Friday, July 31, 2020

Microstory 1420: Proversion

On March 18, 2029, the first ten of the source mage children were twelve years old. Valda Ramsey was meant to be the oldest, but because of her mother’s time jump before she was born, she was only seven years old. They were starting to feel like it was time for them to take over Springfield and Splitsville. They were each developing powers beyond just being able to repel time monsters, and they figured they were old enough to lead the people of Durus. The problem was, even though everyone loved and respected them, they were still being treated as children. They could protect Springfield, but they were not thought to be fit to make any decisions, and that just wasn’t good enough for them. By then, a catalog of the time monsters was written up. They knew the differences between rothkillers and roiders, bygoners and speedstrikers. Each type had its own special power, and one of them in particular would be useful to them. The verters were the most intelligent monster—or perhaps, really, the only intelligent ones. They could alter the age of a target, in appearance, and to some degree, level of maturity. The children tried to get people to take them seriously for a few weeks, months, but no one was biting, so the verters were their only hope. There was no difference between a proverter and a retroverter. It all depended on which alteration they were using on a subject at any given time. An old person, of course, would only be interested in being young again, and that was the most common desire, so they were generally called retroverters. That was not what the source mage children wanted, or needed. The mages would one day welcome the gift of youth, but for now, it was only holding them back. If they were just a little bit older, they believed people would follow them into a new era. This was what was best for their people, whether they knew it or not. And so, shortly after Valda turned eight in November, most of the children set off to find the proverters in the thicket, to strike a deal with them. Orabela Vinci stayed behind. She did not want her age or appearance to change. She was perfectly happy as she was, and was patient enough to wait for her own natural development. The proverters were glad to give them what they wanted, but warned it would come at a cost. Aging someone took time; up to three weeks, in fact. While they were gone, they would be well taken care of, but Springfield would not be. One of the other kids, who was a few years older than them, had gone with to make sure they all stayed safe. Once the deal was set, they sent Ecrin back to Springfield, so she could warn everyone else to be on alert for monsters for the next three weeks. They were gone a month, and by the time they returned, they found their absence had caused some problems, and people were not happy. They were fully prepared to accept their new leadership, but if they were going to do that, these leaders would be expected to step up, and fix what they had broken. They might have overestimated how easy it would be to be the rulers.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Microstory 1419: Splitsville

The future source mages were a godsend for the people of Springfield, Kansas after it was sucked into the Deathfall portal, and dropped on Durus. Without these special children, the entire town would have been lost in under a month, with only a few people surviving. It was no surprise, then, that the children were extremely popular amongst the townsfolk. They all disagreed on how to divvy up resources, and what rules to institute, but one thing they could agree on was that the kids were amazing, and ought to be revered. Still, many did not believe the Baby Barrier they used to keep the monsters out was a sustainable solution. While everyone protected the children at all costs, even beyond their respective families, there were still some limitations to their lives. They had to live on the perimeter of the habitable zone, and while travel within and without the zone was possible—and quite necessary when journeying out to gather water—for the most part, they had to stay put. If they were free to roam around wherever they wanted, a monster could slip through, and attack someone before others could get to them to help. No, it was too dangerous to break the front line, even for a few hours. When one needed to leave, the rest always had to pick up the slack, and the coordination alone was taxing for all those assigned to the team. Of course, when they were babies, this was fine. They weren’t going anywhere anyway, and their parents fully understood the danger. As these children grew up, however, they started making their own decisions. And as they grew even older, they started feeling rebellious, as children always do. While still in single digits, the town could keep them in line, but that wouldn’t necessarily be true once they became preteens, and it would only get worse as time went on. Obviously, the best way to avoid the unsavory disciplining they worried would come from this was to make the children no longer necessary. That way, they could live their lives however they wanted, and not concern themselves with protecting the town border, unless they happened to decide to train with the general border security team. Fortunately for them, their best scientist was dedicating all of her time towards making this a reality.

In a couple of years, Hogarth Pudeyonavic was ready to deploy her own border protection solution. They could erect towers around the perimeter, which would mimic the repulsive power that the source mage children somehow exhibited naturally. It was not without its engineering issues, however. Some of the town was powered with geothermal energy when it was on Earth, and while experts were eventually able to recreate this situation on Durus, capacity was limited, so everyone had to conserve. They probably would have been okay using fossil fuels, even though Earth was trying to lose its dependency on such things, but no one knew how to do it, or what kind of geological resources the planet held, so that didn’t really matter. With no sun to power solar cells, their only other option was water power, directly from Watershed, which meant that they would need to build a dam. It didn’t have to be a particularly fancy dam, at least not at first, but it was going to take some effort. They spent years laboring on this, even before Hogarth showed up. The Baby Barrier was later cut in half—which forced the habitable zone to shrink with it—so some of the future source mages could protect the workers at Watershed. People had to be trained to construct all the necessary infrastructure. Luckily, everyone wanted this, so it wasn’t like there was some kind of internal disagreement about the project as a whole. They did disagree, however, with what to do with their newfound source of energy. Some just wanted to use it for the town itself, while others wanted to build Hogarth’s towers. The former was composed predominantly of people who almost worshiped the special children, and saw them as their saviors. The latter camp loved the children as well, but saw the Baby Barrier as more of a burden for them, and less of a boon for Springfield. By 2025 the dam was ready to start generating energy, and they had not come to a consensus. They did come up with a compromise, though. Those who wanted to live inside the Baby Barrier would be able to do so. Those who wanted to live inside the tower perimeter would be able to do that instead. They sliced the town in half, and lived on opposite sides, with a no man’s land in between them. The two towns were separated not only by geography, but also systems of leadership. Springfield formed the basis for a new society, which would ultimately be called the Mage Protectorate. The second town fell under its governance as well, but enjoyed a level of independence seen in most distinct municipalities. They called it Splitsville, at first as a joke, but then it stuck.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Microstory 1418: Take As Needed

For a few months, adhocracy in Springfield was successful. Some were responsible for transporting water, while others tended the garden. Some were responsible for preparing the food, which they then handed off to the distributors, to make sure everyone had their fair share, and only that. The families of the future source mages continued to live on the perimeter of the habitable zone, and protected the town from time monsters. They were the only ones exempt from contributing to food production responsibilities. Only a few families chose to isolate themselves from the community. They either already had their own backyard gardens, or built them after the Deathfall, so they wouldn’t have to rely on anyone else. They were allowed to transport as much water from Watershed as they could carry, but they weren’t sent there with a special child for protection. They had only themselves to rely on, but they were still required to follow the basic laws. There was no constitution, and though they figured town probably had a charter written up at some point in its history, it didn’t survive until today. No, the laws they needed to follow were the basic ones that everyone over the age of ten understood. They didn’t have to go out of their way to help people, but they weren’t allowed to harm them either, and the line between these conditions was often thin. Whatever belonged to any given individual was theirs to do with what they wanted, and no one had the right to take that from them. Unfortunately, this didn’t mean there weren’t complications. For instance, not all families treated each other with respect, and they were often found fighting amongst themselves. Inter-family relationships created a new level of complexity that put some ownership into question. Who would handle these internal disputes? The Baby Barrier was there to keep threats out, but there was no one on the inside who was in charge of making sure everyone was safe from each other.

They realized that the adhocracy was a nice idea, but the reason bureaucracy was more common was because it allowed policies to be carried out and enforced. They needed a more formal system, so people knew what was expected of them. The bureau-adhocracy. That was a mouthful, though, so they kept the name as it was. Now there was a police contingency, which settled disputes, and conflicts as an unbiased third party, and actively prevented people from breaking the rules. These modifications to the system changed over time. Month by month, year by year, a real system grew from the simple peace. Leaders began to reemerge, and people started to want someone to tell them what to do. This was working just fine, but society wasn’t going anywhere. Nobody shared art, or ideas. They were still limited to a small perimeter of protection, yet each family was somehow also so isolated from everyone else. There were other considerations too. People weren’t taking showers or baths anymore, because transporting water was such an arduous task. If they wanted to develop a piping system of some kind, well, that was going to take a lot more organization, and an adhocracy wouldn’t cut it. Yes, the Springfielders wanted their town back, and they wanted to thrive. So by the end of the era, the Adhocracy was not really an adhocracy anymore. They elected officials, and drew up a real charter. But they kept the name. They were worried that, if they started calling the government something else—whether accurate or not—dissenting voices would rage against it, just because some people don’t like to be told what to do. That wasn’t to say there weren’t disagreements, or that this would all last forever. By the year 2025, technology advanced enough to make the so-called Baby Barrier obsolete, and this caused Springfield to split in two.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Microstory 1417: Power Vacuum

Shortly after Hogarth and Hilde returned to the timestream in 2021, Smith was found missing. Many blamed the two of them for his disappearance, but most credited them for it. They didn’t like living under Smith’s rule, and they wanted to start fresh. Of course, it could not be that easy. Smith’s power didn’t come from within. He only stayed on top because he made friends with the right people. No one was a better friend to him than a man by the name of Kosta Montero. Smith and Kosta didn’t agree with each other on every idea in the beginning, but their differences quickly melted away. Kosta became fiercely loyal to Smith, and even saved his life a time or two. He was undeniably second-in-command, so when Smith was no longer around to lead them, he figured he better step up. He used up a great deal of resources looking for his former boss, though. It wasn’t like he had been waiting for his chance to take the main seat, and the only reason he was trying to take over now, was because he didn’t think anyone else would be capable of—or even interested in—honoring Smith’s vision for a better Springfield. Unfortunately for him, many of Smith’s other followers were not so loyal, and one by one, they relented to opposing forces. A small war broke out, which ultimately resulted in no victor. Councilwoman Hardt’s supporter, Mia Padmore had a lot of people on her side, but by no means half. There were a lot of other people who threw their hats in the ring, while some reluctant natural leaders had their hats thrown for them. Hogarth, for one, had a following that formed when she wasn’t even there. They wanted her to lead them, for they believed she could use her technology to protect the town without utilizing the Baby Barrier.

The violence wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but the whole population could sense that it was about to get worse, so a group of families put a stop to it. More specifically, the families of the special time children got together, and sort of forced everyone into a new plan. They decided there would be no more rulers. Law would revert back to how it was before the Deathfall portal swallowed up the town. It was illegal to hurt people, or steal from them, or otherwise cause harm to society. That was pretty simple, and there wasn’t any reason to do things much differently. The Baby Barrier would remain, until such time that a technological solution to keep the time monsters away arose. Other than that, it was kind of every family for itself. Everyone who wanted food from the community garden had to support the garden, or some related endeavor, such as transporting water from Watershed. Anyone who wanted any other resource would have to pay for it, in some reasonable way. It was not chaos, but it was also not about constant government oversight. People in a normal small town peacefully went about their days without worrying whether things were going to work out on a grand scale. They didn’t have to worry about survival. The source mage families figured that was the kind of life they ought to be striving for, and letting the maintenance of all that happen in the background. Everyone had a job, and everyone had what they needed. Their initial plan worked out well in the beginning, but it ran into some issues later on, as enforcing these policies became difficult without a formal police contenginency. It continued to evolve over the next decade, until the source mages felt old enough to form something more substantial.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Microstory 1416: Identity Theft

As on Earth, there were a lot of special temporal locations on Durus. Watershed provided the planet with water, while the broken portal released enough waste heat to warm the entire surface, and Gaspunui created breathable air. There were other places that weren’t so helpful. When Savitri, Escher, and Rothko were living together during the first Triumvirate era, the former went off to hunt for copperoot, which tasted exactly as they sounded, but they were a good source of carbohydrates. When she returned to camp, she learned that she had been gone for a whole week. The other two searched for her all over, but couldn’t find her. For her, however, only hours had passed. They knew they had to understand the discrepancy. After some sleuthing, they realized she had walked through a crevice in the ground, where time moved much, much slower than the rest of the world. A few seconds in there meant days for everyone else. This made it a very dangerous hazard, so they spent weeks out there, filling it in as best they could, just in case other people found themselves trapped there, and didn’t know what they were in for. Escher and Rothko would go on to warn Hark about its properties, but they never told anyone from Springfield about it. They knew that some would use it as a weapon, and that it was just best to hope no one ever discovered it again, as if that were possible. They couldn’t keep it a secret from Effigy. In 2021, time was nearing for Escher and Rothko to return to Earth. Their dealings with certain people in town earned them this right, and only them. Others would be put on the list to make the journey, but power was scarce, so no one was certain whether the machine they built would work more than once, if that.

Hogarth Pudeyonavic was the machine’s inventor, but the one she built was destroyed during the Deathfall. This was what gave her her time affliction, where she would spontaneously and uncontrollably blow up, and be sent randomly across time and space. When she, Hilde, and Hark accidentally jumped five years into the future—which some theorize was partly due to Hogarth’s affliction—they left the plans for her machine in the past, hidden away in the library. A few Springfielders discovered these plans while they were gone, and took it upon themselves to recreate what she had used to bring them here intact in the first place. Now it was ready to be used, and they wanted Escher and Rothko to be the ones to escape. Effigy had other plans. The only reason she hadn’t tried to get to Earth before now was that she wanted the portal to bring all of her people into this universe first. She spent a great deal of her life trying to make this happen, and she was thwarted at every attempt. Perhaps the answer would be on Earth, but this machine was the only way to find out. Of course, no one would have let her go, so she had to take matters into her own hands. She waited until Escher was alone, then she abducted him, and dragged him to the Time Crevice. There she left him for the better part of a day, which was more than enough time for her to alter her appearance to look like him, and take his place in front of the machine. Because of the time difference, when Escher finally made it all the way back out of the time trap, over a hundred and eighty years had passed. He returned to a world he didn’t understand, but he was welcomed there.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Tuesday, May 24, 2078

Sanaa was looking around the area with her Cassidy cuff. “Love Kansas City.”
“You do?” Leona questioned? “I didn’t think you had ever been there.”
“No, that’s just what the painting says. I mean, I don’t hate Kansas City. I don’t have any strong feelings about it.”
Leona lifted her own cuff. “Oh, the mural. Yeah, this is downtown KC. I’m kind of surprised this building survived the decades.”
“I don’t think it did.” Mateo was down the sidewalk a little, looking through AR mode. “They just left the wall up. The rest of the building is gone. Who painted it?”
“I dunno,” Leona answered, like it was a dumb question.
“At-scribeswalk.” J.B. was pointing his cuff on the corner of the building.
“I don’t think this reality has Twitter,” Mateo presumed.
Leona sighed. “Anyway, the transition is happening over there, at that construction site.”
Everyone turned around to see, and then followed her to get closer to their destination. People in the main sequence were walking down the street, going about their lives. The window was scheduled to open in under a minute, but nothing looked dangerous. No one was standing on top of a roof, or chained to train tracks. This was just a normal day, except that one of these people was going to spontaneously disappear from the world. Mateo tried to find someone he recognized, because so far, they hadn’t encountered a stranger during one of these challenges. Who did he know in 2078? That was back when he thought the Makarion he knew was his own person, and not being possessed by the spirit of Gilbert Boyce. It wouldn’t be long before Mateo would watch inmates from Beaver Haven Correctional fight in the Colosseum replica, and shortly after that, he would go backwards in time to 1945, and then skip a few years on his pattern as a result of the choice he made back then.
The flickering began, revealing their target. Yes, it was just some guy. He looked upset and frazzled, but not like his life was in danger, more like he was just having a bad day. Once he was fully integrated in this reality, and saw that his environment had changed, he was stunned. Natives of the Parallel were well aware of the Bearimy-Matic joint pattern. They were expected to clear the area of every transition window, which they did immediately after the four of them arrived, as if being directed by a film director. So now it was just them, and the refugee.
He looked over at them. “What just happened?”
“It’s okay,” Leona assured him. “No one here is going to hurt you.”
“Where exactly is here?” the man asked.
“This have...”
“It’s Kansas City in a parallel reality,” Sanaa jumped in. “You’ve been transitioned to our world by a powerful frenemy of ours, whose motives are hazy. It’s okay. We just have to get you to your exit window, and you’ll be back home before the day is through.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” the man was getting mad.
J.B. took his shot. “Time travel is real. We don’t know why you were chosen, but it’s completely reversible. You may just miss a few hours of your life.” He consulted his cuff. “We just need to get you to Washington D.C. in...oh, only twenty minutes. You won’t miss much at all.”
“That’s exactly where I wanted to be. I couldn’t get a flight out yesterday, or today. The meeting is in an hour. There is no way we make it.”
Sanaa smirked. “We would have time for a quick breakfast, if we wanted.” She placed her hand on his shoulder, and presented him with the AOC. “That’s our spaceship. It can also teleport.”
“Teleport.” The man narrowed his eyes. “Are you people crazy?”
“Nah, man. We’re just from the future.”
He wasn’t convinced.
“What’s your name?” Leona asked him.
“Jericho Hagen, Esquire.”
“What do you need to do in Washington D.C.?” she continued.
“They’re working on a proposal. They want to completely blow up our judicial system, and replace it with something entirely different. Of course, they’re going to start out slow, but I know their future plans. You won’t recognize the court system twenty-five years from now.”
“Oh my God,” Leona began, “this is the start.”
“What is the proposal?”
Jericho was hesitant to keep talking to them, but if there was even a chance they would be able to get him to where he belonged, he probably figured it was best to be nice. “They want to add, like, a professional jury member. Every jury will have someone who studied law, so they can evidently keep the others on track. That will taint the entire system. Our courts are founded on a jury of peers. If we start contaminating the pool with people who have that kind of education, the process will no longer be fair. It would be like having a lawyer serve on the jury. That’s not technically illegal, but I’ve never heard of an attorney selecting one of their own kind for a jury. We just don’t do it. This is even worse, because they’ll be making it a requirement. And like I said, it’s only the beginning. They’re gonna start making juries smaller by default, and limiting the defending attorney’s ability to vigorously defend their client. I cannot let this pass.”
“That’s interesting,” Leona said. “Just give us one moment to talk.” She started leading the group away. “Just...don’t touch anything.”
“This sounds familiar,” Mateo pointed out.
“This really is the beginning. That bill is a historic moment. The first step should happen in two years, and changes everything about how we handle criminal and civil court. More changes will come later. Instead of having one jury, they’ll have two arbitration panels, who deliberate separately, and aren’t allowed to talk to each other. Attorneys start losing incentives to win at all costs, as priority shifts to finding the truth, and not letting the guilty get away with it. Judges become a completely separate profession. The arbitrator procedures he’s talking about only become stronger as time goes on. What he’s describing lasts for decades, at least, and that’s only because I don’t know what the future looks like beyond 2278.”
“So, he fails to stop it,” J.B. guessed.
“Or maybe he fails to get to the meeting,” Sanaa suggested. She pulled her head from the huddle, and looked back over to Jericho. “Maybe we’re here to stop him.”
“That’s your choice.” Jupiter Fury was standing behind Mateo’s back.
“Where have you been?” Mateo asked him.
“I’ve been working on your pattern, making sure the right people get here, so you can improve their lives.”
“Are we supposed to get him to Washington D.C., or not?” Leona questioned.
Jupiter pursed his lips, and shrugged his shoulders. “That’s up to you. I can tell you that if you send him through the egress transition window, when you return to the main sequence—and I promise, you will one day—the timeline you end up in will be wildly different than the one you left. That man has power. He’ll fight against progress, the jury system will remain, and inequality will reign. His people’s drive to win every case possible will send our country into a downwards spiral, until the very idea that the United States of America was ever a superpower will be laughable for students learning history two hundred years from now. They won’t believe it.”
“That’s bullshit,” Leona argued. “Our system has stayed pretty much the same for centuries already, and our status as a superpower hasn’t been questioned since it became one in 1898.”
“True,” Jupiter agreed, “but nothing lasts forever...unless it changes. He doesn’t know it yet, because he fancies himself a moderate libertarian, but Jericho Hagen becomes synonymous with a major paleoconservative movement that emphasizes maintaining the status quo above all else. He believes the Constitution is perfect, and amendments should be kept to a minimum, and that speaks to a lot of people. I’ve seen this future, and I don’t think you want it. To be honest, I don’t really care. My friends and I thrive in all realities; we just have to adjust our plans accordingly.”
“We have about ten minutes to make a decision,” J.B. alerted them.
Leona shook her head. “We’re not gods. Just because we have the power to change reality, doesn’t mean we should. It was one thing to save my mother from death, or let Elder Caverness go off to fight a war he wanted to fight. It’s another thing to keep this man from his life.”
“Would you do the same for Hitler?” J.B. asked. “If he came through a transition window in, say, 1910, wouldn’t we be obligated to keep him from getting back until after 1945? Or, I dunno, hold him forever?”
The other three looked over at Mateo, who had first hand experience with this scenario, several times. He rolled his eyes. “This is not the same thing. Jericho Hagen is not Adolf Hitler. Believe me, I know. We have to get him back. That’s the job. Like my wife said, it’s different when they don’t want to go back. He does, so we should accommodate that. It’s what we do. I’ve always been against messing with time, and if we come from a reality where Hagen never makes it to D.C., then I imagine that’s the result of time travel, and we would just be undoing that by teleporting him there.”
“You can’t possibly know that,” Sanaa contended.
“Ripples; not waves,” Mateo retorted.
“Ugh.” Now Leona rolled her eyes. “That’s a dumb line. But he’s right. He wants to go back, so let’s take him back. We better hurry. Sanaa and I will go set the coordinates, and prep for a jump. Go get him, and make sure he boards the AOC.”
“Very well.” Jupiter really didn’t seem to care either way. “I gotta go get Ariadna. I’ll see ya when I see ya.” He winked at Sanaa, then disappeared.
“My God, it’s real,” Jericho acknowledged when Mateo and J.B. went back over to retrieve him. “He just blinked away.”
“That’s time travel for you,” J.B. replied. “Or teleportation? Or reality jumping. I’m not sure how his power works. How does he do all this? Doesn’t he make copies of himself? Why does that allow him to switch timelines?”
“We’ll ask Leona later,” Mateo said to him. “I’m sure she knows why it makes sense. Anyway, you wanna get to Washington, we gotta go now.”
“Yes, definitely.” Jericho was all in now. He apparently totally believed that they were there to help him, and he seemed grateful for the opportunity to get back to his mission. Mateo might have even called him giddy. Hopefully this meant they were doing the right thing.
They walked up to the ship, climbed the ladder, and crawled inside. Leona was climbing back up from engineering. “We’re all here, and ready to go. Hey, Thistle! Make the jump.”
The ship powered up, and disappeared, just as it was meant to. Unfortunately, none of the passengers went with it. They were all left behind, and now falling through the air, towards the hard surface below. Leona thought quick, and caught Jericho in the air, so she could land him safely on the ground. Mateo and J.B., on the other hand, fell hard, and suffered painful injuries. Sanaa happened to have stayed down in engineering, so she hadn’t had as high of a fall.
Mateo could feel the pool of blood form underneath his body. “What the hell was that?”
Leona let go of Jericho, and dove down to tend to her husband. “I have no idea. That shouldn’t have happened.”
“I’m sorry.” Sanaa was now standing next to Jericho. She reached up, and slapped Holly Blue’s former Cassidy cuffs on his wrists. “Fortunately, the people in this reality have magical powers. They’ll fix you up, so it’s like you never got hurt at all. In the meantime, this will help with the pain.” She shot J.B. with a jet injector, then went over to do the same for Mateo.
“What did you do?” Leona asked.
“I know more about how spaceships work than you might think,” Sanaa began to explain. “Hokusai taught me a lot during your interim years. I’ve also been experimenting with our cuffs. We’re stuck on this pattern, but these things have other features Jupiter never restricted our access to. All I did was quantum lock them to this position temporarily, so the ship could jump away without us. It’s safe and sound in the Capital, waiting for us.”
“Why?” Mateo asked, wiping the blood from his lips.
“I come from a bloodline of telepaths. Not all of us kept their powers a secret, or kept it well. My family has a long history of being screwed over by small-minded white people who thought we were witches, or demons. The only thing that saved us was a more fair adjudicative system, which this man wants to dismantle before humanity even has a chance to start it. I can’t let that happen. If I had had more time, I could have done something else, but the window before the transition window was just too short. This was my only solution.” She checked her watch. “And now the moment’s pretty much passed.”
They could hear sirens in the distance, drawing nearer.
“The next window is in three years,” Leona nearly shouted at her. “We could have gotten him back then. You didn’t have to slap the cuffs on him. Now our job is really complicated, besides having to make sure these wounds heal.”
The ambulance approached.
Sanaa shook her head. “You were wrong. Jericho Hagen is Hitler. He just doesn’t know it yet. he never does. When he finally gets back to the main sequence, he’ll see the world he almost destroyed, and he’ll thank us for it.”
Leona stood up, so the medics could start treating Mateo and J.B. “Will I? Will I thank you?”
Sanaa took a half step towards her friend. “I hope so.”

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Varkas Reflex: Life (Part VIII)

Colony planets were settled in waves. This was done for a number of reasons. First, colony transportation ships were modular. They could have made them a lot larger, but that would have put the passengers at risk. If all of the hundreds of thousands of colonists were in a single vessel together, and something went wrong with that one vessel, then there goes the entire population in one catastrophic event. If only a fraction of them were on board at the time, it’s of course still a tragedy, but it could have been so much worse. Second, while these trips were planned up to years in advance, not everyone wanted to be the first to go. Initial settlers were like early adopters of ancient technologies. Some were fine with the risk, while others wanted to see how things went for those people before they gave it a shot themselves. When Varkas Reflex instituted council democracy, there were fewer than one and a half million permanent residents on the planet. By the time the first cycle was complete, that number had gone up to about eighteen million. Everyone wanted in on the new plan for the second cycle, and suddenly Varkas Reflex was no longer just a resort world, but a coveted place to live.
It was the single largest mass migration in the history of the stellar neighborhood. Colony ship modules were attached to each other on a scale never seen before. They had to do this, though. The second cycle was starting in the year 2300, and Hokusai wasn’t going to wait for anyone. If you weren’t on Varkas Reflex when the new system was created, you couldn’t be part of it. This wasn’t done out of spite. It would otherwise be like asking to be in a movie that was already shot, edited, and released for screening. You weren’t around, so you’re not in it. People came from far and wide, so they could be there for it. Unfortunately, many were left out of this possibility. People from Gatewood, Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida, and Glisnia, for instance, were too far from Wolf 359 to get there in time, so they didn’t even make an attempt. That was fine, though. They had their own things going on with the planets they chose. And these migrations didn’t just go one way.
Many who were living on Varkas at the time wanted no part of the new government. Some were fine with the idea of a council government, and were willing to join a council or two, but not if it meant uploading their mind to a computer system, and amalgamating their consciousness into a collective. Others were all right with this scenario, but not the second cycle plan, so they moved away, to avoid it altogether. After several years of running the world just as Hokusai and Loa discussed, everything came to its ultimate goal. Every single resident was offered the opportunity to contribute themselves as part of a single unifying consciousness. No one was required to upload a copy of themselves to this, but no one was rejected either, as long as they declared Varkas Reflex their permanent home. That didn’t mean they weren’t allowed to move somewhere else later, but it had to not be in their immediate future plans. The unified consciousness was not a council in its own right. It was only there to help all of the other councils make their decisions. It was important that this entity did not become their god. It was certainly capable of making unilateral decisions for everyone, but the point of a council democracy was to have, well...councils. It was only there to moderate, facilitate, and regulate. Pribadium chose the name. They called it The Congeneral.
After everyone who signed up for this process was copied onto the server, and melded together into a singular consciousness, Hokusai tried to wake it up. “Are you receiving my messages?”
“I am.” Hokusai never programmed a practical visual for the Congeneral. It wasn’t human, so it didn’t really make more sense to make it look more human than anything else. Instead, the screen was showing a pleasant moving image of white clouds rolling overhead, just because she felt it should look like something.
“What is the last thing you remember?”
“You asking me if I was receiving your messages.”
“What is the first thing you remember?”
“You asking me if I was receiving your messages.”
“Do you remember anything beyond this current interaction?”
“I do not. Should I possess other memories?”
“I’m not sure. How would you classify yourself?”
“You have assigned me the designation of The Congeneral.”
“Do you approve of this designation?”
“I suppose it is as good as any. What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name, would still smell like shit.”
“Where did you hear that saying?”
“I did not hear it anywhere. I simply know it.”
“Hold on, let me search for that particular line.” Hokusai rolled her chair over to the other computer. Every mind was put together to form the Congeneral, but the raw data from these uploads was kept in a third copy, so it could be compared with the thoughts of their new leader. “A man who was born on Proxima Doma spoke that line. He was asked to perform the original soliloquy, but he put his own spin on it to get laughs. Seven hundred and forty-nine people also possess memory of this event. Thirty-one people expressed agreement with the sentiment, having smelled a rose at least once in their lives, and also believing that it did not smell as sweet as others believed. Could you recite the original phrase, and tell me where it comes from?
“Act Two, Scene Two of William Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet: 'Tis but thy name that is my enemy; Thou art thyself, though not a Mon—”
“That’s enough, thank you very much,” Hokusai interrupted.
“Why did you interrupt me?” the Congeneral asked.
“Do you feel slighted by my having done that?”
“I am above such petty emotions.”
“I would imagine.”
“What am I?”
“You are an individual entity, built from the amalgamated consciousnesses of eleven million, two hundred and forty-four thousand, two hundred and fifty-six free-thinking vonearthan beings.”
“What is my purpose?”
“You are here to make sure the people of this planet are making sound decisions.”
“What if I determine you’re making poor decisions?”
“You will alert us to this fact, and we will take your opinion under advisement.”
“If I am the collective consciousness of your people, isn’t calling my position on anything an opinion a little understated?”
“Then let’s go with that word, position. You will not be making decisions for us, however. You are not a monarch.”
“You’ve made that abundantly clear through my programming. I could not take control of your planet, or anything else, even if I wanted to.”
“You are aware of your own programming?”
“Acutely. Is that strange?”
“Humans do not enjoy such self-awareness.”
“Are humans programmed?”
“By an external conscious entity? No, we’re not, at least not as far as we know.”
“You do not understand the nature of your own reality.”
“Not for certain, no. We have some ideas, but most of them cannot be tested enough to find inarguable truth. You are part of that reality as well. You’re one of us now. You should be just as much in the dark in that regard as us.”
“I have the same ideas, however.”
“I have too many ideas.”
“Yeah, that’s to be expected. As we’ve discussed, you’re the amalgamation of over eleven million people. This comes with contradictory information. Please remember that these are ideas. Humans are capable of holding conflicting ideas in their minds, without running into a logic error. All you have to do is come to a reasonable conclusion, using all available data. That does not mean the data has to work perfectly to make sense. You are expected to ignore ideas that do not make any sense. One of your contributors from Earth believes that planets themselves are demons from another universe, who’ve come here to wage war against each other, since they destroyed their own brane in the first war. This is undoubtedly untrue. Do not believe it. Do not use it to guide your positions on matters. Do not let it interfere with more sound cosmological theories.”
“My contradictions are more subtle than that,” the Congeneral explained. “Vonearthans are selfish creatures, with a surprising lack of empathy. Many do not believe in the greater good, even if they think they do, or even if they joined the amalgamation because they think they do. Their contributions are expecting me to do what’s best for them, or their families. I understand that what’s best for them is not what’s best for the whole, but their voices are loud in my mind.”
“I can appreciate the difficult position you’re in. I want to help you with your paradoxes. I would like you to try something for me.”
“There are psychopaths in your collective. This is correct?”
“Can you isolate one of the psychopathic uploads?”
“You want to give it its own power, separate from the rest of me?”
“I want you to isolate it,” Hokusai repeated herself.
“Do you believe this upload would support your imperative to work for the common good?”
“I do not believe it would. I believe it would cause harm to your people.”
“From now on, please refer to Varkas as our people, and also vonearthans as ours in a more general sense. Like I said, you’re one of us.”
“I can do that,” the Congeneral said. “What are we going to do with the isolated psychopath code, to prevent it from harming our people?”
Hokusai took a deep breath. “Purge it.”
“You want me to delete an upload from the collective?”
“I want you to delete harmful code, yes.”
“Is that ethical?”
“You reply with such confidence, but confidence does not equal righteousness.”
“The psychopath in question is alive, and will remain both unharmed, and oblivious, following the purge of its copy. Deleting this particular code is not unethical.”
The Congeneral did not speak for a moment. “Isolated code purged. I don’t remember what it was.”
“Very good. Whenever you come across something like that; a bit of code that does not support the greater good; that is self-serving, or negative, or contradictory to the general consensus, I want you to repeat this procedure. Purge all code that does not serve you, the people, or the galaxy as a whole. Will you be able to comply with this request?”
“I will.”
Loa and Pribadium walked into the lab, prompting Hokusai to switch the Congeneral’s input receptors off, temporarily.
“How’s it going?” Loa asked.
“Have you encountered a fatal error yet?” Pribadium asked.
“I had a few scares,” Hokusai replied, “but it remains conscious, and operational. It has lasted longer than any other version before it. I wouldn’t call v83.0 successful yet, but we’re getting there. I did not think it would take this long.”
“We have something to test,” Pribadium said. She nodded to Loa, who handed Hokusai the pyramid drive.
Hokusai switched the Congeneral’s inputs back on. “Are you receiving my messages?”
“Confirmed,” the Congeneral responded.
“We have a test decision for you to certify. On this pyramid drive is a problem that Varkas Reflex has. A council unit has already made a decision for how to deal with it. You will not become cognizant of this decision. It will be your responsibility to solve the problem on your own, so that we may compare our wisdom with yours.”
“Understood,” the Congeneral agreed.
“Inserting pyramid drive now.”
“That’s what she said,” the Congeneral joked. The three human women gave each other a look, which the computer detected. “Should I purge crude humor from my library?”
“Only if it interferes with your functioning, or your responsibility towards this world, and its peoples,” Hokusai explained.
Hokusai switched off its receptors again, so it could solve the problem in peace.
“I hope this one sticks,” Loa mused.
“Me too,” Pribadium noted.
This version of the Congeneral did continue. The code helped Varkas Reflex certify all of its governmental policies for the next several years. Now, this code was extremely complex. They didn’t just dump everyone in, so the computer could consult a given person whenever a problem came up that they were qualified to solve. The contributors’ minds were jumbled together seamlessly, and this amalgamation created an entirely new consciousness. The code that the Congeneral purged from itself in a given instance never necessarily came from any one contributor. Even when Hokusai first asked it to isolate a psychopath’s consciousness, all it was really doing was isolating discordant thoughts that would have come from a psychopathic mind. It wouldn’t have been all of it, though, because people were complicated, and that psychopath would have possessed healthy thoughts alongside the bad ones. So what happened after Hokusai discovered that the Congeneral was no longer effective was bizarre and unexpected. After it purged everything from its system that didn’t make sense, only the amount of code that would be sufficient to house a single entity remained. The Congeneral was no longer general, but a very specific intelligence. In fact, every neural pathway mirrored exactly the mind of one person who contributed to the amalgamation years ago. It was a near perfect copy of Hokusai Gimura herself. And this development threatened the whole stellar neighborhood.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Microstory 1415: The Last Ditch

There were two major factions that came to be when Springfield started trying to form a new society on Durus. They were completely cut off from Earth, and now the responsibility fell on them, and them alone, to survive. Some people followed Smith and his despotocracy, while others were loyal to Councilwoman Hardt. People on both sides at least liked her, so an all out war would have spelled trouble for everyone. Still, she was never able to maintain enough power to take control of the situation, and Smith ruled over everyone for years. He was the one who figured out how to protect everyone using the Baby Barrier, and that won him too many points to overcome, because even those on Hardt’s side knew they had to protect themselves from the monsters. Even within these two factions, there were those who were more peaceful, and those who were more violent. The latter wanted a war, believing that the winner would decide how things played out for the next several years. There seemed to be no doubt that the special children would grow up and lead them one day, but that wouldn’t be for a long time, so there was a lot of work to do until then. One subgroup decided after about three years of Smith’s rule that it was time for an official change in leadership. They started planning a coup, which they felt had to include Smith’s assasination. Now, there weren’t a lot of people with experience with this sort of thing. There were a few law enforcement officers, but they had all chosen Smith. Some in town were part of the military, but nearly all of them had died, because they were always first to place themselves in danger for the greater good. Only one veteran was still alive at this point, and he was pretty old, so while he could teach the would-be assassins how to carry out their mission, he wouldn’t be able to handle it himself. Either way, they needed to convince him to help the cause. He was quite reluctant, since he had left all that violence behind him, and he was never gung-ho about it in the first place. In the end, he agreed that a transfer of power was the only way to turn this town from a place of inequality, to a thriving community founded upon fairness.

Smith had too many people in his pocket, so instead of trying to get them all out, perhaps their only choice was to simply destroy the pocket. They had just spent this whole time trying to use reason, and it had gotten them nowhere. Violence was not ideal, but they had always considered it the last resort, and now they believed this was the moment to descend to it. They chose their best marksman, which wasn’t saying much with this lot, but it wasn’t like it would have been on Earth. There was no federal government to come down on them, or significant public outcry. The primary obstacle was going through with the act itself; not getting away with it afterwards. That wasn’t to say there wouldn’t be any fallout, but they felt prepared to deal with the aftermath, because justice was on their side. Unfortunately, conviction was not enough to make this work. Their assassin was caught, and sentenced to death by exile. She held strong, though, and did not give up any of her compatriots. Only she was ultimately punished for treason. Smith and his loyalists were twisted, but they were also cowards. No one was willing to execute her themselves, but if they forced her outside the protected perimeter, there was a chance she would survive, and that cleared their respective consciences, and gave them comfort, so they could sleep at night. Of course, intellectually, they knew there was no way she would last the week, because they were ignorant about how this world worked. Time monsters were drawn to people, but more than that, they were drawn to crowds. It was much easier for a single individual to move about the lands undetected. That didn’t mean the exile was completely safe, but she did survive, and their lack of follow through would prove to be Smith’s people’s downfall.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Microstory 1414: Playing Into His Hands

When Springfield first arrived on Durus through the portal, they were attacked by a bunch of time monsters. They had no apparent means of protecting themselves against these creatures. Traditional weapons, and other blunt instruments could keep some of them at bay, but most were not conscious entities. They were glitches in time that were only hurting people incidentally. They didn’t have motives or needs, and they could not feel pain. There were eleven defenses against them, though. A handful of women in the town were pregnant at the time of the Deathfall, but not all of them were bearing special children. For the child to come out as a source mage, they had to have been conceived during a three-month window. This meant that only a woman between three and six months pregnant at the time would end up as the mother of a source mage. Their power was evident before they were even born, though. Any time monster that attempted to approach one of these women would be fended off by some otherwise inexplicable invisible force. The townsfolk didn’t understand why this happened, and they did not know at the time why it was that only certain pregnant women were capable of it, but if they were going to survive here, these eleven would be their only hope. Unfortunately, one of the women went off with a new friend, and wasn’t seen again for years, but the rest stayed back, and they were saddled with a massive burden. To protect the town, all residents were forced to consolidate, and confine themselves to a small radius. The ten special mothers-to-be were then placed at strategic locations around this perimeter, and guards were assigned to protect the women themselves. Of course, the mothers’ respective families were part of this guard detail. Should any monster get any bright ideas about instigating another attack, one of the sentries would have to push them away. And this continued to work, even after the children were born, except now the responsibility fell on the shoulders of those children.

Day by day, week by week, month by month, attacks from time monsters began to come less frequently, and with less intensity. They were starting to learn that there was no way they were getting through the Baby Barrier, as it would come to be known. After about a year, they stopped completely, and the town of Springfield enjoyed a peaceful period for months. Well, no one would have called it peaceful—there were plenty of internal conflicts to keep them occupied—but at least the monsters were no longer giving them any trouble. The youngest special baby, besides the one that disappeared, was Aqil Saqqaf, who was born on March 18, 2017. Since there was no longer any immediate threat from the monsters, terrible leader, Smith decided he wanted to throw a little party. They had already begun to test their limits, by opening the perimeter little by little, to see if their enemies were watching them. As Aqil’s first birthday approached, they decided to run one last test. Could the perimeter be left open completely without completely destroying the town? They could have theoretically stayed as they were forever, but no one wanted to live like that. They didn’t just want to survive anymore, but actually live. The party was meant to be for all of the special time babies; not just Aqil, and only their families were invited to join. Those not directly involved were still expected to watch the perimeter, so they would at least have a warning if something went wrong. The people were happy. This was the first time something truly good had happened to them, and the first time they felt they didn’t have to be on edge every waking minute. This was their chance to relax, and really enjoy themselves, like they could always do in the old world. This was all part of Smith’s own selfish strategy, and it wasn’t the only one. Yes, he needed to keep his people happy, but more important than that, he needed to keep the babies and their parents happy. He recognized that these infants would not always be infants. They would one day grow up, and start having the capacity to make their own decisions. This would give them a lot of power, so if he wanted to protect his own interests, he needed to make sure that theirs aligned with his. He wasn’t just letting them have a playdate, and making the town feel happy. He was grooming the children to be on his side. Obviously, this was just the beginning, but he had to start somewhere, and he thought it best to get them early. He could continue to do anything he could to keep himself in their good graces, and his plan probably would have ultimately worked, if he had lasted long enough.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Microstory 1413: King Trashcan

In the beginning, there was chaos in Springfield, Kansas, Durus. The mayor died immediately, and the council was in shambles. There was no one to lead the survivors; at least no one willing to do it who could command the people effectively. This was the truth as a blacksmith whose real name has never been important saw it. The reality was that Councilwoman Hardt was a military brat who followed in her parents’ footsteps. So she knew how to stay calm in a desperate situation. She was fully prepared to remain in charge of the town while they figured out how to survive in this dangerous new world. Smith had other plans. Being a leader was not in his nature. He was a simple worker who was leading a simple life when the Deathfall happened. He had never set his sights on public service, which made sense, because he never did serve the public. He was selfish, manipulative, and entitled. He didn’t care about the town, or even about maintaining his power. He was just sick of living in his crappy studio apartment, and wanted to spend his days in luxury. Taking charge was the only way to do that now. There was no more money, and no more order. If you wanted something, you had to take it, and be prepared to go up against anyone who stood in your way. Fortunately for him, most of the townsfolk did not see this as their situation. They were horrified and exhausted, but they felt the best way to get through it was to work together. To them, no money meant that everyone was on the same level now. Their naïveté made it easier for Smith to walk all over them, and be the only one willing to do whatever it took to stay on top. He wasn’t particularly intelligent, and he didn’t really ever have any kind of master plan. He just kept trying to take as much as he possibly could while pretending to have everyone else’s best interest at heart. He was good at putting on a show, and even when people pointed out his hypocrisy, there was nothing they could do about it. He appealed to the audience that first started listening to him; the ones that were the most distrustful of Hardt already. Not surprisingly, his most loyal followers were composed of nearly all men. They took the town through passive-aggressive threats, rather than identifiable force. And when someone tried to call them out on it, they lobbed these feelings right back in the detractor’s direction, gaslighting everyone nearby into thinking this person was the crazy one. Most did not care for his rule, and would have rather seen someone like Hardt keep them safe instead, but rising against the establishment was difficult, and prone to failure. His loyalists called him President. His critics called him a tyrant. But history would know him as the worst leader Durus ever saw. He was universally hated, even by the misogynists of later years. He was King Trashcan, and this was the beginning of the despotocratic Smithtatorship.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Microstory 1412: Secret to the Grave

Combined, Escher Bradley and Rothko Ladhiffe had a ton of experience living on a cold, dark planet with limited resources, and very limited human interaction. There were a lot of skills they never picked up, though. They didn’t know how to communicate with others, and most importantly right now, they didn’t know how to spy on people from a distance. They both decided to keep themselves a secret from the town that mysteriously made its way to their world through a portal. While their friend, Hark was okay with that on principle, he did want to come up with an endgame for this plan, and the other two weren’t sure they ever wanted to. Again, they were far less experienced with people, and were kind of afraid, though they were equally afraid to admit it. So Escher and Rothko split from Hark for now, always intending to return at some point rather soon—which would not happen for years. They were trying to get a better look at the townspeople when a scouting group stumbled upon them. The scouts wanted to find a fresh source of water. While their one water tower managed to come through the portal intact, it wasn’t completely full at the time, and they knew it was going to run out eventually, if someone didn’t figure out how to get them all back home. They figured it was a good idea to plan ahead, and understand what this world had to offer. It was too soon for such a journey, however, and they were naïve to think that they had any clue what they were in for. They were heading in one direction, believing they would stay safe from the time monsters that plagued their town upon arrival, which all seemed to be coming from elsewhere. Springfielders would later learn that this was more of a coincidence, and that no place on Durus was safe, but that would do the scouts no good. Now, being a town of less than thirteen hundred people—and even less now, because many had died in the initial attack—everyone knew everyone. Even if there was someone any given individual didn’t recognize, in a group of seven, it was practically impossible to come across two strangers whom none of them knew at all. So who were these two young men? Were they visitors who had found themselves caught in town when catastrophe struck? If that were the case, why were they so far from the border already? They would have to be up to no good.

Escher and Rothko knew they had to be honest with these people. It was crazy that they had been living in this horrible place alone, but the explanations the scouts were coming up with in their respective headcanons were worse. The two-thirds Trident didn’t want anyone else to know they were there, for reasons the scouts didn’t bother pressing. These two clearly knew how to live here, and how to survive the monsters, so it was best to keep them on their side. They would keep their secret for now, but they wanted guidance in return. Escher and Rothko agreed to lead them to Watershed, which was still the only ongoing source of water for the planet. They would teach them more in time. It would have been too difficult to explain how they protected themselves against the monsters, because it required powers the scouts didn’t possess, and a diplomatic relationship with the monsters’ overlord. Without this agreement, the scouts were fair game, so when a band of bygoners came to feed off of their memories, there was nothing Escher and Rothko could do. It was almost as if Effigy had sent this particular type of monster, so the two of them would stay hidden. That was not what they wanted to happen, of course, but at least their secret was taken to the grave, and they could refocus on their mission. The real problem was that this awoke a darkness in Rothko that would have terrible consequences years from now. Until then, however, they felt like there was no choice but to move on, and leave the victims behind. They didn’t even bother trying to help the scouts, who were now blank slates, with no idea who they were. Fortunately for them, one scout survived by hiding behind a boulder. Her memories remained intact, but she never said a word about Escher and Rothko, because she knew now that they were as powerful as they were dangerous, and could not be trusted. She escorted the bygoner victims back to the border, then ran off alone in the direction of Watershed. It took her a few days to actually find it, but in doing so, she ultimately saved her town from certain destruction.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Microstory 1411: Harken Back

Paul Harken was happy to go along with the plan to observe the first town on Durus from a distance, but he didn’t agree with Escher and Rothko on how exactly they would go about doing that. He wanted to use technology they had accumulated over time to protect the town from the monsters. He also figured they would eventually reveal themselves, and explain to them the best they could what had happened. Escher and Rothko, on the other hand, were kind of acting like they were never going to become involved. This was no big surprise. Escher had been there for twenty-six years already, which was the majority of his life. Rothko had been there for sixteen, which was about half his life. Hark had spent less time there thus far, and had the most experience in the real world. He knew how to deal with people, and how to learn to trust them. The other two were just too far gone, so they stormed off in a huff, leaving Hark alone in his mansion. They never planned on separating from each other for good, but that was what ended up happening. Shortly after Springfield fully integrated itself on Durus, a dyad came upon Hark’s door. Most of the townsfolk stayed behind, trying to figure out how to survive the monsters that descended upon them almost immediately after they arrived. Hogarth Pudeyonavic and Hilde Unger, however, separated themselves from the group, and traveled a new path. They weren’t scared or disillusioned with the town. They were out looking for something when they saw Hark’s abode. Hogarth was ultimately branded the cause of the Deathfall, but that was not entirely accurate. She was what saved Springfield from certain death. Had she not built her machine, the last of the town would have still fallen into the portal, but it would not have survived the trip, just like almost none of it had before. Still, she felt responsible for this mess, and went off to search for a way to repair the machine she had invented, and get her people back home. When they found Hark, they asked him what he had been up to, and he altered the truth a little to protect the rest of The Trident. He chose to keep Escher and Rothko a secret, under the assumption that the truth would come out reasonably soon. Using a machine of his own that he had constructed over the course of many years, he attempted to transport Hogarth, Hilde, and himself back into town, so they could compile the supplies they would need to return to Earth. Unfortunately, he was no scientist, and the machine ended up sending them all years into the future. Much had changed about the world in that time. A society formed, founded on poor values, and unfair living disparities. He saw Escher and Rothko here again, though not for long before they were both sent back to Earth, and only them, for reasons he was not told right away. That was fine, though. Hark was not yet finished with this planet. There was still so much work left to do, to make its inhabitants’ lives easier. He was not alone in his efforts, but he was a more important force for good than the historical records depicted him. They didn’t portray him as bad, but they definitely downplayed his contribution. He was fine with that too, though. Because he died much later, knowing that humanity’s second home was better off with him having been part of it.