Thursday, March 31, 2022

Microstory 1854: Life Underground

I grew up in madness. My parents were both doomsday preppers who—I don’t really want to say that they took it too far—but I eventually came to decide that they weren’t looking at the threat the right way. Is it possible that the world is going to end? Yes, of course. Is it rational to prepare for this eventuality? Assuming it doesn’t interfere with your day to day life, I would say so. That’s where mom and dad got lost. They were so obsessed with the life they would lead if the proverbial esh ever hit the fan that they stopped caring about what life should be like before, or instead of. It wasn’t this sudden thing that they did. It’s not like they read a bad news story, and decided to stuff the family into the bunker, and shut the door behind us. They just gradually spent more and more time focused on it until it was all they thought about, and it was just the way we lived. The farmhouse above ground was only there for show. They actually damaged parts of it to make it look abandoned, so any would-be looters or opportunists wouldn’t think it was worth ransacking. Where once I had my own bedroom, I now shared a corner of two triple bunk beds. My two younger brothers and sister had one set, and I slept above my aunt, who was above my parents. They shared a twin bunk, they were that committed to the lifestyle. The house was fine, and the world outside was too, but no, we were sardines. Because if that bomb ever went off, or a pandemic killed everyone, the best way to be ready was to simply already be doing things how we would when the day came. They still let us go to school for a while, but eventually decided it was too risky to have us wandering the surface. They didn’t even apply to homeschool us, or anything. We just stopped leaving the house. That’s when the authorities stepped in.

Truancy laws are taken very seriously in my country. If you didn’t go to school, you better have a damn good reason. Legislatures even stopped accepting the excuse of needing the kids to work on the farm. Being accepted as a homeschool was tough, because you had to prove you were a competent substitute for a licensed professional teacher. So you can imagine that they were pissed about our situation. It almost got us taken out of the house, but my parents reluctantly agreed to let us go back. But no extracurricular activities, no parties, and no trips. We mostly only went to school. Once a week, father would go out to check the post office box, and it was a real treat if one of us got to accompany him. Once a month, he would restock us—or overstock—on supplies, and he usually needed two of us to help. I honestly don’t know where they were getting their money. This was before working from home was a thing, and since we stopped planting crops, that surely wasn’t it. Maybe one of them came from a rich family, and we lived in squalor because they were clinically insane. I’ll tell you one thing, as terrible as it was, I can’t say I regret any of it. I was designated the family medic, because someone had to do it, and none of the adults was smart enough to pursue the field. I learned some skills on my own, picked up more when they let me out for classes, and got even better when I finally went to get certified as an EMT, and later a paramedic. Of course, I left to live my life, and my siblings followed suit with their own dreams. The youngest had the hardest time, because the parents didn’t want to let her go, but they had no choice. We didn’t want to survive if it meant not living. They both died in that bunker, and I’m in my five bedroom split level, surrounded by loved ones.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Microstory 1853: What I Didn’t Do, And What I Did

It’s the saddest thing. When you’re dying, you’re supposed to reflect on your friends and family. Some say they should only be happy memories, while others say everything is just jumbled together. But that’s not what’s happening to me. I’m focusing on a single memory that has kind of haunted me for my whole life since it happened. I guess I’ll start at the end, because it might help explain why that particular memory managed to rise to the surface, and outshine all others. Yesterday, my grandchildren wanted to take me out for what I think everyone knew was going to be a final decent meal. I don’t think they thought I was going to actually kick the buck the next morning, or they probably would have just huddled around my bed, and said goodbye. They knew I would leave them soon, though, and it was important that they see me out with fanfare. Now, I don’t think the incident at the restaurant is what killed me, but I guess it’s not too crazy to think that a part of me decided that my life wouldn’t get better after that, so if I wanted to end on a high note, this was the time to do it. I’m making it sound like it was a happy moment, aren’t I, but I did call it an incident, if you remember, and there’s a reason for that. So there I was, sitting in my wheelchair at the booth with my whole family. They were talking mostly amongst themselves. They don’t know how to talk to me anymore, and the younger ones never did. They’re all into computers, and celebrities I never heard of, but I don’t feel distressed, because I enjoy the company just the same. I don’t hate the future, I just didn’t work very hard to keep in touch. I think I did just fine. Man, I’m going on a lot of tangents, aren’t I? The story is that I lost interest in the conversation, and ended up eavesdropping on a mother scolding her daughter for wanting some cake.

Now, far be it for me to decide what this little girl is allowed to have, but it became clear as I listened in that she wasn’t allowed to have the cake, not because it cost too much, or because it would spoil her dinner, but because the mother thought she was too fat. I just had to say something, even though it was none of my business. And the reason is because about thirty years ago, I didn’t say anything in a similar situation, and I always regretted it. A man came into the restaurant while I was having dinner with my family, not unlike the last lunch yesterday. He was very obviously homeless. Unkempt, many layers of clothing in fairly late spring, with a smell. A businessman in a really good mood had just given him a hundred dollar bill, and he wanted to treat himself. Some people stared, clearly not wanting him to be there at all, but one particular man started scolding him for wasting the money on a decadent meal when he really ought to have been saving up, and being frugal. I was a coward, and I didn’t say a word. I didn’t think I had the right. My youngest daughter spoke up, though, and I was so proud of her. As it turned out, the whole thing had been staged. They were filming a TV show where they set up these stressful situations to see how people would react. I basically failed the test, and it wasn’t that I embarrassed myself on national television. It was just that it could have been real, and in many ways, it was real, because not everyone in the restaurant was in on the act. No one blamed me for not standing up for the man—and of course, no one else did, except for my daughter—but I felt bad about it anyway. So that’s why I felt compelled to inject myself in that mother-daughter argument yesterday. It was like my redeeming moment. Huh, you know what, I guess I am reflecting on my family.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Microstory 1852: No Friends

My dog and I were born on the same day. He was one of the first faces I saw when my parents brought me home from the hospital. Their neighbors didn’t realize that the dog they adopted was pregnant, so they needed people to take in the pups. Frankenstein and I grew up together. There are tons of photographs of the two of us snuggling together in a shared crib. Back then, there wasn’t anything you could do with the photos you took except put them in a physical album in case company came by, and asked—or agreed—to look at them. I was really attached to Frankenstein. I always considered him to be my brother, and I didn’t really have friends beyond him. It probably didn’t occur to me that we weren’t actually related until I was much older. I think I recall asking why we didn’t look alike. My older human brother just laughed, because he thought I was a dummy. He confirmed that I didn’t make up this story once we were well into adulthood, and expressed regret at laughing at me, and just in general mocking my relationship with Frankenstein. As you can imagine, I didn’t take it very well when he died. It’s the cruelest thing God did, making humans live so long, and our pets live so short. That didn’t make any sense to me, and I struggled with my faith a lot after it happened. My parents were concerned, but they didn’t want to be overbearing, so they let me tread my own spiritual path, knowing that it could lead me into atheism. That’s precisely what it did. I decided that it was the only explanation for my pain, and for the pain of so many others. Either God exists, and he’s evil, or he doesn’t. I would much rather it be the latter. The former is such a horrifying prospect. I can’t believe people live their lives under such obvious oppression. My family didn’t disown me, but we did drift apart.

I had to forge a new family with the people that I met along the way. I sort of collected them from the various groups that I was a part of. One guy was on the football team with me. We were drawn to each other, because we both enjoyed the sport, but we weren’t passionate about it. We taught each other that that was okay. I met a girl in one of my classes that I got along with real well. She didn’t know the footballer, in case you’re wondering. Lots of people play sports for their schools, but for us, it was a separate thing. I had a part time job at the grocery store, where I hung out with another guy. I met a cool girl in college. It was about two hours from home, so it was hard to stay in contact with the others. Once I graduated, and started working full time, I strengthened my connection to my old friends, and built some new ones, but eventually realized that after all this time, they still didn’t know each other. That had to be remedied. I decided to organize my own birthday party, even though I hadn’t really celebrated it before. It was just an excuse for them to finally meet. These were the most important people in my life; it was ridiculous that they weren’t friends with each other. It didn’t go well. Politics, religion, general personalities; everything clashed. They tried, they really tried. None of them went into that dinner with the intention of hating the others, but things just kept getting worse. If two of them agreed on something, another disagreed so adamantly that it overshadowed that whole part of the conversation. For the next few months, we continued to try finding some common ground, but never could. I then tried going back to just keeping them separate, but that no longer worked. I drifted from them too, and I haven’t had a friend in decades. Isn’t that just the saddest story you’ve ever heard?

Monday, March 28, 2022

Microstory 1851: Transitivity

I would get in a lot of fights growing up. I was one of those kids who hated to see injustice, and also who saw injustices everywhere. Bullies, racists, bad boyfriends. If I found out you treated someone poorly, you were going down. Back then, I thought I was lucky to be going to a school that didn’t have the time or energy to deal with someone like me. Sure, I was violent and disruptive, but the teachers and staff had to prioritize disciplining the ones who were the actual bad guys. I’m talking about the bullies I was standing up to, and the kids who came to school with weapons. I managed to skate by, which looking back, did me a disservice, because I struggled to learn basic social skills. It’s not like I grew out of it just because I graduated from high school. I just kept fighting the injustices, and in the real world, people do care about that, and they make the time to punish you for it. I went to jail so many times. If I had had different parents, they probably would have sent me to military school, or something, but they never wanted kids, and that didn’t change when they met me. Since they didn’t care about what happened to me, or even their family reputation, they never bailed me out, so as long as I kept them out of it, they didn’t worry about the jail time. Eventually, the cops remembered who I was, so they knew they couldn’t keep me in the same cells as other people. Jail, and the police station holding cells, were great places to find people who I felt needed to be taught a few lessons. One night, I got in another bar fight—with a guy who just couldn’t take the hint that the lady wasn’t interested—and I learned where the jurisdictional borders were. I was taken to a police station I had never been to before.

They put me in with the general population, where I managed to encounter a rapist who kept getting away with it. The only thing my daddy ever taught me was to never pick a fight with anyone I couldn’t beat. I usually remembered this advice, but not that night. He beat me half to death, and left me in the corner of the cell, next to a drunkard who just so happened to own a boxing gym. He decided I needed someone to teach me how to channel my instincts into something productive. You’ve heard this story before, so I won’t bore you with the details, but yes, he trained me to be a better fighter, but to do it for money and honor, rather than anger. I guess someone important took notice, because that is not even the most interesting part about my life. I found myself being recruited by a mysterious group with rather unclear intentions. They said that a war was raging on other worlds, and that they needed fighters like me. I was hesitant, but curious. It sounded too crazy for me to just walk away from. I couldn’t just forget about it. They put me on this giant spaceship that looked like a train, and said they were taking me to another universe. I ended up fighting in something called the Transit Army, against an alien race who was trying to sterilize billions and billions of people across the multiverse. Again, I know it sounds crazy, but I’ve seen them, I fought them, it happened. I was basically in the infantry on the front lines, because I didn’t have any education, or leadership skills. This is what killed me. The enemy served a fatal blow, and the doctors said they couldn’t save me. My only request was to be returned to my home world. They said they didn’t have the resources, but an individual capable of crossing over himself took pity on me, so here I am, taking my final breaths in the alley behind the gym. I’m laughing, because I know the cops will never solve my murder.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: March 29, 2387

The man who Mateo was forced to kill was reportedly not stupid, but he was more of a follower, and easily manipulated. He had agreed to, upon winning the battle, return power of the other detachments to their rightful leaders. He was used to being told what to do, and he had no intention of ending that. Of course Leona wasn’t ever meant to win. They never considered the possibility that any member of the team of strangers would be willing to kill each other, and even if they did, the so-called leader of the DDD was always expected to beat them. The idea was to halt their influence on the people of this reality. Xerian had underestimated it before, and that was how they ended up with a rogue Rátfrid going even more rogue, and making their jobs more difficult. Now Leona was in charge of six powerful intergalactic forces. Her only true equal on this side was the General of the Offensive Contingency Detachment, whose name was Ingrid Alvarado. Over the course of the next year, she showed herself to be more open-minded and reasonable than Leona expected her to be.
Meanwhile, the rest of the team was safe in a virtual construct housed in Ramses’ lab on the Suadona, which Leona maintained as her base of operations. She connected to the simulation regularly to hang out with her friends. They could be downloaded into temporary android bodies at any time, but to protect the ruse, it was best that they stay out of sight for now. Their new corporal upgrades were still gestating at three times the normal speed. The plan was to start using them in 2394, once they were fully mature, despite never having technically voted to actually go through with that idea. Their deaths were a necessary development that placed them at an incredible advantage, and that was an opportunity that they couldn’t ignore. Hopefully this whole thing would be over soon, and they could be moved to some temporary substrates. Then maybe they could start looking for a way to get back to the main sequence.
For now, they were leaving Dilara Cassano, a.k.a. The Arborist out of it. She was in a better position to help them by also staying out of sight. As far as they knew, no one—not even Xerian—was even aware of her existence, let alone that she was their only true ally in this reality. Speaking of Xerian, and the rest of the former detachment leaders, they were allowed to remain in the inner circle of the alliance. They operated in an advisory role only, and didn’t appear to have any loyalists. This was a very strange reality. Its technology rivaled that of the Parallel, but whereas there was a lot of fellowship amongst that version of the Milky Way, and other galaxies, residents of the Fifth Division were almost exclusively isolationistic. The majority of them seemed to live in voids, be them intergalactic, or interstellar. Orbiting a star made people too easy to find, and that wasn’t what anybody wanted. So when the detachment leaders were deposed all at once, no one seemed to give a shit. No one complained. No one fought the transition. Apparently, the only reason shifts in power weren’t happening constantly was because most people didn’t want the job. There was little upside to holding power over nothing. There were too many moving parts to keep watch over; it was very easy for any given individual to live their life as they pleased without interference. Besides, true power could still be found in the Denseterium.
The true architects of the Fifth Division were a threat that everyone shared, and now that the detachments were firmly on the opposite side of this disharmony, a new war was brewing. And that was something they did care about. General Alvarado agreed to recall every ship she had dispatched to fight against the Andromedan Consortium, effectively ending that war, so all left could focus on stopping the Fifth Division, who would supposedly soon begin what people were treating as some kind of final solution. Their motivation and endgame both remained vague and uncertain by anyone Leona tried to ask about it. They would all give a different answer about why their enemies were creating the interstellar denseterium in the first place. Some said they wanted a gravitationally-bound mega star system to travel the universe as a collective using a modified lightyear engine. Others figured they were dumping every bit of matter they could find into the stellaris collapsis in the center to make it even more massive than the Alpha Stage supermassive black hole it already was. Reasons for this varied from simply using it to power their civilization to creating a superweapon to destroy other universes. The team didn’t know whether people here were truly aware that the bulkverse was a very real thing, or if they just couldn’t conceive of any larger hypothetical target.
If the Fifth Division was planning their own war against the Ochivari, that was probably a good thing, but Leona had no reason to believe this to be the case. She occasionally name-dropped the Ochivari in conversation, and no one even blinked. They didn’t know anything about the multiversal threat. Something else was going on with the Denseterium, and Leona decided it was time to get some real answers. She placed her proxies in charge of the detachments while she was gone, and took off in the Suadona. At maximum light year range teleportation speeds, the trip was taking about two weeks. She spent most of the time in the simulation, but they were nearing the end, so it was time to return to the real world, and continue on mission on her own.
The Suadona was programmed to head for the center of the galactic blob, because they didn’t know where they would actually find the people they wanted to speak with. They never reached their destination, though. Fittingly, on the day they would be in the timestream if they were following their pattern, they were forced to show up somewhere else. The ship was diverted off course, to a void station they didn’t even know was there. Angela postulated that it served as the front door to the Denseterium, through which all were expected to enter, instead of any other random access point. Three dimensional space contained an infinite number of degrees, so if you wanted to regulate travel within it, the only way was to somehow take control of people’s vessels, and redirect them accordingly. This was their home, so that was fair enough.
They were slowly cruising through a large opening to a tunnel. A disembodied voice relayed basic instructions to them, like submitting to a scan for weapons, and keeping all illegal imports out. She asked the crew their business here, to which Leona explained her position amongst the detachments, and her desire to speak with original members of the Fifth Division directly. Once they were a few hundred kilometers in, a flurry of lights overcame them, and accelerated their ship without using their own power reserves. It transported them out of the tunnel, and spit them out on a planet with about a hundred suns, each smaller than the Earth’s moon at apogee.
Leona teleported out of the Suadona, and stood on the surface before an anthropomorphic castle built into the side of a mountain. It looked like something out of a Tolkien book; ancient but stalwart. A man was already walking through the portcullis, and over the drawbridge. As he approached, he felt familiar to Leona. Once he was within clear sight, she realized that he looked strikingly like Baudin Murdoch, a.k.a. The Constructor. She would have used more tact if she had taken more time, but before she knew it, she blurted out, “are you a Murdoch?”
“Phestos Murdoch, you’ve heard of me.”
“I knew a Baudin once,” she answered.
He nodded. “My father.”
“You don’t seem surprised.”
“Neither do you. I don’t care if he’s ever mentioned me or not.” He turned, and began to walk back towards the castle. “Follow me.”
“Are you the leader?” she asked while they were walking over the bridge.
“No. I’m taking you to her.”
“I appreciate it.”
He shrugged. “We have nothing better to do than entertain guests.”
“I’m here on business.”
He shrugged again. “I’ve heard it both ways.” Even here, people were bored with life.
The inside was not like a castle at all. That was just the façade. Once they passed under the rock, they saw that the mountain was pretty flat; like a tooth jutting out of the ground. Next was a forest of deciduous trees, followed by a beach, and then the shore of a lagoon. They walked down a dock, and climbed into a boat so dark and rickety that it would make Charon nervous. Still, it held the both of them as an invisible force rowed them over the calm waters, through a mist, and onto a second beach. A woman was lying across a hammock, completely naked, staring up at the suns above. “Welcome to Hemkara,” she said with a yawn, totally devoid of any enthusiasm. She arched her back in a stretch, and yawned again. “What is your business?”
“I would like to dissuade you from going to war,” Leona proposed.
“War with who?” the woman asked.
“With...I guess Andromeda? The people of the former Milky Way galaxy? I’m not sure.”
“You’re not sure? Interesting.”
That was indeed interesting. General Alvarado had already ended the real war. Why was she here? What war? “Why are you moving all the stars in this galaxy together?”
For a second there, it looked like the woman forgot that anyone else was there. She just went back to watching the sky mindlessly. Leona was about to repeat the question, but then she answered, “is that what’s going on up there?”
“Yes.”
We did that?”
She wasn’t getting anywhere with this woman. A leader, she was not. “What the hell is going on, Phestos?”
He too looked like he barely heard her. “You remember we did that?” he finally asked the woman. “You remember you said you want to bring the stars closer, because you thought they would be prettier without all the darkness between them?”
The woman was tracing her middle finger over her areola. “Yeah. Yeah, I remember that. We went through with that?”
“Yes.” Jesus Christ, Leona thought. “This isn’t a weapon?”
The woman scrunched her face into a frown. “A weapon? Dafuq would we need a weapon for? Look at me! Do I look like someone who uses weapons?”
“You look like someone who is so old, and has had power for so long, that you lost all motivation, and just sit on a beach all day.”
She raised her hand, and pointed at Leona. “Five points to Gryffindor!”
“How do you have that reference?”
“What reference?”
“The Denseterium scares people, lady. On purpose or not, you’ve inspired a war against the other galaxies of the supercluster, and they’re only now coming together in an alliance to fight you!”
The woman slipped out of the hammock. Her entire backside was covered in cross-crossed lines. She had been lying there for quite a long time. She stepped towards Leona. “Fight me?” She held out her fists like she was riding a chopper. As she punched the air and popped her shoulders up, clothes appeared all around her. “Fight me!” She apported a little remote into her hand, which she used to gradually collapse the holograms around them. The water dried up, the sand turned gray. The hut and the hammock spun around into oblivion. The trees in the forest were sucked back into the ground. Everything green, blue, or alive disappeared, leaving them on a desolate gray world with storms raging in the distance. Only the toothy mountain remained, but probably not the castle façade. Baudin’s supposed son, Phestos disappeared completely, after sporting a knowing frown, suggesting he was aware that he too was an illusion. He wasn’t the last thing to change, though. The leader lady transformed, shedding her outer visage, and showing his true face. He looked as familiar as Phestos did, but not as a Murdoch. He looked more like a Preston. In fact, the more Leona stared at his face, the more uncomfortable she became with how much he resembled Zeferino. “If anyone wants to fight a god, they can try, but I don’t like their odds.”
“Who are you?” Leona asked.
The mysterious man juggled the remote to his left hand, so he could extend his right for what she presumed to be a handshake. “Mithridates Preston, out of Savannah by Erlendr. You may kiss my ring.”

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Extremus: Year 37

Three and a half months later, and they still don’t have any answers. They can’t explain what they’re seeing in the mysterious box that the drone they sent out for resupply returned with. The person living inside of the box is too small to be seen with the naked eye. The glass the box itself is made of can be adjusted to magnify the image a little bit, and a microscope can make the image even larger, but it’s so far not enough to communicate. They can’t even make out the individual’s face, but she appears to be feminine, and she recognizes that giants are gawking at her. She mostly sits in a tiny chair, reading a tinier book, inside of a sort of living room that looks more like a movie set since there are two walls, and a floor, but no roof. She shows no signs of fear, insecurity, or general helplessness. The scientists placed in charge of figuring this out posit that she’s patiently waiting for them to do just that. One thing they’ve learned is that she refuses to leave the box. They drilled a little hole on the side, but she won’t crawl out of it for further testing. They don’t know why, so they’ve come up with a way to reach out to her.
“You wanna shrink somebody?” Kaiora questions.
“No, Captain,” Dr. Kreuleck says. He’s not in charge of the team, but the man who is has trouble communicating with anyone who doesn’t have at least three advanced degrees, so Daud usually finds himself as the interpreter between them. “The envoy will be piloting a miniature avatar. You’ll still be much larger than the specimen, but if you speak the same language, you ought to be small enough to carry on an intelligible conversation.”
“When you say you, you mean generic-you, right?”
“Umm...no, we were thinking actually you, sir,” Daud clarifies.
“Why would I be the one to do it?”
“We assumed you would want to make first contact.”
Kaiora hadn’t considered it. It sounds right, though, doesn’t it? She’s responsible for the crew and passengers, and she represents them in a way that no one else does, even compared to First Chair. Surely the technology is safe. Surrogate piloting is old technology that has only improved over time. There should be no danger to this. “That’s not what an envoy is,” she can’t help but point out. “You can’t be an envoy for yourself.”
“You mean yourself,” Daud jokes.
The Captain always tries to maintain a distance from everyone, for obvious professional reasons. She would be lying to herself, however, if she claimed to not find Daud’s company to be pleasant and enjoyable, but of course, no matter what she feels, she has to lie to everyone else. “Right.” She sighs, and takes another look at the nano-human, who’s presently sleeping in her little bed. “Tell me what to do. If it’s ready, I’ll make contact when she wakes up.”
Daud goes over the specifications of the interface pod. Everything is pretty standard. They will lie her back in the chair, hook her brain up to the machine, and then link her neural signals to the nanobot. It may never have been done at this scale before, but billions have experienced it in the history of mankind, so Kaiora isn’t worried. A few hours later, the specimen gets out of bed, cleans herself up, and then goes back to her books. That’s when they initialize the program.
Kaiora finds herself standing at the entrance to the box. The hole they drilled is as big as a building from her perspective. She has to climb up the side just to get to it, but it’s not that hard, because the glass is pretty rough, with lots of handholds. It’s not like she can get tired of it either, because she’s not really there. The bot is doing all the work, she’s just controlling it. After a little while, she reaches the edge, and walks over the threshold. Before she can climb down on the inside, everything changes. She can no longer see the box, or the movie set that the specimen lives in. She just sort of sees shapes and colors. Nothing looks distinct. She can’t orient herself. It’s all just a meaningless blur.
Kaiora forces herself back to her real body, and works hard to catch her breath. The experience was more traumatic than she even realized while it was happening. It was surreal, but now she’s shaken, and doesn’t want to go back. What the hell was that? “What the hell was that?”
“Tell us what happened,” Daud prompts.
She describes the images to the best of her ability, and slows down when the scientists seem to be having some kind of simultaneous revelation. “What? Tell me.”
“It was just a theory, and we tried to test for it, but we found it impossible to penetrate the box,” Daud doesn’t explain.
“You drilled a hole in it,” she points out.
“I mean, we can’t get our sensors in. We can’t take any readings. It seems that only visible light crosses the barrier.”
Barrier?” Kaiora echoes. That word is really only used for one thing in regards to temporal manipulation. “You mean dimensional barrier.”
“Yes. She’s not actually tiny, she’s just in another dimension, which is being generated and sustained by a powersource somewhere inside the box. The glass serves as the boundary, and when you crossed it, you became part of it. You were in the form of a nanobot, so in the other dimension, you’re still in a nanobot, so from the perspective of everything else in there, that is how you appear...or rather don’t appear, because you were so small. At that point, to us, you were smaller than an atom.”
Kaiora nods once, and points to the box. “So in reality, she’s regular size; it’s just a different reality?”
“We believe so.”
“So if we teleported someone into the box, they would become her size.”
“Theoretically.”
“Why didn’t we do that in the first place?”
“If we were wrong, it could have destroyed the box, and the specimen. It would be like if we teleported a planet inside the Extremus.”
“Fair enough. But can’t you teleport her to this dimension?” Kaiora suggests.
Daud looks at the rest of the team. “We didn’t...think of that.”
Kaiora continues, “if we transport her from inside that box to our dimension, she should show up as a normal-sized person from our perspective. And if she doesn’t, she’s still safe, because we’ll know exactly where she is.”
Daud scratches the back of his head, embarrassed. “We’ll build the environment, and the laser teleporter. We have to be more precise than most teleportation jumps require. It should take us a few hours to be safe.”
“I’ll come back in a few hours.”
She does come back in a few hours, and the team is ready for the procedure. Kaiora takes one more look in the box. The specimen has straightened up her living environment. She’s made her bed, and shelved most of the books. She’s holding a large stack of some of them, though; presumably the ones she hasn’t read yet. She looks ready. She knows they’ve finally solved the problem. “Push it,” the Captain orders.
“We thought you might want to.” Daud lifts the single-button remote, and presents it to her with both hands.
Without thinking about it too hard, Kaiora unceremoniously presses the button, and activates the laser teleporter. A woman appears in the egress chamber, still holding her books. The bookcase behind her managed to come through too. The woman looks at it over her shoulder. “Oh, good. I was only able to hold about half of the ones I wanted.”
Kaiora recognizes her immediately, now that she can actually see her face. “Lieutenant Suárez, welcome back the Extremus. I’m Captain Kaiora Leithe, Third of Ten.”
One of the other scientists steps over, and carefully removes the books from Rita’s arms. “It’s nice to finally be back. We have a lot to discuss, but before I say anything, could someone please escort me to the hock. I need to talk to Halan first.”
Kaiora looks over at Daud. She knows that Halan is locked up, which begs the question how she would know such a thing after having been gone for nearly 34 years. “I suppose...that’s...a fair request. You’ll need a medical examination first, though.”
“I suppose that’s a fair request,” Rita echoes.
They’re careful not to let anyone else know that Rita is back. The Supply Recovery team that discovered the box in the first place agreed to secrecy, and still won’t be told this much anyway. Kaiora escorts Rita to Dr. Holmes’ office, and once the exam is over, to the hock, which adds yet another person to know the secret in Caldr Giordana. Hopefully that’s the last one besides Halan. Kaiora still doesn’t know what they’re going to do with her, and honestly, a former captain’s opinion will be invaluable in that regard.
After the pleasantries, Rita sits in the guest chair, nervously scratching her upper teeth against her index finger, but fortunately not biting down.
“Take your time,” Halan assures her.
“You’re safe,” Kaiora adds.
“Old Man knew what was going to happen. He was wearing a sort of survival pack. When Debra—that was Airlock Karen’s real name; I don’t know if anyone here ever knew that. Anyway, when she and I landed on the planet, there was no air. We were just in the vacuum of space, dying. I woke up however long later in a tent barely sufficient for two people. All three of us were in there together. Apparently, he had shot us with a teleporter gun, since we were a few meters away from him. Then he wrapped us all in the self-assembling tent. The rest of the survival supplies were in his bag. He called it the Heskit; Harsh Environment Survival Kit. It was equipped with carbon scrubbers, but since they take time to get going, he also had an oxygen tank that was good enough to last us six or seven hours. We didn’t have to share a mask. He just opened the valve, and filled the tent. I thought we were gonna die, but he just kept walking us up the steps. He had enough meal bars to last him a month alone, but we rationed them together, and still made it through that month.
“While we were waiting for the hydroponics to grow, a meat bioreactor printed meat patties for us. They weren’t particularly flavorful, and they took a shockingly long time, but they did the job. Everything was powered by small scale fusion reactors. He programmed and released nanites to build us a larger structure to live in using materials found on the planet. When we finally teleported there, we found that we were not alone. He was there, and he was a lot better off than we were. He was already wearing a vacuum suit, and brought with him far better supplies. To him it wasn’t an emergency, but a planned move. He wanted to live there. That was his temporary home, before...”
“Before he built a time machine to take over the galaxy before the Earthan humans could,” Halan tries to finish for her.
“Oaksent didn’t build shit. He forced Old Man to do everything. He also had a gun; not a teleporter gun, but a real one with bullets. A schism formed between us. It quickly became clear that Debra was on his side, and Old Man and I were on the other. I never much liked Elder, but he was a lot better than that megalomaniac. In response to our impudence, Oaksent modified the orders so that the time machine would only fit two people. The two of them then went off on their merry mission in the past, leaving us only with that second structure, and a microreactor to power it. He took everything else, including the hydroponics, not because he needed it, but because he didn’t want us to have it. Now I thought we really were going to die, but then we saw it. A vehicle was driving over the regolith, heading our way. Long story short, they were descended from the embryos or whatever that Oaksent stole from the Bridger Section. This small faction had broken off from the rest of the empire. They didn’t have any strong feelings about us, or Extremus, but they figured they might as well execute a mission to rescue us, just to make sure we were all living in the same timeline.
“They agreed to let us join their group, and we did so, because we didn’t want them to kill us, or just let us die. I mean, you fall in with whoever you can to survive, right? I didn’t love the life, because it was needlessly difficult. The empire is clearly technologically advanced, but this faction subsisted on outdated and worn out technology, I guess as a means of expressing some kind of rebellious sentiment. Stuff constantly broke down, and we were always in danger of dying. I made it work, but Old Man couldn’t. He wanted to get back to the ship, so he built another time machine in secret. He tried to get me to go with him, but I refused. It was too risky. I don’t wanna mess with time. So I stayed, and that’s when my story begins...”

Friday, March 25, 2022

Microstory 1850: Antistimulism

I’ve taken up all sorts of hobbies, sports, and activities. I know how to sew, and how to change the oil in my car. I can recite pi to the first hundred digits, and I can’t tell you how many foot races I’ve run. This may make it sound like I like to learn new things, but nothing could be further from the truth. My parents made me do all this stuff, and it’s probably not for the reason you assume. They didn’t actually care whether I enjoyed any particular endeavor, and it had nothing to do with what they would do in my shoes. They weren’t trying to live vicariously through me. They just wanted me to have something, and they hated the idea that I would go through life with no interests whatsoever. I know they had good reasons to do what they did, but it just wasn’t me. I don’t have to be occupied with anything at all, in fact. I’m perfectly content sitting in a chair, staring at the wall for hours until it’s time to go to bed. I don’t think there’s a word for my condition. Therapists and psychiatrists have just called me depressed. Not true. I just don’t feel the need to spend my time doing things. I can’t explain it. Still, like I said, I’ve tried a whole bunch of stuff because I was told I had to. It wasn’t until I was eighteen that I started to realize that they were wrong, but also that they were sort of right. I need to eat, and stay out of the elements. I don’t need much, and it doesn’t have to be fancy, but I still have an instinct for survival, and in this world, if you don’t have a way to make money, you don’t survive. So I used the skills I picked up on the speech and debate team to get a job in data entry. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was a living.

I’m not saying that everyone who does the work that I once did is a drone, but it certainly played to my strengths, and it was the best that I could come up with. I didn’t have to think too hard, or interact with people too much. My boss and co-workers were mostly happy to leave me alone as long as I met my quotas. I wish I had been born later, because then I would have worked from home, and been even more isolated and content. One day, this new guy joined the team, and was reportedly immediately smitten with me. According to others, I’m quite attractive, or rather I would be if I put a little effort into it. My inability to give a crap evidently turned most people off, but he could see past it. He wanted to know more about me, and he seemed to find it quite frustrating that I wasn’t giving him anything. I responded with the shortest sentences possible if necessary to get him off my back, and with nothing if I thought I could get away with it. This may sound like a love story, but it’s not. The guy was just the way I ended up with my new life. He told his own therapist about me, and that dude was crazy fascinated by my condition. Like I said, I had spoken to others about my feelings—or lack thereof—but he was the first one who appeared to be all in on truly believing me. He wanted to study me, and since he promised to not be too invasive, I let him. All he asked me to do was answer his questions, and he would trust their accuracy with no doubt. He published his findings anonymously, and piqued the interests of even more people. One in particular was a wealthy woman who said she had experienced irritating people who felt entitled to answers from her. She reached out, and I agreed to let the researcher provide her with my contact information. Wanting to free me from all the disturbances and distractions, she set me up with a cabin in the woods, and a lifetime supply of food and other necessities. I die today having lived an unfull, but very satisfying, unstimulated life.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Microstory 1849: Devastated

I was so excited when I finally got my driver’s license. Freedom is what it meant, and I was ready to drive off into the sunset alone. My older brothers drove me to the DMV, and when it became official after years of waiting, they performed a quick little ceremony in the parking lot. Then they returned home together, and charged me to go find myself. I just sat there for the next fifteen minutes, wondering where I could go, but I realized that there was nowhere. We lived right next to a strip mall that included a movie theatre. I mean, there just wasn’t any need for a car, except maybe to get to school on mornings with bad weather. Otherwise, I pretty much walked or biked everywhere, and I saw no reason for that to change. So I just went back home. My brothers were disappointed, but they had to agree. The cabin fever didn’t go away, though, and I continued to feel the urge to get out and go places. So that’s what I did, not worrying about wasting gas, or the money it cost to buy it. I just had to feel my independence, and maybe a little wind in my hair. I never worried much about getting lost either. I just kept exploring. It was much easier to make your way to the middle of nowhere back then, because the area was not as developed as it would quickly become. One day on one of my drives, I came across this tiny little cemetery. There were maybe a dozen gravestones, most of which were damaged, worn, and hard to read. But there was one that was clear as day. It was just as old as the others, but it didn’t feature a name. Son, 1923 – 1923. I was heartbroken just looking at that, and it haunted me for the rest of my life. It’s what makes me think that life is just God’s cruel joke on all of us.

I went back to my secret spot about once a year for over a decade. I found it simultaneously chilling and comforting to be there. It remained my special place to get away from it all for a long time. They’ve only now started to build a neighborhood there, and I hate it. I doubt they’ll pave over it, but I thought it was really cool how remote it was. I felt like it was something only I knew about. The latest grave was placed in 1947, so it was entirely possible that no one was left alive to remember anyone there. Those people might have only had me. I met my husband five years ago when he started working in the cubicle next to me. We started dating six months later, got engaged eighteen months after that, got married eighteen months after that, and had our child eighteen months after that. The math works out as it ought to. We made sure we knew each other well before we took the next step, and we made sure we were ready for kids before we did that. We also wanted it to be painfully clear that we didn’t get married because of any children. This way, there could be no confusion or whispers. Well, there was still confusion, and there were whispers. People started whispering around and at me all the time. My son managed to live and breathe for all of eleven days before God took him away from us. I don’t know why he did that, but I can never forgive him for it. My little boy was so beautiful, and perfect, and innocent, and he deserved the world. I just kept thinking that I couldn’t bury my child without a name, like that baby from almost a hundred years ago. So we named him posthumously, and I insisted we lay him to rest not too far from the unnamed boy. That way, they can be friends forever. Not once in my life did I ever consider killing myself, but I simply cannot bear this loss, so I’ve already picked out a plot right next to my Elijah, and I will be joining him soon.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Microstory 1848: Rehabilitator

Everyone believes that Landis Tipton was the first open voldisil in the world, but that’s not true. He’s not even the first healer, though we could argue semantics all day. Landis became famous because he knew how to leverage a business opportunity, and grow his brand. But the man I want to talk about to you today didn’t have that. He wasn’t flashy or sexy. What he did was painful, and comparatively slow, and it was a thankless job. It also wasn’t necessarily permanent. His patients had to work very hard to prevent themselves from falling into the same old habits. He cured them of their affliction, to be sure, but whatever caused them to walk down that path in the first place, it could happen again, or something else could do the same. He didn’t have control over their actions. I understand that, in my final moments, I’m meant to talk about myself, but I feel obligated to tell his story since apparently, no one else has before. As I’ve said, he didn’t become famous, and that’s a damn shame. Still, it’s probably reasonable for me to start the tale from a personal place. I was always very curious and experimental. According to my mother, I burned each hand on the stovetop two days in a row. A normal person—even one so young—will not be fooled twice by the same consequences. But I guess I couldn’t help myself. Sure, it burned me the first time, but why would that mean it would burn me again? In the era that I was growing up, it was perfectly normal for a child to go off on their own, on their bicycle, or whathaveyou. I was particularly bad about this, though, getting much farther away from the safe zone than I really should have. I loved to explore, and I never got lost, but my personality is what got me into trouble. I fell into the world of drugs when I was thirteen years old. I didn’t surrender to peer pressure, or need to destress. If I hadn’t tried a drug before, I figured I might as well, because what was the worst that could happen? Obviously, a lot. I was an addict.

Notice that I say that I was an addict, because I’m not anymore. Normally, that wouldn’t be accurate; someone like me would be in recovery, but would live the rest of their lives with that mark, and at a greater risk of backsliding. I don’t have to worry about that, because I rid myself of all temptation. Rather, I should say, The Rehabilitator did it for me. He had the special spirit ability to alter the neural chemistry of a client, as well as any physical dependence that they were experiencing. He could remove any addiction from you. I would know, he did it for me. I won’t tell you how I hit rock bottom, because I like to focus on the positive, and he positively fixed me. No more urges, no more second nature routines. I wasn’t disgusted by drugs, like other addiction therapies try to do for you, but I felt no need for them anymore. I returned a few weeks after my very cheap session to thank him for what he did for me. My life was on track. I was rebuilding relationships with people I had pushed away, and I had just gotten the perfect job. We were never great friends, but I stopped by to say hello and chat over the years. He kept doing his thing for other people. He would charge them pennies for a service that literally only he could provide. He could barely make ends meet, but the way he explained it to me, his clients were at their lowest, and charging them a premium would have needlessly made it harder on them. He died a few years ago. His obituary was short, but hundreds of people went to his funeral. The paper didn’t bother investigating why. He was a great man who deserved so much better. I owe him the last forty years of my life.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Microstory 1847: First Husband

Let me preface this by saying that I’m not a slut. I try to tell people how I met my first husband, and they get hung up on the first part of it, which sort of throws off the flow of the rest of the story. Did I have relationships prior to him? Yes. Did I have relationships after him? Yes. I would ask that you kindly hold all questions until the end. I would rather just not bring it up at all, but it’s kind of important, because you’ll otherwise wonder what I was doing in that hallway in the first place. So. I don’t remember the guy’s name. It was Brad, or Gad, or something dumb like that. He had to go to class, but he said it was cool if I slept there. I knew it wasn’t going anywhere, but I’m really bad about waking up, so I took him up on his offer, and stuck around for the next couple of hours. When I was finally ready to go, I stepped out of the door at the same time as the guy across the hall. We smiled politely—I recall it being quite obvious what I was doing there, but also how totally nonjudgmental he was about it. We kind of had this moment when we didn’t quite realize how hard it was going to be to get down the hallway at the same time. We happened to be moving at the same pace, so right there, I would say it already would have been a meet-cute. Except, like I said, I wasn’t ever going to see the other guy again, so maybe we wouldn’t have even exchanged information. We certainly had time, though, after the next development. We both froze when we saw the same thing. There was a giant snake in the middle of the hall, blocking our way. I don’t know what kind it was, but it was one of the ones that wraps itself around its victims, instead of biting them. Or maybe it bites them too. Or maybe they all bite; I don’t know. I’m just saying it was freakin’ huge. It was surely someone’s pet that got loose and got lost. So we probably weren’t in too much danger, but neither of us knew one way or the other.

The only safe way to react was to get ourselves on the other side of a door. I remember thinking days later how strange it was that there wasn’t an emergency stairwell at the end of the hallway. It just ended at someone else’s room, and I don’t think he was there at the time. Neither was the dude I had just spent the night with, and the locks were the kind that automatically pop into place when you close the door, key or no, so I couldn’t get back in. Being the gentleman that he always was, my future husband, of course, let me sit in his room. You might ask why we didn’t try to call for help, but first, yelling down the hallway seemed counterproductive, because what if that freaked the snake out? He seemed pretty chill, but again, we couldn’t know that. Secondly, this was the early eighties. Lots of dorms installed phone lines in individual dorm rooms by then, but not all of them shelled out the money for it, and my school really wanted to budget for academics. I admired that back then, and I still admire it now. We generally didn’t need phones. The payphone by the front desk was good enough for the era, because most hallways weren’t infested with snakes. We got to talking, and found out what we had in common, and what we didn’t. It was nearly an hour before we heard a commotion outside. A couple of guys were a lot less nervous about it than we were. They picked it up, and carried it up to the third floor together. Evidently, they knew who it belonged to. And us? Well, as you know, we eventually got married. He will always be my first love, and if there’s an afterlife, I honestly hope we meet again, because I know that he and my second husband would get along so great.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Microstory 1846: Antinatalist

I was invisible in grade school, which is how I liked it, I guess. It did get weird a few times. At least once a semester, a “really cool person” would ask me if I was new. I lived in the same place, and went to the same feeder schools, my whole childhood. No, I wasn’t new. I have never been new. I didn’t care about my grades, or socialization, or my future. I could always see how petty and unimportant everything was. Literally everything. There was no point to any of our actions. I’ve heard people tell stories about how they’ve helped people by their good deeds, but so what? Who cares about helping those people? The only reason to make people’s lives better is if they make other people’s lives better, but if you follow that logic trail far enough, you’ll find out that it’s turtles...all the way up. It doesn’t actually amount to anything. It’s just a pointless chain of meaninglessness. It wasn’t until junior year of high school in philosophy class where I first heard the term antinatalism. I was honestly blown away by it. Everything the text said about it felt like I was the one who wrote it. I came up with the concept all by myself, I just didn’t know someone had done the same before me. There must be others like me, right? We could be spread out and quiet, but they had to be there somewhere? I discovered there was this whole online community of like-minded individuals who saw the world as I did. I learned more about the movement from them, and for the first time in my life, I felt seen. I felt like I wasn’t crazy. It legitimized my whole everything. I had to know more. I had to know how we could get the word out there. Other people needed to understand that the things we said made sense, and it wasn’t just nihilistic bullcrap. Needless to say, any efforts I made to spread the word were as fruitless as life itself is.

There’s a lot of misinformation about antinatalism that I felt obligated to clear up. We don’t advocate for murder, for suicide, or even abortion, though some might be leaning towards that. I suppose I can only give you my perspective, but others come to it from different angles. There is so much suffering in the world, and there are so many people who could be easing that suffering, or who are actively causing it in the first place. So basically if you do that math by eliminating not only all the bad, but all the causes of the bad, the equation amounts to zero. The only way to reach a state of zero war, zero hunger, and zero pain is...wait for it, zero people. There will always be conflict, and hatred, and strife unless we discontinue the human race. To our knowledge, no one has ever even once asked to be born. It is always forced upon us, and what results is a life of sadness and disappointment. I can’t say whether the good outweighs the bad, or the other way around, but the way I see it, it doesn’t matter. I know that the bad is too much; it weighs the goodness down enough to warrant getting rid of it. And like I said, the only way to get rid of it is to not exist. Nothing else has worked so far, and I see no reason for it to start working now. As I mentioned, we’re not about suicide. If you’re suicidal, and you want help, you should go seek that help. I’m not personally going to help you, but I will neither stop you, nor encourage you. But I’ve always been reckless, because living my life with such care when I don’t believe anyone else should ever be born from this moment on would feel like hypocrisy to me. I came to these woods to see the beauty, because being away from people is the only time I ever feel moderately content. But as the hypothermia slowly takes over, all I can think is, I don’t wanna die.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: March 28, 2386

Rátfrid was an astounding entity, composed of something that he referred to as computronium gas. Disparate particles maintained cohesion with an electromagnetic field, and communicated with one another much like neural synapses, as Leona had surmised. He was capable of processing information at a speed that none of them could fathom, and not just because it was so amazing, but because they didn’t recognize the system of measurement. For as great as he was, he was not capable of spaceflight. He just sort of floated there, letting gravity take him wherever it would. Fortunately, the Suadona was, for some reason, equipped with a holding tank capable of housing a compressed form of him for transport. They plotted a course to the neutral zone in the Andromeda galaxy, not even bothering to alert the other detachments what the new plan was. It would take about a month for the ship to get there, so the team had to leave at the beginning of the journey. When they returned to the timestream, they were already back at the summit spot with the detachments. Apparently, Rátfrid had let himself out of the ship, and then programmed it to leave. It would seem they would never be too close to the war.
Please come in,” Xerian’s voice came in on the radio shortly after midnight central, whatever that meant in this reality.
“This is Captain Leona Matic. Please report.”
What happened last year?” Xerian questioned.
“We spoke with Rátfrid. He went off to stop the war on his own terms.”
We cannot proceed without his vote,” Xerian tried to warn her.
“I hate comms talking,” Leona said. “Could you please come here?”
About an hour later, Xerian was back on board. “We really needed him to be here,” he reiterated. “We have gone as far as we can with our strategy. It now requires a unanimous agreement.”
“I understand that,” Leona said. She was prepared for this. It was part of their own strategy discussion that they had even before meeting the RFD. “Tell me about your other attendance policies. What happens if one of you is destroyed? What happens if one of you is so out of control that the rest have to vote on what to do about that detachment? Surely you wouldn’t have them vote on whether to be kicked out of the committee, or whatever it is you are.”
“Actually, we would,” Xerian contended. “If, say, the Warmaker tried to stage a coup, and destroy the rest of us, the other seven would vote on certain repercussions, and so would the Warmaker. They would probably vote to not be punished, but we see no reason not to include them because of that.”
“There are eight of you,” Leona reasoned. “What do you do in a tie?”
“We have never had a tie.”
“But you have a protocol for it.”
Xerian took an uncomfortably long time to respond. “In the event of a tie, the two detachments most at odds with each other choose champions, who will fight to the death.” He seemed to think they would have a problem with this, and it was true, they did, but they were not surprised or shocked by it. It always comes back to violence.
“Champions,” Leona echoed, “proxies.”
“Yes.”
“Could someone theoretically vote as a proxy?”
Xerian smiled, and shook his head. “You can’t vote for the RFD, if that’s what you think. I mean, he would have to give you the power, and we would have to vote to accept you. It would be this whole thing. Besides, you’re not cognizant of the issues.”
Leona stood there a moment, thinking it over. They hadn’t gotten this far with their strategy meeting, because it was true, they needed Rátfrid here for something. They needed him to vote for whatever the detachments were voting on, or they needed him to request abstention. He made it absolutely clear that he was utterly disinterested in ever participating in one of these proceedings ever again. He was done with the group, but he also refused to show up, and formalize this decision, because that would defeat the purpose of making it. They were in a real pickle here, so the way she saw it, there was only one way out. “I’m commandeering the Suadona, and I hereby demand to be admitted into the group.”
“What?” Xerian questioned. “You can’t do that.”
“Why not?”
“The detachments aren’t this growing group that admits new people,” he tried to explain. “We were once fully integrated into the Fifth Division, and in some ways, we still are. None of us is new. We all broke off at the same time, and we maintained a system of self-governance in order to protect ourselves from retaliation by Fifth Division proper.”
She reached into her bag of holding, and removed her sword. She lifted it up, and trained it on Xerian’s face. “Then I’m taking over the detachment group as a whole. Bow to me.”
“You can’t do that either.”
“Oh, I’m telling you that I can,” Leona said, determined to get through this. “And this blade tells you that I am.”
“It’s impossible. You’re declaring a new war, which we’re all trying to stop.”
“True,” Leona said. “So either we can fight a war—with me on the Suadona, and you on your pathetic little overcompensation machines—or we can fight a literal proxy war. We’ll all choose champions. I’ll fight for me, and the rest of you, whatever. I don’t like your chances, though.”
“This is not our way,” Xerian insisted. “This will not work in your favor.” he wasn’t doubting her ability to fight, but the likelihood of her defeating seven opponents.
Leona nodded disagreeably. “One of my heroes once said, if brute force isn’t working...you’re not using enough. I’ll go as far as I need to take control off this bullshit. You still have bulls in this reality?”
“I recognize your meaning.”
“Good.”
“I notice your crew has been silent, and unargumentative. Do they back you?” Xerian asked.
“They’ll do what they need to do,” Leona replied confidently, and she was right.
“Give me another hour.” Xerian disappears to relay the information back to the...they still didn’t know what this collective was called.
A half hour later, Xerian was back, but he was not alone. He was joined by six other people. They were all dressed differently, suggesting that each was a representative of one of the detachments. They did not bother to introduce themselves. “We have agreed to your terms, but we have some of our own, because this is our supercluster, and we won’t allow you to make all of the demands.”
“That’s fair,” Leona admitted.
“You threaten to wrest control of every detachment here. Most of us have taken you up on that offer.” He pointed to the woman on the far end of the line. “The representative from the OCD is abstaining from the fight. She believes that it is vital that she maintain power in order to destroy the Andromedans, should we be left with no other choice. The rest of us reserve the right to fight for ourselves, or to choose our respective champions.”
Only seven people teleported here. There were no others. Either five champions had yet to arrive, or they had something else in mind. It was hard for Leona to believe that the leaders would choose to fight for themselves. That wasn’t usually how it worked. These people were responsible for billions of lives, if not more. That tended to make them feel above engaging in physical violence personally.
Xerian went on, “these champions will have no choice but to be placed in battle. It is up to them to fight, but if they don’t, they will die.”
“I understand,” Leona said.
“In keeping with tradition, participating representatives will now simultaneously point to their respective champions of choice. Again, the champion will have no choice once chosen. Either fight or die.”
They stood in silent anticipation for a moment.
“Now,” Xerian ordered. The man—who was a very large man, they all noticed—next to the OCD rep pointed to himself. The rest pointed to other people. Angela, Marie, Ramses, and Olimpia were all marked as champions, as was Mateo, who would be fighting on Xerian’s behalf. The leaders grimaced, wholly expecting the team to be horrified at this development. But they weren’t, leaving the leaders baffled.
“Well, let’s go,” Ramses said with a shrug.
“You would fight against each other?” Xerian pressed. “You understand it’s to the death? The fight does not end until all but one have fallen.”
“Yeah, let’s get on with it,” Marie argued.
That was not what any of them expected. Together they walked down to the recreation area, where a large dome was constructed with a holographic sky to resemble an outdoor sports stadium. The team didn’t recognize the configuration of the lines painted on the turf. It must have been designed for a sport that people didn’t play in the main sequence. This whole situation reminded Mateo of the epic battle that The Cleanser forced him to watch in the Colosseum replica on Tribulation Island. He could remember being so scared back then, but a lot had changed since. Now they were ready. Now they had a plan. Now they had a contingency. And this was their idea, even if the detachment leaders didn’t know anything about it.
Once they were in the center of the field, Xerian reached up, and snapped his fingers. The stadium was suddenly packed with an audience, and camera drones were flying over their heads to broadcast the spectacle to all with access to the feed. The team didn’t know who that was, or how many of them there were. They couldn’t think about that, though. They had a job to do, and it wasn’t going to take long. Xerian spoke into a microphone for all to hear. He explained what they were doing, and why, as well as the rules, possible outcomes, and consequences. The winner would immediately take control over all of the detachments, except for the Offensive Contingency, and Rátfrid. He also made a point of revealing that Mateo and Leona were married, and no matter what happened here today, that relationship was over.
Once everyone understood the situation, fighters chose their weapons, and took their positions. The OCD rep stood in the center, and held both hands over her head. She looked around to make sure that everyone was ready. Then she pulled her arms down, indicating that it was time to begin. The big man took off. He went for Ramses first, taking his head clean off with his battleaxe. Ramses barely tried to stop him, but he wouldn’t have been able to anyway. The man took out Angela and Marie at pretty much the same time before moving on to Olimpia. They all fell quickly and painlessly which was a nice touch. These people weren’t brutes, they had to give them that. Mateo was a little more difficult. He had to be. It was his job to provide a distraction while Leona set herself up for the finishing blow. Mateo held him off as long as he could with a large shield. Unfortunately, the man was smarter than they realized. He turned around, and smacked Leona against the side of the head, having known she was there the entire time.
Mateo had to act quickly, or they were going to lose everything. He lifted his shield, and jammed it into the back of their opponent’s head, right in the spot where it met his neck. This didn’t kill him, but he was severely damaged. He started stumbling around with his arms outstretched, like a moron with a trashcan over his head. This gave Mateo the opening he needed to pick up the axe, and drive it into the man’s back. The man fell down to his face, and stopped moving. If he wasn’t dead, he soon would be.
Breathing heavily, Mateo turned around, only to be met with a knife in his gut, placed there by his lovely wife. He smiled at her warmly, and she smiled back. The crowd gasped. She didn’t even hesitate, and they did not know what to think of it. That was good. The fact that no one seemed to have guessed their plan was still pretty important at this point. “Were I you,” he said to her before planting a passionate kiss on her lips, holding it for a long time to please the crowd. He died while they were still interlocked, and slipped away from her to the ground.
“Were I you,” she echoed.
The audience didn’t cheer like she expected them to. She was a more ruthless and merciless leader than they ever thought they might have, and they were probably too afraid about what she would do with all her power to react with anything but petrification. A woman murdering her own husband without a second thought was not something they had ever seen before, which was just another piece of information that would help the team end this war once and for all to the best of their ability. This reality was so technologically advanced, but there were still a lot of things they seemed not to have. AI, yes, but not androids. And consciousness transference had evidently not even crossed their minds...pun intended.
The winner threw her knife into the dirt, bloodsoaked blade downwards. As she started to walk off the field, she tapped on her Cassidy cuff to suppress her pattern. She needed to stay in the timestream for at least a full year to understand the sociopolitical state of the supercluster. She didn’t want to keep her power forever, but she had to do a good job in the meantime. She approached the leader of the Offensive Contingency Detachment, standing on the sidelines with a satisfied smile of her own. She was, in fact, the only one not positively outraged by the outcome. Leona shook her new partner’s hand. “I look forward to working with you.” She didn’t break eye contact with her as she added, “the rest of you can go now.”