Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Microstory 1678: Scorched

Most of the time, the Ochivari don’t have to worry about engaging in some kind of physical conflict with the civilizations that they choose to destroy with their sterility virus. If the people find out what has happened to them, it’s not like they can really do anything about it. They still don’t have the ability to travel the bulkverse, so all the Ochivari agents have to do is leave the universe, and be fine. Of course, they still have to fight in the Darning Wars against people who actually do have the ability to travel between universes, but the allies don’t generally recruit from worlds that have been attacked, because they’re still contagious, so it’s too dangerous to interact with them on any level. There are rare cases, however, when the Ochivari feel compelled to stay on a world they’ve sterilized, because they have no other choice. One such instance is probably the worst offender in their eyes. The people of this particular planet were somehow actively anti-environment. They somehow managed to develop highly advanced technology while simultaneously destroying the ecosystem. For the most part, a civilization is unsustainable if it relies too heavily on non-renewable energy sources. It’s not really that they’ll run out of fossil fuels, or whatever, but they’ll damage the atmosphere too much before they even have a chance to move on to something better. Chemical rockets are fine for getting off the surface, entering orbit, and exploring the solar system across decades. They’re not good for anything beyond that. You pretty much have to have fusion if you want to reach the stars on reasonable timescales. Furthermore, because civilizations don’t usually hyperfocus on one technology, if you don’t eventually come up with fusion, there are probably many other key developments that you’ll never figure out either, and that is liable to spell your doom.

The people of this world weren’t trying to do things more efficiently, and not only did they not care about the environment, they seemed to despise it. They didn’t want to live in harmony with the world; they wanted to consume it. They didn’t even see it as waste. They would manufacture an aluminum can, drink something out of it, and throw it away. If it was used once, that was good enough, and they could move onto something else. Being able to throw things away, and never use them again, gave them joy. So it was no surprise when the Ochivari came to end them. This didn’t work out so well. The people didn’t figure out fusion, but they did invent ion drives, so they used rockets to free themselves from the planet’s gravity well, and from there, they could go anywhere. They also figured out how to upload their consciousness into android substrates, so no, they wouldn’t be able to birth new generations, but they would live on. And they could keep destroying; their homeworld, and all others they find. To them, there was an endless supply of planets that were specifically created for their use. The Ochivari knew they had to stay, and devise a computer virus that could wipe the new species out. This didn’t work out either, as any virus would only be able to destroy one of the many, many different android models out there. With that no longer a decent option, the Ochivari just had to resort to straight up war. They could no longer save the original planet, but they could protect all future colonies. They sent a whole fleet of warships to take down their most annoying of foes, but of course, the former humans had been preparing for that this entire time, and they were a force to be reckoned with.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Microstory 1677: Structural Integrity

The Whrwehs discovered pretty easily that time travel was impossible. It wasn’t something they wanted to do, but they needed to research it, in case there was anything they needed to do to prepare for someone else using it against them. They were pleased to know that the timeline would remain intact, and that they did not have anything to worry about. Unfortunately, this rule only applied to their universe’s proper physics. Anything that can interfere with them from the outside can do so at any point in time, which is a sort of loophole to any time travel limitation. It’s kind of why bulk travel wasn’t ever part of nature’s plan. People were never meant to crossover, for any reason. Anyway, one of the ways to travel the bulkverse once came upon this universe to ask the Whrwehs for help. The Transit lacked sufficient power sources, and needed to purchase some from a world they knew was advanced enough to spare some extras. Luckily for them, the Whrwehs agreed to help. All they needed in return was a quick little trip to the past to retrieve a historical figure. He predicted the way that they would one day live, but it was more like he made it happen by showing people how much more efficient and peaceful it would be. They didn’t want to change anything about their history, but they felt that this man deserved to see the fruits of his labor. He deserved to live forever, in a healthier world, which he was instrumental in creating. The mission did not go well, and it appeared that the only way to fix the issue was to return him to his rightful place in the past. He apparently would not be able to live in the future. It’s a perfect example of how bulk travel can cause more problems than it solves...by avoiding paradoxes.

Let’s use Salmonverse as an example. When a time traveler goes back to the past, and makes some change to the timeline, it alters the course of future history. The universe compensates for this by adding a new layer on top of the old one. If it’s a parallel reality, then they will coexist, but if the universe can’t support them both simultaneously, then the old reality will collapse, and it only have to worry about the new one moving forward. The universe we’re talking about today does not work like that. It can’t support new realities at all, not even by collapsing the old timeline. Any alteration that someone makes using bulk travel technology will have an impact on the entire universe: future, present, and past. The physical structure of the brane actually transforms to account for the change. So while other forms of time travel only begin to take effect at the point of divergence, bulk-based time travel can have an effect in both directions of time. But if the past has been changed, then the future that caused the change doesn’t exist, and technically never did. So when the crew of The Transit went back to remove Mizakh Bordalajner from his deathbed, they weren’t just removing them from his future, but all of time. This disrupted everything. It made it so that Bordalajner never existed at all, and since he was such an important figure in history, this ended up having massive repercussions for all of reality. You might call this a hole in the fabric of spacetime, but it was more like pulling a thread, and never letting go. A domino effect took hold, and humanity essentially fell apart under the constant threat of a paradox. The only way to undo this was for the crew to return Bordalajner to his deathbed, and let him die. Then the question remained, if they were unable to fulfill their promise to the natives, how would they pay for the power systems that were already on board their vessel?

Monday, July 26, 2021

Microstory 1676: Life Returned

The lone survivor of a universe that was attacked by the Ochivari with their sterility virus left to start a new life. He was destined to die on his world with everyone else. While the virus wasn’t strong enough to work on him, there was no one else to procreate with, so it was no place for him. He wanted to fall in love, and start a family, and since he was capable of doing that, I decided to help him. I ended up dropping him off in Salmonverse, in a particularly advanced reality. He could live on any number of the billions of populated worlds there, and in fact, ultimately become immortal. The wonders there were limitless, so I figured it was a good place for him to settle down. He did meet someone there, and that woman bore him a child. They named him Amulet, and while he went through his own medical struggles, they eventually figured it out, and moved on. Lochan would come to spend over two decades here, which was longer than he had ever lived on his homeworld, so really, this was home now. Still, he wished to return to where he was from, and Amulet wanted to see where his father had grown up. Unfortunately, the sterility virus was too dangerous. When a universe is exposed to it, travel to and from becomes utterly irresponsible. I could not allow him to go see his family and friends. I could, however, allow him to see the world as it would become later. Once every host of the virus is dead, the virus dies as well, leaving the planet to move on from the dark period of history. It was perfectly safe for a visit after that. It wasn’t a great option, but it was all they were going to get. There was no other way.

When Lochan and his family made the journey, the world was in ruins. War had spread over the lands, and destroyed everything. There was nothing to see here. I told them as much before they left, but they insisted on seeing it for themselves. They had to know what the Ochivari did, and what the allies were fighting for. They stood there in silence as the Strongbox flew over the fallen cities. Not everything was destroyed, though. They never went to nuclear war, so the atmosphere was perfectly breathable, and there was still plenty of land teeming with life. The family touched down on a little patch of paradise, and stayed there alone for several months, because this planet was just as good as any when all the ruins were out of sight anyway. They didn’t want to be alone forever, but they felt connected to this world now, and they didn’t want to leave either. So they returned to Salmonverse temporarily, and put out a message that anyone could read. Hundreds of thousands of people responded to it, but it wouldn’t be that easy. Theoretically, the Ochivari would never return to a universe they already thought they had cleared out. If too many people were alerted that it was repopulated at some point, the whole disaster could just happen again. They had to keep it a secret. So we started transporting people via the Strongbox, which can’t hold too many passengers at once, but time is irrelevant when you have a time machine, and most of the immigrants were immortal. In what was essentially an instant, humans were back in this universe. The Ochivari successfully killed off its original inhabitants, but they couldn’t end all of humanity. It will always survive. I’m only telling you this, because a permanent military contingency has been installed in this universe, which will hold back any attack from any outside threat. They will continue to survive.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Tuesday, December 10, 2278

Tonya Keyes, a.k.a. The Stitcher didn’t stick around for much longer after the rest of the team disbanded. There didn’t seem to be much point now that the Erlendr problem was easier to solve. Only this alternate reality version of Ramses was still around. He slapped on a Cassidy cuff so he could be on the same pattern as his best friend. He spent the rest of the day getting to know the other team members, and then at midnight, they all jumped three years into the future. Besides that random time when Mateo was sent to the year 3118, this was pretty much the furthest down the timeline they had ever been. They spent literally about five minutes in 2279 before traveling back to 1992 to look for the home stone, and that was when everything started to change about their patterns; about their lives. If they maintained the Bearimy-Matic pattern now, they would completely skip over 2280. But why do that? The jumps were always arbitrary, as the cuffs gave them the ability to suppress powers and patterns. They couldn’t even explain why it was they stayed on it when Nerakali took over as primary. It was time to speak with Anatol Klugman, and get this all straightened out.
Grave chamber four had always been a little different. It was once the link to another universe, and ever since then, it was unreliable. The electronics would go haywire, and the stasis feature probably wouldn’t work at all, should they ever need it. For the most part, they left the thing alone, but it was a nice makeshift prison box, because it also had an unusual effect on time powers. Right now the Warrior was sitting against the wall, looking up at his captors, who were regarding him with sadness. “I’ve been through worse, you know. Anyone else would go crazy in here, but for me, it’s Tuesday. Ha, it literally is Tuesday, isn’t it? Just as it always is for you.”
“Let’s talk this out,” Mateo said. “Let’s try to figure out how we can all get a little bit of what we want.”
“What I want, and what you want,” Anatol began, “are contradictory. I want to send you through time and space to prune people as I see fit, and you want to...not do that. I don’t see the room for compromise there.”
“Why aren’t you just doing this yourself?” Leona asked. “Why do you need us? We are inexperienced, and unwilling.”
“I am tired,” Anatol explained. “I have so much work to do, but I’ve been doing it for so long. Plus, since I have all these powers, people keep asking me to do other things. I just want a break. Everytime I kill someone, something changes, L-O-L. I just end up with someone new to kill. I need help.”
“Well, I have a response to that,” Mateo said.
“I would sure think so,” Anatol replied.
Mateo took a deep breath. “In the year 2081, Zeferino Preston forced me to remember memories from an alternate timeline. It was four thousand years of temporal torture, where I couldn’t hold a thought for longer than fifteen seconds. I was pretty messed up by it, and I probably would have died of starvation if I was alone, because I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t move. Fortunately, I wasn’t alone. An alternate version of my future wife was there, and she placed me inside of a bubble, where I experienced five years in the span of a single day. Less than a day, actually. This is where I recovered, but I didn’t just sit there doing nothing that whole time. Once I was aware enough of my surroundings, she started giving me entertainment. I watched a lot of time travel stuff, for obvious reasons. I watched one show twice. It was called 12 Monkeys, ever heard of it?”
“I’ve heard of the movie,” Anatol said. He was surprisingly patient with the long-winded speech.
“There’s a quote from that show that, despite my not amazing memory, I can recall perfectly. It stuck with me, because I think it’s important. The story is about a traveler who was sent back in time to murder the man supposedly responsible for releasing the virus that destroyed humanity. He succeeds in killing that man, but of course, the conspiracy turns out to be far more complicated, and the series lasts for four seasons because of it. The quote is about how complicated that gets, and how the mission has to transform in order to account for new information. It goes, I was sent back in time to kill a man. That was supposed to fix everything. It didn’t. So I killed more people. Nothing changed. And then I saved someone; someone who should’ve died. And that...that is what changed things. It’s the only thing that’s ever made any difference.
“I’m not asking you to kill one man, Mateo. I’ll be asking you to kill many, to make real impactful changes to the timeline. And unlike the characters on that show, my intel is good. I know who to kill, and when.”
“You just said that the timeline keeps changing,” Leona argued. “Don’t you see, that’s the point? You’re fighting Hydra. Cut off one head, and two more grow in its place. Stop trying to stop the bad guys, and start trying to save the good guys. Haven’t you noticed that the Saviors don’t kill people? They don’t need to, and they’ve made a greater positive difference for the timeline than anyone.”
Anatol sighed. “I don’t do that. I don’t save lives. I just end them.”
Mateo reached down, and helped him out of the grave chamber. “We save lives. Let us do that. You still pick the targets, but no one gets hurt.”
“What’s the worst that could happen if you try this?” Leona posed.
He waited to answer. Was he considering it? “I’ll think about it, and get back to you.” With that, Anatol was gone.
They expected him to return immediately, because there was no reason for him not to, but perhaps he wanted them to have time to think about their situation as well. They didn’t stand there and wait for him for too long. They stopped thinking about it, and went back to their lives, playing RPS-101 Plus, and catching up. They told Ramses about the wonders of Flindekeldan, but chose to say nothing about his alternate self, who was by all accounts, a god of his reality.
Hours later, Anatol finally did come back. His shoes, and the bottom of his pants, were soaking wet, but the rest of him was dry. “Very well,” he said. “I have a job for you.”
“Is it as we discussed?” Mateo questioned.
“It is, yes, but there’s a twist. I’m curious to see how you handle it.”
“What’s the twist?” Ramses asked.
“Careful,” Anatol warned, “spoilers.”
They stared at him quietly.
“You have a little bit of competition,” Anatol explains vaguely. “I will say no more. Are you ready to go?”
The team looked around at each other. “Go ahead,” Leona said on their behalf.
“Just give me a minute to figure this out,” Anatol said. He turned around like a dog trying to protect her food.
Leona pursed her lips, and waited too long to seem like a nice person. “It’s not the cuff?”
“What?” Anatol asked.
“The cuff doesn’t let you transition across realities. It’s just like when you’ve absorbed other people’s powers before. The cuffs just allow people to suppress or share abilities.” She never wanted to be a teacher.
“Oh, so there’s nothing for me to do with this thing?” Anatol asked, holding up his arm.
“No—well, there is one thing. You need to...it’s better if I just do it for you.” She approached him, and reached for his arm with both of her own.
“No funny business,” he said tentatively.
“Wouldn’t dream of it.” She continued to wait.
“I’m serious.”
“Anatol, we all wanna be here,” Leona contended. “I just need to recalibrate the share pool to account for the introduction of Ramses. He doesn’t have powers, no, but it still leaves the whole team vulnerable, having him not fully linked. Vulnerable, including you.”
“Fine. Just be careful.” He finally let Leona tap on the cuffs. He tried to keep a watchful eye, but the man was from the nineteenth century. Travelers from too far in the past always had a harder time with computers. Tertius, Juan Ponce de León, even Téa Stendahl, who technically grew up in the modern age following her resurrection; they were all just a little bit lost when it came to electronics. Angela had to make a very deliberate choice to keep up with technological advancements.
Leona was able to use his ignorance to her advantage. She considered making Mateo primary again, but that would have required Mateo accepting the responsibility on his end, which could threaten the ruse. She figured their best bet was to just loosen the leash a bit. It was the easiest, and least obvious, thing to change. Perhaps they could shift the balance of power later, when it was less dangerous. Powers or no, Anatol Klugman was still a highly experienced killer. He still wasn’t the kind of person they ought to be pissing off. “There. Now we’re ready to stick together.”
“Okay,” Anatol said. “I’m gonna go practice my ability.” He checked his watch. “I’ll be back in—I’m back.” He moved so quickly that the human eye wasn’t even able to detect that he had left at all. He must have stolen this power from someone very specific. Almost no one was this good. Hopefully it wasn’t The Porter, but honestly, no one deserved to be killed just to steal their power. “Have fun, and I hope you figure it out, I really do.” He disappeared again, but this time, did not return.
Once he was gone, the entire ship tipped over. They all fell over to one side, and began bouncing around. It almost felt like...water. They were in water.
“Whew,” Ramses said with relief. “I didn’t have time to test whether this thing could actually float. I’m glad to see it does.”
“It doesn’t float upright,” Olimpia pointed out.
“Beggars and choosers,” he retorted.
Normally they would have to climb up to the top level of the ship, but now it was more of a crawl. They made their way to the airlock, which was thankfully not facing the deep. “There’s a ship,” Leona announced for those in the back. “It is sinking. Wait.”
“Wait, what?”
Leona reached her hand out, and used apportation to summon a spyglass into it. She looked through it for a moment. “There’s someone standing on top of the water.”
“It’s a miracle,” Angela said.
“She just fell down,” Leona continued the play-by-play, “like whatever was holding her up was suddenly taken away.
“We have to help them,” Jeremy decided. “Computer, can you access the satellites, and find the nearest land?”
There are no satellites,” the computer responded.
“The ship is too old-fashioned,” Leona said. “My instinct was that we’re in a time period before space exploration. My watch just confirmed it.” She looked up to the ceiling. “Computer, you still have lateral sensors. Find some land, any land.”
Check your maps,” the computer offered.
“I think I know who our competition is,” Leona revealed. “I’m gonna handle this one alone. It’s just easier, and I already know how to use these powers. Stay here.” She teleported out of the ship, and into the distant water, right behind the woman she saw standing on top of the water. She took her by the shoulders, and teleported them both to the land mass. The woman still hadn’t noticed that she wasn’t alone, so Leona took this opportunity to slap the Cassidy cuff onto her wrist. She didn’t know why she didn’t feel the need to reveal herself. This was just what made sense to her right now. Leona teleported herself just past the treeline, and watched from there. The woman realized she was wearing the cuff, intuited its purpose, and started using it to rescue all the others from the ship. She kept jumping back and forth, retrieving people two at a time, and dropping them off on the beach.
Once the woman was done with the job, Leona transported them both to the ship, so the former wouldn’t have to deal with all the questions about miracles, and such. “Hey, computer. Teleport us to Lagrange one, please, and restore dimensional gravity.” They jumped.
Before they could introduce themselves to the woman, The Cleanser appeared before them. “You,” he said, disgusted. “Why are you interfering with my operation?”
“She needed our help,” Leona explained.
“She needed your help,” Mateo acknowledged.
“You set me up to fail!” the woman argued. “I asked you to send me somewhere with enough time to help them.”
“I gave you plenty of time,” the Cleanser said with a shrug. “They weren’t gonna drown for hours. They’re all very good swimmers.”
“You didn’t give me the tools I needed!” she cried. “Time alone wasn’t gonna help!”
It was then that the Warrior showed up. He showed the Cleanser his best evil grin. “I win.”

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Extremus: Year 2

Captain Yenant pulls a chair over, and sits down in front of Omega. He closes his eyes, and massages the bridge of his nose. He’s been through this before, and he’s sick of it. He’s in charge of the crew and the ship itself, and not so much the passengers; they have their own leaders. Omega is more of  a stowaway, though, and that kind of falls under Halan’s jurisdiction. “Why am I still dealing with you? It’s been eight months.”
“I was just trying to boost our speed,” Omega answers with a shrug.
“We’re going at maximum reframe. It doesn’t get faster than that. Technically, we’re not exceeding the speed of light. It’s more like we’re going back in time while moving forward.”
“Yes, but if we go back in time faster then we’ll get to our destination earlier.”
Halan gets this close to putting his face in his palm. “We’ll get there earlier, so what? That’s not faster. It will take us 216 years, whether that’s 216 years from the day we left, or 216 years before we left. That doesn’t help anything.”
“The faster I get you to your precious planet, the faster I can get back to my life on Gatewood, and I would like to reappear the second after I last left, so I’m actually trying to send us back more than twice as fast as we are now.”
“I won’t allow that.”
“I’ll do it anyway,” Omega contends.
“You are not entitled to persistent longevity treatments. You’ll die here, like everyone else. I’ll see to it.”
“I don’t need those treatments anymore,” Omega claims. “I make my own.”
“Not in the hock, you don’t.”
“You can’t keep me in hock for the whole journey.”
Halan stands up, and carefully places his chair back where he found it, randomly towards the back corner. “Watch me.” He walks towards the door, but addresses the guard first. “Do it.”
“No!” Omega cries. “You can’t do this! I’ll stop, just don’t lock me away!” He’s probably expecting the Captain to stop, and prove that his words were only an interrogation tactic, but Halan doesn’t need anything from him. He might as well be in hock, at least he can’t cause any more trouble. He’ll leave him in there for a year, and then reassess.
Halan walks down the hallway, and back onto the bridge. He finds Rita by the viewscreen. “Is he ready?”
“No.”
Halan checks his watch. “He’ll have to be.”
“You could always just do it yourself, like you have been,” Rita suggests.
“The passengers have to see that this is not a one-man show. We’re all in this together. He’ll do it several more times before his shift ends. He might as well start now.”
“He’s still practicing, even all this time. That does not suggest a lot of self-confidence.”
“All right, well I’ll get him to that point. I’ll go in alone, so he’s not intimidated.”
“Are you calling me intimidating?” Rita questions, offended.
“I just mean he’s better one-one-one. But if you wanna be the one to coach him through it...”
“No, no, no. That’s fine.”
Rita walks the other direction, while Halan steps into the PA room. A young technician stands up quickly, like he was bitten by a toilet snake. “Good evening, sir.”
“As you were, Tech.”
“Thank you, sir.” He does not look well.
“Breathe with me.” Halan sits down, and begins to breathe deeply and deliberately. “In. Out. In. Out. Make sure you get oxygen to your brain.”
“Thank you, sir,” the boy repeats.
“You can do this. You’ve done it a million times by now, I’m sure.”
“Not when people could hear me.”
“Just pretend they can’t. There are no hecklers here. There’s no feedback. As far as you can tell, when you push that button, it does absolutely nothing. Then just...say your lines, like you have been all day.”
“Is it really that easy?”
“It can be.” Halan checks his watch again. “It’s time.”
The boy breathes a few more times. “Okay.” He tries to convince himself that it is indeed okay. “Okay. I’m ready.”
Halan nudges the microphone a millimeter closer. “You have the floor.”
He clears his throat, and begins. “Uhh...attention all passengers. The bridge crew of the transgalactic generational colony ship Extremus would like to thank you for another lovely day. We are eight months, two weeks, and one days—I mean, day—from launch.” He sighs. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay, just keep going,” Halan assures him, not sure whether his own words make it into the microphone.
“Today marks a special occasion. We are now five hundred light years from Gatewood, an amazing feat by all accounts. The Captain wishes to extend his gratitude towards all of you for agreeing to join him on this unprecedented adventure. This would be neither possible, nor meaningful, without each and every one of you. His door, as always, is open to all. Here’s to another two!” This motto refers to the number of light years Extremus is able to cover in the span of about a day.
Halan pats him on the back. “Great job.”
“I messed up.”
“That’s all right. We do this every single day. No one’s gonna remember this one time, and you’ll get better. It won’t be as scary next time, I promise.”
“Thank you, sir.”
An alert from Rita comes up on Halan’s wrist device. “I gotta go try to fix a crisis. You can still handle the calls?”
“Yeah, I can field the one-on-ones. That I have no problem with.”
“Wonderful.” The phone begins to ring just as Halan is leaving the room. He goes all the way to the other side of the ship, where his lieutenant is waiting for him.
“It’s not terrible, but it’s not great.”
“What does she need now?” Halan asked.
“She’s demanding we make it bigger.”
“Bigger? The airlock?”
“Yes.”
“That is a service airlock. It’s just meant for robot EVAs. We can’t make it bigger. The robots are being serviced on either side!”
“Well, actually they’re not. That whole section has been essentially shut down for her. I mean, it would be tough, but I spoke with some engineers yesterday, and they said it’s technically possible to break down one of the walls, but only the one.”
Just before launch, Halan made an announcement that said everyone who had second thoughts, and wanted to leave the ship, could do so simply by entering an airlock. Captain McBride then teleported them out of there, and back into the main Gatewood cylinder, where they could do whatever they wanted with their lives without having anything to do with the mission. One woman thought the service airlock counted, but only the ones near the passenger sections were being monitored for this courtesy. She shouldn’t have been anywhere near this area. Halan partially blames himself for not being one hundred percent clear, but mostly blames her for having wandered off to a restricted section. Well, it was never technically restricted, but everyone else knows where they don’t have any business being. The five other people who chose to jump ship at the last minute certainly knew.
“I don’t have the bandwidth to deal with her tonight, so...”
“I’ll take care of it,” Rita says, “again.”
“Get a second opinion on that wall,” Halan says as he’s walking away. “And remind her that she may return to her quarters whenever she wants. Psychotic break or no, staying in the airlock permanently is not going to help her get home. That was a one time offer!”
“I’ll say it just like that, sir!”
“Thanks! I’m gonna go check in with the Old Man!”
Halan makes his way back to the other side, then down towards the stern. He finds the oldest engineer this vessel has to offer in his lab, tinkering away at his little contraptions. “Ahh, you’re here. Good. Could you place your finger right here?”
“I don’t have time for this.”
“Please,” Old Man begs.
“Are you gonna shock me again.”
“Probably not.”
Halan scoffs, but does as he’s been asked. With the one piece of metal firmly in place, Old Man can now line it up with a second piece of metal. He drips nanosolder between them, and announces that Halan can let go. Halan looks around. “Where is it?”
“It’s over on that table there.”
Halan glances over. “It looks finished.”
“Oh yes,” Old Man agrees. “It’s been repaired.”
“So, it works.”
Old Man lifts up his lenses. “It can do what it was designed to do.”
“That’s not what I asked of you,” Halan reminds him. “I want you to make it do something else.”
“It’s not that easy. The device is tethered to a moment in time. Everything that existed in that moment has to go back where it was. You, me, some rando on Teagarden. Everything just reverts to that moment. It’s a reset button, not a teleporter.”
“She said that if someone who hasn’t been born yet pushes that button, they will return too. They won’t revert to their non-existence, and they’ll retain their memories.”
“Yes, and I don’t know how that works. That is what I am trying to figure out now. It will take time. We can’t mess this up. There is no way to test it. If I do something wrong, that could be the end of everything. It could send us back to the stone age, for all I know. I’m not a time travel mechanical engineer. Now, if you would let me build a new device that’s only been inspired by the original design...”
“No. There is a reason I chose you for this project. I don’t want this technology left on my ship. I want two people to go back to Gatewood, and only those two people, and I want them to take the only device that can do it with them.”
“Yes, and I will soon be dead, unlike someone better suited for this research, so the secret dies with me, I get it.”
Halan knocks on the table twice. “I hope you do get it, because I need this done. I cannot take another day with a self-obsessed narcissist who thinks he’s entitled to modify this ship as he pleases, and a deranged Karen, who thinks she’s entitled to have a team of crewmembers wait on her hand and foot.”
“I don’t know who you’re talking about, sir, I just work here.”
Halan’s watch alerts him to the next issue. He starts to back out of the room. “I have to go put out another fire. Finish whatever that thing is, and then get back to my recall device.” He opens the door to exit.
“Certainly, sir. It’s a consciousness uploader.”
Halan turns back around. “What?”
Old Man has returned to work, and acts like he’s barely noticed that Halan is still there. “Oh, this will upload someone’s consciousness into a reserve, where they can witness the arrival on Extremus, even if they die before we get there.”
“Who asked you to do that?” Halan questions.
He takes off his lens gear, sets it on the table, and interlocks his hands next to it. “You will.”
“I will?”
“No one wants to die, and certainly not the people on this ship.”
“We agreed it would be generational. That was decided a long time ago, before they even made me Captain. Do you know something about the future that I don’t?”
“Goodnight, sir.”
Halans wants to argue, but he’s too tired. He still apparently has to speak to someone about a possible radiation leak on the observation deck. He can tell by Old Man’s progress that this mind uploader is nowhere near finished, so there will be plenty of time to argue about it another day. “Get back to the recall device. Now.”
“Very well.” He knows how important he is, at least until the device is complete. He might be worried about what happens to him after that, though, which is why he’s really building the uploader. In all honesty, Halan can’t be sure the man shouldn’t be worried. It is not off the table to tie up all loose ends.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Microstory 1675: Boss Level

Even before it was named after the woman who populated it, Fort Underhill was designed to become a new universe for those who had died in Salmonverse. They had been living in a simulated reality up until that point, but the creators wanted them to have a place to go where they couldn’t make up whatever rules they wanted, or have literally anything given to them simply by request. They weren’t being mean—the idea was originally conceived to be a choice—they just thought people might eventually get tired of having everything handed to them. For better or worse, while their consciousnesses remained intact, they were not alive, and they knew that people would want to have resurrection as an option. They were all transitioned there all at once, against their will, because there was no time to ask them. The simulation was being shut down by a group of people who essentially boil down as the landlords. They had to get out, and they had to get out fast, or they would all meet the true death. Despite the fact that it was necessary to do this without warning, it has been reported to me that it caused some unrest. As I’ve said, Fort Underhill is impenetrable to me. The membrane is too thick to allow information to be passed back and forth, so I’m getting all of this second hand from people who have been inside. According to what they saw and experienced, a lot of the newly resurrected were grateful for the gift. It was a lofty goal that the original creator of the simulation had always hung over their heads, just out of their reach. He built levels into the social hierarchy, with the lowest level being true death, and the highest level being new life. So a lot of them were always trying to attain it, and they never thought they would, because it was incredibly rare. They were glad to have finally achieved the final level, but not everyone felt the same way about it.

Some didn’t care either way, because they figured they could always enter a new virtual construct now. They were immortal, and time meant nothing to them now, so who cares how long that took, or how much earlier work they lost? Others were less patient. They worked very hard to build their afterlives, and to have it all ripped from them was a travesty in their minds. As far as I can tell, they didn’t go into war, or anything, but it was a complicated situation. Because of how efficient the level system was, they didn’t have any preexisting form of government. Because of how long the simulation had run, there were people from the entire history of civilization, which meant for every form of government Earth ever had, someone was around who had experienced it prior to their death. Which one would they choose? There was plenty of space for them to spread out, but did that mean each planet ran itself? Would the creators of the universe have any say, or would they expect the people to elect new leaders? What would they do with the levels, now that everyone was apparently on the same playing field? Was there some way to return to the hierarchy, and was that fair? Honestly, the main purpose of levels was to keep the afterlife interesting. If everyone always had everything handed to them, which was technically feasible, would people grow bored, and kill themselves for good? Still there were those who wanted to return to the old ways, especially when it came to the prisoners. Throughout most of history, everyone died, including bad people, so did they deserve to have all their sentences suddenly commuted? There were a lot of complex social questions to try to answer now, and the creators would not have it easy.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Microstory 1674: Not Ready for Prime Time

Kind of like the universe where everyone has a duplicate that is exactly as bad as they are good, or vice versa, Hypothetiverse eventually discovered how their universe worked. One particular scientist didn’t understand why there were alternate realities, even once she finally tapped into one of them. She figured out that they were there, but not where they came from. This had interesting consequences for all of reality, and marked the start of a huge change. What I didn’t touch on before was that the would you rather hypothetical questions were not the only way the primary reality had an impact on its off-shoots. The alternate versions of people in the off-shoots were dependent on their respective primaries in a multitude of ways. Whether they answered any hypotheticals or not, their lives were bound to each other. Some small decisions could be different, but the general idea of what they were, and how they lived, would be the same across all realities. Every version of this one woman, for instance, was a scientist. There was none out there where she was a clown, or a professional golfer. Her roommate, meanwhile, who was indeed a professional golfer, was always that. None of his alternates was a veterinarian, or scuba instructor. They will do different things on a daily basis, but if someone were to write up a summary of each version’s life and personality, it would be pretty much the same for all of them. Back to the scientist. When she invented the machine that was able to break the veil between realities, her alternates were trying to do the same thing. Not all of them had progressed to the same point, but they got there eventually, and once they did, their perceptions were shattered. They had hypothesized that their alternate selves existed, but never dreamed that only one was primary, and the rest were only copies of her. The experiment alone pulled the wool from their eyes, and it was only a matter of time before the truth spread.

The experiments continued. Others were brought in to see their alternates, and eventually communicate with them. This was when they started to learn about the would you rather hypotheticals, and quantify the way their universe worked. Surprisingly, they made no real attempt to keep this a secret, from the government, or anyone else. They revealed what they knew to the world, and while it didn’t cause chaos in the main reality, it caused so many more problems for the alternates. Many primaries were horrified to find out what they had done by answering the hypotheticals the way they had. They tried to undo them by requesting people pose them new questions, like would you rather have a million dollars, or two million dollars? That may sound nice, but it had repercussions for the alternate economies. Plus, unless they could specifically remember what past hypotheticals they had answered, they could undo nothing. They were often just creating yet another reality, so it didn’t contradict any of the preexisting ones. Others were less nice about it. They started creating new reality after new reality, born out of the most absurd questions they could think of. Fortunately, there appeared to be some kind of restriction. You couldn’t create a world where an alternate version of you was killed, or significantly hurt. This was more evidence of some kind of higher power. In the end, the universe could not handle the strain. All realities ultimately collapsed into one; for some physically, and others mentally. Multiple versions of the same person were all trying to live in one world, and nothing could stop it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Microstory 1673: Written in a Vacuum

I am meant to talk about Vacuumverse again, though there is nothing more that I can say. When I started this series, I didn’t think I could come up with 100 universes. The majority of them would have to be new. Well, I didn’t, I only came up with 50, and while there are multiple microfiction series set in this one, I think pretty much the whole story has been told. I could explain how some people figured out that the Earth was about to drop out of orbit around the sun, but I don’t actually know how they did that. So, why don’t I just skip this one, and leave it at that? Some stories are more interesting than others, and I don’t want to waste your time on something that is not going anywhere, and has no potential beyond what has already been said. I created Vacuumverse to fill a slot, inspired by stories I had originally intended to be neither connected to each other, nor canonical. It is barely worth the effort, which is why I’m not even going to bother finding a reasonable photo to go along with it. Tomorrow, I’ll get into a story about Hypothetiverse, which is more fun, and it will be a lot longer to compensate for this.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Microstory 1672: The Last Wars

After the two surviving Ochivari left the first universe they went to—or rather after one of them escaped, and the other was killed in the attempt—things started to get worse for the humans. They were devastated to learn that aliens were bad. Of course, they had only encountered three individuals, which is hardly a decent sample size, but they were convinced. Each country started bolstering its military might. Some allies tried to form joint militaries, but for the most part, they stayed separate. In other universes I’ve witnessed, when a culture encounters some kind of massive external threat, the people generally come together. They set aside their differences, and focus on defeating the enemy together. This did not happen here, but if it had, it may have saved their lives. For years, they sat like this. People were conscripted into the various branches of their respective military forces, but didn’t have anything to do. Unlike other versions of Earth, this one had never experienced a world war before, but it wasn’t really because they were more peaceful than anyone else. They usually tried to settle their issues diplomatically, but if that didn’t work, two civilizations might have resorted to war. If that happened, if they wanted to fight against each other, everyone else stayed out of it most of the time. The boredom and frustration was really getting to them now, though. All global conflicts were put on hold in order to prepare for the return of the aliens, but nothing happened. The Ochivari had never come on purpose, and they had no reason to show up now, especially not since they knew where the timeline was headed. They knew that the humans were destined to destroy themselves, without a sterility virus. After eight years, the signs of the apocalypse were beginning to present themselves.

For no apparent reason but they didn’t feel like they had anything better to do, the nations started fighting each other. It wasn’t the leadership so much as it was the conscripts, who felt cheated out of the time they could have spent with their families. If these former civilians had to put so much effort into learning warfare skills, then goddammit, they were going to use them. It was like a global barfight, where some people started fighting just because someone carelessly bumped into them. Country A was trying to get to Country B when Country C got in the way, so Country C fought back, but accidentally hit Country D instead. It was a huge mess, and obviously, no one won in the end. Fortunately, they had never developed nuclear weapons, because history didn’t suggest there would be any need to bomb more than one enemy at the same time, so it just seemed like a waste of resources, when nuclear power was a far more useful pursuit. They kept killing though. It turned out to be one of the bloodiest wars I have ever seen. No, it probably is indeed the bloodiest. Internal conflicts started springing up when soldiers found themselves unable to get to someone from another country. Literal neighbors started killing each other when the supply chain broke down, and there wasn’t enough food to go around. Where once they numbered in the billions, over the course of the next two decades the population dwindled to the thousands. They pretty much only stopped killing each other, because survivors were so few and far between, and they were composed mostly of people who had always tried to stay out of it, and had succeeded. Civilization never recovered from this. Those survivors eked out a living amongst the ruins, but could not significantly grow from there. Many didn’t even bother trying to propagate the species, and after several decades more, the human species went extinct.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Microstory 1671: Life Beyond the Sea

People are happy in Floasterverse. They love living on the ocean, being able to be as close to the water as they want. Some people live on artificial islands that are so large that they can’t even tell the difference between that, and regular land. It doesn’t have everything, though. Namely, it doesn’t have trains, and it doesn’t have beaches. Once everyone was relocated to the island system, people realized what they were missing. So while the robots were busy deconstructing the land cities of old, others were building new structures. More advanced and luxurious resorts were built on the natural beaches, which was kind of impossible to do on a floating island, as the entire point was that it was technically mobile. Similarly, a new train network was laid on every continent. They didn’t need to connect all the cities together, which was the purpose of the trains of yesterday, but they did want people to be able to enjoy nature as they passed by. It went all around the world in an extremely long loop, but it stopped regularly to let people on and off, in case they didn’t want to ride the whole thing, or simply didn’t have time. There were other things that people couldn’t do on the islands, or which would be too difficult to construct. These included camping, skiing, and freshwater activities. Still, this did not change their minds. These destinations were just for vacation. They almost always returned to the sea after they were finished. Even after having reached the technological singularity, and finding themselves with no more need for human labor, people considered the seasteads their permanent homes, and the vacation spots temporary places to enjoy themselves before getting back to their lives. As I said before, this universe did not fall victim to the Ochivari’s sterility virus, and did not have to involve themselves in the Darning Wars. But it was more than that. They became a profoundly peaceful race, and were perfectly capable of managing their population on a plateau, so they never felt the need to colonize other worlds. They strung up satellites to protect the planet against impact events, and the like. Then they spent the rest of the time just...living free.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Tuesday, December 7, 2275

This wasn’t the first time that Mateo and Leona returned to the timestream to find their environment having changed dramatically. Mateo once broke his leg when the train he was on at midnight was no longer under his feet. Later, he and Leona woke up in a forest that experienced a devastating fire sometime during the year. Now on this planetesimal, in this hangar, their instinct was to venture out, and just figure out what was going on. Olimpia didn’t think that was such a great idea. “Computer, whisper mode.”
Yes, can I help you?” the AI offered, but in a much quieter voice than she generally did.
“How did you get into this hangar? Is it where you landed?” Olimpia asked.
I was transported here after landing,” the computer replied. “The outpost on this planetesimal was established five years ago.
“Has anyone made any attempt to breach the hull of the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?” Olimpia continued.
They have made attempts, but all have failed. They wanted to get in carefully, and without damaging anything.
“Do you know what their hypothesis is regarding the nature of this ship?”
I am not cognizant of that.
“No one has been in here,” Olimpia stated to the group. “No one knows that this thing has been empty for the last five years, let alone that last nineteen, and that people have suddenly appeared out of nowhere. They probably think it’s from an alien race, but they’re afraid to do anything to upset some kind of cosmic balance.”
“So, what should we do?” Leona asked. She was happy with not being the one to have to come up with all the solutions for a change.
Olimpia considered it for a moment. “Let’s just bail. Why go out there and introduce ourselves? We’re not here to meet them. They’re not supposed to be here at all. Our business is on Earth. Let’s teleport to maximum distance, and continue doing that until we reach our destination.”
“Leona, can you plot a course that avoids detection until we reach Earth?” Angela questions.
I can’t, but the AOC herself can.”
“I don’t wanna, like, try to force anyone to agree with me,” Olimpia said, a little defensively. “This is just what I think we should do. Anyone else have any ideas? I mean, it’s entirely possible that the hangar was built for us, and the people out there have been waiting for our return, because they’ve known who we were the entire time.”
“If we were meant to go talk to them,” Mateo began, “then something would force us to do so. Like you said, let’s just bail.”
Everyone else seemed to agree as well, much to Olimpia’s relief. Though they had been friends for the last three years, she still felt a little bit like an outsider...like her opinion mattered less than the rest of the group. Of course that wasn’t true. Hopefully they would be able to convince her otherwise in time. For now, they needed to get out of here. Leona and the computer synthesized the present-day solar system. They accessed a detailed map, which told them where every outpost, every ship, every beacon was right now. Knowing this was going to allow them to teleport to blindspots, where no one would be able to detect their presence. They wouldn’t go full burst mode, because that endangered the integrity of the hull, but if they teleported fast enough, even if they accidentally got too close to a sensor, they would be gone before it could verify what it was seeing, and maybe mark it down as a technical error.
It took them most of the day, since the best route didn’t max out their teleporter range, and they couldn’t go through the manifold highway, so it wasn’t the fastest, but they made it back. They were now in the hangar where the Sharice Davids was once kept. At first, it didn’t seem like anyone was using it. Then four people came out of the shadows. No, they weren’t in the shadows, they were behind them. They appeared out of an illusion of a wall, but behind it was the past version of the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Ramses, Tracker, The Stitcher, and Flex. These were the four people Leona found to help them with their fight against Erlendr Preston. That was in an old reality, though, if they weren’t mistaken. Why were they here now?
“You’re not supposed to arrive until next year,” Leona said, looking at her watch. “We thought this place would be empty.”
“I don’t know anything about that,” a past version of Ramses said. “We’ve come here to meet you, and it seems we’re right on time.”
Leona shook her head. “We are future versions of your friends. If Past!Us are gonna show up today, then we have to get the hell out of here.”
“It’s okay,” Mateo tried to assure her. “I think I have this figured out. It’s a different reality. We don’t have to worry about a paradox. In fact, we should save them some trouble, if we can.”
“That’s dangerous, Mateo,” Leona warned.
Nerakali suddenly appeared with past versions of Mateo, Leona, and Jeremy.
“I think it’s kind of too late,” Future!Mateo said.
Nerakali took a step forward. She was surprised, but not shocked. “Report.”
Future!Mateo smiled, and looked over at his crew to make sure no one wanted to say anything for themselves. He decided to take charge of this situation. “First, let’s do introductions. Future!Jeremy Bearimy, Future!Leona Matic, Angela Walton, and Olimpia Sangster. Over on this side, we have my good friend, Ramses Abdulrashid. Next to him is Vidar Wolfe, Tonya Keyes, and Yadira Cordosa. Lastly, we have a younger version of Nerakali Preston. She is still alive, and it looks good on her.”
Nerakali rolled her eyes, but couldn’t hide her own smile. “Anything else?”
“We’re not just from the future,” Future!Mateo went on. “We’re from an alternate reality. Nothing you do will impact what has happened to us. What’s done is done. Fortunately for you, we went through the heartache for you. We can fix your Erlendr problem. Then once we do...” He hesitated.
“Once you do...” Past!Mateo pressed, “what?”
Future!Mateo sort of started focusing on his alternate self more. “This timeline ain’t big enough for the both of us.”
“You’re suggesting we assimilate with each other?” Past!Mateo presumed.
Future!Mateo shook his head. “We’ve made a lot of friends since 2275. I don’t know what you’ve been through, who you’ve met. I don’t even know when you and I diverged. But at some point, someone suggested to me that they could get me and Leona out of here. They could take us to a place where the powers that be, and the choosing ones, couldn’t get to us. They called it Havenverse.”
“I’ve heard of it.”
“That dream is dead for us,” Future!Mateo revealed. “Leona, you agree?”
“Yes,” Future!Leona said, completely sincerely. She hadn’t thought about the prospect in a long time.
Future!Mateo continued, “I’ll get you there. I’ll reach out to someone I know who knows someone else, and we will find you a ride. Would you like that?”
“What are you gonna do?” Past!Mateo asked.
Future!Mateo chuckled once, and looked lovingly over at his wife. “This is our life now. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, not anymore.”
She smiled back.
Past!Mateo and Past!Leona did the same with each other. “Can we do that?” the former questioned. “Can we just...bail?”
“I think we deserve that, don’t you?”
“I guess, I just...”
Before either of them could produce a definitive answer, a horn echoed throughout the facility. The Transit came flying across the room out of one portal, and into another. Just as before, it stopped. But that was 2276. What was it doing here a year early? Why was everyone a year early in this timeline? Saga didn’t come out this time. It was a man that no one recognized. That was another thing, no one was frozen in place this time around. Everyone was seeing this happen. The man cleared his throat while he was consulting his handheld device. “My name is Wyatt Bradley. I have been asked to come out here, and inform you that we are looking for Evaluator Nerakali Wilson.”
“Scroll up, buddy,” Nerakali said.
Wyatt swipes up on his device. “Oh, you’re right. Nerakali Preston. Sorry about that. I think Wilson’s already on the train.”
“I’ve always wanted to meet her,” the real Nerakali said excitedly.
“Can you even go?” Future!Mateo asked. “I mean...because...”
“I’m sure the universe will figure it out. I have been summoned.” She started to head for the ramp.
“Wait,” Future!Mateo said, prompting his friend to stop. “Can you take two more? Can you take them to a different universe, somewhere that’s outside of the war?” This would be easier than trying to communicate through Amber.
Another man appeared from the train car. “We do not rescue refugees. Are they fleeing oppression?”
“Yes,” Future!Leona claimed. The truth was too complicated to say whether she was lying or not.
“I’ll send word to The Strongbox. If they accept your application, then they’ll be here immediately after we leave. If not...then you’re out of luck. I don’t make those decisions. That’s for Thack to worry about.”
Nerakali tried to leave again, but Yadira said, “wait,” as well. “I was told to get on the train by someone who knows the future.”
“You’re already on it,” the unnamed man said.
“Oh.”
The man sighed. “I suppose you can’t have too many Flexes, can you? Come on.”
Yadira looked back to make sure everyone was cool with her decision, and their facial expressions showed that they were. Now both she and Nerakali started trying to make it up the ramp.
“Wait, I have to know what this is,” Vidar said.
“If you come, you have to fight. This is a war transport vessel, not a ferry.”
“I...have to know,” Vidar explained.
“Very well. Does anybody else want to come, besides the refugees?”
No one else seemed to want to, so finally, the three conscripts were able to start leaving. But there were two more delays. Before Vidar could make it past the threshold, he disappeared. He then started jogging up from behind the group. “Sorry, sorry. I just kind of had to...die first. But I’m resurrected, and back!” Having returned from the afterlife simulation, his loop was now closed, and his destiny was his own to do with it as he pleased. The same thing happened to Nerakali, whose death was also predetermined.
Once the doors were closed, the Transit left through its portal. A much, much smaller vessel appeared from its incoming portal, and stopped in the same place. A woman came out from it. “I hear we got some refugees?”
“Are we sure about this?” Past!Mateo asked. “This isn’t going to cause any problems for the timeline.”
“We’ll handle it,” Future!Mateo said honestly.
“Thank you,” the two of them said simultaneously. As they were boarding, the woman introduced herself as Rosalinda. They heard a scream, and the ship disappeared.
Mateo clapped his hands. “Gang’s all here. Let’s go take care of The Warrior.”