Monday, May 31, 2021

Microstory 1636: Underverse

As I’ve sort of explained, every universe that includes a populated Earth will begin at the same start value. This means that they should be accompanied by two planets closer to the sun, and another farther out before a small asteroid belt, before moving onto the gas giants, and icy worlds. And all of these celestial bodies should follow predictable patterns, and they should be the same for all versions of Earth. But they’re not. I don’t know enough about astrophysics to tell you why, but I have been able to see the consequences of these variations. On one Earth, astronomers uncovered the irregular orbital pattern of an asteroid from deep space, which was—apparently perturbed by other gravitationally-bound objects—on a collision course towards Earth. This gave them an eight-year warning, but that didn’t mean they could send up a bunch of space cowboys to blow the thing up. They possessed telescopic technology capable of detecting the asteroid, and the mathematical skills to predict its movements, but the space programs had barely reached the moon. Had this happened to them a few decades later, they might have stood a chance to stop it, but they had no hope of that now. All they could do was run and hide. Fortunately, the right people were given the latitude to jump into action, and preserve the human race. Private corporations and world governments started working together to an impressively harmonious degree. They built massive cities deep underground to protect them from the impact. The asteroid was destined to strike the continent of Africa, which meant their bunkers would have needed to be farther down than they were capable of digging. So other nations took in refugees, so the entire population of the planet could be saved. They didn’t even fight about it, they just did it. In just eight years, construction was completed. Only a few stragglers chose to remain on the surface, and few of those were far enough away from impact to survive.

The reason they were able to complete the project in the short time allotted was that they planned the bunkers in stages. They knew that it was more important to finish the overall structure first, and stuff it with enough resources for the people to survive on. But they didn’t build individual units and rooms until later, in case it took them too long to finish Stage One. They didn’t build amenities until after impact, because they knew they could be okay until then. They just needed to get people down there, and they wouldn’t have been satisfied with anything short than the survival of everyone who wanted to survive. An impact winter reigned over the planet for decades to come after the incident, forcing the survivors to make their homes here, and forget about ever seeing the sky again. That was a dream that could be fulfilled by their children’s children, or beyond. Progress and development did not end here, though. They kept studying science, and coming up with advanced technology. They were able to tap into their undersea communication lines, and reestablish contact with each other across the continental divides. Within a couple decades, they were back to about where they were when this happened. They were just an underground species now. While they were down here, the Ochivari visited, and went on the hunt for evolved life, pleased to find this to be one world that they did not have to worry about. For some reason, they didn’t notice how few dead bodies were left behind, and foolishly concluded the humans were not a threat. But below, source of recruitment into the Transit Army brewed.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Tuesday, October 15, 2222

With Angela’s help, Mateo was able to chill out a bit, and not be so focused on figuring out how to destroy The Superintendent by reaching out to his God. For the record, my God is named Sophia Dimo, and she’s a very lovely girl who doesn’t take sides, so his idea would not have borne fruit. Now they needed to focus on their next mission, which was taking them to what they would call Italy in the main sequence. Of course, in both realities, humans were living in tall arcologies, so they were in the middle of nowhere, in a rocky field. The AR flickers showed a man sitting at a desk, studying some papers. When the transition completed, he fell on his ass, but he was okay. Like they all did, he looked around, confused. He didn’t appear to be shocked to be in a completely different setting, though, like he had done it before. He noticed the transition team around him. “Are we still speaking English?” he asked. He said all the right words, but he seemed to be struggling with it.
“Yes,” Leona replied. “What language are you more comfortable with?” She started tapping on her Cassidy cuff.
“I was birth to speak Classical Latin, but I know other Latins. I now learning English modern.”
“We can speak Classical Latin for you,” she explained. She started to speak into her cuff. “Does this sound better?” All the other cuffs started translating her words in real time. It was Latin, but it sounded like her real voice.
Angela handed the man one of the extra cuffs, which he just held in his hand. “Yes, that’s much better,” the translation returned.
“What’s your name?” Leona asked.
“I’m Statius. I was born on the first day of what you would call Year One, A.D. On the day I turned eleven, I jumped forward eleven years, and a year after that, it happened again. It was year 22, year 33, year 44, and so on. It was just the year 2222, and I should not have yet jumped again.”
“You haven’t jumped forward,” Leona clarified. “It’s still 2222, but in a different reality.”
Statius crooked his neck. That didn’t seem to translate well.
“A different world,” she said, hoping that made more sense.
Time travel, he seemed to have a grasp of now, but any scifi nonsense beyond that was probably out of reach. He likely hadn’t met any other time travelers before. “Why am I here?”
“Were you in danger?” Jeremy asked through his own cuff. “We help people in danger.” He was always the one to explain that.
“Not that I know of,” Statius said. “The people here have been very friendly. They didn’t get mad at me for not understanding their magic boxes, and have been letting me learn the language using real paper, which is apparently rare in this time.”
“Yes, we no longer need it,” Leona agreed.
“We need to figure out why he’s here, why Nerakali chose him to transition,” Jeremy mused, not into his cuff.
“No, we don’t.” Mateo argued. He spoke into the cuff, “what do you want to do? Do you like being a time jumper?”
“I would like to go home,” Statius replied. “I wish this had never happened to me. I just want things to be how they were.”
“That’s not something we can do,” Jeremy said apologetically.
“Now, hold on,” Mateo said. “Let us discuss your situation. We may come up with a solution yet.” He spoke to the group without the cuff. “I may have an idea, but we should speak alone.”
“You can discuss it,” Angela said. “I’ll stay with him. I speak Classical Latin anyway.”
Mateo led Leona, Jeremy, and Olimpia back to stand next to the AOC. “What’s this idea of yours?” Leona questioned.
“We’ve been looking at these missions the wrong way. Jeremy keeps saying that we’re saving people, but we’re not saving them, we’re freeing them. He’s not in danger of being crushed by boulders falling down a landslide, or from being pursued by an evil serial killer. He just wants to go home, and I propose that we do that for him.”
“How?” Olimpia asked. “We can keep him in The Parallel to protect him from the powers that be, but his life was in the main sequence. They won’t let us put him back. I guess I don’t really know that, but I imagine they’ll be upset. He’s supposed to jump to the year 3333 in a few months.”
“No, we can’t take him back to where he was,” Mateo agreed, “but we can make him think he’s there. We can even make him think he never left. We can erase the last...”
“Twenty,” Leona helped.
“...twenty years of his life,” Mateo finished. “Make him think he’s a regular eleven year old in Ancient Rome, or wherever he was.”
“How would we make him think that?” Olimpia pressed.
“Virtual reality,” Mateo offered. “Put him in a simulation. Let him die there when it’s his time.”
“Mateo, that’s a...” Leona trailed off for a second. “The ethics for something like that are very unclear. You really think that’s what Nerakali had in mind.”
“I don’t care what Nerakali wants. This is what he wants.”
“You don’t know that,” Jeremy pointed out. “He wouldn’t understand it, even if we told him.”
“We don’t have to tell him,” Mateo contended. “We jack him into the Matrix, and make it look like it did when he left. I know the Parallel natives have the ability to reconstruct the past using a subject’s memories. Hell, they may even have data on what the world looked like at that time anyway.”
Leona was shaking her head. “It would all be a lie. He would literally be the only person in the world. He may not know it, but he could feel it. He could sense that everyone else is different, even without realizing that they were NPCs. If he ever did find out, it could drive him insane.”
Mateo wasn’t so worried about that. A well-respected scientific theory hypothesized that people were indeed living in a simulation already, and it didn’t make most people crazy. Hell, today was the day Leona went off to another universe to learn that it was kind of true, but she was fine. When he pointed this fact out to here, she disagreed.
“I did go crazy. I was in therapy with Eight Point Seven for a long time because of this revelation. I mean, we already knew that The Superintendent was playing around with our lives, but to learn it was literally a game that a bunch of children were playing to entertain themselves, was too much.”
“Well, we’re talking about the worst case scenario,” Mateo reasoned. “I trust the natives to know how to program a flawless simulation. Coupled with the fact that he’ll have his memories erased, it should be fine. Eleven-A.D. is too far in the past to have an inkling that the world around you is just zeroes and ones.”
“He has a right to consent,” Olimpia tried to defuse the situation before the Matics could get into a real argument about this. “We can’t erase his memories unless this version of him agrees to it. If we’re confident that he understands it won’t be real, but he won’t remember that it’s not real, then I’m all right with this plan.”
Leona seemed to be off the topic, and onto a more general problem. “We used to be a team. Mateo, I don’t know you anymore. I never know if you’re going to be your original naïve self, your new and improved zen self, or an explosive, vengeful asshole who frightens me. Whatever you and Angela are doing, it’s not working. You are too unpredictable, and you’re too dangerous. We’ll do whatever Statius wants, but after that, I don’t want you part of this team. You can keep the cuff on, but while the rest of us are handling the transitions, I want you to be off doing something else. It doesn’t have to be therapy, but you can’t come back until you can make me feel safe to be around you again. You need time to recover from whatever it is you’re going through.”
“Are you really doing this?” Mateo questioned, mortified and confused.
“I’m really doing this.”
“We need to talk.”
“No, I’m done talking,” she said angrily. “I can’t talk to you. I don’t even wanna look at you anymore. I’ve been trying to stay patient, but that’s not working either. You have options; don’t think you don’t. You can do what I asked, which I think is best, or you can take off the cuff permanently, and fuck off. Or we can get divorced, and you can still fuck off. I won’t have you on this team until you can prove you deserve it.”
“Why don’t you have to prove anything?” Mateo fought.
“Do you two think I have anything to prove?” she posed to the others.
They didn’t say anything.
Leona went on, “I’ve made mistakes, I admit that. I’ve always been me, though. You always know what you’re getting. You can’t say the same anymore, so I’m giving you a choice. What will it be?” She checked her cuff. “You have two minutes.”
Mateo set a timer, and waited the full two minutes. The other three remained silent the whole time. “I’m leaving, but I’m keeping the cuff. I want you to think about something, though. I want you to ask yourself whether you should take off the cuff instead, not because you’re not good for this team, but maybe you’re misunderstanding the situation. This is me now, this is who I am. You can’t understand what it’s like to lose your soul unless it happens to you. That’s not a thing that people can just...learn about second-hand. It was...it wasn’t the scariest time in my life as it was happening, but it gives me shivers now. Am I different? Yes. But I won’t apologize for that, and how dare you demand that I do. I don’t need time to figure myself out. I think you need time to figure me out. So maybe you should take off the cuff, and not come back for another, uhh...”
“Three years, goddammit!” Leona screamed. “The math is not that hard. The next jump is three years, and then another three years, and then nineteen years, and then three years again!”
Mateo stayed calm so as not to lose what he believed to be the upper hand. “Who’s unpredictable now?” He tapped on his cuff, and requested authorization to teleport to Nerakali’s location, which was the only place that he could teleport. Walking away in real time would not have gotten him away from his wife fast enough. Nerakali accepted immediately, probably after having been eavesdropping on their fight.
Once he was gone, Leona fell to her knees, and sat down. She was breathing heavily, and pressing her knuckles against her forehead. She was having a panic attack. “What did I do? What did I just do?”
Olimpia knelt down and wrapped Leona in her arms. “You can’t be around a man who doesn’t make you feel safe. You did what you had to in this moment.”
“Was it even me? Or is this just another twist for the Superintendent to capture his audience?”
No. This was an inevitable development, and a long time coming.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Sic Transit...Lar Familiaris (Part II)

Treasure had never traveled the bulk on purpose before. In fact, she had no recollection of ever having done it. She didn’t even have proof growing up that she was capable of such a thing. Perhaps the time she transported her family to this world, and the time she accidentally transported to some random dangerous world by herself, were all lies her parents made up. Why would they do this? Why would they force her to wear a collar, and claim it was so she didn’t end up getting lost in the multiverse? What could possibly be weirder—or worse— than that? Nothing, apparently, because as she was proving now, it was all true. Her scream really could resonate at the right frequency to break a temporary hole in the membrane of the universe, and allow her to jump to other worlds. Unfortunately, her father had promised to teach her how to use her powers once she turned eighteen. They were planning a family vacation on that day to celebrate. Since she was leaving early, she didn’t know what she was doing, or where she was going. She could figure it out eventually, though, as long as she survived long enough. Once she did, she would be able to return home at the very same moment she left, and unless she said something, her parents would never know exactly how long the trip was from her perspective. But again, she had to survive.
Alarms were blaring, and she could hear gunfire outside the door. It took her a moment for her eyes to adjust to the low lighting. This room appeared to be an advanced futuristic laboratory, but what did she know? If this really was a different universe, their history could be unlike anything she had ever studied before in Miss Collins’ class. There were an infinite number of branes in the bulk, and this could be pretty much any one of them. The furniture and instruments looked somewhat familiar, though, so it probably wasn’t the version of Earth where dinosaurs evolved planet-dominating intelligence instead of humans. She wanted to escape, fearing for her life, but she couldn’t just leave without doing something. One time, when she was younger, she took a train to visit Chicago. It stopped to pick up a few more passengers in Iowa, so she took that opportunity to step off the train, just so she could say she once went to Iowa. But she hadn’t really. She was out there for all of thirty seconds, and had never returned for real. This could not be a repeat of that. She needed to explore, to make some mark—however small—so someone could corroborate her claim that she was here.
She stepped over to the door, and cracked it open carefully. The gunfire was farther away now, so she hoped the hallway would be empty. It wasn’t. Someone pulled the door open all the way, and forced himself in, nearly knocking Treasure down to the floor. He shut the door behind him, and pressed his ear against it. Treasure straightened up her clothes, and cleared her throat. “What’s going on?” Treasure whispered.
The man hissed at her in a language she didn’t know.
“I’m whispering,” she explained, even quieter this time.
He hissed at her again, and tightened the suction of his ear on the metal. They waited for a good five minutes. Once he was convinced they were safe for now, he breathed a sigh of relief, and started trying to talk to her. Language was the weirdest thing about the bulkverse, according to her studies. All these different worlds, some not even just alternate versions of Earth, but unrelated planets. And they all pretty much spoke English. It was the dominant language everywhere. Of course, other languages existed, but Miss Collins spoke of only a few planets that developed completely without it. The evolved dinosaur one was an example. This was a human, and she didn’t know what language he was speaking. It didn’t sound like anything she had ever heard before, except maybe...Ancient Egyptian?
They continued to try to communicate with each other, using hand gestures and facial expressions. He pretended to hold a gun, presumably asking whether she was armed. When she shook her head, he got really offended, and tried to frisk her, which she promptly put an end to. He put up his hands, somewhat apologetically, but not sincerely, and started pantomiming again. He held up an invisible gun, pointed to the door, and turned his fingers into legs. He opened a hypothetical door, and entered what he seemed to think was a glorious room. Something was lining the walls. Paintings? No. More finger guns. All different kinds. He threw a grenade. An armory. He wanted them to go search for an armory. Treasure wanted to shake her head again, but she didn’t know what to do. Was this guy a terrorist who deserved to be caught by the authorities? Was he an innocent accountant for this place who was just trying to escape? There was no way to know which side of this conflict she had stumbled upon. The only way she was going to understand it is if somebody here happened to speak English, French, Arabic, Mandarin, Hindi, Japanese, or Maramon.
Treasure relented, and followed the man out the door. They crept down the dim hallways, sticking to the walls as much as possible. They could still hear gunfire, but it was even fainter now. That certainly suggested an attack, rather than an authoritative raid. She would think cops would leave agents scattered throughout, instead of just moving through the whole thing together. But maybe not. There was no telling how large this facility was. She didn’t know what they did here, or why there was both a lab and an armory. They kept going until they could no longer hear the bullets. They were replaced with humming. It didn’t sound ominous or evil, but pleasant and comfortable. She almost sounded...bored. The man wanted to get away from it, but Treasure insisted they go check it out. If she was another survivor, they had to know, and if she wasn’t, Treasure could always scream.
They slipped through the door, and into what looked like a hock. The woman was alone, locked up, and didn’t stop humming when she saw them. Her arm was lying on the floor, which looked quite uncomfortable. She appeared to be stuck there. The two of them started speaking to each other in their language, so Treasure just stood there patiently. The conversation became heated, though, and he grew angry. It almost looked like he was blaming her for something. Finally, he took Treasure by the shoulder, and tried to pull her out. “No,” she responded, pushing his hand off of her. “What’s going on?”
“I couldn’t give him the answers he was looking for, so he’s abandoning me here,” the woman explained.
“Wait, you speak English?” Treasure questioned.
“I do, yes. I’m from Ansutah.” That was one of the bad universes. Miss Collins would never use such a word, because she was a kind and understanding person, but all the students got the idea. It was populated by monsters, who broke off of the universe that Treasure’s mother was from. They caused a lot of problems all over the bulk. They weren’t as bad as the Ochivari, but it was dangerous to trust them.
“You’re one of the human refugees,” Treasure guessed.
The man started complaining again, forcing the prisoner to get back into the argument. She dismissed him, and he finally gave up, deciding to leave me behind, and go look for his precious armory.
“Sorry about that. I’m half human, half Maramon. They call us hybrids. My name is Azura, and I was sent to this universe to neutralize one Missy Atterberry as a threat.”
“So you are bad?” Treasure said.
Azura scoffed and laughed at the same time. “No, I never had any intention of doing that. I couldn’t even if I wanted to. Missy won’t show up here for another several billion years. I purposely screwed with the algorithm, so my creator would send me to the wrong time period.”
“Oh. My name is Treasure. I’m from voldisilaverse,” she felt compelled to reveal.
“I see. You don’t seem like a pretentious asshole.”
“I wouldn’t call them that. They’re just...proud of themselves.”
“What did I say?” she joked.
“Umm. Are you, like, bolted to the floor?”
“Kinda, yeah. These people hacked into our medical implants, and pushed the gravity up to eleven. I only survived because of my Maramon side. It won’t last forever, though. If you could kindly hand me that cuff right there, I would be eternally grateful.”
Treasure looked over at the object on the table. “What does it do?”
“It will disable my chip, putting my gravity back to normal. You don’t have to unlock the gate, I just don’t want to die on the floor.”
Miss Collins taught them about the adventures of The Newtonian Expats, and The Hybrids. The latter were sent to remove the time powers of the former. Each ended up in a different universe when The Crossover exploded, and started impacting history from there. Most of the hybrids switched sides, and became friends with the Expats, but not all of them, and this Azura person was never mentioned. Still, if Treasure was going to make her own difference, she had to start by giving Azura the benefit of the doubt. That was what Miss Collins would do. Treasure grabbed the implant disabling device, and slipped it through the bars. Azura pushed the buttons on the screen, which were displaying what looked like hieroglyphs. She wrapped the cuff around her arm as well as she could, and activated it. Then she was able to stand back up after however long. She stretched, and massaged the implant site.
“Why are you in here?” Treasure asked.
“I built this device,” Azura said, holding up the cuff. “The implant tracks every single member of the Astral Military Force. I really just wanted to be able to go off-world without my superiors knowing about it. I didn’t know it could have saved lives. As it stands, other than me, it only saved two.”
“Where are the other two?”
“Off fighting against the invasion, I imagine, surely presuming me dead. I did pass out for a while. Anyway, thank you for your help—”
“I’ll let you out,” Treasure assured her. “You don’t have to be weird about it.”
“Okay, thanks, because...I don’t belong in here. As punishment, they would have made me clean the restrooms for a few weeks at worst.” She guided Treasure towards the keycard, which unlocked the hock gate. She repeated herself, “Thank you for your help, but we should get you to safety. This is no place for a youngling. Where is the door to the Crossover?”
“I didn’t come in the Crossover.”
“Hm. The Prototype?”
Treasure shook her head. “It’s just this thing I can do.”
“Hmm. You weren’t on the list.”
“The list of what?” Treasure questioned, worried.
“The list of people who can travel the bulkverse,” Azura clarified. “You’re not on that list. With a name like that, I would have remembered.”
“I’ll use that to my advantage.”
“That would be wise. Though...because of time travel, once the secret gets out, it was always out.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. Two questions, did that guy know where the armory is, and do you?”
“Not really, and yes. He was just a visitor who wishes he had come yesterday instead. The armory is just next door.”
“That seems stupid.”
Azura smiled. “This hock is meant for insubordinate soldiers who they don’t plan on kicking out of the military. If I were a traitor, or deserter, or something, they would have put me somewhere much more secure. This is mostly my commanding officer’s office. What does it matter, though, aren’t you just going home?”
“I have to help you. It’s why I’m here. Let me get you to wherever it is you need to be.”
The two of them stepped out of the hock office, and down to the next door. Treasure kept watch while Azura punched in the code. They walked in, and started gathering supplies. Azura took weapons and tactical gear, but Treasure just fitted herself with a bullet proof vest, and a helmet. Her father taught her how to defend herself, but no one trained her on weapons, and she grew up in a fairly peaceful world. All she wanted to do was protect herself, not hurt anybody. Azura, meanwhile, was carefully removing a grenade from a lockbox, placing it into a smaller box, and lowering it into her bag.
“You really need a grenade?” she asked.
“This is not a grenade,” Azura answered. “Are you ready to go?”
“Where are we going?”
“The Condensed Command Center. There will be very few survivors, and they will all convene there.”
“Okay.”
They opened the door, and tried to leave the room, but were immediately spotted by the enemy. Before she could react, Treasure heard a shot, and felt a choking pain on her neck. Something wet rolled down her chest, and she fell to her back. Azura returned fire only briefly, before dragging Treasure back into the armory, and locking it.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Microstory 1635: Isoverse

I already told you about Floaterverse, where just about everyone on Earth lives on artificial floating islands. Isoverse is similar to that, but taken to an extreme extreme. I didn’t repeat myself, the first extreme is an adjective, and the second a noun. The Floaters still maintain their communities, they’re just modular. They can shift them around, which serves to promote a global community. The isolationists, on the other hand, stay almost completely separate from each other, and they do it in space. Civilization started out normal, but quickly diverged, both socially, and scientifically. Advancement became an obsession for these people, and contrary to popular belief, this is not normal. For centuries, most versions of Earth will develop technology quite slowly, necessity being the mother of invention, and all. Most will not form a drive to push forward regardless of true need until much later. Coupled with religious hangups, this can hold progress back rather well. These same obstacles happened to the Isoversals as well, but unlike others, it severely pissed them off. A resistance group of sorts rose to power, and banned all religion impressively early. I say impressive, but do not mistake that to mean I condone their violent behavior. It’s just such an unusual thing to happen in history, but all told, there was less violence here than in most other universes. The group also banned war, and were prepared to stoop to the level of irony in order to protect that mandate. This also had the effect of increasing the global population, which might sound like a good thing, but it came with some problems. It came with disease. It was worse than any pandemic on any other world, except for the sterility virus. The isoversals were nearly wiped out by it, and it forced them to change their perspective.

The survivors continued to advance, and came up with ways to protect themselves against something like this happening again. Self-quarantining became the norm, and each passing generation was more and more used to the idea, until no one was left alive who felt that there was any better way to live. To maintain the species, they had to live separately. It was the only way, according to researchers. Innovation didn’t halt, though, of course, and soon they were reapplying their methods to space travel. This reached its inevitable state when every family was afforded its own fusion-powered spacecraft habitat that could orbit a planet, or a host star. If requested and approved, they could even be fitted with a propulsion system capable of delivering them to other star systems. When a child was old enough to go off on their own, they did so literally, by transferring to a unit only large enough to accommodate them. Obviously, the entire point of all this was to protect the species, but the price of not going extinct by some disease could not be going extinct by a lack of propagation. Instead of interacting in base reality, communities formed in virtual constructs. They kept their physical bodies, but spent most of their time connected to the network. When two people met, they would begin by dating each other remotely, and would even form a permanent union in VR. They would only come together outside of VR to start a family, and they were assigned a larger habitat in order to make that work. This was how they lived, and they never thought there could be a better way. They didn’t colonize space to protect the environment of their home planet. They did it because they believed it was the best way to insulate themselves from each other. But it protected them from the Ochivari just the same.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Microstory 1634: Fighting Back

The Ochivari don’t want a real war. They’re not worried about their own people dying, or having to use up resources to arm them. They just don’t want to destroy the planets that they’re trying to save. Plus, it takes all this time, and it’s this whole thing. They go to great lengths to keep their presence on a new world a secret, which is why it was such a boon for them when they met a group of humans who wanted in on the action. Still, the missions were rough-going at first. As it turned out, these human allies weren’t as passionate about their crusade as they just liked killing people. They actually wouldn’t have minded going into battle against their targets, because it almost sounded like fun. The Ochivari had to spend a lot of time training them to be more like them, and to take the cause seriously. Even after this, there were hiccups. One of these issues came up on a version of Earth that should have been a no-brainer. The local population was destined to keep ruining the environment, and had little hope of changing their ways. As I’ve said, the Ochivari have no interest in teaching the people they encounter to do better. All they do is look to the future, and hold it against their past. It’s all very black and white to them, and they won’t listen to any concessions or compromises. The allies, though better than previous missions, were reckless here. They made a lot of mistakes, and while the mission itself technically was completed, their exit was far more problematic. The locals discovered the virus that was going to result in their demise, and as you would expect, they were not happy about it. With nothing left to lose, they decided to fight back, and unlike other times when a planet realizes what happened, they stood a chance.

Most worlds can’t fight back, though many would like to try. Once the virus is released, the Ochivari and their allies bug out, and their victims have no way to follow. This time, though, the infiltrators didn’t escape fast enough, and they were caught. The locals interrogated their prisoners of war, and managed to get quite a bit of information out of them. All the Ochivari were gone by then, but that didn’t mean it was over. The allies knew how to contact their masters, in order to be retrieved and returned to safety. The locals used this trick to lure a Worlon ship back to them, so the fighting could begin. As true warfare was not ever part of their plans, the Ochivari were surprised, and completely unprepared. Their ship was destroyed, but the people themselves were kept alive, so they could serve a purpose. The locals forced them to do what they evolved to do, which was to travel to other worlds. They sent their own ship through the portal instead, and started firing upon the Ochivari homebase in Efilverse. Of course, they were severely outmatched, and barely made a dent in their population, but the spark was lit, and that little bit of hope was enough to change things. Their harrowing attempt to fight back was recorded, and before the ship exploded, two survivors managed to leave with the data. From there, it was distributed to as many universes as possible, in time periods before the Ochivari was fated to attack them. A resistance formed from this unwinnable battle that was vital to the future of all evolved life. The Transit was great. It was a cool space train that could also travel to other branes, but it wasn’t at all useful without people to run it, and believe in it. These fallen heroes inspired the army that actually could fight back, and make a huge difference.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Microstory 1633: Providence

Just because a universe is capable of supporting human life, doesn’t mean that humans will actually evolve on a planet somewhere. While the chances of evolved life are negligible—which is why it pretty much only happens once a universe, if that—life itself is actually pretty common. Many have been led to believe that evolution is reaching for some kind of goal, and that humans are a milestone towards that goal, if not the realization of it. The truth is that there’s not always a benefit to being human, or as intelligent as one. Complex brains are difficult to maintain. We need fingers, particularly an opposable thumb, to grasp on to things, but you first need the conditions to need to grab on to things in the first place. Finned aquatic animals do just fine without hands, and they will probably never develop high intelligence, because they do not need it. A lot of the time, when we talk about the Maramons in a universe other than their home of Ansutah, it’s because they were stranded there when The Crossover suffered a cataclysmic failure, and exploded. This is not the only time that Maramon went out into the bulkverse, and it’s not the only reason Maramon are present on other worlds. The whole reason the Maramon built the Crossover in the first place, and stole the technology to do it, was to make more room for their entire population. Ansutah was a tiny pocket dimension when it first began, and only grew when a powerful human’s temporal ability forced it to do so. But this ended when that human was removed from the universe, leaving the Maramon with no choice but to eventually figure out how to break through the membrane. The Crossover went to many other branes, their only mission being to gather data. They needed to understand how common human life was, and which brane would be best suited for settlement. A group of them decided to go against this mandate, and just settle on the first decent planet they found. They called it Providence.

Providence was not the most hospitable world they had ever found—in fact, overpopulation aside, it was worse than the Ansutahan homeworld—but it was free, and open, and left room to expand. There weren’t any humans around, which was a good thing, because that would have further complicated things. The Maramon wanted a new home, not a place to fight against their progenitors. Proper physics did not allow time travel or alternate realities, or even faster-than-light travel, which was all probably good too, but not everyone agreed. The Crossover leadership demanded that the rogues who wanted to stay return to the machine, and stay on mission, but they refused. A skirmish resulted in heavy loss on both sides. By the time a ceasefire was called, the settlers numbered 147, which just so happened to be the generally acceptable minimum for restarting a given population, as it was sufficiently genetically diverse. Worried that the settlers would not survive the somewhat harsh environment on their own, the current Crossover’s captain decided to stay behind with them, so he could protect them from themselves. The machine, meanwhile, went back out into the bulkverse, and continued gathering data before going back to Ansutah. Providence became a new home, and the Maramon there progressed in about the same way humans will without being able to manipulate time. Their population increased, they conquered the solar system, and they colonized exoplanets. And for the most part, people left them alone. For the most part.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Microstory 1632: Second Chance

It is not often that the Ochivari give second chances. In fact, in all the universes that I’ve witnessed, I have only seen it happen the one time. This version of Earth was about where Earth Prime ends up by the end of the first quarter of the 21st century. The environment is not doing well, and it’s not looking good. There is some hope, but progress won’t be realized without a drastic shift in behavior, and for leadership to follow scientific consensus. On this other Earth, before the Ochivari arrived, most people were convinced that climate breakdown was a real existential threat. They were working very hard to alter their policies by removing those from office who denied the truth, or otherwise acted against global prosperity. Unfortunately, the human infiltrators did not see it this way. When they ran their report for the Ochivari to analyze, they left out a lot of pertinent information, leading them to believe that this planet was hopeless. There was even evidence that their mere presence was holding back progress, and contaminating the data. Luckily, some of the Ochivari representatives were not so convinced. Perhaps their human allies were too hasty, and maybe a little too interested in wiping out an entire planet? They looked back over the results, and determined that this Earth was indeed worth leaving alone. The problem was that the sterility virus was already dispatched by the time this appeal went through, and the only reason it hadn’t spread all over the world was because one Ochivar blew the whistle, and warned the Earthans what they had done. If not for this renegade, the Earthans would not have had enough time to place all those already infected in isolation, and quarantine people who might have come into contact with them.

This is the only known case where the virus was stopped in this manner, at least as far as I’ve ever seen. It’s airborne, and as long as even one host remains alive, they can infect someone else. It won’t die out until everyone dies out. It’s otherwise impossible to stop, and the recovery rate is zero. The world was given a second chance, but they would have to take care of it themselves. The Ochivari wanted no part of it, but promised to return if they didn’t wise up. It didn’t make them wonder if there was a better way. They only figured that all they had to do was tweak the investigative aspect. They just needed to better understand how and when people can change. They didn’t consider helping them change, though. They simply left that universe, and then reentered it at a later date to check on their progress. Once they did, they found that they had done more damage than if they had just left these damn people alone. The environment was fine. They invested in renewables, and worked really hard to clean up their mess. They planted trees, and filtered their polluted waterways. Socially, however, there were many problems that weren’t there before. Huge debates raged about what to do with the infected people. Should they keep their small nation in isolation? Should they try to relocate them to a remote island? Should they provide resources, or not? Should they just euthanize them, and get it over with? This raised other related issues, and threw the whole world into chaos. War covered the lands, and at some point, the sterility virus escaped, and made its way into the general population, dooming the few survivors to being the last generation, no matter what they did now.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Microstory 1631: Confederates

In the early days of the Ochivari’s crusade—from their perspective—finding out whether a planet was suited for sterilization was a difficult task. They had spaceships, but transporting these to other universes was problematic. Each individual, with exceptions, will be born with the ability to travel the bulkverse, but they can only transport so much mass. A ship requires a lot of sacrifices, extremely precise timing, and can only happen on the surface of a world with a breathable atmosphere. Basically what they do is gather a bunch of Ochivari who they are willing to let die, and they will all die. While only half of them need to die to open the portal, the destructive force of sending a ship through it will kill the other half as well. The ship, meanwhile, has to essentially fly towards the planet’s surface, and risk simply crashing into it. Many have indeed crashed while trying to figure out this timing. Even a portal large enough to accommodate something so massive will evaporate quickly, so it’s not like they can open one, and wait for the ship to be ready. Once the vessel does manage to get through a portal, and begin exploring the new universe, gathering information takes a lot of finesse. They have to watch any given planet from afar, hoping to understand their history, and predict their future, well enough to determine if they should let them live, or not. They’ve tried to infiltrate the native population, but most people in the bulkverse are human, and not enough cosmetic surgery can make an Ochivar look human. So they walk around in hoods, and hope that no one notices them. They often do, and it causes problems. Fortunately for them, infiltration got easier when they found a group of humans willing to help.

In one universe, the human population of a version of Earth was intentionally primitive. Their technology progressed just as it usually does, but they halted it, and went backwards, in order to protect both themselves, and their environment. Progress seemed to be creating more problems than it solved, including an untenable barrage of wars. The survivors of these wars collectively decided that it was not worth it. Their main drive to come up with new inventions was to make life easier, and even prolong life, but if fighting over resources killed too many people, then it didn’t really make much sense. Without modern medicine, and other life-supporting advancements, the death rate went back to where it was before the world wars. So too did the infant mortality rate. Now, normally, a species such as human will compensate for this decline by increasing the birthrate. They may not even be conscious of it, but a couple will have more children, knowing that some will die. That’s not what happened here. Parents will have relatively few children, and if all of them die, and they can’t pass on their legacy, then so be it. They will die themselves when it’s time—which could happen rather soon without the proper medical treatments—and their bloodline will just end. By the time the Ochivari found them, the population was at about a billion, leaving them well spread out across the globe, and impacting their environment to a minimal degree. Within two centuries, they would have probably become extinct, and they were perfectly content with this. So they understood the logic behind antinatalism, and were eager to help the Ochivari in their cause. They were a lot better at infiltrating other human planets, which led to better intelligence, which honestly, actually probably saved a few worlds from being unduly sterilized when they didn’t truly fit the parameters.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Tuesday, October 12, 2219

Mateo and Leona returned to salmonverse on Tuesday, October 12, 2219. They didn’t know how it happened, or who had done it for them. One minute they were somewhere else, and the next they were back. Serif was still around, which was great, along with the rest of the current transition team. They got them up to speed on what happened during their absence, but the two of them didn’t talk about what had transpired in the other universe, because of copyright reasons, or some other legal something-or-other.
Now that everyone was where they were meant to be, hopefully things would stay the way they were. They kept meeting great new people, yes, but they also kept losing them, and that was becoming exhausting, if not heartbreaking. It really needed to stay consistent. Unfortunately, Mateo had a bad feeling about that. He was pretty sure that wasn’t going to happen. It had never been like that before, even long before the transitions. Nearly everyone from his past was still alive, having been young enough to reach the longevity escape velocity, or through some other means. Even dead people could return through the afterlife simulation. They mostly hadn’t, though. As the two of them pushed forward to the future, they kept leaving people behind. Most didn’t die like Mateo assumed they would in the beginning; they just went off to their own adventures, but they were still gone. Would that ever end? Would they ever find more people like them? Or were they fated to be the only constant in an ever-changing landscape of characters?
It wasn’t time to think about that right now. Their Cassidy cuffs were directing them to their next mission in Antarctica. At first, Mateo figured a researcher was going to be trapped in a blizzard, or a crevasse, but then he remembered that the continent became more temperate over time, thanks to climate breakdown. There were people living there, and calling it home, so any number of reasons could lead the team here. The AOC powered up, and teleported them there, where they waited for the window to open. As they watched the augmented reality flickering, they saw something they recognized. It was a Nexus machine. They had encountered many of these before, but it only occurred to Mateo now that he never knew where the Earth Nexus was. They had always gone off-world via other methods.
A middle-aged man was standing next to it, not really doing anything. Once the transition was complete, he looked around at his new environment, and shivered. Antarctica was still just as cold as it was meant to be in this reality.
Jeremy took off his jacket, and gave it to the man. “Thank you,” he said. “Where am I?”
“The Parallel,” Leona answered. “It’s a concurrent alternate reality. Did you just come through the Nexus?”
“I did,” the man confirmed. “I was on Durus.”
“You got the Durus Nexus working?” Leona was interested.
“Just for me,” he said. “I have the ability to absorb and release temporal energy. I guess it responded to my presence, and sent me back to Earth. Why would I end up here afterwards, though?”
“That we don’t know,” Angela replied. “Before we get too deep in the conversation, I’m Angela Walton. This is Jeremy Bearimy, Leona and Mateo Matic, Serif, and Olimpia Sangster.”
“I’m Escher Bradley.”
“Oh, we know you,” Leona realized. “The Escher Knob and Escher Card are named after you.”
“I don’t know what those are,” Escher said. “I do remember there being some kind of weird door knob when I was first getting trapped on Durus. Is that what you’re talking about?”
“Yes,” Leona said. “You imbued it with power.”
“Oh, cool.”
“Were you on Durus in the year 2219?” Leona pressed.
“Yeah, I think that was the year,” Escher imagined.
“That doesn’t make any sense.” She thought about it, trying to understand how this was possible. “You escaped Durus back in 2021. You and Rothko.”
“Nah, that wasn’t me,” Escher insisted. “You were probably seeing Effigy. She was the one who trapped me in the time crevice, and she can make herself look like anyone.”
“I see.” She understood now. “Well, I’m sorry you went through that. Let’s get you to our ship where it’s warm.”
The seven of them made the short trek to the AOC, and climbed inside.
“Was your life in danger?” Jeremy asked. “We usually receive people who need to get out of wherever they are.”
Escher yawned. “I don’t know that I was in any immediate danger, but I couldn’t leave. No one was operating the Earth Nexus, so I found myself just out here alone. Perhaps all I could ask from you is to transport me back to civilization?”
“That’s easy,” Olimpia said. “Is it possible for the mission to be so simple?”
“Definitely,” Mateo said. “Sometimes that’s all people need. Antarctica is more populated than ever, but I would think they put the Nexus in a very remote region of the continent, so no rando could stumble upon it.”
“Well, I would much appreciate it. I don’t suppose you can get me back to my time period? It’s not a big deal if you can’t,” Escher assured them. “I wouldn’t mind catching up with my friends, but I’m sure they did fine without me.”
“I don’t have the timeline memorized,” Leona began, “so I don’t know what you know, but Savitri is gone. She was transported to a different universe, and went on to become a very powerful immortal.”
“Yes, I suspected she survived. That’s quite interesting,” Escher said. “And Rothko?”
“Rothko...” she started, but couldn’t finish it.
“He became evil, didn’t he?” Escher guessed. “I’m not surprised. I could see the sickness in him as we were trying to survive on pre-civilization Durus. I ignored it, because...I didn’t want to be alone.”
“It’s okay,” Leona assured him. “He didn’t get a chance to hurt anyone permanently, and they put him where he belonged.” Mateo didn’t know all this about history, and of course, no one else did either. Why did she know so much? “He died a long time ago,” Leona went on. “We could ask Nerakali to send you back, so you could speak with him once more, if you want.”
“That’s okay,” Escher said, shaking his head. “I just want to start over, where no one knows who I am. Earth in 2219 seems like as good of a place as any. Will it be difficult to conjure a new identity for me?”
“We know a few people who can do that,” Leona promised. “It won’t be a problem.”
“I appreciate it,” he said gratefully. Olimpia was right, this was an easy transition. It was nice, though, after everything they had been through. They teleported to Kansas City, where a transition window would be waiting to deliver him back to the main sequence. They gave him the tools and instructions he would need to summon help from The Forger, Duane Blackwood. He thanked them again, and went on through.
Mateo’s bad feeling worsened, compelling him to look over at Serif. “You’re leaving too, aren’t you?”
“I have to,” Serif said. “My baby...our baby is special. She can help a lot of people, and I have a responsibility to let her do that.”
“Where will you go?” Leona asked.
“Wherever they take me,” Serif decided.
“Wherever who takes you?” Mateo asked.
“Me.” Thack Natalie Collins was behind them with another young woman. Serif recognized her, but never caught her name. “We know where she can do the most good. It’s not as easy as it seems. The baby is a vaccine, not a cure.”
Big surprise, Serif was leaving yet again. It would seem that the universe was working against them, always coming up with new ways to keep them apart. It wasn’t the universe, though, it was something else. It was someone else, and he was unbeatable. “Serif, was this your decision?” Mateo asked. “Or was it someone else’s?”
“I know what you’re asking,” Serif said, “and I don’t believe it to be the case. Dubra has a destiny. She was born with the ability to heal that was given to me, which makes her stronger. We can’t just not do something with that.”
“She is only a baby,” Leona argued. “Not even that, she hasn’t been born yet. You could stay with us for a very long time before you would have to leave.”
“I don’t wanna skip time anymore,” Serif contended. “I want to raise my child in realtime. I want to teach her to believe in tomorrow. You can come too; all of you. Nothing is forcing you to remain in this universe. The powers that be can’t stop you.”
“I think we all know that it’s not the powers that be that we’re worried about anymore,” Mateo clarified.
Serif nodded. “I know. I’m going just the same. I love you.” She hugged Leona, and then Mateo. “You’ll see us again, and I don’t just mean our alternates. I, myself, will return one day, or we will meet up somewhere else. We keep being pulled apart, but we also keep being pushed back together.”
Regression towards the mean,” Leona added.
“I assure you that she will be in good hands,” Thack claimed as she was leading Serif away.
“Who are you?” Leona questioned. “You can see things happening in other universes. Why have you not helped us before?”
Thack smiled. “Who says I haven’t?” Without another word, she left, along with the other woman, and Serif.
“I’m sorry about your friend,” Olimpia comforted.
Mateo turned away from the group. “She was more than a friend.”
“Mateo.” Leona could tell that an anger was bubbling up in his soul. “You make bad choices when you’re mad. Think about you and Cassidy.”
“He can’t get away with this,” Mateo complained.
“He most certainly can,” Leona said. “He’s more powerful than anyone else we’ve ever met. Arcadia, Nerakali, The Rogue, even The Cleanser. Everything that happened to them happened because he decided it would. They have powers because he wanted them to, and those powers work and don’t work, according to his whims. Likewise, our pattern has changed because of him. Our missions have changed because of him. If we try to go after him, he’ll just write a story where we fail. This isn’t like Supernatural, where a nephilim will show up as a loophole. The Superintendent didn’t create us, he dreamed us. And dreaming people always wake up. We can’t exist if he doesn’t.”
Mateo wouldn’t hear it. “There’s a way. He’s not invincible. He may be our God, but who is his God?”
“Someone none of us will ever meet,” Leona reasoned.
“We’ll see...”
Yes, we will.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Sic Transit...Labor (Part I)

Freya and Limerick watched in horror as her mega dragonfly babies flew away. He reached up, and prepared to start plucking the strays out of the air, but was hesitating. “I...uh.”
“What are you afraid of?”
“Do you want me to kill them, or...?”
“Yes, of course!”
Limerick grabbed one, and smashed it in his hands. It was a hell of a lot larger than a regular dragonfly, but as a newborn, still small enough for him to destroy in one move. He was able to snatch five more, but the rest managed to escape. “Sorry, I just...”
“Do you think that I think of those as my babies?” Freya questioned.
“Well, I don’t know.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Freya said, shaking her head. “It’s not like you could have killed them all. And we both know what becomes of them. This is where the Ochivari begin. We did it. We created them.”
Limerick frowned. “Stable time loop. Engineers of our own fate.”
“Yes.” She frowned as well. Then she winced. Then she screamed.
“What? What is it?”
“It feels like a contraction.”
“There are more in there?”
“It’s different. That was incredibly uncomfortable, but not really painful. This is pain. It’s starting to be the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced.”
“Okay,” Limerick said, calming himself with some deep breathing. “I remember what you taught me when we thought you were just pregnant with a human baby. We have to assume this is that human baby, and work from there.”
“Whatever it is, get it out of me!”
She had technically been in some form of labor for the last several hours, so the real baby came out in a matter of minutes. She was crying and screaming, as any good baby should. Ten fingers, ten toes, and most importantly, no wings. The problem was that she wouldn’t let up. She just kept screaming and screaming. Both of them had heard babies before, but imagine the loudest baby in the world, and then turn that up to eleven. Finally, the scream seemed to reach some kind of apex. It was so powerful that it tore a hole in the fabric of spacetime, and sent all three of them to a different universe.
Once the technicolors faded, the baby’s cries stopped, like she knew she was in a safe place, or even knew how to navigate here. They found themselves in a very small clearing in the woods. It was beautiful and peaceful. Limerick rested his chin on his fist, and admired his little girl. “She must get that from you,” he joked.
“You make light of it, but this could be a problem.” Freya was still in a lot of pain, but being here made her feel safe and comfortable.
Limerick kept smiling. “She knows what she’s doing.”
“I don’t doubt it.” A young woman appeared from behind a tree. “You should name her. It’s bad luck to travel without a name.”
Now Limerick was defensive. “Who are you?”
“Thack Natalie Collins. I’m the one what brought your little team together. I see the goingson in other universes. This is where Landis is from.”
“Voldisilaverse,” Freya uttered.
“Your baby is a hundred percent safe here,” Thack claimed. We will always protect her.”
“We?” Freya questioned.
Thack reached up, and twirled her finger in the air. Other people started coming out of the woodwork, and approached nonthreateningly. They kept a little distance, though, presumably out of respect. “We are all voldisil. I foretold your arrival, and I gathered only the best, and most virtuous, among us, to help me create a haven for the little one.”
“They look like they’re waiting for something,” Freya pointed out.
“We’re waiting to take you to your new home,” Thack explained. “You really should name her first, though.”
Freya looked down at her precious love. She recalled a personal conversation she once had with Diamond Zek. Zektene was a teleporter Freya met a couple years ago, who was accidentally transformed into a diamond in the attempt to boost her abilities. They were talking about Freya’s new name, and Zek pointed out that the goddess, Freyja from Norse mythology bore two daughters of lore. One was named Hnoss, and the other Gersemi. Both of them meant treasure. Diamond Zek admitted to thinking it would be a good name for a girl. They weren’t really thinking about Freya having an actual child at the time, but looking back, it felt like destiny. “Treasure.” She sighed blissfully, and looked up at her daughter’s father. “Treasure Hawthorne.”
He smiled gratefully.
“Treasure Hawthorne,” Thack echoed, as if addressing the heir apparent. “This will be your home...for now.” She took a beat. “Come. You should see a doctor. Your physiology may be too different from ours, which could potentially lower the efficacy of the panacea. Once we determine that it will work, you are welcome to start taking it like everyone else.”
“This is the Landis panacea, correct?” Limerick figured. Landis Tipton was another member of their crew on the Cormanu. He had many abilities, but one of them allowed him to heal any wound or medical condition. He used it to cure millions of people on this version of Earth, and only stopped because biomedical scientists were finally able to synthesize a drug that people could take whenever they needed it.
“Yes. We call it Tiptokois.” Thack turned, and started walking away. The others waited until Limerick was able to help Freya up. They formed a security barrier around them, looking out for all dangers. Voldisil was a general term for anyone who was born with some kind of ability in this universe. They could be good, or they could be bad, and some chose to be bad. Neither Freya nor Limerick knew much about the culture here, or how prevalent bad voldisil were, and even if Landis had given them details, they didn’t know how much time had passed since he left to join their crew. These could all, in fact, be bad people pretending to be on their side. They didn’t know anyone here, though, so they had no choice but to trust them, and hope it didn’t backfire later.
They walked for maybe a kilometer before Thack stopped, and turned towards one of her people. “Are these good?”
A man stepped forward, and carefully inspected two trees standing opposite each other. He waved his hand in the space between them. “This will work. Gather inside.” They all crowded around, and waited. The man continued to wave his arms around, this time like he was dancing without his feet, or like he was playing a game with the wind. This wind picked up, and after a minute, blew them away. They instantly transported to a pair of different trees in an urban setting. They were spaced about the same distance apart as the first trees, and as they looked around, Limerick and Freya could see other pairs, at different spacings. It was an interesting form of teleportation that was unmatched by anything in Freya’s universe, despite the fact that a lot of people there could do it in some way, or another. Tree portals, she presumed to call them.
Thack continued to lead them forward, all the way to a small hospital. It looked like something out of an old timey one-horse town, but this was clearly a big city. Freya figured that made sense, because most people here would have access to Landis’ panacea, which mostly negated the need for traditional medical practices. The receptionist greeted them kindly, and then stood up from her chair, showing that she was wearing a lab coat. The others stayed behind while she led Thack, Freya, Limerick, and little Treasure to the back, where she revealed herself to be the doctor as well. Again, with such little need for medical infrastructure, there wasn’t much reason for anyone but a doctor to work in what might very well have been the only hospital on the whole planet.
They spent the rest of the day being examined, and undergoing tests. Blood draws, CAT scans, and urine samples; they were all quite familiar to them. Once it was over, the doctor sent them on their way, saying that the results would be ready in the morning. Thack and the voldisils accompanied them to their new home. It was just large enough for two people and a baby, but very nice and clean. This world was all about simplicity and efficiency. It didn’t need to be luxurious to be comfortable, and to have everything they needed. Their only neighbors were Thack and the other voldisil. There was no telling how long they had been preparing for their arrival. Different universes operated on totally unrelated timestreams. The moment they left salmonverse, and the moment they arrived here felt consecutive, but there was no telling how much actual time these people had to plan for this.
Time was simultaneously important, and not all that important. Freya and Limerick wanted to get back to their friends, but again, it didn’t matter how long they waited. There was no rush to leave when this world was perfect for them right now. So they stayed. They stayed for over sixteen years. All three of them were taking the monthly tiptokois pill, and keeping a stash of emergency class pills at all times. The former kept them young and healthy, and they never found themselves ever needing the latter. According to the history, volidisil once kept themselves hidden, working in the shadows to either make the world a better place, or a worse one. Landis was the first to step into the light, and show people what he could do. It inspired others to use their own gifts out in public. This transformed society, creating a one-world government, and shedding a lot of the pain and suffering that most civilizations lived through.
On a personal note, Treasure was a great child. She was nice, caring, and affectionate. She was disciplined, patient, and interested in learning. Thack taught a special study program at a community college on exoversal cultures. It was generally limited to adults, but they made an exception for Treasure for obvious reasons. Everyone loved her, but she didn’t have any close friends. This world loved and accepted people who were different, but she still always felt so foreign, and never really got over that. People didn’t realize either, or they probably would have tried to help. She was just so popular that no one noticed she didn’t hang out with a specific group, and didn’t have anyone outside her parents who she could trust fully, and confide in. She wasn’t depressed exactly, but she wasn’t super happy either, and that was a realization she had to come to herself. It happened this morning.
“Treasure Lydia Hawthorne, get in here right now!”
She knew what her mother was angry about, but she was going to hold firm. So she took a deep breath, and prepared for battle.
“What is this doing on the table?”
She couldn’t yell, because if she yelled, it would give her mom even more reason to think that she needed it, which she didn’t anymore. She could control herself just fine. “I’m sick of it, and I’m over it.”
“It doesn’t work that way. This necklace is for your own protection.”
“It’s not a necklace,” Treasure argued, “it’s a collar. Your flowery language doesn’t work on me anymore.”
“I don’t understand, you used to be fine with it. You know what it’s for.”
“I control my voice. I’ve taken it off before, and didn’t have a problem.”
“What is this right here?” Freya asked, pointing.
Treasure sighed, realizing her mistake by claiming there was never a problem. “That’s my elbow,” she recited in monotone.
“We left that scar to remind you that if not for the panacea, you could be dead right now. That weird bird creature was this close to eating the rest of you. Your father found you in an uncharted universe after making four—four!—shatter portals. You realize how hard that is for him? It wears him out, he could have died trying to rescue you. He got lucky that time, because of Miss Collins, but if you scream just once, you could end up too far away for even her to detect. If you see a spider, or a boy gets too handsy, that could be it. You could be lost forever. That is why the amazing scientists on this planet built you that necklace, and that is why you can’t ever take it off unless he’s there to go with you. Which you’re not going to do until you turn eighteen, which you agreed to ten years ago.”
“I’m not asking you to let me train with dad. I just don’t want to wear the collar anymore. I’ve spent my whole life not raising my voice, I think I’ve been conditioned enough.”
“Or maybe you’ve been stifled for so long, it’s all just waiting to burst out all at once,” Freya argued.
“All the more reason to let me get used to taking it off!” It wasn’t a scream, but her voice was indeed louder than it had ever been since that time she got stranded. She was still a baby back then, though, and had no memory of that.
Steam came out of Freya’s ears. She held up the collar. “Put this goddamn thing back on this instant, before you do something you regret. I’m your mother, and you’re going to listen to me.”
“I’ll show you,” Treasure claimed. “I’ll show you that I can control it.”
“Yeah, you will, because you’ll be wearing your necklace.”
“Stop calling it that. It’s a collar, and I’ll put it on in five minutes.”
“What are you going to do in the next five minutes?”
“I already told you, I’ll show you that I can learn control. I’ll be back before you know it.” She ran down the hall, and into her room, ignoring the complaints from her mother. And then she screamed.