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Saturday, April 30, 2022

Extremus: Year 42

Ship Superintendent Calixte Salmon pings the door. “Thistle, please give us a moment,” Kaiora asks the computer, who relays the message to the hallway.
“I don’t understand why he has to be here for this,” Corinna complains.
“It’s technically a change in personnel,” Kaiora explains.
“It’s really not,” temporal engineer Kumara Bhasin argues.
“Something could go wrong, and he has to know about it,” the Captain continues, holding firm. “This has been approved across all levels of government...except him.”
“Very well,” Corinna says.
“Let him in,” Kaiora orders.
The door opens. Calixte looks around, intrigued. The Captain, the Lieutenant, the temporal engineer, and Head of Security Errol McLain. This ought to be good. “What’s this here?”
“Superintendent Salmon,” Kaiora begins, “this is a formal briefing regarding a new investigative initiative that has been approved for use by a team of two, which will be using a new brand of time travel technology to witness past events. The purpose of this mission will be to gather intelligence that will help us better understand the origins of the hostile entity known as Fake!Rita Suárez. To be clear, the two agents of time will not be able to affect the past in any way. They cannot be seen, nor heard, nor otherwise detected. They will merely watch the past events from a...unique observation dimension. We tell you this because there is a chance that something will go wrong, which could result in a shift in crew assignments. Engineer Bhasin and Officer McLain will be sent into the past, but once they have learned all they believe they can and must, they should return to this very moment. If they do not, we will have to assume the worst, and move on without them, and it will be your responsibility to backfill their positions. Do you have any questions?”
“Thousands,” Calixte answers. “But they extend beyond my purview.”
“All right, then,” Captain Leithe says. “You may go now.”
“No, thank you,” he says plainly.
“You are not approved for audience privileges,” Kaiora tries to tell him. “The launch does not require your attendance.”
“Yeah, but I wanna be here anyway.”
“Superintendent, please...”
“Captain, please...you owe me,” Calixte says, widening his eyes suggestively.
Kaiora is literally taken aback. “That was two years ago.”
Calixte chuckles, and looks at his watch pointlessly, “the favor doesn’t expire.”
“This is all you want, just to watch this?” She reiterates. “Then we’re even?”
“Then we’re even,” he agrees.
“Fine.” Kaiora sighs, and looks over at the away team. “Are you two ready?”
“Very,” Kumara replies.
“Indeed,” confirms Errol.
“Greenley?” Kumara asks.
“Are you sure about this, sir?” Greenley Atkinson is Kumara’s current temporal engineering apprentice. There was one before her, but he wasn’t able to handle the stress, so she hasn’t been doing this for very long. He designed the machine that’s going to take him and his partner into the past, but she’s going to have to actually operate it. It should be relatively simple, but of course, that doesn’t mean she isn’t nervous. “Are you sure I’m ready?”
“I have every confidence in you,” Kumara says genuinely.
She nods, trying to express that same level of confidence in herself.
“Come on,” Kaiora says to Calixte as the time witnesses are stepping into the machine. “The rest of the leadership is watching from the observation room.”
“No, that wasn’t part of the deal,” Calixte contends. “I asked to watch from here.”
“You didn’t say that.”
“Well, I’m saying it now.”
Kaiora sighs again, and looks to Corinna, who has stopped midstride. “Go on. Yeah, it’s suspicious, which is why I’ll stay here too.”
“Okay,” the lieutenant accepts.
“So tell me about this technology,” Calixte asks as Greenley is running the final diagnostic on the machine. “You all act like it’s something weird and new. It’s not just regular observational time travel?”
“No,” Kaiora begins. “It’s a special temporal dimension. Well, it’s technically spatio-temporal, but its defining characteristic is that it runs in reverse. When the two witnesses exit the machine on their end, they’ll watch this entire interaction a second time, but in reverse. Then they’ll watch themselves go through the final briefing. Then they’ll watch their awkward conversation with the governmental officials. Then they’ll watch themselves walk backwards out of the room. They will continue like this for the next six plus years. Once they reach the moment the cargomaster discovered the box that the fake Rita was found in, they’ll follow it back to whatever celestial body it was retrieved from, and continue investigating until they get some answers.”
“So they can interact with the real world. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to teleport to the origin point,” Calixte points out.
“There are a few loopholes to the technology,” Kaiora admits, “but I would hardly call that an interaction.”
“If you say so,” Calixte says, unconvinced. “Anyway, they’ll have to interact in some way, or how are they going to eat for six years?”
The Captain’s eyes widen in fear. “Oh my God, you’re right. We didn’t think of that. Holy crap, we have to stop the experiment, they’ll die!”
The witnesses and Greenley stop what they’re doing, and stare at her.
“I’m kidding,” she says to them. “Carry on.” She rolls her eyes. “They’ll have plenty of food and water. We figured out how to reverse engineer Fake!Rita’s miniature dimension. We’ve stored a ton of supplies, and even living spaces, in their packs. Don’t worry, we have thought of everything.”
“I’m sure you have,” Calixte says insincerely. “I’m sure you have.”
She rolls her eyes again, and gives an a-okay sign to the witnesses in the form of a question. They return the gesture in the affirmative. Greenley shuts them into the machine, and initiates the launch sequence. “Eleven...” Kaiora and Calixte stand back a little more, but don’t leave. It’s not particularly dangerous to be in the room when it happens, but the observation room is certainly safer.
Kumara and Errol take each other by the hands. They’re not afraid of the tech itself. It’s been tested, and proven sound. They just have to prepare themselves for the long haul. They would have rather just jumped back to the time period of their choice, and entered a different observational dimension, in order to avoid messing with the timeline. Not only was it possible, but it would have been easier. That’s how they would have done it had Valencia not written a paper on this weird temporal dimension years ago. Still, if Kumara had to sit through all this, at least he was with the man he loved. Errol felt the same.
As Greenley begins the countdown, Calixte has one more thing to say. “One question—which actually does pertain to my job—do we think it’s wise to send a married couple on a potentially hazardous mission together?”
“Six...five...four...three...”
Kaiora looks over at him, and says in a clear and unambiguous tone, “yes.”
“One...launch.”
It’s immediately clear that something has gone wrong. They can hear the energy flowing through the machine, but nothing happens in the chamber. Instead, they hear a commotion in the observation room behind them. Kaiora and Calixte look up through the window. Electricity is arcing across the metal beams, freaking everyone out, and causing them to jump and crouch away in fear. One of them tries to get out, but the door won’t open. The energy builds, and builds, and builds. Corinna, being the smart one there, realizes what’s happening. She makes eye contact with her captain, and salutes her just in time before the power reaches critical mass, and spirits them all away.
“What the hell just happened?!” Kaiora screams.
Greenley shakes her head, petrified and confused.
“I think...” Calixte tilts his head. “I think that is the machine, and this is nothing.” He points to the observation room, and then to the machine that Kumara built. The two of them are still in it, and trying to get out, but their door won’t budge either.
“You don’t seem too upset about this,” Kaiora accuses.
He smiles. “Why would I be? I think we did pretty good, eh? Only missed one. Why wasn’t Lars here?”
“This was you?”
“It was us,” he corrects.
Kaiora’s eyes dart over to Greenley, who still looks horrified and sad.
“No, not me and her. Us!” He waves his hand back and forth between his stomach, and Kaiora’s.
“What the shit are you talking about?”
“Oh, come on, Captain, you don’t have to pretend anymore. We got ‘em. We got almost all of ‘em. They’re gone, they can’t stop us anymore.”
Kaiora’s hands shake as she’s reaching them up, desperately trying to hold herself back from strangling him right here and now. “I don’t know what you’re saying. I didn’t do anything! I don’t know how you did it, or who helped you, but I wasn’t part of it!”
“Yes, you were!” Calixte cries. “We’ve been working on this plan for two years!”
“Argh!” She moves past him, and steps up to the machine. “Can we undo this? Can we get them back?”
“I don’t even know if they’re still alive,” Kumara shouts through the little view window, which muffles it terribly.
Kaiora turns to Greenley. “Get their door open, and then all three of you need to report to hock. If you don’t, I’ll know you’re in on it...got it?”
“Yes, Captain,” Greenley answers.
She spins back around. “As for you, I already know you’re in on it. So I’m just gonna send you there.” She reaches for her teleporter controls, but they don’t work. The screen is dead, and none of the buttons do anything. “Goddammit.”
“Oh, did you forget to charge it this morning?” Calixte jokes.
“It doesn’t have to be charged!” she shouts. “The ship charges it constantly! Argh!” she repeats. “Come on, I’ll escort you there myself.”
She places him in zip cuffs, and heads for the door. It opens before they reach it. Someone who looks exactly like Kaiora is standing there, holding some kind of gun. She could be from the future, or a mirror universe. Or she could be a clone, or a hologram, or any number of things. All the real Kaiora knows is that she’s fake, and she’s evil, and she was probably good friends with Fake!Rita.
“Oooooooooooohhhhhh,” Calixte lets out. “That makes more sense.”
“You are such an idiot,” Fake!Kaiora laments.
“You really thought I was plotting a coup?” Kaiora questions.
He shrugs innocently.
Fake!Kaiora shakes her head. “I told you to put me in the room too. The whole point was to get rid of her, so I could take her place. Now that’s going to be a lot harder.”
“Yeah, you did say that,” he utters apologetically.
“I can’t work like this.” Fake!Kaiora unceremoniously shoots him with the gun. He just disappears completely.
“An Ant-Man gun?” the real Kaiora guesses.
“Basically. It’s better, though, because we can replace him with one of our own.”
“Go on and get on with it,” Kaiora urges.
Fake!Kaiora laughs. “It’s not that easy. I know that captains have a failsafe. Your consciousness will just be preserved for future use.”
“Old Man did that to Halan against his will. It was a one time thing.”
“No, it wasn’t. I’ll have to find some creative way of dealing with you. But in the meantime, those three can die.” She turns her weapon, and fires it at Greenley.
The apprentice lifts her hands defensively, but not just out of futile instinct. The bullet doesn’t stop, but it slows to a crawl. They can see a wave of energy emanating from Greenley’s right hand, possibly ultimately originating from a ring she’s wearing on her middle finger. The left hand is farther out, like it’s keeping her steady. As she slowly pulls her right hand in towards her chest, she leans back at a slightly slower rate. She then curves the hand outward, which forces the bullet to curve too. Once it’s covered the curve, she pushes forward, sending the bullet in the opposite direction it was going. It heads directly for Fake!Kaiora, who—despite having watched it in slow motion with everybody else—doesn’t have time to dodge. It hits her, and she disappears.
“Is that just something you keep on hand at all times?” Kaiora asks her.
“Captain, you’ll forgive me, but there are just some things that I can’t tell you. It’s to protect my job, and yours. I promise that I didn’t know all this was going to happen.”
“You just theoretically saved the ship. So I’ll let it go, but if something ever comes up again that places your loyalties in question, I might not be as accommodating.”
“I understand, Captain.”
“Good. Now get them of that thing so you and Mr. Bhasin can figure out what the hell went wrong with it, and how it was sabotaged. Don’t think this mission is over. It’s even more important than ever. Someone has to go back in time and rescue our people.”

Friday, April 29, 2022

Microstory 1875: Or Dig a Bigger Grave

I didn’t have any friends in high school. I had a stutter, so I didn’t like talking to people. I would wish I liked it, and I think the other kids would have been nice enough about it, but I was too self-conscious. One day in literature class, the teacher had us read a story together. Each student would take a paragraph or two, and then she would call on the next kid. I was so scared, and didn’t pay any attention to them, as I was just trying to figure out how to not embarrass myself. I couldn’t even start. I couldn’t say the first word, so I asked the teacher if I could opt out. She said it wouldn’t be fair to the other kids who never had that option. A cursory glance at my classmates suggested that they couldn’t care less, because they didn’t have speech impediments! She refused to listen until my hero swooped in to defend me. She scolded the teacher for being insensitive and unfair, and I never had to read out loud again. I was also in love for the rest of grade school, and into university. We happened to go to the same institution, where she would smile and wave at me on the occasion that we  passed each other, but we didn’t speak and I didn’t ask her out. After we graduated, she married someone else, and moved to a different country for work. Maybe a decade later—no, it was more like fifteen years—the internet created this new thing called instant messaging, and I pretty quickly reconnected with her on the most popular platform. I was over her by then, and mostly over my stuttering problem, but it was cool to be nostalgic a couple times a week when I had time. After a few years, I found myself scheduled for a business trip in her area, told her as much quite innocently, and was immediately invited to a small dinner party. And small, it was. She and her husband had only invited one other guy; a coworker of hers.

The dinner was great, and so was the company. It was nice, showing her how much my life had improved, and being able to finally have the nerve to thank her in person for what she did for me that day. It was a nice moment, which will forever be clouded by the darkness that followed. The other dinner guest had been sweating and rocking for a time, but trying to power through. But then, after convulsing for a few minutes, he fell off his chair, and died right before our eyes. We were all shocked, but I sprang into action. After checking for a pulse, I grabbed the phone, and desperately asked the couple what the emergency number was in their country. It wasn’t like I could just look it up. They didn’t want to tell me, and I eventually got them to admit that they were afraid of the authorities believing that they had anything to do with it. I argued with them, but they would not relent. They said he was already dead, and there was nothing we could do to undo that, so I might as well help move the body. I continued to argue but they told me they could blame it on me, since I was the one who brought the tea. I questioned that, and soon realized that this was no accident. It was murder, and my tea was the weapon. They revealed that they had secretly added something called yew seeds into his cup, and they told me they had to do it because he sexually assaulted her at work numerous times. I didn’t want to help them, but I didn’t think I had a choice. Once we were finished digging the grave—which I did mostly by myself—they apologized, and admitted that I drank a lower dosage of the poison, which meant I would die too, which was why they made me make such a large grave. That was the week I learned that I was at least moderately immune to yew seed poisoning. Bonus, I didn’t even go to jail.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Microstory 1874: Statistic

Hi, my name is I’m not supposed to tell people that. Mama and daddy said I shouldn’t tell people anything, but I don’t get why not, because I like people, and they seem to like me. They always smile at me when we pass them, pushing my own stroller. I think they think it’s cool how I get out and push it myself. A lot of other kids still don’t like to walk. I see them reaching up to the nice lady, so she’ll pick them up, and sometimes she does it, and sometimes she doesn’t. As soon as I figured out how to work these things under my butt, I do it all the time. Shh, don’t tell mama I said butt. I’m not supposed to say that. There’s a lot of things I’m not supposed to do that my parents don’t like. I don’t remember them, though. They’re always yelling at me like I’m supposed to know something already, but I don’t always. For like, there are kids in my class—well, there were kids in my other class, but I don’t go to that class anymore, ‘cause my parents took me out. I don’t think it’s a class, is it? We learn things, but people call it something different, I don’t remember. I’m not old enough for real class. I see it on TV, big kids sitting at really tall desks, and they’re writing things down. I can use a pencil, but I can’t, like, write a book, or something. I don’t know what they’re doing all day. I can read books, and some other kids just look at the pictures, but I like the letters. I like how each one means something, and when you put them together, they can mean something else! Is that what people are doing all day with their pencils, they’re writing the books I read? What was I talking about again? Oh yeah, I was in a—preschool! That’s what they call it! They said, you’re not in real school yet, this is just preschool, which I don’t know what that means. It’s got the word school in it, so I think it’s school. What was I saying?

Okay, so I was in a room, and there were lots of other kids in it, and then my dad got real mad, and he said some things, and they said I couldn’t say those things too, but I can’t remember what they were anyway. This was a loooooooong time ago, like, many days. So they took me out of that room, and now I think we drive to a different building, and there’s a different room, but everybody looks like me. That’s what I noticed, there were other kids in the other room who looked different. They had different skin colors, and I saw one boy in a dress, and the other kids made fun of him for it. I didn’t really know why it was funny. I don’t see that boy anymore, or the other kids with other skin. I guess that’s fine. I don’t really know. Oh, that’s what my daddy said, he said, don’t talk to those colored kids, and don’t—hold on, I’m tryna ‘member. It was, stay away from that faggity fag. I don’t know what that is, but since I’m in a different room, I don’t think that happens anymore. I like to learn. I mean, I like to have fun, but I like to learn too. There’s so many things in the world, have you seen them? The other day, I was alone in the house. Well, I wasn’t alone, but my daddy was gone, and my mama was asleep, I think. I went into a room I never been in before. I saw my daddy go in there, but he wasn’t there then, so I went in. There were all sorts of things there that I didn’t know. I’ve never seen them before. There were books, though, which is what the big kids write all the time. I pulled one off the bottom shelf, and it was heavy, and I couldn’t read it, because the words were really long, and it was hard. I’m back in here today, because I think if I just keep trying, I will figure it out. But see, here there’s something shiny on the table. It’s black, and really heavy too, and there’s a hole, and what does this butt—

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Microstory 1873: Disturbing Others

In my day, in my country, homosexuality wasn’t just frowned upon, it was outright illegal. I’m talking death by a thousand cuts, illegal. While the rest of the world was coming to terms with it—and in some parts, embracing it—mine was strictly against the so-called lifestyle. I didn’t think much about that sort of thing while I was growing up. I just dreamed of having a real family. I was too young to recall my parents, and the people who ran the orphanage either didn’t know anything either, or didn’t care enough to give me an honest answer. One thing I’ll say is that they were not abusive. They gave us very little food, mind you, but I think that was less their fault, and more due to a lack of funding. But they didn’t hurt us, or execute unreasonable punishments, or any of the other things that may become the catalyst for your favorite creepy horror film. I knew about the homophobic thing, but I was so young that it never came up. Until it did. One day, two twin sisters were introduced to us. One thing I remember noticing about them is that they never wanted to be apart. They held hands the entire time, and I’ve since wondered whether that had to do with whatever trauma broke up their family, or if that was just the way they were. One of them happened to be assigned the bunk under me, while the other was right next to her. The problem was, this whole codependence thing didn’t go away just because the lights shut off. That night, they asked me and the girl on the other top bunk to come down, and then they dragged one of them over, so they could sleep right, right next to each other, just like they probably did at home. I remember finding it funny that they didn’t ask, but it didn’t bother me. It didn’t seem to bother the other girl either. The two of us were friendly, but we weren’t friends. Not yet anyway.

The next morning, our surrogate mother came into the room to make sure we were awake. She immediately noticed the joined bunks, and scrunched her nose at it, but she didn’t make the twins put them back as they were. She didn’t even say anything. She probably wasn’t worried about it setting some kind of precedent, and since boys and girls were obviously separated into different rooms, it wasn’t going to cause any other problems as we grew older. I think it didn’t quite occur to her, though, that two unrelated girls were also part of this sleeping dynamic. But seeing her face is what made me realize it was a little weird. But not that weird, right? Well, we made it work. The twins were happy, and I was getting to know my new friend. It was a lot easier to whisper to each other in the middle of the night without disturbing anyone else, so that was a pretty special perk. As you may have guessed, things changed over time. We were both aging, processing hormones, and developing feelings. I honestly can’t say if she ever felt the same way about me as I did about her, and looking back, it might have been best if I had stuck around to find out. But I was so scared, and I was just thinking about myself. I knew that my feelings were real, and they weren’t going away, and the only way I was going to survive was if I left. So that’s what I did. With no money, no connections, I fled the country. It was easier than you would think. Other refugees were fleeing for other reasons, and as long as I always hung around an older woman, people would just assume that we were together. I lived like this for years, crossing borders, and spending some time on the other side before moving on. It wasn’t until I crossed the ocean before I felt comfortable being myself, pursuing my truth, and living without fear.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Microstory 1872: Losing Sleep

I was a little monster as a baby. I sometimes kept my mama up all night and all day. The doctors could explain the crying—it wasn’t much more than a normal baby’s—but they couldn’t explain why I never went to sleep. Except I was crying more, because unlike most people, nothing could stop me. According to her stories, she hired a nanny to take shifts. She could have raised me on her own if not for my little peculiarity. As I grew up, I started figuring out how to express myself through other noises besides screaming, but I never did learn how to sleep. In my school, the younger children would take naps. The teacher ended up moving me over to the bookshelves, and gave me a little reading lamp, so I could keep myself busy. I wasn’t the only one who needed the extra accommodations. A boy in my class also didn’t need to nap, but in his case, it’s because he slept all the way through the night. I called him my opposite, but my mother noted that a true opposite would be in some kind of coma. There’s just something different about the way my brain works that makes it so I don’t need any sleep to function. Not only that, but I can’t sleep at all. I’ve never done it even once, which is sad, because the whole dreaming thing that people talk about sounds positively fascinating. I asked the boy to tell me his dreams, so I could live vicariously through him; which is a word we learned through a book that had no place in that classroom. He said he couldn’t remember his dreams, but the next day, he was able to regale me with his stories. He said just wanting to remember them made it so that he now could. Years later, he would admit to me that this had been a lie. He had come up with the stories on his own, because he didn’t want to disappoint me. That was so him, from start to finish.

College was difficult for me, because the schoolwork was so easy. Well, it wasn’t easy, but I had more time to study than the other students. Everybody hated me, but it’s not like I was an overachiever. I was just bored, and as much as they liked to party, at some point, they would have to go to bed, and I would still be up, so I had to do something to pass the time. I tried to have a roommate my first semester, but that didn’t work out, because I would disturb her sleep, and that wasn’t fair. Once the boy and I were married and living together, my situation saved us a little money. I was able to be productive for more hours of the day, and hell, he only needed a twin bed. Anyway, my coworkers were as jealous as my classmates. It’s just that I found it easier to do my paperwork in the dead of night when the hemisphere was asleep, and not work so hard during regular business hours. Then came the time for us to grow our family, and I was hesitant, because there was no way to know what kind of child would come out of me. Would they enjoy the same benefits? Would they have some kind of corrupted version of it that left them tired all the time? I didn’t think we could risk it, and my husband was okay with that. We chose to adopt instead, which was no problem, because there are so many other good reasons to adopt. We went to the agency to submit our application, and after some time, we were selected for a child who we were told required special needs. For reasons they couldn’t understand, this little girl never slept. Obviously, we knew we had to make her part of our family. I mean, who better than me to raise a woman like that? It was decades before science progressed enough for us to take a DNA test. Wouldn’t you know it, she was an exact match. I mean exact. I still don’t know how, but she is my twin.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Microstory 1871: Soft Peddle

I’ve never done drugs in my entire life. I drink a little, just to kind of chill out at the end of the day, but I don’t like to party, or anything. Some of my customers have asked me how I can conduct business if I’ve never used the product myself, and I don’t think it’s too crazy that I don’t partake. A lotion salesperson probably hasn’t used every single type of lotion in the store; or perfume, or whatever. And caskets, what about caskets? Not a single casket dealer has ever used one of their own models. Or rather, they haven’t used it for its intended long-term purpose. I suppose there are maybe a few freaks out there who get down like that, and that’s what draws them to the industry. The way I see it, I don’t need to know what it feels like to take a pill of certain properties. I just need to understand my clientele, and what they’re looking for. My business came out of nowhere. I had a lot of emotional problems when I was young, and my parents had the idea to just throw mind-altering drugs at everything. I took this, and I took that, and I tried cocktail after cocktail. Nothing helped until I delved deep into my issues, and focused on getting better through traditional therapeutic techniques. But then I had all these pills left over that nobody—nobody—asked me to dispose of. I guess I was simply expected to take the initiative to drop them off at my local pharmacy. Well, I didn’t, so I just kept everything with me, and when I went off to college, I didn’t bother sorting them out. I grabbed all of my medicine, and threw them in the top drawer of my desk in the dorm. Some of it I still needed, like my allergy meds, generic over-the-counter pain management, and melatonin. But it was all in there, in the back, and one day, when a neighbor asked me if I had something for his headache, a business was born.

He saw what else I had, and told me I was crazy for just sitting on them. I could make some serious money if I started peddling it to other students. It wasn’t the most insane idea. I mean, a few of those things could really help them focus on studying, and taking tests. Still, I was hesitant, so I closed the drawer, and dropped it. The other guy didn’t drop it, though. He started spreading word around, and somehow, without me even making a single sale, people were starting to call me The Pharmacist. They were in such need, and I wasn’t, so who was I to stop them? They were all adults capable of making their own decisions, and if this was what they wanted, fine. I didn’t truly understand street value at the time, so I didn’t charge them very much, but I had so much volume, so I made a huge profit, because I didn’t pay for any of it myself. As time went on, word spread farther beyond the dorm, and across campus. I was the guy to go to if you were looking for a little help, and didn’t technically have some stuffy doctor to agree to it. By the time I ran out of my supply, I was approached by a real life drug dealer who wasn’t happy I was taking business away from him. I apologized, and said I wasn’t in it for the long haul, but he wasn’t hearing it. He said I had to go talk to Fartle. I didn’t ask him where Fartle got his nickname. Or the spider tattoos. Or the gun. Fearing for my life, I agreed to start selling for him, as long as I never had to sell anything that had to be injected or snorted. He was fine with that, so that’s what I did. I didn’t call myself a drug dealer until the first time I went to jail, and the judge made me say those words, or he would double my sentence. When I got out, I found myself free of Fartle, but I still felt compelled to sell. I’m too good at it, so I’ve been doing it for ten years. I regret nothing.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: April 2, 2391

The Technological Advancement Detachment. Obviously this was where all the scientists were kept, along with their scientific studies. It was impossible for a disc world to exist in nature, despite what flat-earthers would tell you. There were ways to accomplish the same thing using extravagant engineering, but since these people were capable of manipulating time and space, it was even easier for them. To avoid any annoyingly inconsistent gravitational problems, they just created gravity on their own using dimensional generators. To prevent from killing their inhabitants while in faster-than-light motion, they used inertial dampeners on a scale most couldn’t fathom. Why did they go through all this trouble for an unnecessary celestial shape? Simply because they could. When you live in a universe of endless possibilities, and nothing new to discover, most of your choices had little to do with achieving something important, and more about killing time.
The team used the same method to sneak onto the TAD as they did to get back to the SWD, letting the AOC hitch a ride over the course of their interim year, and then pilot fishing itself once the two giant objects were close enough to each other. Summit said that he knew there was at least one time machine here, and he had a good idea of where it was, but he didn’t know much about it. Traveling backwards in time was illegal. Of course the Fifth Division didn’t want anyone to be able to go back to a time period that could erase them from history. Since it was difficult to regulate every single corner of the vast supercluster, and beyond, it was easier to build a time machine for themselves, and only break the proverbial glass in the case of an emergency. Their machine was housed in a special section of the TAD, which was protected inside of a paradox containment field. It would theoretically survive the collapse of any given timeline, and push itself into the next. Even if nothing else survived, including the disc world itself, it would still be around, and a team would go back to undo whatever change the rogue travelers made. To no one’s surprise, the machine was very heavily guarded.
“But we have a way around that,” Marie said. “Our temporal technology is incompatible with theirs.”
“Yeah, why is that?” Angela remembered. “Don’t we all source from the same parent reality? Aren’t we all in the same universe?”
“I think it has more to do with how they developed the technology over time,” Leona figured. “Pribadium Delgado is said to have invented time tech of her own. Even though she had already been exposed to our variant, she was able to figure out some other way. I think after having been so isolated from us for so long, this reality drifted from us.”
“The Parallel didn’t seem to do the same,” Mateo pointed out, “and they are arguably just as advanced and isolated.”
“We never really saw that come into play,” Leona reminded him. “I don’t know, but it kind of brings up a good point. We can’t rely on our supposed advantage for everything. We can’t assume we’ll be able to just teleport into the time machine, enter our destination into the keypad, and disappear without a hitch. Mr. Ebora, any intel you can give us about it would be quite welcome.”
Summit seemed surprised to be called upon. “I don’t even know what you guys are talking about? Parent realities? Incompatible time travel? Like, what?”
Leona shut her eyes and exhaled. She was about to kick him out of the group when she thought better of it. He would surely just run off to warn someone of their presence, and then their mission would be lost. “Do you know what to do when you don’t have a plan?”
The group looked around at each other, each shaking their heads upon seeing the others shaking their heads.
“You go in without a plan,” Leona answered herself. “The more time we spend trying to worry about everything that could go wrong, the less time we have to just get it done. So here’s what we’re gonna do, we’re gonna teleport in there, and wing it. If we find an obstacle, we’ll overcome it. Elite squad of assassins, massive military contingency, a giant space monster guarding the entrance. We could go on with the list, and come up with a solution to each, or just go. Raise your hands, are we ready to go?”
Everyone raised their hand, except for Summit, but his vote didn’t matter anyway.
Leona nodded. “Here are the coordinates. Let’s use the empathy link Ramses built us with to sync, and head out.”
They synced and jumped. Before them was an actual field of energy that they could feel. It buzzed into their skin, causing tiny ripples throughout their bodies. The closer they approached, the stronger it became, but it didn’t hurt. The doors were left wide open, or maybe didn’t exist at all.
A woman was sitting on the other side of it, chin resting in her hand. She unenthusiastically looked over at them as they tested out the energy barrier. “Welcome to the time travel section,” she recited apathetically. “We are protected by a paradox containment field. Only those who are not destined to disrupt the creation of the time machine on a quantum level are free to enter. Whether you intend to harm the timeline according to the doctrines set forth by the founders of the Fifth Division, or not, the field will not let you pass unless you are fated to do no harm. Again, this is on the quantum level, your macro decisions are irrelevant to the sanctity of the timeline.” She blinked slowly a few times. “Good luck.”
“Okay.” Mateo unceremoniously crossed the threshold, finding no difficulty in passing through the field.
The guard was shocked by this.
Olimpia followed, as did Angela, Ramses, Marie, and finally Leona. When Summit tried, he found it impossible. The field just bounced him right back. The harder he tried, the harder it resisted, and the more it hurt.
“Sorry, dude,” Mateo said, genuinely, but not too butthurt about it personally.
“No!” Summit cried. “I’m not gonna disrupt the timeline. I’m gonna do whatever you say! Why is it stopping me!”
“I don’t know,” Leona said. “But...how hard would it have been for you to transfer to the TAD from where you were stationed?”
“Virtually impossible,” Summit answered.
“Great,” she said. “Now you’re here, so go find your glorious purpose.”
“It doesn’t have to be glorious,” Summit admitted.
“Even better. Thanks for leading us here. I’m sure you’ll be fine.”
Summit stared at them a moment. “Yeah, whatever.”
“I have never seen anyone make it through,” the guard said in awe. “I’ve been working here for seventy years. Probably over a million have tried since my shift began. It hasn’t happened once. You have to work here, and vow to never use the machine except in an emergency. What business does a small group of children have here?”
“The business of leaving,” Ramses explained. “We do not belong in your world. Our quarks are different.”
“Are you...them? Are you the true Fifth Division? The founders?”
“God, no,” Angela said. “Are we free to use the machine?”
The guard pointed her hand down the hallway. “Evidently.”
Others who worked there watched them in wonderment as they walked towards the machine. Nor had they ever seen anything like it. And like the guard, they too were looking at them like they were gods. Of course Ramses and Leona, and a little bit the others, knew that it was just because they were part of a stable time loop. They were a part of the past, and it was time to close the loop. They would leave the universe on the Transit, come back to the main sequence, and never see this reality again. They weren’t special, just on a track.
The technician was frightened, but determined to do his job. “Uhh, umm...destination?” Olimpia handed him a small piece of e-paper. He looked at it and nodded. “Of course, sir. Sirs. Your Honors...Highnesses. Uh...I don’t know what to call you.”
“Call us...” Mateo began, trying to think of a good name for them. Team Matic was always a weird placeholder that he didn’t care for. Even though Leona was also a Matic now, it always felt very self-serving. There had to be something better. Anyway, he wasn’t going to come up with it in the next couple of seconds, so he just contrived a new placeholder. “The Fifth Column.”
He nodded respectfully again, and motioned for them to enter the machine.
They did, and a minute later, they were back in the past, but not in the machine. They were on a planet. No, the ground was curving up towards the sky, so they were inside of a rotating habitat, which was unusual, because they didn’t need centrifugal force to simulate gravity. It was unlikely that a reality that always had time tech ever came up with the idea of constructing rotating space habitats at all. Whatever, if this was where they were meant to be—which Leona appeared to believe was the case after consulting her watch—then this was where they would stay.
Olimpia looked at her notes. “That building there, that’s where he’ll be.”
“When?” Marie asked.
“In the next fifteen minutes, according to the logs.”
“We better go. We want to be ahead of him, not behind.”
They walked across the grass, and into the building, noting how eerie it was that they didn’t see any sign of life. Though that was par for the course, wasn’t it? These people engineered such large space objects that there was too much room, and not enough people to fill it. It was ridiculous, really, but if there was one thing they learned in this reality, it was that nobody knew anything, or saw the big picture. Everyone just focused on their tiny patch of paradise, and that was probably how it always would be, war or no war.
They entered the building, and spread out to look around. Their empathy link would keep them connected to each other, and their teleportation abilities would allow them to jump into protective action should any one for them come up against a problem. Unlike in the movies, they didn’t see any reason to stick together in the physical sense.
“Holy shit, wait!” Angela spoke into her communicator. “We left the AOC behind.”
“We were always going to have to do that,” Leona said sadly. “Sure, it would fit in the Transit, but how would we get it into this building? No, the historical records would have said something about it. We probably have a matter of seconds to hop on before the building blows up, it was never gonna happen. Sadly, you can’t just pack up a spaceship, and bring it with you wherever you go.”
“You can’t?” Ramses asked.
“Ramses, what did you do?” Leona asked.
“Guys, I found something,” Marie interrupted. “Come here.”
They transported to her location. She was standing before a human-sized metal machine. They couldn’t say for sure what it was, but there was a timer on the front of it, and to everyone, it screamed bomb. “I guess we know how it blows up,” Olimpia said.
“There’s nothing else here, though,” Ramses said. “Why does what’s-his-toes come in here in the first place?”
“I came here to rescue you.” They turned around to find a man in the doorway.
“Medavorken Alon?” Olimpia asked, excited and hopeful.
“I am,” he said. “What’s a bunch of children doing in here? This place is about to explode.”
“Wait, you know?” Olimpia pressed.
“Why do you think there’s no one else here?” Medavorken questioned.
Just then, a horn blared, but it didn’t sound like the one they could remember hearing during the few times the Transit showed up. “What was that?”
“That was the siren,” Medavorken began, “reminding everyone that the cylinder is about to explode, and they need to evacuate. It’s been going off every ten minutes.”
“Oh, shit,” Mateo said.
“No,” Olimpia said sadly.
“Shit,” Mateo repeated, more earnestly this time.
No, this wasn’t right. It could not have all just been a mistake. There had to be something here. Olimpia looked so embarrassed and ashamed. Seeing this, Ramses took her into a hug. It was going to be all right. They would find another way. Together.
“You should go,” Angela told the apparently unremarkable man.
“Not without you,” Medavorken promised. “Come on, we have just enough time to clear the blast zone.”
“We’ll be fine,” Mateo assured him. “We can teleport.”
“The records,” Olimpia lamented. “They didn’t say anything about people knowing there would be an explosion. They just said it exploded. There was a horn, and it exploded!”
Ramses tightened his grip around her. “I know.”
Leona placed a hand on her shoulder. “Maybe it’s still coming. We can wait until the last second, and then jump to the nearest vessel. These substrates have that feature, right, Ramses?”
“Yes, they’ll default to the nearest safety zone if you jump blindly. You can’t just kill yourself by jumping into outer space, or something.”
“Why is this here?” Olimpia complained.
“We’re in a war,” Medavorken explained. “It’s a vacuum bomb. We can’t disable, and we can’t jettison it. All we could do was get everybody out. You’re the last of the survivors.”
Mateo stepped forward and smiled at him, darting his eyes over one last time to check the clock. Thirty seconds. “You’re a brave man, coming in here alone. You deserve to be in the Transit Army.”
“O...kay?”
Mateo wrapped his arms around him. “Don’t hold your breath.” He programmed his body to jump at the very last second, in case something magically showed up to stop time and saved them, be it the Transit, or something else. Something might have, because while he did begin to teleport, and it felt like it had since they transferred themselves to their new bodies, there was something different about it too. Some force was pulling them away from where they were trying to go. It lasted a lot longer too. The point of teleportation was to be instantaneous. Otherwise, a teleporter could just walk. But they spent minutes in a blinding void of technicolors, unable to move or speak. They could still feel each other’s emotions, so they knew that they were all at least together.
Finally they landed, but their vision was a bit blurry. Before them were three men struggling in front of what looked like an airlock. Two of them were together, while the third was alone, opposite them. “Hello. I’m Captain Leona Matic.”
“I know who you are, young one,” one of the men said. “It’s me, Lucius.”
“Ahh, perfect,” Mateo said. “A friend. It’s about time.”

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Extremus: Year 41

Sixty years ago on the linear timeline, Omega made a choice. He rejected his fate, and refused to become just another one of the clones on their mission to potentially do nothing with their lives. He doesn’t know why, out of a pool of over a million men who are supposedly just like him, he’s the only one who went off on his own. But because of it, their progenitor, a man by the name of Saxon Parker, had to take his place. This is the first time they’re seeing each other since then, and it’s even more complicated than that, because they never actually spoke in person. Saxon was always far too important to have even one conversation with every single one of his clones. The only time they spoke was via radio, and if Saxon has been in stasis this whole time, this incident was only minutes ago for him.
Obviously all of the clones look exactly alike, though at various stages of aging. To avoid confusion, each one gives off a unique neurological signature. Even when Omega’s mind was mistakenly transferred to a different clone’s body, his personal signature transferred with him, so others will still know which one he is, and it will remain this way if he ever returns to that body, or takes another. Being the original, Saxon is the only one which doesn’t have one such of these signatures, which means he does have a signature, because the absence of a signal makes it incredibly obvious that he’s different. He is standing on the stage, curtains down, along with Valencia, Omega, and Anglo 83, who has inserted himself as a leader amongst equals. It’s possible that he feels entitled to some greater recognition since he presently has no substrate to return to in base reality. It’s an awkward situation, which only Valencia can alleviate. “I can’t tell you three apart.”
Saxon and Omega are staring at each other. The former reaches up, and taps Valencia on the forehead, transmitting a little bit of code which will allow her to pick up on the clone signatures. In some cases, it’s not necessary. She peeks her head through the curtain to find more diversity than she expected. Dozens of the over one million clones are already wearing different avatars, and more are selecting their own every minute. One is an anthropomorphic bunny who is trying to ride on the back of a sheep, who may or may not be another clone. Another is a three meter tall mech. A sperm whale is casually floating around in the air above the massive crowd. For a virtual simulation that only exists for an all hands meeting of clones, it sure has come with a lot of options. They’re mostly concerning themselves with finding their respective ways to stand out, and aren’t impatient about getting this meeting started.
“Okay,” Saxon says, “I’m ready for you to explain what’s going on. I have successfully driven the anger out of my body.”
Omega and Valencia take turns explaining the True Extremists. They go over it in much more detail than before, pretty much briefing him on every single little thing they know about this interstellar threat. Saxon and Anglo 83 ask about their level of technology, the size of their fleet, and other tactical intelligence, but they don’t have any of these answers. According to the logs, not a single module has encountered the enemy, which contradicts what they were told about the limits of the stellar neighborhood. So the True Extremists could be just as powerful as they’ve claimed, even more so, or almost not at all. It’s unclear why they haven’t attacked yet, but maybe the asteroid chain that they used to try to destroy the Extremus was more of a fluke, and less of an indication of their true might. Maybe they can’t attack at all. There is just no way to know without a real recon mission.
“So that’s the question,” Saxon decides. “How we proceed is dependent upon the rest of the clones. Either we conduct a recon mission, and try to figure out what we’re up against, or we just find some other way of defending the Project Stargate mission.”
“So you believe us?” Omega asks.
“Why wouldn’t I believe you?”
Omega frowns, and kicks at the wooden planks of the stage. “I just didn’t think you were capable of trusting me.”
Saxon places a hand on Omega’s shoulder. “You’re more like me than any of them. What you did was always a known possibility. But our ability to think independently is exactly why I was chosen as the basis for the cloning program. I mean, we were never gonna clone Hitler, but the perfect candidate doesn’t exist either, does it? Anyone logical and unemotional enough to guarantee that none of the clones rebelled likely would have resulted in them—not quite rebelling—but just not caring enough about the mission to carry it onwards amidst a crisis. It’s a balance, and I had to go through a lot of tests to prove myself worthy, but again, I was the best of the bunch; not the best, full stop.”
“Well, what do you think we should do?” Omega invites.
“What do you think we should do?” Saxon asks right back.
“We don’t even know where to go for a recon mission,” Omega says.
“A time traveler led us to the region of space where we would ultimately rendezvous with one of the modules,” Valencia adds, “but we saw no sign of the True Extremists there.”
Saxon nods. “That seems like a dumb mission then, flying around aimlessly, looking for their home planet, or even just some kind of an outpost.”
“Tell us about this reframe engine you’re using,” Anglo 83 asks.
They look over to him. “It’s basically a warp bubble,” Omega replies. “It forces the universe to experience the same amount of time that you are while you’re moving at relativistic speeds. You’re not actually traveling faster than light, you’re slowing down the speed of all of time, instead of only the local time as experienced by you as an observer on the ship.”
Anglo 83 nods in the same way that Saxon did and does. “Can we use those?”
“Use them for them for what?” Saxon asks.
“Project Stargate is meant to take a hundred and fifty-thousand years,” Anglo 83 begins. “Now that we have this clearly superior technology, shouldn’t we make the switch?” These ships weren’t designed with reframe engines, and it would be impossible to retrofit them, so the only way to switch would be to scrap the originals, fire all the employees, and start over. Would it be faster? Absolutely. Is it necessary? Eh, no. Anglo 83 doesn’t understand when Valencia explains as much. “Why not?”
“Even if you’re chosen to stay on the modules—which you might not, because we would probably redesign the entire thing—it will still take you 216 years total,” she explains. “You’re on the same schedule as Extremus, just earlier, and on a different trajectory. What do you care what year it is when that mission is finally over? A hundred years, a hundred thousand; that’s nothing compared to the trillions of years you’ll eventually have behind you.”
“I’m just saying, it seems weird that we would move on like this when we know there’s a better way,” Anglo 83 reasons.
Faster, not better,” Saxon contradicts. “Though not everyone back in the neighborhood knows about this mission, we are doing this on behalf of Earth, the Greater Sol System, and all vonearthans. If we message back from the other side of the galaxy in only a couple centuries, it will expose all time travelers to the truth, and that is not our place.” He shrugs, “there’s no rush. The stars beyond the neighborhood are about the same as the ones inside of it. There’s no reason to reach the most distant once quickly. Again, it will be the same amount of time for you no matter what.”
“I’m not sure about that,” Anglo 83 says, unrelenting. “You don’t want to change Project Stargate. That’s fine, I understand. But something has to be done to protect our modules, because they are not equipped to protect themselves. They do not have weapons, they do not have a crew, they do not have tactical AI.”
“Where are you going with this?”
Anglo 83 paused for effect. “Operation Escort.”
“I’ve never heard of that,” Saxon says.
“That’s because I literally just made it up,” Anglo 83 clarifies. “Keep the mission going as it is, but build those reframe engines. Normally, something catastrophic would be fatal to any aspect of the mission. But if you have a bunch of escorts who can arrive quickly, they’ll have protection, and they’ll have it in secret, over the course of the next hundred thousand years. No one who’s not allowed to know has to know.”
“How many of these escorts do you suggest we construct?” Saxon questions. “One for every what?”
“That’s not my call, I’m just the idea man,” Anglo 83 answers, shrugging, again just like his progenitor.
Saxon summons a chair out of nothing, and sits down on it to think. “I’ll need to run the numbers, but it’s a sound idea. It will allow us to maximize our technology while keeping the vonearthans in the dark about the true nature of their reality. With more ships, we might even end up gathering enough information to conduct a proper recon, like we were talking about.”
“You run those numbers,” Anglo 83 agrees as he’s walking towards the curtain, “I’ll tell everyone else about it.”
“No, wait,” but they don’t stop him in time.
He steps out, and the crowd cheers, even though they don’t know whether they should be excited, or what. Remember that he’s just another one of the clones. Unlike Saxon or Omega, or the one who prefers to look like a sperm whale, he’s not famous or notable. Not yet, anyway.
“Thank you! Thank you!” Anglo 83 announces once he’s made it to the microphone. He motions for the noise to die down. “If you think you’re happy now, just wait until I tell you how I’m gonna save all your lives!”
Not thinking it would help to go out there now, Saxon just pops up a floating screen that shows what it looks like on the other side of the curtain.
“Hi. My name is Deodatus.
“I think we know why September sent us to this particular region of colonizing space,” Valencia says.
“Did you see this coming?” Omega asks Saxon.
The progenitor looks back, and stares at his offspring. He takes an uncomfortably long time to respond. “Yes.”
“If he’s gotten this taken care of, then maybe we should go look for Captain Moralez,” Valencia suggests to Omega.
Saxon perks up. “Yitro Moralez?”
“Uhh...yeah?” Omega confirms, confused.
“Oh, don’t worry about him, I know where he is.”

Meanwhile, in the past, Yitro is finishing up his 72-hour mental health hold. He doesn’t know exactly where he’s going to go. The authorities tried to investigate the location of the lab, but of course, they found it completely abandoned and stripped of all evidence. Whoever was hiding out in there surely used temporal technology of some kind. Or maybe they were never really there, and the door he ran out of three days ago was actually a portal that sent him back to the year 2022. If that portal’s now closed, then there’s no going back. If true, that begs the question, why haven’t those people come after him yet? If they’re powerful enough to store him in a vat of acid that’s strong enough to cause him agonizing pain for an extended period of time without killing him, why don’t they just teleport into his hospital room, and pluck him out? What did they ever want with him in the first place, but also, did they get it, or what?
Yitro doesn’t have any ID, and isn’t in any kind of system, since he’s from the future, but besides some clearly accidental public indecency, he hasn’t broken any law. The facility is just going to let him go, and the cops aren’t going to pursue him. He’ll apparently be on the streets, just like any native homeless person would be. All he has now is a set of clothes that the nurse retrieved from the lost and found, a single packed lunch, and a cup for panhandling. They actually gave him a paper cup; like, they’re not even gonna try to provide him with any sort of social service. “The past sucks,” he says to himself out loud as he’s tying his new old shoes. He’ll be fine, because he’ll find someone to help, but a normal person would be totally screwed in this situation.
“You should try going back even further in the past. That’s where I’m from.” It’s a young woman. She’s dressed in what looks like a company uniform, but she’s not hospital staff. Her shirt says Tractus Delivery.
“Everyone’s from the past,” Yitro points out.
She smirks. “Too true. Except for you. What year are you from?”
Yitro is smart, he didn’t bother telling anyone that he’s from a spaceship in the future, because it wouldn’t do him any good. How would this person know anything about him? As suspicious as this is, he may as well be honest, because they’re legally not allowed to keep him here for a minute longer. He sighs. “What year was I born, or what year was it when I left? For the latter, it was 2300.”
She nods understandingly. “Okay, I think we can get you back there.”
“How?”
“Lemme show ya.” She steps forward, and takes him by both shoulders. “Call me an n-word.”
“Which n-word are we talking about?”
She laughs. “I’m kidding, I’ve learned to get my heart rate up on my own.” She tightens her grip, and pushes him forward, all the way into a wall of fire that has spontaneously appeared before them.