Saturday, March 28, 2020

Firestorm: Alexina McGregor (Part I)

It was a bit of an overstatement when Warden McAlister claimed that the rabbit dog was one of my creations. I’m the founder and president of Gregorios Bank, so I was responsible for bankrolling the research that eventually led to the rabbit dog, among other things. I didn’t have a hand in the research or experiments, but I suppose I can’t relinquish all blame either. I’m trying to become a better person, though, so I’m taking a page out of Jupiter!Two’s book, and dissociating myself from people who make bad decisions. That’s not all I’m doing, however. I’m also actively trying to make better decisions, and helping people when I can. I’m working with a new team now—a better team—and I can’t let them down. We are the only ones who can get an innocent man out of prison.
“What’s this?” Ace asks. He’s the prisoner.
“It’s about bunnies.”
He half-chuckles, and flips through the pages. “Yeah, my father read it to the family when I was a kid. I don’t remember anything about what happened, though. Thank you.”
“Look,” I say, “I know you have a lot of entertainment there in your pocket world, but I felt compelled to contribute.”
“Yeah, this isn’t in my library. I appreciate it. The Warden let you bring it in here?”
“I couldn’t figure out how to hide a time file in there to help you break free.”
“A time file?”
“Sorry, bad joke. There’s no such thing. There is no escaping Beaver Haven Rehabilitation Center.”
“Don’t be so sure of that,” a guard muses as she’s walking by, but she walks off before we can ask her to elaborate.
“Thank you for the book, Miss McGregor.”
“Please. Call me Alexina.”
“Okay.” He pauses a moment, presumably working up the nerve to say something that truly matters. “Can you take care of my family? Can you...?” he trails off.
“I can do the first thing,” I assure him, “but I can’t agree to the second thing until you vocalize it.”
He composes himself. “It sucks being in here.” He looks back behind him. The cell itself is about as small as any other, but the back wall leads to a pocket dimension, which is full of extra space, and amenities. Beaver Haven is a cruel facility. If you find yourself in here—present circumstances notwithstanding—you’re in for life. Every sentence is a life sentence, because every inmate is either capable of traveling through time, or can find someone who is. Whatever you did to get on their radar is bad enough, at least in their eyes, that you no longer deserve to ever be free. It is for this reason that they provide you with a lot more comfort than even the swankiest of white collar prisons has. “But it doesn’t exactly suck in here. It was really bad for Slipstream, because she’s a runner, and the treadmill they gave her doesn’t exactly scratch her itch. She runs to go places; not to move her legs. I’m not like that, though, so I’ll be fine. If at any point, the mission becomes too dangerous for Serkan or Paige, I need you to pull the plug. Now, they may hate you—”
“I understand,” I interrupt. “I run a bank; I know what it’s like to be the bad guy. I won’t let anything happen to them, even if it means you never get out of here.”
“Thank you,” he says graciously.
“I asked for a communication device, so you can be read into our plan as we’re formulating it, but the Warden didn’t allow that.”
“It’s okay. I’ll find out what happens when it’s over.” He shrugs, but only slightly.
“I better go. Your boyfriend and daughter will be wondering why I asked to speak with you alone for so long.”
“It’s cool. Don’t feel pressure to get this done quickly,” he calls out to me as I’m starting to walk away. “Do it right.”
I hear the voice of my former friend and business partner just before I walk out of earshot, but I can’t think about that right now. It was the Warden’s sick joke to put her in the cell next to his, and the best thing I can do for him now is get him the hell out of here so none of us has to see her ever again.

My new team and I return to our condo in the Ponce de Leon, which we’re using as our base of operations. Lots of temporal manipulators have lived here over the years. A man named Kallias Bran technically owns it, but he leaves it available for anyone who both needs it, and deserves it. We’re not sure where he goes when it’s not using it himself. Our mission is to find a way into the FBI building. An agent there has possession of two special temporal objects at least, and we suspect he has more. Though, I guess, calling the rabbit dog an object is a bit demeaning. It’s a living creature, genetically engineered by the woman who’s in the cell next to Ace. So this is a rescue mission as much as it’s about stopping a threat. We don’t know precisely what the agent knows about the world of time travelers. Hell, we don’t even understand what his own time power is, but our biggest concern is what he’s going to do with what he has. Though the rabbit dog would be a genetic marvel if word got out about it, its hybridness isn’t what will get us into trouble. It possesses electrokinetic abilities, which were adapted from a number of real life specimens, but it also has psychic powers, which it got from its creator, Volpsidia Raske. That could expose us all.
“I know what the rabbit dog is capable of,” Serkan says. “I took care of it for hours. What I don’t know is anything about this Omega Gyroscope. What does it do?”
“Anything,” I answer. I don’t know much about it myself. I’ve just heard rumors. “It can alter reality. Of course, certain people can do that, which you saw firsthand with your run-in with Rothko Ladhiffe. The reason the gyroscope is such a problem is because it’s an object; not a person. It doesn’t have any buttons or switches, and anyone in possession of it can use it. There’s no telling how bad things can get, because the user would have to know exactly what it is they’re asking for, and comprehend the side effects and consequences.”
“Few people are smart enough to do that,” Paige notes. “Maybe no one is.”
“Right,” I agree. “We can’t let anyone have it; not even ourselves.”
“Well, does he know what he has; this...what’s his name? I see references in these files to Austin Miller, but this part here just talks about Baby Boy. Can he alter his own age, or something?”
I laugh. “No. Okay, here’s the story, at least how Vidar told me. His parents wanted him to choose his own name when he was old enough. So the name they left on his birth certificate was just Baby Boy. That’s the placeholder they use until the parents come up with something else. Different states have different laws, but this country is one the least strict when it comes to what you’re allowed to name your child, and how long you have before you have to do it. So for four years, that was his name; Baby Boy. Then when he was four, his parents decided it was time for him to decide for himself. Unfortunately for him, like many children his age, he was obsessed with one animated film. You may be too young to have heard of it, but it’s called Aladdin.”
“I’ve seen it,” Slipstream says.
“I’ve heard of it, but haven’t seen it,” Serkan remarks.
“I’ve never heard of it,” Paige adds.
“Great,” I joke. “Now our survey is complete. Anyway, there was one phrase from the movie the kid couldn’t stop saying. It’s not a particularly interesting quote, nor something, if you heard it, would automatically make you think of the movie. But I guess he found it delightful, so he would just randomly blurt it out. When his parents asked him what name he wanted, naturally, that’s what he said. So they changed his birth certificate to Hello Doctor.”
“Hello Doctor?” Slipstream echoes.
“Hello Doctor,” I repeat. “I don’t even remember the context in the film, but that’s who he was. His parents made him go by Hello Doctor for twelve years before he was old enough to demand the court change it. He finally became Austin Miller on his seventeenth birthday, but even though he went to college halfway across the country, he can’t escape his first two names. I bet he gets really pissy if people call him either Hello Doctor or Baby Boy, so we should keep that bullet in the chamber. Good question, Serkan.”
Serkan nods. “I’m just going to call him Agent Miller for now. Does he know what he has? More importantly, does he know how to use it?”
I think about this for a moment. The Warden didn’t give any specifics in that regard, and the files don’t answer it. “I imagine the answer to both is no. If he knew how to use it, he probably would have created a reality where Austin Miller was always his name, and we wouldn’t have had a conversation about it just a few seconds ago. If he knew what it was, but didn’t know how to use it, we would probably see evidence of it, like a giant starfish crawling up the side of a skyscraper, or all the water turning purple.”
“So, he has this gyroscope,” Slipstream begins, “and this weird psychic creature. How sure are we that he’s keeping them in the FBI building? I mean, other people would have to be in on it for him to keep it under wraps, right? He can’t just occupy a secret space in there, and keep it all to himself.”
“Maybe he does have help,” Paige suggests. “Father is living in a pocket dimension at the moment, and Kallias has one of those too. Hell, there’s one over there.” She jerks her head over to the closet. “What if Hello Doctor’s office closet is bigger on the inside?”
“Are we really gonna call him that?” Serkan asked. Overruled.
“You’re right,” I say to Paige. “We need a lot more information if we’re going to do anything. We need to find someone who knows Hello Doctor.”
“I think I have a lead,” Slipstream announces unexpectedly.
We all look at her.
“People talk in Beaver Haven. We’re never allowed out of our cells, but we have our own phone network. Word got around about this FBI agent, and I think I know of someone who met him. It would be easier to ask a temporal manipulator for insight, instead of an oblivious human who won’t talk to us, because we’re strangers.”
“Oh, please,” I beg, “don’t make us go back to Beaver Haven.”
“It would give me an excuse to see him again,” Serkan points out, which is a reasonable position for him to have.
“Nah, it wasn’t anyone there,” Slipstream clarifies. “What did they call him? It was something...”
We wait patiently for her to recall what she learned.
“The Juggler. Yeah, he’s called the Juggler.”
“Oh, I know him,” Paige realizes. “I went to one of his shows while we were five people in different places.”
“His show?” Serkan questions.
“Yeah, he’s a magician. It looks like he’s a very limited apporter. He can transfer something from one hand to the other, but I don’t think he can go much farther than that. I can get us backstage. NBD.” And so it begins.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Microstory 1330: Judgment

Judge: Please, sit down.
Attorney One: I’m all right, Your Honor.
Attorney Two: As am I.
Judge: These are my chambers, and you will sit down when I tell you to. Understood?
Attorney One: Understood.
Attorney Two: Of course, Judge.
Judge: Okay, now stand back up! Good, you’re getting the hang of this. Now, tell me, what is going on with you two?
Attorney Two: Your Honor, I can’t do my job if Attorney One objects to every question I ask.
Judge: Some of those objections were sustained.
Attorney Two: True, but half of them weren’t. This is a tactic. He makes me look foolish in front of the jury. It doesn’t matter that some of them were overruled. The jury will only remember that I couldn’t get any of my questions answered.
Judge: He has a right to object to anything and everything. That is the cornerstone of our judicial system.
Attorney Two: Absolutely, but there must be some limit. That’s what you’re there for; to judge—not the case—but the proceedings of the court.
Judge: I understand my responsibility here perfectly, Attorney Two, thank you very much.
Attorney One: Could I say something?
Judge: If you must.
Attorney One: This has nothing to do with the case. Attorney One is still pissed that I stood her up for a date, and she’s attacking the witness, because she knows she couldn’t get away with attacking me.
Judge: Attorney Two, be careful with how you dismantle his argument regarding your personal relationship.
Attorney Two: There is no personal relationship. I asked him if he was going to be at the bar the other night for Attorney Three’s birthday. He said he would, but then he didn’t show up. I asked him about it the next day, not because I wished he had been there, but because I was making conversation. I am not upset about that at all. I went there myself with a date. This man is comically delusional, but in the saddest way.
Attorney One: All right, there’s no need for that. I think we can both agree that this was a misunderstanding, and move on.
Judge: Yes, I agree.
Attorney Two: I don’t. He’s been spreading rumors all over the office building about how I’m obsessed with him, and how I chose this case, just so I could see him.
Judge: I was not aware that you two worked for the same law firm.
Attorney One: We don’t. Our firms operate out of the same office building. We don’t usually cross paths in court, but the nature of this case demanded both of our respective expertise, on either side, of course.
Judge: Well, I’m going to help you resolve your issues, so we can get back to what’s really important, which is finding a resolution to this case.
Attorney Two: No, he was right. I can be professional if he can.
Attorney One: I can.
Judge: Oh, good. For a second there, I thought you thought I was serious. This is the last time I call you in here on a personal matter. If it comes to this again, you’ll both be in contempt.
Attorney One: Thank you, Your Honor.
Attorney Two: Sorry, Your Honor.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Microstory 1329: Local Drone Service

High School Dropout: Thank you for taking the time to talk to me. I know you’re really busy, even in your retirement, so I’ll try not to keep you.
Rich Neighbor: No problem. I hear you need some money? I have plenty left over, so we can do a loan, or a gift. I’m good either way. I don’t have any kids, and I can’t take it with me when I die.
High School Dropout: Oh no, I’m not looking for any handouts, or a loan per se. I’m looking for an investor.
Rich Neighbor: You have some kind of business idea then?
High School Dropout: Yes.
Rich Neighbor: ...Okay, go ahead.
High School Dropout: Okay, sorry, yeah. So, I recently bought a hobby drone. This thing was pretty big, but it didn’t have very high carrying capacity. My friend and I were each at our respective houses, stuck inside because of this virus thing, and he was bored out of his mind. I had a box set of DVDs for a show he wanted to watch, but neither of our parents would let us go outside to exchange them. He’s still in high school, and I dropped out, so I still have to live with my parents.
Rich Neighbor: Real quick bit of advice, if you ever pitch this to anyone else, don’t mention that you’re a high school dropout. Unless it’s relevant...it ain’t relevant.
High School Dropout: Do you think that was why the bank rejected my loan?
Rich Neighbor: Probably not. Go on.
High School Dropout: So I had this idea to fly my drone all the way to his house, but I had to break them up, because the drone couldn’t carry it all at once. While he was binging the first group, I started taking a look at my drone. I realized, while I’m no expert, there were some modifications I could make to the thing to increase its strength and integrity. I could actually make a better drone out of a cheaper one. Then I thought, what if I made that a business?
Rich Neighbor: You want to set up a shop that enhances people’s drones? I would need to see the numbers to determine whether it makes sense for your customers to pay you for that service, instead of just buying a stronger drone in the first place.
High School Dropout: No, that’s not what I’m talking about. That was just to illustrate how I could lower my overhead to get this business off the ground...so to speak. What I’m talking about is a courier service. This virus got me thinking. Everyone had to suddenly start working from home, and a lot of people realized that wasn’t too hard. As long as they had a few office supplies, and a network connection, that was good enough for most of the work they needed to do. But they couldn’t do everything. Even if they happen to own their own printer, it’s usually small, and can’t handle a big job. What if I developed a courier service designed specifically for local work-from-home companies. We would actually encourage these businesses to drastically shrink their on-site staff, only accommodate a few essential personnel, and save buttloads of money. Everyone has already figured out how to do the virtual side of remote work, but for companies that need all this printing done, and stuff, they usually just give up on the entire idea, and maintain their vast office spaces. If we can show them people can work from home, and still receive necessary physical objects, up to a weight limit, maybe the country can become a better place. Hell, the office could still get regular packages and mail, for security reasons, and our drones could redistribute all of that too.
Rich Neighbor: Wow. I have to tell ya kid, this sounds pretty ambitious. I would expect a supply or courier service to get into this sector, but to start from scratch? I’m not sure how it could be done.
High School Dropout: I can do it...with your help. Like I said, this isn’t a loan, it’s an investment. It’s a stake. I want you involved, because of your years of business experience.
Rich Neighbor: Well, this is indeed a budding market. Everyone I talk to says drones are going to be big in the future. If you can find a niche early on, you can take over the whole city before anyone sees you coming. You would have to do it right, though, and I think you came to the right place. Tell me more.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Microstory 1328: Major Scandal

Tabloid Reporter: Wow, to be honest, I never thought you would respond to a request for an interview. Most politicians who are in the midst of a scandal just want to keep quiet, and hope the 24-hour news cycle makes it go away.
Mayor: I imagine that’s mostly true, however, I am not experiencing a scandal.
Tabloid Reporter: Oh, so you’re one of those. You’re just going to deny that anything happened. All right, that’s fine. I know what kind of questions to ask.
Mayor: I’m not denying that things happened. I just take issue with the idea that it’s a scandal. I would never use that word to describe what I was doing.
Tabloid Reporter: Well, what would you call it?
Mayor: Healthy defiance of unreasonable law.
Tabloid Reporter: But you’re the mayor. The law is your thing.
Mayor: I think people severely overestimate my legislative power over the city. I can’t just make a unilateral decision, and implement it on my own. The council puts forth an idea, the people support or reject it, the council votes. I vote too, but I can’t just do whatever I want. Plus, we’re only talking about the city. Prostitution is illegal across most of the country, and I certainly have no impact on that.
Tabloid Reporter: But you think prostitution should be legal?
Mayor: Absolutely, yes, and I’ve never said anything less. This isn’t like when a politician runs on a campaign of family first, only to be discovered he was cheating on his wife. I’m not married, I’m not seeing anyone, and I maintain professional relationships with sex workers.
Tabloid Reporter: So, there’s no emotional component to your dealings with the prostitutes? You just pay them for services, and walk away.
Mayor: Well, of course there’s an emotional component. There can’t not be. But no, I’m not in love with them. Nor are they in love with me, as far as I know.
Tabloid Reporter: I think people might be calling this a scandal because you kept it secret. Are you only saying this now because you got caught?
Mayor: Of course I kept it secret. It’s illegal! I suppose you could argue that that’s enough to make it a scandal, but I still wouldn’t use that word, because its lawfulness is not my decision, like I was saying. The law should be changed.
Tabloid Reporter: Yes, you spoke of healthy defiance of law. Assuming you’re right, and prostitution should be legal—and, by the way, I am personally in favor of that, but we’re not talking about me; we’re talking about you and your constituents—if you believe it should be legalized, then isn’t it a better use of your time to fight for it, rather than sticking to the shadows of the proverbial red light district?
Mayor: Hm. Ya know, I can’t argue with that logic. Unreasonable as the law may be, I did break it, and that was still wrong. I should be making my argument to the public, so maybe things can actually change. Wow, you really have me thinking here.
Tabloid Reporter: I would argue that that is exactly my job.
Mayor: Yes, and it’s my job to make sure voters are represented, and that they have all the facts. I know it’s not usually done like this, and it feels like a whim, but it’s really just that it’s suddenly occurred to me. I should run for congress, and do what I can to facilitate real change. Thanks, Tabloid Reporter.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Microstory 1327: Savage Vandal (Part 2)

Mediator: Before we begin, let me make a few things clear. This is not a courtroom, nor an interrogation room. You are not under oath. Anything you say may not necessarily be used against you in a court of law. You have a right to an attorney so much as it’s your right to walk around pretty much wherever you go with an attorney—if that’s your thing—but none is required for this process, and in fact, I discourage it. Nothing that happens here directly affects the proceedings of the civil court, assuming this fails, and you go through with the suit. Still, we will be communicating with each other civilly. We will remain calm. We will treat each other with respect, and come from a place of honesty. Like in court, it is your responsibility to assume each other’s innocence. I’m not saying you are, but if you retain your current antagonistic position, we will get nowhere, and this will all have been pointless. Now, as I understand it, this matter involves more than some vandalism. I don’t normally handle violent crimes, but the judge ruled Miss Vandalism Victim innocent, so now we’re here to discuss how to move forward. This is a safe space...for everyone. Vandal, why don’t you go ahead and explain why it is you vandalized Miss Victim’s car? I understand you do not deny having done it?
Vandal: Oh no, I did it. I did it, because she killed my cat. I don’t care what the criminal court said. I will never believe that she’s innocent, as you say.
Mediator: Okay. Miss Vandal Victim? Did you kill Mr. Vandal’s cat?
Vandalism Victim: I absolutely did not.
Mediator: Okay. Vandal, is it possible that she’s telling the truth?
Vandal: Anything’s possible, so yeah, but that don’t make it true. She did it.
Mediator: And how do you know this?
Vandal: She knew that Dr. Whippersnapper likes to hunt near that creek—I’m sorry; liked. She knew what kind of food he liked to eat. She had access to the insecticides from the nursery where she works.
Vandalism Victim: Worked.
Vandal: Oh, I’m sorry. You lost your job? Because you killed a cat? How sad.
Mediator: Okay, let’s get back to what you were saying. Are there any other reasons you have to believe Miss Victim killed Dr. Whippersnapper? Did she leave any direct evidence? In the law business, we call everything you said circumstantial.
Vandal: Yeah, my friend, Vandalism Witness saw everything. He saw that she was there the day Dr. Whippersnapper died.
Mediator: This..Vandalism Witness. He was also there when you vandalized the car, right?
Vandal: Yeah, he wasn’t involved, but yeah I guess he just happened to be riding by on his bike.
Vandalism Victim: He was? He saw both incidents? The poisoning of your cat, and the vandalism of my car?
Vandal: Yeah, everyone knows he lives on that bike.
Vandalism Victim: True, but...he doesn’t live anywhere near me. What was he doing so far out of his way. I mean, there’s getting exercise, and then there’s riding twenty miles away from your neighborhood.
Vandal: Wull—I mean. I don’t know.
Mediator: Mr. Vandal, I’ll ask the question again. You can answer the same as before, or amend it. Is it possible that she’s telling the truth?
Vandal: Well, I just think...
Vandalism Victim: I didn’t do it. I would never. It doesn’t matter how pissed I was at you for what you wrote on my locker. I wouldn’t have killed a frickin’ cat. That’s sick.
Vandal: Ya know, Vandalism Witness wasn’t super happy when he found out I was kissing Uninvolved Classmate. Is that what happened? Is he the one who killed my cat?
Vandalism Victim: Vandal...
Vandal: I think I owe you an apology.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Microstory 1326: Savage Vandal (Part 1)

Vandalism Witness: Am I in trouble?
New Detective: You’re not in trouble at all. I just want to ask you a few questions about something that happened two weeks ago.
Vandalism Witness: So, I’m a person of interest?
New Detective: You’re not anything. We think you know something about a vandalism case I’m working on.
Vandalism Witness: I didn’t vandal any car.
New Detective: I never said you did. But now that I think about it, you’re being a little evasive. Are you trying to hide something?
Vandalism Witness: You legally can’t ask me that.
New Detective: Yes, I can.
Vandalism Witness: Oh, well, then I plead the fifth.
New Detective: That’s for a courtroom setting. You’re not under oath, and you’re not under arrest. We’re just talking.
Vandalism Witness: Okay.
New Detective: What is your relationship with the victim, a Miss...Vandalism Victim?
Vandalism Witness: Wwwwwould we call her a victim?
New Detective: So, you know what happened to her car?
Vandalism Witness: Maybe I saw something, maybe I didn’t.
New Detective: This isn’t a cop show spinoff. This is real life. What do you know about what happened?
Vandalism Witness: It’s just some kids bein’ funny.
New Detective: Do these look funny to you? Racial slurs, scratched off paint, honey on the seats, sugar in the gas tank.
Vandalism Witness: I shouldn’t have said they were being funny. I mean they thought they were being funny.
New Detective: Do you know who it was?
Vandalism Witness: ...
New Detective: All right, that’s fine. I’ll just switch your file from witness to person of interest.
Vandalism Witness: Wait, no. God..damn. I’ll explain it to you, but you have to promise to keep me out of it. I didn’t do anything, but I’m close to the people who did, so I don’t wanna get rolled up along with everyone else.
New Detective: If you didn’t participate in the act, I’ll tell the D.A. you were a cooperative associate. That’s the best I can do. They won’t be happy you didn’t take the initiative to come to us with whatever information you’re about to give me. I’ll have to convince them to lay off.
Vandalism Witness: All right, well the car thing was retaliation.
New Detective: What could Miss Vandalism Victim have done to warrant such damage? This is the figure the car shop quoted her to fix the whole thing. Pending legal resolution, she’s probably going to total it, and buy a new one.
Vandalism Witness: Well, she killed someone’s cat. Is that motive enough?
New Detective: Um...well, yes. That’s a fairly believable motive. Did she have something against the cat, or the owner?
Vandalism Witness: Both. What was that word you just used, believable? I’m going to need some assurances, because when I explain to you exactly why Vandalism Victim was upset with that cat, you’re not going to believe it anymore.
New Detective: I better go speak with my captain.
Vandalism Witness: I would. You might also grab a trash can, because it’s probably gonna make you retch!

Sunday, March 22, 2020

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: December 8, 2276

You better make good use of me. Those words continued to repeat themselves over and over again in Mateo’s head. They didn’t know anything about this Jeremy Bearimy fellow, except that he was apparently named after a—no, not a character—but a concept in a TV show; a crazy way of perceiving the passage of time. J.B.’s pattern of only existing during Tuesdays and July was but one part of how the concept worked on the show. Mateo kept thinking that there had to be some way for them to capitalize on that. Back when Mateo and Leona were just starting to jump through time together, they had no choice but to break their then enemy, Horace Reaver out of prison. The nature of their own salmon pattern was key to their plan to do this. It literally added a year to Reaver’s wait time, but it was worth it. They broke into the facility just before midnight, and by the time the security system could do anything about it, they were gone. When they returned exactly one year later, they were already on the inside, and were able to remain quiet. Had Reaver been able to latch onto this pattern as well, it would have been even easier, but that wasn’t a possibility. Now they had something that didn’t exist back then. Now they had the Cassidy cuffs.
Leona spent as much time as she needed to boost the security on the cuffs, ensuring that two of them could not be removed, even by some kind of universal override code. One of the cuffs would serve as primary. They didn’t know if they could trust J.B. with this responsibility, but they knew they couldn’t trust Erlendr or Arcadia, so this was their best option. Once they were complete, Nerakali and Leona teleported right behind Erlendr and Arcadia, so the former could install one on her father, and the latter could handle the other Preston, while Mateo distracted them. He started out by lamenting about how he betrayed his belovèd yet again, and somehow segued into a bunch of rambling about the time he went to the store, and the shelves were almost all empty.
They weren’t certain their plan was going to work, and even once it finally did, Nerakali admitted she couldn’t be sure it wasn’t all part of Erlendr’s evil plan instead. Both he and Arcadia looked genuinely surprised by the development, but the whole family was known to be full of incredibly believable actors, so maybe it was all fake news. They just had to hope and pray this was going to work. J.B. was happy to do it. He had complete control over the other two cuffs, which included a proximity feature. His captives could neither come within two meters of him, nor be more than twenty meters away. Their powers were also entirely suppressed, but bonus, J.B. could now do anything they could normally. He didn’t think he would have any interest in using these abilities, which was a good sign that they were making the right decision. This could all blow up in their face later, but for now, things were going fine. They were nowhere to be found when Mateo, Leona, and Nerakali returned to the timestream in 2276. Technically, since Nerakali was no longer tethered to them, she could have gone off to whenever and wherever she wanted, but she chose to mimic their pattern, and skip their interim year.
Leona didn’t want to argue about anything anymore, saying that it was time they focus on being on the same side of things again. Limiting their opponents’ existence in the timestream was nice, but it didn’t really solve their problem. If all went well, the three of them were scheduled to come back on Tuesday, December 10, 2278, and once they did, who could tell what was going to happen? They needed a plan, and they needed their whole roster of allies. It was time to meet up with their new recruits, the identities of which Mateo had yet to learn.
Nerakali was always capable of teleporting all three of them at the same time. It was just easier to link them together with the Cassidy cuffs. She took hold of the Matics now, and transported them back to the secret underground hangar where a suburb of Kansas City called Overland Park once stood. Four people were waiting for them there, only one of which Mateo recognized. Oh no, he knew one of the others. Leona met The Stitcher way back in 2190, and Mateo still had her memories from that period in her life. He had never actually met her himself, though. Nor did he have any clue who these other two people were.
“What happened to your Cassidy cuffs?” Ramses asked before they could begin introductions.
“It’s this whole thing,” Mateo replied.
“Were you able to make more?” Leona asked.
“Yeah,” Ramses said with a little excitement. With no warning, he snapped one of the cuffs on Mateo’s wrist. “This one is primary. You’re the boss, boss.”
Mateo laughed. “Okay, thanks. We’ll talk about that, though.”
Leona wanted to continue. “Anyway, this is Tonya Keyes, a.k.a. The Stitcher.”
“Nice to meet you,” Mateo said, shaking her hand.
“Likewise,” Tonya returned. “I’m sorry about your death.”
He shrugged. “It’s all good,” he said in a chill voice that didn’t sound anything like him, making it a little awkward.
“Umm. I’m Yadira Cordoso; callsign Flex. I work for Serviço de Informações Estratégicas de Defesa, and the Interagency Alliance Coalition. I’m a really good fighter, becau—”
Before she could finish her word, a loud horn echoed throughout the hangar. It sounded like a train. Then said gargantuan train appeared from what Mateo guessed was a portal. It raced across the hangar, and started entering a second portal just before it crashed into the wall. It suddenly stopped, and one of the doors slid open. It was only then that Mateo realized that everyone was frozen in place, except for him, and Yadira.
A woman stepped out, and approached them. She looked between the only two people in the room who were conscious that something was happening. She consulted a handheld device, then looked back up. “Which one of you is Yadira Cordoso?”
“That would be me,” Yadira answered.
“Then who are you?”
“Mateo Matic,” he answered. She looked trustworthy. She was at least powerful enough that he didn’t want to mess with her.
“Mateo?” Saga stepped out of the magic train too.
“Saga?”
“I’ve never met you,” she said.
“Understood,” he said respectfully. Time was a funny thing.
“Why are you awake?” Saga asked him. “You’re not on the list.”
Mateo kind of leaned forward, like he was trying to get a look at this list, but he wasn’t really. “I dunno. Oh wait.” He lifted his arm. “I’m wearing this thing.”
“Okay, well, don’t tell anyone this happened, please,” Saga requested.
“Where are you taking her?” he asked.
“Yeah, where are you taking me?”
The woman who never introduced herself sighed. “You have been conscripted by The Transit Army to fight against an enemy that threatens life in the entire bulkverse. Your world needs you, Flex, and so do all the others.”
Yadira looked over at Mateo. “Before I found myself at your funeral, my boss cryptically told me to get on the train. He said it like he knew what was going to happen in the future.”
“Okay,” Mateo said to her. “I’ll cover for ya.”
The other woman started ushering Yadira towards the train thing, while Saga nodded to Mateo. “They won’t remember she was ever here. Zektene and I will take good care of her, and put her back where she belongs when the mission is complete.”
She was right. As soon as the train disappeared, time restarted for everybody else, and they had all noticed that Mateo was in a slightly different position than he was before.
Nerakali narrowed her eyes at him. “Where did you go?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Mateo said.
“Did you just go talk to Erlendr, or something?” Leona asked in disappointment.
Mateo remained calm, and placed his hands on her shoulders. “I promise you that I did not betray you again. I did not speak with Erlendr, or Arcadia, or anyone else. I’m also not tailoring my language to avoid directly lying to you. I didn’t go anywhere, but something did happen just now that only I remember, and I kind of need you to trust that everything’s okay.”
The guy Mateo didn’t know yet started looking around, and immediately turned his head from side to side, at the walls. “There are two portal over there. I can still see them. I can hear them too.”
Mateo exhaled. “It’s not our place to question that. It’s...like, a multiverse thing.”
“The Crossover?” Nerakali asked.
“The Prototype?” Leona asked.
“Smaller than the first thing, larger than the second thing.”
“The Transit,” Tonya said, nodding her head. “Yeah, we need to stop talking about this right now.”
“Okay,” Nerakali said. “We’ll get back to work.”
Now the guy started to walk towards one of the portals.
“Wolfe, you can’t go through that,” Tonya tried to explain to him. “It’s a spaceship, so you’ll end up in space if you try to step through.”
Wolfe stopped, but didn’t turn around. “Don’t we have a spaceship over there?” he asked, referring to the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, which was camouflaged right now.
“We’re not doing that,” Tonya declared. “We have a mission here, and I expect you to stick to it.” She looked back at the rest of the group, specifically Mateo. “That’s Vidar Wolfe, also known as The Tracker.”
“Tracker!” he argued. “Not the Tracker. Just..Tracker!”
“He can sense and piggyback on temporal anomalies.”
“They’re fading,” Vidar complained. “I have to see what’s on the other side.”
“I assure you,” Tonya began, “you don’t. Now can we get back to the task at hand?”
After the introductions, this new group of ragtag elites—as Vidar called them—just stood around. Everyone had their own idea of how to move forward, and how they could, as individuals, contribute. So now they all just needed to get it out into the open. Ramses decided to hand out the new Cassidy cuffs. He made extra, which was good, since they lost use of the first three. “There is another one somewhere in the timeline,” he admitted. “I was able to use Thor’s miniature quantum replicator to make copies of Arcadia’s. The problem is that Holly Blue engineered the originals with a very special part that can’t be replicated, so I had to get those somewhere else. A woman named Ladonna Buhle supplied me with what I needed, but she demanded a cuff of her own as payment.”
Nerakali tilted her head side to side, like she was weighing pros and cons. “She’s no saint, but it should be okay for her to have it. I’m not sure how much damage she can do with just one.”
“So, what do we do now that we’re all linked together?” Mateo asked.
“Now,” Leona started to say, “I need to sleep. After that, though, we’ll have brunch. We can’t fight together if we don’t know each other very well. We won’t get down to real business until next year.”
Ramses smirked, and shook his wrist. “Don’t you mean tomorrow?”

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Dardius: Everest Conway (Part XII)

“Thank you for coming to the memorial service for the late but present, Mateo Matic. Wow, it’s a beautiful day here in Sutvindr, isn’t it? My name is Everest Conway, and this is not my story. Most of you probably don’t know me. I became friends with the Matics later on in the timeline, when there are fewer salmon and choosers around. I’ve come back into the past, though, on a sort of tour, I guess you could call it. I wanted to see where my best friend came from, and what he’s been through. Some of the time, I’m out in the open. I was physically present at the wedding, and I even got The Arborist to take me to Mateo’s original timeline, so I could witness the moment he first jumps onto his pattern. And of course, I’m here now, and you can see me. Other times, however, I’m watching from an observation dimension, or simply peering into the past, and have no way of interacting with people. Don’t worry, I did this with full consent from both of them. Neither of them understand who it is I am, since we’ve not yet met, but they agreed to let me deliver Mateo’s eulogy today, because they trust that I’m telling the truth. A few of you have been able to verify my sincerity through past experiences, and I appreciate that.
“I first met Mateo and Leona Matic in the year...uhh...well, let’s just call it 2630. This was well after they found themselves trapped in The Parallel...and The Third Rail. It’s after they deal with Raihan, and after their journey through The Goldilocks Corridor. It’s after their encounter with Savepoint, and after Earth gets knocked around by Project Tipping Point. But enough about me. We’re all here to talk about everyone’s favorite salmon. All of you know by now that he dies at some point in the timestream, but you may not have the whole story. I’ll explain exactly what happened to him, how he’s alive to be here with us today, and why it technically can’t be a permanent solution.
“On November 13, 2251, Leona Matic met a man named Briar de Vries, on a planet called Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida, which orbits a star called Tau Ceti. It’s several light years from Earth, and it’s completely habitable, but you probably haven’t been there. At one point, Briar was the only permanent human on this world, and it made him a little...unstable. He wasn’t crazy, and he didn’t want to hurt anyone, but he was susceptible to manipulation, and that’s precisely what happened. Mateo made a mistake. Leona forgave him for it without much trouble, but Briar felt compelled to protect her from her husband just the same. Unfortunately, a very powerful time traveler, who shall not be named, knew all too well how fragile Briar was, and how dangerous he could become. This individual gave Briar the hundemarke, and with it, the means to kill Mateo.
“There is no one on this planet right now that isn’t either a time traveler, or aware that nonlinear time is a thing. So, even if you don’t understand the physics of changing the past—which, let’s be honest, most of us don’t—you have some idea how it works. Anything that has happened in the past can be changed by someone with the necessary tools to go back, and alter course...that is, unless they’re going up against the hundemarke. The hundemarke can create a moment in time that cannot be changed. No matter what else you change prior to this moment, everything within it will occur exactly as it did in any new reality you create. Under normal circumstances, if you were to kill John Smith, then John’s daughter, Jane could go back in time, and kill you before you can do that. Then your daughter can go back and kill Jane before she can do that. But then Jane’s son can go back and kill your daughter. This may never end, as vengeful children continue to go back and change history, each new reality supplanting the last, and causing it to collapse. It won’t stop until someone, I suppose, arbitrarily breaks the cycle, and just lets the current timeline continue. But even in this scenario, these two families aren’t the only time travelers, so these kinds of changes are occurring all the time, and there are infinite variables to account for. The hundemarke takes away all those variables—all those options. Mateo was killed, and that cannot be undone.
“Now, you may be asking yourself, ‘Everest’—I’m not sure why you’re calling yourself by my name, but whatever—you ask, ‘Everest, if Mateo’s death can’t be undone, then how is he here today? I see him right over there.’ Point to Mateo. Oh wait, that was meant to be an instruction for my eyes only. There he is; Mateo Matic, alive and...well, alive. So how is he here? That’s a bit of a mystery at this point, so I won’t give you any details, but the explanation is that someone used another object to bring him here. It’s called the Extraction Mirror, and though it has many potential applications, it’s most famous for being able to pull someone from the brink of death, and let them live out their lives, probably in some other time period. The catch is that their death is inevitable. They will have to go back at some point, and finally experience that final moment. Theoretically, they could go back and prevent their own death to avoid this fate, but if they could do that, they probably don’t need an extraction mirror at all, because they always need help anyway. Of course, the hundemarke negates all this, though, so for Mateo, he will one day have to accept what’s already happened to him.
“This is all very sad, I can practically smell your frowns. But imagine what it’s like to be hundemarked like Mateo, or Nerakali Preston. They know what’s coming, but they keep going. They keep improving themselves, and making things better for others. And that’s incredibly admirable. So I don’t want us to talk about Mateo’s death anymore. I want to move on to his life. I wish I could tell you some stories about him that I experienced first hand, but he’s not yet been through any of that, so I can’t muddy the timeline. I can tell you, however, that he never loses that effortless benevolence and compassion he has now. You all know this about him, whether you like it or not. If you’ve ever gone up against him, chances are you’re on the wrong side. Good intentions or no, Mateo is generally the one who knows what’s right, and when he doesn’t, he listens to people who do.
“Mateo knows that he’s not perfect, and that he doesn’t always know what’s best, which is exactly what makes him one of the best of us. He’s willing to listen to people, even those considered to be his enemies. He recognizes and appreciates that most people just want to be understood, and that prejudgment only ever leads to antagonism. I want all of you to remember this lesson the next time you see him, because it may be more pertinent than you realize. He doesn’t always make the best choices, but he doesn’t do anything without a reason, and he deserves the benefit of the doubt.
“Like I said, I am not at liberty to share stories about Mateo’s future. I’m risking enough just by being here. I’m confident, though, that when I return to my time period, Mateo and Leona will have accepted me graciously, just as they did in the last timeline. Since it was more or less my job to discuss how Mateo’s life ended, it will be other people’s responsibility to fill you in on who he was when he was first alive. The eulogy is over, but there is plenty more to talk about, so if you had other plans for today, you may want to cancel them, or...what was that word Mateo taught me? The acronym. DVR. That’s it. You could DVR this, and watch it later.
“You will be hearing from a few other people today, and we may open it up to others, if that’s what makes sense. Obviously, Leona will be saying a few words. We’ve also scheduled time for Mateo’s current best friend, Ramses Abdulrashid. Use your time wisely, Rames. I’ll be taking your spot soon. Wink. Oh, wait, that was another instruction. I was supposed to just wink. Let’s see, Mateo’s frenemy, Horace Reaver has some time, as does Gilbert Boyce, though I’m not sure when he’s from. Once-brother, Darko Matic is in here somewhere. So yeah, it looks like you’re in for a good service. Either way, my eleven minutes are up, so it is my honor to introduce you to two very special guests. All the way from an alternate timeline, please join me in giving a warm welcome to Mateo and Leona’s once-children, Franka and Séarlas Matic.”

Friday, March 20, 2020

Microstory 1325: Sports Man

Sportscaster: I’m here with legendary athlete, Jools Hooper, a.k.a. Sports Man. He earned his nickname in 1987—by an avid fan, and six-year-old daughter of his new general manager—when he started playing for the Kansas Titanium. It was his third major league team over the course of his career, but he didn’t stop there. Many have attempted to interview Hooper, most to no avail. He’s always been too busy with his work, but he has an important announcement to make, and he’s agreed to let me...be the vehicle that transports his words to all of you. It is an honor just to be in your presence, Mr. Hopper.
Sports Man: Thank you, Sportscaster. I’m honored to be here as well. I’m a huge fan of your work.
Sportscaster: Oh dear me, Jools Hooper is a fan of my work. Did you hear that, everybody? Did you get that on camera? Ha-ha-ha. Anyway, before we get to your announcement, I would like to ask you a few questions, so the audience will have a better understanding of your background.
Sports Man: Certainly. Shoot, so to speak.
Sportscaster: After playing college basketball for Hillside University, you were immediately drafted into the Kansas City Cougars, right?
Sports Man: That’s right. I played for them for nine years. Basketball is my main game.
Sportscaster: What made you move over to association football?
Sports Man: Well, Sportscaster, that’s exactly why I haven’t done any interviews since. I literally don’t remember. That whole time in my life is a haze. I was doing a lot of drugs back then—no athletic enhancements, mind you—but I was well out of my mind, which is why I only played soccer for two seasons. I don’t recall why I switched sports, or how I joined the team, or anything about it. It was probably for a stupid reason, like a bet, or a prank that got out of hand.
Sportscaster: According to reports, you sobered up in 1984, but you didn’t start playing Vector until three years later. Tell me about that.
Sports Man: Recovery is a long process, and it never ends. I didn’t feel comfortable doing anything with my life until that billionaire announced he was founding an entirely new sport. I just knew I had to get into it. It’s funny; all that fame and applause got me into drugs when I was a baller, but sports helped me stay out of it later in life. I haven’t touched the stuff since.
Sportscaster: Well, that’s great. We’re all very glad you made your comeback. I know, when I’m having a bad day, I’ll throw on a tape of your 1993 tournament performance. You were so amazing.
Sports Man: It was a team effort; we all had to be really in sync.
Sportscaster: Of course. Moving on, you retired from Vector in 1999, at age fifty. Everyone thought you were done for good, but then you surprised us with a tennis run.
Sports Man: I loved tennis. It was such a new experience, ya know? I had always been on a team, but suddenly it was just me out there. Honestly, it made me really uncomfortable, which I think made for a great watch, which is why I stuck with it for five years. I like to entertain. I probably only quit that, because I was getting a little old.
Sportscaster: That’s when you discovered golf.
Sports Man: Yep. I went from two huge team sports to one that’s a little more individualistic, but still requires teamwork, to a completely individual sport with an opponent, to one that doesn’t require an opponent at all. Golf has been really great for me. It’s slow and methodical, which has been good for this 70-year-old.
Sportscaster: So, what’s next for Sports Man, Jools Hooper? I believe the general assumption is that you’re here to announce your retirement from sports altogether.
Sports Man: That is the rumor I’ve heard, but if that’s what you were hoping for, I’m afraid I will have to disappoint. I am indeed retiring, but not from sports; just golf. I’m going back to basketball. I aim to be the oldest player in association history. I’m currently a free agent, and I have a message for all managers...come at me.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Microstory 1324: Hillside Hangings

Police Captain: Do you know who I am?
Hillside Hangman: You appear to be the captain.
Police Captain: That’s right. But I wasn’t always a captain, ya know?
Hillside Hangman: Really? You weren’t born into the title?
Police Captain: My detective says you confessed to a number of murders; enough to put you away for life, and then some.
Hillside Hangman: I held out as long as I could, but when you got me, you got me.
Police Captain: Right. So, you killed eleven people?
Hillside Hangman: That’s right. I never had the chance to get December’s. You let me out for a few hours, though, I’ll take care of it for you. Might be better for you to have a nice, perfect number to pin on me. They might even extend my sentence.
Police Captain: I’ll think about it. Why don’t you take a look at these photos? Do they look familiar?
Hillside Hangman: Oh yes, of course. These were done by my idol—my hero. I based all of my own work on his. Do you know who he is? Could I meet him? I hope he’s proud of me.
Police Captain: I believe you already have met him.
Hillside Hangman: Really?
Police Captain: Insomuch as a thing like that is logically possible. The first of these murders took place in 1989, when you were only seven years old, does that sound right?
Hillside Hangman: Yeah, I remember watching the news. I was so fascinated by what he was doing to those people. I obviously couldn’t measure up to him back then, and I desperately pushed the urges deep down inside, but something in me just broke last winter. I think it was that documentary that came out about the original Hillside Hangman. He just reminded me who I was, and what I wanted to do with my life. I owe everything to him.
Police Captain: You were just released from prison back in March of last year, correct?
Hillside Hangman: Simple misunderstanding.
Police Captain: One hundred and eight people. The Hillside Hangman killed one hundred and eight people. He is one of the most prolific serial killers in the entire world...in history. He was never caught, but he didn’t finish his last year; he just...disappeared. And there was that one year he missed a month.
Hillside Hangman: Most say he died.
Police Captain: Yep, that’s what they say. Either way, a hundred and eight is so profoundly impressive.
Hillside Hangman: So you can see why I admire him so much.
Police Captain: Oh, no doubt. The timeline is funny though. I looked back at your records. You beat your high school girlfriend half to death in 1998. You were tried as an adult, and sentenced to twenty years for aggravated assault. You never got parole, and in fact, they had to add a little time for bad behavior.
Hillside Hangman: I struggled in those early days, but I knew my life would be so much better when I finally got out, and followed my dream to become the new Hillside Hangman.
Police Captain: I thought you said something happened last winter? Something broke? But now you’re telling me you were planning on doing this while you were still on the inside?
Hillside Hangman: ...
Police Captain: You were always a really strong kid, right? They diagnosed you with some sort of condition I can’t remember, and probably couldn’t pronounce. You were, like...really strong?
Hillside Hangman: What are you getting at?
Police Captain: I was a detective when the first Hillside Hangman case was ongoing. I wasn’t the only detective assigned to it over the years, but I got closer than anyone. I saved what was meant to be number eighty-three’s life, because I figured out your mapping pattern, and got to her before she died. You were gone by then, but the brass was so impressed with me that I ultimately walked away with a promotion. That’s why I’m here now, talking to you, about something that always bothered me about that case.
Hillside Hangman: Well, you never caught him, so that must eat you up.
Police Captain: Eh, that’s disappointing, but it was a hard case. Your pattern was almost impossible to decipher, and when you realized I had, you adapted and changed tactics. I don’t blame myself for not catching you sooner.
Hillside Hangman: Me? No, you’re confused, Captain. I’m the new Hillside Hangman, but we both agreed I was far too young to have been involved with the originals.
Police Captain: No, we agreed that you’ve always been a psychopath, that you’re incredibly intelligent, and that you were a physically strong child.
Hillside Hangman: What are you talking about?
Police Captain: The rope the hangman used. It was thin. Kind of expensive. Readily available, and impossible to trace, but...not what you would expect from someone who hangs living victims in trees. They always kind of looked a little...too modern. They were actually reinforced with glue, which just added to the cost, and took much more effort. But then we found you, and now I understand why. Like I said, you were a strong kid...but you still had small hands. You’re under arrest for a hundred and twenty counts of murder, not eleven.
Hillside Hangman: Wait, your math is wrong. Even if you’re right, one-oh-eight plus eleven is only one-nineteen.
Police Captain: [whisper] I know about your little brother’s girlfriend in 1988 too.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Microstory 1323: Inspectorate

New Clearance Investigator: Are you nervous? You look nervous.
Inspector Job Candidate: You look nervous. I’m sorry, that sounded like a burn. You just actually look nervous to me.
New Clearance Investigator: I’m a little nervous, yes. This is my first clearance interview.
Inspector Job Candidate: What did you do before this?
New Clearance Investigator: I was a postal worker, but I’m the one meant to be asking the questions here.
Inspector Job Candidate: Right, of course. Everything you need to know should be on the forms I filled out. I’m here to be a factory oversight inspector.
New Clearance Investigator: Yes, they are, and yes, you are. We just need some clarification on a few things.
Inspector Job Candidate: Go ahead, I’m an open book. I’m not sure why I was flagged for face-to-face, though. I’ve never been out of the city, let alone the country.
New Clearance Investigator: That’s exactly why you were flagged. It’s a bit unusual for a candidate to have almost no housing history. According to these records, you were literally born in your childhood home, you grew up there, you stayed there through college—
Inspector Job Candidate: Well, it’s a college town...surrounding a really good college.
New Clearance Investigator: That’s fair. And you still live there, but not with your parents?
Inspector Job Candidate: My mother died when I was in high school, and I had to move my father to an assisted living facility a few blocks away two years ago, because I couldn’t take care of him while I was in class. So yes, I still live there, but I’m fully independent. It’s my house now.
New Clearance Investigator: Okay. This was an open-ended question about your travel. You responded that you’ve never gone anywhere, for any reason. Is this because of your family situation?
Inspector Job Candidate: Not exactly, per se. My parents hated traveling, my grandparents hated traveling. I had no strong feelings about it, but I also had no experience with it, so I suppose it never came up, even when I became an adult. I wasn’t ever actively thinking about the fact that I never went anywhere; it just never happened.
New Clearance Investigator: Yet here you are, applying to a position with—let’s see...an 85% travel requirement.
Inspector Job Candidate: Oh, I can see how that would look weird. I imagine it doesn’t help that I’m not acting like it’s always been my dream to finally break free from this one-horse town, or something.
New Clearance Investigator: This city has more than one horse, so to speak.
Inspector Job Candidate: Exactly. So I haven’t been to somewhere exotic, like Tokyo, or Peru. Lots of people can’t afford to go on big vacations. Yeah, I realize it’s strange that I haven’t even been to the other side of the state, but this city has everything I need, and I have been all over it. The form didn’t really ask me how active I’ve been within the city limits.
New Clearance Investigator: This is true. Neither the form, nor the interview, can account for everything. It’s designed to help us find out whether you met a terrorist group when you studied abroad one semester, but there’s no way to know if the terrorist group came here, and met you on the other side of town.
Inspector Job Candidate: ...
New Clearance Investigator: I’m not accusing you of that, but again, that’s why you were flagged. The form you filled out simply does not have much information about you. It’s not your fault. You shouldn’t be punished for leading a reasonable life that appears boring on paper. But they called me in, because I can find out what the forms don’t tell us. So, let’s begin.
Inspector Job Candidate: Wait, we haven’t begun yet?
New Clearance Investigator: Ha. No. Get comfortable. This might take a couple hours.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Microstory 1322: Maintenance

Maintenance Supervisor: All right, what do we have here? Looks like you’ve had a few jobs over the years, but nothing in maintenance.
Unskilled Laborer: Right. I haven’t been paid for this sort of thing before, but if you look down there at the extra activities, I listed volunteer work with my church. We remodeled homes for the poor, and fixed a few things in schools in low-income neighborhoods. I’ve also helped my dad around the house my whole life, so I know my way around a drill.
Maintenance Supervisor: Okay, okay. What about education? Did you go to college at all?
Unskilled Laborer: I didn’t even bother applying. It’s not for me.
Maintenance Supervisor: Yeah, I get it. So, where do you see yourself in five years?
Unskilled Laborer: I don’t really know. I wouldn’t say I’m an ambitious person. I’m not after your job, or anything. I just wanna put in my time, then go home and sit in front of the TV for the rest of the night.
Maintenance Supervisor: A lot of us are like that; that’s fine. Why don’t you tell me about a time when you...um.
Unskilled Laborer: Sorry?
Maintenance Supervisor: Tell me about a time when you had a disagreement with a coworker, and had to—Jesus, this is stupid. Why would I ask you this? I printed this list of questions to ask a candidate off the internet, but the way I’ve been hiring people has been good enough. I mean, sure, we’ve had some duds, but they were smooth-talkers too. They could have easily lied on their résumé, and then given me bogus answers. I don’t need to know...what kind of animal you would be, or...who you would want to be stranded with on a deserted island.
Unskilled Laborer: I’ve gotten those questions before.
Maintenance Supervisor: How have you answered them? Not a serious question; I’m just curious.
Unskilled Laborer: I just B.S. my way through it.
Maintenance Supervisor: That’s what I would do. When I was a kid, employers only wanted to know a few things. Can you get here on time?
Unskilled Laborer: Yes.
Maintenance Supervisor: Can you be here every day that you’re scheduled.
Unskilled Laborer: Yes.
Maintenance Supervisor: Do you do drugs?
Unskilled Laborer: I smoke a little weed.
Maintenance Supervisor: Ah, whatever. Are you gonna steal from us?
Unskilled Laborer: No, sir.
Maintenance Supervisor: Can you lift fifty pounds by yourself, and are you cool to stand for extended periods of time?
Unskilled Laborer: I can do both of those things.
Maintenance Supervisor: Welcome aboard.