Saturday, November 30, 2019

Source Variant: Class XI (Part XI)

For two hundred years, off and on, Saga!Two, Vearden!Three, and Saxon work to ensure that the Orothsew see foreigners as potential allies, rather than dangerous threats. They’re aided in this endeavor by a team of vonearthans, who were dispatched to Orolak for this very purpose. None of them knows who conscripted them for the mission; just that they were called to action for a chance to explore a new world hundreds of light years away. They fabricate a story about a third continent—even though the Orothsew have not yet encountered the second—and claim that this is where another species evolved. They arbitrarily call themselves the Clexa, and never appear in human form. An entirely new substrate is created that one of the operatives designed specifically to be a perfect amalgamation of an Orothsew, and a Gondilak. The idea is to prepare for the inevitable meeting of the two real species, and prevent them from ever warring with each other.
The three primaries show up every once in awhile, and make sure the rest of their new team is doing okay, and they always are. They modify their faces regularly so the Orothsew don’t realize they’re just the same few dozen people who never die. The Orothsew don’t get upset that the Clexa aren’t sharing their technology. If fact, they seem to believe in their own form of the Prime Directive from the Star Trek franchise. They want to develop on their own, because without struggle, they believe that the reward isn’t worth anything. Since this is all going so well, the vonearthans make plans to travel to the other side of the world to do the same thing for the Gondilak, but every attempt is sabotaged. They even try to fly over there in shuttles, but are always forced back. The powers that be have some interesting ideas about how this mission should be handled, and it apparently doesn’t involve reaching out to the other continent until some time later. When exactly that will be, no one knows for sure, but we’re likely talking centuries.
After just over four decades of absence, the primaries exit their portal door, and find themselves exactly two hundred years since this latest job began. A cursory glance at mission status reveals that the vonearthans disappeared eleven years ago, and have never returned. It would seem that the powers consider this chapter to be closed, and now it’s up to the only three humans on the planet right now to figure out what they should do next.
“According to your account, and my calculations,” Saxon begins, “this should be our last mission before the Orothsew cross the ocean.”
“Are you sure?” Vearden!Three asks.
“If we’ve returned to our regular two hundred year jump pattern, then yes, I believe we’ll catch up with the time Saga here, and the other version of you, first landed on this world.”
“Hm,” Saga!Two can only think to say.
Saxon continues, “while the Clexa didn’t give the Orothsew our technology, there’s no way to stop them from having ideas. Now they know what seafaring ships should look like, and they have the inkling to go explore.”
“Well, what else can we do?” Vearden!Three asks. “Either we’ve done all we can to prepare them, and today is our vacation, or we’ve not done enough, and we only have one more chance to stop the war.”
“Well, we could make another appearance,” Saxon suggests. Though the responsibility of pretending to be Clexa rested on the special team that showed up, the three of them used their McIver hats to do the same, though with far less diplomatic experience to back them up.
“Nah, I don’t want to do that,” Saga!Two says. “The other Clexa left, and whatever reason the Orothsew came up with to explain that, we shouldn’t confuse them with more interruptions. I think it’s time they start making their own decisions. We probably won’t be there when they meet the Gondilak, so let’s let them be.”
“So, you think we should do nothing?” Vearden!Three questions.
“Maybe your remark about this being our vacation was a joke,” Saga!Two begins, “but it doesn’t sound like a terrible idea to me.”
The other two don’t know what to say. A break is the last thing they would have thought someone like Saga would suggest. They don’t have much time to think about it before an alarm starts going off. Saxon rolls his chair over to the main computer to find out what is going on.
“What is it?” Saga!Two asks.
“Unauthorized entry,” Saxon replies. “Someone is coming through the quantum network, and unlike the vonearthans from before, this isn’t from the stellar neighborhood.”
“Where is it from?” Vearden!Three asks.
Saxon continues to look through the data. “All systems within fifty light years of Earth are considered to be part of the neighborhood. Project Stargate completely avoided all of these. The world that’s incoming is almost forty light years beyond the threshold, and has a Terrestrial Habitability Similarity Index of point-nine-two-one. Oh, shit, I know that number, and the distance.”
“What is it?”
“Shit!” Saxon exclaims again. “We gotta go!” He jumps out of his chair, and takes off towards the quantum surrogacy section.
The other two follow him. “Tell us what’s wrong! Who is coming through?”
“If we get there in time,” Saxon begins, “no one. We cannot let them through. The natives call their planet Worlon, and Earth designated it Loci Non Grata!”
“You mean like Utah?” Vearden!Three jokes.
“Yes, but worse!” They continue to run down the passageways. “I ran off before I could find out why, but Earth does not take that designation lightly.”
They reach the secret section. Saxon removes an energy weapon from yet another secret compartment, and begins to blast away all of the equipment, including the surrogate pods. He destroys everything. Saga!Two and Vearden!Three can’t be of much help right now, so they just watch until he feels he’s done.
“Explain,” Saga!Two orders.
Saxon removes an extra tablet from the shelf, and quickly connects it to the system. “Let me find out.” They wait for him to retrieve the necessary information, then listen to him recite it. “Worlon is Class XI LNG—that’s loci non grata, which is Latin for a place you don’t wanna go. I’ve never heard of Class XI because Class X is only theoretical. If ever needed, it would be reserved for hostile aliens who pose an immediate and nearly unstoppable threat to life in the entire galaxy. If Worlon is worse than that, then...I think that means they threaten the whole universe.”
“You’re confused,” a sinister voice comes from a dark corner.
Vearden!Three grabs the energy weapon that Saxon set on the table, and trains it on the invader. “Explain yourself, or die.”
“Class IX is for galactic threats.” An alien they’ve never seen before that kind of resembles a dragonfly comes out from the shadows. “Class X is for universal threats, though we’re still not sure there is any life beyond The Milky Way, so both nine and ten are theoretical.”
“Then what’s Class XI?” Saga!Two demands to know.
The alien grimaces. “The multiverse. We’re not sure if that exists either, but uh...” He loses his casual attitude, and becomes quite serious, “if it does, we’ll kill them too.”
“Why?” Saga!Two asks. “What’s your motivation?”
“There’s only so much room in heaven,” it says, as if it’s an accepted truth that she should already understand. “We’re not going to share it.”
“You start killing everyone,” Saxon argues, “you won’t have to worry about how much room there is in heaven. You won’t be going there.”
“Not yet, no,” it acts like it agrees. “Neither will you. Since you killed the rest of my strike team, I suppose all I can do now is give you a message.”
Saga!Two tenses up. “What message?”
“We’re coming. It might take us awhile, since we have a lot of pit stops ahead of us, and you destroyed the quantum link, but we’ll get here eventually.”
Vearden!Three pulls the trigger, and sends a powerful enough blast towards the enemy that it flies apart into a million pieces. “Well, I would say that I did that on accident; that I didn’t realize how sensitive the trigger was, but the truth is that my finger was barely strong enough to squeeze it.”
“No.” Saxon carefully takes the gun from him. “You did the right thing. Now I know what our mission here is really all about.”
“Yes.” Saga!Two steps forward, and examines the bits of the Worlon creature. This was never about the war between the Orothsew and Gondilak.  “We’re here to stop them.”

Friday, November 29, 2019

Microstory 1245: Merton Casey

Different people in the world of salmon and choosers were born with different abilities. Some could teleport, others could jump through time. Some could only see the future, or skip time. No one with any given time power was the only one of their kind, but some powers were rarer than others. One of the most coveted of these was anti-aging capabilities. Immortality on its own was possible to obtain, but a difficult series of tasks lie ahead for anyone willing to try for it. The next best thing to this was playfully called reyoungification, and one of the few people capable of this was named Merton Casey. He could alter anyone’s appearance back to how they were at any desired time of their lives. He also necessarily rejuvenated and healed them of whatever age-related diseases they might have contracted. He could make people young and healthy, but it came at great cost to him. Once people discovered what he could do, they started lining up for his services, and most were completely willing to accept the nature of the procedure. The awkwardness was only temporary, and to them, the benefits were too amazing to pass up. Merton couldn’t just wave his hands in front of his patients, and make them young again. He had to physically manipulate their bodies, all over. He had to smooth out wrinkles, and wipe away hair, and in some cases, shorten body parts. Doing this for anyone made him feel uncomfortable, but it was especially problematic when it was for a woman, which, let’s be honest, they made up the majority of his clients. So every case made his life that much more difficult to continue. Somehow being at least a little attracted to the patient made the whole thing worse; like he was violating them, even though they consented to this. A few didn’t consent, and then nothing happened. The worst of it came when he met a young woman named Paige Turner. She was fourteen years old when an antagonist aged her up to her twenties. Her reasons for doing this were her own, but the bottom line was that this woman never returned to reverse what she had done. After a year in this state, Paige decided she wanted to go back to being fifteen, and Merton was the only one they found who could help her. Unfortunately, he had never been asked to do anything like this before. His other patients wanted to be made young again, but never that young, and they were never meant to be that age in the first place. Paige was really just a child in an adult body, so touching her at all was even more offensive than normal. Fortunately, he was rescued from this job, by a woman who ran a special place that was designed to be a haven for people who had been negatively impacted by time travelers. She made an exception for Merton, and let him live in Sanctuary as well, despite having abilities of his own. He was protected from would-be clients here, and finally free of his trauma, so that he could heal, and move on.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Microstory 1244: Cyneric Brennan

For years of realtime, Quivira Boyce traveled into the somewhat recent past to fix what she and her team believed were bad historical outcomes, though not always the famous events. Sometimes she saved people’s lives in a literal sense, by possessing the bodies of those closest to them, and sometimes it was more up to her colleague to set their subjects on more positive paths through a special brand of therapy. This was a hard life, or lives, as one might say. She was always working to make the world a better place, and didn’t really have time for anything else. But that wasn’t exactly why their mission had to come to an end, or why Cyneric Brennan was called to action. Quivira wasn’t old or tired. By her very nature, her body’s age didn’t matter much. But she had spent so much time as other people, she lost track of who she was. She felt she needed to pass the torch, and Cyneric was...well, he was available. His job was different than hers. He couldn’t possess people in the past, nor could he travel through time on his own. He was, however, a skilled operative with no sense of direction in his life. His work became more action-based, focusing on rescuing people the new team felt deserved to survive. Some of these were being helped by other time travelers, like The Savior, or The Kingmaker, but there were plenty of victims who fell through the cracks. Without these heroes, the statistical numbers of deaths and other tragedies in the world would be so much higher, and Cyneric wanted to be a part of that, even if he didn’t quite realize this himself. It took some time for him to warm up to his new responsibilities, but he eventually couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Microstory 1243: Vendelin Blackbourne

Time travelers are constantly going back in time and making changes. Even if they go back only to watch a Broadway musical they weren’t alive to see when it was running, they create a new timeline. This is happening on the quantum level, so no amount of restraint can stop the new branch from taking shape. And when it does, almost no one is aware of the change. Because it’s not really a change at all. Everyone living in the new timeline never lived in the old one, so there’s simply nothing for them to remember. There are a few people with the ability to recall events from alternate realities, but these are still not truly memories; just implanted knowledge. Vendelin Blackbourne was possibly an exception to this rule, though it’s impossible to tell, because his experience with nonlinear time seems to have only ever happened once. Before the incident, his life was a mess. He always thought of himself as a good person, but he was a less skilled web designer than he had hoped, and every job that passed him by pushed him further to the extreme. It started out small. He was just looking for a little company. Everything was consensual, and no one got hurt. But now he was in the dark web, and he couldn’t have predicted how far things would get. Before he knew it, he was actively helping build unindexed websites for extremely illegal activity. He wasn’t selling drugs, or other blackmarket items—and he kept his business firmly away from child exploitation—nor was he involved in the system security and anonymity. He just made the sites themselves look pretty, which was what he was meant to be doing for reputable companies. The FBI found him out, and locked him up. The prison he was sent to was actually not the worst place he had ever lived, especially since he hadn’t directly harmed anyone, but it wasn’t great, and his reputation took the worst hit. He didn’t understand how everything unraveled so quickly. College was only two years ago. But time, as he knew it, was a lot more complicated than that.

A time traveler who Vendelin had never met, and who probably didn’t know he ever existed, went back to before his parents were born, and altered history. By killing Adolf Hitler years before his time, he created a ripple effect that changed more about the future than anyone could fathom. Vendelin was both a victim of these circumstances, and a survivor. Even though the events resulted in him never having been born, here he was, in this new reality. Somehow. No one had any memory of him, so he figured that this was his chance at a fresh start, because all of his past mistakes had been erased. He found himself standing outside, next to what was once his work detail. He was dressed like all the other prisoners assigned to clean up the yard refuse, but the guards had no clue who he was. Since he wasn’t in the system, they had no choice but to assume it was some ludicrous prank, and let him go. He quickly learned that he wasn’t just not in the prison system; he wasn’t in any system. He didn’t have a birth certificate, or a driver’s license, or a social security number. It was like what would happen if the angels in It’s a Wonderful Life just forgot to put George Bailey back to where he belonged, but kept him alive. He was nobody, which would have been frightening for some, but to him, it was a major relief. Vendelin became a day laborer, and saved his money by living modestly. He didn’t commit any crimes, besides not being a real citizen of the country, and he didn’t attract any attention. Most people who realize time travel is real end up encountering other people with powers or patterns, but not Vendelin. He just lived out the rest of his days as a normal person. He never told anyone his secret, or tried to figure out what happened. He considered this new life a gift, and not only was it a risk to try to give the gift back, but it wasn’t likely to work anyway, so what would be the point in investigating? He was truly a better person now, and that was all he ever asked for.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Microstory 1242: Stargazer

Some people have questioned why it is that temporal manipulators have only appeared somewhat recently in human history. Most of them were born within a hundred years of the turn of the 21st century, and only a handful were born before the common era. Why would that be? Did we somehow evolve time traveling capabilities? That doesn’t explain outliers, so that’s probably not it. Well, the truth is that it has more to do with human intelligence than anything. That’s not to say that there aren’t any dumb people with powers, or that all smart people do. It’s far more complex and nuanced than that, and has more to do with the intelligence of the species as a whole than any one individual’s. The fact is that time manipulation is just like any other witch ability. It requires hacking into the underlying structure of the universe, and exploiting some kind of vulnerability. That’s all done within the consciousness, rather than the body, which is why you don’t see a bunch of apes jumping through time. Afterall, at no point did an ape suddenly birth a human baby. Evolution describes changes over time; thousands of years, and even millions and billions. It’s not simply that other primates are not smart enough, but they certainly can’t grasp what it means to travel through time, and if the mind has no hope of understanding it, then it necessarily has no hope of performing it. Or rather, it won’t be born with such capabilities. It’s unclear when humans began to contemplate traveling through time, but as far as evolutionary time goes, it was just a few seconds ago. Stargazer is the absolute oldest linear human in histories, having been born hundreds of thousands of years before the Anthropocene epoch. He was given this name as it translates from Ancient Egyptian when he took a job at the Great Pyramid of Giza. He was not given a name at birth, nor was anyone else around him. Complex language was something he had to learn after interacting with the advanced peoples who came up with it, for it was not in use yet as he was first growing up. No one fully understands why it is that Stargazer is such an old immortal, or more importantly, why he appears to be the only one from anywhere near his time period. He has never traveled backwards in time, and neither has anyone gone to his early days. Disturbing his personal development is pretty taboo in the world of salmon and choosers, and as bad as some of them are, none of them has had the inclination to break this unwritten rule. Stargazer is completely off limits, almost like he’s more of a historical artifact than a person, and everyone accepts this. He has always lived in the pyramid, and he only has one job. Travel to exoplanets is difficult if you can’t do it naturally, like say, Maqsud Al-Amin, or Aristotle Al-Amin. The pyramid was designed to focus travel for other people, and serves as one of the largest temporal objects in the world. It is Stargazer’s responsibility to keep watch over this activity, and to make sure travelers safely go where they’re meant to be. He is but a facilitator. He cannot travel the stars himself, or he would be abandoning his post, and that is not an option. It is a boring job, but he feels it is necessary, and he is happy to just be doing something with his immortality.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Microstory 1241: Briar de Vries

No one is born alone, or so the quote goes. This was true of Briar as well, though for him, it was pretty close. His parents lived in a small English village in the 12th century, but a series of events ultimately led him to growing up unfathomably far from Great Britain, on a distant world called Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida, and this was the only home he ever knew. He lived there for decades, never meeting a single soul besides his mother, Irene. That eventually ended when she died of age-related causes. So when other people finally started showing up, intending to colonize the planet, he didn’t quite know how to handle it. He sort of latched onto the first person he encountered, because it was just amazing that it even happened at all. Planets are big, and it would have been really easy for him to live out the rest of his days alone. It was just by luck that Leona landed her shuttle somewhat nearby, but it still took months for him to happen upon it. He developed some feelings for her, but she was with someone else. Mateo was literally light years away, but she was showing no signs of having given up on being reunited with him. Still, Briar pursued the matter the best way he could, which was quite respectful; an impressive feat from someone who had zero experience with love, relationships, or hell, even friendship. Unfortunately for him, Mateo did eventually show up, so Briar thought all was lost. Then Briar caught wind that maybe Mateo hadn’t been quite so faithful, and he decided to take matters into his own hands. While his mother had taught him to be a good person, it was difficult for her to show him how, because there weren’t ways to give him practical experience, and teach him lessons after his mistakes. So sadly, things became a lot more violent than they should have. Briar never thought of himself as a killer, not even afterwards. Though, he had to admit that he wasn’t sure if he went out there to end someone’s life, hurt him, or just scare him. He didn’t know whether he did it for love, or for honor, either. He went back to the group, and immediately confessed what he had done. As he was sitting in his cell, he remembered something his mother had tried to explain to him. It was called empathy, and though he thought he knew what she meant, perhaps he didn’t. He felt no remorse for his actions, even though Leona was not exactly thrilled about being widowed. Briar figured that there was only one thing left for him to do. He had to kill himself.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 21, 2259

Leona didn’t wake up from what was meant to be a nap until thirty minutes to midnight. Of course, by then, it was way too late to launch the AOC. The safest place to be for a time jump was either on the ground, or in outerspace. Somewhere in the middle just wasn’t worth the risk. She kissed Mateo goodbye, then left the grave chamber. Cassidy was there as well, getting out of her own grave, having also apparently slept for longer than she wanted. They crawled out of the ship, and jumped to November 21, 2259 together. The first people they saw when they arrived were Étude and Vitalie. The last Leona saw them was on Proxima Doma, when she and Mateo had to take the Insulator of Life to Bungula to revive Brooke and Sharice Prieto. Cassidy seemed more surprised than anyone. “Mom?”
Étude took Cassidy in a heavy embrace, which they held for minutes on end. While they were waiting, Vitalie and Leona shook hands, all professional-like. She seemed to know who Leona was, but didn’t have any strong feelings about her.
Cassidy finally breaks the hug. “Wait, mom, you’re so young. How do you know who I am?”
Étude sported a smile-frown hybrid. “I’m technically not the woman who birthed and raised you. I had to go back in time once to save a lot of people from disaster. My slightly younger self was the one who went to Earth on a mission, made a quick detour on her way back to Dardius to have you, and then took you back to Earth, in the past.”
Cassidy wasn’t afraid, but she was confused, and it was enough to make her take a half-step back. “If that’s the case, then you still shouldn’t know me.”
“I had my brain blended,” Étude explained.
Cassidy looked to Leona. “That’s the thing where someone gives you memories from an alternate reality?”
“Yes,” Leona answered.
This was all big news. They spent the next few hours catching up with each other. Vitalie wasn’t really Vitalie anymore. She too had been through a lot. Both of them had to take the immortality waters to survive certain death when they ended up trapped in another universe. Vitalie made the choice to stick around while Étude and a man named Tertius Valerius went back home. Vitalie spent four billion years there as an immortal, until finally coming back to this universe through The Prototype. She was only capable of retaining memories from the last fifty-six years of her life, however, which explained her somewhat distant reaction to encountering Leona.
While they were doing this, Leona was apparently not made aware that Pribadium was assigned to make sure the AOC was launch-ready. Mateo didn’t know what to say when she opened the hatch to grave chamber four, and found him still very much alive in there. She had experienced a lot of time travel stuff by now, but she had never seen anyone come back from the dead. She freaked out.
“Hey, it’s okay,” Mateo tried to promise her. “I can explain.”
“How are you here?” Pribadium asked. “Was your death a lie?”
“No, it wasn’t,” Mateo said. “The preservation coffin you’ve seen me in, that’s real. It’s future me...hopefully very, very, very far in the future, but my death is inevitable. Someone brought me back and saved me at the last second.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” she argued. “Then how do you have a body at all?”
“One day,” Mateo started to explain, “I will have to go back and actually die. It’s predestined. It’s already happened.”
“Why, though?” she pressed. “If they could go back in time and rescue you at all, why didn’t that just change the past?”
“Briar was wearing something called the hundemarke. I don’t know how it works, but the past can’t be changed when it’s involved. It prevents it. The extraction mirror is just kind of a loophole.”
Pribadium took a moment to digest the news. “Why aren’t we telling anyone?”
“Leona thought it was best, and I agree. The hundemarke is very delicate. What we know about the future, and what we tell people, can have really bad consequences. The less people know, the better. Everything has to happen how it happened. For as important as it is to not actively interfere with the inevitable, it’s equally important that we don’t try to force the inevitable. We just have to let fate take over.”
“I understand,” she said. “I have to check this chamber, though. Something weird happened.”
“You mean Étude and Vitalie? Leona kept the mic on her tablet open, and has been relaying the entire conversation to me, so I already know.”
“No, not that. I don’t know who those people are, so while it sounds like a strange story, their arrival doesn’t surprise me. What does interest me, however, is how Leona and Cassidy slept for nearly a whole day, and I suppose you as well. I was led to believe that we didn’t leave Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida last year because Leona and Cassidy didn’t feel like it yet. If I had known that it was actually because the stasis features of these grave chambers had possibly acted up, I would have taken a look at them earlier, but I was on a side mission on Waizidi.”
“The stasis features acted up?” Mateo popped the appropriate panel open, revealing the equipment that went over his head. “Ooo, I think that might have been me.”
“How so?”
He popped open the storage panel too. “I didn’t know about all the things that are in here, so I was familiarizing myself with them. I tried my best to avoid the stasis stuff, but I must have punctured a tube, or bumped a switch?” Mateo carefully looked around like a gopher, then crawled out, still not wanting anyone else to know he was there. “You should take a look at it.”
“Okay, you can hide in chamber six while I’m working. No one will be using it.”
Mateo did as he was told, and just went back to his Batwoman marathon. Halfway through his current episode, the new hatch opened up. The first thing he heard was Pribadium saying, “no, not that one!”
Three people were looking down on him: Leona, Étude, and Vitalie.
“Oh,” Étude said.
“Why are you in this one?” Leona asked.
“Hi, I’m Vitalie.” She showed him her hand.
Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast,” he echoed a character from the show he was watching, who was quoting from Lewis Carroll.
“Are you still watching that show?” Leona asked.
“So...” Étude hesitated, “can I use this one, or no?”
“Why did you move?” Leona reiterated.
“Pribadium found me, and needed to check some things, so I hid in here.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone about him,” Pribadium assured Leona. She was standing up from grave chamber five, which was Cassidy’s.
“I won’t either,” Étude said.
“I don’t know who you are, and I don’t care,” a sassy but apathetic Vitalie added.
“All right, yes,” Leona said. “Let’s not let it get any further than this.”
“Let what get further than what?” Thor had come in. Mateo wasn’t worried, though. He was really good at keeping people’s secrets, because like Vitalie, he didn’t care.
“All right, no further, though. Jesus.” Leona was growing impatient.
“Do you guys want to hear about the stasis features?” Pribadium offered.
“It’s not something I did?” Mateo asked.
“No,” Pribadium answered. “They were both leaking, though. It’s not enough to put you out completely, but since you were already asleep, you didn’t wake up until the leak was fixed.”
“How was it fixed?” Leona questioned.
“I don’t know,” Pribadium admitted. “I think it was programmed to turn off.”
“Someone wanted to keep us in here?” Leona asked. “Who? Briar? Arcadia?”
“Oh, no,” Mateo realized. “It was Mirage. She knew Étude and Vitalie were coming, and that we would miss them if we left before today. She wasn’t trying to keep us in here, per se. She just wanted us to stay on the planet.”
“Oh, so it’s okay?” Pribadium hoped.
“Make sure it won’t happen again,” Leona instructed. “I’ll work on the rest of the pre-flight check, because I do still want to leave today. You two are still okay with coming?”
Étude and Vitalie nodded. The former elaborated, “Cassidy is safer with you, and I want to be with her, so yeah.”
“I go where she goes.” Vitalie jerked her head towards Étude.
So it was decided. Leona and Mateo would be going off to Glisnia to send off the latter’s future dead body. Cassidy would be going with them, along with her mother, Étude, and her friend Vitalie. Pribadium was going as well, as a much needed engineer. That didn’t mean that everyone was staying on Bida, however. A couple people were interested in starting a brand new adventure.
“This is the Emma González?” Leona asked, marveling at the vessel.
“Yeah,” Étude confirmed. “Kestral and Ishida gave it to us when we went to Gatewood for Cassidy.”
“So the two of them were doing okay?” Cassidy asked.
“They were going through some stuff,” Vitalie replied, “but I think they were going to be fine. We’ve not spoken to them since we left at sublight.”
“If you’re going on the AOC,” Goswin began, “then I suppose you won’t be needing this anymore?”
“What were you thinking?” Leona asked him.
“We don’t know,” Weaver answered instead. “We were kinda just gonna choose a random direction, and start flying.”
“To what end?” Thor questioned.
“The future,” Goswin said. “We’ve decided to not have a plan at all, but only if we have the means of doing so.”
“Fine with me,” Étude told him. “That there ship is yourn.”
“Anyone else wanna come?”
“We’ll come.” Eight Point Seven was walking towards them with a chained up Briar in tow. “Trinity wants him off this planet. Nowhere is as good a place as any. I’ve outlived my usefulness with Pryce’s animal tourism testing, so I’m a free agent too.”
“Were you guys gonna leave without saying goodbye?” Ellie and Trinity were now walking up. The former was likely at a music break. It was her last radio show ever. She had by now racked up thousands of hours of programming, which was enough to last a lifetime for her listeners. She never needed to fill time for the average radio listener, but for very busy time travelers who managed to carve out a little bit of time for relaxation and entertainment.
They began to say their goodbyes. People hugged those they were comfortable enough with to feel at ease doing that. They shook hands with those they weren’t as close to, but these often transformed into hugs as well. They were all friends here, except for Briar, and a little bit Thor. He let his guard down for a moment, and got in on the action as well, though. Mateo wished he could have been there in person, but he was able to watch from the security feed, and that was better than nothing. When it was all over, everyone took their places. Eight Point Seven’s consciousness was uploaded into the González, with Weaver serving as her humanoid engineer, and Goswin as the captain. Briar was stuck in one of the rooms, since the ship was never designed with a hock. Mateo was back in grave chamber four, which Cassidy was told was the culprit for the stasis malfunction. This gave her a good reason to not open it, though come next year, there was probably no reason she wasn’t allowed to know the truth, especially since everyone else on the ship already did know.
Trinity, Ellie, and Thor were the only ones to remain on-world as the two ships launched at the same time, but flew off in different directions. DJ Mount Alias was just closing her show for good as the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was breaking orbit, and preparing to engage the Radiant Lightning reframe engine. “For my last song ever, I’ve chosen something special. This is for a man I once knew, who’s being delivered to his final resting place after a hard, but far too short, life.Easy Street started playing on the speakers, but stopped after a few seconds. “Just kidding. Friend, if yourlistening sometime in the past, I know what that song means to you.” She started playing Heat of the Moment, which was another traumatic song from Mateo’s past, as well as Leona’s. The Cleanser had tortured him with it during the Tribulation days. She stopped this as well. “That’s also a joke. I hope he appreciates it, or would have. This is the real last song. It’s not technically a single piece, however. It’s eight and a half hours long, and is perfectly designed to induce sleep. Hm. I just now realized that’s probably how it got its name. Live from the Reading Room on September 27, 2015, Sleep, by Max Richter.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Source Variant: Public Friend Number One (Part X)

For the most part, if any version of Saga and Vearden wants to open a door to another time and place, there’s about a one in three chance that it’ll take them when and where they want to go. There’s a one in three chance that it’ll take them to some point in spacetime out of their control, that the powers that be have decided. And then there’s a one in three chance that it will simply take them to the other side of the door, like it will for any regular person. There are ways for them to increase the odds of getting what they want, but it takes a lot of concentration, plus the ability to kind of act like they don’t want it. They have to trick the spacetime continuum into believing they’re neutral about it, like a bit of metaphysical reverse psychology. As one might imagine, this is incredibly difficult to pull off, and none of them is sure the theory is even true. Still, Vearden!Two, and Saga!Three found themselves energized by their conversation with The Delegator. He wanted them to do some very bad things, which didn’t discourage them from going against him, but galvanized them into action. They became even more certain of their convictions.
Their determination alone seemed powerful enough to literally open doors for them. They started jumping forwards in time separately from their preset two-hundred year pattern, and it was unclear how hard the powers that be were fighting them on it. They thought maybe, perhaps, they were actually rooting for the three of them to do the right thing, and that this was all part of the plan. As far as their plan went, they had to refine it after owning their power. They chose to not throw out the McIver hats, but instead used them to their advantage. They each chose a random face from their past; someone they knew wasn’t a real time traveler, and would have no chance of showing up as themselves. Then they revealed themselves to the Gondilak, and made up a half-true story about being visitors from another world, here to help them develop as a race, and a nation. Saga!Three used her medical background to treat some of the sick and injured, to show that they could be trusted. Then they turned themselves invisible, and walked away. They returned a year later, but this time, the doorwalkers remained invisible, while Zektene appeared in a completely new form. She used her power of teleportation to save a few lives here and there.
They continued to do this; jumping a little bit further in time, putting on new illusions, helping the natives in some small way, and then leaving. As far as the Gondilak knew, humans were a species of temporal manipulators, who frequently traveled to other worlds, and altruistically helped the aliens they found there. This was in stark contrast to Vearden!Two’s timeline, where salmon were only dispatched to provide aid to the Orothsew, while Gondilak were either ignored, or actively offended. The Gondilak here felt special, cared for, and most importantly, worthy.
Neither the Delegator, nor the powers that be themselves—nor anyone else, for that matter—did anything to prevent their actions. They just kept opening magical doors, and making more jumps; a day or two here, a couple decades there. One day, they realized that it had been exactly two hundred years since they began their little rebellious crusade. They were back on their pattern, and wondering whether it was time to change strategies, not because it wasn’t working, but because so much about the world was different. Maybe it was time to regroup, and see if there was something else they should be doing.
“How are they doing?” Saga!Three asks.
They’ve been gone for the last seven years, so before they do anything, they need a progress report. Zektene is at the computer. “Two million, forty-four thousand, two hundred and fifty six people are presently living on the continent, plus the three of us.”
“Not too bad, according to projections,” Vearden!Two notes.
“How’s that internal conflict on the Uilkeh Peninsula faring?”
Zektene pulls up the survey from that region. “Still at a stalemate. Things have not gotten worse, but it appears they’ve not gotten better either.”
“If they can just last until the lunar eclipse next year,” Saga!Three begins, “they’ll see that the moon has nothing to do with crop yield, and the five families might come together again for the Harvest Meal.” She’s become the de facto leader of their group. While Vearden!Two knows more about the people they’re dealing with, Saga is the one with the leadership skills.
“Do you wanna intervene?” Zektene offers.
“The youngest Rekohs son’s condition should remind the Oppetara matriarch of her late sister. All they need to do is find out about it. Let’s wait it out,” Saga!Three decides.
“Okay.” Zektene switches the Uilkeh Peninsula file from a red flag to a green flag, indicating that they’ll monitor the situation closely, but not intervene unless there’s an immediate threat to life.
“Any other threats?” Saga!Three prompts.
Zektene scans the files quickly. “None the drones have marked as urgent. This is a pretty good jump.”
“All right, let’s get some sleep.” They sleep every night, and never specifically address it. When Saga!Three uses the word, she means that they’re going to be taking a break for at least three days. They’re no good to the Gondilak, or the world as a whole, if they burn out in the middle of a mission.

After a literal night’s rest, Saga!Three steps into Vearden!Two’s room uninvited. She does this, because Vearden!Two doesn’t look like himself at the moment.
He quickly drops the illusion, and slips off his balaclava, but it’s too late. She saw what he looked like.
She laughs. “I’m sorry, did you think I didn’t know about this?”
“It’s not what it looks like.”
“Don’t be a cliché. I know what you’re up to.”
“I assure you, you don’t,” Vearden!Two hopes.
“You’ve been sneaking out, dressed like him, doing good deeds, and making him look like the best person in the world.”
“Okay, maybe it is what you think.”
“Vearden!Two, they have shrines dedicated to Mateo Matic. Did you really think you were getting away with it?”
“I was just hoping to do this as long as possible without being stopped, whether you found out about it or not.”
“Why is this so important to you?” she asks.
“Mateo has had a rough go of it. He’s not always welcome when he shows up. I’m just trying to protect him, so if he ever finds himself on this planet, people will already have good thoughts about him.”
Saga!Three sighs. “Come with me. I need to show you something.”
Vearden!Two follows her out of the room, and down the hallway, back into the main section of the facility. Zektene is having a midnight snack, but doesn’t say anything, because this doesn’t have anything to do with her.
Saga!Three turns the computer monitor away, so Vearden!Two can’t see it. “When did you start sneaking out, and pretending to be Mateo?”
“A hundred and twenty-one years ago. I got the idea from—”
Saga!Three turns the monitor back around, so Vearden!Two can see what’s on it now. He tilts his head to get a different angle. “Yeah, that’s an incredible likeness. I’ve never seen that one before. Where is it?”
“That doesn’t matter,” Saga!Three explains. “This cave painting is over eight hundred years old.”
“What? No, that’s impossible. That’s after we...” He hesitates. “That would mean—” Vearden!Two can’t finish his sentence.
“Vearden!Two,” Saga!Three says reluctantly, “Mateo has already been here.” She taps a button, and moves over to the next picture. “So has Leona. I don’t think they’re coming back.” She goes to the next picture of the cave drawings. “I don’t know who these people are.”
“So I’ve just been wasting my time?” he asks sadly.
“You haven’t been wasting your time,” Saga!Three promises, “but you have been wasting your vacation. He doesn’t need our help.
Zektene is suddenly right next to them. “I wouldn’t be so sure of that.”
“Wadya mean?”
Zektene takes over, and pulls up a different set of photos that the monitoring drones took a very long time ago.
“Whoa,” Saga!Three says.
“No!” Vearden!Two cries.
“Are they burning him at the stake?” Saga!Three asks.
Zektene giggles. “They tried to.” She shows them the next picture. The fire has been turned to smoldering ash, and Mateo’s likeness isn’t there anymore.
“He disappeared before he died,” Saga!Three assumes.
“That was my guess,” Zektene says. “But I don’t know who he is.”
“He lives for one day every year; jumps forward at midnight, according to central time zone.”
“Ah.” Zektene nods. “Well, I would have said something had I known you knew him. I just archived these photos, and let it go.”
“So he may come back?” Vearden!Two asks.
“We’re time travelers,” Saga!Three answers with a shrug. “Anyone could come back at any time. Maybe you making him look good wasn’t a big waste. Maybe you changed everybody’s minds on him. I don’t know.”
Vearden!Two breathes a sigh of relief. “I know it seems stupid, to be protecting this one guy. He’s just...if you met him, you might understand. He’s just so...”
“Helpless,” Vearden!Two clarifies. “People don’t help him because he’s a good person—though, he definitely is—we help him because we know he can’t do this on his own. He needs people like me. I feel very protective of him; have since day one.”
Zektene places her hand on his shoulder. “That makes sense, Vearden!Two.”
Meanwhile, Saga!Three steps off to the side to think about their situation. She’s not thinking about Mateo. She has no strong feelings about him. His presence in those cave drawings does pose an interesting question, however. She should have taken it more seriously before. They are not the only time travelers, and theirs is not the only agenda. This is a big planet, and even with the insect drones, flying around, keeping track of progress, lots of things can fall through the cracks. Even if a drone catches something on camera, the artificial intelligence in charge of them may not tell the three of them about it. Not everything it sees seems like a threat worth mentioning. It’s particularly difficult for them to elicit information from it since the system wasn’t designed for humans. Almost everything they do to get it to work is done through force. “Zektene?”
“I know we’re on vacation, but...”
“What do you need, sir?” Zektene is always ready to get down to business.
“I need you to...write a program, or run an algorithm, or whatever. Make it so that the computer spits out every human it’s ever seen, including us.”
“Sir?” Zektene questions again, but this time because she doesn’t fully understand.
“Where are you going with this?” Vearden!Two elaborates on the question.
“The Delegator seemed too cagey, but also too confident. I’m worried we actually aren’t the only humans on this continent. Even with our recent shorter time jumps, there’s a lot of gaps we don’t know as much about. Someone else could even show up at the same time as us, but in some other village, and we may never learn about it.”
“If a drone saw someone,” Zetkene begins, “I’ll find that footage.”
Two days later, the computer has finished sorting all of the data collected over the last eight centuries. Saga!Three happens to be in the room when the computer beeps, letting her know that it found someone who shouldn’t be there. She pulls up the image, and sees a man. He’s standing before Atlimai Valley, smiling sinisterly and waving at the camera. When she summons her two partners to come take a look, it’s clear that both of them know exactly who he is.
“That’s Cain,” Vearden!Two reveals. “And if he’s here, the Gondilak aren’t the ones in trouble. We are.”

Friday, November 22, 2019

Microstory 1240: Erlendr Preston

When the thousands of people who were in charge of The Temporal Gallery abandoned their responsibilities to protect the timeline, and exited the dimension, only three people remained. Athanaric Fury had the ability to create entire people, and even gift them with time powers, so it was he who designed the replacements for the people who left, but he did not start completely from scratch. He modeled the first three—and ultimately only three—new workers after the other two remainders, as if creating their children for them. Erlendr Preston was the leader of their people, whose job it was to keep watch over the Gallery, and assign duties, so there was no way he was ever going to leave his home. They called him The Curator; an honor that he took quite seriously. He and his wife were the driving forces in the movement. They were the first to see that time travel was causing problems, and it wasn’t ever going to stop unless they found a way to rise above it. They had to separate themselves from time, in some way, or the people they were up against would have too much of an advantage over them. They were heartbroken when their whole plan fell apart, and no one took it harder than Savannah. She hid herself away so deep in the gallery dimension that not even Erlendr could find her. He searched for years, but never came up with any evidence that she was even still there. He might have thought she escaped after all the others, but there was no evidence of that either. There wasn’t much for him to do anymore. Fury had built for him a skeleton crew to take control over the timeline, and though they would eventually come with their own headaches, managing the few of them wasn’t exactly a fulltime job. And so Erlendr spent most of his time watching the people on Earth go about their lives. He watched them like a normal person would watch television. He watched television too. He also read all the books, and saw all the plays. His life was busy, but boring, and depressing for him. He was secretly relieved when everything came tumbling down, and his whole purpose in life died. But he stayed. Even though the Gallery was useless without Athanaric’s temporal energy, he just could not bring himself to leave. Some say he’s still up there, all alone, watching the world with no hope of protecting the timeline from paradoxes. Others say he’s been reunited with his missing wife. Most seem to think he’s dead, either up there with a perfectly preserved body, or turned to dust with the rest of us.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Microstory 1239: Daria Matic

When the teleporting Savior program first began millennia ago, the powers that be didn’t know how they were going to do it. They started out with one person, and increased from there, according to need. As the world was coming up on the turn of the 21st century, they determined that only one Savior would be necessary at any one time, and maybe not even always that. Humans would soon be expected to save themselves, and even before that, there were plenty of other time travelers operating in the time period who could pick up the slack. Exactly thirteen years before the death of the second concurrent 20th century Saviors, Daria Matic was born. When she was old enough—which, by the standards of the powers that be, was thirteen—she was activated, and started teleporting all over the world. She helped an unknown number of people for over two decades, until she saved the man she thought would be her last assignment. He was a police detective, not too far from where she first grew up, and she would later come to realize that they attended the same elementary school at the same time. But she could not tell him this truth, because she had been missing since the early 1980s, and she didn’t have any reasonable explanation for that. It was always kind of dangerous for her to be anywhere near her old life, but this was the riskiest it had ever been. This jump felt completely different than all the others, and there was no sign that it was going to end anytime soon. She went to bed at night, and she woke up in the morning, just like a normal person would. It would seem the powers that be were done with her, and wanted her to have a real life.

Daria started seeing the man regularly, and after only a few months, they were set to have what they believed would be their first child. They hadn’t planned on it happening quite this early in the relationship, but it felt right, and they were happy. They remained together throughout the whole pregnancy. She was even able to reconnect with some family, and friends from her younger days, who she felt she could trust with the revelation that she was still alive. Then it all ended. She was allowed but one week with her Asier and Danica before the mysterious people in control of her called her to work again. That was the cruelest thing they did, giving her a child, and then keeping them apart. She knew Danica would be in good hands with her father, but what purpose did it serve giving her a year-long sabbatical, and then just forcing her away again? With no answers for why it had to be the way it was, Daria continued with her work. The powers rarely let her go anywhere near the Kansas City area again, but it was sometimes unavoidable, because people needed help there too. She tried to keep up with what the two of them were dealing with, but it was almost impossible. Her responsibilities afforded her very little time off, and that was mainly reserved for eating and sleeping. She eventually had to come to terms with the fact that she and Asier weren’t meant to be together, and that her daughter would never know her mother. This was her life, and that wasn’t going to change...until it did. She finally retired at age 65, not exactly to give her rest, but because she was no longer useful to the people in charge. Danica’s father had been dead for years, but Danica herself was still alive, and this was their opportunity to meet each other. They would never think they had enough time, though. Being a Savior is one of the toughest jobs out there, and those who are called to serve do not generally become the longest-living people on Earth. Daria died at a fairly young age, having made a greater mark on the world than most, but receiving very little credit. As for Danica, her story was far from over.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Microstory 1238: Madoc Raptis

While the tyrant, Smith always recognized the potential in the first newborn children of Durus, no one truly understood their power until they were much older. While in womb, they seemed to possess deflective capabilities when it came to the monsters, but this hardly extended beyond protecting their mothers from attack, and that was presumed to be mostly about protecting themselves. Once they were old enough, the people of what was formerly Springfield, Kansas discovered that the children had the ability to give other people time powers. Later, these gifts would be decided according to a formal competition known as the mage games, but the precursor to this tradition came in the form of smaller challenges, and the occasional personal favor. Shortly after Madoc Raptis first accidentally gave his cousin the ability to distort other people’s perception of the flow of time, the source mages found out that they could give each other powers as well. There was a limit to what powers they could possess, and the more they accumulated, the less effective they were at each one of them, but it still increased their social power in the new world. The source mages could exchange their powers for new ones at will, but they each had to work to see which power, or powers, they were best at using, and concentrate the most energy on nurturing those. None was luckier than Madoc, whose level of skill for any given power seemed almost irrelevant when it came to what he did with them. The kids liked to go against each other, not just to tailor their strengths, but to see who among them was the very best. Madoc won these contests frequently; a little too frequently, actually. It didn’t matter who he was competing against, or what time power they were using, he just kept winning.

His favorite game was called Air Gap; a variation of capture the flag, where there was only one flag in the center of the field. The object was to try to reach the target first, while simultaneously superimposing more and more space between one’s opponent, and the center. It was his favorite, because he never lost even once. Everyone else called it luck. Madoc also called it luck. He recognized that he wasn’t actually better than them, and if they ever wanted to win the war with the time monsters, he wouldn’t be able to do it alone. Mad Dog Raptis is what they called him, though he wasn’t mad, and he didn’t possess any canine qualities. It was really just a play on his name. But he couldn’t care less about his nickname. He just liked to wield his power, and test his limits. He didn’t care for the mage games either, though they were his twin sister, Yeong’s creation. He was pretty vocal with his opposition to the very concept, believing it unfair to require others to prove their worth when the source mages themselves hadn’t done anything to earn them. They were just conceived at the right time, in the right city, and he knew this could have happened to anybody. This argument was the biggest thing he ever lost, and he didn’t quite accept the outcome. Every year, whether the mage games were held or not, Madoc reserved the right to source an individual from anywhere in the world. They didn’t have to fight for the honor, or plead their case. They just had to exist, be of sufficient age, and of course, consent. These special selections sometimes went on to protect their respective towns, but others joined a special army of Madoc’s devising, which served as balance against the source mages’ power. Madoc placed no expectations on his personal selections, and though he ultimately sourced fewer people over the course of the Mage Protectorate than any of his peers, many came to be known as some of the most honorable, respected, contributive, fearless...and lucky mages in history.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Microstory 1237: Rebecca Halcyon

Much like Camden Voss, Rebecca Halcyon worked in the past. For him it was a hundred years ago, but for her, thirty-eight. She never quite understood the significance of the time difference, but then again, she never understood why she was chosen in the first place. Back at home, before all this time travel business began, Rebecca was a real estate agent in 2049. So it wasn’t the most noble profession, but at least she wasn’t a car salesman. Though to be fair, car salesmen were a dying breed—since people weren’t buying cars in person anymore, if at all—so she might have done that had she been born earlier. Though perhaps, not even that was true, because when she found herself stuck in 2011, the first thing she did was start helping people. No one told her what to do, but people around her were suffering from having lost their homes to a mudslide, and she seemed to be in a position to help. Rebecca “volunteered” there for a couple hours before she even realized that she had somehow traveled into the past, and not just to the other side of the world. She didn’t know how it happened, but she was pretty sure it wasn’t the last time. The work started off pretty irregular at first; two days on, three days off, one day on, four days off. But then the pattern leveled out, and pretty soon, she was spending all her work hours in the past, and all her evenings and weekends at home with her live-in girlfriend. Hers was a rough working schedule for someone who was supposed to be living in the mid-21st century. By then, the standard workweek was closer to thirty hours, with some people choosing to not work at all, and live solely by the universal basic income they received from automated corporations, via the government. Still, even though it wasn’t the easiest job in the world, Rebecca came to love her new life. She might have felt differently had she been stuck in the past forever, with no way to go home, but she was allowed to stay with Judy when she wasn’t busy, just like most working professionals. Other time travelers weren’t so lucky. She would later meet other people like her, who were sent off to different points in time and space, sometimes never to return to where and when they came from. So this was her life. She lived and worked at two different time periods, neither of which ever lined up with each other. She did eventually catch up with her life’s timeline, and even encountered her younger self, but she never reached the day it was when she first disappeared. In fact, she was allowed to retire the day before, effectively closing her loop.