Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Microstory 1702: Air Pump

I cannot find my bicycle pump. My Aunt Leah is going to kill me if I’m late, but that’s not the worst part. She bought me all this nice equipment so I could go green, and sell my car for some extra cash. If I don’t show up to her office with the bike, it’s going to break her heart. It doesn’t matter that the flat tire isn’t my fault, or that her son has been staying with me for the last couple weeks, and he keeps moving my crap around. She can’t even be allowed to see a hint of the possibility that I ever go anywhere without it. Of course, I take public transportation all the time. The movie theatre is too far away, and I like to buy all of the groceries I’ll need for a month. She cannot know this. She is too unreasonable and frantic about everything that happens to her. The more time I spend looking for the air pump, the less time I have to resort to the alternative solution. And I do have another solution. It’s just not particularly ethical, and could come back to bite me in the ass later. It’s better than having Aunt Leah ice me out. She controls a lot about the family, and even though she won’t have much inheritance to give me when she croaks, she holds a lot of sway with the grandparents. That’s it, it’s already taken me too long. I’m going to have to do the other thing. My neighbor isn’t going to like it, but I can deal with her later, and she can’t threaten me with hundreds of thousands of dollars. Yes, my family is quite rich. I’m not, but they are, and if I wanna become like them when I grow up, I have to play ball. I may sound selfish or materialistic, but I hate working, and I don’t have very many marketable skills. I was made for the simple life.

Fortunately, my neighbor gave me her garage code in case of emergencies, or when she gets packages during her time away. Also fortunately, she has a very similar bike. It’s not exactly the same, but I’ve gotten quite good at amateur bike repair, so I should be able to make it work. I think I can do it. I enter the code, and slip under the door before it’s all the way open, as if my other neighbors somehow won’t notice if I’m quick enough. I turn her bike over, and start to remove the wheel carefully, but as quickly as possible. It’s off in minutes, and I’m halfway there. Well...I’m halfway there to being halfway there. I close her garage behind me, and walk back over to mine. I still have to take my bad wheel off so I can replace it, but that goes a lot faster, because I’m so much more familiar with it. I get the new wheel on, and I’m surprised at how nicely it fits. Hmm. It almost looks like it actually belongs. An enthusiast could tell the difference, but it should pass Leah’s inspection. After all, she has no reason to believe I had to cannibalize someone else’s property to get it in working order. She might not even see it in the bike rack from her third story office. This was always a precaution. I take a few laps around my driveway, just to make sure, but I can’t waste too much time on it, because now I’m really running late. I can still make it, but I’m going to have to haul ass. I close my own garage, and race out into the street. There’s a lot more traffic than I would like, and drivers are getting pissy with me, but they can suck it. I’m more important to them in this moment; not in general, but right now. They would understand if they knew what’s at stake. Finally the streets clear up. I’m also at the top of the hill, so if I just let it ride without being careful, I can make up time. I pedal as hard as I can to give myself even more of an edge. I smile as I check my watch. Yeah, I’m gonna make it. Except I don’t. A bus makes a right turn in front of me, and I’m moving too fast to brake. I die instantly.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Microstory 1701: Project Andromeda

When the Ansutahan refugees were successfully transported from the brink of war in their home universe, they were relieved. They could finally stop living in fear of the white monsters who roamed the majority of the continents on their home planet. The Gatewood Collective was their home now, at least for now...at least for most of them. Decades later, a portion of the refugees, but mostly their descendants, would choose to begin a journey to the other side of the galaxy. This was the largest exodus that the Ansutahan humans had experienced so far, and probably the most ambitious, but it was not the most far-fetched. A transgalactic journey was nothing compared to what happened 15 years earlier—or only 10 years, for that matter. One of the last major ventures that the leaders of Gatewood endeavored to complete was Project Andromeda. While reaching the other side of the Milky Way would take a couple hundred years at reframe speeds, Andromeda would take thousands. If they only traveled at relativistic speeds, any observer inside the ship would still only experience a few thousand years, but millions of years would pass them by before they arrived. Unlike Operation Extremus, Project Stargate was designed to spread across the galaxy at such speeds, so that when they began to send data back to the stellar neighborhood, people would understand how it was possible that a ship had made it so far away. That was what they thought the maximum speed was. Faster-than-light travel was relegated to  science fiction for them. For people living 3500 years from now however, surely they would have long been introduced to FTL, and even other forms of time travel. They probably wouldn’t freak out to learn that someone was already exploring Andromeda. In fact, there was a strong chance that humanity would have already reached it even faster.

So Kestral and Ishida came to the decision to make Project Andromeda travel much faster than most people living in 2255 thought possible, under the assumption that the truth would eventually come out, and be fine. They constructed 11 small vessels. One would act as primary, while the others were backups. This would give them a greater chance of succeeding, since so many things could go wrong in transit. The original plan for Project Stargate was for the ships to be entirely automated, with no organic lifeforms on board, except for human DNA samples, which could one day be used to seed life on other planets. One of the team members chose to go against this mandate, and clone himself millions of times, so that a human touch would be available to negotiate any crisis that might come up. Inspired by this, Team Keshida decided to allow volunteers for Andromeda. Anyone who wanted to make this trip, which would potentially be only one-way, could submit an application. They figured that if no one applied, then they would just revert back to the original plans. They received thousands of requests, and had to narrow it down to 24 people. Two would be in each of the backups, while four would be in the primary. They would remain in stasis for the whole trip, and only be awakened if it was absolutely necessary. They all had extensive knowledge that would help them effect repairs, yet they received additional training to ensure that these were undoubtedly the best candidates for the job. Once they were ready, the ships launched, each one a month behind the last, until they were all gone. Again, the ships were still automated, so now the only thing to do was wait, and hope that everything worked out.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: February 25, 2013

The last time Mateo was in 2013, he was only 27 years old. He had yet to hear of time travel, parallel realities, other universes, or psychics. More frighteningly, he had not met Leona, who was only 13 years old. She had never heard of any of this either. That was all in another timeline anyway. There was no way of knowing what awaited them in the here and now. At the moment, the four of them were stepping out of their hotel suite, and heading for the business center, so they could investigate a theory that Leona was brewing. It had been a very long time since she had been able to get onto the old fashioned internet. In the future, Web 4.0 was destined to begin scrubbing the internet of unnecessary information, or misinformation. Future generations will stop caring about frivolous personal broadcasts, and focus on shared knowledge, and streamlined entertainment. Answers will be readily available in whatever form the user wants. Dense datasets can be reorganized on the fly to come up with any solution that’s in there somewhere.
After that, Web 5.0 will take over, and centralize all this data. Artificial intelligence will analyze and synthesize the collective vonearthan information. Separate web sites will no longer exist. They’ll be replaced by a repository of information, which can be accessed by pretty much anyone. The idea of a place to order books, and another place to watch videos will be as foreign to the natives as churning butter was to the people of today. Until then, it was nice to get back to basics. Leona had to go to a specific location in a building to connect to the internet, and just hope the answers she was looking for were there somewhere.
Angela hovered a little bit, while Mateo and Jeremy passed a foam ball between each other. They stopped when another hotel guest came in, then continued once he left. Soon thereafter, Leona was ready with her hypothesis. “On October 9, 1532, a carrack called The São Leonor left Ponta Delgada on a return trip, bound for Portugal. It never made it there before it sank for unrecorded reasons on October 15. The crew was later located and rescued by another vessel less than a year later. In 1535, an attempt was made on John III of Portugal’s life, but the killer was thwarted by a man named Mateus Gil, who was reported to have been a crew member of the Leonor. He killed the would-be assassin, and was awarded his own ship by the king for his efforts.”
“Hmm,” Angela said simply.
“August 29, 1608, a known, but unpunished, rapist in the little English hamlet of Olympia found himself at the hands of the town physician. Stroud ignored his oath, killed the rapist, then escaped to Chaslow to avoid prosecution himself.”
“Oh, weird,” Jeremy said.
Leona continued, “May 31, 1838, Anatol Klugman was born. He’s killed more people than anyone can count. November 9, 1888, Mary Jane Kelly is Jack the Ripper’s last canonical victim.”
“I think I see what you’re trying to say,” Angela noted. “I don’t see much evidence of a pattern.”
“You don’t?” Leona questioned. “We saved killers of killers.”
“We don’t know that Orna killed Jack the Ripper. The murders stopped, but that doesn’t prove Orna had anything to do with it. Sure, she had motive, but no one else was able to catch him, what gave her an advantage?”
“The man who tried to drown her called her a hedge-creeper. She might not have actually been a sex worker, but she could have posed as one, and lured the serial killer to her. He may have even known that they were related, and couldn’t resist the poetry.”
“That is all a guess. Nothing suggests the Ripper stopped because he was killed.”
“It makes sense, though, doesn’t it?” Leona insisted. It sure did make a lot of sense. They should have known all along that The Warrior wasn’t going to let them save lives without there being some kind of catch. He was a killer, and if he couldn’t compel them to kill for him, he would have to loop a hole. “We’re Dexters.”
“What do you suggest we do?” Mateo asked.
“Don’t play into it,” Leona argued. “We don’t take any missions.”
“I don’t know if I can do that,” Jeremy acknowledged, shaking his head. “First of all, that won’t come without consequences. Secondly, we are still saving lives. Who are we to say who is worth saving, and who isn’t?”
“Not us,” Leona agreed, “but better us than him.”
“We just need to hold out,” Jeremy went on. “If we can—”
“Shh,” Leona interrupted.
“Right.” Before the conversation—or argument, as it were—could continue, the Cassidy cuffs beeped. Jeremy looked at his, sighed, and stood up. “I’m taking this. I’m answering the call. Anyone can come with me...anyone can stay.” With that, he left the business center, and then the hotel.
The other three followed him out there, and down the street. They walked into a sporting goods store, and over to the customer service counter. While satellites were now flying overhead, the cuffs were still just giving them two points: where they were, and where they needed to go. They had no idea who it was they were meant to help here. A clerk turned around and smiled. “Let me guess, you’re the Matics.”
“We are, yes,” Mateo answered.
“Your order is all paid for, and ready.” She reached under the counter and pulled out a large hiking backpack. She then reached down, and retrieved four more. They looked like they were already packed full of stuff.
“There are only four of us,” Jeremy explained.
The clerk frowned, and checked the receipt. “You’re right, I don’t know how this happened. It does say four.” She pulled one of the backpacks away. “I’m so very sorry about this. I’m still new here. I’m only in Utah to house sit for my aunt while she’s on sabbatical, but I still need a little money. I’m better with shoes.”
“That’s not a problem at all,” Mateo said sincerely. “Thank you for your help...” He looked down at her tag. “...Cecelia.”
“That’s who I am if you need me...and not if you don’t.”
They all chose their packs, thanked Cecelia, and left the store. The map became a little more sophisticated. Now it wasn’t just showing them their destination, but the path they were meant to take to reach it. Leona had bought a Utah atlas as the hotel beforehand. She compared the two, and learned that they were going on a pretty bad hike. It was only about five miles, but instead of using a road, they were cutting through a mountain range. Without understanding the topography, it looked more or less like a straight line, but it was actually going to be grueling. On the streets, this distance would only take them half a day, but like this, it would be more like three days, especially since none of them—not even Angela—was a particularly avid walker. The only blessing was that their time limit was five days, which would give them a buffer to work with. Still, fearing punishment more than ever, they strapped on, and headed off.
It was worse than Leona had surmised, but they couldn’t blame her. This was not her area of expertise. It took them all five days to make it to the general area of their destination. Once they were close enough, the dot changed colors, and began to move. It was moving towards them, so they quickly realized that something was floating down the nearby stream. As it drew nearer, they discovered that it wasn’t something, but someone. It was either a dead body, or a nearly dead one. It was just letting itself get knocked around by the rocks and branches. It wasn’t moving that fast, but still. Jeremy instinctively threw his belongings down, and jumped into the freezing cold water. He reached down, and began to pull the body to the shore. Mateo came down to help, and together, they began to perform CPR. Angela was their medical expert, but the two of them were more than qualified to handle this part of the treatment.
While they were doing that, Angela removed the AED from her pack, and started to set it up. She placed the pads on his chest, engaged the voice instructions. Then she restarted his heart with one jolt. Now that their patient was breathing and beating, she and Jeremy began to clean his wounds together. Once all the blood was removed from his face, they realized it was Lowell Benton, who was part of their team some time ago, before he joined forces with Ellie Underhill. He hadn’t experienced much time travel, though, so a good bet was that none of that had happened to him yet. This would have to be the 2013 version of him.
“Looks like you’re right,” Angela lamented as she was unrolling a bandage. “We’re saving killers.”
“I was also wrong,” Leona admitted. “Lowell has to be saved. He has important things to do in the future, like delivering baby Jeremy. Even I know that, and I don’t have the intel that Anatol does. We can’t just refuse.”
“Mateo, could you please set up one of the tents, so he has somewhere to recover?” Angela ordered. “Find a nice clear, flat spot. Obviously he’s the one who needs the sleeping pad this time. I know it’s your turn, but...”
“It’s fine,” Mateo laughed. “Just focus on getting him better. You’re a valuable member of this team, and we’re gonna miss you when it’s over.”
“Shh,” Leona repeated.
That night, after Angela had done everything she could, the team went to sleep. She shared the other tent with Leona and Jeremy, while Mateo stayed with Lowell. If something went wrong, he would have to call Angela for help, but Lowell was too dangerous to wake up next to anyone else. He didn’t know any of these people yet. If he came to and witnessed their sins, he might attack them. Mateo wasn’t immune, but his death would be the lesser of four evils.
Hours later, Mateo was still wide awake. He was just staring at Lowell, who was slow-breathing next to him, ready to pounce at any moment. The tent zipped open, and a dark figure came halfway in. It took Mateo by the ankles, and dragged him out into the cold like a horror villain. Mateo wasn’t sure if he should scream, or let it happen. Once he was out, and on the ground, he watched the figure reach back up, and zip the tent closed. The dying firelight lit up his face just enough to show that it was Anatol.
“Are you trying to scare me to death?”
“It would be a new one,” Anatol replied. “I wouldn’t mind being able to brag that I accomplished that. But no, I just needed you out of there.”
Mateo looked over where the second tent was supposed to be.
“Don’t freak out,” Anatol insisted. “They’re in the future. Tents are really complicated. The powers that be decided that people can’t transport out of a tent; that the tent will go with them, including everything else inside the tent. I need Lowell to just stay here where he belongs, while the three of you move on.”
“He’s gonna wake up alone and wonder what happened. Whose tent is this? Who made the fire? Most importantly, who treated his injuries?”
“He will,” Anatol concurred, “but so what? That’s not your problem. He’ll eventually shrug it off, and move on to his next kill.”
“Is he a friend of yours, or like, a rival?”
“I don’t think that much about him, and he doesn’t know about me. He’s killing sinners, which is kind of my whole thing, but he’s better at it, so I need him alive.”
“So it’s true; we’re saving killers of killers.”
Anatol smirked. “Get to 2020. Leona and Jeremy are waiting for you.”
“Very well. But don’t think you’re off the hook. We want answers.”
“That I do not doubt.”

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Extremus: Year 7

Their only short-term solution to the growing micrometeoroid problem is to divert extra power to the teleporter field. There was, as far as they knew, no power loss at all, but it’s kind of all they have right now. The errors came out of random chance, and nothing will stop it until they find some other workaround. For now, though, things seem to be going okay. There hasn’t been a strike since the one that destroyed main engineering. In more than a year since that, the two missing decks have been entirely replaced, using the raw materials they had in storage. While it wasn’t all they had, they certainly now have a lot less than they should. They still have over two hundred years to go, and there is definitely not enough material to build the frontrunner ship that they need. They might have to cannibalize the internal structures just to get by, which the passengers are not going to be happy about. It could also endanger the compartmentalization and modularization components of their safety strategy, which is the whole reason they survived the first major strike.
As for the personnel, the engineers are doing okay. The apprentices that were working on main engines weren’t anywhere near the decks that were destroyed, and they’re really stepping up to make sure the current team members don’t have to work too hard. New recruits have been signing up to compensate, and are running through an accelerated education program. It’s looking like the original crew won’t have to extend their shift after all. Still, general consensus is that they’re all willing to stay to make sure the job is done, and not leave the ship hanging. At the moment, they’re back in another meeting, just like the one they were in when tragedy hit. Omega now believes that the original frontrunner ship design isn’t the best chance they have. He’s preparing to pitch a new plan, which should lower the amount of needed material, but probably requires more labor.
Omega clears his throat too close to the microphone. “Oops, sorry. I’m not an orator, so I’m going to get right down to the point. The frontrunner plan is out. Now we’ve moved on to the frontrunners. Instead of one large metal shield, all we need are small vessels with their own debris transport fields. Our problem is that we only have one field mounted to Extremus, and when it fails, all is lost. Sure, we have a thin backup inner field, but it’s designed to support us only at slow speeds, or when we’re docked. If the main field falls, protocol dictates that we decelerate, and effect repairs at drift. I don’t wanna do drift repairs, I want to keep going. So instead...” He engages the hologram. “I propose five frontrunners; one at the apex, and four at the base points, in the shape of a pentahedron. They will be positioned at strategic locations in front of Extremus, with minimal field overlap, like a protective cone...protecting us. We’re not planning on getting rid of the main teleporter field, but if we can minimize the number of objects that even reach it in the first place, we minimize the potential for catastrophic damage.”
An engineer raises her hand. “Yeah, how does this help us? Each frontrunner still has the same probability of transporting the object inside the protected area, rather than away. Sure, multiple fields is great, but can’t we just install more on Extremus?”
“On Extremus proper, no. It’s a design flaw, actually. For reasons I won’t get into now, because it’s all outlined in the report, retrofitting the ship with additional fields is impossible at reframe speeds. We would have to stop, and take both current fields offline for an extended period of time. Otherwise, the new ones could interfere with the old ones. I could imagine a celestial body being batted around like a ping pong ball, and the longer that object stays within range, the more opportunities it has to collide with us. That’s kind of why it wasn’t built with multiple fields in the first place. Our best chance has us creating entirely new transport fields that are not incorporated into the main systems.”
“You’ve not answered my question. How are you decreasing the chances of a strike?”
“Notice how I keep calling it a transport field, and not a teleporter field. That’s because we don’t have to transport it through space. We can jump it through time. The hologram illustrates in slowmo as he’s talking about it. “The object passes through the field, and instead of being sent an AU away, it’s sent one second into the future. By the time it shows back up, Extremus is a hundred million miles away. Frankly, I don’t know why Weaver and Team Keshida didn’t come up with this themselves.”
“Um, probably because the chances of something going wrong actually increase,” Valencia pipes up. “At relativistic speeds, time is complicated. A year outside is half a day inside. Add the reframe engines into the mix, and even though the time differential approaches zero, the complexity is only compounded. Time travel is more imprecise than you’ve probably been led to believe. You may have seen people suddenly appear in the room with you, and you think their aim was good, and since they didn’t blend into a wall, yeah, I suppose it was pretty good. But the average room is measured in meters. On the macro level, that’s totally fine. But at the quantum level, that’s a problem. Every time you try to send a meteoroid into the future, there’s about a percent of a percent chance that it’ll show up in the past.
“And this one second figure you’re going on about, you can forget that. There is no way we generate enough energy to go that far in time for every single particle we’re encountering on our way to Extremus. We’re only worried about the larger pieces, but the teleporter field doesn’t care about that. It transports everything, because it can’t distinguish those sizes. Anything that goes in, must come out. Also, don’t underestimate those smaller particles.”
“So we calibrate the time field,” Omega argues. “We only go after the bigger pieces, and let the teleporter field handle the smaller ones. It’s like installing a larger filter in front of the finer one.”
Valencia shakes her head. “I’m not saying it’s impossible, but time travel requires a lot more energy than teleportation. People with powers absorb the energy they need from the environment as time marches on, but technology hasn’t been able to do that. There is no such thing as a temporal energy generator.”
“Then help me with the math,” Omega requests. “I suppose I should have come to you about this first.”
“Probably,” Valencia agrees. She takes a moment. “Very well. Send me the full report, and I’ll get back to you in a week. I make no guarantees.”
The meeting breaks. While Valencia starts to go over the report with her team, Omega returns to his new lab, which is the one that Old Man had before he made himself disappear. Halan has given Omega a lot more leeway with his work than either of them ever thought he would. Some random guy is already in there. He’s looking through some physical papers.
“Can I help you?” Omega asks in faux politeness.
The man turns around. It’s someone that Omega doesn’t recognize, which is strange, because like Halan, Omega prides himself in knowing everyone on this ship. “No. I think I have it well in hand.”
“You are not authorized to be in this section of Extremus.”
“How can you be so sure?” the man questions.
“Because only two people are allowed down here, and you’re not one of them. I don’t even know who you are.”
The man smiles knowingly, and separates one of the papers from the stack. “This formula is wrong.” He taps a finger on it. “It’s missing a minus sign.”
“I didn’t write that,” Omega explains. Some of this stuff is from what Old Man left. A lot of it is written in code, or is just illegible, but they have to mean something. It would be irresponsible to just throw it all away when it might be useful in the future.
“I know. Old Man. He, uhh...” He pauses to laugh. “The flourishes. It’s the flourishes that get him. He has more lines in every character than he really needs, and sometimes, when he’s reading it back, he mistakes one for something else. He transcribed this from his clearboard as a seven, but it’s a negative-one. That’s important. You’ll need it.”
Omega crosses his arms impatiently. “I’ll need it for what?”
“Who are you talking to?”
Omega spins around to find Captain Yenant standing in the doorway. He turns back. The intruder is gone. “How long have you been standing there?”
“It’s important. Did you see me talking to the wall, or did you just hear me from around the corner?”
“I saw you talking. There’s no one there.”
Omega sighs. He finds a pen on the table, and draws over the negative-one to make it more clearly distinguished from a seven. Then he gathers all the papers from this particular stack, and presents them to the Captain. “Please give all this to Valencia. It may be important, it may not be. I’ve not had time to study it.”
“What are you gonna do?”
“You saw me talking to no one?”
“That’s right.”
“Then I need a brain scan. You’ll have to take me off active duty, and put her in charge of the project.”
Halan nods with a grin. “This is a surprisingly mature decision, Omega Parker. I’m proud of you.”
“This is who I’m supposed to be. This is Saxon Parker. This is what he would do.”
“Come on. I’ll escort you to the infirmary myself.”

A few days later, Valencia finds herself bursting into Halan’s office, holding the mess of loose papers in one hand. She’s a bit out of breath.
“What did we say about doors, Miss Raddle?”
Valencia sits down. “I don’t remember.”
“Please remember for next time.”
“I’ll look into it.” She drops the papers on his desk.
“Did you find something in there?”
“Umm, just the answers to everything.”
“How do you mean?”
She starts excitedly pointing out the text, graphs, and formulas, almost forgetting that Halan doesn’t know how to interpret any of it. “I know this handwriting. This was Old Man. He survived, didn’t he?”
Halan set his face into a quizzical look.
“He did, didn’t he?”
“I imagine it’s possible. It’s a big ship, and a man like that...we can’t rule out that he’s been hiding all this time, or even that he transported himself a couple years in the future, long after we concluded our sweep of the ship. Why?”
“He has it all laid out. The...frontrunners, the time traveling miners, everything. The plan is right here. It’s everything we need to make this happen.”
“Maybe he knew it would be a problem down the line. Whenever I gave him a mandate, I knew he had no fewer than three side projects he would work on when he needed to take a break from the main issue. I think that coming up with long-term solutions to seemingly insurmountable obstacles were a hobby of his.”
“I still think you should sweep the ship again.”
“We can do that,” Halan agrees. It couldn’t hurt. Actually, it could. It could undermine people’s faith in him as a leader; this question whether Old Man has been able to evade detection all this time. Or they could lie about why they’re searching every square meter of this place. What could that reason be, though? He’ll have to speak with Mercer, and finesse the situation. “So we’re good? You can do this?”
“Well, when I said everything, I didn’t mean everything everything. We still need to double check the math, and translate some of the writings into a human language. His code isn’t uncrackable, but it’s...sloppy. I think that’s the point.”
“What do you need from me?”
She’s nervous to ask. “It would be helpful if I could...maybe...recruit Omega back into this?”
“Not possible,” Halan says with a shake of the head.
“I know he’s in trouble again—”
“He’s not in trouble,” Halan contends honestly. “He’s sick.”
“Sick with what?”
“You know I can’t tell you that.”
“I just need his mind. If he’s in quarantine, I’m happy to communicate virtually, or even wear a hazmat suit.”
“You can’t have his mind, that’s...” He shut his trap.
That’s enough for Valencia to understand. “His mind is what’s sick.”
“I urge you to respect his privacy, as I would expect him to do for you.”
“It’s okay.” She stands up. “It’ll take us some time, but we’ll figure it out.” She starts to leave.
Halan lifts his tablet up, and leans back in his chair. “Take those weird dead trees with you, if you wouldn’t mind.”
“Right. Thank you.”
“And chirp the door next time.”
“Of course, sir.”

Friday, August 27, 2021

Microstory 1700: Introduction to Constellations

Ah, constellations. What good are they? Well, they’re great for navigation. Before GPS, I don’t know how people got around, especially not across the sea. Yet they somehow figured it out. I’ve never been that interested in the concept myself, however, as I was born in 1987, and I’m not a sailor. I couldn’t look up at the sky, and name a single constellation for you. I don’t know where the big dipper is, or how close it is to the little dipper. I really don’t know much. As a science fiction writer, they’re not that useful to me. My stories take place on many planets, all over the galaxy, and beyond. Constellations mean nothing at that point, which is my main gripe with my favorite franchise, Stargate. The stars that you see as being lined up aren’t necessarily anywhere near each other, unless you pretend that the celestial sphere is two-dimensional, and only when looking at them from a particular point in space, which has traditionally been Sol. In the future, they’ll become just as insignificant to us as they are to an alien race. Obviously they hold significant historical value, and they’re really important to a lot of people, so I can’t just act like they’re not at all meaningful. They’re just not meaningful to me, because I don’t see shapes when I look up at the night sky. I only see dots. The series you’re about to read is inspired by the 88 modern constellations, as codified and standardized in the 1920s. I did have to add an extra thing called a dark nebula to reach the weekdays left this year.

Anyway, each one probably comes with its own mythological story. This demi-god did that, and as punishment, his father glued him to the sky, so he’s forced to suffer whatever torment for eternity. I don’t care much about these stories either. So I’m going to make up some of my own, based predominantly on the names. There appears to be multiple names for any one constellation, which gives me some options, in case one of them doesn’t inspire anything in me. The stories may be canonical, or they might not be. The first one, for instance, is called Andromeda, and I already have a character with that name. I named her partially because of Lexa Doig’s character on the titular scifi series, and partially because I like it. So I may write a new story about her, or I’ll come up with a company or place that shares the name, and have it be completely unrelated. I could also just call it Princess of Ethiopia, and use that as my jumping off point. Nothing has been decided. The point is that you shouldn’t get hung up on what you know about these constellations, or the preexisting stories that supposedly explain how they got up there. This has nothing to do with any of that. This series will get us to quite near the end of the year. Afterwards, there will be a very special standalone microfaction story that will tease you with some major changes that will be happening next year, and through much of 2023. I tell you this so you know that I don’t just make things up as I go along. My long-term plans are longer than the ones that Marvel Studios makes. It’s like a shared universe, except that there’s no one else to share it with, not even an audience. Assuming you do exist at some point, though, please enjoy these starry originals.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Microstory 1699: Separate and Actually Equal

When the small universe of Ansutah was created, a woman named Serif found herself trapped inside. She was trying to get out, so she could rejoin her crew on The Elizabeth Warren, but in the attempt to save an innocent little boy, she couldn’t make it in time. She was not a salmon, but she was not a choosing one either. Her form was forged from stone, and her life sparked by a very powerful chooser. She was created to share a salmon’s temporal pattern. At the end of every day, they would jump forwards in time one year. If this salmon had been left in Ansutah, his pattern would have ceased, as the powers that be would no longer have any control over him. Serif was never being controlled by them, however. Her ability to jump through time was simply part of who she was, and it followed her over the threshold. So she continued to do this, as did her child, once she was born. The Maramon who dominated the landscape were aware of her, and they left her alone. To them, there were three types of humans: the primary gods, who were responsible for their creation, and the creation of the world itself; the secondary gods, who were around when it happened; and tertiary gods, which included everyone else. Serif was secondary, and that afforded her some reverence. If any tertiary god were to be found in their presence, they would probably ultimately be killed. As time went on, the Maramon progressed, but Serif only aged a few years. They were heartbroken and angry to learn that their universe was so small, and they would have no way of supporting their ever-growing population. The Crossover missions had failed, and they were going to run out of usable space on the surface of the planet if they didn’t do something. A group of scientists realized that Serif could actually help.

Serif was responsible for their predicament, as it was she who kidnapped their primary god, and sent her to the Warren, where she could no longer increase the size of the universe. They had always been aware of this, and also of the fact that there was no way she could have known what would happen. Once the world was large enough to include outer space, they lost track of its breadth, and couldn’t tell how small it still was. Plus, as their universe became larger, her home universe grew more unstable, and they understood something had to be done. Either way, that was then, and this is now. Now she could help alleviate the strain. She let scientists study her for decades, which for her, was only weeks. They were able to synthesize her pattern, and graft it onto a living host. It was years before they could garner enough socio-political support, but they were able to institute new policies to make the process mandatory for nearly everyone. At any one time, no more than half the population would exist. The other half would be out of the timestream, and would only return later in the day, after the first half had disappeared. In between was a transitional period, when almost no one existed. Only a few constants were left to provide some level of continuity for the rest of the people. Once everyone realized how dire their overpopulation problem was, war broke out, but Serif’s pattern brought the violence down to negligible levels, and for a time, there was peace. It wasn’t perfect, but it was the best they could hope to achieve under these conditions. They still wanted out of their universe, and they kept trying to reach that goal, but then the situation changed. Their missing primary god was finally returned to them, and she was able to restart the expansion. Suddenly, space exploration was back on the table, as was interstellar colonization, and they owed it all to Serif’s war-ending gift.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Microstory 1698: Benedict’s Purpose

Benedict Stewart was an odd duck, and though no one would argue he was the best person in the world, he wasn’t evil. He was a high school science teacher, who was forced to leave for engaging in an inappropriate sexual relationship. She was not one of his students, but she was pretty young, and his behavior reflected poorly on the school. She was a college student, who was there as a pre-service teacher, so she could gather enough supervised experience to become a certified instructor once her own schooling was complete. As her supervisor, he was considered to be in a position of power, even though he assured the district that he did not take it into account when evaluating her performance. The student teacher stuck up for him, and declared it to be a fully consensual relationship, which probably prevented the situation from becoming a news story, and also kept him from being fired. He would have been free to apply for work elsewhere, and while no job was guaranteed, he likely would have eventually found some place fitting. Instead, he chose to work at the soda bottling plant on the edge of town. It wasn’t as rewarding, and it was below his education and experience, but it was a decent living. His girlfriend, meanwhile, stayed with him for years, eventually becoming his wife. A week after the wedding, she was the victim of a drunk driver, and ended up in a coma. Benedict was distraught, and could no longer function. He became careless in his duties, and his boss had to let him go. The money wasn’t that much of a problem, as the drunk driver was the son of a wealthy businessman, who agreed to a hefty settlement in exchange for keeping this quiet. But Benedict was still alone, and he was still sad.

His boss was a good guy, who understood how traumatic this whole experience was. He hired him in the first place, fully aware of his past transgressions. He couldn’t let him keep his job for the time being, but he intended to kind of leave it open until Benedict got the help he needed. He recommended a support group, so he could work through his grief, and find some way to move on. Benedict got a lot of help from them, but he didn’t realize until later that this support group had a bizarre secret. It turned out to be the source of recruitment for a budding superhero organization, and they wanted him on the team. Him? Really? Why? Well, he wasn’t just any ol’ chemistry teacher. He was known for creating little gadgets to illustrate scientific concepts for the kids. He helped bridge the gap between all the sciences, including physics and biology, and even other subjects, to facilitate a more well-rounded education. So the leaders of the superhero group suggested he come up with some non-lethal weapons, and use them to protect the city. It would give him purpose, and help relieve the depression, and some of the suicidal thoughts he was suffering. So that was what he did. He wore a magnetic suit that could steal guns from an aggressor, a taser, striking gloves, a sonic eardrum burster, chemical explosives, a heat ray, blinding laser lights, and a slingshot. The idea was for each weapon to demonstrate one of the ten types of energy, excluding nuclear and gravitational, because he didn’t actually have any powers, and he didn’t have genius-level intellect. As time went on, and Benedict pursued missions for his team, he shed some of the excess from his persona, and focused on the more important features. He also learned that maybe the people who recruited him had been lying about being heroes all along. And now Benedict...would have to choose a side.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Microstory 1697: Erroneous Soulmate Syndrome

There are obvious downsides to only being able to have relations with one partner for your entire life. That person has to be something special, or you might end up just being miserable, and resentful. As mentioned before, your partner may die, leaving you alone, or only with however many children they were able to conceive with you. There are some really bad consequences that evolution couldn’t take into account, and which medical science had to pick up where it left off. There are many atrocious cases, but I will talk about the first one that was corrected, at least on a chemical level, that is. From a biological standpoint, in this universe, rape and sex can end the same. Two people come together, and release chemicals that will prevent either one of them from copulating with someone else. The fact that it’s not a consensual encounter is not something that the body knows, or would be able to do anything about. One young woman was just trying to live her damn life as a coworker kept pestering her about a date. He felt entitled to the exploration of a relationship, and ultimately, did not take no for an answer. Unlike in other universes, no one has intercourse while they’re dating. You have to be certain that this is the right person for you, or you could be stuck with the wrong partner forever. Still, people have sexual urges, which they usually take care of in other ways. The coworker was not willing to do that. The more he begged her for a date, and the more she rejected him, the most frustrated and erratic he became. He was both not thinking about the rules, and didn’t care about them. He wanted sex, and he was going to get it, whether she was willing or not. It was wrong in any world.

Once the attack was over, they were now supposedly bonded for life. She no longer had any hope of finding a true life partner, and he didn’t either, for as much as that mattered. The rape itself could not be undone, nor the psychological trauma that the act inflicted upon the survivor. It would always be there, no matter how much therapy she received, and no matter what punishment her attacker faced. As for the biological soulmate problem, there actually was hope now. Medical science was advancing at a decent rate, and a particular research team believed they had the answer to what had already been deemed Erroneous Soulmate Syndrome. Using a new surgical procedure, they thought they could reverse a soulmate bond, and return people to their original, pre-sex active state. This woman was the first to undergo the experimental procedure, and discover that it worked. It was flawed, however. She was still unable to bond with anyone else. It didn’t hurt, but the soulmate connection could still not take place. Her chosen partner would have technically been free to choose another while still having relations with her—though, he did not do that. Neither of them would end up with a biological soulmate, but at least she was no longer linked to her rapist. Over time, the researchers continued to perfect their techniques until they could successfully reverse a bond, while allowing a patient to find another afterwards. That first patient’s limitations were never fixed, but it was an important first step in making the world a little more fair by giving people a choice. As the years went by, new laws were passed, allowing more exceptions to a bonding, including not only rape, but childhood tomfoolery, and drunken mistakes. Decades later, the elective procedure was standard for anyone over the age of eleven, but of course, it was only ever performed after receiving consent.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Microstory 1696: Symbiotic Death

For the most part, the commensalistic relationship between a human and their nevilere is a loving and happy one. As stated above, they’re like a pet that you keep with you throughout your entire life. There are almost exactly as many nevileres as there are humans. Nature didn’t keep the populations so even like this, but in modern days, with doctors and other medical professionals keeping track of such things, it’s been pretty equal. Occasionally something can go wrong, but that does not mean that there is no way out of the problem. It’s sad, but death is a part of life. When a nevilere embeds itself in its host, it will enjoy an extended lifespan. It won’t die until the human does, and it won’t ever survive beyond that, unless it’s removed from the hump in enough time. This is a dangerous and risky procedure in any situation, and most humans don’t want to think that their lifelong symbiotic organism friend was later given to someone else. Plus, the nevilere probably wouldn’t survive for much longer anyway, and even if it did, it would probably be depressed, because it would have become just as attached to its original host as the host was to it. There are some cases when the nevilere dies before the human does. This universe didn’t come up with a lot of the more violent or dangerous sports; there is no such thing as boxing, or even SCUBA diving. Doing harm to a nevilere—be it one’s own, or another’s—is considered more heinous than murdering a human. So people are generally a lot more careful around each other, but that doesn’t mean that accidents don’t happen. If a nevilere dies before the human is sufficiently old, it will often leave the survivor in great despair. It has been known to lead to suicide.

Luckily, there is hope. Someone else’s nevilere can birth an offspring without the host having anything to do with the process. It can then donate it to the other host. The challenge is coaxing it to do this. Nevilere are smart, but still just animals. Nevilere experts know how to provoke conception with vibrations, tickling, and other techniques. It’s a little weird, but it’s necessary, and no weirder than any other form of animal husbandry. Not everyone would choose to go this route. If they were to lose their nevilere, they would never dream of trying to bond with another. This is all right, but there is a little bit of stigma attached to it. Being asymbiotic, as people call it, can sometimes make other people feel uncomfortable. They don’t know whether something unavoidable happened to it, or if you intentionally did something to harm it, and of course, being flawed human beings, they can assume the worst in you. Overall, however, people of Nevilereverse are compassionate and patient with each other, and they try not to judge. They value facts and understanding. It is unknown if this has something to do with the nevileres themselves, or if being part of such a profound symbiotic relationship has taught the human race to choose kindness over cruelty. Either way, it’s had a generally positive impact on their impact on the environment. While they do have a history of burning fossil fuels, and otherwise harming the ecosystem, due to a delay of innovation, they’ve done fairly well for themselves, and their planet. After careful study and deliberation, the Ochivari ended up deciding to leave them alone, and let them develop without any interference. While many cultures end up walking the path towards transhumanistic upgrades, the Nevilereversals were not able to figure out how to bring their nevilere with them, so they remained forever organic.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 23, 1876

Anatol didn’t give them any time to rest before sending them off to their next mission. He didn’t say much about what they were going to be doing, which was standard protocol. He was careful to make sure they understood to convince the young version of himself to go back to Prussia, while they did whatever he was intending to do instead. They still didn’t know what that was, but they still didn’t have any leverage against The Warrior, and he was providing them with opportunities to save people’s lives. Perhaps he was becoming more like Nerakali and Jupiter, which was what they wanted all along. At the moment, they were standing at the bank of a river, or a lake, or something.
Olimpia knelt down, and dipped a few fingers in the water. She then stuck them in her mouth. “Salty.”
“My dear!” said a gentleman who was walking by with a fancy cane. “Of course it’s salty. It’s the ocean!”
Olimpia smiled submissively. “Yes, sir. I’ve never seen the sea. I have lived my whole life inland, on a farm.”
“Very well, miss.” The dandy started to walk on.
“Um, first,” Olimpia stopped him. “Since I am such a fool, could you tell us where we are, and maybe...the date?”
He looked upon her with such pity. “Portsmouth, on the twenty-third of November.”
She continued to give him puppy dog eyes.
“Thank you, kind sir.”
He was able to walk away.
“At least they speak English,” Jeremy noted.
“Anyone got eyes on the target?” Angela questioned.
“Yeah, he’s over there behind all that brush,” Mateo answered. “He’s been spying on us since we arrived.” They all looked over to see the figure of a man, crouched behind the tall grass, still as a statue, hoping he wasn’t actually spotted. “Come on out Annie,” Mateo instructed. “We need to talk.”
A young Anatol Klugman stood up, and approached them. Though he had just spent the last several years killing Prussian enemies in every war that his state was involved in, he appeared wide-eyed and naïve. He had yet to become so cynical and combative.
“You speak English by now, don’t ya, Annie?” Mateo went on.
Anatol just nodded his head.
“You gotta go home.”
“I don’t actually know, but it’s where you belong right now. Perhaps it has something to do with your mother?”
“My mother is dead.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Mateo said genuinely. He reached behind him, and offered his hand to Angela, who took it, and stepped forward reluctantly. “This woman delivered you. Your mother was alone, and we showed up to help.”
“That was thirty-eight years ago,” Anatol said.
“We skipped all that time to come right here...to help you yet again. Helping you is sort of...what we do,” Mateo explained, mostly truthfully.
“I have business to conduct here,” Anatol argued.
“We’ll do it for you,” Mateo promised.
“You don’t understand...” Anatol lamented.
“We understand enough,” Mateo contended. “Prussia needs you. The port is ours.” He gestured towards the harbor behind him.
Anatol thought over the proposition. “I suppose, if you fail, I will always be able to return to this moment to repair what you broke.”
“Yes, you could always come back. But you might not have to...if you tell us what it is you were here to do in the first place.”
“You don’t already know?” Anatol asked rhetorically before disappearing without so much as a helpful hint.
“We’ll figure it out,” Leona assured her husband. “We always do.”
Mateo turned and gazed upon the water. “My guess is that someone is going to drown. Let’s fan out, and look for trouble.”
Since there were only five of them, they couldn’t cover much ground, but they were theoretically already in about the right spot, or the Warrior would have dropped them off somewhere else, and the other Warrior would have shown up there too. It was Olimpia who happened to be closest to the problem when it arose. It wasn’t just a drowning, however. As reported later, a man was deliberately holding a woman’s face down in the water; possibly to murder her, or maybe just to shut her up. The rest of the gang didn’t make it there in time to help. They just heard a blood-boiling scream, along with probably half of England.
When they arrived, the man was frantically crawling around on the ground like a dog. “You—you damned dirty wagtailing hedge-creeper! What did you do to me!” Blood was running down his ears, and dripping onto the grass. Olimpia’s arm was wrapped around the survivor’s shoulders, and she was slowly crab walking them both away from the would-be killer.
Jeremy knelt down, and tried to hold the man in place, but he freaked out, and started flailing around like a fish on the dock. Jeremy didn’t let up, though. He pulled the man’s wrists together behind his back, pressed his cheek down on the grass, and started rubbing his back. It kind of looked like a deep tissue massage. After a few moments, he looked back up to the group. “I once saw my dad use this technique on a dog who wouldn’t let him into a house to help its injured owners.”
“He’s right, though,” Leona said, looking over at Olimpia. “What did you do?”
“I think I burst his eardrums,” she answered. “With my voice,” she added.
“He deserved it,” said the survivor as she wiped some residual water from her face. It was then that they realized quite how young she was. A girl, they might have called her. He was much too old for her, though they had to remember this was a different time. Besides, there could be any number of reasons these two were at the harbor together, and anyway, nothing would have given him the right to shove her face in the water like that. It didn’t really matter who she was, or who he was, or what they were doing, or what precipitated the attack. It shouldn’t have happened, and none of them could feel bad about the consequences that this man was now suffering. They weren’t here to hurt people, even though that was what Anatol wanted, but that didn’t mean they were going to condemn Olimpia for taking it this far. Sometimes, the only way to keep someone from getting hurt was to hurt someone else. Some people just gave you no choice.
They left the man on the ground, knowing that a passerby would discover him at some point. It wasn’t their responsibility to make sure he was okay. They needed to get this young woman to safety, and if that meant giving her a cuff temporarily, so she could join them on the next jump, then so be it. For now, they just made their way into the woods, where they could set up their fancy futuristic tents, and stay on the fringes of society. She was obviously impressed that such a large structure once fit inside such a small bag, but she didn’t ask questions about it. It wasn’t crazy enough to warrant her rethinking everything she knew about the world, like a cell phone, or something, would. She was particularly attached to Olimpia, for obvious reasons, so the latter stayed with the former while she tried to get some sleep. The rest of them made a fire, and sat around to talk.
“Did you notice her name?” Angela asked as she was warming her hands.
“Orna?” Mateo echoed how the woman had answered the question on the walk here.
“Orna Kelly,” Angela said in full.
They all shrugged their shoulders, and shook their heads to indicate that they did not see the significance.
“Does she become famous, or something?” Jeremy asked.
“Not her, really. And maybe not at all. It could just be a coincidence.”
“Go ahead,” Leona encouraged.
Angela began the story. “Decade after I died, I wasn’t anywhere near being considered for a role as a counselor yet. I was just a normal resident, but I was...privy to certain historical knowledge that other people didn’t have access to. I didn’t know it at the time, but since I had a personal connection to a time traveler, Tamerlane Pryce let me know a thing or two about life back on Earth. You have to understand that once you died, you lost all connection to the world. If you wanted to know what was happening, you had to wait until you just so happened to run into someone who died at some point after you, and just ask them to recount the history. I, on the other hand, like I said, had access to the news. I received a newspaper every day that gave me just a brief overview of current events. I didn’t know why I was receiving this, or why other people weren’t, but I just accepted the privilege, and read it during my breakfast.
“Well, since I’m a clever girl, I was able to occasionally use this knowledge to meet certain historical figures, because I got an alert every time they died. It’s essentially what eventually made me become a counselor in the first place. I am cognizant of certain...truths...about certain...conspiracies. I know who killed JFK because I was able to talk to people that people on Earth weren’t. Anyway, the year is 1888. I meet a twentysomething woman named Mary Jane Kelly.”
“Jack the Ripper,” Leona interrupted.
“That’s right. She was his last victim, and she told me...well she told me a lot of things, but she talked about her family. She mentioned having a sister named Odharnait, which I believe is the full name for the diminutive Orna.”
“You think that’s Dark Mary’s sister?” Leona guessed, pointing to the tent.
“Timeline checks out,” Angela said. “I don’t know anything for sure.”
“What does this mean?” Jeremy asked. “For the rest of the timeline, that is. Did we save this Mary Jane’s life just by saving her sister first, or what?”
“Without someone like Anatol to tell us, there is no way to know the consequences of our actions, or Olimpia’s,” Leona explained. “All we can say for sure is that she saved someone’s life today. How that impacts the future is not for us to say...not yet. We still don’t know why Young!Anatol had to go back home, and let us take care of this mission, instead of just letting things play out as they did. He’s a time traveler, he should have been able to go back home afterwards.”
“Maybe that killer has powers.” Olimpia was out of the tent, and sitting down on the log. “And maybe Anatol didn’t want his younger self to end up with those powers. Maybe Prussia has nothing to do with this.”
“Spot on!” The Warrior said. They turned to find him standing a few meters away, covered in blood. He jammed the Sword of Assimilation into the ground, and left it there while he walked over to warm himself by the fire. “My stupid younger self was an idiot. He was reckless with his powers. He just jumped around the timeline, taking whatever he wanted. That man’s abilities...it was too early. Young!Me isn’t ready. I’m ready now, so I had you alter my personal timeline, so I could assimilate myself into my future alternate self’s body. I know it’s confusing, but everything’s better now. Miss Kelly is on her way to her true destiny, and it’s time for you to return to the modern day.”
“What exactly is Orna’s destiny?” Leona questioned.
“Don’t worry about her,” Anatol said. “No one is going to connect her to that asshole’s murder. I know how to get rid of a body. And before you get all high and mighty on me, I agreed to let you save people’s lives, instead of taking them. I never agreed to go celibate myself.”
“That’s not what celibate means,” Jeremy said to him.
“It does for people like me.”
“Where are we going?” Mateo asked, knowing that this conversation about death could only end up in a fight if it were allowed to continue.
“How does 2013 sound?” Anatol smiled with his teeth. “Huh? Computers? Showers? Ubiquitous antiseptics? Let’s do this. You’ll have a week to rest.”