Saturday, February 29, 2020

Dardius: Mateo Matic (Part IX)

No, it wasn’t Cassidy in the background. Mateo was seeing Meliora Rutherford, whom he had only met a couple times; once in an alternate reality. They didn’t look anything alike, but the former was the person he was expecting to be here. He had always wondered why it was that Gilbert Boyce owned this planet, rather than her. She was in charge of the only inhabited building on it back when this all began, so why did her power not spread as the population did? After he hugged everyone in the room who was there for his memorial already, he decided to be brave, and pull Meliora aside, so he could speak with her about this. Seeing her here, and realizing why it was that all these people were coming together, gave him an idea.
“I thought this day might come,” Meliora said.
“You did?” he asked. “So you know what I’m going to say.”
“I have no idea,” she admitted. “But you and I have not spoken in quite a long time, from both of our respective perspectives, so we were probably due. Ask me anything.”
“Why did Boyce own this planet, and not you? I mean, didn’t you basically run it, and weren’t you the one who named it”
“Oh, we’re talkin’ about that? Okay. Well, it’s really complicated, but the gist of it is that I don’t want it. Maqsud owed Boyce a favor, and that favor came in the form of a star system. Boyce owed me a favor, but it was a much smaller one, so that favor came in the form of being able to use this planet for my needs. I wanted a place where Earthans could feel safe and comfortable. Right down to the surface gravity, they needed to feel like they were still on the same world. Keep in mind that this agreement was discussed and finalized when The Rogue was possessing the body of Baudin, and one other person. Neither one of them was evil, like The Apprentice, so he was far more congenial at the time. Anyway, I was responsible for The Sanctuary, and Boyce was not allowed to interfere, but he did maintain control over the rest of the planet. Or rather, he maintained theoretical control. He never had any ideas of what he could do with it, so when a few of my guests wanted to go out camping, for instance, we didn’t run into any problems.
“Around the time that Boyce first died, and ownership transferred to you, the people I was rescuing from Earth were multiplying beyond the Sanctuary’s boundaries. I took a risk, and expanded without permission, because I assumed you wouldn’t have a problem with it.”
“Of course not,” Mateo confirmed.
“Good. So, I started using more and more land, but I realized my people no longer needed me. They procured their own way of extracting those in need from the timeline, and of figuring out precisely who those people were. Recognizing that I would probably only be a hindrance to this new civilization’s development, I determined the best thing for me to do was leave.”
“Where did you go? Or when?”
“It’s a little bit of both. I began to travel to other universes.”
“Ah, I see.”
“I never know where I’m going, or what I will find when I arrive, because I have no means of navigating the bulkverse. That’s why I can’t own this planet. I can always return to a brane that I’ve been to, but I can’t guarantee where in the timeline I’ll be, or even if I’ll be in the latest timeline,” she said with airquotes. “So now I have a question for you, are you asking out of curiosity, or are you trying to pass it off to me?”
“Do you think I should...pass it off, that is?”
Meliora stood there for a moment. “Probably. I can’t take it, though. I’m a bulk traveler and that’s the way I like it. After this is over, I will be leaving again. If you would like someone to take Dardius off your hands, I can help you do that. It’s a good time for it, because even though you’re obviously alive, you have died, and that’s sort of when ownership transference happens.”
“Right. The problem is you are exactly who I had in mind. I don’t know of anyone else. Do you?”
Mateo’s memorial was quite literally a global event. The only people not paying attention to it were in emergency situations, like those at the hospital. Even they had the ceremony on in the background, though. There wasn’t enough room for everyone to watch in one place, however, so only a select few tens of thousands of people were afforded tickets to the stadium. Other stadiums held their own events, though they were self-regulated, and unofficial. Even the people in the main stadium didn’t have the best view, because there was a much smaller crowd on the grounds, full of only people who knew Mateo personally. Though the event would not begin for another few hours, Meliora decided to transport the living Mateo there, so he could catch a sneak preview. She slowed time down to a crawl so they could get a good look from another dimension.
“I don’t know how all these people get here,” Meliora began as they were staring at the group. “I dispatched some of my most trusted allies to assist in the endeavor, because the powers that be are not involved this time, like they were with your final showdown with The Cleanser in the Colosseum. I was also unable to recruit Glaston for this, because your wedding with Leona nearly killed him.”
“Who’s that guy?” Mateo was pointing to a mysterious man who they did indeed encounter at the wedding.
“He’s from the future. Don’t worry about it. Are you listening to me?”
“Yes, of course.”
Meliora went on, “not everyone here would be up to the task of owning a planet.”
“How hard could it be? I did almost nothing as owner. I only became Patronus later, and that didn’t last very long, and it never truly had to happen at all.”
“It is a psycho-emotional strain, Mateo. You’ve always been too busy to feel it, especially since for a good chunk of the time, you didn’t even know how many people lived here. All these people do. The new owner would know from the start that billions of people will know their name. They’ll likely feel the obligation to live here, because they’ll have the option, whereas you and Leona never did. They will spend their days in the public eye, not possessing any real power, but being asked for help anyway. Mateo, if you choose someone to take this world from you—which, by the way, you don’t actually have to—you will be simultaneously giving them an enormous gift, and a massive burden.”
“Do I have to give it to anyone at all?” Mateo hoped. “Can I not just relinquish my rights, or something?”
“Normally, yes. But with this particular world, with this many people, who all believe in you, no. They’re comfortable with having an owner, kind of like how it took over two centuries for the United Kingdom to abolish the royal family, and transition completely to a real democratic republic.”
“Wull, if I try to give Dardius to someone else, do the people have to approve of that person?”
“Well, they will, because you do. I know that seems like I’m not answering the question, but it’s true. They will accept anyone. You could hand it off to Adolf Hitler, Francisco Franco, and Donald Trump, and they’ll smile, because they’ll trust you had your reasons.”
“I don’t think I’m going to go that route. I want to choose someone who’s up for the job. Please don’t be neutral on this. If you have a good choice in mind, I want to hear it.”
“I have to be neutral, because I’m too powerful to let people listen to me too much. I do know someone who should be involved in this decision, though. I’ll take you back to the recent past, just before Leona arrives.”
“Yeah, that’s a good idea.”
Mateo returned to the Sanctuary hotel, and had an hour-long talk with his wife about what they were going to do with this planet. They generated a list of their most responsible friends, and pared it down. In the end, the three-generational Einarsson family proved themselves to be the most logical choice. Any help they needed they could secure from their various friends and allies, and as the owner of a whole planet, Cassidy would be forever protected from anyone who would do her harm. The trick would be convincing them to agree to it in the first place. He didn’t really know if the three of them had to agree to this, because Gilbert never gave him a choice, but he was determined to not force the issue if they didn’t consent. That wasn’t Mateo’s responsibility, though. Leona would have to take care of that herself while he was off doing something else. There were two people who were vital to the services, but Meliora’s people were struggling with finding a way to retrieve them. One in particular would not come easily, mostly because he had no idea who Mateo was.
Ramses was difficult to get to, because of when and where he was. Horace Reaver, on the other hand, was difficult because they evidently couldn’t choose just any version of him in any time period. The Horace living in 2027 was the one who needed to see the events that would be unfolding today, for temporal reasons that Mateo wasn’t capable of understanding. He just had to trust that Meliora knew what she was talking about when she explained this to him. This would be a lot easier if he had managed to retain Nerakali’s brain blending power, but it was still possible without it. His best chance at success would be to appeal to Horace’s better nature, and make sure he suppressed his dark tendencies.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Microstory 1310: College Graduate

College Graduate: Thank you for seeing me, Mr. Warehouse Supervisor. I know you were wary of me at first. Though, I’m not entirely confident I understand why.
Warehouse Supervisor: Yes—oh, you can go ahead and sit in that rolly chair. I have to stand right now, because of this medical condition. Yes, I originally filed your application away, because it says you have a college degree.
College Graduate: Is that not a good thing?
Warehouse Supervisor: Well, it is in general, but not only does this position not require it, but I’m not sure we should allow it.
College Graduate: I don’t understand.
Warehouse Supervisor: I think you do understand, and that’s why you had your aunt swing this interview.
College Graduate: I didn’t ask her to do that.
Warehouse Supervisor: Okay, then I’ll tell you that, beyond this interview, I will offer you no special treatment. Nor will I hold your aunt’s actions against you. You came in for an interview, just like anybody else. I’ve already forgotten the circumstances of the schedule. But that doesn’t mean the college aspect of your résumé doesn’t lower your chances of getting the job. We’re in a warehouse, son, and the people I employ to work it are here because they can’t get anything else. Some passed high school, others earned their GEDs on the side while they worked; one guy’s doing that right now. A couple never got their diplomas in any form, and have no intention of doing so. We don’t have anyone like this on payroll right now, but we’re also our policy to be open to hiring convicted felons. None of my guys, however, has so much as gone to a semester of college. We’re all just normal, and people with your experience just don’t get people like us.
College Graduate: I recognize that I am, quote-unquote, overqualified to work here, but I do not believe that means I do not deserve it. The fact is that I’ve not been able to find work anywhere else. I have a degree in marketing, which opens me up to all sorts of industries. Unlike, say, a chemist, I could potentially work anywhere. Everyone could do with a good marketing strategy, because everyone is selling something. Yet here I am before you, because I’ve been looking for two months, and have only managed three interviews total. So maybe I’m overqualified for this, but I am also evidently underqualified for anything else.
Warehouse Supervisor: There are lots of jobs that are less fancy than marketing, but better than warehouse picking. Besides, everything you just said? You can’t talk like that here. Quote-unquote, yet here I am before you. No one’s gonna show you any respect if they think you think you’re a king.
College Graduate: No way could you interpret the way I talk to mean that I think I’m a king.
Warehouse Supervisor: Son. I can’t give you a job. I mean, we already have a hostile professional relationship.
College Graduate: Something tells me I’m not the first person here you’ve disagreed with. And what, you fill out human resources reports when there’s a personnel issue? You can’t have it both ways; claiming this to be a team of normal people, but also that you think you can’t get along with someone who’s a little different. You may think people with more education look down on you, but have you considered the possibility that it’s the other way around? Because from where I’m is you who’s looking down on me.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Microstory 1309: Fish Feet

Celebrity Interviewer: First of all, I am a huge fan of your work.
Seasoned Actor: Thank you very much.
Celebrity Interviewer: I mean, your performance in Severe was phenomenal; absolutely breathtaking.
Seasoned Actor: I appreciate you saying that.
Celebrity Interviewer: But that’s not why you’re here, is it?
Seasoned Actor: No.
Celebrity Interviewer: You wanna talk about your new project. It’s a pretty big departure from the kinds of things you normally do, correct?
Seasoned Actor: That’s right. It’s called Fish Feet.
Celebrity Interviewer: [Giggles]
Seasoned Actor: [Clears throat] It’s about a fish who dreams of walking on land. One day, he meets The Urchin Wizard, who grants him his wish by making him grow legs. So he goes out to explore the world with his best friend, who’s a crab. It’s delightful.
Celebrity Interviewer: That is not a word I’m seeing in the reviews.
Seasoned Actor: Well, there are millions of words, soo...
Celebrity Interviewer: A critic called it, quote, “unabashedly the worst thing I’ve ever been forced to watch in its entirety. If it weren’t my job, I would have stopped playback after ten minutes. I almost quit the paper because of this.”
Seasoned Actor: Well, that’s just one man’s opinion, from some blog site, I’m sure.
Celebrity Interviewer: It’s from the New York Times.
Seasoned Actor: Look, like you said, it’s a departure from my other work, but that doesn’t mean it’s good—I mean, not good. It doesn’t mean it’s not good.
Celebrity Interviewer: Another critique reads, “the fish’ new legs are probably about two meters in length, so he can walk alongside the humans he meets, but way too skinny. They made me really uncomfortable, and traumatized my four-year-old daughter. For some context, she laughed when that anthropomorphic peanut died. She made me turn Fish Feet off so we could watch Watership Down again. That’s why this article is a day late.”
Seasoned Actor: Okay, yes. I’ve heard these criticisms, but I’m just here to tell everybody that I loved working on this film. The director was amazing; it felt like I had known her for years. It’s supposed to be fun and silly. They made his legs ridiculous on purpose, to make kids laugh, and I think they succeeded.
Celebrity Interviewer: Apparently, there are two separate jokes about pedophilia?
Seasoned Actor: Oh my God, I’m sick of hearing about this. It’s a pun...because the fish has feet?
Celebrity Interviewer: No, no, no, yeah, we get it. That doesn’t make it okay.
Seasoned Actor: We’re done here. I thought you were going to take this seriously.
Celebrity Interviewer: I was to understand the point was that you wanted to stop having to be so serious. But I am sorry. Let’s talk about the movie. Please don’t leave.
Seasoned Actor: No, it’s done. Get this goddamn thing off my neck! We went off the record, by the way. I better not see this footage on the internet later, or your lawyers are gonna wish they had gone to medical school, where it’s less stressful.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Microstory 1308: Clearance Investigator Job

Clearance Investigator: I appreciate your patience during this process. As you can imagine, as clearance investigators, it’s very important that we make sure the people we allow to be hired—or remain employed by the government, as you recently experienced—are investigated to the best of our ability, with the resources we have at our disposal. It’s doubly important that the people we hire to be those investigators be vetted even more thoroughly, to avoid any conflicts of interest, or other issues. We are the gatekeepers for so many agencies, and if you want to be part of that, we have to make sure you’re both up to the task, and worthy of holding the keys.
Postal Worker: I understand. I consider everything I went through during this most recent background check to be part of my preliminary training. The other checks were part of my training too, I suppose, since they are still relevant.
Clearance Investigator: Very good. Now, you have worked for the postal service for the last four years, correct?
Postal Worker: This is a fact, sir.
Clearance Investigator: Were you surprised when you got called up for a reinterview process?
Postal Worker: I wasn’t surprised so much as I didn’t know it was going to happen. I guess that is the very definition of surprise. Perhaps I mean only that I wasn’t bothered by it, nor concerned.
Clearance Investigator: What made you decide to apply for this position?
Postal Worker: It was the whole process. I was a bit scared the first time it happened, because I didn’t truly understand what was going on. I made a writing error on my application, and you threw it back to me, so that was upsetting. But I was a little more mentally prepared when the renewal came up, and I started really thinking about what was happening in the background; what you guys were doing, and why you were doing it. I became fascinated by it, and I realized how incredibly important, as you said, it was to make sure you know who it is you’ve hired. A lot of my co-workers were put off by it. They didn’t think it mattered, since we’re just mail sorters, but I never saw it that way. We have access to a lot of sensitive information that the citizens of this country are counting on us to protect. Maybe it’s not always national security, but every letter matters to someone.
Clearance Investigator: You seem eager to work for us.
Postal Worker: Oh no, I wouldn’t say I’m eager; I definitely wouldn’t use that word. I’m ready. I mean, I just... I...I—
Clearance Investigator: Don’t worry, I don’t think you’re a terrorist who’s trying to become a mole in our department. You have the position. This interview is just one final formality to give you one more chance to back out, if you are so inclined. If you think an initial background check is hard, just wait until you see our exit process. Quitting this job, or—God forbid—getting fired from it, can be even more stressful, because now you have all this confidential knowledge we can’t let you walk away with unless we’re sure you won’t misuse it. If you really want to do this, we’ll get the paperwork started.
Postal Worker: I really want to do this.
Clearance Investigator: All right. Wait here a moment.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Microstory 1307: Metal Thief

Property Crimes Detective: All right, Metal Thief. Tell me what you know about the Twin Hillside Burglary.
Metal Thief: I have no idea what you’re talking about.
Property Crimes Detective: You expect me to believe that? It was all over the news.
Metal Thief: I’m not really into the news. I like history.
Property Crimes Detective: And money.
Metal Thief: Doesn’t everybody?
Property Crimes Detective: And metal.
Metal Thief: Metal makes money.
Property Crimes Detective: What did you do with everything you stole from that house?
Metal Thief: I told you, I didn’t do it.
Property Crimes Detective: Then who did?
Metal Thief: How the hell should I know?
Property Crimes Detective: Well, you must have contacts, what with everything we know that you’ve stolen.
Metal Thief: What did they take?
Property Crimes Detective: Everything.
Metal Thief: Everything?
Property Crimes Detective: Everything but the kitchen sink. They did take the workshop sink that was in the garage, though.
Metal Thief: They literally cleaned it all out? But just the one house?
Property Crimes Detective: Yes.
Metal Thief: You didn’t call me in because you think I did it. You called me in for help.
Property Crimes Detective: [sighs] Where would someone go to unload all that? I’m talkin’ bookshelves, couches, televisions, frickin’ photo albums. They took a lot of junk that was personal; I honestly don’t get it.
Metal Thief: They took photo albums?
Property Crimes Detective: Yeah. What does that mean to you?
Metal Thief: There’s always someone willing to take the valuable stuff. You don’t even need to go to the black market. All you would need to do is haul that stuff to your own house, and sell it on your lawn.
Property Crimes Detective: A garage sale?
Metal Thief: As I understand it, confidential informants get paid.
Property Crimes Detective: You give me something I can use, we’ll talk.
Metal Thief: [...] Detective, this crime is personal. Like you said, they took junk. Anyone willing to go to that much trouble is doing it for one of two reasons. A, it’s a prank, in which case it’s gone too far by now. Or B, the victim just went through a bad break up, or fired a disgruntled employee, or something. Find someone your victim has wronged recently, and see if they have a garage sale goin’. Or see if they’ve just purchased storage space somewhere in the city. They may not want, or need, to sell it at all, and it’s really just about hurting the victim.
Property Crimes Detective: That was actually kind of helpful.
Metal Thief: Next time you want a favor, don’t drag me into an interrogation room. Just ask.
Property Crimes Detective: Oh, it’s a favor? I guess we don’t need to pay you then.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Microstory 1306: Witness for the Defense

Opposing Counsel: Thank you, Your Honor. Now, Mister Witness for the Defense.
Witness for the Defense: Please, you can just call me Defense Witness.
Opposing Counsel: Witness for the Defense, how do you know the Defendant?
Witness for the Defense: He and I met for the first time in elementary school. Then he decided he wanted to try being homeschooled. He didn’t like it, but he was assigned a different middle school, so we ended up sort of meeting again in high school.
Opposing Counsel: So, you weren’t friends that whole time?
Witness for the Defense: Nah, we didn’t know each other that well in fourth grade.
Opposing Counsel: But you would say you’re close now?
Witness for the Defense: I would say that, yes.
Opposing Counsel: And do you personally know the victim?
Defense Counsel: Objection.
Opposing Counsel: Forgive me, Your Honor. Do you know the plaintiff?
Witness for the Defense: I think I met her once at a block party.
Opposing Counsel: In actual fact, you met her several times over the last two years. Once when you were so drunk that you banged on her door, thinking it was the Defendant’s. Plus, other times for other community events.
Civil Court Judge: Was that a question?
Opposing Counsel: The question, Mister Witness, is were you lying about how well you know her, or is my client so forgettable that you don’t recall her helping your brother get his son into their desired preschool?
Defense Counsel: Your honor, this line of question is not relevant. What the witness does or does not remember of the plaintiff is not part of his role as a witness today. He is here to speak on what he knows of my client.
Opposing Counsel: Your Honor, the witness is here primarily as a character witness for the defendant. His own credibility must first be established before his responses can be reasonably accepted.
Civil Court Judge: And I believe you have done that. Move on, Counselor.
Opposing Counsel: Very well. Witness for the Defense, are you connected with the Defendant on social media?
Witness for the Defense: Of course I am. We’re best friends.
Opposing Counsel: When did you first come across the thread in question, Exhibit One?
Witness for the Defense: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Opposing Counsel: If you are unaware of which post I’m talking about, I happen to have an extra copy for you.
Witness for the Defense: ...
Opposing Counsel: May I remind you that you’re—
Witness for the Defense: Yes, I’m under oath; I understand. Like I said, the Defendant and I are best friends, which means the social network algorithm knows I’m more interested in his posts than most others.
Opposing Counsel: Meaning...?
Witness for the Defense: Meaning I received a notification about the post in question. I saw it immediately.
Opposing Counsel: And do you personally agree with the claim the Defendant made in said post?
Defense Counsel: Objection!
Civil Court Judge: Sustained. Counselor, you’re testing me. I never liked tests.
Opposing Counsel: Witness for the Defense, do you believe the Defendant had malicious intentions when he posted this update on his social media page? Do you believe he knew the outcome would be my client’s damaged reputation, the loss of her job, and a profound struggle with finding a new job?
Witness for the Defense: Absolutely not.
Opposing Counsel: Do you believe he believed the plaintiff would find the post distasteful.
Defense Counsel: Your Honor!
Civil Court Judge: Skip this question, Witness for the Defense. I’m giving you one more chance, Counselor.
Opposing Counsel: I only have a few more questions. you have access to the Defendant’s social media account password?
Defense Counsel: Your Honor, please!
Civil Court Judge: I would like to hear the answer. You may want to as well.
Opposing Counsel: Witness?
Witness for the Defense: [...] I do.
Opposing Counsel: Following your drunken encounter with my client, were you, in fact, the one who logged onto the Defendant’s social media account, and posted the distasteful update found in Exhibit One? And wasn’t the Defendant too drunk himself to deny his involvement?
Audience: [Collective gasp]
Opposing Counsel: Your Honor, I would like to submit as evidence Exhibit Two—an example of Witness for the Defense’s own writing—which a linguistic analysis expert can testify matches the writing style of Exhibit One.

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 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 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 keep 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 ever 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.
“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.