Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Microstory 1217: Brian Hiddy

Brian Hiddy was a regular human. He didn’t have any time powers, and he didn’t have any salmon of choosers as friends. He was close with a classmate named Lincoln in a different reality, but the former forged a new path in the new timeline, so Brian never got a chance to know him that well. There are some that say these alternate timelines can impact each other in greater ways than what the time travelers who created them have done. Certain people are known to find each other again, or develop particular skills, even when enough about history has changed to make it unlikely. It’s unclear whether Brian picked up on the idea that there was something missing in his life; that an alternate version of him once helped Lincoln through his temporal troubles. Maybe destiny wanted him part of the world of time travelers, regardless of what role he was playing. Or maybe it’s just a big coincidence. Either way, he found his way into that world on his own. Brian always wanted to be part of something big. He knew that there must be some secret about the universe that few people were aware of. He didn’t see anything weird, or get tipped off in any way. He just sought out the truth. And he found it. He didn’t know exactly what he should be looking for; signs of a hitherto unverified macroorganism roaming the lands of South Los Angeles, aliens in the outfield, werewolves running a blood bank. He looked into nearly everything. He started out by collecting all the articles about absurd claims he could find, and searching for patterns. That didn’t really turn up much, ‘cause people be crazy. He tried to engage in conspiracy theory chat rooms, but it was just as difficult to sift through the crazy, and find the legitimate stories, if they even existed at all. He decided to go old school, spending a lot of time in the library, reading up on all the lore he could find, trying to see if anything stood out. One interesting fact about vampires he noticed was that multiple disparate ancient cultures had made eerily similar claims, suggesting that the species was real, pervasive, and consistent. He had a hard time tracing the mythology together, both to see if the stories had simply been passed from one culture to the next, or to see if they were consistent enough to be real. Again, this labor yielded no fruit. He was about to give up when he came up with another idea. He made himself go crazy.

He made a lot of noise; in public, like on the news when a field reporter was trying to talk about a newly laid pavers at the community college, or the weather. He was spouting all sorts of nonsense about ghosts, interdimensional invaders, and people from the future. That last one got him noticed. People came to his house, asking what he knew, and how he knew it. He had taken some acting classes, especially ones geared towards improvisation, so he did a pretty good job of keeping the lie going, and making it seem like he wasn’t bluffing, which he was. Well, they eventually figured him out, but not before he pressed the little red button on his old phone, which he had set up on the bookcase during the interview. He recorded their whole meeting, and the next day, was able to watch them erase his memories. This was it; his one opportunity. He took a screenshot of the mysterious people, and started hunting for them. He reached out to everyone he knew, trying to get in touch with law enforcement, or the NSA, or anyone with resources. This was how he found a small group of people who had interacted with temporal manipulators, one of which was an agent in the FBI. One of the others had also once seen the people from the screenshot, and together, they figured it all out. Their investigations caused a lot of problems for them, and they wouldn’t end up agreeing with each other, or staying together. Brian sort of broke off on his own, and decided that the best use of his time was to search for people like him. He continued to look through tabloids and conspiracy boards, for anyone claiming to have seen something they couldn’t explain. Once he found someone who fit the description, he would reach out to them, and help them in any way he could, even if that meant stopping them from exposing this truth to others.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Microstory 1216: Ladonna Buhle

Ladonna Buhle was born in Port Elizabeth, South Africa on October 21, 1981. Her parents were not in a financial position to get her help when she started talking about seeing angels floating in the air all over the place. They couldn’t stop her from claiming that these things were real, but with any luck, they could stop her from telling everyone in town about them. As it turned out, her ability was similar to Vidar Wolfe’s. She could detect temporal anomalies, which included objects with unusual properties, and also people with powers of their own, or salmon patterns. She couldn’t inherently take advantage of these things, but that didn’t mean they weren’t useful to her. She was strong and formidable, and crossing her was generally a bad idea, especially not when she was grown, and figured out the truth about what she was seeing. She kept in touch with her family as best she could, but like so many others, she pretty much shed her old life, and started traveling the world. Ladonna could go to any time and place of her choosing, as long as she found the right anomaly to cross through, but she chose to stay in the present day. She wasn’t worried about the act of altering the past itself, but she didn’t like the idea of there being multiple versions of her with the potential to interact with each other. It shook her religious core, and caused her existential anxiety. So she essentially became a teleporter, except she could only go to and from certain places. Anomalies were difficult to use properly, but with enough time and patience, she could figure anything out. But her power wasn’t what made her special. Others could detect—or even utilize—natural spacetime anomalies, and temporal objects. Her greatest contribution came because she studied them, and understood how they worked on a fundamental level. She created the first map of nonlinear spacetime, and it was her research that became the foundation for The Weaver’s invention of the Compass of Disturbance. Like Ladonna, the compass could detect and access anomalies, among other things, but any human could operate it. She wasn’t sure how she felt about this development. Theoretically, it was a dangerous thing to exist, but the only people who ever used it proved themselves to be noble and trustworthy, so she made her peace with the consequences of her choices. After some years of travel, it started to get a little dull for her. Sure, there were lots of places she hadn’t seen yet, but that didn’t mean she wanted to see them. She wasn’t the type of person who could experience more awe or joy while standing in an impressively constructed building than she could just by using the right tools on the internet. She found landscapes to be beautiful and calming, but this sense of tranquility was interrupted every time she tried to go somewhere new, so she eventually decided to settle down in just one beautiful place. She chose to make her home at Brooks Lake. It was the aquatic hub of Earth, naturally connecting every significantly large body of water to this one, relatively small, body. The transition from it to another place was so smooth that she even considered the trip itself to be a relaxing experience. It was here that she lived out the rest of her days, until she was killed for trying to get others to see things her way, and carrying out her beliefs in a way that contradicted her own values.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 16, 2254

Though the life Briar’s mother ended up living wasn’t the one he would have chosen for her, given the opportunity, he couldn’t be sure she would feel the same way. She was a loving and protective mother, so in fact, if he could ask her what he should do right now, she would definitely tell him to not go back in time. The more he thought about it, the less he believed she would want him to erase himself from her timeline and memories. He didn’t know who his father was either, so even though she ended up losing him too soon as well, she might feel grateful for having met him in the first place. In the end, it wasn’t his right to alter history. He was just going to have to make peace with the fact that what happened wasn’t anybody’s fault. He still couldn’t help but feel a little hostility towards Trinity, but she didn’t seem too concerned about it. She understood that she couldn’t understand what he was going through. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. Her life had been upended by accidental time travel, just like his, and she also had to say goodbye to her parents—her real parents, by the way; not the two who conceived her in the 1950s, and never took care of her.
By the time Briar was confident in his final decision, it was nearing midnight central. They had yet to discuss what they were going to do with the time cave, but Trinity wanted Leona to be around for that. They determined it was okay to wait another year for the conversation. The only people who knew anything about it were the three of them, plus Eight Point Seven, Ellie, and Sanaa. The colonists still hadn’t come anywhere close to touching land on that continent, so it was highly unlikely they would have to worry about some random person stumbling upon it. Something did need to be done, though, because they had no control over what the ancient Earthans would do with the cave. They needed to be protected just as much.
“Can we cave it in?” Sanaa put forth.
“First of all,” Trinity said, shaking her head, “we would need to go into the cave to accomplish that. That would make coordinating detonation—not impossible—but not easy. We also don’t really know how close Briar’s father’s village is to the entrance. They might notice the explosion.”
“Are we even sure we should try to prevent people from crossing over?” Ellie asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Well,” Ellie continued, “it’s presumably a naturally occurring phenomenon; one that predates even Trinity’s involvement on this planet. It has only negatively impacted three people’s lives. Actually, I can’t say whether that can be called a negative impact; Briar wouldn’t even exist without it. Do we have the right to do anything?”
“We don’t know that it’s natural,” Eight Point Seven pointed out. “Nothing else on this world is natural. No judgment, Trinity.”
“No offense taken,” Trinity assured her. “Both you and Ellie make some good points. We’ve not yet proven the ethics of closing the cave at all. If we combine what you two said, perhaps it’s not natural, and that’s exactly why we shouldn’t do anything. What if it’s meant to serve a purpose? Maybe someone important will need it in the future-slash-past.”
At this, Ellie made eye contact with Leona, and gave her a wink. It was one of those winks that a time traveler will give to another to suggest they know something about the latter’s personal future, but can’t reveal specifics. Leona tried to shake it off, because even that was enough to cause problems with the timeline. Her mind was elsewhere anyway. In one day’s time, she would finally see Mateo again, and hopefully it would mean never being separated from him again. She hadn’t felt this nervous since she was a high school kid with a silly crush on a time traveler. How much had he changed since they last saw each other? How much of himself had he kept hidden when they briefly saw each other on Tribulation Island in the past? He seemed to want to tell her something, but was hesitant. Was it bad? Good? Shocking? Was she just reading too much into all of this, and was worried about nothing? More importantly, was there something about her own life that he might not like a whole lot when he arrived?
“Leona?” she heard in a muffle, which grew clearer. “Leona,” the voice came louder. “Are you still with us?”
“Yeah, sorry. Did you ask a question?”
Trinity was noticeably perturbed. “Did you see evidence that anyone else had ever traversed that cave?”
“No,” Leona said. “We suspect Irene had to spend an extended period of time there with Briar, so they could end up in more recent days on Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida, but I didn’t see anything that supported that supposition. The cave looked pristine, as far as I remember, but I wasn’t looking for such evidence either.”
“Is it easy to see and access from the Earth side?”
“It’s easy to find if you came from there,” Briar finally entered the conversation. “If you hadn’t been there before, though, I think it’s pretty well hidden. It’s fairly close to a path that others have walked, but no one seems to have found it.”
“That could change,” Sanaa said. “As the world develops, they might build a fast food restaurant right on top of it.”
“Or a library,” Ellie randomly added.
“I believe now,” Eight Point Seven began, “that we have a responsibility to close it up. If it’s not natural, and someone needs it there for a reason, they should have left a note. It would be one thing if it were just a bridge between Earth and Bida—even with the temporal component—but we can’t risk people losing years of their lives with their loved ones, just because they spend too much time inside. It’s not fair. Look at it this way, now that we know it exists, we’re liable if something happens, and humans are exposed to time travel. That could land us all in Beaver Haven.”
“That’s reason enough for me,” Sanaa agreed. “I ain’t goin’ to the pokey.”
“I’m inclined to agree,” Trinity admitted, “but I’m still worried about using explosives that close to veiled humans.”
“I could do it slowly,” Eight Point Seven offered. “I could just kick rocks, and shovel dirt. I could always make sure that no one’s watching.”
“You would get stuck over there,” Ellie told her, knowing Eight Point Seven was fully aware of this unfortunate consequence.
Eight Point Seven shrugged. “I can’t die. I’ll just wait and hitch a ride on one of the colony ships centuries later. Hell, Future!Me could be roaming around here right now, waiting to show back up here after Present!Me enters the cave.”
“That’s very kind of you,” Leona said, “but it’s not possible. You could survive all that time waiting, but the timeline can’t necessarily. What if something goes wrong with your internal mechanisms. You might be able to repair yourself, but what if a human sees? We can’t let you, as such advanced technology, be that close to ancient humans.”
“I’ll do it,” Sanaa said, surprising everyone.
“You’ll do what?” Trinity asked. “Go to bed? Eat a sandwich? What exactly are you trying to offer here?”
“Don’t be an asshole,” an offended Sanaa said. “I know what I would be getting myself into. All I ask for...is a sweat photo.”
“No,” Trinity argued, like it was the dumbest thing she’d ever heard. “No.”
“Why?” Leona asked.
“What is that?” Briar followed up.
Ellie and Eight Point Seven didn’t seem to know what it was either.
“You know I can travel through photographs, right?” she asked rhetorically. “Well, I’m not really traveling through the photographs themselves; I just need to see where I’m going. Anyway, I can take people with me, but like most choosers, I can’t...give my ability to others. Unless I use a sweat photo. It’s dangerous, though. It’s like carrying around a stick of dynamite. If you don’t use it right, or at the right time, it could tear you apart. When I first stepped through that Stonehenge portal in 1971, and became a spawn, my body was altered on a molecular level. I am designed to teleport and time travel. Other people’s bodies are not. One person died trying it, and I had to go back in time and change history to save his life. He sent his head, but not the rest of him. I won’t let anyone try that again. I believe my alternate did it to The Cleanser, but no one would have cared had he died.”
“I’ve traveled through time before,” Sanaa reminded her. “My body has been altered as well. That guy was completely inexperienced.”
“I told you about this, in confidence, in a vulnerable moment a few years ago. I know I didn’t specifically ask you to not tell anyone, but I think it was clear I don’t like people knowing about it.”
“I know,” Sanaa said apologetically. “But we need that cave closed, and I need to have a way back home.”
“I could just go with you,” Trinity said. “Solves every problem.”
“You’re too important,” Sanaa said to her, more serious than Leona had ever seen her before. “You have to protect these people from Pryce, and other threats. If I get stuck there, I won’t be super happy, but the timeline will go on.”
“Sanaa...” Trinity trailed off.
Sanaa sighed. “Give me a photo, and get me a shovel. I expect you to seal the Bida entrance yourself.”
“You don’t have to do this.” Leona wanted to ensure she understood.
“It’s really no big deal,” Sanaa promised. “I’m in the mood for some physical labor. I’ve been too sheltered all my life. Trinity will take a photo of the distance, so I don’t reappear before I’ve left, and risk a paradox. I’ll be gone for for mere minutes, from your perspective.”
They continued to discuss the details of the mission, so that they weren’t rushing into anything recklessly. It was also going to be a hell of a lot of work. Sanaa kept guaranteeing that she recognized the risks and consequences. Leona couldn’t help but be proud of how much she had grown and changed over the years. It felt like everything Sanaa had been through since they met was leading to this heroic moment. Finally, after hours of preparation, and nap for the hero, it was time to do this. They could have done it on any day, really, but Leona wanted to be there to see her off, and to see her return.
Sanaa packed her essentials, took Trinity’s magic photo, and stepped into the time cave. They watched from the entrance as she practically froze in place. For her, time was moving much, much slower than it was for the rest of them. Future!Sanaa would be back before Present!Sanaa could be witnessed stepping around the corner. Except that wasn’t what happened. After a few moments of watching a boring movie on pause, they turned and headed for the other side of the lake, where Future!Sanaa should have been waiting for them. She wasn’t there, though. It should have been pretty much instantaneous, but she was nowhere to be found. Something had gone wrong, and there was nothing they could do about it. As they were trying to get back to the cave to stop their friend from possibly walking into a trap, the entrance exploded, and caved in. What just happened?

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Source Variant: Rock God (Part V)

Not long after Saga!Two, Vearden!Three, and Saxon find a diplomatic solution to the disagreement between the two Orothsew, another portal door opens for them. They quickly learn that it’s been another two hundred years. A pattern has formed, which possibly answers some questions they had earlier. The Orothsew could have used their help many times while they weren’t in the timestream, yet the powers that be did not allow them to be there. This pattern does not suggest some major issue will arise every two hundred years that only they can solve. It only suggests that the mysterious people controlling them have some idea of how often the three of them should show up. It doesn’t matter what happens in the meantime, or what mission they could possibly complete now. They’re going to appear every two hundred years, even if that means relaxing in the lab for a few days, because there just isn’t anything required of them. The powers don’t seem to care about protecting the Orothsew population. They just want the humans to watch them periodically. Any aid they provide is just gravy.
Something they learn about the magical hats that allow them to look like Orothsew is that they have a few features they weren’t told about. Number one, it instantaneously translates the Orothsew language into English for them. It also translates their own English words into Orothsew. This was greatly helpful when they were trying to get the two men who were about to duel each other to open up a dialog. Alyssa failed to mention that the hats would do this, but they failed by not asking about it. How else would they have communicated with the aliens? This time, it worked out, but they needed to be better at getting the whole story, and planning ahead. The hats can also make them invisible, which is good when they just want to observe without interfering with the natural progression of things.
While they were gone, the lab continued to gather data from the insectoid microdrones, and kept up with the Orothsew society’s progress. The population is now at about five thousand people, and there are even more villages than before. Almost all of them stayed in the same valley, but two groups broke off. One settled hundreds of kilometers away, near the coastline of the ocean. They didn’t leave because of any disagreement they had with the rest of their people. They wanted to see what else was out there, and once they discovered the ocean, they decided it would be their new home. The other group had the same idea, but they instead went south, into the mountains that could be seen in the distance if one were high enough on the original mountain range. They never found any place that felt like home, so they just kept moving. They eventually determined that this was just their lifestyle. They were nomads, and no place they came across would be good enough to settle down. The rest of eventually society forgot they even existed.
A more involved monitoring system was dispatched by the lab’s AI to keep an eye on the nomads indefinitely. The microdrones weren’t capable of doing their job that far away, so a mobile station was necessary. It was designed to resemble a boulder, and this had some consequences that the AI didn’t predict. The rock was capable of hovering above the ground up to a meter, and carried with it every instrument necessary to track the nomads movements. For the most part, it tried to keep its distance from people, so they wouldn’t see what they would most certainly consider to be supernatural in nature. If ever one drew too close, it could still land back on the ground, and look normal. This worked for a good long while, but recently, one particular individual noticed something strange. Or rather, she noticed the rock at all, which she wasn’t meant to. At four times, she has come across the boulder more than anyone. The first time she saw it was an occurrence. The time after that was a coincidence. This was kilometers away from the last, so surely it couldn’t have been the same one. After she saw it for the third time, though, she thought she was going crazy. Either some rocks look exactly alike, or this thing was following her around. Though she feared what people might think of her, she told them what she believed. A handful of them took a look at the boulder themselves, but of course, it wasn’t moving at the time, so they had no reason to believe her. Still, they didn’t burn her as a witch, or anything. They waited until the fourth time.
For many, they were seeing the boulder for the second time, and could confirm that it absolutely had to be the same one. After decades and decades of roaming the lands, their journey was over. Now that they knew something was up with the boulder, they thought it might stop following them around, and they didn’t want this to happen. If they didn’t want to lose the boulder forever, they would have to stay right here. They began to worship it. It became a holy idol; something to be admired and protected, but also feared. They built a sort of Stonehenge-like structure around it with other rocks. Some evidently wanted to construct an entire temple, but the boulder was a component of nature. It needed to remain free, and out in the open, where it could enjoy the warmth of the sun, the tickle of the wind, and the smell of the dew.
It is forbidden both to touch the boulder god, or to not idolize it. Boulder prayer is a daily exercise, punishable by a violent practice they call single-stoning. Anyone who misses their prayer session by fall of night must choose someone to throw a hand-sized rock at them. It’s not meant to kill them, or cause permanent damage, but it does provide incentive to respect the universal beliefs. Exceptions are made for the ill, or hunters who are not able to return in time, due to weather, or whatnot. They are still expected to pray; just not at the boulder. The three humans who are just now learning about these developments can’t help but be impressed by it. Failure to effectively worship the boulder god could be met with so much more violence. The expectations the now former nomads have for each other are not as bad as they could be. You’re allowed to be female, you’re allowed to have a different shade of skin, and you’re allowed to be attracted to members of your own sex. As unyielding as they are about their religion, they are leagues beyond more accepting than humans were after thousands of years of so-called progress. Even their form of punishment isn’t as brutal as the myriad of ways humans came up with to hurt one another. Still, it’s savage, and needs to be stopped. It is up to Saga!Two, Vearden!Three, and Saxon to find a way to change it.
With such advanced technology, the trip from the lab to the boulder worshipers is shockingly fast. They have to land far enough away from the settlement so as to not be heard. It would be ironic and problematic if they created a new religion for them to follow because the Orothsew saw a gigantic metal bird in the air before they even invented the aerosol can.
“Well, it shouldn’t be hard to introduce ourselves,” Vearden!Three says. “We’ll just say we’re from a different village. It broke off a hundred years ago, and then the three of us broke off, say, ten years ago.”
“Yeah, that could be our way in,” Saxon agrees. “It wasn’t so easy last time, but they’re so far removed from society that they won’t know what’s been going on since we left.”
“Okay, good. That’s settled,” Saga!Two says with a nod. “Now we to figure out what our objective is. Are we trying to steer them away from this religion, end their beliefs in religion completely, or just try to get them to stop throwing rocks at each other?”
“It’s neither ethical, nor our place, to prevent them from believing in anything at all,” Vearden!Three replies.
“I’m not convinced that’s true,” Saxon disagrees. “What if we’re here to erase religion? What if it’s our job to introduce them to rational thinking, empirical evidence, the scientific method, e-t-c?”
“They’re too young for that,” Saga!Two argues, referring to their developmental condition, rather than their literal ages.
“Who decides what’s too young, and what’s advanced enough?” Saxon poses. “Waiting until they invent warp drive technology is just as arbitrary as any other time. There’s no universal rule for this. The ethicists in charge of Project Stargate didn’t plan on exploring any inhabited planets for millenia.”
“You’re right,” Saga!Two admits. “I don’t know when the Orothsew will be ready to learn about aliens and stuff. I just know it’s not right now. I know that, if we try to dispel religion for them, it will make things worse. They will reject our claims, and probably dig deeper.”
“Well, then what right do we have to do anything for them at all?” Saxon asks. “Sure, this single-stoning thing is terrible, but why should we stop it? If we’re worried about how they develop, shouldn’t we not interfere in any way?”
“The boulder their worshiping is our technology,” Saga!Two contends.
“To be fair,” Saxon begins, “it’s my technology. Well, it’s more mine than it’s yours. I helped build and deploy it. If anyone’s responsible for what that survey boulder has done, it’s me.”
“When I say ours,” Saga!Three says, “I mean humans. Earthans. And I won’t let you take all responsibility for it either. We’re a team now. I need to make sure you understand that, and accept it.”
“I’ve been part of a team before,” Saxon assures her. “I’m not trying to dismiss you. But I’m going to continue to feel more responsible for this mess, because I could have prevented it. The Orothsew should never have suspected that rocks can move.”
Vearden!Three nods disagreeably. “The AI should have thought it through better, and been more careful. But that doesn’t matter. It can’t be undone now, unless we...ya know, go back in time, or something. Our best move now is to get them to stop using violence to solve their problems. As of three years ago, the nomads are the largest independent population on the planet. In another two hundred years, their numbers could rival the rest of the villages combined. Their urge to increase the number of devout followers is phenomenally strong. Once that happens, they’ll figure out what war is. I can’t tell you why they’ll go to war, but they’re developing separately, and when two separate cultures meet each other, it almost never goes well. They may have evolved from a source variant, but they’re still ninety-seven point six percent human, and we all know how poorly humans can treat each other. I don’t care if we have to land in a spaceship to get them to stop throwing rocks. I just want it done.
“The powers that be haven’t told us why we’re here, but that’s the benefit and burden of being Freelancers. We get to choose what we do, and how we do it. I see this as an opportunity to protect the Orothsew from all the mistakes our species made. I sincerely wish someone had done it for us, even though it would logically mean history would be different enough to prevent me from ever being born.”
“That’s an untenable goal,” Saxon says to him sadly. “We’re here every two hundred years...evidently. We can help them in isolated missions, but we can’t guide them on a long-term basis. The powers that be can clearly stop you from trying. The way Saga!Two explains it, you don’t always walk through doors to travel spacetime. Sometimes it just happens.”
“We’re not going to land in a spaceship,” Saga!Two declares. “Nor are we going to rob them of their convictions. We just need to show them that worship is a personal experience, and that there is more than one way to practice. If they think people can still follow the boulder god without mumbling prayer to it every day, in public, it will be easier for the nonbelievers to go on unnoticed until they’re strong enough to reject what they’ve been told...publicly.”
Vearden!Three takes a deep breath to center himself. “Okay. That’s a little more, uhh...subtle than I’m used to, so we need to come up with a plan.”
“I think I know what we can do,” Saxon says. “It’s not gonna be painless, though.”

Friday, October 18, 2019

Microstory 1215: Vidar Wolfe

It took a little bit of time for Vidar Wolfe to discover that he had temporal powers, or rather, it took some time for him to reason what they were. Alone, he was never capable of traveling through time or space. It was only when he interacted with others that he could do it. He realized when he was in his mid-twenties that he could sense the energy that other people left behind when they used their own powers. Not only could he siphon that energy off to use for himself, but also follow them through. If he gathered enough temporal energy, he could travel wherever he wanted, but he had to find that energy first, and it would dissipate eventually if he didn’t use it for something in time. He came to be known as Tracker, using his abilities in the most expected way, by tracking time travelers and teleporters wherever, and whenever, they might be. He was eventually hired by Beaver Haven Rehabilitation Center to hunt fugitives. He was one of the few choosers-for-hire to take cold, hard cash for their troubles. Other people wanted trips to times and places of their choosing, payment-in-kind, or other gifts and favors. Some didn’t require payment at all. They could always get their hands on whatever they wanted with no one’s help, so they didn’t really see any point in getting people to pay them. Vidar had ways of going wherever he wanted as well, but that was the extent of his exploitation of his gifts. He didn’t want to rob banks, or steal from others. He wanted money so he could live comfortably, using his real identity, in the time period that he was born into. When he wasn’t working, he was watching a sports competition, or reading a good book.

He wasn’t all that adventurous, and didn’t care much for exploring spacetime He didn’t have any particularly strong feelings about his work. To him, a job was a job, and it didn’t matter much who the prison was asking him to go after. He wasn’t uncaring, but he tried not to ask for too much information, so he could keep a healthy distance from his targets. Nonetheless, he had a strict code of ethics that he created himself, to make sure what he was doing was at least moral in a generic sense. He never wanted to hurt anyone physically, so if they were fighting against him too hard, he would let it go, and try again later. He avoided regular humans at nearly all costs. He didn’t want them getting caught in the crossfire, or being used as leverage. He also didn’t want his abilities to be exposed to the public, especially since it would be ironic, considering it was his job to apprehend people who were doing just that. Every day was a little different than the last, but he fell into a rhythm, and in later years, found the work to be somewhat tedious. One day, he was asked to capture a regular human; one who had been mixed up with salmon and choosers. She wasn’t a hundred percent innocent, and there were plenty of reasons to send her to a normal jail, which she avoided, because law enforcement considered her a necessary tool to alleviate the crime around Kansas City. Still, she didn’t have abilities, and she didn’t try to expose anyone who did, which meant she absolutely did not belong in Beaver Haven. He was disgusted when he learned that they had sent him to take her under false pretenses, and came to hold her for a whole year. That was when everything changed.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Microstory 1214: Oskari Belker

Oskari Belker was an old man. He wasn’t always old, but almost always. On the planet of Durus, everyone was aware of time powers. The first of these on their world were the source mages. They were able to bequest abilities to others, which they selected using a series of challenges called the Mage Games. Those mages who survived the final days of the war with the time monsters were stripped of their powers, but not of their ability to procreate. This was against the law while the Mage Protectorate was standing, but after it fell, the policy was abandoned; or at least it was unenforceable by anyone who still believed in it. Amongst the descendants of mages, a random few of them were born with limited temporal powers, which earned them the name mage remnants. Due to reasons not fully understood—possibly involving environmental factors—some mage remnants weren’t born with time powers, but instead time afflictions. They experienced time beyond the normal linear way, and had no control over this, like salmon. Unlike salmon, however, their patterns weren’t being controlled by an intelligence. Their afflictions caused various problems for their lives, making it difficult for them to live productively, and interact with others. Oskari Belker was one of these people. Everything seemed perfectly fine when he was born, but about a year into his development, he started aging rapidly, and showing no signs of slowing down. Even worse, his family was of a lower class, so it took them weeks for them to find someone who could help stop this horror. The government finally gave them permission to go into what was normally illegal territory, to seek the retroverters. They were a politically neutral type of monster with a long history with the source mages, and the Protectorate. They attempted to reverse Oskari’s aging, but were unable to. The best they could do was halt it in his current condition. Had they tried it a couple weeks ago, he might have become ageless and undying, but perpetually being so close to death made his life unbearable at times. He was constantly fighting off age-related diseases, and was at risk of death with every passing minute. He used to say that he was on borrowed time.

Oskari continued with his life for thirty-years, trying to be as positive as possible, despite his shortcomings. Though he appeared elderly, he first had to develop and mature, just like any child. When it was time, his parents attempted to send him to school, but this proved hard for everyone. The children were not purposely mean. They understood what had happened to him, and accepted him for it. But what they didn’t understand was his perspective. He saw time, life, and the world in a unique way, and they just couldn’t relate to him. They never mocked or deliberately exclude him, but none of them made the level of effort required to be his friend. Many would grow up to regret their failure to try just a little bit harder. Still, Oskari persevered, and made it through. He found companionship with the proverters who once tried to help him, because aging was their specialty, and they knew how to make an effort. He graduated from school, and landed a job at the tax building. It was tedious and boring work, but it allowed him to sit at a desk all day, instead of being out and exerting himself. Like his friends, the retroverters, taxes were neutral, and didn’t require him to judge others, or to be judged. He spent his adult like cross-referencing data, and filling out paperwork, but it could not last forever. Unfortunately, it didn’t even last as long as it should have. Oskari never did find love, because people had trouble getting past how he looked, and he couldn’t be expected to be interested in potential mates who looked more his age. One of his former classmates, however, did contact him about six years before he was meant to die. They started getting to know each other better, and maybe with a little more time, the relationship could have transformed. Tragically, a temporal accident involving a library from another dimension took his life too soon in the middle of a picnic with his friend. A paramount—which was what mages were now called—determined when he would have died had this not occurred. This would have given him more time to live, but also more time to be in pain. His family would note that this might have been the best ending for Oskari Belker. It was quick and painless, and it could have happened to anyone; normal or not. History would remember him fondly, even by people who didn’t know him at all.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Microstory 1213: Darrow Ness

Very little is known about Darrow Ness, a.k.a The Maverick, and that’s saying a lot, because given enough time, pretty much anyone’s story can be uncovered. People are aware of him, and they have memories of their encounters with him, but no individual has enough of an understanding of his life to truly know who he is. First off, there’s reason to suspect Darrow wasn’t always his name, mostly because he doesn’t immediately respond to it; at least not as quickly as most people do. He’s apparently revealed multiple origin stories to those who have asked him about it, all of which contradict each other, so the assumption among people who know him is that he’s purposefully misleading them. He has the ability to travel through time, and he seems to be able to detect death, but there’s one power that he’s never told anyone else about. He can erase people’s memories. It’s unclear what his limits are, but he can exercise this control over seemingly anyone, and he does so to protect his own timeline. Darrow doesn’t erase the memories of everyone, for every thing he does, but he does like to keep himself wrapped in mystery. And no one is immune; not even The Superintendent. Nothing he’s claimed about himself can be verified or debunked. He is a killer, who uses his time traveling ability to assassinate targets, usually upon the request of someone else. This is all anyone knows of him, though again, there’s evidence to support  the idea that he has spent entire timelines displaying no violent behavior. Perhaps the secret to him lies in these alternate realities.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Microstory 1212: Faustus Lambert

When the Deathspring came for a seemingly random scattering of Earthan residents, most were unhappy about it, but not as unhappy as one might assume. While the magic portal seemed to take people at random, it often took multiple people within a community sphere; as if it were being controlled by some kind of intelligence. Entire families were swept up, even if they happened to be standing nowhere near one another. The worst losses the refugees felt were the people they loved, but many of their loved ones were taken along with them, so it could have been far worse. This was why—despite how difficult life was on Durus—not everyone lobbied to be transported back to Earth when the opportunity arose. Only a couple hundred people expressed interest in making the journey, and out of those, only about half had come in the Deathspring. The rest were born on Durus, and just didn’t want to live there anymore. Faustus Lambert did not fall into either of these groups. He saw the arrival of the interstellar vessel, The Elizabeth Warren as a means of furthering his own agenda, but its flight plan didn’t matter much to him. He was an entitled prick, to be quite crude, but appropriate and accurate. Durus, Earth; he could live anywhere, as long as there were those who would give him what he wanted most, which was attention. Under the guise of being an advocate for his people, he orchestrated a violent attack on the of the Warren, and demanded they let them tag along as passengers. The truth was, however, that their feelings and desires were of little consequence to him. They were just tools. Faustus didn’t care who his people were. They could be puppy-kickers, Nazis, or serial killers. He just wanted to lead. More to the point, he wanted people to follow him—not because he thought he knew best, but because it made him feel relevant.

Faustus lived a rather comfortable life from the very beginning. He was born male, so he had that going for him. He outright rejected the idea that women were systematically treated unequally, while simultaneously treating women poorly. His beliefs were no less true anywhere than they were on Durus during its phallocratic era. He wasn’t a violent rapist, but unfortunately, that was more problematic in its own way. Had he committed even one assault, it would have at least been possible to arrest him, but he just continued with his life, never breaking the law, but never following the spirit of the law either. He abused his girlfriends psychologically, but too subtly for them to prove anything, even to themselves. He cheated on his partners frequently, and while he didn’t ever do anything with a minor, he sure did like them young. He had an unwritten rule that he couldn’t date anyone over the age of 20. This lasted until he was 35, and could no longer “score” so young, so he raised his limit to 25, but only because he had to. When the public learned that the only ship on the planet capable of transporting more than one person was scheduled to leave within a matter of months, Faustus took his shot to get those precious followers. He quickly changed his tune on a number of sociopolitical causes; pretending to champion women’s rights and Earthan refugee living conditions. Anytime anyone brought up his history of bigotry and misogyny, he simply denied their allegations. Anytime anyone presented proof that he was lying, he doubled down, and claimed that it was nothing more than fake news. Faustus took control of the movement that was trying to get to Earth, and nobody felt like they could fight him on the matter. His new people thought he could get them on that ship, and if that meant they were following a dishonest clown to do it, then so be it. In the end, the majority of the people who wanted to go were allowed in, but all the violent people—the ones who took the crew hostage—were completely excluded, including Faustus himself. He was finally sent to prison for his proven crimes, and this was where he died, alone and unremembered.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Microstory 1211: Irene de Vries

Irene de Vries was a 21st century virologist. She wasn’t a superstar in her field, and that was probably the reason a time traveler named Trinity chose her for a very special assignment. Twelve light years from Earth, there was a star system called Tau Ceti. Despite the fact that there were a handful of planets within the habitable zone of the star, there was only one planet had the potential to be perfectly suited for human life. Named Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida, it was full of flora and fauna, but nearly everything was deadly to humans. It was Trinity’s dream that it be modified on a molecular level, and for this to happen before Earthan colonists had the chance to even arrive. She secretly recruited a number of experts, and Irene was only one of them. It was her job to use extremely advanced technology to seek and destroy all dangerous viruses on the planet before they could infect its first colonists. Automated systems could do a lot of this work, but Trinity wanted a human touch, to make sure everything was done correctly. Irene took to her job, comforted by the promise that Trinity would return her home only seconds after she first left, no matter how long she spent there. Unfortunately, there was a temporal anomaly on Bida that no one—not even Trinity herself—was aware of. She left her associate near this anomaly for only one week while she flew off to the other side of the globe to work on other things. On the last day of her solo exploratory mission, Irene found the special cave, and decided to take a good look around. She spent only five hours there, which was longer than she had planned, but the organisms she discovered were just too damn interesting. When she finally emerged, Trinity was nowhere to be found. She waited at the rendezvous point for three weeks, but she never saw her again. She resigned herself to the fact she would be trapped on an alien world forever, and this was just her life now. She figured she might as well seek better shelter. She reentered the cave, but this time she went deeper, all the way to the other side. It was here that she found humans.

A little bit of investigation made it clear that she was back on Earth, but many centuries in the past. According to the Julian calendar, it was the year 1128. Despite the fact that this was not what she would call civilization, she decided to stick around. Life was difficult for her there, but at least she was no longer alone. The first thing she had to do was start learning the language. This was England, but so long ago that they were speaking a form of English that was completely unintelligible to her. She fell in love with her teacher. He was kind and understanding, and he didn’t question her about her native tongue, or what she was doing in these lands. He accepted her, and within the year, they were married. Less than a year after that, she bore him a son, who they named Briar. They lived pretty contently for the next few years, raising their child together, and just trying to get by. One day, Irene was taking a walk with Briar when a torrential storm suddenly came upon them. She didn’t want to have to run all the way back home, so she sought shelter in the same cave she used to come here. She stayed fairly close to the entrance, but not close enough to watch the storm. She and Briar fell asleep, and by the time they woke up, Irene didn’t know how much time had passed. When they stepped back out, however, she discovered it to be no less than sixteen years, and the love of her life had passed. She realized that the cave must slow time, in addition to sending travelers from Bida to Earth. Irene finally understood, but it was too late. Her husband was dead, Trinity was long gone, and she had to make a choice. She could either raise Briar on Earth in a bad time period, or alone on Bida. She depleted 140 years weighing her options. Her husband was the only person she could ever trust, and it was because of this that she spent so much time in the cave yet again, trying to decide what to do, and also why she ended up choosing Bida. She spent the rest of her life on a world devoid of all intelligent life but her son, lying to him to make sure he never entered the cave unless it was absolutely necessary, and died an old woman.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 15, 2253

When Leona and Briar got back to the shuttle, it was even dirtier and duster than it was just a few hours ago. There was no overgrowth on the craft, but that was because they had landed in a fairly barren spot. It still reminded her of what happened to it after she left it unattended to during her time jump. That couldn’t be it, though. They weren’t gone for long enough, and it should still be November 14, 2253. Leona checked her watch, though. Mario Matic gave it to her a long time ago. It wasn’t originally a gift; she was only meant to keep it so she would have a tether to remember him when Arcadia inevitably ripped him from time. She tried to give it back to him once the whole thing was over, but he insisted she keep it. Honestly, she was secretly excited when he said that. She had grown used to always knowing exactly what time it was. The only reason she hadn’t taken it through the portal to Earth was that it did require charging every couple of months, and that just happened to fall on today. But it wasn’t today, was it? No, it was next year.
She gently tapped on the watch a few times. She hadn’t ever known it to be inaccurate, but this couldn’t be right. Did she miscalculate when midnight central was? Briar hadn’t noticed her being gone for a whole other year, so maybe the cave was exactly like the one on Easter Island, which echoed time powers, and affected all present. She activated minimals systems on the shuttle. “Computer, what is the date by the Earthan Calendar?”
It is November 15, 2253,” the AI replied.
“Please confirm using all available data,” Leona requested.
Recalculating,” the AI said. “Confirmed. November 15, 2253.
“Is that bad?” Briar asked. “I never needed to keep track of time before.”
“We were gone a year,” Leona explained. “But how? When did that happen?” She tried working through it in her head. “Wait, this wasn’t the first time you went to Earth. Did you not notice this before?”
“Like I said,” Briar began, “I never needed to know the date. It took me some time to repair the shuttle while you were gone, but I don’t know how much time. I didn’t bother asking the computer what the date was until I explored the coordinates my mother gave me, and returned to the landing zone. I thought it hadn’t felt like it had been a year, but I figured I just didn’t understand. That’s why I was late coming back for you; because I didn’t realize you would be back yet.”
Leona scratched at her forehead. “We made four passes through the cave. We went there to check it out, then we came back for the stellar drift instrument, then we went back to Earth to use it, and finally, we came back here. It’s been exactly one year since we were gone, which suggests each pass lasts three months.” She thought about it some more. “It’s a time trap. Time moves slower in the cave. I saw that in a movie once; it was really good.”
“Did it have a happy ending?”
“Depending on how you look at it,” she answered. “I’m just glad our cave doesn’t slow time as much as it did for those characters, or I would never see my friends again.”
He nodded, but didn’t say anything.
“Briar, I know we’ve already talked about this, but now it’s even more important that you tell no one what we found. Before, it was potentially dangerous to let people travel back to the past, but now, it could be even worse. We spent ten minutes in there, just trying to get to the other side. If someone tries to go into that cave, and rest for the night, they could end up missing over a decade of their lives.”
“I understand,” he promised. “You took the shuttle in the year 2250, but wanted to spend all of 2251 alone. You got lost in the woods, and by the time you returned, it was already 2252, and the shuttle was damaged. I was there. We fixed it together, but there wasn’t enough time to fly all the way back to Homebase, so I agreed to wait another year until you returned. Now it’s 2253, and we’re going back to your friends.” The timeline he was proposing was a bit inconsistent from what really happened, but it was a good lie, especially for someone who didn’t have any experience with deception. It was just close enough to the truth to be believable. This might could work.
Unlike a few years ago, the shuttle was fully capable of restarting, even after all this time out of commission. They flew together to Homebase, where Briar could finally ask Trinity what had happened between her and his mother.
“Irene de Vries,” Trinity said calmly once they arrived, and explained who Briar was. They didn’t bother with any other conversation before jumping right to the confrontation part of the day. “I remember her. I never didn’t remember her.”
“No, you ate wanderberries,” Briar argued. “You did forget her, but then you should have remembered her later.”
Trinity sighed. “I don’t know what she told you, but I have never heard of these wanderberries. If ever there was a plant on this world that made you lose your memories, I would have genetically altered it to remove those properties. That’s what I was doing here all that time.”
“Then what happened?” Leona asked her. “Why didn’t you send her back to Earth?”
“I couldn’t find her,” Trinity explained. “I worked with her for years; longer than any of my other associates.”
“That’s impossible!” Briar interrupted. “You just said you didn’t know anything about me! You’re saying I took years to be born?”
Trinity shook her head. “I don’t know how you exist, but she was never pregnant when I knew her, and there weren’t any males around us. Could you have been a latent pregnancy? I’ve never heard of it, but it’s not impossible. We all know that time isn’t always linear.”
“Go on,” Leona prompted. “Let’s table the baby talk so you can continue the story.”
Trinity restarted, “after Irene was done helping make this place a paradise, I was preparing to take her back to Earth. She had some more things she wanted to do first, so I left her alone. For a week. I went back to this continent for only a week. If I had realized what would happen, I would’ve stayed with her, but I wanted to show that I trusted her enough to let her do her own thing. When I came back, she was nowhere to be found. I searched for her, for more years, but she never showed up. I figured she had been eaten by a wild animal, or had fallen down a crevice. I’m sorry.”
“You could have gone back in time,” Leona pointed out. “You could have followed her in secret, to see where she went after Past!You left.”
Trinity sighed again. “I made a vow. I don’t change the past.” She looked back to Briar. “Your mother knew that.”
“You could have broken that vow, to save her life.”
“Maybe I should have, but that was two hundred and sixteen years ago. I was still kinda figuring all this out.”
“That’s impossible,” Leona echoes Briar. “He’s only fifty-seven. He eats this root that keeps him young, but not that young.”
“I don’t know what to tell ya,” Trinity said, “Irene and I worked together in the 2030s.”
Leona thought this through, trying to figure out how it could work. Then it hit her. She looked over at Briar, who seemed to be coming to the same realization. “The cave.” Well, that lie didn’t last long.
“What cave?” Trinity questioned.
Now Leona was the one to sigh. “I didn’t really want to tell you about it, but we found a cave. Actually, Irene left the coordinates to her son. It goes back to Earth nine hundred and nine years in the past, but until you pass through the cave, time is moving slowly for you. About ten minutes equals about three months. It explains everything. She could have found it, met a man on the other side, and at some point, spent a lot of time in the cave itself, which is why Briar is still alive, and in his fifties. She must have made up the story about memory-wiping berries just to make sense of it. She may not have even realized what the cave did to her.”
“That’s why I couldn’t find her. I never saw a cave, but since it was shelter from the elements, I would have definitely gone inside to check if I had.”
“You see, Briar?” Leona began. “It’s no one’s fault. They were separated by time.”
“She still could have gone back in time, and stopped it all from happening,” he contended. “Hell, she could do it right now.”
“She can’t do that,” Leona said. “It would erase you from history. You were only born because your mother met your father in the twelfth century.”
“Not if he goes with me,” Trinity said. “If he goes back to save his own mother, it will erase him from the future, but this version that we’re talking to right now will remain. His mom won’t remember him, though, because it will have never happened, according to her.”
“Would you really do that?” Leona pressed. “Would you break your vow?”
“Only if he wants me to. Either way, you’re sacrificing her, Briar. You can’t have her back.”
Briar was obviously torn. “I’ll have to think about it.”

“What’s there to think about?” Thor asked. “Can you do it, or not?”
“I don’t know if I can build anything until I try,” Weaver said. “I’ve never failed before, though.”
“So...” Thor said. “Go ahead and do it.”
“Just because it’s possible, doesn’t mean it should be done. I have to consider the ramifications of everything I create. Pretty much everything I’ve done has blown up in my face in some way. If there weren’t any other time travelers, I could protect my inventions from falling into the right hands, but when I have to worry about all of time and space, I just can’t do it. Things will inevitably go bad.”
“I’m not certain what we’re talking about,” Mateo jumped in. He hadn’t heard the beginning of the conversation; or the argument, as it were.
“It’s not a big deal,” Thor claimed. “I just want her to make me a small quantum replicator.”
“Why do you need that?”
“I have minor transhumanistic upgrades,” he said. “I can’t interface with computers, or lift a car over my head, but they keep me alive. They need regular maintenance and replacements, though.”
“Everything you need can be found with an industrial synthesizer,” Weaver reminded him.
“It’s not so simple. I need raw materials, and I need to be near a machine when I need it, and I need the right specifications to build it, and I need to wait for it to be synthesized, and the machine is real big. I want something that can fit in my bag, that will always be with me, and will always make an exact copy of my required part.”
“I’ve built them before,” Weaver said, “but nothing that small. A portable replicator would just...I dunno, that sounds like a weapon.”
“Just build one,” Thor asked of her. “Don’t keep the specifications for it, and...I dunno, can you tie it to my DNA? If I’m the only one who can use it, then it’s no problem. I won’t abuse it; I don’t need to clone a girl I’m in love with, or bring back Adolf Hitler. I just need some nanites so I don’t die.”
“I don’t know...”
“I think you should do it,” Mateo determined.
“You do?”
“You hate me,” Thor said.
“I don’t hate you, Mister Thompson. We just don’t get along. That doesn’t mean I want you to die. Most transhumans live in civilization, and can find their needed replacements. All the way out here, it’s trickier. Weaver, can you build something that only works for him?”
Weaver sighed. “Yeah, probably. Theoretically. But also theoretically, someone else could find a loophole. Maybe they already have.”
“You said it yourself,” Mateo told her, “you can’t be responsible for all of time and space. Do this for him, consider the consequences of how you do it, and then hope for the best. I think he’s proven he’s worth the risk.”
Thor frowned, but Mateo could tell he actually wanted to smile.
“Very well,” Weaver gave in. “I can’t tell you how long it’ll take me, so don’t jettison the synthesizer we have on board just yet.”

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Source Variant: Hat Tricks (Part IV)

After Vearden!Two healed fully from his injuries, he opened a door to grab a snack from the kitchen, and found himself two hundred years in the future. Saga!Three and Zektene followed a few hours later when they were searching for him throughout the Maramon lab. Ramses was left in the past, and whatever had happened to him in the last couple centuries, he was no longer in the facility. There was no evidence that he died here alone, so perhaps he decided to leave.
“What are we doing back here?” Saga!Three asks.
“I don’t know,” Vearden!Two admits. “I can sometimes walk through a door on purpose, but I wouldn’t have in this case. The powers that be created that one. We have to figure out why, I guess.”
“It surely has something to do with the Gondilak,” Zektene assumes. “We need to find out what they’ve been up to all this time; how they’ve developed.”
“We won’t be able to get very close,” Saga!Three warns them. “Seeing a clearly intelligent species that doesn’t look anything like them could seriously disrupt their culture, especially at this early stage in their development.”
“Maybe we could dress up like them?” Vearden!Two suggests.
“You mean, like makeup?”
“Yeah,” Vearden!Two says. “Have you seen what some makeup artists can do? They’re amazing.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Saga!Three agrees. “So let’s open a door, and find one of them. We’ll have to make sure they have the right equipment. We’ll tell them it’s for the Gondilak, and since they know what Gondilak are, they’ll know exactly which colors to use.”
“Okay, well, you don’t have to be snarky about it.”
“Sorry, it’s just...it would be a good idea if we had all the resources we needed, but we’re pretty limited here.”
“I can help with that.” A woman they don’t recognize suddenly appears before them, right where they had heard her voice.
“Hello,” Vearden!Two greets her. “You can make us invisible?”
“I can,” the woman confirms. “Sometimes you’ll want to be invisible, and sometimes you’ll want to look like a, uhh...”
“Gondilak,” Zektene assists.
“Gondilak,” she echoes. “I can give you the ability to do either one.”
“Great,” Saga!Three says. “I assume you know who we are, but we don’t know who you are.”
“Actually, I don’t know her.” The woman indicates Zektene.
“Hi, I’m Zektene. I’m from another universe.”
“Oh, cool. I’m Alyssa McIver. I work primarily with Mateo and Leona Matic, but many centuries in the past.”
“How many centuries?”
“You wanna know what year it is,” Alyssa guesses.
“By the human calendar,” Vearden!Two says. “Yes.”
“Which humans?”
“On Earth,” Saga!Three specifies.
“I’m kidding. I knew what you meant. It’s three-six-four-one by the calendar you’re familiar with.” Hm, that’s interesting. They must start a new calendar sometime in the future. Alyssa looks around. “I have four hats.”
“Oh, fun.” Saga!Three says, not sure what that has to do with anything, but wanting to be understanding. “Do you like hats?” That might have been a little condescending.
“That wasn’t a non sequitur,” Alyssa claims. “The hats will give you my ability to create illusions.”
“Oh, okay.” Saga!Three takes a beat. “Oh, you probably mean Ramses. Yeah, he’s not here. We don’t know what happened to him.”
Alyssa removes a notepad from her back pocket. It was the same brand that Vearden!Two remembers Mateo always using to keep track of the people he encountered on his travels. She flips back and forth through it, looking for the right page. “Vearden!Two. Saga!Three. Ramses Abdulrashid. One other unnamed individual, that’s probably you.” She points at Zektene with both hands, still attached to her notepad.
“I hope he’s okay,” Saga!Three says, concerned.
“Is he salmon?” Alyssa questions.
“He’s human. I think.”
“Then the powers that be have no control over his movements.” Alyssa scratches his name out of her notes.”
“Well, they have no control over me,” Zektene points out, “but I’m here.”
“Lucky you.” She removes a hat from her bag, and hands it to her. “You look like a cowgirl.”
Zektene takes the hat and shrugs.
Alyssa takes out one of those brown helmet things ancient Europeans used to wear when they went off to explore Africa. She hands that to Saga!Three, and then gives Vearden!Two a mask.
“A baklava?” he asks with a funny face.
Alyssa shakes her head. “No.”
“These are gonna turn us into Gondilak?” Zektene asks.
“Yes, they operate on psychic energy, so when you need to change forms, just think about it. You could theoretically look like whatever you wanted, as long as you have a good enough idea of what it looks like, and it already exists somewhere, at some time. You couldn’t, for instance, make yourself look like a taco that poops ice cream, because that’s completely made up. My power is still time-based, like all others. All you’re doing is taking someone from another point in spacetime, and making it look like they’re standing in the same point you are.”
They nod. It makes perfect sense. It’s weird, there’s no denying, but it does make sense. They’ve all seen enough special abilities to accept the logic behind any new one they learn about. “No ice cream-crapping tacos. Got it.” Vearden!Two nods again.
“This is all you got?” Saga!Three asks her. She isn’t a very vain person, but this looks ridiculous, and will probably look worse when it’s on her.
“Sorry,” Alyssa replies. “I gave all the normal hats to...um, never mind.”
“Well, what’s the fourth one?” Vearden!Two asks. “The one you were gonna give to Ramses.”
Alyssa removes a fourth piece of headgear from her bag. They stare at it a moment.
“Oh, hell no.”
“Cool. Then we’re good. I gotta go now.”
“Wait,” Vearden!Two stops Alyssa before she can blip away, or whatever it is she’s going to do. “How are Mateo and Leona?”
Alyssa smiles. “Does it matter? The next time you see them could be long before, or long after, the last time I saw them.”
“It does matter,” Vearden!Two argues.
“They’re fine,” Alyssa answers. “That was eleven hundred years ago, though. Who knows where they are now?”
“Thank you for your help,” Saga!Three says to her graciously. “Hopefully you’re not a bad guy pretending to be good.”
Alyssa transforms herself to look like a legit bad guy named The Cleanser. But she keeps her original voice, which suggests this was now the illusion. “Yeah, hopefully.” With that, she disappears.
“Are you still here?” Zektene asks the aether.
“There’s no way to know,” Saga!Three reminds her, which Zektene fully understands.
Vearden!Two is fidgeting with his mask, looking for circuitry, or other signs of it being more that a piece of cloth cut a certain way.
“You meant balaclava,” Zektene explains to him as she places the cowgirl hat on her own head.
“Yeah, that’s the word.” He slips it onto his face and adjusts for comfort.
Following suit, Saga!Three puts on her helmet. “Anyone know exactly what this thing is called?”
“Nope.”
“Anybody know what the hell they’re doing?” Zektene asks. She spins the hat around her head, presumably to see if she can activate it somehow.
“We’re just meant to think about being invisible,” Saga!Three says.
“Wait, are we sure we want that?” Vearden!Two questions. “Maybe we want to blend in with them by looking like them.”
“Do you speak Gondilak?”
“Actually, a little,” Vearden!Two replies proudly. “I can say...Dandavo Dali Dali.”
Zektene chuckles. “We all learned that one.”
“Besides,” Saga!Three says, “that’s Maramon. We don’t know that these people speak the same language as their progenitors.”
“Oh!” Vearden!Two remembers. “Ked rihl. That means pipe dream. Or maybe more like yeah, right. Or maybe that was the Orothsew language. Oh yeah, it was.”
“Okay, so—” Saga!Three tries to get back to the task at hand.
“Treda!” Vearden!Two exclaims.
“What?”
“That means human,” Vearden!Two adds. “It’s what the Gondilak called me.”
“That’s the last word we want to say to them,” Saga!Three complains.
“And it’s only one word,” Zektene adds. “We wouldn’t be able to hold a conversation. Maybe we can learn their language in time, but we should be invisible to do it.”
“Exactly,” Saga!Three agrees. “So everyone, just think about not being seen.”
“No, that’s not it,” Zektene disagrees. “Alyssa said we’re not really turning invisible. We’re just making it look like something is in our place. What we have to do is show the Gondilak what the area were standing in would look like if we weren’t in it.”
“Is that different than what she said?” Vearden!Two asks.
“It is,” Saga!Three says. “She’s right. We should look around behind us, take in our surroundings, and then command our hats to present that to others.”
“Okay.”
Vearden!Two shakes out his arms and legs to prepare. Zektene starts to breathe in and out methodically. Saga!Three closes her eyes, and tries to lower her heart rate. When she opens them again, the other two are gone. “Hello?”
“I’m still here,” Vearden!Two says. “Where did you guys go?”
“I’m standing where I was,” Zektene answers.
“We can’t even see each other?” He asks, frustrated.
“She said we have a psychic link with our respective hat,” Saga!Three begins, “but we’re not mind-controlling other people. We can’t see each other, because there’s nothing to see.” She tries to wave her hands in front of her face. “I can’t even see myself.”
Vearden!Two looks down at where his own body should be. “Ah, crap.”
“Not used to people not being able to gaze upon your magnificence, are you?” Zektene teases.
He decides to lean into the joke. “I don’t like to deprive people.” He’s largely considered to be the most attractive time traveler in the underworld, and he can’t help but know this. Other people don’t really let him forget it.
They spend the next hour practicing their use of the magic hats. They transform themselves into various forms. They start simple, conjuring the images people they know, like Ramses and Alyssa herself. Then they get a little more creative by looking like fire hydrants, and two moose chillin next to each other under a tree. They even discover that they don’t have to be inside the illusions themselves. They can create one on the other side of the room, and still appear as normal people in funny hats.
It’s not until they’re confident in their abilities, and are about to go out and field test the technology, that they realize they don’t know why they’re doing this. When they go and observe the Gondilak, what are they looking for? Are they expected to take notes about their behavior and habitat, like a conservationist would? Will they be going into people’s homes, and watching them in their private moments? What is the point of all this? Their question may have to wait, however. As soon as Saga!Three opens the exit door, they see a mirror image of their own lab staring back at them.
“Is this someone’s illusion?”
“No,” the other two answer in unison.
“I think we’re going to the future. Again.”
She’s right. The door sends them another two hundred years in the future. After they close the door again, and then try to walk back through it, there’s another mirror image. Except now they see themselves on the other side, like a real mirror. Vearden!Two walks through, and simultaneously reappears going the opposite direction. They’re stuck here, but why?