Thursday, April 30, 2020

Microstory 1354: Division (Part 1)

Magnate Representative: Thank you all for coming in. We have some exciting things lined up for the next few years, and we wanted to get an idea of how some of our customers feel about what we’ve done so far. A little disclaimer, we chose you lot randomly. You have not necessarily spent more money on us than others. My department, in fact, does not have access to your purchase history. All we know is that you have bought at least one Magnate product or service. We also do not have access to customer complaints, or other routes for feedback. This is an entirely separate department. If you have voiced a concern about us in the past, however, and do not feel that the issue was resolved, please feel free to repeat it here. Does everyone understand?
Magnate Customers: [in unison] Yes.
Magnate Representative: Okay, to start us off, is everyone here aware that we sell products and services in the ten categories listed on this chart?
Magnate Customer 1: What exactly does Smart Solutions mean?
Magnate Representative: That is something we are going to talk about today. We’ve been picking up on some confusion regarding what that means, and would appreciate your input. Smart Solutions is our newest and broadest division. It encompasses everything from the materianet to renewable energy, to 3-D printing, to internet based cities.
Magnate Customer 2: Materianet?
Magnate Representative: It’s also known as the tangiblenet. We’re talkin’ non-screen internet-connected devices, like a refrigerator that tells you what you’ve run out of when you’re at the store, or even just a streaming security camera. Up until 2017, all divisions in this company have involved us getting into preexisting markets. We didn’t invent furniture, or toys, or cars. Smart Solutions is all about the future. Much of what that division does is determining what that future looks like, because right now, no one really knows.
Magnate Customer 3: Hm. Since it is so broad, maybe that is the best term for it, even if it causes a little confusion.
Magnate Customer 4: Maybe you could focus on marketing each department, since people already know what 3-D printing is, and all those other things. You can still use a term for the whole division, but that doesn’t have to be very client-facing.
Magnate Representative: Okay, okay. These are actually really good ideas. We’ve always advertised from the division down, but it doesn’t have to be like that. Let me take this note here.
Magnate Customer 5: Does the toy division include adult toys?
Magnate Representative: I’m sorry?
Magnate Customer 5: The toy division? Is it just for kids?
Magnate Representative: is, sir. We do not have an adult toy department. All our products are very family-friendly.
Magnate Customer 5: Well, I bought an axe from you guys last month. Would you call that family-friendly?
Magnate Representative: I suppose not. There’s a safety issue when it comes to some of our products, like tools and vehicles. The problem with adult toys is we wouldn’t be able to keep kids from even seeing that they exist, and they’re just not part of our business strategy.
Magnate Customer 3: Speaking of which, what’s this I hear about the toy division being shut down?
Magnate Representative: I have heard those rumors too. That comes from an unfortunately leaked email from a year ago that discusses our long-term plans. With the increasing demand for virtual entertainment, physical toys may not have a place in the future. Nothing has been decided, and won’t be for at least another five years; probably longer.
Magnate Customer 3: Well, my kid is still gonna be a kid in five years.
Magnate Representative: Again, we don’t know what we’re going to do. We’re just going to listen to the market, and give our customers what they want. If enough people are like you, we will continue to provide them with fun, wholesome entertainment, like our line of dress-up kits.
Magnate Customer 5: I thought your whole thing was knowing what the future holds. You called it Smart Solutions.
Magnate Representative: That’s true, I said that, but no amount of predicting can be a hundred percent accurate. We still have to be able to adapt to unforeseen changes. But what I’m hearing is that you want us to be a little more confident in our decisions. Is that a fair assessment?
Magnate Customer 5: I don’t really know what that means, but I guess.
Magnate Representative: Okay, we can work on that. Let’s circle back to Smart Solutions later. I would like to ask you a few questions about your feelings on musical instruments. It is our least profitable division, but as you may know, it carries sentimental value to Mr. Burke, because of his grandfather. What are your thoughts on that?

[To be continued...]

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Microstory 1353: Retirement

Celebrity Interviewer: I’m sitting here with famed method actor, Retiring Actor, and he’s here because he wants to share his thoughts on his upcoming retirement.
Retiring Actor: No, don’t spoil it, my dear, I haven’t announced the retirement yet. That’s what this interview is for.
Celebrity Interviewer: Of course, sorry. Let’s start again. [clears throat] I’m sitting here with famed method actor, Retiring Actor. I don’t know why.
Retiring Actor: [...]
Celebrity Interviewer: I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’m just nervous. Are we still rolling? Okay, one more time. I’m here with famed method actor, Retiring Actor. I’m going to get to the bottom of what he has in store for us. Now, Retiring Actor, tell me about this upcoming project you have. Has it already begun?
Retiring Actor: We just wrapped filming last week.
Celebrity Interviewer: What is it about?
Retiring Actor: It is about a man’s journey into his own soul, combining the profound volatility of life itself, and the ethereal nature of death, as seen through a lens of both despair and industrialization.
Celebrity Interviewer: Sure. And when is it released?
Retiring Actor: It will be coming out in two years. They think they’ll need me to go back in later for reshoots, but after that, I’m done.
Celebrity Interviewer: Done, as in done with the project, or done in the industry?
Retiring Actor: Both. You see, Celebrity Interviewer, I am announcing my retirement. This will be my very last film.
Celebrity Interviewer: Oh, no, why?
Retiring Actor: Well, you see, Celebrity Interviewer, I’ve done what I set out to do. I made beautiful art. I didn’t contaminate myself with garbage, or stoop to a lower level. I only chose the very best projects, and I believe even then, there are a finite number of those any one man is possible of creating.
Celebrity Interviewer: Oh, interesting. It says here this will be your fifteenth credit. Does that sound right?
Retiring Actor: Oh, it sounds perfect. Fifteen is the absolute best number. I only create one masterpiece every three years. That gives my adoring fans enough time to really sit with the work, contemplate its meaning, and then prepare for the next one. I don’t want to overwhelm them with too much of me at once. Some people have dozens, or even over a hundred, credits and they’re barely halfway through their careers. That is not me. I suppose you could say I’m more thoughtful and discerning than that.
Celebrity Interviewer: Yes, I do not believe anyone would categorize your performances as overwhelming, so very good for you; very good indeed.
Retiring Actor: Yes.
Celebrity Interviewer: So, what will you be doing, now that you’re retired?
Retiring Actor: I won’t be doing anything. No more acting, no more appearances.
Celebrity Interviewer: Right, but a lot of retired people take up knitting, or birdwatching, or something. Are there any hobbies you never had time for before?
Retiring Actor: I don’t understand the question.
Celebrity Interviewer: Okay, well. Thanks for asking for this interview. Unless there’s anything else you would like to say to your fans.
Retiring Actor: What? Cut, cut! I did not request this interview.
Celebrity Interviewer: No, sir. Of course you didn’t. That’s my mistake.
Retiring Actor: You there! You’re going to edit that part out of the interview. I won’t have my fans thinking I can’t get an interview unless I ask for it myself.
Celebrity Interviewer: Please don’t talk to him. You talk to me.
Retiring Actor: This is an outrage.
Celebrity Interviewer: I think we have everything we need.
Retiring Actor: Are you still filming? You better not. This better not end up on the YouTunes, or you’ll be hearing from my lawyer.
Celebrity Interviewer: All right, sir. Thank you very much for coming in, whosever idea it was.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Microstory 1352: Recruited

Supposed Agent: Ah, we are almost done here, and you’ll be ready to start working for us. This is to make sure you’re worthy of security clearance.
Agency Recruit: Where are we?
Supposed Agent: This is where you’ll be working most of the time. There may be occasions where you’ll be needed in the field, but that requires a lot of further training, so we’re going to keep you behind a desk for now.
Agency Recruit: That’s fine with me, I’m just a math professor. This...feels off, though.
Supposed Agent: How so?
Agency Recruit: This has felt off the whole time. The point of the CIA and NSA is that there is some way to verify that you’re working for a legitimate organization. You can go to a giant building in Langley, and be processed through security. This is just a mostly empty office building. How do I know this isn’t some version of SD-6?
Supposed Agent: I don’t know what that is.
Agency Recruit: It’s a fictional agency from a TV show. Most of the agents thought they were working for the government, but it was all a lie. They were criminals. How am I meant to know if this is even real?
Supposed Agent: I assure you that this is a legitimate organization.
Agency Recruit: But how would I know?
Supposed Agent: Ha, who’s asking the questions here?
Agency Recruit: I am. Is the CIA aware of your existence?
Supposed Agent: They are. We work with them in certain situations.
Agency Recruit: So, there’s a way to verify you through them?
Supposed Agent: I’m not sure how that would work.
Agency Recruit: So you just expect me to trust you?
Supposed Agent: You will be getting a badge. You will be given government credentials, and a government-issued service weapon. Just look at this place. We have a secret entrance through the mail boxes, and everything. Well, I know you haven’t seen everything, but would anyone have the resources to fake this?
Agency Recruit: Fake it like for a scam? Well, yeah, maybe, but that’s not the concern. You could be a mercenary company, or a terrorist cell, or a competing agency operating on foreign soil.
Supposed Agent: This is why we need you, Agency Recruit. You don’t accept everything you see. You question everything. You will be a huge asset to us, and your country.
Agency Recruit: Someone should know about you. Someone at the CIA or FBI can find out whether this is real or not. Before I even think about trying to pass your clearance test, you’re gonna have to pass mine. The knowledge I have cannot be given away to just anyone.
Supposed Agent: I can’t let you do that. You already know where our base of operations is. We cannot let that information out of here. You can either keep walking up to the second floor, or go down to the basement.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Microstory 1351: Overqualified

Cemetery Services Supervisor: Good afternoon, sir. Can I help you find someone? We have a new system that can locate any grave for you, but it’s up in the main office.
Overqualified Executive: No, I’m here for an interview for the Cemetery Services Specialist job. I haven’t heard back, so I figured I would be proactive, and just swing by. I hope that’s okay.
Cemetery Supervisor: I thought that was a joke.
Executive: I’m sorry?
Cemetery Supervisor: I figured you sent in your résumé because you lost some bet you made with your fellow billionaires, or something.
Executive: Uh, no bet. And I’m not a billionaire.
Cemetery Supervisor: You’re rich, though, ain’t ya?
Executive: I’m rich, yes, but I’m completely serious about this position.
Cemetery Supervisor: I don’t think I have to tell you that you are profoundly overqualified for this job.
Executive: I understand that, but believe it or not, I’ve wanted to be a cemetery worker since I was a kid. Being around nature, working with my hands, making sure people have a safe and peaceful place to go to visit their loved ones. I’ve always felt that sounded so rewarding. Of course, my parents would have none of it. They had a lot of ambition for my life, and before I knew it, I was the executive of a multi-million dollar company. I was never really happy, though, and when I looked at my accounts a couple months ago, I realized I had no reason to stay. I gave that place twenty years, and nearly all of it was in the top position, so I have more than enough money to live off of for the rest of my life. All that job did was stress me out, so now it’s time to pursue my dream.
Cemetery Supervisor: This isn’t easy work. I hardly believe it was ever your dream.
Executive: I know it’s not easy, but I hear it’s not stressful, as long as you can handle watching other people’s heartbreak, which I think I can. I’m very empathetic, and I’m sick of taking my work home with me. I want to come in every day, help people through the hardest times in their lives in my own way, then go home.
Cemetery Supervisor: You don’t think you may be taking a job away from someone who really needs it; whose rich father didn’t make them go to college and such?
Executive: ...I’ll work for free. You can set up a volunteer program.
Cemetery Supervisor: Well, that’s this whole legal thing we would have to figure out. The boss would be the only one on hand who would have any clue how to maneuver something like that, if anyone. Right now, I can already see a problem, though. You’re still taking a job from someone, because if we have you to do the work, regardless of what we pay you—or do not pay you—we still wouldn’t need to hire anyone else.
Executive: I understand. I don’t want to make anyone’s life harder; that’s counterproductive to my goals. I’m sorry to have wasted your time.
Cemetery Supervisor: Now, hold on. Just because we can’t help you, doesn’t mean you can’t realize your goals. Are you still workin’ at the corporation?
Executive: I gave them two month’s notice. Jobs like that require a little more time to find a replacement. My tasks are being completed by others, though. I haven’t gone into the office in over a week.
Cemetery Supervisor: If you’re really serious about making a change in your life, then do it. Use your money to make a difference, instead of ignoring it. People will always die, and they will always want to be remembered. There’s more than enough room in the industry for you to start your own funeral home. That way, you can do however much of the day-to-day work you want.
Executive: Hm. That’s not a bad idea.
Cemetery Supervisor: Glad I could help. In the meantime, I suppose I could let you shadow me for a day. I’m sure that won’t cause us any legal problems, and it’ll get you some real experience.
Executive: I sure appreciate it.
Cemetery Supervisor: Well, go on; pick up that shovel. We’re gonna plant a nice shade tree right here. I already started the hole for ya.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: March 21, 2015

Something happened to Mateo’s mind when he went through the homeportal. He found himself in the middle of the cemetery he used to frequent with his friends. It was where he was for his birthday celebration in 2014 when he first started traveling through time. It worked. Holly Blue’s invention had worked, sending him all the way back to this moment. He didn’t know if this was his current timeline, or the one he had first come from. The former would put everyone he loved in danger, but the latter would separate him from all those people too, so it was a tradeoff. Or maybe it wasn’t an issue at all. His brain felt clear of all invaders. Only his own thoughts seemed to be present. Hopefully that meant that the event horizon of the portal mirror stripped him of his psychic stoways, sending them both into oblivion, instead of just leaving them back in 1993. Mateo took a deep breath and enjoyed his one moment of solace, certain that it wouldn’t last forever. He was so right about that.
“Hey,” came a voice behind him. It wasn’t The Gravedigger, Mr. Halifax. It wasn’t anyone he knew, or maybe it was indeed someone he knew, but he couldn’t recognize them, because he was all covered up. He looked like a superhero.
The superhero stared at him for a moment. He was presumably studying him, but there was no way to know without being able to see his eyes. “Are you Mateo Matic?”
No point in lying. “Yes.”
“Really?” He didn’t sound convinced, like maybe it was a trick question, and Mateo was missing a key detail.
“Well, technically I hail from a reality that no longer exists, and my father is no longer my father, so... Maybe I’m not really a Matic anymore.”
“Are you still being possessed by the Prestons?”
He wanted to answer in the affirmative, but he didn’t realize they were knocking around in his brain until they revealed themselves, so he could make no guarantees they were gone now. “It’s possible.” He pointed to where he had just exited from the homeportal, which was no longer there. “I feel a lot better than I did before I came through the mirror, but maybe they’re just hiding in my subconscious, or something.”
“I appreciate the honesty.”
Mateo nodded. This was the superhero’s conversation. He wasn’t going to speak unless spoken to.
“Aren’t you curious who I am?”
Oo, a game. Well, the implication here was that it was someone he knew, or at least knew off. There were a lot of options, and it might have been easier to go through the process of elimination with his notepad, which he had left in 1993. Still, there were many people it couldn’t, or likely wouldn’t, be. He sounded male, but that might be a misdirect, or they didn’t adhere to traditional gender identity. No, this wasn’t the way to go. He needed to induce a guess, rather than deduce one, because there were just too many possibilities. Whose future did he know nothing about? Who did he know who might have grown up to become a superhero. Grown up, that’s it. This guy is a grownup, but he wasn’t always. He sounded about mid-twenties? He knew someone who should be such an age in 2014. “Declan Aberdeen?”
The superhero pulled off his mask. “Holy shit, is it that obvious?”
“I was right?” Damn, he was proud of himself.
“I didn’t think you knew me in the future,” Older!Declan said.
“I didn’t; I don’t. The first I heard of you was when we met in 1992, and I came straight here through the mirror. I really did just guess. I think your secret identity is generally safe.”
Declan removed his wetsuit hood, and stretched his neck. “I don’t know that I really need a secret identity. I mean, my mother’s a time traveler who always has an exit strategy, and I don’t care about anyone else, except for Bo, but she can take care of herself.”
Mateo kept nodding as if Declan were still talking. “Are you talking about Bozhena Horvatinčić?”
“Jesus. Everyone said you were an idiot, but you are just...”
Oh no. His face literally fell into a frown. Things weren’t as great as he thought. “Do you have—?” He sighed.
“Do I have what? Are you about to guess my credit card number?”
“Do you have, like, some gizmo that kills psychic invaders, or incapacitates them, or at least protects you from them?”
“Well, you just said it yourself, I’m an idiot. I don’t feel like one right now. I don’t feel like an entirely different person, but I don’t feel like me either. I think the Prestons are still in here.”
Declan started tapping on the cuff around his wrist.
“Whose powers does that give you?” Mateo asked.
“No one’s,” Declan answered. “It’s not a Cassidy cuff. It’s just a global teleporter. I’m taking you to a special jail.”
Declan took him by the arm, and activated his cuff.
They were suddenly in a basement that Mateo recognized. “This is the Fletcher House Bunker. Why are we here?”
“This isn’t Fletcher House yet,” he said as he was ushering him into a glass chamber in the middle of the floor. He was right. The bank vault door that was meant to lead to this section of the basement wasn’t there yet. It was just completely open. “It’s only 2015.”
“Fifteen?” Mateo asked. “It’s supposed to be March 21, 2014.”
“Yeah, mom was wondering about that. She spent a couple weeks trying to figure out why you didn’t show up when we expected you to. According to her research, in another timeline—the one just before yours, in fact—you were on a slightly different pattern. The first time you jumped through time was on your twenty-ninth birthday; not your twenty-eighth. Like she told you back in 1993, she never tested the homeportal, so her hypothesis was that it was a bit confused as to who you were, and where you belonged.”
“So now I’m one day off?” Mateo asked, kind of rhetorically. The old Mateo would be struggling to find the logic here, but Erlendr and Arcadia’s dormant minds were giving him an edge. The logic was just sitting there, waiting for him.
“Where’s Holly Blue now?”
“Living her life,” he explained. “She’s The Weaver; people need her. I don’t anymore.”
“Is she okay with you becoming a superhero? I mean, she obviously has to know. She built all your stuff, right?”
“She knew I was gonna do this anyway. I’ve been training with Darko Matic since I was a child. She designed my suit so that I would always be protected.”
“What’s your relationship with Slipstream?”
“Is this you asking, or the Prestons in your brain?”
“Oh, that’s a good question. I feel like it’s me, but...I suppose there’s no way to know. What I really want to ask is what happened to Leona, and our friends, but I definitely don’t want my stowaways to also know that. Is there anything you can do? Can you extract them?”
Declan sighed. “Mom built something for that, but...there’s a catch.”
“She can’t, like, just make their consciousnesses evaporate. She tried, but that seems to be a technological impossibility. As you know, if she can’t invent something, it can’t be invented.”
“So the Prestons would need a new host, or hosts.”
“Yeah, and then we could trap ‘em in here, and kill ‘em. So someone would have to be sacrificed.”
Mateo nodded for a long time again. “Okay. Go for it.”
“What? I don’t have a host available. I said that she invented it; not that we’re gonna use it. That would be wrong.”
“I agree, which is why you’re not even gonna bother digging it out of storage. I’ll be the sacrifice.”
“You want me to kill you?”
“No, I want you to kill them. I’m just collateral damage.”
“I don’t kill, Mateo. Who do I look like, Oliver Queen?”
“Yeah, a little bit.”
He was taken aback. “That’s one of the nicest things anyone’s ever said to me.”
“Well, we could find someone with fewer reservations about killing. What about Kallias Bran. He lives in this time period, doesn’t he? He’s a cop, so I’m sure he’s killed before.”
“I don’t know who you’re talking about. It wouldn’t matter anyway. I’m not afraid to kill someone myself. I don’t want to be responsible for someone’s death, so asking someone else to do it is only negligibly better.”
“I understand,” Mateo said honestly. “We can’t keep me in here forever, though. The Fletchers are scheduled to move here in four years.”
He sighed deeply. “Yeah, I know. This was always going to be a temporary solution. The contingency is zoicizing you.”
“Well, you should probably do that, if you think it’ll work, because I don’t know what that means, but I do know what that means, because the Prestons know what that means, so they’re definitely still in here somewhere.”
“Zoicization would only work if we were certain you wouldn’t be able to escape prehistoric times. Your body is still salmon, regardless of who’s inhabiting it, and the powers that be may just bring you back to the future.”
“Yeah, that happened in the other timeline when my once-father saved me, and took me back to dinosaur times. At the end of the day, I just went straight back to my regular pattern. It hasn’t been the case recently, though. I mean, several years ago, I spent a week on Dardius after my own funeral. Then I jumped from ’92 to ’93, instead of going back to 2280. The rules have never been consistent. The powers that be are just making this up as they go along.”
Declan consulted his wristband. “We’re approaching midnight. I’ll still own this house next year. We’ll discuss options then.” He admired his mother’s power dampening chamber. “You’re not going anywhere, and neither are your stowaways.” He started to walk away.
“Hey, thank you. I’m glad someone was waiting for me on the other side of the portal; someone who appreciates what needs to be done to protect others from what I might do to them.”
He nodded once, then walked away.
Arcadia appeared on the other side of the chamber, back up against the glass. No, she didn’t appear so much as it was like she was always there, but Mateo had just woken up to find her. He understood, though, that she wasn’t really there at all, but they were about to have a conversation, and this was the best way to do that.
“Hi,” he said politely.
“My dad’s pissed,” she told him.
“Dads usually like me.”
“I’m serious. This was not part of the plan. He didn’t have a contingency for this, and he never doesn’t have a contingency. He prides himself in always having twenty-five alternatives.”
“I bet. He didn’t take me into account. No one ever does. Being stupid does have its upsides.”
She shook her head. “I don’t think you’re stupid, Mateo. You don’t assume things. You’re always willing to listen to what the other person has to say. I mean when Declan showed up, looking menacing, you looked at him like it was normal. You didn’t antagonize him, or mock him, or question why he was the way he was. You immediately accepted him. That’s incredibly impressive, and no one gives you credit for that. I remember watching you before I fell from The Gallery. Even when you were so confused about what was happening to you, you never really let it get to you. You kept going, and trying to make the best of your new situation. That’s when I fell in love with you. It’s why I didn’t fight it when my father banished me from the only home I had ever known. I was excited to meet you, and people like you. I became a villain, because...”
“Because why?” Mateo prompted patiently.
“Because I didn’t find anyone else like you. That was a blow. That was hard to learn, and I never got over it. And I guess it turned me into the very thing I hated most about humans.”
“Why did you go back to him? Why are you working with Erlendr?”
She took a long time to respond. “I could say that he promised me he would undo my brother and sister’s deaths. I could claim that I just want to make a better reality. But the truth is that all you need to do to convince me to be on your be a Preston. If Zeferino showed up tomorrow with a new evil plan, I would switch sides again. I’m just not good on my own.”
Mateo wanted Arcadia to see that she hadn’t been wrong about him. He stepped over, and lifted her from the floor. This wasn’t really happening, but it felt real to both of them. He took her into a psychic hug. “You don’t need a Preston to not be alone.”
“That’s sweet,” came a voice from outside the glass chamber.
They released each other, and looked out to find Leona. She was wearing round steampunk goggles. Can you see me?” Arcadia asked.
“HG Goggles. They let me see things like this, yes.”
“I’m sorry, Leona.”
“I am too,” Arcadia added sincerely.
“I understand what’s wrong with you now.” She reached into her bag and pulled out the Insulator of Life. “So let’s fix it.”

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Firestorm: Orson Olsen (Part V)

Two years ago, I witnessed a miracle. Well, there were actually three miracles in one day. I watched a girl appear out of nowhere, standing on a stump in my yard. Her arms were stretched wide, and a halo shined from above her head. Hours later, I ran into that girl again, though she did not seem to know who I was. I watched her disappear again, and realized she was a time traveler, who needed my help to save her friends. I saw my angel a third time later that day, and before she disappeared one last time, she gave me a mandate. I am to worship time. That is the one true God, and I’m embarrassed I didn’t realize it before. I used to follow an imaginary flying spaghetti monster, because I was indoctrinated into it from birth. But now I see the truth. Time is real; it’s abstract, and impossible to hold in your hand, which makes it magnificent, but it undeniably exists. If that’s not God, then God cannot exist.
I realized I had to spread the word. Most of my brothers and sisters in the church would not be swayed. They did not witness the Trinity Miracle, like I did. There were others, however, that I knew I would be able to convince. My mother was always worried people would leave the church, and she taught me to spot these people, so I could help bring them back from the brink of damnation. No matter what I did, though, they retained their doubts; they just learned to hide it better. Fortunately, my memory is totally fine, so I had this excellent list of people who would be willing to hear the true word. I started out slowly—very slowly. I knew that my best friend would believe me without question. It was he who discovered a magician in the area who might be what we were looking for. He was right. This guy had real powers to move things from one hand to the other. They weren’t very impressive, but they were enough to convince my church’s doubters. I brought them to the shows one by one, never giving away that we knew each other. They saw for themselves that time travel was real, and our movement grew. This was not the magician’s only purpose. I knew he would know others like him, so we watched him for weeks, like secret agents. He ate at the same restaurant almost every single day, and every time he showed up, he was surprised, as if the restaurant was attracting him against his will.
My friend and I realized the restaurant was more special than the man, so we switched gears, and started to investigate them instead. Through a complex series of timing the employees, and watching certain customers being led through the kitchen, we determined there was a whole world in the back we couldn’t see from here. We started watching the whole building, and could tell that there were some strange goingson that people like us weren’t allowed to see. We have to see the miracles, though. My people deserve the truth, and I am the only one who can show it to them. I’ve been coming here ever since, waiting for someone in there to notice, and here he comes. My plan has worked. I’m about to be read in.
“Detective Bran,” the man says, showing me his badge. It’s not the first FBI agent I’ve met, but that’s a different story. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m sorry, have I been loitering?”
“What are you writing in there, your manifesto?” he asks me.
My notebook. “Oh, heavens no. This is the good book.”
“You’re rewriting the bible?”
“I’m writing the real bible.”
“Hmm,” is all he can say.
“What are your abilities?” I’m pretty good at playing it cool, but I can tell there’s something different about this guy. Security has been coming by nearly every day to get me to leave, but they’re just regular people. I can smell the power coming off of him. Perhaps I’m one of them. Perhaps my ability is to sense other abilities.
“Well, I’m a good marksman, and a halfway decent investigator. My true strength lies in getting people to leave.”
“Please. You don’t have to lie to me. I don’t know exactly what you are, but I know that you’re special. I’m not going to hurt you. me in. Show me the light. I”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Agent Bran says. “This is private property, and it is time for you to leave.”
“I’ll leave, if you let me in...just once. Let me see what’s really in there—no illusions—and I’ll never bother you again.”
“Sir, this is a secure facility. I cannot let you in.”
“You think I’m going to believe that this is nothing more than a CIA blacksite? I’m not stupid. I saw through the windows. Dozens of people ran into that unit, right there.” I point to some kind of club. I never got a good look at the sign, so that’s the only word I could make out. “A minute later, they all came out. They looked different. I have a really good memory, and an eye for faces. People were wearing different clothes, and none of them looked like they had just ran inside, and came back out. Something happened in there, and I demand to know what it was.”
“It’s all right, Agent.” She’s come. She’s come to show me the light again.
“Paige, get back inside,” Agent Bran orders. “Who is he to talk to an angel like that?”
“Angel Paige,” I utter. “You’ve returned.”
“I have,” she says to me. “You wanna see the light. Then let’s go take a look. Let’s go back to the beginning, or near it, anyway.” She takes out her phone. “You ever been to New York?”
“Paige, don’t do this,” Bran pleads.
“The cat’s out of the bag,” she explains to him. “We can’t put it back, but we can domesticate it.” She shows me a picture of a house on a hill. It’s black and white and yellow, but I think the yellow is probably just because it’s really old. The edges are damaged, as if melted, but again, that’s probably due to the ravages of time. This is a very old photograph. “How about New York 1848?”
“Paige, no!” cries another voice, but I never get a chance to see who it is.
She takes me by the arm, and whisks me away. In seconds, we’re standing at the bottom of the hill in the photograph. For a second, a part of me wonders why it’s not still in black and white, but of course, that would be stupid. We’ve just traveled into the past. The angel has given me such an amazing gift. “Let’s take a walk.”
We walk along the fence for a few minutes as I patiently wait for her to say something else. I am in the presence of divinity, but I know she will be turned off if I act too enthusiastic about it. I just keep thinking about how incredible it is to be here, and how much she must trust me to show me this.
“Orson—can I call you Orson?”
“You can call me whatever you want, Angel Paige.”
“I’ll call you Orson, and you can just call me Paige, because I’m not an angel, and I think you know that.”
“Anything you want...Paige.”
“When we met, I was young, and still getting a handle on my abilities. I was desperate to help my friends, and that made me reckless. I showed you something that you were never meant to see. There are people in this world, and other worlds, with time powers. It’s not illegal for us to tell one or two people what we can do. We have to be able to trust our families, and our closest friends. It is a problem, however, if word spreads. So my question to you is, who the fuck do you think you are?”
“I’m sorry?”
“Do you need me to repeat myself? You’re just some random mormon who got a peek at something that wasn’t for him. What gives you the right to run around, showing a bunch of people magic tricks, and telling them what to worship? Do you think we want that? Do you think we want you exposing us? Do you think, maybe, there are consequences to this sort of thing? Do you think it’s possible that somebody built a prison, stuffed my best friend in it, and left her there to rot for a year? You can’t just go upending everything we’ve done to protect ourselves from the general public. Because you don’t matter, and it isn’t fair for you to assume all this responsibility.”
“I’m sorry, I meant no disrespect. You told me to worship time.”
“That was an off-handed comment. It wasn’t a real command. Jesus Christ.”
I don’t know what to say.
She takes a deep breath before continuing. “This prison isn’t designed for criminals. It’s only there to house those who risk outting us to the world. If you don’t stop what you’re doing, we’ll all go there, including you. You’re human, which affords you some special consideration, but that will only take you so far. If your cult gets any bigger, they’re gonna step in. I’m surprised they let it get this big.”
“I don’t know how to do that,” I say to her honestly. “It’s grown beyond my control. People saw the truth. They saw that magician.”
“People see magicians all the time, they don’t start worshiping them.”
“We don’t worship Delmar Dupont. He’s a lesser god, at best.”
“You need to explain to your flock that you were wrong. You need to get them to believe that...they shouldn’t believe.”
“That sounds impossible. I mean, I already pulled them from a church. Now you want me to tell them to go back? They would see right through that.”
“You’re the only one who saw what I could do, right?”
“You’re the only one who saw people run into Salmonday Club too.”
“Is that what it’s called? Yes, I was the only one there at the time. Like I was saying, though, the magician was enough. They watched carefully, and they listen to me.”
“They listen to you?”
“That’s not really what I mean,” I start to clarify. “They listened in the beginning, because they saw proof, and they needed an excuse to leave the church. That’s not gonna work a second time. I can reinforce what I’ve already told them, and they’ll still listen, but I can’t contradict myself.”
We keep walking as she thinks this over. “Why do they listen to you? Why did they agree to go to the magic show?”
“Magic doesn’t go against the church, because most of it is just sleight of hand and misdirection. They only started believing after what they saw, and because I told them it was real. We can’t undo that.”
“That’s the key, though. You told them it was real. They could have just as easily happened upon the venue, watched it on their own, and assumed it was an illusion, just like most people do.”
“Yeah, I guess.” I’m not sure where she’s going with this.
“If they stop believing in you, then they’ll stop believing in him, and if they don’t believe in him, then they don’t believe in time magic at all.”
“How would they stop believing in me?” I question.
“We have to discredit you.”
“What are you gonna do, like, doctor photos of me in bed with a man, or something? It’s 2027, they won’t like that, but it’s not enough anymore. I mean, it would be one thing if I preached sexual purity, but I don’t even mention that in my sermons. Their hang-ups would all be carryovers from their old lives.”
“No, I wouldn’t wanna do that anyway.”
Now I’m scared. I wouldn’t love that idea, but I would do it for her, even though I’m not gay. I’m afraid she’s about to suggest something really bad. “So...”
“It’s really bad, you’re not gonna like it.”
I suck it up in my own head, and say, “I’ll do anything for you.”
“That’s the problem, it can’t be you. At least, I don’t think it can. How long were you a member of that church in Independence?”
“I was part of Independence Temple my whole life, until you. Why?”
“That’s what I was worried about. I need the name of the newest member of your church who is also now a member of your...cult?”
“We don’t like that word, but...”
“But who?”
“But there’s no one. There’s no one like that.”
“Damn. If we had someone like that, we could discredit them instead. Bran could barge into your worshiphouse, and arrest him for fraud in three states, or something like that. Then we could convince them that he was the one in control of everything.”
“That’s terrible, Paige.” I guess she really isn’t an angel.
“I know. It was just my first idea.”
I sigh. “Well, you’re a time traveler, right?”
“Then let’s undo it. Take me back to 2025. Change the past. That’s possible, isn’t it?”
“I’ve seen it done, yes.”
“Okay. I’m ready.”

Friday, April 24, 2020

Microstory 1350: Advice

College Student: Thank you for meeting me. My name is College Student, and I’m interested in your program.
College Advisor: All right. Well, how many film classes have you already taken?
College Student: I took a screenwriting class, does that count?
College Advisor: That could count towards credit. You’re a junior, though?
College Student: Yes.
College Advisor: Well, let me take a look at your transcript.
College Student: Sure, here it is.
College Advisor: [...] Okay, so you have all of your core classes, so you’re well on track. It looks like you are a writing major now, is that correct?
College Student: Yes, I thought I liked it, and I do, but I’m having doubts about leaving school with that as my degree. I mean, I don’t feel like I wasted my time with all those courses, but when I’m applying for work, is that what I want them to see?
College Advisor: Well, what kind of work are you looking to apply for? This ain’t California.
College Student: I plan to move to California.
College Advisor: Well, Hollywood job hunting is a lot different than regular jobs. What did you want to actually do in the industry? Write?
College Student: Yes, I would still write, but I feel like I’ve gotten too much experience in other areas, like literature, and creative writing. I just want to look as good as I possibly can. So the classes will help. It’s just the major that I’m worried about. I’m really hoping to graduate in a year and a half, since I already have a place to live in L.A. lined up.
College Advisor: Okay, well Film Studies is not a blow-off program. It requires a minimum of sixty credit hours. Of course, that’s on top of the general education requirements, which it seems you already have. I don’t know them all by heart, so it’s possible you’re still missing one or two of those. Let’s do a little bit of math, and see if we can get this done in a year and a half. You would definitely need to take summer classes, and either way, your workload would be huge.
College Student: Okay, cool.
[transcript cut for relevance]
College Advisor: Okay, thanks, bye. [Hangs up phone.] Yeah, it looks like that history class doesn’t count for us, so with that included, you’ll need to take eighteen hours for three semesters, and three summer classes. We got lucky on those ones; they’re not offered every summer. And this is all assuming we can get you into a couple different classes this semester. I would have rather you asked me about this a few weeks ago. No matter what, we’re talking about a huge workload, and you can’t fail a single one. It’s technically feasible, but it leaves one major question.
College Student: Am I willing to commit to this change?
College Advisor: That’s right. Are you? You could graduate this coming summer with your current major, and all you would need to do is take one summer class.
College Student: That certainly sounds like the most rational choice. What would you do? I don’t know your personal history, but if you wanted to make it big in Hollywood, does all this matter?
College Advisor: Honestly, no. The degree, that is, doesn’t matter. The classes definitely do. It would still be tremendously helpful to your education to learn some of this stuff. When you go to Hollywood—and I’m not going to be one of those people who tells you that you probably won’t make it; your family can do that—they don’t care what your major was, or even if you have a degree. What I recommend you do is hold off on graduation, and take as many of these classes as you can, within reason. I wouldn’t bog yourself down with them; we can go over the most helpful ones. That way, you can stick to your current major, and be fine. How does that sound?
College Student: That’s not a bad idea. I suppose the education is more important than the diploma.
College Advisor: I would agree with that. Now, let’s talk about which classes someone in your position should take, and when.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Microstory 1349: Citizenship

Father Garcia: He’s coming here now. He skipped the Martins, just like he did the Wilsons. He was at the Washington’s, though.
Mother Garcia: That doesn’t mean anything, dear. Perhaps they filled out the Census online. That’s how it’s done these days. He has a satchel, he could be legit.
Father Garcia: How do you know he’s from the Census? He’s not wearing a uniform, or anything.
Mother Garcia: It’s hot, he’s probably allowed to wear whatever he wants.
Census Taker: Good afternoon, folks. My name is Census Taker, and I’m conducting census surveys for the 2020 census.
Father Garcia: Uhuh.
Census Taker: Are you, by any chance, Father Garcia?
Father Garcia: Maybe.
Mother Garcia: Don’t be rude. Yes, he is, and I’m Mother Garcia.
Census Taker: What are your ages?
Mother Garcia: I’m fifty-four, and my husband is thirty-eight.
Census Taker: Oh, that’s...
Father Garcia: That’s what?
Census Taker: Never mind. How many children do you have?
Father Garcia: We took the 2010 census. You should already know that we have more than zero, if you really are who you say you are.
Census Taker: We’ve been trained not to ask any leading questions. If I could just get a number, that would be great.
Father Garcia: Three; all over ten.
Census Taker: Great. And how many people are living in your household total, including yourselves?
Mother Garcia: Five.
Census Taker: Do you rent, or own, this property?
Father Garcia: We own it.
Census Taker: What are the genders of your children?
Father Garcia: What does that matter?
Census Taker: I don’t decide which questions go on the survey, sir. I’m just doing my job.
Mother Garcia: It’s okay. One boy, one girl, and one nonbinary.
Census Taker: Umm, what was your third child’s sex at birth.
Mother Garcia: I’m not answering that.
Census Taker: All right, fine. Their ages, in the same order, please.
Mother Garcia: Fifteen, seventeen, and twelve.
Census Taker: Are you of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin?
Father Garcia: Yes, all of those things.
Census Taker: Okay...
Father Garcia: Are we almost done here?
Census Taker: Almost, sir. How long have you lived in this country?
Father Garcia: We already gave you our ages.
Census Taker: That’s not what I asked.
Mother Garcia: Don’t get mad.
Father Garcia: Don’t get mad? Don’t get mad! I am mad. I need to see some official identification.
Census Taker: Sure, here ya go.
Father Garcia: No, don’t just flash it in my face. Hold still, so I can actually look at it.
Census Taker: Are you a legal citizen of the United States of America?
Mother Garcia: Get out, get off of our property right now!
Father Garcia: We read the news; you’re not allowed to ask us that question. Who are you? What the hell are you doing here?
Fake Census Taker: You come over to our country—I don’t give a crap if you’re second generation, or dreamers, of whatever—you come over here, and you take our jobs, and you live off of welfare and social security, which we pay into, and you don’t contribute anything!
Mother Garcia: Hey, idiot. Undocumented citizens with jobs do pay social security. The government takes it out of their paycheck every period. But since they don’t have real social security numbers, they don’t get any payments out when they come of age. So actually, undocumented people contribute more than you do!
Fake Census Taker: You need to get out of my country!
Father Garcia: I’m calling the police.
Fake Census Taker: Build the wall! Build the wall!
Father Garcia: [slams door]
Fake Census Taker: (Build the wall.)

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Microstory 1348: Flush With Cash

Department Manager: So, how’s the job hunt going?
Trust Fund Kid: It’s absolutely dreadful. No one wants to hire someone with no experience in the workforce. I sometimes tell them why, and that never goes over well.
Department Manager: Oh yeah? None at all? Why’s that? Can I be one of the people you tell?
Trust Fund Kid: I don’t know that I should care anymore. I mean, if no one’s gonna hire me anyway, then I might as well be honest, right? I’m what one might call a trust fund kid. My maternal great grandfather was the real estate king in this area, so we come from old money. My paternal grandfather was a jingle writer, and you know those people can make bank if they book the right gig. Then my biological dad was a professional athlete, got killed in a train derailment, and left me his fortune, I guess to make up for not being in my life much. Well, anyway, my mother never cared if I had a job or not, so I never learned any work ethic. Furthermore, I invested in burcoin early on a lark, and made millions of dollars. Then—get this—I win the lottery. At that point, I’m just like, someone is watching over me from above, and they really shouldn’t be.
Department Manager: Why did you play the lottery?
Trust Fund Kid: Okay, here’s the story. I was nearing a million social media followers when I got this idea to give them each a reward. I bought a lottery ticket for every single one of them, and hired a team of temps to mail them out to my fans tout suite. One of the temps took it upon herself to go the extra mile, and program a special scanning software that would create a database of every ticket, and its numbers. So, if any of my people won, we would know it. Well, about four thousand people never responded, or refused to give me their address—which is understandable—so I still had some of the tickets, and one of them was the lucky winner. I tried to give all the money to those temps, particularly the one who built that scanning software, but now she’s my fiancée, so what’s left is kind of mine again.
Department Manager: You have led a very auspicious life.
Trust Fund Kid: Right? Well, I’m trying to make up for it by getting a job, but no one thinks I deserve it. I can’t really blame them for that, and I realize my situation is not as dire as it is for others.
Department Manager: Why don’t you just give the money to charity? Getting a job is still really only gonna help you.
Trust Fund Kid: Oh, most of the money is gone. I do donate it to various charities, but that’s just money; not my time. I want to give my time now.
Department Manager: Hm.
Trust Fund Kid: So, am I hired?
Department Manager: We haven’t even talked about what the job would entail.
Trust Fund Kid: I don’t have any experience, but I do have a lot of education.
Department Manager: Yes, this résumé is just your entire school history. You have an MBA from Hillside University?
Trust Fund Kid: Yeah, I don’t know why. I don’t run a business.
Department Manager: Maybe you should.
Trust Fund Kid: Maybe I should run a business? Which one?
Department Manager: You could start one.
Trust Fund Kid: What would my hypothetical company do?
Department Manager: Just take a look at this list. It itemizes everything you’ve learned since you graduated from high school. You studied computers a little. You could run a tech firm, and hire a bunch of people who are more knowledgeable than you. You could open a gym, because you took all these sports classes. Again, you don’t have to be the smartest in your industry. You just need to find people who can do it for you. You already have capital, so all you need is people. And those people need a place to work. Talk about winning. When the virus hit, so many employers had to let their employees go, because they didn’t budget in catastrophe. They just gave their executives huge bonuses, and wasted money on things we shouldn’t be using anymore, like paper. You could do better.
Trust Fund Kid: Hm.
Department Manager: Yeah.
Trust Fund Kid: What do you do for this company again?
Department Manager: This is the Washroom Department for the Appliance Division.
Trust Fund Kid: Great, let’s do that. Are you in?

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Microstory 1347: Ivy Creep

Ivy Candidate: Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity, sir. I’m very eager to learn from the absolute best of the best.
Ivy Gatekeeper: Well, that’s nice to hear, but you haven’t gotten in yet. I have been looking over your application, and it’s...
Ivy Candidate: What?
Ivy Gatekeeper: It’s not bad. It’s not particularly interesting. I mean, nothing in your essay really stands out. We get a lot of applicants—more and more each year—and there’s a reason for that. Well, there are many reasons. First, the human population is growing. Second, loans are increasingly easy to obtain, giving many students a false sense of security when it comes to paying for school. Third, people are just smarter. As a species, we’re smarter than we were before, and with the advent of the internet, knowledge is more accessible than ever. Suddenly, you don’t have to be born a genius, or come from the best grade school district. It’s leveled a lot of the playing field. Unfortunately, this means that, if you end up with a four-point-oh GPA, you’re not special anymore. Nonetheless, we have to have standards of some kind. We have to have some way of filtering people out. Otherwise, all we could go on is who happened to click the submit button the fastest.
Ivy Candidate: I understand. Is there anything I can do to stand out, or is my fate inevitable?
Ivy Gatekeeper: [...] There would have to be something you tell me in this interview that you didn’t mention before. You would need to give me some reason to advocate for you. Is there anything about your life that you think makes you unique, even if it’s only unique when coupled with something you’ve already told us?
Ivy Candidate: Hm. I guess not really. I know you want me to fight for this, but I don’t have a sappy story. I wasn’t raised by a single mother with a single leg. I didn’t pull my neighbor out of a burning building. I’ve been privileged, and can’t say I had to overcome adversity. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve worked my ass off. I sacrificed a lot of things so I could study, and participate in extracurriculars, but I see your point that there are plenty of people who have done the same thing.
Ivy Gatekeeper: You’re from Hillside, Kansas, right? I hear HillU is a pretty good school. Did you apply there?
Ivy Candidate: I have a few safety schools, but not Hillside. I want to move away from home, so I’m not tempted to rely on my family. The point of college is to prepare for a self-driven life.
Ivy Gatekeeper: I would agree with that. I actually know someone who used to work at Hillside University. He’s here now; teaches philosophy.
Ivy Candidate: I think I know who you’re talking about. Professor Ivy Creep, right?
Ivy Gatekeeper: Yes, you know him?
Ivy Candidate: He’s my uncle. But, ya know, when I say uncle, I mean...
Ivy Gatekeeper: He’s a family friend, not actually a parent’s sibling.
Ivy Candidate: Exactly. We haven’t spoken in a long time. How is he doing?
Ivy Gatekeeper: Oh, he’s...good, I think. He’s enjoying his new job.
Ivy Candidate: Oh, good. I’m happy for him.
Ivy Gatekeeper: Yeah.
Ivy Candidate: Yeah.
Ivy Gatekeeper: [...]
Ivy Candidate: [...]
Ivy Gatekeeper: So, he’s an asshole, right?
Ivy Candidate: Right!? Oh my God,  I’m glad you said something.
Ivy Gatekeeper: He acts like he runs this place.
Ivy Candidate: He’s always been that way. He talks down to people, and when he’s not the smartest person in the room, he literally ignores the person who is.
Ivy Gatekeeper: Yeah, I’ve noticed that.
Ivy Candidate: Yeah.
Ivy Gatekeeper: So, look. Anyone who has survived Professor Ivy Creep deserves a shot at a real life. If that’s not overcoming adversity, I don’t know what is. I’ll put in a good word for you, okay? I can’t make any guarantees, but I won’t let your application be the only thing that defines your college career.
Ivy Candidate: Oh, wow, thank you. That’s so amazing. You want me to be interesting, I promise to go crazy in college.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Microstory 1346: Consumer Protection

Library-Goer: Hi, I was wondering if you could help me? I’m looking for a book, but I can’t seem to find a computer to search for it, and I have no idea how to use a card catalog.
Library Assistant: Oh yes, we are very old school here. You don’t need the catalog, though. I can help you find anything you’re looking for. Why don’t you have a seat?
Library-Goer: Do I really need to sit? I just need a book.
Library Assistant: Ah, yes, but which book? Do you know the name of it?
Library-Goer: No.
Library Assistant: Then we shall have to do an interview. In order for you to tell me what information you’re looking for, you first need to know precisely what that is. You can’t tell me unless you understand it yourself. I assure you that, by the end of this interview, I will know the exact book you need; maybe two books. I won’t need to give you any more options than that.
Library-Goer: Can’t I check out more than one book anyway?
Library Assistant: Oh, of course. You can check out fifty, if your heart desires! You won’t need to, though; not as long as we find the perfect one. I’m very professional, and I know every single title in this section. I only don’t know fiction; that’s Ted’s job.
Library-Goer: Okay, let’s do this.
Library Assistant: What are you interested in?
Library-Goer: I wouldn’t say that I’m interested, but I need to learn about the law. I’m having some legal issues, but I can’t afford an attorney. I guess you’re right in that I don’t know where to begin.
Library Assistant: Law is in 340, under social sciences.
Library-Goer: Okay.
Library Assistant: Without giving me too much personal information, what kind of law are you looking for? You don’t just want to start with the first textbook they read in law school; most of it would be a waste of time.
Library-Goer: I bought, umm...a product...from a company. I don’t know if they committed a crime, but they need to answer for what they did to me.
Library Assistant: All right. So we’re talking private law. It’ll be in civil court, if you take it that far, but when we’re talking about a library book, that’s in 346.
Library-Goer: Yeah, I don’t want to tell you what it is, but let’s just say I’m on painkillers now. It physically hurt me, so I did what everyone does, which is complain to the seller. They made me jump through all these hoops. They wanted me to take a picture of the product right next to the receipt. Well, it was online, so there’s no receipt, so I printed out my confirmation, and they’re like, ‘that’s not good enough’. I dealt with this for a week, and they won’t even give me a refund, let alone pay for my medical bills. I looked it up online, and I’ve not heard anyone else having these problems, but that doesn’t mean there’s no potential for a class action lawsuit. It could mean that no one wants to say anything, because it’s kind of taboo.
Library Assistant: Ah, okay. So, what you’re looking for is information about consumer protection. Follow me to the 300s. This was an online purchase, so you’ll want a book that’s pretty new. We have stuff from the mid-twentieth century that won’t do you any good. Aaaaaand here. This will help you. It’ll at least help you get started. Maybe, since you can’t afford a lawyer, you can learn some legalese to help you...encourage the company to do the right thing.
Library-Goer: Wow, this...this looks like what I need. Thank you so much.
Library Assistant: No problem. Let me know if you need anything else.