Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Microstory 1332: Peak Family

Uniformed Officer: I know you’re all really shaken up, but I do have to ask you a few questions so we can figure this out.
Mr. Peak: That’s okay. We want to get this son of a bitch.
Uniformed Officer: Were you home when the intruder came in?
Mr. Peak: Yes and no.
Uniformed Officer: I don’t understand.
Mr. Peak: My wife and son were home. My daughter and I were not.
Uniformed Officer: Oh, okay. I’ll direct my questions to you, Madam Peak.
Mr. Peak: No, don’t talk to her. I’m the head of the household. You will direct all your questions to me.
Uniformed Officer: Sir, I really need to get an eyewitness account of the events as they occurred. It’s important that I have the chance to speak with the rest of your family. I can’t take second-hand testimony.
Mr. Peak: Testimony? We ain’t in court.
Uniformed Officer: No, I just mean that I need to speak with each of you about what you experienced, and it’s best if we start with the people who were actually here when it happened.
Mr. Peak: You’re not gonna talk to my son neither.
Uniformed Officer: How old is your son?
Mr. Peak: He’s twenty-three.
Uniformed Officer: You can only refuse if he’s a minor. He’s old enough to answer for himself.
Peak Son: I don’t want to talk to you.
Madam Peak: You don’t have to, son.
Uniformed Officer: I’m sorry, I’m confused. Do you want this case solved, or no?
Mr. Peak: We do want it solved, and you’re gonna do it.
Uniformed Officer: Sir, I’m not a detective. I’m just here to get some basic information until one is assigned. They will be asking more in-depth questions.
Mr. Peak: In-deph [sic] questions, like what?
Uniformed Officer: Uhh...um. They’ll ask you whether you had any enemies, or if there was a recent disagreement, or if anyone had access to your place. The answers you give me now will determine the detective’s line of questioning later on. I mostly need to know what was taken, and whether anyone was hurt.
Mr. Peak: Well, I can answer the other questions right here.
Uniformed Officer: Sir—
Mr. Peak: The Valley family down the street has always had it out for us. Ever since my daughter broke up with theirs, we’ve had issues with them.
Peak Daughter: I didn’t break up with her. It was mutual.
Madam Peak: It’s never mutual, honey.
Uniformed Officer: I really don’t need any of this information. Please, just tell me what you saw, and what was taken from the house.
Mr. Peak: Now, Mr. Valley and I have had our own issues. His Christmas lights last year were far too bright. It’s light pollution, ya know. So I go over there, and he’s already pissed, because I guess he lost his job, or something. I go over there, and he’s like, you don’t tell me what to do with my lights! I’m tryin’ to remain calm—I’m a level-headed fellow, you can ask anyone; those charges are bullcrap—
Peak Daughter: You tell her, daddy!
Uniformed Officer: I don’t care about any of this. Here’s where we stand right now. You have three choices. You can start cooperating, and tell me what happened, so we can proceed with the investigation. Second, you can keep quiet, and I’ll walk away like nothing happened. I’ll write this whole thing up as a mistake, and no one will contact you about it again. Or third, you can keep treating this situation with disrespect, I can report that you called nine-one-one fraudulently, and you will be charged with filing a false report. What do you want to do? Do you want to answer my questions, or do you want to give me trouble?
Madam Peak: ...
Mr. Peak: Well, go on, wife. Tell the nice lady about your creepy dolls.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Microstory 1331: Charitable Foundation

Lottery Winner: Thank you for calling in one last time. My friend told me to refer to this a suitability interview, so I don’t look like a jerk for making you interview more than once, but the truth is that I don’t really know what the hell I’m doing, and there were some things I forgot to ask you before.
Assistant Candidate: It’s no problem. I’m happy to answer anything.
Lottery Winner: Okay, great. I’ll make this as quick and painless as possible. After I won the lottery, everyone had a lot of ideas about how I could spend the money. If they weren’t asking for me to just give it to them, they were suggesting I buy a theme park, or a sports team, or a giant mansion. Of course, a lot of people said I ought to just donate it to charity, which is the obvious answer here, and why I placed the job posting. At first, I figured I would need help from an assistant who could field donation requests, and research the most reputable ones. I don’t want to give to a front for a terrorist organization, or to someone who’s embezzling it. The more I’ve thought about this, the more I’ve realized that this won’t be enough. I have eighty-three million dollars right now, and when I run out of that, then it’s gone. Most would say that’s no big deal, but I want to maximize my donations, and the amount of time I can do it. I don’t just want to give the money away. I want to set up a charitable foundation, so it can keep going, even after the initial money is gone; even after I’m gone.
Assistant Candidate: Oh, that’s a nice idea, I like that.
Lottery Winner: I’m glad to hear it, because once I decided to do this, I remembered your name. There were a lot of great candidates for this position, and honestly, I wasn’t too worried about who I chose before. I was mostly concerned with finding someone who wasn’t going to steal from me, or exploit my generosity. But it says here you’ve actually worked for a number of nonprofits.
Assistant Candidate: I have, yes.
Lottery Winner: What did you do for them?
Assistant Candidate: Well, I’ve done a lot of volunteer work here and there. I sorted thrift store donations, helped build houses, and cleaned up parks. I imagine that’s not what you’re asking about, though. You’re wondering about the administrative side, and I do have a little bit of experience with that. I’m an editor by trade, so I worked in two paid positions, editing grant proposals. The key to remember there is that I was an editor; not a writer. A lot of letters came across my desk, but I never had to be the one to write one from scratch, and I haven’t done anything else in administration.
Lottery Winner: I think that would be okay. I’m not looking for the best. I’m looking for someone flexible, who is willing to accept my mistakes, as well as their own, and try to get better.
Assistant Candidate: I can be flexible. I think I would be very happy in a job where I help you figure things out.
Lottery Winner: That would be amazing.
Assistant Candidate: I would have one suggestion, though.
Lottery Winner: You have a charity in mind?
Assistant Candidate: Oh no, nothing like that. If you don’t have any experience, and you’re going to hire me—who also isn’t all that experienced—then you might want to think about hiring some kind of lawyer next. That’s the trickiest thing when it comes to this. You hear a lot about white collar criminals who steal from their unsuspecting clients, but I bet there are some who just didn’t realize they were doing something illegal. Compliance is boring, but it’s important.
Lottery Winner: Yeah, that’s a good point. I could easily fall into that category. Why don’t you come in tomorrow? We’ll discuss how to find a lawyer for such a thing, as well as other things, like your salary.
Assistant Candidate: Cool, thanks.
Lottery Winner: Thank you.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: December 9, 2277

The new Cassidy cuffs that Ramses made for them didn’t seem to work as they were meant to. It was unclear at first exactly what went wrong. All Mateo knew was that the six of them were sitting in a room together in 2276 when midnight struck, and when he returned to the timestream a year later, he was alone. Not even Leona seemed to have made it through. The old Mateo would have freaked out at this point, but he developed a sense of clarity after he was brought back from total nonexistence two months ago. Things became even clearer after he was brought back from death three weeks ago, and this all came to a head when he witnessed his own funeral five days ago. Leona wasn’t dead; the powers that be wouldn’t have let that happen. She might have been thrown off her pattern temporarily, or accidentally teleported somewhere else, but she wasn’t gone for good. He could figure this out, but only as long as he stayed calm. He lifted his arm, and started looking through the data on his cuff.
Ramses said that he was giving him the primary cuff, which gave him some level of control over the others. He could evidently take everyone’s powers away, or geotag them to a certain location, or any number of things. That was probably best on the wrist of someone intelligent, like Leona, or experienced, like Nerakali. They had spent yesterday on a sort of break. He couldn’t call it a party, per se, but they weren’t allowed to discuss business either. All of them had recently experienced Mateo’s memorial services, so this was a celebration of his life, but with less focus on him. They just forgot about Mateo’s special status as the one in control. Perhaps that was why he was the only one who made the jump. The problem now was that he didn’t know where the others were. There had to be some kind of way of tracking his friends through the cuffs, if not a way to teleport directly to them.
He wasn’t much into manuals, so he just started tapping through menus, hoping to find something that could help. His efforts were not wasted as he soon found precisely what he was looking for. The cuffs were still connected to each other in terms of the passage of time. Three minutes had passed for Mateo since midnight central, and the system indicated the same went for everyone else. The bad news was not only were none of them in the present day, but they weren’t even in the same moment in time. The cuffs, for whatever reason, scattered them all throughout time and space. There was a time map, which told him both when and where they were. It didn’t say what they were going through while they were there, however, so Mateo had a decision to make. Who was in most need of rescuing, and more importantly, was he competent enough to do it? Nerakali. He wanted to save Leona first, but that was an impractical choice. Time travel was Nerakali’s arena. The responsible thing to do was to get to her first. He was also curious to find out why she was in March 21, 2014, because that was the day Mateo first started traveling through time.

When Mateo arrived in the past, he saw two different versions of Nerakali. They were arguing with each other, and he couldn’t tell which was which. The other one was presumably from the past, rather than the future, so he decided to call her Past!Nerakali.
“What the hell is he doing here?” Yes, that was almost certainly Past!Nerakali, the one wearing a blue shirt.
The other one looked back at him. “What year are you from?” she asked.
“I’m from when you would expect; 2277. What happened to you?”
“I don’t know,” Present!Nerakali spat. “I can’t jump through time. And this bitch won’t give me a ride.”
“Past!Nerakali,” Mateo began like the father of both of them, “why won’t you give your alternate self a ride to the future?”
“Why the hell would I help her?” Past!Nerakali questioned. “I’m just tryin’ to get back home. If she’s here, it means whatever I try doesn’t work, and I don’t want to encourage her to exist.”
“Going back to The Gallery is impossible,” Present!Nerakali explained. “You know this. You wouldn’t exist if it were possible, because then dad would have hunted the original Gallery workers down, and forced them back.”
“No,” Past!Nerakali said in denial. “There’s a way. There has to be a way. There’s always a loophole.”
Present!Nerakali shook her head. “There’s not. The moment the Gallery doors are opened is locked in time. Not even The Arborist can get to it. Believe me, I’ve tried. You’re a baby, but I’ve been down in this dimension for centuries, and I have tried everything.”
“Is this the day you fell from the Gallery?” Mateo asked.
“Yes,” the Nerakalis replied in unison.
“Is that a coincidence?” he asked. “The date, I mean.”
Present!Nerakali seemed to know what he was asking. Was it somehow connected to him? “It’s not a coincidence, but only inasmuch as the powers that be like to make important things happen separately, but at the same time. Our fall has nothing to do with you directly.
Mateo nodded. “I have to get you back to the future, so you can help me get the others.”
“Can you do that?” Present!Nerakali asked him.
“I’m here, ain’t I? My cuff still works.”
“What are those things?” Past!Nerakali asked. She clearly felt entitled to an answer.
Mateo ignored the question. “Do you want her to remember that this happened?” he asked Present!Nerakali.
I don’t remember it.”
“I guess we have to erase her memories then.”
“She doesn’t have powers,” Past!Nerakali threw at them, pretty proud of herself. “So she can’t erase jackshit.”
He released an evil grin. “I have her powers. I can erase them.”

Per Nerakali’s suggestion, he left her in 2277 when he went off to retrieve Leona on June 30, 2027. She suspected everyone had been transported to defining moments in their own lives, and it was best to limit the number of people who were involved in those fragile moments. He found himself in a hospital, but not just any hospital. He had been here before. After he broke Horace Reaver out of Beaver Haven Penitentiary, he brought him to this place to show him how his goodness had inspired a former villain to become a better person. She had just donated her kidney to save a younger Leona’s life. Mateo looked back at the time listed on his cuff. His own past self would be arriving in a few minutes. They had to get out of here to avoid altering the timeline too much. Rule number four; avoid alternate versions of yourself.
He walked down the hallway, and stepped into Jesimula Utkin’s recovery room. Leona was sitting in a chair next to Jesi’s bed. They were holding hands.
“Oh, hey,” Leona said. “Could you give us a little bit? I know I need to go back to the future, but I was hoping to get to know my donor a little better.”
Mateo looked at his cuff agan. “I’m afraid we’re out of time. Past!Me and Ace Reaver are going to be here any minute.”
“Ace?” Leona asked. “Not Horace.”
He shook his head. “He doesn’t have his brain blended yet.”
Leona frowned, and looked back at Jesi. “I just...there’s so much I needed to tell you. I mean, all this time traveling, this might be the only time we ever cross paths. What can I do? I can’t repay you, but there’s gotta be something I can do for you.”
Jesi smiled kindly. “There’s one thing that will help make up for the loss of my kidney.”
“Name it.”
“It has to be in the next two minutes,” Mateo warned them reluctantly.
“I can walk that fast,” Jesi said as she pressed the button to lift the head of her bed up. “It would mean the world to me if you helped me get on the toilet.”
Leona hesitated for a moment, not because she didn’t want to do it, but because it would only be a small gesture, and she wanted to do something grand. She recognized the time constraint, though, and knew this was the best they were probably going to get. She helped Jesi walk over to the bathroom, and sit down. And that was it. The two of them jumped back to the future just as Mateo saw his past self heading towards them from down the hallway, Ace in tow.
Mateo found Present!Ramses sitting next to his own past self at a skatepark. His eyes were closed, and he was pinching the bridge of his nose. “Oh my God, you are not getting this.”
“No, I get it. You betrayed our people,” Past!Ramses argued.
“No, I didn’t! You get new people! Better people!”
“All right,” Mateo tried to mediate again. “There’s no need to yell.”
“Who’s this guy?” Past!Ramses questioned.
“You don’t need to know that, because I’m going to erase your memories anyway,” Mateo explained.
Present!Ramses stood up quickly. “No, don’t do that. I’m trying to get through to him.”
“You can’t,” Mateo said to him apologetically. “Everything you went through for us to become friends, and everything you did for me after that, he deserves to go on that same journey.”
“What the hell journey are you talking about?” Past!Ramses asked rhetorically, because he didn’t care about either of them.
“I know you wanna change things,” Mateo said to Present!Ramses. “I know you regret how long it took for you to see the error of your ways. You can’t change the past, though. I mean, you can—we’ve seen it—but you shouldn’t. It’s been too long, and you’ve seen too much. No one can see the variables, and predict what will change about the timeline.”
“What if this saves your life? What if Briar never kills you, because Leona changes her plans, and they just straight up never meet each other, all because I was a better person before I met Étude and Vitalie?”
“My death is predestined. It can’t be changed, no matter what you do. You know this as well.”
“If I can’t make myself a better person, then what am I doing here?” Present!Ramses asked.
“It’s a glitch; one which you will repair when we get back all the others. You’re not here for any reason at all.”
Ramses kept his angry face on as he absorbed what Mateo was trying to tell him. Then he looked at his arm, and over at his past self. “That’s bullshit. If I can’t change everything, then I’m at least gonna change one thing. Go ahead and erase this asshole’s memories, but you can’t erase this!” He reached into his pocket, and pulled out a little pocket knife. Before anyone could stop him, he dragged the blade across Past!Ramses’ arm. It wasn’t enough to kill him, but he cut real deep. As he was doing so, a painful scar appeared on Present!Ramses’ arm, in the exact same place. As Past!Ramses was pulling off his shirt to apply pressure to his arm, Present!Ramses was holding his own scar. Even though it was many, many years old for him, the pain still looked like it felt new. He breathed in, and tried to move past it. “I guess now I finally know where I got this scar.”
Mateo helped Past!Ramses by tying the shirt off, so it would stay in place on its own. He then did his duty by erasing his memories, so Ramses would literally never see this moment coming. “We’ll talk about this later, he said to him as he was taking him by the arm.”

They went back to 2277 together. Mateo then went off to retrieve the remaining two members of their group. Both of them understood how causality, the butterfly effect, and paradoxes worked, so they came quickly and easily. When all was said and done, this was but a slight detour from their mission. It didn’t even take an hour of their time. They would still have plenty of time to discuss what they were going to do when J.B. returned tomorrow with Erlendr and Arcadia. It did inform their plan, though. The cuffs were obviously far from perfect. A few glitches had reared their heads since they started wearing them; enough to cause significant concern. The point was that, if this could happen to them, it could happen to the other three too. They could move forward with no plan until they made sure nothing else would go wrong with them. They were less worried about the glitches themselves than they were scared of how the Prestons were going to exploit any vulnerability they discovered, and how pissed they were that anyone tried to corral them. There was only one person who could help them now. They had to find the cuff’s inventor, Holly Blue.

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. The Prestons would still be around for about eighty days out of the year, but they couldn’t go anywhere if J.B. didn’t let them, and that would have to be good enough for now. This could all blow up in their face later, but Mateo chose to be optimistic. 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 Commision. 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.
“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 portals 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?”