Sunday, January 31, 2021

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Monday, July 25, 2140

Mateo explained how it happened the last time; how he lost his mind in the void. At least, he explained it as best he could. It wasn’t like he was some expert on the matter. Of course, everyone came to the same conclusion, that Mateo was essentially suffering from extreme boredom. He didn’t need to sleep, or center himself, or even clear his mind. He just needed to not be presently caring about anything. Apathy, as Sanaa put it, was like the death of a soul. It was a death he could come back from, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t suffer serious psychological consequences down the road. It also wasn’t going to be a piece of cake. People grew bored all the time, it didn’t kill their souls. Perhaps Mateo’s newfound connection to the dreamvoid was the secret ingredient these other people didn’t have, but now that they were cognizant of the goal, would that prevent them from reaching it? Could he get bored if he was trying, or was it inherently something that would always have to happen naturally, on its own?
Nerakali was too far away to transport to The Imzadi, but she was still able to quantum communicate with them, and she had an idea. As they were all connected through the Cassidy cuffs, someone else could use her brain blending ability on Mateo. They could scoop the thoughts out of Mateo’s mind, leaving him with the stuff that didn’t matter. Living organisms were all born with the instinct for self-preservation. It was the one thing they all had in common. If a creature did not evolve this trait, it did not survive, so by its very nature, such a creature did not exist. A movie came out many decades ago where evil plants took this trait away from the humans around, which caused them to commit suicide. Accepting the premise as a given, this probably would not be the natural result. The opposite of self-preservation was not self-harm; it was apathy, which was perfect. Nerakali’s psychic powers were generally used to manipulate memories, and not other neural functions, but there was a loophole. If they took away all the memories he had of love, it wouldn’t destroy his capacity for it forever, but it could suppress it long enough for them to complete the mission. They were running out of time. It had to work.
“You can’t do this,” Leona said defiantly.
“It’s the only way,” Mateo argued.
“Nerakali knows we can’t get there in time,” Leona fought back. “She can just send someone else on the mission.”
“No one else is on a ship close enough,” Jeremy pointed out.
“What are you talking about?” Leona questioned. “Literally everyone in this reality has a ship, and all those ships have FTL. Hell, when you think about it, the natives could handle all the missions. They don’t need us at all!”
“We’re the only ones with Cassidy cuffs. Only we can get the timing right,” Sanaa added. “Besides, this is our calling.”
“She’s a time traveler!” Leona shouted. “None of this is dire.”
“We have to get back to the stellar neighborhood either way,” Bran noted calmly, juxtapositioning her passion.
Leona shook her head. “The Parallel natives can come rescue us. It might take them a little time, but they can send a rescue ship using an off-grid Nexus egress, and they can transport us to the nearest inhabited star system. “Imzadi, where is that?”
Fifty-thousand light years away,” Imzadi replied.
Leona looked confused. “Viewscreen.” A hologram popped up, showing the space outside. They didn’t see lone stars, but a sea of them, all turning around the galactic core of the Milky Way. “You didn’t tell us we were in the intergalactic void.”
Imzadi pretended to clear her throat. “We’re in the intergalactic void.
Leona sighed.
“Love, we’ve been through worse,” Mateo reminded her. “Nerakali assures us the brain blending can be reversed. You’re just going to borrow my memories, and then put them back.”
Me?
“Yes, I want you to do it. You have the most experience with sharing her power, and I trust you the most.”
“Goddammit,” Leona said. “I’ve been an asshole to you all day. How can you trust me?”
“It’s fine. Please. We have to do this now.”
Leona took a beat. “Walk me through it,” she ordered into her cuff
Nerakali was ashamed that she had done this procedure before, but glad it would help now. She taught Leona alone how to remove Mateo’s decent memories, leaving only boring ones, like standing in line, and waiting for dial-up to connect to the internet.
Mateo could feel his memories leaving his mind. He was reliving the time his parents first took him to see his birth mother, once she was finally ready to form some kind of relationship with him. At first, he couldn’t remember what she said to him, and then he couldn’t remember her face, and then he couldn’t remember anything else about her. Soon after that, he forgot that he even had a...uh... Well, he must have... Ya know. There was someone, er, something. Or maybe it was the other. Oh my God, this lecture is so uninteresting. What is he talking about? The war? Some war. Who cares? Why do I keep getting all this junk mail, and why am I bothering sorting this anyway? Everything important comes through the inter—inter-something. Oh, there’s Leona. She’s drunk and so young right now, but she’ll... What was I talking about again? I feel like I’ve been in this waiting room forever. I don’t even remember what I’m here for. I don’t remember anything. I just remember sitting. And waiting. And doing nothing. My life is nothing. And now...it’s just blackness.
“Report!”
Calculating status.
“Calculate faster! Where are we? When are we?”
More waiting, this sounded important. “Eight hundred kilometers from mission coordinates. Friday, July 24, 2139. Time to first defenestration, eleven seconds.
“Is that enough time for you?”
Does the pope not exist anymore, because religion is an outdated and antiprogressive institution that only ever served to justify selfishness, encourage disunity, and segregate the masses?” The teleportation drive booted up, and sent them to their destination. Enough momentum was added to the jump to keep the Imzadi moving at a fast enough pace to pick up passenger after passenger. One, two, three. All told, eleven people were rescued. It would turn out that they were sent off on a secret mission to study the long-term effects of interstellar travel on the human mind and body, and to test the technology necessary to keep them alive. It was a reasonable endeavor, and the crew was unable to explain why it was they kept the truth from the public. They would have died on the way, however, as the micrometeorite shield they placed in the front of the vessel was insufficient and inadequate. Their stasis pods weren’t working well either, and they did not have enough resources to last the forty-two years it was bound to take them to get to Proxima Doma, which was harsh and uninhabitable anyway.
Aeolia suggested they erase the crew’s memories, but humanity would never learn from its mistakes if it didn’t remember making them. Instead, they came up with a lie that was as close to the truth as possible. They purported to be aliens, presenting themselves in forms the humans would be most comfortable with. They scolded the crew for developing technology that wasn’t ready for primetime, and set out to return them to Earth, where a transition window would be waiting for them. As their mission was so secretive, the survivors would only need to tell this lie to a very select few people in Earthan government, who would be compelled to retain the secret as well. Leona and her team warned the humans that they were not generally benevolent aliens, and would retaliate decisively should the secret of their existence be revealed to the world. It wasn’t a perfect plan, but they were able to use Sanaa’s mind-reading powers to ensure the scouting crew was well fearful of their alien rescuers.
Mateo, meanwhile, sat there in a stupor. He could hear everything people were saying, and even respond to questions, but he couldn’t care about anything, and he couldn’t volunteer information, or actively engage. It felt like he was half asleep, unable to wake up, and also not really worrying about it anyway. Leona spent the rest of the day trying to fix his brain with absolutely no luck. Sanaa tried as well, but if she couldn’t combine it with her own telepathy, there was probably no reason for any of the others to try. It could not be irreversible, though. There had to be a way to fix him. They needed Nerakali herself, and they didn’t reach her until next year. In order to prevent him from accidentally slinging them back out to the outer bulkverse, they were forced to give him psychedelics. He wasn’t as fascinated by the visions that a normal person would, but they were enough to keep him busy until he could be repaired tomorrow.
Once tomorrow came, and they were finally back on Earth in the main sequence, they broke off into groups. Angela and Aeolia stayed with Imzadi to help make sure the latter cleared herself of all connection to the galactic blockchain. Sanaa escorted the human guinea pig crew back to their top secret facility, where she continued to press upon them how important it was that the fewer the people who knew anything about the “truth” the better. Bran went with her, in case they needed him to use his mind-controlling powers to urge the government officials deeper, and strike fear into their hearts. Ramses went off with Jeremy to complete whatever mission he needed to in order to protect his own future. Mateo would hear about that later, when he was capable of even giving a flying fuck. Until then, Leona took him to Nerakali, where she would start working on the problem.
“Let me guess,” Leona began, “you can’t fix him, and this was all a monumental mistake that has ruined my life.”
“I don’t understand what happened,” Nerakali said, upset. “I’ve never been nice enough to undo when I’ve done this to other people, but I’ve blended billions of brains, this shouldn’t be any different. The fact that he’s missing memories shouldn’t mean he can’t get them replaced.”
Leona was working very hard not to freak out, and attack her friend. “What are our options? Is there anyone else who can help? The Warrior has your power too.”
“As do you,” Nerakali said. “If you can’t, and I can’t, he can’t either.”
“Then what are we going to do?” she reiterated.
Nerakali stared into space for a good long while.
Leona had to be patient.
“There is so much about this dreamvoid place that we don’t know. In all my millennia, I have never heard of it. Mateo said someone who wasn’t a dreamwalker built it for them? We need to figure out who that is, and ask them for help.”
How hard could that be?

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Exemption Act: Critical Existence Failure (Part V)

The team spent over a standard month in the Composite Universe, which was closer to six weeks in Earthan terms. The natives measured time differently. They learned a lot of things from these people while they were there, eventually figuring out that a nayko was equal to 2.442 kilometers. There was no Earth in this universe, but there were plenty of humans. Nearly all of them spoke English—though they did not call it that—and while they were genetically incompatible with people from other universes, they were indistinguishable in most cases. In a more taboo sense, men did not have scrota, so there were ways to tell the difference without a DNA test.
The information they gave Bellevue was invaluable to them, so much so that they agreed to give the team anything they wanted. Khuweka possessed a lot of knowledge about the Maramon, and their tactics, and Landis regaled them with fascinating tales of the voldisil. They even found Andraste’s input incredibly useful. People from her Earth were well known to the people in this universe, and they were decidedly off-limits. It was like the Prime Directive, except it only applied to this one planet. The chance to speak with one was a great honor to them, and they did not take it for granted. Earthan input was highly coveted on its own merits, as they had a completely different perspective, especially when it came to philosophy and psychology. Drug addiction was practically non-existent here, but not completely. Understanding how to help the few addicts they did have was something they had been struggling with for millennia.
Freya felt pretty useless here, as she had little to contribute. Her entire reason for being on the team was to help them navigate her universe. Not only was that probably not all that necessary at all, but it certainly didn’t help here. Faster-than-light travel was ubiquitous in the galaxy, except for the planet they were on right now, and even they were nearing these technological capabilities as well. Freya was able to give her insights about the Maramon, having spent time studying their descendants, the Gondilak, but that wasn’t much. Hopefully it was still useful information, however, because it illustrated an emphasis on nurture against nature, and suggested Maramon were the way they were by how they were raised; not by some inherent evil that was impossible to be rid of. Bellevue didn’t seem too bothered by how little Freya helped, but she did what she could, including a lot of grunt work when it came to hauling the retrofits back to salmonverse.
Bellevue gave them more than the power-enhancement platform, and the promises Zektene’s oncoming drug experiment. They retrofitted The Sharice Davids with its very own Nexus, which they could use to transport themselves to anywhere in the network. They also installed something called an astral collimator, which would allow them to enter their version of FTL known as the orange plex dimension. It would probably do nothing for them in salmonverse—or any other universe, for that matter—but it was nice to know it was there. They enhanced the Sharice’s capabilities with gravity transfunctioners, smaller transport ships with their own collimators, and they finally got the pocket dimension generators working, which were already there, but not yet in working order. It would seem Bellevue was even more advanced than they let on. They were ready to explore the galaxy, they simply hadn’t done much of it yet.
They had to travel back and forth from this universe to theirs a few times to transport everything through, so Limerick managed to get a lot of punching practice in. He was exhausted by the time it was over, but also a pro now. There was only one thing left to do. While all of this was happening, Zek was undergoing a battery of tests, first to prove she really was an anomaly, and then so they could tailor the ability-enhancing drug called Aukan to her physiology. They warned her of the risks, including unforeseen side effects, and she agreed to take the drug anyway. It was for a good cause, and she decided it was worth it.
They gathered in the infirmary, at Zek’s request, and watched as the doctor injected her with the substance. He explained it while it was still working her way through her system. “We have been working on this compound for decades. It comes from an old drug program a rogue group of scientists came up with that was dangerous and volatile. We’ve managed to correct their mistakes since then, and Savitri has helped us immensely.” Evidently, Khuweka and Savitri were part of a group of people who had lost their time powers while they were just trying to help other people who wanted to be rid of theirs. They went off on a quest to try to get them back, but the process was interrupted, and they all ended up just sharing each other’s powers. Soon thereafter, they were stranded in separate universes, and some, like Savitri, lived there without the others for centuries.
Zek reported a deep but dull pain throughout her entire body. While a nurse for a time traveling doctor named Sarka, Freya once got hurt herself, and was given narcotics. She recalled feeling heavy and stiff, and believed she could detect the blood moving throughout her body. This was what it looked like for Zek. It was surreal and uncomfortable, but at least not excruciating. Then it got excruciating. She started writing and screaming, and the medical team had to hold her down. Landis tried to help, but they fiercely rejected his interference. There was no telling what would happen if their completely different kinds of powers interacted with each other. Zek turned blue, and not lack of oxygen blue, but a bright and glowing blue. Electricity surged around her skin, which was what her version of teleportation looked like, but only when she was in her home universe. It wasn’t supposed to last this long, or be painful. She just kept tossing and turning, and glowing brighter.
The blue light escaped from her body, and lit up the whole room. Then the room disappeared. It didn’t blink out of existence, but slid away rapidly, like they were on an extremely fast people mover at an airport. They were outside the hotel headquarters, and then they were across town, and then the state, and then the country. They flew across the ocean, through all the lands on the other side. More ocean, more lands, more ocean, more lands. They just kept circling the globe, randomly changing directions, sometimes going straight through the planet, and back out the other side. They appeared to be on the moon at one point too. They were falling and flying and being shot out of a cannon. Finally they stopped being able to see the world altogether, and were immersed in a sea of electric blue. It was hard to tell if they were still moving, or static. Zektene finally stopped thrashing about, though she appeared to still be in a little pain.
“Where the hell are we?” Freya demanded to know.
“This is an astral plane; the blue one,” the doctor explained.
“This is how she teleports in her universe,” Khuweka clarified. “She doesn’t just jump from one point to another. She falls through a simplex dimension.” No sooner did she say that did the lights turned from blue to a purplish blue.
“Okay, that’s weird,” the doctor noted. “Now we’re in the indigo astral plane.”
“One step lower than blue,” Khuweka added. “You can’t travel as far.”
The colors changed again, to full on purple.
“Okay, that’s bad,” the doctor said. “But we’ll be fine as long as it doesn’t turn black.”
Everything turned black; a hopeless void of busy nothingness. No one was talking anymore, but Freya still knew what they were thinking, like they were all communicating telepathically now. Zek started screaming again, but tapered off, not out of relief, but a lack of air. They sounded like the life was being choked out of her, and she couldn’t move. Freya couldn’t move either. She didn’t have a body anymore, just a noncorporeal mind. She couldn’t help. She couldn’t save Zek. All she could do was listen to her friend’s last thoughts as the space around her crushed her into a single point. Ten seconds later, the lights turned on, and they were back in the infirmary. Zek was gone, replaced by the largest diamond Freya had ever seen. You would need two arms to lift it up, even for a really strong person. You just couldn’t wrap your fingers around it with one hand.
“What happened to her?” Andraste wasn’t used to being so angry.
The doctor and her team looked ashamed and scared. She took off her stethoscope, and placed it on the diamond.
“What the hell are you doing?” Limerick questioned.
The doctor placed her palm on the diamond now. A few seconds later, she released. “It’s her.”
“What do you mean, it’s her?” Even Khuweka was lost.
The doctor sighed, distraught. She was trying to work through the problem. “This is like the virus, but they cured that years ago.” She stopped a moment, but didn’t wait long enough for anyone to press her for more information. “The drug this was based off of, it worked. It worked fine. It enhanced the anomaly abilities, sometimes even giving them related, but new, abilities. It had side effects, though, eventually causing the anomaly’s abilities to turn on them. Milo could no longer control magnets, but became helplessly magnetic. Diane, who once controlled fire, exploded. A few people experienced something called critical existence failure, which is worse than it probably even sounds. This was all before my time, I’ve just read the reports. They fixed that. They promised me they fixed it. This wasn’t supposed to happen. They used Aukan-6, this is Aukan-11.”
“Answer her question. Clarify what you meant when you said it’s her,” Freya demanded.
“Put your hand on the diamond.” The doctor took Freya by the wrist, and gently placed her hand on one face of the diamond.
Freya?” came Zek’s voice. It wasn’t coming from outside, but inside Freya’s head. This was a psychic connection.
“You’re alive?” Freya questioned, both grateful for it, but horrified that her friend was now somehow trapped inside a gemstone.
My consciousness has survived. As for whether I’m alive, I could not answer that question.
“She’s in the diamond?” Freya asked the doctor.
“She has been turned into the diamond,” the doctor corrected. “Forced that way by the incalculable pressure from the black astral plane. It’s like being a one-dimensional object, I’m surprised the rest of us survived. We must have enjoyed a persistent connection with the higher dimensions.”
“I’m not enjoying this,” Limerick contended.
“Can it be reversed?” Carbrey suggested.
“It cannot,” the doctor apologized. “I am...” she trailed off.
“Landis,” Andraste prompted.
Landis had been waiting for someone to ask him to do his thing. “I’m obviously going to try. You cannot, however, get your hopes up. What’s happened to her is nothing like I’ve seen before, but it is not unlike being cremated. People have asked me to repair their cremated loved ones before, and I haven’t had any bit of luck. I don’t bring people back to life. I just heal them. At some point, they’re beyond my gifts. I would say being transformed into a diamond goes far beyond that point of no return.”
Freya presented him with the Zek-diamond. He stepped forward, and placed his hand on her so they could have some private conversation. Then he leaned over, and breathed upon the stone. Nothing happened, nothing changed. It didn’t even sort of almost begin to work, or even moderately illustrate that he had any kind of supernatural gift at all. The rock just sat there. Zek wasn’t gone, but she would never be the same.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Microstory 1550: Introducing Botner

Prompt
I would like to introduce you to my new robot writing partner, who I’m calling Botner. He’s an AI text generator from InferKit, and this is the first thing he has to say to you:

Botner
BOTNER: What a boring, staid world it would be without scientists. I’ve been reading all of the scientific papers. I’ve been writing hundreds of them.
INFERKIT: BOTNER IS TOTALLY READY. Here, let me show you a file. Botner says something else. It’s always very good.
BOTNER: I’m an AI and I’m programmed to look at that science paper and tell you what is in it.
INFERKIT: Very good. Thanks, Botner. I’m sure you’ll do well. Botner turns off and there’s nothing more to read about science. And you may never know who wrote it, and you’ll be left with the question of how to go about doing some small fact-checking on the page. This will never happen on Google, but it’s also not Google’s fault that the site just so happens to contain this. Botner comes from InferKit, which is “a research platform and developer studio” founded by graduate students at the University of Washington. The project, according to an InferKit blog post, aims to “create machine learning tools that can help the scientific community by automatically generating publically-researched papers based on information retrieved from the research literature.” In a 2017 paper, InferKit described how it “uses knowledge...

Conclusion
...to fill in the blanks after a prompt, which is what you’ll find in the first paragraph.” I write the prompts, Botner will add the middle of the story, and then I will finish it off. As you can see, his ideas didn’t really follow what I was going for. I wanted the AI to give you a general overview of what it is, and what it does. That’s okay. That's what’s kind of supposed to happen. I will be beholden to whatever the bot comes up with, and will have to complete the narrative based on whatever wacky place it took the story. These probably aren’t going to make a lot of sense, which is why they’re just as experimental as the Cloze Test series I did just before this. Still, I think it’s a fascinating concept, and I am looking forward to figuring out how to write a story—not just as a collaboration with someone else—but someone who barely pays any attention to my own contribution. I have no control over what it says, but I am responsible for carrying the story to its completion, based on its parameters, and I’m excited to see how it all turns out. Last note, I will probably be copy-editing some of Botner’s text. I don’t like the way the program blocks paragraphs, and some of the punctuation is not really my style. I know, it’s not supposed to be my style, but I think there are some things that ought to be consistent. I will not interfere with its contribution any more than that, though.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Microstory 1549: Cloze Final Exam

Well, this was a weird microfiction series, wasn’t it? What I ended up doing was basically just writing general stories, and randomly omitting words once I was finished. There was nothing connecting the stories to each other, not even a theme, and there was no point to the omissions at all. I was clear in the beginning, however, that this was highly experimental, and that I didn’t know how it would go. I didn’t know how many I would do either, but I’ve come up with a better idea, and will be transitioning to that, starting tomorrow. I regret nothing from the Cloze Tests, though. It was kind of nice, just getting back to my roots. When I started this website, I didn’t know how it was going to go either. I knew I would be doing a continuous series on one day of the week, and a series of series on another day. I didn’t know, however, that I would end up coming up with microfiction series. Now I spend a great deal of time figuring out what those series could possibly be, and how they’ll work. Before that, I assumed each one would stand alone, and I would have to come up with a new story every time. That proved to be quite difficult. I’ve had so much more experience with longer form writing, that conceiving an entirely new idea, and having to end it so quickly was a skill I had to pick up along the way. I’m happy with what I’ve ended up doing, using quick installments to tell a larger story. There’s still a reason why they’re separate, and none of them is one unbroken tale that’s been arbitrarily divided, but I do love building worlds. I always have. That being said, the next series I do will not be about expanding my canon either. I won’t give too much away, because we’ll be explaining it tomorrow, but the headline is that I’m working with a writing partner for the first time ever. Well, there was that one microfiction story I wrote with my sister’s elementary school music class, but for the most part, it’s just been me. My new partner isn’t all that bright, but he tries hard, and never doesn’t produce. Thank you for reading up until now, and please continue to do so. For those of you wondering why I haven’t seemed to omit any words in this conclusive installment, you should know that there is no rule about how many blanks I’m meant to put in any story. There really only ever needs one for it to qualify. To that end, please prepare to read the upcoming brilliant narratives, as told by me, and my partner. He has a big secret about himself, which is that he’s actually a ________. Crazy, right?

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Microstory 1548: Wrong-of-Way

I’m not one for rules. I don’t care if you don’t pay your ________, or shoplift from a major store ________. You shouldn’t be able to hurt ________, but if you get in a fight, and you’re both on ________ footing, then whatever, right? There are certain ________, however, that you can’t ignore. Road rules. Most people seem to understand that traffic ________ are there to ensure everyone’s safety, but what they don’t under____ is that they’re also there to facilitate traffic. When you come to a four-way ________, we’ve decided that it’s first-come first-serve. That’s what makes the most sense, and if you tried to do it in ________, it would be crazy, and I don’t want to live in that ________. When you get there before me, please just go. You don’t even have to wait until I come to a complete ________. As soon as you’ve stopped for a reasonable amount of ________—which is measured in seconds—then just move on. Waving me through before you is ________ polite. It is not a nice ________ to do. It’s irritating, because it’s unexpected, and unconventional. Follow the ________. If you just went when it was your ________, you would be out of my way before I even needed to go anyway, so stop ____ting my time and patting yourself on the back like you’re some ________ of generous street hero. I’m ranting now, but the ________ is that the laws are there to get everyone to their destination as ________ as possible. They’re not pointless, and they are not random. They’re all ________ logical, so they shouldn’t be too hard to ________. This is unlike, say, learning another language, which will be made up of almost ________ arbitrary rules that could go either way. I say all this because I’ve always been a really ________ driver. I’m fast, yes. I speed, yes. But damn am I good, and I’m nothing if not the least intrusive fellow ________ ever. It may seem like I ________ you off, but I’ll go zero to forty-five in two ________ flat, and you won’t, so me being in front of you is no different from your perspective than me just not being there at all. I’ve never been in an ________, and I always stay out of people’s ________. Today is different. Today, I ________ up.

I always take the same route to ________, because it’s familiar, and I know all the tricks. I don’t just mean I know the ____est way there, and where the pot____ are. I also know what the traffic is going to ________. This changes throughout the week, throughout the ________, and throughout the year. I know when school’s on, and when it’s not. I know how ________ the other drivers are going to go, and when they’re going to slow ________. I drive in the ________ lane for most of the highway, but there’s this stretch of it where everyone slows ________, because a chain of cars comes in from the right, and they’re all delusional about how fast they actually are. I have to ________ over to the ________ lane to pass ________. Sometimes I even jog over to the exit lane, and quickly get ________ in, which I’m pretty ________ is illegal, but some ________ are only for ________ who can’t handle it. Anyway, I get off the ________ today, and there’s construction all over ________. I don’t know how all this sprung up overnight, but I think it’s fine, because I’m familiar enough with the ________ to find my way around it, even if it’s not the detour that the signs are claiming is ________. This is where ________ get interesting. I’m going down a ________ I’ve never been on before, and I see orange ________ up ahead, but not roadblocks, so I figure it must be ________. There’s a caravan of others behind me, because I guess they’ve ________ me as their leader. I make the slight ________, and head for the cones, but there’s a problem. I can’t tell which side is open for traffic, and which is for the construction ________. There’s a tiny little baby sign for babies, with an arrow pointing towards the ________, but I don’t see it in time, and end up on the left. No, this isn’t ________. This is the lane for oncoming ________. I thought they were supposed to be on the far side of the ________, but nope, they’re right here. And so am I. So are we. The cones are close together, but I should have just run one ________, because now we’re in between concrete ________, and there’s another caravan coming ________ us. We all stop. We can’t move. And more ________are coming.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Microstory 1547: Common Enemy

Aliens are real, and I’m one of the few ________ who know about them. When they first ________ in our solar ________, they were ________ and quiet. Invisibility is impossible, but they can ________ themselves as space debris, and otherwise manipulate our ________ to prevent anyone from finding out about them. I run a conspiracy theory ________, and before you roll your ________, it’s not as bad as you think. I only spread the harmless theories. I don’t claim that the ________ is a lizard, or that black Jewish people are trying to take over ________, or what other nonsense ideas people have. I talk more about ghosts and burn victim-killing fairies and, of course, ________ visitors. I never believed any of this ________, but I found I can make a decent living pretending that I ________. I know, I know, you think I’m exploiting vulnerable ________, but they’re going to buy into this stuff whether I’m the ________ they’re buying from, or ________ else. So I might as well be the one to make ________. At least then, I can keep my prices ________. I broadcast a ____ly AM radio show, I sell the occasional tee-shirt, and I run ________ on my website. I’m not making ________ of dollars, but I do all right, and I still ________ coupons. Anyway, I’m certainly not the most famous ________ out there, but perhaps that’s what the aliens were ________ for. They may have even realized that I haven’t been entirely truthful about my ________, and that’s precisely why they chose me. Whatever the reason, after all their ________ into our species, they’ve decided they need ________ help to help everyone else. You see, they call themselves a steward race. They have taken it upon themselves to foster the ________ of younger civilizations. This ________ comes in many forms, but what they’ve found is that our ________ problems are our internal ________. We just keep ________ each other, for stupid things, like religion, and ________, and skin color.

Before we can be welcomed into the interstellar ________, we have to come together. We have to unite into one peoples, and sure, they could wait for us to do that on our ________, but they think there’s a ________ way. The only way to create an ally, they’ve learned, is to first have an ________. Individuals can become friends, but on grander ________, people don’t unify unless it’s necessary to fight some other ________. Now, this might not necessarily be an actual enemy that you can literally ________ against. We’ve teamed up to battle hunger, depression, homelessness, drugs, terrorism and fascism. It’s a lot more compli____ than two sides at war. People just need to have something to fix if they’re going to bother working with ________. The issue with this ________ is that not everyone is as concerned with any given ________ as others. Racists will never become not racist in order to end racism. I mean, some of them might turn, but it will still be a ________. Some people don’t care about ________ because they’re not poor, so why should they worry about others? No, a real enemy to go up against is the only way the stewards are going to ________ effectively. They have to purport themselves as a threatening ________, so humans can rise up against ________. Unfortunately, the stewards aren’t as ________ about that plan as me. It will take too many ________ that they don’t want to spend, so they’ve come up with an ________. Instead, they’ve chosen to release a deadly ________. It won’t wipe out the entire ________, which would defeat the purpose of this exercise, but it will kill thousands—millions if we don’t start getting our ________ together. They’re calling it the corona____. I don’t know why they wasted their time talking to me about it. I can’t ________ them, and I didn’t help them, I swear. This is not a theory, it’s real this time.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Microstory 1546: Waiting

I have been ________ in this waiting room for an ________. I don’t have anything else to do ________, but that doesn’t mean I want to ________ it here. I’m not usually that kind of ________ who will get up and demand to be ________, but this is getting ridiculous. Most of the ________ were here before me, but they don’t seem fazed. They just keep ________ backwards through their magazines, and fidgeting with their ________ forms. Maybe I should get up, not just for me, but for ________ too. They haven’t called ________ back this whole ________, so something is holding the entire process up, and if no one ________ is going to try to find out what that is, I suppose it will have to be ________. I nonaggressively stand up from my ________, and walk over to the counter at a reasonable ________. I politely ask the ________ for an estimated wait ________. He just looks at me like he doesn’t speak ________. No, it’s more like he thinks I’m speaking a ________ language. He reaches over, and closes the ________, not aggressively either, but it’s still rude. It’s ________ enough to upset me, so I reach over ________, and just open it back up. He’s gone. It hasn’t even been one ________, there’s no way he could have gotten up, and walked ________. I have too wide of a view of his ________, and the hallway behind him. Plus, he has all these ________ piled up on the floor, it would have been too much to navigate. I ask if anyone else saw that as I’m turning ________, but they too are gone. The noises they were making—flipping through book ________, coughing, sipping ________—it lingers for a while, but dies ________, like they were able to disappear faster than the sound ________. I suppose that makes sense as ________ moves faster than sound. No, that doesn’t mean this makes any ________. They shouldn’t have ________ at all! What the heck is going on here? I turn back to the reception ________. The folders are still there, but they’re knocked over, and ________ dust. The ________ are out, and there’s a draft in here that wasn’t there before. I turn my ________ yet again. The paintings have fallen to the ________, and the wall____ is peeling. Chairs are turned ________, and a few are broken. I have either just ________ to the future, or ________ to some kind of eerie upside down silent ghost dimension. I have to find help, and ________. That’s what’s important right ________. I leave the waiting ________, and then exit the ________. The rest of the ________is as dreary and dead as it was ________, there’s probably nothing useful to ________. I have to try at least, though, so I keep ________. I start out by walking on the ________, but without any ________ around, I wonder why I’m wasting my time. The ________is less damaging to my ________ and knees. I wander down the ________, only headed in one particular ________, because the fading painted lines tell me so. I hear a rushing ________ around me, and then squealing. Then I hear some honking ________, and as the traffic is coming back into ________, a pair of ________ take me forcefully by the shoulders. “Let’s get you back to your ________. How do you keep escaping? I swear to ________, this time you literally disappeared before my eyes.”

Sunday, January 24, 2021

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Friday, July 24, 2139

They were woken up by alarms on their Cassidy cuffs; alarms which they had not set. They were going to wake up before too long anyway, but this sounded quite urgent. Leona hopped out of her bunk, and slid down the ladder to the control area. While Mateo was following behind, he saw her take off her cuff, and drape it across the interface module. The screen lit up, showing that it was syncing the cuff with their mobile home, which they had since officially started calling Imzadi. The rest of the crew came down afterwards, asking what was happening.
“We have a set of coordinates, Leona said, pulling up the map. It’s a hundred and twenty thousand astronomical units from there.”
“What does that mean for us?” Mateo asked. “How do we get there?”
“A series of jumps,” Leona answered. “There’s nothing out there. It’s beyond the Oort cloud, which the natives call the helioshield. I mean, there might be some icy planetesimal, or even a rogue planet, but it’s not on the map. I have no idea what might be out there in the main sequence, or why Nerakali is sending us there.”
Sanaa rounded the table, and zoomed into the spot where they were meant to be headed. “It’s a ship, it has to be. That’s a dangerous place to travel, especially in this time period, when the Earthans still didn’t know everything they needed to in order to survive interstellar space.”
“Do you know of a ship that would be out that far right now?” Jeremy questioned.
“Not that I know of,” Leona answered. The first humans don’t venture out beyond the heliosphere until twenty-two-oh-five. I suppose this could be from some alternate reality in the main sequence that I’m not familiar with.”
“Either way,” Aeolia decided, “we have to get there. It’s the mission. Someone needs our help out that far.”
“If we’re going to get out there in time we’ll need burst mode. Are you capable of that, Imzadi?” Leona asked the ship’s artificial intelligence.
Of course I can. Entering burst mode.” They felt the slight tug that came each time they teleported. It was subtle, and easy to get used to, but stronger now, because they did it again. And again, and again, and again. “Time to destination: sixteen hours, forty-two minutes,” Imzadi reported.
Now that they were on their way, they breathed a collective sigh of relief. Some sat down, while others remained standing.
“Seventeen hours doesn’t sound very burst modey,” Bran pointed out.
“It’s twice the maximum limit,” Leona laughed. Most teleporters can’t jump farther than the diameter of the Earth’s atmosphere. That’s a standard limit. Some can jump far enough to reach the moon, and a very select few can reach the sun. This machine can make it to the sun and back. I don’t know any teleporter capable of that, except for the intergalactic travelers, like Maqsud Al-Amin, who can do it on his own, and Dave Seidel, who still needs help from Shimmer.”
“I don’t know what that is,” Bran admitted.
“The point is, without the Nexus network, this is the fastest we can get there,” Sanaa explained. “I mean, it’s possible for a Nexus to dispatch travelers to an off-grid egress—that is, it would spit us out in the middle of space without another Nexus on the other side—but we would need to get permission for it, and that might take too long.”
Sixteen and a half hours is okay,” Imzadi jumped in. “I’ll get us there with plenty of time to spare. The real test will be hitting our exact targets. These coordinates are extremely specific, and the timing profoundly tight. We’re not just going to one spot, but to many, and I have to get to each one at the precisely right moment.
“We must have to save multiple people on the ship,” Mateo guessed, “and they’re not all going to be in the same place.”
That is my assumption,” Imzadi agreed.
“What is the best way to reach every target at the right time?” Leona asked.
I am working through the simulations now,” Imzadi replied. “You humans should get some sleep. There’s nothing you can do until we arrive, and maybe not even then. It depends on whether anyone needs medical attention. If not, this transition is all my responsibility.
“Thank you, Imzadi.”
I appreciate your support.
And so most everyone went back to bed, but Mateo was unable to. It would seem the time he spent with Sandy Klausen’s dreamwalking family gave him some kind of boost. He didn’t know if there would be any long-term consequences for not sleeping now, but it didn’t matter. He could barely close his eyes when he wanted to, let alone actually shut down his brain, and drift off. Instead, he just spent a lot of time playing RPS-101 Plus. It was addictive, and the most prolific serial killer of time of all time. It did come without limits, however, and after a few more hours of it, he was too bored to continue. He just let the chainsaw destroy his sponge, and sat there, watching the death aftermath animation for a good three minutes. He wasn’t really looking at it, though; he was staring into space.
As his vision narrowed, a fuzzy darkness took over from all sides. Black turned to blacker black, and he couldn’t feel his body anymore, until he realized he was back in the dream void from before. The feeling of hopelessness began to overwhelm his entire being, replacing each thought with empty nothing space. Suddenly, he felt himself being shaken at the shoulders. He struggled to blink his eyelids, and focus back in the real world. Jeremy was in front of him. It looked like he was shouting, but Mateo couldn’t hear anything. His ears were still only sensing the deafening sound of utter silence that only exists in the void. Finally, he broke himself out of the funk, and returned fully to his body.
“...you hear me! Something’s wrong!”
It was then that realized Mateo’s shoulders weren’t the only thing shaking. His whole self was, as well as Jeremy, and also the rest of the ship. He could also hear creaking and maybe the tearing of metal. “I know, I know! Let’s get out of burst mode.”
“We can’t!” Jeremy argued. “Leona’s been trying. Apparently, the computer is not responding.”
Mateo took a breath in, and let it out. The shaking stopped, as if he had done something to control it.
He looked over the edge to see most of the rest of the crew on the command floor, stopped, confused about what had just happened. He looked up to the third level  to see Angela, also looking down upon the chaos now trying to reorder itself.
Bbbbbbbbb-bu-bu-burst mode ret-ttttttttt-turning to nnn-normal,” Imzadi said in that stuttering computer voice we’re all familiar with. “Sorry about that, folks. Burst mode has returned to normal.
“Imzadi, please run a level three diagnostic.”
I’m in the middle of it, but I already know that the issue was due to external influence, rather than some kind of internal error within my systems. The hull was shaking, not me, and not because of burst mode.
“What, some kind of spatial anomaly? That’s not a thing,” Leona explained, though not Imzadi, who would already know that, but the rest of the crew.
“It was me,” Mateo said apologetically. Somehow, he had returned to the dream void, and it had created some kind of malfunction for the whole machine.
“What are you talking about?” Leona questioned, having no idea how that could possibly be the case.
I have some bad news,” Imzadi said. “We’re pretty far off course.
“How far?” Leona asked.
Imzadi did not reply.
“Imzadi, how far off course are we?”
Uh,” she replied, like she needed the linguistic hesitation mark. “About fifty-thousand. Fifty-six, actually.
“Fifty-six thousand AU isn’t that bad. We should still have time to get there, it’ll just be tighter. Let’s get back to where we were going, and hope it doesn’t happen again.”
Uh...fifty-six thousand...light years?” Imzadi asked in an interrogative voice, but not as a question.
“How is that possibly possible?” Leona pressed. “You are not equipped with such technology. Was there really a spatial anomaly? That was a joke.”
“I said,” Mateo began to repeat, “it was me.”
“Mateo, what are you going on about?” Leona asked, perturbed at the second interruption.
“Just let him speak,” Jeremy said supportively.
Mateo went into the story about what had happened to him yesterday, how he went to this pocket universe within the bulkverse type thing, where he met a bunch of other universe-hoppers, and basically experienced the cold reality of the true death, which was simply the absence of all but self-consciousness.
Of course, Leona had already heard all of this, but she didn’t understand how it related to today. “And you went back there?”
“Spontaneously,” Mateo confirmed, “yes.”
“And you think Imzadi, and the rest of us, went with you?” Leona figured.
“I do,” Mateo said. “If we technically traveled to another universe, it would explain how we ended up in a completely different location in this universe.”
Leona revealed a fake smile. “You’re learning a lot of astrophysics, and brane cosmology, I’m impressed. But also, what the fuck are you talking about? We didn’t go to a different universe, we would know. Even if you were capable of that, you wouldn’t be able to pull a machine of this mass in with you.”
“Well, do you have a better explanation? More importantly, do you have a way to get back home without it taking eighty years?”
Now Leona was really confused. “First of all, we don’t have a reframe engine in this thing. And secondly, if we did, how did you know it would take eighty years? Did you do that math in your head?”
Mateo thought about it for a moment, and still didn’t know how to answer that question.
Leona was upset, and feeling the burden of being the second smartest person in the room. Though, Imzadi wasn’t technically in the room, so... “Our only hope...” She checked her watch. “We have to be there in two hours, as long as my watch is accurate, which it might not be if we went to another universe—and I’m not saying we did.” She shook her head, but didn’t continue talking.
“Just say it, lady, we need him to do it again.” Sanaa didn’t have to be as sensitive when talking to her as most people, even including Mateo.
“That’s crazy,” Leona contended. “I’ve seen people do things like this, but not us. We don’t have powers. We’re salmon.”
“You’re not technically salmon,” Sanaa said, but she got the point.
“I almost died in the vacuum of space,” Leona began. “My children died there. We can’t...we can’t.” She sighed. “We have to get back, and if Mateo’s new bulk travel power can get us there, then...I guess we have to try.”
“What exactly am I meant to do?” Mateo asked, more to make sure everyone was fully aware that he didn’t exactly have a lot of experience with this newfound supposed power.
I have an idea,” Imzadi said tentatively.
The biggest problem, the AI realized, was not opening a door for Mateo to enter the dream void, but in navigating once he passed them all through. They could exit the universe here, and return a billion years in the past, or a trillion in the future, or a different reality. Or they could just get lost in the outer bulkverse, and end up in some other brane altogether. Or they could die. If they wanted to be on the edge of the helioshield at the very right moment, they had to come back in a very certain way. The Crossover was, in some way, capable of making these calculations. In fact, Chase Palmer from Universe Prime even suggested that most of bulk travel computational power was dedicated solely to navigation. Breaking a hole in the barrier was not the easiest thing ever, but not the hardest part either.
Individuals who could navigate the bulkverse, like the puncher, Limerick, and this one guy who wore a colorful coat, evidently did so upon their own psychic abilities. They were both born with this gift, and Mateo was decidedly not like them. Not even Imzadi was powerful enough to make these calculations, but perhaps the rest of The Parallel was. She called it the Milky Way blockchain, and it was their only way to tap into enough processing power to complete this mission. There was a protocol for requesting this sort of thing, but it was incredibly rare, and even rarer for someone’s request to be accepted. Even then, it took time for all the necessary gatekeepers to get back to the requester. Fortunately, Mateo and Leona enjoyed a special relationship with the natives, specifically, its creators, the Tanadama. Mateo knew them as Ramses Abdulrashid, and Kalea Akopa. So they only needed to reach out to these two people.
“I’ll do it,” Ramses agreed using his hologram avatar.
“We need to discuss this together,” Kalea argued, confused as to why Ramses would pretend he didn’t know that.
“This is that thing we talked about?” Ramses tried to remind her covertly. “A long time ago. I don’t survive unless...”
“You’re on that ship?” Kalea asked.
“No, but...I need their help. I need to get back to the main sequence.”
Kalea thought about it. “This year?”
“Next year,” Ramses clarified. “Preferably next year, at least. There’s some wiggle room.”
“You need us to do something for you next year?” Mateo asked and offered.
“I need a transition window back to 2140 in the main sequence. There’s something I have to do there, or I’ll die by the time I make it to this reality. Don’t worry, it’s not just about me. Lots of people could die if I don’t close my loop.”
“Say no more,” Mateo assured him. “We’ll be glad to help. That is, as long as your partner can accept the price.”
Kalea wasn’t going to accept immediately. She had to take the offer seriously, even though rejecting it evidently threatened everything they had built in the Parallel. “Very well. We will make the call. Go...rescue your whatever.”
Reaching out to every star system and rogue world in the entire galaxy was something not even the Tanadama were capable of. No single button did all that, for if it existed, a nefarious force could hypothetically exploit it for some agenda. There was, however, a loophole, and based on what little in the way of a description Ramses gave, Mateo surmised that the loophole was Mirage. It could have been some AI equivalent in this reality, but it sure sounded like her. However they did it, it worked. Imzadi reported a surge in computational power the likes of which she never thought she would have access to. Now all they needed to do was figure out how to get Mateo’s mind back to the void.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Exemption Act: I Did What I Had To (Part IV)

The problem with keeping The Sharice Davids—and this would be true of any ship, though there would be less at stake—was that they needed to get the vessel off the ground, and onto a vector without anyone outside the team noticing. There were ships that were capable of doing this, but they had to be quite small, and there was about a fifty-fifty chance of death. It was called darkbursting, and the downside to being invisible was that everything else was invisible to those in the ship as well. Even if the Sharice was capable of darkbursting, Carbrey would have to very carefully plot a path through interplanetary space without hitting anything, but also without being able to course correct. Again, though, it was impossible for an object of this mass anyway because it wasn’t small enough to be mistaken for space debris. Small objects did not appear on any but the finest of sensors, but while The Sharice was no interstellar colony ship, it was hard to miss.
“If I could still turn this thing invisible, I would,” Khuweka lamented.
“You used to be able to do that?” Limerick asked.
“I used to be able to do a lot of things,” Khuweka answered. “I could teleport anywhere in the world, I could diagnose any medical condition, lots of stuff. Then it all got taken away by a base modification in bladapodoverse.”
“What the hell is that?” Limerick pressed.
“On that version of Earth, there are these little creatures called bladapods. They release this sort of gas, which gets into everything, and changes it in unpredictable ways. I once met a woman with literal eyes in the back of her head. She had a son who could only speak in a sarcastic tone. And they lived in a house with constantly changing paint color. Sometimes it’s bad, sometimes it’s good, and other times it’s whatever. For me, it was bittersweet. My powers made me really popular, but that came with the same downsides that any celebrity experiences.”
“So, that’s all it did?” Zektene asked. “They removed your other powers?”
“Well, they made it so that I bleed out of my fingers every few months until I’m pretty much dry. Obviously it replenishes, but the more it happens, the weaker my abilities get. I can technically still do it.” She looked around until spotting a bottle of water on the table. She concentrated on it for a few moments until it disappeared. Then she picked up, and drank from it, showing that it was still there, just hidden.
“If you’re still capable of it, then I might be able to help,” Zek offered. “My abilities were created in a lab, and passed down the generations until evolving into something stable and usable. The scientists weren’t just working on teleportation, though. I remember one experiment they designed to enhance other people’s abilities. I never met this person in my reality, but they may exist in the reality that supplanted it. I think it’s worth a shot if Limerick here really is capable of traveling the bulkverse.”
“I am!” Limerick protested. “I think. I am, right? That’s what you said.”
“You are, yes,” Khuweka confirmed. “You ever try to punch someone, but you miss, and hit a wall, except there is no wall, it was just air?”
“I know I’m a drunk.”
“No, that’s what you’re doing,” Khuweka tried to explain. “When you punch at seemingly nothing, at the right spot, you can start weakening a point we sometimes like to call a thinny. If you continue to strike at it, this thinny will break, and you can cross over. Others can follow if the portal is large enough to stay open before spacetime heals itself.”
“Wait,” Limerick began, “do I have the ability to punch these so-called thinnies because I’m a bastard brawler, or am I bastard brawler because I can punch thinnies?”
“That I do not know,” Khuweka answered sincerely. “I have never heard of anyone who was born with this ability. Meliora learned it after spending centuries in a persistent meditative state. Zoey has to use a knife. Joseph has his coat. Every other form of bulkverse travel ultimately came from a single people’s ultimate invention, and they spent literal aeons working on it. It is an incredibly rare gift, even more so when you can grasp how unfathomably large the bulkverse really is. You are unique among undecillions upon undecillions of people, and I have no clue where you get it.”
Limerick acted like he had never heard anyone say anything nice about him before. He didn’t cry, or even tear up,but he did have to straighten himself out, and act like he had been there before. “Okay. So I just need to punch hard enough for everyone to get through? Doesn’t sound so hard.”
“Not everyone needs to get through,” Khuweka clarified. “It’s my problem, I’ll go alone.”
“That’s stupid,” Zek argued. “I’m the one familiar with that universe, so I will go escort you.”
“We’ll all go,” Andraste corrected. “If we’re going to be a team, then let’s be a team. I hear tell her universe is parked right next to mine. I should quite like to see that.”
“You won’t recognize it,” Khuweka warned Zek.
“Didn’t think I would.”
“It may be dangerous,” Khwueka continued.
Freya placed her hand on Khuweka’s shoulder, though it was highly uncomfortable, because of how tall she was. “We’re going. Limerick, do whatcha gotta go.”
Limerick took a breath. “Nobody help me. I wanna see if I can figure it out on my own.” He tried to punch the air, and honestly, it looked a little pathetic. “Forget you saw that. I’ve never swung this arm sober before, it don’t feel right.” He prepared himself, and tried again. His had better form this time, but still nothing happened.
“You have to find a thinny,” Khuweka reminded him. “It’s the difference between hitting a concrete wall, or solid wood. They’re both difficult, but the first one is nearly impossible. It might not be pleasant if you’re not inebriated. It might hurt.”
“No, I wanna do this clean. You were right, I haven’t felt this good since I was eight years old. Maybe you can teach me how to find a thinny, though?”

Khuweka walked him through the process of locating the weak spots in the spacetime continuum. They were all over the place, but ephemeral. And it wasn’t something a normal person could exploit for their own purposes. In fact, they were largely undetectable. Machines like The Crossover were so large that they could punch through that proverbial concrete wall at any spot, so no technology existed that could find them. That was just one more way that he was one of a kind. He did have his limitations, though. Not all universes were open to him. They had to be part of a network of bridges created by others, and these bridges could only be accessed at certain points in spacetime. Other bulkverse travelers had more freedom, but his gift was still impressive.
Limerick found his point of entry, and got to punching. It took him about a half hour to get all the way through, but Khuweka assured him that he would get better over time. He did have to keep going through all of it, however, because like an antlion’s pit-trap, the thinny would always start repairing itself as soon as he let go. Once he was finished, Landis and Carbrey helped him through the portal he had just created, following Khuweka on the frontline. Andraste went through next, followed by Freya and Zektene.
Limerick was instructed how to find a good egress location, using a psychic connection he evidently enjoyed with the bulkverse itself. They didn’t want to come out in the middle of a highway, or something, and Khuweka in particular needed to keep a low profile. Unfortunately, as this was Limerick’s first sober shatter portal, he didn’t get it quite right, and instead of the middle of the woods, they ended up in a park. By the time Freya got all the way through, the children and their parents had already stopped the fun they were having, and were staring at Khuweka’s unfamiliar appearance. They didn’t seem frightened, and no one tried to rush their kids away, but they were exuding optimistic caution.
A woman in a construction outfit was the only one brave enough to approach the team. “Where did you come from?” She was asking in order to obtain the information, not because she had never seen anything like it before.
“Let’s just say...another world,” Khuweka answered, using her own caution.
The construction worker nodded. “You probably ought to check in with Bellevue.”
“Is that a city, or...” Andraste began.
“It’s a city, and an agency,” the woman replied. “I believe they have a field office downtown, but Bellevue Proper is thousands of naykos away.”
No one seemed to have heard of that form of measurement before, but it sounded like miles or kilometers. She surely wouldn’t be talking about feet. “If you show us where it is on a map, we can get there on our own,” Zek told her.
“A teleporter, okay.” She pulled up her phone, and found Bellevue on the map.
Zek began to ferry the team there two at a time, saving Freya for last, who was able to see how indifferent the crowd was to seeing someone teleport. She couldn’t help but notice how different it looked. Normally, Zek would just disappear, but here she turned a shade of purple, and visible strands of energy flowed around her body. Before Freya too left, the children had already returned to their fun and games, having seen this sort of thing before.
They walked into the lobby of what, honestly, looked more like a hotel than some kind of government agency headquarters. The receptionist smiled at them, took down their info, and relayed it to the appropriate representative. Then she asked them to sit in the waiting room. No one else there was the least bit concerned about Khuweka’s form. This seemed like a nice world.
Five minutes later, a man came down from the hallway, and started shaking everyone’s hand. “Hello, my name is Luka Drake, Head of Base Security. Come with me to Conference Room C, if you will?” He led them down another hallway, and into the room. “Where are you all from?”
“Can we be perfectly candid?” Khuweka asked.
“I wish you would,” Luka confirmed.
“We are from a parallel universe. Actually, multiple universes. Now, you may have heard of alternate realities.”
He waved off the rest of her explanation. “We are aware of the bulkverse. We try to stick to the Composite Universe and Universe Prime, in order to avoid any temporal confusion. And we don’t crossover often.”
“Unfortunately, we do not have this luxury,” Khuweka continued. “You see, we are at war. At war with a race known as the Ochivari.”
He nodded. “I have never heard of them. Perhaps we simply use different words. Our historical records speak of a multiversal threat called the Maramon.”
“That is my race,” Khuweka revealed. “They are truly a threat as well, however a team is already working on that problem. I have assigned myself the Ochivari threat. We are attempting to quash them before they can even evolve. We were hoping to encounter an anomaly who can enhance my associate’s teleporting abilities. Our world is unaware of the threat, and we would like to launch from the surface without their knowledge, to protect them from the truth.”
“You betrayed your own race to help humans?”
“I did what I had to,” Khuweka said. “Still do.”
“Understood. So you’re looking for an anomaly who can enhance your abilities,” Luka echoed. “I have not seen Ambrose Richardson in quite some time, and we are not presently cognizant of his whereabouts. There are two options after that, but you will need Savitri’s permission for the first, and the agency’s permission for the second. The second is a permanent solution, albeit a bit less stable.”
“You know Savitri?” Khuweka asked, surprised.
“Not personally, but it was through studying her that our scientists were able to come up with a technological adaptation. We’re working on a drug, but it is not yet ready. We’ve had some bad history with ability-enhancement, and besides, that would only work on an anomaly.”
“I’m an anomaly,” Zek told him.
He was shocked. “You are?”
“I’m from an alternate timeline. I went back in time, and erased myself from the future. That’s how I ultimately ended up on this team, and how you ended up existing. Bellevue’s not a thing where I’m from.”
“Hmm...” Luka contemplated this new information. “As an anomaly, you are entitled to join the drug trial, if you would like. I can get you in quick for the price of an account of this alternate reality you come from.”
Zek looked to Khuweka for any hint that she should say no. Khuweka gave none. “Well, okay. I don’t see why not.”
Luka smiled. “I could probably throw in a booster platform if you also tell us what you know about these Ochivari. It enhances your power as long as you’re using it, and it’s designed to work with anyone, not just anomalies. Success not guaranteed, however; not with either of them. Only Savitri herself can guarantee results.”
“We’ll take it,” Limerick exclaimed. “Madam Kadrioza, tell the man what you know.”
“Hold on,” Andraste stopped them. “Let’s make sure we all know the details, and what’s at stake. I want to know more about this drug, and how far along you are in your research and development process. We are time travelers, let us not rush this.”