Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: December 4, 2272

Nerakali was dead silent after her bombshell about her and Arcadia’s father being the orchestrator of the hundemarke killings. She was never as talkative as her sister, but neither Mateo nor Leona could remember a time when she was speechless. She just sat there on the cold rock, staring into the space where her family was once standing. Leona had to step up, and decide where they were going to go. She chose to return them to Machu Picchu, because it was warm, and they all three noted feeling safe and comfortable there. After Leona went off to find firewood, Mateo noticed that Nerakali was still in her catanonic state. She didn’t even bother removing her jacket. He tried to encourage her to do that, since it must have been excruciatingly hot for her, but she was almost completely unresponsive. He had to physically remove it from her. She was, fortunately, unperturbed by this, and didn’t make it awkward. He had to remove her sweater as well, because even that was probably hell. It wasn’t until the next day that she opened her mouth.
“It’s okay to feel things,” Mateo said.
“What? I know that,” Nerakali replied. “I feel fine. I just needed a good night’s rest.” She input her Cassidy cuff code, and let it fall to the ground. “You are free from your obligation.”
“What are you talking about?” Leona questioned. “We still have work to do.”
“We do not. All of my plans were based on the idea that this was the work of mother. I didn’t account for Erlendr being involved at all.”
“Well, he is,” Mateo reminded her. “He’s the one doing this...we think. Just because you don’t know how we’re going to defeat him, doesn’t mean he doesn’t need to be defeated. All we need to do is come up with a new plan.”
Now Nerakali was a little bit too responsive. “A new plan? A new plan?” she reiterated louder. “I spent years working on this before I read you in. I scoured the timeline. I witnessed death, and not even just the hundemarked moments. I watched people die who I suspected as being even the teensiest bit connected to the problem.”
“Didn’t you do that all the time when you were living in The Gallery, for centuries?” Leona assumed.
“Not up close,” Nerakali began to explain, but she didn’t look at them. She stared right at a tree, as if he were the one who truly needed to hear her words. “You weren’t people back then. I wouldn’t have even shown you the dignity of calling you game pieces. You were...rocks on the bank. When you died, the universe was just throwing you into the lake. But there were always plenty of rocks left over—so many that I couldn’t even tell that one was missing. And who gives a shit about rocks anyway?” She stopped talking, but they knew she was going to say more sooner or later. “This experience changed me, more than I expected it to. And now that is all over, because there is a massive difference between Savannah Preston and Erlendr Preston. She was crazy, but she was also accessible.
“As twisted as her logic was, one could at least follow it. Erlendr was...is a genius.” She tried to figure out how best to explain it. “Both Danica and Lincoln can see all of time and space, right?” That was a rhetorical question. “But they don’t do it all at once. They have to focus in on what moment they want to see at any one time. Lincoln can do this spontaneously, and Danica theoretically can too, though she generally limits her knowledge to whatever’s relevant for her to help her guests. Now, Erlendr isn’t as powerful as that. He can’t see everything, but he doesn’t need to in order to attain his goals. He can see how time moves. He understands causality better than anyone in histories. I mean, the man is an artist in his own right, because with a tiny little nudge, he can move mountains. We can’t ever go against him, because he will always see us coming.”
Mateo and Leona listened to her story patiently and thoughtfully. After awhile of nothing but the sounds of the forest, and the crackling of the fire, Mateo had an idea. An idea from him was rare, and of course, very dangerous. Nonetheless, he had to risk vocalizing it. “He’s not the only one like that.”
“Who are you talking about?” Nerakali asked.
“Yeah, who?” Leona didn’t understand either.
He exaggeratingly shrugged his shoulders. “Iono. I just know that no one in the world of salmon and choosers is unique. You’re not the only brain blender, I’m not the only one on my pattern. Hell, even the Cleanser was just the evil version of Meliora Rutherford. If Erlendr is so goddamn smart, there is someone else who’s just as smart, if not smarter. We need you, Nerakali, because you know who that is. You know who I’m talking about. You already have someone in mind. I bet my entire life savings on it.”
“You possess zero dollars,” Leona argued.
“That doesn’t make me any less right. Does it?” he asked Nerakali.
She didn’t say anything.
“Do you know someone?” Leona asked.
Nerakali finally stopped addressing the tree, and looked between the two of them. “I do know someone. Well, I know of her. She’s not really in our world. I mean, she’s a choosing one, definitely, but she comes from an old timeline—which, obviously, a lot of people do; that’s what time travel does—but she seems to consider herself a woman apart. She had a mission to complete, and she completed it, and then she disappeared. I can probably find her, but I can’t promise she’ll want to help. We know very little bit about her, because her actions erased herself from the timeline, just like yours did, Mateo, when you killed Hitler.”
“What’s her name?”
“It’s something weird. Though, that’s not surprising. I feel like most people I meet have weird names. I mean, Dar’cy, Hokusai, Eight Point Seven?”
“Zeferino, Erlendr, Nerakali?” Mateo mimicked.
“You met Eight Point Seven?” Leona asked.
“Bhulan. Bhulan Cargill. That’s her name. She’s the only one I can think of with any shred of hope for besting my father, but she comes with no guarantee. Even if she does want to help, she may still not be good enough. She’s just the best we got.”
“All right.” Mateo reached down, and picked up Nerakali’s Cassidy cuff. “Let’s go find her.”
Someone who looked very much like Paige Turner Reaver-Demir suddenly came out of the woods, carrying a hiking pack. “Oh, good; I’m not late. I think you were about to teleport, though, weren’t you?”
“We were,” Leona said.
“Which one are you?” Mateo asked. “Original Recipe, or Trinity?
The Paige laughed. “I’m neither of those people.”
“Oo,” Nerakali said excitedly as she was fitting her cuff back on. “You’re not Duo. You’re...Deuteronomy.”
She sort of scoffed this time, but it was still laugh-like. “It’s Dyad, and no; I’m not her either.” She input the code that would release Mateo from his cuff, and pulled him away from the group. Then she held up her trusty photo storage device, so only she and he could see it. It was a picture of Vitalie, Pribadium, Hogarth, Hilde, and possibly Cassidy in the background, though it was hard to tell. “I’m Tetra.”
“Wait,” Mateo said urgently.
“Don’t forget to cry at your own burial.”

After Mateo attended his own memorial services, he returned to Machu Picchu to find that only two minutes had reportedly passed since he departed. Leona had evidently not been worried during this time, which he had to admit having mixed feelings about. She claimed they could trust any version of Paige, and that was probably a healthy maxim to live by. He couldn’t tell them anything about what he had gone through, and it was a lot, but one thing he knew about it was that Leona somehow made it there as well, though a little bit later, from her perspective. Nerakali was there too, but it was hard to tell how much time had passed for her, because she never said a word. He needed to let go of all of it for now, for it was time to find a new ally.
“Why aren’t you wearing your cuff?” Mateo asked.
“I had to take it off, so I could find Bhulan,” Nerakali explained. “I’m glad I did, too, because I was gone for a long time. Leona didn’t need to be involved in that. I got back here a minute before you did.”
They both replaced their cuffs while Leona was finishing up striking camp. Once they were ready to go, they teleported out of there with no plans to return again. This was still a sacred site, and had no need of them coming in and mucking it up any further.
A woman was waiting for them when they arrived at their destination. “Madam Cargill,” Nerakali said with a tip of her head that was deeper than a nod, but shallower than a bow.
“Madam Preston. I hear you’ve been looking for me.”
“We could use your help with something; something very important.”
Bhulan stood there for a moment, not saying anything.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Nerakali said. “I thought you kind of knew what we were going to ask. I mean, you knew we were coming.”
“No, I sensed you coming,” Bhulan corrected, “and I knew you would come at some point. I don’t know why, though. I don’t have very many contacts in this timeline.”
“You ever heard of the hundemarke?” Leona asked her.
Now Bhulan’s eyes widened. “Of course I have, why?”
“We’re looking for it,” Mateo replied.
“Who do you wanna kill?” Bhulan asked.
“No one,” Nerakali assured her. “We don’t need the hundemarke itself. We’re just looking for the person who’s been sending it throughout spacetime. He’s like you. He can see how time unfolds, and he’s using it to hurt people. We’ve been trying to track him, but we’ve realized only you can match his abilities.”
“What are you gonna do with the dog tag once you’ve found this person?” This was quickly becoming an interview. Or an interrogation.
The three of them looked at each other. “We really just need to get him away from it. We hadn’t thought about what we can do with the thing afterwards.”
“It can’t be destroyed,” Mateo.
“What makes you think that?” Bhulan asked.
“Oh,” he began, “I guess I just figured it couldn’t, or someone would have tried it by now. It doesn’t seem like something like it would never let itself be destroyed.”
“Well, you’re half right,” Nerakali said. “There is a way for it to be destroyed, but it’s...not pleasant.”
Leona and Mateo waited patiently for one of them to elaborate.
“It requires sacrifice.”
“Because of course it does.” Leona rolled her eyes.
“It’s just the nature of the object. You can throw it in the fire all you want, but it will always escape. It might do this by transporting itself to another place and time, or maybe someone will just always return to undo its destruction. We don’t really know how it works, but we know there’s only one loophole to the problem. I don’t know of anyone who would be willing to try it, though.”
“I am,” Bhulan said. “You get me that hundemarke, and I’ll destroy it for you.”
“No,” Nerakali countered. “We can’t let you do that.”
“What is the sacrifice?” Mateo asked. “Why does she want to make it, and why do you not want her to?”
“She would have to die,” Nerakali said. “To both destroy it, and prevent someone from going back in time, and stop it from being destroyed, she would have to use the hundemarke against itself. She would have to activate it, kill herself, and create a fixed moment in time that cannot be altered.”
There was something Mateo knew about the future. Or rather, the past. Man, this was confusing. But he just had this feeling that this wasn’t right. They weren’t meant to be meeting this woman, or recruiting her to help. It didn’t fit with the things he learned during his memorial. He lifted his arms, and hovered his hands over the backs of Leona’s and Nerakali’s respective heads. He engaged his new brain blending power, and dropped them to the floor.
“What the hell was that?” Bhulan got all defensive.
“Do you know who Horace Reaver is?” Mateo asked.
“What is happening here?”
“Do you know that name!” When time travel was involved, nothing was really ever time-sensitive, but he didn’t want to leave his wife and friend on the floor for any longer than he had to.
“Yes, I’ve heard it.”
“Go to him in the year 2027.”
“Why would I do that?”
“You want the hundemarke? You don’t need us, you need him. Go now.”
“Aren’t I the only one who can find the person who’s using it, though?”
“Let us worry about that.”
“All right,” she said, hesitant but conceding.
After she disappeared, Mateo teleported Leona and Nerakali to Kansas City, and erased their memories of almost the entire day.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Dardius: Cassidy Long (Part VIII)

When most people hear that an individual is a stripper, of course they have a judgment about it. Even if they visit strip clubs themselves, they usually feel a sense of superiority over the people who work there. There is a common belief that exotic dancers are damaged; that their daddies didn’t give them enough attention, or even that they were sexually abused as children. There’s also this joke about them paying their way through nursing school, as if that would be a bad thing anyway. For some, these judgments are true, though that doesn’t give anyone the right to assume them, or to assess them in any way. For Cassidy Long, nothing could be further from the truth. The reality was that she became a stripper, with the full support of her mother, because strippers make bank. Back before she mysteriously disappeared, in a four hour shift, she could make a hundred and sixty dollars. That was if she only managed to do two dances every hour, which was pretty unheard of at her location, even during the day. Even after splitting some of her profits to the bartender, DJ, and waitresses, she was still earning more than a lot of people in fulltime positions. All told, she made six figures a year. The work was relatively easy, and if she could keep it going for a couple decades—though work would slow down as she aged—she could retire with enough money to live fairly comfortably for the rest of her life.
Cassidy Long was happy with her life, and it came with an interesting bonus she didn’t even consider when she began. She met a lot of people; and not people whose secrets she could weaponize to exploit them, but networking contacts. Her connections got her out of parking tickets, into fancy parties, and more connections beyond the ones she made herself. She met all sorts of people, and since she had a loveable personality, they were always willing to help her out without much convincing, as long as it didn’t threaten their own social standing. There was one particular man she needed to reach out to now. He was a private investigator who also happened to be a decent artist. There was someone she needed to find, but the problem was she went missing six years ago, and where she had been wasn’t something she could explain. Still, she had to risk it, because he was probably their only hope of returning to Dardius in the future.
“My God, you’re alive.”
“I am,” Cassidy confirmed by demonstrating her ability to speak, which was something dead people generally could not do.
“I looked for you,” he said.
“Who hired you?” Cassidy questioned. “My mother was dead, and the club wouldn’t have put that much effort into finding me.”
“I looked for you myself. No one paid me for it. I wanted to know what happened to you.”
“Aw, that’s sweet.”
“So...?” he prompted.
“So, what?” Cassidy was confused.
“So what happened to you? Jesus.”
Pribadium reached into her back pocket, and retrieved a wallet, which she opened and flashed to the PI. “Priya Bragado; FBI. This is my partner, Valerie Crawford. Miss Long has been working with us on some very special cases for the last six years. She’s only returned to her old life because we require your assistance with finding a man whose name she does not know.”
He stared at Pribadium forever, though it did look like he was buying both the fake names she made up for her and Vitalie, and the idea that they were federal agents. He also seemed to want to believe that Cassidy could possibly be involved with them. It was probably more about trusting that Cassidy herself wouldn’t be standing here, lying to him. Though of course she was indeed withholding the truth, she was known to be an honest and forthcoming person. She was pretty famous for it. “It’s gonna be hard to find someone without a name.”
“I have a face,” Cassidy explained.
He still hesitated, but only because he had always irrationally questioned his own skills as a sketch artist. He left the police before Cassidy met him, because he decided he wanted to be an investigator instead, but didn’t like following someone else’s schedule, and adhering to their rules. “Okay, I’ll give it a shot.”
“Thank you,” Cassidy said graciously. “Priya and Valerie, this is Elmo Barone, but we all just call him The Baron.”
“Please, no jokes about Elmo,” Baron requested. “I’ve heard them all.”
“I don’t get it,” Vitalie explained. She wouldn’t, and nor would Pribadium. Neither one of them grew up having heard anything about Sesame Street.
Baron was pleased with their apparent ignorance. “All right, have a seat. I’ll get my sketchbook.”
After an hour of Cassidy describing what she could remember of the man she last saw years ago, the composite was ready. Baron ran it through the facial recognition database, which he wasn’t meant to have, and the four of them tried to have some lunch. Pribadium stressed to him how important it was that no one knew that Cassidy was still alive, and not truly missing. He got a little bit annoyed at her about this. He understood the value of discretion, and felt no desire to reveal her secret. She wanted to tell him the actual secret, but knew that it was best they leave him out of all this time travel business. They had barely begun their food when Baron’s computer beeped, indicating that his software had found a match.
“That was fast,” Cassidy noted.
“I narrowed the parameters,” Baron began to explain. “The programs you see cops use on TV seem to search through pictures of everyone on the planet. I limited the search to male Lawrence residents of a certain age range, and directed it to search for people arrested for minor offences first, before it would move on to the DMV database.”
“Well, it worked,” Cassidy said. “This is him.”
Vitalie leaned in, and read from the screen, “Gareth ‘Gaz’ Milburn. Fifty-eight years old. Arrested twice for public intoxication, once for assault; bar fight, apparently. And five times panhandling? Isn’t that the gold thing?”
“In this case, it’s just begging for money on the street,” Baron explained.
“That’s illegal?” Pribadium asked. She was from the future, long after begging became obsolete when money itself did. Poverty was a concept she would never truly be able to grasp.
Baron leaned in as well, and looked through the man’s details. “It technically is, but it’s hardly enforced. Officers try to get to know the homeless around the city, which means they know when someone’s lying. Gaz is not really homeless, and never was. He just pretended so people would give him money.”
“Why are we looking for this guy?” Pribadium asked. She had never explained the whole thing to them.
“You don’t already know why?” Now Baron was getting suspicious.
“He has information for us,” Cassidy started to lie again. “Or rather, I believe he knows someone who does.”
“He sounds like a standup guy,” Vitalie sarcasticated.
“His last charge was four years ago,” Vitalie revealed.
“Well, this is his last known address, so we’ll find out if he’s changed in that time.”
“I’m coming with you,” Baron offered.
Vitalie smiled at him condescendingly. “That’s cute. Stay here, and focus on your cheating spouses.” She snatched up a box of rice on her way out. “I’m taking this.”
Baron took Cassidy by the arm as she was trying to follow the other two out. “If you need out of something, I can help.”
“Thank you, Baron. I’m exactly where I need to be.” That was very much untrue, but lying to him was becoming a habit she couldn’t break now. “You’ve already helped so much.”
“You know where I am if you need any help in another six years.”
“I do.” She passed a woman on her way out of his office.
“Fitzsimmons,” Baron said. “Come on in. There’s food left over, if you’re hungry. I know it’s your favorite.”
“My favorite is in Kansas City.”
“It’s a franchise. It’s all the same stuff.”
Gaz appeared to be living in a very nice house in the suburbs. Vitalie insisted she be the one to knock on his door, and be able to stand between the other two should he turn violent. She was apparently wrong, though. A very well-kempt man answered, and greeted them with delight. He looked exactly like Gaz, but there was no way he was in his late fifties; not in 2025. The kind of de-aging technology humanity eventually came up with wouldn’t exist for another decade, at least. “Miss Long, you’re back.”
“Who are you?” Cassidy asked him.
“Please, come on in. I’ll explain everything. Would you like a plate for that rice?”
“I’m good,” Vitalie answered.
“How about some water to wash it down?”
“Thank you. I take my water with no poison,” she added as he was heading for the kitchen.
“Well, that’s weird, but okay,” he joked back.
“Are you going to tell us how you know him, but don’t really know him?” Pribadium whispered.
“Other than Jai, he was the last person I saw before I left work the day I disappeared. I gave him a dance. If I can absorb people’s powers, I think I maybe absorbed his.”
Gaz came back in with Vitalie’s water. “That is close to what happened.”
“So, you knew?” Cassidy asked. “You knew I would end up in the future, on a spaceship, light years away.”
“I didn’t know that, no. That’s not what my power, as you called it, does. It’s not a power at all. I’m salmon.”
“Then what’s your pattern?” Pribadium asked.
He sat down, and picked up the cup of tea he had been steeping when they showed up. I go where I’m needed. Future, past...other planets, theoretically. I don’t control where I go, or exactly what I’m meant to do when I get there, but that’s my life.”
“What are the sorts of things you do.”
“I make people feel things,” he said, creepily and cryptically.
“You dowhatnow?”
He smiled, realizing he didn’t say that right. “People can get in ruts, and they can get really stressed, and they can get underconfident, or overconfident. I level them out. I give them a boost if they’re feeling depressed, or I take ‘em down a notch if they’re alienating everyone around them. You probably found me because you saw my arrest record. That isn’t real. I only got drunk to show someone who was walking a dark path what rock bottom looked like, so he wouldn’t have to go down there himself.”
“That doesn’t sound...plausible,” Pribadium said.
“You wouldn’t think so, but it worked. Channing is a senator now.”
“And the fake panhandling?” Vitalie questioned. “Who did that help?”
“A lot of people, actually. I didn’t speak to most of them, but I didn’t need to. Homeless people give homed people perspective. It makes them think about their finances. Now, they may not want to do that, but it’s important. They need to be aware of how much money they’re earning, and how much they’re spending. Every time they see someone less fortunate, they have a gut reaction that they can neither control, nor ignore. Look, I’m not a Salmon Runner, or The Kingmaker, and I’m sure as hell not The Savior. My job is subtle...nuanced. Sometimes people just need little nudges, and if that comes in the form of the new watercooler guy who talks a little too much about the game last night, I can fill that role for fifteen minutes.”
“So, that’s what you did to me?” Cassidy asked, a little angry. “You call sending me centuries into the future subtle?
He took a sip of his tea. “I didn’t send you anywhere. I bestowed my pattern upon you...accidentally. As far as I know, that wasn’t meant to happen. I didn’t enter that strip club to do that. I had no idea you were an absorber.”
“Why were you there?” Pribadium asked.
“I think we all know the answer to that,” Vitalie snarked.
Gaz chuckled, and set his tea back down. “No, I’m gay. I wasn’t even there for her. I was there for, umm...Jai Quelen.”
“That’s my...” They never really put a label on it. “Friend. What were you doing with him?”
“Sometimes I don’t know. I walked in there, played my part, and left. Whatever he saw, or didn’t see, it changed him in some way. Hopefully for the better.”
“I do remember him acting a little weird at home that night. I didn’t know he showed up at the club that day.”
“He was holding flowers.”
“Ugh. Shit. And then I disappeared.”
Gaz thought about this. “So, maybe I was there for two reasons. Maybe I was sent to help get you get to the future, and also help your friend get through losing you. Like I was saying, I don’t always know what I’ve done. My impact is ripple-based. The people I meet go off and interact with others, and they interact with others...”
“Well, I need you to do it again,” Cassidy demanded.
“Get you to the future?” he asked for clarification.
“Yes.”
“How do you look so young?” Vitalie interrupted. She was still suspicious of him.
“Oh, I hired a man named Merton Casey. He can reyoungify people. I don’t think you need it, though.”
“I’m gonna be verifying your story.”
Gaz narrowed his eyes, but moved on. “I can let you absorb my pattern again, fine. I can’t control it, though, so I don’t think you can either.”
“If it takes you where you need to go, then it will take us where we need to go.”
Gaz stretched out his hand. “I assume you never really needed to give me a lapdance to take my pattern.”
Cassidy subtly tapped on the palm of his hand with her finger. “Nope.” She stretched her own arms out, and let her two friends take her by the hand. “No one can know we were here.”
“Wheedler-client privilege, I promise.”
Once the three of them were gone, Erlendr’s daughter came back into the room. “You see, Salvy? We’re doing good things here.”
“I’m still not convinced, Gaz,” Arcadia replied with airquotes.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Microstory 1305: College Dropout

Engineering Manager: You can have a seat right there.
College Dropout: Cool, thanks.
Engineering Manager: I’m afraid the résumé you sent us didn’t work. I’ve never heard of an fdj file extension.
College Dropout: Oh yeah, Functional Digital Jotter is a rare word processing software that only works on Kwartek computers.
Engineering Manager: I’ve never heard of a Kwartek computer.
College Dropout: It’s pretty rare too.
Engineering Manager: Why would you send us that, knowing we would almost certainly not be able to open it?
College Dropout: I dunno. I guess I didn’t really think about it. It’s just what I use.
Engineering Manager: Well, do you have a printout? We set up an interview, because your application looked promising, but we do still need it for our records.
College Dropout: Yes, of course I have a copy. Here it is.
Engineering Manager: I see. This appears to be a little different than the work history you filled out online.
College Dropout: Yeah, I never understood that. Why do you need it in both places? If you have the application, why do you need the résumé? It feels redundant.
Engineering Manager: Let’s just say we do that to test your commitment to applying.
College Dropout: Oh.
Engineering Manager: You have less job experience on this than you listed on the app.
College Dropout: Yeah, maybe it’s not entirely updated.
Engineering Manager: No, I have it right here. You didn’t just miss the last few jobs you had, or something. There are gaps in your résumé that you don’t have on the app.
College Dropout: Oh, weird.
Engineering Manager: Did you pad your résumé?
College Dropout: I’m not sure what that means.
Engineering Manager: Did you lie?
College Dropout: No. I promise you that my résumé is one hundred percent accurate.
Engineering Manager: Right, because your online application is the one full of lies. Nice try with the wording. We’re done here.
College Dropout: Wait. Let me explain.
Engineering Manager: I’m waiting.
College Dropout: Okay, I don’t really have a good explanation for you. The truth is that I lied when I said my résumé was the accurate one. Neither are. I did go to the college I listed there, but I didn’t graduate. I dropped out after my junior year.
Engineering Manager: This position requires a bachelor’s degree.
College Dropout: I know, which is why I lied. Even though much of my work history doesn’t exist, I haven’t just been lounging around the house. I’ve put so much effort into finding work. I have to prove to myself, and my family, that I made the right decision about school. I have been applying to so many jobs, and they’re all the same. All employers see is a wall that’s missing a dumb little piece of paper, so they dismiss me out of hand.
Engineering Manager: You’ve had interviews at your own house?
College Dropout: No. I just mean theoretically. They see that I didn’t graduate, and they don’t even bother getting to know me. They throw my application in the trash, and move on to the next one. I only lied because I really want this job, and all I needed was a chance to show you that in person.
Engineering Manager: So, you haven’t been getting interviews at all?
College Dropout: That’s been my whole problem.
Engineering Manager: That’s not your problem. Your problem is that you are applying to jobs for which you are unqualified. I can’t tell you if all those others should lower their requirements or not, but I can tell you that we can’t. This is an engineering firm. It’s not something you can just jump into. Either go back to school, or focus on employers who are looking for someone with your experience and level of education. It is no one’s responsibility to hear you out, and give you a chance. It is yours to show them that you deserve it. Good day.
College Dropout: Please, ma’am.
Engineering Manager: No. Goodbye.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Microstory 1304: State School Candidate

State School Candidate: I don’t even know why I’m here. My brother went to this school, and he didn’t have an interview. This ain’t exactly ivy league.
State School Admissions Interviewer: We don’t do many interviews, no, except for certain programs. Are you interested in pre-law, pre-med, or engineering?
State School Candidate: No?
State School Admissions Interviewer: Then you’re only here because your parents requested it.
State School Candidate: Oh. Did they have to pay for that?
State School Admissions Interviewer: No, that would be illegal.
State School Candidate: I see.
State School Admissions Interviewer: It doesn’t matter if you want to be here or not; let’s just assume that you do. As a hypothetical, if you really wanted to do this interview, what would you want to get out of it?
State School Candidate: I guess I just need someone to tell me I can make it?
State School Admissions Interviewer: Have people been telling you that you couldn’t?
State School Candidate: All the time. Teachers, principals, other students...
State School Admissions Interviewer: Why would they think this of you?
State School Candidate: I’m not a great student. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a bad one either. I’ve never failed a single class, I show up on time, and I do the work. I just don’t get good grades.
State School Admissions Interviewer: I’m going to be honest with you, that would be worse than if you didn’t do the work.
State School Candidate: Why?
State School Admissions Interviewer: Well, even when I’m not conducting interviews, I meet a lot of students, and some of those students have had really terrible grades. For the majority of those kids, it’s because they didn’t try; they didn’t realize their potential. The dropout rate is, in fact, predominantly due to unrealized potential, but that can be learned, practiced, improved. On the other hand, there are some who really want to do well, but they still struggle with the material. I’m not calling you stupid, but I think you’re smart enough to know that not everyone can be Stephen Hawking. The only question is how far from being Stephen Hawking are you? The further you are, the less chance you have at succeeding. Take a moment to ask yourself that question in your head. Then answer out loud the only question that really matters: do you think you can succeed in higher education?
State School Candidate: Well, I’m very not Stephen Hawking, yet I know the answer you’re looking for is yes. I’m afraid I can’t give you that, though.
State School Admissions Interviewer: No, the answer is indeed yes. You can do this. Were you diagnosed with a learning disability?
State School Candidate: No, not per se—
State School Admissions Interviewer: Then I don’t care what your grades were in high school. What no one will tell you is that much of what you learn in college is introductory; or sorry, can be introductory. You can sometimes skip the one-oh-ones, but if you don’t, then they generally assume very little foreknowledge of the subject. They do this because, even though colleges and universities require a high school diploma at the very least, they can’t be sure what you learned, and what you didn’t. They have to get everyone in class up to speed, which makes any prior experience almost meaningless. Almost. Someone who has never had any education in their entire lives won’t be able to go to college, unless they were born with that Stephen Hawking-level intelligence, and they just get it. Someone who never went to high school would even probably have trouble. But someone—anyone—who managed to graduate high school, is smart enough for college; I guarantee that. You have to rely on good advisors, and tutors, and study groups, and professor office hours, but you can do this.
State School Candidate: I never expected you to say any of this. I figured you were just going to ask me to guess how many books are in the library, so you can gauge my capacity for logic.
State School Admissions Interviewer: No, that’s stupid. What I told you is the truth, and is what matters. A lot of schools will let anyone in for one simple fact: they’re getting paid for it. They don’t care if you’re smart enough, or whether you graduate or not, because they’ll get money out of you until you officially fail. They see it as a win-win, because they can’t take money from the ones they reject. We are not like that. We want you to do well, which is why our test policy is unconventional, and we spend so much money on resources designed to give you the tools you need to learn the material. It does neither you, nor us, any good if you just keep getting bad grades because all you had access to were the lectures.
State School Candidate: So, you think I should apply?
State School Admissions Interviewer: You definitely should, but don’t forget to find an advisor. They’ll make sure you have what you need. Few who do this alone do well.
State School Candidate: I think I can remember that.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Microstory 1303: Housewife

TDS Management Representative: Hello, and welcome to TDS Management. I’ll be your TDS Rep today. Go ahead and have a seat. Did you happen to bring in an updated résumé?
Housewife: Yes, I have it right here.
TDS Rep: Oh, okay. [...] Are you missing a page?
Housewife: No, that’s all of it. I’ve been out of the game for awhile.
TDS Rep: I should say so. Could you explain this twenty-year gap in your employment history?
Housewife: Well, it was about a year before the turn of the millennium when I found out I was pregnant. I spoke with my then-employer about taking maternity leave, and they were amenable to that. Then when I tried to return to work three weeks after giving birth—
TDS Rep: You only took three weeks!
Housewife: Uh, yes. That’s all they would give me. Remember, this was 1999; it was a different time. Anyway, they let me come back to work, but I noticed our department had an extra person. They seemed to have let the temp who had filled in for me stick around. That lasted about a month before they let me go, which my attorney explained was enough time for them to reasonably argue that it had nothing to do with the time I took off. My co-worker claimed he heard them talking once, though, and that they were worried I would keep getting pregnant just to take time off. Unfortunately, he couldn’t prove he had heard it—and I wouldn’t have wanted him to risk his own position by rocking the boat—so I just had to let it go, and leave.
TDS Rep: That sounds terrible.
Housewife: It wasn’t great. But of course, that doesn’t explain why I’ve been out of work for the last two decades. My husband is really superstitious, and he took it as a sign that I should stay home to raise our daughter. Our second daughter was born sixteen months later, and I’ve been at home with them until she went off to college last year.
TDS Rep: That is a horrible story. I’m sorry that happened to you. Hopefully we can find you a good fit, though. How long have you been looking?
Housewife: Eight months. Yeah, I know it’s a lot. Employers just aren’t looking for experience when that experience was so long ago.
TDS Rep: Well, we may just have to reframe the narrative for potential employers. They hire kids who are just out of college all the time. They have almost no experience, and their education is often not all that relevant anyway. Employers may be worried that you’re out of touch with modern standards, or they may be ageists who don’t believe you have anything to offer. I’m not gonna lie. The story you told isn’t unheard of. It’s seldom reported, because that kind of thing is usually impossible to prove, but employers can get away with all sorts of discrimination as long as they don’t leave a paper trail, and they can count on each other’s loyalty.
Housewife: But you think you can help me find something?
TDS Rep: I’m not sure what you remember being paid when you were working, but you may have to lower your expectations. It’s 2020; people are looking for work on job boards online. The people who come to me aren’t exactly in the running for executive management. I’m not saying your only option is a fast food joint, but you may have to start at the bottom, and work your way up.
Housewife: I don’t have very high expectations anymore.
TDS Rep: It saddens me to hear that, but neither of us is in control of the market. Being fit for a job isn’t enough. You have to convince a lot of people who would sooner let a wizard give them a purple pony who poops gold than spend money on an employee. That’s just the world we’re living in. I can’t guarantee you’ll love what you do, but I can promise you we’ll find something good enough for now. Let’s start with a base cover letter for you. This is your chance to explain to employers who you are. It’s important for everyone, but especially for you, since your résumé alone doesn’t tell the whole story.
Housewife: Okay, great.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Microstory 1302: Third Party Founder

Blog Reporter: If you would, please state your name.
Third Party Founder: My name is Third Party Founder, and I’m here to talk about my new political party; Ban Religion.
Blog Reporter: It sounds like a band name.
Third Party Founder: You’re thinking of Bad Religion.
Blog Reporter: And why exactly do you want to ban religion?
Third Party Founder: Religions have been destroying this country ever since it was founded, and before that...they were destroying the rest of the world already.
Blog Reporter: Yet, we are still standing.
Third Party Founder: Aren’t you supposed to be unbiased?
Blog Reporter: How would you go about banning all religions?
Third Party Founder: We will pass laws.
Blog Reporter: You’ll pass laws; the party, that is?
Third Party Founder: Yes.
Blog Reporter: You mean your candidates will do that.
Third Party Founder: What?
Blog Reporter: Parties don’t make legislative decisions on any level of government; be it federal, or local. All you can do is fund and promote candidates you believe will support your platform.
Third Party Founder: Well, yes, that’s...what I meant.
Blog Reporter: Of course. So, now that we know your platform, where are you in the process? Have you already registered as a party?
Third Party Founder: No, not as of yet.
Blog Reporter: How many signatures have you received?
Third Party Founder: Seven.
Blog Reporter: How many do you need?
Third Party Founder: Would you like to sign?
Blog Reporter: No, thank you. Which candidates are you backing in order to fulfill your goals?
Third Party Founder: Well, I’m a candidate.
Blog Reporter: For what?
Third Party Founder: I’m running for governor.
Blog Reporter: Of a whole state?
Third Party Founder: [clears throat]
Blog Reporter: Do you have any experience as a civil servant.
Third Party Founder: Well, no, but neither did Donald Trump.
Blog Reporter: And look how that turned out.
Third Party Founder: I really think you’re not meant to have a personal opinion.
Blog Reporter: I’m not a real journalist. As I understand it, I’m the only one who agreed to your requests for an interview. You’re clearly only interested in exposure, hoping to secure those thousands of more signatures you need to so much as register as a new political party.
Third Party Founder: The woman said I only need three hundred to represent my local area.
Blog Reporter: You won’t be able to run for office on a statewide ticket if that state does not recognize your party.
Third Party Founder: That’s why I’m trying to get the word out. Look, I may sound like a crazy person, but there are tons of atheists in the world, and we’re all tired of not having our voices heard.
Blog Reporter: You’re right; religion has been fading from American culture for years, but most nonbelievers aren’t going to back a candidate, or support a party in general, if your only platform is that you want to get rid of religion. Even if they’re radical enough to support the idea—and I make no judgments about whether it is or isn’t a good idea—they have other issues they’re more concerned with. For instance, what is your stance on firearm safety laws? What about the environment? Civil rights? Taxes? Government spending? Third party candidates don’t fail just because they’re not one of the big two. It’s also because they’re often built around a single issue, and no one can really tell who they are.
Third Party Founder: Well, you’ve given me a lot to think about.
Blog Reporter: You’re not crazy, but you are naïve if you think you’ll ever be able to move the needle. I understand that you want to make change, but I don’t think this is the way to do it. It’s just not practical. Don’t take it personally, really; few third parties have any real impact on social change. At the very least, there are too many of them for enough people to notice any one of them.
Third Party Founder: Yeah, that makes sense.
Blog Reporter: I’m not going to write or publish this story. My readers aren’t interested, and I know you think exposure will only help you, but the most it’ll do is make you the butt of a few jokes for the few website visitors who will actually bother.
Third Party Founder: This was a bad idea, wasn’t it?
Blog Reporter: Trying to start a new political party, or asking me to interview you?
Third Party Founder: Both.
Blog Reporter: I wouldn’t say that. You’ve made a new friend.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Microstory 1301: Transportation Inspector

Head Transportation Inspector: Hi, my name is Head Transportation Inspector, but you can just call me Head Inspector. Oh, firm handshake. We’re off to a good start.
High School Graduate: Yes, my uncle taught me how to shake a hand when I was a kid; never let me do it wrong.
Head Inspector: Is your uncle the one who raised you?
HS Grad: He did, yes. He took me in after my mother died, and raised me all by himself. He’s actually my dad’s brother, but we can’t find him, so Uncle stepped up.
Head Inspector: He got you this interview too, right?
HS Grad: He recommended I apply, because his friend works here, but I don’t think he’s had any influence on the process.
Head Inspector: No, no. I’m not suggesting he’s given you an unfair advantage. Even if he did, use your network; that’s what it’s there for. Never apologize for knowing the right people.
HS Grad: Sir.
Head Inspector: According to your resume, you have a high school diploma. Now, there’s no judgment here—this job doesn’t require a college degree—but I would like to get to know a little bit more about your life. Were you unable to attend college?
HS Grad: That’s where it gets tricky, and honestly, sir, I’ve struggled with other interviews because of it. My friends tell me I should kind of bend the truth, but I’m an honest person, and when someone asks me a question, I want to answer it. I could have gone to college. My uncle had enough money, and I could have applied for loans. I can’t blame anyone else for not doing it but myself. I just didn’t feel the need to spend all that time and money. There are plenty of really good jobs that, like you said, don’t require it, and somebody’s gotta do ‘em, right? I guess I was just anxious to get into the workforce.
Head Inspector: That’s not a bad answer. Don’t ever apologize for being honest. In fact, it’s incredibly important in this line of business. People’s lives depend on you being clear about what’s wrong with the vehicles. You can’t leave anything out of a report.
HS Grad: I understand. And I’m very detail-oriented. I’m sure a lot of candidates say that, but it’s very true of me. I notice when a book is shelved wrong, or a tire needs just a tiny bit more air.
Head Inspector: So you’re good with cars?
HS Grad: I am. My uncle couldn’t change the oil to save his life, but the neighbor kid is a few years older than me, and taught me everything he knows. I wasn’t a natural; it took a lot of work for me to learn the ins and outs, but I did learn them.
Head Inspector: Have you considered just becoming a car mechanic? The pay is comparable, and it seems you already have the knowledge.
HS Grad: I did. My neighbor offered me a job at his place, but then I heard about this, and I find it so fascinating. It’s also, as you mentioned, so important. I want to be the one to make sure these vehicles are safe for the passengers. They rely on us to do that.
Head Inspector: Okay, okay. Where do you see yourself in five years?
HS Grad: So, I wanna be honest again, My ultimate goal is to become an airplane inspector. That requires a little more training, so I was hoping to gain experience here.
Head Inspector: You look worried.
HS Grad: I’m worried you don’t like that answer.
Head Inspector: Eh, there’s this widely held belief that employers only want to hire people who plan on working for them until the day they die eighty years later. That’s not practical, and I want you to have ambitions. I want you to achieve your goals, and I would be happy to help you realize them.
HS Grad: Oh, good. So I got the job? [smiles]
Head Inspector: [laughs] You haven’t taken yourself out of the running yet; let’s leave it at that.
HS Grad: I understand.
Head Inspector: All right, let’s talk about your work history.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: December 3, 2271

Mateo Matic: Oh my God, it’s frickin’ freezing out here.
Leona Matic: Where are we?
Nerakali Preston: This is Peter Island. We’re about three hundred and fifty kilometers from mainland Antarctica, and a hundred and sixty from the prime location to see a partial solar eclipse.
Arcadia Preston: Why do we want to be here for that? It’s a partial eclipse; that doesn’t sound very impressive.
Nerakali: It’s not that big of a deal on its own—though, it is happening pretty close to midnight central, which is a little interesting. The reason we’re here is because this is the site of a hundemarke murder. In the next few minutes, after the eclipse begins, someone is going to be killed here, and someone is going to be doing the killing. It’s up to us to find exactly where that is, who that is, and get the hundemarke from them.
Mateo: We can’t just take it. If we try, a magical force field will throw us against a wall, and knock us out.
Leona: How do you know that? You act like you’ve tried before.
Mateo: No, I just...I must have heard it.
Nerakali: Well, you’re right. We can’t take it until it’s been used. We’ll have to let the murder play out.
Arcadia: That’s not entirely accurate. We can’t interfere as long as the hundemarke is active. While it’s operating, it’s maintaining a moment of fixed time, which cannot be altered. It doesn’t matter whether you kill someone during that moment, or not; it still can’t be changed.
Leona: How will we know when the user deactivates it?
Mateo: Is there a time limit, or a power threshold?
Arcadia: That I do not know, but it’s actually likely. I’ve never heard of a hundemarke event lasting more than a few minutes. What would the world look like if someone went back to prehistoric times, and just never turned it off? It would erase time travel.
Mateo: What would the world look like? Normal. You were born with the knowledge of nonlinear time, but most people have no idea that it’s real. They go about their days, thinking everything that happens—good or bad—is just the way it has to be from now on. If you used the hundemarke to erase time travel, the world would just look like that, but for everybody.
Arcadia: Are you sure about that? Just because people don’t know about time travel, doesn’t mean they aren’t impacted by it. You saved thousands of lives when you killed Hitler, which went on to affect millions more. Few are aware of your involvement, but billions are aware that it happened. Without time travel, would humanity have survived up to today? I’m not convinced.
Mateo: Wull...
Nerakali: No, don’t try to deny it, Mateo. Everyone knows you killed Hitler, then went back in time in someone else’s body, and killed him again. Old news.
Leona: We don’t have much time now. How are we going to find the site of the murder. Could it be anywhere on this island?
Nerakali: The coordinates aren’t precise, but I know it will be somewhere on this side.
Mateo: Is there a feature on these time power cuffs that would allow us to scan for life signs? I imagine there aren’t any other people here.
Nerakali: No one has so much as stayed at the resort since the 22nd century, but unfortunately, no. There is no way to seek the murder. We’re going to have to split up to cover more ground. When the time comes, I’ll initiate burst mode.
Leona: Won’t we all just teleport to the same place each time? That’s what the cuffs do.
Nerakali: I’ve programmed them to be almost as imprecise as the coordinates themselves. We technically will be teleporting to the same places, but instead of being a few meters close to each other, it’ll be measured in acres.
Arcadia: It’s almost time.
Nerakali: See something, say something. You all know how to use the intercom system. Let us know where you are, and we’ll come to you.
Arcadia: Okay. Break!
Mateo: Guys, I see it.
Nerakali [through the speaker]: Where are you?
Mateo: The screen says subduing.unpraised.soreness. What the hell does that mean?
Nerakali: Exactly what you would think: a coordinate system that designates three random and unique word combinations to each nine square meter tile on a map of the whole globe.
Mateo: Makes sense.
Leona: Who’s that?
Arcadia: Whose job was it to bring the binoculars?
Mateo: Will this thing work?
Leona: Where the hell did you get that thing?
Mateo: What’s the big deal? It’s just a spyglass.
Leona: It’s the Jayde Spyglass. I used it to bring you back from nonexistence.
Mateo: Oh, cool. Well, as long as I can see what’s going on over there...
Nerakali: No, don’t!
Stan Humphrey: What the hell just happened? How did you get here?
Arcadia: Dammit, Mateo. You can’t just start running around with temporal objects. You have to ask an adult first.
Stan: I mean it! Who the hell are you people?
Nerakali: You don’t get to talk. Arcadia, temporarily remove your cuff, and try to disarm this man for me.
Arcadia: Oh, you want us to be unlinked, so if the attempt kills me, I’m the only one who gets hurt?
Stan: Hey! Stop!
Nerakali: Exactly. See? You get it. She gets it. Leona, could you remove his future victim’s gag, so he can talk?
Leona: What is this all over you?
Vasanta Gadhavi: You need to wash your hands. He retched on me. He thinks it’s poetic justice.
Stan: It is! Give me my gun back!
Arcadia: Do you have to yell everything you say?
Stan: I do! It’s a medical condition called go screw yourself!
Arcadia: Oh, I have that. Yelling is not a symptom, faker.
Nerakali: Arcadia, please. Now. I don’t understand what’s happening here. This is meant to be a hundemarked moment, but you were able to take his gun.
Leona: Maybe it hasn’t been activated yet.
Mateo: Or this is part of the fixed moment. Maybe we were destined to come here and attempt to stop him.
Arcadia: Mateo...that..actually isn’t the dumbest thing you’ve ever said.
Leona: We need more information. Who are you, and why does this man want you dead?
Vasanta: My name is Vasanta Gadhavi. I’m a member of the rescue division of the salmon battalion. Stan here is all butthurt about a time when Saga and her then fiancée, Andromeda threatened his worldview by marrying each other? I don’t really understand his position. He’s basically a nazi, though. He’s just spent a decade of his life hunting the people who wronged him. Andromeda’s already dead, and Saga’s impossible to track down, but he found me.
Stan: It was eight years; don’t give yourself so much credit.
Vasanta: You’re the one who deserves all the credit. You walked through the haze on Durus, and got yourself transported to Ansutah. Then you traveled through time, so you could become a Comronian refugee, and be rescued by Gatewood. Then you made your way back to Earth, where you hunted me down throughout the timeline. That’s impressive. If you were a good person, you could have done great things with your skills. I could have used someone like you on my side. We could’ve even been partners.
Stan: I would never. I would sooner throw up on you again.
Vasanta: Oh no, I wasn’t offering. Vasanta Gadhavi is a good man, and you tried to kill him.
Leona: Why are you talking in the third person?
Vasanta: Am I?
Nerakali: I’m still confused. How have we interfered? This makes no sense. Arcadia, see if you can take the hundemarke from him. It’s probably inside of his shirt.
Stan: What are you talking about? Stop touching me! What the hell is a hoondamarka?
Arcadia: He doesn’t have it. How did you find out about this moment? We’re in the middle of nowhere, quite literally. People can get away with murder these days in a location this remote.
Nerakali: It was pinged. I don’t know what was meant to happen here, but it is a hundemarke moment. It has to be.
Vasanta: Oh, it is. You just frisked the wrong person.
Stan: Oh, shit! No, please! I’m sor—
Vasanta: Uh-uh-uh! Back up. If I shoot any one of you, the other two die. I only came here to kill him, and it’s done.
Arcadia: If you shoot me, you’ll die. My sister won’t stand for that.
Vasanta: I’m not worried. Mostly because I’m not going to shoot you. I would never. I was asked to get you to Mateo’s memorial services, and this is how I do that. You’re coming with me, Salvy.
Arcadia: What did you just call me?
Nerakali: Who are you?
Vasanta: I think you know. Goodbye!
Nerakali: Wait! Stop! [...] Oh my God.
Mateo: Where did they go? Can we track them?
Nerakali: Not a chance. He’s too smart for that. He won’t take her anywhere I would think to look.
Leona: It’s not a he, though, is it? That name, Salvy. What does it mean?
Nerakali: It’s short for Salvador, as in Salvado Dalí? Arcadia was the only one of us up in the Gallery dimension who legit loved art. Dalí was her favorite artist, and that makes sense, because he was a surrealist with a thing for clocks. Her whole thing is manipulating reality.
Leona: So, your mother always called her Salvy.
Mateo: I’m confused.
Leona: It’s an illusion. That wasn’t Vasanta Gadhavi. It was Savannah Preston in disguise.
Mateo: How’s that possible?
Leona: It’s like how Vito Bulgari can make things invisible, but instead of making it look like something isn’t there, she can make it look like someone else’s face is where her face actually is. The precision of such an endeavor, though; I can’t imagine how much concentration that requires. You didn’t know she had that ability?
Nerakali: No one does, throughout all of spacetime, as far as I know, except one person. He would have to be using some kind of temporal object that was imbued with Alyssa McIver’s power.
Mateo: Why do you keep calling her a he? I thought we concluded it wasn’t really Vasanta.
Nerakali: No, that wasn’t Vasanta, but you were wrong, Leona. Our mother never called her Salvy. We’ve been wrong this whole time. Savannah Preston probably has nothing to do with it. That was Erlendr Preston, our father. He’s the one behind all the hundemarke killings.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Dardius: Meliora Rutherford (Part VII)

Savannah Preston: Hello. I figured it was high time we met. Hi, my name is—
Meliora Rutherford: I know who you are.
Savannah: Are you sure? Because...
Meliora: Yeah, I know. I can see the hat.
Savannah: You can?
Meliora: Listen—wait, what do you want me to call you?
Savannah: Savannah will be fine.
Meliora: Fine. Listen, Savannah, I’m not going to interfere with what you’re doing. You think you’ve seen a lot, and it gives you some sort of entitlement to manipulate the passage of time on a grand scale. But you’re a little baby compared to me, and you haven’t seen past your nursery. I have been all over the bulkverse, and I can tell you that all this...is pointless. You’re going to lose, and you know that, because you’ve seen the future.
Savannah: No future is immutable.
Meliora: That’s not entirely true, and you’re going up against the Matics.
Savannah: So what? They’re not so amazing. Mateo is a dum-dum.
Meliora: He is, and you’re right, they’re not powerful. He’s a salmon, and she’s a spawn with limited abilities. But that’s not really what we’re talking about here. What makes them so special is all their friends. People want to help them, and they do. You can’t beat them, not because they’re better than you, but because no one will let you. My God, Savannah, your own daughters are helping them. Nerakali and Arcadia are powerful, so you should be scared.
Savannah: I’m not worried. When this all comes to its inevitable climax, I can count on Arcadia to betray her new friends, just like she always does, and I can count on Nerakali to break down and go along with it.
Meliora: It’s over, Madam Preston. You have hundemarked everyone on your list, so why are you putting this off?
Savannah: I was hoping to get your help.
Meliora: Why would I help you?
Savannah: All powerful being to all powerful being.
Meliora: ...
Savannah: All right, very powerful being, at the least.
Meliora: What do you want from me?
Savannah: How do you do that thing you do?
Meliora: Are you going to elaborate, or just—I do many things. I really am all powerful.
Savannah: How do you jump to other universes?
Meliora: Very carefully.
Savannah: I’m serious. I want you to teach me.
Meliora: You think you’re done with the work you need to do in this brane, so you’re ready to move on to another?
Savannah: Isn’t that what happened to you?
Meliora: Yes, but I went to those other worlds to help people. And before you start arguing that what you’re doing is a necessary evil, spare me the apology. You know what you’re doing is wrong. The love of your long life died, you flipped out, and corrupted your own life’s mission.
Savannah: You listen to me now, buckaroo billy. I may not be the holy angel saint that you are, but I have my reasons, and I’m not evil. Mercury’s family had to die so he could become the hero his city needs. Mateo had to die so he could return through an extraction mirror with temporal invincibility. My daughter had to die so she could have eight more chances to be a better person.
Meliora: Why didn’t Arcadia earn the same gift?
Savannah: She already became a better person when she stepped onto The Prototype.
Meliora: And your son? Why did he have to die?
Savannah: That wasn’t me.
Meliora: It wasn’t? I thought—
Savannah: That I was the architect of the hundemarke’s entire journey? No. Plenty of people have used it to serve their own agendas.

Meliora: Well, I didn’t know that.
Savannah: Maybe you’re not as all powerful as you thought.
Meliora: That’s how you talk to someone whose help you’re asking for?
Savannah: Will you help? Is there a world where that happens?
Meliora: Well, there is one, yes.
Savannah: You mean...?
Meliora: I can’t teach you how to jump universes. It’s not a skill; it’s just something I can do.
Savannah: I was to understand you spent decades in training for it.
Meliora: I did, but it was always in me. No one else could replicate it. I can help you escape to another world when the time comes, but that will be your home forever, unless someone helps you travel somewhere else.
Savannah: You would do this for me? You would go against your own mother?
Meliora: Leona Matic is not my mother.
Savannah: No, Nerakali blended her brain. She remembers the reality where she and your father got married.
Meliora: Horace Reaver isn’t my father. Lincoln Rutherford is, because he’s the one who raised me.
Savannah: Everyone knows the story. Rutherford took you in when your mother died, and your father went to prison. He barely had anything to do with your life.
Meliora: That’s the story I spun. I was very young and stupid back then. I came up with this story about choosing ones and powers that be, claiming they were one and the same. I was trying to create a reality where people believed I could exercise more control over the salmon than I really could, and the best way to do that was convince people I was removed from foster care, and indoctrinated into the system. My birth father died in prison, and Lincoln Rutherford raised me for years, until I felt confident enough to go back in time and alter the past. Everyone calls me Meliora Rutherford Delaney-Reaver, but my name is Meliora Rutherford.
Savannah: Does he know that, the Lincoln from this reality?
Meliora: He knows everything. Literally. He is a great man, and I try to honor him everyday with my actions. So I’ll help you, but only to stop the dream team from killing you. If that future comes to pass, they will never recover from what they did to you.
Savannah: Mateo and Leona have killed before.
Meliora: I’m not talking about them. Your daughters will regret what happened, but since they used the hundemarke, they won’t be able to go back and change it. We all know what happens when a Preston spirals.
Savannah: We don’t know if they use the hundemarke on me. That’s a big mystery.
Meliora: You die from by means of the hundemarke; that’s no mystery.
Savannah: ...so it can’t be changed. It really is inevitable.
Meliora: No, there’s a loophole.
Savannah: ...?
Meliora: The other world. Nothing is more powerful than the bulkverse; not even the hundemarke. It has consequences, though. Time will never be the same if you do this. In fact, it will undo everything you have ever done with the hundemarke.
Savannah: What?
Meliora: There is a reality out there where the hundemarke does not exist. All we have to do is get you there, and then you can leave. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll die, but not you you. It will be a different version.
Savannah: Well, why do I have to go to another universe, if I can just live in this other timeline?
Meliora: You can’t stay there forever. It’s unstable. You have to leave, and let it collapse behind you.
Savannah: Why would you do this for me? I came here asking for help, and you were very adamantly against it. What’s changed in the five minutes since we’ve been talking.
Meliora: It has been longer than five minutes for me. After you told me that you weren’t responsible for your son’s death by means of the hundemarke, I took a little detour, and investigated the timeline to corroborate your story. That was about a month ago.
Savannah: I must have blinked.
Meliora: No, I froze you in time for three seconds while I disappeared, and returned.
Savannah: Why are you like this? How did a salmon and a spawn...spawn someone like you?
Meliora: I won the lottery. It’s as simple as that. The fact that my birth parents experienced nonlinear time before conceiving me made it so that I was genetically predisposed to being born with time powers. At that point, it was a crapshoot which ones I got. I could have ended up with anything, and it just so happened that I ended up with pretty much everything.
Savannah: So now that you know I was telling the truth, and maybe I’m not as bad of a person as you thought, you’ll help me survive my hundemarke death?
Meliora: I will, but I won’t do it for free.
Savannah: What’s your price?
Meliora: As we’ve established, I’m very powerful, but I don’t have a mind like yours. You can see the threads of time, and make subtle changes to arrive at the outcomes you want. I need that gift now. There are several people who are meant to attend Mateo’s memorial services here on Dardius. They were all torn away from that, for reasons I do not yet understand. There is someone else; someone like you, who is manipulating events from the shadows. They’ve been destroying Nexus replicas, and causing other problems. My month-long sabbatical allowed me to rule you out as a suspect. I’ve also ruled out Mirage, Boyce, and Zeferino. I don’t have any reason to believe the powers that be themselves are involved, but I can’t rule them out yet. Either way, I need someone smart enough to combat their changes. I’m going to give you a list of people. I’m not going to tell you anything about them, but the list itself is dangerous. You could hurt a lot of people with it, so I have to be able to trust you. With your skills, it’s a simple task. Get these people to Dardius within the next hour, and I will help you. Miss even one of them, and our deal is off. Cause harm to any one of them, and not only is our deal off, but I will kill you myself. Like I said, your hundemarke crusade has been completed. This mission doesn’t interfere with that, but you can help a lot of people feel a lot better about themselves by helping them go through this catharsis. Mateo is important to people, throughout all of time and space, and they want to be there for him. Do you think you can help?
Savannah: I can make no promises. I would have to see the list first. Just a glance, to make sure there aren’t any conflicts of interest. You can erase my memories if I choose to decline because of something I see there.
Meliora: I agree to your terms. Here it is.
Savannah: This one is going to be tough. I know a lot about his timeline, and he would not be cooperative in later years; I can tell you that much.
Meliora: When would you suggest we take him?
Savannah: Uhh...2027.
Meliora: He didn’t even have his brain blended back then.
Savannah: I can arrange for it to happen early, if I have your permission. You said I’m not allowed to hurt these people, which I have no problem with, but this is a bit of a gray area. I don’t know who Pribadium Delgado is, but I think I can get everyone else with just a few historical nudges. This guy is more complicated, though, and brain blending isn’t exactly pleasant. He has a lot of really bad memories, so it’s going to be particularly bad for him.
Meliora: Do what you have to do, but he’s really busy in 2027, so make sure he gets back before anyone there misses him.
Savannah: They won’t even know he’s gone, until he...tells them about it.
Meliora: Okay, go ahead. You have fifty-seven minutes now.
Savannah: I only need one.