Saturday, July 31, 2021

Extremus: Year 3

The original idea was to have the captain of the Extremus make the evening announcements every day, as a way for the crew to stay connected to the passengers. After months of this, Halan decided to change this by having a different crew member do it every day. They created a randomized schedule, which wasn’t periodic, but was still designed to be even, so that no one member was doing it too often. The young tech who was first assigned this responsibility was nervous about the prospect. It wasn’t what he signed up for, and it wasn’t in his wheelhouse, so to speak. He didn’t feel the same way forever, though. The more that Eckhart Mercer did the announcements, the more he fell in love with it, and the more the people fell in love with him. He was charismatic, funny, and entertaining. They became a larger affair, about more than just reporting the general status of the ship. People started thinking about what they could do to end up on the speakers, by inventing a new game, or coming up with a fabulous recipe. Eckhart Mercer became a celebrity, and in the end, the general consensus was that they would be better off with him as their permanent announcer. It was more than that, though. He was responsible for keeping up to date on the goingson of the ship, and knowing what news was important. The Captain was happy to adapt the schedule to accommodate this shift in popularity. The rest of the crew seemed fine with it too.
True to his word, Halan left Omega in hock for an entire year. He approved all necessary organic longevity treatments, however, because he kind of had to. Omega is a different subspecies of human; one that was originally designed to last for tens of thousands of years. Ethical conventions are pretty clear that, when in doubt, the standard procedure when dealing with a socially disruptive entity, is to maintain life expectancy. In other words, he deserves to live indefinitely, because anywhere else, he would. And anything short of that is tantamount to capital punishment, which is illegal. There was a debate amongst the executive crew, as well as the security team, whether they ought to place him in stasis. That was, after all, part of the intentions of Omega’s genetic engineer, Saxon. In the end, they determined that this too would be unethical, as Omega deliberately broke free from his nature to lead a different life. The feelings of the individual in question can’t dictate their fate, but they have to be taken into account no matter what. They cannot just be ignored. So he has remained in there with all the luxury of a normal cabin, but none of the luxuries of public spaces. He can’t even hear the announcements from down there.
Airlock Karen continues to be a headache for everyone. They manage to avoid tearing down a wall for her sake, and eventually get her out of there completely. She was more than willing to relocate back to her cabin once Halan gave up, and threatened to throw her in the hock too. Now that she’s in the general population, it’s become clear just how delusional she is. She is completely convinced that the crew is out to get her, and the passengers are generally on her side. The reality is that no one likes her, and they always try to stay away from her. She’ll latch onto a large group when it forms, and outwardly fantasize about being the center of it. People ignore her as best they can, but she is obviously getting on their nerves, and Halan knows he has to be rid of her soon.
“It’s ready,” Old Man says, “but like I’ve been saying, “there is no way to test this. Even if we give it to your two...victims...?”
“Let’s just call them Gatewood-bounders,” Halan corrects.
“Very well.” Old Man goes on, “even if we give it to your two Gatewood-bounders, and they press the button, we’ll have no way of knowing whether it worked.”
“We’re operating at maximum reframe, which means it’s near-equivalent to realtime. I can send a message back to Gatewood to see if it worked,” Halan points out.
“True. In fact, you could send that message right now, because if it will work, they’ve already been there for three years.”
“Let’s not screw with causality just yet. You’re sure you’ve done everything you can to adapt it, right? Pushing that button will send them, and only them, back to 2170?”
“Again, not sure, but there’s no point in me trying to improve it. It either works, or it doesn’t.”
“Give it to me. I need to discuss it with them.”
“You’re going to ask them for permission?”
“No, but I don’t want to just spring it on them last minute, or worse, not tell them anything at all. They have a right to prepare themselves emotionally. Karen has been begging us to send her back this whole time, but she doesn’t know about the button. It’s entirely possible she just wants to be difficult. When I show her that there’s hope for her actually getting what she wants, she may realize she doesn’t really want that. The more I pass by that service airlock, the harder it is for me to believe she went in there for any reason but to draw attention to herself.”
“That’s what I’ve been saying.” It’s Rita, having come into the lab at some point.
“Good, you’re here. Please have security escort her to the lower deck. Quietly,” Halan requests.
“She’ll be suspicious,” Rita volleys. “We don’t want her causing a scene.”
“Good point. I’ll...invite her to dinner,” Halan decides. “You can take the device down to the interrogation room. Have Omega sent there too, of course.”
“Uh, I think I would feel more comfortable if the Captain handled this by himself.” Old Man lifts the device with two hands, and tries to hand it to Halan.
“Why are you wearing gloves?” he questions.
“Scientists wear gloves,” Old Man replies with a casual shrug.
“So Rita doesn’t need to wear gloves herself?” Halan tries to confirm.
“I really would rather you take it instead. It’s very delicate, and we only have one.” Old Man is insistent.
“Take off your gloves, Old Man,” Halan orders.
“Sir, it’s just...”
“Take off your goddamn gloves,” Halan repeats.
Old Man sighs. He sets the device down, removes his gloves, then picks it back up. He again tries to hand it to Halan.
“Thank you, Lieutenant,” Halan says to Rita.
“My pleasure, sir,” Rita replies. She’s confused too, but everything has worked out. She takes the device, and heads down to the lower deck.
Halan, meanwhile, goes up to the passenger section, where Airlock Karen is trying to yet again regale her tale of woe to the random people who have accidentally found themselves within her blast radius. He’s going to need to be as charming as possible. “Would you please join me for dinner tonight, Madam.”
The crowd is noticeably uncomfortable, but Airlock Karen is ecstatic. She tries to hide it. “How can I deny my Captain? I will be there in two hours.”
Halan clears his throat suggestively, and makes his eyes wander, almost like he’s looking for someone else to invite instead.
“I suppose I could eat a tad bit early,” she says. “Give me ten minutes to freshen up?”
“Certainly,” Halan says. He points to the nearest security officer. “She’ll escort you when you’re ready.” He turns to leave.
“Thank you,” Airlock Karen says. “I have some great ideas about how to run this place that I think you’ll really respond to.”
He doesn’t turn back, but he retches a little in his mouth. “I’m always happy to listen to my passengers.” He walks away, and heads for the interrogation room. The security guard knows what they’re doing, and what to do with Airlock Karen, even though he didn’t specifically assign her this task.
It was always bound to take longer than ten minutes for her to show up, so the three of them sit in awkward silence while they wait.
“So, how about that local sports team, eh?” Omega asks, evidently trying to break the ice.
“The what?” Halan doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
“It’s an Earthan thing that people say.”
“I’ve never heard of it.”
“You finally figured it out, didn’t you?” Omega guesses.
“You figured out how to send me back.”
How does he know about that? “Who’s been feeding you information?”
“No one,” Omega replies, seemingly honestly. “You run a tight ship. I figured out what you were doing, because I’m a genius.”
“I never wanted you here, and neither do you,” Halan reminds him.
“I dunno,” Omega says, looking around. “It’s nice being outside the hock. Maybe I could be useful. I’m not the same man who went in there a year ago. I promise to be better. You have to understand that I grew up in a sea of other versions of me. We were expendable. Many of us died, I don’t think you wanna hear the statistics. I had no control over my life until I took it. I suppose it’s just been hard for me to take orders since’s never done me any good before.”
Halan leans over the table. “If you can follow orders now, then follow this one. Go back to Gatewood. If I only send the one person back, it will look personal. It will look like I attacked her. If you go with her, I think it will smooth over any disagreements that might arise when this gets out.”
Omega smiles. “Yes, sir.” If he’s trying to find an angle, Halan can’t tell what it is.
Rita shows up with Airlock Karen, who doesn’t understand what’s happening, but she’s become suspicious. Dinner should not be all the way down here by the hock, she presumes. This doesn’t make any sense. “Why don’t you have a seat?” Rita offers.
“I’m not sitting next to him,” Airlock Karen declares. “What is this?”
“I’ll explain, but if you don’t sit down right now,” Halan begins to warn, “you’re going into the cell with him.”
She sits down right quick.
“Now,” Halan starts his speech. “Neither of you want to be here.”
“I’ve changed my mind,” Omega interrupts.
“I’ve not,” Halan says. “I still don’t want you here...either of you.” He nods to Rita, who removes the device from her bag, and sets in on the table in front of him. “This will send you back to Gatewood at the exact moment that we left. You will watch from the observation deck with all the others who chose to leave. You don’t have to push it right now. I’ll give you a day to prepare yourselves.”
“Why didn’t you give me this before?” Airlock Karen scolds.
“It hadn’t been invented yet,” Halan answers. She doesn’t need to know the whole history about it being adapted from the undo button. “I don’t need Omega off my ship as much as I need you gone. With him, we would have figured something out, he’s at least useful. I had my best engineer working on the problem...for you. So instead of being nasty, for once in your life, could you just be grateful that anyone worked as hard as we have to get you what you asked for. Keep in mind that, in this case, just shutting the hell up is a good way to show that you’re grateful.”
She clears her throat submissively.
Halan goes on, “all you have to do is pull the string, and press the button. You’ll be doing it together, though, as we only get one shot at this. Like I said, you’ll have a day. We’ll retrieve you tomorrow for departure. Omega, you’ll be released until then.”
Just then, they hear banging on the door behind them. They look back to see Old Man through the window, desperately trying to get into the locked room. “I couldn’t wash my hands! It’s not good enough! Don’t push the button!” it sounds like he shouts through the door, but it’s a little muffled.
“What is he talking about?” Halan questions.
“I have no idea,” Rita notes.
“Don’t push the button!” Old Man repeats.
“Screw that,” Airlock Karen decides. She stands up, grabs the device from the table, and takes several steps back.
“Wait,” Halan tries to reason with her. “I think something’s wrong.”
“I don’t care!” Airlock Karen screams. She pulls on the string. “I’m getting the hell out of here!” She presses the button, and promptly disappears.
So does Old Man.
So does Rita.

Friday, July 30, 2021

Microstory 1680: Those Who Stayed Awake

While the majority of the population was uploading themselves into virtual reality constructs—powered by the abundant solar energy on the day side of their tidally-locked planet, and cooled by the night side—a few were choosing to go a different route. They had no problem with transferring their consciousnesses to other substrates, but they didn’t want to live in fantasy worlds where the laws of physics could be manipulated. They wanted to remain in base reality, and enjoy life here. Many moved themselves over to android bodies, while others stayed more or less organic. They built gargantuan cylinder ships, each with its own unique design. These were massive pieces of art that could orbit a celestial body, or propel themselves through interstellar space. The proper physics in this universe did not allow for any form of faster-than-light travel, so the ships traveled at sublight speeds. They went to worlds that their probes indicated were interesting, but since most of them were just as immortal as the brethren they left behind in the virtual constructs, they weren’t in too much of a hurry. This was just how they lived, and they were able to continue on like this for a very long time before changing their minds. Even though they were the people who wanted to explore the universe, they still didn’t feel any desire to consume more than was necessary to live safely and happily. They didn’t settle on any new worlds, because they wouldn’t get anything out of that. They just visited them, and enjoyed them, and lamented that they were apparently the only evolved species for at least the next several million light years. Once they confirmed that they were well and truly alone, they just let the probes continue to support the evidence, and then they followed their ancestors into VR.

Throughout all of this, it wasn’t like the base reality people had completely broken off from the VR people. They were still a single united civilization. Not only did they stay in contact with each other, but the people on the ships regularly entered the constructs remotely, and interacted with their friends and neighbors. Some even did land on lifeless celestials, and set up their own servers. Thanks to quantum communication, the virtual universe was as connected as the real one. Or rather, more so, because faster-than-light travel was possible within the bounds of the simulations. Over time, more and more people who had either originally chosen to board the exploration ships, or were descended from those, ended up living in the simulation permanently. Tens of millions of years later, they realized that no one was left in the real world anymore, except for the robots they needed to maintain the system’s hardware. They were spread out, but back together. As it turned out, without any alien species to develop diplomatic relations with—or, hell, even not-so-diplomatic relationships—the universe just wasn’t all that fun. They kept the real cosmic structure as the foundation, however. When someone jumped from one world to the next, it would either look exactly as it did for real, or was modified in a semi-realistic way. That is, they didn’t build new planets to their specifications. They found something close to what they were looking for, and altered it in the same way they would if they were still out there. They didn’t have to stick to the limitations of the physical laws completely, but they didn’t go too crazy most of the time. They reserved such things for the primary servers that were still operating on their homeworld. This lasted for trillions upon trillions of years, and then beyond.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Microstory 1679: The Data

Long after Legend Oberti was dead, the world itself was dying. The remnants of humanity tried to eke out a living amongst the ruins, but life was harsh, and people were sad. They were only likely going to survive in the long-term thanks to the sustainable inventions of a historical figure named Axel Quincy. Axel died while Legend was still alive, but the specifications for his designs lived on beyond his death. Unfortunately, this was not good enough. The people of the future could not live like this forever. It was just too late. Perhaps if they had all this before, things would be different. There was no way to stop the world from having ended, but if they went back in time to save this one person, he could ultimately make their lives easier. A gamma-ray burst destroyed nearly all life on Earth, leaving only the survivors who were lucky enough to be on the other side of the planet alive. This consisted predominantly of people in New Zealand, Australia, southern Argentina, and many islands in Oceania, as well as people on sea vessels. A few researchers in Antarctica were fine too, which is where the time travel technology originated. They were already working on manipulating time there, free from the oversight of their countries of origin. When the world ended, they decided something had to be done to protect the people who managed to be out of the danger zone, for surviving the initial event was not good enough on its own. Their hope was to just send everyone back to prehistoric times, but things changed when they caught wind of something called The Data. Before this data was discovered, life was pretty hellish. The supply chain was broken, the network of artificial satellites in orbit were completely destroyed. Governments were gone, and chaos reigned.

While searching for entertainment files to keep their people from going insane, a small group of people stumbled upon Axel Quincy’s designs on a server in Papua New Guinea. He had kept his data in the cloud, and even after all this time, it was still there, just waiting for someone to find it. They didn’t know exactly what they had, but the data started getting bounced around the hemisphere until the right people learned about it. They knew how to build his designs, and reunite what was left of the world. When the time travel researchers found out about The Data, they decided there was a better way. Instead of just trying to make life easier, what if they went back and made sure these creations were made before the gamma-ray burst? The whole population of the planet could be relocated to the safe zone, and sustained by the Quincy structures. Many would probably not believe them, but at least they could try, and for those few from the past who were willing to take a leap of faith, there would be a place for them in Australia. Now all they needed was to find someone to actually go back in time, save Axel, and set everything in motion. It was not an easy search. Only one person would fit in the machine, and once they were gone, no one else would be able to follow. Even if the traveler succeeded in the mission, it would have to be a one-way trip, which people were all right with. The main draw was that they didn’t know what would happen to the original timeline. That was what really made so many people volunteer. They didn’t want to die in the collapse. Antarctica set up a lottery to choose a handful of candidates, and then formulate a training program to make sure they could handle the job. Siri Cobb ended up fitting the bill, but as we already know, things did not go as planned.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Microstory 1678: Scorched

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

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

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Microstory 1677: Structural Integrity

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

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

Monday, July 26, 2021

Microstory 1676: Life Returned

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

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

Sunday, July 25, 2021

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

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

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Extremus: Year 2

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

Friday, July 23, 2021

Microstory 1675: Boss Level

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

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