Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Microstory 1593: Leaving a Legacy

Prompt
I made a wish on a shooting star, and it actually came true. What I wished for...

Botner
...was to leave a legacy, and I have been living up to that ever since. The next question is...would I want to end it all? Maybe...but I would have to be crazy to give up now. Two hours later, I stood in the yard of my home in the small city of Bandar, in Central Asia, having just made a living pot with my own hands. Would I take up that trade for the rest of my life? No...I don’t want that life. The world needs more good guys like me, like everyone, not more killers. I will never end my life...if the world ends with a bang or a whimper, I will be a happy man. I look back down at the pot of light, illuminated with the fire I made and smile. I know...the world won’t end with a whimper...not any time soon, anyway.

Conclusion
Of course, I won’t see the world end, because I did not wish to live forever. Looking back, that would have probably been the better idea. If I could stick around, I wouldn’t need a legacy, I would just keep going, keep helping people. Only dead people have legacies, and they don’t even get to enjoy them. Still, I think I’ll be okay when I finally do die. I hold onto my newfound love of gardening, and help make the world a better place through it. I plant as many trees as I can. I sell seeds to keep the dream alive, and use it to buy up huge swaths of rainforests, to protect them from the deforestation companies. I’m not a hero, or a god, but I believe I’ve done my part. Perhaps no one will remember my name, but they will enjoy the literal fruits of my labor. They will sit under my trees, and walk amongst them, and watch the wildlife scamper, and crawl, and fly. Further in the future, my trees will die, but will seed the next generation, and my legacy will go on even then. It can’t be stopped. In the end, I’ll never really die, because what I have done is contribute to the persistence of life. No, I won’t be there to see it with my eyes, but I see it with my heart, and when the world finally does end—with that bang, or a whimper—I know I’ll at least have done everything I could to protect it.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Microstory 1592: Literally Can’t Get Out of Bed

Prompt
I fell asleep in my own bed last night, and I’ve woken up in a stranger’s.

Botner
As I blink and slowly adjust my eyes to the ceiling of the attic room of my new home, I see the bed I’ve been sleeping in isn’t just the bed of my past, but the bed of my future. And I can see that in the corner of the room I’ve been sleeping on for the last two days. “What the hell do you think you’re doing, you dirty rat?”

I open my eyes and recognize the voice coming from my left. I look to the floor, then quickly look up. Shocked, I sit up straight, my jaw gaping. Standing at the edge of the bed is a man in a blood-stained white suit, his black shoes stomping the wood floors of the room, his hands stuffed in his pockets. His black hair hung loose, partially covering his dark eyes, his rough and scuffed shoes seemingly out of place on the soft floors. “I thought you were my husband,” I try to scream, but my mouth has gone dry. My head is dizzy. I can barely see the man standing over me. “Who are you?”

He doesn’t answer. Instead he stares back. I jump to my feet, realizing the...

Conclusion
...immense danger that I’m in. I’m not supposed to be here. He knows it, I know it, and now he knows I know it, and now he knows I’m going to have to do everything I can to get the hell out of here. But first, I must break free. My ankles are chained to the bed post, and since I’m no Houdini, my only hope is to talk my way out of it. I don’t know what this guy wants with me—I never wronged him, as far as I remember, and that’s going to make it much harder. He might not want an apology, but he sure as hell will be pissed off if I can’t acknowledge his pain. Think, I think to myself. Think about the last time you saw him, and try to remember what went down. It was my dog. She pooped on his lawn, and even though I cleaned it up right away, he wasn’t happy. This can’t be what caused him to abduct me, though, is it? That’s an insane overreaction, even if I hadn’t picked it up. No, it has to be something else. That was probably just the proverbial back-breaking straw. What happened before? What is he so upset about? Oh, you know what, maybe he knows. Maybe he’s finally figured out that I’m the one who called the cops on him for having a huge party with strangers in the middle of a pandemic. Yeah, that’s probably it.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Microstory 1591: Everybody Knows

Prompt
I walk into the warehouse and discover that everyone I have ever known is here...

Botner
...okay, not everyone. All those children that died are haunting me...some are still alive but more haunting than others. I am screaming again, running around and kicking and screaming like a wild animal. But no matter what I do, I am only making myself even more nervous. Every time I scream, I can feel the sharp pains in my body...my bones...my muscles. Every time I try to touch anyone, I only end up hurting myself. “MOOOOMMM!” I scream, standing in front of an old woman wearing a black shirt with blood stains all over it. I run into the woman and sit down on the ground next to her, too scared to cry. I stare at the woman for a long time. I don’t know what is going on, but it looks like she doesn’t want me to scream anymore. “Mommy!” I scream.

“Listen to me. You will find out what you are. But it won’t be easy...I know this,” the woman said. I look at her as she stands up and starts walking away.

“I don’t want to know what I am, mommy...” I say quietly. The woman stops and looks back.

Conclusion
“I am not your mommy.”

She leaves the warehouse, but there are still plenty of people here with me, and they all frighten me. I never realized how comforting I found it to leave all the people I’ve met behind. My elementary school bully, my middle school girlfriend, and the famous second baseman who once signed my baseball, are all in the middle of what must be an uncomfortable conversation. My high school science teacher, and the doctor who delivered me are talking too. I don’t know that I would say I ever really met my doctor, but who knows what kind of weird robot aliens from the future are in control of this, or what their rules are. I never thought I would have to see these people again, and I never wanted to, even those I liked. It’s just weird, they’re supposed to stay in the past. Everyone is pretty much ignoring me. I’m not invisible, but they don’t seem all that interested in asking questions of the man who ties them all together. They don’t want to know why me, or what they’re supposed to be doing, or what’s going to happen. Finally, a young woman walks up to me. I babysat her once a few years ago because there was an emergency at the hospital where both her parents worked, and it was too short notice to get a real sitter. “So,” she begins, “how do you know Mary?”

“Mary? Mary who?” I don’t know a Mary.

“Mary, silly,” she repeats. “Everybody knows Mary. She’s why we’re all here.”

Mary? I look around again, and realize that that’s not my bully, or my girlfriend, or my science teacher. That could be my doctor, for all I know, but I think I only saw his profile picture once. That’s definitely the second baseman, but he probably wouldn’t remember me. And this girl here? I don’t recognize her at all, I was mistaken. I was mistaken about all of these people. They’re all strangers, and none of them is here for me, I have nothing to do with it. A woman appears up on the balcony, and looks over the crowd. She’s shocked, and as frightened of everyone as I was when I first showed up. Oh, that’s Mary. Yeah, I guess I do know her. We met at a bar once, and had a nice conversation, but she rejected my advances. I guess I never bothered to catch her name.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Tuesday, August 4, 2150

The clocks were moving about four or five times faster than they should have been. Leona started tapping on her cuff to see if there was any way to fix that. “That pause button you pressed,” she said after apparently discovering no remedy. “It has a wider range than we needed. We’re all frozen now.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Jeremy pointed out. “Angela is frozen from our perspective. Time is moving even slower for her?”
“Because I pointed the remote directly at her I guess?” Mateo said.
“Well, we have about six hours before our jump to...” Aeolia began.
“To 2153, Leona filled in. If we don’t break free of this by then, we’ll miss whoever it is we’re meant to transition. We may have already missed our chance.”
“I can’t press this button again,” Mateo said. “Angela is hurt. We need time to help her. More time than we have. We gotta find a way to unpause only us.”
“I can try a few things,” Danica revealed. “Miss Sarai, could you please assist me? The rest of you just keep an eye on her.”
Once Danica and Aeolia were gone, Leona knelt down, and pulled the mask off of the intruder. “I know this man. He’s younger, but it’s definitely him.”
Bran unmasked the other intruder. “This one isn’t younger. He’s about the same age that he was when we last saw him.”
Mateo peeked over at the older version. He never met the guy himself, but Leona and Bran had a hostile encounter with him in 2161. They were trying to retrieve the Escher knob, but he was hoarding it, along with several other temporal objects, under the false belief that they would protect him from the Deathspring.
“The scar on his hand,” Bran noted, “it’s where I shot the lockbox out of his grasp. Why does the younger version have the same scar? That makes no sense. It doesn’t happen for another fifteen years.”
Leona stood up, and checked the older version. Then she went back to the younger one, and cross-checked them a few more times. “It’s not exactly the same. It’s very similar, but...oh my God, he shot himself.”
“Excuse me?” Jeremy questioned.
“He came back in time, found his younger self, and shot him so they would match,” Leona posited, knowing how weird that theory was.
“That’s insane.”
“Uhh...yeah,” Leona agreed. “We don’t know who he is, or what his deal is, but it was clear from the start that he is not well.”
The older version started waking up, so Bran shot him with his stunner. “What are we going to do with him?”
“Can we take him to that time traveler prison?” Jeremy suggested. “Beaver Heaven?”
“Beaver Haven,” Leona corrected. “I’m not sure they would take him. As far as we know, he never threatened to expose us all to the world. The Warden doesn’t care about time criminals unless they risk the secret of the underworld.”
“They made an exception for Reaver and Ulinthra in an alternate timeline,” Mateo reminded her.
“Yes,” she concurred. “But they didn’t place them at the facility. They each got their own special prism, far removed from everyone else.”
“They had to,” Mateo realized. “Because it was against their code. And technically, none of the staff ever worked there. They outsourced the entire thing to distance themselves from it.”
“What does this all mean?” Jeremy asked.
“If we want to keep these two locked up,” Leona decided, “we’ll have to do it ourselves.”
“How do you lock up someone that no one can remember?” Jeremy asked. “Who’s gonna feed them, maintain their cell, or cells?”
“We’ll do it,” Bran decided. “We’ll stay with them until...well, they’ll both die eventually, right? Aeolia and I don’t seem to age, so what’s a few decades?”
“Kallias...” Mateo urged vaguely.
“Don’t worry about it,” Bran urged, less vaguely. “We’ll see each other again at some point. Time ain’t nothin’ but a thang. You may not even remember us.”
When he first started jumping forwards in time, Mateo realized he would have to say goodbye to everyone he loved. This truth has held despite the fact that half his friends are time travelers, and the other half are immortal. Everyone leaves eventually. Leona is the only one who has stuck by him. “If he’s in prison,” she began, “he won’t grow up to attack us in 2161. Even if we let him go, we wouldn’t have even been able to see him. This is a new reality, it has to be. We’ve changed things. What is the world going to be like in the future?”
“That’s not the biggest question,” Mateo said. “The real question is, how do we deal with our alternate versions when we run into them? If they’re not predestined to one day turn into us, what will we do?”
Like an ominous answer from a mysterious God, the lights all shut off at once, following that familiar thump from the main power switch. The darkness lasted about thirty seconds, at which point Mateo discovered Bran to be gone, along with the two versions of the man. Danica walked in from the back alone, and showed no signs that she should have been anything but. No one else seemed to have the sense that they were missing two members of their group. When Mateo checked the stash of Cassidy cuffs, he found all five extras. Not even Danica was still wearing hers, for she only needed it so she could interact with the retgone coiners. Why was he still able to maintain his memory of their friends? What had changed in him that didn’t change for Leona, and for that matter, why not Nerakali?
“Thanks, everyone,” Danica started, “for helping me fix the power.” They did what? What did these people think just happened?
Angela sat up on the couch. “What happened? Why do I feel both energized and tired at the same time?”
“The answer is...don’t think about it,” Mateo said to her. They all seemed cool with this nonexplanation.
Their cuffs beeped. “Well, this was a nice break,” Jeremy said. “We have to get back to it, though. It’s not far from here.” A break?
“Beaver Haven Penitentiary,” Leona noted. “Oh, it’s 2150.”
“What’s the significance of this year?” Mateo questioned.
Danica took this one. “The prison is designed to hold those they deem guilty for the duration of their entire lives, and these people are taken from all over time and space, both the past, and the future. So it doesn’t need to exist throughout all of time. It just needs to be big enough to contain all those people until they die out. Based on minimal turnover, a hundred and sixty-three years is that figure. It will soon be shut down, if it wasn’t already earlier this year.”
“We’re already in the main sequence,” Angela pointed out, “so let’s just go find out what’s happening. I’m not a huge fan of prisons, so I wouldn’t mind seeing one close forever.”
The four of them left Danica and the dimensional destroyer behind, so the former could help the latter get back to wherever it was she belonged. Mateo was the only one acutely aware that they never needed her to do anything for them. The others only had a vague recollection that they recruited her to stop some disaster in The Constant, which apparently never took place. They didn’t know why, and they didn’t wonder about it either. While they were on their way to the prison, Mateo felt like there weren’t enough people in their group, and not just because they suddenly lost two of them. Four was too low a number, but they only ever had more than that for organic reasons. Never before had they attempted to recruit anyone else into the mission, so this was liable to be their current maximum, at least for a while. Again, the three others didn’t seem bothered by this.
They arrived at the prison to find it eerily empty. All the cells were just left open, and it was mostly silent, except for some noises coming from the offices above. They headed for them, and walked into the Warden’s lobby area. “Oh, God,” she said. “What are you people doing here?”
Jeremy checked the time. “Someone is about to be transitioned to an alternate reality from here. Know anyone whose life needs saving?”
She plopped herself on her chair, amongst all the half-packed boxes, and small piles of trash. “There’s one. Have you ever heard of a man by the name of Ambrosios?”
“Yeah.” Mateo looked at his wrist. “He’s dead.”
“Not quite yet. He will be come midnight.”
“You’re executing him?” Leona questioned.
“I can’t keep doing this,” the Warden explained. “I can’t keep the prison open forever. I certainly can’t keep it open for only one immortal.”
“So you’re just gonna kill him?” Leona pressed. “For convenience?”
“He doesn’t wanna be trapped forever. This is best for everyone, including him.” The Warden leaned forward, and rested her elbows on the desk. “Unless you have some way around it? That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?”
“Who are we talking about?” Jeremy asked.
“A true immortal,” Leona answered. “At least, he should be. They’ve come up with some way of making his power wear off. We never found out how.”
“There’s only one way,” the Warden said. “It has nothing to do with making his immortality wear off.”
“That’s how it was done in the reality where I come from,” Mateo explained.
“Are you sure?” she asked.
“I saw his body,” Mateo replied.
The Warden nodded. “Did you see it just once, or did you check in on it after a few years?”
“Wull...I guess it was just once,” Mateo revealed.
“Then he probably wasn’t really dead. There are ways to suppress some aspects of true immortality, but not all of them, and they will eventually come back and survive. Unless...”
“Unless what?” Leona was suspicious.
“Lucius Carlisle has agreed to help us in this matter,” the Warden finally said.
Leona scoffed and shook her head. “You’re gonna make him do that.”
“Like I said, he agreed.”
Leona was in the mood to fustigate. “Lucius Carlise is a good person who does everything he can to do that right thing. And people like you keep exploiting him, and running his progress!”
“He agreed.”
“Stop goddamn saying that!”
“It’s okay, Leona,” Lucius said from the doorway. “I’m okay.”
“No!” Leona continued to fight. “We’re not doing this! We’ll take Ambrosios to The Parallel, where they will help him in their own ways. They can probably treat his mental issues.”
“We can’t keep relying on the natives to fix everything for us,” Angela reluctantly reminded her. “They’ve made too many exceptions to their noninterference policy already.”
“I don’t care!” Leona went on, her voice still raised.
Mateo didn’t want to listen to this anymore. He turned around, and took Lucius by the hand. “Come on, we need to talk.”
No one followed them, either because they didn’t guess what Mateo was planning to do, or didn’t notice. He led Lucius down the steps, and into one of the empty cells. Once they were there, he retrieved one of the extra Cassidy cuffs, and handed it to Lucius. “You’re going to teach me how to use your power.”
Lucius regarded the cuff, but didn’t reach for it. “You don’t have to do that. I really am fine.”
“You say that now, but every time you kill someone, a little bit of your soul flakes off. I’ve seen it in your eyes.”
“And that won’t happen to you?”
“I’m an alternate version of Mateo Matic. No, my soul doesn’t matter.”
“That’s not how it works.”
“It does in my case. I know what my options are. At some point, the real Mateo and I are gonna have to make a decision about how to proceed, and I fully intend to...just die.”
“You say that now,” Lucius echoed.
“People always make excuses for me, so when I kill, it’s an aberration. When you kill...” Mateo placed the cuff on Lucius’ wrist, and was met with no protest. “...it’s Tuesday, and a little racist. So you have to avoid it every chance you get. Besides,” he said with a smile. “I can erase people’s memories if I want.”
“Thank you,” Lucius said. “I owe you a favor.”
“This will be the last we see each other.”
“How do you know?”
“I just feel it. You have your destiny, and I have mine. They’re in opposite directions. Now. How do I molecularly teleportize someone?”

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Big Papa: The Beyond (Part V)

I realize how odd it is that I feel the need to clear my throat while I’m in a simulation. Sure, my body is still in the real world, and I’m hooked up to an access terminal, but I don’t think that’s it. The Designers must have determined that people won’t accept this world if it’s too perfect. They spent their whole lives having to clear their throats on occasion, and it probably made the early adopters uncomfortable not to. We do enjoy some control over such things. It’s possible to make yourself feel hungry, so that the magnificent food—which can be prepared precisely to one’s personal tastes—actually feels satisfying, but if you’re not into food, you can also just disable that code, and always feel full. I would try to find out if there’s a similar feature for having a lump in my throat because I’m nervous about my speech, but I don’t have time to look into it, because I have to...ya know, give the speech. The Level Tens are sitting patiently in their seats, but that patience will run out unless I prove to them I’m not just wasting their time. Gilbert and Nerakali are sitting in chairs up on the stage with me, right next to Lowell. I didn’t ask them to do that, but seeing as I’m not announcing this year’s hottest new phone, it’s appropriate for me to be one in a group, even if they never speak.
“My name is Ellie Underhill, and it’s important that you understand that the first draft of this speech was written by Abraham Lincoln, and proofread by The Superintendent. I tell you this, not to humanize me, but to illustrate just how amazing the worlds you built are. Abraham Lincoln is here, and I met him, and I’m sure many of you have as well. Some of you may not know who I am, but I’m the one who originally conceived the concept of the afterlife simulation. I didn’t design the levels, and I certainly didn’t code the actual framework, but I do feel responsible for all of you, and for everyone else here. Due to time travel, I’m thousands of years old, and what I’ve learned in that time is that death...is fucking bullshit. Side note: Lincoln did not curse in his draft; I added that line myself. Because I want to be clear that the whole reason I thought of this place is that I don’t think death is fair. We didn’t choose it for ourselves, evolution did. And evolution is not a conscious being, like we are, so what gives it the right to make such an important decision? Evolution is all about survival traits, and humanity can transcend that.
“I won’t try to turn you against Tamerlane Pryce. Whatever opinion you have of him is fine. I wasn’t around before, because the time travel I was telling you about held me up, and by the time I returned, things were complicated with the other designers. I’m here now, though, and I’m ready to listen. If you have any ideas of how to improve the system—improvements that you’re not authorized to make yourself—I want you to feel comfortable coming to me. From what I gather, Pryce kept his office door pretty open, and I plan on doing the same.”
“Is it true that he’s in prison?” calls a voice from the audience. There’s a little bit of commotion in response.
“It’s true, yes,” I say, thinking it’s best to be honest. That doesn’t mean I want to make myself look like the bad guy here, so I continue, “but I did not overthrow him, and put him there. I came at this bureaucratically, and he placed himself in that position all on his own. The creation of the simulation did not come without some unplanned, and irreversible, consequences. My friend died, and I confronted him about it. He didn’t kill her on purpose, but nevertheless, she’s gone, and not even the afterlife could save her. He has decided that showing his regret for those events is what’s best for everyone, and I agreed to step into his shoes so that the program can continue to run smoothly. Thank you for that question. I had a little bit more of the speech, but let’s open the floor to any questions, comments, concerns.”
A man stands up. “Hi, my name is Jabez Carpenter. Voted most improved. I know you by reputation, and I for one, am glad at the change in leadership.” He looks around to gauge his approval rating. “I think we can all agree that Pryce was a dick, and he deserves to rot in the hock for the rest of time. Maybe that’s just me, I dunno.”
Maybe three-fourths of the crowd claps and cheers at this. Many of the rest just don’t seem to feel the need to express themselves, but I do notice a not insignificant number of frowny faces. The great thing about being in here is that I can record everything I see, so I’ll analyze the crowd later, and use AI to make a list of everyone I may need to be worried about. It’s a little dystopian, but I have to protect this place. This is not a democracy, and it never has been. I honestly wouldn’t have built it that way, because people are stupid when they get in a mob, and they can’t be trusted. It sounds really pretty on paper, and it’s a nice thing to strive for, but at the end of the day, the king gets it done. I just have to remember to listen to input.
A woman stands up now, and doesn’t introduce herself, but people take notice immediately, and the room grows silent out of deference to her. “What news of The Beyond?”
I sigh, because I’ve never heard of that. Pryce left many things that I will need to learn, but they’re not organized, because he never planned on stepping down. “I’m afraid—and I hope not to lose your confidence for it, but—I don’t know what that is.”
“We don’t either,” the woman explains. She’s not as perturbed about my ignorance as I would have thought. “He’s been teasing its release for the last three hundred or so years, claiming that it’s the next logical step in our species’ development. Species, I believe, refers to dead people, rather than humans in general. He says it’s really exciting.”
I look over to my people. Nerakali shrugs, while Boyce shakes his head. Lowell doesn’t bother showing me he doesn’t know, because he couldn’t. I look back to the audience. “I will look into this for you, and if I can give you more information about it, we will schedule another meeting to discuss. I would like to know, however, is this privileged information, or does everyone in the simulation know about it?”
“Level Nine and above,” the woman replies. “Not even the Architects have heard of it. This is strictly confidential.”
“I appreciate the information,” I say. “Anything else?”
No one has anything, so I close the meeting, and people begin to disperse. I turn to my people. “Pryce is a genius, but the most disorganized person I know. His notes are a mess, and some of it is in code. Could you help me figure out what this beyond is? I’m worried it’s some kind of true death program.”
“It’s not,” comes a voice from behind me. I turn to find a teenage-looking girl standing there, like a student who’s too afraid to ask her question for the whole class to hear.
“You know what it is?”
“Pryce chose me as a world-builder for it. I’m actually the last he appointed before he went into hock, which is why I never got a chance to actually go.”
I look around, paranoid. “Let’s go to my office.”
We teleport to my office, which I chose to place in Gilbert’s special anti-spying section of the simulation that he calls Purple Space. I feel the safest here. The five of us sit around a table to discuss this mysterious new thing. “First off, what’s your name?”
“Aldona, sir. Aldona Calligaris.”
“Please don’t call me sir. We’re equals here.”
Aldona looks at her own gray clothes, and at my rainbow outfit. “Okay.”
I smile, not wanting to make it any more awkward. “What can you tell me?”
“I went through orientation, but never made the jump over, which is good, because I’m the only one capable of telling you about it. Contrary to what you’ve been told thus far, you and your friends are not the first Level Elevens. I don’t have an exact count, but from what I gather, a couple dozen others have been resurrected.”
“Where did they go?” I question.
Aldona continues, “apparently another universe?”
“Wait,” I stop her. “This is important, is it another universe, or another reality?”
“He called it a universe. He also called it a brane.”
I nod. An alternate reality is created when someone goes back in time and changes something about history. Sometimes, the traveler is in a loop, and can’t change anything, but is only fulfilling a predestiny. If they can change something, then the new timeline will replace the old one. There are a few concurrent timelines, which exemplify the true definition of an alternate reality, but the terms are mostly interchangeable. Another brane, however, is something completely different. It has different worlds, and different people, and a completely different history. It may even have different physical laws, and unrecognizable evolution. Any similarities between any two branes are either coincidental, or deliberately generated by whoever created the brane, if it even was created; most of them form naturally. Perhaps the most important difference is that time moves separately in a separate brane. When you exit one, and go to another, unless you have some control over navigation, there’s no telling where in the timeline you’ll end up. There’s no connection between when it is for you in one versus the other. Basic time travel is dangerous enough, but this adds a whole new level of complexity.
“What is he doing with this other brane?” Nerakali asks. When I knew her when she was alive, she decidedly had no experience with other branes, but that was a hell of a long time ago from her perspective. I don’t know what she knows now.
“It’s our future home; a physical universe, where we can start new lives. Once everyone is resurrected, that’s where they’ll go. Supposedly. The best of the best world-builders are promoted, so we can use our skills to terraform actual planets in a non-virtual environment. Once we leave, all memory of our existence is wiped from everyone else’s minds. Even if someone learns of the Beyond, Pryce has always just erased their memories. It’s the only time he will manipulate someone’s agency.”
“How would he get to this other brane?” I ask, not necessarily expecting anyone to be able to answer. “That’s not something just anyone can do. The Superintendent can count on his fingers how many different methods of bulk travel there are. Most people will need a third hand to keep counting, but no more than that.”
“That I don’t know,” Aldona says, needlessly apologetically. “I only know I was meant to meet someone named Hogarth Pudeyonavic once I was resurrected, but I never got to use my whitecard, so...” Yep, Hogarth is one of the ways to travel the bulkverse. It’s time to unplug, so I can find her.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Microstory 1590: Isolated

Prompt
I have the ability to feel other people’s pain, but I can’t do anything about it, so I’ve moved out to the middle of nowhere, and plan to avoid people as much as possible.

Botner
Not just to protect myself, but also to help the curse on my life disappear as soon as I can. I’m stuck here, in the middle of nowhere, by my lonesome. No one knows where I am. And that scares me more than I can explain, as it means that they’re all waiting for me to turn up again, and either find me or confront me. I’m not good at hiding things. I have a very bad conscience. It feels as if my chest would burst from the weight of what I’ve been through. But I’m not alone in the house, or in the hills. I have a loving cousin who understands my curse, and who has promised to hide me and help me as much as he can. I have friends, too, who believe in me and who I can talk to about anything. I feel my power is growing, too. I’m seeing power in objects around me that wasn’t there before, and my curse is helping it happen. It’s getting harder to hide. I’m only hiding myself because it’s safer than talking to my neighbors, who think I’m a dangerous psychopath. Even though I’m not. With...

Conclusion
...everything going on in the world right now, I should look quite normal as a hermit, but you know people, they talk. For the last week, my satellite internet has been down, and I don’t know how to fix it myself. I keep trying to force myself to go into town to get some help, but I just can’t do it. It hurts too much. Now that I know how much easier life is when there’s no one around to mess with my feelings and senses, I can’t go back to how it was. I don’t want to spend another minute around another person. My cousin hasn’t attempted to come help me, even though I missed our weekly video chat check-in. He’s given up, as have my friends. I look around the cabin for something to do, but I didn’t bring a whole lot of entertainment with me, because I was intending to stay connected to the world virtually. Another week goes by, and I still haven’t worked up the courage to seek help. I have, however, given the simple life a real shot. My garden is blooming, and I am loving the long walks I take through the woods. Maybe I don’t need the internet at all. Even without my curse forcing me into it, maybe this is the best life I could have asked for. Right now, I’m farther from my home than I ever have been before, and it turns out I’m pretty close to some campgrounds. I hear music in the distance, but there’s only one tent within my pain-sensing range. It must be empty, though, because I’m not feeling any pain, emotional or physical. I turn back, glad that I didn’t run into anyone else, when a woman appears from around the bend, holding a stack of firewood. It’s amazing, I don’t feel anything but serenity, love, and joy from her. I don’t know if that means she isn’t feeling any pain, or there’s just something different about her. I wonder what my life could be life if we were together, just me and her. I would no longer have to be alone, and my curse wouldn’t matter anymore. She smiles at me politely, completely unaware of how incredibly magnificent she is, and how great it feels just to be around her. I can’t tell her, either. She wouldn’t understand, and it would just make her uncomfortable. All I can do is tip my hat, walk past her, and move on with my life without ever seeing her again.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Microstory 1589: The Bear Ate My Tail

Prompt
My son came home crying after spending the weekend at his mother’s, but he wouldn’t tell me why.

Botner
He was never very clear about what happened to him there. He hated to talk about it, so I had to pry it out of him. “Mom, there was a bear,” he said. A bear? “Mom, it ripped me apart and ate my tail, and the bear was a monster!”

Something was different. My mind kept clicking back to the bear, and I realized my son had a horror story to tell. “Sylar?”

I tried to listen to him, but there was something in his tone of voice that told me he didn’t want to tell me. “The bear ate my tail off. It went down the throat and ripped through the skin. There’s nothing there anymore, Mom. It’s not my tail anymore. It’s no longer me. There’s nothing.”

I stared at him, wanting to believe him. But I knew better. I picked him up and held him. “But I just saw you that day. You’ve got your tail, baby. I saw it.”

He smiled at me and squeezed me. “Mom, don’t you believe me? It’s just a story that people tell so they can scare kids and get their money.” A kid shivering in the woods, not knowing what happened to him, unable to tell me anything about it? I wondered if his mother had made him write that story. That was the only reason a six-year-old boy would lie to his mom. He wasn’t telling the truth.

Conclusion
My ex-wife and I have a pretty decent relationship on the whole, but things get a little competitive when it comes to our son. It’s like she wants to throw me off my game, and make it hard for me to get him to be honest with me when it’s my time with him. We have a complicated schedule. I have him in my tree for the five weekdays, and then she gets him for the weekend, and then we do it again, except I hold onto him for that next weekend, and she ends up with the weekdays after that. I don’t know why we came up with that. Or ya know what, I think I do. This is just another way for her to control where he is, and what he does. As squirrels, we have to be really careful about how we raise our children, or we really will get eaten by bears. I guess she thought I would be scared he was telling the truth, and he truly was attacked by a bear. I have to get her back somehow, as petty as that sounds. Perhaps I’ll steal her winter nuts.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Microstory 1588: Inside Rain

Prompt
It’s raining inside my house
There’s not a hole in the roof, or anything
There just appears to be a magical tiny cloud in here
Full of rain

Botner
I’ll turn on the lights
It’s nothing
“There it is again. There’s rain in here”
There are streams of tiny droplets flying around inside my house
There are rivulets running from the sink
The ceiling fan is swirling
It is pouring water outside, but inside, the rain doesn’t stop
The amount of rain isn’t right for the space
It’s somehow magically getting sucked in here
There’s a web of tiny clear water drops suspended in the air in the kitchen
There are tiny strands of electric current floating in the air
Between my hands and the lights
It’s raining inside my house, and I can’t turn it off
I am hopelessly lost, unable to find the source of the rain
I am losing control
I am at war
This is what it’s like to have a migraine
I’m screaming at people, but they’re no longer there
The world is completely warped
I start bleeding from the eyes
They feel like they’re about to fall out
I’m so confused, I can’t find the words
There’s a carpet of sunflowers with tiny flecks of...

Conclusion
...of diamonds and gold
It’s money I can’t use
I won’t
It’s raining inside my house, and I don’t want it to stop
It washes away my past
It clears a way to the future
“You have to get your house in order,” they say
Well here I am, I’m doing it
I’m cleaning
I’m letting go of everything holding me back
I couldn’t do it better myself if I tried
Nothing is as powerful as this
As exacting
As relentless
It’s raining inside my house
And when it stops, I will be free

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Microstory 1587: Nonstop

Prompt
I found a treadmill on the side of the road, and started using it the next day. I could literally see the fat dripping off of my stomach as I was running.

Botner
A dude riding a bike passed me, looked at me, and said, “if you’re on there, you must be a junkie, you can’t be running.” Unfortunately, it took two months of running on that treadmill before my body could actually move again. I was basically incapacitated. I was barely able to stand or walk. But every time I went to the store, or a restaurant, I told people I was a military veteran. That was all I could remember—how to tell people I was in the military and that I had been hurt. People told me I needed to go to the VA for help, and I thought they were right. They were asking me if I was drunk, which at the time I was not. When I went to the VA, they said, “Well, we can’t give you any drugs because you haven’t been diagnosed. You just had your wrist blown off. But if you stop taking the treadmill, you’ll die.” They didn’t know what was going on with my brain. They were just looking at me like, “you’re scaring us. You need to get off of this machine.” That was the most dehumanizing...

Conclusion
...experience of my life, and I felt like crap for lying to people. I had never heard of stolen valor before, but I knew the whole time that it was wrong. I stopped telling the lie, but that wasn’t my most pressing problem. If I spend more than two days off of this treadmill, the fat I lost starts coming back. It comes back fast, like the frost on a windshield when the heater doesn’t work, and all you have is wiper fluid. It doesn’t stop either. When I first tried to take a break, I gained even more weight than I had when I started using the damn thing. Who would do this to me? Who would leave this cursed treadmill out there for anyone to pick up, knowing what it would do? I learn to run twice a day, just to be safe. I don’t have to run several miles, or anything, but I can’t leave it be for too long. It’s like the machine is a pet, and requires frequent attention, or it’ll start chewing up my shoes. I wish that those were the consequences. I would take a closet full of destroyed shoes over this nonstop life of running. The dude on the bike rides back up to my garage during my workout one day. “There’s a way to stop this from happening, you know. You can even keep all that fat off. All you have to do is give the treadmill to someone else.” What is he, the girl from The Ring? No, I’m not doing that, I’m not subjecting someone else to this horror. It ends here. It ends with me. But I’m not running anymore either. I take the treadmill out to the middle of an empty field, douse it with lighter fluid, and set the wretched thing on fire. I hope that ends the curse, but if it doesn’t, at least it won’t be able to hurt anyone else. The next day, the fat starts to return again, and it doesn’t stop. At my peak, I weigh 1,500 pounds. But then a funny thing happens. I start losing the weight again. It just rolls off me, and I have to take it out with the garbage. I’m happy for a while, satisfied that I broke the curse, but then I start to wonder if I did. Maybe the treadmill can’t be destroyed, and some other poor schmuck just happened to find it out in that field.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Microstory 1586: Leave For Dead

Prompt
I was supposed to be watering my neighbor’s plants while she was out of town, but I completely forgot all week. When I finally get inside, all of her plants are dead...and so is my neighbor.

Botner
I’m not the only person who failed to water her plants. Over the past few months she’s had an extreme decline in her health. As her health deteriorated, she just kind of faded away. She became a shadow of her former self. I had a conversation with her one night that was the last I spoke with her. She said that she didn’t know how much longer she’d last. I think I’ll go visit her again tomorrow to say my goodbyes. I’d be okay with the fact that I don’t remember the woman’s face, but I do remember her voice. She used to sound kind of annoying...but now she sounds like an angel. I’ll call you tomorrow. Hopefully I’ll see you tomorrow, Ms. Bailey. Goodbye. RIP Ms. Bailey. I haven’t been writing much lately because I’ve been so busy. Every day I leave work and have to rush home and eat dinner, then rush right back to work until I go to bed. I feel like I’m doing nothing with my life. I wish I could be a professional shopper or a sex addict. I’ve been considering joining a couple of...

Conclusion
...support groups, but I’m too afraid to tell my story. I mean, am I responsible for her death? How long did it take? Was she lying there in pain for an hour? An entire day? Had I gone over there to water her plants like I promised I would, might she still be alive? No one knows what I did; how I neglected her, and I just want to put the whole thing behind me, but the guilt is eating me up. On my way to the funeral, I debate whether I should tell her family what I did, but I’m leaning towards keeping my mouth shut. It won’t help them, and will only serve to assuage my own remorse, and even that probably won’t help anyway. It does no one any good. I check my watch, and the obituary three times, but realize that I’m not early, or in the wrong place. It’s just that I and one other guy are the only ones who have showed up. I ask him how he knew Ms. Bailey, and he tells me that he sold her a lot of indoor plants over the years. “That woman was a serial killer,” he says with a laugh. “She just kept needing to replace them over and over again.” He also says he always enjoyed delivering them to her, even though it wasn’t a service that they provided, because they had such great conversation. He explains that she was agoraphobic, and never left the house, so it is unlikely she ever intended to leave town. It dawns on me that the whole thing was a ruse, and Ms. Bailey just wanted a second person to talk to. I failed her more than I knew.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Tuesday, August 1, 2147

Mateo wanted to get better. He wanted to get back to his zen, and he wouldn’t have been able to get anywhere without having it as a goal. Angela was vital to his recovery, and they only needed to meditate and do breathing exercises for a couple hours before he was back to his new normal. He kept a little edge in his heart, though, which he didn’t tell her about. Come the next day, they might need to fight someone, and being able to experience a sense of urgency could be useful. They knew enough about what was going to happen to save lives, but not enough to stop whatever it was they needed saving from, so being prepared to encounter an enemy was only logical. Staying calm and centered was great and all, but it wasn’t the best in all situations. A true master of his self understands this paradox, and knows when to exploit it.
Leona was gone for the rest of the day, and until the next year, but they remained connected through the cuffs. She wasn’t saying much about what she was doing, but reported that everything was fine, and that she was continuing to work on it. The first day of August, 2147 would be their last consecutive day—that is, the last that fell on Mateo and Leona’s original pattern. After this, they would jump over three years, and then another three years, and then another. From here on until whenever the transitions stopped, they were back to the true Bearimy-Matic pattern. Whatever happened today—whatever the consequences—they wouldn’t know what they were for awhile, and that was pretty stressful. Losing an entire year at a time was nerve-racking enough, but a three year jump was ridiculous now that they were so used to the old ways.
They were minutes from the next transition window, and Leona wasn’t back yet. She also hadn’t checked back in for an hour, and everyone was getting worried. “We’ll have to go without her,” Mateo acknowledged.
“I can’t believe you just said that,” Bran said.
“He’s enlightened again, remember?” Aeolia reminded him.
“If we have a chance to save Danica’s life, we have to take it. For now, I’m going to assume Leona is just incommunicado, and not hurt or dead.”
“Her vitals are fine,” Jeremy pointed out.
“See?” Mateo said. “Her vitals are fine. Wait, how do you know what her vitals are?” Jeremy responded right away, but Mateo realized at the same time, “the cuffs. Right, it’s always the cuffs.”
Angela climbed down the steps wearing her action suit.
“Are you coming with us?” Aeolia asked.
“I’m not staying with the ship again,” Angela replied with a sour face. “I’m older than all of you combined.” She looked up into the aether, and started vaguely counting on her fingers. “Well, maybe not...but I’m more skilled than you give me credit for. You hear that I died in the nineteenth century, and act like I would be amazed to encounter a microwave, but the afterlife simulation keeps pace with Earthan technology. I don’t know why, it should be more advanced, if anything, but I guess Pryce stunted development deliberately. Still...” She removed a bouncy ball from her pocket, and threw it down on the floor. It bounced against walls and tables and chairs, eventually ending up kind of heading back towards her, but not really. She reached out and caught it with ease, and without even ever looking at it, like a real life superhero. It was honestly pretty hot. “I know what I’m doing.”
“Is that...?” Bran started to ask.
“Some sort of magic ball?” Angela guessed he was going to ask. Suddenly, a handheld device flew towards her face. She leaned back out of its way, and let it pass her. Then she reached out like before, matched its speed as if soared towards the wall, and snatched it up. “No.” She casually tossed the device back to Jeremy, who was trying to test her. “You can do literally anything in a simulation, and with that freedom, people usually like to play around with physics. But I realized that I could improve myself if I stuck to the worlds that coded natural physics, and practiced skills like that, free from consequences. I can juggle three chainsaws, if you’d like.”
Their cuffs beeped, indicating that the transition window would be opening in one minute. “We don’t have time,” Bran said, disappointed.
“We still don’t have Leona either,” Aeolia stated the obvious.
Right on time, Leona teleported in, holding the hand of a stranger. “Sorry we’re late.”
Jeremy tossed her her action suit, and she caught it as well as Angela, and as if she knew it would be coming.
“Who is this?” Mateo asked.
“None of your goddamn business!” the young girl shouted.
“I know of her from the future,” Leona told them as she was putting on her suit. “I can’t say what she did for my people while she’s here, but if we encounter a portal in The Constant, she’ll be able to close it for us.”
“She doesn’t seem to wanna do that,” Angela noted.
“Like she said, I’m here!”
“She’s just a little bit nasty,” Leona explained. “I did not coerce her into coming, though. She just likes to be difficult.”
“Your face’s butthole was difficult for your mom last night.”
“Lovely.”
With that, the window opened up, and Nerakali defenestrated all of them.
They were still linked to the substitute Savior section, which none of them had ever been to before. They didn’t know how to get out of it, or where to go. They all held out their stun weapons, doing their best to mimic what they had seen on TV, but besides Bran, and apparently Angela, none of them had any real experience with this sort of thing. It was for this reason that Bran took point, though Mateo realized he and Aeolia probably didn’t need a weapon at all. None of them would if they had just taken the time to practice each other’s abilities. Next mission break they got, they would do that.
They continued down the passageways, which proved that this place was much larger than they knew. Before too long, though, things started looking a little more familiar, and Leona was able to lead them to the foyer, which was where Danica was most of the time. They found her at the reception desk, sitting there with a smile, which was weird, because a man in a creepy mask was standing at her flank. “Oh hey, guys. How did you get in here? I never sent out invitations.”
“Who are you?” Mateo demanded to know.
“I’m your cousin..from another timeline.”
“No, I know that, Dani. Who’s that?”
Danica looked over her shoulder. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I do,” Aeolia said. “He’s another coiner. He doesn’t think we can see him.”
The masked man took a knife out of a sheath, and held it against Danica’s throat. She became frightened, though was still unaware of why. If anyone would naturally be able to see people who had flipped a retgone coin, it should be her, but not even she was immune to its effects. “Mateo, what’s going on? Why am I so scared?”
“What are you doing at that desk,” Leona began, “at that computer?”
“Well, I was just...I dunno, what was I doing?”
“Keep going,” the evil coiner growled.
“Don’t keep going,” Aeolia countered.
“Keep! Going!” the man growled again, but a little louder this time.
“Stop!” Bran ordered. This back and forth was gonna get real old.
“Wait,” Mateo said, hoping to play mediator here. “Tell us what you want.”
“I want..to destroy..everything!
“That’s stupid,” Jeremy couldn’t help but say.
“Keep! Going!” the man repeated.
“Angela,” Mateo began. “Remember that ball game we played earlier?”
“Umm...yes?”
“I would really like to play that again. Like, now.”
Angela took the ball back out, and threw it over to the far wall, where it started bouncing around. Slightly distracted, the man released his grip on Danica for a split second, which was all Mateo needed. He dropped his stun weapon, and pulled out his teleporter pistol so he could shoot Danica with a time bullet. She disappeared before the man could react, and even when he did, it didn’t matter. Both Jeremy and Leona stunned him.
“Tie him up,” Bran barked.
“Where did you send her?” Leona asked Mateo.
“Up to the surface,” he answered. The elevator started rolling, prompting the rest of them to instinctively hold up their weapons again. “Wait”, he said, gently lowering Leona’s. “It’s probably just her, coming back down, and wondering why she’s not where she’s supposed to be.
It was her, but it wasn’t just her. When they doors opened, they found another masked man with another knife against her throat. “Why am I scared, and why do I feel like I can’t move. I don’t understand.”
“Is this the same guy, or a different one?” Jeremy wondered out loud.
Angela stepped forward. “There’s that same scar on his hand. It must be him, just from a different time.”
“I must destroy time travel,” the hostage-taker declared.
“Okay, well...the Constant isn’t, like, the source of time travel, or something,” Mateo tried to explain. Even he knew that.
“But it is connected to it,” the man volleyed. “It can summon every traveler, in every moment, in every timeline.”
“Is this true?” Mateo asked Danica.
“Is what true?” she asked back.
He sighed, and repeated what the man claimed for her benefit.
“What? No, that would be stupid.”
“It’s not a lie!” the man cried.
“Leona?” Mateo asked simply.
Could something like that exist? I guess, but why would anyone build it? Does it exist, and is it here? I have no clue, but I think he’s just insane.”
“I’ve had enough of this!” the man shouted. “Everyone, shoot yourselves in the head!”
No one moved of course, except for Danica, who desperately tried to break free of him, so she could take one of her friends’ guns, and use it on herself. “That only works when people can’t remember you, idiot,” Aeolia antagonized.
“I’ve had enough of this too!” Angela shouted just as loud as he had. She took a syringe from her pocket.
The man cackled. “Good luck getting that all the way over here before I slit her throat.
“It’s not for you,” Angela said. She jammed it into her own neck. A reddish glow came from under her skin, and threatened to burst through. She began to shake uncontrollably, but it didn’t look like it hurt that much. Suddenly, she was gone, Danica was free from the man’s grasp, and the man was unconscious on the floor, right next to his alternate self. They heard a banging in the kitchen, pots and pans falling from their secure spots.
Mateo rushed over to find Angela crawling on the floor with her arms only, her legs completely limp and useless. “What do I do? Is there an antidote, or treatment?”
She struggled to speak, sounding almost as if she had frostbite, or was terribly shaky and afraid. “W-w-wwhite...r-r-r-re-re-re-remote. Hit.”
Mateo found the remote in her breast pocket. “Hit what? Rewind.”
“N-no-no. Pause.”
Mateo pointed it at her, and did as she requested. She froze in place. He hovered her hands over her body. “Can I touch her, or will I freeze too?”
Most of the group was behind him, watching. He could hear Bran making sounds in the background, presumably from tying up the two coiners. “Yes,” Leona replied. “This kind of time bubble conforms to her shape. Just do it very...slowly.”
Mateo scooped her up gently, and carried her over to the couch. It took him about fifteen minutes, even though it was only about five meters away. “What did she take? Velocity-nine?”
“Similar,” Aeolia answered, “but as you can see, it doesn’t last nearly as long. And it won’t kill her, but she’ll need full medical treatment to repair her cells. We shouldn’t have taken it from the Parallel,” she lamented. “It was only supposed to be used in an emergency, which is why we gave it to the one person we figured we could trust the most with it.”
“It was an emergency,” Mateo determined. “She saved my cousin’s life.”
“She saved my life from what?” Danica questioned.
Jeremy took out an extra cuff, and handed it to her to use temporarily.
Danica immediately went into crisis response mode. “We’ve been compromised. I need everyone out now, so I can reshape the variables.
“We came here to save you,” Leona argued. “Leaving you alone is not an option.”
Danica started to fight it, “you don’t understand—”
“No, you don’t understand. This place is gonna be destroyed.”
“I know,” Danica said calmly. “I’m going to destroy it.”
“What?” Mateo questioned. “No, we fixed it. Just change your passwords, and your locks, and...move on.”
“I can’t do that. In the case of an incursion, the Constant must be destroyed, the Concierge must retire, and a new Concierge must take her place in a new reality.”
“What does it look like when you destroy it?” Mateo continued. “Does it look like everything has been sucked into a black hole?”
“I guess, I’ve never seen it. I just know it happens from time to time, and the only way to protect it is to reshape it.”
Leona looked over at Bran and Aeolia. “You two are from an alternate timeline.”
“Oh.”
“What does retirement mean?” Mateo pressed. “It sounds innocuous, but it could mean death, for all I know.”
“In a way, it is, I suppose,” Danica decided. “We just like to call it quantum assimilation.”
“Guys,” Jeremy jumped in. “Look at the cuffs. It’s 2150 already, and time is moving fast.”