Monday, January 27, 2020

Microstory 1286: The Turtle and Her Home

It came to pass in the very early days of creation that the god of the animals, and the god of the plants, decided to marry each other. They wanted to better blend all life in the world, and manage them together. Only then did they think life would thrive, and multiply. All the animals living at the time were invited to the wedding, and nearly all of them showed up. Notably absent, however, was the turtle. No one knew why she wasn’t there to honor the god who created her, but they were worried that something terrible had happened to her. After the ceremony was over, they came to learn that the turtle was perfectly safe, and that she had simply chosen to not attend. The others said it was rude and inconsiderate, but if they were being honest with themselves, perhaps they would realize that they were mostly upset because they had felt obligated to come. She wasn’t afraid to make her own decisions, like they were. It was only the two gods that were willing to listen to her explanation. “My house is not much,” she explained, “but it is mine, and I love it, and it is where I feel the safest. You invited the sharks and the seabirds, and though you placed a temporary truce on us, I was too afraid that my predators would not honor it.” And so the two gods thought over her concerns, and decided to make things better. They wanted her to feel safe all the time, even though they knew that she would forever remain part of the circle of life, just as everyone else was. The best idea they could come up with was to allow the turtle to carry her home with her wherever she went. So the turtle was happy.

This story was inspired by, and revised from, an Aesop Fable called Zeus and the Tortoise, though I can’t seem to find the source that I drew from, and I don’t feel that it would be right to link to some other version of it that uses different wording.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 30, 2268

Mateo felt something hit him in the groin. It was clearly meant to wake him up, but even the pain wasn’t enough to stir him. A voice apologized, but it was so scratchy that he couldn’t tell whether it belonged to Leona or Nerakali. He was feeling groggier than he ever had before, almost like he had been drugged. The hand came back down on him, but this time higher, upon his chest, so it wasn’t painful.
“You gotta wake up,” Leona said, sounding groggy too. “We all gotta wake up.”
He could hear Nerakali making a ruckus on the other side of the tent. “Where’s my cuff,” she asked like a drunkard.
“It’s on your wrist,” Leona answered. She struggled to roll over on top of Mateo, seemingly in an attempt to get to the other side of him, but she just got stuck.
“Which one?” Nerakali asked.
“Pick one,” Leona instructed. “If it’s not there, then pick the other.”
“What is going on!” Mateo demanded to know.
“Something’s wrong with the wards!” Nerakali yelled back. “I can’t figure out how to get us out of here.”
Mateo lifted his own arm, and looked at it over Leona’s shoulder. She was still on top of him. “I’ve got a blinking button here that says EMERGENCY SUPERPOSITION.”
“No!” Nerakali cried. “Don’t push that one!”
“This is an emergency, it seems. Is someone coming?”
“Someone is indeed coming, but you can’t save us that way.”
“I’m gonna do it.”
“Don’t do it.”
“I’m doing it.”
“No.”
But it was too late. Mateo managed to get his other hand out from between him and Leona, so he could press the button. The tent above them disappeared, but they were still in the woods. Well, it might not have been the exact same woods, but it was close enough. Then the trees disappeared, only to be replaced by different trees. Those trees disappeared, replaced with a clear sky. Mateo turned his head to watch the ground. The scenery continued to change, and not only that, but it was getting faster. Much faster. Much, much faster. Mountain summit, prairie, tundra, underneath an arcological tower, on the deck of a boat, on the bank of a river, on the side of Mateo and Leona’s special hillside. They just kept jumping over, and over, and over, and over, and over again. They must have gone to a hundred places before Nerakali got a grip, and stopped it using her own Cassidy cuff.
“What the hell was that?” Leona asked. She managed to get herself off her husband, and safely onto her own ass. It looked like they were on a hiking trail now.
“That button placed us in a state of quantum superposition. We would have continued to jump forever—generally far away from other people, and too quickly for anyone to be able to track us. I got the idea from a TV show about angels. I don’t know why that was an option on your cuff, and I sure as hell don’t know why you pressed it.”
“We were being attacked.” Then Mateo looked around. He actually wasn’t so certain of that. “Weren’t we?”
“Quite possibly,” Nerakali said. “The ward alarms went off, and we were experiencing the temporal sickness that was meant to be inflicted upon our intruder. I was trying to get us out of there, but not by doing that.”
“No matter,” Leona said as she was standing up and finding her footing. “It worked. Whoever found us, we’re here now.”
“So am I,” came a fourth voice.
Mateo closed his eyes. They just can’t get rid of her.
“Arcadia,” Nerakali said. There was some disdain in her voice, but also some love.
“Hello, sister,” Arcadia replied.
“You’re the one who attacked us?”
“No,” Arcadia argued. “I’m the one who tried to find you, not realizing you would place a gene blocker on your spatial wards. That’s why my approach jacked you up so much.”
“I did that so our mother wouldn’t be able to get to us,” Nerakali explained. “I guess I need to work on my technique. They obviously backfired.”
“Yes,” Arcadia agreed.
“No,” Nerakali said, “not because you should have been let through, but because they shouldn’t have done us harm. I don’t want you here either. Why are you here?”
“I want to help,” Arcadia claimed.
Nerakali chuckled. “Have you ever...said those words before? Perhaps you don’t know what they mean.”
“Ha-ha,” Arcadia said sarcastically. “I’m serious. I know you thought I was always mama’s little girl, but I want to stop her as much as you. That bitch is running around, giving me a bad reputation. People think she’s me. It used to not bother me, but my power-aides are losing faith in me.”
“A sports drink worships you?” Leona asked.
“Not the drink.” Arcadia rolled her eyes. “I’m talking about people who aid me with their powers. I can’t teleport, or travel through time on my own. I can’t create a spacetime merge point, or possess people’s bodies. If I want to do these things, I employ someone who can. They’re my aides.”
“You created a pretty sophisticated system,” Leona pointed out. “It always looked like you had the powers.”
“Nope,” Arcadia said. “Like most people, I just have the one power.”
Leona looked over at Nerakali. “Yeah, I’ve always wanted to ask, why do you have more than one temporal ability? You can blend brains, and travel spacetime. Why is that?”
“I dunno,” Nerakali replied. She sounded sincere. “Athanaric never explained why he built me this way. Why would a blender need to travel through time when she was designed to live in a higher dimension where time travel is impossible anyway? It’s like he knew I would end up on Earth one day.”
“Maybe he did,” Arcadia guessed.
“Are we gonna keep talking about this?” Mateo questioned. “Or are we going to figure out what to do. I can barely force myself to trust one Preston, but now I’m expected to trust another? What happens when Zeferino shows up? Are we going to end up at one giant hyper-destructive family reunion, or something?”
“It won’t be truly destructive unless our father is there,” Arcadia said. She mocked the sign of the cross.
“He’s right,” Nerakali said to Arcadia. “You can’t be here. You’re dangerous.”
“I really do want to help. I’m being honest about that. I’m not planning a doublecross, and I won’t get bored, and lose interest. I’m with you; one hundred percent.”
“Sometimes you’re kind of okay,” Mateo said to her, finally well enough to stand on his own two feet. “Sometimes you make Satan shiver in his seat. That means those times when you’re okay don’t really matter that much, because no one can ever trust you.”
Arcadia looked legitimately hurt by his words, and he almost regretted them. She stared at him for a moment before looking to her sister. “Self-cleaning mode.”
“What?” Nerakali asked. “Don’t even joke about that.”
“Not now,” Arcadia said. “Give me one of those cuffs. I know you have an extra, because they come in pairs. Program mine with an SCM protocol. If I step out of line, any one of you can activate it, and be done with me for good.”
“I can’t imagine you would agree to this,” Nerakali doubted.
Mateo looked over at Leona, but she seemed to have no clue what they were talking about either. They both decided to be patient.
“I’m not just agreeing to it,” Arcadia said. “It was my idea.”
“You must have some defense against it,” Nerakali assumed.
“Yeah, maybe. I mean...I guess that’s a possibility. I can’t really prove that I don’t, but I’m extending a sign of good faith. This makes it so that you don’t have to trust me. You just have to trust your own abilities.”
Nerakali shook her head for a bit, weighing her options. “It’s up to them, if they want to risk it.”
“We don’t know what an SCM is,” Leona reminded them.
“Self-cleaning mode,” Nerakali began to explain. “It’s a blender term. I can make an individual recall things that didn’t happen to them, by blending their brain with that of their alternate self. You know this about me. What you don’t know is that I don’t have to add memories; I can also take them away. In fact, I can take them all away. I can turn you into a vegetable, which isn’t..holding to the analogy very well. I can make it so that you remember nothing; total amnesia as a weapon, or a fresh start as a gift.”
Mateo was working through it. “So Arcadia is agreeing to wear a cuff that can be programmed to erase her entire mind if she steps out of line?”
“Basically, yes,” Nerakali confirmed. “It’s an insurance policy.” She looked back over to her sister. “I don’t like that she was the one who came up with it, though. It’s obviously suspicious.”
“You’re the one in control,” Arcadia said. “I can help. I know Savannah better than anyone. She liked to talk to me up in The Gallery, because I always agreed with her. I was a dumb child who couldn’t think for myself, but now that I can, I can use what I know about her against her. Let me do this. You said it yourself, Mateo; sometimes I’m okay. This is one of those times.”
“I said you’re sometimes kind of okay. You’re never good.”
Leona stepped forward, and got herself closer to Arcadia. She stared into her eyes, and studied the thoughts swimming through them for at least thirty seconds. “Give her the cuff. Even if it doesn’t work, we always beat her. We’ll get through it either way. If there’s a chance she can do some good, I’mma risk it.”
Nerakali took Arcadia by the arm. “The other cuff is back at the camp.” She teleported all four of them back to where they were before. It was here that they packed up, had some breakfast, and prepared to head out for their first mission.
According to what Leona knew of history, when the cities were torn asunder, and replaced by far more efficient arcologies, only a few things were left whole. Besides truly magnificent historical locations, like The Great Wall and Machu Picchu, there were also a few small outposts that didn’t necessarily serve a purpose, but were ignored anyway. These small pockets of history were only known to a few people, and they were pretty much all underground, because that was really the only way regular humans knew how to hide things. The reasons they remained were never recorded, but they might have had sentimental value to the people in charge of destroying them, so that was probably how they survived. Most were apparently too innocuous for the government to bother with them now. The Space Corp base where the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was presently stashed was one such of these places. Nerakali teleported the group to another place, which those who knew it existed called the Bucket. Water was dripping from the ceiling, and it possessed a certain sweet fungal scent. They carefully walked through the hallways, but she assured them that there was nothing to be afraid of, and they didn’t need to know exactly what they were there for. It almost sounded like she didn’t really know.
“I knew a friend who could find special temporal objects. The hundemarke was pinged at this location. “I do not believe we will be able to take possession of it,” Nerakali whispered, “but we’ll be able to trace its journey from here, as long as we get there in time.”
“Oh, you’re here in time,” came an echoing voice from down the passageway. They picked up the pace a little, and entered the room. A man was sitting against the dirty wall. He had a bottle of alcohol in one hand, and a gun in the other. “You’re always on time,” he slurred. “No matter what I do, you always find me. I just can’t get away.”
“Who are you?” Mateo asked, stepping a little closer. Leona tried to hold him back, but he was too curious.
“You don’t know me yet?” the man asked, then he took another drink. “I suppose that means my plan is successful, and I die here tonight.”
“No one has to die,” Mateo promised him. “We can talk about this. I’ve met people before who have already met me. Whatever I did to you, I’m sorry. Maybe I can change it. Just tell me what I can do to help you. Tell me what you need.”
The man closed his eyes, and nodded his head. “I don’t need anything, and someone does indeed have to die.” He reached into his shirt, and pulled out the hundemarke. “It ain’t gonna be you. I know this, because you’re right, I’ve seen you in the future. You do try to help me, and you fail. But that’s okay, because I’m here now, and I can end it. I can end it right here.” He jangled the dog tag. “I already have. I don’t mean to sound like some kind of mad purple alien, or anything, but I’m...inevitable.” He lifted the gun, and pressed it against his head. He also tipped the bottle down his throat, and finished it off.
“No!” Mateo shouted. He dove forward, and tried to reach for the man, but a mysterious force threw him across the room, and against the opposite wall. Then he heard a gunshot. Then everything went black.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Dardius: Vitalie Crawville (Part IV)

When it came to the question of home, Vitalie Crawville didn’t really know what that meant. She was born on a rogue planet called Durus in 2165, but her fathers were from Earth, and were only there as refugees. Fortunately, before too long, a small interstellar spaceship came by, and rescued a small number of people, which included her and her family. So she finally lived on Earth for a good stretch of time, until circumstances forced her to leave. She had to help a friend named Leona in her search for a husband she couldn’t even truly remember having. The journey took them throughout a few other universes in the bulkverse as they worked to procure special objects that would aid them in their quest. Once that was all over, she found herself on another ship, destined for a planet called Bungula. She never did make it there, but instead landed on its neighbor, Proxima Doma. The situation continued to evolve, and events continued to unfold—an alternate version of herself came back through time to change history—and she finally found herself on a planet millions of light years from Earth, and its stellar neighborhood. So where was home? Not really anywhere, and that was probably okay.
She came to this place with her friend, Étude, who had also been doubled due to time travel. They could have returned home at any time, but they chose not to, for Étude soon met a man, and fell in love. And soon after that, they conceived a child together. This new life changed Étude’s perspective on everything, and she quickly grew tired of the special temporal powers that she was born with. She could teleport and travel through time, and build massive objects almost instantaneously. She didn’t want to be like this anymore, and luckily, she knew someone who did. She also knew someone who could help them with their problem. Her husband, Newt Clemens had the ability to manipulate other people’s abilities. It was he who transferred everything Étude could do to Vitalie, so she could finally take her rightful place as The Caretaker.
Life was great on Dardius, but it wasn’t perfect, and there were times when certain people needed saving. Vitalie was able to provide that for them, as what few could deny was best described as a superhero. She protected the entire world from various threats. There were accidental threats, of course; faulty demolitions, and rickety staircases. There were more human dangers too, however. The populace was composed of people who had been rescued from Earth because they themselves were threatened by time travel. The rescuers made every attempt to properly integrate these people into society, but that didn’t always work out, and it was really nice to have Vitalie on the side of right, to make sure the outliers didn’t cause too much damage. She was good at it, and she was beloved for her efforts by most. Still, this took a toll on her, and it took her a long time to realize why.
Vitalie was nomadic. She didn’t like spending too much time in one place, because that was what she knew best. Circumstances had always thrown her to the next chapter in her life, but Dardius was different. It was stable. More to the point, it was too stable, and it felt to her like she was going to die there, which was something she didn’t want to think about. There wasn’t really any single moment that changed her mind about where she was, and what she was doing. She didn’t fail to save a child from a burning building, or punish someone who turned out to be innocent. These things could have happened, and would not have been available for do-overs, because time travel was illegal on Dardius. Except for one place. It was called Tribulation Island.
A man named Mateo Matic co-owned the whole planet with his wife, Leona. It was given to him by his frenemy, Gilbert Boyce, but it never really belonged to any of them. Dardius belonged to the people, and they had the right to govern civilization however they saw fit. They elected their own leaders, and made their own laws, and any accommodations they made for Mateo was predominantly out of respect. Even his status as the Patronus was a temporary solution to a terrible problem, and he was always destined to return to being less of a governmental official, and more of a symbol. These conditions, however, never applied to Tribulation Island. The Matics owned that land fair and square; like an independent nation over which no one else could have any control. It was for this reason that Vitalie decided to shed her life as the world’s Caretaker, and take up a new purpose. She was never allowed to travel back in time to help people while she was operating on the main lands, but those policies could not extend to the island, so she decided to exploit that.
There is a location in the universe called The Nucleus. No one knows exactly where it is. Some say it’s in a pocket dimension, while others think it’s literally in the center of the universe itself, though inflationary theory doesn’t really support this possibility. Some believe it exists outside of time and space, or perhaps beyond the boundaries of the universe. Wherever it is, no one in recorded history has ever accessed it by any means besides a Nexus replica. A Nexus is a special device used in one of these other universes that allows near instant transportation between planets. The design was replicated in Vitalie’s universe, but functions on vastly different principles. There are very few of them in existence, placed on different worlds for different reasons each. One of these was built on the Nucleus, though no one seems to know who was responsible. For doing so The reigning theory is that someone very, very far into the future finally discovered its true location, and went back in time to give their ancestors quick and easy access so they wouldn’t have to go to all the trouble. Vitalie moved to Tribulation Island to make use of this access.
The Nucleus is capable of accessing any point in spacetime, again for reasons no one who even knows for sure it exists understand. It’s an incredibly hostile and dangerous place, and is quite inhospitable to life. The temperature throughout most of it holds steady at a half degree above absolute zero, which is literally the coldest anywhere could ever possibly be ever. The Nexus replica building possesses a central heating system, but no matter what, it can never raise the temperature any higher than negative forty. External forces are constantly trying to freeze the whole place, so this is as good as it gets. If a traveler were to enter the only safe location on the Nucleus, they would want to do so with extreme-weather protection, and still probably not stay there for very long. Yet Vitalie has technically experienced the environment billions of times.
“What are you doing here?” Old!Vitalie asked. Old!Vitalie was a very different version of the Vitalie who lived on Dardius as the Caretaker. She was billions of years old, but only had memories going back for the last fifty-six. After all this time, she was finally confronting her alternate self. Well...one of them, anyway.
“I’m waiting for everyone to stop using the Nexus replica,” Young!Vitalie answered so I can get back to work. Every second counts. Literally.”
“Explain,” Old!Vitalie demanded.
Young!Vitalie prepared to go into her whole thing. “I was the Caretaker of Dardius, but before that, I was the Caretaker of Proxima Doma. Eventually, people stop needing my help. So I’ve had to find new purpose. Now, I may not look it, but I am over two hundred and sixty years old.”
“I’m much older than that,” Old!Vitalie pointed out.
“True, but I’m also much older than people realize. You see, I came here looking to help people, but I realized a few things about my skills. Number one, they become obsolete. I could go to any planet I want, but the people there will eventually stop needing me. Number two, these other planets do exist, and they do need me. Number three, as powerful as I am, I’m not immortal. I’ve been able to remain young, but I didn’t take immortality water, like you did. My time will eventually run out, so I can’t just keep hopping from planet to planet. I’ll die before I’m even finished with one. So I determined that my only course of action would be to go to all these planets, most of which will not even be inhabited for thousands of years, and extend my services all at once. What am I doing here, my alternate self? I’m generating billions of more alternate selves, and dispatching each one through the Nexus replica.”
“Where do they go?” Old!Vitalie asked.
“They go to a very special place called the Nucleus, and from there, they can move on to their respective final destinations. I can send about eleven alternates every single second, and I’ve been doing that ever since they built this damn thing in 2095.” Young!Vitalie gestured towards the Nexus replica.
“Didn’t people notice you doing that?” Old!Vitalie asked.
Young!Vitalie breathed in deeply. “Yes, which is why I’m still not done. I keep having to take breaks, and let other people use it—or simply hide away so they don’t discover me here. Why, you coming through has already set me back about three thousand planets.”
Old!Vitalie just stared at her. “That’s stupid. What you’re doing is stupid. You’re sending your alternate selves to save people in the future after they colonize planets in the galaxy?”
“Well, not this galaxy, but yeah.”
“Don’t you think that’s a little...?”
“Narcissistic?” Young!Vitalie guessed. “Self-obsessed? Vainglorious? Whatever the difference there is between those three words, and others like them, then yes, all that. But I’m fine with it. Now, if you and your friends are quite finished with this thing, I would like to return to my job.”
“Don’t you wanna be there?” Old!Vitalie questioned.
“For what? Mateo’s funeral?” Young!Vitalie asked back.
“Yes.”
Young!Vitalie shrugged. “I barely knew the guy.”
“Well, maybe you want to be there for his wife?” Old!Vitalie suggested. “It might be kind of nice for her to interact with a version of us who actually remembers the day we met. I have no recollection of that myself, as that day rests far beyond my memory threshold.”
Young!Vitalie could see her point, but this was really important work, and she was almost done with it. Though maybe that was what made it okay. She could probably stand to take one more break, and finish up in the next several years. What’s one day to celebrate the life of someone she did legitimately care about? Well, it was about nine hundred and fifty-thousand planets, so... “Okay, I’ll do it. I just hope I don’t die before I reach the outer edges of the Milky Way galaxy.”
“We all hope that,” Old!Vitalie agreed, though it was hard to tell the difference between sincerity and sarcasm when it came to her delivery. The two of them took each other by the hand, and headed towards the exit together.
Pribadium Delgado vigorously scratched the part of her head just above her ear. “I’ve seen a lot of weird shit since I met you time travelers, but that might be the most bizarre conversation I’ve ever heard.”

Friday, January 24, 2020

Microstory 1285: The Boy and the Chocolates

A class of young school children was on a field trip to the mall in the center of town. There were many fascinating specialty stores there that were able to keep the children busy for hours. One sold all sorts of art supplies, while another was dedicated to music. There were restaurants of all kinds, and even a small theatre where the students sat to watch a local production of a popular play. There was also a candy story, which the students were specifically warned not to enter. A half hour before they were set to leave the mall, however, the teacher revealed that they would indeed be going into the candy store, but that they would be going in together, and in an orderly fashion. The kids were all so very excited. The owners of the candy shop were a friendly couple who liked to bring joy to children’s lives. So they agreed to a deal where each student would be allowed to take on fistful of candy from one of the dozen or so jars that they had laid out on the table for the occasion. The children were very good. Each one stood patiently in line, and waited their turn. One boy amongst them was a little different than the others. Due to a condition he had had since birth, he was rather large for his age, and he always felt a little out of place. His classmates weren’t too terribly mean to him about it, but he did experience a few jokes here and there. One thing he loved was chocolate; probably more than anyone else here. He could live off the stuff for the rest of his life. Unfortunately, when it came to be his turn, he found that he could barely fit his hand inside the jar, let alone grab a fistful of sweets, and pull them out safely. It was a rule that each child would only be able to take as much as they could in one go, but it was looking like he wasn’t going to get very many. He reached as far as he could, but the best he could do was grasp one piece between his index and middle finger; one lousy piece, and it wasn’t even his favorite kind. “Surely we can bend the rules this one time,” one of the shop owners said. “We shall pour some into his hand.”

“Only if that’s okay with the rest of the students,” the teacher said.

The boy was saddened, for he did not think his classmates would let him do things differently. But he was wrong. They gladly gave him permission, with no hesitation. After all, they had already received their own candies, and weren’t going to get any more, whether he got his own fill, or not.

This story was inspired by, and revised from, an Aesop Fable called The Boy and the Filberts.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Microstory 1284: The Squirrels and the Frogs

Squirrels are very timid creatures. The slightest twitch of a twig will cause them to run away, and seek safety. A scurry of squirrels once lived in the southern lands, who did not know what to do with themselves. They didn’t want to live like this anymore, but what else could they do? They were always afraid, but there was never any way to know for sure whether what frightened them was truly something to be feared, or if it was innocuous. The only thing they could do was run, and they only got an answer to the question once they were out of harm’s way, if at all. But what kind of life was that? Was there a way to transcend their nature? Surely they couldn’t become the predators they were so afraid of, and nature never gave them any means to protect themselves. What could they do to feel safer, and not just for one day, but in the long run? Perhaps it was impossible. One day, the whole scurry was running from a team of stampeding horses. The horses meant them no harm, but they also didn’t have any strong feelings about the squirrels, and were making no effort to avoid them underfoot. The squirrels found themselves running towards a lake. While squirrels can swim, the lake was probably too large for them to swim clear across to the other side before becoming too tired and drowning. Still, they didn’t think they had any other choice, so they just kept going. As they approached the bank, an army of frogs noticed them, and hopped into the water, frightened as well. “Look,” said one of the squirrels. “I suppose there is always someone worse off than you, isn’t there? Maybe our lives aren’t so bad.”

“No,” another replied to him, “things are neither good, nor bad. They just are. Come, let us speak with the frogs. If we teach them not to fear us, maybe we can learn to fear less as well.”

This story was inspired by, and revised from, an Aesop Fable called The Hares and the Frogs.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Microstory 1283: The Lion and the Turkey

In the animal preserve, all the animals got along. The predators were given meat by the humans, so the prey no longer felt that they were in danger. A sort of society formed amongst just the animals. They didn’t have a democracy, per se, and they certainly didn’t know how to vote, but they did sort of agree to let the lion rule over them, to some degree. The truth was that there weren’t a whole lot of decisions that these animals needed to make, since the humans took care of pretty much everything, but they liked to feel that they were at least somewhat independent. After all, this was something they could not get in the wild. The lion would never rule over anything, as he would have naturally eaten half of everything in there, and the other half if times were tough. This was something special. One tradition they began was to have the lion walk across the courtyard in front of everyone at the beginning of every day. The humans were not yet awake, so they would not see how strange and out of character this was. It was a vain and pointless ceremony, but they did it, because again, there wasn’t much else. During one such of these walks, the turkey made a rude comment about him under his breath. He was tired of being ruled by the lion, and didn’t think it was fair. The lion heard what he had said, and turned to face his detractor. The prey close enough to hear it spread word to the others, and everyone guessed that the turkey would be eaten for his insolence. The predators snickered, for most of them guessed the lion wouldn’t even bother with the turkey. He was a silly little creature, and surely not worth the lion’s time. But they were all wrong. The lion stared at the turkey for what seemed like ages. Then he placed a paw on his shoulder, and ushered him away from the crowd. “Come, my friend,” the lion said. “We should discuss your grievances. What good am I as a leader if I do not listen to those I lead? If something should be changed, we will change it.”

This story was inspired by, and revised from, an Aesop Fable called The Lion and an Ass.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Microstory 1282: The Werewolf and the Wife

In those early days of misunderstanding, a young werewolf pup became separated from his family, and his pack. He had to grow up in the woods alone, having long forgotten where he came from, and not knowing if there were others like him. He could turn himself into a boy, sure, but he lived like an animal. Over time and with no family, this wild side of him took over, and there seemed to be no hope that he could ever live amongst others, of any kind. The regular wolves could tell that he was different, and they wanted no part of him. Years later, he was taken in by a family, and raised there with their teenage daughter. “He will only hurt you,” their neighbors would say. “It is in his nature, for he is clearly much more wolf than he is man.” But the family did not listen, and they decided to help him learn to be part of something larger than himself. While they were all there for him, the daughter was largely responsible for teaching him how to be a civilized human. The werewolf grew further, and got himself an education. He held onto his studies, and eventually made his way into academia, where he became a professor of Werewolf Sociology at a prestigious university. He married the family’s daughter, and she continued to help make sure that he did not forget his manners. This was a far cry from the naked animal-boy he was before.

This story was inspired by, and revised from, an Aesop Fable called The Cat-Maiden.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Microstory 1281: The Little Fish and the Big Net

There was a fisherman who was proud of his work. He did not care to go to the market and purchase the tools he needed for his trade. When the seas were too dangerous, or when he just wasn’t up for going out on the water, he liked to sit in his cabin, and create his own tools. He carved his own fishing rods, strung his own fishing lines, and even weaved his own net. He was so proud of his net that he couldn’t wait to go back out there, and give it a try. He dropped it in the water, and dragged it along to pick up as many fish as he possibly could. Now, the fish he caught were large, which were great, but he noticed that a great many smaller fish escaped his clutches. He was not happy with this. He wanted to get all the fish he possibly could, so he went back home, and started weaving a new net. He made it as tight as he possibly could, so barely a drop of water could pass through. “No fish will escape me now,” the fisherman said after months and months of working on it tirelessly. He dropped it in the water, and scooped up a hefty haul. When he took his catch to the market, he noticed that people were still only buying the larger fish from him. “Why don’t you take some of these instead?” he would ask. They always answered the same, that there was not enough meat for them to get anything out of those tiny little fish. “But I worked so much harder to get these ones,” he complained. It didn’t matter. His efforts were not just pointless, but counterproductive. Had he only focused on gathering the fish he would be able to sell, he would have been able to catch more than one school. No one cared how much effort he put into his profession; only the results of those efforts. They would have been just as happy with the larger net.

This story was inspired by, and revised from, an Aesop Fable called The Fisherman and His Nets.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 29, 2267

Nerakali smiled when she saw that the Matics had agreed to stay on mission with her. They were ready to do what needed to be done, but that didn’t mean they didn’t have questions. “Where did you get these devices?”
“Where does anyone ever get any temporal objects?” Nerakali answered with a question. “Mostly from Holly Blue.”
“Holly Blue,” Leona posed, “or Weaver?” They were both technically the same person, but the former was native to this reality, while the latter came from an earlier one.
“I honestly do not know,” Nerakali said.
“But you know where they come from,” Mateo began, “because you called them Cassidy cuffs.”
“Yes, I know about Cassidy Long. Before you freak out, I have no ill will towards her. I’m the one who found her for her mother, Étude back in the day.”
“Oh, yeah,” Leona admitted. “You did mention that.”
“I don’t like that these things exist,” Mateo lamented. “I don’t like to think about what had to happen to her to make them exist.”
“Knowing both of them,” Nerakali said, “it was an agreement between the two of them. I can’t imagine she was hurt by it.”
“She was, at the very least, exposed by it,” Leona pointed out. “These things are dangerous. We’re trusting you with them, but what happens when the wrong people gain access to them?”
“That’s true of everything,” Nerakali said, “especially when you factor in time travel. If something can exist, it probably does eventually, which means it does always. If you’re going to keep going with the mission, that’s something you’re going to have to wrap your brains around. When we destroy the hundemarke, we’re not undoing all the bad it’s caused. Those are quite literally inevitable. All we can do is prevent its future use. Though, of course, what exactly does future use even mean in this context? It’s all very confusing, and I make no guarantees about the outcome.”
“We understand.”
They took a couple hours to admire their surroundings. This was Machu Picchu in the year 2266. According to records, the historical site was closed off to tourists over two hundred and thirty years ago. Fortunately, before that happened, highly advanced drones were dispatched to capture three-dimensional data of the entire area. Afterwards, a fourth-dimensional layer was added based on predictive modeling, which allowed audiences to witness what the hillside city would have looked like as it was being built, after construction was complete, and over the centuries, as it fell apart. These were all plugged into a virtual reality construct which tourists were then able to visit instead, without having to worry about damaging the site further with foot traffic. Just about every wonder of the world, and other important historical locations, were given this treatment. While the majority of cities and highways were demolished so that living accommodations could be consolidated on the surface of the Earth, truly important places, like this one, were either maintained and preserved, or left entirely alone.
Of course, they weren’t allowed to be there, but what was the point of being a time traveler if one couldn’t enjoy a few exemptions and privileges? They slept in a moderately sized tent that Nerakali had for them in her bag of holding, and woke up the next morning in 2267. They weren’t in Machu Picchu anymore, though. No, this was a very different place—just as wondrous, but on the other side of the world—The Great Wall of China. At least that was what Mateo guessed. They were standing next to a giant wall that looked like it went on forever. “Not that I’m not impressed, but...what are we doing here?”
“You guys wanted a vacation, right?”
“We don’t use that word,” Leona warned her. According to Nerakali, there was nothing they could do for the mission quite yet. The problem was, whenever they claimed they were on a day off of some kind, that was when some giant interruption came to attack them. What was it going to be this time?
“Oo, umm...I think I get it.” Nerakali thought about what she was going to say. “Okay, so this is research for our mission. We’re gonna be going all over the world to look for my mother. You have not had a whole lot of experience doing that. I mean, I know you’ve been to other planets and such, but this could still help. You need to see what things look like nowadays. What better way to do that than to go to famous historical places?” She showcased the wall with her hands. “This is called The Great Wall of China. Well, it’s one section of it. We’re going to be seeing the rest of it here in a minute.”
“I don’t remember the exact number,” Leona said, but that should take years. It’s thousands of kilometers long.”
“Yes,” Nerakali agreed. “Fortunately, someone has already walked it for us.” She approached the wall, and examined it to look for a particular stone, When she found it, pricked her finger with a needle, and rubbed a little bit of her blood on it. The stone was a little reddish, suggesting that others had previously done the same. The stone swung out, and revealed a secret compartment. Inside of it were several sets of booties, like a contractor would use to walk through a client’s clean home. “You know how Google hired people to drive, ride, boat, and hike all over the world, so others can enjoy their journey on the maps program?”
“Of course,” Leona said.
Mateo nodded.
Nerakali went on, “Well, we have our own version of that. His name is The Adventurer, and instead of just snapping photos, and stitching them together, he records a four-dimensional walkthrough of places like this. These booties let you walk thirteen thousand miles in his shoes in a matter of hours, but you have to actually go there; it doesn’t simply require an internet connection.”
“Oh, that’s amazing,” Mateo said as he was putting on his booties.
“You would think so,” Nerakali agreed, “but his hard work isn’t as appreciated in our world as it should be. He leaves these things for anyone with the right blood to access, but few take him up on his offer. I guess they just don’t see it as much of a gift.”
“Well,” Leona said, “we see it.”
And so, after breaking camp, they climbed up to the top of the wall, and slid along the whole twenty-one thousand kilometer structure, from one end to the other. For the sake of time, they programmed their booties to take them at maximum speed, which was around mach 3.4, so they were done with the whole thing in under six hours. They stopped at a few places to rest, and take in the view in realtime. Once they were finished with it, they jumped to other amazing places; ancient dig sites, pyramids, museums that were still standing, and whatnot. They packed multiple lifetimes worth of world travel into a single day. They were extremely exhausted from the experience, but profoundly grateful for it. As easy as it would be for other time travelers, what they did was probably pretty rare; maybe even unique, and that made it something special. Nerakali could just be playing the long game, and turn out to be evil, and working against them, but right now, Mateo and Leona would have to consider her a dear friend.
When it was over, they stopped in the middle of a forest to camp again. Nerakali said it was safer to be away from people. To put it another way, it would be easier to track them if they stayed under security cameras, and in front of witnesses. They couldn’t be sure no one was trying to stop them, even though they had no specific knowledge of any opposition. As far as they could tell, Savannah Preston had no clue that anyone was working against her, or that her own daughter would be a threat to her, but perhaps they were mistaken. Perhaps they just didn’t know what they were getting themselves into. They had their fun today, but it was time to circle the wagons, and remain vigilant. Danger could come from anywhere, and at anytime. They still felt pretty safe going to sleep, though. Nerakali set up temporal wards around them. They weren’t strong enough to keep attackers out completely, but they would hopefully slow them down, and give the three of them enough time to bug out. They slept soundly, and didn’t wake up until 2268 when one of these wards was triggered.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Dardius: Ramses Abdulrashid (Part III)

Ramses Abdulrashid. Engineer. Former capitalist. Awarded most improved. Man of the people. Deputy Delegator. Exile. Rescue. Sacrificial lamb. Survivor. This was his life in a nutshell. He started out as a capitalist, and member of a movement called the Freemarketeers, who he would come to categorize as terrorists. He was grateful for having been pulled from that life, and nowadays, wishes to have nothing to do with it. A lot of people put in a lot of effort to cure him of his bad thoughts, and he didn’t want to live in fear of relapsing. So he filled his life with other stresses, and made sure he didn’t have too much time to reflect on the past.
At the moment, he was chillin’ in a laboratory thousands of years in the future. A lot had happened that led him here, but the short story was that he was placed in stasis so he could one day wake up and take care of the little monster babies who were created to live on this planet. He was here with a few other people.
“Vearden!” one of them named Saga called out.
“Where are you?” another asked. Her name was Zektene.
“Have you seen Vearden?” Saga asked Ramses.
“I’ve been napping, sorry,” he replied.
“Let’s check the other section,” Zektene suggested. The man they were looking for was very badly injured. He had had some time to recover, but something might have gone wrong.
As the ladies were heading towards the hatch, Ramses got himself off the couch slowly, and tried to follow them. They didn’t realize this, so they closed the door behind them. He opened it not a second after, though, and discovered the room on the other side to be completely empty. “Hello?” he called out. “Saga? Zektene?” he asked. Then he added, “Vearden?”
There was no response. Both Vearden and Saga were known for stepping through doors, and ending up traveling through time and space. That must have been what happened to Vearden earlier, and now the other two. Hopefully they were safe, if not all together and safe. Ramses turned around, and went back through the door. He breathed in deep, preparing himself for a life of solitude on an alien planet. This was his next chap—
Just then, he thought he heard someone choking behind him. He turned around again, and saw a movie projected on the wall. There was no projector, though. Ramses’ best friend, Mateo Matic was strangling someone in...was that Stonehenge? “He’s over there,” the man being choked struggled to say.
“That doesn’t look much like a portal,” Mateo argued, looking towards Ramses. “More like a window. Fix it.”
“Let me go,” the man begged, “and I will.”
Mateo let the man go. Then the movie turned three dimensional, and it did appear as if they would be able to cross from one side to the other.
“Mateo?” Ramses questioned.
He stuck his hand over the threshold. “Come on, friend. We’re back, together again.”
Ramses took Mateo’s hand, and crossed over.
“The Delegator, this is Ramses Abdulrashid. Ramses, this is the asshole whose life I had to threaten to bring you back to us.”
The Delegator was still massaging his neck. “He’s not supposed to be here.”
“And you’re not supposed to be a jerk!” Mateo argued. “I guess life’s funny that way. Now I don’t want to hear any lip out of you. I just want you to tell me which one is ours. And I swear to the flying spaghetti monster, if you send us through the wrong archway, I’ll find my own way back here, and you’ll regret ever taking this job in middle management.”
“I understand,” the Delegator said. He pointed to one of the Stonehenge archways. “It’s that one over there. No tricks. It will take you back to Dardius.”
Ramses held back when Mateo tried to lead him towards the other portal. “Dardius?”
“Yes,” Mateo said.
“I can’t go back there.”
“Yes, you can.”
“Why?” Ramses asked. “Is it in the past...before I was exiled?”
“That exilement was bullshit, and it’s time to remedy that.” He tried to lead him that way again.
“No, I can’t go.”
“You have to,” the Delegator said, “or he’ll blame me for it.”
“Why should I go there? Why now? Did the Freemarketeers change their minds?”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Tell me what you’re not telling me!” Ramses demanded.
“I’m dead!” Mateo shouted back. “I need you back on Dardius, because that’s where my funeral is. Or my memorial service; or something. There’s no way I’m doing it without you.”
“I don’t understand,” Ramses said. “I mean, I know you’re all time travelers, so it’s possible for you to die, but still be alive to deal with it, but why? Why don’t you just travel through time, and prevent it from happening?”
“My killer used the hundemarke. It can’t be undone. What happened, happened, and it can’t happen any other way.”
Ramses didn’t know what to say for a moment. “I’m sorry.”
“Me too,” Mateo said. “But they saved me with an extraction mirror, so I can live just as long as I would have anyway. Death ain’t nothin’ but a thang in our world.”
“I’m still sorry,” he repeated.
“I know, but it really is okay. Dardius wants to do this whole ceremony. Leona and I just want to get it over with. But we can’t do that until you’re there.”
Ramses didn’t know if he could do it. He agreed to never return. It didn’t matter how much time passed, or how many things changed; that was a promise he didn’t want to break. Still, this was his best friend they were talking about. How could he not be there? It would be disrespectful.
“The world isn’t as it was,” Mateo began to explain. “Both you and I left nearly forty years ago. The Freemarketeers have been pretty well integrated into society. I mean, it’ll never be perfect, so long as the first generation is still there. You have millions of people who all look exactly alike, which is freaky, but other than that, things should be fine. Besides, I’m about to hand the whole planet off to a new set of owners, so they’ll be rid of us completely, if they just give us this one day.”
“Why are you selling the planet?” Ramses asked.
“I’m not selling it,” Mateo said. “I’m giving it to a family that will take good care of it. Believe me, I tried to just relinquish all rights, but they won’t let me. Someone has to take ownership of it, because that’s part of the foundation for their whole society. Don’t ask me to explain it further. I think it’s weird too.”
“Yeah,” Ramses said. “Well, that’s the thing. Because of how weird the Dardieti are about it, I’m not sure if they’ll let you just give it away. I think they’re going to want you to get something for it in return. It doesn’t have to be the gross domestic product of every nation combined, or anything, but it can’t just be two chickens and a goat either. It has to mean something; to you, and the new owner. They’ll have to make a sacrifice of some kind, I’m almost sure of it.”
“Well, what do you have in mind?”
“I’m certain we could come up with something reasonable, but I would have to know who you’re selling to, of course.”
“Okay.” Mateo tried yet again to pull him through the Stonehenge portal.
“We may not want to go straight there, though. If this place can go anywhere in time and space, it could come in handy.”
“Oh, no,” the Delegator hesitated. “I’m not your personal taxi driver. You asked for one portal to come here, one more to get your friend, and a third to get back. I’m not giving you any more. I don’t care where you go now, but wherever it is, you’re staying there. At least, I won’t be the one to let you go gallivanting all over time and space.”
Mateo let go of Ramses’ hand, and approached the Delegator menacingly. “I’m sorry. Perhaps you’ve not heard, but I’m dead, so my hearing isn’t great. What did you say? It was something about helping us with anything and everything we needed.”
Wow, this was a different Mateo than the one Ramses knew all those years ago. They got everything they needed.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Microstory 1280: The Bat and the Boar

A bat was flying overhead, looking for some food to eat, when she noticed a boar scratching his tusks against a tree. Curious, she flew down and asked him what he was doing. “Are you trying to cut that tree down? I do not believe that you will be able to.”

“No,” the boar replied. “I’m sharpening my tusks.”

This frightened the bat, for she had just flown above, but did not see any threat. “Are you in the midst of war?” she asked. “I did not see an enemy when I was in the sky.”

The ignorance annoyed the boar. “I need to sharpen my weapons now, so that when the fighting does come—as it inevitably will—I’ll be ready,” he tried to explain. “You know what they say, if you want peace, prepare for war.” He went back to sharpening.

“That may be what they say, but that does not mean it is true,” the bat argued. “War is war, and peace is peace. I say that if you want peace, be peaceful.”

And so it was that the animals in the forest were so afraid of the boar that they attacked him together. His prediction was a self-fulling prophecy. The bat, meanwhile, was left alone, for she did not purposefully make herself appear as a threat.

This story was inspired by, and revised from, an Aesop Fable called The Wild Boar and the Fox.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Microstory 1279: The Ladybug and the Ants

One summer, a ladybug was merrily flying about, enjoying the day, chewing on some aphids, and hiding from birds under leaves. As she was finishing her meal, seemingly an entire army of ants came marching towards her. They were carrying large bits of food to their colony on the other side of the hill. The ladybug stopped one of the ants and asked what they were doing. “We’re taking food to our colony, so that we can have it over the winter.”

“Why do you need to do that?” the ladybug asked. “The food is already here. Why, you should just eat it now. That’s what I do with these tasty aphids. Why, there are plenty here for all of us, as long as you stay out of my way, we’ll have no problem!”

“There will be no food in the winter,” the ant replied. “We must store it up every year.”

The ladybug scoffed, and moved on. She was too young to know the cold. Weeks later, winter came indeed, leaving the ladybug with no food to eat. All the aphids were overwintering as eggs. She flew over to the ant colony, and begged them to let her in. “Please, I did not understand. Do you have room for a humble lady bug? I am so hungry, but I promise not to eat too much!”

“Of course you can come in,” the ant said to her, “but just this year. Next year, you must learn to fend for yourself.”

This story was inspired by, and revised from, an Aesop Fable called The Ants and the Grasshopper.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Microstory 1278: The Dolphin and the Ape

As sad as it was, a ship called The Delfis once wrecked on the rocks near a small island in the middle of the ocean. Fortuitously, however, a pod of dolphins happened to be swimming nearby when it happened. They were so touched by seeing a ship that was presumably named after them that they felt they needed to help. Humans were always friendly to the dolphins, and these ones would likely be even kinder! They began to rescue the humans one by one, and carrying them to the shore on their backs, starting with those who were struggling the most. One of the first to be picked up was not a man, but an ape who had been aboard as a pet. Dolphins are known for their excellent eyesight, even out of the water, but it was dark and stormy, so the rescuer could not tell that she was not helping a human. “I like the name of your ship,” the dolphin said.

“Thank you,” the ape replied.

“What possessed you to name it that?” the dolphin asked.

Well, the ape—being not a man—did not know human language very well, and she certainly could not read. She had only heard the humans mention it a couple of times, but since it wasn’t important to her, she hadn’t really paid attention. She did not want to let on that she was so ignorant, however, because all the humans on board probably knew the answer to this question. So she lied and said that she and the rest of the crew were big fans of Elvis.

The dolphin laughed, and looked up to her back, to finally realize that she was carrying an ape, instead of a human. She was a good dolphin, though, so she still swam her to safety. Then she went back to the site of the wreck, rescuing all lifeforms she could find, human and animals alike.

This story was inspired by, and revised from, an Aesop Fable called The Monkey and the Dolphin.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Microstory 1277: The Hikers and the Wallet

Two hikers were walking along the mountain path when one of them spotted something underneath his feet. It looked like a dark leaf, but when he decided to dig it up, he discovered that it was a wallet. It was wet and muddy on the inside, which suggested that it had fallen from its owner’s person sometime yesterday, for it had rained last night, but was perfectly clear today. When he opened it up, he found a punch card for a restaurant two states away, an insurance card that was turned totally illegible by the rain, and a couple hundred dollars. “Look what we’ve found,” said the one hiker. “I’ll split the money with you.”

“No,” the other replied. “We should find a way to return it to its owner.”

“That should be impossible,” the first hiker said. “There is no identification of any kind here.” He looked down the mountain. “The rain must have washed it away.”

“Either way, I’m not sure we should keep it. We’ll find the nearest ranger’s station, and see if anyone’s reported it missing.”

Just then, they saw a group of hikers climbing down the mountain towards them. A forest ranger was accompanying them. “I remember you from the campsite the other day. Did you steal my wallet?” asked one of the strangers.

“I did not,” the first hiker said.

“Why, I see it right in your hand!” the wallet’s owner cried.

“We found it here in the mud,” the second hiker explained. He took it from his friend, and handed it back to its rightful owner. “How fortunate that you returned here. Your ID must have fallen out, so we would never have known where to return it.”

“Yeah, okay,” said the wallet owner. He was a bit reluctant, but appeared to believe them. Their explanation was only logical, for if they had stolen it on purpose, they would have surely kept it hidden so as not to be caught.

This story was inspired by, and revised from, an Aesop Fable called The Travelers and the Purse.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Microstory 1276: The Dingo and the Crane

Years ago, a dingo and a crane were drinking from the same watering hole, and got to talking. As different as they were as animals, and as unrelatable as their lifestyles should have been to each other, it turned out they had a lot in common. The dingo even agreed to limit her meals to rodents and lizards, which didn’t bother the crane at all. Birds were out of bounds, though, and the dingo was fine with this. One thing they did both enjoy, however, was a tasty fish stew. For one evening, the dingo decided to play a prank on the crane. She invited him over for dinner, like she had so many times, but the crane soon realized that he would not be able to eat the stew. She had placed it on an only moderately deep platter. The dingo was perfectly capable of lapping up the stew herself, but the crane couldn’t manage to get any into his beak. The dingo apologized for this, claiming that none of her other dishes was clean at the moment. A couple of days later, the crane invited the dingo over, so that he could host his own meal. They would have fish stew again, because it was easy, and agreeable for both. The dingo knew that the crane was planning on getting her back, likely by giving her a long jar in the same way that she had given him a platter. But she was wrong. The crane recognized that what the dingo had done was nothing more than a joke. He was able to find some fish on his way home the other day, and since he was not the vengeful type, he didn’t need to get her back. They remained friends, and one day laughed together about the silly platter prank.

This story was inspired by, and revised from, an Aesop Fable called The Fox and the Stork.