Thursday, October 31, 2019

Microstory 1224: Vito Bulgari

Vito Bulgari was born on Durus in 2161, which meant he had no recollection of how the world was during the phallocratic state. He was never taught to distrust women, or disrespect people in general. To him, such notions belonged in the past, and he had no use for them. But his outlook on what makes a decent society wasn’t the only thing different about him. After the Mage Protectorate fell, devastated by the final battle against the temporal monsters, people were only ever born with weak powers, if any. They were deemed mage remnants, and weren’t generally strong enough to do much good with their abilities. Once Hokusai Gimura saved the planet from colliding with Earth, however, something changed. While a few full paramounts were born with all the strength that they would have had if they were regular choosing ones on Earth, it did not become common until Vito’s generation. Like Alyssa McIver and Joanna Zegers, Vito had the ability to turn invisible. His power fell somewhere in the middle of those two. He could turn visible whenever he wanted, and also make other people and objects visible, but he wasn’t capable of making them look like other things. Alyssa was an illusionist, who could substitute whatever she wanted in place of whatever was actually there, while Vito was only able to make something look like it wasn’t there at all. When the small interstellar ship, The Elizabeth Warren was preparing to return to Earth, a movement formed on Durus, of people who felt entitled to become passengers. Despite their inappropriate means of making their desire known, many of them were ultimately accepted into the vessel. Space was made to accommodate them using pocket dimensions. Vito was not one of these people. He did not even hear about it until the future-passengers had taken some of the crew hostage in order to force the issue. He applied for transport with the Durune government once he discovered it to be a possibility. The crew of the ship was so impressed with him for having been the only person in the entire world to think of that, so they let him in as well. They even excluded another hopeful passenger, just to make room. Vito went on to have an adventurous life. His ability—and abilities, once he was transformed into something greater—got him into trouble as often as they got him out of it, but he never used them for selfish reasons, or to harm the innocent. His decency and compassion earned him the role of second-in-command of a special machine that could travel to other universes. Captain Cabral felt that he was the only one who could be trusted with the responsibility, and he did not let her down. He went on to be a major force for change, taking down more white monsters by himself across the bulkverse than anyone could count. He became a legend on many worlds as a hero.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Microstory 1223: Lanolin Foley

Until it found its home star to orbit, there was never a time when the planet of Durus was not at war. It was at war when the first of the Springfielders arrived on the Deathfall, and had to battle frightening temporal monsters. It was at war when the Mage Protectorate formed, and started enforcing boundaries against these monsters. It was at war again after those monsters were finally defeated, and a new threat rose to power. In the hunt for votes, a group of small men grew bold, and started making complaints about the women of history. They didn’t start out explicitly stating that women were inferior, but they certainly catered to a demographic that already believed that. They just kept adding more and more outrageous statements to their repertoire, and increasing their numbers, until there was no hope in reasoning with them. They played on the worst fears of some of the least decent people in the world, and that was enough to make dramatic and terrible changes. The war continued as the rebellion against this tyranny did everything it could to put a stop to it. Unfortunately, there weren’t a lot of places to hide on Durus. Sure, only a tiny fraction of the surface was settled, but that was for a very good reason. There was only a single source of water, in a region known as Watershed. It never stopped raining, and it was extremely difficult to get to. A system of pipes had to be constructed to accommodate the population beyond its original several hundred, because there was almost no land within kilometers of the area. The rebels had to find somewhere else to live, and set up a convoluted system of water theft just to survive. They chose a region called the thicket, which was what they themselves came to be called. There was plantlife for minimal cover, which survived on what little moisture the wind carried over to it, but none of it was edible, and conditions were terrible. The Thicket spent so much time just making sure their people didn’t die that they didn’t have any time to actually fight against their oppressors. Lanolin Foley wanted to do things differently. She never planned on becoming the leader, but she knew she could do it when the responsibility fell to her. The cause was important, to her, and to the world at large. This was her chance to effect change in a way her predecessors never could. Though she retained the name, she moved their operations out of the thicket, and into the city. The government hadn’t been spending many resources catching them when they weren’t really doing anything except barely scraping by, and when Lanolin reintegrated the rebels into society, the government still didn’t do anything, because they did not know about it. Gradually, things began to get better. It was easier to find sympathizers than The Thicket ever knew. They had spent so much time in isolation that they didn’t realize things had already been changing, at least for the general population. With help, Lanolin ushered in a new era, and paved the way for people like Ludvig to keep the torches burning, and find peace on Durus.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Microstory 1222: Ludvig Portillion

While the end of the phallocracy on Durus was suddenly brought about by a visitor from Earth who refused to accept the status quo, her arrival was not the only thing that brought the system down. Women had been living under oppression for over sixty-five years, and a lot had changed since the new rules were first implemented. For one, everyone responsible for the new world order was dead, leaving their descendants to decide for themselves whether they still agreed with their ways. For the most part, the system held up on its own. Anyone who disagreed with it feared retaliation for voicing their concerns, so they simply kept quiet. Active rebels were few and far between, but there were even more people who secretly supported them, and needed but a push to stand against the injustice. Ludvig Portillion was one of these people. He didn’t see women as inferior, but he also didn’t think he could do anything to help. He was born into a world that not only mistreated over half its population, but also into one that discouraged questioning the government, or coming to one’s own conclusions. It wasn’t tyrannical. Criticism—by men, at least—was usually met with dismissal, rather than explicit punishment, but it certainly wasn’t a democracy, and it wasn’t set up with sufficient change-making procedures. The truth was that Ludvig thought he was doing everything he could when he pursued a relationship with Loa Nielsen. Her father, Anchor was infamous for his understanding of the progressive Earthan culture, and thusly developed empathy for the female condition. Ludvig thought that, by courting a strong and independent woman, he was showing that he wasn’t afraid of female independence, nor would he attempt to take control over her. He also thought that being around both Loa and her father made him a better person. He never considered himself to be a bad guy, and the women who knew him didn’t either. It just took him too long to realize that, since he wasn’t really part of the solution, he was still technically part of the problem. He could have done more. Treating this one woman fairly, was the absolute bare minimum, and wasn’t nearly enough to demonstrate his goodness, let alone make the world a better place. Fortunately, he came to have an opportunity to contribute positively. After Hokusai Gimura came to the planet, and changed everything about it, Ludvig stepped up. He raised his voice, in support of progressive changes, and against any who would see society crumble back down to the way it was. And by his words, along with the words and actions of many others, the world did finally become its best self.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Microstory 1221: Sanaa Karimi

Sanaa Karimi belonged to a bloodline of telepaths that were specifically designated The Casters. The first girl to come of age after the death of the last Caster—which was usually the grandmother—will have the ability to communicate with others on a psychic level. Each individual’s strength and range varies from woman to woman, and will not follow any sort of pattern. Some are better than others, and there appears to be no reason for this. Most choosing ones do not not come from a bloodline, so understanding of it is limited. Sanaa ended up being the most powerful in all her family history, essentially sharing her power with The Emissary. Like him, she could reach out to people in other universes, though because of her personality, didn’t really use it all that much, and it never occurred to her to try to speak with the powers that be. In fact, she didn’t much care to use her ability at all, because she was grouchy, and somewhat misanthropic, so holding conversations with others just wasn’t her thing. People often sought her out to send messages to each other, and she never demanded payment for it, but she certainly would have preferred it if they just left her alone. There was kind of this unwritten rule in her family that no Caster was allowed to time travel, because there was meant to always be one of them at a time. This meant no overlap, and no gaps. But Sanaa never did like following rules. A series of events forced her to throw in with a group of women she would ultimately come to know as her friends. They encouraged her to relax, and be more personable; not generally through deliberate moral lessons, but just because they accepted her in a way that no one before had. Okay, maybe Leona tried to teach her a few lessons, but the others mostly just let her be herself, while simultaneously showing her that she didn’t have to be so guarded around them. It was for them that she sacrificed her safety and life, and she didn’t regret it one bit.

On a nearby planet called Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida, she and her friends discovered a hidden cave. It acted both as a portal to Earth centuries ago, and also a time trap, where time moved much slower than it did outside. This was a dangerous thing to exist, for either planet, so she agreed to cross over, and destroy Earth’s entrance. They made a plan to bring her back once she was done, but this wasn’t what happened. As soon as she stepped through to the other side, Sanaa lost her psychic ability. Though she wasn’t specifically told it would happen, the stories her ancestors passed down over the years implied that this was exactly why time travel was forbidden; that their link to the cosmos was directly dependent on their own respective time periods. She suddenly saw that she could live her life free from the thing she hated most about it, and she was worried trying to go back would ruin that. But this wasn’t her only reason for scrapping their plan. She never had any intention of returning to her life on Bida. She liked her new friends, and was very appreciative of how patient and kind Leona had been with her, but it was time to move on. To make it easier, she decided to make a clean break. She wrote a note, and made sure it would be delivered to the exact right place, at the exact right time, for her friends to read it almost a millennium later. She didn’t want them trying to get her back; not just because this risked her freedom from the gift, but also because it was dangerous for them. She didn’t always stay in the same time period, and in fact, was worried her power might come back if she didn’t keep moving, but she quite purposefully avoided her original lifetime, with a good fifty year padding on either side, just to be safe. Years later, from her perspective, she sent a second message to her friends, letting them know that she ended up living a good life, and wished only that she could have seen them again.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 17, 2255

During Leona’s interim year, Trinity received a letter in Sanaa’s handwriting, urging them to not look for her. She didn’t explain what had happened to her, or where she had gone, but she was clear that their plan had worked. She safely made it to the other side of the time cave, and filled it in so that no one else could pass. She implied an Earthan had aided her in this mission, but didn’t explicitly say who or why. She seemed to know that someone had blasted the Bida-side entrance for them, and she didn’t want them trying to dig it up again. According to her, this was the best outcome. Again, vaguely, Sanaa made it seem like Leona would never see her again. That was sad, but it was also not the first time it had happened. Even with all this travel, there were still some people she would forever miss. The last thing Sanaa said was that Leona should be happy, for by the time she would be reading the letter, Mateo should have finally showed up. She was right.
The Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was sitting in the hangar, right next to Radiant Lightning. It had arrived a couple months ago, but of course, neither Leona nor Mateo were there at the time. As she was exiting her quarters, he was exiting their ship, followed by the mysterious Cassidy, whose presence Leona never fully understood. She ignored this for a moment, and ran up to hug her husband. It had only been ten days for them, but that was long enough. They held each other in the embrace for a good three minutes before the rest of their now much larger group came in, and something distracted Leona.
“Pribadium! When did you get here?”
“I was on the AOC,” Pribadium explained. “Arcadia used me as part of the punishment for you crashing your own wedding.”
“Oh. That explains it...kind of.” There were still a lot of questions to be asked and answered. They spent the next couple of hours either eating, or just sitting around the large dining table. There was so much to catch up on, including a lot of information from before the wedding that Leona and Mateo just hadn’t had enough time to go over. All the while, Leona noticed that Weaver kept staring at the two ships on the other side of the large space.
Trinity noticed this as well. “Weaver, what is it?”
“What are the dimensions of that thing?”
Leona eyed it, trying to remember. “Uh...the passenger tube is about one-point-four meters wide, I think. It’s three meters tall, but with all the instrumentation, there’s still only enough space for one person. Why?”
“What about the inverted umbrella thing?”
“The main engine?” Trinity confirmed. “A little over six and a half meters in diameter. What are you thinking?”
Weaver kept staring at them. “They fit together. They fit together perfectly.”
“What do you mean?”
“Your passenger tube is about as wide as the AOC’s antimatter fusion drive.” Weaver held both her hands into claws, and visualized maneuvering the two ships in different formations. She appeared to be right. It was like they were built to fit together. It could be the easiest way to incorporate the reframe engine into the AOC.
“How long might that take you?” Trinity wondered.
“I need to study the engine first,” Weaver figured. “I guess it could take two years, because of Mateo and Leona’s temporal restrictions. I would hope to have it done in under a year, though.”
“That might be a little too soon anyway,” Leona said. “I’m still hoping Sanaa shows up, having lost Trinity’s picture. We still have a couple more colony ships on their way over the next few years. Maybe she just had to hitch a ride with someone else.”
Everyone got quiet. No one believed Sanaa was coming back; via ship, magic photo, or by any other means. Mateo was supportive of her, but he wasn’t around before, so he didn’t know what he was talking about. “We’ll leave whenever you want,” he said, wrapping one arm around her shoulders. “I’m not even sure who would be coming with us.”
“I’m probably gonna stick around here for a couple decades,” Thor decided.
“I would like to go with Leona,” Briar said. “Or rather, I would like to leave this planet finally.”
“One for one,” Eight Point Seven pointed out. “It’s perfect.”
“You’re staying too?” Leona asked her.
“I like my job,” Eight Point Seven answered. “You don’t need me anymore.”
“No one needs friends,” Leona argued.
“This isn’t the end. I promised to get you back to Mateo. I’ve followed through, so focus on that. I’m immortal. We will meet again. It might be, like, six hundred and eighty years from now, but it’ll happen.”
Ellie gave Eight Point Seven a look.
“Speaking of which.” Mateo pulled Leona closer. “Could we talk in private?”
“Sure. Let’s go for a walk; burn off some of these calories.”
“Do you want me to come?” Cassidy asked as she was standing up with them.
Mateo shook his head, but didn’t say anything. That was weird, Leona couldn’t help but think.
This felt familiar. Mateo had taken her on a walk on Tribulation Island a few days ago when they were briefly reunited. There was something he was reluctant to tell her. Was this it? If it was, he was certainly taking his time spitting it out.
Leona had to break the ice, or she would go insane right here. “When I was a little girl, my parents let me get a dog. The Gelens, that is. She was so smart; picked up on most commands so quickly, but sometimes she refused to obey. Our friends and neighbors thought she was stupid, but it was actually quite the opposite. Think about it; if I ask you to ram your face into that tree, would you do it? Probably not. Is that ‘cause you’re too dumb to figure out how? Of course not. You wouldn’t do it, because you’re smart enough to know you don’t want to, and you know the consequences for insubordination are far less than the severe head trauma it would cause. Freya—that was her name, by the way; after the Norse goddess—was the same way. If she didn’t want to sit, then she didn’t, because the treat she would get for doing it wasn’t worth it for her in that particular moment.
“One of the hardest commands for me to teach her was to speak. I wanted her to bark when I said so, because I didn’t want her to bark at inappropriate times. And she knew that. She screamed her head off when she heard an owl three houses down in the middle of the night, but she never did it when I was around, so conditioning her was practically impossible. I couldn’t get Freya to associate my hand signal with her bark, because they rarely happened at the same time. I understand, Mateo, that whatever it is you want to tell me is something you’ve probably been talking about for the last x-number of days, but that doesn’t do me any good. I don’t just need you to speak. I need you to speak to me. Does that make sense?”
“I didn’t sleep with her,” Mateo said, fully grasping Leona’s moral lesson.
She waited for a moment. “Obviously you’re not trying to confess what you didn’t do. So what did you do?”
“She was a stripper before all this.”
“I assume you’re talking about Cassidy.”
“So, she put on a show?”
“Just for me.”
Leona waited again, but not so he could explain in greater detail, but just because she didn’t know what to say.
“I’m sorry.”
“She touched you?”
“You touched her?”
“A little. I had just watched your bottle messages. Seeing your...decline—for lack of a better term—in such a short amount of time was heartbreaking. For you, it was days, but I watched you feel worse and worse over the course of only minutes. I’m not saying that my witnessing your pain was more difficult than you actually going through it. It just made me feel so alone. This ship full of other people, but not the one person I really wanted to be there. I guess Cassidy close as I thought I was gonna get. You know, you two aren’t so dissim—.”
“No, you don’t need to talk about your fetishes.”
“That’s not what I’m saying.”
“You’re saying that you have a type,” Leona argued, “and that both of us fit into it. But that’s what makes it worse. You took a substitute, because I wasn’t there.”
“If you were there, I wouldn’t have needed anything!”
“Do you want to pretend you didn’t just say that.”
“Yes, please!”
“Do you want to stop yelling at me, since I didn’t do anything wrong?”
Mateo took a breath, and lowered his voice. “I do.”
“Now. You had a lapdance. It’s not illegal. I’ve had friends who bought their partners dances at the club for their birthdays. The problem is you didn’t tell me. You didn’t ask me, and you didn’t tell me. I’m guessing this happened before we returned to Tribulation Island, which means you actually did have an opportunity. That lost you points. I’m a hundred percent certain we’ll get through this, Mateo, but we’re not supposed to lie to each other anymore. I don’t even want to look at you, but there is someone I do want to talk to.”
“Eight Point Seven?” he presumed.
“You’re gonna run up ahead, or stay behind. I don’t care who gets there first, but we won’t be walking back to Homebase together. Because when I get back, I’m taking the shuttle, and I’m heading for another continent. I won’t return until 2257, and where you and I will stand at that point, I make no guarantees. I’ll be going there with someone else, but no, it won’t be Eight Point Seven.”
“Then who?”

Mateo wandered around the woods for a couple hours. He was only planning on giving her a thirty-minute head start, but he got lost somewhere along the way. When he returned to Homebase, Leona was already gone, but he had to do a headcount to find out who had gone with her. After Eight Point Seven, his first guess would have been Trinity, who was just a different version of Paige Turner. But nope, she was still here. Briar was too. Mateo hadn’t picked up on any sexual tension between them, but he was an eligible bachelor, and a part of Mateo was honestly hoping she was doing something that would alleviate his guilt. Weaver, Thor, Goswin, and Ellie. Everyone was accounted for, except for one. He had no reason to believe that Leona would hurt Cassidy, but if they were going to be alone together on the other side of the world, there was no telling what was going to happen.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Source Variant: Steady as a Rock (Part VI)

The three of them—Saga!Three, Vearden!Two, and Zektene—are stumped. After Vearden attempts to walk through the literal magic mirror, which sends him right back into the room, the others try as well, but also fail. There are two other exits in the facility that haven’t been buried by the robots to keep the planet’s natives from discovering the truth about their origins. They too are mirror portals, leaving the humans wondering what the powers that be are thinking. After this last jump forward two centuries, they continue to remain in the same linear series of moments in time. So their overlords want them to be in this time period, but they don’t want them to do anything while they’re here? That doesn’t make any sense.
Zektene gets on the computer. While the system was designed by Maramon engineers, before he left, Ramses showed them how to operate in English mode. Still, language isn’t the only problem. It was designed with Maramon psychology in mind, and they have a completely different outlook, which means understanding their computing logic can be tricky. She’s proven herself to be the most competent when it comes to grasping the fundamentals. “Perhaps there’s something wrong outside that we wouldn’t survive, like a dust storm, or something.” She checks a few readings. “Atmospheric pressure within nominal range. Composition same as it ever was. Immediate terrain hasn’t changed beyond predictions.”
“Can’t you just teleport us out there?” Saga!Three asks.
“Well, yeah, probably, but...should I?” Zektene answers, and asks.
“Why wouldn’t you?”
“Because there must be some reason we’re trapped here,” Vearden!Two says. “Maybe we’re not ready. We could try to practice more with the McIver hats.”
“We are great with the hats,” Saga!Three asserts. “You couldn’t find three better illusionists if you quantum duplicated two other versions of Alyssa herself.”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Zektene disagrees.
Saga!Three sighs loudly.
“Why are you so anxious to go out there?” Vearden!Two asks her.
“Why wouldn’t I be?” Saga!Three echoes herself.
“We have no personal interest in this mission, or missions, as it were. We’ve just been ordered to do this. We don’t gain anything from it ourselves, so what do we care? Maybe the powers are trying to give us a quick vacation, or maybe they think we just need a bit of extra sleep. Ya know what? Even if that’s not their intention, I wouldn’t mind a good rest. We might as well take advantage of the time, and then, if we’re feeling up to it, we can try to tackle this problem in the morning. You may wake up and stop seeing it as a problem.”
“I guess it’s hard to argue with that,” Saga!Three has to admit. He’s right in that anything they do on this planet is at someone else’s behest. Staying in the lab is apparently their present directive, so there’s no point in fighting it. They all wake up later with the same supposition. They’re not alone.
“Who is it, and where could they be hiding?” Zektene questions. “We didn’t search the whole facility when we came back, but we didn’t stay in one room either.”
“We don’t know that they’re hiding,” Vearden!Two reasons. “Maybe they’re hurt, or lost. They’re surely scared, since this type of advanced structure is nowhere near being built by the Gondilak.”
“If we’re not careful,” Saga!Three says, “they’ll start worshiping us. But first, we have to find them, so we can see what we’re dealing with. We’ll spli—”
“Nope,” Vearden!Two interrupts. “We’re not splitting up. It’s not that big of a place. We’ll go together.”
So they start to search the facility, which turns out to be larger than they realized. Or maybe it wasn’t their fault. There’s one room that couldn’t have been there before without them knowing it. The lab has been growing. For whatever reason, the automated systems have been constructing more space. There’s no telling how large it’s become; not until they find the end of it. After twenty minutes of checking every single new room they come across, Vearden!Two stops them from leaving for the next one.
“I’ve been here before.”
“You have? That’s impossible,” Saga!Three contends. “This entire section is, like, a kilometer from the lab.”
“Not recently,” Vearden!Two begins to clarify. “In the future. I don’t know when in the future, but in the other reality, when the Gondilak capture me, they bring me here.”
“This is where they do experiments on you,” Zektene presses, “to see how come you had healing powers.”
“Yeah,” Vearden!Two confirms. “Yeah, the more I look at it, the more sure I am that this is it. It looks exactly like I remember.”
“I thought the Gondilak were less technologically advanced than the Orothsew,” Saga!Three recalls. “If they’ve discovered this place this early on, surely they would skyrocket in technology, and surpass them by centuries.”
Vearden!Two shakes his head. “I don’t think there’s anyone here. I don’t think that’s why we’re not allowed to go outside. I think the facility’s growth itself is a problem we need to solve.” He breathes deeply through his nostrils. “We have to find the edge of this, and now. We’re not super far from the nearest Gondilak village. If the robots are still building, they’ll eventually crash the party.”
And so they keep moving through the corridors, maybe a little faster now. They stop checking the rooms, because they’re confident that’s not the point. The sooner they find the edge, the sooner they can stop this. They’re not sure how they’re going to accomplish that, since none of them is educated or experienced enough to reprogram robots, but they can’t think about that right now. They just need answers. When they finally do reach the edge, their best guess is that they’re about a kilometer from the Gondilak village.
It’s happening a lot slower than they thought, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise to them. This might have been going on for the last two hundred years, so the entire planet would have been consumed if the bots were eating up resources as fast as they had imagined. Either way, though, something has to be done, and they have to figure out what that is. They don’t see any bots; or at least not what they’re used to. They just see this gray goo on the edge of the floor, walls, and ceiling. Little by little, it’s expanding, somehow converting the soil and rock it finds into building material, which it then incorporates into the preexisting structure.
“You can jump back to the main lab, right?” Vearden!Two asks Zektene.
“At any time, yes,” she replies.
“Okay,” Vearden!Two says. “Umm...cease production,” he orders the goo. “Cease...operations.”
“Shut down,” Saga!Three attempts.
“Computer!” Zektene starts. “End expansion program!”
The goo makes no indication that it’s so much as detected their presence, let alone understood their demands.
“All right,” Vearden!Two resolves. “You two go back to the main lab, and see what the command console has to say about this. Bring me back a radio, so we can stay in touch. I’ll monitor the situation here.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Zektene says. She takes Saga!Three by the arm, and teleports them both to main section. She grabs a radio, quickly delivers it to Vearden!Two, then returns to get to work.
Saga!Three watches, but isn’t able to help in any significant way. Perhaps they weren’t the most suited for this mission at all. What they need is an engineer, or hell, even a physicist. Somebody smart needs to be here to explain just what the hell is going on. They can’t stop it unless they understand how this became a problem in the first place.
“Looks like it hasn’t been an issue until somewhat recently. Let me see.” Zektene refocuses on the information she’s reading from the logs. “Fifty-six years. It was a mudslide. Horrible rains came, and threatened the entire village, so the bots were dispatched to build a secret retaining wall of some kind.” She did a bit more clicking. “There was a glitch in the code, and bots failed to deploy the delivery system. Apparently the gray goo we saw are nanobots. They would have built the wall faster, but they couldn’t get to the site on their own. Even without help, though,” she says, stepping back from the monitor, “the nanobots tried...and they’re still trying.”
Any idea how we can stop it?” Vearden!Two asks from the other side.
“Let me look through this more,” Zektene requests. She continues to pore through the information, trying to find a shutdown protocol, or a loophole, or something.
“Do we really need to stop it?” Saga!Three asks after almost an hour of this. “What happened to the village. I thought you said the terrain hadn’t changed too much.”
“I guess the computer didn’t acknowledge this as a big enough change since it technically predicted it at one point,” Zektene says, still working with one half of her brain. “The village took a hit, and some did die, but the majority survived. They rebuilt a few hundred meters away, and actually...” She stops to read more. “They built their own wall. Huh. Yeah, I think we have to stop this. I get what you’re saying. Even decades late, the nanobots should know not to reveal themselves to the natives, but it’ll disrupt the structure they have there now. The nanobots just aren’t that smart. And there’s no way to shut them down, unless...”
Unless what?” Vearden!Two asks.
“It’s morbid,” Zektene complains.
“Just say it,” Saga!Three prompts.
Zektene gulps. “They are programmed to ignore organic material. That’s why it’s even taken it this long to get as close as it finally is, because it had to wind around roots, and the like. If we were to place, um...dead bodies around the edge, the nanobots would immediately halt production.”
The other two don’t respond for a beat. “Why would we need to use dead bodies if it also ignores plants?” he questions.
“It moves around plants,” Zektene explains. “It’ll just restart somewhere else. Gondilak, however, dead or alive, are too valuable. If it detects the specimens it’s meant to protect, it will stop, and await further instructions. That will give us time to clean them out, and dispose of them properly.”
“You want us to go get dead bodies?” Saga!Three asks her.
“I don’t want to do that, but I’ve not been able to find a better solution. The computer didn’t tell me this was solution. I had to come up with it based on what I learned about its behavior.”
“There has to be another way!” Saga!Three suspects.
“Well, we have to wait until nightfall anyway. I can teleport Vearden to the cemetery; maybe make a few trips. Until then, I’ll keep looking.”
Zektene makes good on her promise to search for an alternative, but never finds one. When darkness comes, she teleports Vearden!Two to the graveyard, and helps him dig. Then they transport one body at a time to the edge of the gray goo, where Saga!Three carefully and respectfully puts it in place. It doesn’t work with just one body, so they keep going. They will never be the same after this.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Microstory 1220: Celestine Evered

Celestine Evered’s main goal in life was to push her own boundaries, and see how strong she really was. She wasn’t concerned about being superior to others, or getting the glory. She just saw every day as an opportunity to get this close to crashing and burning, but still survive. Needless to say, this landed her in trouble now and then. She never had any interest in committing crimes, per se—because she didn’t like to hurt other people—but she did often break the rules. The rules she broke were only ever the ones that were there for her protection, rather than to protect others from her. For instance, she was suspended from school for two days for hopping the length of the roof on one leg. She didn’t tell anyone she was going to do it, so she wasn’t looking for bragging rights, and in fact, no one was meant to see her at all. The custodian just so happened to be taking out the trash at the time. Otherwise, she probably would have gotten away with it. She had a hard time getting others to understand her motivations. They weren’t, strictly speaking, normal, and she was fully aware of this. But she was also knew that she was not the only one; nor was she alone, not even in her own community. Other kids were impressed by her boldness, and of other stories they had heard about her exploits. They started the Young Thrill-Seekers Club. It was formed by students at her elementary school, but it was not at all sanctioned by the institution. They tried to get official approval, but the administration refused to endorse what they called intentionally dangerous behavior. Still, no one but perhaps their parents could stop them from meeting in public spaces after school, and on weekends. They would do parkour, tightrope walking, races, and more. Celestine tried to get them to host dances, but she was really the only one who liked that sort of thing. The group grew fairly large over the course of that year, quickly including kids from all over the district, and some from even farther away. Their adventures were getting noticed.

One day, one of these newer members challenged Celestine’s older brother to a special race. He had noticed that they lived equidistant from an area of Kansas City called Crown Center, though in completely different directions. He said they should start at the same time, and see who arrived at the designated spot first. The challenge was accepted, and news spread among the group of what they were going to do. Members placed themselves all over the city, and kept their phones at the ready. They didn’t end up filming the whole thing, but they caught fragments of it, and a group member who was into that sort of thing edited all together, and posted it on her web channel. The video went viral, and caught the attention of some of the city’s more prominent citizens. Surprisingly quickly, an idea was born for what would later be called the City Frenzy event. Contestants would be assigned different starting and ending points, criss-crossing each other’s routes in a carefully planned, but still entertainingly chaotic manner. They didn’t know how popular this competition would become, but they hoped to make it an annual thing. They got their wish, of course, and while Celestine was too young to compete in its first couple years, she became a relatively famous competitor for the Frenzy’s many, many fans. She would later begin a tradition with a fellow dancer, where they ignored the finish line, and tried to increase their respective audiences against each other. She actually didn’t care much for the competition, but it was important to her best friend, so she went along with it. She didn’t ever let Gabriella win, though. She still gave it her all every time, and their friendship was far stronger for it. After she aged out of the Frenzy, Celestine kept living her life the only way she knew how. She founded another thrill-seeker’s club, but this time for adults. It was well-funded, highly organized, and grew to be so big that there were eventually chapters in all major cities around the country. They would go kayaking and mountain climbing, and do all sorts of crazy stunts; not for any audience, but for themselves. Celestine kept dancing, but not competitively anymore, and she didn’t do performances. She just went out a lot, and had fun, which she determined was the whole purpose of life.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Microstory 1219: Maqsud Al-Amin

Also known as The Trotter—as in globetrotter—Maqsud Al-Amin was the most impressive teleporter in histories. Most people with the ability could move across a planet, or into orbit, at best. Maqsud, however, was capable of traveling the expanse of the universe, or at least, the observable universe. He could also travel through time, but only under very particular conditions. As counterintuitive as it may be, the farther he was trying to jump, the easier it was for him. Shorter jumps required greater concentration, and higher accuracy, and often wore him out. Think of it this way. When an aircraft pilot takes off, they have to fly up as steep as is reasonable, and then level off. If they were to try to take off and land within only a few miles, but still reach their standard altitude, they would have an incredibly steep climb to make it in time. It’s much easier when they’re going thousands of miles, because then they have some time to reach this altitude. You just wouldn’t take a plane to go down the block, or even to the other side of the city. This same principle was why Maqsud could fairly easily jump to another star system, but it was practically impossible for him to go interplanetary. He would be hopeless to reach the moon, or any other satellite of the planet he was already on. Aiming in general was difficult for him, and limited what he was able to see when he arrived at his destination. Fate would sort of pick the exact landing site, and if there was something interesting on the other side of the world, he wouldn’t get to see it unless he found some other—more normal—form of transport. Despite his restrictions, there were those who believed that there were no limits to his strength. It was once theorized that he could transport an entire planet’s worth of people to an entirely different planet. This belief would be tested when a distant colony was threatened by an unstoppable cataclysm, and only his power could save them. Unfortunately, it did not go well.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Microstory 1218: Sam Bellamy

Life was okay for Samson Bellamy. They weren’t great; not since his late father’s belovèd car was stolen, or his father’s death, for that matter—and he was definitely still in his rut—but they were getting better. Things would never be at a hundred percent, though, until something about his life changed. What he needed was to be forced into helping people in a way he never knew was possible. He would come to believe that the universe itself wanted this for him. One day, he was walking into his kitchen to make some breakfast when the lemon he was planning to use on his omelette suddenly exploded in his hand. It didn’t hurt exactly, but it startled him fiercely, and sent him falling backwards. He tried to catch himself on the counter, but fell to his ass anyway. Immediately after that, everything about the room changed. Pots and pans moved around to different places, the lighting was a little different, and it was perhaps a bit warmer. He looked into his lemon juice-soaked hand, and found his keys, which weren’t there before. His car was stolen back in 1991, but he kept the key, because what else was he going to do with it? His entire keychain later went missing in 1993, and he never understood why. If his keys were back, maybe so too was his car. He rushed out to the garage, and saw it sitting there, in perfect condition. Overwhelmed with excitement, he opened the door, climbed right inside the only thing his father ever truly loved besides his son, and drove away from the house. After only a couple minutes, everything around him changed, just like the kitchen had before. A car appeared out of nowhere, and nearly crashed into him. He sat there for a moment, trying to catch his breath, before becoming determined to figure out what was happening. He flipped on the radio, and before long, he learned that it was 1987. He had traveled seven years into the past. But not right away. No, he had made a couple of jumps before this. He almost screamed when he realized that it was he who had stolen his own damn car, and also his own keys. This explained everything. But was it over? Probably not.

Desperate to see his father, who would still be alive at this point in history, and living in Kansas City, Samson drove right for the highway, and booked it halfway across the state. Only by the grace of God was he not pulled over for speeding. He was this close to getting to see him again when his three hour time limit was up, and he suddenly found himself in 1979. He might have tried yet again, but this was early September, and Samson recalled being on vacation on the Caribbean islands with his parents at the time, so it wouldn’t likely be possible. He wasn’t carrying his government identification, so he wouldn’t have been able to travel out of the country; not that it would matter, since it was grossly frontdated to years in the future anyway. It was really only then that he started to question what was happening to him. All throughout the drive from Springfield, he was only focused on getting his family back. He hadn’t wondered whether anyone was doing this to him on purpose, whether he could exercise any control over it, or when exactly it would happen again, if ever. This was when he ran into Lauren Gardner, who was experiencing the same thing he was, a fact he found quite obvious when he saw what shirt she was wearing. It turned out that she was from the same moment in the future that he was, and also had no clue what was going on. Together with a third friend—and a revolving door of other companions—they traveled time, at the behest of some mysterious and unknown force, doing their best to complete their missions. Samson never did get that opportunity to see his father again, but he met a lot of other great people, and while it wasn’t the life he would have thought to choose for himself, he could have certainly done worse.

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 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 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, nearer the coastline of the ocean. They couldn’t live too close to the sea, though, since high tide caused great flooding. 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 society eventually 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.”