Friday, April 30, 2021

Microstory 1615: Going the Wrong Way

Salmonverse is the messiest, most complicated, most dangerous universe that I’ve ever seen. It’s not dangerous because a bunch of demons are trying to kill you, like Adverse, or because of unpredictable base modifications, like you’ll find in Bladopodoverse. It’s dangerous because far too many people are capable of time travel and they travel through time far too often. With almost no regulation, this doesn’t just get complicated, though. It also leads to death. First of all, you have to understand that, since there are very few parallel realities in this brane, every time someone time travels, they’re technically killing billions of people. The act itself will collapse the timeline, and send its inhabitants into oblivion. Travelers justify this in a few ways. Many of the people who collapsed with the timeline they just came from exist in this new timeline as well. They will move on with their lives, and not worry about what might have been, unless there’s some other psychological reason for them to worry about that, in which case, the time travel isn’t relevant or necessary. Some people will never have been born, sure, but again, their once-loved ones will never know what they’re missing. There’s also the fact that reality itself is constantly springing and collapsing timelines. I’ve mentioned microrealities, which exist for fractions of a second, and are destroyed once true reality takes shape. There are people in those microrealities—duplicates of everyone who existed at the moment—and have just as much potential to survive as their counterparts. And this is happening all the time, in every universe, even the ones that don’t allow general time travel. But that’s not the same thing, because no one is doing that on purpose. Time travelers, on the other hand, are deliberate actors. Well, not all of them, I suppose. The universe’s namesake, salmon are controlled by the powers that be, but the accusation still holds. It’s just that blame must be shifted from the traveler themselves, to the people in control. It’s still happening, and timelines are still collapsing.

This is not a criticism of Salmonverse, or its residents, or the time travelers. It’s not even really about the people whose timeline collapses when a new one is created. It’s just not a good place to live if you want to make sure that you have a future. Anytime someone goes back in time, and changes something, everyone’s life is at risk. Their entire existence is in jeopardy. Sometimes it’s a timeloop, and everything they do is inevitable. When it’s not, though, even the slightest alteration—and I mean, on the quantum level—creates a new branching timeline. It may not have been their intention to change something, but it will, and they can’t stop it. Lots of time travel fiction involves doing your best to not make any changes to history, but again, unless it’s a timeloop, their efforts are pointless. History will change, even if they stand in one place until they catch up to their own present, which they won’t. Reality is also a lot less binary than people think. Stopping someone from dying on April 29, only to watch them die on April 30 still means that things changed. Death isn’t stalking you, trying to maintain some cosmic balance. If the person ends up dying anyway, it’s not because it was their destiny, or couldn’t be stopped. It’s just a coincidence. That’s what salmonverse is all about. Travelers are constantly making changes, often unintentionally, but also often in the attempt to improve something about reality. I don’t think anyone is qualified to say whether that’s good or not, but from where I stand, time travel is just not worth the risk.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Microstory 1614: That Which is Made

I’ve mentioned the biverse to a few people before, and they always get confused. They think that the person who named them is an idiot. These two branes started out as one, and became two when it was duplicated. Now, this happened during an unpopulated period of the Universum Originalis, as it’s called, so don’t worry about alternate versions of people. It was really just more like a cell splitting in half. They were identical when it happened, but began to diverge from there on out. So which one is the original, and which is the duplicate? Well, it’s hard to say for sure, but this occurred as a result of an unexpected visit from a ship that originated in a completely different universe. And while identity is very complex, the universe where that ship ended up has always been treated as the duplicate. So they call the other one Prime, and this new one The Composite Universe. This is where people laugh. In math, a prime number is one that cannot be divided by any number but 1, and itself. A composite number is anything else. People laugh, because as the name of a universe, the word prime should not be using this definition. It really just means primary, main, foremost. And the opposite of this definition is not composite. Maybe it should be secondary, or alternate. The thing is, no one ever said it was. In this case, composite refers to—not the opposite of a prime number—but to the fact that it was composed, created, produced. This is where the confusion lies, and while I don’t know who actually came up with the names Universe Prime and Composite Universe, I suspect that this confusion was done intentionally so people like the ones I’ve talked to can complain about it, and then be schooled.

The Composite Universe is full of life. One of the passengers on the ship that accidentally created it grew to be lonely. He wasn’t the only survivor, full stop, but he was one of a kind, and he wanted to create life in the void. Fortunately, he was made immortal, and had plenty of time to realize his dreams. He wasn’t particularly well-educated in the beginning, but give him a few thousand years, and he’s leagues beyond anything any of us can understand. He started tinkering with genetics, biology, and evolution. He created all sorts of different intelligent creatures. Some he developed right off the bat, while others took time to evolve, just as life does in nature. Evolved and intelligent life is incredibly rare, and while I wouldn’t characterize it as deliberate, it is regulated by nature. The reason Universe Prime is called that is because that’s where all universes I’m fully aware of originate. Every one of them is branched off of it, which is why I’m always talking about Earth. It’s not like Earth is truly the center of the bulkverse. Almost none of them even has an Earth, and its inhabitants will have never heard of it. What they have in common is that—within the confines of their respective universes—they’re isolated, and alone. Life will evolve on one planet at a time, and won’t evolve again until that one has long, long been extinct. Why is this the way things are? I do not know. That is a lofty philosophical question that I can’t help you with. I can tell you that the Composite Universe is different, because this man decided it should be. He filled the galaxies to the brim with his creations, in places that never would have had it on their own. That’s what makes the Composite so different from all other universes. It’s complicated, and it’s busy, and though Earth is still important, it’s mostly ignored, and a lot of people elsewhere don’t even know that it exists.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Microstory 1613: Prime Mover

Like me, The Superintendent is a spirit, and also like me, he can witness events in other universes, and he can see more detail. But it’s more than that. He’s also creating these branes, and controlling certain aspects of them. Free will is still a thing, but the people’s actions always follow his logic, and going against his explicit wishes is only possible once you’re made aware that he exists. I mean, I’m the one telling you this story right now, but I’m doing it through the Superintendent, and it’s being published in his world. It’s called Universe Prime, and no matter what he tells you, it’s because that’s what he decided to call it. It’s not the most important brane in the bulk, but it’s the most important to him, so he got to name it. He chooses the names for each of his universes, if he chooses to name it at all. He is not a more powerful storyteller, or dreamer. Anyone can conjure a new universe into being with nothing more than their thoughts. The difference is that he understands that he’s doing this, and uses it to his advantage deliberately. Every world I discuss throughout this series belongs to him, except for this one today. Universe Prime is where he lives, and he has no control over the outcome of events. But that doesn’t mean he exerts no influence at all. Most of what happens in Prime is a result of interference from a different universe, and if he really wants to, he can make or break such occurrences. For his version of Earth, there is a quite literal universal rule that it is to remain pristine and untouched. It’s written into Martian Law, and honored by the Fosteans. It’s recognized by the residents of Dextoculo, and frightens travelers from beyond the membrane. No one messes with the Superintendent’s Earth, and that is in no small part, thanks to the Superintendent himself.

He’s telling a story...a huge story. It’s so big that it’ll take decades just to get everything out. He’s in control of it, even if there is a high level of free will when it comes to individual choices. Everyone is so afraid of going against him that they follow his rules with little question. They know if they do something he doesn’t like, he’ll just wipe their story away. The Ochivari would never dream of invading, even though it’s a logical target. They’re struggling terribly with climate breakdown, and the future looks pretty grim. My voldisil ability operates according to his timeline, so I can’t see into its future from his perspective, but things are not going well. If any planet deserves the wrath of a race of antinatalistic mass murders, it’s his own. He won’t let it happen, though, for obvious reasons. If the Ochivari attacked, he would just write a story where The Allies of the Darning Wars all came together, and defeated them once and for all. They don’t want that, so they stay away from Prime, and tread lightly in the Composite Universe, and just leave it at that. Prime has plenty of problems of their own. The Fosteans generally respect the rule about Earth, but its leaders are not good people, and they are not peaceful. It and the Composite are twins, and together, they form the Biverse, so they are permanently linked, and dependent on each other. The Superintendent tells their stories, but does not do much to make himself a part of it. They’re strong-willed, resilient, and other than Composite, they probably contribute the highest number of notable individual members of the Transit Army. I don’t know how it ends, if it ever does, but I’ll be keeping a close eye on it.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Microstory 1612: Absolute Zero

As we’ve discussed, concurrent realities are rare, but they do come up. Salmonverse has a handful, while Area Double Universe has thousands. Today, I want to talk about a brane that has only two realities. There’s no name for it, to distinguish it from others, as far as I know. All I know is that it’s a scary and dangerous place, and I can’t recommend it for vacation if you’re looking to relieve some stress. As a spirit, I hesitate to make a claim about whether evil exists, or if life is just all about choices, but this brane sure makes a compelling argument for the former. From my perspective, one of the realities appears to be the primary, while the other is reliant on the outcome of events from the first. Let’s say you were from this universe, and you happened to be a chef, and restaurant owner. You keep prices low, treat your employees well, and give your day-old bread to the homeless. You’re not perfect, but on the whole, you’re a good person. Your alternate self will be just as bad as you are good—I mean, exactly as far from absolute zero. On the other hand, if you’re a serial killer, your alternate self would be a saint. But their life would be incredibly difficult, because people are good in general, so that makes the alternate reality pretty bad. So that would be terrible on its own, but at least the main reality would be able to move on, and ignore their counterparts, right? Wrong. Whereas most of the time, you have to advance science enough to figure out how to access other dimensions, that sort of thing sometimes just happens to some people in this world. You could walk through your front door, and end up inside the alternate, and would have to hope you survive long enough to make it back home. Fortunately, if you do manage to not die, you will get back home. People remain permanently connected to their reality, and they will eventually be summoned home without having to do anything special. So there’s not a whole lot of interaction between the two realities—not on a large scale—but it does occur in isolated cases, and it does cause problems.

Enough of this back and forth travel happened throughout history that the governments and experts got together, and started trying to come up with solutions. They decided it was their moral obligation to do something about the other side. Could they destroy them? Could they teach them to be better? What if they shared knowledge, or resources, or disciplinary techniques? After years of study, and a whole lot of incidents that did not go well at all, they came to a single conclusion. The only way to stop everyone from being so evil over there was to stop being so good on the main side. They tried to institute programs, which were designed to teach people to just be okay. No more saints, no more sinners, just regular people who were doing all right. Everyone was expected to get average grades in school, and do the bare minimum at work. Don’t make waves, and don’t change the status quo. Just live your boring life throughout the day, and then go to bed. Certain things were outlawed in the hopes of making this easier. There was no more music or entertainment. Everyone ate meal replacements, and cooking anything else was strictly forbidden. All these things made people too happy, and if they were happy, their alternate was miserable. As you might have guessed, these measures did not work in the least. You can’t just make people be different. A rebel faction rose up, and became more and more violent over the years. Before they knew it, the main reality was more evil, and the secondary reality was full of good people just trying to do the right thing.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Microstory 1611: The Psychics

Every human is born with telepathic potential. The ability to communicate with others using psychic signals is built into our species, and that is not something that can be removed from someone without killing them. It’s just part of who we are. You might be wondering how this is possible. You personally may have never experienced anything resembling telepathy in your life, and you’ve never heard of other people doing it either. How could it be true? Well, there are a number of factors that are operating against you, if you are such one of these people. Some universes are more hospitable to these psychic signals than others. They facilitate the transmission of them easily, whereas some just straight up block it. In other worlds, the signals transmit just fine, but there’s some sort of suppressant in the residents’ biology, neurology, or genetic makeup. There’s also a psychological factor. You have to know that you’re capable of it, and truly believe in yourself, and the people around you have to believe. They have to believe in you, and in themselves, and convincing a significant enough population that it’s all real is a real challenge. Because it has to start somewhere, and there’s no decent way to prove it to them unless they’re inclined to trust in it in the first place. These restrictions can be limited to whole planets, or even regions, and many places never get over them. Earth Prime, for instance, has little problem with psychic signal transference, though it’s certainly not the smoothest. The real issue is that these humans, in particular, don’t generally believe in any of these things. Even those who do only do so out of hope, but you have to have some understanding of the true mechanics, rather than simply relying on your intuitions, and exposure to fictional representations of such phenomena.

Like I said, some universes are better with this than others, and this is no truer than it is for a little place that I like to call Psychoverse. It’s a bit of an offensive term, yes, and I would never say it in front of someone who is from there, but it’s not entirely untrue either. This Earth has a major problem with what essentially boils down to racism. Some people are psychic, and some people aren’t, and those who are enjoy an unreasonable and unfair advantage over the lower class normal people. Attempts at regulation have always been met with heavy resistance, and often end in bloodshed. The psychics consider themselves to be superior to all others, and eventually decide to start referring to their supposed inferiors as The Braindead. Now that really is an offensive term, on multiple levels, and of course, it’s also completely untrue. Psychics aren’t smarter, or better. In fact, they lack a lot of very normal human skills, like independence, critical thinking, and true leadership. The Ochivari are antinatalists, but they only go after populations that are destined to destroy their own planet. The Psychoverse residents were bound to die out, which would have allowed their Earth to thrive, so I’m not sure why the Ochivari invaded. It’s, I guess, a good thing that they did, because the humans adapted quickly, and completely transformed their way of thinking, in order to combat this external threat. They shed their bigotry and injustices, and rose up against their attackers. Luckily, the Ochivari are not immune to psychic attacks, and this is a case of one of the few times when a planet managed to push back the invasion without the help of any of the teams dedicated to winning the Darning Wars across the bulkverse.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

The Advancement of Serif: Tuesday, September 1, 2178

Serif stood there next to the central table, staring at grave chamber four, but she didn’t know why. She felt like something important had just happened, but nothing was coming to mind. She popped off her back foot, and prepared to make a step towards it, but then she heard a cough at her flank. She stumbled a bit, and looked back. A one-legged Angela was on the floor, breathing heavily, and massaging her slowly-forming stump as the wound was sealing up.
“What the actual fork just happened?” Jeremy asked, climbing onto the platform.
“Angela’s hurt,” Serif answered, still distracted by the mysterious mystery of grave chamber four.
“I can see that,” Jeremy said, kneeling down, and hovering his hands over the healing leg, hoping to figure out some way of helping her. “She’s missing a leg! How?”
“I don’t know,” Serif replied, not letting up on her fixation. She tried heading for it once more.
“Serif!” Jeremy scolded. “Come down here and help her!”
She didn’t bother looking back this time. “I obviously already did.”
“No, it would help if you built her a new leg. All you’ve done is close up the one she has left.
“I can’t regrow limbs,” Serif apologized. “My abilities have limits. I don’t know who cut it off, or how, or where they went, or what they did with our memories, but I’ve done all I can for her.” She took another step.
“If you do not get down here right now, and try it,” Jeremy began, “so help me, Michael—I will end your life. You won’t die, you’ll just go somewhere else.”
“The afterlife simulation is only in the main sequence,” Serif reminded him, finally starting to be able to divide her attention.
“Right, but the Parallel has death subversion redundancies of its own; better ones, actually.”
“Well, I don’t,” Serif explained. “Her leg is gone. I’m sure it can be replaced, but not by my breath.”
“In that case, get down here, and help me help her up, so we can transport her to the nearest medical facility.”
“Where’s Olimpia?”
“I don’t know, stop coming up with excuses not to help. Let’s go!”
Serif sighed, and relented, but thought better of it immediately. She hopped over right quick to take a look inside grave chamber four, which she found to be nothing more than a space for sleeping. There was no stowaway hiding in there, or some kind of magical MacGuffin. It was just a hole, like it was supposed to be. “Okay, sorry, don’t yell at me again. I’m coming.” They lifted her off of the floor, and carefully lowered her down into grave chamber two. “I thought we were taking her to a facility,” Serif questioned.
“Yes, we’ll teleport her from here. Didn’t you read the specifications update?”
“What update?” Serif asked.
“Never mind,” Jeremy said. “You can stay here all you want, but I’m taking her to get help.” One arm around Angela’s shoulders, he used the other to open the panel, and activate the emergency teleporter.
The next day, still alone, Serif decided to explore her surroundings. She knew everything she needed to know about this ship, but none of it felt familiar. It was like someone once told her all about it using pictures, but she hadn’t been here until now. She climbed down the steps to the engineering section. She didn’t know how to work any of this stuff. They always just used an AI. She went back up, and then up again, to the next level, where microponics, hygiene, and the airlock were. It all made her feel very strange and uncomfortable. She shivered, because she hadn’t been alone here before. Or maybe she had never been here at all, and these were all fake memories. It wasn’t out of the realm of possibility, especially since they already knew their memories were indeed tampered with.
She climbed back down to the main level, and went over to sit at the table, but something stopped her. A cloud of insects spontaneously appeared before her, though there was no buzzing sound. She watched as the insects flew into each other, and grew larger. And larger, and larger, and larger. She realized they were coming into the form of a person. The process only took about a minute before the image was clear. It was Olimpia Sangster, after having been transported at the molecular level.
She too shivered. “That..was...actually kind of amazing. I would have never thought, but I guess it’s like a roller coaster.”
“Where were you?”
“Nowhere,” Olimpia answered. “I just skipped time.” She glanced around. “I don’t know how long, though. Where are Jeremy, Angela, and Leona?”
“Angela’s hurt, so Jeremy took her to hospital. I don’t know who Leona is.”
“She’s your girlfriend, or something, I think.”
“No, she’s not.”
Olimpia narrowed her eyes. “Your memories have been deleted.”
“I know, but...there’s no way I had a girlfriend, and just don’t remember her at all.”
“Well, you did,” Olimpia said both condescendingly, and matter-of-factly. “But I’ll drop it, because I can’t restore memories, and I’m sure it’ll all work out.”
Their Cassidy cuffs beeped. They had a new transition mission, this one apparently on the moon. “This thing can teleport there, can’t it?”
“I dunno, I haven’t been here that long.”
“Me neither.”
“I know.” Olimpia looked up into the aether. “Hey, hey, ship? Hey, ship computer?”
Yes?” the computer offered.
“Could you take us to the moon?”
“Would you like me to transport you to the coordinates on your wristbands?”
“Yes, please and thank you.”
The engines revved up, and eventually delivered them to their destination. Serif and Olimpia climbed up, and headed for the airlock. They started to try to figure out how to put the vacuum suits on, when the AI stopped them. “The artificial atmosphere is pressurized, and breathable. You are in a lava tube.
“Oh,” Olimpia said, dropping the helmet back in its cubby. “I don’t know what that is, but cool.” They stood before the outer doors. “You’re sure about that, right?”
Quite certain,” the AI responded. Then it opened the doors, and let them out.
A man was approaching from a building down the way. He held out his hand and greeted them. “Welcome to Raivoe Tube. Do you have a transition window nearby?”
They were famous. “Yeah, it appears to be about thirty meters that way,” Serif answered, pointing.
He nodded understandingly. “Great. Well, I’m here if you need anything. You picked the best tube on the moon. We’re minimalistic and laid back, but we still have plenty to see. Please enjoy our Main Sequence Lunar Museum, if you have time. Did you know that the first human to set foot on the moon in the main reality did so only two hundred and nine years ago?”
“Thank you,” Olimpia said. “And yeah, I think I did know that.”
He laughed. “Wild. Their lives must have been so boring until then.”
“We had a lot of war to keep us busy,” Serif pointed out.
“Yes, of course. I keep forgetting about that.” He was still laughing. War must have been such a ridiculous and foreign concept to him.
“Well, we better go,” Olimpia said to him awkwardly. “The next transition is only in...” she took a peek at her cuff, “four hours.” Now it was really awkward.
A little bit of a frown, but he hid it fairly well, and they hid their recognition of it even better. “Of course, go do your thang. I’ll just...be in my office. Alone. As per uzhe. Nah, I’m kidding, it’s fine. I am lonely, though.” He stood there for a moment. “Sorry to leave you so abruptly, but it seems I need to do the daily test of my emergency teleporter.” He reached up, and pressed the button on his chest, which spirited him away.
They found a pit not too far away, which they could sit in, and have something to lean against. And there they sat for the next three hours until Jeremy and Angela found them. Serif jumped up. “Are you okay? I’m so sorry, I was just so distracted. I don’t know what came over me.”
“Our memories have been erased,” Angela acknowledged. “The doctors discovered at least that much. We still don’t know what we forgot, but it probably happened immediately after my leg disappeared. It was a trying time for all of us.”
Serif looked down. “It looks good as new. Is it a prosthetic?”
Angela shook her head, and then shook her leg. “Full regrowth. It’s mine. A doctor in the 21st century wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.”
They stood in silence for a moment.
“Pardon our manners,” Olimpia said. “Come on into our pit. There’s plenty of room, and we’ll give you the comfortable spot.”
“That’s okay,” Jeremy said. “We have a better solution.” He removed what looked like a toy gun from his bag, and started tapping on its little touchscreen. “One of the human medical practitioners snuck us one of these, so Angela always has a place to rest. She called it a gun-of-holding.” He found what he was looking for, so he pointed it to the ground, and squeezed the trigger. A couch appeared out of thin air, and beckoned to them. Once they were all seated, he squeezed the trigger again, and summoned a television in front of them. They had enough time to watch one episode of Teen Wolf before the window opened.
The augmented reality on their cuffs showed them that some kind of meteor crashed through the window above them, and was heading towards one of the buildings in the main sequence. Dozens of people appeared, narrowly escaping the small celestial’s wrath. Some of them were luckier than the others, though. Some were on the upper level, and once the floor disappeared beneath them, they fell, often on top of those below. No one died, and they would all be fine with medical treatment, but it wasn’t the most elegant transition that had happened.
The four of them ran over to help the people up. “We have three minutes to get to the next window!” Jeremy announced. “Why so soon?” Olimpia asked.
Angela was holding up someone with a broken leg. She started leading him towards the window coordinates. “They don’t know about time travel. They have to survive the meteorite without anyone wondering how.”
Serif started to breathe on people, but it was going to take too long, they just had to go. “If you can walk, grab someone who can’t, and help them over to the next spot. It’s only a hundred meters away. We have to get you back to your time!”
At normal pace, a normal walker could cross the distance in about two minutes. With all these limping people, though, they had to book it, and they still barely made it before the window appeared. As they were moving, Serif came up with a somewhat believable lie. All of them happened to decide to take a walk when the meteor came down. They also happened to be far enough away from the impact to avoid being crushed by it, but not far enough away to avoid superficial injuries. She would have rather they gotten more time to explain how important it was for them to lie, but perhaps that would have just spelled more time for the ignorant main sequencers to start questioning how it was they were being rescued. Their confusion and sense of urgency was hopefully going to muddy a lot of their memories, and any claims of time travel would be received under the assumption that it was the result of minor brain damage.
Once it was over, they breathed a sigh of relief. This mission came with a lot of hurrying up and waiting, and then it just had a bunch of hurrying. But they made it, and everything was fine. Sure, maybe one or two of them were fully in their right minds, and starting to think more deeply about the nature of reality, but hopefully it wasn’t enough to land them a spot in Beaver Haven, or risk exposing all time travelers to the general public.
The team walked back slowly, knowing that there was nothing left for them to do. When they arrived back at the couch, they found it occupied. A young man was sitting on it comfortably. He was smiling, and watching the second episode of the show that they were all trying to catch up on. There was no way he didn’t notice them standing there, but he was purposefully ignoring them, like a pickup artist trying to get the upper hand on his prey. “Hey,” he finally said, still not bothering to stand up. “I am a young Tamerlane Pryce. I have just been waiting for an opportunity to come here, and find out what you’re all about.” He nodded like he thought they were receiving him well. “Do you have any turkey jerky?”

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Big Papa: Biting the Ice (Part IX)

We never could have guessed the truth about what has become of the afterlife simulation since we’ve been gone. For a world where you’re not supposed to be able to die, it sure is dangerous. Gilbert doesn’t come back with all the answers, but he has a decent idea what the hell is going on. Details about Pinocchio remain scarce, as people are evidently afraid to say anything about him, but the results of his efforts are clear. The worlds have been thrown into war, built on a foundation of a class system, fueled by real consequences...and weapons.
“It’s like the zero blade,” Gilbert explains as he’s still trying to catch his breath. No one is actually breathing in the simulation, or at least they don’t have to. If it’s possible to become tired, it’s because somebody deliberately turned that feature on to better resemble base reality.
“What does that do again?” Lowell asks.
“It kills you,” Nerakali answers. “It destroys your code, so you don’t respawn, or heal, or anything. You’re just...gone.”
“But you said it’s like the zero blade,” I point out. “What does it do?”
“There’s more than one,” Gilbert continues. “Blue, red, orange, yellow.”
“Downgrading weapons,” Pryce realizes. “I made one for every level.”
Every level?” Gilbert questions. “Even the higher ones?”
“Yes,” Pryce confirms. “There’s even one for resurrection, which will transmit your consciousness to a new substrate in base reality. From there, you can pick out some other body.”
“I don’t care about the upgrades. How many of the weapons are there?” I ask.
“You can make more of certain ones,” Pryce explains. “There are only a few zero blades, though, and only one white staff. I lost it a long time ago, and I have no idea where the zero blades are. Obviously, Leona had one at one point, which she got from Boyce.”
“Tell us about the others,” Nerakali orders. “What are we dealing with?”
“The ones you have to worry about are the ice picks, the red axes, the hock shanks, the yellow hammers, and possibly the green collars. That last one isn’t all that bad, but some would disagree. The others would be considered upgrades, and they’re incredibly rare.”
“They’re using them in a war,” Gilbert adds. “If someone gets their hands one one, they can either use it against their enemies, or threaten them with it. The people with the worst weapons are the ones with the most power. No one wants their IDCodes to be shelved, so those with ice picks are considered elites. They make most of the decisions, delegating to the red axe wielders as needed, and so on down the hierarchy tree. I got the feeling when I was out there that a few people have the upgrade tools, but it’s unclear how powerful those people are. I think they can really only use them to bargain for personal favors, but they don’t control anything.”
Pryce is shaking his head. “When we started this project, we didn’t immediately know how the levels would work, or how you would rank up, or what. But we never wanted war. I wouldn’t have let this happen.”
“When we first showed up,” I begin, “we thought you were the enemy. We thought things would only get better if we removed you from power. Now I see how bad things get when you’re not here. Abandoning this place was the biggest mistake of your life. When you went down this path—shutting me out of it, manslaughtering Trinity, letting your daughter and Thor go off to wherever—you chose to assume the responsibility of tens of billions of people, and you should have respected that. People like you don’t get to quit; it’s a lifetime appointment. The fact that you’ve had an extremely long lifetime is no excuse.”
“You’re right,” Pryce says, “which is why I have to be the one to fix this.”
“How?” Lowell asks.
“Ice in the Hole,” Nerakali guesses.
“We can’t do that,” Lowell argues.
“I wasn’t here,” Gilbert reminds us. “What is that?”
“There’s a button,” Pryce starts to go over it again. “I doubt Pinocchio ever found it, it’s not in my office, and even if he did, he probably wouldn’t know how to use it. And he would be horrified by the downside. As the name would suggest, it puts everyone on ice. It shelves every single IDCode inside the simulation. Every single one,” he reiterates. “It’s like pressing a great reset button, except that it doesn’t destroy anything. The simulation itself remains up and running, and once it’s time to reinstantiate the identities, they’ll all be intact. I created it in case something like this happened.”
Like a great reset button that doesn’t destroy anything, I repeat in my own head. It’s a terrible choice, but if it’s the only reasonable solution, then it will be what we do. We have to end the war, and if we can’t do it through words, we’ll force it. But we have to try to use our words first. “That is a last resort,” I protest. “We haven’t even tried to stop it some other way. Can’t we start by deleting all of the weapons?”
“It doesn’t work like that,” Pryce contends. “You can’t find and replace the weapons. The code is far too complicated for that. It’s designed to be self-teaching, and adaptive, and it simulates every law of physics that isn’t specifically counteracted by a programmed rule. In the real world, you can’t find every weapon, and erase it from reality, so you can’t do it in the simulation either. We created it that way to curtail our own power. There is no button, for instance, that turns everyone’s clothes black, even though it wouldn’t be very hard to program that. Hell, I could set every server on fire if I wanted to, because I have the privilege of a body, but it would take a long time, because each one is at least hundreds of miles from any other. These restrictions are all about preserving life, and preventing something disastrous. You’re right, Ice in the Hole is a last resort, but it is perfectly safe for the residents, and we are already at the point of a last resort.”
“Where is it?” Lowell asks. “I know it’s not murder, but I have experience with hurting people, so I should be the one to do it.”
“No,” Pryce says. “I’m responsible, I have to push the button. Besides, you’ve been resurrected. I can’t take that away from you.”
“Why would that take it away from me? Can’t you just re—uhh...re-in—”
“Reinstantiate,” Nerakali helped.
“No, I can’t,” Pryce replies without the full question. “I told you, the button has a downside. I said it was safe for the residents, but that doesn’t go for the person who pushes the button. It requires a blood sacrifice. You can push it all day long, if you want, but nothing will happen unless you do it with your bare hand.”
“What, does a needle come out of the button as it goes down?” Gilbert figures.
“Not a needle,” Pryce corrects, “a blade.”
I know where he’s going with this. “A zero blade.”
“Yes.”
“It’s not a blood sacrifice, it’s a code sacrifice.”
“In the end, yes,” Pryce agrees. “The code of your blood is different than the rest of your avatar. It contains your genetic information, just like it would in base reality. Once the blade tastes those genes, it will zero out the person they belong to.”
“You can’t just cut yourself with a regular virtual blade, and pour it on the button, while you push it with a meter stick, or something?” Nerakali suggests.
“Sure, you could,” Pryce says with a shrug, “but that doesn’t solve your problem. Your blood matches your code. You still die, because it knows it’s your blood. Or rather, it knows it’s my blood, because I’m the one who’s going to be doing this. And before you think you’ve figured out a loophole, that won’t work either. You wouldn’t be able to draw someone’s blood, and store it in a jar while you resurrect them. People who are resurrected are still connected to the simulation, and it will kill them, even when they’re on the outside. Plus, the virtual blood has to be fresh. I mean, seconds fresh. Nothing can resurrect you that fast, except for the white staff, I guess, but like I said, I don’t know where that is.”
“Why did you design it this way?” Nerakali questions. “This is needlessly complicated and deadly.”
“Not needlessly,” Pryce maintains. “Quite importantly. It’s not dangerous for the residents per se, but there is some risk. If the Glisnians detect a sudden drop in power usage—which is what this act will do—they could theoretically decide that the experiment is over. That’s what they keep calling it, an experiment. They don’t see it as a subversion to death for all the humans in history. As far as they’re concerned, they’re the only ones who matter, and they’ve already cracked immortality. They let me continue with my work, because I don’t get in their way, and I don’t use too much energy in the grand scheme of things. But they will end it if they see any evidence that I don’t need it any more. The button, and how it works, is a deterrent. If someone pushes it, someone else has to go up to the real world, and make sure they don’t shut the whole thing down. Ellie, you have proven that you can convince people of almost anything. The residents will rely on you to be their advocate once I’m gone.”
“I am their advocate,” says a voice from beyond the huddle. He looks familiar, but I can’t place his face. As he approaches, I start to remember. He’s altered his appearance to be a more attractive version of himself, but this is the bot who served us what would turn out to be fake refreshments back when I was trying to convince Glisnia to give me the simulation. This is Pinocchio? He’s been hiding in plain sight. He has two goons at his flanks that look mean for no reason but they were programmed to look that way.
“How did you get in here?” Gilbert demands to know.
Pinocchio chuckles. “IDCloner. Very easy.”
“Is it now?” Lowell asks, oddly interested in having something like that.
He chuckles again. “Well, I suppose not that easy.” He shakes the subject out of his mouth, and readies it for a new one. “I’ve been listening to your conversation, most of it, anyway.” He reaches behind his back, and slowly slides a sword out of a virtual pocket dimension. “Before I kill you, you’re going to tell me where I can find the Ice in the Hole button.”
“It’s up your ass,” Pryce tells him.
Pinocchio jerks his chin, prompting one of his goons to take Pryce by the shirt collars, and press him against the wall. “Your mom was there last night, she would have told me if she had seen it.”
What are these, fifth graders?
“Boys,” Nerakali shouts in a smooth and steady voice. “There is no call for violence.”
Pinocchio nods, which causes the goon to release Pryce, even though he wasn’t even facing his master. Yeah, they’re definitely NPCs. “I have no beef with you. I wasn’t created until after the other Pryce took over the simulation. I’m only going to kill you, because you’re a threat to my power, but it’s not personal. Just tell me where the button is. Understand this, though...now that I know it exists, I’ll find it myself eventually. You can make it easier, on everybody, but you can’t stop me by keeping this information to yourself. You do not have the upperhand here. If you don’t tell me, I’ll still kill you, but not before I kill your friends in front of you.”
“Wait.” I hope what I plan to say to him is the right call. “Is this what Leona wanted? When she gave you consciousness and agency, did she want you to do this?”
Pinocchio smirks knowingly. “A hundred percent. She wanted me to be able to make my own decisions...and these are my decisions.” He grows cold and passively angry. “This is my design. Tell me where the button is.” He lifts his finger, and starts wagging it in front of Gilbert’s face without even turning to face him. “Gilbert, if you try what I know you’re about to try, you will be the first to go.”
“I’ve died a thousand times,” Gilbert retorts. “Each time, I knew it could be the last.” With that, he drops a yellow hammer into his grip from out of his sleeve, and bashes one of the goons over the head, only to swing it back immediately, and smash it against the other one. Their clothes turn yellow, and they disappear. It’s the color of Limited, so they’re still very much alive, but they’re only allowed in public spaces now, which is pretty normal for NPCs, but it’s a good short-term solution. Gilbert swings a third time, and tries to strike Pinocchio, but he’s met by the zero blade. They hold there for a few seconds, neither one yet strong enough to overtake the other. “Nerakali...get them to the escape hatch.”
“No!” I scream.
“Come on.” Lowell takes me by the shoulders, and tries to usher me away.
I struggle against his pull. I’ve seen Gilbert across many timelines. I know how much he’s had to overcome, and it’s all been his own personality and instincts. He’s changed himself, and improved more than almost anyone I’ve ever known. You have know idea how hard that is. People who are naturally good could never understand. He doesn’t deserve this. “No!” I repeat.
Lowell’s too strong for me, I should have asked for an upgrade in here, but fake physical strength wasn’t really a priority. He pushes me into Pryce’s arms, who takes it from here. “I’ll help him,” Lowell promises. “Get her out.”
The last thing I see before we round the corner is Lowell removing a fireplace poker from against the wall, and heading back towards the still-struggling Gilbert and Pinocchio.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Microstory 1610: Hypnopedia

All universes are strange in their own way from most people’s perspective, and that’s just a product of only living in one universe for a long time before you encounter others, if you even ever do. I’m a little different, because I grew up with them, so even the stranger ones aren’t all that strange to me. Hypnopediaverse is pretty strange, though. It’s one of the few places where the bulkverse is common knowledge, and where they use the knowledge of it to their advantage. As one might assume, most universes are independent, alone, isolated. If you want to travel from one to another, you’re first going to need something powerful enough to tear a hole in the membrane that keeps it all together, and then you’re going to need some way to navigate. The first step is hard. The second step is just this side of utterly and hopelessly impossible. Very few people have the means to navigate the bulkverse. I can only do it mentally, and even then, I get lost a lot. It is simply not meant to be traveled. There are small exceptions to this rule, and it has to do with multidimensional proximity. Some universes are very close to a counterpart, like a binary star system. They refer to these as twinverses, and while I suspect they’re rare, I haven’t mapped the bulkverse, so I don’t have the data to back up my claim. After all, multi-star systems are more common than single stars, if you can believe it. It’s part of what makes Earth so special, and probably has a lot to do with its habitability. Getting back to the real story, however, when you’re talking about twinverses, you’re talking about two branes that are perpetually linked to one another, and follow the same temporal vector. The inhabitants may not be using the same calendar, but if you leave one, go to the other, and spend X amount of time there, X amount of time will have passed for those you left behind once you return.

I’m not sure how twinverses come into being, and there could be multiple reasons for this, but the thing about them is that this phenomenon has always been discovered. The residents have always eventually learned about the other side, and this is no truer than it is for Hypnopediaverse, which is a little different, because only one of the universes has a native population. The second brane that the one is attached to only contains plantlife. Whenever someone dreamfalls into it, the only people they encounter are from the main universe. This is how dreaming works, by the way. Everyone travels to other universes when they dream. It’s just that these branes are unstable, and usually only last as long as the dream does. In this case, though, the attached brane is stable, self-sustaining, and affords the dreamers a level of lucidity generally only reserved for the lucky few. Now, they could use this world to reach out and enjoy each other’s company while they’re still asleep. They actually do this sometimes; set up dates and other meetings to maximize their time. This population has decided, however, that the main purpose should be education. And not just regular school, but special skills they didn’t before know existed. The most common of these is flying like a bird, but it’s not that easy. They can fly in the dreamworld, but the skill will not transfer over to the main world. To make that happen, they have to enter yet another universe that’s only attached to the second one. That’s right, hypnopediaverse is actually a trinary system, and as far as I know, the only one of its kind. The third operates on a different temporal vector, however, which adds a level of complexity that the residents have to account for every time they dreamfall into it.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Microstory 1609: Area W

The majority of universes don’t really allow time travel. Even if they do, it probably doesn’t occur. Which is good. Manipulating time is extremely expensive, and by that, I mean that it demands a lot of energy. It often takes so much energy that it’s not even worth it. The universes that have it, most of the time use a little loophole for this. You can go back in time, but it’s going to cost you the entire timeline. Reality will collapse behind you, and the energy that was being used to maintain that reality will simply be channeled into the new reality. Nothing has been lost, nothing has been gained, you’re just picking up a path, and moving it in a different direction. Well, I suppose that would require a little extra energy just to do, but there’s enough excess in the bulkverse to account for it. The point is that matter can neither be created nor destroyed; it just changes form, and time travel is a higher level example of this. There are some universes, however—and I believe it’s quite rare—that persist with multiple timelines. Salmonverse, for instance, has a few: The Main Sequence, The Parallel, The Third Rail, The Fourth Quadrant, and The Fifth Division. And as you now know, holding all these realities up simultaneously uses up energy, but that’s okay, because there is plenty left over; there’s just not enough for every universe to work this way. There are a few universes that take this one step further, and maintain many, many parallel realities, which do not necessarily exist because of time travel, but are more like the many-worlds interpretation of multiverse theory.

Technically, and I know this sounds contradictory, every universe does have infinite realities attached to it, but they don’t exist all at once, and they don’t last long. They’re called microrealities, and they pop up in case the true reality needs to use them, but they pop back out when they’re no longer needed, and the energy they used is transferred to new microrealities, which will in turn collapse soon thereafter. How do they come to be, and why do they collapse? Each new event comes with any number of potential outcomes. Every outcome that could exist, will exist, but only for a short time, because one of them will quickly win, and cancel out the ones that now can’t exist anymore, because they’re no longer possible. If you approach a door, you could walk through it, or just walk away from it, but once you decide to walk away, every reality where you walked through it will disappear. Area Doubleuniverse is different. Catchy name, I know. For whatever reason, this particular brane absorbs an unreasonable amount of bulk energy, and uses it to maintain thousands of realities. This is the kind of thing you see when you watch a movie or show about alternate realities. In one, you’re a juggler; in another, you’re a sea lion trainer. Most decisions are practically impossible to detect, because you might walk through that quantum door one nanosecond later, and that’s an entirely different reality. In fact, it’s even more than one separate reality, because you’re not the only one  making these minute decisions. The fact that Area Doubleuniverse only contains thousands of parallels makes no logical sense. It should be infinite, but it’s not. They’ve actually mapped them, and they travel between them fairly easily. It suggests there’s some sort of higher intelligence in control of which realities exist, and which collapse with all the others. I’ve just not been able to see this force. The people use it mostly to protect witnesses, so whatever the original intention, it’s benevolent now.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Microstory 1608: Par Excellence

I was tempted to believe at first that this next world involved mass spiritual abilities. There appears to be no particular reason why half the population possesses the same special ability, and the other half does not. It’s quite clearly not genetic, as one twin will often have it, while the other does not. But not always. It seems to be, on the whole, random. One in every two people will, early in their childhood development, start to be accompanied by a guide. This guide, which this world calls their excelschian, appears in the form of a person, and can alter their shape to fit their human’s needs or preferences. Only the human attached to the excelschian can see it. It’s unclear if excelschians came to be due to some evolutionary necessity, but it seems rather unlikely, since like I said, it happens to only half the population. The other half is left to their own devices, which as we’ll discuss, may not be a bad thing. The excelschian can answer any question that their human has, as long as the answer falls within the realm of humanity’s current well of knowledge. They could not, for instance, explain the answer to life, the universe, everything, because no one knows what that is. For the excelschian to know it, enough other people need to know it so that it’s accepted as fact, if only until new evidence comes to light. It couldn’t tell you someone else’s password, and it couldn’t reveal some other well-protected secret. It could, however, reveal other secrets, if too many people are cognizant of it, which is what really makes this universe so much different than others. State and trade secrets, and other proprietary information, does not exist, because it would not be able to. It wouldn’t even occur to this version of the human race to try to hoard such hidden knowledge, because it would get out, and it would get out quickly. So their civilization was built from a place of honesty and openness, not because they were more virtuous than you or I, but because it wouldn’t work anyway.

The assumption here is that people who have excelschians are more intelligent than the people who don’t. After all, they can pass any test simply by posing the questions to their excelschians. The excelschian won’t answer you if you don’t ask it something, but the asking can come in many forms. You could rub your finger along the paper, underneath the text, so it knows what you want to know, or someone else can ask it, and you can use microexpressions to defer it to your excelschian. This is all well and good, except that the excelschianed never really learn anything for themselves, because they never need to. Regular people have to work hard, and study new data, and memorize concepts, and fully grasp practical information. They’re generally more independent, stronger-willed, and far more likely to make the informational breakthroughs that people with excelschians will come to take for granted. They’re the ones moving humanity forward, and advancing science and technology. They’re changing the way people live, and ultimately making the world a better place. Sadly, this was not enough. With only half the people actually working for progress, this version of Earth was not able to develop sustainable strategies early enough to satisfy the antinatalist eco-terrorist Ochivari. In the early days of The Darning Wars—if there even is such a thing—the Ochivari came to this Earth, and destroyed it. And since this universe did not allow time travel, the attack could not be undone. They never stood a chance.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Microstory 1607: Tense Time Travel Trouble

When The Crossover exploded, most of the people on board survived. What you see when you encounter the Crossover is probably not it in its original form. The highest tier, which was located the absolute farthest from the main engines was designed for such an unthinkable event. It’s capable of doing everything the machine as a whole could do, just on a smaller scale—which is why it was so well insulated—but the whole point of building the Crossover in the first place was to ultimately relocate every Maramon in Ansutah, so it was only ever meant to protect the technology. Not all tiers are like this, and none of them came out of the cataclysm intact. Different sections were sent off to random universes, leaving any survivor stranded, often with few resources. These were called expulsions, and they set the scene for a number of run-ins with the Maramon. But the expulsions did more than just exile people. It transformed them, so that they would fit in with the cosmic laws of their destination. They were still Maramon, and they usually retained their memories and motivations, but their biology was altered, sometimes to an unrecognizable degree. Cut off from their kin, they formed new societies, and did whatever they felt necessary to keep surviving, even if it meant giving up everything they were taught to believe in as Maramon. Most sections separated from their tiers, and were ejected alone, but there was one universe that swallowed up an entire tier, though with each section being dispatched to a different planet in that brane’s version of the Milky Way galaxy. They were altered independently, in ways that would allow them to thrive on their respective alien worlds. They didn’t know what had happened to each other, and they definitely weren’t cognizant of the general status of the rest of the Crossover. They built new civilizations, and developed their technology, and after centuries, all but forgot about where they had come from.

As explained, the purpose of the machine was to let their species spread out, for they were born to a limited and confined universe. The expelled ones realized this goal, and spent little time worrying about whether everyone else would. Over time, the isolated Maramon advanced enough to explore the galaxy, eventually reuniting with each other, and comparing notes. It wasn’t for a while until the growing interstellar union finally managed to uncover the location of Earth. Remember that they had by now lost most of what made them Maramon, and the prejudices they held against the humans was pretty much gone. They were willing to give Earth the benefit of the doubt, especially since they recognized it wasn’t the same Earth that they struggled against in their history. Unfortunately, it would seem that they sent the wrong man to make first contact with them. He unilaterally decided that the humans were not fit to join the rest of the galaxy, and the best course of action would be to destroy them. He almost did it too, but his arrival came with consequences. While this version of Earth had already experienced some unusual things, such as ghosts living in pocket dimensions, they did not yet have time travel. The alien had inadvertently introduced them to that, and this changed the course of history. His technology ended up accidentally going back in time, where it was discovered by ancient Egyptians. Of course, they wouldn’t immediately recreate the tech themselves, but examining it was enough to propel human technology centuries beyond what it was meant to be. Thus began the Time Wars of this brane.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Microstory 1606: The Advantage of Diversity

There is a special brane in the bulkverse that’s called Havenverse, because it mostly doesn’t allow crazy scifi things to happen. There’s no time travel, no aliens, no technology too advanced for a given time period. It’s, for lack of a better term, normal. There was a breach into this universe once, but the window was sealed quickly, and in general, it’s the safest place to be if you want to get away from whatever insane adventures you’re having. Of course, because it’s so pristine, it’s the hardest one to access, and it’s pretty well protected by outsiders who want to keep it as it is, and will do anything to stop it from being corrupted. All told, however, it is not unique. There are many universes like it, where its inhabitants tell stories about robot werewolves from another dimension, or fairies that live in your hair, but where these things are not real. Havenverse is different because it doesn’t allow such things to exist, but many others, for all practical purposes, are the same, because such things simply never came to be. There’s one in particular I want to talk about that is insignificant, except for an interesting prehistorical twist. Much like the Linsetol of the last story, a certain species managed to survive in their world longer than their parallel universe counterparts. They’re known as the Neanderthals, and while they did not last through the modern day, they did have a much greater impact on human evolution. On most versions of Earth, a human will contain up to four percent of Neanderthal DNA, indicating that the two hominids interbred, at least minimally, before the latter went extinct. Experts believe that homo sapiens out-competed their brethren for food and other resources, but had they become more cooperative, and less selective with their mates, co-existence could have persisted, for a little while, anyway. Like I said, Neanderthals did eventually disappear, but a lot more had to do with them becoming assimilated into the homo sapien population. Modern humans, thusly, found themselves walking around with anywhere between eleven and twenty-four percent Neanderthal DNA. Not only is this six times greater than it is on other Earths, but it also presents a much wider genetic gap amongst the population, which at one point threatened to generate a divide between different peoples in the modern day. This didn’t happen. Actually, the opposite happened. Upon learning more about their own genetic evolution, the humans of this Earth ended up uniting to form a singular society much earlier than other Earths. They recognized that diversity was a good thing, and a source of strength, rather than a weakness. They started working together more, and quickly abolished war. They staved off climate breakdown, and prepared for potential pandemics. Science progressed faster, and capitalism fell to a civilization defined by post-scarcity. It is for this reason that antinatalist species, the Ochivari ignored this universe. By preventing themselves from destroying their planet, they also kept themselves out of The Darning Wars.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

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

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