Saturday, September 26, 2020

Glisnia: The Shortlist (Part IV)

Holly Blue stood there reverently and quietly. She didn’t look surprised or pleased at Hogarth’s offer to help her find her son. Neither did she look perturbed that this might have all been a ploy, and Hogarth wouldn’t actually be able to deliver. “He’s in another universe. How do you have access to that?”
Hogarth gestured towards Crimson, who was still inhabiting Hogarth’s original body. “My name is Crimson Clover. I borrowed this substrate so I could experiment with Madam Pudeyonavic’s time power. I’ve been traveling the bulkverse, visiting strange new worlds, meeting interesting people. Hogarth, I didn’t get a chance to tell you any of that yet. How did you know?”
“I took a guess,” Hogarth replied. “I’ve been traveling through time in this universe, and the people I meet either know about my past, or a believable future. No one has so much as hinted that an entity going by the name of Crimson Clover has been traipsing around the timeline with my face. The idea that you just jumped to other universes was a far more logical answer to where you were while you were gone for the last several centuries.”
“Are you bothered by this truth?” Crimson questioned.
“I only hope,” Hogarth began, “in all that time, you managed to meet someone by the name of Declan Aberdeen.”
“He might be going by something else,” Holly Blue said. “He hadn’t settled on one yet, but he was thinking—”
“He goes by Declan,” Crimson interrupted. “He didn’t use a codename; none of us did, though of course, everyone thought mine was made up. Since we were all from different universes, it didn’t seem necessary to hide our identities.”
“You worked with him?” Holly Blue asked.
“Yeah, we had a whole team; me, Declan, the Fruits...”
“How did you leave him? Was he okay?”
“He was...all right when I left,” Crimson answered.
“Why did you leave at all?” Hogarth asked.
“It was time,” Crimson said. “We accomplished what we set out to do, and once it was over, we went our separate ways.”
“Did he go to another world,” Holly Blue started to ask, “or do you know where I can find him that wouldn’t disrupt the timeline?” Traveling to other universes is dangerous, and not just due to physical limitations. Each universe operates on an entirely independent timeline, and is meant to remain as such. Any external force threatens that more than internal time travel ever could.
“I can take you to him,” Crimson promises with a nod.
“But I have to build you something first,” Holly Blue acknowledged.
“No,” Hogarth insisted. “If you want, we’ll skip that part.”
“That’s not what we agreed upon,” Crimson reminded her.
“I’ll find another way,” Hogarth told him. Holly Blue wasn’t the only way to invent a special time-siphoning device; she was just the easiest.
“You guarantee my safety throughout the process,” Holly Blue began, “so I don’t die before I find Declan, then I’ll build whatever you want.”
“You don’t wanna know what it is first?” Hogarth wondered.
“I trust that you’re not trying to get me to make you a bomb, or something,” Holly Blue said.
“Definitely not,” Hogarth, “though it does technically involve blowing up.”
“This ability isn’t about blowing up,” Crimson started to say. “You only perceived it that way, because you didn’t understand it. You were moving so fast that it felt like an explosion, but as I’m sure you saw, you can do at a slower pace. Someone I knew long ago called it molecular transportation, but there might be a better term for it.”
“You want me to adapt that power into something that anyone can use?” Holly Blue guessed.
“Sort of,” Hogarth said. “We want to siphon resources from distant star systems, without crossing the distance, or even teleporting to their locations. We just want the stuff.”
“Have you considered the ethical ramifications of such an endeavor?” Holly Blue pressed.
“Perhaps not all of them,” Crimson replied. “There’s absolutely the possibility of abuse, but we plan on sticking to the stellar neighborhood, and maybe a little beyond that. We’ll only take from uninhabited worlds.”
“How will you know which worlds are inhabited, and which aren’t?”
“Data from Project Stargate and Project Topdown,” Hogarth answered.
She nodded. These were semi-secret projects that involved sending automated ships across the galaxy. The idea was to explore these other systems, and catalog anything found in them, including life. Not every vonearthan was aware of it in Hogarth’s time, but this was the year 2400. Things might have changed since then. The ships were traveling near the speed of light, so at this point in history, they had already traveled a hundred and fifty light years from their starting location at the Gatewood Collective.
Holly Blue needed more information. “So, you wanna pick a target within a hundred light years, and take whatever you need from it; hydrogen, metals, whatever?”
“Exactly.”
She looked around the room, but more in a general sense. “You don’t have everything you need here, wherever this is?”
“We have exhausted our resources,” Crimson explained. “We are trying to build something truly gargantuan, and no star system in the galaxy alone possesses enough material to accomplish it.”
“What is it?”
And so they went about explaining the matrioshka brain, and the matrioshka body. It was an absurdly ludicrous goal, but if they could accumulate the materials they needed, there was no reason not to. It would be possible to see the matrioshka body from light years away, including Earth. People could look into the sky, and see the largest structure that vonearthans ever created. It would be a magnificent sight once it was finished, and everyone who looked upon it would know how powerful they were. Should an alien race gaze into the void, in the right direction, they too would see it, and both know that aliens existed, and would prove to be a formidable force. This would either scare them into staying away, or excite them with the prospect of new friends who might share knowledge with them. It was a better form of communication than any golden disc or degraded radio signal could provide. It also followed the rule of cool, and maybe that was enough.
“A time-siphon,” Holly Blue echoed. “I don’t see why not. I only have one condition, besides your promise to get me to Declan.”
“Naturally,” Crimson agreed preemptively.
“It can only be operated by The Shortlist.”
“What’s that?” Crimson asked.
Hogarth blended a scoff with a chuckle; not in disgust, but more out of surprise. The Shortlist was a self-serving and pretentious—obviously quite small—group of people who partially declared control over what people in this galaxy were allowed to have, and when they were allowed to have it. A day might come when the general public would be informed of the truth about time travelers, but if that timeline ever came to pass, it would be at the pleasure of the Shortlist. Because of time travel itself, no one really knew who came up with the idea of the list, but membership did not require consent. If you were chosen to be on it, you were on it, whether you wanted to be or not. Being short, it was rather easy to list every member. Hogarth Pudeyonavic, Hokusai Gimura, Holly Blue, Weaver, Brooke Prieto, Sharice Prieto, Kestral McBride, Ishida Caldwell, Pribadium Delgado, Leona Matic, and Ramses Abdulrashid made up the entire ensemble. Eleven people. Eleven people either decided they were in charge of the scattered trillions, or were told they were responsible for them, in some capacity.
Being smart or important was not enough to qualify someone to be on the list. Plenty of very important people were off it, like Meliora Rutherford, and Étude Einarsson. They also had to be a scientist or an engineer, and have become that way predominantly because of their exposure to time travel. Not everyone wanted to be on it, or actively contributed to its efforts. Weaver was just an alternate version of Holly Blue, and following a few adventures upon first arriving, kept herself pretty well out of this timeline’s business. Sharice was an artificial intelligence. Though that was no reason to keep her from the list, she actively protested her inclusion, for her own reasons. Ramses was the only man, which was an interesting fact. Leona was the least knowledgeable out of all of them, and her lack of credentials should have barred her from membership, but she was the special pet of the powers that be, so they kind of needed to be able to trust her in an emergency. Her husband, Mateo was an honorary member, who needed to be available for the same reasons.
There were probably some people who deserved to be on the list, if it deserved to exist in the first place. The doctors, Sarka and Hammer were more than qualified in their own field. Trinity and Ellie Underhill were never formally trained in the sciences, though they were extremely intelligent, and experienced, and some noticed evidence that the latter knew a whole lot more than she let on. Thor Thompson, Saxon Parker, and Mirage probably had a place somewhere too. So it wasn’t a perfect list, but it was the one they had, and few would argue with it. Members weren’t chosen because they had the potential for a technological breakthrough that could either destroy or save the universe, but because they actually had created something which fit that criteria. The justification for the group was that it was less about wielding power, and more about keeping each other accountable for the power they found themselves in possession of anyway.
Still, Holly Blue mandating a Shortlist limitation was a big deal, and something which most of the members were required to sign off on. Some wanted a decision like this to be unanimous, but gathering all these people in one place at the same point in time was difficult at best. If they wanted to hold a legitimate vote, they would need help from a couple people who weren’t even on the list, and Holly Blue had to be sure she wanted to go down this road. “Yes,” she confirmed confidently. “Call a vote.”
“Very well,” Hogarth said. “I’ll see who we can get for a quorum.”

Friday, September 25, 2020

Microstory 1460: Nothing Civil About It

People were not happy with Sekundas Drumpf declaring himself the Republic’s dictator. It didn’t make any sense, and it wasn’t right, and it wasn’t fair. The voters distrusted women as much as he did, but that didn’t mean he had the right to pass whatever laws he wanted, or to punish however he saw fit. People were dying, even though capital punishment remained illegal. They had to get him out of office, and that meant sparking a revolution. This rebellion force had absolutely nothing to do with the Thicket. They didn’t feel that women should be equal, but if the city was going to develop any policies regarding what a woman could and couldn’t do, then it would develop them as a collective, not by a single voice. Unfortunately, unseating Drumpf was not destined to be the easiest thing in the world. He was extremely good to the military. He allowed them to use whatever means they deemed necessary in the fight against terrorism, but also made their jobs as easy as they wanted. He didn’t force them to work, but when they did work, he let them do it however they pleased. He had no interest in commanding the troops, but left that responsibility to the Commons. By the way, Common was the Durune analog for a General, due to some English linguistics becoming lost in translation over time. They loved him, and they would do anything for him, and the only way to stop him was if they switched sides, or if dissidents started an internal conflict. For two years, this so-called civil war raged throughout the city. Soldiers on both sides died, as did innocent bystanders.

The Thicket rebels didn’t know what to do. They could see some great opportunities to make real changes while Aljabara was distracted and in chaos, but they were afraid of making things worse, or stooping to their level, because that was the kind of thing that their enemies would do in their shoes. In the end, they did nothing. They stayed in hiding, and let the Aljabarans work it out themselves, for if they tried to help the dissidents, they would just be painting a larger target on their own backs. No one really won this conflict. Drumpf ultimately stepped down, deciding that he would rather not be in power than see the city fall, and the women rise from its ashes to take their revenge. Before he left office, however, he made one final speech, where he warned the citizens of the last prediction that his hidden seer made for him. He claimed that a great subversive force was on its way, that this force would destroy everything they had been working towards for the last sixty years, and that they would come crawling back to him in the wake of its destruction. He said that he would gladly return to office when that day came, and would not hold these recent events against them. It was the only thing he ever asserted that ultimately proved to apparently be true. Years later, a woman from Earth showed up, and helped take down the established republic. In response to this, Drumpf was indeed returned to leadership, in an albeit different position, with smaller scope. Until that day came, however, the Republic still needed to continue, and someone had to be in charge around here. The dissidents hadn’t really thought about who would do that, or how they would go about finding this man. They decided they needed an emergency election. That actually went pretty well, and marked a turning point in the planet’s history. The thirteenth top leader of the Aljabaran Republic secretly studied under former President Summerfield, which gave him the insight to learn from his mentor’s mistakes. Before the Republic ended, social justice was already leaning in that direction, thanks to President Eskandar Aljabari’s initiatives.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Microstory 1459: A Continuation

Starting in the year 2154, the city of Aljabara was gearing up for another election. They expected to elect Sekundas Drumpf for a third term, but there was no guarantee of that, and there were plenty of hopefuls who sought to unseat him. He had no interest in seeing this happen, so he made an argument for cancelling the election altogether. He was already in charge, and things were going great, so why mess with a good thing? According to reports, the war against the Thicket terrorists couldn’t be going any better. The truth was that he had made little to no progress on this front, but the people didn’t need to know that. He inflated numbers, and reframed narratives, and spun the truth, and also just made up flat-out lies. He made himself look like the best thing that had ever happened to this planet. He made it seem like people barely survived before him, and that they wouldn’t survive the future without him. He claimed to have a mage remnant seer in his pocket, who regularly warned him of oncoming events, and that only he knew what to do to protect his constituents. He swayed a lot of people using these tactics, but he couldn’t convince everyone. That was okay, because he didn’t need everyone. He really only needed the military. He had no legal authority to get rid of the election ballots, but get rid of them he did. He declared himself the autonomous authority over the entire planet, and challenged anyone to disagree with him on this matter. There were a few takers, but they were swiftly removed from their mortal coil, and no one dared push him towards the edge again. It didn’t bother him at all that his actions meant that they were no longer living under a republic, but a dictatorship. He wanted more power, and the only way to get it was to hold onto what he already had. Democracy could go take a hike for all he cared. He insisted they continue to call it The Republic, however, to make him look good, and to make the city look good, in case Earth ever found out about them. The history books didn’t even acknowledge a change in governmental type when looking back at this period of time, for all the official documentation suggested that nothing had been altered. The Durune were now living in a totalitarian state, and it didn’t feel like anything could make it the least bit better.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Microstory 1458: New War on Terrorism

Sekundas Drumpf won reëlection for leader of Aljabara, which was the first time that ever happened on Durus since the Republic was founded. People liked change, and he gave it to them, and five years later, there was no reason to believe he wouldn’t keep changing things. He even promised to undo some of the policies he himself came up with in the first place, as if his past self were less of a man than the version of him in the present. People didn’t see this as contradictory or bizarre. The past was always worse, no matter what, even if this was objectively untrue. He had their confidence, and he had their votes. There was some evidence that the ballots had been tampered with by Drumpf’s loyalists, but no proof, and there was definitely nothing connecting him to this alleged crime. He would later get rid of any semblance of democracy altogether, but for now, he had work to do. He wanted to make this the best planet in the galaxy, and in order to do that, he had to take control over the whole planet. The first change he made was to his own administration. They were no longer going to call this the government of Aljabara, but of Durus, so that if they did one day expand beyond this one city, they would have control over everything. It wasn’t just about the future, though. It also made it a lot easier for him to go after what he considered to be man’s greatest enemy. Now that younger generations of girls would be indoctrinated into the belief that they could do nothing on their own, it was time to deal with The Thicket. These women could never change—never be taught. He figured they needed to die, like a household pest. He and his closest allies desperately wanted to go to war, and to leave no prisoners, but it wasn’t going to be easy. Surprisingly few were in favor of violence against women, or anyone. There was only one way to change their minds, and that was to reframe the narrative. The Thicket was already labeled an insurgent organization, but had yet to be fully recognized as a terrorist group. Making this change required diplomatic addendums, but starting there would have been a waste of time. He needed to make sure the public was on his side first, so he just started slipping the word into his speeches, increasing frequency each time, and boosting applause every moment he could. Once the civilians were convinced that the rebels were terrorists, it was easy to get it changed in the official documentation. That in turn made it easier to get the necessary support to start physical attacks. Until then, they had been trying to protect the city’s borders, but had yet to go on the offensive in any significant way. It took Drumpf several months, but he finally got approval. Then it took even longer for his army to find their opponents, who had grown used to hiding deep in the thicket. The War on Terrorism began in 2151, and never really technically ended, even when Hokusai Gimura showed up, and forced huge changes to the government. They never reached a peace treaty, or a ceasefire, or anything. They just kept fighting when they could, and taking strategic breaks when the intelligence dried up. A lot of other things happened in the meantime.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Microstory 1457: Extremist in Command

Sekundas Poppet Drumpf was, in no uncertain terms, an extremist. A lot of people were happy with their little misogynistic society, because they didn’t know of a better way, but he was into it. He was super into it. He hated women, and thought that they were only good for making babies. There were many tasks that men didn’t want to have to do, like laundry, and keeping the household clean, but Poppet wasn’t like that. Men did everything better, and he was willing to do the dirty work if it meant a woman wasn’t involved. If he had it his way, every woman would be locked in a little room with the bare minimum: a bed, sink, shower, and toilet. They would gestate the babies, birth them, and then go back to their bed to start the whole process over again. There weren’t a whole lot of people on Durus who agreed with him to this degree. Sure, women couldn’t be trusted, but they shouldn’t be locked up, and not because that was inhumane, but because at the very least, they were useful as slaves. Still, he was popular, because just like President Summerfield’s lies, he was loud and unrelenting, and people absolutely loved that in a leader. The only reason Summerfield allowed him to run for the second-in-command position was because the insanity would hopefully distract from Summerfield’s attempts at pushing the world towards progress. When he was removed from office, his whole plan backfired, for once Poppet found himself in the number one spot, there was no stopping him. He decided to not take the position of President. Earth had a lot of presidents, and they also had a lot of women in power. He didn’t want any part of that, so he decided to keep his old title, even though it obviously indicated he was meant to be second, and not first. He then proceeded to win the election four years later, and became the only two-term primary leader the Republic had ever seen. He wouldn’t stop there, but that is a story for another day. Until then, he wanted to make some changes in Aljabara, whether the people wanted him to or not.

The biggest changes he made were to the education system. He decided that women weren’t the issue, but the way they were raised as girls. They weren’t taught to be independent, but they weren’t taught to be submissive either. He deemed this too problematic. He knew no one would go for his crazy locked half-room idea, but education was the easiest avenue towards getting close to his goals. People cared deeply about education, but they also easily conceded to the fact that they didn’t know what the hell to do with it. If someone in power told them schools should be run a certain way, well, then they just sort of trusted that, as long as that person said other things that they liked. So he knew he would be able to get away with preventing girls from being educated the right way. He didn’t stop them from learning at all, but he only let them learn the things he felt weren’t important, or useful. Language was an acceptable subject, because it was irrelevant to their everyday lives. Understanding grammar wasn’t going to help them rise up, and demand equality. Maybe they could conduct impactful speeches, but without any understanding of politics, their words would be empty, and people would recognize that. Likewise, they could make all the art and music they wanted, but it wasn’t going to make them any less inferior to men. Education wasn’t the only thing that Drumpf went after in his first few years, but it was the most significant. He did all these terrible things, and he still got reëlected. He was unstoppable.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Microstory 1456: Eleventh and Final

The forming of the Thicket rebellion did a lot more for the women’s rights movements than the government realized. It started further back then that, though, when Ladytown was first conceived. These developments inspired a lot of people in Aljabara, and made them question the roles they played in the world. If these women were strong enough to fight for their rights, were they strong enough to fight for everyone’s? That’s what one candidate to be the eleventh, and ultimately final, president had in mind. They were a republic, and there was nothing inherent about that which prevented them from being completely equal. He didn’t even have to look at Earthan history to understand that women should be treated fairly. The world had become ridiculous, and he felt that it was his duty to correct it; to make things better for the whole world, including members of the Thicket. He knew he needed to be smart about it, though. Moderates had been running for president since the beginning, and not one of them had ever won. The louder and more absurd the candidate’s platform, the more votes they received. Even in the early days, people were crying for change. It didn’t matter to them whether the promised change was good for them or not; things just had to be different than they were before. That was why no president had lasted more than a single term so far. Presidential candidate Summerfield knew that he wasn’t going to get a second term, because of the plans he had for his tenure, but he assumed it would at least last for the whole five years. Unfortunately, he came on too strong. During his campaign, he was louder than his opponent by far, and often didn’t even let him speak during debates. People liked that about him, that he wasn’t willing to even listen to the other side of an argument. Even those who were in favor of the things that his opponent claimed liked to hear Summerfield blather on. He was interesting, and exciting, and most importantly, he was new. So that won him the seat, but he wasn’t able to hold on to it, because the people quickly learned that he had been lying the whole time.

He began to pass executive order after executive order, changing the way people lived their lives. At first, this was okay. He was overruling everything that the representative congress was trying to do, and people still appreciated this behavior. Once people were used to his tactics, he started trying to slip in other things under the radar. He gave permission for a wife to travel to the store alone, as long as she made it quick, and her husband would be waiting for her when she returned. He increased the maximum age a young woman was allowed to be before her father had to hand her off to a husband. He even tried to let mothers raise their own children without constant male supervision, but people were not happy with this. This was the last straw, and they recalled him for it. He was the shortest-lasting president in history, having only been in office for a few months. He went down in history as the planet’s first and only execution. Though an awful place, they at least had a law against capital punishment, which they only waived for this one exception. People weren’t happy about this either, but there was nothing they could do about it. Sekundas Poppet Drumpf was President Summerfield’s second-in-command, and instead of pushing for a new election, or a promotion, he just declared himself the new leader. Sekundas was now simply the highest ranking official in the government. That was when the world turned to shit.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Sunday, July 6, 2121

They were standing on the edge of the endeavor to replace old Kansas City with wildlife. It wasn’t quite finished yet. They were only here to make the transition to another parallel reality called the Fourth Quadrant. It made Mateo wonder, if the main sequence was the first reality, and the Parallel was considered the second, and this was the fourth, what was the third? And were there any more that he didn’t know about? Being alternate realities, but not alternate timelines, these apparently always existed, yet he only heard about them recently. He learned a long time ago that the word recently literally meant nothing. Were these other worlds really so secret that he spent years as a time traveler having not heard so much as a hint about them, or had people just been deliberately keeping him in the dark?
He shook off his introspection, and started to focus on the task at hand. According to Ellie’s calculations—which Leona handily verified for her—when they landed, the people in the Quadrant would believe that it was June 12, 2031, and that they had been stuck in this city for nearly seven years now. Also according to their calculations, for every day that passed in the main sequence, only an hour and forty-three minutes passed inside the temporal bubble. If they didn’t fix their problem within that span of time, they would return to find it to be July 7, 2121. This meant that Leona would no longer be in the timestream, and wouldn’t return for a whole year. It was unclear how the Cassidy cuffs worked in this scenario. It wouldn’t be the first time the wearers were separated by time. Jupiter had some means of toggling them on and off, or even adjusting how wearers were connected to each other. They shouldn’t have to worry about that, as Missy’s power was pretty much instantaneous. As soon as they got there, she could do her thing, and take down the bubble that Tauno Nyland created to trap the duplicates of the Kansas City Metropolitan Area. Mateo had a feeling, nonetheless, that their mission was going to end up being a lot more complicated.
“Everybody ready?” Ellie asked.
Everyone answered in the affirmative.
“Would you like to do the honors?” Ellie asked directly to Ariadna.
“You purposely put those cuffs on your wrists,” Ariadna began. “Seems a waste for me to just do it for you anyway. You think you can figure out how to travel to another reality, have at it.” It was both snarky and sincere.
Ellie centered herself with a deep breath, and took Mateo’s and Missy’s hands. Missy then took Ariadna’s, and Mateo took Sanaa’s. Ellie opened the window, and sent them all through.
It was freezing cold, though there was no snow on the ground. It was just bitter and biting and a huge shock to Mateo’s system. Time travel and teleportation always came with a little bit of shock. Instantly switching environments wasn’t something humans evolved to do, even the people who were born with the ability to do just that. The more experience a traveler had behind them, the easier it got, but they could always feel it, and the greater the transitional difference, the sharper the shock. There was something else here too, though. It kind of felt like he was standing in a river that wasn’t quite strong enough to knock him over, but still moving past him.
“Mateo, what time is it?” Sanaa asked.
Leona lent Mateo her special time-teller, which recalibrated immediately following any temporal jump. “Ten-nineteen in the morning.”
“Ten-nineteen is always in the morning,” came a voice behind them. It was none other than Mateo’s best frenemy, Thor Thompson. “Because there are twenty-four hours in a day, not two half-days of twelve hours each.”
“Mister Thompson,” Mateo said, “how nice to see you, looking so young.”
Thor smirked. “My name is Dupe!Thor.”
“So, you’re aware,” Ellie presumed, “that you’re quantum duplicates, stuck in a new reality?”
“Of course we are,” Dupe!Thor confirmed. “Can’t you tell that time is moving so much faster?”
Ellie narrowed her eyes, and filled her cheeks with air. “I kind of do feel that. Why would I feel that? This should feel like the right pace, that’s how time bubbles work.”
Dupe!Thor cleared his throat, and held his hand up loosely, like a tongue-speaking Christian holding his hand up to God, but expecting God to meet him halfway. He bounced his arm quite slightly. “If you move just right, you can feel the veil between our world and yours, and almost stick your hand right through it. It flows all around us, and that’s why we can sense the passage of time. It’s unsettling until you get used to, and it starts to feel normal. I’ll tell ya what, though, it makes sex feel amazing.”
“Can you fix that, Missy,” Sanaa asked, “or does the thought of time sex distract you too much?”
Missy sighed. “No, I can do it.”
“You’ll do no such thing,” Dupe!Thor ordered. “We didn’t ask you to change the speed of time.”
“That’s why we’re here,” Ellie tried to explain to him.
“Well, the white men were here centuries ago to kill all the indigenous peoples, and steal their land. That doesn’t mean that’s what they should have done, or that the tribes wanted it to happen.”
“He has a good point,” Ariadna said. “You didn’t even consider the possibility that these people don’t even want your help.”
Ellie brushed this off her shoulder. “Who do I have to talk to?”
Dupe!Thor breathed in, and exhaled a few raspberries. “The president?” he finally said at the end of the stream.
“The president of...Kansas City?” Sanaa guessed.
“Novus Metro,” Dupe!Thor corrected. “That’s what we call this whole region now. President Orlov will be quite interested in meeting some newcomers. It’s been awhile.”
“But there have been others?” Ellie pressed.
“How long will it take to get there?” Mateo asked once it was clear that Dupe!Thor wasn’t going to answer that last question.
“The Capitol is maybe three hours from here?” Dupe!Thor figured.
“We have an hour and forty minutes,” Sanaa argued.
“We have far less than that,” Ariadna contended. “Once we get there, we still have to speak with this president, convince her to agree to the plan, and then carry it out. We might have an hour.”
“The speed of time isn’t that bad,” Dupe!Thor said. He shrugged. “So you don’t get back home for a few days. Is it that big of a deal?”
“It is,” Mateo said. “What can we do to speed this along?”
“I can help,” Missy jumped in. “I’ll create a nested time bubble, which speeds up time even more, but only for us, so we have enough of it to reach the Capitol.”
“Would anyone object to that?” Ellie asked Thor.
“I don’t see why not,” he replied.
And so they started walking across the metropolitan area, on their way towards the heart of the city, while everyone else was just about frozen in place. Dupe!Thor talked to them about the things they had to do to survive in this new world. Unlike fictional stories about this kind of thing, like Lost, Under the Dome, or The Society, the Novus Metrons came here with a lot of resources. They had shelter, water, manufacturing plants, equipment, and plenty of space. The weren’t completely self-sustainable, however. Though there was more than enough farmland to go around, most of it wasn’t useful. They were stuck in perpetual winter, so few things would grow. They ended up inventing and deploying vertical farming techniques so much earlier than it happened in the real world. Lots of other things came early to them, because they had to, and because the right people were motivated. Necessity had so many children in Novus Metro that she could have started a town of her own. Were this not a temporal, as well as spatial, dimension, they would have surpassed technology in the main sequence in many ways. They seemed to be doing okay. Life wasn’t the best here, especially not in the beginning, but they figured things out, and made it work. They accepted their state a long time ago, and Dupe!Thor couldn’t promise anyone would agree to try to change it.
It was surprisingly easy to be admitted into the Capitol building, and to gain audience with President Natasha Orlov, who earned her position in a fair and legitimate election a few years ago. She was fair herself, and very much loved by her constituency. Missy and Ellie both implied that they had heard of her before. Mateo was ashamed to be surprised that they elected someone who was so obviously Russian.
“Only on my father’s side,” the president explained. She asked to be called Natasha. “...as well as my mother’s.”
“Madam President—I mean, Natasha, we were hoping to speak with you about the speed of time in your reality. This is my friend, Missy Atterberry. She has the ability to create time bubbles herself, and we believe we can undo the one that Tauno Nyland trapped you in.”
Natasha nodded, not in agreement, but understanding. “Will she be doing this by creating a new bubble, or by dismantling the one that’s already here?”
“Oh, I should be able to dismantle it,” Missy assured her. “I’ve never done it before—”
“Yes, you have,” Mateo corrected, “on Durus.”
Missy was confused. “I’ve never been there before,” she told him. “You may be thinking of a future version of me.”
“Oh, right.” Yikes.
“I’m afraid we cannot do that,” Natasha apologized. “I’m sorry you made the trip, but it is simply not possible. We need it.”
“You do? For what?” Ellie questioned.
“You didn’t tell them, Representative Thompson?”
“I didn’t think it was my place,” Dupe!Thor responded. “It is dangerous knowledge.”
“That it is,” Natahsa agreed.
“You’re a representative?” Mateo asked.
Natasha went on, “there’s a reason we know that we’re in a temporal bubble in the first place. Scientists studied a phenomenon for weeks before they realized what was happening, thanks to a few people who had experience with temporal manipulation, giving them a little insight. The main reality is flowing all around us.”
“Yes, he did tell us about that,” Ellie said.
“Well, that’s not all it does,” Natasha continued. “This flow is more than just something that makes sex feel better.” Why does everyone keep talking about that? “It’s energy. It’s ambient energy.”
“Oh,” Ellie said. She literally slapped herself on the forehead. “You’re using it to power the city.”
“It’s the ultimate renewable resource,” Natasha said with a nod, “time itself.”
“Why didn’t I think of that?” Missy lamented, having realized something important about her own time power.
“Because you’re an idiot?” Sanaa alleged.
“Why do you hate her so much?” Mateo asked.
“Don’t worry about it,” they said in unison, as if having rehearsed it.
“It doesn’t bother you?” Ariadna went back to the conversation with Natasha. “You can’t go to space, or even another continent. And if you ever did want to go back to the main sequence to visit, it would make switching back and forth really difficult.”
“This is how we live now. Yes, it sucks to be in the snowglobe. I wouldn’t mind going back to see my childhood home in Russia, or checking out Machu Picchu, but we’re realistic. We’re already too far behind. We don’t belong in your world anymore. If we tried to return, people would wonder who the hell we are, and it’s not our place to reveal time travel to them. We’re stuck here whether someone unlocks the gate or not.”
Missy separated from the group, and started pacing the room.
“What is it, Atterberry?” Ellie asked her.
Missy took her time before answering. “You need a bubble of time that moves faster than the time around it, so the point where these two dimensions collide generates energy. I never thought about the fact that I’m doing that. Well, if that’s what I’m doing, then I can do for you.”
“What’s the point?” Dupe!Thor questioned. “Like she was saying, this is just our lives now.”
“This Tauno’s world,” Missy explained. “But it shouldn’t be. I can give you freedom. I can cut him out of it, and give this world to the people.”
“Won’t he be upset about that?” Natasha assumed. “We know who you’re talking about. He hasn’t done anything too terrible, but he has made it clear that we’re under his thumb, and that there’s nothing we can do about it.”
“You let us worry about that,” Mateo promised her. “We’ll lead him away from you. I’m pretty good at antagonizing antagonists...when I want to, at least.”
“You would do this for us?” Natasha asked Missy. “You would stay here, and build us these temporal energy generators?”
“It would be my honor,” Missy pledged.
“You won’t have to do that,” Sanaa said, apparently upset about suggesting something that might help her sworn enemy. “Someone get me a phone, and a pen and paper. It’s a lot easier to regurgitate the fifty-two digit number when I write it down first.”
“Who in the worlds has a fifty-two digit phone number?” Mateo asked. He knew of people who could be reached across time using special means, like a lucky penny, or a jenga set, but this seemed excessive.
“Who do you think? Holly Blue.”

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Glisnia: Out-of-Body Expo (Part III)

The good thing about dealing with a mech was that it had the ability to erase memories from itself. Hogarth was free to tell the candidates for her associate all she needed about time travelers, her former affliction, and the Nexus replicas. There was no guarantee that they actually would erase their memories of the interaction afterwards, but she was pretty confident that they would. People lied a lot in the past. They lied about having completed tasks they didn’t want to do, or liking people they hated, or whatever. Vonearthans of all types didn’t generally feel the need to do that anymore. Prosocial lying wasn’t completely obsolete, but it wasn’t usually necessary. People rarely felt embarrassment or awkwardness. If someone asked them to do something, and they agreed to it, then it would get done, because if they couldn’t make it happen, then they would just say no. They would be able to say no, because there was little incentive to not be honest about one’s intentions. It probably all came down to the fact that each generation since the mid-twenty-first century bought less and less stock in judgmental people, until being judgmental was far too out of fashion for it to be instilled in the young.
Hogarth interviewed dozens of candidates, and only one checked all the boxes, and passed all the tests. Its name was Crimson Clover, and it preferred it as its pronoun. It didn’t say a word about its old life as a human, except that it possessed extensive knowledge of human biology/anatomy/physiology, and went through the background to back it up. It also implied prior experience with time travelers, though did not confirm it. Hogarth just felt comfortable opening up to it about everything that had happened to her and Hilde.
“So, this is it, huh?” Crimson said as it was standing over Hogarth’s old body.
“Yeah, you don’t think it looks the same as I do now?”
“I can tell the difference,” it replied.
“So, what do you think?” Hogarth prompted.
“Well.” It started to go over the body’s specifications on the interface screen. “You call it a time affliction, correct?”
“Yes.”
“Yet you did eventually learn some control?”
“Yeah, kind of like how a person with allergies can hold back a sneeze, or anxiety can be treated with certain stress-reducing activities. I suppose I never tried too hard to fix it with science.”
“And you think this is our best avenue for getting the resources we need from other star systems, or interstellar space?” It asked.
“We could use the replica, but I don’t want to give vonearthans faster-than-light technology. If anyone is going to do that, it’s going to be my colleague, Hokusai Gimura.”
It nodded, and confirmed, “that’s Hilde’s mother, yeah?” As a mech, Crimson had perfect memory, so the question needn’t be asked. It was just exercising social grace, and keeping Hogarth part of the conversation, instead of internalizing its thoughts.
“Yeah, and she’s in charge of what the galaxy knows about space travel. I’m in charge of transdimensional work.”
“Why isn’t she here, then?”
“I don’t know where she is in this time period.”
Crimson nodded again. It opened a small panel on the back of its neck, and removed a syncing disc. “Well, the best way for me to understand your old body is to take it for a test drive.”
Hogarth stared at it, but said nothing. It wasn’t a surprise, but it was a shock.
“Do I have your consent to upload my consciousness into your former substrate?”
Hogarth stayed there, narrowed her eyelids, and stared at it. She stared into its eyes for eleven minutes. Neither one of them moved a micrometer the entire time. This was a test; a test of Crimson’s patience and commitment. She didn’t know why she felt the need to do it, but she barely knew this person, so she had to do something to give her peace of mind. She was going to let it upload its consciousness, as it asked, but she couldn’t let it be as easy as asking the question once, and receiving an immediate affirmative. Finally, after the time ran out, she responded. “I consent to the temporary use of my former substrate.”
“Great.” Crimson made all the necessary connections, then performed the upload. It was a lot quicker, and a lot less involved, than before. Technology had come a long way, even in the future, where a lot had long been invented.
Crimson woke up in Hogarth’s body, and took a couple minutes to acclimate. It was much lighter, and more fragile now, and it had probably not been so squishy in centuries. It walked around the room to get a feel for how the muscles worked. “Fascinating,” it said, like some kind of alien who has made a moderately interesting discovery about another species. “I can feel it.”
“You can feel what?” Hogarth asked.
“The power,” it continued cryptically. “The energy.”
“I didn’t feel energy,” she contended. “It was more...pressure. Like I was a covered pot about to boil over. It never built up, though, so I couldn’t ever predict it. I suppose when I figured out how to control it a little, I was just tightening the pressure on purpose.”
Crimson shook Hogarth’s head. “Nah, it’s not pressure; it’s moving, flowing. I can work with this.” It slowly lifted its new hands from its sides, and spread its fingers. It closed its eyes, and released some air from its lungs, through its nose and mouth at the same time. As it gradually turned its lips into a smile, tiny pieces from its fingertips began to disappear. Her body was breaking apart at the molecular level.
“Where are you going?” Hogarth asked.
“I’ll be back before you know it.”
It appeared to be right. A couple meters away, tiny pieces were popping into existence, and coming together to form larger pieces. There was something wrong, though. Present!Crimson started demolecularizing from its hands, but this new shape was forming from the feet up. Was this an entirely different being? What was happening? Still, they were traveling at the same pace, so when a quarter of the first body was gone, a quarter of it had reappeared. And when half of it was gone, half had returned. Now it was even clearer that there was something different about the returning figure. It was wearing different clothes, and standing in a different position. The fact that it was happening at the same time was a complete coincidence. Present!Crimson was on its way to somewhere in the past or future, and the fact that it returned to this very moment revealed nothing about how long it spent away. That was how time travel worked.
Just as the last of its feet faded, the last of its head appeared. “Did I get the timing right?”
“That was perfect,” Hogarth replied. “For how long were you gone?”
“Centuries,” Crimson answered.
“How is that possible? This body looks as young as it did, and I wasn’t immortal.
“You were anything you wanted to be,” it started to explain. “You had no idea the kind of power you had. You gotta try this thing out. I can teach you.”
“Maybe later,” Hogarth said. “I’ve agreed to do a job for the Glisnians. I need to see that through before I think of doing anything else. What did you learn, besides how much more complicated my condition apparently is?”
“I learned that your ability sprouted from your brain, and rewrote your DNA. Adapting it to technology in order to create a time siphon may be more difficult than you thought, or impossible. You were smart to keep it alive, for we may need it to power the machine.”
“I know someone who might be able to help. Adapting powers to technology is her thing. If it can be done, she can do it. To put it a better way, if she can’t, it means no one can.”
“Do you know how to contact this person?”
“I don’t suppose anyone in this system has a phone.”
“Like, with a dial pad?”
“Yeah, it has to have physical buttons.”
“Well, I mean, someone could build one for you, but you wouldn’t be able to call anyone. We use a completely separate communication network to stay in touch with each other now. You may as well ask me to sign you up for cable television. All those shows have been cancelled, so you’ll only get static.”
“It doesn’t have to be on a network. It just has to look like a phone, and generate electrical signals. The signals don’t have to go anywhere; they just have to exist.”
“Yeah, sure, that’s easy.” Crimson walked over to the industrial synthesizer. “Hey, Thistle. One obsolete push-button telephone, please.”
“Thank you,” Hogarth said. She graciously accepted the phone replica, and prepared to dial. “I’m glad I got these upgrades. Her phone number is really difficult to remember. She made it so long to keep the riff raff from reaching her.” She then proceeded to push the buttons. There were fifty-two digits in total.
Crimson tilted its lizard brain jokingly while she was still in the middle of it. “I recognize that number. That’s the code Data uses in episode three of season four of Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
Hogarth shrugged while she was waiting for her friend to answer. “Just because it’s hard to remember doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Her direct line is a hundred and eight digits long, and completely random.”
“If this isn’t her direct line, what is it?”
“This line lets you put in a request for me to come to you. My direct line would take you to me, and I only give it to the people I know won’t give it away to a stranger.” She was here. Holly Blue.
“Thank you for coming,” Hogarth said to her.
“Why are there two of you?” Holly blue asked.
“Oh, that’s just this thing. We were hoping to procure your services. Do you think you could turn my ability into a gadget? If you do, I’ll get you back to your son.”

Friday, September 18, 2020

Microstory 1455: Institutional

For a few years, The Thicket rebel force didn’t do anything. They were there, and defying the Republic, but they weren’t attacking the city, or rescuing women, or even protesting. They were hiding, and they were training. This was getting on the nerves of some of the members, though. They wanted to make real change in society, and better the lives of everyone in it, even their enemies. Well, that was the problem. There was little they could do, because the easiest course of action was to rise up and fight against the establishment violently. They didn’t really have any rights. They weren’t allowed to walk down the street alone, so they certainly weren’t going to be able to march on the Capitol. After half a century under this form of government, things were pretty well defined, good or bad. A lot of people had been alive during the Interstitial Chaos, and the Mage Protectorate, but the majority of Aljabaran citizens these days had only ever known the Republic. So getting the public on their side was not going to be easy. No one in the Thicket wanted to go to war, and no one wanted to make a big public demonstration. They wanted their voices heard, but maybe kind of in secret. Maybe they didn’t even want anyone to know that they were involved in whatever it was they ended up doing. What could that be, though? Statues. The government had erected statues, glorifying the worst criminals and leaders Durus had ever seen. They couldn’t even argue that the statues themselves were an important part of history. The one they built last year made Smith look like Superman. There were so many statues of that man that you would think he invented air. But no, Keanu ‘Ōpūnui was the one who did that, but he only had one statue, and it wasn’t even in the city; it was at his gravesite.

Earth had enjoyed a long history of protestors tearing down statues, so that sounded like the most reasonable next step for the Thicket. It was something they could do in secret, under cover of darkness, while most people were asleep. If they procured the right tools, and had enough womanpower, they could get it done quickly, and get out before anyone saw them. If anything went wrong, they could bolt and scatter as needed. They started with the latest Smith statue, then worked their way down the line, but they stopped at four. By then, the government had figured out the pattern, so in order to avoid being caught, they started randomizing their vandalism, not always going after statues, but other buildings. But they were only able to destroy a handful of things before it became impractical. The government was tired of trying to guess which statue or building would come next, so they just positioned guards at every single one of them. Aljabara wasn’t exactly the largest city in the galaxy; just the largest on the planet. It wasn’t that hard to protect all of them simultaneously. It wasn’t a piece of cake either, though. Seeing this, the Thicket switched gears, and developed their own version of the underground railroad. With personnel stretched thin, the Republicans were unable to cover all of their bases. They were so obsessed with only letting men perform the important jobs, and only promoting the best of the best for the most important jobs, they ended up with too little manpower. Of course they realized their problem, and corrected it by filling up their ranks. They obviously still didn’t allow women, but they didn’t worry too much about skill or experience. It was too late, though. The escape network was by then entrenched, and primed to rescue a lot more lives for the next two decades.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Microstory 1454: Growth of the Thicket

One of the rules that the government on Durus set forth in regards to the Ladytown outpost was that Aljabarans would be allowed to visit whenever they wanted. As it stood, this had never actually occurred. The condition was there to make it so that they could enter the town limits in case they ever needed anything from the townsfolk, not to encourage camaraderie and community. For any Aljabaran to leave the city, for any reason, they needed explicit permission from someone pretty high up in the ranks, and no one had ever been granted this permission in order to travel to Ladytown. So while life was difficult in the outpost, and the Republicans had made numerous to destroy them, they were generally free from prying eyes. This all changed in the year 2140. A psychic spy sought audience with a government official, and claimed to him that he had heard the sound of crying babies through a vision. Now, he was only a mage remnant, and not a very good one at that, so no one believed him without question, but it was enough to spark an investigation. A team was sent to visit Ladytown, to see if it was true. This visit turned into a raid, and although they saw no actual babies, they did find signs of young life; cribs and the like. It was a miracle that they didn’t find the stolen books, or combat training paraphernalia. It would seem the psychic was telling the truth. Having been built on top of the old town of Hidden Depths, there were a lot of secret passageways the Ladytowners could use to keep their secrets protected, but that wasn’t going to be good enough forever. The government was going to send more goons, and they knew that it was only going to get worse. They were right.

A second team came through with a life signs detecting mage remnant, who found the babies for them. Without orders from on high, this team attempted to abduct the children, and the women were forced to show their skills by fighting back. No one was seriously hurt, but the proverbial shots were fired, and unless a remnant was born with the ability to reverse entropy, the bullets were not going back into that gun. This changed everything. Whereas before, they were training to defend themselves, now they were training to actively work against their oppressors, and drive real change for women on Durus. When Ladytown was founded, people just wanted to live how they pleased. And when the men were wiped out, they just wanted to prepare for the worst. But the government was forcing their hand, and building a real rebellion was the only response at this point. The town itself still needed to be preserved, however, so they could no longer maintain a base of operations there. Many would stay behind, in case another team came by to threaten the children, but the rest would move away. They set up shop so far from Hidden Depths that the government could not make any reasonable connection between the two groups. They could no longer live in houses, for they were too easy to spot, and impossible to move when one area became too dangerous. They lived in the wild, and scrounged for food wherever they could find it. When one campsite lost its value, or the government was too close to catching them, they packed up, and headed to a new location. Most of the planet was now covered by a sea of plant life that had always been referred to as the thicket. So this was what the insurgents decided to name themselves. This was the start of The Thicket Revolutionary Faction.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Microstory 1453: Last Man in Ladytown

It took eight years for the smartest women in Ladytown to figure out how to save young Cletus Márton’s life, which was about as long as it took the Aljabaran scientists to synthesize the haemophilia virus in the first place. They brought him out of stasis, and started treating the infection. It cleared up right away, but now he had haemophilia itself, so he had to receive further treatment to stay alive. He spent the rest of his life with the disease, but he was also well cared for, and only partially because he had a job to do. Since he was the last man in Ladytown, it would eventually turn into a ghost town, once the last remaining girls grew up, and either died off as well, or just moved to Aljabara. The city wasn’t letting anyone else immigrate there, so if they wanted to keep the dream alive, Cletus was their last hope. Before they revived him, a group of the townsfolk built a luxurious house for him, and provided him with constant medical attention, and just about anything he could ever want. Each month, he would meet a new partner, and attempt to impregnate her with a child, so they could restart the population. He was fortunately not the only participant, or everyone in the next generation would have to choose between full and half-siblings. Two paternal bloodlines wasn’t the most genetically healthy, but it was better than one, and really all they had available. Fulcrum Nielsen, the man who helped train the Ladytowners in combat skills, had a son who was coming of age, and he wanted to contribute to the cause as well. Anchor Nielsen was not a fighter, but he was empathetic, caring, and fully against the misogynistic government. Fulcrum raised him to be open-minded, but he probably would have come to the same conclusions about social justice on his own eventually. It was wrong what the Republicans were doing, and he wanted to help. If that meant having a bunch of children with strangers, then so be it. For a few years, Cletus and Anchor did their civic duty, which may sound like a big win, but neither of them would have been interested in sleeping with that many different people if they didn’t need to do it to save the human race. They were both extremely monogamous, and hoped they would one day be able to settle down with just the one partner, and be happy. They persevered, though, and did what they could to protect Ladytown. The government was enraged when they found out that their plan to destroy them had failed. They knew that at least two men were involved, but they assumed they had somehow survived the virus, and had no idea that Anchor had had anything to do with it. He went on to continue pushing boundaries, expressing outcry, and changing minds. His work was instrumental in ultimately ending the phallocratic republic, though it would not happen for a very long time, and he didn’t do it alone. Meanwhile, once his paternal duties were complete, Cletus went on to live a very simple life in Ladytown. Though being there was itself an affront to the Republic’s values, he didn’t actively work against them, like most people around him did. He helped the effort further when he could, but he had already done so much that no one expected him to do anything more.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Microstory 1452: Nevertheless, They Persisted

After the haemophilia virus wiped out all of the men and boys trying to live in Ladytown, the women were devastated. They knew that this was no accident. Haemophilia was a genetic disorder, and did not spread like a contagion. Sure, it was possible that the rogue planet of Durus came with diseases that didn’t exist on Earth, but there was no logical reason for it to spread at this point in history. This whole area had been dug and altered to make way for the old town of Hidden Depths, as well as the irrigation system. It was just far too unlikely that they somehow managed to unlock something now. The Trojan horse woman disappeared shortly after the virus ran its course, so obviously they suspected her to have been involved, but they possessed no evidence, let alone proof. The Aljabaran government got away with it, but that didn’t mean the survivors were just going to roll over and let this destroy their way of life. The Republicans weren’t going to win, no matter what they did. They wanted the women to come crawling back to Aljabara, and not because of any particular affinity for them—in fact, the government considered them damaged goods by now—but hopefully the act would solidify the Republic’s hold on the city, possibly forever. The Ladytowners couldn’t let that happen, and they were willing to go to war if they had to. The tragedy galvanized them into action. They were content to just stay on the other side of Watershed, and leave Aljabara be, but if a plague was their first attempt to end them, what would be their second? They had to be prepared for everything. They started to come up with new responsibilities for the townsfolk, even though they were already stretched thin with their labor force. 

Some were tasked with dressing themselves up like men, making the rough journey across the thicket to Aljabara, and infiltrating the city. They weren’t there to make trouble, or sabotage the government; they just needed resources. In particular, they needed books. The one male survivor of the virus was still in his mother’s stasis bubble, and in order to save him, they needed to understand what exactly was wrong with him, and how his symptoms could be treated. Perhaps they would even be able to cure him one day. While the infiltrators were stealing information, and handing it off to the scholars, the rest were leveling up. They forged weapons, and trained in combat, and studied wars of the past. Everyone had to contribute to the lasting prosperity of the town itself, as well as future war effort. Unfortunately, as always, research was no comparison to practical experience. They needed someone who knew how to fight. Now, the reason none of them knew was not because women weren’t capable of being warriors, but because these women were never allowed. They went to school as children, just like the men, but they learned very different things, and military tactics simply wasn’t on the list for them. Fortunately, they weren’t completely alone. A man by the name of Fulcrum Nielsen was sympathetic to their cause. He wasn’t raised to be misogynistic, and he wasn’t raising his own son to be that way either. He was a well-trained martial artist, because he was completely free to learn whatever he wanted. He was also a teleporter. He had to be able to see where he was going, but it only took a few jumps for him to reach Ladytown during his off hours, where he would help the women learn what they needed to protect themselves. For years, the oblivious government left them alone, content in their belief that there was nothing that Ladytown could do but wait to die out. Little did they know...