Friday, December 31, 2021

Microstory 1790: Mateo Daily

First off, I probably could have figured out how to squeeze in one more constellation to round out the year, but I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about my plans for next year. I’m going to be doing something wildly different with my macroseries, The Advancement of Mateo Matic. So far, I’ve mostly been writing one installment per week. The first one didn’t come out until the middle of March in my first year, so it only has 42 installments. In fact, I actually doubled up on one day, because I hate the number 41. The next year was pretty normal, but the third year, while there were 53 Sundays, I still only did 52 installments, because I skipped a week for narrative reasons. Ever since then, though, I’ve been able to keep to a steady routine of 52 installments per year. That is all about to change, but not permanently. Everything will hold to convention for the first 24 weeks. Mateo’s story will continue as you would expect, year by year. So too will my current Saturday mezzofiction series, Extremus. I have two microfiction series lined up as well. The first is a return to my Vantage Points multiseries, which will give way to 14 original sonnets. I’m scared about that last one, but hopefully I’ll come up with some good stuff by then. The last sonnet will post on June 10. The last entry in the second volume of Extremus will post on June 11. A new installment for TAMM will be on June 12, but I’m not yet sure how long it’s going to be, or whether the official changeover will happen the following day, where you will find...another installment of The Advancement of Mateo Matic. The next day, there will be another, and then another, and so on.

Throughout the rest of the year, I’ll only be posting TAMM stories. No mezzofiction, and no microfiction. Though, because expecting myself to write 2,000 words—give or take—every day is unreasonable, they will be shorter than usual. I’ll probably do at least 600 words, but I’m not sure yet. I’m not holding myself to anything that restrictive. Each one will take place a day after the last, as we follow Mateo and the team through their latest adventures. They’ll probably be more subdued, and less intense. They’ll probably be family-oriented, with less action. They might read like diary entries. Again, I don’t know yet. I have to get to that point before I really know where the story is going. I serve the story, not the other way around. There is a reason why the team will fall off their pattern, and a reason why it will last them a full year, but I’ve decided to not give that away just yet. If I had chosen to start this in January, I might have said something, but since it’s so far out, I call that a spoiler. This new posting method will continue until the middle of July 2023 when I start a new microfiction series called Conversations, and begin volume 3 of Extremus. I will also get back to the weekly installments of TAMM, and while the story will continue to evolve, I presently have no intentions of altering the posting schedule further. I think I messed up the math, so we’ll see what it looks like when I finish working on the calendar, but I’m sure it will be fine. Speaking of math, I came up with this in my first year, before I had tampered with Mateo’s pattern, so this felt like a much more dramatic change. Since then, he and Leona haven’t always jumped forwards each day anyway. Still, I’m excited, and I hope you are too. This started as a working title, but it’s the best I’ve come up with. I’m obviously calling it...Mateo Daily.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Microstory 1789: Kendall Cole

Kendall Cole is one sick puppy; not evil, per se, but certainly not a good person. She loves to start trouble, and she is a master at it. She knows how to manipulate others into doing what she wants, and not even for her own gain. Well, she appears to gain the joy of watching people squirm, but she isn’t otherwise benefiting from all this conflict. At least, it doesn’t seem like it gets her anything else. She just likes to watch people in pain, and her parents were always worried that this would translate into something really bad and violent when she grew up. Therapy didn’t help. Socialization didn’t help. Nothing did her any good. If there was an opportunity to make people feel bad, and get away with it, she would do it. As she grew up, however, she got better at causing trouble in secret, leading her parents to believe that she had learned to change her ways. She stopped getting in trouble at school, because of how good she was at convincing others to become the agents of chaos, so she never really learned what consequences were. No one gave her any real reason to improve herself, so she never did, and she never regretted it either. Kendall didn’t become a serial killer, or anything, though. That much could be said of her. She just liked to undermine people at work, especially her boss, and make the job unnecessarily harder on others. A missing file here, an anonymously forwarded private email there. She didn’t limit herself to her real workplace. She once took a second job at a family planning manufacturer. She deliberately tampered with thousands of pregnancy tests to make them all show up as positive, no matter what. She timed it according to a co-worker’s tenure at the company, and framed him for the crime. No one ever suspected her, and bonus, she made a little extra money.

She might have said that sabotage was her middle name, except then that would be admitting to others what she was, and that would have ruined all the fun. Her power came from her invisibility, and no one could ever know that she was behind all of this turmoil. Someone took notice once when she gaslit an entire apartment complex into believing that a virus was spreading through the gas lines. She tricked them all into shutting off their gas, and quarantining themselves in the building for an entire week before the children of one of the tenants grew suspicious, and reached out to the CDC. She didn’t set one foot on the premises, and no one could have possibly connected her to it. A self-proclaimed “mastermind with genius-level intellect” felt compelled to investigate on his own by looking into who had contacted the building manager. He traced the call to a payphone, then phished his way into reviewing the security cameras of the convenience store next to it, where he witnessed who he thought to be the culprit making that call. Using facial recognition software that he bought for a steep price on the internet, he figured out the woman’s identity. He began to stalk her to find out what her motivation was, and whether she did other things like it. He never saw a damn thing, and he became impatient with the whole matter. He decided to give her a taste of her own medicine by killing her on paper. He notified her place of business that she was dead. He cancelled all of her credit cards. He informed her parents that she was gone. He identified a Jane Doe as her in the morgue. The authorities found him rather quickly, and arrested him for fraud, harassment, and a number of other charges. He only received one visitor in prison. It was Kendall Cole, there to gloat about how she had tricked him into ruining a completely innocent person’s life, as well as his own.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Microstory 1788: Vulpeculiar

I never wanted to get into gambling. My family has a history of gambling addiction, and I knew that I didn’t want to even look down that path, so I never put myself in that position. Unfortunately, gambling found me anyway, and I fell into it hard. Maybe if I hadn’t been so afraid of it, I could have learned restraint, but there’s no way to know now. I’m madly in love with it, and every time I lose, it only makes me want more, because there’s always a chance of turning things around. I’m actually not half-bad, now that I know the rules of my favorite games. I’ve come up with a system, and I know everyone says that, but most of the people who say it are thousands—or even hundreds of thousands—of dollars in debt, whereas I always keep myself in the black. I have a special savings account of money that I don’t touch. It doesn’t matter how close I get to losing everything else, that money is for food and shelter, and I’ve held firm on that. That doesn’t mean my life has been safe and happy. I’ve certainly had some problems, especially with sore losers who think that they’re entitled to live their own lives free from consequences. It’s hard to disabuse them of the idea that they won when they’re holding the scary end of a gun against my temple. I’ve recently become immersed in the shadier side of gambling, to which the authorities either turn a blind eye, or can’t even find. I’ve just been going deeper and deeper, playing games with higher and higher stakes. I’ve recently discovered the most mysterious and unusual game of them all. Bottom of the rabbit hole, I call it. The people who play it, though...they call it Vulpeculiar.

There’s a family game I remember playing as a kid called Catch Phrase. I don’t remember the rules, but it doesn’t matter, because it’s just the game disc for Vulpeculiar that reminds me of it. Only 121 people can play in the world, and the only time someone new can join is if someone quits while they’re in the black. This is hard to do, because if you’re in the red, you can’t choose to play. Only someone else can select you as an opponent. It’s a game of chance. You choose who you want to play against, and how much to bet. Then you squeeze the button. You either win, or you lose, and the only strategy is to decide to quit while you’re ahead. When you lose—and you will lose—if you can’t pay with money or collateral, you pay with your soul. You’ll be sucked into the disc, where you’re conscious, and totally at the mercy of the corporeal players. They can give you a chance to win back your freedom, or they can ignore your slot, and play against someone else. The guy who got me into this mess is probably best described as my frenemy. I guess he figured it would be easy to convince me to help him cheat. It’s a two-man job. If I hold the disc, and he squeezes the button, the game is confused about who the player is. If he loses, the round will be disqualified, and nothing will happen. But if he wins, it will pay out into our supposed joint account. Of course, he betrayed me, and never gave me access to those funds, so I’ve decided to screw him over too. I let go of the disc at the very last second, dooming him to losing after betting the sum of every player’s debt against the “dealer”, which he could never hope to pay. He’s sucked into the disc, and I realize I’m the last corporeal player left. It has to end here. The game is evil, and I’m the only one who can stop it. I bet the pot too. It’s over a billion dollars, so I assume that I’ll be sucked in, and leave no slots open for new players. I was wrong. Not only do I win, but the other 120 slots suddenly open up. I think I just killed everyone.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Microstory 1787: Flying Fish

Sleep and I have always had a love-hate relationship. I love it, but it resists me every single night. I was an adult before I learned that normal people fall asleep within twenty minutes. When my health teacher told us that, I wanted to punch him in the face, and knock him out. Then I wanted him to wake up, and punch me in the face so I would know what it feels like to not lie awake in bed for literally two hours. Over the years, I’ve tried some things to alleviate the problem: meditation, melatonin, stronger pills that put me, and the morning drivers around me, at terrible risk. Some of it has helped a little, but nothing has helped a lot. I would get six hours on a really good night, and I was proud of myself for anything over five. Now that I’m older, I’ve decided to prioritize my time better. Instead of staying up late, and waking up just before it’s time to go to work, I figured I may as well go to bed early, and have more me-time in the mornings. If it’s early enough, it’s still dark, so there’s no glare on my TV. That’s what’s really helped, waking up before sun, instead of fighting for every ounce of rest in those precious final moments. Now I lie awake for an hour, but since I give myself more time overall, I end up with seven hours, and it probably doesn’t get any better than that. I even try to avoid this thing called social jetlag, which means sleeping different hours on certain nights, which for most is due to not having to work on the weekends. Last night was different. It was a Friday, and I was in the middle of a good TV binge, so I decided it would be okay to go to bed at 23:00. That’s 11:00 PM for you people who can’t count past 12. It turned out to be a bad idea...for a bizarre reason. Had I gone to sleep at my new normal time, I wouldn’t have been awake to hear the man outside my window.

At first, I think it must be an innocuous noise. The purr of my refrigerator, the buzz of the street lights, the revving of a distant car. It isn’t so distant, and it isn’t so innocuous. It sounds like someone mimicking the sound of a motor with their mouth, and it only gets worse when he starts talking. “Flying fish,” he says, “flying fish”. Over and over and over again, “flying fish. Yeah, baby, flying fish.” Fuck, what does he want with me? I’m about to die, I’m about to die. What do I do? Don’t turn on the lights, then he’ll see that you’re here. Look out the window. No, not that one, it’s too close. I can’t see anything. What about the window in the study? Still nothing. Can you still hear him? “Flying fish.” Call mom, she’ll know what to do. No, bring the dog in first, and put her in her cage.  Then call mom. Shit, it’s late, they go to bed earlier than I do. Call 911, she says, that’s what it’s there for. Yes, it qualifies an emergency, call them now. Dispatch doesn’t understand my problem fully, but she dispatches a fleet anyway. Firetruck first on the scene. I look back out the window in the study. The firefighter is bent at the hip, hand on the shoulder of a man. He’s sitting in the street, up against the curb. He’s wobbly, and incoherent. He must be drunk. She’s being gentle and patient with him. Ambulance, police cruiser, that red pickup truck the fire station boss drives, another police cruiser. It’s okay, Daisy, go back to sleep. Chew on your cactus if you’re nervous. They load him up faster than I would have thought. I’ve seen car accidents in real life; been in a couple myself. They usually move slower than movies make it seem. They close the ambulance doors, and clear the street. The quiet returns, and it’s like they were never even here. Then a fish flies past my window, followed by another, and another. He wasn’t lying.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Microstory 1786: Virgin By Nature

I accepted long ago that I wasn’t ever going to find myself a partner, or even just a warm body for the night. I was doomed from the start, and I’ve been branded an incel because of it. It’s true that I’m what one might call a virgin—though, that is an outdated term—and it’s true that it’s not by choice, but that doesn’t mean that I blame others for my situation. This is all me, and I take ownership of it. I wish there was a term for people like me. Since that word has been attributed to terrorists, rapists, and mysoginists, I’ve tried to just call myself a loser. It’s not a particularly favorable term either, but at least it distances me from those violent and aggressive men who believe the world, and its women, owe them something. I am a socially awkward extrovert. Yes, you read that right. I love putting myself out there, and meeting new people. I’m just incredibly bad at it. I’ve tried to take seminars, and watch tutorials, but none of them has worked. Many of them come off just as angry and entitled as the incel movement. I don’t know how to talk to others, no matter how badly I want to, or how hard I try. I keep saying the wrong things, and making myself look like an idiot. I always look weird, and make people uncomfortable. So what exactly is my problem, and is there anything I can do to fix it? I don’t think so, but even if I were better at communicating with people, I’ve realized that it doesn’t really matter. I’m traditionally unattractive. Yeah, I may be able to alleviate that a little with better hair, and hipper clothes. I may even be able to learn to express myself appropriately. That’s just the first filter, though. There are plenty of people in this world who are willing to look past looks, or are just as awkward as me, and could probably deal with it. But they won’t get past my other filters.

What is a filter? Well, people use them all the time when forming relationships. They don’t walk around with a sign hanging from their necks that announce that they’re available, and then just accept the first person who responds positively. Once they find someone they’re attracted to in some manner, they look for common ground. What do they both like to do, or what aspects of their personalities complement each other? Do they get along, or do they have too many differences? If those incompatibilities add up and overweigh the things they like about each other, the relationship either ends healthily, or becomes toxic. Unfortunately for me, those incompatibilities are pretty much guaranteed to be there from the start. The biggest filter is drug use. I can’t be with someone who does recreational drugs, including alcohol. I can’t stand drunks, and while I support recovering addicts, I still can’t relate to them, and I don’t know how to help them. That right there wipes most people off the board. Some people are sober because of religion, but I’m a staunch atheist, so that wipes off most of who’s left, because I can’t stand those people either. I would have to find a nonreligious teetotaler who likes to dance all night, and even listen to techno off the dance floor. That person just doesn’t exist, especially not when you account for other filters, like gender, relative age, and sexuality. Because the most important filter—the only one that’s necessary for me to remain alone—is other people’s filters. I may find the perfect girl, but if she doesn’t like me, it can’t go anywhere. It won’t even begin. That’s what truly keeps me from finding a soulmate. I don’t want to be with someone who would want to be with someone like me.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: March 16, 2374

In order for Ramses to make his small simulation look like the afterlife simulation, he had to connect the two of them together, and borrow code. The idea was that the fake sim, which they were calling limbo, would be placed between the individual’s consciousness signal, and the real afterlife. When Mateo and Leona died, they were supposed to travel through limbo first, but before they could make it all the way to where Pryce wanted them to go, Ramses would sever the connection, and trap them in limbo. From here, he should be able to download them into new bodies, and they would be on their merry way. And yes, Leona was part of this too. She decided that, if something went wrong, they would at least travel to the great known beyond together. No one argued with her about it, because it wasn’t a true and final death, and they were confident there would be some way to retrieve the both of them regardless.
They watched themselves fly right through Ramses’ backdoor into the afterlife sim, and land on the edge of the city. It didn’t look completely abandoned, but it didn’t look like it did before either. Vines were growing up the sides of the buildings, and there was trash all over the place. A few totalled cars were haphazardly parked off to the side. One of them was gently on fire. It looked like something out of a free-for-all violent video game. Did someone turn this place into a video game? It was certainly possible.
Mateo looked down at his clothes. “We’re wearing white.”
“I know,” Leona replied.
“It doesn’t seem like we should be walking around here wearing white.”
“I know, we can’t change into something else, though. If we try to put something else on top of our clothing, it will just turn white. Otherwise no one would be able to have purple curtains, or blue bed sheets.”
“Can we...?”
“We’ll stand out, does work, I’ve seen it. I mean, it doesn’t automatically give you access wherever you want, or downgrade you, but at least no one can see what level you are. They’ll probably assume we’re Yellow Limiteds, who actually were downgraded recently, and are embarrassed by it.”
They both stripped down naked, and stuffed their clothes underneath the burning car. It was then that Mateo noticed his penis was exceptionally large, and Leona’s breasts were at least one size higher. She rolled her eyes. “He’s so superficial,” she said, referring to Tamerlane Pryce.
The backdoor was gone. It wasn’t located in a particular spot in the simulation. Ramses did that on purpose in order to prevent Pryce from being able to find it, and destroy it. Unfortunately, it meant it would be difficult for them to find it. It wasn’t impossible, though. If they just kept walking, their intuition should eventually just lead them to the right location at the right time. They started to walk down the streets, hoping not to be overrun by zombies, grand thieves, cyberpunks, or whatever roamed this world now. Leona stopped suddenly just after they passed by an alleyway. She held there for a beat before stepping backwards, and walking into it. Here she found what her intuition was trying to show her. It wasn’t the backdoor. It was something bad.
“Do we know him?” Mateo asked.
They were staring at a poster of a man who had co-opted the Barack Obama Hope poster design. That wasn’t the buzzword here, though. Instead, it was Autonomy. And yes, Leona knew him. “I did this. I made this world.”
“How?” Mateo asked without judgment.
“He was an NPC. I turned him into a real boy. I gave him agency.” She exhaled, and indicated the world around them. “This is apparently what he did with it.”
Mateo placed an arm around her hip, but it felt sexual, and that wasn’t what he was going for, so he switched to her shoulder. “Ellie is supposed to be in charge here. If not her, Pryce. You didn’t do this. Something would have had to happen long after you left. He probably just took advantage of some kind of power struggle.”
“Power vacuum,” came a voice from farther down the alleyway. He walked out of the darkness, revealing himself to be a talking human-sized bunny. He was wearing a cool hat, and a vest, but no pants. Fortunately, he didn’t have any genitals to speak of. His fur was pink. “They were both MIA for an extended period of time.”
“Do we know him too?” Mateo repeated. “I feel like I would remember if I met a talking rabbit, and I hope that you would have mentioned it at some point if you had met him without me.”
“I don’t know this avatar, it’s a mod.”
“I’ve always thought of myself as a bunneh,” the rabbit said. He seemed to be sincere, but they were having trouble taking him seriously like this. “Fast, cunning, deceptively intelligent. Protective and ambitious.”
“Well...” Leona began, “they’re fast.”
Perturbed and offended, the bunny waved his little paws in front of his face, and transformed it into that of a human’s. The rest of the avatar remained in bunny form, though, including the rest of his wittle head. “Recognize me now?” Yes.
“Ew, David,” Leona zinged.
“It’s grotesque! Kill it! Kill it with fire!” Mateo joked.
Vendelin Blackbourne growled in a very unbunny-like way. He approximated the motion a human would be able to execute to snap their fingers, since they would have hands...and therefore fingers. Still, the magic worked, finally showing them his true form. “Happy now?”
“Not really,” Leona answered honestly.
“You’re gonna need me,” Vendelin argued. “I know this world.”
“We’re not staying long,” she explained.
“And we have to get going,” Mateo added. “Have fun here.”
“Pinochio has eyes everywhere. You won’t get far.”
“Is that what he’s calling himself?” Leona questioned.
“Did he have some other name before?” Vendelin asked.
“I don’t think he had one at all.”
She led the way away from the once-bunny, and Mateo followed closely behind. He didn’t get far before something tugged at his ankle. He looked down to find an orange shackle around it. They both looked back, only to watch Vendelin wrap the other end of it around his own ankle. He chuckled once. “Hock chains. They won’t take you to jail, won’t go anywhere without me.”
Mateo looked at Leona, who shrugged with just her eyebrows. They started walking again in the direction they were going. “Don’t slow us down.” Vendelin was a nuisance, and maybe even evil, but now that their friends were about to solve the Power Vacuum problem, he probably wasn’t too much of a threat. Once they figured out how to get these restraints off, they would decide what to do with him.
Vendelin jogged up to get next to them. “Don’t you two wanna know how I died?”
“We assume the Pluoraias executed you.”
“Yeah, but don’t you wanna know how they did it?”
“Not really.”
“You’re a lot less interesting than I’m sure you were led to believe you were when you were alive.”
“Oh, yeah? You think so? Yeah. Well. Um. I once, uh, lived in a different timeline.”
They just kept walking, unimpressed.
“Really? Nothing?”
“We’ve all been there.”
“No, I mean, literally,” Vendelin insisted. “I was a prisoner on Earth, and then suddenly, I wasn’t. And no one could remember who I was, and I didn’t have a record, and I just started my life over.”
“Cool story, bro.”
“You don’t believe me,” Vendelin assumed.
“No, we believe you, but we still don’t find it interesting. Like I said, we’ve all been there.”
“Oh. You’re serious. You’re time travelers.”
He stopped, and looked down at the ground, but he was really just staring into space. “Am I not special? Am I not unique?”
“Blackbourne...” Leona began, not knowing where the rest of that sentence was gonna come from.
“I based my whole worldview off of that. I thought that I was given the chance to make something of myself. I didn’t want to go down the same road I walked before, and I didn’t; I was good. I was special, and...I had a purpose. The machine, it was...I thought I was helping. But did I just...?” He paused. “Did I just walk the same road I was on in the old timeline, but I went further?”
Mateo kicked the chain out of his way, so he could approach the man in his existential crisis. He stood before him, and patiently waited until Vendelin lifted his chin, tears still in his eyes. Then Mateo waited a few seconds more. “Probably.”
“Was what happened to me just random?”
Mateo slipped into a slight sad smile, and repeated himself, “probably.”
“Leona! Mateo!” It was Ramses. He was running towards them in full tactical gear. It was black, but it wasn’t killing him, since he was an interloper, as was Olimpia, who was holding open the door. It did not look easy for her.
“Come on,” Mateo urged. He pulled at the chain, but Vendelin wouldn’t budge. “Come on! We’re letting you escape with us!”
Vendelin reached down with a little key, and unlocked Mateo’s shackle. “I don’t deserve to escape.”
“Mateo!” Leona called back to him. Ramses had her by the elbow, still in the middle of ushering her towards the program’s backdoor.
Mateo held up the index finger of patience. “Do you know why you’re a pink bunny?”
Vendelin made an exaggerated shrug.
“Pryce created a system where most people come here Yellow. Bad people are in hock, or worse, but everyone else has to work their way up from Limited privileges. Why were you automatically pink?”
He shrugged again.
“Vendelin, time travelers get special privileges. You are special. And you still have time to walk a different road.” Mateo pointed to the backdoor, which Ramses was now helping Olimpia keep open. “It starts over there.”

Vendelin had to spend a little more time in the limbo simulation. The four of them had bodies waiting for them in base reality, but nothing was prepared for him yet. They still weren’t sure what they were going to do with him, and anway, it wasn’t the most pressing problem here. The Power Vacuum was right on its wait to the location of the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The megaportals were up and running, and it was finally time to see this through. If no one else got hurt from this travesty, they could probably go easy on the man who built it. If even one more person was so much as superficially injured by its damaging power, it could be very bad for him.
Mateo and Leona crawled out of their pods in their new bodies, and came face to face with themselves. Alternate versions of the both of them were coming out of their own pods at the same time.
“Who are you?” Leona asked in an accusing tone.
“Now, don’t get mad,” the other Mateo said.
“We just don’t wanna have to wear the cuffs anymore,” the other Leona said.
Mateo squinted at them. “Ramses? Olimpia? What did you do?”
“They wanna be like us,” Leona realized.
“We want to be part of the team,” Ramses corrected. “And we don’t want anything to get in the way of us doing that.”
“You’ve just doomed yourself to this life,” Mateo argued, no longer weirded out by talking to someone who looked exactly like him. “The cuffs give you the freedom to walk away anytime you want. Now you’re stuck with us.”
“That’s exactly what we want,” Olimpia reasoned. “That’s what we’re trying to tell you. We’ve both been wanting this for a long time.”
“Me longer than her,” Ramses said.
“How did you even do it?” Leona asked. “Those bodies should be dead.”
“It’s the future,” Ramses said. “We can bring a couple of substrates back to life, if only briefly. We didn’t kill you with a bomb.”
“Look,” Olimpia began, “what’s done is done. There’s no point in arguing about it anymore. Let’s just go back to the AOC, and finish this mission.”
“Fix your faces first,” Mateo ordered. “It’s confusing.”
“Of course,” Olimpia said. “Our old bodies are still waiting for us.”
She and Ramses transferred their respective consciousnesses back to where they belonged. Even now, nothing could be done to undo what was done. They were salmon now, on the same pattern as the Matics, and Angela. Five of a kind. Honestly, if Mateo had to pick three people to stay on their team permanently, they would be them. It certainly wasn’t the worst thing ever.
They all went back to the AOC together through the closet portal. Sasha was back after having spent some time on New Earth, negotiating with the android who was deemed the rightful owner of it. His name was Onesnethri, and he agreed to let the seeding process proceed as planned, as long as he was in charge of early development. He agreed to work with a partner of Teagarden’s choosing. This was the result of a bunch of diplomatic discussions that the rest of the team didn’t have to worry about. They washed their hands clean of it. Now it was time to protect Gatewood and Earth from impending doom. Sasha and Kivi stayed with Team Keshida on the Jameela Jamil side, where the exit portal was. Theoretically, there was nothing that any of them could do at this point. They were just waiting for the destructive beam to show up, and only needed to be prepared to solve any hiccup, which would hopefully not come.
The team sat around the table, and watched the hologram in anticipation. “There!” Angela finally said, pointing at a flash of light, which had finally come close enough to be visible using one of their strategically placed interstellar stations. Immediately after the flash, the image disappeared completely. “What was that?”
“The diameter of the beam is larger than what we can see. The phenomenon exists beyond the visible spectrum of light.”
“Is the portal large enough to fit all that,” Angela continued, “what we can see, and what we can’t?”
“Yes,” Leona said confidently.
One by one, the warning stations went offline until the Power Vacuum was upon them. They saw it tunnel into the portal, but it also interfered with communications, so they couldn’t confirm its exit with the Jamil. Just as the tail of the beam fell through, they felt a loss of attitude control. The AOC went dark, and sent them spiraling.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Extremus: Year 24

Future!August did not survive the night, nor did she even wake up. According to Dr. Holmes’ examination, the injuries she incurred from knocking into the bench were not enough to account for her death. Not even the temporal displacement method she used would have led her to it. There were other wounds and broken bones, suggesting she suffered a great deal before she even left the future. Perhaps the Extremus experienced terrible gravitational destruction, and her last act as she was being crushed by it was to jump into a portal to warn everyone.
Present!August refused to speak with a grief counselor about her loss. She claimed to have no strong feelings about an alternate version of her dying in front of her. Captain Belo ended up having to order her two counseling sessions before she could return to duty. It took her a long time to complete them, so Kumara had to step up as the primary temporal engineer in the meantime. They needed it too, because they had to come up with a solution to the Feizi problem. That’s the name they settled on to replace Theia-2, since that one didn’t really make any sense. Of all people, Consul Vatal is the one who came up with it.
Right now, the right people are having a bit of an unofficial meeting of minds. Omega, Valencia, August, and Kumara have been trying to work the problem this entire time. They’ve been keeping the captains and admirals apprised of the situation as they do it, but they’re not usually in the same room together. Halan has taken the scientists under his responsibility, so the others can deal with other matters. Vice Admiral Thatch has retaken his place as the main goto source of advice.
While Lieutenant Moralez deals with ship issues, the four other executive leaders are literally sitting on the sidelines while the four engineers yell and scream at and over one another. Halan sighs, and lifts his hand. He places his middle and ring finger against his thumb, and raises his pinky and index fingers. This is called quiet coyote, and it’s usually used for children. The scientists accepted it begrudgingly, because they know that things can get out of hand when they try to work together. In this case, it’s a magic signal. Even if they’re not looking directly at their supervisor, they can tell when it’s happening, and they immediately go silent, almost like they can smell it. Kumara once accused Valencia of writing a time spell that forces them to go quiet when the hand gesture is present, but he’s never been able to prove it.
“Omega. You were saying,” Halan prompts.
“We have to vote on course correction. It doesn’t matter if they move the planet, we know where they are now, and continuing on this path is foolish.”
“The foolish thing is thinking you can outsmart them,” Kumara argues.
Omega braces to explain himself for the upteenth time. “I can plot a random course through interstellar space that approaches each star system that we pass.” They all start to argue at him again, so he raises his voice more and more to compensate. “Feizi is massive and dense, but it’s gravitational pull is still nowhere near that of a star! Therefore, if the Extremists try to get too close to one, they won’t be able to hold their weapon in place!”
“Basically, you want to avoid being shot at by the enemy but running real close to all the mines in the minefield on purpose!” Kumara threw back at him.
“Yeah, because we can see the mines! We can’t see the bullets!” The mines being the stars, and the bullets being the Feizi. It’s not a great analogy. It’s more like risking tripping the visible mines because the hidden mine can’t have been buried too close to any one of them. This theoretically gives you a dangerous, but possibly safe path. The possibly part is what concerns Halan the most.
“We can’t do that,” Future Captain Leithe contends. Kaiora has been taking on a lot more responsibility lately. She’s a few months away from taking over officially, so it’s time for Interim Captain Belo to take a backseat sometimes. “The course you think you can plot is obviously dangerous, and I’m obviously not one of the people who can explain why it’s dangerous. But I can tell you the politics. You would have to change course on the fly, in case something new comes up. The law doesn’t allow you to do that. We don’t have time to vote every time, and I don’t know how you change that law. That’s not up to any of us here.”
“Yeah, it’s up to the people,” Omega says. “So let’s not vote on a course correction. Let’s vote to change the law so the bridge assumes complete control over our vector.”
“Oh, and I suppose you’re gonna be the one driving,” Kumara spits.
“I never said that. I said the bridge. Most ships do it like that. I don’t know why we have this law.”
Halan is about to explain it, but Thatch stands up first, and walks forward. He waits to respond, first letting his gravitas draw all the words in the room to him, so no one else can use them to interrupt. “We are not headed to a planet. We are headed to our future. Our people voted on our literal direction before they stepped on board. Changing that direction would be like suddenly deciding to take your colonists to Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida when they all agreed to go to Varkas Reflex. No one person has the authority to make that call. It’s for everyone to decide. That, Omega, is why we vote.”
Omega places a hand on Thatch’s shoulder, and speaks calmly, “fair enough. But I’m trying to save lives the only way I know how. I don’t hear any other good ideas. Because the truth is...dead people can’t vote.”
“Just because it’s the only idea,” Valencia begins, “doesn’t mean it’s a good one. Face it, there are too many variables. Stars are too far apart. There are plenty of opportunities for the True Extremists to move their rogue world where they need to. That’s what a rogue world is.”
Omega frowns. “What would you have us do?”
“Give up.” It’s Consul Dvronen Vatal. He’s on the top of the steps.
“This is a closed session,” Halan warns. Dvronen wields a lot of power, but he doesn’t have full privileges. He has no reason to be here.
Dvronen chuckles and begins to walk down slowly. Saunter, even. “I can see the eight of you are where you need to be. You understand our power. Well...” He chuckles again, but louder. “You don’t understand it, but you fear it. That’s all we’ve been trying to get you to do.”
Halan isn’t sure it makes sense, that this man would be a True Extremist. He got the Captain to step down, but he didn’t take all of his power away. He had plenty of times to kill him too, but never did? This must be the part where the villain lays it all out for them, so the final pieces of the puzzle will fit together. This is neither the time, nor the place, for this conversation. “August,” he orders simply.
She takes out a teleporter gun and shoots Dvronen with it. He doesn’t seem the least bit perturbed during the second he remains standing before he disappears.
Halan turns to Olindse. “I strongly recommend that all eight of us sync to that room to interrogate the prisoner. His words may help these fine scientists come to a real solution.”
The Captain reaches over to her teleporter, quickly calibrates the range, and transports everyone else to the hock. Dvronen is already sitting on the bench. In fact, he looks like he’s exactly where he wants to be.
The Captain looks at the engineers, and nods her head towards the bench on the side wall. They all go to sit down. They’re here to observe, not question. She bows a little, and gives way to Admiral Yenant. “It ought to be your show.”
“No,” Halan says. “It should be hers.”
They all look to Future Captain Kaiora Leithe. She’s anxious for a moment, but she doesn’t want to show any self-doubt. She performs the Picard maneuver on her uniform, and steps forward. Then she simply says, “report.”
“We are the oldest human civilization in the Milky Way galaxy of Salmonverse. We were building starships before your ancestors were building ocean vessels. We’ve since built an empire in our little pocket of space, and we don’t appreciate your interference.”
“But you came from us. We are your ancestors. You wouldn’t exist without The Extremus.”
“Which is why we let your ship take off. We were worried about the timeline. Some wanted to destroy you in the dock, but cooler heads prevailed. As it turns out, my side was right. We’re living in a stable timeloop, not an alternate reality.”
“Why destroy us at all? What have we done against you? Space is very big. You just wouldn’t believe—”
“Save the speech,” Dvronen interrupts. “It’s not about space. It’s not about resources. I was born on a planet called Extremus. We take offense to your mission to colonize your own world of the same name.”
Halan goes on autopilot, and can’t stop his lower brain from attacking. “That’s it? You tried to destroy this ship, and kill thousands of people, over a fucking name! Fuck, we’ll name it something else if you’re that pissy about it!”
Dvronen remains in control. “It’s not the name, it’s the principle. Our ancestors went to a lot of trouble to build our civilization. They went millenia into the past. We deserve both the name, and the recognition as the rightful owners of the galaxy.”
Captain Leithe takes the interrogation back. “You stole that from us. Quite literally. Oaksent stole embryos and time travel technology.”
Dvronen takes a moment to consider his response. “I know, from your side of the bars that makes sense. But you have to understand that none of us was there when that happened. Me, Vesper, no one was born yet. We get that we come from you. No one has ever tried to diminish or ignore that truth. I’m just telling you that we have thousands of years of history that tells us we are true descendants of the Extremus mission. And none of those people who first landed on that inhospitable planet—thousands of years ago, from my perspective,” he adds, tapping on his chest, “ever set foot on this ship. To us, you seem like invaders. We tried to stop you without shedding blood. We hired Old Man to repair the recall device, so it would send you back to Gatewood. He said he would, and then he betrayed us.”
“Betrayed us closing your timeloop, which is what you wanted anyway?” Leithe asks.
Dvronen picks a little at his cuticles. “Old Man, Rita, Oaksent, and Airlock Karen. They did not use the recall device to transport off this ship. They used a completely different invention, of incredibly similar design, but only superficially. If he did end up repairing the original device, it’s never been used. It could still be in his lab; I don’t know. Vesper was supposed to look for it. Perhaps he found it, and had it on him when he died. ”
“Why did he so desperately want me to touch it?” Halan asks. “If he had had his way, I would have gone instead of Rita.”
“Our assumption,” Dvronen begins, “is that Old Man knew that you were the only person in the universe who could have stopped Oaksent from realizing his dream of seeding a new civilization. He wanted you to stop us from ever existing.”
“That’s an interesting development, but it doesn’t solve our problem,” Kaiora goes on. “Bottom line, what do you want? What can we do to avoid any more conflict?”
Dvronen shrugs. “Turn around.”
“You want us to go back to Gatewood?”
“It doesn’t have to be Gatewood. Just go somewhere within Earth’s stellar neighborhood. We don’t want no trouble with them, so we’re leaving them all alone.”
“How are you dealing with Project Stargate, or Operation Starseed, for that matter?”
“You let us worry about that,” Dvronen answers cryptically.
Omega stands up, and approaches. “We can’t turn around. We have our own mission. And it was ours first. How dare you co-opt it just because you went back in time, and technically lived earlier? That’s so human of you. We’re time travelers, the lot of us. Time is not linear, therefore, we were here first by every single measurement of time, except for the one the people like us have no use for.”
“Oaksent traveled back with his embryos, to father us on the homeworld. No one has time traveled since then. in linear time.” Dvronen adjusts his position to look more serious. “This galaxy is ours. We’ll let you lease some space, just like we do the vonearthans, but if you don’t want to follow our rules, you can leave.”
“Leave?” Valencia questions, also standing up. “Leave the Milky Way? You’ll stand down, and not try to stop us if we leave the galaxy?”
“Well, yeah, I guess,” Dvronen confirms. “Though the next galaxy over is thousands of reframe years away, so I’m not sure you can sustain your population for that long, but if you think you can, go for it. We won’t stop you.”
Valencia draws nearer. “Can you do that? Are you authorized to speak for your people?”
Dvronen laughs. “I know you don’t know who I am when it comes to respect on the real Extremus, but...that’s a riot. Yes, I’m authorized. I speak for all of us.”
Omega smiles. “I want that in writing.”
Valencia pulls Halan and both of the Captains over, and transports them to a secure location. “I have an idea, but it’s going to require us to go against that rule Admiral Thatch was trying to explain to my husband. We can wait for a vote, but I guarantee that we’re gonna lose. Now, Dvronen said that Project Stargate is in trouble.” She consults her watch. “In a few years, the quantum seeder ships are probably going to pass far enough out of the stellar neighborhood for the True Extremists to consider them a threat. Omega and I have to try to stop whatever evil plans they’ve cooked up.”
“Where are you going with this?” Halan questions. “You’re all over the place.”
“I know, just...” She sighs. “The Captain can’t make a course correction unilaterally. She would have to put that up to a vote, right?”
“We follow,” current Captain Belo says.
“But the Captain can also refuse to put it to a vote. The people can’t just create one out of thin air. You start it, they finish it, so all Captain Leithe would have to do is not let it come to a vote at all.”
Kaiora starts trying to work it out. “You want to change course, because once you do, you’re going to escape the ship anyway, and all I have to do is prevent a second course correction from undoing your decision.”
“Correct,” Valencia says.
Halan shakes his head. “I can’t let you do that, Valencia. You need to go help with Project Stargate. I understand as much. But you may one day need to return, and for the good of the ship, whoever is running the place at that point needs to be able to trust you. I, on the other hand, am actually expendable. I’ll make the course correction, against the reported wishes of everyone in this room, and in the hock section. I’ll suffer the consequences, and everyone else will move on.”
“But, Admiral,” Kaiora tries to say.
Halan holds up quiet coyote, and shushes everyone. Maybe it is magic, and maybe it works on anybody. “You’re gonna do a fine job.” With a fatherly smile, he taps on his teleporter, and jumps to the bridge. For his last act as a ranking member of this crew, he inputs his authorization code, and makes the ship teleport only an astronomical unit away. It’s the easiest way to point it in a different direction. It keeps going without missing a beat, but it’s now begun a journey into the void.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Microstory 1785: Through the Vela

I reach out and shake the baby bear’s little paw. He smiles wider, and looks a bit relieved. The old man tells me as much. People are often so reluctant and unsympathetic when they meet him. They’re too afraid. They just came through something called the Vela, and still think they’re about to wake up from a bad dream. It’s not a dream. It’s all real. The man built this cabin near Big Bear Lake deliberately because it happens to be some kind of focal point of instantaneous travel. People from all over the world spontaneously wake up here having never transited the space in between. Every night someone new arrives somewhere in a kilometer radius of this cabin. For some reason, I showed up earlier than usual, which is why mama bear wasn’t ready for me. She’s normally tasked with going out, and nudging the arrivals to the cabin. She’s not as smart as her son, but she knows that she can convince people to go this direction simply by placing herself on the other side of them. She was probably pretty surprised that I wasn’t scared of her, and was able to pass by her with none of her usual form of coercion. Very rarely, two people will show up on one night, so she continues to patrol until morning. That’s why she didn’t come back with me. When I ask the man what happens next, he tells me that the Vela chooses people using whatever parameters it’s decided upon, if it’s even sentient. He doesn’t know. He only knows it’s my job to find my own exit, but only after new clothes and hot tea. I’m not sure I’m going to go look for an exit point. It might be nice, renting a car, and driving back myself. It’s not like I have anywhere better to be. I don’t have to work until Monday, and my parents will be okay on their own for now. Anyway, I don’t have to decide anything right away. I’ll just sit and enjoy my tea.

A half hour later, the mother returns, but she’s not alone. A woman about my age is accompanying her. She doesn’t appear to be scared of the beast either, nor worried about where she is, or what the hell is going on. She too is naked, and isn’t even shivering. I didn’t think there was anyone else in the world who likes the cold as much as I do. She asks the same questions, and the man answers them again. She asks a couple more, like how the bears are so smart. The mom had her own Vela experience while she was pregnant, and it changed the both of them. Brown bears aren’t even native to this area, but they chose to stick around so they could help the humans. This calling has been passed down the old man’s family for generations, but the incidents became more and more frequent, and he never found the time to meet someone, so the bloodline ends with him. When he dies, people are just going to have to deal with their situation themselves. The woman and I exchange a look. Little bear nuzzles her knee, so she pets him. All my life I’ve been trying to figure out whether I had some kind of purpose. Folding clothes, and returning them to their tables surely isn’t it. I’m sure my sister can take care of our parents on her own. She prefers it, and I’ve never been much help anyway. Perhaps this is what I’ve been looking for this whole time. This old man needs to retire, and the lost souls who pass through here need a way to return home. I tell him this, and he thanks me. He doesn’t even try to argue, or talk me out of it. He’s obviously been hoping for a replacement for awhile now, but he’s never known how to go about asking. The woman stands and informs him that now he has two to take his place. We all smile, even me.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Microstory 1784: Little Bear

There are a few things you would expect to find in a cabin in the middle of the woods, especially in an area that experiences very cold temperatures. The place is small, and you can tell as much from the outside, so you wouldn’t expect it to be a comfortable glamping getaway with multiple rooms, or even electricity. The logs are rotting slightly, and the porch swing has one broken chain, leaving it dangling against the floor awkwardly. I would have bet on a few essentials once I stepped inside, like a wooden table with wooden chairs; a bed that’s low to the ground, or even just a cot; an old black metal stove thing that I feel like Benjamin Franklin invented? None of that is here. None of what’s in here makes any damn sense, and if I would leave if it weren’t freezing out there. It doesn’t look dangerous, just bizarre. The first thing I notice is the arcade game. Besides a novelty table lamp in the shape of an elephant that’s hanging on the wall, the game machine is the only thing that’s giving off any significant amount of light. I don’t recognize the name of it, but that’s no surprise. I’m too young, and not hip enough to know anything about the history. Bear Bonds could have been the most popular game in the 80s, for all I know. Anyway, the screen isn’t the only thing producing light. The whole thing has what look like Christmas lights strewn about, except they’re built into the paneling, so I think that’s just how it comes. Next to it is one of those Japanese toilets with a touch screen, and probably a bidet, and I’m sure it talks to you. I can’t tell if it’s connected to the plumbing, but on the other side of it is the real bathroom. There’s a metal prison sink, and one of those space-age shower pods from the 1970s that I saw on a funny picture website once. There’s no toilet in there at all, so maybe he just likes to spread out more. I best not think about it. There are plenty of other weird things in here.

There seems to be no closet, but there’s a rack on casters. He has one three piece suit on it. It looks really nice, like maybe it was tailored by an expensive professional who only serves an average of one client a month. That wouldn’t seem so weird, maybe this guy is a stock broker who comes here to unwind. Except the rest of the rack is occupied by hanging fish, a few of which are still flopping on their hooks a little bit. How are they still alive in the least? I also swear to God that the suit was on one end of the rack, but now it’s spontaneously moved to the right. I kind of hope that didn’t happen, and I’m suffering from exposure delirium. That is a fancy platter of rotten strawberries, right there on the floor. Next to it is a ship in the bottle without the bottle. The way it’s staged, it’s like a child was eating the fruit, and playing with the ship, but they haven’t been back in a long time, and the man never cleaned it up. There is no dining table, and no chairs whatsoever, nor a bed. The curtains are made of Latin language newspapers. I don’t mean they’re taped on the glass to prevent snipers on the roof of the next building over from spotting the bank robbers. He carefully glued the pages together, and hung them up on the rod. I suppose that’s one way to reuse, reduce, and recycle. A mail cart has been upturned near the corner. A whole encyclopedia collection is stacked on top of it. I don’t know why he didn’t just put them inside the cart, but it’s not what matters. That’s not the strangest thing. Hiding behind that cart, I finally notice a baby bear. It’s sitting up and peeking out from behind the books. When it sees me see it, it comes out of the shadows, and smiles at me. Then it holds out its hand like it wants me to shake it.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Microstory 1783: Big Bear

One thing to know about me is that I prefer the cold. I live in a midwest state with seasons, but I hate the summer. I could work in retail anywhere, but my parents had me when they were already pretty old, so I’m kind of obligated to stick around. Still, I blast the air conditioning when it’s hot, and keep the windows open. Is that illegal? I don’t know. Is it wrong? I guess we just have different definitions of morality. The A/C stays on during a lot of the winter, and I still at least have my bedroom window open while I’m trying to sleep. I say all this in preface, so you’ll understand that I don’t know how long I was outside on the ground before I even realized it. Had it been my sister, it would have been a different story. She keeps her house like a friggin’ sauna, I can’t stand it in there. She would have noticed right away if she had suddenly found herself in the spring air, let alone this freezing cold place. I finally wake up, and that probably has more to do with needing to relieve myself than anything. I might never have noticed until the sun came out, and maybe not even for a long time after that, because my alarm clock didn’t accompany me. I have no idea where I am, or how I got there. I see trees and dirt, and that is pretty much it. I see pine needles instead of leaves, which I find unusual. I like the cold, but not the outdoors. I would never go camping in a million years, so there’s no chance I got so drunk last night that I made this choice on my own. Someone would have had to bring me here against my will. They might have left me to die because they underestimated my ability to survive these temperatures, or maybe something went wrong, and they had to scrap their original plans with me. Either way, as okay as I am like this, I know I’m no superhero. I will die out here without shelter and clothing.

I start walking, hoping to catch the scent of a campfire, or the rumble of late night traffic. I could be moving even deeper away from civilization, but there is no way for me to know. I don’t have those lizard brain instincts that normal people have kept. Walking is warming me up, if only just a little. If I don’t come across someone’s tent, or a cave, staying in place would still be foolish. Besides, if someone did leave me, but planned on coming back, I’m better off as far from the drop site as I can get. I can see a lake in the moonlight, but I don’t know if I should go for it. Am I more likely to find salvation there then elsewhere? I’m proud of myself. I’m not too keen on walking either, but I haven’t stopped once to take a break. Maybe this ain’t so bad. I spoke too soon, or rather thought it. I finally do stop when I run into a gigantic creature. It’s dark as all hell, but my assumption is that it’s a bear. It was low to the ground, but now it’s raised itself up, meaning that it started on four legs, and now it’s on two. That’s something I know bears can do. It doesn’t growl, or even seem that menacing. Maybe it’s just trying to get a good look at me. I also know that you’re supposed to pretend to be bigger, and make a lot of noise. I don’t think I’m gonna do that, though. I just adjust my heading, and walk away. It doesn’t get mad or try to follow. I doubt it eats people, and it can tell that I’m not a real threat. Lights. I see lights through the trees. As I approach, I see that it’s a cabin, and it’s occupied. This could be who took me, but this is my only shot at survival. I knock on the door, and a scruffy old man opens. He’s not surprised to receive a visitor, even though we’re in the middle of nowhere, and I’m completely naked. He lets me in, and I ask him where we are. “This is Big Bear Lake, son. California.” Yeah, that tracks.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Microstory 1782: Tukana Is All

We live our lives by the Tukana. It is an ancient text, which lays out the ways of the Tukan. It provides us with the guidance we need to make the best decisions, and be happy. Some go against the Tukana, but we fight them, and we always win. We will always win. For the Tukana is everything. The Tukana is all. I am known as the Dominant, which means that I am in charge of this entire tropicas. I did not simply fall into my position, and I was not selected. I had to fight my way to the top. Literally. The main social activity, according to the Tukana, is fencing. The practice is even more ancient than the prooftext. Our ancestors once used it to determine who amongst them was the bravest and noblest. They did not become rulers, though. That is something the Tukana demands of us. I am obviously the best. Many have attempted to thwart me, but I put them down every time. Unfortunately, our laws dictate that fighting for dominance is not the same as sparring. The better must kill the lesser in order to become the winner of the challenge. Until then, nothing is settled, and it would throw our world into chaos if I let them live. This has threatened our population before, and I can’t let it happen again, so I outright reject any challenge that comes my way when there is no hope that I’ll lose. It would not be fair to the challenger, and it only places us in greater danger to our enemies, the Buseros. They follow a similar path to enlightenment, but it is corrupted. Their inferior prooftext, the Buseron was plagiarized from our own; the one true book of salvation. The writer paraphrased nearly every sentence in his work, and passed it off as original so he could make money. The Tukana is not about making money. The Tukana teaches us to embrace the fruits of our destinies.

We are fruitarians. That is our number one rule, and as far as I know, no Tukan has ever broken it. We are aware that our ancestors once killed for their food, as the Buseros still do. That is perhaps our main difference. We do not destroy what we eat, but spread it around, and make more of it. We pollinate what’s left of our beautiful and precious Earth, and we do not take anything for granted. I may need to break our rule, though. I have been held captive by the Buseros for the last two weeks, and I’m starving. They have deliberately locked me up with a garden of plants, and small furry creatures. They want me to fall apart, and become more like them. It would be the greatest victory they’ve ever seen...dare I say the only victory. I’ve tried to hold on this whole time, but the pain inside me grows by the minute. The guards have left me alone for the next half hour, or so, as they do every day. They will notice if I eat one of these plants, or of course, an animal. We’ve become friends, I certainly don’t want to harm the latter. The former deserve to live out their lives as well, even though they do not have faces. The insects. They can’t possibly know how many insects are in here with me. They crawl and hop in and out at will. They’re still alive, so I don’t want to kill them, but I suppose if it’s me or them, it has to be me. I look around to make sure I’m not being watched, and then I snatch one off of the ground. It doesn’t taste good, and it’s not much, but I keep doing it, and I eventually start feeling energized again. I can’t eat much before the guards return, but I keep doing it every day. The Buseros are so impressed after I show them I’ve survived for four whole months, and they have no choice but to let me go. I return home to tell my people of the tasty insect, and its many rewards.