be able to follow me.”
He had no response to this.
“I can fix it, but it’s going to take some time.”
“How much time?”
That was an awkward answer. “Technically, only a day. But Earthan year.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I didn’t just leave the craft for an entire year while I lived somewhere else. At the end of today, according to how time is measured in a certain zone of Earth, I will jump forward one year. I can work on fixing this for the next several hours, but then I’ll literally disappear, and I won’t be back until 2252. I have no control over this. It’s just how I am.”
He stared at her for a moment. “I have a basic grasp of the idea of time travel. Mother was instantaneously transported here fifteen years prior to the arrival of the probe ship Earth sent to see what the solar system was like. It took that probe thirty-four years to traverse the distance. I don’t understand why it is this happens to you, but I can conceptualize the pattern.
And so Leona got to work fixing the flying machine. She probably could have completed it faster, but she wanted to teach Briar a few things along the way, in case more maintenance was required while she was gone. As she did so, however, she started getting worried that he might take advantage of his new knowledge. What if he was such a quick learner that he affected the rest of repairs, and stranded her there? She would have no way of returning, and no one would have any clue where she was, unless he decided to tell them. When he wasn’t looking, Leona pocketed the drive chip, so she could keep it with her when she made her jump to the future. It was a small but vital component. The shuttle would not fly without it, unless another was synthesized. Since that part of the controls wasn’t broken, she never explained to Briar how it worked, so hopefully he wouldn’t know what to do. In a perfect world, she could trust him to just wait until she came back, but this wasn’t anywhere near that. They had only just met, and there was no telling what kind of person he was.
She stopped working as midnight approached. “I could keep going with these last few things,” she began to explain, “but chances are I wouldn’t be able to get through it, and I don’t really want to be in the middle of it when midnight strikes. I think we’re at a pretty good stopping point. By this time next year, you’ll be at Homebase, where you will finally meet the woman who hired your mom to work here.”
“Trinity is still here?” he questioned.
“Yeah, of course.”
“I don’t wanna meet her.”
“Why not?”
“She ruined my mother’s life.”
Leona frowned. “Briar, why did she not return to Earth?”
“She couldn’t,” he said, as if Leona should have automatically understood that.
“Why not?”
“Against my mother’s advice, Trinity partook in wanderberries. It puts you in a haze, and makes you forget everything that happened to you for an amount of time proportional to the amount of berries that you ate. The way mom tells it, Trinity was so confused that she couldn’t even tell that my mom was there, begging her to take her back to Earth. After hours of trying, Trinity finally just disappeared on her own, and never came back to this region.”
“Well, that sounds like it wasn’t Trinity’s fault. I mean, I’m sure there’s a logical reason she ate the berries; maybe she didn’t know what they would do. And once she was in that state, she was in no condition to help your mother.”
He shook his head slowly. “Wanderberries wear off. She would have become fully lucic two days later, at most, assuming she stopped eating them. She would have remembered everything about her life, including the time she was on the drug. She never came back, Leona. She abandoned us here. Now, I can’t complain about my life. I lived with my best friend until she died two years ago, and I don’t know really know what I’ve been missing. But my mother longed for her, and it made her a little sad, all the time. I won’t forgive Trinity for that.”
“I understand your position,” Leona said to him. “But it’s irrational to make these judgments based on one side of the story. I’m not saying your mom lied, but maybe Trinity has a different perspective. Maybe she really did forget forever, because she also accidentally ate a different type of berry at the same time that your mom didn’t realize. Right there is all the more reason we have to go see her. You need to confront her about it.” Before, she was worried Briar would fix the shuttle and leave her here, but now she was worried he would sabotage it beyond repair, and still leave her here. That wasn’t something she would be able to protect herself against. Maybe she should have refrained from teaching him anything, and just worked doubletime, so they could leave today. It was too late now.
“I guess you’re right. If nothing else, I can yell at her about it.”
“So, you’ll still be here when I come back a year from now?”
“I promise.”
A year later, Leona came back to find the landing zone completely devoid of all shuttles and humans. Somehow, Briar had fixed the ship on his own, and had flown off to who knows where.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Source Variant: Dandavo Dali Dali (Part II)

Right now, Saga!Three is on vacation for an indefinite amount of time. Also right now—but in a different universe entirely—Vearden!Two is trying to heal from his injuries. Like his alternate reality counterpart, Vearden was operating The Crossover, but from the machine’s perspective, at a much earlier time. After some crazy adventures, he recently found himself in a universe called the Composite, fighting against a magnetokinetic named Arkan. He was badly hurt, and a teleporter named Zektene attempted to take him to a hospital, but they weren’t able to stay there long. What they didn’t realize was that one of their other enemies, Cain possessed a powerful object capable of blasting them across the multiverse. They weren’t anywhere near him when he set off this device, but that didn’t matter. They were both unwillingly pulled from the hospital, and delivered back to Vearden’s home universe. Fortunately for him, Saga!Three is an experienced medical professional.
She’s just spent the last however many years of her life as Doctor Baxter Sarka’s nurse. He’s a salmon, dispatched by the powers that be to treat other salmon throughout time and space. While she had no obligation to help, she chose to do so, because she felt like it was her personal calling. She’s grateful for the field education she received along the way, because now she needs it more than ever, because she’s the closest thing to a doctor Vearden!Two has at the moment. She starts working right away. None of them has any clue where they are, but there are plenty of medical supplies nearby. She starts barking orders at Zektene, who retrieves exactly what she asks for without question, and helps to the best of her ability. Fifteen minutes later, Saga!Three has done about as much as she can do for him.
“This is Vearden Haywood?” Saga!Three asks.
“Yes, have you heard of him?” Zektene answers and asks.
Saga!Three looks back at him. He’s barely conscious. “We were another life.”
Zektene doesn’t understand.
“Or so they tell me. I have no recollection of it. It was in a different timeline.”
Now Zektene understands. “Where are we?”
“It looks like some kind of laboratory, though everything is really big. Look at this table. I would need a high-chair to sit here.”
“Yeah, this looks very alien to me. All these objects are somehow both recognizable, but still familiar. Are we in a different universe?”
Saga!Three doesn’t know what she means by that. “Do you mean reality?”
Vearden!Two clears his throat, and tries to move.
Saga!Three rushes back over, and holds him in place. “Lie still.”
“I’m home,” Vearden!Two notes. He can barely open his eyes, but he can see enough to know that his best friend, Saga is here. “How did I get home?”
“I don’t know,” Zektene tries to explain. “One minute, I’m teleporting you to a hospital. The next, I see an explosion of colors, and then we’re just suddenly here.”
“I don’t think I can get you back,” Vearden!Two laments. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine,” Zektene says. “I didn’t have anyone back there. I was a girl out of my own time anyway.”
After Saga!Three makes sure that Vearden!Two can start healing on his own, she introduces herself to her new friend, and they decide they need to get a good look around. She didn’t come here on purpose either, and that is a mystery waiting to be solved.
While there are tons of instruments and other tools in the lab, there aren’t any actual chemicals or specimens. It’s like this place was created for a specific purpose, but has not been put to use yet. It’s the cleanest room Saga!Three has ever been in before, so either it’s vacuum sealed, or someone is maintaining it for this hypothetical future use. There’s no evidence that anyone else has ever been here before, though. While they’re examining everything, the door on the opposite wall is calling to her, like every answer they could want is just on the other side. Zektene seems to be feeling the same way about it, so they prepare to defend themselves against a mysterious enemy and open it.
They’re in a much, much larger room now. Stasis pods line the walls in two rows, illuminated only by the light from the lab. Zektene feels the wall behind them, and quickly finds the switch. Yeah, it’s even larger than they realized. There could be two hundred pods in here, but upon a closer look, they see that they’re not housing humans. Monster is perhaps the best word to use, even though their instinct for violence is not yet known.
“Gondilak,” Vearden!Two says. “They’re called Gondilak.”
“Vearden,” Saga!Three complains. “You shouldn’t be up.”
“I’m fine,” he argues. “It was getting really uncomfortable in that position. It feels good to move around a bit. I promise not to run any marathons until at least tomorrow,” he jokes.
“How do you know what the aliens are?” Zektene asks. “I feel like I’ve seen them before, but they don’t look quite right, and that word doesn’t seem right either.”
Vearden!Two slowly steps forward, leaning against objects to maintain balance. “I’ve met them before. The first time I traveled through a door, they were there...” he nods his head towards Saga!Three, “attacking the other version of you.”
“So, what are they doing in stasis pods?” Saga!Three asks. “Are we on a ship?”
Vearden!Two shrugs.
“Maybe we could ask this guy?” Zektene has moved over to one of the other pods. As the other two approach, they see that there’s a perfectly normal human inside of it.
“That’s really weird,” Vearden!Two says. “The last time I checked, the Gondilak weren’t capable of space flight, and they weren’t too keen on humans. I guess maybe they wouldn’t have been able to achieve it unless they shed their racist ideas. I wonder where the Orothsew are.”
Zektene moves to the other side of the pod to see the man from another angle. “What are the Orothsew?”
She must have accidentally activated something, because just then, the human’s pod starts making noises. Its interface monitor lights up with a language they don’t know, and the pod starts to open. “Treda Kestolin Hibesof,” says the automated voice from the computer. “Human presence detected,” it appears to translate to English. It’s a little anticlimactic as they watch the man wake up from suspended animation. It’s not like in the movies where they can jump right out and get to work. It’s a long and drawn out process where fluids are reintroduced to his system, and also spilled onto the floor under him. While it’s happening, Saga!Three redresses one of Vearden’s wounds, and Zektene looks around some more to see if she can find a window.
Finally, the man is awake, and aware of his surroundings. When he sees their faces, his eyes tear up, and then he starts crying. “Oh my God, it’s been so long. Are you really here?”
“We are, yes,” Saga!Three says. She places a comforting hand on his. “What is this place?”
The man looks up and down at the other pods. “Oh, they actually went through with it. Why did they put me here?”
“First off,” Vearden!Two says. “What’s your name?
“Ramses,” he answers as he’s struggling out of his pod. “Ramses Abdulrashid. Do you know what year it is?”
They all three shake their heads.
“Ramses,” Saga!Three presses. “What did they go through with? What is this?”
“Dandavo Dali Dali,” he replies cryptically.
“Is that a band, errrr...?”
“It best translates to Project New Beginning.”
“What does that mean?”
Onda means new and ondali means beginning, so they do this weird reduplication rule when they put them together.”
“I don’t mean, what does it literally mean,” Saga!Three tries to clarify. “I mean, what is the project for?”
“It’s kind of the Maramon version of Project Starseed.”
“What did you just say?” Vearden!Two questions, horrified.
“That’s it!” Zektene exclaims. “They’re not called Gondilak. They’re Maramon! But they look a little different.”
Ramses practically crawls over to get a good look at one of the other pod people. He thinks over what he sees. “So, they were right. They thought this might happen.” He stands up straighter to realign his spine.
“I don’t care about this,” Vearden!Two bemoans. “If these are, like, evolved from the Maramon, then we have to destroy them.”
“I’ve promised to keep them alive,” Ramses contends. He prepares to tell them a story. “If you’ve heard of the Maramon, then you know how bad they are. What you don’t know is that there was one good group amongst them. These dissenting voices were imprisoned by society, but ultimately rescued by me and my friends. They wanted a homeworld of their own, so I helped them go out on a ship and find it. Almost two centuries after arriving on Kolob, the new civilization was getting worried about experiencing the same problem they did in their original universe. You see, they don’t die; or at least, it’s hard to kill them, and they won’t die of age-related diseases. So their population just keeps growing. Back in Ansutah, they came up with some nasty ways of combating the population crisis, but the Kolobians thought of something different.
“They decided to stop having regular children, but they didn’t mean they didn’t have the drive to create life. That life just needed to be different than they were. They needed to be mortal. Unfortunately, some scientists worked on that a long time ago, and couldn’t figure it out. A mortal Maramon just could not be engineered using the resources that were available to them. Fortunately, things were different in this universe, because they had access to so many new resources. They started scouring the nearest stars, looking for a planet that could give them what they needed. If I’m right about where we are, then I think they may have found it. I’ve been in stasis for who knows how long, so I can’t be sure, but these others may be the genesis of a new species. They should be able to carry on the good-natured Maramon tradition, but also be able to die.”
“So, they’re not really Maramon,” Zektene works through. “They just come from them. They probably dont even know that.”
“Yes,” Ramses confirms. “They’re based on Maramon DNA, but also on whatever they’re feeding them on the planet we’re on right now. The scientists had a term for that. I can’t recall what it was in their language, but I remember the translation. They called it...the source variant.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Microstory 1200: Dilara Cassano

Also known as The Arborist, Dilara Cassano possesses a time power that is perhaps the most dangerous of all, and for this reason, she makes every effort to not exercise it. Only under extreme circumstances does she agree to someone’s request, and it always requires sacrifice on their part. She has the ability to access old timelines. When a time traveler goes back in time, they create a new reality. This happens in almost every single case. It doesn’t matter whether they get on the radio, and start making predictions about the future. It doesn’t matter if they don’t talk to anyone, or if they avoid younger versions of themselves, or if they cover their face with a trenchcoat. The act of traveling through time destroys the timeline they were in at the exact moment of their departure, meaning that timeline will only ever hold experiences up to that moment. A new timeline branches off at the exact moment they arrive, regardless of what they do—or don’t do—once they get there. These changes are happening on the quantum level, so the point of divergence does not depend on their macroscopic decisions. Accessing an old timeline can have terrible consequences for the universe. They are meant to be left alone. Everything that happened within them has already happened, and cannot be changed. Any attempt to make changes could result in a paradox, and ultimately disrupt the creation of the timeline that came after it. Dilara, therefore, is an instrument of fate, who was always predestined to access any previous timeline that she attempts to reach. In other words, she will become part of each old timeline, so that no paradox occurs. It’s just that she wasn’t before fully aware that any given decision she makes is part of destiny, until she has finally carried out these actions. As stated, she limits the use of her power, so as to protect the so-called fabric of spacetime. She mostly uses it to extract alternate versions of people from other realities who she believes has work to complete in the present reality—in which case, they can only be removed without anyone realizing it—or can eventually return to their branch, and complete their lives unawares. Since changes cannot be undone, or changed yet again, she is not sought after much by others, especially not by those who truly understand how bad things could get with her involvement. When nothing is being asked of her, she likes to knit, and watch association football.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Microstory 1199: Nadia Dupond

Nadia Dupond was so excited to finally move out of her parents’ house, and into her own place. She had just spent four years after college, trying to find a job good enough to allow her to fend for herself. But things weren’t going to go perfectly for her, at least not at first. One night, she was driving home from work when she noticed something strange on the radio. It was broadcasting a show that was clearly from clear on the other side of the country. Well, there must be some logical reason for it, she figured. Maybe they were sister stations, and were just doing some kind of cross-promotional thing. But the more she listened, the stranger it became. After playing another song, the radio personality got back on the mic, and started reading off some of the recent news, which appeared to have taken place about a week in the future. Okay, so not just a bizarre cross-promotion, but it’s also a prank on the listeners. She shrugged it off and moved on with her life, because she had no reason to believe she was in a science fiction movie. But weird things continued to happen to her. She approached her front door, and found it to be both open and closed at the same time. Seeing one state was like adjusting her eyes to a different distance, and she could just as easily readjust to see the other state. It smelled of barbecue where there was no barbecue, and it felt like winter in the middle of summer. She expressed her concerns on social media, but deleted it within seconds, worried how people would treat her if she started talking about these things. She thought she was going crazy and/or hallucinating, and probably would have checked herself into some kind of facility had she not made that post. No one who knew what was happening to her would have had any inkling to approach her about it.

That post’s short life on the internet was enough to alert a news-obsessed man, who regularly searched the web for anything that sounded like a time traveler. He generally stuck to the tabloids and obscure local news sources, but he did place some social media alerts for certain keywords. He didn’t know exactly why Nadia was experiencing disjointed time, but he knew what she was; either a choosing one, or a salmon. He made sure she acknowledged that the things she was sensing were very real, perfectly normal for their kind, and probably not going away. Her best bet was to practice what she could do, so she could do it at will, rather than at inopportune or dangerous times, like while driving. As it turned out, she was capable of seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling, or even tasting different points in time, but not space. Radio waves could subvert the spatial component since they’re always in motion, but they were practically impossible to control, so this exception wasn’t much use to her. Any and all of the past and future could converge upon her, so she needed to be able to filter out what she wanted to receive, and what she needed to leave when and where it was meant to be. The first person to contact her about this could only do so much to help her. He wasn’t a doctor, or an expert of any kind, but he did know other people like them, so he made some introductions. That was sort of how it worked. Once you met one, you could eventually gain access to anyone else. With the help of others, Nadia continued to learn about her time powers, and learn to control them. While she had chosen to pursue a pragmatic career, she was always interested in history, and this was her chance to explore that side of her. She eventually quit her job, and focused exclusively on her new role. Other time travelers can go witness historical events, even from the safety of an observation dimension, to prevent interference. Nadia, however, can watch history unfold over time; fastforwarding and rewinding as needed. She started taking on more responsibility as she got better with her powers, and ultimately came to be known as The Historian.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Microstory 1198: Sevastian

Along with his brother, Octavian, Sevastian was a legionnaire in the Roman Kingdom Army in the time before Jesus of Nazareth. The exact year of either of their births isn’t known, but they didn’t spend a whole lot of time there before a man named Darrow took them from their lives, and brought them to the future. They became known as chosen ones, which was a relatively rare type of time traveler that could be controlled by the choosing ones, rather than the powers that be, who had control over salmon. Back in his day, killing was a common occurrence. Murder wasn’t really a thing back then. That didn’t mean there weren’t consequences for killing the wrong person, but there was such a thing as the wrong person, whereas in modern day, murder refers to any killing outside of war, self-defense, accidental death, or perhaps execution. He wasn’t a particularly violent person, but since he was raised to fight for his people, it all seemed very natural, so when he was asked to be part of a small team of time traveling assassins, it didn’t occur to him to have moral objections to the idea. He still needed convincing, as he had no personal quarrel with the people that Darrow was asking him and his brother to kill. Once he accepted that this was his life now, though, he fully committed himself to the cause, and it turned him savage. Since assassinating people was all they were doing, it quickly consumed his entire being, leaving no room for empathy, compassion, or self-restraint. Had Darrow been less focused on the job, he might have thought to give them some healthy outlets, like a good sports competition, or a relaxing vacation on the beach. But instead, they went from one job to the next, disappearing so quickly that no one had any hope of understanding what happened, let alone catching them. Unlike Octavian, Sevastian did attempt to retain some level of civility, but he was no match for the slow deterioration of his own soul. Despite the fact that he was told he would never die, Sevastian was finally killed when he and his brother attempted to go after two people with almost no experience. They only beat him because they were protected by the powers, and the brothers should not have even tried.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Microstory 1197: Melinda Carson

Melinda Carson loved animals, and knew that she would want to work with them one day. Unfortunately, she was born with really bad allergies, and it was looking like it wasn’t in the cards for her. She kept trying to fix this, taking all kinds of medicine she could find, and undergoing the best treatment available, but it just wasn’t doing enough. Her body rejected just about everything she tried to put inside it, including food. She didn’t technically have food allergies as well, but nothing really sit well with her, so she was kind of always physically uncomfortable. She continued to try to resolve her issues, even as the time approached when she needed to really figure out her career. Finally, she decided that, while she wouldn’t be able to realize all her dreams, she wasn’t going to let her own body beat her either. She specialized her work on reptiles and amphibians, which she had no problem with. They were just as cool as elephants and horses, so it wasn’t like she was miserable. She had to narrow her focus more than she would have liked, but there was plenty of work to be done in the field, and she always felt productive. She was content in her rather unexciting life, and never knew what other wonders the universe held. This was not the only reality in which she existed, however. Other versions of her found themselves thrown into the world of time travelers, and were regularly placed in great danger. Of course, she lived her life with no memory of timelines where different things happened to her, but she had a few strange encounters she could have been able to explain had she fully understood what alternate versions of her had gone through. People she never met—or at least never remembered meeting—on multiple occasions greeted her as if they were friends. She never did realize why, and that was probably for the best.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Microstory 1196: Braeden Jeffries

Braeden Ray grew up in a dangerous household, to parents who never wanted to have children, and made little effort to adapt their lives to account for him. When his grandmother passed, they figured he was old enough to take care of himself, so they still didn’t really take care of him. A horrible accident led to a happy ending, where Braeden’s nextdoor neighbors decided to take him in. It was a long and difficult process, but since the Rays were clearly unfit as parents, and the Jeffries showed how good of parents they were, the courts finally decided to make it happen. They were able to adopt Braeden as their son, making him their biological son, Andar’s brother. Braeden continued to struggle in his life, for there were many simple lessons no one had ever taken the time to teach him. He was patient and open-minded, however, as long as others showed him the same respect. He fell one grade behind in school, but since they had moved to Kansas City, none of his peers had to know that. His teachers were even all willing to lie about his age to protect him, which Braeden would only come to appreciate fully when he was an adult. According to his new family, once the court process was over, they would never have to see the Rays again, but if there was one thing they taught Braeden during his short time with them, it was how to lie. What Braeden didn’t tell anyone—not even Andar—was that he did confront his birth parents when he was older. It was the ultimate test of his growth and maturity as a person. He didn’t get angry or threaten them. He remained calm and articulate. He felt like he needed them to hear it from him how horrible they were, and how much harder his life was because of it, even now that he was with a good family. His origins were always going to be part of his past, and would always inform his later decisions, even when he didn’t actively realize it. The biggest thing he worried about was what could go wrong if something like this happened again. Even though they were awful parents, the Rays did indeed love each other, and there was too much of a risk that they would end up having more children, if only accidentally. Braeden could not let this happen. He couldn’t let them ruin someone else’s life; especially since this hypothetical sibling would not be afforded the same opportunity he was given those years ago. He warned them of vague retaliation should they ever make the mistake of making him a brother or sister, but after he left, he felt like it wasn’t enough. The only way to be sure that history wouldn’t repeat itself would be to take drastic measures. He went right back, and personally paid for his birth father’s vasectomy, and his mother’s minilaparotomy. It was an unusual thing to do, but Braeden strongly believed it was profoundly necessary. The Rays were actually grateful for this, so it wasn’t like he forced them against their will, and they never attempted to reverse it later. This truly was the last time Braeden would see these two in person, though he did keep an eye on them from a distance, to make sure they didn’t do anything against his rules, which went beyond this one requirement. He returned home, focused on his career, and made a pretty big name for himself in his chosen industry.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 12, 2250

A year later, Leona came back to find the warehouse having been fully revamped to accommodate Tamerlane’s needs. A water tank big enough to house several families back on Varkas Reflex was constructed in the corner, just as the scientist had requested. She could only see half of it from the inside, as the other half was outside, to give specimens a more pleasing and calming view. It wasn’t filled with water, or any animals yet. Tamerlane and his team were only working on building the catalog. They wanted to know every single macroscopic species this world had to offer, starting with the ones living in the closest habitats. It took humanity thousands of years to accomplish this back on Earth, but technology today was unlike anything that existed before. Sophisticated aircraft, microdrones, and artificial intelligence made the process so much faster. They also didn’t have to worry about procuring money for research purposes anymore, so when a job needed to be done, the people in charge of doing it just went out and did it.
The catalog might not have been quite complete as of yet, but they were already starting to prioritize species; which ones would visitors wish to observe the most, and how difficult will it be to build the necessary substrates. Once this is finished, they’ll study those species more comprehensively, to understand their moods and behaviors. A particular animal might be almost always solitary, and extremely territorial. Individuals may only interact with each other for breeding. So maybe it would be impossible to get too close to it without causing agitation. Or it enjoys some symbiotic relationship with an entirely different kind of animal, and it would be best for a vonearthan to pilot an artificial version of that instead.
Homebase itself was enlarged to become a campus. Trinity wanted to keep all her people real close, including Tamerlane. Ellie’s new studio was currently empty as she was on a several-month long vacation. She was still around, so she wanted to call it a staycation, but Sanaa said that was illegal. Her radio show didn’t take a hit since it didn’t matter when she worked. When she finally returned to it, no one will have noticed her absence, because she’ll pick it up three minutes later. Sanaa requested Trinity commission the construction of a water tank system of her own, separate from Tamerlane’s special one. She had gotten used to living in oxygen-rich water some of the time, so even though that was not necessary on Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida, it still worked fine. Eight Point Seven was currently questioning her own future, and considering starting to work for Tamerlane, who had offered her a new job.
“What exactly is it you’ll be doing?” Leona asked while they were all eating lunch, and Eight Point Seven was sitting with them.
“Well, Pryce needs someone to test his mind transference technology. My consciousness is perfect for this, because I was created by code, unlike a human or transhuman.”
“Right,” Leona said, “but AIs probably won’t be doing a whole lot of immersive animal tourism. So doesn’t he need human subjects anyway?”
“In time, yes,” Eight Point Seven agreed. “But in the beginning, he has to make sure it’s safe.”
Trinity scoffed. “Doesn’t sound like him.”
“He said you’d say that,” Eight Point Seven revealed, causing Trinity to purse her lips. “He really does seem like he wants to change.”
“It sounds dangerous,” Sanaa noted.
Eight Point Seven nodded. “That’s why I’m thinking about doing it. I can keep a backup of my mind.”
“So can a transhuman,” Leona reminded her.
“Yes, but I’m better at it. Guys, I’m not a hundred percent certain I’m going to do it, but I am leaning that way.”
“You’re not the only android on the planet,” Leona whined.
“Of course not, but I’m already fully briefed on the situation. I’m the most logical option.”
“Trinity,” Leona prodded. “You haven’t really expressed your opinion on this issue.”
“It’s not an issue,” Trinity said. “Eight Point Seven is twenty-seven years old, which means that, even if she were human, she would be an adult, and capable of making her own decisions. I’ve asked Tamerlane to do this for Bida, and his request for help with a pilot program is not an unreasonable one.” She hushed Leona when she tried to argue. “Of course, I won’t allow anyone to be forced into this, so if Eight Point Seven decides to decline, he’ll have to find someone else.”
“What if everyone decides to decline?” Sanaa’s instinct was to look for the worst case scenario, so she could avoid it.
“Then he’ll have to do it himself, or scrap the project entirely. I’m not going to breach ethics,” Trinity promised, “for any reason. I feel like you guys aren’t giving me enough credit here.”
“Well, it wouldn’t be the first time,” Sanaa said. It was a bit rude, but not untrue.
“I won’t be judged by you, Miss History of Eavesdropping on People’s Sensitive Thoughts.”
“Hey!” Sanaa shouted. “Only my mother gets to call me that!” she joked.
“Can we get back to Eight Point Seven?” Leona requested. “What could I do to talk you out of this?”
“I’m a machine,” Eight Point Seven began. “I have feelings and empathy, but it’s still hard for me to make decisions based on emotion, whereas that is a human being’s resting state. Make no mistake, I’m not criticizing you for that. It’s a useful skill that I have not quite learned. If you want me to change my mind, don’t appeal to that side of me. Convince me with logic.”
Leona carefully set her utensils back on her plate, and stood up. “Very well. I will return this evening with my argument.”
Eight Point Seven smiled. “I look forward to hearing it.”
Leona left campus to take a walk along Turnbull Creek. Ellie caught up with her minutes later, and made sure Leona didn’t want to be alone.
“No, I would love the company. And the distraction. I can’t figure this out.”
“Maybe there’s nothing to figure out,” Ellie suggested.
“How so?”
“Well, you’re trying to stop your friend from doing something that could cause her harm. People do things like that all the time, and still survive. Science doesn’t happen without risk.”
“Are you about to argue how it’s ultimately good that it took us so long to develop ethical boundaries? We wouldn’t have spaceships today if we were moral enough to not send a dog to die into orbit, right?”
“Well, it’s true, isn’t it? By the way, that dog survived. Saga accidentally opened a door, and saved him. Look, I don’t love that we did that sort of thing, and much, much worse. Nonetheless, you have to admit that humanity might have only survived because we broke a few of what we now consider to be moral laws. The difference here is exactly what Trinity said. Eight Point Seven is capable of agreeing to this, so I’m not sure where your argument against it begins.”
“Okay, well let’s ignore the ethics for now,” Leona started, but then stopped herself. “No, I’m drifting towards appealing to her emotions, and how I would hate for something to happen to her. There is no logical reason for her to not do this, except it might kill her. She already knows that, so what else can I say?”
“It sounds like you’ve realized it doesn’t matter. A solar flare from Tau Ceti could devastate this world tomorrow, and destroy every backup of her entirely. Not even someone like her is safe from annihilation. The universe is a very unforgiving place, as they say. I think you not only have to let it go, but also have to encourage her to do what she thinks is right.”
“There’s a one in three hundred and sixty-five chance I’ll be able to help her if something goes wrong,” Leona complained.
“There’s even less of a chance that you have enough experience and education to help her even if you’re in the timestream.” It was cold, but true. Ellie went on, “she would never tell you this, but she’s been battling depression, and trying to figure out her purpose ever since you two left Bungula. She was built to be the administrator of a planet for one month, and then she was meant to die. I’m not saying she has a death wish now, but she doesn’t know what she’s supposed to do. Apparently, it’s a not uncommon experience amongst AI. If they’re self-aware, they can’t be destroyed, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need to be replaced. A human can always find joy in something else, but like she was kind of trying to say, it’s not that easy for them.”
“I’ve never really thought much about that,” Leona said. “When you skip so much time, it’s easy to miss how taxing prolonged existence can be.”
“Hashtag the struggle is real,” Ellie mused.
“I suppose I ought to go apologize and support her, huh?”
“I can’t tell you what to do.”
Leona turned heel, and started walking back towards Homebase. “So tell me, what made you decide to come to Bida?”
“I don’t much care for staying in one place and time period for too long.”
“You can’t jump through time, though. How do you find rides?”
“I can seek people across spacetime, and once I find them, I can talk to them. I have no trouble finding rides.”
“How long do you plan on staying here?”
“I don’t plan on anything. When I feel it’s time to move on, I do. Trinity commissioned a pretty nice studio, though, so that’s doing quite a bit to keep me in place. Of course, since my radio show sends messages through time anyway, I won’t have to do it forever.”
This made sense. The Hub—which would be found on Tribulation Island on the planet Dardius—only operated for several decades. If one wanted to visit, or was assigned there, no matter what year it was for them, they could arrive within that relatively short span of time. Beaver Haven Rehabilitation Center did the same thing, only lasting 164 years before shutting down, which would more than account for the longest living inmates, excepting immortals. Those exceptions were banished to the most remote points in spacetime.
Leona and Ellie returned to Homebase, having barely been gone twenty minutes. Leona found Eight Point Seven in her office. She was organizing the plantlife catalog, which was less important, but still necessary to assemble. She apologized, which of course, Eight Point Seven had no use for, and conceded the argument. Perhaps what was bothering Leona so much was that she herself seemed to have no purpose. It was kind of a long time coming. She gradually amassed a number of highly intelligent individuals over the years, and general scientific progress was quickly surpassing anything she so much as dreamed of. Was this how Mateo felt all the time? It was awful. What was she going to do with her life, and did the powers that be have any ideas?

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Source Variant: Operation Starseed (Part I)

Right now—if there even is such a thing as a now—Saga is on a mission to find her daughter. Also right now—but a different now—Vearden Haywood is back on his homeworld, having just spent an indeterminate amount of time exploring the bulkverse. Neither of these people is unique. Each one of them possesses an alternate version of themselves. This Saga is from a different timeline, one in which Saga and Vearden are friends who were put in dangerous situations, charged with helping people at different points in time. This Vearden is from the current reality, and has never met any version of Saga, though he has heard of her. They will finally meet each other today, but what does it mean to be in today?
Saga!Two—as she’ll be called, to differentiate her from her recent counterpart—has been listlessly opening doors in this hotel. Her daughter was taken from her by The Emissary, who was working on behalf of the powers that be, who chose Étude to be The Last Savior of Earth. She has no choice in the matter but to teleport all over the world, saving people’s lives, and she won’t be able to see her family until she’s done. Saga!Three could be an old woman at that point, so she’s been trying to skip over all that, and jump forward in time. Unfortunately, her ability to open literal doors to others points in spacetime is less of a power, and more of a game of probability. It sometimes takes her on a mission she had no intention on going on, and sometimes just takes her somewhere random. Most of the time, whenever she opens a door, it just takes her to the other side of it, just like it would for any normal person. This looks promising, though. When she opens the door to room 233, she doesn’t find two beds and a TV. It looks more like a laboratory, full of computers, and equipment she doesn’t recognize. She might think this is some kind of secret temporary spy agency field office, but it’s a hell of a lot larger than it should be. It extends far beyond where the window to the outside should be.
Vearden!Three—as he’ll be called, to differentiate him from his earlier counterpart—is just hanging out. He’s in a hotel room as well, but 164 years in the past, from Saga!Two’s perspective. It happens to also be a room 233. He grew up knowing that he was meant to be a time traveler, and developed an inexplicable drive to go to Kansas City from Oklahoma when he was a teenager. This is where his suspicions were confirmed, at least partially. He met two totally legit men from the future, who were trying to return to their own time. He helped them get back, and then years later, met back up with them to help them again. This was when a special universe-hopping machine called The Crossover showed up. A woman who claimed to be his wife invited him in, and claimed she would introduce him to endless wonder. He took her up on this offer, but it’s been difficult for both of them. He hasn’t felt the love for this woman, Gretchen as she feels for him. She was married to Vearden!Two, and he is not that man. They both agreed to go their separate ways, at least for now, to take a bit of a break. Vearden!Three asked to be dropped off in 2019, because why not? It wasn’t exactly when he was from, but he quite liked it the first time around. He’s just opened the door from the bathroom when he finds himself in some kind of laboratory.
“Hello?” he calls out to the aether. “Gretchen?”
No one answers.
“Gretchen, it’s only been two months for me. I need more time than that.”
Still no answer. As he’s examining his surroundings, another door opens, right next to his, where he can still see his Peruvian hotel room. He instinctively hides behind a table.
“Hello?” Saga!Two asks. “Étude?”
Vearden!Three has heard the name before, so he can guess who this woman here is, and has been told that he would be able to trust her.
“Umm...hi,” he says timidly.
“Vearden?” Saga!Three asks. She hasn’t seen him in many years, since he died, and everything. She instinctively runs over, and wraps her arms around his shoulders.
Again, he’s never met Saga before, but this feels so comfortable. He should pull away so he can explain the truth, but he’s missed true human connection, so he just leans into it.
Saga!Two finally releases him, and takes a half step back. “I’m sorry. I don’t even know where in the timeline you’re from. When was the last time you saw me? Have you been to Tribulation Island yet?” That was where her version of Vearden died.
He shakes his head. “I’m afraid I’m not who you think I am. This is the first time you and I have met. I am from this timeline, not yours.”
Her smile transforms into a frown. “Oh. You’re Vearden!Three.”
“Yeah, that’s what people keep calling me,” he says. “I get who Vearden!Two is, but no one ever explains who Vearden!One would be.”
She nods. “I don’t know him either, or the first version of me. I mean, there have been far more than three realities, but people don’t like to think in such complex terms. I think there were really just two major timelines before this one, and they’ve had the most lasting impact on reality. You’re Vearden!Three. I’m Saga!Two.”
“I’m sorry to disappoint you.”
“No, don’t say that. Don’t ever apologize for being you. It’s still really nice to see that face after all this time, and if you’re half as good as he was, I’m honored.”
He smiles. “Thank you. He sounds like a lot to live up to.”
She smiles back. “Do you know where we are?”
“I have no clue,” Vearden!Three replies. He gestures towards the doors. “It’s supposed to be 2019 Cusco for me. You?”
“No idea. I think it’s 2183 Panama, but it’s hard to keep track. I’ve been trying to find my daughter. I don’t imagine this has anything to do with that.”
As they’re watching their doors, they slowly begin to close on their own.
“Should we try to get back through them?” he asks as he’s kind of inching in that direction.
Saga!Two shakes her head. “It wouldn’t work. The powers that be want us here, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. For all we know, it’s good for us. We better just let it go.”
The magical doors close completely, and turn back into regular doors.
Vearden!Three points to an ominous door on the opposite wall. “My instinct is to go through that.”
They carefully walk over to it. Saga!Two grabs a phallic device from a table that’s probably used to test atmospheric composition, or something. Hopefully it’s not an alien probe. She gets in a Jackie Robinson position as Vearden!Three prepares to open the door. She nods when she’s ready.
Stasis pods. That’s their best guess as what these things are. Slanted at forty-five degrees towards their respective walls, they span all the way down to the darkened other half of the giant room. They’re each only large enough to fit a child. Of course, they’re frosted over. Still carefully, they walk over and wipe the frost from one to see inside. Any two other people would have probably jumped back in fear, but this isn’t the first time they’ve seen aliens. This isn’t even the first time Saga has seen this particular kind of alien.
“You know what they are?” Vearden!Three asks.
“Orothsew,” she confirms. “It’s just a child, though.”
Vearden steps over, and clears the frost from another, and then two more. “They look the same. Is this gonna be some kind of horror story, Saga.”
“I don’t know. I’ve encountered them before, probably in the future, but also in a different timeline. They’re not evil, but they’re not saints either.”
Vearden starts messing with the console next to one of the pods. It’s in English, but he doesn’t understand what any of these metrics mean. “Nothing is all pure. Nothing is all dirty,” he says cryptically.
Saga!Two gets back in a defensive position when they hear another door open from the other side of this room. Footsteps approach.
“Hello?” a voice calls out from the dim lighting. “I know you’re in here! The proximity alarm went off! Make yourself known.”
“We can’t see you!” Saga!Two calls back. “Step into the light, then we’ll talk.”
The man gets close enough for them to see his face, and for him to see theirs.
Saga recognizes him as well. “Julius?”
He doesn’t look happy. “Would people stop goddamn calling me that! Saxon! Saxon! I’m Saxon Parker in this reality. I’m sick of meeting people from other realities.”
“Hey,” she says, kind of condescendingly. “I meant no disrespect. I just didn’t know.”
He calms himself down. “I know. It just gets a little tedious after awhile.”
“I can appreciate that,” Saga!Three says truthfully. “Unfortunately, we do have some more questions. Would you be willing to answer them.”
“I can, yes,” Saxon says.
“I’m Saga!Three, and this is Vearden!Two. He’s from your reality, so you have that much in common.”
Saxon is wearing his poker face.
“Could you tell us what year it is?”
“By your calendar?” Saxon begins as he’s consulting his watch. “3300.”
“Holy shit, Vearden!Three can’t help but say. He’s been to a dozen other worlds, but they all had the same start value, which means they all measure time in the same way. He was usually in the 21st century, give or take a couple hundred years. 3300 is the furthest in the future he’s ever been.
“What exactly is this place?” Saga!Two asks. “What are you doing with these Orothsew children?”
He looks inquisitively at one of the pods. “Is that what they’re called?”
“Oh no,” Saga!Two says sadly. “Did I just mess up the future?”
“Probably not,” Saxon assures her. “If you got this information from an alternate timeline, we shouldn’t be at risk of any bootstrap paradoxes. Someone else came up with the name where you’re from, you learned it later, now you’re naming them in this timeline. The future we’re heading for is entirely separate.”
She’s relieved. “Oh good.”
“Anyway,” Saxon begins, “these are the fruits of Operation Starseed. Earth sent giant ships from a star system called Gatewood. As we speak, these ships are breaking apart into smaller and smaller modules, which will be assigned different regions of the galaxy. For most of them, we’ll be taking surveys of every single star system, and building ways to travel there using faster-than-light quantum communication. In others, we’ll be doing something like this. People on Earth donated genetic samples, and allowed them to be placed on the Project Stargate ships. On suitable worlds, we are seeding actual life, which will live and progress there. In this case, I don’t think they’ll be aware of where they came from.”
“Do humans look like this in the future?” Vearden!Three asks, surprised.
“No,” Saxon answers. “They look different, because they were exposed to microscopic organisms from this planet. We didn’t have room to carry food from Earth, so they’re only eating what can be found here. What we didn’t realize was how much an effect that can have on the genes of the subjects. So, they’re part human, but part something new.”
“My God,” Saga!Two says. “This changes everything about my memories of meeting them in an alternate future.”
“Yeah, I predict this sort of thing will continue to happen on other worlds that we try to seed life on. This operation has become exponentially more complex than we thought it would. I’m tentatively calling it...the source variant.