Sunday, April 5, 2020

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: December 10, 2278

They never did manage to find Holly Blue, or her alternate counterpart, Weaver. Mateo decided, pretty unilaterally, that something had to be done about the Prestons, and that it could not wait, for anything. Not everyone agreed with his plan, but he was the one with the primary Cassidy cuff, which was the only in full working order. Not even Ramses would be able to stop him now, not that he would deign to try. Everything was going to change after the tenth of December, 2278. He would never be able to come back from this, but the timeline and Leona would be safe, so that was a sacrifice he had to make.
“You don’t seem that upset,” Mateo noted. He was standing on the other side of the cage Arcadia and Erlendr were in. This basement got a lot of use many years ago. Some very important historical figures did a lot of good deeds, for the city, and for time. But this work did not come without its enemies, and they did occasionally have to lock people up. This was where they decided to keep the Prestons, to keep them out of trouble. Since they were still here, it would seem their plan went fine.
“Why would we be upset?” Erlendr asked. He looked over at his daughter, in her own cage, separated by an empty cell in the middle.
“Well, we locked you up for...Leona told me how long, but I can’t remember.”
“It was about five months, numbnuts,” Arcadia said.
“Hey,” Erlendr scolded her. “I thought you had a thing for this one.”
“I can have mixed feelings dad!” she spat back like a petulant child.
“Childish antics aside, my daughter and I are immortal time travelers. Five months is meaningless. We’ll get out of here eventually. It could take five more months, or five thousand years; it doesn’t matter. Once we’re free, we’ll go back to the time periods on our schedule, and get back to doing what we’re doing. This is nothing. You did nothing. So no, Mister Matic, I’m not upset with you. You let us out right now, and I won’t harm a hair on your head. I won’t harm your friends either.”
“Yeah.” Nerakali appeared from up the darkened stairs. “You won’t hurt us, because you need us for something.”
Erlendr started to pace. “I need some people, for some things. I need some very specific people, with very particular time powers, and I need some cannon fodder. None of you belong to the first group, and I can find anyone for the second.”
“Which one am I?” Nerakali asked her father.
He smiled at his daughter sadly. “You’re neither, honey bunny. I’m trying to save you.”
“I’m already dead,” she volleyed.
He shook his head. “Only in this timeline. As far as I’m concerned, this timeline can get fucked.”
“Hey, billions and billions of people live, once lived, or will one day live in this timeline,” Mateo argued. “You will show them your respect.”
“Look at the audacity on this guy. This is not the man I keep hearing about. You’re...strong, full of conviction.”
“I’ve grown a little. Death does that to ya, I suppose.”
“But you’re still an idiot.”
This made Nerakali a lot angrier than Mateo himself. She lifted her cuff, and spoke into it. “J.B., are you in the geothermal room?”
“Yes, sir,” he replied through the intercom.
“Put baby in the corner,” she ordered.
“What the hell does that mean?” Arcadia asked flippantly.
Both she and Erlendr were suddenly pulled against the wires of the cage. It wasn’t killing them, but it wasn’t pleasant.
Mateo started mimicking Erlendr’s pacing. “Remind me, Nerakali, what was the proximity range we put on our prisoners’ Cassidy cuffs?”
“They can’t get within two meters of the primary, sir,” she answered, “and not beyond twenty meters.”
“And...about how far is the far corner of the power generator room of this facility?”
“Just over twenty meters, sir.”
“Okay,” Arcadia struggled to say with her face scrunched up against the metal. “We get it. We’ll be good.”
Mateo spoke into his own cuff. “Step back, please.”
The Prestons fell to their knees.
“You could have just had him walk up stairs,” Erlendr told them.
“But then your honey bunny couldn’t have made the Dirty Dancing reference.” Mateo leaned in real close to Erlendr, who was still on the floor. “Speaking of movie references...honey bunny was the douche bag’s girlfriend...pumpkin. That’s not an Oedipus complex, but it’s something.”
Erlendr banged his fists against the wire. “Okay, now I’m pissed!”
“Oh, you are, are ya!” Mateo matched volume with his best Irish accent.
“Yeah!”
“You are?!”
“I am!”
“I’m glad to finally know you draw the line at incest! Prestoncest!”
Arcadia banged on the cage too. “Hey! What the hell are you doing? This isn’t you!”
He slid over, and gave her the stink eye. “Oh, what’s my problem? I just have this thing about muthafuckas murdering me. It’s a quirk; I was born with it!”
Arcadia mimed squeezing a watermelon between her hands, shaking with frustration. “He’s going to undo that. He’s going to undo all of them!”
“Oh, he is? What about the people who once lived here? Their deaths galvanized an entire city to drop their weapons, which started a nationwide movement that inspired other cities to do the same. I’m not saying those innocent people deserved to die, but what world will we be living in if it doesn’t happen?”
“We’re gonna fix all that too!” Arcadia contended. “We’re gonna fix everything! The Parallel is just Step One of Stage Three.”
Who’s gonna fix it?” he questioned.
“Us!” she cried. “My father, my brother, Nerakali, even you!”
“And there it is.” Mateo lowered his voice back down to assert his calm dominance. “You Prestons have always fancied yourselves gods. You think you know best. Zeferino died for this delusion. But that’s why the powers that be made me! I don’t have a job, so when they need something done that’s unusual—that no one else is responsible for—they call me in. I rehabilitated Horace Reaver, I got The Cleanser killed, and I ripped you from this universe, where you too were rehabilitated.” He wasn’t finished yet. “My wife made Nerakali a better person, and our relationship with Reaver drove him to kill Ulinthra for us.”
“Who?”
“Exactly.” He started to pace again, but this time for himself. “I ran a planet. Leona saved a race of heavy worlders. We have bested everyone and everything that’s ever been thrown at us, including you. You think you can win, because there’s one thing no one has ever had the audacity—as you put it—to say to you.”
“Lemme guess,” Erlendr began, “no.”
“Close,” Mateo replied. “I was gonna say hell no.”
“You’re not a selfish man, Mateo,” Erlendr said. “You would never let a villain do a bad thing to get your own life back. But how can you say no to all those people the hundemarke killed? What would you say to their families?”
Now Mateo knew he had to be cold. “It depends. If they were religious, I would probably lie to them, and say that God has a plan.”
“And if they weren’t?” Arcadia asked.
He took a moment before answering, which they all managed to respect. “I would tell ‘em that shit happens.”
They didn’t have a response to this.
Mateo spoke into his cuff, “Ramses. Is it done? Will it work?”
It’s ready, boss. I’m no Holly Blue, though, so be careful. Handoff upon your orders,” Ramses replied.
“What does that mean?” Arcadia asked again.
“Do it,” Mateo ordered.
His cuff beeped. The Prestons stumbled back, but regained their balance.
“Sorry, I was too close.” He stepped back to give them more space to move around. Ramses just transferred ownership of their cuffs to him, which meant he was primary for all of them. He was done being cruel. Now he just had to kill them. It was the only way. Leona didn’t agree with it, though, which was why she wasn’t here.
Arcadia sensed the turn. “This is it? You want blood?”
“No blood,” Mateo said with a slow shake of his head.
“You know what I mean.”
“Yes, but you don’t know what I mean.” He inhaled deeply to prepare himself. “I suggested we erase your memories, but Nerakali told me my brain wouldn’t be able to handle that. You’re just too...much. You’re sick, and you’ve had traumatizing lives. I wouldn’t survive. But that doesn’t mean I can’t use her power.” Now he turned, and faced the only good Preston they had ever known. “You should leave.”
“I need to see this,” Nerakali insisted.
“I understand.” He started pressing a sequence on his cuff.
“What are you doing?” she asked, tearing up.
“I’m sorry.”
“You don’t have to do this alone,” she begged him. “You’re abusing your power.”
He sighed again. “I know. I’ll make you forget I did it later.”
“That’s worse!” she screamed.
Before she could say anything else, he executed the sequence, and apported her to safety in the hangar.
“What did she want to watch?” Erlendr looked scared, and it was probably the first time in his millennia-long life.
“I’m not gonna kill your bodies. I don’t have the stomach for it. No matter what anyone says, you’re not Hitler.”
“You’re gonna blend our brains,” Arcadia realized. “But what is that going to change? We’ve both been the same, in all realities.”
“Your sister taught me a lot about how her time and mind powers work, and about alternate realities in general,” he began. “She explained that, logically speaking, your alternate self isn’t much more you than any rando. I can blend your brain with anyone I choose. I just have to know who I’m looking for.”
“Who are you looking for?” Erlendr asked.
“Does it matter?” he asked. “You’re not going to remember.”
“Whose minds are you putting in our bodies?” Arcadia echoed.
“Years ago, you forced me and my friends to struggle through expiations. You took them out of time one by one, and held them hostage.”
“I remember,” she said. “This is payback?”
“No,” Mateo said truthfully. “We failed one of the expiations. We failed to bring back your previous target’s brother, and we failed to help your target herself. I’m here to fix that. The loophole is that I can clear all of your memories without taking them into myself as long as I replace them all with new ones.”
“Please,” Erlendr pleaded.
He used his Cassidy cuffs to disable the proximity range, and then he apported the both of them out of their cages. This could be their one chance to escape, but they were too frightened to do anything. They couldn’t think clearly. They had never been so powerless. But he was thinking clearer than ever, and possessed more power than he had ever known what to do with. Things were different than the last time, back when he was forced to fight the Cleanser using the same powers as equals. This time, he knew what had to be done, and he knew he was the only one in a position to do it, even though he wasn’t the only one with these gifts in his hands. He raised them now, and focused his energy on his targets. “Erlendr and Arcadia Preston, you have been found guilty on multiple counts of murder, for which the punishment is death by immediate overwrite.” It was faster than he thought it would be. In under a minute, Erlendr and Arcadia Preston were gone. The people he replaced them with were just as scared, though, and very confused.
Mateo used his cuff to summon his wife to their position.
“Is it done?” Leona asked.
“Leona Delaney, I would like to introduce you to brother and sister, Aldona and Nestor Lanka.”
“It’s nice to meet you,” Leona said to them.
“Please take care of them,” Mateo charged her.
“Where are you going?”
He gave the love of his life one last hug. “It’s best that you don’t know.” Then he teleported away, and left her there, never intending to see her again.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Firestorm: Volpsidia Raske (Part II)

I don’t know what Alexina’s problem is. We used to be friends. And I don’t just mean we would smile at each other in the hallway in high school. We were really close, even before we got trapped in the Purple Rose Lane pocket dimension together. She acts like she grew up, and grew out of our old ways, but every single one of us was a precocious child. The way we are is the way we are because of what we can do, and she can hide from that side of her all she wants, but eventually she’s gonna realize that it takes up the majority of who she is, and she won’t be able to hide anymore. Whatever. It’s not going to do me any good right now. I need to get the hell out of this prison, and now I know what to do. My first pawn was far too strong for me, but her replacement will do quite nice. I just need to get him to trust me.
“Aren’t we already talking?” Ace asks.
“We are,” I say, “but we need to talk where guards can’t hear us, and if we go into our pocket dimensions, we can. They can’t spy on us in there. We are afforded a modicum of privacy.”
“Did they not just hear you say that, though?”
“Temporarily, no.” I’ve been able to get myself into one of the guard’s heads. It’s not enough to compel him to break me out of here—partially because he isn’t in a position to accomplish it anyway—but he does manipulate some of the surveillance to keep me out of trouble. He gets suspicious when I’m controlling his mind too much, though. I need my cell neighbor in a certain spot so I can break my connection with the guard on my own terms.
“How can we talk from the pockets? The weird magical phones they give us in there surely are indeed monitored.”
“They are, which is why we’re not going to use them.”
“What do you need me to do?”
“You have a bookcase.” It’s not a question.
“Yes,” he answers. “What about it?”
“I need you to lift one side of it, and swing it outwards to a ninety degree angle.”
“Is there a secret phone behind it, or something?”
“Do you want the instructions, or not? If you do this for me, you’ll be able to see your family.”
“Okay, go on.”
“Swing the bookcase out,” I continue. “Tear the carpet from the floor. It might be kind of hard, so you’ll have to use a fork, or something. Or use a knife, because you’re gonna need it anyway. Once you have enough of the carpet out of the way, carve my name into the wood underneath. V-O-L-P-S-I-D-I-A-P-H-I-L-L-I-P-R-A-S-K-E.”
“Phillip with two Ls, you said?” he asks.
“Yes.” He’s buying it; it’s working.
“What next?”
“After you’re finished carving, go to bed. Repeat my name over and over again in a low whisper. Keep doing it until you fall asleep. What you’re doing is sending a message to the universe that not even the dimensional barriers in your prison cell can ignore.”
“Is any of this real, or are you just hazing the new guy?”
Okay, maybe he’s not buying it. Let the line out a little, then slowly start reeling him back in, Volpsidia. “I know it sounds crazy, but I’ve done this before.”
“Okay, fine. Tear up the carpet, carve your name, chant your name. I can do that.”
All I can do now is wait and hope. He never comes back out to give me a progress report, so he’s either actually trying it, or he’s figured out that I’m lying, and isn’t doing anything. The guy in the cell on the other side of me has his own slight psychic abilities, so if I’m going to break myself out, this idiot is my only hope.
That night, I start to feel him, and now I know he did what I asked. As the minutes go by, the stronger I can feel his mind. I’m a genius.
No, you’re not.
Who’s that? I ask. There’s someone in my head, and it’s not Ace. Who the hell is that? It’s a female voice, so I know it’s not my neighbor either.
You’re right, the voice in my head agrees. I’m not your neighbor. I am nowhere near Beaver Haven. You see, I haven’t broken any of McAllister’s rules, which is why I’m still free.
Who are you?
The name’s Erlendr Preston, he says. I can hear the smile in his thoughts.
I’ve heard of you. You’re a man.
I sense a shrug. I can be whatever I want to be. Feel free to authenticate my psychic signature.
Holy crap, he’s telling the truth. I cannot piss him off. I’m so sorry, I didn’t know. I should probably be ready to plead for my life.
Tell me, what are you doing with Horace Reaver? Why did you make him chant your name like a frickin’ psycho? I can hear him all the way from the 20th century.
It’s a psychic prompt, I reply. Erlendr Preston is not a good guy. If he wants to stop me, he can. If he doesn’t, then it’s fine for me to be honest. In fact, it’s probably best, because I imagine he can tell when people are lying, and I don’t wanna know what he does to those people. I can read his mind, just like I can read anyone else, but I can’t control him unless he lets me in. Most people don’t realize that psychic powers are real, which means their minds are closed to pushing. If I want to hack in, I have to make him want me to. I have to make him think that we’re friends, and that I can help him.
Horace Reaver is very important to my plans. What are your plans? Do they interfere with mine?
I have no idea. What are you trying to do?
Nevermind that, Erlendr says. You explain your goals, and I’ll decide if I’m going to let you reach them or not.
I sigh. I’m just trying to get out of Beaver Haven.
How is being psychically linked to another inmate going to get you this?
This body is just a vessel. If I can get out of here mentally, I can find myself a new one. Ace’s body would just be temporary until I can find someone I like better.
Will Mr. Reaver survive both your possession, and your leaving him mind later?
Absolutely. If all goes according to plan, he won’t even know I’m still there. I’ll be dormant until I find the right host.
Erlendr doesn’t send another telepathic message for a while. Is it true what you told him? Can you let him see his family while he’s locked up? Do you have remote viewing capabilities?
Uhh... It’s hard to explain. I can...show him what he expects to see his family doing.
What happens when he gets out, and realizes what you showed him was an illusion?
He won’t. When he gets out, and tries to compare his visions with reality by talking to his people, everything they tell him will rewrite his memories of those visions. He’ll start remembering what they experienced when he wasn’t there just by them telling him about it.
That’s impressive. I’ve never met a choosing one with such...delicate power.
I laugh. I’m not a choosing one. I’m a Springfield Nine.
I know. He laughs too. I’ll be sure to make your life comfortable when I create my parallel reality.
I’m not sure what he means by that, but it’s best I express my gratitude. Thank you. I’m sure my alternate self will appreciate it.
You have a week, Erlendr says to me. Horace has to do something for me, and I need his mind free and clear for that. Find another vessel by then, and I’ll let you have this one for now.
Well, this version of me appreciates that deeply.
Just remember that next year when we meet each other again.
Oh, that doesn’t sound good, but I still need to be humble. Okay.
That was a psychic conversation, which is innocuous, and I have them with people all the time. Even though most don’t have powers, their minds instinctively know how to block out intrusion, so if they want, they can always drop the conversation as if hanging up a phone. But now I am fully inside Ace’s brain, so I can make it look like we’re occupying the same physical space. He’ll be able to see me; I’ll be able to see him, and we can interact with each other on a more intuitive level. The manifestation of a door appears on the wall in each of our respective pocket dimensions, like two adjoined hotel rooms. There is only one step left. In order to maintain a permanent presence in him, I need to open my door, and he needs to open his. We do so at the same time.
“Are we really here?” he asks.
“No, now we’re connected psychically.”
“What was all that with the bookcase, and saying your name out loud?”
“I’m sorry I had to make you do that. When I said you were reaching out to the universe, I really meant you were just reaching out to me. I’m the one who can show you how your family is doing, but I can only do that if you’re open.”
He looks around at our two pockets, which were contrived from our memories. “I look pretty open now.”
I nod and smile. I almost feel bad about using him. He seems like a good man. Which is probably why he’s going to get out of here one day. That has only ever happened once, as far as I know. I wasn’t able to get all the way into Slipstream’s mind, and I tried for a whole year, so this is my only chance to be free. “Yep. You did everything perfectly. Now I can show you what’s going on in the real world. I don’t have to ask you to concentrate on their faces, or anything. You’re the kind of guy who’s just doing that all the time.” I wave my hand at the double threshold, tearing it apart in the center. A new opening forms in its wake, opening enough to let us pass.
We walk into what looks like a magic show. Waiters and waitresses are walking around with drinks and fries. The place is pretty full. It’s informal, so people aren’t paying the man on stage their undivided attention, but they are being respectful. They’re whispering things to each other when they need to. We spot Ace’s family and friends. Serkan, Paige, Slipstream, and Alexina are sitting in a booth in the middle of the audience, right up against a retaining wall. They’re watching the performer, but differently than everyone else. They’re studying him.
“Now, folks!” the magician cries. “I know you didn’t come here for cold readings and trick rings! You wanna see me make something disappear!” He opens his palm, letting a dove suddenly appear on top of it. “Maybe this bird?” He pops his hand up, prompting the dove to fly up into the rafters. This is a weird vision. I can’t actually see what’s really happening in the rest of the world. I can read minds, and control people, but I have no connection to anyone here, except for Alexina, whose mind I agreed to never violate. This is only meant to be what Ace thinks is happening out here, and when he meets them again, his memory of this moment should change so he doesn’t realize it’s fake. Why would he think his family is at a magic show when they’re supposed to be on mission? “Today, I have a very special treat for you! I have been working on a new trick, and I need a volunteer! It takes a lot of energy, so I would prefer someone with less mass!”
“I’ll do it!” Young Paige volunteers.
Serkan tries to stop her quietly.
“It’s fine,” she whispers to him as she’s standing up. “I understand what he’s doing. He can’t hurt me.” She walks up towards the stage, bowing graciously at the cheering crowd. We follow, but of course, no one can see us since they’re not real.
“You look familiar,” the magician says to her, “what is your name?”
She leans in to the microphone. “I’ve been at your show before. My name is Paige Turner Reaver-Demir.”
“Well, folks, now you know she’s not a plant! I could never come up with such an interesting name!”
The audience laughs, except for Ace’s family.
The magician goes on, “Paige, have you ever teleported before?”
Paige leans in again, and very seriously—and without hesitation—answers, “yes.”
This surprises him for a moment, then he wises up. He covers the mic with his hand. “Are you a choosing one?” he whispers.
“I’m not,” she replies. “I’m spawn.” Oh, man, those are rare. I didn’t know that about her. “But don’t worry, I’m just here to have a good time. Go ahead and do your trick, it’s fine.”
After a little more performance to build up the suspense, the magician asks Paige to stand on the right side of him. Then he uses whatever chooser power he has to teleport her right over to his left side. The crowd is shocked. They start cheering again. Everyone is giving him a standing ovation. They’re eating it up. It’s not very impressive when you’ve seen what I have, but humans are ignorant wee babies. The magician seems proud of himself at first, but then his nose begins to bleed. He looks like he’s about to faint.
Paige notices this too. She takes her phone out of her pocket with one hand while trying to hold him up with the other. “It looks like that took a lot out of him, folks! I’m going to have to take him to the hospital.” She pulls up a picture of what I assume is a hospital, looks right at it, and they both disappear. Now the crowd freaks out.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Microstory 1335: Debut

Entertainment Interviewer: Is this your first interview?
Film Student: My first real interview, yes. I’ve been in the school newspaper a time or two.
Entertainment Interviewer: Well, I bet you’re pretty excited, aren’t you?
Film Student: Yes, I feel very fortunate to have been given this opportunity. I haven’t even started working yet, and Sterling Serials has already been so good to me. They assure me they’re not just going to throw me in the deep end, and expect me to fend for myself.
Entertainment Interviewer: I mean this interview. I bet you’re excited for the interview.
Film Student: Oh, uh, yeah. Yeah.
Entertainment Interviewer: Then I guess we ought to get started. First, tell me a little bit about yourself.
Film Student: Well, my name is Film Student. I’ve been a film student at Hillside University for three years now. I’ve always known that I wanted to be a director, so I picked my major right away. I did a little bit of stage acting in middle and high school, and some of my film and video classes required us to make short films, of course. I much prefer to be behind the camera, though. Other than that, I do some photography—mostly close-ups—which I consider to be more like motion pictures than most people do.
Entertainment Interviewer: Oh, that’s cool Very interesting. So, what was your first thought when you got the call that you won the contest?
Film Student: I know you expect me to say I was giddy, and I jumped up and down, or did a dance, but my aunt always taught me to act like I’ve been there, so I played it pretty cool. I wanted to sound professional right from the start.
Entertainment Interviewer: It says here they want you to direct the fourth episode of the third season of The Light of Day. When does filming begin?
Film Student: First of the month, next month. I’ve already seen a draft of the script, and I obviously can’t give anything away, but I can tell you that it’s really good. I’m honored to be working off the incredible talent from the writers room.
Entertainment Interviewer: What about the cast?
Film Student: I haven’t met any of the cast yet, but the internet tells me they’re all really nice, and down to Earth.
Entertainment Interviewer: What do you have to say to all the little girls out there who are being told they can’t make movies? What did you wish you had said when someone said that to you?
Film Student: Um, well...that never happened to me. No one’s ever told me that.
Entertainment Interviewer: I thought you said you always wanted to make movies. No one ever tried to tear you down when you were young?
Film Student: Umm...no? My family has always been very supportive. I was born into middle class, and my parents sacrificed a lot so I could have the things I wanted to be happy. They bought me multiple video cameras over the years so I could practice my skills.
Entertainment Interviewer: Right, but wasn’t there someone who mocked you about your dreams, or at least tried to tell you that you’ll have to work twice as hard to make it as a woman in the industry.
Film Student: I—I guess that sort of thing does happen. But I don’t have any personal experience with it. Like I said, my family was very supportive.
Entertainment Interviewer: Okay. That’s—good for you.
Film Student: Yeah, thanks.
Entertainment Interviewer: Well, what are things like now? How does it feel to be a woman in such a male-dominated field?
Film Student: I don’t know, man. It feels great to be here, but I don’t really give my gender much thought, and no one so far has given me the impression they give it much thought either.
Entertainment Interviewer: Oh.
Film Student: Except for you. You seem to be giving it a lot of thought.
Entertainment Interviewer: I just want to acknowledge that it’s harder—I suppose I don’t want to make a generalization—but different. It’s different for a woman. People have different expectations, and there’s a history. No matter what job you get, it’s just..different.
Film Student: I think it’s only different because people look at it differently. I appreciate you trying to acknowledge it, but be careful to not fall into a trap while you’re at it. If we put less pressure on gender, we probably wouldn’t notice it as much, which is the ultimate goal here. I mean, think about when Clinton II became president. All anyone talked about was how she was the first female president of the United States. That’s great and all, but if a woman was the second president overall, immediately after Washington, we wouldn’t be singing her praises. I mean, maybe we would; it depends on who this hypothetical person was. My point is that it’s only a big deal because we make it a big deal. But I’m not impressed with Hillary Clinton because she’s a woman. I’m impressed with her because she’s a strong leader, and has a great deal of foreign policy experience. I don’t want to keep hearing about the first woman this, and the first black man that. We should be striving for a world where no one notices such things, because they’re totally normal. I don’t wanna be a female director. I just wanna be a director.
Entertainment Interviewer: Great. Well, that’s all the time we have today. Thanks for stopping by.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Microstory 1334: Unwanted

Therapist: My receptionist reported that you sounded a little upset on the phone when she was confirming your appointment. Is everything okay?
Journalism Student: Oh, it’s not a big deal. I don’t even know why I was crying about it.
Therapist: You were crying?
Journalism Student: Just a little. Again, it’s not a big deal; barely worth mentioning.
Therapist: Barely worth it, but not not worth it at all?
Journalism Student: Forget it, it’s stupid.
Therapist: The other day, a client of mine came in bawling because he had just seen an ad on his phone in the waiting room for hummus. Apparently, he and his late wife met at a mutual friend’s party when another friend turned out to be allergic to peanuts, and they both volunteered to rush to the store to pick up alternatives. His feelings were not stupid, and neither are yours.
Journalism Student: It’s just this thing that happened to me two days ago. I was interviewing this guy who dropped out of my high school. He’s starting a drone courier service for the city. They don’t sell supplies or anything; they just carry items from other companies to people who work from home. I thought it was an interesting concept, and I thought it was cool that someone I once took Spanish with was making a name for himself, even though he didn’t graduate. Well, he remembered me from that one class, and evidently thought I had some sort of crush on him, so he started making the interview personal.
Therapist: He made you uncomfortable?
Journalism Student: Yes. He didn’t touch me, or anything. I mean, he didn’t even really say anything inappropriate. I probably would have shrugged the whole thing off, except it’s not the first time this kind of thing has happened.
Therapist: Yes, I remember the swim team captain who wanted you to interview him in the boy’s locker room.
Journalism Student: Yeah, he acted like it was because that’s how they do it in the major leagues, but I don’t think that was his reason. I don’t think he was planning on us, like, doing something together, but I bet he figured I might start getting ideas if I saw him like that, in that environment.
Therapist: Yes, that could be what he was thinking. Remember, though, we talked about presuming other people’s feelings, positions, and intentions. He might have genuinely wanted to pretend he was a pro athlete.
Journalism Student: Yeah, I understand.
Therapist: Did you talk with this drone guy about it?
Journalism Student: Oh no, I just rejected him politely, and ended the interview. It was awkward, though, and I may have asked him a few follow-up questions if he hadn’t taken the conversation to that place.
Therapist: Well, was it awkward for him too, or just you?
Journalism Student: How am I meant to know?
Therapist: Did it seem like he was upset too? Or did he act like it wasn’t a big deal?
Journalism Student: I guess he seemed okay. Like, he didn’t get angry with me. But I still felt weird, so I had to get out of there.
Therapist: That’s a perfectly reasonable response. I’m saying, if you still need more information to write your article for the paper, you could call him with those follow-up questions, and act like nothing happened. You can’t let what he did get in the way of you completing your assignment. Even if he didn’t do that on purpose, you deserve to do your job. You never know, he could be talking with his own therapist right now about how that interaction made him feel. If you treat him with respect, he’ll either be relieved that it didn’t seem to ruin your life, or he’ll be pissed you’re bothering him again, but still without giving him a chance at whatever relationship he feels entitled to. To put it another way, either you make things better for him—and I think for you too, since you can get some closure—or you force him to show his true colors. Either way, it’ll be good to get this resolved.
Journalism Student: What if he turns out to be a stalker, or something? What if engaging him again is just leading him on?
Therapist: [...] As a woman, everything you do will be scrutinized and interpreted. The fact is that you could smile at the grocery store cashier a little too widely, and make him think you want to have his baby. This is a dangerous world, and there are lots of dangerous people in it who are looking for an excuse to justify their thoughts. We can’t let them have that much power. I’m not saying don’t be cautious, but you have the right to write your article, just as much as you have the right to smile without also agreeing to marriage. You see what I’m saying?
Journalism Student: Yeah, I guess.
Therapist: We can keep talking about this as long as you want, but I do what to make sure we have time to discuss your former teacher’s death. This virus hit us all really hard, and I don’t want you ignoring the loss, even if you didn’t know her very well.
Journalism Student: Okay.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Microstory 1333: Hillside Sky Courier

Journalism Student: Thank you so much for agreeing to talk to me, High School Dropout. I really appreciate this opportunity. I know a school newspaper isn’t exactly the kind of exposure you’re looking for, but I think my audience will really enjoy reading about someone they went to school with. I, for one, am very excited to learn about what you do.
Drone Service Founder: Thank you, but please, just call me Drone Service Founder.
Journalism Student: Okay, sorry. I didn’t mean to offend.
Drone Service Founder: No, it’s okay. Wadya wanna know?
Journalism Student: First, why don’t you tell me a little bit about what your company does?
Drone Service Founder: Well, I’m not sure we can call it a company just yet. We’re nowhere near making a profit. Right now, we’re in the middle of a major fundraising round. We can’t do anything until we buy our first fleet.
Journalism Student: How big of a fleet are we talking here?
Drone Service Founder: We hope to have thirty drones total by the end of the year.
Journalism Student: How much is that going to cost?
Drone Service Founder: I’m not at liberty to discuss the financial side of our business.
Journalism Student: Right. Well, why is it important to have a fleet? Can you not just get started with one or two drones, and expand from there?
Drone Service Founder: Our future clients will want a reliable service. They don’t want to call us, and be turned away, because we can’t help them at the moment. Even if we contracted with a single company, they would expect deliveries to multiple locations, and we’ll always need to be ready to scale up. It’s all about availability.
Journalism Student: I see. So, I know that it says some of this on your website, but what exactly will you be delivering?
Drone Service Founder: It’s a bit of a misnomer to call us a delivery service. That implies we sell products, and deliver them to customers. We do not sell anything but a service. Here’s how it works. A company will have, let’s say, a hundred people working for them. Let’s say they—no, no, no; scratch that. Let’s say we’re talking about a school district. Yeah, that makes sense here. They have buildings all over the area, right? Let’s say they have fifteen locations; elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, administrative buildings. Those people all need documents to be printed and copied, right? Well, they could hire someone to work at each location, whose job it is to handle only the work those people need. Or they could set up an entire building where all they do is print things for the teachers and administrators. But how do you get all those documents to the end users? You could drive around the city, sure, that’s probably how they do it now. Or you could call us. My drones don’t worry about traffic, or wait at red lights. They zip over everything, and drop what the client needs, where they need it, and most importantly, when they need it. That’s key here. If we can scale up enough, and manage our client base, we can promise deliveries measured in minutes, rather than hours.
Journalism Student: What about the cost to the clients? Will it be worth it for them to hire you, instead of just sticking with however they’re doing it now?
Drone Service Founder: We’re still working on the details, but this will come at an affordable price. Our overhead is lower than you would think, and our labor costs are really low. I’m here with my first investor and partner. We hired someone for legal, and one general laborer. I’ll probably hire a mechanic to maintain the drones themselves, and an accountant to keep us square. Beyond that, we shouldn’t need anyone else. Every company in the city could contract with us, and we won’t likely need to hire too many more people to keep up with it. Automation is key.
Journalism Student: What do you say to people who are already worried about robots taking all their jobs?
Drone Service Founder: I’ll remind them that we’re a new company. You can’t expect us to arbitrarily hire a staff for jobs we don’t have need for. We don’t plan on letting anyone go. Six plus people, and no room for downsizing.
Journalism Student: Wow, that’s interesting. Let me write this down. No room for downsizing.
Drone Service Founder: So, listen, I’m glad you called. I’m hoping I’m not misreading this. Can we go off the record for a moment? I would like to discuss something personal.
Journalism Student: Umm, okay, sure.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Microstory 1332: Peak Family

Uniformed Officer: I know you’re all really shaken up, but I do have to ask you a few questions so we can figure this out.
Mr. Peak: That’s okay. We want to get this son of a bitch.
Uniformed Officer: Were you home when the intruder came in?
Mr. Peak: Yes and no.
Uniformed Officer: I don’t understand.
Mr. Peak: My wife and son were home. My daughter and I were not.
Uniformed Officer: Oh, okay. I’ll direct my questions to you, Madam Peak.
Mr. Peak: No, don’t talk to her. I’m the head of the household. You will direct all your questions to me.
Uniformed Officer: Sir, I really need to get an eyewitness account of the events as they occurred. It’s important that I have the chance to speak with the rest of your family. I can’t take second-hand testimony.
Mr. Peak: Testimony? We ain’t in court.
Uniformed Officer: No, I just mean that I need to speak with each of you about what you experienced, and it’s best if we start with the people who were actually here when it happened.
Mr. Peak: You’re not gonna talk to my son neither.
Uniformed Officer: How old is your son?
Mr. Peak: He’s twenty-three.
Uniformed Officer: You can only refuse if he’s a minor. He’s old enough to answer for himself.
Peak Son: I don’t want to talk to you.
Madam Peak: You don’t have to, son.
Uniformed Officer: I’m sorry, I’m confused. Do you want this case solved, or no?
Mr. Peak: We do want it solved, and you’re gonna do it.
Uniformed Officer: Sir, I’m not a detective. I’m just here to get some basic information until one is assigned. They will be asking more in-depth questions.
Mr. Peak: In-deph [sic] questions, like what?
Uniformed Officer: Uhh...um. They’ll ask you whether you had any enemies, or if there was a recent disagreement, or if anyone had access to your place. The answers you give me now will determine the detective’s line of questioning later on. I mostly need to know what was taken, and whether anyone was hurt.
Mr. Peak: Well, I can answer the other questions right here.
Uniformed Officer: Sir—
Mr. Peak: The Valley family down the street has always had it out for us. Ever since my daughter broke up with theirs, we’ve had issues with them.
Peak Daughter: I didn’t break up with her. It was mutual.
Madam Peak: It’s never mutual, honey.
Uniformed Officer: I really don’t need any of this information. Please, just tell me what you saw, and what was taken from the house.
Mr. Peak: Now, Mr. Valley and I have had our own issues. His Christmas lights last year were far too bright. It’s light pollution, ya know. So I go over there, and he’s already pissed, because I guess he lost his job, or something. I go over there, and he’s like, you don’t tell me what to do with my lights! I’m tryin’ to remain calm—I’m a level-headed fellow, you can ask anyone; those charges are bullcrap—
Peak Daughter: You tell her, daddy!
Uniformed Officer: I don’t care about any of this. Here’s where we stand right now. You have three choices. You can start cooperating, and tell me what happened, so we can proceed with the investigation. Second, you can keep quiet, and I’ll walk away like nothing happened. I’ll write this whole thing up as a mistake, and no one will contact you about it again. Or third, you can keep treating this situation with disrespect, I can report that you called nine-one-one fraudulently, and you will be charged with filing a false report. What do you want to do? Do you want to answer my questions, or do you want to give me trouble?
Madam Peak: ...
Mr. Peak: Well, go on, wife. Tell the nice lady about your creepy dolls.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Microstory 1331: Charitable Foundation

Lottery Winner: Thank you for calling in one last time. My friend told me to refer to this a suitability interview, so I don’t look like a jerk for making you interview more than once, but the truth is that I don’t really know what the hell I’m doing, and there were some things I forgot to ask you before.
Assistant Candidate: It’s no problem. I’m happy to answer anything.
Lottery Winner: Okay, great. I’ll make this as quick and painless as possible. After I won the lottery, everyone had a lot of ideas about how I could spend the money. If they weren’t asking for me to just give it to them, they were suggesting I buy a theme park, or a sports team, or a giant mansion. Of course, a lot of people said I ought to just donate it to charity, which is the obvious answer here, and why I placed the job posting. At first, I figured I would need help from an assistant who could field donation requests, and research the most reputable ones. I don’t want to give to a front for a terrorist organization, or to someone who’s embezzling it. The more I’ve thought about this, the more I’ve realized that this won’t be enough. I have eighty-three million dollars right now, and when I run out of that, then it’s gone. Most would say that’s no big deal, but I want to maximize my donations, and the amount of time I can do it. I don’t just want to give the money away. I want to set up a charitable foundation, so it can keep going, even after the initial money is gone; even after I’m gone.
Assistant Candidate: Oh, that’s a nice idea, I like that.
Lottery Winner: I’m glad to hear it, because once I decided to do this, I remembered your name. There were a lot of great candidates for this position, and honestly, I wasn’t too worried about who I chose before. I was mostly concerned with finding someone who wasn’t going to steal from me, or exploit my generosity. But it says here you’ve actually worked for a number of nonprofits.
Assistant Candidate: I have, yes.
Lottery Winner: What did you do for them?
Assistant Candidate: Well, I’ve done a lot of volunteer work here and there. I sorted thrift store donations, helped build houses, and cleaned up parks. I imagine that’s not what you’re asking about, though. You’re wondering about the administrative side, and I do have a little bit of experience with that. I’m an editor by trade, so I worked in two paid positions, editing grant proposals. The key to remember there is that I was an editor; not a writer. A lot of letters came across my desk, but I never had to be the one to write one from scratch, and I haven’t done anything else in administration.
Lottery Winner: I think that would be okay. I’m not looking for the best. I’m looking for someone flexible, who is willing to accept my mistakes, as well as their own, and try to get better.
Assistant Candidate: I can be flexible. I think I would be very happy in a job where I help you figure things out.
Lottery Winner: That would be amazing.
Assistant Candidate: I would have one suggestion, though.
Lottery Winner: You have a charity in mind?
Assistant Candidate: Oh no, nothing like that. If you don’t have any experience, and you’re going to hire me—who also isn’t all that experienced—then you might want to think about hiring some kind of lawyer next. That’s the trickiest thing when it comes to this. You hear a lot about white collar criminals who steal from their unsuspecting clients, but I bet there are some who just didn’t realize they were doing something illegal. Compliance is boring, but it’s important.
Lottery Winner: Yeah, that’s a good point. I could easily fall into that category. Why don’t you come in tomorrow? We’ll discuss how to find a lawyer for such a thing, as well as other things, like your salary.
Assistant Candidate: Cool, thanks.
Lottery Winner: Thank you.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: December 9, 2277

The new Cassidy cuffs that Ramses made for them didn’t seem to work as they were meant to. It was unclear at first exactly what went wrong. All Mateo knew was that the six of them were sitting in a room together in 2276 when midnight struck, and when he returned to the timestream a year later, he was alone. Not even Leona seemed to have made it through. The old Mateo would have freaked out at this point, but he developed a sense of clarity after he was brought back from total nonexistence two months ago. Things became even clearer after he was brought back from death three weeks ago, and this all came to a head when he witnessed his own funeral five days ago. Leona wasn’t dead; the powers that be wouldn’t have let that happen. She might have been thrown off her pattern temporarily, or accidentally teleported somewhere else, but she wasn’t gone for good. He could figure this out, but only as long as he stayed calm. He lifted his arm, and started looking through the data on his cuff.
Ramses said that he was giving him the primary cuff, which gave him some level of control over the others. He could evidently take everyone’s powers away, or geotag them to a certain location, or any number of things. That was probably best on the wrist of someone intelligent, like Leona, or experienced, like Nerakali. They had spent yesterday on a sort of break. He couldn’t call it a party, per se, but they weren’t allowed to discuss business either. All of them had recently experienced Mateo’s memorial services, so this was a celebration of his life, but with less focus on him. They just forgot about Mateo’s special status as the one in control. Perhaps that was why he was the only one who made the jump. The problem now was that he didn’t know where the others were. There had to be some kind of way of tracking his friends through the cuffs, if not a way to teleport directly to them.
He wasn’t much into manuals, so he just started tapping through menus, hoping to find something that could help. His efforts were not wasted as he soon found precisely what he was looking for. The cuffs were still connected to each other in terms of the passage of time. Three minutes had passed for Mateo since midnight central, and the system indicated the same went for everyone else. The bad news was not only were none of them in the present day, but they weren’t even in the same moment in time. The cuffs, for whatever reason, scattered them all throughout time and space. There was a time map, which told him both when and where they were. It didn’t say what they were going through while they were there, however, so Mateo had a decision to make. Who was in most need of rescuing, and more importantly, was he competent enough to do it? Nerakali. He wanted to save Leona first, but that was an impractical choice. Time travel was Nerakali’s arena. The responsible thing to do was to get to her first. He was also curious to find out why she was in March 21, 2014, because that was the day Mateo first started traveling through time.

When Mateo arrived in the past, he saw two different versions of Nerakali. They were arguing with each other, and he couldn’t tell which was which. The other one was presumably from the past, rather than the future, so he decided to call her Past!Nerakali.
“What the hell is he doing here?” Yes, that was almost certainly Past!Nerakali, the one wearing a blue shirt.
The other one looked back at him. “What year are you from?” she asked.
“I’m from when you would expect; 2277. What happened to you?”
“I don’t know,” Present!Nerakali spat. “I can’t jump through time. And this bitch won’t give me a ride.”
“Past!Nerakali,” Mateo began like the father of both of them, “why won’t you give your alternate self a ride to the future?”
“Why the hell would I help her?” Past!Nerakali questioned. “I’m just tryin’ to get back home. If she’s here, it means whatever I try doesn’t work, and I don’t want to encourage her to exist.”
“Going back to The Gallery is impossible,” Present!Nerakali explained. “You know this. You wouldn’t exist if it were possible, because then dad would have hunted the original Gallery workers down, and forced them back.”
“No,” Past!Nerakali said in denial. “There’s a way. There has to be a way. There’s always a loophole.”
Present!Nerakali shook her head. “There’s not. The moment the Gallery doors are opened is locked in time. Not even The Arborist can get to it. Believe me, I’ve tried. You’re a baby, but I’ve been down in this dimension for centuries, and I have tried everything.”
“Is this the day you fell from the Gallery?” Mateo asked.
“Yes,” the Nerakalis replied in unison.
“Is that a coincidence?” he asked. “The date, I mean.”
Present!Nerakali seemed to know what he was asking. Was it somehow connected to him? “It’s not a coincidence, but only inasmuch as the powers that be like to make important things happen separately, but at the same time. Our fall has nothing to do with you directly.
Mateo nodded. “I have to get you back to the future, so you can help me get the others.”
“Can you do that?” Present!Nerakali asked him.
“I’m here, ain’t I? My cuff still works.”
“What are those things?” Past!Nerakali asked. She clearly felt entitled to an answer.
Mateo ignored the question. “Do you want her to remember that this happened?” he asked Present!Nerakali.
I don’t remember it.”
“I guess we have to erase her memories then.”
“She doesn’t have powers,” Past!Nerakali threw at them, pretty proud of herself. “So she can’t erase jackshit.”
He released an evil grin. “I have her powers. I can erase them.”

Per Nerakali’s suggestion, he left her in 2277 when he went off to retrieve Leona on June 30, 2027. She suspected everyone had been transported to defining moments in their own lives, and it was best to limit the number of people who were involved in those fragile moments. He found himself in a hospital, but not just any hospital. He had been here before. After he broke Horace Reaver out of Beaver Haven Penitentiary, he brought him to this place to show him how his goodness had inspired a former villain to become a better person. She had just donated her kidney to save a younger Leona’s life. Mateo looked back at the time listed on his cuff. His own past self would be arriving in a few minutes. They had to get out of here to avoid altering the timeline too much. Rule number four; avoid alternate versions of yourself.
He walked down the hallway, and stepped into Jesimula Utkin’s recovery room. Leona was sitting in a chair next to Jesi’s bed. They were holding hands.
“Oh, hey,” Leona said. “Could you give us a little bit? I know I need to go back to the future, but I was hoping to get to know my donor a little better.”
Mateo looked at his cuff agan. “I’m afraid we’re out of time. Past!Me and Ace Reaver are going to be here any minute.”
“Ace?” Leona asked. “Not Horace.”
He shook his head. “He doesn’t have his brain blended yet.”
Leona frowned, and looked back at Jesi. “I just...there’s so much I needed to tell you. I mean, all this time traveling, this might be the only time we ever cross paths. What can I do? I can’t repay you, but there’s gotta be something I can do for you.”
Jesi smiled kindly. “There’s one thing that will help make up for the loss of my kidney.”
“Name it.”
“It has to be in the next two minutes,” Mateo warned them reluctantly.
“I can walk that fast,” Jesi said as she pressed the button to lift the head of her bed up. “It would mean the world to me if you helped me get on the toilet.”
Leona hesitated for a moment, not because she didn’t want to do it, but because it would only be a small gesture, and she wanted to do something grand. She recognized the time constraint, though, and knew this was the best they were probably going to get. She helped Jesi walk over to the bathroom, and sit down. And that was it. The two of them jumped back to the future just as Mateo saw his past self heading towards them from down the hallway, Ace in tow.
Mateo found Present!Ramses sitting next to his own past self at a skatepark. His eyes were closed, and he was pinching the bridge of his nose. “Oh my God, you are not getting this.”
“No, I get it. You betrayed our people,” Past!Ramses argued.
“No, I didn’t! You get new people! Better people!”
“All right,” Mateo tried to mediate again. “There’s no need to yell.”
“Who’s this guy?” Past!Ramses questioned.
“You don’t need to know that, because I’m going to erase your memories anyway,” Mateo explained.
Present!Ramses stood up quickly. “No, don’t do that. I’m trying to get through to him.”
“You can’t,” Mateo said to him apologetically. “Everything you went through for us to become friends, and everything you did for me after that, he deserves to go on that same journey.”
“What the hell journey are you talking about?” Past!Ramses asked rhetorically, because he didn’t care about either of them.
“I know you wanna change things,” Mateo said to Present!Ramses. “I know you regret how long it took for you to see the error of your ways. You can’t change the past, though. I mean, you can—we’ve seen it—but you shouldn’t. It’s been too long, and you’ve seen too much. No one can see the variables, and predict what will change about the timeline.”
“What if this saves your life? What if Briar never kills you, because Leona changes her plans, and they just straight up never meet each other, all because I was a better person before I met √Čtude and Vitalie?”
“My death is predestined. It can’t be changed, no matter what you do. You know this as well.”
“If I can’t make myself a better person, then what am I doing here?” Present!Ramses asked.
“It’s a glitch; one which you will repair when we get back all the others. You’re not here for any reason at all.”
Ramses kept his angry face on as he absorbed what Mateo was trying to tell him. Then he looked at his arm, and over at his past self. “That’s bullshit. If I can’t change everything, then I’m at least gonna change one thing. Go ahead and erase this asshole’s memories, but you can’t erase this!” He reached into his pocket, and pulled out a little pocket knife. Before anyone could stop him, he dragged the blade across Past!Ramses’ arm. It wasn’t enough to kill him, but he cut real deep. As he was doing so, a painful scar appeared on Present!Ramses’ arm, in the exact same place. As Past!Ramses was pulling off his shirt to apply pressure to his arm, Present!Ramses was holding his own scar. Even though it was many, many years old for him, the pain still looked like it felt new. He breathed in, and tried to move past it. “I guess now I finally know where I got this scar.”
Mateo helped Past!Ramses by tying the shirt off, so it would stay in place on its own. He then did his duty by erasing his memories, so Ramses would literally never see this moment coming. “We’ll talk about this later, he said to him as he was taking him by the arm.”

They went back to 2277 together. Mateo then went off to retrieve the remaining two members of their group. Both of them understood how causality, the butterfly effect, and paradoxes worked, so they came quickly and easily. When all was said and done, this was but a slight detour from their mission. It didn’t even take an hour of their time. They would still have plenty of time to discuss what they were going to do when J.B. returned tomorrow with Erlendr and Arcadia. It did inform their plan, though. The cuffs were obviously far from perfect. A few glitches had reared their heads since they started wearing them; enough to cause significant concern. The point was that, if this could happen to them, it could happen to the other three too. They could move forward with no plan until they made sure nothing else would go wrong with them. They were less worried about the glitches themselves than they were scared of how the Prestons were going to exploit any vulnerability they discovered, and how pissed they were that anyone tried to corral them. There was only one person who could help them now. They had to find the cuff’s inventor, Holly Blue.