Monday, February 28, 2022

Microstory 1831: Tour de Force

At the moment, there are 216 countries in the world, but it wasn’t always like that, and not all of them are recognized by every international governmental body. That doesn’t matter to me, though. I’m not traveling to these places as a diplomat. If they have declared themselves to be an independent state, I have to visit them, even if I was technically already there when it was part of a different nation. Well, I don’t have to do any of this, but I’ve made it this far, so I need to see it through. Let me explain. When I was a girl, my parents received a hefty inheritance from a distant relative that my mother didn’t even know existed. According to her executor, my mom’s great aunt something-something didn’t have any other family left by the time she died. Mom didn’t get this inheritance just because she was next of kin, though. Her aunt knew of her, and even followed her career as a trombonist. Sadly, we never got to meet her, but we did get that money. The two of them took some time off work one summer to travel. We went to several countries in Europe, plus Egypt, plus India. Just like that, I found myself having seen three continents, and one subcontinent. I felt compelled to continue, so before I began my studies at university, I spent a gap year backpacking through Asia, seeing five more countries. Every year, I became more obsessed with adding to my itinerary. North America, South America, even Antarctica. I developed rules about my stays. I had to remain for at least one week for it to count, and I had to go to multiple cities. I couldn’t just hang out near the airport, or straddle the border between two neighbors. I could have done it much faster without these rules—which some people do, thinking faster is better—but money runs low fast, so I still had to work. It took me decades to do it right.

Word spread what I was doing. As I said, I wasn’t the only one, but I was famous for it before I was halfway through, because I was actually spending time absorbing culture. Airlines would send me free tickets to promote their planes. Countries would pay my way to draw in tourism. Everybody wanted a piece of the action, and it was totally fine by me. I was the girl who saw it all, and people wanted me to tell them about it. I tried to write a book about my travels once, but I’m not a very good writer, so I hired others to do it for me. I sent them updates to include in the book, and we realized that it was going to be too long for one volume. This wasn’t a travel guide; it was deeply personal, but the audience ate it up, because there are so many people out there who will never get to see this stuff. Finally, in my old age, I reached my goal. I went to some of the most dangerous parts of the world, but I survived, and no one could take that away from me. Except they almost did. A few years ago, a community in Spain called Catalonia declared its independence. Just last month, the rest of the world finally agreed to recognize this independence, and the Catalan Republic entered the United Nations as a separate body. This is great, but things are still shifting, and during this time, travel to Catalan is incredibly restricted. All tourism has been blocked. But that put me in a pickle. It was a new country, and we all knew it, but I couldn’t go there. Now, had I spent time in the area when it was considered only a community, I might have argued success, but I never did, and I needed to get there. The world united in my favor, and pleaded with the governments involved to let me in, just for one week. Surprisingly, my request was actually granted, and it is in a hospital in Barcelona where I draw my last breath.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: March 25, 2383

Mateo and Marie made their way to the nearest library, which wasn’t all that near to where they were. They walked, took a sort of subway transport, stepped on a teleporter pad, took another subway, and walked a little more. The library was gigantic; large enough to fit millions of books, but there was not one in sight. This was the future, they didn’t use paper books anymore. They didn’t even bother building shelves for them. The architecture was complex and highly vertical, with pillars going up hundreds of stories at least. The highest part of the ceiling went beyond the horizon, so it may have gone higher. It would seem that whoever designed this just wanted it to look pretty, when a single terminal built into the wall of a nondescript hallway would have sufficed. No one else was here, as one would imagine. According to Dilara, there weren’t very many people on this vessel planet thing compared to its size, and probably most people walked around with a library in their pockets, or perhaps in a tiny chip implanted in their brains. That was if they weren’t just full-on androids. So far, they hadn’t encountered anyone who appeared to be even somewhat nonbiological, but surely they were from being this advanced.
“What are you doing here?” It was a man. It was a very tall man. Maybe this sector wasn’t quite so deserted.
Marie stepped forward to prevent Mateo from speaking first, even though he had no intention of taking lead on this. “We seek asylum.”
“You’re far from it,” the man pointed out.
“We’re here to look for it.”
“If you’ve done something wrong, I have every right to arrest you before you get there. You can’t be granted asylum if you haven’t crossed that border.”
Are you?” Marie pushed.
“Am I what?”
“Are you going to arrest us?”
The man checked his lower arm, where a tattoo that could move was telling him the time. “You have ten minutes.” He rolled his neck, and shook out the sedentaries. “Then you better learn how to run to where you’re goin’.”
“You’re literally gonna chase us?” Mateo questioned.
He cracked his knuckles. “You don’t understand how boring it is working security in an abandoned sector.”
“Okay,” Mateo said, sending a psychic message through a facial expression to Marie that she ought to get to searching. He, meanwhile, kept an eye on his own clock.
“Found it,” Marie said rather quickly. She swiped the navigation data over to her own cuff, and then swiped it over to Mateo’s. “In case we get separated.”
“I’m right behind ya.”
They took off down the corridor together. Then Mateo carefully began to let himself fall behind, so the bear chasing them would reach him first. “Keep going!” he cried up to her when she started showing signs of downshifting. “I’ll catch up!” he lied. As Marie’s footsteps redshifted away from him, their pursuer’s footsteps blueshifted towards him, and Mateo stopped completely. He took a breath, waited until the man was close enough to keep pace, and then turned to the left. His diversion was working. Marie was moving off safely, while Mateo was going in the wrong direction.
It wasn’t long before the guy did catch up to him, but he didn’t even tackle. He just tapped Mateo on the back as if this were a game of touch football. Still, Mateo felt compelled to stop.
“Where is your compatriot?”
Mateo played dumb, and looked around. “I thought she was with you?”
He chuckled. “Doesn’t matter, this was fun.”
“That’s all it was?” Mateo asked. “So you can just let me go.”
“Oh, no. I’m still arresting you.”
“What does that mean? What happens to me?”
The security officer slapped a pair of cuffs on him. They just looked like thin silver bracelets. He pointed a little remote at him, and pressed a button. Mateo felt his arms being flung over to the wall, and trapped against it with magnets. “Exile.”
“Exile to where?”
“Like I said, this is an abandoned sector of the SWD, but it’s not the most remote, by far. I’ll escort you so far away that you won’t see a single soul even if you walked in the right direction for your entire life. No teleporters, no relativistic trains, no windows to get your bearings.”
“Get on with it then.” Mateo was all right with this if it meant Marie was free to make her attempt to end the war. It would all be worth it if it was the last thing he did.
The security man released Mateo from the wall, but immediately snapped the cuffs together. He was even more immobile than he would be with the regular handcuffs cops used in his day in the main sequence. “You won’t need this anymore.” He removed Mateo’s Cassidy cuff, and stuffed it in his pocket. He had no idea what he was dealing with here. “Let’s go.” He pressed a button on the remote once more, and jumped them to some other sector. It didn’t feel any more abandoned than where they were, but he seemed pleased.
“This doesn’t look so bad,” Mateo mused.
“You’ll get sick of it. From here on out, you’ll always be alone.”
Mateo sported his best impression of Joker. “No, I won’t.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ll never be alone as long as you’re with me.”
“Uhh, I’m leaving.”
“If you’re leaving, then I’m comin’ with.”
The man winced. He pressed a button one last time, to unlock the cuffs. They flew right into their dock against the remote. “Good luck with thaaaaaat...”
“Activate ankle tag,” Mateo ordered.
The Cassidy cuff in the guard’s pocket teleported out, and wrapped themselves around his ankle. “What the hell?” he reached down, and tried to remove it, but of course he could, because that would have defeated the purpose of the security feature.
It wasn’t the perfect answer, but it was the only one Mateo had. This was the primary cuff, which meant that the owner was the one in control of it, but only while he was wearing it. The order he just gave was the last one he could. Right now, no one was the owner, and all features were deactivated, except for the one that placed the wearer on the last pattern programmed into it. This man was now on the Matic pattern, whether he wanted to be or not. It was going to take a clever engineer to get it removed, but that could take time, and they only had one day at a time now.
“What does it do?”
“You’ll see,” Mateo said, thinking it would be much more fun to watch him squirm at the sight of the clock.
He checked his device. “My teleporter still works. I can just leave you here, and figure it out.”
Mateo shrugged. “Okay, but...”
“But what?”
“Good luck deactivating the bomb before that happens.”
“You’re bluffing.”
He was indeed bluffing. The anklet was real, but the bomb was not. “It’s not the only extension I have for my substrate. That thing is linked to me, even though it’s now on you. If you get more than a few meters away from me for too long, kablooey.”
“Turn it off.”
“You really think I’m gonna do that here? Come on, man. You’re smarter than that. I certainly am.”
“What do you want?”
“Just get me to the Asylum Sector, and leave us alone. You had your fun.”
He hesitated, and looked at the time again. “It’s been nearly two months.”
“We’ve been here for weeks?”
“Yeah, see?” He presented the clock to Mateo, which was running quite quickly.
“You idiot!” Mateo scolded. “That’s coming up on two years, not months. The bubble runs faster than you know.” He pointed a finger at his chest. “You better get us out of here before the next year passes, or I’m going to run a few meters away, and the bomb will blow your leg off. I assume they don’t have doctors around here?”
“I’m gonna kill you if I find out you’re lying.”
“Teleport. Now. Now!”
“Dammit,” he hissed. He pressed a button, and got them out of there.

“Have you found them?” Leona asked a year later.
“Yes,” Ramses said. “It wasn’t easy. This isn’t technically a Cassidy cuff. It’s like a new model on a different network. I can’t just pull up a list of the other cuffs. But I was able to trace its signature.”
“Just one?” Leona asked for clarification.
“I only found one online. The others are dormant, and I can’t see them.”
“Oh, okay.” Leona put on the brand new cuff. “I’ll contact you when it’s time to carry out the mission.
“Be careful.”
“I will.” Leona activated the associative teleporter, and jumped. She was surprised to find herself next to Angela Walton. Mateo was nowhere to be found.
“Leona,” Angela said. “No need to worry, this is my associate. She’s here to help.”
“What are you doing here? I left you on the ship,” Leona said to her in a whisper, which the nearest other people in the room could probably hear.
“Time, right?”
“Marie, our patience grows thin,” someone of importance declared. “First you tell us that you can unite the detachments, then you disappear for a year, and now you’re back with someone else. If you want to negotiate, then let’s see what you have to bargain with. Your asylum credentials will only last three more years, so if we don’t get something working, we’ll have no choice but to inform security that you are here, and let them begin the pursuit process of you and the rest of your team.”
“That is why she is here,” Marie explained. “She can bring you Xerian Oyana.”
“Is this true?” the leader asked.
“What would you do to him if I did?” Leona asked her.
“We would follow him. He is the true owner.”
“I can get him here,” Leona promised, “but I demand assurances that neither he, nor my people, will be harmed.”
“We can do that.”
“I’ll need some time to make preparations,” Leona insisted.
“How much time?”
She looked over at Marie, who she believed to be a future version of Angela. “One more year.”
The leader sighed. “Very well. We shall move on to other business.”
“What are you wearing?” Marie whispered as they were leaving the diplomacy room together.
“Do you like it? Ramses made it for me.” Leona extended her arm like she was showing off an engagement ring.
“Different,” Leona agreed. “Do you remember where the AOC is?”
“Yes,” Marie replied. “I can’t sync with you, though.”
“Just beam me the coordinates. We don’t know that this can be synced. But it can teleport without having to associate with a beacon device.”
They teleported to the ship almost at the same time. It was here that Marie explained who she was, and how she came to be here. Leona was surprised at the news, but not shocked. It obviously wasn’t the first time she met an alternate version of someone. Why, she once sent her own alternate to another universe to live out her life safely and happily, away from all this drama.
“So you don’t know where Mateo is?” Leona asked.
“Not anymore. I didn’t wanna say anything to them, even though they might be able to help, because we don’t know for sure they can be trusted.”
“That’s why we’re here,” Leona began. “Insurance.” She pointed to her new model cuff. “This will get me back to the Suadona, particularly a beacon on the bridge. But we may still need to destroy his ship, even though you’re clearly in the middle of negotiations. I need the other cuffs, so we can associate to a lifeboat that Olimpia and the other you are on. That is our way to safety if anything goes wrong.” She knelt down, and started to access the hidden safe. “I need to get their cuffs back around their wrists.”
“Stop,” Marie said.
“Mateo didn’t want anyone else to get hurt. He may be dead by now, and if so, he sacrificed himself in the name of peace. I want peace too, and if I want it, Angela wants it. Bring Xerian here, leave the others on the Suadona, and don’t make plans to turn any ship into a teleportation missile. If we can’t learn to trust a little, these negotiations aren’t going anywhere. This is war, Leona, and in war, the diplomat speaks first.”
“Close the safe, and walk away.”

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Extremus: Year 33

Admiral Olindse Belo is a decent leader, served as a good captain, and is a great person. She listened to her advisors, and the people, and dispensed reasonable and righteous orders. She treats everyone with respect, even when they don’t really deserve it. Unlike Kaiora and Halan, she is not a manipulator. She knows how to lie, but she doesn’t know how to deceive, or steer people in the direction that she wants. She speaks plainly, and unambiguously, and genuinely cares about other people’s needs. Despite what Vice Admiral Perran Thatch tried to teach her about the art of war, Ovan and Dvronen were able to see right through her scheme. So when they were released for a week, along with Halan Yenant, they acted like model citizens, not causing trouble, or starting any revolutions. That’s not what Olindse wanted. She wanted Halan to look like a hero, so the ship would eventually agree to release him from hock. Then again, it is indeed what she wanted to happen. Temporarily releasing the other two could have spelled doom for the mission, but they were so scared of rocking the boat that they didn’t do anything even remotely wrong. In the end, that is a much greater achievement than any sort of conspiratorial deep state could hope to replicate. Peace won out after all.
Since the brief prison release experiment, things on Extremus have been going swimmingly. The people who have strong feelings against incarceration saw a little bit of justice, according to their moral standards. The people who believe strongly in favor of paying for one’s crimes saw all three long-term prisoners returned to their cells relatively swiftly. Everyone saw that their leadership was fair, open-minded, and very much not tyrannical. It was a win-win-win-ad-nauseum, and Olindse was pleased with herself for having come up with yet another great idea that turned out even better than she hoped. At the same time, she has gone back to not being needed.
Tap, tap, tap. “Hello?
“Umm...hello?” Olindse asks the aether.
Is this Vice Admiral Belo?” the mysterious voice asks. Tap, tap, tap again.
Full Admiral, who is this?”
Oh, sorry, I wasn’t sure when I would reach you. I’m in the mirror.
Olindse keeps the time mirror she uses to communicate with Thatch in her drawer when she doesn’t need advice from him. Who is this person? She pulls it out, and sets it on the desk.
“Thank you, I feel like I can breathe again, even though I’m obviously not actually in the mirror,” the man muses.
“Who are you?” Olindse presses.
“This is Captain Kaison Summerling, Seventh of Eleven.”
Oh, someone from the future. “Eleven? How did that happen?”
“Let’s just say...there was a death in the family,” Kaison replies.
“Kaison, you say? How do you—”
“K-A-I-S-O-N. It’s a family name. That’s what I want to talk to you about.”
“This is highly irregular,” Olindse points out.
“So is doing the same thing as this with Vice Admiral Thatch.”
How does he know about that? “That’s different, he has a way of erasing his own memories without anyone else’s help.”
“So do you,” Kaison points out. “It’s hidden in the mirror. Place the tips of your six middle fingers against each other, and lay the pads down on the base. Like this, watch me as I do it in the air. Anywhere’s fine. Now simultaneously tap one pinky, and the opposite thumb down. Do the same for the opposite ones. Slide your fingers apart, and a little compartment should pop open.”
He’s right. A tiny little door opens on the stem. Inside is the little green bottle of eyedrops that Thatch supposedly uses to erase his memory of an entire day.
“One drop per eye should take care of a day, maybe a little longer. If I ever need you again in the future, I plan on reaching out within seconds of our last meeting, from your perspective, so you only have to do it once.”
“I haven’t agreed to anything,” Olindse tells him.
“Please, I need your help, and you’re the only one I can trust. You’ve already traveled through time; you understand the risks.”
“Is everything that happened to me common knowledge?” she asks.
“No, it’s just my knowledge,” he answers.
She turns the bottle around in her fingers. “Fine. Just...choose your words carefully, and keep it as short as possible.”
“What’s your problem?”
“Well, you noticed how similar my name is to your Captain’s. I am Kaiora Leithe’s grand-nephew.”
“So, when you said there was a death in the family...”
“I meant it literally.”
“Is Kaiora the one who dies?” Olindse will not be able to retain this information about the future, but this version of her has her memories intact, and is dealing with the issue right now in this moment. She has to hear the truth, regardless of whether she’ll be allowed to recall it later or not.
“No. It was my mother.”
“Your mother?” Olindse questions, aghast at the possibility. “Three captains, one family?”
Kaison sighs. “Four. My father finished her shift for her when she died.”
“Jesus Christ, Kaison, this isn’t how the system was intended to work.”
“We all got here on our own merits, even my father. They met each other in school, both on the captain’s track, and he almost beat her out of the position before. You have to understand that a lot happens after Kaiora completes her own shift. Things were weird, and the people demanded someone reliable, and almost familiar. Mom fit that description, and she was excellent before she passed. No one thought about the fact that she was a legacy.”
“Still. The crew considering her in the first place, knowing she was related to a previous’s not right. And then you come along...they shouldn’t have even let you apply to the program.”
“Well, I did, and I made it, and I earned it, but some people...”
“Doubt you? I would think so.”
“I just need your advice on how to lead them without being manipulative. You’re famous for your integrity, against all other previous and current executive crewmembers.”
“My advice?”
“No matter what it is?”
“How long have you been in the seat?”
He takes too long to respond.
“A day.”
Olindse rolls her eyes. “Well. It’s not a good sign that you sought my help quite this early in your shift, but it works to our advantage. My advice is to step down. Tell them you changed your mind. The people who make these decisions chose you,but you weren’t the only one they were contemplating. There’s a runner-up. In fact, there are at least two. They just don’t release these other names to the public. There’s still time for you to fix this, but the longer you wait, the shittier you’ll look. Do the right thing, and get out of there. End the dynasty. People don’t like things like that, because the kings of old used to take their positions based purely on the bloodline, which is a ridiculous and archaic way of finding leadership.”
Kaison looks away, and shakes his head, but then he begins to nod. “You’re right, you’re right! This is unfair. And even if it isn’t, it will always look like it is, and I inherently will not be able to be a good leader. I guess I knew this, and I just needed to hear from someone which history has shown that I can trust.”
“Can you promise me you’ll do it, or are you deceiving me?”
“No, I promise.”
“Okay. Good. We should end it here.”
“Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” she says. She turns off the time mirror, and begins to open the eye drop bottle. He surely won’t need to speak with her again if he’s no longer going to be Captain.

“Hello? Admiral Belo?”
Olindse stops, and looks down at the mirror. He looks older—he looks a lot older. “Kaison, what the hell are you doing? You were supposed to step down.”
“I did. After we hung up, I literally transported right up to the Consul’s office to declare my decision. Nobody tried to talk me out of it. I basically got an annulment. The real Captain even just went by Seventh of Eleven, instead of twelve. Things were great, it was the right decision. Unfortunately, it did not come without its consequences, at least as far as we’re concerned. I kept the mirror, because...who else can be trusted with it? But I don’t have any other privileges. I’m not even allowed to join the crew in any capacity. It would reflect poorly on everyone. I accepted this, and things were great for twenty-four years, but I kind of need to be in a position of power now, because of the new, new captain.”
“I don’t think I should hear about this.”
“You have to,” Kaison insists. “You’re still the only one I can trust. He is bad news, Olindse, I’m tellin’ you, they made a big mistake. He is—I mean, if you thought Ovan Teleres was a problem, you...he—like, Ovan is a sweet puppy dog compared to this guy. He’s gonna get us all killed. He is clinically insane, and I don’t think anyone can stop him.”
“Who else knows about this?” Olindse asks.
“Just you and I would guess the scattered few others who have picked up on the signs. I haven’t discussed it with anyone, though.”
“So he isn’t outwardly evil?”
“No, but I can tell. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. He’s like Ovan, but he’s not Ovan. Please, this is bad.”
“Kaison, I can’t do anything about it, and neither can you. If he hasn’t done anything wrong, then it’s over, he’s Captain.”
Kaison is shaking his head. “You don’t understand.”
“Come to me with proof,” Olindse advises. “Something I can hang my hat on. That’s the only way you can get anything done. But if you commit a crime to accomplish it, you’re not doin’ the ship any favors, so you have to think long and hard about every single move you make from here on out. If he’s as dangerous as you believe, you can’t get caught looking for evidence.”
“Okay,” Kaison says with a nod. “I’ll begin my own investigation, but I’ll do it slowly, and carefully, and methodically.”
“Good. Contact me when you have something.” She takes a gander at her watch. “In a few seconds. I’ll hold off on the eyedrops until I know you’re safe, and whatever problem may arise has been resolved.”
“Thank you again.”
“You’re welcome again.”
Seconds later, a figure appears in the time mirror, but it isn’t Kaison. It’s a woman. “Admiral Belo?” she whispers. She seems nervous and frightened. A light above her flickers, and she jumps in a panic, darting her eyes to make sure she’s still alone.
“Can I help you?”
“You were the one that dad always used to talk about?”
“Kaison Summerling.”
“Uhh, yeah.”
“Your advice was good, but...he wasn’t. He couldn’t pull it off. He’s been in hock for years. The good news is that his crazy theories were right, so he’s been validated.”
“What happened?”
“We’re running scared. I was able to get a message from him, but all it said was to find this mirror, and talk to you. The hock is in a section of Extremus that we can’t get to. There’s a border separating us. On one end is the real bridge, and on the other is the original bridge...the one they called The Perran Thatch. Each side controls some systems, but neither controls all of it. We’re in the middle of an internal conflict. It’s a war.” She shakes her head, still scared, even though it sounds like the enemy can’t get to her. “It’s a war we can’t win.”
“If the border separates the bow from the stern, that means the Extraction Room is on your side of it. Is that true?”
“It is,” the unnamed woman confirms.
Olindse takes a second to think about if she really wants to do this. This isn’t her fight. Her fight is decades prior; it’s now. But there is no fight now. Things are fine, and it’s the future of this mission that’s at stake. Kaiora will have to understand. They’ll be fine without her. They won’t even notice that she’s gone. She disappeared for months, and people just moved on. It seems as though that was a dry run for the mission that begins today. “Extract me. I’ll come and help.”
“Open the portal before I change my mind.”
“Thank you.”
Olindse takes out a slip of regular old paper. The portal opens up on the other side of the room. Before she can scribble out a goodbye note, the normal door opens up.
Captain Kaiora Leithe is on the other side. She darts her gaze over to the portal. “What’s going on?”
“I’m not needed here, but I’m needed there, in the future.”
“Olindse, don’t,” Kaiora commands.
“Take care of my ship, so it’s still there when I get to the other side.”
“Admiral Olindse Belo, I order you to stand down. Do not step through that portal. I mean it.”
“I’m sorry.”
Kaiora places herself between Olindse and the portal, but the thing about portals is that they connect two points in spacetime together. There is no reason you can’t use one in tandem with other time technology.
Olindse activates her teleporter, and jumps right through. In a second, the portal is closed, and the only living admiral this ship still had left is gone.
Kaiora looks over at the desk, and eyes the memory-wiping solution.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Microstory 1830: Extreme to the End

I am an adventurer. I like going to the most extreme places on Earth, and participating in the most extreme sports. I kayak on rapids, and run marathons, and even learned how to dance fight. That last one wasn’t especially dangerous, but it wasn’t sitting at home on your couch either, let me tell you that. I’ve climbed the highest mountains, and dove the deepest oceans. If I’m not risking my life, I’m not happy. I can’t say how many times I’ve been seconds or centimeters away from death, but I like to tell people that that is my comfort zone. One day, I thought it could eventually get me, but if the story is crazy enough, my legacy will live on without me. Until then, living on the edge makes me feel alive, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything. That’s why I’m so disappointed in myself right now. I did all these things, and expected to die from something amazing, but that’s not what’s happening. It’s so boring, and pathetic, and embarrassing. I would say I’ll never get over it, but that’s an understatement, because this is it. Someone is going to find me like this, and that will be my entire story. They won’t talk about the time I ran with the bulls, or when I swung over the streets like a certain red and blue costumed hero, from one building to another. That one landed me in jail, and it was my proudest moment. My fan base grew, like, a thousand percent that day. I can’t bear to lose them. I know—again—I’ll be dead anyway, but that shouldn’t mean they all start making fun of me. They should continue to watch my stuff, and talk about me. They should flip off their mothers once she closes the door behind her after scolding them for watching those dumb videos. They should aspire to be me no matter what.

I slipped in the shower, how pitiful is that? I was just trying to step out when I lost my balance, and knocked my head against the porcelain. I don’t mind dying, but not like this, dammit! I struggle to grab my phone from the vanity. It falls right into the toilet. I didn’t bother buying something rugged or waterproof, because I’m not about that virtual life. I live in the moment, in the real world. It’s dead, and I don’t have any other way of reaching out for help, which means the end is near, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. But maybe I can make it a little better. Maybe I can die as I lived, like a freakin’ badass that people look up to. I turn the water back on, and shove the blood down the drain, but it just keeps leaking from my head. But it has to stop at some point, right? No one can know that it started here, or the ruse won’t work. It’s still coming? Seriously!? This isn’t fair! I’ll wrap a towel around it to keep it from dripping on the floors. Must. Get. To. The. Window. This is gonna work. It’s a foolproof plan. They’re gonna find me on the pavement, and they won’t know why I did it, but they’ll call me a hero. Because I am a hero. I crawl across the tiles, onto the hardwood floors of the hallway, and then onto the carpet of the guest bedroom. Some blood does drip from the towel, so I wipe it up with my hand, and keep going. Yeah, I’m not leavin’ a trail. This is definitely gonna work. It’s getting harder to move, but it’s not much farther now. Damn, the window is locked, and I’m getting woozy. I don’t think I can figure out how to open the latch in this state. It’s too complicated. Why do they make windows so complicated? That’s all right. Better even. Going through the glass will just make me look awesomer. I get to my feet, and slam my head against it. It cracks, but doesn’t shatter. I strike it again. It breaks, but not all the way. One more time...and I’m free. Oh, wait, no. I live on the first floor.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Microstory 1829: First, Youngest, Alone, and Female

Until recently, I was the youngest person to have gone to space. I’m still the youngest to have landed on the moon. In 1966, I was working as a test pilot for the Canadian Air Force, having racked up thousands of hours of flight time, and apparently impressing the Usonian government with my skills. At the time, only three nations were engaged in space flight, and Canada was not one of them, but the Usonian Space Department was looking to show the world that they were inclusive. They reached out to us to help realize humanity’s dream of reaching the moon within a year. By then, the primary crew of astronauts were already picked, and all of them Usonian. I was part of the B-team, so I would only be called up if something went wrong. Something did go wrong, and they needed me to pilot the craft. No one ever thought that I would go on the mission, so I didn’t receive quite as much training as I probably should have, but I was confident in my competence, and ready to do my country proud. I still wasn’t meant to set foot on the moon. Three people made the trip to lunar orbit in 1967, but only two were intended to go down. Someone had to stay up and keep the module running while the landing party did their thing. Unfortunately, something else went wrong. The USD wanted the crew to be inexperienced in space. A few people had already been to Earthan orbit a few times, but they wanted this new mission to start with fresh faces. No one had really done any studies until then regarding the psychological effects of being in outer space for long periods of time, trapped in a tin can, with so little stimulation. This was the longest mission yet, and the most difficult. Our commander couldn’t handle the pressure. He had a breakdown which threatened the safety and continuation of the mission.

The lander pilot wanted to go down on his own. There was a contingency for this, and the USD was prepared to agree to this decision. The problem was that our commander was exhibiting erratic behavior, and I was not qualified to help him through it. The two of them knew each other. They understood each other. And the lander pilot was the only one who could make sure the commander didn’t jeopardize the lives of all three of us without realizing what he was doing. If he landed, and the commander did something to sabotage the module while he was gone, all three of us would die. Because of all of this, the USD decided to abort, and bring everyone back home, but the other pilot wasn’t happy with this decision. We went all the way out there, spent millions of dollars, and inspired millions of people to reach for greatness. Someone had to be the first to land on the surface of the moon, goddammit, and if it couldn’t be him, there was only one option left. Me. The USD wouldn’t hear of it. Back then, it wasn’t illegal to be a woman, or anything, but many people who were huddled around their TVs and radios—and some in the control room—didn’t want the history books to record that a female Canadian achieved this milestone, especially not alone. He didn’t listen. While he protected the commander from himself, I climbed into the lander by myself, detached from the module, and flew down to my destiny. I planted both feet on that gray regolith at the same time, and spoke some of the most famous words in history, “I stand here, lighter than ever, smiling at the Earth in the distance, not as a Canadian...not as a woman...not as a pilot. Today I represent the world, and the spirit of humankind. I am not the first explorer, and I cannot wait to watch the next ones lead us further into the future.”

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Microstory 1828: All Messed Up

This is my own fault, and I know it, even if I don’t know much right now. I can’t even tell you everything I’m on at the moment, though I can make a few guesses. I suppose you wanna know how it is I ended up at this point in my life, huh? Well, I was taking opioids before taking opioids was cool. The pharmaceutical companies didn’t get me hooked, and I’m not a victim. I knew what I was getting into when I took my first hit. I just kind of thought I was better than that, and would be able to quit if I wanted. Maybe I am one of those people. Maybe I’ve just never truly wanted to quit. Or maybe that’s just an excuse I make to myself to make myself feel better for being too weak to make my life healthy and drug free. A lot of people seem to find their poison and stick to it. One guy likes bourbon, another prefers cigarettes. I don’t really care how they taste, and as far as I’m concerned, they all get you messed up, so what difference does it make? I drink, I smoke, I shoot, I snort. I swallow, I ingest, I place on my tongue, and I rub on my skin. I do it all, which I think used to be a point of pride for me. I’ve never really gotten addicted to one thing. I would say it’s more that I’m addicted to being addicted. I imagine a part of me thinks that no drug can take over my life if I stop using it for a while to focus on other things. But those other things are just as bad, so the result is the same. Again, the taste doesn’t matter if I’m effed up all the time. My real problem is a lack of consequences. Being constantly high meant that I didn’t care how it affected the people I loved. I loved drugs more than any of them, so losing one loved one never felt like such a great loss. Way I saw it, I was always just trading one friend for another.

Money has been absolutely no issue. I unlocked my trust fund when I became an adult, and before my parents could cut me off, they were dead, and no longer had any say in the matter. So I just kept going, because no one could stop me, nor even tried for long. Perhaps they thought I would give up and crawl back to them with my tail between my legs. They overestimated their own value to me, and my own ability to recognize how much better things could actually be if I knew what true happiness was. In the end, I’m sure it’s for the best. Anyone who tried to hold onto some kind of relationship with me would have been dragged down into the depths of hell. I say that like it was something a mysterious unseen force would do to them. It would have been me. I would have dragged them down, and I’m glad they didn’t let me do that to them. So I’m like the only sacrifice. Except this sacrifice didn’t need to happen either. No, I’m not making any sense, but what do you expect from a guy like me? Did you think I would be coherent? I forgot how to do that years ago, and I don’t really care. I don’t care about anything anymore. I wish I could tell you that I wasted my potential, and had a lot going for me, but it would be a lie. My parents didn’t worry about my grades, and I was filled with so little promise that mother didn’t even want me to go into the family business. They just let me coast through life, and this is where I am today. Again, I’m not blaming anyone but myself. I had some pretty great teachers who came this close to steering me down the right path. The reality is that I’m a loser, and I was pretty much always destined to be as much. As I’m sitting here on this dirty couch, I contemplate what to do next. I realize that I could probably call for help before this overdose kills me, but what would be the point? I’ll always just be that guy you used to know who’s always all messed up.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Microstory 1827: Built on Sandeaters

I’m famous in certain circles. You may think that every species of animal has been discovered by now, but that’s not true. No, the legends of massive monsters hiding from cameras in the forests are not what I’m talking about. Nor am I talking about microscopic organisms, which we may never catalogue comprehensively. I found something in between...something very special. As remote as the region is where I discovered it, I’m surprised that no one had noticed it before. Well, I’m guessing that people centuries ago knew about it, but didn’t think to write it down. That’s probably what happened. I chose to name it the marsupian sandeater. It doesn’t really eat sand, but it really does live in the desert, and it really is a marsupial. That’s the first thing that was so special about it. This species is the only known marsupial to exist somewhere besides Australia or the Americas. Nothing like this has been found on the continent of Africa. The assumption is that they were transported here at some point, but scientists have yet to find evidence of that, or similarly that they aren’t indigenous to the region, as crazy as that sounds. Like the kangaroo rat, this thing can survive on an incredibly low amount of water. It actually recycles it throughout its system a few times before crystalizing the waste, and passing it. It doesn’t sweat, but uses blood flow to regulate its own temperature, and cool itself in the hot climate. It’s an amazing creature, and I feel such pride for having been the first to find it, and realize what I had. It was totally by accident. I enjoy learning the sciences, but I don’t have a degree myself. I guess you could call me a lifelong learner, because I love to read, and I know how to do research on my own. So I wasn’t super involved in the ongoing research into it, but like I said, I was given the honor of naming it, and I received general credit for the achievement too.

Sadly, my fifteen minutes of fame didn’t last very long, which is surely why they call it that. I spent my life after that trying to recreate the magic, whether it was a second new species in the Amazon rainforest, or a new method of detecting exoplanets. Nothing came of my efforts. I wasn’t able to make a single significant accomplishment since. As it turns out, it was only a fluke. I wasn’t special, I wasn’t skilled. I was a nobody that time would eventually forget. I took that trip to my ancestral lands to find my true self somewhere on the journey, but I ended up just finding a fabricated version of myself. He was special. He mattered. But he died long ago, and the world was left with this lesser facsimile. My obsession with bringing him back to life drove me deeper and deeper into obscurity, and truthfully, mediocrity. I should have found my true passion. I should have focused on figuring out my skill set, and contributing to the world in my own way, instead of giving up on anything that didn’t produce results immediately, like the one time it did. My family and friends could see it. They kept trying to get me to settle down, but I didn’t listen, and there is nothing I regret more. There is nothing I could regret more, because it was my entire identity. I defined myself as someone who was going to do great things, rather than someone who was going to do his best, and try to be happy. I had the opportunity to go see the healer in America, but I decided the last thing I needed was more time. It was probably only going to come with more disappointment. I’m like that little marsupial in the Sahara; self-reliant to a fault, uninteresting but for one thing, with nothing better to do than burrow in the sand, and not drink water.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Microstory 1826: Shared Birthday

It’s not my birthday today, but it’s the day that I used to use for it. My best friend, who I grew up with, was born exactly six months after me, to the hour. Obviously, we used to have our own separate celebrations, but we liked to do everything together, so we figured we might as well include birthday parties in that. We split the difference, and always observed it halfway between mine and hers. Our families didn’t really understand why we would want this, and it took them a while to recall the occasion, since the date wasn’t significant for any of them, but they eventually got on board, and it became a lovely tradition. As we got older, we did the usual thing of distancing ourselves from our families, and exerting our independence, but we never grew apart from each other, and we never stopped these middle birthdays. She died years ago, not too long after our last ever joint party. It was so sudden, but not an accident. Her heart just stopped beating. I think her parents know more about it than they wanted to tell me, but I don’t think there was anything anyone could have done to stop it. I was devastated, and depressed, and I didn’t know what I was going to do with myself. Who was I without her? We would always go on group dates, and we took care of each other, and we had no secrets. I just sort of went on autopilot after that, letting my routines take me through life, which just made it worse, because so many of those routines involved her. I realized after that how much I loved her, and that I didn’t really need anyone else to be happy. Those dates were pointless. Rather, they weren’t, but we were really just dating each other. We were in love, at least in every sense that mattered. Sex was so unimportant to both of us. We probably would have admitted this much about ourselves, and stopped trying to find partners in others. Now we’ll never know.

A few months after it happened, her real birthday rolled around. I didn’t realize it until the end of the day. I was sitting on my couch, watching whatever happened to be on TV, when the weather came on. They showed us the date, and I realized its significance. A normal person would know exactly what day it was, but I had all but missed it. It’s like she died all over again, I cried for hours. Thin walls line my apartment, I know my neighbors heard, but everyone knew what was going on, so they didn’t say a word. The next day, my neighbor to the left invited me over for dinner, and though he still didn’t say anything, I know it was because he didn’t want me to have to be alone. It was nice. We started to do it every week, making it a new tradition. I should have seen it all along, but I didn’t notice what was really going on until my own real birthday occurred. Again, I didn’t realize right away what day it was, because the day was so meaningless. But that neighbor wanted to take me out, and do something special. The way he looked at me that night, it was the same way he always looked at me, but I was seeing it in a new light. It was love. He was in love with me, and I was in love with him. We had been dating for the last few months, and I didn’t even know it. I felt like such an idiot. How many times did I act like a bad girlfriend because I wasn’t aware that I was one. I decided to be honest with him. I’ll always remember his smile. He wasn’t the least bit surprised at how dense I was being, and he didn’t hold it against me. We just kind of started over from there, with both of us on the same page. We have been married for thirty years. And now I’m dying, and it’s not my birthday, but it’s the day that I used to use for it.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: March 24, 2382

According to the AOC’s sensors, there was no life support in the hangar bay. It even detected a little bit of dust, suggesting that this entire section had been abandoned for years. One would think that an army of automated systems could maintain it even if it wasn’t in use, but perhaps that demanded too many resources. While they were apparently using a whole star to power what added up to a massive spaceship, they wanted to make every ounce of it count. They wouldn’t be able to leave their little ship unless they wanted to use their suits, and wander around until they figured out where they were going. Since they didn’t want to do that, they chose to spend the day strategizing and resting.
Once the alternate version of Angela—who seemed perfectly fine with going by her middle name, Marie—understood everything the team had been through in the last five days, she began to plot a diplomatic course for the two of them. She had received extensive training in the afterlife simulation to become a counselor. It was her job to help recently uploaded guests understand and appreciate their new circumstances. Her education went far beyond that, though, and her skills would be incredibly useful for Mateo’s goal of fixing this issue without violence. The people of this matrioshka brain detachment were smart enough to build this thing, purportedly among others, so they had to listen to reason, right? That sounded right. No species existed that was too tame to fight for its survival. Any individual exhibiting such traits would die before taking their species down that path. Yet civilization will not form if individuals aren’t capable of cooperation. Someone had to be willing to hear them out before shooting them on sight.
They set their alarm to go off an hour before midnight central, so they could get ready, and used the last of the ship’s main power reserves to force it to jump to the future with them. Come the next year, they returned to the timestream, booted up auxiliary systems to make themselves known, and sent a basic radio signal in all directions. Obviously their ship was capable of it, but it wasn’t likely something ever used before. They just didn’t want to waste what little power they had left on something more sophisticated. “This is Mateo Matic of the stateless private vessel Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, reaching out to anyone responsible for the Security Watchhouse Detachment. We seek to begin diplomatic discussions. Please respond.”
After a moment, the static morphed as someone struggled to respond, “www-where are you?”
“We’re in a hangar bay,” Mateo answered.
Say again?” The signal wasn’t very clear.
“We are in some kind of seemingly abandoned hangar bay.”
The voice laughed as the sound was becoming easier to hear. “How did you get past their defenses?Their defenses?
“It’s a long story. Where are you?”
I’m in the breakroom, on my lunch break.
“I meant, are you not on the SWD?”
No, I am. No one’s gonna respond to you but me. They don’t use this kind of technology anymore. At its worst, signal lag can be nearly half an hour using regular radios like this. Quantum communication is the only reasonable means of doing it. This hangar bay you’re in must be relatively close to my position.
“Oh, so you’re...”
Not anyone of importance?” she laughed. “No. I specialize in antiquated technology. They figured someone ought to know how this stuff works in case we come across a sufficiently unadvanced culture somewhere. I’m about as abandoned as your hanger bay. If you need to speak with a diplomat, I can’t help you.
Marie took the microphone from him. “We’re an enemy of the SWD. How do you feel about that?”
I don’t really care. It’s not my fight. I just work here.
“You’re sure no one’s listening to this?” Angela prompted.
They don’t have the equipment, and wouldn’t know how to work it if they did.
“Even though you work with outdated tech, you still have your own personal quantum sequence, correct?”
I do, yes, of course.
“Would you mind sending that to us, and consenting to a face-to-face?”
Get a pen and paper.
Marie entered the sequence into her cuff, and then used that to lock onto the voice’s physical location. They used this to teleport to her office. Most of the objects they could see lining the walls were unfamiliar, but still recognizable. This was a different reality, after all, with a wildly different history. At some point, they came up with radio receivers, vacuum tube television sets, fax machines, and the like, but they didn’t design such things the exact same way people did in Mateo’s world. He could name a lot of the artifacts in here, but not everything.
The owner of the voice was sitting in one corner of the room. Behind her on the counter sat what was probably a microwave, and under it was probably a mini refrigerator. It was a sorry excuse for a breakroom, as the only thing separating it from the rest of the room was a patch of tiles instead of carpet. They really had abandoned her. She set her sandwich down, dusted her hands off, and presented one to them. “Hi, and welcome to the island of things no one cares about. My name is Dilara Cassano, and that is a football.”
Mateo looked down at his feet, where he found what she was pointing to. It looked exactly like the usual ones from his reality, with those black and white hexagons. Oh, wait, no. Some of them are pentagons. Hm, he hadn’t noticed that before. “I’ve heard of it.”
“You have?” Dilara questioned. “I can find no references to the damn thing. I know what it’s called, but the sport it’s presumably played with never existed.”
“Maybe not in this reality,” Marie figured.
“Fascinating theory.” She got lost in her own thoughts.
“You’re The Arborist,” Mateo realized. He recalled her face from a memory of Leona’s which was implanted in his mind upon his return to the timestream after having been nonexistent for a while.
“I don’t know what that is,” Dilara said. She must not have become that yet.
It was best to say nothing further. “It’s just kind of an idiomatic greeting from my homeworld,” Mateo lied, hoping it wouldn’t prompt more questions.
“I see. How can I help you? I can’t imagine there’s anything I can do.”
“How much space is there between your office, and anyone else who lives on this mechacelestial object?” Marie asked her.
“Hmm,” Dilara thought about it. “Maybe a kilometer, I guess?”
“Hold on,” she said. “I meant a hundred. More like a hundred kilometers, sorry.”
“Oh, wow.”
“Was it always like this?” Mateo asked. There could be some fishy timey-wimey thing going on.
“Ya know, I don’t exactly have a map of this world in my head, but I think they used to use that hangar bay you were talking about. Uh, I don’t know why they stopped, they might have just wanted a change of scenery. This has never been a hub of activity. These things are so goddamn big, we do not need this much space, it’s ridiculous.”
“So it’s probably pretty easy to hide here, isn’t it?” Marie pressed.
“I would sure think so,” Dilara agreed. “I mean, getting inside in the first place would be an impossible task. I would love to hear how you did it, just out of pure curiosity. Every square centimeter of the outer surface is wired. Every dust particle is tracked. Every teleport is logged. So yeah, you can hide, but only if you’re already here.”
“That’s good to know,” Marie said to Mateo. “It could be necessary to have a place to escape to if something goes wrong.”
“You’re welcome here,” Dilara told them. “Before you, I hadn’t seen another sentient entity in over ten years.”
“We’re glad to hear that,” Marie said graciously.
“Thank you,” Mateo added. “That’s very kind since you don’t even know us.”
“Anyone who uses a radio transceiver is someone I want to be friends with,” Dilara explained.
“You said that you wouldn’t be able to help with a diplomatic issue, but do you happen to know who could? Who could we reach out to who wouldn’t immediately kill an enemy combatant, and be open to discussion?”
“Asylum sector,” Dilara answered confidently. “That’s where they take Andromedans who aren’t prisoners of war, but which haven’t necessarily defected either. Theoretically, they would listen to you, and then let you go if you wished. There must be some kind of policy that states how much of a headstart they have to give you before the more aggressive departments pursue you afterwards.”
“That sounds like a good place to visit,” Marie decided.
“I don’t know where it is,” Dilara admitted. “It’s not part of my job description to know. I don’t have access to a map, either. You’ll want to stop at the nearest library for that, which puts you at risk of not being able to make it to Asylum before someone else catches you. I don’t know if you’re persons of interest, or what.”
“We’ll figure it out,” Mateo assured her.
“Thank you again, this was really helpful,” Marie said.
“Okay, here are the coordinates to the library.” Dilara bumped her device against Marie’s cuff to transfer the data wirelessly. “Good luck.”

Leona walked into Ramses’ new lab. “How’s it coming?”
“Slow. The beacon is finished, but your replacement cuff is taking me forever. The last time I did this, I had some examples to work with. I’m having to recreate it from memory, and I’m on our pattern now, so...”
“Not criticizing you, Ramses, just checking up.”
“Sorry, I get agitated when I’m stressed.”
“Mateo is going to do what he’s going to do, and he’s going to be smart and cautious about it. You have time. We have to get it right. We could handle this with just the beacon, but I want to be able to control Mateo’s cuff as well.”
“I understand,” Ramses said. “Any luck finding them via other means?”
“Not yet, but Xerian says he’s close.”
Ramses scoffed. “He’s said that before.”
“He has me now,” Leona said “We’ll find them. We’ll get my husband back.”