Monday, January 31, 2022

Microstory 1811: Overwhelming Emotion

I never wanted to have children until I became pregnant, and my entire outlook suddenly changed. I heard stories of people like that, and things seem to always change once they lay eyes on their child. It was seeing those two pink lines that really got me. The pregnancy test didn’t look anything like a baby, of course—and of course, I always knew that pregnancy was, like...a thing—I just didn’t think it would happen to me. It became real in that moment, and I fell in love with this little person growing inside of me who I wouldn’t be able to meet for the next nine months. What I didn’t know back then was that she and I would actually never meet. I was scared to tell my husband the news. We weren’t stupid; we got married knowing each other’s feelings on the matter. We discussed a lot of things about the future before we agreed to set a date. Both of our families and friends were so upset when we told them about the wedding, but didn’t have a cutesy story to go along with it. He didn’t ask me at a sports competition, or hide a ring in my dessert. He didn’t even get down on one knee. We were responsible and thoughtful about this decision, and I honestly can’t think of anything more romantic. There is no doubt in my mind that, had I survived, we would have grown old together. I didn’t wait a really long time to tell him about the baby, like they do on TV. That’s like asking for people to find out some other way while hilarity ensues. I sat him down next to me on the couch, took a deep breath, and just said the words. I remember him staring into my eyes, darting his own back and forth, looking for the truth written across my face. He was shocked, and worried, and then his face changed the same way I felt mine change when I found out myself. He felt overwhelmed by his emotions, but one thing was for certain, it all added up to joy. He was excited. We had both changed our minds.

Our family and friends were so excited for us as well when we started spreading the news a few months later. It was like they had forgotten what we had put them through with the whole marriage proposal thing. These reactions started to change when they learned how we were handling the process. No baby shower, no gifts, no opinions about how I should give birth, or who I should choose as my doula. We especially didn’t have a gender reveal party. We let the technician tell us what the sex would be at birth, but we weren’t going to assign a gender to an individual without their say-so. We would call her a she for the first several years of her life until such time that she figured out who she really was. My mother was not happy about this. She wanted to have a party, and she wanted to have another party where people gave us things that were either pink or blue. My husband and I painted the nursery with monster trucks, sports balls, and volcanoes just to piss her off. Don’t worry, we painted over it with a nice neutral green afterwards. As you might have guessed, we still got a lot of gifts, even though we didn’t have a registry. We didn’t need charity regardless, but I kind of always liked the idea of risking getting two of the same item. That’s how they did it in the olden days, and ya know what, people survived the emotional trauma of knowing that their particular gift was returned to the store. I will never know what gender my child would ultimately choose, or what toys she would end up liking the most. I’ll never know how great a father my husband is, or how good a mother I could be. I know one thing, I’m enormously grateful that I chose to give birth in a hospital. Because if I hadn’t, my child probably would have died too.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: March 21, 2379

The Cassidy cuffs that they were still wearing—even though everyone on the team was bound to the same pattern, and no longer needed an unnatural way to stay connected—came with a lot of handy features, including a teleporter. They could not simply transport to wherever they wanted, though. When within range, they could only make jumps to each other. At least one of them had to physically be at a particular location in order for the others to come without dealing with that annoying realspace. This was why Mateo had to jetpack over to Xerian’s ship, but Leona didn’t once he had arrived for her.
Mateo was about to exit the no longer operational shower room when he realized how long he had been gone. He didn’t want anyone on the team to know quite yet that he had found a way back to the main sequence, but he also couldn’t explain why he just spent the last fifteen minutes standing naked in a portal closet that was also not supposed to be working. The cuff teleporter was his only hope. Everyone was already right there within several meters of him, but maybe he could fudge with that a little. Maybe he could jump to the other side of this floor, and come out of the working tub so he wouldn’t have to explain to Ramses what took him so long to figure out that the other one was useless. Did he just stand there like an idiot? Or had he realized his mistake right away, and Ramses simply hadn’t noticed him walking by a second time earlier?
Mateo gathered his belongings, but didn’t put his clothes back on, in case the AI had ended up filling up the tub for him. Again, the teleporter wasn’t designed to transport someone to a specific location, but just close enough to a teammate without appearing inside of a wall or floor. He was going to have to kind of do his best. He pressed the button, and jumped.
It was darkish, and he didn’t know where he was. Gravity suddenly took hold of him, and knocked him to his back. He landed on something smooth and soft, and then rolled off onto something soft and cushiony.
“Ouch!” cried a voice. Was that Olimpia?
“Where am I?” Mateo asked in a panic. For a split second he had thought maybe he was in outer space, and in that time, his heart decided to try to burst out of his chest in response. His brain knew he was safe, but his body was still freaking out.
“You are in my grave chamber,” Angela explained. Oh, it was her, not Olimpia. Then she switched on the light. It was both Angela and Olimpia. They were as naked as he was.
“Well,” Mateo said awkwardly. “I guess now we know the teleporter isn’t that precise.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Olimpia replied.
“I’m gonna go,” Mateo declared, sitting up, and fumbling for the hatch.
“Up to you,” Angela said.
They just went right back to what they were doing while he was climbing out of there, desperately trying to hold onto his clothes. Leona was sitting at the table, watching him. “It’s not what it looks like,” Mateo defended. “I mean really, it really isn’t.”
“Why wouldn’t you put on your clothes first, and then test the teleporter?” Leona questioned. Smart as a whip. “And why would you ever test it on a spaceship this small?”
“That’s why you wear the pants in this relationship?” he tried to joke.
“Well...maybe you ought to...try it yourself.”
“Yeah.” He started putting his clothes back on. “Everything okay in engineering?”
“It’s fine,” she answered. “I want us to be geared up by midnight when we arrive near the Nexus planet. We don’t know what we’re walking into, so you should get some sleep now.”
“In your own grave chamber,” Leona added.
“I know.” He started walking towards it.
“No, not ours...yours.” She gently jerked her head towards the one that Jeremy used to sleep in.
“We’re fine, I know you weren’t cheating on me, but...I need to be able to sleep here in a minute too, and I know how you get when you’re...because of what you saw.”
That was true, he was in the mood now. “Okay.”

Nobody talked about what happened to them. Ramses could sense some tension, but he ignored it. He was probably still thinking about the last chapter he read in his book. Leona, meanwhile, was making sure that the AOC was programmed correctly. They wanted it to come out of reframe speed about sixty astronomical units from the destination, and find a place to hide on an object out there. The star system may be equipped with defenses capable of detecting it, but this was as far out as they wanted to be. It would take about an hour to complete the journey from there, making maximum range rapid burst jumps, and then pausing to let the vessel cool down and recover. Most of the time, when they tried something like this, they would end up getting caught anyway, but they still had to try every time.
This time, it worked. When they returned to the timestream a year later, they found themselves sitting on a comet in a highly elliptical orbit around a class IV subgiant. No other vessels were around, and no one had fiddled with their ship while they were gone. According to data it collected for them, the single terrestrial planet was orbiting in the habitable zone, and was, in fact, inhabited. The locals were a group of resistance nonfighters. They didn’t want to bring down the system, but they wanted to live outside of it. The Nexus served as a means of ferrying refugees from the Andromeda galaxy, where the war was raging. Out here in the void, it was harder for the Security Watchhouse Detachment to find them. Detachment, Leona noted upon hearing this. If the matrioshka-class SWD was a detachment then they needed to be very afraid of the sheer scale of whatever it was detached from. It could be the largest object ever created across the four known realities. Wanderer was apparently a nickname they used in a pathetic attempt to fool the refugees into believing they weren’t truly the enemy. No one was buying it. The Fifth Division was a ruling force, and not everyone wanted to be ruled by them.
The Investigator was like a police cruiser, scouting around for signs of life. The planet here, Paz was the biggest prize, but they scooped up anyone who rejected the Fifth Division’s sovereignty. The theory now was that the SWD was actually being rather cordial with the team, and that the tactic was meant as a means of learning the whereabouts of this intergalactic star system.
“They’re probably going to be quite concerned about us,” Olimpia figured. “We can’t just teleport to the surface, and expect to be welcomed with open arms. We have to warn them that we’re here, and assure them that we come in peace.”
“Agreed,” Leona said. “Computer, send a message. Tell them exactly where we are, and that we seek sanctuary.”
Acknowledged,” the computer returned.
“Take off the tactical gear,” Leona ordered. “We don’t want to look hostile.”
Do I have permission to clarify our power systems?” the computer requested.
“Say nothing about the reframe engine. Tell them we use antimatter for propulsion, fusion for internal systems, and have an AU range teleporter drive, or whatever it is they call it here.”
Understood,” the computer replied. Before too long, it went on, “they’re sending a light year drive to retrieve us.”
“Very well,” Leona said. “How did they sound?”
Human,” the ship answered.
“I mean tone, demeanor, emotional mood.”
The computer waited a moment. “Human.”
“Does it not understand the question?” Angela asked.
“No, it’s just recognizing its own limitations,” Ramses explained. “Humans are emotional, and it’s not. We programmed it without such things to avoid creating another Sasha or Imzadi. It’s just telling us that the person or persons it conversed with are emotional beings, but it can’t tell us which emotions. It just doesn’t know.”
They sat there for a moment, waiting to be picked up. The computer then finally responded to Ramses’ last words, “correct.”
“We can tweak the language cadence later,” Ramses said. “I think it thinks that it was pausing for effect.”
They waited another moment before the computer said one last thing, “correct.”
A ship suddenly appeared above them. “Crew of the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, this is the captain of the Paz Rescue Vessel Ataraxis. We’re here to take you to the inner system. Do we have your consent to transport you to our docking bay?
“This is the captain of the Stateless Private Vessel AOC. We consent.”
They never met anyone on the ship. It was fast enough to jump them into their bay, jump themselves all the way over to the planet, and then drop them off on the surface before they knew it. The team exited the airlock, shocked by the bright light from the sun. How long had it been since they had seen something like this? It was dark and cloudy on Pluoraia, which was the last planet they had been on that was habitable without human intervention. Before that, they spent a little bit of time on 1816 Earth to say goodbye to Jeremy. They just didn’t do much on planets anymore. Perhaps they would wait to make the trip to Andromeda. This looked like a nice enough place. Sure, they were stumbling on the stairs—because they always kept the AOC at slightly lower gravity than Earth, and this world was reportedly slightly higher than Earth gravity—but they would get used to it quickly. This could be their new home. Maybe.
 “Greetings,” said a woman at the bottom of the stairs. “I’m Florida Telano.”
“Florida, like the state?” Olimpia asked.
“I’ve never heard of that,” Florida said.
“The U.S. doesn’t exist here,” Leona whispered.
“Right. My mistake.”
“Where do you come from?” Florida questioned. The name must have been a linguistic coincidence.
“We would rather keep that private,” Leona said. “We still have family there, and we don’t need any targets on their backs.” Really good lie.
“Understood,” Florida said surprisingly. “Let me give you the tour.” She lifted her arms up to project a hologram of the planet between them. “We are primarily a pitstop on a refugee’s way to their new home. The void consists of millions of minor celestial bodies, which we spread out to avoid detection. Every one of them is hydrogen-rich, and powered by at least one fusion reactor, depending on capacity. It’s capable of self-propulsion at subluminal speeds, but not faster-than-light travel. The idea is to radiate the least amount of heat possible in order to remain hidden. In contrast, Paz is orbiting a Stage Nu subgiant rogue star. It’s hard to find out here in the black, but still rather visible. People do live here, but it’s more dangerous. We are always at risk of being discovered. It’s up to you whether you’re willing to take that risk.”
“We were told that we could go to Andromeda,” Leona said. She showed Florida her handheld device. “A friend gave us these coordinates.”
Florida tilted her head, and frowned. “This is the capital of the Andromedan Consortium. It’s the number one opposing force to the Fifth Divisional Denseterium. It’s safe from the latter, but you’re at the mercy of the former. Some say they’re no better.”
Leona frowned back. She looked over to her team. “We’re not much for hiding anyway, are we?”
“No, not really,” Mateo concurred.
“All right,” Leona decided with a nod, “unless there are any objections, I think we’ll just stay here.”
“Great!” Florida exclaimed with sincerity. “We have a number of options for habitation. You’re welcome to stay on your vessel, or we can place you in a home. The price of the latter is some form of contribution, even if you choose privacy mode—which means we never go to you; you come to us—over community engagement mode.”
“Privacy mode,” they all said in unison.
“And we’ll stay on our ship,” Leona added.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Extremus: Year 29

Every day at 16:15, Olindse Belo sits down at her desk, and has herself a cup of tea. She’s done this since she was promoted to admiral, thinking it was the perfect time to not be needed elsewhere. She ended up not being needed much anyway, but it feels right to keep to a routine, so she’s continued doing it. Apparently knowing this about herself, Past!Olindse wrote a note, and then she burned it with a special lighter that Vice Admiral Thatch left in his desk, which she used for a time when she was first trying to figure out her new role on the ship. The lighter is designed to send messages across time and/or space. As the fire destroys the paper, the quantum configuration of that paper—including its text—is logged into an internal data drive. It then transmits the information to the calibrated destination, and rebuilds the message as it was stored. Past!Olindse scheduled this to happen when she knew her future self would be there to see it transpire. Watching the note materialize was as important as the message itself, or Future!Olindse may have had a harder time trusting the authentication.
The note is cryptic and short so as to preserve the secrecy. It simply reads, Extract Thatch pre-illness. Investigate Bridger section. Tell no one else. Authentication code ΔΟ-5456456. Okay. Well, it’s in her own handwriting, so it seems to be legit. She decides to trust her Past!Self, and follow the instructions. It could be a trick, yes, but there’s a bit of logic to it. She can recall once waking up with scattered memories of the previous day. That potentially fractured day was exactly one year ago. If she had her memories erased, for whatever reason, she probably had a pretty good reason for it, and this mysterious note strongly supports her assumption that the procedure was completely consensual.
Time travel is mostly illegal on Extremus. They don’t want anyone to be able to go back and mess things up, or jump to the future, and gather secret information. There are major exceptions to this. The time shuttle, which has been named the Perran Thatch, was specifically designated to do just that. The drones they occasionally send off to mine raw materials on worlds as they pass by don’t work without it. For the most part, though, it can’t be done without risking severe punishment. It’s not really clear why an extraction mirror was installed on the ship in the first place, given that the engineers never intended anyone to manipulate time at all. Perhaps they wanted later captains to be capable of seeking advice from past captains following their deaths, though that does not alleviate the reality-bending dangers of time travel, which is the whole reason it’s usually illegal. Still, it’s the most likely explanation since the only people who are allowed to even enter the extraction room must be a captain or an admiral. Not even a First Lieutenant has authorization. If Corinna so much as attempts to cross the threshold, even accompanied by Captain Leithe herself, she will supposedly endure terrible pain, and a swift banishment to the other side of the ship. Olindse is all but the only person who can do this, and Thatch is the only person she can extract.
She teleports down to the area, and enters her code into the pad. She could have been deauthorized at some point, since she was only ever an interim captain, and isn’t now a full admiral, but Kaiora would have had to make a point of doing that, and it seems unlikely she bothered. Still, she stands there at the entryway in fear, because she’s never tried this before, and precisely how much it hurts for any would-be trespassers is not a matter of record. Finally, she works up the courage, and steps through. She’s fine. It doesn’t hurt, and she’s not spirited away. She closes the door behind her, and walks up to the mirror. Ah, she should have written down the magic words. There’s a particular sequence a user has to say to activate the mirror. In the fictional source material, which is a book written in the 18th century, it seems to actually be magic. In this case, it’s just a passphrase that the creator employed after being inspired by said book. It’s equally important regardless. “Umm...I stand at the door of life and death? Come forward, spirit. Here’s life. Vice Admiral Perran Thatch of the TGS Extremus, smell blood! Smell life! I summon thee!”
Nothing happens.
“Oh, right. Uh.” She takes out her pocket knife, and cuts her finger, wiping it on the glass. Now it finally works. She doesn’t think she uttered the passphrase exactly as she was taught, but it was evidently close enough.
A youngish and healthyish Thatch is sitting at his desk, right hand cupped around a glass of liquor, while his left hand is working the holoscreen. It takes him a moment to realize that Olindse is there. “Am I about to die?”
“Depends. What is the date?”
“October 2, 2286,” he answers.
“Then no, you’re fine. You die of natural causes, but I need you mobile for a mission in the future, so I’m extracting you while I’m sure that’s still the case. I am Vice Admiral Olindse Belo, and you can’t tell anyone about this; not in my present, or yours.”
“Why is there another vice admiral on this ship?” he questions.
“It’s a long story, and by long, I mean classified.”
He sighs deeply, and downs the rest of his drink. “Very well.” He stands up, and walks through the mirror. “What can I do ya fer, Admiral?”
“While we’re both Vice,” Olindse begins, “you’re the only one authorized to enter the Bridger section. I was an interim captain, so while I’m afforded most privileges that come with my promotion, I do not enjoy them all. It was decided that I did not need access to that part of the ship. However, I actually do need to get in, because there’s something fishy going on.”
“Does this have something to do with that god-awful First Chair of the civilian government?” he asks.
“Does it have to do with—”
“Please, no questions. This is about me finding answers to protect the future of this vessel; not about you gathering information to leverage against your friends and enemies.”
“Fine, but you’ll owe me.”
“I already paid,” Olindse lies, suggesting that he goes back to his own time, and collects something from her in her past, and if he has to believe that to be agreeable, then she’s not going to try to clarify.
The both of them look around to make sure no one is watching them, which is a little silly since they’re leaving a highly restricted area in order to travel to a different highly restricted area, but it just seems like the right thing to do. They teleport away.
There’s every chance that someone who works in the Bridger section will send them away and report them for access, but they can’t get in trouble for unauthorized access. Thatch has every right to be here, even though he’s supposed to be dead at this point in time, and he has the right to use his discretion to decide Olindse also has a right to be here. At worst, Olindse is stripped of her rank, but seeing as how she doesn’t do much around here, that doesn’t sound like too great of a loss. They won’t file charges, or place her in hock.
“Last chance. Are you sure about this?” Thatch asks as his hand hovers in front of the keypad.
“I need to know,” Olindse replies.
“Okay,” Thatch says. He punches in his code, and the door opens.
They walk inside. No one is there to greet, or protest against, them. That’s not surprising, though, since they deliberately chose to enter through a sort of back door. They carefully peek around the corners, and quietly begin walking towards the stern. They want to find a terminal to connect to that is as far from human activity as possible, because they won’t want any questions until—what the hell is this?
“What the hell is this?” Thatch asks, not expecting Olindse to know.
She answers the obvious, but still doesn’t get it. “Stasis pods.”
“Stasis pods for who?” Thatch continues. “And are they all full?”
She steps over to the terminal, and tries to look up information, but she has no authorization. Thatch has to enter his own codes to access it, but even he’s limited. “Is that...the number of pods, or somebody’s quantum sequence?”
“That is the number of pods,” Thatch confirms. “And that is the number of pods that are in use.”
“They’re the same.”
“There are 60,000 secret people on this ship?” Olindse presses.
“It looks like it.”
Olindse looks down the deep corridor, knowing that there are more just like it in other subsections. “A quick bit of math in my head, this means that the Bridger section runs quite nearly the entire length of Extremus, and also most of the width.”
Thatch looks around for answers, but he’s really just working through it in his head. “It’s another ship.”
“A ship inside of a ship?”
“Yes,” he says. “We always knew that this was made as a contingency, we just didn’t know the extent. If everything else is destroyed, they’re supposed to be able to move on. And they would do this by physically separating from us.”
“We have 8500 people on this ship right now, and they still outnumber us three and a half to one.”
“I don’t think it’s a competition.”
“Isn’t it, though? I mean, think about it. “What makes them so special? Why do they get to reach the planet, while the rest of us have to die before the ship makes it all the way? This was meant to be a generational vessel. We voted for that. We agreed to it. We did not agree to this.” She turns towards him angrily. “Why have you not been down here before? Why didn’t you know about this?”
“It didn’t seem to be my place. They only gave me access so Halan wouldn’t be the only one outside of the Bridger crew.”
“Oh my God, Admiral Yenant knows about it, and so does my captain!”
Olindse fumes for a moment, and then composes herself. “How did my past self find out about this, and why didn’t she let herself remember?”
“Wait, your past self?” Thatch questions.
“Yeah, she used your special lighter, and wrote me a note.”
“And then erased her memories?”
“Maybe she knew that someone was going to attack her, but couldn’t stop it.”
She was becoming angry again. “Well, she didn’t say that! Maybe if her note had been a little clearer, I would know what she wanted me to do with this information!”
“That would certainly be nice to know,” he agrees. “Why don’t we ask her?”
“Ask my past self?”
He shrugs. “It’s working for me.”
“That seems like it could turn into a bloody mess.”
“I’m just brainstor—” Thatch freezes in place.
As per protocol, Olindse waves her hand in front of his face. He does not react. She looks over to find a portal. Someone who looks exactly like her is on the other side of it, in the extraction room. “Umm, that is the wrong direction,” she complains. “I need answers from the past.”
“Well, you’re going to get them from the future,” Future!Olindse explains. “And you’re going to get them in the future. You’ll need a lot of patience for this one, honey.”
“Don’t patronize me.”
“Sorry, but this is important,” Future!Olindse says. “In about five seconds, a Bridger is going to walk down here to perform her regular maintenance on some of the pods. She’s going to catch you, and while you eventually learn what you truly came down here to find out, you end up in hock before you can do anything about it.”
“But that’s you, you’re talking about yourself,” Present!Olindse points out.
“Yes, it’s me. I did those things. I got caught. I managed to convince Caldr to sneak me to the extraction room. And unless you want to become me one day, you’ll step through this portal right now, and change the past.”
“That’s illegal,” Present!Olindse states the obvious.
“Sometimes you have to break the law to protect it,” Future!Olindse claims, “but you won’t get that chance if you don’t come now and ask Halan about Operation Nova.”
“There’s no time!”
“Time is frozen,” Present!Olindse contends.
“No, it’s not!” Future!Olindse argues. “It’s just going really slow!”
“What about him?”
“Bring him too, and then send him right back to his own time period.”
Present!Olindse takes a breath, and goes over her options, of which there is probably only one. Teleportation does not work down here, or they would have used it to get in. It’s a security measure. “Fine,” she growls. As soon as she takes Thatch by the shoulders, perceived time begins approaching the speed of realtime. Just as she’s pushing him through the portal, she hears the hatch opening up behind them.
“—do what I say.” Thatch tries to finish his sentence. “Why’d you bring us back?”
Olindse looks around for her alternate self, but there’s no one else here. “What was that about me having to do what you say?”
“No, I said, I’m just brainstorming. We don’t have to do what I say.
“Oh.” But she’s preoccupied by her own confusion. Then it hits her. By coming here, she just erased her future self from the timeline, and replaced her.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Microstory 1810: Justice Delayed

I’m a killer. It’s not something that I wanted to be. When someone would ask me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I didn’t tell them that I was hoping to one day become a murderer, and almost get away with it. I never wanted it to happen, but it did, and I figured there was no point fretting over it. I couldn’t change the past, but I could move on with my life, and try to do some good with it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that easy. You see, the woman I killed—and I won’t tell you why I did it, because it doesn’t matter anymore—had recently experienced relations with a man. That’s why not I killed her, before you get any ideas about jealousy. His connection to her was the only lead the cops had when they were running their investigation, and instead of looking into the truth, they just selected him as their one and only suspect. I’m not a cop. It’s not my job to confess to the crime I committed. I decided that I would let this play out, and accept my fate, whatever that was going to be. I wasn’t going to actively impede their investigation, but I wasn’t going to go out of my way to help them either. Even after the wrong man was convicted, I convinced myself that it wasn’t my fault. Again, it’s not my responsibility to put bad guys away, and leave the innocent alone. They screwed up, and it was all their fault. At least, that’s what I told myself. Subconsciously, I was a wreck. I already felt guilty about the murder itself, but now I had to contend with the fact that an innocent man was behind bars. I could not live with myself. It just kept getting worse by the day. I honestly believe I would have eventually turned myself in.

The wrongfully accused didn’t stop fighting. He insisted that he wasn’t even in the country at the time, and continued trying to prove his alibi. This was great, I thought; he was gonna go free, and they still had no evidence against me. It would turn into a cold case, and the whole thing would just go away on its own. That’s not what happened. They reopened the case, looked deeper into the clues, and finally found me. It’s actually what got that guy out of prison. They wouldn’t let him go until they knew who the perpetrator was, which I recognize is a ridiculous idea, and all those people should be fired for incompetence. I did as I promised, and accepted my punishment. They arrested me, put me through trial, and threw me in prison. I wasn’t in there long before I died, and that’s where things get interesting. What I haven’t told you is that I am voldisil. I have the ability to form profound connections with others. My cat is 34 years old (older than me), because I linked her to my lifeforce 21 years ago. She can’t die until I do, and neither can the man I let rot in prison for four months...unless something unavoidable happens to him. After I was imprisoned, he came to visit me, hoping to get some closure. I was moved by his words, and decided to give him a gift. He was in his late forties, which means he was maybe about halfway done with his life. In contrast, I was in my mid-twenties. Prison being what it is, I would probably die relatively young, but in the meantime, he would last so much longer. Sadly, my ability has its limits. He never got his life back on track, and he’s ended up living on the streets, where the cold can get him. I feel him more clearly now as the faux warmness overtakes our bodies. I’m grateful that, if he had to die, it was this way; quietly. If my cellmate could tell that something was wrong, they would be able to stop it. He would still die, but I wouldn’t. I wish he was going to live longer, but at least I don’t have to live with the guilt anymore.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Microstory 1809: World of Injustice

I was in prison for four months for a crime that I didn’t commit. That may not sound like very long, but it was more than enough to ruin my life. I could have stayed for one night, and it still would have been devastating. I’m not talking about being a person of interest, or even being arrested. I could have talked that off as a misunderstanding. No, a conviction, and one that was so highly publicized; that was something that I never came back from, even when they found the true culprit, and let me go. Because that was all they did; let me go, and let me fend for myself. I was out of the country when the murder happened. Yes, I knew her, and yes, we had had sex recently, but there is no way I could have done it. It took three months for the authorities to receive the proof! Countries don’t talk to other countries very nicely, especially not back then, or this all would have been resolved in a matter of hours. My alibi was caught on camera, it was completely ridiculous. Even after they received said footage, the police basically said to me, well, if you didn’t do it, then who did? as if it was my responsibility to do their job for them. It wasn’t until they reopened the investigation, and did finally locate him that they set me free. That is not how it works. You don’t keep someone locked up in case you never find the killer just because somebody has to go down for this. I worked really hard to keep my cool, and not become angry about it, because I didn’t want anything to stand in the way of my exit from that wretched place. I did well in the beginning. I remember being so happy as that gate opened, knowing that it meant freedom. I harbored no resentment—not yet. I didn’t know at the time how bad things were about to much worse life would be on the outside, not just in some ways, but all ways.

I would come to find out that I was never exonerated. They literally just escorted me out of prison, and shut it behind me. According to law, I still belonged in there. None of the proper paperwork was filled out; nothing was done officially or correctly. There was a news story about it, with a clear picture of me walking away from the prison, but that was pretty much the only proof I had. The journalist who took that photo actually gave me a ride back to the city, because I didn’t have any other means of transport. My family had all disowned me, and decided to not exonerate me either. It was impossible to convince them that I didn’t get off on some kind of clerical error. I didn’t do it! Well, having sex out of wedlock was enough for them, so they weren’t hearing any of it. Getting a job wasn’t any easier. A background check showed that I was locked up, but didn’t show that I was released. I eventually realized that I needed to keep a copy of that news article on my person at all times. This would give me a few opportunities, but then a coworker would learn who I was, and that would make them uncomfortable. Maybe I didn’t commit the murder, but I was in prison, so I probably did a lot of crimes in there. I didn’t, the other convicts actually weren’t that bad, but no one believed me. There wasn’t an accurate paper trail. I’m surprised I wasn’t rearrested at some point. I guess the warrant was the one thing they did manage to get rid of. Prison was a terrible place, but at least they had to give me a cot. Now I had nothing. I was forced to live on the streets, which is where I die here today. I’m young in terms of years, having aged quickly due to malnutrition, and lack of medical care. I think I’m dying of exposure, specifically, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I die as I lived, trapped in a world of injustice.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Microstory 1808: Only Natural

I thought that I was born a nomad when I was young, but I didn’t know the meaning of the word. We moved all over the country, for various reasons, usually involving one of my parents getting a better job opportunity, but also sometimes because they needed a change of pace. They eventually grew weary of the grind, and decided that we would live simpler lives. There were six of us kids by then, and a seventh would come later. The two eldest got jobs to help support the family, but none of it was what you might call skilled labor. This was done on purpose, so as to untether us from any one place. We continued to move around, but if anyone in the family—including the youngest kids—asked to move somewhere else, we would. Well, you had to perform a presentation, and plead your case, but this was only shot down twice, and once because there were conflicting requests that just so happened to occur at the same time. I was the middle kid, and had plenty of chances to prompt one of our infamous moves, but I never chose to do so. It didn’t matter to me where we lived, as long as everyone else was happy. Being the one to ask for it just didn’t make any sense for someone who didn’t care either way. I fell in love with the life. I liked meeting people all over the continent, trying new things, and learning new languages. We even went to the U.S. once, but I’m sorry to say nobody liked it, so we returned to Europe after a few months. We spent all of our money on those two trips, but we all appreciated gaining the experience. When I came of age, I was expected to get a job of my own, so I could share in the burden. I did, but then I grew tired of it. I loved my family, but I didn’t want to work. I wanted to keep moving.

My parents and siblings could see that I was unhappy. Some people in this world are just not cut out for work. I was certainly not raised to recognize its inherent value. We only did it because we had least that’s what we thought. They released me from my unwritten contract so I could go explore the world on my own. I went farther than we ever did, to parts of Africa and Asia, and back to the Americas once or twice. I was homeless, but I was happy. You would be surprised what you can do without any money whatsoever, as long as you have no qualms about wild berries and dumpster diving. I kept in touch as best I could in those days, and returned home after two years. I regaled my family with stories of my journey, teaching them a few tricks I picked up along the way. They found themselves to be envious of the true nomadic lifestyle, especially my two younger brothers, who both had jobs of their own now. They too hated it. Only the littlest girl was too young to know what it was like yet, but she didn’t seem very interested in trying. So everyone quit their jobs, and followed me. With my guidance, they figured out how to live with no borders, no constraints. It was so freeing, and I thought I was happy before, but now I was really happy. As technology progressed, it became easier to stay in contact with people, and we discovered that we weren’t the only ones living like this. As nomads, we were obviously very separated from each other, but we still considered ourselves to be part of a community. It is through it that I met my future husband. I can’t believe I found someone who saw the world just as I did. We settled down for a little while so our kids could grow up with a little bit more stability, but when they were old enough to start making their own decisions, they decided they wanted to join our old community. So we went back to being nomads. It’s only natural.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Microstory 1807: Flight Connections

When I was a child, I dreamed of traveling to far away places. I grew up in a poor village in Algeria, where education was hard to find, and farming was the only way to survive. I was lucky, as my father went to school when he was young, so he had relationships with people in the town. We still only had our little farm, but it was just a tiny bit easier to sell our crops than it was for some of our neighbors. He taught me everything he knew, and would sometimes return from town with books so we could learn new things together. When I was a teenager, I got an opportunity to go to school myself. One of his friends had two older children, who were both out of the house, and he was lonely. He needed someone to help do the chores, and play games with him. It was hard leaving my family behind, but I visited as often as I could, and they sometimes visited me. I didn’t realize until then how much there was about the world that I did not know. The books I had been reading until then were old and outdated. I’m laughing because so were the books at school, but at least they were a little bit more recent. I listened to my teachers, and worked very hard. During the breaks, I traveled to the city, where they had a big library. These books were amazing. I just kept reading, and kept learning. I wanted to go to college in Europe, and the only way I was going to do that is if I proved myself worthy. As lucky as I was to be in this position, we still had no money. Somebody else was going to have to pay for it. Fortunately, I knew someone who could help. The old man I was taking care of met a soldier from Spain during the war. The soldier returned to see how much Algeria had changed. He had money now, and he gave some of it to me.

He helped me get into college in Spain, and paid for most of it. He didn’t have any children of his own, so he felt joy to be able to help someone in that way. I got a job too, so I could help with tuition as much as possible. It was my education, and it was important that I be responsible for it, even though I was getting help from someone else. Let me tell you, I thought I had seen a library before, but nothing compares to the one at the university. I could get lost in those stacks, there were so many books, and there was not enough time to read them. It was there that I discovered my passion for flying. I took a boat to get there from Algeria, because it was cheaper, so I had never flown before, but I wanted to do it. I wanted to know what it felt like to be so high above the mountains. I still could not afford it, but one of my professors saw a book that I was reading on the subject, and told me that her brother was a farmer, like me. His was larger, and the best way to spread fertilizer was to drop it from a plane. He agreed to take me up with him to try it out, and that confirmed it: I loved to fly. Now I knew I had to do it. I still had no money for lessons, so I returned home, and worked on our farm, because my family needed me. I stayed there for years, helping build up my community with my knowledge of irrigation, and access to connections in town. I still wanted to fly, though, and I wouldn’t be happy until I could take lessons. It wasn’t an easy goal to reach, growing up how I did. Everyone in my village thought that I was trying to get away from them, but actually air travel connects us more than anything, before the internet anyway. I wanted to bring the world to my people. By then, there was an airstrip nearby, where I could practice for not very much money. I’m happy to say that I earned my license in under a year. And five years later, I was flying over the ocean.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Microstory 1806: Winning at Life

I won the lottery. I worked for nearly twenty-five years. It wasn’t backbreaking work, but it wasn’t fun or rewarding either, and it didn’t pay particularly well. I had always wanted to quit. I remember one class in college that required a lot of group discussion. We had a little trouble getting along, so a fellow student suggested we play some team-building games so we would have a better understanding of where our opponents were coming from. One of the questions was what you would do if you won the lottery. Everyone else had all these elaborate plans involving buying sports teams and owning yachts and private jets. I figured I would just take enough to live on, and donate the rest. They weren’t disappointed in this answer, but they wanted me to come up with the kinds of charities I was most interested in. I had to give them a thoughtful answer, and not just be lazy with it. They actually asked me to do homework that no one else had to do so they could follow my logic. I didn’t end up winning the millions of dollars that we talked about during that exercise, but I still held true to my original answer. I saved up enough money, and finally felt fine about being a little frivolous, so I began to spend a little on instant win scratchers. Twenty bucks approximately four times a year. I never exceeded my maximum, and I managed to win a few times, breaking even twice, and making a five dollar profit once. Though, that’s not really a fair assessment—is it—since I spent a lot of cash on losing tickets, so I didn’t truly make anything. Until I did. I finally won big, and it was under unique circumstances. It was because I decided to spend more than usual.

The grocery store where I would always buy the tickets started using a vending machine. You selected which game you wanted to play, inserted your money, and it would spit it out for you automatically. I know, in 2022, that’s not a big deal, but it was special back then. I found out later that mine was the first state to introduce these new machines. I had a little bit of extra cash on me, and it had been a bit longer than usual since the last time I played, so I decided to splurge. It sometimes makes me shiver to think that I almost didn’t do it. I was this close to just sticking to my normal technique. I won $150,000; I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to call my boss right then and tell him that I was going to go in another direction. That was what he had said to me years prior, and he only ultimately hired me because his first candidate turned out to be terrible at the job. I never forgave him for it, and I couldn’t wait to return the favor. I had to wait, though. Maybe I was mistaken. Maybe I was on a prank show. I had to be patient and careful. I took my ticket to the lottery offices, confirmed the win, and watched the numbers go up in my bank account. Only then did I quit my job. I wasn’t a millionaire, but I only spent about $1,000 a month, so it lasted me a decade, with a few mediocre investments, and a couple of luxuries just for me. The rest went to charity, as promised. I stopped playing the scratchers, and just enjoyed my hobbies, which were bowling and knitting. Boring, I know, but I liked them. Then the money started running out. It was bound to happen, and I had resigned myself to the fact that I was going to have to return to the workforce. Hopefully employers would agree with my life choice, and not hold it against me. On my way back from my first interview, I stopped by my store, and bought another ticket, spending thirty bucks like last time. Guess what? I won again; this time, for $250,000. Funny enough, I got the job, but I went in another direction.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: March 20, 2378

At the end of the day, they jumped to the future, but they left the AOC in reframe time so it could continue on its way for them. They were about halfway through this leg of their journey, and everything seemed to be going smoothly. There was nothing to do but wait until tomorrow. Mateo was playing a game of RPS-101 Plus by himself. Ramses was reading a book, and Leona was teaching Olimpia more about the ship down in engineering. Angela crawled out of her grave chamber after a nap, and plopped herself down at the table. She sat there for a few moments, staring into space with her chin in the palm of her hand. “Can we...?” she trailed off out of boredom.
Mateo paused his game. “Yes?”
“You wouldn’t know.”
Ramses pretended to not have heard.
“Can we...?” she repeated, but still didn’t act like she cared enough to finish. “Can we...?”
“Can we what, Angela? Damn,” Ramses said, fed up. He set his tablet down.
“Can we make a lightyear drive?” She finally asked.
“Like the one that the Jameela Jamil has?”
“No. Not for the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, anyway. The hull wouldn’t be able to handle the strain.” He hoped this would be the end of it, allowing him to return to his book.
“Can we make the hull stronger?” Angela suggested.
Annoyed. “Maybe, but I don’t have the resources, and I don’t know how to build one. Keep in mind that my education is nearly 200 years out of date, and I was never as smart as Team Keshida. It would be a nice thing to have, and had we not gotten ourselves trapped in this reality, they may have worked something out for us. Why? Are you bored?”
“I’m bored!” she cried adorably. She accidentally made eye contact with Mateo. “I’m not playing that game again.”
“Nuh-var!” she cried adorably again.
“Never have I ever wanted to never play this game again.” Mateo pretended to pick up a glass from the table, and take a sip from it.
“No, you’re supposed to drink if the statement is true for you,” Angela taught.
Mateo pantomimed chugging the rest of the glass. “Whatever!” he shouted, trying to be as cute as her, and failing. He threw it on the ground.
“Is everything okay up there?” Leona shouted from engineering.
“Fine!” Mateo yelled back.
They sat in silence for a few moments. Ramses kept eying his tablet, wondering if someone would ask him another question the second he tried to get back to his book. He was proven right once he finally did make the attempt.
“Why are we in this reality?” Mateo asked.
Ramses waved his hands in front of his chest. “Magic,” he whispered.
“Seriously, I don’t know,” Ramses answered. “It’s just something we have to handwave to get by. I understand why this reality was created, and I gather it’s profoundly more advanced than civilization is in the main sequence—maybe even more so than The Parallel—but I can’t tell you why we’re here, or how we get back. I’m not even sure that we want to get back; what do we care?”
“Hm,” Mateo noted.
“I suppose that would be up to the Captain,” Angela decided.
“My ears are burning,” Leona said as she was climbing up the steps.
“We’ve not even talked about whether we would want to get back to the main sequence,” Mateo fills her in, “let alone how we would accomplish such a thing.”
“Hm,” Leona said.
“My words exactly,” Mateo revealed.
“We would have to find someone here who understands how reality works, and if they’re capable of switching us back, they do, or if not, they help us find someone who can.”
“That may be asking a lot,” Olimpia said, coming up from behind her teacher. “We don’t know where we’re going, or who is going to be there when we arrive.”
“We don’t know much,” Leona concurred.
“We just have to take it one day at a time,” Angela said. “One boring day after the last.” She pressed her tough against her bottom lip, crossed here eyes, and bobbled her head around like she was mocking someone, but she was really just condemning the situation itself. How precious.
“What do you want to do, Angela?” Ramses asked. “What would not be boring?”
“An orgy,” she replied, and it was rather hard to tell if she was joking, or not.
“Okay, I’ll tell you what,” Ramses began, “I’ll try to securely access some sort of data network in this reality, and see if there’s any reference to the lightspeed drive. If it’s doable, I’ll program an AI to retrofit our ship with one, along with all the ancillary components necessary to make it safe. Does that sound fair? It doesn’t help with your boredom today, but I might as well.”
“I would much appreciate that,” Angela said. “Wake me up when that happens. I’m going back to bed.” She slipped off her chair like she was drunk, and crawled back over to her grave chamber, dipping over the edge head first, and rolling into it.
“Is she depressed?” Olimpia asked.
“None of us is a licensed psychologist,” Leona pointed out.
“It would make sense,” Mateo reasoned. “You can do literally anything in the afterlife simulation—break any law of physics. We’ve been through a lot since she joined the team, but it may be nothing compared to the adventures she made for herself for 300 years.”
“Let’s stop talking about her behind her back, shall we?” Leona strongly recommended.
“What should we talk about?” Olimpia asked, not suggesting that she disagreed.
“We could start a book club,” Mateo offered, getting the idea from Ramses who once again tried getting back to his own.
“Reading is mostly a quiet experience,” he patronized. “Can any of you handle that?”
“Well, what is it?”
Infinite Jest,” Ramses answered.
Now they started mocking him.
“Oh, wow!” Olimpia said sarcastically as she pantomimed lifting a cup of tea with her pinky in the air.
“We’re not worthy,” Mateo confessed, fanning Ramses reverently.
Leona had an imaginary drink of her own; an alcoholic one of some kind that she swirled in its glass. “I went to collage.”
“Okay, thanks,” Ramses replied to all this. “I’m going up to read in the airlock. Not sure which door I’ll use when I’m done.”
“Aw, no, come back! We wanna watch you do it. What’s the point of reading that if not to rub it in everyone else’s face?”
“Oh, we are bored, aren’t we?” Olimpia mused.
“We could go over the mass differentials for spike propulsion again,” Leona said.
“No, I’m okay for now,” Olimpia said. It was one thing to be able to begin a troubleshooting process on the ship if something went wrong. It was a whole different thing to comprehend the actual mechanics of antimatter reactions on a serious level.
“Very well. I’m going to go back down and triple check the magnetic containment fields on the antimatter pods,” Leona decided. “You’re always welcome to help.”
They watched her leave. “I’m gonna...go take a midday bath, I guess.”
“Want some company?” Olimpia asked.
“Kidding,” she clarified. “Sort of. We’re all friends now, right?”
“You and Angela both...are...” He didn’t know what he wanted to say. “Bye.”
“Interesting idea.”
Again, what? He actually didn’t leave right away. He had to gather his belongings, and carry them up to the upper level. As he was climbing the steps, Olimpia rang Angela’s trapdoor bell, and crawled in. What was happening there?
Ramses looked like a deer in the headlights when he saw Mateo through the window. Mateo had to smile and lift up his shower caddy to assure his friend that this was not an interruption. Ramses nodded with appreciation.
The AOC may have been a small ship, but it was state-of-the-art when it was first engineered, and it was still in perfect operating condition. The hygiene facilities were particularly nice. Since the vessel was cylindrical, the bathtub wasn’t standard size, but it was close. The water was always hot, and the pressure always on point. It had an excellent filtration system, so it never felt like a waste when they came up here just to relax. Normally, the tub would even already be filled up for him once the AI heard that he was planning to use it. Unfortunately, Mateo completely forgot that the far side shower room was not presently in working order. They had converted it into a single destination portal to better coordinate with the people on the JJ. While they were now in a totally different reality, the room had not yet been converted back to normal. It wasn’t like it was hard to get by with only one shower for five people.
The Jameela Jamil should not have been in range, but somehow it was. Mateo walked through under the assumption that he was about to step into water that had been warmed to his temperature preference, but instead ended up coming out the other portal. The entry room looked just as it had before. This all looked very normal, except supposedly not possible. He opened the door on the other side of the wall, and entered the bridge completely naked to find Team Keshida, along with Sasha and Vendelin.
“Interesting,” Kestral said. “We checked the portal. We could no longer reach you. We also couldn’t locate you anywhere near that brown dwarf. Where have you been all this time?”
“We—we’re in the Fifth Division,” Mateo explained.
“You are, or you were?” Ishida asked to clarify. It wasn’t too terribly surprising that they had heard of it, or that they weren’t surprised by the development itself.
“As far as I know, the AOC is still there,” he answered.
“Is this the first time you tried the portal?” Sasha questioned.
“First time I did,” Mateo replied. “Ramses and Leona took a look at it briefly, but it didn’t seem likely that it was capable of crossing into alternate realities.”
“It shouldn’t be,” Kestral confirmed. “But I don’t suppose you know how you got there in the first place.”
Mateo just shook his head.
“Are you okay?” Sasha asked. “Is everyone safe?”
“We’re fine. The place is a little weird. You?”
“We’re all right,” Ishida said. “Teagarden is still asking us to do things, as we all suspected they would.”
He looked over to Vendelin. “I see you’ve added another member to your team.”
“Blackbourne has been of great use to us,” Kestral divulged. “We’re helping him work through his issues.”
Vendelin sported a sad but hopeful half-smile.
“That’s good,” Mateo said, glad to have apparently made the right choice in saving the man from what appeared to be a much less inviting afterlife simulation.
“What will you do?” Ishida asked. “Do you wanna go get your team, and bring them through the portal? There may be a limit to its use.”
“It may even only be one-way,” Sasha warned.
“I don’t know that we’ll want to leave our ship behind,” Mateo lamented.
“In that case,” Kestral began with a sigh, “you should take this.” She dug into her bag of holding, and removed a circular object that almost looked like it was made of hair. “The Traversa Bracelet. Ariadna agreed to make precisely one of these, and no more. Ramses and Leona will be able to figure out how to incorporate it into the AOC’s drive systems. There is a strong possibility, however, that doing so will vaporize the thing, so you may only get one shot.”
Mateo accepted the bracelet graciously. “I really appreciate it. We may not use it right away, but it will be a vital accessory in the future. I was wondering if I could trouble you for one more thing, though, if it’s not too much.”
“What might that be?” Ishida asked.
“Would you mind maybe, possibly giving me the plans to a lightyear drive?”
“I can do that,” Kestral agreed. “You won’t be able to use it on the AOC, though. It’s far too big and massive. You would need to construct an entirely new ship, which it sounds like you don’t wanna do.”
“I’ll leave that up to the team,” Mateo decided. “Maybe it will still help them boost our current teleporter.”
“Very well. I’ll download the data to a drive.”