Sunday, April 18, 2021

The Advancement of Leona Matic: Tuesday, August 29, 2175

The Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was waiting for them when they slipped back into the timestream in 2175. It actually showed up about a year after they left, but such was the life of a time traveler. The Imzadi had done them well, but Imzadi had left to start her own life a long time ago, so it was time to get back to where they belonged. The AOC was Leona’s ship, and it was where she wanted to be. After they launched in order to reach their next mission in time, she and the team got themselves settled into their new home, and she gave the newcomers a tour. It would take several hours at reframe speeds to make it to the next transition window in interstellar space, but they would still have plenty of time once they arrived.
As they were sitting around the central table, eating their lunch together, Leona noticed how small the group was. As far as she knew, Sanaa was the only team member who left in recent times, but it just felt so incomplete. Four people? Four people were doing this all alone? She tried to shrug it off, since she knew that Nerakali was in charge of other teams that were doing their own work, but it still felt a little wrong. After all, Olimpia only just joined them. Before that, it was only the three of them. She just felt like they were missing someone, but as she thought about it, no one came to mind. Perhaps that was the point. Perhaps something had been done to her. Hours later, as the mission approached, her doubt only grew, and she knew she needed answers. It was eating away at her, and it wasn’t going away. So she called the one person involved that she knew was capable of manipulating memories.
“You think I erased something from your mind?” Nerakali was appearing in the form of a hologram.
“It wouldn’t be the first time,” Leona reminded her.
“What motivation would I have to do that?” Nerakali questioned.
“I don’t know, my memory was erased!” That was kind of the whole point.
“You don’t know that, because if you did, then your memory wouldn’t have been erased!”
“Did you do it, or not!”
“Not!” Nerakali insisted. “If there’s a void in your heart, then I’m not the one who made it. If something happened to you at all, then someone else is responsible...perhaps even yourself, but you would have had to do it to me as well, because as far as I know, everything is fine. I recruited Olimpia for you, so you would have a full roster of five. I always think teams should be no smaller than five.”
“We’re four,” Leona argued.
“What?” Nerakali didn’t know what she was talking about apparently.
“There are four of us!” Leona clarified.
“No, that’s wrong. You, Jeremy, Angela, Olimpia...” She narrowed her eyes, and looked to the side. “I forgot to say Jeremy.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“You, Angela, Olimpia, Jeremy, and...” She pulled her head back in confusion. “What the fuh...? There’s supposed to be five. I had a plan for five. I always like the number five. That gives you some leeway. Two of you can argue one side, while two can argue the other side. And a fifth person can say, ‘screw you guys, I’m goin’ home.’ You have to be five.”
“Well, we’re not!”
“Would you stop yelling at me, I don’t know what happened.”
They took a beat
“How can we figure this out?” Leona asked, calmer now. “Do you know of anyone whose memories can’t  be erased? Evidently yours can, but what about Tertius Valerius?”
“No, his can as well. In fact, he can erase his own, no problem. He regularly purges memories he doesn’t care about to make room for new ones. He never recalls what he ate for breakfast in the morning, so that way he never gets tired of having the same thing. I don’t know anyone who’s immune to psychic manipulation. That doesn’t mean that person doesn’t exist, because if they did, they would be powerful enough to keep their own existence a secret.”
She and Leona came to the same conclusion at the same time. “Retgone coins,” they said simultaneously.
“It would explain everything,” Leona continued. “They could order us to forget something, and we would never know it. Not even you can push through something like that.”
“No,” Nerakali agreed.
“That’s not it.” A woman appeared, standing next to Nerakali’s hologram.
“Who are you?” Leona asked.
“Who are you talking to?” Nerakali asked.
“I’m a psychic,” the woman answered. “Only you can see me.”
“I’m having a conversation with an invisible person,” Leona explained to the group. “I don’t know who she is, or what she wants.”
“Wull, then be careful,” Nerakali warned. “I don’t like things I don’t know about.”
“Let’s go to microponics” the woman suggested. “Obviously, your friends understand what’s happening, but one-way conversations are awkward for everybody.”
“I’ll be back,” Leona told everyone. “She seems to know what’s going on.”
She climbed the steps up to the floor above, where the mysterious psychic was waiting for her. “What’s your name?”
She walked around slowly. “Could you smell this one right here for me?”
Leona looked at the flower in question, eyeing the tag underneath. “This is a flower carpet amber. It has no medicinal or nutritional value, I’m not sure why it’s here.”
The woman urged her on, so Leona smelled the flower. “Could you tell me who you are now?”
“Yes,” she said with a knowing smile. “Amber Fossward.”
“You know what’s been taken from our memories.”
“Yes, but I can’t tell you.”
“Why not?”
“Because simply by knowing the truth, you interfere with the process.”
“What process?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“Is it good, or bad, because if it’s bad, then I absolutely want to interrupt it.”
“Necessary?” Leona guessed. “Unavoidable? Inevitable?”
“Out of our control,” Amber corrected. “I’m in a different universe, so the rules are different for me, but I can’t tell you what you want to know. All I can say is that...everything will be okay.”
“Do you know that, or is it just something you’re saying to keep me from asking questions?”
Amber took a long time to respond. “Yes.”
“Can you give me an ETA on when all will be revealed?”
“Five days.”
“Does that mean five days for me, or five days for you, or five days—”
“Five days for your team,” she said. “A few hours for you. Five weeks for The Superintendent’s readers. Over forty years for everyone else.”
“Oh.” That was a pleasant surprise. “What will take so long for my team? Why can’t I just say something once I find out about it?”
Amber took a deep breath, and said nothing.
“You can’t tell me. Right.”
Amber reached up, and placed a hand on Leona’s shoulder. Though this psychic wasn’t actually in the room with her, Leona could feel her comforting touch. “The window is about to open.” She lifted her hand, and caressed Leona’s check. “What comes through it is not unrelated, but it is not the answer you’re looking for. Still...embrace it, for it is good news.” Just before she disappeared, she took Leona’s hand, and kissed the back of it. She seemed like the kind of person who always knew what her friends needed, without asking, and Leona felt lucky to have fallen into that category.
What came through the window was none other than the love of Leona’s life, Serif. This was 2175, which meant that Past!Leona had just left Serif in Ubiña Pocket Dimension Four of the Elizabeth Warren. She didn’t know it at the time, but this would mark the end of their relationship. They would see each other a few times after this, but they would never be together again. Serif was fated to end up in a universe called Ansutah, where she birthed and raised her child alone, and never found the right circumstances to return home. Amber was right in that it was good news, but it was bad news as well, because in order for Serif to fulfill her destiny, she would have to return through another transition window. This was the burden of knowing the future.
As sad as Leona felt for having lost her love, she did not think of Serif often, and looking back, she got over the loss pretty quickly; too quickly. This was not her fault, however. It was the Superintendent’s doing. Her mourning period should have lasted weeks, if not longer, but that would have been a boring story to watch from the outside, so I used my creative license as a weapon, and simply skipped that part of the narrative. It was less that it didn’t happen, and more that I didn’t waste time describing it for dozens of installments, and Leona’s life was far too busy after that for her to reflect too much on her past.
They hugged “How long has it been for you?” Serif asked
“Far too long,” Leona answered. “A lot has changed since we separated.”
“You mean I won’t ever see you again?”
“You will,” Leona acknowledged, “but...not for long. We’re never given enough time.”
“How long do we have this time?” Serif asked.
“Infinite time,” Jeremy answered, looking at his cuff. “There’s no exiting transition window.”
“She has to go back,” Leona contended. “She has a destiny in there.”
“Maybe she doesn’t,” Angela put forth. “We already know we’re accessing alternate realities. Maybe this version of your friend never has to do whatever it is you think she does.”
“That’s a pretty big change,” Leona said.
“We’ve made them before,” Angela volleyed. “In fact, you could argue that it probably is a different reality, because of how much we’ve changed. Sure, perhaps we sometimes go back to old timeline branches but...nothing is inevitable, nothing is unavoidable.”
“Nothing is necessary,” Leona whispered. She watched the floor remain unmoved under her feet, and worked through the problem. She had to consider everything she could remember about the future. “You are with child.”
“That’s impossible,” Serif contradicted. “I have literally never had sex with a man. I was created to be with you, and with you I have always been.”
“I haven’t either,” Leona agreed, “but I think I’m also pregnant. Not me, though; Present!Me.”
“What does that mean?” Serif asked.
Leona kept thinking on it, trying to remember what was taken from her. Amber warned her not to interrupt the process, but it was overwhelming her, and she couldn’t stop it if she wanted to. It started out with a feeling; a feeling of love. Then it grew into more feelings; longing, friendship, trust, distance, betrayal, anger, hurt, more love, resilience. Then she started getting fragments, like a broken mirror trying to put itself back together, and once it did, the man she lost would be standing in it. He would be out of reach, but at least the picture would be clear. She kept trying to put the pieces back together, but they kept just falling back down to the floor. Repair of small objects was not her specialty. Still, she kept trying, cutting herself on the sharp edges over and over, but not caring. She had to know. She had to see his face. It was important.
“Stop!” came a voice from the other side of the room causing her to drop the metaphorical glass. It wasn’t just any voice, it was Leona’s. It was some alternate version of her, which Leona instinctively decided should be called Future!Leona. “If you remember, you’ll screw everything up. If you want him that bad, then I will take you to him, but the price is Serif. She walked towards them briskly.
Jeremy was closest so he tried to step in front first, but she punched him in the chest, which sent him flying backwards. But it wasn’t just him. A dozen versions of him appeared, each one behind the other. One by one, they disappeared, until the only one left was the one standing against the back wall.
Angela stepped forward now. Future!Leona grabbed her left leg, and made it disappear. She screamed in pain, and toppled over. Serif dropped down, and immediately breathed on her open wound to heal her.
Now Olimpia took her turn. She removed her cuff, and let it drop to the floor. The real Leona couldn’t see her face, but her shoulders were raised like an angry cat. “Get...back—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK—BACK!” she shouted. With each echo, Future!Leona was pushed back more and more, ultimately stumbling on the steps down to one of the grave chambers, and falling to her ass. Her words possessed force, and momentum.
“He is the only thing I care about,” Future!Leona explained. “I don’t know you, bitch.” She lifted her fists in front of her, then let a bird fly out of each one. At the same time, Olimpia disintegrated, her individual molecules sent to different points in spacetime. Now that there were no more obstacles in her way, she was free to take the real Leona. First, she kicked the back of her younger self’s knees, dropping her to the floor. Then she took her by the hair, and started dragging her across the room, back to wherever it was she came from. The real Leona reached up, and tried to peel Future!Leona’s fingers away, but it was no use. Once they were across, she tugged one last time, and dropped her past self into the portal.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Big Papa: Horror Vacui (Part VIII)

Hogarth holds up her hands, and takes a quarter step back. “Relax, Cadet,” she says. “We’re not here to hurt you. We just want to know what happened. How did you get to this universe?”
“We were in The Crossover,” Ukodenva explains. “Something went wrong with the engines, and we were sent, I guess to your universe. We did not come here on purpose.”
“What was that thing that crashed into my planet?” Hogarth demands to know.
“That would be the fighter bay. We happened to be doing some training in there when everything fell apart. The six of us managed to escape in this simulator, but we don’t know if anyone else did. Please understand that we possess no working weapons, not even on the ship itself. This is just designed for battle training.”
“I understand,” Hogarth assures her.
“Who are you training to fight?” Nerakali questions.
Ukodenva hesitates.
“Be honest,” Nerakali urges.
“Humans,” Ukodenva says, “but only if we need to. There are a lot of universes out there, and not all humans are as warm and welcoming as you. We have to be able to protect ourselves.”
“We’re not at war,” Hogarth says. “Not with each other anyway. There is a far greater threat that we both face. I built this brane to insulate my people from it, but it would seem your fighter bay has discovered a weakness.”
One of the other cadets stands up. “We will help you.”
The other four stand up as well, and regard Hogarth respectfully.
Ukodenva looks back at them, and smiles. “You are our commanding officer now.”
“That’s not what I—”
“It cannot be reversed. What you say, we must do.”
“What if I say—?”
“Unless you tell us that we no longer have to do what you say.”
Hogarth has no response to this. She turns her head to look back at us. “I need to effect repairs, and deal with this...development. Would you be terribly offended if...?”
“If you asked us to leave this brane?” Nerakali guesses.
“Not at all,” Lowell finishes the answer, presuming a consensus.
“You too, please,” Hogarth says to Pryce.
He has a bit of a sour face. “Very well, but I would like to return one day.”
“We’ll see.” Hogarth breathes in with her eyes closed. As she breathes out, our bodies break apart into tiny little bits, only to be reconstructed in the afterlife simulation interface room. Gilbert has returned with us, but Aldona has not, because that is where she belongs now. Trinity isn’t here with us either. She’s already home.
The technician smiles at us. “You have finally returned. Would you like to be connected?”
“Finally?” I question. Glisnians have a very different perspective of time than regular organic humans. They’re more like travelers and temporal immortals. We’ll regularly go years without seeing a loved one, and pick up right where we left off upon reuniting. Finally is just not a word someone like this would use to describe us coming back after less than a couple months. Something happened, and we can all feel it.
Lowell steps forward. “How long have we been gone?”
“Sixty-three years,” the tech replies. He doesn’t think this is weird, because while it’s his job to provide outsiders access to the afterlife sim, he probably doesn’t grasp how important it is, and how problematic it is that I left it unattended for all this time. There’s no telling what it will look like when we go back.
“Six decades,” Lowell echoes, shaking his head. “They’ve not had a leader in all that time.”
He is wrong. The simulation has not been without a leader for the last sixty years. It found a leader in someone. The most likely suspect is Avatar!Pryce, but there are billions of other possibilities...hundreds of billions, if you count the Glisnians. We have no idea what it is we’ll be walking into. “Nerakali and Gilbert, you may go now. You’re Level Eleven now. You’re free.”
They both shake their heads. “There’s nowhere for us to go,” Gilbert explains. “Our cycles are complete. Everyone out there expects us to have finally died, and dead is how we’ll stay.”
“We will go with you and help, in any way we can,” Nerakali agrees.
“I don’t know how bad it’s gonna be,” Pryce says. “My avatar has been changing in the prison, and I lost connection with him as soon as that thing crashed into Hogarth’s planet. He’s unpredictable.”
“We don’t know that he’s the one in charge,” I remind him as I’m sitting down in the interface chair. “I have the gearkey, and the rainbow clothes. Whatever has become of this place, we’ll deal with it...just like I dealt with you.”
We jack into the Matrix, appearing in my office, except it’s not my office anymore. It’s been redecorated. I knew that someone took over, but why would they operate out of here, when Pryce’s office was more central, and a lot nicer? Apparently answering our question of who it is has been running things since we’ve been gone, Avatar!Pryce comes into the room. He does look a lot different, though. He hangs his head down low, and he’s not wearing his rainbow clothes, or his orange Hock clothes. It’s a sort of tie-dye mix of blue and pink. There’s a sliver of black at the hems of his shirt and pant legs. He’s also carrying a rag and spray bottle.
When Avatar!Pryce notices us, he recedes into his shell even more. “Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know anyone was in here.” The black of his clothes rises, overtaking part of the other colors. “Oh, no.” He tries to leave.
“Wait,” I urge him. “What’s happened to you.”
Avatar!Pryce’s hands start to shake. “I’m not supposed to talk to you.”
“I’m asking you to.”
The black rises even more, and I realize what’s happening, I just don’t know why. He now lives under constant threat of being zeroed. It’s regulated by his behavior. The more he acts against the demands of whoever did this to him, the closer he gets to being killed permanently.
“This is cruel,” the other Pryce points out. He’s right, not even he would do something like this. Say what you will about him, but he never controlled people through fear. He believes in agency, and free will.
“I’m sorry,” Avatar!Pryce apologizes again. “I have to leave. I’ll come back and clean later. I think that should be okay. I have two hours before I go full dark.”
“No,” Pryce stops him. “You can clean now. Do your job, and do it well. Just answer one question, who’s in charge now?”
“The one in charge has always been in charge. It’s Pinocchio.”
Pryce shuts his eyes. “Shit.”
“Who is that? You know this puppet?” Lowell questions.
“I’ve never heard the name, but...I can guess who that is.” He suggests that we leave the office, so his alternate self can behave, and protect himself from dying. We will try to help him later. “Before Leona Matic reached Level Eleven, she was a Basic, which afforded her the right to visit people in prison. My other me made the counselor who dealt with the Matics and their friends spin the wheel, which landed her in Hock, and Leona started working on a plan to break her out. She ended up needing help, which she found in a non-playable character who had no name, because he didn’t need one. She altered his code, I still don’t really know how. She gave him consciousness, which honestly, shouldn’t have been possible. We kind of lost track of him, because he was unique. We didn’t have any need to track an NPC, because they were never where they weren’t supposed to be.”
“What’s he doing now?” Gilbert asks. “What’s become of the simulation?”
“Obviously, he found my old plans,” Pryce answers. “I had this idea that we would have janitors and maintenance workers. Their clothes would be of two colors, their actual station, and the color that grants them access to wherever they need to work. I decided against it, because this place maintains itself, and it doesn’t even get dirty. I just had not yet figured out how similar life here would be to base reality. It was a bad idea. The levels allow you to live however you want, and however you deserve. Some here are perfectly happy as Yellows. They don’t need to ask for things, or own personal possessions, because you don’t need anything. But the old plans were different. They created a class system, and moving up to a higher station was about as possible as it is in the real world. Meaning that it wasn’t impossible, but not as easy as rich people have to claim in order to not feel like pieces of shit for treating others badly.”
“How powerful is this guy?” Nerakali asks. “What can a conscious NPC do?”
“I don’t know,” Pryce answers honestly. “I can tell you that he doesn’t have the gearkey, and he’s not wearing rainbow, like Ellie said. She should be able to get him in line, though it’s not gonna be like it was when my avatar deliberately stepped down. He’ll probably put up a fight, and if he’s convinced enough of the residents that he’s what’s best for them, they’ll fight too.”
“We need information,” I say. “So far, all we know is that he’s punished Avatar!Pryce. He may have otherwise improved things.”
“I can find out what you need to know,” Gilbert announces. He stretches his arms out like Jesus, and lets his clothes change from white to indigo. Level Six, Plus was a good middle-0f-the-road place to pretend to be. It’ll allow him to go where he needs, but not stir up any commotion while he’s there. Indigos aren’t impressive, but they’re not ignored either. People will answer his questions.
“Thank you,” I say to him. For obvious reasons, I would be useless out there. Even if I masked my clothes, they all know what I look like.
“I don’t care how powerful this NPC is,” Gilbert says as he steps over, and rubs his palm slowly on mine like it’s a furry pet. “Nobody gets past the lock on my house. Except for you now. Make yourself at home.” He tears a breach in the virtual pocket dimension, and goes out to the main simulation to get us some answers. The rest of us walk over to Gilbert’s abode. He called it a house, but make no mistake, this is a palace. It’s the Purple Palace. I unlock the door for all of us, and we step inside. We don’t just sit around waiting for his return, though. We start to come up with scenarios, and determine how we’ll overcome any obstacles. Pinocchio could be bad, or he could be good, or he could be somewhere in between. We have to think of every possibility. Pryce has a particularly haunting contingency, which he calls Ice in the Hole.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Microstory 1605: Linsetol Evolved

As I’ve explained, the closer a universe is, the easier it is for me to access. That’s why most of my stories are going to be about humans, and will mostly take place on some version of Earth. In truth, most universes aren’t centered on Earth, and in fact don’t even have an Earth. The ones that do, we’ll just say—out of no desire to fully understand the physics of it all—are considered spinoffs of the original. The first rule of probable reality is that any world that can be conceived—and whose consistent physical laws don’t countermine the laws that are true of every universe—can exist. Furthermore, if such a qualifying world is conceived, then it will exist. It may only be stable enough to last for a brief period of time before it collapses, but the very thought of it will conjure it into being, unless it’s something crazy and impossible, like many cartoons. It is important to understand this, because it’s possible for there to be a version of Earth out there where the mesozoic extinction events played out differently, and while most of the life during these times were still wiped out, the diversity of life that survived and continued to evolve was slightly greater than what you’ve learned about in your own universe. By cross-referencing paleontological studies from the more familiar branes, I have determined that the one we’re discussing today contains an intelligent species that evolved from what you would call troodon. While they resemble their ancient counterparts significantly, the similarities are not enough to draw a definitive conclusion, but they are very clearly not human, and the time of their reign as the supreme species on their world took place millions of years before humans would have evolved anyway. This is the troodon world, but from what I can gather about their society, they do not call themselves this. It’s hard to tell what anything they say means, since their language is unlike anything I’ve ever encountered, and I am not a linguist. I can make some assumptions about their history as I watch it unfold from outside of time, but I can’t get a clear picture, because their customs are so foreign to me. There is no true equivalent to how humans operate, and I can only understand so much about them. The Linsetol ultimately developed a highly advanced civilization before they met their final fate. They didn’t dispatch any manned missions into space, but they did send up satellites, and they had a pretty decent understanding of how the cosmos worked. Their history isn’t riddled with as much war as most human Earths experienced, but that doesn’t mean they were peaceful and kind. The Linsetol were isolationists, whose nations each stuck to their own corners, and kept mostly to themselves. They liked to be independent and self-sufficient. If they were living in a region without a particular resource, then they either found a way to live without it, or they moved somewhere else, as long as it didn’t interfere with any other group’s territory. After all this moving around, all the best areas were taken, and while they made attempts to develop more sustainable options, the population of each faction dwindled until the species went extinct. There was no reason to war against each other, because everyone was in the same boat at around the same time, so it would only delay the inevitable. They were unable to cooperate, so they were always doomed to fail.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Microstory 1604: White Savior

This next one is a very sensitive topic, the answers to which I do not claim to know. I hesitated to tell this story, but have determined it’s better to let the truth be out there, than to pretend that it didn’t happen. Like I’ve explained, I am a voldisisil, which makes me a spirit type of human subspecies. I was born this way, due to the existence of a third parent that participated in my conception unbeknownst to my biological parents. But there are other spirits, in other universes, with different reasons for being. Some would be considered good, while others are pretty clearly bad, but most end up in a gray area. Unlike mutants and witches, spirits sometimes don’t take sides. They let their soul guide them, and don’t necessarily try to rationalize against their impulses. This doesn’t mean that they’re evil, but they don’t always think things through, and they actively repulse any attempt at criticism. There’s one man in particular that I believe we should discuss. His given name was Wyatt Bradley, but once he discovered what he could do, he started going by the moniker White Savior. Different versions of Earth have different historical experiences with race and nationality. Some are undeniably worse than others. Wyatt Bradley was born to one of these. Racism was prevalent, insidious, institutional, systemic, and seemingly insurmountable. He saw it all over the place. Everyone saw it, and anyone who didn’t see it was lying. Do not think that Wyatt discovered his abilities, immediately threw on a white suit, and started running around. He wrestled with the idea, and ultimately succumbed to his urges, which is what I was talking about. He surrendered to his soul, and did not heed the lessons that the wise people around him taught him as he was growing up. There is a reason that humans are a trinity of mind, body, and soul. All three are required to make a person. A mind alone is a computer, a body alone is a pile of viscera, and a soul alone is a ghost. None of them is meant to be without the other two.

Wyatt wanted to do something about the racism in his country, and perhaps the world, and it felt to him like his soul powers were the best way for him to accomplish his goals. He was an aidsman, meaning that he was called to action against injustice, but in a literal sense. He possessed a general psychic connection to the human collective, and could let himself be drawn to pockets of extreme civil unrest. On the surface, he simply appeared to be a teleporter, but he couldn’t just go wherever he wanted. He could only go to these places of turmoil, or back home. Like I was saying, he put on a white suit, and wore a steel mask. Basically, he wore a fencing uniform. But he was not a fencer. The weapons he carried were all blunt instruments, and tasers. He used these to attack people who were attacking minorities, and this regularly meant attacking the police. Wyatt’s public identity was extremely controversial, but he paid no attention to his critics, even members of the black community who saw it as wildly offensive, and altogether unhelpful. He didn’t think that he could conquer racism with his methods, but he believed he could deter some of the more violent components. “If the white cop is worried about getting a dose of his own medicine, he’ll stop giving it to his victims. If he does it anyway, he answers to me,” White Savior was once recorded saying in a rare case of him saying anything to anyone. He was predominantly quiet, though not mute, instead allowing his baton to do the talking for him. They eventually got the message. Whether or not any given individual respected this message was another story, but Wyatt’s actions were not without a little progress. Instances of police brutality against minorities dropped within months of White Savior’s arrival. It would seem that law enforcement was taking notice, and changing tactics. Unfortunately, this meant that they learned to be more subtle with their racism, because he was only drawn to the violence, not general mistreatment or abuse, and definitely not systemic oppression. After a few years, his activity took a toll on his body, and his sanity. I’m not sure if he ever admitted to himself that he wasn’t really helping, but he retired just the same, and withdrew from society completely. Within the year, everything was back to normal.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Microstory 1603: The Dichotomy of it All

Flipverse seemed like an okay brane in the beginning, especially once people realized that they could commune with their deceased loved ones. There was no inherently nefarious reason that they could do this. The people who set up the system didn’t do so as part of some grand plan to harm humanity, and they weren’t as evil as some others of their kind, but they weren’t particularly fond of humans either. They were Maramon from a universe called Ansutah, and were only in Flipverse when The Crossover suffered a cataclysmic failure. Stranded, they created the afterlife world for reasons I’m not able to detect, but everything bad that happened as a result of it was because of human error, or unforeseen consequences. Things took a turn for the worse near the beginning of the 21st century, when a dark organization rose from the shadows, and decided it was time they took over the United States. Their power was fleeting, but their impact was everlasting, and profound. This was how the universe earned its name. From there on out, those in power found that they could only ever hold onto it for a short period of time, until another appeared to take their place. Each new faction formed in response to the last, and promised that things would be better under their rule, but it was actually just different. A hunger for power and control pervaded everything in this universe, starkly contrasting the period of peace that preceded this age, and making everyone’s lives more complicated by the year. Everything was about some sort of dichotomy, from the living world versus the underworld, to the wealthy versus the wanting. Even the most popular reality show contest was about pitting two groups against each other that were distinct for reasons unrelated to the competition itself. This wasn’t only about two sides literally fighting against each other, but a society that was no longer capable of allowing two opposing forces to co-exist. There had to be conflict, and there weren’t many people left who wanted to see things return to normal, or reach some form of enlightenment. The interesting lesson from this story is not that civilization kept falling, but that it kept getting back up. They kept trying and trying, and even when things grew worse, most people involved only intended to do what they felt was best. It is for this reason that Flipverse ended up becoming a vastly important strategic position in the Darning Wars.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Microstory 1602: New House

In 1981, after Japan House was finished being built, the Bicker Institute started trying to think of other ways to allow the human race to survive. Eight full bunkers were already up and ready to go, with another House in New Zealand, which was designed to maintain its population mostly above ground. Jumping off of that idea, they decided that keeping people underground wasn’t necessarily the only way to survive the end of the world. In fact, it may not even be the best way. The organization was not founded upon the basis of some specific disaster. If they had those answers, they probably would have channeled all of their efforts into stopping it. They wanted to prepare for anything, and massive global earthquakes, for instance, might just bury all of their bunkers, so they wanted to come up with new strategies. People in the ocean could conceivably survive such a thing. It wasn’t guaranteed, but nothing was, and again, this was all about preparation. They needed a ship. They needed the best ship in the world. And they needed it to potentially endure a tidal wave or tsunami. Their next interim deadline was in seven years, which was important, because the hope was to support a certain percentage of a growing population. The project leads started looking around, hoping to find something that would meet their requirements. It didn’t have to be perfect, they had time to modify it, and bolster its features, but after a few months, things were getting ridiculous. Nothing fit the bill. Nothing was good enough for them. All ships were made to weather storms to some certain degree, but none of them could last through the worst storm in history, should it occur. Before wasting any more time, they decided their only solution was to build their own vessel from scratch, which they did over the course of the next eight years. They went about a year past their deadline, but that was okay, because the actual end of the world wouldn’t start happening until around 2021, and even then, things weren’t bad enough to warrant populating the Houses. This latest project made them better with their time management, and before it was finished, they ended up getting to work on the next plan for survival, which was a submarine. As for the ship, it was a magnificent beauty, far beyond anything else 1989 had to offer, and probably even superior to the ships built in 2021. I won’t tell you whether it, or its Inheritors, survived what came to it.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Microstory 1601: Whatever Floats Your Kaya

Let’s start with a fun one. Perhaps my favorite universe is bladapodoverse. I don’t like it because of all the crazy things that happen there. I like it because of the way that people handle it. This version of Earth was infected with little creatures from another universe, which they ended up calling bladapods. The bladapods released gases into the atmosphere, and sometimes, when an individual encounters these gases, nothing happens, but sometimes it changes them. It changes them in unpredictable and often unique ways. It can also change objects, so it’s not just a genetic thing. This could have destroyed society. Some people essentially walk away with superpowers, while other people’s lives objectively become worse. But people accept these changes, and stay united, and support each other. I’ve never found such strength on any other world. They make accommodations for each other, and exercise immense patience. I’m so impressed. There is one case I wanted to illustrate. A woman, who we’ll only call Kaya, encountered the bladosphere when she was kayaking down the river alone. She tried to avoid it as she approached, but couldn’t get out in time. It’s best not to undergo a base modification while you’re alone, because you may need immediate assistance, but if there are other people around, there’s a chance they’ll be impacted too, so it’s really just a crapshoot. Anyway, Kaya kayaked right into the gases, and came out wildly different on the other side. She transformed into a human kayak. She was much taller and wider. She didn’t have a place for someone to sit, or anything, but she floated on top of the water better than a normal person should be able to, her arms and legs were gone, and she was undoubtedly kayak-like. The kayak didn’t turn into a human, but to understand the way this world works, that was absolutely not outside the realm of possibility. That’s why base modifications are so dangerous, because the rules and limitations are unclear, if any exist at all. Since she could no longer walk, Kaya couldn’t get out of the water, and since she went out alone, there was no one around to help. So she just kept floating down the river, occasionally bumping into rocks, and hoping that someone came by within shouting distance. She eventually got her wish, a few hours later, when a group of hikers happened to be walking by. They pulled her out of the water, weren’t afraid of what they were seeing, and helped her get to the nearest Base Modification Center so she could learn how to survive her new life. I wasn’t surprised that they treated her so well, but it always brings joy to my heart, and makes it easier to deal with all the other worlds, which are considerably less virtuous. Kaya moved on as a human kayak living on land. They provided her with a permanent live-in nurse and aid to make sure she had what she needed at all times. She never got back into the water, for understandable reasons, but her life wasn’t terrible, and she even managed to find happiness under extreme conditions.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Tuesday, August 10, 2156

Obviously the Mateo standing here was not the one who reached out to Olimpia, and told her to join this team. It could have been a future version of him, or an alternate version, or just someone masquerading as him. Either way, she seemed like good people, so they decided to keep her around, and assume that everything was totally cool. They put her through a little orientation, explaining what The Parallel was all about, how it was created, and why the team existed. She accepted all information without judgment, and no questions. She assumed everything they told her was everything they needed to tell her. They would expect this kind of relaxed behavior from someone who knew and trusted them, but a stranger should have been more cautious. Presumably, until now not being able to communicate with anyone without giving away her temporal condition just made her feel lucky to be around people who understood her. They ate, they went to bed, and they woke up three years later.
Mateo, said Amber while they were in the middle of breakfast.
“Back so soon?” Mateo asked out loud.
“I’m sorry?” Leona questioned.
“I’m on the phone,” he said, a little rudely. He didn’t need to talk to carry on a psychic conversation, but a side effect of being carefree was that Mateo was sometimes careless. “How long has it been for you, Amber?”
I’m here to serve as a psychic booster, Amber said, bypassing his question. Someone wants to talk to you, and while she’s capable of communicating across the bulkverse, I can help maintain the signal, since you and I are already bonded. She wants the whole group to hear what she has to say, so please make physical contact with your people. You can release once she’s made contact.
Mateo nodded, and held his hands out.
“You know we can’t hear whatever she’s saying to you, right?” Angela reminded him.
“Take my hands,” and unfazed Mateo clarified.
An image appeared before them, maybe a hologram, of a young woman. “My name is Thack Natalie Collins, and I live in a brane called Voldisilaverse. To give you a little background, there are three types of people with abilities. These are mutants, witches, and spirits. Mutants are the kinds you generally see on TV. Their bodies are genetically dissimilar to regular people, and this gives them some way of manipulating energies, matter, and other forces. People like you are witches in that you tap into the physical properties of the universe. It has less to do with your bodies, and is more about your minds, though there is a definite substrate component that sometimes prevents you from maintaining your abilities upon consciousness transference. I am a spirit. I possess a less defined connection to the world around me, and its peoples. My power comes from my soul. There is some chance for overlap. For instance—due to an interesting bloodline—Amber is a mutant witch spirit. But these are the three classifications, and understanding this is important in regards to what I am about to tell you.
“The Superintendent is another spirit. The reason the people in yours and my universes have free will is because, while he enjoys a great deal of influence over our worlds, he does not control them. To do that, he would need to be a witch. He also has almost zero control over his own life, for he is not a mutant. He is weak, and it is this weakness that forces him to exert as much control over the worlds he creates as possible. He is only a spirit, and he wields this power to manipulate the events across a number of branes. That number, from his perspective, is about to grow. And the more it grows, the more power he gains, and the more at risk people like you are. You’ll still have free will, but there will be some question as to how you encounter your circumstances, which determine the cards you’re dealt.
“To explain, the Superintendent did not rip you from reality so that no one you loved could remember that you existed. He altered your universe itself, making it so that you can’t exist within it during that time period. And you only returned at his behest, after Leona and her friends suffered through a series of arbitrary obstacles that he believes made for an interesting story.”
“I think I know where this is going,” Leona interjected politely. “This corrupted universe is destined to exist two years from now. Our next jump will take us seven years into it.”
“That’s right,” Thack confirmed. “Mateo, you can’t exist during that time period, and this team will move on, completely unawares. They’ll do this just as they did before, but this time, you may not come back.”
“Why wouldn’t he?” Jeremy questioned, almost upset with the messenger, but knowing that it wasn’t her fault. “Why won’t he come when we jump to...”
“Twenty-two nineteen,” Leona finished his sentence for him. “That’s after the end of the corruption.”
“Why would he?” Thack posed. “That’s not his pattern. He’s not designed to jump sixty-three years into the future. He wasn’t born that way, and those cuffs don’t make him that way. He will disappear when the clock strikes midnight, and you will forget him, and this time, you won’t have twin babies to provide the spiritual connection you’ll need to fight for his return. Because like I said, the Superintendent can’t bring him back. That, Leona, is something you did on your own, and it wasn’t his intention. He planned on removing Mateo entirely, and essentially starting a new story that focused on you. Your babies, and your freewill moved the circumstances beyond his control. You went against him, and that won’t work a second time.”
“So, what do we do?” Angela asked. “We understand the problem, now what’s the solution?”
Thack sighed, and they waited patiently for her response. “Have you ever heard of Westfall?”
“Someone mentioned that once,” Mateo said. “She didn’t say what it was. Uh...Emma.”
“I don’t want to get into the details, but there’s this theory floating around that practically every television series exists in the same universe. Due to one character crossing over to another, and than a character from that appearing in a third, and this huge complex web of crossovers and mentions, and whathaveyou, people believe they’re all connected. Well, they’re not, and Westfall explains why they’re not. Sometimes a character is just randomly dropped from one universe to another, and it’s due to a malfunction in The Crossover. The individual is transmitted, has an adventure, and goes back without ever knowing they weren’t on their same world that whole time. While the Superintendent actually has a little bit of access to Westfall—meaning he knows when it’s happened, not that he can make it happen—he doesn’t have any control over most of the universes that it’s interfered with. He’s not a writer on any of the Law and Order shows, so he can’t do anything with those characters, or those worlds.
“Mateo could survive in one of these universes, and then he could slip back. But there’s an issue. Like I said, the Superintendent can’t move him over there, or it would defeat the purpose. Plus, Westfall isn’t a consciousness, or at least it’s not in the same way you, or even I, define it. It’s probably not random, but it certainly seems that way. If Mateo wants to crossover...someone has to invite him. This someone would have to be unconnected to Mateo, or any of his universes.”
“Why would they do that?” Jeremy asked. “You’re saying a writer on a TV show has to conjure a character named Mateo, and say that he’s the Mateo from this universe?”
“It doesn’t have to be a TV show, and they don’t have to explicitly say where he’s from. They just have to strongly suggest it. And again, the Superintendent can’t write that story. There are lots of people who can cross universes, like The Prototype crew, and Meliora Rutherford, but those people can’t help here. It must be someone else.”
“Bottom line,” Leona began, “what do we do? How do we make this happen?”
Thack waited another moment. “I can reach out to other branes, like I’m doing right now. There are other storytellers who...let’s say, treat their characters as a little more real than others do. They surrender to the direction of the story, and don’t try to decide everything that happens. The character can make a suggestion to the storyteller that Mateo should show up. Keep in mind that we’re still dealing with time travel, and universes whose respective timelines are independent from each other, so nothing has to happen right away from anyone’s perspective but yours. Mateo has to disappear at the end of the day, but Westfall can drop him off wherever and whenever it wants.”
“Are you asking us for something?” Leona asked. “It seems you don’t need us to make this happen.”
“I’m a spirit,” Thack tried to explain with a smile. “I need consent. That’s what sets us apart. Mateo can choose to step aside, and let the story continue without him. I can’t make him do anything he doesn’t want to. I reached out to give you the facts, but you have to ask me for help.”
“We want your help,” Leona said clearly.
Thack chuckled. “I meant that Mateo has to ask me for help.”
They looked at him with a certain assumption. The obvious response was to let her do it, but it wasn’t necessarily the wisest choice. He wanted to survive, and to exist, and to be remembered, but there was a chance the sentiment was only a gut reaction. If there was anything that the last few weeks had taught him, it was that a rush to any decision was never better than a thoughtful reflection, and as long of a discussion as necessary. “I need to speak with my counselor.”
Leona opened her mouth to argue.
“Please...” he stopped her before she could say a word, “respect my wishes.”
Mateo went off to another level to consult Amber in private. A grumpy Leona sat at the table impatiently. She asked Thack what her husband and the soul psychic were talking about, but Thack reiterated the part about consent, and refused to eavesdrop. She didn’t say whether she could eavesdrop anyway. Mateo had his decision ready ten minutes later, but spoke only to Thack, and never revealed it to Leona, or his team. They would either find out in sixty-three years...or never worry about it again.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Big Papa: Welcome to Welcome (Part VII)

Cautiously but curiously, we all follow Pryce down the path. It really is a beautiful marvel. It doesn’t even feel like we’re in some kind of space habitat. This structure is certainly large enough to fit millions upon millions of fully formed planets comfortably, so maybe this is exactly that. It’s impossible to tell from this perspective. It could be another simulation, for all I truly know. I can’t trust my senses ever again. They’re sensing a lot of pleasant things now, though. The rustle of the fallen leaves in the wind, the smell of petrichor, the feeling of a warm—but not too warm—sun. The taste of air that’s completely free from pollution. This world is paradise, and I know I’ve only seen a fraction of a fraction of an unfathomably small fraction that Hogarth and the world-builders have created. If this is just the bridge that leads to the other universe, I can’t imagine what’s waiting on the other side, which is where I assume we’re going.
The path splits into a fork, one leading alongside the pond that we’ve come across, and the other leading directly into it. Stone steps go right down to the edgewater, suggesting that we’re meant to enter here. Hogarth isn’t surprised or concerned, so this isn’t something that belongs to him, but to her. Pryce steps one foot in, and keeps the other up on the last dry step. He reaches towards me with his hand. “You can trust me.”
I step down, and take his hand. “That will never be true.”
We all walk into the water, and find it to be the perfect temperature. Once it gets deep enough, we drop our chests down, and begin to swim towards the middle. I keep my eye on Hogarth, because if she starts to detect trouble, I’ll know that it’s real. “Just float on your back and relax,” she instructs. “This is the prototype of the transitional lake that people from the afterlife simulation will be using. I designed this to be a joyful and calming experience. Bulkverse travel is always either so technical and mechanical, or jarring. I want people to slip over to other worlds peacefully, which is why I call this a drift portal.
Despite tasting no salt, we’re incredibly buoyant. Floating was always something I struggled with when I was learning to swim as a kid, but this takes no effort at all. I do feel wet, yes, but it’s almost as if I’m hovering in the air on a cloud. It’s simulation physics made real. I intended the afterlife to be a place where the dead could live on, but I failed to predict some of the more creative real world applications, such as this. We lie there quietly, and enjoy the sounds of nature around us. We occasionally drift close to each other, but never collide. I start coming up with explanations for this, like maybe Hogarth programmed the area to prevent collisions with a force field, but then I just let it go, and stay in the present. At some point, I realize that the sky has changed from the familiar blue to a lovely violet color. We transitioned, and I didn’t even notice.
I hear splashing as the others begin to swim towards the new shore. When I start to follow, Aldona is still on her back, and we don’t try to summon her. If this is where she wants to be, here is where she’ll stay. She seems content, as am I. I am as relaxed as Hogarth wanted me to be, and have relinquished all hostility I felt coming into the mission to remove Pryce from power. I do not forgive him for anything that he’s done, but it no longer consumes me. Who can be mad under a purple sky?
“Welcome, all...” Hogarth begins, “to Violkomin” She smiles proudly at her own pun. “All who come to this universe shall pass through here.” She walks around a bit, and admires nothing in particular. “The membrane is fifty thousand times thicker than any other universe. Not even The Crossover could penetrate. If someone wants to come, they’ll be bottlenecked. This is the safest place in the multiverse.”
“No,” Nerakali contends. “The universe as a whole may be, but this world is on the frontlines. One way way out; no escape. Might want to consider building a backdoor.”
“Is this what you wanted to show us?” Lowell asks Pryce.
“No, he responds. We’re about four hundred light years from that.”
“Where’s the nearest Nexus?” Gilbert asks.
“Now that we’re in my domain,” Hogarth says, “we don’t need Nexa.” She reaches out towards Pryce. “Navigator.”
He takes her hand to better send a psychic message containing the coordinates to their destination. We all transport to another planet, one that’s just as beautiful and wondrous as the last. “Ellie?” comes a voice behind me.
I turn around to find Paige Turner. There are eleven versions of her that I know of, though, so there’s no telling which, or if it’s a new model that I’m not familiar with. I glance over at Pryce. This may not be any version of Paige, but a clone inhabited by some other personality. If this is meant to be a gift from him, it’s an unreliable one. “How do I know you’re who you seem to be?”
Paige sets down the little bear-looking creature she was carrying at her side like a dolphin in a sealab. She tilts her head much in the same way Pryce did when he was contemplating a philosophical question. “You can’t ever know who you’re seeing, or who you’re talking to, can you?” she poses. “I mean, ignoring quantum duplicates, time travel, clones, android substrates, dreams, hallucinations, and holograms, identity is something we can’t ever truly know about anyone but ourselves, and maybe not even then. Perhaps when we met, Ellie, I was an individual, and the next day, a different individual woke up in the same body. I believed I was the original Trinity, but how would I really know that? Perhaps it’s all just a lie, and if I can’t truly ever know whether I’m the same person as Past!Me, then I certainly can’t expect you to have a clue.”
“That was unhelpful,” I tell her. “I hoped your response would prove it one way, or the other.
“I think her point is that—” Nerakali tried to explain.
“I get her point,” I snap. I compose myself, and apologize with a remorseful facial expression. “If you had your powers, would you know whether this was the real Trinity?”
“If I still had my powers,” Nerakali begins, “I would be the worst person to determine which version of Paige this is. All duplicates are the same to me. Identity doesn’t exist in my world.”
The apparent Trinity walks forward, her loyal ursine creature following closely by her ankles. “I remember everything that Trinity experienced before she died, and I remember everything back when I was just a young girl from the early 1970s named Paige, before I split off to start my own life on Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida.” She takes both my hands in hers. “And I remember how I feel about you. I hope that can be enough.”
“It wasn’t enough for you,” I remind her. “Pryce masqueraded as me on Lorania, and when you found out it was actually him, you never talked to the real me again.”
Trinity frowns. “It’s my biggest regret.”
I hug her, also hoping the possibility that this is really her will be enough for me. “How did you survive past your death?” I ask when we release. “Avatar!Pryce said you were a hopeless case.”
She nods towards the physical embodiment of Pryce.
“I went back in time, and utilized a special type of mind siphon,” he explains. “Don’t blame my avatar, he doesn’t know I did it. It was much harder than for people with brain disease. I had to write an algorithm that predicted which neuron would be overtaken by Past!Me’s consciousness next. It had a point-zero-six percent fail rate, so I had to loop back multiple times until those errors were corrected.”
“So you see?” Trinity asks. “I am from an alternate reality. But aren’t we all?” It’s true, everyone here originated from a different timeline, and none of us belongs in this one. Well, I’m not sure about Aldona, I just don’t know enough about her, but she’s still back on Violkomin.”
Oh, thank God,” Aldona’s voice suddenly shouts in my ear. “Please come help me! There’s a fire in the sky, and it’s heading right for me!
“Aldona?” I cry. “Say that again, so everyone can hear.”
Aldona repeats herself after I alter the teleporting sound waves to a wider area. Hogarth transports us back to Violkomin, where we indeed see a fireball hurling through the sky, threatening to crash into us. The ground is shaking, and it’s incredibly hot. Hogarth transports us again, scooping up Aldona in the process. We don’t go back to Trinity’s world, though. We’re inside a glass geodesic dome, the sky is black, but we can see the sun, so this must be a moon with no atmosphere. We watch the fiery object crash onto the surface of Violkomin, and utterly destroy it.
“Are we safe at this distance?” Lowell questions.
“We’ll have fair warning,” Hogarth assured him. This moon is orbiting the next planet over in the system, but it’s still pretty far away. If debris heads towards us, I’ll get us out in time. But I wanted to see what this whas. What the hell happened?”
“Something crashed into your planet,” Gilbert answers with a little attitude.
“Where did it come from?” Hogarth asks, knowing that no one here will know the answer.
“What’s that?” Lowell asks. Something is flying through the sky, towards the moon. It doesn’t appear to be coming from the debris, but perhaps from where the crashing object came from. It changes direction, so it’s not a comet.
Hogarth wants to keep watching her precious world fall apart, but she has to stay level-headed, and in charge. “Give me a vacuum suit.” As she walks towards an airlock, machines appear around her, and wrap clothes around her body. First, she steps into a pair of pants, and then a pair of shoes with the next step. She lifts her arms to let a top slip over her. Finally, a helmet comes down, and secures itself over her head. It’s like Iron Man, but with fewer moving parts, because that’s more conducive to a space environment.
Not sure whether it’s even possible or not, I ask for my own suit, and literally follow in her footsteps. I’m not as graceful, but it works for me as well. Within one minute, I’m ready for a spacewalk. Lowell and Nerakali do the same, but Gilbert and Aldona choose to stay in the safety of the habitat. Pryce ignores the suit assembly line, and steps into the airlock seemingly unprotected. He’s always had an obsession with finding the perfect body to live in, so the one he’s using now must allow him to survive outer space.
We let the hatch close behind us, and wait for the outer door to rise out of our way. I’ve actually been on a spacewalk before, and not how you would think. I normally transported to other worlds via The Trotter, or Trinity. I’ve traveled in a few spaceships, but always stayed inside. No, actually, I was the only female crewmember of Apollo 18. I was pretty famous, and it was an exhilarating experience, but then I went back in time to my younger body, and ended up in a timeline where the mission didn’t even take place. That’s kind of what I do, live a crazy lifetime, gain all this experience and knowledge, and then take it away so no one knows I ever did those things. That was a very long time ago from my perspective, and it’s not exactly like riding a bike. Only Hogarth and Pryce are true masters of the moonwalk. Even Trinity struggles and stumbles a bit as we make our way to the downed spacecraft.
Hogarth uses an AI in her helmet to determine the best point of entry for us, one which won’t harm whatever inhabitants are inside. It has its own air lock, which the AI hacks into for us. The atmosphere is perfectly breathable once we’ve repressurized. “Stay together,” she orders. Which makes sense, because we’re not some kind of highly trained recon team. We may all respectively have the skills to protect ourselves, but we don’t know how to work together, and we don’t have a shorthand with each other.
A small group of large white aliens are sitting in what looks like a mess hall. They look frazzled and depressed, and there’s a hint of fear when they notice we’ve walked in, but they instinctively hide it defensively. The apparent leader stands up, and symbolically gets herself in between us and her crew. “My name is Ukodenva Unedisalk. We are but cadets in the Loyal Interspace Arm of the Maramon Lower Class Military Branch. We possess little training, and no means of defending ourselves. Please do not harm my people. If you require a hostage, I alone will suffice.”
This should be interesting.