Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Microstory 1767: Piscis Austrinus

I’ve been an honorary fish for a few months now, and I’ve loved almost all of it. There’s something missing in my life, though. I’m the only one of my kind. The other fish have accepted me into their school, but I’m not truly one of them. I’m a giant, and I still look human. Every other member is paired up. That’s how this species works. It’s hard to communicate with them, but I’ve been able to gather some information, like how their pairings are a defense mechanism. When they swim in their circles, they create a bunch of bubbles, which makes them difficult to pinpoint. It allows each pair to move off from the school, and hunt for food, or maybe find a little alone time. I don’t want to mate with a fish, or anything, but I do feel lonely. Like I said, they’ve accepted me, but that doesn’t mean one of them is going to circle with me. I don’t want that anyway. I want to find another human to transform into a fish. Unfortunately, that’s damn near impossible. The reason I discovered this species is because they live deeper than 600 meters below sea level. I’m the first person in history to scuba dive to that depth, and since I never came back up, I doubt anyone else is going to be trying it anytime soon. They wouldn’t likely survive; I was the best in the world before I became a fish. Submarines have come this far before, but not regularly, because there’s usually no point. The chances of finding a mate are just too low to hold out hope. I’ve tried encouraging the school to swim closer to the surface, but they won’t do it. They’ve never done it before, and it’s not how they evolved. I don’t know why they transformed me into someone who can breathe underwater, but they seem to consider that act their one favor, and they aren’t interested in going for another. I’m free to go up alone, but that won’t matter. I’m not capable of repeating the miracle myself. I need them to do it. There’s no other way.

I give up on pleading with them. I don’t think it’s gonna happen, even though the second generation seems to be a little more open-minded. I just surrender to the fact that I’ll live the rest of my life alone. It’s still a blessing to be down here. I’m setting records left and right. As it turns out, 600 meters is a little high for these fish. We spend most of our time at 800, which is a depth I never dreamed of seeing. It’s dark, but my eyes have adjusted accordingly, so it basically looks like tropical snorkeling to me. I don’t even think there’s a regular species with that kind of eyesight. Some have even lost their eyes to evolution, because it’s too dark for them to see. It’s a wonder, all the underground mountains, and other unique terrain. As I’m watching some kind of crustacean crawl around on the floor off the coast of Australia, the school suddenly shoots upwards, faster then they ever have before. I have to work hard to keep up. They gave me the ability to breathe water like air, and to withstand the pressure, but I didn’t grow fins. I’m still using the carbon fiber ones I came down here with. It’s not long before I see what all the fuss is about. It’s another diver. She’s only at 500 meters, but she’s descending quickly. Something is tied to her leg. My God, it’s a cement block. Someone is trying to kill her. I wonder why they left her with her scuba gear. Anyway, her attempted murderer is not going to succeed. The fish do to her what they once did for me. We bite off the rope, and swarm her, using magicks to keep her from dying. I smile, glad to finally have someone that I can relate to again. She does not feel the same way. The first thing she does is swim back up to confront her attacker. I feel compelled to follow. Maybe I can help.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Microstory 1766: Pisces

I’m the best scuba diver in the world, which is saying a lot, because I was afraid of it when I was a kid, and I come from a family of masters. I’ve since surpassed all others in skills and experience. I can venture to the deepest parts of the ocean that are humanly possible to survive. I can use any kind of tank, and complete any task. Today, I’m about to set the record for the deepest dive ever, and cement myself as one of the absolute best in history. I’ve already passed the last record, but I’m not satisfied with that. I have to get to 600 meters. No one will try that depth after me without a submarine. I check my watch. I had to have it specially made to survive these pressures too, and so far, it’s done me well. I’m at 570 meters, and so pleased with myself. No one has ever seen what I’m seeing right now. Of course, like I said, submarines can descend this far, but they haven’t, not around here. My cousins are going to be so jealous, I can’t wait to run it in their faces. None of them thought that I would make it, and I’ve yet to prove them wrong. It’s not really the deepest dive if I die down here, is it? Maybe they’ll still count it, and sing songs of my brave and tragic end. I keep going: 580, 590, and...600 meters! I reached my goal. If I stay too long, I really will die, though, so I immediately prepare to ascend. Then something catches my eye. It’s a fish. No, it’s two fish. Wow, it’s an entire school. There’s something strange about this species, but I can’t put my finger on it. Oh, yeah, they’re swimming in pairs.

These fish are exhibiting behavior that I’ve never heard of. I’m no ichthyologist, but I know what species live around here, and this ain’t one of them. Every single fish is paired up with another, face to tail. They’re swimming in circles around each other, or more appropriately, around some mutual barycenter between them. Since they’re not going straight, the only reason they go anywhere is because the spin isn’t constant. They nudge themselves in one direction, like propellers. Why the heck are they doing that? Is there some sort of evolutionary advantage to spinning? Perhaps it has more to do with the pairs, and less to do with the way that they swim. I obviously have to take photographs and video of this phenomenon. If I’ve discovered a new species, it will only make me more famous, which is kind of what I’m going for here. I don’t even have to survive. The footage is being automatically beamed back up to the boat. There’s no way for me to communicate with them directly, but I can.imagine my mother urging me to begin the ascension process. It’s going to take an extremely long time, and the extra tanks they left hanging for me at my stop intervals won’t be enough if I don’t maintain my schedule, not to mention the risk of getting bent. I’m about to let it go, and save myself when the fish change behaviors. They stay in their paired circles, but also begin to circle me. They’re aware of me, but probably aren’t sure if I’m a predator. I’m amazed but frightened, but the latter grows faster once they start biting at my equipment. They tear off the straps, and cut the breathing tubes. Welp, I guess I really am gonna die. Except I don’t. I suddenly stop feeling the intense pressure, the freezing cold, and the need to breathe. They’ve somehow transformed me into one of them, and once I realize what an amazing gift this is, I all but forget about my past life as a human, and together...we dive deeper.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: March 12, 2370

Sasha had released another teleporter relay over the planet in question during their interim year, which was able to orbit undetected because it was quite small, and required little power when not in use, so it didn’t give off much energy. Leona walked around to make sure that everyone’s tactical equipment was secure, and they were as prepared as they could be. Then she ordered their android to send them on their way. Hrockas stayed behind so there would be four hands on deck, but everyone else went down to the installation.
Everyone was pointing their weapon in a different direction, like Charlie’s Angels times two. They were in the open area of a pressurized dome. Inside was only one structure, and it looked not unlike a castle; a rather old, but seemingly still stable, castle. Additive manufacturing was very good at constructing buildings out of concrete and carbon polymer, but stone was a different story. Though no human being would have had to lay them down one by one, it still would have taken robots a long time to build all this. Creating something this complex required patience, and probably a pretty unhealthy ego. Since it was so audacious and inefficient, seeing it gave them a little insight into who they were about to meet. Leona tried to lead the team towards their objective, but Angela insisted that she take point. She wasn’t the only one here with combat training, but she seemed worried that she wasn’t contributing enough, and while that wasn’t true, dismissing her perceptions would have been worse than letting her handle it.
If all of them knew what they were doing as a tactical unit, they could have spread out to cover more ground, but that wasn’t the smartest thing for this group to do. So they stuck together, and tried to move through the structure as quickly and quietly as possible. The inside looked like a castle as well, except for the advanced technology scattered throughout, like the computer interfaces, LED lights, and a fully-functional quantum terminal. They didn’t look out of place, though. They were designed to fit perfectly within their environment. It looked as it would if people on Earth had continued to live in castles as they progressed scientifically. Ramses got to work on the terminal so that they would have control over it against all others. Only then did they separate. Kivi stayed behind to protect him while everyone else continued the hunt. It wasn’t until they were down in the dungeons when they finally found actual people. In fact, they recognized them. It was Team Kesihda.
“Captain. Lieutenant,” Leona said respectfully. “Everyone’s been wondering where you went.”
“We came here, lookin’ for answers,” Kestral responded, “while you were meant to go to Pluoraia.”
“Went and saw, knew we had to come here next,” Leona clarified without wasting time on the minutia.
Olimpia calibrated her teleporter gun, and trained it on Kestral. “Ready?”
Olimpia shot her, and then shot Ishida, sending them both right outside the bars.
“Who did this?” Leona continued. “Who’s doing this?”
Ishida shook her head. “No idea. As soon as we arrived, a dalek, a cylon, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, forced us down here, and here we’ve been ever since. R2D2 rolls in to feed us twice a day, but no one else comes.” She accepts a drink of Mateo’s water. “We’ve not seen him in a week now, though. We don’t know why.”
“Great,” Leona said, “a scifi fan. Those are always fun.”
“The real question is where all those evil robots are now,” Mateo said, checking their surroundings for the upteenth time.
“I’m not fighting R2D2,” Olimpia argued, though no one was arguing against.
“How is it going up there?” Leona asked into her Cassidy cuff.
We have control of the terminal,” Ramses explained through the speaker, “so we can block access if we want, but I can’t find a single thing about the Power Vacuum, or whatever it is the people who created it call it.
“Are we sure this is where it began?” Olimpia suggested. “Maybe this is just where we first noticed it.”
She has a good point,” Kivi said through her own cuff. “This is the first in a line of systems we lost contact with, but it could have originated on an interstellar ship in the middle of empty space.
“I don’t think so,” Ishida contended. “The amount of power it would take to make that happen can’t be put on a ship. I mean, you might, but why would you when you could just do it from here? The planets and their host star give you the resources you need, and nobody is this far out if they didn’t come through the quantum terminal anyway.”
“It doesn’t look like anyone lives here,” Leona said. “We searched most of it, and there was a lot of dust. If someone else is still on the premises, they’re hiding.”
Angela checked her sonic disruptor. “Mateo and I will head for the rest of the rooms. The rest of you should rendezvous with Ramses and Kivi. If we can’t get back to the ship, casting ourselves somewhere else might be our only option.”
Leona was the de facto leader here, but she conceded to Angela’s words without blinking. Olimpia asked to go with the hunting party, saying something about one of them dying, one of them fighting, and the third being able to run for help.
“Keep your head on a swivel,” Angela commanded, “and do everything I say.”
“Yes, sir,” Mateo promised.
It wasn’t long before they found what they were looking for. At the end of the corridor, on the next level below the dungeon, there was a room unlike anything else here. It was well-lit, clean, and chock full of technology, including a secondary quantum terminal. Now they wished that at least one smart person had come with them. A man was standing at the ready, surely having seen them coming a mile away.
“Who are you?” Angela asked impolitely.
“I am He Who Remains, and we are standing at the end of the universe.”
“Just for my own records,” Angela pressed, “are you going to be playing make believe the entire time, or will you at least eventually start taking this seriously?”
The man placed the sides of both index fingers along his bottom lip, then slowly slid them up. As he did so, his face transformed colors, leaving him looking like a creepy clown. “Why so serioussssuh!”
Angela rolled her eyes. “I guess that’s our answer.” And with that she shot him in the chest with the disruptor.
He fell to the ground, but wasn’t dead. By the time he woke up, the rest of the group had made their way down there. They wrapped two of the extra Cassidy cuffs around the man’s wrists. They didn’t know if he had time powers, but it was best to suppress them until they had a better idea of who they were dealing with. Powers or no, it was a good idea to keep him bound.
“My name is Vendelin Blackbourne, and I know why you’re all here.”
“You declared war on Pluoraia, and killed a lot of people,” Leona accused.
“That was not my intention,” Vendelin claimed. “I have no quarrel with the Pluoraians. That was only meant to be a weapons test, but my aim was way off. I was intending to sell it to Teagarden once I worked out all the kinks.”
“How did you end up in this system?” Leona continued, brushing past his idea to seek payment in a galaxy that gave up money centuries ago.
“Quantum Colony, just like everybody else,” he answered.
“Uhuh. And is that a game, or is it real life disguised as a game?”
He looked surprised by the question. “Both.”
“So you’ve always known that you weren’t ever just in a simulation?”
“It wasn’t hard to figure out,” Vendelin said with a laugh. “The day I started playing, I was suspicious. I ejected from the simulation, and then pored over the data regarding this system from base reality. I noticed that this data kept changing, ever so slightly, every time I made a change in the game. I realized that I was making a real impact. Anyone else should have come to the same conclusion.”
“Yet you still chose to set off that weapon.”
“Again, it was an accident. I built an outpost on a planet that lies between here and Pluoraia. I thought it would stop there, and only my own machines would be affected, but then the damn thing bounced off, and kept going. It didn’t even change directions too much. It’s still moving in about a straight line.”
“Okay, so stop it,” Leona demanded.
“I can’t, it’s over. Have you ever shot a gun, only to have entropy reverse, and the bullet come back into the magazine?”
“You could have at least told someone what you did, instead of erasing this outpost from the logs, and covering up your mistake. That thing is headed right for Earth. They need as much time as they can get to figure out how to survive it.”
“It’ll be fine,” Vendelin assured them unconvincingly. “The beam will dissipate long before then.”
“Are you sure about that?” Ramses questioned. It hasn’t started to diminish yet. Our readings indicate that it’s just as strong as it always was.”
“I don’t know what to tell ya, man,” Vendelin said with too much of a casual attitude. “I’m not worried about what’s happening on Earth. I’ve spent most of my life in the black.”
“Well, you’re going to start worrying about it now!” Olimpia shouted. “If you don’t figure out how to stop it before it even reaches Barnard’s Star, then we’ll kill you.” They would never do that, but no one seemed to be bothered by the hollow threat.
“I’m sorry, I can’t help you.” He didn’t feel a modicum of remorse. “Based on my observations, Pluoraia is back up and running smoothly. Earth will do the same; probably even better, since they’re the most advanced.”
“How many Earthans will die in the process when planes fall out of the sky, and hyperloop trains lose their levitation?” Kivi posed.
“You’re right,” Vendelin conceded, “I should have given them an anonymous tip. But now you’re here, and you can do it. In fact, why don’t you leave right now, so I can get back to my work?”
“We’re not going anywhere until you help us. Afterwards, we’ll drop you off at Teagarden, where the officials there can decide what to do with you,” Leona warned.
“You’re not giving me much of an incentive,” Vendelin said with a smile. “You’re also not holding any good cards.” He blinked deliberately, which prompted an uncomfortable sound in the hallway. It wasn’t long before creepy metal bugs crawled inside. They were on the floors, and the wall, and even the ceiling.
“Replicators,” Olimpia said in fear and awe.
“If you prefer, I can send in the Borg instead.” Vendelin was so pleased with himself for having co-opted intellectual property from ancient entertainment.
“I can handle them,” Angela said. She took out the same ball she used years ago to illustrate how skilled and coordinated she was. “I lied before. This thing is indeed magic. I call it my hyper-destructive happy fun bouncing ball.” She threw it at one of the replicators. It bounced off, only to make its way to one of the others. It just kept bouncing off each one, and sometimes a wall, but never losing momentum. In under a minute, every replicator replica in the room was destroyed. Once it was over, it flew back over to Angela’s hand, where she caught it, and placed it back safely in her bag.
“Touché,” Vendelin said. “I should have indeed gone with the Borg.”
It was then that Hrockas came into the room, surveying the mayhem, and watching his step. “This the guy?”
“We told you to wait in the ship,” Leona reminded him.
“We lost contact with you when you came down here,” Hrockas explained. “Sasha was worried.”
“I know who you are,” Vendelin said to him, still sporting his evil grin. “You own Pluoraia, you lucky bastard.”
“Yes, and you thoughtlessly murdered a lot of my friends.”
“I don’t see it that way.”
“I do,” Hrockas reiterated. He walked over, and pushed Vendelin into one of the casting pods. “I believe my people have the right to confront their enemies, and punish them as they see fit?”
They looked to Leona, who took a moment to consider the options. “He’s not going to help, and I already have an idea for how to stop the beam. It entails building something that no one ever has before. We don’t need him.”
“Thank you,” Hrockas said graciously.
Ramses helped him transfer Vendelin’s consciousness to Pluoraia, and then did the same for Hrockas. The rest of the team left to prevent his little accident from reaching any more inhabited planets.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Extremus: Year 20

While the bridge engineers drag the Captain and Lieutenant’s potentially lifeless bodies out of the bridge, Ovan does his best to make it look like he’s still in control. Admiral Thatch knows better. He’s losing it, and he doesn’t know what he’s dealing with. There are things about this ship that few people are aware of. For instance, there’s a reason Thatch asked to be placed on lighting duty in the first place. This is the most powerful interface on the entire vessel. You don’t have to be the lighting technician in order to use it properly, but it makes it easier. After all, he’s already sitting here. He’s just lucky that this mutineer decided to keep him and him alone as hostage. That was his second mistake. While Ovan is preoccupied trying to figure out his next move, confident that his hostage has no cards to play, Thatch makes his move. He switches the interface over to the emergency desktop, and changes everything about the situation. Unfortunately, there’s not enough time to come up with a sophisticated strategy. As he’s pressing buttons, the murtherous hostage-taker is already on his way to putting a stop to it. Thatch activates emergency temporal displacement protocol, and sends the entire bridge to the future.
“What was that?” Ovan questions.
“I was trying to blind you with the lights,” Thatch lies. He doesn’t really know why he’s lying. It’s not like Ovan can do anything about it. He’s lost, and it can’t be undone. Getting back to the Extremus would take a level of engineering knowledge that neither of them has, certainly not Ovan. The emergency rations will keep them alive for maybe another year, and then this is where they will both die, in the middle of nowhere outer space.
“That doesn’t make any sense. You would have gone blind too.”
“I have experience moving around with my eyes closed. Had I had enough time to siphon enough power, it still would have just been temporary, and I could have reopened the hatch for the security team.” He’s just toying with him now.
Ovan sighs. “Sorry to disappoint. Fortunately, you have the chance to make it up to me.” He clears his throat, and straightens his vest. “Open a channel shipwide. I would like to address my people.”
Thatch strolls over, and does exactly as he was asked. He doesn’t say anything about how small this ship is at this point.
Ovan clears his throat again. “People of Extremus, this is your Captain speaking...Captain Ovan Teleres. You are, no doubt, confused about this development. Believe me, I would not have taken over had I not felt that it was absolutely necessary. Former Captain, Halan Yenant has failed us. He has been wasting his time watching other people play Quantum Colony when there is real work to be done. I had absolutely no choice but to assume responsibility. The transition will be difficult, I admit this. In order to make it go smoothly, I must enact martial law. For now—only for now—the civilian government is being suspended, and all decisions will be filtered directly through me. This is a trying time for everyone, but we are all Extremusians, and I am confident that, together, we can get through anything. I am your one true leader now, and I will not let you down. Please. Stay safe, and await further instructions.” He shuts his eyes and nods to Thatch, signifying that the channel should be closed.
“Wow. That was beautiful, sir,” Thatch jokes, barely able to contain himself.
Another throat-clearing. “Yes.”
“Too bad I’m the only one who heard it.”
“Goddammit. I knew you would pull some shit. Fine, I’ll do it again, and this time, make sure the comms are up myself. We’ll call that the rehearsal.” He stomps over, and reaches for the interface, tilting his lizard brain when he sees that the comms are open, and always were. The little timer in the corner is still going, indicating that it’s been open for the last ninety seconds. “What the hell?”
Now Thatch releases his maniacal laugh. It starts out small, but gets louder and louder, and more maniacal. It goes on for a little bit too long. “Did you have any sort of plan? Did you think that taking over the bridge would be as easy as killing two people? Even if you had been successful—and you had selected the right hostages, and I wasn’t one of them—it would have been short-lived. Engineering has full control over all systems. It’s compartmentalized for a reason! The bridge is primarily here so that the executive crew can see what’s going on in a more comfortable environment, and so the real engineers can curse and keep their uniforms partially unzipped while they work! This room is mostly for show, you unapologetic moron!”
Ovan is fuming. He wants to tear Thatch to shreds, but that’s not the smartest choice right now. If the solution is in engineering, then he’s going to go to engineering. He stomps over to the cabinet, carelessly shoots off the lock, and retrieves an authority zero teleporter band. With one of these, he can go wherever he wants with no restrictions.
“Whoa, you don’t wanna do that,” Thatch tries to warn him. He didn’t think this might happen; that he’s so stupid, he can’t even solve the puzzle by now.
Ovan straps the thing to his chest. “I can still take over this ship, because I’m a god, and you’re all worthless little ants!”
“Hold on.”
“No, asshole.”
“The ship’s gone!”
“What are you talking about?”
“Oh my God, think about it! The comms are open, but no one can hear you. Why might that be?”
“I’m sure engineering rerouted the signal to a single lavatory, or something.”
There might be no convincing him, but he has to try. “If you push that button, you’re going to end up in the cold vacuum of space. The ship is gone. I transported the whole bridge to the future. Extremus is now seven hundred and seven light years away. I don’t know if the Captain or Lieutenant survived, but that crew has just had an entire year to figure out their leadership, and neither one of us has been a part of it. Ya done. You were finished the second you stole that sidearm.”
Ovan looks down at the weapon in his hand as if he’s just remembered it’s there. He points it at Thatch’s head. “Prove it.”
“What was that?” Ovan questions.
“Umm, that is the bridge airlock. It’s only to be used for bridge crew evacuation.”
Ovan cocks the gun. “So you are lying.”
“Computer, open airlock,” Thatch says quickly.
The hatch opens, and in walks Omega Parker and Valencia Raddle. The former sighs. “Report.”
Thatch explains what happened, and why he had to send them here. “If you came to this location, hoping to get back on Extremus, I’m afraid you’re a little behind.”
Valencia dismisses the notion. “No, this is near the access point for our mission. We were just trying to figure out how to get through the little meteor gauntlet our enemies set up for us when we picked up your signal. You have answered our prayers.”
“How so?”
“The bridge is exactly what we need. It’s equipped with weaponry, more powerful propulsion, a better teleporter. It’s just an overall better modular vessel. We would have built the time shuttle like this, but it would have taken too many resources, and too much space. We would have had to tell the people about it. I assume the Captain filled you in?”
“No,” Thatch replies, “but I’m not surprised. I’ve always been suspicious of the onslaught of meteorites.”
“I’m the Captain!” Ovan cries. “Stop talking about him like he matters! I make decisions now! If this small part of the ship is capable of getting us back to the ship, then that is what we’ll do! I am the one with the gun, so what I say goes! You hear me!?”
All three of them look at the pathetic approximation of a human being like he’s the one who doesn’t matter. Omega takes out a gun of some kind, and shoots the ungodlike ant with it. Ovan begins to freak out. They can’t hear him, but he starts moving around much faster than normal. He’s banging on an invisible wall, shaking his head, and screaming at the top of his lungs. But he can’t actually do anything.
“What’s that? Thatch questions. “What’s happening to him?”
“He’s in a timeout bubble. It’s a pocket temporal dimension, which makes time move six times faster than realtime. Have you ever walked behind someone who is incredibly slow?” Omega begins to walk towards the other side of the room in exaggerated slow motion to illustrate his point. “It’s profoundly frustrating, though ineffective as a disciplinary device. Denver hated it, but when we realized it wasn’t improving his behavior, we stopped using it.”
“Who’s Denver?”
“Our son,” Valencia answers.
“You’ve been gone awhile,” Thatch states the obvious.
“Yes, and now it’s time to finish this. We really need this bridge. With it, we can cross the threshold, and destroy the meteor chain once and for all,” Valencia explains.
“If our calculations are correct,” Omega says, “there’s a black hole on the other side of a highly advanced merge barrier. If we cross it at the right moment, using the right technology, we should be able to shut the whole thing down.”
“All right, let’s do it.”
“Unfortunately, you’ll have to be here for it,” Valencia tells him. “We need both the time shuttle, and the bridge module, for this to work.”
“I said let’s do it, I’m in. So is this guy.”
Ovan finally got tired, so he lay down in his little prison, and went to sleep.
Omega steps over to the primary terminal, and begins to interface it with the shuttle. “We know that it’s going to take us to 2293, but we don’t know where. It might be uncomfortably close to the Extremus, in which case we won’t have much time to get it done. We’re still not even certain how we’re going to do it.”
“I don’t know either of you very well, but I have faith you’ll figure something out,” Thatch says sincerely. I’ll be here as a little worker bee. So just give me orders, Captain.”
“I’m not the captain,” Omega says. “She is.”
Valencia smirks. “The Admiral is in charge of the bridge. So we’ll need his permission to link our AI with your systems.”
“Granted,” Thatch says. “I’m also relieving myself of duty, and placing you in charge. I never wanted the gig.”
“Accepted,” Valencia agrees.
“I do have one question, though,” Thatch admits. “What are we going to do with him? I feel bad leaving him in there indefinitely.”
“You said he may have killed Halan and Mercer?” Omega reiterates.
“Good point.”

Meanwhile, about seven hundred and seven light years away, the Extremus is still en route, having not missed a single beat. The new bridge has been built, and is ready to be commanded by its rightful executive crew. The incident with Ovan happened a year ago, but the passengers are still reeling. Many would have followed him to the ends of the galaxy, but not after the stunt he pulled. But for a few radicals who were smart enough to keep their dark thoughts to themselves, no one believed that what he did was the right call. They continued to accept the direction of their elected officials, while the crew did the same for their own interim leadership. After the deaths of the Captain and Lieutenant, The Bridgers had no choice but to assume command, but that changes today. It’s time to bring them back to life.
Dr. Holmes steps back, and makes sure everything looks right. Then she glances around the room to make sure the others have no objections. She would ignore them if they did, but she would need to know about them. She places a hand on each button, and presses them simultaneously.
Both bodies spring to life. They stare into empty space, and catch their breaths. Once he’s ready, Halan turns to the good doctor. “Report.”
“You both died. Old Man had a contingency for that, and I decided to enact it.”

Friday, November 26, 2021

Microstory 1765: Easel

I’ve never been good with emotion. I have them, sure, but they don’t ever move far from the middle. When someone does something that I don’t like, I get upset, but I don’t get mad. As the date of an event that I’m interested in attending approaches, I feel enthusiastic, but not excited. I never lash out, or cry, or squee, or anything like that. I don’t have a problem with other people doing all such things; their emotional reactions don’t annoy me, but I bother them with my lack thereof. My first girlfriend deliberately let herself get caught cheating on me with another guy. I wasn’t happy that she did it, but I easily let it go, and didn’t break up with her. Of course, she broke up with me, because I wasn’t passionate enough, and that’s when I realized that I needed to find someone who didn’t need too much attention. I was never able to, and I eventually decided that it wasn’t fair for me to lead my partners on, and make them feel like there was hope for the two of us. It’s mostly been fine, but unfortunately, it became a problem when my last ex-girlfriend reached out, and revealed that I had a nine-year-old daughter. She was with another man shortly after we were together, and the two of them had always assumed that he was the father. The girl even looked a little like him, so it didn’t occur to them to get a DNA test. They only did it recently when there was a medical issue that required some background information that didn’t match up right. So it was no one’s fault, and the mother felt comfortable breaking the news to me, because she knew that I would not take it poorly. The problem was I couldn’t ignore this new child, but I also couldn’t be a good father to her either. More than math and language skills, kids learn emotional intelligence from their caregivers. Even I know that. I decided to seek professional help. It went a little too well. It would even say it broke me.

I tried a few therapists, each one of them deciding that I needed to be referred to someone else. Again, it wasn’t anybody’s fault, but they had to dig a little deeper to find out what my problem was, and the next layer always fell beyond their expertise. I ended up with a world-renowned hypnotist, known for managing to get through even the most steadfast of skeptics. As far as the technique went in general, I wasn’t a skeptic, but hypnotism often involves latching onto some kind of emotional trigger, and as you know by now, there’s not much of that there with me. At least, I didn’t think that there was. It’s like there was a switch in my brain that accidentally got turned off when I was young, and never got turned back on. I saw a TV show about that once—three of them, actually—where it makes vampires worse than they usually are. I didn’t go on a killing spree, but I did go a bit crazy. I destroyed my hypnotist’s office. All of my emotions from the last 29 years of my life came flooding into my mind all at once. Everything I might have felt got locked away without me even realizing it, and now they were unleashed. After the initial shock wore off, and I paid for the damages, the hypnotist referred me to yet another psychologist, who could help me deal with my newfound feelings. She suggested I channel them into art, even though I’ve never been much into it, because I wasn’t capable of seeing the beauty. As it turns out, I’m not half-bad as a painter. I put everything I’m feeling onto the canvas, but it’s not about the fabric, the paint, or even the images. What I’m doing is unloading my burdens onto the easel...to ease my pain. It’s been working well, and I think I have a decent relationship with my daughter now.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Microstory 1764: Phoenix Industry

I’ve had a monopoly in my industry for the last two years. I had to hire a team of lawyers to protect me, so the government couldn’t come in and confiscate my property. Back when I was just a crematorium operator, I gave my administrator the task of finding me a new furnace. When the machine came in, I assumed she had bought something without going through me first, but it wasn’t long before I learned that she had had nothing to do with it. She’s trustworthy, but as lazy as I am, so she hadn’t even gotten around to starting her research. We never did figure out where the new furnace came from, and that’s kind of a big deal. Not only is it weird—and worrisome that someone had the ability to charge my company credit card without authorization—but it also appears to be unique. They call it the Phornax, which after I used it, I realized was a combination of the Latin word for furnace, fornax and phoenix. You see, it brings people back to life. It doesn’t matter if they’ve already been cremated, or if they’ve been dead for a long time. Any dead person I place in here will come out brand new in a few hours. There doesn’t even appear to be any side effects, like an insatiable hunger for human brains, or neurological issues. In fact, they usually return healthier than they were when they died. It cures them of all maladies and other medical conditions. The only caveat is that I do need all of the remains. I’ve tried to bring back someone with only a portion of their ashes, because part of it was spread into the ocean. It did not turn out right. I’ve seen a lot of disgusting things in this business, but I retched the most I ever had the day I opened that door, and found a horrific pile of boney goo of a man with incomplete cremains. Since then, I’ve been adamant about doing my due diligence.

I do charge for my services, but even though no one else can do what I do, I think I keep my prices fair, and I base them off of tax brackets. The rich pay handsomely, and that supplements the loss of income from my discounted rates, and my pro bono work. I work hard at this, and it’s not easy. I only take Saturdays off to rest. I shouldn’t even be in the office right now, but my administrator is on vacation, and there are a few records I have to verify. As I’m standing at her desk, trying to figure out her filing system, a man walks in. The door was supposed to be locked, so I’m not sure what happened there. Somehow I know that this is him. This is the man responsible for my furnace gift. I don’t know if he just works for a secret cabal, or if he’s straight up the devil, but I can tell that he’s involved. He confirms as much when he recites the full serial number of the Phornax, which he wouldn’t have known if he was just some rando off the street. I ask him why he did this, and he claims that this was all a test run. He and his people needed a way to assess whether my species was ready for the privilege of immortality. This was a great way to do that, because the process is irreproducible, so I’ve not been able to get around to helping all of the over hundred billion people who have died in history. He tells me he doesn’t like the results, and that he’s taking the furnace back. I beg him not to, that we deserve a second chance, but he refuses. I’m not a violent man, but I feel compelled to try to stop him physically. In the struggle, I somehow end up inside the Phornax. “Fine,” he says, before switching it on. I scream in pain as the fire overwhelms me. I break myself out hours later. I had always wondered what would happen if you put a living organism in here. It appears to give people superstrength. What else, though?

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Microstory 1763: On the Wings of Perseus

I thought I was alone on this alien planet, but there is another. I don’t know if he belongs here, or came here from somewhere else, like me, but he doesn’t seem the least bit surprised to find me. I should not be surprised that he is not surprised seeing as we’re standing before a fountain containing statues resembling the two of us, along with many other creatures, who I presume to all be evolved alien species. My guess is that this is a monument to the intelligent races who live in this galaxy, though I couldn’t say whether all of them visited here at some point, they’re only the ones that the Pegasus being specifically knows about, or it’s comprehensive. All I can say is that I’m so pleased to finally have someone else to talk to. And he does indeed talk, even though he looks like a horse with wings. The first thing he tells me is his name, and though I imagine his peoples don’t use Latin script for their written language, what I hear sounds a little bit like the name Perseus, albeit with some kind of non-North American accent and pronunciation. It’s interesting that he should be named that, since both Pegasus and Perseus appear in ancient Greek mythology together, and it’s never been suggested that they are one and the same, or that the latter is the proper name for just one particular member of a whole race of the former. Perhaps all religion was inspired by reality in some way, but the truth has been corrupted overtime, kind of like how the Norse gods are often depicted as real aliens with advanced technology, who humans mistook for deities. I try to ask Perseus what this fountain is, and why a statue of me is in it, but he sort of brushes it off and says that it’s “just this thing.” I find it strange that I should be placed closest to him in the artistic rendering, when we have only now met, and the other aliens probably have much more experience with their interstellar neighbors. He brushes this off as well, and offers to give me a ride on his back. I feel awkward, accepting such a thing from a clearly sentient entity, but if he doesn’t, I shouldn’t.

We fly up, and up, and up, through the clouds, into the bitter cold, and right past what I might consider to be the boundary between atmosphere and outer space. I don’t bother freaking out, or trying to hold my breath. If this is his way of murdering me, then so be it. What am I gonna do, hop off, and go back down? I don’t die, of course. I assume some kind of invisible protective barrier forms to hold in the air, and the heat. The farther we go, the faster we move, until we’re traveling at faster-than-light speeds. Our ships can do that, but not nearly this fast, and before I know it, we’re on a new planet, which I initially figure to be Perseus’ homeworld. I don’t see any other Pegisides around, or whatever it is his people call themselves. I only see humans, standing in and around what I remember to be human architecture. They don’t gasp at the sight of the alien, so he has likely been here before. After I admire the city for a moment, Perseus explains what happened. The reason our scout ship crashed in the first place is due to tidal forces from a relatively nearby collapsis, which my ancestors used to refer to as a black hole. The planet’s proximity to this region of high gravity is also what caused me to experience only fifteen years of time while the human settlement here has been around for nearly two centuries. It’s nice to know that humanity survived the disasters on Earth, and also that I’m still around to enjoy the fruits of that labor myself. The people here welcome me warmly, and I realize just how much I missed being around other people.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Microstory 1762: Pegasus Fountain

I’ve lived alone on this world for the last fifteen years. Actually, if we’re talking about the time it takes for the planet to orbit its host star, then it’s been 38, but I can’t get used to using any other calendar than the one I grew up with on Earth. Our world was dying, and our civilization crumbling, so we were sent to look for a new one. We weren’t trying to save everyone, but our species. Only the peaceful would be allowed to migrate, while the rioters and warmongers stayed behind to fight amongst themselves. Our ship crashed here, and I was the only survivor, so I don’t know whether any of the other scouts were successful. I can only hope, but it’s entirely possible that I am the last human in the entire universe by now. I’ve spent my time here doing what I do best, which is building things. I started with a Columbarium, so I could lay my comrades to rest, but I didn’t stop there. I constructed cages to trap the albibirds, which is the only source of meat available. It would be crazy if only one animal species lives on this whole planet. They don’t act omnivorous, but perhaps they hunted everything else to extinction long before I showed up. I’ve traveled great distances by now, but not everywhere. My helicopter has a short range, and I don’t like to venture too far from home, so it’s not like I’ve been able to cover the entire planet. That changes today. I finally fixed the ship. Well, I didn’t so much as fix it as I took it apart, and built a brand new ship from the wreckage. It’s much smaller than the one we took to get here, but since it only needs to accommodate me, that shouldn’t be a problem. It’s not fast enough to reach Earth—or any of the other candidate settlements—in any reasonable amount of time, but it’s much better at handling atmosphere, and that’s all I really need.

The protium harvesters worked, and the fusion reactor is operational. It would be great if I discovered how little of the surface I’ve truly explored, and the rest of it is lush with vegetation and game. It will be sad, of course, leaving the cremains of my friends behind, but I have to focus on myself now. Either I’m on a desert planet, or I just happened to end up in a desert on a normal planet, but no matter what, I have to know the truth. I spend months surveying the land, searching for anything better than what I started with, but there’s nothing. There’s no ocean, no mountain ranges...certainly no signs of animal life, let alone intelligence. The computer generates a map for me, and I start to see a bigger picture. It is all desert, with oases scattered throughout, and not randomly either. They’re equidistant from each other, which is the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen. It makes no sense; nature would not distribute them so evenly. Then the computer spots something even weirder, so I drop down to check it out. It’s another oasis, but it’s unlike any other. In place of a more natural-looking well, there’s a gigantic fountain; probably larger than anything made on Earth. It’s the only sign of evolved life I’ve found on this rock. It’s filled with statues of creatures I’ve never seen before, spewing water out of their orifices, but I’m drawn to their eyes, which seem intelligent. I think each represents an evolved alien species. The largest one in the center looks eerily like a pegasus from Earthan mythology. It’s uncanny, really, the horse and its wings. That’s when I notice that I actually do recognize one of the statue creatures, standing proud below the pegasus. It was carved in the form of a human, but not just any human. It’s me. It looks exactly like me. Then a real pegasus flies down from the sky to greet me.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Microstory 1761: Pavo Matic

Sanela Kolar and Marko Matic met in The Kingdom of Yugoslavia in the 1930s. Their relationship blossomed after their families immigrated to the United States together, and they were married in 1948. They had their first son immediately, and decided to name him Pavo. He was a good boy, who followed the rules, and cared deeply about the people around him. Perhaps he cared too much. He didn’t like seeing anyone hurt, and he especially hated the concept of death. He always knew about his father’s temporal condition, which caused him to sense the moment of people’s deaths upon looking into their eyes. He was glad to have not inherited the same characteristic. When his younger siblings were still young, Pavo was approached by a man who appeared to be standing on a different continent entirely. He would turn out to be The Delegator, whose responsibilities included delegated assignments to those entrusted with maintaining, or perfecting, the timeline. The Delegator was actually in Stonehenge, in the past, and could transport himself to any time period, anywhere in the universe. He told Pavo that he was born with his own power, and was, in fact, unique. He had the ability to reincarnate people at will. It would be his job to bring people back to life that the Delgator’s bosses, the aptly named powers that be decided were worthy of the gift. Pavo didn’t like that someone else would be making these decisions, but he learned that it was a lot more complicated than that once he began his new job. He was free to facilitate the reincarnation process for anyone he wished, to any mother he chose, but he was expected to drop everything, and go work for the PTB whenever they summoned him. They were pretty good about making sure he wasn’t in the middle of a freelance job.

As far as the jobs went, they weren’t as simple as snapping his fingers, and conceiving an immaculate child. It was a long process that required both lead in, and follow through. In order to bring someone back to life, Pavo had to first learn about who they were before they died. Once he had all of this information, he had to spend all nine months with the new mother, visiting and caring for her during the entire pregnancy. Transferring someone’s consciousness to a new body was simple enough. People in the future did it all the time. Making sure that their soul followed them there was an entirely different story. In that future, it just sort of happened, because clone bodies, and other artificial substrates, contained the barebones ingredients for life, but weren’t actually alive. To reincarnate someone into a new body, with new parents, was a lot more complex, and something researchers never thought to do. Verily, they would not be able to if they tried; not like Pavo could. He coaxed the soul from the aether, and transplanted it into the womb of its new mother, precisely as the egg was being fertilized. It couldn’t just be any ol’ egg, or any sperm. They had to be genetically similar to the original subject, meaning that Pavo would have to search for parents first. This was not an impossible task, and it didn’t require any technological intervention, but it was time consuming, and entailed a shocking amount of meditation. His was a powerful ability, and a rare one, but difficult and tiring, so he could only do it so many times, for so many people. He would never be capable of sustaining an entire population of immortals in this manner. He had to find the right candidates, who deserved to return, due to a set of criteria that he could not come up with himself. For that, he needed help.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: March 11, 2369

The soldiers escorted the team out of the conference room, and down to the nearest hock. Even Kennedy was forced to go, though they were redirected somewhere else, presumably because the military didn’t know if they could be trusted, but they wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt. Nobody padded them down, or recorded their information. They just stuffed them in the cell, and walked away. One guard was left behind to keep an eye on them, and that was exactly what she did. She literally stared at the lot of them the entire time. Mateo didn’t ever catch her blink once, leading him to believe that she was some kind of transhuman, who had other ways of moisturizing her eyeballs. It’s the little things, really. Science fiction has all these grand plans about gargantuan spaceships, and ubiquitous renewable power, but the tiny inconveniences are so often overlooked, because they’re not sexy, or impressive.
Leona looked at the LED tattoo timekeeper on her wrist. “Has anyone tried to go back?”
Hrockas abashedly raised his hand. “I’ve tried. It didn’t work. Sorry, I wasn’t really intending on abandoning you here, but...”
“It’s fine, Hrockas,” Leona said. “They obviously have some kind of signal jammer that’s preventing us from casting back to our real bodies.”
“Of course the hock has that,” the guard agreed.
“What’s your name?”
“Infinity,” she answered.
“Infinity, how long do you reckon they’ll keep us here?”
Reckon?” Infinity echoed. “Depends on how far back in the past you’re from, m’lady.”
“Three hundred and forty years,” Leona responded plainly, not expecting her to believe it. She turned to the group. “Honestly, I don’t know what happens to us at midnight.  I don’t know if these bodies disappear, or if our real bodies do, and leave us behind, or if our connection to them is permanently broken. Maybe we’ll automatically cast back when it happens? I wish I could give you some answers.”
“The most likely answer,” Ramses began, “is that you and Mateo jump. Not only did Pryce program your bodies with your original salmon pattern, but I’m fairly certain that there is a neurological link as well. The rest of us will probably stay here, while our bodies go with you, because they’re still wearing cuffs, leaving us to wait at least another year to get them back. I don’t think the cuffs are sophisticated enough to account for that neurological component.”
“I would go with them too,” Angela revealed.
“What?” Leona questioned.
“Yeah, Pryce programmed my post-resurrection body to be just like yours. Did I never mention that?”
Leona and Mateo shook their heads. “No.”
“Yeah, I’m full-on one of you,” she explained.
“Oh.” Was that good or bad? Angela needed to decide that for herself, and her facial expression was not giving it away.
“Should we be talking about any of this?” Olimpia asked. “What with the cameras, and Infinity standing right there.”
Leona sighed. “I just can’t care anymore. We’re thirty years out from The Edge. Whatever, close enough.”
“This is the military,” Kivi reminded them. “They know how to keep secrets. It’s entirely possible that the timeline already accounts for all of Teagarden knowing about us for three decades before the general population finds out.”
Leona sighed again. “I guess we just sit and wait.”
“What happens to me while you’re gone?” Hrockas asked, still nervous.
“Probably torture,” Ramses answered unapologetically.
Several hours later, they received their answer, and it was a weird one. They did not simply return to their bodies, but their bodies came to them. They blinked, and found themselves in the same cell they were in before, but their base models were collapsed on the floor next to them, and their consciousnesses were back where they belonged. They looked like themselves again. Infinity was still watching them, almost like she didn’t see a difference. Perhaps she had also suppressed the facial recognition software in her brain, or was born with prosopagnosia. No, that didn’t matter. There were now twice as many people in here. Even Hrockas transferred back, which was weird, and didn’t make any sense. Infinity nodded at them for a moment before lifting her watch to her lips, and speaking into it, “they’re back.”
Leona approached the bars, and took hold of two of them, like any good falsely imprisoned person. “Who are you talking to?”
“Someone who demands to know what hell is going on.”
A man in formal military dress opened the door and walked in with the thick air of authority. He cleared his throat, and sized them up. “My name is General Bariq Medley. We have been waiting for this for a standard Earthan year.” He opened an arm toward the door. “Come on in.”
Kennedy walked in reluctantly. “I’m sorry. I told them everything I knew. They have...sophisticated ways of getting people to communicate.”
“Hey, Kennedy...” Leona said before a long pause. “Don’t worry about it.” She looked back at Medley, and conceded to the truth. “So now you know, General, that our...bodies...somehow...transport back to us...spontaneously? I don’t really know what happened, actually. Perhaps you can explain.”
“That’s something that you don’t need to worry about,” Medley replied.
“Your ship is here, and she teleported you back,” Kennedy managed to spit out quickly, scared that it might be their last words.
He was mad, but not in an I’m going to kill you kind of way; just a we’ll talk about your punishment after dinner. Wash your hands first kind of way. He seemed relieved that the talk would go faster now that he didn’t have to dance around the truth. “Well, I was going to lead up to that after getting a few more answers, but fine, I’ll show you my cards. Kennedy explained to us what she could, and we pieced together more from others we discovered within our ranks who you apparently call...humans?”
“You’re not all humans—it’s an outdated term—but yes, because muggles was taken,” Leona said.
“I suppose that outdated is a relative term for people like you anyway. I must say that I’m impressed, managing to hide yourselves from the general population for...”
“Literally billions of years,” Leona filled in with a smile.
“I’m only eighty-three years old, I might have figured it out on my own had I been around back then.”
Medley cleared his throat again. “As Kennedy was trying to say, your ship showed up two months ago. We have some pretty smart people. They didn’t come up with our plan; they came up with yours. After careful thought and discussion, we figured out what was going to happen. Your ship’s AI was going to teleport your bodies down to wherever your consciousnesses were. I assume it’s not like Star Trek, and she couldn’t simply lock on to your location,” He said with airquotes. “Our quantum casting system comes with a subroutine that defaults every consciousness to its primary substrate if it comes within a hundred meters of the substrate that it’s been cast into. Why do we do this? Well, I’m not sure it matters anymore. In fact, I think it’s probably stupid, and I don’t remember the last time it even came up, but it’s a carryover from a very old version of the technology. We’ve all seen a mirror before, but early test subjects found it to be...eerie, standing next to their old bodies. It was moderately uncomfortable for some, and freaked others out completely. Developers decided that never the selves shall meet. Again, things are different now, but no one thought to delete that subroutine, because casters are generally either separated by light years, or their old bodies are destroyed en route to the upgrade. I’m not sure how Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida handles it.” He gave room for someone to have some kind of reaction.
No one said a word. Hrockas coughed, which was weird, because he was the only one still wearing a cloned body, and those didn’t suffer the same daily bodily limitations as normal people.
Medley went on, “knowing all this, your ship teleported your bodies down to the cell, which are tagged. Your consciousnesses, which we kept dormant for the last year, then reverted to those tagged bodies. I’m sure your ship intended to teleport you out, but there’s one thing she didn’t know, so she couldn’t do it immediately.”
“She didn’t know how long it would take,” Leona guessed.
“That’s right,” Medley confirmed. “She had to leave you down here for a few minutes, just to make sure it worked. That was more than enough time for our forces to disable it, board it, and commandeer it.” He shrugged. “Even if you had transported back, we would still have you in custody.”
“For what?” Leona prompted.
“A mission,” Medley said.
“What mission?”
“The mission you were on before you came here. We wanna know what happened on Pluoraia, and several other star systems in the neighborhood.”
“It’s still happening?” Leona asked rhetorically. “You’ve lost contact with other worlds?”
“Yes. Pluoraia wasn’t even the first. We were keeping the bug quiet, because admitting it existed would probably lead us down the path of admitting that Quantum Colony is all real, and not just a game. We were not prepared to do that, that’s our bad. Now we need you to fix it.”
“Why us?” Leona asked, not trusting him. “You don’t know anything about us personally. Kennedy couldn’t have told you that.”
“We’re not in the business of stealing spaceships, and yours appears to be the fastest in the galaxy. As far as we can tell, the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez flies the flag of Proxima Doma. We would ask them for guidance, but something tells us that not even they know what you are.”
“I’ve never met a single Proxima Domanian in my life,” Leona disclosed. Étude and Vitalie didn’t count. “Do you even know where we’re going?”
“We do,” Medley asserted. “The Source is a hundred and eight light years from Earth. Our number one priority is to protect The Seed and The Heart of Civilization, at the cost of all other worlds, if need be.”
“The Power Vacuum is moving at light speed, in a beam. It doesn’t spread out in all directions. It’s been targeted at Earth. We believe that Pluoraia was just...in the way. It will arrive in 2418, taking other systems with it in the meantime, including the Gatewood Collective. Now that I think about it, I’m guessing you know who lives there. It’s always been above my paygrade.”
“No one lives there now, they abandoned it,” Leona replied truthfully.
He nodded, tabling that for a later discussion. “Since it’s a beam, you can fly around it, and still get there in time. We know you have redundant power sources, and according to the data that my boarding party has been transmitting to my brain this entire time, you’ve even already gone through it, and survived.”
Leona took everyone’s vital signs real quick. They all nodded their agreeance to the proposal. “We’ll do it, under a few conditions, the first one being you get the fuck off my ship.”
General Medley tilted his brainchip down. “Done. Anything else.”
“Yeah,” Mateo finally spoke up after saying nothing the whole time. “Shut the game down right now.”