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.”

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Firestorm: Alexi Lanka (Part IX)

My name is Alexi Lanka. I’m a runner, I have anger issues, and today is the day that everything about my life changes. I’ve always known that my mother keeps secrets, but she runs a bank, so I figured she was an embezzler, or whatever. The reality of her insane life never occurred to me, because how could it? Who could have known she would turn out to be a time traveler? Or that I would be too?
“So.” My father smiles at the two of us as we’re sitting at the table, eating what I hoped would be a casual meal. He speaks in a surprisingly poor Russian accent. He grew up around North Americans, so he spent most of his life without it. Even his parents apparently worked hard to shed their original accents, which makes it strange that he would try to adopt it in honor of them after they died two years ago.
“So, what?” He’s gonna say something embarrassing for me.
“So, are you two officially an item?” he goes on.
“Yes, sir.” Cambria Buchanan, a.k.a. Agent Nanny Cam and I have been friends for years now. She was a racer at one point as well, but now she’s a streaming drone operator. The woman actually paid a neurosurgeon to drill into her head and upgrade her brain with technology so she could be better at her job. I guess I’ve always loved her, even before we were together.
“You don’t have to call me that,” my father says to her. “We’re all friends here.”
“We are, aren’t we?” she asks rhetorically, with her own smile. It’s powerful enough to get me out of even the worst of my fits of rage. I better not do anything to screw this up. She’s gonna save me a lot of money in therapy expenses. “Then, can I call you dad?”
Mine is one of those cool fathers who never treats Gen Z-ers like us with disdain. He goes with the flow, and tries to understand people. I’ve never seen him angry my whole life. I don’t think he knows how. We couldn’t be more different. This comment from Cambria throws him off, which is unusual. “If you want. Are you getting married?”
“We’re thinking about it,” she answers. That’s misleading, though. She’s thinking about it, and I’m thinking about it, but we’re not thinking about it together, and we’re definitely not talking about it. I don’t know how long you have to wait before you propose, but I imagine the waiting period has to be measured in years, rather than months. That’s the kind of thing a real mother would be able to explain.
Dad smiles again, but my brain suddenly shifts. I’m thinking about something else, or trying to, at least. I can’t figure out what it is, but something is wrong. “Something is about to happen.”
“I’m sorry?” dad asks.
Cambria massages my arm. “What are you talking about?”
I can’t help but ignore them, even though I did register their responses. I stand up, and point into the living room. “There.”
They look over in plenty of time to witness three people magically appear on the other side of the sectional. One of them is my mother, and another is Slipstream of Tracer gang fame. I don’t know who the one in the middle is. My father stands up and takes one step forward. “Alexina,” he says. That may actually be anger. I know the two of them don’t get along, but he’s always been just as cool as ever when she’s around. He’s never uttered her name with such contempt.
“Rodion. This is your home,” mother says to him.
“Yes. And you promised never to do that in our son’s presence.”
“I didn’t mean to,” she says sincerely. It was an emergency. She got us out of a deadly situation, and I guess her...let’s them bosses decided she would bring us here.” She now turns to the third woman. “You need to go back for the others.”
“I can’t,” the woman replies. “If they don’t send me there, I can’t go.”
“It’s too late,” Slipstream chimes in. “Whatever that thing does, it did it to them. If we go back now, there’s no telling what we’ll find.”
“That agent had that thing just floating around in his closet,” mom began. “There’s no way it killed them. It would have killed him too, and he would have fought a hell of a lot harder to stop it.”
“What are we talking about?” Cambria, ever the curious one. She wasn’t going to let a little thing like the sudden realization that magic is real slow her down.
“It doesn’t matter,” dad says with his new tone that I’m not comfortable with. “You promised you would never do anything like this. You need to go.”
“Wait,” I argue. “The cat’s out of the bag. Now I know she’s a super...hmm. I feel like I can’t say hero, but does that mean you’re a villain?”
My mom looks at me with sadness. “There are no superheroes, or supervillains. That’s not what we use our powers for.”
“Speak for yourself,” Slipstream contends. She gestures towards the woman who was apparently responsible for bringing them here. “She’s a superhero. They literally call her the Savior of Earth.”
A savior,” the woman corrects. “It’s just a title.”
“Dad,” I say in the calming voice my therapist taught me to use on myself whenever I start getting upset. “I don’t know what kind of arrangement you and my mother had with each other, but it was broken, and it can’t be undone, so we just have to move forward from here. I can understand you believing it best to keep this stuff from me when I was younger, but whatever the whole truth is, I’m an adult now. You can’t really argue that anymore.”
“I must be going,” the Savior says, smacking her lips. “I don’t think they’re sending me back to that office, though. I’m goin’ somewhere else.”
“Thank you, Daria,” my mom says to her. “Stay safe.”
Daria disappears, and there’s a moment of tense silence.
“All right,” my father breaks the ice. “He was right about that cat. You might as well tell him the truth. You need to tell him everything, though. If you only go over the good parts, he’s gonna start thinking I was wrong to shut you out of our lives. I need him to know that you’re just as bad of a person as you always have been...except it’s for reasons he didn’t know until now.”
“Okay, Rodion,” she says dismissively. Again, they’ve definitely never been friendly since I can remember, but they’ve never talked to each other like this before.
And so my mother starts to tell me about what she is. She allows Cambria to listen in. Evidently, it’s against their internal policies to reveal themselves to the world, but not to individuals, so this is all okay. She tells us about choosing ones and salmon, and the powers that be, and this special quasi-omnipotent family called the Prestons. She says that she’s also in her own special class called the Springfield Nine, which were turned into people with time powers as kids, rather than being born this way. I asked if I could do what she does, but she doubts it. If I haven’t discovered my ability by now, I probably don’t have one. It would be like going through puberty in your forties. She also tells me the bad things, as she promised. My dad doesn’t hate her because of what she is, and didn’t shield me from her because of it. She used her power for her own gain, and that of her friends. She screwed people over, and ruined their lives. She took power where it didn’t belong to her, and she never once helped an innocent person.
She’s not a teleporter, like the woman who brought her and Slipstream here. She’s clairvoyant, which means she knows things about the past, present, and future. She doesn’t actually see what’s going to happen, but the feelings she gets can guide her to the right choices. Well, not necessarily the right choices, but the choices she wants. In the past, she has used her gifts for financial gain, and to maintain all that power. She’s reportedly trying to become a better person, but of course, it’s really easy for her to say that now that I know more about her life. In the end, I hug her, because my father was wrong. Getting to know my mother was all I ever wanted, and I have to assume she does truly want to change, because if no one believes in her—if I don’t believe in her—she’ll quickly lose faith in herself, and that will just prove everyone right about her. I know what it’s like to see almost everyone give up on you. I’m certainly not going to let anyone else feel like that if I can help it.
My father makes the gracious decision to let her stay the night with us. She says there are some dangerous people out there, and she wants to protect us. Cambria stays over too. After Slipstream goes out to look for their friends, she returns, and stays as well. Nothing against my mother, but Slip is the true protector here, and she doesn’t even need superpowers to do it.
I awaken to loud arguing in the morning, and rush downstairs to find out what’s going on.
“I know you have the Omega Gyroscope now, because I tracked it here!” a man is screaming at my mother. “Don’t make me go back and create a new timeline! I still got Ophir on speed dial. How’s your relationship with him these days?”
“What’s going on here!” I scream at him, defending my mother. “Who the hell are you?” I step in between the two of them.
The man who’s barged into our house regards me with such shock. “This..is...uh. Um. It’s a private conver—” His eyes start to droop, and his head gets real heavy. He tries desperately to remain in control.
“Get away from him, Alexi,” mom instructs.
“What’s happening to him?” I question.
“It’s a failsafe, in case you two ever met,” she answers cryptically.
“Who is he?” the man demands to know, indicating me. “I feel something here. He looks so familiar. Let me go so I can—I can figure this out.”
“No. I’ll die before I let you know one thing about him.”
“Why wouldn’t you want me to know him? Why do you care?” He’s about to keel over, but he protects himself by getting down on one knee.
“Volpsidia is one of the worst of us,” my mom begins, “but even she understands how dangerous you are. Your only hope now is to stop thinking about it. You understand? Psi put a bomb in your memory. If you don’t get the hell away from us right now, you’re literally gonna go insane. It’s the only way to stop you...unless you stop yourself. Get out now, and find someone who can erase your memory of today.”
“We have a pact,” the man argues. He slowly puts himself on the floor. “We can’t move against each other.”
“That pact was broken when Rothko showed back up,” she says to him. “Jesi broke it, and I’m glad she did, because her heroics have opened my eyes. I realized that I’m not much better than him...or you. The difference is I’m trying here. You can try as well, but you have to leave.”
Now on his back, he pulls his phone out of his pocket, and struggles to lift it up to his ear. He sounds like he’s approaching his last breath. “Ophir. Emergency exit. Get me to Tertius Valerius. Right now.” He disappears.
“Who was that?” I ask my mom.
She looks over to the kitchen, where Cambria and my father are. He’s somehow angrier than he was yesterday. Is this going to become a habit? “Don’t. When I said you needed to tell him everything, I didn’t mean that. We agreed to never talk about that.”
“Alexi’s in danger now. I stopped him this time, but if Jesi and I are the only ones who turned over a new leaf, that means he still has plenty of friends to help him. Alexi has to know what he’s up against.”
“What is it?” I ask. “Tell me.”
“I am your father!” my dad cries, as if I don’t already know that.
“He’s right,” mother says, turning to face me. She takes a deep breath. “He’s your real father. But he’s not your biological father.” I think I know what she’s gonna say, but then she adds a whole new level to this madness. “And I am not your biological mother. That man is named Jupiter Fury. He’s actually a Preston, but very few people know that. He and an...entity known as Effigy are your birth parents. I lied to you before. The chances of you not having some kind of temporal power...are negligible.”

Friday, May 22, 2020

Microstory 1370: Gareth Morgan

Prison Counselor: Mr. Morgan. I hear you’re getting out soon. Congratulations.
Gareth Morgan: Well, it’s bittersweet. That’s why I wanted to talk to you today, one last time.
Prison Counselor: Oh? Go on.
Gareth Morgan: Since I’ve been locked up, everything has been provided for me. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t wish I could stay, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I’ve grown accustomed to the routine and monotony of my days.
Prison Counselor: Yes, that’s very hard. That’s why we have programs, like halfway houses, which help those who have been released adjust to their new lives. We want you to be as productive and positive as anyone else in this country.
Gareth Morgan: Well, see, that’s not actually a problem. I don’t need a halfway house. I’ve come into some money. I should have gotten it months ago, but I was unqualified for the funds while I was in prison.
Prison Counselor: Where did this money come from?
Gareth Morgan: I won’t name names, but let’s just say a certain very wealthy business magnate recently died, and it turns out, he’s my father, and he left me a stipend.
Prison Counselor: A stipend, not an inheritance?
Gareth Morgan: No. My sisters—who not only did I never know about, but didn’t even know about each other—have already divvied up his assets. Only a little bit was set aside for my housing and food. According to his lawyer, I don’t even get a set amount each time. I have to save and scan my receipts every single month, and send them to an accountant. Then she will only reimburse whatever I bought that fits the criteria. Everything else I have to pay for myself. Which is fine, it’s just...
Prison Counselor: It’s really complicated.
Gareth Morgan: Yes.
Prison Counselor: Well, it seems to be the most complicated part is that you have sisters you’ve just met.
Gareth Morgan: Oh, no. We’ve never met, and we never will. In fact, I don’t think they so much as know I exist. The lawyer apparently wasn’t required to disclose the entire list of inheritors? There are many more than just the children, I guess. He left little bits of money here and there for charities, and other people he admired throughout his life. I’m just a line item.
Prison Counselor: Well, I’ve met you, and I can tell you that you’re more than just a line item. Don’t let your past determine what you do in the future, or try to predict how people will receive you. Your estranged sisters have just as much right to know you as you have to know them. Don’t take that away from them just because you’ve been kept secret, beyond your control.
Gareth Morgan: Well, what if they try to erase me from the will entirely? I might need that living stipend. I don’t have a lot of skills that apply in the legitimate workforce.
Prison Counselor: You’re again underestimating yourself. I’ve seen you grow in here, and I’ve heard what you’ve learned. You spend a lot of time in the computer lab. Plus, you have that road construction experience. But the truth is, yes, they may work against you legally. That’s a risk you have to take. But what if it’s the other way around? What if they want to include you? You’ll never know if you don’t try to talk to them.
Gareth Morgan: Quit making sense.
Prison Counselor: Haha. I have some other clients to get to, unless there’s more you want to talk about.
Gareth Morgan: No, I’m all right. You’ve given me a lot to think about. I really appreciate you coming down here. I know there isn’t a lot of money in prison counseling.
Prison Counselor: I don’t regret my choices at all.
Gareth Morgan: It would be inappropriate for us to hug, so how about I hug the air from over here, and you hug the air over there?
Prison Counselor: I can do that. Good luck, Gareth.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Microstory 1369: Jury Selection

Jury Selector: Jury Candidate, where do you work?
Jury Candidate: I work for a paperclip manufacturing company, based out of Kansas City. We’re the largest papercl—
Jury Selector: Great, and what are your primary responsibilities there?
Jury Candidate: I...I make paperclips. Like, I literally make the paperclips on the factory floor. I’m hoping for a promotion into an administrative department, though. I have really great interpersonal skills.
Jury Selector: Are you in charge of one or more other workers?
Jury Candidate: Uh...not yet. But again, it’s only a matter of time before I get that promotion, and show them what I’m worth.
Jury Selector: Okay. According to this questionnaire, you have served on a jury before. Were you the foreperson?
Jury Candidate: No, but I wanted to be, and I would like to be this time, so I’m throwing my hat in the ring now, before anyone else can.
Jury Selector: That will be up to the rest of the jury, and will happen at the beginning of deliberations, if you are chosen for a seat. We will not be involved with that decision. Now. Have you ever heard of RandoCorp?
Jury Candidate: You could say that. Yes, I have heard of it, yes.
Jury Selector: Have you, or anyone close to you, ever worked for RandoCorp, its parent company, CompreCo, or any of its subsidiaries, including Ordinariosa, Mundane Solutions, or Triviam Inc.
Jury Candidate: No, I would never. I mean, I have never.
Jury Selector: That was an interesting answer. What have you heard about the case for which you would be serving, RandoCorp v. Plaintiff?
Jury Candidate: I have heard nothing. I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Jury Selector: I find that rather hard to believe. This situation has been in the news for the past three weeks.
Jury Candidate: Well, I don’t really read the news. I don’t drive anymore either, so I don’t pay much attention to the software that goes into vehicles.
Jury Selector: If you’ve never heard anything about it, how do you know the case involves vehicular software?
Jury Candidate: Well, that’s what the company does. I just made a guess.
Jury Selector: RandoCorp does a lot of very different things; hence their name. There’s no way you could have guessed which division is pertinent here. Tell me, Jury Candidate, have you ever known anyone to be involved in a vehicular collision?
Jury Candidate: I don’t see how that’s relevant.
Jury Selector: The plaintiff is suing RandoCorp for alleged mishandling of an automated braking system. Vehicular collisions are completely relevant. Please answer the question.
Jury Candidate: Yeah, I have. My cousin died in a car accident, but it had nothing to do with the brakes.
Jury Selector: What did it have to do with?
Jury Candidate: Don’t worry about it.
Jury Selector: Your Honor, we reject this candidate for the jury.
Jury Candidate: No, don’t! What are you talking about?
Jury Selector: If you can’t give a reasonable answer to the question, I’m afraid we cannot trust you to be a fair and impartial member of the jury.
Jury Candidate: You work for the plaintiff! Why would you kick me out! I’m gonna find RandoCorp guilty.
Jury Selector: I am here to serve my client to the best of my ability, but I will not corrupt the judicial system for it. Again, Your Honor, we reject this candidate for the jury.
Selection Process Judge: Defendant’s Jury Selector, do you concur?
Defendant’s Jury Selector: One hundred percent, Your Honor. Reject.
Jury Selector: This is bullcrap! Unhand me, sir! RandoCorp is going down! If it’s not because of this, it’ll be because of something. I swear to God, I’m gonna figure out how to...!

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Microstory 1368: Security Job Security

Security Department Head: Did you happen to read any of that document we emailed you?
Veteran: The one that came through a secure server, and made me register on a website to read it?
Security Department Head: Yes, that one.
Veteran: Yeah, I read the whole thing.
Security Department Head: Then this is mostly a formality, but not completely. I have to fill out this paperwork that says I went over your clearance, but if you went over the entirety of it yourself, we should be fine. I mean, you have pretty high level military security clearance, so if the government already trusts you, I see little reason for us to doubt your capacity of safety and security.
Veteran: No, sir. 
Security Department Head: I did want to take a moment to speak with you about your expectations for this job, and your reasons for being here. Even though we’re not exactly the most prestigious security firm in the nation, we’re still mostly composed of vets and cops—myself being a major exception; I was a federal agent—so we run in the same circles. I’ve heard your name floating around. Apparently, you’ve been in discussions with some other firms? Tell me about that.
Veteran: That’s right. A third of my unit have taken jobs at one firm, while another third started their own on the East coast.
Security Department Head: And the third third?
Veteran: Various other jobs; some of which aren’t all that glamourous. I fall into that category, I suppose. I’m pretty sick of stocking groceries, though.
Security Department Head: So, you’re not interested in working for one of these larger outfits?
Veteran: No, sir. I’m sure I’ll be quite content here.
Security Department Head: Okay, well the reason I ask is because we’ve been approached by both of these companies for a takeover. We do not intend to be swallowed up by them, but you can imagine how suspicious it is that someone as overqualified as you has stooped to our level.
Veteran: I wouldn’t say that I’m stooping to your level. Like I said, I’ll be happy here. I don’t need to go overseas, or even get paid all that much. I just want to put in my hours, protect some people who need it, then go home. I got enough pressure when I was stationed on the border.
Security Department Head: So...you’re not a corporate spy?
Veteran: I’m not at all, no.
Security Department Head: Don’t laugh. You wouldn’t be the first one.
Veteran: I’m sorry for my attitude, and I’m sorry for whatever’s happened. I promise I’m not here on behalf of anyone but your company, and me.
Security Department Head: All right. I’ll press it no further. Let’s go up to HR to make sure there isn’t anything else we need before you can start. Is Monday still good for you?
Veteran: It is, sir. Thank you, sir.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Microstory 1367: Birthday Boy

Surveyor 1: Hi, sir. Do you have literally a few seconds to answer a quick question?
Birthday Boy: What is it?
Surveyor 1: Where are you headed this morning?
Birthday Boy: I’m going to work, just like everyone else.
Surveyor 1: Oh, in that case, could you answer one more question?
Birthday Boy: Yes, and that was it. Goodbye.
Surveyor 2: Sir, I noticed how nicely you’re dressed. You must be going to work. But why work on such a fine day. Wouldn’t you rather be relaxing in some comfortable Hawaiin attire?
Birthday Boy: Are you trying to sell me a shirt?
Surveyor 2: Are you in the market for a new shirt?
Birthday Boy: No.
Surveyor 3: Sir.
Birthday Boy: What is it!
Surveyor 3: If you could pick the best vacation, what would it be? A) The mountains. B) A cabin in the woods on the edge of a town where a serial killer is on the loose. C) A cruise. Or D) Also a cruise.
Birthday Boy: The cruise, I guess. Are you working with those other two people?
Surveyor 3: What other two people?
Birthday Boy: Well, they were right there just a moment ago. Hey, where did you go?
Surveyor 4: I’m right here, sir.
Birthday Boy: I wasn’t talking to you.
Surveyor 4: Well, you’re talking to me now. Would you care to answer a survey for the chance to win a free cruise?
Birthday Boy: I don’t believe you.
Surveyor 4: Well, the survey isn’t personal, so what do you have to lose?
Birthday Boy: Fine, go ahead.
Surveyor 4: How do you feel about orcas? Are we for, or against?
Birthday Boy: I actually love orcas. They’re, like, my favorite animal.
Surveyor 4: Great, because the cruise includes an orca watching excursion.
Birthday Boy: There is no cruise. And orcas are incredibly hard to find in Hawaii.
Surveyor 4: I beg to differ, sir.
Surveyor 5: Sir, do you have time for a survey?
Birthday Boy: I’m already in the middle of a survey!
Surveyor 6: Sir?
Surveyor 7: Sir?
Surveyor 8: Sir?
Surveyor 9: Sir? Do you have time for a quick survey about horseback riding?
Surveyor 10: Sir?
Birthday Boy: Stop it! What the hell is going on?
Surveyor 11: Do you have time for a survey? Are you afraid of helicopters?
Birthday Boy: No! No more surveys! Get me out of here!
Birthday Boy’s Girlfriend: I can get you out of here.
Birthday Boy: Girlfriend, what are you doing here? What’s happening?
Birthday Boy’s Girlfriend: Just one more survey, and we’ll let you go.
Birthday Boy: Haha, oh my God. What is this?
Birthday Boy’s Girlfriend: If you could take anyone on a Hawaiin cruise that I bought you for your birthday, who would it be?
Birthday Boy: Your sister.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Microstory 1366: Performance Art

Art Reporter: Before we begin, I want to acknowledge that you do not generally participate in interviews. I appreciate you making an exception.
Performance Artist: Well, I was kind of obligated to do so. My publicist says we run the risk of a lawsuit if I don’t take the time to explain myself to my fans, and the general public.
Art Reporter: You have a publicist?
Performance Artist: I do, and right now she’s miming slitting her own throat to get me to stop talking about it, which is ironic, given the nature of my work.
Art Reporter: Yes, that’s an unfortunate coincidence. I’m sure it was an accident on her part.
Performance Artist: Now she’s waving her arms at me, begging me to stop talking about her.
Art Reporter: We can edit this part out.
Performance Artist: You will do absolutely no such thing, sir. The entire purpose of my art is to illustrate the lack of true truth in the world because of all this editing, filtering, hiding, and lying. And complacency. I detest complacency. We’ve all gotten so comfortable in our little bubbles, so when we see something the least bit provocative, we just can’t handle it.
Art Reporter: Is that how you would describe your art? Provocative?
Performance Artist: That’s precisely the word I would use. I’m trying to elicit a reaction from people, in order to show how easy it is to freak someone out.
Art Reporter: Okay. Would you describe your art as the least bit provocative, though?
Performance Artist: I see what you’re getting at, and that’s why I’m here. Obviously, since I am sitting with you right now, I’m totally fine. Nothing I’ve done on those streets has been real; at least not in the way you’re interpreting the meaning of the word. I don’t really slice my own neck open in front of people. It’s a prosthetic filled with fake blood. It’s all fake. But does that mean it’s not real?
Art Reporter: Yes, it does. And what exactly are you trying to say with this performance art?
Performance Artist: Well, I can’t give you all the answers. I want you to be able to come to your own conclusions about it. But the main thing I’m trying to point out how desensitized we’ve become as a species.
Art Reporter: I thought you were trying to elicit reaction, because you think people are living in bubbles. That sounds contradictory to me. Are we desensitized, or living in bubbles.
Performance Artist: Like I said, man, I’m not gonna give it all away. I just don’t want to have to stop performing my art. I’m only here to assuage some fears. Yes, that goes against my goals, but sometimes you just have to step out of character, I guess.
Art Reporter: What do you say to those who criticize your choice to involve a dog in your art?
Performance Artist: Well, I didn’t bring the dog with me today, but I assure you that he is one hundred percent okay. No animals were harmed in the making of this profound truth.
Art Reporter: After you presumably pretended to slit his throat, he collapsed on the sidewalk.
Performance Artist: [sighs] I suppose I have to break the illusion further. That was due to some incredibly well-timed sedatives. I think I executed that move quite well. I’ll ask my brother to post a video with his dog, or something, to ensure people see he’s quite alive. It’s art. Get it? I’ve already had to talk with the cops about this.
Art Reporter: Is it legal to give a dog sedatives for no medical purpose? Can we look that up? Someone find out whether that’s okay.
Performance Artist: No, don’t worry about it. You don’t have to do that. It’s totally fine.
Art Reporter: I think we’re gonna contact animal control, or someone, about it anyway. I do have a few more questions regarding throwing the knife towards the crowds after you use it. Is the knife itself real?
Performance Artist: Hey, thanks for talking to me. I think this was really productive.
Art Reporter: I do have a few more questions.
Performance Artist: That’s great, dude. You’re the real hero here.
Art Reporter: What?
Performance Artist: Let me know where I can watch this interview.
Art Reporter: This is print. Do you see any cameras here?
Performance Artist: Awesome. Catch ya later!

Sunday, May 17, 2020

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: March 22, 2016

The Insulator of Life was one of those things that always did what it was meant to do, theoretically through psychic commands. It didn’t have any buttons or switches, or some kind of computer screen. Leona simply placed it on Mateo’s chest, like she had years ago. Instead of returning his own life to his body, though, she was this time extracting two extraneous lives, with the intention of housing them in the Insulator itself. She knew this was possible, because it had once worked on Brooke and Sharice Prieto. It was a painful process, but it didn’t last forever. Once it was over, Mateo was feeling lighter than ever. He was back to his normal, dumb self.
“How do you feel?” Ramses asked.
“I’m a little nauseated from the experience, but my mind feels amazing.”
“Good, good,” Leona said. “I’m no doctor, but I imagine the nausea will pass. You probably just need a good night’s rest. You’ve been through a lot.”
“I’m sorry, Leona.”
“No more apologies, but my ultimatum remains, even in light of the revelation that you were under the influence. If you leave once more, I don’t ever want to see you again.”
“I understand.”
“Declan,” Ramses began, “could you help me help him upstairs? I assume you have guest quarters somewhere?”
“We just call it a guest bedroom,” Declan said, “and yes.”
Mateo slept the rest of the morning away. When he woke up, he made his way downstairs, and found the rest of his friends sitting in the living room. Leona was wearing the HG Goggles again. “Hey, honey.”
“What are you doing with those?” he asked.
“Here,” she said, removing them, and handing them over.
He put them on, and looked around. Arcadia was pretending to be sitting in one of the chairs. Erlendr was nowhere to be found, though. “Is your father here too?”
“He refuses to come out,” Arcadia answered. “I’m sure it’s for the best.”
“Can he hear you talking about him now?”
“Our consciousnesses are both in here, and we can communicate with each other, but we retain our individuality. He’s pouting alone, and doesn’t know what we’re talking about.”
“What are we talking about?” Mateo asked.
“Could you please translate for us?” Declan requested. “We can’t hear her without the goggles.”
“Sorry,” Mateo said. He started regurgitating what Arcadia was saying for the group.
“We’re discussing what to do with her,” Ramses explained. “We can’t just leave her in there forever. I mean, we technically probably could, but we’re hoping for a solution.”
“We could go back to the future,” Arcadia said. “They would be able to build me a synthetic body of some kind. In this time period, however, there’s nothing.”
“I still think it would work to place you in someone who’s already in a coma, or a vegetative state,” Leona said, kind of out of character. “Your consciousness would mend any physical damage to their brain, and then you would be able to walk around.”
“That’s not ethical,” Ramses said. “It’s the kind of thing I would suggest. What if the person we chose was destined to wake up?”
“I won’t let you do it anyway,” Declan declared. “If I want to be a superhero one day, I can’t let things like this slide.”
Nerakali suddenly walked into the room. “There is another way.”
“Sister!” Arcadia exclaimed.
“Hello, sister,” Nerakali said back to her.
“Wait, you can see her?” Leona questioned.
“All the Prestons have psychic abilities, to varying degrees. Zeferino was the worst. Erlendr was the best. I’m just okay, but I’m good enough to carry on a conversation.”
“Well, what’s the other way?” Arcadia asked her.
“I know of a body that no one else is using, and they never will. It’s up for grabs, if you want it.”
“Why is it not in use?” Declan asked. This was his time period, so he was going to be particularly protective of the other people living in it.
“Jesimula Utkin,” Nerakali said. “She went back in time using a homestone, and stopped her younger self from developing time powers.”
“Wait, you can develop time powers?” Declan was very interested in this.
“You can if you’re one of the Springfield Nine, yes. Anyway, there were now two versions of her in the timeline, so she decided to quantum assimilate with each other. Normally, the body they don’t use is scattered throughout space and time, but Jesi decided to keep the other one. I don’t really know why; I didn’t talk to her about it. I just know where it is.”
“That was over twenty years ago,” Mateo pointed out. “Isn’t it a desiccated corpse by now?”
“It’s not a corpse,” Nerakali replied. “It’s still technically alive. It just can’t think or do anything. It’s been in the hospital this whole time. It can breathe, pump blood, swallow, and digest. It wears a diaper, though, and orderlies have to hand feed it.”
“That’s kind of...gross,” Ramses decided.
Nerakali shrugged. “It was her choice. I try not to judge.”
“I’m willing to do it,” Arcadia said, “but I’ll need Jesimula’s permission. We can’t just take it.”
“Aww,” Mateo couldn’t help but say. “You’re growing.”
“Shut up,” she said with a psychic blush.
“I know where the real Jesi is as well,” Nerakali said. “Who’s up for a field trip?”

They found Jesimula Utkin in her lab. She was apparently a pretty big deal here, but she didn’t run the place, like she had in her old life. She no longer had the advantage of temporal powers.
“So. What do you do here?” he asked.
“I’m trying to find a way to replicate the 2025 pathogen.”
“What!” Leona exclaimed.
“Well,” Jesi began, “in an old timeline, I forced Paige Turner to go to the future, so she could become infected with the pathogen. When she went back to her own time period, she spread it more slowly then before, which served to inoculate the entire human race. But then Ace Reaver forced me to go back in time, where I altered the course of history. Now none of that is going to happen, so I have to do it in some other way. Again.”
“Oh, no you don’t,” Nerakali contradicted.
“This is really important to me,” Jesi said. “I kind of based my whole life around saving the species.”
“No, it’s taken care of,” Nerakali added. “The Stitcher handled it.”
Jesi was surprised by this. “She did?”
“Wait, what does that mean?” Leona asked. “What did Tonya do?”
“She folded the two realities together,” Nerakali said. “All that Jesi did when she sent Paige to the 32nd century; that all happened in this timeline, even though her later actions in the past should have prevented it. It’s a stable paradox.”
“My mother died as a result of that disease!” Leona shouted.
Everyone was silent for a moment.
“I mean, it’s the trolley problem,” Nerakali finally said.
“Oh, bullshit! Why did my mother have to be the one who dies? It’s so arbitrary!”
“It’s not arbitrary,” Arcadia said. “It’s fate. I made it so.”
“You agree with her, Mateo?” Leona cried. “She was your mother too!”
“I remember. I’m the one who killed her in the timeline before that.”
“I can’t look at any of you right now.” Leona activated her emergency teleporter, and returned to Declan’s house, where he and Ramses had stayed.
Jesi melted all the bones in her body. “My life’s purpose is pointless. I’ve been wasting my time in this lab.”
“No, you haven’t,” Mateo consoled her. “You’ve contributed to science, and now you can move on to some other project. You might cure cancer. Just because you don’t have a time traveling building doesn’t mean you can’t make things better.”
“Thanks,” Jesi said. “You didn’t come here just to drop that bombshell on me, did you?”
“We need your permission for something,” Nerakali said to her. “We would like to give your other body to someone else.”
Jesi hadn’t seen this request coming. “For who?”
Nerakali gestured towards Mateo. “For the invisible person he’s been translating for.”
“Here,” he said. He took off the HG Goggles, and handed them to Jesi.
“Come on,” Nerakali said to him. “Let’s give them some privacy.” She set the Insulator on the table, and they both walked out of the room.

Jesi and Arcadia didn’t talk too long before the former agreed to give her alternate body to the latter. She never explained why it was she was keeping it around in the first place, but they were grateful it was available. She gave them directions to the hospital where the body was being cared for, and said she would call ahead about her so-called twin sister being transferred to another facility. Obviously, the hospital didn’t really know the truth about the person they were being paid to take care of. The administrators were fully expecting their arrival, and gave them no trouble at the door. Trouble was waiting for them in the body’s room, though. Someone was already trying to remove the vacant Jesi body from the premises.
“Allen?” Mateo asked. He was loading the Jesi body into a wheelchair. “Jul—Saxon? What are you doing?”
“Oh,” Allen said. “This is why she wanted us to come to this exact date. She wanted a confrontation.”
“Who wanted a confrontation?” Nerakali asked, arms folded. “Jesi?”
“No,” Saxon said. “Volpsidia.”
“She wants this body?” Nerakali asked.
“She doesn’t have one of her own anymore. The prison cremated it when they found it empty of a consciousness.”
“Who the hell are we talking about?” Mateo questioned earnestly.
“She’s a psychic,” Nerakali answered. “Like, a damn good. Probably the best within the bounds of the universe. She must have jumped into someone else’s body, so she could escape Beaver Haven. I don’t know what her ultimate plan was, but it was stupid. Cremation is standard protocol for a dead body found in the prison.”
“She doesn’t have her old body in anymore, so she’s going to steal Jesi’s?”
“She told us it was extra,” Saxon explained.
“It is,” Mateo agreed arguably, “but we need it.”
“Well, so do we,” Allen said, “so what do we do? If we try to go back empty handed, she’s going to kill my husband; his brother.
Mateo sighed, but then he felt a burning sensation in his pocket. “Ackey!” He pulled out the Insulator of Life, and let it fall onto the Jesi’s body’s bed. “Why is it so hot? Are they dying?”
“My sister’s probably just trying to get your attention,” Nerakali said.
He put the HG Goggles back on.
“Give them the body,” Arcadia said. “They’re right, they need it more. I’ve done a lot of bad things in my life. Richard is a good person, though.”
“It sounds like Volpsidia isn’t,” Mateo said to her.
“Who is he talking to?” Allen questioned.
“Don’t worry about it,” Nerakali answered him.
“This is a ransom,” Arcadia reasoned, “and I’m paying the ransom. Let them have the body.”
Mateo looked over to Nerakali for guidance. She couldn’t hear what her sister was saying, but she was wise enough to guess. She just shrugged. He sighed again, and stepped to the side. 
“Thank you,” Allen said.
“Thanks,” Saxon echoed.
“Well, what the hell are we gonna do now?” Mateo asked as they left the room behind the other two, walking at a respectful distance behind them.
“I don’t know. I don’t have any other ideas,” a defeated Nerakali said.
“What’s that light up ahead?” The doorway to one of the rooms was glowing.
“It’s probably just some tear in the spacetime continuum,” she said dismissively. “Who cares?”
Mateo felt himself drawn to it. He stepped inside to find out what it was. A woman was sitting in her own wheelchair. It wasn’t just any woman, though. It was Arcadia. She was nearly completely motionless and nonreactive. Drool was dribbling down her cheek.
“Holy shit,” Nerakali said. She snapped her fingers in the physical Arcadia’s face. “She’s unresponsive. She’s a vegetable too.”
“How did this happen?” Mateo asked. “When in your timeline are you like this?” he asked the psychic projection of Arcadia.
“That is not me,” she said, almost defensively.
“There’s something glowing on the desk too,” Mateo noticed.
Nerakali stepped over, and picked it up. “It’s The Artist’s chisel.” She started working through it in her head. “This isn’t Arcadia. This is a recreation of her. The Artist went back in time, and made one, almost certainly for this very purpose. We place the Insulator on the body, and tap her forehead with this chisel, she’ll come to life.”
“Really? Well, let’s do it. Are you all right with that?” he asked Arcadia, but he knew what her answer would be.
“Hell yeah.”