Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Tuesday, March 26, 2019

It was unclear whether Arcadia overshot their destination by two years, or if she fully intended to arrive back in Fletcher House in 2019. Fortunately, Declan was still living there, and currently attempting to help Nerakali and Serkan remove their Cassidy cuffs.
“Okay, this is the last time you people can do this,” he said when all the others showed up in the bunker. “I mean it. Adelaide Fletcher is going to buy this place with her reparations in a couple months, so we gotta be out of here. I was trying to strike my lab, and move on.”
“I’m glad you haven’t taken it down yet,” Mateo told him as he was helping a weak Zeferino into the isolation chamber. “We need this to contain and kill a psychic. We don’t have the Insulator of Life anymore.”
Declan stood up, and walked over to make sure the chamber was secure. “I told you that I’m not killing anybody.”
“You don’t have to,” Mateo said. “This is just the safest place for everyone until he can kill himself.
“What are you goin’ on about?” Zeferino questioned.
“How old are you right now?” Mateo asked him.
“Ballpark?” Zeferino asked rhetorically. “Three or four thousand years.”
“That’s like...” Mateo began. He turned his head to elicit Leona’s help.
“Thirty,” she helped.
“Thirty or forty times longer than the average human lives. You’ve traveled up and down the timeline, seeing an unknowable number of things more than most people do, and throughout it all, you were a stone-cold killer.” Mateo stepped back to address both him and Declan. “We have one chance to get Erlendr Preston out of our lives before he does something wildly dangerous. I’m not very smart, but if there’s one thing I learned from all those time travel stories I used for research, it’s that paradoxes are bad. Avoid the paradoxes. I’m sick of all this bloody time travel. I can’t stop it, but I sure as hell can alleviate it. So if you’re not on board, then get out of this basement!”
“This is my basement,” Declan argued.
“No, it’s a community basement,” Mateo insisted. “Several disparate groups use it for their needs over the years. Your mother moved you here after we made her feel unsafe at the old place; you used it to train to become a vigilante; Gunbender, Armbreaker, and Fairware use it for their base of operations; two separate groups use it to help put right what once went wrong. Do you know who built it? It was a man by the name of Baudin Murdoch, who designed it specifically with all these different future people in mind. He’ll even be the one to install the bank vault door when it’s time for that. I need it for a special purpose right now, so I’ll ask you again, to get out! Go climb up a salmon ladder, or something. This has to be done.”
The group was silent, like they knew Mateo wasn’t quite finished yet.
He looked back to Zeferino. “This is called a sacrifice. I was prepared to make it myself, but I am beholden to the powers that be. This is your last chance to do something good. I don’t know what you know, but the man inside your head raped your mother. He probably felt entitled to it since they were married. You may be evil, but you would never do something that bad, and we all know it. I don’t think you would be happy knowing your body might be used to hurt someone like that. You’re dying either way, so at least try to go out a hero. I’ll personally see to it that The Historian writes favorably of you.”
Wow. It almost looked like Zeferino was actually considering letting himself be killed. Then it happened; the biggest shock of them all. “Just so we’re clear,” he begins, “this doesn’t undo anything I’ve already done to you, and I don’t regret a single choice I’ve ever made, including this one. I always win...Flash.” After his one last pop culture reference, his pulled a knife from his boot, and stuck it through his neck, all the way into his brain. “You were right. Turns out, I’m a hero after all. That’s not what I wanted to be.” Then he died.
“That was very noble,” Jupiter said. “Unfortunately for you, if you were trying to prevent the creation of The Parallel, then you didn’t kill enough people.” It was only then that Mateo realized Jupiter had secretly placed Erlendr’s primary cuff on his own wrist. He was now in control of all of them.
“What are you doing?” Arcadia questioned, anger building.
Jupiter tapped on his cuff screen. “I’m saving our sister.” He executed a program, sending the cuffs that were on Nerakali and Serkan flying through the air. They landed around both of Declan’s wrists. “And also Mr. Demir, even though he gives my friends huge headaches.”
“Why am I cuffed now?” Declan asked.
“Wait, did they both just transport themselves to you? I didn’t do that on purpose. Weird, I guess I don’t know how this works. What does this button do?” He selected another program. Three cuffs appeared out of the aether, and wrapped themselves around Ramses, Leona, and Mateo’s formerly free wrists. “No, that’s not what I meant either.” Jupiter was just screwing with them now. “Hm. Ah, here it is.” He pressed one last button, which summoned J.B. to them. He was also wearing two Cassidy cuffs of his own. Now all eleven were accounted for.
Before Jupiter had the chance to say anything else, Daria Matic appeared in the room.
“Why did you have to bring her into this!” Mateo cried.
“I didn’t do that,” Jupiter replied defensively. “I certainly wouldn’t have brought her here with what I assume is vomit on her shirt.”
“I just came from Vegas,” Daria explained. “I’m not sure what I’m meant to do here.”
“Him,” Leona said, pointing to Serkan. “Get him to safety.”
“You got it.” Daria slipped her arms underneath Serkan’s, and spirited him away.
“Noooooooooo!” Jupiter screamed, arm outstretched towards the emptiness where Serkan just was. “Just kidding, I don’t need him.”
“You don’t need J.B. either,” Ramses suggested.
“Oh, him? He’s vital to the plan. You, on the other hand, are just a hangeron. I could take you, or leave you, but then I would have to give someone else your handcuffs. I don’t want them in this reality anymore, so I’m trying to get rid of them all at once.”
“What’s your” Arcadia asked.
“It’s the same as Erlendr’s, for the most part. The main difference is I’m going to be the one in charge. The other main difference is that I know what the hell I’m doing. He may understand the flow of time, but I know people.”
“Why do you care about any of this?” Nerakali interrogated. “You have your own life going with the Springfield Nine.”
“Can someone get her up to speed, please?” Jupiter requested. “Sherwood, go ahead and set it up whenever you’re ready.”
The half-brother, Sherwood stepped into the isolation chamber with his duffel bag. The first thing he did was drag Zeferino’s dead body out, and leave him carelessly in the corner. He pulled out a little tripod table, and a huge canister of what looked like paintballs, but of dozens of different colors. He then removed what looked like a bomb. But no, it couldn’t be a bomb. Could it?
Jupiter carried on explaining himself as Sherwood was working on setting up his apparatus. “I didn’t always know everything about our species’ history. Athanaric kept us very sheltered, and then when I joined up with the other Springfielders, my focus was...well, too focused. It wasn’t until recently—which I recognize is a relative term—that I started branching out, and learning about what everyone else has been doing. I discovered this obsession the other Prestons had with the Matics. Why was it? What is it about the two of you that draws people in; gets them to sacrifice themselves for you, and give you everything? Well, I never figured it out, but in my trying, I realized that I too was obsessing over you. I was just becoming another twisted stalker. I was stanning you, Mateo. I wasn’t happy with doing this from afar, though. To free myself from this, I realized the only thing I could do was echo my estranged siblings. They toyed with you, forced you into harrowing challenges. Then I learned what our illustrious father was planning, and that helped me come up with my own plan.
“I’m going to challenge you too. Don’t worry, though. Most of the time, it probably won’t be deadly. You’ll probably even want to do the work; you’ll just wish it wasn’t necessary. If you fail any one of these challenges, the consequences will be whatever they are. I won’t actually be controlling anything you do. I’ll be transplanting people from this reality, to the Parallel; one at a time. Your mission will be to get them back home. You could always go back with them, but then you would be sacrificing however many people in the timeline you haven’t gotten to yet. Oh, and you’ll be on a brand new pattern, courtesy of those Cassidy cuffs. It’s a perfect blending of Mateo’s and J.B.’s. I’ll let the smart one explain what that means. Are we ready?”
“It’s ready,” Sherwood said as he was standing back up from a crouch. “I’ve set the timer for fifteen seconds.”
“I thought I asked you for a trigger,” Jupiter asked in an audible whisper. “I wanted to push a button.”
Sherwood stepped out of the chamber, and sealed the door behind him. “I don’t work for you. A timer is fine.”
A few seconds later, the bomb went off, spreading the paint all around the glass. It was actually quite beautiful.
“That was cool,” Jupiter said with a genuine smile. “I’m gonna need this, dear,” he said to Arcadia. He lifted the hundemarke from her neck, and placed it around his own. “I need to be the one who makes sure it’s actually activated. I’m not clear on your loyalties.”
Arcadia appeared too shocked to go against him, which was unlike her.
He continued, “sisters, you can watch from outside. The rest of you, get on in. It’s a tight fit, but there’s enough room for eight, and there are only six of us.”
No one moved.
Jupiter sighed. “Very well. I’ll do it myself.” He tapped on his cuff, and transported all of his prisoners into the chamber. It was even more beautiful from the inside. Jupiter was in there with them, but Sherwood was not. “Boot it up, brother!”
The pain swirled around, and reformed itself. Where once it was chaotic and random, colors began to organize into deliberate shapes. Shapes sharpened into discernable images, and the images began to move. They were watching dozens of movies at once. Mateo had heard about some of them before, others he had been there to see, and some were completely unfamiliar. The one thing they had in common was the hundemarke. These were all moments when it was used to create a fixed moment in time.
“My God,” Declan said. “All these people are gonna die.”
“Not if I can help it. All right!” Jupiter said happily. He took a gun from the back of his pants, and held it up like one of Charlie’s Angels. “Everybody ready? Only shoot the red-shaded moments. The blue moments are meant to stay put. We want those to happen in both realities.” He looked around at the rest of the group. He relaxed his arms in feigned frustration. “Ugh. Where are your guns? Did you not bring the guns? I’m sorry, I thought this was America. Okay, fine. I’ll shoot ‘em all myself. Here..we..go!” He started shooting at the images. Each time a bullet went through, and planted itself in the head of a future killer. He was killing real people all throughout time and space, but treating it like a video game. Mateo was just surprised he wasn’t literally keeping score.
Mateo watched him a little, but his eyes wandered to a very specific moment. This one was shaded purple, unlike any of the others. Also unique to it was that it kept playing over and over again in the same spot, while the other moments had to come back in the next cycle, because the chamber walls weren’t large enough to fit all of them at the same time. They only turned black and disappeared for good once Jupiter had paradoxed his target successfully. He had an idea to fix all of this. There was a reason the Prestons were obsessed with him and Leona. They would always ultimately lose, and they were never happy with that. It really was a game to them, and they absolutely despised losing. Perhaps Arcadia had the right idea, even if she was coming from the wrong place. Anyway, it was the only way Mateo could think of to stop all this. Even if it was a bad thing on its own, it at least went against their enemy, and sometimes, that just had to be enough.
Before Jupiter could finish shooting all the hundemarke killers, Mateo body slammed him. That was one good thing about close quarters. Jupiter had no room to fight back fast enough. Knowing he didn’t have long, though, Mateo grabbed the gun for himself, rolled back to the other side of the chamber, and aimed the best he could.
“Hey,” Jupiter said jovially. “You want in on this? Oh wait, no; not that one. That is the worst one you could pick.”
Damn, his target was gone. The GIF started back at the beginning, but he didn’t have a clear shot at Anatol Klugman. He didn’t really want to kill the guy, but it was his only move, and The Warrior was the one man he could trust to understand and appreciate the dilemma. Jupiter got up and tried to attack Mateo, but Leona and Ramses held him back. Just a few more seconds.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Firestorm: Bhulan Cargill (Part X)

Image cropped and filtered, but credit due to Tormod Sandtorv / CC BY-SA (
My life’s story can be told in four chapters. I was born in a timeline that I didn’t like. People were dead who deserved to survive, and two worlds were destined to destroy each other. I needed to fix things, so I went back to key moments in time for chapter two, and altered history to realize better outcomes. The third chapter was the shortest, and was only there to serve as transition to my fourth and final chapter. You don’t need to understand the first few chapters to really get who I am, so I’ll start my story on the cusp of the transition. This is the day I attempt to sacrifice myself for the greater good. Things did not go as planned.
I can travel through time at will, but that’s not all I can do. My brain works differently than most people’s, which is probably why sacrificing myself for the greater good doesn’t feel like suicide to me. I don’t just move through time, but I see how it moves. I understand causality on a level experienced by few others. It may take me a long time to study history, and I usually still have to gather the data somehow, but I’m an expert at processing it, so I can make the right changes at the right moments. If I surrender to this power, however, and more let time take control of me, it often takes me exactly when and where I need to go. This allows me to bypass all that research, and take a leap of faith. I’m kind of a control freak, so I don’t do this feature very often, but it does save time, and it’s seemed to work for me here. A man I admire named Mateo Matic has asked me to find Horace Reaver in 2027, so that’s where I’m trying to go.
I find myself standing in what I immediately recognize to be the Bran safehouse. I’m not sure why they call it that, though. Four people are evidently living here at the moment: Slipstream, Alexina, Alexina’s son, Alexi, and Agent Nanny Cam. That last one is presently petting some kind of weird creature that looks like a cross between a hare and a dog. Hare of the dog. Hm.
Alexina is the only one I’ve met personally. “Yay, Bhulan!” she exclaims, both jokingly, and unironically.
“McGregor. I’ve come for Horace Reaver.”
“No, it’s okay,” Slipstream says. “Ace is good in this reality.”
“No, I don’t mean I’m gonna hurt him,” I clarify. “I’ve been told we can help each other.”
“We don’t know where he is,” Slipstream explains to me. “We’ve come here to regroup, and try to figure that out.”
Suddenly, the front door opens. “Well, wonder no more!” Horace Reaver announces.
“How did you hear that?” Alexina questions. “The door and walls of this safehouse are literally soundproof.”
“Hear what?” Ace asks.
“Where were you?” Slipstream asks. She slides over to give Paige a hug, followed by Serkan.
“We were in another timeline,” Paige answers. “It took us some time to find our way back.”
“Where’s the agent?” I’m not sure who Alexina is referring to here.
“Huh?” Agent Nanny Cam asks.
“Not you,” Alexina says. “The other agent.”
“Hello Doctor is still in there,” Serkan answers. “He nobly sacrificed himself, so we could return.” Yeah, I don’t know who Hello Doctor is.
“Be honest,” Ace scolds. “We sacrificed him. He didn’t wanna do it.”
“He’ll be fine,” Serkan dismisses. “He wanted to be there anyway. That’s why he opened the portal to it in the first place.”
“That’s misleading,” Ace tells him.
The door opens again. Jupiter Fury walks in. “Well, wonder no more!”
Everyone just looks at him.
“Oh, was that someone else’s line?” he jokes. “Shit.”
Alexina sighs. “You’ll always find us. Goddammit.” She holds her watch up, turns a dial, and presses the button. I see immediately that she’s just reset time a few seconds.
“Be honest,” Ace repeats, just as he did before. “We sacrificed him. He didn’t wanna do it.”
No one else is aware of the time reset.
“Go home, son,” Alexina instructs.
“What?” Alexia asks. “I thought you wanted me here.”
“It’s too dangerous. Go. Now.”
Alexina takes his future wife, Agent Nanny Cam by the hand, then presses a button on his belt. They teleport away.
“What just happened?” Paige asks.
Jupiter barges into the condo, just as he did before. “Well, wonder no more!”
“Jupiter?” Ace asks. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m here for the Omega Gyroscope! I know you’ve brought it here. I can track it anywhere, so there’s no point in trying to hide it from me.”
“Oh, this?” Slipstream reaches into her bag, and pulls the gyroscope out. Word is, it can do nearly anything. It can rewrite reality with a single thought. I considered seeking it out for my purposes in chapter two, but decided it wasn’t the route I wanted to go.
“Give it to me,” Jupiter orders. “I need it.” And then, in the blink of an eye, he’s on the floor. He was badly hurt, as if having just finished a fistfight. “What the shit was that!” He tries to stand back up, but something forces him back down. It isn’t like there’s some invisible person stopping him. It’s more like falling back down happened, but then someone erased all of our memories of it.
I turn to Alexina. “Someone is altering time. They’re making us forget. You can push through that.”
“You want me to get myself out of a memory block?” Alexina asks.
“I’ll try.” She closes her eyes, and breathes out deliberately and slowly. “There’s a man, and a woman. He beats Jupiter up, and we just watch. We’re confused, but we just watch, like we trust him.”
“Why don’t they want us to remember?” Paige asks.
“Remember what?” Alexina asks back. She’s lost her memory again.
I look around. Everyone has lost their memories again. I’m the only one strong enough to recall the moment that Alexina described, though I still can’t actually recall the moment itself. I sigh, frustrated. I ask her to do it again, this time trying to get a name of these mysterious memory-wiping individuals. She gets more than that. Kallias Bran and Aeolia Sarai are not wiping memories on purpose. They’re stuck like this, unable to truly communicate with anyone. They can impact reality however they please, but no one will ever remember them. Apparently this happened because of a coin. When it’s done, Alexina feels taxed, though of course, she has no idea why. I’m still the only one who has any clue what’s going on. I also feel a lump in my pocket. When I take a peek, I see this whole purse of coins. If these can remove anyone from the global consciousness, I have to keep them safe, and away from others.
I look back over to Jupiter. He looks worse than before, suggesting he’s suffered further beating. “Whatever you do, I’ll always find that gyroscope. Sooner or later, it will be in my possession, so you might as well hand it over now.”
“I don’t understand,” Serkan says. He kneels down to get on Jupiter’s level. “We’re friends. Why are you acting like this?”
“We’re not friends.” Jupiter spits some blood on Serkan’s shoes.
Serkan’s not fazed by the blood. “Yes, we are.”
“You’re thinking of Jupiter Rosa. I’m Fury. He’s my alternate. I’m the real one.”
“He’s right,” Alexina confirms. “This isn’t the man you know. It’s just like you’re not the same Serkan who still lives with his mother and little brother.”
Serkan frowns.
“You’re gonna have to kill me,” Jupiter says. “It’s that important to me.” In another blink, he’s lying unconscious on the floor. Kallias must have knocked him out for us.
“We have to get rid of it,” Slipstream decides. “Can it be destroyed?”
“No,” Alexina replies. “Not something this powerful.”
“Yes, it can,” I disagree. I step towards Ace. “The hundemarke can do it”
“No,” Ace says, shaking his head. “I know the only way to destroy the hundemarke, and I’m not letting it happen.”
“What way are we talking about?” Paige asks.
“Someone would have to kill themselves,” Ace is disgusted at the prospect.
“No one’s ever been willing to do that,” Alexina adds. “I don’t know anyone who would.”
This was always meant to be the last chapter of my life. I tried to start a new life once my mission was complete, but I’m finding myself very unhappy. This is my chance to end it on my terms, in a way that cannot be changed. “I would,” I say plainly.
“No,” Ace decides.
“You don’t know me,” I say to him, “but this is what I want. I’ve been thinking about it for a very, very long time.”
He just keeps shaking his head.
“I can’t be responsible for someone’s death. It’s not fair for you to ask me to do that.”
Suddenly, the hundemarke is hanging around my neck.
“Holy crap,” Alexina says, stunned. “How did you do that?”
“Thanks, Kallias,” I say with a smile.
“Who’s Kallias?” Paige doesn’t like not being in the know, and based on what I know of her future, she’ll dedicate her life to the pursuit of knowledge, so she never feels ignorant again.
“Okay, great,” I say with an air of finality. “Now the gyroscope.”
“No!” Ace cries. He runs over, and takes it from Slipstream’s hand. Then he steps back defensively. “I’m not letting you kill yourself! Violence is never the answer. I’m putting my foot down. We’re gonna find another way to stop Jupiter from getting his hands on stop anyone from getting their hands on it, or the hundemarke.
Paige walks over to him. “Dad. Let’s talk about this.”
“No,” he says. “There’s nothing to talk about.”
Suddenly, there’s another unexpected appearance. A portal opens up, though most of us aren’t at the right angle to see where it leads. It looks like there are stairs though. Something in it catches Ace’s eye. “Protect this thing!” he yells. Then he reaches back, and hurls the Omega Gyroscope into the portal. It snaps shut.
“Where did you just send that?” Serkan asks him, stepping forward himself. “Who were you talking to.”
“Mateo Matic; A trusted future friend.”
I nod. “That’s about as good as you’re gonna do. I still need to use the hundemarke, and I could do with your help.”
“I’ve already helped you,” Ace spits.
“Mr. Demir,” I go on. “I would like you to come with me. The hundemarke should prevent anyone from stopping me from doing this, but it can’t hurt to have a little extra help in the way of some power suppression.
“I can do that,” Serkan agrees, “if this is what you really want. And I don’t have to say, there’s no going back.”
“I’m ready. And Ace, if you could protect me from physical threats? What I’m doing will save lives.”
It looks like he’s finally resigned. “All right.”
“I’m going too,” Paige declares. If this messes with reality, I need to be in the same place as my dads.
Her fathers want to argue, but they see the logic.
We all four hold hands, and I transport them to the Darvaza gas crater in Derweze, Turkmenistan. It’s not the only place where it can be destroyed, but it’s a good one. To the average human, the fires burning here are like any other, but the flames are of special temporal significance. They can actually kill a time traveler better than they would anyone else. It’s reportedly instantaneous. It’s not been studied much, so we don’t know why, but they’re just particularly more dangerous to our kind.
“Do you need a minute?” Serkan asks reverently.
I smile. “No time like the present.”
Arcadia Preston suddenly appears a few meters away. Both Serkan and Ace fall into defensive positions. “It’s okay,” Arcadia says in a sincere voice. “I hope you appreciate what I went through to get this. She hands me a parchment of paper.
I take a quick look at it. “The LIR Map?”
“I decided life isn’t fun when you have all the answers. Just...get rid of it.”
“Okay,” I respond.
As soon as Arcadia disappears, she reappears, but she’s dressed in different clothes, suggesting she’s from a different point in time. “I have one more thing for ya,” Future!Arcadia says. Then she hands me the Insulator of Life.
“Is someone in here?” I ask her.
“Would you”
I reject her with my eyes.
Arcadia gives in, “it’s my father. He’s incredibly dangerous. I need you to do this, not for me, but for everyone.”
“Is he the one using the hundemarke to assassinate people all over time?” I ask.
“Yes,” Arcadia says.
I’m not a murderer, but...okay. “Okay.”
A third—or second?—person wants in on this action. At first all we see is the business end of a knife, appearing out of nowhere. It slides down, like it’s cutting through the fabric of spacetime. It opens enough for the feminine figure of what looks like a futuristic astronaut to slip through. She stands there a moment, sizing us all up. Then she smashes a button on the back of her neck, which acts to retract her helmet. “My name is Zoey. I’ve been all over the bulkverse, looking for this. I finally found it in omegaverse.” She removes the Omega Gyroscope from the hardback backpack on her back. “If I had known that’s what they called it, I probably would have started there.”
“Um. Thank you?”
“I need someone to get a message to Lucius and Curtis,” Zoey requests.
“I just saw them,” Ace says. “In prison.”
“It’s important that you find them again,” Zoey continues. “They said, if there was one thing they regretted, it was how they treated Yatchiko. Just tell them to be nice to her.”
“We can do that,” Serkan agrees. “Should we tell them the message comes from you.”
Zoey shakes her head. “They won’t know me yet. Say it’s from their future selves.” She takes her knife back from its magsheath, and jams it into a new portal. She tears it apart, and slips herself back through.
I wait for a moment. This is not what I expected. I look around. “Does anyone else wanna give me somethin’ to destroy?” I call out to the aether.
“All right, good! Then I’m gonna do this,” I go on with my outside voice. “Here I go!” I continue waiting, and still nothing. I take one last look at the Reaver-Demirs. “Something profound and poetic.” With that, I throw myself into the fire pit.
Before I reach the flames, gravity shifts, and pulls my feet down to a floor.
“Oh, hi,” a woman behind me says. “Are you my first guest.”
I turn around to find none other than Danica Matic, Concierge to The Constant. “Something went wrong.”
“All right. Well,” Danica begins. “Let’s figure it out together.”
This was how chapter four of my life began.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Microstory 1375: Imbalanced

Religious Studies Student: Hi. Quick question. Where are your books on religion?
Reference Librarian: You happen to be right in the right place. They’re in the 200s, right here.
Religious Studies Student: Oh, okay. Thanks
Reference Librarian: Well, I can still narrow it down for you further. What exactly are you looking for?
Religious Studies Student: Actually, I’m not looking for anything in particular. I’m taking Religious Studies at Hillside University, and this is meant to be my final project. I can do a presentation on anything. It can be a paper, or a slideshow, or whatever I want. She’s even letting me choose the topic. I don’t care much for the subject as I thought I would when I enrolled, and I have no clue what to study here.
Reference Librarian: Then let’s start broad, and work our way down from there.
Religious Studies Student: Okay.
Reference Librarian: These ones here are more general, like what is religion, and whatever. This section is more on the philosophical side. Then all of these are about Christianity. The small group at the end are about other religions.
Religious Studies Student: Other religions, besides Christianity?
Reference Librarian: That’s right.
Religious Studies Student: Just to be clear; all these books are about Christianity, and this tiny little, pathetic group of everything else.
Reference Librarian: Yes. Unfortunately, the decimal classification system is not perfect. There’s actually a lot of controversy surrounding it. You are not the first person to notice.
Religious Studies Student: I’m not, hmm?
Reference Librarian: Nope.
Religious Studies Student: Has there been a lot of research about these sorts of issues?
Reference Librarian: Um, I don’t think so. I mean, I’m no expert on it.
Religious Studies Student: You’re not?
Reference Librarian: I’m an expert on the classification system, not the controversy.
Religious Studies Student: Oh.
Reference Librarian: But I imagine there’s not much; maybe a few articles, some angry social media posts here and there.
Religious Studies Student: Maybe I could do my project on that. Maybe I could write about this whole thing.
Reference Librarian: I think that would be a great idea. I have a few books you can check out. This one, and this one, for starters. You’ll also want some information on library science. You look here to get started. Let me go look for those, while you see if there’s anything else here that would help.
Religious Studies Student: Okay, cool. Thanks!

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Microstory 1374: Internal Candidate

Internal Candidate: I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me. I understand that people like me aren’t normally given the opportunity to apply for this position.
Hiring Manager: People like you? I want to assure you that our company does not discriminate against a candidate or employee based on race, gender, age—
Internal Candidate: I mean an internal candidate. You always hire at this level from the outside.
Hiring Manager: Do we?
Internal Candidate: Uh, it’s my job to examine and understand trends. Yes, you definitely do. You’ve never promoted someone to this—or a comparable—level from the inside. Employees call it the promotion ceiling, because, as you said, it doesn’t seem to be based on protected classes. You regularly promote people all the way into my current level, but for the next one, you always look for external candidates, and then continue to promote from there.
Hiring Manager: Really?
Internal Candidate: Yeah, you don’t even post this on the internal job listings.
Hiring Manager: I’m sorry, I didn’t realize this. I don’t normally conduct these interviews personally. I’m just the one who’s in the office right now.
Internal Candidate: Yes, because I requested this meeting via email, since I wasn’t allowed to apply through the system.
Hiring Manager: You couldn’t have just found it on one of the job board sites?
Internal Candidate: The questionnaire asks whether you or a family member works, or has worked, for this company. If you check yes, it will disqualify you from consideration shortly thereafter. It doesn’t technically say that’s why, but...I’m pretty sure that’s why.
Hiring Manager: We use a contractor, of course, to manage our listings. I was not aware of this problem. I assure you that this is entirely an error. At least, if it’s not, I was somehow left out of the decision-making process.
Internal Candidate: Yeah. So, does this mean you’re willing to interview me?
Hiring Manager: I think I already am.
Internal Candidate: Okay.
Hiring Manager: Have you noticed any other issues like this? Have you seen discrimination of any other kind, or unfair disadvantages, or other weird things?
Internal Candidate: Well, in terms of the hiring structure, not really. I’m sure there’s plenty of discrimination happening we don’t know about; either because the manager doesn’t let on that they’re doing it, or they don’t even realize their prejudices themselves. I do know of one thing that’s frustrated our customers, though.
Hiring Manager: Oh, please, what is it?
Internal Candidate: Well, we have a product return policy of sixty days. You can request an extension, starting on day sixty-one, and ending on day ninety. It’s a form you fill out online, and an actual person has to review these every single time.
Hiring Manager: Yes, I am aware of this policy.
Internal Candidate: Well it’s fine, except I guess the system has some sort of software bug. To fill out the form, you have to input the order confirmation code, of course, and if the order was placed sixty-two days ago, the form just won’t submit. Which obviously just defeats the purpose, unless you happen to be precisely one day late. Customers have been forced to print out the form, fill it out manually, and either fax it in, or send it through snail mail.
Hiring Manager: Oh, that’s terrible. I don’t remember the last time I sent a fax, or used the mail service for anything short of a package.
Internal Candidate: Same.
Hiring Manager: I suppose it’s at least good that they do have some kind of workaround.
Internal Candidate: Yes, and no. The fact that there is a workaround has prevented us from correcting the mistake. If it just didn’t work at all, we would be flooded with complaints, and someone probably would have done something to solve it. Though, I have heard anecdotal evidence that some customers just give up, and keep the tools they don’t really want.
Hiring Manager: That’s a good point.
Internal Candidate: Yeah.
Hiring Manager: So, you’re applying for a management position in the marketing department?
Internal Candidate: That’s right, sir.
Hiring Manager: As a hiring manager, I have the authority to contrive new positions, within any department in this division. I can, however, speak with my counterparts in other divisions, and increase that scope.
Internal Candidate: I’m sorry, I don’t understand.
Hiring Manager: I’m formulating a plan. I think the company as a whole would benefit from a job—or even an entire department—that’s solely responsible for catching these types of errors, and coming up with solutions. How would you like to get a real promotion, and really break through this ridiculous promotion wall?
Internal Candidate: Wow, um...yes.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Microstory 1373: Scope Creep

Reporter: Are we live? Okay, thanks. [...] Mall Security Guard, you’re here because the clock recently started counting down on your fifteen minutes of fame because of a daring rescue you executed after encountering a victim you caught shoplifting under duress. Is this an accurate summary?
Mall Security Guard: That’s right. I would say I got about five minutes left on my fame clock.
Reporter: Why would you say that?
Mall Security Guard: Well, I would say a minute, but the investigation is ongoing, so it won’t be over until that’s over.
Reporter: The investigation into the criminals you helped apprehend, or the investigation into your involvement?
Mall Security Guard: The latter. Obviously, I am a security guard...or rather, I was. I don’t have the authority to arrest people, investigate crimes, or pursue suspects. The real police are currently investigating me, and if they choose to press charges, I’ll have to go to court, and I could be facing jail time.
Reporter: Jail time, really?
Mall Security Guard: My lawyer says that’s unlikely, because no one got hurt after I became involved; not even the suspects. I did technically break the law, though, and the judge may want to make an example out of me. That’s a long ways off, though. There are still a lot of steps before we get to sentencing, if it even comes to it.
Reporter: What have you been doing in the meantime? Are you still working at the mall?
Mall Security Guard: I am indeed working at the mall, but I’m not working for the mall. I’ve been put on unpaid suspension, but janitorial services at Hillside Mall is run by a contractor. I’m holding a position with them, and still eating lunch with my old crew. Theoretically, the mall could ban me from the premises until the investigation is over, but they haven’t done that. They’re not proud of what I did, but they’re not actively working against me either.
Reporter: Has your life become harder after the incident? You got a new job, but I imagine it pays less, and it’s not what you really want to do.
Mall Security Guard: Eh, it’s okay. It doesn’t pay much less, and I can’t complain. I know a lot of people are out of work right now, so I still count myself lucky. I recognize the awkward position the executive leadership is in.
Reporter: Have there been any other negative effects because of what happened?
Mall Security Guard: Not really. I mean, the kidnappers are none too happy with me, but they don’t hold much sway on society right now. The community has been really supportive, though, so that’s not great.
Reporter: How is that not a good thing?
Mall Security Guard: Well, vigilantism is illegal. It helps that I was in a public safety position, but it hurts my case that people have been so supportive. The local government doesn’t want a bunch of costumed superheroes running around, gathering fans, and putting themselves, and others, in danger. They don’t want to encourage this behavior, so they would rather the story just kind of go away.
Reporter: I see. So what’s next for you, assuming you don’t end up going to jail? Will you go back to being a security guard?
Mall Security Guard: Oh, no doubt. If Hillside doesn’t rehire me, I’ll find someone who will, even if that means I have to move. It’s in my blood to protect people. I just have to be careful about how exactly I go about doing that. I’ve learned my lesson in that regard.
Reporter: Well, thanks for talking to us. I appreciate your time.
Mall Security Guard: No, thank you.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Microstory 1372: Space and Time

Lifelong Student: Hi. I know people don’t really do this anymore, but I was hoping to get some help finding a book. I’ve looked for information online, but I’m struggling with understanding what it is I’m trying to research. I get a lot of results, but none of them is what I’m looking for.
Librarian: Not a problem. You came to the right librarian for help. I hail from the old guard, so I still remember what it was like before the internet gave everyone all the answers. I’ll try to find you that one perfect book. Let’s start broad, and whittle our way down from there, shall we?
Lifelong Student: Okay.
Librarian: All right.
Lifelong Student: And Time. Space and time. Is there a difference?
Librarian: I think..maybe not. But they both fall under astronomy and astrophysics. What would you like to know about space and time?
Lifelong Student: Well, I guess I’m less interested in learning the physics of it all, and more about the relationship between people and spacetime.
Librarian: Okay, give me a second to think. Yeah, 527 is Celestial Navigation. That will help you understand how seafarers traveled the oceans using the stars.
Lifelong Student: No, that’s not it either.
Librarian: Oh, okay. Well, if you’re talking about space travel, you may be more inclined towards the social aspect of space. Water, air, space transportation can be found in 387. If you need to know about space law, like who owns the moon, and whatnot, you’ll wanna go to the 340s. Though, to be honest, I’m not sure how to get more specific than that. Space law isn’t in my personal brain archives as its own decimal classification. It may be more history.
Lifelong Student: It doesn’t matter anyway. I guess I could get into some ethics, but I don’t care much about the actual laws. That’s too particular. I’m thinking more broad space and people, and what we think about it.
Librarian: Oh. Philosophy of space and time.
Lifelong Student: Yes! That’s it. Philosophy. Why didn’t I think of that word?
Librarian: That’s okay, I got you. Metaphysics are in the 110s. Let me think is 114, and time is 115. Maybe they are different? Anyway, I assume you’re looking for something introductory?
Lifelong Student: Actually, now that I finally know what it is I’m actually looking for, I think I can take it from here. I can probably find better information on the internet. No offense.
Librarian: It’s okay. I understand that times have changed. I’ll keep helping until the day the last person ever leaves my library, and then one day after that.
Lifelong Student: Thanks so much. You really have been a big help.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Microstory 1371: Detained

Mall Security Guard: All right. You can go ahead and sit right there.
Shoplifter: Am I being arrested?
Mall Security Guard: I’m not the police, so I can’t arrest people. My co-worker has already called them, though. This isn’t exactly an emergency, so it may take them a little while to get here, but I’m sure it won’t be any longer than thirty minutes.
Shoplifter: Are you allowed to hold me here then?
Mall Security Guard: I am, yes. I caught you breaking the law, so I can keep you in here until the police arrive. Are you okay? Do you need some water?
Shoplifter: You seem a little too nice for someone who’s just been robbed.
Mall Security Guard: Well, I’m concerned. You were stealing medical supplies. None of it was particularly expensive, but based on my limited training, I can presume that someone you know is hurt.
Shoplifter: I don’t know what you’re talking about. I just stole that stuff so I can sell it.
Mall Security Guard: That’s not a very believable answer. Gauze and hydrogen peroxide doesn’t go for much on the black market. Well, I think that second one can be used to make drugs, but you weren’t stealing a case of it; you took one bottle. Tell me what happened.
Shoplifter: Nothing happened. I needed that stuff, so I took it. I’m just trying to keep my house stocked, but I don’t have enough money for it.
Mall Security Guard: That’s a different story than the one you told me just before.
Shoplifter: What can I say? You caught me in a lie, so now I’m telling the truth.
Mall Security Guard: No, I don’t think you are.
Shoplifter: Please, just let it go. I’ll wait for the cops to get here.
Mall Security Guard: I can help if you’re honest with me. You look scared, and not in the way I’ve seen people in your position look. They’re scared of going to jail, of their parents finding out what they did, or of this impacting their chances of finding a job. You’re scared of a person. Who were you stealing these for?
Shoplifter: No one. Myself.
Mall Security Guard: I don’t believe that either. Like I said, you look scared. But you don’t look worried. What happens when you don’t go back to wherever you came from with what you were supposed to take? Does someone come looking for you, or do they just come to replace you?
Shoplifter: Well, it’s like I said; I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Mall Security Guard: I may not be a cop, but I’m pretty good at judging people’s responses. I’m going to start making some guesses, and you’ll tell me if they’re true, or not. You won’t have to say anything out loud. It’ll be written all over your face.
Shoplifter: Do what ya gotta do. It’s a free country.
Mall Security Guard: Are the medical supplies for someone you care about? Is it for someone you don’t?—Someone you hate? Yeah, that’s it.—Is this person a threat to your wellbeing? Only a little. But maybe that’s because you’re here right now.—Are they holding someone you do care about against their will? Bingo.—Do you know the threat personally? Did you see something you weren’t supposed to? Were you just in the wrong place at the wrong time? Okay.—How many people are threatening your loved one? One, two, three...? Three.
Shoplifter: Stop doing that.
Mall Security Guard: I can’t stop until we get answers. I really do want to help.
Shoplifter: You’re just a mall cop.
Mall Security Guard: I can get you out of here before they show up.
Shoplifter: No, you can’t. You already called them.
Mall Security Guard: [into radio] Other Mall Security Guard, have you contacted the police yet?
Other Mall Security Guard: [through radio] They’re looking for someone who has the time to come down here.
Mall Security Guard: [into radio] Cancel the request. We worked something out.
Other Mall Security Guard: [through radio] Are you trading her freedom for sexual favors?
Mall Security Guard: [into radio] God no, Other. She’s just agreed to never do it again, and I believe her. This is her first offense, and I see no reason to involve law enforcement.
Other Mall Security Guard: [through radio] All right, Mall. Fine. I’ll cancel it. I’m sure they’ll be relieved they don’t have to come all the way down here.
Mall Security Guard: There, it’s done. Now tell me everything.
Shoplifter: Not here. He has eyes everywhere.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 23, 1871

It wasn’t easy, but Arcadia was able to work her replicated body in a matter of minutes. She was still too weak to do very much on her own, but it was nothing that a good meal, and some peaceful rest, wouldn’t be able to solve. Someone so powerful couldn’t be kept down too long. She did have to sleep all day, though, and by the time they saw her again, it was March 23, 2017. She had just spent the entire year living a somewhat normal life, staying with Declan and Ramses in Fletcher House. Nerakali, on the other hand, had grown used to being on Mateo and Leona’s pattern, so she asked them to replace their Cassidy cuffs, and kind of go back to the way things were. They were fine with it, because it gave them a little extra power they didn’t otherwise have.
As it turned out, the replacement body that The Artist built for Arcadia wasn’t exactly like the first one. It didn’t have any powers at all. Well, it might have let her retain her immortality, but there was no healthy way to test that. Either he didn’t want her to be as threatening as she had been before, or it was some kind of mistake. Either way, she almost seemed relieved by it. People in her position would relish the idea of being normal, at least for a little bit, Mateo imagined. He, at least, would kill to shed his pattern, and live the rest of his life right here. It probably wasn’t going to happen. His pattern was his, and though powers could evidently be added, there didn’t seem to be any way of changing it.
“You’re back,” Arcadia said. “I have been spending this whole time rebuilding my support network.”
“What?” Nerakali looked nervous.
Leona seemed concerned too, but Mateo didn’t really know what this meant.
“Yeah, well, it was a lot harder than before. I don’t have anything to offer, and I can’t threaten to annihilate anyone who doesn’t agree to help me, but I guess I just used my wiles. It isn’t what it used to be, but I can get by.”
“I’m not certain what’s happening,” Mateo said. “Who did you threaten?”
“I’ve told you this,” Arcadia began. “I don’t have many powers myself. I have to ask people to help me, and usually they do it in the background. I plan it out so carefully that you don’t actually see it happening, so it looks like I really can travel through time on my own, or merge two points in spacetime, or whatever.”
“Yeah, you did say that. It’s your support network. Why did you rebuild it? What do you want?”
“I just want it to be over,” Arcadia said cryptically.
“What does that mean?” her sister asked.
Arcadia flipped her bag over, and dumped a bunch of broken glass onto the table. “Here lies Erlendr Preston. He was a terrible father, and a terrible person. He made me who I am, though. If he hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t have killed him. This is on you, dad.”
“You can’t destroy the Insulator of Life,” Nerakali argued. “By its very nature, it protects itself from death.”
“Oh, this is just a prop. I gave the Insulator to Bhulan. She destroyed the hundemarke, just like we wanted her too, as a backup plan. Unfortunately, for our father, I had a backup plan of my own. Don’t freak out, Mateo; I am better. I’m doing this for you. I’m creating a safe reality where you’re free from the powers that be. I did not mean for all that to rhyme. Jesus. Anyway, Erlendr killed all those people with the hundemarke, and his plan was to paradox those deaths by saving the victim’s lives. Something that...dramatic, though, can’t just be undone. The paradoxes can only hold if they simply create a parallel reality.”
“We know all this,” Leona argued.
“Yes, but what Erlendr didn’t understand is that he never had to go back, and just save everybody’s life. The idiot was going to steal Jupiter Rosa’s power, quantum replicate himself, and send each copy to their own points in time, so he could essentially create the paradoxes at once. That’s too much work, and completely pointless. The only reason he would need to do that is if he wanted the hundemarke to exist at all. I don’t need that.”
Nerakali stepped forward. “Sister, I’ve been through the timeline. The creation of the hundemarke first occurred in one the oldest timelines ever. It predates the timeline where you and I were created in The Gallery. If the hundemarke doesn’t exist, neither do we. Arcadia, you would be erasing yourself from history.”
Arcadia smiled. “That’s the part that proves I’m a better person. We were indoctrinated into believing the Gallery was  vital to protecting the timeline, but we’re just erroneous. Left to their own devices, the choosing ones police themselves. The Stitcher and The Repairman do everything we can, The Warden imprisons any who would dare expose them, and others help out in their own ways. So many of them have jobs and responsibilities that no one asked them to do, and they often don’t even get paid. They don’t need us. We just made things worse. I’m proof of that. I can fix it, though. All I need to do is go back to one date.” She opened a small pocket on the front of her bag, and removed the hundemarke, so she could place it around her neck. She opened a third pocket, and took out the primary Cassidy cuff. People can only be redeemed if that’s what they want for themselves.
“Don’t do this, Arcadia,” Nerakali pleaded. “You’ll be erasing me from time as well.”
“You’ll be fine,” Arcadia promised. “You’ll continue on in this reality. I’m just trying to make a paradise, not so that I can live in it...just so that it exists.” She tapped on her cuff screen. “You’re the only one who can stop me, so I gave one of the cuffs to Serkan Demir in 2019; the power-blocking chosen one version of him. I just need to switch links, and you’ll be stuck there with him, and you won’t be able to follow us.”
“Please,” Nerakali said.
“You’re welcome,” Arcadia responded. She pressed a button, and forced Nerakali to disappear.
“I can’t tell if what you’re doing is evil, or good,” Mateo said honestly.
“Yeah,” Arcadia replied with a nod. “Me neither. Let’s go. You have to be with me when I go back to prevent the hundemarke from ever existing. Rama Lama Ding Dong, you’re coming too.”
“Where are we?” Leona asked. They were in the middle of the woods. Gunfire, and cannons rang out in the distance.
“Obernai, Germany. Well, it’s in France, but...this is May of 1871, so right now it belongs to Germany. We are on the edges of the battlefield for the Battle of Obernai during the Franco-Prussian War.”
“You brought us to a war!” Mateo cried.
“Well, this is where the hundemarke was born. The moment was so powerful, it created itself. The hundemarke stretched backwards in time, and actually kept the war going for longer than it was meant to, just so it would last long enough for the circumstances to be ripe for its creation. On its own, the hundemarke is already a paradox.”
“If it’s already a paradox, then why are we trying to force another paradox?” Ramses wondered out loud.
They heard a rustling in the leaves. Jesimula Utkin approached them, wearing some kind of cuff. “I made it, guys. Funny prank, trying to leave me behind.”
“Jesi, what is your business here?” Mateo asked her.
She laughed. “That is not my name. Volpsidia got a better body for herself, so she let me have this one. I’ve always identified as male, but I can make this work temporarily.”
“Dad?” Arcadia asked.
“Sho’nuff. Am I allowed to say that?”
“No,” Leona scolded.
“Well, whatever.”
“I destroyed you,” Arcadia accused. “How are you here? Are you from the past?”
“Well, that has to do with Bhulan Cargill,” Erlendr began, seemingly holding back a true-to-form maniacal laugh. “When she threw herself into the fire with the hundemarke, she—” He stopped short. Blood spilled out of Jesi’s mouth. He tried to turn his new body around to see who had stabbed him, but he wasn’t strong enough. He mouthed some kind of curse, but no sound came out. He just fell to the ground, and kept dying.
“Boom!” said the man with the murder weapon. “How ya like me now, dad!” He let out a legit maniacal laugh of his own.
“Zeferino?” Arcadia questioned. “What are you doing in Jupiter Rosa’s body?”
He giggled. “Nah, sis. I ain’t Zef. I’m actually Jupiter. I’m Erlendr’s only real kid. Y’all were made out of clay, but our parents did the nasty, and made me with their bodies.” He was a little too into talking about his own parents’ sex life.
“You can’t have kids in the Gallery,” Arcadia contended. “The original workers tried for centuries. The population never grew even once.”
“Heh. Try telling that to my brother. I never said I was born in the Gallery dimension, but he was. Why do you think Savannah disappeared for nine months?”
“You just said you were Erlendr’s only natural offspring, yet you have a brother?” Ramses noted.
“He’s my half-brother, but we were raised together. Erlendr found out his wife cheated on him, so he locked her up in an abandoned section of the Gallery. He kept her there in secret until the rest of his family fell to Earth. Then he dragged both her and the child down with him, and made me.”
Yet another man appeared from the trees. “He didn’t make you. He raped our mother to reassert his dominance.”
“He what?” Arcadia didn’t seem extremely shocked by everything this Jupiter guy had told her. Even though this was clearly all news to her, she was hundreds of years old, if not thousands, so these kinds of things rolled off of her. The rape thing was just too much, though. “He raped her?”
“I didn’t want to be that dramatic,” Jupiter said.
“The Screener showed us what happened!” his brother shouted. “She didn’t just say no a few times, then finally give in. It was violent, and horrific! I only wish I could have killed him as well.”
Arcadia stepped forward, and spit on Jesi’s dead body. “Same.” There was some silence for a bit before Arcadia continued, “why am I just now hearing about all this? Why have we not met before? I would have reached out if I had known you were my brother. I just wrote you off, because you were some random Springfield Nine I didn’t care about.”
Jupiter chortled. “I’m not really a Springfield Nine. Baby, I was born this way.”
My father,” the brother answered, “Athanaric Fury didn’t want us involved with all you people. I’ve kept my distance pretty well, and of course Jupiter here has his own group of friends. You’re right, though. I should have reached out.”
“Oooooohhh,” Leona realized. “You’re the other artist. You built the Rushmore extensions.”
“And Serif,” Mateo added.
“I was young,” Fury said to Mateo, “and I treated people as commodities. I’m not like that anymore.”
More rustling. This battlefield edge was a surprisingly busy place. Zeferino Preston struggled up to them. He looked drunk. “Ya gotta help me. He’s in my head. I can’t stop him. I can’t fight him anymore.” He did look like he was trying his damndest to keep it together.
“Erlendr?” Arcadia asked, helping her brother get back to a standing position.
“He’s a lot stronger than me, you know that. I can barely send a psychic email. You have to get him out. Please. I know we haven’t always been close, but I need you right now. Mateo! Mateo, we’re friends now. K—kind of. You’ll do the right thing.”
“Why the hell are you asking me? I don’t know how to get rid of a psychic invader!” Then he stopped to think about it. “I know someone who does, though.”
Leona nodded. “We have to go back to the future.”